Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

The History Channel has got some wonderful and fun interactive content surrounding the history of Halloween.

I often find that their online programming proves excellent for use in extension activities. The 'Hidden Spirits' haunted house game, for instance, is both brilliantly fun and a great way to extend reading and critical thinking skills.

Try it out (if you dare!)

Friday, October 30, 2009

What would you do with $40 million?

Detriot Public Schools thought it would be a good idea to give it to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

As the Boston Globe reports:
Houghton will be providing a computer-based teaching system it developed with Microsoft Corp. that will connect teachers, students, and administrators.

The article goes on to frame this as a watershed moment in terms of the shift occuring in the publishing industry.

I frame it as a bunch of uninformed policy makers in Detroit Public Schools getting hoodwinked by Big Publishing.

The Globe quotes Barbara Byrd-Bennett, chief academic officer for Detroit public schools, as saying:
"Detroit’s teachers will be able to prepare and assign homework through Learning Village and use its tools to measure how well students learn - even how well they understand a lesson taught earlier in the day.

“I wanted one central portal that everybody can tap into."

$40 million to help teachers prepare homework online? $40 million to 'connect' students and teachers?

I have one question for Ms. Byrd-Bennett: Have you heard of Google Apps for Education?

I read a story like this and I think of all of the help Detroit's families need in this recession and it just makes me so angry. When are educational policy makers going to wake up to the reality that there are alternatives to spending millions and millions of dollars on technology -- alternatives that will in fact produce better results?

But there's that fear thing. Fear of the Cloud. It's what folks were talking about today on NPR's coverage of the city of Los Angeles going Gmail.

Well, darn it, I'm alot more afraid for the sanity of a public school system in a shattered city giving $40 million dollars to a textbook manufacturer than I am of putting anything on the Cloud.

$40 million dollars.

Money that could have been spent making 1:1 computing accessible to the children of Detroit. Money that could have been spent training teachers in the integration of social technologies to better equip students with the capacity to work and thrive in a globally connected world. Money that could have been used to empower students to go beyond the confines of their textbooks, schools, and neighborhoods and to tap into learning communities engaging in dialogue and debate in real-time the world over. And -- in many ways most importantly -- through the use of open source and community-driven projects from Scratch's creative programming initiative to the Library of Congress and its 'Teaching With Primary Sources' program the chance to engage with the authentic learning without the filter of Big Publishing.

Instead, what those kids see is $40 million pumped right out of their city and back into the open arms of the textbook industry.

And if you think this is a bit of a tirade against the textbook industry, well you are right. It is. Because right now, I have absolutely no respect for an industry that would accept that kind of money from a place facing as tough a situation as Detroit.

Shift. Yeah, right.

This isn't a 'shift' in anything. It's business as usual.

[Add 2:48PM]

And to add insult to injury, Jon Becker sends over a link to a WSJ article from the start of this school year:
Detroit's public-school system, beset by massive deficits and widespread corruption, is on the brink of following local icons GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy court.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Young Teachers Speak Out on Social Tech in Education

Just finished teaching a fall semester course on Paperless Classrooms and Social Tech in Education. And I can't help but say that I was completely moved by the experience of watching young teachers go from social tech newbs to PLN-building professionals.

I'd like you to hear what they've had to say; so over the next couple weeks, with their permission I'll be re-posting some of their thoughts and observations about being a young teacher lucky (or unlucky) enough to have been thrust into the digital revolution.

First up is a piece by @JefeGORavens, who incidentally has become a regular contributor to #EdChat:
This is a collection of quotes that I have heard myself, that I do now say, and that I look forward to saying in the future.

Where I was:

"Twitter? What the.....? Hell no I ain't freakin' tweeting and twitting or whatever. Do I look like Ashton Kutchner?"
"Diigo? What the freak is a Diigo? That sounds like some Star Trek vehicle!"
"I now have a blog. Great. I feel like a 12 year old girl with boy problems. Maybe I should start writing in my diary again."
"When is this guy going to understand, I am a simple and basic guy. I can't be tweeting until dawn, diigoing up a storm, and then weeblyin it out all weekend. I need some air!"

Where I am now:

"Seriously dude, I really feel like this stuff is the future. We need to start doing this with our students."
"I know man, I thought twitter was for celebrity stalkers too, but now, I realize that my twitter account is the best PD I have ever gotten."
"#EDCHAT is amazing. In the span of 2 hours I get ideas for the classrooms, best practices, worst practices, ideas for bettering the school, links to websites, and support. In 2 hours of PD, I normally get tired, bored, and frustrated."
"What the.....? You're not on twitter? How do you expect to run for office, when your PLN doesn't even exist!?!"

Where I will probably be in the future:

"Okay estudiantes. Log onto my blog to find the conversation I posted. I want you to find the 5 mistakes in the conversation, and then create a new blog post in your own blog that lists all 5 mistakes."
"Principal Powell, I would love to give a demonstration at tomorrow's PD on how to use twitter and blogs and pixton effectively!"

I look forward to sharing the voices of more young teachers both in favor of and critical of social media in education.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

More on Recommendation Letters

Reader Steven writes:
The new "common app" form does allow for PDF attachments. Some institutions (University of Michigan for example) have actually entered the 21st century & allow high school teachers to add PDF docs to the overall student recommendation & evaluation. (I just filled one out for a student last week).

Excellent. So at least the University of Michigan admissions office has fully entered into the 1990s.

I expect more of this great land's premier institutions of higher education.

I want college admissions offices to accept (and actually look at) Digital Portfolios and Multimedia Recommendations. Our students deserve no less than that the folks making decisions about their futures should be able to speak the technological language of the real world in which the students are living.

And in the case of students without access to tech? Well, to be honest, there's really no excuse for students not having access to tech. There's absolutely no reason why every high school in the USA shouldn't have at least one digital workstation open to students in their college counseling room. No reason; no excuse.

But, that's a whole other post.

One about the allocation of resources.

On Lame College Recommendation Letters

What's up with college recommendation letters being so lame?

I'm not talking about the content; I'm talking about the format.

Thinking about this as I'm working on the letter of a student who's written an occasionally brilliant blog in class over the last two years. I'm considering the irony of trying to express in a paragraph ultimately to be printed out on a sheet of paper what it is that I find so compelling about her blogging.

It doesn't have to be like this.

If I can handle relatively complex tasks such as managing my bank account and submitting grades online, I sure as heck ought to be able to submit a letter of recommendation online.

A letter full of links to succinct examples of what it is that I'm trying to describe in my blathering prose. A letter including screenshots of projects, audio of class presentations illustrating what I mean when I say that the student has an 'accessible manner of explaining complex ideas to her peers', snippets of Twitter conversations we've had in class demonstrating the student's leadership capacity and capacity for asking probing questions.

Stuff that doesn't fit on paper.

So what say ye, college admissions officers? Ready to enter the 21st century?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Safety Net

Sorry to be coy (or weirdly hyperbolic) in my last post. 'Twas written in the heat of the moment.

Without going into detail, let's just say that I've got a student whose academic career may have been saved precisely because he was using social media.

This is so diametrically opposed to what all the naysayers told us back in the days of fear.

What's that you say? Your school's still afraid of social tech?

Well, I promise you things are changing.

This thing that came up yesterday was the third case I've heard of in the last three weeks from two different schools about the transparent nature of social tech saving a kid's hide.

I'm starting to think of the Net as a 'Safety Net'.

An example from a teacher at nearby school: student writes self-destructive comment on FB that two peers screenshot and send to guidance office. The student winds up getting help.

I remember the days when some folks were talking about disciplinary action for kids caught using social media. The days when we were afraid of what sorts of pictures our kids might post and what kinds of things they might say about us.

The days before we started to teach them digital health and the days before we started to expect them to uphold standards of digital citizenship.

What's that you say? Your school's not there yet?

Well, I promise you: it will be. Because it will have to be. We can't allow students to live in a digital world and fail to teach them how to treat one another in it.

Because social media is what you make it. It can be a place full of meanness and rants. Or it can be a place of community where our goal is to help one another out.

Judging by comparing my Twitter PLN to the posts that come through via some of the trending topics, it's obvious that the good and bad exist side-to-side. It's up to us as teachers to start tipping the scale in the direction of the good.

And we do that by teaching.

Because, fundamentally, the future starts in our classrooms.

Hate seeing offensive trash on the Net? Well, then teach your kids to treat one another with respect. Teach them that only weak souls trash the opinions of others whilst wearing the veil of anonymity.

I'm not completely naive. I'm a high school teacher; I've seen my fair share of what we might consider 'poor decisions' with regard to social tech. But I've also seen the good. And whether it's the case of my student getting the chance to get back on track and not ruin his hopes of going to college or that other student getting the help needed to deal with some serious issues, it was social media that worked as the conduit for the intervention.

After all, social media is just a reflection of us. If we are considerate and compassionate folks, then the social media landscape will be that much more compelling. Whereas if we deny it or walk away from it, the social media landscape will become far worse than YouTube's flame wars already portray it as.

Social media. It's what you make it. It can even be a safety net.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Network Saves Lives

Short (though intentionally ambiguous) Story Short: Thanks to the 21st century network, we've got one more shining light (in the form of a student) still on the horizon.

This had nothing to do with 'health' health; this had to do with 'academic' health.

Ironically, nothing about this will be explicated via a blog post. Consider it just one of those things you've got to ask me about in person.

Because sometimes we have to take the role of academic ambulance; and all you drivers just gotta get outta the way. (I apologize in advance for any and all mixed metaphors... it's part of the business.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Parents Dig Social Media

Had the opportunity to speak with several parents today about the ins and outs of a paperless classroom.

And two things struck me.

First was that they almost seemed to 'expect' that we'd be using social tech and blogging in class. It really didn't so much come as a surprise to them as it did a relief. This confirms what I've seen over the last two years: parents by-and-large are comfortable with their students using social tools in school. And as social media has become mainstream, parents have come to accept it as just another part of culture.

Second was the thing that almost every parent said was the best the about a paperless classroom: the opportunity to turn daily blogging into a digital portfolio of academic growth. Fundamentally parents understand this. After all, we are the ones who collect bits of our kids' lives in baby-books, scrap-books, and photo albums. The blog is an extension of this habit. The big difference is that the blogs are produced by the kids themselves.

Too often we teachers treat parents as 'the other'. In fact, we should remember that they are usually the ones who want the best for their kids.

So if you are willing to give their kids your best, they're willing to give you their trust. And that's a partnership worth blogging about.

Friday, October 23, 2009

On Changing it Up

Been teaching my son to hear music.

Confirm: I've been teaching my son to 'hear' music. He's eight years old and has been playing trumpet for two years. Loves jazz and has posters of Miles Davis taped to the wall next to his bed.

But early on it was all drone all the time. Long notes played for as long as possible, generally in the bottom range of the trumpet, and repeated over and over and over.

I wonder why this was. After all, he was taking music class and learning songs. But when we'd play together improvising, he was just droning on.

Now, as a guy with a foot in the world of free improvisational music, I really didn't mind this per se; but I did feel like as an eight-year-old he needed to think about trumpet in a different way and get the experience of changing it up.

So I changed my instrument.

Whereas I had been playing mostly guitar and piano, I switched to double bass.

And suddenly his sound started to expand. And he started to bring snippets of melody into our improvisations. And his trumpet got more talkative. And he seemed to 'get it' more.

We often forget that as teachers, we are the ones who set the tone. And the instruments we choose to play -- sometimes out of habit more than pedagogical conviction -- directly effect the way our students both learn and express themselves.

So be willing to change it up. Don't let a tool become a given.

Keep yourself on your toes and you'll start to hear melodies in your students.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Wiziq and Online Classes

I am blown away.

Just led my Thursday night 'social tech in ed' class at JHU in Baltimore. Except, I'm sitting on a park bench in NYC.

Used Wiziq.

I was very skeptical at first, as I haven't had the best experiences using online-session software.

But this was seamless. And the students loved it.

We shared videos, had an ongoing backchannel, and were able to swap out mics for audio. I made it a public session, so we even had a teacher from India stop by and share ideas.

I strongly encourage you all to check out Wiziq... and regular readers know that's not something I say often.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Kids are Alright (so give 'em the stage)

No limit on the number of keynote suggestions you can make for the ISTE 2010 keynote, so I made another one. One I've been mulling over in the days since I first heard about the way ISTE was crowdsourcing part of the selection process this year.

Here's the proposal in a nutshell:
'The Kids are Alright (so give 'em the stage)'

Unless you are 15 years old in 2010, you have no idea what it's like to be 15 years old in 2010.

One of the most frustrating things about the education profession is the scant amount of time we spend listening to the ideas and reflections of the students we teach when it comes to the realities of what it feels like to be taught and to learn. We can talk amongst ourselves all we like about 'leadership' and 'educational tools' and 'best practices', but over and over again it's the voice of the students themselves -- the ones with the biggest stake in the debate -- that goes missing from the discussion.

So let's do something different with this keynote: Let's hear from the kids. Let's hear from the real experts: the students. Let's hear from kids who have no nostalgia for an analogue past. Let's hear from the idealists. Let's hear from the ones whose career and profession don't depend on scoring a keynote.

The kids are alright. Let's give 'em the stage.

Reflecting on what it is that I do everyday and what so many of you do everyday, I can't think of a better opportunity to really use the ISTE stage for something worthwhile than to hand it over to the students.

So often at these conferences, I feel like we talk about kids like they are mice in a lab.

Well, I say we shake up the conference scene and let the mice sing.

If you are with me on this, go ahead and vote here on ISTE's site.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Got Skillz?

Reader Dave, whose blog you should check out BTW, writes:
21st Century Skills, 22nd Century Skills, they're all the same. We really want to teach our students to be critical thinkers and self-learners.

Without being too convoluted, I respectfully disagree.

Critical thinking and autodidactism aren't 21st or 22nd century skills. They are skills of human intellect going back millenia.

What I'm talking about in terms of 21st century skills are the unique skills associated with the new immediately connected global network. This sort of network acumen goes well beyond traditional inter- and intra-personal skills.

As for 22nd century skills, I'm thinking about the sorts of seemingly sci-fi things that may be possible in merging digital with bio/neurological connectedness. Far out stuff. Visionary stuff. In fact, I use the term 'visionary' specifically with reference to the fact that it nearly lies beyond the imagination.

I think it's very important, however, that Dave brings up this issue. I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately.

For one thing, I think we need to recognize the fact that we are at the very beginning of something. It's not even 2010. Considering the fact that cars, airplanes, and machine guns were in their infancy in 1910 yet automobiles, air travel, and mechanized warfare became the icons of the 20th century's industrial age speaks volumes.

We don't know where this is going to lead. And for that very reason, in my post yesterday I proposed we take some time to imagine the unimaginable. It's going to take critical thinkers and autodidacts to imagine that place; but they've always been with us. And they got skillz.

Monday, October 19, 2009

22nd Century Skills: The Value of Visionary Thinking

Created a keynote idea for ISTE 2010: 22nd Century Skills: The Value of Visionary Thinking.

Here's the blurb:
We have already produced babies who will live on into the 22nd century. Rather than rehash and re-construe the arguments and mistakes of the past, we should take a moment to think about what their future holds. From neuro-networks and nanotechnology to the implications of the ways in which we use education to address environmental, aesthetic, economic, cultural, and social change; the 22nd century will be the result of the decisions that we make today. And for those children born today and for their children born tomorrow who will live into the 22nd century, nothing is more important than that we go beyond the outmoded hierarchies and expectations of yesterday and yield knew ideas in this transformational early digital age.

ISTE is running this as a sort of keynote competition this year, so if you dig this idea and would like to see a keynote about the 'real' future of education ('real' as in "we have no idea where this crazy train is gonna drop us off..."), please vote for my entry.

And while you are at it, create your own entry; you all have some fantastic ideas, it would be great to see you all shake up ISTE a bit! Let's flood them with truly out-of-compartment thinking.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

On Losing a Pair of Eyeglasses

Lost my eyeglasses this weekend.

Been wearing glasses for extreme astigmatism since I was eight years old. I've got near zero depth perception without 'em; so driving a car, operating heavy machinery, throwing darts in public places are all right out.

So losing my glasses has been a mildly traumatic experience.

But it did get me thinking about the things we depend on.

Back in the Middle Ages, I wouldn't have had much chance of scoring a pair of Ray-Bans. In fact, for the 13th century, near-sightedness is pretty 'period'.

But had some time-traveling ophthalmologist stumbled upon me with a pair of spectacles, I pretty soon would have become addicted to 20/20 vision. And I'd be better off for it.

And so it goes for the technologies of the Digital Age. I can get by without email and Twitter just like I can get by without my glasses. But you won't find me getting near the (information)highway. Which means you won't find me getting far from my immediate safety zone.

Our new crowdsourcable communications tools help put the global network into better focus. And they quickly prove to improve one's life in little ways (which then can add up in big ways).

Eyeglasses and digital tools are similar in another important way: they don't do the job for you. Rather, they help make the world more clear and coherent so that you can start to figure it out for yourself. They are tools for helping you to see things more clearly; after that, you are on your own.

And so I'm sitting here this evening working on an old computer and wearing an old pair of glasses with an outdated prescription. Until the time-travelers show up, it's the best I got (and all things considered, what I got is quite a lot).

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Looking for Ideas for a Teacher Looking to Use Tech

Alright, folks. Let's help a teacher out. Reader Pam is a vet teacher looking to take advantage of her school's great tech resources. But don't take my word for it; here's what she had to say:
I'm curious about setting up a monitored blog/message board site for students. Where do I begin? Is there a "Blogging for Dummies?"
I also want to use texting, but resist because of all of those "lovely" teachers here in Florida that seem to cross the line, normally beginning with innocent texts.
I work in a very modern school that is wireless and is equipped with promethean boards, webcams, and student response systems. I want to effectively utilize the tools afforded me!

My first suggestion was setting up a Ning to engage the students in a communal and collaborative online environment. But then I thought, hey, let's ask the readers and get some of your ideas.

So, what do you think. If you had Promethean boards, webcams, and student response systems, what kinds of apps would you be using in class?

PS -- One of the things I really liked about this letter was that it addressed the fact that some teachers -- and not just in FL -- cross the line for one reason or another in communications with students. It's relatively easy to see how this can happen -- especially in the age of instant irretrievable communication. So, in terms of 'best practices', what are some of the guidelines you set out?

For instance, I refrain from friending students on FB (because while I occasionally use FB to illustrate things in class and while I encourage students to create groups on FB as an online presence for clubs and activities, I don't actually use my own FB feed for classroom purposes). I also insist on students having at least one Twitter feed exclusive to my class that I am at liberty to check at random for unseemly and digitally irresponsible DMs and Follows. This is all part of establishing the groundwork for the student's engagement with digital citizenship.

I am also vigilant about my own maintenance of separate Twitter feeds for my different roles as teacher, ed tech dude, musician, and dad. And I demonstrate this to my students via TweetDeck and explain to them the variety of ways I use Twitter. Because good modeling of digital citizenship is half the battle.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Share the Globe

Despite our best intentions, we're still having a one-sided conversation.

With one side of a screen, that is.

I'm just about done with laptops. It's time to move on. Last night, as I looked into the foreheads of all of my ed school students as they gazed intently upon their screens, (I'm sure they were, um, taking notes...), I realized that we're doing this all wrong.

We're using the paper idea of a flat surface to read from as a medium for divining the knowledge and resources of a post-paper paradigm.

That's folly.

And so, I've been thinking about alternatives to the screen that really allow for shared communal experience in a way appropriate to the media.

And, for classroom use, this is what I think I'd like to see...

First of all, get rid of the desks. Bring in round tables; each will have a series of electrical outlets as well as ethernet ports and USB plug-ins. Those USB plug-ins lead to the computer housed under or within each table.

The computer works as a sort of virtual server that can display both individual desktops and collaborative desktops simutaneously (computer geeks, help me with the lingo here... I'm afraid I'm about to go a bit Sci-Fi).

The five students around the table will be able to plug in their handhelds to the table, slide open the tabletop to reveal keyboards, and work communally via the computer which is projecting both independent and shared aspects of a desktop into a large translucent globe in the center of the table.

In the globe, the students can move things around to see their own work as well as the individual work of their peers and the communal site. The teacher, or any student in the room, or any expert anywhere in the world invited into the class, can also 'take over' each globe for whatever purpose of presenting ideas.

Now, I've seen these sphere screens at Goddard Space Flight Center, so I know that's not totally science-fiction. The trick is to set them as the center of learning areas and to make the internal projections both collaborative and accessible from within and without the classroom.

And most importantly, the key is to make the Web-based side of the learning literally transparent to everyone -- students and teachers alike.

The Web after screens.

I've even got a tagline: Why stare at a screen when you can share the globe?

Someone find me investors.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

On Trust Pt. 2

I've written about trust before. But it's a big topic, so I think I'll have another go at it. Let me start with an explanation of an honor system we use in my room.

It revolves around change.

Real change. Of the nickels, dimes, and quarters variety.

See, I'm the kind of guy who's always got a pocket full of coins. But I'm also lazy. So rather than roll up the coins and take 'em to the bank, I just let them build up in a big pile on my desk.

Enter the students.

The students in my audio production class know about the change pile. They also know that they are welcome to take change if they need it. And they know that they are welcome to leave their own change in the pile.

Started out with $2.29 in coins.

As of my count this morning, there's about $8.50 in the pile.

It's not always that much. Some days there's hardly anything there. The most I've seen was about ten bucks, mostly in quarters and nickels.

I think about this pile of change often. In fact, I see it as a sort of metaphor for the way I run the classroom. Because I know that, as the teacher, I am only the first pocket-full of change -- lint and all.

The students take over from there.

Sometimes they take too much, but more often they give back in proportion greater to my initial investment.

So it goes with social tech as well.

If you ban social tech, you'll never have to worry about losing your initial investment. But you'll never see it grow either.

There have certainly been days when the students took advantage of the pile of change; and there are certainly days that they took advantage of access to social media in ill-advised ways. But for each of those occasions, there have been so many more in which they've used social tech in ways that have increased that pile of coins and substantially increased the value of our investment.

Not bad for a bunch of kids.

I encourage you to try out the change experiment. It may surprise you to see just how much growth you earn with a little trust. All you need is the patience and the wit to resolve that even those bad days are part of the greater goal.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Rushed Haiku

Oh no!

I've got nine minutes to write a blog post before midnight! Jeez, I'm starting to feel like Johnny Cash!

Ok. So I only have a few minutes to make a post... so what to do?

Well, like any mature and responsible adult, I'll deal here with time constraints in the best way all mature and responsible adults know how: via haiku.

And thus is created the situation in which the first ever TeachPaperless haiku comes to be.

(Enter hastily contrived haiku):

Paper is OK;
Paperlessness is better:
Save trees AND connect.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Friday Chat: Redefining the Faculty Lounge

This Friday at 10:15AM EST, we'll be holding the weekly Friday Chat on the topic: Redefining the Faculty Lounge.

Virtual communities and PLNs, time in the schedule resourced for webinars and online experimentation, faculty tech-integration mentors, building a social-media-positive community and more.

Join us on Todays' Meet this Friday for good conversation!

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Five Minute Twitter Verb Crunch Drill

This is the outline of a five minute verb crunch drill I've been using with my Latin I, II, and III students. You and your kids will need to be comfortable using Diigo, Twitter, & Twitterfall, but the payoff has been great. My students practically beg to do the exercise and across the board I've seen kids' understanding of verb parsing go way up -- to the point now that much of the fear has been taking out of sight-reading (which is something every foreign language teacher will understand is hugely necessary).

I'll keep it simple; here's the drill:

1. Students open a passage or poem by whatever author you are working on. In my Latin III class, for example, the kids are going to be translating Horace's Satire 1.9. So they open up the text and open a Tweet feed.

2. Next, I assign each student five lines. They are responsible for highlighting each verb in their selection using Diigo.

3. Once the highlighting is complete, the students parse each verb (for example, in Latin the verb 'laudo' is parsed: 1st person singular present active indicative of 'laudare' meaning 'to praise'). The individual parsed verbs are Tweeted to our class hashtag.

4. As the students are parsing, I am running a live Twitterfall of their hashtag on the wall via LCD projector.

5. When time is up, (I'd say give 'em roughly a minute and a half per verb), we check the verbs as a class. Goodies (homework passes, free Internet roaming minutes, etc.) are given out to folks who either nailed all of their verbs or who improved from the previous day.

6. As we work, we reTweet correct verb parsings back to the feed. If we find mistakes, we fix them and Tweet the corrected versions back to the feed.

7. Finally, the students cut-and-paste the correct version of all of the verbs to their online notebooks (we use Google Docs).

This all takes about five minutes. By the end, the students have practiced their parsing, seen good examples and corrected errors, and have created a study list of all of the verbs in the selection that can be used to assist in translation.

Furthermore, they completed the drill using integrated collaborative real-time methods; thus instilled in the learning of the course content is the practical skill-building work of learning how to best use a network. And because this drill is done on a semi-daily basis, it doesn't feel like a 'tech lesson'; it just feels natural.

And in the end, each student has a copy of the original annotations in Diigo as well as a copy of the completed and corrected Tweets in their notebooks.

I'm sure this type of drill can easily be modified for other disciplines -- from vocab words in English class to major event chronologies in Social Studies to terms in Biology or formulas in Math and Chemistry.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Watt and the Mountain

You should go here immediately and read this superb piece of ed writing.

Indeed, Andrew continues writing one of the most compelling ed blogs on the Internet.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thinking: Augmented Renaissance

Blogging late this eve because I spent the day at the Maryland Renaissance Festival.

The MD Ren Fest is sort of particularized among Ren Faires for two things: 1) its commitment to history (each year's theme follows a year in the life of Henry VIII and there are tons of historically accurate acts throughout the fairegrounds) and 2) its quantity and quality of handmade goods (unlike many so-called ren faires, the MD Ren Fest actively supports the culture of handmade clothing and crafts rather than just giving booth time to Ren-kitsch and imported generic Ren-garb).

Beings that I'm a teacher, I think about the classroom 24 hrs a day; and so on the drive home (before I fell asleep in the passenger's seat), I thought about what experiential learning of the sort you might get at a really well done re-enactment might mean for kids these days.

And I came to think that it means a whole lot.

And I thought to myself about the possibilities if the Faire offered free Wi-Fi.

Now, with full knowledge that combining Ren Faires and Wi-Fi in the same post posits me to new epochs of geekdom, I dare say that access to the online world is the one thing long missing from experiential learning of the field-trip variety.

Falling asleep in that passenger seat, I thought about the possibilities for augmenting live experience with virtual compendiums of knowledge and vital platforms for immediately connecting experience with conversation via blogging, microblogging, Twitter, augmented reality in a contact lens, and whathaveyou.

Real experience is still the best 'paperless' experience. I'm certainly one of the biggest proponents of field-trips and travel-based learning you will ever meet. And I am excited -- thrilled, in fact -- about the sorts of opportunities Web-augmented field-based learning offers to students and teachers.

I dare say Augmented Reality is the future of education.

So get yr schools to load up on iTouches, max out the bus with satellite radio, and get yourselves to the places where things happen (and in the case of re-enactments, where they re-happen). Find yourselves places where physical-experiential teaching and digital-experimental teaching cross paths; and advocate for our public airwaves (especially in any government building -- where in my opinion it is ghastly to deny universal free public Wi-Fi Internet accessibility) to carry free access while you are at it.

Because it just ain't that geeky anymore to merge our analogue and digital forms of experience; it's in fact something quite worthwhile, and increasingly do-able.

Maybe we're even up for a new Renaissance on account of this.

A new augmented-reality Renaissance.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Friday Chat: Paperless Student Publications and Media

Happy Paperless Friday!

Today at 10:15AM EST, we'll be discussing paperless student publications and media over at the Friday Chat.

Paperless student newspapers, digital radio podcasts, and live-streamed student broadcasts are the subject of the day. See you there!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Paperless High School Newspapers!

The kids are alright.

They get it. They fundamentally understand this paperless thing. That's not to say they understand what to do with it any more than any of us do. But, for the most part, if you are under the age of 18, you pretty much 'get' the paperless thing.

We're talking about high schools full of kids who've never bought a CD, let alone an LP or cassette. We're talking about kids who get their movies, games, and entertainment via a browser. We're talking about kids who have no idea what a card catalog is and for whom the 'address' of a publication naturally implies its url.

So, why would we think they'd have any problem going online when it comes to that most storied of high school publications: the student newspaper?

Our kids here at school have just gone to an online edition. And immediately, the buzz around here has been about the RSS feed, subscriptions beyond the immediate school community, and the future of editorial and opinion blogs.

This is all good stuff. High schoolers are online; so why shouldn't high school life be online? For so long we heard nothing but fretful trepidation when it came to student behavior online (as though ignoring it would make it go away). Now, students are creating content and publishing and building audiences on their own terms on the Web.

And that's the way it should be.

Especially with a student newspaper. Because you don't join the newspaper to learn about newspapers; you join the newspaper to make newspapers (the learning is inherent in the doing).

Furthermore, now that the paper is online, it's the kids themselves who are going to prove their worth. They are going to be the ones who demonstrate to all of us what it means to be a digital citizen. No one has to mediate for them; no one has to tell us what kids think.

They are doing it themselves.

They get it.

And in an age when the pro newspapers are still trying to figure out what's going on, it's great to see kids who already get it.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

On Blogging and Connections

Reader Cathy writes:
When my students first started blogging, they weren't using each other as potential resources, and I found that they weren't even reading their classmates' thoughts. Part of me thinks that's because they're programmed to work individually for so much of their school lives.

It's not enough to blog.

It's got to be a matter of commenting. It's got to be a matter of sharing posts on Twitter and making other immediate connections. I completely agree with the reader in that sense.

There's a group of young teachers I've been working with, many of whom remain confused about how to grow their PLN into something both useful and helpful. I think part of the difficulty has to do with understanding the relationship between real-time sharing and blogging.

Because a PLN is only as strong as the individual contributions of its attendant members. In other words, you can have 2000 follows on Twitter yet never engage in meaningful interaction there if the follows are folks who aren't actively engaging the network itself.

The same goes for blogs. You can produce a brilliant post, but if there's no one there to share in it, well...

Blogs live and die by their readership. Not in the old financial sense that's killing many newspapers. But rather in the sense of building community. That's the lifeblood of any blog. It's about connecting and getting that readership to play an active role in continuing the life and value of the blog.

Note to new bloggers: your blog is what your readers make it. (And this is a humbling thing, a counter-intuitive thing, and ultimately a good thing).

And so, both students and teachers new to blogging need to understand that the life of a post doesn't depend on it's being published, but rather on its being transmitted throughout the network. The value of the post depends on the network and the reaction of the network. (For those of you savvy in Structuralism, this is the definition of 'meaning' being defined by 'difference').

Blogging is one part writing, one part community building. In that way, it's sort of like theatre. After all, you can have the actors on the lit stage reciting lines, but it's not really theatre until an audience is filling those seats. Because the art of theatre is an art of give-and-take between performer and audience; and it's no different with a blog.

So teach your kids to comment; and not out of a sense of duty, but out of a commitment towards building community and fulfilling the role of active audience member. Teach your kids to Tweet links to blogposts they love -- as well as blogposts they hate. Teach them to use the network structure as a means of exploring their own ideas and challenging their own opinions.

Well done, blogging produces a symbiosis between individual and communal. It's a way to find yourself in others and to find others in yourself.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Reader Responses

In response to my call for reader input, here are some of the responses:

Reader Elise:
I follow you because I feel like the Elementary students that I work with are heading to a paperless system. I struggle, however, with how to balance their need to learn to read and write with books and paper with how to read online and type in the digital age.

I would love to hear more about how teachers might move to less paper at the elementary level.

Reader D.:
I'm interested in many things but especially how to entice the technophobes to march with us in the parade.

Reader Heather:
The tools have not been difficult; in fact, I love them. However, joining the conversation has been challenging for me.

Reader Foxdenuk:
Wondering if there is anything that you can find in books which you can't find on the Internet.

Reader Erik:
The process of getting students to listen to each other, even with tools like edmodo and google docs, has been my challenge.

I'll keep these comments in the front of my mind as I blog over the next week. As always, thanks for the discussion! Blogs without reader input and response aren't blogs; they're vanity mirrors.

You all make this more.

Monday, October 05, 2009

The Magic of "Correctly Enabled Web Tools"

Andrew B. Watt demonstrates the just plain usefulness of the Web.

In describing a recent experience with a student from China, he ruminates on the simple communicative effectiveness of a good online translator:
...she figured out in a few minutes how to make something useless to her — a 20-minute talk in English — into something useful, via correctly enabled Web tools. This is the kind of world we live in… and yet people still insist that we need to have paper books.

Translating the translatable. It's not rocket science. And yet for so long language has been the barrier.

But it's now on the way to becoming a pre-21st century excuse.

It's true: immediate accurate real-time translation is the next step. The folks making Google Wave sure think so. And true, there have been plenty of crappy online translators that have been ruining the nuance of a participial phrase for some time now, but the possibilities ahead -- especially in the context of a semantic web -- make the hairs on the back of my neck stick up.

Ah, the magic of the 'real' Babble Fish. One wonders where human history would be if we had had this stuff all along.

Fahrenheit Wikipedia

Ira Socol on all things banned:
Last week a Twitter Pal told me, "You should have seen our district's librarians cheering because they got Wikipedia blocked." To which I responded, "You should have walked into each library, grabbed all those World Books and Britannicas, and set fire to them in the parking lot. Same thing."

Read up, kids.

Paperless Social Studies

At this week's weekly social tech in ed session at Hopkins, we're going to be taking a look at running a paperless social studies class.

I'm kind of excited because, come second semester at my high school, I'll be teaching World History to two sections of 9th graders. This'll be my first time formally teaching social studies, though I teach history extensively in my Latin classes and of course in Art History.

So I've been thinking about great social studies related sites online.

The Library of Congress's TPS, the CIA Factbook, and the BBC's extensive history section all came to mind. On the homefront, Studs Terkel's Conversations with America is a personal favorite; and for the music-loving social studies teachers among us, the Smithsonian Folkways' site is chock full of music from around the world.

I'd love to hear some of your favorites. And I'm not looking for just good clips of video; I'm looking for sites that offer different ways of looking at history and world cultures.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Asking the Readers

Seems like just yesterday when I started this blog, but now I notice that I'm about to hit 550 posts since February.

Don't know whether that's a result of a "sincere commitment to enriching the blogosphere" or just a result of my OCD, but in the interest of regulating my blog-narcissism I'm asking you all for some input.

I'd like to know what sorts of things you are interested in discussing related to paperless classrooms, educational technology, and social media.

You have personal experiences and insights you'd like to share with our broader community? Then get in touch.

You have ideas for the Friday Chats? Share them.

You've started a blog, app, site, or online community? Let me know and I'll help to spread the word.

The key here is community, and as we turn the corner towards the heart of autumn, let's work on building that community and sharing what we've learned over this remarkable year.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

What I've been Reading

Every now and then, I like to show you all what I've been reading, so here's a little trifecta of posts that caught my eye over the last 48 hours or so.

Katie Ash has got a couple of questions about Iowa State's decision to pull landlines.

Nash tries to teach landlubbers about sea life.

And Dean comments on comments.

Good stuff all around.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Paperless Friday: On Ideas and Boxes


It's Paperless Friday! And I'm thinking about ideas and boxes.

My paperless story for the day: I was asked by the dept at my ed school to turn in a Word Doc copy of the syllabus for my paperless social tech in ed class.

Problem is: I don't have a static syllabus -- I keep all of the class info/assignments/procedures/etc on a wiki that winds up being pretty fluid.

Not fluid in the sense that I change dates, procedures, and other vitals... but rather in that specific readings and the specifics about assignments are always changing and adapting to what is occurring in the social media ed landscape at large.

As I say to the students on day one: I can't honestly tell you that what's on the wiki for week eight is actually going to be there when we get there (because by the time we get there, we'll be in a 'different place' as well).

What I'm emphasizing is that helping students develop a 'way of thinking' is generally more important than whatever specific tool or skill might be next on the menu. And the 'ways of thinking' most effective in navigating the current landscapes are ways that make the most of the fluidity and dynamism inherent in the current media.

This fluidity is something that should be embraced. It's also something that points out the limited nature of static media -- whether paper syllabus or PowerPoint -- to handle fluidity.

Our way of looking at things is changing. If four years ago you would have told me that a syllabus might not be the best way to help keep my students and class organized, I might have told you that you were nuts. Not so much anymore.

We need to embrace technologies that best represent the way we think. For me, that means wikis over paper syllabi, blogs over paper essays, and Twitter and real-time search over email and databases.

Because my thinking is fluid, I need my media to be fluid. Because to take a dynamic idea and try to fit it into a static box, just seems like a great way to destroy both.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Fountain of Youth: Reflections on Teaching Uses of Social Tech to Young Teachers

Spent the evening leading my weekly Social Tech in Ed class.

And they are starting to get it.

We've shifted gears from demonstrations of how to use the tech and sessions building PLNs to the hard and vital work of actually integrating SM into daily classroom teaching and learning.

And I am so impressed with how far these young teachers have come in five weeks.

Some of you will remember the "I am scared of Twitter" teacher I mentioned several weeks back. Well, now she's taking part in Tweeted ed discussions and seamlessly using Twitter to complement our f2f classroom discussions. A young teacher who slammed Second Life as useless a while back just stopped by after class to talk about ways he wants to use it to simulate museum education in his classroom. Today, the teachers took the role of students in a social tech integrated AP English classroom; and to a person, even the most self-described 'math'-minded (as well as those just shy to speak) blogged beautiful reflections on the structure and meaning of T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land'.

This is the power of social tech in action. And this is why I am so committed to teaching it's application to teachers.

Because we need our teachers to understand that it's not about 'using tech', but rather is about fully engaging in the reality of the 21st century. And we need them to understand that -- if anything -- social tech is a fountain of youth when it comes to learning and ideas.

Let's encourage teachers to drink from this fountain and re-enliven their teaching and learning.

I certainly don't mind handing out the cups.