Sunday, 14 June 2015

Learning in Pictures

I've been working in some classes with visual and digital storytelling, so I'm going to express what I've been learning about mainly in pictures.

I've been studying effective learning environments, and I've learned that our current environments rely too much on spaces and activities like this:

...and not enough like this:

Monday, 18 May 2015

Gradual Release

Lasting learning in school often involves the gradual release of responsibility which flows from:
Explicit instruction ---> teacher and student using new learning together ---> students using new learning together ---> student using new learning independently.

In the process of reflecting on my own classroom use of this process, I started thinking about social media. All kinds of people use social media and there is a wide range of fluency among users of each medium. How many users of social media have had the opportunity to be instructed with a gradual release of responsibility? What kind mistakes and miscommunications could be avoided with more gradual release?

I'm not suggesting that the "teacher" has to be a school teacher, but certainly school is a logical place for some basic citizenship and literacy training, and social media are undeniably part of both of those categories. Such instruction would need to include knowledge, skills/strategies, and attitudes/habits. Perhaps activities like a school hashtag or student/staff/volunteer/teacher shared use of a school social media account would be part of the learning and practice. What do you think?

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Tomorrow's Texts

Digital books are still in there infancy. I know they hardly seem like news, but the marketplace is still trying to figure out how digital books fit, and publishers, authors, and readers alike are still very much in conversation about how eBooks differ from traditional paper books.

I have been investigating the future of digital books at Calvin, and I've learned that the transition to eBooks is just starting and that it isn't going smoothly or easily. Textbook publishers, curriculum creators, and mass market publishers are all in different places and using different models to distribute their books. Some books are very interactive, while others are simply PDFs.

If a school would like to own thirty copies of a hardcover textbook that they can lend students, there isn't a problem. Try buying thirty digital copies of an interactive textbook, and you'll spend plenty of time just trying to explain to befuddled publishers what you want. Is it a conceptual problem? A technical issue? A money matter? Well, it seems all three are pretty significant factors, each shaping the future of books, libraries, and schools.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Breaking Cycles

Nature and nurture are common terms in any discussion of heredity. I've been learning about intergenerational trauma which should probably be included in more conversations involving heredity. The term, in simplistic form, refers to trauma that will have effects on multiple generations. This can be seen in many forms such as the fact that children who experience abuse or divorce are more likely to abuse their children or get divorced. At first this seems counter-intuitive, but it makes some sense when the behaviour is seen as taught or modelled (albeit unintentionally) by parents or role models. The effects are long lasting and can take generations to break the cycle and heal.

The definition falls under the knowledge category, but this learning is also about attitudes/habits as I consider my own parenting, teaching, or the past/current/future state of First Nations populations in Manitoba.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Sharing is Caring

The learning I share in this post isn't new in the strictest sense, but I have been considering it at deeper levels than ever before. I've been thinking about sharing, particularly the creation and distribution of digital media. Sharing is a fundamental community practice; there is no community without sharing.

The internet has made it so easy for individuals to participate in creating culture. We can share ideas and build community in a truly global way. It is amazing.

What I've learned recently is that while I have certainly developed my willingness to share, I still need to develop the practice of sharing. The practice of sharing is the part that actually helps the community (and me, too), so I have more learning to do in attitudes/habits and skills/strategies in order to become a more sharing (and caring) member of my communities.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Caught, not Taught

Habits have always intrigued me. How do they form? What effects do they have? Can people break or acquire them?

Mr. Jeninga has advised to reflect on habits and then keep the good ones while trying to weed out the bad ones. It's helpful advice.

I like the saying, "Caught more then taught." It captures a truth that is difficult to recognize--sometimes we unintentionally learn things (ideas, habits, attitudes) just from being involved with certain people or situations. We've discussed this concept in Bible courses.

Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist who articulated a complex idea about culture, habits, and attitudes called habitus. Habitus is an attempt to explain how forms and structures in our lives influence us. For example, how does the culture around us shape our individual and collective sense of beauty and attractiveness. How much are we as individuals really in control of what we find beautiful?

I'm interested in this idea as a teacher, as a Christian, as a father, and more because I'd like to be more aware and have a greater influence on the structures, the habitus that shape us. I'm hoping that greater awareness will lead to greater and more effective teaching, learning, and living.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Using Google Search

This week I learned about several Google search techniques, including operators. Search operators are placed in a search window as part of a search in order to filter results. For example, the operator site: limits results to the domain name. If you type, " organic gardening" into the google search box, the results returned will be limited to

This can be helpful for research in school. Searching in general for "medical marijuana" while researching for a class debate will give you many results (26.2 million) with a wide variety of quality and usefulness. Using the operator site: to search " medical marijuana" will return a smaller number of results (121, 000) and they will all be from government websites which will likely be better sources for your debate or research projects.

NOTE* Do not use a space after the colon when using the operator, or it will not work.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Giving Credit

Over the last few years I've been thinking about copyright and intellectual property. I haven't been thinking about it a stop-students-from-cheating kind of way (although that is an important element). Mainly I've been wondering about how to act with integrity and honour creators and their work. The internet has really complicated issues of copyright. This video gives one weird but not so uncommon example:
Like John Green, I want to honour the work of other people, but I'm not always convinced that not sharing the work of other artists is the best way to do this. My own example involves a dance recital for my kids. I recorded some of their performance in order to share it with some family members who live in other countries and who miss the small pleasures of family growing up. I uploaded the videos to YouTube with a semi-private setting, but within two days, YouTube removed one of the videos because someone complained that the music excerpt the kids were dancing to was copyright protected. I'm not upset with YouTube, but I wonder how the artist would feel about the situation. Is the artist being honoured or his/her livelihood being protected by preventing dancers from using their music or me from sharing it?

Technically I haven't shared anything that I've learned, and this is a learning log, so here is a video by John's brother Hank (you can check them out on YouTube at vlogbrothers) explaining some of what I've learned about copyright and how the internet is forcing us to change the way we think about intellectual property.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Listen and Learn

by Daniel Coy (CC BY-ND 2.0) 
This week I was thinking about listening and was intrigued by an idea from George Couros and his thinking about facilitating change in schools. He suggests that too often people think about the ultimate goal and try to convince everyone to leap to that goal asap. This isn't always an effective approach because different people may be in very different places in relation to that goal. Listening to people and discovering where they are in relation to the goal is an important first step in facilitating change. Different people will require different next steps on the journey toward a share goal.

I am working on improving listening skills and striving to make some changes, so Mr. Couros's advice is a helpful blending of the two right when I need it most.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Averages Can Be Mean

Over the last two years I've been exploring the problems and drawbacks of grading and assessment practices in school. One of the controversial elements of school, especially in high school, is the practice of assigning one number (a percentage) as a grade in a course. This number is typically an average of all the smaller percentage marks on assignments.

Using the average, or mean, of all the assignments doesn't necessarily tell an accurate story of what a student can do at the end of the course because it keeps remembering the early learning stages when the student's skills and marks were lower. A student who can consistently perform at a high level at the end of the semester, shouldn't be punished by the learning process early in the semester.

Mode can help tell a clearer story. Mode is the number that appears most often in a range of numbers. If a student begins the semester with C's and B's in a certain skill set, but over time masters that skill and regularly earns A's, mode would select A for a mark because it appears most often. Theoretically, this method would communicate a student's abilities more clearly. Of course, it is only one small part of helping improve communication.

Friday, 6 February 2015

LA Comp Learning Log

Our LA Comp class is keeping a weekly learning log this semester, and I'm sharing my learning here. The big categories we are focusing on are Knowledge, Skills/Strategies, and Habits/Attitudes.

I have been learning about spreadsheets, most recently about IMPORTRANGE. It is a formula that allows information to be imported from one source into another. For example, in my case, I have a spreadsheet that I use as a grade book. It contains a separate sheet or tab for each student in class. I would like students to see this grade book, but if I share the spreadsheet with Student A, then Student A can see the entire spreadsheet, including every other student's grades.

IMPORTRANGE allows me to create a new spreadsheet for Student A and then import only the assignments and grades for Student A from my grade book spreadsheet into Student A's personal spreadsheet. The best part is that once the formula is set up, any changes I make in my grade book are automatically updated in Student A's personal spreadsheet. Cool, huh!

If you're interested in the details, leave a comment and I'll send you a link to get you started.