It is hard to believe our spring semester has come to a close.  I still have a couple of things to wrap up before I can officially declare my completion of my last University classes ever.  Or at least for a little while.  But it feels good all the same as the assignments will be enjoyable to do.  One of them is a summary of learning on how I contributed to the education of others and how they contributed to mine.  I have decided to make my summary as transparent as this entire experience has been for me thus far, and so consider this post my recap of the semester.

In my very first post, Dean made a comment about my "voice" and how glad he was to see that I was comfortable with mine.  Writing is always a laborious process for me.  It's a bit of a love/hate relationship in that I usually love the product but hate the process.  It took me hours to write most of these posts because of the time I take to make sure they are properly edited, they are well resourced, and that they are enjoyable to read.  So I appreciated that Dean noticed my effort to let my personality shine through as that was something that was important to me.  One is always a little nervous about the first time he/she puts him/herself out there because, as they say,
someecards.com - You only get one chance to make a first impression
So his feedback let me know that I was heading in the right direction.  And over the next seven weeks, comments are what continued to let me know how I was doing.  I had a classmate take note of my map widget and express an interest in using one herself.  She used the word "steal" and in any other University program that would be an appropriate term.  But in the Faculty of Education, and this class in particular, we were always encouraged to share our ideas so I was happy to have someone take an interest in mine.  On the other hand, I also appreciated the feedback when someone wasn't digging what I was doing.  I received some not-so-nice realities about the lackluster appearance of my posts but put the criticism to use and made sure to add some type of media to the majority of my work.  This also happened to coincide with the syllabus so kudos to my sister for laying it out for me, otherwise I may have missed that one.

Disagreements or having someone challenge your point of view can also be a great way to learn.  Sometimes having someone point out an opposing stance can help us to either reconsider our initial thoughts or solidify our position on a topic.  One article that had everyone chatting was the story of an Edmonton teacher who was suspended for not abiding by his school's No-Zero Policy.  I wrote my own post on the topic and also engaged in conversation with others about their views on the matter, both classmates and strangers.  This was a challenge for me as I often think of my views as "irrelevant" or "uninformed" because I am not working in the field yet.  But as I took chances and publicized my opinion, I received some positive feedback as well as some alternate perspectives, all with my professionalism intact.  These are learning opportunities I would have missed out on if I had remained safely on the sidelines.

I did the same on twitter where, after several failed attempts, I  finally participated in an #edchat.  It was there that
I received a suggestion for posing questions to increase the likelihood of receiving a comment or starting a conversation, so I began trying to incorporate them into my posts.  I found some interesting conversations ensued after a question was asked, like one another classmate posted about homework.  As I was checking my Google Reader one day, I saw a similar post from an educator in Alberta and shared the link for Jane in her comments. She checked it out, posted a comment for Joe about her own blog, which then brought him into our discussion.  If you look at the conversation there, lots of different ideas and resources were passed around.  A great example of collaborative learning and Jane has since started following Joe too.

Another thing I found with questions, are that they can be an actual call for help.  I noticed many of my peers asking for assistance with some aspect of technology and I always tried to respond because I know how frustrating it can be sometimes!  I read about a classmate struggling with the size of something she was trying to embed in her blog.  Since we both use Weebly, I played around with it in my own blog first and then sent her the instructions so she would have them for next time. I also provided Jane with some assistance with embedding her survey in WordPress and directed another classmate to Jane on twitter when she was struggling with the same issue.  I've even extended my helping hand to people outside the class with technology troubles like my friend here.  I am a problem solver by nature, so I love responding to challenges.

Throughout the semester I tried to remain conscious of the positive feelings and motivation I got from knowing that people were reading my posts.  For me, comments are a measure of reader engagement so I made a point of sharing my thoughts with fellow bloggers.  I did it for children and I did it for adults and both made me feel great.    Part of a teacher's job is to inspire, inform, share, and collaborate with students and other educators.  I consider myself lucky because, in my chosen profession, I will get to do this kind of stuff everyday.  And Dean, my classmates, and everyone else I have connected with along the way, have all taught me that technology has expanded the audience with which I can do those things.  I think I really embraced the collaborative style of this class, which is so critical because as Dean wrote, "You can't be a lurker in [this] class".  I value all of the input and resources I have received over the semester and I hope that my classmates feel the same way about my contributions.

Education is changing.  What an exciting time to be a teacher!       
I would also welcome any comments below about how I might have helped in your learning process.

Thank you everyone for a great semester!
 
 
The other day, I read an article on twitter about a young girl from Scotland who had been photographing and rating her lunches on a blog she started a couple of months ago.  From what I read in her posts, it was started to bring awareness to the types of lunches they were being served at school.  In one post, blog author Veg, says that "the good thing about this blog is Dad understands why I am hungry when I get home."  When I discovered her blog, it was because she had just been banned by Argyll and Bute Council, a constituency of the Scottish Parliament, from posting anymore photos because she was "only [representing] a fraction of the choices available to pupils, so a decision [was] made by the council to stop photos being taken in the school canteen", a quote taken from their website by the media.  Later that day, they retracted their statement and Councillor Roddy McCuish, Leader of Argyll and Bute Council, stated that "there is no place for censorship in this Council and never will be whilst I am leader" (Statement on School Meals).

There are many things I find amazing about this story.  I will highlight a few for you here.

The first is how much support this 9-year-old girl has garnered.  Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef and food activist trying to improve the nutrition offered in England's schools and starter of a food revolution around the globe, stumbled upon Veg's blog and sent a shout-out to her dad on twitter to show his support.
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Screen shot taken from www.twitter.com/#!/jamieoliver
This was only after her third post, and over 100,000 people had stopped by her blog.  A few weeks later, her counter rolled over 1,000,000 views!  The second amazing thing about this story is that when her blog began receiving such incredible support and attention, she decided to use her popularity to continue raising funds for Mary's Meals, an international movement that sets up school feeding projects in communities where poverty and hunger prevent children from gaining an education.  This is an excerpt from one of her blogs, explaining her mission:

        "There have been some comments on the blog saying I am lucky even to get a meal at lunch. You are right.
        That's why my friends and I set up Charity Children to raise money for Mary's Meals. We planted plants and
        decorated their pots. We made cards, felted soaps, necklaces and friendship bracelets. We sold these at
        school and raised £70. I was given £50 by a magazine that wanted to print my pictures so I decided to give it
        all to Mary's Meals"

This is an action project that would make any teacher proud, made even more special because it was orchestrated by children out of the goodness of their hearts.  When the ruling came out that Veg would no longer be able to continue her blog, she was devastated.  And not so much for herself, but that she wouldn't be able to raise enough funds for a new kitchen for Mary's Meals - the cost of which is about £7,000.  On June 14, the day her blog was shut down, she had raised just about £2,000.  When I checked her total this evening, just three days later, it was £81,992.70.  If you want to support Veg's mission, you can donate here.

If you look at the counter widget at the bottom of her blog, you can literally watch it tick.  She is at over 5,000,000 visitors, receives hundreds of comments per entry and tons of fan-mail, including pictures of lunches from around the world, which she started adding to her pages.  The third thing that amazed me about this story was the way people began rallying for justice on her behalf when the story broke about the ban.  She was in a time of need, feeling hopeless about the decision that had just been passed, and her entourage came together to show their support, including Jamie Oliver who tweeted for help from his followers: 
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Screen shot taken from www.twitter.com/#!/jamieoliver
I think this young girl is a true inspiration and a beautiful example of the power of technology.  There has never been a time when news and information have been able to travel as fast as they do today.  I hope that people everywhere read her story and feel encouraged to take their own action for the better.

What would your action project be?
 
 
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I saw a link to an article today in my twitter feed from @MorningsideCtr.  It was an article from The New York Times, featuring stories from high school students about their use of study drugs to compete in some of the elite schools in the States. A similar conversation had come up in my EPSY 322 - Students with Special Needs - course the other night after one of my classmates presented on the topic of ADHD.  And after reading some of the accounts from students, most of them agreed that it had nothing to do with getting high.  Instead, many of these students felt they needed the help of drugs to cope with the overwhelming demands placed on them by schools and society.  

A 17-year-old girl from Austin, Texas said that she started taking her younger brother's Focalin prescription to get caught up after she missed a week of school:

        "The benefits were amazing. I had been sick a week before, and in one night, I caught up on several physics         and calculus assignments and knocked-out the first act of Hamlet. But the productivity was just one of three
        perks that came from that little 20mg pill: I was able to stay up until 3am, then get up again at 6am feeling
        completely rested, more so than if I had slept ten hours."

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I wondered why students in high school would feel such an enormous amount of pressure; I don't recall high school being that way for me.  Then I remembered that getting into University in the United States is a completely different ball game than it is here in Regina.  A young woman from Pittsburgh explained how Adderall helped her deal with the added pressure the economic crisis has placed on students:

        "Young adults today feel like they need straight-A's, a good internship, a jam-packed social life and more or
        we're failures. We're worried about our future . . . We know we're going into an abysmal job market and
        need any edge we can get, and no effort feels like its enough. You have to pick two: sleep, social life or
        grades.  Stimulants like Adderall give you a much needed boost when your in such a high-stress, exhausting
        situation."

Is this the type of message schools are sending to children?  The competitive nature of post-secondary schooling seems to have created an every-person-for-themselves mentality that has young adults grasping at whatever tools will give them the extra edge they need to get ahead.  Some of the students end up addicted to the pills, claiming that the effects of not taking them daily has left them unable to function.  One boy from New York City was fortunate to have kicked the habit after being accepted to college:

        "The last time I used it in high school was around the end of my first semester of senior year. I was admitted
        to college at that point and high school seemed less stressful to me, and thus the reliance on drugs for good
        grades dissipated."

Although standardized testing in Canada has not been awarded the same level of value as it has in the US, some provinces have begun taking more stock in their results than others.  The pressure to perform on these exams can increase levels of stress in both students and teachers.  However, stress can come from many areas of our lives.  It is important that educators equip students with healthy coping strategies to deal with the added stress that getting older seems to bring along with it, so that they don't begin misusing or abusing drugs to deal.

What are some ways that you deal with the stresses in your life?  Mine is making lists to keep organized and to help put things into perspective.  Post your advice below!

 
 
Since beginning this class, my daily online routine has changed considerably.  Mostly in length.  I used to check both of my personal email accounts, check Facebook and then check my University account.  Then I would maybe check my online banking, but that was about it.  Now, I check both of my personal email accounts mostly looking for blog comment notifications, check my Google Reader and post feedback as necessary, check Facebook, check twitter casually note any mentions or retweets, check Google Analytics someone from Brisbane stopped by for like 3 seconds - no big deal, and then tweet/like/share my blog post from the night before.  I go through this cycle, minus the blog share and Analytics, several times a day.  I find all kinds of inspiration through my connections that I come back to throughout my day.

Tonight I was patrolling my twitter feed and came across a tweet by @davecormier, Manager of Web Communications and Innovations at the University of Prince Edward Island and Principal of Edactive Technologies.  Dean had invited Dave to drop by one of our live sessions a few weeks back, with the hopes of connecting our class with Dave's because he teaches a similarly themed course in PEI.  That is how I came to know of Dave and his tweets.  Tonight he posted a link to his son's blog who was wanting to know how people use their computers.  So I moseyed on over and discovered that Dave's blogging son is six.  And that he creates podcasts about dinosaurs because that is something he is really into.  I gave his show a listen and was totally blown away.  Just give episode three of Charlottetownosaurus a watch and you'll see why:
Oscar's enthusiasm about Mesozoic times makes my heart smile.  He is using words I don't even know and is spouting off facts like they are common knowledge.  To me, this is proof that when we teach to student interests and strengths, powerful and meaningful learning experiences will ensue.  And how about providing him the opportunity to share his expertise in an exciting way?  Who wouldn't want to host their very own show to be broadcasted on their very own blog?  Children never cease to inspire me with their capabilities! This makes me so excited to begin my internship, so I can find out what interests my little learners and plan meaningful ways to engage them in digging deeper to find out more.  So thank you, Dave, for being such an awesome dad and encouraging your son to pursue his interests.  And a big thank you to Oscar for teaching me a thing or twelve about dinosaurs!

You can check out more of Oscar's work here.
 
 
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My twitter feed has been buzzing for the last week about an Edmonton teacher who assigned a zero, despite his school's No Zeros Policy.  My classmates have been blogging, the news has been reporting, and now my brain is struggling to sort through this information to get my thoughts organized into words.  I guess I will start by admitting I had only been reading little snippets of other people's opinions up until today.  This can be attributed to the overwhelming number of responses that came pouring out of the floodgates after the media released the story last Thursday. The first blog I sat down and read from start to finish, other than my classmates', was School Isn’t Like a Job byJohn Scammell.  The title of his post comes from the shared opinions of many community members about the role education plays in the lives of children and youth.

My first question was, "is school a job?"  I can quit my job at any point I become dissatisfied with the work I am doing, and have some choices about the fields of work I enter into.  I can choose whether or not I accept a promotion and can base my decision on things like remuneration, hours of the job, whether or not I think I will like my new boss or if I think I can work well with my new coworkers.  When I compare these to the choices I had in school, none of them come to mind until maybe University.  Children are expected to attend school until they are at least 16 years old in Saskatchewan, regardless of their interest, and have no choice about areas of study until high school, at which point there are only a few up for negotiation.  Each year students are shuffled on to the next grade and are assigned a teacher and a group of students they are expected to work alongside for the next 10 months - little to no exceptions there either.  So in that sense, no, school is not a job because it is not a choice and the pay is non-existent.

John writes that some people believe that the grade is the pay check, but goes on to discredit this theory because in the real world, pay is based on a number of variables including hours worked and productivity.  School isn't like a job in that sense either.  Marks are based on what students are able to show in terms of outcomes, not how much time they spent acquiring that knowledge or the number of worksheets or projects they produced.  How does this relate to zeros?  Well, a large portion of the population believes that assigning zeros for work not completed sets students up to take responsibility in the real world where if they fail to do the work at a job, they get fired.  Essentially a zero is the educational equivalent of losing your job.  John summed up his views on this false comparison:

        "A bright kid who does no work (I assume people are talking about homework here) and still writes and
        passes my tests will pass my class. He has to. He has shown me he can do the math.
        A weak, hard-working student who does every single thing I assign, but fails the tests will fail my class. He
        has to. He has shown me he can’t do the math.
        Any student, weak or strong, who doesn’t write my tests cannot be assessed. I make him do the course
        again. I have to. He hasn’t shown me whether or not he can do the math, so I can’t pass him.
        The bottom line is that I can’t assess work. Doing work just isn’t in my curriculum. Knowing math is. That’s
        all I can assess."

This is where Mr Scammell lost me.  Is making a student repeat a course not essentially the same thing as assigning a zero?  My equation of a fail to a zero is actually incorrect and the difference I found explained by Cherra-Lynne Olthof, a middle-years teacher from Alberta, here.  On the topic of zeros, she wrote:

        "I give out something called an Insufficient.  People have told me this is a fancy way of saying 0 but it really
        isn’t.  When I write INS on an outcome what I’m saying is, 'I have no idea if your child can do this or not.  I
        have no evidence with which to make this judgement.'  That is much different then giving out a 0 which says,
        'Your child knows 0% of the content of this subject.'"

My lack of understanding on the difference comes from my inexperience in the field.  I didn't know that "INS" was an option, and maybe that's because it isn't one in Saskatchewan.  I honestly have no idea.  Maybe one of my Saskatchewan teacher-friends can help enlighten me on that one.  The other part is that I am not specializing in the area of high school education.  I am studying to be a primary educator where the ownership of responsibility is still slowly being transferred.  However, after reading and listening to multiple perspectives on the issue including the initial news story, opinions from respected educational bloggers, and the comments that ensued from both, the issue seems to be viewed as one of two things:

                    1) Should formative assessments be assigned a mandatory grade?
                                                            AND
                    2) Who is to blame when students don't do their assignments?

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To answer the first question - no.  Formative assessments are ultimately used by the teacher for the teacher to help guide future learning experiences based on what the students are and are not picking up.  They are not an indication of a student's ability because the learning is not yet complete.  If a student decides not to check in with his/her teacher, essentially they are the ones who will suffer in the long run.  And not because some teacher is going to give them a zero, but because they will have no way to gauge their learning or have the opportunity to receive clarification as needed.  This may or may not be reflected in their final grade, but having the opportunity to show what they know is all that matters.  Reporting is all about outcomes and indicators which is based on a final product, not about the steps along the way.  Of course teachers should assess more than one time per year, but if a student chooses to only complete the final assessment, the added stress to perform is on them.

The answer to number two is related to number one, and is less about blame and more about concern.  If a student is not completing a teacher's assignments for some reason, that reason should become the concern of the teacher.  Teaching is intended to be a reflective practice that is always changing to meet the needs of the ever changing students.  Sometimes lessons that were expected to wow, end up bombing.  It happens!  The important thing is that teachers reflect on what went wrong so that changes can be made if the lesson is attempted again.  The same goes for assignments and assessments.  The biggest indicators of student engagement at the high school level are attendance and completion of course work.  While it may be difficult to accept part of the responsibility for lack of student participation, it is important because the education belongs to the student - not to the teacher.  It really doesn't matter what the teacher thinks qualifies as an awesome lesson - it matters what the students think.

In the end, I don't believe that handing out zeros benefits those who receive them most.  If the argument is around teaching responsibility, students who do not complete the assigned coursework are less likely to pass any type of assessments the teacher needs to make an informed decision about what the student knows.  If a teacher is unable to assess a student with sufficient evidence, the student will have to retake the course.  No one said that they were passing students with zero proof of learning!  If the argument is around fairness, education is meant to be fair, not equal.  Fairness is not giving everybody the same thing, it is about giving everybody what they need.  If a student feels that they don't need to participate in certain learning activities, then that is a decision they are allowed to make, pending an understanding that their decision may impact their future mark because of a lack of comprehension.  That to me is teaching a student responsibility and consequences without the use of a threat or punishment of a zero.  Seems more effective to me.

 
 
You might remember reading the above comment a couple of weeks ago from the link in my post, Dear World, Read My Blog.  I'm not sure what made me think of it, but I decided to go back and see if any of the blogs had responded to my initial comments.  And low and behold, Jordan had.  I think it is really neat how people all over the world are able to connect through the internet.  Imagine how excited he must have been when he saw that someone from Canada had stopped by and commented on his book review.  Feedback is a very powerful thing. As a future teacher, I strive to focus on the positive feedback.  I hope that my comment stays with Jordan a little while and inspires him to write a little more.

I encourage all of you to go back and check on a blog you commented on, and see if the recipient provided you with some thanks.  Share those words of appreciation below!
 
 
I had plans all week to participate in a chat on twitter, but coordinating my interests with my schedule became a bit of a nightmare.  Perhaps I need to hire an assistant; preferably one who is familiar with the time zones.  My hope was to participate in a live conversation, so this afternoon I picked one from this list my professor posted.  It was scheduled to start at 8:00 CST and so I conferred with my father on the location of CST in relation to us.  He confidently replied that CST was in fact Alberta's zone.  This evening I eagerly signed onto twitter at 7:59pm only to discover I had missed the whole thing.  It is safe to say that if I do end up hiring an assistant, my dad will not be in the running.  Sorry, dad!

The chat I semi-engaged in was under the #blogchat hashtag which I thought was fitting given my recent startup. Tonight the conversation was around commenting.  Topics ranged from spam comments to comment censorship. Some bloggers felt that social sharing (Facebook, twitter, etc.) were more powerful than comments because the shares reach a wider audience.  I have posted my blog on my Facebook and have tweeted the address and have seen a direct correlation between my post and the number of views I receive on those days.  So, I am going to take this a step further and invite my friends and followers to share/re-tweet my post with their friends and see how this impacts my traffic.  I am hoping that I can increase my following and get more people posting comments, feedback, and questions because unlike some of the participants tonight, I do enjoy the comments.  They are what motivate me to write, and the last few days have been a bit of a dry spell for me.

So under the advice of @problogger, I pose this question to my readers:  Do blog comments matter to you?
 
 
I have finally found a routine that works for my schedule this semester.  I have specific times of the day set aside for certain tasks that need to be completed.  This is the best way I know how to keep myself organized.  For example, I have chosen to blog every night after class/before bed.  I tried a couple of different times of day and found that this one worked best for me in terms of consistency.  I also had the opportunity tonight to listen to the ECMP 355 live session from this week which happened to tie in nicely to what I was thinking about for my post.  I love when that happens.  I feel like there should be fireworks or something.  Anyway, I paused the session to type this post so I wouldn't forget.  You never know when ideas will strike, so I am always prepared with a pen and paper to jot them down, or in this case, a blog and a keyboard.

This week we were asked to follow the #comments4kids hashtag on twitter and find a few classes to follow and comment on.  I went on twitter this afternoon and found a three that I wanted to post comments on.  The first was a news podcast created by 3rd graders in Oklahoma.  My comment hasn't been approved yet, but I tried to give the children specific feedback about what I liked so they knew I had actually taken the time to listen.  The second blog I found was a blog dedicated to book reviews written by the students.  I found a book I had actually read and posted a comment to that student, which you can read here.  I think peer book reviews are an excellent strategy for promoting literacy in the classroom and teaming them up with blogging is magic!  Lastly I visited another 3rd grade blog and commented on a couple of posts that I really enjoyed reading.  One of the posts has since disappeared, but the other one can be found here, along with my comment.

During the live session this week, Dean mentioned the power behind a comment from a stranger who had happened on your blog, and cared enough about what you were writing to leave some feedback.  This is so true!  I have had a couple of strangers comment on my posts and I was so excited that I immediately told my partner about them.  It made my work feel important and made me want to write more.  I guess in a way I payed that forward this afternoon and I hope my comments inspired some youngsters to keep blogging.  
 
 
Welcome to my humble abode! I am not new to the world of blogging.  You might remember me from such blogs as "Reduce Reuse Recycle: You Are What You Eat" and "Mes Aventures au Québec", both of which are sooo last year in that no one has posted on them since 2011.  This blog is going to be different, I can just feel it.  I am still in the process of sprucing up the place, so don't get too attached to the decor.  I have never used Weebly before so I am learning how to move things around and make changes. One of the features you may have noticed is my twitter feed on the right.  You may have also noticed that my last tweet was almost 100 days ago.  I will be honest and say that I only signed up for my account a few months ago at the suggestion of one of my profs and, up until recently, I didn't get how to tweet #WhatIsThisNumberSignAboutAnyway. This was particularly embarrassing when I discovered that my dad had been tweeting for nearly two years before I joined. So I posted the feed on my blog for two reasons: 1) so I remember that I have a twitter account and 2) so I can make a conscious effort to tweet more often.  And who knows?  Maybe my tweets will be so awesome that Josh Groban will want to turn them into songs too.