Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Neighbors Again...but the Digital Kind This Time

On Jan. 19th I wrote about how great the neighbors are in my area, especially in a snowstorm which can generally cause some frustrations of one kind or another around here. After going back to read over the post again, I began thinking about neighbors in a more global way.

Some of my best neighbors are the ones who write in their blogs. They're the neighbors who've helped me learn more through their experiences, understand more about technology in the classroom and discover all the new digital tools as they are found. Other neighbors are found through RSS feeds. They're the ones who are surfing the web and bookmarking sites in or Diigo and sharing them with the world.

I've been fiddling around a little bit more with Diigo lately but have been frustrated with their "blog this" feature. I just couldn't get it to work, couldn't figure out why not and couldn't find anything on the website that would help me solve the problem. So, today, one of my "neighbors" wrote a blog posting using that Diigo feature and I wrote a comment asking him to tell me how he had gotten it to work. A few short hours later I checked back on his blog and, sure enough, my good neighbor came through with what ended up being an extremely simple solution.

The best part of this story is that my neighbor, Clay Burrell, is in South Korea and I'm in New York State. In a digital world, our best neighbors are only a few mouse clicks and keystrokes away.

Problem Solving as Professional Development

Always something to think about from David Warlick

David Warlick writes yesterday:

I maintain that the best solution to integrating contemporary literacy (digital literacy, information skills, computer skills, whatever you want to call it.) into what and how we teach is simple. It’s dramatic, but its simple — because teachers will do what helps them do their jobs. Teachers will do what solves their problems.

So the solution is to give them a problem.

Take all the paper out of every classroom and replace it with access to digital content, and put digital/networked information tools in the hands of every teacher and learner. Then say, “Now teach! Now Learn!”

Of course you’re going to have to provide them with time for retooling, and a little staff development, but it will happen, when they have little choice.

This would really make an interesting problem to present to teachers as part of a professional development plan to introduce new digital tools to teachers and then help them plan these tools into instruction for the school year wouldn't it? I find that the teachers I work with have a hard time thinking about starting something new once we've gotten into the school year. If they make something new a part of their routine right from the start they're more likely to work on it throughout the year. Hmm...I love new sparks!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Collaborative Learning with Diigo

This was something I wrote a while ago but saved as a draft. The blogging I refer to with Diigo is still not working for me directly. Diigo has a feature called "blog this" from which you should be able to highlight some text on a site then go directly to creating a blog posting about what you've read. I haven't been able to make it work with Blogger but Will Richardson regularly uses it on his blog (don't know what he uses). Anyway, here's the gist of this idea:

With a little experimentation, some of the features of Diigo have become much more clear to me tonight. I've been reading and commenting to Clay Burrell's blog, Beyond School. He's doing some really interesting things with his students but most importantly, he's working on turning the responsibility for learning over to his students and finding great success with what he's done so far. In going back and forth on this, it became really clear that Diigo has some extremely important possibilities for learning. For example, from a posting that Clay made last night, I added some sticky notes to his posting then made them public. Because he has a Diigo account, he was able to see all my notes. When I go to my Diigo bookmarks, I can see all the notes I made but more importantly, I can pull those notes right into my blog as shown below. What a great tool for students to use as they read and write about their learning! Here's the notes from Clay's posting:

Beyond School

Repeatable moment: With the class, we re-defined our labels--the words "student" and "teacher" were out; "learners" was in. We have to ritually repeat this to make that semantic difference cement itself in our realities.
  • This is really important to remember in the 21st century. When you label you and yourself "learners" it seems to subconsciously put you into that role and you begin to act within that role. - post by quirkytech
Repeatable moment: A 2:40 teacher-student ratio is more efficient than two 1:20 classrooms. Spivey and I tag-teamed, taking different roles--him delivering verbiage while I drifted amongst students to help troubleshoot, and vice versa. That was a bit of an eye-opener. We should do that more often.
  • Now it's not "his" students or "your" students - both of you are on the same playing level to all of the students in the room. - post by quirkytech
Laughable: Read my raptures about Diigo in this blog ("researching" tag), see the red-hot enthusiasm. Now see the natives: Virtually highlighting key ideas in virtual texts, bookmarking them, annotating how they might use them in their class wikipedia--though I need to check on how they're tagging--like it's nothing radical at all. Just a tool. (I was tempted to launch into a "When I was your age, we had to use index cards, and walk to and from school for three miles in ten feet of snow, uphill in both directions," etc. Didn't.)
  • YES! Big LOL! Some people I know are still using index cards - I can't imagine what happens to those poor kids who drop their pile of cards and then have to figure out how to rearrange them. - post by quirkytech
Repeatable moment 2: Spivey and I decided (which of us came up with it, I honestly forget--we probably talked our way to finding it) to reward the best of the four class wikipedias with significant bonus points for the unit grade. This class competition seemed to motivate them.
  • I'm betting that the bonus points will mean nothing compared to the act of real learning that's going on. - post by quirkytech
So now, what else can we do with Diigo? The sky's the limit! Thanks for the experiment, Clay!

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Power of Neighbors

In the northeast, we've had an unusual winter. The temperatures have been much milder than usual and we've had very little snow. Just a week ago, we were talking about how the climate change must be affecting plants and animals, not to mention things like the sale of snowblowers, shovels, heavy coats, and people who offer snow plowing services. We've really been lulled into a false perception that we might be spared from winter's wrath all together. Until today...

That's when the husband doesn't get home until after you do and the snowblower doesn't want to start up. And...that's when it's nice to have neighbors. Shoveling about 8 inches of snow (with more coming down steadily) is really no fun even though it's a good exercise in stress relief. :) We have some great neighbors and my husband has bailed them out a number of times when their snowblowers weren't working or when the wives were trying to handle the work on their own. So, it was a welcome relief when a neighbor came to my rescue this afternoon. It's nice to know that neighbors will still be there when you need them most. All the technology in the world can't replace that.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Power of Audience

A story on the local news caught my interest tonight: an art class was featured from a local high school. Seems that their task was to take photographs of orphaned children in Honduras (I think...) and turn them into portraits and, in turn, these portraits were going to be sent to the children. Students who were working on this project were interviewed. They talked about what materials they were using to create the portraits. But, the thing that really made me tune in was one student who commented on how knowing that her art work was going to be given to and appreciated by the child (i.e. an audience outside the classroom) made this particular project so much more important to her - important to make the portrait just right. Amazing what the power of audience can do to a student's attitude toward a school project!


Several things have converged for me today that all have come as a result of involving myself in my own personal professional development i.e. reading blogs and writing my own.

Here's what came together:
1. Reading Daniel Pink's "A Whole New Mind" - sorry...can't remember who first wrote about it but because several bloggers were writing about it I started to pay attention. Glad I did!
2. A Difference: Darren Kuropatwa wrote today about a video online where Sir Kenneth Robinson spoke about creativity. Watched the video this morning while getting organized for the day.
3. Revised Bloom's Taxonomy: this one has been swimming around in my head for a while now and I've been reading "A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching and Assessing" in which the author's discuss the revised taxonomy. This topic was also brought up on a few different blogs.

So with all this reading in mind, a conversation came up regarding what the product would be in a first grade classroom as a result of a "research" project relating to their study of animals. The teacher told me what the students would be doing with all the information she was going to help students work with. I said, "So...factual recall?" And from that simple comment came a greatly expanded conversation about what it meant to "research", why we are compelled to look for information and the possibilities for using that information in ways that allow children to demonstrate knowledge in more creative ways. So, we went from creating a flip book (that would basically allow students to merely write facts they had learned) to asking students to design a zoo in which the animals they had learned about could live and thrive.

We need to have more of these kinds of conversations with each other about creativity. Our usual teacher "script" leads us to think that if kids can tell us what we taught then we've been successful. If that's all we want from our students, they will never be able to achieve what they're truly capable of.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Our Library/Librarian "Script"

Our librarians are our information specialists. In a world where we can access information on demand, they are a vital link in the instructional process. I see this more and more as I continue on in the project I referred to in the last post.

As we've worked together, we've been struggling with the concept of cooperation versus collaboration. It's really back to what I referred to in a posting on the "scripts" we follow as teachers. In my school district, we're working with a "script" that was in effect 16 years ago when I first joined the district and probably for many years before that. The "script" goes something like this: I'm a teacher and it's my planning time. Our special area classes rotate on a 4 day schedule and today it's my turn to take the kids to library and computer lab. I don't exactly know what they're doing but it's my planning time so I don't have to know." Now, this isn't meant to be derogatory - it's just the script.

However, in the past 16 years the school district has gone from 15 computers in a small room we call the computer lab, to 6 computers in every classroom, a wireless laptop cart in every building and a large lab capable of seating 25 students as well as Internet access in every instructional space in the building. We all know what kind of instructional landscape that can create and what kinds of resources that provides for us. But, one thing it hasn't done is to change the way we view our librarians. For many teachers, the librarian is still the person that we go to when we're getting ready for our [insert your own title] unit so he/she can provide us with additional books to have in the classroom that we'll refer to or put out for the kids to read as they choose. We call this collaborating with the librarian but what we're really doing is just getting the librarian to do what we think librarians do best - help us with books. Their role is so much more in the 21st century and we need to fully explore what that can and must be.

Librarians and Data

For the past year or so, I've been involved in a project that seeks to develop and sustain collaborative relationships between teachers and librarians. While this may seem like a "duh" to some of us, consider the fact that many schools don't have a flexible schedule in their libraries. For instance, in my school district, the elementary libraries are part of the rotating schedule of special classes (art, music, pe, library/computer lab). In other words, they're teaching the kids when the teachers are having their planning time. And, in addition to that, for many years our libraries and labs were so small that the class had to be split for that special area meaning that, with a 4 day rotation, kids were in either the library or the computer lab only once every 8 days...not very conducive to continuing instruction.

Because of this arrangement, many librarians had never seen the data that comes to us from the state in regards to our state assessments. In fact, many had never seen even a copy of the assessment that's been given to our kids in 4th grade every year since 1999 nor the state standards for English Language Arts. In other words, no connection to the instructional needs of the students.

Now, with a few online databases, we're able to see how each building performs in relation to other buildings, to the district and to the region. One of the librarians who works with 8th grades was able to help the English teachers see that one of the areas of weakness could be traced back to when certain skills were being taught during the year. As we've studied this data together, the librarians have come to see the role that they can play in helping to develop some of the skills so that they approach teachers from the aspect of working together to improve student achievement. The original intent of my participation as an instructional technology specialist was in regards to the data - to learn more about our data sources and to assist our librarians in using the data. Because I'm involved in so many aspects of the curriculum with technology, it has also been to my benefit to better understand the world of school librarians and make connections between them and teachers. It's all been very interesting and every time we meet there are some new "aha" moments for all of us through our conversation and our sharing.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


It's all about perspective....before I started to write on my own blog, the most writing I did was in creating directions for using software, plans for professional development classes or memos to teachers - not very exciting stuff but definitely required for what I do.

So, I had to chuckle to myself today as I sat through a meeting and as I made connections between that content and other things I've been reading or learning about I kept thinking, "I need to blog about that" so my notes were more about my connections than about exactly what was being said. I was really craving the feel of a keyboard beneath my fingers all day long! :)

It's all about perspective isn't it?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Our Classroom "Scripts" -How Does Technology Change Them?

I picked up a copy of The Teaching Gap by James. W. Stigler and James Hiebert this weekend and began reading through it. Part of the point of the book is in describing patterns of teaching.

Chapter 6 – Teaching is a Cultural Activity – is really sparking some thought tonight although I’m not quite done with it yet…just needed to stop for a minute and process through a few things.

The authors talk about the cultural scripts that we develop and describe these scripts as “generalized knowledge about an event that resides in the heads of participants.” We develop this knowledge through observation and participation in whatever activity it is. In terms of the classroom, we have all been students at some point and therefore, we all have scripts in our heads about how classrooms operate or should operate. It is also pointed out that cultural scripts are learned implicitly not by deliberate study. In other words, if we look at the classroom as a cultural activity we just know how to “do classroom” because we’ve always participated in it in certain ways and the activity is composed of particular features and customary ways of doing things.

To carry this thought over into using technology in the classroom, I’m thinking about where we began with computers. Most of us have probably experienced the use of computers in our classrooms or in our instruction in some form for at least 10 years. Our teaching as a cultural script 10 years ago was still much the same as it had been even 50 years ago. So, the addition of a computer or computers to the classroom had to be integrated into that cultural script. The way it was integrated into that script was to make the computer a place to practice skills or a place for students to go when the other work, that according to the “script” was meant to be done first. 10 years later we haven’t changed the script much have we?

For some teachers, it’s been difficult even to learn to use the computer themselves because it was not already a cultural activity for them. In other words, they hadn’t observed its use nor participated in its use as part of the classroom “script.” We’re still struggling to make technology part of our teaching script because it’s not something that we experienced when we were students ourselves. We’re still operating from the role models who taught us, who taught them and who taught generations before us. In the meantime, our world has changed, the technology has changed, and what our students do outside the classroom with technology has changed. The nature of our technology tools is vastly different than it was 10 years or even 5 years. But the “script” isn’t changing to adapt to what’s happening in the rest of the world.

The authors tell us, “One of the reasons classrooms run as smoothly as they do is that students and teachers have the same script in their heads.” As I think about this quote, the intent of the book and the copyright date, it occurs to me that our students and teachers don’t share the same script any longer. After all, that script hasn’t changed very much over the past 50 or so years has it? If the teacher’s script hasn’t changed but the student’s script has, what impact does that have on our classrooms? Maybe that question isn’t even worth asking because we’re already seeing that the impact is students who are disengaged from their learning, who have access to information and resources in their pockets that they’re banned from using because it doesn’t really fit the “script” that we as teachers are still operating with. Our students are developing their own script about learning through their connections to technology, through their interactions and participation in online communities or maybe we should say online cultures. As these cultures continue to develop, it seems reasonable to expect that the cultural activities will develop as well. We need to catch up!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Recognizing Change and Doing Something About It

In the northeast, our winters are usually marked by unbearably cold days and non-stop snow. We usually have inches if not feet on the ground by this time of the winter. Not this year... In fact, I walked out of the house two days this week with a sweater on but no coat. Nightline last night had a report about a man whose business in the winter is operating a ski run - but not this winter. He saw the signs in the climate changes last winter and didn't even open up this winter. Instead, he's beginning to re-tool his business in order to run a water park instead. He's changing his operations based on the trends he's observing and the changes he's anticipating. Instead of just closing down for good he's making the changes that will be necessary for him to continue producing income.

This made me think about the same thing in education. Are we adjusting to the trends and the changes that we observe around us? One day, in a computer lab, there were two 4th grade students who came to school with Bluetooth devices, brought them to the computer lab and were talking with each other via these devices during their working time. Of course, the result was to take them to the principal. But, how long will it be before more children bring those devices to school, even 4th graders?

I was asked recently if I'd do a workshop during our upcoming professional development day focusing on a particular piece of software we have on computers in our elementary school. While I think it's a valuable piece of software and I constantly refer to its use as a learning tool for students - it's just not that difficult to use. If someone wants to learn to use it, I could spend 30 minutes with them and they'd be all set. Instead of using that professional development time on piece of software, I'd much rather spend that time helping teachers to understand the trends and changes going on that we may not be aware of. I already know that most of our teachers don't have any idea what a blog is. Honestly, I think the day is coming when we won't be buying software anymore. Instead, all of the tools we need will be found on the web - actually they're already there and will only continue to get better, more efficient, more user friendly. Our biggest challenge will be to keep ourselves informed and connected with each other to share those developments and share the best uses of the tools to help our students become better learners.