My favorite time of year rapidly approaches. For the last three years I have had the honor of serving as co-chair and co-organizer of the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute. Each year we refine our model to ensure participants engage in personalized inquiry learning.

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Massachusetts New Literacies Institute
July 8-10, 2014
Holyoke Community College
Holyoke, MA

This year I am excited to announce our first blended conference. By flipping our instruction we have reduced the cost and schools can now send even larger teams of teachers.

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More importantly a blended approach makes greater pedagogical sense. We will meet as community online before we gather face to face in Holyoke. This will allow us to focus on key shifts in the field and enrich our understanding. Then when we all come together for the face to face sessions we can focus on transforming our instructional practice through the use of digital texts and tools.

This year we will focus on the instructional shifts required by the Common Core State Standards and explore how to enhance these shifts with technology.

The best professional development experience I have had in thirty years.  -Participant

What is the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute?

The Massachusetts New Literacies Institute brings together hundreds of educators from all grades and subject areas for three days of rich in-depth professional development. MNLI uses a blended model of delivering content. This consists of pre- Institute activities followed by the three days of hands-on experience with leaders in the field of literacy research.

Before attending the Institute, participants will complete three media-rich learning modules on the cornerstones of New Literacies: Online Reading Comprehension, Online Content Construction, and Online Collaborative Inquiry. These learning events will include videos, learning activities, and synchronous chats. They will prepare the participants for the three days of hands-on digital text and tools sessions.

During the Institute participants are immersed in a series of hands-on technology workshops. Small groups, led by a member of the MNLI team, will focus on enhancing their instruction and supporting the Common Core State Standards and other state initiatives through the integration of digital text and tools.

What I learned at MNLI has changed the way I teach forever -Particpant

Cornerstones of the Online Research and Media Skills Model

The Common Core State Standards expect student to have the online research and media skills necessary to for college and career readiness. How do you prepare students to be ready for technology and careers that do not exist? Instead of focusing on specific tools the MNLI team puts pedagogy first and focuses more on social practices of New Literacies  rather than tools we use.

New Literacies examines much more than just using digital tools. It is an examination of how digital tools allow us to express a sense of agency, while negotiating meaning within different social contexts. Using this theoretical underpinning we  believe online research and media skills involve three cornerstones: online reading comprehension, online content construction, and online collaborative inquiry.

Online Reading Comprehension

The skills, strategies, and practices necessary to question, locate, evaluate, synthesize, and communicate online information from multiple sources and modes.

Online Content Construction

Process by which students construct and redesign knowledge by actively encoding and decoding meaning in digital spaces.

Online Collaborative Inquiry

A group of learners, either global or local, who reach a common outcome through multiple pathways of knowledge.

If you could only attend one conference for the rest of your life make it MNLI -Participant

Learn More

If you want to learn more about our institute please visit MNLI.org. There you will find registration information, conference details, and examples from the past conferences.

Each Wednesday, from now until June, I will also release new information and posts related to the conference.

I look forward to seeing you this summer.

 

CANTAB

Karen Brennan sparked my thinking today. She presented her work on using Scratch. The programming, games, and stories children created made a large impact on everyone at the conference.

For me it wasn’t the take away of creative computing I found most moving. It was Brennan’s point that making take two things: creating and community. She argued that you can’t have interactive writers without both.

I witnessed this yesterday, but it wasn’t with coding,computers, or even a classroom. I saw the synergy of creating and community in a dingy basement in a dark dusty bar.

Ian and I were heading home after dinner and wanted to stop in somewhere. We like dives. Dust on the floor, ripped stools, and low lights. That brought us to CanTab in Cambridge. It also brought us to a community of creators.

After sitting down we saw a steady stream of people heading to the basement. We asked what was going on. Turns out CanTab is the home venue for the Boston Poetry Slam team. Turns out Wednesday is Open Mic night. Turns out this was the last open mic before Boston hosts the National Poetry Slam.

What we witnessed encapsulated Brennan’s lesson about community. The camaraderie among the poets flowed through the room. Poets did parodies of each other’s work. Talked about revising together. Read about being struggling artists.

For the CanTab crowd community leads to creation, and creation leads to community. This was Karen Brennan’s take away. So what does this mean for teachers and participants at MNLI?

Community of Writers and Readers

When I am awed by quality literacy teachers it always comes back to community. The students in the room feel, no they know, that they are among readers. They know they can turn to other writers for support. Just like the students in Brennan’s study who remixed, offered feedback, and helped each other grow. A great literacy classroom builds upon community.

PLC???

Each year at MNLI some of the administrators choose the creation of a PLC, professional learning community as their project. I cringe a little. You can’t force community. Most PLC’s that exist in schools are simply committees that meet more frequently than others. Can schools use PLC’s? Yes, but they need to be interest driven and faculty lead. They need to have open memberships and recognize and build expertise.

Coding as Poetry

The CanTab experience was a serendipitous connection for me. I have little experience with code. In 6th grade I did a show and tell using Basic and made a rocket ship take off based on a dice role. Then during my dissertation work I had to edit XML files as we made a simulated environment. I do not know code but I do see poetry in code. I see these patterns that somehow standout like stanzas. What I saw at CanTab was the type of creating Karen Brennan wants out our students.

It isn’t just about creative computing and interactive writers. We also just need learning experience that create a community of learners both offline and online. We need interest driven classrooms that recognize student expertise. We need connected learning.

Its Tuesday (or it least it was when I was supposed to write this post) and we are moving into the hard work at the Microsoft NERD Center. Teachers worked to  shape their final products, attended a wonderful keynote by Polly Parker, and got to pick digital text and tool sessions.

I am left with one major take away. Striking a balance is hard.

It has always been our goal at MNLI to be agnostic about the tools and stress the pedagogy, but working with teachers demonstrates how important differentiating technology will be for students.

I came up with my solution. I am not going to teach you how to use a tech tool. Period.

I cannot strike a balance. I have to stress the digital text  side and show you how to transform the classroom.

The Basics

If you want to learn the basics I will show you, but it will be in the context of using digital text and tools to enhance your pedagogical goals.

If you want to learn the basics teach yourself. I have posted videos for all of my sessions on how to use the basic features of the digital tools we will be working with.

Trust me. After doing professional development around technology for the last decade I have come to the conclusion that this is the best solution.

The alternative is me saying, “Now click here” over and over again as I work the room to make sure everyone clicked at the same time. It is not a good use of instructional time.

Play Time

Instead I will offer play time. Experimentation is at the heart of the #MNLI12 experience. You see this in design studio and in the digital text and tool sessions.

So in my DT&T session I offer play time. This is after I share my pedagogical reasons for using a digital text and tool. During play time you can try out the lesson or you can sit and watch the video tutorials.

This approach builds in the level of differentiation necessary for our success. It also frees me up to provide support to participants regardless of their ability. If after watching the one or two minute clips you are still stuck…then I will help. But in the meantime I am going to focus on using the digital text and tool to enhance my pedagogical goal.

 As teachers we should do the same in our classroom. Provide resources to students, whether they are videos, peers, or handouts, that will reinforce basic skills of using technology while as educators we focus on transforming literacy practices.

On day 3 of the Massachusetts New Literacies Institute I hosted a #hackjam. We all fought some torrential rain and found a restaurant with wifi. It was spotty so we couldn’t develop too may remixes but still participants were amazed about x-ray goggles.

Basically a #hackjam is a self-organized event to show some of the great Mozilla tools such as x-ray goggles that allow you to remix websites.

It is such an easy tool to use and a great way to introduce some basic coding to students. I have used it in the past to highlight how words can shape persuasive language.

We began by remixing the New York Times and giving everyone at the table an Olympic medal. We then discussed classroom implications.

No Publishing Feature


This is when we noticed a hiccup. The publishing button for x-ray goggles no longer works. I posted a message to the hackasaurus google group.

Atul Varma, of the Mozilla, Foundation, suggested it was a litigation or security issue. Emma Irwin said it was x-ray goggles getting ready for full deployment out of alpha release.

Either way we needed a work-around. We developed three: screenshots, screencasts, Evernote Webclipper, and Google Drive.

Screenshots


The easiest solution was to take a screenshot. Stephanie did this with her remix of a Facebook page. She created one for a math class studying prime numbers:

The screenshot only worked with very small frames. We could not take a screenshot using Skitch, or Grabit longer than the window.

Screencast


I used a screencast to share my remix. It was a tribute to our logistics team Zach and Jim. I apologize ahead of the time for the feedback. I should have downloaded the audio track and reuploaded rather than record it through the speakers. It also short as I clicked on a video link I embedded. It must have refreshed while I was using x-ray goggles.

Evernote Webclipper

The work around that I see with the most potential is Evernote. We took a screenshot with Evernote woebclipper and then added it to a shared notebook. I see potential for this for educators. They could share the notebook with everyone in the class. Teachers could then add comments on the remixes and students could add reflections. This would provide important evidence.

Here is Jared’s example

Google Drive

Jared also printed his screenshots as a pdf. He then combined the two documents into one PDF document. He then uploaded that document to Google Drive.

This is nice because you can embed the pdf on other sites.

Conclusion


The #hackjam was very successful. Teachers found new ways to teach code and the ideas for the classroom were huge. I look forward to sharing more events in the future.