• Learning Requires Curiosity Published 2006-03-27

    The other night I was talking to my niece and nephew (1st and 3rd graders respectively) about digital storytelling. The consummate educator, I was explaining to them the difference between first and third person narratives over ice-cream sundaes. Accepting the fact that the dessert was commanding more attention than my explanation, I switched tactics and asked "what do you think it would be like to cross the United States in a covered wagon"?

    The question got them to look up from their bowls and offer something to the conversation. But the sundaes were still winning. It was not until I asked them if they thought that Indians actually attacked wagon trains that I got their full attention. It was not my question, but the question with which my nephew responded: "Why did the wagons form a circle?"

    ducks on wheels

    This curiosity led to the kids getting my daughter's line of ducks on wheels and experimenting. Soon, they came up with the idea that the circle encloses and protects the group. But that lead to further questions: "Why not a square?" and "What about an octagon?"

    Wow, we even worked in a bit of math into the discussion. Children are naturally curious and it is that curiosity that we need to tap into then step back and let them go!

    Postscript - the kids didn't forget their ice-cream. After the experimenting with the ducks, their bowls were soon clean.

  • Over Blogging? Published 2006-03-25

    In writing the previous post TiVo for the Web, I did a blog search at Technorati using the name of one of my clients. This kind of search is often done to see what is being written about an institution. In the process of looking at some of the results, I stumbled upon a blog by one of my client's faculty members. What interested me were the details revealed about this person's contract with the school and his/her personal life.

    There have been many articles and posts discussing the issue of students chronicling their lives and potential consequences. (See "What you say online could haunt you", "Big Brother is Reading Your Blog", and "Twenty Calif. Students Suspended over Web Site") My thoughts are to any responsibility that educators have regarding blog postings. As an administrator, do you want the details of an employee's contract so public? As a teacher, do you want your kids (or their parents) reading about your personal life?

    I am a big proponent for protection of free speech. I am still struggling with the idea of colleges using online postings in their admission decision making process. But as a department head, I would have read a candidate's blog in an effort to know more about the candidate.

    I don't see this as a free speech issue but more a personal responsibility issue. We have the right to put our thoughts on the web. But do you really want your students reading about your sex life?

    I would like to hear/read what you think.

  • TiVo for the Web Published 2006-03-23

    I love my TiVo!

    TiVo has revolutionized watching TV. Sure, the VCR allowed us to record shows and watch them later. But TiVo is so much more than just a digital recorder. It allows us to personalize the television media.

    Many of you were too young (or didn't exist yet) to remember, but there were the days when we only had three stations to choose from and television programming was simple. Friday night 8:00pm meant Brady Bunch. Life was easy.

    Today, we have hundreds of stations with crazy programming that makes it difficult to find your favorite show. Enter TiVo. With its favorite channels, season passes and "Wishlist" searches, TiVo allows me to find programming that I can enjoy. Without it, I would not watch TV (the benefit of which can be discussed at another time).

    The Internet started out small. Remember using AOL or CompuServe and having everything we need in one place. Today, google the term "education technology" and you get 2,160,000,000 English pages. We need TiVo for the Web.

    The answer lies in social bookmarking and RSS. Social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us offer users the ability to organize their favorite sites and pages, tagging each with keywords that allows the user to easily find a particular bookmark. What makes this social bookmarking is that users can view what other users have bookmarked with similar tags. If you are ever wanting to find new information on a topic, it is a good idea to start by exploring the tagged pages in a social bookmarking site.

    RSS, Really Simple Syndication, allows us to keep track of changes to the Web. An RSS Feed is just a list of the most recent changes to a particular website. Many sites now offer RSS feeds, especially news sites and blogs. With a RSS reader or aggregator, you can see when a site or bloggger creates new content. Sites like Bloglines offer users a place to store and organize all of the RSS feeds of which they wish to keep track. These sites also allow you to share your feeds through Blogrolls, a public list of the sites that you show interest by subscribing to their RSS feeds.

    Recently, I was working on a project that required some Web research. I started by googling various search terms and was successful in finding several sites that helped my understanding of the project topics. Some of the useful sites that I found were blogs and by seeing who these bloggers were reading and viewing a few of their public bookmarks, I found that not only did I understand the project topics better, but I actually had found a community interested in the topics and willing to help with some of my remaining questions.

    How are social bookmarking and RSS useful in education. As educators, we need to stay abreast of topics in our discipline and search for new information or innovations in presenting material. These technologies make these tasks much easier.

    There are numerous uses for social bookmarking and RSS in education and I will be discussing them in more detail in future postings. For now, suffice to say that these technologies are valuable in making the hugh Web a bit more manageable.



  • Welcome Published 2006-03-19

    Welcome to Digital Crosswalks!

    Demands on educators have always been sizable, especially today with focus on standards, testing, and a general feeling that we need to fix a failing system. Thomas Friedman, in The World is Flat, describes the deficiencies of our educational system and product. His work has stirred a great number of educators to look for reform through technology.

    In this blog, I will offer my insight (or at least opinion) on various topics involving education and technology. As with any writer, I present with my own biases. My background is in both education and technology. I began my teaching in a classroom with 25 computers back in the late 80's, and thus have always viewed technology as a possible tool to enchance teaching.

    I also am a constructivist. I believe that for learning to take place, the student must "experience" what they are learning. I don't suggest that to learn about the Holocaust, one needs to be interned in a concentration camp. However, to really understand the horror of the event, a student must do more than just hear a lecture on the subject. Interviewing a survivor, writing a narrative from the point of view of a child who lost her entire family, or playing the part of a Nazi in a reenactment all give the learner more understanding of the Holocaust.

    I believe in the importance of formative assessment. "Assessment" can be a tool for enhancing learning, not just seeing how much a student can remember. Integral to my vision is a class culture that allows students to fail and then learn from their mistakes, a culture that encourages students to take risks and rewards students for helping each other. I have been paralyzed by fear of failing which resulted in good grades but uninspired work. I have also been in environments where I was given permission to blunder. I came away with much more understanding which was reflected in a superior work product.

    Finally, I believe that great teachers work very hard at their job. Time is and will always be a scarce commodity. But time should not be an excuse for not exploring ways to improve our craft. In a conversation with a colleague, I mentioned various technologies that can be used to enhance learning. He reacted by saying that teachers don't need such technologies, they need more time. He was only interested in technology that will save teachers time. To me, that is a very short-sited view. We have (as my father has always reminded me) time to do whatever we want in this world. It is just a matter of priority. What can be of higher priority than to be better at educating our youth?

    It is with these biases that I approach this blog. I hope to offer ideas on how we can use technology to expand learning and perhaps even redefine what we mean as learning.