Friday, September 30, 2011

Studio schools... looks like a great idea

Education as we know it is a recent invention, largely the creation of society to deal with the need to prepare people to live and work in a print-dominated world. Print is no longer dominant, and education is changing. Middle school educators have know that for some time and have worked to preserve the best of apprenticeship models, authentic learning, and instruction that build on social interaction. Sure looks like the rest of the world is coming back to our way of thinking:

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Maybe we should read terms of service and privacy policies carefully...  some one just posted this to a listserv for Vermont school IT people... it come form a "free math games" site for teachers:

Your personal data will be collected, processed, stored and used by us, and passed to and processed by our subsidiary and/or affiliated companies and other data processors acting under contract with us to provide and promote the Mangahigh Service, to process payments you make to us, to provide customer support, and for other purposes referred to in this Privacy Policy the User Agreement and the Parent Agreement. It is possible that some of the computer systems and companies that process your data on our behalf may be based in countries outside the European Union (“EU”). Countries outside the EU may not have as well developed data protection laws to protect your information as those inside the EU, but we will contractually require that personal data which is processed on our behalf is treated in compliance with EU laws and this Privacy Policy.

Cyberbullying... MTV Survey

My local newspaper carried a story this morning about a survey studying teens (14-24 year old) and their experiences with cyberbullying and sexting. What seems unusual is the survey was commissioned by MTV and Associated Press.

The results suggest the trends are really unchanged... it appears as if about a third of students are involved in some way in an on-going basis. More than that have had experience with these types of interactions, fewer are involved on a regular basis... fewer than a third are involved with sexting involving images.

This all suggests to me we (as educators and parents) need to continue to be proactive in building young people's understanding of how to interact with each other in an appropriate manner (using technology and not). That we the trend that the results show of more students intervening to stop their peers form engaging in this type of behavior can continue.

But can I say, that bullying is a problem among adults as well... I have observed in recent days situations in which adults were interacting with children (and with younger adults) in absolutely inappropriate ways.   These types of interactions have led a colleague to observe, "sometime bullies become teachers."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

BYOT coming to work

An article on the New York Times web site recently described how businesses are beginning to allow employees to bring their own IT devices into the workplace. Interesting how IT departments once placed emphasis on controlling everything, but that they are trusting employees to makes decisions about the devices they need to do their work.

I wonder if educators are ever going to adopt such practices?

Value of ed tech?

ESchoolNews has an article (linked to others on New York Times, and other media) wondering if educational technology is "worth it."

I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that educators are about 15 years behind our students, and I don't see us doing anything to catch up. Teachers send students to the library to borrow VHS tapes that were produced 20 years ago. The tapes were discarded two years ago when we installed a media server that has thousands of hours of video available on the local area network. THat is a terrific system, but come to find out, someone had decided to "hold off" on renewing the license for that server, so now the videos are inaccessible.

What frustrates me the most is that this is not "rocket science," there are plenty of skilled and competent people around who can help educators and leaders attend to the details of transforming our practices so that they are relevant for students, but we refuse to admit we need help and to accept it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Storybird... continued

So, my students came on this morning (5th graders) and for 45 minutes they have been writing... stories... dialog... characters... not much plot yet.

A colleague came in and could not leave as students wanted her to read their stories. When it was time to leave, there was groaning. Kids engaged in academic work is a good thing (when it is meaningful).

NCLB in the news

There has been lots of chatter about NCLB in recent weeks... waivers... accountability... my school is getting ready for "knee-cap" testing, and last year we got our first check, so we are particularly interested.

I continue to be puzzled by educators' and educational researchers' silence on this matter. We are spending billions of dollars and subjecting learners to dubious experiences in the name of "accountability," but there is little evidence that performance on these tests is actually associated with meaningful performance on authentic and innovative problem solving.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Storybird again...

I signed my students up with students accounts on Storybird over the last few days, and out Friday activity (while some students finished up projects) was to play around and explore the artwork as they are going o start writing stories next week.

One young man (who struggles with school) announced, "I con't wait until I get to start writing my story next week."

YES!-- small victories are good victories... if one student is engaged for one day, then I can keep going to try to engage him one more day.


This week at our annual fall open house, a few parents stopped in and expressed surprise when I told them that I had no Microsoft product in my computer room. (I have 14 Linux desktops, and 10 Macintosh computers.)

Recently, we were interviewing candidates for a district technology coordinator position... one indicated that one of his first priorities would be to get all of my computers "up to date with Windows 7." He indicated he had never heard of Ubuntu (the flavor of Linux I use).

I am increasingly convinced that a diverse computing environment is necessary for schools... if we only introduce students to Microsoft because that s what the business world uses, then we have become a job preparation program for local business, and while that is a role of education, it is not the only role. ALso, what I read leads me to the conclusion that an employee who has the ability to adapt to new and different computing environments will be better employees than those who are skilled at using Office.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A good and simple idea

Today's information technology is social... we (and our students) use computers and networks to connect to others-- we connect to individuals and we join communities.

A recent article on EdWeek's  site reminds teachers that this media can be used for academic purposes, including virtual book clubs.

I have been working with a student recently who has been including her poetry that is on one of the young poet's spaces and embedding it in school pages.

Simple ideas for connecting kids with others in meaningful ways.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

"Best Practices"

I have seen many connections between education, medicine and agriculture in the last few years. Basically, these all share a foundation in biology, but each is regulated by political decision-makers. Much of my thinking has focused on how educational decision makers in many instances make decisions for political reasons, and how those are often contrasry to to the biology that is the foundation of education.

An illustrative example: we know that fit individuals have healthy brains and that the opportunity to be up and active helps cognitive function. based on that biology, we would hope to have students, especially struggling students as active as possible. Rather than encouraging those students to be active, however, we institute academic standards for student-athletes. As a result, an academically weak student may be further disadvantaged because he or she cannot"make the grade," and the student falls further behind because athletics is taken away.

There has also been something steadily bothering me about "best practices," in recent years. Now I get it, I want educators to do what they should (according to the biology of human learning), and much that we have done in recent decades is not. Still, however, an expert who defines best practices, and the administrator (or other leader) who buys into that experts' definition is limiting what is expected and what is done.

I have a PhD. I have been thinking about kids and computers and what and how they learn for a couple of decades. When a principal comes to me with a "best practice," I scrutinize it. I look at it from all sides and challenge both the practice and the advocate to prove it is worthy, and I am likely to take the practice and tweek it to the experiences I know my students have and to try it out before concluding it is "best" or not.

Today, I heard a story on Fresh Air (the NPR program) in which Harvard University Medical School professors were drawing similar conclusions about the best practice recommendations in medicine.


I know I have posted this in the past, but StoryBird is a cool web site: Log on and you can create books... and you can share books to collaborate with others. Once they are finished, you can download them (for a fee, and you can buy printed copies).

My fifth grade students are going to be writing books with Halloween themes!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

More Images

Teachers are always in search of safe places to find images... sites we can send students and be reasonably sure they will not encounter unsavory images. is one of those sites that I have been using lately. Uploaders share their work under creative the morgueFile license which is similar to Creative Commons licensing.

Google Image Search!

We all know that Google allows users to search for images-- search "soccer" and you get pictures of Hope Solo, Manchester United, and World Cup matches. Now, Google allows users to search by using an image. Upload an image from your computer or enter a URL of a picture on the web and Google will find pictures that look the same. I have a picture of me on my web site. I entered the URL of the image, and google found several other places where I had used the image as a profile picture and several images of other people wearing white shirts-- including one fellow who resembles me in many ways. Pretty cool, but also sort of creepy!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Digital books-- can't do this with a bound book

I live with books. Always have, always will.

But I think this short video shows how books are even better now...

Must-Have Tech Certification!?!?

I get lots of "IT management" stuff arriving in my inbox... I am still on mail lists from my days as the computer and network manager. Today, there arrived a list of 10 "must-have" certifications, and the list included project management, Microsoft Certified Engineer, Cisco Certified Engineer, and others.

New to me, however, was the Certified Ethical Hacker. This is someone who can be hired to attempt to hack into your network... he or she will employ the methods of unethical hackers and attempt to break into your system and then let you know the weaknesses in your system. Sure seems like the kind of person you want to be sure gets paid when the invoice arrives!

Friday, September 16, 2011

21st Century Skills...

Christopher Doyle commented on 21st Century Skills on EdWeek recently....

Catch phrases like "21st Century Skills" become so broadly defined they are meaningless, and more meaningless as educators apply the labels to their irrelevant practices in hopes they can give the illusion of being cutting edge. Certainly, we all hope to teach our content well, but that necessitates each of us to understand how the 21st Century Skills (and the condition leading to them and defining them) affect what it means to be a historian (or scientist, or mathematician, or artist... or any other noun).

Understanding those influences is an essential aspect of being an educator today.

I want my Angry Birds- games in the classroom

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the use of games and simulations for educational purposes. The reasoning is sound:

  • Young people "like" games-- their brains are adapted to them and it is a part of their everyday life to which we can connect our lessons if we are clever and open to the potential.
  • Games and simulations allow us to quickly experiment with otherwise unavailable "stuff-- while I don't want future scientists trained exclusively on simulations, I do think we can help them see patterns and connections immediately and thus be well-prepared to see similar patterns in the slow-moving laboratory.
I have had several conversations (arguments is more accurate) with teachers about the appropriateness of arcade-style games. I have always contended that those games are not the one described in the literature as  being appropriate for classrooms and as benefiting people's cognitive skills. 

Then, along comes an article in which Angry Birds can be used to teach physics. Maybe I never saw the connection because, while I sometimes teach physics, I do not play Angry Birds!

This does still make the point I have argued with principals and that seems well-supported by the literature: Games are appropriate for classrooms, but how they are used and what aspects of the games we study matters deeply. The lazy educator will "assign" students to play angry birds and mistakenly call it "game-based learning." The rest of us will look at the game, come to deeper understanding of it and physics with students and accurately call it "game-based learning."

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lure of the Labyrinth

A colleague asked me to review this game recently...

Basically, Lure of the Labyrinth is a Flash-based game in which players solve pre-Algebra problems in a game environment. Surely to engage some students not otherwise engaged in learning math. As with all such tools, however, it is not a panacea. I can see this as a more interesting alternative to other options in a "math lab" setting or as an option for middle schoolers (both students and teachers) looking for an exploratory activity. (I remember as a first-year teacher working very hard to be sure my exploratory offerings were engaging-- this game would have bee a welcome relief for a few days worth of meaningful, but easy, activity.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Edward Tenner... unintended consequences of technology

Edward Tenner is one of my favorite historians of science and technology (I know, I need to get a life... a favorite historian of science and technology... really?)... anyways Tenner has written about the unintended consequences of technology.

One of the favorite examples he gives in this talk is the decision to make sure each ship had sufficient lifeboats for all passengers at the sinking of the Titanic, and the subsequent sinking of a ship made unstable because of the additional lifeboats placed on board. And more people died in the second sinking than on the Titanic.

Look at the graph at 11 minutes... our capacity is outpacing our ability to foresee the potential of our technologies.

Politics of education

So last week, President Obama called for billions to support education... keep teachers employed and rebuild schools. (EdWeek's article on it is here.) That sure seems a good idea to me, although I am apprehensive about the future of the bill in the politically divisive environment that we have seen in recent years. Like many, I am loosing faith in the individuals who we have elected, it seems they are more interested in scoring points with their political base and making the other party look bad so they can be elected rather than actually fixing the problems we face.

The problem is exacerbated with education as ours is a social system, but it is a system that is based on the biology of the human brain and how it learns. Unfortunately, the human brain does not construct knowledge in a manner that is easy to measure objectively. I am afraid that any funds available from the American Jobs Act will be attached to the requirement that improved test scores result.

Friday, September 9, 2011

PicLits-- encourage writing!

The librarian with whom I work sends me sites on a regular basis... she is always excited when she finds something new to me (which is becoming more frequent-- something both she an I are enjoying!).

Today. she sent PicLits my way.  Simple, elegant, and interesting:

Choose a picture, and drag-and-drop words into it, or free style to add your own text.

(I was messing about with it, and found "Opps, a glitch on our website" when trying to set up and account...)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Is the world ending? Google Docs is down!?!?!?

Check out the screen shot from

5:41 PM eastern on Sept. 7, 2011-- Google Docs is down!?!?!?

I guess I will go to the soccer match at the local state college with my kids!

James Gleick & The Information

In case you missed it, On Point (the NPR program) rebroadcast the March 2011 interview with James Glieck in which he talked about his recent book The Information: A History, a Thoery, a Flood. If that book never got to the top of your summer reading list (I am fortunate it made it to my "I've Read It" shelf on Shelfari), then take some time and listen to this interview:

Full-speed ahead...

A recent report on eSchoolNews points to several schools that have begun initiatives to adopt iPads and similar devices as replacements for textbooks. This makes me wonder about those teachers who have asked me about training recently.

"I really need to learn PowerPoint," was one comment. Another asked me, "what was that math software you installed?" and I needed several minutes to figure out she was asking about Geometer's SketchPad that I installed on some laptops in 2005, and still has yet to be used in the math classes.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Sigh... how can this be?

Lat week, I was at a meeting along with several principals, and we were talking about technology in schools... vision, connections, networks, curriculum, the whole range of issues realted to computers in schools today.

As we were about to adjourn, one principal indicated that her school was about the same place they were eight years ago. Their network was a little more reliable, but not much. (Now it fails every other day, a few years ago, it failed everyday.) There are a few teachers who use technology some, but it is still "special" when students use computers for their school work.

As I reflected on this over the weekend, I have come ot the conclusion that collectively, our industry is in need of new frameworks for making our schools truly technology-rich:

1) We need to define baseline technology and install that in a robust manner so that failures of our systems are rare. These systems need to be basic- Internet access, access to cloud computing, and printing.

2) We need to accept students' willingness to bring their own technology in and use it for school, so our classroom places need to e supplemented with virtual spaces that are available over Mac, PC, Linux, and mobile operating systems.

3) We need to accept that our learners are different and  for us to be relevant, we need to update our practices... no more excuses, no more "proceeding slowly."

4) We need leadership (individuals and groups) who accept a new vision for curriculum and instruction  in their schools and actually follow through on implementing that vision.

You Must Read This!

Larry Cuban wrote about the UNICEF report The Children Left Behind on his blog recently.

In brief, the report looks at the disparity between "the middle" and "the poor," in industrialized countries and draws the conclusion that government policies can make the difference in helping disadvantaged children in in material well-being, educational well-being, and health well-being. Cuban concludes that the refusal of the educational establishment (and the ancillary media, business interests, pundits, etc.) to recognize that and to question the educational policies that lead to No Child Left Behind to apply the free market to education are misguided at best.

Go read Cuban... seriously.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Tool to Know: Aviary

The second promisisng tool of the year has crossed my desktop...

Aviary is a web-based tool for paint, vector drawings, and audio.

I set up a teacher account to free and I can now set up students account, and create and share projects among them.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Starting school: What's the culture?

I observed a teacher once who decided she was going to start the year with " a good positive culture," and so she spent two days reviewing a long list of classroom rules-- this was in the pre-cell phone days, but I am sure, she would have included "put your cell phone in the box on your way in" had she foretold the invention of the devices.

My son came home yesterday with a similar story of of a teacher who was setting the culture of her classroom by reviewing a list of rules. Just as my son's teacher got the the rule about no cell phones, hers rang. Yup, she lost her credibility in an instance and will be taking several months to regain it.

I also decided to start with year with a good positive culture, and I want my class (5th graders is the group I have in mind just now) to be a group that ponders and solves (or attempts to solve) challenging problems. We started class by contemplating things that can be measured and things that can't be measured... as that is our first challenge-- measuring the immeasurable.

Sure, I knew the kids from last year, so much of that work was unnecessary, but I am approaching all of my students as competent and we are just going to work and study and learn about ourselves as we go. That's the culture I want to promote, so that's the culture we are leaping into from the first day.

One of the great things about being back in school is that friends start sending me links to sites... here is the first one that really looks interesting: