Trailblazing

 

Around 9am this morning I tweeted an image of work that my grade 11 IBDP Language and Literature students constructed.  Students worked on a project I called ‘Astounding Annotations,’ where they take an extract from Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale

and they break the language down, look into motifs, themes, etc.  By noon, Margaret Atwood herself retweeted the image.

If that isn’t an authentic ‘digital footprint’ learning moment, I don’t know what is.

Good work attracts attention.  Great work warrants attention.

I have often heard teachers tell their students to post as if their grandmother were reading, so don’t say anything too offensive.  This is misguided.  We should be telling our students to post as if their ultimate mentor were reading.  Because they might be.

The online world is a great big little place.

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Photo Credit: Helga Weber via Compfight cc

Engagement online and offline blends together.  This isn’t news.

What if we started to see our students as trailblazers?  What if we assumed that when given the chance, they would put their best selves forward?

The English teacher in me worries about what this author refers to as ‘The Danger of A Single Story’

Too often we tell a single story about the online teenager: dangerous, careless, insulting, uninformed.  That myth needs to stop.

I have worked with students who have been inspired trailblazers.  Take Elena Lie

a phenomenal student who worked together with Jane Ross

on an amazing iBook: Green and Guiltless

Her’s is the story we want to be putting a spot light on.

Expecting More Matters

 

Our expectations set the tone. If we expect cyber-bullying, if we anticipate prank hacks, if all we talk about are the pitfalls of our screen-clad world that is exactly what we will get.

Instead, if we think beyond doom and gloom, if we anticipate excellence, we might awaken a little inspiration.

I saw this first hand while working with Sheldon Bradshaw and Jane Ross. Sheldon and Jane both saw beyond the what if’s and yeah but’s.

I was lucky to have worked in a 1:1 blogging environment.  We pushed students to thinking bigger in terms of online authoring and started an online eBookstore.

 

We have to stop thinking in terms of ’empowering’ authorship and start thinking in terms of building the platforms to showcase success.  Students already are artists.  Students already have things to say.  It is our job to help them find their voice, and you cannot find your voice without also looking for ears.

Blog Action Day is another way to galvanize student authors.

 

Blog action Day is a wonderful tie-in to GIN (Global Issues Network) which depends on student leadership and student collaborative service learning efforts:

 

What happens when we encourage students to work with one another for change? They help us communicate higher expectations.  Take a look at this IBDP learner’s CAS project, Riveria English:

 

Look at the ways her blog has reflected her leadership experiences by clicking here.

This amazing young woman is an example–thankfully she is sharing via Twitter, WordPress, and Youtube.  Examples have exponential power through social media.

Examples like these are what educators need to expect.  Stop short-changing students and suggesting that they won’t use social media for learning. Teachers need to model their use of PLN’s.  How aware are students of our own ambitions to learn more together? If we aren’t embracing the opportunities tech facilitates in promoting life long learning, we need to expect more from ourselves.

Key Questions to ask of your school:

1) How does your school work to network students?

2) Where in your school’s online world can we see a space to develop as thinkers and inquirers?

3) How can students find opportunities to connect with positive connected projects?

4) How are teachers mentoring connected learning?

5) When are you making time for students to change expectations?

 

Be the model.

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How do we get students to engage with tech?  How do we get those young smiles to shine like they are in the picture above?  How do we get a community to thrive on risk-taking?

We take the first step.

Teachers often want their students to embrace technology.  The key is to take the leap for yourself.  How can we hope for a community of bloggers, or a network of innovation without engaging with online thinking ourselves?

Teachers need to be out on the trail, trialing with ideas.  If I want my students to connect with other bloggers, I need to have experienced that for myself.  Do I need to be the best blogger in the world?  Do I need the most amazing banner and 10,000 hits on my page?  No, but I do need to a footprint on the path I’m asking them to venture out on.

Recently my school hosted an in-house PD two-day workshop session.  I lead a workshop on blogging and a workshop on visual note taking.  We didn’t talk theory, we didn’t sit back and passively consume what those tools can do for our classrooms.  We blogged (on paper) and we took visual notes.  How did that feel?  Uncomfortable for some, and engaging for others.  Tools are meant to be put to use, and if it means we grumble or put on our confused face for a bit, that’s ok.  If you are interested more in visual note taking (stop whatever you are doing and follow @itsallaboutart), I would love your feedback on my slides, available here.

What I like about the 21 Things 4 Teachers site is that it doesn’t theorize the role of tech in our classrooms, rather, it serves as a menu: taste and try. You won’t like everything on the menu, and that’s not the point.  The point is to play, to pause (reflect), and to push forward.  Schools need this PPP model (did I just make that up?)

I have to give a huge shout out to John McBryde, the amazing director, visionary, leader.  He got the PPP model in a big way.  I was amazed at how devoted he was to the concept of sandboxing.  As an educator, I have never found innovation to be more valued than when I worked with John.  He knows that great things happen in learning environments where ‘tinkering’ is given time.

In essence, whenever you upskill yourself as an educator, the next question is inevitably:  now what?

The answer?  Try it out for yourself.  Make learning personal, and see if the hat fits for you.  We need more school leaders like John McBryde, more administrators who teach their teachers to take the leap.  We have to be the model first.  We don’t have to be the experts, but we do have to showcase a love for tinkering.

Perhaps asking, as Angela Maiers does here: what happens when our classrooms are driven by passion? is the real question we are asking when we are asking how to better integrate tech.

Before we apply to our classrooms, we need to apply ideas to our own experiences.  No one does this better than Jane Ross (@janeinjava).  Her blog is available here.

Jane Ross is one of the most passionate educators I have ever worked with.  She tinkers, trials, plays, takes risks, and does it all again.  I’ve been following her online in her latest efforts to teach herself to do amazing things with yarn.  She demands creativity from her students, but rightfully so, Jane demands it of herself first.  Jane and John are incredible ‘passion-modelers.’  They are respected by teacher communities far and wide.  They allowed their classrooms to be driven by passion.