Week 2 – People in your life

Week 2 assignment:

Who are the people you see every day? What do they mean to you? Are you a person who needs to be with people all the time or do you also like solitude? Which people have been most influential in your life, how and why?

Week 2 took students from the initial focus on who they were to their circle of family and friends.

I was surprised again that our boys were so unashamedly grateful to their parents; I think that they’re more likely to admit their feelings in writing than through class discussion. It has been very encouraging to note that all students have exemplified the best online behaviour, leaving comments which have encouraging, supportive and leading to spirited conversation.

Although Week 2’s contributions were all similar, centring on family and friends, the little details created interest. I thought I’d share some of these details.

Photo by JamesMAU

“My Mum and Dad will do anything to make me happy and to see me having fun, they even wake up at early hours of the morning to take me to 5am basketball training 30 minutes away from our house and school, just to make me feel happy and cared for.
My Mum and Dad aren’t life savers but they are just regular parents who provide so much for me and make me feel safe and secure. I am very lucky to have them and there are many ways I wish I could thank them”.

“My family mean a lot to me; they help me through the hard times and support me through the good times. My parents are great; they support and respect the decisions that I make.

“My friends mean the world to me, if I am having a bad day they can make me smile, they are always there to support me and help through the good and bad times and I try to help my friends as much as they help me”.

Photo by LukeS,Au

“My little brother is a person i see daily and also someone whom i love to spend some time with. Not only is he my brother, he is one of my best mates and i adore him for that”.

Comment:

“I really like this picture. It made me smile. The light from the sun completes the picture, in my opinion. I also like it because it shows how close you are with you little brother. I, personally, have three little brothers and they mean a lot to me. =]”

Photo by KierenT_au

“This Photo to me shows my relationship with my friends, I really don’t care if people say wearing that stuff is for girls only and stuff like that. I think it’s fun sometimes just to dress up and mess around and not care what the world thinks of you. The relation with all my friends is great we all get along and we are all into music also we all love to chat and just hang and chill at places”.

Comment:

“You seem like a really cool person. 🙂
I love how you can be your own person and not really care about what other people think”.

“I’m not really a person who needs someone always to be around them I love just being by myself and seeing where I’m heading and also just time to relax. I love to be outside when I’m by myself I sit on my fence or either up on this brick wall at the side of our house and I just sit there and enjoy the wind and the fresh air and free space, I got to say that the only thing I don’t like about sitting outside is at night I cover my whole body basically from head to toe but I still get bitten by the mosquitoes”.

Comment:

“love listening to the wind too. It’s amazing. Especially at the beach. And, yes, wow mosquitos are the biggest pests any where in the world. :P”

I love how the Week 2 assignment broadened the group’s knowledge of each student within the circle of his/her family and friends. It brought together students from different geographical and cultural backgrounds, highlighting what young people have in common everywhere. In some cases it aroused curiosity –

“Is these clothes what you wear at school? We don’t wear school uniform in Finland.”

The best part of the project for me, again this week, was seeing the enthusiasm of the students racing to read what others had said in response to their posts and  photos. The smiles on their faces …

Week 1 : a photo that represents you

Although I meant to keep up with these posts throughout the project, it hasn’t worked out the way I planned. Post by post I intend to give an overview of what was posted – photos, descriptive writing, comments and conversation – one week at a time.

The first week’s assignment was:

Take a photo that represents you as a person, and write about yourself.

I’ve selected a few examples of students’ contributions as examples. For a first assigment it was deceptively difficult; not only were they to find a photo which captured who they were, but they also had to think about representation and unpack the concept. I think they did very well, and the examples here show what the students have in common, as well as their diversity.

My football boots are    are a strong  representation of who i  am as a person. I have  been playing Australian  rules football since I was  5 years old and it has  become a big part of my  life. Australian rules  football has taught me  many valuable life skills  such as: respect,  teamwork, courage, bravery and to aspire for greater things in life. I will carry these memories and skills throughout the rest of my life. I think of football as so much more than just a sport, it has helped me develop so much as a person physically and mentally. I do not see football as a stressful or time consuming chore, football for me, is in many ways my release time.

In this picture, the figurine or “toy” represents Chinese New Year, I chose this because Chinese New Year plays an important role in our Tradition of a new “beginning”.

Most of you may be thinking why is there a hammer in my picture, it is there because it symbolises my interest in fixing thing or construct something. Also it reminds me to stay strong in myself.

The drum sticks represent my musical talent. I play the drums have for a while. It’s always been fun and gives me a feeling that all is free when I play. The set up of the IPod and the drum sticks is messy and the background of rocks shows not everything is clean and smooth but bumpy and sometimes you might need to clean up some mess before moving on.

Comment:

I really like your metaphor on the rocks and everything is not clean and that before moving on you nee to clean up your own mess. I thought that was ery interesting!

In my picture I have included a cook book. I have an Italian background so I love to eat and I love to cook as well. I can cook many things and I like to help out in the kitchen. I can cook things like risotto’s and casseroles and things like that.

Comment:

I find it interesting that you included a cook book to represent you. What’s your favorite meal? What’s the one thing you enjoy preparing the most?

The Australian flag represents my country which I have never left and don’t plan on leaving. The tennis ball is for my love of tennis, it is a great sport which I am always happy to play. The shoes depict my enjoyment of all sports. The scarf is for my footy team, North Melbourne/Kangaroos. I have put these items on my bed to say how I love to sleep.

Comment:

I’m honestly not sure on what footy team means but it must be something good ! 🙂

Although the students are from different parts of the world, a love of music, sport and family seem to be common ground.

Thinking about evaluation

Contributed by Darren Kuropatwa in Flickr Group Great quotes about learning and change (pool).

It’s been a while since I’ve posted – time tends to run away when there’s so much to do. Our Flickr project has come to an end, and I haven’t even been able to keep up with what’s been happening.

Nevertheless!

I’m not going to let the opportunity for reflection, evaluation and showcasing escape. It will be done – eventually.

This week I hope to start asking students and teachers for feedback. This will take the form of questioning on the ning, as well as recording interviews which I hope to start today.

Here are some questions for student evaluation:

1. What did you enjoy the most about the Flickr project?

2. What, in your opinion, didn’t work for you?

3. How could this project have been improved or done differently?

4. What sorts of things have you learned?

5. What was the most valuable thing you learned?

6. What do you enjoy about connecting with students from other countries?

7. How important is the photo in the writing assignment?

8. What did you enjoy about other people’s photos?

9. What did you learn about taking photos?

10. What was your favourite/What were your favourite weekly theme(s)?

11. What was the most interesting thing you learned from another student?

12. What have you learned about other cultures?

13. What sorts of things do you have in common with students of other cultures?

14. What do you think are the main differences between you and students of other cultures?

15. Would you like to visit/live in the USA or Finland? How has the project influenced your answer?

Some questions to ask teachers:

1. Did you enjoy the project? What were the highlights?

2. What did you expect from the project at the outset?

3. Did the project meet/exceed your expectations? In what ways?

4. How did you find the collaboration? online/global aspect; time differences; school term differences, etc.

5. What difficulties did you experience during the project? What worked and what didn’t?

6. How would you do the project differently if you did it again?

7. What do you think students gained from the project?

8. In your opinion, how important a role did the photo play in the writing?

9. Was this project an enhancement for students? Which ones in particular (were there any surprises)?

I’ll be responding to these questions myself because I think that an evaluation is the only way to truly learn from something. Some of these things are only half-formulated in my mind, so this exercise should help me think more deeply and define what I think.

So what does the quote – If all your kids do is learn to read and write, they won’t be literate mean to me?

There’s a bigger answer to this, but for now I’ll give the smaller answer, the answer relevant to the objectives and outcomes of this project.

The learning that has taken place here has been learning with and from other people – students who share interests and passions with each other regardless of their geographical location.

Instead of learning from a book, a fact sheet or article provided by the teacher, our students have learnt from each other.

Their learning has been sparked by curiosity, a desire to connect with peers, natural dialogue, and an opportunity to share and be creative within a stuctured but relaxed framework.

They have learned by asking, by reading each others’ contributions – within an online community.

They have done this with respect for each other and through positive comments. This is much more than just ‘reading and writing’.

More about this later….

What are we learning?

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Time to do a stocktake on what we’re learning here. Una and I smiled when the boys yelled out an enthusiastic ‘Yay!’ when she announced we’d devote the first half of the lesson to the Flickr project.

Looking around the room, I saw heads bent down to view photos and comments, unmistakable eagerness in reading, eyes darting about from comment to comment, fingers working at top speed to keep up with written responses.

Yes, but is this learning?

Just in case any of us started to think this was just chat – not that we would – I thought I’d take stock of the types of learning happening here.

First of all, I think it needs to be stated at the outset that engagement is a healthy precursor to any kind of learning. Although this project has clear guidelines and timeline with weekly themes and questions to answer, there are obvious reasons for the engagement we are seeing:

  • peer audience
  • global connections
  • familiar ‘chat’ platform for communication
  • ease of communication through Flickr comments setup
  • transparency of all activity
  • cultural curiosity
  • natural desire to socialise with other young people wherever they are

As I’ve said previously, it’s a far cry from writing on a prescribed topic for the teacher. The themes and questions have been chosen to encourage sharing of background, passions, hobbies, etc., and the students want to write about themselves and their lives because it’s part of a natural desire to share these things in order to make meaningful contact with others.

Cultural curiosity sparks questions like ‘What is AFL?’  or ‘What is that fluffy thing?’ (dreamcatcher). The desire to connect is clearly demonstrated too – ‘I also love watching crime investigation shows’; ‘my parents are also the most influential people in my life’, etc.

The positive comments and encouragement the students give each other is good to see, and much more meaningful to them than any comments from their teacher. I find this heart warming, actually, and cling to it when I read all the negative press in the media about young people being bullied and abused by their peers online. I think we could organise more of these types of learning environments to bring out the best in our young people.

There’s much still to be discovered in this learning process, some of it related to the options within Flickr itself. For example, for now we haven’t too fussed about tagging or organising photos into sets. That will come, and some students will learn that themselves just by browsing the site. Then there’s the photographic aspect – so much to learn about the potential of a picture. Even within Flickr there is an editing button above the photo which takes you to Picnik where you can play around with the image.  When students think about how they want to present their picture, what message they are trying to convey – this is visual literacy. I expect initially they will be focussing on satisfying the weekly theme, but later they may think about creative elements such as focus, colour, texture and so on. The potential for differentiated learning exists both visually and within the written text.

I’m happy with the way things are going and I think my colleagues feels the same.

Early stages reflection

So, we’re into Week 2 of the project, and students have uploaded two photos – one representing them, and the other showing people who matter to them in their lives.

It’s been exciting to see the photos appear in the group, and even more to see comments coming in, and conversation starting to develop.

Technical difficulties (being blocked at school) and practical issues (understanding how to upload, add text, comment, add to group, etc.) have been ironed out on the whole. Sigh of relief.

I’ve been surprised by the openness of some of our boys – after all, they’re about 16 years old, and it’s not cool to talk about what you’re like, why people mean so much to you – you know, feelings.

I wonder if the presence of girls has softened their writing, or if the anonymity of online writing gives them courage to say what they really think and feel.

Certainly, some of the girls (and boys) from Florida and Finland have written compelling personal accounts, and I think that the peer audience has a lot to do with it. It may also be that the format – connecting through commenting  – is familiar, and that their Facebook behaviour displays an openness that doesn’t always transfer to writing submitted to the teacher.

At this stage, we’re all conscious of the project being one of connections and enjoyment, as well as wanting students to develop their voice through quality writing. I’m not sure how to strike this balance, but I’m thinking about it.

With the rush of getting accounts and following instructions, we haven’t had the time to talk in depth about sharing images online, Creative Commons and licensing, so I think I might put together something on the next post.

Flattening the world with Flickr in the classroom

This is cross posted from Brave New World.

Photo courtesy of matthewpAU on Flickr

In his book, The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman says that there are certain ‘flatteners’ that promote and allow for connection, collaboration and creation via distance.  He was referring to technological applications which shrink geographical barriers and make global connections possible. This is my aim for a special project at my own school – a project which would enhance teaching and learning through ‘connection, collaboration and creation’, taking the students out of the classroom and into the world.

In 2009 I decided to take up a Flickr challenge to upload a photo every day for a year and post it to appropriate flickr groups. As a result I connected with others through interest and dialogue, and three of us –  Marie ColemanSinikka Laakio-Whybrow and I –  agreed that a similar project  would be an enriching experience for students. I was lucky to find a teacher who was interested in the project and who has supported it wholeheartedly.

Sinikka reflected:

‘I would really like to challenge my students to bring out their real personalities in the foreign language. I have learned over the years that Finns especially seem to suffer greatly from a sort of ‘personality reduction syndrome’ when using a foreign language. I blame our text books and language classes for this, since students hardly ever get the chance to express THEMSELVES in the target language, but are always asked to talk about external topics, or role play. Their use of the language is also far too fact-based – emotions and feelings are hardly ever touched upon’.

I think Sinikka hit the nail on the head by underlining the importance of students expressing themselves, instead of practising their writing skills using isolated topics and writing mainly for the teacher.

The learning is happening for us as teachers too. In the planning stages, we collaborated in a Google document, using Google spreadsheets and slideshow (thanks Marie!) to brainstorm and formulate our project. The geographical time differences weren’t a problem at all, and occasionally Sinikka would catch me in Google chat before going to bed if I was online early enough in the morning.

The final product is an 8 week project with a weekly assignment based on a photo and written description following a theme. The first assignment is to take a photo which ‘is not you, but represents you as a person’ – so, an introduction to initiate the sharing of personal information and interests. Although almost every student included sport and music in their introduction, there were diverse details which created interest in the group. The cultural differences were obvious conversation starters, and the similarities brought the students together through shared interests. I know that our boys, being in a single sex school, were interested in the opportunity to connect with the girls!

The project is quite  simple but with very rich results. The weekly themes set  diverse tasks. Some themes ask for the sharing of personal, cultural or geographic information, some encourage photographic creativity (‘Take a photo: of something you go past every day and take it from an interesting new perspective”), while others require deeper thinking and creative solutions (‘Take a photo that goes with the title or lyrics of a song’ or ‘Take a photo that somehow represents learning to you’).

We have used Flickr as a platform for this project. Flickr provides an easy way to upload photos, an automatic photostream for each student, and a profile for identification. Our group, Through global lenses, is a one-stop shop for the whole operation. It holds all the members from the three schools, allows for instructions and program, as well as storing all essential information such as netiquette, creative commons, commenting guidelines, etc. It even has email.

Challenges

Following  a weekly theme and guiding questions, students’ task is twofold. Firstly, to take their own photo – this requires thinking and reflection, creativity, individuality, and it is hoped that, as students become accustomed to the challenge, they will become more creative and try different things. Secondly, to write something which responds to the theme, answers prompt questions, and informs and entices readers.

When students view each other’s contributions, this sparks curiosity, natural questioning, and ensuing dialogue. It also brings out  a desire to do as well or to do something different. Students are not writing for the teacher, but for a peer audience, sharing generational views and tastes, and learning about cultural differences.

It really is one big conversation, with everyone getting a go, and nobody feeling they can’t get a word in. Several people can engage in dialogue under the same photo. Conversation arises from shared interests and curiosity about cultural differences. Students encourage each other and develop trust and respect for each other. The result is writing from desire instead of duty.

Differences in language are often the subject of conversation. Students ask and explain linguistic and semantic differences, for example, the first week’s photo has resulted in a discussion of the differences between American and Australian football.

Challenges for us include encouraging students to move away from ‘chat language’ and to write correctly and fluently. Despite our instructions, I’ve noticed in the early stages students reverting to their preferred chat in the comments.

Practicalities

It’s easy to keep up with who is commenting on your photo, or further conversation in photos you’ve commented on, when you visit the homepage for the group. Another useful feature is the availability of editing comments or writing. Teachers can ask students to improve or correct their writing at any time.

Reading through comments in the early stages, I can already see the conversations developing as more people enter the conversation, as questions are answered and elaborated on, and the desire to develop the dialogue becomes self motivating. This is very different to writing for your teacher which is a static exercise. Here the writing is interactive and can continue at any time.

I’ve noticed that our boys seem different in their writing and comments to the way they present themselves at school. In the comments they seem unafraid to say that something is beautiful, comment on cute dogs, and be generally more open. I guess that’s what comes with writing to a peer audience. That and writing to connect with kids like them from distant places. For these reasons I’m excited about this project which, even in its initial stages, has sparked authentic and engaged conversation, and which will no doubt develop for each student  his/her voice through images and words.