In Awe of John Harris

Thank you Keith Rispin for organizing such an inspiring event

this week! Keith brought us together to learn from the incredible John Harris, a retired SD 35 educator about creating simulations and games with our learners.

The projects shared were astonishing! As John clicked from published site to published site, I would assume that the contents were “professionally” crafted. The simulations were engaging, student-focused and the learning was explicit. Students in grades 5 – 8 created them all! But, the most profound thing that I noticed as I listened and observed, was John’s focus on the learning and the opportunities – not the technology. I asked what was used to make some of these simulations, and the response came quickly from both Lorrie and John – Flash. But, as quickly as it was mentioned, we moved on. It was the least important detail!

I LOVED that. So often, my Professional Development as of late has centered around learning or teaching to the tool or app. We “train” or “orient” our students in computer labs or on devices. Yet, this gifted teacher knew that if I was genuinely interested in learning this tool, I could Google for more information if I chose. But, he also knew that I probably would not be training my students in Flash – the most authentic learning experience I could offer my students would be to present a real-world problem and suggest a tool that might help in student designs – maybe Flash. Our learners pick up these tools faster than we can teach them, they are more experimental and scientific in their discovery of how to make the tool work for them, and they are braver and more creative in their use of the tools we share with them. This was a great reminder to teach what is most important – the students, not the technology!

John Harris emphasized the importance of being a good generalist. He tells us that no teacher knows more than all of the students. Teachers must be astute analyzers of student potential, and help slot students into areas that they will be successful. He recommends that we leverage the power of parent knowledge and get them to help develop a component of a project. The skills that John suggests that teachers develop are:

  • Project development
  • Learn ways to divide project tasks among kids
  • Create incentives for students to learn the tools themselves
  • Draw on community resources

John describes 21st Century Learning as self-learning: the ability to define what you need to learn and engaging in learning by using various online tools.

Many of the projects that John shared with us were design challenges that were shared publically. This reminded me of Clive Thompson’s ideas about Public Thinking, where people post questions to crowd source information. I was thinking that some of the students could easily patent their ROV designs!

For two examples John shared with us, please check out:

Salmonids in Troubled Water:

Journey to the Cariboo Gold Rush:

John’s students competed in a competition with some designs. He has had several winning teams of students over the years!

This session was very inspiring. I was excited by the ideas John shared, and how enthusiastic he is for student learning. Thank you Keith, John and Lorrie for your time, ideas, and energy.





Sharing Student Blogging

I met with several colleagues today to discuss student blogging. I believe that student blogging is a great tool for Multimedia learning where the student becomes the curator and author of an educational experience. Last year was my first year hosting public student blogs, and I have been speaking about the game-changing nature of having students write for audiences beyond the classroom. We experienced exciting connections and global interactions that ignited a passion for exchanging ideas with others and writing for authentic purposes.

Today I spoke of the “Getting Started” portion of student blogs. I shared my rationale for hosting blogs and why I chose to have my students write publicly last year. I had previously hosted a private wiki for my students, where each child had their own space and as class we co-curated or shared common pages as well. This was a great little private gathering place that contributed to a positive sense of community and became a valuable resource. But, since our population was limited to our classroom, the conversation could only extend a short distance.

I shared several blogging tools and the teachers discussed their own purposes for student blogging. The biggest question was “What do you do with the child that won’t blog?” Because it happens! When the teachers thought about the question being asked of them, they all discovered a certain level of discomfort in being told that they must write publicly. One teacher suggested encouraging the use of a shared paper notebook for some students to write their blog posts in and seeking feedback or comments from other students, possibly even students from beyond their own classroom.

After discussing parent permissions and FOIPPA we moved on to initial starting activities. My favourite launch for blogging is asking my students to create paper blogs – an idea shared by Pernille Ripp. My goals for the paper blog experience is to show my students the idea of writing becoming public – viewable by anyone;IMG_1081 and also the idea of using comments to engage in conversation. After the paper blogs are written by the students, they are posted onto the student’s lockers. We leave them up for several days encouraging students and guests to read each and every blog post. Students are given a stack of sticky notes to write comments on the paper blogs. We read several online blogs and comments and look for comments that create more dialogue. We called those comments “open” comments because they opened a discussion. “Closed” comments were comments that stopped a conversation or were difficult to reply to. Students were asked to write open comments, and “post” their sticky notes on the lockers with the blogs. Students were excited to be receiving comments and wanted to reply, so they learned about nesting their notes, or attaching their replies to the original comments so that the conversation could be read easily. The blogs were left up for about a week afterwards, and guests and students were welcome to continue commenting.

We discussed how the students might choose to use their blogs and what content they may want to include, such as images, stories, reflections or classroom
IMG_0864assignments. It becomes a personal platform for learning and sharing out. I shared one of my favourite quotes “Consuming content takes you places. Creating content lets you to take others with you” via @sjunkins.

I believe that blogging becomes a great Mulimedia learning tool for our students because it can grow into a personalized learning tool and a platform from which to spring into new conversations with other interested parties on topics that may not be traditionally emphasized in our schools. Blogging bridges the learning at home/learning at school divide by opening a window between the two spaces. Students can share their knowledge on a variety of topics that may not otherwise come up. Blogging will also enable more students to share their learning in a manner that connects closely with their learning process. If they learned with Multimedia sources, it will be easy for students to not only credit these sources, but link out to share these resources for other interested learners. Using a blog as a reflective tool, a curation tool and a tool for discussion relates closely to Mayer’s Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning. A student blog can be a place to share out useful sources of information and it can also be a place where students make sense of the information that they are curating. This can be a collaborative effort, where they filter, organize and make meaning of new information through their conversations and posts. Blogging has been a great tool for #geniushour in my classroom, as students could reflect openly and seek help and guidance when they were taking initial steps on new topics.

I am excited that more classrooms will be blogging in my school this year! #geniushour has a strong foothold in our school and it will interesting to learn from these students as they engage in their inquiries.