Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Balancing Levels of Concern

Teaching has always been synonymous with caring, and I see this personified at all levels. Whether I am at an elementary school, like I was yesterday, or dodging careening students at a high school like today, the teachers manifest their "caring" in different ways. Chris Lehman at Practical Theory posted yesterday about his definition of caring as it relates to teaching and professionalism, and I think it was, as is usual with Chris, a timely post. We have all been engaged in conversation at some point while explaining our choice to become educators to either parents or friends, when the idea that you have "passion" or that you "love kids" comes forth, either from you or as a suggestion from the other conversants. What does this really mean for us as educators? Many people in various professions love kids too, even ones that aren't there own. Christian Long says that we should be in love not necessarily with the children, but with the collisions we create with ideas, learning, and the students we teach. I dig that, but there has to be room for the idea of caring, or genuinely having a concern over their future, and the future of those that love them.

To continue a recent them on this blog (which might be long in the tooth), I read Chris' post with an eye on Ashley Merryman's almost simultaneous post on the responses to her an Po Bronson's article on Praise. They say similar things, whether Chris is talking about parents and choices being difficult, but necessary, or Ashley commenting that teachers should feel more comfortable about accountability at all costs. Take a look at a short sample:

Chris Lehman:
The best parents aren’t the ones who smoke pot with their kids because, ‘Well, they were going to try it anyway.’ And they aren’t the ones who let kids think that it’s o.k. to break rules, etc… they are the ones who teach kids the lessons they need to succeed in life, even when those lessons are really hard to learn. Same is true for teaching.

Ashley Merryman:
Since we began our research on praise and self-esteem, Po and I both heard many stories from parents and teachers about self-esteem issues. My favorite was from an English teacher. She'd recently given one of her students a "C," and the mother came down to complain, saying "You're ruining my child's self-esteem." The teacher shot back, "I'm not here to make him feel better; I'm here to make him do better."

For two years before I become a technology coordinator for this
district, I was a history teacher on a middle school "team." Our
philosophy, though strangely unspoken at first, was heavy on caring.
The lengthy list of issues that our students ran into, most
non-academic, were handled with a quasi-medical approach of "first-do
no harm." We genuinely cared for our students and we did everything we
could to make that known to them. Did this produce a major change in
test scores? Not that it matters, but probably not. Did it directly
impact learning? Again, I don't have that answer. What I do know is
that we all left those two years, teachers and students alike, with a
deeper level of respect for one another. What I now want to ask myself, however, is whether or not I was too focused on keeping kids feeling good rather than doing them the service of being honest.

This is the "art" of teaching, the intangible aspects of being a teacher that no length or depth of teacher training will prepare you for. These types of conversations bring us deeper into introspection, which I believe will lead us towards a higher level of empathy, one that does not involve just self-esteem for our students, but will allow us to make the difficult teaching decisions that we should.

School 2.0: Where I am

In response to David Warlick's post on School 2.0 (which deserves a reading), I left this comment more in response to some of the responses he generated. Specifically, two responders who pointed out that David was speaking to an already converted crowd, one that had already begun implementing School 2.0. But what about teachers who are in the classrooms who do not have the luxury of mining the internet in search of not only the tools, but also implementation strategies. As one of the lucky "miners," I take the responsibility of bringing these tools and strategies to my staff very seriously. Here are the responses (comments shortened): .

From Em:

I’m doing a seven-part series with my staff this year on Web 2.0 tools. Trust me, they are stunned and amazed at blogs, have never heard of wikis, assume that podcasts are the same as iTunes, and were blown away yesterday by my discussion of RSS and social bookmarking as tools for organizing. We are barely into the second wave of adopters. We’ve got quite a ways to go before these tools are familiar and comfortable with the majority of educators.

From Candace:
Em is right. They do NOT know what wikis are. They have heard the word “blog” but have no idea why it has anything to do with school, and have not heard the term “web 2.0.” Even attorneys and professors I meet professionally say, “what’s that.” ...I am not criticizing you, just pointing out the inevitable social nature of web 2.0 proponents– that you (we) do converse among ourselves so well that we forget about others who are not even in the room. We all need to be more aware of the LARGE group of teachers/general public who are not “there yet.”

My response:
Your post, I see has resonated in two ways: those who have adopted and are applying, and those who are adopting and trying to convert. I fall into the convert category, but let me just describe briefly my experience with Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, more specificially, wikispaces.

Since January 1st, I have helped 8 teachers begin their own wikis for class projects, and each of them, to the person, has responded with a gasp after the first night that their students were active on the site. One of the teachers termed it an “explosion” of student activity.

For Em and Candace from above: get the teachers on and let them play, then unleash the students. When your staff sees how much these technologies extend the classroom, they will want more of it. My advice is to publicize your successes as well. As a former teacher, I know that when I saw other teachers doing cool things, I wanted in as well. To be so bold, check out our district tech blog at You will find our teacher’s wikis there too.

As with many of the technology that we’ve brought into the classroom in the last 20 years, it will all become cliched, but what I like about David’s diagram’s are the ways in which they reflect “real” learning. Social learning, connectivism, and multiple intelligences all fit very well into the model of school 2.0 that David suggests here.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Praise study resurfaces in Wichita

An addendum to the Bronson post from Saturday. Wenzl's article points to public opinion and practice mirroring the study.
Buck, the East High history teacher, sees slackers at East. "Some boys most prone to quit are the gifted boys. They don't want to appear like they are trying. It's not cool to try.

"I gave a test with multiple choice, and an essay question," he said. "One of the boys finished the multiple choice, and said, 'Let's see how I did.'

"So I graded it. He got eight out of ten right.

"So then he said, 'That's good. Will I pass if I just blow off doing the essay question?' "'You'll pass,' " I told him. "'With, like, a 61 percent.' "

"'Then let's leave it at that,' " he said.

"'You sure?' " I asked him. "'Sixty-one isn't very good.' "

"'No,' " he said. "I'm cool."

Alarmist, most likely, but after reading the Bronson article and being pointed in some relevant directions, I can see there is a connection between the culture of self-esteem and inability to pursue the messier side of learning.

Monday, February 26, 2007


How do keep students from turning us off as they arrive in school? If you have walked through an American high school recently, you have seen the clandestine use of mobile devices and you have probably seen your share of disaffected students. If you spoken in front of a group of them, chances are, unless you were 100% compelling, you saw at least one set of eyes roll in the ubiquitous sign of adolescent lassitude: "whatever."

I should rephrase that--that scene could have been any time within in the last twenty years, but after reading Roy Wenzl's article "Are We Losing our Boys?" from the Wichita Eagle, a confluence of recent ideas began to identify itself as a pattern within my head.

Thanks to Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant for pointing me towards this article in the first place, and his final thoughts on the post set off this chain for me:
As educators, we are in a battle for eyes, ears, and brainwaves. So far many of us are losing (and, as a result, so are our students).
This has been the trend for several years, and I can easily recall scores of conversations from either graduate school or in new-teacher meetings in districts I have worked in, where the complaint was that we were expected to "perform" in order to compete with everything grabbing the students attention. I may even have been guilty of uttering those words as well. The idea was that we had to sing and dance to keep the attention of the student. George Siemens points out that the idea of sitting through a lecture is not an evil one, and I think that in the whole scheme of a curriculum, it will always have a place. But if that is all you are offering, you have the wrong mindset, and I think that is obvious. That competition is long since over.

If it's a battleground we're looking for, Ron Matson, chairman of the department of sociology at Wichita State University, when speaking about reasons for the "checking out" of adolescent men, had this to offer:
"They are playing video games," he said. "Or withdrawing from society, and with computers and television, you can do a lot of withdrawing."I look at my kids and grandkids and think, holy smoke, what kind of world will they inherit?"
That's entirely up to us, isn't it? If we choose to persist with the lecture, the "drill and kill" so many of the students in Wenzl's article talked about as par for the course (and as so many students across the U.S. can attest to), and fail to use the same "distractive" technologies that Matson earmarks as contributors to student malaise, then, yes, our future is bleak. But what about flipping the script and using the mentality of the group over at Epistemic Games? The very same technologies that are forcing kids to power down when they enter school will be our avenue to power them up and keep them charged long enough to become the lifelong learners they will have to be.

Passion is the key to all of this. Will Richardson is noted for telling educators to jump into the read/write web by finding something they are passionate about and immersing yourself in the resources available through Web 2.0. Identifying those within students has long provided educators with portals into tough to reach students, and now is no different. Our passions will direct our learning, both teacher and student, in School 2.0 (and life, for that matter); rarely is a student, male or female, passionate about worksheets, lectures, or passive learning. Students today and tomorrow need to interact with, remix, and create content.

Trent Watta, one of the students profiled in the article, states:
"When you find something you're passionate about, it no longer becomes work. You don't even realize you're working."
And that's one to grow on.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Praising Mediocrity

Just when I thought I had really gotten this parenting thing down in regards to how to talk to my 2-year old, out comes Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's New York Magazine article "How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise" to force me to reevaluate what it will mean to be a good parent. He's only two, but even still, lavishing him with praise over the coloring job he did, or the fact that he is a "good boy," will now be yet another thing I will ask myself at the end of the day "was that the right thing to do?"

If you haven't seen it yet, the article is built primarily around research from a psychologist named Dr. Carol Dweck, who performed a ten-year study in the New York schools based on the way children responded to praise. In short, those students praised for their intelligence, the "smart" kids, performed poorly on a series of tests aimed at evaluating the types of praise given to students. Inversely, "regular" kids were given the same tests and praised for their effort, what Dweck calls "process praise," and did better on successive tests and in the overall study.

“Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable that they can control,”
she explains. “They come to see themselves as in control of their
success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s
control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

As I read it, I kept thinking back to all the students I have taught over the years and wondered how many of them I called "smart" or praised for being "intelligent." Did I damage them?

Probably not, but I do like this information for several reasons. The first is that it begins to make sense, especially when I remember it in terms of sports. The best coaches I ever had in the various sports that I played were ones who, through their direction, forced me to work hard, and did not ever reward me for dumb luck or athletic skill. Thinking about this in light of Dweck's research, they were indeed using "process praise," rather than praising an innate ability. Furthermore, the anti-self-esteem backlash I have been hearing in faculty rooms since I began teaching now seems to have merit. Teachers that I have been in contact with for the most part have the child's best interest in mind, and it makes sense that showering a student with praise for mediocre results did not make sense to them. Praise them for accomplishments, but know when to stop. We have become too wrapped up in the fact that our children need to feel good about themselves, maybe we are championing mediocrity, to quote Mr. Incredible.

Bronson's last few paragraphs speak about how he is coming off of his addiction to praise, not for him, but for his 5-year old son. I can see how we, as parents and teachers, become stuck in the overpraising rut, and it is something that Dweck and others have described as a means of controlling behavior. Children do something we like, for example cleaning up their toys when they finish playing, and we heap praise on them because we want to see that behavior repeated. It's effective, but what effect does that have on our children? Are we causing them to be praise-addicted? There is some science to that, and Bronson references that in the article, but I don't know how you would tell parents or teachers to stop doing that. I am going to watch this one for a while. His blog has been fairly active over the last few days regarding that.

Periodic updates to come as my son and I work through this change in philosophy.

Image Credit: Dark Horse Comics/Pixar, Brad Bird

Mashing Up your Camp

It seems that I have been getting beaten to the punch by so many people lately regarding issues that I have been pondering lately. I can take solace in the fact that some fairly incredible minds are the ones one-upping me, so I am not losing sleep over this. However, when it comes to things that I see daily and try to find my own solutions to, it helps to read about a similar issue on many different levels.

I am coming to believe that our future lies in the idea of a mashup. That's a dichotomous statement; the students of today and tomorrow, also the consumers of today and tomorrow, are going to rely heavily on the ability to customize their web by taking the best parts of the apps they like and combining them into the services they need. The step taken by Yahoo Pipes is but the tip of the iceberg. Yahoo has made it increasingly easy to mash up your feeds into a multi-level search for highly specific information. The mashup for moms" cannot be too much further behind. The other side of the statement reflects something that George Siemens pointed to recently in his blog: the idea that teaching and technology can not be mutually exclusive any longer. Further, that allegiance to one over the other leads to a dangerous conclusion, regardless of the camp you are in.

For too many, technology is seen as a means to replace lectures. So, we have traditionalists standing up and saying "technology removes engagement...what we need is charismatic lecturers". This same myopic view is seen by technologists - eliminate all lectures, make everything self-exploratory - give the learner complete control, let them choose their own learning. The inability to think holistically is the key fault of both camps. News flash: to traditionalists: technology isn't going away - the toothpaste is out of the technologists: technology tools won't be adopted without critical reflection...your attempts at conversion are as narrow in focus as those you are criticizing. And, the part that sucks, is that at various times, I have been in both camps.

Here are also some quotes I have heard from teachers in my building lately:

  • "Sometimes they (students) just want to sit there and listen to you lecture."
  • "Any chance to get out of there seats and move around, they take it and you've lost them for the day."
  • "This kid here would never answer a question in class, let alone get into the book we are reading, but put him on the wiki, and he won't stop."
  • "I haven't seen this girl talk about her work in any way this year, until we let her design buildings using Sketchup."
After reading George's post, the connection to his thoughts was immediate. You can't sit in one camp and criticize the other for same faults. Pots and kettles here. Connecting students to relevant material that alters forces teachers to alter their perceptions of who the students are, makes both sides "mashup;" lecturers who seek participation are going to see less and less of it as time goes on, regardless of how charismatic they are, unless in the follow-up they have allowed the students to continue the discussion asynchronously outside of the classroom. No amount of showmanship will make up for the need to connect with like-minded learners (see Princeton). The first quote is correct: sometimes students don't need to be flying about your classroom working collaboratively, but we are mistaken if we don't give them that opportunity outside of the 40 minutes we might see them that day. Reflection is something that new technology allows students, and especially reflection with collaboration. Check out our AP Language wiki if you want to see that in action.

Jeff Utecht remarked not so long ago, that "it's just hardware," and I have made mention of this several times over the last month or so. Perhaps it is a not so subtle reminder to myself to see it from the classroom teacher's perspective, whose sole purpose in that room is to find and use tools to help the students learn. But more importantly, we need to see technology in classrooms, or lecture halls for that matter, for what it is: an avenue to reach our learners in an engaging way. Nothing more, nothing less. If it takes technology to get your students to conceptualize, to collaborate, and to network, then we shouldn't hesitate out of fear--we should become the learners ourselves.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Finding Places for People

I play basketball once or twice a week with a group of guys--some teachers, some from outside of the profession in the financial and accounting professions. Amid a conversation with one of them today, the "infection" that this article from Dan Pink has spread within me surfaced. I like these guys; some of them have families. Where do they fit in this new economy?

There was one gentleman that I just met there tonight who was a financial advisor. Pink talks about the changing nature of the finance industry in this paragraph:

Consider jobs in financial services. Stockbrokers who merely execute transactions are history. Online trading services and market makers do such work far more efficiently. The brokers who survived have morphed from routine order-takers to less easily replicated advisers, who can understand a client's broader financial objectives and even the client's emotions and dreams.
Could this guy do that? Does he have it within him, enough talent in his left brain, to transform what he is currently doing into what he will need to do for the future? Or the question that has really bugged me since this article has been stuck in my craw, will his children adapt because their school system prepared them for this change?

I spent some time in some sophomore history classes today explaining how to create digital stories. Some of them are former students of mine, so it was nice to see them in a different light, but most I did not know. As I explained the premise behind why their teacher and I had changed their project from a standard storyboard to a digital story, I looked around the room listened to my internal monologue begin to script itself: are they truly ready? will they be by the time they leave these doors, because certainly not all of them will move on to a university, and even then that might not be sufficient preparation? The two kids in one class who sat directly in front of me and spent more time staring at their shoes, do they have the "ability to create artistic and emotional beauty, to detect patterns and opportunities, to craft a satisfying narrative, and to come up with inventions the world didn't know it was missing?" It's discomforting, but I can't honestly say yes. Not until we embrace a new model for schools.
To flourish in this age, we'll need to supplement our well-developed high tech abilities with aptitudes that are "high concept" and "high touch." ... High touch involves the capacity to empathize, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one's self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.

These abilities that Pink talks about, the high-touch aptitudes, are they present in your school? in my school? From my perspective, I would say they are in certain areas. Those staff members who routinely involve students in the planning of their classes, in the gathering of information and resources, and acknowledge that they too are learners, their adaptation and process to "School 2.0" won't be a huge shift. It's the rest of us who need to alter our philosophies. I include myself in this category because I, too, have to radically change the way I run my workshops for staff. The most promising part of all of this, and I remind myself of this all of the time, is that I am asking the right questions, and seeking answers from every source I can find.

The competition responds to Google

As exciting as Google's announcement was today regarding their release of Google Apps, ripples were felt by all of the Web-as-office company's today. Check out Zoho's response here:

Now that Google has announced its gameplan for an online Office suite targeting businesses, what does it mean for Zoho? As a TechCrunch commenter remarked
“looks like poor old Zoho just got thrown a curveball”. Well, it is not
like we were not facing an “insurmountable” force already (does the
name Microsoft ring a bell?). Our business plan is not based on us
beating Microsoft or Google, it is based on serving customers well
enough to earn a profitable share of the market. Business is not
superbowl, though it often appears that way in a 24×7 news cycle. It is
perfectly possible for a smaller company to offer a compelling product
to customers and earn a perfectly good living, without “winning” the
market. And having a profitable business helps us invest in R to
bring more innovations to market, keeping the pot boiling so to speak.
After all, building a profitable business in AdventNet is what allowed
us to invest in the R to create Zoho - and made this conversation
possible! And if you look at the markets AdventNet serves, we have tens
of thousands of happy business customers, but we also face companies
much larger than us.

As of today, it is Zoho that has a broader, more polished suite of
offerings than anyone else in the market - as the overwhelming response
to Zoho Notebook
demonstrated. We are sure Google’s offerings will get better over time,
but we are sure we will keep moving too. And services like Zoho CRM, Zoho Projects and Zoho Creator
help us differentiate our offerings even more, helping us in the
crucial task of earning a profitable share of the market. We are by no
means finished - in March we have a significant new offering coming,
and even more in the months ahead.

Let’s not forget that Google can and does really expand the market
for all of us in the online productivity applications space. This is
the famous “anchor tenant” effect in shopping malls - having the
presence of a large, recognized retail player helps attract the crowd
to help the smaller players. We have already seen how our busiest days
are when Google makes an announcement.

One assurance we can give customers: we have a strong, profitable
business, focused on delivering real value to our users. We have a ten
year track record to prove it. And we try harder.

I am just going to sit back, try them all and let the big dogs keep creating good stuff. This can only be good for me.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stuck in the Middle

with the middle man out of the equation, the learning is dramatically enhanced.

Tom Haskins at growing changing learning creating writes about Cutting out the Middle Man in response to creating what he and others at his blog call "Free Range Chickens." While I believe empowering learners with the skills to create their own research and inquiry, I have to wonder if primary and elementary teachers could do this affectively.

I got all jazzed up when I read his post describing the very nature of eliminating the "middle man" in the learning process because that is precisely what has been happening with me over the last few months. Since I have been a participant in the world of Web 2.0 and the blogosphere, I cannot express to people enough how much I have learned and at what a joyous rate I have learned it. When I want to know something, figure something out, or find an expert, I can, and do. I do not need to go through anyone (except for my wife, depending on the state of my household responsibilities) in order to seek permission to know it. Harold Jarche wrote about it in reference to Seth Godin's description of "Sheepwalkers"--those students who are herded through school using fear as a motivator and compliant behavior as a guideline. The break is significant and liberating:

One of the reasons I’m all fired up about the potential of informal
learning on the Web is that it can let us be wolves in our learning. We
have the means to connect with other members of the pack all over the
world. We don’t have to revert to sheepdom so that we can be scheduled
for the next course or workshop or whatever the all-knowing
organisation has decided is best for us. “I don’t need your course,
I’ll learn it on my own and I’ll find others who are willing to help

The very idea of going back to graduate school for my degree in educational technology makes no sense any longer. I can find what I need immediately, and find it within a practical context that I can use on the spot to solve a work-related problem.

However, having worked with middle school- and high school-aged children for the last five years, unleashing them to their own "wolvedom" is more than any school system could handle. The inquiry-based learning is essential, but it has to be given within a framework that the students can butt up against and push. Creativity, as I discussed in an earlier post, works most productively within frameworks, so that the limits can be tested and redrawn. Learning theory and lesson design should act along the same principle. I like how Wes Fryer at Moving at the Speed of Creativity writes today about high-stakes testing, rigor and accountability being less important as these three things when it comes to student learning:

  1. Remix: Students need to regularly remix their learning to own the ideas.
  2. Deregulation:
    Learners need to be freed to take the TIME required for in-depth rather
    than shallow studies in problem-based, project-based constructionist
    and constructivist learning activities.
  3. Differentiation:
    Learning opportunities, challenges, and assessments must be
    differentiated to meet the needs as well as interests of a diverse
    array of learners.
Those three points meet a need for learners and schools succinctly, and while, yes, they do represent a somewhat radical shift away from our current school model, I can see them fitting nicely within a philosophical change, say one that would include becoming a 1:1 school.

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Is Steve Jobs the enemy? Probably not.

Just wanted to point to a few posts recently by two very influential bloggers: Christian Long and Jim Forde. Regarding Steve Jobs recent comments in Texas about the affect of unions on the current state of technology in education, each writer has a fantastic spin:

Christian, salient as usual writes:

Perhaps if we got off the union's back for one, but also realized that the union served a different era. Perhaps if we stopped trying to burn the education system at the stake for another, and began to celebrate how profoundly successful it was in a zero-to-million-miles-an-hour way.

And then maybe we can begin to get on with the business of focusing on learning. Not systems. Not unions. Not accusations. Not business vs. teachers. Not federal mandates vs. anti-testing.

Just learning. By any means necessary. With an eye on tomorrow. Not the history books. And not the lines in the sand, either.
At Jim's blog, where I originally found this story, he and I engaged in a short discussion regarding this:
When your livelihood depends on the whims of municipal taxpayers, school boards, and shrinking state funds, any protection you can latch on to is essential. Our system of tenure, enacted long ago to protect teaching positions from shifts in political power, affords us a job security that few other professions enjoy, but makes it difficult to free a district of a failing, or even criminal teacher.

What Jobs said is not something we haven't heard in some form from other business leaders. What I take from it is that the public perception of teachers needs to be changed. To do this, I love the idea of total transparency, of taking the work that our teachers and students are doing and holding it up before the public. I have confidence in my fellow teachers, and the work they do would stand up to any public scrutiny, making those comments by Jobs or by the "Tough Choices or Tough Times" signers seem off-base.
Jim responded in kind:
I like your idea for using transparency as an antidote sweeping negative generalizations.

I agree with you in that my experience in schools is that the VAST VAST majority of tenured teachers are hard working people who care about kids. Without them, the system, as agrarian as it is, would come to a screeching halt.

A colleague of mine once said that when parents are asked about "the" public schools they generally commented negatively but when asked about "their kid's" schools they generally commented positively. I think this speaks to the fact that the more people understand what is actually happening in schools, the more they will be awed by the amazing commitment that an average educator shows for the kids in their learning community.
It's an age old argument, but I really like believing that we are capable of Christian's vision here. This has to be a bottom-up movement, unlike so many educational reforms of the past (the idea of the pendulum). We should be in the business of focusing on the learning.

The Power of Google

I am beginning to prepare for my upcoming workshops this spring, one of which I am titling "The Power of Google." The class will center on the free applications available for educators at the Google for Educators site and how to design lessons that include the applications as part of the process. In addition, I want to see my staff embrace some of the personal applications, like Google Reader, Blogger, Notebook; these tools, with the proper modeling, can begin to change the way they use the web, moving from a one-way operation, to a read/write operation.

The articles that keep coming in through Reader or through Pageflakes, while touting the arrival of the as-yet fictional GoogleOS, all point to a really amazing trend: the Internet OS. Steve Warren at Datamation writes:

Microsoft, Apple, Google, Linux, etc. are on the verge of the next
computer revolution. I believe Microsoft put out its last big operating
system with Vista, and will next modularize its OS via Windows Live and
the Internet. In other words, rather than spending five years building
an enormous new release with endless lines of code to release in one
complete package, I see Microsoft offering consumers the core
slimmed-down software, and then adding or updating portions as they are

That's exciting stuff, and the groundwork is being laid by applications like OpenOffice, Zoho (which I keep writing about) and of course Google. Beyond the coolness factor, these are some real powerful tools to be put in the hands of educators and students. Collaborative work, simultaneous edits, and asynchronous learning are all integral parts to these applications--they are built in.

Chris Dawson at ZDNet writes that "Teaching Google certainly means teaching students to harvest the power
of a great (but utterly overwhelming) search appliance, but, more
importantly, it means showing them what Web 2.0 is really all about." When students explain to their teachers that the research they "copied and pasted" into their research paper or project came from the top two or three search results at Google, the teacher needs to have some recourse, and we don't have to look much further than Google itself, even before it went 2.0. But the features that will really sell this to the people that need it, my staff, will be the RSS feeds and the ability for them to share documents.

I have this vision of a lesson, shown originally to me by Mark Erb of Kutztown High School, in Kutztown, PA using SubEthaEdit, whereby the students are broken into groups and asked to answer a series of questions on a document. The rules are simply that the groups must answer the question "live" in Google Documents, where no two groups can have the same answer to the question. So as the students are writing their answer they are debating the answers of the other groups and creatively finding another solution. You just can't do this stuff with desktop publishing applications.

Dawson states what I believe is going to be true, and what I hope will be true after this year in my district:

In fact, I really believe that any high school class offered in basic productivity apps like Word and Excel really needs to hit on Web 2.0 style apps like Google Docs. If this reflects the state of the art and an emerging trend in the business world (Office Live, anyone?), then any business-oriented computing class would be remiss if it didn't cover Google Apps.

The addition of these read/write technologies, at least on the word processing front is a great avenue to introduce faculty to what is available to them in not so foreign an environment. Like Susan Brooks-Young, I too am looking for any resources in this area.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Princeton Questions Use of Laptops, PowerPoint

Thanks to Jim Forde for bringing this to my attention. In a recent article in the Daily Princetonian, Carol Lu reported that the Ivy League university is seriously rethinking its stance on two issues: laptop use and the abuse of PowerPoint as the primary means of multimedia presentations.

Kudos to the university for a little self-reflection in regards to its educational technology. It's reassuring to know that even high-powered Ivy League institutions are struggling with the same student malaise in classrooms as we are here in the K-12 environment.

This quote from the article rang discordantly with me when I read it:

"Laptops can be very beneficial to students who wish to organize at the end of the day, week or semester," former USG academics chair Caitlin Sullivan '07 said. "At the same time, I often see emails, [instant] messenger and even videos on their screens [during class]. Those are the two ends of the spectrum."

I understand that quotes taken out of context can mislead; however,
the potential for professors to use laptop technology to their
advantage far outweighs the "organizing" principles associated with
laptop use.

The problem may not be with the laptops, but rather academia's ability to capture today's students with conventional lectures. At Assorted Stuff, Tim Stahmer brings up two great points in regards to the same article. If the content and delivery aren't engaging, what does it matter if it's PowerPoint or not:

"Again, who’s fault is that? PowerPoint doesn’t “induce” anything. Boring lectures are going to be boring with or without the accompanying slide show."

I see quite a bit of PowerPoint during my travels throughout my buildings, but I often see it accompanied with some fantastic pedagogy. Student interest remains high because of the ability of the teacher to understand the needs of the learners in the room. I also see a lot of time spent on projects where the student's end result is a PowerPoint, complete with notecards and an awkward 5 minutes in front of the room reading exactly what is on the slide.

Princeton, and for that matter, all of us, needs to look at what need is being fulfilled by PowerPoint from the professor's view. My teachers use it because it enables them to organize their thoughts and provide jumping off points for lectures. The obvious question would be : what else is out there that we can use to replace it? But the better question is, how can I get myself away from 40 minutes of relying on a PowerPoint, and move towards a truly interactive, student-driven lesson? I bet we could answer the obvious question in a few minutes, but the second one is the one that deserves our attention.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Tech Savvy Student

I just read "How Choice, Co-Creation, and Culture Are Changing What It Means to Be Net Savvy," which primarily deals with higher education, but the article illuminates two points that deal with K-12 learning:
  • Students depending more and more on referrals from social networks for information and take that information and re-make it into something that works for them.
One thing that teachers I speak to struggle with is the problem that students believe that because they read it somewhere, whether it is the Internet or a print source, that it is unequivocally true. This idea that there is a filtering process done through social networking and sharing is a double-edged sword and one where I feel defines the role of the "new teacher" (or as Wes Fryer would say, good teacher). Reliance on social networks without the learned ability to decipher the meaningful information from the meaningless is a flawed strategy, and not nearly far enough removed from the initial feeling that all information is inherently true because it is on "the Internet." Steve Borsch spoke about this recently:

Meaning is critical since our increasingly connected world means that discernment between "signal" and "noise" is harder to achieve. Figuring out what matters and is important is tougher than ever before.

  • Technological literacy is not a one-size fits all problem
I like how Will Richardson describes how learning has changed simply by saying that "learning is no longer an event-- but occurs any time any place- 24/7." As much as this change is being pushed upon us by the rise of information and resources available to students, it is not a new concept, or at least not an idea that will surprise everyone. The role of public education has shifted in the last 50 years to include the idea that incorporating special education students into regular education classes. The term "one-size fits all" has long been discarded, or should have been. Several of my conversations today with Mitch and Jeff from Lecture123 included the phrase "on their own terms," and I liked the idea that we can put content out there in a content management system and students at all levels can access it at the pace that they can handle. This is a scaffolded network, and where they go from there is the other half of the new learning process.

I can't think of anything more exciting than having access to so many tools as a student. From podcasts to blogs and wikis or even skyping an expert as Vicki Davis recommends, learning is not isolated to the 40 or 50 minutes we see our students, but we can extend well beyond that. I would prefer it to span a lifetime.

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February 16th NJECC meeting at Montclair State University.

This is a monthly meeting I attend with an organization that has been around since the early 80's. Whenever I leave here I always feel charged with new ideas and the energy to do them. The most interesting thing about today's meeting is that I am speaking about Lecture123 and how we use it in our schools.

My cohort, Dave Gorecki, was unable to make it today, so I will be going over the primary and elementary school uses as well. It is an interesting thing to switch gears like this, and try to understand the different methodologies they use, especially with an application like Lecture123. We use it at the middle and high school level with the idea that it will be used by individuals on their iPods and their home computers. The delivery of the content, along with the interactive and collaborative nature of the question and answer feature embedded in Lecture123, make it ideal for heavy content and lecture notes that the students may need in preparing for exams or large projects. In the primary and elementary, the teachers have taken a different approach, using it instead as a center at an individual workstation in conjunction with other features of a lesson. They are truly using it as a cog in a much bigger project.

The end goal of this, after speaking with Mitch and Jeff from Lecture123, is to include these taped lectures as part of a course management system. We are looking into Moodle, Drupal, and the like to see where we can house this so the students would have access to this content in addition to blogs, wikis, and RSS feeds. If anyone cares to, go check out the Lecture123 site, and let us know which CMS you have experience with.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Creativity, within reason

In working with staff members lately, I am realizing the relationship between creativity and constraint, and the recent spate of articles discussing this point has given me some more insight into why this relationship produces the most compelling work. I pulled this in from T.S. Eliot via Blogspotting:
When forced to work within a strict framework the imagination is taxed to its outmost – and will produce its richest ideas. Given total freedom the work is likely to sprawl."
Eliot uses an exacting phrase here when he equates creative freedom with sprawl. It is a rare student that can perform task without boundaries or scaffolding, and I am sure that we have all had that issue in our own work as adults and professionals. I am finding that the more I work with teachers, it is much easier to take something that is familiar and they have had success with before and re-work it. Where before the boundaries were rigid, read/write technologies and applications are making it malleable and teachers are seeing their previous lessons have richer outcomes and higher levels of student ownership. We are being careful not to throw technology at them for the sake of using it, but rather only as a pedagogical tool.

It's a pull v. push issue, where our creativity must exist within the confines of a fixed framework. Marissa Ann Mayer, of Google fame, began her recent article in Business Week, Creativity Loves Constraints with this fantastic statement:
" ... When people think about creativity, they think about artistic work -- unbridled, unguided effort that leads to beautiful effect. But if you look deeper, you'll find that some of the most inspiring art forms, such as haikus, sonatas, and religious paintings, are fraught with constraints. They are beautiful because creativity triumphed over the "rules." Constraints shape and focus problems and provide clear challenges to overcome. Creativity thrives best when constrained. But constraints must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible. Too many curbs can lead to pessimism and despair. Disregarding the bounds of what we know or accept gives rise to ideas that are non-obvious, unconventional, or unexplored. The creativity realized in this balance between constraint and disregard for the impossible is fueled by passion and leads to revolutionary change ..."

The classrooms of today, at times eerily similar to classrooms of twenty, thirty, and some would say one-hundred years ago, are fraught with limiting elements: parent pressures, individualized education programs, state standards and standardized testing, and, in reality, the physical four walls of the classroom. And yet, we continually push those boundaries, and read about others who are creating some fantastic projects like Clay Burell in Seoul, and Karl Fisch in Colorado. As hard as we may push against those confinements, the more useful we will find the struggle and thus the result.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Here is a list of the workshops I am offering in my district this spring. Take a look and let me know what you think they should include. I have not yet created all of the material or the syllabus for most of them, so any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  • Digital Storytelling
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Podcasting
  • Writing in the Era of the MySpace Generation
  • Do you Wiki?
  • Social Bookmarking
  • Google Applications
  • Adobe InDesign
  • Using the Interactive Whiteboard
  • Welcome to Web 2.0
Also, if you run something similar in your district, or have attended something similar, I would love to hear about it.

When Everyone is Famous

All day today, whenever I had a moment where I would drift into a momentary daydream, I was getting into pretend, or as I like to say, practice, arguments with people. The primary topic was an issue that surfaced in a New York Times article from Corey Kilgannon (Teenagers Misbehaving, for All Online to Watch).

The imaginary arguments in my head notwithstanding, articles like this one draw attention to a very easy issue to be alarmed at, and when I read pieces like this I can't help but think that inevitably readers are writing off youth culture and signing up to permanently block sites like YouTube or Photobucket from their town's school district. Quotes like this one form Dr. Adesman point out the fundamental difference between traditional student mayhem and today's version:

"Teens have been doing inappropriate things for a long time, but now they think they can become celebrities by doing it,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children’s Hospital at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.

The technology has trickled down into the hands of students, whereas in past years it was primarily in the hands of journalists, or at best, the random witness to a crime. The shock I remember at the first glance of the Rodney King video would hardly register today. Why? Is it that violence has risen to a new level of ubiquity?

“Teens always do crazy stuff, but it’s just that much more intense and fun when you can post it,” said Nathaniel Visneaskous, 18, of Deer Park. “When you live in a boring town, what else is there to do?”

This is when the argument in my head went viral. When students are making statements like this, the role of the educational community becomes apparent. We need to teach them that their story on the web is one that they create. These videos, their MySpace pages, whatever they connect themselves to is the story they are writing. As quickly as we make judgments regarding the information we deem as worthy of our attention, we can do the same to individuals in that sphere. We are clickable now, and our reputation will be directly linked to what is available about us on the web.

The fence-plowing pioneer in the article, Adam Schleichkorn, in a classic bit of hucksterism, used his unexpected notoriety to bolster his commercial interests. If this is true that the video was not a staged event, but rather a serendipitous one, then we can applaud Schleichkorn for his savvy. We can teach this type of literacy.

This area of heated confrontation between students, school administrations, town officials, and inevitably police, is full of teachable moments. Finding the time to have the conversations with the students regarding their content needs to be a priority, or articles like this one will only continue to populate the front pages of newspapers, and the grocery aisles of towns across the country.

Regarding the argument I staged in my mind regarding this, I found a quote from James Montier in a recent Fast Company article (Prophet Among Pinstripes)
You should look for all the evidence that goes against your view...Most people are not inclined to sit down with people who disagree with them.
Sound advice.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Using Video Game Design Principles in the Classroom

Here is a great idea that the University of Chicago came up with at the North Kenwood Oakland Middle School along with the Center for Urban School Improvement's Digital Youth Program:

The challenge we chose to accept was to use video game design principles to design a course to develop students’ digital media skills, media critique skills and overall computer literacy. If successful teachers could effectively take advantage of the resources afforded by the school’s 1:1 computing environment. Our solution - a 90 minute weekly media arts class set up as a simulated record label taught by two members of the Digital Youth after school staff who are involved in the music industry. Each sixth grade class was given the goal of creating by the end of the school year; 2 recording groups, 7 songs, 2 music videos, a publicity campaign that included a 30 second radio promo, a website and a CD. The culminating activity for this Media Arts class is a record label launch party.(from Pinkard: Videogames Inspire a Different Design for Classroom Learning)

The prospect of asking large public schools to infuse technology into their curriculum is harrowing enough sometimes, and asking them to then use the model of a video game, long considered the arch-rival to academic rigor, is one I wasn't really able to visualize before I came across this article. I like the idea of creating a multi-layer project under the guise of a far-off product release or showcase. It's authentic to the students and according the article, fulfilling enough for them to use higher-level thinking skills to accomplish. Meanwhile, the students will never see it this way. Through their eyes, they are making something happen, making something appear alive where there was nothing in the beginning: it has value and meaning rather than second-hand obligation. It always reminds me of when I start saving money for something; as the amount in the bank grows, the momentum becomes palpable and you begin doing whatever you can to see it continue and increase. In the end, the correct environment was created.

I am curious as to what the discussions are like among group members in this project and how they have set it up; what was the bait? Thanks to Scott McLeod for turning me on to anti-teaching, and the merits it has in creating questions, rather than demanding answers. Mike Wesch, the author of Anti-Teaching, comes to the realization that the environment where learning takes place far outweighs the benefit of "good" teaching. He states:

Borrowing from Marshal McLuhan’s famous aphorism, “the medium is the message,” Postman and Weingartner argue that the environment (or “medium”) of learning is more important than the content (the “message”) and therefor teachers should begin paying more attention to the learning environment they help to create. The emphasis is on “managing” this environment rather than teaching per se.

The project created in the North Kenwood Oakland Middle School is a fantastic example of this. A non-traditional setting where the students determine the outcomes based on questions that they themselves generate. An environment where structures and scaffolding were not limiting, but rather acted much like a game situation; when one problem or question was satisfied, another level of questions presented itself. There's the connection then: let us design lessons not to replicate the pace, or even the technology of the video game, but rather its emphasis on challenging the learner with a series of tasks that engage them and move them along a semi-determined path.

If anyone has any similar lessons or designs like this, I would love to start moving toward this with my staff. I know there is a bridge to gap between where the students aptitudes and interests are (see "Manifesto"), but the difference does not have to be made up solely by technology. Mike Wesch does it with little technology, save the digital cameras for recording the outcome, with close to 400 students. This is possible.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Sparta Students Speak Out

Our students have been involved with Teaching Matters, a non-profit group based out of New York City, for about three months now. Teaching Matters, among the many services they provide for a fee to a district, hosts a free website called Writing the City, where middle school writing can be showcased. We have about seven active pages, with several more pending submission of student work. It is password protected, and teachers have the right to restrict whether or not a story is made public, or kept private so only space members can see it. They also have the opportunity to make it a feature, which then opens it up to be placed on the front page of Writing the City.

Mainly language arts teachers in our middle school have been using it for various genres, but recently one of our 8th grade science teachers did some individual research on federal regulation of roller coasters at amusement parks and found some interesting data. Once she shared this with her students, the idea to write their Senators and appeal to them to change the way the government regulates the rides was hatched. Mrs. Ciolino then approached me about whether or not Writing the City would be an appropriate venue. Any chance I get to show off student work, or rather have the students put themselves out there for a wider audience, I immediately take. Check out the public letters here.

In my initial presentation to the students, I pose a simple question to them: how many people do you expect to read the stories or essays you write for class? The standard answer is between 2 and 4 (teacher, student, peer-reviewer, and maybe parents). I then ask them if they knew their story or essay was going to be read by 20, 30, 40, or in one case 1600 people, would they do anything different when they were engaged in the writing process? Overwhelmingly they agree that they would. Audience, magnified like that, appeals to the sense of community and identity that middle school and high school children have; their "story" becomes a part of who they are in the society of school. The power of those numbers has a legitimate affect on student performance; I don't have the academics to prove that yet, but it is something I am seeing through this experience.

The hands-down best part of this has been on days when I am in classes showing them how to post their first story and they start seeing their work appear online. They go nuts, but then things quiet down as more stories are posted, until the room is nearly silent. They are reading each other, like they never would have before.

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The IMspeak debate

How do I answer the question regarding whether or not to allow students to use IM language on school related webs? I always felt that this decision should not be a district-wide policy, but rather a more informed, specialized decision coming after reflection from the teachers. I have bookmarked this post by David Warlick from which I pulled this quote. In it, he is responding to a comment on his blog by a women named Beth who ardently disagrees with using anything other than proper and complete English in all university writing, especially the school newspaper:
I respectfully disagreed with Beth, who describes herself in her blog as “..a freelance scientist, educator, artist, model and social engineer”. We tend to give writing assignments with the assumption that the pinnacle goal of all children is to become a college professor. We seem to want to train our children to grow up to be scholars. There is history to this, where there was a time when you went to college to become a scholar. Most other occupations were achieved through apprenticeships.

When Beth writes to her scientist friends, she will write in a style and with a vocabulary that is different than what and how she will write to her model friends. In writing about social engineering she will speak from the same creative energy as with art, but the voice will still be different.

My point is that we should be teaching students to communicate with audiences in order to accomplish goals. The style of communication, the vocabulary, and even the spelling will depend on the audience and the goal, and that’s what we should teach.

I have had discussions with teachers in my buildings on the topic of whether or not we should allow IMspeak on any of our online publications or wikis. The line falls in a similar spot as the one in the debate over whether students should use Citation Machine for works cited sections of research papers.

This is a great set of paragraphs here, where the need for teaching audience trumps that of enforcing overarching grammar rules. This is where the discussion should be. My humble interpretation of the future leads me to believe that those with the ability to specifically communicate with a targeted audience will be the most sought after individuals in the new economy.

Inspiration is what you make it.

"People want to work in a place where they feel inspired."

-Ryan Wuerch , founder, Motricity

Next time you walk into your school, office or what have you, ask yourself if this is true of you. If not, what needs to change--the environment, or you?

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Friday, February 9, 2007

A Squarely Hit Nail

A few years back I worked in a publishing house, figuring that to become a writer I first had to understand the business behind the book. Well, what I discovered, aside from the fact that everyone I worked with was also a writer-in-training, was that books did not magically appear from the pen of the author and land sweetly in the hands of the reader. The writing was such a small part of the production of the book, which was itself a commodity. Very quickly, any enthusiasm I had for the job waned, as did my performance. I was king of the minimum yearly raise. Where all of the other hacks I worked with got upwards of 5- and 6%, I slunk by with my 3%.

This recollection came to me after reading Kathy Sierra's post at Creating Passionate Users regarding how to instill passion in your employees. To quote a passage that struck me:
[UPDATE: I do not consider "caring about the user" as separate from "our work." In other words, I consider one who is truly passionate about their work to have "the effect it has on the user" as a fundamental part of that work. A tech book author/teacher who has brilliant wordsmithing and technical breadth but no effect on the reader is not a professional. A software developer who crafts

brilliant code that doesn't include that code's effect on the user is not a professional. Part of what makes us professional/craftspeople is that we value and never forget the POINT of our work, and the point is--for most of us--what it means for the user. It's quite sad that many of our professions have rewarded work without making the user the most important attribute of how we asses that work.]
I have been having a short conversation with Steve Borsch based on my comment about his post yesterday dealing with the issue of people relying heavily on products that are not really ready for them to rely on. He was talking about YahooPipes, and I was talking about using Web 2.0 apps with teachers. As we use these applications we are discovering that they don't all work for us: some are great, others unreliable. But, in theory, they are fantastic. Kathy's post lets us know that passion for the creation of a product is not enough, that there has to be passion and understanding for how the product will be used.

Educators products, are of course the students we teach. So, not to commoditize it, but if we place that model into our schools how does it fly? Let's look at a special education student for example. When we create curriculum for students to follow, we map out our strategies and lay out our scope and sequence with an eye forever on the state standard that we are trying to satisfy. Our product, the student, will have to go through this "machination" in order to emerge finished on the other side. Education is different in that the "machination" cannot be homogeneous, the processes by which each product is created have to be unique.

So passion is not lacking, and I think parent and child can attest to at least on teacher they had that was truly passionate about their subject matter and the fact that they learn it (thank you Mrs. Fitz). The publishing house taught me a great lesson: I could not work in an environment that did not make me want to, as Sierra puts it "pull an all-nighter because I wanted to." It had to be something that got under my skin, ticked me off, and pushed me even when no one else was around.

We can add all the technology we want, but that essentially does not change. After all, its just hardware.

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Thursday, February 8, 2007

The Irony of it All

Steve Borsch, are you listening in on my conversations?

One of the techs in school today asked me about whether or not we would be moving to Office 2007 in the near future. I had no idea about whether or not we as a district would do that, but I immediately loaded the machine in front of me with Zoho. Our conversation then shifted to how reliable these web-based applications applications are at the current time. Like most districts, the struggle with cost v. performance is one that is constantly bandied about, and I have no information regarding the cost of such a move, I can only imagine that running something like Zoho, or OpenOffice, could have cost benefits.

The sword has two edges, as they say, because my experience even today showed exactly what Steve referred to in his post. Even something as reliable as Google Video caused me hiccups today as I tried to load a video over a fairly fast connection. Until our confidence is boosted to the point where we can rely without worries on web-applications, we will have more doubters than champions.

Yet, I can't stop grinning when I watch that Zoho Notebook Video that is being passed around. Imagine telling a student that there is no format to follow when taking notes. "Just pull in whatever you are comfortable with--audio, video, picture, draw it freehand--whatever gets you plugged in to the information." The power of such an application to be so all encompassing, and yet not live natively on your machine blows me away, and I am giddy at the possibility at getting my hands on it. Howard Gardner might have to add a few categories to his intelligences just to keep up with this push.

So what am I going to do? Use it all, naturally. Students and their needs don't fit squarely into neat little pictures (as an aside, I love the title of Brian Crosby's blog Learning is Messy). Just as we ask our teachers to differentiate their lessons to accomodate various learning styles and heterogeneous levels, I think we shouldn't approach this web-based, software-based question with blinders. Once you get past the wow factor, you have to find what works the best and exploit it.

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Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Value-based learning

This was taken in one of the science labs at SLA last week and it reminded me of a few things, the most prescient being that I love the idea of a school organized around a few wonderful, core ideas. Chris Lehmann has this school humming from what we could see, and I have to think that these ideas are essential to his early success.

In a school here in New Jersey where I used to teach, we had similar organizing principles, called the Quality Standards, by which the students were held accountable for the richness of their work. These here are more geared to the high school level and the methodologies that SLA is employing to reach those goals. Ours were more centered around the middle school mentality and establishing habits in the type of work students produced. They looked something like this:

  • Following Directions- the ability to perform the tasks asked of you
  • Presentation- how your work appeared to others when finished
  • Supporting Details- was your work substantiated
  • Connections- were you able to make a meaningful connection from your research to something outside of the scope of the project
  • Higher Level Thinking- the ability to synthesize and evaluate in your work
  • Evaluation and Revision- your work showed that you had spent time in thought evaluating your finished product
From looking at the SLA model in comparison, I can see that the focus has shifted in education to reflect a new skill set. We want our students to be able to competently show us their abilities in some form--it's the creative component that we keep hearing so much about through people like Dan Pink.

Having been to SLA, but not really having spoken to Chris about these values, here is how I have come to interpret them:
  • Inquiry- what questions are you asking, and what makes you ask them
  • Research- use every attainable and relevant resource available to you to answer these questions
  • Collaboration- can you use the technology available to you to create meaning with others
  • Presentation- showing an audience what you have uncovered and the medium in which you choose is paramount in order to convey your message
  • Reflection- you must be the first one to evaluate the merits of your own research and thought process.
The last paragraph of the Mission and Vision section of their website is what really separates this place from most other secondary institutions at the moment:

At the SLA, learning will not be just something that happens from 8:30am to 3:00pm, but a continuous process that expands beyond the four walls of the classroom into every facet of our lives.

This is where I think we need to move to.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Student Wiki Work!

It's really here. Here are some samples from work our students have recently done using wikis:

In the next couple days, I plan on bringing on the teachers I have been working with to talk a little about their experiences doing the project and the differences they have noted in student learning.

What strikes me is something that you hear all too often nowadays, and yet still not enough: it's all about the conversation. The learning going on "outside the lines," is unprecedented for me. Watching these students delegate, make informed choices, and offer up lines like this one to help the group accomplish a task:

We, need to have some place for other imformation, those questions were only supposed to be a rough outline. I suggest having a section for any miscellaneous info any may have found. I am setting up my own. I suggest you make your own."

Rumors have been circulating around the community that the 7th grade is up to something that has the kids being forced to stop working on their schoolwork and go to bed. That's got to be good.

Check out one of them that is public: Country in a box

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Finding the Rabbit

Thanks to Chris Sessums for drawing my attention to this:

Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us. Dir. Michael Wesch. 2007.

A link of David Warlick's post to Julie Coiro's recent work got me motivated. A lot of my thinking lately has been directed in not only digesting the power of connectivism and the potential of Web 2.0 as it applies to school, but also how to sell it to educators. My job is to facilitate the use of technology in classrooms and to support the staff as they implement it.

It requires a little more when we begin talking about an entire pedagogical shift. It becomes a matter of first making it meaningful to the staff. I would never want to ask a teacher to stand in front of a room of students, especially the digital natives that we have in class today, and have them teach using Web 2.0 tools, unless that teacher had bought in themselves.

Coiro uses the Miss Rumphius Awards as an example for steps that teachers should take when integrating technology in a meaningful way. I like them for what I want to do, and how I want to approach my staff. Taken directly from her site, here they are:

1. Start out small and move through stages.
2. Take a few risks along the way.
3. Take a proactive approach to learning.
4. Encourage your students to share their expertise.
5. Never underestimate the power of collaboration.
6. Seek authentic learning opportunities.
7. Be prepared for change.

Every district has what I term "rabbits," and this term was bandied about at the conference with Will Richardson on Friday. This morning, I listened to his podcast with Rob Mancabelli regarding how to implement social networking technologies into existing schools and the idea of passion and meaning in regards to selling districts on these ideas matched up succinctly with the idea of the "rabbit." We need these tools to mean something to our staff before we ask them to take it to the students. They have to buy in and see the value for themselves as learners, before they use them as teachers.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Which one of you will be my teacher today?

Inasmuch as time hides changes in its gradual flow, slight movements in our philosophies can sometimes go unnoticed, and can surprise us when we are faced with a familiar decision that now has a new outcome.

Listening to Will Richardson yesterday had me spinning in so many great directions. One of the most crystallizing moments happened very early on in the meeting when Will showed us that Christian Long, who was also in the audience, had already blogged about what we were talking about. Christian had noted something that Will said:

"Everyone that comes to my blog is a potential teacher of mine."

This statement had, up until that point, been an elusive idea for me as I began to blog and to post comments on other people's blogs. What was it that I was doing? I knew that I wanted dialogue and communication, feedback and even a little controversy. Putting these actions that I was making into the context of teacher/learner shed some light on the relationship between these 2.0 concepts and how they relate to my schools and schools everywhere.

My limited time in education has shown me a few things that work and several things that don't when it comes to student learning. The most cogent so far is the need for students to connect their thinking, their work, their own meaning, to other people and ideas outside of the classroom. At Smith School, we were always expected to ask our students to show us connections between the subjects at hand and the outside world. This is what blogging has become for me over the last few months, and this is what Will was talking about when he made that statement.

Here is the essential process that I garnered from our discussion yesterday:

  1. Read: the need to seek out quality information will never disappear. Once I find it, I'll use it.
  2. Think/Synthesize: reflection on what we are consuming as text: photos, videos, text, multimedia. Where does it belong in my network?
  3. Write: put it out there for your community, the world, and let the dialogue begin.
  4. Process: what has happened to your ideas? Do you need to reassess?
  5. Write: respond and defend, acquiesce, merge.

I learn because I pursue information. The tools made available to me by read/write technology don't insure that I will learn, just as syllabi and extensive reading lists never did. We make choices about our learning as we go through school, and not just about what courses we will take. We choose to retain certain pieces of information more than others; we choose to use certain research over others for our writing. Why?

Because we have learned to be editors of information. The flow of information is now slightly overwhelming, and the ability for us to gain access to it blows me away. The tools are only half the game though. The choices about what we let past our filter determine the depths to which we learn. What is quality, what is not? The days of choosing the top three entries on a Google search (one of my least favorite student habits) need to be altered.

What School 2.0 is to me right now is about creating networks, about placing our schools into those networks where they can become part of their own communities. I want the world to see what we do, so that in turn, we can use that world as part of our network.

We'll see how it goes.

Friday, February 2, 2007


Based on the sheer abundance of ideas that came out of today's session with Will Richardson at Science Leadership Academy, I apologize in advance if this post goes wildly off topic. The main reasons I traveled to Philadelphia for the day were inspiration and curiosity; both were pronouncedly satisfied and yet piqued beyond what I had expected.

A while ago, I had clipped some segments off of David Warlick's blog about the term "transparency" and how using Web 2.0 technologies allowed our schools to become open not only to the parents of the students involved in the learning, nor the community in which the school exists, but also the world at large.

The business world has always had some good examples of companies that were transparent and authentic with their customers, but there would likely be agreement these were too few and far between. ...There is no doubt that the technologies we call Web 2.0 have both required and produced transparency and authenticity. Blogging, especially, by its very nature, helps create transparency and authenticity--both for ourselves in our own thinking processes (see this thread on Will Richardson's blog), and for our organizations. This is why true blogging is so hard for companies that don't have an open culture.

What is it that we would want to hide in our schools? Making our schools transparent to the world at large will only serve, as Will discussed today, to allow our students and teachers alike access to more teachers. The world is full of "teachable moments" as we like to say in our profession, and we must seek them out in order to give students of the 21st Century the tools they need to succeed in the emerging economies.

I look at the staff I work with at both schools, and I can't wait to take what they do to the transparent level. Whether that is through blogging with them or whatever medium they become comfortable with, I don't really care yet. What challenges me is the idea that we are able to teach them the ways in which to bring their students into the realm where they already exist, yet I haven't started to make a dent yet.

Chris Sessum's blog recently included the following:
Many schools operate out of fear of their constituencies and stakeholders. Many schools are afraid what the public would say if they knew what was going on inside.
This, from my own experience, is not what is happening. Becoming open to the world involves some serious soul-searching and expiation, and the fear of revealing what is going on inside the walls of schools is not what is inhibiting. Rather, shifting the paradigm in which a school has forever existed, and further, in which a teacher has always existed, is a groundbreaking move. As much as we embrace it, we have to be mindful that people need to be reassured that they will not be hurt in some way in the process.

The changing landscape of lesson design.

The movement towards classrooms of the 21st Century will include the use of technologies that will drastically change the role of the lead teacher. According to Judith Boettcher in her recent article in Innovate, Innovate - Ten Core Principles for Designing Effective Learning Environments: Insights from Brain Research and Pedagogical Theory

the faculty member moves from the center of the class communication pattern—as is common in the traditional transmission mode of learning—to the periphery. In turn, the anywhere/anytime access to communication tools makes it easy for students to go outside the organized course structure and content.

Designing units and lessons in the next few years will become more about designing an experience within a new learning environment. That is not to say that we do not do that now; simply put, the environment is changing and the tools that we have to work within that environment, or better yet, the tools that are students are using, have enabled us to maximize our use of it.

Another significant design impact of these tools is the ease by which students can customize their own learning experiences as the content boundaries of a course dissolve. Readily available mobile tools now support information access and flow in real time, enabling current events, global perspectives, and far-flung resources to be brought into immediate and fresh relief. Every statement by a faculty member is subject to challenge, addition, or confirmation from a student's Google search.

Here is the part where it gets interesting. That challenge has to be met with zeal by the instructor. As has happened in the past, challenging authority has its positives and negatives in learning environments. My take is that is should be built into the lesson design or the course syllabus.

Many teachers have been surprised by the shifts in learning dynamics and relationships created by these tools; at the same time, many teachers are now enthusiastically embracing these changes as they recognize the many benefits of learners becoming more engaged and active in their learning.

If learners feel that their input is valid and relevant and can contribute to the common goal of group learning, they are invested in that environment. After all, learning is a social experience (see Chris Sessum's blog) Let's not forget to include that in the creation of the 21st Century student.