Jun 28, 2010


The drumbeat is getting louder for society to offer alternatives to traditional schooling. If you study the history of education, the desire for change seems anything but new. Is the latest round of ideas actually different? Will the tools of today make these efforts any more successful?

TEDxAtlanta - Anya Kamenetz - DIY U
TEDxAtlanta - Gever Tulley - Reimagining Education
Daniel Willingham -  Why Don't Students Like School

Apr 4, 2010

Low Floor, Wide Walls, & High Ceiling

Technology has changed so much in the 20+ years I have been teaching! While most of what is available seems very similar in output to earlier tools, the biggest changes have been in ease of use (low floor) and integration (wider walls). Put those two together with greater/cheaper access and collaboration and what is possible has greatly increased (high ceiling). 

What toolkit would I recommend these days? Well, before getting into that, all the tools in the world won't get you very far without brave, collaborative, creative, thoughtful (reflective), and critical students. Assuming you have created a culture for such kids I'd recommend:

  1. A MacBook, NetBook, or iPad to create content and access all those web 2.0 tools
  2. Wiki - An amazingly flexible tool that allows my students to easily integrate text, images, audio, video, and widgets galore. My students are the producers instead of just consumers! Currently I prefer Wikispaces, though I would be quite happy with several others
  3. Moodle - For the forum tool alone it is worthwhile. It also allows for integration of the elements mentioned above, but the nested nature of the discussion helps my students follow the conversation, and therefore encourages it.
  4. Multimodal tools
    1. GarageBand or Audacity - Audio recording, not just for the students who have difficulty writing, for anyone who wants another form of communication that offers its own rich set of options and strengths
    2. Flip Camera - Get video into your web 2.0 world
    3. Still Camera - And images too! It's time to move beyond clip art and other people's photos. Let the kids bring their world into the web 2.0 world.
  5. MyWebspiration.com or Inspiration - Graphic organizers and concept maps offer students a deep way to demonstrate the connections in their knowledge.
  6. iChat or Skype - Another way to bring the outside world in and to get our students heard in the outside world.
  7. VoiceThread - Still learning this one, it may move up.
Related Link - http://web.media.mit.edu/~mres/scratch/scratch-cacm.pdf (page 3)

Apr 2, 2010

When is good enough good enough?

Always a tough question. Tougher still when it involves other people.

Next question, how many balls can be easily juggled? What if some are eggs?

Apr 1, 2010


With the tools and techniques available to us today, we should be able to deliver direct instruction far better. Start with a big, bright Interactive Whiteboard, they're all the rage in schools these days. Design some slick slides. Use a technique or two  to help the kids retain your content. Pace it like a Pecha Kucha. The students minds (blank slates) should be filled up in half the time! That'll save plenty of time to work on the obesity epidemic!

Feb 27, 2010

Learning Leader Golden Rule

After reading Derek Wenmoth's, Leading Learning in a Digital World, I added the comment below:

Maybe this is implied in the statement "the capability to envision view of desired future organization state," but I think that the leaders, whether they be teachers or administrators, need to envision the desired future learning state in addition to the organizational state. That future learning state needs to be put into practice by the leaders amongst themselves and their colleagues as well as thoughtfully adapted over time and context for those leaders to truly model for others. The golden rule of learning leaders should be to do yourself that which you would have others do.

I should have been a little clearer in that I meant colleagues AND their students when I said "others."

Feb 17, 2010

The Over Under Conundrum

I was reminded again this week and last how easy it is to misjudge your students' skills. My latest example of underestimating my students was working with a high school special education class. The teacher is thinking through how technology could be used to improve his students' reading. I thought thought they might be interested in a little SSR through RSS (sustained silent reading through really simple syndication). We also added a twist in that the students would create a wiki page that contained the 5 newest links from their RSS and the 5 newest comments they had added. In a sense, their reader's response journal was on the same page as an ever fresh set of things to read on a topic of their own choosing.

So, after showing the students an example of what they would be creating, drawing them in with an Olympics topic, we demonstrated to the students how to use Google News to create an RSS feed. We talked a little about what topics might be better for a News site, but told them to try whatever they were interested in, provided it was appropriate for school. Then, we showed them how to take the address for that feed and add it to a new wiki page. After that, we showed them how to add a second section to the page that would display the latest discussion posts. Finally, we showed them how to add a new post in the discussion tab where they could link to a story and comment on it. The mini lesson must have taken a close to 10 minutes. The students would need to remember at least fifteen steps and off they went in pairs.

As they worked, we ended up having a couple of little computer issues, naturally enough, and I was getting a little concerned about time. Instead of my preferred method of letting the students fiddle with the wiki while trying to remember the mini lesson, I tried to help a couple pairs. As the words were coming out of my mouth, the kids' mice were already there. Eventually that observation trumped my thoughts about time and I realized I had underestimated these kids' ability to remember so many steps. I stopped talking. They finished on time without me. How quickly I could have taken away their confidence in themselves and their ownership of the process.

On the way home I mentally chastised myself as I thought about the students and their ability to first focus and take in so many steps and then to remember (I don't think that is actually the right word, since I don't think they put the individual steps into memory, more the overall feel and order of the process) the steps well enough to complete the process. Soon though, I also started thinking about the flip side, when the previous week I had overestimated my own students ability to apply skills we had learned earlier in the year.

My students were researching three subtopics related to diversity in the metro Detroit area. After brainstorming what they thought they knew about the topics and what they wanted to learn about them, the kids set off to find answers or partial answers using the internet. Though my students used a set of thoughtful keywords, not once did I see any of the pairs using Google's advanced search techniques. This despite having worked on using phrases and Boolean logic several times earlier. How quickly they reverted to their old practices! How slowly I thought to stop them as a group and point this out! They didn't need a mini-lesson, only a reminder to use the skills they had.

How often we must misjudge our students' abilities. By taking too inactive role, without watching the kids and reflecting on their processes, or by taking too directive an approach, how can we help but either underestimate or overestimate their abilities. Is it any wonder that informal and formal formative assessment is so integral to students learning?

Jan 29, 2010

One Foot in the Classroom

Why are there so many administrators that no longer teach K-12 students on a regular basis? Why are there so many professors in departments of education who no longer teach K-12 students on a regular basis? Why are there so many educational technology "experts" who no longer teach K-12 students on a regular basis?

I remember learning from professors like Maggie Lampert, Deborah Ball, and Glenda Lappen who at that time still worked regularly with K-12 students. What they had to say was so much richer, nuanced, and in the end practical for helping me teach in new ways!

Though I spend a great deal of my time working with teachers, I still have my own classroom part time and collaborate in the classroom with many others. The benefits definitely go both ways. I get to try things out in my own class and bring my experiences and examples to the table when working with the teachers. Their work in turn inspires what I try back in my own room.

Why would anyone ever completely leave the classroom?