Sunday, December 31, 2006

Collective Intelligence

I really love this term, "collective intelligence" that keeps coming up over and over in Don Tapscott's Wikinomics. The knowledge that comes from groups of people communicating and collaborating together can be really powerful as illustrated in this book.

Many years ago - really before we had much technology in my school district - I attended a conference at which one of the presenters said something like, "Our kids live in an interactive world for the first five years of their lives before coming to school. And then, when they come to school, they come to a place that is everything but interactive." That had to be about 8 years ago and it's still true today in some cases. One of our goals must be to make our classrooms places that are more interactive - not just within our own four walls but within the world outside our classrooms. We know that learning is a social process, we know that the brain actively seeks connections between new information and existing knowledge. Our own professional practices can reflect this. As 2007 begins I'm looking forward to seeing how this happens in my own school district in a number of ways: a teacher who is going to begin creating podcasts with his class, a teacher who wants to start a classroom blog to give students opportunities for writing to a wider audience, modeling the use of collaborative tools such as PageFlakes,, a wiki and other tools to help teachers understand how those tools help to develop their "collective knowledge" and improve their own professional practice. The possibilities are exciting!

Reflections on reading...

One of the greatest advantages to blogging and reading what others are writing about is that I've found out about a number of books that I might not have known about or paid attention to otherwise. This is how I found out about Wikinomics by Don Tapscott. I thought it was being released later in December but just happened to see it on the shelf one day in Barnes and Noble and picked it up to start reading during the holiday break from school.

In Chapter 1, the principles of Wikinomics are discussed---the first one being openness or transparency. This took me back to when I first began to teach 18 years ago - back in the days when there were no standards, state assessments or even a well defined curriculum. The teacher's manual and the guidance of veteran teachers were what drove my teaching early on. "Close the door and teach" was the norm and there weren't very many conversations about professional practice. We were isolationists I suppose - we had our textbooks, our worksheets, and our captive audience. 18 years later we have standards, state assessments and curriculum documents to guide our teaching - how many of our teachers are still isolated in their teaching practices and how many are transparent or open to discussing, examining and changing their teaching?

In the Introduction, Tapscott notes, "Leaders must think differently about how to compete and be profitable, and embrace a new art and science of collaboration we call wikinomics." To bring that thought into the realm of education, I would amend that to say: "Teachers must think differently about how to help students learn to learn and embrace a new art and science of education." Our tools demand it, our world demands it and our students demand it for their own future success.

Teaching and Learning

Chris Walsh at EpochLearning has a great post titled, Teaching to the Long Tail of the Flat World. In it, he points out that, "21st century students will define “school” as any place that they can learn more than they could on their own." Through the use of RSS feeds, we can have access to any number of resources for learning and for teaching others. Blogging has the potential to be a "school" for many of us who blog as educators. We learn more from each other by reading what others are writing about. Sometimes we learn that we're all in the same situation and trying to think our way through to a solution. Many times I read a blog and discover that someone else's point of view matches my own. Other times, I read something and write a comment back to the author. It's through the variety of subjects addressed in blogs and through the comments that we make to each other that provides our "school" and our ongoing professional development. If I hadn't gotten involved in blogging I don't think my own professional development would have been as rich and rewarding as it has been over the past several months. We are all 21st century students if we just take advantage of the tools that help us to learn and to teach others more effectively.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


With a few teachers interested in podcasting, I've been thinking about the ways that its use connects directly to instruction, information literacy skills, thinking skills and so forth. Using podcasting could just be an electronic book report or it could be a mechanism for taking kids beyond just writing it down and saying it in an audio file. The diagram here reflects some of my thinking. (click on the diagram to make it larger)

The student as a reporter could report on classroom events during the past week or events planned and yet to come.

The student as an historian could tell his/her audience about a particular event from a particular point of view. For instance, as an American historian he/she could tell the audience about the successes of the colonists in winning the Revolutionary War or as an English historian he/she could tell about the challenges that face the British army as they try to quell the revolutionary colonists.

The student as a scientist who has just completed an experiment could discuss the hypothesis, the process and the results including an idea of how or why he/she was successful or not in the experiment.

By placing students in a role, we help them to take off the "student" hat and put on the "expert" hat in ordered to deepen the learning experience. I'm looking forward to seeing how we can make these learning experiences a reality in my school district.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Managing Change

As I work throughout my school district, I constantly hear teachers reflecting on the changes and new initiatives that have been going on over the past four years and the word most often spoken by them is "overwhelmed." It makes me think about reading one of Eric Jensen's books, Brain Based Learning. Jensen writes that, in order to fully understand a concept, our brains need to be immersed in information and then we need to "think" our way out. I'm thinking this is what's going on with our teachers. They've been immersed in lots of information as we work toward our curriculum and instruction vision but we have yet to "think" our way out of all this information. While there are certain pockets of teachers (maybe they're the right brainers) who have gotten the big picture, others are still struggling with the pieces and how they all fit together. So, what's the best way to think our way through all of those pieces? To truly move forward and to empower all of our teachers, it seems that we need to find our way from the pieces to the whole and we need to do it together. Somehow, I'm confident it will happen...but when and how still remains to be experienced.

Connections to Information Literacy

Interesting connections to information literacy came up today in conversations that were based on data analysis using the results of our state assessment in English Language Arts. We looked at specific skills that students need to use when answering some of the constructed response questions. This was my first experience in hearing teachers talk about these assessments and how their students had handled the tasks.

One skill that was identified as critical when writing an essay that required the use of information from both a piece of fiction and non-fiction was, “identifies and utilizes specific details from multiple sources.” As the teachers began to discuss student performance in relation to this, it was recognized that this is a skill we use in the research process and it was a great way to enter into a conversation about information literacy. And so, we talked about ways that technology supports this skill. The teachers worked through some strategies for addressing this skill and, very soon, the topic of working with the librarian to provide support in this area came up. Yes! This is just where we need to be…recognizing that information literacy is part of this assessment, part of our literacy instruction and that we have someone beyond the classroom or the literacy staff who can contribute to this instruction.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

21st Century Book Reports

I’ve been getting a feed for the tag “literacy” for that last few days to see what sites are being tagged by others. Interestingly, this afternoon there’s a site that someone tagged and titled as, “More Ideas Than You'll Ever Use for Book Reports.” This leads to three pages of ideas submitted to describing alternatives to the traditional book report. I was immediately struck by how web 2.0 tools and certain pieces of software could be enlisted in carrying out these ideas and would provide even more enrichment to reading particular pieces of literature. Here are a few adapted to web 2.0 – any other ideas?

1. Interview a character from your book. Write at least ten questions that will give the character the opportunity to discuss his/her thoughts and feelings about his/her role in the story. However you choose to present your interview is up to you.
WEB 2.0>> Students post these questions on their blog and other students can answer the questions as if they were the character. This could also be a podcast.

2. Prepare an oral report of 5 minutes. Give a brief summary of the plot and describe the personality of one of the main characters. Be prepared for questions from the class.
WEB 2.0>>The oral report could be recorded as a podcast or this oral report, if recorded, could become a conversation between an interviewer and a character or between two characters in the story.

3. Build a miniature stage setting of a scene in the book. Include a written explanation of the scene. OR Make several sketches of some of the scenes in the book and label them.
WEB 2.0>> Create the stage then take a digital picture and put it into your class Flickr account. If many students in the classroom create several scenes from the book, the scenes could be put into chronological order then annotated.

4. • Write a book review as it would be done for a newspaper.
• Write a feature article (with a headline) that tells the story of the book as it might be found on the front page of a newspaper in the town where the story takes place.
WEB 2.0>>As you study literature throughout the year, a class wiki with pages devoted to each piece of literature would be useful here. Now the wiki can contain these book reviews. I’m sure that, over time, it would be a great way to watch students progress writing in this genre.

5. After reading a book of history or historical fiction, make an illustrated timeline showing events of the story and draw a map showing the location(s) where the story took place.
WEB 2.0 >>Draw pictures then scan them, or create dioramas or other 3 dimensional representations of events and take digital pictures. Upload your photos to Flickr then geotag them with the locations of the events from the story.

6. • Write and perform an original song that tells the story of the book.
•Be a TV or radio reporter, and give a report of a scene from the book as if it is happening "live".
WEB 2.0>>Sounds like some great podcasting to me!

7. Create a newspaper for your book. Summarize the plot in one article, cover the weather in another, do a feature story on one of the more interesting characters in another. Include an editorial and a collection of ads that would be pertinent to the story.
WEB 2.0>>Sounds like a great way to use wiki pages! Front page, business, local news, comics, weather, etc.

8. Draw a comic strip of your favorite scene.
Macs with OS X have a piece of software called “Comic Life” that would really entice students to do this assignment.

9. • Make a mini-book about the story
•Make a flow chart of all the events in the book.
• Make a time line of all the events in the book.
WEB 2.0>>If each of these were created so that they could become individual slides (use PowerPoint and save the slides as TIFF files or use a drawing program such as KidPix where the drawings can be saved as .jpg or .gif), they could be uploaded to Bubbleshare then placed in a student blog or a class wiki.

10. Make a chart of interesting words as a whole class activity. Categorize by parts of speech, colorful language, etc.
WEB 2.0>>Have students illustrate the words using any drawing software that you have available (such as KidPix), save the pictures as .jpg or .gif, upload them to Bubbleshare or some similar service then place the resulting “dictionary” on your class blog or wiki.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Instructional Tools -where's the change?

I'm wondering today about the technology tools we use for instruction. Having attended a technology conference this week, it's natural to have these questions. Having seen things like Smartboard demos, a session on the use of Blackboard, etc. I'm feeling a little disillusioned with what we consider to be "good" uses of technology. Many sessions are billed as "engaging your students with [fill in the blank]" but what is meant by "engaging" and what are we "engaging" kids in?

We seem to think that if it's "fun" for our students that it will therefore be engaging. Hmmm...I guess there's something to that... Fun in school is surely a way to draw in young kids but what other ways are there to "engage" our students through the use of technology?

We place a Smartboard in a classroom, load up a game from a website and invite the students to come to the board and choose the right answer. We find "activities" where students can drag and drop and project that image to a Smartboard and invite students to come and demonstrate that they know how to drag and drop the correct letters into a word. We locate "interactive" activities such as PowerPoint Jeopardy games, project that image onto a Smartboard and invite the students to play the game. We project a story being read aloud then ask kids questions about the story, check to see which questions we answered incorrectly, go back to the story and look for the part of the story that would answer those questions. Are the students "engaged?" I suppose they might be...for a while...but what make the Smartboard a better tool? What's the difference between putting the image on the Smartboard and sending the kids to the computer (alone or with a partner) to do the same thing or connecting a projector to your computer and working from the computer to do the same things? Using the instructional design that was demonstrated, only one student can come to the Smartboard at any one time just as only one student can be called on to answer a teacher's question at one time. What makes the difference or what do teachers perceive as making the difference? Are we back to the coolness factor of the technology? Is the technology changing the pedagogy? Impacting student learning? I just don't see anything different happening here - I don't see the technology provoking any change in instruction.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Learning and Thinking

Eric Jensen has a great book titled, "Brain Based Learning" published in 2000. I'm going back to his book this afternoon in thinking about some experiences over the last few months. In Chapter 21 of the book, Jensen discusses lesson planning "with the brain in mind." He points out that, "We learn best by immersion; by jumping into the fray, then thinking our way out of it."

We've been working with a curriculum consultant who has spent many hours with our teachers talking about a schema for lesson planning that's based on brain research. But, over time, it has seemed to some that we've been covering the same material over and over again with a few different twists each time. As I listened to each presentation, I kept picking up on the "twists" that trigger new thinking while others were saying that they'd heard this information already.

This summer, we returned once again, to a discussion of the lesson schema but this time something different happened. We went back to what we had learned previously, then began to talk about the lesson schema as a "system" and what would happen if any part of that system broke down or didn't happen. This was a whole new way of thinking...this was "thinking our way out of" the wealth of information that we had been gathering over time. The conversation among the teachers was amazing and very insightful!

In talking to the consultant later and in reflecting on the presentation, I was brought back to Eric Jensen's point: these teachers needed the time and the exposure to lots of information before they could think their way out of it and it wasn't until this past summer that this could happen.

What about our students? There has been a lot written about how we should encourage and teach critical thinking skills but not much mention about how much information we need in order to "think our way out of it." How many teachers continue to rely on the readily accessible textbook as their sole source of information and is it enough information to truly "think" about? What makes it so difficult for them to use alternate resources so that students are learning from a variety of sources?

As we talk about the use of such tools as blogs, wikis, podcasts and others, I think it will be especially important to keep in mind our pedagogy, and the amount of time for our students to access and gather information before they blog, before they contribute to a wiki, before they create a podcast so that they can "think" their way to better uses of those tools. Eric Jensen reminds us that we need to ask, "What is there to learn and, how can it best be learned?"

A new web?

Buried on page 15 of our local Sunday paper, is an article about the creation of Web 3.0 that comes from the New York Times News Service. The article, also online, describes an effort to create the kind of web that provides us with a complete package of information as a result of our search rather than a laundry list of possible options. Quoted in the article is Nova Spivak, founder of Radar Networks, who says, "We are going from a Web of connected documents to a Web of connected data." Some of the possibilities cited in the article include vacation planning, financial planning, and college selection.

In education, what are the possibilities? First of all, it sounds like my search time would be shorter and more precise in terms of finding the exact data I'm looking for rather than just a lot of possibilities of related information.Let 's say that I want to connect with others who are doing work in the area of improving literacy skills. I could imagine that Web 3.0 gives me more precise and better probability of finding other teachers in similar types of schools who are working on the same thing, or lists of research articles, data from schools that have made improvements and how they've accomplished their goals.

What about a Social Studies unit on the Revolutionary War? Couldn't "a web of connected data" then more easily give me both sides of the story - the American viewpoint versus the British viewpoint? Could our searches more effectively weed out the junk from the really good stuff? Wouldn't that make our lives in the classroom so much easier?

A simple Google search will reveal a long list of other articles and blogs that might be worth holding onto as this idea develops.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Conduits and Obstacles

In a conversation recently, a friend made a comment about someone else being an obstacle to success rather than a conduit. How does that apply to classroom uses of technology? Are the ways we use technology designed to keep students occupied (obstacles) or are they designed to help students experience growth in their learning (conduit)?

While watching a presentation done by a vendor the other day showing access to online sources that support their printed materials, I was hearing positive comments from others around me and wondering whether they were looking at these sources as conduits to future/further learning. When we provide students with access to "technology" designed purely to occupy their time, we're merely providing what, in the end, will prove to be an obstacle to learning.

The challenge for us as educators is to examine our practices in terms of being either obstacles or conduits to the learning of our students. The pressures of state assessments would subside if we could think in those terms rather than in terms of the amount of content to be covered in order to take a test whose results won't be known for many months.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Technology and Pedagogy - connections, connections

There was a very brief discussion among a few bloggers a while back around the question of what we consider first when using instructional technology: the technology or our pedagogy. At the time, I really had to think about that although I had the sense that pedagogy is the most important starting point and that was confirmed for me again tonight.

I'm getting ready to do a workshop that I titled, "Digital Tools in the Literacy Block" and to prepare I've been going back to two books that have been discussed and used by our staff recently: Strategies That Work by Stephanie Harvey and Anne Goudvis and The Daily Five by Gail Boushey and Joan Moser. In both of those books, the authors emphasize helping students to learn strategies for independent learning.

That makes me think about a posting I wrote about teaching for a time when we're not there. These authors are really dealing with the same thing. In both books, the authors discuss research done in the area of the gradual release of responsibility approach - releasing responsibility for learning to the learner with the goal of achieving independence in the use of reading strategies. I find so many connections with that to instructional technology.

The authors of both books advocate that students will learn independence if the teacher models the strategy, thinks aloud while using the strategy and provides students with time to practice using the strategy.

Couldn't we teach Internet Safety, use of blogs and wikis, podcasting, and so many other technology tools and applications using this same pedagogy? Don't we want students to use particular strategies when searching, strategies when blogging, strategies using a word processing application, a graphic organizer application, a presentation application? Shouldn't we be modeling, thinking aloud and giving students time to use these tools?

This workshop will not be about providing teachers with a checklist of items such as websites, software and worksheets that students can do when they read something online. It needs to be as much about the pedagogy as it is about the technology and the strategy for using those tools. I'd better get back to work!

Things that make you say: hmmmm...

My husband received an email last week from a national organization of which he's been a member for 28 years. The email was proudly announcing that the organization now had a place online to which the members could go to register and pay dues. While that's all well and good, the thing my husband was laughing about the most was the fact that the organization provided him with a list of steps for accessing this site. What's wrong with that you ask? The list had 23 steps to follow! I asked him how he thought the organization was going to be successful in launching this service if it took 23 steps that had to be defined for the user.

It made me wonder about the intuitive nature of the technology. If a user enters this site and can't make their way around without a list of these 23 steps, then what good is the site going to be? I've been able to create a blog and several wikis in less time than it would take to even read these 23 steps.

We'll have to keep an eye on this site and just see what happens...

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Gotta love Panera!

This blog posting is just for fun...
While having some maintenance done on my car yesterday morning, I walked to a nearby Panera armed with books and note paper to eat breakfast and get a little work done during my hour and a half wait time. I found a nice little table, sat down, pulled out my materials, and proceeded to eat and work. Panera provides such a warm, relaxing atmosphere where no one was rushing me to leave and I really got a lot done. Sometimes home is a lot of distractions of other things that need to be done. Yesterday, Panera was just what I needed!

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The leaders we choose...

Who are your "leaders?" I'm not talking about your building administrator, your superintendent, your department chairman, your team leader - I'm talking about others around you on whom you rely for information, advice, assistance...

I had two separate experiences with this during the past week. As I think back over events, I'm wondering how the "leader" you choose to pay attention to has an impact on your own growth and independent thinking.

In one instance, a person has taken the responsibility independent of his/her position in a school building to be a leader and advisor and to encourage others to be dependent on him/her but doesn't have enough information him/herself to be reliable, accurate or really even helpful to those who depend on that person - and, hasn't asked the questions that are needed to gather the accurate information that others are looking for. (sorry, that's a mouthful...) So, why do people rely on or listen to this person? Is it because we have something in our nature that wants to believe whatever we hear first for lack of any other information? Or is it that we just don't have the time or inclination to look for any other sources of information? Are we following the person with the loudest voice? How does relying on this type of "leader" impact on you and others around you? What encourages others to follow this person?

In another instance, a person has taken on the responsibility to be a leader but is armed with a wide variety of knowledge, background and experience in the very subject for which he/she is leading. Some people will choose to say that's not for them, I can't embrace those ideas whether they're based in knowledge and experience or not. What is it about this second person that encourages some to follow and others to choose another path?

As a reader of this, you may have no idea what I'm talking about and that's okay. I'm really just writing this to work through some of my thinking. I'm not comfortable writing specific details of the positions that these two people hold. I'm just trying to deal with the idea of how we know when to trust someone as a leader. Even those who appear to have accurate information may not but if they're the only or the loudest voice in the room - who would you believe?

How does one, armed with knowledge, background and experience, become a trusted leader amid the louder voices out there?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Self directed professional development

There are too many days of coming home from work feeling defeated, discouraged and tired. So when a day comes along filled with the kinds of experiences that evoke feelings totally opposite from that, you just have to celebrate them.

The day ended yesterday with a meeting of teachers after school who decided, completely on their own, to take their professional development needs into their own hands. This group of teachers is working on sorting through strategies for developing literacy skills in their students. They already know and are committed to the fact that their days are filled with attending to their instructional duties and to the needs of their students. But they all have this desire to work on the structure of their newly instituted 2 hour literacy block in such a way that they help their students develop independence and responsibility for their own learning during this time.

And so they met...goals in mind, planning how they will each take an active role in the group, deciding on dates for the rest of the school year, constructing the agenda for their next meeting - all in the name of learning from each other and working together. As they worked through their thoughts, every voice around that table was heard and every individual contributed their thoughts, their ideas and also the challenges that they're trying to work through to implement strategies that are new to them and to their students. It was just simply the best professional moment to have experienced!

These teachers are really learning what is for many of them a new concept and for others, a more deliberate way of working with and thinking through some strategies they were already using in a less structured way. In order to do this, they're gathering lots of information from professional literature (books), from their colleagues and from their students. They're working to construct their knowledge. In the 20th century, this same group of teachers could have had this same meeting and accomplished their goals just the same. But here's what will make the difference: they've made a conscious decision to use a blog as a tool for interaction. So, as they meet, someone will take notes which will get posted to their blog and they'll plan an agenda for their next meeting which will also be posted there. Can't make a meeting? Read the blog. Have a question burning in your mind that needs an answer now? Post to the blog. Looking for new ideas or insights from your colleagues? Check out the blog. Just learning about this group? Go back through the archives to see what they've been working on. Reading someone's post and want to share your response with everyone in the group? Comment to the blog. This one simple tool alone has the potential to make such a difference to these teachers professionally and to the instruction in their classrooms.

How else can they use technology to support their learning? A few thoughts:

• Flickr to post pictures of their classroom management tools, instructional posters, etc. Why just talk about it when you can post a picture and annotate it? The visuals are so much better than words alone.
•Wikis - meeting notes could go to a wiki instead of the blog so that, if one person takes notes and puts them on the wiki, others can add their "2 cents" to enrich and refine the description of thier work together.
• Podcasting - we could consider recording the meetings. Can't make the meeting? No time to read the blog? Download the file to your mp3 player and listen while you walk, drive, or make dinner. (Learning can occur through so many modalities)

This is empowering teacher learning - exciting stuff! More thoughts and ideas to come...

technorati tags:, ,

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Teaching for a time when we're not around

I was in a teacher's classroom last week - invited in for a very non-technology purpose: viewing the development of independent skills in young children related to literacy instruction.  When I walked in, the teacher gave me a quick synopsis of what they were going to be doing and what she'd done so far.  Then she handed me a book called "Rules in School"  which is all about how and why we develop rules in school with children and creating logical consequences when rules aren't followed.

As she began her morning meeting, I thumbed through the book (then quickly went to the phone and ordered a copy for myself).  I wrote down several things as I skimmed the book, but one quote keeps coming back to me: "We are teaching for the time when we will not be there." While this may seem a little too simplistic to some, it occurs to me that we can apply this in more ways than just creating rules. 

"We are teaching for the time when we will not be there" brings up a list of various examples in my mind:

  • parenting
  • driving a car
  • teaching teachers to use technology/software/tools
  • helping students understand the tools of the web/the tools of software
  • navigating the Internet / Internet safety

In terms of the work I do in my district, I'm particularly thinking about all of the technology applications of "teaching for a time when I'm not around."

• How do we introduce/teach new software to students in a way that will help them use it independently and/or apply that information to new pieces of software they might use (when I'm not around)?

• How do we teach teachers about technology use in such a way that it's used to help students learn and not just as an electronic worksheet (when I'm not around)?

• How do we teach students to navigate an environment that really has no rules (the web) safely and securely (when I'm not around)?

• How do we teach students to think their way out of all the information that's available to them (when I'm not around)?

We're going to really need to think about our pedagogy, about how we facilitate learning rather than direct learning in order to fully prepare our students for our rapidly changing world and for a time when we're not around.

technorati tags:,

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Blogging Curiousity

There is a clustrmap on my blog that I placed there based on some of the other blogs where I had first seen them. I thought it looked like a cool tool and was interested in whether or not anyone was hitting my blog.

Now that I've seen my clustrmap grow and change over just the last month, I'm curious. My map shows me generally where you are in the world and the data tells me how many times my blog has been visited but that's not the kind of specific information I'd like to gather.

I'd like to be able to talk to teachers about blogging and show them the results of my blogging since August 10, 2006 to give them an idea of the audience that's possible with this type of tool. So, I'm keeping this message at the top of my blog for a little while and asking any readers of this blog, even if this the first and possibly only time you'll be here, to do this:

Please leave a comment to this posting letting me know exactly where you're located (country, state, province, city), how you came to find this blog in the first place and what your job is. Thanks for helping me with this. I'll see what I get after about two weeks and then post the results here for anyone else who might find it interesting or useful to you.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Teaching Students to Think

I watched Mona Lisa Smile this afternoon thinking it would just be a diversion from some other work I should have been doing. Instead, it got me back to work thinking about instruction and thinking skills. At the beginning of the movie, Katherine Watson, meets with her art history class at Wellsley for the first time. She informs her students that they would be learning using a particular syllabus (not hers) and begins to show them slides (the technology of the time) of art thinking that she's giving her students brand new information (and possibly teaching as others expect her to teach). The students begin to name each piece of art, its place in history and something about the technique used by the artist. Immediately Katherine sees that the textbook is going to be of no use to her. The students have read it in its entirety and have the art pieces and their expected responses memorized - most likely, as they'd been taught to do in the past.

The second class begins much differently. This time, Katherine begins her class (using her own syllabus) with a slide showing a piece of art that's not in the textbook and the students are surprised to discover that they don't know what they're seeing. She asks simple questions, "Is it art?" "How do you know it's art?" "Who determines what's art and what's not?" Her students are suddenly empowered to think!

Katherine's technology was quite simple: she used images and she asked her students to think about what they were seeing, analyze it, defend their ideas about it. What might happen in 21st century classrooms if we used the technology of our time to empower students to think beyond what they can find in a textbook, beyond simple recall questions? We have the tools, we have the research based instructional strategies, we have learning standards and benchmarks. Now, all we need to do is put it all together. I'll bet Katherine Watson could have...

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

School Laptop Programs in the News

An article that appeared recently from a writer for the Wall Street Journal referred to laptop programs in schools and the experiences of one parent in regards to what her child was actually doing with the laptop.  As an instructional specialist and a technology advocate, I have few questions/concerns on my mind after reading this:

  1. The article doesn't tell us anything about the school district - was adequate training provided to the teachers or are the teachers using laptops to do the same old teaching that they did last year? (and the year before, and the year before...)
  2. This parent who was probably educated in the latter part of the 20th century was most likely taught by teachers trained during the mid-20th century so, based on her experiences and role models, what type of education/teaching style is she expecting in the early 21st century?
  3. The article refers to the "laptop program" as a catalyst to engage and train students - but I thought that research has clearly shown that the teacher has the greatest affect on student achievement.  So, if the teacher hasn't changed his/her teaching practices, no amount of hardware in the classroom and no new "program" is going to have any positive effect.
  4. What's the curriculum that's supporting these laptops "programs?"  Has that changed at all in the last 5-10 years?
  5. Larry Cuban makes a good point - what's the true cost of 1:1 laptop initiatives and have school districts really prepared themselves for that or are we back to "the promise of technology" in our classrooms?  That's what we were hearing about in 1995 and we seem to still believe that technology alone is going to change everything.
I'm sure we're going to continue to hear much about 1:1 laptop initiatives and we're going to get all the negatives until some school district somewhere does it well and shows results.  I know there are successful programs out there and I hope we'll begin to hear more about their results.  And I'll bet the results will be attributed to something other than the fact that a child had a laptop because we know there's a lot more to it than just that.

Blogged with Flock

Monday, September 04, 2006

Spending less on technology; buying more books instead

Wes Fryer (Moving at the Speed of Creativity)  recently posted a podcast of Dr. Stephen Krashen
speaking at a conference in Oklahoma. As someone who works with technology in the classroom, it's easy to key in on one of Dr. Krashen's conclusions: that we should start spending less on technology and spend that money on books instead.  Given his data regarding the number of books per pupil in some school districts and the research on the effect of school libraries on student achievement, I would tend to agree with his conclusion. Under those circumstances, more books and more librarians are crucial.

We have no conclusive evidence that the use of computers has an effect on learning. But we do have research that clearly demonstrates that the most important factor in student achievement is the teacher. And, we do have research that shows us that particular instructional strategies have a positive effect on student learning.  When teachers begin to use those 21st century strategies effectively along with  21st century tools, maybe we'll see the evidence we're looking for.

technorati tags:

Blogged with Flock

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Ways We Talk about Technology

I read a number of blogs daily for my own personal professional development more than for any other reason. So, it was interesting today that David Warlick wrote about the word "integration." That word and the term "integrating technology" have been bothering me for a long time. When we talked about integrated units many years ago, we talked about bringing together various, hopefully related, pieces. So, in Social Studies an integrated unit on westward expansion might have meant that we "integrated" music by singing songs from the period, or we "integrated" art by designing covered wagons, or we "integrated" math by figuring out the miles that were traveled. The problem with that was that we were just pulling together various pieces that may or may not have been connected in some way and we weren't really planning for the learning or understanding of an important concept. So the music, the art and the math really had no impact on achievement.

Instead of integrating technology, we should begin first with our learning goals, choose the tools and resources that will support that learning. So, if we want our students to be better writers, we might use blogs because they can provide our students with authentic and wider audiences than we can provide within the four walls of a classroom. If we want our students to improve their speaking skills then podcasting could give students an outlet for working on those skills. Standing up in front of a classroom giving a book report can't even begin to approach that kind of experience.

We have the tools and now, many of them are free and online - we just need to connect them more purposefully with student learning and achievement.

Blogging Humor

Interesting...web 2.0 is even catching on with comic writers.
Non Sequitur on Yahoo News

Sunday, August 27, 2006


Blogging is participation in conversation - only the conversation isn't happening between two or three people sitting around a table together anymore. The conversation goes on among a diverse group of people located all over the world sitting at a computer, typing, thinking, deleting, reworking the words and typing some more. People are blogging about everything imaginable and almost anyone can join in.

As my own blog has developed, I've been thinking about the experience and what it's meant to me personally and educationally. For me, blogging equals the development of "voice". It is about thinking out loud and communicating with others. It gives the writer a chance to express opinions, beliefs, ideas and insights. It can be a summarizing tool, it can be used to synthesize. Sometimes blogging is responding to someone else's thoughts, beliefs, ideas and insights.

When we begin to teach our students some new skill, we model it for them in a variety of ways. In learning what it means to be a blogger, I turned to a number of edublogger models and started to look at what they were talking about, how they were expressing their ideas, how they handled criticism of their ideas by others. It's also interesting to see the networking that goes one - one question or idea is expressed and pretty soon all of the blogs I'm following are talking about the same thing. This doesn't happen all the time but often enough.

In yesterday's post, I referred to a recent audiocast hosted by MIguel Guhlin. MIguel spoke with several educators (first grade through high school) about the use of blogs in their classrooms and about how they're teaching students to use blogs. As I listened to the audiocast, I began to write down some of their insights and examples of best practices. Below are a few of those...

When we use blogs in the classroom:

  • we provide a way to connect children to the world, to other classrooms
  • we can connect parents to the work of our classrooms
  • we provide another way of connecting digitally to each other
  • we need to teach students how to interact safely in a digital world
  • we provide our students with an authentic audience which changes and transforms writing
  • blogs help students to engage in and understand the social nature of communication: learning to be constructive critics, learning how to challenge each other's ideas respectfully, learning to use critical thinking skills
  • blogs open up new doors for information and communication

In my mind, with any new technology tool, there are always two questions to ask yourself:

  1. "So what?" What difference is the use of this tool going to make in student learning?
  2. "Then what?" Once I start using this tool, what will my students do with the product they're produced or the information they've gathered?

Both of these questions deserve careful consideration with blogs. The social and "open" nature of blogs is the very thing that causes many school districts to block the use of blogs on their networks but the social nature is what also contributes to its use as a good instructional tool. Class BlogMeister, created by David Warlick, is one tool that teachers can use that provides a more sheltered environment for beginning to use blogs. Teachers monitor all postings to the blog and can provide a separate page for each student to use.

In any case, there is, more and more, a need to teach safe interaction in a digital world. Imagine a student behind the wheel of a car without any instructions or training, pulling out onto a highway at rush hour - what might the results be? The same applies to putting our students behind the "wheel" of a blog - teach them the rules of the road, teach them the rules while driving on the back roads before they get into heavier traffic. The NetSmartz website is one place that educators and parents can start to find resources to address this issue.

I'm sure that, as teachers begin to explore the nature of blogs for their own professional practice, we will see more advocates for the use of blogging in classrooms, more resources for teaching safety and more discussions between teachers and district technology administrators about how to manage the use of this tool safely for effective use in our classrooms.

technorati tags:, ,

Blogged with Flock

Saturday, August 26, 2006

New Technologies: Beyond the Coolness Factor

This summer has been filled with the exploration of new technologies - more specifically, I've been working on looking at blogs and wikis with a little bit of podcasting and a few other ideas on the side. So I've decided that the next few posts on my blog will be used to summarize what I've explored over the last 10 weeks.

Early in the summer, it occurred to me that there was something unique going on where blogs were concerned - people were thinking out loud, getting responses from others who had been working through the same thoughts and then those thoughts came up in someone else's blog to be reworked, redefined, rethought.  The whole network at work is fascinating.  So I joined in and created my own blog as a way of continuing my own personal professional development. In working on my own blog, I've rediscovered my writing skills and learned about other tools like RSS, creating a blog roll and using ClustrMaps on my blog. I've learned more this summer alone than I've learned in a very long time and I've found applications for all of it to the work I do in my school district as an instructional specialist.

Here's one example of the networking that happened within blogs: Will Richardson posted a simple question one day: "Where are the best practices in using blogs in the classroom?"  He didn't write much else about it - he just was wondering aloud.  This topic was picked up by several other edubloggers, and eventually it resulted in one of them, Miguel Guhlin, creating a wiki about blogging best practices. Then, he gathered some educators who have been doing blogging in their instruction and they all participated in an audiocast via Skype.  This interested me so much that, when Miguel advertised this audiocast, several questions popped into my mind and I commented on his blog listing those questions.  He posted those questions to his wiki and one of my questions was the first to be asked in the audiocast. 

The best part about this whole thing is that I didn't have to buy one new piece of hardware in order to have this experience and the learning curve was minimal.  My experiences began by reading David Warlick's blog which eventually led me to all of the other resources that I've explored. I created a free account using Blogger, I created a blogroll on my blog using a free service called BlogRolling, I added a clustr map to my blog which tracks the number of people who access my blog (interesting to collect those statistics and follow the growth), I created a free account in Bloglines to gather RSS feeds to my favorite blogs (and other news sources) so that I didn't have to go to each one individually to see if it had been updated.

In the process, I've also started working on a wiki that I'm planning to use in my work this year. (acutally, I think that's going to be part of my own personal professional development project and my goal for the next school year)  In it, I've started to work on creating some content related to various aspects of the professional development going on in my district right now. Included there,  I'll be listing all of the new technologies that I'm working with and this list will be updated as needed.  But even more importantly, the applications of those technologies to instruction will be developed.  In education, we can't jump on every new technology just because of it's "coolness factor."  We have to consider its application to learning and student achievement.  When we do this we begin to shift our pedagogy in ways that make those technologies more accessible and more useful in student learning and achievement. Stay tuned...more to come.

technorati tags:, , ,

Blogged with Flock

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Blogging as Professional Practice

It's interesting to observe the network of ideas and thoughts that connect one person to another within the community of bloggers. I first started to follow this network on August 9th when Will Richardson posted on his blog wondering where the blogging best practices were. Brian Crosby, David Warlick, Miguel Guhlin, and I'm sure, many others have also been discussing the question and have begun exploring ways of aggregating the collective knowledge of teachers who are using blogs in their classrooms. This interconnected thought process among these bloggers is probably one of the very best examples of blogging in professional practice. Now, how can we apply that to instruction?

Aside from the question of best practices in blogging, many bloggers are employing pretty high level thinking skills. They summarize an article or something written in another blog, they compare their opinions with the opinions of others, they create metaphors or analogies to explain their ideas, they cite research and statistics about blogging by using images, they comment on other blogs providing recognition to the thoughts of others, they recognize common goals and work to collaborate with other bloggers on those goals, they hypothesize about various topics, they generate important questions about the instructional uses of blogs. All of these fall into the general categories of research based instructional strategies discussed in Classroom Instruction That Works.

Without a strong goal/purpose for using a blog, students will not engage in the learning that can result. So, in addition to looking for best practices, I'm also asking: What are your instructional goals and Which of these strategies would be most effective in improving student achievement by using blogs in your classroom?

technorati tags:, ,

Blogged with Flock

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Ongoing Conversations about Blogging

There's been a lot of conversation in the blogosphere lately about trying to find the best practices for blogging from Will Richardson, David Warlick, Miguel Guhlin and many others. Surely, there are teachers who are using blogging in innovative ways within their instruction and helping students make gains in achievement.  On the opposite side, perhaps those teachers just don't exist right now.

As an instructional specialist, I've been following this conversation about best practices intently and thinking about how I might present this relatively new tool to teachers.  I'm new to blogging but not new to technology, curriculum and instruction. But, I've been considering the impact of my personal use of blogging as well as the role models for what I think is good blogging that will provide me with the background knowledge needed to summarize the use of this tool with other teachers.

For seasoned bloggers talking about best practices, they will be approaching this conversation with lots of background knowledge, personal experience, and probably classroom experience.  But, if some of us relatively new to blogging or not currently blogging were to engage in this conversation about best practices in blogging, we wouldn't possess the same background knowledge necessary to understand the implications of the discussion and, as brain research tells us, we might not be able to find prior knowledge stored in our brains somewhere to connect with this new information. Even so, that conversation could spark some new ideas for your classrooms through connections to what you know about good teaching practices.

I was thinking that, if I were having this conversation with, or providing training to teachers who didn't know about blogging,then there are some questions that come to mind for me:
1. As someone who is actively involved in blogging, explain what blogging is all about for you personally.
2. Instructionally, what is the importance of blogging?
3. What types of information should students be producing via blogs?
4. What subject areas and what instructional strategies can be applied to the use of blogs to make this a thinking tool rather than just another "thing" we can do with a computer?

Everyday, there are probably new technology tools being invented that allow us to participate more easily in the read-write web improving both our instruction, our students achievement and our professional development. Even those these tools are pretty cool, in the scheme of things, for me, it comes back to those four questions above but more importantly, what can this tool mean to student achievement?

technorati tags:, , , ,

Blogged with Flock

Monday, August 14, 2006

Which comes first?

I was just reading Will Richardson's blog about a presentation he did today. It prompted me to comment:

Wow - this sounds like a great place to go to school. Which do you think comes first - the technology tools or the pedagogy? Do we need to start from our pedagogy or adjust/adapt our pedagogy as the tools change?

When we first started to put technology into classrooms, there was quite a bit written about how we were spending enormous amounts of money on technology believing only in the "promise" of better student learning through its use. Now the discussion has turned to some thoughts about our pedagogy - many of us (veterans/digital immigrants) who are currently in classrooms, had mid-20th century teachers as our role models and those mid-20th century teachers were trained in a much different time when there were much different expectations for education and for the future of our students. So have we moved beyond that yet? Have we changed our pedagogy - or have we changed it enough to be more responsive to the students who are in our classrooms now? Have we really embraced the research related to "what works" in schools or are we just using that information within a still mid-20th century mindset? I'm just wondering...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Another new tool

PageFlakes is the best thing since cornflakes! You should really try it out for yourself. Imagine...a home page where you see your to do list, notes, feeds to your blogs, your bookmarks and much more all when you fire up your web browser. The web is getting better everyday!

Diigo is another great tool - this one will be great for research projects and collaborative work. You can bookmark a page, highlight text on a web page then annotate it with sticky notes. Send it to a friend to show them what you've found!

Monday, August 07, 2006

New Web Browser

I'm trying a new web browser tonight called Flock. I'm loving the features that make it so different (and easier) than other browsers I've used. This blog post was created in Flock. I'm wondering who else out there is using Flock and what your observations are about it.

technorati tags:,

Blogged with Flock

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Marc Prensky's keynote address

Marc Prensky's Keynote at the NYSCATE Technology Leadership Conference July 18, 2006
These are my notes from the address which are really more like bullet points of things that I really connected to. This is, of course, not the same as being there for others but you may find your own connections with some of these points.

Change is happening more rapidly now than even at the beginning of the 21st century.
Threatening to teachers...empowering to kids. hmmm...

IT power is doubling every year

Interconnected information

Solving problems with the tools we have (pre-21st century) - everything has tools, we learned to use them, help kids learn to use them

Inventing new tools to solve problems - 21st centruy +

When will this change end? There's no destination...

"most of us prefer to walk backwards into the future...." Charles Handy

"Without motivation there is no learning" James Paul Gee
"If a learner is motivated, there's no stopping him" Will Wright

Why educators are having problems
The world is changing
Our students are changing - they are not the ones we were trained to teach
Engagement is changing

In a year (?), our kids are exposed to:
5,000-10,000 hr video games
240,000 emails and IMS
10,000hrs on cell phone
20,000 hr tv
500,000 commercials
5,000 hr reading books

Kids are downloading:
2 billion songs per month
6 billion text messages per day
2 billion ring tones per year

Brains like ours alter profoundly to fit the technologies and practices that surround them. - Andy Clark

Digital Immigrants--->Digital Natives
conventional speed ---> twitch speed
step by step ---> random access
linear processing ---> parallel processing/multitasking
text first ---> graphics first (text backs up image)
work oriented ---> play oriented
stand alone ---> connected

"Students are not just using technology differently today, but are approaching their life and their daily activities differently because of technology." Net Day 2005(06)


Digital immigrants - we will never be in the same place as the kids are where technology is concerned, we leave a foot in the past.
printing out our emails
no instant messaging
not going to the internet first
thinking real life happens only off line
thinking teaching = learning ( not necessarily)
thinking learning has to be work

Learning feels like play when you have engagement.

Today's kids go online - they can ALWAYS find something to do online - they know what engagement feels like, want to feel engaged all the time.

But for lots of kids today, most education is boring even with technology - just because we give them technology doesn't mean they're not bored, we have to use technology in an engaging way. [this is an interesting statement ---we've long been thinking about the fact that using new technology to do old things in old ways doesn't make a difference]
"Going to school is powering down."

Engagement is more important than content for today's kids; even more important than technology
Content will change! Content won't help students continue to learn throughout their lives, but engagement will.

Outside of school, kids are empowered.

What people put into the Internet is more important than what they take out. - Tim Berners-Lee

Young learners are ...hands on, want things to be fun, love to share ("knowledge is power", sharing is power).

Not ADD, but rather EOE (engage me or enrage me)
It's not attention deficit - I'm just not listening!

Dec 2005 Educational Leadership article by Marc Prensky

Kids have to learn about the future on their own
School is - legacy stuff, irrelevant, pushed on them, boring
after school - future learning

Foster this message: we are all learners, we are all teachers
Learn how to teach using tools you can't fully master - tools will come fast and go fast
Coming too fast to master
Teachers need to know - how to teach using tools that are unfamiliar to them and that they can't fully master
So, don't waste your time learning to use new tools because the kids can do it.

As a teacher you need to understand the new technologies so you can teach.... [this was shown as a chart as follows]

Assign - design a wikipedia entry for...
Evaluate - communication, journalism, use of multimedia, creativity
Teach - search vs. research, fair use vs. plagiarism

Assign - make a podcast about...
Evaluate - communication, journalism, use of multimedia, creativity
Teach - oral vs. written communication

Assign - Desing a class using only IM
Evaluate - usefulness, breadth, depth, originality
Teach - informal vs. formal communication

Phone based cameras
Assign - take and photoshop a picture to best illustrate...
Evaluate - communication, originality, artistry, technique
Teach - pictures vs. words, truth vs manipulation, appropriate vs. inappropriate

Seven key things to take from complex game design:
engagement, gameplay, goals, decisions (give you feedback), leveling up (to get from one level to another, you have to practice), adaptivity (increasing levels of difficulty), iteration (what needs to be changed ?)

Teachers are used to
content first
linear stories
one thing at a time


Almost every student already has a powerful computer in their backpack - cell phones, pda's
What can you learn from a cell phone? article on innovateonline

We have to start evaluating kids with THEIR tools.

adopt new attitudes and behaviors - mutual respect, engagement first, valuing what students know and do, create important goals, let students use the technology

share your successes through blogs, wikis, etc - put it on the web

tech leader:
fight hard for the kids - 1:1 computing, email, IM, open Internet, cell phones, success sharing, kids do-teachers teach

continually ask yourself: would the kids be here if they didn't have to be?

No one says it's EASY - it will take a lot of effort, but that's why the kids will thank us when we succeed

Kid's relationships, the way they have relationships is changing

How do we take all the tools that we have to create a "whole"?
If you wanted to make one change in the tech in the schools, what would it be? [this question was posed to two students who were invited to be a part of this conference]
• allow IM with others at school
• without communication -it's frustrating to students
• giving students a common place to communicate (on the Internet)

Understanding how kids think
Cell phones disconnect as well as connect you - cell phones allow you to do other things at the same time

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Imagine the possibilities

Imagine the possibilities of this technology for both instruction and professional development. These are some slides saved from a PowerPoint presentation that I had recently created. I went to, where I had created an account, uploaded the slides, and organized them in an album. It took my album of pictures and gave me the html code so that I could then share them to this blog. I still have some narration to add to these [you can record 30 sec of narration per slide] but I think that when I do that while logged into Bubbleshare, it's going to show up here too. Love it!

An Instructional Toolbox concept...still in progress

I woke up this morning thinking about this idea of an instructional toolbox - trying to work through this as a concept. Two categories occur to me into which we might place our tools for instruction. [you might also see that these two categories can apply to learning tools for students]

The categories are Sustaining and Evolving. The Sustaining tools are those that don't take a huge degree of "technical" skills to use. They are procedural in nature and, with practice, we become better at using them. I'm thinking this would include textbooks and other printed materials, instructional strategies, classroom management. The Evolving tools are declarative in nature. These are tools we use but must constantly revisit to examine their worth for particular kinds of instruction and our concepts about their use should grow over time. I'm thinking mainly about technologies because of their evolving nature.

I made technologies plural for a very good reason. When we think of technology in a classroom, we tend to think about the computer first and then we probably extend that thought into particular pieces of software. But, technology becomes plural when we think about other devices and other forms. For instance, the SmartBoard can be considered a technology as can an iPod, personal response systems, Palm-like devices (handhelds), etc. But new technologies are also being developed that are delivered within the Internet. Those technologies are podcasting, blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, RSS, and others. These technologies are where I've been spending most of my free time lately.

It's interesting to me that most of these are meant to be collaborative tools and they could very well replace the software that we currently use. For example, there's a site called where you can create simple graphic organizers and then invite others to view or edit that work. Blogs support the development of writing skills but, if we teach kids to use them well, we provide them with a more authentic audience, and those blogs could be used as a tool for discussion among class members, synthesis of ideas and application of knowledge. Wikis allow us to also write but in a more collaborative way. If I place text in a blog, it cannot be replaced or edited by anyone reading my blog, it can only be commented on. By contrast, a wiki allows me to place content on the web that is meant to be replaced, edited and worked on collaboratively.

Social bookmarking websites such as allow me to bookmark websites and I can "tag" those sites with keywords that would be appropriate to identify those sites. Not only that, but, I can go to and search for sites by tags. But, here's the really cool part for educators, I can designate other users as members of my network so that, if I bookmark a site, it is also shared within my network. A teacher then, could be sitting at home searching for sites appropriate to a unit of study for Social Studies, find a site, save it to his/her site and any other teacher in his/her network would also get this site. With a little careful planning, teachers could agree to certain tags to be used for sites in a particular unit to make it easier to retrieve them for students. The tag could be something like 5_SS_civilwar to indicate that it's appropriate to a study of the civil war in 5th grade social studies. Students don't have to have access to the teacher's account - they simply go to the teacher's site (mine is and search by the tag (which is provided by the teacher).

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Information in the 21st Century

I'm listening tonight for the second time, to a podcast done at the recent NECC conference. There is a panel of 4 or 5 people talking about Web 2.0 aka the Read/Write web. One of the points made by David Warlick, in response to a question about the future of web 2.0 in the classroom, is that, on the web information flows without containers.

So, as I thought about that, I wanted to see if I could create some sort of visual about the flow of information. I decided on this one as a way of describing what's been my experience over the past few weeks in reading several blogs, which connect their thoughts/content to other blogs, which lead me to particular resources, which intersects with something that someone else get the picture I think!

By contrast, the traditional classroom presents information in containers as if this is the only information we have to use or have access to. My guess is that these "containers" would be textbooks, worksheets, maps, globes, the teacher...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

NECC Day 1

The NECC conference is going on in San Diego this week. NECC and some of the people who are attending are doing great things for those of us at home...NECC is providing webcasts and podcasts and some of the attendees are providing us with notes through their blogs.

David Warlick, my new favorite technology guru, did a session today called Telling the New Story. A guy who attended his session, Jeff Utecht, wrote about this on his blog today. Here's a quote that he wrote from the session:

We think technology as we were born in a time that was defined by our machines. Students today think in terms of information and stories. The information is more important than the technology they use. Can we as teachers and education move to a place where we can think of information and not technology?

Wow! We really need to think about this. Much of our students' day in school is about getting information but where is the information coming from and is it in a form that our students find accessible, easy to deal with?

Here's something else that occurs to me from this blog: maybe it's not the devices that our kids crave so much as what those devices can give them. Why would a kid beg for an iPod? Because it's the best way for him/her to carry around all of the music and videos that they really love. It's not really so much the iPod as it is the access to the information that's important to the user.

Love it!

Monday, July 03, 2006

Technology and professional development

I've just read a blog posting by a guy named Jeff Utecht. He was writing about professional development and points out that teachers don't know what they don't know about the technology training they need. They're comfortable with a few tools and really don't know what else is out there and they don't have time to explore anything new. One response to this blog was from Doug Johnson who says this: "My push has been to change the question from “What specific technology training would you find helpful next year?” to “What are your biggest educational challenges/goals for next year?” and then think about how technology can be tied back into them. I also like to ask “What is your WORST unit and how might we add a tech component to it that will improve it?”

This brings me back to a previous post of mine from June 25th. In that post, I was thinking about David Warlick's notion that we should be integrating curriculum instead of integrating technology and I was brainstorming some if...then statements in that regard. Doug Johnson's question "What specific educational challenges/goals for next year?" relates to this. Here are some examples I'm thinking of: for the past few summers, each of our elementary buildings has been going through a process of data analysis using state assessment data and others. This data is used to inform instructional goals for the next year. Let's pick a possible goal: "improve expository writing" and then construct an if-then situation. If we want students to improve their expository writing skills then we need to help them develop the skills related to this type of writing and we need to provide them with authentic situations in which to write. If we want to improve expository writing then we can provide students with instruction in the use of Inspiration to organize the content of their writing. We can provide our students with access to wikis which will allow them to use their declarative knowledge of [Social Studies] content to work on projects where expository writing is necessary to display their understanding of the content.

We really CAN integrate curriculum with the technology tools that are already readily available. Many of these tools take very little time and effort to employ in instruction.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The I-4 concept

We've been thinking about the connection between instructional strategies and technology tools. Let's turn that around a little bit...

We started with the premise that technology is used basically for four reasons: information, images, interaction and inquiry. We listed all the different ways that technology fits into each of those categories. That was a good start.

But, now we have a little more information based on our own separate investigations, readings and experiences. Tonight the thought is that we need to begin to think about how the technologies we've categorized are/can be used to support student learning. So now, instead of listing the technologies we need to look at how teachers can apply the technologies to what we know about how students learn and what learning skills they need for their future. [personal learning tools]

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

New Concept

Here's a new concept, taken again from the writings of David Warlick. He uses the term "personal learning network" in reference to the connections and learning that are accomplished when you use the web for your own personal learning through the use of technologies such as blogs.

But, I got to thinking about the potential of developing a personal learning network, not just for me, but for our students as well. Only 10 years ago, my personal learning network probably only consisted of my grade level colleagues, members of courses I was taking for my Master's degree and any professional literature I was reading at the time. Now, my personal learning network is populated by professional literature in print as well as on the web, the blogs I read, email that I get from other people, my immediate co-workers, the teachers I work with each day, Janie Pollock [of course!] and my administrative acquaintances. My personal learning network is the people and resources that I can learn from. It should be fluid and changing with the kinds of information that I'm interested in. All of the pieces of my personal learning network do not work together but interact as needed and some of those pieces will drop off in time. For instance, in my quest to learn more about blogs, I began by reading David Warlick's blog. On his "2 Cents Worth" he lists other blogs that he interacts with and that interact with him. I used those links to learn more about blogs but they all took me another step further into other areas of technology of which I was unaware. From some of those blogs, I learned a lot and I continue to read the ones that intrigue me and that provide me with additional professional support. From others, I check in once in a while but, since they no longer contain any new information that I'm looking for, they have been all but eliminated from my personal learning network.

I really like this concept for our students as well. As teachers, we tend to build learning networks for our students don't we? In some of our classrooms, the learning network consists of the textbook, the other students in the room and the teacher. That's pretty limited in relation to the resources and information that are available within a few clicks of the mouse. What can we as teachers do to help our students develop the skills necessary to create their own learning networks?

21st Century Classrooms

It's the 21st century and we need to provide 21st century tools to our 21st century learners who will grow up to be 21st century workers in a 21st century world.

Kids still need to know how to hold a pencil and write a sentence, draw with crayons, and cut with scissors. But our 21st century tools are what they'll be using when they grow up so how can we find a balance here?

I was looking at some sites where teachers are participating in collaborative projects. They show examples of student work, pictures of students at work on their projects and so on. But, the student work was hand written, hand drawn and scanned to be placed on the website and the pictures show students using crayons and pencils to create their projects. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that!

But some would say...maybe these students don't have the access to technology that they need, maybe their teacher doesn't have the technology skills even with access. And others might say...If taxpayers buy thousands of dollars worth of textbooks, what do they expect to see teachers doing with those textbooks? And, if taxpayers buy thousand of dollars worth of computers and related equipment, what should they expect to see teachers doing with that equipment?

No easy answers here...just thinking!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Technology Vision

Here are some links to blog articles that have really gotten me thinking about our concept of technology use in classrooms.

Technology for Its Own Sake - David Warlick's Two Cents

It's About Information, Not Technology - a blog from the Shanghai American School

Technology Phrases That Need to Go Away - John Pederson

In a different blog (that I couldn't find right now) David Warlick also talks about putting aside our thoughts that we can integrate technology into the curriculum and start thinking about integrating the curriculum into the technology.

Here's a quote from the blog article linked above.[the emphasis in the quote is my editing]
"They did not achieve a successful integration of e-mail into the teaching and learning process by teaching students to use e-mail. They achieved it by integrating a need for the communication that can best be achieved with electronic mail. The focus was on communication, on the information skills, not on the technology skills."

So...from that statement then it appears that he's saying that we need to identify the needs and then identify the best ways to achieve fulfilling those needs. Hmm...seems logical and simple, so I'll try this out.

• If we have the need to communicate, it can be best achieved through the use of email.

• If we have the need to organize ideas, it can be best achieved through the use of Inspiration or Kidspiration.

• If we have the need to locate information, in elementary classrooms it can be best achieved by using Yahooligans or Kidsclick but in middle and high school classes it can be best achieved by using Google or other more sophisticated search engines.

• If we have the need to take that information and reduce it down to its most important points or keywords, it can best be achieve if we copy and paste it into a word processor so that we can eliminate extraneous information and keep just the most important stuff. Simply and efficiently.

• If we have the need to improve writing skills then our students need to write. Improvement can be best achieved by giving students opportunities to use as many writing tools as possible and to write for as many different purposes as possible. Those needs can be best achieved through the use of tools like KidPix that, for our younger students, can combine the use of pictures with text. Or, if we want students to really understand communication, of which writing is a part, then we need to give them opportunities to write for response from others. This might be accomplished through the use of a blog.

•If we have the need to have students working collaboratively on projects, we can best achieve this if we provide them with a wiki which allows anytime, anywhere access to the information being consumed or produced by the group of students. This way, they're not confined to access to the school network or to a network shared folder. Wikis provide a collaborative environment where all of its users have a voice, the right to contribute and the right to edit.

•If we have the need to improve reading skills then we need to give our students opportunities to read on their own, listen to good models of reading, or read aloud to others. The best way to achieve this is to give students access to lots of reading materials that are appropriate for their skill level.(Teachers can access a variety of these leveled materials at Reading A-Z) Students can listen to good models of reading through the use of or any number of other online story sites. We can achieve reading aloud by giving students time to read to each other OR we could provide them with recording devices that allow them to play back their reading so that they can hear and get feedback/reflect on their performance. Your computer is actually a recording device given the right pieces of software to do so and many of these are open source and easy to use.

I could go on and on but just think about the simplicity of this one way of looking at bringing the curriculum into the technology. I'm continuing this little quest offline as I write this and have created a table in Word with two columns. One labeled "If" and the other labeled "Then". Because...IF I need to organize all my thoughts about this topic, THEN this can best be achieved if I create a two column table showing me those relationships. Gotta love technology! :)

Thursday, June 22, 2006


I was just reading two things: one, a blog discussing the fact that, during the tsunami a couple of years ago, there were no "official" news reporters on the scene. All of the video and still photos actually came from ordinary citizens, and tourists - news corporation could not operate in "traditional" fashion and had to rely on images not produced by their own reporters in order to get their stories out. The other was an article about an organization called iCommons that "aims to establish a global commons – a worldwide system that allows people to use the internet to collaborate and access knowledge without the restraints of traditional copyright law." For some reason, the phrase "traditional copyright law" got me thinking about the one word: "traditional". With the technology tools that we have to produce, remix and reinvent any type of content whether audio, visual or text based our "traditional copyright" laws no longer serve us well and we're struggling with traditional vs creative.

In education, we certainly do cling to our traditional ways of doing things - traditional routines, traditional pedagogy, traditional scheduling. If we did something one way before and it worked, then it certainly will work again. More and more I hear conversations among teachers about students ("I've had a tough class this year") and how students have changed yet we haven't acknowledged all of the factors driving these changes. We "think" it might be all the testing...we "think" it might be that the kids go home to dysfunctional families...we "think" kids don't "listen" anymore. I went to a conference about 6 years ago where the presenter pointed out that, in the first five years of their lives, children live in an interactive world but when they get to school, that interaction stops and students are placed in desks, told to do their own work and don't talk to each other while the teacher is instructing. Students also live in a world of creativity, innovation, and collaboration they we haven't yet been able to wrap our heads around in education. I'm not saying I have any solutions, these are just a few reflections and since I've made it my mission to write once a day on this blog - there it is! My own 2 cents... just because! :)'s going to be 3's an article about homeless people and their access to technology.,71153-0.html

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Interesting to think about....

I was just reading back through some writing from David Warlick's blog. Below is some text from his blog where he is answering the question: what exactly should teachers be doing [faced with the challenges of teaching students in the digital age]?
**The bolded text is my editing of the parts that stand out for me.

What should the classroom teacher be doing now?

* First of all, they should join the conversation, just like Cheryl says. They should start paying very close attention to the world they are teaching our children about and then start talking about it. They should start blogging and reading blogs. I could never adequately describe the learning curve I have ridden over the past 12 months since starting to read blogs, and to participate in the conversation.

* Teachers must start looking for, and inventing, new stories. To much of what we do in our classrooms, curriculum meetings, standards committees, and board rooms, are based on old and outdated stories. Find the new stories and start telling the heck out of them to everyone, at every opportunity.
* Start coming at things sideways.
* We’re still teaching like it’s all our children will ever need to learn. We need to start helping students learn to teach themselves.
* We’re coming out of an age of occupational security. So what’s the upside of less security? More opportunity. What do kids need to know to leverage and even create opportunity.
* Second think literacy. What are the basic skills when information is increasingly networked, digital, and overwhelming, and what are the pencil and paper in that information environment.
* Stop talking about integrating technology into the curriculum, and start talking about integrating the curriculum into an information-driven, technology-rich, rapidly changing world.
* Find and craft new stories and tell them. To your class…”I read yesterday that at any given moment 2% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) is in the back of a UPS truck. What do you think we, in our community, put on those trucks — or what do you think we might put on those trucks in the future?”

To the public…”At some point, sooner than we believe, virtually all practical day to day information will be available digitally and through a network, and almost exclusively through digital technology. Anyone without convenient (at hand) access to a networked, digital device and the skills to use that device, may as well not know how to read. We’ve decided how important it is to learn to ready. How about the tech part?”

We need to be inventing new stories, sharing them, and telling them ALL THE TIME.

"New" vocabulary for the 21st century

Today, as I'm reading some of my newly favorite blogs on the web, I'm thinking about all the new vocabulary that I've learned over the past few weeks. Here's a list of just a few of the terms I've read repeatedly. I suspect I'll be adding to this list as I go along:

rss feeds
transformative tools
social networks
read/write web
web 2.0
personal learning spaces
collective knowledge spaces
digital storytelling
digital natives

So our vocabulary has changed quite a bit over the past ten or so years hasn't it? We know what the research says about the need for students to have an understanding of vocabulary in order to be successful in their learning, in making connections to new learning. A learner is a learner is a learner...So what about teachers? Do they need to understand these words in order to understand what's going on with our kids outside of the classroom? If we want to help them connect to new information about the use of technology in instruction we probably need to start by helping them understand the language we use when we discuss this topic.