• School Me :: Teacher Blog - Trench Thursday Published 2006-07-27

    Earlier this month, I discovered a new source for news relating to education - School Me (Adventures in Education). It is a relatively new online service/blog by the Los Angeles Times newspaper featuring daily summaries of "important (or just odd) education news". Thursday is Teacher Blog - Trench Thursday where School Me highlights one or two interesting blog posts from teachers.

    While the news does have a Los Angeles bent - a lot of coverage of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger - it does provide discussion on general issues relating to education. I have included its RSS feed into my daily routine.

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  • Is the PC Dead? Published 7/27/2006 01:12:00 PM

    In a recent stroy on the Economist titled "The PC's 25th Birthday", the future of the personal computer is

    ...many technologies incubated on the PC are moving off it. Functions such as e-mail and voice-over-internet calling that were first rendered in software, just as Mr Gates predicted, are now mature enough to be rendered in hardware. As a result, the PC is no longer centre of the technological universe; today it is more likely to be just one of many devices orbiting the user. You can now do e-mail on a BlackBerry, plug your digital camera directly into your printer, and download music directly to your phone—all things that used to require a PC.

    At the same time, the PC is under threat as the primary platform for which software is written, as software starts instead to be delivered over the internet. You can call up Google or eBay on any device with a web browser—not just a PC. People have been saying it for years, but this could finally allow much cheaper web terminals, or “network computers”, to displace PCs, at least in some situations.

    These shifts are affecting the big firms that grew up around the PC. Microsoft has moved into games consoles and set-top boxes, chiefly in case these other devices emerge as challengers to the PC as “hubs” for digital content.

    As educators, we also need to recognize this shift toward content delivered to alternate devices. Much educational content (e.g. blogs and digital stories) can be delivered to handhelds and other devices with little additional configuration. But use of other educational tools such CD or online based tutorials will need to be re-designed.

    The portability and ubiquity of the handheld devices will offer educators new opportunities. We need to be thinking about how to identify and take advantage of these features.

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  • Defining Assessment Published 7/27/2006 08:46:00 AM

    Someone once told me (and I am sure you have heard it too) that we learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. If this were true, then those students making the most mistakes would be learning more than those who received perfect scores. The folly of this comparison lies in both the purpose of assessment - summative rather than formative - and in the assumption people know how to learn from their mistakes. This post looks at traditional assessment and offers some suggestions on how to improve our model of assessing our students.

    The word "assessment" is often associated with the idea of judging or even determining the value of something. Traditional assessment tools like tests and exams certainly fall into this category. They are used to determine how well a student has done - to judge the student's performance. Summative assessment provides a gauge as to where a student is or how far a student has progressed in the learning process. In the hands of a good educator, this information can be used prescriptively to help the student. But from the perspective of the student, the assessment is too often viewed as determination of the student's knowledge, ability, and even worth.

    Think of the last time you returned a set of tests. Did you congratulate Suzy in front of the class for getting the highest grade? Did you sneak a message to Billy asking him to talk to you after class about his performance on the test? Did you place the tests face down so other students could not see a student's score? Did you assign an overall score to the assessment and was this the most prominent feedback on the page (i.e. was it on the top of the first page)? Was this overall score the first thing that your students checked when they received their test? Were the only questions about the test on your scoring?

    Each of these scenarios focuses on the result rather than what was or could have been learned from the assessment. We celebrate high scores while low scores are viewed with concern. Sounds practical, but does this really foster learning?

    Two issues emerge from this discussion:

    1) Teachers can de-emphasize traditional summative assessments by incorporating alternative assessments including informal and authentic assessment. By 'informal' assessment, I am referring to activities designed, not necessarily for a grade, but for feedback. While formal assessments have a fixed set of standards by which all students are measured, informal assessments are more flexible and attempt to identify strengths and weaknesses of individual students irrespective of the class as a whole. These can include journals, papers, discussions, and prescriptive tutorials.

    With 'authentic' assessment, I am speaking of activities designed to have a life beyond the classroom and survive beyond the school year. They give the student a chance to create something that they can point to with pride. Such assignments motivate students to do their best work, both in the original draft as well as subsequent revisions (many of which might not even be requested by the teacher).

    2) Teachers must teach students how to learn from their mistakes. This includes how to both give and receive constructive criticism so that the student focuses on the prescriptive comments and not view the criticism as a form of judgment. To accomplish this goal, teachers need to create an environment safe for exchanging ideas for improving students' work. The significant side-effect of this is that the students will gain the skill/ability to continue learning throughout life.

    By rethinking assessment in our classes we can teach students how to learn from their mistakes as well as provide valuable feedback to others - a valuable skill that they can take with them through out their academic and professional careers.


  • It’s the Teacher, Stupid! Published 2006-07-24

    Bob Sipchen on L.A. Times' School Me today wrote about his experience in a class learning Russian with a master teacher from Alaska.  In his article, he praised the teacher and concluded that "The most important part of teaching is ... the teacher".  His point was that technology is great, but first teachers need the skill to engage students personally.

    Absolutely!  The number one skill of any teacher is not knowledge of subject matter nor is it understanding of pedagogy.  A teacher must be able to engage her students.  The form of engagement may take a variety of forms and may include such tools as anecdotes, technology, or even puppets (as in the case of the teacher from Alaska). 

    I met a teacher-to-be this weekend.  He is going to start his teaching career this Fall and even before he set foot in his class, he got it.  He understands that half the battle is getting his students' attention, engaging them at the personal level.  I know it if very difficult (if not impossible) to reach every student.  Your "dumb" jokes may reach some, but others will be missed.  In Bob Siphchen's Russian class, puppets caught his attention but might bore or even intimidate other students. 

    The trick is to have a variety of tools to reach and engage your students. For some, technology might be a way to engage. But the lesson is twofold. First, using a variety of tools you will reach more of your students.  Second, don't just look at technology as a way to engage.  It has the power to extend your teaching abilities giving your students a richer learning environment.  I would suggest that air conditioning in the classroom is going to "engage" the students, but it will make the class a better learning environment.

    NOTE: with another triple digit day forecasted for today, I might rethink that last analogy as most folks I know are looking for anywhere cool to escape the heat.

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  • One Room Schools Published 2006-07-20

    Have you been listening to NPR's series about one-room schools? The latest was aired on Tuesday. [link] What a fascinating view into a world that is foreign for most. There are numerous lessons we can draw from the one-room school.

    "You know, I think eventually education is going to have to stop and look at the example set by a one-room school and say, 'Oh, my, maybe they weren't deprived,' ... Maybe going to school and listening the next kid and having to help that kindergartner when you are an eighth grade because the teacher was busy, maybe there is something to that. ... Many, many things have been done correctly in a one-room school and the results are there to read in history, if you just turn the right page. " [Moni Hourt - teacher in a one-room school]

    A one-room school provides numerous challenges, but at the same time offers numerous opportunities. Listen to the piece and see if you can find examples of collaboration, authentic assessment, and creativity.

    I don't know about you, but I was very moved and inspired by this story.

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  • Just not enough time for real learning? Published 2006-07-14

    I just finished attending an webinar titled "Five Effective E-Learning Design Strategies" hosted by Adobe. I was disappointed by the traditionalist approach to learning taken by the presenter (Professor Karl Kapp from Bloomsburg University). As an example, he suggested creating mnemonics and word search games as ways to help students learn facts. I posed the question: "Why not create game templates and let your students come up with the mnemonics or word search content?" - a more constructionist approach and one I have found to be more effective.

    My suggestion was well received for the effect on learning but was discounted as not being practical given the time limits. The presenter was speaking mostly of corporate training/learning, but this is a common criticism of a constructionist approach in the classroom. "We have just too much material to present to do anything other than lecture and maybe some short discussions."

    Barry Dahl commented on a recent post by Dave Warlick describing how in China, the education model is all about lecture. This works for them as they have a culture of respect and "engaging" the students is not really a priority. But what the student in China are gaining in content, they are (perhaps) losing in creativity. Jeff Utecht posed this question in a comment on the same post: "How do you have a well disciplined classroom and at the same time allow enough freedom for there to be imagination and openness to engage students?"

    Where is the learning actually taking place? In a lecture based model, actual learning talks place outside of the class where students review lecture notes and read requisite material. In the e-learning environment described above, the model assumes that learning only takes place during the time the student (employee) is engaged with the e-learning module. Just like in a successful classroom, learning must be able to extend beyond the classroom - whether physical or virtual.

    So for those who think that there is not enough time to provide "active learning" opportunities, I say that you should re-think where learning takes place. With such tools as blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc., classrooms can be reformed from being solely a place for disseminating facts to a place for coordinating learning taking place outside the room. This requires a radical shift from the "expert" model of education to that of a "facilitator".

    Time will always be an issue when it comes to teaching, just as it is with most aspects of our lives. But let's not make time an excuse for not exploring better ways of helping our students learn. After all, we have time to do anything we want - its a matter of prioritizing.

  • Review of NECC 06 Published 7/14/2006 03:28:00 PM

    (Disclaimer: I am writing with the sounds of chainsaws in the background as our trees are being trimmed. This is my 18 month daughter’s first encounter with such noise and despite being a brave girl, she still needs to jump into my lap every other minute.)

    I sat down this morning to write about my thoughts on this year’s NECC in San Diego. As a professional-level procrastinator, I found myself clicking on my Bloglines button in Firefox (more info) and reading posts from various NECC attendees. There were common themes express in many:

    • Too many sessions discussing how to use technology in today’s classroom and too few discussing how to radically change the way classes are taught and what is being taught.
    • Nothing too interesting in the vendors’ hall as most were offering tools that just augment (or automate) existing classroom practices.
    • The best part of the conference was the conversations outside of the sessions.

    I share these feelings and would offer a few of my own:

    There is a great deal of talk on the problem and the growing disconnect between our students’ world and the experience we provide at school. Many suggest a radical change to our system of teaching. While I may agree that such a change is needed, I am less optimistic in the plausibility of such change and see sustained incremental change more viable.

    I went to one presentation by a group from a school where they have required each student to develop an e-portfolio through their four years of high school. However, I was not impressed with the quality of the sample portfolio content presented. It appeared to be rather basic and did not exhibit a deep level of understanding. Additionally, it did not reflect some of the skills I (and many other) hope schools will embrace in the future: creativity, collaboration, and reflective learning.

    The adoption of the e-portfolio by this school is fantastic and exhibits an incremental change. Now they need to continue the process by demanding content that reflects higher level understanding and skills suggested above.

    I was very disappointed with how each session was a presentation and less a conversation. Part of the problem has to do with the length of time allotted for each session (1 hour is too short for a real conversation). But another part of the problem has to do with the presenters. We are trying to engage our students in conversations yet we cannot do this in our conferences except outside the sessions. I would like to see more presenters continuing their sessions via blogs or wikis, and I would like to see more sessions in panel or round-table discussion format. My real motive for extending the conversation is to see some of the concepts developed further. I get the feeling from most conference session that we are only scratching the surface of a topic and more questions are created than answered.

    In this theme of extending the conversation, I really enjoyed the opportunity to meet with other bloggers on Thursday night. But, the evening was spend mostly on introductions and getting to know each other. If we could have had other opportunities to meet, we could have then spent more time talking about sessions and concepts presented. I love going to conferences with a group of friends. We get to rehash the day during dinner. In fact, one of my favorite memories of the conference was sitting around with a group of friends (who did not attend the conference nor are educators) discussing the state and purpose of education in America. David Warlick has written on this subject (and has effected change through his suggestion that bloggers tag their posts). Will Richardson has suggested a "Blogger Café" where bloggers could meet and talk about the day’s happenings. After-hour parties and receptions are another opportunity for extending the conversation. (Hey vendors; spend less on swag and host a reception instead!)

    This was my first NECC, and I enjoyed the experience. Well done to the organizers of the conference; now let’s make it even better.

    Recommended Reading:

    "NECC all over but the flight" by Jeff Utecht in The Thinking Stick

    "NECC Reflections" by Will Richarson in Weblogg-ed

    "The Heights of NECC and Regrets" by David Warlick in 2 Cents Worth

    "Rehearsing the Revolution: Thoughts on NECC06 and NECC07" by Scott Waters in Theatre EduTech

  • Going Horizontal: A Systemic Approach to Technology Implementation Published 2006-07-06

    Going Horizontal: A Systemic Approach to Technology Implementation
    By Timothy Magner
    Director, Office of Educational Technology (DOE)
    Wednesday July 5th 10am

    I attended Tim Magner's NECC session yesterday and left like I had visited the Twilight Zone. Tim is with the Department of Education and consistent with my image of a "bureaucrat", he presented in a nice but conservative suit standing behind the presenter's table - above and removed from his audience. His presentation was scripted and his delivery was direct - not flashy.

    But it is was here that the session diverted from my vision of a DOE message. Tim referenced ideas of globalism ala Thomas Freedman. He questioned the skills needed for the US to remain competitive and recognized that teens live in a digital world which they leave to attend school. He understood that we need to find a new metaphor for schools. Gone are the days of thinking of schools as factories with inputs (content) and output (knowledge) - the student moving along a learning conveyer belt with teachers molding her to a desired form. Tim challenged us to come up with a new metaphor and to define the school of the future - School 2.0.

    It took me a while to really comprehend or believe that my DOE was embracing 21st Century Skills, understanding the significance of our kid's digital world to education, and soliciting the lowly educator for ideas on how to define education of the future. Is this just a PR stunt or does Tim really believe it?

    After finishing his presentation, Tim entertained questions. This is when we got to see that he and his colleagues really believe in this stuff. He spoke passionately about change; he was not speaking from a script or offering sound bits. I went down to the DOE booth in the exhibit hall (they have a booth - isn't that cool) where I found Tim continuing the conversation encouraging others to put their ideas to pen and post-it. It was great to see him and other members of DOE in the booth talking to people, answering questions, and LISTENING.

    Well Done Tim!

  • The Ian Jukes Show Published 2006-07-05

    From Gutenberg to Gates to Google & Beyond
    Ian Jukes
    Wednesday July 5, 2006 (3:30pm)

    Link to Presentation

    Ian's presentation at the 2006 NECC conference today offered great entertainment. His enthusiasm, comedy, and evangelist style is compelling but does not leave much time for discussion. The session was full of facts, a few conjectures, but no conclusion other than that we need to think about how education needs to be rethought. While I was entertained and enjoyed the presentation, I left wanting to continue the discussion and really delve into what schools of the future will look like.

    Central to Ian's presentation is change and especially the rapid change driven by technology of today. From these changes we can identify themes that may mold schools of the future. Three themes that have emerged from the last ten years are personalization, individual control and anytime / anywhere. My school of the future will embrace these themes. What will your school of the future include?


  • Leading from the Edge Published 7/05/2006 05:02:00 PM

    Leading from the Edge
    by Chris O'Neal
    Wednesday July 5, 2006 (8:30am)

    Have you ever experienced the phenomenon where someone tells you about something, then all of a sudden you are hearing about it all over the place. This was the case for me when someone ask what was my "elevator story". For those not up with this concept, consider this: You are on vacation returning to your hotel room to get your daughter's favorite stuffed bear she left forgot to pack. On the elevator ride up, you are joined by Bill Gates who expresses interest in what you are doing. You have the attention of a known supporter of both technology and education and only ten floors to express your ideas. What do you say?

    Since hearing of the "elevator story" idea, I have read about it several times and have even had the opportunity to try a few versions out. I found myself amused to hear Chris O'Neal telling a group of educators that we need to be able to speak about our projects and visions in bullet points. In others words, we must be able to condense our story to the salient points necessary to capture or at least interest the listener.

    In his NECC session this morning, Chris offered more suggestions on how we can be more effective technology leaders. For me, the highlights of the presentation were:

    1. Know and accept "the givens" which include
      • you will need to justify expenditures
      • you will be dealing with change
      • you will have to prove technology's worth ("evaluation starts beforehand")
    2. Personalize your message
      • Know about your "higher-ups" so you can speak to things that interest them
      • Personally invite people to your next meeting or workshop. If your program/project will significantly benefit from their presence at the event, it is important that you take the time to craft a personalized invitation for these participants rather than sending out a general flyer or mass email. Even if these folks do not attend the event, they will appreciate the personal invitation and at least be aware of the event.
      • Take charge of your public relations. Craft different messages based on the recipients. For example, if you are speaking to administrators, include funding issues in the conversation and when talking with teachers include benefits to learning in your message.
      • You should not only target your message to those who make the decisions. You should also should get to know those who work with the "higher-ups". Have coffee with the administrative assistant.
    3. Be your best
      1. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Utilize folks who are strong in areas where you are weak.
      2. Develop a set of resources from which you can grow. Technology and how it is enhancing education is constantly changing and you need to keep up.
      3. Take time for reflection. Schedule time in your week when you are not available - time for yourself to reflect, think, daydream, create, innovate.

    Chris also added some fuel for your next elevator ride:

    • 80 percent of parents BELIEVE that the Internet helps teens do better in school.
    • 86 percent of students BELIEVE that the Internet helps teens do better in school
    • "There is not really an avenue at school for me to share, or create original work, or publish my stuff - that's really the only reason I love MySpace so much." student quote

    Overall, Chris' presentation was well done though only offered a taste of the type of things that helps us be more effective technology leaders. Now we can develop and expand on his thoughts.