Sunday, December 14, 2008

Middle of Nowhere... Still a Teacher

Photo credit:
I haven't blogged here for awhile since I've done most of my sharing on my podcast at Wicked Decent Learning, however, I find myself in need of a platform and no one is awake at home tonight so here I am.

Tonight Physics teacher Robert Crowley from our small state of Maine, became the million dollar winner on the CBS reality series "Survivor Gabon". Much of his victory can be directly attributed to some of the very intelligent moves he made in the game (including crafting a fake immunity idol from bits and pieces of things he found around camp).

Bob was helpful around camp (building furniture and bolstering the shelter) and credits his parents with his moral compass and ingenuity.

I'm not just writing about Bob because he's from Maine, or just because it's great to see a teacher win some notoriety and cash, I'm writing about Bob because of his ability to see a learning opportunity even in the unlikely setting of a reality TV series. Bob has created classroom physics problems for his students to solve that are drawn from challenges on the show. He used his head to win several challenges by using his head. I think Bob presents educators and more importantly learners in a terrific, positive light.

Bravo Bob. I hope the you continue to inspire your students as you have inspired many watching around the world.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

High Tech Humanitarianism

Recently there has been a lot of excitement at my school around the website Our school's Civil Rights Team has sponsored a school wide competition on the site. The website has two simple goals.
1. Create a SAT type vocabulary practice for students.
2. Raise money to donate rice to starving countries.
Help end world hunger

For every right answer a student provides, Freerice donates 20 grains of rice to the UN World Food Program. The money comes from advertisers running ads on the bottom of the site. I have had several conversations with students trying to explain the concept of ad-supported services recently. They seem totally unaware that their myspace, facebook, Gmail, or even their local TV are supported by the advertisers.

The site lets you remember your previous total on that machine without having to log in and adjusts your questions to a difficulty level you are comfortable with.

Our Civil Rights Team is providing prizes to the individual and the homeroom with the highest amount of rice donated. The competition for our school will end on May 15th, when we will tally up the totals and award the prizes.

It has been a great motivator for students and since we have a 1-to-1 laptop initiative for our whole high school, it is being played by most students several times a day. This is a good thing since I heard a news story on NPR recently that the world food market for rice has been disastrous. Apparently the price of rice per ton has gone from $250 USD to $860 USD in just a short time. Click below to listen to a news report about the food market pressures.

Who would have thought that laptops could feed people? If you'd like more information about how we started this competition so that you could sponsor one, send me a comment or email.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Default setting: Change the Policy

I was in a teacher's meeting today which was basically an outlet for staff members to express their troubles with a district policy that allows students to retake assessments. The typical arguments arose "We are enabling them to be irresponsible" "Why should they get more than one chance, I never did?" "Kids aren't doing homework to prepare for assessments, we need to return to the practice of grading homework"

I understand the frustrations of my fellow staff members and I am not blogging this to mock them. But I see an unfortunate trend when it comes to trying to make change happen in my school. The policy change. For some reason the major push always seems to be to create a new policy or take out and old one. Apparently, that is change. If it's posted on the wall, in a handbook, or just plain written down, it's change. This seems a little cynical, sorry.

But I struggle why we never look at the underlying issues of these symptoms.
Symptom: Students aren't doing homework, or adequately preparing for tests and assessments. Root cause? Who knows, because we don't discuss that part. Worse yet, we forgot to ask the patient-- the student.

One of my colleagues did just that after the meeting today. One answer, "the homework we are given doesn't help us on the assessment, it's just given to us in a packet that we are not taught about, just handed out." I'm not saying that teenagers' words aren't often designed to get to the path of least resistance for them, I'm just saying that we have not started to truly reflect on the way we run our classes to expect real learning from our students.

We never want to start in a teacher's class room when it comes to changes in a school, we always push the mark as far away from the teacher as possible. Maybe because hard working teachers put a lot of effort into their work and any questioning is a sign of a dissatisfaction with the staff member.

I know I am kind of rambling on tonight but I just hope that our conversations can morph into examining the underlying issues of student motivation, relevance of our curriculum, learning strategies (not teaching strategies) and the use of assessments for diagnostics, not just summative evaluations.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Going Live

I spent most of this evening trying to figure out how to do a live interactive show for my podcast Wicked Decent Learning. After looking over some tools, we chose to give Skype a try with an added call recorder called PowerGramo. The call recorder will probably cost us about $15.00 USD but if it works the way we are hoping it will be worthwhile.

So here's an open invitation to educators. On April 11th, 2008 at 8:OO PM EST we will be asking for feedback from folks on the topic "What do you think is Wicked Decent" in education. Basically it's a chance to see what ideas people have seen in the classroom lately that are positive, exciting or innovative... you know Wicked Decent.

If you have never used Skype before, it's free, easy to set up, and worth downloading. Even if you don't have a computer microphone, you can text chat during the show with it. Our screen name for Skype is WickedDecentLearning.

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Is Competition a good thing?

When I was going to college at UMF, (which by the way has a new Master's Program in Education) we had a guest speaker in our Philosophy of Education class. He made the assertion that we need to take the competition out of education. That had me thinking recently. Would this be a good idea or not?

In the classroom, competition has the potential to be unifying and motivating. Think of the kind of solidarity and loyalty that builds in team or group activities like sports and clubs. The rivalries between school teams often bring in the community and sometimes even draw larger attention. In the classroom, at least at the high school level. Students seem to be driven by the sense of competition.

The flip-side, however is nasty. Some high school students define their academic successes by how many people are below them academically-- class rank, test scores, GPAs. What's really disturbing is to see some students with less concern about how they are doing and improving, and more concerned with making sure the rules of the game are designed in such a way that the competition stays down. For example, when our school changed grading systems, there was a major outcry from some parents and students. They were concerned that the grading system was going to make it harder to receive the top grades their students were used to achieving. They seemed a lot less interested in the question, "What are you learning, and are you growing as a learner?" and wanted to know how this would effect GPA, honor roll and class rank. These are the types of competition that I think deserve close scrutiny. I know that class rank is important to college admissions counselors because it provides some measure for comparing students within the environment in which they were educated, and therefore, it does serve a purpose. The larger question seems to be how we foster an importance on learning... not on grades and ranks, but on learning itself.

Of the public meetings I attended, I rarely saw parents of students who were not "winning at the game of school" probably because those parents feel isolated, left out or disaffected by schools. I think that schools face many challenges, but the highest among them is involving students and their parents (and sometimes even teachers) in the process of learning. It seems like such an obvious statement, but next time you are talking with a teacher or administrator, student or parent, ask them when the last time is that they talked about how we learn, why we learn and what's important to learn. In this time of year we worry about calendars, committees, budgets and graduation plans but it should always be about learning. When we get to that point in the schools, competition will not be as relevant an argument because then, everyone truly wins.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Scheduling Priorities

It's March and the discussions of how next year's schedule will come together has already started. Our principal has asked for use to balance out some priorities and I think hitting all of them would be impossible. So where do you make the trade offs? Here are some of the examples of conflicting factions.

We have been running an alternating block schedule for years now (approximately 90 minute classes that meet every other day), however some subjects and teachers feel that the 45 minute everyday class is better for reinforcing lessons and information (mostly in math, foreign language and freshmen courses). The problem? Introducing even one everyday period makes it harder to schedule upperclassmen in our regional vocational center because they have to attend for an entire day. So which takes priority?

The past few years, we have had common planning time in departments and a personal preparation period. In next year's schedule, it looks like we will have to alternate them (can't have both) because of declining enrollments.

Study halls. I have a personal disdain for them in general. Why should a structured educational environment have a "place holder" in the schedule where 90% of the students in the study hall socialize, skip or just goof off? Is it the job of the school to educate or herd people like cattle? However, if you ban study hall in your schedule, where do the students who have no class go? For seniors and juniors, you could have an open campus, but for sophomores and freshmen transportation and responsibility are reasons to this wouldn't work. Do we just make all students take a full load? What about students that struggle with the classes they already take?

These are only a handful of the issues we are dealing with in creating our schedule for next year. I didn't even get into the numbers games (how many courses each staff member has to prep for, how many kids in each classroom, how many AP course sections to offer).

Good news though, we did decide to drop a "remedial" set of courses that we had going this year which were really unsuccessful.

In a future blog post maybe I'll brainstorm some ideas where technology could help solve some of these issues.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Wiki's and Whatnot

Recently in a podcast episode, I introduced some wiki tools and promised to elaborate on my blog. Well, I finally got around to it...

What's a wiki and why would I care?

The best teaching analogy would be to envision a whiteboard... not hard so far right? Well, in a classroom, you'd have a whiteboard where everyone could see it. There are many ways to use it. The teacher can write on it so the students could read it. The teacher could hand out markers and erasers so the students could write on the whiteboard for all to see as well. When I say everybody, in this case I mean everyone who had access to the room.

So far you follow, right? Well, there are some differences between your whiteboard and a wiki, but only a few.

1. Instead of a whiteboard, it's a web page (don't get worried, it's almost as easy as writing on a whiteboard). Of course with a web page you can provide links, pictures, and even video and animation.

2. Instead of the audience being the classroom, it can be the world (or only those in the world you let read it).

3. Each person you let write, edit, or erase on the wiki can be tracked to see what changes he/she made--Kind of like assigning each student their own unique colored marker.

4. The last major difference is that you have the ability to turn back the clock. That means that if some student in your class were to change your great example from "The Great Depression" into a "yo mama" joke, you push a button and relive your pre-momma depression era.

5. Time and space are not an obstacle. Don't need a custodian to open up the room at 9:30 pm to get the notes off of the board if you were sick, just log on at your convenience, any time, any where.

So, why would someone want to use a wiki? (Here's a long list of valid uses in education but here's a quick guide.)

Instant, simple, publishing. It is an easy way to get online and communicate. Here's an example of a math wiki that is basically a web page. It is authored only by the teacher and is a way to include lessons, Power points, worksheets, a class calendar and homework. It is essentially being used in place of a textbook for the class.

It's a great streamlined way to collaborate. We are always looking for ways to get students to work together and take ownership. With a wiki, you can track who contributes what, and lets them do so in a common format without regard for time and space constraints. A great example of students collaborating for a real purpose is at this AP World History Review wiki--students created a collaborative study guide.

Wider audience, possibly interactive. For authentic assessment purposes, a wiki is a great way to open up student work to the public. When students perform/write for an audience larger than their teacher alone, they concern themselves more with accuracy, effort, and overall quality. You can even open up the forum to others to write in. Here's a world-wide student collaborative story writing wiki.

So as you can see, there are plenty of great reasons to use a wiki in the classroom. Here are some other great resources to check out for wikis:

Wikis in Plain English- Quick video explanation of wikis.
Wiki Matrix- An online wiki comparison tool.
Curriki- The wiki for collaborating on curriculum.
Wikispaces- A popular free wiki.
Wetpaint- Another free wiki with a video explanation.
PBwiki- Offers ad-free wikis for educators.
Wikis in the Classroom- The "one stop workshop" for wikis in education.

Flickr Photo Credit: Sam Pullara

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Survey tools

In my last post I planned to link to another blog post I wrote about free online survey tools. There was only one problem, I hadn't written it! I thought I had but I realized I discussed it on my podcast.

Well, if you don't feel like listening to the whole thing, here's a brief look at how some survey tools stack up with an extra thrown in since the podcast.
No limits on the number of surveys or survey questions, however you do have the limit of 250 TOTAL responses per month. Create surveys and polls but NOT self-correcting quizzes. Spell check included. Not a bad place to start out.
Only 100 responses allowed with only 10 questions allowed per survey. 15 types of questions. There you can invite or take the survey via email or web link. Make some questions required, customized reports and live results available too. Some other features like randomizable multiple choice answers are also included for free.
Polls, surveys and quizzes available. Limited to 100 responses per survey but unlimited surveys. Results are not available after 10 days. 15 types of questions, templates are helpful and spellcheck is enabled. View results online and deploy survey on web or email.

Google Docs Spreadsheet/Forms- This is a great and simple tool if you have a Google Account (which is free). First you make a spreadsheet on the service and then when you publish it, you have the option of making it a web form. You send out the link and then people just see a form to fill out. Their responses are then entered into your spreadsheet which can be graphed out like any other spreadsheet.

Technology Professional Development Brainstorming.

This semester, our librarian and I get the opportunity to offer a technology-based professional development group a couple of times a month on late arrival Wednesdays. When we were trying to plan how we would conduct these sessions we were running into a couple of challenges.

1. People want training relevant to their own work. They want what they want. If we do a training too focused on one or two technology tools, some participants many not see technology as useful to their content area.

2. If we do too many tools, we run the risk of persisting the myth that technology in education is a fad: A shiny new toy with the lasting power of a K-Fed music career. It's not about the glitz, it's not about the glare, it's about the learning. How will technology add value to the unit, transform it or change it in some way that really changes the game.

We decided to review a model presented to us at the high school MLTI teacher leader training presented by Ruben R. Puentedura, Ph.D. I modified the model below for a training this fall to staff and changed the tech-heavy descriptions in the third column to an analogy of a caveman hunting with a rock. The hope is that we could frame our conversations about which technology tools to explore and possibly adopt based on what lasting effect it would have on a student's learning in the class.

Now for the really hard part. We were trying to figure out what technologies people were interested in learning about so we came up with a list of technologies and skills or instructional components that teachers felt like they might need in order to improve a unit.

The hope here is that we can address at least a majority of people's needs by having them do some guided exploration of technology that can be matched to that need. It feels like the right way to go, but seems like a tall order to fulfill. We might luck out and get a lot of overlap. We might even try to use an online survey tool to aggregate the data from these participants as well. (More about that in another post). I'll check in and update on how things are going (as soon as Old Man Winter lets us go to school).

Saturday, February 9, 2008

No iMovie? No problem...

If you teach middle school students in Maine, or if you are lucky enough to have some good technology in your school, you might be lucky enough to have iMovie or Windows Movie Maker at your disposal to edit videos. I do know, however, that there are many teachers and students who don't have access to these two programs and also don't have permission to load programs on their machines. Well, there are some online video editing tools that offer some solutions. I don't see them as a substitute for something like iMovie, but if you'd like to get into simple video editing on the cheap (as in free) here are some suggestions. One note of caution, you should ALWAYS review a site personally for appropriateness before using it with a class since it is created by users even though the sites below don't allow adult content to be posted. This is the best one I found and if you have a Yahoo account (free), you can merge it with Jumpcut and share that login. Jumpcut lets you use your own video and audio. You upload them to the site from your computer, a cell phone or even by emailing the files as attachments to a personalize address setup in your Jumpcut account. It also lets you bring in video and pictures from Flickr directly. You can also explore publicly available video and pictures on Jumpcut and add them to your shelf using the simple "grab" button when you are logged in. After you have your video, audio and pictures, you can do some common editing tasks like cropping, cutting, and adding title screens right on the site mostly by dragging and dropping. Jumpcut also lets you add some effects and transitions. Videos can be shared publicly shared privately with only the people you invite to view the video. You can share videos easily by embedding them into other types of sites (blogs, facebook, myspace) or by emailing a link to someone. People can rate your video and even leave you comments if you'd like. All in all, this is a great place to start playing around. Here is a link to short funny video I made with it awhile back starring friends of ours and their son. This website has many of the same features as Jumpcut but not quite as many. You can upload you're own video but not audio. You can "remix" other people's publicly available movies. You can also trim a movie but there aren't any other editing features (no titles, transitions, effects or music). It's a good service to use if you just need to share a video and want to narrow it down to the clip you want shared. Sharing options on the service are good. It integrates with several online blog services and sites and even lets you download the video to several formats and devices, including iPods. Public/private sharing allowed and comments and ratings are here too as well as mobile phone and email uploading of files. Here's a sample video of my daughter two summers ago. - Looks good. You can upload from your computer, cell phone or by email. You can edit original videos, join video files together, share by email or embed. The only editing it lets you do is just really trimming video, but it does let you select a part of your video to send or save by itself (effectively cropping it). There are the same private/public sharing and commenting options as the rest as well and it lets you save up to 300MB of video on the site for free. Here's another sample video to show you. This lets you add video and pictures with some editing (mostly cropping). They have borders and transitions to use but the audio available is from their library and you can't add your own audio. Embeddable and sharable. You can make photo slideshows very easily here. Photobucket lets you mix multiple videos together as well. My major problem with the site is that it asks for a lot of personal information (including cell number), although it let me register without providing some of it. I feel like this site is more distracting and commercial oriented than the others, so I didn't really like the feel of it by comparison. Still, worth a cautious look. Here's a sample video of my daughter ice skating this winter.

Honorable mentions This site doesn't let you edit your video but if you want to let people comment on specific points within the video, it gives users a "+" button on the timeline where they can leave a text comment at that point. You can get notified by RSS of new comments on the video. Also, when you share the link to the video, you can share the whole video or jump right to the current frame. Good way to have a discussion around a video clip. See a sample here (not my video) hover over the timeline on the bottom to see comments.

Kaltura- This site aims to have people work together to add short video clips to a common film. I found a good example of how this might be done with drumming, however I found the pop-up ads on the video window very distracting. Still, it's a neat model to think about how to collaborate easily with video.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Alternate Reality Games and Education

I have recently been reading WIRED magazine thanks to my Coke Rewards points cash in and found a really interesting article in January's edition called And Now a Game from our Sponsors. The article explores a new type of marketing technique called alternate reality games. Basically this is kind of a world-wide scavenger hunt with clues that, when sown together tell a story. It seems that these games aren't meant to be solved individually, but rather in a collaborative sense with the web being a key component to help in sharing clues and information. This is not really a "Virtual" reality game since it rarely involves being in one computerized world as some avatar, but involves using real world and web based clues to tell a story. Some examples they gave in the article involved a concert goer finding a disk-on-key in a bathroom that contained an unreleased song with the coded message. The message, once decoded indicated a cellphone number that, when called played wiretapped voice message giving the next clue. Without going into detail you can see how complex but engaging a game like this might be.

The reason I have blogged about it here is because of two factors: the engaging aspect of the game and it's collaborative nature. I wonder, as educators how we can harness that kind of enthusiasm to encourage our students to "find the story" in our work. For example, instead of the chronological march through the Revolutionary War, why not present students with the story of those revolutionaries by asking them to follow their story or to uncover findings? I know that teachers don't have the resources to make the games in the scope of those in the article, but I think there could be possibilities here.

Another thought I had was about using this ARG idea to explore characters in a novel. What if the students created their own kind of ARG/alternate story for a subordinate character in a work? Would that allow them to engage more in the text? Understand the characters better? Gain an insight into the author's purpose? Maybe.

I've often heard education technology gurus talk about using games in education (mostly in terms of simulation games) which I think have some merit. But I wondered how realistic it was to expect a software developer to create that Romeo and Juliet Simulation for the X-Box. With technology specific simulations, we are bound to what ever is being brought to market for the technology we have. However, if teachers could do more to create the game mindset in their classrooms, I think we would find student interest skyrocketing.

For example, I work with a colleague who, for many years, has taught Macbeth and Lord of the Flies by doing competitive group competitions. Students who otherwise could care less about Shakespeare or Golding thrive in these activities as they try to win "blood points" from rival "clans" to prove their knowledge and meet the challenges before them. (Thanks Meg for the ideas)

At any rate, I think this type of game model opens up something for educators to consider beyond the "lets play hangman with vocabulary terms" type of game. That's why I'm trying to play one of these games myself. I hope to be able to understand how they work and design a small one for the fun in hopes that I could effectively develop one for a specific educational purpose. If I ever get there, I'll invite you all along.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Kicking the tires of Technology

So if you have my blog on an RSS reader, you probably got a cryptic post that said this:

"Blog about alternative reality aiming(?), featured in this week-- this month's Wired Magazine. Mentions student engagement and understand ways that students could be engaged history social(?) studies, English language art and someone using this model. listen
Powered by Jott"

Sorry about that. I was trying to use a service called Jott to blog using my cell phone. It's a great free service to use to send yourself reminders, contact a person or group of people with a voice message or email someone just by speaking into your cell phone. The problem here was that I thought I had this service set to save my blog message for me to review and not to publish it directly but I think I'd overlooked that apparently. Should be fixed now. By the way if you want to know what this message was about, stay tuned to the blog. I was going to write about alternate reality gaming (not aiming). I should have that post up next week minus the hieroglyphics.

Flickr Photo Credit thanks to RHTRAVELER

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Learning: a risky business

I was in a great discussion the other day with a colleague about the idea of curiosity. We were doing our usual toiling with the question of why students aren't motivated to learn; they don't seem to pick up skills from the classroom or the world around them. We came to the point wishing we could have students who were more curious. We, both of us being high school teachers, wondered what happens to students between that time in elementary school where curiosity is abound, and the time they enroll in our classes.

I wonder what approaches foster curiosity and which approaches stifle it. I wonder what curiosity has to do with brain development and social development of teenagers. I think it warrants some reflection and not just empty questioning so I'll give it a shot.

What makes someone curious?

Well, I think, in order to feel curious, you have to feel that there is something worth discovering. For example, you aren't going to lift every rug in your house unless there's an expectation that something might be under it (say a quarter or that CD you've been looking for). You have to have some sort of reward occasionally in order to make it worth while.

I also think to be curious you can't be scared something awful will happen. If you lift that rug and find a killer dust bunny, then you're likely not to go lifting rugs in the future.

You also have to feel some ownership and permission. We don't often go lifting rugs at a neighbor's house, because it's not ours, and we are not typically encouraged to.

So how does that translate into education terms? Well, I look at it this way. How often do we encourage risk taking? Think about it. In most high school classrooms, exploration is not an option. You read, write, add and subtract what you're told to. You even ask permission to use that bathroom. Yes, I know that we have to be responsible for the supervision of students, but when will we start to encourage kids to take a risk in learning?

What could we do to encourage this? Well, for one, why not allowing students more practice with a set of skills that we expect them to achieve, and provide them with some meaningful feedback? Is everything graded and a "one and done" assessment? If so, why would students try to take that risk. We should reward students for taking reasonable risks in learning: ask and seek answers to their own questions, make predictions and, above all be reflective about their process. If we want students to be able to leave us, life-long, independent learners, we can't ignore this. How often do we ask students to reflect not just on what they learned, but how they learned it. If you had to do it over again, how would you go about it differently?

I know this post is kind of a rambling and it doesn't really give a definitive answer, but isn't that what life is about: the questions and the search for the answers?

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Books and Technology

Though many of my posts deal with technology tools, you might think I have an aversion to books-- not true. If you are looking for books to read, there are many technology tools for bibliophiles.

One of my favorites is Bookmooch. Bookmooch is a site that lets you list books you'd like to give away through the mail, and in return, you can "mooch" books from others in the community. There is no money involved except the shipping cost to send books out when someone requests them. For every book you agree to ship out, you get a point credited to you, for every book you list to give away, you earn 1/10th of a point. It usually takes only one point to request a book from someone (sometimes more if it's from overseas). It's really been a great place for me to get free books for my classroom. I've even scored a really nice box set of Maus I & II, and a hardcover copy of Twisted signed by the author Laurie Halse Anderson. There is even an area for recommending books based on your past mooching.

Other book services online I've seen or played with include Good Reads and Library Thing. Both of these are like a social network around books. They have discussion areas, you can make friends and let everyone know what you are reading, have read, and plan to read. You can rate books, and recommend them to others. What's nice is these sites often integrate with other services. For example, you can get widgets for you blog or web page that show people what books you are reading, what you like to read or what books you are looking for.

In addition, Amazon lets you sell your used books through them and friends of mine had great luck with that. You can buy used books there as well (they are listed along with the new ones for sale in your search results).

If audio books are more your style, try librivox. This is a community, volunteer-driven, that is dedicated to creating free audio files of literature, non-fiction, drama and poetry. They only have works that are no longer under copyright protection, but it's a great way to hear some great writing, and you can volunteer to record a work yourself. I contributed a small poem about a year ago, "How Doth the Little Crocodile" by Lewis Carroll and it was fairly easy to do. A great way for kids to practice public speaking... to a real public.

Video Voicethread...

Just a quick post to share an update of a Voicethread feature that I think it new. You can now add video to VC and also pause the video, rewind it, play it back, draw on it, audio and video comment yourself on the video playing. This is really amazing to see. If you'd like to check out how it works, this is a great demo that you can add to using the Roadrunner and Coyote--classic.

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Do you see what I see?

As one of the staff members in my building that has the unofficial responsibility of supporting technology integration I am constantly re-explaining how to set up, configure, build or find things for teachers. We recently changed our web publishing tool in district and somehow I got tagged with the responsibility of training anyone who was interested in how to make and maintain their web page on the school server. I could already see the 40 separate one-on-one sessions I was going to have to have to explain the nuances of the process and I wondered how I would survive. As in most cases, I was able to find a technology tool that would help me be more productive.

A screen cast when you use a program to record what is happening on your computer screen. Most of these tools let you include audio (usually your voice) from your computer's microphone. This is perfect for those of you who have to explain things on a computer screen often. Screen capture is similar but only takes a still image of your screen and some screen capture programs let you draw on, circle and type on top of the image to point things out or give direction. Surprisingly, many of these tools, which used to cost money, are free! Here are some I've played with.

Jing. This is the best one I have used so far. It is a program that you will need to download from their web page, but it is free. It's available for PC and Mac, and can be running in the background until you need it. It does video, audio, screen cast, screen capture and lets you edit the pictures you take. Additionally, it has some great sharing features that let you save the file on your machine, on your free account (comes with the program), ftp, or even embed the code into a blog or web page. You can even share on Flickr. Great tools and really helpful tech support (I ran into a small snag with installing but the staff responded quickly and efficiently).

. This is downloadable software that offers a 30-day free trial (after that it's quite pricey). But, for 30 days you get the fully functional version that lets you do basically all that Jing does more smoothly and integrates with PowerPoint, lets you add audio during recording or after and even has an editing function that lets you fine tune your screen cast. This is great if you want to make a really powerful presentation and you can do it in the 30 day window. It appears to be a PC product only. This blogger says you can get a free older version of Camtasia until January 7th, 2008. So if you like this tool, get it now.

For those of you who are not allowed to add programs to your school computer, there is an online tool alternative to these. is an online, free screen casting tool. It lets you define the area of the screen you'd like recorded, lets you choose to use audio and will let you download the finished file or share it on their website. It's honestly a little murky in terms of the screen clarity, and sometimes the audio skips a bit, but as far as a free way to try out screen casting, this is a great place to start. No need to install software, but you'll want a high speed connection to work with, and you might need to update your Java (the site links to Java's update page to see if you have the right one so it's a free easy fix if you don't). Works with Mac or PC. The nice part about this site though, is that you can look for screen casts others have done in a searchable database (why reinvent the wheel when someone already has the definitive "How to use Screencast-o-matic Screen cast").

So what would a teacher in a classroom use these tools for? They have many implications beyond technology training. For example, imagine a writing teacher recording his/her writing and thought process in a video file to share with students how they plan, draft and edit. Imagine taking students on a tour of a website like Wikipedia and pointing out want makes it a credible source and what to look for when doing research citations. Or making a screen cast or capture of your class or school website for as a tour for parents and community.

Even better yet, why not have students make screen casts to edit each others papers (think aloud peer editing), review websites, teach how to use a program, or voice over in a foreign language. Why not have students make screen casts teaching staff how to use technology tools? There are all kinds of possibilities here when you start sharing what you see with others.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Status Symbol

So I made the leap from a blogger to a podcaster this week. It's a little like the feeling of going from the nerdy table in the junior high cafeteria to accepting your nerdiness and joining the A/V club to play with all the toys. The podcast was something my friend Dan and I had been talking about doing for awhile and we finally got around to it by the tail end of 2007. We hope to have new episodes up each week, (the true test of a real viable podcaster). We manage to plan, record, edit and post it in about 5 hours (maybe that will show in the quality) but I'm shooting for less than 3 next time. I've had trouble getting the bells and whistles to work (AAC--Pictures with the podcast and getting iTunes to list us-- we're pending approval now).

If you've a got a little time to kill, check out the "Wicked Decent Learning" Podcast.

I'd appreciate any feedback people might have for us. I'd hate to slip to chess club status or hall monitor.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


I realized that in my last post I reference an online tool without telling what it did, which is ironic because my first ideas for starting this blog were to provide useful online tools for educators to use in their classrooms.

Voicethread is a simple tool that has lots of possibilities. You start out by uploading an image file (map, picture, artwork, scanned document, etc.) Then you can draw on it, record a voice comment, or add a text comment to that picture. You can then add other pictures and make a sort of slide show with your narration if you'd like. So what makes this any better than a lecture or Power Point? Well, it's a sharable, online and collaborative. You can set up a Voicethread to allow it to be viewed publicly and even to have other people comment (text or audio) on the pictures. They can even add to the "thread" if you allow them too. You can get notified of changes to the thread through email or RSS if you'd like. You can even embed them into other sites or applications when you are done.

I don't want to sound like an advertisement here, because I stand to gain nothing financially from Voicethread (not that I wouldn't turn down an offer if there's anyone from Voicethread reading) but Voicethread is offering FREE PRO ACCOUNTS to educators. This allows you more flexibility and functionality. I just feel that any company with a good tool who is reaching out to provide to the world of education needs to be justly recognized for that contribution. I hope that people will embrace this opportunity and give Voicethread some feedback to help strengthen this relationship.


I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about what my next post ought to be and I was weighing my options between a few choices, one of which was a lengthy rant about SATs, standardized testing and No Child Left Behind but I decided not to be such a Scrooge in the holiday season. No doubt by the time some dismal day in March arrives, you'll hear an earful on those other things.

I have been trying to answer the question, "What motivates students to learn?" This is the million dollar question that often connects to other educational conversation from measuring student progress, to curriculum and assessment. I started trying to answer the question by looking in two places. One, when I was a student, what courses, teachers or projects interested me and why. Two, what do students seem to be intrinsically motivated to do in our school.

Looking back at my own educational experiences, I can outline several examples of my own intrinsic motivation (extrinsic examples like parents expecting good grades or bribes of Driver's Education aside). I was very motivated in my music classes. I was involved in band, jazz band, marching band, brass quintet and even participated in several regional and state band competitions and music summer camp (yes I was that much of a geek). What motivated me to get this involved? Several things. One, it aligned with my "social network" (I had many friends in music who shared the same interests). Two, learning was important because it had a real audience. If you thought you'd get away with not practicing in a five person music group, you quickly learn that you can't hide in a performance, even behind the tuba. There are many other experiences I can recall were I was truly intrinsically motivated to learn (a mock trial in Social Studies for example) and I realized that the common factor was a real audience, not even necessarily a social group I was with.

When looking at courses and experiences where students in our school show a true motivation to learn, I hear of things like vocational programs (nursing, carpentry, automotive) music programs, athletics, and service projects like our students going to New Orleans to help Habitat for Humanity build houses for Katrina victims. These all have a REAL purpose, a real audience.

Most often in education the audience our students work with is an audience of one-- the teacher. When you consider this, there is no wonder that the motivation is low. The teacher creates the assignment, stipulates how you will complete it, usually gives you the materials to do it, and is the only one who will be reading it, scoring it and giving feedback. I cringe when I see students filling up my trashcan with their writing papers I have just handed back, but I understand why. You do what the teacher wants you to, you say what they want to hear, and if you are close enough, then you'll get the grade and forget about it tomorrow. This is not the kind of learning model that works and we know that.

This is why it is important for teachers to try opening up student work to an audience. The more authentic the better. These can be through blogs, wikis, videos and webpages, but, as some of the examples above prove, they don't have to involve technology.

So I've resolved to try this in some of my courses. Here's how. In my video production course, we will be working with the language classes to help them create a video postcard to their sister school in Lac-Megantic, Canada. Each group will get the same video footage (scripted by the language classes) and their responsibility will be to edit the video in a way that best suits the purpose. In the end all videos will be shown in the language classes and the class will vote on which one will get sent out to represent them.

In my writing and literature classes, I'm going to try to find ways to post student work for comment by other students, have them podcast and comment on each other's work and I've even tried to have a book discussion using Voicethread.

I hope to continue sharing this implementation so that I can document this journey and gain insight from reader comments as well (HINT HINT).

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

Technorati + Blogger = Headaches...

So I am sending out a quick plea for help if there is anyone reading this who blogs on Blogger and uses Technorati as well. I can't seem to get Technorati to publish new posts. I have it running through FeedBurner too, and that seems to work fine. Send me a comment if you'd like to troubleshoot this with me. I'd appreciate it. I don't really have a prize to give out beside public recognition on a blog with small exposure, but hey, it's the little things right?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Take Note....or not...

I was recently catching up on some blogs that I follow and found a link to an interesting product from David Warlick's 2 Cents blog. The product is called a "SmartPen" and it allows you to take notes on special paper but simultaneously record the lecturer or whatever audio is happening at that time. You can later hear that audio simply by clicking the note you were writing at that time. Its searchable, shareable and according to this website, will be available for less than $200.00.

I'm not writing here to advertise a product, I'm only wondering what teachers and professors would think of the device. I know there is at least one group of teachers that would see this as "dumbing things down for the kids...AGAIN." Though I'm not sure that I'd agree with that. I recall college lecture courses where I was seated by a tape recorder. I thought, initially anyway, that this was simply a lazy student's way to get out of attending an 8:00 class, but then I realized that, if used correctly, it could be a powerful method for review.

This got me asking the question. What is the purpose or value of note taking? This is not a sarcastic question, but rather an analytical one. Why do people take notes? What skill(s) does it teach? Do those skills have a place with new information and technologies?

As an English teacher, I am constantly accosted by colleagues emphatically stating, "you need to teach those kids how to take notes. They don't know how to do it at all. You should see their binders for my classes. It's going to catch up with them someday!" Trying to be proactive the other freshmen English teacher and I taught a series of lessons on note-taking and even assessed the students on it using an outline format and the "trash or treasure" method of note taking, but there was not let up from my colleagues. I finally got smarter and started asking what they meant by "note taking". I got a variety of responses.

According to my informal poll, note taking is...
  1. Finding the main idea in the reading.
  2. Creating an outline from a text.
  3. Writing down what the lecturer says (but not all of it, just what's important).
  4. Answering the key questions from the reading.
  5. A way of creating a review guide for the reading to refer to, in short form, later.
  6. A way of checking your own understanding of the reading and posing questions.
  7. Knowing a particular format for note taking. (Cornell, Two-column notes, Outlines)
So here are the DOs and DO NOTs of note taking in the digital age as I see it.

DO teach students strategies for finding important information in any form. Whether a lecture, book, podcast or web page, students will always need to locate important information, and sort to find the relevant details.

DO NOT make students take notes to "pay attention" to you... it won't work. Assuming that students are willing to pay attention to begin with, the act of writing the notes without any stated method, purpose or structure distracts from them listening to what you said so they can "get it down."

DO teach students a variety of note taking methods and when to use them. All information and research is NOT created the same. The real challenge is to be able to determine what type of note taking style best suits your purposes for taking the notes.

DO NOT expect students to know the method you'd like them to use. As is illustrated by my poll above, few people agree on what note-taking consists of, never mind what form it takes. If you have a format in mind that you'd like students to use, them teach it to them! You may think they know it but chances are they don't.

DO encourage students to actively reflect on their notes. Things like restating things in their own words, applying important ideas to different situations, posing and answering questions or even illustrating ideas are vital. These are what true learning is about.

DO NOT assume that putting pen to paper means they've learned it. This goes for any other technology for note taking too. No matter what manner the notes are recorded in (typed, hand-written, video or audio) the learning is in the organizing, reviewing, interrelating and interacting with the information. I have yet to buy the fact that because a student wrote what you said, they now "know" it. It's only one step removed from learning by osmosis.

DO show students how concepts are organized and relate to each other. It is vital in the world full of emerging forms of communication, that students understand and construct a structure for that text. They need to be able to sort it all out without us beside them, but it starts with us unmasking those structures for them to see and work with.

DO NOT assume the sole responsibility for organizing information is the student's. We want this to be the end result, but we need to show student's how to get there. What's wrong with previewing the text? Providing a full or partial outline of the material, or even sharing your notes from the reading with a class and discussing it?

DO look into technology tools that help with note taking. There are many tools available for this (NoteTaker/NoteShare, Inspirations, Podcasts, Wikis, Blogs, even online templates, to name a few). Look at what these programs have to offer. Have students try them and see what they produce.

DO NOT assume the technology will do it for them. I've seen many teachers, students and professionals that thought, well if they do a graphic organizer instead, that'll do the trick. Or that the wiki is the answer. They are looking for an easy out. This is complex stuff and although these tools have a lot to offer, the skills involved need to be taught, reviewed, retaught and reflected upon.

DO ask yourself everyday why you are making students take notes. If you don't know the purpose, why would they know or care. Why not just get them at the end of class from a friend?

DO NOT be afraid to provide students the notes. You may have planned a 30 minute Power Point for the beginning of class, but why not give them the print out of the slides and have them interact with the material in an active, reflective meaningful way? Why not print a partial presentation and have them fill in missing information? Why not give them the slides out of order and have them put them together so they can show how the concepts connect?

Just some thoughts. Please add your own thoughts, comments or resources for great note taking ideas or tools.

Click here for Flickr Photo Credit

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Helping Students Define the New Borders

Defining the new borders: Part III Students and technology AUPs

My goal in creating this last portion of my three-part AUP of the futureis to avoid the extremes. We all hear about the pendulum of education but here is an attempt to harness the progress that the swinging pendulum makes. After all, the clock doesn’t move without that swinging. The extremes I’m referring to here are equally impractical for different reasons. The extreme that most schools, including my own, tend to lean toward is blocking and banning the outside world. Content filtering, long AUPs that make it clear that the goal is to keep everything “in-house” and insular. Risk-takers need not apply and, if you are here, get ready to pack your bags. The other extreme is what I would call the “let ‘em learn it on their own” side. This camp basically “gives up” on any meaningful filtering and says, “the kids are going to do it anyway”. This is not only defeatist but dangerous. Students do need a filter—their brain and moral compass. And they aren’t going to develop and employ it on their own. So here is my attempt at crafting a technology vision or AUP for students that takes what’s important to both camps and allows for time to march on.

***Student Technology Agreement***
This school district believes that technology is a tool for learning and as a tool for learning schools need to teach proper use of this tool. As with most tools, chainsaws, drills, and lawn mowers for example, safety and proper instruction are important.
Access to technology in this district is like access to a textbook or a pencil or a notebook. They are an important part of classes, but theymust be treated with care.
When you use technology in this district, you agree to follow the rules and procedures listed below:
1. Treat equipment like you would your pet, family member, or video game console. As with any other piece of school equipment, you are responsible to pay for damages to it if they are intentional or careless.
2. You need to show responsibility with your computer, online andoffline. That includes but is not limited to:
a. Understanding the rules of the road and asking teachers when you don’t understand those rules.
b.Don’t share personal information for yourself or others online unless under the direct supervision of a teacher including pictures, addresses, full names, phone numbers.
c. Don’t do things online that you wouldn’t do in person, likename-calling, threatening or harassment.
d. DO NOT try to access websites or programs that are illegal, pornographic, or are not appropriate for school. If you think it might be, ask a teacher. Just because the filter didn’t ban you from it, doesn’t always mean that it is “OK” to go to.
e. Reporting any problems or inappropriate behavior to staff members immediately.
f. DO NOT under ANY circumstances attempt to bypass the school’s security or content filters. If you need to access something with educational value, see a staff member.

To helpsstudents make better choices with technology, you must complete a school-based on-line responsibility course before you will be given a school issued laptop.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Defining new borders: Part II

In part two of my series on rewriting the AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) of the future, I'm addressing the issue of teacher use of technology with an emphasis on encouraging creativity, risk taking, and exploring. I call it giving teachers "A License to Thrive"

Teachers, think of all of the possibilities that opened up for people with the invention of the car. The ability to travel long distances with ease: vacations, joy riding, drive-thrus, work opportunities. And with those possibilities came some concerns as well: traffic, smog, car crashes, road construction. What if we had not overcome those challenges and abandoned the car many years ago? How well would you do today without a driver's license? How would that limit the way you live your life? In many ways we have asked students to live their academic lives without something that is just as essential to

But, you may say, people LEARN to drive. They get tested on the rules of the road, there are penalties for breaking those rules, and there are safety features built in to minimize risk. Technology should be no different... Therefore, here is our school district's technology policy with regard to teachers and students.

5 Simple Rules of the Road
  1. Teachers must obey all (internet) traffic laws. In other words, if it's against the law (in real life, don't do it online).
  2. Teachers will yield to larger vehicles on the road (parents). If a parent wants to restrict use of their child's information online beyond the restriction's in the school's AUP, you must yield to them and make an acceptable detour for the student.
  3. Know that even though the car has airbags, you are not invincible. Though our school has a content filter, this does NOT provide foolproof protection. Teacher and parent monitoring is the most effective means of providing for a safe trip.
  4. You may not always know how to get there, but always know the reason for your trip. No one is expecting you to know where the detours might be, but you should know the general direction your headed in, and be able to explain to students and parents why this is better than walking and worth the gas money.
  5. In this car, there is no reverse. The likelihood of abandoning technology as a learning tool is about as likely as reverting to horse-n-buggy, slates and cave wall paintings. Every once in awhile we might have to stop for directions, but the fact is, there's still a long way to drive.
Feeling overwhelmed? Well, don't worry, we've set you up with Driver's Ed, Insurance, and a professional test track.
  • Driver's Education- Each educator will receive instruction on issues in internet safety including but not limited to
    • Content Filter (How it works, How to use it, How and when to remove the roadblock)
    • Online ethics (How to conduct yourself online, analyze sources and navigate information).
    • Alphabet soup (Teacher's guide to FERPA, CIPA, AUP, C-Copyright and the rest of the alphabet)
  • Insurance Policy- This is simply an assurance from the school district that we will support educators in their exploration of technology integration in accordance with our technology vision. We will...
    • Support your use of technology tools by providing the tools that you need online and offline.
    • We will support your vision by informing the public of the benefits of technology in our school, and how it can be used ethically and safely to benefit students.
    • We will provide needs-based, on-going professional development with technology integration and support you in your efforts to explore this area with time, and available resources.
  • Test Track- This is a safe, controlled area where you can "kick the tires" and explore technology tools to see if they are beneficial to your classroom. This will be...
    • A teacher run group of educators who wish to explore new technology together.
    • An environment to encourage risk taking as a group and personal reflection.
    • A group that will have the real power to recommend new technologies for education and shape the future technology goals and vision of the the school district.
    • Act as a virtual sandbox to test your tools before using them in the classroom or in public.
As a result of these efforts, we hope to truly provide you with a "License to Thrive."

Next post "Defining New Borders: Part III... the students."

Photo Credit Flickr User Nerdy Girl

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Defining the new borders, Step 1

In the interest of trying to answer the question posted by Dave Warlick in his keynote at the K12 Online Conference (see my previous post) and trying to be proactive in how to extend the borders of my own classroom and school, I'm going to share some thoughts. I haven't deliberated on this a great deal but I think I've got to start somewhere and I welcome comments and criticism.

Several people in the chat reaction to Warlick's keynote cited the need to give teachers some freedom: freedom to explore this new world, freedom to be creative and bold, and most of all, freedom to fail knowing that their head will not roll for doing so. So, what is one of the obstacles that many teachers have to face in order to encourage these changes... The AUP (Acceptable Use Policy) in their schools. I have yet to see an AUP that fosters true exploration and creativity while simultaneously protecting students and the school. A good AUP needs to reassure parents, satisfy the needs of CIPA and FERPA, give teachers the professional control that they need, and the technology administrator (in that order). So, let me take a crack at it.

Assurance to Parents-
Understand that the school is using their best judgement to both keep your child safe and use technologies in a way to best educate your child for a more and more digital, ever-changing world. The school will safeguard information about your child (as outlined below) and you have the right, as a parent/guardian to insist upon more stringent restrictions at any time by contacting the school.
  • Student personal information (full name, grades, medical information, social security information, telephone numbers or addresses) will not be shared with anyone outside of the school without your permission.
  • The school will instruct students in internet safety and appropriate online behavior.
  • The school will offer you, the parent or guardian an online safety course, free of charge, once a semester or on a continual basis as the need arises and technologies change.
  • The school will maintain an informational website for parents to access if they are unable to attend the school online safety course that gives students and parents tips on online safety.
  • Teachers will notify you if they intend to use photos or video of your child on a website accessible to the general public in which they are identifiable and, after contacting the teacher to share your concerns, you will have the chance to restrict your child's image from being used. At that time an appropriate alternative will be implemented.
  • Internet access at school will be filtered to try to block content that is profane, lewd, illegal, or pornographic. However, no content filter is 100% effective at blocking everything and we feel that the education of you and your child, as well as monitoring of a teacher are the best way to keep students from accessing these sites.
  • Decisions about other web tools, sites and computer programs are left largely to the discretion of the educator, and any concerns or questions you may have about tools or materials used during class should be directed initially to the child's teacher, then to school administration.
In my next post, I will share ideas for guidelines for safe teacher technology exploration....

Just a thought... Should I be posting this on a wiki to collaborate with people and add their thought and suggestions? Let me know what you think.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Reflections on ACTEM's MainED '07

I went to ACTEM's annual computer technology conference for educators yesterday and I'm always amazed at how many "experts" there are among educators. It seems that every year there are more and more presentations put on by teachers and in some cases their students as well. It seems like there were fewer "sales pitch" kinds of sessions so kudos to the organizers.
I didn't come away from the MainEducation conference with any specific set of skills that I didn't know how to do before, but I did come out, as always, refocused and feeling supported. In the rural school in which I teach I may be one of a handful of teachers who has even heard the term "Web 2.0" for example, and I often feel the need to connect with others who are starting to truly understand why education needs to change and who are legitimately interested in the question of how it needs to change.

I do, however get frustrated when I think of the obstacles in place, for me and my district, that make this kind of change harder. I don't share these obstacles to put a damper on the conversation or to shirk my responsibility, I do so to hopefully enlist help from anyone would care to give it. I am going to do my best, within my own district to try to positively cultivate the changes I think need to happen in order to better serve our students.

So here's a list of obstacles... (bear with me through the negative parts).

  1. Our filter, and more importantly the philosophy behind the way it is being used. Students and staff are routinely blocked from valuable sites and tools that would greatly benefit learning. I have been blocked from wikis, podcasts, blogs, video and image sites and many more in the past. This is not to say that we need every site unblocked (that would be impractical and inappropriate). But it is, nonetheless, an obstacle for teachers to overcome.
  2. The idea that all student and staff creation, publication and information remain on our own server and in our control. A few years ago, I was blocked from my own website, which, at the time was only an easy way to update class links and information because, as I was told by my then principal, "The school has a website and server and work for education has to be housed there, not on your personal space." When I asked if I could only bring in newspaper articles, videos and books that were approved specifically by the district I was told that I was just trying to be negative.
  3. Restriction of technologies to limit activities not related to work. More and more often I here the argument that staff in particular would simply squander their time on their laptops on E-bay, ESPN, and other sites for personal use. I don't think anyone would agree that school is an appropriate place to run your side business or update your MySpace page, but is tightening the screws on everyone the answer? If a teacher was playing solitaire outside of the technology realm and failing to meet the needs of their students, wouldn't that be just as concerning? Why don't administrators deal with these people individually and not use technology restrictions as a means to increase productivity.
  4. Isolation or lack of support of teachers who want to take risks, be creative and try new things. Most teachers will tell you that trying something new in your classroom is a risk you take alone. Teachers have to learn to band together, to build communities to support each other, and to build an effective educational argument for the lifting of these restrictions. Administrators need to embrace these staff members and work closely with them to support their work and help them think of the possible pros and cons of what they are doing. Teachers need to "sell" their underlying instructional beliefs of a project to the school, not just complain that a particular piece of technology has been restricted.
I found this particular piece of advice offered by David Warlick in his response to the K12-Online Conference chat about his keynote presentation:

"at the same time that we need to be taking down traditional boundaries and creating more boundaries for new traction, setting walls for the safety of our children remains paramount. ..and this is a much bigger problem than that. It's not just a technical problem that can be solved technically. But that said, the problem that I see is in erecting those walls so far from the classroom. I think that we should respect the classroom teacher as the instructional leader of their domain, and give teachers the ability to open those walls up in times that are appropriate. If a teacher selects a resource, that they have evaluated, and then find that the web page is blocked, they should be able to open it up for their class appropriately, not appeal through channels to someone who has no vocational interest in instruction.

Dave's point here is well made. We can't just flick a switch and fix it. It's far too complex for that. I hope in following posts to be able to start proactively surmounting these obstacles in this forum and maybe even chronicling my efforts in real life.

I hope to get some much needed advice and support, so PLEASE comment and offer suggestions.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Dave Warlick's K12Online Preconference Keynote

I have just finished viewing Dave Warlick's pre-conference keynote (you can too by clicking the video link here).

Here are some thoughts.

When hear Dave and many other people discuss the future of education, with or without a technology focus, I'm reminded of myself as a student in high school physics trying to grasp the concept of acceleration. Acceleration is a measurement that doesn't describe speed, as some students, including myself thought. It wasn't about how fast you are going in miles per hour or meters per second. It's actually a measure of the RATE OF CHANGE. I think that is what Dave Warlick is describing when he mentions being part of the last generation of young adults who, when looking at their parents, could see that as their future as well. I think that is what he is illustrating when he reviews the all important meter stick of 20th century information model-- the encyclopedia.

I think the central question in education for today and the future then becomes not "What can you learn?" but "How quickly do you learn something else?" In order to answer that question, I think students and teachers really need to know themselves as learners, inside and out. They need to know how to compare new knowledge and experiences with one's they've had before and see where the fundamental similarities and differences are. They also need to know how to sift through the scenery on this information superhighway to look for the sign posts that really matter to their journey.

When traveling on any journey your acceleration is totally useless without VELOCITY. Velocity does involve speed, but more importantly DIRECTION. If students and teachers are to be sucessful in the future, we need to be know what direction we are traveling in, be able to adjust if there's a detour, and not be scared to end up in the breakdown lane or get lost once in a while.

Dave outlines three convergences on education's future.

1. Info Savvy Students
2. New Informational Landscape
3. Unpredictable Future

If teachers are going to cope with these factors, they MUST be encouraged to take risks, explore, reflect, and LEARN. As a high school teacher, I know that most of my fellow colleagues are more content to avoid risks, better know the current patch of grass they've been standing on, and often times blame the students for not "getting it right the first time". Sadly, when looking around to see what our schools have to offer teachers who are willing to take these risks, the list is pretty short. Our district does offer support for professional development (conferences, coursework, and the occasional one day in school department meeting for curriculum development). However, for most teachers who want to try something new in their classroom, "You are on your own." Sadly the only time most teachers get recognized for trying something new and innovative in their classrooms is when they are spoken to about covering the curriculum or disturbing the technology department with requests to unblock sites.

What can schools and communities do to encourage students and teacher to accelerate their own learning, reflect on where they've been and plot a new course?

I have some ideas, but I'd like you hear yours as well.

Flickr Photo Credit

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Embarking on a new voyage...

Well, it's been a long time since I have posted but I have decided to revive this blog to react to a new experience I've had called the K12 Online Conference. This conference is a free conference that allows people from around the world to participate with some events in real time and other events and presentations archived on the web to be experienced at the viewers discretion. I'm going to make an effort to view many of the sessions here and comment or reflect on them to gain an interaction with other participants. We'll see how it goes.

Flickr Photo Credit:

Sunday, December 31, 2006

What's this all about...

Well, if you are reading this you might be wondering what this blog is all about and why I'm writing it. Well, that is unless you have been TOLD to come here...most likely by yours truly.

I'm a High School English Teacher in Rumford, Maine. I have work with teachers in implementing technology in their own schools and I have a Master's Degree in Instructional Technology. I have been trying to get a blog started about education and technology. Believe me there are no shortage of those! I am starting to understand and accept the new age of digital information. You know the whole "information doubling at an ever increasing rate" kind of thing and the "push-button" publishing revolution. If I'm confusing you already, stay tuned to this blog--I'll clarify.

The one question that I keep coming up with is, "in this new era where anyone can publish, who will learn to navigate this new world, who will learn to thrive in it, and who will be hopelessly left behind?" I don't pretend to know the answers to all of these questions, I'm no futurist. But I'll give them my best guess.

1. Who will learn to navigate this new world?
Those who are willing to learn and have the basic skills to be critical of what they see/hear while still being open to new ideas, new media and new problem-solving techniques.

2. Who will learn to thrive in it?
Those who know how best to stand out and be original in this new era. I mean, come on, how many blogs, online videos, RSS, wikis, etc can people be reading? Answer. Certainly not as many as are being put out there. Just think of it. Imagine if you read every email (even the junk), watched every TV, every commercial and every radio show! That's getting somewhere close to what is available to experience online these days. So in order to embrace and command this new era you've got to be interesting, unique, competent, and hard-working.

3. Who will be hopelessly left behind?
Well, obviously not YOU! You are reading this right? If so you have at least shown the initial interest and competency to learn more about this. Either that or you are just trying to humor me. Sadly, a large group of those who will be left behind (God I hate that phrase now) will be those who lack the skills to understand how and why the information their experiencing is produced. Being able to spot the modern snake oil salesman is key now more than ever before.

So back to the original question... What's this all about? Well, Maine Ideas in Education is my drop in the pond. It's my attempt to be original, insightful and relevant and to better understand what that actually means. Simultaneously, it's my attempt to help guide teachers, students or anyone else who would listen through this new era. After all, even a drop in the pond can cause a ripple, right?