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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Who's the expert, anyway?

For my Guest Posting Initiative run, I have been putting up the post in the evening before the day I scheduled it to run. If I don't do this, then I won't be physically able to post it on the day I scheduled until I get home from school, which is usually in the 5-6:30 range. Thus, it won't be available for most of the day.

When I run it in the evening, then it's available for the ENTIRE day.

This is my Guest Post for Monday, January 12. Sure, it's not even 7 PM yet on Sunday evening, but Jack Bauer is about to embark on a world-saving day in just a few minutes, and after that, Jack Woodson needs to get his beauty sleep. So we'll just say I'm a little early for the Monday post.

Anyway, today's Guest is Kevin Hodgson, who blogs at Kevin's Meandering Mind. He teaches sixth grade and is also the technology liason with the Western Massachusetts Writing Project.

Kevin also draws a comic strip called Boolean Squared, which features a character called -- get this -- Mister Teach! So of course, I jumped at the chance to have him guest here on Learn Me Good.

Here is Kevin's post:
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It was about two years ago that I realized that some of my students (11 year olds) knew more about technology than I did. Given the state of affairs in most classrooms, this may not seem so surprising. But I have been immersed in technology for a couple of years now -- I began blogging with other teachers in 2002 as part of the National Writing Project -- and I figured that I was always a step or two ahead of my sixth graders when it came to knowing and using cool tools.

And most of my students, while having some knowledge of concepts like podcasting and wikis, don't know much about the applications but they are willing to dive in, if you give them the chance. We dive in quite a bit at our classroom site (The Electronic Pencil ). Yet, I have come to realize that there is a small cadre of students who are way beyond me, exploring new digital terrain on their own and, for the most part, without the knowledge of their parents or teachers and even their friends.

Here's what happened. My class was in the midst of a claymation movie project, which is stopmotion animation. It's a painstaking project that yields pretty interesting results and most of the students are completely engaged in the process. One of my students, whom I knew to enjoy technology, seemed a bit bored, standing around, so I wandered over to him.

"What's up?" I asked.

"Nothing," he replied. Standard pre-teen lingo.

"How come you aren't down there," I pointed to the floor where his group was setting up a shot. They were on their knees, working with little clay people and the webcam. An open laptop was next to them.

"I'm bored."

"How can you be bored? You're making a movie. You love this stuff." I was bewildered. I knew that he didn't quite like writing, which is the subject that I specialize in. But technology? This was his bread and butter.

"Well ..." he hesitated, looking sheepish.

"What?"

"I've been doing claymation and stop-motion for a year or so."

"You have? On your own?"

"Yeah. I have about 30 movies done."

I gasped. "Thirty?"

He nodded. "They're up at YouTube."

"On YouTube?" I sounded like an echo chamber.

He nodded again.

"You have 30 movies published on YouTube?" I must have sounded like an idiot to the kid.

"Well, actually, I have almost 100 movies on YouTube. I do more than stop-motion. I also make my own movies about all sorts of things. Vacations. Fooling around with my friends. Stuff like that."

The following year, I had an eerily similar conversation with three other kids, all of whom had lives as creators outside of the classroom in realms such as flash animation, website creation and podcasting. Of course, this made my lessons and discussions about safety in the online world all the more important, yet I can't help but being impressed by the skills they have developed mostly on their own.

Now, I know how Marc Prensky has coined the digital immigrant and digital native monikers to talk about the divide between educators and their students. In a nutshell: teachers live in the Stone Age with the Flintsones while students are ready for the world of the Jetsons. I don't quite buy it and neither should you. It's too pat and clear-cut.But it is clear that some students -- not all, but some -- are moving faster into new terrain than we can guide them, and that gives ammunition to the argument that we need to prepare our students not for the world as it is today, but for the world as it may be tomorrow. These skills include creativitity, technological work-arounds when something doesn't do what you want it to do, and the ability to collaborate with a group of people.

For me, this realization also reinforced the notion that I am a guide in my role as teacher more than authoritative presence, but I also need to be open to learning from them. It turns out my claymation specialist who had dozens of movies on the web had some thoughts about how we could do better claymation but he was wary of stepping into the role of expert until I encouraged him and learned from him.

And I realized, too: this situation is ripe for comedy.

So I began developing a webcomic about the so-called digital divide that exists between teachers and students. The comic -- called Boolean Squared and which runs twice a week at the website of our large daily newspaper (grab the rss feed here ) -- features a boy named Boolean and his friend, Urth, who love to hack into systems and use technology, but they don't quite understand what they are doing. They do it because it is cool. And it gives them some power that they don't otherwise have. Their teacher -- Mr. Teach -- tries to keep them engaged but he is clearly out of his element.

I'm not quite Mr. Teach and Boolean is not quite my student (in fact, I often feel more like I am writing as Boolean), but somewhere in the storyline is my own reflections of the dynamics of a classroom where technology is making its impact -- whether we like it or not. And how we as teachers adapt to the situation will go a long way to preparing our students for the world in which they will live.



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I thought I was doing pretty good with my 12 YouTube videos!! This kid has me whipped!!
Be sure to check out more Boolean Squared comics and go read Kevin's Meandering Mind!

3 comments:

Melissa B. said...

Well, this Wilma Flintstone is doing Her Share to make sure not only kids, but teachers, are aware of all the technology options around them. I don't think the divide is always as wide as we think it is, but with some of my colleagues, it's more like a chasm. BTW, Mr. Teacher, you know you can post this the nite before and have it run with the date you intended it for. Click on Post Options after you type your post!

Kevin Hodgson said...

Now I am wondering if your book wasn't in the back of my head (way back there, with the dust bunnies) as I was coming up with Mr. Teach as a name for the comic strip, John.
If so, thanks, man.
:)
Kevin

Mister Teacher said...

Awesome Melissa! Thanks for the tip!

Kevin, if you slide me 2 cents under the table for every time someone pays to read your comic, we'll call it square. :)

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