Friday, October 30, 2009

Drive-thru Take Out Special-- Hot Links

This weekend's Drive-thru special is a serving of "hot links". Spicy, hot, tasty.

Diigo Education
Faithful readers of this blog know that I am a Diigo enthusiast. With its highlighting and sticky notes it is a fabulous personal research tool, and it offers revolutionary possibilities for collaborative research. Diigo also offers a special account for teachers. which allows you to ...
  • create student accounts for an entire class with just a few clicks (and student email addresses are optional for account creation)
  • set up Students of the same class automatically as a Diigo group.
  • provide students with pre-set privacy settings so that only teachers and classmates can communicate with them
Dangerously Irrelevant

Scott McLeod's at Iowa State collects some great stuff at his Dangerously Irrelevant site. He consistently dishes up good stuff. Click the above link and you will be directed to an interesting set of quote, like this one: "Information and knowledge are absolutely fundamental to what education is all about . . . and it would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and not have transformative implications for how children can be educated and how schools and teachers can more productively do their jobs."

A Virtual Revolution is Occurring at College

The Washington Post recently published an article predicting that "this year may be part of the last generation for which 'going to college' means packing up, getting a dorm room and listening to tenured professors. . . . Colleges, like newspapers, will be torn apart by new ways of sharing information enabled by the Internet." Can secondary education be far behind?

"Take Out" with generous permission of americanvirus

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Enriching Collaboration with Colleagues-- A Neglected Pleasure

"It's about the kids"

"We've got to do it for the kids"

". . . . but I love the kids"

In thirty-five years of teaching I've heard variations on statements like the above so many times I almost bristle, because the teacher or administrator who utters it may be justifying just about any attitude or policy. Too cynical? I suppose , because I can count on one hand the educators who were in it only for the money, benefits, and summer off.

Yes, of course we are in it for the kids. But I have a confession to make. My most gratifying experiences this month were with other adults. Many of us (at least at my school) pretty much fight the good fight alone in our classrooms or other corners of the building. We brace ourselves for engagement at day's beginning and limping off to our caves at the day's end to muse about our victories or lick our wounds. So it has been a refreshing change of pace to join in some authentic collaboration with a vital network of people in my building who are helping me prepare for the November 9 in-service on personal learning networks. Thank you Colleen, Ann, Alison, Lynn, Will, Cheryl, Tom, Gary, Larry D. for giving me full-hearted support and really pitching in to meet our technical needs and plan a rich social media experience for full staff. I have really enjoyed rolling up my sleeves and working with and learning from a number of adults who are pulling in the same direction.

As we move forward, I'm hoping to have my cake and eat it too-- learning to become a better collaborator with both students and colleagues as co-learners.


"365/225" Flickr Creative Commons photo by

Monday, October 26, 2009

Media Professionals-- In or out of the Loop?

I recently gave a presentation on digital anthologies at the Michigan Association for Media Specialists annual conference (MAME 36). Some reflections:

* As a classroom teacher I was concerned about focusing too much on the nuts and bolts of how the anthology was set up with Google Docs and Moodle. But the media specialists were determined to see howall this worked.

* I received a very positive response when I suggested that media specialists were under utilized in classrooom collaborations. I proposed that besides identifying resources, media specialists should rightfully be involved in culling specific materials and recommending assessments. (Boy, di I hit a chord on this one).

* I noticed that my audience was particularly likely to take notes when I mentioned free resources. I was surprised that most seemed unfamiliar with iTunes U. They also were interested in public domain resources at the Library of Congress and the National Archives. Attendees also piped up with other free resources.

* As with my audience at Madonna University, they were eager to see actual student work. I was grateful to have several my AP students' permission to show our blogs on vlogs. I'm planning to integrate such demonstrations int both Apple presentations at MAPSA, next week

* My only regret was that time constraints prevented me from engaging in some brainstorming on how the digital anthology model might apply to collaborations in their schools.

The Bottom Line: Presenting at MAME 36 was intellectually engaging. I received as much as I shared about the practical uses of educational technology. I will go forward, advocating that teachers take advantage of collaborations with talented specialists like the ones I met at MAME 36.

Sincere thanks to MHS specialists, Katy, Cheryl, Larry for supporting my presentation. I'll be asking them for a guest post on educational technology from the perspective of the Media Center.

"The In
finite Loop" Flickr Creative Commons photo by kurafire

Friday, October 23, 2009

Reflections on "Information Rich & Attention Poor"

Today's post centers on Peter Nicholson's Information-rich and Attention-poor (Toronto Globe and Mail). The samplings below provide a context for my reactions, but the entire piece is worthy of contemplative reading:

The three technologies that have powered the information revolution – computation, data transmission and data storage – have each increased in capability (and declined in cost per unit of capability) by about 10 million times since the early 1960s.

This has unleashed a torrential abundance of data and information. . . . .The primary consequence is the growing emphasis on speed at the expense of depth. This is simply because depth and nuance require time and attention to absorb.

There is also under way a shift of intellectual authority from producers of depth – the traditional “expert” – to the broader public. This is nowhere more tellingly illustrated than by Wikipedia, which has roughly 300,000 volunteer contributors every month.

The result is the growing disintermediation of experts and gatekeepers of virtually all kinds. The irony is that experts have been the source of most of the nuggets of knowledge that the crowd now draws upon in rather parasitic fashion – for example, news and political bloggers depend heavily on a relatively small number of sources of professional journalism, just as many Wikipedia articles assimilate prior scholarship.

. . . . Access[ing] efficiently what you need, when you need it. . . depends, of course, on building up a sufficient internalized structure of concepts to be able to link with the online store of knowledge. How to teach this is perhaps the greatest challenge and opportunity facing educators in the 21st century.

The hyperlinked and socially networked structure of the Internet may be making the metaphor of the Web as global “cyber-nervous system” into a reality – still primitive, but with potential for a far more integrated collective intelligence than we can imagine today.


*I think the article emphasizes to educators how poorly we are served by the notion that students are techno wizards and only need to be liberated by their keepers to roam the Net in order to optimize their futures and serve society. Instead, teaching them how to access, assess, and pool information is of paramount importance.

*Though Nicholson argues convincingly for the continued need for trained journalists and academic experts, it certainly calls into question the usefulness of traditional academic "departments" and anything that resembles the traditional newspaper.

The article reinforces my opinion that teaching technology in a vacuum is nearly as great a waste as requiring students to memorize information from textbooks-- information that is accessible with a few keystrokes. Both a liberal arts education and the ability to operate within the global network are absolutely essential....and I will have more to say about this in my next post!

This article came to me through my personal learning network. The recommendation and link came from two different sources. In the olden days (two years ago?) I would have depended on a newspaper or magazine to bring Nicholson to my attention, and then search for it in a library database (quite unlikely). I'll be running a staff in-service on pln's in a couple of weeks. More fuel for the fire.

"Atrappée dans l'information #1" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by ton3vita

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ten Techno Ironies

*At the ADE Summer Institute our moderator continually requested us to shut our Macbooks (ADE's still peeked at their iPhones).

*Despite her skepticism, I convinced Lynn to open a Twitter account and try out our in-service hashtag. When we sat down to try it all out, Twitter was on the fritz.

*I am usually quite positive and upbeat in this blog, but when I go negative, readership and comments almost always spikes.

*I had my knuckles rapped for NOT notifying the book store that I would NOT be using a book AGAIN this year. (There is a don't-order-a-book form?).

* Our ADE summer institute project group had chemistry problems, particularly with a bossy, tone-deaf member. We also jumped at solutions too quickly, which created misunderstandings. I'm seeing the same thing dynamics in my student groups.

*Generally, I get more face-to-face comments about my blog than online commentary.

*I stood on my head making it possible for my AP students to conveniently order the ebook version of our text for half price. I believe four of twenty-eight did so.

* After my ten minute presentation on Parent Night, one mom went off on me, saying her daughter could not learn without a book. She could not give me an idea of what a book might have that my online resources lacked. When I suggested that she just print all the stuff out and bind it, she stormed out. (Made sense to me).

*My friend, Ann, almost always sees the the weaknesses in technology schemes, yet she is the most likely person I know to try them out.

*I asked my Apple EDE if she had any knick-knacks I could give out at my in-service. Yes-- ink pens!

* And speaking of the in-service Kathy assured my at Curriculum Council that of the four presentations I will be giving over the next three weeks, the staff at my own school will be the toughest audience. (oh, joy).

Enjoyed the mammoth letters in "Fine Arts". Once again thankful for Yahoo Image sSearch and Flickr Creative Commons. "Irony?" Flickr CC photo by Cucumber 77

Monday, October 19, 2009

Frustration, Disappointment and Failure

At the ADE Summer Institute we were urged to embrace failure and a natural part of the quest to innovate. I understand the notion, but it does not make the consequences any less painful if you have invested time and effort into a project. Perhaps by sharing my frustration, disappointment, and failure; someone will have some helpful feedback or at least be spared a similar experience.

I urge my cbl project groups to map their progress using Google Docs. They are required to include me as a collaborator so that I can add notes and provide guidance. I get the strong impression that usually one group member tends to dominate the authoring. Worse, the comments I make don't elicit any back and forth. A couple of students waited until class to see me about the comments (What happened to email?), in both cases worrying that they were being "marked down". One erased my comments before the rest of her group even saw them, and then asked me if she had fixed the problems, sort of missing the point of collaboration.

I'm hoping this situation will improve after the students become more acquainted with Google Docs and the benefits of collaboration.

Build it and they will come....That certainly is my experience with the Blog Squad Ning. The purpose of this virtual club is to afford students the chance to help other students with commonly used technical tools. I gathered names last spring and issued invitations. Students immediately signed up this Fall. I began a couple of discussion threads and groups. Then . . . . nothing. I am reluctantly conclude that to ignite the group we a physical meeting or email bombardment may be necessary. The members are not used to being attentive to the Ning. This is ironic, because the reason I jettisoned sponsorship of a more conventional club was that students seemed to assume I would be its major force. Now I find myself in the same position with the Ning.

A) I was very excited about offering my AP students an ebook option for their text, this year (At our private school the students purchase books). It has nice features and is half the cost its traditional text. Strangely, only about 15% opted for it. This I simply do not get.

B) Last spring I offered film students the research option of writing a digital research "paper" with hyperlinks rather than using the conventional MLA model. The result? I got dreadful citation and reference with both options. And I mean, really bad.

Have you noticed than in all of these I've mistakenly assumed that students will adjust readily to digital media?

P.S. While I haven't yet sewn any silk purses from these sow ears, at least they have given me blog content!
"Angst" Flickr Creative Commons photo by tizzle

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Liberal Arts / Techie Mashup

Apple calls its distinguished educators, "Authors, Advocates, Advisers, and Ambassadors". But at school I sometimes get called a "techie." Though I understand it, I really bristle at the term. Truthfully, my technical skills are rather limited, and I certainly can't help someone with his or her scanner or printer problems. Though I have put myself through lots of training with software over the last couple of years, I don't find that I have a particular aptitude for it.

Fortunately, I think its my knowledge of English literature, film, and political science as well as my experience with classroom dynamics which dominate my skill set. Knowing enough about technologies to see how they might enhance the curriculum in those areas allows me to be an innovator. At least that's how I see myself.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my AP Government class is going into blogging in a big way this semester. The first post was an M.I.T. video of Thomas Friedman lecturing on "The World Is Flat, 3.0". After marvelling at recent technologies though most of the speech, Friedman surprises at the end of the lecture by emphasizing the importance of a liberal arts education. I was pleased by student reflections on this:

Erin L
I found it interesting how Friedman thought the liberal arts studies are more important now than ever. And, after thinking about this and listening to what Friedman said about "mashing up" ideas, I also agree that it is extremely important.

Katie C.
Friedman talks of a liberal arts education, and the value of having more than one major/area of study. I agree with him that in today's "flat world", having more than one specific area of study is beneficial for the individual. This is an important concept for our generation, for us, the future college student. By accepting "the world is flat" idea, we can try to ensure our own success. By pursuing an education with variety and culture, we will be able to relate better with the world, not just a specific field.

The "mashing" of content area knowledge, educational theory, and technology-- What a great metaphor. As faire alchemist has noted, students "are going to need both content knowledge and critical 21st century skills. They are going to need to understand how to live an immediately connected networked life." Fortunately, many of these technology skills can be learned "on the fly". We teachers don't have to go back to university to acquire a computer engineering degree to become a "techie", but we do need to have our professional development supported with time and training. If we want da Vinci teachers who are both technically astute and grounded in the liberal arts, the leaders at our schools must nurture renaissance cultures.

"Da vinci Technology" Flickr Creative Commons photo by rafeejewell

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Notes from S-7 Base Camp

My cbl projects continue apace. As noted in Leaving the Comfort Zone, I launched a a modified cbl in my sophomore American Government classes and a more full-blown version in AP American Government and Politics.

We are still early in the process. I have been urging the students to think hard at each stage and open up their minds to a varety of resources.

I have a few early observations:

The AP groups are really engaged with the project, but they are very task oriented and straining to blow through the early steps. I have been mildly intervening to stop them from planning their solutions before they really understand their questions and have done their research. Today, they were incredibly self-directed in class, but also emailed me with some questions later. While none of them had ever worked with a Google Doc, they seem comfortable with the collaborative documentation.

My three sophomore classes are a different kettle of fish. For one thing, they seem less daunted by the new technologies. Thus far they have been engaged, though more easily distracted by the novelty of co-editing on Google Docs. They have been far more superficial in terms of the types of questions they ask me:

"What is your email address?"
"Where do I find the [doc] invitation?"
"Can I hyperlink in Google Docs?"
"Are we being graded as a group?"
"What do you mean by multimedia?"

While They have been very responsive when I stop by the group and stir the pot. But I would have to honestly say that they have not shown much imagination and resourcefulness. . . . yet. But it's early!

I'm enjoying the experience and will keep you posted.
Flickr Creative Commons Photo by twiga269 ॐ FREE TIBET

Monday, October 12, 2009

Under Pressure

Today, at 8:20 am I will be addressing our Curriculum Council (primarily department heads) , giving them a snapshot of the staff in-service I will be leading on Personal Learning Networks. This is what I will be telling them:

The way information is being accessed and shared is changing radically. Students must learn to access and critically evaluate information. They need to learn new skills for communicating and collaborating. But how can we teach them unless we too are plugged in?

The in-service will provided a three step program:
1) Guided Exploration of some social media (Twitter, Diigo , Ning , WikiSpaces)
2) The PLN
3) Collaboration through Digital Anthologies

In addition to three taut presentations, the day will included two extended playing/brainstorming sessions. The approach will emphasize fun, exploration, and a purposeful outcome. A wide open feedback channel will be featured (via Twitter)

I am asking the chairs to pitch this to their departments with a positive attitude, emphasizing that there will be something for everyone and that our kids really need help plugging into networks. We are trying to develop a school technology culture and we need everyone to buy in.
I'm going to mention that the usual reasons to be negative about in-service won't work this time. I won't be talking down to anyone. I have no hidden agenda. Every department has something to gain. I have everything to lose, since I will be back in the ranks, slogging away with the rest of them the next day.

I will be interested in their responses....and as always, yours.

"Under Pressure" Flickr Creative Commons photo by Tattooed JJ

Friday, October 9, 2009

12 Things Teachers Should Do to Future-Proof Their Careers

I came across Chris Lake's 25 Things Journalists Can Do to Future-Proof Their Careers and was struck by how many applied to educators. Now granted, powerful social and institutional forces insure that schools as we know them won't disappear as quickly as the printed newspaper has. This is why I changed Lake's title to "should do" as applied to teachers. For a private 1:1 school such as mine, I would prefer the title "must do," as I believe our future may depend upon it.

Here are twelve steps that today's journalists and educators can and should take to stay in step with the times:

*Start a blog - "This will be very empowering...."

*Collaborate - "People can achieve so much more when they work together."

*Feeds - "Learn how to monitor your subjects,. . .Do this easily by setting up RSS feeds for search terms on sites like Google News, Twitter and Digg."

*Embrace Twitter - "Follow influencers and use Twitter as a filter."

*Produce Video - "It is easier than ever to shoot and distribute video... you have the option of telling stories in richer ways."

*Mobile is Truly a Wonderful Tool - "It has never been easier to capture ideas, build out stories, and publish content."

*Learn to Love Links - "Links are what make the online world spin."

*Ignore the Hype - "Some buzzwords are more meaningless than others . . . occasionally something that sounds terrible is actually full of substance and worth investigating."

*Participate - "Be seen, be heard. Leave comments"

*Network - "Make connections on and offline."

*Be Platform Agnostic - "The best [educators] will be able to transfer their skills across platforms.

*Do It Now - "Don’t delay. Don’t fear the web. Don’t wait for your boss to tell you to learn some new skills. If you have a mental barrier and have filed yourself under ‘offline’ then slap yourself about the face, have a stiff drink, and then reset your watch. Forget about yesterday. There’s no time like the present. Embrace all that's available to you. . . ."

"Street Art - No Future on the Streets of Dublin" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by infomatique

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Leaving the Comfort Zone

Oh, yes, I am something of a control freak by trade and have been proud of it. As an athletic coach, I meticulously scheduled each minute of practice time. In the classroom, I can't say every minute of thirty-five years worth of instruction has been planned, but each day there was a plan; and I have never been one to spend the first ten minutes of class shooting the breeze about Dancing with the Stars or giving my class the last ten minutes to "study."

Last week, I let go of the wheel. Boy, did I let go. I launched my AP Gov's (seniors) challenge based learning project and a modified cbl in my sophomore government classes. Strangely, once again I felt like a coach, but a coach during a game, not practice. No clipboard or script for the action; just a game plan, a pep talk, and advice on the fly. It was exciting but a little nerve-wracking. I felt most confident when I explained to the students why we were taking a student-oriented project that emphasized new technologies. I also loved making suggestions and asking guiding questions. But I have to admit that I felt disoriented and anxious. I battled a nagging sense that the groups were "wasting time".

I detected genuine excitement among many of the seniors. On the other hand, some of the sophs were dialing me out, per usual. Of course, it's way to early to reach any conclusions.

As I jokingly told my AP class when I was laying the whole trip out: "Even if we go down in flames, you guys will give me lots to blog about."

Ain't that the truth. Stay tuned.
"Comfort Zone 1" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by idrehn

Monday, October 5, 2009

Finding Authentic Audiences

The best education prof I had in grad school was Dr. Fred Goodman. Once he told us once that if classrooms were open to public audiences, that we'd see teachers with clipboards, stop watches, and whistles; just like football coaches. I could completely relate. I thought how conscious I was of using every second of practice time as a basketball coach and how casually some teachers treated the first two or three weeks of school with "easing students in." We've all had teachers who spent large portions of class time telling us about how they spent the weekend or what they watched on television. Would they do this if the class had to perform under the lights on Friday, night? Probably not.

I think public performance should have a prominent place in best teaching practices. As I've noted in Why Blog?, expressing my opinions in a public forum serves to refine my thinking and even hold my feet to the fire of innovation. I've certainly found in teaching an AP course, that knowing the students' scores will be a matter of public record, has a way of focusing one's mind as a teacher. Last spring, I started to set up online exhibition spaces for some of my students' best work and submit these links to our school's online community newsletter. I joined the "Authentic Audiences" challenge based learning group at the ADE Summer Institute, last July, inspiring the title of this post and allowing me to get others' ideas about this topic. I'm absolutely convinced that schools should be aggressively seeking audiences for students.

But what to do in the mean time? Well, I've decided to drop it in the students' laps. My AP Government challenge based learning project requires them to identify an audience and to create an "authentic medium" for reaching it. Cop out or break through? I'll know in a couple of months and get back to you, then!

Flickr Creative Commons Photo of the Big House in Ann Arbor by jeffwilcox

Friday, October 2, 2009

Reflections on a Very Special School

After a hundred and twenty blog posts about today or tomorrow, it's time to reminisce about the past.

In many ways, the most remarkable school I ever witnessed in operation, was Riverview School in Cape Cod, MA. This is a high compliment, because I have attended, worked at, and visited awesome schools. My memories of Riverview are now dated. My son attended a few years ago, so I am not up on the present program first hand. But by all accounts it is as great or greater than when Chris (our son) was an enthusiastic member of the Riverview community.

When Chris entered the post secondary program at Riverview, Rick Lavoie was head of school. Rick is a nationally recognized expert on learning disabilities and two features of his approach to education made very strong impressions.

First, the "social autopsies". When students had experienced a socially perplexing situation, staff at Riverview was trained to conduct a "social autopsy" with the students to sort out the missed social cues or to coach the kids on how they might handle a similar experience, next time. This was certainly an invaluable approach to pupils like Chris, who has autism. But what a great idea for any realm of schooling!

Secondly, and more relevant to this blog was the idea that the entire staff was part of the educational experience of the students. They attended all of Rick's workshops and received training in the educational philosophy of the school. Consequently, the school culture at Riverview hit a visitor the moment he or she set foot on campus, and visiting was a profound experience. From the head of school to the maintenance staff, one encountered the same educational priorities and values.

This is why I keep returning to the idea of school culture in this blog. I'm convinced that meaningful technology integration can only be achieved at a school if every adult in the school plugs into learning networks along with the kids. It does not depend on teaching methods, alone. Surely its essential that teachers buy in, but in a school other staff members can't exempt themselves from modeling the use of transformative technologies. In order to help our students embrace the challenges of the future we need to be all in on these challenges ourselves.

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