Archive for the ‘edtech’ Category

Gaining Perspective

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Global Voices

Informed Comment Global Affairs writes:

There are three main rumors about the causes of crime [in Herat]: (1) the followers of ousted governor Ismail Khan (the former commander who is now Minister of Energy and Water in Kabul), who burned the UN office (right) in September 2004 when their chief was removed, are staging crimes to show that Herat is not secure without Ismail Khan; (2) because the justice system is so corrupt and there is no rule of law, personal and family disputes frequently escalate into violence; and (3) the police, who have become part of the same criminal network as drug traffickers and smugglers (oil smugglers at Islam Qala on the right), are responsible for most of the crime. These hypotheses are not mutually exclusive.

Adding perspective to ones own world is not easy - it requires a willingness to evaluate and change foundational principals and beliefs at times. One of my daily (ok, probably more weekly) reads is Global Voices, a site that brings together blogger voices from around the world. I have a rather passionate dislike for American media (even NPR ticks me off at times ;) ). I guess this is my meager attempt to listen to stories from somebody elses view point. At any rate, my trips to the Global Voices site are always eye opening and insightful!

Pieces of the Puzzle: Freshmen Orientation in a 1:1 School

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

Freshmen Orientation

I made a quick trip to the Academy of Irving ISD this morning to drop off some software and stepped into one of their freshmen orientation classes while I was there. For these wide-eyed (and pretty quiet!) students, this was their first piece of the Academy’s laptop training program (you can find out more about the concept of this one of four of our 1:1 high school campuses on their website).

Any 1:1 implementation has a myriad of layered components that make it successful (or not) and I thought it would be appropriate to highlight this particular aspect of how the Academy of IISD goes about introducing their freshmen to using a laptop.

Today being the first time that the teachers are seeing the new crew of freshmen, the topics are very foundational and not limited to laptop/technology use. One piece that I love is a flash movie created by Darren Wilson that reviews the IISD Acceptable Use Policy in student language.
Viewing the AUP Flash

After covering the general “don’t do this” pieces, the self paced presentation address the question of what CAN you do with the laptop. I love the language that is used in this piece, language that is supported by administrators on that particular campus:

Learn something new.
Make something new.
SHARE what you know.
EXPAND what you know.
Communicate.
Create.
Publish.
Network.
Talk.
Understand.
Remix.
Rethink.
Reconsider. 
Investigate.
Question.
Research.
Learn.

Darren Helping a Student
With the added (and cited!) background music, I actually found myself voluntarily watching anything related to AUP for the first time… ;) The Academy knows that they have to communicate with students in a way that connects with them (I hesitate to say ‘at their level’). Additionally, students will see videos of laptops being abused, Academy teachers involved in some fun clips and more. There is no drab, droning voice dictating what is printed on the screen…

 Other pieces of the Academy’s ‘New Student Laptop Training’ are as follows (and pieces that I see being important to making it successful as well as have an impact):

  • The first three days of World Geography class are dedicated toward laptop training (all freshmen are covered across the different sections this way). Multiple topics are planned out and covered these three days from foundational skills to more complex computer use. The simple fact that this campus is willing to dedicate the first three periods of a class means that they are serious in giving these students a good introduction to the laptops they will be using. This is NOT a cursary, get-r-done and move on type of approach.
  • Students have their hands on the laptops throughout. All of the content is structured in our district’s Blackboard Content System so that students can get the materials that they need for any activity at a central location. The learning is interactive and fairly self-paced to give them an idea as to what they will be confronted with in some of the classrooms at the Academy.
  • All students must take AND pass a test on Blackboard before being handed a laptop to take home. Granted, we’re not talking about rocket science here (we’re talking about basic, foundational knowledge), but this communicates a strong message of accountability and willingness to follow-up on the part of the Academy’s administration.

Congrats to Darren and Angela (Instructional Technology Specialists at the Academy) as well as the administration for developing a program that gives freshmen a strong footing into the world of 1:1 teaching and learning.

A Good Vision and Challenges That Come With It

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

I was triggered by Audrey’s comment on Miguel’s post about her original blog entry related to ’scope and sequence’. Confused yet? Let me step through it…

Miguel called Audrey out on her original post:

If higher standards are the answer, Audrey, then how do we raise them?

She responded in a comment to Miguel’s post with things like:

1) reestablish the basic skill set and put them in place from the very beginning… including grammar, rhetoric, historical method, computational skills, etc.

2) Create scope and sequence across the grades starting with kindergarten and going up through 12th grade… there is no magic…

(continued further in her response linked above)

I am a firm believer that we need to work on instruction as a primary focus when looking at effective technology integration in any given classroom. I love Audrey’s specifics: Start with a foundation, create a systemic scope and sequence across the district, use clear language that allows for creativity/flexibility, work on it every year, work in both heterogeneous AND ability grouping practices, embed technology in the scope and sequence, and when it IS embedded - make sure the content is driving the technology use.

THAT, friends, sets the bar pretty darn high. I love it. It puts instruction first, creates a vision for systemic use and says that the technology must have a purpose. Coming from a district that has a systemic, online curriculum that is modified annually with embedded technology resources, here are the biggest challenges that came to my mind as soon I read this exchange between Miguel and Audrey.

  1. No guarantees = need for low risk: In a state of constant pressure, even with a systemic, effective curriculum/scope and sequence, the temptation to remove creativity and flexibility from a teacher’s hands is great. I know of a neighboring district that has had what is close to a scripted curriculum for a few years. I would go NUTS in that kind of environment and am realizing that as the pressure related to performance continues to rise, the pressure to force teachers to only teach what is on the test is rising with it. How can a school board, a principal or a district leader resist knowing that all of their teachers (and many of which are no longer veterans for a lot of us) will be teaching the same thing? It guarantees a constant rise in test scores from year-to-year (which happens any time a new test is implemented) with little risk to step outside the box and challenge our students with the education that they really need. Honestly, when faced with 1) constant gain/low risk vs. 2) no guarantees/high risk - what do you think the choice will be? Sure, I can find isolated teachers that are willing to take that risk for their students, but it just ain’t easy finding an organization with that mentality.
  2. Providing the necessary means: When I tell people I work in ‘Instructional Technology’, they immediately think ‘IT’. I’m the computer guy, the tech monkey (oh, I have a badge in my office!). I want to take a calm breathe and just say… “no, instruction, curriculum, teaching, learning.” I don’t do what I do because I like gadgets (although I DO like gadgets), I do it because I truly believe that integrating technology into a classroom is ALL about shifting/growing ones concept of teaching. I could care less about the newest Web 2.0 site if it doesn’t bring curriculum to life for students. I could care less for making videos that spit out report style information. We need to teach with a purpose and technology is an absolutely amazing vehicle to do that. My point, friends, is that technology can and does play a role in that shift. Miguel noted:

    Waiting for that [school/instructional] reformation may leave us […] in the same position of Moses…preaching the Promised Land but destined to die before entering.

    He went on to talk about how the process of integration happens too slowly and how social pressure will eventually push the need technology tools into our classrooms in the future. While I know that Miguel’s thoughts on the matter are much more complex than that single line, I am conversely convinced that technology opens doors for teachers to shift their conceptual structures about instruction. We can not just sit and wait for social pressure to bring the tools we need now into our classrooms tomorrow.

    In a recent training I did on Audacity sound software, I saw eyes grow big when teachers realized that a single student could recreate a story (or even better, the student’s own writing!) into an engaging audio book complete with sound effects, background music and different ‘voices’ (Here’s a clip of what I’m talking about). They started to see how students have to fully understand the concepts related to voice, emphasis, summarization, etc., and started to see what technology added to a classroom activity that they have done for years.

    The challenge here is not just to push the cohesive vision of technology integration within relevant content, but to have the means necessary to accomplish these lessons/activities. That means there will be a sacrifice - there will be laptops unused, there will be money spent that didn’t reach its full potential. But why is that such a difficult concept for so many when the same happens with huge, one-shot, district-wide staff development programs? The same happens with a position that is created for one year on a campus that went unused. I do NOT say that we should justify the waste, but I also do not feel that we can continue making steps forward without taking that chance.

Considering Audrey’s specific suggestions, I would be remiss not to list my own suggestions in response to the challenges that I noted above. They’re simple ;) (ha!)

  • Push for allowing creativity and flexibility in our classrooms. This may be in small ways or this may be in big ways, but we can fight for that in a myriad of ways.
  • Find ways to provide the necessary means. This may mean working to continue a laptop program, working on a more effective way to provide staff development or doing a training that opens up one more pair of eyes.

Sure, those are general, but they can be focused on daily. After all, easy answers aren’t worth the sacrifice that comes with them.

I guess, in short, I’m OK with being like Moses. Sure, he may not have reached the promised land, but he had a vision for his people and they eventually worked their way through their journey. One might even argue that they never really reached the promised land, but that the journey still continues - guided not just by Moses’ vision for the future, but a more complex set of people willing to take a risk for creativity and providing the necessary means to move towards a better future.

Do you think Moses was out where the left lane ends…?

Fun with Popularity

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

As a followup to my previous post, I gleaned that link from a Delicious RSS feed, the Delicious ‘popular’ feed. I love watching that box populate throughout the day as it displays links that are most tagged by Delicious users. You never know what will pop up, and there is usually something quite interesting to discover! Ahhh… popularity… ;)
Here’s the feed: http://del.icio.us/rss/popular

(just in case YOU want another random feed to check throughout the day)

One more reason why I love the ‘new’ web…

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Mysteries Photo

I’m not what you would call a history buff - maybe it just wasn’t brought to life for me in the right way. However, through my RSS feeds, I came across this link to ‘History’s Most Overlooked Mysteries‘. It makes me want to know more about a topic that I didn’t expect to explore today - and that, at least, gives me a little smile.

Bogus!

Monday, May 21st, 2007

Here’s what I’ve found in 15 minutes after listing to the program:

Google Map of Liverpool, NY, Website of Liverpool Schools, Liverpool Laptop Webpage, NPR Talk of the Nation, Liverpool High State Report CardLiverpool High 3rd Year Eval on Laptop Program

Pardon my French, but their district website is atrocious, the webpage for their laptop program is atrocious, they are primarily a white district with a low percentage of free/reduced lunch students, the laptop program is self-described as ‘voluntary’, at the MOST, only 70% of the students in 11th/12th grades would have had computers (although it’s hard to track), and according to their 3rd year evaluation (of which most discussion is related to percentages) less than half of the participants actually responded to the survey(s) that they used in the eval of the program.

This is a small program, a drop in the bucket. It sounds like it was not very well thought out, and it is now giving larger, better planned programs a bad name.

In addition, the it seems like the Assistant Superintendant of Instruction is the driver behind this vehicle of death (clear agenda to destroy the program).

 Thanks for the bad rep.

1:1 Getting National Coverage (and an NPR link)

Monday, May 21st, 2007

1:1 laptop programs are getting a good bit of national press (negative) lately and here is a 1/2 hour program on the topic from NPR’s ‘Talk of the Nation’. I’m in the middle of listening, so I’ll comment later…

Firefox BLOCKED: we lose for good (and more clarification)

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Well, until our kiddos get busy and figure out a way to down the new system, I am on IE for good. Updated score: Networking - 57, Us - 1

To clarify what is happening and how we’re being blocked: We can download/install Firefox and even open the program on our machines. The ‘new product’ does not allow Firefox to pickup outside bandwidth. I can still do my internal Irving ISD homepage and even our internal Blackboard system, but nothing more.

Until someone develops a plug-in that bypasses the ‘new product’, we’re all doomed for eternity!!!

Firefox BLOCKED: Score update!

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

YES!!!! I just informed our main networking guy - with a broad smile and ample gusto - that Firefox is working again (temporarily)! You should have seen his shoulders drop! Either our kids have over burdened the ‘new system’ or found a way to bring it down!

Score update: Networking - 25, Us - 1

At least we’re not at zero anymore!!!

Firefox BLOCKED. Oh, whatever shall I do?! :(

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

My cousin was in town last night as he made his rounds around the country to install a new networking device at several of his company’s remote locations. We got into some networking ‘talk’ (or jargon, for those looking up the technical reference) and I mentioned that networking is all about CONTROL. He smiled, nodded his head and said, ‘yep, I LOVE control!’ It’s neither good nor bad - just the nature of networking. The more you can control your network, the better off you are.

So, that leads me to my sad morning. I knew it was coming… but I still pushed on until the last minutes that it could hold its breath… Networking has been discussing a ‘new product’ - very secret, very hush-hush - that will give them more control over the network. I won’t even say the name of it (it’s pretty hard to even research on the internet - doable, but hard) for fear of being repremanded. I’m sure you can picture my complete and utter joy at this news.

Firefox has officially been blocked district-wide. It is an apparent danger to society and therefore must be shut down. I first punched my left palm and growled when I jumped over to IE and didn’t have my tabs. (we can’t install the new version for compatibility reasons.) I will miss my tabs sorely. I vaguly remember the days of right clicking to ‘open in new window’ in IE and feel a dull, angry burning in my stomach knowing I will have to go back to that. My second palm-punch/growl-combo came when I realized I lost my built in spell check that was SUCH a great feature in Firefox 2.0. You see, I know when I misspell a word and I LIKE the fact that I get to recognize the words that I misspell on a regular basis. I look FORWARD to those little red dots under my misspelled words! I even LEARN from them and force myself to learn correct spellings of those words… so much for THAT. I now have to copy this whole freakin’ post into Google Docs (cause I SURE as heck ain’t gonna us MS WORD on this sad day!!! $#%#$()%*#$) just to check my spelling, and I’ll have to update my Wordpress Blog to the latest version to get the new spell checker. *sigh* The final time I ‘went inside to my angry place’ was my realization that I no longer had my wonderfully integrated bookmark tool - de.licio.us. I have scrapped bookmarking and need to get myself setup to most effectivley us de.licio.us within IE. I know, I know… It’s a few extra clicks - BUT THOSE CLICKS ADD UP, dangit!

Oh, Firefox… you are out there, but I can not access you. Miguel Guhlin says in a recent post:

Why should we continue to invest millions of dollars in school technology if it has already been established that schools aren’t changing? Wouldn’t it be better to accept schools as they are–institutions as flawed as the people who spend significant amounts of time in them, trying to justify those hours by any reason/research possible? Of course, the answer is really about whether any of us can change who we are, how we think for the children we serve.

I know it isn’t a ‘big deal’. I know I can use another browser. Something just doesn’t feel right, though. I’m feeling like I can’t get off the highway these days… Is it worth trying? Is it even possible?

~ I miss you, Firefox…