Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We've Moved...

Find us at the new home...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The gOS. Make your Business Administrator Happy with This One.

It's been a while since I posted about an app or a tech topic, but this one was too good...

I took one look at this the other day and thought immediately of the decrepit group of ThinkPads we have sitting around the Tech Department and how they could suddenly be revitalized as internet machines with some really great functionality.

Maybe I am jumping on the open source in education bandwagon a little late, but here's to those of you out there who are cranking out all of these fantastic applications and interfaces for the rest of us to marvel at and be productive.

We are installing it tonight, so I hopefully will have some reports on its functionality tomorrow.

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, January 7, 2008

Open Professional Development

(a version of this is cross-posted at Tech Dossier)

Welcome back to what is commonly referred to as the second half of the school year, but in reality unevenly splits our academic year into two sections; regardless, I hope everyone had a restful holiday and is ready to begin the year anew, armed with resolutions that are bound to change the world, or at least your place in it.

One of the things that is high on my list this year is to begin transforming how we view professional development. PD's usual place in education is to sign up for a workshop, go to said workshop, learn, and then try as hard as we can to practice and apply those skills in the classroom. It's always an external process. What if if, instead of you going to the class, the class came to you?

Darren Draper, a Technology Integration Specialist from Salt Lake City, and Robin Ellis, an instructional technology specialist from Quakertown, PA, have decided to offer a second round of what is called Open PD. Every Wednesday night starting on January 23rd, from 6:30pm to 9:15pm, they will offer sessions live online using Skype and a screen-sharing program called Yugma (both free) to teach you about various social software applications and the possibilities for their use in the classroom.

The first cool thing about this? I dropped in for a bit of their last session, offered in the fall, not knowing what to expect; what I found was that not only was I connected to the class, but so were about 15 others from around the world and we all could talk and contribute, and especially ask questions when we weren't clear about something! It was like being in class without physically being there. At one point, I was out on my deck enjoying the sunset, and taking their class simultaneously.

The second cool thing? They are going to cover topics such as: wikis, Google applications, del.icio.us, flickr, blogging and social networking (facebook, ning, etc.) in a manner that is non-threatening and open, thus the name OpenPD.

If you have the time, this class is well worth your while regardless of your familiarity with the topics at hand. As Darren states in his post about the class, " the sum of our knowledge is what truly makes these new technologies so appealing."

Image Credit: "Learn" on amarola's photostream
Technorati Tags: , , ,

Thursday, January 3, 2008

If you had your druthers

If you could create a class, perhaps one that exists in the schools you are all talking about at Clay's post, what it would be structured like?

I ask this for a very specific reason: we are creating new classes and we'd love to push the envelope a little and create them based on the ideas of the 21st Century Collaborative. We want this:

Our basic frames we are working with are the following:

  • Music Production using editing software
  • Internet marketing
  • Documentary film making
  • Graphics with an eye on Adobe CS3, but open to interpretation
  • Video analysis in science

Is anyone doing something similar, and if so, what works? Also, if you could do any or all of these, how would you do it?

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

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

Technorati Tags: , , ,

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

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

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.

Technorati Tags: , , ,