Monday, August 31, 2009

Wiki Syllabus

Spent the day working on a new wiki syllabus for the grad class I'm teaching this semester on the topic of social tech in education.

Yes, that's right: Wiki Syllabus.

Because, over the course of the semester, I want and will encourage my students to update, remix, and redesign my syllabus. I want them to own it. I want it to reflect their needs.

I'll be meeting with them again on Thursday and will be presenting the new wiki to them. After I do, I'll make it available online for all of you to see as well. Both for you to see some of the resources I've gathered as well as to see what it is that young teachers just entering the field really want.

Syllabus as ever-changing adventure. That's the paperless way.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Letter to the Teachers of My Children

Dear Teachers,

Tomorrow morning, I'm sending three kids your way. Thought you should know a little bit about them as well as a little bit about my wife and I and our feelings about education. And, so I'm sending this note.

First of all, you should know a little bit about the kids.

Our twin boys are soon to be nine years old and they are sort of excited about going into the third grade. I say 'sort of' because in the broad range of things to be excited about as boys of their age with 'very' best personified by going to the store to get a new pack of Warcraft Trading Card Game cards and 'not at all' being somewhere along the line of watching Bambi, I'd say from observation that going into third grade sort of falls in the middle.

As you are sure to soon discover: the boys love fantasy adventures, have read (or been read) all of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, and would rather battle with wooden swords than play soccer.

They also love jazz and both of them play horns. If they are being shy, just ask them about the road trip we took this summer and about going to the jazz club in New Orleans.

My little girl is going into first grade. She is easily the smartest person in the family. She wins all the family spelling bees, loves handicrafts (we have a ridiculously large and growing collection of handmade pot-holders all over the house thanks to her ingenuity), and she has a memory sharper than most you will have encountered -- so you might watch what you say around her ;)

She is also a very precocious reader. Her favorite seems to be Asterix and Obelix. Ask her any question you want to about Ancient Gaul and Julius Caesar; if you're not up on your ancient history, you may want to read up over the next weekend or you're gonna catch an earful all year.

Oh yeah, and one more thing: all three kids are totally wired. And perhaps that gets into knowing something about my wife and I.

See, we are both people who hated school. It's not that we hated learning, quite the contrary... it's that neither one of us really feel that we did much learning in school.

Well, I can't speak for my wife, but I remember ditching homework assignments -- especially in English class -- to read the things that I wanted to read. I guess I was a bit like my daughter that way. I recall once getting in trouble for not getting the 'comprehension questions' finished in my American Lit textbook; I'd been up to the wee hours reading Ezra Pound. When I told my teacher what I'd been up to, the only piece of Pound he knew was the one short -- and completely un-representative piece -- in our textbook. That started me thinking that the dude was clueless. His later comments that a piece of Surrealist poetry that I'd turned in for a grade was very 'Joyce-like' confirmed my suspicions that he'd been a 'C' student in college.

That's not to say I've always been down on teachers. I still remember the strength I found inside myself each Friday afternoon when our middle school language arts teacher led us through meditation practice (I'm sure that wasn't in the curriculum). I still remember the music suggestions made by my seventh grade English teacher... and by large part, the early part of my music education was shaped by him. I still remember the teachers I didn't even have for class in high school but who cared enough to take in a teenaged freak and give a little advice and comfort; I try my best to honor them by taking on this role in my own work as a teacher today.

Where things really came together for me was in the advent of the Internet. And I'd say that, with regards to education, I'd be nowhere without the connections that the Internet has offered. Because this new century is all about connectivity; and I know now that I was certainly made for these times.

The Internet allowed me to learn on my own terms. It took learning out of the static environment of those musty old classrooms and textbook-wielding teachers and put it into the hands of a kid with dynamic interests and access to the minds of visionaries and big thinkers. It allowed me, and continues to allow me, to create myself according not to the doctrines of an arbitrary and politicized curriculum, but by the whims of my own mind, heart, and imagination.

And I've taught my children that that is what education is all about.

And so, there's a good chance that my kids aren't always gonna have their homework done. And there's a good chance they are going to do lousy on their State Testing.

There's also a good chance that my six year old daughter can run circles around most of yr eighth-graders in strategizing how best to take on a dozen dark creepers in the bowels of a dungeon. And there's a good chance that Miles Davis is the soundtrack to my boys' daydreams; and yes, they are ignoring you. It's not that they don't care; it's that they care a whole lot. Just not about what you might be teaching them at the moment.

So, I want to allay a few concerns you might have right off the bat.

First of all, I want you to know that you can talk to me and my wife as people. I'm a teacher. I know bs teacher talk. You don't have to use it with me.

Second, your honest opinions of my kids will not offend me. I'm not going to sue you or try to have you fired. Sometimes my kids are jerks. Sometimes they are rude. I know this. I'm their father. If you tell me that my kids are always perfect angels, I will not believe you; in fact, I'll probably think you are somewhat clueless.

Third, I expect you to be challenged. If you are not up for challenges, get out of teaching. Meaning: you had better read up on what's going on in education; I expect my kids' teachers to be professional, aware, and engaged with the cutting edge of 21st century education. If you can't cut it with what's going on in your (and my) profession, we're going to have problems. Read up.

Finally, I expect you to treat my children as citizens of the 21st century. I do not expect, nor want, you to teach them like you and I were taught. Computers do not scare me. Social networks do not scare me. And they don't scare my blogging, MMOG-playing, YouTube-watching elementary schoolers. I've been doing my part to teach my kids digital citizenship; I expect nothing less from you. I want you to experiment with the integration of social technology into your classroom and I'm not gonna freak out if there are problems along the way.

I am gonna freak out if you treat the computer as a glorified television set.

So, to wrap this up. Looks like we've got our hands full this year. Our world is rapidly changing and we're gonna have to help each other carry on through these tidal waves of change. I promise to do my part as a parent, and I'm going to count on you to do your part as a professional teacher. Together, we will raise the 21st century's first generation.

Be fearless. And I'll do my best to be fearless. This isn't a competition between us; but at the same time, it's not like we're on the same team versus the kids. I'm gonna expect a lot of you this year; and you should expect a lot of me. Let's start by connecting on Twitter. You know where to find me.



Saturday, August 29, 2009

What about TWO?

A reader writes:
I am seeing a surge in teenagers, as they get older toward mid-late college, using two Facebook pages. One is their "professional" page - for family or job prospects. Yes, family is included, they often consider a family broadcast a hindrance to their privacy! The other is their regular page complete with beer pong and weekend parties.

Though beer pong rarely makes it into my broadcasts, I have no less than four social networks (education PLN, classroom use, music and arts, and personal).

What about you all? How many Twitter feeds are you handling?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Educating Young Teachers in the Use of Social Tech in Education

Spent last evening with a group of young teachers in Baltimore.

This was the first of our ten sessions on social technology in education, and a few things struck me as noteworthy.

First of all was the professionalism of the group. It's not that I don't regularly encounter teachers who take their profession seriously, rather it's so long been a standard quip that young teachers are so inherently unprofessional that it was a nice fork-in-the-eye of hearsay to see that our young teachers -- at least the folks in my group -- are more than equipped with a good set of professional skills.

Second was that by-and-large, these young teachers are unaware of everything we've been talking about on this blog. That is, with the exception of two or three 'social' Twitterers, the only social technologies represented among the group were MySpace and Facebook. And almost everyone who admitted to using MySpace claimed that they had long since given the service up.

In a way, there seemed to be a bit of embarrassment surrounding the use of social networking. Many admitted that they'd not want their students peeking into their own FB profiles.

Ten weeks should change that attitude.

One of the goals of this course is to help the teachers build their PLNs, so it was exciting to see so many of them sign up for their first Twitter accounts. In fact, we got off to what I consider a good start beginning with a review of the shift in educational technology from the old hardware days to the Cloud and social media followed by a look into the work of folks like McLeod, Fisch, and Richardson.

Then it was on to the nitty gritty of building a digital profile: students created their own Weebly pages to be used as the hub of their social network (I've found this is a relatively easy way to organize if you are using several Web 2.0 services). Folks left the class with a web page, a Twitter account, Diigo, and instructions for starting a blog.

Certainly a different sort of thing than when I was in Ed School.

Next week, we'll take a look at Google Apps for education and Google Profiles as well as ways to activate one's PLN. And on that latter note, I have to give a big hearty shout-out to my own PLN across the Twitterverse: responding in a massive voice in my request for things young teachers should know about Twitter, you all gave the medium the chance to perfectly illustrate the message.

Thank you and I hope you all continue to be a part of this building process for these young teachers over the course of the next ten weeks.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

JHU Social Tech and Education

Everyone is welcome to check this out (it's the homework for my social tech in ed / paperless classroom students... we just finished our first class).

1. Complete Weebly homepage; you should have pages for 'news', 'twitter feed', and 'social media links' -- please comment below with the url of your published page.

2. Get on Twitter, add me, follow folks who were part of our conversation (you can find the conversation by searching @TeachPaperless ) -- I expect to see you Tweeting no less than two or three times a day; you get out of the network what you put into the network.

3. Start Diigo account. Go to Weblogg-ed, find an article you fancy, and leave public comment annotations.

4. Go to , sign up and start a new blog. Make at least one post on your impressions of the video and your impressions of what this class is going to be like (and feel free to be cruel... just be cool).

See you in a week... (actually will probably see you on Twitter).

What's in a Tool?

Tonight's the first night of a ten week course I'm teaching on social tech and education at Johns Hopkins.

Here's a question directed to the folks out there using social tech in the classroom on a regular if not daily basis: if you were teaching the course, what are a few Web tools you'd insist that every new teacher learn about in grad school?

And the classic part two: Why? What is it about these tools that makes understanding them so essential to teaching in the digital age?

Comment away, I'm looking forward to reading your ideas, sharing them, and debating them with my students.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tech Camp Isn't Just About Tech

Ok, so it wasn't a 'Nature Trail to Hell (in 3-D)', but my kids and I finished up tech camp early today so I took them on a nature walk around the campus.

Today was a good day. Tech camp consists of giving incoming students a day to work out all of the kinks of managing a computer in a 1:1 wireless environment. Even more than that, though, it gives incoming students a chance to meet and greet without the edginess of having to compete with the veteran students.

I had my kids -- all of whom were upperclassman transfers -- make little digital comics introducing each other. The art teacher took photos and collected the images for the yearbook. The kids got to know each other and they got to learn some of the basics about using their TabletPCs all in one fell swoop.

And, finishing up early enough, we were able to spend a half hour out on the pond. Kids talking. Students getting to know a new school. The things the first day back should be about.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Grading in a Social Tech Integrated Classroom

Have put a lot of thought into how I am going to grade students this year, and I've decided on the following.

First of all, I'm not giving any tests or quizzes.

At least none of the traditional variety.

Instead, based on a 100 point scale per quarter: 50 points will be given for daily blogging and social bookmarking, 10 points will be giving for a series of Pixton-based vocab/terminology checks, and 40 points will be earned for completing two projects of the student's design and interest.

Abuse of Twitter and our social media community ends up in minus-5 points and a referral to the dean.

And that's it.

I'm especially excited about the blogging because that was so successful last year; I am equally excited about the social bookmarking, as I think it will encourage students to explore more widely. For these two tasks, the student will earn 50 points (.5 point per blog post up to 25 points; .5 point per bookmarks up to 25 points). They must maintain a daily schedule and I'll be regularly checking to see that they are taking the task seriously and not just giving me fluff. Part of the way I plan to do this is by having them annotate their bookmarks in Diigo. That'll also give us the latitude to share and mark up each other's findings which promises to be fun.

To give a little guidance to the blog posts, each day of the week will be themed, each day corresponding to a question; so Monday is 'Who', Tues 'What', Weds 'When', Thurs 'Where', and Fri 'Why'. This will be applied to history, grammar, literature, music... whatever we happen to be talking about that week in class.

As for Pixton, I found last year that this was hands-down the most effective tool for helping students remember vocab. Basically they create, share, and remix their own Web 2.0-based comics; each comic demonstrates the vocab or terminology in narrative form.

The two quarterly projects are going to be specific and based on student interest. I'm going to let this grow organically and will get back to you all on where it leads.

I'm going to take the approach that we are all starting at the bottom of the mountain and that our blogs, bookmarks, comics, and projects are the tools we use to get to the top of the mountain. I've just finally come to the point in my teaching where I don't like the sort of attitude and classroom environment that traditional testing and grading wind up producing. So I'm trying to create an assessment experience that better reflects the social tech thrust of my teaching.

I'm very excited for our prospects this year. It'll be my first year teaching World History and I'm really looking forward to teaching three Freshman classes -- integrating social tech into their academic experience and expectations from the very start of their high school careers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Ok... What's Going on Here?!?

Concerning big change on his first day back at school, Reader Norman writes:
The same thing is happening at my school. We are unsecuring our wireless!!!!! We have become a Google School!!...we are in the cloud!!! It is better than one-to-one....hand-helds in the classroom are at the teachers discretion....I am trying to convince everyone to run Twitter Feeds on their projectors....We are making a difference!!

Twitter Has Arrived (if you didn't notice...)

Today was the first day of the year for all faculty.

We've got a day of meetings with departments tomorrow followed by a day of tech camp for incoming Freshmen.

In exciting Twitter-related developments, I gave a short presentation based on what I delivered in Cambridge a couple weeks back and it went over gangbusters. Got several teachers on board both for using Twitter to build a PLN as well as to investigate applications of Twitter in the classroom.

Also, this past week saw our school open its own Twitter feed for the purpose of communicating info with parents and students. Our athletics, alumni, and campus ministry departments all started Tweeting as well.

This could be it. This could be a watershed moment in getting past the fear of social media. Folks are hungry for it; in all of my conversations today it was all people were talking about.

And what were the things that have seemed to put it over the top and haul it right into the mainstream?

Iran and TIME magazine.

That's the difference a summer makes.

Six years ago, we were talking about MySpace like it was a den of thieves just waiting to swallow up our children. Today, the principal is Tweeting and the Rugby team and Film Club have their own Facebook pages.

Now, we just got to get it right. Keep the ship on its course.

It's all about extending those 'right relationships' that teachers have been taught how to develop into the digital world. And it's all about modeling digital citizenship and healthy social media choices to our students.

And it's got to be an everyday thing. Social Tech should not be a 'special event'. It should be as common in schools as pens, pencils, desks, and chairs. It should be naturally integrated into the very fabric of school life.

I'm slated to give a presentation to our parent community in a few weeks. The topic is social technology in education. Because parent knowledge and parent involvement is the key. It's time to talk about social media directly to the folks who trust us with the education of their children.

Here's to the future. The future is now.

And if you can't tell, I'm extremely proud of the John Carroll School, a little independent Catholic high school that's jumped right to the forefront of the digital age.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On Change and Predictability

It's funny, within minutes of publishing my last post, a friend commented:
A little heavy handed on the change business, huh? And predictability? Don't kids need more rather than less than that in their lives? Especially in school?

As to the former: I think (for once) I'm actually not being heavy handed concerning my position on 'change'. The reason I like the WoW comparison is that it gives us the example of change coming in while the game is already on top. In other words, the real 'cataclysm' going on here is that they've got 11 million users who love the game as-is and now they are in effect destroying the very fabric of the world those people love. That takes guts. But by-and-large as I watched the chats play out in the backchannels of Azeroth's cities over the weekend, most folks are thrilled by what's coming; it was a total love-fest for this move.

We as educators have to understand that while we may at times be wary of change, our constituencies -- both students and parents -- are ready for it. For example, I hear over and over the question of how parents will respond to social media in the classroom. And I always respond that after a full year of using blogs, Twitter, and a variety of Web 2.0 tools, I haven't received a single parent complaint. And in fact I have received a handful of thank-yous from parents who want their kids to be using this stuff in an authentic way.

As for 'predictability', I do understand the notion that classrooms need to be a place of stability and safety for students; but I don't think that challenging predictability in any way undermines that. In my own experience, I remember changing the entire format of a term-paper assignment on the spot in front of a class of Juniors because an idea one of them had was much better than the idea I'd worked up over the course of a few days. In another case, I saw a veteran teacher suddenly up and change his course requirements in the middle of a course -- to the benefit in learning of all of the students (you should've seen the projects they accomplished after the upheaval!). I know another teacher who scrubs predictability out of his classroom environment by carrying on twice-a-week lotteries for seating arrangements. Again, this doesn't make the class less stable, rather it fosters more interaction between kids who otherwise wouldn't. And lastly, I caught a teacher over the summer learning everything he could about Twitter after reading about it in TIME; he ended last June totally bummed out on ed tech, but coming back into it this fall post-Twitter, he's pumped and he's starting by having all of his students Tweet.

So I'd say that you've got to be open to spontaneity. That doesn't mean you can just wing it; after all, as any jazz musician will tell you, you've got to bring your A-game to any improvised set. Improvisation is an artform. It needs to be practiced and honed; the artist needs to learn from mistakes and assumptions. But, in the hands of a serious practitioner, improvisation -- and the disruption of predictability -- is a nuanced method of expressing understanding, compassion, and new forms of accessibility.

And I'd argue that these are the things kids need more of in school.

What WoW Can Teach Us Teachers

Something happened over the weekend that really impressed me.

The ‘thing’ was Blizzard Entertainment’s announcement of the next World of Warcraft expansion. On the surface, this might seem like nothing more than a video game promotion. But, when your ‘video game’ consists of an online world inhabited by more real human citizens than New York City, we as folks working with tech on a daily basis should take notice as to what they are up to.

And what they are up to is something phenomenal.

Whereas previous expansions of the adventure game have offered users new quests and new areas to explore, this expansion does one of the most radical things ever attempted in a virtual reality MMOG.

It destroys the world.

Literally. The expansion, called Cataclysm, actually destroys and re-creates the entire multi-continent virtual world that WoW players have come to know over the past few years.

In effect, what the folks at Blizzard Entertainment are banking on is that serious gamers want change.

And what could signal a greater change than actually turning the entire virtual environment on its ear?

Now, in my thinking, there is something to be learned here. For thirty+ years, we’ve treated schools like boardgames. And every few years, we’d announce that the game was changing, but we kept using the same board and the same pieces. We changed the rules, but forced the players to use the same old dice.

Now, we have the opportunity -- as in what Blizzard is doing with WoW -- to dramatically change the environment itself. We can keep the knowledge we've gained through our experiences, but apply it and let it manifest in new ways over a changing and changed world. And we can let that changing and changed world to inform us. To inspire us. And to push us off onto new adventures.

Because our kids are dying to take on new adventures. After all, they live in a world where they expect upheaval and change; they don't understand why so many of us are so afraid of it. Change -- whether in school or in an MMOG -- is a challenge; it's not in and of itself a good thing or a bad thing. In a way, change is worth only what you put into it.

And by destroying the very virtual world so many gamers have come to expect, Blizzard is really putting everything they've got into change.

So here’s the challenge to teachers: be like Blizzard. ‘Destroy’ the world you’ve created for yourself. All of those things you’ve spent years working out -- from seating arrangements to the way you assign homework -- take all those things, crack ‘em like eggs, and see what’s inside.

Try something new at least once a day. Don't let the kids predict you. Mix it up. It's not going to confuse your students (for long...); it's going to intrigue and inspire them.

Don’t be afraid of the cataclysm, embrace it.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Rubrics Were Great

Let me start by saying that this post reflects nothing more than my opinion as a working full-time classroom teacher. This is not a piece of educational theory, it isn't some policy report, and it certainly isn't some measure that I expect teachers to adopt immediately.

It's just the way I see things.

And the way I see things is like this: a rubric is an insult both to the intelligence and creativity of a student.

Last night, way too late perhaps, I got sucked into a Twitter discussion about rubrics. Arguments for and against were put forth and examples were given. This morning, the Twitter chatter continued as I heard about individual teachers' feelings for and against rubrics as well as situations where state education boards demand rubrics. And something that keeps coming up is the idea that rubrics are a) transparent and b) objective.

And I would argue that neither is true. (Add: 10:59AM EST -- Or rather, the former isn't true and the latter is of questionable relation to reality let alone the purposes of education).

First of all on the issue of transparency. Most rubrics come in one of two varieties. Either they are extremely didactic in a step-by-step hold-your-hand IKEA instruction manual sort of way or they are touchy-feely rubbish where you get a '1' for 'not demonstrating significant understanding' but a '5' for 'demonstrating unique depth and content mastery'. Rubrics of the latter variety are meant to satisfy the political needs of institutionalized learning, while rubrics of the former are theoretical expressions of teaching to the lowest common denominator.

What does any of this have to do with 'transparency'? Looks to me like it has everything to do with a dog-and-pony show. In these situations, the rubrics come off as more an insurance policy so the teacher scores well in an observation than anything else. And the argument may be made that this sort of rubric helps the student understand what it is that the teacher wants... which brings us to my next criticism.


I don't want students to do 'what I want'. I don't want students to follow 'objective' rules. In fact, that's entirely the type of behavior I'm trying to break my students out of.

For twelve years, we condition students to follow rules. We teach them that if you do A, B, C, and D, then you will make the grade. We give them rubrics so that they can check off that they did A, B, C, and D and we assign grades and we call this education.

Who are we fooling?

I should step back a moment to give some context. I'm not some guy talking out the side of his mouth about this stuff. I understand exactly how rubrics work. I've twice worked on committees designing rubrics. I understand that on the surface, it appears -- and even seems to make some sense -- that rubrics would be the best option. After all, what's the alternative? Just telling the student you want a project done and not giving any guidance?

And I think that actually is the red herring.

The red herring is that rubrics are helping the student learn. I'd argue that rubrics -- if anything -- are teaching the students that education is just a matter of completing tasks on a checklist. I'd argue that rubrics are teaching students that if they complete the tasks as stated, they should expect success.

Except life doesn't work like that.

Life is more complicated. Could you imagine Socrates handing Euthyphro a rubric? I think it's far more likely that rubrics would have been the butt of Aristophanes' jokes: another example of how sophists con folks into thinking they understand things.

To the Greeks, the rubric would have been a device used by a teacher to demonstrate to others that the teacher's students 'got it'. Unfortunately, it wouldn't have had anything to do with whether or not the students actually 'got it'.

Poor Phidippides.

And so we raise a generation of kids who don't have the ability to deal with ambiguity. We raise a generation of kids who expect success for pleasing the teacher. We raise a generation of kids who don't want to take creative risks because those risks aren't going to improve their 'grade'.

I write this post at risk of sounding polemical. In fact, that's not my purpose, but I understand how my tone could trigger that response. What I'd really like to come out of this is a challenge to teachers to find more authentic ways to assess your students. Ways to connect, not via a mass-produced one-size-fits-all rubric, but by individualized 1 to 1 attention. Ways to share in the learning process in a communal and ongoing way, rather than by having students demonstrate 'understanding' by jumping through hoops and checking off items on a checklist. Ways to express to students that life is more complicated than a rubric and that success in life is not so easily defined.

Otherwise, I think we do our students a disservice. We set them up to engage with a world where more and more as this century progresses we are turning away from the old models of rubrics and other forms of so-called 'objectivity'.

Consider NASCAR.

There are numerous checklists that must be filled out before any given race. The cars themselves must meet dozens of requirements. On paper, everything has to be A+. Yet only one race car is going to cross that finish line first.

In other words, meeting the requirements of the rubric doesn't in any way ensure success. Yet, our students are conditioned to think otherwise.

So, what to do?

Well... let your students play in class. Give them open-ended assignments with no possible correct answer and no single conceivable way to get the assignment done. Don't explain things to your students, rather talk to them and allow what they say to teach them how they think. Teach your content through conversation whether f2f or online. Teach your content through trust. And don't give your students a list of things that suggests what you want, rather allow your students to figure out what it is that they want.

Because, in the end, this is about them learning. It's not about us proving why we gave a particular grade.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Opportunity Presented by a Bare Room

Walked into my classroom for the first time today and got quite a shock: nothing was there.


The crew is stripping and re-waxing the floors, so they cleaned out the rooms. Now, I knew they did this sort of thing in many of the regular classrooms where there are just desks and chairs, but my room is a little bit different. Basically it's a huge TV studio full of electronics, a row of Macs, a green screen, pro lighting, a sofa, and all my junk. So, it was a little weird to see it bare.

But it started giving both me and the teacher I share the space with many ideas about how to refurnish.

Plan is to go in tomorrow and build the room anew based on our best idea of what a paperless classroom should look like and what a paperless classroom should feel like. First thing we are doing is marking up the floor in a series of taped arcs that will work to guide students for seating arrangements which will be modular and change according to the style and purpose of the lesson. Second thing will be to hang up my second projection screen and make it permanent (that's the screen I've had on a stand that I run our live Twitter feed on).

I'd love to hear ideas from the TeachPaperless community. If you had a big empty room, (and I mean big... like twice the size of a standard high school classroom), how would you furnish it? I've got two LCD projectors, six iMacs, an audio control room, directional lighting, and a few rolls of duct tape.

Let's hear what the 21st century classroom should look like.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Happy New Year!

Spent an hour Monday helping a colleague who's trying to go paperless this year.

Poor guy didn't even have a Google ID, but by the end of the hour he was set up with a new email account, his own blog, an RSS calendar, and a Twitter feed. We talked through several of the things I've posted here on TeachPaperless over the last several months and it was really exciting to see someone -- especially someone I know personally as a teacher and have a lot of personal respect for -- really 'get it' as goes this ed tech thing. There was a spark there. It was practically visible.

It was that same sort of thing as when a student suddenly realizes how to solve a problem.

A spark.

And that spark is contagious.

I, for one, am excited about getting back into the classroom in a week. That's where the action happens. That's where we find out whether this paperless classroom and social tech in ed thing actually pays dividends. Whether it produces sparks.

Incidentally, this last year was the first year that I taught AP Art History entirely paperlessly. Used Wikipedia, the Met Museum Timeline of Art History, Twitter, and my own brain in lieu of a textbook or lecture notes. Rather than have kids take slide-ID tests, I let them blog and I graded their blogs as full credit assessments.

In that class I put in to practice all of the things that I've talked about over these nearly 500 posts.

And it was a special experience, because unlike my Latin classes where I basically teach the kids for four straight years, Art History is a one shot deal. What I'm getting at is that unlike my AP Vergil Seniors who had had the experience of working in a relatively traditional classroom for a year or two before I went totally paperless, this AP Art History class was the first high-level (and high-stress) class that I taught entirely paperlessly to students who had no exposure to any other method of learning Art History.

And they wound up earning by far the best grades on that silly ole AP exam of any students I've taught.

Now I'm not one to really care very much for grades; and I let my students know this on a regular basis. I could care less whether they get an 'A' or a 'D' in my class; what I want them to understand is that they are really the only ones who really know if they 'get it' and that 'getting it' is far more respectable than the letters on any term report.

Nonetheless, it's a nice beginning of the year boost to see those grades come back as they did; because what that says to me is that -- purely in terms of those numbers -- there is no way anybody can ever again argue to me that students 'do better' by the old traditional methods. In my eyes, that argument was proven invalid by the very grades that many of the holders of that opinion value so much.

Every teacher knows that New Year's Day occurs in August (or September depending on certain locales... but you catch my drift). So, Happy New Year's, here's to your health, for 'Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and auld lang syne?'

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On Open Source OS vs Apps

The Open Source discussion continues with a reader commenting:
Ok, so we keep Windows, but lose the applications that cost money - use Google Docs, Gmail, Blogger, OpenOffice, and the rest. How often do we really have problems with the applications? It's usually the network or the OS, not the apps.

Think about the savings just from not licensing Microsoft Office.

I tend to agree. This fits into my general 'use what you need' philosophy about tech. If you are nervous about using an Open Source OS, then don't. But that doesn't mean you can't use Open Source apps.

In a way, there are two debates here. The first, which our reader noted yesterday, is that it's difficult to 'sell' open options in systems to a leery admin team.

But the second has to do with the apps themselves. And I think you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who'd argue that you should pay money for MS Office as opposed to using Open Office and Google Docs. Even MS knows this, which is why they're putting their eggs in new baskets as of late.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Open Source... from the Source

An Open Source IT guy responds with a bit of perspective:
For me, this post highlights a paradigm that many an IT employee in education understands, and that is that faculty drastically underestimate the amount of time and effort it takes to maintain an enterprise quality system. For the record, its a lot harder to hire a quality sys admin for open source than for Windows and also a lot more expensive. And please don't just say, "but the savings of software licenses make up for the salary difference". If you did a total cost of ownership analysis you would know that it isn't that simplistic.

I suppose that by now you wouldn't guess that I am an open source guy. Well, I am. I've replaced large enterprise (Nortel) phone systems with open source (Asterisk, sipx). If there is one system that is scary to go unsupported on, its the phones. You've got 911 and other security and safety problems. When the Internet goes dead people get annoyed. When the phones go dead, people get fired.

So let me turn this argument on its ear a little. The reason that open source doesn't take off more is that end users are generally unwilling to put up with the slightly more downtime that is possible with unsupported open source. Sometimes an upgrade will introduce a new problem with a feature, sometimes you have to wait for a patch from the community and sometimes you are communicating via a listserv with other folks trying to get things straightened out. Even a really good Linux admin will get stuck on problems and need to go to the community for support. Support from the community takes more time than a call to Microsoft (thought it is much cheaper).

When a system is down and faculty are upset, they are usually ok with "Microsoft is working on it" or "we've got a call into the vendor and they are logged into our system right now trying to get things straightened out." They normally are not ok with, "I'm just really struggling to get this freaking thing to compile, but I've emailed my friend in Bolivia and I'm waiting for his reply".

If people would chill out just a little and bring their expectations down from five nines (99.999% uptime, all but five minutes a year) it would be a workable solution. Technology has created such high demands for perfection and instant gratification that IT admins are in a catch-22. You can't spend the money for 24x7x365 support, but you're expected to provide just as good of service. These unreasonable demands are what is driving my friends and I to bail on the IT industry, it is just too stressful of an existence.

I'm all for teacher innovation, I'm all for using collaboratively developed software that holds to the open source model. My job is to get people to use technology in their instruction. We just need people to understand the trade off and to understand that an hour or two of downtime each academic year is worth the money we didn't send to Microsoft.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Three Things Schools Need to Think About with Regard to 'Free'

Reader Teach_J brings up some important points about going the 'free' route in ed tech. I'll try to touch on each of his three very valid concerns.
I think you forgot about three other major stumbling blocks to using open source. 1) IT Resistance - most IT departments are wedded to Microsoft products. It is what they know. They don't have any experience or background in Linux or using Open Source software. They will fight tooth and nail to stay in their comfort zone.

I recognize this resistance to change and here's what I've got to say about it: Why do we push teachers to jump into the 21st century, but we don't require it of our tech folks? I realize there are many many tech folks out there working in schools to do great things and to utilize the resources of Open Source, Web 2.0, and Social Tech. But what about all the folks who are beholden to MS Office? I say just as we make it an expectation that teachers will integrate current tech into their teaching, we should also make it an expectation that tech officers will integrate new thinking about open solutions into their work. And there's always another way to change this paradigm: make your tech hires based upon the candidates' proficiencies with Open Source and Social Tech; change the culture by changing your hiring qualifications.

2) Licensing - many Open Source or "free" software products are only open and free to the general public. Institutions, even public ones like schools, are expected to license the software just like Microsoft's stuff. It may be cheaper, but it is not always free as in free beer.

I understand that this is often the case, so it's important to tread carefully and to know exactly what it is that you need and want from the tech you are seeking. At my school, we recently encountered a situation where it looks like we're not going to be able to support MS SharePoint as we've done for the last several years. What to do? Well, chances are we're going to go with Google Apps for Education which is totally free. The package includes email, sites, and all the office-style programs we could want; so why pay good money for the MS alternative? (I've used Google Apps exclusively over the last few years for office, presentation, and archiving, but this would be my first foray into using it school-wide. I'd love to hear from some folks who have about the pros and cons of their experience.)

3) Training - just like the IT dept., the faculty and staff of a school district is already heavily invested in using Microsoft products. They have probably even had training from their school district in Office, etc. Few teachers will want to repeat that with "new" software packages. And going back to #1, it is the IT dept. that will have to develop the training, since there are few ready to go, off the shelf resources for Open Source.

I've heard this argument three times in the last four days. I think one of the nice things about many open platforms is the ease-of-use. Nobody who's ever used MS Office is really going to have a problem using Open Office or Google Docs. Nobody (I'm talking amateurs like me and most of my teacher friends) who's tried to create a web page using Dreamweaver will balk at using a free drag-and-drop program like Weebly to create a class page. There's really very little 'training' in anything a teacher would ever need to do in a classroom. Instead of 'training', try modeling a few uses of Google Earth, or Jing, or Diigo to your teachers and then let them decide how and what they'd like to experiment with.

Maybe I missed a memo, but it really doesn't seem all that hard.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Review, Reconsider, Reallocate!

A comment came in via the audience during the second panel yesterday afternoon at the Social Tech and Ed conference. The gentleman made the comment that it would be foolish to try to tell our admins and higher-ups that open source is free. Bandwidth, hardware, and connectivity after all are all cost-heavy infrastructure components that have to be in place before a school can even think about open source.

And that’s true. But it’s not the whole story.

The fact of the matter is that schools have all of the money they need to supply classrooms with projectors, students with netbooks, and schools with big bandwidth. It’s all a matter of the allocation of resources.

How much money does your school spend on paper and copiers? How about software licenses? Local servers? Machine contracts? Books? Encyclopediae? Wall mounted maps? Globes? Chalk? Dry-erase markers? Dirt for the ballfields?

Add it up. And then tell me you can’t afford $300 per kid plus a decent wireless system.

Don’t spend good money on crappy operating systems. Don’t spend a dime on office and presentation software. It’s all available in stable and effective formats for free.

Because sometimes ‘free’ is ‘free’.

But that’s not the end of the story. Because there is another resource that we are going out of our way to foolishly neglect: the technology that our students already have.

In our attempts perhaps to try to maintain a ‘level’ playing field, we are in fact cutting off our collective nose to spite our collective face by not allowing students to bring their own laptops, netbooks, and smartphones into class. I spoke with two teachers yesterday -- one from Massachusetts and the other from California -- who both told me that their schools have explicit policies that prohibit students from bringing their own tech to school.

This in spite of the fact that -- at least in the case of the Massachusetts teacher -- an overwhelming number of students had laptops and mobile devices at home.

Why are we doing this to ourselves?

Why are we forcing students to use the software we’re spending thousands of dollars to license when they could just bring their own machines and work off the Cloud?

I understand that not all students will have the family resources to afford computers or mobile devices. Which is why we’ll use all of that money we saved to get good devices into their hands.

Come on people, let’s think differently about this. Review, Reconsider, Reallocate. We can get this thing done!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Follow 'Social Tech and Education Conference' at #steconf

Originally considered live blogging the Social Tech and Ed conference, but am having better conversations via Twitter.

If you are reading this live, follow #steconf and get in on the discussion.

Twitter in the Classroom Preso

Here's a public Google App preso of the slides from my presentation on 'Twitter in the Classroom' this morning at the Social Technology and Education conference at Harvard.

Follow along if you are here live, feel free to chat and mix it up!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Social Technology and Education Conference

Headed up to Massachusetts for the Social Technology and Education Conference.

Will be live blogging from the conference via CiL as well as presenting on 'Twitter in the Classroom' and sitting in on a panel about 'Best Practices in Social Technology'.

Stay tuned for updates live from Harvard Square.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Keeping Things Out in the Open

Got a couple of interesting responses to yesterday's post about starting an RPG/MMOG club at school.

Reader Norman sums up many of them writing:
Just watch your back with RPGs. Keep everything out in the open.

Indeed. That's good advice.

And that's what it's all about: keeping everything "out in the open".

That's why my gradebook is available online. That's why I've got parents in my Twitter feed. That's why all of my students' work -- including all tests, essays, exams, etc. -- that's why all of it is posted on their blogs. That's why I have students post projects and documentation to YouTube and ThisMoment. That's why I'm Ustreaming classes to the school community.

The 21st century classroom is all about keeping everything "out in the open".

And yet, so often, the response I get from teachers and admins is: "Watch your back". As though I'm teaching radical dogma in hushed tones behind closed doors.

My room is open to everybody. The students understand this when they sign up for my courses. The parents give me high-fives and smiles for giving them a window into the daily learning-lives of their children.

Have there been problems with RPGs in schools in the past?


But it wasn't because of the RPGs.

It was because of the way schools were set up in the past. Schools themselves were these closed-off secretive fortresses. Parents were often in the dark as to what went on on a daily basis.

Some schools are still like this. And that's got to change.

Because we are living in an age where the technology offers us new ways to open up our teaching to the broader community. It allows for real-time transparency.

Because no teacher should have anything to hide. Indeed teachers should want to keep everything "out in the open".

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

RPG Club

Working on setting up an RPG/MMOG club at school.

Although I've been gaming for quite a long time, I'm new to the idea of organizing something like this.

I'd love to hear ideas from folks actively working with gaming in education both in terms of what works and what doesn't. And, in terms of the club, I am seeing this specifically as something extracurricular in nature -- a place to get away from the day-to-day of school-life, to explore new ideas, and to try out new identities/realities.

It's too often that kids -- and all of us, actually -- fall into the routines of where we 'fit in' to the roles we are obligated to in our communities. Role playing games allow for unique opportunities to take on and experiment with new roles. They offer opportunities for players to take on leaderships roles and handle open-ended and dynamic and ever-expanding problems.

Exactly the sorts of things we want students to play around with.

Monday, August 10, 2009

I'm ok with "I don't know."

What's the future going to look like? How long before this technology becomes obsolete? There are so many social media sites; how do I pick the ones that are right for me?

"I don't know."

That's the answer I usually give when folks ask me those questions. And being someone who works with lots of different groups, I get those questions a lot.

And I just answer: "I don't know."

And I'm thrilled that I'm able to do so.

See, in years past, we tried to answer those questions. We tried to predict the future (remember laserdisc?). We tried to tell how long it would be before things went obsolete (I bought a new cellphone a few months ago that's practically gone). We stressed over what software was right for us and we listened to what the companies told us and we threw our money at them hoping that something would stick.

What we wound up with was a world few of us could have imagined twenty years ago.

Twenty years ago, you would have been considered mad if you had told people that one day they'd have to carry telephones around in their pockets and that those telephones would double as cameras and GPS devices. Twenty years ago, the idea of purchasing all of your books and music online would have seemed insane. Twenty years ago, the idea of free instant communication with no long-distance charges via videophone would have made our mothers laugh out loud until they gagged.

Fact is, we have no idea what the future holds.

So stop worrying about it from the hardware point of view. Unless you are a stockholder, it really doesn't matter whether your PC says 'HP' or 'Dell' on the side. Be willing to mix it up a bit: the 20 inch flatscreen sitting abandoned at the used computer store will work just fine and you'll save yourself a couple hundred bucks. Don't worry about whether your iPod has enough storage (it does); there are actual real things in life to worry about.

Stop worrying about it from a software point of view. Yes, you just wasted money on a set of Microsoft Office licenses. At least now, you know you can get the same stuff for free using Open Office and Google Apps. You'll remember that next time. Don't worry that you are running the older version of Photoshop in your classroom; it'll work just fine and your students will put together the best looking yearbook to date (because the majority of apps they'll use in it's construction and layout are free Web 2.0 tools available online).

Stop worrying about what Web 2.0 tools to use. Will Twitter exist in five years? Will Facebook? The only correct answer is: "Who knows?" We are living in a period of transition from the analog world to the digital world. In the public mind it began with CDs and laserprinters. This Cloud Computing / Social Technology / Paperless thing is just the final push.

Really, we should be asking a different question. Rather than dwell on "what is going to go obsolete?" we should be asking ourselves: "what's gonna stick around?"

That's the real question. And I do have some suggestions there.

The Cloud is going to stick around. One of the things that's changing rapidly is that in our classroom purchasing decisions, we have the opportunity to get beyond local storage issues and instead leverage the Cloud to more effectively use our tech dollars.

Mobile is going to stick around. What form this takes is up for debate, but connected computing on-the-go will for our children be a given.

Most importantly, the concept of immediate global networking is going to stick around. In fact, I'd wager a bet that when the historians look back on this age the one thing they'll say about it is that it marked the beginning of a new form of global communication. And that form of communication has the potential to break down all of the hierarchies that for so long we've presumed cast in bronze. Think I'm out to lunch on this one? Then ask someone who used to work for a newspaper what they think about blogs.

Predictions of the future -- of the particularities of the future -- are always hazy at best. As to what it'll "look like" all I say is "I don't know." As to what tech we'll be using, again: "I don't know." As to what's currently the best for you personally: "I don't know. You've got to experiment and figure that one out on your own."

But as to the basic concepts that will form the future, I say that the Cloud, Mobility, and the Network are the key components. Where exactly that takes technology is anyone's guess. But, in my mind, it's better to keep an eye on the future than it is to worry constantly about the everyday ups-and-downs of the present.

And that's why I'm ok with "I don't know".

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Watt on Education: the Next Bubble

Andrew Watt has written a zinger today. That's all I have to say. Go read it.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Center Your Week on LearnCentral!

Great stuff going on over at LearnCentral this coming week. Here are the highlights (straight from Steve Hargadon):
Monday, August 10th, 8am Pacific Daylight Time (US): Tammy Moore hosts session number 5 (of 9) on "Moodle for Teachers." This session includes assignments, quizzes, and the ungraded assignments block, with attention toward student activities and a discussion of good student practice and assessment activities.

Monday, August 10th, 5pm Pacific Daylight Time (US): Steve Hargadon hosts the "LearnCentral Pioneers" meeting, a regular group brainstorm and feedback session to help the developers of LearnCentral know what features and functionality you want.

Wednesday, August 12th, 11am Pacific Daylight Time (US): Jessica Fries-Gaither, project director of for Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears, speaks on "Digital Storytelling for Middle School Science Classrooms" as part of the MSP2 Tech Talk series.

Wednesday, August 12th, 5pm Pacific Daylight Time (US): Steve Hargadon interviews Dan Schawbel on "Personal Branding in the Age of the Internet" as part of the interview series.

Friday, August 14th, 11am Pacific Daylight Time (US): Tammy Moore hosts session number 6 (of 9) on "Moodle for Teachers." This session includes forum search and wikis, as well as a discussion of these tools and the pros and cons of using the Moodle versions of these tools vs. those outside of Moodle.

Friday, August 07, 2009


I was terrible at math.

I should qualify that. I was terrible in math class throughout most of my school career. Not that my grades necessarily reflected that. For some reason, my math teachers refused to give me the failing grades I deserved. I guess they thought it would be bad for my self esteem. Maybe they were under pressure to keep all the kids 'on grade level'.

All I know, is that if the current me were the teacher of the former me, my mother would have received a few more phone calls.

Now, it's not that I didn't 'get' math. In fact, my annual scores on the standardized tests were in the 99th percentile. I didn't actually believe this when my mother told me, so I went back to the box of school records she kept and there I found all those testing reports.

99th percentile.

So, why is it that to this day I still have trouble figuring out a tip? Why is it that for the life of me, I have no idea how to do long division?

And why is it that I can figure out batting averages with a click of the fingers? Why am I addicted to statistics in political polls, Olympic swimming, and Dungeons and Dragons? Why do I have the urge to study String Theory and Quantum Mechanics, yet fall into a state of panic at the site of an algebra equation?


I got by in math.

That's the problem. I got by. And I was allowed to get by. Not once in my school career did a math teacher challenge me either with a failing quarter grade or by bumping me up to an advanced level.

On paper, my grades were 'good'. I was a solid 'B' student in math.

Problem was, I was getting 'B's for memorizing equations. I wasn't getting 'B's for understanding what they meant.

I look back on it and I don't blame the teachers. After all, I presented as a smart kid getting decent grades in math. What's the problem? Move on, we've got real issues to deal with here.

But I do harbor resentment against the way we give kids grades.

Because I was a student who knew how to milk that system. I knew how to do enough on the test to get a 'D' and I knew how to do enough homework and extra credit to pull my grade up to an 80 by the end of the quarter. I knew that 'B' meant getting an 80 just as well as it did getting an 89. And I knew the teachers wouldn't fail me.

I was working for the grade. And it was relatively easy to make those grades. Memorize the theorem, get it (mostly) right on the test, and forget it afterwards. I wasn't gonna be a rocket scientist, I just wanted to keep decent enough grades in high school so that I'd be allowed to use the car.

You notice that none of my memories of math have anything to do with math.


I wonder what goes through the minds of our students.

I can spot most of the ones just playing the game like I did. Hopefully, they are doing the outside-of-school reading that I was doing in place of homework and study (I hope). Likely they are working for the grade, working to keep their parents off their backs, working to keep the car.

At the end of every school year we honor the high-achievers. And I think that's fantastic. There are kids in our schools who are actually busting butt to get high grades (some of them even understand the content they're being taught).

But I can't help but think about the slackers, the kids playing the game, the ones who have all but dropped out but who realize how to make it look good on paper.

Because that's what getting the grade is. It's about looking good on paper. Looking good to that college admissions counselor. Looking good to that future employer.

Most of us realize this.


So what to make of this?

What would I do with my slacker 16 year old self were I to meet him in a classroom today? (And really, we're not just talking about math here... despite his grades, that 16 year old didn't learn much Spanish or US Government either -- ironic for a guy who would grow up to be a political junkie foreign language teacher).

I'd start by not letting him get away with 'solving' problems by plugging in a memorized solution.

Then I'd have him earn his stripes by taking what he did know and teaching it to others; perhaps in the setting of an online extension course for younger high-ability students.

I wouldn't let him test out of geometry by regurgitating memorized proofs (I always got the best grades in geometry). I'd have him apply his knowledge to online AutoCad blueprints and 3D virtual reality puzzles.

I wouldn't force him to learn algebra first thing. I'd start him out on statistics and help him understand the foundational stuff in math by demonstrating the science underlying those baseball stats he instinctively knew how to work out in his head. I'd let him work out every stat he could find on And then I'd send him over to the varsity baseball diamond after school to report on the game for the school paper.

I'd let him see math from the point of view of a musician, a photographer, an astronaut, a game designer.

And I'd let him explore things I myself didn't fully understand -- things like astrophysics and the mathematics of computer science -- by facilitating his learning from professionals online.

In other words, if I were that kid's teacher today, I'd try to figure out why 2+2=bore and then do something about it.

Because the numbers reflected in grades don't add up to the equations of creativity and connectivity we've all got stored deep in our minds. And we, as teachers, need to recognize that deep down our students actually do want something more than a grade. They want something more than a hoop to jump through and a requirement to check off.

They want the truth.

So give 'em the tools to find it. Teach them how and where to look. And then be there to help them understand what they've found.

Because the truth is that come the end of the quarter none of those grades can ever tell you a bean's worth about what that kid knows. They only tell you whether the kid knows how to play the game.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Math Week: Readers' Ideas

Readers weigh in with 'Math Week' ideas, comments, observations, and suggestions...
Noah Geisel on finding and using tools:
Regardless of what subjects we teach, the innovative and "authentic" ways in which many of us are incorporating tech were not necessarily obvious to us from the start but we realize that we are limited only by our imaginations in utilizing the tools that are out there. It's no different for math and science; the tech exists, they just need to find it!

Norman Constantine on math and keyboards:
It is a question of what you are used to seeing as notation. Programmers have been writing code that produces massive calculations using a keyboard.

Reader Jeremy isolates a problem (and offers tech know-how to fix it):

Math homework is such a freeform method of writing. The only things I've found to accomodate it requires the student to learn a dizzying array of buttons to click on or some sort of syntax to represent equations within the confines of a sentence like structure. It's ironic, because I often tell people where I work that the hardware is no longer the problem in education. It's the innovation of individuals that is the missing ingredient. Maybe math is the one area that isn't quite true yet.... We need a tool that allows students to build equations visually, the same way they would on paper. The trick is going to be a GUI that is easy to use and only requires a mouse and keyboard.

Mark Pullen offers a suggestion for elementary school math:
For lower elementary, is a great site that has very specific practice sets on every single topic (or close to every topic) you would need in a given school year. If you wanted to shift to web-based math for 2nd-5th grades, I'd go there.

Reader DGM cites
They have deals with various textbook publishers for automated marking of the maths problems in the back of textbooks.

Kax offers a bunch of good resources: is a site recommended by Ira Socol because it can integrate into Word or Google Docs. I have not tried it out yet. We have Geometer's Sketchpad at my school which is a great program for exploring all levels of math. Dan Myer has a great blog where he gives creative ideas for authentic math at I also like the idea of mathcasts; I would like to have students create their own videos explaining math concepts that would become a library for help that students could access for help at home or if they are absent.

Brian gives a resource for adding equations to blogs:
If you are trying to get an equation into a blog or wiki, there is a relatively (notice the word relatively) easy way of doing it now thanks to LaTeX.

And Russ comes in with various ways to present math in projection:
People without Smart boards, but [who] have a projector for a computer, may be interested in the wiimote whiteboard project, to turn any surface into an interactive whiteboard with the use of a wii remote control. Improved versions may be available via sourceforge. Geogebra, would look fab, throwing graphs up on the wall, via wiimote whiteboard, interactively. And Sketchup (free 3d drawing program), great for elementary and middle school, tesselations, modeling, 3d dimensional construction, angles. See Bonnie Roskes' books at 3dVinci, geometrics, and modelmetrics. Co-author Jon Choate will be presenting at the NCTM conference in Boston this Oct. I love Sketchup. His zebragraph website has the .ppt's on a previous NCTM presentation. I'm head-over-heels over Sketchup, really!

Mind you, as a teacher in the Humanities, I really knew nothing about any of this cool stuff. Just goes to show what a great readership can do to help fulfill the promise of a blog.

You guys rock!

Math week continues tomorrow with a personal story of math agony.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

PBS TeacherLine posts highest summer enrollment in 5 years

A reader backs up my claim that lots of teachers actually work their tails off over the summer:
I have actual proof that there are thousands of teachers working diligently throughout the summer. I work for PBS TeacherLine and we provide online professional development courses to PK-12 educators. Currently, our summer 2009 term is the highest enrollment we have had in our national courses during the past 5 years...over 2,500 teachers are taking 6- and 10-week long courses that are rigorous and worth 2-3 CEUs and/or graduate credits. So there is absolute proof to back up your claim.

Now, if you'll excuse me I'll be getting back to the pool ;)

High School Math Burial Grounds (and how to raise the dead)

ASCD reports on Uri Treisman's presentation at Education Commission of the States' recent National Forum on Education Policy:
To Treisman, high school algebra is the burial ground for the aspirations of many students in part because "almost no one uses the content of these courses in their subsequent university courses."

Treisman, Professor of Mathematics and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, argues that we've got to seriously up the ante in terms of the kinds of math content teachers can teach.

Not being a math teacher, I'd love to hear from some folks who are explain why the algebra, geometry, trig, calculus regime is the current standard. And what does it mean to 'up the ante'?

(Just as an aside, did I miss a memo? Seems like all of a sudden there is math talk all over the ed blogosphere!)

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Math Week

Ok, Ok, I get the point: it's Math Week already!

I totally didn't see this one coming. You know, despite the idea that most people have of me manipulating world events for the goal of mandating paperless Latin classrooms, I really treat this blog as a living organism and I try my best to respond to the input of readers as well as to whatever happens to be going on in the ed blogosphere at large.

So, I'm delighted that in the same week that the discussion turns to math, McLeod starts his PUSH on math blogs:
What are some excellent math education blogs that P-12 math educators should be reading? We need both elementary and secondary examples.

They are putting together a wiki on the topic, so go check out what's going on and maybe by the end of this week, between the resources being talked about here and the sites being collected there, we'll have a nice collection of materials for digital teaching in math.

Math, meet Spanish; Spanish, meet Math...

A reader picks up on the recent math conversation with an interesting comment:
Just as math and science teachers need to incorporate the arts in their instruction, those of us in the humanities must support math and science learning. For example, do creative writing and word problems need to be mutually exclusive? (Maybe students would be more engaged with word problems that are personalized and not about two trains!) Another expample: my Spanish students learn numbers in my class but will do so by practicing greater than/less than and negative numbers, skills a math colleague said many lack.

Maybe part of the trick in using elements of Web 2.0 in the math classroom is to approach it from the cross-curricular perspective.

Architecture is the perfect example of a field that effortlessly blends art, history, and math. I'm sure you all can come up with many others.

I love the idea of using a foreign language to teach math. Back in college, my elementary Greek teacher was also my first statistics teacher. He approached teaching math as if he were teaching a foreign language.

Today, a math teacher using this approach could easily incorporate much of the paperless procedures and tech integrated pedagogies that foreign language teachers are already using.

Again, this isn't really about saving scratch paper in math class. It's about finding ways to make math class just as connected to digital technology and social media as the best tech integrated English class.

Keep coming with the ideas and comments, folks. This is quickly turning into Math Week at TeachPaperless!

Alas, Math.

In the case of the paperless math resources, I thought it was interesting that by-and-large in terms of integrating tech into math teaching (at least at the secondary level) the math folks seem so far behind the folks in the humanities. And that's hardly the fault of math teachers; rather, as many folks have pointed out, it's a problem with hardware and the ways by which we think about physically using a computer.

In a serious way, if you don't have a Tablet, you don't have the full applicability of tech integration to learning math.

Whereas in the humanities, typing itself is hardly a detriment. And the keyboards we use today are really no different than the typewriters of our past. Therefore, tech in the humanities was quickly and easily able to get into the business of creating hyperlinked text databases, encyclopedias, and online books whereas math teachers were left to struggle with the question of how to 'show work' via a keyboard.

And I think it's especially pertinent to note this advantage that the humanities have had whereas so often it is suggested to us that math and science lead the technological revolution.

Certainly math and science have been the developmental foreground for digital technology, but what are the most popular uses of that tech? A cursory look suggests that it's all about reading the news, sharing photos, and listening to music.

Journalism, Photography, and Music.

Hmm. I wonder how many folks would consider that triumvirate at the top of the tech revolution?

And (I know it's a loaded question, but what the heck) why then don't we give the same elevated position in education to journalism, photography, and music that we do to math?

Could you imagine what high schools would look (and sound) like if journalism, photography, and music were four-year requirements?

Here's to hoping the technicians designing computers actually catch up to the digital needs of math teachers and their students. And here's to the folks in the humanities and arts who are using tech in authentic ways everyday.

Thoughts About Paperless Math

Got some great ideas regarding paperless math resources. Check out the comments to yesterday's post (I'll get around to organizing them eventually... my goal is to make a description of each of the resources and apps I've learned about this summer available in the blog sidebar soon!)

One reader, however, did bring up a point which I feel should get broader attention (especially by new readers of this blog):
I'm currently at the point of saying that using technology for everyday use in math is using technology incorrectly. Please use it as a tool when it is the best tool. Don't use it just to "go green" or to "do more technology stuff." There are so many other things you can do if going green is your point. As much as I love technology in the classroom, it isn't ALWAYS the answer. - Brian Zollinhofer

Yup. I agree.

In fact, I posted related to this issue a few months' back and should haul the posts out of the archives for re-evaluation now.

First was the 'Why Do I Hate Paper' post from back in February. Here's a snippet (you can read the whole thing here):
I was asked recently why I am so against using paper in the classroom.

I'm not.

I'm into letting kids make paper airplanes. And construct buildings and mazes out of paper. And shoot hoops at the trashcan with paperballs. I'm into letting them draw on big pieces of paper with charcoal and having them get their hands dirty. I'm into dog-eared paperbacks creeping out of their pockets and I'm into letters and personal notes and thank-yous and miss-yous and get-wells scribbled on scrap-paper.

It's not paper I'm against.

I'm against the static idea of knowledge that paper so often represents.

The second was a response to a post on the Digital Ed blog at Ed Week back in March:
If you feel like you have to 'fit tech in' to your classroom practice, then you're quickly going to find yourself frustrated. You might as well be forced to 'fit in' a discussion about orange juice. Or sea lions. Or the Knights Templar. Or be forced to wear mittens while you erase from the chalkboard.

I think the worst thing we can do is to try to 'fit tech in' to our teaching. Rather, if we integrate tech into our lessons it is because tech is integrated into our lives and the process is natural -- obvious, even.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Paperless Math?

I'm on a mission for a reader who's a math teacher.

What options are out there for collecting math homework/assignments paperlessly? With the exception of what you can do with a Tablet, I'm woefully ignorant about how to handle math work (especially in high school).

Let's put this readership and PLN to work and come up with a list of options!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Around the Horn: Aug 2nd, 2009

Big couple of days in the ed tech blogosphere and lots of new stuff posted. Here's a sampling of some of the best.

Nash wants us to back off and let learners learn.

Ira reminisces to 1999:
I remember that we went further - suggesting that the days of "computer labs" in schools were already past, and that standard machine set-ups made no sense.

Will realizes he's a technoslave (though I thought that was a KMFDM song circa 1991).

McLeod reports on a school failing in their bid to use cellphone jamming equipment in an attempt to keep Obi Wan Kenobi from infiltrating the Social Death Star.

Pappas tests out Wiffiti as an excuse to attend a kick-butt rock concert.

And Becker takes his 'Still Separate, Still Unequal' series to the doorstep of the digital divide.

Read up folks: you are living in a period of remarkable ed writers.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Crap, it's August.

On behalf of all teachers, I'd like to officially say to all those folks who work outside of education and smugly pander to us with questions about what we're doing with all of our "free time" over "summer vacation": bite me.

Teachers -- real teachers -- work their butts off over the summer. By the time we get back, I'll have been to three ed conferences, written articles for three publications, taught an ed school class, written a handful of book chapters, and maintained the self-induced chaos of running a daily blog.

I'm hardly alone in this.

Real teachers bust their tail over the summer learning new skills (Knaus -- motorcycling counts; how's that gone?), reading up on both ed policy and changing content area knowledge, partaking in online professional development, taking recertificaton courses, writing curriculum for their schools and programs, and helping out with summer school and tutoring students.

Real teachers don't take a three-month "vacation". Most of us wouldn't be able to afford to even if we wanted to.

Real teachers spend the summer learning how to make your kid's experience in school more productive, authentic, and engaging.

Real teachers are teachers 24/7 and 365.

So enough with the "summer vacation" business.


Oh crap. It's August, isn't it?

I gotta get to the beach.