My Working Memory Deficit (and why I plead to educators to find other ways)

IMG_0136It is logical to conclude that many educators and leaders lead and teach like they were once led and taught. Why not? They were  good at it. They are the one’s that succeeded – the ones that were just fine learning through rigid assessments, text based assignments, memory driven tasks, criterion based and teacher directed/controlled learning with siloed subjects and curriculum. It is perhaps why we continue to hold on, so dearly, to these methods and pedagogies, even in a world where information and knowledge resources are at an abundance and in a variety of mediums.

 

In 2007, I read a post by Scott Mcleod called “What do students need to Memorize”. What resonated me the most was his observation (and perhaps prediction) that the kinds of skills that employers are looking for in years to come, might not be those that were once seen as essential in the industrial age . In fact, Scott’s post gave me a strong sense of solace because I always struggled with the methods and pedagogies used during my own education, as he puts it, “those needed by workers in the industrial age factory line economy”. In many ways, I was forced to adapt to a method of learning that was counter to my learning needs and as a result I became really good at finding accommodations, alternatives and tricks that would one day not only put me ahead, but to help me truly understand those learners that do not ‘fit’ within the confines of academia.

Working memory and processing deficits were barriers for me as a learner, and sometimes they still are. I remember, like it was yesterday, spending hours trying to memorize vocabulary tests only to get half the words correct – every time. Math wasn’t as much of a problem, until I was forced to memorize formulas. That hurt. I never understood why they wouldn’t just give me the formula and let me apply it to something useful. It is why I struggled to read at the same level and pace as my peers, or why I audio recorded every one of the lectures during my post secondary education and graduate studies. To pass my psychology courses, I used to pin “fact sheets” to the walls in every room of our house until the names of certain functions or theories were embedded in my brain. And during my grad studies, it is why I read my text books and journal articles to both my children when they were just infants. It is why I struggled to complete memory fill-in-the-blank type tests and why I hated history, but loved Geography. It is why, as a teacher, I advocated so strongly for a more liberal ‘hand-held’ device policy back in 2002, when my place of employment banned them from all classrooms – my palm pilot offered a dictionary and thesaurus at my finger tips and I learned how to search for facts, words, information on a whim.

No matter how many tests or quizzes I got, no teacher in the world could “cure” or “teach” me to have a better working memory. Think of it as wearing glasses. No matter how many strategies or lectures or videos or lessons you got without the glasses, you still cannot see clearly unless the glasses are on, right? Interestingly, other than at school, I cannot think of a single day that I was discouraged to use any of my self-made accommodations that helped me with memory and spelling. In fact, I learned to think quickly, find information fast, problem solve, and work with others – these were the essential skills that I needed to survive. According to Scott, I might seem quite prepared for the 21st Century! And my lack of quick recall and need for accommodation did not put me at a disadvantage in the real world – only at school.

Now, almost 2014, we continue to have debates around the usefulness of spelling tests or open book math tests. We continue to test kids on their understanding of our courses and place a certain ‘blame’ on them when their grades don’t meet our standard. We continue to teach students in an unnatural environment – that we ourselves could not succeed in given the same circumstances: No internet, no computer/tech devices and constant evaluation. We continue to see classroom technology as “assistive” rather than universal. We continue to confuse memorization with knowledge and knowledge with intelligence.

I implore you to travel back to 2007 and re-read Scott’s post about Memorization. Ask yourself why, 7 years later, we continue to argue this point.  Even better, take a look at the comments and discussion that ensued. Are we ready to accept some of these ideas and thoughts? Are we ready to separate the concepts memory and understanding?

 

 

 

 

Social Media, Twitter and the need for networked support – how far does our support really go?

Look at the “Seven Degrees of Connectedness” and think about how you nurture, support, and develop relationships on line, professionally and even personally. Do you have a close circle, a clique, a group of educators that you depend on – those in Stage 6 or 7? Do you have colleagues that work in your school, your district, your city – that you empower or that empower you? Do you have their back when they mess up, or need a pat on the shoulder, or need a word of praise here and there? Do you have the strength to DM them a concern? What would you do if you noticed they made an offensive remark? Are you prepared to have that “difficult conversation”? Do you do it in private? In public? Do you Unfollow them? DM them?

For many of us, Social Networking has changed the way we work, relate, share, create and learn.  Just think, throughout history, innovators have created so many different avenues and channels to share and communicate and strengthen relationships at many levels – some very surface and others very intense and deep – even life changing. What about the printing press? The mail system? The phone, radio, television?  In so many ways, the transparent nature of all of these tools makes us all so vulnerable, which is why we depend on our relationships and our trust in others to help us do the right thing and be the best we can be. We want to encourage risk taking so it will lead to new innovations, new thinking, new perspectives. But, with each of these channels comes a risk. Risk of error, risk of misinformation, risk of misinterpretation, risk of bias, risk of judgement. Even risk of friendship or something deeper.

Online tools, like Twitter or Facebook also pose a risk. We know this. Have you ever said something “in the heat of the moment?” that should have been kept private?Have you ever deleted a Tweet?

Sometimes we are just learning, and along the way, we make mistakes.  When I first started on Twitter, about four years ago, I had no idea that I was “Tweeting” with location settings “ON” until @dougpete sent me a friendly DM suggesting that I take it off since he could see exactly where I live. Not a good idea.  Another time I tweeted out comment that wasn’t all that appropriate during a live debate (political) and again, received a DM from an online colleague who simply reminded me “Zoe…you have a very public audience here”. Once, I even Tweeted out my home phone number in the public stream, instead of the intended DM.  Again, an online colleague, one whose relationship and trust was built over time, sent me a little note, “Zoe, delete the last tweet”.

Whatever the channel or method, face-to-Face or online, the way we nurture and respond to relationships depends on the level of trust we have. Even in a public stream like twitter, there will always be a circle of colleagues and friends (STAGE 7) that will protect, support, guide, teach and nurture one another.  So ask yourself,

Where do my colleagues fit in the framework?
Where do I fit in the framework?
How will I respond to a Tweet that offends me?
Do I DM an online colleague to help or offer advice?
Do I make public a concern or do I DM a concern?
Do I have people to count on, in the stream, like in the Face to Face world?

Due Diligence and Social Media, Gaming and 21st Century Learning. Will education Institutions be held accountable?

Due Diligence and Social Media, Gaming and 21st Century Learning. Will education Institutions be held accountable?

“What?, you’ve been banned from 8 different servers?” I shrieked at my 11 year old son.  

“It’s part of the game – to build trust, act normal, get more responsibility from the server owner and then, destroy” he explained.

I gasped.

 

“In many servers, the point is to build and protect. If you are in a server shared by others, you always take the risk of having your things stolen and your creations destroyed…but for some players, hacking into a server and destroying is the main point”.

I gasped. “But it’s not nice…..”
So he explains, “most teachers and adults aren’t even aware of what is going on in the background of the server and chats”. He grins and asks me, “Do you know that most of us can get the brute force server hosting password?”  “Do you know how many servers don’t use ‘world guard or world bucket’ plugins to protect the word, protect the players?”
Minecraft is Boring.  The real fun and thrill comes from the design, the programming and the challenge. What we do in schools is just the “Basics”. Boring.

I gasped. “Where do you learn all this stuff then?”

“Online. Together.  Youtube”  Never school.

I gasped. “What about Ethics? Character? Kindness?”, I wonder. I continue to wonder (now with my TEACHER LENS),  “I’ve never heard of a school based PD about Minecraft servers, or world bucket”. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of a mandatory in-service, PD session about any social gaming , or media tool or strategy. 

Step Up Districts and Schools. Parents can’t do this alone.   Make Social Media and Blended Learning Strategies as much a priority as traditional literacies. Be accountable and insist that all teachers have a solid understanding of the tools, strategies, and pedagogies so that we can help kids navigate in these online social environments. I want my children and my students to be safe online to understand online risks, and to have a chance to practice good online citizenship under the direction, coaching and support of a knowledgeable teacher. Help our children understand the hard and soft skills associated with these environments – help their parents understand how to coach, monitor, guide.

When it comes to the use of social media, gaming, multimedia and multi-modal learning strategies, I wonder, how many educators are encouraged to teach with it, without fully understanding the tool itself, or grasping the research behind its use, or acknowledging the implications of its use (including safety). How many educators are encouraged to teach with it without being provided the tools (computer, systems)  and aren’t given in-school time to practice and learn?

It isn’t about updating our skills (like other literacies) it is about learning the skill.

The problem is that with other literacies (like reading and writing) we already knew them before entering the profession – we don’t have to learn them. We have a solid grasp about grammar rules, reading strategies, sentence structure, writing process. But with new literacies, especially the use of online tools, we are having to spend more time and resources to learn them. I’m not sure if our resources  (people, infrastructure, knowledge) fully support this reality.

With this, I ask – where does the responsibility lay on education organizations to guide kids in an environment (even facebook, youtube, twitter, gaming)where they are spending so much time? Why are we OK with them teaching each other?

Ask yourself, in your school, or organization – Do teachers , leaders and parents know how to properly moderate a student blog?  How about protect gaming server? or properly cite resources?  or manage content privately while also being transparent and open? or create effective comments on a blog?  or understand ‘public audience’? or how to have a conversation in an online chat?

In going back to my own children’s online behaviour, the story I started with – I as a parent can’t do it alone. I need support from the school system to guide and support my child’s learning in these online environments.

I am Wired for Change – Are You?


Are the X-Gens more adaptable to change?

I am a typical Generation X – a shadow of my parents baby boomer generation. My digital metamorphosis started sometime in the 80’s. Change was something that I expected in my life. Not just change, but rapid change. Almost like yesterday, I remember the new channel called MTV. I watched Little House on the Prairie everyday after school, waiting for my mother and step-father to come home  (a true Latchey kid, in a mixed family). I loved TV. Knight Rider, Facts of Life, Growing Pains. And my favourite -I watching Star Trek “TNG” loyally every week. Of course, this led to the natural progression of video games. In middle school.  I played video games by hooking up to an old black and white TV (that usually required a set a pliers to turn the channel). My first was the Atari400. It seems like yesterday that my friends and I would spend hours playing Star Raiders or Donkey Kong. I can quite honestly say that I blame Super Mario Brothers and Adventures of Zelda for all of my problems in high school. Reading and Arithmetic were on the back shelf. School was boring. I don’t recall ever feeling “fascinated” when live newscasts of the Gulf War showed up on my TV screen, although I do remember wishing I could watch it in colour, like my neighbours did.  I learned to use an electronic keyboard in “typing class” and how to center my page, “ff,jjj,fff,jjj” which still haunts me today. By first year University I owned my own electronic keyboard and then my very first laptop computer, a Tandy computer from Radio Shack. I remember clearly getting my first colour TV with a remote that didn’t have cords.  In the 90’s – my first computer, internet connection, digital phone, cd player, dvd player, Ipod, memory key (1G costing $80). I remember having to learn how to use Word, then Wordperfect, then Star Office and then Word again and now I don’t use any of it. I had to switch from Outlook to First Class. I changed my internet service provider six times in order to find the best deals. I changed my blog hosts from blogger, to edublogs, to wordpress. I changed from iWeb to wikispaces for student collaboration and then to individual student accounts.

I no longer have cable. I no longer have a landline. My CD’s and DVD’s are no longer on that shelf. We don’t rent DVD’s. We don’t buy CD’s. Many of the once NEW technologies, have been replaced by something new. More change.

I have come to realize that I have been wired for change. Really. My generation grew up with ‘new’ of everything. In our learning years – our school aged years, we had to adapt to a rapid redesign, revision, tranformation, tweaking, switching.

Digital Natives are Entering the Teaching Profession – Now What?

Digital Natives who are Entering the Teaching Profession  need mentorship and guidance from the so called, ‘Digital Immigrants’.

photo

I have switched my role as an educator from teaching one end of the Digital Generation spectrum to the other. For context, I will explain. I have been teaching an Instructional Technologies course at Brock University to pre-service teachers in Ontario, Canada. This comes after spending the past 11 years as a classroom teacher for the Hamilton Wentworth District School Board teaching 12 year olds. I am still working with the “Net-generation- also called, ‘Generation Y’ , however I am teaching to the opposite bookend.

One common theme that has caused me serious thought- in every one of my classes this year is how concerned my current students are about their digital identity or digital footprint. Online safety, digital citizenship, privacy, teacher online ethics, and appropriate online behaviours – are all topics that my students continue to bring to my attention daily. This information goes well with recent research out of Berkley that concluded that the Digital Generation does care about online privacy – (They just don’t know their rights).

I am teaching 120 students. Of these students, 20 of them used social networking tools prior to my class. When asked, many of my students reported a ‘discomfort’ with online media tools (but good comfort with computer use). This fits well with a study out of Nortwestern University that indicated that college students do have a lack of web savvy skills. This is not what I expected. From the onset, many of them told me quite out right that they disagreed with the use of these tools due to privacy and safety concerns. Regardless, my requirement was (is) that they all begin to use Twitter as an initial platform to develop their online identity. This has not been as easy as I thought. Many of them (not all) changed their names, created alias names and are using generic pictures (thank goodness for Twitter lists!). My students tell me that they are afraid of compromising their privacy. They tell me that as students themselves, they have come from a system that has reminded them over and over of online dangers, online predators, plagiarism concerns and personal identity risk. This is what they see and read in the media. Their schools blocked sites with filtering systems, had strict rules about using personal electronic devices and only a few (if any) of their teachers ever modeled the use any form of networking tools as an alternate form of learning.

I tell them that their concerns are valid. I tell them I am proud that they uphold standards of safety and privacy. I agree with them, that digital citizenship is the single most important skill we need to teach our young learners and care about ourselves. But I point out (strongly) – every day – that our young learners are experiencing a different kind of education- one where the walls of their classrooms extend beyond their schools and communities. Where information access is immediate and uncensored. One where questions can be asked and problems solved between students and classrooms from any grade, at any school and at any time of the day with access to abundant information. I remind them that they will always have access to learning themselves – and that they can choose what they learn and from who. For them, leadership is about what they give and how the contribute and NOT about grades.

But they are frustrated and confused because we keep telling them that it is THEY that are considered the Digital Natives. It is true – they all have cell phones and only a few remember a time when they used dial-up to access Internet. But it is not how they experienced education.

The point I am making is that teachers coming into this profession today are coming from a time when online tools such as blogging, twittering, and networking were not in any way a method of teaching or engagement.

I have included (in the sidebar of this blog) a list of a few student’ teachers who have begun to reflect on their experiences as learners in a 21st century focused classroom. This list has also been grouped with Alec Couros Social Media Mentorship program- (An informal project to build and increase teacher online teacher capacity).

New teachers and pre-service teachers need our attention. Let them see the power of online mentorship and support by welcoming them into your own network and support their tweets and blogs through simple comments, replies and retweets.