Saturday, July 28, 2007

Gearing for a great stretch

I have spent most of today's not child-care related moments banging these keys and scouring my connections for resources and inspiration. These next two weeks hold the following: two-day workshop on wikis, one day workshop on social bookmarking, two-day workshop on web 2.0 teaching strategies, two-day workshop on Google Apps, and a two-day workshop on research 2.0. Needless to say, all my summer slacking is beginning to haunt me and steal my sleep.

In actuality, I can't tell you how "geeked up" I am about running these workshops. Most are near full or over-capacity (15 teachers for us), so there is interest. There was so much talk about how to get teachers into these classes, and during the school year that problem haunted me, but I took marketing to several shameless levels at the end of the year. It paid off in the attendance numbers. Now, for the content....

Last week, in the Connective Writing/blogging workshop I ran, the skype-in session with Clay, Konrad, and Carolyn was a huge hit and all participants seemed to enjoy it, and if you listen to the event, I spoke of using guests to expand the knowledge base in these workshops. I wasn't kidding. So, here I go again, asking if anyone would be interested in a skype session with a group of about 10 teachers on Thursday morning, August 2nd, around 10:00am EST (GST-4, currently) for a discussion of how to use the tools of Web 2.0 within your classroom. The focus here is going to be on seamlessness, whereby we make the technology a transparent issue in the teaching. Here is a brief description of the class, and I look forward to hearing from anyone that is around:

How many times have you marveled at the things your students can do on the Internet? How do you harness that ability and focus it in a targeted direction? Where the Internet used to be about gaining access to information and researching, today’s Internet, dubbed “Web 2.0,” is all about creating content and using services.

This workshop will focus on using the web to produce dynamic content for yourself and your students. We will use two types of data visualizers to take authentic research and statistics, either from your classroom or from a different source, and produce various types of data manipulations that you can use to help your students see the data in meaningful ways. Because of the shift away from a one-way flow of information on the web, we are all now able to access experts in fields like never before. We will examine ways to bring content experts into your classroom via Skype, a free Internet telephone service, producing podcasts, screencasts, and slidecasts, and co-blogging with other teachers, experts, or members of the community.

Upon completion of the workshop, participants will have a host of resources that they can take away from the class and apply in their own professional practice.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Tailgating on the road to reform

Another school change post, but who's counting? Tom Haskins' post today got me thinking about all of the work, the conversations, and the connections we are making in any of the various "2.0" intimations that we are creating. But what are we really waiting for? What are the divides that keep us from moving forward? Haskins points to this:

Schools will change when the need to change shows up in the rear view mirror. The economy and culture will already have made the turn and changed direction without the proper education to do so. The know howto invent new models, enterprises and social constructs will not reflect how the innovators were taught, graded or indoctrinated. The change agents will have gotten their education from what works (evidence based), what seems inspired (unconscious guidance) and what makes the most sense at the time (reflective practice).
My response to this post is below:

I like your thinking here--that systemic change in education will only occur when
there is direct need as seen by the most affected stakeholders. Those
stakeholders are obviously not us. We see the need. In actuality, I
hope it's the students.

If we have truly done our job of preparing students for life, then (the students) taking hold of their learning might be a natural outgrowth of that. Our system as it is now is set up so
that our students are just passengers along for an educational tour of
content. Until we put them in a position to pilot the tour themselves,
that rear-view mirror will look mighty clear.

Karl Fisch and others noted the lack of student presence at conferences like NECC07, and I am beginning to think that that might be the single most important thing we do in the near future. I remember in college, I was trying to impress a girl, Alicia, I think was her name. In order to impress dulcet Alicia, I participated in something known as a critical mass bike ride to protest lack of cycling lanes in our fair collegiate city. There we were on a Friday afternoon, all 250 of us on bikes, flooding every intersection we came to proving that a large group of determined people could really push for change, or at least annoy some commuters into illicit gestures from the safety of their sedans.

A critical mass of students pushing school systems to change in order to engage them. How does that happen? Terry Holliday via LeaderTalk addressed the need for this shift and characterized it as the most exciting and challenging part of his whole career:
As school leaders, we are faced with translating changing requirements for 21st century readiness that call for more rigor, relevance, and relationships to our parents, staff, and students. In translating these requirements, we are expected to make
changes in systems that have been in place for over 100 years. The
first step in creating change is usually to create a sense of urgency for that change and to relate the change required into “local” numbers and impact. This is hard work and very challenging. It is the proverbial “squeeze play” that
school leaders find themselves in every day. While it is the most
challenging work I have encountered in 35 years of education, it is
also the most exciting work that I have done. We indeed are preparing
messengers to a time that we will not see and cannot accurately predict.
The more I interact with teachers, the more I realize how hard they work just to do the things that are asked of them by the state, their administrators, etc. Having me come in and tell them that they should be engaging the students on a whole other plane is not a soothing moment or one that causes a "eureka" moment. The teachers I work with do want to give their students the best possible chance to succeed as they move through life. I just happen to think it will be the students who determine what it is they will need.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Teacher Reactions to Connective Writing

In an effort to be as transparent as possible, I would like to post the reactions to the Connective Writing Class that just concluded yesterday. Here they are:

Overall Summary:

I felt the the community of learning theme was hit by skyping with all of the bloggers. It was very worthwhile, we were exposed to so many different applications and began to make our blogs.

This course was very good. I would like to have had more time to actually set up the blog accounts. I felt a little rushed.

Although I do not consider myself tech savvy I am going to implement blogs for my students this year, slowly at first, I feel it will provide a larger outlet for my students to express themselves.

Patrick is very knowledgeable and made the course easy to understand, and easy to relate to. It opened my eyes to the many possibilities that technology can bring to the classroom.

It was a lot of information to take in but was well worth the time. I can use it all in my classroom. Blogging, Wikispaces and their uses as well as ways to incorporate writing through the technology available to us.

I felt that this helped me feel less intimidated about using the technology and better understand ways I can use these tools in my class.

How will you apply what you learned?

I will start a professional blog for myself and a book blog for my students in September.

I will set up a blog for the first novel that we read in September.

I will start with a basic class blog page and grow from there!

I will set up a class blog for my students to communicate with each other in a different way than routine class discussions. I also plan on setting up a professional blog to communicate with teachers all over the world, instead of just the ones down the hall. I'm excited to get started!

I would like to include book chats and classroom discussions with the blogging sites as well as use the Wikispaces to promote more research and discussions.

I will try to blog with my students and encourage them to share their thoughts and reflect in a productive way. I also hope to not only read various blogs, but jump in from time to time.
My question to myself right off the bat is mostly about why I didn't push the issue of personal professional development more? Will's post regarding his intentions and the reactions he gets rings similarly to what I felt as I talked about using blogs as personal learning tools. However, this was a great first step taken by a great group of teachers. It's easy for most of us to simply forget how hard it is for many teachers, especially those that are further removed in age from the students they teach to embrace the changes that these technologies bring.

These teachers worked very hard to assimilate blogging into their own framework, and I am excited to see where it goes.

To Keen, Finally.

I've run into a logjam of literature lately. I had nearly plowed through A Whole New Mind, when the Brittannica Blog and several other places exploded with talk of Andrew Keen's The Cult of the Amateur, and like Brian Crosby, the only high-touch concept that I was engaged in was littering the margins of Keen's book with my college-era red Uniball. Then, of course, Harry Potter was released and that is where I am now--knee deep in Hogwart's Hysteria.

Regardless, there have been so many things sitting in my Starred Items section of Reader, and I am just now starting to make headway through them. One I was slightly intimidated by, but I want to have a go at. Matthew Battles wrote in response to Michael Gorman's post about the need for their to be an editorial authority to purge the amateur from the production of media, a la Keen's premise. Battles likens Gorman and Keen's position to a replacement of traditional authority with a new cultural "police:"

does Gorman really believe, along with Andrew Keen, that “the most poorly educated and inarticulate among us” should not use the media to “express and realize themselves”? That they should keep quiet, learn their place, and bow to such bewigged and alienating confections as “authority” and “authenticity”? Authority, after all, flows ultimately from results, not from such hierophantic trappings as degrees, editorial mastheads, and neoclassical columns. And if the underprivileged (or under-titled) among us are supposed to keep quiet, who will enforce their silence—the government? Universities and foundations? Internet service providers and media conglomerates? Are these the authorities—or their avatars in the form of vetted, credentialed content—to whom it should be our privilege to defer?

I don't know that I go so far as Battles here, but nevertheless, I am a big supporter of content creation in just about any form. On that level, I am an even bigger supporter of personal discretion in what we choose to read and consume in the form of media. Most of the notes I wrote in Keen's pages are aimed at the educational community (duh!), because I truly believe that Keen has a point in taking the content to task, not the right to create it. What Keen is highlighting is the fact that the technology has far outpaced our ability to successfully guide our students through it's power to deliver a message.

The more people play with the content, and practice, and consume other people's content of higher quality, the better at producing it they will become. However, our role in public and private education is going to become one of increased literacy-based teaching. Content is now free, and freely produced--no one owns the facts. But the ability to decipher what is good and what is absolute rubbish will set our students apart as they enter the sea of information.

Photo credit: rustystanton at flickr

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

An Epiphanous Moment

Aha! moments are rare in our lives, and although we anticipate them sometimes they don't materialize. Today was rife with them. Today was day two of my Connective Writing workshop where we had the privilege of including some great minds in our class. Midway through the morning, Clay Burell, Seoul, South Korea, Konrad Glogowski from Toronto, and Carolyn Foote from Austin, Texas, skyped in to talk with the group of teachers I was working with.

What ensued was a rolling conversation about blogging as a reflective tool for professional development and the logistics and pedagogical advantages of blogging with students. I was giddy listening to the three of them field questions and expound on their own practice.

Needless to say, the teachers I was working with were unbelievably impressed with what they heard and saw. As Konrad was speaking to the group of us about his blogging policy with his students, Clay came in to let everyone know that he had just edited our wiki to include his own parental notification letter and some guidelines that his students follow while blogging in class. Truly a connected moment and one that crystallized something for me that had been a long time coming: I have many teachers.

I hope to listen to the podcast again today or tomorrow to fully glean what we spoke about, but it truly changed the dynamic of our workshop and our learning.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Me, Removed

Have you ever been intimidated by your blog? Strangely, I have stared blankly into my scribefire box over 10 times in the last few days, trying to find something that fits nicely. Call it writer's block, but this is terrible. There is so much going on in my world that is worthy of at least a note, but, alas, it just won't come.

This is meant to be the chisel to break through whatever I am going through. I'll break it down by topic to make it easier on me.

Introducing: Teen Book Sleuth

Two weeks ago, my colleague David Gorecki and I ran the 2nd Annual Sparta Academy of Digital Media, where we take a group of students through the process of creating digital media. We usually break it down into movie making and web creation. With all that I have learned this year via this blog and the various people who I have the pleasure of reading, it was truly a great opportunity to let students explore their interests and learn some great skills. Out of the 16 students that we worked with, only one chose to focus on website creation. That in itself is telling. However, the student that did, we will call her Teen Book Sleuth after the site she created, really blew us away with her ability and interest level. She worked for most of the week using FrontPage, but after talking with her and getting the OK from mom and dad, we set her up with an account at She transferred her content from FrontPage to the weebly site and customized it to include a blog.

To say that we were surprised at her writing ability is an understatement. She is a wonderful writer and and avid reader. Her site is set up as a review of books in the Young Adult category. I can only imagine what she will produce as she moves along in her studies and her reading. Please visit the site and leave a comment on her blog. She is expecting you.

Connective Writing Workshop

I am in the process of putting together resources for a workshop on connective writing on Monday and Tuesday of this week. The wiki is nearly complete, and I will release the address when I finish it up. To that end, I would like to thank
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beech, on whose wiki at APBC I have relied on for resources. What I have found in the past is that teachers respond very well to other teachers who have done something successfully. In that light, I have asked some people from the edublogosphere to participate in the workshop via Skype. Already, I have two people who will be skyped in (one on Monday and one on Tuesday). If you are interested, let me know and we will work something out. It would be a great honor to have some of you talk to the staff I work with.

This workshop is a pivotal one for me, as I would really like to use it as a springboard to get a cohort of teachers blogging from out district. As it is now, very few have taken to it. I am not distressed over it, but blogging and connecting to the myriad resources available through blogging will be a key way to move our pedagogy forward here in Sparta. That's a lot of pressure, but I think it's warranted.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Surprises are Welcome.

Last night, my son Parker returned from the Adirondacks; he had been on vacation with my in-laws for a week. I missed him terribly, and he me. After our normal run through of the toys: cars, trains, balls, and books, he wanted to play Thomas the Tank Engine on the computer. They have tons of games and activities on their site, and he especially likes using their online coloring books.

Instead of having him sit on my lap and have me use the mouse on the Mac, I thought we might give the tablet a try.


I felt like I was in the audience at TED when Jeff Han was speaking, as his interaction with the machine totally changed. He is not yet 3, yet there he was controlling the screen by himself. He was picking colors, clicking on icons, changing the screens in a manner that was somewhat self-directed. I exclaimed to my wife that this is the machine he will start out with when that time comes. We used Imagination Cubed to give him access to some basic drawing applications.

It really changed everything for him, at least for a little while, at which point I looked at the clock and realized that it was 10:30--well past his usual bedtime. Sometimes, though, I can't help but break the rules.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Knowledge as a process

Reading the Britannica Blog makes me feel good. It makes me feel like more academicians are accessing the same information I am, even if they are taking contrarian views like Andrew Keen and Michael Gorman, and that shows me the leveling power of this medium. Danah Boyd recently wrote a marvelous piece as a quasi-response to Gorman's original take on Web 2.0 entitled "Web 2.0, the Sleep of Reason."

Here she takes on a point that many of us have belabored in the edublogosphere, but she couches it in a manner that is much more scholarly. That is not to say that we have not been saying similar things, but hearing this from an attested academic, which she confesses to in the opening of the article, validates it in a way that skeptics might adhere to a little more than the same message coming from the passionate computer-guy.

Why are we telling our students not to use Wikipedia rather than
educating them about how Wikipedia works? Sitting in front of us is an ideal opportunity to talk about how knowledge is produced, how information is disseminated, how ideas are shared. Imagine if we taught the “history” feature so that students would have the ability to track how a Wikipedia entry is produced and assess for themselves what the authority of the author is. You can’t do this with an encyclopedia. Imagine if we taught students how to fact check claims
in Wikipedia and, better yet, to add valuable sources to a Wikipedia
entry so that their work becomes part of the public good.

Herein lies a missing piece in Dr. Gorman’s puzzle. The society
that he laments has lost faith in the public good. Elitism and greed
have gotten in the way. By upholding the values of the elite, Dr.
Gorman is perpetuating views that are destroying efforts to make
knowledge a public good. Wikipedia is a public-good project. It is the belief that division of labor has value and that everyone has something to contribute, if only a spelling correction. It is the belief that all people have the inalienable right to knowledge, not just those who have academic chairs. It is the belief that the
powerful have no right to hoard the knowledge. And it is the belief
that people can and should collectively help others gain access to
information and knowledge.

Our teachers take on what Wikipedia is has to be examined, and what better way than to first have them do some fact-checking and entry creation. Our society has done so much tearing down of its capabilities, would not that energy have been better served in changing it to make it work better for us? The beauty of Wikipedia is that it can be argued, re-envisioned, and eventually changed to reflect new information. As Boyd states, encyclopedias could never do that.

What Boyd advocates is no less than a calling out of the academics because information is no longer the property of the elite. She asks: what can you contribute to the discussion? One of the most commonly asked questions concerning the validity of Wikipedia or any online content: "How do you know it's valid?" We often say that we need to teach students to disseminate what is good and what is bad, but do we have those skills ourselves? How many of you or the teachers you work with would truthfully know how to assess the accuracy of a source given to them? We need those skills as much as our students.

Boyd's ideas relate very well to the K-12 setting, and after reading her post, I came across this one from Pete Reilly:
Let us find ways to give our children back their birthright, their natural curiosity and facility to learn. There have to be ways that we can organize our learning institutions to accommodate individual curiosity and the standardized curriculum. I believe that thoughtful educators can create environments that are less restrictive and provide much more natural habitat for learning. Let us find ways to foster the wildness and thrill of learning again. Let us answer the “Call of the Wild”.
This idea that we give students back their creativity, echoed by several people recently at NECC, is one all teachers grapple with. If we polled teachers, how many would say that they want to teach the same thing year after year with little variation? If we removed all state pressure and made learning a truly organic experience, would teachers choose to mirror their curriculum from year to year? I am intrigued by what the statistics would say. Any ideas? My truest frame of reference is my own teaching experience, and I have to say that I did not do the same things from year to year; I may have covered the same topics as required by law, but the way that we did it differed each time. Why? I was curious; I wanted to learn; It was boring to do it the other way.

Supposedly, I am an adult and possess a longer attention span than an adolescent, and even I could not sit through similar material. How are we asking students to handle this type of environment without appealing to their interests, or at least letting them access the material in a way that is personally meaningful?

Marrying Boyd's and Reilly's ideas might serve to inform our staffs about the power of the medium and the importance of this new information literacy. For example, if we showed teachers how easily they, and thus their students, can access information, it moves us in a direction where we can all become learners again. Whether it is through a serious analysis of Wikipedia articles related to a curriculum topic or through some other activity that takes advantage of our students desire to find things relevant to themselves and their own world, we now have the ability to teach to our students' passions, and the means to let them pursue them safely.

Photo Credit: Maven's Photostream from Flickr

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Some Summer Fun with Video

While most of us are having fun with videos of our kids, I thought this one was too funny to pass up. Pulled it from Sciencehack (thanks Konrad).

Friday, July 6, 2007

The Timing is Always Impeccable

It never fails to amaze me that just when my thinking is diverging slightly, albeit not all that much due to the fact that it is centered around education, I find others out there who are thinking, and better yet, creating along the same lines.

I offered to teach a class this summer within our district, something I called Administrator 2.0, and as I began to pull resources together and thought about the message that I wanted to send, the rash of posts (Steve, Chris, Ben, and Scott), including my own, brought to my attention that we are an overwhelming bunch to those who are not in the echo chamber. Our enthusiasm, while contagious amongst ourselves, is just the thing that can turn off someone with any amount of trepidation when it comes to change. Who among our stakeholders has more angst about launching students into online collaborative environments than those people who are ultimately responsible for the students in our buildings: the administrators.

So I thought some more about it, and bang! There is Scott McLeod's post in my Reader this morning: "Professional Development for the Leaders." I was a little creeped out, honestly, because this happens all of the time. Not just with Scott, but because I think we are all moving in directions and ricocheting off one another. Inevitably, we are going to cross the same points at similar times, and for that I am grateful.

Now, as I look at the list of suggestions that Scott put together, the process of creating this presentation is much less daunting. Of the 11 suggestions he makes, here are my favorites:

  1. Change their mindset: For me this is about asking them to suspend disbelief for just a few moments, until I can sink a hook using some form of media that has turned our heads. I am not looking at tools here--no bells and whistles--just something that will force them to see their schools and school culture through the lens of the 21st Century.
  2. Ensure that training is authentic: We have all sat through training, especially technology training where the last thing the presenter wants you to do is to touch the machines and play. Aside from a brief hook in the beginning, I want them involved in the applications, creating, reading, trying to break whatever it is we are doing.
  3. Make their lives easier: Exposing them to RSS and setting them up with an aggregator is a sure winner. From here, they will be more likely to buy into what you are selling. RSS is truly the killer app for most people new to web 2.0, and educators should be no different. Create a reading list for your next faculty meeting? No problem--use your shared articles from Google Reader.
  4. Respect their time: In my case, this will not be a voluntary workshop, so they will be looking at me under the lens of scrutiny from the start. I need to quickly do three things: show them that there is a shift occurring, show them how to make sense of the shift, and give them some confidence that they are capable of existing in this new environment.
  5. focus on leadership, not tools: Most of them have probably seen the tools in some form or another, or at least will not be too surprised at what they can do; however, I would like to get them thinking about how these things affect the way they lead. What will they expect from their staffs?
  6. remind them of the importance and power of modeling: Scott mentions the phrase: "Do as I say, but not as I do," and there may not be a more damaging phrase in all of education. Administrators, as teachers and students alike, must be able to throw away old fears of ignorance and jump into what is happening in their schools. The best way to influence school culture in a positive way is to be positive as a leader, and make sure that everyone sees that energy.
From those of you out there who are either administrators or are in a situation where you work for an administrator who has embraced these new paradigms and the School 2.0 philosophy, what are the aspects you would like to pass along to those just coming into the fold?

Image Credit: The Plaintive Wail
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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Blur the lines

This pretty much encapsulates what I am trying to put into action this summer. We need to blur the line between shiny gadget and teacher toolbox.
it's when stop thinking of something as technology that it has the biggest impact
Originally uploaded by lynetter

Monday, July 2, 2007

I like this direction

The conversations going on in a few places: Twitter, the educon20 wiki set up by Chris Lehman, and in the blogosphere are rife with quotes like this one from Scott Elias:

I’m not an all-or-nothing techno-fundamentalist who believes that the
only way we’re ever going to improve our schools is by passing out
laptops and forcing every teacher to become a web programmer or
podcaster. One size does not fit all. All the techno-toys in the world
won’t rescue a poorly-prepared lesson.
Or this one from Steve Dembo, via Twitter:

After reading a ton of blog posts from NECC and EduBloggerCon, I'm starting to wonder if We (Edubloggers) are getting a little egotistical. WE get it, THEY don't. And if people did things our way, then we'd all be driving flying cars. But WE are a distinct minority.
The worry here is a legitimate one--in all of our post-NECC hysteria and school change exuberance, are we beginning to forget our stakeholders? As I prepare for next school year by looking back at this past one, I can see bits and pieces of this mentality in my actions and interactions with people. "This is where we are going--jump on or you will be irrelevant!"

Does that really move us any closer towards accomplishing our goals of changing philosophy, physical structure, and learning environment? It actually continues to foster its own unique "digital divide" within our schools.

What's the right approach? I have been promoting Ben Wilkoff's work with the Academy of Discovery here in recent weeks, and his most recent post "The Ripe Environment" outlines 10 different situations that need to be in place for teachers to become successful users of instructional technology. Here are the 10:
  1. Have a genuine need to be heard by others and, in one way or another, receive feedback for contributions.
  2. See living examples of collaboration (not case studies or projects from a few years ago) that they can become a part of.
  3. Have the time to connect more than two dots together. (Rather than connecting: “My students need to know this” with “here is the information” they need to have time to connect “My student needs to know this” with “my students need to evaluate this for validity” with “my students need to know how to use this resource to find the information” with “my students need to create new information for others to use.”)
  4. See collaboration as an extension of their natural instincts as a teacher (opening possibilities for learning).
  5. Find the backchannels relevant to them (these backchannels must be encouraged and honored as vital sources of learning).
  6. Know that their products and ideas as valuable.
  7. Understand the marks of successful collaboration. (They have to know what it looks like.)
  8. Accept that questions are both for interdependent and interdependent learning. (All questions are serious points of inquiry in The Ripe Environment.)
  9. Believe that personal and professional change can never be institutionalized. (Individuals create change, not schools or districts.)
  10. Know that meetings, conferences, and workshops are not the places where the most powerful learning and change takes place.
I really appreciate how Ben focused less on creating a separation between what tech-savvy teachers are doing and what the rest of the profession is doing, but more on the pedagogy. That really does a service to what I feel is the true role of anyone hoping to facilitate change within a school district.

Image Credit: elo5's Photostream on flickr.