Friday, March 30, 2007

Worth the Risk

The recent assaults on Kathy Sierra only underscore the importance of teachers in promoting acceptable use of the internet and exposing the insidious nature of cyberbullying.
I have been teaching science for 20 years . Risk assessment and safety are topics discussed the first week of every school year.
Let me tell you, the science laboratory is a dangerous place and the potential for bodily injury or worse is present. Yet we allow, dare I say, encourage our students to participate in laboratory activities every year in our science curriculum. Why? Risk/Benefit assessment. The risk of having students participating in properly operated and maintained laboratory facility as part of a high school course of study is far outweighed by the benefits of inquiry that can only be attained by a hands-on lab experience.
Are there concerns? Yes, but students are instructed in proper procedures for safely conducting themselves in the lab and then monitored throughout the activity.
Have the safety issues changed over the past 20 years? Yes.
Do we close down high school lab facilities as new safety issues arise? No.
There is a deliberate and collaborative effort on the part of the science teaching community to develop and communicate new protocols to allow students to continue working safely in the lab.
For example, during the 1980's, concerns were raised about the risks of AIDS infection during the blood typing lab conducted in most high school biology courses. The protocol changed such that a school or volunteer nurse would conduct the bloodletting step in the procedure. Later, as the risk of hepatitis and other blood borne pathogens became more likely, the Florida legislature halted the use of any human tissue, including blood, in the secondary laboratory. Did this stop the activity? No. The intervening years saw the development of blood substitutes and synthetics so that today, students still conduct the lab procedure. Some might argue that something is lost in the student not determining their own blood type, but the lab skillset is still practice and assessed.
Now a new risk emerges, exposure of our students to cyberbullying.
I believe the call to act (Vickie Davis, Andy Carvin)in response to this issue of cyberbullying will prove more effective than the call to remain silent (Robert Scoble). As in the case of lab safety, together we can develop the protocols which establish the behaviors for our students to engage the internet safely.
As for being on the cutting edge, I will paraphrase a Boy Scout mantra. There is no safe way to swing an axe, but there is a safer way.

Friday, March 23, 2007

John Seely Brown

In a correspondence with Darren Kuropatwa, he indicated he had most recently been influenced by the work of John Seely Brown and his description of the "atelier learning" in the core academic areas.

The following represents my first impression from a limited review of his work.

I think, therefore I am.

I participate, therefore
I jam!

"Much of our knowing is brought forth in action, through participation -in the world, with other people, around real problems"
John Seely Brown "Growing Up Digital"

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

If I Build it ....
I was contemplating how I was going to raise my students' awareness of the potential of the class blog if they don't come to it. I am taking a big gamble here devoting time and resources to this endeavor. I've just plowed under a significant portion of my cornfield. Will they come?
Then I downloaded the slides presented in a panel discussion by Kathy Sierra at SXSWi.
While I rarely like the application of business models to education, the Seven Blog Virtues (for a Global MicroBrand) are keenly appropriate.
Sierra writes:
...a way of thinking about blogging for the purpose of building a Global Microbrand (whether the brand is you, your product, a cause, etc.).
I think, at least in the beginning, I am trying to sell my students on the idea of coming the class blog . In this sense, then, the Seven Blog Virtues are an imperative if I am to entice them and sustain their interests.

Global Microbrand Virtues:
(from session transcript by Laura Moncur)
  • Be Grateful: MOST important. Every moment people give us attention, it’s a gift. I never stop being grateful. It’s REALLY a gift.
  • Be Humble: When I look at someone’s blog, it’s all about you and that isn’t really giving something back. Our job is to make people feel better about themselves in a legitimate way. Give them a gift.
  • Be Patient: It takes time for things to grow. We just wanted to build a blog, give what we can give, help people and respect the gift of attention.
  • Be Brave: Grow a thicker skin. As you become more popular, the critics will come out. Don’t have death by risk aversion. If you’re doing something that people love, then there are some people who are going to hate it. You don’t want EVERYONE to hate you.
  • Show Respect: If I can just give something back, it gives them respect for their time. Give them superpowers.
  • Be Generous: Give away whatever knowledge that I have. Give things away. If you can teach someone how to do something, then they will be better at what they can do.
  • Be Motivating: Put someone that someone else wants to say out there. Talk to the BRAIN not the mind. Include pictures.
As I turn the blog over to the students (after all, it is their blog), I hope I will have modeled the virtues well as they develop their own voice.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Teaching, Learning, Teaching, Learning...
Just because I haven't written about my progress doesn't mean I haven't made any. I guess the products of my learning will have to bare witness to my journey. A great deal of credit goes to the talented contributors to the K12 Online Conference this past October. I encountered more talent in this workshop than in all my 20+ years of workshop attendance. The number of workshops and the asynchronous nature of the conference provided me with an unparalleled opportunity in educational technology.
My first year of teaching AP Biology afforded me a situation for developing a Moodle Course. Except for the external blog we have for the course, the content is primarily managed in Moodle. I've tried to use as many different modules as possible (chat, discussion, wiki) as I increase my proficiency. What has been best, is it seems to get around the filters the district has in place for social web tools. We have been able to work in the chat module as we develop the wiki content. Though there have been a few bumps, Moodle has performed well.
Eldridge and Gould describe a model of Punctuated Equilibrium to explain the sudden appearance of forms in the fossil record. I guess my evolution was punctuated as of last week when I left my mark in the digital fossil record. I have been gathering all of this knowlege and these tools to transform the learning interface for my students. I was ignited by several recent posts to Darren Kuropatwa's blog. The current addition of a SmartBoard to his class had me wondering about the Interwrite SchoolPad that I had started using last year. He had mentioned uploading the day's SmartBoard content into a slideshow on SlideShare. After loading the latest version of the Interwrite sofware, I realized I could export my pages as a .pdf to SlideShare and paste the slideshow into a classroom blog. So now I needed to activate blogs for each of my classes. A couple of emails to the district's IT department had my blogs lifted from the filter (at least for reading, editing from school will be a problem I think.) Here is one result. This seems like a good time to hit the School Advisory up for the funds to purchase 4 more SchoolPads to pass among the students.
Now, Podcasting.
I have been toying with podcasting for some time, but the fearless nature with which Mr. Kuropatwa wrote about podcasting challenged me. So, I took the bait. My first podcast was was a microphone on the teacher desk and me lecturing an introduction to the classical genetics of Mendel. Nothing great but there it was!
So, in the last two weeks I've redesigned my website, posted a podcast, established four classroom blogs (with slideshows) and one master blog for myself.
None of this, though, would have been possible except for the fact that someone took the time to share their experiences with me (us). I am grateful.

A Difference: SmartBoard Day 1