Friday, December 31, 2010

Interdisciplinary Baggage

This is the final "greatest hits" blog post of 2010.  Reconceptualizing our Challenge Based Learning projects was a major turning lexicon breakthrough in our professional development groups.  Our"cross school" teams are still very active designing some great student challenges for next semester, next school year, and beyond. 

 At a recent professional cluster group meeting (PCG), we were wrestling with the difficulties posed by attempting to develop interdisciplinary Challenge Based Learning projects.
As Gerry, a top science teacher, noted: the term  "interdisciplinary" (or multi-disciplinary) is too freighted with baggage.  It immediately invited one to see obstacles to collaboration, since our curriculum is organized by department courses and we are scheduled into department meetings  

We realized that we preferred idea of joining "cross-school" teams to which we bring our entire skill sets as educated adults.  This point of view allowed us to imagine shedding department labels (e.g., "science teacher") and committing to a commonly held passions with other adults and students.  Then, after crafting a challenge with our cross-school teams, we could weave the project into our course curriculum. 

As another astute educator recently remarked to me, "Language is powerful; change is sneaky."   I think Gerry's observation makes it more likely that we accomplish some dynamic changes to our school curriculum.

"collaborative drawing (detail)" Flickr CC photo courtesy of scalefreenetwork 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A School Strives for Transparency with a "See Through Cycle"

This piece was originally published in September, 2010.  I had only recently begun regular professional development sessions with our staff and was mulling over a variety of themes.  One such theme was "transparency".  Like many schools, I suppose, the teaching at ours is pretty insular.  I was intent on moving us to greater collaboration, but knew I was running into a culture that would not do this naturally.  The idea for a "See-through Cycle" popped into my head and produced a very popular experiment.  While I can't say that our culture has shifted dramatically, I really do think that we all are becoming more receptive to collaboration.

At MHS, we don't have school weeks, we have "cycles" -- six days per cycle. I meet with Professional Cluster Groups (PCGs) once per cycle.  As I mentioned in Collaborating in the Cloud, every staff member is scheduled into one of these groups. Consequently, when I launch an endeavor as I did this past cycle, I can truly say that it has the potential to go school-wide.

This cycle's theme was "Creating Transparency." We discussed the benefits of cracking open our lesson plans and work spaces for others to see. The object? Sharing, learning, collaborating.

* In order to promote culture change of this type, I laid out the following scheme:

* Our fourth school cycle (Sept. 27 - October 4) would be designated the See-through Cycle.

* Anyone interested in maintaining an open door policy for that period signs up on our staff wiki.

* In the spirit of the cycle, no conditional sign ups-- Just hang a "Do Not Disturb" sign for moments that do not lend themselves to guests.

* Those who did not sign-up could still visit others.

* Visits might be of any duration. They would not be prearranged.

* We will evaluate and discuss the experience the fifth cycle

Several individuals signed up immediately including the principal. I am anxious to see what happens. Whether it is popular or totally bombs, the resulting discussion will be interesting. IN either event, I will share the experience with my faithful readers. Here are the slides from this cycle's cluster groups:

P.S. You will note that much of the presentation was devoted to Evernote as well as Google Docs' interface with Moodle.

Flickr Creative Commons Photo on "Creating Transparency" slide by litopomuschiatio

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Resources for Online Portfolios

This week, I am re-posting my 2010 Drive-thru favorites. I selected this one from June, because it shows the power of networking.  The experience led to the first college recommendation  I have ever written for a student that did not focus on academic work done in my class.

 I was approached for help recently by an art student who wished to publish an online gallery of her senior portfolio. She wondered what sites might best display her work. I really enjoy researching little projects like this and decided to post my recommendations to her and her fine art teacher, @idrawandpaint

One of my top recommendations,, came by way of my one of my AP American Government students. Her cbl project group produced an online voting demo called Operation iVote which had a stunning look. When I asked the web designer of iVote, about her experience, she said that is "the easiest thing ever to use and would be perfect for something artsy like a portfolio." is a flash based web design creation site. I inspected some of the free templates and samples at the site and they were very impressive. (I did not explore the pay options or features).

I also asked for input from ADE listserv and received a number of suggestions. Matt Cauthron of the Digital Arts Academy invited me to visit a treasure trove of galleries. His students use Take a look at his students' portfolios in progress! An online stroll through these galleries and a peek at the directory assured me at once that offers the tools for creating an avant-garde portfolio.

Incidentally, the young art student who intends to build this online site also wishes to include electronica music. She is hoping to secure permissions for this and wondered if I had any suggestions. My attempt to help her led to a solution that has since become available to our entire student body.
Screenshot of Michael V. Manalo's curriculum vitae created with

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Inside-Out Knowledge Network

As the year draws to a close this week, I am republishing five favorite Drive-thru items from 2010.  Today's item first  appeared in April.  The idea of the "inside-out" approach to teaching PLNs is original as far as I know.  Since working it out last spring, I've found at conferences that the approach resonates with listeners.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot "Personal Learning Network" Ning

Monday, December 27, 2010

Drawn to the Bright Lights

This week I will repost my five favorite Drive-thru items from 2010.  This one appeared in February.  It's a favorite because I am so fond of these collaborations. 

I recently posted "Diary of a Country Priest Movie Review" to YouTube. As I indicated in my last post, I love making these little movie reviews. Sometimes they relate to my film class; other times just for my Film Favorites site. I have written original scripts and created the movies with iMovie. "Three Colors Blue" is a good example.

More often, for purposes of expedience, I use Photo To Movie because it is so darn easy to use (Thanks for the tip, Rick Strobl). And ....I often don't write original scripts. Instead I base them on the likes of great writers like Chris Koehn, Patrick Crogan, James Berardinelli, and David Church. In each case, I have contacted the writer or scholar and requested permission to use his text in my script. The permissions process has been quite gratifying.  The writers are enthusiastic and flattered.

My collaborator for the "Country Priest" is Gary Morris, the editor/publisher of the "Bright Lights Film Journal" -- a terrific film resource. Gary even threw out the possibility that someday in the near future he'll be redesigning his site and might even accommodate little movies like mine! A fun idea and a gratifying collaboration.

Screen shot of PhotoToMovie "Review- Diary of a Country Priest" project

Friday, December 24, 2010

iBad or iPad?

Last spring I was subjected to an odd pre-emptive attack on the iPad from a techie at a private school that requires its students to lease expensive P.C.s. She forwarded a fierce criticism on the supposed limits of the iPad written by a Windows slappy.
I was targeted for this polemic because of my association with Apple (ADE ’09) and because parents at her school were wondering out loud whether or not they might be spared about $2500.00 in cost by substituting an iPad instead for the required P.C.
At the time I fired back a snippy reply saying that the comparison was apples (pun intended) and oranges-- What the school should do, I said, was save parents $2000 and outfit students with a vastly superior MacBook.
But now I admit I was wrong . . . The iPad is superior to  laptops in ways that I had not appreciated. In fact, I have seen them used heavily in favor of Macbooks by Apple educators, some who reported that their MacBook Pros had almost fallen into relative disuse. So what are the advantages of an iPad over laptops?
The iPad is lighter, smaller, and cheaper than laptops.
The 3g model allows almost ubiquitous connectivity.
Its ease of use is identical to its incredibly popular cousins-- the iPhone and the iPod Touch.
It has a beautiful presentation of most forms of media.
For many users, its basic functions satisfy all the needs of their current computer use.
Most importantly, third parties are writing ingenious apps for the device every day, pushing the envelope of its usefulness.
Now, admittedly this is an unabashedly biased take on the iPad. However,my point is not that schools should be staking their curricular futures on this or any device.
The Baker position is this: Connectivity rules, not machines.  Instead of investing vast sums of $$$ in machines that are outdated shortly after they arrive, plow more into wi-fi and professional development. Get the community of learners on the grid and let connectivism do the rest.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Doodling Around

If you have not tried it, I would like to introduce you to Doodle.  It is a wonderful cloud tool for setting up a meeting or conference with folks who don't share the same software.  I first became acquainted with it when I received a "doodle" in order to set up a conference call with folks in three different time zones.  It's a snap with Doodle.  Simply set up a free account with a couple of clicks, and with a few more selections you can basically send out an easy to use little poll to others.

I've used Doodle to set up my recent M-Hub club meetings at school.  It also strikes me as the perfect tool for setting up family gatherings or scheduling a dinner with busy friends.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Talent,Friction, Smartboards, and other Matters

We make very poor use of our talents . . . .There are many possible explanations for it, and high among them is education. Because education, in a way, dislocates many people from their natural talents, and human resources are like natural resources-- They are often buried very deep. . . .You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves. And you might imagine that education is the way that happens, but too often it's not. . . Every education system in the word is being reformed at the moment. And it's not enough. Reform is no use, anymore. Because that's merely improving a broken model.

Sir Kenneth Robinson, Bring on the Learning Revolution, TED Talk.

Many academics question industry-backed studies linking improved test scores to their products. And some go further. They argue that the most ubiquitous device-of-the-future, the smartboard -- essentially a giant interactive computer screen that is usurping blackboards in classrooms across America -- locks teachers into a 19th-century lecture style of instruction counter to the more collaborative small-group models that many reformers favor.

Stephanie McCrummen, " Some Educators Question. . . ." Washington Post


The new media have caught on for a reason. Knowledge is increasing exponentially; human brainpower and waking hours are not. Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart.

Steven Pinker, "Mind over Mass Media New York Times

It's not good enough to ask your team to "be more creative" or to "tighten up the purse strings" . . . Inertia and decision paralysis will conspire to keep people doing things the old way. To spark movement in a new direction, you need to provide crystal clear guidance

Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

"ken being smart on the smartboard" Flickr CC photo by 46137

Friday, December 17, 2010


This is the first semester of my entire career that I have not taught an English class.  For almost twenty years this was my exclusive province.  Yet it has dwindled from my profile to such a degree that my tenth graders did not believe me the other day when I mentioned that I would be teaching a Lit into Film section next semester.  I have been so busy with prepping professional development that I haven't given the film class much thought.  But, wow, technology has brought it to the forefront of my mind.  I may have an opportunity to put an HD camera in each film student's hands.  I've done a good job using technology to show the students the impact of various film techniques.  But no they can show me.  That part of the course has been so based on the written word.  Don't worry, they'll still do some writing.  But I simply love it that they will have more authentic means of demonstrating their understanding.  I'll enjoy reflecting on  the possibilities over the next few weeks.

Photo courtesy of Apple Inc.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

M-Hub Web Site

With all the activity going on with M-Hub, I have updated our project web site.  If you would like to join in this unique and exciting endeavor, please contact me at

Monday, December 13, 2010

Knowledge Hubs Rock!

It is exciting to be part of a dynamic team which is moving forward on an original online project. I'm talking about my terrifically loyal and dedicated student leadership team and its M-Hub Project.  What started up as a concept, last March, is moving toward the implementation phase at a rate I never believed possible.

M-Hub's quest is to build a database of experts on wide-ranging topics, starting with folks in the immediate MHS family-- parents, alumnae and staff.  The hope is that such a database could then be made available to students in order to help them learn how to construct personal learning networks.  The enterprise involves three major steps: 1) collecting data   2) tagging data  3) making the data available to students in a sound, accessible way.
We are on the verge of moving ahead on all three fronts:

*We have discovered that Zoomerang is a viable tool for collecting data.  We have beta-tested a survey and discovered that with a few simple questions we could collect a rich trove of data.

*We have a meeting scheduled today with an expert database manager who is willing to help us with a scheme to categorize and tag our data.

*The school web designer is eager to meet with us in order to learn our specs for the plug-in to our school web site that will allow students to access the data.

As staff proceed with their plans to design and implement Challenge Based Learning projects, I have begun to encourage them to believe that M-Hub may be operational by spring.  The Drive-thru will keep you posted!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Texting toward Gomorrah?

I read a recent blog in Education TechNews about student texting.  It cited a study from Case Western Reserve whichindicated that
  • 20% of Cleveland high school students are “hyper-texters”, sending and receiving more than 120 messages a day.
  • Hyper texters “are more likely to engage in sex and use alcohol and drugs.”
The blogger muses that “banning phones (and thereby texting) at school may curtail potentially harmful behavior after school.”  I had a couple of reactions to this:

1) I think students (and many adults) are obsessive about their mobiles.  Their need to stay connected through texting or other forms of social media does interfere with face-to-face communication and leads to other bad habits. I teach in a 1-1 school, and while we still ban mobiles from classrooms, I’ve found that  at critical times I’ve been forced to ask students to close their laptops, because even though they are avid electronic communicators, they cannot be relied upon to check online assignment calendars or even their school email.  It’s a strange paradox, but I’m not ready to say, “anything goes” in terms of permitting students to be plugged in every minute of every school day.

2) I am somewhat skeptical about a cause and effect relationship in the correlation between hyper texting and sexual activity, drinking, drug use.  I am guessing that “banning phones” during the school day will have negligible effect on reducing such behavior.  After all, the technology is already deeply embedded in the culture, and I find that adults in my professional development groups are as likely to get distracted by their screens as my students.

I think we are talking about a life skill, here.  As a culture we could benefit greatly from learning a code of behavior related to our mobiles:   What is socially impolite?  How do I know when I am offending others?  How did we signal by our social cues that it’s time for others to unplug?  How can we recognize these cues.  Ideally, what is called for is a school culture that reinforces good habits rather than a special course that “teaches” these skills or rules that simply try to shut usage down.  
What do you think?

Flickr CC photo by Jamie Heimbuch

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Presentation in CBL-- The Teacher's Role, Part 3

Our staff continues to meet with me in regular professional development sessions in order to consider and discuss issues related to Challenge Based Learning.  But "meet with me" has been a little sketchy, recently.  Recently, two sessions were canceled last week when we celebrated our swim teams state championship with a day off.  And when I was in California for the CBL webinar last week, I arranged for a sub to cover one session.

The most recent topic has focused on student "presentations."  Consequently, I requested that one of our fine speech teachers be the sub.  She emphasized the fundamentals of face-to-face speech and did a really great job.  My intention was to focus on slide and video presentations, but since her tips and instruction are necessary to any form of presentation, we are going to attempt have her meet with all five groups.

The groups are becoming less synchronized as the semester winds down, but I am learning to relax a little about that since we are not simply spinning our wheels or wasting anyone's time.  Worthwhile topics abound as more teachers sink their teeth into CBL. Here are the most recent slides:

Screen capture of my "Presentation 10 Commandments" for next spring's CBL presentations.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Driven to Digital Distraction

Recently, Matt Rictel, wrote a long feature in the New York Times called Growing up Digital, Wired for Distraction.  Essentially it is about the current generation of kids who are "wired for distraction."  It focused on one young chap who goes through his day addicted to texting and distracted by the internet.  One would conclude from the article that the net effect of consumer technology is that it has set up our youngsters for failure.

I Evernoted the document, thinking I would blog some kind of response For one thing, I questioned whether or not the young man was actually setting himself up for life-long failure with his "distractions."  I wondered if in fact he might not end up parlaying his video talents, for example, into a lucrative career.  Maybe some of his classmates doing their worksheets and taking their scantron quizzes weren't getting such a leg up.   I'm glad that a colleague forwarded Dan Tapscott's rebuttal before I wrote that post.  He blew up Rictel with facts.  Tapscott points out that .....

There is no actual evidence to support the view that this generation is distracted, performing poorly or otherwise less capable than previous generations. . . . Furthermore, volunteering amongst high school and university students is at an all time high and in the US the percentage of kids that are clean in high school -- i.e. they don't do drugs or alcohol -- is up year over year for 15 years. 
When it comes to the poor performance of the bottom tier, blaming the Internet is like blaming the library for illiteracy. . . .Proportionately, more Net Geners are failing to graduate from high school than any previous generation and test results for many young people are so awful that it has become cliché to say that the educational system in the United States is in crisis. . . .Nearly half who dropped out said classes were either not interesting or just plain boring. So perhaps the real issue is the gap between how Net Geners think and how most teachers teach.
Back in the late 1960s, the teenage Baby Boomer in the United States watched an average of over 22 hours of television each week. They were passive viewers; they took what they were given, and when the commercials came, they might even have watched them. Net Geners watch less television than their parents do, and they watch it differently. A Net Gener is more likely to turn on the computer and simultaneously interact in several different windows, talk on the telephone, listen to music, do homework, read a magazine, and watch television. TV has become like background Muzak for them. 

Not as many folks will read Don Tapscott's response as the Rictel article in the Times.  If you've read the Times article, please check out Tapscott if you get a chance. His take on the Net Gen rings much truer to me.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Reflections on the CBL Webinar

L to R: Don, Mark, Larry, Katie (photo shared by Katie)
On November 30, I had an enriching experience, participating in a live Challenge Based Learning webinar with Don Henderson, Katie Morrow, and Mark Nichols.  The broadcast will soon available on demand

Unsurprisingly, I feel like I gained more than I gave to the experience.  The planning and execution informed me greatly about the history and research behind Challenge Based Learning, giving me a stronger context for understanding it.
At the end of the webinar Mark Nichols announced some really terrific news about CBL resources that should all be operational by January.

1) Mark has produced a wonderful CBL Classroom Guide that offers explanations, templates, best practices, and answers to frequently asked questions.  It is detailed but eminently readable.  He’s putting the finishing touches on the appendices and it will be available as a pdf soon!

2) Mark also announced the creation of a CBL Community Site which educators and students may go to find, discuss, post challenges and all things CBL.  It has a beautiful design and will be easy to use.  It is potentially a great boon to those of us who have been innovating on our own.  Now, whether we are home schooled or an entire school we will have a place to draw from others and contribute to a greater CBL community.

3) CBL is entering a new research phase.  15 more pilot schools will be selected for CBL training in Dallas and their CBL experiences will be thoroughly researched and reported by the New Media Consortium.

It’s exciting to be involved in all three endeavors, and of course I will continue to take more than I give.  But as I do, I will try to share it with my own community of faithful blog readers!  Three days in Cupertino has given Larry’s Opinion Drive-thru a major content boost!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Teacher's Role in Challenge Based Learning (Part 2)

The professional development groups at Mercy have continued to focus on the teacher's role in Challenge Based Learning, but teacher absence, and school day cancellations have created some continuity issues for this theme.  Nevertheless, I tried to emphasize a few major points in the part 2 sessions:

1) It is paramount that a shared document should be established by the team at the outset so that they can continue to make progress through the CBL process without needing face-to-face meetings for every step.

2) Group goal setting is a helpful way to initiate the assessment piece of CBL.

3) Teams should not be allowed to "short circuit" the guiding questions phase.  In all my CBL experiences with both students and adults, teams have been tempted to focus too early on solutions or technology.

4) The guiding activities/resources phase is my favorite aspect of CBL.  Teachers can collaborate with teams by encouraging, suggesting, and getting excited by outside of the box research possibilities.

Here are the slides which supported our most recent discussions:

PCG #9 Teacher's Role, Part 2

Slide photo by permission of nikki.jane

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Challenge Based Learning Webinar

Tuesday, I'll be in Cupertino for a live broadcast of an Apple Education webinar on Challenge Based Learning.  I will join three of my CBL mentors, Katie Morrow, Don Henderson and Mark Nichols.  My piece of the presentation is "CBL in Action".  With 2700 registrants as of last week, this is pretty heady stuff.

I can't help but think that it was less than four years ago that I began to investigate educational technology seriously in my own classroom (It all started with podcasting).  Less than two years ago, I taught myself Keynote for making slides.  And only Fall '09, I did my first serious presentation outside of school at Mame36 in Traverse City.

The educational technology trip put me on a career arc I could never have anticipated.  And nothing has been more professionally transformative for me than CBL.

There is still time to register for the webinar (November 30, 10:00 A.M., PST).  However, I've been told that it will be archived after the event.  If I don't royally embarrass myself, this should be a great new experience.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Four Friday Quotes from TED

Lots of people are used to having a spiritual tribe or a church tribe , a work tribe, a community tribe. But now thanks to the internet, the explosion of mass media . . . . Tribes are everywhere. The internet was supposed to homogenize everyone by connecting us all. Instead, what it's allowed is silos of interest. . . .People on the fringes can find each other, connect and go somewhere. . . .What we do for a living now, all of us, I think, is find something worth changing and then assemble tribes that spread the idea [until it] becomes something far bigger than ourselves. It becomes a movement.
Organizations designed around a culture of generosity can achieve enormous effects without an enormous amount of contractual overhead-- a very different model than our default model for large scale group action from the Twentieth Century.

The story that Americans tell, the story upon which the American Dream depends, the story of limitless choice. . .promises so much-- freedom, happiness, success. . . . It's a great story, but when you take a close look, you start to see the holes. . . . Americans have so often tried to disseminate their narrative of choice. . . .but the history book and the daily news tell us it does not always work out that way. No single narrative serves the needs of everyone, everywhere. Moreover, Americans theme selves could benefit from incorporating new perspectives into their own narrative, which have been driving their choices for so long. . . . It brings us so much closer to realizing the full potential of choice, to inspiring the hope and achieving the freedom that choice promises but doesn't always deliver.

There are things that we are enthralled to in education . . . one of them is linearity. It starts here, and you go through a track, and if you do everything right, you will end up set for the rest of your life. . . . We have become obsessed with this linear narrative. . . .[However,] human communities depend on a diversity of talent, not a single conception.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Baker's Half-Dozen

There is . . .growing support for experimentation: in March, Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, released a draft National Educational Technology Plan that reads a bit like a manifesto for change, proposing among other things that the full force of technology be leveraged to meet “aggressive goals” and “grand” challenges, including increasing the percentage of the population that graduates from college to 60 percent from 39 percent in the next 10 years. What it takes to get there, the report suggests, is a “new kind of R.& D. for education” that encourages bold ideas and “high risk/high gain” endeavors" -- Sara Corbett

These days, the homework I give isn't based on some arbitrary idea of how much work a kid should do 'at home' to reinforce something we did in class, but rather it's a matter of asking the students to do something necessary to prepare themselves for the next class. Homework becomes an act ofpreparation -- and hopefully sparks some anticipation not for seeing what you 'got right or wrong', not for seeing if you can jump through that next hoop, but anticipation for taking part in the next day's discussion, activities, and learning. -- Shelley Blake-Plock

A music minister in a local catholic church in my area was in an
article in our state Arch Diocese publication. He uses an iPad for
all of his sheet music. No more lugging around binders and cases of
music. It is all contained on his iPad which fits nicely on his piano
music rack. -- Gabriella Meyers

I lean toward seeing a future where self-organized learning rules, and that the role of school is to develop the passion, motivation and skills necessary to help kids become amazing learners as opposed to pretty good “knowers.” - Will Richardson

"No one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) "scalable" -- easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains." -- Robert Samuelson

“All power corrupts; Power Point corrupts absolutely." --Edward Tufte

Monday, November 22, 2010

iPad Meets the Supremes

I read with interest a recent piece about the Supreme Court in The Washington Post.  Liberal justice Stephen Breyer was quoted as saying,

"If I'm applying the First Amendment, I have to apply it to a world where there's an Internet, and there's Facebook, and there are movies like ... 'The Social Network,' which I couldn't even understand. . .  ."

The same article described conservative justice Antonin Scalia'suse of technology:

Antonin Scalia told an adoring audience at the Federalist Society convention Thursday night that he not only had an iPod, but does his own downloading. . . . Not only that, but he has an iPad that his staff loads with court work. "I don't have to schlep the briefs around," Scalia said, adding with a laugh, "Oh, it's a brave new world." 

I read this with amusement, because I have observed that some of my most politically liberal friends and colleagues are the most conservative about adopting technology for personal or professional use.  Other than age, have you noticed any other personal attributes that might be associated with willingness or unwilingness to adopt consumer technology?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

PCG #8 The Teacher's Role in Challenge Based Learning (part 1)

We have reached a point at Mercy where many teachers --- if they have not already begun implementing Challenge Based Learning projects-- can see themselves doing so in a coming semester.  Consequently, the time has been ripe to discuss the nuts and bolts of CBL.

We did not get very far-- I can already see that this is going to be a three part roll-out.  But our slow progress was for all the right reasons.  We discussed the CBL launch (How much information to share?) and team formation (Should students choose their own groups?).  And then we had great discussions about the first steps concerning how much direction the students should be given.  Of course at every juncture we are discussing the teacher's role.

More next cycle!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

21st Century Letter of Recommendation

I had a new experience last week which points to the changing nature of my courses and my role in them.  I wrote a college letter of recommendation for a student who would be the first to admit that she did not stand out on conventional testing of the course "material."  Nevertheless, she stood out, as I explained in my letter

We formed a unique sort of collaboration following our time together in the American

Government course. Jill sought me out for a suggestion regarding a web site for hosting
her work and portfolio. I recommended a site another student had used for a CBL. We also
consulted a graphic design teacher in California and were joined in our project by a Mercy art
teacher.  Besides yielding Jill's domain, our
exploration also yielded a special licensing agreement for Creative Commons music between
our high school and Magnatune.

I referenced the student's experience in my course as well-- but almost exclusively in terms of collaborations and projects.

A milestone, I think.
"Untitled Collograph" Frickr Creative Commons photo by Vaultboy

Monday, November 15, 2010

CBL Research Tool

Since the ADE 2010 Summer Institute in July, my Challenge Based Learning team hascontinued to work on our projects-- building resources for educators who wish to earn more about or try CBL.

I decided to draw on my experiences with CBL last year to create a few short video modules on research and media management. My first endeavor was created using past blog & presentation material, Flickr Creative Commons photos, Voila, GarageBand, and Photo to Movie.

Friday, November 12, 2010

PCG #7 Obstacles and Opportunities

I had a peculiar experience with the seventh professional cluster group: Three of our professional development sessions took place before our in-service day.  Two took place afterwards.

The theme for each session was also the same: Obstacles and Opportunities.  However, the pre and post in-service groups took differing approaches.  Prior to in-service, the discussion centered on various ideas, frustrations, and anxieties which sere getting in the way of our development of challenge projects.  After the in-service, the focus concerned the kinds of training and  and logistical support that were desirable for nurturing these projects. Thanks to a very productive in-service day, we had shifted into a problem solving mode. In fact, the latter two sessions helped generate the themes for the next two or three PCGs: "The Teacher's Role in CBL" and "CBL Assessment".  Here are the slides used for the majority of the meetings:

In all five sessions I recommended one of my very favorite cloud applications-- Dropbox which uses cloud computing to enable users to store and share files and folders with others across the Internet using file synchronization" (Wikipedia).  I use three computers each day.  It's wonderful having access to the same files on the desktop of all three computers without the hassle of emailing them to myself or transferring them with external drives.

Have a nice weekend.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reflection on Our Mock Election

In a September blog post, I described a collaborative project involving all four sections of tenth grade American Government at our school.  The project would be created from the ground up by four teams in each class:

1) An Election News Feed team which will provide up-to-date election news.

2) A Michigan Election Information Team which will research the candidates and issues.

3) A Fantasy Presidential Campaign Team which will launch an imaginary candidate's quest for the White House.

4) A Mock Election Team which will devise a school mock election from scratch.

An then there was "the wildest feature":
The project teams will be linked to their counterparts in the other three classes and must collaborate online to construct one central project.

The results were rather interesting:

*The single most impressive feature of the project was the creation and administration of the election itself.  The process ran smoothly from beginning to end, and remarkably, the school results were identical to the state-wide general election that took place the same day.

*The fantasy candidacies generated the most excitement and energy, but frankly remained at a superficial level.  Instead of focusing on issues, talking points, or even slogans; the contest focused on biography and looks.

*The wikis were pretty poor.  I blame myself for forcing the students to figure out how to communicate among the four sections in order to coordinate wiki construction.  This prevented the groups from making much progress until the end.  Still, the students in some cases, remained passive and contented to be rather clueless.

*The in-class presentations were quite good.  We avoided death by PowerPoint, and were treated to information about the election as well as serious reflection about the project process itself.  Most of the groups hit all of the criteria laid out in my Election Ten Commandments.

Once again, I bit off a bit more than I could chew by including too many innovations with one venture, but I am confident that the election made a great impression on the kids.  We had lots of fun learning about politics.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Grand In-Service Adventure

We are venturing outside of the box for today's all-staff professional development day.  Inspired by the "big ideas" we generated in our cluster groups last month, we are going to start the day with two minute "pitches."  Those giving the pitches are passionate about an idea they wish to turn into a cross-school challenge project.

These "elevator pitches" will be followed by a Challenge Based Learning "Open House" where those making the pitches can discuss their big idea with prospective teammates.  Who knows how all of this will turn out.

But up to this point in the agenda, the day promises to be  pretty much no-lose.  Whether she attracts a large team or not, a teacher may proceed with her project.  Those not interested in any of the pitches can quietly resume the CBL work which was started in their departments in August. Though there has been some confusion about all the options, I have tried to position the pitches as liberating opportunities, and indeed,  many of us are excited about the day.

The rubber meets the road after the teams have formed.  They will then be tasked with asking some tough questions about their big ideas.  Then the afternoon will be spent wrestling with answers to these questions.  I'm hoping that leads to some great conversations about education.

The counselors and administrators are going to drop in and out of the groups as "facilitators", serving as sounding boards or urging the teams to get back on track.  All the teams are going to meet in our media center so that transparency and networking have a chance to flourish.

I am sure there will be some hiccups-- Such is the nature of true collaboration.  Those of us guiding staff through the day are trying to model the very process we are hoping staff will try with students, so we'll be giving it our best shot!

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Adam Swank

Friday, November 5, 2010

Interdisciplinary Baggage

At a recent professional cluster group meeting (PCG), we were wrestling with the difficulties posed by attempting to develop interdisciplinary Challenge Based Learning projects.

As Gerry, a top science teacher, noted: the term  "interdisciplinary" (or multi-disciplinary) is too freighted with baggage.  It immediately invited one to see obstacles to collaboration, since our curriculum is organized by department courses and we are scheduled into department meetings  

We realized that we preferred idea of joining "cross-school" teams to which we bring our entire skill sets as educated adults.  This point of view allowed us to imagine shedding department labels (e.g., "science teacher") and committing to a commonly held passions with other adults and students.  Then, after crafting a challenge with our cross-school teams, we could weave the project into our course curriculum.  

As another astute educator recently remarked to me, "Language is powerful; change is sneaky."   I think Gerry's observation makes it more likely that we accomplish some dynamic changes to our school curriculum.

"collaborative drawing (detail)" Flickr CC photo courtesy of scalefreenetwork

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Larry as Guru and other Matters

Since school has started I have twice been introduced to new acquaintances as a "tech guru." I don't really mind, but the phrase is a bit loaded, don't you think? On the one hand I kind of deserve it since I have been appointed to spread the mystical vision of CBL this semester. But I also think it categorizes me as off in my la-la land of technology, communing with cyberspace. This notion amuses rather than offends. But I think the implication that I have secret knowledge to share is interesting. Hold this thought.

More obnoxious is being called a "techie." Again, I don't take this as an insult-- I think I just get blurred in with the IT guys. In fact sometimes  folks ask me for help with email, and printers when I really have no clue at all. Last year, a student ran down from the auditorium to see if I could problem solve a projector issue. And this year I was included on a 9th grade Tablet orientation team. In each of these instances, I was next to useless. Admittedly, I am fascinated with some gadgets. I am adept with some software as well as my Macs-- but as far as technology goes, I would describe myself as a generalist. Again, however, naming me "techie" like guru categorizes me as outside the pale.

Now to the point. I think this "guru" thing comes from my confidence developing projects that call for students to leverage technology of their own choosing.  I  "get" the technology and can even suggest they explore particular options. I find this necessary to the way I now teach.  So, I wonder, how much technology should any teacher know in 2010?  Haven't we reached a point in time where a teacher or administrator really must have some working knowledge with the powerful tools which are so integrated into modern life?  But how much is enough? 
"Paramhansa Yoganda " Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Prema01

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ten Education Quotes for Today

"I failed my way to success" 
-- Thomas Edison

"What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge, and not knowledge
in pursuit of the child."
--George Bernard Shaw

"Technology: Opening Minds with a New Set of Keys"
-- Anon
"Part of the American myth is that people who are handed the skin of a dead sheep at graduating time think that it will keep their minds alive forever."
-- John Mason Brown
"Nothing is ever achieved without enthusiasm."
--' Ralph Waldo Emerson  

"We are drowning in information but starved for knowledge."
 --John Naisbitt

"The illiterate of the 21st century won't be those who can't read and write but those who can't learn unlearn, and relearn"
--Alvin Toffler

"Schools are among the very few institutions that have remained almost entirely unchanged for most of this century."
-- Judith Aitken 

"Every organisation has to prepare for the abandonment of every thing it does. Be prepared to abandon everything, lest we have to abandon the ship."
--  Peter Drucker

"The principal goal of education is to create [human beings] who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done."
--Jean Piaget

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