Friday, August 29, 2008
However, education once again was not a prominent issue. Obama did lay out a specific proposal towards education amongst his other proposals, but beyond that, education was a fleeting reference in a litany of other items. Below are references to education from the key speakers:
Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves - protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.
Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don't have that chance. I'll invest in early childhood education. I'll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I'll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American - if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.
...to create a world class education system and make college affordable again.
...to make sure every child in this nation gets a world-class education all the way from preschool to college
Everywhere, in rich and poor countries alike, hardworking people need good jobs; secure, affordable healthcare, food, and energy; quality education for their children; and economically beneficial ways to fight global warming.
...enact policies that are pro-choice, pro-education and pro-family...
That is a lot of firepower and air time to get very little for education. There were other speakers who hit the theme of education more heavily, but they didn't have prominent time slots. NEA's Reg Weaver spoke early Monday evening, when viewership was basically nil, even on cable.
What does this say about the issue of education? It could say quite a few different things, actually. Education is always listed as one of the issues that Americans are most interested in, but the irony is Americans are not concerned about education, even though most people aren't raving about NCLB. Perhaps the Democrats feel this is not a winning issue. Perhaps they feel their position only resonates with those whose votes are already sewn up. Perhaps they are not interested in the issue. Perhaps education isn't "pressing" enough like headline-grabbing economy, fuel prices, and the war.
Whatever the reason, it is disappointing. More appalling is that the Republican party's position on education is even worse... McCain's is, by and large, non-existent. I personally thought that Kerry did not exploit the issue enough in 2004, and we appear heading for a repeat performance here. Bottom line... if the Democratic party is barely paying lip service to education, Americans invested in education haven't made it an issue, and they need to, or their work is being marginalized.
There needs to be a re-prioritization. McCain and Obama will have to know all the intricacies of the Iraq War and economic theory. They should have to know the intricacies of curriculum standards, quality assessment, and research-based strategies that work. Politicians can't be given a pass on this, giving the usual decree of "world-class schools" and leaving the details to colleagues.
The question becomes how do we make this an issue? Educators have to become more vocal, more worldly. They have to develop a bigger news presence. In this flattened world, they need their voices out their on blogs and microblogs, where they can steer the issues. They need to cross over and network with other corporate worlds so they are aware of the realities of education. They need to make close connections with parents, and when the timing is right, talk about what resources are needed from our government to truly help their children. Education makes for boring headlines in the newspapers, but hits close to home when you start to look at your own kids.
Unfortunately, I don't have the answers. We seem to run in tight circles, schmoozing with other educators, or perhaps we like to dissociate that part of our lives. I wish I knew. I feel like our millions of kids in the US are voiceless in presidential elections, and it shouldn't be that way.
Monday, August 25, 2008
You roll into a new school on the first day (my former schools included) to see the new labs set up or the new equipment purchased, but spend a week in the classroom, and you see not a lot changes. I've been witness to this on many levels.
However, Scott's list brings to mind the question: how do we fix the problem? It is perhaps the mentality of many that the equipment in schools is there, it is the technophobic teachers that screw everything up. Or even more popular, it is the school leaders, the principals who are screwing everything up. Throw the misuse of educational technology onto the pile that includes the school lunch menu, an over-emphasis on sports, the cheeky attitude of today's youth, and cyber-bullying. I am guilty of a lot.
But, this hasn't been my experience. It isn't necessarily a lack of vision and leadership from the principals. I was the Director of Technology at a 3A district (=1400 students) that had one person devoted to technology. One. For coordinating, purchasing, professional development, curriculum, vision, server maintenance, database maintenance, e-rate, Project EASIER, technical repairs, you name it. One. And, that person taught 2 classes a day.
From reading this, you could say the superintendent or board was short-sighted. On the contrary, they were very supportive and saw the importance of technology in their children's future. But when you have to cut 2-3 teaching positions a year at a school of 120 teachers due to a 4% allowable growth, how can you justify more salary for technology?
I still feel we were very effective. We did many innovative technology projects that gained both local and nation-wide attention. It was due primarily to the willingness of teachers to try something they were not comfortable with. In fact, as I teach graduate classes in the summer, my classes are always full. In this last round of classes I taught, over a quarter of the teachers taking the class were within 7 years of retirement.
What we didn't have was community technology leaders coming in to help out, to offer teachers free assistance and ideas and support. And that isn't the fault of community members... there is a communication issue at play here. It sounds like Ames schools are lucky to have someone like Scott as a resource to help them out in learning new technology, but the bottom-line reality is that many school districts don't have experts from the community helping out. If the community is to benefit from the technological prowess of their children, it behooves them to take an active part in it.
There's one other avenue I have to explore. I graduated from Luther College and received both my Master's and later my administrative endorsement from Viterbo University. The programs were excellent... I thoroughly enjoyed my time! However, there were no classes in instructional technology.
Do young teachers possess more technological skills and therefore have a better 21st century learning environment for their students? Unequivocally, I say yes. Is it because of their college training reflecting the changing times? No. College educational programs haven't mandated courses in emerging technology, web 2.0 or otherwise. There is not a study in instruction design from technology infusion, reading the works of George Siemens or Will Richardson. This too has to change to support technology transforming our students' education
Saturday, August 23, 2008
Well, that's nowhere the truth. Using web 2.0 tools needs careful thought to create deep learning like any other strategies. It should feature sound professional development, not one-time exposure. And, it requires reflection afterwards, to seek continuous improvement. Speaking from experience, you are almost certain not to get it right the first time you use web 2.0 in the classroom.
This is mainly true because it is not a fully researched implementation. There haven't been control-based studies of n>1000 looking at the implementation effects of blogging on reading comprehension. But, while that it is true, it is a beautiful thing! A better-researched integration, by definition, is not cutting edge.
So, when addressing how to use the read/write web in your classroom, I start with this. Conduct your own research. Don't skew it. If, after trying out blogging, your students aren't improving in your targeted areas, this isn't a bad thing. Blogging, like other web 2.0 tools, is so adaptable that you can refine the instruction without scrapping it. Here is a breakdown of the steps:
1. Identify your targeted outcomes - This can be more than one thing (it should be a few, at the least), but they should be specific outcomes. If you don't have an idea of what you are trying to improve, of course, then you are going to have more problems than just integrating web 2.0... your whole instructional methodology would be suspect. Still, this is where you start.
2. Generate your baseline data - This should be difficult to do. If you are looking to improve the ability to correctly answer questions on a standardized test, then you need to rethink your integration of web 2.0. More likely, if you are looking to integrate web 2.0, you are trying to develop collaboration, reflection, problem-solving, and argumentation skills, and these aren't easily quantifiable.
I would accomplish this by giving a small test over a short story right at the beginning of the year. The test would have two short essay questions requiring the student to create a paragraph that integrates their thought on several different topics. Using my rubric, I'd generate my baseline data (the scores of students at the beginning of the year tended to be 2 out of 5).
3. Determine an integration tool and technique - There are so many possibilities that this post can't cover them all. But, some starter ideas:
• Students create reflective blogs based on individual free-writing questions posed by the teacher to provoke thought
• Students generate a persuasion podcast to try and convince an audience of a particular viewpoint
• Students collaborate through a wiki to create a study guide for the course
• Students participate in a blog forum, commenting on the teacher blog as well as other participant comments
• Students produce a screencast presentation, explaining how to do something computer related, such as navigate a website or post a movie to youtube
• Students post and share photos on Flickr to demonstrate visual literacy of a topic, like emotions or "the 6 pillars of character" or cultural diversity
• Students use Google Docs to peer edit a fellow student's composition
• Students use geotagging to create a slideshow of elements (such as pictures or places in a novel) in Google Earth
For all of these, a teacher will have to adapt the integration technique to the specific curriculum they are teaching. In time, I hope this blog has an opportunity to highlight some specific applications that teachers are currently using in Iowa.
4. Teach - Or, perhaps I should say, let the students learn. Introduce the basics of what they need to know, and then let them learn how to use the tool effectively.
5. Formatively reflect - The first time I started using blogs in the classroom, I had no idea the draw to avatars (the image that goes with the blog). Live and learn. I saw that in the future, I needed to provide them a set amount of time (10 minutes) to personalize their account, and at that point, all personalization had to be done outside of class time. I never had an issue after that mental note.
6. Gather data - This, along with step 2, is where educators usually fail. We will learn about new techniques, try them out, even learn from our mistakes. Yet, if we have to demonstrate if the technique truly worked versus an unchosen alternative (giving them worksheets), we rely on subjective observations only. In my case, I monitored the student writing and kept samples of it for parents as well as administrators. Which leads to...
7. Share your data - Most educators can't get to this step. During parent-teacher conferences, I would talk about blogging and show parents the technique via a laptop at the table. Then I could produce their first writing sample and then subsequent ones to talk about growth (or lack of growth).
8. Reflect on the implementation - The data will give you true confidence in your teaching or drive you to make changes. Both are great things. The thing that isn't great is having no data to see if what you are doing is making a difference. It subscribes to the glittering generality (hey look! I'm using web 2.0! It has to be good!).
My point to all this is, like anything else we do in education, we have to see if it works instead of assuming it does. I'm wary of what web 2.0 is becoming in education, a supposed failsafe that allows misuse. And I'm equally wary of the "researched-based" tag that educators sometimes hide behind. I'm confident in its utility because I have measured its use.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
I've tried Second Life this week, making an avatar and perusing the world. I must log on at the wrong time... it always looks like ghost towns wherever I go. I'm still failing to see the use of this technology. I've perused the resources on Second Life in education, but to me, it still seems like there is a lot of up front work for little reward. Don't get me wrong, there are some neat exhibits, such as the gigantic eyeball you can explore. But, the reality is the model is still a digital model and not the real thing.
More troubling to me is the sense that this is a fad; that membership in Second Life is tapering off and corporate use of it is diminishing. To a large extent, as the business world sees use for technology, that drives a lot of the need for it in public education. There are those tools that don't find as heavy usage in the business world which have withstood the test of time, such as document projectors or elementary photostudio programs, but they are dwarfed by technology that has been shelved (still have one of those laserdisc players and video-editing machines at the school I used to teach at). Tell me I'm wrong, but I see Second Life in this second category.
I'm going to predict that Second Life doesn't exist in 10 years. (Don't panic, Linden Labs... I'm not Nostradamus...) Now, who's to say it is isn't replace by a better virtual world? Perhaps there will be educational value in that. And it isn't to say that there aren't lessons in Second Life already created by some teachers that are great. What I am saying is that Second Life isn't a transformative force in education the way I see blogs and RSS aggregators are.
But this comes from someone who can't take off that annoying typing gesture his avatar makes everytime he chats with someone.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
For one, a user will have their own portfolio, which will tell them when their trainings expire, or what trainings are available. In addition, they'll be able to go in and print certificates from completed trainings without having to navigate back through the training. Some of the issues like the end-of-the-year rollover will go away, and the overall stability of the system will be better. Passwords will still be available through teachers' local AEA contact.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
As a newbie to this area, I was fortunate to attend this conference… I feel like I received quite a bit of info and networked with the right people. Unfortunately, my computer fried the second day, so I haven’t been able to blog until now.
Here are some initial thoughts:
1. Most impressed with… Rich Jolles’ session on Aligning Professional Development, Mentoring, and Evaluation for Quality Teaching. Here is someone who knows what he is doing. He is coordinating the K-12 elearning at Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville, Maryland. And, while he didn’t spend too much time boasting about his institution, you can tell things are working well there. The mentoring program that he has in place is very well laid out, including a week-by-week calendar for new online teachers and their mentors to help with the process. We don’t even have that for regular classroom teachers, let alone online teachers.
He also identifies specifically how online teaching, and therefore professional development for online teachers, is different. And, there is quite a difference! The mentoring piece is directly tied to the program/teacher evaluation. In other words, what you learn is what you will be accountable for. I will be mimicing him.
2. Still thinking about… George Siemens’ keynote. Okay, I’m vaguely familiar with the theory of connectivity, and Siemens’ presentation helps crystallize some of what he has written about for me. In general, I can espouse the notion of teacher as curator or concierge to some degree, although I’ve always preferred the notion of teacher as orchestra conductor. It is some of his logical deductions that I am having problem with. Give me some time… I’ll have a full Siemens’ discussion.
3. Is that all we get? Curtis Bonk’s keynote was enticing, but then anticlimactic for me. I’m looking forward to his new book and his concept of “the world is open”, spinning Friedman’s concept for education. But I didn’t get a good look at what this will mean, other than there’s a lot of stuff out there (he’s categorized this openness in 10 categories, each with a bevy of web 2.0 tools that are revolutionary). I’ve got the “internet is full of revolutionary tools” thing down already. I need the way that makes the traditional way unacceptable or impossible. Friedman’s work implies that, since the world is flattening, education will have no choice but to change to meet its needs, probably kicking and screaming. I was looking for Bonk to show how that change will become “mandatory”. For in my mind, I can easily foresee education being the last arena to adopt the new world. I didn’t get that. Perhaps the book will connect the dots (he only had 50 minutes, which is limiting for a tangential speaker like Bonk).
4. The buzz is… Second Life. Everywhere I went, it was Second Life this and Second Life that. Excuse me, SL. I learned some too… I was scratching my head going into this to think of how a simulated environment could be better than a real-world environment. Then a presenter showed me the schizophrenia experiential location in SL. That gave me pause… perhaps there is some use for this. Nuts… I’ve just doomed myself to hours and hours of research and trying to figure out how to build something now.
5. Glad I met… Ed Bowen, who works with Dallas TeleLearning. He was a presenter who took the time to email all participants beforehand, give them his presentation slides, his background info, his delicious account, his blog, and encouragement for everyone else to email there fellow participants. Then he set up a discussion board for post-conference thoughts on what was discussed. Plus, he visited with me a couple of times during the rest of the conference on different topics and what’s going on for us in our lives. If I’m modeling a future presentation, it is after Ed.
6. And Madison… that’s a good place to have a conference.
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
What is it? Tim O'Reilly defines it as:
...the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform.While that definition is the standard, it's too dense. For educators, there are some basic features of it.
• It is free (for all intents and purposes), which in the computer world means it is "open"
• It is internet-based, meaning it is "accessible"
• It uses rss and tagging. This makes it manageable to use, which gets referred to as a "push" technology (it comes to us, the consumer, instead of us having to go to it).
• It also allows people to easily make and share web content (the "write" portion of the read/write web)
• It creates opportunities for feedback, meaning it is "collaborative".
So, web 2.0 really is a collective noun for a bunch of tools that all feature these attributes. These tools are different, despite their common attributes. There are some situations where the one tool is useful, and some for others. Here are the most commonly used:
1. Blogging - which you are currently looking at. It is an online journal which allows commenting from viewers
2. Wikis - An online collaborative document that people build together. The most famous example is Wikipedia, but there are many uses outside of making an encyclopedia-like reference tool.
3. Podcasting - Basically an audio blog. It is an audio recording, whether that it is a radio show, music, a parody, a debate, or whatever spoken activity.
4. Really Simple Syndication (RSS) - A protocol that allows a person to subscribe, meaning you don't have to go check for the latest entry... it will be pushed down to your computer. This applies to blogs, wikis, podcasts, social networks, and social bookmarks alike.
5. Aggregator - A program that collects your RSS feeds so that you can quickly read all the new entries
6. Social bookmarking - A tool that allows you to put tags with your online bookmarks, and therefore share tags with other users.
7. Social networks - While Myspace and Facebook are common examples, there are many other uses of a community of users pursuing common knowledge (Nings are good examples).
8. Photosharing - Posting photos for others to see and comment, such as Flickr.
9. Videosharing - Same as above, but for videos, like Youtube
10. Geotagging - Putting geographical information, such as latitude and longitude, in a tag with items. People who geotag photos often share them via Google Earth.
There are many more uses of web 2.0 technology... this is just a primer. But it provides the terminology most used in the educational field.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Yep… I’m still going here. I’ll limit myself to 6.
5. Two Books - There are two books that I have read that have shifted my view of education into the next gear. One, without surprise, is The World is Flat by Friedman. I find that if an educator has read the book and is making this list, the book finds its way on it. The other is just a little more obscure to the average person, but equally unsurprising: Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms by Will Richardson. That book gives a practical summary of web 2.0 technology and their application in the classroom. But more importantly, it talks about the philosophical shift in teaching, as we go to the “read/write web”. He outlines several shifts in the way educators must think. This was one book that, immediately after reading it, I designed and offered a graduate course to educators based on it.
I’m sure in future posts I’ll highlight the important thoughts I see in these two works, as well as others (I make no pretense that when I make this list in five years, there will be different books on it). However, there are some things that stand out apart from the specific content in the books. One is that they create for me the sense of urgency. We can’t sit and wait… we must change now. The second is the networking element. Before Will Richardson, I knew nothing about the community of 2.0 educators out there. Using him as a starting point, I’ve connected to many others with many ideas.
This too will need some explanation. Schwinkie is a former student of mine. Schwinkie isn’t his real name. I could have used a generic fake name, like Tom or Fred, except that I have had a Tom and a Fred, and they would think I was talking about them. So I have to use a name that I will never come across. For that, I look back to my clever students. As my wife was pregnant with our second child, I offered students extra credit to come up with a name to name the child. One came up with Schwinkie. Seriously. She liked the sound of it. That would never fly in Scrabble…
So, we’ll call this student I had Schwinkie. Actually, it could be any student. This is a student who our school was not serving, who was at risk for dropping out. Schwinkie was doing things which just didn’t make sense… staying up to study until 2:00 in the morning, and then sleeping in until noon the next day and missing the test, stuff like that. Schwinkie was also acting out to get attention. In fact, Schwinkie would have been out of school already, had it not been for the work of Dwight Laidig, perhaps the best teacher I have ever seen in connecting to the un-connectable.
At any rate, this isn’t a fairy tale. Schwinkie is still a student, a junior this year, and still at risk for dropping out. We’re hopeful he will make it through, but we haven’t got the panacea to share with you on how we did it. As a principal at this school, in visiting with Dwight and our Dean of Students, it really helped me realize the magnitude of the need to find alternative forms of education. We have to do more, to find other options. We have lived in a static world of the educational structure, and we haven’t progressed nearly as fast as I thought we would on NCLB.
I really like Schwinkie… I spent a lot of quality time with him in my office (I’ll let you imagine the circumstances that led to those). I really like Dwight… I think he is an amazing educator that I wish I could have supported better. And because of this, it has changed my view.
This continues from my previous post.
3. Gurus. I use to list these separately, but it is getting too long. I’ll admit, I gravitate towards the best teachers in a building, and I’ve been blessed to work with several in different roles. If I’m looking for a quality in assessing how good a new teacher is, the desire to seek out the best the best indicator I see to future greatness. Because this is my blog, I’ll list a few of the ones that have had the biggest impact, including Birgitta Meade, Ola Nordqvist, Barb Schwamman, Roger Henderson, and Dwight Laidig. Granted, there are many more that I consider equal in quality to these, but these are the ones that have rubbed off on me. Dwight, I’ll talk about later. Perhaps the most influential here, though, is a teacher by the name of Mark Johnson. Mark taught in my discipline (talented and gifted, language arts), and did high amounts of technology integration. I took a graduate course from him after my first year of teaching, and while I already had the desire to change the face of my classroom on the basis of emerging technology, in him I had the model.
4. NCLB - Here, I could elaborate quite a bit. I’ll admit my biases… I’m not a fan. Like many educators, I find it too simplistic, over-relying on standardized “one-size-fits-all” assessment, punishment based, and created without the input of educators. It emphasizes a different skill set than what I see as essential learnings, and it emphasizes a specific group of learners… those that are barely non-proficient. As a talented and gifted instructor, I’ve been abhorred at the resources given to help a small subset of students to acquire a rather arbitrary distinction (in Iowa, it is the 41st percentile on the basic skills test) while grossly ignoring the needs of the gifted.
As a building principal, though, I had to move beyond my griping and deal with the reality of the situation. The person who has helped me here is the author Todd Whitaker. He boiled it down to this: regardless of your vies on public mandate, you as an educator have a duty to meet them. What’s more important is your approach. He described a two-circle analogy, where the bigger circle represents all the things you want to accomplish, and the smaller circle is the mandate. Regardless how you feel about the size or importance of the two circles, if you don’t find a way to address the smaller circle, it becomes the bigger circle.
There will be many mandates for teachers, be it government-led (NCLB, Iowa Core, Rigor and Relevance) or district-led. Right now, NCLB dwarfs the other ones and affects my job as an educator on a daily basis. Therefore, it is irrefutable: NCLB is an important event in my educational outlook.
I think this is an excellent reflective topic all educators should attempt to do… it isn’t easy (you think your done, and then a week later, you realize… “oh there was that one student”). I’ve added this to the graduate courses I offer teachers, partly because I think it is valuable, and partly because, after they see my list, they realize how I came to be this way!
1. You teach the class. I was fairly bright in school, and therefore very bored. I’m sure I drove my teachers crazy because I would multi-task while they explained things like the scientific process or how to do long division, and it looked like I didn’t care about what they taught. Which wasn’t entirely true, I did care about it the first time they taught it, or the first time I read about it if they had us do homework. The second through 967th time was a different story.
In my sixth grade social studies course, I had an average teacher who drilled and repeated us through western hemisphere social studies. Which was a repeat of the textbook she had us read the night before. So, I didn’t read the textbook (why would I do that?). I made the mistake of leaving the textbook in the room, which made her upset. To appease her, I agreed to taking the book home to read, and promptly left it in my study hall room, which was another waste of time.
There was a time when I decided to read the textbook, because I got interested in something else. These things were never important… when I was in 2nd grade, I drew a map of the world, complete with capitals. In fourth grade, I created a fictional baseball league, complete with statistics and trading cards. I can’t remember what the deal was in 6th grade… I remember I was drawing something and not paying attention. Suddenly, she stopped the class and said “Evan, do you want to teach the class?” With everyone’s eyes on me, she gave me her prized overhead pen before I could respond, and said “here you go.”
And to her surprise, I taught the class. It wasn’t hard, I had mastered her pedagogy already. A check-your-understanding quiz straight from the book with a five minute tangent about each question. I think she got a little more upset when I didn’t reduce to tears, and when I started my tangents by saying “Now, when I was driving in Costa Rica, the streets were…” Needless to say, she didn’t let the smart aleck have another chance to teach the class.
This event latently taught me two things. 1) Teaching isn’t as hard as some people make it look. Not everyone can do it, but more can than you’d believe. It’s really conversation at the root of it. But more importantly, 2) the content is not sacred. You’d think from the way most classes are structured, knowledge is an entity only meant to be handled and distributed by the elect. Or as one of my professors referred to it, “The way some do it now, it’s not teaching, it’s Eucharist”. As a teacher, I’ve never been surprised at the ability of my students, especially the gifted and talented and underachieving ones that I have had. Many have been smarter than me.
2. The 8th grade webpage builder. I’ve already explained this story and its effect on me in my last post, so I’ll let it suffice.