Thursday, April 30, 2009

I Was a Paper Junkie

I was a paper junkie.

My first year teaching, I was so scared of speeding through a lesson and not having something for the students to do that I used to run off several copies of "fun" assignments each day (crosswords, games, whatever I could scrounge up each morning from the old file cabinet in the closet I'd inherited as an office). This inevitably added up to two or three sheets of paper per student per day. And this would be stuff I'd never even see again once I'd handed it out. I'm not even counting the handouts I'd work up for the day's lesson.

But, I was a paper junkie.

That first year teaching, we had a copy limit of somewhere between 10 and 15 thousand copies per teacher. I think I maxed out in January.

Like I said: I was a paper junkie.

I used to pride myself on the physical weight of my mid-term and final exams. Students in my Latin classes used to complain about their hands cramping up and I'd boast about the 22 page final exam I'd written in Greek History class back in college.

I was unrepentant.

When I came to my present school, I found three copy machines whereas my previous school only had two for almost twice as large a faculty. I was in heaven.

I once made a copy of a seventeen page annotated version of T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland' for each student in all five sections of the American Lit class I was teaching at the time. (I hope the statute of limitations is over for that one...).

But I think the most egregious use of paper came when I used to run off fresh copies of everyone's poems in Poetry Club so that we could all mark 'em up during workshops. I easily made a half-dozen copies of each poem per each one student in that club. In other words, each student would wind up with six copies of the exact same poem. And we used to read lots of poems.

But I was a paper junkie.

I used to print out copies of ebooks. (I remember that at that first school, I'd been given a curriculum guide on CD and I actually decided to print the whole thing).

I used to print out my grades in triplicate.

I used to forget to fill the toner cartridge in my desktop printer and have to go back and reprint dozens of copies of a twelve-page test.

I even got a special card from the office supply store to make copies in bulk.

And then I woke up.

I think it was the year our school moved to 1:1 computing. No one in administration suggested not using paper (in fact, I don't think any of them had even heard the term 'blog' at that point). None one on the facilities staff said anything (and they were the guys who hauled in those ton-sized pallets stacked with reams). I think it was really just a matter of me sitting down and playing around with this new laptop and before long realizing that I'd written hundreds of pages worth of notes and ideas and meeting minutes and lesson plans and hadn't printed a single piece of paper.

And why hadn't I printed anything from my new laptop?

Because I couldn't figure out how to.

That's how this whole foray into paperlessness began. It wasn't that I was some tech wizard. I certainly wasn't all that environmentally conscious. I barely used the Internet with the exception of reading bulletin boards and getting my morning news.

Rather, the reason I got into paperlessness was because I was too dumb to figure out how to hook a printer up to my new laptop and too stubborn to ask the IT department to do it for me.

I totally slacked my way into paperlessness.

It was only once I was there that I realized what had happened. And then the epiphany came: "Hey buddy," my mind said to me, "you don't really need paper to teach a class".

And so, I didn't go back. And over the last three years, I've been on a crazy journey where I've easily saved over 40,000 sheets of paper. And that doesn't even count the paper my kids have saved in my class. Whereas I used to like to brag that kids would burn through two notebooks over the course of my AP Latin class, now not a single notebook ever needs be opened.

Just for fun today, I cut-and-pasted the contents of a single student blog into Word. This was a blog that a student in my Latin II class has kept this year. So we're talking from September to April. When that blog popped up in 12pt font as a Word document, it turned out to be 107 pages long.

107 pages.

Written by a 15 year old.

In one class.

If nothing else, my experience with a paperless classroom has proven to me demonstrably that there is just so much waste that we take for granted in education. And it's an ongoing eyeopening experience for me to see just how much a change a little change can make.

The old me never understood that. But he was a paper junkie.

Social Media and Cheating

Reader MagistraM writes:
I love how you have placed the responsibility for learning so clearly on your students. A common concern about using digital tools for classwork and assessments is that the students will be "cheating". This lesson demonstrates how the social tools facilitate every student's learning - and demands each student to contribute.

I would say that social media actually may present us with a new post-cheating paradigm. I liken it to students in an oil painting class: barring having someone else do it for you, you just "can't" cheat on an oil painting.

Because of the transparency of Web 2.0, cheating in the traditional forms -- plagiarism, copying, cribnotes -- is severely limited in a practical sense. Because of the individuality and personalization of assessment and creation via Web 2.0, cheating itself becomes a rather uninteresting option.

Students tend to cheat out of a mix of boredom and procrastination; cheating is a manifestation of a lack of motivation to be authentic -- whether we're talking about the total slacker who cut-and-pastes from Encarta, or the 'sophisticated' cheater who tries to juke the SAT.

Unauthentic assessment will produce cheaters.

And what is unauthentic assessment? I'd define it as assessment that fails in its structural makeup to address the realities of society -- both at a local and global level.

Now, I'm no spring chicken. I know there are kids who will try to cheat their way around anything. I've caught a few in my own classes. But, if the teacher is using the tools available to engage the students rather than just to talk 'at' them, the teacher has got a much better shot of fostering the type of community in the classroom where cheating will not be tolerated among the students themselves. Web 2.0, by its very nature is a medium that requires you to give of yourself to get anything in return. And that's the sort of thing that a good teacher can tap into both to encourage authentic engagement as well as to foster a spirit of classroom-wide local goodwill. Combined, cheating becomes a much less cool option.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Latin Test via Twitter

As I'm writing this, my Latin II students are taking a pre-test translating sections of Book I of the Gallic Wars. I allow them to open the text on Latin Library, a tab of one or both of two solid online Latin dictionaries, and a tab of the hyperlinked-grammar version of the text in Perseus. For the test, they won't be able to use Perseus.

I also let them use Twitter to ask each other questions and give each other help. I follow the Tweets and can easily swing into action to help with a tricky verb form or a misconstrued phrase; in addition, during the pre-test sessions, the students themselves will often cite websites in their Tweets to be included in our ongoing hyperlinked bibliographies.

Last week, I gave my first Latin test using Twitter. My Latin III students had to translate the 'In Taberna' section of Carmina Burana. I allowed them to do it as a collaborative assessment and I gave a single score to the entire class so long as everyone contributed equally in the Tweet feed. Students had the text open in a Latin Library tab, had their online dictionaries open, had their blogs open in which to post their sections and organize their translations, and followed each other on Twitter. The trick was that although this was a collaborative assignment, the students -- under penalty of forfeiting the grade for the whole class -- were not allowed to talk.

All discussion had to take place on Twitter.

The results were extraordinary. I watched as they used Twitter to chunk the seven stanzas of the text and organize who would be available to help in different ways. Some students focused on looking up vocab and figuring out morphology while others construed the sections into a unified whole. A particularly interesting exchange occurred when three students realized that their chunks contained shared words that individually each had broad semantic ranges -- so they had to make compromise decisions on what definition to use for each.

I would not want anyone to think that this is the only way I assess the students. In fact, I'm a big supporter of using as many different sorts of assessments as possible -- after all, the students have to be ready for anything in the 'real world'. But, in terms of using Latin to teach 21st century networking and using 21st century networking to teach Latin, this experiment produced excellent results.

Here are portions of our feed with names changed (for chronology, read from bottom to top... it's a Twitter feed). BTW, for those of you who do not use Twitter (yet), this is going to look very strange to you. It may even look quite useless. But strange as this all may look, imagine: a class of Latin III students knocking out a strong translation of the entire 'In Taberna' from the original Medieval Latin by sight with the aid of only a dictionary in just over a half-hour's time. In addition, as opposed to traditional small group projects where one student might do the majority of the work and the others might slack, on Twitter you can see in real time the contributions of each student in the class. You can see precisely the types of mistakes they are making AS THEY ARE MAKING THEM. And a record is kept of that.

This is just a random sample; for those keeping score at home, we produced about 125 Tweets in less than 35 minutes.

Here is an example where I am watching the editing of several translation drafts at once and setting up student teams to organize sections into unified wholes. Students are directing each other to full versions of the sections I have looked over located on their own class blogs. Remember to read from the bottom of the selection.
54. MrW @gol You and Alesia need to compare because you have many of the same words. Decide which translations you want. 15 minutes ago from web in reply to gol
55. koko 2nd half of stanza 1: When in the tavern he is led by it, where coin is the barmaid, that is work, so he may grumble, but let me speak s ... 15 minutes ago from web
56. TAstu Stanza 6: http://musilatin.blo... 15 minutes ago from web
57. brandi http://romansp.blogspot... STANZA 4 is on my blog. first link 15 minutes ago from web
58. TAstu Stanza 6: Lines 1-3 The poor man drinks, the sick drink the outcasts drink, the strange drink the boys drink, the old drink 16 minutes ago from web
59. gol @MrW what do you mean? 16 minutes ago from web
60. MrW @TAstu Check with Austin. 16 minutes ago from web in reply to TAstu
61. gol posted on my blog, 24 minutes ago from web

Here is a section where I am directing students to definitions live as they are sight reading. You will notice that our discussion evolves from my making a student explain herself in the use of a translated word; in a few Tweets, I manage to catch three different students who otherwise would have made translation errors and would have been thrown off later in their sections. Also, I pick up a mixed construction in the process. By nailing down these problems AS THE STUDENTS ARE TRANSLATING rather than waiting for them to finish and turn something in, we all wind up with a less frustrating and more accurate finished product. Read from the bottom.
62. MrW@gol 'wanderer's' 25 minutes ago from web in reply to gol
63. TAstu How about the 'wanderers' or 'outcasts' mr w? 25 minutes ago from web
64. koko 1st half of stanza 1 .... When we are in the tavern, do not care where the ground may be, but they do hurry to gamble, who always sweat. 25 minutes ago from web
65. MrW Everyone, please provide a link to your section. 25 minutes ago from web
66. Chel26 @MrW thank you 25 minutes ago from web in reply to MrW
70. MrW @Chel26 "who drink first is captured" Mixed COnstruction 26 minutes ago from web in reply to Chel26
77. MrW @Chel26 No. Libertine does not mean 'free men', it means basically 'partiers' 27 minutes ago from web in reply to Chel26
78. gol the master drinks, the mistress drinks, the soldier drinks, the clergy drinks, he drinks, she drinks, the maid serving drinks, some ... 27 minutes ago from web
79. brandi times for the learners, twelve times for those who repent, and thirteen times for those who journey. For the pope and king are al ... 27 minutes ago from web
80. Chel26 freed men. not libertines... 28 minutes ago from web
81. MrW @TAstu 'exiled' drink? 28 minutes ago from web in reply to TAstu
82. Chel26 http://latinmove.blo... this is my blog link and carmina burana stanza 3 is the top post 29 minutes ago from web
83. MrW @Chel26 What are 'libertines'? 29 minutes ago from web in reply to Chel26
84. MrW @brandi Not 'scattered'; look up that word. 30 minutes ago from web in reply to brandi
85. Chel26 heres stanza three completed i have to post it piece by piece! "First of all the wine maker is giving drinks to the libertines.. 30 minutes ago from web

This sample is from the end of the test. You can see that I am still helping individual students with grammar issues while other students are preparing the final copy for submittal. The final version -- comprised of the work of all of the students -- was then posted on a single blog that all of them subscribe to.
1. MrW Ok. That's time. Rachel agreed to post the final to her blog. I'll check it there at 12:45PM for group grade. Thank you! Great work. less than 10 seconds ago from web
2. Sbt @MrW will do 3 minutes ago from web
3. MrW @Sbt ...attention to who is teasing... rephrase / object problem 3 minutes ago from web in reply to Sbt
4. brandi. Alesia's 3 minutes ago from web
5. koko have it all on my blog 3 minutes ago from web
6. Sbt But according to Bacchi, they dismiss their fate. (end) 3 minutes ago from web
7. TAstu I'll do it 3 minutes ago from web
8. Sbt because they are able to dress oneself with someone's wallet. There no one fears death... 4 minutes ago from web
9. MrW Let's choose one person's blog to be the place where the final version gets published for the class grade. Ok, decide. 4 minutes ago from web

Now, as I'm following this Tweet feed, I'm also following each student individually on their own blogs where they are live-blogging their edits. Might sound complicated, but really just a matter of tabbed browsing. The end result of all of this is me -- the teacher -- having a much better feel for the formative aspects of the students' skills in translating and the students having an immediate feedback session where they are collaborating both with their teacher and with their peers.

Last year, when I started experimenting with this type of assessment, I did it live through a collaborative Google Doc. Twitter, however, now makes everything far more efficient -- and each student is left with their own copy/transcript of the entire event.

I would like to know how other teachers are using Twitter. I see it as one of the most powerful tools for education available in Web 2.0. One of the things I really like is the use of @Tweets. Students are able to directly address one another or directly address me and I am able to directly address that particular student in return; but because we do it via @Tweets, the exchange shows up in the transcript of each of the students' feeds. So, even if a student was not working on a particular part during the assignment, they now have a record of another student's questions and my responses to those other sections. In a way, the @Tweets make the Twitter feed a document far more complex than anything we could have created merely via a back-and-forth; for students, this is great because now in addition to having taken part in a collaborative assessment, they also have a complete transcript which can be used as a study guide for the final exam. In fact, I am thinking that I'm going to have the students go over the transcript and create hyperlinked annotations back to Perseus for all matters of vocab and grammar. Those documents will then be combined and shared via a Google Doc as a practice guide for the year end summative assessments.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

From Pong to WoW to Math Scores?

The State of Virginia tries out video games to improve math scores:
"The traditional view of video games has been that they are distractions from the task of learning, said Ntiedo Etuk, CEO and co-founder of Tabula Digita. "But this research clearly shows the opposite is true."

Just heard of the Quest school in NYC going game-ed. Interesting to see a state do it.

Wonder how many admins down there are gamers...

You Mean I Don't Have a Fan Base in Antarctica?

One of the most beautiful things about the Internet is its ability to produce chaos.

At least from a theoretical point-of-view. And you should know that. Because in a paperless classroom, you will have students whose intent is to produce chaos. And that's something to tap into.

I'm talking about something simple here: the ability to be anonymous. Using Web 2.0, students can easily create multiple accounts or claim to be 75 years old or claim to live in Antarctica.

One of my Freshman recently pulled the latter on his Pixton profile. And so now I have a fan who 'lives' at the South Pole. Things could be worse.

Some folks are scared to death of this type of ironic anonymity. But as a child of post-Modernism, I have no such problems. In fact, I have a great fondness for this sort of thing.

The trick is to turn this feature of the Internet into something that can produce educational value. So, why not have Shakespeare start a Facebook page? Dickens and Poe can debate the finer parts of what makes a good short story in an IM chat. Ansel Adams can photograph the landscape of your middle school ballfields and post the pics up on Picasa along with an accompanying essay by Rachel Carson.

The anonymous aspects of the Web can lend themselves to theatrics that can produce some wicked results. So, don't fear the chaos. Tap into it. Use it to draw learning out of all of those multiple intelligences.

Looking for Exemplary 21st Century Schools

CASTLE is looking for schools with strong 21C programs and initiatives.

Check out the Moving Forward wiki on Exemplary 21st Century Schools and please add information about your own programs.

For more info on the wiki, see this recent post over at Dangerously Irrelevant.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Lots of Information. Really lots.

The way in which we think about saving information is about to change drastically. According to the NY Times, GE has developed a holographic CD capable of storing 100 DVDs' worth of info.
Blu-ray is available in 25-gigabyte and 50-gigabyte discs, and a standard DVD holds 5 gigabytes.

The new CDs?
But holographic discs, with the technology G.E. has attained, could hold 500 gigabytes of data.

If you are as clutter-challenged as me, the only question is: what do you do now when you've lost a disc containing 100 DVDs on it?

WSJ Bell Curve Apologist Loves Willingham's New Book

CK is excited about the WSJ's "glowing review"...

From the pen of Christopher F. Chabris:
So why don't students like school? According to Mr. Willingham, one major reason is that what school requires students to do -- think abstractly -- is in fact not something our brains are designed to be good at or to enjoy. When we confront a task that requires us to exert mental effort, it is critical that the task be just difficult enough to hold our interest but not so difficult that we give up in frustration.

And previously from the pen of Christopher F. Chabris:
The most basic claim put forth by Herrnstein and Murray was that smart people do better than dumb people. What is so troubling about that? We rarely encounter an argument over the fact that beautiful people do better than ugly people, or tall people better than short ones, though each of these propositions is also true. Is an intellectual meritocracy less just or moral than a physical one?

My emphasis.

I'd Rather do ANYTHING than...

A reader writes:
For me, Twitter has been invaluable in not only finding resources that I can digest on my own time, but also live, "in-the-moment" professional development. There have been countless times that I've contributed to workshops or parent nights in places that I may never physically see.

Some of the Twittering-conference experiences I've had have been much more meaningful than actual events I've been to. Part of it has to do with the fact that the folks you are going to find taking part in professional development via Tweets and backchannels are the totally obsessive types who really love what they do and love to talk about teaching and technology.

They are more akin to insane record collectors at a vinyl conference than to (no offense, but honestly) the typical required-prof-development ed conference crowd. In short: if someone is taking the time to take part in a conference via Twitter, then they probably REALLY WANT TO BE THERE. As in: given the choice between going to the ed conference and doing ANYTHING ELSE, they'd choose the ed conference.

Thinking in a New Way

February 2nd, 2009.

That was the day I wrote the first post on this blog. And I haven't missed a single day since. Sometime very soon (like in a day or so) we'll hit 250 posts. I never thought this blog would take off in quite the way it has, nor did I think it would become such a fundamental part of my professional life. I've really come to see blogging itself as a form of professional development. I never would have considered that on Feb 1st, 2009.

I've found myself constantly challenged (in the positive way) by readers and commenters on all sorts of subjects related both to the broad philosophical and political implications of educational technology as well as the day-to-day issues of running a paperless classroom. This discussion has led to further exploration of education itself as well as technology. And I think it remains very important that we don't forget the 'education' part of 'educational technology'.

And I've been learning constantly. Three months ago, I was a Twitter newb. Last Thursday, I actually gave a Latin test entirely on Twitter. Things change. They change fast. To paraphrase my response to a Tweet not long ago: the most important thing you can have in a paperless classroom is fearlessness.

Thanks to all of the regular readers of this blog. If you have not subscribed, please do; it's easy and it's a good boost to my ego (!).

In return, I will continue, in the spirit of that first post way back in the Winter, to blog about education AND technology.
"Because it's not just about saving paper. It's about thinking in a new way."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Deep Listening and Untethering

Just got back from a trip to NYC to perform a free improvised music concert with an ensemble I play in called Second Nature.

One of the essential skills of free improvised music is 'deep listening'. The idea is to listen so carefully to your co-collaborators that you can practically anticipate what move they will make next. The result is a completely improvised non-idiomatic music that sounds to the listener to be akin to musical telepathy.

When it all works out, the results are breathtaking. Particularly in an ensemble like Second Nature where you are talking about not just three or four musicians -- but fifteen!

I think this deep listening approach is something with a lot of value in our everyday lives and in the way that we understand our society. And with that in mind, this recent article by Fisch concerning the coming 'untethering' of electronics and the implications for education is most astute.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Internet Ubiquity

Hello to all of the new readers who have subscribed to this blog! You can also follow TeachPaperless on Twitter and join the TeachPaperless group on Facebook.

Then hop on over to TeachPaperless's Classroom 2.0 profile and be sure to check out the TeachPaperless custom EdCast mix of NPR programming.

Then go learn a new language.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Thoughts on Last Night's Paperless Classroom Presentation at JHU

Some really interesting responses from the audience last night. One question was about fear.

I say: Fear is as Fear does.

Years ago, when we first started the process of becoming a 1:1 computing school, there was a lot of fear about MySpace. We heard about the threats of online predators, credit-card thieves, and harassment. Years on down the road we look at MySpace and what is it? A glorified mall. It's got record shops, a video arcade, and places for teenagers to hang out. And the whole thing is run by an enormous corporation.

It's a mall.

I remember as a kid watching TV and seeing those news reports of the occasional mall kidnapping. Scary stuff. But did that really make anyone stop going to the mall? Maybe what it did was make some people become more aware of what their kids were doing at the mall. Just like those rare cases of perverts on MySpace made people aware.

Funny way to become aware of your kids. But, fear is as fear does.

The admins here have always been supportive of relatively open Internet access here at school, yet they remain wary of social networking. Maybe it has to do with the word 'social'. That word has certain connotations in a high school. Maybe we should change it from 'social networking' to 'networked society'. Because that's what's really going on from Facebook to Twitter and beyond.

This isn't kids' stuff.

The Obama campaign waged the most unlikely successful political battle in American history using Facebook as a virtual headquarters. If the man who is elected president trusts his staff to use social networking for professional purposes, why in the heck can't principals and supers across this country -- in schools both public and private -- trust their staffs to use social networking for professional purposes?

This isn't kids' stuff.

But fear is as fear does.

Last night, no less than a dozen people came up to me after the presentation and told me that they previously had opened Twitter accounts, but then didn't know what to do with them and so they just sort of ignored them; now, however, they were going to hop right back on and see what it could do. I stopped by Twitter last night before going to bed, and eight of them had already logged in to follow my feed. One was already using her feed to broadcast Autism info into the Tweet-o-sphere.

Reader Knaus stopped by during our presentation last night via Twitter. His Tweet said it all: Twitter is the best Professional Development you will ever have. By the end of a very short session on blogs, Tweets, RSS, and Web 2.0, many of those in the audience were in agreement with him.

I spend all my time in front of high school kids. So, when I get up in front of a room of adults, I often feel weird -- my attempts at humor are usually the first thing to bomb! But I saw a lot of faces come to life last night. It's that same glow of sudden understanding I see in kids when they finally understand the importance of the fourth principle part of a verb or when they realize the connection between 16th century sculpture and its ancient antecedents. It's the reason we are educators.

Tweeting Opportunity

A week ago today I was in Massachusetts.

Well, not really. I was actually in my kitchen right here in Maryland's beautiful Patapsco Valley.

Home on Spring Break, I was up early reading some blogs when a Tweet came in that there was gonna be a cool Blue Ribbon Institute ed tech development day broadcast online. Will Richardson was giving the morning keynote, so I headed over to Ustream and caught the video feed. The backchannel was already chatting away and I found out that many of the day's events would be covered both via video feed and live blogging on Cover it Live.

In and out throughout the morning, I spent about four hours watching live feeds, taking part in discussions, sharing links with teachers. Discussions spilled over onto Twitter and into chats. And I wasn't the only one. Folks from Canada to China were online that morning, all sharing; all learning. We were all in Massachusetts.

Turned out to be one of the most powerful professional development experiences I've ever had. And I wouldn't have even known about it if it hadn't come through on Twitter.

We are living in an age where opportunity is in front of us all of the time despite our best intentions to think otherwise.

Opportunity doesn't work on a schedule. We are living post-schedule.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

JHU New Developments in Education: Live Blogging from Apr 23, 2009

And here is the transcript of the live blogging from the event. Thanks to all of the presenters, professors, School of Education and Alumni folks, and thanks to a fantastic audience!

More on the McKinsey Report Debate

Pondiscio gets into the McKinsey Report debate over at CK:
Teachers, raise your hand if you chose your profession because you wanted to raise GDP? Anyone??

Here's a response I posted there. I think it's more concise and clear about how I feel about the report than my previous posts here on TP or over at Burell's blog.
I think the report said that GDP would have risen ‘if’ several achievement gaps would have been closed. Who doesn’t want to close achievement gaps?

And I think in terms of ‘performance’, the report notes Finland and South Korea specifically because of the success rates in education in those two countries with regards specifically to MATH and SCIENCE.

For the amount of money we all pay, both for public and private education, the US still basically sucks at math compared to the rest of the industrialized world. Don’t we want to change that?

Friedman and the McKinsey report may not be the best messengers, but in the haze of big money and big economics that cloud this report, there is actually some stuff we ought to look at much more closely.

Robert's original post states:
Look, everyone gets the connection between education, income and productivity. But economic arguments, however troubling, will neither win hearts and minds among teachers, nor create the “sense of urgency and follow-through” Friedman wants to see.

I would agree, except that at work today, two out of the three times I had conversations with teachers it was over this issue and they thought this IS the sort of thing that would create a “sense of urgency and follow-through”.

Folks are really attuned to what's going on in the economy right now. It will be interesting to see if TF's op-ed has any traction with the majority middle-class U.S. teaching profession.

Going Paperless!

Teachers are trying out the paperless path!

Just got a Tweet from @concretekax:
Used 5.34 pieces of paper/student for 9 week class mostly graph paper and my principle required a parent letter.

That's a good start.

It takes time to do the paperless thing... it's not just a matter of 'giving it up'. I staged it over three years: first year doing research, learning how to blog, and reading and writing blogs constantly; second year a) setting up class blogs and giving all of my assignments and exams exclusively online and b) getting kids used to using online texts as their 'main text'; third year a) setting up the students with their own personal blogs as a place to submit all classwork b) teaching students to use and evaluate the effectiveness of Web 2.0; next year will mark my first year with zero physical books -- all readings/books will be online.

I have the good fortune of having my Latin students for at least three years, which gives us a real opportunity to figure out what works and what doesn't. In fact, they help make all of our decisions about what tech to use.

It's a process.

Glad to hear of teachers trying it out. Would love to hear more stories.

'New Developments' Panel tonight at JHU

I'll be taking part in a panel discussion on 'New Developments' in Ed this evening at Johns Hopkins' Columbia Center. Here's the info, stop by if you are in the area.
Best Practices in Leading and Learning
Thursday, April 23, 2009
6:30 p.m.

Join us for the next 100th Anniversary event, featuring four alumni of the Department of Teacher Development and Leadership, who will share their expertise in literacy and technology. Edward Pajak, professor and department chair, will moderate. The event is free of charge; students and alumni from all programs are welcome. A reception will follow.

Columbia Center
Room 218
6740 Alexander Bell Drive
Columbia, MD 21046
410.516.9700 or 301.621.3377

Literacy Learning for At-Risk Adolescents
Tamitha Campbell (EdD, Teacher Development and Leadership '07)
Socio-cultural perspectives and the research on effective components of adolescent literacy interventions are paramount when preparing students for a world that expects college and career readiness. As educators continue to analyze student performance data, their heightened awareness of the reading deficiencies for certain groups of students compels them to restructure in innovative ways to meet these challenges despite budget restrictions. The presenter will discuss her research on the successes of one secondary school’s literacy program that addressed at-risk adolescents.

Family Reading Nights
Darcy J. Hutchins (MS, Educational Studies '05)
Multiple research studies indicate that parental involvement is an integral for student achievement. Family reading night is one example of an activity that many schools conduct as part of a comprehensive school-family-community partnership program for student success. The presenter discusses promising strategies that help educators to plan, implement, and evaluate monthly family readings nights at the elementary school level.

Innovations in School-Based Technology
Ryan Imbriale (MS, Technology for Education '00)
Students need 21st-century knowledge and skills to succeed as contributing citizens in the 21st century. How can schools address the gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need in 21st-century jobs. The presenter will discuss online collaboration tools, cell phones in the classroom, podcasting, and other strategies that help address 21st-century literacy.

Teaching and Learning in a Paperless Classroom
R. Richard "Shelly" Wojewodzki (MS, Educational Studies '05)
Blogs, RSS technology, and Web 2.0 apps allow for teachers and students alike to abandon the old static modes of paperwork and step into a collaborative, real-time, connected and dynamic 21st-century environment. This presentation will both highlight some of the best practices in a paperless classroom, as well as address the philosophical and pedagogical debates surrounding the paperless movement.

Digital Education and Open Content: Tonight on Classroom 2.0

Interesting discussion about open content and education: tonight live on Elluminate.
A discussion of the open content movement in education, where creative work is "published in a format that explicitly allows copying and modifying of its information by anyone" (Wikipedia).

Date: Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

Time: 5pm Pacific / 8pm Eastern / 12am GMT

Location: In Elluminate.


Karen Fasimpaur. An enthusiastic user of mobile technologies and an evangelist for Open Education, Karen Fasimpaur has over fifteen years experience in education and educational technology, working with schools and educational organizations to integrate technology. Ms. Fasimpaur is currently President of K12 Handhelds, which focuses on using mobile computing in education. She is also the founder of the K12 Open Ed web site and the Kids Open Dictionary project. K12 Open Ed ( K12 Handhelds (

Anne Schreiber. Anne has over 20 years experience as a multi-media publisher, product designer and educator. She is currently the Chief Academic Officer of Curriki – Global Education and Learning Community. Curriki, which was founded by Sun Microsystems is an organization dedicated to the creation of validated, open source K-12 curricula, which is completely free and available globally. Before joining Curriki, Anne was Vice President of Product at the Grow Network/McGraw-Hill, an assessment and instructional reporting company, providing customized instruction based on summative assessment data. Anne began her career as an elementary school teacher, developing staff and student enrichment programs. She is the author of more than a dozen books for young children.

CB on TF

Burell pokes Friedman in the eye.
Call me crazy, but I suspect we could make a connection between the wealth gap and the achievement gap in those halcyon days to the "decline of education" Friedman is wringing his hands about here.

I think there are all sorts of reasons why both American education pales in comparison to the position of America as a global power and why America faces the economic difficulties that it does. But when Burell notes that:
Friedman's fixation on test score rankings divorced from poverty rankings needs fixing. But it's standard in education punditry today. We ignore poverty, and instead only focus on schools and teachers.

he seems to overlook the part where TF quotes the 'ifs':
If America had closed the international achievement gap between 1983 and 1998 and had raised its performance to the level of such nations as Finland and South Korea, United States G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $1.3 trillion and $2.3 trillion higher. If we had closed the racial achievement gap and black and Latino student performance had caught up with that of white students by 1998, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher. If the gap between low-income students and the rest had been narrowed, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been $400 billion to $670 billion higher.

The McKinsey Report suffers in its lack of definition, particularly with regard to any explanation of 'performance' that goes beyond comparative test scores. But, unlike some folks (perhaps even TF), I tend to read this not as prescriptive -- as in "let's us business-types show those durned teachers how if they just taught better, we'd all have more money"; but rather as damning -- as in "if" US education (and in the comparison with Finland and South Korea, the focus is directed here at math, science, and technology) were not lagging behind its global peers (and had not for the years 1983-98), "then" the result would have been a smarter and more competitive US populace and therefore (by Mc/TF standards) higher GDP.

This is basic economics stuff, it's just that the numbers crunchers don't always see the myriad social realities and the folks on the other side of the spectrum don't trust the reasoning.

Burell is absolutely on target in criticizing the report for its failure to recognize the impact of poverty on education in the US (even more importantly the distribution of poverty -- after all, on paper South Korea has got more poverty than the US [in terms of percentage of population / not raw numbers]). He also rightly gets under TF's skin for seeming to simplify exactly what the 'decline' of anything actually means. But I think in the end this report actually might offer a glimmer of hope in the ironic fact that it pars big economics with the international comparisons in education and in doing so, puts the educational comparisons in the limelight. It therefore could serve as catalyst for a more open and widespread discussion -- one much more open than the report itself could ever be.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Question about Ustream

Reader Ann asks:
So does Ustream record the broadcast for later showings, and can comments be added every time it is viewed? I would love to use Ustream at school as a way to observe each other in the classroom, but obviously the rest of the staff isn't going to sit and watch the video at the same time.

Yes. You need to make your own channel and you can save your broadcasts. Backchannel is only open during the broadcast (I think), but there is a section for later comments under each recorded show.

One thing I hope they fix: the backchannel chats get deleted after the broadcast, so if you want to keep them, you need to cut-and-paste every so often.

I Need Sleep

Blogging before 6AM is a contact sport.

And I coughed one up earlier today.

A reader caught my mistake and I duly fixed it having meant the Dept of Ed and having blearily typed NEA. Thanks for being another set of eyes... and just think how long it would have taken to get a correction in a paper version (oh, the irony) of this blog!

Rhetoric...? Moi?

A reader writes:
I appreciate the points made and understand that the rhetoric helps describe a sense of urgency...

In reality, as in most complex issues, people are spread along a continuum, not stacked at two ends. An old truth in social psychology is that the more I put you in an opposite group, the less I will be able to convince you. Many people, myself included, are skeptical about technology in education/training because so many people (corporate CEOs, so-called learning advocates, and yes, school teachers) mistake the means for the goal. Or make, for example, use Web 2.0 the goal, and not education itself. Yes, use the tools, but not at the expense of both real education and achievement.

So, be careful not to throw the ones who will use the tools cautiously, even skeptically, in the same group with the ones who are just plain pigheaded.

Thank you for your comment. Most of the folks who follow this blog regularly have probably figured out by now that I can be a bit less-than-discreet when arguing a point. So I absolutely depend upon the true eloquence that comes from the comments you all post here.

I think we all tend to jumble up, however, what exactly we mean when we talk about means, ends, and goals.

My feeling about education is that learning 'how to think' is more important than learning 'what to think (or think about)'. Therefore, learning is really about learning how to learn. Within this view, and given the context of the present and future prospects of the Digital Age, I do see integration with the immediate global network offered and maintained by Internet technology to be an absolutely necessary part of learning today. What I'm getting at is that I don't really see anymore the distinctions between the means and the ends. Rather the means offers a plethora of ends -- Twitter is the perfect example... a Post-Structuralist's dream.

And I am hesitant to define the meaning of a 'real education'.

If it wasn't that long ago that the medium became the message, then I'd say that the thrust of digital technology on society and the catch-up job in education actually demonstrates a situation now where the medium and the mediator are in a sympathetic relationship.

The Digital Age is something to be lived in, not just something to be talked about. So, thanks again to all readers for comments and ideas and talk. Makes it not so lonely out on this cliff.

Face the Devastation

Devastating stuff from the new McKinsey report. Friedman is practically willing to let the report speak for itself.

According to the report:
"The longer American children are in school, the worse they perform compared to their international peers".

There are millions of kids who are in modern suburban schools “who don’t realize how far behind they are,” said Matt Miller, one of the authors. “They are being prepared for $12-an-hour jobs — not $40 to $50 an hour.”

And the kicker:

According to the report,
If America had closed the international achievement gap between 1983 and 1998 and had raised its performance to the level of such nations as Finland and South Korea, United States G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $1.3 trillion and $2.3 trillion higher. If we had closed the racial achievement gap and black and Latino student performance had caught up with that of white students by 1998, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been between $310 billion and $525 billion higher. If the gap between low-income students and the rest had been narrowed, G.D.P. in 2008 would have been $400 billion to $670 billion higher.

Autonomy's Fault?

A reader writes:
So let me play devil's advocate here. Wasn't it autonomy that got us into this whole NCLB and economic mess. Schools weren't cutting it or couldn't agree on a good way to show that they were doing their job so now there are articulated standards and state mandated tests. Banks did what they wanted and now there are bailouts so they don't fail and talk of better oversight.

When you're traveling out of state where do you stop to get something to eat, the autonomous independently-owned restaurant or a familiar name brand chain? In some cases the independent restaurant might have the better meal, but often we'll sacrifice the risk for the known - not that all chains guarantee the same quality but let's assume a minimum standard of quality as opposed to a range far above and below for the independents.

I don't think it was autonomy that got us into NCLB. I think the failures in public education were partly a result of the 80's practice of 'starving the beast' and partly a case of limited imagination on behalf of all actors involved. I always appreciate the devil's being advocated for, but I find it hard to blame the autonomy of teachers in their classrooms for the historical political in-fighting and failures of conscience between the big players in Washington.

A quick glance at the early history of the Dept of Ed -- [Ed. I made a flub... blogging too fast, too early in the morning and mistakenly wrote NEA, which is interesting in its own right but not what I meant... Amended 3PM, Apr 22, 2009] and the political reactionism of what would become the Reagan campaign/admin demonstrates this in spades. Subsequent failures were predicated by this initial clash of ideology and the extended battle in policy that was waged throughout the era of Dynasty and big hair.

That's not to say that teachers themselves should be let off the hook. That's exactly where the transparency piece fits in.

In terms of current practice, transparency is of utmost importance. Autonomy should be a matter of responsibility that hinges upon it. And for the first time in history, we have the means -- via Web 2.0 -- to involve all actors -- teachers, students, parents, admins, and politicians, as well as the community at large -- in real time connections with the facts of what learning looks like in a 21st century classroom on a second-by-second basis.

Let's encourage that dialogue.

And if we see that it ain't working, let's work together with the community to fix it.

Bubble-tests be damned.

As for the restaurants, I always go local.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

DigitalAge Twibe

Started a Twibe group for Twitter folks interested in all things DigitalAge! Join up and Tweet away...

Game Based Learning

Go figure... looks like game based learning is here.

"What do I do with all of this obsolete junk?"

Well, check out your new EPA's electronics recycling podcasts and get facts and strategies for dealing with old computers, cell phones, and consumer electronics.

Autonomy, Responsibility, and Transparency in the Digital Age

Yesterday's lead post was about autonomy.

Teachers need autonomy to make decisions in teaching style and curriculum choices. Teachers need to choose what types of technology work best and fit most naturally into their classrooms. For example, SharePoint is the bane of my existence and I refuse to use it -- but I have tech-reasoning and not tech-philistinism behind that decision: namely, I make a more effective use of technology in the classroom when using Web 2.0 and open source apps. For others, SharePoint might be the way to go. And that's fine.

But autonomy doesn't mean you get a free-pass to be a tech naysayer. Rather, it hinges on the teacher actively experimenting with technology and then making informed decisions. And I would argue that autonomy produces good teaching. But that autonomy must be informed by the fact that our kids are growing up in a digitally connected world.

So don't you dare pan educational technology if you still don't know the difference between Twitter and a podcast. No dice.

Teachers in the Digital Age have a responsibility to their students to be tech literate and autonomy is only effective when it is tied to responsibility.

And responsibility is tied to consequences.

Now I'm not exactly what you'd call the Grand Inquisitor, so don't think that I'd have an axe ready for any teachers not willing to hop on the digital train. In fact, I think the reason many teachers are anti-tech is precisely because they've only dealt with tech in ways that invoke their fear and survival mechanisms.

They are freaked out.

Rather, if given the great grail of power, what I'd do is encourage teachers themselves to ACTIVATE responsibility by making their classrooms as transparent as possible.

And two mildly-visionary methods the Internet and Web 2.0 offers are webcam broadcasting and live blogging. The best sources I've used so far to engage in this way are Ustream and Cover it Live.

Ustream gives you the opportunity to really make transparent your classroom by actually opening it up to the entire world. It is a Web 2.0 broadcasting service that allows you and a webcam to become your newest local satellite TV station. But, as with most things Web 2.0, you can adjust the service to serve your specific needs as a teacher. So how about this: start by broadcasting all of your sections live to other teachers in your department. In fact, all of the teachers in the department can broadcast live to each other. I guarantee that within a week -- if that long -- you will discover things either about your own teaching or the teaching of others that will change and improve your practice. Ustream offers a live chat feed to each broadcast, so viewers -- such as your department members -- can comment and make sugestions/observations in real time.

Where this really gets radical is in taking it out of the security of the department and streaming directly into the computers of your administration and parents. What Ustream allows you to do is say: "This is what I do in class". And show it.

Are you up for it?

Here are notes taken at a recent talk by Ken Robinson. They were live-blogged by @vvrotny [Twitter tag] using Cover it Live. You can see that what the app offers is real-time instant blogging. A cool feature is that you can open it up as a real-time chat and save the entire thing. So, in terms of classroom transparency, you could allow your students to back-channel (that is, chat on the side) live to a lecture/discussion/lab/project/whatever that you were doing in class and then have a record of it to read later and see what kinds of things are going through their heads as you are working. You could then take the next step and open up your back-channel to colleagues in your department, other teachers, (gasp admins), and even parents to take part live in the discussion about what's happening in class. Live connections like Twitter have only demonstrated that this sort of immediate engagement from across the Web is actually extremely beneficial in terms of discussion and access to external sources of knowledge and experience.

Just this last Friday, I took part in a CiL/Twitter/Ustreamed conference up in Massachusetts and I was struck so much by the fact that despite the fact that I was sitting in my kitchen in Maryland on Spring Break, I felt like I was actually taking part in the conference a 9 hour car ride away.

Now how is all of this connected to autonomy? Well, it's via that responsibility thing. Transparent broadcasts make us all to aware of our shortcomings. And therein lies a tale: the best of us try to get better and the worst of us make excuses. Used effectively and honestly, live feeds open up your teaching and will help you grow.

As for the consequences? Well, the Grand Inquisitor is you. And this type of open and transparent teaching makes you EARN your autonomy. Be your own harshest critic. Live up to the challenge of what you might be.

Monday, April 20, 2009

More Risk

Hersh lays down some thought at Ed Week:
Instant access to 21st-century information technology does not absolve us of the need to master appropriate content, a fact that E.D. Hirsch Jr. has well articulated. But equally necessary is the ability to connect disparate dots across virtually infinite information—to think critically, apply knowledge, solve problems, and write and speak well (thinking made public). And thus those arguing for teaching "21st-century skills" are also on very solid ground. The debate is not just about the ends of education but, equally important, its means...


the SAT!

Teaching ain't no 'Fallback'

The full story in the NY Times...

Those who are thinking of teaching should be prepared for a steep learning curve in the first few years on the job. Research suggests that it takes about 4-5 years for a teacher to hit her stride; unfortunately, by year 5, all too many teachers stride out of the profession.



As a teacher in an independent school with three children of my own in public school, I often find myself torn on several of the big issues facing ed policy.

I think of myself as having a wide view given my experiences with schools. I myself am a product of 12 years of Catholic school, mostly in Baltimore. My old high school was one of those old two-hundred year-old affairs sitting in what now is another West Baltimore war-zone. After high school, I did a stint at the commuter arm of the state university before hitting the road and dropping out to become an artist full-time. A few moves and a few adventures later, I was sitting in a classroom in Harvard Yard where I would earn a degree studying the Classics. Turning down the opportunity to become more completely obscured by academia, I made a subsequent move back home with my family, took a job at a big public high school on the volatile East side of Baltimore County and started a grad program at Hopkins. At JHU, I pursued an interest in GT education, observing and studying the Center for Talented Youth as I continued to struggle at finding my voice as a teacher at the big high school. When the opportunity arose to start my own Latin program at a Catholic independent school serving Harford County -- a northern Maryland county comprised in its lower part of Baltimore suburbs and in the upper half of vast tracts of rural horse country -- I jumped at the chance. I've been here ever since.

With my own kids, the decision was how best to give them the education they needed. Neither my wife nor I being of the wealthy variety, we decided to buy the most decrepit old house we could find in the county with the best public school system. And so we are constantly maintaining a house built in the year William Henry Harrison met his untimely demise a full hour's drive away from the school at which I work. When my son was diagnosed with dyslexia, however, I knew that we had made the right choice.

And so, life has offered me the opportunity to experience all kinds of schools from all sorts of different angles. And that brings me to the topic of this post.

In each of those situations -- the Catholic schools in Baltimore, the state university, the Ivy League, ed school and the CTY, the big public high school, the semi-rural independent school, and the Blue Ribbon public elementary -- I've found one common link that separates the good from the bad:


I can not tell you how important it was to me to get into a situation where I could design my own program. Since coming here to John Carroll, I've expanded a two-year Latin program to a four year program culminating in AP Vergil. I've started an AP Art History course and a program in Digital Audio Production. I've worked it so that there are no pre-requisites to get into the AP Art History course -- so students who otherwise might be denied based on academic record or writing ability can take (and succeed at) a college level course in high school. And, of course, I made all of my courses paperless. NONE of this would have happened without the trust of the administration and the autonomy I've been allowed in the classroom.

I know that this is not the experience of all teachers and I feel very fortunate to be in the situation I'm in. But at the same time, many teachers make presumptions about the differences between top-down and bottom-up systems that just aren't true. The most crucial mistake people make is to think that classroom autonomy makes it 'easier' to teach. While certainly I don't have the pressure of meeting state goals on bubble tests, or following someone else's curriculum, I do face a different sort of pressure: I am completely responsible for what goes on in my classroom. This is not to say that teachers in other situations are not responsible, rather what I am saying is that when things go wrong in my classroom there's no one else to blame. I can't blame the department. Can't blame the administration or the district. Can't blame the test. And I refuse to blame the kids. It's just me.

It's a very Meursault place to be.

But I would not rather be anywhere else.

Is it idealistic to want autonomy in every classroom? Absolutely. And that's exactly why I am advocating it over the suffocating and cynical approach of state-demanded testing and standardization. The last thing I want for my own children is for them to be 'standard'. We need a little idealism around here. I respect teachers as professionals and as visionaries and I'd rather them share their vision than teach my kids the proper way to use a number 2 pencil on a Scantron.

And that's why when I receive bulletins from my kids' school telling me that all next week they'll be 'preparing for testing', I get all shook up.

If there is one thing I would encourage in education, it's not technology for technology's sake. It's not content for content's sake. It's certainly not more testing. It's autonomy. Autonomy for all teachers, public or private. And with that autonomy should come responsibilities. Responsibilities to the students. Because effective teachers aren't teachers who make test scores go up; they are teachers who raise their students up.

So that the students can be autonomous.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

RIP JG Ballard

A giant in future-thinking passes.

Rocket Man

One of the hidden gems of Maryland's cultural landscape is the Goddard Space Flight Center Visitor Center. Though relatively small in scale, it's a testament to the ways in which interactive technology and learning can be linked. Computer stations where you can plot the trajectory of a rocket mission, interactive video displays exploring the Hubble telescope, sphere screens documenting storms on the Sun... so much cool stuff. In short, NASA offers a ton of educational value.

But my (and my kids') favorite thing is the weekly model rocket launch.

Last time there, we saw four rockets launched up to heights of a few thousand feet. And let me tell you model rockets = awesome.

But when it comes to model rockets, perhaps nothing will ever be able to beat the event that's planned to happen this coming Saturday on Maryland's Eastern Shore when a guy by the name of Steve Eves plans to launch a 36 foot tall 1,600 lbs model rocket. Read the incredible history of this endeavor here.

Game School

Have already received a couple comments and a few emails about my last post. Hmm... could we be on to something here?

More than one reader is taking me seriously about the experimental game developer high school (now all we need is a millionaire and a building... [cough] Mr. Gates?):
Let's see what they might need to do. Content - Create a structured narrative that is not necessarily linear (English), establish rules, create puzzles or obstacles that require logic and reasoning to solve (Math), have an appealing look (Art), represent a physical world (Science), have a setting in time and space (Social Studies). Yeah, I think we can get that going.

Skills- team collaboration, use of contemporary technology and tools, troubleshooting/problem solving.

I'm sure there's more, but this is what I've got just off the top of my head. Sounds good, let's go.

Game Development as a Learning Process

On the Media has a great piece on DIY game development.

Anyone want to go in with me on a new experimental high school completely based on students as game developers?

Project Dropout

Here's a fascinating series of webcasts from WGBH and WBUR on the plight of school dropouts. It's called Project Dropout and it is a perfect example of how valuable the Internet can be.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Three Thoughts for the Day

Web 2.0 alone will not make your students better students.

Pencils alone will not make your art students better artists.

A hammer alone will not make your apprentice a better carpenter.

But a master teacher -- with expertise in the use of the tool and a vision for the beauty the tool can produce -- can help inspire the student to use hammer, pencil, or web browser to do incredible things. Things even the teacher never dreamed possible.

And then that process is passed on and on and on...


The argument against technology: Well, if these things are all just tools then what is the big deal? We have plenty of tools.

The reply: How long would it take you to heat your house with a flint and stone?


My wife says to me this afternoon: "The best thing computer technology has to offer is a new way to communicate." And that's it in a nutshell: that's sort of the history of human relations itself. From drawing in the sand with a stick to painting on a cave wall to molding a signature seal to writing on clay tablets to writing on papyrus to writing on animal skin to printing on paper with lead type to printing in dot matrix to printing on a laser printer to publishing online. From grunting and pointing to yelling across a valley to fashioning a horn to using messengers to creating a postal system to Morse code to the invention of the telephone to radio to film to television to video to YouTube to Uchannel.

That's it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Talk by Will Richardson and an observation about editing, publishing, and responsibility

Just watched a live talk: Will Richardson speaking at the Blue Ribbon Institute up in MA; took part in a live chat on Cover It Up hosted by the ever tweeting Magistra M. The program was covered on Ustream by Karen Janowski. Great work by everybody in organizing and taking part in the extension of this conversation online.

Two things Richardson said really stick with me: 1) Our kids need to learn how to be editors. And 2) Despite the fact that our kids are publishing all the time, we still teach them in the old fashion. Part of the way I take this is that we still teach them from the top-down point-of-view where publishing -- and therefore literature and knowledge -- is something sacred for the select to write and have read by the masses.

Well, things have changed.

We need to teach our kids how to be editors. And to do so, we need to model good publishing practices for them. Which, in this environment means that we need to blog; we need to tweet; and we need to edit wikis. You wouldn't put a kid in the car and send him or her out onto the highway with a driver's ed teacher who never passed his own driver's test. Why would we expect kids to learn the new media if we don't understand it?

Blog Blog Blog Blog Blog. Tweet Tweet Tweet Tweet Tweet. Wiki Wiki Wiki Wiki Wiki. It is the responsibility of every teacher to actively take part in the 21st century -- because our students don't have a choice.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Twitter Mind for the Teacher Mind

It's been a Twitter day. Here's an article from Tech&Learning that gives some reasons why we teachers should Tweet.

More and more I'm seeing Twitter as a search engine that reads my mind.

Twitter away... in class!

Chronicle of Higher Ed reports on a prof encouraging what used to be the bane of every classroom teacher: passing notes in class.

But there's a twist. Go ahead... pass notes in class: but use Twitter to do it.
Even the reporter was perplexed:
I couldn’t help thinking that it sounded like a recipe for chaos, and I told him so. He replied that his hope is that the second layer of conversation will disrupt the old classroom model and allow new kinds of teaching in which students play a greater role and information is pulled in from outside the classroom walls.

Sounds like a great idea to me. Another case of disruption influencing innovation.


Added TechCrunch to my Tech Blogs blogroll after reading back-to-back funny posts. The first about Andrew Keen's terror in the face of the possibility that Web 2.0 might not be about profitability; the second about the spot on the soul of Apple: the Mighty Mouse.

Good stuff.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Newspapers -- School and Otherwise -- in the Digital Age

According to Ars Technica, a new company called Journalism Online now wants to sell you what you already get for free.

Namely: online newspapers.

Money quote (pun intended):
"My experience with The Wall Street Journal taught me that people will pay a reasonable price to access exclusive, differentiated and essential journalism, whether delivered in print or online," said Gordon Crovitz, announcing the new venture.

With the Wall Street Journal. That's kinda like saying, "My experience editing the Journal of Plankton Biology has shown me that people will really pay for good articles about plankton". I doubt all that many readers of the WSJ mind shelling out for the paper (well... actually in this economy they might!). But if you are going to charge, then at least get rid of or tone down the ads; I mean, really: the NY Times looks like Times Square on any given Sunday.

The debate about the future of journalism is beyond me. In some respect I can see the urge to charge a subscription fee, though perhaps in exchange any paper going to a subscription-based model should offer free access via public libraries and schools. Otherwise, we're in a situation where only the folks who can afford the paper and/or access can read it. Or maybe subscribers could get the news on release, and then it would be free to the public twelve hours later. I don't know... just brainstorming; come to think of it, that would kinda stink. How about free access to front-page and local/metro news and subscription access to sports, business, real estate, etc.?

Jeez, the Digital Age is tougher to poke holes in than a Mencken column.

By the same token, I like how blogging is changing the approach towards news reporting and I see an interactive future much more geared to independent journalism as the materials of reporting -- cameras, recorders, mobile computing (and perhaps holographic transportation? [Just hoping]) -- become more accessible.

Which all means that a whole lot is resting on the doorsteps of the high school and college journalism programs across this country. In the debate over 21st Century Skills, I could certainly see the school newspaper being ground zero for innovation and argument.


There are now over 21,000 members of the Classroom 2.0 Ning. Join or start your own social network using Ning!


A reader writes:
Also, I had a little concern that your latest cartoon may be fodder for the anti-intellectual crowd. Just a thought.

Yes, I considered this. But in the end, I decided to publish.

The problem in theoretical circles is the tendency for folks to adhere to a theory out of some sense of allegiance. In other words, social theories often become obscured by the political in that realm where the theory becomes more important than how it is applied or what results prevail. Same thing happens in the art world. And in sports. All of which are things I love, but I do think they are all things that are strengthened rather than weakened by a dose of reality.

I tend to think that if a theory is worthwhile it will be able to withstand criticism. Perhaps I've got a bit of the iconoclast in me, but I think that intellectuals need to be shaken up and held accountable just as much as anti-intellectuals need to be argued and demonstrated against at every turn.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TeachPaperless: A Firery Theory

The 'Meaning' of Things

Weblogg-ed on the 'meaning' of things:
Last week I was on a panel with the state assistant commissioner of education where she told the story of seeing the “new” digitally published third-grade “U.S. States” projects, the ones we all did as kids, taking a state of the union and pasting the state bird and state flag and state flower on top of a map with some interesting statistics around it. She asked one young man who did New York State to talk about his slide and he read off all of the stuff. When he got to the population part he said “and New York State has over 19 million people,” and she responded with “Wow! Is that a lot of people?” He looked at her for a moment and said, “you know, I really don’t know.” It was a great example of the context and value that information loses when we fail to teach meaning over memorization.

When you are put on the hotseat, is it better to understand the consequences of actions or to know whether Kant or Hegel was "Mr. Cat Imperative"?

Burell lets one rip on the Core Knowledge blog's comments.
A sampling:
If they’re only taught to know the stuff, and not trained to ask questions about it, then whatever “innate” critical thinking you say they're capable of at birth is still going to wither in schools.

The New Netbooks in My Family: the continuing saga

Got the Netbooks set up last night.

Out with IE, in with FF3. Gmail accounts set up. iGoogle pages set up. A bunch of top-notch links bookmarked. And the eight-year-old owners of said Netbooks were off to the races.

They sent their first emails ever: "Mom, I love you". Started learning how to use search engines. And then they navigated directly to the Star Wars website.

Can't say I blame 'em. In fact, I must admit that had I been connected to the Internet at eight-years-old, (as if the Internet would have existed), I would have immediately navigated my X-Wing Netbook directly to Star Wars. So, I guess the kids have it in their blood.

I do wish, however, the folks at Lucasfilm Ltd. wouldn't bow as low as to take money for expandable banner ads from the likes of McDonald's. We, as parents born in the '70s, know that Lucas is gonna try to hawk the toys on us; but I've always hated the fast-food tie-in... it seems really 'anti-kid' from a health point-of-view. Though I do seem to recall Star Wars glasses having been available at McDonald's all the way back in the late-'70s... maybe they'll show up on eBay.

Back to the machines: I'm impressed by the quality of streaming video on these things. I've got pre-N wireless running through the house and we were watching stuff on Hulu without a hitch.

The only thing that has been frustrating so far has been figuring out what to limit on Norton 360 to produce a more seamless browser experience -- darned thing kept getting clogged up trying to authenticate every page. I think I've got that fixed.

Next up: setting up second graders with blogs.

EtherPad: Muhammad Ali of Collaborative Docs

EtherPad flexes on Google Docs:
Other "real-time" editors like Google Docs work by broadcasting an updated copy of the document to everyone every 15 seconds. This creates a noticeable lag that gets in the way of collaboration. You start editing something, only to find 10 seconds later that someone else deleted it.

Etherpad updates every copy of the document every half second. This 30x increase in speed changes the experience completely. Your edits hardly ever clash with other users'. So you work confidently instead of tentatively.

Why doesn't Google Docs update every half second like Etherpad does? Because it's really, really hard. We're fairly experienced programmers, and to make this work we had to solve problems that, as far as we know, no one had solved before.

My italics... but sheesh! Float like a butterfly, sting like a collaborative doc developer!

Ok. So what's the word? Pros and cons of Google Docs vs. EtherPad. Bring it.

xtranormal is exactly that

Been messing around with xtranormal, which is a Web 2.0 animation site.

Though I really wanted to like it, I just didn't adapt to it. I guess it seems 'too normal'.

Perhaps it's just a situation where the template concept doesn't work so well in animated sequences, but it feels really over-prescribed and un-malleable in a way that sort of rubs against the grain of the best that Web 2.0 has to offer the classroom teacher. The voices, for example, while initially amusing, becoming grating and unusable quite quickly.

I'm sure a quality animation site will appear sooner than later, but this ain't it.

21st Century Cheaters

From Open Thinking up in the great land of .ca, a tale of how a video went viral via (and because of) a simple cheat scheme.

Moral of this story?
Recognizing the power of networks and nodes and understanding why certain messages become more wide-spread than others (whether by merit, messenger, or manipulation) are important media literacy skills.

Sort of a uniquely 21st century skill, no? (Or, the 21st century version of ballot-stuffing)...

One way or another, this is the sort of thing our students have to deal with; so we should be educated in it as well.

Wordle: Gettysburg Address

Ran the Gettysburg Address through Wordle.

Monday, April 13, 2009

For the record...

A reader writes:
So I don't get it, are you pro-Google / anti-Google; pro-Twitter / anti-Twitter? I must say that some of your positions on this are confusing to follow.

Being a teacher and not a corporate board member or stakeholder, I could give a darned less about the competition between Google, FB, and Twitter.

Except in how it effects the growth of a free Internet and global access to information.

I've cringed at many of Google's decisions, but think that Google Apps is a great platform. I've cringed at many of FB's decisions, but I think social networking is producing a watershed event in the way societies work and I think perhaps more than anywhere else on the Web, FB may be the source of that watershed (the watershed not being FB itself, but rather the concept of social networking of such a grand scale). I find Twitter to be tricky and cliquey, but I think it's the beginning of a new type of intelligent human network (and talk about potential for 'grand scale').

Most importantly, so long as they exist, and so long as they are useful, and so long as they continue to evolve, I will continue to use, experiment with, and mash up any and all of the resources the Web offers for classroom use and fresh new ways of learning.

Be the disruption. Use technology however you want. The students are the real stakeholders. Change your classroom. Change the world.

A Post-Google Search World (er... Classroom)?

And a wiki of uses for Twitter in the classroom... just for good measure.

(Non)Operating Systems

Corporations are iffy about switching to Windows 7.

Iffy as in, according to a report in Information Week, 83% saying "no thanks".

What about schools? I remember there was a near mutiny at school when we switched from XP to Vista. (Fortunately I'm down in the Mac lab, so it effects me only minimally).

I'd like to know what operating systems you all are using. Give it to me: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Classroom 2.0

Calling all 21st century teachers and digital education enthusiasts!

Stop by Classroom 2.0, join up, make your own page, and have a greater presence in the digital schools revolution.

Tons of conversation, workshops, ideas, and more both for beginners and advanced digital teachers.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Google Apps, "Real-World" Paperlessness, and the Paperless Classroom

Here's a video posted by Google almost exactly a year ago on YouTube. It's an introduction to Google Apps for Education and seems to have been made for education admins.

Its amazing how much happens in a year.

I started experimenting with Google Docs around the time this video came out. And it didn't start in school. Rather, I'm on the board of an organization in Baltimore that runs a weekly performance series and produces a big annual music concert. I started working with them about a year and a half ago. Well, the first thing that struck me about the board meetings was that they were conducted entirely paperless. In fact, the only paper we ever use is for making posters. All meeting minutes are done via Google Docs, all submissions are handled electronically, the majority of promotion occurs via social networking, and it is expected that you show up at each meeting with a laptop to connect to the Wi-Fi.

This "real-world" example of paperlessness made a big impression on me and just fueled my conviction to go totally paperless in the classroom. Google Apps have been a big part of my success, so it's interesting to see just how prescient this admittedly rather boring video of a year ago was -- at least in my case.

I do have a conviction to help other teachers go paperless. It's a great way to save resources, make use of the dynamic and creative potential of Web 2.0, and really connect with the students in a way that reflects the world's evolution into the Digital Age. As I approach 200 posts on this blog, I just want to thank all of the folks who have joined in this discussion and I look forward to a year from now looking back on how far we will have come.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The New Netbooks in My Family

A reader asks what kind of Netbooks I bought. Well, here's the product description from the website of the place we bought 'em (two books ran me $500):
Asus - Eee PC Netbook with Intel® Celeron® Processor - White
Intel® Celeron® processor features a 400MHz frontside bus, 512KB L2 cache and 900MHz processor speed.
1GB DDR2 SoDIMM memory for multitasking power, expandable to 2GB.
Note: Optical drive not included; optional external DVD-ROM drive with USB 2.0 interface available (not included).
8.9" WSVGA display with 1024 x 600 resolution.
16GB solid state hard drive.
Shock-resistant design for improved data safety.
Intel® GMA 900 graphics.
Built-in 1.3MP webcam.
Built-in media reader supports Secure Digital, Secure Digital High Capacity and MultiMediaCard formats for fast and easy digital photo transfer.
3 high-speed USB 2.0 ports.
Built-in high-speed wireless LAN (802.11b/g); 10/100 Mbps Ethernet LAN with RJ-45 connector.
Weighs only 2.2 lbs. and measures just 0.8" thin.
Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition.
Software package included with Microsoft Works and Windows Live.

We picked out the most economical model. I figure, there's no reason to expect that any schools would purchase anything more than the base model, so we might as well see what these stripped-down little puppies can do.

Surprised that it did come with a webcam; hopefully Skype video will work on it. Optical drive needs to be plugged in externally, but I had one sitting around, so that's not an issue. Of course, between Hulu and iTunes, I am thinking that we'll be seeing less and less reliance on cds and dvds anyway as we roll on down the digital highway. The only things I really cared about were the processing speed and the amount of expandable RAM; both seem adequate for Web 2.0 apps. I probably won't be installing the MS software; instead, we'll just use Google Apps. I've heard terrible things about Windows Live anyway.

TP's Edcast Mix

I'm messing around with NPR's custom-podcast tool.

Just created a custom-cast that ostensibly will fill up with NPR stories about education and digital culture.

First story that popped up on my iTunes library was about colleges dropping textbooks in favor of e-books.

Here's the link to my mix: TP's Edcast Mix.

We'll see how it works over time.

Podcasts: Resources for Extensions of Learning

Great extension resources are just a click away.

iTunes U is now carrying a bunch of pod and video casts from the likes of Oxford, MIT, and Texas A&M. Of special interest to elementary and secondary teachers may be the Teachers' Domain podcast project from WGBH in Boston [this link will open in iTunes].

And here is an annotated [albeit older] list of podcasts from Open Culture.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Netbooks and 2nd Graders

Just bought two Netbooks today for a grand total of $500.

Will get 'em online over the weekend and will report back. They'll be used by my twin sons who are both 2nd graders at a public elementary school.

I plan to keep track of all of the issues they encounter using the Netbooks and Web 2.0 both at home and (hopefully) at school as 21st century eight-year-olds.

200 million on FB... are you?

OnPoint takes a look at Facebook. What's your take?

What's the Time?

In response to yesterday's TP post about a full-year alternative to full-year classroom practice, Norman Constantine lays down an interesting gauntlet:
Maybe the time for classrooms and schools has passed........


The Green Scene

Baltimore/Maryland folks...

The Urbanite has published a great annotated list of organizations and people involved in Things-Green here in town.

Thinking that our discussion of paperless classrooms fits right into this sort of thing, I thought these contacts might be of interest to some of you.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Arne Duncan, the Seven Day School Week, and the Myth of Sisyphus; or an alternative...

I think the reason Arne Duncan got a lot of bored stares from kids in Denver when he said
"I fundamentally think that our school day is too short, our school week is too short and our school year is too short. You're competing for jobs with kids from India and China. I think schools should be open six, seven days a week; eleven, twelve months a year,"

was because it's such a... well.. "boring" prospect.

Why in the world do we continue to think that if we just keep kids in classrooms longer that they are going to learn more?

Mr. Duncan, you are familiar with Sisyphus, I presume.

If we want kids engaged in learning year-round, why not take a new approach? I'm just brainstorming here. How about rather than send kids to the classrooms, how about sending teachers to the kids?

We could send teacher teams and current college tech students into the neighborhoods where the kids live. Whether we're talking about an urban block or a suburban cul-de-sac, we could run in wire and set up street-by-street Wi-Fi service. Then start community organized tech centers exclusively set up for project-based learning. We'd teach math and computer science in context as students work on neighborhood history projects -- researching, recording, and archiving their locale's history and voices in online interactive databases. As students interact with folks, they'd extend tech-ed outreach to people in need of new skills for a new economy.

We'd do all of this during the period we now call 'summer vacation', which really to a lot of kids ain't much of a 'vacation' anyway. And for kids who need time to work through the summer, we'd offer grants for them to do service projects instead. It'd be a lot cheaper than keeping school buildings open all summer.

Just an idea. Teaching content and tech as students engage in a connected and personalized project-based historical research project with community outreach and service requirements.

Step away from the rock, Sisyphus.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

'Technically' a lot of things are 'Great'

Clay Burell on E.D. Hirsch.

You know what irks me, as a day-to-day classroom teacher? Quotes from Hirsch like this:
These much maligned, fill-in-the-bubble reading tests are technically among the most reliable and valid tests available.

Tests of what?

Burell wants to know: "Whose core knowledge?"

I want to know: "Tests of what?"

Is a child who knows the content necessary to read the allusions in 'The Waste Land' necessarily going to get much of anything out of the poem?

"What is reading a poem?" That's a much more interesting question. What does it mean to feel poetry through your bones? What bubble test assesses that?

Furthermore, and quite irritatingly, Hirsch employs the term 'technically'.

I can't stand the word 'technically'. Every musician out there knows exactly what I mean. Not to offend anyone, but among many musicians of a certain age and mindset there is a running joke that Neil Peart from the band Rush is -- technically -- the best rock drummer. But really, now...

Nothing against Rush. 'Closer to the Heart' does have its time and place. But I'll take 'Yo La Tengo' great over 'technically' great any day.

And that's kinda the way I feel about Mr. Hirsch.

ps -- Do check out this video if you haven't seen it before. This would make my own personal core curriculum.

Silliness Continued: a.k.a. The Internet is So Awful, I'm Just Gonna Have to Blog About It

Here's Todd Seal's full response to my previous post about the silliness with not being able to find anything useful on the Internet.

Not sure what bookstore you're going to, but I don't see any high-quality lessons, handouts, or audio/video resources there. I also think you're interpreting my words a bit literally when you suggest that I Google for "lesson plans for ________." That's not where I stop my search. It's rarely where I even begin my search.

When I'm asked to point out sites that relate to my subject area and to specific units I teach (in essence, to share that very grab bag you say the Internet was never promised as), there aren't such sites because I'm still just trolling the Internet/TV/discussions/movie theater/magazines/novels/comic books/etc. in that effort to find enough to mash together. But there's no set of sites where I always find reliable material.

As far as sites that are targeted at providing such things, there is a paucity of quality. Sure, the quality is out there in separate pieces, but it's up to the teacher to put it together. That's just like saying that anyone can build an atomic bomb: the pieces are out there, all you have to do is put it together.

Nothing does that for me and just about every places that tries does the job horribly -- not because it's necessarily impossible, but simply because they don't do it right.

1. I get most of my books online. But when I do go to the bookstore, my favorite by far is the Museum Book Store at the Baltimore Museum of Art. I don't know if you've ever heard of, but you might start there.

2. You 'troll' Internet TV discussions? Really? No wonder you can't find anything useful.

3. I'd suggest maybe Googling a few major museum websites. Or PBS? Or History Channel? Anything? I trust you'll find something worthwhile. Of course, there's some folks for whom there is no satisfying.

4. And yes. 'Putting things together': if you are a teacher, that's part of your job. Deal.


I'm a huge jazz fan.

And my favorite form of jazz is free jazz. That's the jazz of freedom and free improvisation.

A lot of folks think improvisation is just "making it up as you go along". And it is, to a degree.

But what a lot of folks don't realize is that improvisers -- be they musicians, stand-up comics, or story-tellers -- actually only get on stage after hours, days, and years of honing their craft.

So what may seem to you in the audience like a quick flourish or an ecstatic bang is actually the result of a process that started long long before that improviser ever took to the stage.

In the classroom, I consider myself primarily to be an improviser. I've discussed this in the past with other teachers and the general response was: "just don't let the administration know".

That's because they perceived improvisation to be just a form of flying by the seat of one's pants.

There's a lot more to it than that.

My personal journey to the front of the classroom began as a kid with a book in my face twenty-hours of every day. It continued as a teenager absolutely addicted to his record collection. It evolved in college -- endless hours spent wandering the stacks in the library and endless crazy discussions about every such thing. It followed me around as I traveled the world playing music and meeting people. It popped into my life in the form of three little kids.

Your journey is the stuff of your experience. It's your 'prior knowledge', to use an ed term.

And its what you bring with you to the front of that classroom everyday.

The Internet can be an extension of that.

If you allow yourself to seek to guide your kids towards understanding the essential questions rather than just completing "pg. 47 #1-5, 7, 8, 9-13".

If you seek to find links between the content of academics and the content of kids' lives rather than just follow whats printed in the table of contents.

If you let the discussion in class to get you off track. Because sometimes the kids have better ideas than whatever you worked out the night before in your lesson plan.

The Internet is a powerful tool for letting this sort of thing happen. The Net makes it easier to take on the sorts of important details that might pop up in a discussion that might provide a 'teachable moment', but for which in terms of resources you would otherwise be unprepared. How else, say in a class discussion about 'A Tale of Two Cities' and justice during the French Revolution, could you -- on the whim of a student's question of "Why do bad things happen to good people?" -- immediately draw upon the examples of The Apology, Job, a timeline of devastating natural disasters, the death of MLK, and 9-11 to help illustrate the philosophical and historical implications of such an important question? (And all immediately accessible in multimedia / multiple-intelligence-serving format).

But you better be prepared to improvise. You have to literally give yourself up to it. It is as much a way of life as a teaching strategy. What it's not is blindly reaching out into the dark with no support. What it's not is an excuse to be unprepared. Rather, improvising puts you on the hot seat; it lifts the energy level and immediacy of your class discussions; and, with the use of immediately accessible Internet resources, it demonstrates to the students in an authentic and representational way the power of history, the natural interdisciplinary quality of comparative analysis, and the value of being able to access and distinguish valid and documented support for one's position in a discussion.

And that's music to my ears.