Sunday, August 28, 2011

Blog #400

graphic from Wikimedia Commons

Today's blog post marks number 400 at the Drive-thru, so I'll indulge myself in reflecting on what my blog means to me these days.

From the beginning, the Drive-thru has served as a way for me to work out my thoughts on various instructional technology topics.  When I started, it was fun for this English major to simply start writing in an authentic way.  While I've lost the "kick" I get from writing,  the discipline definitely helps me sort out my experiences and notions.

The focus has shifted somewhat from classroom practice, to professional development, to curation.  I enjoy the way that the blog itself causes me to read more.  Sometimes during lunch I'll sift through my RSS feeds looking for quotes or links.  Beside serving the blog, I also come across many interesting subjects and articles that I don't pass along.

At first when I started to post I was disappointed that I was not achieving more discussion with my posts.  But then I started to notice a curious tendency: I tended to achieve more back and forth when something had ticked me off or I had taken a more provocative position.  So I rarely even think about it anymore.  Google supplies me with stats on my number of readers.  I'm happy to know that I have an audience even if I am not artificially ginning up controversy. (We have enough of that in the media, don't we?).

And lastly I confess a guilty pleasure:  I still love looking for photos on the Creative Commons.  While today's effort is not perhaps my best, as with all the others, it suits the the theme in some obvious or obscure way.  And I have not violated copyright.

Thanks for stopping at the Drive-thru.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Connections, Common Sense, QR Codes, and other Good Stuff!

Beginning the School Year:  It's about Connections, Not Content

Most classes, starting with about middle school, begin the school year with reviewing the content to be covered, expectations regarding grades, and other academic information provided by the teacher or instructor.  The human or social element is often disregarded.  

What is interesting is that most learners enter the classroom wondering who is in the course.  They want to know about the teacher and the people in the class not what material is to be covered. What this says to me as an educator is that it all begins with a social connection – between the educator and the learners, and between the learners themselves.
The QR Code for the Drive-thru

Online Education: A Word of Caution

 The pedagogical structures for most online courses is traditional and does not meet the needs of all students and the variety of learning styles that they come with. Although there might be a variety of media types, such as videos or music or reading, the lesson design is still in the "sage on the stage" mode, where the course knows the content and pushes it out on students.

If Cellphones Existed Back in the Founding Fathers' Time

In many ways, our personal communications technologies are as integral to our modern life as a sidearm was in Washington and Jefferson’s day.

Casting a Wide Net for Mentors

This fall, thousands of the nation's students hoping to find specialized knowledge on subjects ranging from paleontology to bus mechanics will do what Julia did: develop "PLNs," or Personal Learning Networks.Created by a loose consortium of teachers that now numbers nearly 9,700, PLNs use social networking to match experts with students who otherwise wouldn't be able to find specialized instruction, help or advice.

QR Code Resources in Education

All about QR Codes (Quick Response Codes) by the Cybraryman

Common Sense Tips for Internet Safety
Digital life is very public and often permanent. If our kids don't protect their privacy, what they do online will create digital footprints that wander and persist. Something that happens on the spur of the moment -- a funny picture, a certain post -- can resurface years later. And if kids aren't careful, their reputations can get away from them and third parties -- like marketers or potential employers -- can access what kids thought was private information.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

From Substitution to Redefinition

When I attended the "Challenge Based Learning Group Think" in Cupertino last year, I had the opportunity to meet a really bright guy-- Reuben Puentedura.  Reuben had already made a great impression on me, but I was still surprised when at the end of our conference, several Apple Education employees waiting outside our conference room descended on him like a rock star.

Not long ago, while I was listening to an Apple conference call, I came to understand why.  His SAMR model has been a centerpiece of Apple Ed briefings and presentations.  As he writes,

The SAMR model is a model I developed starting in the late 80s, early 90s, to answer the question of what types of technology use would have greater or lesser effects upon student learning. The name comes from the four levels of technology use that I've found could be related directly to results in terms of what happened on the student side. 

Here are the levels:

1. Substitution: the computer stands in for another technological tool without a significant change in the tool’s function.

2. Augmentation: the computer replaces another technological tool, with significant functionality increase.

3. Modification: the computer enables the redesign of significant portions of a task.

4. Redefinition: the computer allows for the creation of new tasks that would otherwise be inconceivable without the technology.

I think that this model offers excellent markers for how well a teacher or school "gets" the power of instructional technology.  In my own case, my disdain for tech used to be so great that I did not even explore substitution through PowerPoint for example.  In my film class I was interested in augmenting my students' experience with superior technology (dvd for vhs; LED projectors for tv screens).  

After I developed my "bookless" course in government, I began to be recognized at MHS for being quite the techie.  When Will Richardson led our in-service three years ago, I was introduced to him, more or less as Mercy's techie exemplar.  However when I told him what I had done, he gently urged me to explore ways to use the technology to empower my students or even engage them in creating the curriculum.  At first I was annoyed, but then took it to heart.  Looking back, I see that he was essentially nudging me toward "redefinition" and that Challenge Based Learning was my path.

It was with pleasure that I spoke to Will in June at ISTE.  I thanked him for challenging me, and told him that some teachers at Mercy were using our powerful technologies to do more that communicate information from teacher to student.  As we move into the school year, this is what I believe puts Mercy way ahead of the pack.  We have teachers who are redefining their students' experience.  Yes, our tuition is high, but I think this sort of "redefinition" is will truly prepare them to be successful in their futures.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hot Links!

The Seven Golden Rules of Using Technology in Schools 

Sometimes teachers and administrators need a kick in the pants to see what they perceive as problems re-framed in a different way. Adam S. Bellow, author of The Tech Commandments, and founder of eduTecher, spoke to a roomful of receptive teachers at the recent ISTE 2011 conference, and demonstrated some of the ironies and contradictions the education system is mired in. And he had some advice. 

Detroit Design Festival, September 21-18

DDF is a weeklong festival in Detroit, including signature events that showcase Detroit design and designers, through exhibitions, installations, design shows, roundtable discussions, studio tours, and virtual discussions. Detroit creative practitioners connect to each other.

Automatic Mobile Rendering for Google Sites
As the dramatic growth of the mobile web changes the way people consume content, it’s becoming increasingly important for publishers to provide a good mobile experience. With this in mind, [Google] just added automatic mobile rendering in Google Sites for iOS 3.0+ and Android 2.2+ devices, and a mobile version of the Google Sites lists.

Apple v. Google
An operating system used to be device-specific. However, as we move further toward a completely cloud-based, mobile experience, the definition of an operating system becomes somewhat elusive.

AARP Begins an Internet Radio Service
The AARP, one of the biggest symbols of life in the gray years, is betting that a custom digital player on its Web site will rekindle its members’ love for discovering new music.Last month AARP quietly introduced a free Internet radio service for listeners 50 and older, with 18 channels programmed by the Concord Music Group.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Front Burner Techie Projects

Flickr CC Photo by basb
I am a project oriented person, and for better or for worse I tend to have three or four things going at once.  I find that I manage this pretty well until about two-thirds of the way through.  Sometimes I then get a little bored and let my mind drift to new projects. Not this time!  I am very geeked about the following techie initiatives that I can pursue as an administrator:

* Developing our school web site to incorporate a "Student Show Case" and integrate all of our sports teams' information.

* Deploying M-Hub so that students can use our web site to find  school community "experts" for career, project, and college search information.

* Developing coherent and robust curriculum for video instruction (long range)

*And the grandaddy of them all: conduct a thorough review of our school's technology use through surveys and focus groups as part of a project to take our technology infrastructure and tools into the future.

Hmnn . . . . The last one is sort of three or four in itself.

Well, I posted these as part of an effort to hold myself to following through on these.  I'll check beack with you in four months and let you know how they are going!  I have lots of help for the first goal, but if I take my eye off the other three, I will fess up.  Hopefully, I'll have good things to report down the road.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Flipped in Clintondale

A colleague of mine sent me an a newspaper article about a local high school, whose innovative (and courageous!) principal was launching a "flipped classroom" design:
 Instead of students receiving instruction in the classroom and then tackling their homework at home where they don’t have teacher assistance, the students in Clintondale High next year will watch their teachers give instruction while at their homes and do their practice work in the classroom.
The teachers have already spent the last 10 weeks working on recording lessons and gearing up for next year’s change. The school has stations set up for the teachers to work on this new program.

'"Class time is spent developing critical analysis and higher-order thinking skills," the high school states on its website, www. “Our faculty are not only experts in their field, but exceptional facilitators. Our faculty assess the needs of each student through personal conversations and assessment tools, then we are able to create a personalized learning experience. . . . “It actually quadruples the amount of time that a teacher spends with their students and also allows more one-on-one time,” [ Principal Greg Green] said.

I really admire this venture in many ways.  As someone who has conducted a "bookless" class using Moodle, I am familiar with many of the strengths of this sort of approach:

* Having the "content" of presentations available for students outside of confines of a scheduled class period makes all sorts of sense, particularly for absence, tutoring, or review.

* Class time can be spent much more interactively.  The focus on the teacher as information dispenser is greatly reduced and time can be spent answering questions, doing projects, working with individuals.

* I think the approach contributes to a healthy shift in the perspective on what teaching and learning actually mean.  Principal Green hopes this leads to collaborations, critical analysis, and higher order thinking skills.  That is certainly possible and would be really cool.

On the other hand, I wonder if Clintondale can foresee how much heavy lifting may be necessary to effectively accomplish the "flip."  I was surprised how long it took me to turn some of my lectures into podcasts.  And what about the standards for these "lectures". Will they be straight audio or talking head video?  Often times today's lectures include slides.  Yes, "death by PowerPoint is a standard part of daily life in high school, but imagine extracting all visual representation from a dry lecture.  If visuals are to be included, suddenly the amount of time to accomplish a first class "filp" goes way up too.

Jackie Gerstein provides another general caution for "flipped classrooms" as well,
A major roadblock or barrier to the implementation of this model is that many educators do not know what to do within the classroom, what to do with that “whatever they want to do” time.  For educators, who are used to and use the didactic model, a framework is needed to assist them with the implementation of the Flipped Classroom.  In other words, the message to teachers to do what they want during classroom is not enough to make this transition.

I wish Clintondale well with their plan.  I think that the most important outcome which may come from the attempt to "flip," is a closer consideration of how class time is actually used.  I've concluded that "lecture" is perfectly suited to recordings that are available to the students 24/7.  But of course good recordings with supporting material will be more effective.  Then the big question becomes, how will the teachers' talents be leveraged in ways that promoted authentic learning at Clintondale High.

Sunday, August 7, 2011


I had a nice meeting recently with a young English teacher who drove up to visit with me about Challenge Based Learning.  He'd been to one of my presentations and thought he would like to try this design in a new prep-- Business English. He had a strong understanding of the CBL model and terrific determination to innovate with the course. 

When discussing "rubber meets the road" issues like group dynamics, timelines, audience, and assessment;  I quickly introduced an MHS term-- "CBLish".  As I did so it occurred to me how undogmatic I have become about the CBL model.  Occasionally, I have run into adherents (usually higher ed) who have been startled, even disgusted by my heresy.   

After ten times around the block with CBL and a year of professional development teaching the process, I have found differences in time constraints, curriculum demands, and teaching styles call for modification and flexibility.  I am only interested in promoting projects which are organic to a school's curriculum. If someone wishes to promote community service or simply get students motivated to learn, one can follow this design in an all-out student-directed that allows them to even select the "big idea" that they will explore. 

On the other hand, "CBL" has been batted around so much in our school this year (a good thing) it's meaning has been severely stretched.  I assigned a video project for students which they completed in pairs.  The assignment was entirely prescribed.  I was very pleased with it.  It was not in any respect a CBL, but some of my students referred to it as such.   

So here is where I take my stand.  I am satisfied to call something CBL, if the activity. . . .

* Begins with an actionable challenge which affects the "community"

* A team of students determine its path toward a solution.

* The solution reaches beyond the classroom for an authentic audience

* At the end of the process the students reflects on the entire process.

And, hey, if a project has a couple of these elements, I am likely to deem it CBLish.  If this sounds wrong, I welcome the criticism, so long as its based on your experience using CBL.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Six Cool Take-out QUOTES at the Drive-thru

"Take Out" with generous permission of americanvirus
Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown-  "Students learn best when they are able to follow their passion and operate within the constraints of a bounded environment. Without the boundary set by the assignment there would be no medium for growth."

Esa Kukkasniemi - "I enjoy creating and innovating new approaches for teaching. As a principal I have the opportunity to discuss things with people, learn from others and then put it all together in a new form in my own school. I admire teachers a lot. I respect their professional and personal skills. I see myself as a coach or as a playmaker who tries to make the teachers find their strengths and make them shine!"

Jonathan GlickLong-form writing will survive and will do so by abandoning news nuggets. What emerges will offer a liberating business model for writers. Within the next ten years, long-form writers will accept that their readers have seen the facts of the story live as it happened, probably elsewhere. The longer content that succeeds in that environment will be pieces that provide the most value as backgrounders, news analyses, and commentary.

Jon Pareles - "The great hope of the cloud is the subscription services, like MOG and Rdio. Their catalogs are deep, their interfaces sensible, their sound quality decent though not spectacular. For every fan who imagines herself a D.J., there’s a new social curatorial model arising in these services, somewhere between the old homemade cassette mixtape handed to a friend and full-scale broadcasting, with a giant potential library. You can flaunt or hide what you’re listening to; you can get ideas from others’ playlists or copy them wholesale.

Virginia Heffernan- "I sense in the dismissal of digital technology not just nostalgia but a firm idea that these people — African Americans, gays, women, Anthony Weiner, theater people, the 'perverts' on Twitter — should not be making culture."

Scott McLeod -- "Essentially, we now have the ability to learn about whatever we want, from whomever we want, whenever and wherever we want, and we also can contribute to this learning environment for the benefit of others. The possibilities for learning and teaching in this information space are both amazing and nearly limitless, but right now this learning often is disconnected from formal elementary, secondary, or higher education institutions."

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