Archive for January, 2010

Educon Discussions

I would first like to make a correction to my last blog in which I said that there were over 75 different discussions taking place at Educon. In fact there are over 50 different presentations but still enough to fill your boots with technology lingo of today.

My Educon experience is part of the SLA (Science Leadership Academy) in Philadelphia and has been around since 2006 thanks to founder and Principal, Chris Lehmann. The main focus of SLA is “built on the notion that inquiry is the very first step in the process of learning. Developed in partnership with The Franklin Institute and its commitment to inquiry-based science, the SLA will provide a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Students at the SLA will learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes”. It is through the SLA that these professional development opportunities are available and for that I am extremely grateful to be a part of.

Uploaded on December 25, 2007
by lumaxart








On the list of presenters is our very own Alec Couros and Dean Shareski presenting “(Re)Imaging Social Media & Technology in Teacher Education” which I am excited to sit through tomorrow (Sunday Jan 31/10) at 10:30 – 12:00pm EST.

Today’s presentation on Educational Commissioning and Project Based Learning, given by John Sole (CEO of Guerilla Educators) was to answer the following essential question: “In a wired world unfettered by the geography of place, how do we design teaching and learning spaces when much of the teaching and learning happens outside of the physical “school” building?”. Discussions in this topic has allowed me to brainstorm areas of integrating project based learning into my Chemistry classes. I have made a list of potential organizations that might be willing to mentor students in a workplace environment in hopes of supplementing content with application.

At the present, I am not teaching Chemistry 30 (grade 12) where I feel that these projects would find better successes for both acting parties between organization and student. How I get students to assist in these community projects and how I creatively organize the requirements will definitely present a challenge but hopefully through active collaboration between business, students and school, we can achieve an engaged learning experience.

During other presentations, many links where given in the backchannel to which I shall list here:

Learning Matters” Wiki – focussing on what teaching and learning should look like in the 21st Century.

High School Science Wiki – Tavis Bogue’s (Philadelphia high school teacher) teaching site.

Science Companion site for elementary Science teachers from K – 6. Inspiring kids to explore their world through inquiry.


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Online at Educon

This weekend is the big Educon professional development conference in Philadelphia but you can attend online, all you have to do is sign up. So far, most of the audio is garbled but the backchannel discussions are quite informative. There are people from all over North America and I have had a few words with teachers from Moose Jaw and Saskatoon. There are 50 different PD discussions including all areas of technology, classroom procedures and school wide initiatives. Conversations go all day today (Saturday Jan 30/10) and all day tomorrow. Elluminate is being used to broadcast all discussions and there are wikis set up to summarize the presentations.


Uploaded on January 9, 2007
by Noah Sussman

Our discussion today involved using Skype in schools and how many different classrooms interact daily with other classrooms around the world. Some did say that Skype was blocked at their schools. I am not sure if we have access but I sure hope so, now I just need to find a classroom around the globe to share in our experiences. Unfortunately, I find it refreshing to hear teachers from other schools in NA that face the same challenges that we do here in Saskatchewan but the fact that we are all working together to progress and find solutions to enrich our teaching profession is absolutely awesome!

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SL a second time…

I have viewed a few of the links given to us in our ECI832 wiki which illustrates how some educators are incorporating SL into their classrooms. I am nowhere near incorporating SL into my class but I do see why some students would be engaged in their learning.

Over the past two days I have explored using SL to implement a Chemistry experience for my high school students. What excites me the most about SL is that it is something different with lots of potential to bring an otherwise invisible world into plain view and it also has the ability to bring people from all over the world together to work collaboratively.

Last night, my goal was to find a true meaningful Chemistry experience. I chatted with anyone who would listen and anyone who would provide me assistance about using SL to teaching high school Chemistry. I met many people who felt SL acted as a social platform to meet with others around the world. For others, it is used as a sexual experience while others had a more academic agenda like myself.

I received a suggestion to check out NCI island. I teleported to NCI (New Citizens Inc) and stumbled into Pepsi (literally), an avatar that I am sure who has blocked me if at all possible but who was extremely patient and helpful with connecting me to a Course Schedule at NCI. On the agenda last night was last weeks most popular presentation, “Second Life Basic Scripting”. I attended the lecture with 3 other avatars in the “Sky Classroom” and built a rotating cube.

Nothing to fancy but still tricky to comprehend for a first time scripter. I always wondered why I needed to take Computer Science 110 for my science degree and found out last night in SL. It might not be the exact syntax but having gone through C++, it has given me a basic understanding of using scripting in SL. The presentation took about an hour and fifteen minutes which covered syntax, codes and lots of computer jargon. The logic is there but I found it a little difficult to follow through the lines of code. I will have to redo the course at a later date.

According to Sally, our “Scripting Instructor”, after completing last nights basic class, supposedly I am ready for “Intermediate Scripting” which is on the schedule of events but not until I go back an research “Basic Building” first. I am a bit confused how we create commands. Is there a book of commands to choose from a list for individual events or are we suppose to create our own?

Another part of my online adventure led me to ACS Island (American Chemistry Society) where I spent a good hour reading posters and checking out Jean Claude Bradley’s blog on using Chemistry in SL. His teaching is on a different level than mine. He doesn’t lecture anymore, he has podcasts for all of his material which he gives the students at the beginning of the semester and then they can watch it anytime they want during the course. He refuses to lecture because he finds his time is better off spent investigating chemical perspectives with his students, in a lab but mostly on SL. 

While I was at ACS island, I joined a “Science Center” group and I am no longer an “Explorer” in SL …I am a “Science Enthusiast” which I have excitedly shared with my students. I also found an article, that discusses using Chemistry in SL but have yet to read it. If anyone does come across some engaging high school Chemistry links in SL please let me know.

After my 4 hour fade from “reality” in 2 days, I sat and reflected on what I had just been a part of. I spent some time chatting with my wife actually  trying to convince her to travel with me in SL the next time I went on so I could wash away the misconceptions that we formed from watching the Fifth Estate’s: Strangers in Paradise. You have to appreciate that 2 days ago, I would have shrugged my shoulders to SL but finding an application closer to my discipline has intrigued my senses and tonight I will disappear again in my second life in hopes of finding out if SL is for me in my teaching practices.

It is amazing how many inappropriate situations I avoid in SL by appearing as a experiment that has gone wrong. In SL, I used to be beautiful :() before I found my new attire and I would get the strangest invites and messages so I think I will continue to promote Chemsitry in SL by walking around as a burnt match stick.

Has anyone signed up for Earn2life yet? Supposedly, you get paid to go and hang out in different areas on SL and supposedly, more avatars in one location increases the search results a particular island gets. I spoke with an avatar (Ayrana) who is on SL all the time. She has created an E2L account and told me that every 5000 Linden accumulated can be converted into 20 USD and as a result she gets paid in real life by working in SL. Personally, the amount of time I would have to spend in SL to make this payment option worthwhile seems unrealistic for me as I just can’t seem to justify devoting a lot time in something that doesn’t directly benefit my teaching or family life.

Ayrana probably spent a good hour with me after our scripting class showing me around and answering the plethora of questions I had. I learned quite a bit from her and found it interesting that one of the goals of SL is to continually upgrade your avatar. She can transform her avatar into a space alien robot with a backpack that acts as her pet and flies around whereever she goes. Impressive but does she have a burnt match stick costume 🙂

Sheesh, what a mind trip…I had difficulties falling asleep over the last couple of nights because I spent so much time in SL trying to make sense of everything. I now see how real life responsibilities can get quickly displaced. What is usually packed filled evenings for me is now being occupied by intereactions in another life. SL is contagious and the more I engage myself in this world the more I want to learn how to use SL to enhance my teacing practices.

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Second Life…twice the fun!

My world in Second Life (SL) has commenced!

I have been a SL user for about a week now and I am learning as I go. I was given the impression that SL was a main attraction for people who didn’t feel satisfied with their own life so they entered this virtual world to create a better existence for themselves. In November 2009, my wife and I watched  the Fifth Estate – “Strangers in Paradise” and got turned off from what we had heard. People engaging with others online and forming a relationship based on inaccurate appearances and through this fantasy world people were spending countless hours daily, neglecting responsibilities and meeting others with similar interests. A story about a Calgary women who spent up to 8 hours a day on SL ended up divorcing her partner and then married someone that she hooked up with through SL and even to this day, are supposedly happily in love with each other and good on them. The media’s representation of SL kept me away from getting involved but I must say I was slightly excited when I heard that we were asked to create an avatar for our grad class as we are asked to navigate through the world and learn how to use it as a tool in our daily teaching.

Once in, I spent a considerable amount of time getting my settings organized and I checked out a few of the tutorial videos provided to us by RPS/UofR  zone creators. The videos are not for beginners who wish to understand how to use SL or even what SL is all about, they are geared more towards an intermediate user that has played with  inventory items and has a basic idea of how everything fits together in SL. I don’t feel that I can give an educated description about how I can use SL until I get past the introductory learning curve of getting to understand what I am doing in this world but so far I like exploring my options.

I must thank Marnie and Garnet for being so patient with me as I set up my character and went through my settings. I am one who usually asks questions when I don’t know what I am doing and both provided clear, concise instructions to my queries. I still haven’t been able to effectively get my mic to work without echoing through everyones elses computer but I guess it just adds to the experience 🙂

We got in as a group on Thursday and teleported around to a few places. The Mesopotamia world allowed me to inherit a few more duds which I excitedly changed in my inventory. So, I learned to add a different attire, take snap shots/post cards and I have learned that LM’s are “landmarks” that can be exchanged between users to allow teleportation into new locations of SL instead of having to fly around.

I have engaged in discussions with others at my school about SL and only about 5% of the educators that I asked knew what SL was and could give me some additional information to the potential of using SL in education. As an I.B. Chemistry teacher, I find it difficult to rationalize using this space to supplement my teaching as there is so much content to cover in such a short time frame. One valuable response was that SL can be used to “immerse” students into a general setting where the world in context can be brought into view and considering how most students are visual learners, this can obviously play an important role in content retention and applicability. To be honest, I find youtube and the other interactive applets that I use daily to be a bit more comfortable to use and more time effective; however, I am always looking for multiple ways to increase my arsenal of teaching tools so I do hope to find reason to implement SL somehow in my Chemistry explanations.

A few questions I do have are:

1. Do I have a RPS LM card that can be shared with other users outside of our learning group and if so, is this desirable for our purpose in SL?

2. If I accept “stuff” from other users, is my computer at risk in any way?

I sure would like to learn a bit more as I have heard that some students have completed a PhD using SL and how to incorporate SL into our classrooms.

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I found it interesting to analyze the LoTi (Levels of Teaching Innovation) Framework. I used to consider myself quite technologically savvy until I took a ECI831 with Alec Couros. I quickly learned that although I know how to use Microsoft Applications and how to navigate effeciently around the Internet, I was blind to all the marvels that technology could offer me personally on a daily basis and in my classroom.

Now, I have set up and briefly used Delicious, Google Apps, WordPress, Jing and Moodle but I have just scratched the surface and hope to go a little deeper. By using the LoTi Digital-Age Framework I find myself somewhere in between Level 2 – Exploration and Level 3 – Infusion. I enjoy teaching days when I don’t have to be a talking head at the front of the room and as a result, I try to book out computer rooms to perform online labs and investigations with my students. I receive feedback from students on a semesterly basis as to which lessons they enjoyed the most and those they didn’t enjoy as much and hands down it is usually the lessons that tap into the students strengths and this day and age seems to be through the use of computers and the Internet.

NETS (National Education Technology Standards) for students appears quite indepth. I am curious as to how I can accomplish such an intense learning environment in my Chemistry classes. I appreciate using computers to bring the otherwise invisible world to reality but the learning curve is immense. I have been told that our Board isn’t too interested to incorporate technology in our schools to the extent that most feel it needs to be. I wonder where we will be in 5 or 10 years if we continue to ignore the reality of our students by disconnecting technology into our teaching practices. Although I am extremely excited to incorporate technology into my teaching, I find that technology needs to act as a supplement to enhance my teaching and not be the sole source of my teaching.

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The Song Doesn’t Have to Remain the Same.

The article, The Song Remains the Same (Mishra et al, 2009), echos some thoughts and questions that I have asked myself lately about the inclusion of technology into my daily practices, mainly the fact that technology is changing at an exponential rate and as a consequence, it changes the way we view and deal with the world around us.

“The race keeps getting faster and with a greater number of obstacles” (Mishra et al, 2009). I am usually optimistic in my approach to change but I must say that I am feeling a little overwhelmed with everything going on in my teaching practices today. Luckily, I have realized that I need to change my daily practices from a teacher centered classroom into a student driven, activity based learning environment but how do I accomplish this? I have successfully completed my first Masters class in which I satisfied my need to think outside the box, I have played with some tech tools and received many contradicting viewpoints as to how today’s education framework should look like and I am beginning to understand who I am as a reflective learner.

Many educators lack implementation skills, (Mishra et al, 2009) and I definitely fit the mold. I am actively engaged in enhancing my learning and teaching practices and I reflect daily on these skills but with the rapid pace of change of technology, I am confused as how I bring together content, technology and pedagogy when they are constantly in a state of flux.

Melioration is a promising view as “new perspectives (should) focus on overarching cognitive skills, competencies and creativity rather than technical understanding and functional knowledge of specific technologies” (Mishra et al, 2009). By teaching kids “how” to think and “how” to solve common problems is a promising view of thought; however, teachers that lack formal technological training and implementation skills have a huge learning curve ahead of them.

Personally, I am at the beginning of changing all of my resources into activity based resources and trying to find a big picture as how this needs to be achieved. Not only do I need to create the resources, I need to pilot them in my classes in hopes of meeting “indicators”, I need to find ways to get students to learn about technology and even more so, how to intrinsically motivate them how to think for themselves. I am obviously assuming that their content knowledge is sufficient and that they keep up with the Chemistry by completing homework and in class activities.

As it stands, I spend on average of 3 hours of my time setting up and conduct an activities for my students. Thankfully, I have some of the resources already created so most of my time is spent making up solutions, setting up the lab, taking down the lab and marking the lab reports themselves (this is based on one class size of 30 students). How do I continue to devote so much time to one learning experience and yet attempt to incorporate technology effectively while illustrating mastery of the tools when there is so much more that eats away at my time during the day? I have searched many hours for these types of Chemistry activities but to no avail, so I guess that this experience will be quite innovative indeed.

Structural innovation is the big buzz word today with our Board while technology has been downplayed and not anticipated to be reinforced in our daily teaching practices. It seems that student achievement levels are down and we are scrambling to find a remedy but we don’t seem to change what I feel is the obvious. By lowering class sizes and avoiding a disconnect between teaching philosophies and realities that face us today, I feel teachers can be more productive in providing a real learning experience for their students. With more and more being added to our plates every semester, I struggle as to how I will revolutionize my teaching practices especially when I don’t have a clear view as to what my learning environment should look like.

As mentioned, I am an optimist and will continue to face situations head on with expectations of success. I find it healthy to face a situation with optimism but to we must also acknowledge short comings in order to triumph over the stresses that face the teaching generation today. I plan to continue to update my technology skills, to continually attend technological in-services and to actively engage myself in dialogue with others around me with the same tribulations in hopes of unifying my teaching into an area that maintains transferrable skills between problems facing my students today.

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