Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Initial thoughts on new Facebook privacy settings

By Noah Geisel

Facebook is rolling out a flurry of changes and some of them relate to privacy. From what I read at AllThingsFacebook it's not hitting all users at once so I don't know how many of you have already had a chance to explore. So far, my own clicking around hasn't revealed anything that reduces your level of privacy. In fact, some changes could make it more secure for you, depending on your current settings.

The most notable new feature is that when you update your status, you will see a drop down menu just to the left of the "Post" button.

This allows you to choose between Friends (only your friends can see it), Public (this used to be Everyone) and Custom. If you've created groups, then Custom allows you to send the status only to the specific users you choose. Whichever audience you select, it will be the new default setting until you change it. Also, Facebook says that any changes to your security settings automatically update with your mobile app.

If you're the type of person who wants their profile to be on lock down, choose Friends or take the extra step of setting up groups. If you're not sure what your settings are or want to do a quick double-check, The 10 Facebook Privacy Settings You Need to Know is a great resource to walk you through it. (Caveat: Posted in February, so it may not be up to date.)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Social Media: A Place or a Tool?

by John T. Spencer

John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink.  He recently finished Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and he's working onSustainable Start, a book for new teachers. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Words to Live (and Learn) By

by Shelly Blake-Plock

Reader Mrs. Stanley left a comment on an earlier post that I wanted to put in front of your eyes as we are all getting started with a new school year. Words to live (and learn) by:
This fall I enter my last year of teaching, and I have one overwhelming goal -- to shut up and listen more to what my students have to say and to continue to be a better teacher by being a better learner with my students as teachers. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Student Voice

by Mike Kaechele

I have read various people online pointing out that students are ignored in much of the reform talk in the United States. We rarely ask them what they think or want out of their education. I will be part of a new school opening this fall run by the county wide intermediate school district. In correlation with our "grand opening" media day winners were announced to a student contest. Students had to make a short video of what they would change about education or what their dream school would be like.

Here are my two favorite ones: "If I could change education" and "What you want" (sorry I can not embed them here)

The students did not know that a new school was being launched. It was very cool to see how much of the philosophy of our new PBL school was in the videos.

What will you do to listen to students this year?

A Paperless Math Activity

John T. Spencer

People often mock me when I talk of paperless math (and rest assured, I still believe in using paper within a math class) and using mental math.  However, I see a real value in using student discourse, mental math and multimedia tools within a math lesson.  I used the following with a group of fifth graders and the students have been moving further toward meaningful dialogue and conceptual thinking.

Math Discourse / Mental Math

Types of Apps:
Drawing App
Voice App
Comic App
Survey / Forms
Bonus: Splice

Step One:
Mental math problem:

Step Two:
Have students write out their answers afterward using a drawing app. Let them explain, verbally, their process using a voice app.   

Step Three:
Explain the discourse process and then have them record the discourse with a partner.  

Sample Questions:

What process did you use?
Why did you choose to use that process?
Why did you choose that step? (find a specific step)
Can you explain what you were thinking?
What part was challenging for you?  How did you get past the challenge?

Analytical Questions
Why does your process work? Is there a scenario where that might not work?
What can you do to prove to me that your process was correct?
Is there another way to look at this?
How did you arrive at that conclusion?  
Is there a more efficient way to do this process?

Diagnostic Questions (If You’re Stuck)
What did you do to get to that point?
What part are you struggling with?  
Is there another strategy you can use from another math process?
Can you predict the answer and work backward?
What do you already know? Can you build on this?
What information are you missing?

Step Four:
Students can “bump” the audio with one another.  Then, individually, students now listen to the discourse and rate themselves on how they did as a pair (using a survey app)

Falls Far BelowApproachesMeetsExceeds
Clarifying Questions: How well did you do at asking clarifying questions? I asked one of the questions. I had a hard time figuring out what a clarifying question was. I asked multiple questions using the guide that you gave me.  I tried to use a follow-up question.I used the questions in my own words and asked follow-up questions. I had a full conversation where we each talked about our process with questions and answers in our own words.
Analytical Questions: How well did you at asking analytical questions?I asked one of the questions. I had a hard time figuring out what an analytical question was. I asked multiple questions using the guide that you gave me.  I tried to use a follow-up question.I used the questions in my own words and asked follow-up questions.I had a full conversation where we each talked about our process with questions and answers in our own words.
Diagnostic (If You’re Stuck) Questions: How well did you do at helping one another when you were stuck?I wasn’t able to determine when or how my partner was stuck.I tried to ask diagnostic questions, but I couldnt find the mistake. Or I solved it for my partner.I asked diagnostic questions that helped my partner figure out his or her mistakes.My partner and I both used diagnostic questions to have a full conversation about how to solve the problem differently.
Answers: How well did you do at answering questions?I used one-word answers. I used complete sentences. I used complete sentences and gave a reason why. I used complete sentences and asked questions as well.
Math Vocabulary: To what extent did you use correct math vocabulary?I didn’t use any math vocabulary.I used one math vocabulary words.I used several math vocabulary words. I used math vocabulary words without even thinking about the fact that they were vocabulary words.

Step Five:
Try it again with a new partner.  This time, don’t use the rubric.

Step Six:
Option 1: Using e-mail or a word processing app, describe, in a sentence how your process was similar or different from the process of your neighbors.  
Option 2: Using e-mail or a word processing app, describe why it’s important to think through one's process

Step Seven:
Using a video app, take your notes, images and audio and put it altogether into a presentation about how to solve this type of problem.  Send the final product to your teacher. Or you can create a slideshow using comic program and show the mental process with thought bubbles and character dialogue.

John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink.  He recently finished Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and he's working onSustainable Start, a book for new teachers. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer

Friday, August 19, 2011


by Shelly Blake-Plock

Been talking to a variety of folks recently -- from ed school professors to urban middle school principals to teaching interns to tech entrepreneurs to professional development pros to cutting edge engineering firms to high school presidents to third graders. And one thing keeps popping up in all of the discussions: technology isn't an option.

There used to be a time when digital technology was optional. This was in the era before the Internet. Before social media. Before mobile tech. That era is gone.

This is obvious to most people.

Unfortunately, it is not obvious to enough people in education itself. It is partly a matter of curriculum not keeping up with the times. If you have been successfully teaching the same thing for twenty-five years without tech, you sure as heck should be questioning why you need tech now. And your colleagues and students should be questioning why you've been teaching the same thing for twenty-five years, as well.

Refusing to create curriculum relevant to the world our children live in is not an option.

Likewise, it is a matter of a broken tradition of resource management that makes schools subservient to textbook manufacturers and the makers of various software. Hint: if your tech folks aren't able to use, make accessible, and mentor teachers on the use of open source material and applications, it is time to find new tech people. Hint number 2: a teacher who knows how to locate and use the public domain and open resources and apps available on the net is worth her weight in gold.

Failing to identify and implement resources that make tech accessible to all is not an option.

Lastly, technology is not about devices. Technology is about context. To focus on the device at the expense of the context is to set oneself up for failure and heartache. Our purpose in educating children is not to prepare them for college, it is to prepare them for the demands of whatever life throws at them. Likewise, the purpose of our integration of technology into learning is not to prepare students to be better consumers of devices, but to be more engaged and connected citizens in a world in which technology is the context.

Missing the context is not an option.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

From Differentiated to Customized Professional Development

by John T. Spencer

The Issue
We say we believe in differentiated instruction. We say that we want to meet the needs of all students. However, too often in professional development, schools require teachers to learn the exact same information. It might be quality training, too. However, for a teacher who has already mastered the concepts, this type of training feels irrelevant.

Why learn this if it's not an issue in my classroom?
Why learn this in a way that treats first grade and eighth grade teachers as though they are the same?
Why can't I learn in a way that relates to the direct needs of my own classroom context?

Differentiated Professional Development
Oftentimes schools take this reality and shift toward differentiated instruction. It sounds like a great idea. The staff might have five or six options for a weekly professional development. They become mini-classes that allow teachers to delve deeper into a particular concept. However, this model tends to fail for the following reasons:

  • It doesn't relate to what each teacher needs
  • The focus is on teacher interest rather than student needs
  • There are too few options
  • The PD planners are trying to guess what teachers need rather than allow them to make their own decisions

Customized Learning
A better solution would be for teachers to create their own professional development based upon an identified need in their own classrooms. For example, a teacher might struggle with classroom management. This teacher could attend a differentiated professional development class. However, he or she might also choose to embrace a coaching model (if another teacher could model it in the classroom), peer observation, a book study, a video and a Twitter chat on the subject.

Instead of offering a menu of options, administrators could create a format where teachers could develop their own professional growth plan. This could then set up new structures for book studies, small group classes and peer modeling (give up a few preps and then get your preps back during formal PD times).

The idea here is to keep it student-centered and empower teachers to take ownership of their own learning.

*     *     *

John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink.  He recently finished Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and he's working onSustainable Start, a book for new teachers. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer

Friday, August 12, 2011

More Like a Park

and less like a prison

(Click on the short podcast below)

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

PBL challenges students to think, then do.

by Mike Kaechele

I wrote a short article for the Grand Rapids Press today explaining/defending Problem Based Learning. It was in response to a commenter ripping PBL and innovation in the classroom. I think it is important for all of us to promote authentic learning at the local level whenever we get the chance. If you are interested in PBL check it out.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Importance of Risk-taking in Teaching & Learning

by Noah Geisel

Earlier this week, the following headline popped up on my daily stat app: "Twice the R&D Budget Doesn’t Get You Twice the Innovations"

The study of around 100 semiconductor and related companies revealed that when companies double down on Research & Development, the effort “leads to just a 22.5% increase in new-product announcements.”

The language in the interpretation of this study (“leads to just...”) implies this is not an acceptable return on investment. One person I can think who might beg to differ is baseball player Ken Griffey, Jr. Had The Kid been able to reap a 22.5% benefit from putting twice as much into R&D on his home run swing, he would have retired with 771 career home runs, 9 more than all-time leader Barry Bonds (Hmmm...). One man's interpretation of diminishing returns is another's immortal legacy.

How does this relate to teaching and learning?

Research & Development are closely tied to risk-taking. As an educator, I am constantly challenging my students to push themselves in the 21st Century Skill of risk-taking, a key force behind invention, innovation and, I believe, general success in 2011 and beyond. Risk-taking is the lone subjective component found in every rubric students receive in my class - to the tune of at least 20% of the total grade. Risk-taking is also the only way a student may earn extra credit on any given assignment. It is one way of showing the students the floor and not the ceiling: show students the ceiling of expectations and some heads may bump the fan; show students only the floor and some will touch the clouds.

Monday, August 01, 2011

It's Okay to Laugh Here

by John T. Spencer

I have a student who wrote a creative masterpiece as an alternate ending to a story about a woman in the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. In the end, she is caught and faces life in prison because she accidentally wears a pair of white socks (they were forbidden). As they take her away, she cries out, "Cursed white socks! They let me down again. But I would rather die than be loyal to the Yankees."

I chose to affirm it by laughing and writing a note reading, "nice satirical look at the situation." Yes, I want him to take injustice seriously. Other teachers would have lectured the student on the need to "take the assignment seriously."  However, I know that humor can be a powerful force on demonstrating the absurdity of those who are in power. By mentioning the ridiculous rule about white socks, he not only makes a baseball reference but also shows that the Taliban is entirely illogical.  As a result, he begins writing deep satire about standardized tests, immigration, war and balanced budgets.

It starts an entire unit called Satire for Social Change.

“I think I’m thinking more about issues in the world by writing satire,” he explains.

“Why’s that?” I ask.

“It’s like Jon Stewart, right. He is able to take the world more seriously be laughing at the insanity of other journalists,” he responds.

“I think people miss out on how much goes into writing satire,” I tell him. “Stewart and Colbert are often more honest with their audiences than mainstream media.”

“Humor gives us the opportunity to say what no one is saying,” he adds.

I think there are a few more academic benefits to humor that are often unnoticed:

  • Humor provides a chance to be creative. When a child can truly create something humorous, synthesis is occurring. Look back at the baseball joke. It proves that he knows a Taliban rule, the ridiculous nature of it, the future history of what happens and the notion of Yankee being a term applied to the United States. 
  • Humor is a skill students will use in life. I can't think of a profession (perhaps a mortician, though I can see a place for dark humor there, too) where humor is not an asset.
  • Humor is a deeply human endeavor. I need students to feel safe and humor adds a safe, human aspect to an often intense level of thinking I ask of my students. It's not so much "comic relief" (because humor is not in any way a relief from thinking) as it is a reminder of the human side.
  • Humor is a relational skill. If I want to have holistic learners, I need my students to see the value in relationships. Humor is a necessary part of relating to one another.
  • Humor requires deep thought. I can argue that teachers are not overpaid. Or, I could write a satirical piece as a teacher who works 9-3, visits Bali, has a polo-playing zebra and owns a yacht (as The Nerdy Teacher did).
  • Humor helps us with empathy. A class that uses humor learns about crossing lines, hurting others and apologizing for careless language. Students learn to anticipate how others will feel rather than blindly hacking away with arguments.
  • Humor allows us to be vulnerable. To me, that’s critical. There is a risk in every joke. The silence can be deafening. It’s risky.

I use humor often in the classroom. Oddly enough, it wasn't until I was able to laugh that students took me seriously. When I pretended prototypical "mean teacher," students despised me. However, when I lightened up, used some self-deprecating humor and introduced a little irony, I earned the respect of students. I opened the door for deeper humor on a regular basis. Students need humor if the classroom community is ever going to be creative, empathetic, thought-provoking and fully human.

I recognize that we need to teach students about respect in their humor.  I try and push kids away from sexual innuendo, "yo mama" jokes and pooping references and toward a deeper sense of irony.  However, I've also recognized that humor I might not appreciate (physical humor, puns) can play a critical role in the class growing closer.

Case in point: Many of my students, being English Language Learners, struggle with idioms. I realized that one afternoon when I made a kid cry after writing a positive note about how he goes the extra mile. “I already run enough in PE. Why me?”

So, early on in the year, I teach my students about the difference between literal and figurative language using a comic strip from The Oatmeal. From there, students begin brainstorming idioms and illustrating figurative versus literal. Here are a few samples:

“Dude, would you quit dropping to the ground?”
“I’m falling for him.”

“I’m still struggling to see why you are asking for a heart transplant?”
“I told him I would literally give him my heart.”

“Would you stop that?”
“Your sign says it up there. It’s KFC. I have every right to lick your fingers.”

“Well folks, it looks like the games over. The Packers had a literally explosive offense today and that seems to be the real issue.”

The humor in this exercise helped bond our class together. We grew closer as a community from the shared laughter. Yet, it also forced students to be creative and to think at a higher level. Humor is difficult to pull off. It’s why I had students write their own satire after watching clips from The Onion News Network. They ranged from silly (a riot at Macy’s after school announced it was a Free Dress Day and everyone showed up to get their free dresses) to cutting (a satirical piece about the standardized test that gets people to Heaven).

I used to see humor as comic relief. It was that “extra” that some teachers were able to use. I’ve learned that it’s a vital part of classroom leadership. Something magical happens when a group feels safe enough to laugh together.

John T. Spencer is a teacher in Phoenix, AZ who blogs at Education Rethink.  He recently finished two books, Pencil Me In, an allegory for educational technology and Drawn Into Danger, a fictional memoir of a superhero and he's working onSustainable Start, a book for new teachers. You can connect with him on Twitter @johntspencer