Making Connections and Conversations

When I started to get interested in integrating technology into my teaching and learning I kept hearing about how the conversations and making connections were a big part of it. My friend Chris encouraged me to start blogging and to be honest I couldn’t understand why I would do it. I thought that by blogging I would be like one of those people who like I the sound of their own voice so to speak. You know the type. Well I beganMaking Connections anyways just to see where it would take me. Well it took an interesting turn this past weekend. I had the most unusual response to a blog post ever. I got a phone call. I was really shocked when I listened to the message. The voice at the other end had read something I posted and wanted to post it on his site and asked me to write for him in the future. We share a common interest and goal. And there it is: making connections and conversations.

Image from Tom Purves

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Focus on Faith

Two weeks ago was my second professional development day of the school year and the focus was faith. In recent years there has been worry about the state of Catholic education in
Ontario and it has especially been on the minds of people here during our recent provincial election. The question that is often asked is “how are you different than the public high school down the street?” And rightly so. We do need to be different. The parents of our students expect us to be different. We have a call to educate in a different way. We are called to remember the teachings of Jesus in all that we do. As part of our PD today weJean Vanier listened to a talk given by Jean Vanier at a recent conference for Catholic educators. There were a couple of points that he made that resonated with me. First of all, he discussed the purpose of education in the context of today’s world. He said that we need to work together for peace. Secondly, he said we need to educate in a way that does not foster individualism and the competitiveness that gives rise to it. Finally, he said that we need to educate in a way that recognizes that every human person cries out for relationship, asks to be recognized as a human person, and asks will you be my friend? When speaking about the individualism and competitiveness of our society I thought about the very essence of our school system. I once heard a pastor preaching a sermon in which there was a conversation between a student and a wise man. The conversation went something like this:”What are your plans for high school?””Well I’m going to work very hard, get the best grades, and play football.””And then what?””Well then I’m going to go to college, on a football scholarship, and prepare myself for m carreer.””And then what?””Well then I start working, get married, buy a house in the suburbs, have a coupl of kids and a dog, and climb the corporate ladder.””And then what?””Well then I’ll retire and spend my time pursuing things that interest me, travel, enjoy time with my family.””And then what?””And then I guess I’ll die!”“….and then what?”I have asked classes in the past “what is the purpose of our being here in this classroom?” We have discussed many of the practical purposes of education, however, seldom do I hear from students that education is about helping us to become the best (and I mean best in the least competitive way possible) person we are intended to become. It is usually a discussion about preparing for the workforce. I think education is meant to be so much more. Steve Jobs talked about this in his commencement address at Stanford. He said people should learn about what interests them and see where that takes you. We should avoid thinking about school as the things we need to do to get job x. I thought this way. I was going to be an auto mechanic and run my own business. Now I’m a religious education teacher! The Lord surely does work in mysterious ways. As Catholics, we believe that everyone has a vocation, a mission that God is calling us to. Furthermore, we are all called to be transforming agents in the world. I think this is a big part of what Catholic education is supposed to be about. I also think, unfortunately, that many teachers in Catholic schools have forgotten (or never knew) this. They focus on their curriculum, which often times needs clarification in light of Catholic teachings, and forget about how this curriculum should be integrated with our deeply held values as a Catholic community. I think this stems from that whole competitiveness thing that
Vanier was speaking about. There is so much to cover, so many expectations that the ministry of education has laid out, and so much that the world expects from our students to compete in the market place. I don’t know how much of a change we can make, there are realities that we must deal with in this life that conflict with being a follower of Jesus. One of my colleagues used to have a sign on her classroom door that had a picture of the cross and the words “If you’re going to follow me you had better look good on wood.” As Catholic educators I think we need to be prepared to look good on wood if we are going to educate students from our counter-cultural perspective and to help shape society rather than just train students for the competitive job market. Sorry if this post seems a bit rambling, but I sporadically added to this over a busy couple of weeks. Mid-term, report cards, parent teacher interviews, and a bad dose of the flu to boot!

Image of Jean Vanier from speakingoffaith

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Podcasting and YouTube in Religious Ed

Every semester I have my students choose an ethical issue that is of interest to them and they complete a project on it. The project has consisted of a written report and a presentation to the class. I decided to change things up a bit this semester. Instead of the usual typed, double-spaced two page report and a presentation, usually on PowerPoint, which is usually a lot of text being read word for word from the screen, I had them do something a little different. I am learning more and more that knowledge is easy to access these days. So I am making an effort to structure my assignments so that students must do something with the knowledge they have easy access to. So this time I asked them to write a simple article on their issue of choice. This article was to be similar to an entry in Wikipedia. I called the assignment Catholicpedia and they were to put their article on our class wiki. However, it was the presentation that I wanted to be the focus of this assignment. Students were advised not to use their article for their presentation. They were told there was to be no reading. They were told that they were to present their issue in a creative manner of their choosing. And it was my hope that they would incorporate the use of technology in some way. They were to create a presentation that would leave an impression, not one that would be forgotten as soon as it was completed. The first two groups presented and twelve hours later I am still thinking about what they have created. Mission accomplished. The first group took their issue, capital punishment, and created a radio broadcast of a panel discussion on the issue. Part of their broadcast was a “call-in” segment in which the students in the class could ask questions and make comments. Wish I had recorded it! At any rate here is the audio file. I hope you’ll have a listen. Capital Punishment Radio

The second group created a video using a digital camera to illustrate how little, it would seem, that people know about stem cell research. The quality of the editing, I thought , was quite well done. [kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I wanted to post this group’s video as well. Their topic was child labour and I wanted to show their video because I think it demonstrates the kind of things I spoke about in another post. My students in this video point out that the labour practices of the supplier of our school’s uniform is somewhat suspect as they refuse to disclose the location of their production sites. [kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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P.D. Down Under – G’Day Mates!

I had an interesting experience tonight. My friend and technology guru Chris was presenting at an education conference in Australia and he asked me to help him with his presentation by joining him for a Skype video conference. He was sharing with his audience my experiences with the Flat Planet Project last school year. It was only last year that I started to get interested in incorporating technology into my classroom and now I am helping to present at a conference about this very thing. It really blows me away. Furthermore, with a simple yet marvelous piece of technology like Skype I was able tonight to share my experiences with a group of teachers on the other side of the planet! The world is flat! Hopefully some new connections will come of this and more great learning experiences for students. If you were at Chris’ presentation and you are interested or know someone who would be interested in some online collaboration with an R.E. class in Canada please leave a comment.

Catholic Educators Connect

Last school year I took what I learned from the K12 Online Conference and put it into action.  I sought out a teacher who would be willing to join me in an online collaborative project and we used a wiki and a blog with our two classes.  The students were very excited to be working with a group of students on the other side of the ocean and one of my students remarked that she was motivated to work hard on this project because of the global audience who would be watching via the web.  I recently bumped into one of my students from that class who has now graduated and she asked me if I was doing another “wiki project” because she thought it was “so cool.”  As a teacher you wonder what they will remember once they have left you.  I am confident that the students who engaged in this project will remember this learning experience they had in my class.

 But to get to my former student’s question about whether or not I am doing another “wiki project” the answer is I sure hope so!  To that end, I had been thinking about a way to connect with teachers who would be willing to join me and my students in a collaborative adventure.  So to try and establish some connections with Catholic teachers who would be interested in giving their students a learning opportunity like the one my students had I have set up a place for developing a community of Catholic Teachers Online.  It is a wiki that I have set up to allow you to let the Catholic education community who you are, your grade/level, subject area, and to start conversations with other Catholic educators that would be interested in making a connection.  I hope we can build a community of educators who are brave enough to step outside the box and start something new and exciting for their students.


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The Times They are a Changin’!

I came across this in the paper today and I had to share it. I think it dramatically shows the changes in our world. It’s hard to believe today, imagine seeing this 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago?!?! I think this should send a clear message to our leaders in education for the desperate need for investment in technology for our classrooms.

Homeless man satying Connected

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Image Citation: Sanfacon, Patrick. “Staying Connected.” La Presse Montreal. 18 October 2007.

Alien Invasion

Elluminate Fireside Chat with David WarlickOn Tuesday night I had quite a night. I sat down for a “fireside” chat with around one hundred teachers and education technology guru David Warlick to have a conversation about what it means to be an educator of today’s “info savvy students” in the “new information landscape” and the changing boundaries that we are experiencing due to technological developments. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my classroom practice and the limitations that I face due to restricted access to technology. desks.jpgAs one of my colleagues likes to say “our classrooms look the same they did when we were in school” twenty years ago. We still have the same old set up of rows of desks facing the front that creates this sense of education as a system for the passive reception of knowledge from the “sage on the stage.” It kind of makes me wonder when I think about my own Catholic tradition of education that recognizes, as St. Thomas Aquinas said, that education is not mere transmission of knowledge from one who possesses it to an empty vessel. Yet there we are. David’s keynote struck a chord with me when he said, some schools are seeing the possibilities of the use of technology and they should serve as a model for all of us in education. The schools in my board have a ban on cell phones and iPods in the classroom. It is true that often times students are using them in an inappropriate manner, however, this is, perhaps, a symptom of the lack of change we have admittedly seen in the way we educate. It sent chills up my spine when David was talking about today’s students and their connection to their technology and their networks and how they are like aliens with invisible tentacles that keep them connected and “the problem is when they come into our classroom we chop those tentacles off because we want our children to be the students we want to teach rather than teaching the children that they are and this is an insult to our children.” I think we need to speed up the rate of change before we are the ones who are chopped off and become irrelevant.

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“Faith Day”

jesus-statue-in-a-storm.jpgThe first professional development day that my school board has every year is on the Friday before Thanksgiving (which is in October in Canada) and it is called “faith day.” Funny title, I thought faith was an everyday thing, not just a once a week, or even once a year thing. As we are a Catholic learning community the day is meant to help build up teachers in our own faith and to remind us of the vocation that teaching is and that our call includes remembering that the children we are presented with every morning is a child of God and each is particularly loved by Him. Great stuff. However the faith day that my staff experienced this year was met by almost unanimous criticism; most left at the end of this day of encouragement feeling rather deflated. The faith day is organized by the school chaplain, and I by no means am writing this post to criticize her. She arranged the speakers in good faith in the hope that they would come and encourage us. The first speaker was a lovely woman with a great heart, however, her delivery could use work. This was a little surprising from a leader in education. She spoke at us for the better part of three hours with very little involvement from her audience. It made me think of the Chinese proverb “Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” She did one thing in particular that I have told my students over and over again not to do when using PowerPoint and that is to not create text-heavy slides which you read aloud. There is a good article about it here. What she had to say could have been said in one hour.

An integral part of every Faith Day is the celebration of the Mass which is the central ritual of our faith. Unfortunately, and I am not one to engage in clergy bashing, they are called to a difficult vocation in difficult times, the priest who came to celebrate with us used this opportunity to encourage us in our vocation to critique our mass etiquette. Now I realise that there are certain dispositions and practices that are expected of us as Catholics, however, there is a way to go about encouraging and teaching people about these. To be publicly critiqued ad nauseum during the mass I found to be a little off-putting. This kind of attitude has only pushed those who were teetering on the edge of disdain for the Church a little further. There was nothing pastoral about this priest’s performance. Some complained about the length of his preaching, which did cause me to be late for picking up my kids from daycare, but I thought what he had to say was quite good in this regard.

I hope and pray that the effects of this faith day are not too damaging of the mission of Catholic education and indeed the spiritual lives of the teachers who experienced it.

Image from KatieW

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K12 Online Conference ’07

Well I know I haven’t been active for a while, but I have to plug the thing that really got me going with tech integration into my classroom. I stumbled across the K-12 Online Conference last year and was glued to my computer learning about all these cool things that I could use with my students. So I wanted to plug this year’s conference and encourage all of you to check it out. There are going to be some great educators presenting much incredible stuff this year. I can hardly wait!
Participate in the free K12 Online Conference

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The Musical Priest

Well we have come to the end of the school year and I know all teachers are ready for a rest, and that definitely includes me. However, I have been hearing a lot lately into research about how keeping an active mind can be beneficial in reducing the risk, or at least delaying the onset of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. So I have thought about what I am going to do, usually reading , bu they say you should change things up a bit. If you just do the same thing over and over then your brain will just get used to it and you will reap little benefit. So I was going through a box of my old stuff when I found a tin whistle that I started to learn about 15 years ago and then put it away. So I thought maybe I would pick it up again and try to learn a few tunes over the summer. To that end I sought some inspiration and so I did a search on YouTube for tin whistle and was amazed by what I found. A Jesuit, Ryan Duns who teaches a course on the tin whistle at Fordham University has a number of lessons online. It amazes me what is available online and for free these days. YouTube I think has great potential for the classroom. I tried using it in one of my lessons, however, due to the limited bandwidth at my school it was not completely effective. All I can do is keep trying to improve my students classroom experience by continuing to use these tools and hopefully those who make the decisions about bandwidth and technology in the classroom in general will see the benefits and give us the support we need.

As for now, I am going to try and pick up some of the skills that this very talented musician/priest/educator is offering to me, and anyone else who is interested over the next few weeks. Below is a little sample of what I am a long way from achieving. The tune is called The Musical Priest!

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