Monday, November 30, 2009

Embracing Failure

As I have reported from time to time in this space, I the centerpiece of my American Government students is "The Game" -- a legislative simulation played toward the end semester. Last year I developed a full fledged online edition, requiring each student to create a web site for the character she portrayed in the game. Going high tech produced a number of successes and failures which I reflected upon in Web 2.0 Simulation Post-Mortem.

My biggest error was unwittingly putting myself in the middle of far too much web activity. I allowed the game and project requirements bombard me with emails and force me to go back to the student web sites again and again. After launching the game with great enthusiasm in all three sections, I barely enjoyed any of the cool things that came out of it. Each night I would respond to numerous student emails and and check dozens of student web sites. Playing the game in three classes simultaneously proved to be overwhelming.

So, here I am again, launching three simulations, simultaneously. But I've learned from the school of hard knocks, instituting three major changes to shift or share more responsibility with the students.

1) Last year I asked students to email me the url of their web sites so that I could post them for the class. Pretty stupid. Utterly confusing and inefficient. This year I created a wiki and listed all the students' names on a page. I asked the students to request an invitation to the wiki which are easy to accept at the Wikispaces site. Students are then required to link their sites to the wiki. It took about five minutes in class to show them how.

2) I am recruiting students to evaluate each other's sites, determining whether the required "stuff" has been posted. This can be done through a blind process (students of one class will check the "characters' sites of another). I am awarding a bit of extra credit for the service. Having those eyes and ears poking through the sites will be a major relief. This year I should be able to look each site over once.

3) Students will complete a check list self-evaluation which they will submit at the end of the project. This is intended to improve responsibility and also relieve me from going on wild goose chases, looking online for artifacts that don't even exist because the student missed a deadline.

I suspect that I will be noting some new failures in my next post-mortem. But it's hard to keep moving forward without having some choice mistakes point you in the right direction.

"epic fail :)" Flickr Creative Commons photo courtesy of anna

Friday, November 27, 2009

Personal Branding

Personal branding? Isn't that incredibly narcissistic for a teacher? After all, aren't we supposed to be quietly and diligently urging our students along? Decorating bulletin boards, preparing lessons, handing out work sheets, staying after school to give extra help, correcting spelling, meeting with parents, recording grades, passing them along to the next grade, and then enjoying a few relaxing summer weeks at the lake are all pretty below the radar activities.

Pardon me if I make a little more noise than this. I see myself in much different terms than a tutor, clerk, or classroom manager. I don't see myself as the teacher of a "subject". And I no longer see myself as I used to in terms of my notes, my books, lesson plans, or my "stuff." These days I would no more put one of my books out at Open House than I would t a pencil, a stapler, or a shoe. Instead, I send my students have them discuss their projects and show off their communications media.

Going through two days of exercises on personal branding exercises at the ADE Summer Institute was a valuable experience for me. It allowed me to really focus in on a digital educator with a unique skill set. A series of exercises called for us to think hard about who were professionally. The exercises culminated in our writing a one minute television script and making an HD recording of it in the Full Sail studios. Recently, Apple gave us the edited versions of our cuts, so I decided to hang out my shingle here. Behind this video, there is some real serious thinking about myself as an educator. With this in mind, check out my "brand":

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crazy Eights -- Eight Favorite Blogs

Back in May, I recommended ten RSS Feeds. Here are eight more from my Reader that I think offer something special, depending on your interests

*SeanNash is a biology teacher and "instructionalist coach" in Missouri. He is also a terrific writer who lucidly communicates his enthusiasm for technology and teaching in nashworld.

*faire alchemist, the paperless teacher of classics has boundless energy and extremely provocative ideas-- pure dynamite. He's edgy and out there. though he posts a little too much for my tastes I check them all out at TeachPaperless.

*For a more main stream turn at ed tech, follow Liz Davis's The Power of Educational Technology. Her ideas a always sound and she clearly is a great Director of Academic Technology at Belmont Hill School.

This is the most cerebral recommendation, but I am a George Siemens devotee and if I have made anyone curious about his educational model, you'll want to follow him in Connectivism.

This is a niche recommendation. I teach film, but rarely go to movie houses anymore. I watch dvds by the dozens, instead. Most of these come from Netflix and the library, but I am hooked on Criterion flims and have a small collection, favoring Akira Kurosawa and film noir classics.
The Criterion Contraption. Matthew Dessem has the object of viewing all the Criterion films and reviewing them one by one. His reviews match the high quality of his subject matter.

Pat Caputo's Open Book remains my favorite Detroit area sports blog, but John Niyo of the Detroit News does a terrific job blogging on pro football. If you are an NFL fan, place his Lions Blog in your reader, posthaste.

If you are an Apple aficionado like I am, you will definitely want a daily hit of Cult of Mac.

I recommended The Big Picture from the Boston Globe before, but it is so good that it bears repeating. The high definition photos are invariably fascinating.

"Management Decision Making Tool" Flickr Creative Commons photo by rbieber

Monday, November 23, 2009

Full Circle

In March. '07 our entire staff was required to attend the MACUL Conference at Cobo Center in Detroit. I was more than skeptical. Our school was transitioning to a 1:1 HP Laptop program, and I had the impression that we were just chasing after tech for tech's sake. Nevertheless, the conference changed my professional life. I got excited about Google's apps and decided to explore podcasting as a result of sessions I attended. For the rest of the spring I began to aggressively put mp3s on Moodle for the students. In May I required my first student podcasts.

In the '07-'08 year, I decided that I could jettison my American Government text. I also presented a list of tech integration suggestions to our school administration. By the end of the year they had formed a tech integration group for '08-'09. And by that time I was growing very curious about using video (something I knew nothing about) . While serving on the tech integration committee I plunged into tech whole heartedly. I initiated my blogging on vlogs site for AP and began to use wikis and Google Sites. In November I started this blog. By December '08, I was planning my first workshops for staff and had decided to apply for the Apple's Distinguished Educator program. As part of my application, I developed a couple of major Web 2.0 projects.

Of course, the ADE experience greatly expanded my personal learning network and helped to give me the confidence to pursue sharing technology solutions and ideas with other educators. This year I presented to MAME 36 and MAPSA. I led our staff in-service day. But I had the sense of coming full circle when two week's ago I was chosen to be a presenter at the March, 2010 MACUL conference.

A lot has happened in three years.
Halo, 22-degree halo, Solar Halo, 22 degree solar halo - aka (incorrectly) Rainbow, Full Circle, 360 Degree, Round, Circular, Whole. Directly overhead. Morro Bay, CA. 12 June 2009. Flickr Creative Commons photo by mikebaird.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Students as Swiss Cheese

Recently, Karen Cator was named director of education technology at the United States Department of Education. However, this past summer she was still serving as Apple's director of education leadership and advocacy. In that capacity, she rolled up her sleeves and guided our groups through the challenge based learning process at the ADE Institute in Orlando.

I can't remember the context of her remark, but I vividly recall her remarking that today's students have a “swiss cheese” knowledge base when it comes to technology-- they know a lot and they know nothing.

Of course, a common perception of adults (especially those who are intimidated by tech) is that the students are incredibly proficient. Consequently in this blog (e.g., The Digital Natives Aren't that Restless) and during my presentations, I tend to emphasize what they don't know. But that's not really fair, because when I introduce tech tools in class, I presume they will pretty much take off on their own. This is not because they are all savvy-- some can't even set up a Google Account without help-- but I can at least assume a "swiss cheese" competency of the class as a whole. I recently had groups of students synch a video with an mp3, create amazingly cool designs on clunky old Google Sites, and produce cool slide and video presentations with very little guidance.

I never assume that any one student has such aptitude, but if we are doing group work I have faith they will pick up the techy stuff on the fly. The kids are also more comfortable than adults dabbling with tools and don't get hung up on feeling like they have to master it in order to "get it." Most importantly, if even just only one student gets what I showed them about slides, audio, video, etc., then the knowledge usually goes viral within the group.

Yes, there are holes in the cheese, but it's solid enough that my kids learn to use tech in my classes without me spending much time teaching it. That's pretty cool.

"Swiss Cheese" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by thenoodleator

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Challenge Met!

While I am somewhat anxious about the full blown challenge projects I launched with my seniors in October -- They have frittered away time and a couple of groups have bounded off in the direction of the expedient and superficial -- the results of my modified challenge with the sophomores are in. And the results surpassed expectations.

The students engaged in a challenge based learning project called "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death". This challenge involved

*Selecting a liberty from the Bill of Rights and researching it.
*Designing a multi-media web site.
*Presenting a slide show to peers tracing the group's process from inception to solution.
*Engaging in detailed self-assessment of their process.

*The students did not use the web site as a "text dump". Even the most modest creations were multi-media.
*With only about thirty minutes of instruction from me, the groups avoided "Death By Power Point."
*Every single student in three classes participated in the presentations, and the vast majority did not read to their audiences. The slides were graphic, and bullet points were used judiciously.
*While less universally achieved than the first two highlights, many groups engaged in honest, constructive self-reflection through their presentations and/or rubrics.
*For the most part, students tapped into each other's skill sets and shared responsibility.

I've created a project exhibition site for our school's digital newsletter. If you would like check out a couple of exemplary sites, click, below:

Click to Visit Student Web Sites and Gallery

Larry's Learning Curve
* I intend to create a similar assignment, next semester. I will start the next one earlier so that I can better help the kids work through the process (no need for more time on final products, but more time to focus properly on researching information and options.
* This semester I spent a day going over the entire process . . . . and unsurprisingly when the students reached the later steps, my explanations had receded from memory. I will definitely go over these on an as-needed basis, next time.
* I will put even more emphasis on setting goals and self-assessing. Most groups did a great job on this with limited tools.

I'm looking forward to another go round in February.
Screen shot of "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" sophomore challenge based learning solution.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Precious Time

Here's an intercepted comment by Terry Kaminski to one of Will Richardson's posts. I jumped out of my seat with a, "Yes!" when I read it:

Don’t give me more money, give me more prep time!!! If I taught 3 hours per day and had 3 hours per day to prepare my courses, attend webinars, read the latest research, plan new innovative, engaging and creative lessons I could really do a bang up job.

Teachers often feel like hamsters on a wheel. We are running like hell just trying to keep up.

. . . .Teachers need time to be creative and innovative. We need time to team plan with our colleagues.

Education is on a very slippery slope right now. I see so much potential for really good things to happen. Will they happen? Only time will tell.

Amen! I am trying to innovate and be creative this semester, but nearly all the new wrinkles were planned over the summer. Each school year, regardless of how organized I am, after 6-8 weeks I often find myself moving from moment to moment. There is a remarkable amount of clerical work with teaching, and at our school, others think nothing of dreaming up extra tasks for "advisers"-- our version of home room. (We collect money and administer a variety of paper shuffling tasks. Frequently we are ordered to provide courier service for matters like ballots running ballots or empty collection envelopes to the main office. Really.).

The two unscheduled periods during my day get filled very quickly.

Last year, during the first semester, I had the relative luxury of one extra free period designated for pursuing technology integration. It is no coincidence that those few months were the most inventive stretch in my professional life. In my neck of the woods more money is invested in hardware and software than curriculum development. The latter requires time freed from a full teaching assignment.

When do presentations to other teachers, the first question they always ask is always, "Where do you find the time....?" Well, unfortunately, often I don't.

"Waste of Time" Flickr Creative Commons photo by der_sich_den_wolf_tanzt

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Clinging to the Industrial Age

Heare are three great quotes, all concerning resistance to change.

From Dangerously Irrelevant:

The personal computer has been around for about 30 years. For most of us, the Internet has been around for about 10 years. And yet we still have a sizable percentage of teachers and administrators who can barely work their computers. What does this say about us as educators? As employees of supposed learning organizations who purportedly are all about 'life-long learning?'

From Craig's Blog, quoting David Warlick:

No generation in history has ever been so thoroughly prepared for the industrial age.

From Academic Evolution:
Academia wants to have the Internet, but not let it change its exclusive knowledge management practices. It wants to exploit the advantages of online communication without letting such communication challenge its expertise model. But you can't have it both ways. You can't participate in a medium fundamentally built around the concept of openness if you insist on a closed model of expertise and knowledge control. You can try (and academia is trying), but knowledge will simply route around the bad nodes. It comes down to this: the more academia wishes to enjoy the benefits of the digital medium, the less it can hold on to restrictive and closed practices in the production, vetting, dissemination, and archiving of information.

"Industrial Age" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Skycaptaintwo

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

MHS In Service Materials

Planning the MHS In-Service was a career highlight. I loved pulling together the different elements and working with all those who pitched in. Other highlights from the experience would include :

* Launching so many folks on Twitter and reading through our hashtags after the event

*The energy level during the group collaboration session. The majority groups were really buzzing.

*The good humor that greeted me at the beginning. Most folks had logged Sunday work hours at Open House the day before, but were troopers at 8:30 A.M on Monday.

*There were some great questions through the day and also some impressive problem solving.

I had no major regrets but I was sorry that I frustrated many by going so fast through the social media. Perhaps adding Diigo put us on overload. I assumed more familiarity with the wiki. I also was surprised by the few I encountered who are really dug into an "I can't" position on tech. (This is certainly a self-fulfilling prophecy). I also was surprised that some folks took the group collaboration as an assignment rather than an opportunity. This was my fault to a degree not explaining the process more clearly. I also apologize if I used jargon or made references casually techie things that were not common knowledge. That is annoying.

Overall, a very cool experience for me. (And kind of glad I do not have a big presentation scheduled until March). It reminded me how very much I like the problem solving involved with using social media to meet teaching or communication goals.

I am happy to make the various presentation elements available by link for thirty days. All the original work is licensed with Creative Commons, non-commercial attribution.

In Service slide created by Cheryl Corte

Sunday, November 8, 2009

An Assembly, a Career Day, a Suggestion

In September, we had the grand opening of our new science wing. There was reason to celebrate: the building project was completed on time, the upgrades were impressive as well as necessary, and even if most of the funds were raised before the Recession hit, it was nice to be spending instead of cutting on a project.

The ceremonies were quite conventional, right down to the giant scissors doing the ribbon cutting. Honored guests were invited and an alumna fromm the Detroit Medical Center was invited to make a keynote address at a school assembly. I confess that I expected boilerplate, but it was actually an outstanding challenge to the young women of our all girls school to find careers in science. Accompanied by some good slides and short videos, the speaker made science sound exciting, challenging and vital. As I was leaving the auditorium, I thought of everyone returning to the school day, and then their respective weekend activities, and wondered how long the great message we had heard would last. Now that it's November, of course the message has dissipated.

Now for a technoligy theme to which I continually return. Why, after our students have experienced a great face-to-face session like this one, aren't we plugging them into online resource centers which can connect them with information and professionals who could continue to feed the flames of their curiosity? Every two years we have a career "day". I think it's a fine concept. Alumnae come to the school, the students sign up for particular careers, and they attend three presentations. Usually included is an assembly (not unlike the one described above) featuring a career woman who urges our young women to set their sights high.

It is obvious to me that we now have convenient tools for sustaining career education and networking our students with career women.

Wouldn't it be great if the academic departments, the counselors, the administrators, the parents clubs, and alumnae participated in a career wiki or Ning? With a decent effort on everyone's part we could have a fabulous resource in no time. I certainly would not want to replace Career Day, but such an endeavor would go far to bridge the 729 days between each one.

"Career Fair" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by heraldpost

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Watching the Hierarchy Disintegrate

George Siemens recently wrote a very thought-provoking piece called Struggling for a Metaphor for Change. I haves sampled from one portion of it where he lists "broad trends influencing our relationship to knowledge":

An expectancy of relevance and currency of knowledge, for a cycle of years and decades, has now been reduced to months and years for many disciplines. A picture released by an observer in a disaster zone (war, hurricane, earthquake) is worth many times more than the commentary of an expert. Knowledge can be woven, connected, and recombined in limitless ways…creating the possibility of personalized networks of knowledge. We have moved from hierarchical to network. It is end user driven.

What does this mean for us "teachers"? Well, obviously our usefulness has diminished as dispensers of information. The sooner we begin to see ourselves as network enablers or personal learning enhancers, the better. We also need to recognize that the formal lines that have structured the life of the classroom are fading. Academic "departments" make less sense. How relevant are the school schedules and school buildings themselves? I sometimes wonder if educators have become so consumed with activities only indirectly connected to learning that they have taken their eyes off the ball. Many schools are trying to wall off the students from social media and filter internet access in the most extreme ways. One way of looking at this is the old regime trying to maintain its hold on power (knowledge). And you know, the farther up the hierarchy you go in many instances, the less aware they often are about what happening down here on the ground.

"Grass Network" Flickr Creative Commons photo by cperaza_ca

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Free Apple Tools and Resources

Today I am hosting an Apple Computer Breakout Session at the annual conference of Michigan Association of Public Schools Academies (MAPSA) at Cobo Center. Here's the description of today's break out:

Free Tools and Resources for Implementing a 21st Century Learning Environment
Terrific free resources and tools are available to teachers and students online. They can help you instantly implement 21st Century learning into your existing curriculum. Join Larry Baker, 2009 Apple Distinguished Educator as he looks at iTunes U, the Apple Learning interchange, and some popular educational iPod Touch apps. All free!

My presentation will begin with a short description of my Digital Anthology. I then will gallop through some cool screen shots from iTunes U, the Apple Learning Interchange, and the App Store. (A huge thank you to fellow ADEs, Cheryl Davis and Craig Nansen for suggesting so many sources).
Click for Presentation Slides on Free Tools. (Great screenshot eye candy!).

Monday, November 2, 2009

Quick and Easy Podcasts (at MAPSA)

I'm at Cobo Center, November 2, hosting an Apple Computer Breakout Session for the annual conference of Michigan Association of Public Schools Academies (MAPSA). Here's the description of today's breakout:

Quick and Easy Podcasts
In this session, join Apple Distinguished Educator Larry Baker to see how easy it is to create and edit podcasts using GarageBand. He will also take a look at how iWeb allows even a novice to stylishly share audio and video with others. As time permits, the group can sample interesting podcasts and learn that with a couple of mouse clicks one can subscribe to them for free at the iTunes store.

This is a labor of love. After all, it was podcasting that accelerated my exploration of educational technology. Now it is a fundamental part of all my courses. I will begin by showing how I began using them on Moodle and how I now use require student podcasts in all of my courses. I will then give a GarageBand demo. I hope there is time left over to take a stroll across the virtual campus of ITunes U. If not, they can come back, on November 3, when browse the Apps Store and the Apple Learning Exchange as well.

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