Friday, December 28, 2007

Process Re-Design, Part II

Among the other things that my Uncle Bill and I talked about was the need for everyone involved in changing processes within their organization to have a "territory," or in our case, some idea that you own that is yours undeniably. He spoke about looking at a situation from a process redesign perspective and saying: this is mine, and you may not enter it unless it is on my terms. Sounded intimidating as I listened, but I let it marinate for a few days.

Education, unlike the corporate world, has no financial interest in changing or upgrading, but rather our interest comes from that age-old desire to give our students the best opportunity to learn. It is the job of the corporate change agent to see the change, initiate it, and weed out the barriers to it, whether they be people or logistical, or both. Cold.

I've spent the better part of the last few days thinking about the translation to education. Can you take that approach? I think it has to be modified to reflect that belief that change has no extrinsic reward. The change agent in education will spend as much time building community as he or she will introducing ideas. Education exists as both an art and a science, something we all learned in our induction programs, I am sure. Being so dichotomous, both aspects must be represented in your plan for change. So you can have your ideas, but those entrenched in the positions who will practice what you prescribe, teachers, must be able to identify with what you are attempting to change and contribute to it. Warmer?

This has my attention. Bring your ideas to the table, own them and flesh them out, but be aware of how they are interpreted; don't let them be modified in practice to the point that they are unrecognizable.
Reading over the last few days, I came across Bob Sprankle's post at TechLearning in which he spoke about NetDay Survey's that he conducted in his district, which were aimed at assessing student attitudes about technology and learning. Towards the end of his post, he wrote the following:

At the Christa McAuliffe Conference, Dr. Tim Tyson talked about the idea of "childhood" being a relatively new concept; that children used to have very little time for "play" due to demands of helping the family survive. In the past, children were first and foremost expected to make a contribution and Tyson wonders if some of the problems that ail our children these days are due to the absence of attending to this contribution need. He asks the question: how old does someone need to be before they can make a contribution? Tyson calls for allowing students to make significant contributions now rather than later in life.
He goes on later to make it more formulaic
Safety + Inclusion + Meaningful Contribution + Play = Success for Our Students.
This is a plan for change, I thought immediately. This simple formula could be integrated into any curriculum or classroom implementation plan. This is the beginning of my "territory."

Barry Bachenheimer, whose name is appearing more and more in the edublog world, also said something that has triggered thought in this direction:
I can think of a few teachers (Maybe 4 out of the 30 or so that I had) who inspired me, made me think, and instilled a love of what they loved. It had nothing to do with technology, but their passion for what they taught, authentic learning, and most importantly, pushing me to do something that I wouldn;t necessarily done on my own at that age.

I see that as one of the purposes of school that can;t be accomplished online or by yourself: doing things that at age 15 that I would never do on my own, but had some benefit as an adult. Examples: reading Chaucer, learning about mitochondria, perfecting a golf swing, working with special needs kids, studying Melville, or analyzing art.
Pulling this all together, here's the next shift I'd like to see in my practice: design curriculum that pushes students to solve actual problems through creation and play and offer meaningful results for their efforts. The idea that we ask students to do things they normally wouldn't do is not new, as Barry shows through his comment, so I would like to try to design a curriculum or tweak an existing one to reflect all requisite standards, but also enable teachers and students to design meaningful solutions to problems, or create useful and necessary materials. Do you use anticipatory sets? Why not assign students to create them in advance? Do you create study guides for big exams? Let the students create their own on a wiki that you can co-edit. In addition to reading Chaucer and studying mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell, by the way), we could have them produce content, either digitally or traditionally, that demonstrates to a larger audience that they have understood the concepts involved, and that they have transferred that learning to a medium that all can interpret and enjoy. Give them, as Sprankle said via Tim Tyson's meaning, a responsibility that is tangible.

It's going to be a great year....

Image Credit: "Flickr Rainbow" on
Just_Tom's photostream

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Thursday, December 27, 2007

Process Re-Design, Part I

I had a great Christmas. I realized a few things, saw my son explode with joy over the least likely gift, spent some quiet time with my wife, and had one of the most meaningful and perfectly timed conversations with my uncle.

Everyone should have an Uncle Bill like mine. He was an executive for various corporations for over 30 years, specializing in systems, which, during his time, meant that he was in charge of initiating change in process design for production and data analysis. He was the guy who brought computers to your parent's or grandparent's office and redesigned their jobs.

On Christmas day, after everyone had left the house, we sat down while my daughter snored on my chest, and we talked about change, and why it doesn't make great bedfellows with workplace harmony. Just some light holiday banter, right?

That conversation, coupled with what I've been reading lately have pointed me towards some new ideas, ideas that I am going to use the next few days of quiet time to figure out.

Last week, Barry Bachenheimer, a fellow New Jerseyan, came to some realizations after thinking about professional development in his district. His aptly titled post, "Everything You Know is Wrong," expressed a desire that we are going about helping our students and teachers in the wrong way if we offer them traditional methods to learn and grow. If you have given a workshop lately, what was expected of you by your audience? What did you deliver? For me, I have tried to move away from "sit and get," and more towards "here is what you can do, here is the way to get started." Lowered attendance and more requests for "specific activities we can take with us" have given me pause about the state of where we are professionally.

Barry advocates an idea, and I will gladly catch that grenade and chuck it farther:

For many teachers who are late adapters of technology and whom it is a struggle to get them to use digital tools to foster these ideas, we shouldn't bother. I would argue it might be more important for them to effectively develop critical thinking, cooperative learning, and analysis skills for their students with paper and chalk rather than do it marginally with a SMART Board and a laptop.

Uncle Bill and I spoke about where your change comes from, who you target and who you tacitly neglect in the interest of the greater good. In an era where we are so focused on time, do we have it to spend on those that are not willing to accept change? I am more inclined to agree with Clay Burell, in his comment on Barry's post:
When I look back, I don't see much to be proud of in education over the last decades. But maybe that's just my own student experience speaking.

My problem is, I don't see change happening quickly either. I don't like the view behind or ahead.
Where was the engagement in my education? Identifying with Clay's student experience, the engagement came when I was with a teacher who cared about their craft to push boundaries and ask me to think originally, as scary as that was at the time. Do educators who don't push themselves to grow professionally, at least a little, have that ability to reach students?

While we sat and talked about resistance to change and how my role will be defined, Uncle Bill gave me this advice: "Your job is to make it better for those who are yet to be in your charge, not to make it acceptable for those currently in your charge."

As believers in educational change, who are we working for? The students and teachers of today, or the students and teachers of tomorrow?

Image credit: "[re]design," from Kate_A's photostream

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

How to Present

If you have the time over the break, check out Scott Elias' slidecast below. This should be a prerequisite to every preservice teacher before they take their first job so they don't do as I did and repeat the presentation mistakes of the teachers I had.

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

What to do once you are there.

Friday, at the very end of the day, I had the opportunity to work with a teacher, Carole Sobiechowski to help her set up her class blog for her Civics class. It was an appointment that was a long time coming, as both of us had rescheduled it several times.

As most of us are, I am a big advocate of blogging, especially in classes designed like this one, where the curriculum is something the students have not been exposed to previously. Our Civics curriculum is brand new as its own entity; it had previously been embedded into our Grade 8 History classes. For various reasons, including alignment to state content standards, we removed it from the 8th grade and designed an entire curriculum around civics and citizenship. It's an exciting class, but the students need to be able to digest it and internalize it in order for it to truly have an impact on future learning and application. One of our other civics classes is blogging already, with some great results.

In working on Friday to get her set up, I began by showing her what the other Civics class blog looked like, including the types of assignments and assessments the class was using, and the general pattern we followed to allow the students to transition into writing on blogs. A couple things stood out to me as I was describing the process to Carole on Friday:

  • allowing students time to get used to the space is essential
  • rigor is also necessary; time given to assimilate onto the blog should be limited and have a definitive end time where the students know that they can still play, but they are being held accountable for their content.
After we had set her up to play with the blog and finalize her vision for where she wanted to go with it, which she will have time to do over the holiday break, I headed home, still thinking about how I described the process to her.

My wife and I went shopping on the way home from work, which, if you are like me, means a lot of sitting in stores watching the baby while she and the toddler run around finding things to buy. This is great reading time, the iPhone and Google Reader have truly transformed these moments for me. When reading this passage from Kim Cofino, something new was apparent to me about the blog spiel that I deliver to teachers:

All too often, teachers set up an online space for their students and then just “let them have a go” - basically leaving the students on their own in this new environment (sometimes because the teacher is not sure where to start). Not only does this provide fertile breeding ground for misbehavior, but it is definitely not something teachers would do in the physical world, so there’s really no rationale for letting them go in a virtual environment. Teachers must be the model for appropriate behavior online, just like they are in the physical classroom.
It makes perfect sense: teachers rarely give students directions so vague and expect anything of quality to return. As Kim states, it's a breeding ground for trouble to begin. We ask our teachers to be present online, as it insures that they are an integral part of the process the students undergo online; our most successful teachers with students online are our most frequent commenters. Why not start that process earlier, right from the moment our students sign in for the first time? Instead of "hey, let them play for a couple of days," I think I will advocate having the teachers model how to customize their page and require that they "assign" a few of the layout changes to the students by a specified date.

One of the things I love about education and teaching is the myriad ways there are to do it. Yes, there are acceptable norms and practices, but, especially now, they are constantly under revision. School 2.0, always in beta.

Flickr image credit: "2007 Honda Civic Coupe" by Lazy_Lightning's photostream

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Fun with Time-Lapse Photography

Fun with Gawker and Time Lapse Photography from Patrick on Vimeo.

We had our new teacher meeting for the month of December, which we spent podcasting about a lesson that they created over the last month.

I see big possibilities with this, not just for fun things like this, but also as a special effect in movies, or as documentation in science for experiments that take a while to react or show physical results.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Hard to Imagine, this Cyberbullying Stuff.

We have been engaging in online collaborative work now in our district using Web 2.0 tools for over a year now, and the number of students and teachers blogging, using wikis, or creating screencast tutorials with their students keeps growing daily.

When I meet with a class at the behest of the teacher to introduce them to using the blog or wiki, I go over the contract that they are signing or have already signed which clearly states the behaviors we condone, and those that we do not. All in all, we have had over 1000 students at one point or another online and creating with one another, commenting, linking, critiquing and collaborating.

The odds that some of them are engaging in behaviors that we don't condone are pretty good, but until this past week, we have never had a problem with any type of cyberbullying or internet safety issues.

A few students, using wikispaces, created a "Gossip Page" about all of the people in their grade level. When I first got the email from the classroom teacher who found out from her students, I immediately thought the worst: that children were using these technologies for the worst purposes. My heart almost stopped. We had all worked so hard to get to the point where we are right now, and we had really done a great job of providing the students with the right balance of academic rigor and academic play in a collaborative space. All of what we worked towards, I felt, was about to be crushed in a swarm of negative publicity.

When I finally got to the site, which was harmless, save for the "hookups and breakups" section, I breathed a little easier and began to process what we could do with this situation to turn it around. Here were some options that floated in from the twitterverse:

  • have the students create a wiki, much the same way they already did, but about the dangers of cyberbullying and about how to "be" online. Provide them with the building blocks of resources, and guide them on their way towards teaching other students about the dangers of using the internet as a platform for slander.
  • invite all stakeholders to a presentation where we laid out exactly the tools we are using, plan to use, and see as the most important for stakeholders to understand. From this meeting, we could then branch out into parent and community workshops designed at guiding them through the nuances of digital citizenship. Our students could be leaders in this as well.
As an administrator, but not tied to a building, I really have no jurisdiction over the disciplinary side of things; all I can do is make suggestions and give feedback if asked. But I really wanted to help with this one, and I probably should have made that more known.

There are a few things I think we lose sight of sometimes as teachers who are on the leading edge of these new pedagogies. First, we have to realize that our students excel at entertaining themselves online, but rarely possess the ability to apply advanced "online" thinking to their research or organization. Yes, there are some wonderful examples around the world of teachers and students disproving what I just stated (like Clarence and Barbara, Vicki, George, and Clay), but in my classroom experience, the connection between academics and technology with our students is lacking. That has to change. Second, when we educate our students on how to do link the two together successfully, we most likely will be educating the parents of our students in this as well. What Kim did this summer, and Jeff recently are ideal situations that every district should provide for the parents of their students. "What are our children doing?" "How can I be involved?" "To what extent should I be involved?" "Are our students good kids?" "Is Dateline: To Catch a Predator the exception or the rule?"

In the end, it comes down to an adage that one of my graduate school professors told us as we were learning the ins and outs of classroom management (and by the way, one of the few valuable things I garnered from my time there): "you either pay now, or pay later."

Be proactive, rather than reactive.

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Image Credit: "Shimmering Madness" from sbluerock's photostream

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Data Immersion

What do the numbers mean, man?

In several different conversations lately, I have begun speaking by simply stating that I am not a numbers guy. They never meant much to me. That's not an indictment of myself by any means, but by this point in my life, I understand my limitations and do my best to push past them. Sometimes, however, I find that the pictures the numbers create are fascinating.

This post, as some of you might think, stems from the data analysis we have been doing with our staff of first marking period grade distributions, and it does; you can't spend as much time as I have looking at this data without wondering about it. However, watching Ron Eglash connect fractal geometry and indigenous populations worldwide also made me realize the important of visualizing numbers and data.

What we've been looking at is not who did what, but rather what the distributions tell us as we move forward. This is such a small sample, one marking period, to make any informed decisions about what the numbers mean in terms of instruction or assessment. However, with several marking periods of data, we will be able to really begin to answer these type questions:

  • Are the distributions what you thought they would be?
  • What does the whole grade average tell you about the grade distribution?
  • How might grade distribution inform you regarding strategies used for future instruction?
  • Identify similarities and differences. What are some reasons why there are similarities? Differences?
  • If two classes are significantly different, why is that?
  • If two teachers teach the same units, what accounts for the differences in grade distribution?
What are we really after?

The end result? We are aiming for reflection. We want teachers to be able to look at this empirical data and couple it with the anecdotal data they collect through interaction with students and content and be able to really flesh out what caused success or failure. Once they are doing this, how empowered they become!

Taking this from my perspective, it wasn't until I really began taking a look at the numbers of who was attending my workshops last year (70% from the middle school, only 30% from the high school) that I realized where my focus had to shift. The numbers helped me see the direction I needed to go in, rather than staying where I was comfortable and successful.

So now I play with numbers too, and it might not hurt as much as I thought.

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Beat Them, Join Them..Which is it?

Pete Reilly posted today about something that several of my colleagues have reacted to while watching "Did You Know." He asks why we are accepting these numbers as they are:

“Today’s 21 year olds have watched 20,000 hours of TV.”

“Today’s 21 year olds have played 10,000 hours of video games.”

“Today’s 21 year olds have talked 10,000 hours on the phone.”

“They’ve sent/received 250,000 instant messages and e-mails.”

“70 percent of 4 year olds have used a computer.”

Source: Did You Know 2.0

He asks why we accept
spending nearly 7 years of eight hour days watching TV? and nearly 3 years of eight hour days playing video games, and an equal number of years of eight hour days talking on the telephone…13 years of eight hour days spent watching, gaming, and talking on the phone.
rather than taking it to task. I will admit to have been skewed in the other direction for some time; by that I mean that when my colleagues brought that point up as appalling, I would smooth over it by saying that we are faced with it so we may as well just go along with it.

Reilly ends his article with a glimmer, and it's a point that I truly respect:

We can make the case for technology in our classrooms without resorting to “we can’t beat ‘em so why not join ‘em” arguments. We don’t have to accept the inevitability of 20,000 hours of TV watching, or global climate change, or poverty. No one is better positioned than educators to vet technology use so that it reflects the best aspects of our culture, not just the most popular.
This is the tools v. teaching argument in different form. One of the most common arguments for focused professional development of educators is this: throwing technology at teachers without changing pedagogy will lead to very expensive paperweights and disillusioned students. The reality, in my experience, is that students need to be schooled in how to be academic while online. They are skilled at entertaining themselves, as the statistics bear out, but they will have to do much more than that, and we should want them to produce richer, more meaningful content than that which just entertains. Unfortunately, the teaching profession seems to be losing ground here. This has to change.

We want them to enlighten. We want them to innovate.

From Barry Vercoe via Cindy Barnsley's most recent post:

The future is not to predict but to design… Innovation comes from:

  • a clash of cultures
  • clash of disciplines
  • clash of ways of doing things
  • high tolerance of failure
These are challenging skills to bring to students. These are challenging skills to bring to ourselves.

For some hope, check out Darren Draper's latest post about the successes of a veteran teacher. It is actually the post that started this line of thinking for me. I know this will be a common story over the next few years.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

How to take care of your readers, via Doug Johnson

I read with great interest Doug Johnson's post about the new $399 ASUS laptop that runs Linux. It might be the solution we are looking for not just with a 1:1 program, but also a desktop situation that is in need of addressing.

Doug's blog is well-known; he is, what many consider, to be a leader in the field of educational technology and library science. Here is the comment I left on his post:


Perfect little machine for a staff holiday gift guide. I am interested to see how schools, especially mine, would adapt to using a Linux-based OS, especially when they ask the question: "How do open my PowerPoints?"

Interested to see your comparison between the two when the XO arrives.

This is how Doug responded:
Hi Patrick,

Right now kids who have the latest version of PPT for the PC are having a tough time opening any Office documents on our Macs with the current version of Mac Office. No one seems able to remember to save to the older version. I've had more problems with PPT on this Eee than anything else. The fact my PPTs run 80mg and include movies, animation etc., may be part of the problem. Smaller PPTs work fine but I have to adjust font sizes.

I seriously debate whether to buy the newer version of Office for the Mac. I am really liking the Open Office software that comes with the Eee. Seems less feature glut. Kids could have copies on home computeres - Open Offfice or Neo Office. Maybe it i a good time to make the switch?

Thanks for your comments,

If ever you wondered what people mean by taking care of your readers, this is it. His response not only addressed my questions, but also directed me toward new thinking. It was lengthy, well-thought out, and was much more than I expected from someone as noteworthy as Doug. Cheers to you Doug, for leading by example.

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Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Timing, You Know?

Just as I am entering full-on anxiety mode, along comes Tracy Weeks's post at LeaderTalk. Tomorrow is my official start date as Director of Curriculum for Humanities. Notice I capitalized that. I don't think I've ever had a job title that needed to be capitalized before.

I've been thinking about what to expect as I make this transition, and I will admit, there is a lot of apprehension in changing roles; I've never known a job that was as diverse and challenging as the one I am leaving. What this next one holds, I don't fully know, but the glimpses I have seen in the last few days show me that the stakes are higher, the responsibilities greater, and challenges more complex than any I have ever known. I've never been one to shy away from things that are difficult, and I have to say I am excited for the challenge.

Things do worry me, though. For example, the idea of change has been on that I've bandied about on this blog for a while now. How do you effectively institute it without alienating those that fear it most? And several of us have spoken in the past that people in the field of education have an odd relationship with change. For the most part, we see it as arbitrary, and often hitched to political agenda.

What I learned so well from being immersed in, for lack of a better term, "all things 2.0" over the last year and a half, is that this change we immersed in did not come as a mandate from some overarching political edict. Rather, just the opposite. It has come from the needs of our students, and the desires of some extremely talented teachers who want to reach them with undeniably meaningful and timely lessons using sound pedagogy combined with new tools.

So I look at tomorrow morning with apprehension, but also renewed excitement, as I will take with me the skill set that I have honed up until this point in my career. Tracy spoke of a few things that I really liked, and plan to carry over in some way to my new role:

Being the Change
Tracy talks about using tools with people rather than just showing or telling about the tools. This idea is one I plan to implement as I will be involved in so many projects and groups and committees that keeping track of them will be daunting. Putting my theory into practice by using a wiki for organization, or really trying Google Groups to keep members up to speed will show how willing I am to push the "change" agenda forward, and do so with results in my own practice.

Leading and Learning by Example
One of the greatest by-products of my time as technology coordinator was how closely I was able to examine my own learning. The outcome of that introspection has helped me see the kinds of things that Will Richardson has been talking about for quite a while: teachers and administrators need to look at how they learn, just as they need to look at how their students learn. Getting teachers and administrators to come together to discuss how professional development is changing is a goal of mine, one that I have begun on our district blog, Tech Dossier, but would like to see spill over into what Tracy calls "Lunch n' Learns." When you get administrators and the teachers that work with them to the same table to discuss how things are changing, or the ideas that they have for working with students, or how to expand the walls of the classroom (or better, knock them down completely), you get honest change, and you get hope.

We'll see how this goes. I know this is going to be transformative, and that my life will change dramatically as of tomorrow morning, but this is the right move. This is the direction my head has been going for a while anyway. Wish me luck.

Photo Credit: "Sidewalk Philosophy," from babasteve's photostream

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Some Holiday Fun

I really wanted to show my wife the global nature of Ustream, so I thought what better way than to share out tree opening. A very early Happy Holiday to all!

Test from Flock

Just testing the blog functionality in Flock.

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