Sunday, June 28, 2009

Social networking 1 - cell phones

I've been reading recently about the use of cell phones and ipods in schools. Andrew Douch is clearly a fan as his students download his podcasts onto their ipods. As is Andrew Trotter in his article for Education Week (Jan 7, 2009). Liz Kolb in 2008 wrote an article headed Toys to Tools: Connecting student cell phones to education and has a blog at devoted to the issue.

The basic idea they share is that students can use their cell phones in class for educational things - accessing podcasts, taking notes and photos to compile reports, organising schedules and homework with reminders about deadlines...because -
“Mobile devices are part of the fabric of children’s lives today: They are here
to stay,” Michael H. Levine, the executive director of the New York City-based
Joan Ganz Cooney Center, at Sesame Workshop, wrote in a statement accompanying the release of the report. “It is no longer a question of whether we should use
these devices to support learning, but how and when to use them.”

Now I like to be a positive person, I really do. I always like to think the best of people and I don't doubt that Andrew Douch is a supreme teacher whose energy will overwhelm his students and that they are all focused on doing the right thing. Mr Levine is right too - mobile devices are here to stay. But I do have reservations about cell phones in class. I also wonder if many of these advocates have actually taught a class in the brave new environment. Liz (above) is a doctoral student with three years teaching experience in the late 1990s. We're not in that world anymore. Teachers, generally, have adapted hugely to the modern world of the now. They continue to grow through continuous professional development. But they are not miracle workers with endless supplies of patience.

At the Principal conference that I attended earlier in the year Andrew Douch addressed the Principals and asked who had rules in their schools banning the use of cell phones. We all looked at each other, shame faced. Some brave souls even put their hands up! Most of us did/do have rules about the use of technology in the classroom. And for good reason.

My experience in the UK for three years (2004-2006) showed me how detrimental cell phone use was to learning. Okay - I admit it - I saw no positive use of mobile phones (they laughed at the term cell phone!) while I was there. Instead the wayward use of phones would often lead to 'discussions' and awkward moments between teacher-student which all detracted from the learning and focus and the fostering of a positive relationship. And that's important because - 'Your focus determines your reality' (Qui-Gon Jinn). Suddenly a phone would ring or a student would be sending a txt and then the 'discussion' would take place and then we're all in a world of negativity. I'd love to hear the advocates answers to these moments. Do they ignore them? Encourage them? Abraid themselves?

My problem with the thrust for encouraging students to use their phones for instructional purposes is that students don't see the distinction. It's all 'instructional' from their point of view. When the inevitable inappropriate use happens they have no clue why we have a problem. They are merely fulfilling their instant gratification gene. Chill man! Or in extreme cases it leads on to a greater disrespect.

Is all this making me sound very fuddy duddy?? Well, yes, it is. I know it could be a potentially great tool and I am a fan of technology as this weblog proves, but I'm not about to embrace a new technology just for the sake of it when I know the downside. I'd need a lot more convincing that cell phone use in my school wouldn't lead to increased txt bullying, disrupted classes, frazzled teachers, cheating, inappropriate/unsanctioned photos and videos on youtube before I'm converted.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Jedi mind tricks!

My students know how much I love Star Wars and this scene from the movie The Empire Strikes Back: Luke fails at raising his plane from a swamp but Yoda has no problem. Luke says, "I don't believe it". Yoda says, "That is why you fail". Refresh your memory -

Wouldn't that be cool? To believe you can do something is half the battle is it not. I wish I could be able to move objects around with my mind, like a Jedi knight.

Well I no longer have to wish. The power of the brain can now be harnessed to move objects. You don't believe? Take a look at the video on the Washington Post link.

Now...where do I get one from?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Virtual learning

I've been pretty active in my virtual world of blogs and the interweb of late. I find more and more that I use the search engines of the net and the material of wikipedia and links to classroom subject matter more and more. I hope my students are also engaging in this world of virtual learning.

What does this virtual learning stuff mean (I was going to add - for us in Stratford - but then I realised it's actually for us all, no matter where we are and who we are)?

So what does it mean? It is learning 'in essence or effect although not delivered formally or actually' (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary - an essential purchase made in my first year at Auckland University 1977) . This definition would mean excluding video conferencing from the umbrella term 'virtual' as it is still a formal situation - teacher with students.

Virtual learning, then, is about the internet and web 2.0 tools. Students can pick and choose from the galaxy of help on the net. Want to know about biology? Google (as I just have) - 'biology podcast' and you'll get 4,560,000 places to visit. Obviously the first ones are the most relevant as they marry the two words to give the best bet sites. The first on the list was and the second was - this is Andrew Douch's site. But, get this again - there are 4,559,998 other sites out there. On biology and/or podcasts!!! If you've just flicked into them for a nosey you will get a sense of the possibilities of 'virtual learning'.

So when I go into the blogs I follow, like Andrew Douch's, I learn informally and not actually. I can't actually see or talk to Andrew but I can listen to him (via his podcasts), read his thoughts (on his blog), learn about things biological and, if I want to, I can write back or ask questions. He's not actually there in the room with me. He (and I) may be in any part of the world when I read his blog. It's virtual learning. Now - I'm an English teacher who left sciences behind in the fifth form but I have actually downloaded his podcasts and listened to him discussing biological topics and learnt things (when - otherwise - I wouldn't even think to open a biology textbook).

Will virtual learning take off? Well according to Andrew it will. In fact he thinks it's inevitable that we will learn via our virtual 'teachers'.
And consider this: the most popular teachers in this scenario, may not
necessarily even be practicing teachers! They may be university students or
retired teachers. How relevant is it going to be for students to come to class
at all in this future? If the classroom teacher still sees himself as the ‘font
of knowledge’ for those students, then, it may not be very relevant at all.
There has never been a more important time for teachers to ask themselves “what value am I adding to my students?”, and even “what is my role as a teacher?” Nor
has there been a better time for schools to question the current models of
attendance and timetabling.
(Andrew Douch 2009).
Andrew would love the New Zealand Curriculum document with its accent on Key Competencies that take the focus completely away from the teacher as 'font of knowledge'. I must say I've never been that, or aspired to be that. When I trained as a teacher in Kevin Pound's tutor group at Auckland Teachers' College in 1982, he made sure to impress upon us the need to join in with our students and take risks and say we don't know something if we didn't know something. I digress.

Next time you have a hankering to learn something - try searching on the virtual learning network that is within that huge ether world of the internet. It'll knock your socks off.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Influenza update

It is probably timely to again mention our influenza plans given the increased numbers of people in Australia who have proven to have swine flu.

The facts: 1) There is no change from the Ministry of Health on the status of the pandemic alert levels for schools - we remain on yellow alert. Please check this out at .

2) Anyone visiting New Zealand who thinks they have influenza is asked to see a doctor or call Healthline 0800 611 116 for advice. Please check out for further details if you are planning an overseas trip in the near future.

3) To date there is no evidence of community spread of the virus in New Zealand.

4) As per our pandemic plan (and common sense) - if you are feeling unwell the advice is to stay at home. If you continue to feel unwell - visit a doctor!

5)The Ministry of Health suggests that the families of students who have travelled to countries with considerable spread of Influenza A (H1N1) should keep them at home for a week on their return, even if they have no symptoms.

In the meantime - continue those good hygiene practices such as washing hands thoroughly, and using a disposable tissue when sneezing or coughing.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Yes...the lucky effect

I recently watched the latest Jim Carrey movie called 'Yes Man'. Jim Carrey plays Carl - a depressed loans officer in a bank. Carl is avoiding people and is recently single. He says, "No" to everyone and everything. Then an epiphany occurs when he visits a seminar by a self help guru. As a result he enters into an agreement to say, "Yes" to everyone and everything. There are profound results.
I enjoyed the movie. It's certainly not up there with Bill Murray's 'Groundhog Day' but it's moral compass is set along the same lines. Those lines being - if you embrace life and the possibilities of life - startling things can happen. For Carl, the voyage of self-recovery ends in a kind of personal redemption. As he embraces moments by saying, "Yes" to finds that he makes his own luck. Indeed his changed state of mind helps him be lucky.

Researchers have found that lucky people are far more satisfied with all areas of their lives than unlucky people. They expect good things to happen so they focus on the positive aspects and that is what they remember, not the bits that went wrong. Unlucky people tend to focus on the negative aspects of life.

Lucky people tend to be more outgoing and friendly, less anxious, and more open to new experiences. Lucky people enjoy new opportunities and look for them. They usually find them too.
Top tips for getting lucky:

Be open to new experiences and breaking out of your normal routine.
Spend a few moments each day remembering things that went well.
Visualise yourself being lucky before an important test.
Welcome any new friend.
Expect things to go well.

Acknowledgements - and