Monday, August 31, 2009

Random Thoughts in the Moment Between Vacation and First Day of School

Whale Watching and Education

The boat navigates its way offshore, the captain judging the time between waves and the safest path for the passengers. The naturalist watches and listens for blows that announce the presence of whales. The whales seem oblivious of boat, captain, naturalist, and passengers. They are simply enjoying their journey: looking for tasty treats, slapping the water to communicate with each other, showing their flukes when they dive for distance. Occasionally a whale is curious about its fellow ocean travelers and will spy hop t o look at the boat. Sometimes the joy of life, the itch of barnacles, or the need to say something will inspire a whale to breach out of the water and crash back to the surface. As the first day of the new fall term quickly approaches, I hope the naturalist in me will foster my students' curiosity and communication skills, and will encourage that itch for learning so they delight in breaching the ocean of knowledge that awaits them.

Ferries vs. Bridges

When I drive over a bridge to get from Point A to Point B, I'm mostly concentrating on staying away from the edge, watching the other traffic carefully, and getting to the other side as soon as possible. Nothing joyful, or even very interesting, in the trip. Perhaps my passengers get more out of bridges than I do.

But, when a ferry is involved... It's all about the voyage. First you have to wait for the ferry. That gives you tim e to think about where you're coming from and where you're going. Then you have time on the ferry, even if it's only five or ten minutes, to observe the path you're taking along the way and anticipate your arrival on the other shore. There's a sense of accomplishment and an awareness of the route taken. That's not unlike a good teaching or learning experience. The journey is what's important. Understanding where you were at the outset and how you arrived at your destination, their connection, is more critical than Point A or Point B alone.
I like ferries. I enjoy ferries.

Friday, August 14, 2009

November in August

No, it wasn't some kind of Thanksgiving-in-the-summer holiday switch. It was a delightful opportunity to attend a NJ Department of Education session with Alan November, educational consultant and technology-in-education guru. The 5-hour sessions, titled "Creating 21st Century New Jersey Schools" have been given throughout the summer, either with Alan November or with Ian Jukes. They comprise Phase 1 (Awareness and Familiarization) of the restructuring, revision, and implementation of the state's Standards. The state's new Standards website will be unveiled at the NJEA Convention this fall, according to Janis Jensen, Director of the Office of Academic Standards. Here, now, are my notes (minus the humor, unfortunately) from the November session, with links supplied by me or by Alan November.

How does Google’s search engine work? The top hits become top hits for several reasons: many people have linked to them, and the key word is in the name of the URL.
e.g. key words: Alan November Should bring up Alan November’s “NovemberLearning” website as hit #1.

Google and AltaVista helpful ‘tricks’
site:(country code) will show only hits eminating from the specified country
link:(URL) will show who is linked to the specified URL
link:(URL) host:edu will show only the higher education links to that URL (other search terms, here, will reduce the number of results)
this will give you a listing of ALL the web pages hosted by, for example, NASA

Backchannel – working simultaneously online and live to have real-time conversations both places. e.g. – Twitter (Tweeting) while at a conference session, about the conference session.

Twitterfall – create a tag to do a Twitter search and Twitter will find all the Tweets with that tag and drop them on your screen.

Conversations we should have with our faculty:

  • What is the definition of a “lifelong learner?”
  • Who is best at being a lifelong learner?
  • What is the definition of being “literate” in a world where the Internet dominates what people read?
  • Who should own the learning? (students should be working harder than the teachers) (students should be asked to develop the best ways to teach difficult concepts
How do we assess technology projects to emphasize the process, not the product? What skills would you teach today that will outlast the technology?

When confronted with new technology, do you feel a loss? Make sure you ask yourself what the potential benefit of the new technology is.

Use the ‘Wayback Machine’ at to search for sites that have been removed but are archived. You can also use this tool to talk about ethics on the Internet and to show students that when you publish something on the Web, it can be there for eternity! Be careful what you post! Using, students can compare and contrast websites as they appear now and as they appeared on earlier dates. (For example, I compared today with the same URL in 2002. Quite a difference in web design and attractiveness.)

AN: “We should globalize the curriculum.”

What about using a Ning environment for students, to create a social network for academic purposes. A Ning will give the students a place to socially interact on school topics and a place for them to “post their own stuff.”

On the BLC website there’s a link to their Ning

Use a search engine to look for “bogus websites” for use in teaching about reliability and the necessity of validating websites used for research. Here are some examples: (includes some things inappropriate for kids so check it first) be sure to click on Sir Francis Drake (John Cabot is quite amusing as well ☺)
Download lesson plans in the For Teachers section to help with a unit on finding reliable information and checking multiple sources.

You can use the Whois? website to find out who “owns” a particular website. This will often tell you how reliable the information on the site is.

Give students jobs – divide homework tasks, take notes, make tutorials with screencast sites/software like
Students should design the rubrics
Ask students to find examples of student work on a topic from places around the world rather than just the U.S. (in search engine, type key words and then “site:(countrycode)
Here's an example of students at work: Eric Marcos’ site where student tutorials are posted.

“Copyright is over as you and I know it.” Educators can now cite source materials for transformational use without fear of breaking copyright law. (see my earlier blog post about NJECC to find links to discussion of Copyright and Fair Use)
(Copyright laws were never intended to create absolute monopoly. Copyright law has been considered to create equilibrium between the rights of copyright owner to generate a profit for their work and the benefit to society of learning from and building upon their works. The traditional principles of copyright like the 'fair use' doctrine were developed towards this end. Ranjit Kumar Gulla)

Some brain research suggests that homework should become schoolwork because wrong answers on homework become reinforced when time passes between the doing of the work and receiving the corrections on the work. Therefore, homework should be done in school with immediate feedback from the teacher. Homework can be assigned for reading or watching of tutorials and background information as preparation.

We need real-time assessment in order to find out how effectively we are teaching. Alan November loves the "clickers" that starting to be used for polling students and gauging the percentage of people who understand at any given time. A teacher in his audience says she absolutely loves using individual student eraseable whiteboards (such as we use for math work).

Student Jobs:
1. tutorial designers – use screencast, podcast, video cams and post online and DVD
2. official scribes (student assigned daily to take the ‘official’ notes for the class on a Google Doc. Then the class looks at final result before it’s saved for everyone’s use.)
3. research team – use the Google customized search engine as well as looking for information sources around the world
4. collaboration coordinators – student team to establish and maintain working relationships with classrooms and experts worldwide.
5. contributing to society team – raising money to contribute to people in developing countries or other worthwhile organizations that better the lives of others
6. curriculum reviewers - team of students to record and post reviews of weekly work in the classroom (a la Bob Sprankle's class)

Every teacher should have a network of teachers from around the world, to support their work and to learn from.

AN: “Do we keep students within the structure we have or do we change the structure?”

I've added, below, a section of one of AN's articles that can be found at his website. I think the content of this section, about Professional Development, is significant and should be read by all teachers and administrators because it marks a big change from the way things have always been done. Here are Alan November's words:

I began to rethink my original assumptions about the quality of what I thought was a “successful” staff development experience. Rather than focus on the “drill,” technical skills for teachers, I began to think about the “picture on the wall” — students learning. What if the focus of technology training was to shift from how teachers acquire technical skills to how students learn with technology?

This shift in perspective would require a totally different approach to staff development design. Indeed, in this model, immediate facility with the technology would become secondary. Teaching teachers to observe how students learn and to reflect on the value of that kind of learning would become central. The only way to do this well is to involve students in the staff development model.

Each teacher brings two or three kids to the workshop. And, the role of the trainer shifts from training teachers how to use the “boxes” to teaching the students. While the students are learning in small groups, the teachers are asked to make careful observations about the impact that technology has on how students learn. The goal is no longer about technical mastery but about designing learning environments where technology could help children learn, regardless of whether the teacher actually acquired the technical skills.

Once I changed perspectives from technical training to student learning, the results of follow up were much more effective. They really had to be. Once you excite the students about the technology and formally legitimize the notion that students can learn about computers before the teacher, then the staff development experience builds more capacity for follow up. As soon as teachers are free from worrying about the technical details, their minds are more available to think creatively about what their students could achieve. And, chances are the teams of students did acquire the technical skills. Now the students are in a formally sanctioned position to provide technical support back in the classroom.

There are many reasons to move to a student centered model of staff development in technology:

* We probably do not want to reinforce the old model of the teacher learning something first and returning to class as the expert. Especially, when kids learn this stuff so fast or already know it. We need to do everything we can to honor the knowledge and wisdom of children.
* Sometimes, some teachers will make decisions that what they are learning is too difficult and students could not possibly use the technology. If kids are in the room doing “it,” these premature judgments never occur.
* Respond to the need of technical support in the classroom by building capacity within a team of teacher(s) and students to help each other after the training ends. It is also possible to build a level of excitement and expectation on the part of the students that lends energy to follow up.
* Move from a focus of training – how does the thing work — to a higher order skill of reflective practice: how do students learn? What challenges can we give students that we would never give before? How can teachers work together while teaching? How can we help students with their questions and their frustrations? At the core of good teaching is the quality of the relationship between teachers and students. This kind of learning environment provides teachers with the opportunity to reflect on how students learn together.
* Honor the knowledge and wisdom of teachers: After the students have acquired mastery – and they will – allow the students to say goodbye, and ask the teachers to share their observations of how students learned. In this way, teachers can add the value of their wisdom to the quality of the workshop.
* Collegiality: Challenge teachers during the debriefing to co-design activities for their students. Sometimes, if network infrastructure is available, teachers will design assignments that are shared between classrooms; such as students designing math challenges for one another or teachers sharing the assessment of students from another class.
* Not to be underestimated, it tends to be more professionally fulfilling to focus on the primary business of how to help kids learn rather than how to make the computers work.

The actual design of the staff development model includes four phases:

* Learn how students learn: Teachers are asked to watch how students make use of the technology with each other. Where are they struggling? Where are they delighted? Are they using their imagination – asking “what if” questions? Which students are taking the lead? Are the girls as involved as the boys? The purpose of this phase is for teachers to observe how students learn.
* Engage with students: Observation is not enough. After the students acquire facility, the role of the teacher is to ask the students to explain what they are doing with the computer. Through dialogue with the kids, teachers can deepen their understanding of what kids think they have learned. Then it becomes natural for the students to teach the teacher what they have learned.
* Reflective collegiality: After the students leave, this is valuable time for teachers to reflect together about their observations and ideas for follow up. It would not be unusual for teachers to plan activities together, especially if there is a network that encourages teachers to share student work.
* Continued dialogue: If the network is built into the reflection, the workshop is building capacity for teachers to continue the dialogue online.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The "Endless" Days of Summer

July flew by and left its heat and humidity (and probably, rain) for August to endure. August arrived, steamy and dragging along her guilt trip. Half the summer is gone and the truth is that it isn’t ENDLESS!

Technology has been insistently tapping on my conscience but the beach has a louder knock. I have to admit that I’ve been reading about Twitter, or thinking about Twitter, more than actually signing into Twitter. The teaching and technology blogs look interesting but I’ve been able to resist their allure in favor of catching up on back issues of the New Yorker and reading the novels that were piled up on my end table. (I highly recommend Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri.)

In an effort to jump-start my academic activities and raise my interest level for all things educational, I have to give great thanks to Richard Byrne and his Free Technology for Teachers blog. His resources appear as endless as the summer seemed to be. I recommend regular reading of Free Technology for Teachers and clicking through to as many of Byrne’s links as your brain can stand! Checking out his resources should take me most of the next two weeks, as good a way to integrate work back into my summer fantasy world as can be found.

If anyone needs a bit more inspiration, even after viewing FTFT’s short videos on “Why we teach” and Wh
en I Become a Teacher,” please take the time to listen to “Educating Esmé: A Teacher’s Diary,” aired by NPR's Hearing Voices and read by Esmé Codell herself. (The full length audio is here.) Her experiences are not like most of mine in 20+ years in education, but her heart and mind are exactly those of the teacher in all of us. You will cry and laugh and remember just why being a teacher was the best career choice you could ever have made.