Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Wave is Headed Our Way

(How) will it change things? And (as important): are we ready (whether it does or doesn't)?

Today's the day folks signed up for the early invites are supposed to start hearing back from Google.

I'm thinking a year out from today, the social tech landscape looks a whole lot different. Now, that's not really much of an audacious claim given what's happened over the last year or two.

So for us teachers, the real question is: what's your school's plan for dealing with the next evolution of the Net (Wave or otherwise)?

Is your faculty using the war stories related to the pain of pulling schools into the age of social tech as a foundation and a strategy of how to be prepared for the next step rather than have to play continual catch-up with the culture at large?

Because if we're not ready for the real-time hoopla of the coming semantic web and its visual and idiomatic offshoots, then the only thing we've proven is that we really don't understand how to capitalize on the means of engagement and connection that the Web ever more exponentially keeps offering us.

You wanna still be debating whether to let your students use Twitter three years down the road?

Let's push this thing. Let's get this century started.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

We Are All Newbs

I'm sitting on a laptop.

Sorry, I should explain. You see, I meant to sit down in a chair at a table overlooking the ocean, but instead I plopped down on top of someone's laptop.

I should explain.

I'm in Second Life. Really, as I write this post, I've got another 'me' waiting for a book-talk in SL. That's where I mistakenly sat on the laptop.

And why did I sit on the laptop rather than in the chair?

Because I'm a Newb.

Fact is: We are all Newbs.

In my case, I've been virtually paperless for three years, have been using social media since the days of BBS systems, and remember celebrating my 8th birthday by learning how to hack games on a Commodore 64. And yet I'm still a Newb.

There will always be another laptop for me to sit on.

Because if I ain't a Newb, then I ain't nothing. Because a world in which I ain't a Newb in 'something' just don't seem all that interesting to me.

And so right now, while I'm no stranger to virtual worlds -- been questing in 'em from Zork to Azeroth -- I'm still a bit shaky in SL. I was slow to get on board, and I've been critical of it, and I've come up with all kinds of excuses to try to ignore it; but really -- especially when I see some of the remarkable installations there from NASA to Princeton to NPR's Science Friday -- I realize it's really just a matter of me getting up to speed so that I can make my little corner of SL what I think it should be.

And I'll get better at it. And I'll carve out my little space.

And then something else will come along and I'll be a Newb at that.

All this Newb business, however, is making all of us pros when it comes to the most important element in this whole paradigm shift. Being a Newb is part of the process of becoming connected. From SL to Twitter to Hulu to Jing: it's all about the connection. And right now we are learning what connectedness is really all about.

There are days when I'd like to go back in time to the early days of telephone just to hear the naysayers gloat about the naivety of those mad inventors. Because in every dropped call, burnt up wire, lost voice, and ear that listened but heard only darkness, one thing persevered: the idea that we could connect.

And that's where we are today. We are the Newbs. And we are trying to connect.

This ain't the end of the road. Twitter isn't the pinnacle of human achievement. Facebook ain't gonna survive the next decade (at least not in the same form). And if you think WoW makes SL look like Pong, just wait to see what's coming down the pike.

We are all Newbs.

Thank goodness.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Think Link

Picking up from yesterday's thinking about links and why it's important to 'teach links', here's a brief talk by Jay Rosen on the 'ethic of the link' and the meaning of the Web:

I'm still working this stuff out in my mind, but I would love to hear what you all have to say about it.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Difference Between Knowing and Understanding in the Immediately Connected Mobile World

Fisch notes that 'We have the technology'. Concerning the Bionic Eye iPhone app, he notes:
This is a nice little app for what it does, but imagine what it’s going to evolve into: a portable heads-up display for everything. Yes, right now it lists restaurants, subway stations (in certain cities), and wifi hotspots, but it’s not that hard to extrapolate a few years into the future where this app – or something like it – connects you to all the available information about whatever you’re looking at.

Whether it's this thing or some other, we are one way or another headed towards immediate on-the-go information all the time. But information alone is not education. Knowledge of content is only half the battle.

As constant immediate information becomes the norm, more than ever we are going to need to instill critical analytical skills into our students' educations. But we have to get beyond the limited definitions of critical thinking so often espoused.

We have to ever more distinguish between the ability to 'know' something and the ability to 'understand'. And most specifically to what this type of critical thinking should look like in the Digital Age, I'd suggest we need to consider the uniquely particular 21st century instances of content: namely links and apps.

Now, sure, links have been around since the beginning of the World Wide Web. But especially with regard to the savvy linking done on the fly via Twitter, links themselves are taking on the position of content rich text-forms.

We have to teach kids to understand the critical basis of 'link decision'; that is, the decision to hyperlink online. Links -- especially in mobile apps -- have become more than just directional; they've gained a sort of a live intertextual import. And so, I'd like to see intertextuality take center stage in our discussion of teaching critical thinking skills.

Because it's not just about reading the text; it's about meta-reading the links.

That too is part of the difference between knowing and understanding in the Digital Age.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Paperless Labyrinth

Andrew B. Watt spent part of yesterday's 'Paperless Friday' hanging out in the shadow of an ancient rock calendar.

Read his reflections and consider just what a fantastic lesson this was.

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's Paperless Friday

So what are you doing to get off paper?

Lots of ideas have been coming in through Twitter all day, and I've had some great conversations with folks both in person as well as this morning during the Friday Chat. It's looking more and more like 'paperless' isn't all that difficult after all.

Earlier in the week I spoke with Bob, the teacher I've been helping out on Web 2.0 matters here at school. Turns out he hasn't used a single sheet of paper in his Freshman Human Geography course so far this year.

That's right: zero paper.

I'm waiting for him to start writing a blog; it'll surely make its way into my RSS Reader.

Twitter Search #paperless for more ideas!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tomorrow's Friday Chat: Grassroots Mentoring of Social Tech in Schools

Tomorrow, we'll be having a Friday Chat session at 10:15AM EST on Today's Meet.

The topic: Grassroots Mentoring of Social Tech in Schools.

We'll talk about mentoring colleagues in an inviting and nonthreatening way on all of the ways they can integrate social tech into both their daily classroom practice as well as their ongoing personal professional development.

Because social tech isn't about following rules and jumping through hoops; it's about empowerment.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Transformation or Irrelevance?

A reader weighs in with a keen observation:
Yes, on first read "nice". But that one sentence should be read in the context of the larger passage that McLeod quotes.

It turns out that the "transformative implications" that Moe and Chubb refer to include offering "new career paths" to teachers (a rather weird extension of freeing them "from their tradition-bound classroom roles"), "sophisticated data systems" (the intent here is most certainly not to Twitter) for making "education" more effective, and lowering the operating costs of schools by employing technology instead of teachers.

I doubt that this blog, that consistently presents the case for the use of digital technologies within a truly humanist educational perspective, really sees those issues as representative of the desired transformation.

I dare say that teachers have both 'careers' and 'vocations' and that the two are not necessarily the same. That doesn't mean I agree or disagree with the authors, but certainly in light of the 'transformative shift', there are all sorts of 'transformative implications'.

And I do think that this means the careers of teachers are before long going to take a very different shape and offer very different possibilities for the act of teaching itself (not to mention the even more important act of learning). But, as the reader surely knows, such has been the case throughout the history of teaching and intellectual transmission from the Stoa to the University.

One last thought: I do think that teachers and schools in general would be wise to learn something from the example of what has happened over the past ten years in the music industry. Or face a similar irrelevance.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Really thinking about transformation...

Boom! Nice.
It would be impossible for the information revolution to unfold and not have transformative implications for how children can be educated and how schools and teachers can more productively do their jobs.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Most Read Posts: TeachPaperless Feb 2 - Sept 21 2009

According to Feedburner, these are the eleven most read posts on TeachPaperless since I started writing daily back in February of '09. I post this list here for new readers to catch up on our conversation as well as a reminder to long time readers of just what we've mulled over and debated in this discussion.

01. Why Teachers Should Blog
02. Five Ways to Stop Cheating
03. The Library of Congress Offers Teachers Independence from Textbooks
04. A Letter to the Teachers of My Children
05. A Young Teacher Reflects on Twitter in the Classroom
06. Response to a Criticism About Using Twitter in the Classroom
07. The Problem with 'Naked Classrooms'
08. At the End of the Anomaly of the Age of Printed Books
09. This is Zeitgeist Stuff
10. The Boy Who Cried Tech
11. The Top 11 Things All Teachers Must Know About Technology

One of the most personally invigorating things about this blog is that it gives me the chance to put thoughts out there, take part in debate, and really discover what it is that I think about these matters. I thank all of you for your support, willingness to challenge me, and general digital camaraderie over the last (nearly) nine months.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Obsessed with Ubiquity

Just a brief post this evening. I would take more time to write something up, but I'm currently obsessed.

Obsessed with Ubiquity.

Yes, sounds philosophical I'm sure; but in fact, I see endless classroom aplications for this crazy app from Mozilla.

Off to explore. Will be back with ideas tomorrow.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Paperless Friday: a Saturday Reflection

Over a hundred teachers told me that they went paperless yesterday.

A hundred. That's quite a few given that they were responding to a Tweet that went out late last night.

I'm digging this Paperless Friday thing. And I'm going to make it my year's mission to document what you all are doing to go paperless this year. So, send me your stories and ideas and each Friday I'll post my favorites.

And remember: the 'paperless' classroom isn't just about saving paper; it's about using social tech and the advantages of the Internet to spur dynamic learning.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Paperless Fridays

Here's a challenge that went out on Twitter last night and has been gaining steam:
Hey PLN: let's make Fridays paper-free this year. No copies, handouts, notebooks. Just discuss & connect, tech or otherwise. Plz RT!

What do you say? You all up for the challenge?

Make Paperless Friday a tradition at your school, and spread the word.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What to Do When Students Abuse Social Technology

A reader writes:
I have been using blogging for the last year and a half and had a huge recent set back. Two posts were added to a student assignment, using cursing, insulting my students, the school, and I.

All student identities are anonymous so no one can track them, but parents are unwilling to give students emails, and therefore cannot get IDs. I also monitor all comments, and therefore caught it pretty quickly. This has never happened in my year and a half of blogging assignments

Any advice for this? It's so disheartening to take so many small steps forward and then one giant leap back.

Go public.

And I'm talking big time.

Don't sit on this. Don't treat it as an isolated disciplinary event. And don't get despondent.

Go public.

Hold a meeting for the school community; maybe try to work this out with your PTA. Make sure there are tons of parents there.

And show them the offending comments.

And explain to them that these sorts of comments are not a product of technology.

Rather, these comments are an example of why we need to teach kids how to use social tech. I've said it before: Don't like using YouTube because of all the vulgarity and hate in the comments? Then teach kids how to use social tech responsibly and help raise a generation that will not tolerate abusive language on YouTube.

The parents need to understand that social technology is not going away. And they need to understand that it is in their own best interest that their kids understand both how to use it and how to be responsible digital citizens.

This sort of thing, more than anything else, should help bolster your argument for why we need to be integrating social tech into our classrooms on a daily basis. Because it's about changing culture. Take charge of this teachable moment.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tales of a Third Grade Blogger (or, The Year Social Tech Broke)

My twin boys have been blogging throughout the summer.

They've got lists of favorite books, reviews of favorite video games, and a variety of stories and poems about bunnies, battlefields, and everything in between that an eight year old boy might dream about.

And now, after a talk with their teachers, they've got an audience.

Turns out their teachers (same ones I wrote this letter to) are crazy about the idea of their students blogging. And so, they've given my boys permission to do their weekly home/school connections via their blogs.

Not just that, but they want the boys to teach blogging to the rest of their classmates.

Raising a literal bevy of third grade bloggers.

My wife was the one who talked with the teachers during parent night and relayed this information to me; I meanwhile was Mr. Babysitter handling the after-school kid crowd. I can't express how happy I am and how proud I am both of my kids and their teachers. I feel like my little corner of the world just tripped into the 21st century.

This afternoon, my principal wrote a blog post about the changing nature of education and the worthiness of social media in the classroom. Earlier in the day, Bob -- who you should be following (and helping) -- showed me the latest article on Facebook and social tech ubiquity. And now this. All in one day.

Makes me feel like 2009 is the Year Social Tech Broke.


Just giving a shoutout to #edchat, one of the best examples of using Twitter for unique and constructive personal professional development.

#edchat is a daily discussion and more. It's fast-paced, ever expanding, and user-generated; and it couldn't happen without the generosity and determination of leagues of great teachers and ed thinkers.

Last night's conversation revolved around the role of ed schools in preparing young teachers for the social media landscape. Talk revolved around what kinds of hands-on classroom experiences best prepared teachers for that first day alone in front of a new class as well as the responsibility of ed schools to teach teachers how to navigate social technology and build a sustainable PLN.

Twitter Search #edchat and see for yourself; then take part in the next discussion! Oh, and here's a link to a great explanation of #edchat from the Teacher Reboot Camp blog.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Diane Ravitch could use some critical thinking skills.

[Addendum: Realizing this is a ridiculously long blog post, I've decided to add a summary; so here it is: Major education thinker slams "21st century skills" by focusing only on the definition of those skills by an organization whose purposes and value have already been widely questioned within serious ed tech circles (though an organization who happens to be pandering those definitions to unwitting state departments of education), thus attacking a concept by representing it solely through the lens of the published goals of a single organization. Rather than explain this to state departments of education and the public, said major education thinker uses major publication (Boston Globe still counts as that, doesn't it?) as venue to vent against "critical thinking" and other obviously useless skills. Major education thinker goes on to ravage a concept which most sane people would agree is not a uniquely "21st century skill" all the while missing the point of what real 21st century skills are and why they are more than a Digital Age "fad". Small time teacher/blogger tries to clear all of this up in reasonable (though admittedly wordy) fashion.]

Diane Ravitch could use some critical thinking skills.

In a Boston Globe column recasting her tireless campaign against the audacity of critical thinking, the professor states:
The latest fad to sweep K-12 education is called "21st-Century Skills". States - including Massachusetts - are adding them to their learning standards, with the expectation that students will master skills such as cooperative learning and critical thinking and therefore be better able to compete for jobs in the global economy. Inevitably, putting a priority on skills pushes other subjects, including history, literature, and the arts, to the margins. But skill-centered, knowledge-free education has never worked.

Ignoring the fact that in calling [21C Skills] a 'fad', she is continuing to harp talking points I thought had gone out of style several months ago after some pretty straightforward arguments pointing out fundamental problems with that line of thinking (and culminating in the journalist who used the term to begin with even considering that there might be something to this 21st century stuff.)

Prof. Ravitch's first mistake is to equate "21st century skills" with those "skills" presented in the manifesto of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as "21st century skills". As I've written before, the manifesto of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills is one of the most poorly written and meaningless documents in the history of the Western textual tradition.

Rebuffing P21 is like shooting fish in a barrel.

Ravitch continues:
For the past century, our schools of education have obsessed over critical-thinking skills, projects, cooperative learning, experiential learning, and so on. But they have paid precious little attention to the disciplinary knowledge that young people need to make sense of the world....

But we have ignored what matters most. We have neglected to teach them that one cannot think critically without quite a lot of knowledge to think about. Thinking critically involves comparing and contrasting and synthesizing what one has learned. And a great deal of knowledge is necessary before one can begin to reflect on its meaning and look for alternative explanations.

So, the argument becomes: teach skills or teach content.

Well as a practicing teacher, I've coined a term to call folks who can't figure out how to do both at the same time: bad teachers.

It might seem ludicrous to the likes of Prof. Ravitch, but a good teacher can actually teach a subject like, say, the Renaissance, by modeling best practices in the use of integrated social technologies. A good teacher can help students to learn how to use the features of the Digital Age in which we live to learn the content of whatever course they are taking.

After all, most of what comprises the Internet is content.

I teach Latin, and I like to say that I'm using 21st century skills to teach Ancient skills and vice-versa. And so, as they learn to conjugate verbs and parse Cicero, my students are also learning how to navigate web-based databases and synthesize real-time search technologies with social bookmarking and peer networking. And it's not as though we stop and have "tech day"; rather, it's all integrated and natural and authentic to the world our kids actually live in.

As for that phrase "21st century skills". In my mind, this has nothing to do with teaching or not teaching "critical thinking". After all, any decent teacher has been teaching critical thinking all along -- starting with Socrates.

"21st century skills", rather, needs to be taken as what it is and not be allowed to fester as the discarded red herring it's become.

And what are real 21st century skills? Well, by-and-large they are skills unique to the immediately globally connected network that comprises the Internet and its myriad social technologies. You want real 21st century skills? Well, here are my thoughts (I've published this previously, but in lieu of the discussion at hand, I think it's worth reposting rather than re-inventing the wheel):

Serve the children who will live out their lives in the 21st century by building collaborative partnerships between families, communities, and educators independent of any proprietary business interests. Teach the deep reflective understanding of global historical, philosophical, creative, and intellectual content via the best methods 21st century technology and networking have to offer and may in the future offer and teach how to use and how to think about what the best innovations 21st century technology and networking have to offer and may in the future offer by teaching the deep reflective understanding of global historical, philosophical, creative, and intellectual content.

Every child in America deserves to be treated as a citizen of the 21st century. Every child in America deserves an education that treats them first as human beings who will live out their life in the immediate globally connected world of the 21st century.

There is a profound gap between 20th century manufactured education and its accompanying textbook-based bubble test knowledge and the reality of a shift in the authority of knowledge as made clear by the democratic and participatory technologies of the 21st century. Our students deserve better than to be sold a textbook or its online equivalent. Our students deserve an education that bears an awareness of and an engagement with the multifaceted and ever evolving connected network we call humanity.

Students of the 21st century will know that ‘rigor’ means ‘stiffness’ and we the teachers will abandon such arbitrary ed speak in favor of addressing the real needs of the families and communities that we serve. Students should be made aware that most of what we predict about future career and workforce markets is complete nonsense. Students should learn that socio-economics effects the results of institutionalized education. Students should learn that standardized testing completely fails in predicting individual lifetime achievement. And students will learn that education is not about the ability to get a job, but rather is about the ability to transcend whatever position or situation one finds oneself in throughout a lifetime.

My version of specific 21st Century Skills includes:

• Critical Media Network Skills: the ability in a networked environment to recognize when you are being taken advantage of via special interests and the ability to argue within the dominant paradigm of a global network with acuity and accuracy based upon the application of historical, philosophical, creative, and intellectual skills grounded in the history of human thought and applied to the spontaneity and immediate global impact of 21st century networked communications.

• Participatory and Networked Information and Communication Skills: the ability to take part in one’s global society on equal footing with any other human via the immediacy and power of digital networks. Long-term, this may mean sharing any variety of networked consciousnesses.

• Collaborative Social Meta-Thinking: the ability to learn from and give back to both local community-based and global-based digital social networks. This may extend in future environments to nanotechnology merging with on-demand personalized virtual reality.

• Creative Network Confidence and Digital Community Stewardship: the ability to use the global network for both the purposes of creative problem solving and for the benefit of peaceful co-existence between peoples, animals, ecologies, and environments.

• Digital Cunning: students will learn that merely ‘using technology’ does not mean that you are either educated in or are a contributing member to the global network. Drawing on a strong Liberal Arts background merged with Digital Age critical thinking skills, students will be able to distinguish between participatory media and authoritarian media even when the latter cloaks itself as the former.

• Awareness of Digital History and Digital Divide: the ability to understand historical analog modalities and to recognize the value of pre-digital and non-digital media as well as the temporary nature of specific technologies within historical evolution; the ability to understand and through social action compensate for and help to eliminate digital distinctions based on economics, politics, geography, and race.

There you have it.

Real skills for the unique demands of a new Age.

Does this in any way preclude the learning of content? Heck no. In fact, I'm one of those folks who thinks that ed schools should be re-designed so that there are no undergraduate majors in education; rather, all undergrads would complete a full degree program in the Liberal Arts and then be required to earn a grad degree through educational practicums and substantial hands-on in-school mentored lab programs before they ever stepped foot alone into a classroom.

I, like Prof. Ravitch, am a strong supporter of teaching content and giving students the benefit of prior knowledge (though what knowledge is up for debate). But I am also practiced enough in the art of teaching that I realize that there doesn't have to be an either/or situation when it comes to teaching skills and content.

And I also know -- and I think Prof. Ravitch knows -- that our kids are entering a different world than we did when we finished high school. This isn't feel-good talk; this is purely practical. Just think about buying a television twenty years ago and then walk into a Best Buy and tell me that the world hasn't changed.

And consider computing itself. It used to be about the hardware. And the storage capacity. And how much it all cost.

Now, students are literally bringing more technological power into school in their pockets each morning than most schools have been able to acquire in 30 years. Now it's all about the connection, and the potential, and the unknown outcomes.

So professor, when you say that
Proponents of 21st-Century Skills might wish it was otherwise, but we do not restart the world anew with each generation. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. What matters most in the use of our brains is our capacity to make generalizations, to see beyond our own immediate experience.

I find it hard to believe that you fail to recognize the irony.

It's time to take a hard look beyond our immediate experience and see that despite all the previous claims of educational revolutions and the power of technology, that these were but signaling tremors as to what was on the horizon. Because with the advent of social technologies that literally can put everyday folks into the position of being important and influential creators of content (note I qualify that as "can"), we are seeing the ultimate shift created by the quake of the Internet's coming-of-age.

If our kids are going to make heads-or-tails of this, they are going to need both content knowledge and critical 21st century skills. They are going to need to understand how to live an immediately connected networked life.

There's no getting around that.

And so, what do we do about this?

Well, we start by admitting that the ultimate goal here should be in preparing the next generation for whatever it may face in the future. And, in my mind that means creating new understanding through the employment of Socrates and Twitter alike.

Sacrilegious as it may sound, the great knowledge of the past is not sitting there for us to look at. It's there ready for us to use. So, I say it's high-time to appreciate the new challenges and shifting technologies that have made the 21st century (already) something different from the 20th.

And it's time to quit passing off easy targets as the real thing.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Comments on 'Five Ways to Stop Cheating'

Reader Sam's got issues with my recent advice on ways to stop cheating:
I disagree with many of your statements. What's to prevent a student from posting a plagiarized rough draft on his/her blog (or one written by someone else). Also, not giving tests is not feasible, in the sense that less people are able to cheat on tests than on homework (or other forms of evaluation where they're not supervised)

Thanks for the comments, Sam; here are some practical classroom techniques that might alleviate some of your concerns.

First: on the issue of plagiarizing a rough draft. I have my kids do the majority of their prep work (collecting and evaluating sources, etc) and do the writing of the majority of their rough edits during class. That way, I can roam around and chat with them about their work as they are doing it. This personalized approach goes a long way towards fostering mutual respect. And as I've said before -- particularly with regards to graded blogging -- the kids by-and-large find cheating on blogs to be way lame. It's a matter of finding a balance between tone, attitude, and personal responsibility for one's work.

In terms of your second concern, about the non-feasibility of not giving tests, please suffer this brief anecdote; I understand that personal tales aren't always the best way to demonstrate a point, but I offer this one nonetheless.

Last year I decided to can our AP Art History curriculum (or more precisely the manner by which we approached that curriculum) and start new. I'd taught the course for a few years and although students seemed to enjoy it very much, they always earned marks well below the national average on the AP exam.

Now, the way I used to teach the course was by lecture with weekly slide ID tests -- much as I myself had learned Art History in college.

Well, as a new approach, I decided to can the tests.

Instead, I opened up our classes to more casual conversation about the material ("conversation" as a way of describing class actually came from a student and not me).

And then I replaced weekly tests with bi-weekly blogging.

And guess what?

Every student passed the AP exam and my average beat the nationals.

All without giving tests.

And did I mention to say that there are no prerequisites to get into my AP Art History class? That is, I never cut a student from the roster based on previous academic work; instead I tell them that if they are interested in Art History, then this is the place to be.

So this wasn't a class of "geniuses"; rather it was a class of kids of all academic stripes who loved art.

As for the reader's concern that "less people are able to cheat on tests than on homework (or other forms of evaluation where they're not supervised)", well I'd just have to say that not giving tests forces you to give assignments and approach material in ways that are more open and less "cheatable".

After all: building a quality and authentic assessment is part of what teaching is all about.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Social Tech in Education Lesson Plan Wiki

Just a reminder.

Check out the Social Tech in Education Lesson Plan Wiki. Take ideas from the lessons published there and feel free to post your own lessons to share!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

High Zero

All teachers lead double lives.

Mine is as an improvised music festival organizer. And that festival happens this weekend in Baltimore.

If you are around town, check out the High Zero Festival at Theatre Project. This is the 11th year of the fest which teams up free improv musicians from across the globe together in one-of-a-kind ensemble performances.

The performances are ecstatic and eclectic and way out-of-compartment in scope and ambition; you get to take part in the experience of seeing musicians really go out on a limb -- sometimes managing a precarious leap to a hitherto unknown branch and sometimes missing.

It's an exhilarating experience and we like to think it's pretty darn unforgettable.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Why Teachers Should Blog

I've never been too big on Descartes.

That whole sort of essentialist argument has never been for me. I'm a guy who's built furniture out of science fiction novels and travel books and who's played concerts with nothing but a roll of tin foil and a microphone.

So I've never been too big on the idea that things exist because they have some fundamental essence.

Consider blogs.

There is no substantial qualitative definition of a blog. Blogs, or rather blogging platforms, just exist. The quality or essence of a blog is given meaning only via what the author does with the blog and how the blog is responded to.

And in my mind what this means is that I blog and what I blog -- and how that message is received by others -- tells me what I think.

And it tells me how I think.

My own blog confirms my suspicions that I'm not the most polite person in the world. My blog confirms one of my old professor's observations that in many ways my arrogance is my most important attribute. My blog reminds me that I'm boneheaded and tin-eared. My blog represents me not as an edited professional voice, but as a human being struggling to express ideas, thoughts, reactions, dreams, and general b.s. via a means that uncompromisingly allows for the immediate feedback of strangers and fellow wanderers.

And that's why I think all teachers should blog.

A student in my ed class last night -- a young 2nd year teacher in a Baltimore City public school -- said that he didn't feel like he had anything to offer on his blog or on Twitter. He couldn't think of anything in his classroom that he thought would advance the discussion.

It is in a way frustrating that he doesn't realize how obviously wrong he is. But, more so, it is indicative of his mindset that he is thinking too much. To blog, you can't always allow yourself to be burdened by overthinking. At times this will lead you to a scary place. A place without a safety net. A place full of prat falls.

Because to blog is to teach yourself what you think.

And sometimes what we think embarrasses us and we must then confront our thoughts and consider whether there are alternatives.

This is real maturity. Because real maturity is not about having the right answers, it's about having the audacity to have the wrong answers and re-address them in light of contemplation, self-argument, and experience.

This is made perhaps even more evident by the public nature of the blog, and that is one of the foremost reasons all teachers should in fact blog. Because to face one's ill conclusions, self-congratulations, petty foibles, and impolite rhetoric among peers in the public square of the blogosphere is to begin to learn to grow.

And to begin to understand that it's not all about 'getting it right', but rather is a matter of 'getting it'.

We live in a culture that tells us that you learn from your mistakes, yet which continually punishes and shuns those who make mistakes. It is teachers who have the power to change this. It is teachers who have the power to teach a generation that to fully live and to fully know one's self is to fully live and to fully know one's self in the public conversation. And that to be wrong or to come off as shrill is not always a bad thing; because those too are forms of experience and in reflection they too are to be learned from.

And so, we should teach this new generation to move beyond embarrassment and fear. This is not to condone manifestly insolent behavior online, rather in teaching the qualities -- the unique qualities -- of the globally connected public square, we should be instilling in students both a strident determination to take part in the unadulterated public debate and yet have humility.

I think both are achieved through the crucial practice of critical thinking and earnest self-analysis. And no where, if sincerely met with daily conviction, can both be better employed than in the practice of blogging.

And so, I firmly believe that all teachers should be bloggers. Because if Descartes is wrong, then the thrust of our identity is determined not by our inalienable and essential state of being but by the differences in idea and sense that we demonstrate through our interactions with others.

And teachers, perhaps more than anything else, are the medium -- or have the potential to be the medium -- through which students learn about all that which is 'other'.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Five Ways to Stop Cheating

1. Having problems with plagiarism? Try this: Have your students write their rough drafts during class; and then post them. I should back-track. In my class, all students have their own blog. So when I give them an assignment, I have them post it online in draft and final form. Posting rough drafts both cuts down on plagiarism (which is often the result of lack of guidance) and gets students into the habit of re-working their writing.

2. Having problems with Scantron cheating? Try this: Don't give Scantron tests. I'm a firm believer that multiple choice tests were invented by pencil manufacturers. I mean, really now, can you give me any example of a pre-industrial teacher giving a multiple choice test? Yet we think of it as a "traditional" model of assessment. Insanity. Could you imagine Socrates giving Plato a Scantron test? No, you can't. Because that would be ridiculous. Yet many of us continue to give these tests to our kids every week.

3. Having problems with students cutting and pasting from the Internet? Try this: Have students write short essays that are completely cut-and-pasted. Then have them trade essays with classmates. The assignment is to identify where each of the cut-and-pasted parts come from and to give an assessment of the site or page from which each source was stolen. Because kids aren't going to understand that cutting and pasting doesn't get them anywhere until they start understanding just how bad the essays at really are and why encyclopedias are not considered primary sources.

4. Having problems with students using cellphones, Twitter, and IM in class to cheat on tests? Try this: Require them to use cellphones, Twitter, and/or IM during tests. I started opening up all of my tests last year. I basically allowed students to collaborate with one another whenever they wanted to using Twitter. And guess what? Across the board, student understanding of the material went up. It's not that their test scores improved whereas everyone was now cheating their way to an 'A'; in fact, the scores remained pretty similar in terms of the ratio across the student population. Rather, students who had been having trouble -- whether due to test anxiety or little mistakes that snowballed -- were now getting beyond those problems and beginning to demonstrate what they knew rather than what they didn't know. And before long, they were able to use Twitter as a lifeline rather than as a crutch.

5. Stop giving tests. The number one reason kids cheat is because of the amount of importance we assign to tests. Why do we do this to ourselves? Outside of school, how often do kids face tests set up like the ones they take in school? This year, I've instituted a new grading policy: no tests. Instead, kids earn points for blogging, bookmarking, and developing their own projects. All the stuff I used to assess by tests, I'm assessing in class in a no-anxiety formative way. And so the kids don't cheat. Because to cheat in my class would be like trying to cheat in pottery class.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


As I've already chatted with Ira about this, I don't agree with everything in this post of his -- in fact I think some of it is ridiculous.

Nonetheless, it's a great piece of essay/blog writing and a testament to the power of critical thinking. For those of you keeping score: yeah, Ira's the man. Read up.

[Addendum Sept 10th 11:15PM]
Reading back through this, I realize that in dashing off a quick post, I wasn't specific enough. I've got a minute so I'll just comment on the section of this essay where I think it nails it:
Changing schools requires something much more than telling kids to "try harder" and "keep trying." Especially since kids aren't that stupid. They actually know what is going on. They see "Zero Tolerance Policies" which tell kids that one mistake is all they get. They see voters choose to fund football stadiums over classrooms. They hear their parents and leaders denigrate teachers almost every day. They see that the only way they can be treated like an "adult" before they are 21 is to commit a crime. They see cutbacks in school funding while any talk of altering funding for senior citizens is met by howls of protest. They see politicians and even religious leaders lying and cheating. Mostly they see their leaders not listening to them. They know it's a game, a game rigged against most of them.

I think this tendency -- in all areas of life -- to just play the game is one of the worst results of the 20th century American education experiment.

And as a rule, this sort of outlook will just sustain itself from generation to generation. I remember my old neighbor in East Baltimore, a 70-something year old man named Ed. Ed asked me what I did for a living one day not long after we moved into the rowhouse and I told him I was a teacher. He instantly clammed up. A few pauses and he says, "I remember the way my 3rd grade teacher treated me. School didn't do nothing for me."

That anti-school sentiment is reaching a boiling point. And whatever side of the aisle your favorite congressman sits, you should be more than a little concerned. Because one thing we often forget is the way the educational experience shapes culture; and an inauthentic, high-stakes testing educational experience fosters a culture that will react against all things educational.

Where I disagree is in the idea that this should somehow preclude or alter the nature of a presidential speech. I think it's too much of an assumption to think that kids are getting a positive motivation message at school. So, given the opportunity, yeah I'd like to see the president give a 15 minute pep talk. I think that's healthy and in the current climate, perhaps the best option. After all, could you imagine the backlash if that thing had turned into a raucous rockstar event?

As for kids being told to shush and sit down, well, I really don't think any of the kids took the president's asking them to sit from a standing ovation to be anything repressive.

Would it be good to get real student voices and real student passions involved in shaping the future of education? Absolutely. There's no reason that students -- whether public school kids sitting in advisory roles for the Dept of Ed or private school kids having a seat at the Board of Trustee's table -- shouldn't be active members of the debate.

But there are all sorts of different fora. This one was a speech. A pep talk. We all need those now and then. Next time, the White House should consider holding a town hall. Sort of a National Student Affairs gathering.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A Response to 'Letter to the Teachers of My Children'

Have gotten a lot of responses from folks on this blog and on Twitter as well as in person regarding my 'Letter to the Teachers of My Children' posted last week.

Today an anonymous comment rolled in and I think it's worth taking a good long look at it:
Glad to know you know so much more than your kids' teachers do about what tbey should learn and how they should learn it. Why don't you just save the whole lot of you a bunch of trouble and home school your kids?

Now I have no idea who wrote this, but I do care a lot about what they think. Because I think if one's immediate reaction to a letter from a parent is to fall into an 'us' versus 'them' mentality where we tell parents to go homeschool their kids, then we really aren't getting anywhere in education.

Secondly, I do know more about my boys than their 3rd grade teacher. I do know how one of them clams up when in conversation with strangers and I know how the other obsesses over every little thing. I know what books they've read and what books they've thought were fluff. I know that they hate 'childrens' music' and that they think Disney sucks. I know what they look like when they are happy and I know when they are faking it (and they are good at that).

Their third grade teacher will have known them for two days; I've known them for close to nine years.

Now I have no idea whether the writer of the comment was a teacher. Maybe, maybe not. Hope not. But maybe.

Let's for the sake of discussion say it was.

Well, in that case, rather than getting huffy about somebody stepping on the toes of your profession, you'd sure as heck be better off starting to try to build closer relations with families. Because kids don't learn just because they are in a classroom; and just because the kid isn't in the classroom doesn't mean he's not learning.

I cherish every meeting I've ever had with a parent (even the one where a mother threw books and papers at me); because insight into the world of a parent and insight into the ways a parent sees their child is insight into the world of the child. And it's that child that you as teacher have the honor of spending some time with everyday.

Each kid in your class is an honor.

So don't give me some anonymous junk about "You should just homeschool your kids". I'm a teacher myself, I'm a professional, and I don't have the audacity to pretend that the parents of my kids can't help me to better teach them.

Monday, September 07, 2009

A Young Teacher Reflects on Twitter in the Classroom

Been teaching a weekly course on Social Tech in Education, as many of you know.

Well, this evening I took a look at the blog of one of my students, a young teacher in Baltimore. Please, please, please read what he wrote yesterday about students' response to Twitter in the classroom and please comment on his blog.

I think it's a very powerful read.

And I think this is a great example of what students and teachers can do together when not hindered by the ridiculousness that is so much of our educational system.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Return of the Friday Chats

Veteran readers of this blog will remember the Friday Chats.

Well, they're starting again this coming Friday. I haven't checked my teaching schedule to determine a time yet, but I'll let you all know early this week.

For those who haven't participated in a chat, I encourage you to visit and take part in this first discussion of the new academic year. Basically, we choose a topic and have a 45 minute chat about education, ed tech, and pressing problems for teachers and students. Many folks have commented on the great quality of the chats, and I have to say that I learn a ton from the weekly commitment.

The first chat of the year will be on the topic: "What I Did Over Summer Vacation: Personalized Professional Development in the Digital Age".

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Thinking Obama Speech Blues

Not much of a post tonight. Just trying to get my head around this Obama / Ed Speech mess.

Check out Will's take on it; he seemed pretty lucid.

Friday, September 04, 2009

On Identity and Firedrills

Had a half-day today and two really cool things happened.

First, because of our weird schedule, I had a Freshman Latin class for longer than usual. So, we took a little extra time to have a class discussion about online personae and the importance of owning your own.

The kids really got it. These 14 year olds want to be in control of how they are portrayed online. And so we worked on building Google Profiles that demonstrate good digital citizenship and which can be authenticated by email. Then, we went through examples from the students' profiles on their blogs and social bookmarking sites. We discussed what works and what doesn't.

And I was really proud of the kids because they 'got it'. They understand that the profiles they are making today will evolve and grow with them throughout their high school career. And they are getting off to the right start.

Second thing...

We had a fire drill today. No biggie. Most schools have fire drills in the first few weeks.

But something was different about this one.

My buddy Bob (from Follow Bob fame) got the idea to take a few cameras out onto the football field where we all meet on the bleachers during these drills. Enlisting a few students and our Fine Arts chair, he caught the whole school together in one place both on film and video.

And the school responded.

It's not that the students were rowdy, it's that they were happy. Joyous. There we sat smiling and laughing under a beautiful blue sky and had our picture taken. All of us. Students, teachers, admins, staff. A family.

The Seniors led the students in the Wave. The Freshmen got to see what it was like to be part of the school family rather than just being the 'new kids'.

And it all came together. Like artwork.

It's been a great week. My excitement for this year is boundless.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Social Tech in Education Class

Just led a group of young teachers through a class dissecting Twitter.

Tonight was week two in my weekly class on Social Media in Education. I encourage you all to check out our class wiki (sort of a fluid syllabus). I'm open to ideas and am actively seeking advice on making this course better.

Having a blast, BTW.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Follow Bob

For the last two weeks, I've watched a most incredible transformation take place. This all has to do with Bob, the teacher I share my room with.

Bob's been teaching a couple years longer than me. When I started at JCS, Bob was my mentor teacher. A career changer from a former life as an assistant director in Hollywood, Bob's always got a good story... that and there really ain't anything a couple kids can throw at him that he hasn't had hurled on him sevenfold by the Hollywood types.

So, two weeks ago, Bob comes to me and says: "I want to go paperless".

I asked him if he had a Google ID.

"They have IDs?"

I asked if he was on Twitter.



Yes he was on Facebook. Following his fourteen year old daughter and a Frank Zappa fan club.

"Ok," I said, "Sounds to me like you've met all the pre-requisites."

So for the last two weeks, Bob and I have worked on getting him paperless. He set up a blog and learned how to set up a web calendar. He typed the email addresses of every single one of his kids into his calendar settings only to find out he'd typed them in the wrong box (after leaving the send screen!) He had a nightmare about social networks, he had a melt down when the wireless went down and none of his kids could access their blogs, and he looked absolutely exasperated when I told him it was probably a good idea for him to use a newsreader.

But he's come through. Today I saw literal joy in his eyes as he discovered how to use a blogroll. He came to me after class to announce that all of his kids were subscribed to his blog. He scheduled two hours tomorrow to sit down and learn the finer points of burning feeds and using Twitter apps.

Oh yeah, and he's on Twitter.

I think Bob is exactly the kind of teacher you want your own kids to have. He's energetic, he's got life experience, and he really loves kids. And now he's going way out of his comfort-zone to meet them in the digital world.

Here's a toast to Bob. And here's to all the Bobs out there.

Oh yeah, and while it's on your mind, follow Bob on Twitter; wish him congrats and tell him Shelly sent you.

A Future Outdated?

Reader Mrs. DeRaps reminds us as teachers about our responsibility to our kids:
I hear what Tom is saying and understand that change takes time. As a teacher, though, I wonder what price current students pay when they're under the guidance of teachers who're taking their sweet time in integrating technology into the classroom. Maybe they need those skills in the workplace and/or in post secondary classrooms? Maybe being uncomfortable or taking a risk for the sake of student learning is not too much to ask?

With responsibility comes risks.

Because failure to recognize this is akin to giving our kids outdated educations.

Educations good enough for the world we knew, perhaps. But that world doesn't exist anymore; so this is about taking a good hard look at the world of our kids and comparing it to the world we present in the classroom.

Because whereas we might like to think otherwise, this is about a kid's classroom having no reality-based relationship either to the kid's own life or to the expectations of what the kid will know and be able to deal with upon leaving school.

This is about a teacher, a faculty, an administration, and a school system having the authority to screw over a generation of kids because those constituents didn't feel 'comfortable' online.

These kids aren't entering your world. They are entering their world. And their world is our future.

And what does their world look like?

Here are the top five fastest growing jobs over the last ten years according to the US Government's Bureau of Labor Statistics:
1. Computer Software Engineers (Apps)
2. Computer Support Specialists
3. Computer Software Engineers (Systems)
4. Network and Computer Administrators
5. Network Systems and Data Communications Analysts

Actually, I fibbed. Those five jobs were the ones projected in 2001 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics to be the fastest growing over the decade that would come.

In actuality, the fastest growing jobs over the last ten years -- including the ones forecast -- looked like a laundry list of tech and health industry careers.

The last decade's worth of labor statistics show those two industries with continued potential for sustained growth well into 2016 and beyond. The biggest of these, namely Information Systems and Health Care Support jobs -- fueled (terrible choice of words) by loss of manufacturing and an aging Baby Boomer population -- are the jobs our kids will be competing for.

Now ask yourself: how many kids in your school are getting more than a cursory glance at what's going on in tech and health?

We've got a current financial crisis and a looming health care crisis facing us in the U.S. and we still insist that all high school students take two years of textbook Algebra?

What about Computer-based Statistics as mandatory for graduation? What about merging your math and art departments and offering Network Analysis and App Design as standard classes? Let the kids learn Algebra and Trig through application; let them learn that the Arts ain't all hoity-toity, but in fact contribute to the way we perceive just about everything in the material world. What about combining Social Studies and Health classes? Geography and the History of Medicine? What about creating Literature classes specifically geared towards Math and Science kids in high school just like they offer Quantitative Reasoning courses for English majors in college?

Getting teachers to integrate social tech into their daily regime is just the beginning. We've got curricula that are still trying to catch up to the 1990s.

What concerns me is that in terms of the very structure of how we set up school, we're letting our future get away from us in our insistent and dogged pursuit of getting the past right. Looking backwards, we stumble towards a future outdated.

From the PLN: Teachers Speaking out on Social Media

A number of readers wrote back concerning our recent discussion of PLNs and social tech for professional development.

Reader Shaken writes:
I'm a new teacher (just into my second year) and have found the three months using a PLN of more value than my entire time at Uni. To have the knowledge, expertise, experience, ideas and thoughts of innovative educators at my fingertips is incredible. I am learning so quickly and have now found myself teaching my colleagues.

Reader Mel writes:
I'm currently trying to change my PLN behaviour.

For years I've been a lurker. I've read edublogs, been on Ning and been following my twitter feed. Now I'm attempting to be apart of the voice out there and I think what you're saying here is a big part of that but in reverse.

I've been following others but not giving of myself and is that fair either, no. I have something to contribute to help the network work better. Also, by doing so the network is making more of an impact on me.

Another reader commented on the changing nature of teaching itself in light of social media. Here's a particularly prescient selection from a well considered argument.

Reader Seth writes:
But there's another level to all of this that is worth thinking about: educating teachers to educate their students in public exposes the foibles of the students (directly) and of the teacher (at least indirectly, and sometimes directly) to public scrutiny. It's scary business. It requires some very real confidence in yourself as a person and as a teacher to be able to not know something in public -- or to correct a mistake in public.

For many teachers faced with social media, I think this is part of the very real threat that they feel: they are turning their classrooms open to (potentially judgmental) strangers -- and ceding centerstage, and ceasing to be the expert, but instead being a learner with their students.

It's big stuff, and technology is a symptom, and not the disease. In almost every case where we talk about technological issues, what we're getting at are fundamental questions of pedagogy and philosophy. The technology just exposes some of these more-buried issues.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Response to a Comment on Mentoring Young Teachers on Building PLNs

Considered just posting a comment response to this comment from Reader Tom, but decided it was really worthy of a post -- both to get his point of view in front of your eyeballs and to better present reasons why I'm sticking by my original post.
Aside from generally taking this too seriously, I feel like you're being a little less confident about the future of social media than you should be. That is, there is no rush, because this stuff isn't going away. If you're getting ready to retire, you'd better figure out Twitter now, because it would be a shame to wait until you're in the nursing home to do it. But if you're in a nursing home in 10 years, you'll be twittering (or the equivalent). All these new teachers will be too. There is no rush. This stuff isn't going anywhere. Let people get comfortable.

For as much as I often get accused of being a Utopian, I think Tom's got me beat.

I agree with Tom that social media isn't going away, but I'm not so convinced that young teachers -- particularly in the range of 18 to 25 years old (i.e. those who grew up with social media, but never have experienced it modeled in the classroom, let alone for the purpose of PLN building) -- are going to suddenly 'get comfortable' with contemporary ed uses of social tech without a bit of guidance and mentoring.

As for whether or not I'm rushing this, let me just put it in this sort of perspective: young teachers are paying tens of thousands of dollars for ed school programs which by-and-large are failing them in delivery of the most successful professional development paradigm that perhaps has ever developed: namely, the PLN. I would think that after two years in a teaching program or a Master's track, most grads would have built a substantial and useful personal learning network. I was very surprised upon entering the ed school classroom as a teacher to find that in fact this is not happening.

If I were a young teacher, I'd be peeved.

And so, though I agree with Tom's general enthusiasm for social media, I don't think this situation is just going to fix itself by itself. We now have a very large community of teachers throughout Twitter who have years' worth of experience building and getting the most out of professional social networks. I say it's high time we make a conscious push to mentor young teachers in the ways of PLN building; it's time to give young teachers the tools they need to take control of the fate of their own professional development.

A Challenge to Teachers: Mentor Young Teachers in Social Tech

There is something wrong here.

This picture (and please, if you are viewing this on a feed where the pic isn't showing up, please visit the main TeachPaperless page to see this) is unacceptable.

It is unacceptable on so many levels. But let me give some context.

This is a screen capture of a Tweet that reads: "I am scared of twitter". It was not written by a 35 year veteran fearing that social media is undermining his or her career. It was not written by an overburdened administrator fearing another lawsuit. It was not written by an overworked IT guy or gal nervous about whether the local network will be able to withstand the pounding social media has the potential to dish out.

This Tweet was written by a twenty-something new teacher in an ed school classroom.

My ed school classroom.

This is unacceptable.

What have we done? How have we allowed social media to become so seemingly monolithic that a young teacher would write this as his or her ONLY tweet?

We have to do better. This one's on us.

This is the result of scaring our kids into thinking predators were the de facto users of MySpace. This is the result of banning mobile devices in our classrooms. This is the result of teachers being threatened with termination for using social media and kids being blocked from using email at school.

This one's on us. We have to take responsibility for this. We have to turn this around.

Now, maybe I'm just overestimating this. After all, I'm sure it was just a joke, right?

Well, I would think that, and I'd appreciate the joke, if it weren't for the fact that in this first week of building our PLNs, this particular student had a total of four followers and one Tweet.

That's unacceptable.

But it's not just the student's fault for being unwilling to try out the network; it's also our fault for letting it come to this. Because the way most ed school programs are currently set up, there's no reason WHY any young teacher would think they'd be expected to have a professional working knowledge of social technology.

We've got to change that.

So here's what I'm calling on my fellow PLN members and ed school teachers to do: find three young teachers in your building, in your ed school, or through your PLN. Mentor those teachers. Teach them WHY they should build a PLN. Teach them what it means to participate as a professional. Don't worry about teaching them every little gimmick and gadget that comes down the pike; just teach them what it means to be part of a network, what it means to be connected, how to use a PLN to grow professionally as a teacher.

Furthermore, contact your local ed schools. Contact your alma mater. Tell those schools that as a teaching professional, you demand they include mandatory courses teaching and modeling the integration of social technology into classroom instruction; tell them that facility with social media should be a qualification for earning a degree.

We can't afford to let young teachers slip through ed school without a working knowledge of social technology and a foundational PLN. This begins with us. Serious or not, this is no joking matter.

Sims, Ants, Education, and Gaming

Heard this on the way into work this morning. Nothing like a conversation between Will Wright, creator of the Sims series, and E.O. Wilson, the world's most eloquent ant expert.

Wilson was especially provocative in his condemnation of the way we currently teach kids and his belief that the solution to so many of our educational disconnections lies in virtual reality and gaming.

Give it a listen as it's certainly something bound to cause debate in the current conversation on education.