Tuesday, September 16, 2014

#Peel21st Blog Hop - IFTTT

This summer we were chatting about our favourite digital tools on Twitter and sharing some tools we would like to explore this upcoming year. It seemed like the perfect topic for our first #peel21st blog hop. So here we are! Read on to learn more about IFTTT and don't forget to check out the other blog posts linked at the bottom of the post.

One of the amazing things about 21st century technology and the tools that accompany it, are the vast amount of resources available. The growing sentiment made by many is ‘There’s an app for that!’.  All these apps can make life a little more manageable, while at the same time a little more confusing. The endless apps that are released, then downloaded to your device, can make managing them all extremely overwhelming. Here’s where I believe the app IFTTT can really help!

It’s not something I’ve used exhaustively yet, but begin to see some really useful potential. Imagine the student who is looking to manage their work from their courses, or the emails they receive, or a list of due dates from their teacher. What do they do with all this information? IFTTT looks to show them how to leverage the power of one app, to support the other.

What is it exactly?

IFTTT is really a digital tool recipe maker. It allows users to leverage the apps or web tools they use on their devices, by illustrating the various ways you can use them with other tools. It allows users to create their own recipes, or by browsing the hundreds of recipes already created by others.

IFTT Recipe
These recipes illustrate the idea that ‘If you use this app/web tool, then you should use this other app/web tool’ with it. IFTTT breaks down the recipe into manageable parts, and gives users the ability to select suggestions on how to best leverage each through their recipe creation process.  Users have posted an endless supply of suggestions and it’s quite amazing to see the creativity - how about using the weather app in conjunction with the phone call channel app to give you a wakeup call every day! With the weather report!

Why I like it?

The only way I can really explain why I like IFTTT, is to highlight some of the recipes. These recipes can be used for students, as well as for teachers, which in my mind makes it a very useful app. It makes the management of devices easier,  and it makes your device and its tools much more efficient and productive. So here are my top 5 reasons...

As you can see, I'm only beginning to explore its potential, but begin to see how it can make my life a little easier, and hopefully students' as well. If you have a really useful recipe, please share it; the creativity of its users is really what makes IFTTT so amazing!

Don’t forget to check out the other blog posts in our Blog Hop!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

21st Century Education: A Periodic Table of Elements

It's been an ongoing 'work-in-progress', but one which has been enjoyable. Identifying what is needed in education today is no easy task; nor a task which is ever completed. Constantly revising the list, identifying new elements, and arranging them in a way that makes sense, has been a fun continuous challenge. I also believe like education, this list will be revisited, & revised many, many times. New elements will appear regularly, as we begin to realize what is needed in education.

However, what has been completed up until now is below  - 34 elements, 3 groupings, and many months of consideration (you can also see the complete table here). It is a collection of my own thoughts, and of many others. In all there are 34 'elements' grouped accordingly - Habits of Mind (green), Skills (blue), & Environment (orange); each accompanied with a small definition that helps explain them.

It should also be noted, that I started out attempting to arrange the elements in terms of importance - the lower the periodic (atomic) number, the more important the element; however, after the first 7 I began to realize this would be far too difficult, and debatable. I also think that some elements will be more important than others - it all depends on the individual, whether this be a teacher, student, administrator, etc.

Explaining the rationale behind each of the elements is something that will also take some time, and unfortunately won't happen today. There are some elements however, that deserve a bit of recognition, as I believe these are crucial to 21st Century Education (my opinion only). We'll call these my 'Top 5':

1. The 6 C's - Critical Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Citizenship, and Character. 
These six essential elements form the basis for many of the habits of mind that follow in the table. They allow students, teachers, educators, etc. to provide an enriching learning experience, and a mindset that will allow for greater success in anything that is faced in the future. The problems that exist before our students, and ourselves, are new, and therefore require greater critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, etc. The way we express solutions, also require not just effective communication, but appealing methods to capture the attention of the masses. The world we live in is one that is so interconnected we need students to realize that we all are global citizens, and our character matters even more.
 2. Technology
It is never the answer for education, but technology can provide new ways of learning, both efficiently and effectively, and energize students to solve problems they cared little about previously. Not to say that a pen or pencil can't do the trick, because these are pieces of technology too; but there are so many options out there now for us to use to enrich the learning experience. We are able to expedite the learning of many, connect with people around the globe, and make learning authentic. We are able to allow more people, who previously didn't have access to education, acquire knowledge and skills necessary for life improvement, all simply using technology. How we use the technology is always the most important question, but technology is a great motivator, improver, and connector for many.
3. Open Space
I must admit, I'm big on the physical layout of the classroom. That teacher who is in days before school begins, to get the class jussssstttttt right. Therefore, there is definite bias in this one. However, I think it is one that requires a little more thought. We teach 21st century students, using 21st century pedagogy, using 21st century technology, in 20th century classrooms? Something doesn't quite add up does it? Therefore, I think it is really important we begin to look at our own classrooms, and change the way things are done. One of these ways is to provide 'open' learning spaces. I don't mean knocking down walls, but I do mean providing many different places for students to learn in a comfortable atmosphere. Imagine walking into a Starbucks and finding nothing but individual seating, at individual tables. It wouldn't be too inviting would it? Therefore, can we please do away with rows, and individual desks?  
4. Numeracy & Financial Literacy
As a business and economics teacher, I must admit I am terrible with finances. I never took a course in my early years of education that taught me the basics of budgeting, accounting, forecasting, investing, etc. I took math, and at times we worked in these concepts, but like every other student I just thought it was stuff we did in math class. If I had a course on personal finance would I be better off than I am now? Probably not; but it also wouldn't have hurt either. The more we teach numeracy, the more focus put on working & understanding the value of numbers, the better we will be with financial literacy. Many believe the last recession, outside of greed & faulty accounting and investment tools, had a lot to do with the public's lack of financial literacy. Therefore, in the 21st century we need to invest more time in educating students how to read numbers, like we have done with the literary word.
5. Risk Taking
This element's focus is two-fold - one from a student perspective, and one from an educators perspective. 
The first is for our students. We have driven the idea into many (if not most) students that they should do what is safe, secure, and cautious. Go after careers that guarantee them a sufficient income, and a stability that they would not have otherwise. These same students complete their assignments in the same way - taking few risks to challenge the status-quo. Will this same approach help them once they complete their education? My thought is no - the world is filled with too much uncertainty and unknown, that you have to take some risk at least.
The next is for educators. We have also taken an approach in teaching that is safe, secure, and cautious. For the most part this is because we are evaluated based on this model - evaluated based on traditional teaching practices. But what is this doing to the classroom's of our school? Maintaining the status-quo? We need to encourage risk-taking amongst educators as well, to develop new ways of teaching things - new pedagogies, approaches, methods, etc. - that will allow for failure, and so that we can learn from this to constantly improve and evolve.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Arranging the Elements

Recently I had a great chat with a colleague about the periodic table. We began discussing the organization of the table, and the order of the elements. As I previously mentioned, I have no knowledge of chemistry, and I just added the elements in an order that they were submitted. However, what I was able to learn about the real periodic table from this discussion, has definitely changed my approach to the elements.

Here was his suggestion:

"In a periodic table, these are important considerations:
  • elements in a column have similar properties (in chemistry it's due to number of electrons);
  • elements nearer to the top should be the most simple to do and should be done by all (in chemistry usually it is the most abundant element - we come from stars)"
These were great points raised. The order I realize, does kind of matter. Loi also provided a great visual that suggested arranging the elements in a way that works toward organizing the elements based on similar properties, simplicity, and action by all. The elements at the top, should be the ones that are most 'actionable'.

So this discussion got me thinking:
  1. What elements should be done by all?
  2. What elements have similar properties?
These are important questions that we must ask ourselves in 21st century education. My thought is organizing the elements according to 3 groups:
A. Habits of Mind - what students & teachers should work toward always demonstrating?
B. 21st Century Skills - what skills need to be developed in students & educators?
C. Environment - what places of learning should look like, be like, include, etc.?
The real periodic table has similar organization as was pointed out to me - "There are also blocks, that are similar - ie. metals are first 2 cloumns, the last 2 columns would be non-metals."

However, I also think there are many ways to organize the elements in terms of groups, importance, etc. Just like identifying the actual elements, there is no simple, single answer; and I think that many people, may have many different ideas. So I put this back out to the 'Twitterverse',

"How Should We Organize 21st Century Education Elements?"

Monday, May 5, 2014

Periodic Table: The Search for Elements Continues

The creation of the 'Periodic Table of 21st Century Education' was an idea born from the collaboration & input of many. I wanted to continue with this philosophy, and am especially pleased it has. I had originally thought of creating something like this on my own; however, quickly realized that there are far too many educators out there, who have way more knowledge & insight than I could possibly add! I think when having a conversation like this, it's even more powerful when there are many involved in it.

So over the last few days, many educators have shared, favourited, offered insight, added their elements to the table; and it has quickly doubled to 12 elements. The ideas that many have offered have sparked conversation, and has my mind racing, thinking about what other elements should be added. And although there are only 12 right now, the list could be much longer!

Many have offered multiple elements, each of which could & should be on the Table. However, in the spirit of collaboration, I have chosen to limit contributions to one element per person. My hope is that it will allow more educators to engage in the conversation, and offer their own opinions, without feeling as if their voice has already been taken from them.

I have also decided to capture as much of the conversation as possible; the back and forth dialogue which has happened in the 'Twitter'sphere' has been added to the following Storify:

So here's the updated Periodic Table, 12 elements in all, with many more (hopefully) still to come!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Periodic Table of 21st Century Education

I have been contemplating a lot recently about what education should look like. Feel like. Be like. Sound like. There has been a wave of tremendous change that has swept the educational landscape; and has brought with it new ideas, foci, and pedagogies. I try to stay abreast of this conversation, and love the engagement shown by many; all of whom wish to improve education, and thus student learning.

One of those people was Ingvi Omarsson, whose blog post highlighted the 14 things he believes are obsolete in 21st century schools. I found it inspiring and very thought provoking; and really made me consider my own teaching practice. I enjoyed the fact that he did not just focus on technology, but really took a wholistic approach to improving education.

Others came from my school board, where there is a growing online PLN, full of fantastic, engaged educators.  Through this network, I recently engaged in a group blog activity with some of these excellent educators, where we each contributed a '6 word definition' for the '6 C's in 21st Century Education' (critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, communication, citizenship, & character). The six word definitions allowed us to really narrow down our thoughts, into a concise, neat opinion about each of the six C's. It also allowed us to look through the lens of others in order to better understand each element.

So that got me thinking. What other elements are necessary to prepare students for the 21st century? What are the attributes, skills, environments, etc., that we need to provide for them in order for them to become 21st century learners?

Answering these questions are not simple, and there is no one response that will fully answer each question. Just like the group blog, many different educators have many different opinions; and its necessary to look through the variety of lenses to truly understand the elements of 21st century education.

Therefore, let's put our heads together, and compile the elements necessary in 21st century education. The first six are already complete, taken already from the opinions of educators; but I know there is so much more to this!

Here's how we can do it. Send me an element via twitter that you believe is necessary in 21st century education (i.e. technology), as well as a 6 word definition. I will add then add it to the list, as well as you as the contributor. (like below)

What list you ask? Well, I am no scientist, and don't begin to know how the 'Scientific Periodic Table' is compiled; but I thought it was a nice way to illustrate the elements. Thus, I have begun the
'Periodic Table of 21st Century Education'

So send along your ideas. I'd love to hear what you're thinking!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

An Evolution in Digital Citizenship

Teenagers today are definitely not in the same world that I was a kid in. The fact that their Internet connection does not require disconnecting the home phone, and waiting 10 agonizing minutes, while a collection of the most annoying sounds in the world screech through the modem, is case in point. I still remember sending my first email, and recall just how mind blowing it was at the time. I remember getting my first cell phone, and how amazing it was that I could connect with friends; without worrying about my mother picking up the other phone while I was on it! 

The simple fact is, they live in a different world. One which is so interconnected, that it is almost impossible for them to do anything without it being documented. I know this is not a CNN Breaking Newsflash, but when you step back for a second and think about it, you begin to realize just how 'Live' their lives really are. Just for a moment take a quick look at the list of social media websites available to them! True, not all hold the same popularity as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, and Snapchat, but the options are staggering; and many more are developed every day. This staggering amount of options not only provides them with countless ways to 'connect', but also with countless opportunities to reveal themselves - both good and bad.

Therefore, as educators it has never been so important to impart the lessons and knowledge onto them to show their 'best selves'. Few others have such a unique opportunity to engage with them and show them how to effectively communicate, connect, and share. I know many take this opportunity to teach them about the 'threats' that exist online, or the security issues that exist on many of the social media websites. And although this is beneficial, and definitely needs to be done, I am not sure it connects as effectively as it should with teenagers. I have found with experience that many teenagers are past these lessons; and although they are not experts in connecting with the 'right people', and limiting what they reveal to the world, they are aware of what they should and shouldn't do. 

So I have taken a different approach. I guess it's the marketer in me, but feel that imparting the lessons of digital citizenship needs to build on the idea of 'branding'. What I describe below is the 'evolution' of digital citizenship in students, and how I attempt to build the brand in them, where I eventually have them connect with those influences that will further support their brand.

*Just a note before you begin reading each stage of evolution - Although developing the actual brand is one of the first steps in marketing a product, when it comes to students, they don't actually know their brand until later. Therefore, this step falls after the first step, and although it may feel out of order, I believe it is in the correct place.

Grade 9 - Communicating Positivity

Every brand, whether it's Google or Lego, Coca Cola or Walmart, communicates its messages in a positive way. You rarely see a large corporation ridicule or belittle a potential customer (although mistakes do happen); or share negative information about themselves. This should be no different for our students, and is an approach that is slightly different then "Don't Bully!" or "Be Nice!" Students need to be taught that not only should they not say mean things about others online, they should also attempt to share positive messages - regularly. 

One of the best examples I have witnessed was a Twitter account started by a couple of former students at my school. They were fed up with the negative messages that were being spread around our school. Rather than simply taking to twitter to attack those who spread such messages, they created an account that spread nothing but positivity. The result? Positivity took hold of the school. It even spread to other schools who also took up the effort.

Instead of teaching our students not to say mean things, we need to teach them to share positive messages on a regular basis. I know this seems like the same thing, in reality it is not. It means we teach them what to share, how to share it, and how to ensure it is a positive message. This begins to build their brand, and advertise their positive beliefs. If we begin this effort in grade 9, then I believe we will see this not only shape social media in years to come, but also the culture of the school in real life.

Grade 10 - Brand Development

When students enter grade 10 they begin to shape their futures. They begin to choose their career path, their friends, their influences, their hobbies, their passions, and their lives as a result. Students at this age begin to realize just who they really are and who they want to be known as (which sometimes are not the same thing).  Therefore, it is a great opportunity to support these choices, and help them shape their brand online. 

In order to do this, students need to find out what they are known for. They need to see if their own beliefs, match what others think about them. If they don't, they need to work on improving their brand, and one of the best ways to do this, is to use the social media available to them.

Grade 11 - Choosing the Medium

Once students have a positive voice, and a positive brand, now is the opportunity to identify the best medium to share this. As mentioned there are a 100+ mediums that are available to students to share their lives; however, some are better than others, and some 'fit' better than others. Students see their friends on Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, etc. and simply follow them onto these platforms. However, most don't stop and think about why they are on the mediums they chose; and even more don't stop and think about which one conveys their brand the best. This is no different from companies selecting different media for their own commercials - some are better for their brand then others. 

Therefore, this is where we need to demonstrate the positives and drawbacks to each. Yes it requires a little bit of knowledge on each of them, but imagine the looks on students faces when you start educating them on the social media platforms they use everyday! 

Grade 12 - Connecting & Sharing

The last stage of the evolutionary process is to align their brand with like minded individuals (or other brands). At this point in time, students are beginning to venture off into their careers, higher education, or other paths, and therefore they need to develop a learning network that they can look to for inspiration, information, and support. As a teacher on Twitter, I have developed what I believe to be, a fantastic PLN that I can always rely on for great insight into my profession. Why not teach our students how to develop a similar network? If anyone needs a supportive, insightful, learning network, I have to believe it is most definitely those who are moving out of their comfort zone of high school, and into the big scary 'real' world?!

This is the opportunity for students to connect with the institutions that they hope to attend, the career professionals who they can learn the industry information from, the educators that they will listen to in lectures, the experts they hope to apprentice with, and the many other individuals that will help them progress into fully functioning adults. This is the PLN that they need to use social media for, and the group they want to communicate their brand too.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Mid-Year Report Card

Where to begin? The usual ebb and flow of a school year, has given way to what seems to be rushing white water rapids this year. There have been lots of great things going on, and just too little time to write about them. However, now that one semester is in the books, I thought I'd provide a little bit of an update on the Technasium and how well it's been thus far. And so just like the report cards I write for all of my students, here is the "Technasium's Mid-Year Growing Success Assessment & Evaluation Report Card Thingy" (Report card for short)

So what can we say about the results? Well although they haven't been the results I would have liked to have seen, it certainly hasn't been a failure. There has definitely been some hurdles, that still require great leaps to overcome, but none that are impossible. Answers to some of the problems facing the initiative are also unknown at this time, which can make it frustrating. But even if the room is facilitating greater collaboration and providing support to a small group, that makes it worthwhile. With anything new, there is obviously a period of adjustment and acceptance, and only with time will we see how useful the Technasium may be.