Thursday, March 31, 2011

Take-out from the Drive-thru

Here are half a dozen interesting links to take into the week's end:

This one is for any of my administrator friends at Belton ISD, who might still be reading the Drive-thru.  A quick read, and well worth it.  It comes via North Dakota ADE, Craig Nansen.

Is the following a glimpse at the future of the connected higher ed student?  This came to my attention through a friend at Cengage who has worked very hard to bring this to market.

The following is a very interesting read by John Fallows in the recent issue of The Atlantic:

Learning to Love the (Shallow Divisive, Unreliable) New Media

One of my most popular Tech Tips in Professional Development has been Evernote.  This came from their blog and is contributed by Michael Cruz:

I received this link from Twitter.  As an English teacher I am somewhat fascinated by this concept of "transmedia" as described by Laura Fleming, a Library Media Specialist:

Here is another really nice post on  Andreas Schleicher discusses the importance of using new ways to  identifying the best educational systems:

Assessment Systems for the 21st Century

"Take Out" with generous permission of americanvirus

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Old School

Our school's interdisciplinary pilot CBL project has produced a number of unusual issues. Like any first time enterprise we would certainly redesign aspects of the program a second time around.  But I think some of these issues point to broader education challenges. One in particular grinds me: A recurrent gripe that students in an art class (or French or Biology) should not be working on a cafeteria challenge, nor should they be graded on matters like group work, video production, or slide presentations.  This complaint has come in some small, but continual measure from parents and students.  In my professional development sessions, it is reversed.  A minority of teachers wondering how the problem solving, technology, publishing, etc. can "fit" into their course plan.

I think this kind of thinking is becoming more outdated by the day.  These ideas are grounded in the faith that knowledge can still be packaged through courses and delivered to students by subject specialists as they move along the K-20 conveyor belt, yielding the "educated person" at the end of the line.  To me it seems patently obvious that anyone who is merely teaching a "subject" is very replaceable.  The educational system desperately needs teachers who are generalists, hungry to learn about the world as it flattens and we become less dependent on vertical institutions to parcel out expertise as we climb the ladder toward PhD.

I keep wondering how students are going to learn to collaborate, problem solve, take initiative, and learn new technologies if they do not experience this throughout their school experiences.  Some of my colleagues have wondered hopefully whether or not students might not be prepared with these skills in a special ninth grade course.  Even if some kind of magical "course" could impart some of these skills in a meaningful way, isn't it pretty obvious that training in some of technology that is ubiquitous now, will be outdated before the students even leave high school.

In making some of these complaints, I feel like a hypocrite because all of my own innovation has taken place within the department course system.  Even though our school administration is trying push for change in the school culture, the very structure of the curriculum signals to all stakeholders that the way to get an education here is to ride down the conveyor belt just as we did when we were kids and our parents and grandparents before them.  

I can't complain about how far we've come this year in our quest for culture shift. But I can't help fantasizing about shaking off the department/course shackles and teaming with a group of students and teachers who wanted to reshape the curriculum across subjects and take a walk across a school year's wire without a net.

Flickr CC photo by alandd

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Vlogging about Blogs

It's been quite some time since I have written about my "blogging about vlogs" activity.  This is the third year and of doing this with my seniors, and they are still going strong.  Essentially, through the school year, each student creates a short video commentary on a current event.  The rest of the class then posts comments on the video.  They are not required to participate in each one, but when they do participate, they are required to go in twice, during two windows of participation.  This way the students must pay attention to the conversation.  I've described this process before, but our interactions have always been password protected (MobileMe and Blogger have served as our platforms).  

This year's group has given me permission to give you a glance at their recent work.  Stephanie's video was made right before the U.S.military's engagement in Libya.

Alyson said...
I think because Qaddafi already has brought violence into the situation, it would be almost impossible to enter the scene peacefully. Though if the Libyan army is really as weak as you say, perhaps it would be possible. As Lindsey said, the group of 8 met, and France reported there is no yet agreement on enforcing a non-flight zone. I think to enter the conflict at this juncture would be tragic. An already violent undertaking, Muammar el-Qaddafi seems unstable and I would not be surprised if he took even more drastic action against any intervening troops and his own people if other troops were to enter the scene.
Lauren said...
I think, as a country with a very capable military, we would be wrong not to help the Libyans. As Stephanie said, the Libyan military is pretty weak, and getting involved would not produce a full-blown war. I don't think the no-fly zone would be "ironic". We would not be bombing innocent people, we would be bombing the bad guys in order to protect the innocent people. Instituting the no-fly zone would be a fairly quick engagement, and would save thousands of lives. Qaddafi has control in Libya because no one has tried to stand up to him yet.

Kari said...
I agree fully and absolutely with Alyson. The US does have a notorious reputation as being the ones to always step in and "save the day," to a point where people of other countries hate it, but also expect it and want it. However, this very moment in time, I believe is not the right moment. Going into Lybia now would be a disaster. Alyson is right, I think, that if we were to send force now to try and settle the situation the Lybia government would send more troops against us and its own people--we would be fighting fire with fire. So, I think, for now, we should not send any military force to country already overwhelmed by a military that is their own.

Carolyn P said . . . .

I agree with a lot of what Alyson said. It's true that Muammar el-Qaddafi seems unstable and completely psycho, but he isn't unstoppable. The U.S. government needs to intervene, and quick. If the UN or the Allies don't do anything now, there's going to be a full-blown genocide in Libya. If the group of 8 doesn't approve of America intervening, does that mean America is just going to stand by and do nothing?! It's like watching someone get bullied but not doing anything to stop it because your friends feel uneasy about what would happen. I don't understand how anyone could say that America should just stay out of it and let this imminent genocide take place. My great grandparents were survivors of the Armenian Genocide by the Turks from 1915-1923. The U.S. government knew exactly what was happening then and didn't do anything to intervene - in fact, they discouraged any other superpowers at the time to refrain from having any involvement at all. As a result, 1.5 million innocent people were killed. History always repeats itself.

It seems to me that this kind of activity has application across a number of grade levels and courses, and it does not require 1-1 computing.  Let me know if you decide to give it a try.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Blurring Curricular and Extra-Curricular

I moderate an extra-curricular activity - The M-Hub Project - which when fully realized will actually serve the curriculum.  The experience has caused me to think that traditionally curricular v. extra-curricular activities should be viewed as less distinct parts of an education that a chool provides. The girls in the project have learned a great deal about technology, problem solving, and collaborating with adults.  They have been called on to use creativity and leadership skills.  So the experience itself serves educational goals which might come out of a planned curriculum.

I'm even more delighted with the way I've nudged classroom experience into the extra-curricular realm of after school activities.  On April 13, my American Government students (along with students in two English classes) hope to create a "Fight Apathy Fair."  The students came up with the idea of a "science fair" style of activity.  But the teachers more or less mandated the event as an after school activity.  The students don't question it at all.  Very cool-- They see an out of classroom activity as a legitimate conclusion to a curricular assignment.

A pair of crucial after school activities has been initiated by my AP students.  They were required by their challenge to recruit a panel of outside experts who would evaluate their health care solutions.  This notion really threw the kids at first.  They were surprised that I would not be the ultimate evaluator of their proposals, and that I was giving no direction on the who, what, where when of the panel.  However, they ended up completely embracing the idea, and what is more, both teams have scheduled their panel reviews off-campus and after hours.  One group chose a library conference room and the other will meet at a parent's office.  The former chose a Thursday night and the latter a Sunday afternoon.

One of the great appeals to me about Challenge Based Learning is that the  "real world" actionable nature of the challenges creates the possibility that students involved in a classroom activity will achieve the same motivational levels that they have for extra-curricular activities.  Over the next three weeks I'll be able to observe if this has been the case for about seventy of my kids.
"Outside the Box Flickr CC Photo by ♥KatB

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

M-Hub Update

An open letter to the many friends of M-Hub project:  

Last week marked a couple of wonderful milestones.  It was almost exactly a year ago when we had our first after school meeting to discuss the possibility of creating a network of "experts" from within the Mercy community that our our students could tap for their project, career, and college research.

The idea flowed out of my experience in the classroom with Challenge Based Learning-- an instructional design that calls for student teams to solve real-world problems  For example, students in two of my courses are engaged in fighting teenage apathy and reducing the cost of health care.  All teams are actively engaged with the outside community.  Not only have they leveraged technology, but they also have leveraged their personal networks, consulting with judges, state troopers, professional video producers, doctors, social workers, insurance experts, etc.  M-Hub was envisioned to enhance this sort of exploration.

Thanks to terrific support from our school administration and advancement office, we made tremendous progress toward bringing our project to fruition.  Last spring, we answered some important issues about access, privacy,  and platform.  In the Fall we ran a beta test for data collection and had important meetings regarding the technical realization of our quest.  However, in order to truly integrate our site with the school's we needed technical assistance which went far beyond our abilities.  Here the administration stepped in and helped us pay for a web designer to build our site.  Today I am happy to tell you that our domain name has been registered and construction has started on . . . .

Our terrific student leadership team has an important meeting on Wednesday with Mercy's webmaster, Julie Earle. What we have accomplished in a year is pretty remarkable, and there is so much more to come.

Last Friday it was my pleasure to tell the story of M-Hub to the annual MACUL Conference at Cobo Center.  My presentation is available for your perusal at

Yours truly,

Larry Baker

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Framing and Learning

Recently, I had a wonderful, intellectual conversation with my daughter.  She has returned to academia at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. She was working on a paper, and I found that I could actually give her some reasonably helpful feedback on her thesis.  She is writing about the influence of cultural frames and from my studies I know a little something about political frames.  She's very interested in how information is received through the framework built by on one's cultural experiences, while I usually focus on how politicians frame issues to fit such predispositions.

After one of these conversations, it dawned on me how much framing had to do with some of the perceptions and reactions I have witnessed by introducing something new to our school.

Our interdisciplinary "Apple CBL Pilot" team produced a challenge project that called for students to use design in order to improve the cafeteria experience.   Biology, French 3, and Drawing 1 teacher combined their classes to form challenge teams.  They approached their instruction with the greatest determination, sincerity, and passion.  

But they experienced some push-back from students and parents because they were supposedly not teaching "French" or "Art", etc.  I found this quite ironic, because if I give my English students a reading day or spend three days showing a movie that any student could watch online with her school laptop, this my practices would never be questioned.  If I teach writing in my government class or explain in my government class (as I did today) the toxicity of "Death by PowerPoint", no questions are raised about me not teaching the "subject."  For that matter, no one has questioned that I am challenging my government students to fight apathy.  Of course, these all fit the expectations of students and parents alike that teacher initiated activities in the classroom are generally legitimate forms of instruction.

Teaching across age groups  and assigning students to work with other teachers-- like our Pilot teachers tried-  falls outside of the frame.

In my quest to promote Challenge Based Learning with staff, I run into a similar circumstance.  It is exceedingly difficult to persuade some of my colleagues that a CBL project can be anything but extraneous to what they really teach.  Yesterday, one said he did not really want to do a CBL for a particular course, he "just wanted to teach it ".  Others protest that CBL does not suit their discipline (I've heard this from members of five departments, now).

I certainly concede that Challenge Based Learning does not suit every circumstance.  But I think much of the resistance I have encountered is a matter of framing.  We've all had some bad teachers I'm sure-- tedious, unprepared, uninspired.  They lectured, led discussions, assigned experiments.  But so did our very best ones.  Most of our models (at least mine) ran a very teacher-centered classroom.  We sat in rows, listened to and read information, and were tested on it.  That was/is legit school, and so at times I really struggle to reimagine it any other way.  However, I think it is very important that we all try.  Now.

Flickr CC Photo by idoazul

Thursday, March 17, 2011

My New CBL Web Site

I've just completed a new web site.  Weebly allowed me to put it in place very quickly, and I hope you agree it has a clean look with simple navigation features.  I purchased the domain name and upgraded to "Pro", so that I could take advantage of some of the navigational features.  However, Weebly is also extremely useful to  those who don't pay.

The web site is all challenge based learning, hence the name:

I am using the site to aggregate the best of my cbl classroom and professional development resources.  Included are my challenges, some exemplary student reflections, and the slide presentations I have used in the professional cluster groups with the Mercy staff.  I will cross-post my blog to the site when it centers on Challenge Based Learning.  The site also houses the instructional modules I created last summer for the "toolkit" that Katie Morrow(ADE par excellent) worked so hard to pull together.  The site is licensed to Creative Commons.  Please check it out and let me know what you think!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

CBL End Game

Leading professional development for Challenge Based Learning has been quite of experience*.  Like the CBL process itself,  I have done some zigging and zagging along the way.  Heading into the final quarter of the school year, I want to provide an opportunity for closure.  Consequently, I have prepared a "work sheet" for the staff teams who are developing challenges for the students.

I hope none of my colleagues take this as an assignment.  It is meant to provoke discussion within the teams so that they can trouble-shoot as many issues as possible before implementation.  I'm sure I left important considerations out of the list, but I found myself deciding which areas of Challenge Based Learning really meant most to me.

*I'll be presenting on my experiences Challenging the Challengers at ISTE on June 29.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Getting Active with Mediactive

Dan Gilmour has a project called , MediactiveHe calls this "a combination website plus book plus more — an initiative that aims to help folks navigate the media flow that we’re all facing in this new age."

Gillmor teaches and directs a media center at Arizona State University.   His stated goal "is to help people become active and informed users of media, as consumers and as creators. We are in a media-saturated age, more so all the time, and we need to find ways to use media to our — and our society’s — best advantage."

I purchased the ebook and have been following the blog.  Already, my students and I have benefited from his principles for media consumers.  I've included some excerpts, below.

1. Be skeptical of absolutely everything.

We can never take entirely for granted the absolute trustworthiness of what we read, see or hear from media of any kind. This is the case for information from traditional news organizations, blogs, online videos and every other form. . . .the unfortunate tendency of assigning apparently equal weight to opposing viewpoints when one is right and the other is wrong, are not adequate substitutes for actual journalism; you don’t need a quote from Hitler when you’re doing a story about the Holocaust. The reader/listener/viewer needs to keep an eye out for such behavior.

2. Although skepticism is essential, don’t be equally skeptical of everything.

. . . .Part of our development as human beings is the creation of what we might call  . . . .a “trust meter” instead of a BS meter. Either way, I imagine it ranging, say, from +30 to –30. Using that scale, a news article in the New York Timesor Wall Street Journal might start out in strongly positive territory, perhaps at +26 or +27 on the trust meter. (I can think of very few journalists who start at +30 on any topic.)An anonymous comment on a random blog, by contrast, starts with negative credibility, say –26 or –27. . . .

3. Go outside your personal comfort zone.

The “echo chamber” effect–our tendency as human beings to seek information that we’re likely to agree with–is well known. To be well informed, we need to seek out and pay attention to sources of information that will offer new perspectives and challenge our own assumptions. 

4. Ask more questions.

This principle goes by many names: research, reporting, homework, and many others. The more personal or important you consider the topic at hand, the more essential it becomes to follow up on the media that cover the topic.

5. Understand and learn media techniques.

Media-creation skills are becoming part of the development process for many children in the developed world, less so for children in the developing world. In America and other economically advanced nations, teenagers and even younger children are digital natives.
These principles make complete sense to me, and I have shared them with my kids.  I recommend that you check out the project and see if there is something there for you too.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Research Tool for English Teachers

I don't usually use this blog to make a plug, but two days ago I was asked to review EasyBib.  Their representative signed me up for a Pro account, so I gave it a look.  I did not have to look beyond the free features to be very interested.  As one who has spent dozens of hours on bibliographies as an English major and then hundreds more teaching research to high school students, I was astonished to come across a tool that would provide enormous time savings.

The free version has an easy-to-use research guide, which is nice.  But the eye-popper is Autocite.  Paste the ISBN # of a book or url of a web site and the user immediately accesses and can customize the bibliography information.  There are fifty different options for Autocite sources.  The free version will then arrange all of your input into an MLA formatted bibliography and export it to a Word doc.  Yesterday I showed the following video demonstration to my professional development group and it was quite a hit.

The Pro version also will cite in APA and Chicago style.  It includes note taking features among other extras.  I can say this:  The English teachers I have shown this to so far, really like it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Another Look at Shakespeare

In June, '09, I explained why I had stopped teaching Shakespeare, a course I had taught for something like thirty consecutive years.  In fact from time to time students would mistakenly call me Mr. Shakespeare.  My fellow Shakespeare Society members called me "Shake 'n Bake".

I thin kthat some folks who didn't read this blog may assumed that I had become so enraptured by educational technology that I had no more time for more soulful pursuits.  But my reasons were quite different-- I had not become tired of Shakespeare.  I had become tired of myself.  I felt I had become a kind of entertainer:

I had the sense in class that I was performing. All modesty aside, these were good performances, but I could almost see myself teaching as I taught (not good). 

Well,  I think I am ready to go backI have been sounding out members of the drama department about teaching a Shakespeare class that would combine literature study with dramatization.  If they agreed, I believe, we might create one of the most popular courses in the school.  Regardless, I think I could make the course far more experiential even if they did not want to help me rebuild the class.  In other words, I have new ideas.  Time has given me a fresh approach to the Bard.  He didn't need it; I did.

Who knows what the next school year will bring.  But if it brings Shakespeare, I am ready to end my separation and recommit to my old flame.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Making a Commitment to Fitness

My faithful readers will know that I've never hesitated to stretch a metaphor, so here we go again:

Two and a half years ago, I decided to lose weight.  And I got pretty darn serious about it.  I joined Weight Watchers and a gym--- and consequently dropped 65 pounds.  It was hard work, but as they say, did not require nearly the commitment as keeping it off.  To do so, which I have, essentially requires a lifestyle change in terms of nutrition and exercise.

The benefits to me in terms of energy and self-confidence were literal.  For example, I am sure that I would not have appled for the ADE program if I had not been in the process of gaining that edge.

But back to the metaphor.  I am concerned that after a school year's worth of showing, encouraging, etc.  When some of the Challenge Based Learning teams at Mercy finally roll out their projects, they will go into it like the latest diet fad.  You know how that goes-- buy the book, give it a try and cast it aside in a month or so when because you are not really committed to a paradigm shift.  I have already seen this with a couple of friends.  They are not "all in" with CBL which predetermines that they will deem it a failure or consider it to intrusive on the day-to-day.  Could happen.  This is news to no one, but change is hard.


Flickr CC photo by markvall

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wheezing Old Trolls at the Gate

There they go again--  lamenting howls from our old media gatekeepers.  As usual, they are crying and howling over social media and how it's led to the demise of our culture.  Oh that's rich (pun intended, Frank), coming from these cynics.

First we have "journalist", Mitch Albom, who snarkily chides sports figures that Yo, athletes: Twitter truly can b bad 4 u!   Now granted, he has a point about public figures who post stuff online that they may quickly regret.  But we've been teaching this lesson to our school kids for years, so I didn't find it to be particularly enlightening.  Instead, I thought it was pretty ironic, because nearly all the sports beat writers in Mitch's town-- the actual journalists-- monitor those athletes twitter posts like hawks these days and they use them for content in their own tweets!

In fairness to Mitch, the stupidity of Twitter is only a subtext of his column.  For Maureen Dowd, social media is actually a running "sewer."  In a rare, "serious" column, she quotes grossly offensive tweets and online posts about the rape of CBS reporter, Lara Logan.  She even contends though an expert that "while technology is amoral, he said, our brains may be rewired in disturbing ways".

I certainly share Dowd's offense at the "bizarre, voyeuristic Internet culture" she criticizes.  But I wondered a couple of things while reading:  1) Does Dowd know that most of us choose which authors we attend to on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sources?   2) Have any major internet content providers contributed more vulgarity and offense to civil course then the newspapers?  Readers are welcome to post anonymous remarks on any kind of story in my local paper and the assorted comments usually include all kinds of sewer worthy statements.  I've wondered, why would a newspaper invite comment on local violent crimes, for example?.  I assume that these forums are encouraged to bring eyeballs to the online advertisements.  So, yes,  Maureen, what you decry is deplorable.  But at the risk of tarring with a broad brush, it seems to me that you have chosen to toil in an industry that seeks to serve as a conduit for the very filth you denounce.

Even more outrageous was a recent column by Frank Rich.  Granted , like Bill O'Reilly and other media titans, it is Rich's schtick to be bombastic and provocative.  Nevertheless he detached himself completely from reality over the subject of social media and its inconsequential effects on revolution in Egypt:

The social networking hype eventually had to subside for a simple reason: The Egyptian government pulled the plug on its four main Internet providers and yet the revolution only got stronger. “Let’s get a reality check here,” said Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor, who broke through the bloviation on Jan. 29 by noting that the biggest demonstrations to date occurred on a day when the Internet was down. “There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said. No less exasperated was another knowledgeable on-the-scene journalist, Richard Engel, who set the record straight on MSNBC in a satellite hook-up with Rachel Maddow. “This didn’t have anything to do with Twitter and Facebook,” he said. “This had to do with people’s dignity, people’s pride. People are not able to feed their families.”

As Mary C. Joyce, points out,  "Facebook did not cause the revolution, but that is a straw-man argument that not even the so-called cyber-utopians believe.   But, as even Mr. Rich’s own newspaper reported:"

While it is almost impossible to isolate the impact of social media tools from the general swirl of events that set off the popular uprisings across the Middle East, there is little doubt that they provided a new means for ordinary people to connect with human rights advocates trying to amass support against police abuse, torture and the Mubarak government’s permanent emergency laws allowing people to be jailed without charges.  Facebook and YouTube also offered a way for the discontented to organize and mobilize — and allowed secular-minded young people to seize the momentum from Egypt’s relatively neutered, organized opposition.

From my perspective, Albom, Dowd, and Rich as crusty old media stars from another era, who don't get new media because they don't like the way it's changed their landscape.

Flickr CC Photo by Dunechaser

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Teaching" Time Management

Hearing two unrelated remarks in two consecutive days has inspired this post.  In the first instance our "Dallas Team" had just completed a terrific presentation to the full staff on their CBL design.  The challenge that they have presented to their students is

Use design to improve the cafeteria environment.

One question asked after the presentation was whether or not the students had been encouraged to consider the "Mercy values" in searching for a solution.  On the face of it, the question may sound completely sensible.  But actually, it betrays a complete misunderstanding of the CBL design.  Ideally the CBL template allows students to explore such matters independently and arrive at the conclusion that these kinds of values such be implicit in the solution, owning the values rather than hearing them.  The comment also ignored the fact that for years  the students have been scolded about their thoughtlessness and carelessness in the cafeteria, to no avail at all.

The second remark occurred the next day. In a professional development session we were discussing the implementation of challenge projects.   A teacher, (once again, reasonably) voiced her concern that the CBLs were creating time management issues for students who lacked the ability to cope with even conventional college prep high school assignments.  She even suggested that perhaps 9th graders should receive orientation instruction in time management to prepare them for challenge based learning.

I have a few reactions to the two incidents:

1) I think that many of my students (and several adults that I know) really do need support with time management skills.

2) I think that lectures and work sheets on these skills would be an utter waste of time.

3) I believe that each teacher should take responsibility for employing a learning program for time management and take a tough love approach when implementing it.

4) I believe that if properly designed a challenge project is a wonderful way to "teach" time management.  I have had excellent results, by requiring project teams to establish documented guidelines and assignments for all members.  These generally work better than teacher mandated deadlines.

In both the issue of teaching values and time management,  my colleagues place too much faith in instruction.  Developing curriculum is far more challenging than deciding at which junctures and in which courses, students will be told about important values and habits.  The focus has to be understanding.  I have far more faith in designing experiences for students where they will come to embrace these important ideas.
Flickr CC Photo by vpickering

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