Education


Yesterday I introduced my 8th graders to Dipity in Social Studies. We have been working on WW2 and I wanted them to produce a timeline in Dipity where they were to include video clips, texts and photos. They had ten topics to choose from ranging from Nazi-Soviet Pact to Battle of Dunkirk. We had a double lesson and eager to get started we kicked off in the computer room.

DipityDipity is a great tool, but slightly confusing in the beginning and Flash-based. Two challenges that created trouble for me and my class. I had posted the task on the class blog with instructions and my very own Dipity presentation Road to War.

Out of 15 students only 3 students managed to set up an account with Dipity, read the blog entry on the class blog and get started on their Dipity presentation. The rest had either problems with getting the Dipity site to run properly with its Flash features or to understand the task itself. One student wondered if she could sit down and write a straightforward essay in her notebook instead.

What did I learn from this experience?

1. Clear instructions and particularly focus on main objective. What is the purpose of using this utility?

2. Make sure we have a network that can handle several students on the same webpage. (As of now certain websites act sluggish when more than 5 students work on the same page – Google Docs is a notable exception.

The students are getting fairly used to use online resources such as Web 2.0 tools like Google Docs, Blogger and others, but found Dipity somewhat confusing. I still believe that is partly my fault. I could have been more clear on objective and purpose as well as the introduction of Dipity itself.

Nonetheless, I think it is important to try these things out with my students and use the feedback I get from them in terms of what works and what does not works that well. It wasn’t a total disaster, but it was a frustrating experience seeing that my lessons did not go according to plan.

Screenshots from Engrade.com

Screenshots from Engrade.com

This term my colleagues and me have tried out Engrade – an online assessment tool for teachers and educators to file and document grades. As we do not use any digital learning platform as of yet, which I regret, we are as the middle school branch trying out other ways to compile, collect and synchronize our assessment in a more useful and effective manner as well as keeping an easier way to file and search for past records.

Engrade has several features and one of them is to create student accounts and thereby create transparency for students and parents. We have not enabled this feature, and it won’t happen anytime soon before we know more about Engrade in use.

I find that transparency is important, but it should take place in a one-to-one situation and not in a format like Engrade. I do however find Engrade very helpful to stay organised in my grading as I teach several classes in several subjects. I have tried to find other alternatives, but haven’t found any as good as Engrade.

What I find to be one of the biggest challenges as a class teacher is constant reporting, documentation and grading of academic progress and personal developement. It’s very important, but often the systems in place are cumbersome and ineffective. There’s a lot of paper, printing and filing.

The great advantage of a site service like Engrade is to have an all-accessible (encrypted, login-based) place online to keep all your assignments, grades and comments. The built-in formulas for calculating grades are precise mathematically, but one should not leave out the human assessment factor such as behavior, personal progress, efforts etc. When I set my term grades I combine the features of Engrade with my own assessment.

See demo here.

In the recent week I have had the pleasure of taking part  in a social network for Norwegian teachers and educators called del&bruk. Formed by Ingunn and other entrepeneurs it has seen a mushrooming of new members by the day. One of the main issues predominant in discussions are the fear of sharing. The idea is to share your ideas on implementing ICT in your lessons and hopefully find useful ideas that others have posted. I have to admit that I haven’t been good at sharing specific lesson plans yet, but I am however engaged in discussions regarding past or ongoing projects in my own work. This network has given me an ample opportunity to share concerns and enthusiasm about my efforts to implement ICT in my lessons.
Top View
An interesting article at Betchablog addresses the issue with The New Digital Divide and points out the sad fact that the ones who usually find themselves in networks like del&bruk are already into the whole Web 2.0 community and are active in an array of networks from Flickr to Twitter and bookmark using del.icou.us and attend courses in Second Life. There is a distinction between the “will’s” and “will-nots”, and the latter have many excuses why they don’t want to take the plunge. Where does the responsibility lie?

The sole responsibility relies on the individual teacher and his/her willingness to try out new digital applications and technologies in the classroom. This is the case in most schools in Norway and beyond I dare say. Personally I do feel overwhelmed myself with all the possibilities and having actually taken the plunge myself with a trusted colleague we’ve now started blogging, making digital stories and films, producing music and taking advantage of Quizlet in language classes, Tutpup in Maths and Dipity in Social Studies. It does create a lot of extra work, but the experiences we make are valuable lessons to us as teachers and it is very rewarding discussing them with others attempting to do the same in communities like del&bruk.

Life itself is in fact lived in beta, and the most important thing is to take the plunge and try new things. Teachers are often being accused of being conservative, but del&bruk is yet another example of how we do take responsibility and try to change the status of the classroom and bring us into the 21st century. It will be interesting to see how things develop and I hope I will continue to share and participate fervently.

I am currently taking a course in Nordic literature through online studies with the University in Bergen, Nordisk. This semester we are reading and studying Nordic literature from the Viking Age and up to 1900, from Snorre Sturlasson to Henrik Ibsen. There’s lots to read and books are heavy as well as expensive. Of course there is the library, but I have discovered a great resource online, Project Runeberg, a sister project to Project Gutenberg, were they aim to digitalize and make older Swedish, Norwegian and Danish literature available online. It’s a great initiative.

So far it’s mostly Swedish and Danish literature, but some Norwegian editions are available. The romantic writer and poet Henrik Wergeland‘s “Digte” has recently been publihsed on this site, and it’s a remarkable feeling to flip through the 1853 edition of Digte with famous poems like “Jødinden” (The Jewish Girl) and others. Some books are scanned by the Google Book Search while others are scanned on private initiative.

Imagine having these Scandinavian clenodiums at our fingertips on our laptops? And it makes my reading easier.

In these times of grading fixation in education it is interesting to come across the outspoken critic and author Alfie Kohn. Mr. Kohn has written a number of books on the negative effects of rewards and punishments of grading. He is also skeptical of the traditional system of homework. In his book The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing (2006) he questions the need and positive effects of homework. He believes that the school and its environment is the main focal point for learning and work.

Winterlong

The debate is timely in Norway too as I encounter parents who feel overwhelmed by their kids’ homework, especially as they advance to higher levels. Every week they are given a homework plan with assignments in the main subjects. The assignments vary from reading, task solving, math calculus or research for a project or paper. Most parents feel that their kids should have homework as they did when they attended school. The problem for many families are time. The nuclear family is a minority in the Norwegian society (and other societies in the West) and a lot of time and organizational evolves around transport and logistics. How to make the proper priorities, and how to make homework meaningful?

I try to evaluate the way I give homework to my students, I try to reinvent, evolve and be original. It’s not always easy, but I think Mr. Kohn has an interesting point when he questions the benefits of homework. It does not necessarily take up much time of the kids’ sparetime, but could we try to break out of this and try to think in new ways about homework?

Double bill

At an end note I’d like to recommend a riveting comment from a Norwegian girl who’s a high school student. She criticizes all the bad karma around the Norwegian school debates these days in the aftermath and hangover of the PISA-tests. She says Norwegians hate not to be on top in international rankings and that our politicians tend to panic. These tests are important, but they only measure a fraction of what schools teach their students. What about social and moral behavior, ethical values like respect, debating skills and skills to question – in essence – how to become decent people. Ms. Tømte writes:

Den norske skolen har altså utviklet seg fra å være en autoritær institusjon til å bli et lærested der voksne og barn snakker samme språk og har det samme fokus: Å gjøre folk av oss.

Thus has the Norwegian school developed from being an authoritarian institution to become a place of learning where adults and children speak the same language and have the same focus: To make us into decent people. (My translation).

And this relationship requires mutual respect – and authoritarian teachers don’t easily acquire this in Norwegian schools, but teacher who do earn their students’ respect have moral authority based upon a wide and substantial knowledge base.

Net safety, netiquette, online safety, websmartness etc. It has many names, but they all attempt to describe one thing: rules to go by when navigating the information highway (an ancient pre-2000 description of the internet..?). As I work in a school and work with kids a striking reality hits me when asked questions from the kids like: “Did you have a radio when you were young?” or “Is it true that you didn’t have a mobile phone when you were at school?”

This generation grew up with the web around them, most of their parents didn’t. Most of their parents use the web to check the tabloids, real estate prices and perhaps book a plane ticket, while a selected few use the web in a more extensive way, either through work or by personal interest.

This week we invited all parents to come to a information meeting on net safety run by Redd Barna, a Norwegian interest group working for children’s rights. The meeting would address the concerns regarding children and net use as well as help the parents to gain a larger understanding of what their kids do online.

Out of 400 parents 8 showed up.

This is part of the problem. Generally parents tend to think they have control over what their kids do online. Kids and their parents have rules they say. Truth is that rules made by children and grown-ups together might not apply when peer pressure and friends’ loyalty becomes more important. A great responsibility lies with both the school and with the parents. We have to acknowledge that children grow up with an unparalleled parallel world, sort of speak, to the physical one, namely the digital world. And as one parent put it:

“When I send my kids out to play I worry. I worry about wether they’ll fall on the ice, wether they get run over by a car, get kidnapped, raped or if they get in a fight with friends or if they have had enough to eat. But I cannot worry about all these things, I have to pick my worries and prioritize them. Accordingly I feel good about sending them out because they get fresh air, they socialize and learn new things about the world.”

The same thing could be said about children online. They play online games, they chat, they post pictures and videos and they do schoolwork. All of these activities have positive effects for the child’s upbringing. Nevertheless, there are many dangers, as there are in the physical world. What we as parents and teachers need to do is to acknowledge our responsibility and dare to be advisors to our kids. We have to get engaged in our children’s activities. It should become innate to ask our children over dinner how things went online today in the same way as we ask about their school day and their training.


We have to get engaged in order to see the dangers, but also the immense possibilities. We have to teach them that all actions have consequences, as they do in the physical world. Furthermore, we have to walk the walk and not only talk the talk. If we post pictures of friends and foes on Facebook without permission then we cannot expect our children to not do the same.

Last semester I experimented with digital learning tools in my Norwegian lessons and made some interesting discoveries. I set out to spur a greater initiative in the students’ writing abilities and I sought out Blogger for this purpose. As of 2007 Kunnskapsløftet, a recent school reform (one of many in recent decades I might add…), five basic skills are embodied within all subjects. Writing, reading, listening, speaking are all obvious ones, but two new skills for the 21st century have been added: mathematical skills (in all subjects) and digital.

Being able to use digital tools in the Norwegian subject curriculum is necessary to master new text forms and ways of expressing oneself. This opens up new learning arenas and allows new possibilities in teaching reading and writing, as well as the production, composition and editing of texts. In this context it is vital to develop the ability to critically assess and use sources. Using digital tools may support and develop the pupils’ communication and presentation skills.

Kunnskapsløftet, Norwegian curriculum

Most of the students thrived in the blogging environment, or web-publishing. Within a secured and closed network we opened for creative writing in a totally new and interactive way. And it gave me, as a teacher, a genuine access to their writing process and development of their writing skills. And not to forget, the students acquired new digital skills in simple html and blog editing through links and photo publishing.

Enter January and I embarked upon yet a digital challenge. By the means of digital cameras, multi-purpose mobile phones, Macs and PCs alike, iMovie and Movie Maker, Bluetooth and a small amount of paper and scissors the students made their own commercials. What the students ended up making was quite impressive. Through the process they had to learn one of the many unused programs on their shiny Macs like simple iMovie in the iLife suite and also use the curricular knowledge of denotations and connotations in order to explain their train of thought when planning an advertisement campaign.

With the kind permission from two of the students I have posted one of the commercials for Coca Cola Zero.

For Norwegian readers, or any possible readers at all, I’d like to recommend the eminent blog tenketing.net on interaction, peer-powered content, design and technology.

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