Archive for the “Learning” Category

Look into our school through the lens that we believe in…

As you walk to the Science Leadership Academy from the Educon conference hotels, you walk past this school.  And it’s right there in the window, and if you’re paying attention, you’ll stop and read the hanging sign in the window, posted for everyone to see.

The school on the way to SLA is the Russell Byers Charter School.  What is in the window is a sign that makes clear the “design principles” of the school, written from the perspective of student expectations.  There are ten statements, printed on a transparent piece of plexiglas, which in itself sends a message.

Here they are:

I make choices that help me learn and do my best work.
I am aware of the needs of others and do great things for them.
I learn about myself and all that I can do by trying new things.
I think of new ideas and share them with others.
I think about people’s feelings and help take care of others.
I learn from my mistakes and build on the things that I do well.
I work with others to learn and complete a task.  I push myself to do my personal best and keep improving.
I learn about and respect different people and include everyone.
I care for and learn from nature.
I take time by myself to think about what I have learned.

There is much commentary in various online venues about school change, and the need for it.  I certainly don’t dispute that need, but I wonder how many schools have taken the steps to deeply consider and identify their core beliefs together.  Understanding what everyone is working towards is what change should be about.

How many schools have clearly identified those beliefs, and made those visible in the way Russell Byers has?  Because it does send a message that this is what we believe in, what we want our students to be, what our learning experiences are grounded by, what we measure success by…

Of course, what Russell Byers has communicated here is a vision, or what my friend Adam Paikai calls a “future preferred state.”  That doesn’t necessarily identify an endpoint because I doubt that there are any endpoints in education, but the statements above clearly communicate what the school wants its culture and climate to be.

If the expectation is that schools must change, where is the place that change will take schools?  Has your school identified that place?  A set of beliefs like the Byers school has composed make clear where that place is, and is a first step towards a common understanding of what is valued, and where and what everyone is working towards. You can’t change schools unless you have that.

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I really like this title a lot as it captures what this post is really about.  I ran across this phrase when reading Chris Sessums’ post on using Twitter to help in course design.  I’ve borrowed it for the title, as you can read.  I hope Chris doesn’t mind.

Before I begin, this post isn’t about tools.  Well, it is and it isn’t.  It’s more about building out a presence and the way in which tools can be associated together to build a digital platform.  But if you don’t like posts about tools in anyway shape or form, stop reading now…

I’ve begun to build out my digital presence, or “life on the screen” in new ways, and for a number of reasons.  Most of this is associated with my work as a school administrator whose responsibility it is to lead a school-wide goal on the intersection of technology and literacy.  Some of it is also directed towards adding new ways of engaging people beyond our school community in things that I feel are important to schools.  So the purpose of this post is to help me intentionally clarify the structure of my digital presence, and see what you think.  I’ll be talking tools here, and how they combine to serve a higher purpose for me, and potentially for our school community.

When I sat down and put all of this down on paper, I was surprised at how many tools I actually use, and the interesting way they combine together.  At the present time, there is some overlap as I negotiate the value that competing products have for me.  For now, it seems they fall into three groups: 1) information services, or those tools that support the storage, retrieval, and management of information, 2) presence services, or those tools that support presenting ideas to an audience, and support the development of my online presence, and 3) mobile services. or those tools I can use on my Droid.  Now, this framework is fairly artificial, and there are gray areas, as well as overlap, especially in regards to the mobile apps, but I guess that is to be expected.  Here they are:

Information Services:

del.icio.us: social bookmarking tool I couldn’t live without, although being challenged by Evernote.  A huge component of del.icio.us (and yes, I am still del.icio.us old skool and type the name with periods) is the subscription feature, which enables me to subscribe to tags and get information from all users, which is something I use all the time.  I’ve never got into Diigo, although I have imported my del.icio.us content there.

Box.net:  online file storage which has been indispensable for me-I’ve got all my presentation files there, along with all the images I have purchased from istockphoto.com.  Box makes sharing files and folders very easily, and it partners with many other services that I can select to use that add functionality to my Box account (Twitter, post to WordPress and Gmail, plus about 30 other cool services).  For example, I have added Picnik, the online photo editor-so when I have an image in a Box folder that I want to modify, I use the pull down menu associated with the file, open the file from Box into Picnik, do what I need to do, and click the button in Picnik that enables me to save back to the original Box location, either as a new file, or to replace the one I am working on.  I lose usb drives, I can’t lose the Internet.  All my files are available on my Droid.

Evernote:  wow, Evernote blows me away.  I’ve been using it for about two weeks so I am still learning it, but it is simply fantastic.  Sign up for an Evernote account and get an online account, then download the client to each machine you have.  This enables you to sync information between the Web and all machines.  You can use the Web-clipping feature to “clip” anything on the Web and organize it in folders, along with searchable metadata information.  It also has outstanding iPhone or Android support, with the ability to take photos, create text notes, and audio notes directly into my account, which is a function I’m beginning to value more and more, with the ability to interact with my resources from my mobile.  I’ve not yet got the file upload to work that’s available from the Droid app.

Dropbox:  online file storage, but what this does exceptionally well is place a folder (for example, on your desktop) where you can drop files into.  Install dropbox on any other machine and it all will sync together.  I have a home and work desktop, plus two laptops.  Using dropbox enables me to have the same files on all machines, a continuual problem for a disorganized person like myself.  It works perfectly and its free.

Mozy:  file backup. This is different than storage, my files constantly backup offsite automatically.  I currently have the 2GB free account, but after testing, Ill upgrade to the unlimited backup for $4.95 a month shortly.  Piece of mind for the price of a happy meal.

Google Apps:  useful collaboration tool, especially with the forms feature, which has really taken off at my school for survey work.  All of our students will have Google Apps accounts and this will form the student content creation space in our multi-dimensional learning space.

Google Reader: aggregator that keeps me in touch with really smart people.

Presence Services:

WordPress Blog (The Strength of Weak Ties).  I’ve divided up my presence for posting my writing/ideas between my blog, my Posterous site and Twitter.  TSOWT will be my site for posting most of my in depth writing and ideas, while Twitter is, well, Twitter.  I’ll use Posterous as a bridge between the two for posting quotes, quick ideas, notes, and imagery.  In 2009, I believe its about representing yourself, presenting yourself, in multiple ways across multiple venues.  Blog to Posterous to Twitter provides me with a gradient that I can engage people socially and intellectually on different levels.

Posterous:  I really like this site a lot with its ease of use, clean look, the ability to post via Gmail (which means an easy post with my Droid), and the way it handles multiple media types, all with ease.  But probably the best feature is the ability of the site to Facebook, Twitter, Picasa, Flickr, Youtube, Vimeo, Tumblr, WordPress, Xanga, and Blogger in any combination.  So, not only is this a place for sharing ideas, it’s also a distribution platform to extend voice.  To give you some data:  since November 30, I’ve put up 25 posts that have had a total of 5,322 page views!

Twitter:  a place for fun, some ideas, and seeing a lot of great resources I wouldn’t have.  Interestingly, I’ve been watching the page views of Posterous posts, and most go over 200 very quickly, simply by links being sent from Posterous into Twitter, and then being amplifed by the network.

Web site: My main Web site presence, Jakesonline.org, where I host a lot of my Web content.  Personally, with my presentation work, I need a place where I could do a little more (for example, hosting multiple media types) with building Web content.  I could do that with wiki technology, but that technology wasn’t there yet, when I needed it to be.  So, I’m sort of traditional here, with a dedicated Web site.

Wiki site: available at jakes.editme.com.  I use this principally to host my presentation content, and its a lot easier to update than my Web site.  Plus, I need a place to host collaboratively created content, which to be honest, I haven’t done as much as I should.  I really like the Editme.com site, which has fantastic customer support, and is a unbelieveable bargain at $4.95 a month.  Plus, at that cost, it gives me the granular level of control I want, with public view, registered view, administration view, as well as public, registered user, and administrator content creation rights, all which can be combined in a various permutations.

Facebook: one site I need to explore further, certainly more social than anything, which is ok.  Not sure where it fits into my overall presence, as I’m not that big of fan.

Slideshare: I really like this site alot, especially with the ability of the site to generate embed code and put it in different locations.  I currently have 51 slidedecks at the site.

Dim Dim: pretty excited about this one, which for$19.00 bucks a month gives me the opportunity to deliver Webinars.  We’ve also integrated this into our Moodle instance at school, so I’ll be interested to see how it works.  I’ve got some ideas how to leverage this kind of environment in school environments, which I’ll share in another post.  Be sure to watch for an announcement on Twitter about my first Webinar, which I think will focus on presentations and slide redesign.

Adobe Presenter: I’m playing around with it, as it integrates into Powerpoint, and provides the ability to create video/Powerpoint online slide decks.  I’m not satisfied with the performance so far, and at $500 for the license, I’ll probably look for something else. But I want the capability to do this.

Adobe Connect Pro:  I’m also considering this for webinars but it carries a more hefty price.  Still trying this out.

Flickr: a must for any digital presence, I really like how I can use Pixelpipe to distribute photos from my Droid directly into Flickr.

Youtube: I be looking at developing my YouTube presence in the new year.  This is probably going to be one of my biggest growth areas.

TwitPic: a repository for my photos from my Droid.  Again, not a competitor to Flickr, buts it free and easy, and I can post out of PixelPipe directly here, so why not?

Mobile Services

PixelPipe: an awesome app that ties together a lot of my online tools to my Droid phone and let’s me publish ideas to a variety of media sites.  I currently can publish in one click to Box, Flickr, Google Docs, Posterous, Scribd, Slideshare, Twitpic, Twitter, and YouTube.  That’s pretty phenomenal and although I only 9, there is access to 114 sites.  Wow.  Read more about my PixelPipe use here.

AudioBoo: gives me the ability to post audio through my Droid, directly into Posterous.  Sweet.

This is the infrastructure of what I do.  It’s important, it’s pretty cool, and it provides me with a lot of flexibility in an media-based world.  Combined together, they represent a suite of tools that enable me to express ideas, engage people in conversations, and learn.  Additionally, I can connect to most of this through my phone, which for some reason still amazes me.  In an upcoming post, I’ll explore how I’m using all of this as more of a mobile user.

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If you have been on the Moon for the past two days, you might have missed this.  Google is offering a Google Teachers Academy for Administrators in San Antonio.  After looking at the announcement, I couldn’t help thinking that its basically the same program offered for teachers.  Even the title of the program might suggest that…

Personally, I think programs like this are generally beneficial, but not as beneficial as everyone thinks.  I’ve written about his before, especially in regards to my distaste for the badges that participants display on their blog.  I think most do not consider the implicit support for a commercial entity that results from the use of the badge, especially within the context of being a public employee (in most cases).

I also think that this represents a great opportunity for Google and a great opportunity for administrators.  But, if it’s just the GTA re-purposed, I think it might miss its mark.  Why do a teacher academy for administrators?  I guess it could imply that everyone is a teacher, or it could simply mean the organizers did a bad job of crafting a title.

It’s a different audience with a different need.  And if they don’t know the tools by now, which is a reality, they shouldn’t apply.  That’s directed at administrators, not at Google.

The time has come for a different kind of experience, moving beyond tools.  Tools could certainly be included in the context of the day, but it needs to be more.

Before I give you my perspectives, here are my biases from which I operate:

  • I’m a 12 month administrator and have been for 10 years.  I taught for 15.
  • I work in a school.  I face the challenges that that brings on a daily basis.
  • I’m a Google Certified Teacher by default-I presented at the Chicago conference.  I have not engaged in the Google online community-I do enough of that already, and my engagement online with others must be larger than just Google-focused.
  • I believe that the Google Academy is a good thing for most teachers, although it could stand a heavy dose of pedagogy.
  • My school district has signed up for Google Apps for education, and it is a component of a much larger vision of how learning can occur in digital environments.  Google tools, and what they bring, are incredibly important to us.
  • I think that in 2009, Google represents the true spirit of innovation.  I’m amazed at what they produce.

_________

So, if I were designing an administrator academy, these would be my underlying questions that I would hope the day would answer for attending professionals.  Embedded in this is the understanding that some tools would be explained, and that the experience from the day could be expanded through online community participation.

Here they are:

  1. Will the academy help administrators understand why teachers in their schools could benefit from being part of the GTA program?
  2. Will the academy help administrators understand why they should adopt Google Apps for Education in their schools?  Will the academy demonstrate to administrators, clearly, the affordances that the use of such a system brings, and demonstrate how they know?
  3. Will the academy help administrators understand the necessary policies that need to be developed to effectively scaffold the use of Google tools in schools?
  4. Will the academy help administrators understand how they can meet mandated legal requirements (such as email archiving) when using various Google tools?
  5. Will the academy address strategies for the systemic application of Google technology to support increased student achievement?
  6. Will the academy address initiatives such as Response to Intervention and how Google technology can be used to address the student support required by such programs?
  7. Will the academy address the negotiation of the uses of learning environments featuring Google tools and how that can be balanced against high stakes testing regimes and NCLB?
  8. Given the focus on the role of Google tools, and that they should be used by teachers to help students learn, will the academy address, or offer suggestions and strategies, on how schools might address the technology gaps that exist in under-served populations in schools (defined here as those without home technology) so that access is equitable?
  9. Is the academy taught by fellow administrators or is it taught by the same teachers that instruct at GTA?  If teachers, do they have the requisite systemic experience to understand the larger context of schools that administrators operate within?
  10. Do the presenters, if administrators, have school-based examples to share, in the context of what Google offers, of what works, and can they explain how they know it works?

So, those are my questions.  And while I understand that a lot of administrators aren’t there yet in their understanding of…tools…well, I might suggest that there is a different place where that can occur.  In my opinion, the day should be learning more than tools, and realizing that we can connect to each other digitally.

Administrators have different needs than teachers.  They just do.  That’s not bad, it just is.  Technologies that are offered by companies like Google, and that are used by teachers, require some rethinking of how we operate.  That’s good.  Google could help admins understand that, with a day dedicated to just that.

I’d be glad to offer my assistance in planning or helping to adjust the program, or explaining this in more detail to Google planners.

Please let me know what you think.

Respectfully,

David

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I graduated high school in 1977. The English classrooms I see in 2009 are almost identical to the English classrooms I experienced in 1977. I started teaching biology in 1986 and my biology classroom then looks exactly like most biology classrooms do today. Don’t get me wrong- a great deal of outstanding teaching and learning can, and does, take place in such spaces.

Will I be able to say the same thing 20 years from now? Will the English and Biology classrooms of 2029 look exactly like the same classrooms from 2009?

It is my personal belief that they will, and that the notion of what a learning space looks like will not fundamentally change in mainstream K-12 education over that same time period. It is also my belief that the concept of learning space is one of the most neglected concepts of school design. Unlike some, I spend each and every day actually in a school, and I see teaching and learning jammed into a one-size-fits-all space that has the potential to constrict learning.

So I’m interested in something more. Something different, something better. Some might say I’m passionate about learning space, some may say obsessed. So, here is a quote that I posed the other day on Twitter, from Ryan Bretag:

“What are the dimensions of a learning space?”

If I were to ask you to identify a single word that describes a place for learning, you would probably say “classroom.” And that’s a great place to start, but unfortunately, that’s as far as most schools go. So when I think dimensions, I think of all possible spaces for learning, and all the types of learning that could potentially take place in those spaces. I use dimension in that context. To that end, in the school I work in, I’ll be focusing my passion for developing learning spaces on:

Flexible spaces that can be reconfigured to meet the need of the learners. One size fits all needs to go away. (Our library renovation will include a laptop lab with furniture that can be rearranged to align space with learning needs).

Non-traditional spaces, such as commons areas, where students can take advantage of their electronic devices and our open wireless network. (Our hallways, our Student Activities Center, our cafeterias can now have an additional dimension to what is available to learn with.)

Private student spaces where collaboration can occur, spaces for quiet reflection and collaboration. (Our library will contain two glass-enclosed conference rooms for students, complete with whiteboard wallpaper where kids can use the walls to diagram their ideas, their learning, and their passions.

Large open spaces in our library where kids and teachers can push and pull different resources to design their own space, given the immediate need. (Information commons, knowledge commons, what does a library in 2009 and beyond look like? Oh yes, it will still have….books.

Digital spaces where teachers can work, where students can interact, that support the physical space and extend it, to help students master the complex skills of connecting, creating, and learning in a digital context. (Our multidimensional learning space, with Moodle and Google Apps, and the focus on an entire digital school community, will provide students with support for a different type of learning experience).

Opportunities for the support of informal learning, that enable students to pursue their interests, their own learning, but within the context of the traditional learning space, i.e. schools and supported by adults. (Why limit learning? How can educators become mentors outside of the classroom context to help students explore their passions?)

So that’s why I’m passionate about learning space. And I don’t care if any or all of it has been done before, because it hasn’t been done enough….

Of course, this is all in support of a very successful and diverse school with multiple types of programs, services and opportunities for kids, a committed faculty and staff, excellent administrators and a supportive community-we’re very lucky. And we still have a wood shop, an automotive program, and we still offer film photography. Sort of old school, but old school can be good.

I’m not the only one interested in this of course. Consider the 2010 American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in Denver. Their conference theme is Understanding Complex Ecologies in a Changing World and they have a list of suggestions for presentations, which include:

  • How educational settings—formal and informal—can be designed to address the interrelated cognitive, social, and emotional demands of learning;
  • How learning occurs within and across time and space in complex dynamic systems;
  • How alternative organizational spaces for education, such as for-profit schools, colleges, firms, community organizations, and museums interact with schooling in recruiting and expanding repertoires for learning.

Hmmm….

If you are looking for an outstanding resource to get started, look no further than Educause’s excellent set of essays, appropriately entitled “Learning Spaces.”

Yeah, we will always have classrooms. I get it. But I would encourage you to think bigger, think beyond that typical space to take advantage of every opportunity for learning, and that includes a consideration of how space can impact learning, and what kinds of learning can take place in those spaces. I think that consideration is something that we dismiss too easily, it’s too much of an assumption that we don’t seriously reflect upon.

“Space can have a powerful impact on learning; we cannot overlook space in our attempts to accomplish goals” (Chism, 2006)

Chism, N. V. (2006). Educause. Retrieved July 8, 2009, from Learning Spaces: http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/PUB7102b.pdf

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Attending NECC in Washington? Here are my top 10 (or so) tips for having a productive experience:

Attend sessions that stretch your understanding of technology, teaching and learning. In my opinion, people have a tendency to attend sessions about topics that they have familiarity with, and sometimes have a well-developed understanding of. Some of this is only natural because of individual interests and the fact that everyone likes to gauge their understanding against others. But go see new things, and challenge yourself to be exposed to at least several new areas.

Attend sessions focused on pedagogy and skill development, and not just on tools. For example, I’m more interested in a session on “Writing in the 21st Century” than I am in a session that focuses on blogging.

Attend sessions being given by organizations. My favorite session last year was by a group from the National Council of Teachers of English where they discussed their vision of 21st Century literacy.

Go to sessions early. Last year, sessions on popular topics in San Antonio filled at least a half-an-hour prior to the session. Expect it to be worse in Washington, with probably more people attending.

Pace yourself. It’s ok to not attend sessions. NECC is an endurance test, and not a sprint. Take a session off, get some rest, and just enjoy the atmosphere.

There are more than just sessions at NECC. Go to the Blogger Café (map), introduce yourself by your name and not by your Twitter avatar name, and strike up a conversation there. If you are new to blogging, ask people there to show you how, what, where, and why. Be sure to visit NECC Unplugged and stay for several sessions there-they can be quite good. Also visit the playgrounds, where informal learning rules.

Visit the exhibit hall, yeah I said it. Many say it’s like a boat show, many despise the vendors but they’re people too, just doing their job. Ignore all that arrogant crap and just go. Enjoy it, see new stuff, get a whole years worth of pens, and judge accordingly-go in with an open mind. Hint: if you are like a typical teacher, leave some extra room in your suitcase when you pack- you’ll probably bring back more than you went with.

When in doubt, attend spotlight speakers-they are there for a reason and generally have good things to say.

Consider what you can do to share your experiences back home, and extend your experience by collaborating with others at NECC. At the CoSN conference in Austin this year, several of us took notes individually and pasted them in a shared Google Doc. Email fellow teachers, your department chair, or an administrator with updates and exciting things you have seen. Most will appreciate this, and it demonstrates your passion and commitment.

Vote with your feet. It’s ok to get up and leave if the session isn’t what you expected or if the presenter reads their presentation slides. Have a first and second choice for the time slots you are attending sessions so you know where to go should a presenter fall flat on their face

Eat at off-times. Lines get long both in the convention hall and in restaurants. Also, if you are leaving on Wednesday, be sure to give yourself extra time, security lines can get long when 15,000 people all decide leave at once.

Extend the experience by joining the NECC Ning site or Classroom 2.0 with its 25,000 members. Both are excellent spaces to continue to learn, contribute and network with fellow educators.

And whatever you do, do not, I repeat, do not, wear some type of Twitter T-Shirt, unless you are @paulrwood.

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As more social technologies and processes enter the classroom, new questions arise about how these tools/processes serve teaching and learning. As many of you know, many of these tools have the potential to create dynamic learning environments where students interact with each other in new ways and with information and content in new ways. It’s my belief that we must have some very honest conversations about our perceptions regarding this interaction, especially in regards to our belief about academic integrity (a term I favor over academic dishonesty).

Take social bookmarking for instance. Suppose you are a biology teacher who has asked students to research a variety of topics in life science-for example, stem cell research. Let’s suppose three students have chosen this topic and are working on answering an essential question regarding the ethical considerations of this type of biological research and are doing so independently. Let’s also say that each has an account at a social bookmarking site like del.icio.us (yeah, I still like typing the periods) and has tagged a variety of resources about stem cell research. Each is aware of each other del.icio.us sites but no formal collaborative effort is required by the teacher (that’s another post). Student A knowingly goes to Student B and C’s site, examines the tag for stemcellresearch, finds some new resources, and tags them into their account at del.icio.us.

Appropriate? Or a violation of academic integrity?

I think you would be absolutely amazed at the responses you would get from a group of teachers. Many would consider this cheating and would equate the process to a situation where one student had photocopied several research articles, left them on a table, and then another student came along and took them.

Today’s “cheating” is tomorrow’s collaboration.

Anyone with a del.icio.us account knows that calling the actions of the above student inappropriate is absolute nonsense and that the ability to reach into another account to see resources is part of the game.

It’s. Called. A. Network. And it’s called social bookmarking for a reason, isn’t it?

Of course, this arises because most teachers do not have such an account and do not understand how participation in a social network can be leveraged to improve what one can do. But this lack of understanding is very real, and represents challenges to daily instruction, as well as policy regarding technology and teaching and learning.

If you haven’t had that discussion, I urge you to try it.

Here is another scenario. Suppose a student subscribes to the tag stemcellresearch in del.icio.us. This means that you will receive every resource tagged worldwide by all del.icio.us users. Let’s say Student A does this, goes into the subscription area of del.icio.us, and examines the resources, and tags several into their account. Would you consider this to be part of a research process? Again, I think you would be surprised. Many will say they want students to find the information themselves….

Many have not yet considered that information flow is in two directions. You can find it, and it can find you. In my classroom, this process would be taught, encouraged, expected, and evaluated as part of a student’s ability to ask a question of importance to them, and to be able to develop a response.

For some, such a process is completely out of the question. It’s not how we’ve done things.

The two scenarios above relate only to social bookmarking and as a result, consider only one component of a complex social system for information sharing and learning. We still have a long way to go before we understand, and negotiate systemically, what these collaborative sharing environments mean to student learning.

No wonder these tools, and the environments they create, are labeled disruptive.

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How innovative are you?

Like the concept of best practice, defining what constitutes innovation is probably a relative term and a moving target at best. What is innovative for one teacher might not necessarily be considered so innovative for another. I’m not so sure that there is a clear line in the sand where something, some practice, some technique, or someone, becomes labeled as innovative. I think you know innovation when you see it.

If you are a teacher, you probably know the teachers in your building who are considered to be the true innovators. They’re fairly easy to recognize. You might admire these people, and at the same time, you might resent them. If you’re an administrator, you’re probably not so sure about these teachers either-in some cases these individuals might be viewed as a nuisance or worse yet-as a potential threat. These individuals are constantly pushing the envelope, and are probably the source of the next volley of policy writing, agenda items at faculty meetings, notes to “see me in my office” or worse yet, calls home to parents. Others may see these teachers as incredibly valuable-they can point to these teachers as examples of innovation in their buildings and models for their peers.

In 2009, pockets of innovation aren’t enough.

I’ve had the good fortune of being able to travel to quite a few conferences across the United States, and some in Canada, Europe and most recently China. I’ve had the opportunity to surround myself with people that are truly innovative and I’m better for it. You can see them in the school I work in, you see others writing about their ideas in blogs, you see them at conferences, those that step out on the edge and test themselves, push themselves in new directions. Sometimes they fail, but most often they succeed, however failure itself is seen as a success, and an adventure in the direction of learning, which in itself, is reward enough for these individuals.

In my opinion, too many schools are satisfied with having pockets of innovation.

Here’s a sincere question: does your school equate being innovative with being excellent? If you do, rethink that and rethink it quickly. They’re not the same, and one doesn’t guarantee the other.

Of course, the easiest way to be “innovative” is to jump feet first into the waters of Web 2.0. Be the first to use a wiki, be the first to podcast, be the first to blog, be the first to say one of my kids got a comment from Argentina, and that’s great faculty lunch room fodder. But it just doesn’t mean much…sorry, it just doesn’t. There are much more important things at stake.

You can also be a seen as an innovator among your professional peers, and this of course is a very nice type of recognition. It can be very gratifying. Simply join Twitter to find out how much.

I’m not interested in being satisfied with pockets of innovation. Yes, they can be recognized, which for many schools, is the end point and the final rest stop of innovation. There can certainly be more however, with those same pockets analyzed for what works and why, amplified to increase their visibility and importance, and systematized to make a difference for all.

I’m interested in the systemic application of technology to teaching and learning. I’m interested in an equitable experience for all students. I’m not satisfied with some kids getting a rich experience in technology; I’d like all kids in a school to interact with the technologies that support the instructional techniques that lead to increased student achievement.

If you are an innovator, then you perhaps can be a leader in the change process that enlarges innovation, and that indeed, can potentially be considered a component of what constitutes excellence. If you’re not on board with a leadership role, then follow but follow well. And if you won’t follow with the best of intentions, stop reading this and grab your ditto master. There’s duplicating to be done.

When it’s all said and done, this is a leadership issue, pure and simple-just like everything else in schools.

The recent release of the CoSN Report, Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise & Reality has eight major findings, and focuses the viewpoints of leadership. Does Finding 7 surprise you?

“While there was broad agreement that Web 2.0 applications hold educational value, the use of these tools in American classrooms remains the province of individual pioneering classrooms.” (p.11)

and, Finding 8, which is troubling, but probably has been true for a long period of time regarding technology, not just Web 2.0:

“Web 2.0 is outpacing K-12 education’s current capacity to innovate.” (p 11)

And then, Finding 9:

“District administrators, the persons responsible for decision making on Web 2.0 in schools, are more passive than active users in the Web 2.0 space. (p 12).

Changing Finding 7 and Finding 8 begins with changing Finding 9….

“Leadership for Web 2.0 in Education: Promise & Reality.” CoSN. 05/01/2009. Consortium for School Networking. 6 May 2009 <http://www.cosn.org/Default.aspx?id=85&tabid=4189>

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My Dad taught ceramics for 38 years. I was always amazed at what his students produced-and that he could access that hidden capacity in them and bring it forth to create a personal piece of art. He would always tell me that everyone has that talent; it just has to be accessed and developed. He did it with the most difficult kids in school, and usually with multiple sections, all in one class. And he never let it pass that the piece they produced would still be on their mantle 30 years from now when my science tests wand labs were long forgotten…Many of those kids just came to school just for his class and then left.

My new school is a different place than where my Dad taught. We have a commons area, comprised of the cafeterias, a beautiful student activities center with an open-air courtyard, our library, and a wide area of hallway where multiple hallways come together in an area that creates a large open space. Kids have access to travel through all of these areas during their open periods.

It’s not unusual to see a student playing a guitar in this area in an impromptu coffeehouse session. It took me a while to get used to this type of space, and the openness it affords (kids also can use ipods), but kids like it as you might imagine, and it generally works pretty well.

Another observation about my new school: the kids in our school actually like coming to school. Having a few freedoms like the commons area is only a part of that, and those freedoms provide an environment that enable kids to connect with other kids.

Simply stated, successful teachers, and successful schools, find ways to develop and deepen those connections. Those connections typically occur, and are probably expected to occur in formal traditional learning spaces, i.e. classrooms. But what about informal learning opportunities, and the connections they afford? How well do we do in providing opportunities for informal learning to take place? Of course the danger in that is that we probably don’t want to formalize the informal and take away the essence of that experience. But we need these types of spaces, and opportunities for exploration beyond the classroom to be available inside of schools. And we need to support that with dollars and tools, with adults, and perhaps with policies that enable them to use the very tools that we ask them to lock away…

So when I saw this video, I thought of all of that.

Here are kids using their iphones and ipod Touch’s, and a variety of apps, to play music. I can see kids doing this in our open areas, and I can see them doing this in our V-Show (Variety Show), perhaps even part of a club. Couldn’t you see kids downloadiing an a cappella from ccmixter and adding their ipod Touch instrumental to it, and contributing it back?That would obviously be pretty cool. But what would they learn? Certainly it would be an opportunity to teach them about remix culture, something that most do now and not very well, and something that they will interact with for the rest of their lives. For me, that’s huge, and it adds additional authenticity and relevancy.I can also see kids using these tools as part of a music class. Why not? Would we get pushback from music educators? Administrators? Parents?Would experiences like this potentially attract more student to music? Or should we leave them to do all of this on their own? Would we be too intrusive?I don’t think so.

And speaking of the ipod Touch and the iPhone, shouldn’t we be teaching kids how to develop applications form them? Stanford offers a free 10-week online course, with content available at their iTunes site. Should we publicize that, encourage that kind of learning, and provide assistance when necessary? I wonder how many teachers have taken this course, on their own, and brought their own informal learning back to class?

We are still a school. We have a responsibility to teach kids, and we should do so with everything at our disposal. If that means using an ipod Touch in a music class then so be it. If it means saying that you can use your personal ipod Touch to play music in school, then so be it.

We also have a responsibility to extend our expectations of what learning is, and where it can take place. Technology today permits learning to take place without the limitations of time, space, and place. A hallway, a commons area, can be a learning space. It doesn’t have have to be a classroom. And we don’t necessarily have to structure it for them. Providing the opportunity and structuring and controlling the opportunity are different things, aren’t they?

We also have a responsibility to find ways to provide experiences for those that cannot afford these technologies at home. And that means doing so at school.

The more that kids are connect to each other, to adults, and to the school community, the more ways we can find to develop talent, the more environments for learning that we provide and support, both formal and informal, the better off our schools will be.

The better off the kids will be.

UPDATE: be sure to read this interesting perception of informal learning, with a new term I had never heard of to describe mobile devices…

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How difficult is all of this? 

In diving, there is something called a reverse one and a half somersaults with three and a half twists, in something called the free position.  Me, I’d just do a cannonball. Not a pretty image, I know.

When you go into a high end coffee shop, people can order a Grande White Mocha Frappuccino.  Me, I order a black coffee.  Large.  Not Grande.  Just large, like me, thank you very much.

Ok, so what I’m wondering about is the complexity, and perhaps the unnecessary complexity, of all this Web 2.0 stuff and what it means for schools.  Add in the discussion on skills versus literacy versus fluency, personal learning networks, and the changing landscape of classroom instruction and what is now possible, and for the most part, it’s simply overwhelming.  I’m not discounting the importance of all of this of course, just wondering if we make it all too complex.  But it sure is fun to talk about it, isn’t it.

For those of you deeply embedded in connective technologies, do you think, given the context of the typical school and the “typical” classroom teacher, that part of the resistance to all of this is the “entrance energy” required to take part and become a participant in what appears to be a very fast-paced, rapidly changing, and complex, teaching and learning environment?   After all, there is only so much energy…and for those of us working in schools, we know that these new discussions and the new capacities that ultimately may arise from them, are a small part, and in some cases, a very small part, of the overall job of running a school.

Let’s take a step backward.  Take teaching for instance.  What really is the secret of being a good, effective teacher?  Is this a complex question?  Basically, in my opinion, it’s actually pretty simple:  be prepared, be enthusiastic, be honest, be fair, and get involved in their lives.  Nothing top secret here, but generally if you fit that bill, you’re probably are a pretty good teacher.  Not that complex at all.

But we’ve got 21st Century Skills, NCTE’s Definition of the 21st Century Literacies, the National Council for the Social Studies Statement on Media Literacy, NETS-T, NETS-A, NETS-S, the KnowledgeWorks Foundation’s 2020 Forecast on Learning, PEW Surveys, great stuff from Educause, School 2.0, blog posts, new discussion forums, podcasts on impending revolutions, and of course, the never –ending flow of information in Twitter.  A lot of this is absolutely great stuff, and important stuff. UPDATE:  Be sure to read Ryan Bretag’s excellent post “What is Your Department Discussing and Doing” to see additional perspectives from a variety of groups (ACOT, NCTM, NSTA)  not mentioned in my post.

 But just where do you look first?

So, consider this question.  Is this really that hard?  Do you really need to consider all the pieces above?  Or, is it a more simple set of considerations, and are we smart enough already?  What skills do you want kids to exhibit?  What technology tools can serve the learning processes that help build those skills, and extendthe learning experience to a new place, as a result of the technology being included?  How do we structure the lesson, or lessons, so that these skills can be developed?  How do we assess it so that we know what we set out to do?  And how do we make it all replicable?

It’s time to simplify.  This is not that hard. 

Just order the black coffee.

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