Sunday, November 30, 2008

What are 21st century skills?

We've looked at what the Iowa Core says, but Stephen Downes puts this discussion in better perspective. Here is what he says are the 10 most important skills to learn today:

1. How to predict consequences
2. How to read
3. How to distinguish truth from fiction
4. How to empathize
5. How to be creative
6. How to communicate clearly
7. How to learn
8. How to stay healthy
9. How to value yourself
10. How to live meaningfully

Succinctly, I like this list. For starters, I can't argue with anyone of the items. When a student responds to a lesson on anti-derivatives or the downfall of the Ottoman Empire with the words "when are we going to need to know this", they might have a point. Not so with these skills. Every student needs to know these 10, be them college bound or not.

But there are two other reasons I like this list. One, it identifies true skills that can be integrated across the curriculum. As a principal, I can realistically expect my physical education teacher to teach these 10, just like I can expect my math teacher to. Can't say the same about financial literacy.

And two, the skills are easy to understand. They are not written in the vagueries of standards and benchmarks. And Downes breaks down each skill to show what it is, how we learn it today, what to watch for in the classroom, and how new technology supports it.

Our biggest challenge with the Iowa Core is to help teachers understand how to teach 21st century skills. This should be the start of our discussion.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Online boom in economic crunch?

Blogger Judy Breck postulates that online learning will be the economic alternative in our impending recession.

Perhaps this is something that should be in our minds as Governor Culver looks to make cuts and "scoops" out of the budget. Unfortunately, we don't have the infrastructure (the networked platform, the online teacher workforce, the curriculum) to serve the need.

We should have worked on this two years ago. We need to work on this now.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Call For Action: Technology Leadership Academy

There is no disputing the role of leadership on student achievement. Strong leadership always improves it while poor leadership (or no leadership) lowers it. Those in charge of the Iowa Core are starting with district leadership teams first, recognizing that the leadership teams will effect change the most. Thus, the first Iowa Core meetings are solely focused on leadership development.

This is where we are missing the boat, though. To implement the digital curriculum, a district will have to have strong leadership. Leadership is needed to:
  • Craft a vision
  • Streamline and make viable a curriculum
  • Put in place hardware, software and infrastructure
  • Train teachers
  • Provide support
  • Assure accountability
  • Communicate and partner with the greater community
And in a large portion of our districts, leadership is not strong in the field of technology integration. It becomes a hot potato... the onus of responsibility falls in between the IT staff and the administrators. Project CASTLE is focusing on building administrative leadership with the digital curriculum. We need to do the same with technology coordinators.

The first thing to make clear is that, by and large, technology coordinators are doing a good job. From first-hand experience, I can vouch for the never-stop responsibilities of maintaining a district's technology. A colleague of mine said "You can throw many changes at teachers on a continual basis, but if you truly want to bring the system to its knees, take down the email server." Or as another one mentioned, "When hard drives crash, I truly get to see people at their worst."

There also are teachers doing a great job in the classroom, many taking it upon themselves to research the technology and experiment with ways to better use it to enhance learning. Some take it upon themselves to write grants for their classroom to add technology.

Neither of these are leadership. And, this is where most districts get stuck. This is isolated pockets of excellence, but without a central vision and leader to ensure the whole group is moving forward, these pockets won't go anywhere.

There are often two different technology coordinators that you will see in districts. When technology first emerged, there was one teacher who worked a little bit more with technology than others. As the district grew, the technology demands required time spent outside of the classroom to manage it, and the district often grabbed the one who dabbled the most with it. In many of our smaller and more rural districts, the technology coordinator is in this mode, a former teacher who has morphed into the manager of hardware and software. In addition, some larger districts have had the resources to fund a different type of position, an integration specialist. Once again, the premier technology-integrating teachers gravitated into those positions.

But larger districts reached a threshold when networking and database management became significant. It required specialization. And much like other companies, districts have been hiring network specialists to manage this sophistication.

Neither of these two groups, despite their talents, have been trained in leadership. And when there are some rare cases where technology management is naturally talented in leadership (Pella or Jefferson-Scranton, for example), those districts become leaders in the state.

Another way to look at it: when I went through my administrative graduate program through Viterbo, I was the only technology coordinator in the state doing so. My instructors were, for good reason, quite surprised to see someone like me, as were districts looking to hire an administrator.

A dynamic that is present in education is the one of control vs. influence. Take away for a second the negative connotations of the word "control". As people move out of the classroom into the realm of administration, they notice the control they had of managing every item that took place in their classroom was now sacrificed. Principals don't have a corresponding level of control in every corner of their building. They do, on the other hand, have influence. It becomes even more pronounced as one moves to superintendent. Good administrators understand this dynamic. They understand they have to sacrifice the control they once enjoyed to greater influence the learning community.

Both network specialists and integration specialists have great influence. Unfortunately, most see their job as one of great control. They don't have the skills to build consensus and human capacity the way an influential leader does.

The Iowa Core recommends that technology staff are part of the leadership teams planning the district's deployment of the core. I can say, both as someone who is working with Core leadership and technology staff, this isn't happening. With the Iowa Core, we have the capacity to bring about an avenue for digital curriculum adoption. But, imagine the roadblock when the leadership team determines it would like to go there without the technology coordinator at the table.

If a district is going to get to the digital curriculum, it would be truly beneficial to require administrative certification of its technology coordinator. This means we need a leadership academy to get them there. Even if it doesn't mean administrative certification, a CASTLE-type program for technology coordinators, possibly building off of the programs at UNI and Iowa State, but more geared for the district-level rather than the PhD.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Podcast Producer

At Heartland's technology coordinator meeting yesterday, we had Brent Hayward from Apple set up the different features on the Mac OS X.5 server, including the wiki and blog server, ichat server, and shared calendars. The item that drew my interest was the podcast producer.

In a nutshell, podcast producer takes a lot of the work on the front end and moves it to the back end, making it extremely easy to produce podcast content in the classroom. The toughest part for the end user is to make sure the camera is connected and on. If they have that down, the next bit is pushing a button to stop and start. The back end workflow does the rest.

The end user has four options: creating a video, audio or screencast recording, or uploading a file (as you can see from the picture). And all are literally as easy as pushing the button.

The back end does require set up. You can create workflows that automatically post podcast content to your website running on the server. But, you can also have a workflow that posts to iTunes U, that creates iPod-friendly H.264, and one that encodes for mobile technology, like iPhones.

Even better, there are built-in features to add to the workflow, such as automatically adding a copyright or a title. You can even add a watermark over the content. If you are very comfortable with XML, there's a lot more you could do, but as Brent pointed out, you might be interested in contracting with Apple's Professional Services to ensure you get exactly what you want.

The biggest downside to this is the server power necessary. If you start off slow, or just are focusing on audio, one server might be capable of handling it. But, if you envision every classroom churning out content, you will need to array the process with multiple servers and an XGrid setup.

My experience with podcasting has been that its dominated by the teachers who are movers and shakers, looking for ways to enrich their classroom (such as Bob Sprankle). This tool brings podcasting to those teachers that aren't movers and shakers. It might very well be the foot in the door many integration specialists need to get the recalcitrant teachers interested. The very least can be said that it takes no change in teaching to make it work, and no technical skills.

Of course, the hope is that it does lead to a change in teaching, that it just doesn't become a way to broadcast the lecture that one traditionally does every class period, but rather to find new uses. Broadcast student productions. Better yet, have the students produce their own productions. Better yet, make it a regular feature, like talk radio or in the field journalism. As with other web 2.0 tools, podcasting takes learning beyond the walls of the classroom out into the real world, open for sharing, discussion and collaboration. Podcast producer is a tool that helps make that easy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

21st Century Skills - An Overview

This is the "mystery meat" of the Iowa Core.

According to the DE's document, 21st century skills are the skills that are necessary for "upward mobility in the new economy". Or, as Ray McNulty has mentioned:

“The primary aim of education is not to enable students to do well in school, but to help them do well in the lives they lead outside of the school.”

Implicit in this are many of the themes of quality education, be it authentic learning, relevance to the real-world, or performance assessment. The list of skills draw from four fields:
  • Employability skills
  • Financial literacy
  • Health literacy
  • Technological literacy
It can be argued that this list is both do-able for schools, and also short-sighted for what is needed to be successful. There are indeed several other areas that the state could identify and prioritize. Regardless, what is perhaps the best written paragraph in the statement is as follows:

The reality of building capacity for the 21st century is that we do not know what the work of the future will be like or how technology will influence health and financial issues. The challenge is to prepare students to think critically, to engage in mental activity, or habits of mind, that “…use facts to plan, order, and work toward an end; seek meaning or explanations; are self-reflective; and use reason to question claims and make judgments…”. It may be that our task is not only to prepare students to “fit into the future” but to shape it. “…If the complex questions of the future are to be determined… by human beings…making one choice rather than another, we should educate youths - all of them - to join in the conversation about those choices and to influence that future…”

You can see what I like about it. It puts aside the ridiculous notion that we know what the future will be like, but rather emphasizes the importance of our students shaping the future themselves. We need to teach students to be aware of how our society changes, and then give them the skills to be leaders in this new world.

That's why I see the crux of this is not the technology skills, but rather the employability skills. They call for "leadership skills", "adapting to various roles", "initiative", "social responsibility", and "incorporating diverse perspectives".

No one will dispute the importance of these skills, but the question is whether we will be able to implement these well. The Core calls for these skills to be integrated into all subject areas, not to create a special 21st century class to address them. Therein lies the problem.

• What will this look like in a math classroom? A social studies classroom? A music classroom? (How do you implement health literacy in music without it being a forced fit that detracts from the curriculum?)

• How will these skills be assessed in the classroom?

• What will accountability look like for the teaching of these skills?

• How do we train teachers to teach in this way? How do we explain how this is different?

Right now, this collection of skills is very abstract. In the time ahead, we will need to make it more concrete, not an easy task, but one that will separate moving forward from staying put.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

2020 Vision

We have 12 short years to the year 2020, a year that serves as more than a play on words with a future vision. In 2020, our current first graders, including my son, will be we graduating. We will be starting to see a new generation to enter our schools (post-"Net Generation"). We will be far enough removed from the end of NCLB to look back and fully assess its worth. And given the rate at which information and technology is expanding, a personal computer will begin to have the knowledge capacity of a human brain.

There are some things we can safely predict about the year 2020 in Iowa. Higher percentages of our students will be living in the Urban 8, meaning we'll likely have fewer total districts, requiring more distance learning opportunities. Quite a few of the top jobs in demand in that year don't exist today. And, those jobs will rely on the blending of technological advances with the advances in other seemingly limitless fields, like genetics or nuclear physics.

It goes without saying that the needs of students are changing; contrary to what you see in your local classroom, we aren't preparing students for the industrial age anymore. There are no longer set answers, set skills to master in order to be employable, like there was in work places of the past. Set patterns, answers, and skills can be learned by computers who can perform more and more of those tasks. Replacing it are those things that are not set, the solving of unclear problems and the mastery of soft skills, of consensus-building and relationship forming, and most importantly of teamwork and leadership. These are the mysterious "21st century skills" that the Iowa Core is emphasizing, in addition to math, reading, science, and social studies.


There is still much work to be done on the state's vision of what those 21st century skills look like, how they are best implemented in the classroom. The Iowa Core is, after all, a curriculum, a system of standards, benchmarks, and indicators to be achieved. It is not a pedagogy of instruction, and although Iowa Core training for district leadership teams right now are emphasizing work such as Balanced Leadership and Instructional Decision Making, there is still a lot left open to individual districts, which is both good and bad.

I am very encouraged by the work on the Iowa Core and its call to ramp up the instruction, but a new set of standards and more push for the bevy of instructional initiatives alone won't get us there. In spite of where we are heading right now, we need more. We need more if we are going to meet our vision of providing a world-class education to all of our students so they can compete in the global economy.


Enter Scott McLeod's plan for the 21st century learning system. I've included the graphic below:
Scott identifies 6 categories in order to create an educational world that mimics the world students will be competing in, not in the industrial age, but in the network age.

Curriculum that supports 21st century skills- Which, is the attempt of the Iowa Core. Iowa is in a unique situation. Great change will be coming through state legislative mandate, and it will have an effect, just as NCLB did. Hopefully, the effect will be a positive one on instruction. But, I will judge the value of the Iowa Core Curriculum by its ability to bring about the Digital Curriculum.

P-20 coordination and articulation- Because while the world has shifted to make college a necessity to compete, the educational system hasn't shifted nearly as much. There is still a communication divide between K-12 and 13-20.

A computerized device in every student's hand- You know how I feel about this.

Robust statewide online learning infrastructure- Ditto

Broadband access for all those computers- Or else, the computerized device is a glorified graphing calculator.

Preservice and inservice training for teachers- And ultimately, this is where we will succeed or fail, how tangible and meaningful can we make our training on 21st century skills be for teachers?

We have to get there. This is the "more" that we need. Having these things in place, there will be no mistake about it; we are not just setting ourselves up for another initiative that will go away, another binder that will soon collect dust on the shelf. We will have given students and teachers the actual tools (both technology and training). All will take notice.


Scott identifies three important supports to get there: Legislative policy and funding, ongoing monitoring and evaluation, and a mindset shift. And, there is both hope and despair here. Legislative policy in Iowa hasn't moved at all here (which can best be shown by what NACOL had to say about Iowa's online developments), and this is a bleak time to look for funding. But in this bleakness, our businesses have an opportunity to build the shining star educational system in this post-Lehman Brothers economy, where an opportunity exists for new players (read: Iowa companies) in the national scene. Despite what the closed secrecy of the Iowa Core's development would suggest, those businesses need a place at the planning table, as well as a piece of the financial responsibility to bring about this plan.

Monitoring and evaluation might seem the most formidable to seasoned veterans, but this is one area where Iowa has truly made progress in recent years. Administrators and district leadership teams alike regularly use data in their decision-making process now; developing a quality monitoring and evaluation process for this vision is not nearly as formidable as it was 10 years ago.

It is perhaps the mindset shift that is the most daunting to me. We need more than lip service to the reality that we need to change to meet the changing times. We need the sense of urgency with the hope of possibility. We can do this and we must. How do we make believers out of educators, lawmakers, and community members? This is our task.


And so, I get to my role in bringing about the vision. I know my limitations; I don't have the levers to move lawmakers for legislation or for funding from businesses. But I'm not helpless, either. It is my goal to do the following:

Lead a statewide partnership of agencies and school districts to create quality online education for students. This is the heart and soul of what my job is. I'm heading up several groups in the state to bring about that very task.

Help shape the Iowa Core Curriculum to make sure 21st century skills represent the Digital Curriculum. My role in statewide Iowa Core development committees will hopefully drive that.

Train educational leaders in the 21st century skills- The opportunities I have now to work with districts is just a start.

Provide a working example of the Digital Curriculum- My top task is to work with some districts who, at a local level, can provide the items above in Scott's plan. I can provide the training and support, as well as the vision on the curriculum to make it happen.

What is your role?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Google Docs 11: Features with an Impact

We've been looking at Google Docs in the Heartland Area Curriculum Network meetings recently. For those that missed my presentations, a synopsis of them (how Google Docs works, its advantages and disadvantages, and how you can use it in the classroom) can be found on our 21st century learning skills page.

Here are 11 ways I see Google Docs having an immediate impact in your district, along with the features that make them possible:
  1. Since they are collaborative (you can share them, more than one person can work at a time), group projects no longer become 4 people fooling around while one types in all the content.
  2. The commenting feature allows students to peer review a fellow student's work, highlighting the text they want to comment on, and then providing a space to write the comment. Writing teachers will wonder how they taught without it.
  3. The revision history lets a teacher look at who has made revisions and changes, making it easier to assess participation and allowing for a teacher to formatively pinpoint how to best help the group in their task.
  4. Since they are web-based, students can work on them at home without worrying about compatibility and dragging around a USB stick.
  5. No web access at home? The quick import-export feature lets you save it at school as a .doc, .xls, or .ppt and take it home manually. Plus, it allows for generic formats if a student doesn't have Microsoft applications.
  6. Students in elementary classes need an easy-to-use tool that lets them a) see how a spreadsheet works, b) see the relationship between chart data and graph data, and c) be able to manipulate the data and apply it to their own studies. Google Docs Spreadsheet is just that tool, free and available.
  7. The presentation tool gives the tired classroom activity of students making a powerpoint a new spin: Being online, their presentation is easily accessible to those outside the classroom. The potential for authentic work just became easier... you can create a gallery of presentations on a website to share your learning with the world.
  8. Better yet, the collaborative nature of Google Docs means more than just sharing. You can work jointly on a presentation with someone in a different state or country.
  9. The easy-to-use form builder allows students to create their own forms, generate data from participants, and show the data graphically. Conducting social science experiments becomes a cinch. Hey, what are the favorite TV shows of students nowadays, anyways?
  10. Faculty can benefit too. I'm envisioning jointly crafted interdisciplinary lesson plans, budgets maintained by multiple activity sponsors, prior-knowledge pre-assessment via forms by professional development coordinators, just to name a few things.
  11. And... you'll save a mint on paper with all this online collaboration.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

4 Challenges of going paperless

Asked recently by a teacher on what were some of the toughest challenges to going paperless:

1. First problem I had was that short worksheets were out. You know, worksheets where you would circle the verb, or do a quick matching exercise. I could create them on the computer, but the time it took to create those, then the time to get on the computers (even in a digital classroom), then the extra time to do the exercise electronically (it is much quicker circling with a pencil)... it made it not worth it. Which meant...

2. Having to develop deeper, more rigorous work. Yes, it is where we need to go in education, but that doesn't make it easy. Making the identification of verbs a rigorous, authentic, quadrant D activity wracks your creative brain. But perhaps the biggest change for me...

3. A big change in the way you give student feedback. Admittedly, some teachers teachers don't use written feedback on student work, but for those that do, it becomes a lot harder in a paperless environment. Circling and arrows are tough to do in a Microsoft Word file (time to break out your drawing tools). Google Docs made this easier for me, but it was still different. Feedback isn't the only difference...

4. Tests don't work. Well, there are online quizmakers you can use, and they worked okay. But, for most educators, the way they create tests are not the way you should create tests online. Tests online have the advantage of built in feedback or dynamic functionality (a different question based on which answer you gave previously). This was hard for me to shift my thinking, as it is for many educators making the jump.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Letter to the President-Elect

For Scott McLeod's "edublogger letters for the next president" invitation...

Dear President-Elect Obama-

I would like to congratulate you on newly being elected this fine country's 44th president. I'd like to think that my state of Iowa, and in turn myself, had a great hand in this. And thus, had a great hand in changing history. It was, after all, our state that served as a springboard for your historic campaign. You survived the scrutiny of our caucus system, including criss-crossing the state, shaking hands with over half of our residents, and learning about all the intricacies of our state, be it ethanol, or butter cow sculptures.

The one intricacy of Iowa that you undoubtedly had the most exposure to was our schools, the veritable bedrock of what we consider important in our state, symbolically taking its place on the back of our quarter. You undoubtedly heard the accomplishments of our students, saw the insides of our gymnasiums during your speeches, and gathered a sense in both the pride that we have and the difficulties we encounter.

I write to you not to offer advice on education. Neither to ask for your attention to our schools. I feel confident you will surround yourself with many minds that will help you guide our country, and in turn, my state, to better educational policy. I need only look to those like Colin Powell, who have a profound wisdom, to feel good about our future. And as wisdom goes, your two daughters will provide you with much more wisdom about our country's educational needs than many of our nation's past advisors.

I write to you, rather, to echo what many others have said about your candidacy, and now your presidency. Just like Iowa's schools, you are a powerful symbol. An historic symbol. A symbol for our students everywhere, regardless of their humble beginnings or color of their skin, that they can achieve whatever they put their mind to. The votes cast for you were much more than votes cast for your ideology or votes cast against the previous president; they were votes cast for the very democratic principles that make this country truly strong. And while American schools occasionally take their lumps when compared to other nations--who are selective in who they educate, separating their students into tracks early on and focusing intensely on that elite track, and thus passing us by on test scores--this is where America shines. Because, America is the example of the democratic society where all can come and achieve. This democratic ideal is worth more than all the test scores the world can muster, and worth more than any educational policy plea I would make.

You certainly do not need me to tell you the weight of your accomplishment. But, perhaps, none say it better than this person.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Will Richardson

If you are excited about the new world of technology in education, and you are unfamiliar with the work of Will Richardson, I apologize for not posting this sooner. I've mentioned before that Will Richardson is one of my favorite authors and bloggers, one whose thoughts on the read/write web have had a profound effect on my own classroom.

In the discussion about the concept of literacy, Richardson is one of many to point out that we are facing new literacies in our world. He identifies huge shifts the read/write web is bringing about:

1. Content moving from teacher-controlled to student-controlled
2. Classes moving from 1 teacher and time-slot to many teachers available 24/7.
3. Class structures moving from individual work to collaborative work, even outside of the building walls.
4. Teaching moving from lecture to conversation
5. Skills moving from "know what is important" to "know where to find it"
6. Students moving from readers to contributors
7. The medium for student work moving from paper to electronic forms
8. The format for student work moving from text only to multimedia
9. Mastery moving from the test to the product
10. The goal moving from completion to contribution

When I work with educators or teach graduate courses on technology, one of the crucial things for me is the level of acceptance in the truth of these shifts. I have struggled as a professional development trainer in that I can easily provide teachers the "wow" of technology integration. In fact, I rarely fail, and that doesn't say anything about me... it says everything about the natural draw to human interest that is technology. But, I haven't as easily made this connection, that the world of teaching and learning is fundamentally changing, and we as educators have to change with it. Rare is it that I find a teacher willing to admit that the way they currently teach--which admittedly might be very good--will be completely outmoded in a matter of years.

As sincere as I can be, I say to you that these shifts are real, and I see no way a school without a quality digital curriculum meeting the needs of our students much longer, despite the quality of teacher in the classroom. I have to make my move from "trainer in technology" to "trainer in pedagogy". Or, I too will be outmoded as an educational technology specialist.