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 (yeah, I still like typing the periods) and has tagged a variety of resources about stem cell research. Each is aware of each other 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

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 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 This means that you will receive every resource tagged worldwide by all users. Let’s say Student A does this, goes into the subscription area of, 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 <>

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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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Over the next several days, I’ll be writing about different issues that can be viewed through different lenses, and as a result, create different perspectives among educators. Many of these issues are also climate and culture issues, so I’m very interested in where you stand personally, as well as where your school district stands. I’m planning on identifying the endpoints of the spectrum and I’ll ask you to weigh in on where you are at across that gradient. And if you believe that there are different endpoints to the spectrum of positions, please let me know that as well.

The first post in this series is an important one, and addresses a serious fundamental question that I believe schools must revisit, or in some cases, visit. I’ve included this topic in recent presentations, and it always creates a great deal of conversation.

As educators, we are inundated with phrases such as “21st Century literacies” and what does it mean to be literate in the 21st Century. At the same time, other groups advocate for 21st Century Skills. There is certainly a difference between literacy and skill, and how we define the relationship between the two in our schools defines how we approach teaching and learning.

So, what do you believe? Are there new literacies, 21st Century literacies, that are afforded by the new connective technologies at our disposal? Or, is literacy simply literacy, and a timeless concept? Where do your beliefs fit within that spectrum, skills to literacy?

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It’s been awhile…since my last post about Twitter. I wrote this right after that post out of frustration so I let it sit. I’m posting it now for your “enjoyment.”

So, now I’ll be in more trouble with all the Twitter kool-aid drinkers, but oh well. I had some fun with the script of A Few Good Men. It’s meant as humor, nothing more, nothing less…breathe deep! Here it is:


You want answers?

We think were entitled to them.

You want answers?

We want the truth

You can’t handle the truth!

People, we live in an online world with tools like Twitter. And Twitter has to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? You, (insert your name here)?

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom.

You weep for Twitter and you curse @djakes. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that @djakes Twitter post, while tragic, probably saved lives.

And @djakes’ existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives…

You don’t want the truth. Because deep down, in places you don’t talk about at Twitter meetups like at NECC, you want @djakes on that wall.

You need @djakes on that wall.

We use words like blogs, wikis, and (but not diigo)…we use these words as the backbone to a life spent creating online communities.

You use ‘em as part of a 140 character punchline.

@djakes neither has the time nor the inclination anymore to explain to people who refuse to actually read the post, then question the manner in which @djakes wrote it! He’d rather you just said thank you and went on your way.

Otherwise, I suggest you grab a mouse and write a post. Either way, I don’t give a @&^%$# what you think you’re entitled to!

Did you write the Twitter Post?

I did the job you sent me to do.


You’re #%*&*&% right I did!!

I suggest the jury be dismissed.The Blogger has rights.

Captain (insert your name here)?The members of Twitter will retire to the antiroom.

What the &$#&$^ is this? I wrote the post, I’d do it again.

I’m going back to my office.

You’re not going anywhere @djakes

MP’s: guard @djakes

I committed a crime? A crime?

But it’s got 106 comments!

This is funny, that’s what this is!


OK, let me have it…

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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

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Here is what I will be presenting in Shanghai, assuming my visa arrives!

Towards a Vision of Visual Literacy Learning

Humans are anatomically built to process visually.  With that in mind, how can educators take advantage of the explosion of user-created visual content, the Web’s enormous capacity to distribute that content in multiple formats, and the high level of engagement that occurs when visual content is used in instruction?  This session explores a framework for understanding the process of helping students become more visually literate, and identifies the strategies and tools to do so.

Capturing Stories, Capturing Lives:  An Introduction to Digital Storytelling

Everyone has stories.  Stories can originate from a variety of sources, from one’s collective experience to a person’s imagination.  Digital storytelling is the process of capturing those stories, first by writing, and then by extending that writing by including powerful multimedia elements to make the story come alive.  In this presentation, we’ll explore the process of digital storytelling from its theoretical basis to the practical “how to” processes necessary to integrate this instructional technique into your teaching.  See examples of student digital stories and see a digital story created.  Leave the session with the ability to use the process of digital storytelling to create a magical learning experience for students.

Digital Storytelling 2.0: What’s Next?

You’ve started using the process of digital storytelling with kids. You’ve had success. But what’s next, and how can you grow your use, or your program? This session explores the new tools, the new media, and the new networks of digital storytelling that will enable students to further extend their voice, develop their message, and engage in a lifetime of creation and contribution.

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A pretty amazing post…Darren Draper posts a screenshot of a Twitter conversation between Arthus and several others. The screen shot has now been taken down but the conversation between those involved was not very pretty. Darren has even offered to take the post down…

And off go the comments, with some pretty heavy lifting between some the participants. There is even some old-fashioned name calling and my dad can beat up your dad stuff.

Is any of this really necessary? Seriously…

I can’t help think that such “conversations” ultimately will contribute to the long slow cold death of edublogging. Why waste the energy, who really cares, and shouldn’t you be doing something else?

There are thousands upon thousands of teachers who could care less about what a 49 year old instructional technology coordinator says in some blog. There are thousands upon thousands of teachers who could care less about what a 15 year old says in his blog (sorry Arthus if I got your age wrong, but I think you are older now).

But there are thousands upon thousands of teachers who do care about the 15 year old sitting in front of them in their classrooms.

Cut this crap out and focus on improving what you do for those kids. That should be the focus.

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