Monday, December 22, 2008

We interrupt this educational program for pure unadulterated FUN!

With Christmas morning quickly approaching, I am preparing for the inevitable invasion of my home. No I'm not talking about the in laws, I am referring to the onslaught of all sorts of toys, electronic or otherwise that my children will receive. The biggest "intruder" will come in the form of a Wii. Now, my husband and I have resisted having a gaming system in the house (even at this late hour I still question our decision) but we decided to forge ahead anyway. The evils of Square Boxes have certainly been a discussion topic in our house in the past but the imminent introduction of a Wii has escalated talks to the point we may need to call in the United Nations to draft a treaty. When can the children play? For how long? What games are appropriate? Do they get more time on "educational" game vs "non-educational games"? ... You get the idea

This same line of thinking prompted me to throw a question about my two oldests' favourite new internet game, Proptopica 's, appropriateness into the Twittersphere the other day. One strategy that was suggested as a way to help choose games to allow the kids to play was to have them "convince me of the educational value" of whatever they wanted to play. This sounded like a great idea. It would encourage higher level thinking, forming an argument, and learning to evaluate appropriateness for themselves. Not to mention personal responsibility and self discipline. Win, win, win situation.

I still think it is a great strategy, however, I wonder, does every activity need to have "educational value". Is there no room left in a child's life for pure, unadulterated, non-educational, time-wasting FUN? Have we analyzed, structured, and sheltered the fun right out of being a kid? There are probably a lot of experts (and kids) that would answer that last question with a resounding "YES". While we monitor what our children do online can we, honestly, say that every activity we engage in while on the computer is "educational" or "worthwhile". I know I can't. Seems like a bit of a double standard.

So I'm calling off the UN's treaty negotiation team and embarking on a little experiment. When the Wii comes out of the box this Christmas it will come with no restrictions, rules or regulations. Well maybe one -- have fun, be silly, be a kid!! Maybe I'll even find a way to follow that rule too! My suspicion is that, left to their own devices and given a range of activities to choose from, they will find a balance (after the initial gorging that is). The problem starts when they have no other activity to choose. I am confident if the temperature ever raises above -20c they will ditch Wii Ski for a trip to the local hill in a minute. But who knows, I could be wrong -- maybe I better keep the UN on standby...just in case.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My 8-year old Outlaw

I'd like to let you in on a conversation that happened at my house the other day...

Me: What are you doing on the computer?
Daughter : Reading.
Me: What?
Daughter: Harry Potter, The Half Blood Prince
Me: Oh you are reading about the book?
Daughter: No the actual book. It was out at the library.
Me: So.....
Daughter: So I googled "Read Harry Potter online" and found the book on this website.
Me: Ummm, I don't think you can do that.
Daughter: Why not?
Me: Well the person who scanned that book and put it online didn't have permission.
Daughter: But it's her book right? She bought it. Can't she do whatever she wants with it?
Me: HHMMM no it doesn't work that way -- she bought the book but that only means she can read it.
Daughter: But the library bought the book and they let a lot of people read it.
Me: That's different.
Daughter: How?
Me: Well in the library only one person can read that book at a time and online many people can read the book at the same time.
Daughter: So then there wouldn't need to be as many books if a lot of people could read the same book all at the same time.
Me: Exactly. The author of the book wouldn't be able to sell as many books if everyone put it up online.
Daughter: OOOH, so she wants to make lots of money.
Me: Well no, that's not entirely the point. Errrr -- can't you just wait until it is back in the library?
Daughter: I guess, but I still don't know why I can't read that girls book online.
Me: (muttering) Where is the email of that guy who talks about copyright stuff again.. maybe he can do a better job than me.

Harry Potter was taken off of that website today due to suspected copyright infringement but the fact remains that for a short period of time my 8-year old was an outlaw. It's a sticky subject, and an important one but I'm not sure I'm up to the task of translating into a form that an 8-year old can fathom. Her logic has me a bit stumped. It really is a whole new world out there...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Constructing Environments for Success

We have a guiding principle in our family that "each person will contribute to the best of their abilities" to accomplish what needs to get done. It is a small nod to communism in a home that, according to the kids, is run as a dictatorship with mere glimpses of democracy. As head dictators, err I mean parents, we try to give away as many of our responsibilities as we can, as soon as we can. Some may call it lazy parenting but we prefer to think of it as smart resource management.

What does smart resource management look like? Well if you know your colours -- you can sort laundry. If you can walk and have use of your hands -- pick up a few toys. If you can do up your zipper you can probably do up your sisters as well. If you are big enough to have "stuff" then you keep track of it(ok that ones a bit of a stretch but we try). I think you get the picture.

When we decided to design and build our house a few years back this expectation of "each to their own abilities" took on new significance. We figured if we embedded the expectation into the design we would be much more successful in turning those expectations into reality. Some of the ideas that worked are featured below and the ones that didn't ... well I left those out.

Alright I admit, the 3year old vacuuming is a bit of a stretch but it illustrates a point. Designing spaces that support your guiding principle helps to achieve goals.

The opposite can be true as well. When I was at my child's school the other day helping with a VoiceThread project we spent a lot of time trucking back and forth to the computer lab. When I was in school, almost 20 years ago, we had a computer lab so it didn't strike me as out of the ordinary. However later that night on Twitter there was some talk about ICT curriculum that got me curious enough to check out what the ICT curriculum looks like here. I found this statement --

"The ICT curriculum is not intended to be taught as a stand-alone course but rather to be infused within the teaching of other programs of study."

I thought that sounded like a pretty impressive guiding principle. Infusing ICT into all portions of the curriculum -- computers becoming as ubiquitous as paper and pen, textbooks and bulletin boards -- seems like a great idea to me. But wait, we don't have a textbook room or a pen and paper room, why do we still have a computer room? If we expect teachers to seamlessly integrate technology into the other programs of study shouldn't the technology come to the students instead of the other way around?

If we really want to change the way technology is used in our schools we need to change the physical environment. Having a separate computer room while expecting seamless tech integration seems as silly to me as placing all my dishes in upper cupboards when I expect my kids to help set the table. Sure they could get a stool and climb up to the dishes but would it be worth the effort (for me and for them)?

Designing our house in such a way that our kids can easily meet our expectations has not always ensured sucess but it certainly has made it more attainable. As I trudged down to the computer room for the fourth time that morning I realized that the school is not set up to meet the ICT expectations as outlined in the curriculum. As long as there is a stand-alone computer room, it will be difficut not to teach ICT as a stand-alone course. For me it feels like someone put the dishes on the top shelf, and I, for one, don't enjoy climbing up and down the stool.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Do we need to teach literacy?

The other day Lorna sent this request out into the twitterverse

"looking for examples of how to teach literacy skills to your child"

As I thought about that request it reminded me of an exchange I had with a public health nurse years ago when my oldest child was a little over one. My daughter had picked up a new stuffed toy that still had the little book-like tag in it's ear. She was looking at the tag and after awhile the nurse commented that I must read to my daughter a lot. I told her that we did read to her and asked her how she knew.

She said that the tag started out upside-down and my daughter had turned it over so that the spine was on the left-hand side. She also turned the pages starting from the front and working her way to the end of the tag. These actions seem innate but I realized that day even those things need to be learned. In order to eventually read books she had to understand the mechanics of a book and of the written word.

The nurse shared that she had seen children as old as five not understand what end of a book was up, which way to hold it, or even know enough to turn pages let alone that text is read from left to right. This was simply because the child had never had access to books in their entire life. It seems hard to imagine but it happens.

So what is a parent to do? How do we "teach" literacy skills as Lorna mentioned? I would suggest that word "teach" is a very dangerous word to use with parents. It brings us back to our "drill and grill" education and transforms us into parents who buy our kids workbooks like we had in school, find structured programs that will "teach" our 2 year olds, and gobble up every "educational" toy in the store.

Why can't we change our language and talk about how to create an environment that allows multiple literacy skills (digital, cultural, informational, numeracy etc) to flourish? In my house that means books, lot's of books everywhere. Reading a bedtime story every night. Going to the local library. Baking cookies. Sorting laundry. Starting rock collections. Taking a walk. Painting pitures. Playing with clay. Planting a garden. Telling the stories of our day around the supper table. Helping pay at the grocery store. Using the computer in multiple ways. The list could go on forever and every parents list will be different.

Will you find those "workbooks" and "educational" toys in my house? Well of course you will but it seems these days they are off collecting dust. As my family life has gotten increasingly busy with each child, the time available to "teach" my kids has decreased. The fantastic thing is that it has allowed us to learn instead.

Sometimes it's hard for us, as parents, to feel successful. We are so focused on the big prize, things like reading, that we forget to notice the little successes, like holding a book and turning the pages, along the way. I'm glad someone noticed it for me and taught me an important lesson, that every day in ordinary ways I'm helping my child to learn literacy skills, even if I'm not consciously "teaching" them.

So here is what "teaching" literacy looks like for me:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


When I checked my email today I had a peculiar message from the United States Geological Survey about bloodstone and soda lite. Turns out that while my 8 year old daughter was researching rocks (their current science unit) she came across the ask a geologist link on the USGS website and used it to get some clarification on a few points about the above-mentioned rocks. When I called her to the computer, terribly excited that she had a response from a real geologist, she simply read the email, jotted down the pertinent facts and carried on. She expected to get a response and, now, she also has an expectation that she can and should be able to access not only information on the internet but also people who can clarify and expand upon that information.

At first those expecations floored me, but I have to admit my own expectations of the internet and learning have changed dramatically in the past 6 months. Through blogs, webcasts, Facebook and Twitter I have connected with a group of people who can clarify and put into context the information that I access. Keep in mind I am not an educator, or an IT professional and yet a university professor, a couple of Ed Tech integration specialists, a masters student, a fantastic teacher, other involved parents, a parent involvement advocate and many more have all answered my questions, encouraged my efforts and challenged my thinking. Their knowledge, experiences, expertise and sometimes silliness has made a huge difference in my ability to help with Ed Tech both at home and as a volunteer in the school.

My amazement has been what I thought a third grader getting a response from a real geologist would be. Our expectations are different. She expects what I could have only imagined. I wonder how schools and educators are ever going to manage and meet those expecations. The kids themselves are raising the bar and it looks pretty high from where I'm standing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Dreaded (or not so dreaded) Diorama

One of my most vivid memories from Junior High is an eighth grade social project where we had to make a diorama to illustrate all that we had learned about Australian Aboriginal culture. That project was truly my undoing. You see I could have scored top marks by writing a paper, taking an exam or concocting a short story to illustrate my understanding of the material but to bring it into three dimensions was maddening. In my head I could see perfectly how the project should look but no matter how hard I tried that vision would not materialize in the diorama. My group received a dismal mark, even though we had a good proportion of "top" students. Meanwhile, across the room, a group of "non-top"students had created this wonderfully intricate scene utilizing carvings they had done from bars of soap. Not only was it beautiful but it truly did incorporate all of what we had learned. They got the mark that was traditionally mine.

Even now as I recount that story I get a sickly feeling in my stomach. I hated every moment of it, hated feeling stupid and hated the frustration of knowing what they wanted me to know but being unable express it in the way they were asking. I only had one project that made me feel that way but some of the other students, who didn't excel at writing and exam taking, probably felt that way more days than not. Looking back I realize that my academic success had less to do with knowledge and more to do with the fact I didn't have to prove my knowledge by building 3D objects.

Although my Grade 8 experience was many, many years ago, sometimes I am getting the feeling that not much has changed. Academic success is still determined by how well you can demonstrate what you know in the format the school/teacher/district chooses. I am still seeing really bright children feel as stupid and as frustrated on a daily basis as I felt trying to complete that project so long ago. It's not right.

One of the most exciting possibilities I see with all of the Web 2.0 tools is the ease in which students can demonstrate their knowledge in individual ways. Videos, slideshows, blogs, voicethreads, the list is really quite endless. And to semi-quote Clay Shirkey "it (the web) has become technologically boring enough to be socially" (and dare I say educationally) "interesting". It no longer takes a technical genius to use these web 2.0 offerings, basic computer skills are often enough. I feel that students need these tools in their hands, teachers need support to implement change and parents need to be the advocates for both.

The possibilites are out there we just need to capitalize on them. Every child deserves to demonstrate what they know. In whatever way they can. Even if it's in a diorama.

I'd like to draw your attention to a K12online presentation "Oh the Possibilites" by Lisa Parisi. The presentation is aimed at teachers but as a parent I found all the different ways that children could demonstrate knowledge interesting. I thought about which of my children may fare best using each of the approaches and how I could introduce those things at home to unlock their potential. I hope you enjoy it...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Loving K12Online

K12Online conference has been running last week and will continue next week as well. From their website -- " The K-12 Online Conference invites participation from educators around the world interested in innovative ways Web 2.0 tools and technologies can be used to improve learning. This FREE conference is run by volunteers and open to everyone. " Yes you read that right -- Free and open to everyone. In this case "everyone" includes me -- a parent.

I'm not sure if parents were who they had in mind when thought about "everyone" but as I've participated in the Fireside Chat and other live events I have felt very welcome and not as out of place as I thought I might. The more presentations that I viewed the more strongly I felt that more parents should be attending. AAhh I hear the collective groan of parents out there -- "I don't want to become a teacher -- that's what they are paid for". But, as someone recently reminded me, as parents we are our children's first and lifelong teachers.

I haven't had a chance to listen to all the fantastic presentations but here are a few that I feel will particularly appeal to parents.

Free tools for universal design for learning in literacy (Jennifer Kraft) -- This is really a must see for all parents but for those of you with struggling readers or special needs it is especially important. The title sounds daunting, I know, but the presentation is easy to follow and has great resources that you can use at home to help with literacy from pre-readers all the way through. Laurie Fowlers presentation then moves on to other ways to help students become better readers.

The Google Gamut -- Everything you need to get Started
(Kern Kelley) -- Over the past 18 months Google's suite of products has completely changed the way I utilize the internet. Kern gives a great overview of how to get started with your own google account. The possibilities for parents using google are endless I would highly reccomend checking this out.

I like Delicious Things -- An Introduction to Tagging and Folksonomies (Chris Betcher) -- Do you have a digital mountain of pictures? A bookmark file that you can no longer find the right bookmark in? This presentation speaks to one of the most daunting tasks of parents -- organization. Everything in a place and a place for everthing. If you have ever wondered about the value and utility of creating tags for your pictures, your resources or even your life, look no further!

Well that is enough to get you started, but I'm sure after that brief introduction you will be looking for more. I already have my mp3 player loaded with "What did you do in School today.." and "Web 2.0 tools to Amplify Elementary Students Creativity and Initiative" for lunch break tomorrow.

The K12online conference provides a rare opportunity for teachers and parents to learn together on equal footing. This shared knowledge has the capacity to strengthen the parent-teacher relationship and facilitate meaningful discussions about solutions to some of the difficulties that are faced in our schools every day. So grab some pizza and beer, parents and teachers and have fun viewing a few of the presentations. You'll be glad you did ...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Evil Square Box?

Ah yes the evil square box. You know what I'm talking about computers, TV's, handheld games. The catch all term that we use to refer to all types of screen time. Apparently it is the root of childhood obesity, ADHD, anti-social behaviour and the list goes on. Every ill that has befallen our children can be traced back to some sort of manifestation of the square box. As a parent I have followed the popluar wisdom and really limited all forms of square box time in our house and I felt really proud of the job I was doing until today.

Today, if you were in my house, you would have heard this:

-stop making that collage with your brother
-please enough with the drawing already times up
-why are you writing again -- I thought I asked you to stop
-are you playing with your roller-coaster set? You are grounded.
-quit reading about the Taj Mahal and the wonders of the world

It sounds absurd doesn't it? But what if I told you the colouring was on tuxpaint, the collage was a slideshow on OneTrueMedia, the writing was a gmail message, roller-coasters are constructed with Ruff Ruffman and the Taj Mahal research was on the web. And what I really said was get off the computer. Now does it seem as absurd?

As I walked to set the "computer time" timer after my daughter announced she wanted to research the wonders of the world, I had to ask myself the question -- If she had brought home a book from the library about the Wonders of the World would I be limiting her time? The questions then keep coming.. if she were writing in journal would I stop her? would I ask my son to stop colouring unless it was supper? would I interrupt the two of them peacefully cutting up magazines for a collage if I didn't have to? Why does the fact they are engaging in these activities on a square box matter?

Sometimes I wonder why this shift in thinking is so hard. Then I pick up my daughters school newsletter and read (under a huge headline of READ! READ! READ!) this: "And yet everything conspires against children learning to love books(ie read). Ubiquitous electronic devices, whether desk-bound or small enough to fit in their pockets, occupy an alarming proportion of children's days" With messages like that floating around -- is it any wonder that, as parents, we sometimes fear and loathe the evil Square Box.

But what if computers had come before books? What if the quote above read "And yet everything conspires against children learning to love computers. Ubiquitous printed matter, whether hard-cover or a paperback small enough to fit in their pockets, occupy an alarming proportion of children's days" Would we then be blaming the solitary, sedentary nature of reading books for the rising obesity problem and anti-social tendencies of children?

I know that I won't give my children free access to the computer in my home any more than I would let them decide what they should eat every day. It is my job to ensure that they have a healthy balance in their lives. However, I do hope that I will do a better job in the future of evaluating the worth of the activity irregardless of the medium that delivers it. I would like to believe that the medium isn't always the message -- that sometimes it's just the medium. Just as an apple isn't candy just because it is sweet; activities don't lose worth because they are contained on a computer. Maybe the evil square boxes aren't that evil after all.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Culture Shock

I have a postcard that I have kept from my travels that states "I cheer for two teams New Zealand and anyone playing Australia". It serves as a reminder of a time when I thought the two countries were virtually interchangeable. A New Zealand exchange student quickly gave me an education when he retorted with -- "United States -- Canada -- no difference right?". I immediately understood the offence that I had caused and of course apologised profusely (as all Canadians would -- sorry is, after all, one of our favourite words). Even though two countries may speak the same language, have some heritage in common, share common interests and be geographically close -- it doesn't mean they have the same culture.

Zubin Austin, a professor at the University of Toronto, explained at a pharmacy conference I attended how the culture of professions influence how we interact with each other. Specifically he followed pharmacy graduates who eventually went on to become physicians. As they wrote their final exams to become physicians they felt they could have passed them out of pharmacy school, but without the enculturation process of med school they couldn't have functioned as physicians. They wouldn't have understood what it meant to be a doctor; the language, the mindset, the culture, and the values had to be learned.

As a parent, sometimes that's how I feel about teachers. I have spent a great deal of time learning about educational technology, curriculum, and subjects, to the point I could possibly "pass" a teacher test, but I will never be a teacher. Teachers, like all professions, undergo a transformation in university that makes them teachers. It goes beyond the knowledge they attain -- it is the values, beliefs, language and rituals that makes them who they are.

So as I enter the school system, as a parent, and try to help teachers embrace technology I find myself experiencing a bit of culture shock. There have been volumes written about culture shock and they have managed to drill it down to four main phases:

  1. Honeymoon phase -- A person is excited to be in a new place, experiencing new things, there may be minor difficulties but you chalk it up to being part of the newness.
  2. Rejection phase -- This is where a person really starts to notice the differences in culture. Things that the natives find as minor inconveniences really begin to grate on the traveler. There is a lot of complaining at this stage about how the other culture does things. At this point a person will either move on to the "acceptance" phase or will just choose to go back home.
  3. Acceptance phase -- You begin to gain some sort of understanding of the new culture, it's ideals and values. Your sense of humour may return and there is a sense of psychological balance. You begin to tolerate the differences.
  4. Complete Adjustment/Assimilation Phase -- Finally you accept all the habits and customs of the new culture and may even find it preferable to the way you used to do things. You accept that there are just different ways of doing things -- not right or wrong -- just different. You are adjusted to the new culture.
Unfortunately I find myself at the rejection stage. What teachers have accepted as minor inconveniences (filtering, lack of access, bureaucracy) I find infuriating. My knowledge of the system is lacking and I struggle to understand why thing are done the way they are. It's frustrating and I find myself at the point of deciding -- do I go home or do I try to move on to acceptance?

Although it is very tempting to go home, I choose to move to the next phase. I can't say that my sense of humour has returned or that I have a sense of psychological balance but I am beginning to tolerate the differences. I would like to think that I am beginning to understand the culture of teachers, the ideals and values that make them who they are and, if I can manage that, I can function more efficiently in their world.

I don't know if I will ever experience the fourth phase of culture shock and, honestly, I'm not sure that I ever want to. I am not eager to completely assimilate into the school culture. To accept, completely, all the habits, norms and beliefs that are prevalant in the school system right now would make me an ineffective agent of change and I am really hoping for change. So just as New Zealanders and Canadians cling to their identity in the face of their larger neighbours, I too choose to cling to my culture of a being a parent. However, even if we can't, or won't, completely assimilate, I hope that we can put the cultural differences aside and cheer, support and celebrate the common vision of children succeeding.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A Safe Sandbox

On a ski vacation last winter my son got separated from the group coming down a run at Lake Louise. If you have never skied Lake Louise, trust me, it is a massive hill and the thought of my five year old being lost on it still causes my heart to clench. Everything ended well, a call went out to all employees on the hill, and he was quickly found sitting on a bench near a chair lift seemingly just waiting to be reunited with the group.
After the initial shock and panic wore off, I had to admit that I was impressed by how well he managed the situation. I also had to concede that I wasn't terribly surprised. As I catalouged all the skills he needed to get through this little (or big in my mind) crisis -- I realised he had them in abundance.
You see we have a little local ski hill that we frequent. It is on the river hill, has a tow rope, a t-bar, and 6 runs. This is where you will find us for the majority of the winter. This is where my son practiced all the skills he needed to take on the challenge he met at Lake Louise.
  1. Skill and Ability -- Spending up to 4 times a week on a ski hill develops skill pretty fast. As a consequence this little 5 year old, much to my dismay, can take on Black Diamond runs with his dad. Again with the heart clenching...
  2. Confidence -- All that practice and skill building makes for a very confident little boy. He has faith in himself and in his abilities. The most valuable thing is that comes from within him not from his mom telling him he's great. So when he ends up on a big hill all alone he still has that faith and confidence with him.
  3. Problem Solving -- He has gotten himself into a few interesting predicaments at our local hill, but the nice thing is that the consequences of those situations are for the most part pretty benign (ie not worried about avalanches, falling off a mountain, or getting lost). He has learned where the pitfalls may be (ie out of bounds) and can better identify bad situations that, in the mountains, can have serious consequences.
  4. Adult help/mentors -- The advantage of a small ski hill is the community. I can allow my son to roam our little ski hill because I know I am not the only one looking out for him. As he has encountered various situations all sorts of adults, teens and other kids have been there to help him up, guide him, teach him and keep him safe. He knows what authentic interaction with adults looks like.
I am extremely grateful that I have this "safe sandbox" for my son. I know that it contributed to our happy ending at Lake Louise. My kids are lucky that there are many places like that in my community where they can practice all the skills I mentioned above. However, as my daughter, who is eight, begins to venture online I am beginning to wonder where her "safe sandbox" will be? And by safe I don't mean a perfectly filtered, sterile environment but one like our ski hill where mistakes can be made without dire consequences and there is a community who is ready and able to guide, teach and help her learn how to keep herself safe.

I am really looking forward to Parents as Partners webcast tonight (October 6, 2008 9pm EST) with Dean Shareski as they talk about these issues. How can parents, schools, teachers and community work together to make "a safe digital sandbox" for our children? It is an important issue that I hope gets a lot of attention because the only the thing that makes my heart clench tighter than thinking about my son being lost at Lake Louise is to think what might have happened if he didn't have the skills, confidence, and problem solving abilities he learned in his "sandbox".

Monday, September 29, 2008

If you build it -- they will come -- or will they??

Our parent Ning, has, from the beginning, been a place built by parents for parents. However there is a lot of discussion right now about how schools can utilize the same types of Web 2.0 tools to engage with parents. So I wonder what would happen if the school created a site similar to the community parent Ning and invited parents to join. Would it suffer from the "creepy treehouse" syndrome?? Personally, I think that it might. Ownership, whether of an idea, action or physical space, is a powerful determinant of the investment an individual is willing to make. Parents simply would not invest in a school-owned network the same way they would invest in a parent owned network. And, as I have mentioned, the opposite is true as well. We find ourselves at an impasse.

Or have we?? What if we can each own our individual spaces but passively collaborate to meet the needs of each group?

There have been two key developments, in our situation, that has made this possibility a reality for our community parent Ning. The first, is that the school has begun to publish it's calendar online via Google Calendar. It may not seem like a major development but that simple choice allows the parents to import the "official" school generated calendar into the parent Ning. This has the potential to address one of the Schools major concerns about "misinformation" on the Ning. Now instead of volunteer parents transcribing school events onto our own calendar we avoid any transcription mistakes by using the school's actual calendar. The School can also access any of the parent generated community, club and sport Google calendars that are maintained by parents on the Ning.

The second development is that one of the teachers has started a blog . Through the use of an RSS this can be transported, by parents, to that specific grade group within the Ning. That link to the teacher generated content enriches the environment without the teacher having to actively participate in the space. It maintains a level of separation that is important to school administration at this point.

At one time I bemoaned the fact that the School was unwilling to join us in the Ning. Now I am beginning to wonder if we can each own and control our own space and use threads of collaboration to loosely tie us together. In a way this issue surrounding ownership and collaboration reminds me of "free trade agreements". While we all want to preserve our own space, culture and identity we realize that there are certain commodities that are so valuable and so integral that they should be traded freely. The question then moves from "If we build it will they come?" to "How can we build it so they can be there without coming?"

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Who am I??

What you've done becomes the judge of what you're going to do - especially in other people's minds. When you're traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don't have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road. ~William Least Heat Moon, Blue Highways

When I first joined Facebook I really had no idea what it was all about. A friend was concerned that her daughter had joined so asked me to go online and see what the site was all about. As my "demographic" had not really caught on to Facebook at that time I did a quick look around and then left. After Facebook patrons moved beyond college and highschool kids, it didn't take long for my friends to start popping up all over the place.

At first it was fun getting in touch with highschool friends and family, then it started to be University friends (who are now my pharmacy colleagues) and people that I have met through the Ed Tech world. The boundaries between my worlds started to blur. Then someone posted a rather horrid "joke" on my wall and a giant spotlight landed on the question of "who am I?" when I am on Facebook. My kids mom? A pharmacist? The girl from highschool? My Nieces/Nephews aunt - my Aunt's/Uncle's niece? My mom's kid (yes even my Mom is on Facebook)? Most importantly what does it say to all of these people to see something so awful posted on my wall?

The answer to that question is a difficult one. The people who know me, and have known me for an extended period of time, would not hold that post (ie Is she really the type of person that would find that funny?) against me because they have knowledge of what I have done in the past and can use it to predict my current behaviour. But what about the people who only know me in the "right there and then" sense? I can't predict how they would percieve seeing such a thing, they have no knowledge of "the yesterdays on the road" to give it context. At best, they'd think that I have poor taste in friends or at worst that I shared that sense of humour. It made me want to create walls around each of the roles that contributes to who I am as a whole.

It was this dilemma that led me to choose Ning to create our Community Parent's Site. It seemed the perfect solution to create a place where there was no question "who you were" in this space. You were a parent -- plain and simple. But it is never that simple, I live in a small town and those roles are not very easy to partition. While someone in the city may go to work, do their shopping, participate in service clubs and have a night on the town without ever crossing paths with another parent (or teacher) from their child's school, it would be impossible for us not to interact with eachother in situations that have nothing to do with our children.

What implications has this had on our "on-line" community. I guess the first has been on the teachers. While they can participate as parents they are discouraged by adminstration to participate as teachers. In a town where school matters might be discussed, with a teacher, in the grocery aisle, in the stands at a hockey game, or even a community dance this "exclusion" has created an awkward dynamic for both parents and teachers. It raises the question -- what makes this online "place" different than any other place we may inhabit? -- but that's another post.

The second, somewhat expected, side effect involves the parents. As most of us grew up in a small town (and most this same small town) we are very used to functioning in a place where one role overlaps with another. This partitioning in a way feels unnatural. For example one teacher asked me to post a community fundraiser on our Parent Ning for her. When I told her the Ning was enabled for anyone to post events she indicated that wasn't the issue -- she felt awkward posting an "adult" event with alcohol involved to a site where everyone was a parent and she was a teacher (even though she is a parent too and most of the parents will attend the event!). The interesting thing was that creating a Facebook event did not cause the same concern. On Facebook she has not been reduced to only a portion of who she is (a teacher) and felt free to function as a whole person.

We have also seen a group, that started on the Ning, create and migrate to a Facebook group. Why? I haven't had a chance to ask but it think it is mainly due to the ease of then integrating that group into what you are already doing on Facebook, you can be everything all in one place.

Part of why I enjoy traveling is that opportunity that is referred to in the opening quote. It is extremely interesting to see how people react to you in the "right there and then", with no preconceived notions of who you are and who you have been. But there is still comfort and utility to be found in the history and "yesterdays on the road" of a small town. So when you set up a specific role-defined online environment such as our Parent Ning in a rural location there is a trade-off -- everyone knows who they are "supposed to be" but it makes it hard to function in the way they are used to -- as a whole person with all roles wrapped into one messy, complicated and fantastic package.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

An uncomfortable country...

“Remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” - Clifton Fadiman

The residents of places like Facebook, Ning and Myspace are very comfortable in their Social Network place. However, as the quote suggests things can be extremely uncomfortable when you first think about or join a social network such as Ning especially if you aren't familiar with the customs and conventions.

Let's say you were planning a beer tasting tour in country XYZ when you heard that burping in public was a punishable offence. I think you would start to change your plans -- I mean how could you possibly guarantee that a burp wouldn't catch you by suprise and land you in the local jail. However, as you research further you realize that you will only be carted off to jail if you don't follow the traditional custom of turning in a circle twice while saying excuse me. Once you understood the customs and conventions of that country you became a little bit more comfortable packing your bags.

Introducing a Social Networking tool such as Ning or Facebook to a community can garner the same sort of reaction. There are so many media stories about the possible perils and consequences of social networking sites that it makes it seem like an extremely risky place to visit, let alone inhabit. As parents began to set up grade-specific groups on our Ning, the school inevitably became involved. The administrator had many of the fears that the media perpetuates and, as his job is to protect the students in his charge, as well as the teachers and staff in his school, he needed to address those issues.

I was able to assure him that this Ning had been set up as a private community, people had to apply to be able to see any of the information that was part of the Ning. Pictures and video have to be approved before they can be posted. Concerns were raised about what may happen if someone said slanderous/unkind things about teachers or other parents on the site, so we instituted a 'proper' use agreement that had to be agreed to upon joining. Any contravention of that "agreement" would result in a member being removed from the site. He was invited to join so that he could see for himself what was being said. The final assurance was that if this site "got out of hand" it only took one keystroke to remove the entire community. Once administration knew there were conventions in place to address the concerns they became a bit more comfortable with how this would all work.

But, just as some people feel so uncomfortable in a foreign land that they will never leave home, some will never be comfortable in a Social Network environment. That is the case right now with most schools. Administrators are not comfortable enough with the conventions that are in place at this point to allow schools to participate in a social network environment. So while our school has not asked us to shut down the site, they have made it clear that there will be no active participation from the school. (Just to clarify -- we never asked for school participation -- but as some parents are teachers the school felt they needed a policy that addressed what "teachers" could contribute to the site).

The fastest growing sector of Facebook right now is in the "over 25" demographic. As parents join these sites and begin to see their utility in connecting and collaborating with others, I think it is inevitable that they will want the school to be a part of that. I guess my advice would be to be patient, and to go slow, especially if social networking is a foreign land. In Michelle Martins blogpost she describes how newcomers face new language, new behaviours and customs, a different sense of history and that horrible feeling of being an absolute beginner. It always helps to have a willing guide, someone who knows the language, customs and behaviours can make an uncomfortable country comfortable and with a little perserverance it may even feel like home.

What's coming up....

I am very fortunate to have been included not once but twice on a great webcast (Parents as Partners) about engaging parents in schools and more importantly in their children's learning. In our latest discussion we started to talk a little bit about using social networking (facebook, ning etc) as a tool for connecting with and engaging parents. I had, quite innocently, started a Ning geared towards the parents in my community but really had no comprehension of the reaction that was to follow. The most suprising revelation for me has been that anyone beyond my community would care what we were doing. As I watched Cindy Seibel research how to create a K-12 Parent Portal and Lorna's excitement about what we were doing, it slowly (and I mean reeally slowly) began to sink in that what we were undertaking was a bit of an experiment. So in the next series of blog posts I'd like to share some of the difficulties, triumphs and random thoughts that have come about in the course of the last 5 months.

But first some background -- I am very new to the school system (my children are 8,5,3).I was searching for a way to be involved with the school and I began thinking that my interest in the internet may be the special skill that I could bring to the table. I suggested that Parent Council should have a website and was entrusted with the mandate to make that happen. When I sat back and thought about what I, as a parent, was hoping to find on a website, I quickly realized that it had very little to do with Parent Council. I wanted a virtual clearinghouse of information on community events, school events, sports schedules, and an opportunity to connect with other parents who were in the same boat as me. All of that seemed too daunting of a task for one person to be in charge of so, after some deliberation, I decided to start a community Parent's Ning instead of pursue a Parent Council website. In the environment of a Ning the whole community could pitch in and maintain the site. No-one owned the site, anyone could contribute to the site, in true Web 2.0 fashion it was us using us to create the content we needed.

It seems simple right?? Straightforward?? Shouldn't be a problem?? Well there has been, and continues to be some interesting and unexpected side effects from the process. As you continue through the next few postings I think it is important that you keep in mind a couple of important facts -- actually just one -- this Ning is in a small community -- pop ~1,200 -- those from a small-town rural setting understand what that means. For the rest I think a small explanation is in order. Our children don't just go to school together, they see eachother in the community, attend the same extracurricular activities, and often have extended family in the school (cousins etc). As parents that means we have a lot of interaction with eachother through the kids but it also means that we work, do community service, and socialize together independent of our connection around the children. The real-world ties are extremely strong so the Ning is merely an extension of those ties. I believe this creates an entirely different dynamic than would be found in a more urban setting. Can our experiences to be transferred to what is esentially a different culture?? I'm not entirely sure -- I hope to find that out via the comments I recieve with this series of posts. So -- here goes nothing.....

Sunday, September 14, 2008

You better be listening to your Ipod!!

Have you ever been utterly lost trying to help your child tackle homework at night? Well if you haven't had the experience yet I can guarantee you it will be coming in the not too distant future. But what if we could turn homework around? What if the lectures were the homework and homework was done at school? Well that is exactly what a couple of innovative teachers at Woodland Park, Colorado are attempting to do.

From a parent's perspective this is an amazing idea. My children haven't hit the "homework nightmare" age but many of my friends are right in the thick of it. They thought their math nightmares were long since gone and now they find themselves up late at night learning "new math" so they can help their child get through whatever problems have been sent home. Now turn that scenario around and the parental responsibility becomes having their child view the lecture and help them formulate a list of points they need clarified. Whew -- now that would be easier -- no need to learn "new math"!!

Kids will benefit as well by having timely help instead of struggling and getting increasingly frustrated at home. Children that have trouble concentrating on a lecture in class may find it easier to comprehend when they can listen/watch in a quiet, distraction free environment. Lessons can be viewed at an individual pace, paused, and replayed for review before an exam. It is a service I know I would have enjoyed when I was student.

It seems the world is continually shifting under our feet. Where once we yelled "Take the ipod off and get doing homework" we may have to change our refrain to "You had better be listening to that Ipod". I think I can make the change -- it beats learning math all over again.

Monday, September 8, 2008

This always happens....

Just when I finish a post my surfing brings me to a resource I could have included. This video is a fabulous kindergarten -- aaahh why can't it last?

Why can't kindergarten last forever?

My son will start kindergarten tomorrow and I am very excited for the year of learning he has ahead of him. It only take's a quick look at the Kindergarten Handbook to see that it is a year of exploration, learning and fun. I'm excited to take the journey with him and watch him explore someplace new.

In my real-world travels I have taken a couple of different approaches to exploring new places. I have been on the package bus tours, I have arrived in a city alone and figured things out from there but for the most part I have existed someplace in between those 2 extremes. My brother or sister was usually living in whatever exotic locale I was visiting and served as my guides. Their role went beyond just showing me the sights. Having them there allowed me to venture off on my own knowing that someone was there to bail me out or point me in the right direction. They gave me the basic information, a sense of security and from there I could explore, take chances and experience places in a way that was relevant to me.

Each time I head off to a new place I'm a little better prepared than I was the time before. I move further and further away from the safe, predictable package bus tour and more towards the independent explorer that I hope to be. I wonder why it is that in schools that we seem to have that process backwards? As kids progress, learning seems to change into something that resembles a 10 European countries in 9 days bus tour. You see a lot of sights, are given a lot of information but it always leaves you feeling a bit cheated. Interesting sites pass by your window but there is never time to stop and explore because the group needs to stay together. Rarely is there an opportunity to interact with the communities in any meaningful sort of way. There is an itinerary to follow and strict time constraints each step of the way.

Kindergarten, on the other hand, seems to be the perfect blend. These tiny explorers are given the opportunity to explore and discover, and take responsibility for selecting and completing a
variety of activities. (from the kindergarten handbook) The class often explores a topic of study that arises out of children’s interests and brings together learning from different areas. (also directly from the handbook) In other words -- the bus makes unscheduled stops depending on the interests of the passengers. Many people from the community contribute to the Kindergarten program.(again a quote from you know where) Sadly as more and more curriculum (stops on the tour bus route) is added to the kindergarten program we are in danger of losing this type of learning.

There are many problems that need to be adressed to change the face of learning. The internet and Web 2.0 are only one piece of the puzzle but I think that used correctly they can play an important part. Never in the history of learning has so much information been so readily available to so many people. But information is such a small part, the connections that we can make with members of our larger, global community are unprecedented. Our students can have access to paleontologists from The Royal Tyrell museum, astronauts from the Canadian Space Agency and so much more. They can communicate in real time with classrooms around the world. They can explore, create, share and play. In other words they can make the magic of kindergarten last forever.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The transition from tourist to traveler...

The theme of my last post was all about vacations and I must have taken that to heart as it has been 3 months since I have posted anything to my blog. Now that's a vacation. I have struggled to determine why my writing so suddenly dropped off and I think there are a number of factors to blame. Warm weather, longer days, vacation and children home from school would be the usual culprits. Those reasons certainly played a part but I think more importantly I had exhausted the path I had originally set out on.
Make no mistake -- there are many destinations left in the world of Web 2.0 and I have visited many of them over the last 3 months. I have found a fantastic Blog from an educator in the United States that alerts me to several great tools a day, participated in a live webcast, harnessed the power of podcasts for my own continuing professional development, created a Ning for the parents of my community, and have even started reading works of classical literature one RSS feed at a time. It has been an amazing journey, but, the question becomes are the stops along the way the really important thing?
Henry Miller said “One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” As I have made my way across this new landscape of the internet I have certainly begun to see things differently. Interaction, communication, socialization and education (both my children's and my own) don't look quite the same as they did 6 months ago. Do I like everything I see -- well of course not -- but I see a lot that makes me very excited for all that is now possible.
So I think that I am ready to resurrect my blog. However, I'd like to think that I have made the transition from tourist to traveler. I will no longer be offering bus tours of the best tourist stops on Web 2.0. I offer instead a narrative of what it is like to be a parent traveling in a land where our children are natives and we are foreigners. With that in mind I will leave you to ponder one of my favourite travel quotes that I often mutter to myself when abroad .....

“Remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” - Clifton Fadiman

Friday, May 30, 2008

A fellow traveller's guide....

The weather is finally turning warmer and my thoughts, at least, are starting to turn to that all important Canadian institution -- summer vacation!!! The possibilities are endless, festivals abound, the mountains beckon, undiscovered country awaits!! How do you decide? Where will you go? Who will help you discover that undiscovered country? We turn to guide books, websites, friends and family to find the next best place that will fit our family perfectly.

There are problems with this method. Family is great but I doubt the kids will enjoy the Kimberley World Accordian Festival as much as Great-Aunt Phyllis does (or maybe they will -- from experience it is kind of a hoot!). The Enchanted Forest website makes it seem worth the stop but how can you tell if it is just another tourist trap (trust me it's fabulous!)? Which guide do you choose -- are you a Frommer's, Lonely Planet, or Rough guide kind of person? Each is written with a specific traveler in mind. Wouldn't it be great if you could connect with a family just like yours who share your same interests and ideas of what a vacation should be and share your experience, great finds and must see spots?

Now thanks to Social Bookmarking sites such as Diigo and we can come close to creating that experience, and for a lot more than just vacations. Take a look at what Social Bookmarking can do for you :

Diigo takes social bookmarking past just sharing tags and bookmarks. It allows you to highlight passages in a website just as you would in a book and add a sticky note with your thoughts about that passage. When you return to the website days or weeks later it will remind you what you found so interesting. Secondly you can add comments (public or private) to any web page and also read the public comments other's have made. So if you have a Diigo account you will see that I have made a comment regarding the Enchanted Forest when you are on their website. A personal recommendation is worth more than a thousand tour books!

Really great travelers often don't carry guidebooks. They rely on the experiences of those who they meet along the way to guide them and enjoy the thrill of stumbling upon something undiscovered that they in turn can share. Really great Web 2.0 travelers are no different. They move beyond what the "guidebooks" tell them are great sites and rely on their fellow travelers to point them to places that are relevant, peer-reviewed, fantastic resources. So fellow travelers let me know -- where are we off to next?

Friday, May 9, 2008

And now we pause for a little fun..

Wow -- I had no idea it had been so long since I last posted anything to my Blog. Ooops. Anyway, I promised long ago that somewhere along the line we would have some fun. So far it's been like being on vacation in Germany during Oktoberfest and only seeing churches and museums. Well pull out your lederhosen and get ready to party!! Disclaimer -- I do have 3 kids 7 and under so "party" is a relative term.

What does a parent love more than looking at pictures of their kids? Looking at pictures of their kids set to sappy music!! Granted this is kind of a mom thing but as Mother's Day is upon us I thought I would lead with this amazing site. Animoto is quite possibly the easiest way to put together a slideshow I have ever seen. Just drop in the pictures, choose a music track (from their library or your own collection) and voila they email you as soon as they have put it together. If it's not quite right you can send it back for remixing. 30 sec trailers are free but full length shows are $3 each or $30 for a year's unlimited use. Check out this example....

This next little gem will somewhat give away my age as it reveals my nostalgia for "mixed tapes". You remember the painstaking process of FF and RW to the perfect spot in the tape -- trying to sync the record and play functions (unless you had a dubbing option on your stereo--now that was technology!!). Well you can relive some of those days on Mixwit. You can choose your play list, customize your "tape" and even post it on your Facebook profile or ..........Blog!!

And then there is YouTube, I know it seems like an odd thing to add for parents -- I have to say I resisted the YouTube pull as long as possible but once I started digging it is great for some fun. Some is complete rubbish, some is mediocre and some really worthwhile -- kind of like real TV right? Looking for an episode of a long-lost TV show that was a favourite -- you might find it here. Like I did for our kindergarten teacher who loves using the "Letter People" to introduce kids to letters but never knew there was an old TV show to augment the program -- cheesy but effective....

So we now have pictures, music, a little video -- what else could a party need? Oh yeah -- people!! Using all these Web 2.0 tools by yourself is only half the fun, you now have to invite people to your party!! You can achieve this by emailing your creations and finds out by email but now the preferred way is through a social network. The most well known social network right now has to be Facebook but there were many that came before (such as myspace and secondlife) and there is sure to be many to follow. This is the spot on Web 2.0 to meet up with friends -- old and new -- to share information, post pics of the kids, kick around a joke or two, arrange real life parties and so much more.

Well these few spots are really the tip of the iceberg for what Web 2.0 has available for you to mix, remix and share all types of media. Have fun playing with all the applications and when Uncle Joe and Aunt Martha thank you for the amazing slideshow you put together for their 50th wedding anniversary I hope you think of me.

However there is more to gain here than Joe and Martha's undying gratitude (and possible inheritance). Web 2.0 is fast becoming the "Soda Shop" of the 50's or "The Mall" of the 80's. It's where kids connect, express themselves, do homework and share ideas. Unlike the Soda Shop or Mall it is a place not many parents have been. So as you have fun and use these spaces you will also be gaining an understanding of the space kids are occupying. The more you understand the more you can help your kids fully utilize the amazing resources that are available in a safe, responsible way. So while Joe and Martha's inheritance would be nice, the legacy of teaching "digital natives" how to be good "digital citizens" is worth so much more.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hot off the Press...

Well the people at CommonCraft have released a brand new educational video so I thought I would do a quick post to share it with you. This time they tackle podcasting, which is a term many parents have heard before but maybe don't completely understand.

Podcasting has been used in schools for a number of years now. How they use it is limited only by your imagination. Teachers create podcasts of their lectures for students to use for review and study purposes, kids put together podcasts of class material to help cement concepts in their mind (and post them for other kids/parents to enjoy), teachers download continuing professional development lectures, and the list goes on. You can find a podcast on just about any subject that interests you, just a quick search should provide you with more than you'll ever have time to listen to. Just remember that you don't need an "i-pod" to listen, any portable media device will suffice, and if all else fails you can always listen/watch right from your computer.

Here are some places to start:

Storynory -- This is a collection of stories for children available for free download
Librivox -- This is another story collection but of novels that are read by volunteers
Parent magazine -- Collection of parenting information podcasts
Mediafly -- I am just starting to explore this site that allows you to collect all your podcasts in one spot and download them to your device -- it also has many recommendations of podcasts you may enjoy covering many subject areas. It is only in Beta so keep that in mind......

Well I hope you have fun exploring podcasts and as you use them personally or to entertain kids with stories on a long drive take a moment to think about all the ways this could be used in your child's classroom. I would love to hear all your ideas!!!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The many faces of Google

The first thing most people think of when they hear "Google" is search engine. Who could blame them, Google has to be one of the most used search engines on the internet, but Google has grown far beyond their search engine start. Since everyone knows Google I though it may be a great first stop in our exploration of Web 2.0. Let's take a look at what Google can do for you.

Maybe I'll just start with what Google already does for me. Google manages my email, allows me to chat online, stores my calendar, does my word processing, maintains this Blog, is my RSS reader, stores my pictures, hosts my web page (that's my real job -- blogging doesn't pay well), promotes my business, generates revenue from my website, and yes it does also search the internet very well. My home page is igoogle and from that one page I can see the weather forecast, my email inbox, CBC news (yes -- if you haven't figured it out yet I'm Canadian eh), my calendar, joke of the day (everyone needs a chuckle) and see the feeds from the couple of Blogs I follow the most. All in all a pretty sweet package.

I am going to pause here for a moment and let you know my assumption in writing this Blog is that my audience is all over the map -- some people have passed Googleland a long time ago and are off to a more exotic locale such as Ningville, Wikitown, or Bloggerton. That's fine, I won't be offended if you leave now. However there are some parents that have never left the comforts of their Web 1.0 home and Googleland is a good first place to visit. It's like Australia, sure there are a few strange animals and they drive on the opposite (not wrong) side of the road, but they speak english and have that "member of the commonwealth" sort of feel. Other than the accent (and a few other things like fabulous weather) you feel like you haven't left home. So for those of you "seasoned travelers" we'll catch you next time but for everyone else let's proceed...

Now I'm a 4-H'er from way back, for those of you who grew up rurally you know what that means -- for the rest it means I'm a "Learn to do by Doing" kind of gal. So the only way to really figure what this Google stuff is all about is to go sign up for an account. Yes I mean now -- go on -- I'll wait. There -- wasn't that easy?? You now have access to the full range of Google products. Calendars, Blogs, Pictures, Word Processor, the whole nine yards. The question is now that you have it -- what will you do with it??? Let me give you a few ideas.

First the Calendar. I have a great Calendar above the phone at my house -- nothing will ever replace it -- it is the schedule that rules our life. The problem is that life doesn't always happen when I have access to the calendar above my phone. Sometimes I'm at work and they ask me to cover an extra shift -- with my Google calendar and the internet I can look up easily that this will cause me to miss my daughters dental appointment and I can politely decline. Sometimes I even have to accommodate other people's schedules (like my husband). He can share his Google calendar with me and it helps me to avoid any scheduling conflicts. My 7 year old has her own shared Calendar that keeps track of hot lunch (Yay don't have to pack a lunch that day), spelling tests, sport practices and anything else that may impact our lives. The whole family is co-ordinated. Isn't that all a mom or dad really wants?

For those of you who belong to any group, whether it be parent council, skating, hockey, baseball, library etc etc Google documents may just be your favourite feature. Once again I must defer to the brilliant explanation by Commoncraft:


Imagine the possibilities when you are trying to edit a newsletter, registration form, fund raising letter, or any other document or presentation. Definitely a time saver.

Well once again I could go on and on but the best way is to just try. I know a web page may not be in your imminent future but co-ordinating sport schedule's with all of your friends to figure out how to get a child to where they need to be might be more realistic. Explore and have fun -- remember it's only Australia -- I wouldn't send you to Timbuktu on your first trip out!! One word of caution -- as anyone who has traveled will tell you -- this can be addictive. You'll soon be looking for the next adventure...

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Where do we go from here and where exactly is here?

A friend asked me the other day where I was going with my Blog. To tell the truth I don't really have a route mapped out of where I'd like to go or even where I'd like to end up. Since I have chosen Web 2.0 tools as a topic there really is no end in sight because the map changes every day. But of course to find your way on any map...

you first have to know where you are and YOU just happen to be on my BLOG. Now I know it looks like a website, it acts like a website and it even has an address like a website but it really is a BLOG (trust me on this one Ok it will all be clear in a moment). I could get into a long narrative about what a Blog is and what makes it different than a website but these guys do it so much better --

Blogs are one of those Web 2.0 tools that I alluded to in my previous post. Why, as parents, would we care about Blogs? In short, we can harness the power of Blogs to make our lives easier. Let me give you an example:

Mary brings home a class newsletter. You do actually manage to retrieve it from the jaws of the backpack monster (an amazing feat in and of itself) and it is full of great information, important dates, websites to visit, and a map pinpointing the location of the Holy Grail. On your way to the calendar to record this vital information (after all the Holy Grail would fetch a price that would make your retirement spectacular) the phone rings, the baby spills her milk, someone comes to the door, and in that moment of mass confusion this wonderful newsletter is inadvertantly sent to the recycle bin. Suddenly all your retirement dreams are lost, and even worse you send Mary to school in a hideous plaid turtleneck sweater for picture day (which she will later recount to her therapist as the beginning of her "self-esteem issues"). Is there nothing that can be done to avoid such tragic outcomes? Let's take a look at what would have happened if Mary's teacher maintained a Blog.(like this one)....

Sometime during the morning, day or night when you routinely sit down uninterupted to check your email (ok this is maybe a bit of a stretch but work with me) you check your teacher's classroom Blog. All the important announcements are there, complete with a calendar of events and a google map pinpointing the Holy Grail (and retirement dreams). The information is always there in the same place, 24 hours a day, impervious to coffee spills, misplacement, or children carting it away to use as finger paint paper.

Sounds like heaven right??? What's that?? You have four kids?? You don't want to surf to 4 Blogs every day on the off chance there may be an announcement to read?? This is where a Blog teamed up with an RSS feed really begins to show it's worth. What's and RSS feed??? Once again the people at common craft can tell you far better than I can....

So really what's not to like?? You get updates from your child's teacher about all manner of things delivered straight to your reader and if you ever need to check back on anything the information is always there on the classroom Blog coffee and fingerpaint free.

There are Blogs out there that cover just about any subject you could imagine so even if your child's class doesn't have a Blog I encourage you to search for one that matches your interests. Experiment, get a reader account, subscribe to a blog -- subscribe to my Blog -- after all now that you know where "here" is you might as well follow along to the next stop.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Two Point Oh -- Oh my!!

Web 2.0, School 2.o, Classroom 2.0, Parent 2.0 --- Oh dear -- what is everyone talking about. To tell you the truth no-one seems to agree on one definition, especially for Web 2.0 so why not start at the beginning and make it up as we go along.

1.0, 1.1, 2.0, 2.65 -- This is the common way for software vendors to keep naming versions of the same program. Each time they do a fix or an update they need to designate a new number that reflects where the program is now. It is like when Susie leaves her therapists office she has now gone from Susie 2.14 to Susie 2.2!! So at it's very basic level Web 2.0 is the next "version" of the internet. Don't get me wrong -- it's not as if one day the "web overlord" came a did a massive upgrade of the whole World Wide Web. Things like that can't happen (or at least I think they can't) and there is no such thing as a "web overlord" (or at least I hope there isn't). It was a subtle change that happened due to some advances in programming that made it easier for ordinary people (like you and me) to actively participate and contribute to content on the internet. As the new possibilities and functionality started hitting the forefront, the term Web 2.0 was coined to describe this new "version" of the world wide web.

The question becomes what's the difference between Web 1.0 and 2.0? In my mind the three words that answer this best are interactive, social and collaborative. Where 1.0 was the teacher at the front of the class writing notes endlessly on the blackboard and lecturing(think Ben Stein -- in Ferris Bueller's Day Off), 2.0 is the cool teacher that invites you have discussions, do experiments, work as a group and get involved (think Ms. Frizzle of Magic School bus). If we look at a few of the applications of Web 2.0.............

we might get a better idea (or just terribly confused). Overwhelming isn't it. All these applications have one or more of these 3 qualities in common -- interactivity, socialization and collaboration.

Let's take a look at Flickr for our first example. In Web 1.0 there were sites to upload your photo's and send them off to the developer -- there may have even been some simple editing that could be done. In contrast at Flickr you can upload photos, decide who can view them, choose in what way they can be shared (via varying copyrights), tag them for content/location/theme, comment on your own and others photos. In other words you can INTERACT with your photos and others photos, SOCIALIZE with those who have similar interests (tags) as you, and COLLABORATE by tagging and organizing a huge database of photos that can act as a resource for people all over the world.

Probably the best example is the personal Web Page vs Facebook. There were some people who did manage to put up personal web pages in the early web. It was a bit tedious, required some technical know how and tended to consist of a few photo's and static text. There wasn't much chance for a visitor to your website to actually interact with you other than to send you an email from a link on your page. Well, if you have ever been on Facebook, I needn't go on. If you haven't there is an untold number of ways to INTERACT with fellow Facebookers, the whole concept is based on the fact that people want to SOCIALIZE with each other and, whether people realize or not, they are COLLABORATING to produce the content that is available on the internet. The makers of Facebook merely created the platform -- it is you, the end user, that is creating the information that makes up the site and makes the site successful. Makes the Facebook creator sound kind of lazy in a way -- doesn't it?

So what's the big deal?? The big deal for me personally is that all of this has made the internet a more enjoyable and useful place to be. It has become more than a place to do research and gather information. It has become a platform from which I can manage my schedule (Google calendar), connect with old friends (Facebook), write this column (Blogger), edit and create documents (Zoho), and even just listen to some tunes (MixWit). All of these things can be easily shared, published and edited with other people. I don't think I'm alone in my increased use of 2.0. Many of my fellow parents who really didn't have any use for the internet are now going online in impressive numbers. What can I say -- they prefer the Ms. Frizzle version of the net!! It engages people and connects people like never before and maybe that's what was really missing from Web 1.0 ---- people.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

At the beginning...

For reasons too complicated, too convoluted, and frankly too boring to bother explaining, I recently took an interest in the use of technology in schools, in particular elementary schools since my first child is in Grade 2. I have been reading articles, watching fantastic videos, playing with very cool Web 2.0 tools and in the process sending scads of excited emails to friends and family in an attempt to share this "new world" I had discovered. One of my friends (who I hadn't flooded with emails) suggested that I start a blog and in the spirit of experimenting with all that the Web has to offer I have decided to start Web 2.0 for Parents!!

At this point I am not sure what direction this Blog will take but my hope is to help other parents, like me, who may be a bit behind on "what the kids are doing" start to understand the basics of some of the most commonly used applications and why tech integration in the classroom is important. It is with that goal in mind that I'd like to share a video that was the beginning of this journey.

So put on your adventure shoes and take a peek at what's going on in Web 2.o!! Who knows we may even find some fun stuff along the way!!