Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reflections on Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind"

I started reading Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind last summer in preparation for our PG&L assignments for the fall. Immediately, I was intrigued by Pink’s analysis that in order to survive in the new global community, we had to start thinking with more than our left brain. Having started my career in the law, a totally left-brain driven profession if there ever was one, I understood when Pink described our society’s aversion to anything not motivated by the left brain. I too got caught up in that philosophy when I chose law as my career, even though I am basically a creative person, I didn’t place much importance on it. Now, having gone that route and been dissatisfied with it, and chosen a more creative outlet for myself, I agree with Pink that we shouldn’t undervalue the right-brain characteristics any longer, and in fact should embrace them, based on what is happening in the global economy, the future rests with creative right-brain thinkers like designers, teachers, inventors and storytellers to name a few. I felt so strongly about this after reading Pink’s book, that I had a long discussion with my teenage daughter. She is also a very creative person, but her school schedule reflected only left brain honors courses and the basics all schools offer: English, math, social studies and science. Since she was entering 10th grade at the time and her future is closer than I like to think, we discussed what it is she would like to do someday. She revealed that she enjoyed being creative and yearned for a profession in the fashion or publishing industry, something her schedule did not reflect. Based on what I learned in Pink’s book and what I now knew about my daughter, I didn’t feel the need to direct her to the left-brained type of professions like I was steered towards. We immediately called her guidance counselor and changed her schedule to include an introductory art class. She took the course this year and enjoyed it very much and was recommended for a special district program in graphic arts and design. She is now enrolled in this course for her last two years of high school and has also enrolled in a summer course at F.I.T. for high school students. It’s amazing what a simple change to her schedule (inspired by Pink!) to include an art course made to her future plans!
Now to get back to Pink’s A Whole New Mind, I enjoyed reading about all the senses, but Story really spoke to me. I’ve always been an avid reader, and the art of story telling has always fascinated me. I totally agree with Pink that society has overlooked the potential of Story for too long and is only now trying to get back to it. As an educator, we strive to instill good reading and writing skills in our students, but do we ever really explain why this skill is so important? Of course students grow up knowing that they must learn how to read and write in order to survive and progress in a profession, but the impact of Story is never truly explained or explored. Even children learn better when told a “story” about a subject rather than given just a list of facts. The publishing world has begun to notice this too, with more and more “trade” books being published on non-fiction subjects which look more like picture or story books for children.
Pink gives several ideas to enhance and develop Story skills. One I particularly liked and feel would lend itself well to students in a classroom setting is the Mini-Saga. The Mini-Saga is a fifty word short story, and unless you’ve tried to write one, you know this is no easy task! To get your thoughts and points across in just fifty words takes practice and skill and should be taught to law students, since lawyers are some of the most verbose people there are in the world! I wrote a Mini-Saga for my first Pink discussion and I’ll repeat it here (I tend to be wordy too, a throw back to my lawyer days, so I’m proud of this):
A group gathered around the man: wife, children, grandchildren, sister, nephew. Amid tearful goodbyes, he thanked them for being there, prayed with them and breathed his last. His passing came and went, but the blessing of his life remains forever in their hearts; saying so long for now, never goodbye.
This exercise in writing a short story, besides being enjoyable, really brings home Pink’s point that in today’s society, when facts and information are free and immediately available to the taking for almost everyone, the facts themselves are not what are valuable. “What begins to matter more”, says Pink, “is the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact.” This is the real meaning of the skill of Story and why we are seeing more of it in the worlds of business, medicine and hopefully education too someday. There are many ways for teachers to incorporate the skills of Story into the curriculum, through the Mini-Sagas mentioned above, to digital storytelling (bringing technology into the mix to tell a story), interviews, writing exercises involving great opening lines to photographs for “back story” writing, and oral story-telling. Pink suggests all of these ways to work on improving our talent for Story and I feel all these activities would be appropriate for students in a school setting. Being a librarian, I’ve always believed in the power of a story for instructional purposes, so rest assured I will continue to embrace Story in my future lessons and foster more creative, right-brain type activities in my library media center!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Are Free Tools Worth the Price?

In my final discussion panel with Brenda Dyck (Salon # 5: Are Free Tools Worth the Price?), we unanimously agreed they are definitely worth it! First of all, the "No" viewpoint was very weak, focusing on the assumption that we must support the software companies "that have worked the bugs out of programs before we use them." How lame is that? Somehow, I think the computer software companies will figure out how to survive in a Web 2.0 world! I think the "Yes" viewpoint hit on a better negative point, which is the problems sometimes associated with free tools. However, who hasn't encountered similar problems with purchased software too? The extra time it may take to fiddle with a new free tool is well worth the savings, especially in light of today's economic crisis and looming budget cuts. In addition, the argument the "No" viewpoint makes with respect to the lack of usefulness and appropriateness of some free tools I also found to be misguided. Sure, some people may not see the need for "word clouds" or "Wordles" in the classroom, but that doesn't mean they are worthless, just that some people may just lack imagination! To help make my point, I created the Glogster page that's shown above. At first glance, an online poster maker may just seem like another frivolous tool, but with a little ingenuity, a "scholarly" topic and some imagination, even a Glogster can be used in education!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Neil Postman and the Judgment of Thamus: Salon #3

I participated in the third salon entitled "The Judgment of Thamus", based on an exerpt of a book by Neil Postman. I found the article, our salon discussion and the additional articles and video posted on the salon wiki, very thought provoking! The articles really got me thinking about how the new technologies of today are altering our understanding of the purposes of education and teaching and the role of not only the teacher, but students too. Postman makes the argument that technology innovations have a two-sided effect of being both (he does not mean either/or) a burden and a blessing, and in fact he says "a new technology does not add or subtract something. It changes everything." Although at first reading he seems to be a technology "naysayer", what he's really advocating is moving into the future with our eyes open to the possible effects of new technology innovations. By viewing new technologies in this light, we won't be blind to the possible harm that could be caused, because as Postman stresses, any new technology always produces both winners and losers. Education is an example that he gives where the teachers are the losers, although they are deluded into thinking they are the winners. While I do not view technnology innovation as harshly as Postman, I now view those same innovations in a different light. Before jumping onto the bandwagon of a new Web 2.0 tool for instance, I will look more closely at it to ensure that this technology innovation really improves my teaching and enhances my students' learning and is not just the "bells and whistles" that students are becoming accustomed to. I'm all for the "bells and whistles" if they have a positive impact on student learning, increase enthusiasm for the project or topic being taught and do not hinder any types of learners. In fact, I'm beginning to reevaluate some things I took for granted about new technology, for instance that it always improves learning when in fact some traditional approaches to teaching might still be the better and more effective practice taking into consideration the unique group of learners in any given class. I still support technology innovation and look forward to trying out new tools, but as an educator, I can no longer ignore the negative possibilities that might arise from certain innovations, and must not forget that although technology may solve some "old" problems, that same technology may generate new problems. Our task as educators as we move forward into the future with our "eyes open" is the difficult task of not only trying to predict what new problems will arise from certain technology innovations, but also what these same technologies may ultimately "undo" as we struggle to redefine knowledge and information in our ever-changing world. At least by acknowledging the fact that new technologies alter how we think and learn, we can join with Thamus as Postman suggests and become part of the conversation and ultimately the solution, balancing the old with the new.
The Wordle at the beginning of this post is my attempt to start a conversation based on Neil Postman's ideas. I took the key words from his son Andrew's introduction to the 20th Anniversary Edition of Amusing Ourselves to Death, by Postman. When inputted into Wordle, a fantastic "word cloud" of ideas and concepts is created based on (both) Postman's thoughts and writing. Wordle is a great example of how judging the benefits or problems of technology is subjective, since some may say: "A word cloud, so what? How does that help my students?", while I can argue that although it is substitute for Postman's actual written words, a Wordle can generate interest and enthusiasm and ultimately a deeper discussion into the topic! No matter how positive or negative you are about technology (or whether you think Wordle is a teaching tool or a joke), all of us must reevaluate what we do in the classroom in reaction to the increasingly present technology, whether it is closing the door to it or embracing it, we must do so after careful consideration with our "eyes open."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Where's the Beef?

I participated in Brenda's first "salon" entitled: "Where's the Beef: Finding Literacy in Computer Literacy". I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article and came away with a lot of thought provoking ideas and revelations from both the text and the discussion. Literacy is something I'm keenly aware of in my role as a library media specialist, especially how I can instruct my students and better prepare them to be 21st century learners. Information literacy is usually my focus, but literacy really encompasses so many more areas and is constantly evolving in today's ever changing technology rich world. The article really makes one think about whether we are doing the right things as educators, are we focusing on the right technology, the right skills, to ultimately prepare our students for their future? The author makes the point that the education world is notorious for taking its time especially where technology is concerned. I love the final quote of the paper: "So--if we resist, drag our heels, take another 20 years to understand the world of digital literacy, what is the price we are willing to pay? What is the price you are willing to pay?" Since the author discusses the "remix culture" we now live in, especially with respect to literacy, I was inspired to create the above Animoto, a short video depicting the various points the author makes throughout the article. Hope you enjoy my remix of "Where's the Beef"!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Flash Plan Assignment

I am so excited about learning how to make a Flash animation, however, I know next to nothing about Flash! I feel confident though that after watching all the screencasts, I should have a better understanding of what Flash is all about and should (with a little help from my friends and mentors) be able to create what it is I'm dreaming up for my PBL assignment. So here it is, my plan for my Flash assignment, otherwise known as My Flash Plan:
PURPOSE: The purpose of my project is to introduce the Orphan Train Webquest I am creating for my PBL work this semester.
AUDIENCE: The audience I'm targeting is the class I'm creating the webquest for, a group of 5th grade students.

CONTENT, LAYOUT and DESIGN: I'm visualizing an old-fashioned passenger train car moving across the top of the screen (think Splash header), complete with audio of train whistles and engine sounds. I would like each window on the train to be blank, but as the train moves, for different pictures to open in each window. The pictures will be actual photographs of orphans who traveled on the real Orphan Trains. I'm still thinking of the text, if any, that I might want to appear as the train reaches the end of the page, maybe just the title of the webquest and a catchy subtitle, with my name.
So, that's the PLAN! I'm excited to get started, but I'm not sure of how to do that yet! In the meantime, I'm going to look for the photographs I want to include in the project.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Google Guru Workshop

The Google Guru workshop was awesome! I learned so much in such a short period of time and there was a lot of information I want to go back to and explore further! To think I just knew about Google Documents at the start of the morning. Now I'm excited to try some templates and spreadsheets, and have even started playing around with a google form survey, as you can see above. Templates, presentations, spreadsheets and forms, oh my!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Using Flash in the Library

It is my last semester in T.E.A.M. and we are exploring Flash. As with most I have experienced so far in this degree program, I have no experience with Flash, but hope to understand and be able to use it very soon! For homework I had to view many different examples of flash on the web, which gave me a better idea of the many uses of flash for educational purposes. After viewing the examples, I developed the following three (3) ideas for incorporating flash into my library lessons:
1. Interactive Games
What better way to assess student learning than through a fun, interactive game? I know my students love playing games on the computer, so why not combine their love for gaming with a review of library terms or a crash quiz on the Dewey Decimal system? With flash, making learning fun for students is possible and helps me assess what my students are learning, what needs to be reinforced and/or explained in more detail. Whether it is a simple game or one which uses more advanced flash techniques, a game is an effective way to introduce or test information literacy skills.
2. Stimulating Lessons: Graphics, Sounds, Movie Clips
I think using flash techniques could really make research subjects come alive for students. Sites like PBS, Discovery Channel, and Smithsonian all use flash to put the viewer in the historical scene. Students can view a movie clip made in flash and gain a better understanding of what they will be researching. Short flash movie clips on a topic would be a great way to introduce a research project and build enthusiasm.
3. Splash Header for Library Website
I feel a vibrant and interactive website is a necessity for a 21st century library media center. Therefore, creating a splash header for the homepage would be a great way to stimulate interest in the library’s website and entice more students to explore further. Employing techniques similar to those used in the Smithsonian—African Voices example given to us, would really enhance the look and feel of my library’s website. Scrolling text, pictures appearing and fading over a set time, are just a few ideas which would look really nice. I can’t wait to start creating a splash page!