Wednesday, June 29, 2011

ISTE 2011 Presentation

Today, Wednesday, June 29, I am be making a presentation at ISTE 2011, called, “Challenging the Challengers”.  This will tell the story of my efforts to cultivate the Challenge Based Learning  through a formal professional development program.  We had our ups and downs, but finished our time together with several CBLish challenges ready for next year.  These projects involve all grade levels at our high school and most of our academic disciplines.  The process has already had a significant impact on our school culture.
The story begins with the entire staff reading Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap.  Wagner posits that American students must cultivate seven “survival skills” in order to succeed in today's flat,  wired, global environment 
* Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
* Collaboration and Leading by Influence
* Agility and Adaptability
* Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
 * Effective Oral and Written Communication
 * Accessing and Analyzing Information
 * Curiosity and Imagination
It was pre-ordained by administration that Challenge Based Learning would be a pathway to acquiring these skills (The mandate in itself created some push-back).  However, we tackled this challenge within a challenge through “professional cluster groups” which met about twelve times each semester.  In addition an August afternoon of in-service was devoted to acquainting ourselves with CBL.  Later, we spent an entire November session sorting through “big ideas”.  The program essentially  focused on the following themes:

* Collaboration
* Transparency
* What’s Your Passion?
* Pitching Your Passion! (November Full Day In-Service)
* Teacher’s Role in CBL
* Authentic Audiences
* Assessment
* CBL End Game
The presentation is laid out in two slide presentations with a short quicktime movie.
They are available below and licensed to Creative Commons with attricution:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Cloud, Mobile, Touch

Flickr CC Photo by Etrusia UK
As Tom James, our IT Network Administrator, recently put it, "These are exciting times!".  For anyone involved in educational technology, like Tom and I, yes indeed, 2011 is an exciting time. We stand on the edge of so many changes.  Ours is a school which strives to be cutting edge in ed tech innovation. Since resources are finite but the possibilities seem infinite, it is extremely challenging to draw a road map into the future. So I am using this space to muse upon major areas of change and some of the big questions which attend them:

* The Cloud
It is clear that more and more computing, storing, and sharing is moving to the cloud.  The cloud allows for anytime, anywhere access and facilitates collaboration. When storage and applications are cloud based it is also possible to improve security and achieve savings (maintinaing one's own servers, etc).

But how fast do we make the move and what might we lose in the exchange? For example, if we announced tomorrow that we were going straight to cloud computing, teachers would lose access to several applications which are only available in our on-site system.  It would be demoralizing to these teachers and detrimental to instruction to pull the rug on them.

* Mobility.  Even adults who are inclined to shun technology have been pulled into computing by smart phones.  Many persons work from their phones.  The iPad has also stood computing on its head.  Not only has it created a category of hybrid between the netbook and smart phone, it is a category killer.  97% of all "slate" computing is done through the iPad.

As iPad-like devices gain in functionality, it becomes harder to justify the expense and inconvenience of requiring students to have a laptop.  An iPad's battery easily lasts though a school day.  It turns on and off instantly.  Both of these features are incredibly attractive to classroom teachers annoyed by the daily recurrence of laptops dying or interminably rebooting.  BUT, for a 1:1 school such as ours, going from an elite laptop to an iPad would result in significant loss in capacity to create documents, slides and assorted media. Moreover, in our case we currently use HPs.  As of today they have not even released a comparable product.  Moving to an iPad would be a radical change.  But moving to an iPad wannabe qualifies as early adaptor and potential PR disaster  (No apps, no iTunes, "No thanks", I can now hear my students saying).  But, on the other hand, the whole market and technology could turn on a dime (VHS v. Betamax).  Whose to say that a Droid-like slate won't successfully enter the market and gain a huge share (and requisite apps).

Touch Technology
Recently, Tom shared with me a video demo for Windows 8.  I was stunned by the degree to which Microsoft is betting its future on the touch environment of Droids and iPads. 

One only has to watch a teenager text with her thumbs to get an idea at what kind of gap can grown generationally as kids slide easily into new phones, new games, new tablets. As kids grow up with these popular and ubiquitous devices, will the schools cling to keyboards and mice because the teachers are more comfortable computing that way?  Furthermore, the difference between consumer hardware and "enterprise" machines is far less distinguishable. Do we continue to ban smartphones and closing off our wi-fi systems to the kids' phones, readers and slates? Or do we embrace them with all the confusion attendant

*Machine Refreshes
Tom tells me that the given cycle for a new model of device is now down to about 10 months.  He also predicts persuasively that many of the major players in technology won't even be around in a few years.

In my mind this issue relates directly to the others.  How can I ask the school and our parents to invest in hardware that may become virtually obsolete in the time it takes a student to move through a four year school. Yet, without uniformity of some kind for every student, how can the teachers take advantage of some of the exciting possibilities of this brave new world.

Tom and the rest of our team have a lot to chew on.  The stakes make me more than a little anxious, but he's right-- This certainly is an exciting time. 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Testing a Newspaper/Education Analogy

Flickr CC Photo by shimray
I watch with fascination the evolution and transformation of the newspaper business.  My Grandfather Baker was once editor at the Ann Arbor News, a newspaper that has morphed into  A while ago, I while scanning Newspaper Death Watch I came across some of John Paton's remarks presentation to the INMA  Transportation of News Summit.

As I looked over his speech, I found myself using my imagination a bit and applying some of his remarks to schools and educators:

You don’t transform from broken. You don’t tinker or tweak. You start again – anew

Doing more of the same with less results in the same done worse. It is prolonging the death of a broken . . .  model rather than adapting to the realities of the present.

[The reason the industry isn’t changing faster is] fear, lack of knowledge and an aging managerial cadre that is cynically calculating how much they DON’T have to change before they get across the early retirement goal line. Stop listening to the newspaper people and start listening to the rest of the world.

We are getting out of anything that does not fall into our core competencies of content creation and the selling of our audience to advertisers. Reduce it or stop it. Outsource it or sell it.

You must supply the tools. . . .increasing training. . . supplying the tools.

You might be surprised at the quote that struck me the most. It was the one about focusing on "core competencies".   A school's core competency is learning, right?  At our school by focusing on Tony Wagner's "Seven Survival Skills", we are essentially trying to help students learn how to learn.  That means reimagining ourselves as guides, instead of experts and focusing on the learning process instead of information acquisition.  It strikes me how many resources and activities (both curricular and extra-curricular) at a brick and mortar school are not related to the core competency of learning.  While the public is not likely to cast us aside as casually as the habit of subscribing to a daily newspaper, the similarities are somewhat ominous.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ed Tech Quotes for a Summer's Day

screen capture of ashley's video reflection
. . . . I have little doubt any longer that it will be a “roll your own” type of education, one in which traditional institutions and systems play a vastly decreased role in the process. That the emphasis will be on learning and what you can do with it, not on degrees or diplomas or even test scores. As I Tweeted out yesterday, my new favorite quote comes from Cathy Davidson:
“‘Learning’ is the free and open source version of ‘education.’”
I do believe that the emphasis will turn back to the learning process, not the knowing process. And while I don’t think schools go away in the interaction, the “new normal” will be a focus on personalization not standardization, where we focus more on developing learners, not knowers, and where students will create works of beauty that change the world for the better. At some point, we’ll value that more than the SAT.

Shelly Blake-Plock:
We are teachers and we are in the business of relationships, motivation, and the facilitation of dreams. And so we develop ourselves. On blogs. On Twitter. Throughout the PLN. We have used the opportunity of the tools at our disposal to engage in an older and vastly more satisfying form of professional development than the mandatory in-service. We've developed a relationship with development. We are engaging with our growth and our communal experience in an open, social, and mutually beneficial way.

Tom Watson:

Far too many of our schools operate to benefit power, control, politics and adults — not teaching, learning and children . . . . 

The status quo is the enemy and will not take us where we need to be to thrive in the hyper-competitive … global economy.

-Steve Jobs: "We are going to demote the PC to just be a device. We are going to move the digital hub, the center of your digital life, into the cloud.” 

Kathryn Schultz:
If you really want to rediscover wonder, you need to step outside that tiny, terrified space of 'rightness' and look out at the vastness and complexity of the universe and say. 'Wow, I don't know.  Maybe I'm wrong."

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scholar Athletes

I was enjoying my Sunday morning browsing through sports  (I like opening tabs for my eight favorite sites and sampling here and there from each).  In the Detroit Free Press I came across a (predictable) end of the year "Scholar Athlete" article.  I was thinking how odd this is.  At one level, this a cultural thing-- We extol athletics to such a degree that we have to create fake incentives to acknowledge that "academics" are also important (scholar-athlete awards or eligibility requirements).  I've never seen "Scholar Musician"or "Scholar Actor" awards, yet to distinguish one of these "extra-curricular" areas calls upon skill sets as unique as athletics.  

"Wall-o-plaques" Flickr CC photo by trpO
I value extra-curriculars terrifically.  I played sports throughout school and both of my kids had rich experiences in drama.  I never viewed these experiences as less valuable than, oh let's say,  history class.  I actually see "extra" and "curricular" all of one piece.  In fact I've been trying to incorporate team and performance elements of extra-curriculars into "academics."  And then on the other hand, I would like to see some of our e.c.'s more cognizant of the entire school experience-- play directors and coaches sometimes set up stated or unstated "mandatory" commitments that will elevate their activities to most-important-thing-in-the universe status that precludes kids from enriching their lives with other experiences.

My ideal would be that every student see himself or herself as scholar-ahlete-singer-painter-tech geek or other assorted combinations, and that distinguishing oneself in athletics and somethings else would seem less remarkable.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Slew of CBL Challenges

Our professional development sessions produced several challenge based learning designs for next school year.  While some of these do not strictly conform to the CBL model, they will involve a ton of  students in a variety of courses.  Our main object was to cultivate the Seven Survival Skills that Tony Wagner outlined in his Global Achievement Gap, and I am confident that these (among others) will help do so:

*Measureably reduce your individual consumer waste output.

*Using social media, convince peers and policy makers about abortion's effect on one specific aspect of society.

"Nissan Qashqai Challenge London" by Richard Parmiter

*Create a web tool for other school students, especially Religious Education classes, that educates, informs and explores the Teaching of Jesus and their relevance to young people today.
*Using knowledge that you have gleaned from this class, make a difference.

*Persuade American teenagers that learning to communicate in another language, other than English, is a vital investment in the 21st century.
*Create designs inspired by Detroit manufacturing history.

*Create a virtual museum demonstrating how life has been both valued and devalued in the same episode of history.

*Take action to improve justice and peace in the city of Detroit.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

"Too Busy" to be Engaged and other Paradoxes

Flickr CC Photo by Jeff Hester
I write this post with no anger, some frustration, and much bewilderment.  This year at my school we used a staff wiki for staff collaboration and sharing.  I truly believe that this became a viable place for sharing documents and achieving at least a modicum of collaboration.  I would give us an A-.

One feature of the wiki was a "forum" for discussing issues related to tech integration, professional development through "cluster groups", and conversation about Tony Wagner's "Seven Survival Skills".   As I write this today, the forum has received 435 posts.  "Success!" one might say.  Except this number has not budged for weeks, now.  Earlier in the year, I was flogging participation in the forums through my professional development group and deliberately trying to provoke conversation with statements I hoped would produce responses.  At one point, the principal urged participation in an all-staff email.  Then, it happened-- outspoken backlash-- at me!  In one of my groups there was outrage about the forum participation being forced on people.   

I get this. First of all, I don't like being told to do things, either.  And meaningful conversation can't be forced.  Also, they were "too busy" to have this additional obligation. However, during a school year, it is nearly impossible to schedule such conversations face-to-face.  Most of the threads concerned core educational issues.  

Now, here's another irony:  At the end of the school year, a very genuine colleague pulled me aside and told me she had been reading through posts in the forum and thought them so valuable that she hoped we wouldn't "lose" the ideas expressed there.  She sadly noted that only three or four persons-- always the same ones-- were having the recent conversations.  This was quite true.  But hers was not one of these voices!

I'm really not sure about the future of the forum.  If only a handful of us are going to discuss, it's sort of silly to do it this way.  On the other hand, I don't want to give up.  I thought we had reached a tipping point this year, but my guess is that the only way to rev up discussions online is to kindle them in a face-to-face context (like a faculty meeting) first.  But I right now I am pretty skeptical about even reaching the 435 post mark now that the novelty has worn off.   

Currently, I am having some very nice experiences with conversations through a wiki about specific projects.  That is obviously a key, but I still find I have to put considerable energy into getting them started.  Any insights or suggestions?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Summer Re-Creation

"Chillin" CC Photo by eviltwin
I've enjoyed making a classroom project one of my summer past times.  This was something I could do on my terms and at the time of my choosing.  Some teachers like to get completely get away, but if you keep an oar-in, consider refreshing with one of these resolutions or practices:

* If you use study guides in your discipline, try for an online hyperlinked guide that your students can access through a computer or hand-held.  These guides are far richer than the paper sort and the experience will acquaint you with the reason that epub is the future of instructional resources.

* Do you make up assignment calendars? Supplement these or replace the paper ones with an online calendar accessible to students through their smart phones.

* Resolve to replace a text assignment with ann audio or video substitute (or make it an option). If you believe that meaningful communication can only be done via the written word, this might give you pause-- this showed me some of the talents and knowledge weak writers possessed and it was a nice break for me from "papers."

* Reflect back on the past semester and consider this:  Was there a cohort of students in a course who did not respond to a given assignment.  Filter out any fault you might rightfully place on them and then consider, might there be a multimedia approach to this group that would increase the buy-in?

* I teach with some colleagues who sneer at lecturing, and instead lead "discussions."  I've lead many of these, myself.  After a "good discussion" I was not likely to think about those kids who said nothing. Perhaps you can help assuage my guilt about this.  Would you consider an online forum in place of the classroom variety?

* Fight the urge to despair about those kids who spend their time outside of the classroom,  texting constantly (or gaming, or Facebooking).  Instead, since you can't control this anyway, make it your mission to find out why this is happening.  Is there any avenue you might take in terms of the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude.  Could you organize a picture or note sharing activity that might actually leverage their cell phones?

*Explore the Creative Commons.  Resolve to set a good example for your students by attributing credit to all those fols who lisence their photos for your use with attribution through Flickr.  Get started with Advanced Image Search at Yahoo. The next time you make slides, try this as a source for illustration.  It's served the Drive-thru very well, indeed.

Do any of my readers have other suggestions?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A Video Feast!

Last week over two days we have had a film festival of sorts in S-7.  My final assignment as a teacher of American Government turned our to be one of my best.  After studying some classic presidential campaign ads, students storyboarded a one minute ad for a local personage of stature and ran him/her for Governor or of Michigan or U.S. Senator.  Coincidentally, over the two day period we had four observers-- two from Gale Cengage Learning, a guidance counselor, and an alumna who is about to join Teach for America.  What amazed all of them (and me!) was how good the videos were given that they basically shot and edited them over a three day class period with iPod Touch devices(including a weekend).  Creating the storyboards was a critical step, but they were given no instruction for shooting or editing their spots.  These girls gave me permission to share their spots.

The first comes from Jaclyn and Caroline:

This one comes from Julienne delightfully influenced by the Chrisler/Eminem Ad:

And my personal favorite from Lauren and Rachel:

What do you think?

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