Friday, October 31, 2008

Connectivism: A Primer

George Siemens is an educational theorist working at the University of Manitoba, who noticed a major gap in the learning theories present. Neither Behaviorism, Cognitivism, nor Constructivism were able to take into account the changing world, especially the technological advances, according to Siemens. Rejecting those theories, he has developed the theory of connectivism.

In brief, the theory of connectivism uses the model of a network, such as a neural network. The individual in the center of the network is surrounded by nodes in the world, nodes such as a skill, an experience, or a concept. The key is for the individual to make connections to these nodes, just like the neural network has axons and dendrites to connect to the next nerve. Learning takes place when either a) more connections are made to new nodes, or b) the connection is reinforced in different, unique ways to become stronger. Siemens argues that the key is not what flows through the pipes of the connections, but rather the pipes themselves, how big they are.

Thus, to enhance learning, the educator needs to introduce an environment rich in stimuli to promote more connections. This would mean exposure to a variety of different ideas, thoughts, people and perspectives. The more connections a person has, the overall health of the network, the stronger it becomes to new challenges (much like the strength of a web being built with more strands of fiber).

But there is more. Controversially, Siemens suggests that learning can exist within the network that we have, that it is an entity that can exist outside of our minds. In essence, there is an element of potential here, just like "potential" energy being a different form than "kinetic" energy. When I'm faced with a new task in my life, my potential learning that exists in a solid support network of my delicious account, my twitter associates, and my email address book is what counts. In this respect, knowledge of the specific content is secondary to the knowledge that exists in strong searching skills or the presence of good connections that will provide me the answer.

It should be noted that Siemens doesn't feel every node is a person... that is just one example. What I personally like about Siemens model is that it is organic; its image of learning is one that grows, that ebbs and flows in different direction. Nodes are introduced into our experience all the time, and our connections are shaded on the basis of circumstances. For someone who learned all the state capitals under forced coercion by their elementary teacher, the connection to the node of "state capitals" is shaded by the connection of the "bad experience". This could hinder the connection and make the learning weaker, or it could strengthen the connection for those that associate with pain strongly.

What's key for me here is that we finally have a theory which can conceptualize forgetting. In behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism, once you learn the concept, you really should remember it forever. But in connectivism, it is easy to conceptualize what is happening. The node (we'll say it is the thought "bugs are icky") exists in the network. But over time, many connections are made to other "icky" things (death, cheesy movies, taxes). If there isn't a connection between the "icky-ness" of these new items and the old, suddenly the connection to the old (bugs) becomes overwhelmed by the connections to the new, stronger ones. It is forgotten.

To avoid forgetting, one has to have more connections. In our example, one has to experience that "bugs are icky" in several different ways in order to strengthen the connection. Or, strengthen the connection that "bugs are like death", and "death is icky". For an educator, the key is not to drill the concepts over and over into the student, because while it makes a temporary connection, it will ultimately be replaced if not supported by diverse connections. The key is to provide the diverse connections. Teach that concept in as many different ways possible.

This, for good or for bad, has big implications to our schools. Marzano has advocated for the systematic "guaranteed and viable curriculum", but that isn't a very organic system. The introduction of a lot of nodes, even some of them conflicting, is required to build a strong network. If you stop and ensure mastery after each node is introduced, and introduce one node at a time, you aren't going to get very far. You have to be willing for students to not master all the nodes, that they will assimilate the ones into their network which they can. This is a huge leap of faith for educators, who insist that a student must learn "x, y and z". Indeed, the Iowa Core is somewhere in the middle... it is a pared down set of essentials that Marzano would idealize as the guaranteed and viable, but those essentials are conceptual skills that require a strong set of diverse nodes to support. It isn't just the simple node of learning the state capitals.

Once again, we are back to the point that Alan November made, the point of the digital curriculum, the point where we as educators need to connect our students more to that outside world and let them form their learning being in relationship with those perspectives out there. That is how we can assess our effectiveness.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Skype Me

One major part of my position as online learning coordinator for Heartland is to help advocate for the use of videoconferencing. In Iowa, we have our ICN as a backbone for most videoconferencing. But that comes with limitations. You have to relocate to the ICN room (which could be occupied with another class, or even with storage). You also have to schedule the event.

For those seeking a bit more flexibility, Heartland has been expanding its options. For a few years, we have used the Voice-over IP teleconferencing equipment called PolyComm. We have also recently jumped in to the webinar market, as we share web presentation from a distance.

Another option in this is Skype, an extremely popular, free videoconferencing option. It requires a download of the program, creation of an account, and an internet connection. Then, much like Apple's iChat, you can send messages to another Skype user via text, audio (like a phone call) or even video. All for free. And, all cross-platform too.

Skype doesn't end there. You can send phone calls to phones as well, although you will pay for a long-distance rate. Plus there are several other account features that make Skype a formidable option to other telephony options.

In education, there is tremendous potential. I used to participate in the now defunct group, which was a loose collaborative of Apple Distinguished Educators and college professors and other professionals. We used iChat to videoconference between an expert in the field and my classroom. This worked extremely well when we worked with scientists who were part of the Ishmael Community. Unfortunately, while I didn't have enough experience to perfect the unit, I did hear about other educators who used videoconferencing for their class to meet with marine biologists, even though their school was 1000 miles from the nearest ocean. Or, who used videoconferencing to connect with the author of the book they are reading in class.

Skype offers that versatility in your classroom. Set up a webcam and have the class connect with a professional in the field. Or another class across the country. It is one of the ways to ensure a well-connected, 21st century learning experience.

If you would like, skype me. Contact me about visiting with your class via videoconferencing, be it about 21st century learning, current events, technology, or other topics, and I'll be glad to do it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

NACOL Annual Review of States' Online Learning

The North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL) has released its annual review on the different online programs offered in the 50 states.  There are 21 states who offer a statewide virtual school (4 are charter schools only).  There are 23 states that offer supplemental programs for online learning.  Iowa is one of these, with their online AP academy and their Iowa Learning Online.

Some of my perceptions from the review:
• Iowa is definitely in the lower half of states in terms of the breadth of what is offered.  Not surprisingly, statewide online education in Iowa has not gotten a toe-hold, being overwhelmed by the desire for local control and the recent focus on the Iowa Core.  But the review also points to online education being seen as a competitor to distance education through the ICN, which the state has made a considerable investment in.
• The review took special note to point out the "little state policy activity" in our state.  
• Florida continues to be the largest statewide provider of online learning, as it had 120,000 registrations last year.  That is 10 times as large as second place.
• Two states, Michigan and Alabama, now require students to complete an online component in order to graduate.  Both will start to implement that requirement next school year.
• Wisconsin, meanwhile, made news this past year because of the court ruling declaring the Wisconsin Virtual Academy in violation of state laws and not eligible for state funding.  Lawmakers have since looked to amend the law to keep the academy a viable option.

And on a final note, I always enjoy the thoughts and work of Clayton Christensen, who argues that unlike what some legislators think, online academies are products not in competition with brick-and-mortar schools, but rather with "non-consumption".  Meaning, students not attending school or taking courses that a traditional school couldn't offer.  But, NACOL has an interesting rebuttal worth the read.

Workplace mantra

A poster in the cubicle next to mine, showcasing a Heartland motto:

Simple, yet makes the point about the need for quality assessment.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Call For Action: Digital Curriculum

LinkI had mentioned that providing a 1:1 for every 3-12 grade student in Iowa was the easy part. There's heavy irony given the current economic conditions and past funding levels of technology in schools.

Compared to this, though, the purchasing is easy. That's because what I call for now will really bring about dragging of heels and gnashing of teeth.

We need to completely change the structure of the learning environment in every grade and subject. The curriculum must be a constant interchange with the technology tools of today.

Let me give you a vision of what I am talking about. Jane arrives at school early and immediately goes to one of the learning pod areas, where she hops on her educational ning online. Here, she collaborates with a student in Texas, Kentucky, Nevada, Alberta, Sydney, and Nottingham. The group is extremely interested in crickets, and together they are discovering all they can about the insects. They share resources they have found on the internet with each other and pose different thoughts that they have. Bill, the student from Nevada, recently posed the challenge to the group to discover what conditions are ideal for the growth of crickets, and since the research the group conflicts, each person is experimenting with their variables at the local level.

After catching up on an update from those overseas, she goes to her first hour class, social studies. In class, the teacher is introducing a new concept (the Articles of Confederation), but wants to see what students already know. Every student has their laptop ready and they hop on Survey Monkey to take a quick pre-survey of the material. The teacher then displays the results, which show a couple students are quite knowledgeable on the concept. He turns the class over to them, and they discuss what they remember. While they say this, the teacher pulls up the class wiki and enters, as close to verbatim as he can type, what the students say as the initial entry on the wiki for the Articles of Confederation. After the students finish what they recall, the teacher has the students look online to verify the information and add to the wiki, or to branch off and make new entries based on topics that have arrived. Jane split her time between adding more on to the Continental Army, which the Articles gave some direction to, and putting together a new entry for federalists.

Second hour has her in family/consumer science today. The class puts their laptops on the work area next to the kitchenette. Today, Jane's group is to create a chicken entree given the ingredients that are found in their refrigerator and cabinet. They do a meta-search, given the ingredients, and find a recipe for a casserole. As they create the activity, they are to take a digital photo at each stage and upload that to their Flickr account. They also will take a temperature probe when the entree is finished and that data will be loaded in their classroom database record. Finally, they will portion up the entree, and each student in class will travel around and sample them. They will log in on their own computers and score the entree on a four-point scale of how it tastes. The teacher will use the digital images, hard data, and student feedback together to give summative assessment on student proficiency.

Third hour is physical education. Jane has already downloaded her playlist into her mp3 player for the day... she has picked her upbeat music since she is doing aerobics. Like always, Jane gets her Polar Fitness monitor, which will monitor her breathing rate and pulse to assess the exertion. Once again, Jane is doing well to stay in her zone. Like the rest of the class, she is given the last 5 minutes of class to download the data and write a 2-sentence blog on how she is progressing to her physical fitness goal (to reduce her "fitness" age and beat her previous best in the mile by 45 seconds).

Fourth hour is English. Students hop on their blog immediately to give their reflections to the question that was recently posted by a student in class. Each day, a student posts a question to trigger free-writing in a connection to what they are reading. Once students are finished with their blog, they shift into free reading of the book, until the teacher has had a chance to peruse the answers. The teacher then gathers a couple of quotes to share with the class for some further discussion. Then, the students are given an essay topic to write about, and they log into their Google Docs account to start the process of composition. With 10 minutes left in the class, Jane "invites" her editing partner Sarah to her essay, and vice versa. Jane looks over Sarah's writing, knowing she has to give 3 suggestions, be it thoughts to develop the essay, sentences to help the structure, or words to build meaning and style.

Okay, you get the idea. This is what I refer to as the Digital Curriculum. I'm not the first to use this phrase, but I needed to put forth a common term and definition.

You can see some of the features of the digital curriculum:
• Schoolwork makes seamless integration of the laptop in all that they do
• Learning takes place on an individual level, a classroom level, a small group level, and an outside-school level.
• But it always is student-centered. The student is pushing forward the exploration, the connection, the progress on goals, and the assessment of growth.
• The laptop serves as an extension, in and out of the classroom activity. It doesn't take 20 minutes to grab laptops and log in just to do a survey or a physical education journal entry because the device is there when you need it.
• The curriculum finds tools that fit their objectives, not vice versa.
• There is a constant data collection taking place; assessment is real, authentic, and ongoing, and the student plays the critical role.
• This pace may seem fast, but today's learners can handle this with aplomb. It mimics the pace of highly-skilled professional occupations, and is helping students prepare for the future.

There are many other conclusions you can draw from the example. That's the other piece... if we are going to require the state to provide a laptop for every 3-12 grade student, then we must have every teacher use digital information and collaboration as a central piece to the curriculum. And, this is equal parts daunting, scary, and necessary.

The leap that has to be made is gigantic. It will require new curricular development and mapping of 21st century skills. It will demand leadership and vision. Let me be the first to begin. Any school that would like to collaborate with me about how they can move to a digital curriculum, please contact me; if you are willing to make the leap, I'm more than willing to help.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A note on technology leadership

A nugget I haven't mentioned before from ITEC 2008 came from a session for technology coordinators, where the presenter, Rich Molettiere, who echoed a statement I have believed in for years. He mentioned that if he had a new piece of technology (let's say Program X), the best way to bring about X's use in the district is to find your go-getters and work with them individually.

The thinking here is that a professional development session for all teachers will result in some getting lost, some getting mad at the program, some getting mad at having to do the initiative, and those who are truly going to benefit from it will be bored by the watered-down session tailored for everyone else.

As a technology coordinator, this was my mantra. Avoid the "shotgun-style" training. When we got Elmos for the first time, I picked four teachers to use as guinea pigs and had them try out the devices. It helped me learn the way to teach them (and others), and it let them know there were benefits to being a go-getter (first crack at the new technology and individual attention from the tech coordinator). I did the same for Smartboards, blogging, InspireData, and every other new item to come. Some, like Elmos, caught on like wildfire, where teachers were literally peering into their neighbor's room to see what the hubbub was, and next thing, I had an email request from another who wanted in on the act. Some, like InspireData, did not spread beyond the go-getters. But regardless, this was the way I facilitated change.

Looking to move your district into the 21st century? You need 2 things. You need a leader who is willing to sacrifice their own time to go out individually and meet with teachers, who takes pride in seeing everyone else succeed. And you need to bury the egalitarian shotgun-style approach. Todd Whitaker made it one of his 15 things that great principals do differently: "Base all your decisions on your best people. What will your best teachers think?" The same should be done with technology.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Call For Action: 1:1

This is part one of a two-fer (part two is about the accompanying digital curriculum). But, realistically, they cannot be separated.

I'll call for the easy thing first. We need a statewide 1-to-1 initiative, at the least for students in grades 3-12. Every student grade 3-12 needs a mobile computing device, be it a laptop, mini laptop, or some sort of handheld PDA device. Something that connects wirelessly to the internet and allows them to interact through the digital web 2.0 tools of today. And even if students PK-2 don't have their own device, they need access to one.

But that isn't all. Every school district needs the supporting network to allow that to happen. This means broadband access that allows for digital video streaming both down- and upstream. We had the vision in the state beforehand to put in high amounts of fiber (we're one of the leaders in the country here) for connection. We need to make sure every school district and building has that type of networking speed.

And, we need each district to allow access to the tools of the read/write web. When it comes to philosophies of technology in education, there is a spectrum, where on one end is security and the other end is access. Like other businesses, education has landed on the end of security, and with recent court decisions about archiving email and preventing cyberbullying, it has gotten tighter. But education is not like other businesses. We must provide a laboratory for opportunity and creativity with all the tools available.

Now before I move on to the second part, the biggest questions that come up are What's the Cost? and Will it work? Cost is, of course, a relative factor. So first, let's start with a premise, that as Dr. Leigh Zeitz pointed out at ITEC, "Ownership is more important than Loanership". The key is to get a device in every student's hands that is theirs. If that requires simpler machines to save on costs, so be it. The only things we cannot sacrifice is portability, wireless access to high-speed, ability to connect to the network and internet, and the ability to input information. Those are the non-negotiables.

The flip side of this is, higher-end machines do not build in more learning potential the way that "each student having one" does. "Anytime learning" cannot happen when the computer cart has a signout sheet. Students should not have to put their learning on hold for an evening if they cannot check out a computer.

That said, let's look at some figures.

• There are roughly 500,000 students in the state of Iowa. With our initiative, we'd be looking to go one-to-one with 3/4 of that population (just grades 3-12), or 375,000.

• The cost of the device can range tremendously. Apple and Dell laptop prices for schools historically have been around $1200, unless you are looking for add-ons (such as burners and more hard drive space). We are not... we want devices solely for the purpose of connecting students to the tools of the internet. New mini-laptops are even more affordable, and although they might sacrifice screen size and storage space, they don't give up much if anything in terms of our non-negotiables. Mini-laptops range in costs from $800 all the way down to $300 (the much publicized One Laptop Per Child Project has made the $100 mini laptop). Handheld devices could be even cheaper, from $150-$500. For those who are skeptical of this as a learning tool, try out an iPhone for its flexibility.

• We should take advantage of open software. Open Office or Google Docs, NVU, Skype, Audacity, and the host of web 2.0 tools out there. And, we should consider Linux, which will save on operating system costs as well as virus protection costs over Windows. (But we have to keep in mind our non-negotiable of having the machines networked... we have few technology coordinators well-versed in the usage of Linux networking).

• We should aim for the devices being replaced twice during the student's career. So, that would be 3 devices every 10 years. Number-wise, that will work out to 112,500 devices a year.

• To participate in this, the district would then provide the networking infrastructure (a minimum of 100 Mbps with a long-range plan to move to Gigabit) and the wireless access (a minimum of every classroom and learning space covered with 802.11g access, and again, a plan to improve once the shift to "n" is deemed ready). They would also assure an overall broadband access commensurate with the number of students. Wesley Fryer recommends 5 Mbps up and down as a starting point. In addition, the district would need to have policies that promote access to these tools.

But, will it work? The answer... a conditional yes.

Yes it will work if there is another piece, the aforementioned local accountability and a digital curriculum. Connectivity is easy to gather data on with line-speed tests. But accountability on the access requires a thorough technology plan, much more thorough than the ones required during the Branstad money. One that promotes what I refer to as a digital curriculum (the topic of a future post). One that will be the subject of not only site reviews from the department, but also must maintain coordination with area educational agencies, local businesses, and the community to make sure they meet the 21st century skills of the Iowa Core.

This has been seen throughout the research. The best example is perhaps Maine, who uses a 1:1 initiative in their middle schools and has seen statistically significant improvement in their writing especially, among other areas.

If we have the resources and the planning and the curriculum and the accountability, it will work. Not just in test scores, but college admissions and employability skills. Which will result in a more knowledgeable work force, better jobs and higher wages. Which will result in more tax revenue, making the "total cost" a hard thing to determine. When one considers the cost of un-education, where graduates with a bachelor's degree make twice as much as high school graduates, and more than three times as much as those without high school diplomas, one can see this is a sound investment. When one considers that the top 10 most-needed jobs in 2010 didn't exist in 2004, and all require the high use of technology, it is more than a sound investment, it is a social obligation to meet the needs of our students.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

ITEC 2008 - Day 2

ITEC 2008 is in the books. Lots of great ideas from day 2...

• Keynote for the day was Alan November. While he is definitely more of a professor than a presenter, he has plenty to chew on.

• Bitingly true comment #1: Students now learn how to be taught, not learn how to learn.

• He used the term "Global Voice", which I'm adding to my lexicon. He may have understated this, but he feels it is mandatory that teachers engage students in developing this voice. To keep learning confined in the walls of the classroom is bad teaching. He even postulates that teachers should be evaluated on the basis of connecting students to the global culture. (Gigantic cringe from ISEA on that one). Go Alan!

• Bitingly true comment #2: Too many exercises in education make computers the equivalent of thousand-dollar pencils.

• A very good explanation of point of view in research. Rather than using the internet to get other points-of-view, people often use the internet to reinforce their own point-of-view. I can find a hundred other things that reinforce the crazy thought that I have; therefore I must be right. He used the example of American students' and British students' differing perspectives on the American Revolution. It's interesting what happens when you search in British domains for sources.

• To go along with the above, he advocates no-holds-barred "deathcage" debates between an American classroom and a British classroom. (I'm elaborating on the wrestling imagery, but he did joke that students would have a lot of motivation to win that debate).

• And biggest biting point, if our response to controversial tools is to "block, baby, block", then we are setting up students for failure in this digital age. We have to teach them to be digital citizens.

• In other topics... if you are a superintendent or high school principal who does not know about the Iowa Learning Online, we need to talk. Pronto. It's not the virtual academy some nuts are calling for, but it is a step in the right direction. And large parts of it are free.

• The Microsoft Settlement saga continues (here's the Power Point from that presentation). Dates have been moved back to April 15 for application (same time as taxes... interestingly enough). Still important for districts to know that this settlement (the "Cy Pres") requires schools to have a plan tied to the Iowa Core with half the purchases being software and 30% being professional development, as well as a matched commitment from the district. More important... do not buy anything before 8/17/09! You will not be reimbursed.

Of course, John O'Connell mentioned this would all change tomorrow, so you should do what others do and not listen to him (his words, not mine).

• I discovered my Power Point presentations suck.

• And finally, heard the vision of Iowa's technology in education future from Dr. Leigh Zeitz, Ann Thompson, and Vic Jaras. Lots of thoughts, lots of uncertainty, lots of work to do. But, universal agreement in Scott McLeod's vision for Iowa. A mobile learning device in each student's hand, a new forward-thinking curriculum, a backbone assuring broadband access for all, P-20 coordination, pre-service and inservice training for all educators, and online education opportunities (yes, another nutball). There were some good minds in that room at the time, but I was hoping the room would be full. We need to pick up the ball and run with this.

Chinese Pod

One tool Curtis Bonk raves about is the podcast Chinese Pod. Not that I'm planning on teaching in China any time soon, but I took the plunge and added Chinese Pod to my podcast subscription list.

This site at the heart is a podcast of daily Mandarin Chinese lessons aimed to help you learn the language. But, it is an exceptionally well-designed site with much more. There is a large appeal to today's youth with the younger teachers and the, as my teenage neighbor suggests, cheese-ingly cool Chinese music. It comes with searchable tagged lessons and vocabulary builders. Best of all, it incorporates the web 2.0's mantra of community with a host of teachers and other learners who help you.

Bonk suggest that this is starting to redefine how we teach foreign language, and I have to agree with him. In Iowa, we have had Willard Daggett for years tell us about how schools are stubbornly offering French when the real language of economic opportunity was Mandarin. Say what you want about Daggett (and I do...), he does do us well by challenging us to justify our offerings. Chinese is a source of future opportunity, and for young students in Iowa in an uncertain time, possible job security.

The problem that I, like any other administrator can tell you, is that it is next to impossible to find a Chinese teacher. Outside of the Urban Eight, Chinese education remains a pipe-dream. Or does it?

Chinese Pod might be the first step, coupled with a distance-learning program. It can be the resource needed to help students get engaged. It works with 21st century "just in time" learning. Students can accelerate or work at their own pace, and jump off with enrichment. And best of all, a school wouldn't have to invest in a teacher, making it worry about enrollment. This type of education can ebb and flow with student interest, meaning those who take it will be more dedicated.

Check it out! (This is the part where I would end my blog with the cheese-ingly cool Mandarin word for "Later!" or "Have a good one!" but I haven't gotten there yet).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

ITEC 2008 - Day 1

• Slow start to my day, as I was presenting on distance learning at our AEA and arrived late. Just in time to see the last 10 minutes from Hall Davidson (and from what it looked like, I missed the highlight of the day). It was my first time hearing him, and it won't be my last. He hits the need to open up cell phone usage and other mobile devices in the classroom.

• On a related note, Waukee is, amongst others, seeing the use of cell phones. While the opening paragraph makes the ugly claim that their allowing them only because "they are losing the battle", I give kudos to Superintendent Dave Wilkerson, who was very perceptive in saying:

We're creating a false world for them in the school, a world so different from what they're dealing with on the outside.

• Perhaps Marc Prensky's visit is already paying dividends? I vote for Clay Shirky next.

• Speaking of Marc Prensky, I'm putting my vote in for asking for his thought on what 21st century skills means in the context of the Iowa Core Curriculum. I'll be pushing to bring the ICC team and Prensky together.

• Which brings me back to ITEC. The legislative update was sans legislators and a bit anti-climactic. Some good questions raised, though.

1. How specific will the descriptions for core content be? There's a thing to be said for local control, but many teachers will be looking for x, y, and z to cover to hit the 21st century skills.
2. Piggybacking on #1, if the ICC lays out the curriculum, there is that major piece of assessment. How will we assess these skills? Marzano et. al. have mentioned that, in building your teaching, you have to start with the curriculum (the end goal), then determine your assessment (how we know we've achieved the end goal), and then develop the instruction (how to reach the end goal). Are we doing these out of order? Or, do we have some plans in the works for assessment? (I have a diatribe, er... a call for action on this).
3. Are these skills (especially the 21st century skills component) flexible? In other words, are we determining what it means to be employability literate today and for the next 15 years (which we did 15 years ago and has created the mismatch that we have today)? Or are we going to be reviewing this sucker every few years?
4. Where do the businesses, industries, and service sectors weigh in on this? Or are we shooting ourselves in the foot by redesigning our curriculum without consulting them?

I'll admit, I am a big advocate of the ICC and feel this is an excellent opportunity to make that huge jump, but I'm having difficulty answering the questions raised.

• Liked what I saw from Andy Crozier (Grant Wood AEA) et. al. about Apple's Classroom of Tomorrow, Today. Natural fit with the Iowa Core if I do say so myself...

• And, one last thought. There were a lot of sessions marked "gizmos", "gadgets", and "toys". I didn't attend any of them, so there might have been an excellent reason for each (and the presenters for each were top quality). I'm just leery of the message this sends. Gotta get past the wow. It should be about about the learning, not the innovation component.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Annotating Flickr

For those not using Flickr in your classroom, you are missing out on a great tool. Photosharing in the classroom isn't just for a photography class; it helps with visual literacy, a 21st century skill applicable in all areas.

One of the greatest uses of Flickr is the notes tool. Not only can you identify who can see your photos, you can also identify who can notate your photo through the privacy settings.

Once a person has permission, the can click on the "Add notes" tab at the top. Next, they are set to define the boundary and add a note.

Want students to identify countries on a map? How about identify presidents from a composite photo? Perhaps label the appliances in a kitchen? Or identify the parts of a flower? Flickr allows for a limitless set of possibilities.

Image citation:
Abbey_evan. (2008, July 8). Parts of the flower. Abbey_evan's photostream. Retrieved October 21, 2008 from

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Using Wikipedia in the Classroom

A teacher once told me Wikipedia is the McDonalds of the digital world. It suffers from being the biggest fish out there, and because of this, is the victim of misinformation and rumors. And while all of its rivals get a free pass, it continues to thrive.

This analogy didn't work for me to well (I loved Supersize Me) but I see the point. Before I even have this discussion with teachers, I get the "Wikipedia? I won't allow that in my classroom. The information is not credible." The rumors out there are too persistent to trust it.

I've wanted to say something like "are you nuts? That's the one sure-fire way to get them to use the site." I once banned kids from reading John Knowles' A Separate Peace, not because I didn't want them to read the book, but because I wanted them to. For years of offering it as a free-reading choice, I'd have vicious stares from students who felt betrayed into reading something "so boring". When it was banned, however, they had to read it. And you thought reverse psychology only stopped working at age 4.

But, to say that would be a little crass. So, here's what I generally say about it. What site do you trust? What site is beyond the need to be critical of what it says?

The reality is, as Will Richardson points out, we are having a great shift in literacy:

In the era of textbooks and printed resources, we could be pretty sure the content had been checked and edited before being published. Reading, for all its intents, was a fairly passive experience. Today, however, readers cannot assume that what they are reading has been reviewed by someone else with an eye toward truth and accuracy. The Web is now a printing press for the masses, and so readers themselves must learn to be critical consumers of the information they consider.

Thus, all sites are essentially important to the learning process, even those that are marginal in quality, for it gives students a chance to discern bias, reliability, timely information, and embedded opinion.

This is not to say Wikipedia is my resource of choice; it isn't. But it is my student's resource of choice. And therefore, as a teacher, I need to instruct them on its uses and limitations, just like I need to do for Google.

One of my favorite thinkers of education, Wesley Fryer, raises many good points (check out his blog entry for a more thorough explanation of these):

1. Have students follow up on the external links listed in the notation section
2. Have students create their own content to become part of the collaborative process
3. Teach students the proper use of quotations
4. Use it to follow breaking news
5. Use it to explore controversial issues

One teacher I had in a graduate course I taught would have added a sixth. Show how fraudulent the website is with required reading about phony experts and contrived entries, and show students examples from the website that are inaccurate. I thought this was, at least, educating them about the website, rather than straight out banning it with no explanation whatsoever. Unless she was secretly going the Separate Peace route.

Friday, October 17, 2008

ITEC Conference starts Sunday

The 2008 ITEC conference will begin with its Sunday Workshops at 1:00. Then on Monday and Tuesday, they will have guest speakers Alan November and Hall Davidson present, as well as several breakout sessions.

Teachers will find several sessions highlighting technology tools that can be used in the classroom. This year's sessions continue the shift started last year of more web-based programs being featured, as "web 2.0" is a hot item.

Technology coordinators will have Scott Fosseen to look forward to. He will have an assortment of topics like usual, including upgrading the wireless network, information about the analog TV cutoff, archiving email, and picking a data projector.

Very important for all, there will be a breakout on legislative updates as well as a breakout on the future of education in Iowa. Hope to see you there.

Definition of Integration

Like many parents, my wife and I ask our kids what they did at school today. When my kids first started school, they would list off "recess, lunch, reading...", things they did every day. They quickly became more sophisticated in their answers, saying things like "Today we had music", or "Today we had an assembly." One of the answers I get about once a cycle now is "Today, we had computers".

When I work with teachers on using technology in education, we use the buzzword "integration". That word has slipped to the likes of "standards" and "rigor" in terms of a word with a watered-down definition.

For most teachers, integration means "use". For a few, it means forced use ("I do it because we're told to use technology..."), but the overwhelming majority of teachers look forward to having students use technology. It provides energy and opportunities for learning... both for student and teacher.

The problem is, "use" of technology is peripheral. It's a side item in the day, a separate chunk of learning circumstances and environment. It is like it is for my kids: first we have reading, then we have computer time. Or, today is the day we get to go to the lab.

This isn't integration. The use of technology isn't seamlessly infused into the learning process. It is an abrupt and conscious shift in it. No student will be unaware when they work on a computer.

This leads to technology being used for technology's sake, not learning's sake. David Warlick has phrased this as "getting past the 'wow' of technology." Sure, learning about technology is important, but this practice doesn't mirror life. When you are at work, do you consciously have "computer time"? For me, the answer is that I used to, back when computers first came around, or when the internet first came around. But now, using the computer is a seamless part of my workflow, as I bounce from using it to using other tools to accomplish my tasks, like face-to-face discussions, the telephone, and resource manuals.

Think of seamless integration this way: a pencil is, for all intents and purposes, a piece of technology. It is used for a great deal of work in school, and that's a good thing. However, my kids don't come home and tell me "we used a pencil today." It's picked up and used and then put down again with out conscious interruption. That's where we need to get with computerized technology.

Now, this isn't the fault of the teacher. I recently showed some teachers Survey Monkey as a way to pre-assess student understanding before a lesson. The teachers were very excited about the possibilities. So, being the killjoy that I am, I raised the question "What would it look like if you tried to use this in your current classroom?" For the elementary teachers, that would require getting all the students up, go down to the computer lab for a 2-minute survey, and then come back. 10 minutes of time lost in the transportation, another 10 lost in the preparation. The secondary wasn't much better, as a student would have to go get the laptop cart from next door and then each student would have to get out a laptop, take the survey, and put the laptop back. The truth is the teachers won't use it. I wouldn't either. Despite its obvious benefits, Survey Monkey is a conscious interruption to the learning process.

This has serious danger to everything we do with teaching technology integration. When Inspiration came out, I loved it. I saw so many uses, and not just of the end-of-term big-project variety. Five minute applications like take the concepts we talked about today and sort them on this venn diagram, and the computer will tell you whether you are correct. But, I couldn't integrate it... it had to be peripheral learning. We can be gung ho about the read/write web, but it will sadly become the latest Inspiration if we don't change our structured approach to integration. We have to get a device in the hands of every student and make this learning seamless.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

K-12 Online Conference

For those with a stake in online education, or those who are junkies about this new wave, this is an excellent opportunity. The K-12 online conference has started, and offers several advantages.

1. You don't have to drive (it's online)

2. You can take part any time (it's online)

3. It's free

All of this for an opportunity to meet with some of today's top thinkers. Educational leaders like Wesley Fryer and David Warlick will be participating, as will influential edubloggers like Bob Sprankle and Bud Hunt. This conference takes place over the next two weeks, so there is plenty of content and new ideas available.

For those in bce08pls, this is the conference Mindy blogged about.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


In the recent ranking of the top 100 learning tools put out by the Centre for Learning and Performance Technologies, the top tool chosen by the panel is Delicious. This is somewhat incredible. While delicious is certainly becoming more well known, the panel chose it over such stalwarts as Microsoft Word, Power Point, and Excel, as well as Internet Explorer and Firefox. Even Google's search didn't rate as high, which is the only online tool a large portion of teachers and students use. In other words, if there was any doubt to the power of delicious, you should be using it... now.

Delicious is a social bookmarking site. After creating a free account, you can save your bookmarks to your account. Since other users are saving their accounts, you can cross-reference (this is the social part). Say, for example, I bookmark a site which gives me a good recipe for chicken curry. On Delicious, I look and see 35 other people have bookmarked that site as well. I can now look at their bookmarks and find additional recipes, er... sites that I might like. I've just found access to a lot of valuable information on the web without having to take time to dig for it.

This gets even more powerful if you tag. A tag is a keyword placed on your bookmark. For my chicken curry recipe, I could use "chicken_curry", "Indian", "spicy" and "food". If I wanted more chicken curry recipes, I could search the "chicken_curry" tag in delicious and get all the other sites that have been so marked. Or, I could search for "Indian+food" and expand my search. And since it is a search, I can use RSS and subscribe to the feed. Every time a person in the world tags a site as "chicken_curry", it comes straight to my RSS inbox.

This is the definition of a 21st century tool. I have taken the entirety of the world wide web and made it manageable. While Google search gives a computerized way of sifting through the web, Delicious gives it a humanized way of sifting.

Just like RSS, Delicious gives teachers a way to expand their own knowledge base, be it with their content area or pedagogy. But more importantly, this is a tool that students need to use. In a connectivist classroom, each student should be given the chance to become master of some content. Given RSS and Delicious, they should be challenged to see how much knowledge they can attain on that subject... can they stay on top of new aspects? Can they find expert opinion? Can the fully discover the past history? Can they find obscure angles?

As a professional development coordinator, I use Delicious to expand the variety of examples I can use to share with educators. Whereas before, when I had to make a quick web page to share the sources with teachers, I now can simply point them to my Delicious account, which not only I can update, but others can too, since I subscribe to tags. My account is here, by the way.

How can you use Delicious?

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Pageflakes and iGoogle

One tool just starting to be explored is a customized homepage. This is essentially a page that can hold different widgets or rss feeds. It places those in different boxes on the page, allowing you to see several things at once (and thereby letting you take off in that direction).

There are two top brands of this tool, Pageflakes and iGoogle. iGoogle does integrate well with Google Reader, gmail, and other google programs you are using. Plus, it comes with many more personalized options, as several 3rd parties have created widgets (which it calls "gadgets") for you to customize your screen. Some are very educational (Google Earth map of places in the news), some are more entertaining (all types of games).

But most educators will probably be more interested in Pageflakes for the simple reason that it is easy to share your customized page. Creating a "pagecast", you can share the collection of feeds that you have so your students, using the url, get a head start on gathering the information you would like them to.

I have a sample pageflake I've just created here. But Will Richardson has probably a better example of the education use of Pageflakes with his page on Darfur. Using a mixture of feeds from world news, US news, photos, youtube tags, delicious tags, and search results, he has created a resource that always provides students with the latest content on the topic. Both Pageflakes and iGoogle are fairly easy to put together and can be a valuable resource for the classroom focusing on rss.

RSS: a primer

RSS (which stands for Real Simple Syndication, or in some circles Rich Site Summary) is one of the most valuable tools revolutionizing our world today. Fact of the matter is, without RSS, blogs and wikis would not be used even remotely as much as they are. This is significant because most educators have no idea what RSS is.

The word typically used to describe RSS is a "feed". Using a past example, news stations would have a feed from the Associated Press, and anytime the AP had a new story, it would be sent over the wire to the newsroom. This feed always kept the news room up to the minute in national news, even though they couldn't afford to send a reporter out to national hotspots.

With the read/write web, feeds work in a similar fashion. If a website offers RSS and you subscribe to that website's RSS feed, you will automatically get every update from that site sent to you. You can stay current without having to go manually search all of those places. This works for blogs, wikis, podcasts, search engines, delicious tags, you name it.

The key is what is called an RSS aggregator. This is an online tool that brings all your feeds to you for you to browse. Aggregators have different tools, such as sorting features, ranking features, and more. But, the basic premise to all of them is you log into the reader and the reader will show you every new thing that has appeared in your subscribed feeds.

I have used two readers, Bloglines and Google Reader. Google Reader is my preferred choice, mainly because I find myself on Google for many other reasons. For directions on how to set up a Google Reader account, you can go here.

But, how do you use it in the classroom? Well, certainly if you create a blog or wiki, you are already using it. Still, you are missing out on an important 21st century tool that will help you become a better teacher if that's all you do. The top thing teachers can do is use the reader and subscribe to academic feeds in your field. Find blogs that highlight good pedagogy. Subscribe to search tags such as "elementary + math". The benefit for teachers here is that they connect to other professionals. They are unleashing the power of the web, spending more time learning from information out there than searching for it. A growth in the knowledge base will result in a growth of the teacher.

Still, as David Parry points out, teachers not only have to use it themselves, but also have their students use it. He mentions:

The speed of reading in the age of the digital has changed, and we need to help students navigate this. Reading on the internet requires two separate skills: one, the quick analysis to find what is worth reading, and the second, a switch to slow analysis to carefully consider what has been found. What RSS does is allow students to make this distinction, to receive content as "bits" easy to scan, and then to select what they want to read.

Students need to use RSS aggregators as a 21st century tool to be ready to digest the huge quantities of information the internet churns out everyday. They need to use it to learn the essential skill of shifting from "scanning" to "reading", as Parry points out. The aggregator is the tool that makes that happen.

Parry has another good point:

One of the most frequent complaints of students who have been required to blog for class is that they feel as if what they are writing does not get read by anyone except the instructor. By using RSS, you can syndicate all of the students blogs; every student in the class will get the class “newspaper” with headlines and synopsis of each student's writing, allowing them to scan all of the posts at once, and then decide which ones are most relevant, and select them for close reading. Furthermore, RSS can facilitate commenting, as most blogs will allow you to syndicate the comments to a specific post, so that students can post to a blog and continue to follow up on the comment thread. Again, this will help students to realize how writing for the web is a matter of continous conversation rather than static paper design.

This, in a nutshell, is how teachers should be teaching writing in the 21st century classroom, as a continuous process for a larger audience. RSS makes this process possible. A class fully utilizing RSS would start with a common writing activity where students would need to respond to a question... let's say, "What do we need to do to help the environment?" Through RSS, all students could then quickly scan other students ideas for thoughts that shape their reading. A step in the assignment would be: "Now that you have listed your initial thought, incorporate into your post what another student has said, either modifying your thought or refuting the other student's assertion." Students would have to become good readers in order to become good writers.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Call For Action: Rebirth of the Professional Teaching Organizations

Michael Krumm, former superintendent at Ballard (Huxley) school district, wrote this about education:

In the struggle for the future vision of education, three prominent voices have emerged. Those who idolize the status quo, those who model reform in standardized data and accountability, and those who want education to be open to parental choice. The fourth voice, once the most prominent, is now a distant murmur. It is the voice of teaching professional organizations, who have seen their numbers diminish precipitously. This is truly the most dramatic shift--it is not the rise of the other groups.

The National Science Teacher's Association, National Council for Social Studies, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and National Council of Teachers of English all report decreased membership. Statewide and national meetings are shells of their former selves, some even being canceled. Whereas membership to the professional organization used to be something to receive top billing on a resume, now it is overlooked for being part of building leadership teams or other local groups.

There are many theories as to why this is the case. Gas prices have played a toll. Pella Community School District, for years as progressive a school district in Iowa as you will see, has put a moratorium on all travel outside the district. They aren't alone. Districts can't afford to send teachers to conferences anymore.

Technology has changed things to some extent. With the internet, the free-flow of information and ideas doesn't require conventions like it used to.

Perhaps most important, the profession as a whole has become to be perceived as... well, less professional. And, while a lot of this negativity is unfairly gathered by smear-like techniques of public schools, it does raise some questions. Belonging to an organization used to be a badge of honor for teachers. Many of my mother's age would pay their own way for dues and convention fees if their district could not afford to send them. That doesn't seem to be the mentality now.

And maybe, the professional organizations do not have enough to offer teachers. If this is the case, it is definitely a bad situation.

When you define what a "professional" is, you have to get beyond pay and educational level. Professional connotes a collegiality, a person who engages in a forum of the sharing of thoughts. It suggests that the knowledge and skills of the trade are beyond simple training. They have to be continuously developed and nurtured over time. And, they imply a thirst to improve for the sake of the profession.

I've had the fortune to work with many teachers in different districts, and I will stand by the fact that out of the ones I've met, 90% are doing their best to become excellent teachers. The ones running off the worksheet masters and ducking out at 3:15 every day are the exception. I will also admit that there is a smaller percentage who are unbelievably gifted, so much so that
the local levels of professional development are not enough to help the teachers soar. They are called to be leaders on a bigger stage, part of a professional organization, where they can learn and share with the best.

Krumm, pointing to examples in Japanese history after WWII, says this:

In reality, once professional capital is lost, it is lost forever. In worldwide history, once a professional organization has been weakened, it cannot be rebuilt as easily.

In this case, we are in dire straits. We need to lubricate our mechanisms so that we can grow professional networks again. Teachers have to be able to interchange ideas. And as George Siemens would point out, those have to come from weak connections... in other words, interchange not from the teacher in the next room, but rather one in the next district. That is where growth occurs.

How do we do this? Perhaps technology has the answer. Professional communities can be built online (the popular term is a "Ning", stemming from the website Here, people can build a profile, much as they do in Facebook or Myspace, but unlike the cosmetic applications, Nings can be built around professional missions and goals that the members have in common. A ning could be built for teachers of physical education to share ideas, stories, frustrations, and support. Cutting edge technology could be shared, as well as assessment strategies. And, leaders from the collegiate level and the professional level could join as well. Imagine if trainers, nutritionists, and physical therapists were able to share their thoughts and reflections in this group, how much richer PE teachers would be.

The problem with this is that Nings are very fragile. The typical lifecycle of a ning is not very long, and looks somewhat like this: It is started, word spreads, people join enthusiastically (it's something new), they start to post, they have trouble connecting to a colleague that they couldn't go a day without, they start going a day without them, less posting occurs, other would-be participants looking for activity pass it over, and it finally dies out. I enthusiastically joined 3 nings this fall looking to broaden my expertise in a new area of education (distance learning). All 3 nings have many members but little "must-see" activity on them, and I don't visit them anymore.

It will take dedicated leadership to make nings successful, much like it takes an expert's touch to keep students engaged in the discussion in the classroom. I've seen teachers do the latter many times, so I'm hopeful they can do the former. The free-flow of information and ideas, along with the personal sense of pride that follows identification as a professional are crucial to the well-being of our classrooms.

My question for you: Do you agree with Krumm, that the deterioration of professional organizations is more dramatic than the rise in those seeking school choice, preservation of the status quo, or standardized data accountability? And, what are the prospects for the professional organization voice in the future guidance of education in America?

Friday, October 3, 2008

Read/Write Web - Drawbacks?

Like most things in the world the read/write web has its drawbacks in use in education.

Actually, no it doesn't.

I know, that's a strong statement. But it is the truth. It's not a matter of "the good outweighs the bad, so use it", it's a matter of "there is no bad, so we are crazy if we are not using it". Some of the benefits are well-stated, being free, collaborative, easily accessible, flexible and a medium for communicating your thoughts beyond the walls of your classroom. So, let's look at the common reasons why not to use it:

1. It requires technology, which a resource-strapped school doesn't have.
2. It increases the chance for a student to misuse it, via libel or cyberbullying
3. It exposes students to the outside world, which at the worst could be predatory, and at the least could be critical
4. It creates information overload
5. It creates a bunch of unreliable information
6. It takes time to create web 2.0 lessons

Looking at these critically-
1. It requires technology, which a resource-strapped school doesn't have. Web 2.0 allows for the flexibility to get around resource limitations. No computers in the classroom? Students can use computers in the labs? No computers in the school? The library or home will suffice. Web 2.0 requires no special software and aren't that intensive to run (as opposed to gaming or photo-editing programs).

2. It increases the chance for a student to misuse it, via libel or cyberbullying. Excellent! Not that misuse by students is good, but rather because I as a teacher can help students learn to avoid it.

The thought that schools can't push technology because of cyberbullying makes really no sense. It's like Holden Caufield trying to keep students from swear words. The truth is, people are often mean, both in the real world and in the digital world. How do we teach students to behave correctly in this environment? If we avoid some of the darker realities of human beings, pretend they don't exist, it often does more harm. The way to have students counteract bullying is to show them exactly what it is and talk to them honestly about its effects.

3. It exposes students to the outside world, which at the worst could be predatory, and at the least could be critical. To deny using web 2.0 out of fear of predatory people is lazy. There are privacy features and anonymity features that can take that out of the equation. But to deny it because it exposes student to critical review is awful. We are in the business to help students prepare for the world, to make them realize that their thoughts are valued and that they "have a place at the grown-up table". How do we do that when the only audience a student has is the teacher and the recycle bin?

Exposing students to criticism will help students become more resilient and confident in their abilities. Giving them a venue to speak with others and learn from others is authentic. It is one of the best features of the tool.

4. It creates information overload - As Clay Shirky points out, that ship already sailed with Gutenberg. Once the printing press came out, there was no way we would be able to read everything that was available.

Shirky mentions what we truly have is that our filters for determining which information is important have been broken. We need to find new filters.

This is the definition of "21st century skills"... this is what students need to know in our classroom. How do you determine the quality of information? If we don't use web 2.0, we have no method for developing that skill. Students filters are never threatened if they have one textbook to use as a source. And then when they are in the real world, they are weaponless.

5. It creates a bunch of unreliable information - Just like #4, this is the reality of the world. We have to arm students with ways to determine reliability of sources. And in all honesty, it is about time. We have relied on the belief that our math books are all-encompassing, our language arts anthologies are of the utmost merit in literary selection, and that our history books are correct. They aren't. They are fallible. When have we had students check their assumptions of the textbook? We are setting them up to be naive. And once again, web 2.0 is the tool to bring this to the forefront.

An interesting sidenote: Wikipedia is often attacked as being without scholarly merit because of the nature of its compilation (it is created by lay people for pete's sake!). Is it susceptible to inaccurate information? You bet. But it is even more susceptible to swift correction of inaccurate information. A good activity with your class... inject a rogue piece of information on a page that will be well-traveled. Make it knowingly wrong. See how long it lasts before someone edits it. A week? A day? When we tried with "Arthur Miller" and "Salem Witch Trials", they were edited out before the end of the period. While Wikipedia might have inaccuracies, I know the World Book will have inaccuracies, in anything that has changed since its last publication. Which place is the best to source for election data, for example?

6. It takes time to create web 2.0 lessons - Good. We have an over-reliance on the worksheet masters that are used every year anyways. Nothing will be a better use of your time, in my opinion.

But even the central premise there isn't correct. If you compare the amount of time it used to take to create technology integration, web 2.0 is saving time. I used to have students create web pages for their research projects. This would require the use of Adobe GoLive, which would take quite a bit of instruction time. No reason to do that anymore. Web 2.0 takes the intensive learning curve out of the equation, meaning the benefits of technology are immediately accessible to students. It can take less than 10 minutes to show students what blogs are and how you want them to use blogs in your classroom.

What this all boils down to is that the read/write web is the world we live in, just as literacy is the world we live in. And just as we correctly say that literacy should be infused in all classrooms, not just language arts, the read/write web should be infused in all classrooms, not just the computer applications class.

The key is, as always, proper teaching. It means using the tool and all the "warts" as learning opportunities to foster correct use and growth. This requires professional development, but it is essential. To back down from web 2.0 because of "drawbacks" ultimately shortchanges students for the 21st century.


Today, Marc Prensky speaks at SE Polk. Prensky, who coined the phrases "digital immigrants" and "digital natives", stresses the importance of gaming and simulations in the classroom, giving students real-life experiences through on-the-fly decision-making where it is safe to do trial and error.

With the advent of new gaming technology out there, I'm getting more and more excited about this area. For the vast majority of schools and school curricula, gaming is not a feasible possibility. But that is changing. I'm going to follow Will Richardson's advice and give the game Spore a try.

I hope to see you there at SE Polk.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

NYC, part 2

For those who haven't read Seth Pearce's passage on the NYC project, here is the excerpt from my response:

I like your thinking, Seth. This is a very logical solution to the problem that we educators have been banging our head's against for years.

The question is, is this what we want? Do we want manufactured test scores? Do the "test prep skills" serve any purpose other than getting us into college? If you're anything like me, those test prep skills will totally be useless when you are 30, as you don't take standardized bubble-filling anymore.

If that's truly the only benefit, I'll raise you... why don't we just cheat? That would be really out there. With the disparity in salaries so stark, I'd say schools are being unethical if they don't do everything to help their students get into college. Let's give them the answers. Not perfect scores, but enough to get into the school. Like you mentioned, that would free up even more time for the most important learning in other classes.

Well... morally, we can't do that. I'd say it's wrong to manufacture test scores just as it is wrong to cheat. It doesn't help student. We need to help students be successful in the world by emphasizing creativity, analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making. Unfortunately, that puts us back in the same dilemma, namely the test scores, and that's where we as educators need to do some soul searching and see if those tests truly are the best thing to determine college-readiness.

NYC project

I stumbled upon this student blogging project, where students reflect upon the NYC school system. I like the purpose of this blog, allowing students to reflect closely on the society they are most immersed in, their school, and critiquing it. While I don't currently have any students, I see the benefit of this reflection in all grade levels and different curricular areas. Pose a challenge to our students. How can you constructively make your school better? See what they say.