Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Concerning the iPad

Concerning the iPad, Mr. G writes:

If you have $500 to burn, feel free, but realize that you are a beta tester. That hasn't been talked about enough in the 24 hours since the announcement. This is Apple's MO. I know. I have a $400 first-gen iPhone in my pocket. It only took Apple two more generations of the iPhone to come out with what should have been the first product. I'm typing this on a 1,1 MacBook. Within months of buying this MacBook they threw the dual core processor's in that should have been there in the first place.

When iPad 2.0 comes out with it's video camera and multitasking, I'll have my tongue wagging to grab one. Until then I will be staying far, far away. I've learned my lesson with Apple's first-generation products.
As a long-time Apple user, (though one who's also got a soft-spot for Linux), I totally concur. Buying a first generation Apple product is always a dicey investment.

But once their products set into the stride of second and third generations? Well... that's just a whole other kettle of fish. Which is why I think the big subtext to the Apple story from yesterday is next-gen iTunes going cloud-based and the coming 2010 iPhone.

My greatest interest in the iPad itself is what it means in terms of leading to a race to replace paper media with legitimately easy-to-read digital alternatives. That and the rather concerning notion of a single corporation (via iBooks) owning both the media and the device to read and buy the media. In a sense, the iPad experiment, like the iPod, is focused on the realignment of channels of distribution. If iPad wins, it will alter not just the few mom-and-pop bookstores left (they might actually become specialty shops for non-digitally-available media), but could shake up (or shake down) the Amazons, Borders, and B&Ns of the world.

As I said in yesterday's post (as well as in the comments), I see the potential of the iPad (or some similar device) as instigating a movement towards communal computing. That is, a device sitting on the coffee table at the dentist's office or a device I find lying on my pillow when I check into my hotel room. I don't own the device, but rather can use it to access the web and all my stuff.

From the looks of it, the iPad's absolute best use is reading text on the Web. That's been the bane of so many folks who insist on paper, so by combining touchscreens with a larger portable device, Apple can only up the ante for other companies to produce better alternatives to paper books. On this front, a part of me wonders if the first iPhones were just a test to see if folks would go for that sort of interface. Because familiarity with the iPhone has totally set up a swath of the culture now to be perfectly attuned to use the iPad.

Furthermore, I understand the frustrations folks are expressing: no Flash, no phone (barring Skype... maybe?), no multi-tasking, no camera, no audio/video production suite. But again, this is just the beginning. I'm not saying that Apple will (or deserves to) rule the media landscape, but I see this as one of several steps -- throughout culture and across media and consumer outlets -- in taking the act of reading to a paperless place.

As for all of those folks on the tech blogs, (and especially in the comments, jeez... I'm so glad we have 'mature' readers commenting on this blog -- kudos to you), there's been a lot of complaint that this thing is just gonna sell on sex appeal. Well, guess what?

Design matters.

It matters to adults and kids alike. And I think where Apple is getting this right -- no matter what you think of the price (which I personally actually think is pretty reasonable despite the fact that I can't currently afford one... ehem!) and no matter what limitations the device provides for content creation in opposition to content consumption (though we are ultimately the producers of the Internet and we really don't have to rely on Apple's apps and way of doing things with their device just because they want us to) and despite all of the various problems and threats this device holds, it has one advantage over every device I've ever seen meant to provide for reading on the web: it makes you want to use it.

And if we can figure out a way to get these things into the hands of kids who don't like books (boring) and who don't like reading online (headache) we might be able to make the reading experience attractive. I understand that that may seem totally counter-intuitive to any of us who grew up curled around books. But I've got three kids of my own: two of them love books. The other? Not so much. But put him on a computer and he'll read anything. To us, counter-intuitive; to him, not so much.

You should have seen his eyes light up when he caught a glimpse of the web promo of this thing.

Now, what's it all mean?

First of all, the iPad is not -- nor do I think is it meant to be -- a do-everything device. At least in it's initial form, it's a really rad e-reader. And I mean that sincerely. I've read on the Kindle. The Kindle sucks. I feel like I'm stepping back in time when I read on the Kindle. And not in a good way. More like in a creepy way like when you see a movie you thought was funny as a kid and now, seeing it again by chance, you don't find any humor in it.

Second, I love the idea of everything going on the cloud. But I think right now is the time to demand an inclusive method of distribution so that small publishers, independent authors, and alt media outlets aren't excluded. I'll be impressed when I see Apple open up its system to authors regardless of saleability. And yes, I realize that's total idealism.

Third, any business with a waiting room should do us all a favor and buy a couple of these things. Cancel your magazine subscriptions and let us access our own stuff while sitting around waiting for the root canal.

Fourth, obviously Apple wants to make this thing as ubiquitous as possible. That's the reason for the $499 entry tag. That's also why this thing doesn't have the camera or the multi-tasking or the...

It's about creating a market. And I think it's an interesting experiment. That market is not schools (at least not yet), it's folks who can drop a few Franklins, like great design, and like to read. I know quite a few people like that.

Fifth, this thing ain't (as I've read so much over the last 24 hours) a big iPod Touch. This thing is an experiment in whether Apple can get people either to change the way they read or make the reading experience more pleasurable. And of course capitalize on that in big dollars.

Sixth, I think this whole thing represents something a lot bigger than Apple. I have no stake in the company, but as a teacher and a human-being I do have a stake in the future of the written/printed/digitized word. I recognize that the iPad can't do half the things I use a 'real' computer for (recording and mixing heavy-duty audio, playing video-heavy MMOGs), but I also recognize that that's not the purpose of the device. I'm interested in the outcome, despite whatever the product is; after all, the Google tablet is on the horizon (which may or may not be better for production) and who knows what personal projection and advances in augmented reality hold down the line.

So, I agree with Mr. G that this is basically a consumer device. Will the iPad and the iMac someday merge into a teacher-approved wonder device? Not today.

But will the iPad up the ante in e-readers and force any potential competitors to create devices that don't feel like they were built (and meant to work) in 1990? We'll see.

Hype or no hype, what we're considering here is whether we are going to let technology alter the way we relate to text. Hopefully in round two it'll be in a more interactive way. Can't wait.

Guest Blog: Creating A Space

Counselors are teachers, too!

Here in our second guest post of the day, Shelley Krause talks about EduCon. Shelley is Co-Director of College Counseling at Rutgers Preparatory School. Follow her on Twitter @butwait.

My work with young people locates me in a place full of longing and possibility. I work as a college counselor, and my students often find that the idea of leaving one community for another is fraught with emotion. Some students yearn for a kind of belonging they have yet to experience, while others crave the relief of relative anonymity. But none of them wants to feel alone, I think.

I watch and listen as my students try to imagine themselves into their unknown futures. Sometimes, I edit their questions in my mind. They ask, "What college can I get into?" and I hear, "Do I want to go to college?" The classic "What do I want to be when I grow up?" becomes, "Who do I want to be?" or even, "Do I have to grow up?"

But this kind of imaginary cut and paste results only in my altered version of their story, when what they need is the space to create more fully realized version of theirs.


I am heading off to EduCon2.2 this weekend after having missed last year's gathering due to illness. Several members of my school community attended a Building Learning Communities conference and came back raving about it, but I'm not sure I've managed to lure any of them to EduCon2.2.

"Why do you want to go?" someone in my school community asked me with an air of puzzlement. I think they were trying to figure out where I fit into this picture. I am not a classroom teacher. I am not a school leader. My job title does not have the word "technology" in it.

Part of my excitement about EduCon stems from a desire to define myself in terms of what I am rather than what I am not. I say to my students, "You be you." I ask them, "When are the times you've felt most fully alive?" I feel as though in reaching out in search of community, I am listening to my own counsel. I am discovering that I am a member of a school community who also wants to be be an active member of multiple learning communities.

Even if I haven't met a single one of the hundreds of EduCon2.2 attendees prior to this weekend, the lure of that community of learners has been a powerful one for me. Chris Lehmann and the SLA community have worked so hard, not only to share their learning, but to then create a space in which others can share theirs.


So I'm heading down to Philadelphia on Friday, unsure of what to expect and excited by the prospect of happily exploring a space so full of energy and possibility. In actively following the threads of my interest, I am trying to model what reaching out to connect with one's tribe looks like. And this spring, when a junior I'm working with lets on that he's both excited and nervous about the prospect of college, I'm going to smile and say, "Can you say a little more about that?" Trying to open up a space.

Guest Post: "I want to use technology as a method -- not has a cool activity."

Today we have two guest posts from folks in the TeachPaperless community! One of my absolute favorite things as a blogger is to be able to provide you all with the authentic voices of teachers making their own way through these digital times. I hope you enjoy reading these pieces as much as I enjoyed publishing them.

Heather Mason is a middle school teacher with 14 years experience in the Language Arts classroom but has only realized the power of technology in education recently. Follow her on Twitter @hrmason.

A confession before I start. The whole paperless thing kind of frightens me a bit. I was raised reading the comics on my dad’s lap, flipping through the pages of a journal and curling up with a paperback book. But one look at the papers stacked up mercilessly on my desk and I know there must be a better way.

When asked what I would want for technology if money was no object, my first thought wasn’t a new gadget or piece of hardware. They always seen to be outdated right after the PO is put in. Plus those tools often stay in the classroom.

As a writing teacher, I know that when kids write for me they are concerned with how many paragraphs do they need to get a good grade. But when they write for others, the grade no longer matters. They want to know how to make their writing good enough to pass peer inspection. Tech is no different. A tool that never leaves the classroom will only provide learning that stays in the classroom. I want something more.

In order to get more, though, we have to do a better job putting the tech into student hands, both at school and at home. Computers, and more specifically the internet, are now a ubiquitous part of our lives. The problem is they aren’t really a useful part of many students’ lives.

I know there is this myth of the digital native better able to communicate through electronic means that traditional ones. There is truth to that for some, but for many kids technology is only a new means to pass notes, and beyond their cell phone and MySpace/Facebook account, they have no experience in using technology to serve a purpose. Recently I told a few kids they could email me their presentations; only one knew how to add an attachment to an email. During parent conferences, many parents have confessed to getting rid of internet for safety concerns or monetary troubles. And recently I took a poll of my students and almost a quarter of them don’t text; some don’t even have cell phones. No new gadget in my classroom will overcome that.

I work in a system that supports technology, but doesn’t have the funding to fully realize its dream. There are two computer labs at my school: one for the business classroom, one in the media center, and one in its own room. I get to use one about once every two months or so, sometimes not even that much. That means that instead of making tech a key part of my class, it becomes a project… a unit that I have to plan specially for. And if we can’t finish in the two days I signed up for, well… students are out of luck unless they are already familiar with the tool we’re using and have access to a computer at home.

I’m not complaining, some schools don’t even have one lab. I have a doc cam and projector with cables strung across my floor like booby traps, but I know teachers who are still using the overhead out of necessity.

While I am happy with what I have, I want to use technology as a method -- not has a cool activity.

I want to teach students to manipulate many different forms of text. I want students to think of email and blogs as the main way to turn in papers, slide shows, photo essays, movies, whatever means of creating they choose, not as a thing for only the few special kids who happen to have internet and know how to use if effectively. I want to get them beyond passing notes. That’s where I see myself going over the next few years.

Meanwhile, I have a stack of papers to grade. Sigh.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

First Thoughts About the iPad

Immediate Reaction to the Announcement of the iPad:

1. Apple is taking on the mobile phone industry and Amazon at the same time. Wow.

2. The plug-in keyboard/charger is the future-now of mobile computing. Hands down.

3. They actually priced this right; and with no contract required.

4. I'm thinking about cancelling my cell phones and my home DSL, Craigslisting my various computer crap, and buying two of these on the 3G plan.

*add 3:41PM: But @deangroom just reminded me that you can't play WoW on this thing... guess I'll keep my home LAN for the time being and just ditch the phones ; )


More nuanced immediate reaction:

I think there's something that's largely going unsaid here.

In making iTunes cloud-based, this device really doesn't have to be 'owned' by anyone. What I mean is: this is just a device for connecting to your content (and record collection, and games, and magazines, and bookshelf) on the cloud. Which means that we could see these popping up in every hotel room and on the coffee tables of every office; we could see these things lying around for public use in the faculty room, in student centers, and in libraries.

I think what I'm suggesting is that this could sort of mash up what we think about when we think about personal computing.

Instead, could we be looking at the dawn of communal computing? Where the device is ubiquitous and shared -- sort of the Zip Car of computing. The real essence of what's going on is that the 'stuff' is out there on the cloud; all we really need is an easy to use device to access and play with our stuff.

We own our stuff; who cares who owns the device?

That said, I'm sort of envisioning one or two at home with one hooked up to an LCD projection to watch movies and whatnot. But I'm also imagining communal Pads lining bookshelves at school and a Pad or two sitting where the magazines used to be at the Jiffy Lube.

One place where I definitely see a future if this thing takes off (and it will) is in accessories. You're gonna need some way to carry that thing. Enter skinny bike messenger iPad bag.

I'll take two.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

EduConversation: What Free Improvisational Music and Networked Learning Have in Common

Hey there, kids! Going to EduCon?

Well, if you're looking for fun stuff to do and happen to get the chance to pop in to our conversation on Saturday, don't forget to bring something to make noise with.


That's right: you can expect the session to be 'highly participatory'; which is ed speak for "We're gonna raise a racket."

What do free improvised music and networked learning have in common? Bring your noisemakers this Saturday and find out.

Monday, January 25, 2010

What Blacksmiths Can Teach Us About Teaching

Spent the weekend pounding on things with hammers.

For 16 hours -- my swollen fingers and aching back are both happy it took place spread across two days -- I attended blacksmith classes at the Carroll County Farm Museum's Academy of Traditional Arts.

Led by master blacksmith Bill Clemens, (whose license-plate reads 'Blxsmith'), my classmates and I -- eight guys, mostly sporting beards -- learned the basics of metallurgy, coal firing, hammer-and-anvil technique, and forge welding.

And when I say 'learned', I mean 'LEARNED'.

There were no PowerPoints. No lectures. There were no required textbooks and there weren't any tests.

Just learning.

Blacksmith Bill would demo a technique slowly, and then once again at full speed. And then it was our turn. We went off to our forges and banged stuff out.

In a way, it reminded me of the Aikido classes I took sometime ago. In both cases, technique is modeled by a teacher and then learned and reinforced through actual practice. The sensei doesn't grade your understanding of Aikido by whether or not you can pass a multiple choice test; she assesses your understanding by judging whether or not you have figured out how to roll safely on a mat after having been thrown over the shoulder of a burly classmate. She assesses whether you've learned how to defend yourself from a sword attack by seeing if you keep getting hit by a sword or not.

Likewise, in blacksmithing, you demonstrate your understanding of pig tail scrolls and tab hooks by banging out pig tail scrolls and tab hooks. You learn which part of a two-and-a-half foot rod of mild steel is safe to touch by burning your fingers. You learn how to bring a shaft of glowing hot steel to a point by messing up over and over and over again until you get it right.

And once you do get it right you feel SO GOOD about yourself. And you want to do it again and you want to show everyone what you did and you want to learn more.

I'm going back in a few weeks to take the intermediate class. And then it's on to knife-making. My wife isn't crazy about the fact that I've got burns on six fingers and the slash of a scar above my elbow where a hot shard of steel knicked me, but she was nonetheless supportive of my wanting to build a brick forge in the backyard.

I learned a lot this weekend, and more than anything I learned about what really motivates folks: it's stuff we "can't" do, but nonetheless figure out how to do. And for eight guys who sweat and labored over anvils for a weekend in January, we figured out that you learn by doing and do by learning.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Thought for the Day

The very fact that we teach children that certain words are "SAT Words" illustrates the fact that an enormous swath of folks involved in the education of American children have little to no understanding either of what constitutes an authentic approach to language or any concept of what it means to motivate children to want to learn.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Is Your School Whale Blubber?

The record age was just a blip. It was a bit like if you had a source of whale blubber in the 1840s and it could be used as fuel. Before gas came along, if you traded in whale blubber, you were the richest man on Earth. Then gas came along and you'd be stuck with your whale blubber. Sorry mate – history's moving along. Recorded music equals whale blubber. Eventually, something else will replace it.
- Brian Eno quoted January 2010 in The Guardian newspaper

Eno's talking about records and the music industry here, but I think quite a good analogy is to be made to mass-produced printed books, institutionalized/industrialized public education, and a number of things the digital landscape is rendering obsolete.

And I think every teacher, admin, schoolboard member, and super oughta be reviewing the recent history of the past 15 years of the music industry -- from the rise of low-cost digital alternatives to traditional analog studio recording to the rapid decline in profit and usefulness of cassettes and CDs. [You do remember cassettes, right? If you are like me, your most recent auto is the first you've owned that hasn't had a cassette player.]

'Alternatives' and 'Usefulness': they are the key words.

Oh yeah, and 'Whale Blubber'.

Friday, January 22, 2010

We don't need digital textbooks any more than we needed paper textbooks.

This is a big mistake:
The maker of the iPhone is discussing ways to include McGraw-Hill and Hachette e-book titles on its tablet, due to be introduced Jan. 27
If Apple really wanted to help out in education, it's new tablet would automatically erase e-textbooks.

We don't need digital textbooks any more than we needed paper textbooks.

Kids need primary sources and smart teachers, not manufactured questions and one-size-fits-all standards.

[Thanks to @NMHS_Principal for Tweeting out the original article.]

Printed Books vs. An Unlimited Literature

It was never about Paper vs. Digital.

It was never about No Tech vs. Tech.

It's always been about Static vs. Dynamic.

Passive vs. Active.

Inflexible vs. Flexible.

Rote vs. Improvisatory.

Manufactured Printed Books vs. The Unlimited Literature of Humanness.

We tried for 400-some years to use printed books to get the word out to more and more people. But we also used books as a means to limit authority and make lots and lots of money for a relative selected few.

We're at the end of that era. And nostalgia and comfort notwithstanding, I say we're all the better for it.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

That'll Be Three Less Textbooks...

Teaching West Civ for the first time this year.

Today, convinced my two West Civ teaching colleagues to dump the CD-Rom textbook and instead use the resources at BBC History Online and the Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History as the basis for our curriculum.

One of the two checked in with the chair of our department who responded: "Sure, sounds good."

Ah, the sweet joy of bringing down the publishing industry one textbook at a time.

Ted circa 1897

Is it satire if it's true, or because it's true?

Spencer takes on Ted in another installment of Adventures in Pencil Integration (aka The Best Damn Ed Tech Blog that Could Have Been Written By Jonathan Swift or Mark Twain on the Internet).

Time for you to subscribe.


Pretty durned excited about the upcoming EduCon!

And I'm looking forward both to leading a conversation and meeting many of the folks from my PLN f2f. Let's get together and think about what's outside the stuff outside the box.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Heard in the Hall...

"I can't believe we're not gonna have tests."

"I know, I mean, this class is gonna be so much WORK."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

On the Deeper Connections Built Into Throw-Away Questions

So the Tweet goes...
Latin Students: How many museums can you find on Twitter? +10 pt coupon to anybody who Tweets 20 museums with collections in Ancient Art!
A throw-away question like this -- casually posted after school -- can create so much opportunity, so much grist for the next day's classroom discussion, such a great compilation of resources to be bookmarked up on Delicious, so much potential for future investigation.

I call it a throw-away question because in-and-of-itself, it's just a simple question of the first type Bloom recognized.

But we're living in a world where even throw-away questions can produce stunning by-products.

For we are living in an age in which questions themselves -- questions of all varieties and supposed levels -- are capable of tapping into links far beyond whatever our initial thought or intention of the question originally was.

Certainly, this has long been the case with questions. But now, a simple question like "How Many?" Produces results like "I didn't know they had Twitter in Italy!" and "Why do all these museums need to be on Twitter?" and "Do they have Greek Art in museums in China?" and -- one of my favorites -- "How did you know about all of this stuff before the Internet?"

The kids are ready for the Network.

That is, of course, if you've prepped 'em to use social media effectively.

The best way to do that is to make social media -- and the whole instant global connected network itself -- a regular and ordinary part of your classroom environment.

Students don't need you lecture them on how to use it; they just need to see you use it.

They'll pick it up.

Especially if they get to see immediate benefits. Like when you let them use Twitter as a lifeline to their classmates on a test. Or when you let them access Delicious during an in class essay.

Or when you let a throw-away question veer off into the philosophical.

Your use of social media doesn't have to be flashy to produce good results. There was nothing flashy about Socrates.

Sometimes the simplicity of asking students to Tweet a list of resources is not only enough to fill several days' worth of classroom conversation and 'homework browsing', but it's also an investment in the future connection your kids are making with social media and networked learning itself.

It's the difference between a throw-away question (i.e. 'I wonder how many museums are on Twitter?') and a deeper connection.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Only 70 years behind the times...

And you think your school is behind the curve?

The Vienna Philharmonic has finally caught up to the 'War Years'... as in the 1940's.

To accompany your easy listening, here's a bit of knowledge about what the computer landscape looked like in 1945 courtesy of the Computer History Museum.

Real Life and Death

Real life and death, just a mouse-click away.

Go ahead, click: Haiti: 500 Patients Treated in 24 Hours at Carrefour Hospital. This is something you and your students need to see. Need to talk about.

And Doctors Without Borders is just one of many organizations trying to help down in Haiti. They are among the millions of folks on the ground dealing with these real life and death issues.

Here's two things you all (we) can do to help no matter where you all (we) are in the world: 1) Give a few bucks to MSF or your favorite charity working to get water and meds into Haiti. 2) Share the story and conversation of what's going on in that country with your kids.

Talk to your students about it.

In History class. In Math class.

Just talk.

With them. Together.

And be thankful that you can.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Saturday, January 16, 2010

So Much for Instructional Manuals

Had a little Craigslist-driven yard sale today. Mostly cleaning older pieces of musical equipment out of my studio.

Interesting thing happened during the sale of a particularly difficult-to-operate synthesizer. This particular model sported a series of manually programmable oscillators and multi-mode filters -- all sorts of devices of an especially technical nature essentially made for making cool sound effects.

Well, I had the sale ready to go, but couldn't find the instruction manual.

"Great," I thought, "You have to be crazy to buy this thing without the manual."

"No problem," said the kid as he hands me the cash, "I'm sure there's someone explaining how to use it on YouTube."

Friday, January 15, 2010

Exams are Over! (if you want it).

Why do we give exams?

I mean, really. Why do we do this?

I just finished grading my Latin mid-terms; and to the nth degree, I was impressed by only one thing: that after a semester of formative assessment, these summative assessments did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to better help me understand how well my kids 'get' the material.

It's time to get beyond exams. Beyond the manufactured stress. The false sense of urgency.

Let's teach kids constructively, assess them formatively, and put them in situations where the stress and urgency is real.

Make them earn their learning everyday, not cram for it in the last helpless minutes.

Exams are Over! (if you want it).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Make Active Patience a Habit of Life

So often in the discussion of ed tech integration -- and perhaps especially so in the discussion of bringing social media into the classroom -- teachers who consider themselves savvy in this digital age become frustrated with those who would rather not change their habits of teaching.

This frustration is understandable, but it is nonetheless unhealthy.

In my experience, the majority of teachers and admins opposed to social tech integration are those for whom social media itself has not become a habit of life. It is not that they are inherently 'against' whatever it is that social media suggests; if anything, they have so little understanding of it in the first place that 'engagement' is moot.

But engagement is the key. For engagement is active involvement; it is the truth of social media that often lies obscured by so much of that in the blogosphere and twitterverse that is banal and petty. We here in this conversation often tend to think of SM as fundamentally 'good', but a quick stroll through the comments on YouTube readily suggests that labels such as 'good' or 'bad' do not apply so easily to the Net; and perhaps we are better off gauging our critical eye towards modalities of static vs. dynamic, engaged vs. disengaged, active vs. passive. Certainly, the way in which we choose to describe what we find online tells alot about our own personal experience within the digital realm.

Now let's consider that admin who has heard some good things about social media, but who for several reasons resists allowing access in the classroom. Let's think about that teacher who by all regards has led a distinguished career, but who sees the current trends in ed tech as just another in a long line of educational fads. Let's think about the young teacher who can't wrap the mind around the idea that the same platform one uses to have a laugh with friends can be used to educate children.

How do we engage these folks? How do we get them to 'buy in'?

The traditional route in schools has been for those in charge to tell those on the ground that they are going to buy in. There is no choice: buy in or perish.

This route, however, is the source of so much frustration, anguish, and rough rivalry in education. It is all about power -- and the resulting friction is a source of untold amounts of unnecessary negative energy.

The second route is for those in charge to allocate limited control to committees with the charge of leading the parade. The problem with this admittedly very common solution is that it creates -- at least in the minds of many of those outside of the circle -- a minor hierarchy. Frustration therefore is directed towards the minor hierarchy, which by definition has only the most limited control and is therefore rendered passive by the negative energy directed towards it.

And so, we so often find ourselves in situations where stasis is tolerated in the name of definitional workplace satisfaction.

And so often with regards to ed tech and social tech integration, nothing gets done and no one understands why.

Well, the 'why' gets back to the very first point, namely: the majority of teachers and admins opposed to social tech integration are those for whom social media itself has not become a habit of life.

Without social media being a habit of life -- not unlike reading a newspaper or writing a letter have long been worthwhile and generous habits of life -- it will not be internalized. A operator within the realm of social media who has not internalized it as a habit of life will be as successful at understanding social media as an illiterate is at understanding a newspaper. Even less dramatically, consider the Op-Ed pages of your favorite paper. Given your familiarity with a given columnist, you may or may not truly be internalizing -- and thus understanding -- what is being said; but if the columnist is unknown to you, you may have more difficulty grasping certain habitual nuances of a given argument.

In other words, if you ain't a regular reader, you may not understand what all the hub-bub is about.

The same goes for social media.

In light of this, it should appear rather obvious to us that the best way to go about invigorating your faculty with the engaging values of social technology is not by some hamfisted top-down approach, nor through committee-level prognostication, but rather by allowing individuals themselves the opportunity to let themselves buy in.

And how is this done?

We so often think of 'patience' as a form of waiting. We are 'patient' when waiting in line at the supermarket; we are 'patient' when sitting in a traffic jam at rush hour. This type of 'patience' is passive; it is the patience of not being in control.

But there is another form of 'patience'.

There is the form of 'patience' that we need to exhibit when teaching a small child how to throw a ball. There is the 'patience' needed to get a bill through congress. There is the 'patience' of opening oneself up to one's inner feelings through meditation or prayer or ritual or deep thought. These are active forms of patience; they are forms of patience that are active complements to the will. The purpose of being patient with a child is to teach it. The purpose of being patient in legislating is to get the legislation through. The purpose of being patient in the approach to inner understanding is to manifest that which is within.

And it is that sort of patience -- active patience -- that should guide our thinking in making manifest our desire to get a whole faculty to 'buy in' to the full integration of tech and social media.

What does this look like at the practical level?

The key to becoming immersed in social media lies in the individual interest of a given person. While Teacher A may be an excellent history instructor and Teacher B may be a seasoned math teacher, in the life that exists outside-of-the-classroom the former's greatest passion may be for modern dance and the latter's for jazz. Rather than bring them together and try to get them passionate about using social tech in their classrooms, demonstrate to them what resources are available out there in the world of social media and then let them use it to pursue their own personal interests.

Let them experience the joy of discovering what social media has to offer them rather than telling them what a joy social media is.

Down the road, help teachers with similar outside interests start Delicious groups and write collaborative blogs. Give them time during the school day to collaborate on outside-of-school projects and encourage them to use the resources of social media to bring those projects to fruition. Re-allocate your scheduled meeting times and resource many of the mundane functions of faculty meetings to the Web and instead hold faculty meetings where you give teachers the floor to give presentations on the things they love outside of school.

This is all part of the method of active patience.

By letting teachers use social media to explore their own interests -- whether or not those interests are 'directly' related to school -- you will foster a culture that fundamentally understands and values the resources of the digital age. The 21st century faculty will create itself.

Just be patient.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Let Your Freak Flag Fly

This is insane:
A suburban Dallas school district has suspended a 4-year-old from his prekindergarten class because he wears his hair too long and does not want his parents to cut it.

That's a quote from yesterday's New York Times.

“They kicked me out of that place,” Taylor told a reporter on Dec. 17. “I miss my friends.”

His parents plan to appeal the school board ruling to the state education commissioner. In the meantime, school officials said they would continue to separate Taylor from other children.


They are separating the child from his classmates because he's got long hair.

I hereby urge all teachers -- in solidarity with Taylor, the four-year-old -- to grow your bangs long and let that freak flag fly.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Google Willing to "Shut Down" in China?

This paragraph from today's edition of the official Google blog says more about the recent past (as of yesterday) and coming future (as of... what time is it?) of technology and politics than just about anything you'll have found online in a while:
These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down, and potentially our offices in China.

Nothing like hearing it from the horse's mouth.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It's Exam Week...

... and I'd rather be teaching.

It is so utterly arbitrary what we decide our kids need to know. And it's just so completely unimaginative how we most commonly decide to assess them.

The idea of spending a week proctoring exams reminds me of these facts like a punch to the face reminds you that you have a nose.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thoughts for the Day

A teacher recently commented to me that nothing about ed tech mattered to her because she was in a school that didn't "have technology".

That's like saying that fuel efficient cars don't matter to me because I can't afford one.

First off is the matter of the re-appropriation of funds and availability of cost-effective solutions. Historically, the price of technology drops... you could drive over to your local big box store and buy an iPod Touch -- a device that will connect you to the greatest information resource humankind has ever assembled -- for the cost of a few textbooks. Rather than write off reality because your school is unaware of it, instead work to educate your admins and advocate for the technologies that your students deserve to be using as 21st century citizens. You work on getting devices in the hands of your students, I'll work on re-allocating my own funds and saving up for that Prius.

Second, your students and teachers alike are carrying more tech in their pockets than we could ever afford to give them. Bring those cells, smartphones, and mp3 players out into the open. Bring the game systems to school. Let 'em use them. Let 'em share. Use your imaginations. Figure out new ways to learn.

Another teacher complained about how fearful all the laws and bureaucracy have made it for teachers. Many admins have created a climate where teachers fear that to use tech "incorrectly" will cost them their jobs.

Two thoughts: 1) If the problem is the law, then petition your congressperson. We're adults, let's cut the crap. If a law seems like it has gone out-of-date given new technologies, then it's time as a community to revisit the law. Granted this takes time; but so does sitting on your hands complaining or going out of your way to hobble together walled gardens that approximate the usage of perfectly effective technologies that already exist in the public square. 2) Use common sense. If everyone followed the rules and did everything "correctly" we'd never have the Digital Age to begin with. But that doesn't mean we need to condone idiocy. It all comes down to being honest, understanding your battles, and doing what ultimately is in the best interest of your students and of the future.

Whether resource or procedure: use your limitations to your advantage.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Geeking Out with Google Labs

Geeking out in Google Labs this week and found a few cool apps I hadn't tried before.

Image Swirl is sort of a clustered visual search; certainly a more refined version of this sort of app will need to take front-and-center as we move further into the Semantic Web. Here's an example of an Image Swirl I used to take a class on a virtual tour of Rome. At this stage, Swirl produces far too many of the same results; that said, it was far easier to find good images on-the-fly than it is in Image Search. And the prediction? Whoever nails semantic image search rules the Internet in its next phase.

Next app was the experimental Social Search. While I like the idea, as a regular devotee of Twitter, there's actually very little here that I can't already get on Twitter in real-time. Prediction? Barring the sale of Twitter to Google, real-time social search won't be the G-folk's major foray.

Last up is Living Stories. Now this has a lot of promise. And not just as a tech gadget, but more importantly: as a fresh way of thinking about narrative online. A project of Google, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, this is the sort of thing that could redefine how we get our news. Check out the coverage on the US Health Care Debate and notice how the whole package works to tell a story. Especially useful for teaching current events, I also see Living Stories as a great template for teachings kids how history influences narrative and how narrative influences history. Prediction? The future of the Net is storytelling.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Crazy Stuff

I want to hear a few crazy ideas. I'm getting bored with the wonky stuff.

I want to hear totally imaginative things that have no regard for practicality or the status-quo or standards or traditions or best practices or cost or any of it.

Completely insane stuff.

Like replacing four years of mandatory English classes with four years of mandatory free improvisational music classes.

Like banning grades and instead assessing kids on the basis of their motivation and ability to innovate.

Like assessing basic reading, foreign language, and elementary math skills one-to-one online using tutoring programs led by college students and teachers-in-training and using physical class-time to dance, build robots, sing, write poetry, imagine pure mathematics, and learn to play together.

Like destroying all Scantron machines; blocking access to multiple choice quizzes on Moodle; and letting students choose to be graded by their peers in all subjects by means of discussion, debate, and collaboration.

Giving extra credit for demonstrating compassion. In fact, giving grades based not on academic progress, but on the progress of one's compassion.

Teaching kids that the goal of education is to not be afraid of the unknown.

Crazy stuff.

Completely unpractical stuff.

Crazy stuff.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

An Allegory

I live in a pretty old house.

Built of brick and uneven planks of wood, this year marks the 170th anniversary of its construction.

My wife and I bought the house several years back as the place to raise our kids. It came with a busted roof, termite damage, faulty pipes, and zero insulation... but it was ours.

And we love it.

Even on nights like tonight when the heater goes up.

Actually, the heater went up a while ago. Some three years' back, actually. We were coping with a big ol' broken boiler installed in the year 1927. It had once been converted from oil to gas; and in its current condition, it couldn't power the radiators scattered through the house.

Now, the house had originally been built on the premise of a great hearth than ran straight up through the middle of the house. But over the years, as the house was connected to electricity and energy became cheaper, the fireplaces had been closed up (I thought it was humorous that the only insulation I actually found in the entire house was stuffed into one of the flues).

The boiler being dead, my wife and I decided that it was as good a time as any to go off the grid for our heat. So we looked into option of installing new flues in the chimney, but apparently chimneys in 1840 weren't built to 2000's codes. Just to get the thing to code, we'd have to completely tear it down and build it back up -- just to install the flues, we'd have to deconstruct nearly half the house, a huge sacrifice in terms of labor, money, and emotion.

So, instead we opted instead to do something completely different. We bought and installed a heavy-duty pellet stove.

So for the last three winters, I've woken up each morning, grabbed a 40 pound bag of compressed sawdust, and dumped it into the stove in the basement. And it's kept us warm. Relatively.

For, there have been problems. Hardships we've had to deal with in the name of going off the grid.

There are mornings when the stove has run out of pellets in the wee hours and I wake up being able to see my breath. And there are nights like tonight when the stove gets stopped up and just won't perform for us without an immediate cleaning.

It's almost as though the house doesn't want to get warm. It's as though the house thinks it could exist just fine without us.

After all, it's seen all sorts of ways humans have tried to produce heat. And it's withstood them all. It's seen fathers chop and haul wood, collect oil in a drum, pay hand-over-fist to a gas company, and load sawdust pellets 40 pounds at a time. It's seen those men live and die. And the house is still here. The house knows that it's greater than the people who live in it.

But the house isn't all that mobile. So the house hasn't walked down the block to see the house that was abandoned three years ago. When the old lady moved out, they said the kids might have the old house knocked down. Little did anyone know that the kids would let the house destroy itself.

Rather than pay a bulldozer to crush the little bungalow, they just turned off the utilities and left the house to the fate of Tintern Abbey.

My house didn't know what kind of future it would face without people. It had seen termites, but it didn't really know termites. It had seen cold, but it didn't really know cold.

In the end, the occasional cold mornings are worth the satisfaction of being greener and more self-sufficient. Despite whatever the house thinks.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Drill that Would Have Been Impossible Just a Few Years Back...

...yet is totally commonplace in my class these days.

Here's the exact text of a 15 minute drill I gave to my Latin class this morning. They are each responsible for keeping a reference library of resources related to mythology and Roman history, and we are preparing these personal reference libraries in preparation for the Mid-Term exam.

I'm not going to comment on the drill except to say that this is the sort of everyday, commonplace sort of thing going on in a socialtech-integrated classroom all the time. No bells and whistles, just effective use of social media.

Drill Objective: Source Management

1. Tweet the most common topics in your Delicious list to the class #

2. Look through the # and find topics that are under-represented in your own library.

3. Seek out those resources on the Delicious lists of your classmates and add them to your own library. I'd like to see each of you add at least five resources with tags.

4. Choose one of the resources you hadn't known about and write a blog post describing it and explaining exactly why it is useful. Be sure you consider it a 5-star resource.

We'll share our findings in 15 minutes. Class captain, please copy all blog posts to the 'resource' section of the class wiki when we are finished.


That's it. And in fifteen minutes, the students have expanded their personal reference libraries, have collaborated with one another on resources, and have evaluated what makes a resource useful.

It's just a drill.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Pushing Pencils

Stop what you are doing.

Well, if you are just reading these words, fine. But otherwise stop what you are doing: turn off the music, turn off the yoga video, minimize Skype.

Just give me one second of your time.

Now, please go to Adventures in Pencil Integration and subscribe.


Now. Really. Go subscribe to that blog. I'll wait.


Welcome back.

I've sent you on this subscribing quest because you need to be reading Adventures in Pencil Integration. It is hands-down the funniest, most acute, and wryly distilled call for the full integration of technology in education that I've ever read.

All from the point-of-view of a teacher living in the year 1897.

Hats off to John Spencer for producing a stunning blog; and may we be so lucky as to continue following the trials and travails of your adventure.

ps -- Thanks @concretekax for the tip on this one!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Back to School: Ideas for Twitter in the Foreign Language Classroom

The first day back after break was tricky.

In addition to my Fine Arts classes, I'm teaching three Latin courses. They are whole-year courses and the Mid-Terms in each tend to be somewhat memorization-intensive.

I remember my own days of stultifying high school Spanish being led repetitively through endless vocab drills and suffering the wrath of a teacher who couldn't understand that every sentient being wasn't born with the ability to roll r's.

And so, I've tried to break things up a bit.

As all foreign language teachers know, rote memorization is just part of the game. You just can't learn a language without being immersed entirely in verb forms and noun declensions.

It's just the nature of the beast.

So, what I've been doing -- and what seems to be working pretty well -- is having students use Twitter for verb parsing review and translation practice. I first forayed into this pedagogical area maybe nine months ago and have since worked out a few 'tried and tested' techniques that I offer all language teachers. Here are the top three:

1. Twitter for verb parsing review: Have the students identify and parse verbs directly from a text into the hashtag of a Twitter feed. After ten or so minutes, stop and review the results in the feed. Incorrect parses are corrected and all correct and corrected items are saved to a second hashtag or to a wiki. In the future, I plan to make the second hashtag saved to FriendFeed for the archiving capabilities. Either way, this gives the students a collaboratively built verb study guide and is far more entertaining and engaging than sitting at a desk sounding out dozens of verb forms for what seems like hours on end.

2. Using Twitter as a 'lifeline' for translation exercises: Each student opens up the text, the Twitter feed, and a digital English/Latin dictionary in his or her browser. As each sentence is Tweeted, a virtual compendium of common mistakes inevitably is created. We then follow the system described in #1.

3. Twitter as formative assessment for foreign language translation: One of the nice things Twitter provides the foreign language teacher is a continuous, time-stamped record of posts searchable in real-time. I use this to gauge how individual students are progressing -- if I see students struggling in time or accuracy, it is a simple matter to gauge the problem and intervene as necessary.

These are just a few techniques that have worked well. I'd love to hear about things you all have worked out.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

On Paper, Candles, and Rituals

Paper is to digital tech what the candle was to electric light.

One replaces the other in most all material instances, but the former saves a special position in ritual.

There are times when we need to feel that pencil sketch across the pad. There are times we need to feel the strike of a match and hear the sizzle of a wick.

And that is good. Neither is undone by the new technology. If anything, both are enhanced.

Saturday, January 02, 2010


That's the number of posts I knocked out here on TP in 2009.


Here's a link to the first post I wrote way back when I was still a total newb in the ways of the ed tech community. A year ago, I was a guy bound by the walls of my classroom. I had a bunch of ideas and a bunch of solutions (some good, some not). What I didn't have was a real community with which to share my ideas and from whom to learn. Prof Dev at school wasn't cutting it for me on a personal professional level. I was a bit at sea as a classroom teacher.

All I was sure of was that it could all be done differently.

What a difference a year makes.

I'd like to thank the community that's developed around this blog and around the ed tech PLN on Twitter. Not only do I now realize I'm not alone, I realize that many of the thing I'd thought were weird quirks in the way I was looking at the profession were in fact just a tiny part of the shift going on in the lives and classroom experiences of teachers across this country and throughout the world.

Thanks to the students, teachers, admins, and parents of John Carroll School for giving me the perfect conduit within which to bring many of my paperless dreams into reality; thank you to all of the folks I met in conference this year at NECC, AP/College Board, SocTech in Ed Con, and (soon) at EduCon; thanks to all of the folks who take part in the education discussions and events on Twitter, Elluminate, and Second Life; thanks to the gamers for ruining my 'free time'; thanks to Johns Hopkins for giving me multiple fora in which to present and explore ideas; thanks to the guinea pigs in my first group of paperless/socialtech TFAers; and thanks to all of the readers of this blog.

Hopefully I've lived up to a few of the goals I set out in that first blog post. Here's to 639 more!

Friday, January 01, 2010

Question of the Day...

"Can a human know what a cat is thinking?"

Question put forth by my six year old daughter this evening. While sitting on the kitchen floor holding one of our four cats, of course.

Sort of makes me think about what thinking is. The old thinking about thinking thing that's been going on forever. Might as well be what I'm thinking about this New Year's Day.

Happy New Year to all of you. Looking forward to seeing where our conversation goes in 2010.