21st Century Learning in New Brunswick – Report 1

Today is the first day of the Literacy and Learning in the 21st Century Conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick and I have already been quite impressed with the high calibre of the presenters and teachers who are here. While there has been much progressive change initiated by the ministry of education of the province, there has been a recent leadership change in government which has been a source of concern for many of the teachers here. All of the public school teachers have been given laptops to teach with in the last several years and now many of the schools are moving to a 1:1 laptop environment. However, the new ministry leadership has recently made the decision forbidding students to take their laptops home at the end of the day. What an ill-considered and foolish decision! How are students going to continue work on their projects, study their notes, and communicate and collaborate with their peers after they leave school? To me, my laptop is my personal knowledge management tool that connects me to my peers and to my online shared spaces. I need access to it at my convenience as my doorway to the world Hopefully, as the academic year begins and progresses, parents and teachers will vocally express their disapproval of this decision.

Dr. Michael Fox presented results from research on the 1:1 laptop pilot projects and several key themes emerged: students were more engaged in learning, differentiated learning approaches were better fostered and ongoing professional development for the teachers was a critical factor in success. My own experience teaching in a 1:1 laptop environment resonated with these results.

I also attended a session by Rick Hayward and Joey Savoy – Cruise Control on the Information Highway and was pleasantly surprised by their openness and awareness of how students are using Internet tools and environments. They highlighted the “Derek’s Couch” youtube phenomenon, which I hadn’t yet seen, and also looked at free resources for teachers available on iTunes. Rick and Joey also discussed the popularity of Club Penguin and Facebook and have spent a lot of time talking with students about online personal representation. They even recommend to students to google their own names to check out what people are posting about them. Blogs were presented as a great way for students to keep in touch with their teachers. The Canada Virtual Science Fair was also highlighted. We had a frank discussion as a group of teachers discussing the issues of online representation and about the deeper issues of how this has affected public behaviour in general. It was a fast-paced session covering many trends in online interactivity.

The highlight of my day, admittedly, was receiving an email from David Warlick (the keynote speaker here) who asked me to translate some text into French for him so that he could begin his session speaking a few words of French to his Canadian audience here in Fredericton. This became a bit of a sticking point for me. Yes, I live in MontrĂ©al, but what David did not realize was that I am not bilingual. So I took the text and did the quickest, most efficient thing I could do to translate. Yes, I used BabelFish. It just didn’t look right. So I checked it using a REAL French-English dictionary and discovered that what had started out as “I am honoured to be invited back to your beautiful province” had been changed to “I am honoured to be fired by your beautiful province”!! I found a better translation, checked it with a few experts online and emailed it back to Dave’s cell phone. David did do his best at the beginning of his session to say the phrase and I commend him for his courage in addressing his audience in their strange language.

Dave said that he was informed by Jennifer James, cultural anthropologist, who discusses the necessity of being able to tell a story – these are the type of people who will change our education system. Dave described the current converging conditions – we are preparing our children for an unpredictable future, we are preparing a rich information experience, (the importance of networking!! our students know how to find their own experts to help them out), great to hear Dave talk appropriate language for the context (I have been saying this for years!), we are preparing our students for a new information landscape, all of which lend themselves to creating classrooms as learning engines. Interesting metaphor! Fundamentally, Dave thinks we should redefine literacy. Fortunately, I see the new Quebec Education Programme as being progressive in this area and I am pleased about that.

Richard Florida – The Rise of the Creative Class – his ideas seem to be very like Daniel Pink’s – write about the need to be preparing our children to be designers, creators, and innovators. DW argues that our children are not shopping for technology – they are shopping for the story. I would say they are investing in an experience (through story-telling). Walls don’t mean anything to kids anymore – I would say time and distance also don’t mean very much as well. They have “tentacles” through their cell phones and mobile technologies. Our students have an intrinsic need to work with responsive environments, communicate, share personal experience and identity, ask questions, accomplish, form community, invest myself, safely make mistakes, have audience and attention (sounds like my 3 kids!).

I am looking forward to more engaging discussion at the sessions tomorrow.

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