Celebration of Learning

Fountain of Color by sunsurfr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  Photo by sunsurfr 

A week ago today was our final class of EC&I 831 and it was our second night of sharing our summaries of learning. Once again it was a joyful and powerful experience listening to all the learning that took place over the past three months. As Alec mentioned on several occasions: you could hear the confidence in peoples’ voices. Everyone took such risks and ventured far beyond their comfort zones, and we all “survived” to tell fantastic stories of growth and change. We pushed the boundaries in ourselves and others. We became advocates for change and exploration. We came to appreciate and embrace what were once mysteries. The summaries of learning were truly celebrations of journeys.

I knew I would struggle as the class wound down and it was time to sign off for the final time. I am an emotional girl and goodbyes  get me every time. I admit I felt sad and I had a little cry. Pretty silly, I know. But I know I felt this way because it is difficult to see a great experience end. And yet I know it hasn’t really ended. Yes, the structured time and place for meeting my classmates has ended, but the connections and sense of community will continue to exist and grow in the very social media we came to value through this course.

I created my summary of learning using Glogster, a tool I explored early on in the course. I fell in love with Glogster and its potential for self-expression. The audio links I embedded into the Glog pages I recorded in Audacity. Glogster has an audio recording tool but I was unhappy with the sound quality. Audacity is a free, open source software for recording and editing audio. If you have not tried it before I highly recommend it. We use Audacity with our students in Grades 2 to 6 with excellent results in many different projects. I designed a series of interlinked Glogs to capture the various themes from my wonderful EC&I 831 experiences. To explore my summary of learning please click the image below. Maybe Santa will bring me a WordPress.org blog so I can embed more into my blog posts!

My Summary of Learning for EC&I 831

Wonderful World of Wikis

Many Orbs by Ate My Crayons, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License Photo by Ate My Crayons 

As I sit here fretting over the finishing touches on my EC&I 831 final project, the Global Gateway wiki, it dawns on me that the glory of a wiki is there are no finishing touches. The goal is for it be a collaborative work in progress. I sincerely hope this happens. I have discovered so many terrific resources through Twitter without people even realizing they are adding to the wiki. Imagine what will happen when more people know they can contribute their resources and projects to this wiki?

I try not to refer to it as my wiki for although I feel deeply connected to it and I have spent countless hours with it for three months, it is not mine. It is a collective. I must say for me that is one of the most amazing and beneficial aspects of a wiki. It really rises up and meets the call for a space where we can build something together to be used by everyone. A place to collect and share but also to help make sense of the resources and information. It embraces the true sharing mentality. Many voices, many ideas, many perspectives.

I have become a complete wiki convert! No more am I the lurker of wikis for now I see the value of engaging and participating actively in their creation at any stage. Just add wikis to my list of new found loves (tools that is!) thanks to EC&I 831. Not only am I very excited to collaborate with others on the Global Gateway wiki, I am excited to start using wikis with colleagues and students. There is a vast amount of potential for the use of wikis in classrooms and schools. I know other educators have long been developing wikis, and I am late to the party. But I know late doesn’t mean the opportunity has passed me by for there are many great people who have paved the way and will support me on this journey.

As a way to reflect on my new wiki knowledge I thought I would share some resources for educators and highlight some of my discoveries about Wikispaces.

Common Craft yet again comes to the rescue with a great video to introduce the concept of wikis.

Wikis in the Classroom is a comprehensive slideshare by Vicki Davis. In this rich presentation she discusses:

  • What is a wiki?
  • Why use wikis in a classroom?
  • Pedagogical uses of wikis in classrooms
  • Examples of classroom wikis

Wikis in the ClassroomView more presentations from Vicki Davis

I have learned a great deal during my wiki creating adventure and I documented it all along the way in a Google Doc. I will spare you the full details of my questions, challenges, and victories but I thought a short summary may be helpful to others.

Great features:

  • Easy to use: If you can create a Word document you can create a wiki.
  • Free: For PreK to Grade 12 make sure you register for a wiki through Wikispaces for Educators. You can create student accounts without requiring student emails and you can moderator many features.
  • Collaborative: Users have the ability to add and edit content, begin and contribute to discussions, and attach comments to specific sections of a wiki page.
  • Support: There are a wealth of excellent online resources available to help educators integrate wikis into their classrooms (see my list below).
  • Variety: Collect and share resources, artifacts, ideas, discoveries and more.
  • Benefits for students: engagement, voice, personalization, assessment, active involvement in learning, and accessibility from home and school.

What I learned and will use in my next wiki:

  • Altering the appearance and making it look visually appealing was a challenge and I found I had to explore outside of my design comfort zone to achieve a certain look. In retrospect I would let some of my worries about the “look” go as this is not completely necessary for the wiki to be functional and successful.  Live and learn!
  • As with learning anything new there is a lot of trial and even more error. I did not do much reading about the details of “how to” before I dove in. This is traditionally my style of learning—leap in, find out what stumps me, and then go looking for answers. The good news is wikis are easy enough to jump into and coupled with the wealth of resources available, you will most definitely either overcome or accept the glitches.
  • To get started I found it helpful to organize and plan the initial pages by entering in titles and a line of text regarding the content of each page. I needed to create this structure for myself in order to slot in the resources I had already located. Although I later moved items around and added more pages, this point of launch was key in tackling the daunting, blank wiki.
  • Headings and tables became my best friends. It was very important to me that the content was readable and easy to navigate. I found it necessary to find a way to contain and present the information consistently on each page. If for no other reason than to maintain my sanity!
  • Linking and embedding allowed me to vary and expand the the content in the wiki.
  • The more I worked with the wiki the more I enjoyed it and saw its power. I think often as a consumer I miss the value of the tool but as a creator I can experience the possibilities.
Below are some fabulous wiki resources:
  • Educational Wikis This wiki’s goal is to answer: “How can I use wikis in education?”
  • Wiki Walk-Through A wiki create by TeachersFirst with easy instructions for getting started. Also includes ideas for using wikis with students of different ages and in different subject areas.
  •  PDPresenterToolkit A great resource for creating wiki PD experiences. Includes activities, slides, examples and resources.
  •  Wikispaces Help Fabulous and straight forward support to help tackle and understand the key elements of a wiki.

I am wondering: Have you used wikis with your students? What advice would you offer? What benefits did you discover?

Some people have wondered about the snow falling on my blog. It is very easy to do if you have a WordPress blog. Start the flurry on your blog!

My Nominations for the Edublog Awards

Day68,365, An apple a day keeps the doct by Andreas-photography, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  Photo by  Andreas-photography 

In previous years I have used Edublog award nominee lists as a way to find excellent blogs and resources but I have never participated in the nomination process. This year as the deadline looms (December 2) I began to consider taking part. EC&I 831 truly ignited my involvement and participation online, and consequently I am reading far more blogs than ever before. I have gained such an appreciation for the many educators putting themselves out there to the benefit of all of us. As I have often shared in my posts, there are countless blogs that impact and inspire me. I try to highlight and share these as often as possible on either my blog or through my tweets. Narrowing it down to only a few blogs in a few categories is very challenging. By no means are my nominations all encompassing as there are many, many bloggers to which I am most grateful and appreciative.

Definitely without hesitation for the category of Best New Blog I would, if I could, nominate every single one of my EC&I 831 classmates. I am so humbled, in awe, and inspired by the risks they have all taken by blogging and pushing themselves out into the open to share and explore. Taking this journey with such brave people has been instrumental in my own growth. So to all of you—thank you for your blogs and your courage. Reading your posts have pushed my thinking, clarified my understanding, challenged me to wonder and question, validated my journey, and connected me to you and your work. #youmatter

Below are my nominations for the Edublog Awards 2011.

Best Individual Tweeter: @shareski

  • Dean Shareski is a brilliant example of walking the talk. He openly and enthusiastically learns and shares online. His tweets reflect his belief that sharing is a moral imperative. I have learned so much through the resources, ideas, questions and learning that Dean so graciously shares with the world. Thank you, Dean!

Best Classroom Blog: Mrs. Cassidy’s Classroom Blog

  • Kathy Cassidy blogs with her Grade 1 students! That statement in itself should rock your world. Following the amazing posts on her classroom blog make me smile, wow me, and remind me of the unbelievable potential in our students at every age…given a teacher who believes in them and takes risks for their learning. Kathy, you are my hero. You have inspired me to advocate for the use of classroom blogs in our school district. You are paving an awesome road. Thank you!

Best Group Blog: 184 Days of Learning

  • Each school day a contributor (administrator, teacher, student) from a school in the Parkland School Division posts a 250 word submission answering the question “What did you learn today?” This group blog beautifully showcases and honours a wide variety of voices and perspectives that are not always heard. Thank you, Parkland School Division for sharing your stories!

Best Ed Tech/Resource Sharing Blog: Free Technology for Teachers

  • Richard Byrne’s blog was one of the first blogs I followed for ed tech resources and I have been a loyal reader ever since. It is always the blog I go to when I am looking for a tool to… I am never disappointed. Richard has an amazing way of finding terrific resources and illustrating their potential use in classrooms. Thank you, Richard for your commitment to sharing—you are making a difference!

Most Influential Blog Post: Ditch Internet Filters!

  • Mike Fisher’s post is a terrific call to action. He challenges existing and outdated policies around filtering that have a direct and frightening impact on students and their learning. This post has become a cornerstone in my arsenal for pushing forward and advocating for change. Thank you, Mike for loudly sounding the alarm!

Best Twitter Hashtag: #Comments4Kids

  • This hashtag supports student blogging by encouraging people to comment on student blogs. When a teacher tweets a link to a student’s blog post and attaches this hashtag it represents a request for comments, and the opportunity to make an impact. What a brilliant way to make a difference and foster student blogging!

Best Open PD/Unconference/Webinar Series: Global Education Conference

  • An amazing five days of solid, round the clock, online, and free sessions from presenters all around the world. The diversity and quality of sessions is incredibly impressive. With the unbelievable wealth of sessions it is next to impossible to attend them all but fortunately all sessions are recorded and available online.

Best School Administrator Blog: The Principal of Change

  • George Couros consistently writes open, honest and positive posts about learning and leading. He too subscribes to the sharing philosophy, and as a result his posts are rich with ideas and resources that speak directly to educators. “You should read” is a regular post in which George highlights a selection of “great stuff” being shared on social networks. You are inspiring—thank you, George!

This is Not Goodbye

goodbye by woodleywonderworks, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Photo by woodleywonderworks 

I hate good-byes.  I know what I need.  I need more hellos.

~Charles M. Schulz

Saying “goodbye” is so hard. I am a sensitive gal at the best of times but coupled with a farewell, I usually become a teary mess. After 13 years of teaching I still cry every June as my students leave for the summer and move on to the next grade. I once asked my principal, “When will this get easier? When will I get through the end of the school year without crying?” Her response, “I hope you never do. It is you. You build the relationships and you feel so connected. That is never a bad thing.” I have drawn on her words many times as it reframed what I saw as a silly, weak, overly emotional response into an appreciation of the power, value and depth of connections. As crummy as the goodbye is, the journey and time together is always worth it.

Don’t cry because it’s over.  Smile because it happened.

~Theodor Seuss Geisel, attributed

I have long felt the journey of learning with others is a strong bonding force. Every June when I reflect on the past 10 months with my students I am amazed at all we have experienced. As we navigate learning together as a group we see each other in many different lights. We join hands through the struggles, questions, mysteries and frustrations. We celebrate the victories, discoveries and break-throughs. In 10 months we have created a shared story of learning that connects us in a special way. Through my tears in June I always try to remind myself that this amazing story doesn’t disappear once we say goodbye. It doesn’t fail to exist anymore when we move on. It indeed happened, we lived it, and we are fortunate to add it to our personal collections of stories. Years later when I run into former students they remind me of the pieces of the story they still hold close. Even though the physical structure of an experience is over, the impact of it still remains. And in some cases so do the connections.

Why am I talking about June goodbyes at the end of November? This post emerges as I sift through my emotions from last night’s EC&I 831 class. Alec summarized and reflected on our three months of learning together. Although we have two classes remaining they are dedicated to sharing student summaries so last night was a course wrap up. I cannot believe how fast the time has gone and I am not at all ready for it to end. Our journey has just started! We are picking up steam and now we have to say goodbye? I was, in my usual farewell state, tearing up as the class wound down. I have never met any of my classmates face to face and yet I feel connected to them. We have created a story of learning that is rich with risks, inspiration, enthusiasm and growth. The energy has been contagious and buoyant. The experiences and people in this course have opened my eyes, pushed my thinking, exposed me to a new world, and truly changed me. It cannot be over!

In the midst of a quasi pity party I had a moment of clarity—this course may be ending but it’s role was to be the vehicle to this moment. It was the catalyst that helped form the networks and helped demonstrate the possibilities. It was essentially the matchmaker between my PLN and me. I know a matchmaker doesn’t need to stick around once the connection has formed, their job is done. The course is not the network nor the learning. As Alec said last night, “The community is the curriculum. It is a living curriculum.” In this I understand the separation between the course and the content. I must say goodbye to the course and its defined structure. I will indeed miss Tuesday evenings with Alec, our guests, our mentors and my classmates. But the goodbyes stop there. I am leaving the structure of the course with an amazing story of learning but it is just at the beginning, there are countless more pages to fill. The connections, the networks, and the opportunities for learning are all still here and will continue to grow and evolve.

This is not a traditional blog post for me. I have no hyperlinks, no embedded videos and I suppose I defied all that I know is best practice. But today I needed to lean on my blog to process the perceived goodbye and the perceived end of something so magical and awesome. I must say I still feel slightly melancholy even though my mind logically knows the above understandings to be true. I think the feeling will subside on December 7, the morning after our last class and the official end of the course, when I see a tweet with #eci831. A little reminder that all is well. We know where to find each other—online and close by as we have been all along. Thank you, friends.

Play Time at the Zoo

<---<<< TO THE ZOO by rbrwr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  Photo by rbrwr 

Today with the magic of online tools I became a zoo keeper. The feisty crowd I was wrangling reside in ZooBurst. ZooBurst defines itself as an “augmented reality 3D pop-up book creator.” It was one of the many amazing tools suggested to us during our most recent EC&I 831 class. Alan Levine (probably better known online as Cog Dog) was our inspiring guest speaker. His topic was digital storytelling and he rocked it!

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Alan himself is a beautiful storyteller and he is passionate about the topic. He reminded us we all have stories to share and with the tools available today we can express our stories in creative, imaginative, unique and engaging ways. I believe strongly in the power of stories and the need for us to listen closely to authentic, first-hand stories from all around the world. I believe sharing stories builds connections, compassion, and respect. Stories pave the way to new perspectives, new ideas and new understandings.

This TEDify is an awesome mashup of over 25 TED talks that address storytelling.

Telling a story can take on many shapes and styles thanks to the unbelievable variety of digital tools. You are able to personalize the look, feel, and flow. Alan reminded us that the tool is not what matters, it is the story that is important. Regardless of the tool, I think the best element of digital storytelling is, as Alan expressed, the ability to transform a linear story into a dynamic one.

I appreciated the encouragement from both Alec and Alan to have fun and play. We tell our students this and the permission to play certainly helps the creative ideas run wild. I was also grateful for the reminders not to fuss about it being perfect or impeccable. Share the story, explore the opportunities within the tools, and express yourself.

So as challenging as this is for a perfectionist to do I am going to share my ZooBurst even though it is nowhere near polished. As with learning any new tool I did a lot trial by clicking and very little reading of the instructions. Many of the pages reflect the fun I was having as they look like a pop-up book on steroids. I certainly did not employ the best design strategies (sorry Rick!). ZooBurst is rich with potential and I think students would be captivated by it and love the results. A welcome feature is ZooBurst’s searchable collection of images, although I struggled to find what I was looking for more than once. There is an option to import your own images but I was unsure how to cite the source. The basic level of the tool is free, however with the upgrade there are many perks: sound effects, recording your own voice, and classroom management abilities. The interactive nature of the pages is quite engaging (you can spin and rotate the book to see the pages from many angles) and the eye catching 3D appearance really makes your characters and setting pop. I will certainly spend some more time exploring ZooBurst and I am sure my niece and nephew in Brazil would love to receive a pop-up story from their Auntie.

I’m wondering: Have you used Zoo Burst with your students? What were your successes? Challenges? How did your students respond to it? What other storytelling tools do you recommend?

Global Gateway

Atlas, it’s time for your bath by woodleywonderworks, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  Photo by  woodleywonderworks 

For my EC&I 831 final project I am creating a wiki to collect and share resources that support and foster students’ global citizenship. The idea for a wiki stemmed from my work on my Master’s project which is exploring the use of digital communication and collaboration tools to enrich global citizenship development. My passion for this topic came from an amazing journey last year connecting our Grade 3 students with a village in Peru.

While researching global citizenship I found I was gathering so much information and so many resources. As exciting as it was I struggled to contain it all. I was eager to share all that I discovered but using social bookmarks was not enough to group, organize and categorize all the pieces. Although I had never created a wiki before I was drawn to the fact I could collate many different types of resources in one place and incorporate a collaborative component.

Developing this wiki has been a multifaceted adventure of learning. Although at times the learning curve has been steep and overwhelming, I have been leaning on my PLN to help guide me through some challenges.

I also used Twitter to spread the word about the Google Form and Google Doc I created to crowd-source for my wiki. I am still learning how to crowd-source effectively and which strategies produce the most results. My Google Form to collect online tools for supporting global citizenship generated some great suggestions that I added to my wiki. The Google Doc however did not fly at all. I was trying to collect global citizenship stories from teachers. In retrospect perhaps an open Doc with some instructions at the top is too daunting and time consuming. Maybe the appeal of a form is that it is straight to the point, has clear parameters and can be quickly completed.

Based on this reflection I created a new Google Form to collect global citizenship stories which will hopefully be more successful. Most likely teachers are already documenting their global connections somewhere online and asking them to rewrite these details in a Google Doc does not make sense. I hope using a form for teachers to share a link to existing documentation of their project (a blog, wiki, project hashtag, etc.) will be more user friendly. How to crowd-source successfully online is its own research project!

Last week Stephen Downes presented to our EC&I 831 class on “The Role of the Educator in a Networked World.” I was initially overwhelmed by the 23 (!) roles he shared. As I reflected on the list though I realized that in creating a wiki I am exploring several of these roles. The most pronounced role is that of the learner. Not only have I been learning so much and on such a deep level about global citizenship, I have also been stretched to explore new online tools. Also in order to get my wiki to behave within my expectations I am incorporating my emerging instructional design knowledge from ETAD 873 and attempting to understand elements of HTML and CSS.

In addition to my wiki inspiring the role of learner, I am also a curator, collector, alchemist, designer, evaluator, connector, and critic. I have been sifting, interpreting, arranging, organizing and critiquing. I find I am sensemaking and wayfinding not just for myself but in the hope that it will help others navigate the large volume of available content. I do not want to make assumptions for other educators but I hope to do some filtering in order to facilitate sensemaking. After visiting many wikis I really wanted to try to make the content well organized, readable and inviting. It can be intimidating to be presented with so much information that you don’t know how to navigate through it, even when contained in one place.

I am grateful to be exploring the many roles needed to build a wiki and I would not want to pick just one role to refine and let it define my work. In my mind the roles are interconnected and what I learn from one applies and enriches another. As I commented in Allan Lowrie’s blog:

Although it can be overwhelming to explore all of those roles, it is also what makes teaching so exciting and dynamic. I think certainly we have tendencies and strengths that fall more into one category than another but I have grown so much when I push myself to improve my ability to fill other roles. I worry if I define myself in one role I will not only lose that drive but I will no longer be modelling the diversity of roles to my students.

As I continue to work on my wiki, Global Gateway, I invite you to stop by and take a look. I am eager to receive your feedback, suggestions, and additions. The wiki is divided into several sections, some of which include videos, tools, success stories, background knowledge, and existing projects. If you have a global citizenship resource to share please let me know, I’d love to add it.

The Bat Signal

signal by brdonovan, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  Photo by  brdonovan 

There is no delight in owning anything unshared. ~Seneca

I have been amazed by many people, events and experiences since joining the blogging and Twitter worlds but above all the one thing I keep coming back to is the open, gracious and giving culture of sharing. It often leaves me completely in awe. I am moved by the gratitude of strangers, and yet “stranger” is entirely the wrong word. The people in my PLN have never once felt like strangers because immediately, without any typical “getting to know you” preambles, they reach out, rallying around and share with abandon. What a brilliant, beautiful community!

There are no strangers here; Only friends you haven’t yet met. ~William Butler Yeats

There have been countless times I have sent up the bat signal on Twitter and in no time people are leaping to action. Without hesitation they send ideas, solutions, options, and resources my way. They often will retweet the request as a way to get that bat signal shining even brighter. They don’t have to do any of this but they do, and that is what deeply matters. They actively choose to engage, share, connect. I feel emotional when my PLN answers my call, and as silly as it sounds I hope I always feel this way. I don’t want to take it for granted. I know I am part of something special. I know the sense of isolation in the teaching profession, and the desire to spend time with colleagues sharing and devouring new ideas. Developing a PLN has dissolved any feelings of isolation by fostering rich connections and the resources pour out of my PLN faster than I can digest. It is the most relevant, personalized, dynamic and progressive professional development I have ever experienced. And it is all thanks to a culture of sharing.

Sharing will enrich everyone with more knowledge. ~Ana Monnar

Not only is it remarkable how many people are sharing online, what they are sharing is equally as impressive. Many tangible resources are shared every day such as videos, websites, images, presentations, blog recommendations, conference experiences…the list is truly endless. It is challenging to navigate the volume of content available but when my PLN shares they help guide me through the maze. They often take me places I would have never discovered on my own. They are my sensemaking and wayfinding navigators.

Another layer of sharing that happens in a PLN is intangible yet equally, if not more,  valuable. It is the sharing of: support, enthusiasm, passion, inspiration, vulnerability, risks, journeys, celebrations, and challenges. When people are open and real, and they share these pieces of who they are, we all benefit. It creates a unity, a connectedness, a web. I really believe sharing packaged in humanity is powerful.

Dr. Howard Gimbel is a beautiful example of someone who shares knowledge gift wrapped in benevolence. He is an award winning ophthalmic surgeon in Calgary, renowned for his outpatient cataract and refractive surgeries. 30 years ago Dr. Gimbel started taping videos of his work for teaching purposes, and two years ago he began uploading videos to YouTube. The Gimmel Library on YouTube now has 100 videos available and they have been viewed by more than 55,000 medical practitioners and students in 30 countries. The comments in the video library illustrate the profound difference Dr. Gimbel is making for surgeons and patients he has never even met. And all because he chooses to share.

It’s so gratifying to share the knowledge. ~Dr. Gimbel

Thank you to Dean Shareski for passionately spreading the message of “Sharing: The Moral Imperative.” Thank you to my PLN for tirelessly answering the bat signal. And thank you to the countless people who threw their virtual arms around me when my spirit took a blow last week. Your support is incredible and uplifting, and I am extremely grateful.

I’m wondering: Where do you share? What do you share? Has your outlook on sharing changed? Do you agree that it is a moral imperative? Do you have a story about sharing that has touched you?