Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself. ~ John Dewey

Author

Jeff Utecht

Browsing

Reece Lennon wrote a comment to my posting yesterday on ‘What is the purpose of a school web site?’ I thought I’d take this one step further and answer some of Reece’s questions.

Principal As webmaster?

Why not? Part of a principal’s job description is “Communicate with parents, community members, and the larger school community effectively.” In the past this has meant creating and distributing monthly or biweekly newsletters, or an article in a local paper. Principals are already communicating with their clients, all I’m suggesting is maybe we look at changing how they communicate. I agree Principals don’t need more to do, but what if they could do what they already are doing only save them time and in a different media. With a web site like Tim Lauer has set up, a principal would need to know little more than cut and paste. Yes Tim has some cool integrated programs, but in its basic form his web site is just writing. Just another blog program manipulated to do what he needs it to do.

I suggested in my original post that maybe we need to revisit the qualifications of a principal. Maybe the job description needs to be rewritten for the 21st Century. Maybe it should read: “Communicate with parents, community members, and the larger school community effectively using electronic media.”

After all it was technology that allowed principals to write those monthly newsletters and it was technology that allowed them to put together an e-mail list and e-mail the monthly newsletter to parents, so why can’t technology once again change a principal’s way of communicating and make the information available to everyone on the web. It’s not something that will change overnight, but I bet over time we will see technology skills be part of the job description of a principal.

Mandatory Publishing on the web:

Reece commented on the “terrible concept” of making teachers have to post on a weekly basis on the school web site. Tim’s approach is quite simple. He allocates time at the weekly staff meeting for teachers to sit down and write a short paragraph of what is happening in their class. Not detailed lesson plans, or even a schedule, just a paragraph of the large concepts that will be covered. Take a look at the classroom notes and then ask yourself: “What is easier, writing a short paragraph that the principal sets aside time for you to do, or writing a weekly/biweekly or monthly newsletter?

“Communicating effectively with parents” is a standard job description in any teaching position so the fact that administrators make teachers communicate is nothing more than holding them to the job they signed on to do. I think Tim’s approach is much easier on teachers. I would be interested to hear from the teachers at Tim’s school to see what they think about the change. I know the 5th grade teachers at my school who have started using their blog sites as their communication vehicle with parents have found that posting information on their blogs saves them up to an hour a week having to find time to sit down and write out their newsletters and then dealing with the formatting and printing issues. The blogs allow them to simply write small chunks of information at a time and not have to worry about formatting issues. 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there now becomes productive time as teachers use it to jot down thoughts and post them to the web in an instant.

Reece sounds like many frustrated teachers who are feeling over worked and under appreciated for the work that they do. He’s not alone in feeling that technology is ‘one more thing I have to do’ instead of ‘one more things that can help me be more productive as a teacher’. It is a mind shift that needs to happen in teachers, but we are our own worst enemy because we ‘teach as we were taught’ and we were not taught in teacher school how to use these new technologies to help us be more productive and use our time more efficiently. Our only hope is that pre-service teachers today are learning that it’s not what you know that counts but if you can find the information and communicate successfully to others when you need it that counts. Only after this mind shift occurs will teachers truly become a facilitator of information not a dictator of it.

This is the topic of a meeting I have today with the other technology teachers in my district. So I thought I’d prepare for the meeting by taking some time and writing my thoughts down.

I’m glad we are stopping for a moment to look at what is our objective with a school web site. What is it we are trying to communicate and to whom?

I can’t help but continue to look at the school web site Tim Lauer has produced for his school in Portland, OR. The Meriwether Lewis Elementary School web site is a great model that I think we should take a close look at.

Lewis Elementary School

I have built and maintained my fair share of school web sites over the years but with the invention of blogging software and Web 2.0 there is a new revolution that is happening on the web and I think Tim has captured it rather well on his school’s page.

What I think is a very important concept, is that Tim is the principal of the school and is in charge of maintaining the web site. Why not? The principal is the main communicator of information coming from the school. I feel they should be the web master of the schools web site. The problem is how many principals out there really have the knowledge to create and maintain a school web site? (Maybe we need to review the qualifications of a principal?)

This is where I think open-source software comes into play. Tim Lauer uses Movable Type, a free blogging (although you can pay for added features) software program for his web site. He doesn’t have it set up as a blog, but he can easily and quickly post articles that reach the audience he wants without having to do a lot of work. Write and publish…a simple two step process for getting information to the school audience.

Tim also does a great job of using free programs to benefit his school. The ‘lost and found’ pictures are kept on flickr.com a new and great place to share photos. Parents can visit the photos and see if something their child is missing is in the school’s lost and found. And how about that calendar program he is using that is easily changeable and everyone can stay up-to-date with what is happening in the school. I can see a great use for this online calendar system as this month alone there have been three changes to our printed calendar. Those changes are then e-mailed to all the staff and then a paper copy is send home with all the students talking about the changes to the calendar. Think of the paper we could save if everyone used the online calendar to confirm when events were?

So back to the question I need to answer: What is the purpose of a school web site.

A school web site’s purpose I feel is simple: To communicate what is happening in the school. To allow parents, our clients, to see deeper into what is happening in the school they are sending their child to everyday. Tim is the only principal I know who expects his teachers to post at least once a week to the web site. Every teacher must post what is happening in their classroom. What a concept! To have everyone communicating the same way via the web in one easy to find location for parents. Now that’s the purpose of a school web site!

Last night my wife and I sat down to watch some TV. The first time we have done so in weeks. We flipped to a channel that was showing “Medical Investigation”.

As I watched the episode where the Medical Investigation team was trying to find out what was causing kids in a small town to get sick, I found myself intrigued by the research skills the team was using, and even more intrigued with the questioning skills that the team used. Every time they found a piece of information it led to another question that would lead them down another trail. By gathering the information analyzing it, applying it to the other information they had, and then assessing the results the team slowly found the answer to the question “What’s making these kids sick?”

So I stared thing about the investigation tactics we use in the classroom. A couple things came to mind.

Hardly ever do we ask students to gather information, analyze it, apply it to the problem, and assess the outcome all in one step. Instead we tell kids to first, gather ALL the information you can about a topic, only after you have gathered ALL the information should you start to analyze it and see how it fits, only after you are done analyzing ALL of the information should you apply the information to your report, and then the teacher will assess how well you did.

How much information do students miss by not questioning the information they have when they are gathering it?

Another though just hit me, isn’t this what video games do for kids? They don’t read the manual on how a game works, they start pushing buttons (gathering information), figure out what each button does (analyze the results of the information they have gathered), and then try to play the game (apply the information) and see if the can win (assessment).

So students go home from school sit down and apply all of these skills at once, not independently of each other like we make them do all day in school. No wonder students are bored. We make them take each skill and learn it independently when each skill really needs the others to make a whole picture emerge, and they already know how to apply those skills together, we just need to train them to do it for the information we want them to gather.

Just thinking with my stick

So I woke up at 4:00 this morning to join the techleaning.com webinar on The Tipping Point in K-12 Education: One-to-One Computing, Electronic Textbooks, and New Tools for Learning. A great presentation on the use of computers in the classroom and the power that one-to-one computing offers to schools. It was the first time I had taken part in a webinar and quite enjoyed the experience.

One thing that really got me thinking was the importance of an infrastructure being in place before a school district goes forward with a one-to-one computer program. As I evaluate my school I find that no such infrastructure exists for us to implement such a program. Yes we have high speed internet, yes we have many computers, but we don’t have an administrative infrastructure to oversee a large implementation as one-to-one computing would be. James Banks, Executive Director of Technology, Barbers Hill I.S.D. He is a full time technology administrator for his district, allowing him to oversee a large scale implementation such as a one-to-one computer program. This is a position that our school district is missing and I think really should be considered if we are to move technology out of the labs and into the hands of students. Without an administrative infrastructure how can we begin discussing the larger questions of hardware, software infrastructures that need to be set up before a program like this is implemented? Sure we have dedicated technology teachers, but they have a full time job teaching technology, asking them to carry the wait of implementing a true one-to-one program would be overwhelming and a very slow process.

I’d like to hear what other school districts have in place. Do most school districts have a ‘Technology Coordinator’ (for lack of a better term) as mentioned above? What is their official title and what are their duties?

On David Warlick’s blog the past couple of days there has been a great discussion about pre-service teachers and what skills should they be taught before being thrown into the lions den. 🙂

A follow up to David’s discussion was also posted on Christopher Harri’s Imfomency blog a great post from someone teaching pre-service teachers.

There are a couple points on both of these blogs that I have been thinking about and would like to comment on.

Dave writes:

However, I fear that if we take college students into these tools, without some specific and relevant questions to answer or problems to solve, then they may seem cool to them, but the skills will be strictly academic. I think these students should be presented with a problem.

Spot on Dave! Without a problem who needs an answer? I can walk into any classroom, give someone a great tool like blogs and if it does not solve a problem for them they will not use it. There is no need for it. But if teachers are trying to come up with a way to have their students write for an authentic audience, then you can introduce the tool as a way to solve the problem. The tool is then used, as the teacher can see how it helps them overcome a problem they were facing. This is how I approach the teachers in my building. I can go in, talk about RSS, Blogs, Wikipedias, etc but unless the teacher sees those tools as solving a problem in their classroom they will not use them.

For pre-service teachers I believe the same is true as Christopher writes on his blog the tools pre-service teacher know how to use and haven’t even heard of:

What did they know?
-Basic computer operations (how to turn it on)
-Word
-PowerPoint
-The “internt” (read IM and e-mail)
Not so sure?
-Excel
-Searching on the internet
When asked what search engines they used, the room rumbled with “googlegooglegoogle” then one brave soul spoke up and said “sometimes Ask Jeeves.”
Never heard of it?
-Blogging (one had heard of LiveJournal but never did it)
-Wikipedia
-RSS
-NOVEL (the set of databases New York provides for free to all schools/libraries/colleges)
-LII (Librarians’ Internet Index – and newly redesigned!!!)
These answers don’t surprise me a bit, because these pre-service teachers never had a problem that needed them to learn RSS, blogging, more then basic Excel skills, etc. I would be interested though how many of them use a chat room or text on their mobiles. These two tools help students solve the problem of communicating with people and therefore they spend the time needed to learn how to use them.

For both pre-service teachers and teachers already in the field, there needs to be a reason to use the tools, a problem that needs to be solved that technology can help solve. After all, that is the beauty of technology, it is here to make our lives easier, not frustrate us and make us feel as though we ‘have to’ use it.

If (and maybe someday I will) I ever get the opportunity to teach pre-service teachers I will teach the class in a problem-based learning (PBL) format (Lots of stuff out there on PBL take a look). PBL in its simplest form is learning how to learn. For one, it allows learners to be faced with problems that they have to find the answers, tools, and lessons best suitable to overcome the problem. Two, because: ‘teachers teach how they were taught.’ Some break away from the mode but most do not. We need to teach teachers how to incorporate PBL into their classrooms and use authentic audiences with their students before we can worry about what technology tools they might use.

Final Thought:
Dave writes:

I think that kids these ages are technology literate, but not necessarily information literate.

I must admit that I had never thought about it that way, but Dave is right, kids these days are technology literate, they know technology and how to use it in all its forms, but are not necessarily information literate, and the tools like RSS, Blogs, Podcasts, wikipedias, etc are information tools not technology tools. As teachers, it’s our job to teach students information, and I believe these information tools can help us do that. Again there has to be a reason to incorporate these information tools into the classroom. Without the reason or the problem, students will continue to not know these tools exist.

After reading David Warlick’s post: Innovation Learning for a Flat World, I got to thinking about the games that our students play on a daily basis and how right David and Bill MacKenty were about the language that these short-cuts use. So, I went out to the internet and in less than five minutes I found a short-cut to a very well know PlayStation2 game.

After you finish one, try a B, A, IB, IA, or S license (1-16) or rally. The ghost racer will be on. If it confuses you, press D-pad Up to toggle it off or on.

When I was working and living in Saudi Arabia I knew a 10 year old boy who was really into PS2 games (Gotta get into the lingo) He would come home from school and sit on the computer for hours looking for the newest short-cuts to his favorite games. After he found them, he would print them off and run upstairs to play the game for hours on end. Once he had mastered the short-cut he would call his buddies and they would all get together showing each other the newest short-cuts for the games they liked.

I like the thought on David’s post about rules in video games being something solid that kids ‘bump up against’ at the same time kids know that if they work hard enough and spend enough time looking for it on the internet they will probably find the short-cut around that rule. To me this sounds like a skill they might learn from their parents. We bump up against rules sometimes, say for example tax rules. As adults what do we do, we look for ways around the rules to make our lives easier. So what skills are these short-cuts teaching our students? That rules where made to be broken? Or that if you put enough time and energy into something, you can overcome the obstacle that is in your way?

Off the top of my head

Reece Lennon Writes in response to my “The Future of a School” article:

Okay, so you gave her a philosophical answer, but what about a practical answer? What should she tell the architects when they are drawing up their plans?

Yes, my answer is philosophical, and as far as the architects are concerned they need to know that we envision a place where information flows freely, or the word we have adopted ‘seamlessly’ from space to space within the media center. We have given the architects our philosophy on how we see our school using this media center. It is there job to create the space that will allow us to use the space in the way we envision it. We (meaning technology teachers and librarians) meet with the architects once a week to go over plan, discuss placement and types of hardware. But our focus reminds on the seamless use of information. That is our vision, to create a space that allows students to flow from books, to technology, to video rooms and back again. Although it is a philosophical answer, it is also a practical answer in what we envision our media center to be. A vision that has been well received by the architects and the consultants our district has hired.

A great new web site called S.O.S. (Situations, Outcomes, Strategies) was launched on Oct. 7. The following summery was taken from an eSchool News article found at this link.

Teachers and library media specialists searching for new and innovative ways to educate their students about effective research practices now have a new online tool at their disposal: S.O.S. (Situations, Outcomes, Strategies) for Information Literacy.
Launched Oct. 7 at the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference in Pittsburgh, this Syracuse University program–made public now for the first time–is a free multimedia resource for K-8 teachers and media specialists who want their students to learn more, and become excited, about research.
During their own research for the program, project directors Ruth Small and Marilyn Arnone of the Center for Digital Education at Syracuse University focused in part on how to relieve the anxiety that children often have when beginning research projects.
“We asked how we can teach children in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them, yet still teaches them to evaluate sources or understand search engines,” Small said.
The pair’s research indicated that educators often have a difficult time finding lesson plans and motivational instructional methods that address information literacy skills and that they struggle to find plans relating these skills to classroom assignments and research projects in particular.
Information literacy–the ability to locate, organize, evaluate, manage, and use information–is critical for today’s learners, researchers say. These skills lay the groundwork for success in every student’s life.
The S.O.S. project is “a solution to an age-old problem,” said Julie Walker, executive director of AASL. “We talk a lot about integrating content and skills, whether those skills are information gathering or technology, but many people have a difficult time doing that.”
The project includes an online resource page where educators can view lessons plans, video clips, and other teaching materials submitted by teachers and library media specialists. Curriculum-integrated lesson plans and teaching ideas are linked to real-world examples of solid teaching, most notably focusing on collaborative efforts between classroom teachers and library media specialists, Small said. So far, about 150 educators have contributed at least one lesson plan.

S.O.S. for Information Literacy
http://www.informationliteracy.org/

I encourage you to take a look at the site. I have already sign up for a free account that allows me access to the 150+ lesson plans, and have found some that I will definitely be using in the coming weeks.

My school is in the process of building a new Media Center. We have held and continue to hold meeting with the architects, planners, consultants, etc to try and create a building for the 21st century.

I have had some great conversations with my Deputy Superintendent over the future of technology. Yesterday she sent an e-mail with the following question.

What will be out there 5 years from now in the world of information technology that we will want our facility to accommodate?

Great question and one I’m glad we are asking. The issue with this question, I believe, is that there is no concrete answer of what technologies will influence education the most 5 years from now. Hardware continues to change, so trying to develop a media center for hardware that doesn’t exists yet is difficult. Sure there will be laptops, tablet PCs, and a variety of other things, but they probably will not look the same, act the same or even run the same programs as computers do today. I feel the best we can do is build an infrastructure that allows flexibility to adapt to changing technologies.

That being said there are some things I feel will be out there 5 years from now that I think we must consider, but none of them are hardware based. The Internet continues to expand exponentially, creating more information then we could possibly consider. What will be here 5 years from now is information. I feel we need to create a space that allows for the flow of information. With the development of web 2.0 and tools likes Blogs and such that are bring the read/write web to life, our focus needs to be on accessing information and information literacy. The hardware will change, the programs that we use to access the information will change, but the growth of information will be constant. It’s difficult to build a new media center without focusing on hardware. Hardware is important after all, it is what we use to access the information. But more importantly we need to look at what tools will students need to access this information. Today we talk about laptops, LCD projectors, SmartBoards, etc. But in 5 years those tools will be replaced by smaller faster, easier to manage machines. Creating a space that is easily adaptable to new technologies is the key.

We also need to look at the formats in which information is being distributed. podcasting, blogs, videocasting, wiki, and ebooks are all fast becoming vehicles of information. So we must look at what tools are needed to allow students the ability to access these types of information, and create spaces where students cannot only access this information, but a place where they can produce it as well.

Our focus needs to remand on the 21st century student. No longer are we the teacher the gatekeeper of information, we need to design a media center that allows the students easy access to the information they want, be it a web page or a podcast, and allow them the right to be an active member in the information age by being able to produce information for a global community.

Just my thoughts!