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!

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