Final project…finally!

OS crewWell, I had to ask for an extension of my final project-but I did have a good reason! My aim was for my final project to be something that I really wanted to do, something that had a purpose beyond just meeting my course requirement. I had finally settled on doing something that did have value-but I was having a hard time getting excited about it. Then, just as life often tosses us a surprise, an opportunity presented itself.

I found myself agreeing at the last minute to take 9 Middle School Students on a three day trip to Surin, Thailand. This trip involved a six hour bus ride each way, two nights in a hotel, and coordinating with another organization. This organization was Operation Smile.

For all of my reluctance and last minute stress, I am so glad that life did throw me this little surprise. This was an amazing trip with a phenomenal group of students. Each of these kids in his or her own way touched the lives of children and families during an incredibly emotional experience. From the screening day of trying to navigate hundreds of people asking for surgery for their children, to the surgical ward on the day surgeries started, to actually standing next to the doctors in the operating room while the surgeries were being performed…these kids showed that they were there to support these children and families in need.

So my final project is a video created, with a link to the donation website, that hopefully will encourage some to also reach out and touch these children’s lives. I know my life has been touched by this experience. Not just by the children and families needing surgery, but also by my students.

Thank you “Carl Jr” (Chris) for tirelessly blowing the bubbles and patiently tossing the ball-you brought laughter and smiles everywhere you went. Thank you “Dr.” Owain for not only being gentle with the kids needing surgery, but also for caring about the other kids on our trip-and for insisting that you wanted to create a video all on your own, it is amazing! Thank you Sanjana for your quiet smile that helped ease the kids’ fears and for putting their needs before your own. Thank you Ciel for translating for us, the doctors, the kids, and the families-those little ones will always remember the duck duck goose games and joy you brought into their lives (and now you, too, have added your own phenomenal video that spreads the message!). Thank you Julie for your quiet curiosity and your willingness to do whatever was asked of you-your patience is remarkable. Thank you Liana for being the ‘crazy sticker girl’ and even when you were tired, still finding the energy to jump and play ball to make the kids smile and laugh. Thank you Becky, for sharing your creativity and kindness-when you reached out to gently hold the hand of an unknown elderly woman waiting for surgery, it showed the depth of compassion you hold in your heart. Thank you Siska, for truly feeling the sadness of others and wanting to bring joy into people’s lives-you really see others’ pain and you reach out with a heart full of love. Thank you Tasha for being so incredibly full of love and joy that just being near you brought the same feelings to the children and families you touched-you have a heart of gold. You all touched lives-you made our world a better place.


Final reflection, final post?

Wheww, so we’ve reached the conclusion of our intensive six week course. This last post is supposed to be my reflection on my project…but I think I’d rather reflect on the blogging! I believe many students in the course would agree that the blog was a bigger ‘learning curve’ than the final project. For me that’s certainly where a huge chunk of my time, thoughts, and learning has happened.

When I started this blog, my first post was a challenge to myself (and my teachers!) to discover whether or not I was, and wanted to be a blogger. And after six weeks, numerous blog posts, some welcomed comments and some unwelcome ‘re-tweets’ (thanks very much Andy, I was trying to remain incognito!), I’d have to say the verdict is…yikes, a hung jury. Or at least the jury is still out! Since I’m continuing on with taking classes towards the Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy, I have a sneaking suspicion that I won’t have much choice in the matter.

Writing the posts is getting easier, I don’t suffer near the same level of anxiety I did at the outset. However, I still have mini panic attacks when I think of complete strangers reading my words and thoughts. At the same time, when someone I didn’t really know commented on my blog…it was kind of neat!

I am not convinced, however, that blogging is something I will want to continue. I think partly because I feel the need to try and balance Jeff out a bit! Also, I made a promise to Clarence’s wife to start a Widows of the Web support group to help those of us who often lose their spouses to that virtual world out there. Of course, the best way to reach all of those other Web Widows and connect would probably be through the Internet…

So I guess I will continue to explore, expand, and push my thinking. I will attempt to see how and if this idea of blogging fits into my life. Until the next post, signing off.

– The Thinking Chick

Pedal to the metal, getting in gear

Something has stuck with me for the last few weeks and I feel the need to vent it out…maybe that’s what a blog is for!??!

A good friend of mine’s younger brother (who I will forever think of as a sixth grader-that’s how old he was when I met him) just graduated from a well regarded teacher training institution. He decided that he wanted to give the overseas teaching a go and attended the ISS fair in Philadelphia. He was hired (had many interviews actually) and will teach his first two years overseas.

Prior to the career fair, he sat down with me to ‘prepare’ for the interviews. I spent some time sharing with him my experiences overseas and what life has been like. I also shared with him what I felt would be priorities with the recruiters he would be interviewing with. Chief among these was the use of and comfort with technology. I explained that understanding things like blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc and how to integrate them into his classroom would be a huge boon for him in his interviews. After a few minutes of him listening to me, I realized that his face was slowly changing and showing the beginning signs of panic. I stopped and queried “You do know how to use these tools in your classroom, right?” Sheepishly he shared that while he knew what those tools were, and used many of them in his personal life, he had never actually been taught to use them in his education program. Now it was my turn to have the color drain from my face and the beginnings of panic to set in.

How in the world can we be turning out brand spanking new teachers that have never experimented with these tools in their training? How can any higher education program claim to be training 21st Century Teachers and yet still be graduating students with little to no exposure of current trends in technology? The university he graduated from has one of the best reputations for an education program in the entire state…how is this disconnect happening?

I used to think that we needed to dump all of our resources and energy into schools and professional development for current teachers. Now I’m afraid I was overlooking an incredible opportunity to fight the battle from the ‘ground up.’ What if all of the new graduates coming out of teacher training programs already had adopted this ‘paradigm shift’? What if they went into schools automatically teaching and collaborating in the ways of the 21st Century? Then they could share with the current teachers and influence students in this new landscape of learning.

This is not a new idea, I know (remember, most of what I could ever possibly say or think of is really old news-see my first blog post “Maybe Blogging Isn’t For Me…”). In searching to see what other people were and were not saying about education programs, I came across this article on the Milken Family Foundation website: Information Technology Underused in Teacher Education. In the article, there is a quote from Dr. David Moursund of the International Society for Technology in Education. He said:

“In the past few years, the preservice teacher education programs have made substantial progress in preparing future teachers in information technology, but they still have a long way to go”

The article goes on to share the results of a survey given to faculty members in teacher training programs. The survey asked the faculty about the extent to which future teachers are being exposed to technology. The survey results showed that:

“The majority of faculty-members revealed that they do not, in fact, practice or model effective technology use in their classrooms.”

The conclusion of the article is a direct quote from Cheryl Lemke, Executive Director of the Milken Exchange on Education Technology:

“The findings in this report should be a wake-up call for higher education institutions and policymakers across the country – today’s students live in a global, knowledge-based age, and they deserve teachers whose practice embraces the best that technology can bring to learning.”

Sadly, this article was published exactly 10 years ago…seems maybe not enough people read it, or believed it! I keep finding myself becoming discouraged and disheartened. When will education put its foot to the accelerator? What will it take to get future educators prepared and in the driver’s seat? How do we get this car in gear???

Our kids deserve no less

I am finding myself contemplating the future of education and wondering where it’s going. I know where I think it should be headed, where I’d like it to be going…yet, somehow I don’t know if it will get there.

Everything I’ve been reading for this class has emphasized how important it is to be moving forward, to be putting energy and effort into understanding this new digital age and supporting our students in it. Yet the same authors are reminding us that education is the slowest institution to change and educators are reluctant to take risks and try new, modern ideas. This is what worries me. We are no longer talking about education ‘integrating’ technology, we are talking about a complete and total paradigm shift. Can we do it? I hope so…I think we have to at least try.

When I was reading Marc Prensky’sAdapt and Adopt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom,” I was struck by his call to include the students. It is something that I believe is necessary for education to move forward. But this is the paradigm shift. As educators we are no longer the ones with all the answers, we must look to our students to be teachers too. This is a scary thought for many! Marc puts it this way:

“First, consult the students. They are far ahead of their educators in terms of taking advantage of digital technology and using it to their advantage. We cannot, no matter how hard we try or how smart we are (or think we are), invent the future education of our children for them. The only way to move forward effectively is to combine what they know about technology with what we know and require about education. Sadly, in most cases, no one asks for their opinion. I go to conference after conference on school technology, and nary a student is in sight.”

This was something I encountered at the Learning 2.0 Conference in Shanghai last September. I participated in an ‘unconference’ session with some high school students. These were students who were brought in to support the conference participants tech wise. On the spur of the moment (which is the whole idea of ‘unconference’ sessions), some of the students were asked to participate in a round table discussion about their thoughts on technology and learning. It was by far one of the most interesting sessions I attended. The kids were incredibly uncomfortable at the outset (we sat in a circle with about 20 or so educators looking at the students). Many people kept asking the kids questions like “what do you want your learning to look like?” and “how would you like to see technology used in your education?” These poor kids looked like deer caught in the headlights! Of course they struggled with answering the questions like those (who wouldn’t really?). However, when asked how they would like to complete assignments, they did have answers. They continually went back to the idea of having options and choices about their assignments. It showed that they preferred to have some level of control or investment in how they presented their work. They also wanted to learn about ‘interesting things’ and not something that even they could tell the teacher was just lecturing on because she/he had to. My favorite part of the entire discussion was when one teacher in the group asked the student to give some examples of how they’d like to be assessed on content they had been learning. The student replied “Well, I’d like to sometimes just have a chat with the teacher about what I’ve learned.” The teacher who posed the question responded with “Oh, like on MSN or something?” To which the student looked confused for a moment, then his face cleared and he smiled and said “Oh, no, I mean like a chat…you know, sitting down and talking to each other?!” It was a perfect example of how sometimes we over think things!

The bottom line is that we have to adapt and adopt. There is no way we can provide our students with what they need unless we do. Marc Prensky put it perfectly:

“A big effort? Absolutely. But our kids deserve no less.”

Adapting and adopting…it’s getting easier!

It’s interesting to read first hand things I’ve been hearing about for years. I’ve heard Marc Prensky’s name frequently mentioned around my house, but this is the first time I’ve actually read him directly. Much of what he wrote in Adopt and Adapt: Shaping Tech for the Classroom, I am familiar with through reading The Thinking Stick blog.

Some of what Marc said though, jumped out at me and struck a chord. He writes at one point:

“But resisting today’s digital technology will be truly lethal to our children’s education.”

I think he is making a strong statement here, but one that I don’t think I can disagree with. I often find myself ‘resisting’ the digital technology and can frequently find the information (and rate of change) entirely overwhelming. When I read this statement that Marc made, I knew I was in trouble:

“Having learned about digital technology later in life, digital immigrants retain their predigital “accents” — such as, thinking that virtual relationships (those that exist only online) are somehow less real or important than face-to-face ones.”

As Clarence Fisher can attest to, when he and Jeff met the first time face to face, I declared him a real friend. It’s since become a joke around our house, but I realize that for me, there is some modicum of truth to the statement. Maybe it’s because I’m a counselor, maybe it’s just who I am, but I value that face to face contact and for me, it’s what I want. I still tease Jeff when he takes his laptop out to the local pub for happy hour and I go out with my friends. But as he has continually explained to me, his friends are with him this way. What I have come to terms with is that though I may not prefer virtual relationships, I recognize that they are something my students value. I don’t have to feel the same way they do to understand and support them in their world.

The Digital Youth Project also emphasized the importance of online relationships in the conclusions and findings of the project. The findings stipulate that just accessing information online won’t quite cut it. One must be a participant in the online world:

“Participation in the digital age means more than being able to access “serious” online information and culture; it also means the ability to participate in social and recreational activities online.”

I guess this could be one of the reasons we’re taking this class and being ‘forced’ to participate online. This is our introduction to the world that our students are engaging in every day. Slowly, but surely, I am adapting and adopting…and truth be known, it is getting easier!