Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

November 9, 2015

As this is the first post in the series on what I am listening to, I am not really sure of how to structure it. But I think I’ll start with a short summary and follow it up by a recommendation (or not) for a school library.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl is the story of Greg and his best friend Earl and how they came to make a movie for a classmate who has just been diagnosed with Leukemia.  Greg is a purposefully invisible high school senior.  He only has one real friend, Earl, who seems to be the last person Greg would be friends with.  But the two came together over the love of making movies… horrible, unrealistic, terrible movies.  In keeping with Greg’s desire for social invisibility, they don’t share their movies with anyone… until Rachel.

As a character, Greg is oddly endearing.  His self-deprecation is taken to the extreme, both in his interactions with others in the story and his monologues directed to the reader.  At first, it is somewhat frustrating, but it grew on me.  I especially liked the way he constantly tells you that this won’t be a love story, it won’t be a good story, he isn’t even sure why you are still reading it at this point.  But in the end, I am glad I read (listened to) it.

I would recommend this book for a high school library, but because of the excessive foul language, especially by Earl, I wouldn’t recommend it for an elementary library.

Oh, and in case you are wondering… yes, it has been made into a movie.


Is Consuming the 5th C?

October 29, 2015

Recently I have been looking through materials for a MOOC on coaching digital learners.  In Unit 2, the MOOC discusses the 4 C’s (Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity).  At a professional learning event this week, I also head a teacher complaining that technology in schools is often only used to consume.  It’s a one way information transfer from world to student.  He wanted students using it to create and think critically, basically making a case for the 4 C’s.  I agree with him, however, I did start to wonder if is there a place for consuming in education.  Considering the vast amount of information that surrounds them every day, do they understand how to consume that information without being overwhelmed by it?  Is consuming the 5th C of 21st century learning?  Please leave your thoughts and ideas in the comments.

Back to the Blog

May 7, 2015

Well, after almost 5 years off, I’ve decided it’s time to start blogging again.  I’ve been using twitter to network professionally and share ideas, but sometimes I just need to say a little more than 140 characters can provide.  Not a lot more, as I am sure you’ll see if you continue to follow this blog.  I am not very verbose.  I want to use twitter and other social media to throw ideas out there and see what the response is and sometimes I can’t get my idea whittled down enough, so I am going to try using my blog as a space to share those ideas and link to them with twitter.  Wish me luck!

Horizon’s Collaborative Apprenticeship Program

May 12, 2010

At the end of March we launched a new program at Horizon School Division called the Collaborative Apprenticeship Program (CAP).  The program is designed to help teachers develop technology infusion practices, grow personal learning networks, and create a culture of reflecting and sharing in Horizon.  The basic idea of the program was to create small groups (3-6) of teachers who teacher the same curriculum and have them create technology infused lessons using a laptop, projector, and speakers in their classroom.  We called this equipment a Technology Enabled Classroom (TEC).  It grew out of the lessons we learned when we piloted putting TECs and a classroom set of laptops in 2 schools.  One of those lessons we learned was that it was too much too fast and many, though not all, of the teachers felt they needed more support and time to become familiar with computers and web 2.0 before they were ready to bring a class set of laptops into their room.  But kudos to the teachers from those two schools for taking on such a challenge!

You can find out more about the program by visiting the CAP wiki.

Twiducate… Twitter for schools

March 10, 2010

A colleague just showed me something he is doing with his grade 6 class.  Twiducate is twitterish site that allows students and teachers to make short notes to their students.  The grade 6 teacher who showed it to me is using it with specific themes for the posts.  For example, he might ask his students to post on Twiducate what they thought of a History Channel special.  They all have the option to watch it at home and “tweet” to their classmates as they do it.  Twiducate is a private network where only the teacher and the students can see the posts.  Anyone have thoughts on it?

ECI831 response artifact

December 8, 2009

This was done as a final wrap-up reflection for the ECI831 class.  A couple explanations before you watch the video:

We implemented Maplewood this year and it caught us by surprise with the amount of work involved in getting it going.  I thought I would be part of it for a couple weeks and then get back to my regular position.  But unfortunately I’m just now getting back to in December, after many miles on the road supporting secretaries and principals.  There’s a metaphor in the video for it, so I thought I better explain it.

My major project for this class was a wiki of math lessons with the new 3,6,9 implementation.  I am currently in the process of getting teachers involved in filling in the content.  But the structure is there.  You can find it at  There is an allusion to it in the video as well.

Well, here is the video:

The Great Facebook Debate

November 30, 2009

I recently received an email from a teacher regarding the use of Facebook in school.

Hello Russell,
I have a question for you.  I was wondering what is your take on the use of Facebook in school, I am pretty strict making sure the students are not using it.  Today I had my principal come to my classroom and ask me why I do not let the students on Facebook. I said that a school isn’t a place for students to acess social network sites (unmonitored at that) I also said school computers are for educational use and Facebook has no educational value.  What are other school doing with this issue?

Here is my response:

Thanks for the great question.  First, I’d like to direct you to Protocol 6-60 Acceptable Use of Computers.  The following two sections come the closest to dealing with this issue.

Appendix “C”

Using the Horizon School Division and CNET EDUVPN infrastructure to access games or multimedia services for non-educational purposes is an unacceptable use of a valuable resource and is not permitted.

Appendix “J”

Personal Web Pages will be limited to students in grades 10, 11, and 12. The student must have parent and administration/supervising teacher’s approval before they post their web page to the Internet. These sites must conform to the acceptable use policy and to the Horizon School Division Communication Protocol – 1-50.

As you can see, Appendix C is very clear that the computers are not to be used for non-educational purposes.  Appendix J states that students will not be allowed to post personal websites without prior parent and teacher approval.  Since Facebook is a type of personal website, that means the student would not be allowed to update their status without first consulting their parents and their teacher.

This protocol was written a few years ago, and the way we interact with others via the Internet has changed drastically since then with the advent of Web 2.0.  However, it is the protocol in place that is to guide our decisions as educators.  It is my understanding that this protocol is under review, and may be changed at some point in the future, but for now, I would advise you use this protocol in it’s entirety when deciding if you should allow students to access Facebook.  It can be found in the Protocol Manual on the Horizon School Division Website.  You may also want to have a look at a few of the items in Section 4 of the Admin Manual, namely the Internet Usage Agreement procedure and form.

I would also like to give my personal take on things.  The following comments are my own, and do not necessarily reflect division policy.

There is a great debate surrounding the use of Facebook, Youtube, and other “social” sites in schools.  Some want them opened up wide, others want them locked right down.  And there is pretty much every opinion in between.  For now, I will set aside the (in)appropriateness of the content and focus on the educational value side of things.  For me, it’s more so about “on-task behavior” than it is about whether Facebook has educational value or not.  Whether it is Facebook or a comic book, teachers need to decide how much off-task behavior is acceptable.  Should we ban comic books because they distract students?  Perhaps a better analogy to facebook would be a letter from a friend.  Would we tell a student they shouldn’t bring a letter from their friend to school because it will distract them from their studies?  I don’t believe we would.

I don’t feel it is efficient to work non-stop all day, and I think most would agree with me.  Short breaks are needed throughout the day to give the mind and body a chance to rejuevenate.  That’s why we have recesses.  The amount of time and frequency of breaks needed vary by the individual.  So I guess the question becomes WHEN is Facebook appropriate.  During recess only?  For only a couple minutes during a class?  If a student had a letter from their friend out and was reading it all day and not focussing on their work, then I would ask them to keep it at home.  But if they read it during recess, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

So I guess for me it isn’t a question of whether Facebook has “educational value” or not.  There are many things that happen in schools that cannot be linked directly to curricular outcomes, and I don’t see a problem with that.  The focus of schools still needs to be on the curriculum, but we can’t expect students to shut off the rest of their lives and only think about the curriculum from 9:00-3:30 everyday.  Monitoring the amount of off-task time a student spends is the key, whether that off-task time is spent on Facebook, visiting with their friends, or doodling.

So now comes the question of the appropriateness of the content.  I see many more shades of grey in this area.  We all recognize that pornography, violence, vulgar language, and hate are content we want to keep out of our schools, whether they are entering the school through the Internet or some other medium.  The problem with Facebook, Youtube, and other social sites is that the site itself does not define the content.  Social sites are, by definition, sites where the content depends on the people using them.  Whether Facebook brings in that inappropriate content or not depends on what the students’ friends post.  For this reason, many schools have banned social sites.  The content is just too unpredictable.

We owe our students a certain standard of care, and must execute our due diligence in preventing inappropriate content from entering the school. However I think we would be fooling ourselves if we thought we could be 100% successful in this effort 100% of the time.  It is my personal belief that in educating the whole child, we must teach them what is socially appropriate and what is not.  In the computer room, where every aspect of the world is just a click away, this requires our presence, physically and mentally, in the room with the students.  Due to staff numbers and building size, it isn’t always possible in every school to have a teacher on supervision in the computer room at recess and noon hour.  And in these cases, I think it is quite appropriate to not allow students on Facebook, or even on the Internet.

In the case there there is direct supervision, the question becomes what do you do when something inappropriate is posted on Facebook and they read it (or view it).  Do we simply tell them to close the browser window?  Do we discuss with them why that post was socially inappropriate?  Or do we block Facebook so students can’t go onto the site anymore and pretend that part of the world isn’t out there?

The interconnectedness of the world, vastly due to the Internet, has really muddied the waters of what is and is not the responsibility of the teacher.  I’ll try to write another post on this in a few days.

Gaming in Education

October 26, 2009

Last week, we were asked to “engage [our] inner skeptic to answer the question: Why has the use of games in the classroom become a “hot” topic in education lately?”.  Without meaning to sound negative, I have to say that I don’t think it has become a hot topic.  There are some people who are always pushing the proverbial envelope, however I haven’t seen this issue really hit mainstream education yet.  In the Ed-Tech community, Web 2.0 is old news, and perhaps the use of games is a hot topic.  But the majority of the teachers I work with (and I stress majority, not all) are just now making forays into the Web 2.0 world.  Gaming in education isn’t even on their radar yet, let alone a hot topic for them.

That being said, I will try to give some reflection on why the use of games could become a hot topic in education.  When I think of the word education, in simplest terms, I think of learning knowledge and skills which I could employ to create a product or service which could be traded for other products or services I will need or want in my life.  In other words, something I use to get a job (work) so I can make the money that I need to buy things.  When I think of gaming, in simplest terms, I think of something I do for entertainment (fun) but which does not provide me with any product or service I can trade.

Although it is obviously much more complex than that, I think many people would see at somewhat agree with those definitions.  It seems to come down to a dichotomy of work vs fun.  So when someone suggests incorporating games into education, they tend to think of it as just entertaining the students (fun), and not providing them with a worthwhile opportunity (work).

But what if it isn’t a dichotomy?  What if work could be fun?  What if fun could be work?  Some cynics might say this is just a childhood dream, but I do think it is possible.  Especially if you consider successfully meeting a challenge fun.

Increasing knowledge accessibility results in the loss of knowledge depth?

October 11, 2009

A teacher sent me a page from the Globe and Mail to read today.  Unfortunately I can’t send a link to the online article as it requires a subscription.  But it is from Page A21 of the September 12, 2009 edition, and is titled “Information-rich and attention-poor” by Peter Nicholson.  The article discusses how the increased access to information has created a scarcity in attention, and whether those two can be reconciled.

The portion of the article that caught my particular attention says:

“…the value of traditional expert authority is itself being diluted by the new incentive structure created by information technology that militates against what is deep and nuanced in favour of what is fast and striped-down.

The result is the growing disintermediation of experts and gatekeepers of virtually all kinds.  The irony is that experts have been the source of most of the nuggets of knowledge that the crowd now draws upon in rather parasitic fashion – for example, news and political bloggers depend heavily on a relatively small number of sources of professional journalism, just as many Wikipedia articles assimilate prior scholarship.  The system works because it is able to mine intellectual capital.  This suggests that today’s ‘cult of the amateur’ will ultimately be self-limiting and will require continuous fresh infusions of more traditional forms of expert knowledge.”

This reminds me of a question that has been posed at a couple conferences I’ve been to; “If we can google it, should we be testing it?”.  At the root of this question lies the importance of having “traditional expert authority” in the future.  It would seem that if we don’t test things we can google, then we don’t create deep and nuanced knowledge and we don’t build expert authority in the future.  This would seem to stagnate the knowledge pool.  Nicholson goes on to say, “For now, the just-in-time approach seems to be narrowing peripheral intellectual vision and thus reducing the serendipity that has been the source of most radical innovation.”  However, he also writes that, “…Plato, in Phaedrus, suggested that writing would ‘create forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it.’  This is a striking example of a particular kind of generation gap in which masters of an established paradigm can only see the shortcomings, and not the potential of the truly novel.”

So, will we be able to adapt and evolve to a way of creating new knowledge using the power of many minds giving small amounts of attention, or will innovation cease in a world where we don’t test the things we can google?

My three questions for Sue

October 7, 2009

Tonight in class, Sue Waters asked us to ask her 3 questions we have about blogging in education.  My first question can be found in another post from tonight regarding creating a culture where teachers feel comfortable reflecting on their practice in a public space.  I’m not sure culture is the correct word to use there, but I can’t think of a better one.

My second question surrounds the value of unstructured blogging.  In other words, can blogging lose its educational value when you don’t ask the students to blog about something specific?  Conversely, can it increase it’s educational value when you give them freedom over their blog topics?

My third question is about using the writing process in blogging.  Sue offered us a diagram that included 4 parts to a blogging cycle.  Unfortunately I can’t find that image anywhere on her blog to link to.  However, for those who attended the class, you may remember some back channelling about using the writing process in blogging.  Here’s my question(s).  Does using the writing process in blogging improve the quality of blog posts?  At the same time, does it stifle the conversation nature of blogging?

oh, and I think I am supposed to link back to her post so she gets a pingback or something.  I hope I do this right!  :S