Category Archives: Student Empowerment

Final Project, Course 5: Inquiry into ePortfolios using Seesaw

I can’t tell you how excited I am to be nearly done with Coetail.  Don’t get me wrong–it has been an amazing learning journey.  I’ve made many great connections and pushed myself professionally way beyond what I would normally do as a direct result of Coetail. But being new to my role as Ed Tech Coach, at a new campus, trying hard to prove myself, as well a being a mother of young children, I have found it very hard to achieve a work-life balance.  I am looking forward to reclaiming my weekends.  (And not being literally locked in my bedroom, hacking out a weekly blog post while my husband tries desperately to prevent my exuberant 3 year old  twins from banging on the door.)

That being said, I am extremely glad I went through this process.  Things that have happened as a result of Coetail:

-#GlobalEd Projects

-Regular Twitter User

Connections with inspiring educators across the globe

-Better slideshows (Thank you Course 3!)

-Greater awareness of my digital footprint–don’t wipe it out–make it positive!

-Improved writing/blogging skills

-Improved confidence when sharing my ideas in larger groups

These are some of my immediate reflections about Coetail in general, now onto my final course 5 project in particular.

 

It’s hard to come up with more that hasn’t already been said in a variety of posts I’ve written throughout my process (see links here,  here & here) and /or in the video, but nevertheless, I will try.

I had a look back on my course 4 project proposal:

My Project Goals:

  1. Teachers will improve in their ability to document a wide variety of student learning and will use this documentation more meaningfully in the classroom to enhance student learning.  Reluctant ‘posters’ (to Seesaw) will post more often. Frequent posters will post more reflectively.  Reflective posters will include more range in the technologies they use to document the learning.
  2. I would like for the younger students I work with to also use both the digital portfolio (and/or blog feature) more independently and reflectively.  
  3.  I hope to use the blog feature of Seesaw in some of the classes/grades and to promote its use as a collaborative learning and reflection tool for students.  

So, let’s  look at Goal  #1:

Teachers will improve in their ability to document a wide variety of student learning and will use this documentation more meaningfully in the classroom to enhance student learning.”

I will admit, it’s a bit loosey goosey.  How exactly am I measuring’ improvement’ and ‘meaningful’ and ‘student learning’.  Those are the million dollar questions.

In terms of actual numbers, I can  look at Seesaw analytics for ideas as to how often we post as a school.  (I can only see when individual teachers sign in–when I see ‘last signed in 11 weeks ago’ I feel a bit deflated.)

Here are the stats of Seesaw posts from when I started Course 5 to the end.

Looking at weekly items doesn’t really help much. A quick look at the dates tells me teachers post most often in the week or two before school breaks– (and not at all during breaks.)  They posted rather obviously right around Student Led Conferences on March 23.  

I had to go back and check our e portfolio staff meeting dates (Feb 1 and March 1) and could see there seemed to be a building enthusiasm of posting after our first meeting–where teachers fed back and filled in the compass points activity (Need to know, Exciting, Suggestions for moving forward, Worries.)  There was a definite drop in posting activity after the second meeting on March 1 , however, when we looked critically at posts using the following Guide:

Of course I have no idea if the meeting and reduced posting are related.  Back from break, perhaps teachers feel the long winter ahead of them and feel sluggish about posting.  Or perhaps they are in the middle of units, or have just begun units and don’t have much of anything to post.  Or perhaps they are thinking more critically about what they are posting…the eager posters have actually slowed down and are asking themselves, “Where is the learning?

Our parent engagement section is always affirming. Looking at the two charts side by side, most parents take a look at what their children are posting, and it seems they have their notifications turned on.  I can see there is a very  small percentage of parents not connected.  I am not sure what to do about that. We have discussed making the connection to Seesaw/blogs as part of the first Parent Evening–but even then, not all parents come.

Nevertheless, getting parents to engage more effectively (and not necessarily more often) will continue to be a goal for me and the school.  Teaching them more explicitly about effective commenting skills can help push student learning forward.  Of course, with younger students being the ‘readers’ of these comments, as a school we need to be clearer about who is the audience for the comments, or for that matter, for the posts themselves.  Many teachers view the platform it as a way to communicate to parents, rather than as something for students, by students.  When you are working with a wide range of student ages (3-12), this gets tricky.

 

Which brings me to Goal #2:  

“Younger students will use the digital portfolio more independently and reflectively.”  

Students looking through their ‘journals’/portfolios at Outdoor Learning

Some students in KG and up are certainly posting to Seesaw more independently–but not all classes.  I know from experience 4 years olds can handle it–it just needs to be embedded in the class routines, and not something they do only once a month.  They will never remember the steps.  Some classes have encouraged student reflection via the comments, but I do understand this is a big task for teachers to take on–listening to long winded student comments before approving them is daunting.  This is where assistants could be of greater assistance if they were empowered to do so.  (Currently their hands are ‘tied’ and must use Seesaw as ‘students’.)

Ultimately, the commenting feature needs to be utilised more effectively to get the most out of the platform and to enhance student learning, whether it is with the blog feature, or with regular posts.

Teachers making effective comments on student work.

Parents making encouraging comments about student work.

Students reflecting on their own work.

Peers making critical (not criticising) comments on classmate’s work.

And all of this means nothing if the student doesn’t get the opportunity to review these comments in a timely manner–when checking in on their portfolios/having the opportunity to reflect is not a daily/weekly routine.

“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”  -John Dewey

Goal #3

“I hope to use the blog feature of Seesaw in some of the classes/grades and to promote its use as a collaborative learning and reflection tool for students.”  

I managed to convince one class to open the blog option.  Now, more may well have been interested, but my school’s admin were reluctant to confuse matters for teachers/parents/students new to the system by encouraging them to deal with yet another digital platform.  It also opened up a can of ‘equity’ worms…once one class goes this route, others feel pressured to do the same.  I strongly feel one class should not be held back by others unwilling to try something new.  So, I tried with one class and that was not without its challenges.  If I was not in the room facilitating, blog posts/comments did not happen.  The potential of the power of the global connection was not (yet) felt by the teacher (although the kids were quite excited by it!) and so was not made a priority in the busy classroom.  However, these students are getting much more independent when making comments in general, so this blogging effort is certainly worthwhile if only as a means to independent commenting.

 

Effective commenting on portfolio posts using thinking routines and effective questioning will be my on-going goals for the rest of the year and next. I will use the aforementioned Compass Points Activity to detail further feelings about my Course 5 project.

In terms of making the movie itself, I found syncing pictures I had curated along the way with the script I had in mind was a challenge.  I had lots of pictures of some things–SLC’s for example– and little photographic evidence of other things (working directly with students on their posts).  It was easy to get footage of the SLC as I was not directly involved on the day of.  It’s quite challenging to take pictures while setting up microphones, prompting 4 year olds for their reflections, and guiding them to the right buttons.

I enjoyed combining different tech tools (Screencasts, Quik Videos, Google Slideshows, Haiku Decks, Spark Pages, etc.) to produce the final piece.  I tried keeping CARP in mind, but the many, many fonts and layouts I’d used in projects and presentations throughout the year with staff and students made it look a bit of a mishmash when all put together.

I had fun going beyond the usual i-movie jingles by using attribution free music found in Youtube (video manager > create).  I also made sure to double check that I could indeed use the photos from Haiku Deck attribution free. (I can-they are CC.)

Enough wordiness.  Here is my final project:

A little bit of this and a little bit of that

Taking a slight break from my focus on ePortfolios & course 5 project (not really–I was just earlier going over my workshop for Learning 2 in Warsaw next week), I thought I’d throw together a few things I’ve been working on/thinking about over the last few months.

Wondering how to incorporate AR into the classroom:

My 3 year old twins as my test subjects:

Animal Alphabet and Augmented Reality

Clearly loving the special effects

I’m still not sure how effective this is at learning the alphabet.  It’s definitely cute and fun.  It entertained us for an hour or so. I’m still looking for ideas and inspiration in this area…

What do you do when you are asked to introduce Minecraft and you are completely clueless?  Find some experts!

Second Grade Minecraft Experts Introducing Game to First Graders

A teacher wanted to use Minecraft as part of a unit of inquiry into homes–how/where/why they are built the way the are.  Having never played before, I looked up some basic guidelines, watched a few youtube videos and played around.  No way was I going to catch up to the expert level that even some of the kids in the class were likely to be at.  Time to call in the experts: second graders!  They made a simple Google Slide presentation and shared their knowledge with the first graders.

Shared iPads, team work.

Here is a link to a pair’s final Minecraft Homes project .  The students were incredibly proud, it prompted students to share and reflect on their process to Seesaw and to open the blog option in order to share their project and learning globally.

I’ve been playing around with the ‘new’ Google Sites and quite love it.  Mind you, I didn’t really use the classic version– it wasn’t nearly so intuitive.  I struggled with formatting and saving things and mangled my way through it when writing the online Google Certification test earlier this year- (pretty much the only time I’d used it) but the newer version is all one could ask for: simple to use,  all Google apps are easily accessible/importable within the sidebar, and formatting is a relative breeze.

Here’s a sample of my efforts:

Tech in the Early Years Google Site

I have no immediate plans to share this–perhaps with like minded colleagues at next week’s conference? I’m lying in bed and motivated to continue to tinker with it, rather than sleep.  I do feel that the easier a platform is to use, the more likely people will use it.

Platform Blues

I am seeing (and hearing) this mantra firsthand form my colleagues.  Back to portfolios for a minute, lower elementary teachers (EY-Grade 2) use Seesaw, with its super easy interface, large simple buttons, easy uploads, no HTML, no fuss with public vs private…and love it. While Upper Elementary teachers are using Blogger and are having a significantly harder time with it (grade 3-5).

Blogger and (no offence) Word Press don’t motivate me/teachers, and the students in the same sense.  Yes, these are blogging platforms and encourage wordiness and reflection–Seesaw and Google Sites are more meant for images and multi media, I suppose.

After Course 3–I very much lean towards a simple,  visual style— you can get your message across much more quickly and effectively with an image/video and a short caption (rather than a long winded blog post that is not-so-motivating to read, let alone write.)

And on that note…

Final Project, Course 4: An ePortfolio Proposal

I’ve done a lot of inward and outward groaning this past week trying to grapple with my final course 4 project–and ostensibly my course 5 project.  ‘Why did I do such ambitious final projects in the earlier courses?’ I’ve moaned. ‘Now I need to top/go above and beyond what I did earlier…the project needs to be bigger, better…’ etc.

I’ve looked at several course 5 final project videos and descriptions, trying to get a handle on some that fit within my role as Ed Tech Facilitator/Coach for Early Primary and Early Years Teachers.  

I’ve lamented that now being out of the classroom, I have less control and can’t actually implement a redesigned unit plan, without at least first convincing a class teacher–or even more problematic/challenging–but potentially transformative– an entire grade level, as my school tends to strive for consistency across grade levels.

Even if I do manage to convince them of some great re-designed tech infused unit plan, I will be challenged to be available to document all the wonderfulness. Most teachers receive tech my integration ideas well, but they tend to be ‘one-off’ ideas, and aren’t looking to completely revamp an entire unit.  Some ideas, like using a few select apps to tell stories/communicate/reflect on learning (Spark Video or Book Creator) have certainly gained a lot of mileage with teachers, but I don’t (quite) see their implementation as a final project idea.

One area that I and most teachers have focussed on a great deal this year is the effective implementation and use of Digital Portfolios to highlight student learning.  I am thinking that this is the topic/project that I want to use as my final project.  I am just not sure how yet.  

I was initially reluctant to choose this as a topic, since two other Coetailers at my school have just both recently finished their own projects on the topic and I wondered how I could approach my own project from a different angle.  (I haven’t yet see either’s project’s in their entirety–just pieces, and I actually don’t even know their “angles.”)  In any case, their projects are about their own understanding and context–not mine.  

Looking back on the Seesaw Implementation Plan, a Google Doc about my school’s chosen e portfolio platform, Seesaw, created by my wonderful predecessor, I note that after January (January’s goal: possible introduction of the blog feature, or looking into quadblogging) the implementation plan is blank.  Obviously it is left up to me to drive the direction and next steps of the plan.

 

The more I think about it, figuring out how/when to best document and share student learning –and using this process as formative assessment both of/for and as learning has ultimately been and continues to be the bulk of my job.   Documenting my own, others and the students understanding of the process of (digitally) documenting learning and pushing both the understanding and the process of documentation itself to its highest potential will be my project.

Reaching the Highest Potential. Unsplash: No attribution required.

  1. Describe the project: What will your students do?

*I will include teachers as “students” throughout my project–as I work more directly with teachers and other staff than with particular groups of students.

The on-going examination and documentation of my school’s eportfolio story:  how to best share student learning–using our existing platforms–Seesaw for lower primary, blogger for upper primary (and Schoology as an SMS).  

Students and teachers will develop and practice their digital citizenship skills by actively seeking the feedback of and engaging with an authentic audience (students, parents, school community members and ideally, people beyond our walls).

Encourage teachers (ideally one rep per grade level at a minimum) to begin to use additional platforms more effectively by developing an online PLN to learn and share beyond our walls.  

  1. How does this project reflect your learning from COETAIL?

Coetail has taught me the importance of establishing a positive digital footprint by being more thoughtful and skilful in what we chose to share with the world, that developing key digital citizenship skills are paramount to success now and in the future.   I have experienced first hand the benefits of seeking, developing and engaging with an online PLN–which lead to the exposure to new ideas and connections and to see the value in sharing–that sharing is in fact our moral imperative.  

Through the act of blogging, I have become more reflective about my own learning and teaching practice.  The more we understand the significance of and engage with an authentic audience, the more careful and thoughtful we become about the learning we are sharing.  I hope to take students and teachers through a similar reflective journey via their portfolio platforms.

  1. What goals do you hope to achieve with this project?

My Project Goals:

  1. Teachers will improve in their ability to document a wide variety of student learning and will use this documentation more meaningfully in the classroom to enhance student learning.  Reluctant ‘posters’ (to Seesaw) will post more often. Frequent posters will post more reflectively.  Reflective posters will include more range in the technologies they use to document the learning.

2. I hope to use the blog feature of Seesaw in some of the classes/grades and to promote its use as a collaborative learning and reflection tool for students.  

3. I would like for the  younger students I work with to also use both the digital portfolio (and/or blog feature) more independently and reflectively.  

4. I hope to encourage more teachers to join Twitter, (or other online learning communities: e.g., Facebook groups or Google +) and for those that are currently using the platform, to use it more interactively & proactively by sharing examples of student learning.

Making those PLN Connections

  1. Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?

The digital documentation and curation of student learning is now a school wide goal and expectation.  Many teachers are new to the process and are looking for guidance.  Speaking from an early primary perspective, I can say that so far this learning journey for (most) teachers has been embraced enthusiastically.  But, many need new ideas, strategies and assistance in this process.  It continues to be a big focus for many teachers and most young students are just beginning to develop their own understanding of the process and its benefits.  Students will need additional and continued guidance, too, in order to be more reflective about their learning and autonomous when sharing/posting their learning.

  1. What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?

(Not really a unit re-design, but more a thinking about teaching and learning and documenting re-design: this year my school has moved away from Paper portfolios, but some still cling to old ways and ideas, and making this an effective transition and an actual pedagogical shift takes time and constant inspiration.)

One thing I really do want to push/introduce/explore, according to the Seesaw implementation plan, is the blog option and helping classes connect with other classes–whether that be simply within our own school, or globally.   That  being said, many are not (yet) willing to branch beyond our chosen platform of Seesaw (for lower primary) or Blogger (for upper primary) in order to share learning more publicly via local/global collaborations using (public) blogs, or making/sharing learning more publicly (via Twitter, Google +, etc.)  Many feel that this year they have had to learn one too many new digital platforms (and they have–new student management systems, reporting systems, parent conference systems, etc.) and that picking up and maintaining yet another is just too much.  A few teachers have Twitter accounts, but most tend to use them for consumption purposes.  An even smaller number of teachers have started their own blogs to document their professional learning.  

This other aspect of pushing the digital platform to its highest potential–the making Learning Visible–i.e., public, is a big ask, and many teachers don’t (yet) see its value vs risk/extra work.   I hope to encourage more teachers to branch out of their comfort zone (which is typically private, what happens in the classroom, stays in the classroom, except for sharing with parents)  and expand their learning in the form of public sharing of both student and teacher learning and developing (and understanding the value of) an expanded PLN.  I’m not sure if this is actually a second idea, and worthy of another project entirely, but it is also something I hope to pursue.

  1. What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?

I hope to learn how to maximise teacher and student learning using Seesaw by becoming  a Seesaw ambassador. I am hopefully accepted into this program, which will not only get a me a cool badge to put next to my name–but ultimately complement other course 5 goals–which are participating more fully in my own PLN in order to promote its effectiveness with teachers, and of course directly benefit teachers and students I work with by learning more about Seesaw’s possibilities via webinars and twitter chats and determining how to best share/relay/implement this information, as part of being an ambassador. So far, I have dabbled/lurked in webinars and Twitter chats, but I would like to further develop my own confidence when using these learning tools, and promoting their use with my staff.

Since I ultimately work most often with teachers rather than students, these aren’t technically shifts in pedagogy, but I will be looking at different ways of spreading information and improving my oral and visual communication skills and ability to influence teacher practice.

  1. What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?

Teachers (and eventually students) will be more frequent/thoughtful/creative posters of student learning in Seesaw.

Teachers will (begin to use or) improve their use of social media/other digital communication platforms to share best practices and share student learning.
(Again, I am not entirely sure if these 2 areas of exploration are one in the same or if they are indeed two separate goals and ideas worthy of further exploration, but this is my thinking so far…and this being the first day of my well deserved Christmas break, I think I will leave it at that.  I am sure, with time away from the daily grind, this will encourage further reflection and I will continue to develop my project ideas.

Unsplash: No Attribution required. Happy Holidays!

The Future of Education

Will education as we know it change because of technology?

I certainly hope so!  

Where and how will you be teaching in 5, 10, 15 years time?

I know my teaching practice has changed in the last few years.  3 years ago I might not have seen the value in bringing in noisy, blinking, programmable  and modular robots* (*a month ago I didn’t really know what that meant, either)  into an already chaotic classroom, but now I do!

2 years ago, would I have considered maintaining a class blog or joining, let alone joining and extending a High School blogging challenge (An Open Invitation to Collaborate)  or co-creating a global collaboration with my young students and several others groups on the other side of the world? (Little Ideas Swap)? Probably not.  (Thank you Coetail for the kick in the pants). The article A Communiqué from the Horizon Project Retreat  describes the top ten trends from around the world, with the number one trend:

“ The world of work is increasingly global and increasingly collaborative.”

Even 1 year ago–would I have been seen as “The IT expert,”–where people come to me with their tech problems and questions.  All of these changes in my teaching and my career have evolved because of new technologies. And as we are beginning to grasp that  technology advancement is exponential, I can only wonder at what is around the corner.  

One thing that is incredibly slow to change (at least in all school’s I’ve worked in), and a thought I’ve had over and over is how we are still teaching in (mostly) isolated, individual classrooms and almost exclusively  by age cohorts. Prakash Nair, in The Classroom is Obsolete: It’s Time for Something New, addresses these issues:

Almost without exception, the reform efforts under way will preserve the classroom as our children’s primary place of learning deep into the 21st century. This is profoundly disturbing because staying with classroom-based schools could permanently sink our chances of rebuilding our economy and restoring our shrinking middle class to its glory days….

“As the primary place for student learning, the classroom does not withstand the scrutiny of scientific research. Each student “constructs” knowledge based on his or her own past experiences. Because of this, the research demands a personalised education model to maximise individual student achievement. Classrooms, on the other hand, are based on the erroneous assumption that efficient delivery of content is the same as effective learning.”

The article mentions that Environmental scientists have published dozens of studies that show a close correlation between human productivity and space design.  Classroom design is something I have always found to be both intriguing and challenging (in another life I would love to be an interior designer.)  

I know how a space looks and feels goes a long way to making me feel a certain way (my crowded, cluttered office doesn’t make me feel particularly creative) but if it is indeed so closely linked to productivity, shouldn’t there be a lot more care and effort ($) put into our Learning/Working/Living Spaces?

What could these revamped learning spaces look like??  The answers to this depends on your answer to these questions:

How should students learn?

Where should students should learn?

With whom should students learn?

Nair says, “We may conclude that it makes no sense to break down the school day into fixed “periods,” and that state standards can be better met via interdisciplinary and real-world projects….

How often have we as teachers, pulled children away from work that they are completely absorbed in, have found their flow,”simply because it is time to go to music class?

It’s Time to get rid of schedules: Photo: Unsplash

Nair says “we may not necessarily get rid of classrooms, but instead redesign them to operate as “learning studios” alongside common areas reclaimed from hallways that vastly expand available space and allow better teaching and learning. In many parts of the country, limited classroom space can be significantly expanded by utilising adjacent open areas while simultaneously improving daylight, access to fresh air, and connections to nature.”

Authentic Music integration while breaking down classroom walls: All of Kindergarten joining in song at the end of Outdoor Learning.  Photo credit: an unknown sneaky monkey who borrowed my iPad.

When discussing forward thinking considerations towards space, the Reggio Emilia approach cannot be omitted.  Google “Environment as the Third Teacher” and you will find dozens of blogs and pictures showing beautiful arrangements of materials and gorgeous, light filled spaces.

Beyond the Four Walls: The Piazza Common Space, in a Reggio Emilia PreSchool. Photo by Vincenzo Mainardi – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17908980
The Future:  Open, flexible Spaces with access to Outdoors.  Photo By Caterooni – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49340739

ISZL’s Early Years approach is certainly Reggio inspired, in terms of our consideration of materials, time and space. Our Swiss environment and the local culture place a huge importance on playing outdoors, so the children have upwards of 2 hours a day outside in fresh, mountain air, with regular visits to a nearby forest.

Future of Learning: Early Years students in the forest. Photo source: Shared EY1 Google Drive. Collaborative teaching and photo sharing!
More authentic learning spaces in ISZL’s Early Years Playground.  Photo: Holly Fraser

Our youngest students’ walls have expanded as their teachers have carefully considered and chosen to allow all of their students to mix and mingle and choose freely to visit the different classrooms, each set up with a different focus: The Role Play Room, Art Studio or Construction Room (typically with a STEM focussed provocation).

I see this model spreading to other  parts of the school (kindergarten has reclaimed a boot room and transformed it into a shared Art Studio) and can only hope the trend continues.

Another hope for future change is a move away from a focus on grades and other external rewards.  Our current practice, according to Dan Pink’s research, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, has serious implications. His research finds that rewards can improve performance when it is a mechanical skills, but when a task requires “Rudimentary cognitive skill,” performance is impeded when reward is introduced. “When a task is simple, algorithmic, if you do this then you get this…yes works, but when task is more creative…rewards do not work.”

If future success requires our students to be creative and use more than “rudimentary cognitive skills” then we need to seriously reconsider our reporting and grading systems.

There are numerous obstacles, but I see the future of school as bright, but change is necessary and incredibly slow.  

Young Students Making Meaning with Makey Makeys

Young students Making Meaning using Makey Makeys

Playing the “playdough piano”    

Good speakers are key for using makey makeys in a loud class!

Rocking out to Billie Jean:  Getting the beat just right is highly entertaining and motivating.

Students figure out how things work by playing with them & developing theories.    

“It doesn’t work…”

 “Because we don’t have the bracelet!” (the ‘grounding’ wire)

Students jump on an aluminum foil ‘Dance Floor’ and Makey Makey to play Super Mario Bros and build perseverance and confidence.

“I did it without falling!”

Students then play with their older buddies and learn more about electricity and conductivity: by holding the alligator clips, we are conductive and can become the piano, too!

A HUMAN PIANO?!

Exploring and learning about electricity, energy, sound, conductivity and circuits is fun with Makey Makeys! Learning from older buddies is helpful and motivating, and older buddies have the opportunity to explain their thinking.  Both groups are co-constructing their understanding.

Developing an understanding about how things work and how energy travels is accessible for ALL ages. They may not understand exactly how electricity works…but then again, do you?
 
 
 
 

 

My 3 year old twins exploring, testing theories and making sounds
 
 
Does a pencil work as well as my finger?
 
 
Let’s try it out and see.

“Just” Playing?


“They’re
just playing,” is a sentence I hear again and again.  I’ve uttered it myself, despite my own beliefs in its importance.

MindShift’s The Power of Play in Learning,  an article where everything is quotable and tweetable, describes play this way:

“Play is about exploring the possible. In times of rapid change, exploring the possible becomes an essential skill…To be comfortable with uncertainty, one must remain fluid, receptive and creative — in a word: playful.”

Aran Levasseur

Play and games help us prepare for the unexpected. Photo: Pixabay, no attribution required.

I have written much about my school’s approach and philosophy with regards to how young children best learn: through play.

Children in Early Years (3 years old) through Kindergarten (5 years old) and even into first grade are provided with ample opportunity for free play, both inside and outside in well thought out, rich and inviting environments.  (The following images were taken from the EY rooms in my school.  All credits, Holly Fraser)

Materials are selected based not only on their aesthetic appeal, but also their flexibility or open-endedness.  What possibilities do they present?  Teachers refrain from direct instruction/direction as much as possible and instead present “learning proposals,” or open invitations to investigate, explore, and play.

Levasseur says in his article,

One doesn’t read “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” to develop strategy before playing the game. One starts by playing. This is true for all video games. You start by exploring the world with curiosity and begin to develop a hypothesis of what you’re supposed to do. Through trial, error, pattern recognition, logic and chance you continually reformulate your trajectory.

Just like this view of learning to play video games, children at my school and in my class are encouraged to construct their own meaning, in groups or individually, and their working theories are honoured, questioned and documented.

Levasseur continues:

“This model of learning is not only effective for video games but for all digital tools, and I would argue that play — especially in the digital sense — is emerging as a pedagogical keystone for education in the 21st century.”

Students need ample time to play with new technology.  Photo credit: Holly Fraser

I know myself, with any new tool, app, robot, device, etc.that I’m shown/hear about I immediately want/need to go and play with it.  Just like the young children we work with, we need ample time and freedom to explore and play around with a new ‘material’ before we are expected to produce “results” or come to any new conclusions.  

We also need to ensure our students feel welcome and comfortable in their play environment in order to learn optimally. In Play is Hard Work, by Bud Hunt, play is described as finding freedom in the face of constraint.” Students don’t tend to learn in any environment where they feel uncomfortable, unsafe or or unwelcome.  I’ve had similar thoughts myself as a Specialist teacher going into classrooms–some where I am expected and welcome, others were I feel like an afterthought, ignored or met with resistance.  In which rooms do I feel free to try new things, be creative and take risks?  (All necessary for learning.)

Hunt cautions that play isn’t always “fun,” however…. “I think you can play with really serious ideas and concepts.”


I’ve often divided the kinds of play I see in my own classroom from previous years into several categories:  

“Flitting butterfly” playing: aimless, jumping from thing to thing, not settling or focusing on anything, moving on once something is deemed too challenging…(although this “flitting” about is often required before finding something to settle on.)

“Role play/Imaginative” play: (relationship building, problem solving, story telling, negotiating)

Role Play/Small World Imaginative Play. Photo Credit: Holly Fraser

“Object” play (manipulating, creating, building, trouble shooting)

Object Play: Blocks. Photo credit: Holly Fraser

“Physical” play  (gross motor skills; risk taking; balance; endurance)  

Physical Play: Boy enjoying nature. Photo credit: Pixabay, no attribution required

All but the first kind of play (which some kids can unfortunately get stuck on) can and should eventually lead to a deep play, a higher quality of play where they enter into the “zone” or “flow.” This kind of play really does become serious and absorbing-and challenging –but not too challenging–and where real learning takes place.

Getting into the zen like zone of deep learning. Photo, Pixabay, no attribution required.

Nathan Maton’s article,  How Games can Influence Learning describes how “the best games challenge the player at exactly the right level and in the right way to keep the player playing….A well-designed game offers an intricate balance of challenges and rewards that continually pushes players to, and then beyond, the limits of their knowledge and skill.”

New York Times Magazine: Taking Play Seriously looks at play from a scientific point of view, from its evolutionary roots and to the discovery of its role in brain growth and development.

It was fascinating looking at how most mammals engage in play–despite risks (animals–and people– risk injury and even death, the need for play is so strong.)

Research shows play is essential for brain development and growth. Photo Credit: Pixabay, no attribution required

The very extensive research suggests that, “that play contributes to the growth of more supple, more flexible brains.”

‘‘I think of play as training for the unexpected…Behavioural flexibility and variability is adaptive… it’s really important to be able to change your behaviour in a changing environment.’’

-Marc Bekoff, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Colorado

This constant reiteration of play as training our brains to prepare for the unexpected in an ever changing world makes we wonder why it isn’t given more value, more time, more importance in school and at home–in all our lives.  The time to do so is now.

PBL and how things have(n’t) changed

“The first thing you have to do is to give up the idea of curriculum.”  Dr. Seymour Papert

My heart did a little flip when I read this statement in Seymor Papert’s Project Based Learning, an article 15 years old and yet many of the ideas are still so true and relevant, and sadly have largely yet to come to fruition.

Papert clarifies the above statement by wanting to do away with students learning a particular thing on a particular date, often for no particular reason.  Instead he insists learning should happen in context, with real problems and with immediate application.

Over the years my students of all ages have always done some sort of environmental unit or focus on a problem: litter; energy consumption; e-waste. These “problem topics” naturally lead to students wanting to find a solution, or to find out more about the problem.

Last year my Early Years students (4 & 5 year olds)  looked closely at how our devices and electrical items are built by taking them apart. They noticed all the waste and electrical pieces that came with a broken item.  

Now these children couldn’t solve this problem–but we upcycled by making all sorts of structures and robots out of the pieces and later visited a local recycling centre.  We learned more about what materials can be recycled, and we were happy to note batteries could be recycled.

We also learned more about the metals and minerals in our cell phones with the help of our 5th grade buddies who were studying similar problems for their Exhibition Project.  We worked together as a class learning about these problems, articulating them in different ways and documenting our learning together with the App, Adobe Spark.  

PBL in Early Years: Look Closer… at our Devices

I think about how our cross grade learning supports Paperts bold suggestion of doing away with grade/age segregation altogether:

“We’ve given up the age segregation which is just as, I think, wrong and harmful as any other kind of segregation….Kids working in communities of common interest on rich projects that will connect with powerful ideas.

Great minds working together.

Great minds of all ages working together. Photo courtesy of UnSplash.  No Attribution needed. 

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) Introduction to PBL “defines standards-focused PBL as a systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks… students are pulled through the curriculum by a Driving Question or authentic problem that creates a need to know the material. “

My school’s PYP curriculum with its Central Ideas and Lines of Inquiry can potentially complement this definition, but at times I have struggled with feeling like I have successfully implemented PBL in my classroom.  It’s the assessment piece and still having to report on a set of Learner Outcomes that I feel can hinder teachers from feeling free (enough) to explore PBL. Papert goes on to discuss portfolios as an improved form of assessment:

“ So, as I see it, the trend towards portfolio-based, so-called authentic assessment is very good, but it’s very limited unless it goes with throwing out the content of what we’re testing.”

My school’s portfolios are a move in the right direction.  First of all, we have portfolios as a form of assessment (in addition to traditional report cards, and formal and standardised tests, etc.) with basic agreements about what goes in them to maintain some consistency.  We are currently in the process of moving away from paper based portfolios to digital portfolios.  Teachers are spread out on the continuum of acceptance & readiness, oddly enough, it is our Early Childhood Educators leading the way.  

On the path to success.  Photo courtesy of Picography, by Dave Meier. http://picography.co/

On the path to success. Photo courtesy of Picography, by Dave Meier. http://picography.co/

This is perhaps not so odd, when one considers we had been looking for a platform that would support our focus on Documentation of Learning that was individualised, & often child directed, and with a focus on concepts and skills over specific “Learner Outcomes.” The assessments are on-going, formative and include elements of a project based or problem solving approach. Early Years teachers quickly embraced the platform Seesaw, which allowed them to document all of the above.

Many teachers in the primary school, whose teaching may be described as more traditional (all students working on same task) are working out how to best use the platform.  Many are taking photographs of pencil and paper assessments and uploading them to our digital portfolio system where there are right/wrong answers.  Some are beginning to show pictures of kids actually doing, solving, creating, inventing, making meaning, etc. But many are reluctant to get too creative with posts as they want to know the portfolio system inside and out before introducing elements to the the kids.  They are not (yet) open to the idea that they could be learning right alongside the kids and figuring it out as they go.

Which brings me to Papert’s idea of the importance of teachers learning alongside the students:

“What we need is kinds of activity in the classroom where the teacher is learning at the same time as the kids and with the kids. Unless you do that, you’ll never get out of the bind of what the teachers can do is limited by what they were taught to do when they went to school…. We don’t allow the kids to have the experience of learning with the teacher because that’s incompatible with the concept of the curriculum where what is being taught is what’s already known.”

We must be open to new ways of teaching and learning.  Photo courtesy of Picography, by Tasja. http://picography.co/

We must be open to new ways of teaching and learning. Photo courtesy of Picography, by Tasja. http://picography.co/

How true the above statement is: How often have I avoided introducing a topic or tool to students when I wasn’t fully comfortable with it yet myself.  This is only natural, but with the pace at which things change and technology develops, this practice and mindset needs to shift.  Teachers need to be seen as co-learners and co-constructors of knowledge, not simply bearers, because we can’t possibly know it all, and the curriculum can’t possibly keep pace with today’s changing world and reflect the interests and abilities of its students.

I can only hope that 15 years from now someone will read this post, find it true and relevant, and note how much things have changed.

Digital Stories Revisited

In 7 essential skills that aren’t taught in school, there is an Andy Warholesque 15 minutes of fame kind of quote:

“Your goal is not immortality,

but a momentary piercing

of the ever-shifting zeitgeist.”

I would argue that one of these of these essential skills is being able to tell a story and spread your message not only digitally, but in a way as to engage and influence people.  

Pixabay attribution free image +google drawings

Pixabay attribution free image +google drawings

Last year, I began to explore this idea with my small group of Early Years students with a vengeance.

With only 7 children, and a relatively open curriculum, I had the luxury of working individually with each of them (or in small groups) on different digital storytelling projects throughout the year.  Using Book Creator, we began by creating class ebooks based on books read in class.

*Note: I am a huge Book Creator fan.  I have been introducing it to all the first grade students (and their teachers) this past week using this short presentation. Feel free to make a copy/download.

One of these ebooks was our own version of Todd Parr’s, “It’s Okay to be Different.”  Students thought long and hard about what made them different from other students in the class.  One said, “It’s okay to speak Spanish.” Another declared, “It’s okay to call your dad  Mausi.”

IT”S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT:

Once downloaded as an epub to our ibooks library, and shared to our class blog, the students could view the digital book at any time, just as they might a real book.  They could then view and revisit the ebooks they had created on the ipads, on the desktop and projected onto the wall.

When revisiting their digital stories, I noticed that different digital viewing formats offered different possibilities and extensions of the learning experience. 

Projecting an ebook onto the wall initiated a re-arrangement of chairs for ideal viewing (theatre style.) This sudden re-arrangement of the room provided a provocation for different feelings and connections. The children suddenly felt the seating reflected a train journey, leading to a mini inquiry into riding trains.

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The viewing experience of projecting eBooks onto the wall prompted a completely new inquiry: riding trains!

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Students became focussed on creating their own tickets–those with little interest in print now had an authentic reason to practice their SBB’s. (Swiss Rail System.)

We projected clips of moving trains onto the wall and the children rehearsed packing bags , catching trains, and punching tickets…eventually making their own tickets, using the local Swiss SBB logo as our guide.

Of course this spin off was unrelated to our ebook…but the process of revisiting our work and the way in which we viewed the book prompted an entirely new and unexpected learning inquiry.

We also re-visited our Books as epubs in the iBooks library. (Books created on different iPads were eventually Airdropped onto all other iPads so the students could access all books on any iPad, acting as a traveling library.) The portability of the iPads allowed us to bring them to our Buddy classes.  We shared the stories with a wide range of ages—all of them impressed by our school’s littlest learners.  It also prompted discussion: “Wow, how did you do that?” and provided an opportunity for the students to develop their oral skills.  Other class teachers—viewing over the students’ shoulders, learned something, too and were motivated to create their own ebooks.

We also uploaded all creations to our class blog so they could be shared at home with family members, or at school assemblies.  All comments made by others were revisited in class, helping to build the confidence and perseverance to make more ebooks.

Finally, viewing the ebooks on the desktop helped build other skills—the understanding that different devices provide different views of the same thing, but perhaps more importantly– the patience and fine motor skills required for small hands to maneuver and click with an aging mouse!

With each new ebook we tried to blend a different app or or learn a new process.  

With our next ebook, we focussed on another element of our “All about me Unit”–our favourite things. The children explored the instant alpha tool in a separate photo editing app, Juxtaposer.  We developed our fine motor skills and attention to detail further as students carefully traced around a photo of their bodies to erase the background, before adding it to their favourite page in the book about favourite things. 

ALL ABOUT ME:

Next, we blended video, pictures and sound and tried out the (then new) comic book feature in Book Creator when we made a Quiet and Loud book.  The students needed to think of two juxtaposing ideas for the book–(doors are quiet, but slamming doors are loud…very challenging for 4 year olds–they needed help with this. )  Now familiar with the book making process, the students slowly began taking more ownership of the design elements of making a book—selecting the colours of their page, their font and basic layout:

QUIET AND LOUD:

It was around Thanksgiving when my fabulous Ed Tech Coach, Jocelyn Sutherland brought us an iPad stand.  We immediately jumped into playing around with Stop Motion.  She initially tried a simple claymation technique using playdough…

…which we eventually modified to create the word ‘Happy’ as the “intro” to our class Thanksgiving ebook.  The students developed many literacy and digital skills while making the “title page” alone–

  • letter recognition/formation–we created the letters we used to make the stop motion video in Letter School and learned to take a screen shot
  • importing screen shots into Pic Collage for easy printing
  • more letter formation using playdough
  • intro to spelling–that the letters that make up Thanksgiving must go in certain order

Early Years students learning Stop Motion movie making techniques from 5th Grade Buddies. Photo, my own

Early Years students learning Stop Motion movie making techniques from 5th Grade Buddies. Photo, my own

Interested students learned the process of making stop motion videos using Stop Motion Studio App with the help of our fifth grade buddies.  I documented the entire process in our class blog here.

This began our lengthy exploration into stop motion as a digital story telling tool and prompted the evolution of moving from ebooks to pure movie making magic.  I plan to continue to document and reflect on the learning process in future posts.

Tuned In, but Tapped Out

Definitely having trouble with this last post.  Not because I haven’t been reflecting and giving a ton of thought, time and electronic back and forth with my Course 2 Final Project Collaborators…but because of it.  I’m all tapped out.

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Tapped out. Image from Pixabay (Attribution Free)

This course I have not spent as much time keeping up with the weekly readings and ensuring I make lots of comments on fellow Coetailers blogs as I promised I would (Networking is High Maintenance, and you get out what you put in…So, I am going to  step up my game in the karmic commenting department myself.” ).  One of the main reasons for this lack of commenting is simply because all the collaborating that I also promised I would do is so time consuming!

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First unsuccessful attempt

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Second attempt (mixed results…)

There's a bite!

There’s a bite!

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Collaboration? Helping a colleague on another campus and learning something in the process? Check!

 

Some attempts this year at collaboration have panned out well: fellow Coetailers are highly motivated to collaborate as part of this final project, but they also accept and embrace the collaborative mindset.  (I notice my fellow collaborator Amber Dryer already uses Skype in her classroom as a tool to connect to and learn from the outside world. Both Amber and another collaborator, Linda Grunwald regularly tweet about current events coming out of their classrooms.) Coming up with a truly successful collaborative project, where all parties see the true purpose, are equal contributors, and feel the collaboration “supports and complements” what is happening in each classroom, is more challenging.  

 

Amber has involved her tech coach, Andrew Chiu in our process, who kindly offered to set up our shared blog, Little Idea Swap.  Lengthy email discussions about purpose and logistics of students groupings began in earnest.  Andrew, keen to involve others, invited more schools to our idea swap.  

 

So far, the idea swap has consisted of Amber’s and my students making brief video introductions and sharing what we like to play at recess.  When I shared Amber’s anecdote that children in Hong Kong play on the rooftops (due to limited space in the city for playgrounds), my 4 & 5 year old students couldn’t move past the (to them) dangerousness of this situation.  See their funny video response here.

"Playing on the roof is dangerous, you know." -Gabi, 4 years old

“Playing on the roof is dangerous, you know.”
-Gabi, 4 years old (Attribution free) Image from Pixabay

As our project is in its infancy and we have yet to hear from some of the schools, it is difficult to judge its success or effectiveness. I myself am a bit hesitant at so many schools being involved, and even keeping track of the two that we will ultimately communicate with can be daunting…especially when I want to ensure it is much of a relevant learning opportunity for them as it has been for me!

 

Certain things that one takes for granted when working with older students, one has to stop, consider and do a lot front loading with younger ones.  Telling my students we have friends in China really means nothing to them–hanging a map and putting pins where our collaborators live (de)evolves into a huge side tangent inquiry into where we all live/are from (because of course each of my 7 students come from somewhere different, and they haven’t seen where they come from in relation to each other represented on a map before.)  

Learning about maps...Pixabay (Attribution) Free Library

Learning about maps…Pixabay (Attribution) Free Library

This of course gets into a discussion about the symbolic representation of land, space and distance on the map in the first place.  As adults we are used to this abstract representation of political boundaries, but to a 4 year old it really doesn’t do justice to just how far away our buddies in China actually are, or what a miracle it is in the first place that we are communicating with them so easily.  

 

Other attempts at collaboration with colleagues from my school (different campus) have not fared so well.  The few posts on our Collaborative Padlet that children from our other campus posted didn’t happen until I physically went there (on a job shadowing morning with our current tech coach) and worked directly with the children…Disheartening, but I have recently had interest from another teacher in China (see tweet above) who will join us, and we will begin our “Look Closer” photography collaboration next week.  

 

This kindness from strangers reminded me of the many words of advice I received from Learning2 Colleagues for my role next year:

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Thanks Learning2 community!

These challenges don’t dissuade me at all, but make me realise that ensuring a global/local collaboration is meaningful and purposeful (in the way we intend) for everyone is no easy feat. So far my students and I have learned tons–just not (yet) what I had assumed we would.  But, I have been looking at “failure” in a new way…as an opportunity to find growth…to identify ways to see failure as a learning opportunity…and to create and tell myself new stories about my own learning.  

Here is the final project for Course 2:

Small Pieces Loosely Connected

At the start of this school year, The Syrian refugee crisis in Europe was reaching its pinnacle in terms of media attention and pleas for support.  A parent was involved with “Backpacks for Syria” (similar ideas, with different names have spread all over Canada and the US) and wanted us to ask the children to bring in backpacks/items to donate to refugee children.  Rather than simply write a note to parents with this request, I knew it would be much more powerful when the requests were coming from students’ mouths themselves:

Screen shot from bunkr Slideshow I made to encourage students to donate items to backpacks for Syria

Screen shot from bunkr slideshow I made to encourage students to donate items for Syria

  After a successful haul as a result of our plea, I’ll be honest and say the day to day demands of the classroom, (not to mention Coetail obligations!)  pushed charitable thoughts from my head. Recently, while attending the Learning2 conference in Milan, the idea of students “making a difference” was re-ignited by Warren Apel’s keynote:

 

 

Warren’s talk and subsequent blog post ( Keep it Real: Authentic student publishing can raise money to change the world)  describe the idea much more eloquently than I will here, but I will summarise: It is about moving from the traditional bake sale method of raising money for a cause to harnessing  the power of student’s creativity by publishing and selling their work to an authentic audience.

“Teachers know that students do their best work when they have a real audience. That’s why we have them blog.

“But what if we could publish and sell student work, generate income, and use that money to help people? What if we could use the same real platforms that professionals use to publish and sell their own works?” -Warren asks us to consider a new model:

By publishing and selling student work through a variety of online companies, (Amazon, Google Play, Etsy) students create for a real purpose and audience, and possibly, they can more effectively raise money, and with organisations like Kiva: Loans That Change Lives, they can choose to send their money directly to those in need, and to projects that directly support curriculum, or school initiatives, like environmentalism.

“Instead of collecting dust, we could be collecting momentum.”

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Warren suggests that rather than allow children’s art projects to gather dust in an attic, their enthusiasm and creativity gains momentum, in that they see true purpose and value in their work and contributions. Nothing is more powerful than that.

 

 

Second Attempt at creately.com Venn Diagram.

Second Attempt at creately.com Venn Diagram.  Oddly, the folks at learning2 and Coetail think alike…

 

I will focus on the overlapping word, Empower, highlighted in this week’s TedX video resource: “Extracurricular Empowerment” about student empowerment through extra curricular (i.e., self directed) learning projects, like the lead story about a high schooler’s critical, funny and engaging blog about her school’s lunch program.  Her blog ultimately garnered enough attention (some good, some bad…although as the saying goes, “any press is good press”) to force the school to make real changes and improvements to the food.  How empowering for her and ultimately beneficial for those students!  

"Get out of their way and let them be amazing." From Extracurricular Empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines

“Get out of their way and let them be amazing.” From Extracurricular Empowerment: Scott McLeod at TEDxDesMoines

 Engagement, Empowerment and Evolution through Collaboration:

Tom Whitby says in his article, The Connected Educator begins with Collaboration:  “The idea of collaboration requires a mindset of believing there is room to learn and grow. It is also a belief that we are smarter collectively than individually.”

I would argue these same qualities that make an educator connected and relevant, are the same qualities that empower both the teacher and his/her students.  

He  and Steven Anderson wrote the book, The Relevant Educator: How Connectedness Empowers Learning, and list several qualities of the  Connected Educator.  The 3 that stick out for me:

  • Is a relevant educator, willing to explore, question, elaborate, and advance ideas through connections with other educators.

    The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

    The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

So far my email dialogue with fellow Coetailer Amber Dryer and her Tech Coach Andrew Chiu about  course 2’s final project  (A collaborative blog/space to start a discussion about environmentalism where we live) has been about just that: exploring, questioning and advancing ideas.  So far the connections my students have made beyond our classroom have been very empowering for my students.  What we ultimately come up with together, will be greater than what any of us could have come up with alone.

 

  • Views failure as part of the process of learning  

8489654285I love A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s  (FAiL: First attempt in Learning”), and “NO” “Next Opportunity.” Despite feeling frustrated at the lack of enthusiasm over my proposed Photography Collaboration with colleagues from my other campus, I am trying hard not to see it as failure, or their lack of response as a “no,” just that I need to re-examine my approach, and to keep looking for that meaningful “Next Opportunity” to connect and collaborate.  

  • May put creation over content, and relevance over doctrine.

Our Early Years programme, (I have to say nicely complements my general philosophy and approach to teaching) has 4 loose, year long inquiry units and a play based/student interest driven approach.  It really allows much more emphasis and value on the process of (relevant and timely) learning, creating and formative assessment, rather than on product, prescribed content/curriculum and summative assessment.

Small Pieces Loosely Connected

Small Pieces Loosely Connected

And finally, there were so many great descriptions about the web as a collaborative and empowering place from the lovely little gem of a website, Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A unified theory of the web by David Weinberger.  (The website actually serves to advertise the book by the same title, and is itself is a bit outdated, but the ideas presented are so, so relevant.)

“The Web gets its value not from the smoothness of its overall operation but from its abundance of small nuggets that point to more small nuggets.And, most important, the Web is binding not just pages but us human beings in new ways. We are the true “small pieces” of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.”

The kids version of Small Pieces is great, too, and summarises the kind of web we all should aspire to be a part of: 

“So, here we have two worlds. In the real world, people are kept apart by distance. Because of the

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The Web helps us to become better people, according to Small Pieces Loosely Joined

vastness of the earth, different cultures have developed. People live in separate countries, divided by boundaries and sometimes by walls with soldiers and guns. On the Web, people come together – they connect – because they care about the same things.

 

The real world is about distances keeping people apart. The Web is about shared interests bringing people together.

Now, if connecting and caring are what make us into human people, then the Web – built out of hyperlinks and energized by people’s interests and passions – is a place where we can be better at being people.

And that is what the Web is for.”

Empowering?  I think so.  Now, off to sell Art and save the world, one small piece at a time.