This has been composing itself in my head for nearly ten days, but, when her very life hung in the balance, as it did until today, it felt too soon to write about  Malala Yousafzai as a hero and role model.  As I tweeted and facebooked last week, I found myself so moved and affected by her shooting, but writing a full blog entry was hard for me to do– in part because I was still too emotional and too concerned.     But today the New York Times reports, “she is now able to stand with assistance and communicate in writing,” and it is impossible not to note the particular good news that she is able to communicate in writing now– because that is so central to her place and contribution to the world.

The past ten days, following Malala’s story, I felt particularly sorry not to be currently a school-leader, or part of a school community, which I have been for nearly every year of my life previous and which I expect to be again before too long.   Because if I were, I would take some extended time with students to view the video telling her story, to hear her voice and read her writing, to have moments of silence to hold her in our thoughts, and to share with students why I think they should view her as an icon of their generation.

This blog is intended to celebrate 21st century K-12 learning, and my particular vision of 21st century learning includes as a central element an empowerment of students to develop their voice and strengthen their skills and  problem-solving creativity to address real-world problems, using technology in every way possible to amplify these things.

Malala represents this so exactly, so brilliantly, so movingly, and all that much more because her particular cause is itself education and learning.   She is a young person, still only 15, but she has been an activist for girls education in Pakistan for four years or more, and a blogger since 2009, when she was in 7th grade.   Oh to be a seventh grade Social Studies teacher right now, (I’ve been one before), and take some time to read her blog, see the world through her eyes, seek to understand her motivation and world view, and then evaluate her as a role model.

Hear her blogging voice:

Do not wear colourful dresses – 5 January 2009

“I was getting ready for school and about to wear my uniform when I remembered that our principal had told us not to wear uniforms and come to school wearing normal clothes instead.

“So I decided to wear my favourite pink dress. Other girls in school were also wearing colourful dresses. During the morning assembly we were told not to wear colourful clothes as the Taliban would object to it.”

Several times this summer I wrote and spoke about Martha Payne, another awesome model of a justice-seeking young person using a blog Never Seconds to extend her voice and impact, changing the conversation and the meal plan in Scottish schools.

Malala Yousafzai But clearly Malala now has a profile of vastly greater significance.  With the entire world hoping and praying for her, she may have the full recovery she and the world deserves her to have, and thereupon, she’ll take draw upon her strengths and her resilience to become a global leader for peace and justice.

This possible future global leadership role, this possible future Nobel Peace Prize award, began with a girl who wanted to go to school, who was supported by families and teachers to advocate for her cause, who was enabled to seek this justice as part of her schooling and part of her learning, and who used technology and the web to broadcast her voice and share her vision and change the world.

Choosing what I believe is the Book of the Year is always a fun task —what new book each year most informs, illuminates, and influences me?     2008 the nod went to Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap (Godin’s Tribes the close runner-up), 2009 Perkins’ Making Learning Whole,  and 2010 was the year of Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From (with Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus close behind.)  In 2011 John Seely Brown’s New Culture of Learning took my prize.  (Christensen’s Innovators DNA and McGonigal’s Reality is Broken were also contenders.)

2012 is only half over, and it isn’t impossible that my current nominee will be toppled, but I don’t think it likely.   Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart: How to Thrive Online is terrific: ambitious in scope but humble in tone; enthusiastic about opportunities but tempered by the recognition of the risks and downsides;  sweeping in its broad-brushed depiction of our new era of empowerment and participation while specific in its suggestions of precise techniques and initiatives we can take to best leverage our staggeringly new connectivity.

It should be said that this valuable book is a bit more work than most of the other titles mentioned above.   Johnson’s book was popular in airports, published by mainstream presses and written in a very general non-fiction manner, intended for wider audiences and reasonably easily read on a cross-country flight.   Brown’s book is breezy and accessible, with large font and charming anecdotes, easily able to be read over a 90 minute flight.   Rheingold, by contrast, is published by MIT press, with smaller font size and a greater seriousness— it isn’t an academic monograph, but will take more concentrated and extended attention than the others.

As I noted already in my previous post, Rheingold deserves great credit for his carefully nuanced balance of enthusiasm and sobriety about digital engagement and connected-ness, for which I am so appreciative.    Digital media is (or are, if you prefer) a great gift to us and to our abilities to form community, to collaborate and create, and to gather information and to contribute information, to participate and contribute to the wider world in ways we never had before.

Used mindfully, how can digital media help us grow smarter?  My years of study and experience have led me to conclude that humans are humans because we invent thinking and communicating tools that enable us to do bigger, more powerful things together. (more…)

At St. Gregory this year, about half a dozen of our teachers are piloting a new program called Schoology, which functions simultaneously as a learning management system for teachers and a social network platform for students and teachers.  Inside it, teachers can post their syllabus and assignments, and, if they choose, track student attendance, maintain a gradebook, and much more. On the site, teachers can provide students resources and links, and organize materials into folders for better organization.

As Peter Smith writes in a helpful overview at EdSocialmedia, teachers can also “Quick Post Lesson Assessments:  Schoology gives the ability to create quick online quizzes, which I plan to use as post lesson assessments. These quizzes will be less than four questions and will give me a quick snapshot of how many students understood the material that day and how well I did as a teacher.”   Furthermore, the analytics sections of Schoology offers teachers “a great analytics tool which allows the teacher to know when and how often students access virtually anything in my course. This is a great way to hold students accountable who need the extra help but are reluctant to access it.”

More importantly, Schoology provides students a better tool to manage their various courses, keep track of assignments, and benefit from the calendar functions, which they can use as a planner for all courses operating within schoology.  Now, certainly many other LMS (learning management systems) offer all this, but what schoology adds is a social network element with a look and feel very similar to facebook, making it more intuitive and natural for regular facebook users.   Students can use a vehicle they are so familiar with, facebook style posting, commenting, threading and linking, and do so with their classes to enhance their learning. (more…)

21 presentations, 2 minutes each: the Wings Smackdown this morning at St. Gregory, with teachers sharing tools and resources and techniques being used in their classrooms or at school regularly.

A partial list:

Sr. Rabinowitz:  Students in 6th and 7th grade Spanish maintain a blog (via wordpress) where they respond to assigned questions by speaking their answers, en espanol, into their webcam, recording them onto either youtube or nimbb.com, and posting to their wordpress blog for the teacher to review.

Ms. Heald:  Students in middle school drama prepare a “this I believe” statement by listening to those of others on this site, and submitting their own for inclusion (this is one of our students’ published essays.

Ms. Mulloy:   Student work is posted to web-pages which Ms. Mulloy organizes using delicious bookmarking; she also finds useful the bookmarks provided on delicious by the author of our summer reading book on Reinventing PBL.

Ms. Berry:  Students are using glogster edu to prepare digital posterboards to share and reflect upon their learning.

Ms. Kuluski: Students are completing their homework, and submitting it, online using webassign.net

Ms. Bancroft: Students in sixth grade English are working in groups to create a wiki of their favorite recommended reading, edit each others work, and comment on these reviews, learning digital citizenship and collaborative editing techniques even as they write book reviews and articulate their ideas about literature, in groups.  They are also studying other online book review sites for modeling and inspiration.

Ms. Clashman: Students are learning French geography, culture, and vocabulary by househunting in France, selecting a dream home, and then furnishing it from French Ikea.

Mr. Herzog: Students are completing warmups as his class begins by completing answers on google forms, and he is able to monitor the results as they are posted and immediately identify the gaps.

Mr. Connor: Students are using a social network style, facebook-like, Ning site for their class communications and conversations.

Ms. Bodden: Students are using google docs in a myriad of ways in her class.

Dr. Morris:  Students can access podcasts of Chemistry lectures he has prepared to review or to cover topics they might have missed.

Ms. Faircloth:  Students love the virtual heart transplant surgeries they do on this site. (more…)

Very excited about Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation: it offers great stimulation about the nature of contemporary innovation, and inspires us to think further about how our schools can be sites for innovation in our teaching and in our student learning.  (The book is released next week; I am quoting the reviewer’s advance copy)

Johnson’s book, I think, belongs right next to another recent favorite, Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus, in its enthusiastic embrace of the value and power of the internet to unleash and unite creative and productive energies from around the world as forces for good, for reform, and for innovation.   Johnson argues persuasively that the web, (and Twitter particularly) is our new coral reef where diversity of life is phenomenally abundant, and is our large metropolitan cultural crossroads, where good ideas meet, merge, and reinvent themselves. (more…)

Will students be using their laptops primarily for taking notes in lecture?

Above is a common question I hear these days as we unfold our new 1:1 laptop program.   No, not primarily, I explain, and then launch into a slightly too-elaborated explanation of empowering our students with the digital tools they need to best implement Aristotle’s advice (yes, 4th century BCE Aristotle) of learning by doing– learning to create, to communicate, to collaborate in the most modern ways by doing all these things digitally and on-line.

I think we have a problem in education, that of the misunderstanding of the potential uses and value of digitally integrated learning, and I think the solution lies at least in part in rallying around the concept, and incredible power, of the Web 2.0.

Naming things is significant; a name might be simple, might be short, might be seen as jargon, but with a name something becomes referable, deployable, scalable that much easier.   Web 2.0 is this term, and offers this power.

Over the past few years I have had heard the term;  it was zinging around out there on the periphery of much of my very much developing thinking.  But lately it has meaningfully converged– this is the term, so simple and short a term, to capture a concept that has become so very significant to me.

And yet, I fear that still only few educators know the term and understand its implications for teaching and learning.   Eric Sheninger, who is an excellent New Jersey principal and blogger/tweeter, recently tweeted that he interviewed four different Science teaching candidates, and not a one knew what web 2.0 meant.  I think this needs to change. (more…)