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NZ Curriculum in Action PD Day

February 3rd, 2010

NZ Curriculum In Action was a professional development day created for two purposes:

  • To bring together the isolated pockets of educators already working in the direction of the new curriculum, and connect them with educators looking to develop their teaching in that direction but wanting to be inspired by what was possible.
  • To build a professional learning community that fostered interest in the theory and practice of 21st century teaching ideas.

Originally envisioned in a traditional workshop model, the organisers soon realised that it would be incongruous to run a PD day looking at 21st century ideas in a very traditional, 20th century way. So we adapted the concept of the World Café to give us an opportunity to run the day in a very different way.  Gone was the single presenter lecturing to the audience. Instead the room was set with five table clusters, and each presenter session saw five different presenters, one per table, leading a more intimate group discussion of what they were about, enabling more questions and discussions to occur than during a traditional style presented session. Flat screens were available to make anything on laptop easy for the group to see. These sessions were interspersed with discussion sessions around provided open-ended questions. The questions were designed to enable thought-provoking discussion and debate about some of the philosophical ideas underpinning the direction that the new curriculum allows education to go.

In order to minimise as many barriers as possible to people attending, the day was provided at no cost. The venue was generously made available by the Foundation Studies Dept of Manukau Institute of Technology, tea and coffee was generously provided by Team Solutions, and all participants were asked to contribute a plate of food for an ongoing buffet table that people could help themselves to whenever they wanted. There was a structure and timeframe to the day, to enable workability, but the overall intention was to create an atmosphere of inclusivity, flexibility, and connection, to encourage people to communicate what was important to them about the direction of education, and to learn from each other.

Held on November 26th, the day was promoted through email contacts, the most productive email lists were the Team Solutions Secondary Science list and the Specialist Classroom Teacher list. I hope to find access to other similarly effective contact lists to be able to reach more teachers in future. The original aim was the secondary sector, but across all subject areas, as the concept of inclusivity and connectedness between learning areas is one aspect encouraged by the new curriculum that I find particularly encouraging. However, as the planning for this day went on, it soon became apparent that building the connections and understanding between primary, secondary and tertiary sectors is as important as building the connections and understanding between subject areas in secondary schools, or between syndicates in primary schools or departments in tertiary institutions. I was pleased to have presenters and participants from all three sectors of the education system, and hope to be able to have a more balanced representation of all sectors in future events.

How did this day dream itself into being? I was in the early stages of a community leadership course run by Landmark Education, and had already selected a project to create, when I was introduced to the new curriculum in such a way that I actually saw it for its full potential.  For myself I saw the way to bridge the gap between my personal philosophy about what education should be, and what I instead would find myself putting into practice in my classroom – a disparity that I always felt but had little idea how to do anything about, and so had always ignored and made the best of. More importantly I also saw that the paradigm shift required to move from the traditional concept of education to what the new curriculum makes possible is not going to be easy for a lot of our colleagues, and so this gift to education could so easily fail to achieve its potential. And so I became determined to do something to help encourage forward thinking and action. My original project idea was shelved in favour of what became known as NZC in Action. What I was surprised by was the so very positive response to this professional development day, right from the outset. It then evolved and grew into something bigger and more valuable than my original idea, and the proof of this pudding was the 50+ presenters and participants that travelled from up to two hours away to attend, the large numbers of positive comments people made to me in passing across the day, the energy present in the room, and the wonderful feedback and supportive suggestions made on our survey forms. Even before the day itself, I had people contact me to say that they couldn’t make that date but wanted to be kept informed for the next one.  People clearly saw a need for an opportunity like this.

What was presented? In no particular order… Kate Slattery (M.I.T.) - Higher order thinking and questioning strategies that get students thinking for themselves; Dr Karen Dobric (One Tree Hill College) - school structures and qualification pathways and what needs to be addressed to allow us to better meet the needs of our students; Larraine Barton (Pakuranga College) – the thinking and planning behind how the Science Dept at Pakuranga College developed their new and different programme in Junior Science;  Melanie Wiersma (Clendon Park School) - using digital tools extensively and to very positive effect to develop independent learners in the classroom; Ang Whitlam (St Mary’s College) - using ICT in innovative ways to support learning in Science; Sarah Painter (Team Solutions) – integrated and contextual learning, cross-curricular teaching; Oriel Kelly (M.I.T.) - using the internet as a teaching tool; Sharra Martin (Alfriston College) – what’s been happening at Alfriston College; Sandy McGivern (One Tree Hill College) – the Shifting Thinking Conference for those who missed it; Anna Gibbs/Harold Russ (King’s College) – integrated units and Harvard’s Teaching For Understanding; Diane Hartley and Toni Shaw (Albany Senior High School) – what’s going on at Albany Senior High School; Jenny Pope (Team Solutions) - Empirical vs Rational Thinking, educational philosophy;  Libby Slaughter (Monte Cecilia School) – Enquiry-based learning.

Where to from here? The survey showed an overwhelming enthusiasm for more of the same, the two most popular suggestions were a blog site and a continuation of the NZC in Action days, at the frequency of once a term. A large number of people signalled their interest not just in attending again, but in being a part of bringing the next PD day into being. I will be getting in contact with those generous people in the New Year so that we can put together the next NZC in Action day with many hands making the job effortless.

My particular thanks to the key supporters and organisers, Mike Stone, Harold and Linda Russ, Sarah Painter,  Anna Gibbs and Jenny Pope, and the numerous people I met and talked with from Team Solutions, Shifting Thinking, M.I.T, and schools around Auckland who answered my opening question of “So who do you know that’s doing edgy and innovative things that I can show to the world?” with great enthusiasm and support. And finally to the group of presenters, who were the embodiment of NZC in Action, generously sharing their ups and downs, breakthroughs and hiccups to help support and encourage others as to what can be done. You really made our day!

Note: This really was much easier to bring into being than you’d think! And so rewarding, being part of building a community of like-minded people. If anyone wants to see something similar happen in their area, please get in touch with me, I’d love to help support other similar professional learning communities getting underway, in other parts of the country!

Sandy McGivern

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Look, I drew a picture of you!

July 17th, 2009

(Yes, that’s right…I’m talking to you!)
Actually, I should say I drew a picture of us.

See? You, and me, and everyone else – we’re all represented in my diagram of the shiftingthinking community.

The Power Law Distribution

I drew this after reading Here Comes Everybody: The power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky. The book has influenced my thinking A LOT recently and I reckon I’ll probably write a few more blogpostings based on its ideas. In this posting I just want to share just one of these ideas, because I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately (No, don’t look over your shoulder, I’m still talking to Y-O-U ), and I want to show you exactly how you fit into this shiftingthinking community.

The curve in this diagram represents something called a “Power Law Distribution”, which I learned about in Here Comes Everybody. The vertical axis represents the number of comments posted on shiftingthinking, and the horizontal axis represents all of us, lined up in left to right order from the highest frequency to the lowest frequency of postings. What this curve shows is that the most frequent contributor (in this case, me) posts many times more often than the next most frequent contributors, and those people post many times more often than the next most frequent, and so on, and then we have this l-o-o-o-oong tail of people who contribute just a tiny little bit – let’s say, one comment or posting.  (Then there’s the folks who we sometimes call “lurkers”, who read shiftingthinking but haven’t posted comments – I’ll get back to them later…)

So what, I hear you ask? Is there a point to all this? Well I’m glad you asked, because there is, and here is the EXCITING bit. According to Shirky, this same distribution pattern is found in all kinds of social media. Wikipedia is a good example: Although anyone can edit wikipedia pages, it turns out that there are a tiny percentage of people who make hundreds or thousands of edits each, and thousands and millions of people who only ever make say, one or two edits (and millions more who simply read wikipedia entries without ever making a single edit). So if you graph wikipedia contributions, you’ll get an even more extreme version of this same curve.

The power law distribution is also called The Pareto principle or the “80-20 rule” which basically says that for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. So this distribution shape isn’t just limited to social media – it appears in all kinds of social phenomenon.

The cool thing – and the point of this posting -  is when we start to ask ourselves what value we get out of the collective contributions of all 100 percent of the contributors. In the business world, the 80-20 principle suggests that organisations should focus on the 20 percent (of people, activities, projects etc) that contribute 80 percent of the “productivity”. The “costs” of carrying that long tail, which tends to generate proportionally less, can be hard for an organisation to carry. But if you lop off the long tail, you lose out on all those potential contributions that, when added to the collective, could add up to something really great.

Is this youThe nice thing about social media is that there is really no “cost” involved in encouraging as many people as possible to contribute. By opening up wikipedia to everyone to edit, “we” (the users of Wikipedia) benefit from everyone’s contribution. Whether someone contributes thousands of edits, or only one, each adds value to the collective whole. It’s the same thing with shiftingthinking!

I’d like to end this posting with a couple of shout-outs. First to the members of our “long tail”. Guys, thank you. We love that you’ve stopped by and taken a moment to add your contribution to the shiftingthinking community.

Or is THIS you? (CC) http://www.flickr.com/photos/madflowr/3346345770/

Or is THIS you? (CC) www.flickr.com/photos/madflowr/3346345770

Second, to the “lurkers” – you know who you are. I want you to know that you’re welcome here too. I think I’m going to call you “foragers” from now on though. (I like to picture you as adorable little hedgehogs – shyly nosing around the edges of our community, nibbling surreptitiously from the cat’s dish, drinking water from the puddles of our drain-pipes, but leaving no trace of your presence). We promise not to shine a bright spotlight on you – but maybe just think about joining our long tail every once in a while? We’ll be here waiting, with a nice cup of tea and a gingernut biscuit.

**PS. I know time is a big factor making it hard to add comments. We’re still looking into other ways you can signal your presence without having to think too long and hard or compose the “perfect” comment – watch this space!

Shirky, C. (2008) Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. Penguin: New York.

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The Hidden Connections (Capra)

July 3rd, 2009
Leaf of surprise (c) Rachel Bolstad, 2006

Leaf of surprise (c) Rachel Bolstad, 2006

When you read a book by Fritjof Capra, you’re getting value for money. Though Capra is a physicist by training, his interests and knowledge span an enormous range of disciplines, and he is enviably well-connected; his friends and colleagues include leading thinkers from many fields, and his books draw together threads from fields as diverse as biochemistry, management theory, economics, cognitive science, feminism, design, and agroecology.

I just said he “draws together threads from areas as diverse as”… but as the title of his book The Hidden Connections (2002, Doubleday) suggests, perhaps our big mistake as a species is in continuing to think that these areas are all diverse, different, and disconnected, rather than recognising the persistent patterns, relationships, and connections between them. The aim of this book is (p. 216): “to develop a conceptual framework that integrates the biological, cognitive, and social dimensions of life; a framework that enables us to adopt a systemic approach to some of the critical issues of our time”. (These critical issues are, of course, all grounded in issues of sustainability).

For the purpose of this blogthread, I was interested in how Capra’s book could help develop my thinking about what it means to be a “self-generating network for knowledge building, learning, and change” (as part of our future focussed issues project).

In the first few chapters, Capra begins to develop a systems-level way of describing “life”. Since I majored in biological science, I was immediately hooked in by the way he begins by looking at contemporary theories about how life got started. How on Earth did something as complex as a cell come into being? You’ll have to read for yourself to find out, but a key idea from this section is that, with the emergence of metabolism comes the ability of a cell (which is in fact a tiny network) to become self-generating, or “autopoeitic” (from autopoeisis –self-making1). That’s because (pp.9-10) “the function of each component in this network is to transform or replace other components, so that the entire network continually generates itself….[the living network undergoes] continual structural changes while preserving their weblike patterns of organisation.” Cells are also “open systems” materially and energetically. While the cell continually replaces, fixes, changes, and regenerates itself, stuff has to come into the system (food), and stuff has to go out (waste). This leads Capra to discuss the theory of “dissipative structures2” – defined as “an open system that maintains itself in a state far from equilibrium, yet is nevertheless stable: the same overall structure is maintained in spite of an ongoing flow and change of components”.

(p.13) The dynamics of these dissipative structures specifically include the spontaneous emergence of new forms of order. When the flow of energy increases, the system may encounter a point of instability, known as a “bifurcation point”, at which it can branch off into an entirely new state where new structures and new forms of order may emerge.

In short, what we are talking about here is emergence, “the creation of novelty that is often qualitatively different from the phenomena out of which it emerged” (p.117)
I’m now going to skip ahead past the section of the book where Capra applies these ideas to understanding the nature of mind, consciousness, and learning. (Though these are actually some of my favourite chapters). Where I wanted to get to in this posting was Capra’s ideas about how these concepts and ways of thinking apply to social reality – and in particular, to social networks and human organisations. In chapter 3 he talks about the role of communication as an essential part of the metabolism of social networks:

(p.83) These networks of communication are self-generating. Each communication creates thoughts and meaning, which give rise to further communications, and thus the entire network generates itself – it is autopoeitic. As communications recur in multiple feedback loops, they produce a shared system of beliefs, explanations, and values – a common context of meaning – that is continually sustained by further communications. Through this shared context of meaning individuals acquire identities as members of the social network, and in this way the network generates its own boundary. It is not a physical boundary but a boundary of expectations, of confidentiality and loyalty, which is continually maintained and renegotiated by the network itself”

I’ll skip ahead again and bypass the chapters where he discusses how social networks, through communication, create culture and a “shared body of knowledge – including information, ideas, and skills – that shapes the culture’s distinctive way of life in addition to its values and beliefs”. (p. 87), and how knowledge can’t be treated as an entity independent of people and their social context…. (Though again, these are fascinating chapters). I want to get back to this idea of emergence.

In chapter 4 he talks about how emergence happens in human organisations. He argues that emergence often occurs at “critical points of instability that arise from fluctuations in the environment, amplified by feedback loops”.

(p.117) “In a human organization, the event triggering the process of emergence may be an offhand comment, which may not even seem important to the person who made it but is meaningful to some people in a community of practice. Because it is meaningful to them, they choose to be disturbed and circulate the information rapidly through the organization’s networks. As it circulates through various feedback loops, the information may get amplified and expanded, even to such an extent that the organization can no longer absorb it in its present state. When that happens, a point of instability has been reached. The system….is forced to abandon some of its structures, behaviours, or beliefs. The result is a state of chaos, confusion, uncertainty and doubt; and out of that chaotic state a new form of order, organized around new meaning, emerges. The new order was not desgned by any individual but emerged as a result of the organization’s collective creativity.”

The quote above inspires me as I think about the shift to 21st century thinking about learning and education. I think about Jennifer’s posting . I think right now we are in the state of chaos, confusion, uncertainty and doubt. But I’m looking forward to the bit where a new form of order emerges from our collective creativity!

There’s a lot more in this book which I won’t discuss here – maybe in a future posting – but suffice to say that it’s given me a whole new bunch of new concepts to think with, regarding “self-generating networks for knowledge building, learning, and change”. I wonder what you make of it?

Capra, Fritjof (2002) The Hidden Connections: Integrating the biological, cognitive and social dimensions of life into a science of sustainability. New York: Doubleday.

1 Capra credits the term “autopoesis” to biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela (p.10)
2 Ilya Prigogone and his collaborators developed the theory of dissipative structures (p.13)

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changelearning and the e-learning research network

May 22nd, 2009

This posting continues an ongoing thread designed to bring to your attention other blogs or websites I think are worth checking out.

changelearning

I recently met one of the directors of the Canadian Council on Learning, and whilst having a good look around their website, I found my way onto a wonderful related site called changelearning.

changelearning has exciting (and uncanny) parallels to shiftingthinking.org, and I couldn’t be more happy to have found it!  It’s based on the work of The 21st Century Learning Initiative, an international network of academics, researchers, policy makers and educators who (like us) are encouraging people to re-think our current systems of education. The development of the site was funded by the Canadian Council on Learning, and created by an organisation called Classroom Connections (find out more about them here)

The site is well laid out, and content-rich – but obviously (like us) still in development. There are videos, research summaries, and it looks like eventually there will be places to post book reviews, blogs, discussion forums, and so forth. If anyone from changelearning.ca is reading this – let’s talk about cross-postings and/or collaboration!

The e-learning research network

This site is a little closer to home, based right here in New Zealand. The e-learning research network is a place for teachers, educators and researchers to share the evidence about the impact of e-learning on teaching and learning (The Network’s byline: “From research to practice: transforming New Zealand education through e-learning”).  Last night I realised I ought to spend a bit more time reading or participating in some of the discussions happening in this network, as I dipped in and out of conversation threads that mused on the real meaning of “lifelong learning”, and read about some of the ideas around elearning that people were exploring in their  research and/or classrooms.

Realising the wealth of possibilities out there for people to connect, collaborate, learn and discuss ideas related to 21st century thinking in learning and education is exciting. But it’s also a little challenging. How can one find the time to read everything one wants to read, write everything one wants to write, and keep up with all the discussions one wants to be part of? I’m not sure of the answer to this one. But in any case, I’d like to keep connected…and I’d like to keep sharing the things I find with you!

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Books that have shifted m(y)our thinking (Part 2)

May 18th, 2009

I’m still really hoping that we’re going to get more folks sharing and commenting on books that have provoked and shifted their thinking – as I requested here.

But as a quick addendum to my original posting on this topic:

On my recent travels, I had opportunity to peruse through a SkyMall catalogue on one of my international flights. If you’ve never seen a SkyMall catalogue, they are packed full of ideas, inventions, and gadgets which you never realised you needed (or wanted) until you see them.  One particular innovation grabbed my attention: a service called Getabstract Biz Book Summaries

In brief, this is a service for busy businesspeople, wherein the good people at Getabstract find and read the “best” books in business, and supply clients with  “a crisp, clear five-page summary you can read in less than 10 minutes. The perfect length to deliver the book’s main ideas, and packed full of relevant insights.”

Imagine if there was such a service for busy educators! Would this be a good thing? Might it actually excite people enough about certain books that they want to go and read the whole thing?

Of course, clients of Getabstract pay good money to receive these summaries.  But in a way, they are just a more quality-controlled version of what you can get for free – for example, by reading user reviews on Amazon.com.

Maybe (my hope of hopes), shiftingthinking can be a more modest source of this kind of “potted summaries” service for people interested in 21st century thinking about learning. Since no-one’s getting paid to review books, however, this means we have to treat our webspace more like a digital commons.

In other words, you ought to give back as much as you receive!

Friends, consider this your call to words.


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Lurkers, reveal thyselves!

April 15th, 2009

According to our “About” page,

This website is a space for theory and practice to interact, for theory to inform practice, and practice to inform theory.

We aim to support educators to talk about contemporary education, and to equip them with some analytical tools (articles, thinking objects) for doing so.

Reading the description above, it does seem to me to read a little bit one-way – i.e. this site is about “us” helping/telling/teaching/equipping “you” to be able to think about or talk about 21st century learning.

However, I personally think  of  shiftingthinking.org as a space for people to engage in collaborative knowledge-building, debate, discussion, questioning, etc. It’s not about “us” telling “you”, but rather, it’s about all of us thinking together, pushing and challenging our thinking, asking questions, and so on, within the general “frame” that we have established around 21st century thinking about learning and education.  However, as many bloggers know, in the absence of comment or feedback  sometimes you can really feel as though you are just talking to yourself. (I’m sure a lot of teachers and parents must feel like this sometimes!).

Thanks to the magic of google analytics, we know that we are getting visitors from around the world to shiftingthinking.org, and I have also had people emailing me or telling me in the kitchen or staffroom at work that they’ve read some of the site and found it interesting.

In the interest of opening up these discussions further, I would hereby like to call on all you lurkers, readers, and passers-by – drop us a comment or two!!  (In the last week or so we’ve been getting hit by spam-bots,  so it would be nice to read some genuine comments from humans, rather than websites trying to sell us viagra!). So if you are reading this, don’t be shy – I’d love to hear:

  • Who are you?
  • What brought you to shiftingthinking.org, what do you make of these ideas?
  • What are your own questions, experiences, memories, visions, and challenges with respect to thinking about education and learning for the 21st century?
  • OR – if you’ve been lurking for a while – what’s held you back from commenting to date?

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Books that have shifted m(y)our thinking

April 5th, 2009

Years ago at NZCER we used to have lunchtime forums every now and again where we’d each talk about books we’d read, and why we liked them. It was awesome, and a great way to find out about titles you hadn’t heard of (also: knowing that they had been pre-read by a colleague meant there was a filtering-out of dross!)

Like many of my colleagues, I tend to get quite excited when I read something interesting. I go around telling people about it and recommending they read it too “so we can discuss it!”.  I’ve picked up a few really interesting non-fiction books in the last six months that I’ve been “pushing” others to read. One is Here comes everybody: the power of organizing without organizations by Clay Shirky. There’s so many ideas packed into this book that it’s hard to condense into a short summary – but in short, Shirky’s book is one of those great books that provokes us to do a whole lot of re-thinking about the nature of society in the 21st century, specifically, due to the impacts of networked technologies. (I’ve passed the book on to a team member, otherwise I’d grab it and try to put together a few notes for you here).

What I like about authors like Shirky and Malcolm Gladwell (author of some other favourite books of mine: The Tipping Point and Blink, plus Outliers which I haven’t read yet) is the way they carry you along through a page-turning blend of stories and theory. These are the kinds of books that “shift my thinking” and help me to suddenly look at familiar problems and situations in new ways. (For example, we’ve used a few ideas from Shirky’s book in our recent shiftingthinking.org development team meetings, to help us figure out what we want this site to do, and how we can engage other people  in working through and developing ideas in this space about learning and education in the 21st century).

Another book, Everything bad is good for you, by Steven Johnson, gave me a whole bunch of ideas about how our minds engage with popular culture – and these ideas are sitting subversively beneath my comment on Jim’s blog here. (Read his response here)**.

As a educational researcher I spend a lot of time reading “education” books and articles, and while this is obviously really important, I think that the most interesting ideas I’ve picked up from books tend to come from authors writing in other fields, like those I’ve mentioned above – because when I read them, I have to think really hard about “well, what does all this mean for education”? I’ve had some really interesting discussions over the years with various teachers and principals (and other researchers, of course) who also like reading and sharing good books, so I know there are others out there just waiting for the chance to share THEIR recommended reads so we can discuss them.

So – what have you read that’s provoked your thinking? What were its implications for thinking about education in the 21st century? What questions did it raise in your mind? Finally, where can we get a copy so we can also read it and discuss it with you here? Please post your comments!!

**As an aside, Steven Johnson’s book also made me feel totally legitimized for my lifetime’s dedication to watching television.

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Tales from the blogosphere (part 1)

March 6th, 2009

One of the great things about the internet is how easy it is to find other people  who share your interests and passions. Of course, depending on how obscure your interests are, those people may be a little hard to find. But in most cases I’m pretty sure they’re out there somewhere, blogging away,  and just waiting and hoping that someone with shared interests wants to connect with them….

(“Hey Bob, Mike here. I’ve been reading your blog – you love Bulgarian films about the circus? Wow!  I like Bulgarian films about the circus too! Didn’t you just love Svirachat? Let’s be Facebook friends!”)

In the case of “shifting to 21st century thinking about education and learning”, it’s not at all difficult to find other people out there in the blogosphere who  are asking the kinds of questions that we’re asking, pondering the same kinds of challenges we’re pondering, and providing stimulating examples of the kinds of practices that can help us reshape teaching and schooling for the 21st century.  Over the last few days I’ve been perusing the web in search of some of these people. Here’s a quick sampling of who, and what, I’ve been reading:

  • I’ve enjoyed reading postings on The 21st Century Schoolhouse, written by Miller, a teacher from Conneticut. He describes himself (and his blog) as “A high school English teacher still trying to wrap his brain around teaching 21st century skills, digital literacy, the web 2.0, and anything else that sounds new”.  It’s fascinating to read some of Millers’ insights and struggles with questions about what it means to be a 21st century teacher, not to mention seeing how he’s been putting his ideas and working theories into practice. I recommend following some of the links related to the  21st century Journalism class he teaches.
  • Fans of Vygotsky have to love Konrad Glogowski’s blog of proximal development. There are just so many interesting ideas and stories here, such as the posting “how to avoid school talk part 1″ and The Virtual Classroom Project
  • Finally, a little gem from my own hometown of Hamilton New Zealand, Woodmonsta’s Blog, a blog created by an Intermediate (Middle School) teacher for, and with, his class.

I plan to continue scanning the Internet to see what else (and who else) I can find that I think is worth checking out…. in between writing a massive Final Report and two AERA conference papers, that is!

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