Friday, April 30, 2010

Friday Take out from the Drive-thru

Jean Piaget
The principle goal of education is to create [persons] who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done- [persons] who are creative, inventive, discoverers

Tony Wagner
Students who have learned to collaborate, to think critically, and be more confident about their own ideas also tend to make better moral judgments.

When I hear people talk about the neutrality of technology, I get worried. . . . We are controlled by what we’ve created as much as we control it . . . . Today, I view my iphone less like a device than I do as a part of my cognition. We need to surface technology’s hidden ideologies and philosophies. If we don’t surface these aspects, we dance blindly to a tune that we refuse to acknowledge, but still shapes our moves.

Even before students set foot in a classroom, most schools still are built like factories: long hallways, lined with metal lockers, transport students to identical, self-contained classrooms. . . . Encourage learning to happen throughout a school building by creating spaces that allow ideas to circulate as readily as foot traffic. At Thomas Deacon Academy [click for virtual tour]. . . learning spaces freely flow into each other. Students can see different types of learning occurring all around them and every inch of the school can be used to educate.

Forget the literary giants who once traded barbs at Elaine’s or the Algonquin. Now the battle over the world’s literary territory, a contest on the epic scale of Mothra vs. Godzilla, is between Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iPad.


"Take Out" with generous permission of americanvirus

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

M-Hub Student Leadership

M-Hub is my new passion. Its object is to "help students build personal learning networks through contact with real persons in real time".

My inspiration is most directly based on recent experiences with Apple's Challenge Based Learning. I have watched my students network with amazing "experts" when they have ventured outside of the box.

As I reported last week in Hub-Cap,we had very strong student participation at our launch. In order to take advantage of this initial burst of enthusiasm, I invited these kids to form a core leadership group for the project.

I was thrilled by the response. Nine of the ten invited students attended the meeting forty minutes before school. And they are already busy with tasks:

* We are setting a platform discussion meeting the database manager in our school "Advancement" office and one of our top-notch IS guys, next week. We hope to have 3-4 student leaders in attendance.

*"Branding" M-Hub. We are developing a logo and trying to express our "mission" in an easy-to-understand statement. We will receive reports back to the group, next week, from the individuals who are leading these explorations.

*Club Life - We are exploring how to incorporate ourselves into the school culture. Will we be a "club" that any student may join? Right now, the thinking is that leadership will meet before school but that the club schedule may be used for general meetings.

We scheduled a follow-up leadership meeting after school on May 6. I will report on our progress!

P.S. One of the coolest things observations about M-Hub came from Bob Kirkland: M-Hub can serve as a type of "collective memory" for MHS. I love the idea, and continue to receive support for M-Hub from alumnae around the world.

"Athena" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by brianglanz

Monday, April 26, 2010

Group Accountability during Challenge Projects

I have now put 85%* of our school's class of '12 through modified Challenge Based Learning projects. The experience, has given me a handle the biggest general objections to group work: How can you evaluate individuals fairly? How do you prevent "free riders" who benefit despite doing little work? Even worse, is it fair to penalize the entire group if a member or two entirely drop the ball?

In response to past blog posts, I have received two suggestions for dealing with this issue: 1) Weekly conferences and or self-evaluations to monitor individual contributions. 2) A detailed accounting at the conclusion of the project as to who did what.

I applaud any teacher who doesn't simply turn a blind eye to the problem and either wimps out by not applying any standards to group work ("A's for all!") or supposes that the students should "just work it out, just like the real world". (Hello, in the real world your employer has not retained employees with zero work ethic). But I have found the weekly interventions too time intensive for both teacher and group. And in my opinion both approaches put center the teacher's role in the project more than is desirable.

Here's how I handle group evaluations these days:

*As students select their groupings, they are informed that any ensuing "group chemistry" issues will be addressed with a group sit-down.

*Students write group goals at the outset and are instructed that these must be measurable.

*At two intervals, I require each group to create a specific work schedule that creates a road map to completion of their goals. At this time they must also log individual responsibilities that all members have agreed to

* These goals and schedules are logged onto Google Docs that the groups share with me. I give them feedback on their goals and insist that their expectations be concrete.

*At the end of the process, the groups complete assessments of their goals. They are urged to note individual break downs and heroics. Individual members are told that they may append a dissent to the group report (This is rare).

This school year, I received no interventions or complaints from parents. Only two students approached me during the process to "tattle" on other students who were supposedly not doing their share. I listened to the students but insisted that they work within the system, trusting that no group would be brought low by a dead-beat member.

Such dead-beats were regularly identified in the group assessments. In some cases these individuals agreed that they had dropped the ball (and were penalized accordingly). In other cases, the entire group took responsibility for procrastinating and putting individual members in a situation where success was unlikely.

The group assessments and presentations were refreshingly honest, reassuring me the project had taught the students about more than just their topics. They also learned about working with other people.

As I move forward, I will definitely continue handling group evaluation in this way.
*American Government is required of Mercy sophomores and I was assigned six of seven sections this year.

Image above is a CBL slide for my M-Hub presentation on April 20, 2010.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Celebrating Failure

"Success is the ability to go from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm."
- Winston Churchill

After thirty-five years in education, I have learned to walk away briskly from failure.

Anyone who tries new things will make mistakes, and if you are my age, you realize that you are wasting precious time if you A) invest more of it in a losing cause B) brood over "ingenious" ideas that do not catch fire with others.

So, I am going to now officially categorize The Blog Squad as an official dud. Last May, I envisioned the Squad this way:

What I would like to establish is something like a "Blog Squad" which would offer
message board help to students who are having specific challenges with wikis, web sites, podcasts, blogs in our classes. Believe me, tons of little issues arise with projects using Web 2.0 apps, and they occur when class is not in session. Usually the problems are easy to solve and do not warrant tying up valuable tech department or class time. I envision that the "club" would initially recruit kids who are adept at Audacity, WikiSpaces, Google Sites, and/or Blogger and give them "genius" (apologies to Apple) status as problem solvers.

But I also promised . . . .

I am also not afraid to declare that I have failed. The plan will die a quick death if a critical mass of users is not achieved by mid-semester. . . .

Well, here is the declaration: I failed.

I tried to run the Squad through a Ning . Faculty and students signed up in droves. . . .But they did not return. I was pretty much the only active participant on the Ning. (No surprise on that score!). But I also realize two other factors. 1) Face-to- face meetings are probably necessary to fire up enthusiasm for a virtual project like this. 2) Students need or expect immediate help for their tech frustrations, and on-the-spot assistance is simply not feasible within a conventional school schedule.

Before bidding adieu to the Squad, let this be noted: when I sent out the call, fellow staff members actually came to my classroom to offer hands on technical help (Ann, Will, Cheryl -- you were awesome). And I have since learned that the best way for students to get on-the-spot help is to place them into groups during project launches and let them teach each other.

Thus, by no means was the Blog Squad a total loss. But instead of trying to pump life into this inert Ning, I'm going to walk away from it and try to apply the lessons learned to my new passion: The Knowledge Hub Project: Unlike Blog Squad, I am evangelizing M-Hub through face-to-face gatherings and identifying student leaders who will hopefully keep our momentum going through next year and beyond.

I'm giving this my best shot. But . . . . If next spring, we are dead in the water, I will abandon ship and venture off in a new direction in a different virtual vessel.


"lydney cannon festival" Flickr Creative Commons photo by the longhairedgit.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The M-Hub Project is officially launched. Twenty of us shared ideas for building a digital platform that would network our extended school community. The idea is to help students learn to build personal learning networks from "the inside-out".

The students had terrific ideas for using the hub. They also impressed the adults with their sophisticated suggestions on the technical side of the project. Staff in attendance represented the Art, the Media Center, Counseling, English, Tech, and Religious Studies. An alumna joined us en route to the Horn of Africa where she will work to cure tropical diseases. Needless to say, we had a rich variety of perspectives.

Perhaps the best sign of the meeting: When I arrived home from the meeting, I had three emails waiting from attendees that bubbled with more ideas for our enterprise.

The next step is to build a leadership team with the students. I want to meet with them next week. Another general meeting is scheduled for May 11. The topic? A platform for our network! I will keep you posted.

Visit the Marlin Knowledge Hub Project Site
Photo by L. Baker, April 20, 2010.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Knowledge Hub Project

My last three posts have led me to the launch of M-Hub. As explained in The Inside-Out Knowledge Network, our schools generally do not A) teach our students to network B) utilize expertise within reach of the school and local community.

I propose setting up a "knowledge hub" database with spokes that connect to staff (past and present), parents, and alumnae. We will also identify other professional and academic "experts" in the extended community who are willing to serve as "nodes" on our learning grid. M-Hub will allow our students to shake off the conventions of school calendars, meeting times, and classrooms. The M-Hub will be designed to network passionate learners and serve as a model of collaboration. Its greater purpose will be preparing our students for life-long learning beyond MHS.

I believe this is called a stretch goal. But why not dream big? The first meeting is scheduled for tomorrow and I've invited dreamers to come and help choose a platform for our database. Naysaying will not be featured on the agenda.

I have set up a web site which describe the philosophical underpinnings of the Hub.

Any member of our school community will be welcome at the meeting and may join the virtual discussion at our M-Hub Project Ning. (If you wish to join the ning, please contact me by private email). So far, the Ning has attracted a very nice blend of students, staff, and alumnae.

You can be sure that you will hear more about M-Hub at the Drive-thru!

Screen shot of M-Hub web site. Visit for more information.

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Inside-out Knowledge Network

In my last post I advocated helping our students learn to build personal learning networks by encouraging them to seek specific information to their questions in real time from real people. I think that this should be done "inside-out" by guiding them to familiar resources within their schools, families, and local community.

In Five 10th Graders Jump Outside of the Box, I think I demonstrated how authentic and self-directed this can be. In Rewiring the Learning Networks for Schools, I shared a video which shows how students can "cultivate their curiosity"* by asking nuanced questions to experts and then expressing the experience through multi-media.

Now, granted, at a college prep school like ours we teach students to write research "papers" with formal annotation using vetted sources from academic journals and the like. I am not demanding that we abandon this age-old "college prep" system for culling information and synthesizing it to support a thesis. But in terms of guiding our students to authentically learn about topics and get their real questions answered, why aren't we networking them with real-time experts and real-time persons? It would be ironic to suppose that the teacher down the hall is only an expert on her subject when she is assigned to teach a certain set of students a certain time of the day. To heck with the schedule. Let's make her available to any student in the school.

Then, let's build this network "inside-out". Let's add folks within the reach of our school community to our grid. Whenever I've brainstormed with classes of students about finding "experts" we've always identified parents, friends' parents, or persons these parents know. We have alumnae who are experts in all fields imaginable. In virtually every instance, whenever a student has approached one of these persons for knowledge, they have enthusiastically welcomed this. Why can't we start collecting persons like these in a database so that we can tap them with an email question, an interview or even invite them to one of our classes as a speaker?

And don't you dare shoot this idea down by suggesting that I am trying to replace a school library or setting up these "experts" to be barraged by inquiries. Our conceptual framework of research is so far removed from this at the present time to render these concerns absurd. Besides, we would not add someone to our grid without his or her explicit permission.

Yes, I have very definite ideas about approaching this exciting challenge. In my next post I am going to explain (drum roll, please) The M-Hub Project--
"A knowledge hub project designed to leverage new technologies in order to facility authentic learning experiences for Marlins of all ages."

Screen shot of 6th period "Teen Rights" Wikispaces page
*From Tony Wagner's "The Global Achievement Gap"

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rewiring the Learning Networks at Schools

In my last post - Rethinking the Confines of Teaching and Learning - I argued for broadening our perspectives about how students should access specific information. I described my friend, Tom Schusterbauer, who recently retired. He still communicates with former students through Facebook and a book club, but despite his exceptional knowledge and teaching skill, he's now more or less off the learning grid of my students. If Tom and other retirees still love kids and are passionate about the stuff they know, why can't they be accessible to learners through the many powerful technologies that we have?

Even more perplexing is this consideration: Why aren't students urged to use these same technologies to connect with persons in their own school building? I have peers who are stone cold experts in a wide variety of topics. I don't teach Brit Lit or Shakespeare anymore, but I know more than a little bit about Charles Dickens and Elizabethan theatre. I haven't forgotten all that stuff just because my semester teaching assignments have changed. Several of our students are studying Dickens and Shakespeare this semester. Each one has a laptop, so her ability to communicate with me is literally at her fingertips. How many have contacted me? None. Why? Because to do so would be unconventional.

Convention dictates that a teacher is only an "expert" while teaching an assigned course to a particular set of students in a particular room at a particular time. What a dreadful way to prepare our students for life beyond school! Their careers are likely to require them to network, using mobile communication on a global scale. And I'm guessing that their employers will expect them to access information from folks who know things. Immediately. This is undeniable, isn't it?

Thus, it makes sense to me that we help our students learn to build learning networks. And rather than simply point them toward the Internet, why don't we teach them to pose good questions to real people in real time? Furthermore, we ought to guide them to begin networking within a familiar social community. I call this, working inside-out.

Case in point: When my sophomores conducted research for their challenge projects, I urged them to think outside of the box. Consequently, they ended up interviewing lawyers, judges, doctors, and military officers in order to learn about "equality under the law." One particular group chose a very tough topic to research-- equal rights for teens. They had developed some intelligent lines of inquiry, when they "googled" for answers they ended up with very squishy information. They did much better when they thought about what "experts" might be in their circle of acquaintances. When they interviewed a local insurance agent and one of our guidance counselors, they got right down to the brass tacks. I've included a video clip of the guidance counslor interview, which they ended up posting (with her permission of course) to their wiki.

Guess what. With this kind of "research" I don't run into "copy & paste" or plagiarism. Instead, it produces critical thinking and collaboration.

I'm leading up to a proposal for school "knowledge hubs", but jumping to that, I have more to say about networking inside-out. . . . In Friday's post.

Thanks to Ms. Trisch Brown for giving me permission to use this clip.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Rethinking the Confines of Teaching & Learning

You may recall that last year I featured Tom Schusterbauer in "Sage Schuste Seduced by Cyberspace", describing him as "a gifted teacher who has impacted literally hundreds of students by touching their hearts. I've never encountered anyone who more passionately teaches about literature and life." I also marveled that this self-proclaimed technophobe would be having such a tremendous impact on Facebook, sharing his reflections on life with hundreds of "friends-- primarily former students. And he's still going strong on Facebook!

A couple of weeks ago, Tom Schusterbauer commented to one of my blog posts:
"And I Quote....". The theme of my blog was the educational system's resistance to forces shaping the world outside it. As a recently retired vet of 41 years in the classroom, Tom remarked:

It is difficult to partially leave a system which you know has worked . . . It is difficult to find the time and the energy (especially for one who has been teaching for decades and in a discipline where so much time is spent in both prepping and correcting) to explore and modify. . . . the goal is to take what has worked and make it work better and more dramatically.

My knee-jerk reaction to this is, well Tom, we must change despite the "difficulty". But that would have been overly simplistic and would not have acknowledged the wealth of knowledge and insight Tom has amassed from all that time prepping. He is exceedingly well versed on such varied topics as the Holocaust, Abraham Lincoln, J.D Salinger, Anne Tyler, jazz, film noir, composition). Despite his high profile on Facebook, this treasure trove of knowledge was more or less unplugged from the educational "system" when Tom he quit punching in at the time clock. But he still loves teaching and sharing about his passions. And memory erasure was not a prerequisite for receiving his pension.

An aside: Once when the Media Center was making tough choices over which expensive resources to add to its collection, I suggested that the faculty could contribute "free" podcasts on race relations, Charles Dickens, mythology, the Elizabethan Age, and other subjects we had immersed ourselves in over the years. Such podcasts, I argued, would be legitimate sources for the kinds of research assignments we conventionally give students. Students would still have to wrestle with the information and synthesize it for their reports or presentations. My suggestion was not taken seriously, but I still think it was a pretty good idea. Isn't it too bad that some of Tom's legacy has not been bottled this way for present students to discover in their research?

Today there are even more dynamic ways to connect Tom back into our students' learning networks. Why not plug him back into the knowledge grid through email, texting, video conferencing, or perhaps, a phone call?

Even more peculiar is this consideration: Why aren't actively employed teachers considered as potentially valuable "nodes" in the learning networks of all students? Why, with the tremendous communication technologies at our fingertips, do we hang onto mindsets that "classroom teachers" are pretty much confined to serving designated students who are scheduled to show up in their rooms for the duration of a "course? This no longer makes sense to me and I've decided to take action with something I am calling a Knowledge Hub Project. More on Wednesday!

"Schuste" (with his permission) as photographed in '09 by Haley D.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Weekend Take-out at the Drive-thru

Katherine Mangu-Ward-- Putting reading materials and lecture notes on the Internet, like many teachers do today, is just the first step; it's like when, in the early days of movies, filmmakers pointed a camera at a stage play. Kids are still stuck watching those old-style movies, when they could be enjoying the learning equivalent of "Avatar" in 3-D. Thousands of ninth-grade English teachers are cobbling together yet another lecture on the Globe Theatre in Shakespeare's day, when YouTube is overflowing with accessible, multimedia presentations from experts on Elizabethan theater construction. . . .

George Siemens-- We are at a point where we ought to be conceiving new models driven by the affordances generated by networks, technology, openness, and social software. Instead, many systems are at the equivalent stage of being pushed down the hall in a wheelchair at a senior care home.

Ellen Kumata (as quoted by Tony Wagner)-- Our system of schooling promotes the idea that there are right answers, and that you get rewarded if you get the right answer. But to be comfortable with this new economy . . . you have to understand that you live in a world where there isn't one right answer, or if there is, it's right only for a nanosecond."

David Pogue on iPad--, the Web’s headquarters for free hit TV shows, won’t confirm the rumors that it’s working on an iPad app, but wow — can you imagine? A thin, flat, cordless, bottomless source of free, great TV shows, in your bag or on the bedside table?

National Educational Technology Plan (as quoted by Will Richardon): In connected teaching, teaching is a team activity. Individual educators build online learning communities consisting of their students and their students’ peers; fellow educators in their schools, libraries, and afterschool programs; professional experts in various disciplines around the world; members of community organizations that serve students in the hours they are not in school; and parents who desire greater participation in their children’s education.

"Take Out" with generous permission of americanvirus

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fear and Loathing in Las Videos

Less than two years ago, I made it a personal goal to bring video into my teaching. While I am not exactly a whiz, I can shoot, edit, and post with simple tools like my Flip Mino and iMovie. I also require student created video in all three of my courses.

For the most part, this is all cool. But sometimes, I feel kind of out there alone, floundering around. Since students are used to Skyping, chatting, or creating quick video messages for Facebook with their computer cameras, they don't necessarily arrive to class with high production values for their assignments. As I posted recently, our school has no universal standards for video, so I sort of make them up on the fly.

Colleagues present a different type of frustration. Thanks to the mandate by our administration, each academic department will make a short presentation about their curriculum to the entire staff. Thus, both of my departments have approached me for technical help, so that we can look hip and with it (There is considerable irony in this, since both groups have been slow to embrace techie stuff). Well, I recently made a suggestion to one department and posted in to our ning:

I propose that we include a 4-5 minute video that features the projects we do. . . . .The video would be composed of 40-50 still photographs and a voice-over narration. Each member would identify a cool project he or she does and collect some digital photographs that capture it.. . . . I am willing to edit the video but would like someone else to quilt the narrative pieces together into a whole script. I can then work on cutting down the photos or narration to fit the project.

I suggested we get started immediately. Well, you can still file this one under Procrastination.

Finally, since so many staff members are unfamiliar with actually creating videos themselves they have an anything-is-wonderful level of discernment for student creations. This semester, I have attended two all-school assemblies where student created videos were projected for the entire student body (at the request of adults, I'm sure). They were awful. In one case the editing was sloppy; in another case the sound was dreadful. The problems were so basic that the productions would never have been approved in other mediums. But since they were videos, it was assumed that something sort of YouTubish would communicate to our student body.

All things tech seem to evolve at a glacial pace in education, including minimal expectations.

"with fear in my eyes . . ." Flickr Creative Commons photo by ifranz

Monday, April 5, 2010


Pardon me, but I'm going to be even more self-indulgent than usual.

Last summer when I came back from the '09 ADE Summer Institute, I was exhilarated, but also awed. I simply felt as though I was not in the same league as the other Apple Educators.

Nevertheless, when I learned that Apple would host an ADE "special event" in Florida this summer, I decided to overcome my apprehensions and apply.

Well, lo and behold, I received my acceptance on Friday. When I expressed astonishment to my wife, Barb, she replied that she expected this, considering my "trajectory since last summer."

Cool word, trajectory. It's been stuck in my head since she said it. Last year's Institute gave me the impetus to try out Challenge Based Learning and the confidence to make presentations. I even put myself forward to conduct the staff in-service on Personal Learning Networks. So I guess I have upped my game over the last year.

By the way, the themes for July's "special event" will be

*24/7 Access to relevant digital repositories through mobile devices.

*New pedagogies for learning, including Challenge Based Learning.

Should be a terrific opportunity to give another boost to my trajectory!

"Estela de vapor" Flickr Creative Commons photo by pablodf

Friday, April 2, 2010

Staggering, Stumbling and Bumbling

I imagine that often this sounds like a tech cheer-leading platform. If so, today, I'd like to offer a corrective. Let's reflect together on some recent things that have not gone particularly well:

1) Blogging on Vlogs. I required many more video blogs this year from my A.P. students than last year. Recently there have been quality control issues. I recently rejected two of them because they were inferior. In both cases the students merely read a script with little understanding and less originality. I like the free-wheeling aspect of this activity, but I guess I will have to set some minimal requirements next time. I also have already decided to reduce the number somewhat.

2) While I have developed schemes for making my group project members more accountable to each other, I haven't made progress improving their time management skills. Recently two groups fell quite short of expectations in building their wikis. They had good ideas, but they simply could not get their acts together in order to create their media. If I impose strict schedules on the groups I am taking too much control away from them. If I nag about deadlines, the main result is stirring up anxiety rather than activity. This is a real head-scratcher, because I am up against the procrastination issues I discussed in a recent post.

3) At their best, the challenge projects allow the groups to exploit the special talents of all members. But there is a downside to this as well. It's common for group members to allow others who already know how to make slide shows , movies, etc. to do all the tech work for the group. Adults would do the same thing of course, but I would like to see the students try new tools. Again, if specific requirements are laid down I interfere with the group dynamics and create a prescribed exercise-- not good.

I'll come back to these issues with some new approaches, next Fall. In the mean time, if you have any suggestions. . . .

"Wipe-out" flickr Creative Commons photo by Mac Sokulski

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