Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Question about the iPad

Flickr CC photo by madichan
In the near future I am going to have an opportunity to be present for an iPad demonstration. I am looking forward to it very much.  My spouse and some of my very good friends have essentially replaced their laptops with iPads. Observing them invites me to think that students could benefit or even thrive with them as compared to equipping them with other devices. The possibilities are exciting, but of course putting one in every student's hands raises all kinds of instructional and technical issues, not to mention the kind of disruption such a major change naturally makes. 

But this post concerns one major question.  Hang in there with me as I explain:

Like many schools which have been in the vanguard of educational technology, we have selected powerful laptops and expensive software for classroom. We have then watched as only a portion of our staff and students really utilize more than the very basic features of the devices and applications. Growth has been gradual, but slow in terms of robust use of these powerful tools. Many teachers still profess a real need for more training with these tools.  From what I understand from my friends in other schools, this is common.

The iPad presents a very different challenge and role for the instructor.  The 140,000 apps that are available for the iPad are perhaps its most attractive feature. An astonishing number of these are useful or powerful tools for learning. Better yet, they are inexpensive and are relatively easy to master quickly.  Consequently, specific apps can be deployed for specific courses at specific times.  This allows the teacher more freedom to innovate and explore different ways to use the iPads. 

But will they?

On the one hand, it seems as though selecting apps for one's own course would be strong motivation for learning the technology.  Or would the range of choice and the dynamic nature of mixing and matching the apps actually work against tech integration?  If the teachers did not exploit the variety and nuances of the apps, one of the great advantages of the iPad would be lost. I personally don't like the "one size fits all" of expensive application suites. But at least training for the apps can be uniform too. 

I don't know how I can really know something like this before implementation. 

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ebooks on the Brain

Flickr CC Photo by kariek
I got myself worked up into a bit of a lather about ebooks last week.  I won't bother you with the details about what exactly triggered it, but I can say in general that I discovered the paucity of ebooks has been a continuing disappointment to the parents at our school.  I think all of us were hopeful that once all of our students purchased laptops they would save money on books and not have to lug their heavy bags around.

Of course, initially, this was pretty much out of our hands.  Digital texts simply were unavailable and those which were offered few advantages.

But due to what I call the "Kindling of America" the landscape has changed.  The notion of a digital text seems less strange and  more and more digital texts are available (Shoot, Project Gutenberg and Google Books now offers thousands of classics for free).  The ground is surely shifting.  In fact I just learned of a projection that 26% of textbook sales will be digital by the year 2015.

Misconceptions about digital books persist based on their rocky start.  I also know first-hand that teenagers in my own classes have shown a reluctance to switch to ebooks even when give a less expensive option, like my AP Government and Politics text.

So, as I said at the top, circumstances have led me to start charging full bore into promoting ebook adoption at our school.  But a couple of colleagues stopped me in my tracks, pointing out to me the difficulties in offering online ebook options to parents.  We have a third party virtual bookstore and it doesn't offer digital editions.  So what do I expect parents to do?  Visit several publishers web sites, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, etc. to round up a school year's worth of books.  The very inconvenience of acquiring the digital editions would undermine any efforts to adopt them.

Imagine my delight then when I discovered at least one vendor which has fashioned "agreements with major publishers to continually add new" ebooks.  I've made contact with them to see how their operations could fit with ours.  Even if they don't, it's a great sign that a technology which has become so popular with consumers may also come out of the closet into our students' hands. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Retro Conference

Flickr CC photo by ville-arles
I attended a very good conference last week, and I do not want the following remarks to suggest otherwise.  It's just that this one was missing a major element that I've become used to by only attending ed tech conferences.  The missing element was any interaction.  Other than an open mic standing in the middle of some 200+ of us, the conversation was one-way.

The speaker was very interesting as a lecturer and he invited questions throughout his four two-hourish sessions.  There was also a short period of time for table discussions.  He had a power point with text of his main points.  There were also paper hand outs each day.  I'm guessing that he has been a successful presenter using this format for a few years now.  So I don't blame him for feeling that my role was to listen and learn from him (as well I did).  But I still really missed reacting with others to his points (and the questions raised at the mic).  What I really missed was a Twitter hash tag for discussing the many points that were made through his program.  If not Twitter, then we would have benefited from some kind of of online forum (not to mention electronic documents rather than the paper ones).

In retrospect, I thought it was interesting that nothing like this had been planned for.  Manybe it was because the conference planners were not into this stuff.  Maybe they supposed the audience wouldn't be into this stuff.  More likely, those who haven't broadened the conversation simply don't know the benefits and might even presume that it would be distracting.

I was surrounded by intelligent educators.  Many were using iPads, laptops, and (peeking) at their smart phones.  I'll make no apology for having my all my gear out.  And no one needs to apologize for not meeting my social media needs-- especially since the program was solid.

But it did make me a little sorry that the interactive features that can add so much to an experience -- before, during, and after -- were not part of an educational conference because it implies that this kind of collaboration is a long way from being a staple in our schools.  Connecting learners with other learners is   a great way to embed knowledge, and these days we have the capacity to do it just about anytime and anywhere.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Jeff Bezos is My Hero" and other links

YouTube Launches Site Specifically for Teachers

The new teachers site is part one of two big initiatives on the part of YouTube geared towards educators.  Teachers can also sign up to become part of the YouTube Teachers Community, a mailing list that allows them to share ideas and best practices.

Do the Opposite
Sometimes innovation stems from just deciding NOT to do something.
Have your desks in rows? Change it up. Let your kids set up the room the way they want.
Find yourself lecturing too much? Don't lecture. Having trouble with the wi-fi? Take the kids out for a walk.

Graphing Calculators Face New Competition
It was once the go-to gizmo for high school math whizzes who prided themselves on their ability to turn complex equations into artsy graphs on a black-and-green screen.But 25 years after the introduction of the graphing calculator, some think it’s starting to seem a little too old-school.
On Strategy
Jeff Bezos is my hero. Every time I think about what Amazon might do, I think "if Jeff Bezos was smart, he would do X". Usually what happens is that they do X in an even more brave and insightful way than I could imagine.

iPads, Apps Transforming U.S. Military
For soldiers in the 21st Century, iPads, iPhones, Androids and other smart devices could eventually be as common on the battlefield as helmets, canteens and rifles. These devices are being tested across all branches of the military.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Toward the M-Hub Launch

The M-Hub Project has been underway since March, 2010.  The student leadership nucleus who took on the project as sophomores are now eager to implement the plan they have designed to connect students with "experts" in the school community like alumnae and parents.

This enterprise has been a great learning experience for all concerned. It has been most gratifying to see the students working side by side with the partners they need to carry out their plans.  This has included regular meetings with the school's webmaster, alumnae director, and database manager.  We quickly discovered that building a database was an extremely tricky proposition.  For the past several months we have been working with the web designer to create a process for alumnae to enter information at our site that then will be searchable by our students.  We have more or less finished this challenging task, and we are drawing closer to our launch.  We are now meeting weekly to meet the following schedule:

* Enlist teachers to help identify standard "tags" for data which might help students with their projects.

* Finish the search tool for our site.

* Finish our "Featured Profile" for the site.

* Beta-test the database by enlisting our "friends of M-Hub to submit data.

* Solicit data from our alumni.

* Launch M-Hub at the January, 2012, staff meeting.

Wish us luck!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Royalty Free Music and Other Great Links

Flickr CC Photo by Joost J. Bakker IJ Muiden Photostream

E-book Publishing Upends a Publishing Course

 In the past year, e-books have skyrocketed in popularity, especially in genre fiction like romance and thrillers. For some new releases, the first week has brought more sales of electronic copies than of print copies. 

A Great Video To Get Students To Think More Carefully About Their Writing

Based on the fact this video has over nine million views on YouTube, I may be the last person who has seen it, but it’s still a great video to get students to think more carefully about their writing

Amazon Rolls out Textbook Rentals for Kindle

The option is already available on "tens of thousands" of textbooks from a number of publishers including John Wiley & Sons, Elsevier and Taylor & Francis. What's more, you can also rest assured that all of your annotations will be saved even after the rental has expired

Tablets Continue to Dent PC Sales
Tablet computers, mostly the Apple iPad at this point, have diverted spending from the PC and laptop. But clearly the competition is affecting computer sales . . .two reports concluded.


Royalty Free Music 2000+ Royalty Free Music Tracks. Downloads or Audio CDs. All Styles

Why Are We Using Standardized Tests to Justify Technology?

Why are some people celebrating the fact that the iPad is being shown to raise test scores?  To me, this seems incongruous and counterproductive.  If we all want to eradicate these dysfunctional assessments because we believe they are faulty measures of learning, then why are we celebrating their ability to measure learning once technology enters into the equation?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Baker's Dozen of Steve Jobs Quotes

CC Photo of Steve Jobs (1955-2011)
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” 

“Sometimes when you innovate, you make mistakes. It is best to admit them quickly, and get on with improving your other innovations.”
“These technologies can make life easier, can let us touch people we might not otherwise. You may have a child with a birth defect and be able to get in touch with other parents and support groups, get medical information, the latest experimental drugs. These things can profoundly influence life. I’m not downplaying that.
“I get asked a lot why Apple’s customers are so loyal. It’s not because they belong to the Church of Mac! That’s ridiculous. It’s because when you buy our products, and three months later you get stuck on something, you quickly figure out [how to get past it]. And you think, ‘Wow, someone over there at Apple actually thought of this!’”

“My model for business is The Beatles.There were four guys who kept each others, kind of, negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other, and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. And that’s how I see business. You know, great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.”

“Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.
“But innovation . . . . comes from saying no to 1,000 things to make sure we don’t get on the wrong track or try to do too much. We’re always thinking about new markets we could enter, but it’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important. 

“It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.”

“I’m an optimist in the sense that I believe humans are noble and honorable, and some of them are really smart. I have a very optimistic view of individuals. As individuals, people are inherently good. I have a somewhat more pessimistic view of people in groups. And I remain extremely concerned when I see what’s happening in our country, which is in many ways the luckiest place in the world. We don’t seem to be excited about making our country a better place for our kids.”
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” 

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” 

Sunday, October 2, 2011

My Presentation Proposals

With my new job I have curtailed my presentation schedule, but I have just submitted proposals for presentations to a state conference and national conference.  Here are my topics:

Free Multimedia Activities for Secondary Students that Don't Gobble Time!

 A high school American Government teacher will show how to introduce robust collaborative, multimedia activities into your curriculum without devoting lots of valuable instruction time to teaching the techonologies themselves.  Multiple activities using Google Sites, Blogger, Google Docs and YouTube (all free!) will be shared.

Teaching Students to Build PLNs through Online Networking with Alumni

Learn how students at MHS network with the school's alumni through an online database.  The best part? This unique solution was designed by students!

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