A New Approach

The new year brings a new direction for Tools of Engagement.  I want to write more about my own use of technology and social networks and explore how to encourage others to be a part of this movement.  While I enjoy exploring how parents can be more involved in public education by using web tools, I haven’t been able to sustain my writing on this one topic.  So I plan to open things up, get more personal, and push my own thinking in new directions.

One of my first new things to try is a “photo a day” project on Flickr.  Last year I caught glimpses of these projects from some of the edtech bloggers I enjoy.  Over the past week I’ve had the chance to catch some of their retrospectives.  (For inspiration please see: Dean Shareski, Alec Couros, D’Arcy Norman or Stephen Downes. Warning: viewing 366 photos takes time, so get yourself a cup of tea and choose one to enjoy).  It is amazing how you pick up on the change of seasons, the growth of children, the passage of time and the essence of love.

There are various 365 projects on Flickr, but I’ve joined the 2009/365 photos group as it has many members I already consider part of my personal learning network.  Plus, I like the rules they’ve established:

It doesn’t matter what you shoot, or what equipment you use – just that you shoot one photograph each and every day. You don’t have to post them all here – it’s not meant to be a report card or audit tool – but please feel free to share them here.

While I haven’t been able to write a blog post everyday, I hope to manage to click a picture.  I know from the experience of others that it’s not as easy as it sounds, but I believe forcing myself to find something to capture everyday will help me to focus on those small things in each and everday to be thankful for. Pictures can be of anything – big, small, poignant or simply pleasant.  I’ve got my kids permission to occassionally use photos of them as long as I don’t use anything they don’t like.  They don’t yet understand the “why” of this project, but I hope they will “get it” by the end of the year.  Of course I always have my cats to turn to when the kids get shy! (Click here for a link to my photostream.)


Finch and Boo

2009 will be a year devoted to personal learning: learning to be a better photographer, learning more about WordPress (*sigh* i.e. embedding widgets so that they work), learning how to blog “well”, learning how to use a Mac, you get the idea.  I plan to use our 21C tools to engage myself and hopefully learn how to engage others as well.  Most of all, 2009 will be about learning to live more consciously, conscientiously and connected. 


vision in a cloud

Recently I had the opportunity to briefly address around 900 teachers in the school District where I serve as an Education Council member.  The primary purpose of District Councils in New Brunswick is to set the overall vision and goals that are in turn operationalized by District Staff.  We are beginning a new 4 year term and will be undertaking a great deal of strategic planning in the next few months – finding a common focus, revisiting mission statements, goals and strategies, and reinvigorating our education plan. 

While I was officially at the event to bring greetings on behalf of the Council, I decided to take the opportunity to invite teachers to get involved in our strategic planning. I thought it best to give them an example of what the future could look like.  I described for them one vision of the future referenced in the OECD’s excellent document Schooling for Tomorrow, which I referenced in the post “The school is dead…Long live the school“. (Hence the prevalence of the word “scenario” in the above cloud). 

I’ve played around with various Wordle clouds since finding this tool several months ago, and I’ve read some interesting points of view as edtech bloggers have played with the tool and debated the educational value of it. This is the first time I’ve used it to really analyze a piece of my writing for content and I have the following observations:

  • Wordle is a lot of fun. I enjoy playing with the fonts, colours and other alterable aspects.
  • But it can be more than fun.  Finding the right combinations to convey the message you want is a good exercise. I chose the above cloud for the separation it created for the word “learning” – it was the central focus of my remarks and I like how it floats on its own.
  • It is amazing how many different words one can say in a few minutes. Too many words can be distracting from the message so I cut this cloud down to the top 100 words.
  • I created this wordle cloud after the fact, but there is great potential to use the tool ahead of time to help me shape the message I want to convey. 
  • I use the word “really” much too often. 

There are a lot of people playing around with Wordle – try it for yourself and check out the gallery.  It is a great little tool – for work and for play.

How much is too much?

Recently Cindy Seibel wrote a post asking the question “Can there be too much information for parents?” (you can read her post “Is it ever too much?” here and read the original story in the NY Times “I know what you did in Math Classhere)

As a parent interested in engaging other parents in our education system I wondered if these web service companies would go beyond what a parent would need to assess their own child’s performance – could they be used to increase the involvement of parents in schools, and ultimately to engage parents in school improvement planning? I decided to explore a few of these commercial school data systems and as in everything I found there is a wide variety of services – some simply offer parents access to information on grades, homework, and attendance, while others go much further and provide tools for multi-level communication and collaboration.   

Those of us involved in education governance often discuss the role of communication in increasing parent involvement/engagement, we talk about the processof communication.  Some of us see great potential in using web technology to improve this process – to reach more people where they are, when they want and how they want. Web tools such as blogs, wikis, nings and webcasts provide us with a lot of options for reaching parents (and many of them are free!). So in the absence of an integrated school community management system accessible to parents these tools could be quite useful.

But what kind of information should we be sharing to improve collaboration? What do parents need to know and discuss in order to be engaged in schools?

In my province we are a long way from finding that tipping point from enough information to too much.  A large number of parents I talk to do not feel really connected to what is happening with their child in the classroom, and fewer are aware of what is happening educationally on a school wide basis. They want to have more frequent contact with classroom teachers as well as school administrators. Until parents feel there is adequate communication with teachers and principals can we really expect them to feel comfortable in a open, collaborative school improvement process?

Passion Based Learning

Today I read an old post by Konrad Glogowski on passion based learning (found via Remote Access) that stopped me in my tracks.  The following passage says so much about what we need to be considering:

Today, however, we tend to think that using online tools that appeal to young people will automatically ensure their engagement. Genuine passion cannot be ignited with a podcast or a blog. Instead, we need to give our students the freedom to learn and engage with ideas that they find relevant and important.

My interest in blogging comes from wanting to learn more about engagement of parents and students. Coming into this I knew “it’s not the tools, it’s what you do with them“, but I was thinking in terms of having parents and students take greater interest in education because they were participating in it. Now I hope we can go even further – all the way to schools that ignite passion.   

I think the idea of giving a student the freedom to find his/her passion resonates with me because my son has the opportunity to pick a subject or topic for a project that he can work on independently when he has completed his regular class work, and he will have access to a computer (not sure what that means in terms of web tools yet). 

Problem – our discussion of passion revealed he didn’t really understand what I was getting at. (So I had him look up the meaning of the word online without thinking of how else the word is used – I had to think quickly to get out of that jam). We finally made some progress when we discussed what he was interested in learning about. 

In the absence of knowing ones passions can we substitute interests?  Perhaps as a child explores interests they will become passions over time. So far we have determined his interests are figuring things out, puzzles, mazes, codes and making things.

As he would like to use the computer for this learning we’ve looked for some possible resources, but so far much of what I’ve found would amount to him “playing” online.  He doesn’t really want to do a “history of” research piece – he wants to make something.

So, I’d welcome any suggestions you may have (other than Scratch which he uses a lot at home)…