Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hard Fun

I was a recipient of a recent email by Dr. Rae Niles* in which she referenced Seymour Papert's concept of "Hard Fun".  The phrase whacked me right between the eyes.  Monday through Friday, last week, I was engaged in "hard fun."

On Monday and Tuesday I was mentoring two Challenge Based Learning teams - one from Toledo Central Catholic High School and the other from LeGrande (IL) Highlands Middle School. Both groups were straining like mad to get from "big ideas" to interdisciplinary action plans for projects they could launch with their students immediately.  This was a hard task made no easier by the Geography-Science-Language Arts and Math-Science-Language Arts groupings of the teachers.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday I engaged with challenge teams at Mercy.  We tried to wrestle big ideas like global citizenship, right to life, and Reimagining Detroit into challenges for our students.  This was literally exhausting.  After one period our principal, Carolyn Witte,  said that the experience gave her a headache by thinking so hard!

Yes, this is hard.  But for me, absolutely fun and intellectually challenging.  I like this as much as anything I do professionally, and will be on the lookout for as much "hard fun" as I can find and the immeasurable value it has for education at our school.

*Rae currently is national manager professional development manager for Apple.
Flickr CC photo by Peter Gerdes

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Five Featured Resources

Five Charmers!

If you did not see this in the Times, check it out
Ten Ways to Get the Most out of Technology

What an outstanding app:
The National Archives iPad App

Indispensable for teachers venturing into Web 2.0
35 Best Web 2.0 Classroom Tools

I was stunned when Susan Smith sent me one of these:
Play your video files in Google Docs!

Julene Reed is an incredible ed tech resource:
iPads and Mobile Media in Education

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Customizing Professional Development on the Fly

If you have been visiting the Drive-thru this semester,  you know that I have been journaling my experiences and materials as a professional development leader.  Our staff met with me twelve times during the first semester in professional cluster groups (PCGS). There were five groups and they constituted one "prep" of my assignment.

The focus of the PCGS has been the implementation of Challenge Based Learning.  This semester our registrar magician, Colleen Rozman, managed to schedule CBL design teams into the PCGs.  Consequently these teams have a regularly scheduled period for workshopping their projects.  My goal is to customize the professional development experience to each team's needs.  I began by asking them to respond to a survey, allowing me to get a sense of what each team needs right now and to get them thinking about vital issues for their CBLs like technology and assessment.  Here's the survey:

The survey activity has allowed me to develop distinct agendas for our next cycle of meetings.  Topics like the following have surfaced:

 * How will we assess the degree to which our students' consciousness of global citizenship has been raised?

* How do we word a challenge so that it is "actionable."

* How much should the challenge "count" in the total course grade?

* How do we weight the relative importance of process v. product in assessment.

As you can see, these are "real world" issues about Challenge Based Learning.  They also lead to important discussions about education. (In this instance process is as important as product.
Flckr CC photo by hugochisolm

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Visit with Belton ISD

I had the privilege Friday of visiting with members of the central administration of Belton ISD about the iPad initiative at their new middle school.  Apple Education brought me in to answer questions about Challenge Based Learning.  In particular the administrators were interested in staff support and professional development. 

Before I left Michigan, I asked Mercy's President, Dr. Cheryl Delaney-Kreger, what factors she thought were critical for a school embracing an innovative learning design.  One of the first things that she stressed was staunch administrative backing for such an enterprise.  And, boy, has Belton got it!  The Superintendent Dr. Susan Kincannon, her assistants, directors and principals showed remarkable enthusiasm for the project.  Building architecture, technology, staffing and professional development plans all seem lined up for CBL success.  I learned a great deal from my visit and sincerely hope to stay in close touch with them through their adventure.  

Here's a recent local television piece about an exemplary Belton teacher who is clearly an iPad pioneer.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Faster, Lighter, Less Expensive-- Here They Come!

After reading "The Death of the Hard Drive" by Jeremy Kaplan, I couldn't help but thinking of schools-- which tend to lag so far behind cutting edge-- which were investing huge bucks in desktop or laptop computers loaded up with thousands of dollars on their hard drives.  With that in mind, read these excerpts:

The Chrome OS will  . . . stores everything -- files, applications, data bits and bytes, literally everything -- on online servers rather than on your home or office PC. . . .

The Apple iPad has no drive, and the newest MacBook Air laptop skips a hard drive entirely as well; they all rely on flash memory chips for storage. . . .

"As interesting as what it has is what it doesn't have," CEO Steve Jobs said when he unveiled the computer in October. By going with flash memory, Jobs claimed that the new MacBook Air would be 80% smaller, two times faster, and more reliable -- and like an iPad, it would turn on instantly, rather than booting up as other computers do. . . .

As tablets and ebooks become more prevalent, we'll see more devices and fewer hard drives, agrees Ross Rubin, director of industry analysis for NPD data.

The future of computing is the cloud which allows for more agility and far less expense.For those schools that have made big investments in gear, it's time to cut their losses and start looking at Macbook Air, Chrome OS, and iPad.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Health Care Challenge

All school year, I have been mulling over my challenge for my AP American Government and Politics students.  The materials from last year's challenge have essentially gone viral, going to iTunesU, appearing on an Apple Education webcast, used to seed a new CBL Community online web site, etc.  In other words, I've been feeling some pressure. It's not pressure to "top" last year's experience, exactly.  No, it's pressure to give this year's students a fighting chance to have a great learning experience.  Here's the challenge:

Devise a plan for reducing health care costs for a cohort in your personal network and share it with a panel of health care professionals.

The idea for health care as a "big idea" came to me through an email on which I was copied.  Several ADE's had been invited to submit a response to an issue regarding a new CBL Teacher's Guide.  In his submission, Marco Torres floated an essential question about  health care which I modified as a point of departure in my class. The idea for having the students present to a panel of experts came from my colleague, Cindy Richter. In a recent professional development group, she floated a scheme of having her econ students develop business plans and then pitch them to people in the community with the expertise to evaluate it.  I thought this was a fantastic concept and decided to bake it right into my students' challenge.

If you would like to see the entire challenge design, click the following:

I'll keep you posted on the students' progress!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Adaptive Learning

I  recommend that you read Is the Googlefication of Education Underway?Scott Ulster describes how Arizona State and online startup Knewton have partnered to create adaptive online courses.

Knewton has been offering online test prep courses (SAT, LSAT, etc), but in its new partnership, the company will us its "adaptive learning platform" to develop two primary and two remedial math courses for ASU.  Most universities offer some kind of online learning, but in most cases they "simply dump course content online for their students to download."  Knewton will offer a far more nuanced experience:

As a student progresses through a Knewton course, the system gathers more and more information about the student; how he or she learns best, what bores them, what concepts they know well (or don't know well), even at what time of day they perform best.
In an introductory algebra course, for instance, if a student is stronger with, say, linear equations and weak with exponents, the course will emphasize exponents as it progresses. If a student learns better with video, the course will add more video elements to future lessons.
Similar to the way that Google (GOOG) collects data based on its users' search patterns, Knewton collects data from every student that has taken one of its courses and uses it to improve its courses. Eduational content that achieves better student results will then be ranked higher in the system and be used more often. Ideally, the system becomes smarter and better over time.
Earlier this school year, I asked my colleagues to consider what unique value they brought to their students' experience in the courses they taught.  This question was not a put-down.  Instead I wanted them to reflect on which elements might be replaceable with an online course (drilling, providing information, etc.) versus which elements they contributed with their unique talents and experiences.  Since we teach at a tuition-based school, it seems very important to me that the courses of study that we offer completely distinguish us from less expensive alternatives.  After reading this article about Knewton, I have decided to revisit this topic with even more urgency!
------------------------------------------------- logo pictured above.

Friday, January 14, 2011

"We Are Our Networks"

I am presently engaged in three major educational technology endeavors:

*Challenge Based Learning -- I am immersed in the CBL community through authoring, advocacy and instruction.

*M-Hub -- The knowledge hub project stems directly from my experiences with Challenge Based Learning.  Our team is developing a database of experts within our school community (alumni, parents, staff) which can assist students with research and developing learning network skills.

*iPod touch -- I have teamed with art, French, and science teachers to develop a CBL challenge this spring using iPod touches.

All of these activities owe a great debt to George Siemens’s thinking on “Connectivism”.  Recently he gave a presentation that superbly expresses the philosophy of what I am trying to do these days:

     A community or group is defined by its connections – how people are connected to each other and to the world outside. Relationships are tight-knit. Everyone knows everyone. Social circles, church, school are all part of our social networks, providing a shaping influence on possible connections we draw between concepts, information sources, world views, and even other people. . . .

     When connections calcify and become dogma and rigid structure, they fail to represent the chaotic and continually shifting world outside.
     To map at least partly to reality – the rapidly shifting world of education, commerce, and science – we require innovation and creativity; both of which are fundamentally about drawing novel connections. While growing up, a false boundary was drawn around what was knowable. As a result, all aspects of life were shaped by the known connections: cause/effect, identity/government, etc. The network – tightly nit and highly exclusionary – was the measure of our society. We could grow no more than the freedom of connectedness that we permitted through our social systems and norms. . . . .

     The solutions we need to address societies biggest problems – warming, population growth, poverty – will be found through serendipity, through chaotic connections, through unexpected connections. Complex networks with mesh-like cross-disciplinary interactions provide the needed cognitive capacity to address these problems. . . .

    Confinement of connections – which influence social cohesion and knowledge growth – are also a core problem in classrooms and education.

     The beauty of chaos, of serendipitous encounters, of information clashing with information – is too often subverted to rule, to structure so that it can be better controlled.
     We are our networks

The connections we participate in form our identities. We – you, I – know what our networks know.

"A Model of Multiplicity Frickr CC jpeg courtesy of monsieur paradis

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baker's Dozen

We (the Mercy staff) finished the first semester with a twelfth round of professional cluster group  meetings. These PCGs are designed to train teachers in Challenge Based Learning Design and allow for the discussion of topics related to Tony Wagner's 21st "survival skills. In this one I pounded away at a topic near and dear to my heart-- assessment. 

My tech tip pointed to the word cloud application, Wordle.  Ironically, my heart was not particularly in this one because I'd never seen that much use for word clouds.  Fortunately, my peers pointed to a number of uses ranging from ice-breakers to t-shirt creation.  Another site was also noted that I will keep undisclosed so I can use it for a future tech tip, myself!

But the main focus was on this point:  As a school we are trying to cultivate Wagner's "survival skills:

✦ critical thinking/problem solving
✦ collaboration/leading by influence
✦ agility and adaptability
✦ initiative and entrepreneurialism
✦ effective oral and written communication
✦ accessing and analyzing information
✦ curiosity and imagination

How do we measure these?  Do we simply ignore the acquisition of these skills because we are only use to using other instruments like multiple choice tests for measuring knowledge gained?

My intention was to provoke reflection on these questions and tee us up for some practical engagement with this issue next semester as we make more progress with our new cross school learning plans.  I also shared some of my own experiences with assessment through presentation, narrative, rubric, and podcast reflections.  Most groups ended with a consideration of issues related to these different assessment tools.

The photo in the screen capture of my slide is licensed through Creative Commons by tubachuck.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Recent Reads

Over the Christmas holidays I took some flack from my family for-- as an English major and teacher-- not having read recent fiction.  But I have been reading and wish to recommend that you check in on a few articles.

Rethinking Advanced Placement -
Fewer facts to memorize and more critical thinking?  It's about time-- the AP Biology and AP U.S. History exams are getting a makeover.

Review of Comparing Survey Applications
I have been using Zoomerang.  But based on this comparison I think I'll give SurveyMonkey a try.

After Strong Holiday Sales for E-Readers, E-Books Outselling Print -
As I write this blog in a coffee shop, I see a couple of customers with e-readers.  But the only books I see are text books.  Ironically, these only made-of paper books I'd really like to see disappear, and they have the most staying power.

More Schools Embrace the iPad as a Learning Tool -
The Detroit Public Schools just purchased $49 million of "computers" for students.  I'd feel much better if they had invested in iPads.  They could have more of them and the students and staff could figure out uses for them in minutes.

Research: The Educational BS Repellent | Connected Principals
This article reviews a book which convincingly challenges a number of common assumptions about education.

"BeBook" Flickr CC photo by Nimages DR

Friday, January 7, 2011

A New Challenge!

I'm very excited by today's announcement at Mercy that four of us will be engaging in some intense training for a spring Challenge Based Learning implementation.  Our tool of choice?  iPod touches.  I wonder what an art, language, science and English teacher can cook up for their students.  This inter-disciplinary project will be a real stretch for us given the time constraints, but I am on a terrific team, and it will be fun to leverage those 32GB iPod touches that each of our students will have.

I'll keep you posted on our progress!

iPod Touch Creative Commons photo by Sheldon Pax

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Finding Authentic Audiences (PCG #11)

It was my intention that arecent professional development session would focus two topics: authentic audiences and assessment.  But a number of factors caused us to only consider the latter-- "Authentic Audiences."

Publishing the challenge solution to an audience beyond the classroom is a key element of CBL, because it "raises the bar" for students.  It's been an interesting concept to work through with teachers.  On the one hand, if they have coached a team or moderated an activity like MUN or the school play, an outside audience seems entirely natural.  But the majority of us usually leave performance in the classroom or publication on the teacher's desk.

During this past week's group sessions, I also provided my first tech tip with a price tag: 1Password.  Having  fallen into some very bad password habits,  I've quickly become hooked on 1Password to improve my security while keeping all kinds of data at my beck and call.  I've been using it to keep track of my passwords, generate new ones, store credit card information, and identity info for auto-filling forms.

I also used the most recent PCGs to expound on M-Hub-- a topic I have been gushing about recently in this space as well!  So I if you want an M-Hub update, just check out Knowledge Hubs Rock!

We have one more PCG this semester.  Hopefully,  we can begin to consider the important topic of assessment.  Here are the slide from "Authentic Audience":

Neither Cheaters nor their Teachers Prosper

Flickr CC photo by Mr_Stein
Recently I attended a meeting with a dedicated group of teachers that left all of us pretty frustrated.

During my strolls through the building, I had more than once upon students who openly seemed to be copying each others' work sheets.  This led to the meeting with their teachers, because when I tried to determine whether or not it was ok, both the students and teachers seemed ambivalent about it, yet in two cases the teachers felt that there might be a distinction between "asking help on one answer" or copying whole sale.

Of course there are all kinds of circumstances where sharing answers might be desirable.  But in these cases, my impression was that someone had not done her homework and was eager to have something to turn in, regardless.  And even if this was not the case, I wondered what the point was of a student "turning in" even one answer that she didn't know (whether she had tried or not).

That scenario is pretty depressing, because that means learning has dropped out of the equation.  Someone is busy pretending learning nothing, and the teacher may be checking or even grading work the student hasn't done.  It becomes a weird ritual.

This post is not bashing homework assignments or even work sheets.  I see it as legitimate to ask questions about an assignment to read or practice skills through a work sheet.  I, like some of the teachers I met with, have also tried to find ways to give students credit for effort and work ethic, particularly if they did not perform well on tests.

But I'm not sure that we should "grade" practice.  I also decided some time ago that if I assigned questions to go with a reading, I would assess understanding of basic points with a short quiz rather than simply accept answers that might have been copied from a book or friend.

We earnestly discussed these issues, but I felt as though we were kind of boxed in by the nature of these particular assignments.  Most of the group seemed resigned that a certain amount of copying would likely take place, but that it would ultimately catch up with the student at test time.  True, I suppose, but it still troubled me to think that that the very nature of this methodology tempted students not to learn, or even worse, pressured students into disguising the fact that they did not understand.

Since the meeting, I had two thoughts:

1) Online courses are probably more effective with this kind of methodology.  A student progresses through the course individually and must work through all of the information in order to progress.  Short cuts are more difficult and there is no one's work to substitute.

2) This reminded me why I found Challenge Based Learning so attractive with its focus on solutions and the possibility of showing learning through failure as well as success.  Granted, not every team member may carry her weight, but the varied means of assessment make it pretty easy to distinguish those who do and those who don't.  It is also easier to measure of depth of understanding.

No methodology is perfect.  But at least CBL changes all the rules of the game.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Music to My Ears

I really dislike the "top ten" lists that fill the news media at year's end.  But I am going to indulge myself with a set of my own, anyway.  I absolutely love music and listen to it constantly-- at home, at work, in the car.  I always listen when I write this blog.  And though I am an avid movie watcher, I sometimes mix things up by watching concert videos.

So below you will find three lists.  My CD list includes my top ten choices of non-jazz albums  that I listened to for the first time, this year.  I went through fazes of intense listening to blues and country-alt which you will find represented in this list.   For the past month I have been listening to jazz, jazz, and more jazz; so I created a special category for this genre.  And then finally, I list my top ten musical DVDs.

In each case, I put my very favorite at the top of the list, but the others are randomly ordered.  And remember, these are not necessarily new recordings.  They were simply new to me in 2010.


Son Volt: Retrospective: 1995 - 2000

Rosanne Cash: The List

Gillian Welch: Revival

Joe Bonamassa: The Ballad Of John Henry

Harvey Reid & Joyce Andersen: Christmas Morning

The Derek Trucks Band: Roadsongs

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs

Lucinda Williams: Sweet Old World

Silversun Pickups: Swoon

Leon Russell & Elton John: The Union


Steve Kuhn  Plays Standards

Alan Broadbent Trio  - Moment's Notice

Blue Mitchell - The Cup Bearers

Charlie Haden - The Private Collection

Larry Coryell & Miroslav Vitous - Dedicated to Bill Evans and Scott La Faro

Melody Gardot - My One And Only Thrill

Ray Brown Trio - Souler Energy

Rickey Woodard - California Cookin’

Tom Harrell - Paradise

Warren Vaché & Allan Vaché - "Remember" (Remastered reissue of Mrs. Vaché's Boys)


Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense

Rolling Stones: Rock and Roll Circus

The 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Concerts

R.E.M.: Perfect Square

Peter Frampton: Live in Detroit

Lucinda Williams: Live from Austin, TX

Joe Bonamassa: Live From Royal Albert Hall

Stephen Stills &  Manassas: Live

The T.A.M.I. Show

The Best of Sessions at West 54th: Vol. 1

"frozen music" Flickr CC photo by cbmd

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