Friday, July 31, 2009

Becker on GT Discrimination

There's a great conversation going on in the comments to Jon Becker's recent guest post on's education blog.

The topic is GT Education and how it may fit into Becker's analysis of school discrimination in a series of posts he calls 'Still Separate, Still Unequal.'

As an educator whose career really began in earning a GT certificate in a cohort led by Carl Herbert, whom I consider one of the finest teachers I've ever met, I all too often cringe at the assumptions made regularly with regard to GT education. So, I had to pipe in to the discussion a bit.

Here's a snippet of Becker's analysis:
As vexing as it is to define what it means to be "disabled," many of the problems with the assignment of students to gifted education programs have to do with a lack of agreement and an overall subjectivity around defining giftedness. Thus, the discrimination here is more evident and explicit.

(go check it out and take part in the conversation).

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Maybe this isn't about PowerPoint...

A reader responds concerning yesterday's critiques of Bowen's 'Teach Naked' philosophy:
I don't think the "teaching naked" idea is completely devoid of merit. It's extreme, yes, but it starts to get at a fundamental transformation of school, even though it's coming from a different place than most tech advocates would prefer.

Since technology now lets us relocate some of what happens in classrooms in space and time, I continue to be fascinated by the idea that everything that happens in a meatspace classroom should be something that can only happen there (or as close to it as we can come). The availability of f2f social interaction is the defining attribute of the meatspace classroom, and only a true ideologue would deny that ubiquitous technology can and does interfere with that at times.

Anyone who is seeking to increase the engagement level for f2f interactions should be supported, even if some of their notions about technology are misguided. We should be working with people like Bowen to show how using technology to shape, share, and take that critical f2f social interaction to someplace new and different that changes the game in compelling ways.

If we can't make that case for him, or we really can't acknowledge the primacy and value of f2f interactions in classrooms, then we should leave the guy alone.

I think this is a great response.

However, I disagree with one major point in it.

I would make the argument that f2f is not in fact always the best (either in 'primacy' or 'value') that we get in education.

There are plenty of times when I was a student talking to an instructor either in class or during office hours (and I'm sure I'm not alone in this) that I felt like I could have better expressed my point and gotten more bang out of my educational buck if I'd been able to -- in the moment -- work out my ideas in text online, in images and videos and multimedia, and in shared collaborative situations in coordination with an online discussion with the prof, rather than just flounder in the physical presence of someone considerably smarter than me.

Likewise, I'd argue that, as a teacher, I've had 'critically' better professional development experiences online via Twitter, Cover it Live, Ustream, and Elluminate than I've ever had f2f with a facilitator who comes in and meets with the faculty once and then disappears.

So, no, I don't think f2f is necessary.

But -- and here's the catch -- online is not necessarily any better.

It's really a matter of what you do with the time you have.

(Yes, I'm quoting Gandalf... I'm sure you have your 'things' as well).

Online and social tech enhanced learning is only as good as the teacher and the quality of the interaction; likewise f2f learning is only as good as the teacher and the quality of the interaction.

My argument against Bowen is that he seems to put the priority of learning on his students having a personal discussion with 'him'. It's about them watching 'his' lectures and PowerPoints before coming to class; it's about them paying attention and taking part in 'his' discussion on 'his' terms during class.

I'm more than willing to facilitate my students' ability to learn in real-time from people and sources beyond my classroom walls. That's a major distinction between 20th and 21st century learning and teaching.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Problem with 'Naked Classrooms'

There's a 'hilarious' article posted last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education and picked up on by the Digital Education blog today. It concerns one Dean Bowen of Southern Methodist University.
College leaders usually brag about their tech-filled "smart" classrooms, but a dean at Southern Methodist University is proudly removing computers from lecture halls. José A. Bowen, dean of the Meadows School of the Arts, has challenged his colleagues to "teach naked"—by which he means, sans machines.

And what is the cause of this new Luddite movement? Fear of social media breaking down traditional classroom hierarchies? Confusion over cloud computing and the meltdown in sales of proprietary software packages? Concern over mobile computing and Wi-Fi devices disturbing class?

No. None of that.
More than any thing else, Mr. Bowen wants to discourage professors from using PowerPoint, because they often lean on the slide-display program as a crutch rather using it as a creative tool.



Um. Yeah. Seriously.

Haven't most of us realized for a long time that PP is rather limited? Isn't that part of the reason we've been bringing active media into our classrooms for a while now?

I don't know, maybe this is just a K-12 teacher vs. college teacher thing, but I kinda thought everyone already KNEW lectures were by-and-large yawn-fests.

[If you have Diigo installed (and face it, by now you have no reason not to), go bookmark and check out the meta-analysis battle going on over the Chronicle report.]

So, what's Bowen's big idea?
His philosophy is that the information delivery common in today's classroom lectures should be recorded and delivered to students as podcasts or online videos before class sessions.



I don't mean to be so obviously disrespectful, but I can't quite put into words how I feel about this. In one respect, I find it deeply funny. In another deeply disturbing.

I mean, this is all so... obvious.

Rather than try to re-construe, here are the comments I left over at the Dig Ed blog:
PowerPoint is hardly state of the art 'technology'.

PowerPoint presentations are precisely the sort of things so many of us in ed tech are trying to steer folks away from.

So I guess, in that sense, me and the dean are in agreement. Power Point often leads to a passive audience watching a lecture.

Where we disagree is in the 'naked' classroom concept. And this has to do with the fact that if the dean thinks PowerPoint is what we're talking about when we're talking about technology, then he's only demonstrating that he has no idea about what technology is.

We're talking social media, cloud computing, mobile applications.

Tech that actively integrates into learning.

Sounds like Bowen needs to catch up with what's actually happening in ed tech. He's a bit behind the times.

And that's really my concern. I realize I'm being a bit rough on him here, but here's a guy with a relatively prominent voice being quoted in a relatively prominent journal making statements about removing computers from classrooms -- and this is a guy who (apparently with the possible exception that he knows how to make a podcast of a lecture) -- obviously has no idea what the current state of educational technology is.

I'm all for getting rid of PowerPoint. I haven't used the damn thing in years. But, please, Mr. Bowen, have the tact to distinguish between passive and active technologies.

It's not tech vs. no tech.

It's active tech vs. passive tech.

And if you don't know the difference, just raise your hand and ask. If it's discussion and engagement you are looking for, there are plenty of social technologies that will enhance conversation and learning in any class. In fact, there are plenty of teachers using these technologies everyday in fantastic ways.

Social technologies empower teachers and students. Access to the Web and its information and communication features is vital to education, not a hindrance. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

What I'd suggest is that you let you teachers keep their smart classrooms and start investing time into teaching them how to integrate social and participatory media into their teaching.

Get engaged with what's going on.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Social Technology in Education Lesson Plan Wiki

Seeking teachers to submit content to the new Social Technology in Education Lesson Plan Wiki!

There are so many fresh approaches being taken to the integration of social and participatory media in education, I thought it would be a useful thing to have a practitioner-created resource full of lesson plans demonstrating the best practices in social tech enhanced teaching.

Feel free to submit content and ideas. It's a wiki... you can't mess it up. Experiment, mash it up, get some thoughts out there, and let's put together a nice free and collaborative resource.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Boy Who Cried Tech

Been reading some of the old criticism of ed tech back in the 1980's.

And I have to say, from my vantage point as a child of the '80s who'd been put in a GT class to learn how to program in BASIC at age eight, I'd have to agree with a lot of the criticism. Memorizing how to write GOTO commands probably wasn't the best use of learning time.

I also remember the god-awful math games. Once a week, starting in fourth grade, our math teacher would take us to the school's "computer lab" (years-old Apple IIes and dot-matrix printers) and force us to play mind-numbing sprite-graphic ed versions of games like Space Invaders and Asteroid. In addition to being an insult to the aesthetics of geeky kids, the math games really just made all of us want to cut school and hike over to the bowling alley in Arbutus where they had real video games like Galaga.

As I recall it, there were two serious pre-WWW gaming events. The first was the release of Zork. Being a text-based game, a lot of folks now look back and figure that the game proved that graphics weren't necessarily the most important thing. That's not true. 'Graphics' at the time amounted to Breakout and Pac Man; so that was sort of a moot point. The cool thing about Zork was that -- to the degree that it could -- it put the player in the driver's seat. It, along with Oregon Trail [a rare engaging ed game of the period] and some others, presented for the first time a style of gaming that would be a different experience for each player (or at least that was the ideal). It was an ideal rarely, if ever, lived up to by most 'educational' games.

The second event was the release of Nintendo's Super Mario Brothers. That, in my opinion, was the game that killed pre-WWW ed tech. Mario took the concept of gamer-driven adventure and combined it with really cool graphics and -- most importantly -- tricks that only savvy players would be able to figure out. Whereas in Space Invaders and Donkey Kong, levels amounted faster or more populated versions of the previous level, in Mario you had the element of surprise: you really didn't know what was coming next. I've played the new Mario games for Wii and have the same immediate affection for them; at their best, they are sort of like little surrealist games. The point to winning is figuring out the logic of the virtual world. They are the complete opposite of simple didactic 'educational' games.

So, in the mind of a kid, this sort of gaming experience should have immediately dashed the hope of folks who would have us believe that a computer version of Hangman was really going to hold our interest. Unfortunately, it didn't. And rather than learn anything from Mario, ed games held on to Frogger.

And then came the MMOGs. Game over. As soon as you create a shared virtual environment in which players are collaborating with or competing against other live people, you've created a mindset in gaming that can never really go back to the old single player island games. How do we think about the old styles of games now? Well, it's sort of like trying to use a laptop without an Internet connection. You can do stuff -- like type documents or listen to music -- but it doesn't take long before you get antsy to get back online.

Because the connection is the thing.

It's what's changed the scene. It changed the way we use computers and it changed the way we play games.

The connection, therefore is the new technology.

A lot of folks don't understand this. To them, the computer is the technology. And computers have been around for a long time.

But that's not what we're talking about. We're talking about the network itself. We're talking about the paradigm of immediate global connection. We're talking about social technology.

We're not talking about computers and computer games.

And in our zeal for educational technology, I think we're seeing a backlash based on this misunderstanding of exactly what we're talking about when we're talking about technology.

We've got teachers who suffered through DOS and sprite-games. We've got teachers who suffered through the Word document wars. We've got teachers whose introduction to online management was SharePoint.

Give these folks a break.

In a sense, we've done nothing but fill them with the expectation that -- at the very least -- the technology we put in front of them and expect them to use is going to be clunky, difficult, and well, kinda boring and obvious.

It reminds me of a fable:

There was an ed techie tending the school's computer lab who would continually go up to the faculty lounge and shout: 'Hey! We've got fantastic educational technology that we can use here at school to make the learning experience so much more engaging!"

The teachers would all come running down to the computer lab only to find lame educational games and Byzantine proprietary productivity applications.

Then one day there really was a revolutionary shift in educational technology as social media entered the scene. But when the ed techie shouted, none of the teachers believed him and no one bothered to try out the new apps.

And so, they (and their students) all missed out.

This is the reason so many of our colleagues think we are full of it. Because for thirty years, we shouted to them about glorified typewriters, calculators, and overhead projectors. And then we're surprised when they show reluctance to try out social technologies.

We need to be careful about preaching to each other and thinking that the excitement we feel is shared by all of our colleagues. What we need to do is have an open discussion with our colleagues and admit that much of what we have considered beneficial educational technology in the past has in fact primarily been our own excitement dressed up as a learning paradigm.

But things have changed. And this time, it's for real. And if we don't all buck up, throw aside our differences, and engage this thing for the benefit of the students who are already living their own lives in this digital domain, we might as well hope that next time it's wolves.

Thanks to Aesopica, the Internet's best resource for all things Aesop.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Report on Minorities and Mobile Internet Access

An article worth reading over at Ars Technica concerning the recent Pew survey on race and mobile Internet devices.
And this report has to be good news for those hoping to put a more positive spin on the nation's progress in providing broadband for all Americans.

The Pew report notes big shifts in the way minorities are accessing the Internet. And it's got everything to do with handheld devices. I'll let you read how Ars breaks it down.

Soon, I'd like to see a report detailing usage by region. If there was one thing I noticed on my recent road trip through the American South was the use of Wi-Fi availability in rural areas as a marketing tool for everything from motels to restaurants to campsites.

[Addendum 8:50PM EST -- A commenter here recently remarked that the sorts of broad coverage platforms needed for mass access are often prohibitively expensive and somewhat limited in what they can offer. I'd love to hear from someone working in the wireless field or in mobile Internet: what does the future hold? In a 'perfect world' scenario, what would make the best sense? And what are the immediate obstacles?]

Are we getting closer to Internet access ubiquity? Are handhelds the key to ubiquity?

And if they are, then what does it mean when schools have policies banning cellphones and mobile devices?

The full report is available here from the Pew Internet and American Life Project.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Social Technology and Education Conference: Aug 14th

Will be headed to Massachusetts in August for the 'Social Technology and Education' one day conference at Harvard. Looking forward to it as I haven't been back up in the Boston area in a few years and have some dear friends to catch up with.

Here's a link to the conference info site and here's a blurb explaining what's going on:
This conference is a free one-day event where attendees can learn about how social technologies can be used to create and support communities of learning. Anyone who works in education or is interested in learning more about these technologies, and how they can be used in high schools, colleges, and universities. Students can also attend if they want to listen or be on a panel talking about social tools.

I plan to be presenting a short workshop on using Twitter in the classroom. It will cover using Twitter and several Tweet apps to create personalized collaborative reference bibliographies, using Twitter in real-time mentoring, and using Twitter as an assessment tool in the classroom.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Trying to Answer the Question: "Do Most Educational Games Suck"?

Re-read McLeod's post 'Do Most Educational Games Suck?' after adventuring through World of Warcraft for an hour.

What I came away with was a feeling that we're approaching this whole matter of gaming and education from the wrong direction.

As it stands now, the question seems to be: can we produce educational games that match the quality and engagement of 'gamer games'?

As a longtime educator and gamer, I'm thinking we should go at this from a different angle.

Instead of trying to make better 'educational' games, why not take an educational approach to the classics of gaming and gaming as it exists today?

Think about it: we don't ask authors to write 'educational' books so that we have something to teach in school. Rather, we choose books to read and use in teaching.

Likewise, we should choose games to 'read' and use in teaching.

In the same way that you can learn about American history from reading Huckleberry Finn, you can learn about economics and cooperative activity by 'reading' WoW. In fact, gaming -- especially that of the MMOG variety -- has come so far, we really shouldn't have much of a problem teaching all sorts of logic, learning, and abstract thinking via playing and analyzing games that were never originally meant to be 'eduactional'.

In the same way that Twain and Fitzgerald and the rest of the authors we read in English class never would have foremost considered their work texts meant for high school study, likewise none of the serious game developers would see their work that way. That hardly means that in our classrooms we shouldn't take a look at either Twain and Fitzgerald on the one hand or Civilization and Diablo on the other.

But I think it would help to get away from the idea that 'educational' games have to be something, well..., 'educational'.

Rather, we should take Roland Barthes' old advice that all media is a text and we should teach the skills of critical analysis and higher-level abstract thinking via gaming as it exists.

Raise questions like: What do the goals of the game suggest about the societal viewpoints of the developers? Does the play of the game depend on a gnostic worldview, or are there ambiguities inherent in character and quest formation that relate to contemporary themes? Why is moral ambiguity such a difficult thing to portray in a game? How does the game reflect 21st century culture? Does the violence in the game drive the narrative or is it working on behalf of the narrative? Is the game manipulative or exploitative? How do the tone and mood, the music, colors, environments, fonts, and character attributes contribute towards a reading of the game's greater meaning?

It's not about educational vs. non-educational. Rather, it's all just contemporary 'text' waiting for us to analyze and waiting for us to incorporate into lessons. And our kids can handle this.

Furthermore, especially by middle school, they realize if we are pandering to them via 'educational' gaming. They probably wonder why we can't handle the authentic culture of gaming as it is.

Because at the root of this is the issue of authenticity.

So, in response to Scott's question, I'd say the arch of the problem is revealed if we just drop the word 'educational'.

It's gaming itself that we should be looking at.

That's the authentic item.

And it's authenticity that we're going for, right?

Cell Phone Battle Royale

Ira's posted a good one over at SpeEdChange wearing the title 'Argument and Belief'.

The piece jumps straight out of the comments to a recent post on cell phones in school over on (Cell phones have been a big topic this week, probably stemming from Arnie's comments earlier this month). A firestorm erupted in the piece's comments when the author stated her personal preference that phones, laptops, and other pretty standard-issue 21st century mobile devices be left outside her classroom.

It would seem to be pretty innocuous if it weren't for the reasoning given for this preference (as well as the ultimate logical outcome of what it means in terms of the shifting models of authority in present day connected classrooms). But, I'll let you read the post, the comments, and Ira's piece to figure out where all this went.

Let's just say, one of Socol's comments to the original piece sums up one side of the debate quite nicely:
Why do your rights as a teacher trample mine as a student? Why must I function with the media and tools which make you happy? And why would you, as a teacher, refuse to help me learn the information and communication tools which I will use for the rest of my life?

Top Eleven Things All Teachers Must Know About Technology (or: I promised Dean Groom I wouldn’t write a top ten list; so this one goes up to eleven.)

The Top Eleven Things All Teachers Must Know About Technology

1. Technology is not a monolith.
Technology doesn’t tell you what to do and it doesn’t force you to behave in ways you’d rather not. Technology -- particularly social technology -- is whatever you make it. Use what you want, leave the rest. Mash it up, alter it to fit your needs, customize it, and own it. If you can’t do that with your technology, then you are using the wrong technology.

2. Technology is not a monolith, but many technology providers are monolithic.
There is very little that any teacher will need that can not be had via open source options. If your administration is spending thousands upon thousands of dollars on software and licenses, they are literally throwing their money away. They need to know that. And you need to be the one to tell them.

3. The Digital Age is not going away.
We have already produced babies who will see the 22nd century. So let’s stop trying to prepare them for the 20th. The Internet as it exists today is equivalent to the Model A; let’s be wise for once and not build the highway of the future with the notion that our kids are going to be driving Model As on it.

4. Meeting strangers is a good thing.
So often our fears about technological connectivity center around the fear of what sorts of strangers our students might bump into out there online. Fact is: we should want them to meet strangers. That’s the point. You don’t make the world better by isolating yourself; you make the world better by engaging with it and sharing opinions, ideas, and observations with all sorts of people. Our task as teachers -- and as parents -- is to help our kids understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy relations between strangers online. One way to do this is by modeling the behaviors we expect of digital citizens in the classroom everyday. That's not an option anymore; it's part of our job description. We are all health professionals now.

5. This ain’t your pappy’s technology.
Your students bring more tech power into school in their pockets each morning than you managed to procure spending untold hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last thirty years. All those folks who complained and questioned tech budgets back in 1983 and 1996: they were right. You were wasting money on gadgets with little educational value. But, guess what? Then it all changed. With the advent of the mainstream World Wide Web and subsequently with the development of Web 2.0, technology itself actually became something different. It was no longer about the hardware. It was about the network. Which brings us to the present: Mobile Cloud Computing. The new paradigm is about your information, your friends' information, the information of strangers, and how these informations all coalesce in the Cloud. The future is now. And despite the fact his job might be on the line, don't let your old school IT guy tell you otherwise.

6. The Digital Divide is not the result of technology being expensive.
The Digital Divide is the result of a failure of imagination and the poor -- indeed practically criminal -- allocation of resources. Does your admin realize how little it costs to bring Wi-Fi to your building? Does your admin realize they are spending more on textbooks in many cases than they would on netbooks? Has anyone ever sat down with your admin and demonstrated how to hack past your Internet blocks and filters? Does your admin realize how that money is wasted? Does your admin realize that your students can access the unfiltered web via their cell phones? Do 70% of your students arrive everyday with cell phones and yet your colleagues still say technology is out of your reach? It's time to rethink.

7. The most important thing we can do right now as teachers is to be campaigners and advocates and organizers for free universal Wi-Fi Internet access.
We work in the service of education. We give students information and we teach them how to use it. That’s exactly why we have to be the ones to lead the fight for free and universal immediate access to information. We should demand WiMax systems in all of our cities and suburbs and Wi-Fi grids throughout the rural hills and valleys. We should also insist that all highway corridors be made Wi-Fi accessible so that travelers can have access to the Internet as they are en route to whatever destination. Internet Access is a matter of fulfilling the promise of democracy. Internet Access is a Civil Right.

8. When it comes to authentic tech integration, parents are the best friends a teacher can have.
You have parents who use social media and Web 2.0 technology on a daily basis whether at home or at work. So why does your school treat it as taboo? Bring parents in to your building, collaborate with them. Have tech savvy parents demonstrate real-world applications of technology and help bring non-tech savvy parents up to speed. We are educators. We educate. In light of the changes going on in the new Digital paradigms, that's going to mean that we have to educate the whole community and allow the community to educate us.

9. Kids need to be taught digital citizenship.
Hate using YouTube because of the filth in the comments? Then teach your kids that commenting on YouTube is a part of their responsibility as digital citizens; because in all social media it is the users who decide the content. Digital citizenship being a daily component of classroom learning, in eight years time let’s see what the comments on YouTube look like. And that doesn't mean YouTube needs to be 'cleaned up'; rather, much of the passion related to YouTube happens in the comments and it's often raw and real (as well as sophomoric and prejudiced). But it tells us alot about ourselves and we shouldn't be afraid to help our kids navigate it and become critical participants in the dialogue. Never forget that you are a teacher: you aren’t ‘making’ the present, you are ‘facilitating’ the future. So don’t be discouraged about what you see now, rather be encouraged about what your teaching will let tomorrow look like.

10. Specific devices and tech apps become obsolete.
Don’t dwell on that. Instead, recognize that the Digital Age is more about a new networked and immediately connected way of thinking; that’s not going to change no matter whose name appears at the top of the browser or on the back of the smartphone. Obsolescence is the handmaiden of innovation. Get used to it.

11. You must be fearless.
The old rules are exactly that. The old system doesn’t work: just look at it and see for yourself. Everyone knows this. The admins know it. Your colleagues know it. The kids and their parents know it. So let’s stop tip-toeing around it. It’s time to do something about it. This is 2009: demand the impossible, again.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Trying to figure out how to use Twitter to reach classmates and find alumni?

Check out AlumTweet.

I can only imagine the myriad ways in which the jaws of the directors of alumni services across the nation's great high schools and colleges are about to drop once they realize what this means.

(That is, if they know how to use Twitter effectively).

[Addendum 8:20PM EST]

Just Tweeted with an alumni director of a great university and she mentioned one improvement that might be made to AlumTweet: distinguishing between undergrads and grad students.

I'd also encourage folks using the app to connect with classmates to include an abbreviation of their major in the Tweet that gets sent out.

In terms of practical uses, I could see this app being used to organize alumni in many different ways. The obvious one is in building a social media database of alumni for organizing and development purposes public or private.

Even more exciting, from my perspective as a high school teacher, is using that database to engage alumni and procure their experience and assistance in all of our extension of learning beyond the classroom walls -- from alumni docented field trips to alumni led collaborative classrooms to senior-project style mentoring programs enhanced by social media.

All of this can be facilitated by an easy to use real-time social media database.

New Research on the Social Media Attitudes of Teachers

So you wanted some new research on the attitudes of teachers towards social media?

Well, here you go; courtesy of IssueLab, WGBH Educational Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and Education Development Center's Center for Children and Technology.

IssueLab, by the way, is my new favorite thing on the Internets. I have just signed up as a Lab Rat.

Back Home

Back home.

Put 3,500+ miles on the old pony and saw more Cracker Barrels than you could shake a stick at, but I can safely say: I'm home.

My eyes were certainly opened to quite a few things this time out.

First of all, we've got to get the move on in creating a national Wi-Fi grid.

If we could get (several) televisions into the living rooms of every American, we should be able to get mobile computing devices into the hands of every American. And there is no reason any kid in this country should have to pay McDonald's to get online (that eminent Scottish restaurant charges a nominal fee across the highways of this great land for Wi-Fi access... though Comfort Inn sends out a signal for free and you can always pick it up in their parking lot).

But we don't need parking lot antics.

We need immediate universal free Wi-Fi from sea to shining sea. The dividends in intellect, connections, and innovation will dwarf the initial investment.

Second thing that struck me was the quality of the State Parks systems. Texas was nice, but charged an arm and a leg (at least around Austin). Arkansas and Alabama, meanwhile, were beautiful and reasonably priced... though upon finding one site outside Hot Springs not having any vacancies, we wound up 'homeless' (or at least 'campsite-less' for one evening).

Here in Maryland, I live only two blocks from the border of the Patapsco Valley State Park; you can find me there on most sunny days. I'm endlessly surprised at what I find in these parks and I am equally surprised that more teachers don't take their classes to the parks to learn everything from biology and environmental science to landscape painting and Romantic poetry.

Wi-Fi the parks and you've got an outdoor classroom beyond compare.

Lastly, I just wanted to express thanks to all of the folks along the way -- from the park rangers to the guys working on the highway -- for helping to make these United States a more than reasonable site for mobile education. Never should we turn a blind eye to the symbiosis that occurs in a society; that symbiosis allows for education and mobility to exist in the first place.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Comments on the Pictures from the Lower Ninth Ward

Concerning our photos shot in the Lower Ninth Ward a few days ago, a reader writes:
Hi. Thanks I guess. Without captions these photographs lack context within your experience, rendering whatever slight meaning you seem to be grasping for as nothing more than a wispy snapshot of anywhere, like that wall art of local scenes you can find in any Mall. This could be Detroit.
You can't simply take a picture of a ghost and call it a ghost.
This statement is so vacuous that I cannot comment on its lack of connection.
Yeah, it's 4 years since the levees broke.

I'd like to thank the reader for supplying a better caption and commentary than I ever could have.

I'm an outsider. An East Coaster. Spent two mornings in the Lower Ninth Ward shooting pictures because -- thinking four years was quite a long time to fix things up -- I was shocked at what I saw there. I think I posted our pictures in an attempt to show other outsiders what it looks like there right now.

Because, by and large, we don't know.

And many of us have allowed the whole thing to slip into history, as though it's over and done with.

So, I couldn't comment on the pictures. That wouldn't help anything. I'm just another outside voice. I understand that.

And so I'm very glad someone like this reader posted his or her own opinions.

I think that's the best a forum like this blog can provide: a place where expertise and opinion comes not from above, but rather through the digital community.

So thanks.

And just to illustrate just how 'outside' the reality of what happened there I am, I offer a bit of a conversation I had with a local who lost his roof. I expressed to him my dismay at having seen so many burned out cars remaining in the Lower Ninth Ward. To which he replied in an understated, but angry voice: "At least they got 'em out of the trees."

From the Archives: The Times They Are A-Changin'

Originally published March 4, 2009

He calls the Xerox a mimeograph machine. He writes in 'Scantron' on the sheet passed around during the faculty meeting about new technology in the classroom. He might even refer to the Internet in the plural.

But he is a teacher. Maybe a great one. And we need him on our side.

Regarding how the Stimulus should be spent in Ed Tech, reader Ms. Chow writes:
The reality is that school faculties consist of a diverse group of people. For the sake of this argument, they will be the divided into the tech-fearful and the tech-savvy. Billions of dollars spent, thousands of hours of man-power/training/logic utilized, and we will still be left with these two groups.

Ms. Chow, thank you for the honest insight. And Mimeograph Man -- prepare yourself -- 'cause this one's for you.

Teachers are on the front-line. We as teachers know that. Whether you teach in a public school or a private school; in the city or in the farmland; in packed classrooms in over-crowded suburbs or as a home-schooler in your own kitchen, we know the front-line.

It is the future. And it is ever closer. Either we approach it or it approaches us. But it is ever closer.

In light of this, we as educators have to make a few things public with regard to the future and with regard to the role of technology in our classrooms.

First: We have to state to ourselves and to the public that the point of educational technology is not to facilitate the use of technology but to use technology to facilitate education. Why do we need to do it via technology? Because that's where the world is. And that's the world our kids need to be prepared to engage.

Second: Long have we striven for 'authentic learning experiences and assessments'; well, in the context of the Digital Age which is upon us, it is inexcusable to ignore the authenticity of technology in the experience of our culture -- whether or not our students themselves are able currently to afford technology or access.

Third: We need to petition our government: Internet Access is a matter of civil rights; nothing produces democracy and growth like the transparent spread of information -- and especially as educators we need to see to it that all of our school-aged children have equal access to a free and independent Internet.

Fourth: We, as teachers, no longer have the luxury of being 'tech-fearful'. I know that there are people on your faculty like Mimeograph Man who swear they are 'against' technology. While I admire their perseverance, and I respect many of them and see that they possess a wealth of experience and have often delivered excellent educations to countless children, I dare say that they do not realize the precipice we stand upon with regard to preparing our next generation of children for a digital future.

The future of the Internet is going to make paper look like the manuscript codex which made papyrus look like wax and clay tablets which were a minor improvement on a stick and wet sand. There are few instances in the history of communication that produce times as important as this: it is a time to either acclimate to the new paradigm or be left disheveled and confused at how the rest of the world passed us by.

This isn't about our 'comfort-level' with technology. This is about the Digital Age being a cruel reality. Things have changed. Our children need us to buck up, come to terms with and learn how to use the new technology, and help them navigate the digital world.

Please understand, I'm talking not from the point-of-view of a tech guy. I'm not some computer whiz. I'm a high school Latin teacher. And I also teach Art History and dally in the art department to the occasional chagrin of my chairman.

I spent most of my time in college translating Plato and Homer and reading about archaeological digs.

I am a firm proponent of the Liberal Arts.

In fact, I think a Liberal Arts education should be the first qualification for any content teacher in America.

Furthermore, I understand and appreciate Ed Schools -- even when I criticize them. I am the product of an M.S.Ed. program and the tutelage of some excellent professors in GT and Reading certificate programs.

I'm not trying to beat your brains in about this Ed Tech stuff because I'm some geeky square with a chip on my shoulder or a means to capitalize on this stuff; I'm trying to express to you my experience and my admittedly limited insights because I really see this as something that is going to have a direct impact on the future of our children. And that's why I became a teacher to begin with.

So help us out, or get out of the way. But don't just stand there over-analyzing and complaining and pretending this Digital Age is not happening. No one is taking away your paper and pencils; no one is gonna force you to learn HTML. We just want to help you get up to speed and we want you to continue helping our kids. Because the future for my children and your children and all of our children depends upon us doing the right thing in this moment.

Lastly, as I've said before: educational technology is not one of the various useless educational theories that have been recycled again and again in endless classrooms and faculty development meetings over the last thirty-odd years. Rather, educational technology is the way in which the education experience will exist within the broader context of the Digital Age. That age is upon us. We don't have a choice in the matter.

So, Mimeograph Man, think about it this way: when your grandchildren sit on your knee and ask you what you did to help your students during the Great Digital Revolution, you won't have to tell them you were busy complaining in the faculty lounge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans July 2009 (It's been 4 years since Katrina)

Photographs by MJ Wojewodzki and Shelly Blake-Plock, licensed cc 3.0 2009. Please feel free to share for noncommercial purposes.

From the Archives: At the End of the Anomaly of the Age of Printed Books

Originally posted on June 10, 2009

I've been thinking about what we call paradigm shifts and whether what on the surface looks like a major one with regard to the Digital Age, may in fact be part of a much broader situation that's been occurring since the advent of the printing press and the obsolescence of the manuscript codex.

Back in college, I took a course called 'European Culture in the Middle Ages' with Jan Ziolkowski. Now, this was just about the last place I ever would have thought a discussion of the Internet would have arisen. But, in his discussion of the nature of the Medieval manuscript codex, Ziolkowski made an observation that has stuck in my mind ever since: in it's ability to be quickly redacted, altered, and republished, the text-experience of the Internet actually has more in common with the text-experience of the manuscript codex than with the text-experience of printed books.

In essence, as I took his meaning, it was incorrect to think of the text-experience of the Internet as an elaboration based on the text-experience of printed books. Rather, the text-experience of printed books was actually an anomaly in the history of how humans communicated via text. The text-experience of the Internet marked therefore not a paradigm shift forward, but rather a correction of the anomaly of printed books.

There is a distinction to be had between technological paradigms and ideological paradigms. Their influence on one another is what's so interesting.

Take for instance our notion of transportation. A horse gets you from point A to point B just as a car gets you from point A to point B. The technology changes, but the idea and purpose primarily remain the same. However, the car is able to overcome certain obstacles to the speed and carrying capacity of the horse; this shifts the idea of what can be accomplished via transportation. In other words, the idea paradigm changes according to the re-evaluation of what the tech shift means in terms of innovation.

The shift ultimately depends upon the worth of the innovation-exchange that both the technology and the idea produce.

With regards to communication, the situation is a bit different. Communication has sped up -- not unlike the automobile -- but, is it really able to overcome the obstacles of itself? In other words, whereas there are bio-technical distinctions to be made between horse and car, there is no such distinction to be made between written word on manuscript page and written word on computer screen. The distinctions are only in what you do with those words, which then amounts to syntactical hub-bub which could produce a shift but which in and of itself is not the shift.

The words are the words.

During the anomaly of printed books, the printed words took on a different connotation: they became 'the standard'. Newspapers were more 'authoritative' than handwritten broadsides; we argued about whether song lyrics should be considered 'real poetry' if they were typed up in a book.

Neil Simon wrote that once you wrote something down, it was considered truth; I'd append that to read: once you wrote something down that was then mass produced, it was considered 'the standard'.

That's changing.

Our current age of Diigo looks far more like the critical age of Medieval glossing than it does the age of shiny mass-produced magazines and textbooks. Our current age encourages 'writing in books'. No more of those fussy signs in the library discouraging highlighting.

Highlight away.

And look at what he said, and she said, and I said while you're at it.

You wanna know what the real paradigm shift is? It's that the Digital Age itself isn't a paradigm shift. It's a realignment.

The realignment itself is not the shift. The fact that we are realigning and re-evaluating the printed word is the shift.

In this way, 'Post-Print' is a better designation for our current environment than 'Digital Age'. Because, the Internet and Web 2.0 is not something new, rather it is the broad and global manifestation of something much older and more human than printed books ever were.

Monday, July 20, 2009

From the Archives: I Was a Paper Junkie

Originally posted April 30, 2009

I was a paper junkie.

My first year teaching, I was so scared of speeding through a lesson and not having something for the students to do that I used to run off several copies of "fun" assignments each day (crosswords, games, whatever I could scrounge up each morning from the old file cabinet in the closet I'd inherited as an office). This inevitably added up to two or three sheets of paper per student per day. And this would be stuff I'd never even see again once I'd handed it out. I'm not even counting the handouts I'd work up for the day's lesson.

But, I was a paper junkie.

That first year teaching, we had a copy limit of somewhere between 10 and 15 thousand copies per teacher. I think I maxed out in January.

Like I said: I was a paper junkie.

I used to pride myself on the physical weight of my mid-term and final exams. Students in my Latin classes used to complain about their hands cramping up and I'd boast about the 22 page final exam I'd written in Greek History class back in college.

I was unrepentant.

When I came to my present school, I found three copy machines whereas my previous school only had two for almost twice as large a faculty. I was in heaven.

I once made a copy of a seventeen page annotated version of T.S. Eliot's 'The Wasteland' for each student in all five sections of the American Lit class I was teaching at the time. (I hope the statute of limitations is over for that one...).

But I think the most egregious use of paper came when I used to run off fresh copies of everyone's poems in Poetry Club so that we could all mark 'em up during workshops. I easily made a half-dozen copies of each poem per each one student in that club. In other words, each student would wind up with six copies of the exact same poem. And we used to read lots of poems.

But I was a paper junkie.

I used to print out copies of ebooks. (I remember that at that first school, I'd been given a curriculum guide on CD and I actually decided to print the whole thing).

I used to print out my grades in triplicate.

I used to forget to fill the toner cartridge in my desktop printer and have to go back and reprint dozens of copies of a twelve-page test.

I even got a special card from the office supply store to make copies in bulk.

And then I woke up.

I think it was the year our school moved to 1:1 computing. No one in administration suggested not using paper (in fact, I don't think any of them had even heard the term 'blog' at that point). None one on the facilities staff said anything (and they were the guys who hauled in those ton-sized pallets stacked with reams). I think it was really just a matter of me sitting down and playing around with this new laptop and before long realizing that I'd written hundreds of pages worth of notes and ideas and meeting minutes and lesson plans and hadn't printed a single piece of paper.

And why hadn't I printed anything from my new laptop?

Because I couldn't figure out how to.

That's how this whole foray into paperlessness began. It wasn't that I was some tech wizard. I certainly wasn't all that environmentally conscious. I barely used the Internet with the exception of reading bulletin boards and getting my morning news.

Rather, the reason I got into paperlessness was because I was too dumb to figure out how to hook a printer up to my new laptop and too stubborn to ask the IT department to do it for me.

I totally slacked my way into paperlessness.

It was only once I was there that I realized what had happened. And then the epiphany came: "Hey buddy," my mind said to me, "you don't really need paper to teach a class".

And so, I didn't go back. And over the last three years, I've been on a crazy journey where I've easily saved over 40,000 sheets of paper. And that doesn't even count the paper my kids have saved in my class. Whereas I used to like to brag that kids would burn through two notebooks over the course of my AP Latin class, now not a single notebook ever needs be opened.

Just for fun today, I cut-and-pasted the contents of a single student blog into Word. This was a blog that a student in my Latin II class has kept this year. So we're talking from September to April. When that blog popped up in 12pt font as a Word document, it turned out to be 107 pages long.

107 pages.

Written by a 15 year old.

In one class.

If nothing else, my experience with a paperless classroom has proven to me demonstrably that there is just so much waste that we take for granted in education. And it's an ongoing eyeopening experience for me to see just how much a change a little change can make.

The old me never understood that. But he was a paper junkie.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

From the Archives: Hail, hail, rock'n'roll...

Originally posted April 6, 2009

I love rock'n'roll.

The first three albums I ever owned were Bruce Springsteen's 'Greetings from Asbury Park', the Rolling Stones' 'Hot Rocks', and the Velvet Underground's first recording.

It was a bit later that I came to understand the influence of Chuck Berry on so many of my favorite records and on music in general. And the song that always stuck in my mind when I thought of Chuck Berry was 'School Days' with its tale of classroom boredom, young love fun, and the anthemic 'Hail, hail, rock'n'roll'.

The lyric begins with a description of the common doldrums of first-period. History and math are studied, not out of any love of either subject, but rather because the students are just "hopin' to pass"; and all the while, some bored kid in the back of the class is ignoring exactly the moral that the teacher is trying to teach.
Up in the mornin' and out to school
The teacher is teachin' the Golden Rule
American history and practical math
You study' em hard and hopin' to pass
Workin' your fingers right down to the bone
And the guy behind you won't leave you alone

The next stanza hits on lunchroom life, books, and a teacher's mean looks.
Ring ring goes the bell
The cook in the lunchroom's ready to sell
You're lucky if you can find a seat
You're fortunate if you have time to eat
Back in the classroom open you books
Gee but the teacher don't know
How mean she looks

Finally, after a day of this:
You finally lay your burden down
Close up your books, get out of your seat

The rest of the song has to do with the good stuff of love and dancing and rock'n'roll. It's an amazing song and speaks in a universal way to the matter of 'the things one has to do' vs. 'the things one wants to do'.

And I'm struck, not just by the universality, but also by the description in the first half of the song about the school day itself.

1. High School starts first thing in the morning.
2. The teacher is moralizing.
3. The subjects are studied just for a grade.
4. The teacher is unable to control the class.
5. Circulation, facilities, and time-management are everyday burdens.
6. Students carry books around to classes.
7. The teacher is unaware of the psychology of young people.
8. School is a burden.
9. Education is what goes on hanging with friends after school.

This song was written in 1957. Yet, the description of the school environment looks an awful lot like what I think many of us are all too familiar with. It's as though for some reason despite the fact that we're a far way from 1957, we're still doing so many of the same things and fostering the same kind of environment in school. We might tell ourselves otherwise, but consider:

1. We still start high school earlier than psychologists suggest is beneficial to teenagers.
2. Teachers generally still are seen as hierarchically 'above' the students. The euphemism for this is 'authority'; in many a case, we can question whether this 'authority' is warranted.
3. We give standardized tests and force students into classes where they earn nothing more than a 'grade'.
4. Classroom management is often a concern and in many teachers' classrooms 'discipline' is mission #1 of the 'purpose' of education.
5. 'Use-of-time' as well as quality of facilities are often antiquated notions.
6. We still depend in the public school setting on state books and in the private school setting on parents buying books despite the free availability of so many of the texts (especially in English, History, Foreign Language) in free online formats.
7. While much research has been done on the psychology of teenagers, how many teachers really implement any of it in a scientific way in the classroom?
8. School is still a burden for many many students. We are often surprised to hear kids say that their school years were a waste, but we do little to address that from their point-of-view; instead we hire consultants to tell us what our kids feel like.
9. We still only have the students with us for a minuscule amount of time. So why waste so much of it with things that stifle creativity and turn students into the sorts of folks who got as little from high school as many of us did?

Kids are still kids, but in a really distinct way, there is a different sense of what a 'kid' is today. Kids are -- and have always been -- as much a product of their culture and social interactions as they are a product of anything that goes on in their head while doing our homework assignments; but the expectations being thrust upon them by within and without are something much different in context in this much more immediately public Digital Life. In other words: yes, kids have always been bored in school and kids have always danced and fallen in love; but now, those interactions which fifty years ago occurred on a local and semi-private level are know occurring in the active public yet relatively anonymous environment of cyberspace. So even though kids are kids, 'being a kid' really ain't what it used to be.

What is frustrating is that many folks in education are still in the '1957' mindset. Despite all of their own data and research, they still view schools fundamentally in the way that Chuck Berry described them. And so they treat cyberspace as a soda-pop shop, when in fact it is something very very different -- both in terms of education and social-life.

Just as a final thought, here are some of the other things that were going on in 1957. It's instructive, I think, to look closely at how we consider some things 'ancient' whilst continuing to prop up other things on crutches and canes...

January 3 - Hamilton Watch Company introduces the first electric watch.
January 6 - Elvis Presley appears on The Ed Sullivan Show for the 3rd and final time.
January 13 - Wham-O Company produces the first Frisbee.
January 20 - Dwight D. Eisenhower is inaugurated for a second term as President of the United States.
March 1 - Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat is published.
April - IBM sells the first compiler for the FORTRAN scientific programming language.
April 12 - Allen Ginsberg's poem Howl, printed in England, is seized by U.S. customs officials on the grounds of obscenity.
May 3 - Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley agrees to move the team from Brooklyn, New York, to Los Angeles, California.
June 25 - The United Church of Christ is formed.
July 6 - John Lennon and Paul McCartney meet for the very first time.
July 29 - The International Atomic Energy Agency is established.
August 5 - American Bandstand, a local dance show produced by WFIL-TV in Philadelphia, joins the ABC Television Network.
August 28 - United States Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC) sets the record for the longest filibuster with his 24-hour, 18-minute speech railing against a civil rights bill.
September 4 - American Civil Rights Movement - Little Rock Crisis: Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas calls out the US National Guard, to prevent African-American students from enrolling in Central High School in Little Rock.
September 4 - The Ford Motor Company introduces the Edsel.
September 5 - The first edition of Jack Kerouac's On the Road goes on sale.
October 4 - Space Age - Sputnik program: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth.
October 21 - The U.S. military sustains its first combat fatality in Vietnam, Army Capt. Hank Cramer of the 1st Special Forces Group.
October 31 - Toyota begins exporting vehicles to the U.S.
November 13 - Gordon Gould invents the "laser".
December 6 - First U.S. attempt to launch a satellite fails.
December 20 - The Boeing 707 airliner flies for the first time.

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Hail, hail, rock'n'roll...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

One Small Step for a Budget-constrained Governmental Organization... One Giant Leap for Pepsi?

Interesting post by Siemens today:
ethics are negotiated amongst bloggers

It caught my eye scouring the Web this evening after pulling in to Lake Charles, LA after a couple days barnstorming Texas and sleeping in the deserted area south of Austin.

Been thinking about blogging quite a bit lately; thinking about how it now consumes a substantial part of my identity. Thought about it in San Antonio where I was giving a presentation and they somehow managed to merge my given name (the one I use to cash my paycheck) and my pen name (the one that I actually use in daily life) into one strange (to my eyes) amalgamation:
Shelly Wojewodzki

Funny in that that person doesn't exist. Yet he did manage to give a conference preso yesterday after an evening spent sleeping out-of-doors in cactus country.

Guess it's all just a matter of personal identity and public persona. I like to think of my choice of pen name in similar terms to Samuel Clemens' choice to stick with 'Mark Twain' over his previous 'Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass'; I don't think I would have ever gotten far with the pen name I came up with at the age of seven: 'Alexander Lazerstone'. And besides, folks often assume 'Shelly' is a female, so it's occasionally useful as a means of being a fly-on-the-wall before entering into conversations with strangers who are nonetheless expecting me.

Thinking about this identity issue now because the family and I spent the day down at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The site of the Apollo launches and all that. Today actually marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Apollo 11 mission; it's in all the papers down here.

And so we were excited to go to NASA and check out what kinds of festivities were going on.

As we swung around the looping fence of the complex and passed by the ballfields, it looked like some sort of big party was going on among employees.

Parking the car, I pulled out our e-tickets and we passed by the long lines dropping $25 a pop on admittance. I held the door open for my boys and little girl and they stopped in shock. I turned to see before us a flashing display of oversized images of characters and scenes from Star Wars.

An hour-and-a-half and three mind-numbingly long moon-bounce lines later -- the kids being somewhat sated by a barrage of laser-lights and vinyl -- we finally got in line to do what we'd come for: take a tour of the original Mission Control station.

The sign on the door to the tram depot said that we should expect a heat index of 108 degrees as we waited in line. The constant parade of commercials broadcast on video screens between broadcasts of antique NASA education films suggested that we would be much happier (and perhaps not die of heatstroke) should we just purchase a few cold Pepsi colas (from the vending machines strategically located next to said line). Then our pictures were taken 'for security purposes', but we were assured that we could purchase copies after the tour.

All of this, particularly after the inexplicable Lucasfilm love parade in the main exhibit hall, pointed markedly to a governmental organization both in the throes of financial panic as well as identity crisis.

We all know about the hole so many scientific government organizations wound up in over the last decade. And we have all heard about the identity issues specifically at NASA -- the argument about the future of the Hubble mission comes to mind. But this really brought it all home.

On the 40th anniversary of the day in which the feet which would take a 'giant leap for mankind' on a little moon circling the third planet from this solar system's sun first took the small steps into a waiting Apollo spaceship, the organization which produced that moment was now reduced to obscuring its permanent collection behind an Indiana Jones moon-bounce and hawking Pepsis to thirsty tourists.

Happy anniversary indeed.

Turns out, twenty minutes into our wait in line, all heaven broke loose and Houston got dumped on by a few lakes-full of rain.

We were ushered back indoors, the tram-rides called off for the afternoon.

Mission Command inaccessible.

My wife was about to demand our money back when we found ourselves herded into an adjacent auditorium. Thirty seconds later, the whole family was watching archival footage of each of the Apollo missions, as well as Skylab and the first Shuttle jaunts.

The footage was for the most part grainy and at times jittery.

But it was stunning.

JFK spoke over images of roaring rockets. Cronkite intoned the most incredible of all things in a mixture of newsman professionalism and legitimate disbelief and wonder.

Our kids stared in the same disbelief and wonder at what moved up there on that screen before them.

This is what we'd come for.

Not sci-fi.

Not lines and rides.

Not impulse buying.

Just the thrill of watching rockets and astronauts launch into the impossibility of the moment.

Into what we'd all always thought the mission and identity of the space program was.

My wife noted this evening that it was strange how we'd just watched Cronkite's reaction to the moon landing up there on the big screen in the Space Center's theatre and today upon getting some decent Wi-Fi access we find out he just passed away.

Now there was a guy who understood identity.

Wonder what he'd think of NASA's confused public face these days.

Wonder what Twain would think of the whole business as well; or what Samuel Clemens would think...

After all: who are the ethics of dreams negotiated by?

- posted 11:58PM near Lake Charles, LA.

From the Archives: The Problem with Faculty Meetings

Originally posted Feb 17, 2009

From a reader is Australia (who happens to be an art teacher who hasn't used a copy machine once in over twenty years!):
What concerned me as I sorted out bags of papers I had brought home from school at the end of 2008 was the sheer amount of paper that the administration had wasted on us teachers. I think it could all have been said on a blog or wikispace but I was left with 3 full garbage bags.

Consider if you will the average faculty meeting. Did you remember to pick up a blue sheet? And make sure you have a pink one and both of the yellow ones. The white sheets are a copy of the PowerPoint we're going to watch; you can take notes on it to review later.


It doesn't have to be this way.

First of all, the reader is absolutely correct that basically everything that the administration printed out could just have been posted on a blog. Second, if the information is posted on a blog, then it can be responded to and discussion can continue long after the meeting ends. We all know that there are those things we need to talk about but are just too tired and hungry to stay at a faculty meeting until 5PM after teaching all day. The blog solves this problem. The admins can present the info, we as a faculty can have a discussion, and then that discussion can continue to happen online.

It can also be revisited. How often have things come up in meetings that seem so urgent but then just disappear into the educational ether? Well, the blog acts as a dynamic record of the event.

Third: why the heck do people print out copies of their PowerPoint? It's digital. If you want me to have a copy and mark up notes on it, just email it to me in advance. I'll bring it to the meeting on my laptop and mark it up as a word document the same way I mark up student essays.

Every time I see papers handed out at a meeting, I see piles of money that could have been spent on art and music and technology just squandered. At the very least, please see to it that there be a recycling box next to the exit door.

Friday, July 17, 2009

This is Paperless Teaching, too...

What a few days.

Two days ago I was in Memphis. Visited the National Civil Rights Museum and was completely unprepared for what I saw. I had actually not even looked up any info about the building before arriving, but rather went totally blind as to what we'd be experiencing.

And how overwhelming it was.

Earlier in the day, my boys and I had visited Sun Studios. Everything about Sun is cool; from Elvis and the Killer to Johnny Cash and B.B. King and 'Angel of Harlem'-era U2. Totally got chills in the joint. The boys were mostly interested in the merch, so we duly picked up an xtra-large t-shirt for daddy and a few pins for their caps.

Next up was a stroll across Beale Street for lunch and some conversation with the Memphis folks. An electric blues band was shaking it down in the park and the sun was like sandpaper across yr face. After lunch, we walked over to the Gibson Guitars factory; we were too late for a tour, but I did get to check out a few custom Hummingbirds (if any of you blog subscribers want to make a blogger happy, you now know exactly what I want for Christmas).

My wife had mentioned visiting the Civil Rights Museum and we asked a panhandler where we could find it. He gave us directions and walked us part way there before trailing off.

We actually doubled back to get the car before proceeding, it was wicked hot and the kids (and me) needed some air.

The Memphis heat actually added to the depth of what we saw next.

We came across the building from what I think was it's eastern facade which is just basically a brick wall. So I had no idea what we were in for. But, coming around the bend, the first thing you see is the sign.

The sign of the Lorraine Motel.

As you bend around the brick wall, it gives way to the physical remains of the motel where MLK was shot. Two cars sit in the parking lot; a wreath marks the place where King fell.

I totally lost it. So many thoughts stopped in my mind and I was totally in the moment.

And then I heard the voice of one of my boys: "Is that where Martin Luther King was shot?"

"Yes," my wife replied.

This is another form of paperless education. It's the education of architecture, place, experience, and shared memory.

And it really makes me all that much more convinced that we've gotta go mobile.

- Posted from the San Antonio, TX convention center (where they have incredible folks who actually roam around the halls and make sure Wi-Fi is working for the bloggers!)

From the Archives: A Textbook Editor Responds

Originally posted June 9, 2009

A textbook editor responds to my call to 'Get Off Textbooks'.

Here's the highlight reel:

As one of the textbook editors you disparage in your post, I will say I am equally as frustrated as you are w/ the state of textbooks, but I think laying the blame completely at the foot of textbook publishers is misplaced. State standards such as those in CA are in essence political documents, and the textbooks produced to align to these standards are also politicized by extension. They are not so much a way to ensure that our children get the best education possible but a way to ensure that every interest group gets its say in how our children are taught.

There are a lot of intelligent, well-meaning, passionate people in textbook publishing. But unfortunately, the goal of textbook publishers is not ultimately to make a book that is of great value to teachers and students. Their goal is to please adoption comittees [sic] and district administrators who decide which books to purchase. To do otherwise would ignore the biggest markets and the biggest profits.

To truly change the educational system, change needs to happen to the standards themselves to make them more open and flexible and to allow for innovation in the classroom. And that change only seems like it can happen when the majority of parents, politicians, and educators begin to seriously reflect on how students are treated and taught and begin to change a lot of institutionalized attitudes that are really detrimental to actual leearning [sic]. I do see the glimmers of that happening, but it seems a long way off.

Problems with 'standards' and 'politicization'. Acknowledgment that this is really about markets and profits. Acknowledgment that flexibility and de-institutionalism are the benefactors of 'actual learning'.

If these are the feelings of a representative from within the textbook industry, then it's no wonder that classroom teachers themselves would want to throw textbooks out the window.

The short of the story: textbooks -- whether of the paper variety, or their online doppelgangers -- don't seem to be worth the time it takes to produce them.

Get Off Textbooks.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

From the Archives: Social Media and Cheating

Originally posted April 30, 2009

Reader MagistraM writes:

I love how you have placed the responsibility for learning so clearly on your students. A common concern about using digital tools for classwork and assessments is that the students will be "cheating". This lesson demonstrates how the social tools facilitate every student's learning - and demands each student to contribute.

I would say that social media actually may present us with a new post-cheating paradigm. I liken it to students in an oil painting class: barring having someone else do it for you, you just "can't" cheat on an oil painting.

Because of the transparency of Web 2.0, cheating in the traditional forms -- plagiarism, copying, cribnotes -- is severely limited in a practical sense. Because of the individuality and personalization of assessment and creation via Web 2.0, cheating itself becomes a rather uninteresting option.

Students tend to cheat out of a mix of boredom and procrastination; cheating is a manifestation of a lack of motivation to be authentic -- whether we're talking about the total slacker who cut-and-pastes from Encarta, or the 'sophisticated' cheater who tries to juke the SAT.

Unauthentic assessment will produce cheaters.

And what is unauthentic assessment? I'd define it as assessment that fails in its structural makeup to address the realities of society -- both at a local and global level.

Now, I'm no spring chicken. I know there are kids who will try to cheat their way around anything. I've caught a few in my own classes. But, if the teacher is using the tools available to engage the students rather than just to talk 'at' them, the teacher has got a much better shot of fostering the type of community in the classroom where cheating will not be tolerated among the students themselves. Web 2.0, by its very nature is a medium that requires you to give of yourself to get anything in return. And that's the sort of thing that a good teacher can tap into both to encourage authentic engagement as well as to foster a spirit of classroom-wide local goodwill. Combined, cheating becomes a much less cool option.

A Crossroads in Rural Wi-Fi?

Ate dinner last night at a local Mexican restaurant in Crossville, Tennessee.

And one thing that came to mind was that I’ve been woefully inconsiderate of the digital realities in our rural communities.

Now, Crossville -- which bills itself as the 'Golf Capital of Tennessee' -- is relatively populated compared to some of the old mountain roads I got lost on finding the town. From the looks of it, the resorts and golf courses must bring in the bulk of the local economy; though from my view of the trees on the side of a mountain, I didn't get to see that part of town. Instead, I spent most of my time in the forest and in the gas stations and by local restaurants stealing Wi-Fi.

And I'm wondering what digital life is like for folks here in the dales of Tennessee. On the one hand, you can't pull into a truck-stop or a fastfood joint's parking lot without catching the local feed; but out there on the roads and in the hills, there's barely cell reception.

Through much of eastern TN, I was spotting signs for something related to a TN Tech something-or-other. I'd really like to know what that's all about. Because I think the rural Wi-Fi issue might even be more difficult to address than the digital divide in the underprivileged communities in our cities. At least in places like West Baltimore, folks are living close enough together that WiMax and similar coverage systems can get to all of ‘em.

But in the dales of rural Tennessee?

I’d love to hear from some teachers in really ‘off-the-map’ communities about issues facing their schools with regard to tech and especially to Wi-Fi access. I realize that I really don’t understand what’s happening here and I’m asking you for your voices and experiences.

I’m also understanding that ‘off-the-map’ is anything but a fair description of these communities. In Crossville last evening, there was a steel guitar concert going down at the main street theatre and though the old strip mall where we found the restaurant was full of check-cashing joints and a sub-par outlet grocer, the food and the service was top-notch.

If anything, I’m the one who’s been ‘off-the-map’.

- Written in Malvern, Arkansas 12:38AM July 16, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Visiting Monticello (or, at least Thom Jefferson’s new parking lot)

From the road.

Feeding off the local Wi-Fi from the Loretta Lynn Kitchen somewhere between Nashville and Memphis. Here's a dispatch I wrote last night from a mountainside in eastern Tennessee.


Started out from Baltimore today on the family road trip. Got around the DC beltway in record time and headed straight for Charlottesville, VA -- home of Monticello.

Between my wife’s love of architecture and my own love of history, we were looking forward to showing our three kids the pride of Virginian Neoclassicism. We’d been through the old house years ago back when we started dating; I like to think Thom had something to do with convincing her that I was an alright guy. Back in those days we were even more strapped for cash than we are now, which made our discovery at entering the new ‘Monticello Welcome Center’ such a harsh surprise.

Turns out that for two adults and three elementary schoolers to check out the old joint would cost about $65.

For those of you, like me, who are bad with numbers, that’s: sixty-five dollars.

Are you kidding?

Isn’t Thomas Jefferson the father of our ‘free’ public school system? You think old Thom might think $20 a head and 8 bucks a tyke is a bit much?

I understand, I understand. They do have to pay for the new welcome center building (where you can buy a Thom Jefferson decanter set and any number of Declaration of Independence replicas). But really. The irony.

The cruelty.

It is just plain wrong to price folks out of their own history. My wife lost it when the ranger wouldn’t even let us visit Jefferson’s grave.

Is this how little we, as a people, respect our history? To turn a president’s house into a giftshop for the entitled and to charge a thief’s ransom to travelers too tired to turn around and leave?

So we ate lunch in the parking lot and taught the kids about the real meaning of democracy.

- Written on Cumberland Mtn. near Crossville, TN on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 9:24PM

From the Archives: Trust

Originally posted March 22, 2009

Do you trust your students?

A lot of the debate around the manageability of a paperless classroom has to do with trust. Of course there are going to be times when students are caught off-track doing something they aren't supposed to be doing. They are kids, after all. And they've gotten into trouble like this long before the advent of 1:1 computing. But what do you do now that instead of a student sneaking in a comic book to history class, the student's laptop is connected to thousands of comic books all accessible in class?

Many teachers would say: take the comic book away. But, in the case of 1:1 computing, that amounts to taking away the Internet. At which point you have to ask yourself, "What's the point of 1:1 computing?"

The laptop is not a glorified word processor. It's a connection tool. It connects students to the Web in real time. That connection is the point of the whole thing.

None of this 'paperless' mumbo jumbo would mean a darned thing if it were just a matter of saving some paper and being able to use a couple cool software programs in class.

Rather, 'paperless' is really synonymous with 'connected'. And that's what our students are facing: the challenge of being connected. It is a physical fact in the sense that they have instant access to mass amounts of information. It is also an ethical fact in the sense that what they do online and who they interact with can have either greatly beneficial or greatly harmful outcomes.

So in a very real way, the manner with which we address issues of trust in the classroom with regard to the use of the Internet will have a definite effect on the way in which our students are both physically and ethically acclimated to the Digital Age.

So are you ready to take away those comic books?

What kind of message do you think it will send to students to deny them access to information in the name of educational discipline? By the time they are high school seniors, most have read either Orwell or Huxley or Heller. Do you think they can't make the connection? Can you?


Do your students trust you?

Teachers often tend to think of classroom management and discipline in terms of student behavior.

But what about teacher behavior?

If you stand in front of a class and whine and complain about technology, do you think this might effect your ability to manage the class while using technology?

Do you not realize that students can tell whether the use of technology is seamless and natural for you or whether you are struggling. Recently, a student told me of a teacher in class beating on a keyboard to try to get a program to open. Guess what, said teacher: when it comes to technology and your ability to maintain a professional attitude about its use in and among your classes, you've goofed. Your students don't believe a thing you say about tech. They've tuned you out.

They don't trust you.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This whole education thing: it's not about making teachers feel comfortable. It's about educating students. And the students of today are not standing at the same point on the great timeline of history as the students of even ten years ago. Yes they need to learn the great themes of literature, the arts, science, history, and civilization. But, they need to learn those things in a manner that is applicable to the way that the world of today really is, not the way any of us wished it were.

Our current high school seniors are entering into the fiercest college acceptance and job market we have ever known. The U.S. is not even ranked in the top 10 worldwide for math and science. We've spent the last eight years cutting the arts AND technology. And we still in good faith give our students bubble tests and ask them to answer questions from twenty-year-old textbooks. We put ton after ton of taxpayer dollars into new forms of standardized tests and yet we can't commit as a culture to taking an active and immediate role in ending the digital divide.

From an economic perspective, there is no reason every student in this country does not have a laptop and free Internet access.

We complain and we test and test and test. And we pat ourselves on the back that most second graders in certain schools can read at a second grade level. Congratulate?!?

The fact of the matter is, from the viewpoint of many of our students, the role of schools and teachers is to 'educate' them by keeping them in line and on track. Meanwhile, the world has already stepped out of line and it's given up the tracks in favor of flight.

It's a wonder that any of them DO trust us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

From the Archives: Why Do I Hate Paper?

Originally posted Feb 6, 2009

I was asked recently why I am so against using paper in the classroom.

I'm not.

I'm into letting kids make paper airplanes. And construct buildings and mazes out of paper. And shoot hoops at the trashcan with paperballs. I'm into letting them draw on big pieces of paper with charcoal and having them get their hands dirty. I'm into dog-eared paperbacks creeping out of their pockets and I'm into letters and personal notes and thank-yous and miss-yous and get-wells scribbled on scrap-paper.

It's not paper I'm against.

I'm against the static idea of knowledge that paper so often represents.

That's not where the future is.

I post online all of the sorts of assignments that I used to have kids turn in on paper, not because I want them to use technology or because I don't want them to use paper. I do this because online assignments are naturally dynamic. I do this because that's what the kids understand. They are already living the post-paper knowledge life. They understand that in the future, (and the future is now), knowledge is dynamic and collaborative.

Ideas brought forth in a dynamic environment should not be 'written on paper', in the symbolic sense. In other words, they should not be thought of as singular and final products to be graded and filed away; rather, ideas are always in flux and current to debate and change and this is a good thing, an innovative thing, and cooperative interactive online docs with no fixed 'due date' are more natural to use in this environment of thinking -- that is they are more an extension of this type of thinking -- than a piece of paper kept in one's folder smooshed in the grimy depths of one's bookbag could ever be.

That leaves time to do good stuff with paper. Like making airplanes. And footballs. All kinds of creative things. And everything else.

Road Trip

In a half-hour, I'm headed out on the highway.

Destination: San Antonio for the AP Annual Conference where I'll be giving a presentation on 'Blogs and the Paperless Classroom'. Hope to see some of you all there.

Don't know what my Wi-Fi is gonna be like out on the highways of Virginia, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi; but I'm going to try to blog the whole trip. A little journey to help with the digestion of a bunch of ideas that have been floating around in my head.

I'm also running a series of 'From the Archives' posts throughout the week which will highlight some of the places our conversation has gone here on over the last six months. Always a good idea to go back and look at where your thinking was; if it hasn't changed, you ain't talking with enough folks.

San Antonio or bust.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Around the Horn: July 13, 2009

It's a good day to wander through the education neighborhoods of the blogosphere.

Nash lays out the blueprint for bringing tech and innovation into the olde schoolhouse. And he makes one of the best points I've heard in ages:
A school can have instructional innovation and local administrative support and still fail with regard to technological innovation.

Yes. It takes fearlessness and experimentation. Otherwise it's just the digital version of 'more of the same'.

Ira, meanwhile, steps to the plate over at for a week of blogging. His first post has to do with the 'origins of failure':
If we want a different result, it is the system – not the students, not the teachers – not even really the management – which must change. These groups, after all, are just humans, humans responding to the system they are forced to survive in.

The educational system, and all the structures created to support that system – the buildings, furniture, time schedules, tests – are the problem.

And finally, McLeod's preso from NECC is finally online. Scott looks at ed leadership in the 21st century from an exponentialist point of view. Scary stuff.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Complete Guest Posts

Here are the links to the past week's series of guest posts I wrote for

Thanks to Clay and the folks at for having me over and for helping out with a few technical things.

Be sure to subscribe over there and follow what has proven to be a consistently great blog. Definitely a place on the web for telling it like it is.

Here's the posts:

Disconnected: Romeo and Juliet would have made out just fine if they’d only had a pair of iPhones between ‘em.

Talking 21st Century Skills Blues: We do a disservice to our students and our future if we pretend that we can use 19th century methodologies to facilitate 21st century learning.

Go Geek: We don’t need Teach for America. We need Geeks for America.

Books Were Nice: Don’t get me wrong. I liked books. They were great.

We Are All Health Professionals Now: When I was in eleventh grade, our class was marched down to the auditorium for a presentation on penises.

Goin' Mobile: We need to stop complaining about the time away from classroom learning that fieldtrips represent and start complaining about the time away from fieldtrips that classroom learning represents.

What a Difference a Century Makes: We have already produced babies who will see the calendar flip from the 21st to the 22nd century.

ps -- If you are a registered at or just want to check out some great organizing work, click through the petition and campaign drives; some great work happening there. And stop by my new profile and friend me!

Last Guest Post at

A post entitled: 'What a Difference a Century Makes'.

Special thanks to Clay for giving me the opportunity to reach a wider audience. It has been extremely valuable to me to be able to dedicate time to some pretty intense stuff; I'm becoming more enamored by the power of blogs every day.

Next week, I'll be going out on the road. I plan to have a series of 'best of' posts running through the week and I hope to get in at least one post daily from out there on the highway.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Day 5 of Guest Blogging: We Are All Health Professionals Now

Today is Day 5 of my romp through the Education Blog at Been thinking alot about digital citizenship since getting back from NECC and this guest post reflects much of what's been on my mind.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Day 4 Guest Blogging at

Day 4 of the Guest Blogging over at's Education Blog.

Today, a little post I titled 'Books Were Nice'. So, you be nice and head on over there and check it out.

Comment away!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Go Geek: 3rd Day of Guest Blogging at

My 'Geek Thinking' is evolving.

Check out today's post over at's Education Blog and leave your comments and thoughts!

Response to a Criticism about Using Twitter in the Classroom

As a teacher who uses Twitter on a daily basis with high school students, I've been asked by a handful of folks to respond to this article. The gist of the post is that Twitter can't work in a classroom.

I must say I am hesitant to write this response; I know that I can come across as pedantic at times, and that's really not what I want to do here.

Therefore, I will limit my comments and point readers in the direction of previous pieces I wrote concerning both the use of Twitter in class (although with my updated hashtags work, it's definitely time to update that post!) as well as student responses to using Twitter in class.

I do ask forgiveness from the original blogger for taking so much of the following chunk of text, but it's impossible to comment here in a way that would be most effective without actually presenting the example as originally posted.
Sometimes I think that folks dream of the following as being the kinds of conversations that students would have using twitter:

S1: In Bio listening to a great lecture on cell division. She ROCKS!
S2: Reading "Chapter 7" for Mr Wilson. Not my favorite so far but I'll get through it
S3: Great quote from Mr B: "History is written by the winners." He said it's not his original quote, tho'
S4: @S1 Mrs D is awesome! Looking forward to 5th period when I'll hear it, too
S4: @S2 Tell me about it. I've got to read it tonight. But I'm a fast reader.
S2: Anyone know a good website to help me to understand Chapter 7?
S1: @S3 Yeah, I heard that quote before, too. Hold on and I'll look it up for you.

Now, THIS is what would PROBABLY happen if students used twitter:

S1: wht's 4 lunch? I'm staving!
S2: NFW I'm readg that @#$ Chapter 7. Hes got 2 B Sh*ttin' me!
S3: "History is writn by th winners?" DUH!
S4: I get out of her class 5th period, dude! S*cks 2 B U!
S4: @S1 its only 9:30 dude! U cnt B hungry alrdy U pig!
S2: Any1 know if any of ths @#$% in Ch 7 will B on the test?
S1: @S3 No duh! Who ELSE wld write it. Hes so lame!

Actually, neither example has anything to do with the way we use Twitter in class.

While conversation is one use of Twitter, there are plenty of others.

As I've described before, my students use their feeds as lifelines on quizzes and tests, as a way to share links and organize collaborative assignments, as a tool for hashtagging collaborative reference bibliographies, and as a collaborative note-taking backchannel during lecture and class discussion. We also use Twitterfall as a discussion starter and I project our Twitter feed on the wall throughout all of our classes to remind students about the global ramifications of what we are doing by learning together in a classroom.

If your students aren't able to handle using Twitter like this, then you don't have a problem with Twitter; you have a problem with classroom management.

Will you get some of what was presented above in your feeds? Sure. But does that outweigh the benefit? No way; at least not from my own experience actually using Twitter everyday in class.

Social Media is not a monolith.

It doesn't tell you what to do. There are no rules.

There are countless ways to use Twitter; the key is that the use of the social media needs to be fully integrated into the teaching -- specifically for the purpose of teaching the content and skills of the course. So, the trick is to figure out how to do that for your course. And there's a good chance that a PLN model isn't gonna work for your kids.

As for WHY it's important for kids to take part in authentic social media (rather than the walled garden variety), I wrote a post yesterday where I tried to sort of lay out the framework of what we're looking at on the future grid of 21st century education. It's my attempt to argue what authenticity in education means now and for the future, and I'd welcome any criticism of it.

Anyway, Social Media is what you make it. It's yours to tinker with. So, use your imagination.

As for worries about how kids might abuse it? I really wouldn't worry about that so much, so long as you are incorporating ongoing discussions of digital citizenship into your lessons. After all, kids can write all kinds of nonsense on a sheet of paper and spread it around school, as well; they've been doing that for generations. Yet, I don't see too many teachers wondering whether we should allow them to write.

We're the teachers. We're the ones who need to model good citizenship in that classroom. We're the ones who have to model the effective use of Twitter and social media in our classrooms. It comes down to us, not to the technology.