Monday, November 26, 2007


Influencing this post:
Karl Fisch's Thought for the Day 11-25-07
Jeff Utecht's Where's the R&D in Education?

Karl Fisch excerpted this quote from Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather:

We’re living in a world now where consumers are bombarded with thousands of commercial messages – they’re everywhere you look. Unless you cut through that and engage someone, I think you are lost. Consumers are now clearly in control. They control what they hear and see, when, and where. You have to find new ways to allow them to actively engage with you, or the money you spend is wasted.
and I immediately thought back to watching Seth Godin's TED Talk in which he spoke about the noise created by advertising. Lazarus is on to something here, as is Karl with his appeal to the educational community. What's the parallel?

Lazarus's quote echoes what has been said many times over: engage them don't enrage them because they have heard it all before. When Godin spoke, the most striking thing, and being an Apple geek I understand this all too well, was that he spoke about how the center of the populace doesn't hold it for advertisers any longer; if you are going after the biggest demographic, you are going to lose and and lose bad. The niche market, the long tail, the early adopter is who you need in order to tip the scales in your product's or idea's favor. There's the link--the early adopter, or as we like to call them here, the blue-bird.

Bear with me.

Jeff posted today about who is doing the R&D in education. He argues that it is us, the educational technologists, who are doing the majority of the testing and playing with new ideas. Taking Seth's and Shelly's ideas into consideration, we are the early adopters. It's what we are paid to do, and, in my experience, what we are passionate about. However, is that where we should be heading? I've got this idea stuck in my head that the best way to transfer the R & D is not through my work, but the work of the early adopter, the blue-bird.

Have you ever seen teachers learn from one another? It's magical, and quick! There is no wasted time, just "do this, do that, this works well, this doesn't, let me know how you do." While it is our responsibility to encourage and guide the early adopter, I am so amazed at how well teachers relate to one another when it comes to tackling new concepts, or as Jeff put it, R & D.

Here's my plan: I want to begin shifting the professional development onto the blue-birds. They use these tools practically. They use them daily and see them for what they truly are. Couldn't they offer classes in what they do? This is not a shirking of responsibilities by any means, but rather a hard look at effective transfer. Teachers learn well from teachers. In bouncing this idea around with a few colleagues, another great idea came out: why not co-teach the classes or at least Skype in one teacher they know during the workshop?

My role is to find the next thing, understand its pedagogical uses, and bring it to the faculty. The same ratios will apply in that you will get early adopters to whatever you are selling. But you will need them. They are your niche market, your standard bearers.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

How do you spell MIT?

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On a quiet day here in Sparta, when everyone is geared up for the long weekend full of Thanksgiving meals and shopping, Ryan Lollgen and Steve Schels had something else in mind for their United States History Classes.

Ryan had made contact with Dr. Pauline Maier, the Dr. William R. Kenan Professor of History at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, after having read some of her work. A simple email and phone call to the contact information she supplied landed Ryan and Steve, and more importantly, their students, access to one of America's preeminent historians.

On Wednesday morning at 10am, we used Skype to phone Dr. Maier at her office and conducted an hour-long interview with her with questions generated by the students. The podcast of the event is available for your listening above, and while not the cleanest audio in the world, it is well worth a listen by anyone interested in a unique conversation about the American Revolution.

Maier was featured prominently in PBS's documentary Liberty a few years back, the ebullient style with which she exhibited in the documentary really came through in the phone interview. Her enthusiasm for the topics the students brought up was refreshing for us to hear, and her perspectives were poignant and insightful.

Perhaps the greatest part of the process was that she was genuinely interested in not only the topics, but why the students wanted to know these things. Her answers to the questions the students asked were above and beyond what we all expected, and reflected her desire to help the students view history as a dynamic and changing process. Here is a quote from an follow-up email she sent to Ryan:

Congratulations again on getting your students so involved in American
history. There's nothing like encouraging them to ask questions to avoid
the sense that history is a boring collection of dead facts arranged
chronologically rather than an exciting inquiry into human experience. My
hat is really off to you and the other teachers I have known who, like you,
are doing good work preparing students to think and, not incidentally, be
informed citizens of the American Republic. What was the line attributed
to Franklin (perhaps mythically)? I think as he left the convention,
someone asked him what kind of government the Americans would have, and he
supposedly said "a republic, if you can keep it." We need to know what a
republic is and what it demands of its people if we want to keep it.

This was a unique event for us to participate in, one that showed how we can easily bring experts into our classrooms just by reaching out to them and extending the invitation. Much like Dee Peselli did with Kyle MacDonald a few months back, all it takes is a teacher who wants to provide a memorable experience for his or her students.

Cross-posted at Tech Dossier.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Strike the Match

Last year, I workshopped until I was blue in the face, talking about RSS and social bookmarking and whatever else I could to help teacher efficiency while researching and planning. This year I backed off and let things go in their own direction (slightly).

This post just appeared today on Tech Dossier, our district technology blog, from Angela Deluccia-Davis, and it really made me smile. Now, truth be told, Angela is an early adopter, and one of our biggest technological evangelists, but she is also a realist, and an AP teacher. Her margin for error with experimentation is very low. Her post details briefly the introduction of Google Reader into the AP position paper that she does every year.

One thing I love about how she introduced it is that she clearly states that not all of the students are using it---it's a tool. Some will use the tool, others will not. No grades will suffer if you choose not to use it. I would like to see where this goes.

Flickr image credit: "Aha," by Jason Pinker

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Monday, November 19, 2007

The Best Idea, in picture form

Scott McLeod had this on his site a while back (and he got it from indexed), and in cleaning out my starred items on my Google Reader, something worse than the mess that was the regular list of unread items in my reader, I found it again and it made more sense than when I starred it.

To me, this speaks to the way in which learning is heading. I can't say that this model fits everyone, but the more I engage in conversation with people, regardless of their viewpoint, the better I emerge because of it.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I Did It!

I successfully made it through all the outstanding reading in my reader. Then I trimmed my feed list by 50%. Organization and efficiency will occur.

Friday, November 16, 2007

What Marvin Gaye Would Ask Me...

I feel like a deadbeat dad almost--like I have neglected my responsibilities to reflect. I haven't posted in nearly two weeks. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Why not? Several extremely lame reasons offer themselves up: no time, too much transition to the new gig, kids not sleeping, teachers needing assistance, database updating. All of them trumping each other for the lamest excuse for not writing. What it boils down to is the fact that I haven't been making the time to reflect, and this strikes me as odd in this crucial time in my career as I make a big change.

There are so many things were mentioning in this post, and in other posts that I have thought about writing, but the most pressing is that I am no longer going to be the Tech Coordinator for my district, but rather I have accepted a position as Director of Curriculum for Humanities. My role has drastically changed, and my time "in the saddle" will as well.

However, I was talking to a group of teachers today in a workshop about how blogging offers the unique ability for you to see how you have grown as a professional, as a writer, and as a thinker, and something occurred to me: this blog has pushed me to this point, more so than any other facet of my learning network. Here's why:

  • when I look back at my posts throughout the last year, the focus has shifted from solely technological issues to those of pedagogical and curricular issues. Instead of asking "what is the coolest tool?" I began to ask "how can this tool help a student take their learning to a new level?"
  • more and more, as I moved through this year, I focused on elements of change in a school environment.
  • as my network grew throughout the year, so did the effort level on my posts; not to say that I did not strive to write well, but it goes to common sense that if your audience grows, so then does the pressure to write well and provide reason for people to want to read you.
So now I am moving in a direction that I like to say I didn't foresee, but after some analysis and reflection, I should have seen coming. I wanted to thank all of the people who stop by here, all two of you (and one is my mother), and I hope you continue to challenge me and push my thinking to places and levels that I could not get to on my own.

Image Credit: 'Transitions transition" on candyls' photostream

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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Period 3-4 Ustream.

Here is the Ustream chat for one of the Just One Less conferences we held two weeks ago here in Sparta. The dialogue for this one included people from around the globe.

[09:52:35] : going live in a few minutes.
[09:53:44] : that's why i am here
[09:53:53] : great to see you mrsdurff
[09:53:57] : er sort of.
[09:54:02] : working and listening
[09:54:11] : hi pj
[09:54:15] : Welcome to all parents and guests.
[09:55:41] : Please remember to ask your questions of me and I will pass it along to the students.
[09:56:04] : Hi per 3 civics , Mrs S will try and catch some of your broadcast
[09:56:14] : Here we go. Please give feedback as to quality, especially audio.
[09:56:32] : hello Mrs. Sobie.
[09:56:43] : Soon as your on we will let you know
[09:56:54] : Hello Mrs. Sobie
[09:57:18] : Hi Mr Walsh
[09:58:31] : You're going to enjoy this, the Per 1 gang was great!
[09:58:38] : hi
[09:59:10] : Volume is better
[09:59:51] : great audio!
[10:00:03] : excellent
[10:00:27] : Students are well prepared, but nervous.
[10:00:31] : Volume is going in and out for us in Rm 261
[10:01:24] : If everyone could state their location for us, we would really appreciate it.
[10:02:27] : mrsdurff in hagerstown, maryland
[10:02:38] : Jeff Lebow - Bow, NH
[10:03:28] : so mechanics - did you get video release forms?
[10:04:25] : We used their publicity consent forms. Those that did not agree will not appear on camera.
[10:04:36] : SMS Sparta NJ Rm 261
[10:04:37] : ah!
[10:05:01] : questions?
[10:05:02] : i'm trying to organise 8th grade for this
[10:05:05] : for students?
[10:05:14] : @mrsdurff: great.
[10:05:22] : are they frightened?
[10:05:34] : about the prognosis?
[10:05:45] : How do they feel about having their presentations streamed globally?
[10:05:49] : Questions: Where did they do their research? What resources did they use?
[10:06:44] : Great!!!
[10:06:47] : Did they validate their research by looking at three or four different sources of info?
[10:06:57] : do they find the deep web better than surface web for researching?
[10:07:09] : What changes have the students made in their own lives about global warming?
[10:07:42] : @55345: will save that one(validate) for end. Please remind me.
[10:08:08] : great!
[10:08:36] : most is transportation
[10:08:49] : and most kids want a car
[10:09:13] : do they?
[10:09:13] : Great job Laura and Pat for our kids!
[10:09:24] : we can hear perfectly now
[10:10:17] : personal responsibility?
[10:10:34] : @mrsdurff: here is your transportation issue
[10:11:02] : do they think this is someone else's problem or their problem?\
[10:11:15] : ah!
[10:11:41] : but are they personally gonna do these things?
[10:11:49] : student in my class would like to know the sources of their research
[10:12:48] : What changes have you made in your own lives to make things better?
[10:12:56] : Students in Per3 want to know what organizations are working to solve the problem?
[10:13:26] : how has global warming affected the Artic glaciers?
[10:13:29] : great questions.
[10:13:41] : good answer!
[10:13:44] : students asking now.
[10:14:29] : Who are the people in your lives that now serve as role models to help get this movement started? Are they both adults and peers?
[10:14:41] : good question!
[10:14:50] : i agree
[10:14:51] : Per 3 How does hairspray affect the air?
[10:15:50] : fluorocarbons
[10:15:57] : Yes!
[10:16:04] : shh!
[10:17:07] : He is having fun up there.
[10:17:32] : Audio check.
[10:17:41] : sounds good
[10:18:42] : Remember to sign into Ustream so we can see your name in the chat.
[10:19:01] : Local issues.
[10:19:45] : Questions?
[10:19:55] : some may not have accounts
[10:20:05] : true
[10:20:12] : Has there been any recent legislation introduced to help the situation here in NJ?
[10:20:23] : what are the alternatives?
[10:20:26] : that can also type '/nick theirname' to change their ID
[10:22:00] : how does pollution in Antartica affect you?
[10:22:36] : @mrsdurff: I like that question a lot. I will try to get it in here.
[10:22:46] : so everyone is in a watershed affecting some water ecosystem
[10:22:57] : this is everyone's problem
[10:23:26] : Smithsonanian had a great article on glaciers
[10:23:44] : the waiting room in a doc's office is good for sth
[10:24:13] : the water cycle
[10:24:27] : therefore it is our problem
[10:24:35] : true.
[10:25:45] : nyc sends how many lbs of trash out to sea on barges per year?
[10:26:11] : what else could nyc do with the trash?
[10:27:11] : does being a endangered species do anything?
[10:27:23] : how do we know?
[10:28:08] : action steps! wonderful!!
[10:28:19] : Mr. Chodkiewicz's Class would like to know what we can do locally to help endangered species
[10:30:03] : What endangered species' do we have in and around Sparta and what has put them in danger?
[10:31:09] : the giggles.
[10:31:20] : they are boys
[10:31:27] : give 'em a break
[10:32:37] : Nice Job!
[10:34:04] : makes me hungry
[10:34:14] : @17763: I agree.
[10:34:22] : vegan lasagne on the plate today
[10:34:37] : annamarie77
[10:35:05] : action steps!
[10:35:30] : Do you currently have a recycling program in place at your school? If not, do you plan to start one?
[10:35:56] : @mrsdurff: do you want me to ask them for a plan?
[10:36:22] : no - they told me
[10:36:30] : i was praising
[10:36:36] : You are good.
[10:36:54] : educators think alike
[10:37:56] : After the students finish, we will stick around for some closing statements.
[10:38:02] : they could start a grassroots reccyling program
[10:38:13] : Agreed.
[10:38:33] : i challenge them all
[10:38:40] : Our VP is sitting next to me; he says that we do have one. Maybe we need to publicize it.
[10:38:50] : Excellent!
[10:39:53] : this is great!
[10:40:22] : clapping.
[10:40:30] : Great Job per 3!!!
[10:40:48] : Mr. C's Class is clapping too!
[10:41:01] : this was worth my morning!!
[10:41:06] : Great job, guys! Your hard work is evident.
[10:41:09] : thank you!!
[10:41:41] : nice job!
[10:41:43] : thank you all for coming and helping us out. One more this afternoon at 1:45.
[10:42:27] : tweet it then - may be if we still have internet
[10:43:20] : Thanks again.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Just One Less...

Tomorrow marks a big day for us in terms of our movement towards a more transparent school community: we are broadcasting a student-led conference on the environment live via Ustream and inviting you, your students, and your colleagues to watch us and interact with us through the chat.

Laura Sofen, a 7th grade Language Arts teacher and I sat down about a month ago and worked through our ideas and made this happen for our students. As Laura said, they had worked so hard, inquired so much and grown through this research process, that allowing them this outlet to show the understanding they have gained was a fitting reward.

Our goal tomorrow is to engage in dialogue, to pull you (and your students) in from wherever you are. We want our students to see "Global Warming" as truly "global," and not just something they are reading about because we are in an election cycle here in the states.

The times are 9:30am, 11:00am, and 1:30pm EST in the US (GMT-5). Please take the time to drop in and bring your students if you can. The students are in 7th Grade, so they are not quite high school age, but in listening to them practice today, they have done their homework and are ready for a global audience.

Here is the address for my Ustream channel where will be live from. Hope to see you there.

Flickr image credit: "What Global Warming?" from maistora's photostream

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Sunday, November 4, 2007

Expect the Unexpected

Maybe I am naive, but this comment on a recent student survey I conducted about using wikis in their AP class took me by surprise, especially based on most of the things we assume about this generation of students:

not make it so that you have to go on every night to check what is happening. It is turning into something like facebook or myspace just with history. i dont know about everyone but some people dont have time to check the internet everynight sometimes more than once.

Are our students as "connected" as we assume? This quote, while isolated, makes me wonder about the way this assignment is structured, and the way this student is relating to the assignment. Plus, are we taking for granted the fact that using something like a wiki is not a panacea.

Just another example of why it is NEVER about the technology, but ALWAYS about the teaching.

Flickr image credit: "Wiki Wiki Teriyaki," from Parvati's photostream

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Why didn't I think of this sooner?

In preparation for my new position as Director of Curriculum for Humanities in my district, I realized that keeping the district technology blog going was something that might be difficult given the amount of time I spent on it and the new constraints of the position. Also, I thought about a few other things that were bothering me regarding the blog:

  • there was not much conversation going on with it; the staff would read it, but no one was commenting.
  • my posts there were very similar in nature; often I would talk about tools and cool applications of tools in the classroom, and highlight staff accomplishments.
  • getting people to the site rested squarely on my shoulders.
Thus, my conclusion was that I needed new voices. So I asked a few of my colleagues to pitch in as co-authors, taking a cue from LeaderTalk. So as of last Monday, Angela Dellucia-Davis, Cathy Wille, Erica Hartman, Michael Gregory, and Brad Davis all became co-authors of The Tech Dossier. What came from this in terms of participation and readership was nothing short of amazing:

Saturday was the last day that I posted solo, and Monday began the contributions of the others. Word of mouth and a few emails to the staff were all we did to publicize the change and as you can see from the graph above, we reached highs in page loads and first time visitors almost daily. This is what I always wanted. Comments, at least three on every post, with a high of 7 on one post.

The mix of administrators and teachers blogging together is an interesting one, one that I will watch intently, but it seems to be working after one week. If you have a moment, please check out the writing going on there this week. It is a grand experiment, and I certainly should have done this sooner.

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