Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wordle Meme

I've never been "tagged" by one of these, but this one looks too fun not to try. I'm a big fan of Wordle already and I've used it with students and their writing and with journal articles, but never with my own writing. So, here's the Wordle for my blog's RSS feed

The first thing I noticed is that I really need to stop saying "really" so often! The other is that students is my most used word, which makes me really happy (ha!). Since today was my last day at school until next year, that seems like a happy note to go out on!


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Meeting is not collaborating!

Really, it isn't. So why do so many of us think that we are collaborating when we are engaged in nothing more than discussion of how to best accomplish some piece of "administrivia?"

I think that the main reason is our lack of understanding how to collaborate. If communicating and collaborating are essential 21st Century literacies, then our students are in trouble. Teaching can be one of the least collaborative endeavors ever. Teachers enter their classrooms everyday with the mindset that they stand alone in a sea of children (whatever their age).

It doesn't have to be that way. We can learn to collaborate, but we'll have to be teaching ourselves how. I don't think that many administrators know much more about working and teaming than anyone else in education.

Having made that optimistic statement, I need to admit that I'm not sure how I'm going to teach myself more collaborative skills, but I'm going to start by doing some reading and talking, my favorite methodologies for learning something new. Peter Gow has a great post on the lost potential of department heads and he's onto something there. I think the same could be said for middle school teaming structures.

Kim Cofino writes a lot about the work she's doing, and while I don't think she specifically talks about the structure of collaboration, its there. So, I'm going to catch up on what she's written as part of my research. It's as good a start as any, and better than many!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Reading with Diigo and Dragons

Literacy and technology have been intersecting in class this week in great ways!

I am a big fan of Harvey and Gouvis' work on the need to teach students reading strategies. Last year, students mentioned in their end of year surveys that we read too much non-fiction for our short texts and they missed reading short stories. Looking over the year, I realized they were right, we read very little short fiction although we still read novels.

In an effort to correct this, I decided to incorporate fairy and folk tales into our reading strategy instruction. I found two great resources for tales online. My teaching partner received a grant several years ago to explore the world of the Grimm Brothers. Usually, we like to use one or two of those tales in class. This year I found Professor D. L. Ashliman's collection of tales. These tales are, well, much "Grimmer" than the sanitized versions students are usually familiar with. Their background knowledge gives them the boost they need for comprehending these stories though, which have more complex vocabulary.

The other site is a more general collection of folk and fairy tales, from many cultures and time periods. It's part of the 4to40 website.

Here's the really cool part. The kids used the tools built in to Diigo to demonstrate their use of the reading strategies that we've been practicing with paper text. I used the Diigo for educators feature to set all the students up with an account that meets COPPA requirements. When it came time to assess the students' work I had such a great time. With all the stories to choose from, the students really felt that they genuine choices. Part of their grade was choosing a story that was appropriately challenging, but not too hard. (Differentiation, anyone?).

I try really hard not to give assignments that I'll dread grading. These were just plain fun to grade since I got to read a huge variety of stories through the students eyes. I hadn't read most of the stories in these versions before, so while it took a while to grade them, is was also truly pleasure reading for me. BTW, the students did beautifully and many mentioned that they really enjoyed the assignment. Wow--fun to complete and a pleasure to grade. In my world, that's about as good as it gets!

Now for the dragons. The students have been blogging about their independent reading. So many have become absorbed in the Inheritance series by Christopher Paolini that I felt I needed to check them out. WOW--I'm now almost finished with book two and I can't wait to get started on number three. I just love the feeling of being buried deep in another world!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Talking about web 2.0, in theory only!

I've given two talks recently about Web 2.0 features without Internet access in the venue. In other words, let's talk about the interactivity that is so powerful right now by using screen shots and downloaded videos. Weird.

What bothers me most though, is that the talks pretty much went fine. Of course, it was a pain to get all the videos downloaded (thank you DownloadHelper and Applian!). The thing is though, that the very nature of networking is participatory, not voyeuristic. So, watching a video about a flash mob, while entertaining, is not at all the same thing as participating in a flash mob (caveat--I haven't).

It's kind of like watching Paula Deen make Thanksgiving Dinner on Food TV--fun, but you don't get to eat anything!

So, I've decided that while I might still give a talk or two, I'm really going to focus on hands-on opportunities to draw folks in. I truly believe that parents and educators have to participate in virtual communities in some way (not all) in order to guide and help the children in our care. I'm a little astonished at the number of people who raised their hands during one talk when I asked how many people agreed with the statement "you should never use your real name on the Internet." As someone who blogs, tweets, comments, and Nings as "herself" I find this fear worrying. It's also a disconnect.

Maybe I am the one who is disconnected? Am I too open and optimistic? Should adults be obscuring their identities when communicating professionally with others in their field?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Yay, somebody is reading!

I do feel a little like I'm talking to myself here on this blog. Which is fine, because I started it as a place to be reflective about what I am doing with literacy and technology in my classroom.

However, on September 18, I got a message from screencast that I had exceeded my bandwidth for the month for my Jing files. On the 18th! Lots of month left after the 18th. This has never happened before and it worried me because I had just uploaded a video to show the new sixth graders. Ironically, the topic of my jing dealt with file compression. I wanted to show students how to compress their photographs before they inserted them into other documents. I wanted to make the video so that I can refer students to it repeatedly since reminders for 11 year olds are, well, essential!

At first, I thought that the new jing was the one that put me over the limit. I tweeted out an "oh no" just because I'm trying to remember to twitter my ed tech life a little more. Dave McCollom from Techsmith saw my tweet, contacted me, found my account before I had a chance to answer and upped my bandwidth allotment! Wow!

Now, I have no connection to Techsmith at all except as a customer (and I do have a paid for copy of Camtasia that I don't use), but now I am an even bigger fan than I was before. The whole scenario is a great example of 21st century marketing (which doesn't actually interest me that much as an educator, but does as a customer) which my classmate Jim Tobin would be interested in. Techsmith met my need as a customer without me having to ask for "technical support."

When I tweeted a little more with Dave, he sent me a message " If you want to dig a little deeper and see where your bandwidth is going check this out." He made me a jing showing me that it was actually my blog post on Jing vs Camtasia that was generating the traffic to my screencast account (which is where the Jingproject videos get posted). That made me feel good about my blog, maybe it is occasionally helpful for people. It made me feel even more positive about Dave and Techsmith that he would take the trouble to help me out so much with what is a free application and hosting service.

This video by David Truss does a nice job of communicating the power of networking for educators. Dave is much, much more connected than I am, and I'm not comparing myself to him by any means. His video inspired me to keep working on my PLN though!

PS While I'm writing this, I'm listening to EdTechTalk Weekly and have my Facebook and Twitter streams up. Did I mention looking for my attention span lately?

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What happened to my attention span?

This week, I was traveling and had the opportunity to read the same book for 3 hours in a row with minimal interruption. It felt so good, and the experience made me realize that this kind of reading has been missing from my life for quite a while. In fact, I don't think I've done any one thing (except sleep and sit in faculty meetings) for 3 hours straight in a really, really long time.

Over the summer, the July issue of The Atlantic cover story was titled Is Google Making Us Stoopid? The article wasn't really about Google so much as the fact that reading is changing in ways that need to be examined. Being a huge fan of literacy, I've said often that the only part of the phrase "21st Century Literacy" that matters is, in fact, literacy. Reading this article helped me realize that I'm only partly right. The world is more text dependent than ever before and being illiterate is clearly a terrible handicap.

One of the less obvious risks of reading electronic text and watching electronically distributed video is the deterioration of attention. I know that I'm not reading nearly as many books as I used to, particularly non-fiction. I like to think that I'm learning what I need to know via the web, Nings, blogs, etc. But I suspect that is not entirely true. I've had trouble reading two non-fiction books this summer that really interest me: Working With Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goldman and Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson et al. Neither is particularly difficult and I've enjoyed the 2/3rds of both that I've read so far. I suspect that so much work online has made it hard for me to engage in the deep reading of these that I would have done in years past. In the past, I also wouldn't have started one without finishing the other.

The attention issue translates to video as well. I don't even attempt to watch mini-series anymore. I heard great things about Planet Earth when it was on, but didn't even attempt it. I've watched the first half of Michael Wesch's An anthropological introduction to YouTube which is brilliant and fascinating. And, an hour long. I've got to get to the second half!

The 20 minute TED talks seem to be right at my maximum. I tried a new trick today though--they are downloadable, so I put 2 on my iPod and watched them at the gym on the elliptical. I have high hopes for taking myself through quite a few of the talks at the gym.

So, the ability to focus and learn new material in more than a 20 minute spurt is a problem for me. I hope that my recognition of the issue will, along with some thought, help me learn to manage myself and my attention a little better. What about students in school now though? How will they learn the satisfaction that is "flow?" They certainly will have difficulty learning about it in 45 minute class periods.

Bemoaning the issue or making silly stands like "you may not use Wikipedia as a resource for this project" isn't going to help students. I'm just not sure what will.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Happy New (School) Year

This time of year feels so much more like a new year than January 1! August has brought a flurry of workshops, shopping for fresh school supplies, a new corkboard (I realized the old one is more hole than cork), lists and more lists, ahh. As Mimi says "I heart me a good list!" There's something so optimistic about start of school lists. In contrast, the end of school lists that were dashed off just a couple of months ago were exercises in "please don't let me lose my mind or forget to pick up my kids at daycare by 6" panic.

I've led a couple of workshops this week for teachers. I tried to infuse them with some optimistic spirit. We did a cut/color/sort of web 2.0 logos in one workshop that led us into setting up RSS feeds (for real, not with crayons!) In a tablet workshop, we traced our hands to do a 5 finger writing activity. I have to remember that adults are as stimulated by hands on learning activities as are children. The teachers shared ideas about how to use similar strategies to teach the sophisticated elements of the AP/IB/Otherwise Impossibly Difficult courses they teach.

As for me, I'm looking forward to the arrival of my sixth graders next week. Happy New Year!

Thursday, July 31, 2008


I tried something interesting today. Our diversity director sent out two different articles written about the the U.S. House of Representatives issuing an apology for slavery and for Jim Crow. His point was that the two articles were quite different. I had heard about Wordle, which makes the images based on the frequency with which words appear in the article. So, I made images of the two articles. The first article was written by Darryl Fears and appeared in the Washington Post. Here's the Wordle for that article.

The second article was written by Jim Abrams for the Associated Press and distributed widely. Here's the Wordle for it.

I left out the headlines for both because those are seldom written by the journalists who write the articles.
Discussion fodder in conjunction with reading the articles? I think so.

Wouldn't it be interesting to have students create something similar with two pieces, either historical, literary, or current?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Teachers as Learners

I wrote recently about building an interactive whiteboard using a wiimote and wondering what to do with it. What I didn't write about though, was the process. It was fun--I made a couple of trips to Radio Shack, dismantled several defenseless pens and flashlights, used a soldering iron for the first time in years, and shrank insulation using my hairdryer. I have made three pens now, each one a little better than the previous one. A couple of teachers at school made them too. Clay Burell recently tweeted that he is going to build one using a Korean wiimote. Cool.

Why did I enjoy the process so much? Because it was hands on learning. It reminded me of how the kids respond to the Lego Mindstorms Robots when we first pull them out. I felt something similar when I built my own worm bin (vermiculture!) following directions I found on YouTube. More power tools!

How often do teachers get to engage in hands on learning? Not often enough according to Bill Ferriter in his depressingly insightful post about adult learning in schools. Ferriter quotes Richard Elmore saying that "the brutal irony of our present circumstance is that schools are hostile and inhospitable places for learning." He doesn't end his post without offering an antidote though, a very do-able assignment asking leaders (administrators, or teacher-leaders) to teach teachers how to use an RSS.
This is one of the fabulous Commoncraft videos, I like the one on social networking too.

Next year, our "improvement of instruction" focus is going to be 21st Century Learners, with learners defined as teachers and students. To help our faculty engage as learners, we're going to offer a variety of activities, one of which is going to be "build your own interactive whiteboard." I hope it goes over well. I'd love more ideas for hands-on learning topics for teachers. I wonder if some of them would like to build a worm bin???

Thursday, July 17, 2008

I've been in the garden lately. . .

This summer has been textbook in terms of renewal for me. After the students left school, I spent a little time getting everything finished up, played with my wiimote, and attempted to tidy up a bit. Since then, I've been in the backyard with my children, vacationed at the beach, and returned to the backyard. In an effort to improve our family's carbon footprint, I put up a clothesline and have found that the change of pace that brings to the day amazingly therapeutic. No longer do we have laundry day. Instead, we do one or two loads (very weather dependent) over the course of a day. Hanging the laundry outside and taking it down is actually a pleasure, my children help a little and play a lot and I love the peace of listening to them as I'm engaged in the rhythm of the clothesline. We just got a bill, and in less than a month, we'd reduced our kilowatt hours over the same time last year by just over 100! I'm no Doug Fine, but it's a start.

So what does this have to do with literacy and technology? Hmmm--I've been doing some reading. I just finished Girls Like Us a very big book about three singer-songwriters of the 60's/70's. Reading it led me to break out Carole King's Tapestry and teach my children to enjoy singing along and dancing around the living room. Of course, I've been reading children's books aloud by the dozen each day too.

While I didn't go "off-grid" except at the beach, I did back way off. The blogs I read (and commented on, thanks Kim Cofino) the most were gardening blogs. I've struggled with some rabbits and squirrels who seem to think my garden is their personal salad bowl. This may have something to do with our yard being the only one without a resident dog or cat, but it has gotten really annoying. We seem to have found a way to keep them eating only a small share with the combination of a fence, dried fox urine (really!), and creative trellising.

The end result of all this backyard time was that by the time I was due to head for the airport to catch a flight to Memphis and the Laptop Institute at Lausanne, I was having trouble remembering exactly what it is that I do professionally. However, seeing old friends at the opening and talking with some fascinating new (to me) folks at dinner the first night, I felt myself begin to shift. This is really a fantastic conference and I'm so impressed with Stewart Crais who directs it. Everything was of high quality and the vendor presence is very low-key. This is a conference driven by philosophical exchanges among educators about the power of technology to empower students and inspire teachers. I'd like to write more about it soon. I've written a new (and huge) "to do" list that excites me rather than fills me with dread.

So here's my question: What does renewal look like for you?

Saturday, June 7, 2008

wiimote, youmote, now what?

I have had a great time letting my inner geek come out to play this week. I learned about Johnny Lee's wii remote tricks several weeks ago, but with the end of school . . . This week, we wrapped it all up so I bought a wii remote, went on a shopping spree at Radio Shack and built the infrared pen that works with the wii remote and Johnny Lee's software to make an interactive whiteboard. It all worked! For far less than $100! Thank you Johnny Lee!

Clearly, I need to make more of these with students next year. I did invite a couple to try it out with me, but they were busy with their newfound love for karaoke--we'd just learned how to turn our computers into karaoke machines via Karafun. Fluency lessons, that's what we were doing, fluency! I highly recommend a fluency lesson via karaoke, especially at this time of year.

What I'm really struggling with though, is what to do with my new interactive whiteboard. After I played around a bit, I couldn't think of anything that I wanted to teach differently. I'm really fortunate to have a tablet and a projector while my students have laptops. Maybe that's why I'm struggling? I'm making another one right now for our art teacher who is really excited about having an interactive whiteboard, and I'm hoping she'll give me some ideas. Could it be the subject (I teach language arts)? Maybe there's something about the software that comes with the commercial whiteboards that makes educators find them so powerful? I need to visit in a classroom and see a teacher who is a power user. I'd love suggestions for resources.

I'd love to hear from others. When they were expensive, I could just dismiss interactive whiteboards as a cost that we just couldn't do, but at around $60, I need to investigate and find out if I should use this technology to help my students learn.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Can we play Webkins and call it professional development?

Actually, I have never even seen a Webkin, so I've never played with one. I think I need to though! I know some cute 7 year olds who are big fans, so I know where to get help. Has anyone out there played Webkins or Club Penguin? Will I have fun? As a point of reference, I can have fun playing Candyland with two four-year-olds, which is essentially a 3 way game with myself. I think playing with these might be fun and powerful experiences.

There have been a couple of comments on my blog that have gotten me to change the way I think about and design professional development. Kim Cofino's comment about her "wired Wednesdays" made me realize that teachers need to engage in meaningful conversations, not just show teachers "a plethora of tools they may not know [how to use]" I can think of a few conversation starters. I was at a graduation yesterday in which the speaker listed many of the snippets from the Did You Know video. I think of that video as so ubiquitous that "everyone" has seen it, but it turned out that I was the only one in my group who had. (Side question--if the speaker doesn't mention the video, does that constitute plagiarism?) Do other ed tech types have similar experiences? Which leads to the old quote about assumptions. . . I need to work on not making assumptions about what "everyone" has seen/read/heard/done. That leads to Intrepid Flame's comment on the same page asking "How can we slowly encourage people to understand that the future is hear with a sense of urgency, but at the same time not allow them to become defensive?" His words capture the essence of edtech, don't they? The first step is to not act like a "Know it All" as Michele Martin points out on her blog. Not making assumptions is the first step in not acting like a know it all.

I think I can come across as a know it all, even though I regularly feel totally overwhelmed by all I don't know (Google Earth, GPS's, GIS, Scratch, and ArtSnacks come to mind immediately, and I'd love pointers on any/all of those). Is this defensiveness endemic to educational technology?

Technology can make confident, experienced professionals feel uncertain and "dumb." Maybe people forced to take a workshop walk in making assumptions about the people who are leading it (and vice versa). Is it because the solution to a tech tangle can sometimes involve just one or two clicks? This makes the tangled one feel dumb and the "untangler" look like that dreaded know it all. I sometimes remind folks that there are a million things I can't do that they can. I need to get better about emphasizing that when I am providing support.

So, back to the webkins (and Facebook, MySpace, Club Penguin, etc). Aren't these types of activity here to stay? Can teachers hide from understanding them and stay effective and relevant? "Social networking" is a bit of a misnomer to me, since it implies that nothing of intellectual importance is going on within the network. Hey, we're just hanging out, right? For educators, social networking can be a powerful tool for professional growth. There are videos, blogs and wikis on just about any topic one can imagine. How do I find the ones that will help me (as a teacher) learn about ___________? What is the role of technology in encouraging connections among practitioners? When new research emerges, it hits the web long before it reaches the teacher journals that can have more than a year's lag time. Does this matter? Does it matter enough to ask teachers to move out of their comfort zones? It does, but again, fear of the future leads to defensiveness. Maybe play is the answer to breaking down the defensive barrier. So, I'm thinking about going shopping for a few Webkins. Anyone want to play?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Two posts in one day!

Two totally different topics though. I've been participating in the Comment Challenge 08, otherwise seen around these parts as comment08 What an experience already. I've done more commenting in the past week than in the past month. There are daily challenges involved. Here is today's challenge:

For today's task, I want you to come up with three lessons you've learned from your experiences so far. Consider what you've learned about yourself as a commenter, what you've learned about the act of commenting, and how you think your recent commenting activities have impacted you as commenter and a blogger

Two days ago, the task was to make a comment when you disagreed with someone. There's a young student teacher who has been keeping a blog of his experiences. I've been reading his entries occasionally and was generally impressed with not only his ideas about teaching, but his capacity to be reflective. I remember being assigned to journal when I was a student teacher and hating it--I would make up entries just before turning it in. However, there are times when I though hmmm while reading. I decided to comment on one of the hmm entries and it's led to an entire conversation. I like to think, but don't really know, that he's learned something, but I've learned a great deal through our conversation. I've revisited the Bill of Rights, some of the cognitive psychology concepts from grad school round one (yikes, I'm old) and just generally had a good time refining my thoughts about assessment and student learning. The assessments I give students tend to be rather non-traditional these days, although there are still good old vocabulary quizzes on occasion. So it was nice to feel myself articulating why I feel so strongly about making sure that assessment gives students the opportunity to show me what they can do as well as point out what they can't.
I also relived some student teaching nightmares. My mentor teacher disappeared into the teacher's lounge the first day I was there, and got mad when it was time for me to hand classes back to her. She complained, thinking I was trying to get out early, not realizing that the university's semester ended well before the school year. I would never have done this without the comment challenge and so I have already benefited far more than I had thought I would (well, not so much with re-living the student teaching days. . . )

I've also engaged in a little bit of conversation with Bill Farren at Education for Well-Being. I've been able to introduce his ideas to a few people I know who were really impressed. Bill's work demonstrates a passion for making a better world for all of us. He has a vision I want to incorporate into every aspect of my life, professional and personal. He's got a fan club in me, and I'm out to recruit everyone I can!

Finally, I left Danah Boyd a comment. I really like her blog, although I find her scary-smart and much cooler than me. I have never even considered leaving a comment on her blog. She's someone I cite, not someone I talk with. I sound a little junior high here, but there it is. Anyway, I basically wrote her a fan letter and she emailed me back a one-word answer that made my hour. Well worth it.

So, my three lessons are: (1) don't be afraid to engage someone in conversation. Posts can be dialog starters, not just statements. That means mine too. (2) follow up by going back. Drop off comments are not so helpful. (3) a fan letter can be a great thing. 2 and 3 seem in conflict, but they aren't, they are just situational.

Jing vs Camtasia: Nothing exciting to report here, but this one's for Tara

I was fortunate enough to be given a copy of Camtasia earlier this week. I am already a big fan of Jing, so I jumped right in to check out "big brother." There's nothing better than tormenting my sixth graders with my ability to follow them home! I link my videos to the homework calendar so that students can get help using software if they need it.

Also, this one's for Tara who commented that she couldn't get to the earlier videos because her school blocked them (more about that later). These are Flash videos hosted on our school server.

I used the two programs to make the two parts of a training series for new faculty on how to make a blog using First Class, our email system. Here's part one, which covers how to set up the blog, including assigning permissions for commenting (important for blogs by younger students). I made this one with Camtasia (expensive):

Part two shows how to view the blog online and post a comment. I made this one with Jing (free):

They don't seem that different to me. Judge for yourself. I feel incredibly self-conscious about my voice, so please don't make fun of me (for that, anyway). Now, I admit that there are about 500+ features of Camtasia that I haven't even touched. If I decide to go there, I'm sure I'll appreciate Camtasia more. Both are quick and easy though, which is important to me. I'm not a perfectionist, I think that getting the job done, and accepting a few flaws, means that I'll try more than if I insist everything I produce be perfect.

About Tara not being able to see the Jing videos I blogged about last month. I find it sad and infuriating that there are teachers who can't utilize the power of the web through the short-sightedness of their school policies. In my graduate school class this semester, I was the only one in my group who had the rights to download software onto the laptop my school provided for me. The rest (including an administrator!) had to ask someone in their technology department to do it. They told me that it got done when the tech people had time, and then the answer might be no. So much for spontaneity. So much for empowering teachers to be independent learners. One of the teachers told me that her tech people were just too busy to get people out of the messes they would get themselves into. I'm sure she was repeating what she'd been told. Honestly, how on earth are we going to inspire teachers to continue to learn new technologies if we block them from experimenting and making "social" connections with other educators?? No wonder folks sit around and wait for a workshop.

I am so grateful to be teaching at my school. First--faculty have a different level of filtering than students. It's minimal. Students are blocked from YouTube, but teachers aren't, so if there's a video a teacher wants to share, they just broadcast it using a projector. Last week I found out about Animoto's free for education program (which rocks, btw) on Classroom2.0. I emailed the network guy who manages our filter and in less than 30 minutes Animoto was unblocked. No forms, no justification, just "I need to check this out for our students." I can download anything I want and completely trash my system anytime I want and get it re-imaged back to the way it was when I got it without a lecture. Of course, I'm the tech integrationist, so everything I download is thoroughly checked out prior to yes, yes, okay, I accept. What's that sound? Oh, our help desk manager is laughing hysterically. Well, maybe I experiment, a little. I figure in order to teach adolescents about technology, I need to use it the way they do, right? In any case, I am truly grateful for the technology access that encourages me to teach myself, teach the kids, and trusts me to behave professionally because I am a professional and not because someone is making me. Will mistakes me made along the way? Sure. It's worth it.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Does teacher "training" get in the way of real learning?

Monday our "improvement of instruction" committee met. We discussed the students "these kids today"" and 21st Century Literacy/Learning (still designated as "the future"). We watched a couple of videos, the ubiquitous A Vision of Students Today and Did You Ever Wonder?

We started by discussing the concept of a Personal Learning Network (see David Warlick's excellent discussion). I was disappointed to see that when we got to our "to do" list for next year, it started to become a list of workshops we ought to give to teachers on using various forms of technology. I certainly love to share technology with teachers, and do it often, but , I was hoping for something more visionary. How do we need to transform our school for this new century? We're running behind here since we're 8 years into it, btw.

I think that just as I'd like to see the classroom evolve, we need to see professional development for faculty transform too. I believe that when faculty model independent learning for students, the kids benefit in so many ways.

So, in the spirit of modeling, I'll write here about the comment challenge I've just joined. The questions for today are:
  • How often do you comment on other blogs during a typical week? Do you track your blog comments? How? What do you do with your tracking? Do you tend to comment at the same blogs or do you try to comment on at least one new blog per week?
I'm embarrassed to admit that I can't even say once a week. I read and follow a lot of blogs, and I feel like I *know* some of the authors pretty well, but they have no idea how they've influenced me. I need to be more appreciative!

Clearly, this means I'm not tracking my comments, not is there a lot of variety. The blog I have commented on lately that I believe really deserves a lot of attention from us is the Education for Well Being. I am showing that video to our "improvement of instruction" committee to get them to realize that 21st century education is about vision, not skill specific training. So, thank you to all the bloggers out there that are inspiring me to seek a vision.
And if you are part of The Comment Challenge remember to tag your posts "comment08"
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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Education for Well-Being

Wandering around in the education twitter/blogosphere led me to Education for Well-Being, which is Bill Farren's blog. He's an educator in the Dominican Republic and has put together this video:

that I would like to make a part of any workshop or talk on 21st century learning I do. Farren's site deserves better than a brief summary here, so please visit his site and get it straight from him. I'll just bring up a few points that really struck me. Education for Well-Being. Farren pushes educators to re-think their view of 21st century literacy. We should embrace web 2.0's collaborative nature to improve the lives of all our planet's residents. If we place our student's well-being at the center of our educational endeavors, then our classrooms is necessarily be centered around their needs (note: this may not always align with what they believe to be their needs!) What Farren most emphatically believes students do not need is to be prepared to provide low-cost labor in a global economy!

The economy needs to support people, not the other way around. Therefore, education needs to support economic well-being. We need our planet to support us, therefore education needs to support planetary well-being. In the 21st century, we have got to use collaboration to find ways to end the cycle of economy vs. planet that has us trapped. In the same vein, we have to stop labeling and categorizing our knowledge. Reality does not fit neatly into disciplines. Is it really possible to own knowledge?

Farren's writings helped my brain put together some other thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head that were seemingly disconnected before I got to Education for Well-Being. I read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains about Dr. Paul Farmer's work in Haiti and around the world fighting to provide healthcare for the poorest citizens of impoverished nations. It's a book that can make the reader feel guilty for having enough to eat, but that isn't Farmer's desire or point. Instead, he's trying to change our hearts and minds to realize that every sick child deserves the dignity of the best health care possible. I wonder if Farren and Farmer have ever met? I'd love to listen to that conversation.

The needs of children is also the major theme of Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. Farren references Louv's "nature deficit disorder" on his site, and uses the term "biophobia" too. It may sound strange, but I believe that technology can really save us here. Innovation, collaboration, and connections built across the barriers of the world through "21st century literacy" can lead to a new relationship with and respect for the physical world around us. For example, the best resources for finding out about permaculture gardening are online wikis or forums. These "long tails" help what might start as a fringe group grow into the mainstream more quickly than ever before. Geocaching is environmentally sustainable, has a tech component, connects people who otherwise would never meet, and gets an ever-growing number of American and European families outdoors together.

My next book will be Farewell My Subaru, by Doug Fine. I don't know a lot about him except that he writes about trying to be carbon neutral without giving up the essentials of American life, which for him includes items such as wireless internet, Netflix, and thumping sub-woofers. While I personally know how to live a happy life without the last two, I get his point, and I can't wait to get the book.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Sense of Urgency

I started this blog because I hit a personal tipping point during the last few weeks. I'm feeling a real sense of urgency about bringing change to schools, teaching, and student learning. If we do not find a way to push a sizable chunk (not necessarily a majority, but a good chunk) of educators into the 21st Century and Web 2.0 thinking, our students are going to figure out that school is irrelevant to their "PLCs." Sure, the college bound will still show up, take the SATs, ERBs, EOG's, APs and whatever else we shove at them, but they will be going through the motions even more than they have been. The tragic part of this that I don't see discussed as much as I'd like is that while these students may know how to use read/write/create web, but they are still in desperate need of guidance. It reminds me of a poem by John Ciardi I memorized in grade school that went something like this:

The old crow is getting slow,
the young crow is not.
Of what the young crow does not know,
the old crow knows a lot.

What does the old slow crow not know?
How to go faster.
What does the young fast crow not know?
Where to go.

These kids know how--but they don't know why and for far too many, the only ones teaching them are each other. I was lurking on a gaming discussion board, and found a long thread in which the students were discussing the various APs they were taking and comparing notes. I know an AP teacher who has started a private Ning with his students and has had a great experience. I'm hoping he'll expand to collaborate with other schools next year, but he's not sure yet. If we don't help the students, they'll create their own learning communities without us, but I truly believe they will learn far more if we participate with them. Steve Hargadon puts it more eloquently here. We have the opportunity to get students involved in extended intellectual discourse and we must seize it before they believe we can't. Lord of the Flies, only the island is virtual.

One of the moms in one of the workshops I've led looked me in the eye and said "There is no way I'm putting my real name on Facebook and I don't think anyone else here should either." Another mom in a different workshop (with older children) asked me if she'd be making her kid a social outcast if she just absolutely forbade participation in social networking. I was honest--I told her no, because her child would just learn to lie and hide an online life. Unless a middle class family decides to move out of town, disconnect from the grid, and grow their own food, I don't see a way to keep a teen from participating. Fear-driven decision making has never really worked to stop the flow of information once it is started. Hmm--actually I'm not so sure about that sentence. Fear-driven decision making leads to a lot of repression, agony and pain before the inevitable revolution. That's a better analogy. It describes a lot of other teen/parent interactions too.

So, if this is urgent, how do we move that sizable chunk of teachers? This is sounding sort of Who Moved My Cheeseish now. The good news is that the number of educators participating in web 2.0 is growing exponentially. I listened to Stewart Crais of the Laptop Institute on a recent Edtechtalk 21st Century Learning podcast (disclosure, I love the conference and will present there this year) discuss the fact that the main purpose of the conference is to connect teachers with other teachers and that more and more teachers (as opposed to technology staff) are coming each year. What I find compelling about this is that it means these teachers are changing their own model of dealing with technology. They are going, finding out and seeking each other like never before (IRL and online) instead of just waiting for the technology coordinator to show up at their door with a gadget or piece of software. So leadership--take note of these teachers--get them and their students the tools they need, unblock the websites they use, and let the kids publish. Participate yourself Understand what they're doing so that you can protect the teacher when the fearful show up marching with doomsday signs.

Something I've been doing is thinking about what a 21st Century Literacy Specialist can look like. To see one vision, read Kim Cofino's blog (Cofino's is a 21st Century Literacy Specialist at the International School Bangkok in Thailand is). She is impressive and inspirational. Most schools can't necessarily fund a specific position like this, but they can find their internal visionaries and find ways to support and promote what they're doing (see above). What is fantastic about Web 2.0 is that the technology itself is very doable. Which means that it really is about the literacy and not the technology. It always comes back to the literacy. Movable type changed the world.

And finally, because I love Tom Chapin's Not on the Test and started this entry with a grade school poem

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Moms Online

Moms online.  That's the title of the workshop I'm leading tonight.  I wrote a real soapbox sermon to some of my old friends who have young children a few months ago after the Frontline special Growing Up Online first airedI've given "Facebook workshops" to a couple of groups of moms of young children and tonight I'm going to try to do the same thing with a group of moms of older children.  They are both more fearful and feel a greater sense of urgency about the issues.  I think (although I'm not sure) that their tech skills are not as strong as the other groups I've worked with.

Some issues I see:

The gap between kids and their parents is real, but not limited to technology.  Technology just intensifies it.  The parents consider themselves "web savvy" but what they really mean is that they can find content they want on the internet--travel, stocks, recipes, etc.  They send email.  BUT--they don't socialize online.  They don't realize (or are just beginning to) that they haven't taught their children how to behave online. They don't generate or manage content themselves.  Web 2.0 escapes these parents and they don't even realize it until their kids do something inappropriate--the kid who posts a scantily clad picture of her friend taken at a slumber party.  Nobody ever told them early on that it wasn't acceptable behavior because their parents couldn't imagine it happening until after it already started. 

Another thing that struck me was the sense of entitlement kids have about their online lives and their "right" to privacy.   If you have a secret, you might tell one friend.  If you have a website that 400 of your friends (some of whom you haven't ever met) can visit, it's not personal or private.  It's a club.  A closed club, but a club nonetheless.  I've diigoed (is that a verb now?) some resources I've found that discuss the appropriateness of actually social networking with your child and their friends as opposed to engaging in social networking in order to understand their world better.  In tonight's talk, I'll use these pictures to explain the concept.  Remember the skate rink in the 80's?  Well. . .

Mom just can't be cool at the skate rink.

I am optimistic that young children (the under 10 set) will not only grow up with constant internet (we can't change that), but will also grow up with parents who aren't caught by surprise by what they are doing (this we can change) and who expect them to be open with their families about what they are doing (this can be part of a family's culture from the beginning).  I am strongly encouraging all of my friends with children to participate in social networks.  Because we need to stay on the bus (or hop back on if we dropped off at googling recipe ingredients and emailing baby pictures).  It's going to be hard to get on the bus in 9 or 10 years if we don't. 

Not that this is magic.  We've been telling kids not to drink and drive forever and some still die every year in tragic wrecks.  They assure us as 5th graders that they will never, ever smoke, then sneak cigarettes as teens.  It's the nature of some teens to rebel, sneak around, experiment.  It's the nature of parents to try to keep them safe while they do that.  I'd love to know what people think.
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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Why Stay "On Site" For Blogging?

For our sixth grade reading blogs, I've chosen to limit them to our website using First Class's blogging feature.  Their audience is limited to their teachers and classmates, and only those people can respond.  I've thought about this quite a bit lately.  Should we move over to David Warlick's fantastic blogmeister and let the students write for a larger audience, but anonymously?  I don't think so, and here's why.  Daniel Pink talks about the importance of empathy in his book A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  It seems to me that, before we take on the anonymity of the web, we need to teach students that behind each blog, each opinion, each thought, is a living, breathing person.  Later on, we can explore the idea of a persona as opposed to a person.  There are 72 sixth graders, and several faculty in our blog group.  That's a pretty big audience for an 11-year old.  Probably big enough for something as personal as your thoughts and ideas about what you read.  I've seen such growth in their writing and reflection in the last few months.  I'm convinced this is the way to go.  BTW--First Class is a wonderful program, so much more than email if anyone is interested.

Does this mean I don't think they should publish to a broader audience ever?  No, and I really need to work on that.  There are some awesome mp3's that the students have made about our blood drive that I'd like to publish (I don't think I'll call them podcasts, although I guess that is technically what they are).  So there's my next goal--getting a few works published to a larger audience and discussing to the students the differences.
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Jing--a very cool tool

Jing is one cool tool! Screencasting for free. I've written a few, but many of them are GDS specific, like how to deal with our gradebook system First Class email help. Here's a screencast I made to teach students how to record themselves using Audacity. We use this all the time to have students read their work aloud prior to turning it in. Why? Several reasons. We are working on their reading fluency, we want them to read with expression, we want them to revise their written work more carefully. They have to turn the mp3 in with their final draft. This has had a dramatic impact on student writing. Much more so than peer editing, although we still use that.

Note--this is not a professional screencast. If I were afraid to share it with students unless it was perfect, I'd never do this stuff. There's a point where I get a frog in my throat (I hit pause for the major throat clearing though) and another where I can't find the file I want. I like to think these imperfections make it more human and help foster my connection with the kids. To me, this embodies 21st century literacy--try it, don't be afraid to be imperfect, and share. The kids have no interest in making screencasts about schoolwork, but they sure did about some of their gaming features. I tremble to think that there might be some screencasts out there about how to use a proxy server...

Moving Over Here

I mentioned that I've failed at blogging on more than one occasion. Below are some posts from a blog I started on my school site in the fall (07)when I began immersion teaching in a sixth grade language arts class. I'm re-ordering them so they are in chronological order, then adding my commentary.

August 21, 2007
I'm so excited to start the school year this year.
We're doing some new and different things with the laptops and reading and writing that are based on the research Mrs. Jones and I have been doing for the past year. I hope the students will enjoy this course.

Sixth grade is the first year of our 1:1 program, so that was a natural fit for this experiment in immersing the technology integrationist in the classroom.

August 29th, 2007
What's the difference between Google, Wikipedia, and a subscription-based online encyclopedia? This was the guiding question for today's classes as we looked for the answers to questions the students generated after reading about Eliza's escape to freedom via the Underground Railroad. This article by Roy Rosenzweig that originally appeared in The Journal of American History Volume 93, Number 1 (June, 2006) does as good a job as any discussing the academic validity of Wikipedia. My take on Wikipedia is that it can be an okay jumping off point for students, but it really serves as the "go to" resource for certain types of information, say information about old sci fi films and their special effects. Why? Think about the population intersection between Internet nerd and sci fi geek!

This was the beginning of our year-long effort to think critically about information sources. We did and still do a great deal of reading on paper (short stories, magazines, books) along with web research.

August 27 and 28, 2007
Today we introduced the Inspiration™ software to the students via my laptop as we created a KWL (What I Know, What I Wonder or Want to Know, What I Learned) in preparation for a guided reading activity with a short story about an exciting escape via the Underground Railroad. I think the students enjoyed the class. Even though the block is 90 minutes long, the pace changes as we move their desks to different formations (we'll have to do desk drills some rainy day) for the activities.

Inspiration is fabulous software. It's become part of our general productivity toolbelt. I want to make sure this spreads beyond the sixth grade.

September 17th, 2007
Wow--I am behind already! The students are really enjoying their laptops. Today we finished updating everyone's anti-[all bad stuff] software. I missed them while they were on their trip. Now we're finally doing the summer reading activities and benchmark assessments for reading fluency. We're using Read Naturally to evaluate/improve reading fluency with a particular focus on non-fiction text for the beginning of the year.

Aha, my first acknowledgment that I am a lousy blogger. More to come, I'm sure. Read Naturally was interesting, but what we really ended up using to evaluate reading comprehension and fluency:
DRA2, QRI and Scholastic Reading Inventory. None of them are tech tools, which speaks to my point about how difficult it can be to explain what I do.

November 27, 2007
Well, October was a great month. Busy. Now we're at the end of November and it is time to think about the skid into Winter Break that happens every year.

Ah yes, the final cry of defeat. Busy. It's my excuse for all sorts of failings, never mind that it happens to be true too. It reminds me that I need to be more sympathetic to those who tell me they are "too busy" to learn about technology.

Next post--tools I use and love this year.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

21st Century Literacy

My last post for the night, I promise. What is 21st Century Literacy? First, and foremost, it is a literacy. Not a skill. When we teach skills, and I know we have to, that is only the beginning. When we teach them literacy, we've set them free. 21st Century Literacy?

Think. Communicate your thoughts. Collaborate with other thinkers. Think some more. Create. None of these are technology skills. But technology makes all of them happen far faster, better, and deeper than ever before.

Literacy starts with reading. A generation ago, the common wisdom was that reading would become less and less necessary. I would argue that reading is more important than ever.

Yes, the cliché is true that we have to prepare students for careers that haven’t been invented yet. But it is also true that we have to prepare them to re-invent themselves and their skill set again at 30, 40, 50; long after they’ve left "schooling." How many of us are modeling this? How many of us are still relying mainly on the skills we were taught? When we need to know how to do something new, what do we do? Ask to be taught or jump in and start learning? (Have you ever heard "I'd really like to learn something about this Web 2.0 stuff, will you offer a workshop?") I know I'm being unfair, workshops definitely have their place, but the best workshops offer just a touch of teaching and lots of discovery and engagement with a resource (me) available for help.

Today in class students blogged their reading books and responded to other blogs. Would reading journals serve the same purpose? Maybe to the teacher, but not to the students. Teens are desperate to talk to each other. We've given them a higher plane to carry on the conversation and they are engaged in discussing, evaluating and comparing books. We had an oral discussion of what makes a blog entry interesting and worth commenting on. Moving on, students used some advanced word processing features to collaboratively analyze the differences between a summary and a synthesis of a non-fiction article. They then pulled up the webs they'd made of their articles (there had summarized one of 10 articles pre-selected) and expanded the webs to include their thinking about their reading (metacognition). Tonight they'll finish their rough drafts. They'll use software to record an mp3 of their synthesis and practice reading with expression. Then they'll listen to themselves as they re-read and revise their draft. Is any of this the "shock and awe" use of technology Sam Morris of Cary Academy describes so well? Nope. Is it powerful? Yes! Transformative? Yes!

Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants

Digital Native vs. Digital Immigrant, while certainly a great attention-getter/catch phrase, isn’t a helpful designation in terms of educational technology. Why? Because history teaches us that some immigrants are far better equipped to thrive in a new land than the natives. Once they know the language, even if they keep an accent for the rest of their lives (I’ll never be able to use “i” to mean ME) they will flourish. I think most of Prensky's critiques apply more to what I'd call Digital Tourists. Why? Here's my guess.

Prensky says that
Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of computers, video games and the Internet
My experience is that this is not necessarily true. The student who is completely absorbed in WoW may not know how to find non-gaming information on the web in any organized, helpful way. The avid filmmaker may never have a single programming experience in her K-12 career. Terms such as "technology" and "digital language" are sweeping umbrella terms for fields as varied as pottery, medicine, and trucking. Expertise in one does not translate into or prevent facility in another. Educators know this. They are overwhelmed by the vastness of what they do not know and they shut down. This does not need to be!

I'm an immigrant in the digital world Prensky describes . However, because I was fortunate enough to be well-educated by dedicated public school teachers and a life-long learning parent, I'm a pretty darn comfortable immigrant. I don't "do" second life, even a little bit. Not a gamer. I contribute to several Nings and Wikis regularly, and feel free to edit others I visit when the spirit moves me. I follow several bloggers, use Flock to track them, along with my friends in Facebook. I make fabulous Christmas cards, digital and paper. I used YouTube recently to convince a friend to buy a new carseat. I stay connected with my family via video skype calls, tweet my friends and professional contacts. I exercise while listening to Women of Web 2.0 podcasts (I know, very, very nerdy). This is sounding like a "me, me, me, look at me" so I'll stop here. My point is that, among my education peers and my age group, I do a lot and yet I don't come anywhere near "doing it all" in terms of technology. I talk with kids every day, and none of them do it all either. The difference is, they're comfortable with it.

Next question: What does it take to teach 21st Century Literacy?

I'm not a blogger

I've tried. Three, four entries with increasing timespan between them until the trickle stops completely. I'm not much of one for journaling and that is what blogging has seemed to be to me, although I am fascinated by and follow many bloggers (I'll set that up later). I write all the time, but my words are usually directed somewhere external.

Why a new blog now? It is time for a manifesto of sorts, and none of my Nings seem to be the place to put such a thing. I came close to doing a major edit on a Wiki I am involved with, but I wanted this signed and dated and MINE. I don't want to post these particular ideas on my school hosted site since I'm not limiting myself to discussion of technology there, so here I am.

My latest frustration is that I can't seem to answer the simplest of questions "what do you do?" I am involved with the instructional use of technology to help students learn and teachers teach. Seems straightforward. My non-technology education background includes special education, middle school, science, language arts and reading. It's not as mixed up as it seems, most of those happened in conjunction with one another. My technology education background evolved over the last 15 years as it did for many of us who started with 10 Macs in a makeshift lab in a converted storage closet. So maybe that is my point. If I'm a tech integrationist, then aren't I also a teacher of reading and writing? A teacher of problem-solving? A teacher who uses differentiation? Of course. But recognition of dual functionality is hard to communicate in academia and, apparently, hard to budget.
How do I explain the value I add to an educational program? Why is the already excellent classroom in which I've been immersed this year better now than it was before I arrived? That sounds like another post. . .