Archive for the “Classrooms” Category

Along time ago I wrote a post questioning the added value of a tablet computer in a teacher’s hands.

We’ll shortly have access to a new class of tablets, slates, whatever you want to call them, or at least we should very shortly.

There appears to be new technologies emerging from Apple, OLPC, Dell, NotionInk , and yes, even Google.  There’s even the Mag+, which seems to be more reader than anything else.

Do I want one.  You bet I do.

And when they appear, especially the Apple product (expected January 26, 2010), can’t you just see the Twitter firestorm?  And if you thought the lines at the local Apple store were long for the iPhone, just wait…

So, what does this mean for education?

Probably very little.  With a price point that is anticipated well-beyond the price of a netbook (with the exception of the OLPC at around $100, predicted by Forbes.com to come in at $75 bucks), your local school, and their limited budgets will have very little wiggle room for acquiring these devices.

And they shouldn’t anyway, because most are far from having the organizational readiness required to plan for, implement, support, sustain, and evaluate any kind of program that places these technologies in a student’s hands.

In the middle of all of this, across a gradient that ranges from the desktop/laptop on the left, to the future tabets on the right, is the netbook.  Interestingly, some have predicted that this will mean the end of the netbook.

I don’t know about that, and I won’t speculate, but I’m hoping it makes them even more affordable, so that I can get my hands on more of them.

That means getting more of them into classrooms, of course, where teachers and kids can beat them up, so we can see how all of these technologies play out in the context of our school-wide technology and literacy goal (Incorporate new and evolving technologies to support the development of literacy.)

The eventual access to a machine that will support many of the same features many of us enjoy on an iPhone or Android is fascinating.  And there is no doubt that these will probably make us all rethink what mobile computing looks like.

But just not in schools.

UPDATE:  Apple Tablet apparently to ship in March.  See Mashable for the story.

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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.

Comments 10 Comments »

9 Dots

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: innovation web2.0)

Here is the slidedeck from my presentation at Google Teacher Academy in Chicago. The topic was innovation. Here is the script….

______

In 1997 Apple challenged us to think different.

In 2008, that message resonates even louder and with greater urgency.

That ad campaign honored a wide range of people of accomplishment. One such individual was James Watson.

In 1954, along with Francis Crick, Watson described the structure of the DNA molecule. Watson and Crick were awarded the Nobel Prize for their efforts.

Here is Watson, on the left, Crick on the right, examining their model.

If you will recall your high school biology class, DNA is made up to two complimentary strands, wound around each other in what is known as a double-helix. DNA is the raw material of your chromosomes, and each of you has 46 in each body cell. Sections of your chromosomes are called genes. When genes are expressed in combination with environmental factors, they determine your traits.

DNA can be recombined in different combinations to yield very different results, even in siblings.

Different species have different chromosomes and genes which make them unique, but they still have DNA as their genetic material.

Science has even provided us with the understanding of how to manipulate DNA, giving rise to the field of genetic engineering.

In 2008, we have common technology that provides us with the raw material or platform for expressing our thoughts, our creativity, our innovation, really ourselves. We can mix and remix content and tools in a recombinant dance, to extend and create. To innovate.

In 2008, it is not unreasonable to think of these technologies as our “digital DNA.”

Of course, these tools range from the 140 character conversations of Twitter, to Second Life with our digital but DNA-less identity, and with a host of Web 2.0 tools in the middle.

More importantly, the suite of Google Tools, from Gmail to Google Earth, provides educators with unparalleled access to the type of imaginative environment that can be used to “think different.”

In 1997, would you have imagined what think different could be mean in 2008?

Today, you have an opportunity to think different. Today you have an opportunity to surround yourself with people of like talents, that have a like purpose. Today can be one of those days that change how you approach your craft and career.

For today, and for tomorrow, think beyond the nine dots.

The challenge of this puzzle is connect all the dots without lifting the pen or pencil and to do so in 4 lines.

Most will try and solve this by drawing lines within the boundaries of the dots. Not until you extend your thinking beyond your self-imposed boundaries, will the puzzle be solved.

There are numerous pathways for using technology successfully. This conference enables you to see a clear pathway for just that.

Remember, thinking different with the help of Google begins today.

Thank you

Comments 4 Comments »

When I taught ecology, my students studied the concept of “The Tragedy of the Commons,” which was popularized by an ecologist by the name of Garrett Hardin.

Basically, it’s about the exploitation of a commonly shared resource. When all who share the resource play by the rules and share equally all benefit, while the resource generally remains intact and capable of sustaining future use. However, given human nature, a single member (or more) may eventually consume more of his/her share of the resource, prompting all to be more aggressive and utilize more, in an escalating pattern of consumption. Gradually, through this process the resource, or “The Commons,” is destroyed.

So, I’ve been struggling with this for awhile, but I can see parallels between this concept and what I believe is an exploitation of the new digital commons-I’m talking Twitter here.

At its best, Twitter is a place to share a resource, a link to a new blog post, or an insight, and even a place to have a little fun. It’s a place that could be about learning. At its very worst, Twitter is a self-indulgent exercise in self-promotion and pettiness.

Right now, I think we are watching Twitter change right before our digital eyes. Be the first with the tool (Diigo, for example), be the first with a post, be the first with the wiki, be the first to uStream, stake your claim in a never-ending game of name building and recognition. Take advantage of the commons, go ahead. But where will that eventually lead to?

In my opinion, Twitter really has also changed how some people interact, and not in a positive way. When did the defacto standard greeting at a conference become “Hi, I follow you on Twitter.” How about “Good Morning?” Then, “But you don’t follow me.” Gee, sorry, not my responsibility…

 

When did getting called out for not following someone become something you did? When did sending an email to someone who doesn’t follow you, and you want to know why, become something you did? How absolutely ridiculous! Get over it. Do you want it that bad-is it really that important? Seriously!

What about connecting to share ideas in the service of learning?

When did it become about becoming noticed, when did it become about taking your rightful place in the line of technology “experts.” When did it become about “cocktail parties” and “inner circles?” And since I’m thinking about it, I’m wondering if the people promoting the idea of ridiculous idea of a cocktail party or inner circle would be the first wanting to join if such a thing actually existed?

 

What happened?

Take Educon 2.0. It’s Friday and if you were there, you had the opportunity to visit the kids and teachers of the Science Leadership Academy. However, most stayed in the library bantering about Twitter and finally meeting those people in real life that had become some important in their digital one. What a missed opportunity to observe a truly unique school.

So here comes NECC, with the Blogger Café and EdubloggerCon. I can only imagine what a scrum for attention those could potentially turn into. But EdubloggerCon provides the opportunity for those who have blogged and twittered for a year to step up-let’s hear what you have to say face to face. Are you ready for that? Are you ready to earn it-really earn it?

The more I think about all this Twitter nonsense, the more I think about fundamentals. Writing. Commenting. Reading in your aggregator. Putting links into del.icio.us and supporting that network. Reading research. Reading outside of the ecochamber. Reflecting, questioning, getting uncomfortable—and then perhaps challenging the assumptions of your foundation. Personal growth. How can I grow and change as an educator? What can I do better to help kids learn?

And then put it into practice. What worked, what didn’t.

Put that into Twitter.

Twitter has diverted many from what is important, what should be the true goal. And that’s the real tragedy…

Comments 106 Comments »

When I was at CUE, I had the opportunity to see Vince Cerf do the opening keynote presentation. He gave a very interesting keynote, and one thing really stuck with me, and it was about what constituted a contribution in a networked environment.

Mr. Cerf suggested that we would never publish a single word as a book, as a journal article, or magazine article. He continued by saying that in a Web 2.0 world that included Wikipedia, you could and would publish a single word, and most importantly, it could be a significant contribution.

So, last night in Dean Shareski’s uStream session, many of us had a very interesting discussion about online contribution, and levels of contribution. Clarence Fisher was the guest and he was talking about his ideas relative to the classroom as a studio as well as what it meant to improve information. Some interesting ideas from the chat:

Jeff Utecht: How would you assess a student who changed a single word?
Ryan Bretag: Think about contributing one word from a poetry standpoint, how critical is one word? Writing in a hypertext society makes that one world critical.
EdtechVision: (paraphrasing here). How would peer assessment enter into this?

Personally, I think you can begin by taking a look at Darren Kuropatwa’s framework for his classroom wiki, where he defines what a significant contribution is and what a constructive modification means.

Back in the chat, after much discussion, a single question was distilled:

How do you assess contribution in a networked classroom?

Ok, so what does it look like? What’s new, what’s different, what’s the same? Your ideas?

Comments 9 Comments »

I am fortunate to serve as Instructional Technology Coordinator for my school district. Not many school districts have a position like mine, which is solely focused on improving teaching and learning with the tools of technology. No boxes. No wires. Just 24/7/186 Instructional Technology. Then the summer to get ready to do it all over again…time to retool, rethink, clarify, redirect, build and create…and get better at what I do, and help my school district to become better at what we do together.

But what does the job really look like, and what is required of a person in this position?

My week really never has a beginning or end, but if I could identify a single starting point, it’s probably Sunday afternoon, right after the Bears game, because the phone calls from teachers start. How do I do this? How should I proceed? Can I reserve one of the mobile labs for tomorrow? And of course…my favorite… I lost my password…here you go.

To stay current, I process 186 RSS feeds. Much of that information, resources, and creative thought go into my del.icio.us account, where 233 other del.icio.us users tap into what I do. Some of those ideas get repurposed into my blog posts here or at The Strength of Weak Ties. Much of that becomes internalized in how I do my job, and that translates directly in my ability to support classroom teachers with ideas on how to make learning come alive. Some of it also finds its way to other administrators, so that I can be a resource for helping them make proper decisions regarding a wide-variety of topics, ranging from professional development to school reform. It’s about developing the deep and wide reservoir of experience and understanding that is required to lead a large school district with something as important as technology.

To stay current, I also read. Books. Magazines, Journal Articles. I even have all of this stuff in my car. Just ask my fellow administrators. I’ve even got a toaster. Just. In. Case.

To stay current, as well as contribute to my profession, I present at conferences. I’ve been presenting nationally since 1995 and have done numerous spotlights and am finally getting keynote opportunities. Why is this important? Presenting at conferences is about sharing, and my perspective on presenting is to specifically represent to a larger audience what we do, and do well. Here it is, here is how it works, here is why it is valuable, and here is how you can do it too. Think that’s easy? Go stand in front of 500 critics and put yourself, and your school district, out there-you better be ready, you’d better have good stuff, you better be prepared, and you better be able to contribute. Because that’s why those people are there. But more importantly, the presentation simply honors what we do-everything that goes into that presentation represents a great deal of hard work by a large number of people, teachers, students, and administrators. And guess what-we’re proud of it, and we’re going to tell people. Here we are and here is what we can do! Take advantage of our experiences and expertise….we want to be a leader in this.

There is also a great deal of power in the preparation for that presentation…the prep is reflective, and gives me time to think about the evaluation of the experience against learning goals. As a profession, we need to begin to think about the value the technology has in the learning experience. We evaluate the learning, but do we evaluate the role of the technology in that learning? To be the best, you have to. That’s just non-negotiable.

A great deal of my time is spent managing our Blackboard presence, which contains a suite of tools that give our teachers access to a number of tools that can drive learning. And before you go there, it works for us, because being an Instructional Technology Coordinator means you understand what your climate and culture is, and what you realistically can and can’t use, despite the fact that you might like to use other tools. It’s about the organization and not you. And so you use it to the best of your ability, and build capability, expertise, and learning opportunities with it. You outfit it with blogs and wikis, with Turnitin.com, with WebAssign. You support it passionately and relentlessly, and you provide professional development opportunities that have entry points for a variety of users, and that move them down a continuum towards more effective use. And you also do those professional development experiences with the very teachers that have the expertise, because there is nothing like building capacity, nothing like building community, nothing like building a common shared direction.

I’m very proud of our Blackboard use but I’m especially proud of our digital storytelling program, which has been in our schools for over four years. How many kids have created digital stories? Literally thousands have. And in a world where video is exploding, where there is YouTube, TeacherTube, SchoolTube, DNATube, and undoubtably other “tubes” on the way, the ability to create content, distribute content, and create a competitive voice that can be heard is an essential 21st Century literacy that needs to be developed in students. And we’re doing that.

But it’s not all easy. Sometimes you have to say no, we can’t do that. I had to learn that. As a classroom teacher, I could shut my door and deal with my kids. As an administrator, I have to have a much more global picture. I have to think deeply about my decisions and I have to evaluate their impact on many levels. I have to be adept at politically negotiating the two different climates at North and South, because the schools, even though they are about seven miles apart, are very different. One’s bigger than the other, one has been around 75 years, the other 44 years. The departments are different, the two libraries are different. That’s not a bad thing, it just is, and you have to be aware of how those differences impact what you do, what you can accomplish, what you need to accomplish, and how fast you can do it. Successful technology coordinators are leaders, and leaders understand that leadership is about relationships. Having relationships with people that understand you, and support you, are required to be truly successful, but this only comes with honoring and understanding them first.

The bottom line? I’m pretty fortunate. I have the opportunity on a daily basis to experience the entire range of responsibilities that an educator can have, from meeting with a school’s administrative cabinet, to discussing a technology tool with a department chair, to writing our Illinois state technology plan, and then finally working 6th hour today with a group of Seniors at our North campus on how to dramatically improve their presentations with the inclusion of visuals from Flickr.

And that’s what I do.

Comments 3 Comments »

The school district I work for has two campuses-a North and a South Campus. North was the original high school in the district and dates back to 1928. If you do the math, it is 80 years old. A lot of kids have gone through that building, and so have many teachers and administrators. When you drive down Main Street, you see the school. Anyone will recognize it as a school, even though much has changed about the world we live in. It’s been there a long time.

And it’s not going anywhere.

When I retire in 13 years, it will still be there. Forty years from now, there will be a good chance that it still will be there, still opening its doors to kids. The physical spaces may change slightly, the rooms will be equipped perhaps differently, and hopefully what takes place in those rooms will change in some ways as well.

But I’m hoping that some things stay the same. There are still a lot of good things that happen in schools.

The blogosphere is filled with posts about the need for school change and reform. I’ve done them too, so I’m guilty. And there is no doubt that schools have to improve-we all know that. We all know that there are bad schools; we know that there are bad teachers, bad administrators, and even bad students. Sometimes there is bad curriculum and bad instruction, with not much learning taking place. You get the picture.

There is a continual undercurrent in the blogosphere that characterizes schools as places that are out of touch, as places that no longer connect, and that no longer serve a purpose. That’s my general perception and not reflective of any single individual or post, just a feeling I get after several years of reading.

I struggle with that characterization. I understand the blogosphere is a sounding board-throw an idea out there, see what sticks, and let people mash it up in “conversation.” But conversation is easy-and in this era of type and submit content creation-it’s also convenient. In some cases, some of the conversation about schools gets heated, and can be downright caustic. Sometimes the discussion steps beyond the bounds of professional conversation-and unfortunately, seems to become personal. Sometimes I think all of this “conversation” disrespects the enormous amount of good work that teachers and schools do.

Sometimes I think the conversation misses the target. Why? The conversation forgets:

1. That schools, like the one on Main Street in Downers Grove, and the schools that are in your community, can indeed be successful. There are numerous examples. It takes a shared collective vision, leadership, and educational professionals that are relentless in their pursuit of excellence. The kids will respond. You don’t necessarily have to do it online, you don’t have to do it in a multiplayer blog outside of a school, and you don’t need some blogospheric magic bullet that creates some new type of school. That big building that looks like a school, is a school, can be a successful institution where much important learning takes place.

2. That school change, school reform, whatever you want to call it, can emerge from within schools themselves. Talk about school reform in the blogosphere all you want, legislate it all you want, but in my opinion, change will result by people in the system rolling up their sleeves and getting it done, and basing that reform on sound educational theory, meaningful information about students and student progress, dedicated professional educators, and again, all supported by that shared, collective vision. Leave the profession if you want, seek to educate kids in different ways if you want, but I’m sticking around, because there are 5500 kids in my school district that need an education.

3. That we know how to educate kids.
Face it, is it really that difficult? Is a designing a quality lesson really that hard? Don’t we know what’s required already? Need a reminder? See Tom Hoffman’s outline of his presentation for Educon or this report about quality teaching, via Artichoke. We just don’t do it all the time, see #1 above.

4. That students still need to be placed in rigorous, challenging learning environments where they learn things like writing, math, civics, and science. And you know what-perhaps it’s also appropriate for kids to have an opportunity to sing, or create a painting, or maybe learn how to change a muffler, prepare a meal, and kick around a soccer ball. Perhaps that also needs to take place with adult guidance. And yes, on an individual basis, much of that can be done out of school. But how do you see that happening for the 5500 kids that I serve? I’d like you to answer that. There is more to life, more to education, than blogs and wikis…

5. That not all kids are tech-savvy, self-directed, highly-motivated independent learners that create dynamic and collaborative authentic content in multiple formats for distribution through social networks (full disclosure: every buzzword was used in the last sentence). But do you need someone to teach you how to text message? I’ve got 5500 teachers for that. They’ve got the interest, the capability, but they don’t know everything. Utilize it, direct it, leverage it, but don’t assume that all students know everything about technology, and how it can be used to drive their learning.

The reality is that the conversation is important. It’s challenging, it’s fun, and it’s frustrating, all at the same time. But sometimes the conversation forgets the reality of what needs to be accomplished, and what mainstream educators, educators who don’t blog, but grade papers, call parents, coach freshman basketball, tutor kids during their lunch period, and serve on two committees, face every day.

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