Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

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As I mentioned in my last post what I love about this COETAIL program is it allows me to see education across the grade levels.

Earlier this week I was in Jim Fitzgerald’s Higher Level Year 1 IB English Class (11th Graders), where students were working on a Semester Long Unit on Ekphrasis.

Students are using their blogs as a way to document their learning (creating e-portfolios). We have a few teachers in the high school using blogs with students and I had an opportunity yesterday to chat with them in Mr. Fitz’s class about their blogs.

You have to love an English teacher who takes every opportunity to teach. He explains the naming of his netvibes page this way.

The name of my page is Quarks. I take the name from the elementary particle that is a fundamental constituent of matter; it is also an allusion to James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. The name “quark” was taken by Murray Gell-Mann (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Gell-Mann )from the book “Finnegan’s Wake” by James Joyce. The line “Three quarks for Muster Mark…” appears in the fanciful book. Gell-Mann received the 1969 Nobel Prize for his work in classifying elementary particles.

Overall the students enjoyed having a space that belonged to them. A space on the web that they could customize and arrange how they wanted. Some students have put mp3 players on their blogs with their favorite song of the day, others have links to their favorite sites (One student had links to his favorite rugby teams). Another student loves watching movies and writes movie reviews on his blog in his free time.

“I like it, it gives me a place to jot down what I’m thinking.”

I thought that was a good quote and what we want these blogs/e-portfolios to become, a place for students to feel free to express themselves as people. A place for them to think out loud, and share that thinking with others.

All of this is great…but the real reason why I want to celebrate Jim is because he listens to his students.

Jim was looking for a way to communicate with all the Juniors he had in his 3 different classes. He didn’t have a system to communicate to all of them instantly when things changed, like the due date of an assignment.

So, Jim asked the kids….what system would work and without hesitation the students said Facebook.

So with the student’s help Jim set up a Facebook group and then made a couple students in every class an administrator of the group to help invite all the other students to the group.

Now when Jim needs to communicate to all his students he simply posts it to the group or messages all of them.

Why Facebook?

“Because it’s where we’re at.” was the answer I got when I asked the students. They love it and Jim loves it.

Never Ending Road Jim now had administrators who basically run the group for him. In the middle of a class he can call on one of them to post something to the group, an update, a link, etc.

When you empower kids, great things happen.

Of course the more we talked the more I wanted to know so I asked the kids “Do you think every class should have a Facebook Group?”

Heads nodded around the room.

Facebook is their e-mail system, it’s the system they use and where they spend there time. If we want to communicate with them we need to find ways to harness the power of the tools they use. Forcing them to use OUR e-mail, or OUR systems to communicate can work, but it’s not natural and it’s another place to check for information….and we all know how much we love that.

So now I’m thinking I have to find a way to integrate Facebook with our Moodle installation there’s got to be a way to take advantage of these tools, to connect them together and use them to power and socialize the learning environment.

We hear so many negative things about Facebook in schools and yet here we find a teacher who has learned to embrace it. The old saying “If you can’t beat them, join them!” still holds true. We can’t keep kids from using Facebook, for better or worse it’s where they’re at. What we need to do is find ways to use it to enhance our classrooms, find ways to show students how to use these social tools to create positive connections.

I reach a point where I have so many things I want to share that I need to do a dump of information. So once in a while I’ll be sharing blogging bits. Little things that cross my mind, that I’m thinking about or have seen or have been apart of to share with the community.

I’m pretty proud of this….and at the same time it freaks me out. This book Wired for Learning: An Educators Guide to Web 2.0 was just released and I was fortunate enough to be asked to write a chapter for it. So chapter 19 Planning for 21st Century Technologies is written by me. Crazy to think that I’m actually published in a book. I’m not a writer, I’ve never claimed to be one and I continue to read this post that I wrote when this blog turned one…what an adventure this has all been.

I’m not a writer I’m a composer and I wonder if I’ll ever be a writer. But in the mean time I continue to compose. You the community helped to write the chapter over 5 separate blog posts and a PDF that you can download. The chapter of course is a little more thought out but know that this was written by you…and for that I thank you.

Carol Jordan, an IB Science teacher who I worked with in Shanghai, has once again finished a year of blogging with IB students. The student group blog Chemical Paradigms is an amazing piece of student learning. She ended the year with having students reflect on their year of learning and blogging by replying to this post. Take some time to read what the students had to say about there learning journy and please share this with other teachers. It’s powerful words coming from students. My favorite quote:

To blog is not to simply relay facts, nor is it to blab personal
gossip. A blog is not someone’s personal diary of critiques and
cynicisms. It is not an encyclopedia of intangible knowledge. A blog is
a no-loitering zone. Now that it is clear what a blog is not, I will
tell you what it is. A good blog is an interesting discussion of a
complex topic. It is on the continuum somewhere between fact and
opinion.

I couldn’t have explained blogging better myself.

I wrote about the student e-portfolios that our first graders were working on. Yesterday parents came in to watch as the students talked about their learning journey this year. It was great to watch parents ask questions about the pictures and have the first graders pause the slide show and then talk about what they were learning at that point in the school year. It worked great and each student will take home their movie on a CD.

There has already been a lot of conversations from teachers about using e-portfolios next year from all grade levels. I have to admit that I’m excited as we continue to create systems at our school that will allow both students and teachers to easily use the tools they need when they need them. As this year comes to a close I’m already getting excited for some of the projects that I’ll be a part of next year.

We change education, one year at a time.