Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Flattest I Have Ever Been

How many posts have you seen lately that start like this:

"Last night, there I was sitting in my living room hanging out with my network, when all of a sudden I am in a conference halfway around the world with all of these really smart people..."

Well, here is mine.

We had a lot of laundry to do last night in my house, so we didn't really get finished with that and cleaning up from dinner until around 10pm EST. At that point, I figured I would just start setting myself up for the following day by answering some emails and making some quick tutorials. I made the fortuitous decision to check up on Twitter and engage a little bit. Within a few minutes of being there, Kim Cofino sends out a call for participants in a Web 2.0 presentation she is doing for the parents of her school using Google Presenter. I click the link and am transported to her presentation in Thailand along with 17-20 others.

Then I start checking out who is there. For a second I really thought my Google Reader account spilled over into the Presentation: David Jakes, Carolyn Foote, Chris Lehmann, Jo McLeay, Lucy Gray, and so many more that I kicked myself in the shins this morning that I didn't write it down. Even better than the guest list was the element that was added to the presentation for Kim. She was talking about global collaboration and was able to demonstrate it without much effort because we were all so jazzed to be there.

A few things that immediately strike me about this format:

  • The nature of the presentation has changed. Presentation is quickly becoming synonymous with facilitation, as you could spend much of your time courting ideas from the visitors of the presentation and managing dialogue between both parties as you would normally spend speaking or demonstrating.
  • Does this really work for everyone? Were the parents too blown away to follow the dialogue? I don't know how I would react if I were in the audience sans laptop; it may have been too much to follow.
  • Conferences are going to be flat out fun.
The format was so open and engaging, it was hard to pull off and actually get some sleep. However, to my surprise, when I came to work this morning, there was Kristin Hokanson doing something similar on social bookmarking. I couldn't resist.

Monday, September 24, 2007


It is rare that we come across empirical data that supports what we believe through our own practice, but thanks to Bach at Plethora of Technology I was made privy to a blogging study (Collaborative Blogging as a Means to Develop Elementary Expository Writing Skills ) done at the University of Florida.

The researchers looked at a group of third grade students who were given the task of researching a Native American tribe and producing a five-paragraph essay as the end result of the writing process. What they found were intended and inadvertent results that varied from

  • Collaborative blogging helped improve students’ attitudes
    toward writing
  • Students transferred knowledge learned during the
    collaborative blogging project to other academic and social facets of classroom.
  • Collaborative blogging enabled differentiated instruction while
    ensuring everyone met with at least some success.
The most impressive thing to me, were, of course, the visuals:
The list of questions asked prior to and post the blogging project tells the tale of student learning and engagement better than any other measure. As a rule, conducting a meaningful survey of your students before and after their learning experience is a portal into the actual changes that took place within the child.

Drexler, Wendy, Kara Dawson, Richard E. Ferdig. "Collaborative Blogging as a Means to ." Electronic Journal for the Integration of Technology in Education 6(2007):

Friday, September 21, 2007

New Teacher Training, Part 2

Yesterday, we met with our new staff for the second time this year, but really it was the first time to get a hold of them after their first impressions of the classroom have sunken in. And rather than focus solely on what they were experiencing and how they are dealing with it, which is of dire importance, we pushed their buttons a little.

Let me explain: our first year induction program for new teachers was recently revamped to be more of a reflective practice that centers on Dr. Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering, and Jane Pollock's book Classroom Instruction that Works. This year we also added the reflective feature of asking them to blog about their practices and its relation to Marzano, et. al's book, on a blog through 21classes. What this enables them to do is to reflect on their own practice, comment on others, but also archives these reflections for them throughout their first year here.

These are all common practices for those who have been blogging for a while; however, to teachers fresh out of college, or new to our district from another district, it set a fairly high bar in terms of the instructional style that we expect of our staff.

Does this reflect how our veteran staff uses technology or their familiarity with social technology? Not exactly. But this is a great start. The conversations that I was privy to during the day all centered on the focus we are putting on not just technology, but also using it in a way that matters, that is consistent with our curricular goals, and that is nearly transparent.

As the day moved from discussion of their program to the nuts and bolts of class website creation and online gradebook setup, several of them pulled me aside and asked if I could help them set up their blog, their podcast (which is the format that they were asked to submit their reflection in for month two), or asked me if I know about wikis. They were excited though, and I made a great effort to allay any uneasiness that showed up. I used Toeffler's quote about illiteracy in the 21st Century to end the session and let them know that change will define their teaching career, and embracing it would surely lead to greater success and lifelong learning.

On a side note that is somewhat related, if my schedule is any indication of the direction we are moving in, than this year is going to one of great change and innovation.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Survey Says...

Lecherous Richard Dawson visions aside, I sent out my Fall Professional Development Survey to the staff of the middle and high school today. Here are the questions and the results:

What area of student improvement would you like to focus on this year?

Research Skills 25%
Personal Productivity and Organization 54%
Literacy and Storytelling 15%
Analytical Skills and Problem Solving 44%
Creativity and Expression 23%
Other, please specify 6%

Do you have a preference for the format of the classes?
Classes offered as single two-, to three-hour sessions 38%
Classes offered as several one-hour sessions. 29%
No preference. 35%

Which technologies or applications would you like to become more familiar with?
Wikis 46%
Blogs 38%
OnCourse 21%
Schoolwires 21%
Microsoft Office 17%
Unitedstreaming 48%
Podcasting or Screencasting 42%
Digital Storytelling 23%
Photography and Video 35%
Adobe Suite (Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator) 29%

Looking at these results, the list of classes I had planned takes new shape. While still in the early stages of development, I had planned on a major focus on subject specific courses with emphasis on collaboration. In planning the survey, I wanted to shift the focus away from tech-heavy topics, which is why I placed emphasis on student improvement, which I truly feel doubles as teacher improvement. For example, helping students create and nurture their own PLE's will no doubt push teachers to do the same, so a class that explains them must first show the teachers how to create a PLE.

I would love to hear how anyone else assesses the needs of your district in terms of professional development: survey? suggestion? mandate from administration?

On another note, the most uplifting part of this survey has got to be the interest we have generated in collaborative and connective tools like wikis and blogs. If you walked through our halls now, these words, which not too long ago were completely foreign, can be heard in conversation between colleagues.

The Wearing of the Hats

Since school began, I have been meaning to get this post together because I am amazed by all of the various different tasks and roles I play throughout a day. Here is a snapshot of my day yesterday, broken down by how it was spent between the hours of 8am and 4pm:

  • Met with a teacher to discuss how to use OnCourse, our online lesson planner. The meeting took a turn at the end and we ended up editing her class website to update the information to reflect its current state.
  • Sat down with AP Language and Comp teacher to work through how to set up her students on an experimental (for us) LMS called SAKAI, which was very cool because I had gone to a training session on it over the summer and was able to recall much of what I learned. No small feat.
  • Taught a class of juniors and seniors about wikispaces so they can begin creating their own textbook.
  • Answered email and fixed student records and updated data in our Genesis, our SIS.
  • Met with colleague during lunch regarding multimedia project he is working on.
  • Helped teachers set up folders and mailing lists in Outlook.
  • Presented an overview of new technologies to a middle school team of teachers and walked them through setting up their online gradebooks.
  • High school faculty meeting
  • Meeting with a teacher to discuss setting up blogs for two of his classes in American History. Discussed the impact possible and the different responsibility he will have. Both very excited.
  • Answered emails and went to pick up the boy.
One of my favorite things about what I do, and there are many, is that the multitude of problems I am asked to help solve each day changes so much between those days. That aspect keeps me fresh and exhilarated. I do love this job.

Flickr image credit: "The Hat Shop," Franco Falini's photostream

Monday, September 17, 2007

Here they come...

“I’m a firm believer that the students that are up and coming are the ones that are driving the adoption, because they’re coming with a set of expectations,” explained Joanne Kossuth, the chief information officer and vice president for development at.

As if we didn't already feel pressure from our students to adapt, a new study produced by the EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research called The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2007, used data taken from online polling of students and faculty at 103 institutions as well as other data taken last spring to gauge the level of technology use in the classrooms and lecture halls.

Above, this graphic shows the devices that students own, and at what percentages. Taken in isolation, it isn't that shocking, but taken in context with this bar graph which details the change over the last three years, it's astounding:

Look specifically at the change in students using a "Smart" phone, or the percentage change in desktops owned v. laptops owned in the three years. See any trends?

Now, as with any blog post worth its salt, the real juice is in the comments. To find some comments, I took myself to Inside Higher Ed's article, Student's Evolving Use of Technology, and drilled down into some of the responses to the article. The ones that struck me most, of course, were those that called for an ease up on technology, much like that of the Liverpool, NY removal of it's 1:1 program from a way back, because students won't use it correctly anyway, that it will distract from the real business of classes. That's a class management issue, not a technological issue. What's abundantly clear from the comments in this article is the need for conversations about what our classrooms, k-12 and university level, should look like, and real, concrete examples of what authentic learning and through authentic teaching looks like. I am feeling that January 26-27 in Philadelphia might be the portal through which I really begin to see this. Buty why wait...

Thomas, a commenter on the Inside Higher Ed article, hit is squarely:
As best I can tell, the most popular and successful professors are still those whose teaching style is simple, direct, and enlightening. A classroom of plugged-in 20-year-olds will sit mesmerized by a good teacher, without any need for bells and whistles.

Salaway, Gail, Borreson Caruso, Judith. "The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2007." 12 September 2007 17 September 2007 .

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Bookmark Meme

Ryan Bretag at The Four-Eyed Technologist has issue a great new meme to those bloggers whom he classifies as adding "to my growth on a daily basis." I don't know if I have added to Ryan's growth or not, but knowing that he has added to mine pushes me to contribute to the meme.

It's simple: what are your last five bookmarks? As Ryan points out, Vicki Davis does this on a near daily basis, and along with Kevin Jarret, I count over a hundred resources collected this way in my account.

Here are my last 5 bookmarks:

  1. Spaz
  2. SearchSmarter
  3. EdubloggerCon Wiki
  4. The Connected Classroom
  5. Behold, Flickr High-Quality Search
Spaz is a great twitter interface that runs on AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime), and just has so much more functionality than what I was using, Twitterific. Thanks to John Pederson for that one. Search Smarter is a wiki I made for the Freshman and Sophomores this year to help them search with a little more efficiency. It's not as loaded as I wanted, but I didn't want to overwhelm them (which happened anyway). EdubloggerCon is a site created originally to house the planning processes involved in the first EduBloggerCon in the days before NECC07 in Atlanta. Now, it has grown to be a resource for anyone interested in school change and reform. Kristen Hokanson's Connected Classroom just happened upon me the other day on a recommendation from Jennifer Dorman's blog. I love wikis like this one because it has everything, and depending on the license, I can use the great work Kristen's done to help the teachers I work with. I just love smart people and the work they do. The last one, Behold, is a search engine that scours flickr for images that match your criteria, and you can even tell it to search for images that "look" like something in particular. Very sharp.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What is the Obligation of Schooling?

Regardless of where I venture in my tidy little PLE, I am confronted with the same question in various forms: What is the duty of a school in the life and development of a person? Bach has asked this of me on several occasions in the last few months:

Is the purpose of school to get students ready for the world of work? I argue, no. I think the purpose of school is the encourage students to do, read, see, and learn things that they wouldn't do if left to their own adolescent devices. For example, if left to me, I never would have read half the "classic" novels I read in high school, watched classic films, read the NY Times, or gone to certain museums. Now as an adult, I am glad that I was pushed to do those things. It has made me a more rounded person.
We read constantly about preparing our students for the 21st Century Workforce, the new economy, and for a future that has been described as one where we can't possibly have answers for questions we do not know the existence of yet. But in looking more closely at Bach's comment, I remember the wonder of walking into the Metropolitan Museum of Art as an 11-year old, never having been anywhere remotely resembling it before, besieged by it's majesty and mystery from various parts of the world. Was that feeling a preparation for the work I am doing now?

School as we know it has always had underpinnings of competition: students are given grades based on performance on uniform assessments--a system ripe for separating the wheat from the chaff. In our social groups and networks we are thinking differently, however, and as we begin to redesign how we want our schools to function and who they will produce, does that element remain or is it yet another piece of the 20th Century? Are we truly "competing" against a nationalistic entity anymore? Is it the role of schools to produce the future workforce to compete with a nation or nations?

Wanting to be true to this question, I've sat on it for a few days and asked around for some input, and the best insight, naturally, came from my wife, a 4th grade teacher. I asked her what she thought the role of schools in society and the development of a child should be. Her response, paraphrased slightly, changed my mindset immediately:

Our role is really an academic one, but also has huge socialization responsibilities. By the end of my time with them, I want them to have learned and enjoyed the process immensely, but I also think they need to feel safe and secure while they are here.
As she said this, the factory model of our schools past (wishful) began to become less hidden: our role is not to fill with content, or as Dewey said, back in 1907:
Just as the biologist can take a bone or two and reconstruct the whole animal, so, if we put before the mind's eye the ordinary schoolroom, with its rows of ugly desks placed in geometrical order, crowded together so that there shall be as little moving room as possible, desks almost all of the same size, with just space enough to hold books, pencils and paper, and add a table, some chairs, the bare walls and possibly a few pictures, we can reconstruct the only educational activity that can possibly go on in such a place. It is all made `` for listening" -- for simply studying lessons out of a book is only another kind of listening; it marks the dependency of one mind upon another. The attitude of listening means, comparatively speaking, passivity, absorption; that there are certain ready-made materials which are there, which have been prepared by the school superintendent, the board, the teacher, and of which the child is to take in as much as possible in the least possible time.
but rather to do what David Warlick spoke about the other day: teach them how to teach themselves. From that basic premise, we equip them with the ability to do the nearly impossible, and do it on their own terms. In School and Society, Chapter 2: The School and the Life of the Child, Dewey tells the story of trying to equip schools with desks that allowed students to be artistic, hygienic, and kinesthetic, only to find only desks suited for "listening." Have we moved away from those desks in meaningful, if not radical ways? If that answer is no, our role has to change, now.

John Dewey. "The School and the Life of the Child," Chapter 2 in The School and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (1907): 47-73.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Some thoughts on Changing our Practices

From David Warlick at 2 Cents Worth in response to a posting from Doug Johnson yesterday about the number of jobs he has held. David really gets at what teaching is going to mean in the coming years: learning how to learn and unlearn, and knowing how to teach yourself to do things. People often state that they can't keep up with what is going on out there because it changes too quickly. To combat that, we need to focus on knowing how to decipher meaning, teaching our students to pull out what is important, and teach them that learning is not, and should not be, something that happens solely in school.

In my efforts to understand what the labor department’s projections and my work experiences mean, within the context of school reform, I ask myself, “How did I learn…” play guitar (bass & Banjo) and organ? I taught myself! write software? I taught myself. code web pages? I taught myself! self-publish a book? I taught myself!

The schools that I attended in the 1950s and ’60s tried very hard to teach me how to be taught. I believe that this is one of the shifts that we have to achieve as we try to retool classrooms. We need to do less of..

teaching kids how to be taught,

and instead,

teach them to teach themselves.

I think that the point is not that everyone is going to have 10.2 jobs between the ages of 18 and 38. Many of us will only have one job. But how many times will that one job change? 10.2 times? Perhaps not, but when it changes, who’s going to teach the new skills?

We need to stop teaching literacy, and teach learning literacy.

We need to stop teaching literacy skills, and teach literacy habits.

We need to stop thinking about lifelong learning, and instead, work toward every student leaving our schools with a learning lifestyle.

We need to be willing to take every piece of furniture our of our classrooms, clear the walls, burn it all, and start all over again. The world has changed that much.

Anything less is an insult to our children.

Cross-posted at TechDossier

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

A Not-So-Prescribed-View

Starting back at school is a rush for me. So much excitement and hope by both teachers and students alike. As I walked through our high school yesterday, I was besieged by a group of teachers who were recipients of tablet PC's this past summer and had undergone the beginnings of a series of professional development on how to teach with this machine at their disposal.

The questions were so unusual, as they pushed the envelope beyond what I had expected:

  • Can we set up our skype accounts to work in class?
  • How do import my presentations into Journal so I can write and highlight on them?
  • What is a wiki?
  • Are you offering any more courses on blogging?
  • How do you screencast?
Yesterday, I thought about the barrage of tasks and questions that we are faced with as the year begins, most of them being of the mundane type: logins, access to software, licensing, projector hookups, SMARTboards, etc. But this new round of questions thrilled me to the core. Are we beginning to look at a new path?

I came across a post from Harold Jarche today in which he speaks about the difference between working hard and doing hard work. The questions I have begun to answer in my buildings seem to feel more like the hard work. Although they may initially be wrapped in the finer details of software and hardware, this group of teachers now has the ability to unshackle themselves from the confines of teacher-centrism and begin creating networked learning for themselves and their students. Jarche describes the difference like this:
Anyone can work hard, but it takes courage to take on the hard work of changing our communities, questioning the education system or creating a non-profit organisation with no guaranteed return on investment. Hard work is not about literacy, numeracy or even civics. Hard work is questioning underlying assumptions and seeing new patterns and then taking action on this knowledge. Critical thinking is not only hard work, but it’s difficult to teach and not easy to measure. No wonder schools avoid it.
Last year, I remember being thrilled to handle any of the old-guard type questions about access and logins, because everything was so new. One year later, and I marvel at how my thinking has changed and been challenged to change even more. Also, the first time I stood before the faculty of the high school and pitched the idea of a wiki was a classic memory that will stand to make me laugh heartily by the end of this year I am sure: a 1950's auditorium with an overhead projector, dim lights, and screenshots copied to laser printer transparencies, a staff looking at me like I was speaking Hawaiian (which, partly, I was), and crickets chirping as I finished telling them the times and dates of the classes I was offering.

These new questions, these new ideas coming from this small cadre of tablet teachers, will help me transform our pedagogy, even if we have to answer the old questions still.

Flickr photo credit to Alexanderdrachman's Photostream.

End of Summer Cleanout

On Saturday, my in-laws surprised my wife and and I and took our son for the night so that we could get ourselves, and more specifically, our house, in order for the start of the school year. This is becoming somewhat of a yearly tradition, where we tear down our summer selves and reconstruct the systems and behaviors that work specifically well during the school year. Gone, of course, are the lax bedtimes and lazy mornings, shopping on a daily need basis for groceries, and what I like to call "summer ironing," which generally consists of hanging the shirt in the bathroom as I shower.

We also tend to begin truly taking ourselves seriously again in terms of our professional life, focusing more intently on planning and strategizing for the coming year in all of our little sections of life. As opposed to the summer, where we delved into frivolity headlong, we tend to round our ideas into more concrete thoughts. Knowing that we will be faced with black and white problems that demand answers immediately places a deferral on the ideas that paced our summer.

As I walked into the buildings today and welcomed myself and my colleagues back for another year, of course I was met with questions and problems that demanded answers. It's easy to see how the next few weeks could be spent handling these issues and the various others that spawn off of them; the minutiae of what we do sometimes knows no end. However, I couldn't help but think of all of the great thinking I did this summer, and it's place in my plans for this year. A few weeks ago, I thought about keeping myself "honest" by setting benchmark dates where I assess the progress of the ideas and goals I set for myself. Just one day back can teach us so much about what we do, and how we should do it.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Two Great Reads

For a while now, I have been waiting for a local article to focus on the benefits of blogging as related to student writing on standardized tests. The easy thing would have been to do it myself, but then again, that just makes too much sense.

A teacher in the middle school I work in, Erica Hartman, (go check her out!!) brought this article from to my attention through her blog, The itclassroom. In it, Bradley A. Hammer, a professor of writing from Duke University, summarizes why he blogs with his freshman students:

High schools and their curriculums are failing to keep pace with those same advances. They remain focused on "standards," asking such questions as: Do blogs prepare a student to take the new SAT? Does an e-mail message train a student how to write a traditional college-level essay? Clearly, the answer is no.
However, he goes on to say that blogging with an eye towards academic rigor goes a long way towards marrying those elements. This fact is something many of us know already; if you are going to put something out there for the world to see, you'd better have done your research and polished it. His statement strikes at something larger, something more sinister involved with blogging: its negative connotation among some teachers.

To quote Hammer from the article:

In contrast, "standards-driven" high school writing is hindering student interest. Without opportunities for students to publish their writing, they will assess that they write not for meaning, intellectual discovery, communication or understanding but rather in obligatory, outdated, punitive and proce dural ways to obtain grades. Consequently, as students spend their years of education consumed with standardized tests, they learn to write -- and think -- in ways that fail to offer rich and critical contexts for learning.

Teachers seek opportunities for writing to engage and challenge students to think critically throughout the processes of intellectual debate. Writing courses that remain wedded to the genre and methods of the past merely limit students' ability to imagine their work as real. The traditional argumentative essay does not force students to engage critically with complex reasoning "about" an issue but rather merely instructs them on how to argue "for" or "against" it.

Erica, like myself, feels that there is a way to successfully bridge the gap between social networking and the writing associated with that, and successful, critical reading and writing:
Eventhough this article pertains to college writing, I am thinking about how it relates to grades 6-8, especially the mind numbing preparations we do for the GEPA, I'm sorry the ASK8.
Seems to me this is more evidence that each student should create and maintain their own blog.
When we began publishing student writing last year on Writingthecity, we immediately noticed several things happen with them:
  • they began to regard audience as driving force behind how much time they spent polishing their writing.
  • undercurrents of healthy stress through competition for "reads" began to circulate among the classes.
  • word of mouth "press" about whose story was good and worth reading, or in more technical terms, critical review.
So what is stopping us? What are our concerns? Because, if it is safety, we've got that one handled. If it's fear that this type of writing won't help come test time, well, that's up to you and how much rigor you supply.

Flickr image credit to Merrick Brown's Photostream

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Evaluation comments

Here are some comments from the Admin workshop the other day:

Overall Summary:

1. Thought is was well done...A LOT of information!!! I learned a great deal about technology and its use that I was not aware of.
2. Would like to see this take place throughout the year on a regular schedule. Good overview, but more time and depth would be helpful.
3. opened my eyes to a great deal of what was going on without my knowledge. I am extremely excited about getting involved with many of these tools.
4. You did a great job of identifying the sites that the administrators need to be familiar with.
5. I thought the tech session was informative for seeing what is out there and what many of the teachers have the capability to do.
I am not even close to being tech oriented so I frequently feel lost in the tech world.
1. "Play" with the sites a bit more to get comfortable. Research to see what the teachers are doing and "maybe" I will be able to help them expand their use of this technology in the classroom.
2. Reach out to tech coordinators for help in educating the teachers on these features.
3. connect with teachers and become a part of the experiences they are providing their students.
4. To improve the efficiency of the time I spend on the Internet. I also plan on showing the board members the Did You Know? video

One Change to the workshop:
1. More individual or small group instruction. I know that the class only had 15 people. It was hard to get the complete grasp of the topic or techniques with "do this, then do this, and then this". There were four or five topics...maybe concentrate on two this time then maybe another time the other ones. BUT as administrators we are always pressed for time. NO EASY SOLUTION!!
2. More time.
3. some of the text on the screen in the front of the room was difficult to read because it was small.
4. I have no suggestions for change.
5. I would like a handout so when I have time I could explore. Presently, I often don't even know where to start!

One Keep:
1. Topics
2. Well presented.
3. Patrick Higgins. Lets pray he never takes a job in South Carolina.
4. Pointing out the relevance of the knowledge and allow time to practice using the tools.
5. Step by step instruction.

Looking at this, I see several choices I made that I might not make again. For example, I opted to go paperless, instead relying on online tutorials and screencasts to show them how to work through any confusion they had. Note to all of you out there who are presenting to a crowd that is not so tech-oriented: silence your inner tree-hugger and make the copies. Even if it is just a list of the sites you visited and a short description, it will go a long way towards retention.

The next thing that jumps out at me is the fact that I think I did a good job of making them want more, which is always the sign of a successful lesson. Although these types of sessions are overwhelming at times, I leveraged that against the fact that the students and the teachers they work with are using these tools, and it makes sound managerial sense to understand them.

This is a great group of administrators who are looking to begin really addressing how schools are changing to meet the needs of very different learners. I look forward to the next time we sit down to do this.