• Classroom of Distinction Interactive Forum Published 2006-09-27 under

    I have just finished attending a wonderful day in San Diego with a group of educators sitting in mock classes "completely integrated technology environments".  This free event was put on by the Center for Digitial Education and was a chance for various sponsors to showcase their technology solutions in a real classroom setting.  Was this going to be like one big sales pitch - all day long?  To my delight - no.

    The day started with an informal breakfast where we had the opportunity to meet with our fellow attendees.  I especially enjoyed speaking with two Judys (or is it Judies) from the Stephen S. Wise Temple and Schools in Los Angeles.  In addition to being very friendly, they pick up for me a cool three way highlighter (tchotchke) where one of the colors was white.  White?  What is that for?  After some experimenting, we discovered it is a highlighter eraser.  It will erase the highlight, not the original print.  HOW COOL IS THAT.  Thanks Trillion for supplying these. (They deserve a plug after providing such a neat freebe; plus they were really nice).

    While I didn't realize it before or even after the welcome session started, the theme of the day was encouraging 1:1 computing with each session giving us students the opportunity to experience a class where we each had a computer and could engage in a rich classroom experience.  Intel was one of the sponsors of the event and it was encouraging to see how interested they were in getting teachers to understand the new mindset and strategy around providing students with this technology.  I had lunch with Nick Young from Intel who impressed me with his vision of 1:1 computing and its role in improving our learning environments.  The most important thing he mentioned was the importance of a solid strategy - an understanding of not only how to implement a 1:1 program but why.  What are you trying to accomplish?

    Session #1 was Literacy where adverbs were the lesson of the day.  Smart Technologies and Toshiba were the sponsors and the lesson went well, but was too rushed - they tried to do too much in the little time allowed.  I especially liked how the technology allowed us to manually group (drag/drop) the various adverbs into categories and then share our groupings with others in the class. 

    Session #2 was Professional Development and the sponsor was FutureKids.  I have no idea what we were covering as the presenter jump right in with "click here and then here" type of instructions without providing a framework nor motivation for what we were to be doing.  I really dislike technology workshops where the core of the instruction is just "click here" steps. 

    Session #3 was Math and was by far the most exciting.  While my preference for this session may have been to do with my background as a math teacher, I really think it was the DyKnow software.  The session was about Base 10 vs Base 2 number systems and was designed so that we constructed our own definitions of the terms. The teacher wandered around the class with her Gateway tablet PC highlighting and annotating her presentation which was displayed at the front of the class and on our laptops (the synch feature was really cool).  We could take notes on our tablets right next to those that the teacher provided and everything is saved.  This is Notetaking 2.0;  give the students a template or basic set of notes and let them annotate or personalize them.  Students are no longer copy machines but are able to be more engaged and only need to add their thoughts to the notes. This is collaborative note taking where student's can share their notes and learn from other students' work.  In one activity, we solved a problem (with multiple steps) and the teacher was able to display not only selected students' answers on the screen, but could also animate the student's work so we could see how he/she got the answer.

    After a fantastic lunch (kudos to the Town and Country Hotel), we had Session #4 - Science.  This class was the least innovative for me but did provide a quality experience.  Lab stations were setup complete with a laptop, instructional software from Pitsco and lab supplies.  In our teams, we listened to a lab module on fingerprinting which began with the history of fingerprinting, followed by some very interesting information about fingerprints (and how they are used to uniquely identify people).  Then the module when on and explained what we were going to be doing in the lab and provided step by step instructions complete with video or animated examples showing use how to perform the process.  While setting up lab stations in this fashion may not be new, I was impressed with the quality of the lesson.  My lab partner and I agreed, it was the only lesson where we learned something new.

    The final class session was titled Strategy Planning, but it was more of a presentation.  We all convened back together and listen to Dr. Themy Sparangis, Chief Technology Officer from Los Angeles Unified School District.  If you have read any of the posts by those on my resources list, you would be very familiar with Themy's presentation.  However, I was impressed with his presentation style, sense of humor, and passion.  Furthermore, it was a light and motivating session, perfect for the end of the day.

    In the discussion that followed, one attendee recognized that there is a wide gap among the teachers in their comfort with technology.  As another attendee pointed out, the bigger issue is not the technology but the content / curriculum.  It may be difficult to get some teachers to embrace technology to enhance their existing curriculum.  It is even harder to get teachers to explore technology and content that are central to a new learning model with new learning goals.

    Another educator identified a significant hurtle to educational change in the form of textbook publishers.  His point was that if we let the textbook publishers control the content, change will be slow if at all as they are entrenched in their cash cow of paper based publishing.  We need to take control and dictate what we want in the form of content.  Especially, we need content that is consistent with the learning goals and technology that we want to utilize.

    This was a fascinating concluding discussion - a great way to end the day...  But wait.  It was not the end.  The organizers could have thanked everyone and had their raffle, but instead we had a video conference that was at best anticlimactic. I am not sure why they chose to end such a wonderful day with such a boring presentation.  The distant presenter was not engaging and her failures were exasperated by the technology.  I have no idea what her goals were but they were not light.  The folks around me stirred uncomfortably as the presenter rambled on.  Finally, she was told that time was up which elicited a big applause from the audience. 

    All in all, this was wonderful experience.  It was a great opportunity for sponsors to showcase their technology in a real learning environment.  Intel reveal a real understanding of 1:1 computing and for education in general.  And the Center for Digital Education deserve kudos for their coordination of this event.  I shared the sentiment of a couple of my fellow attendees: I feared that I was going to be bombarded with a sense that all of these vendors are trying to sell me something; instead I left with a feeling of excitement and that I actually learned something.

    Tags: , , , , ,

    Powered by Qumana

  • Geeky APIs: Why They're Important With Examples Published 2006-09-19 under

    Another "Future of Web Apps" post...

    In my last post, I borrowed a phrase from Tom Coates' to describe the future of the Web: "an aggregate of connected data sources and services".  This begs the question how? - how do all of these individual websites communicate and share information.  The answer is the geeky term API (application programming interface).  Sounds complicated, but many of you are already familiar with one very popular way sites share content, RSS.  Bloglines is an example of a site that is an aggregate of data sources using RSS as the mechanism for capturing the data from other sites.

    Another way to expose data on the web is something called microformats - "fastest and simplest way to provide an API to your website".  Tantek Çelik from Technorati discussed microformats at the conference and you can view his presentation here.  In essence, microformats are a markups that you add to your standard HTML so that applications can access the data on your site.  There are several microformats in use today with more in development.  The more common (current) uses include identifying calendar events and contact information.  By adding some additional markup code to your site, you can allow users to import events into their Outlook, iCal, or other calendaring application.  Just think if every school and organization exposed their calendar events using microformats and RSS.  A parent with students a several different schools each doing multiple different activities would be able to create a master calendar with all of her children's events, updated automatically.  The idea of a printed calendar of events is passé.

    For more information on the specifics of microformats, you should take a look at  Tantek's presentation or for even more detail, look at the hCalendar and hCard specifications from Microformats.org.

    The question that comes to my mind is what does the learning API look like?  How can students, teachers, schools, districts, etc. expose learning data so that we all can benefit from an aggregate of connected learning sources - "the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts"?  Are there microformats that can be used or established that will make classroom blogs easier to share? 

    One technique that we are using is tagging our content.  The rel-tag microformat describes an author-designated "tag" for the current page.  Which tags you select becomes important.  What are some other ways we can create the learning API?

    Tags: , , , , ,

    Powered by Qumana

  • Information Silos Published 2006-09-18 under

    Another "Future of Web Apps" post...

    As mentioned in my last post, Tom Coates' presentation offered me lots of fuel for thought.  One concept that really hit home for me was the idea of  "Information Silos". Much of the Web today can be represented as individual storehouses of data.  By navigating to a site, you are seeing data that belongs to that site.

    But the future promises a more aggregated web where a site will offer more than just the data stored on their servers, but include "an aggregate of connected data sources and services".  There are many sites that are doing this today.  Google News is not a news site but more a news aggregator providing visitors a chance to see headlines from a wide variety of sources.  BTW - have you seen the Google News Archive Search?  The "timeline" feature is really cool.

    An analogy can be draw to education.  Teachers have often been silos of information - viewed as the experts in the classroom.  Sharing of information between classes is rare.  Two sections of the same class can meet right next to each other, yet little information or knowledge passes between the two.  Teachers and classrooms are isolated silos of information.

    Today, teachers are changing the model; moving away from being the expert to the facilitator, aggregating the information and sharing the knowledge generated in the class with not only the class next door, but the class on the other side of the world.

    It is exciting to be apart of this transformation, and I look forward to those education-centric web apps that will model this view of teaching and provide an aggregation of data and services from a variety of sources.  What do you think these sites will look like?

    Tags: , , ,

    Powered by Qumana

  • Social Software Published 9/18/2006 07:37:00 AM under

    Perhaps the best of day one at the "Future of Web Apps" was the presentation by Tom Coates - Directions in Social Change on the Web.  (for comprehensive notes on the session, visit CenterNetworks -thanks Allen!)

    The tag line of the presentation, and for social software in general is "The sum is greater than the parts".  When blogs were first being noticed outside the geekosphere, they were panned and largely viewed as irrelevant.  This was because it was easy to point to individual posts and even whole blogs that were crap.  Taken by themselves, blogs looked amateurish at best.  As we have seen, blogging is much more than just individual posts.  This blog, though I try, does not reach that many educators, nor is what I post so important that it will change education.  However, if you combine all of the blogs of those in my blogroll and all the blogs in those bloggers' blogrolls, you have a community that is making a difference.  Ideas are introduced, discussed, and perfected.  Educators are trying new techniques to enrich their curriculum because they are part of a bigger community and that they are not out there on their own.

    In his presentation, Tom likened the reaction MyS%*#@ is receiving to that which blogs got when they first emerged.  People are focusing on individual pages and saying this site is full of junk with no value at all.  But when viewed as a whole, it is remarkable.  Hitwise puts MyS%*#@ as the most popular website (based on US usage) above Yahoo! and even Google.  So what is it about the site that folks (mainly under 25) like about it?  It is certainly not its appearance - most pages are ugly. It is all about community or the social aspects of the web.

    [Note: obfuscation of the actual name of the enormously popular social networking site that has the words my and space in it is to allow those people in districts that band content mentioning this word a chance to read this post.  Oh yes, and I want to be uber-DOPA compliant]

    Tags: , ,

    Powered by Qumana

  • Day One - Future of Web Apps Published 2006-09-14 under

    Wow - what a full day.  Eight presentations, five spotlights on coming apps and lots of networking, I am exhausted.  Did I forget to mention the Google party?

    Here are a few items that I can share in these few minutes before I head back for Day Two.

    First, I am so impressed with those who can blog while at a session.  I do not multitask very well and if I try and capture all of the ideas in a post I am unable to sit and synthesize. Luckily, there are many others who are capturing the ideas presented at each session.  [Here is the one that most impressed me.] 

    Second: this is a web tech event so you should not be surprised that wifi was available.  In fact, there were seven (I think) connection to choose from.  This was way more than NECC 06 with far fewer attendees.  So why could we not get connected during the sessions?   Perhaps is was because at least 50% of the audience had their laptops out, trying to connect.

    The plethora of laptops really interested me.  During one session, I watch the activity of those around me.  Some were taking notes - perhaps for their blog.  Others were snapping photos, downloading to their laptop and up to Flickr (when they had connectivity).  Many were staying connected with jobs, drafting emails, touching up work products, perfecting the message on a page, even collaborating on a project.  During a conversation prior to a session, I was listening to a Microsoft .NET evangelist discuss the future of ColdFusion.  During the conversation he continued reading/responding to emails - all the time remaining coherent. 

    I compare this to the activity in our classes where we (traditionally) expect students to "stay focused" and "on task".  I would love to hear what others think about our expectations in the class and what kids are doing outside.

    Stay tuned for posts on the some of the actual topics in which we as educators might be interested.

    Powered by Qumana

  • Future of Web Apps Published 2006-09-12 under

    I am on my way to a two day conference titled "Future of Web Apps" presented by Carson Systems. So what is a educator doing at a conference full of "Ruby on Rails" coders and high tech entrepreneurs? On the one hand, I see this trip like a visit to the zoo; instead of wild animals, I get to meet and hear from those that brought us such tools as Flickr, Technorati, Google Calendars, and Digg. I know that I am not part of their world, but I am hoping to get a glimpse of what might be in store for us down the road. Additionally, I cherish the chance to talk with folks outside of education about education. These folks get social networking, collaboration, and innovation.

  • Adding "Share on EdBloggerNews" link to your Blogger Published 2006-09-11

    As Dave Warlick and others have reminded us, Will Richardson has setup a fantastic resource for all of us who love to read (and write) EduBlog posts but are finding it difficult to read all of the articles in our RSS feeds. Take a look at EdBloggerNews, which is similar to Digg but for Education Blog posts.

    Recently, Chris over at Open Source Classroom, posted a pluggin for Wordpress users who want to add a "Share on EdBloggerNews" link at the end of each of their posts.

    I have taken Chris' lead and offer the following for uses of Blogger.

    To have the link automatically added to each of your posts, you will need to edit the blog's template.

    Step #1: Make a backup of your current template. It is always a good practice to copy the current template into a file on your computer in case you need to revert back to the "Last Known Good" version of the template.

    Step #2: Add a script section in the <head> of your template. Notice that this script is relatively simple (one function) that opens a new window.

    <script type="text/javascript">
    function ToEdBloggerNews(title, permalink) {
     // constants
     const winAKA = "EdBloggerNews";
     const baseurl = http://edbloggernews.crispynews.com/article/new_edit'
     const windowSettings = 'toolbar=1,scrollbars=1,location=1,statusbar=0, »
     // setup the url
     var url = baseurl + '?link=' + encodeURIComponent(permalink) + »
     '&title=' + encodeURIComponent(title) + '&pop=yes';
     // open the window and give it focus
     var w = window.open(url, winAKA, windowSettings);

    view code

    Step #3: Add the following code to your template where ever you want the link to be (usually right after the <$BlogItemBody$> blogger tag).

    <div class="edbloggernews">
    <a href="<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>" »
    onclick="ToEdBloggerNews('<$BlogItemTitle$>','<$BlogItemPermalinkUrl$>'); »
    return false;" target="EdBloggerNews" »
    title="Post this article to EdBloggerNews"> »
    Share on EdBloggerNews!</a>

    view code

    Step #4: Save your template and re-index your blog.

    Notes: I included a class "edbloggernews" for the DIV tag that surrounds the link so that I can control the appearance of the link in my CSS.  This is optional.

    Hope this helps and if you have any improvements (or questions) please let me know.

    Tags: , ,

    Powered by Qumana

  • Plagiarism - Blame the Assignment? Published 2006-09-08

    Do you remember the first time you caught one of your students cheating.  Wasn't it shocking!  I don't know about you, but I took it personally.  Sure I knew kids cheat, but my kids would never cheat on ME.

    Well, I am older now and a bit less naive (perhaps jaded).  Kids do cheat. According to The Center for Academic Integrity, over 70% of the high school students surveyed admitted to have engaged in one or more instances of serious test cheating.  The Center also suggests that plagiarism, especially Internet plagiarism, is a growing problem.

    I just finished reading an article by Doug Prouty titled "Plagiarism? Blame the Assignment" published in the recent OnCue newsletter from CUE. [note: I could not find a digital copy of the article but it draws on an earlier article "Combating Digital Plagiarism" by the same author]

    I agree with much of what Doug states including the impact of "cut and paste" on plagiarism.  We are also in agreement with the need to re-think the assignments to encourage original thought and higher order learning skills.  Where our opinions diverge is on blaming plagiarism on the assignments.  While I don't like what is referred to as "Go Find Out About..." assignments, I won't excuse a student who plagiarizes on such an assignment or blame his behavior on the assignment.

    "Basing assignments on who, what, where, and when questions invites plagiarism."  Yes, it does make plagiarism easier, but "invites" is too strong a word. I recall a meeting with a parent whose son copied from another student's work on a take-home test.  The parent defended her son by blaming the teacher for assigning a take-home test.  "Of course kids are going to copy each other" was her defense. 

    Students plagiarize because: a) they don't realize they are stealing someone else's work and passing it off as their own, OR b) they know they are stealing someone else's work and don't care or don't think they will be caught. The lack of knowledge reason is a serious issue and one that is exasperated by the easy access to information provided by the Internet. Certainly this is an area that we, as educators, need to address.  In fact, I would suggest that every teacher include a discussion of what constitutes plagiarism so that students are clear as to the teacher's expectations.

    It is to the second reason that I draw more concern.  Again from the Center for Academic Integrity:

    In the absence of clear direction from faculty, most students have concluded that 'cut & paste' plagiarism - using a sentence or two (or more) from different sources on the Internet and weaving this information together into a paper without appropriate citation - is not a serious issue. While 10% of students admitted to engaging in such behavior in 1999, almost 40% admit to doing so in the Assessment Project surveys. A majority of students (77%) believe such cheating is not a very serious issue.
    Research by Don McCabe - Center for Academic Integrity [link]

    Is plagiarizing OK?  Certainly many students (and parents) think so, or at least can rationalize plagiarizing.  In our quest to get better standardized test scores, have we forgotten about ethics?  Are ethics and morality too difficult (or divisive) to teach in school and should be left to the home and church?  I applaud those institutions that seek to create an environment that celebrates academic integrity, where discussions on the unethicalness of plagiarism take place. 

    While we can take measures to make plagiarism more difficult (e.g. change our assignments, detect plagiarism), let's not leave the ethics out of the classroom.

    Tags: , ,

    Powered by Qumana

  • Claymation Published 2006-09-05

    I was catching upon my backlog of Rocketboom posts and found one that was real inspiring for those digital storytellers out there. The Aug. 25 episode visited Children's Museum of Art in New York where kids are being taught the art of claymation. The vlog should inspire some documentary maker to take a longer look at what the Museum is doing in digital storytelling. Certainly the technical craft of claymation is fascinating, but wouldn't it be great if the kids were also being taught about story - the softer side of the art.

    tagged: edtech rocketboom storytelling edtech rocketboom storytelling

  • Rules, Rules, Rules Published 2006-09-01

    A friend and past colleague of mine runs a very structured classroom. I can give you a pretty good idea of what is going on in his class based on the time and day of the week. Students report liking his style because they now exactly what to expect. His class rules are very clear and as a beginning teacher, I admired him for his ability create such a structured environment. Kids need structure!

    Yes, structure and rules are a sound foundation to teaching the basics. But what if we want more? What if we want our kids to be innovative, critical thinkers. What if we want them to be independent learners? I argue that for a student to be innovative, the teacher needs to be innovative. He must provide a learning environment that supports risk taking and views failure as a learning experience. An structured environment promotes students giving the "correct" answer and leaves little room for thinking outside the box.

    When establishing the rules for your class, consider the environment you will be creating and is this environment consistent with your teaching objectives?

  • Technology Wagging the Dog? Published 9/01/2006 08:32:00 AM

    I have been attending conferences on education technology for many years (anyone remember the Hypercard-like application Linkway?).  The most prevalent type of session offered is one that focuses on how to use a particular piece of software and/or hardware.  Little if any time is spent on how the technology affects learning. Even at a recent session by Sara Anderson (who I greatly respect) on digital storytelling, questions focused on how to create the stories and where to get copyright-safe media.  Little time was spent on the underlying educational concepts fostered by digital storytelling or how one might incorporate this wonderful teaching tool into the curriculum.

    The trend to focus on the technology is not limited to conferences.  I have attended many meetings lately with “technology experts” at several highly respected schools.  In each meeting, the conversation was limited to software and hardware.  Any attempt to move the discussion toward a strategic vision with a focus on learning was met with glassy eyes at best and most often a dismissive “we will talk about that later”. 

    WAKE UP!  The important stuff is the learning.  Start with educational goals and then discuss the technologies that will advance these goals.  Why make blogs, wikis, and or general websites available to teachers if there is no discussion (or training) on how they can be used to benefit the learning process?

    The source for bringing this topic up was a discussion on "integrating technology". Worth reading:
    Diane Quirk – “The Ways We Talk About Technology
    Dave Warlick – "Foundations" and "What About Integrating?"