Saturday, December 08, 2007

Planning the School of Today (and Tomorrow)

One of my new charges is to facilitate, through the district instructional technology committee, the creation of a recommendation for bringing our schools and classrooms into the 21st century. What hardware, software, and web access do our teachers need in order to prepare students to be responsible citizens in the world today (and tomorrow)? What are the similarities and differences in the needs of K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 educators and students?

Along the way, we will also need to discuss professional development, and I would like to see a mix of formal and informal opportunities. Since so much of web 2.0 is about literacy and learning, shouldn't teachers be allowed to get professional development credit for creating and engaging in their own personal learning environments?

What is your district doing? Is there a plan, a systematic approach, to developing the integration of technology into all classrooms across the district? How is PD handled? Are teachers provided a way of getting credit for their own, informal, explorations of technology?

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Sitting at the Big Kids' Table, Part Two

Back in June, I was hired to work part time as a teacher and part time as a teacher on special assignment in the curriculum office. A few weeks ago, the teacher on special assignment I was job sharing with decided to retire early--the end of November. Surprise.

My plan had been to spend the year working with her, learning the job, and then step out of the classroom and into full time curriculum work next fall. Life, as Lennon put it, is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.

Yesterday, I was hired to be the full time teacher on special assignment starting Monday. My head is still spinning. This morning I was up at 4am because the thoughts just kept intruding. My students took the news pretty well, and it was hardest telling the ones I've worked with for two or more years. I teach (er, taught) in a small school, so I've worked with many of them. But they also understood. While the timing isn't exactly what I had planned, the end result is something I've been working toward for the past three years, and my students have seen some of those efforts, especially the ones who were in one of my classes while I was working on my Master's Degree.

What hit me last night, though, as I sent my parents (both educators themselves) an email letting them know the good news, is that while I am leaving my classroom for the rest of the year, I may very well be leaving my classroom for the rest of my career.

Part of finally getting back to writing a blog entry is because this thought keeps popping up.

But I am excited about the change. My new role extends my voice at the table, including helping to shape the district vision for integrating/embedding/verb-of-the-moment-ing technology into the curriculum. I will also be working with folks from across the district on academic recovery, an issue near and dear to this alternative teacher's heart.

Monday morning is going to be difficult. The first of many days that doesn't involving working directly with students.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Umm...are you sure?

I've seen a few of these readability badges popping up and decided to play along. I'm dying to know exactly how this is being calculated.

cash advance

Monday, November 05, 2007

Marketing keeps teaching me about teaching

I've been reading a few marketing blogs for awhile now, and every now and then a real gem turns up. Frequently, it happens to turn up on Hugh MacLeod's gapingvoid (note: not always SFW).

In a post today, "Social gestures beget social objects", MacLeod ends with
So all you corporate MBAs out there, here's a little tip. When you planning on how to embrace the brave new world of Web 2.0, the first question you ask yourself should not be "What tools do I use?"

Blogs, RSS, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook- it doesn't matter.

The first question you should REALLY ask yourself is:

"How do I want to change the way I talk to people?"

And hopefully the rest should follow.

Think about it.

As we educators continue to wade deeper into the 2.0 waters, pedagogy has become the critical topic. So, "How do I want to change the way I teach my students?"

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Legal Implications of the Backchannel

An interesting article today on the front page of the local paper. Councilman upset about members e-mailing each other during meetings

The main thrust of the article is whether or not council persons' use of email during city council meetings is a violation of open meeting law. Is the public's right to the full and open discussion of a topic being infringed?
[Council president] Childers said the communications were appropriate because they dealt with a topic on the table. He also said he does not see a meaningful distinction between an e-mail during a meeting and a council person leaning over and whispering in another's ear, a frequent occurrence.
I suppose the comparison is a fair one, but the use of email (chat, twitter, txt, etc) does seem to violate the open intent of transparent, democratic discussion.

Perhaps the council needs to start using Twittercamp ;)

Monday, September 17, 2007

Phases of Online Development

Came across this table while researching electronic portfolios. These phases seem reminiscent of my entry into blogging.

In my own experience, the phases are fluid. I will get comfortable publishing on a specific topic, or with a specific technology, but find myself returning to anxiety when I step outside the usual fair (there's a reason I've done exactly one podcast ). However, each back slide is briefer and less intense; the more I work at blogging, the more comfortable working at the boundaries becomes.

Now that I am doing more to promote using online tools, I've certainly seen the anxiety and uncertainty in others, too, as they consider the implications of publishing online. Part of providing support and encouragement to my colleagues and students is remembering this anxiety as I work to encourage engaging in online publishing.

Table from Developing Digital Portfolios for Childhood Education by Marja Kankaanranta. 2002.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Demo Classroom Update

Work continues on getting the demonstration classroom ready for visitors. The portal is coming along nicely; a calendar outlining upcoming activities is now online, and once we are ready for visitors, an online sign up form is ready for use.

This week was also about hardware, peripherals mostly. All of the "stuff" comes with software, and software means getting time with the tech. Our building tech is great, but like so many techs in our district and across the country, he is split between multiple schools and seriously overworked. So, its not all up and running yet, that may take another week or two, but we are getting closer.

One of the hidden costs of integrating technology into a curriculum is patience. Absolutely nothing, from installation of hard/software to planning how to use it all, goes as quickly as I would like. Remembering that we are in the early stages is important, and while I worry that we are not making progress quickly enough, as a district and as a nation, we are moving forward and seem to be accelerating.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

First week thoughts

Week one of the year of many hats went quite well. I love teaching, and the first days back are always a real treat.

Returning students are refreshed and happy to be back, a few even told me they were ready for school to start. I work in an alternative school with students at risk of dropping out but here they are smiling and upbeat about another year at Willard.

The new students, who account for roughly half our population this fall, were understandably more cautious as they learn the routine and settle into how things are handled here. In a few more weeks they will be fine.

The hardest part of this week has been leaving school each day just as afternoon classes are beginning. As I walk out the door I have this nagging feeling that I'm not done yet, that I'm abandoning my students halfway through the day. During the five minute drive down to the administration building I am learning to let that feeling go and put on my ToSA (Teacher on Special Assignment) hat.

Of all the differences between being in a classroom and in an office, the nature of time has been the hardest to get used to. The classroom is ruled by the clock; there are only so many minutes in a period and, whether you have finished or not, when those minutes are used up the period is over. Current students file out, new ones file in, reset the clock and go.

Not so in administration.

The first meeting I attended was scheduled for an hour and a half, but when time was up we weren't done. We worked for another hour, completing our planning. Being able to do so was a completely foreign experience but also a real delight. No half finished discussions, no scribbled notes to pick up the thread the next day; instead, a task completed by giving it the necessary time. I can get used to this.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Demonstration classroom: getting started

Students start next Tuesday, the 4th, and the various pieces of the demonstration classroom are coming together. I'll be using 21classes this semester with my English and journalism students. We will start with just the class blog, but as the semester moves along, the students will also have personal learning blogs.

The next piece of the puzzle will be developing the classroom portal, which will serve as a front door to the various web-based tools. My district is using dotnukenet, and so far I've found it fairly straightforward and easy to use. I'm looking forward to having a single URL that will connect students, parents, and fellow educators to all the pieces.

I still need to see if there is a way to provide an RSS feed for the portal. Anyone using RSS with dotnukenet for their classroom / school web portal?

Monday, August 13, 2007

What to tell the principals?

Next Monday, the 20th, I get to spend roughly 90 minutes talking about the wonders of the read/write web with all of the district principals, assistants, and deans. Originally, the plan was to have 3 hours with them during which time I was going to facilitate a more hands on exploration of all things web 2.0. I agree whole heartedly with Will Richardson when he discusses how the transformative nature these tools have on learning only fully reveals itself through use, so I had planned getting them set up with an RSS aggregator, a blog, and an initial "welcome back to school" message recorded as a podcast. Unfortunately, time constraints I learned about today have forced a change in venue and schedule.

Now the plan lacks the hands on nature, so I want to show how these tools are being used by students. That is where you come in. I will be doing the presentation twice, once for high school principals and once for the K-8 crowd. I have some high school level projects in mind (NPR's YouthCast, Vickie Davis & Julie Lindsay's Flat Classroom, and Clay Burell et al's 1001 Flat World Tales) but know little about what has been going on in the younger grades. So, those who know of good examples of younger students (or even a great high school example) using the read/write web please leave a comment sharing the resource.

Friday, August 10, 2007


Growing up the son of a media specialist, there were rules when it came to the proper care and handling of books. Dust jackets were taken off of books while actively reading them. Paperback were never opened beyond 180 degrees. And the only appropriate way to keep your place was by employing some kind of bookmark--dog earing a page was a sin. As a habitual "loser of small things", bookmarks frequently are scraps of whatever paper was at hand.

So, when I finally started reading The World is Flat this summer, I grabbed the first handy scrap on my nightstand, a ticket stub from one of this summer's blockbusters. Today, I happened to notice which ticket stub I had grabbed.

Thanks to Ewan MacIntosh for the invite to Skitch. What a fun program/web service.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Student safety, or can we ever publish anything about students ever again?

Last Tuesday, the Women of Web 2.0 brought on Linda Criddle, author of Look Both Ways, for a show about internet safety. Overall, the conversation was very good; I especially like Criddle's emphasis on empowering users to be in control of their personal information and the choices they make online. She also spoke out against fear-based appeals, rightly noting that they simply do not work.

However, she also advocates for what seems to be the complete removal of any and all reference to students from the public spaces of school websites. Names, pictures, examples of work, practice schedules, all verboten for fear that someone will misuse the information--identity theft, predation, etc. The bottom line: we are afraid.

The truth is we have been publishing student information in public forums for as long as it has been possible to publish. But wait, internet safety advocates will say, now the internet lets anyone with access know about and prey upon our children. And I suppose it is easier for the bad people these days. But taking information about the start of football season off the school website only to have it published in the local paper, which has an online presence, doesn't change anything. Except maybe liability.

How sad to think that what we truly fear is not something happening to our children but instead that we will get sued.

Last night I was listening to NPR and happened to catch From the Top, a showcase of rather gifted young musicians. During the course of the one hour program, the listeners learned about these students, including full name (one name was even spelled on air as part of a joke), state, high school, musical instrument, and a quaint biographical story. Basically, enough information for someone with malicious intent to begin grooming that child was provided on air during a national broadcast of a weekly show. And to make matters worse, on the web page for last night's show visitors can also find pictures of the students, again complete with full names.

I had never listened to From the Top in this way before. Prior to the WoW show, I had always seen the broadcast as a celebration of student achievement. Now I see it for what it really is, a buffet of vulnerable youth just waiting to be exploited.

My point in all this hyperbole? That From the Top is a celebration; that schools want to showcase their students' achievements; that while we do indeed need to teach about privacy in this new, transparent landscape, we still need to live our lives; and that while we live in a world with some bad people, our students are doing really neat things and they deserve the recognition and rewards that come with the risks inherent in learning new things.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


lets see if mob
logging works from my camera phone.

A Blog for Each Hat?

At what point does the blog need to split into two, or more, parallel spaces? Next fall, I will be wearing two hats, and I want to use a blog for professional reflection in both roles. But do I need two blogs? Is tagging entries enough to keep the various posts catagorized/organized? How much should I consider audience in all of this? Would posts about classroom practice and the demonstration classroom mixed with posts on being a Teacher on Special Assignment and all the associated tasks there be confusing? A dilution of messages in some way? Or does this simply reflect the current state of my professional practice?

My career is all mixed together right now; wearing multiple hats will do that. I suppose some of the future posts will be about balancing these two half-time-on-paper-but-we-all-know-better roles, in which case it makes sense to have both roles reflected throughout the blog.

I think I've talked myself into sticking with one space; thanks for being the sounding board. Those who blog and wear multiple hats, how do you handle blogging (and everything else :) )?

Working outside my comfort zone

I have been thinking a lot about comfort, transparency, and professional growth. I can't think of a single aspect of next fall that lies within my comfort zone.

The demonstration classroom pushes me to the edges of my teaching, my personal/professional space, my comfort with being observed, of dealing with people, of being judged -- my entire professional sense of self worth as an educator. yikes. The demonstration classroom is an incredibly transparent way to teach and part of me is scared to death of the level of exposure I am about to engage in. I am going to make mistakes. In front of my peers. In front of principals. In front of upper administrators. What are going to be the consequences of those mistakes?

The Teacher on Special Assignment position is much the same. I will be in new territory--budgets, grants, planning meetings, coordinating efforts (often with peers who teach in areas I know little about). The organizational aspects, keeping it all straight, are daunting. I am a well organzied person, but this living in two worlds is really going to demand a new level of awareness and coordination.

Even with all this, though, I am really looking forward to the change. As a teacher, I get to do even more of what I've been trying to accomplish regarding tech integration. With the ToSA position, I get to expand this to district level conversations about the changing nature of trying to teach in a world where the notions of what it means to be literate are changing.

As one of my fellow alternative teachers reminded me on the last day of school, growth occurs at the edges, at the borders of our comfort zones and the new things we experience. I need to remember that this is an opportunity. The transparency of the demonstration classroom, of having colleagues come in and observe, is a chance to invite expert teachers into my space to see what I do and get their feedback. Part of the process, of visiting my classroom, will need to include time to sit and visit with me afterward. Face to face commenting, as it were.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Writing, Comfort, and the Mistakes that Happen

I love how simply organic writing on paper is, but this process is so limiting compared to digital. There is no way to update, reorganize, easily share, or file. But paper carries personality--choices of paper weight, ink, stroke, handwriting--so much more is communicated that just the meaning of words. Looking back on old journals, I can sense mood, intent, context existing in the markings, communicated independent of the words.

One of the fundamental questions when writing becomes "how do I plan to use this?" The answer to which drives media selection decisions; I recently jotted down a list of things to do that should have been done, at a minimum, in a spreadsheet and perhaps more ideally in some form of concept map; something that can be pushed and pulled, revised, posted for comment, tagged, shared... Perhaps accomplishing my list should be done through a wiki, an ongoing, online repository of my own and others thinking about how to accomplish the goals before me.

With so many choices, I pick up my notebook out of habit, out of comfort, out of a need to tap out imperfect thoughts. This reminds me of Miguel's post about sharing and making mistakes in a transparent environment. I'm a bit of a perfectionist; I will probably reread this post three or four times before publishing just to make sure everything is exact.

But how honest is this?

We all know learning is a process and, therefore, messy. This is one of the fundamental lesssons I try to teach my students. I encourage them to engage in the process of writing openly, showing their drafts to classmates, accepting and rejecting feedback, explaining the choices they make between drafts.

One of my challenges for myself is to be more willing to do what I ask my students to do, engage in the messiness of the process. Once I clear out a few thoughts from the notebook (this post started two weeks ago), I will endevor to put my thoughts directly into this space in a more timely fasion.

Of course, that comes with problems. As I reread this (only the second time, I promise), I realize the second half, which was composed on the spot, is only loosely connected with the first. I'm trying to learn to live with that.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

For Twits Sake

I'm not an early adopter of anything. Blogs, wikis, podcasts; they all needed to generate some traction before I was willing to invest my own energy into consuming or creating with these media. But even as I became passingly aware of each, I knew if the trend continued I would need to experiment with them, learn how to use them, and find ways to work them into teaching. Afterall, this is where students are going; if these tools will help them learn, I need to be using them.

But I'm not sure I get some of the newer things. Second Life, which I have played around in off and on for over a year, just doesn't seem to click for me. The massive nature is interesting, but I'm still not convinced of its educational value except in cases where face to face is difficult, and then video chat seems more appropriate.

Now Twitter is becoming a bit of a thing. I tried it and honestly don't get it. At all. Who cares that I am eating popcorn right now? Perhaps Twitter is still largely in the shiny new toy stage and more engaging uses are still down the road. Maybe the Will Richardson of Twitter will reframe the twit as Will did the blog(v.).

But what got me going tonight was Jeff Utecht's post about Twitter in the classroom. He discusses the ability to use Twitter with cell phones and how this might help his IT department better communicate.
We are 8 people across 6 schools on two campuses 2 hours apart. It might be interesting to see if something like Twitter would allow us to stay in contact, help each other out, and improve our communication.

I can see this; this is a practical application that improves upon text messaging because a single twit can go to the entire group.

But then he extended the thought to the classroom.
With being able to use it on your cell phone I can picture some uses for it in the classroom as well. With kids able to answer questions via a text that appears on a teachers twitter account. You would have the name of the student, their answer and be able to give them personal feedback with a direct twit.
I felt that cold chill, that tightening in my gut usually reserved for extreme heights and spiders. A classroom awash in the glow of cell phones as teacher and students twit away, narry a word spoken. Is this the cold dread other educators feel when I talk about blogs?

But the image resonated on another level too. We are already doing this, aren't we. One of the hot topics of tech integration is response systems. What if Twitter is the response system all our students already own? What if, instead of spending thousands of dollars on these systems, we capitalize on the technology our students already bring to school every day.

And now I need to know more. So I've added the Twitter box to the blog, for now at least, and I've downloaded Twitterific from Iconfactory (apparently just for Macs). So, if you are a fellow Twitterer(?, gotta work on the lingo), twit me.

Here is my Twitter profile.

photo credit: Ohio University Center for Academic Technology

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Close the Book

Phew. The books are checked in. The posters are off the walls. The students have all gone home. We are done.

This year went by incredibly fast. I was joking with some of my students about how September to April went by in a blur and May took three months.

69 students graduated this year, students that largely would have dropped out if not for the alternative school. I am proud of everyone at Willard for being part of that success, and I am especially proud of the students choosing to be successful even when many people in their lives, including other educators, told them they would never graduate.

Now, getting ready for next year.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sitting at the Big Kids' Table

I've been pretty quiet in this space for a long time. This has mostly been self-censoring; lots of drafts have been written, but the various projects were all too up in the air to make public.

That changed this morning.

Starting next fall, I move into a half-time position as teacher on special assignment as the current teacher steps back to part time. Much of this position will be coordinating career and tech ed programs, overseeing the Perkins grant, and facilitating connections between school and the business community. The remainder of my time will be spent promoting and developing the integration of technology into the core curricular areas across the district. The new role is very exciting, but what I am most looking forward to is being part of the district-wide conversations about 21st century learning.

A significant piece of this second part is also connected to the other 0.5 of my full time day. I have been asked to be the teacher for a demonstration classroom, modeling how a wide variety of technologies--hardware, software, and web-based--can be embedded into an English classroom.

I get to both talk the talk and walk the walk. I can't wait.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Blogs as Just Another Assignment

I have played with using student blogs for two years now, and I just haven't felt like students feel any ownership. The goal was to get away from doing it for the teacher, but based on the effort required to get students to write, I don't feel like my students ever felt blogging was anything more than just another assignment.

Part of the disconnect, I feel, is the tool I am using. I love classblogmeister for its ease of use and security settings. The teacher has control over what goes live, leaving plenty of opportunity for catching student mistakes or inappropriate comments before they cause problems. But how is my role as moderator of student blogs any different from my role as moderator of the hallway bulletin board? If everything a student writes needs to go through me, isn't the student reduced to writing for me?

This has become part of the larger discussion in my district regarding the use of blogs in the classroom. Do we, as teachers, need to moderate all posts and comments? At what point--grade level, age, experience blogging--might teachers move to monitoring instead? Is monitoring ever "enough", or is our professional obligation to student safety so great that moderating is the only option?

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Nuns Get It!

The NBC nightly news just finished, and I'm sorry to say I missed most of the final story, thinking it would be the usual ending puff piece. The gist of the story is that there is a growing number of young women expressing an interest in serving God by joining the convent.

A convent in Michigan is going high tech, using a website to help with recruiting. The nun in charge of recruiting, Sister Joseph Andrew, was interviewed , and I just happened to be walking past the t.v. when she said, "When I travel, I take my Blackberry with me because young women want a response quickly." (no direct link: see "More U.S. Women Joining the Convent" at MSNBC)

Nuns get it! What is taking education so long?

As an aside, I do find it interesting that the ad on MSNBC leading into the piece is for Blackberry devices.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Wanna Take a Survey?

Scott McLeod at Dangerously Irrelevant is conducting a survey of edublogger types. Please take a minute to fill it out.

Opting out incurs Scott's wrath.
Those solicited who choose not to participate shalt be labeled both publicly and widely as dastardly scoundrels, notty-pated hedgepigs, or beslubbering, doghearted, maggot-ridden canker-blossoms!