The video below is a screencast showing how to make a character read a blog post just like I’m doing now.
Today’s world is a rapidly changing, increasingly complex and increasingly specialised place in which the shelf-life of knowledge is shorter than it has ever been before. It is no longer enough for students to master the 3Rs. They must also master the 4Cs – creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration. They must build core competencies in digital literacies and problem solving. They must learn to master content while producing, synthesizing and evaluating large amounts of information across a variety of subjects and sources. They must demonstrate civic responsibility and an understanding and respect for diverse cultures. Above all, they must learn how to learn. Education is lifelong and is becoming increasingly learner-driven and self-managed.
The Internet helps students learn in a global classroom, not just within four walls. It undermines the old top-down factory model of learning. It facilitates our desires to create, to participate and to be heard. Loosely governed and highly self-directed teaching and learning activity will occur both within and beyond the control of formal institutions resulting in knowledge becoming accessible on a scale never seen before. Wikipedia provides a foretaste of this coming transformation.
Today’s students are likely to have several careers in their lifetime. Strong critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills will be essential for their success in a rapidly changing, interconnected, and complex world.
As the amount of information increases exponentially, our education system can no longer focus primarily on memorizing a core body of knowledge. The ever expanding content of human knowledge is too vast for any curriculum to contain. Instead we must develop skills in core concepts, facilitate communication and collaboration, and encourage adaptability, non-routine problem solving, self management and systems-thinking. Students must learn to understand both the forest (the system) and the trees (the constituent bits). This can be facilitated through modern approaches to learning including project and inquiry based techniques that foster the capacity to see both the big picture and the small detail.
Powerful learning of this nature needs teachers who draw on advances in cognitive science and collaborate in organized teams both offline and online.
The Internet enables instant global communication, easily created and shared digital content, unrivalled access to information, and constant social interaction. It plays a key role in the new education system which, mirroring the 21st century workplace, encourages students to use diverse information sources and to work in teams to accomplish more than what any one individual working alone can hope to achieve. Educators must leverage technology to create engaging and personalised learning environments that meet the educational needs of today’s generation.
Schools face a difficult challenge keeping pace with our rapidly changing world. To stay relevant, they must rise to that challenge. Modern learning requires modern methods and modern tools.
Modern tools for modern schools, circa 1850. (Image by catspyjamasnz via Flickr)
— Click the play button to hear me speak.—
The text to speech capabilities of Voki characters make them great motivators for student writing. Students enjoy having Voki characters read out their written assignments, stories and other pieces of writing on places like the Ultranet, websites and blogs. Here’s a video from 2011 of one of my year 4 students at Winters Flat Primary School in Castlemaine. He talks about his writing process and use of Google Docs, Voki Characters and Global2 for blogging.
The free version of Voki.com lets you create colorful characters who can replay your voice recordings or convert text to speech in a variety accents. These characters are easy to place on blogs and websites, and they each have their own unique URL. It’s possible to save the characters you create as HTML code in a text editor like Notepad or Word, but it’s easier and more convenient to save them directly on Voki.com using a free account. A 13+ age restriction makes this unsuitable for primary schools, though younger students can still use the free site legally provided they don’t create accounts and login. Voki Classroom ($29.95 per year) lets teachers add primary age classes and students who can then save their characters for future use. Classroom Voki also provides a significantly larger range of characters and lets teachers access additional resources and create lesson plans which can be shared with others. Regardless of which version you use you can still access sample lesson plans such as that shown on the screen below which came from a search for writing lessons for year 2.
Here is the New Literacies Group video presentation from the culminating session of the PLP ConnectU program for DEECD teachers in 2011. It features students from Winters Flat PS, Castlemaine PS, Berwick PS, Kalinda PS and Yuille Park Community College.
The students talk about:
– using blogs
– using Google Docs
– using the Ultranet
– improving their traditional literacy skills
– learning new digital literacies
This year I’ve been fortunate to lead the New Literacies Group, one of six PBL teams involved in the DEECD Professional Learning Practice program of 2011, a project involving 70 teachers across Victoria. Digital media literacy is something I’m passionate about as it continues to rise in importance in every discipline and profession (1). Our team began by looking at new literacies of the more literary kind including online research, wikis, texting, blogging and micro-blogging. To keep things manageable we narrowed our focus to blogging – one of the key new literacies that has changed the way millions of people share and communicate with eachother.
Posting on Facebook, on a micro-blogging platform like Twitter or on a personal blog like this is now so commonplace that it’s easy to forget how new blogging is and how rapidly it is growing. Blogging didn’t become mainstream until this century. Facebook, with 800 million users (2), is less than eight years old, Twitter, with more than 200 million users (3) is less than six years old, and the big new social networking entrant Google+ has reached 50 million users in only three months (4).
These figures show that, if our students aren’t already blogging, then they will be soon. So it’s important that we help them and ourselves better understand blogging, its pitfalls and its benefits.
Our first task was to identify the key question to drive our PBL project. After much discussion we settled on, “In what ways does writing and communicating through blogging improve student learning and literacies?”
To our students, some as young as six, we simplified this to questions like, “How has blogging improved your reading and writing?” and “What have you learned through blogging?”
We also used this rubric to introduce both teachers and students to blogging to help them identify what they already know and what they need to learn. Most of our students are new to blogging, and so are some of our teachers, so we’re looking forward to recording our learning along the way.
I’m involved in a number of student, class blogs and school blogs, and I’ll use what I learn in this project to help them all. Since I’ll be spending more time with MAC H, a year 3/4 class at Winters Flat Primary School in term 4, and since these students are mostly new to blogging, I’ll be focusing on their blog and related student blogs to try and gauge the effect of blogging on student learning. Please check out the MAC H blog here – comments are welcome.
Today students in year 5 and 6 at Winters Flat Primary School logged into the Ultranet to view their ICT tasks and were delighted to discover that they now had their own accounts on the school’s new Google Apps for Education domain at wintersflatps.net. Web 2.0 technologies like the Ultranet and Google Apps work conveniently in a web browser, make collaboration easy and make hunting for that file or email attachment a thing of the past.
Students are already collaborating on creative writing tasks using Google Docs. Here’s an example of what’s possible. The video shows the development of a piece of writing by a Canadian primary student using Google Docs. (If YouTube is blocked at your school, this is worth watching at home.)
In mid-May I visited the DEECD Innovation Showcase in Melbourne and attended a session entitled “Learning through games”.
When I visited the Tyrell College showcase I felt an immediate sense of deja vu. The way in which students and teachers were using The Lord of The Rings Online reminded me of a period in the 1980s when adventure games like Granny’s Garden were often used by teachers as thematic centrepieces for cross-curricular activity that turned whole classrooms into exciting places where witches, dragons and other fantastic creatures came to life. Children became enthusiastically engaged in reading, writing, numeracy, art and drama – all related to the world of the game. And here at the DEECD Showcase in 2011 I was seeing an approach that was remarkably similar! Today the reach of the technology is broader so that what were once cross-curricular off-computer pen and paper based activities are now mostly on-computer activities. There is also the entirely new element of social networking where students communicate with other students and gamers across the state and across globe.
The Witch from the 1983 classic Granny’s Garden
It was good to see that an innovative approach pioneered in primary schools by teachers like Mike Matson almost thirty years ago is still alive today. I hope more teachers try it.
An interview with Mike Matson from 2010 can be found here, where he discusses the genesis of his game Granny’s Garden, first released for the BBC microcomputer in 1983.
The challenging Dragon Puzzle from Granny’s Garden
DISCLOSURE: I’m especially fond of Granny’s Garden as it was the first adventure game I programmed for my own software company Dataworks. 4Mation, the UK publishers, allowed me to produce the first Apple II and Macintosh versions of their best selling adventure games Granny’s Garden, Flowers of Crystal and Dragon World.
PS. If you’re tempted to try The Lord of the Rings Online, go here. It’s free.