Archive for February 2008

What Is Our District Offering?

February 26, 2008

Well, the latest discussion happening over on Will Richardson’s blog in conjunction with my prior blog post got me to thinking. What does our local school district offer in terms of professional development for my kids’ teachers? Are they learning about new spheres of practice, learning, communication, participation… Here is the list of what is being offered between February and June.

– IEP Open Lab

– SMART Boards for Beginners (X3)

– Social Emotional Learning Building Team Training

– Best Children’s Literature in the Classroom

– Adult CPR

– First Aid for Coaches

– Music: the Orff Express

– Web Portal Pages

– ESOL Inservice

– Para Support Group

– Implementing the District Lesson Plan Format (That sounds invigorating!)

– IEP Open Lab

– Excel Basics

– Mandarin Training Report Tool

– Building a Caring School Climate through Service Learning

– the Art of VideoStreaming

– Motivating hart to Reach, Uninterested, and Disruptive Students

– Building Circles of Support for Autistic students

– What Talented Readers Need

– Introduction to Computer Animation Basics (Art teachers only)

help.jpgAll of these topics have merit, of course. They are all important. But most are discipline specific and don’t have a wider audience appeal or relevancy. There are few general sessions that could benefit any and all teachers. But what I want to stress is that there are NO sessions dealing with Web 2.0 or any of its related technologies and certainly nothing on empowering teachers to connect, learn, contribute, participate… in larger communities of practice. So, do teachers know they can participate in such new forms of learning networks? Well, they are not learning about the possibilities in our district. So, I think Will Richardson’s estimate…

“But I would still venture to guess that 75% (maybe more) of educators in this country still don’t know that they can have this network.”

…is probably on target.

For those many teachers who can’t seem to make these after-school PD sessions for some very valid reasons (children, other jobs, other commitments or responsibilities, nothing relevant offered, no follow-up support,…), new on-line learning/networking opportunities would seem to make a great deal of sense. Do we just need to sit back and be patient in this regard? Will it come in good time… or too late?

Don’t Fall Off Your Chair!

February 25, 2008

chair.jpgOkay, this is just plain fun.An ex-teacher in the UK has invented an “untippable” chair for classroom use. The problem used to drive him crazy, as many teachers can identify with, I’m sure. The article reports that there are upwards of 7,000 pupils a year hospitalized in the UK as a result of chair-related accidents – of which 70% are related to rocking backwards in the chair.The “Max” chair cannot be rocked more than 5 cm off the ground. Here is a practical application of technology if I ever saw one. What a great physics/math lesson it would make, too!What is most interesting is reading all of the posted comments in response to the article. We have pro-rockers, anti-rockers, pro-safety, anti-coddlers, pro-fitness balls, anti-sedentary learning, pro-restrainters, pro-danger, pro-engaging teaching, “it never happened to me and I did it all through school!”, “rocking helps develop balance and muscle strength”, and the best of all, “Let the kids rock”.Who would have thought that opinions on this matter were so diverse and so passionate. And that’s my point. If we give folks the opportunity to express themselves in relevant ways, they will. As teachers, if we can combine relevancy with meaning-making (which is missing in this example, of course!), we have the workings of powerful learning. Ask yourself how relevant your lessons are to the lives and passions of your students. You might be surprised. Just don’t fall off your chair 🙂

Kitchen Conferences

February 25, 2008

So, I wanted to attend a few sessions held this weekend at Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation. Problem: I am at home with my two kids, activities, lunches, dishes… you know – the stuff that real life is made up of. Solution: UStream in the kitchen! I set up my laptop on the kitchen counter where I could view and participate in the sessions, and presto! The only problem was dirty or wet hands. They are not the keyboard’s best friend. And, even if I could not attend live, sessions and backchannel chats are archived.

But, I think that this type of professional development is so valuable in our busy lives. Many teachers can’t seem to find the time for professional development. Both asynchronous and in this case, synchronous (UStream, TalkShoe, Elluminate…), opportunities have really grown over the last few years. They have helped me out tremendously. However, so far, they have not really taken off in the more “scholarly” educational conference venus like SITE, AERA, NCTE, NCTM, CUE and the like. Granted, some do have a few webcast sessions, but little to no opportunity to “participate”. Of course, things like membership and dues play more of a role here, but how long are we these “fences” to professional development going to stay up in this web 2.0, connected, collaborative world? How much do such fences contribute to NOT attending?

alone.jpgFinally, those not involved in these current conversations are probably not even aware of these types of opportunities. After all, I only found out about them from reading a few select blog posts and from a few tweets that came in on folks that I follow. What about those folks who don’t have developing borderless 2.0 networks? All the more reason to hop on board, I’d say. Teachers NEED to know about these opportunities with such limitations on time, finances, and schedule.

And, just as I am writing this, Will Richardson tweeted a new post that fits like a glove here! My point exactly. No RSS? No Twitter? No Network? Then, you are most likely not to be in the “know”. Will writes:

“But I would still venture to guess that 75% (maybe more) of educators in this country still don’t know that they can have a network….The passionate learning network of which I am a part is an amazing and important part of my life. The fact that most teachers still have no idea that is possible is distressing on one hand, motivating on the other.”

I couldn’t agree more. Teachers need time to talk, share, network,… and that time is often not going to be during the school day when their students are there. But, sadly, I think, as Will writes, that most are not really aware other options. My graduate students are not aware of such options and are so excited to be learning about them in class… one class in their entire degree program. Hopefully I can get some of them to explore these “kitchen conferences” and realize that their professional world and lifeline is not contained in the walls of their school or classroom. 🙂

Twitter for Us Old Folks?

February 21, 2008

Stumbled across an article in the NY Times titled, “If You Can’t Let Go, Twitter“. It it, the writer describes her attempt to connect with her 3 daughters (digital natives, right) via Twitter. Let’s just say, it didn’t work. After trying a number of tactics, including giving away money, she consults with a Walter J. Carl, an assistant professor of communications studies at Northeastern University, who said he wasn’t surprised. He is quoted as explaining the problem in the following way:

“You want to use these tools to keep up on others, in a good way, of course, and to let them keep up on you,” said Professor Carl, whose research focuses on social media. “But their perception is it’s surveillance.” One of the main reasons people embrace social media — Facebook, for instance — is to create identities for themselves and control other people’s perceptions of them.”

And then…

“Maybe Twitter isn’t the right tool for that job,” he said. “The people who I see using it are an older demographic, people in marketing or P.R. or advertising, who use it for work, to present themselves as particular types of people. They’ll twitter, ‘I’m traveling,’ or ‘I’m going to interesting restaurants.’ They’re using it to do identity work.”

Isn’t it interesting how this new communication tool that so many adults are using is not considered all that useful with kids… that they are more concerned with “creating identities for themselves and control other people’s perceptions of them”, as happens on Facebook and MySpace. But here’s my question: kids to love to IM and text. They thrive on social networking. One would think, in combination with social networking services, that a tool like Twitter would be “phat“. Huh!

In this new age of information glut/data smog, the importance of being information literate has grown exponentially. How do we reconcile this generation’s desire to “control other people’s perception of them”? Seem’s natural, for sure. But is the digital realm blurring the line between fact and fiction in a way that we must better address in education? Are students more accepting of blurred realities? And, if so, how does this impact one’s ability to value the truth and seek it out?

Re: Chasing False Gods

February 19, 2008

Chris Lehmann over on the blog Practical Theory has a new post that fits perfectly with what I have been reading and blogging about here (see earlier posts) in my book club of one as I work through Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

Check it out. His challenge to us all is very important. Critical, I think. Easy – no! Media has this sexy, seductive element to it that blurs the line between deep learning and entertainment. Saavy educators are needed more than ever.

Also, see my last post on 20th century skills repackaged. It all fits together.

20th Century Skills Repackaged

February 19, 2008

In a recent eSchoolNews article, it is quoted as saying, “A majority of U.S voters believe schools are not preparing students to compete in the new global economy… the skills students need to succeed in the workplace of today are notably different from what they needed 20 years ago.”

It is also quoted as saying,

“Eighty-eight percent of voters say they believe schools can, and should, incorporate 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication and self-direction, and computer and technology skills into the curriculum.”

I don’t disagree at all, but this rhetoric is getting annoying. Since when are critical thinking, problem solving, communication skills, and self-direction only 21st century skills? This has been our whole problem – that in the 21st century, we are still struggling to include 20th century learning skills. Of course, this information/2.0 age demands more of us all in these regards and increases the urgency of such pedagogical shifts. But, I think we are where we are due to our complacency prior to the 21st century. Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner, von Glasersfeld, Jonassen, Papert, Montessori, and a number of others have made sound pitches to this end over the past century. Why has so little change happened in classrooms across America? Yes, it is great that these principles are being brought into the conversation again, but it didn’t really happen then. Why will it happen now? Historically, the change pendulum has swung from one extreme to the other, yet little substantive change has ever been achieved. The article attributes this renewed interest and dissatisfaction with economic anxiety (fear). They mention China. India… Sound like Sputnik to you?

The article concludes with this quotation:

“This is a moment in both the economy and the upcoming election where Americans are looking for hope,” said Garin. By focusing on education and the teaching of 21st-century skills to the nation’s students, citizens and their elected officials can “help lead the country to a promising future.”

Hope. I hope things change. I have been hoping for a long time. Hope is good. But not enough. Change is happening, but in a haphazard and inconsistent manner. Of course, we must respond to economic, cultural, and social influences, but let’s not be fooled. That which is being called for now is nothing new. The tools to achieve it are new. There are new possibilities and mediums – but there will always be such. The urgency is now greater, for sure, but the pedagogical foundations remain. Will we finally begin to embrace them on a national level? Will we follow history and once again allow the pendulum to swing to the extreme? Is a balanced approach still out of our reach?

Ch. 7 – “Now….. This”

February 16, 2008

Continuing on with my reading – and thinking/blogging – about Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, chapter 7 continues to lay out the argument that the rapid-moving format of our television culture is duping us all into being satisfied with shallow, fragmented, and decontextualized ways of “being informed”. Postman attacks American news in particular in this chapter – news as pure entertainment, delivered in tantalizing disconnected chunks, interspersed with commercials, music, and other eye candy. I agree wholeheartedly. That is television. However, he does make a few points that really made me stop and think hard about our digital “natives” and their proclivity toward multitasking, remixing, ubiquitous socialization tools, mashups, and other schizophrenic-like behaviors.

The result, Postman writes, is that “Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least well-informed people in the Western world.” He goes on to write:

“What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation… misleading, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information – information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.”

and…

“In presenting news to us packaged as vaudeville, television induces other media to do the same, so that the total information environment begins to mirror television.”

So, this all got me to thinking about our “digital natives” and us, those adults who have embraced new ways of expression and communication. I think that in this new world of data smog, info glut, and info garbage, it has become even more critical than ever to help our students learn deeply, to see information transformed into knowledge that is deeply connected, grounded, and complete. I am not so sure that the emphasis on multi-tasking, mashups, remixes, and the like qualifies here. Expressive, it is. But, are we becoming satisfied with shallow learning wrapped up in impressive packaging? Our national obsession over testing has certainly railroaded any movement toward depth over breadth. However, I think more than ever before, we must help our students become well-informed, be highly skilled at navigating through the data smog, and produce learning artifacts that demonstrate a deep understanding and mastery of knowledge. We have more tools than ever to gain a broader cultural understanding of ourselves and of the world – past and present. Lets not let these tools trivialize it. Lets help students focus on a task and exhaust it. Lets not, as Postman writes, “let the information environment mirror television.” Is a college-level course taught on YouTube or a course taught over the cell phone head in this direction? Yeah… the digital natives love this stuff. And as a tech geek, I think it is all quite amazing. Does something of value get lost along the way? Are we heading in the direction of learning as a mirror of television?

What do you think?