Saturday, May 1, 2010

508 -- last day

Well I survived another one and am now 3 courses from the end of my program -- well 4 actually because I've decided to take a course in the Online Learning program on 3D/virtual worlds and Second Life. Since I'm in what Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot calls my 'third chapter' having recently retired from classroom teaching (yes -- I actually did it), it only seems fitting to launch a second life as well.

All that aside -- what is the most remarkable thing that happened to me in 508? Aside from doing my first Google Earth tour (definitely a lot easier if you have a bit of a handle on HTML code) , it has to be coming across the remarkable video of Sugata Mitra that I used as the centerpiece for the 508 Glogster project.

[For the full sized version, you can click on this link -- you may have to login to your Discovery account to view the assessment tools built with DEN's Assignment Builder.]

I realized about the 5th time I watched Mitra's video that, although I seldom turned the control of learning over to students that way in my classes, I have been moving that very direction in my pro-d work with other teachers. I am convinced that if you put teachers into a social setting and give them intriguing tools to play with and explore, they will reconnect with their passion to learn, and they’ll experience the delight that students feel when their “creating minds” (Gardner, p. 81) are engaged. Anyway as the workshop progress, the energy grew. As happened with the children in the video, the participants began to cluster in groups around those who emerged as the leaders. These ‘leaders’ did not take over but had simply figured out certain tools first and shared with others what they had done. Again as happened in the video, the people behind them made suggestions and even though they may have watched more than they played, they left feeling the tools they’d made lots of progress.

It can be so easy for us teachers to remain frozen by our own fears about not being able to make technology tools work. I am “device-phobic”. I don’t carry a cell phone; I’ve never used an i-Pod. I’m the last in a workshop to put my finger on a SmartBoard. Others, on the other hand, are perfectly at home with hardware, but find it equally challenging to try the tools that I demonstrate. They have what they feel are good reasons for holding back, but the more we let these fears put limits on our “creating minds,” the more we put truth to students’ doubts that formal education can deliver on it’s promise to develop life-long learners.

I once had a student who told me that she was terrified of going on the roller coaster at the PNE (Pacific National Exhibition) but that she feared even more being left out of all the fun and being thought a ‘wimp’ by her friends. One morning she decided she had to get over this, so she took the long bus ride from Surrey to Hastings Street and bought herself a ticket to ride.

After the 6th time around the circuit, she finally began to enjoy the excitement and the feeling of living life on the edge. It’s not always that kids are fearless in the face of new experiences. I think it’s they bring to learning that they feel is important a sense of determination which carries them through even the most difficult and frustrating moments. A student who will skip school rather than face a math test he thinks he’s going to fail will take the test for his driver’s license 3 times so he can get behind the wheel. Another who lives in terror of being asked a question in front of the class will spend countless hours in the skateboard park trying and failing at tricks and moves in the company of other boarders. When curiosity and perceived value outweigh fear and hesitation, even the least talented among us will try and keep on trying until we gain gain some mastery. From that point we can move into creativity and passionate involvement. That’s where the greatest rewards are waiting.

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