Saturday, February 18, 2012

lost in translation

My 7-yr-old daughter is in French Immersion, and is finally getting around to sorting out the difference between written English and French.  I can't imagine how difficult this must be, being quite solidly unilingual myself.  Cleaning up the mess on the floor tonight I came across one of her poems or songs that she writes in between all the other stuff 7-yr-olds do to keep busy.  See if you can figure it out:

I love you mom
I love you wene I wase bone
I lade mi ise ane you
you were the feste pesene vete I lade mi ise on
mom I love you
cate you see I love mom
cane you seye ete on mi frrte mom

The semantics are cute, the diction I can live with, there is a historical inaccuracy in line four, but it is the spelling that I find both exhilarating and terrifying.  I think it holds the clue to the sheer possibility of the human imagination and also the threats to the very survival of human culture.  I have a glimpse of the hoal werlt in a grayne of snad, and a hevin in a wide flore.

My kids are both at awesome ages where we don't really want them to grow up for a while.  It seemed like forever to get here (and it couldn't come fast enough), but now we want things to slow down a bit.  Just the right mix of self-sufficiency and need for love.

Check comments for the translation.

Friday, February 17, 2012

self portraits

my 4-yr old son and one of his many self-portrait studies on the iPad

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Twitter Blues

On Friday, I had an opportunity to speak to the whole grad class at our school about their use of twitter, and I thought it would be appropriate to follow up with a message for all of our students.

There has been a problem building for months among students, that many don't seem to realize. Twitter is 100% public by default -- your tweets are being read not only by students but also by your families, employers, coaches, neighbours, and school staff. Much of what we see is "normal" teenage banter, often humorous, sometimes in bad taste, sometimes quite poetic and insightful. Twitter is an amazing medium that gives voice to frustrations, celebrations, and whatever is on your mind. I have often felt recharged and even inspired some of the positive things students share on public social media. Keep that up!

We also found a significant amount of disturbing content -- tweets about sex, porn, binge drinking, violence towards others, taunts, insults, and an endless stream of f-bombs from a few of our students. I think this is a problem for perhaps 20% or about 150 of our students. These kinds of tweets speak to your character and integrity, and don't speak highly of you when they are profane or offensive. For those uses of public social media, I encourage you to think about how your words reflect your values.

Even more troubling, though, are the tweets from an even smaller group of our students that create a hostile environment for others at D.P. Todd, maybe 10% or about 75 students, and not defined by gender, race, age, social or economic status. While we all have freedom of speech in our society, there are also other legal rights that limit the freedom of speech. Our school district has a legal obligation to provide a harassment-free workplace for staff and a safe learning environment for students. This is threatened by tweets that are homophobic, racist, sexist, or related to drugs, vandalism, assault, and slander or bullying against students or staff. For that use of public social media, we need to insist that you think about how your words affect others and relate to both the law and school policies.

Since giving the speech on Friday, I've talked with some Gr. 12 students who took the lead to show some class on twitter, and made me proud how they took ownership of their online presence and turned an unpleasant experience into an opportunity to show their strength, character, and integrity. They reminded me that this is an issue for all students, not just a few. Awesome -- I have tremendous respect for how they handled this. They also taught me about some of the contexts for how students tweet, including the importance of music and how lyrics often drift into their tweets. That's a great point that I will think more about.

Not everyone will agree with what I've been saying, or need/want to change the way you tweet, but I think most can agree that our school should be a safe place to work and learn. I appreciate the support for this from teachers since Friday. As a result of this awkward but important issue, some have had great conversations with their classes last week about social media and how it affects students and our school, and where it crosses the line. One teacher told me about how community employers have had to deal with regrettable twitter in the workplace. Another teacher shared that students, perhaps reluctantly, actually want some guidance from their teachers and that if we don't care enough to act on our beliefs, who will? Yet another colleague tweeted to me "not every positive learning experience is a feel good moment." We live and learn.

As I said to the Grade 12s, in high school you are laying the foundations for many of the most important relationships in your life. What do you want that to look like? To read like? I am proud of what you have accomplished. We share a space that I think is about intelligent questions and meaningful ideas. I want you to write the story of your life to be about the same thing -- big questions and great ideas. There's room in that narrative for funny and weird and sometimes even rude, but you have to put some craft and thought into the parts of your story that are so painfully online.

I wish you all the best as you consider how your words and actions have power. Your teachers & school staff care about you; I care about you, and we all care about the school and its culture. I think each one of you is valuable, and that you deserve to treat each other like each one is valuable. I'm not asking that you censor everything you post in social media, just asking that you put a limit on the tweets that threaten the working and learning environment at our school.

Mr. Thielmann

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Enter QR Codes

These have been around for a while, but have also found their way into education over the last year as a way to communicate content or links with mobile users. Easy to make: just paste a url into a generator like this one -  Then grab the QR code and put onto a handout, in an email, on a website, whatever.  To access it, the smartphone or ipod needs a "QR reader" (just search for the app wherever you get your apps). The smartphone or ipod then reads it and connects to whatever you have linked. I asked a group of 26 students if they had heard of this.  2 had, but did not have an app to read QR codes.  23 of 26 had smartphones, and within 10 minutes I happened to ask again and 9 of them had already installed the app. 

Try it - the one above links to my class updates, something I'm trying out to keep parents and students informed -  Hopefully less homework requests or "I didn't know" from students.  This isn't exactly a "flipped" classroom, although with my essential content (like handouts) and my daybook online, I can focus on classroom teaching/learning/interaction part which is embodied, visceral, and not available via Google!  Students without tech gadgets can still grab handouts from the back of class or find them on my website. 

Tip: if you are linking websites for students to check, try to find the mobile version so they can read it on their phones.

Or how about this? As students walk in they scan a QR by the door and an learning object pops up that you intend to discuss as you being your lesson. For me, that might be an image, primary source, map, or news event. They all have their phones out on the way in anyways, so this provides an anticipatory set (nice if you are distracted with getting other aspects of your class underway, talking with students).  Students without gadgets can look over at their neighbour or wait for the image on the big screen (if you even need it).  It even gives you a natural segue to ask them all to put the gadgets away once you've discussed the item, if that's part of your plan.  Your "source of the day" can be given the same name as yesterday's (e.g. BlockA.jpg) and dumped in a share folder, that way the QR code can stay the same for each class.

For perspective, I tend to see more drawbacks than benefits to students being wired 24/7, but I am trying to reclaim some territory for intelligent, creative use of technology. There was a burst of excitement about 9 years ago as students learned how to mess with graphics, build sites, edit video, then blog and youtube, etc. Now I'm finding kids have a hard time with email and basic file management, because the technology has become so easy that many don't bother to do anything but consume. Interesting that this is the opposite of what the BC Edplan experts say is happening.  I'm watching a generation of kids with hunched backs, face down, hands fretting over their phones. They can access more of the world but they are blind to the important parts that are full of life and all around them. The distant and virtual are not yet tangible and connected, and we're losing many kids to a neurosis that has eroded their coping skills for reality. Take a look at the mental illness diagnoses in your school or district if you don't believe me. No doubt the BC Edplan of 2027 is going to align its goals around sorting out this mess.

Anyways, I'll do my part to try and make it better... "QR codes for learning" ...welcome!  I dunno, is it a fad or the start of something important?  I'll let you know a few months from now how this goes, maybe it will be a terrible mistake!  Feedback on the tumblr class updates is also welcome... does it look sustainable to you?

Friday, February 03, 2012

barriers to dialogue

Recently, a colleague asked why our school district leadership didn't seem to read or care about the discussion in our online "Technology Forum." This is a place for various Q&A about technology, but is has also played host to critique and challenges about how our district supports innovation and teacher-led designs for learning though technology. Over the last few years we've seen a number of local structures disappear that once enabled thorough mixing and discussion between senior district leadership, principals, vice-principals, teachers, tech support, and others.  More recently, we've seen a spate of teacher (and even principal) initiated "21st century" pilot projects rejected by our board office without much in the way of rationale.  The Technology forum has archived the grumbling about this, but the issue of missing dialogue is more systemic than this single online forum or last year's iPad proposals.

Although the reason for the perceived lack of interest may simply be the limited hours in the day, I think at a deeper level it is the result of one or more organizational barriers to dialogue.  

Here are some theories as to why our district discussion/decision structures have disappeared and also why we are not seeing much of a readership or response to teacher concerns over the last few years... I'm really not sure which one fits the best, it is probably some combination of these:

1. Management paradigm --  a shift towards a more mechanistic or hierarchical management structure in the district, less open or organic... consultation with employees in this context is seen as a potential liability as it can expose contradictions in the organization, directions that can't be afforded or justified, lack of documentation, etc.

2. Political -- in the current labour climate, management needs a single-minded focus on its objectives in order to implement Ministry of Education agendas; i.e., paying attention to employee concerns opens the door to opposing viewpoints on the BCEd plan or a criticism of the BCPSEA mandate to assert more management rights.

3. Loss of capacity -- a period of downsizing has resulted in too few district staff with too many tasks to complete; this means that management does not have time to address concerns, regardless of how important they are to employees... the result is a reduced ability to read, understand, meet, listen, discuss, plan, and act.

4. Tactical -- stay quiet, redirect, postpone, or feign confusion and sometimes the problem goes away; this is a successful and proven way to avoid conflict and is sometimes recommended when the nature of the problem is deemed to be temporal; it doesn't address the concerns but it can show how the topic of concern ranks as a management priority... it can also be a form of courtesy to avoid an argument that stakeholders are loath to begin.

5. Imposter syndrome -- it may be that teachers feel they are not qualified to take on management processes or district-wide planning mechanisms, while at the same time management may not feel qualified to take on educators with passionate and practiced understanding of a pedagogy or technology; the modern classroom and board office represent unfamiliar ground to each party, and the result is a general reluctance to engage in discourse for fear of exposing knowledge gaps or doubt about needs in context.

6. Philosophic -- simple disagreement over organizational theory (e.g. pedagogy as it relates to technology); when the ideas commonly expressed by employees are not shared by management, a back-and-forth discourse (especially by email or social media, and doubly so during job action) might only further the distance between parties... the work of securing an inclusive and productive medium for discourse is seen as arduous, let alone establishing a milieu in which philosophic differences are celebrated and accommodated.

7. Techno-burnout -- Discussing wikis, blogs and blended learning, the transformative nature of interactive technology, the power of user-built content, etc. was all the rage 8 years ago in our district; we had workshops and teams and coordinators all dutifully spreading the message about what tech could do and how to get started... it is possible that the message caught on, we are generally wiser about what works and what doesn't, and we no longer have a sense of urgency around new technology or district structures that promote uptake of innovative ideas; we've entered an era of laissez-faire education (the "right" technology, pedagogy, and organizational model will present itself to us because the educational world is so connected and fundamentally innovative).

8. System in flux -- the educational models that come and go in our system each brings new and sometimes contradictory approaches to leadership and management (or are sometimes applied with difficulty as organizational rather than educational models): DDDM gave support to coordinated action research, Constructivism suggested system growth requires mediation, PLCs implied more collaboration was necessary in the organization, AFL required better use of descriptive feedback (even from the employer), Inquiry-based learning elevated the incongruent question, 21stCL nurtures grass-roots innovation, and so on... our district may be caught in a loop-error on system change, unable to figure out the best way to involve employees in decision-making without compromising other aspects of the current model(s).

There are other plausible explanations but I think these ones are relatively uncontentious, safe to discuss, and presently observable in our education system and school district.  I would argue that if we want employees and management, each one of them professionals and educators in some sense, to be working on the same basic journey towards the total growth of children in a public education system, we would give some primacy to sorting this out.  This starts with some self-awareness about the organizational barriers to dialogue, thus I have shared my thoughts for others to consider.  As always, comments welcome.