Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Blogs like a neutron bomb!

Darren Kuropatwa describes the impact of using of blogs in his high school math classes as being “like a neutron bomb” in terms of their positive impact on teaching and learning in an outstanding skypecast posted by Dean Shareski recently.

If you are not currently checking in with Dean (as well as Darren) on their regular posts about engaged teaching and learning, you should be. These Canadiens are really on top of developments in our web 2.0 powered educational environment, as well as the most effective pedagogies which can and should be linked to these technologies. Dean writes the following about the edublogosphere, his own learning, and the ongoing conversations here:

I write out of a strong belief that school and learning must be different. My personal growth as a learner has been exponential as a result of my exploration of technology and connectivity to some of the best and brightest in education today. I’m discovering that great minds and ideas exist locally and also through personal connections.

I really relate to those statements. No longer are we limited by geography in who we choose and ask to mentor us in our professional journeys to become better teachers. The edublogosphere can be infinitely better than many contrived “one shot” days of required professional development at school– and there is an entire world of dedicated professionals like Dean and Darren regularly sharing their successes as well as failures in the classroom. These conversations are extremely valuable to not only listen to, but also participate in.

I also resonate with what Darren talked about in the skypecast in reference to the things we are passionate about: We stick with these things so we progress from the “I suck” level to the “I rule” level. (He was referencing Kathy Sierra’s post on “How To Be An Expert.”) Darren movingly describes the positive pressure his high school students are putting on themselves to win induction into their classroom “Scribe Post Hall of Fame” (created with pbwiki.) All of us, as human beings, want and need to be recognized for the work we do. Darren’s use of blogs to encourage students to challenge themselves to exceed learning expectations is really outstanding and worth taking note of. This sort of “pursuit of excellence” spurred on not just by the carrots or sticks offered by the teacher– but by the intrinsic and contagious motivation exhibited by the students as well, is what we should want in our all classrooms in schools.

Darren’s answer for why this phenomenon is happening is simple: “It’s the audience.” It is not just about the in-class recognition, it is mainly about the fact that a worldwide audience is regularly visiting their blog, “what they are writing is being read by the world,” that students are exhibiting such high levels of motivation, performance and understanding of math concepts. I will add my own observation that it is precisely because Darren is choosing to employ effective PEDAGOGY– powerfully and constructively leveraging the uses of disruptive technologies in his classroom, which includes the element of an authentic/global audience– that he is achieving these results so visibly for the rest of us to see and even take part in.

The student “scribe” each day in Darren’s class does not just post notes online– it is “annotation” — a step beyond just notes, they also discuss how the ideas discussed in class apply to real life. This is EXACTLY what I wish every math and statistics teacher had asked me to do– and what basically ALL of them failed to do. My background prep in math and stats (which is fairly extensive compared to most of the teachers I’ve worked with, although I am not an engineer) was very traditional: Here is the lesson, here is the guided practice, now go and do the independent practice. Rarely (if ever) was I challenged to synthesize ideas, apply knowledge and skills in novel contexts, design something with the skills we had learned, etc. Of course blogs were not available when I was in K-12 school, but technology is not required to ask students to authentically engage with, reflect on and work with the ideas of their curriculum. That is an issue of pedagogy, not technology. Darren is doing great things pedagogically with his students, and technology plays right into these strategies by providing a forum and a motivating, authentic audience.

I also love Dean’s observation that students need to understand that “what they do matters” to be really engaged. Right on! Too often in schools, at all levels, I think teachers are asking students questions that basically seem irrelevant and worthless. Engagement is the key to learning. And this is a primary responsibility of the teacher, not something that teachers can or should assume will happen naturally if they just “show up and throw up,” as so many teachers committed to the traditional, content transmission-based model of education persist in doing each day.

To learn more about these ideas and strategies, Darren recommends that teachers read Terry Freedman’s new book “Coming of Age” over the summer to get a handle on what is going on in the edublogosphere and with web 2.0. I’m adding it to my future reading list as a result!

Thanks very much to both Dean and Darren for sharing this excellent conversation with us!

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5 responses to “Blogs like a neutron bomb!”

  1. Darren Kuropatwa Avatar

    >All of us, as human beings, want and need to be recognized for the work we do.

  2. […] commentary There are many teachers and people like me on the fringes talking about how young people are integrating Live Web (2.0) tools into their learning. Whether it’s students ‘annotating‘ their work or simply, as Will’s post talks about discovering people around the world who are using the  same tools to link and share stories, the tools are making history, economics, literacy and even maths come alive. […]

  3. Alan Cooper Avatar

    I have seen some of Darren’s work and find it quite wonderful how he manages to engage and involve his students in a subject that is not usually considered easy to discuss.
    But this is the first time I have ever seen a neutron bomb cited as symbolic of a “positive” impact! (Sometimes things do need to be “shaken up” but perhaps not with a bomb, and the inappropriateness if the simile is compounded by the fact that the neutron bomb in particular is valued largely for the fact that it does relatively little shaking compared to its killing)

  4. Wesley Fryer Avatar

    Hmmm, you raise a good metaphorical point here, Alan. We need a metaphor that includes a shake-up, but a more positive outcome at the end… I don’t think “earthquake” works either. Not sure what would be better. When I hear “neutron bomb” I think “big change.” The death part of the metaphor is unintended, I think!

  5. Conn McQuinn Avatar
    Conn McQuinn

    Alan is right – what Darren describes is the opposite of what a neutron bomb does! The device kills people but leaves structures intact. Successul edublogging seems to shatter the existing, limiting structures of education and leave the people free to learn and grow.

    So, what is the anti-metaphor of “neutron bomb”?