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education

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Two recent articles and other observations have me thinking about the need to restructure journalism programs or school newspaper programs in our high schools. Some interesting ideas and developments lately that if I was a journalist teacher I’d be sharing and discussing with my students.

First from Mashable comes 8 Must-Have Traits of Tomorrow’s Journalist which include:

  1. Entrepreneurial and Business Savvy
  2. Programmer
  3. Open-minded Experimenter
  4. Multimedia Storyteller
  5. The Social Journalist and Community Builder
  6. Blogger and Curator
  7. Multi-skilled
  8. Fundamental Journalism Skills

It’s a great read for any student who is thinking of journalism as a career.

Then today on my iPhone I read about AOL braking away from Time Warner to become their own company once again and focus on creating content on the web via their web portals. The AP article talks about how AOL hired Tim Armstrong, a former Google advertising executive, as CEO as it looks at the future of making money on free content. The article ends with this paragraph:

The company plans to fill many of its Web sites with inexpensive material produced by freelancers paid by the post. This week it said it had hired New York Times reporter Saul Hansell to oversee part of that content-generation effort.

So AOL will be looking to hire freelance journalist who understand how to create a community and blogging….see Mashable’s list above.

Now let’s throw one more thing into the mix and that’s the skills we teach kids around writing. I share this in many of my presentations, the fact that the writing process is changing due to the Internet. Not so much the whole process (although I do think a Word processor does change that as well) but the fact that you no longer have an introductory paragraph when writing an article. These days due to RSS you get a sentence. Case in point, the RSS feed from the Seattle Times:

Newspaper RSS Feed

As a journalist today you get one sentence to hook a reader and make them click through to visit the website to finish reading the article. Of course that’s where the ads are and how newspapers are trying to make their money. No longer do you get a paragraph to fit the 5 Ws of writing…now you get a sentence. Now one paragraph to hook your reader….one sentence.

I just wonder how many high school journalism classes around the globe are helping student to not only learn to write for paper based readers but those for the web as well. Are we teaching them not just to create web pages, but sites and articles that allow a community to form around their content?

If there is one class in our high schools that the web should have completely changed….it should be journalism.

Over the past couple of days I’ve had one simple question that I can’t get out of my head.

Why do we believe that every teacher having a computer on their desk will benefit teaching and learning, but giving one to students wouldn’t?

It’s a simple question isn’t it? I mean….when I started teaching in 1999 I walked into my 4th grade classroom with a computer sitting on my desk. Not every teacher had one at that time, but the next year, at a new school, every teacher had a laptop. We’re talking the 2000-2001 school year. Every school since has provided me with a computer.

At some point, someone somewhere decided that every teacher having a laptop benefited teaching and learning. That this “tool” no matter how expensive had benefits that out weighed the cost.

And you can’t tell me that there were not conversations before this happened around:

  • Will they use it appropriately?
  • How are we going to make sure they use it?
  • What if they screw around and get off task?
  • What happens if it breaks?
  • How are we going to measure its effect on learning?
  • How are we going to measure its effect on teaching?

and for those of you who were in some of these conversations I’d love to hear the other questions/concerns that were raised. Here’s the best part….10 years later here are the answers to those questions as I see it:

  • Will they use it appropriately? Some will some won’t
  • How are we going to make sure they use it? We won’t, it’s a tool that is there for them to use when they need it to help them do their job.
  • What if they screw around and get off task? They will, it’s a fact, we have teachers updating Twitter and Facebook during the school day, sending personal e-mails, looking up movie times for after school, and booking flights. They screw around on the computer all the time!
  • What happens if it breaks? We’ll keep a couple spares to replace it.
  • How are we going to measure its effect on learning? We won’t but we have a hunch that it does.
  • How are we going to measure its effect on teaching? We won’t but we have a hunch that it does.

10 years later and these are the best answers I can come up with?

We have no data, we have no facts, we just have a hunch that our schools are better when every teacher has access to a computer. Oh, and not a computer in a cart, or one they have to check out every day. No a computer that is customized to them, that allows them to do what they need it to do no matter what they teach.

I mean…why in the world does a PE teacher need a laptop?

Now that's what a teacher's desk should look like! Flickr ID: Corey Leopold
Now that's what a teacher's desk should look like! Flickr ID: Corey Leopold

So that’s it….I’m going to march into the Head of School’s office tomorrow and ask him to please either show me the data that every teacher having a computer leaders to better more in-depth learning, or I’m going to request that he take them all away and that we use that money for something else that we know without a doubt leads to better learning. Then I’m going to unplug his machine and walk out the door with it! We’re going to spend that money on SAT prep-books, Resources for teachers so they can teach the content they are suppose to be teaching instead of updating their Facebook status.

Yep…that’s it….10 years I’ve had my own computer and I have no data that shows that it ever effected true learning in my classroom or schools.

So I’m calling on all you tech people, our time is over, it didn’t work and I’m going to ask you to please start approaching your teachers 1 by 1 and asking for their computers. They can teach without them, they can communicate without them. They were a waste of money, and as someone who has helped to push technology over the past 10 years I apologize, I was wrong….you were right…they have no place in the hands of teachers or students.

My apologies,

Jeff

Disclaimer:
Jeff Utecht is not responsible for bodily injury or lost of employment that may occur from above mentioned acts.

So maybe I’ve been reading to much Lifehacker lately. But I got to school this morning and some how got thinking about how I could hack-up the Google Doc Application that you get from Google when you install Google Gears to work with our school educational Google Apps domain.

So here are the steps on how to do it for your own school domain.

Mac

1. Download the app by clicking here.
2. Control+Click on the app and select “Show Package Contents”

Google Apps
3. Navigate to Contents-MacOS-launch.sh file

google doc launch

4. Control+Click on the file and open with TextEdit
5. You will see the value http://docs.google.com/a/yourschooldomain delete that and copy and paste the web address to your google apps. It should look something like http://docs.google.com/a/yourschooldomain

google doc shortcut

6. Save your changes to the launch.sh file
7. Drag the app into your application folder or to your dock and launch.

Bounce:
While in the launch.sh file you’ll also see the code to launch your web browser. You can change this to be the web browser of your choice. Safari, Firefox, or Google Chrome. I set it for Firefox for all our teachers at school, but use Google Chrome on my own computer.

PC

If you are on a PC Google just creates a shortcut for you on the desktop to the web page.

Why?

Teachers at our school have really started to use Google Docs; from team meeting notes, to creating unit plans and sharing them out. The problem was that teachers didn’t want to have to remember one more URL, and for many they have so many mismanaged bookmarks that they can’t find things they have bookmarked.

So what this does is “reduce the clicks” as I’m always preaching. Now it’s one click and you’re to your docs! The simple app for the Mac just makes it nice and simple with a little design feature added in and easy to attach to an e-mail and send out to the staff.

Flickr: Spiderpops
Flickr: Spiderpops

So I read Dean Shareski’s post Why Audience Matters earlier today and just finished reading Clarence’s follow up post and thought I’d add to the conversation as well.

Dean does a great job talking about the different roles an audience can play and I’d like to extend his list.

Audience as Community

Your audience becomes a community when audience members start to repeatedly visits your blog or site. A community forms around your content. A community that becomes interested in what you have to say, follows your thoughts, or ideas, and is committed to you in some way. Be it an RSS feed, a “friend” or a “follower”. A community becomes powerful as there is a sense of purpose to your writing. There are people waiting to hear from you. Take the president/prime mister of any country, or a blog like TechCrunch. A community will wait for your words, wants to know what you have to say, and relays on you for information and ideas.

Very few students see audience as community in the educational/creation space. Although they totally understand it in Facebook, hence the reason you MUST update your profile so many times a day…the community is waiting for it!

A community of followers or readers is a powerful learning tool. It’s the reason why some of us in the blogosphere continue to blog. We have a community of people that we feel obligated to blog for. Whether true or not, there is a sense of obligation to people who have bookmarked your site or have your RSS feed. Audience as Community allows you to engage that audience into becoming what Dean calls an “Audience of Co-Learners“, or an “Audience of Teachers“. I believe before you can have either of those audiences you need to have an audience as community. Only after you have turned your audience into a community can you make something of them, empower them to help you, to teach you, to learn with you. Without that community they are just an “Audience as Eyeballs“. Much of this thinking comes from Seth Godin’s book Tribes which I highly recommend (the audio book via iTunes or Audible is my favorite).

Both Clarence and Dean talk about students and their views on audience. I also like Chrissy Hellyer’s comment on Clarence’s blog about age being an issue.

Yes….5th graders still check their Whos Amung Us maps to see if they have any new readers. Audience as Eyeballs is motivation for them…as I have found it for 4th and 3rd graders as well. Audience as Eyeballs also seems to work on YouTube no matter what the age. As the comments on most videos aren’t worth reading, the actual eyeballs on your video count.

Clarence does make a great point about students coming into our classrooms already with global connections via Facebook, XBox live, etc. Many of these connections are Audience as Community. That is there is a community of player around a game on the XBox, or any MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game).

I do believe we need to be teaching students the importance of audience. Whether it’s looking for a job, applying to a university, or blogging your thinking in school. Understanding audience and the power of creating a community around your content is something we should be teaching, should be discussing in our classrooms. The power of an audience brought Hitler to power, and at the same time elected President Obama. Audience is a powerful thing…from brands, to words, to videos, to music…..audience is worth studying.

Clarence for example has branded his classroom with Idea Hive and continues to build a community around his classroom both with his students who blog within and the classrooms they connect with around the world. An Audience as Community that leads to co-learning and teaching.

Of course teachers need to understand audience as well. Audience as Community is important for any teacher. Your community of parents can be powerful allies or enemy depending on how you engage them….or lack of engagement within a space…be it your classroom or class website.

Do we take time to teach students about Audience? The power they have both positively and negatively? Do we talk about how audience is changing do to the connectiveness of the web? Are we helping students to create positive audience interactions that help to form a community and lead to learning? I sure hope so….because audience matters.

I know it sounds like such a stupid question….and maybe content has always trumped actual learning but I continue to find myself in conversations that end with:

“I’d love to do so much more, but we have to cover all this content and I just don’t have time.”

Why is that? Why is content…which is now available anywhere and everywhere still what we feel like we have to do as teachers. I hate to say it but I think I got out of the classroom just in the nick of time. I would be considered a horrible teacher today. We use to go off on tangents in my classroom that could last for weeks. Somebody would bring something up and we’d run with it asking questions, answering questions and find ourselves in a whole other place be the time we were done. Off topic? Yes. Fun? Absolutely! Did we learn anything? More than I could have imagined!

But it seems today at all grade levels we’re so focused on covering content for this test, or by that date, that learning…..real true deep learning gets skipped over. Personally I find that very depressing.

Yes….I’m afraid I’d be a bad teacher today. I’d be the person who’d close their door so that nobody else could see that I wasn’t “on task” and yet my students would be among the most connected in the school. Our learning would revolve around what my school is calling it’s Definition of Learning:

Our learners develop knowledge, skills, and attitudes by connecting prior learning to new experiences.  The most significant learning generates increased understanding and can be seen in our expanded capacities to analyze, synthesize, reflect, apply and communicate our new learnings in a variety of situations.  At ISB, we recognize learning as a life-long adventure.

I could almost garuntee we wouldn’t cover the “curriculum” but we’d learn a lot about a lot of things and have a heck of a lot of fun figuring it all out together.

One of the rare non-Apple laptops seen in an otherwise cool park full of cool people by Ed Yourdon.Yesterday in our cohort reflecting session at the EARCOS Admin Conference we talked a lot about 1:1 programs. Everyone trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, where to start, and the questions go on and on.

I do think we can learn from each other as schools continue to strive to use technology at a true learning tool in the classroom. But, I do think we need to remember that especially in the international world….every school is different and every school will have to “Just Do It” at some point.

There are some questions that I think schools can be asking as they move forward. The key, in my opinion is to ask yourself questions that focus on students and student learning.

1. What do we expect students to do?
Don’t start your discussions with PC or Mac start them with what are the ways you see students interacting with the technology. Do you want them creating videos, podcasts, etc? Or are you more concerned with them having access to the Internet and being able to type…..or all of the above.

By taking time as a school to think about what experiences you expect students to have with the technology will lead you to the hardware that is best for your school.

2. What are Teacher expectations?
Have a discussion around how you expect teachers to use the technology in the classroom. Do you expect it to replace textbooks, enhance textbooks, or are you focused on completely new experiences interacting with content in ways that were not possible before every student had a laptop.

Taking time to discuss what as a school you expect from your teachers will help to plan PD sessions and focus on where teachers will be supported.

These are just two questions that I believe will help a school start the discussions around 1:1….but at the end of the day we can discuss, plan, and discuss some more about implementing a 1:1, but at some point you just have to do it!

Thoughts?

Waking up to a view of the grand mosque in Bahrain this morning has me thinking about cultures and just how small the world really is. The conference starts later today but some of the conversations I’ve had already have me thinking about education on a level I think few think about.

Yesterday I happen to take the bus from where the conference is being held (National Library just behind the grand mosque) to my hotel with the regional director of Save the Children. He oversees a project in Cairo and in Palestine. He use to have four other projects but do to money shortages they have had to scale back.

His project is helping rural schools become part of the community and help communities see schools as more of a community center than a place they send their children to learn. We talked about re-education the community to understand it “takes a village to raise a child”.

We also talked about e-learning and how it might be the answer to some communities. We talked about the fact that there is a wireless signal in the middle of the Congo and what if we could tap into that signal with laptops for students? Is there a way we could create systems that would allow us to educate rural areas of the world over a cell wireless signal?

As dinner last night I chatted with Dorothy and Russell from New Zealand. Russell is the Principal of PT England School. They are in the process of writing a grant to make their whole community wireless. Using the fiber optic backbone between schools they want to put wireless access points on the roofs of their schools that will cover the 3km x 2km community. Russell explained that the schools are far enough apart that they will overlap their signals nicely and be able to blanket the whole community with a wireless signal. As he said “We pay for the internet 24/7, why can’t we make it available to our community?” If they are able to get the wireless system up and running then the next step would be getting laptops in the hands of students. If everyone has a laptop, that feeling is they wouldn’t have to worry about student safety of students being bullied and mugged for their laptops (another story we heard from a school that went 1:1 in South America, where the school bus was stopped and students robbed of their laptops on their way to school.)

If these are the people I’m meeting and the conversations I’m having before the conference, I’m just wondering what the conversations will be like later today at the conference.

Stay tuned…..

I have to share this story with you if for no other reason….I’ve shared it with anyone that would listen to me at school today. I believe this story shows the power of:

1. What can happen when we allow students to be “out there”.
2. What happens when our teachers become networked and can bring that network to their students.
3. That through connections educational possibilities are endless!

This couldn’t have come at a better time with Clint H leaving a comment on my last post about a conversation he had with his IT Director:

He has some very persuasive arguments for his ‘walled garden’ approach (including “nobody ever reads public blogs anyway so what’s the difference?”)

Really….nobody reads public blogs anymore……..please read on!

So here’s how the story of connections played out last night.

1. I do a lesson in one of our 5th grade classrooms where we have a great discussion around what it means to blog, what good blogging looks like, and the difference between leaving a comment and a compliment. We also learn how to add an image to our post and how to add a link. Following the teachers lead based on this blog post, the students homework is to write a reflective blog post about the science experiment they did and what they learned. I leave the room with this challenge:

I will read all your blog posts tonight and the best ones I’ll send out for the world to read.

Of course they no nothing of the 4700+ Twitter followers I have or the 400+ Facebook friends. Nor should they care…what is important here is that their teacher is connected into a wider community to help foster a global audience.

2. Late last night I visited the classes netvibes page and started going through the student’s blog posts leaving comments on everyone of them. I was proud to see that most everyone’s blogging had improved from before our lesson and some students had really taken the time to sit down and write out their thoughts.

img_33671One such student was Haley who wrote out the experiment that the students had done in class. A great little bit of procedural writing (writing connection). I decided that this was one of the top 5 posts in the class and sent a link to her blog post out on Twitter and to my Facebook Friends asking them to please visit the blog if for no other reason to put a mark on her map that there really are people out there who will read you if you have good writing (Hey, I’m not above a little fake audience to start a conversation with kids that will lead to deeper writing and understanding!).

3. It just so happens that Allanah K (who I had the pleasure of meeting last year) was on Twitter last night and reads my tweet about the students writing. Intrigued by Haley’s blog post Allanah takes the idea to school with her today in New Zealand and asks the students if they would like to try Haley’s experiment. By the time I get to school today Allanah and her class have finished their experiment and have blogged about it on their class blog….of course giving full credit to Haley.

Where to go from here:
Of course at this point my mind is racing. This experiment has to do with teaching variables and just think of all the variables we can now ask as we collect data.

  • What if we share our data with the class in New Zealand?
  • I wonder if longitude and latitude is a variable we need to consider (Social Studies)
  • I wonder if we’ll get the same results? (Science)
  • How can we best represent our data for someone else to read? (Math, Science)
  • Why is writing clear instructions important? (Writing)

Of course there are hundreds of possibilities now that can happen now that these two classes are connected. With a time difference of only 5 hours a Skype call even with students talking about their data and experiments to each other…or more blog posts with more explanations.

Yes this all came about because I am connected…but it’s not about me….it’s about the connections. Miss B is a friend of mine on Facebook and seeing me post the students blogs there….copied and pasted the addresses and sent them out to her Facebook friends. She too is a connected teacher, but up until this point had never thought of using her network of friends and other educators in this way.

There is great power when we put students out there and allow them to share their thinking. These students have had a blog for two weeks now and this is their first major connection as a class. As we continue to learn about blogging, as our writing improves and more importantly our thinking improves, I know we’ll see more connections like this….it’s just to powerful of a learning platform not to.

So to the IT Directors out there that say “It’s to scary.”, “We can’t do it.”, “What’s the point?” I give you this.

That making deep connections only happen when you put yourself out there….sure we can play it safe…but playing it safe has never lead to deeper understanding!

Image Credit: id-iom

Typing in grade 2 by jutechtI have had a few conversations the past couple of days on what is the thinking on typing skills and teaching typing to students. Most schools that I know of do not have a typing curriculum like we would have a writing curriculum. If you do….that is fantastic and I’d love to see it, but to my knowledge most schools relay on teachers to “fit in” typing with students when and were they can.

Then comes the other issue that students today have grown up with technology and computers. By the time students are 6 and in our schools most of them have had numerous hours with computer devices. Whether it be a computer keyboard or a Nintendo DS, they are growing up being wired to input into a machine. If we start teaching them typing in middle school are we to late? Have they already developed habits that work for them? Last year I saw a 9th grade student who had one finger on each row. Example: Left hand: EDC Right hand: IJN and could type somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 words per minute. When I asked where she learned to type like that she just shrugged and said “I don’t know…it just works for me.”

This isn’t our generation

Our generation did not grow up with computers. Marc Prensky would classify me as a “Digital Native” (by 1 year and proud of it!) yet I learned to type on a typewriter in high school. Well, half the time anyway. We did learn how to use a computer…Macintosh Classic….but we were not able to take a timed test on them because we could “cheat” and use the back space key.

This generation not only has grown up with the backspace key but is use to having spell check and a dictionary at their fingertips every time they write anything. The world has changed and I’m not sure our curriculum has caught up with it.

My Belief

Typing in grade 2 by jutechtSo here’s my belief and my belief along as I’ve watched elementary students closely over the past four years. We should not be teaching typing as we learned it…home row keys, etc. Instead we should be exposing students to the keyboard as much as possible and allow them to develop typing techniques that work for them.

The two pictures in this post are of third graders just two days ago as we opened up laptops for the first time and were exploring programs…one happened to be Type to Learn Jr.. As you can see they have already developed there own typing techniques and continue to find and explore ways that typing works for them.

I see it much the same way we learn cursive. We were all exposed to proper cursive in school yet I would bet not one of us follows the proper techniques of cursive writing today. We all develop our own style that works for us. We were exposed to the cursive form enough to understand how it works and then we create a style that works….making each one of our signatures unique and different.

So here’s what I believe:

  • We should expose students to the keyboard as much as possible!
  • Every student starting in Kindergarten should be exposed to a keyboard as often as possible. 15 minutes three times a week would be preferred.
  • In 1st grade the focus would be to have student use two hands on the keyboard.
  • By 3rd grade typing should be part of the writing curriculum. The time spent on cursive writing should be replaces with keyboard time (cursive writing is an art form and should be part of art…..my opinion and my opinion only!).
  • By 5th grade students should be required to turn in at least one type written assignment a week and spend no less then 120 minutes a week exposed to a computer keyboard.

I talked to a couple 6th grade teachers last week who both told me that they only have students type assignments to be handed in. That they have not accepted hand-written work for two years now.

What skills are we teaching in our elementary schools to prepare students for their future education?

Of course all of this is probably for nothing as if I was being futuristic I would talk about including texting and mobile device and touch screen typing. But then again….seeing that 30% of the 3rd graders at our school already have a cell phone…they probably know more about texting then we could teach them anyway. 😉

I’d love to get your feedback on this and the policy your school has or what your beliefs are when it comes to teaching typing to students.

U Tech Tips

This is what I love about wikis. You start a site, create the structure for collaboration, invite a community and then stand back and watch as the community helps you create a site that you could never have done on your own.

As a new school year begins I want to draw your attention once again to the U Tech Tips Wiki. A wiki were educators around the world share different tools they use in education. If you are looking for a free or low cost tool to do a specific function this is a great place to start. We even have different tools based on platforms. So if you are looking for a PC tool or a Mac tool, or even a Linux tool, we’ve got something there for you.

Over the summer someone added an iPhone Apps page. SWEET!

Another one of my favorite pages is the FireFox Add-on page. Where you can find some great FireFox add-ons that help you do your job or make your job easier (yes…there are even some that are just for fun).

And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE if you use an app that you don’t see on the list and think should be there, add it! Click the EasyEdit button on the page you want to add it on and type away!