Category Archives: digital technology

Keep Calm & Play Video Games

When I (Said) was 8 years old, my parents bought me a Playstation video game console. It was the beginning of what is now my favorite hobby. Whenever I purchase a game, I adore the ‘new game smell.’ It resembles being in a brand new car or picking up a new book for the first time. I associate it with feelings of enjoyment and excitement. I am holding an adventure in the palm of my hands.

Some may think that video games are a waste of time and money, but I do not agree. Video games are a form of entertainment that has grown rapidly since the 1970’s. They have caused controversy, changed lives, and challenged how we tell stories. My main attraction to video games stems from the fact that I am no longer a spectator but a participant in the storytelling. Nothing is more satisfying than taking a break from my daily routines and readings to immerse myself in another world. Video games have allowed me to experience rich narratives that have enhanced my thinking and influenced how I see the world. Since they are often designed to challenge the player to complete a task, video games are an amazing tool to develop problem-solving skills (trial & error, perseverance, multiple solutions…). Since 1999, video games have taught me about history, culture, science, drama, crime, racism, love, creativity, imagination and more. In other words, video games made me literate; video games are art.

Instead of hoping that children ‘grow out of it’ (I certainly haven’t!), we must shift our focus to how we can use their involvement with video games to our advantage as literacy teachers. Some of my most interesting conversations as an occasional teacher have been the result of speaking the language of video games. There is no reason to discredit it as a form of media that does not contribute to knowledge building; there is great potential for its use in classroom instruction and assessment. You do NOT need to be a gamer to bring students’ out-of-classroom hobbies into the classroom. If it helps students achieve, feel included, and contributes to their personal growth, why spoil the party? Every few weeks, my mom will text me, “How’s your Playstation doing?” Often, she regrets asking, because I will spend hours telling her about my latest adventures.

SaidVideoGame
My video game shrine
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A Day without Laughter is a Day Wasted.

As a child, I (Said) would take my parents’ newspaper and go straight to the comics section. I was less interested in world events & more interested in funny pictures and clever punch lines. Nowadays, there are webpages dedicated to comic strips and pages on our social media apps (Facebook, Instagram etc…) that we can like/follow. We have easy access to regular updates and new content, which are seamlessly integrated into our browsing experience. What happens next is incredible.

I stumble on a comic and I laugh amusedly. It reminds me of my friend Tatiana, and with the click of a button, I share it with her and comment, “This is definitely you”, “Doesn’t this perfectly sum up our lives…”, “This is me in a nutshell”. What follows is a conversation about how accurate the comic is, how well we know each other, or how it captures exactly what we are thinking at that point in time. It’s a digitally-mediated social interaction that does not require a lot of effort but does contribute to relationship-building in a subtle and indirect manner. It involves multi-modal texts and expressing ourselves in ways that extend beyond traditional text. Our students are also engaging with literacy in its many forms using different modalities, which teachers need to recognize and use to their advantage as they attempt to seamlessly integrate students’ out-of classroom literacies in the classroom.

Though I am connected to the web, I mainly use social media platforms to have information delivered to my phone, which I may then share/discuss with my friends (this ranges from funny pictures to world news to score updates). This in many ways is my kind of newspaper. There is something incredibly satisfying about coming across a comic that explains exactly how I am feeling. Recently. I have thoroughly enjoyed Sarah’s Scribbles, where Sarah Anderson tackles issues like being productive and the awkward but hilarious situations we encounter in our day to day lives. Below are a few of my favourite. I hope you lol (laugh out loud) or rolf (roll on floor laughing).

You can follow Sarah’s Scribbles on FacebookTwitterInstagram.

You can follow me on Twitter.
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Using VR to Embed Indigenous Perspectives into Curriculum

virtual-reality-cree-syllabics
Source: http://www.cbc.ca

I (Pooja) wanted to share a new gaming technology used in classrooms that authentically highlights, honours and engages students in Indigenous world views. It is no surprise that Western world views and Indigenous world views do not always align (see link below); however, it is our moral imperative to educate ourselves and our students on different ways of knowing and understanding. This can be a tricky task if you are not familiar with perspectives outside of your own. How can we as educators authentically understand Indigenous world views so we can help our students develop this awareness as well? That is why I was excited to learn about a new gaming technology which Cree children in three James Bay communities are using to learn their ancestors language entitled Cree Syllabics Virtual Reality project. The 3D gaming technology immerses user in a virtual camp setting. CBC authors Wapachee and Little (2016) further explains:

Students put on headsets to enter a virtual camp setting where they meet a little girl named Niipiish and her dog Achimush. Using hand movements and buttons to move around within the camp, they go on a journey to prepare for Niipiish’s little brother’s walking-out ceremony, all the while identifying Cree words that describe the seasons, the environment and Cree traditions.

This immersive experience allows students to authentically engage with perspectives which they may or may not have grown up with. This is a powerful tool because students are able to arrive at new understandings through first-hand experiences. I hope to see this type of technology shared in classes everywhere soon!

Eight differences between Indigenous and western worldviews:

http://www.ictinc.ca/blog/indigenous-peoples-worldviews-vs-western-worldviews

Link to CBC article:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/north/james-bay-students-learn-cree-in-virtual-reality-1.3835500

Do we blame the process or the machine?

A Toronto school is banning the use of cellphones in the classroom & hallways amid strong protest from parents who believe that students are distracted & abusing their privilege.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/earl-grey-public-school-cell-phones-1.3992597

As I read this article, I was torn. On the one hand, I recognize that technology has the potential to enhance student learning (I do wonder how we are measuring this ‘enhancement’). I love the opportunities that access to technology and Web 2.0 tools can create in the classroom to engage students in different ways. On the other hand, I have witnessed students misuse their devices as an occasional teacher. The uninterrupted access to Wi-Fi in many school boards means that students are always connected and participating in digitally-mediated social interaction via instant messaging services (Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat etc.) while at school and in the classroom.

At the intermediate level, I get interrupted frequently while teaching because someone is taking a selfie. It is incredibly distracting. At the secondary level, students are less devious but naturally cannot resist the occasional distraction since information is literally at their fingertips. I always have to explain, “There’s a time and place for checking your social media. I do not tweet while teaching nor do I send my folks pictures of my outfit.”

Despite commitments to integrating technology in the classroom/curriculum at a school board-wide level, how it looks in action varies across schools, classes, & teachers. Some teachers treat digital technology (DT) as the carrot at the end of the stick (“Work well and you can use your devices for 5 minutes”) while others do a phenomenal job incorporating it into their day-to-day teaching. Moving forward, we need to monitor how pre-service teachers are being trained to use DT and how in-service teachers (who perhaps completed their teacher training when DT did not play a big role in learning) are reflecting on their attitudes toward DT and adjusting their practice. In my opinion, blaming devices & the internet for interrupting learning is a scapegoat for a bigger issue…the process. The process involves challenging beliefs, addressing misconceptions, designing policies, providing the how-to, educational transformation, and so much more! It is complex, controversial, bumpy, and requires constant refinement, but it is progress.

A quote from the Inherit the Wind movie (one of my favorite plays): Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, “Alright, you can have a telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.”

Draining The Semantic Swamp of “Personalized Learning”–A View from Silicon Valley (Part 1)

I (Clare) read this post by Larry Cuban. I have long been a fan of his work because he is so “sensible” and really seems to understand education.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

No surprise that a catch-phrase like “personalized learning,” using technology to upend traditional whole group  lessons, has birthed a gaggle of different meanings. Is it  updated “competency-based learning?” Or “differentiated learning” in new clothes or “individualized learning” redecorated?  (see here, here and here). Such proliferation of school reforms into slogans is as familiar as photos of sunsets. “Blended learning,” “project-based teaching,” and “21st Century skills” are a few recent bumper stickers–how about “flipped classrooms?”– that have generated many meanings as they get converted by policymakers, marketeers, researchers, wannabe reformers, and, yes, teachers into daily lessons.

For decades, I have seen such phrases become semantic swamps where educational progressives and conservatives argue for their version of the “true” meaning of the words. As a researcher trained in history, since the early 1980s, I have tracked policies as they get put into practice in schools and classrooms.  After all, the…

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Fort McMurray Disaster — Fort McMoney a documentary game

I (Clare) like many Canadians are watching the news as the fire in Fort McMurray fire RCMPAlbertaspreads to 850 square kilometres with; thousands being airlifted. It is reported that the “The wildfire in Fort McMurray could be the costliest disaster in Canadian history as estimates for insured damages run as high as $9-billion. Thousands of homes and businesses in Alberta’s fifth largest population centre have been destroyed.” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/alberta/fort-mcmurray-exodus-swells-as-fires-rage-a-lot-of-people-are-working-to-get-you-out/article29883034/

This catastrophe is on a monumental scale but it has touched me in a different way. For two years I worked with a teacher research group, Eureka, and one of the teachers, Mike Farley, did his research on the use of Fort McMoney http://fortmcmoney.com/#/fortmcmoneyin his geography class. Over a period of time the students played the game and he studied their reaction to using the game and their learning.

His data showed that the game had a HUGE impact of their learning. Fort McMoney is s an interactive documentary game that lets you decide the future of the Alberta oil sands, and shape the city at its centre.

Through the research group I watched/played the game which gave me an insight into the community and the complexity of the issues of the oil sands. I emailed Mike when I heard the news about the fire. He said that he and his students were so upset by the events because they understood Fort McMurray and the impact on this fire community. This is an example of gaming that brings the real world into the classroom. His students probably have a much better understanding of this devastating fire as a result of the playing this highly interactive and informative game.

 

There is a long description from the Globe and Mail of the game below and it is well worth checking out the game. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/industry-news/energy-and-resources/what-is-fort-mcmoney/article15583598/

A frozen highway spools out ahead of you, in the distance giant factory facilities with spewing smokestacks are carved out of virgin forest. It looks cold, cold like one of those Soviet factory towns in the Arctic Circle.

That’s the scene that greets you when you boot up Fort McMoney, which is a virtual world that went live online Monday. There are many places to see and even more characters you can interrogate and interview. Scores will be kept and leaderboards maintained to reflect actions taken by visitors: the more curious you are the more points you collect. This world is also episodic, new places and people will arrive every week over the next four, and visitors can vote for changes they’d like to see based on what they experience inside Fort McMoney.

If you have a passing familiarity with modern video games, you will recognize this structure. But while it is a game, it’s not fiction, it’s an interactive documentary about that most consequential Canadian oil town: Fort McMurray. It was produced by The National Film Board with French, German and Canadian partners, including The Globe and Mail. (Columnists Eric Reguly and Margaret Wente will be writing about their evolving views as they play along. Read Ms. Wente’s first take here and read Mr. Reguly’s here.) The makers of Fort McMoney call it a game and call users “players,” but there will be no “winners,” or rather there is no way to “lose” the game.

(Also, for such an innovative project, the language to describe it is lacking; we need a new term like Game-Umentary, but one that isn’t terrible.)

Functionally, it owes some of its game design DNA to 2012’s episodic zombie adventure The Walking Dead from Telltale Games. The winner of multiple video game awards, Telltale’s creation follows a similar forking structure: Like in Fort McMoney, each player’s experience with the game will vary because each decision you make, each question or action you commit to, changes the sequence of the next thing you see or are able to do. In The Walking Dead that often meant people you met in the game got eaten by zombies, in Fort McMoney it just means you visit a different part of one of Canada’s fastest-growing boom towns.

Over the next month players can dig through about eight hours of interviews and conversations with the real residents of Fort McMurray, a city which lies at the heart of Canada’s oil sands. The game asks players to choose whether the city should help crank oil production up to 11, or if it should essentially shut down the industry. That’s where the SimCity element of this game comes in: How the city grows, and how that affects Canada’s energy future, will be displayed in a series of projections, updated each week by the latest referendum.

This laboratory of democracy is hosted in the “dashboard” part of the game, and this is where it strays from being a pure choose-your-own adventure story (if still a documentary, there are no actors here), and turns into a civics experiment. Players will be invited to debate, share their in-game discoveries and vote on policies for the town and its ever-present oil.

The issues the Fort McMoney asks players to vote on in the weekly polls are ones the real town faces: If you could, how would you vote to change things about the trajectory of Fort McMurray and Canada’s exploitation of the second largest energy reserve in the world? The results of player voting will create a hypothetical Fort McMurray, one in which the future has been directed by the votes of this digital public square, like in a classical Greek democracy. Only here, the amount of debating, sharing and exploring you do can net you a higher score, and thus a heavier vote during the polls. It’s why a documentary is keeping score at all, as a reward for spending time “playing” the game.

The elephant in the room is that this game/documentary is about oil in those sands, and the environmental and human cost of boiling it out of them. Fort McMoney starts by introducing you to people living on the margins of this rapid growth, the young woman who was hoping to clean work camps but instead works as a waitress, the alcoholic who collects cans (claiming to clear $52,000 in one year recycling the discarded booze containers of Fort McMurray’s residents). In short order you meet the mayor of the town, and eventually oil sands executives and other leaders.

Creator David Dufresne talks about our civilization’s “addiction to oil” when he talks about the conversation he wants this game to spark. This is the part the NFB, Dufresne and his whole team, are really excited about. As Dufresne explained during a recent live Q&A about the project: There are no shortage of great books, documentaries or journalism about the “tar sands.” He says he was drawn to Fort McMurray thanks in part to stories about the town in The Globe and Mail. But for all of that, do Canadians feel any urgency to take action? He hopes to change that by giving people something gorgeous to look at, deep to explore, fun to argue about and which creates consequences for the user’s decisions. He hopes his video game will convince people to be the change they want to see.

 

 

 

FDK Update:Literacy happenings and the like

I (Yiola) having been sharing my experiences with the Full Day Kindergarten (FDK) program from a parent’s point of view and here is another update.  My wee ones, Sylvia Clare (Senior Kindergarten) and Gallaway (Junior Kindergarten) are trekking merrily along in their kindergarten programs.  They are happy — and this makes me very happy. Some updates and observations about FDK and literacy.

  1. Sylvia Clare got into French Immersion. In our province, not all school board’s hold the same policy on French Immersion. This makes understanding the program less clear.  Some school boards/districts give every child the opportunity to go into French Immersion while others (like the one we are in) have a first come/first serve system.  The online database opened at 12pm on a set date and by 12:01 Sylvia Clare was 63rd on the list. 42 students are admitted into the program… We were notified last Monday that Sylvia Clare has been admitted and on Tuesday I registered her into the program. What does this mean? Beginning in first grade 50% of her learning will happen in French. She will have 2 classrooms teachers plus a “prep” teacher.  Big questions arise: How will this impact her language development in the short term/long term?  How will this impact her social development? Will this slow down her reading development?  Will this alter her level of engagement? So many questions and uncertainties and I’m not entirely convinced yet much of the literature AND community feedback suggests to go for the French. As a teacher educator I can speak to the general trends of French Immersion programs: students in immersion programs: acquire more vocabulary over time; catch up and often exceed reading levels of monolingual students… and yet when I look at this wee individual child, in spite of what research and theory state, only time and experience will determine if its best for her. I will keep you posted.
  2. Technology in FDK. Amazing things are happening with the whiteboard in the FDK classroom. I have observed students working individually and in groups: standing directly in front of it, touching it and manipulating shapes, words, images on the screen to solve problems. I have seen students engaged in listening activities and responding with their whole bodies to instructions provided through programs on display on the white board. I have seen attendance being tracked on the white board: all students’s names are in one row and as students enter they go up to the white board and slide their name to the other side — small details to practical use of technology in FDK.  I have seen iPads used in the FDK classroom: for gathering research, reading, listening to stories, and playing “games”. And, I have experienced communication with the teacher via REMIND technology. Oh how I love receiving a text with a pic of my son in educational action accompanied by a short text from the teacher. It makes me smile each and every time. The way digital technology is used in the classroom is meaningful, productive, and purposeful. I have also observed that it has just become a way of being in the classroom. It just is.
  3. My last update on FDK is on the idea of inquiry. I will share my understanding of inquiry in FDK with a anecdote.  Yesterday, as we drove on the Gardiner passing the CN Tower, Sylvia Clare explained Mommy we did research at school.  Harrison asked the teachers if the CN tower was the tallest building in world  and the teachers said they did not know but that it was a good question to research. So we started to research.  We looked in books and on the computer and guess what? We found out its not.  You know where the tallest building is mommy? Its not in Canada. We also learned the CN tower is a tower but not a building… and on and on she spoke about her research on towers and buildings.

These are some of the key literacy based elements that have me excited about FDK. Am I concerned about how many sight words they know? Not really. I am more concerned with their active engagement in learning and wanting to learn and this is what I see happening in the early years.

Why I love blogging: Take my creativity post and watch the learning grow

Writing blog posts is one of my most favourite things to do. I (Yiola) do not think I’m an entirely seasoned blogger but with time, practice, and learning I hope to become good at it one day. Why? Well, as an academic one of my goals is to share what I study and what I know with others. One way I do this is through my teaching. I am a teacher educator. My goals as a teacher educator are to prepare pre-service teachers to become excellent teachers by thinking about what they teach, how they teach and most importantly who they teach.  I am also a writer — but a very particular kind of writer. I have been taught to write in academic prose for journal articles and book chapters. Sometimes our articles and books are read by others in the field.  But… blogging… this is an entirely different genre and such a wonderful way to network and meet amazing people – some directly in the same field and others in slightly different but related fields – while sharing knowledge and information. Since writing on the academic / teaching blog I have met wonderful people and learned many things and taken away wonderful ideas. Let me share an example based on something that happened recently.

Some time ago I posted a blog about creativity in teacher education. Here is the link below:

https://literacyteaching.net/2016/01/24/crafting-creativity-in-teacher-education/

Last week I received an email from a person who is in the field of creativity who has also done some good work in the area. This person shared their insights on what I had written and provided supportive feedback and then also shared their work with me. What a delightful process! I am now sharing their work with you. The following link leads to a list of ways to infuse creativity into the classroom. I reviewed the link and like it for several reasons: 1. It’s foundations and theoretical underpinnings are closely linked to the work I shared with my student teachers in our classes on creativity  2. The list is very easy to view and accessible  3. I found the list inspiring and doable — so yes! I will now proceed to share this link with my student teachers and friends.

http://www.fusionyearbooks.com/blog/creative-classrooms/

This is but one example of how blogging in academia and in teacher education serves such good purpose. Yet another example of how digital technology and literacy work hand in hand to foster communication and learning. I am delighted when I receive messages with feedback, interest, and sharing. Looking forward to more connections and learning through this medium.

Dora in the 21st Century

A few weeks ago, I (Pooja) was watching an episode of Dora the Explorer with my niece and nephew. Dora and her friends were on an adventure and as per usual got lost. I expected Dora to whip out her handy animated friend, Map (see below).

map

For as long as I could remember, Map had been an integral character of the Dora the Explorer Show. Map helped the viewers understand the cardinal directions, locate familiar landmarks, and use a compass. So, I was surprised when I saw Dora reach into her pocket and pull out her phone and open Map App!!! After my initial surprise, I started to understand why the Map character had been replaced with an app. Viewers, like my 5-year-old niece and nephew had never held a map or seen a map, so of course they couldn’t relate to it. Now, an app? They know all about those!

mapapp

The initial character Map was introduced to teach life skills. Do you  think the Map App will be able to teach the same skills or more?

Building Bridges: Rethinking Literacy Teacher Education in a Digital Era

I (Clare) love sharing good news. Our book Building Bridges: Rethinking Literacy Teacher BookCoverCroppedEducation in a Digital Era has just been published. Being modest (tee hee) I think it is blockbuster!!!! Attached is a flier for the book and when you look at the Table of Contents you will see what I mean — incredible contributors. Here a flier for the book Building Bridges_Flyer
If you are comfortable share this info on your FB page/Twitter/Website. The tiny url is http://tinyurl.com/hwtvoua
I am so proud of this book and learned so much editing it!