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The Excitement of Learning

As a teacher, you know when your students are excited about learning. It is what you work for. Is is part of the passion that makes you a true educator.

I had the honor of witnessing such display of excitement and learning a couple of weeks ago, as I spent a day of learning with educators participating in the Edweek2011 in St. Jospeh, Missouri. Not only did I want to talk to teachers and administrators about the opportunities of using Skype in the classroom, I wanted to show them first hand. I wanted them to experience the potential it could bring into their own schools by connecting, communicating and collaborating with others around the world. But the connection could not only be about the connection via Skype itself. How can we make a connection to curriculum content and 21st century skills and literacies? How can we turn an ordinary connection via Skype into a LEARNING CALL?

Using the concept of  “The Digital Learning Farm: Students as Authentic Contributors”by Alan November, I had arranged a Skype call with Mrs. Yollis and her third grade students. Neither party knew the geographic location of each other. It was each groups’ goal to find their respective location by asking closed questions that could be answered with a “Yes” or a “No”. Mrs. Yollis had prepared her 3rd graders by distributing specific job responsibilities during a Skype call  in order to work together to figure out the location of their connection partner.

I hope you will be able to see, hear and feel the excitement of learning these students displayed by watching the edited video recording (for time purposes) of the call.

Make no mistake, simply by assigning these job responsibilities to (groups of or individual) students will not automatically create a learning call, nor will it welcome such an open display of learning excitement into your classroom. The credit goes to Mrs. Yollis for having prepared here students with her own enthusiasm and thirst for learning the entire school year up until this point.

The learning call was well framed by preparing students ahead of time. All of Mrs. Yollis’ students had had previous experiences with authentic contributions to their classroom learning community. Just take a closer look at Mrs. Yollis’ fabulous classroom blog documenting and describing their shared learning.

During the Skype call, Mrs Yollis continued to guide and focus students on the task at hand. It was obvious to us “on the other side of the screen”, that students knew their job responsibilities and worked well together.

Once the call was over, the learning continued by reflecting on the experience on their classroom blog. Mrs. Yollis posted  questions for her students to comment on. The class also received comments from teachers who had participated from Missouri as well as blog readers as far away as Australia.

image licensed under Creative Commons by Sean Nash

Image licensed under Creative Commons by Sean Nash

The Mystery Skype Call from langwitches on Vimeo.

Read more about Mystery Skype calls:

Students Becoming Curators of Information?

Images like the following ones, visualize for me the urgency for all of us to become information literate to wade through the incredible, ever increasing, amount of information being created and shared with the world.

information hydrant

licesed under CC by will-lion

information overload

Lincensed under CC by verbeeldingskr8

We are with no doubt in the age of information overload and IN DIRE NEED of knowing how to filter in order to get to the information we need. Think about Clay Shirky’s quote below.

Clay Shirky

Information Overload

In comes the idea of becoming a Curator of Information.

“Curating” is defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as:

Select, organize, and look after the items in (a collection or exhibition).

Digital Curation, Curated Learning & Collective Curation?

I have started hearing and reading about the terms “Digital Curation”, “Curated Learning” and “Collective Curation” as well. Naturally it intrigued me. What does that mean? How can I bring it into the classroom? How can “curated learning” be connected to the idea of teachers and students creating their own textbooks?

Digital Curation is defined in Wikipedia as:

the selection, preservation, maintenance, collection and archiving of digital assets. Digital curation is generally referred to the process of establishing and developing long term repositories of digital assets for current and future reference by researchers, scientists, historians, and scholars.

In a fabulous article, Jeff Cobb, on his blog Mission to Learn asks Who Are Your Curators? (Thank you to Mike Amante for pointing me to the description of the ISTE panel discussion he will be participating in at the end of the month and all the included resources)

The idea behind curators and content curation is that there is such a flood of new content pouring through the Internet pipes these days that being aware of all of it and sorting it out in meaningful ways is simply not possible. Curators are people or organizations that do the hard work of sifting through the content within a particular topic area or “meme” and pulling out the things that seem to make most sense. This effort involves significantly more than finding and regurgitating links, though.

Cobb continues by pointing out two opportunities for the life long learner. The first one is to FIND great curators and the second one is to BE a great curator.

Curated Learning

How can this concept of “curation” of information be brought into the “classroom” (however you define the classrooms of the present/future and how it should/could look like)? If we can use Cobb’s suggestion and teach/coach our students to Number 1) find and connect to great curators and Number 2) be great curators for their own network, then we have moved closer to understanding Shirky’s warning about information overload and filter failure. “Quality” curation takes higher level thinking skills. It requires responsibility towards your network who rely on you to filter information on a specific topic. Curation requires the ability to organize, categorize, tag and know how to make the content available to others and to be able to format and disseminate it via various platforms.

How can we take advantage of  Collective Curation?

Here is a short video clip explaining the concept of Collective Curation

I think the following questions are worthwhile exploring for the learner in ourselves, but also for our students (elementary school and up). Facilitating the role of being a curator fits in perfectly with the role of “researcher”, Alan November suggests in his Digital Learning Farm model.

  • What tools do I use to curate?
  • How can I use my network to filter and find quality information?
  • How can/do I contribute and become the filter for others?

Tools that Support and Facilitate Curation of Information:

  • RSS Readers
    • Google Reader
  • We based Curation Tools
    • ScoopIt
      Be The Curator of Your Favorite Topic!
      Create your topic-centric media by collecting gems among relevant streams
      Publish it to your favorite social media or to your blog
    • CuratedBy
      A growing collection of topics & interest edited, organized and curated by everyone. Follow the topics you are interested in or create and share your own topics with everyone else.
    • PaperLi
      Create your newspaper. Today. Turn Twitter and Facebook into online newspapers in just a few clicks.Treat your readers to fresh news daily.
    • Bundlr
      Bundlr is a new and free tool for online curation: clipping, aggregation and sharing web content easily.With Bundlr you can create bundles of any kind of content: articles, photos, videos, tweets and links. Cover real-time breaking news from your sources. Wrap up an event with a collection of online feedback. Build a page where you pick the most relevant content on your area of expertise.
    • PearlTrees
      Pearltrees is the social curation community. It’s the place where you can organize, discover and share the stuff you like on the web.
    • LiveBinders
      Your 3-ring binder for the Web. Collect your resources. Organize them neatly and easily. Present them
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Blogs
    • categories
    • tags

Further Resources:



Action! The Digital Learning Farm

This is the follow up post of the survey results I shared in “Do Student Jobs in the Classroom Affect Learning?

The concept of the Digital Learning Farm is based on Alan November’s work.

Years ago, when farms dominated our landscape, children were responsible for performing meaningful jobs that were vital to each family’s success. Depending on their age, children would care for animals, repair farm equipment, prepare food to sell at local markets and more. Children were essential to the very survival of the family. At the same time, these jobs taught children the value of hard work, leading them to become more productive citizens within their communities as adults. [...]

If our children are to grow up to make important contributions to our society,it is essential that we provide them with powerful tools and experiences across the curriculum. This will require a new culture of teaching and learning that engages students as contributors.

The Digital Learning Farm

I have taken Alan’s call to engage students as contributors to heart. Coupled with the desire to put learning, not passing quizzes and exams, at the heart of a classroom learning community, I keep 21st century skills, literacies and Digital Learning Farm’s roles to empower our learners in mind at all times.

Mr. Curran outlines on his Classroom Blog of Room 302, the different teams and responsibilities his students participate in each week. I love the thought that went into setting his teams up and by the look of his blog the consistency he integrated the roles into his classroom (instead of being a one-time project).

  • Official Scribes–Each week the official scribes take notes on the things we are reading and learning. They post these notes to an internet page that everyone can view if they want to review what we’ve been doing.
  • Global Collaboration Team–This team is in charge of making contact with classrooms around the globe. They will be emailing other teachers and classes, trying to make as many contacts world-wide as possible. They will also be managing any projects that we’re working on with other classes. Finally, they’ll be keeping track on several maps so that we have a record of where the schools and people we’ve contacted live. Oh, and they’ll have a blog they have to post to, too!
  • Society Contribution Team–This team will select a fundraising project to work on. To do this, they will use the website www.kiva.org. Kiva is a site set up for donors to locate projects around the globe to help to fund. (e.g. building a school in a poor town in Africa, etc.) Once they choose a project to help, they’ll manage the fundraising. Oh, and they’ll blog about it, too.
  • Research Team--We have a class of curious thinkers. And they have lots and lots of questions. Every week, the Research Team will collect our questions and post them to our class “Wonderwall.” Then they will help find the answers to those questions. They’ll also be given certain research tasks along the way to complete so that they build their research skills.
  • Learning Documentary Producers–Each week this team will produce a “learning documentary” of all the things we’ve learned about and done during those school days. They’ll produce a podcast and post it to the web so that everyone can see the exciting things we work on from week-to-week.

The following are references to websites and blog posts that show The Digital Learning Farm concept with its roles to empower student learners in action.

Ethical Treatment of Animals (7th Grade)- Contributors to Society, Researchers, Collaboration Coordinators, Curriculum Reviewers

7th graders wanted to learn and understand how humans in our society treat animals today. To gather the information, they interviewed two veterinarians and representatives of different associations and local businesses concerning their research. They hope that the people that take the time to read their website will benefit from the information and then pass it along to another person. Their  hope is that their research will help inspire people to treat animals with respect and understanding.

Navigating our Classsroom Blog Tutorial (2nd Grade)- Tutorial Designers

After the classroom teachers started to use a classroom blog as the primary means of communication between school and home, the importance of teaching parents how to navigate the new blog environment. Second grade students took it upon themselves to create a video tutorial for their parents explaining to them the basic blog vocabulary and navigataion of their classroom blog.

Quality Commenting (3rd Grade)- Tutorial Designers, Collaboration Coordinators, Contributors to Society

The first Seminole Swamp Morning Show. Students interviewed several bloggers of our school community to learn about quality commenting. They formulated questions, storyboarded, wrote scripts and recorded a news show to share with the world.

Jacksonville: For Kids by Kids (3rd Grade)- Collaboration Coordinators, Contributors to Society, Curriculum Reviewers

As part of their unit about “Our Community”, students wrote a script and recorded a video to suggest places to visit and things to do in Jacksonville, Florida. Recommendations for kids by kids.

Jacksonville Reads (3rd Grade)- Collaboration Coordinators, Contributors to Society

In the third installment of the Seminole Swamp Morning Show, students interviewed members of our city’s community regarding their reading habits and their favorite childhood books. From the mayor of Jacksonville, a police officer, a chef, a 100-year old man to the city’s baseball team’s mascot.

Math Tutorial Designers (4th Grade)- Tutorial Designers, Contributors to Society, Curriculum Reviewers

We asked our students to create a tutorial explaining multiplication to peers, future fourth graders of our school, etc. We started out with a lesson on Becoming good Tutorial Designers to show them examples of tutorial design techniques as well as to give them an understanding of the importance of clear and precise step by step directions.

Florida Explorers (4th Grade)- Researchers, Official Scribe

4th graders created a storybook, using Mixbook , where students contributed different parts from a common storyline. Students collaboratively worked on ideas for a possible storyline and how each explorer would be represented and how groups would be able to research and contribute their portion of a story.

Christopher Columbus Creates 21st Century Explorers (5th Grade) Researchers, Contributors to Society, Curriculum Reviewers, Collaboration Coordinators, Official Scribe

Follow along an “upgrade” process from textbook to globally connected learning. Students connect via email, face-to-face interviews, online surveys, Twitter and Skype with people from around the world to learn about different perspectives of one historic figure. They research, analyze and share their learning in a

Facebook Pages for American Revolution & American Revolution Myths (5th Grade) Researchers

Students showed their research and knowledge about historic figures of the American Revolutionby creating a fake facebook profile page. Since the students are under the age of 13, they created them offline in a PowerPoint slide, which we later uploaded to their classroom blog. In addition to the Facebook pages, the class  created a Snopes- Urban Legends inspired video. What myths about the American Revolution could they debunk? Students used the a range of programs (their choice)  to produce a short intro video

It’s About Learning Style and Collaboration (5th Grade) Official Scribe, Researchers

5th graders experiment with different types of note taking as part of creating “Official Scribes” for the classroom while taking into account the students’ different learning styles. From individual note taking with paper and pencil, individual note taking on a word processor, collaborative backchanneling to visual note taking (on SmartBoard and paper)

Tutorial Designers- Empowered Learners- Contributors (5h Grade) Tutorial Designers

We divided a 5th grade class into two groups (Quantity vs. Quality) and asked them to create a Grammar tutorial/practice for “Contractions” with the SmartBoard notebook for the first graders of our school. The Quantity group had to create as many separate tutorial/practice slides as possible, while the other group was told only to turn in ONE slide with a perfect tutorial/practice.

Taking Notes- Summarizing Information (2nd Grade) Official Scribe

2nd graders are learning about different communities. As they are watching a video they are learning to take notes in different ways. From paper, pencil and clipboard to “screenshooting” visuals that will be organized and categorized in a Venn Diagram.

Backchanneling-Movie Watching-Note Taking-Information Scribes (Middle School) Official Scribe

Middle School students watch a movie about copyright as they are using Today’s Meet as a backchannel tool. Collaboratively they create the “perfect notes”, then review the content by formatting, editing and organizing the information.

Take a look at these third graders who are creating their own “textbooks” on LiveBinder (3rd Grade) Curriculum Reviewers, Contributors to Society

Michael Thornton decided to have his students create their own “textbooks” using Livebinders.  ” The class and I go over the curriculum and/or standards.  We discuss what it is they are expected to learn.  Now armed with that knowledge, they find websites that fulfill what is expected of them.  In addition, they search for websites that engage, enlighten and enrich their learning.    This year my students created four unit “textbooks”.  I am going to continue this process with my new students next year.  In addition, these current textbooks are adaptable and will change with time.  This was a specific request from my students.”

If you have written about or documented “The Digital Learning Farm” in action, please leave a link in the comments. It is important to gather examples and resources to model for others.

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