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21st Century Learning


My last full day in Shanghai before flying out tomorrow to Seattle. It’s also the first day of summer vacation, so as I try and wind down from school and gear up for the projects ahead of me this summer I opened up my RSS reader to catch up on some reading. When I clicked on Warlick’s A Magnetic Field of National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) post, I knew I’d better set aside some deep thinking time for this one.

I was right!

The post itself is excellent as conversations about the NETS Refreshed are starting to take hold as we draw closer to NECC.

I’ve read over the standards a couple of times, and after reading Warlick’s post and the comments that followed I’m still asking myself do we need technology standards?

I asked this question at the beginning of the year. The comments left back then were great and throughout this year I have returned to this question wondering if we are on the right track with technology standards.

Warlick in his post…and often…refers to this new literacy we need to be teaching. Warlick even shows in his slideshare slides how the new NETS fit into reading, writing, and arithmetic. If these new standards embed themselves so well into our core content areas isn’t that where they should be?

What we’re talking about here is a focus on skills. That there is a new skill set that needs to be taught, but cannot (in my opinion) be taught in labs separate from the core curriculum that is being taught each and every day in the classroom.

I think David Jakes’ list of these skills is as good as any:

Be able to connnect
Be able to create
Be able to communicate
Be able to coollaborate

A skill according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:

2 a : the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance b : dexterity or coordination especially in the execution of learned physical tasks
3 : a learned power of doing something competently : a developed aptitude or ability skills>

We know that David is talking about skills because he starts each one with “Be able to” which tells us we want students to gain/use their knowledge to demonstrate to us as teachers that they can do something.
There are two things I really like about the NETS Refreshed. 1) They focus on Information and 2) They focus on skills not content.

What if we wrote the standards in skill form:

Students will:

Be able to create and innovate
Be able to communicate and collaborate
Be able to research and demonstrate information fluency
Be able to think critically
Be able to solve problems
Be able to make-decisions based on data
Be able to demonstrate responsibility

What if we look at the standards as a skill set that is completely removed from technology and just as skills we want students to have as they move through our school system?

The problem with this I guess is what Jeffrey Branzburg brings up in his comment on Warlick’s post.

Most of the teachers I’ve worked with are still, in this day and age, very technologically hesitant.

And in that one sentence I think Jeffrey sums it up. Will there ever be a day when we can have skills run our classrooms instead of content? When being able to do something is more important than knowing a specific piece of knowledge? With information changing so rapidly and continuing to accelerate is there ever going to be a point when the education system realizes that by focusing on content we teach students the past, but by focusing on skills we prepare them for the future?

I know core classroom teachers like Darren Kuropatwa, Clarence Fisher, Chris Craft, Mark Ahlness, and probably everyone else reading this would look at these skills above and think technology, use technology to meet them and teach them, but would the average teacher?

I guess the problem is I look at these Standards as skills that students need to have in order to be successful in the 21st Century. They are not related solely to technology, although technology is the reason why these skills need to be taught. These are lifelong skills that every child from Kindergarten through 12th grade should be learning and using.

I understand we have technology standards because we need something to wrap our head around, we need a focal point to start with, but do we really need technology standards? Or are standards part of an old system that wants us to focus on content, and what we really need is a core set of skills that every child when they graduate from high school should be able to do and demonstrate?

I know there is going to be a lot of conversation around this at NECC and probably in the coming months as schools look to adopt the new Standards and figure out how they fit into this system we call education. But as Jakes put it, maybe we’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and standards are no longer what we need. Maybe we need something new, something dynamic and ever changing like information itself. How do you create a target in a time of rapid change? How do we teach 21st Century Skills in a system built for the 20th Century? And how do we bring everyone along at the same time?

Enough thinking for my first day of vacation. 😉

(I would have added a picture but flickr is blocked here in China. Another reason I’m looking forward to the flight to the States tomorrow!)


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Yesterday Mr. Hossack’s class of 5th graders got to take part in something new and cool. They had a video Skype call with a 7th grade class in Los Angles, California.

Barbara Barreda contacted me a couple weeks ago and we started planning. Of course planning didn’t go to smoothly on our end. We are two days from ending school and the 7th grade class that was going to take the Skype call and questions was not even at school, but instead were running around Shanghai taking part in an Amazing Race that the teachers put together for them.

So, Mr. Hossack’s class filled in and really enjoyed the conversation. It was interesting to hear the students answer questions like, “Have you ever been to the great wall?” A couple students have been there and of course what they remember is that you can rent a luge and slide down some of the steeper parts of the wall. I have been on the wall and there are places that you do have to crawl on your hands and knees to get up.

It was interesting though…I’m not sure what the students in L.A. were expecting for and answer but being able to ride a luge down the Great Wall probably wasn’t it.

I find it fascinating the perspectives we all have. The Great Wall to most of our kids is like “So” it’s only a 2 hour flight away and many have gone multiple times. It would be like living next to Hollywood.

I think I also have to mention that our students do a lot of traveling. Many of them have been to more countries than I have and most have attended multiple schools in multiple countries. They are third culture kids that have a different perspective on the world and travel.

Thanks again to Barbara and her teachers and students for allowing us the opportunity to cross oceans and create global connections.

[tags]Skype, globalconnections, 21st Century Learning[/tags]

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Part of a comment left by Catherine Hiltz on Embedded Technology

I think that the first step needs to involve creating a better
understanding of educational paradigm shift. Perhaps this needs to be
done by the provincial departments or at the division level. Without
the philosophical background/understanding, I think that perhaps most
educators will continue to flounder with tech. I would like to hear your
thoughts on this…

Well since you asked…

We do need to create a paradigm shift in education at the way in which technology is viewed. We have a history to over come.

When technology first showed up in schools some 20 years ago or so, we didn’t really know what to do with it. Sure we wanted it, we knew that it was something new…something that was going to change education, but we just didn’t know much about it yet. So we put a bunch of computers in a room…called them labs and sat staring at the blinking green square wondering what to do next.

So we decided that we’d invite teachers and their classes in. Completely optional of course, as we really didn’t know what you could do with this machine. Some teachers came in, they grabbed those big floppy disks and put them into the computer and let the students play Oregon Trail….do you remember that game? The original Oregon Trail?

So computers become a reward..it was fun….and most importantly it was options.

And that is part of the problem. Computers were introduced as optional use an though we now all use computers on a daily basis, there use for many teachers and in many schools is still optional. The reasons range from lack of training, to poor connection, to not having the time to learn how to use it. It doesn’t matter what the reason is…the fact is in the majority of schools today…using technology tools is optional teaching.

So, that is the paradigm shift in my eyes that we need to overcome. We need to look at the skills needed in the 21st century and understand that using technology is no longer optional. That using a pencil and paper is now optional and the computer and digital information is needs to be the new standard.

That is the real paradigm shift. It needs to happen at the core of education. We need to change our views on the use of these tools roles in the classroom and in learning. Until we come to a fundamental understanding that technology is no longer option…we will continue to be frustrated and continue to prepare students for jobs that use to exist with skills no longer needed.

Only because you asked….

[tags]21st Century Learning[/tags]

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(I still find it funny what blog posts start conversations)

A great conversation on TTWWADI is brewing between the comments left on my last post and Clarence Fisher adding to the conversation on his own blog.

The more this conversation emerges the more I’m convinced that an embedded technology approach is a great approach to use in schools.

My issue is I’m teaching skills without content. My rubric is based on the skills of creating a web page. The layout, color scheme, link placement, etc. But the content…is just content to create the site. Clarence has the opposite issue:

What was important in this case was not the coding and the software skills, although they did come into play. What was important was the information presentation skills, the design and interplay of colours, fonts, organization, etc.

So as a classroom teacher he’s concerned about information and presentation skills. As a technology person I’m interested in coding, layout, color, and presentation skills. Our interests are the same, but our focus is different. Clarence has good technology skills, I would say above average compared to most teachers and probably doesn’t need a technology person helping him teach these skills to his students. But for the teachers that are focused on information and presentation but don’t have the knowledge of web design, a technology person there to help is critical.

This is why I like the term embedded technology rather than integrated technology. Integrated to me seems like we’re putting it on top of what we’re doing when really the technology part is embedded as part of the assignment. It’s like a hamburger: A patty is far better when presented with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, and relish (substitute your favorite toppings here! FYI a good burger is something I can’t wait to have when I get back to the States in a couple weeks.) between the buns not on the side as add ons.

In order for an embedded technology program to work you have to have two key factors in place.

1) A classroom teacher who is willing to open their door, team plan/teach, and understands the skills needed to complete the project.

2) An educational technology person how understands teaching and learning, understands the standard or outcome the classroom teacher is trying to meet with the project and can team plan/teach lessons.

There are teachers out there like Clarence who are a 2 for 1 package and can do both. I can’t wait until all teachers are at that level and I no longer have a job. I’m waiting for the day that a principal comes to me and says, “Jeff, I’m sorry but our staff doesn’t need you anymore.” As strange as that sounds…it brings a smile to my face.

Moving to an embedded technology model allows us to teach 21st century skills within our content areas. Both are more meaningful and engaging to the learner. Personally I’m looking forward to next year where my full duty will be to help teachers embed technology into everyday content. Next year Dreamweaver might be more relevant to me and my students as there will be a purpose for us to use the program other than me teaching it because TTWWADI.

[tags]TTWWADI, 21st Century Learning[/tags]

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My Superintendent last week:

“I’ve learned that there is a fine line between chaos and coherent.”

This statement has been replaying itself in my head now for a week. Maybe because I’m feeling my life is on the chaotic side of that line at the moment.

However, I’ve also been reflecting at where we are in education and where we are trying to go. Where does education fall on this line?

What I’m afraid of is that education is too much on the coherent side of that line, although we are trying to push the education system as a whole closer to that line in the use of information, data analysis, and accountability. The problem is it’s a large system that likes coherent, is comfortable with coherent, and looks at the line and really doesn’t want to go there.

The line is the different between controlling everything and having structures in place that allow a system to be flexible. Standards are structures that allow an educator to walk on that line. To be able to look at new ways of teaching, new ways of assessing, and new ways at engaging student’s in the learning process and still stay grounded in understanding what it is that needs to be taught.

Most standardized tests control what we teach, and how we teach it based on what content is needed in order to do well. Standardized tests doesn’t allow a teacher to walk on the side of chaos in fear that what they might teach, what may be a different way of learning, will not be acceptable when filling in circles.
A little chaos is a good thing; it is where we learn to take risks, where perhaps our best learning occurs. These past couple of weeks I’ve been on that side, and my brain actually hurts from such a steep learning curve. I don’t want to be on this side of the line for much longer. I need a little coherence in my life, a little more structure.

I think this is where are classrooms need to be. We need to walk that line between chaos and coherent. I sometimes hear teachers refer to this as ‘controlled chaos’ which sounds pretty good to me. When I taught in the classroom I tried to keep my class in that controlled chaos state. This is where we learn, where we are able to push ourselves and the people around us and still understand there is a structure to what we do.

What would education look like if it were in a state of controlled chaos?

What would a school look like?

How would you put structures in place to allow educators to feel safe enough to teach in this space?

I’ve got some thinking to do.

[tags]21st Century Learning, chaos vs coherent[/tags]

I have found myself thinking recently on the future of language and the written word. Some of my thinking has been fueled by the conversation happening on the EME 5404 blog.

I’ve been struggling with the questions:

Who and when did we decide that our language was no longer going to change? That the evolution of language had stopped and that the way our language is right now is the way it should always be?

I don’t really know the history of the written word, but I do know that we as humans have been writing for thousands of years. Just from my own experiences in Israel, Jordan and the rest of the Middle East and Africa. We started by writing our stories in pictures, which was redefined over time by different cultures. Pictures led to symbols of which some cultures, like here in China, still use. Symbols led to the forming of an alphabet at some point, which has been redefined throughout the ages.

I’m not sure how it all happened, but I do know that I do not talk in the way in which Shakespeare writes. That there is something like five times as many words today as in Shakespeare’s time. The medium of which we write with and upon has also changed: From paint and brush, to stone and chisel, to ink and paper, to pencil and paper, to pen and paper, and now digital. As the medium has changed so has our language. The medium has allowed, and maybe even helped the evolution of our language.

Is the digital age redefining our language once again? I can’t help but look around at everyone text messaging, chatting, e-mailing, twittering, etc. and think that our language Is not changing. The cool part is this evolution happens on its own. This hit me again last night while I was watching my twitter messages and someone asked a question to their twitter friends. One of the friends responded:

@Dave: I do

Now…I’ve only been twittering for a couple of weeks, but who decided that when you wanted to direct a specific twitter message to one of your friends you used the @ symbol followed by their name? I looked for a twitter manual or a twitter language book and guess what….I couldn’t find one.

Communication in this day in age is about fast short messages. It started with e-mail and has slowly becoming quicker and shorter.

So this has me looking at the students walking out to the bus, the students walking the hallways and the 25 people I passed at the bus stop last night who were all text messaging on their phones (OK, maybe not all of them but I counted and it was 3 out of 5). This generation communicates in a very different way from the way I was taught, from the way I know how, and their way is much more efficient for their communication vehicles.
I am not saying we do not need to teach proper writing and English, but should we be teaching more than that? If we are preparing students for their future, should we be teaching them Instant Language (IL)? Let’s face it, as the pace of change continues to be exponential in nature the pace in which we communicate will continue to quicken as well.

This brings me to blogging and why I think blogging is more popular with our generation than with our students. Blogging is linear, you write in proper English. You write in complete sentences, words and thoughts. It speaks to us, we understand it, we like it; we know how to communicate in this way. My students struggle with blogging. They struggle with having to use so many words to get their message out there. I mean why right “Dave in response to your question, I do as well” when you can write “@Dave: I do?”

I almost feel like we are trying to force a round peg in a square whole. That we continue to force students to learn a way of writing, a language that is not suitable for today’s writing medium. Take myspace.com, very few well thought out posts. Alternatively, review an IM Chat session from someone in his or her teens, or just spend 10 minutes with your friends on twitter. What skills should we be teaching our students in Language Arts? The real question that keeps nagging at me is who is going to teach them to write in this new way? I sure the heck couldn’t teach it, and I’d bet most English teachers would slap me if I told them they need to teach IL in their classrooms.

By only teaching students to write “properly” (whatever that means), are we preparing them for our past, or their future? At what point do we stop yelling at students to write properly and embrace the evolution of the written word?

[tags]languages, 21st Century Learning, twitter[/tags]

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What follows is an assignment that came out of class discussions today. It’s cross posted on my Everything Tech blog as an assignment for students. If you would like to comment, please leave the comment on Everything Tech to add to our classroom discussion.

I don’t know about you, but I had a great time in class today, but then again I was the one doing all the talking…so now it’s your turn!

Today we talked about the music industry and how they have tried and tried again to overcome the 5 billion P2P downloads of illegal music that was downloaded last year and continues to grow.

The problem I see is that the music industry just doesn’t get it. Even after what they consider big news with EMI now allowing DRM-Free music to be downloaded via iTunes. Is that what they think is going to stop people from downloading illegal music? At $1.29 a song…I doubt it!

So here’s my 2 cents:

The music industry is battling two different generations here. My generation that grew up with tape decks, where we recorded music from the radio and created tapes for our friends and family without a care in the world. Of course the music industry didn’t care either as the number of copies never truly impacted their profits.

Then came the CD which I can still remember being this remarkable upgrade in music. The quality was amazing, and a CD could hold enough information to put extra interviews or extra songs on it to enhance the listening experience for the buyer.

Then came the ability to rip music from a CD and store it on your computer. Not long after that people found a way to share their ripped music via the web through sites like the early day Napster.

By the time the music industry reacted, it was to late millions of songs were being shared between Internet users and the illegal swapping of music began. Ever since those days the music industry has been trying to find ways to stop the illegal swapping of music. They started embedding DRM in their music (which was cracked), and started allowing users to download individual songs rather than whole albums. All though these were improvements the illegal downloading of music became more mainstream, more accepted by people in general to the point when I tell people, “That’s illegal you know?” they look at me and say, “Really? But everyone does it!” Yes, everyone has done it and continues to do it and now I believe it is the way of a new generation….your generation.

My generation I think doesn’t mind paying 99cents for a song, because we still remember a time when we had to buy a whole CD for that one song we liked. So just the option of only buying a song..is a huge improvement to my generation.

But your generation is different. Your generation has grown up with music always being free on the Internet. Some of you look at me like I’m crazy when I tell you I buy all my music through iTunes. You don’t understand why someone would do that when you can have all the music you want for free via a P2P network.

Furthermore, you are teenagers, you have very little money, or no money to spend on music, or you know that you can buy a really cool mp3 player and not have to spend money on songs. Also, there is the need to have a credit card to sign up for an iTunes account, which according to you today in class, not one of you have.

So, where does this leave the music industry? What’s the answer to an industry that lost 5 Billion songs to illegal downloads last year (at 99cents per song that’s about $5 Billion)? Is there a way to stop the illegal downloading of songs? Is there a way for the music industry to actually make money at giving songs away for free?

The more I write the more I keep thinking of different options the industry might come up with. But charging teenagers who are already getting DRM-Free music for free $1.29 for DRM-Free music….I don’t think is the answer. But maybe they are targeting my generation? Maybe they are trying to get more money out of those of use that buy our music via iTunes to make up for the billions of dollars lost through your illegal downloads.

All that I know is, something needs to change. The music industry is not long for this world if they continue to not understand the brain and the reasoning of your generation, so here’s your chance…and your assignment.

Take some time to do some research, read the links I have supplied you above, and pounder for a second what the future of music will be like, will look like, and where will performers, record labels, recording studios, and the industry all together make their money in the future?

Can the music industry be changed?
How would you change the system?
Would you ever pay money for music?
Who is going to change the system?
Why is this so important today…and where does it lead us to tomorrow?

I look forward to your responses. Please make sure you link back to this blog post in your blog post.

[tags]21st Century Learning[/tags]

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I’m catching up on my RSS reading from Spring Break and came across David Warlick’s posting about not getting social networks. The comments were interesting to read as well and I thought about this all night and offer this to the edublogosphere.

We don’t get it, we’re not suppose to get it, but we need to learn it.

There are so many new technologies, new sites, and new programs being created that people are starting to get frustrated by the amount of new networks, sites, and pace at which things are being created in the name of education. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t get most of it, in fact what I think we are all trying to do is to wrap our heads around all of it, make sense of it, and see if it is worth using in education.

Twitter: I don’t get it, but I’m using it, seeing if there is something there worth using. I like some of what it offers but have yet to find the power in it. Does that make it dumb, or time consuming? Maybe, but my “Friends” and I are just playing around with it, seeing if there is something there to use. If not it will probably go away like other programs that I’ve signed up for that didn’t serve a purpose to me.

Ning: Is all the rave right now and even though I haven’t found time to actually join any of the new social-networks forming there I’m sure I will. Now, will the networks last? I don’t know, but at this point in time I don’t think that’s the point. The point is trying to make use of this new site. What does it offer us as educators? Does it offer anything worth using in the classroom? Does it have value? It will be interesting to look back in a year and see which Ning-Networks are still alive and which have died.

It’s easy to get caught up in the here and now, and even frustrating when you see all the new things coming at us. But isn’t that why we’re here? To try and make sense of all this stuff. I’m completely overwhelmed at the moment. Needing to join this group and that group. But that’s OK, because it’s part of the learning process.

What we need to do, is learn to let go. Our students are good at this. Just look at the current migration from Myspace to Facebook. Or from one gaming system to the next. Our students understand that with rapid change comes a growing pile of programs and sites that didn’t make the cut. Now I’m not saying any of these are in that category yet, but you just don’t know what will take off, so you join everything. I just think of all the wiki’s that have been created for this and for that, that no longer get visitors. It’s part of the growing pains, part of why we’re here. We’re the front runners in the edtech world, it’s our job to sift through these sites, programs, networks to find out which ones are worth implementing in our schools, and using in our classrooms.

Basically we are educational technology researchers trying to determine what works, and were we want to go. So even though we don’t get it…it’s OK. You don’t need to do it all, allow your network to do it for you. I’m not joining every group, just one or two and I’ll allow others in my PLN (Personal Learning Network) to try others and have them report back on their blogs how things are going.

I think we forget sometimes we don’t need to know it all, we just need to know where to go to know it all. 🙂

[tags]21st Century Learning[/tags]

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This week at techlearning I’ve continued the conversation I started last week about the Problem with Blogs. After reading and reflecting on the comments left by others…I’ve updated my thinking on the subject and give further thought to some of the comments.

Here’s a taste of the new image:

Read the rest here.

[tags]conversations, blogs, 21st Century Learning[/tags]

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A great posting today on U Tech tips from Shaun McElroy on Classrooms as studios. Some great links to some great information.

Let me give you a couple of hints:
Everything moves
Ergonomics people, ergonomics
Flexible spacing
1:1 computing
where are the wires?

Check out the whole post here. Worth your time to follow the links as well. I’m in the middle of it and already my head hurts!

[tags]21st Century Learning[/tags]

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