Tuesday, March 31, 2009

To Leap Forward or Hunker Down?

I believe that political, business, and educational leaders should be advocating bold, broad strokes of policy change during this time of great economic stress. The alternative may be death by a thousand cuts to vital institutions. For tuition funded schools like mine this moment could be an opportunity for developing a revolutionary educational model that will prepare our graduates and the school itself to engage with the brave new world that emerges from this global economic convulsion.

This is no time for educators to cling to the American industrial model of education with its grades, final exams, "departments", lectures, "contact time", term papers, etc. The idea of learning revolving around "subjects" has already become as anachronistic as requiring 21st Century students to do all their research in a library, or the assumption that all important student learning takes place in a school building on a school's schedule. Our nation's future economic prosperity will require citizens who can think critically, problem solve, effectively collaborate, adopt the language of new ideas, and employ new technologies that mutate at ever more rapid speeds. the old model will not provide this need.

I have been examining the "leapfrog paradigm" that the The University of Minnesota has embraced to achieve a "Minnesota Miracle' which would radically transform its undergraduate school into one of the best in the world. The project currently exists in the form as a wiki where all stakeholders can contribute to change. I was startled by the general resemblance between Minnesota's call for action and the school culture projects I recommended in my Staff Development proposal. Of course the Minnesota plan was exceedingly more sophisticated and detailed than my fumblings, but still, when I read the the challenges articulated by Arthur Harkins and John Moravec, I mentally substituted my school
(MHS) for U. of Minnesota:
  • Can MHS shift from industrial/information-age models of human capital preparation to knowledge/innovation models?

  • Can MHS seriously focus on recognizing and developing the uniqueness and variety of [students] through technology-supported, individualized learning services?

  • Can the MHS focus more on student innovations as opposed to context-free testing and rigidly constrained paper topics?

  • Can MHS become more experiential and experimental as it moves toward knowledge based, innovation-supportive learning services?

  • Can MHS provide new subscription networking for its alumni, productively linking them to one another and to . . . students?
Sadly, like many organizations in this brutal recession, my school may be inclined to focus more closely on across the board budget cuts than developing its vision for the future. Our laptop initiative seems to have slipped into an autopilot mode, and I fear that we are losing our advantage to become leaders in educational innovation. During times like these, when it is tempting to hunker down, the leapfrog paradigm has provides me with some real inspiration about what new advancements could be achieved in my own school. What's required in this case is not a cash stimulus, but a major investment of conceptual capital. Let's not be so focused on funding the old that we miss an opportunity to leapfrog.

P.S. March 31 is the Special Olympics' "national day of awareness," a call to Americans to recognize and rethink their use of the word "retard," or as the organization would prefer, the "R-word." Consider clicking your moral support at their Change the Conversation site.
"Escape from Fairy Tale Land" with kind permission of two very talented young photographers, nikki.jane & amina.be.free

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Retiring? NO, Reinventing!

"Ah, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now"
-- from My Back Pages by Bob Dylan

This year, I have frequently been asked the question, "When are
you retiring?" The main reason for this question is fairly obvious. My good friend and office mate announced his retirement early this school year. Never mind that I am seven years younger than he is. What with my balding pate, I probably look older. Besides, I have taught 34 years and for many teachers it's "30 and out".

But I'm not remotely ready. As I told Ann J, early this year, I have the sense of being on top of my game like never before. I've always sought change in my professional life. At first it was new preps in the English Department (at least 11 different courses). Then in the mid 1990s I began teaching American Government. And as this blog attests, the latest version of me is that of Web 2.0 evangelist. My new favorite thing to do at school is conducting staff development workshops on the magic tricks which I have discovered. Being selected as an '09
Apple Distinguished Educator is not the culmination of that new obsession, but the beginning of something even more radical and exciting in my life. I'm not sure where it will lead, but certainly not to early retirement. I've never felt more excited about my professional life.

This post was adapted from a recent Facebook note.

"Carnival Father Time 2" Flickr Creative Commons Photos by dou_ble_uou

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tooting Your Horn

In early February I shared MHS staff development recommendations with the Technology Integration Committee and school administration. Some of the proposals called for organic change to the school culture. I think I made a strong case, but experience tells me that this kind of institutional change of course is rare in an organization of any size.

Nevertheless, I can't for the life of me see why one of my recommendations hasn't been seized upon. I suggested that we take on the school-wide project of creating
"a virtual exhibition space for student performance / exhibitions". Why not? Our students respond with exceptional motivation to performance. Parents and alumni would be pleased. And if we were even somewhat selective about quality, how could this not be an effective marketing device? I really can't see a downside. But rather than railing against the the lack of impact this recommendation has had on the school, I have decided to whip up exhibitions from each of the courses I teach this semester.

Wiki Hall of Fame
I recently sent a press-release of sorts to our communications coordinator with the object of getting my American Government classes' civil rights/liberties wiki projects published in the parent newsletter. After creating the wikis, students
then taught this portion of the curriculum to their classmates. I created a web page attached to my course site for a Wiki Hall of Fame featuring three wikis. Of course the kids were thrilled to be photographed and selected. And less the others feel left out, all the other wikis were linked to the Hall of Fame page as well. So please check out the wikis and give us your feedback!

Shameless Self-Promotion?

Old school sorts may react to the school newsletter "press release" and web site as an exercise in Larry Baker self-promotion. Fine. I plead, "Guilty with premeditation." First, I am consciously trying to define myself as a "go to" educator whose practical classroom experience, creative curriculum development, and enthusiasm for Web 2.0 technologies give him a special skill set. I am certainly not going to let others define me as "techie", "traitor to Luddite cause", "Shakespeare lover", Washed up Basketball Coach" or whatever. (Schools are keen on slotting people that way). And secondly, as I expressed in "Geometrically Progressing. . . ., I am determined to seek multiple consequences from any project that I adopt. In this case, I am executing one of my own proposals (no hypocrite, I!) and doing some branding of "Larry the Consultant" at the same time. TOOT!

On deck?
I have asked my AP students (and their parents) to lift password protection of their Vlogs/blogs, and I am collaborating with another teacher on exhibition of work from Lit into Film students. If all goes according to plan, you'll be able to sample this fare before the school year is done. Stay tuned for more tooting.
"Toot Your Own Horn" with generous permission of 11:30am

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sage Schuste Seduced by Cyberspace?

His disciples lead him in / And he just does the rest / He's got crazy flipper fingers / Never seen him fall /That deaf, dumb and blind kid / Sure plays a mean pinball.
from Tommy

I realize that enthusing about wikis, Google Docs, blogs, and other forms of social media has caused some of my colleagues to question my values, loyalty or even sanity. I suppose I can see how they might think I am drunk on the idea of Web 2.0 being the answer to everything. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth. I am into teaching with the best tool for the task
, not preferring the new one for its own sake. And frankly, I still believe what David Brooks recently noted in the Times:

We’ve spent years working on ways to restructure schools, but what matters most is the relationship between one student and one teacher.

It's been my privilege to teach next door to 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. He has a remarkable ability to do this with keen humor, yet tenderness; great rigor, but unique sensitivity. Boy, do the students respond. And some are forever changed. But
after forty-one years in the classroom, Tom Schusterbauer is getting set to retire in June.

You might suppose at this point that I am on the verge of recanting my profession of faith in the ability of new technology to change education...... Naw.

Though Tom has claimed that he is "no techie" and even "befuddled" by tech, I like many of his "friends", read these statements online, thanks to his recent discovery of Facebook. Talk about a marriage of message and messenger! He has virtually exploded as a one-man super nova of networking with the students who have passed through his classroom semester after semester for forty-one years. His teaching persona has become crystallized online and threatens to thrive well beyond his classroom days. His exquisite "notes" are not to be missed, sometimes producing dozens of responses to his thought-provoking reflections on life.
(Does he realize that he is blogging?). If he is no techie, how has he mastered the Goliath of all social media? When I "friended" him, he had just written "In Defense of Facebook." (Hmn....Can you say, "Web 2.0 evangelist"?). I chuckle at his protestations about tech, but I am truly astonished by his Facebook tour de force, and love to check online for his musings, even though we are office mates.

You see, it's not a choice between people and machines. It's about teaching. And someone who is passionate about connecting with students will want to try new ways to teach as the world changes. Web academic, Danah Boyd, recently remarked at the Microsoft Techfest:

Social media is here to stay. Now we just have to evolve with it.

Evolving with it does not mean surrendering our passion for teaching. In fact as Tom has shown, it can amplify our passions far beyond the physical and temporal limitations of classrooms and school years.

"Captain Fantastic...." Creative Commons Flickr Photo by Gregory Wild-Smith

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Larry's Adventures in Wiki Land, Part 2

Whew! My American Government students' wikis are done. You may recall from Part One, the students were charged with assembling curriculum materials for a civil rights or civil liberties project. They then taught this portion of the curriculum to their classmates. I'd like to share some observations on this experience while the memories are fresh:

* More students were actively engaged with the wikis than comparable "paper" report projects of the the past.

* I found it necessary to intervene mid-point in order to remind some groups that the wiki materials should be prepared to instruct their
peers rather than impress me. The instructional design feature still ended up being the weakest aspect of the wikis. This point would need more emphasis in the future.

* Students reported that the projects were "challenging" (good!). But there were no complaints from parents or students about anyone being thoroughly overwhelmed or confused. I enjoyed serving as a guide, and though I was involved inside and outside the class I never felt overwhelmed either. In most groups a tech-adept person surfaced to teach others or take over the reigns for pulling together the PowerPoint.

*Retrospectively, students expressed that they needed more time to meet (in physical space) as they neared the deadline (as opposed to the early stages). I can see why, particularly as related to page design and PowerPoint issues. Point noted for next time.

*Some students reported that they initially had trouble conceiving the idea of the wiki and that consequently the groups set unrealistic goals for themselves. Now, I will have models to show others.

*All of the wikis had solid instructional value, but the study guides which accompanied the wikis were sort of useless because they were overwhelming in quantity of questions. In the future I would adivise the students to provide fewer study questions and better directions on where to look in the wiki in order to find the answers. The embedded slide shows were outstanding, though we had to trouble-shoot some minor technical challenges getting them onto the wiki.

*The most gratifying aspect of the wikis were the variety of media employed. A few groups created their own videos. These were very effective and I will encourage more original material in the future.

* The in class presentations based on the the wikis were several cuts above the usual fare. Our Associate Principal was present for two and was very impressed. In nearly every case the students showed a strong command of the material. I credit the wiki building experience as rooting the knowledge more deeply in the presenters.

*You would like to see the wikis, perhaps? I plan to share them on March 25, when I post, "Tooting Your Horn"
Screen Capture of "American Government Wiki Hall of Fame"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Techno Topsy-Turvy

Recently, a very bright former student of mine, Elisa Gomez, contacted me through Facebook. Elisa is now in law school, and when she learned about my exploration of Web 2.0, she posted an interesting reaction on my Wall:

....well, to be honest, i think that i spent most of my mandatory school years being told that "those durn computers" aren't worth much/are useless/are a distraction. even now, law school professors are pretty suspicious of how everyone is taking notes on their laptops. I think I'd probably be a little freaked out to suddenly have my teachers promoting online collaboration as valuable and a worthwhile tool. When I was in high school, I was pretty sure I was on the cutting edge and everyone over 30 was stuck in the past. Turning that topsy-turvy is never comfortable!

Upon reflection, it occurred to me that since getting into tech, I have witnessed a number of things go topsy-turvy:

* Some of my most politically progressive colleagues have arch-conservative attitudes towards tech.

* After 41 years of reading his students' work, a retiring teacher has discovered Facebook and now hundreds of present and former students read his "Notes" for a change (More on this, Sunday).

* After a lifetime of trusting newspapers, magazines, and journals to filter information for me, I vet my own experts and do most of my reading through Tweets and Google Reader.

* As we all know, teachers with seniority often seek out the experience of young teachers for tech guidance.

* Media Specialists now lead curriculum discussions rather than merely serving as support staff.

* Though I often blog about my school, the Drive-thru probably has had more visitors from other countries (25) than from MHS.

*Based on my reading, I have the impression that Web 2.0 use as an instructional tool is more prevalent in elementary classrooms than the halls of higher education.

Do you have any examples to add to my list, or would you remove something?

"Head over Heels" with kind permission of Heaven's Gate (John)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Web Sites for School

I was not one of the first teachers at my school to build a web site. But during the summer of '07 I purchased iLife and became fascinated with the idea of constructing a personal web site hosted on MobileMe, that displayed my interests, photos, mp3's, etc. Admittedly I went somewhat overboard, but iWeb provides wonderful tools for adorning a site, and at that time, it was my only vanity badge on the Web. It was linked to the school site my email signatures, so I logged plenty of visitors. Ironically, since placing profiles on Twitter, Facebook, ALI, etc., I have actually pared back my personal web site abit. Portions had come to seem redundant. The only recent innovation has been the inclusion of more video. But I intend to keep the site going for the foreseeable future. After all, I do not "Friend" my current students and this is a non-interactive way that they and others can learn more about me.

My next web site venture was the development of a Mercy Shakespeare Society site. Linked to the school web site, it was intended to be an advertisement for prospective members and a bulletin board for current ones. To date, the site has logged over 850 visitors, but I have to confess that I have been disappointed that the members do not regularly use it as a source of information. I may not update it so frequently, next school year.

I am proudest of the web site for my courses, which is intended for parents and other stakeholders. I aggressively championed the site through notes sent home and by linking the course site to the school site. Well, last week we had Parent Teacher Conferences, and it was depressingly clear that these well designed, informative sources did little to diminish the banality of the "how is she doing" conversations. When I referenced information on the site, few parents even showed the barest recognition, or mumbled a vague intention to "check it out" later. At this point, I am questioning how much further time and effort to invest in this project.

Much more satisfying has been the site hosting my AP American Government and Politics vlogs. iWeb has an excellent blogging template that allows me to post my students videos and then host an online conversation about the video. Currently, the site is password protected, but at some point in the near future I hope to showcase this to my faithful readers. I am excited about vlogging and intend to use next month in my Film class . I also look forward it exploring iWeb09. which Apple just sent me through the ADE program. I'll let you know what I discover.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

QRS Redux

On January 6, I conducted an in-service for fellow teachers on tech time-savers. I followed this up with a presentation called QRS (Quick-Rich-Simple) for the English Department. While in-services are now indefinitely on hold, I'd like to offer another QRS set in this post.

A Published Calendar I wonder if my tech-leery peers know how easy it is to publish a calendar and then link it to Moodle. I'm partial to iCal myself, but I am also familiar with Google Calendar , and it offers many of the same features. I have chosen iCal to provide all my work and personal calendars because...

1) It synchs all my computers as well as my iTouch. Like Google Calendar it thrives in the Cloud.

2) One can easily publish a calendar as an html. Consequently, I can make up a detailed calendar of class assignments, publish it, and then copy & paste to Moodle. Presto, the students can easily consult a calendar that is easily updatable.

Temporary Delicious Tags Ironically I have not exploited the social bookmarking feature of Delicious which has made it so popular. Nevertheless, it is a key feature of my daily computing life. The tag features combined with Firefox Toolbar allow me to place any set of bookmarks one click away. And here's a wonderful teaching application: Suppose that you are prepping for a day's lesson by doing some online research. As you find your charts, graphs, photos; mark them with a unique tag. Later, you access them as a group, edit, and then select pop them into your toolbar for class. If you wish, you can connect to a data projector and share them as you go through your lesson (and/or the kids can subscribe to this unique tag). I use this shortcut all the time in my social studies classes.

iTunes University If you have not done so already, the next time you visit the iTunes Store, check out this marvelous collection of academic lectures. Choose your field, whether it is literature or mathematics and you will find something compelling from one of the world's greatest universities. By and large, these lectures are more suited for a college educated person like you than your students. But for your own edification or enjoyment, you can access them free of charge and then subscribe, download to iPod, or burn to CDs.

Would you like to share a QRS tip on my blog? Email me!

iTunes University screen capture with Preview, 2/27/09

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Tech Troika

I enjoy recommending these three articles because they reflect my current reading style. The first is from Slate which feeds wonderful articles about politics and technology into my Reader. The second is a blog that came from a Tweet recommendation. Finally, the good old New York Times. The great grey lady is not only making creative efforts to adapt to 21st century communication models, its technology writers provide a source of interesting commentary.

Satellite Diss A lifetime ago, when I was in an ed tech doctoral program at U of M, I took two classes at the business school and developed a fascination with reading case studies. I've followed the decline of Sirius XM with morbid interest and believe it provides an analogy for education. Given the ascendancy of cell phones, who would have ever guessed that satellite radio was hitching its fate to the wrong technology? Future technologies are ridiculously difficult to forecast, so why do school boards and administrations place gigantic economic bets on hardware and software. If it were my call, I would invest in Wi-Fi connectivitiy, teacher training, iTouch, and Notebooks in that order. Focus on connectivity and Freeware!

The Objective of Education is Learning, not Teaching This article really made an impression on me. I have determined to put more of the course curriculum into the students' hands so that they can experience the deeper understanding that an explainer-teacher has when he or she thinks through a learning design.

Digital Archivists, Now in Demand It often seems as though we set up false choices when we discuss educational technology (see Swimming with a School....). Choosing between advancing facility with technology and a liberal arts educuation is one such false choice. Read this New York Times article and consider how much technology has done to preserve the past, and then enjoy the academic backgrounds of the the digital archivists who have drifted in the field. The was very satisfying to someone like me who believes in both.
"My Amateur Radio Station in mid 70's"with kind permission from my new Brazilian Flickr friend, Angatuba-Legionaire

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Film Tech

I have always absolutely loved teaching my Literature into Film class. The opportunities for variety are endless, and it's hard to make a really bad choice of film. Through recent years, technology has had a dramatic impact on the course, and always for the better.

Switching from VHS to DVD format totally changed my teaching approach as did the proliferation of data projectors in the school. Now most class discussions are based on watching an array of film clips, something that was impossible to a significant degree with the video tape that required so much time to wind forward or back. The data projector allows us to examine the frame in outstanding detail.

When I updated my study guides for this school year, I embedded them with hyperlinks. Now they pop out with YouTube and jpeg examples of film techniques that were merely defined in prior semesters.

I have also decided to overhaul the big course project, a comparison of two films. This year students will be required to compare a film and a later adaptation. The project will be composed of three components:

1) Detailed notes on both films

2) A comparison / contrast paper

3) a review of one of the films.

For 2009, I will introduce two major 21st centruy components to the project.

For the paper, students must do some research on the director of each film and use it in the introductory paragraphs. In the past, I have encouraged online research cited with the use of the usual MLA format. This time, I am urging them to opt for the alternative of turning in their paper electronically in a Word, Page, or Google Doc format with hyperlinks to the sources. As I have indicated in Hyperlink Heaven, I think that this is the research model of the future.

Encouraged as I have been by my AP Gov vlogs, video will now be used as well in this class. Students are now directed to make a three minute video critique of one of the films which will then be posted to MobileMe (Thank you, Apple, for the free subscription). The class will be able to see each others' videos at this site.

Finally, I have invited one of the other film teachers to collaborate with me in posting some of our film students' most inventive works (such as the best videos) on a special web gallery space that I create for the purpose. This is my little way of furthering one of the goals for our school that I suggested in Staff Development, Part Three.

I'll report back on the success or failure of these innovations in a couple of months.

"Sanjuro" Flickr Creative Commons photo courtesy of p373

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Swimming with a School of Red Herrings

My December post, Wrap that Red Herring in Paper, concerned a brouhaha at school over whether digital communication should eliminate paper altogether. Framed in such a ridiculous way, the debate allowed technology Naysayers to indignantly defend their use of paper. We never even discussed the reasonable matter of whether digital communication might not be better suited for many of our communications (rather than all). In this context I used "red herring" to describe a diversion that distracted from the main argument. Since that time I have encountered some other ed tech red herrings.

"I don't have time to integrate technology". Interesting. Isn't this the same lame excuse we hear from our students? Implicitly speaks to priorities, doesn't it? As applied to technology I find the excuse rather ironic, since in many cases time would be greatly saved in the long run (see Using Mp3s in Education). And if the ever-so-busy teacher means classroom time, it might be useful to have someone else look over the syllabi and suggest where time savings might be realized. It's been my experience that teaching a particular lesson class after class sometimes gives us the idea that it is essential. A few nips and tucks might give us more time.

"We Mustn't Lose Face to Face Social Interaction". Simply because technology allows for collaboration to occur anytime and anywhere does not mean face-to-face has no value. When I assign collaborative projects, I always allow for in-person meetings. These sessions are provided for hammering out logistics rather than tooling around on the computers. Social media does not eliminate the usefulness physical meetings, unless by "face to face" the teacher means "I want you to take notes while I talk and see your face." I hope these teachers who fret about losing valuable "face to face" opportunities to technology also reconsider the social benefits of work sheets, reading time, lectures, etc. What exactly is the social benefit of those in-person activities? By the same token, administrators who are calling for more collaboration should reconsider how the school schedule might be adjusted to fit more flexible meeting demands.

"We have to use technology because these kids have grown up with it". The ed tech evangelists love to point to Facebook, cell phones, YouTube, and video games to argue that popular technology has made our students receptive to or even dependent upon technology for learning. Sorry, but down here in the trenches an assignment is still an assignment for my students. And they are still inclined to look for short cuts and complete the bare minimum even if all the bells and whistles of technology are used. They need to be prodded and encouraged whether the demands include technology or not. Those in the ivory tower would probably blame this on "bad design." Nonsense. Our students need to learn to solve problems and think and sometimes their lack of curiosity and motivation undermine the method regardless of how much it resembles their favorite past times. Challenging students and teaching them to problem solve is more important than giving them toys. An engaged, inspiring teacher will always be more critical to their education than a delivery system.

Are there any tech red herrings that bug you? Perhaps some of my own? Please join in.
"red herring" Flickr photo with permission by JudyGr

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