Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Metropolitan Museum of Art Podcasts

Speaking of museums...

Not to be outdone by anyone, the Met has got an excellent series of podcasts concerning art on view in their collection.

Here's a 'cast on Rembrandt as well as an old Times article on the original show.

It should be noted that these podcasts might not be the most exciting thing to every student, as they are spoken in a rather professorial lecture style. But for students who like that sort of thing, they are an excellent extension for learning as well as a nice introduction to the style of speaking about art common to academia.

And they fit on yr iPod.

RedStudio: Students Conducting Interviews at MoMA

RedStudio is one of the hidden gems of the Internet. A site developed by the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, it is a place for students to explore and to engage with the complex world of Modern Art.

Here's a series of interviews posted on the site. Each is conducted by a group of teens and they feature such heavy-hitters as MoMA curators Paola Antonelli and Joachim Pissaro as well as Pixar's Ralph Eggleston.

Students Speak Out on Technology in the Classroom

There's been a lot of talk recently about 21st Century Skills. But most of this talk has been between folks who stand to make a lot of money off the use of tech on the one side and folks who are suspicious of -- if not fundamentally opposed to -- tech on the other. Like most discussions in education, the voice missing in the debate is that of the students themselves.

So, I asked students in one of my paperless high school Latin classes to tell me how things were going for them. I wanted to know whether or not they felt like the tech we use in class was actually helping them. Here are a few of the responses. These are unedited and range from the top student in the class to a student facing a serious uphill climb marching into fourth quarter. They've all got something to say.

I think the paperless classroom is great. I like the blogs because I can keep everything straight knowing what I turned in and what I need to finish. I also like Pixton. It's very fun and easy to use.

One thing I definitely don't like is the Google Docs. They take too much time to work on I feel like because sometimes it deletes your work if another person is editing at the same time. They do work as far as putting work together for you to see, but for a class to use, it doesn't work out.

So all in all, I really like the idea of a paperless classroom; it makes doing work at home and in class much easier.

I love using blogger as a place to keep all my work in class. It makes organization and being able to access my work on another computer so much easier.

For the most part, I think I really like Pixton. It helps me get the translations in my head. I can guarantee that if any of those translations were to come up on an exam or something, I would remember them because of the comics. The only thing I don't like about it is that it freezes up too much. Now maybe it's just my computer or maybe it's not, I'm not entirely sure, but it definitely makes a six slide comic about two hours to make. I think if it could respond a little faster, the comics would be so much easier to make and not half as frustrating as they can be now.

The only thing I absolutely hate above all things computer-related is Google Docs. I seriously just want to murder it. Whenever we're all working on a document at the same time, it will suddenly refresh without saving my work and scroll me all the way back up to the top of the document. This makes work that should last maybe a half an hour tops take and hour and half! I think the problem might be that all of us can't work on it at once. I don't really know how much group work you could get accomplished that way but I really don't think Google Docs is working for us.

I think Blogger is a really good website to use and it's really easy to use. I like how it keeps everything organized. It is also very easy to find past assignments. It will be a nice portfolio after we graduate. Blogger sometimes doesn’t load at school though. It only works at my house.

I like Pixton but I think it is only effective for short translations. If the paragraph is really long, I find Pixton to be tedious . Plus if the text is really long, it takes up a lot of space on the panel, leaving no room for the animation.

Google Docs does have potential but it is kind of annoying right now. Our group for the radio show is actually using it to write the script .

I love Whitaker's Words [an online Latin-English dictionary]. I find it very resourceful! I don’t even use other dictionaries anymore.

The use of the computer helps very much in Latin class. In most classes we just listen to the teacher talk for 40 minutes, so most of the information doesn't sink in. In Latin we learn with interactive programs, such as Pixton and Blogger. Learning is much easier and more fun when there is visual aids and class participation included. Also we do many interesting and different projects about once every two weeks. Each project is unique and fun, and range from making a Google Doc, to making your own radio show. These projects are much more entertaining and productive then doing worksheets and getting lectures every class. The only downside to the computer is the technical issues, like when blogger is down, or if you have a hardware issue. Overall I enjoy the use of the computer in class and I think I have learned a great deal more because it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Examples of Student Blogs

I've added a few examples of 'student paperless-ness' to the sidebar here on the TeachPaperless site.

Included are clips from a paperless term paper as well as student blogs and projects. I left them in micro-versions just to give you an idea of some of the things you can do with blogs. Experiment widely with your own class blogs and tell me what sorts of things you've come up with.

An Example Paperless Assignment: A Latin Poetry Blog

Regular readers know that I occasionally like to post sample paperless assignments for your review. Here's a recent one from my Latin III class. This was a quarter project based on all of the poems we read over the last three months. The students had three weeks to complete the project outside of class.

This assignment requires students to translate the original Latin from at least ten poems, summarize biographical information, and synthesize art and life in the form of a compelling and well-constructed series of conversations between the historical actors about the poetry of their lives. As usual, students also use the project to extend their personal hyperlinked bibliographies of ancient sources and modern scholarship.

For non-Latin folks: Catullus was a lyric poet and Lesbia was the object of his affection (as well as his passion-spurned envious yet pithy wrath)...

A Journal of Hate and Love

You are either a) Catullus or b) Lesbia.

You are keeping a blog about your relationship.

Your journal must be ten posts long. The posts will be written from the point-of-view of one of the two characters. Then, you will write three to four comments back and forth to each post -- one from one character, the next in reply, and so on...

The blog must be separate and distinct from your own blog. It should include pics and multimedia/apps/widgets to look like Cat's or Lesbia's own personal blog.


1. You must cite in the original Latin and in your own English translation 10 lines of Catullus' poetry in each post.

2. The conversation between Catullus and Lesbia must be referencing the poems themselves. So, for instance, if you do poem 5 from Catullus' point-of-view, he in his post would have to talk about how crazy he is for Lesbia and in her comments on his blog, she would be responding to this and perhaps use lines from his own poem to make fun of him.

This is a work of Historical Fiction. The 'Historical' part being as important as the 'Fiction'. Please keep an annotated hyperlinked bibliography on your own blog.

Due: March 25th. Double-weighted.

Be creative, do your best work. In terms of dates, please figure out what the Roman dates would be for each post of your conversation.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A New Library of Alexandria?

NPR's On the Media has got an interesting discussion with Robert Darnton, director of the Harvard University Libraries, about the rise of the Google Books Search and the recent associated copyright settlement.

Like it or not, this may turn out to be the most significant change in the distribution of knowledge and information that we've seen since the invention of the printing press. It will have an impact on your classroom. Maybe not tomorrow. Maybe not for a few years. But this will have an impact on each of us, as teachers, directly in the long run. No question about it.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Indie Game Development

Wired has got word from the Independent Games Festival. Lot's of cool stuff being made by indie developers.

And now, MS has made their game development software (in addition to all sorts of web development programs) available for FREE to high school students.

So, how long before a kid in your class creates the next big hit in online gaming?

Friday, March 27, 2009

TeachPaperless: Haters

Giftedness and Motivation

Received a bunch of emails about Dan's response from yesterday. Here's the gist of two of them.


Is it really that easy to spot genius? Lord knows which of the students in my classes are little Einsteins... I can barely get them to do homework.


And to tell you the truth, I've got enough on my plate with the kids with this issue and the kids with that issue to really worry about if Johnny Einstein is getting hard enough work.

The 'genius' tag is a hard one to pin down. Traditionally, with regard to verbal intelligence, we've talked about 'giftedness' in terms of students raking in IQ scores over twice the standard deviation of mean; in other words, students scoring over 130 (and more convincingly over 140) on a standard aptitude test. You can also think about it as a student ranking in the 98% percentile.

But, Gardner's research blew a wide hole in that theory of genius. After all, you don't even have to be literate to be a genius musician or painter. Back in the '90s the Sternberg studies demonstrated that students with different strengths respond with different levels of success to different assessments of intelligence. Therefore, a strict adherence to a verbal definition of intelligence is actually going to present a skewed understanding of overall intelligence -- perhaps even more so at those extremes above the second standard deviation.

And therein lies the problem.

Folks often equate giftedness with academic excellence. But the research shows no direct link between the two. In fact, by proportion, in relation to aptitude, there may be more underperforming GT students than underperforming students at any other general aptitude level.

So what does little Einstein look like?

No one knows.

And that's precisely why it's so important to differentiate the instruction and refrain from constant drill, drill, drill. Because something we do know about gifted kids is that by and large mundane tasks act as a discouragement to them. So some of those kids who seem to be struggling in your 'beginner-level' courses might actually be ridiculously gifted kids who are utterly bored and quickly becoming reactionary towards education precisely because it is so unmotivating to them.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Steal this Research

Hmm. This is definitely something to keep an eye on. Could have an impact on our classrooms in the long view, but perhaps even more directly right now on our ed school classes and access to information. According to Ars Technica, MIT's faculty has voted unanimously for open access to all publications researched at the university. Some publishers are aghast.

Professor Hal Abelson, in a statement provided by MIT, said, "scholarly publishing has so far been based purely on contracts between publishers and individual faculty authors. In that system, faculty members and their institutions are powerless. This resolution changes that by creating a role in the publishing process for the faculty as a whole, not just as isolated individuals." Ann Wolpert, who directs MIT's libraries, said, "in the quest for higher profits, publishers have lost sight of the values of the academy."

Jeez... between this fight and the recent Kindle text-to-speech business, the publishing industry is sure looking kinda jerky. Maybe they should take a cue from the likes of bands like Wilco who have only benefited in sales from putting stuff online for free. Counter-intuitive? Surely. 21st Century? Totally.

TeachPaperless is 'Featured' on Pixton!

Just got a message from the folks at Pixton. I'm a 'Featured Author' this month! Ya-hoo!

Friends of this blog know that I'm a Pixton junkie. I've seen students do some pretty incredible things in the last six weeks using the digital comic templates.

Check out my Pixton profile, sign up, and try it out for yourself. Fun and educational, go figure.

Dr. Willingham responds...

Dan Willingham took the time to respond to my recent post regarding his week blogging on the Core Knowledge blog. I'm glad to see this conversation continue. It's funny, I really do disagree with a great deal of what is proposed over there and I fully realize that my own prose can be, um..., sharp at times, but, egos aside, I think both this blog and that blog really are trying to serve the purpose of helping teachers and students. And I appreciate the efforts of the folks at CK, including Dr. Willingham -- with whom I disagree on so much -- very much. Keep up the good work, without the debate we're dead in the water.

Here's Dan's response in full.

Thanks for reading my posts and taking them seriously enough to reply
First, you’re right, I have never taught in a K-12 classroom, and I recognize that that is a serious limitation in my ability to contribute anything to a conversation about K-12 teaching. To try to be better informed I rely on observing classrooms and conversations with teachers, who read and critique what I write. I honor your expertise—obviously teachers know more about classrooms than I do. I ask in return that I not be cut off because I lack that experience. In return, I will not cut you off if you question the validity of laboratory results. I know the lab, you know the classroom. I think a sensible point of view from each would be that the other might tell us something that could inform what we do, but that ultimately we know our own domain best.
Second, I agree that one could pervert what I’ve said to justify bad teaching. The last paragraph of the blog entry was meant to emphasize that not everything should be practiced, and that in fact the candidates for such practice are probably limited. I briefly considered adding something more explicit like “but this doesn’t mean you should give kids mindless worksheets, or ask them to engage in practice in the absence of thought.” But I didn’t write that because it seemed insulting. Do teachers really need me to tell them such an obvious thing?
Third, regarding the hierarchical nature of expertise and proficiency: I didn’t think I was saying anything all that controversial, or that would surprise teachers. What I meant was that complex skills typically build on simple skills. The number of students who leapfrog over simple skills to more complex skills (the Einsteins or Satchmos) are a vanishingly small number. I trust that teachers can recognize the geniuses.

Using Web 2.0 in Differentiated Instruction to Multiple Intelligences

One of the greatest ongoing challenges for teachers has to do with differentiated instruction. There are ways that Web 2.0 can help.

First of all, folks in education most often think of differentiation in terms of academic ability/aptitude (whatever exactly that means). I tend to think of differentiation mostly in terms of multiple intelligences. By analogy, consider a movie set. Who is "smarter": the writer of the screenplay, the cameraman, the actors, or the electrician? Well, I certainly wouldn't trust the writer to set up the electricity on set, yet in a classroom setting the writer may well have proven to have been of the highest "aptitude" for academics -- a common perk of being strong verbally. Likewise, the actor may portray his character brilliantly, but you wouldn't want him behind a camera: the cameraman has got the visual thing going on.

Likewise, in a classroom, we need to recognize that different kids are good at different things. And they come to understand things in different ways. To assess all of them using the same tools might at first seem most appropriate, but in looking at the way in which kids whose strengths lie in areas other than the verbal and mathematical and the anti-motivational effects that failure brings with it, you may step back and reconsider the value in giving verbal and mathematical style assessments exclusively.

That does not mean, however, that everyone gets to do a diorama. Personally, dioramas are the bane of my existence. I remember having to do the darned things as a student and so totally hating my life as a result. One time, I let a cake burn in the oven and then cracked it in half and turned it in for a science project as what happens during an earthquake. Anyhow, the point is that multiple intelligences must be addressed specifically as the individual strength (or strengths) of each student. Just giving the entire class a video project is not fundamentally addressing multiple intelligence differentiation.

So, how in the heck are you supposed to address the individual needs of each student's learning strengths?

That's where Web 2.0 and that old educational term "formative assessments" come into play. Fortunately for us, Web 2.0 apps are as varied as the intelligences of our kids. So the trick is to use the apps on a formative scale to discover what peaks the interest and best work of different kids in your class. These formative assessments could be simple assignments to be done in a day or two: use Pixton to summarize the short story we read in class, make a song on Garage Band about the main character in the book and upload it onto ReverbNation -- or take the point-of-view of the character and have him or her create their own audio-documentary, form your own Ning-site book club. Right there, certain kids are going to perk up. At least you will get a better idea of who your visual, audio, and interpersonal students are. And that, to me, is part of what formative assessments should be about.

In a way, formative assessments are even more useful for the teacher than for the student. Because formative assessments are about figuring out what forms the student's way of approaching and understanding a concept.

Now, I know that a lot of teachers are going to immediately have the concern about how much time they could wind up wasting in the Internet wormhole. Well, I've done a bit of the work for you. First you need apps that are easy to use, are self-directed, and will actually demonstrate the understanding of the student in a formative way. The Web 2.0 tools we've been talking about for the last two month here on the blog work great. I'd suggest sitting down for a bit on your own and playing with them. See how they work and see what works for you personally -- it will certainly be something different than what works for some of your students; and that's the beauty of it.

Now, once you've done a few formative assessments, you then have a good idea about what kinds of assessments work best for different kids. So then, when it's time for your summative assessment, you can actually give differentiated 'missions' that all meet the same objective.

For example, say we've just read 'On the Road' in 10th grade English class. You first need to come up with an essential question. How 'bout: "What is the meaning of 'Beat'?" You would give your kids with verbal strengths tough essay questions or a text-heavy research question; your visual kids could use Red Studio to create an online exhibition; your audio kids could explore Be-Bop on last.fm and create their own radio station complete with 'DJ reviews'; your tactile kids could create objects that represent the characters in the book and then toss these objects online via 3D modeling apps; the kids who can't sit still could create a Beat-Generation based sport, videocam themselves playing and explaining the sport, and post it online to one of the myriad high school sports social networking sites. The options are endless -- once you know your options. In all of these cases, the kids are demonstrating in their own way their own understanding of the essential question.

I know some of you are scratching your heads. But, the fact of the matter is: the electrician is better at electricity than the screenwriter. So let him explore electricity. Electricity is amazing. So long as he can use his interest to come to an understanding of the essential question, why in the heck wouldn't you want him to?

As for the argument that this makes "more work" for the teacher... well, how long did it actually take you to give your formative assessments to distinguish the differentiation among your students' intelligences? A few minutes here and there. And, go figure, on top of that you could actually talk to them and find out a little bit about them. There are all sorts of ways to get a read on where your kids are coming from.

Once you've got that down, it's all just a matter of teaching and directing the students towards the completion of that summative assessment. And don't think of the summative assessment as something that needs to be completed in 40 minutes. That's so totally unauthentic. We're not trying to train our kids to stand in line at the DMV, for goodness' sake.

Let the summative assessment be ongoing and organic. Let ideas arise from out of your classroom discussions and from the student's ongoing and daily blog posts. The student's job is just to make sure that they are ready to go by 'opening day'.

Let the best practices in traditional pedagogy and Web 2.0 merge and work for you. And don't doubt that you can teach differentially to multiple intelligences.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Where the Wild Things Are

I know exactly where I want to be on October 16.

Not to 'drill' it in to you, but...

Great post on the Generation Yes blog.

A year ago I wrote about Part 1 of a study on “educational” software - Headlines that won’t help. The preliminary results of the study found that various software test prep packages had little impact on student test scores. Now the second half of the study is out. Guess what. The software still doesn’t work.

All of these software packages promise to improve student scores in reading and math. But as endless research has proven, drilling kids for tests doesn’t result in significant test score improvement, and has negative long-term results in what students actually retain. It doesn’t matter if we drill more efficiently with expensive software. Doing things that don’t work DOESN’T WORK. How much simpler can this be? As I said last year, the headlines SHOULD read, “Bad Educational Practice Proved Ineffective, Again!”

All of the studied software test prep programs are far removed from creative software applications that allow students to use modern technology to express themselves in innovative, personal ways.

My emphasis there.

You know, there are some people in this world who think that if it happens on a computer, it must be 'technology'.

That's kinda like saying, "If it's put together with a hammer, it's architecture!"

Unaware-Computer-Courseware-Drill-Stuff-Users, please read: By and large, courseware stinks. At best it's usually the computer screen version of a textbook. When you hear folks talking about Web 2.0 and creative apps and social networking... they aren't talking about courseware.

Let me give you an analogy to explain what courseware is like. It's sort of like if you were prepping the grill to barbecue and asked for help lighting the coals. On the table next to the grill are the instructions on how to use the grill right next to a book of matches and a container of lighter fluid. And I give you the instruction book.

So, to get up-to-speed on what's going on in educational technology, I strongly suggest you give the oversized boxes your courseware came in to the kids in the art deparment -- they probably could use the extra materials. Then get yourself into the Web 2.0 discussion. Don't hesitate, the future awaits!

Repetition, Repetition... apologies to Mark E. Smith.

All week over on the Core Knowledge blog, Dan Willingham is hawking his new book.

You know, maybe it's just me, but I really can't take seriously a guy talking about "what teachers need to know" who a) hasn't ever in his life actually spent a year teaching full time in a school [Ed. clarification 5/25/09 12.01PM -- By 'school' I mean K - 12; and I don't know, maybe the good doctor has, but it's not something he values enough to put on his cv.] and b) ends his blog posts with the words: "I elaborate in detail on these two issues - shallow knowledge and lack of transfer - in my book." Available from Amazon for $16.47... My emphasis.

Sure, it's hard to deny much of what Willingham says. Consider, on the issue of practicing the basics:

Why do I say that practice is necessary? One benefit of practice is to gain a minimum level of competence. A child practices tying her shoelaces with a parent or teacher’s help until she can reliably tie them without supervision. Less obvious are the reasons to practice skills when it appears you have mastered something and it’s not obvious that practice is making you any better. Odd as it may seem, that sort of practice is essential to schooling. It yields three important benefits: it reinforces the basic skills that are required for the learning of more advanced skills, it protects against forgetting, and it improves transfer-the ability to apply what we know in different circumstances.

The problem is, there are a lot of crappy teachers out there for whom this "practicing" thing is all they've got. And Willingham is giving them ammunition to just keep doing what they are doing.

I recall one of my own former language teachers who boasted of his success rates in getting kids to Spanish fluency. His method? Drill, baby, Drill!

And he did accomplish two things. First, out of the 30 or so kids in our class, he managed either to scare the wits out of half of them with his militaristic demeanor or so completely bore the life-blood out of the other half through constant and de-contextualized repetition that by the end of a 45 minute session one literally felt like a drone.

Maybe he and Dr. Willingham just got too much Mr. Miyagi in 'em ("Wax on; Wax off...), but I can't say the results were worth the means. At the end of three years of this, exactly two students were fluent enough to take AP Spanish.

But, Willingham sees hierarchical learning as essential:

What’s true of reading, writing and math is true of most or all school subjects, and of the skills we want our students to have. They are hierarchical.

There's a problem here. A big one. Take for instance the student with an LD who can't read on grade level, but can play jazz. The student equivalent of the seven-year-old Louis Armstrong. Or the student who is thinking beyond the skills his or her teacher is teaching and therefore seems foolish: I'm thinking the young Picasso and the young Einstein. What about those unknown Satchmos and Picassos and Einsteins in your class?

Is Willingham suggesting that a student who can perform beautifully on the trumpet, but who can't read the notes on a page of sheet-music is less proficient than a student who can read the notes on the page, but who can't improvise to save his life because the latter student better fits into the hierarchy?

Because that's where this "hierarchy" thinking gets you. True, it is valuable for most people to learn algebra before Calculus. But why demand it be learned before geometry? Sure, most people will say that you should understand the American Revolution before studying the Iraq War in history class. But why? There's no real benefit outside 'fitting in' to an arbitrary chronology; why not go backwards? or thematically? Personally, I DON'T want more than anything to have my students attain "hierarcical skills" if in doing so I'm gonna totally miss the point of what the education of an individual is all about to begin with.

It's about getting folks to be able to think for themselves about the concepts and situations that historically face us and be able to make wise decisions about what may face us in the future. That's the point of education. It's not to get a kid to recite to you what Kant said. It's about getting a kid to understand what it means to make a serious decision. It's not about getting a kid to complete a math problem for the sake of getting an 'A'. It's about getting a kid to understand a math concept so that down the road she or he can do something with it. It's not about teaching a kid "the right way" to play a song. It's about inspiring kids to look inside themselves and find new ones. It's about concepts.

And a good teacher can teach any concept using whatever is immediately at hand. Figuring out what is at hand: that's the real trick.

Look, any good teacher knows that you build on prior knowledge. But, what the good Dr. seems to forget is that "prior knowledge" ain't just the stuff on the bookshelf or on the chart. If you really want to connect with these kids and raise them up from basic knowledge to the upper levels of understanding, you gotta start by finding out who they are and what kinds of experiences they've had. That's what you use to teach kids.

You want to talk about "core knowledge"? Then ask kids what they know; and tie-in what they know to the fundamental ideas that garner the concepts that you are trying to teach. And that goes for anything from teaching the nature of economies to the nature of invertebrates. But, dear Doctor, please don't give the warmth of scientific authority to teachers who are going to twist what you say in an attempt to keep pursuing crap teaching while bullying students into hours of strategic shoe-tying.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Smarter than Human Brains? Which Brains?

Here's a post for all the 1:1 teachers out there.

According to Ray Kurzweil, and posted on the Scientific American website:

Sometime early in this century the intelligence of machines will exceed that of humans. Within a quarter of a century, machines will exhibit the full range of human intellect, emotions and skills, ranging from musical and other creative aptitudes to physical movement. They will claim to have feelings and, unlike today’s virtual personalities, will be very convincing when they tell us so. By around 2020 a $1,000 computer will at least match the processing power of the human brain. By 2029 the software for intelligence will have been largely mastered, and the average personal computer will be equivalent to 1,000 brains.

The Law of Accelerating Returns shows that by around 2020 a $1,000 personal computer will have the processing power of the human brain—20 million billion calculations per second. The estimates are based on regions of the brain that have already been successfully simulated. By 2055, $1,000 worth of computing will equal the processing power of all human brains on Earth (of course, I may be off by a year or two).

Ultimately, however, we will learn to program intelligence by copying the best intelligent entity we can get our hands on: the human brain itself. We will reverse-engineer the human brain, and fortunately for us it’s not even copyrighted!


This is exactly the kind of thinking that turns folks off about technology. Particularly teachers.

Relax, humans. Robots are not going to take over the world. Well, so long as we continue to write poetry. And make movies. And hum motifs of Debussy every time we stroll through a museum. And get lost in sunsets.

Robots are only going to be smarter than human beings if we limit what we mean by the word 'smart' to a very strict and useless definition. If 'is similar to' becomes the new 'is'.

The technologists who speak in Kurzweil's terms tend to be folks who have not a clue who Howard Gardner is. They are folks for whom 'intelligence' is a universal objectified material item.

They are generally folks who don't understand that grace and intelligence and wit and compassion are really all manifestations of the same thing. They fail to recognize that musical aptitude and musical genius are two different things.

They fail to admit that a synthesized brain -- at least a brain synthesized by folks who fail to recognize that very human and humane and humbling truth -- will never amount to more than a mere tool.

But the human brain is not a mere tool.

It is an organ of memory and emotion. It is the seat of the conception of ideas. It is ridiculous. It thinks of unnecessary things. It falls in love. It values things for reasons it can't explain. And it tries to explain things in ways it ultimately can't understand. In equal doses it sheds out problem solving and entrepreneurship along with brute passion and illogic.

It is both Heathcliff and Lady Macbeth.

In the midst of blog-posts, it even urges bloggers to call technologists funny names. Because it may be true that technologists "claim to have feelings,"; but I for one can't accurately say that they are "very convincing when they tell us so".

So let's recap: just because a person promotes the use of technology doesn't mean that they devalue the humanness of being human. Likewise, anyone who suggests that a robot will be able to "exhibit the full range of human intellect" probably understands little about the "full range of human intellect" -- though the difference between apples and oranges is presumably something even a robot will be able to figure out in a few years.

As for what all this tech argument has to do with the classroom? Remember: a paperless classroom is not a soulless classroom. Rather, the opposite actually. Don't let the musings of technologists persuade your colleagues otherwise. Rather, invite them into your room, let them see what your students are doing, and show them that there ain't a robot in the bunch.

As for: "Equivalent to 1,000 brains"? Now maybe that's something that only a robot would understand, but that's just about the least intelligent thing I have ever heard. I teach a lot of brains everyday and not one of them looks the same to me. But maybe I'm just a human who uses technology, not a technologist who uses humanity.

When 2 + 2 = Huh?

A reader asks:

Where is the data for US math and science ed in comparison to the rest of the world?

There are a couple different good sources. First is the 2007 study from the National Center for Education Statistics. As of that data, US fourth-graders rank 11th behind Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Japan, Kazakhstan, Russia, England, Latvia, and the Netherlands. By eighth grade, according to their data, US students moved up to ninth-place behind Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Hungary, England, and Russia.

And the strongest individual US state was Massachusetts.

As far as high school stats go, a comparative study was published in 2003 by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. US tenth-graders were ranked 28th out of 39 countries.

In a major 2006 study arranged by the Program for International Student Assessment, Finland took top honors both in math and science. As for US students?

In math, only four countries had average scores lower than the United States. Students in 23 countries had a higher average score, and those in two countries did about the same as the Americans.

While there are myriad reasons for the disparity in math scores among students, a key similarity between math heavy-hitters Finland and South Korea is that both societies are heavily invested in 21st century access and connectivity and the understanding and responsibility that comes with the new connectivity.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Extreme Ice

NOVA's set up a great site to accompany tomorrow night's debut airing of the new documentary 'Extreme Ice'.

The show follows photographer James Balog on a journey to document the melting of Arctic glaciers. The pictures are phenomenal and would make a wonderful visual introduction to the study of climate change for any environmental science class.

You can catch an interview with Balog from an episode of Fresh Air that aired last week on NPR.

Not so Dumb: the word from the CoSN Conference

eSchool News blog on myths about Web 2.0 and the 'Dumbest Generation'.

Author and speaker Don Tapscott:

"There's this negative view out there that young people today who are part of this digital world are the ‘Dumbest Generation,' and in fact, there's a book titled just that. Funny thing is, it's not supported by any data or research, and it's completely inaccurate," said Tapscott.

Local non-Profits working to close the digital divide

Interesting note in the countywide eNewsletter that showed up in my inbox today:

Ninety Howard County families of middle school students will soon have home computers for the first time thanks to the efforts of the Bright Minds Foundation, an educational foundation for Howard County public schools established to help address equity issues. The Computers for Students Program, a collaborative initiative of the Bright Minds Foundation and the Lazarus Foundation, a local community-based non-profit computer refurbishing organization, provides free, refurbished, upgraded computers and new printers to selected students who currently do not have home computers.

Bright Minds Foundation Chairman Doug Hostetler says the program addresses a fundamental equity issue. “This is exactly why the education foundation was established, to make sure that the playing field is level. Many of us take our home computers for granted, but for others in our community they are still a luxury. We know that students today are academically disadvantaged if they don’t have access to a computer.”

Five Howard County middle schools -- Dunloggin, Murray Hill, Mayfield Woods, Oakland Mills and Patuxent Valley -- were selected to participate in this round of the program. Harper’s Choice and Wilde Lake middle schools participated in a pilot of the program in December 2008, when 16 families received computers. Applications were distributed to students at the five schools in mid-February and principals urged eligible students to apply. The only stipulation to receiving the free computer was that the students and their parents agree to attend a 2½-hour workshop where they will learn how to set up the computer and printer at home, as well as how to use the computer to create and print a document. At the end of the workshop, they take home an Internet-ready personal computer system.

Local non-profits working to bring the digital divide to a close! Great work.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


Do you trust your students?

A lot of the debate around the manageability of a paperless classroom has to do with trust. Of course there are going to be times when students are caught off-track doing something they aren't supposed to be doing. They are kids, after all. And they've gotten into trouble like this long before the advent of 1:1 computing. But what do you do now that instead of a student sneaking in a comic book to history class, the student's laptop is connected to thousands of comic books all accessible in class?

Many teachers would say: take the comic book away. But, in the case of 1:1 computing, that amounts to taking away the Internet. At which point you have to ask yourself, "What's the point of 1:1 computing?"

The laptop is not a glorified word processor. It's a connection tool. It connects students to the Web in real time. That connection is the point of the whole thing.

None of this 'paperless' mumbo jumbo would mean a darned thing if it were just a matter of saving some paper and being able to use a couple cool software programs in class.

Rather, 'paperless' is really synonymous with 'connected'. And that's what our students are facing: the challenge of being connected. It is a physical fact in the sense that they have instant access to mass amounts of information. It is also an ethical fact in the sense that what they do online and who they interact with can have either greatly beneficial or greatly harmful outcomes.

So in a very real way, the manner with which we address issues of trust in the classroom with regard to the use of the Internet will have a definite effect on the way in which our students are both physically and ethically acclimated to the Digital Age.

So are you ready to take away those comic books?

What kind of message do you think it will send to students to deny them access to information in the name of educational discipline? By the time they are high school seniors, most have read either Orwell or Huxley or Heller. Do you think they can't make the connection? Can you?


Do your students trust you?

Teachers often tend to think of classroom management and discipline in terms of student behavior.

But what about teacher behavior?

If you stand in front of a class and whine and complain about technology, do you think this might effect your ability to manage the class while using technology?

Do you not realize that students can tell whether the use of technology is seamless and natural for you or whether you are struggling. Recently, a student told me of a teacher in class beating on a keyboard to try to get a program to open. Guess what, said teacher: when it comes to technology and your ability to maintain a professional attitude about its use in and among your classes, you've goofed. Your students don't believe a thing you say about tech. They've tuned you out.

They don't trust you.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This whole education thing: it's not about making teachers feel comfortable. It's about educating students. And the students of today are not standing at the same point on the great timeline of history as the students of even ten years ago. Yes they need to learn the great themes of literature, the arts, science, history, and civilization. But, they need to learn those things in a manner that is applicable to the way that the world of today really is, not the way any of us wished it were.

Our current high school seniors are entering into the fiercest college acceptance and job market we have ever known. The U.S. is not even ranked in the top 10 worldwide for math and science. We've spent the last eight years cutting the arts AND technology. And we still in good faith give our students bubble tests and ask them to answer questions from twenty-year-old textbooks. We put ton after ton of taxpayer dollars into new forms of standardized tests and yet we can't commit as a culture to taking an active and immediate role in ending the digital divide.

From an economic perspective, there is no reason every student in this country does not have a laptop and free Internet access.

We complain and we test and test and test. And we pat ourselves on the back that most second graders in certain schools can read at a second grade level. Congratulate?!?

The fact of the matter is, from the viewpoint of many of our students, the role of schools and teachers is to 'educate' them by keeping them in line and on track. Meanwhile, the world has already stepped out of line and it's given up the tracks in favor of flight.

It's a wonder that any of them DO trust us.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Paperless Culture: a new information ecosystem?

Here's a recent On Point radio show from Boston's WBUR about the transfer from print to digital in the newspaper world.

The argument? We're moving away from centralized 'old-growth media' news and towards an information ecosystem.

This is exactly the type of thing we need to teach our students about. For better and worse, it's a perfect symbol of the change going on.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Technology and Museum Education

Spent yesterday at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum with about 220 high school seniors and I'd like to comment on something I found particularly impressive from an educator's point of view.

The use of technology to foster authentic and powerful understanding was both overwhelmingly stunning and perfectly merged with unforgettable and visceral examples of non-tech-based learning.

I'd been to the museum on previous annual trips. We have a program for our seniors where they read first-hand accounts of survivors, meet survivors and liberators in person, and then visit the museum. The program culminates in a project facilitated by the English department.

So, I'd been to the museum several times. But this was the first time I visited specifically with an eye trained on how the museum works from a technological point of view.

First of all, the multimedia sensibility of the space and its imagery immediately creates a whole environment. It's like stepping into 1930's and 40's Europe right down to walking over the actual bricks that paved the Warsaw Ghetto. Next is the bombardment of images and text. Everywhere you look. Which serves two purposes.

First, it overloads your senses and puts you in a shocked state of mind (quite appropriate and educational in light of the subject matter). Second, once you acclimate a bit to the surroundings, you naturally will start to pick up on certain things more than others. Upon reflection as a teacher, what you realize is how the text, visuals, video, sound, and multimedia -- as well as the circulation through the space itself -- address multiple intelligences. They are not just an amalgam of different types of documentation, rather they offer people of different varieties of learning different ways of gaining access and understanding to the material.

It addition to the exhibition spaces, the museum offers both individual video consoles for semi-private viewing of archival films as well as group areas filled with sound and/or video for a communal learning experience. I thought about the debates about hetero vs. homogeneous group learning as I passed through crowds of strangers taking in the grave old stories.

I was struck by how the combination of space, technology, and content synthesized to produce such an immediate and fundamental learning opportunity. I was struck by how 'human' it all felt.

Finally, in the recent exhibition spaces, there are multimedia touch display walls where visitors interact with digital maps, archival materials, streaming video, and sound files. I've not seen this sort of thing worked so elegantly into a museum setting before. For example, I recall that there is a computer area at the National Gallery of Art meant for extensions of learning; but this completely holistic move towards fitting interactive media seamlessly into the actual circulation through an exhibition was something new and invigorating. You had less a feeling of interacting with technology than you did a feeling of interacting with history.

I should note also... the docents at the museum -- those people who give tours their true flare and human face -- are among the best I've ever encountered.

It is this truly fearless synergy between the best humans have to offer and the best technology has to offer that makes this museum a model for all others. And we as educators have much to learn from the ways in which museums educate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"A kind of new orality"

Dangerously Irrelevant wants to know what you think about Trent Batson's ideas about Google and a 'new orality'.

Having studied oral transmission and transference a bit in terms of ancient poetry, I'd have to say that there is a nuance that Batson might be missing, but which actually may lend even more credence to his idea. Namely, he notes the rapid spread of ideas through hybrid orality. While it is certainly true that oral transmission does and has manifested in the past as a spread of ideas, those ideas are generally spread regionally and over the course of long periods of time. More importantly, in the bardic traditions -- from Iran to Greece to Ireland -- those ideas are generally spread via a professional or semi-professional singer much in the way that trade-skills were handed down from generation to generation.

What Google does is allow immediate hybrid transmission. And it puts the responsibility of authority in the hands of the reader or audience moreso than in the will of the authors.

Field Trip and Online Resources for U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Headed down to D.C. today for our annual trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. This is part of a project -- which also involves reading first-hand accounts and meeting with survivors -- that our Seniors do in their last semester at school.

For those of you who have not had the opportunity to visit, here are the current online exhibitions; they comprise a remarkable digital resource for the study of the Holocaust and the War.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Educational Technology: Don't Fit it In

A bit about Google Earth Rome over at the Digital Education blog. The article highlights some of the recent things teachers have been doing with the app.

Towards the end of the piece, however, there's a question posed:

What are the challenges of fitting these kinds of lessons in?

While I understand where the question comes from, I dare say that this is exactly the wrong approach with regard to educational technology. In fact, if anything, this question is a clear illustration of why so many great teachers are anti-technology.

It's the matter of 'fitting it in'.

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.

We know you don't want to be told what to do. You are a teacher, after all. Duh.

So tech shouldn't be something to 'fit in'. It shouldn't be the be-all and end-all of what makes a good teacher. Jeez, I mean, there are plenty of crap teachers up to their eyeballs in technology.

In fact, if you feel like you have to 'fit it in', then you are going to produce the equivalent of the same b.s. we nail students for on term papers.

So don't fit it in. Let it happen naturally. Organically. Explore the Web a bit; maybe you'll find something that strikes your fancy. Something that is (please don't tell the professional development planners I said this) ACTUALLY USEFUL.

So, if you are an English teacher, you might want to look through Project Gutenberg -- an enormous compilation of online Classics; if you teach Art, you might find MoMA's website and resources handy. Try writing a blog. It's fun. Sort of like a journal, you know?

But don't waste your time trying to learn how to use something that either you find distracting or unwieldy, or god-forbid something you wouldn't use yourself.

None of us Digital Slackers do.

We only use useful stuff. Mostly stuff we use outside of the classroom as well. Like blogs. And wikis. And social networking and multimedia sites. We're not trying to 'fit' anything in to our classes; rather, our classes just reflect the way we are.

Your class reflects the way you are. It's been that way since Aristotle bored the young Alexander the Great into pranks and foolery.

That's just the way it is. Think about it from the students' perspective: If you are a boring lecturer and you always give boring lectures, Google Earth is not going to make the kids suddenly wake up in your class.

Use what you need. Chances are there is something for you online. On way or the other, may you not fall for the lunacy of 'fitting tech in' any more than you fall for the folly that technology is 'not for you'.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Resource: Heilbrunn Timeline of the History of Art

Another post in a series of great online resources for paperless teachers as well as any teacher who wants to bring an online element into her or his classroom:

The Heilbrunn Timeline of the History of Art, hosted by the Met, is the single best resource for art history students that I have found online. While there are individual sites dedicated to individual exhibitions or artists that are better in their own ways than the Heilbrunn Timeline, there is no single resource that covers the breadth of World Art History better.

Holding Western and Eastern traditions in equal measure, the Timeline allows students to research by era, region, artifact-type/art-style, in a completely hyperlinked environment supported by scholarly papers both accessible to the novice as well as useful to seasoned teachers.

I would advise using the Thematic Essays as examples of exemplary writing, as writing about art is often quite a new challenge for students who otherwise rarely are asked to write critically about things they 'see'.

The Timeline is an excellent resource for Fine Arts and History teachers alike. There's also plenty of room to use the resources -- especially the interactive world maps -- in a foreign language classroom.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Talking to Students

Just below this post is a comic I made for my students as a way to talk through a lot of the mumbo-jumbo of ed tech and Web 2.0.

Today we started each class with a brief discussion about what is working and what needs to be reconsidered in terms of tech in our courses. Almost unanimously the response was positive with regards to being paperless -- and this has been a stretch especially for my Seniors who aren't even part of the 1:1 program.

Things that came up through today's discussions:

1) Blogger is easy to use and well organized, but the occasional downtimes are frustrating. The one big negative was that a blog can get quickly filled up and ideas (and due dates) from old posts can get lost. To address this issue, each student now has a Google Cal fed directly through their blog. We've set them up so that students get reminders sent to their inbox a few days before assignments or long-term projects are due as well as the day before tests and quizzes.

2. Pixton is awesome. That's what all the kids are saying. It's super easy to use and the results are fantastic. We use it for reading checks as well as translating and vocab review. Because it's all online, the students can access it any time of day from where ever they are connected.

3. Google Docs is tough with more than two people on a doc at once. The students are used to IMs like those available on Facebook and have difficulty chatting with more than one person at a time. This makes live collaboration on Google Docs cumbersome. I'm going to look into getting each student set up with a Skype account. That way they'll be able to follow conference-call style IMing while working on the Google Doc seperately. I'll keep you all up to date on how this works. From a teacher's point-of-view, Google Docs is an excellent way to track group projects as well as give translation and short answer assessments; I can really watch in real-time as each student in class works on the assignment and I'm able to break in and help with problems as they arise rather than wait until after the assignment has been turned in to find errors.

It's really important to remember who we're working for here. It's the kids who are using this stuff on a daily basis in class and the kids who are using this stuff on a nightly basis for homework. Not to mention all of the other tech stuff they use in gaming and social networking. So, we need to listen to them. They are in a unique position to gauge the value of any particular piece of technology.

TeachPaperless: Get Back to Nature

Sunday, March 15, 2009

21st Century Skills vs. Classical Education: The Answer my Friends, Is Blowing in the Wind...

Felt like I had to re-post a response I posted on the Core Knowledge Blog's recent post of remarks by Florian Hild. The 're:' at the start of my post quotes a particularly gnarly part of the esteemed Dr. Hild's argument about the superiority of a Classical Education -- which in one paragraph manages to name drop Emily Dickinson, Jane Austen, Aeneas, Ben Franklin [paragon of virtue], Beethoven, Da Vinci, Jesus [I'm assuming the dude from Nazareth and not the guy from The Big Lebowski], Newton, Darwin, James Madison, Abe Lincoln, and Jane Goodall.

(Just for the record, remember that I'm a guy produced by a Classical Education...)

re: “However, the erudition, eloquence, and integrity of a John Milton will still serve us well today. The ability to outmaneuver others on one’s Blackberry, though, will ultimately not provide a lasting competitive advantage, not to speak of a happy and good life. If we are afraid of the challenges of a new century, I’d say that the best way to prepare us for them is to face them standing on the shoulders of giants.”

First of all, your giants are not my giants. Why not talk about the ideas themselves without turning this into a discussion of canonical name-dropping.

My kids study the ins and outs of Classical Rhetoric via Cicero as well as Chuck D.

Second, my classroom is completely paperless, Web 2.0 connected, and unapologetically 21st century tech in terms of environment.

But that environment doesn’t dictate the content.

I teach Latin and Art History.

By the end of the year, my Art History students have taken on every major aspect of Western philosophy and criticism, considered the historical and contextual processes surrounding every art movement from the Cave Paintings through Hip-Hop, and written hundreds upon hundreds of paragraphs of criticism — discussing all of this in person — both together in the classroom, as well as on blogs, wikis, and intermedia Web 2.0 apps. In addition, they are responsible for keeping all of their work online in a personal blog which over the course of the year produces for them a completely connected hyperlinked digital portfolio and produces for my school and department a cost-savings in paper that can then [be] put towards more worthy things.

And I would feel completely irresponsible as a teacher here in the transition period leading us into the Digital Age if I were to neglect my students either the liberal-arts-based study of the ideas produced through the intellectual tradition of Western Civilization or if I were to throw them out to the digital wolves with no guidance as to the educational and societal uses of new technology.

Folks here are absolutely right: There is no magical solution to education. Tech ain’t magic. And the canon ain’t magic. When it comes down to the brass tacks, it’s about meeting the kids where they are and giving them the intellectual and technical capacity to handle whatever is thrown at them in the future.

Everything else is just silliness.

- Shelly

PS: Don’t trust anyone trying to ’sell’ you 21st Century Skills; everything you need is available for free online. By the same token, don’t trust anyone who needs to support his claims by citing only the names of the famous and legendary; the greatest potential of the Internet is the democratizing force of the amplified lowly human voice and the ability of a simple well-thinking person connected online in a public library to take on in real-time the ‘authorities’ and ‘top-ranked’ arbiters of an age.

Latin Poetry Podcast

Dickinson College offers a great resource for Latin teachers: the Latin Poetry Podcast. Full of short, managable chunks of poetry by the likes of Ovid, Horace, Catullus, Vergil, and Martial, each podcast features a reading of the original Latin, a literal translation, and a short synopsis of the poem giving context and history.

I use these texts and podcasts often for sight reading exercises. They are also a great resource for teaching meter and spoken Latin.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Radio Boston on the Web

I used to live in Boston, and I dare say the city is one of very few centers of absolute radio excellence in the US.

Here's a great streaming story from WBUR about the infamous 1990 art heist at Boston's Gardner Museum.

A great little detective story and an excellent compliment to any classroom project based around art and problem solving.

Friday, March 13, 2009

TeachPaperless: Stimulus for Ed Tech

Podcasting from Ancient Rome

Every now and then I like to post assignments here that my classes are working on. I hope they give a practical view into what goes on in a paperless classroom.

Here's a podcast project my Latin II students are currently working on. The students were given the option of working individually or in groups and the aim of the project is to gauge their a) skill in pronunciation (having the project in MP3 format gives me the opportunity to listen to each individually in a way reading in class does not allow), b) accuracy in translation (the skill Latin teachers have been losing sleep over for two-thousand years), and c) ability to synthesize their knowledge of an author's biography with the creation of an original narrative (think steps 5 and 6 in Bloom).

The students turn in a script with their podcast -- well, actually they post their script to their blogs. One cool feature about this type of project is that is obliges each student to read, listen, and write. In other words, it hits on many different approaches to learning in a very simple way.

In addition, students are collecting hyperlinks for a bibliography; these hyperlinks are compiled and annotated at the end of each of our class projects and posted into a link list on the students' own blogs. Over the course of four years with me, they create a substantial and useful personal bibliographic resource that a) is instantly accessible and b) can be shared with classmates.

One of the problems I often hear from students and teachers alike concerning group projects is that one person often either dominates the project or is forced to complete the project for all the slackers. If you see this happening in your class, just have the kids do all the initial written work in a Google Doc; through the revision history on the doc, you can track minute-by-minute exactly what each student contributed to the doc. Feel free either to grade accordingly or use the revision history to demonstrate to student groups why they have to manage the workload in a more equitable way. In addition, having the students record for podcasts 'forces' each student to play an active role. I like to set a max and minimum limit on the amount of speaking each group member must submit to the final product.

One of the things that I like about this project is that it extends into my Digital Audio Production class. I like to give students in that class 'real jobs'; so, one of 'em is gonna pick up some 'freelance work' editing these pieces together with music and production into a broadcast-quality half-hour radio show. In the end, I will take the final product and stream it on our intra-class podcast.

For practical purposes, this sort of project would take about two weeks to complete. I'd give the students about 20 minutes per class to work on their projects, the remaining 25 minutes consisting of vocab review, grammar work, and sight translation.

Honors Latin II -- Radio Show!
Due March 24

double weighted test grade

Welcome to 98.6 FM WOJO! This is the "Latin-tastic Late Night!" which runs 2AM to 4AM every other Tuesday morning!

Objective: You all are going to create a podcast to show me how you are doing in pronunciation and translation. In these selections, special attention should be given to the mood as well as the conditional forms. In addition, make sure you 'get in character'; I want to see that you understand 'who' your author is and not just 'what' he wrote -- and if you are in a group, each member should pronounce roughly the same amount of Latin. You should consult your bios as well as secondary information available on the Web before writing a script; you will submit your script and a hyperlinked digital bibliography.

Group 1 - DJ: Cicero on the Catiline Conspiracy (Paragraphs 1, 4, and 7)

Group 2 - DJ Caesar on the Geography of Gaul (Book I.1 and 2)

Group 3 - DJ Ovid on Love (Amores 1, 3, 9)

Group 4 - DJ Catullus on Dead Birds (Poem 2 and 3)

Group 5 - DJ Livy on Romulus and Remus (in Book 1, paragraph 4)

1. Read your DJ's bio, research and translate the selection. Do this work on a Google Doc so that I can check your revisions. Each member should take about a paragraph of translation.

2. Produce with Audacity ( http://audacity.sourceforge.net ) or an audio editor of your own choice; you may also use the Macs in the audio studio. But, I am more interested in hearing clear versions of your Latin and translations than I am in you being an expert audio producer. Let me know if you run into problems.

3. You are making a five-minute radio show based on the text you are assigned. The show must include your DJ (narrator), any and all characters in the text, spoken versions of the original Latin (this will be graded for pronunciation), and your own translations of the Latin (graded for accuracy).

4. Your final versions will be uploaded to the Web in MP3 format (we'll do this together; for now just keep on a flashdrive or iPod) and will be combined together to form a half-hour long radio show edited and produced by one of my audio students. In addition to your MP3, I would like each member of the group to please post the script to their blog along with a bibliography page hyperlinked to at least three outside sources related to the biography of your author and the history surrounding the events featured in your selection.

We will listen to the entire produced program and have discussion on the 26th.

We Know What You Like

Received this in my inbox this evening. Does this mean I'm going to be inundated by ads for 16th century neo-Latin alchemy texts and Ancient Greek digitization projects? Or will it be counterbalanced by a healthy does of adverts from educational policy-wonk think tanks and ed tech graduate programs?

This is precisely why people get freaked out by technology. For goodness sake, this is a bad idea.


We're writing to let you know about the upcoming launch of interest-based advertising, which will require you to review and make any necessary changes to your site's privacy policies. You'll also see some new options on your Account Settings page.

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As a result of this announcement, your privacy policy will now need to reflect the use of interest-based advertising. Please review the information at https://www.google.com/adsense/support/bin/answer.py?answer=100557 to ensure that your site's privacy policies are up-to-date, and make any necessary changes by April 8, 2009. Because publisher sites and laws vary across countries, we're unfortunately unable to suggest specific privacy policy language.

For more information about interest-based advertising, you can also visit the Inside AdSense Blog at http://adsense.blogspot.com/2009/03/driving-monetization-with-ads-that.html.

We appreciate your participation and look forward to this upcoming enhancement.


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Google Inc.
1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043

"When you control the address book, you control the customer..."

Wow. We now officially live in Google World.

Google Voice is on its way into our lives. How do you think this will/might/could/should/would have an effect on education -- whether running a classroom, a school, or more...

Google Voice is a free service that offers "one number for life," so that one incoming call to that number gets forwarded to all your other numbers — work, mobile, home or hotel room. Users get free calls across the United States and international rates cheaper than Skype. Landlines, computers and cellphones can all access its services.

...with Google Voice, no matter who makes your phone, or sells you minutes or bills your land line, Google will always be involved.

And here, with my emphasis, is the money quote:

"This makes Google the hub of your communications center. That should be enough to make Microsoft worried for Outlook and the telcos worried for the scale of Google's ambitions" says Arnold [principal at J. Arnold Associates, a firm that focuses on IP research and communications], "When you control the address book, you control the customer, so to speak."

You ready to drop Outlook?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thinking about 21st Century Skills and the Future of Education

Spent part of the evening last night taking part in a chat synchronous to a 'Future of Education' online talk with the Da Vinci Institutes's Thomas Frye.

And it really got me thinking about this whole recent debate about '21st Century Skills'.

Two very valid arguments anti-'21st Century Skills' folks have is that a) there's nothing '21st Century' about problem solving and creative thinking and b) it is freaky that computer and software makers are often the big proponents of such skills; I mean, they are the ones most likely to benefit financially, right?

Well, two things have been rolling around in my head since last night. First, 'problem solving' and 'creative thinking' are not the 21st century skills. Rather, the ability to navigate an immediate and massive fully-connected online world is the primary 21st century skill. And it is an absolutely necessary skill; to deny students this skill is tantamount to denying them drivers' ed and then putting them out on the highway in a VW Bug.

Fundamentally we are now living in a networked world; so we need to present information to our students that demonstrates an awareness of this. That's not to say that technology should dictate content, but rather that the method of delivering the content should be of the connected variety.

Second, one of the biggest fallacies in the 21st Century Skills debate comes dressed up in the guise of necessary 'courseware'. In my mind, 'courseware' is just the 21st century version of a textbook. Well, I got rid of textbooks a long time ago.

Maybe it works great for teaching a memorization-heavy technical course, but it's not gonna be showing up in my Latin or Art History classrooms anytime soon.

Especially if I have to pay for it.

I'd say the rule of thumb is that if someone is trying to sell you something to help teach '21st Century Skills', then they assume you are a sucker. Because Web 2.0 already offers free (and generally speaking better quality) apps that do just about anything and more than some proprietary software package would.

Don't fall for it. Instead, invest your time and money in something worthwhile: advocating for free accessible and universal Internet access for all and an end to the digital divide.

-- ADDENDUM March 12 3:29PM -- Just for the record, the reason I say 'problem solving' and 'creative thinking' are not '21st Century Skills' is because they are 'All Century' skills; without them, you are kinda screwed one way or another. Network Navigation, on the other hand, especially at the scale of the Internet, is something specifically '21st Century'.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Technology is Not the Goal

Reader Ann asks:

What do you do on the days when your server goes down or the Internet is unbearably slow? My classes all have assignments they can work on off the Net, but I am always looking for more ideas.

Fortunately the server has been pretty reliable. I've been paperless for two years and doing 1:1 computing for the last three. Even going back six years ago, my entire gradebook has been online. Sure there are occasional issues, but they are the exception.

As for what to do when there is catastrophic technology failure? Well, the only reasonable thing to do is laugh. And read poetry. And have a conversation with the kids. Of course, that's the way a good paperless classroom works anyway.

The great thing about a paperless classroom isn't making 'tech-based lessons'. I've never in my life made a 'tech based-lesson'. Rather, the great thing about a paperless classroom -- especially in a 1:1 setting -- is that all the kids are connected to the outside world. It's much harder to be insular when your Art History teacher has you write a blog post on events from the front pages of the New York Times and comment on the blogs of professional writers and journalists from the likes of The Atlantic and Newsweek. What I'm saying is that the more you use the available resources, the less they feel like resources. By analogy, you wouldn't think of a house as 'hammer and nail based', that would be silly; but just try building a house without hammers and nails.

It's funny, but if you just walked into my classroom on any given day, you probably wouldn't even realize it was paperless. Most of the time, the kids and I are sitting around a big table talking about the material in class as well as the material of life.

Technology is really just the environment. It's not a goal.

re: You Gotta be 13 to Blogger

Eagle-eye Knaus catches me in High School teacher mode with regard to age requirements for using Blogger:

From the Blogger Terms of Sevice:

"You must be at least thirteen (13) years of age to use the Service. Google reserves the right to refuse service to anyone at any time without notice for any reason."

And of course this is entirely silly beings that if you were to follow the directions I gave regarding the settings, your blogs would be as impenetrable as Fort Knox to anyone but you and the students.

Knaus' advice for middle school teachers is to check out Edmodo or to create a private wiki. You can use Google Docs to create a quasi-Wiki which would work just fine. I often use this method when I want the students to summarize a biography or story as a reading check. Sure beats brain-insulting multiple-choice quizzes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Technology Camp

In a discussion on my Classroom 2.0 page, a reader writes in agreeing with my view on a 'pre'-academic year tech camp:

The teachers assume the students know how to do this and know how to do that but in reality all they know is how to surf the internet, use MySpace and text in a language all their own. Unless they take a computer exploratory class or keyboarding class as an elective, they do not receive the training they need. The teachers don't always have the time to do the technology instruction, but have great ideas. What if they got the opportunity to attend a "camp" to learn the basics before school started?

We run an annual tech camp for Freshmen here at school. At its best, it serves two purposes: a) it introduces the students to all of the features available to them both in terms of how to use their tablet-PCs and how to access and evaluate the resources available both through our library's subscription services and on the Web. b) it gives the 9th graders a chance to 'own the building' for a couple of days before the upperclassmen arrive.

I personally see it as a valuable way to get to know new faces and get a lot of tech questions and problems out of the way before the academic year officially begins.

Safety Concerns / Age Requirements for Blogs

A reader asks:

I am wondering if you know if there is an age requirement for students to use blogger since I am a middle school teacher?

There is no age requirement on the Blogger end of things. I don't know if your administration/district has an age requirement.

In the 'settings' tab on Blogger's dashboard, you can set up firewalls to keep search engines from finding a blog and to keep anyone from viewing the blog except whomever you choose. These safety features are easy to use and provide a level of security equal to or better than anything a school's IT department could produce themselves.

And it's free.

Procedures for Setting Up a Digital Environment on the First Day of School

Yesterday, a teacher asked me a question regarding how to get several classes of students to subscribe to a blog and I sheepishly answered "Mambo Line Dancing".

I wasn't kidding, actually.

What this teacher was really asking has to do with the digital equivalent of what us teachers do at the beginning of every school year: setting procedures. And my answer had to do with making an otherwise grueling task relatively fun. Ok... at least memorable.

Here's my system for setting my students up digitally at the beginning of each school year in a 1:1 computing environment.

1) Set up a gmail account. This comes just after: "Hi. My name is Mr. Wojo. Welcome to Latin class. You're gonna have a fun year." The gmail account ensures that they have email accounts that will be accessible anywhere. Our school supplies students with 'official' email accounts, so what I do is have them set their gmail to forward there. This means there are always no less than two ways for them to access email. Cuts down on excuses and only takes about a minute to set up.

2) Set up a blogger account. Once they've set up a gmail account, they automatically have a Google ID. That makes setting up a blogger account a cinch. If you are new to blogging, see my little four-part series on the sidebar of this page. In my experience, I can get 40 kids set up with on blogs in no more than 20 minutes.

We are now about 25 minutes into our first class and students are set up with email and the personal blogs that they are going to use for their year-long digital portfolios. All of their classwork, homework, and assessments are going to be posted to their blogs.

3) Show them my own class blog. On my blog, I've got the procedures, syllabus, and course calendar all posted. So at no time should the students ever be able to complain that they "didn't know". It's all there.

4) Get them signed up as subscribers to my blog and to my calendar. This is where the Mambo Line Dancing comes in. I put on a little music, we spend five minutes having a little meet and greet while each student plugs his or her brand new gmail address into a box on my blog and a box on my calendar. When they are done, I click 'ok' on each, and from then on whenever I post an assignment to my blog or a due date to my calendar, the students receive an email of the assignment or the due date at gmail.

Now we are 35 minutes into class. We've got email addresses, blogs, and course/calendar subscriptions all done.

Now we go for a nature walk.


The next day, I'll present a lesson on our class topic all the while demonstrating the most effective use of the digital resources -- the blog, emails, and calendars -- as I lecture and while we have class discussion.

And then we're off to the races!

21st Century Librarian

Recent NY Times Video about media literacy, critical thinking, and the new frontier for school librarians.

Not an 'Add-on'...

Coverage of Ed Tech advocacy on Capitol Hill from eSchool:

"We want legislators to see their dollars at work and see that technology is making a big difference in the classroom," said Mimi McGahee, director of the Educational Technology Center (ECT) at Valdosta State University. "We want them to see that [technology] is not an add-on, it's a way of learning. It's our world."

Monday, March 09, 2009

Cutting Down on Excuses

A reader writes.

I put all of my handouts online now, and I get new excuses, such as "I couldn't open your document" or "My internet was down last night." I still tell these students that they can call a friend and get it emailed or go by a library and print it. They just shrug their shoulders and take the late grade or no grade. Just today, I had a student announce in class that she even had [another teacher] try to help her open a grammar worksheet on my website, and he couldn't open it. I asked the rest of the class to show how many of them had successfully opened the document, and everyone but this student had a hand in the air.

True, there may be less lost hard copies, but there are just as many creative excuses when it comes to teenagers and homework.

Easy solution: set your blog so that each of your students will receive an email copy of each post. Then when you post worksheets or assignments, they will receive them automatically. For students who claim to have 'problems' getting assignments, I copy mom or dad to the blog's subscription so that they also receive an email containing each assignment.

Sure has cut down on 'problems'.

Overheard in the hall...

Just heard this one...

A student standing next to her locker to one of my students: "No, I didn't do it because I couldn't find the worksheet."

My student (seeing me just as I pass by): "Um... yeah".

Get those 'worksheets' online, people! That'll be one less excuse we have to deal with...

"But, Mr. Wojo, my dog ate my laptop!"

Back to the Future...

ASCD once again takes us back to the world of Reagan, Boy George, and a decent Baltimore Orioles; the year is 1983 and Arthur J. Lewis has just made a prediction...

From his vantage point more than two decades ago, Lewis sees a future where computers are ubiquitous, information is shared with incredible speed, and the U.S. population is on the decline. He notes that although anticipating the exact problems of the next century is not possible, predicting their essence is: "They will surely be global . . . and require the integration of knowledge from different fields for their solutions."


Slashdot's got an article on shape-shifting SmartPhones.

How about shape-shifting schooldesks fit with monitors and headphones and wired for the future? I could see it know: "Ok, children... make your desk into whatever shape you want, get in, and let's see where we can take these things!"

Classic Texts Online

As a preface, let's time-warp back to an earlier post:

A colleague writes:

How do you encourage students to read the entire novel online?

I don't.

While I encourage reading online, in no way do I ever discourage reading real paper books. As I've written before, it's not paper I'm against -- it's a paper-knowledge mentality I'm in opposition to.

This is an important thing to keep in mind as you go paperless: never EVER discourage students (or anybody, for that matter) from reading ANYTHING... be it a magazine or a tattered paperback or their Kindle. Going paperless is not about being an anti-paper dogmatist; it's about thinking about what's printed on the paper in a fresh way.

Back in college, I took a course called 'European Culture in the Middle Ages' with Jan Ziolkowski. As I think back to that class, one thing stands out in my mind more than any other. And that was just an offhand remark by the professor that Internet publishing actually had a lot in common with publishing in the Middle Ages from a certain point-of-view. For one thing, in the same way that the monastic redactors of Medieval texts copied by hand and thus also often made errors or added/cut information from the original texts, likewise Internet additions of texts are subject to a cut-and-paste idiom that can drastically alter the meaning of a given text.

Now, while some people will immediately point to this as one of the banes of the Internet, I see it actually as a great opportunity. Because variance in text forces us to look more closely at what we are reading. This is not something new to human experience: after all, we have variants even of the introduction to the Iliad which is certainly the most canonical of early Western texts.

In a way, the human element in the manuscript tradition of the Middle Ages as well as the Internet tradition of the Digital Age stands in stark contrast to the relatively novel era of printing that dominated from Gutenberg to the late 1990's. Novel in that it was the only time in human history that the human hand was virtually erased from the process of reproduction. There is no better example of this than the rise of the printed newspaper in the wake of the Industrial Revolution.

But all of that is preface concerning the ways in which we think about text online. In fact, the best edited texts online are every bit as 'authoritative' as their paper counterparts. So rather than debate the merits of paperless books, I'd rather present here four annotated resources for teachers looking to incorporate paperless text options into their classrooms.

First is the 'Complete Works of Shakespeare' published online by MIT. In the current condition of the Internet (where scrolling remains unfortunately the way of the world), this is admittedly a clumsy site. That said, each text is broken down into relatively manageable series of chunked acts or poems. As an admitted lover of all things Shake-scene, I have used this site in the classroom as a quick way to spontaneously get some of the Bard up on my wall whenever the occasion arises. Having the plays chunked into titled scenes helps you get to the lines you are looking for quickly and with ease.

Second is the Latin Library, a project of Ad Fontes Academy. This is a laudable digital collection of Latin texts ranging from the oldest works of Ennius and Plautus straight up through Renaissance texts and on into the contemporary period with Latin translations of the Bill of Rights and Alice in Wonderland. While there are neither glossaries nor critical apparatus supplied, the texts themselves are in beautiful condition (check out the illustrations in Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius!)...

We've talked here about the Open Library Project before, and I really do think it's one of the most exciting things on the Web. Just the new take on viewing text online -- that is, by actually flipping through a scanned book rather than scrolling pages of web-text -- is a pleasure for the eyes. Here's an example from a 1904 edition of the Works of Poe. A friend of mine just showed me a new app for the iPhone that does the same thing with the advantage of being able to use your fingers to turn the pages (yes, I realize that makes the whole endeavor seem arbitrary and dorky: "You can even turn the pages with your fingers!", but in the long run, as this technology settles in we'll hopefully see SmartPaper alternatives that are as comfortable and familiar as paper itself -- with the advantage of being connected, highly interactive, and searchable.)

Lastly, take a look at Project Gutenberg. This is an enormous database of public domain texts in several languages -- which incidentally opens the door for teachers of modern foreign languages as well. And to those of you worried that technology is going to tear us away from our humanistic roots, just take a look at the top ten authors (out of over a half-million books downloaded just last week alone): Twain, Dickens, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Thomson, Jules Verne, P.L. Jacob, Oscar Wilde, and Lewis Carroll. Looks like the kids ARE alright, after all.

For the classroom teacher, the greatest benefit of online texts is the immediacy. There is little excuse for not being able to pull up a text at will; which certainly makes somewhat daunting tasks, like teaching The Waste Land, a bit more commensurate with the practicalities of the classroom experience. In addition, students in a 1:1 setting have at their fingers all of the resources of scholarship and journalism; they therefore have no excuse for letting anything slide. Used with vigor, online texts produce a wealth of dividends for far less financial cost and space consideration than an equivalent traditional library.

In a way, 'paperless' should not be thought of as the 'alternative' to paper; but rather, for the time-being, an auxilary and connected form of text-experience. That connection is what is most attractive to me as a teacher. And unlike the similarities to Medieval book production as we discussed above, the connection is global, democratic, and immediate.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Testing Tech Literacy...

What's the feeling out there about this one? Here's the report from Digital Education for closer inspection.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

You All are the Everyday Innovators!

TeachPaperless got a mention as an 'Everyday Innovation' from Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning!

Much thanks to all of you folks who have been following this blog, especially those of you who've been sparking discussion through your comments.

You people are FEARLESS!

TeachPaperless: Storyboarding with Pixton

Friday, March 06, 2009

Keep it Simple

This is from a discussion with a reader over on my Classroom 2.0 discussion page...

Reader, concerning ed tech:

Our middle school students get caught up in the "bells and whistles" and rarely get to the content. Time is the classroom teacher's enemy. Finding enough hours in the day to teach the technological "how-to's" in addition to the instructional component is overwhelming. I fight the battle weekly with my gifted students- can't image trying to do some of the same activities with regular ed and still covering the curriculum. At great solution would be after school and summer enrichment programs to acclimate students to web 2.0 tools. Maybe we should apply for some of that stimulus money ;).

My reply:

I disagree. It's a matter of streamlining. Keep it simple. Don't let them get caught up in the 'bells and whistles'; you are the teacher.

Summertime is for getting outside and running around, not being trained on a computer.

There is no reason you can't get the students set up with individual blogs and each class together on a wiki in two or three days' time max during the beginning of the school year. For example, this past October I did a job getting over 225 high school seniors up and running with Web 2.0 for Senior Project digital portfolios. I met with groups of 40 or so for twenty minutes each morning for a few days and by the end of the week, they were all trained.

I'd imagine you'd need a different set-up for Middle School, but, not knowing exactly what your situation is, I imagine you could work something out. Think of it this way: don't 'teach Web 2.0 skills', rather use Web 2.0 skills to help you teach.

We're a 1:1 computing school and for three days at the beginning of each academic year, we have a 'Freshmen only' computer camp. Here we teach them the 'survival skills' they'll need to handle the computing situation at school. Our biggest problem is that we tend to finish the training lessons much more quickly than all the time we allot for them.

Anyway, once you and the kids are online, you actually save a load of time (single button publishing apps rock) which gives ample opportunity to do all kinds of fun and creative stuff. Though my students turn in all of their work online and are always connected in class, I tend to use a modified-Socratic approach that I've blended with practical tech work and we actually spend most of our classtime in discussions.


Because we were talking about poetry yesterday, here's a fantastic use of poetry-related technology: Poetcast from the Academy of American Poets.

This is a podcast of all things poetry including live readings from the Academy's archive dating back to John Berryman's first public reading of Dream Songs on Halloween night, 1963. Perfect for giving students a real sense of the 'life' ingrained in poetry.