Saturday, January 26, 2008

[TIPS] Something very cool - student blogging

I have to tell you about the experience I just had yesterday afternoon as I "live blogged" with Anne Smith's 5th period class of 9th graders. It was outstanding!


Her 9th graders, as well as fellow English teacher Maura Moritz’s classes, are reading, "A Whole New Mind." Yes, THAT one. Not exactly on the top of a 9th grader's reading list, is it? But they did just fine. Today we discussed the Story chapter. Oh, and before I forget, they even managed to get Daniel Pink himself to pay a virtual visit to the class to discuss the book. Can you say “MAJOR COUP?”


A few weeks ago, their Technology Coordinator, Karl Fisch, sent out emails to folks he thought might be interested in in participating in this experiment. He described the project and our potential roles in it. I jumped at the chance (in my mind, at least, as I had neglected to confirm it with him, but I was still able to participate. Whew!). When you see the posts you will, I’m sure, recognize many of the names of those who participated. I was in the room with Dan Maas and Christian Long. We were to join via the site, one I'd not heard of before. In my session, since I was the only one with a camera (built-in isight camera in my macbook), I was the only one that the kids could see. I could both see and hear their class, however. The connection was choppy at times, but really quite acceptable.


The class was a live literary circle, with a moderator who began with the questions. They were the inner circle. As they responded with their feelings of what this story chapter was about, the outer circle posted their thoughts to each other and to the outsiders via the comment feature in Anne's blog. We had the comment window opened to full screen to make it a little easier. We would post a comment, then refresh the screen to see what others had typed. We'd respond to those folks, often using the @mattw convention found in twitter.


I was very impressed with the willingness of the kids to talk about this chapter. Sure, maybe sometimes they were missing the point, but they are 15 yrs old and I’m sure they were feeling the pressure of the camera and live audience. They would soon come back to the focus of the book. (As you would expect in ANY class, yes?) The blog discussions were a different story, I think. I think we had a very good discussion. Overall, the willingness of the class to speak freely and candidly and intelligently about this topic was impressive. Here’s some of the exchange:


Me: I like this comment from the book, "when facts become so widely available and instantly accessible, each one becomes less valuable.

Do you agree with that? Cite an example?


Macm: Mr Gates-
I do agree that rarity increases the value of items. It's the basic theory of supply and demand. But with ideas and facts the case could be different. Perhaps having a bunch of facts that coincide are more valuable and certifiable than a single fact on a subject. I think that when you put them together they increase each other's value.


Morgant: Mr. Gates- I definitely like that quote. It jumped out at me when I was reading. It is very true. I don't know if I can cite an example, but I can try to bring real life into it. If someone finds out a fact, say about a celebrity, and nobody else knows about it, then that is a valuable fact. But, if someone knows a fact about a celebrity, and everyone knows it, that's old news. Everybody knows about it, so it is not as valuable.


Me: @macm - but the point is, everyone has access to the facts, so the person who stands out will the one who can put it together, right?


Macm: Mr Gates-
Exactly. And to relate it back to the book I believe that putting together facts and seeing the big picture is a strength of the right brain.


Morganw: @ Jim Gates -

While knowing facts straight facts becomes considerably less important, or well-to-do, with the increase of technology I believe that the facts themselves become much more important because everyone has access to them. We tend to over-look them. Just because we have more facts out there doesn't mean we don't need them. But with this comes the problem of knowing the facts. That’s where twenty-first century learning comes into play. We need to incorporate story, play, meaning, design, empathy, and symphony into our learning so we can remember and apply all that we have learned.

An example of this would be problem-solving. You cannot teach problem-solving, but in order to problem-solve you need a background of facts and knowledge to work from.


Melissaz: Jim- I think these 2 quotes from the book can support that idea.
" Story represents a pathway to understanding that doesn't run through the left side of the brain."(115)
"...what stories can provide-context enriched by emotion, a deeper understanding of how we fit in and why it matters." (115)
These quotes I see show how stories have more value than a plain fact. Stories add other aspects that facts can't supply. Also,
"Story is high concept because it sharpens our understanding of one thing by showing ot on the contex of something else."
If one can take the facts and add a story, it shows an even higher level of understanding to be able to apply it to another aspect.


Me: Try this: How does THIS NOTICE from NASA apply to the idea of stories?


Christian Long (adult blogging): @melissaz: When you speak to Dan Pink, ask him about the combination of right and left-brained skills/senses...rather than a left vs. right decision. My gut tells me (as well as having read the book several times) that Dan is in favo of an 'and/and' choice where we are 'response-able' to use both/either sets of senses to respond when we need to any situation in the future. I like your "need each other" point very much.


Morganw: @Jim- I agree with you, the creative person would get my vote to be hired, but his creativity would have been a waste had he not already known the 50 states. What I mean is, facts do not become obsolete, they merely take a step back to creativity.


Dan (adult blogger): @Alexf
You got it! Your GPA, your test scores, your transcript gets you the interview (the left-brain piece still matters, as Dan Pink suggests), but it is the story you tell in the interview that gets you the job, the scholarship, the college entrance...

Here's another thought to trip your noodle. The interview questions are not terribly important. I see them as openings for you to tell your story and why you are the best choice...


Me: @macm - Did you catch this line: "Creativity. Ambition. Teamwork. A sense of daring. And a probing mind. That's what it takes to join NASA,..."


Macm: Mr Gates-
I did actually. That was the line which was the most surprising, because to me, jobs in NASA are left-brained. Although, if you have read the book Deception Point by Dan Brown, there is much more to NASA than meets the eye. Is it a good thing that they want to hire people with creativity and ambition instead of those with expertise? This could mean the loss of important discoveries or the loss of lives.


This is really cherry picking from the comments, but isn’t it an interesting exchange? The actual list is a bit harder to read as you must scroll to find the original posts, sometimes. But, after all the sifting is done, are you as impressed as I was with the conversation? Check this out for yourself. Here is Anne’s blog:  You can see all the sessions with Anne's classes so far here:  Read the comments, of course. That's where it all happened. Here is Maura’s blog: Check out the names of the folks who participated in this.


What did I learn from this? First, I didn’t do a good job following the conversations of the other two adults in the “room.”  I was too concerned about trying to follow the students and being able to reply back to them quickly so that my conversation wasn’t lost in the shuffle. I really wish I could have responded to some of the things that THEY had said. I missed as much if not more of the conversation that I picked up.


Second, I would like to know if Anne and Maura will go back through the comments to find some of the good points that the kids had made and bring them back to the whole group when they debrief the event.


Third: the technology for showing the live broadcast is GREAT to have!


Want to hear what some of the others had to say about their experience? Here are some of the other links:




Karl Fisch said...

Jim - thanks again for participating. We - and our students - really appreciate it.

I'll let Anne or Maura respond to the question directed at them. Overall, I think things are going pretty well. Live blogging with comments is not the ideal way to do this, because it is hard to follow the particular topics (although the students do it better than we do, I think), but we have yet to find a free, ad-free, easy to use, real-time-updated online discussion thread site we can use. I think a threaded discussion might work better than a blog, but this is what we have to work with at the moment.

MeBeam works reasonably well, although now that they require all participants to have a webcam that's throwing a kink in the system for us. (Darn those people who provide a free, online service and keep trying to improve it!) We may end up switching to ustream at some point because of that (password protected at this point), but we liked MeBeam because the students enjoy getting to see what the remote live bloggers look like. It helps to put a face with the blog comments . . .

annes said...

Thank you so much for taking the time to participate in this educational opportunity for our ninth graders. We were so excited to have you in our conversation asking such great though provoking questions as well as connecting the kids to outside resources to make them really think about Story in their own lives.

In regards to your question about using the "top comments" in the class the next week to connect the inner and outer circle's conversation, that is not something I had thought of! Thanks! I have encouraged the students to continue the conversation on the blog after our discussion has ended in class (those darn bells), but your suggestion is a good one.

Once again, thanks! I was so glad you MeBeamed in. The kids loved seeing you- I told them you are one of my favorite people besides Karl that is!

Drop in again.

Ken Rodoff said...

I'm always a fan of examples that 'show' learning instead of ones that just reference the 'possibility of learning'.

This is good stuff!!!