Thursday, December 31, 2009

My New Year's Resolution... to learn Swedish.

Because I need to be back in that headspace of learning something completely foreign for the first time. Hopefully it will make me a more understanding teacher.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thinking Field Trips: A Visit to the National Portrait Gallery

Weirdest thing.

I take a five day break from blogging (my first break since last February), and I actually wind up with MORE page views and readers than I have all year. Hmm. Maybe I should take breaks more often.

I use the term "break" lightly, as anyone else out there with three little kids will understand.

Yesterday we took the tykes to D.C.

Visited the National Gallery of Art and the Portrait Gallery. I used to live in the District and I can't begin to count the number of hours I've spent at the NGA; but the Portrait Gallery has been closed for the longest time as it was undergoing extensive renovations. This was the first chance I've had to visit since the re-opening.

And I'm glad I went.

Two exhibits in the Portrait Gallery present a perfect opportunity for students to learn about the nature of biography and representation through visual images.

The first is the collection of portraits of American presidents. You can browse through the images on the Smithsonian's site. On the website, each portrait is accompanied by a biographical sketch of the president's term; in person, audio and video recordings bring the leaders to life.

And there's something for everyone. Personally, I liked the audio collection of FDR's Fireside Chats. One of my sons liked the lifemasks of Lincoln; the other thought Andrew Jackson looked like a vampire.

The second exhibit was the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Situated directly across the hall from the portraits of presidential power, the portrait competition exhibits the work of all those anonymous Americans whose portraits are no less distinct nor distinctive. The whole exhibit feels like the visual equivalent of a Terkel book; that is to say: these portraits represent a peoples' history in their "own words".

Right now, my boys are in the dining room drawing portraits of one another. Learning by looking and by engaging with looking. All to often a skill we fail to appreciate in the classroom.

While most field trips to Washington, D.C. involve a visit to the NGA or the Air and Space Museum, I encourage you to walk off the Mall a little bit and seek out all the faces and stories waiting for you at the National Portrait Gallery. Or visit the gallery online and see what the digital realm has to say about the ways in which we present ourselves and each other.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa's on Twitter

NORAD + Google Maps + Twitter + Santa = Christmas Eve Geography Lesson

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guest Post on Bringing Tech to the AVID Classroom: AVID Is Awesome, But...

Here's the second in our series of Weds guest posts on TeachPaperless. Today's blogger is teacher Ben Knaus.

Ben is a middle school AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) elective teacher and coordinator at Cityview Performing Arts School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. He is in his tenure (third) year of teaching, 2nd year with the AVID program, and 8th year working in a school (all at Cityview). Ben is also a devoted husband, father of two beautiful little ones, and a huge technology fan. In his spare time, he is an adjunct professor at Saint Mary's University-Twin Cities co-teaching (with @wwolfe105) the Technology in the Classroom course in the Master of Instruction program. Ben also blogs at and posts on Twitter as @learnteachtech.

What is AVID?

"AVID is a fourth through twelfth grade system to prepare students in the academic middle for four-year college eligibility. It has a proven track record in bringing out the best in students, and in closing the achievement gap. AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination." [Source:]

Basically, AVID takes students who wouldn't normally be thinking about college, who have parents who didn't go to college, or who need an extra push to get to college and gives them the skills they need to make to college. How many times did I write college? Four. Yes, four in one sentence. Did I mention there is a push in the AVID program to attend college?

Why is AVID Awesome?

AVID is awesome because students who don't know how to be highly effective students get the skills they need to be highly effective. In the AVID elective class, we learn questioning, note taking (Cornell Notes), discussion and debate, public speaking, organization, and study strategies. We also learn a lot about colleges and careers from field trips and guest speakers.

I love just about everything in AVID. One of my favorites is that we have tutors. We have four adults (2 college students, 1 retired teacher and 1 adult from the business world) who help twice a week. They guide students on questions from other classes and ensure that they are getting the necessary support. The students eventually take over the tutorials and run them with tutor assistance. It's an amazing process to watch and be part of.

The other amazing thing is that I get to work with the AVID students for up to three years. I'll have the 6th graders until they leave for high school. The program and the class structure build relationships, which is the key to being successful in any area and I preach this whenever someone will listen.

But... The Technology

There are 8 general standards in AVID that are broken down into 42 objectives. Here's standard 2, objective 6:

"2.6 Refine research skills, including the use of technology, for all academic classes."
[Source: AVID Standards, link not available]

Out of 42 objectives to meet, only one deals with any sort of technology.

There is a serious lack of technology built into the program.

How many jobs have you had where you don't use some technology during your work day? How many college students do you know that don't word process, take notes on a computer, or research regularly on the Internet? How do you expect future college students to be successful if a college-prep course isn't requiring technology? (See how we use questioning in the AVID program?)

So, what's the solution? In my dream world, every AVID student would be given a netbook to use at school and at home. I would also request the City of Minneapolis to give AVID students access to Wireless Minneapolis. This proposal would give the students access to everything they need both inside and outside the classroom, 24 hours a day.

In the real world, AVID students need access to computers, at the very least, in the AVID classroom. No student, especially the typical AVID student, is prepared for college if they don't have the basic technology skills needed in the world outside of the school.

And since when is school not part of the real world? (Again with the questioning...)

That said, what am I doing now?

We use the Promethean board in the room for note taking and brain storming.

We use Activexpressions for short answer responses.

I have students use Wordle to brainstorm and reflect.

After the winter break, I'll have students start portfolios using eFolioMn and, hopefully, start some blogging.

Personally, I blog, Tweet, research, and RSS constantly to find new ideas, concepts, and strategies (both tech and non-tech) to bring into my classroom. That's done with two old eMacs, a teacher iMac, and my personal MacBook.

Finally, I've covered my back wall with whiteboards. We don't use chart paper for group work or other activities. The students just start writing on the wall.

How fun is that? (Sorry, had to sneak one last question in!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tech Engaged by Default?

Interesting discussion today on WBUR's OnPoint radio show.

The subject was landlines and what their future looks like. And while we might joke that "the future don't look so hot" for 'em, in fact what we're seeing on the ground is a re-distribution of the whole organization of the way companies respond to the ways that we want to communicate with each other.

The way we communicate with one another.

What's more, one of the patterns I'm noticing is that of getting beyond the idea of 'obsolescence' as a singularly defined event and more towards an understanding of shift as a matter of true 'evolution'. I mentioned this a couple posts back and it was striking to hear how on the show this afternoon how it relates to the telecom industry (which now could more precisely be referred to as the communications/entertainment industry given the foothold of cable in the market).

One way or another, it sure as heck looks like culture, innovation, the individual, and the sheer power of digital communication are now caught in an inflating Möbius strip.

This is indeed Zeitgeist stuff.

And the more I think about it, the more I think that the majority of folks left on the fence about the role of tech in the 21st century are going to simply fall into the 'user' catagory by default as society changes around them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Different Perspective

An anonymous reader left the following comment (I reprint it here unedited except for the exclusion of a personal attack on one of the regular contributors to our discussions here on TP):
Unbelieveable...if you people really think that this is the successful way to the future, then your as stupid as the students that cant spell the word 'future'. Students have no social skills what-so-ever being raised in a computer generated world. They have no English skills as a result of comp slg...oh what you dont know what computer slang short-cutting is. The have no spelling skills as a result of spell check. Good luck living in a collapsed society ripe for a Chinese take-over when the idiots you put out in the world try and run this country. If society truly allows this to happen, you'll doom us all...

I invite all of the readers of this blog and all of the members of this PLN to please leave a comment in response to this statement.

I'm sure that you all will have a wiser and more lucid set of responses than I could manage alone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Specific Dates of Change

Interesting question via Tweet showed up via @AdrienneCorn:
So, what year are you guessing this full blown paperlessness will debut?

I guess my response would have to be that there isn't going to be a single year in which society decides paper's time has run its course. (And mind you, when I say 'run its course', I'm pretty much talking about paper's role in the printing and publishing industries; we'll still see paper used in a variety of formats from cardboard to toilet-paper to napkins... and I hope that paper-in-schools will see its growth actually in expanded art and hands-on arts and crafts classes.)

Rather than try to pin-point a specific date, I'd reference back to the changes digitization has already brought to the music industry, audio-video production, and library cataloging.

In the first case, the decade has seen 'invisible' MP3s by-and-large replace physical CDs. No one would have seen that one coming back in '91 when Nirvana broke. Likewise, no one really knows what the forecast looks like for the magazine, newspaper, and publishing industries. Schools might wind up going paperless by default.

Second case: I remember when I started recording music we had to scrounge up money to buy tape and rent time in a recording studio. While studios are certainly still around, tape is now pretty much just the domain of audiophiles who can afford to shell out thousands of dollars on reels and reel-to-reel machines. The rest of us use our Macs and record whenever and where-ever we like (for better or worse, this isn't a matter of comparing analog to digital... it's just a statement of fact).

Same goes for digital access. Whereas in the past, a good question from a kid in class might prompt a "Good question. Go look that up on your free time.", a good question from a kid now prompts: "Good question. Let's look that up right now". And within seconds, we've all learned something.

I think this has enormous implications for school libraries. Where earlier, libraries were prized for the breadth and depth of their collections, the new libraries are prized for quality of and savvy in access. I recently visited a huge school library which upon first glance looked quite impressive; until upon closer inspection I noticed that no less that a third of the collection consisted of out-of-date encyclopedias, atlases, and job-reference books.

The third case should be obvious: Boolean search killed the card catalog. It's a case where technology fundamentally altered the way an institution functions.

All three of these cases took place over a period of years. And none of them completely wiped out what came before (at least not yet). You might want to go to your local (natch, 'corporate') CD/Book/Magazine/Coffee joint to pick up a CD for $20. Surely you might be in a band so rocking, you don't mind paying $10,000 to record your new album. And maybe -- and I admit without shame that I fall into this catagory -- you just love roaming the stacks of a big old library.

Well, you can still do all of those things. It's not the purpose of paperlessness to destroy any of those things. Just like it wasn't the purpose of the cell phone to replace the landline.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Snowy Haiku

Cars under comfort
Of snow. The street is quiet;
Night is just keystrokes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Break Starts Now

Winter Break starts now!

I'll be blogging as usual daily through the break, and I welcome any suggestions you have for topics and conversations.

I'm particularly interested in hearing some more global perspectives from readers as I have relatively limited experience in that vein and I've been getting more requests for discussions with a global perspective.

So, all you teachers outside of the US: please share your thoughts, ideas, visions, and observations. Because paperlessness is borderless.

Response to Questions About Education and Obsolescence

An anonymous reader left the following comment regarding the post '21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020':
Ok, so why should I even bother going to school? If I can learn from my house what is the point? You think kids who don't do their homework in the first place are going to take advantage of the broken barriers between home and school? Socializing is more important to most high school students anyway. Teachers will NEVER become obsolete! We will always need those positive role models and leaders in our society. Why bother studying if I can just go to Wiki and look up anything I want? What's the point of learning everything we do in school and being tested on it later if I can access the same knowledge at anytime? Why educate doctors if anyone could diagnose you based on the symptoms wiki has to say?
Do we seriously want a generation of kids who can't even print their own name on paper? This whole advancement in technology is sounding very scary to me. We can't operate our world with the touch of a button because what happens when that button fails, when the system has a glitch, when the satellite didn't receive necessary information, when we have lost data? Computers can't take the role of people because people are not programmed.
I believe that technology has many incredible purposes and we should utilize some of them but when we start to become dependent or let it control the way we live I think we have a problem. For example, I probably used spell check 10 times in writing this, and what has that taught me? Using technology in a balanced way is the only way it should be used.

Signed... A concerned student

While I generally refrain from responding at any length to comments submitted anonymously, I do wish to take a closer look at this reponse point-by-point and respond in kind.

1. Ok, so why should I even bother going to school? If I can learn from my house what is the point?

The point is that that is the point.

You can learn from your house. Or on the light rail. Or at the library. Or in a restaurant. Or in line at the grocery store.

You can learn anywhere.

And you don't learn in school just because it's a school. In fact, as we all know, there's plenty of 'not learning' happening in school buildings.

As the decade wears on, students (and teachers) will have more choices. And we'll have ever more opportunities to be learners.

2. You think kids who don't do their homework in the first place are going to take advantage of the broken barriers between home and school?

We have to get away from the idea of 'homework' altogether.

We have to address the fact that reading a book for class does not necessarily make you 'learn' better than reading the website of your choice. Completing math problems in a textbook does not necessarily make you 'learn' better than playing an MMOG.

Teachers have an obligation not to dictate what content is best for their teaching, but what content is best for the learning of each student individually.

Sound difficult to pull off?

Well it is.

But that's the challenge.

3. Socializing is more important to most high school students anyway.

Yes. In fact, socializing is important to everyone regardless of age. We are social creatures.

Remember that old quote from Aristotle? Humans are political animals. Well, that's not really the best rendering of the Greek. What Aristotle really meant was: Humans are civic animals. We live in communities. We are inherently social.

That's exactly why social media is so powerful. Because it extends community beyond the borders of place and State.

What we are all learning now is that we can harness the power of these online communities to functionalize learning in ways Aristotle only could have dreamed of.

In the future -- if not now -- learning itself will be primarily a form of socializing. In a way, it always has been.

4. Teachers will NEVER become obsolete!

It's not really a matter of whether teachers will become obsolete; it's a matter of whether the institutions that currently support learning will become obsolete.

And they will.

Just as they did when the Academy was closed down. And when the abbeys were replaced by universities. And...

The point is that individual teachers will either adapt or die. That's a brutal fact of history.

5. Why bother studying if I can just go to Wiki and look up anything I want?

That's a great question. And I'll answer it in two ways.

First, ask yourself what your purpose in studying is. Are you trying to memorize facts for a test? Are you trying to build what teachers call your 'prior knowledge'? Or are you using the act of studying to further your skills of analysis and evaluation?

Given your answer to those three questions, there are a variety of reasons why you would want to go to the wiki.

The other way of answering: if your studying can be accomplished merely by looking something up on the wiki, then you are not really learning anyway. You, as a student, should either be demanding of your teachers or of yourself higher standards of intellectual discovery.

6. What's the point of learning everything we do in school and being tested on it later if I can access the same knowledge at anytime?

First, refer back to my answer to #5.

Then start to question the authority of the person assessing you in this way.

But don't do it rashly. Think it out. Think about what 'being tested' really means. And be honest with yourself about what your learning and understanding mean.

7. Why educate doctors if anyone could diagnose you based on the symptoms wiki has to say?

Sources like the Mayo Clinic online and Web MD aren't there for the education of doctors. They are there for the education of patients.

We are living in an age in which the resources are available for individuals to educate themselves about issues directly related to their lives.

That doesn't make everyone an expert. But it does make the society as a whole more accountable.

8. Do we seriously want a generation of kids who can't even print their own name on paper?

There's a good chance that we're currently raising the last generation in human history that will use paper.

9. This whole advancement in technology is sounding very scary to me.

Yes it is. Just as it always has been.

Travel back in time and ask the hunter-gatherers about it.

Sometimes the most important things are scary.

It's scary to graduate into a Recession-lined job pool. It's scary to have kids. It's scary to live on your own. It's scary to move to a new city.

That's life.

10. We can't operate our world with the touch of a button because what happens when that button fails, when the system has a glitch, when the satellite didn't receive necessary information, when we have lost data?

Systems have been failing long before the advent of digital technology. Read up on what happened to Harappan society. Read up on what happened to the ancient Mycenaeans. Read about the many 'Dark Ages' and periods of chaos and illiteracy that cloud great swathes of human history.

If anything, the multiplicity of culture and data in the current climate make that sort of doomsday scenario actually a little less likely.

That said, surely there will come a day when all of this changes. But it'll likely be a gradual change: more an evolution into something else than a sudden jolt. It won't come with the press of a button.

But who knows.

11. Computers can't take the role of people because people are not programmed.

There is an argument to be made that industrial/institutional schooling has been 'programming' people for generations.

12. I believe that technology has many incredible purposes and we should utilize some of them but when we start to become dependent or let it control the way we live I think we have a problem. For example, I probably used spell check 10 times in writing this, and what has that taught me? Using technology in a balanced way is the only way it should be used.

Technology has always influenced the way we live.

A campfire is technology. The wheel is technology. So is an MRI scanner. And a space telescope.

Technology lets us do things in new ways. And once we experience a new way -- or a better way -- of doing something, we tend to go with it. It's the process of innovation.

As for what spell check taught you, it matters little to me. Because what matters to me most is the fact that you were able to contact me with your ideas. What matters to me is that you sparked my thinking. And I appreciate your comment and the comments of so many of my readers for doing exactly that.

In a way, spell check didn't 'teach' you anything; rather, it just helped facilitate your ideas.

That's sort of what a good teacher does.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Life Stuff

Sitting on a stool in the kitchen typing up this post.

The boys are playing the free version of Timez Attack here in the room with me (Mac overtop the dishwasher).

Mom and the little girl are upstairs reading a book about feet. Later on mom and dad will go on a WoW raid together.

This is life in 2009.

Good stuff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Free Thinking (as free as walking down a sidewalk)

Today starts the first of a series of Wednesday guest posts written by TeachPaperless readers.

And I'm happy to introduce Dan McGuire as the first guest blogger.

Before becoming a Minneapolis elementary school teacher, Dan tried his hand at poetry; he also spent about twenty years peddling lobster boats, packaging, computers, and telecom gear in regional, national, and international markets.

You can read more of Dan's thoughts about education on his blog; and you should follow him on Twitter: @sabier.

Free Thinking (as free as walking down a sidewalk)

A few years ago, when the city of Minneapolis was entertaining proposals for a new public wifi system, one of the vendors that submitted a proposal offered to give free wifi access to the Minneapolis Public Schools in return for letting the vendor mount their nodes on the school buildings that 80 years ago were scattered strategically all around town (too many of which are currently being sold off way too cheaply).

That possibility wasn't acted on; it was a dream that didn't come true.

But, it was and still is a very real possibility.

Broadband/wifi doesn't need to cost public schools a dime. It could and should be free.

Free text messaging is already a possibility that could become a reality if only we insisted that that's the way we wanted it to be. Providing text messaging costs the telecom carriers nothing, zero, nada. We're simply allowing them to charge us to use something that should be as free as walking down a sidewalk. I wrote a blog about this last summer.

Ira Socol , Will Richardson, and lots of other folks are talking about the day when schools decide to quit wrestling with the horse and instead decide to jump in the saddle start riding this bronco.

I mean: let kids use phones, or whatever, to communicate.

We already know how to manufacture enough of the devices, and the means of connecting doesn't need to cost anything. The biggest hurdle is deciding that we want to participate in the future instead of the past. It's about as hard as flipping a light switch and turning on the lights.

Once we make the decision, we'll need to do some more dreaming and questioning.

That's when it gets fun.

The future of networked and mobile environments is in the questions that teachers ask, and in our persistence in asking them and taking stabs at answering them and refining the answers and asking more questions.

Call it the Hypertext Socratic Method, or get seriously academic and go with Punya Mishra's TPACK. I personally like the 21st Century version of John Keats' Negative Capability theory: the ability of "Being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."

John Dewey would be with me on that.

Because the future of education is not about things or even the way things are connected. As my friend from down under, Tomaz Lasic says, "This is not about computers, this is about people."

People and the questions they ask, I'll add.

I first ran into Tomaz when I had a question about how to do something with my Elementary Math, Science, and Writing Moodle site. I went to what has become for me a trusted source of knowledge: the Moodle Community Forums. Tomaz is a champion on the Moodle forums. He's been offering guidance and advice to students and teachers for years.

Tomaz's video on how to set up a Moodle database for students (Tomaz calls it the Moodle Swiss Army knife) was one of those "OMG, this is really cool" teacher moments. (Though I still don't get why someone would be that interested in water polo, but I guess living your life upside down on the bottom of the planet does things to you. And even though there's a fourteen hour difference in our clocks, his students were making similar comments about us when they got a glimpse of my students playing American football in the snow at recess this week.)

The future is not some new app, or even a new uber-theory cooked up by a guru followed by thousands of people on Twitter. The future is all of the new PLNs being created, FOR FREE, by teachers and learners all over the planet, on their own time. The future will look something like the kind of professional development being created by Nellie Deutsch and her friends at Integrating Technology.

They're doing it with class, passion, and grace: FOR FREE.

I passed up an invitation to spend an hour or so with some clicker vendors and a famous writer of books about education on Monday because, well, I don't like fighting for parking downtown at rush hour -- especially with 2" of fresh snow and temperatures hovering around 3 F.; that and I really wanted to go to my kid's basketball practice which I hadn't watched or helped out with for a couple of weeks.

As it turned out I didn't get to see much practice because I got drafted to make a delivery from the team to the food shelf and I had to shovel that two inches off my corner lot sidewalk. One way or the other, I learned more after basketball practice by spending time clicking on Twitter links from my PLN than I would have with the vendors and the writer.

(Now, if the someone had offered to chip in for a nice dinner and cover the parking and maybe toss in a little PD stipend, the decision would've been a little tougher; but basketball would still have won.)

Ultimately, I'd like to see education not be a market. When I moved to Minneapolis they gave me a library card FOR FREE. Well, my students and I need information access to wifi and texting, too; they're today's libraries.

Access is the sidewalk to the future. And it should be as free as walking down a sidewalk.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020

Last night I read and posted the clip on '21 Things That Became Obsolete in the Last Decade'. Well, just for kicks, I put together my own list of '21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020'.

1. Desks
The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.

2. Language Labs
Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

3. Computers
Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: 'Our concept of what a computer is'. Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we're going to see the full fury of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can't wait.

4. Homework
The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don't need kids to 'go to school' more; we need them to 'learn' more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

5. The Role of Standardized Tests in College Admissions
The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn't far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

6. Differentiated Instruction as the Sign of a Distinguished Teacher
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn't yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won't make you 'distinguished'; it'll just be a natural part of your work.

7. Fear of Wikipedia
Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it's time you get over yourself.

8. Paperbacks
Books were nice. In ten years' time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the 'feel' of paper. Well, in ten years' time you'll hardly tell the difference as 'paper' itself becomes digitized.

9. Attendance Offices
Bio scans. 'Nuff said.

10. Lockers.
A coat-check, maybe.

11. IT Departments
Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade's worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT -- software, security, and connectivity -- a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

12. Centralized Institutions
School buildings are going to become 'homebases' of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

14. Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology
This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modelled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

15. Paid/Outsourced Professional Development
No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN in their backpockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide prof dev programs. This is already happening.

16. Current Curricular Norms
There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

17. Parent-Teacher Conference Night
Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

18. Typical Cafeteria Food
Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

19. Outsourced Graphic Design and Webmastering
You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade -- in the best of schools -- they will be.

20. High School Algebra I
Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we'll have finally woken up to the fact that there's no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and IT in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

21. Paper
In ten years' time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thinking About Obsolescence

Funny one came through the Twitterverse this eve.


Only it's not that funny, is it?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thinking About 'Technique' and 'Innovation'

Siemens noting the distinction between 'technique' and 'innovation'.
Technique is about duplication and scale. Innovation is about novel, serendipitous connections.

But 'technique' can also be about careful listening, or mutual acceptance of set of conditions for conducting an experiment.

And 'connections' can just as well turn out politicization, as anyone who has ever observed a school cafeteria can attest to.

I'm leaning more towards an anthropological/sociological definition of clairvoyance. Where technique and connections alike are part of the Zeitgeist and innovations are little hits that have the potential, though not the implicit right, to create new rhythms.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

TeachPaperless on Facebook

Join the TeachPaperless Group on Facebook for further discussion of all things 21C education!

It's an easy way for folks interested in paperless culture -- and who are already on FB -- to connect.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Baking Pies and Raiding Dungeons

My son has been having trouble with fractions.

He's eight-years-old, a twin, in third grade, obsessed with D&D and 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid'.

And he hates fractions.

So last night, he and my wife baked a pumpkin pie.

You can see where this is going.

This morning, he took the pie to school to demonstrate a practical application of fractions to the class. I don't know if he snuck the whipped cream into his bookbag.

A couple weeks back he was really interested in pendulums. So we made one out of a string and a teacup. Again, he took it to school and showed the kids what he'd made.

He's good at making stuff.

And he understands math when it means something more than words and numbers on a page.

I've been thinking about this all morning. And I've been thinking about how well (or how poorly) we manage to let kids 'make stuff' to demonstrate their understanding once they are in high school. I'm particularly wondering if we really understand today what it is that kids are 'making'.

My Latin I students are reviewing for the midterm today. Lots of memorization and plugging away at vocab and grammar. And that just comes with the territory; you can't learn a foreign language if you don't nail down the basics. But just a couple weeks back, the same kids researched, wrote, directed, and acted in a play of their own design on the life of Julius Caesar. And I can safely say that while after a semester of daily classes I have a safe guestimate of how each student will do on the rote midterm stuff, I had little idea of where they would go or how individually they might shine on the performance assessment.

Turns out, one of the shyest kids in the group absolutely killed on stage -- a total natural.

Yet without that performance assessment, I'd never had guessed.

Veteran teachers know all about this. I've talked with teachers of 35+ years experience who marvel at how the quiet kid (or the 'troublemaker', for that matter) was found out to have hidden talents through performance assessment.

We know this stuff works. And we know that the opportunity to perform can then motivate the kid to engage more deeply in the traditional modes of work often necessary for success -- especially in the case of subjects like foreign language and math.

So, it's with a certain dismay that I pick up teacher hostilities towards gaming.

Yes, I realize that last sentence might seem like it's coming out of left field; allow me to explain.

I had a student in my class last year who by all standards would have been considered 'average'. He got 'average' grades in most classes and he produced 'average' results on exams. He did have two qualities, however, that often suggested that something was going on with this kid that was entirely 'not-average'.

First of all was his imagination. I've never had a student who so regularly asked questions that seemed so completely out-of-the-blue, and yet seemed to get at some of the big issues in relatively accessible ways. I'm not talking simple daydreamy teenaged stuff; I'm talking really really far out stuff on what seemed at the time like the most random topics -- from economics to war to social relations.

Second was his complete lack of interest in all things extra-curricular. No school play, no sports, no clubs, no nothing. Just this kid with an extraordinary imagination who wanted to rush out of this joint as soon as 2:45PM hit.

Later I came to understand how all of this fit together.

Turns out the kid was working a level-80 character on World of Warcraft. Led his own guild; mastered dungeon raids; and in an act of gaming obsessiveness I can't begin to fathom, pushed his character through the final 15 levels in two week's time over Winter Break (this is a task that takes even hardened gamers months to accomplish).

When I told another teacher about all of this, the reply was: "Well no wonder he had lousy grades".

I think that's exactly the wrong way to look at this.

Consider, if the kid had been captain of the football team. Or captain of the chess team. Or lead in the spring musical.

Only the most cynical of teachers would have said such a thing about him.

But because he spent countless hours gaming, he was just a lousy student.

I contend that the fact that we had such a monster gamer in our midst and neither recognized nor reached out to him to help him bring those talents into focus with our goals in education is actually an indictment of our role as educators.

In fact, he wound up leaving this place thinking that gaming was the source of his mediocre academic record. How cruel!

The fact of the matter was that he didn't need statistics class to teach him numbers. He didn't need psychology class to teach him human behavior. He didn't need literature class to teach him how to analyse.

The game taught him all of those things. In spades.

Here was a kid leading other real human beings (only in avatar form) into battle and through dangerous and complex quests. This was a kid who had mastered a complex system of auction houses and was making in-game gold by the pound. This was a kid who could tell each person individually in his 25 man group what kind of armor to bring to a specific battle based on intelligence of the comparison of fighting classes across a spectrum of character types, classes, and races -- each with its own particular and peculiar modifiers.

And yet, on paper he was a 'C' student.

I think we failed that kid.

Because he was anything but average.

And that brings me back to the baking of a pie.

Early on as young teachers, we learn that kids learn best if they can manipulate things (whether physically or metaphorically) and if what they are learning motivates them to learn more.

The baking of a pie, for example, can produce two great effects: understanding of fractions and love of baking.

Yet, when it comes to gaming, this correspondence so often appears to be beyond the grasp of a teacher. And while it may be understandable that someone may have a knee-jerk reaction against the violence depicted in many games; that does little to dispel the fact that it's often the kids who are masters at such games who are also masters of logic, strategy, and cunning on par or greater than any of your best athletes.

In the end, I guess I'd like to see more kids baking pies and more teachers levelling up and going on dungeon raids. Because there are all sorts of performance assessments; and serious gaming may offer some of the greatest clues into the real creativity, task determination, and intellectual aptitude of a given child.

At the very least, understand that if you see gaming in competition with -- rather than as a potential complement to -- your teaching, then you are going to miss those kids every time.

Game on.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Affording the Revolution

"The digital revolution is pricey."

That's what we keep hearing. So, I set out into the Twitterverse today to get an idea of what schools were really paying for tech.

Specifically, I wanted to know how much it would cost to put broadband in a school in the good ol' USA.

Didn't count the cost of computers, no auxilary costs, no extra staffing. Just the cost of taking a bare building and getting it up and wired.

Prices for laying the pipe seemed to be in the five to ten thousand dollar range (depending on circumstance and locale). And the monthly plans ranged between $2500 and $3K a month.

So, for roughly $40,000 one could estimate getting a building wired.

That's a lot of dough.

And then I started to think about what that $40,000 really represents.

Back when I started this blog, I did an evaluation of our school's paper and printing budget. And for a school of about 850 kids and 100 faculty and staff, we spent an annual $25,000 on materials, repairs, and licenses. (And we're a 1:1 school).

That doesn't count the thousands spent on Microsoft licenses, email servers, and other tech stuff replaceable by open source and cloud-based alternatives.

And then there is the matter of textbooks. Whenever I hear someone naysay 1:1 computing costs, I ask them to compare the price of Ubuntu netbooks to the annual costs of textbooks and textbook replacement.

Folks, it's really all about the reallocation of resources.

You have the funds. We have the means. It's just a matter of getting past the fear and setting our priorities to meet the fundamental demands of the 21st century.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Speaking of Awards... (Nobel Prize Education Site)

The folks who brought you the Nobel Prize now bring you... Nobel Prize inspired educational games!

Mostly Flash-based, the games run the gambit from the sublime to the mundane; but over all, the site is fun and full of tons of auxiliary information. While some of the little adventures were obviously put together for younger students, the texts, lessons, and ideas are often quite advanced and more than applicable to students of all ages.

The games range in style and pedagogical purpose, with some, such as 'Lord of the Flies', serving double duty as both a reading check and a source for further biographical and research purposes; and others, such as 'The Ear Pages' used to help explain complex scientific concepts.

I particularly liked the Peace Prize page's interactive 'Conflict Map' which asks the simple yet disturbing question:
In the course of the 20th century, mankind experienced some of the most devastating wars of all times. Where did these wars take place?

The answer forces students and teachers alike to confront some pretty harrowing realities.

For more in depth research and information purposes, the site hosts an excellent overview of all of the Nobel Laureates with internal links to biographies, photo sets, and transcripts of their Nobel acceptance speeches.

2009 Edublog Award Nominations

The nominations for the 2009 Edublog Awards were announced this morning.

Tons of amazing blogs, wikis, and networks set up by folks working every day to integrate authentic 21st century teaching and learning into the everyday classroom experiences of students.

And I'm rather humbled to have picked up three nominations myself.

I'm personally most interested in seeing what happens with the 'Most Influential Tweet Series' and the 'Best Teacher Blog' categories.

In the former, I strongly endorse #edchat.

And in the latter category, I most strongly endorse Andrew B. Watt's blog.

Those two resources have done more to solidify my own effort to keep at this edublogging thing than anything else; whether it's the lightning fast discussion pumping through an #edchat Twitter session or the philosophical cool of Watt's most reflective posts, I am regularly reminded why I blog.

I blog because we are living in special times and we have a special task before us: to draw up and implement a fresh concept of education for a new century in which we are all but a keystroke away.

My own blog was nominated for three awards (listed below), and though in general (at least from a personal point of view) I tend to think awards are a silly thing, I'd nonetheless be honored if you had the inclination and found the time to vote for this blog (especially as the prizes are great new resources I could use both with my kids and to create closer connections and deeper interaction with all of you as well).

More importantly, I hope that the fact that this blog was included in the nominations means that folks are getting something worthwhile out of the writing and discussion here.

That's all a blogger can really hope for.


TP was nominated for:

Best New Blog

Best Resource Sharing Blog

Most Influential Blogpost of 2009 (for Top Eleven Things All Teachers Must Know About Technology)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

On Revolutions

Commenting on my recent post 'What Are We Preparing Them For?', Reader Steve writes:
Every generation has a revolution of one type or another. I think what is most pressing is that teachers/education leaders keep operating in the present and not the past, facilitating relevant and meaningful learning opportunities for their students.

On the "relevant and meaningful learning opportunities" front, I totally agree with Steve.

But, on the "Every generation has a revolution of one type or another" meme, I've got a bit of a quibble.

While it's true that each generation sees new things replace old things, few generations get to see new structures replace old structures.

Take mass communication, for instance.

Ever since the introduction of the printing press, mass communication has been accomplished by means of the few spreading ideas to the many through pamphlets, books, radio, TV, etc.

While the specific technology changed (you could say we had a 'Radio Revolution' or a 'Television Revolution'), the structure itself (top-down distribution of information) remained intact.

With the introduction of blogging and social networking, everyone is a content creator; and each content creator has the structural means to compete for a voice with every other content creator regardless of money or power. Seth Godin and others have talked extensively about this.

That structural change marks a revolution of a very unique type; for it marks a structural revolution of the very highest order.

It marks a revolution that alters 500+ years of the way we create and digest mass communication.

I'd say that the Digital Revolution -- or what more precisely might be called the Network Revolution -- is the most recent of only a handful of structural revolutions reaching back thousands of years from the Agricultural Revolution to the Industrial Revolution.

And I'm really trying to refrain from hyperbole here.

I'm literally saying that the current shift in structure that we are witnessing will result in a fundamental shift in culture and social outcomes on the order of those two previous structural revolutions.

I'm literally saying that the current shift is altering and will continue to alter our cultural and social perceptions of hierarchy and authority to degrees we can't imagine.


Consider the ways that the distribution of music, television, and movies has changed over the last decade. You buy CDs anymore? Really? Rush home to catch your favorite show in fear of missing it and being left out of the storyline? Really? Rent movies from a store? Really?

Now apply those patterns to school, government, and medicine.

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

We don't really know what life was like on a day-to-day basis before the Agricultural Revolution. But we do have a pretty good idea of what it was like before the Industrial Revolution.

And all we'll have to do is to look back at our scrapbooks of Polaroids to see what it was like before this one.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Guests Blogging on TeachPaperless!


Looking forward to a great series of guest posts coming soon on TeachPaperless!

Starting next week, I'm planning on publishing a guest post each Wednesday for several weeks; the guest bloggers are all members of this PLN.

They are: Shelley Krause, Heather Mason, Ben Knaus, Dan McGuire, and Andrew Carle.

And there may be more.

I love the idea that this blog can play a little role in facilitating both discussion and the type of culture we teachers want for both the benefit of our professional development as well as for our increase in ability as 21st century educators.

Thanks to the entire TeachPaperless PLN for your thoughts, criticisms, ideas, comments, refusal to accept easy answers, and especially for your fearless determination.

This blog would be nothing without each of you.

Fearless. Because we have to be.

-- Shelly

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Dealing with 'Friends': Using Multiple Feeds to Separate Personal and Professional

Kax has got questions about what to do when a student starts following your Twitter feed. Check out his post and the comment discussion that follows.

Personally, this hasn't been a problem for me.

I've got several Twitter, FB, Delicious, YouTube, etc... accounts. They are set up for a variety of both personal and professional uses (education PLN / music / family / and more). My high school students understand that while they are welcome to contact me through my professional 'classroom' feeds, I will refrain from accepting and/or block 'em from my personal feeds.

Seems like good rule of thumb in dealing with minors as well as a way to teach kids that there are different uses for different social media.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

TeachPaperless' EducationPLN Twitter List breaks Top 250 Twitter Lists


Just got the word on this via (of course) someone in my Twitter PLN. Turns out that as of today, I'm 248 on listatlas' list of the top 250 Twitter lists.

Check it out, we're right there with the Wall Street Journal's news list and MTV's 'The Hills' list... which just goes to show how ridiculous these things are.

Nonetheless, the Twitter list has proven rather useful as it lets you hone into certain aspects of your PLN in ways that used to take the jerry-rigging of a Search tab and an extra app. And, more evidence that 21C teachers are prepared to take over the world, just above my list is Shelly Terrell's great ed PLN list.

That's right, you heard it here first, folks: Twitter Ed PLN Lists are the van-guard of geeky ed tech advocates bent on world domination.

I'd say that's a good thing.

And hey: if every teacher follower of Terrell and my feeds followed our PLN lists, we'd be number 2 out of all 250 lists listed!

One way or another, I invite you to join my Twitter List and hope to see you joining in the conversation.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Bring the Web into the physical world

Read Wes's post this morning about watching TV on your iPhone and it got me thinking.

Now that we can receive the stuff we used to sit in a living room together with other people to watch individually on the cellphone in our pocket, it's time to figure out how to bring the stuff on the cell phone in our pocket back to communal physical experience.

Twitter ain't enough. Getting CNN on yr iPhone certainly ain't enough.

I want us to push for the next step: personalized mobile networked 3-D projection. It's high time to bring the Web into the physical world.

What does this look like? How would it work?

I have no idea.

So let's do it.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Sound of Memory: Using Audio to Spark Learning

Next Tuesday will mark the 29th anniversary of the death of John Lennon.

Stumbled across this most unique document of that night on YouTube. It's a recording of a scan through the radio airwaves of NYC on the eve of the 8th of December, 1980.

Long before the advent of the mainstream Internet, we (likely as a whole species) have had this innate desire to record things. Scribes, redactors, editors, painters, printers, photographers... recordists all.

Personally, I've always been most in-tuned with audio recording.

I try to bring as much audio into my classes as possible. As a Latin teacher, you might think that I'm talking about a lot of pronunciation and recitation; but no, I kinda find a lot of that stuff to be a bit boring. When it comes to bringing audio into the class, I'm talking about using archival material; obscure pop songs; speeches; sound effects; and the sounds of real places, real people, and real things. I'm into bringing these things into the realm of my students' awareness and using them to catalyse new investigations, new discussions, new understandings and realizations about whatever we happen to be studying in class.

Folkways offers a number of interesting environmental recordings that can spark interesting discussions about sound, technology, memory, and the stuff of history; check out Sounds of the Office, Sounds of Medicine, Sounds of the Junkyard, and the mind-blowing Sounds of Insects.

If it's voices and real-life stories you are looking for, check out the website of the Third Coast Audio Festival. I've used their '99 Ways of Telling a Radio Story' to inspire my kids to write; and their podcast called Re:Sound is top notch.

They've also got an English language version of Peter Leonhard Braun's 'Bells in Europe' which, in telling the story of how the Nazis melted down bells to make weapons, is one of the most powerful and celebrated radio documentaries of all time.

And if you are looking for more info on good audio and striking radio, you might stop by KFAI Minneapolis/St. Paul's Listening Lounge blog. Their little list of links is essential.

Back in college, I fell in love with the 'little stuff' of art history. Sure, there were the Raphaels and Van Goghs, but I remember my favourite two museum-bound items were a little 16th century salt and pepper shaker set and an elegant ancient glass urn.

Relatively anonymous things. Relatively random.

But precious. And full of meaning.

It's like that with audio, too. A snippet of conversation or the reminder of a sound we haven't heard in some time can lead us into new investigations, new discussions, new understandings and realizations.

And so next Tuesday, I'm going to start our Latin III class with a listen to the Lennon/NYC recording. We're studying Horace right now -- the original 'carpe diem' guy. We've been talking a lot about what it means to express the things you hold in your memory; and we've been talking a lot about why art and poetry are such powerful and memorable forms of expression. We've been talking about why poets are remembered. We've been talking about the lyric of memory.

So, we'll listen. And think.

Who knows what kind of conversation it might spark.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My kids made something today.

My sophomores are getting ready to start reading Caesar's 'Gallic Wars'. A classic second-year text, the book is a series of commentaries written by Julius Caesar and it presents his account of the war.

It also gives his version of what the Celts of Ancient Gaul were like.

And, of course, that's part of the problem.

Year in and year out, I read this text with students and year in and year out one of them pipes up and says: "Hey, wait a minute. Isn't this book a little bit biased against the Celts?"

And I reply: "Yup."

So this year, one of my students suggested we try to level the playing field a bit. And so, as a class, we started scouring the Web for good info about the Celts themselves. We found bits of folktales and records of archaeological digs, we unearthed ancient artworks and explored even more ancient mythologies.

But we had to look all over the place for this stuff. There was no one depository adequate for the Celt-curious needs of high school sophomore Latin students.

So we decided to make one.

And that's how we came to create... drumroll, please... The Wiki of Annotated Web Links For the Study of Ancient Gaul and Ancient Celtic Culture!

So now, we're asking other teachers and students to take our wiki out for a test drive.

Edit it. Add to it. Improve it.

If you take a look, you'll see that only the first of three sections so far is organized alphabetically; and only the first section has been completely vetted (my kids have got some homework tonight!). But, you'll also find that all of the entries are in proper MLA format. And the sources range from university collections to museum holdings to records of digs to out-of-print compendiums of knowledge and information.

You might find some of the annotations to be a bit bland or too general. That's fine: go ahead and scrub 'em out and write your own. A wiki is only as useful as its readership is vigilant.

You may find the rating system a bit limited (as we only allowed sites that scored a '3' or better in our class discussions); so perhaps you will change that or find a better solution.

Perhaps you'll do any or all of these things. Because wikis aren't just about information; they are about the constructive argument that unfolds in the process of making decisions.

In a way, a wiki can be the best manifestation of Hegelian principles. They are truly synthesized projects; and that synthesis itself is catalyzed by human engagement and debate.

Best of all, wikis are made. MADE. By people. People working together. People editing one another's work. People teaching and learning by doing. And people working and learning together and producing something helpful to others.

My kids made something today.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Progressive Education from 60+ Years Ago

The words of John Dewey, still relevant:
"The world is moving at a tremendous rate; no one knows where. We must prepare our children not for the world of the past, not for our world, but for their world."

That's the basis of my idea of education.