Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reflect and resolve -- Twitter's impact

How addicted to Twitter are you?
Created by Oatmeal

This morning I sent out a Happy New Year message to my teachers with a link to How to Survive 2010-Digitally explaining how I had learned more and been able to support them better in the last year than ever before because of my new found connections via Twitter, RSS feeds and blogs. I encouraged them to explore Ozge Karaoglu's suggestions for new year's resolutions. Ozge's resolutions are approachable, not only because they are few in number and reasonably achievable, but also because she has shared several links to helpful, user-friendly resources.

How did I come across Ozge's wonderful post? Through Twitter (via @AuntyTech,) of course! As you can see by my "Twitter addiction score" I am not yet entirely consumed. I use Twitter primarily for professional connections, though I am beginning to find it useful for some personal and civic interests as well. But I must agree with Ozge's assertion that "Twitter has been undoubtedly the best tool I started using in 2009..." My 280+ Twitter connections to delightful, smart, engaging and generous individuals and groups have become invaluable to my professional and personal growth. Without them I would have had a hard time finding the all wonderful blogs that feed my Google reader and I certainly would not have had access to as many resources to share with my staff.

My goals for 2010 are:
  • to improve and strengthen my PLN connections
  • to look for new ways to support my teachers at their individual comfort levels using technology in their classrooms
  • to nudge each of my teachers to a higher level of engagement with the content they're teaching using technology

so that teachers and their students will benefit from more opportunities for collaboration with each other and engagement with the world.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Facebook Effect

There were a number of presentations at TIES this year that I was not able to attend. The Facebook Effect was one of them. A huge thank you goes out to Lisa Sjogren for sharing her slide presentation! When Facebook changed it's privacy policies a few weeks ago I read them and made what I thought were the necessary changes. Then I heard from Twitter friend @cathycrea about the fan pages being entirely public as in everyone in the world can see you on them. I removed myself from a list or two, but left myself on Farmville because for me Facebook is a place for recreation and I like playing Farmville. Sure enough, last night I had a friend request from someone I do not know who found me on the Farmville fan page. That's fine, but it brings me closer to the point of this post, which is, be sure you know who can see what on your Facebook pages.

I spent a fair amount of time this afternoon going through this presentation slide by slide, following Lisa's step by step instructions and found quite a few holes I had not known existed.

So even if you think you know it all already, I highly recommend you check out this slideshare.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Managing the Digital Classroom

I LOVE this Voicethread conversation posted by Jeff Utecht! The 33 participants are teachers at International School Bangkok completing their fourth COETAIL (Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy) course. These teachers are doing a terrific job of exploring ways to use the technology they have available to offer life-relevant learning experiences for their students and sharing what they have found, whether successful or frustrating, using a free tool collaboration tool that just about any teacher with Internet access can use in his or her classroom.

This is a fantastic example of using a tool you're trying to master to share with others what you know. Did I say that right? What I want to convey is that we need to use the tools we have at hand for every professional development exercise. I am no expert but I believe teaching someone how to use an application or gadget just so they know how to use it will not be as effective as using an application or gadget to teach a life or professional skill.

Anyway, watch, read, listen to this conversation* about how to manage technology gadgets in your classroom. I can assure you. You will come away with more information and understanding than you have now. Thank you, Jeff for sharing!

*If you are using a Windows PC and wish to make the screen bigger, type Ctrl/Shift/+ until the screen is large enough. If you have an Apple computer substitute the Apple Command key for Ctrl.

Monday, November 2, 2009

ActivInspire tutorial videos from Atomic Learning

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Teacher's Guide To Web 2.0 at School

I know...I have been away for a LONG time. While I know I need not offer excuses I do want to explain that the month before school begins again is a crazy time for techs, so when I haven't been working I have been attending to the rest of my life (including that entertainment piece of it referenced in my last post.) But now that it is the first day of school, I am easing my way back into my professional connections and thinking about how to move myself and my collegues to our next steps. Check out this SlideShare Presentation from Sacha Chua:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm an Ambivalent Networker

This is what the Pew Internet & American Life Project has determined about me:

"If you are an Ambivalent Networker, you have folded mobile devices into how you run your social life, whether through texting or online social networking tools. You also rely on ICTs for entertainment. At the same time – perhaps because of the volume of digital pings from others – you may sometimes find all your connectivity to be intrusive. You are confident in your ability to troubleshoot your various information devices and services."

Not sure what I think about that...I don't think I RELY on ICTs for entertainment, but maybe I do. It depends on how entertainment is defined. I love to garden, walk and play with my dog, spend time with friends, knit, curl up with a good book. None of that is reflected in the above analysis. When I am not doing any of those things, then yes, I would say I enjoy sitting in front of a ballgame on TV, dog snugged up against my hip, computer on my lap with Twitter, Facebook, Tetris all going at once. Could I do without most technologies in my personal life? Probably, but I have to say have them makes it easier to connect with my far away family and colleagues and I would miss these connections if they were no longer available.

What Kind of Tech User Are You?

Posted using ShareThis

Friday, June 12, 2009

25 Tools: A Toolbox for Learning Professionals 2009

Check out this SlideShare Presentation from Jane Hart. I am affirmed when I see I already use a number of these tools and challenged to try a few more.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dear Oprah, Is plastic my true purpose?

Ever since my Environmental Science class in highschool (1974) I have tried to use less plastic. These days I attempt to purchase items that don't include plastic packaging and reuse and recycle the plastic containers I do buy. However, my feeble attempts don't hold a candle to the dedication of Beth Terry. I am once again inspired to redouble my efforts to live mindfully and consume less of everything, especially plastic.

According to the calculator at Global Footprint Network it would take 3.2 Earths to sustain all of our planet's inhabitants at my personal standard of living. Ouch! I have some serious work to do.

Friday, May 1, 2009

BADD--Blogging Against Disablism Day 2009

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2009 Although I thought I knew what "disablism" is I it looked up anyway. Most references pointed me to "ableism," a term I knew I knew. It, like its cousins racism, sexism, classism, ageism, etc., is a label for a discriminatory practice we humans use to set people who are different from us apart from us. In this case, ableism and disablism practices discriminate against people whose abilities don't fit the standard we have as a whole set for "abled." Our societal conventions and institutions are structured to favor those who can walk on two legs, see with two eyes (glasses allowed if they correct to 20/20,) hear with two ears, work with two hands, and use our voices to speak smoothly and distinctly. Oh, and let me not forget, we must demonstrate mental health and acuity on a level with our peers at every age. Operate outside of these parameters and one is certain to be the object of discrimination and quite possibly distain.

Many of us considered abled have the privilege of not having to think much about how we get around, what we'll need to get through new and existing experiences and environments or that we might be turned down for a position for any other reason other than our qualifications. We need to change that. We must adopt the mindset individually and collectively where everyone has earned our consideration and respect on no other merit but they exist as individuals. Our humaness dictates we will all use tools to complete the tasks we need to do to survive. We will have varying abilities and skills and use different tools to move through life and as a society we must not set up barriers to success for those needing more or different tools than others.

Disablism or ableism, whichever the name, is wrong. Don't do it. Don't allow it. Seek it out and destroy it. Our world will be a better place when it is no more.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Seeds of Hope

On this last Friday as Minnesotans struggled to convince spring to stay and warm the earth enough to encourage the emerging plants brave enough make an appearance in April, I had the delightful opportunity to attend a panel discussion featuring six leaders in the Minnesota educational technology community. The Northeast Metro Educators' Network, a partnership of district staff development coordinators from thirteen school districts and Hamline University, sponsored the event and it was hosted by the E2T2 cohort of which my colleague Debra Watson and two other teachers in our district are members. The invited audience included administrators and technology coordinators from all the buildings represented by the cohort participants. The panel members were all thoughtful, articulate and passionate. Each speaker demonstrated hopeful exuberance and resolve to challenge the status quo and change the way Minnesota children get their education. But the really exciting aspect of this day occurred during the catered lunch, which was excellent, by the way D'Amico and Sons, not a boxed sandwich! I can hardly wait to tell you about it, but first let me share my notes from the panel discussion.

The guest panelists were: Mike Burke, Director of Media & Technology Services, Edina Schools; Jay Haugen, Superintendent, District 197 (West St Paul, Mendota Heights, Eagan); Marla Davenport, Executive Director, TIES; Karen Johnson, Online Learning Coordinator, MN Dept of Ed; Doug Thomas, Executive Director, EdVisions Schools; Paul Wasko, eFolio Program Director, MnSCU.

Each panelist was asked to introduce themselves and answer the question, "What have you had to unlearn?" Here is what I heard them say:

Mike Burke--
  • Mike believes in terms of the adoption of technology in education the principal is key. Principals lead by example and encouraging early adopters.
  • Budget crunch time is a good time for change.
  • Learning must be student-centered rather than teacher-centered.

Jay Haugen--

  • Jay is passionate about his current beliefs because he used to believe the opposite.
  • The greatest areas for growth are in the things we (as a country) are good at. "We're not that good at tests." We are good at imagination and creativity, these are the "things we can build a life on."

Marla Davenport--

  • Marla found she needed to "unlearn I have to know more than the people I am working with."
  • She has learned to relinquish control to the group.

Karen Johnson--

  • Karen has reexamined her definition of "smart." She has challenged herself to be open and avoid profiling, to look for and encourage "persistence" rather than brilliance. Persistence, she says, is the key to success in an online classroom.
  • She believes myths are perpetuated in education and the effect is to protect the status quo.

Doug Thomas--

  • Doug has unlearned a statement he was told be a teacher, that there is a right way to do everything.
  • He has learned to "challenge to just about everything...that looks like regular school."

Paul Wasko--

  • Paul reminded us magic doesn't just happen. It takes a lot of work.
  • He says our job is to move "best practices" to "required practices" and
  • Colleges of education must model for new teachers what is expected.
Following the introductions the panelists took questions from the audience and many answers drew on references to Clayton Christensen's books, Disruptive Class and The Innovator's Dilemma. Here are snippets from their answers:
  • If education does not change, it will be replaced.
  • We must figure out ways to effectively integrate technology, not just drop it in.
  • Never ask if you CAN do something; ask HOW you can get it done.
  • Use times of tight resources to look at things in a new way-readjust, redesign-what do we really need to do and what do we want to do and how can we do it smarter?
  • And whatever you decide to do, COMMUNICATE AND PLAN AHEAD.
  • "Change is not a choice we have. Change helps all students." -Jay Haugen

After the moderated discussion we broke for lunch and were instructed to sit with our colleagues from our respective districts. Lunch was salad, lasagna (sadly no vegetarian option,) bread and ginormous cookies in a variety of tasty-looking flavors. I chose the ginger. However, the most delicious course at the table was the discussion. We were given some guiding questions; I don't remember what they were. I do remember lively constructive discussion with my principal, the district curriculum director, and the teachers around what technologies we were using, Delicious, Twitter, blogs, wikis, Skype, etc., how we were using them for professional development and what we need to take them into our classrooms. It was exciting to have for the first time such candid dialog with administrators and see them listen and suggest their willness to explore more ways to support true technology use and integration within our district learning system.

The conversation has given me hope we will move forward and begin to make the changes necessary to support our students and teachers in using today's tools to learn the critical skills they need to succeed. The seeds have been planted. Next week the district technology planning committee will meet to begin the next technology plan cycle. My hope is for the fertile soil of open minds and favorable growing conditions of creative thinking.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Talk to me, please!

Warning--Rant ahead. Read with discretion and an open mind.

I have grown tired of reading posts with complaints and inferences that administrators and technicians in education have conspired to "lock down" computers to the point of uselessness and have purposely "blocked access" to the Web rendering every useful educational tool unreachable. Now maybe there are individuals out there who have those kinds of control issues, but I would venture to guess that most of us are just not that way.

Yes, we do set group policies with varying permission levels for students, faculty and administrators. These are security measures, which protect not only the integrity and health of the computer and the network, but also you and your personal data. Such policies are necessary as well because in school environments tech staff is limited and in order to address problems quickly and efficiently computers and the programs on them are managed according to standards. Example: If I have some computers running a version of Flash, I need all the computers running that same version of Flash; otherwise, when I sit down at the computer to troubleshoot I waste time trying to figure which version I am working with. Therefore, if you try out a website at home and want to use it with your students at school, it's a good idea to try it out on a computer in the lab and if it doesn't work, let me know. I'll be happy to solve that problem for you in that lab and all the others in my network. It is not going to be good for you or your students if you get them into the lab, find it doesn't work and then complain and/or blog about it without having had a direct and respectful conversation with the tech staff.

Likewise, filters. In our district, and I suspect we are not unusual, no one person or group decides initially which sites will or will not be filtered. Filters come with managing software and algorithms of categories and the company who makes filter decides the filter criteria for those categories. Districts can select degrees of blocking and warning within each category and they can specifically allow or block individual sites. If there is something you need to teach with that you can't get to, let your tech staff know. If they don't have the authority to allow it, go to administration and describe your problem.

Sometimes administrators and technicians are bound by the constraints of limited resources as well as staff. Sometimes there just isn't enough bandwidth on the network, enough memory or processing power in the computer or the right compatibility across platforms and software for the exact thing you saw at a workshop or conference. That doesn't mean it can't be done, it just means we might have to do it a different way until we can resolve those larger issues. So please, please, please...just talk to us, show us what you want to do and we will work with you to bring meaningful and productive technology use to your classroom.

Steam over. All clear. Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The right tool for the job at hand

While I have been away from blogging for awhile, I have not been idle by any means. I have been out exploring other social web environments. I now have a Facebook account, an ooVoo account and even a Zootoo account and it's been fun! Why shouldn't it be? Just as children learn by exploring unknown places, trying new things and playing with friends then adults can learn that way, too.

The one serious tool I have been checking out is Diigo. Diigo has a huge following among educators and I can see why. Teachers by nature love to share not just what they read, but also their insights on the piece or topic. Diigo allows you to highlight sections of text and make your own comments on "sticky notes" before bookmarking a site. Also, when saving, Diigo offers a variety of sharing options. You can save it to a list you've made, either public or private; you can share it to a group; you can "Twitter" it; and/or you can send it out via email.
In Diigo you can have and meet friends, form and join groups, and browse communities of people who have annotated the same articles you have or use the same tags you do. And as in other social networks, you can upload a photo, build a profile and choose how much or little to disclose about yourself. I can see where with Diigo along with Twitter and blogging, one could certainly construct a solid network for professional development and support, but that's not quite what I need from a bookmarking site. That's why I think I will be going back to using Delicious as my primary bookmarking tool.

Delicious is better at meeting my needs because I am not a teacher and I don't spend a lot of time and energy analysing and extrapolating material. I do support teachers and want to provide them with as many useful resources as I can and I want to collect bookmarks in an orderly, easily accessible place. Delicious works for this purpose. I keep my tags simple and purposeful. This teachers can look at my bookmark collection and know exactly what they'll find. Using the tags we can search broad topics or drill down to specifics. When asked I can send out my list of links for math games for primary students or online science museums for field trips. I group and regroup sites by any number of related tags and post the links to these collections on my technology support wiki. Then as I add sites to those tags in Delicious I know the wiki links will show the newly added sites. All these features may be possible in Diigo, but from my perspective Delicous is more straight forward about them. Diigo will be a great tool for people who want to utilize the community benefits of learning together with bookmarking, but Delicious is a better resource for me to serve my staff at this point.

Now...having said all of that...My Diigo bookmarks are set up to save to my Delicious, so I could keep using Diigo and the staff could keep finding my bookmarks in Delicious. The trouble I have found with this plan is Diigo hasn't been able to "learn" my tags. Delicious is wonderful at suggesting the tags I already use when I am ready to save. Diigo, on the other hand, rarely suggests my existing tags and I end up trying to remember, opening up Delicious anyway to look, and many times just missing tags I would normally when I save there.

Additionally, Delicious allows me to sort my tags alphabetically. Diigo is missing that feature. As someone who alphabetizes the spices in her cupboard and I can't imagine a database that can't be alphabetized. Conclusion: Diigo is tasty, but my primary social-booking tool will remain Delicious.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

21st Century Educator

This SlideShare Presentation by Kim Cofino is a powerful depiction of my professional growth the last three months. I find it uncanny the path I thought I was exploring nearly alone since I began to use just a few social learning tools at the beginning of the year is mirrored over and over again in the stories of others. Turns out, of course, that my journey isn't original or self-generated at all. It's exciting and exhilarating to know so many people in education are discovering the benefit of learning with each other for the benefit of the our students.
How has this happened? What is the driving force? Four months ago I was where most of my fellow staff members are, not seeing any need nor having any want to step out into the unknown world of social networking and web 2.0 applications. Each person must find that spark that's going to offer just enough light to see the possibilities, just enough heat to ignite a flame of desire to explore and expand this new horizon. It's likely not going to be the same for everyone, but I will make it my job to nudge and encourage wherever and whomever I can. Our kids deserve it.

Friday, March 20, 2009

TTS, Text to Speech: ImTranslator

Playing with this widget...I'd like it to fit better in the right side bar. The voice is good. Would love to know if anyone else uses it.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Limit resources dictate emphasis on test scores over instruction

This article appeared yesterday in the New York Times:
Where Education and Assimilation Collide
Published: March 14, 2009

Here is the comment I posted.

Living in Saint Paul, MN, we have many newcomers from all over the world in our schools. In the elementary school where I work we try to support them as much as we can in their classrooms and depending on their needs may pull them out of class into small groups for a few minutes a day to work on specific skills. We also are allowed to read certain tests to them, math and science for example, but not reading. Resources are limited, however, and dwindling and the pressure for these students to do well on tests is great and increasing. Because of this we have felt the need to group higher concentrations of students learning English into a few classes, so they are easier to support with just one or two extra teachers. Having them spread out into all classes the way we used to do would mean adding staff that we cannot afford. It would be ideal to let them be assimilated more and allow them to learn more from their native English-speaking peers, but the cost would also be greater to us if they didn't perform sufficiently on the state standardized tests.

It all comes down to too much testing and too few dollars. If the money being spent on testing was being directed to support instruction we could make more headway.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Testing no measure of student progress

Hare rant 3/13/09

The daylight hours are lengthening, the temperature in Minnesota is warming ever so slightly and we're beginning to see patches of hopeful green grass amid puddles of melted snow, but how do we really know spring is around the corner? We know because boxes filled with testing materials have been arriving and I have been busy installing the testing software on every student computer in my school. In the coming weeks all schools in the state will begin the high stakes tests that will determine whether they have achieved "adequate yearly progress" (AYP) or not.

New York Time columnist DAVID BROOKS op ed piece on March 12, 2009 'No Picnic for Me Either’ had much to say about President Obama's goals for education and I hope he's wrong in his thinking about Obama's plan because I know his perception about testing is wrong. This passage in particular highlight the problem with his position that testing students is going to tell us which teachers are good teachers and which schools are good schools. He says,

"Thanks in part to No Child Left Behind, we’re a lot better at measuring each student’s progress. Today, tests can tell you which students are on track and which aren’t. They can tell you which teachers are bringing their students’ achievement up by two grades in a single year and which are bringing their students’ levels up by only half a grade. They can tell you which education schools produce good teachers and which do not."

As my Twitter friend Ira Socol said this morning, "David Brooks has no idea of what 'measuring student progress' means. That's the problem." Unfortunately, Mr. Brooks and too many others believe test scores measure student progress. It is true that with technology we have access to more sophisticated tests. Our district uses the NWEA Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) tests, which actually do offer useful data in specific strands and concepts in literacy, math, language and science. Teachers can use the data immediately to address areas where each student needs more instruction and practice. These tests track individual student learning achievement and academic growth over time and are aligned to the stated standards. Basically then they are a tool to tell teachers what they still need to teach before the state standardized tests, a tool we use to try to get good enough scores to keep us off the "list" of schools not making AYP.

But what do the scores mean? The companies who produce the tests, the districts that purchase them and David Brooks et al would have us believe the scores tell us how much our students have learned relative to the national norm, and subsequently, how well they have been taught. If we believe this, we've allowed ourselves to be duped, for in reality, what is taught in school is only one of many factors contributing to test scores. The students' intellectual abilities and their out-of-school learning are among others. Because not all students come to the classroom with similar aptitudes for quantitative and verbal tasks or from the same cultural framework, these two factors fail as controls. Therefore, using test scores to measure the quality of in-school instruction is illogical and unscientific.

As for what is taught in schools, here also, standardized tests miss the mark. By their very nature, the test questions are designed so that only about half of the students will answer them correctly! This means developers avoid the items answered correctly by too many or by too few students. In this way, the tests produce a broad range of scores based on "middle difficulty" items. Because score variance is important to test interpreters, questions on which students perform well are destined to exclusion. Consequently, we can deduce the questions not making it to the test are not necessarily aligned with a school's curricula. It is no wonder educators are tempted to teach to the test.

When I began working at my school ten years ago it was a multi-age instructional environment where kids of all ages learned together in flexible groups in project based learning classes and literacy circles. When test time came we had a "Celebrate Learning Pepfest" and reminded everyone to get a good night's sleep the nights before. Not so in today's world. In recent years, because of the state's increased testing requirements and a MAP testing session every quarter, barely a month goes by when we're not testing or practicing for testing.

No, testing does not measure or encourage good teaching. In his book Standardized Minds, Peter Sacks asserts, "Standardized tests reward passive, superficial learning, drive instruction in undesirable directions, and thwart meaningful educational reform." Instead of encouraging good teaching, he says, preparing students to do well on tests requires teachers to teach badly. Conversely, he concludes, "to teach in a way that helps students understand ( and become enthusiastic about) ideas may actually lower scores."

And so Mr. Brooks, I can agree that schools must do their jobs and be held accountable for teaching our nation's youth. I agree that teachers who are good educators should be rewarded with the respect and compensation they have long deserved, but you are wrong when you say that this means testing. Testing measures only a fraction of the life skills we teach in our schools.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Constructivism and Technology: Creative Web Tools

Check out this SlideShare Presentation: Creative Web Tools For and By Kids is a slideshow presentation given at the CUE (Computer Using Education) 2009 conference.
One of the things I like about this presentation is the representation of teachers as co-learners. With the exponential rate at which technology is advancing and the amount of information is increasing, there is no way any one person can know everything needed to know to be an expert for more than a moment. We will do our students the greatest service if we allow them to see us explore and learn right along with them. And what is the best way to learn something? Why to teach it, of course. So there you have it...teachers who are learners are teachers and learners who are teachers are learners.

A vendor who "gets it"

My favorite blogger this week in Michael Summers. His blog SMaRT Education Initiative-1 to1 shows amazing insight into the challenges teachers and school face when attempting to teach with technology. Not a teacher but certainly a educator, Michael understands that teachers who don't use tecnology in their classrooms aren't backward or lazy. They just don't see how the technology available fits into the learning processes happening in their classrooms. He believes "it doesn't matter what we put into our classrooms, meaningful technology integration cannot work and will not work unless and until teachers are a part of the design process at the outset because teachers, not technology, will dictate the success of our efforts." And in order for teachers to want to be involved in the design process they must know "why technology is important; why technology is meaningful, why technology engages our students and why technology improves student outcomes. Because if [they] don't get beyond why, [they]'ll never get to how."

Standing up and telling or even showing teachers why and how isn't going to move them to adoption. No, teachers learn by doing and teaching. We must give them models to follow, opportunities to explore and practice, success and failures to share. New and improved equipment would certainly be a plus, but with limited resources it is not always an option.

Michael is a vendor whose job it is to sell technology to schools, but he argues, "Sometimes scarcity and lack are a good thing. It forces you to make better decisions, to focus on what's really important and to make better use of what you have. In the case of technology, some schools and school districts are woefully underfunded and the technology just isn't there or the technology that is there is out of date and hopelessly obsolete. But in many schools and school districts, the threshold issue isn't really the absence of technology, or the amount of technology, but how the technology that is already there is being used. Is this technology being used as a 21st century learning tool to promote deeper, more meaningful interaction with the subject mater, increased classroom collaboration and communication, more student-driven, project-based learning, innovative instructional practices and more differentiated instruction?"

Sometimes, I know I have been caught in this, we confuse of 21st century learning with 21st century tools. Here we have someone whose job it is to sell us the tools reminding us that whatever tools we have or use, our primary task is to teach 21st century skills.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Every Child's Time

Check out this SlideShare Presentation by Ira Socol:

If you work at my school, much of what you see here is stuff we know and have practiced for 12+ years. It is rewarding too see that others still believe, despite pressures to conform to the existence of standards and never ending testing. We are now moving away from the multi-age model to one of looping. The relationship students and teachers establish and develop over two years together will still occur, but we will no longer have the other benefits we know are inherent in a multi-age instructional setting. How can we incorporate these important principles into our plan so as to meet the need of every child?

Monday, March 2, 2009

"Using technology in the classroom is a mindset, not a skill-set."
Kim Cofino is my new favorite blogger. This 21st Century Literacy Teacher writes prolifically, proficiently and enthusiastically. What makes me so excited about her is that she describes everything she is doing with students and teachers in such understandable detail, it's impossible not to want to jump in and try everything she's doing at her school.

My own blogging efforts are at the other end of the comparative spectrum currently. I have spent so much time at work over the last couple of weeks installing testing software, running updates and performing maintenance tasks on the school computers and most of my non work time on projects around my house that I have been able to form complete thoughts about where to start or with direction to pursue when the teachers and students come back from their break this week. All I have are snippets of ideas picked up here and there and dropped into Evernote and they're just too jumbled up to sort at the moment.

It has been cathartic getting my personal stuff done; all the recipe clippings, articles and papers in little piles have been duly filed or tossed. The spring cleaning is pretty much complete, so as soon as the snow melts I'll be able to dig into the garden without guilt. But the mundane tasks at work have been mind numbing. I could easily conclude that a chimp could do it, but since I won't give out the administrative passwords to anyone, even chimps, I guess I am consigned to do it myself until they hire someone else in the tech department. Huh!

There has been a bright spot on the technology discovery scene. I am still considering what a classroom application might be, but for fun, has been a treat. Ever listening to the radio, watching TV or reading an article and come across a song or artist you'd like to hear again or know more about? This site is a social music site. No music is downloaded to you computer, instead the site plays the songs you select from their servers. The social part of it is that you can access other members' play lists and it's like twitter. When you "blip" a song the word goes out to others and you and they can listen and/or add it to play lists. This is really crude explanation, best to go there and explore.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Microblogging: another perspective

A Tale of 140 Characters, Plus the Ones in Congress Gallery
By Dana MilbankWednesday, February 25, 2009

As with all other good things, it may be possible to have too much twitter...or maybe not. Upon reading this article my first reaction was to pass judgement on the legislators who sent out tweets throughout President Obama's address to the Congress last night. I likened it to an experience I had in Second Life last week when I went to the NPR Talk of the Nation Science Friday show. Instead of listening to the interviews, I found myself distracted by the sidebar conversations, some related to what was being said on the stage and some not, going on between others in attendance. My thought was there was no way the twittering legislators could be taking in the content of the President's speech and how disrespectful to him that was. But then I considered that I was watching his speech on TV and I wasn't getting all the details either because I also had a Wild game on in the corner of the screen, albeit muted.

Why would I do that? Why would I allow myself to be distracted by a mere hockey game during such an historic hour. It is because I knew I would be able to get that speech again in any number of alternate formats after the fact. Understanding that I wouldn't be able to take it all in anyway, I made the decision to not pay full attention during the event, instead resolving to read it later when I could fully absorb and analyse its meaning. Maybe this is what the legislators concluded as well. Maybe to them it was more important to be there and to share the experience with others than to listen in rapt attention.

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo wonders "if we gave those twittering lawmakers a quiz on last night's speech right after it ended if they would pass it." I'll bet they would get a number of questions wrong but I am not going to judge them harshly. For myself, I have learned that if I want to listen to Science Friday I should turn on the radio or download the podcast and when I want network and explore, I'll log into Second Life.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Twitter is a wonderful professional development tool! Combined with the blogs I follow in Google Reader, it gives me access to all kinds of people doing great things with technology in education. I have been spending quite a bit of my time outside of work exploring and communicating with tweeters, so I haven't taken the time to post full blog entries, but here is a quote from one of my favorite bloggers. I believe it is relevant to our search for the appropriate approach to technology curriculum.

"Teach critically, adopt cautiously, and reflect constantly." Alec Couros 2/9/09

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Personal Learning Environments: The future of education?

This slideshare presentation came to me by way of a blog I found by way of twitter. Until this moment I hadn't heard of a PLE, but I believe it decribes what I have been beginning to building these last few weeks.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Practicing the sermon

Hare rant 2/16/09

For far too long I have resisted using Web 2.0 tools to establish a web presence. Unpleasant experiences in the past have kept me from exposing myself in any way to people I neither know nor trust. Now after more than a decade in self-protection mode I am gingerly wading into more social seas on the Internet.

It all began with Netflix really. Being able to use Netflix to line up a queue of movies to be delivered to my house was a wonderful thing. With the subsequent finding and joining the Netflix Community Ning, all of a sudden I had a public profile and my world didn't cave. I didn't get spam or unsolicited distasteful comments and I found the people there quite helpful and friendly. My next Web 2.0 venture was into the world of social booking with a Delicious account. Being able to save bookmarks that would always be accessible was one thing, but being able to share them with others and subscribe to a network of bookmarks saved by people who share my interests is huge in terms of spurring me to to greater depths of knowledge.

Then came the the discovery of wikis. While I knew about Wikipedia I didn't see a smaller scale application for wikis until I attended a hands-on workshop at TIES. There we were forced to set up a wiki "for practice". Since I don't like to waste practice on irrelevant work, I set up a wiki for my school with the idea that teachers would be able to use it for find and offer information on using technology. From that point, there has been no turning back. I am in the ocean; I am going to swim and will hopefully encourage others to follow my lead. Who knows, I may even find some folks who'll build a boat with me.

What I find as I work on the wiki is that if I am going to make if a useful tool, I need to have first-hand knowledge of the items featured there. Not many people are contributing at this point, but the people who are have different technology skills than I do. This has prompted me to try out the tools they're using. Hence this blog, likewise twitter. At this point it doesn't matter to me that few people read the blog or that I don't have a twitter following to speak of. What matters is I am learning to use the tools and using them opens up new opportunities to gain new skills and will be able to open up new worlds for those whom I support in my job. My colleague and blog follower, Ghost, affirms me quite often and the other day commented on what a powerful professional development tool blogs and wikis are. This could not be more true. Much of what I have learned in the time since I began this blog I have gleaned from other wikis and blogs, most of which I found through social bookmarking.

The next assignment I have given myself is to learn photo sharing to the point where I can explain it to others. In that vein, I spent time yesterday uploading photos to my folders in Picasa with the hope of sharing them with my 75 year-old parents. If I can get them to upload their photos as well, they'll be able share them without the fear sending huge attachments vie email and we'll be swiming in this exciting sea togther.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Something new

Up far too early for a Saturday morning, but now I figured out how to post from my phone. Don't look for many of these, however. While it may be good texting practice, it will definitely be the vehicle of last resort. I guess that's why we have twitter.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ask the right questions

Hare rant 2/09/09

It's not that our administrators and teachers are technology adverse. They want to use technology, but many have the idea that technology should behave and perform just the way they want it to. Maybe in some world that may be the case, but it doesn't appear to work that way in my public education setting. I find it frustrating to be brought into a conversation about policy and procedures affecting and depending on technology after the decisions have already been made. "Here it is. This what we're going to do, and oh, by the way we're implementing on Friday." Or worse, "Here is what we've purchased, make it work." Well, that may be well and good except for the fact the technology we have available doesn't necessarily work that particular way or with that particular purchase. Despite repeated efforts to explain the tools we have and what can be done with them and multiple requests to be included in technology decisions, this scenario happens again and again. I can usually provide ways to accommodate, but they might not be smooth or pretty and then I am seen as the obstacle to the solution instead of the problem solver.

Many of the blogs I read are well-researched and offer a treasure trove of ideas and resources. It is hard for me not to compare my blog with these. I don't have links to resources or examples of best practice to offer. I guess I am using this space to work through the stuff in my head with the hope that if someone should stumble upon it they might offer a suggestion I haven't considered. This is what I think I'll do. I have already met with the principal handful of times. These meetings did not go well as we clearly do not speak the same language. There is a another administrator who "gets it." I will go again to her with my concerns of being brought in at the beginning of every technology discussion. Whether it be communication, productivity, assessment or instructional technology, if I am going to be asked at any point in its use to make it work or support it I need to be included in the decision-making process.

On the topic of technology curriculum? I believe teaching students to ask the right questions would be of major importance. This is a skill weakness I see in the adults with whom I work. One cannot assume something that looks cool or sounds good is going to work. Yes, critical thinking is a skill far more important that placing transitions between PowerPoint slides.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Give them building blocks

Hare rant 1/28/09

I saw this video at the TIES conference in December and found it again today in the blog Open Thinking & Digital Pedagogy.

The Networked Student by Wendy Drexler

This is where our students are headed...but in K-5 we can't teach at this level. We must give our little ones the building blocks and tools they'll need to get here. This means breaking down all the goals we have for them into little process steps. It does not work to give our fourth and fifth graders an assignment to write a report, tell them to find information on the Internet and produce a word-processed document. As their teachers it is our job to teach them where and how to find useful information they can understand and process. We need to teach them to sort the pertinent facts and work them into coherent sentences and paragraphs. And when we give them access to computers to publish, teaching them how to use the tool must also be part of the lesson plan. It is not okay, to say we don't have time for that or they'll figure it out because kids are already operate in a digital world. That is just not the case. Our human children are not born with chips in their brains. Kids still need to be taught the process of turning on the computer, logging in, finding the program they've been assigned to use (Look in the lower left corner, click on Start, find Programs--Microsoft Office--Microsoft Word) and saving in the place they are supposed to save. Not taking the time to teach the class these building blocks wastes more time later when the students sit and look at a blank computer screen or go off exploring on their own. Likewise, not knowing what to do increases frustration and discouragement levels and decreases the likelihood these students will think positively about using technology tools in the future.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Try something different

Hare rant 1/26/09

Okay, still no real research. What was I thinking? I have, however, discovered many bloggers and other resources addressing the issues of how to bring meaningful technology education into K-12 (and more specifically of interest to me, K-5) classrooms. I keep adding the ones I think most practical and relevant to my Delicious bookmarks. Now the trick is getting people to get to them. And here is where today's rant begins.

What does it take to get educators to step out of their comfort spheres and try something different? I feel like I am screaming into a deafening thunderstorm when I address the teaching staff in meetings, send out e-mail messages, create, manage and promote a school technology wiki, and meet one-on-one with teachers. It doesn't matter how many communication tools I use, many teachers appear to pay no attention. They say they want to use technology in their classrooms, but there are too many barriers or they don't know what is available. I work diligently to remove barriers where I can, provide work-arounds where I can't and offer encouragement and links to resources, but most continue to operate as if it is too hard or not worth the effort to try. I understand teachers' jobs are difficult and complicated and the demands on their time are great. It would just be less frustrating for me if I knew how to reach them to let them know it's my passion and my job to help them use the technology we have successfully in their classrooms.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Take an active role

Hare rant 1/19/09

One of the advantages of writing a blog read only by the author is no one waits in high anticipation of the next post. Another one is the author only has herself to hold accountable for fulfilling promises. All of this to explain that circumstances of job and life have precluded any attempt to put much time into research or thought of technology curriculum.

I have come to firmly believe, however, that the successful use of technology in school is fully dependent on the attitude of the leadership. A school where the leader or leadership team that does not understand the importance of using technology cannot move its students forward. And worse, a school where the leader whose ideas of technology are stuck in the 1990's is in danger keeping its students in the dark ages of thinking computers are like typewriters but with email and fun games on the Internet. School administrators must take an active role in supporting technology in their school, not just by paying lip service and issuing directives, but by going to workshops, learning how technology is being used in schools, using email effectively, establishing a web presence and encourages teachers to do the same. On the other hand, a principal who does none of these things but instead tries to micromanage the jobs of the media specialist and the support technician with little understanding of what those jobs entail does little to support technology instruction and runs the risk of wasting every one's time and energy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Reality bites

Hare rant 1/14/09

The biggest problem I see with identifying and adopting a technology curriculum is by the time it has it is actually used in the classroom, the technology we're teaching is yesterday's news. I talked a little about this in the previous post. While I have little problem, PowerPoint aside, with the technologies I mentioned, in many cases they change too quickly to be locked into a static curriculum. A teacher told me the other day he was required to take an AV class in college. Know any school that is still using slide projectors or movie projectors?

Well, what if we focused on emerging technologies and put those in our technology curriculum? Education blogs, wikis, articles, conventions and symposiums are abuzz with how to successfully bring cell phones, smart phones, ipods and other devices into the classroom. Likewise, social networking places such as MySpace and Facebook, collaborative tools such as wikis and blogs and even virtual worlds like Second Life are working their way into education settings. Proponents say we must meet our students where they are and reach them with technologies they are already using. Okay, I am almost on board.

Let's take a realistic look specifically at my school situation...The technology we have is serviceable but old. Most PCs are running Windows XP, but many are still limping along on Windows 2000 and 256 MB RAM. Every teacher has a laptop, but few classrooms have computers in them. We have volume licenses for Microsoft Office and Kidspiration only. All the other software titles taking up space in the storage room work only on operating systems long gone. There are laptop carts for checkout, but the process is cumbersome and teachers have no one designated to help them figure out good ways to use them with students. We have one mounted LCD projector in the Media center, but it is not anywhere near the desktop computers. We have one LCD projector for check out in a school of 20 classrooms. Our pipe to the Internet was robust 10 years ago. Now we can merely dream of taking advantage of the wondrous free tools out there. One class trying to use Google Earth brings the district network traffic to an excruciating crawl. And there is no money and because of our district structure there is no opportunity to raise any through tax levies or referendum. Persistent, dedicated teachers have found ways to work with the media specialist to muscle pieces of today technologies into their lessons, but the idea of designing a technology curriculum that meets the needs of today's students quite frankly is baffling to us all.
Before the next post I'll put some research and thought into how the idea of a technology curriculum could be worked into a model that could work over time and without regard for the actual technology resources available.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What would it look like?

Hare rant 1/13/09

My school district held a meeting of media specialists, teachers, and administrators this week to review the technology curriculum. Not being a teacher I don't have background knowledge or training to know the ins and outs of pedagogy, nor do I have the slightest idea of the elements of a well-designed curriculum; however, I have been working in classrooms (preK-post high transition) for 25 years and in that time I have seen many a highly-touted curriculum come and go. The one curriculum I have not seen to date is a "technology curriculum." May I suggest the reason is there is no need for such an animal?

What would a technology curriculum look like? Answers abound: Computers, of course. Keyboarding. PowerPoint (I have another rant coming on that one.) Spreadsheets. Internet research. Interactive whiteboards. The list goes on, I am sure and as more items come to mind I may come back and add them. But for this post let's take a look at what we have so far.

Computers: do the computers in stores today--not classrooms--look the same as they did 15 years ago? Not at all. Any operations your learned on the computers of 1994 are now all but obsolete. Even since 1999 the operating systems on both Apple and Windows computers have changed numerous times offering vary little carryover old to new. This year for the first time sales of laptops exceeded those of desktops. I would venture a guess that desktops will soon be found only in schools, libraries, museums, and government buildings. Does it make sense that we take up precious instructional time pulling 4th graders out to teach them a "computer" that won't exist by the time they graduate from high school?

Which brings me to keyboarding. I am of an age where I took "Typing" for a year in 10th grade. It proved useful as I made some drinking money typing papers for fellow students in college. The legal age was 18 then. And as children today are expected to use the computer to publish their work much the way I was expected to use a fountain pen on unlined erase-able bond paper, it makes sense for them to know their way around the keyboard. But do we need to have a technology curriculum for kids to learn keyboarding? And think about this...What if there aren't keyboards five or ten years from now?

And talk about dead-in-the-water! PowerPoint, please, tell me what why we continue to beat this dead horse. When was the last time you saw a really good slide presentation, and I am not talking about those ones you get through e-mail with the funny pictures of babies and animals?

Spreadsheets are wonderful tools. I use them all the time. They should be taught across every discipline so that students can use them to collect and analyse data, build simple databases, perform math functions, construct charts and graphs,etc. Again, no need for a separate curriculum here. Just teach spreadsheets in the courses where the application is appropriate.

Internet research is an undeniably essential tool. We'd be doing our students a huge disservice by not teaching them how gather credible information from primary, secondary and tertiary sources on the Internet. Do we need a technology curriculum to do that or could this be a given objective in every subject we teach?

Interactive whiteboards? Wow, they look wonderful. We don't have any in our district yet. I'll try not to sound too sour here. Yes, they're great if the money is available and teachers take advantage of even half of the fantastic resources behind them, but it would be unwise to construct a technology curriculum around them. They are a tool to be embraced if they fit into the budget, but again they are a means to an end, not the end itself.

This rant is not yet finished. Next post, I plan to address the items that did not appear on the list above, but which I believe may be more relevant elements in a technology curriculum today.

In the beginning

I told myself and my colleagues I would never have a blog. Of course we know one should never say never...Here is my blog.

This blog exists because last night I lay awake for two hours before falling asleep. Much of that time, at least the minutes not taken up by counting by 3s to 600, my brain was busy composing commentary on what I believe to be true and how I would love to impart these truths to others if they would only listen. Most of what appeared extremely clear and important last night has gone the way of the dreams that followed once I fell to slumber, but now with this venue I'll have a place to work through this stuff when it happens again. My goal is to get my rants out quickly and efficiently so as not to have more nights of lost sleep.

Being a private person, I have been reluctant to join the "out there in front of God and everybody" culture on the web. But here I am. We'll see how it goes. At least it is encouraging to know that most blogs are only read by their creators. In that I will place my hope.