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

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nextgenteachers

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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!)

[tags]necc07[/tags]

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That’s The Way We’ve Always Done It

I was hit this week with a TTWWADI right in my own teaching. It’s the end of the semester and so in TTWWADI fashion the students are creating web sites using Dreamweaver.

The project includes everything we’ve been talking about this past semester. The only difference is the students have had a blog all semester and that is a web site.

The students have been excited to learn how to use Dreamweaver but I keep coming back to: Is this a skill I should be teaching in 6 and 7th grade?

Maybe…before Web 2.0 tools made it so easy to publish content to the web learning how to build a web page in Dreamweaver was a skill we needed to be teaching. But is it a relevant skill in a Web 2.0 world?

I would argue we should be teaching how to hack css scripts. All of my students have a blog through our school site. Most have at least one other site, either on facebook, myspace, or some other social-network. All of these places are created using .php and the users can hack their themes by changing values in the css script. I would have done this on our blogging system that is running wordpress mu but users can’t hack into individual themes using this program.

This would concern me more if this wasn’t the last year we will have “technology class” as starting next year we move to an embedded model where we will be supporting and teaching technology within content areas.

However..there are still many technology classes out there that are teaching web design via Dreamweaver. I’m not against web design…I could use a lesson myself, but we need to make sure that we are teaching students web design for a new web and not web design because TTWWADI.

Just something I’ve been thinking about.

[tags]TTWWADI[/tags]

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My Superintendent:

“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 weeks. 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 our 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?

[tags]learning 2.0[/tags]

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A Study on how laptops hinder learning made the front page of The International Educator newspaper that comes out monthly to overseas educators and schools.

Jason Welker wrote a great article at U Tech Tips about it.

First of all, to call this a “study” of the use of laptops in
schools is inappropriate. A study with a sample size of TWO classes,
yes, but its findings should be understood as applying only two these
two particular classes, which were large lecture-style university
classes. This particular university’s laptop “program” is described as
follows:

“Students were told at the beginning of the course that
they could bring their laptops to class to take notes if they wanted
to, but that they would never need their laptops.” (italics added)

Any school thinking of implementing a laptop program should be
careful NOT to emulate this university’s particular approach. What’s
the result when students are encouraged to use laptops, but told they
would “never need them”? Here’s what one professor observed:

“‘You’d sit and watch the students, and wonder, ‘What
are they doing with their laptops?’ You’d walk by other classes and see
everybody playing solitaire. I wanted to know, ‘Is this a problem?,”‘
said Fried, a psychology professor at Winona State.

The laptop users reported in weekly surveys that they did other
things other than take notes for an average of 17 minutes out of each
75-minute class.

Checking e-mail during the lectures was the most common distraction;
81 per cent admitted to this transgression compared to 68 per cent
reporting that they used instant messaging. Forty-three per cent
reported surfing the Internet, while 25 per cent reported playing
games.”

It should be no surprise that students spent most of their time with
their laptops surfing the net, chatting and playing games, given that
professors apparently made no attempt to integrate the computers into
their instruction. Obviously this represents a failure not of “laptop
programs” in general, rather of this university’s failure to implement
a program effectively. The university’s failure lies in the simple fact
that professors view the laptop as a fancy tool for taking notes,
rather than what it is: a tool for communication, collaboration, and
innovative research.

Laptop programs do not “hinder learning”, BAD laptop programs hinder
learning. The study discussed in this article focuses on one, very bad laptop program at a university that does not understand the role technology should play in education.


Worth a read!

[tags]laptops, 1:1[/tags]

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There is nothing like starting your week off with an e-mail from a teacher that simple says:

“Moodle is not working…do you know why?”

And then spending the next four days worried that you can’t fix it. It has been one of those weeks that I’ve relied on ‘just in time learning’ and my network of information to help me through what was a database disaster.

I wish you could monitor learning and knowledge over time. Because my graph for the past four days on how Moodle works and mysql databases must have doubled. Of course I can’t tell you what I learned, because:

1. I don’t remember it
2. I no longer need that knowledge
3. I probably couldn’t explain it right anyway

It’s been an interesting week and throughout it I have tried to reflect on how I’ve used my networks to learn, share, keep motivated, and try to figure out the problem.

Learning:

As soon as the problem with Moodle was reported I headed straight for moodle.org where the free support forums are filled with issues, errors, and solutions to problems that others have ran across while using moodle. This network led me all over the web following links, reading postings, and trying out suggestions as I went. I soon found that learning to search within the forums took skill; understand how someone else might have phrased a question or answer and then sifting through the results was at times stressful. I soon realized that we do not teach students how to search effectively enough. We do cover searching in class…but it is a skill that we should practice frequently.

Share:

I used twitter to share with my network of followers what I was doing, what was happening and how I was feeling. This networked helped me in a number of ways:

1. They are educators, they understand how a system failure like this affects the learning process, and I could feel they understood my frustration and stress.
2. My twitter network also turned into a learning network as three different followers offered support. Chris Craft even chatted with me and helped look for answers on his own (Thanks you Chris!).
3. My twitter network also helped to keep me motivated by responding to my twits with motivational twits of their own, or just by simple stating “I feel for you.” Knowing that someone else understands your pain is always helpful.

Personal:

I also had a personal network. Those people around me who could lend an ear, make a suggestion, or just listen to me talk through what I had tried and what I was thinking. My wife has come to understand that when a system like this crashes I am best to be left alone for hours days on end until I figure out how to fix what is broken. I also called upon other techno-geeks in the Shanghai area as we were having a meeting for the Learning 2.0 conference and I brought up the troubles I was having. They gave me some good suggestions, a pat on the back, and sent me home motivated to try something I hadn’t thought of.

In the end, Eagle Net is back up and working, but what I had to do to get it to work should not be tried…in fact I discourage it as it’s long, stressful, and I probably couldn’t do it again if I tried. Let’s just say lines and lines of database files were involved.

These networks made up my just in time learning for the week. Now as I reflect on this process I’m starting to think about what this might look like in a classroom. How do we help students to tap into their personal networks to learn the information they need when they need it. It’s an interesting concept I think as this is a short term memory skill and is much like cramming for a test. You learn everything you think you need to know for a short time period and then hours later you can’t remember what you read, or even knew. How does this differ from the long term memory we focus on in the classroom? We try hard to teach students to store things in their long-term memory. We want them to remember what we taught them in September for that test in May. However, is that how the real world works? Do we learn skills to remember them forever, or do we learn them when we need them and for a specific purpose, only to learn something new and different tomorrow?

At our school we are moving to a ‘just in time learning’ model for technology, where students learn a tech skill because they need it to complete a specific task or project. The idea behind this approach is that the students become their own network of knowledge, helping each other out using the skills they know, remember, and are building. Instead of teaching technology skills in isolation, they are taught within curriculum areas and on a need-to-know basis.

So maybe something useful did come out of Moodle crashing. The opportunity for me to reflect on the just in time learning process and how in a networked word with information at your fingertips knowing how to do it is a skill we all need.

[tags]21st Century Skills, Moodle[/tags]

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I just left this comment on a message board with some pre-service teachers:

What is more important to be adaptable or knowledgeable? (think dinosaurs)

The word adaptable and adaptability have been floating around in my head for some time now and how they define what we are trying to do in the 21st century and why it is so hard for us to put our finger on what School 2.0 means. I then read this from David Warlick

But it’s why I want to think about the term School 2.0 in a different way.  Rather than referring to 2.0 as a version number, we might refer to it as a value of velocity.  School 0 and school 1.0 are schools that are not changing, that are not adapting.  School -1 and School -2 are schools that are going backwards, which, in my opinion, describes U.S. education over the past six years.  School 2.0 is a school that is dynamic, rich with content, equipped with  information tools, and deep with knowledge-building conversations.  School 2.0 adapts!

I agree, and it’s becoming more clear to me why School 2.0 is so hard to define. School 2.0 is about adapting to the changing times, about adapting to the skills/knowledge/resources that our students need to be successful once they leave us. The problem is schools want concreteness. We like our mission statements our vision statements we like knowing that there is something we are meant to accomplish. What if School 2.0 was defined by it’s adaptability?

School 1.0 was about knowledge and being knowledgeable in your field. You only needed to be adaptable when a company downsized or you were laid off. But in today’s flat world you need to continue to adapt, continue to learn, because if you don’t someone else, be it your neighbor or a person in Asia will.

School 2.0 understands that this is just the beginning and there is no end, that everything new leads to something else new. If you think we’ve reaching the end, then I encourage you to watch this video.

This brings me back to a post I did just over a year ago when I talked about schools being in a state of perpetual beta

Perpetual Schools: A theme for many educators is the idea that schools are ever evolving to meet the real-time demands of students. Rather than release scheduled theory updates. Educators like Google will add features as they become available and adapt dynamically to their students’ requirements, which are in turn de facto ‘testers.’

Is this a bad thing? The ability to adapt is what is defining School 2.0. Chris Lehmann’s SLA is a good example. They started off with Moodle and are now starting to adapt to Drupal. If content changes and the tools change I would guess so would the school. The foundation remains the same, but being able to adapt is what will keep School’s moving down the 2.0 road. Once you solidify your thinking and stop adapting then you quickly become extinct…or as David puts it School 0.

School 2.0 will be hard to define, as we are trying to hit a moving target and that target will look different depending on your school and community’s situation. School 2.0 is adaptable, it can come in many different shapes and sizes but at the end of the day it must be able to adapt, to change, and with that we teach our students to adapt, to continue to learn, to continue to seek out new ways of doing things, and asking if there is a better way….and it’s that thinking I believe that will lead to success in the 21st Century.

[tags]21st Century Learning, School 2.0, perpetual education[/tags]

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Yesterday I, along with about 10 other educators from my school, went to the first Apple seminar for international schools held here in Shanghai. Apple has sent a team here to “break into the international school market in Asia.” They are based in Beijing but travel around Asia promoting their products and what they can offer to schools who are looking to either go to a full 1:1 program or just looking to get more technology in their schools. I get teased a lot from fellow teachers who are Mac lovers for being the “Dell guy” because I do own a Dell computer. But I can run both platforms (although I’m a little rusty on OS X) and at the end of the day it’s just hardware!

What follows are brief notes that I took from the presentation:

Title:
Digital Tools for Digital Kids:
An Apple seminar for international schools

Apple’s Education Vision
A world where all students discover their own special genius

Basic Skills
Technology Fluency
21st Century Literacy
Sense of Self

Talked about wikipedia being a powerful tool even though we can’t access it here in China but not about the connectiveness of information.

The challenge is:

Change management
Change pedagogy

Standards for Authentic Instruction

Higher order thinking
Depth of knowledge
Connectedness to the world beyond the classroom
Substantive conversation
Social support for student achievement 

Case Study taken from Mabry Middle School

An iChat with Dr. Tyson from Mabry Middle School. (Thank you Dr. Tyson for staying up until 1am to chat with us here!)

What needs to be explained is how Dr. Tyson has set up his school. The difference between Mabry and the regular Middle School format as in technology support, administration expectations for staff, and administration support to try new things. Dr. Tyson said when he was hired he was seen as the “Geek Principal”. Question was asked after middle school what is the high school like where these students go? Is it just as computer friendly? The short answer…..no.

Showed movie on Stem Cell research from the Mabry Film Festival.

Students as creators of information.

Not a lot of notes for a 3 hour presentation. I made it about an hour and a half before I shut the lid on my laptop (yes a Dell) and started drifting into Jeff’s World.

I do not blame Apple’s Educational Speaker/Rep and actually he did a pretty good job of showing what iLife can do. We iChatted with Dr. Tyson, with a teacher at the Western Academy of Beijing (school is going 1:1 with Apples), and a technology director of the new Renaissance College in Hong Kong (also going 1:1 with Apples).

But at the end of the day it’s just hardware.

As I was listening to the presentation I keep thinking back to a day when a similar presentation might have taken place…only over the #2 Pencil. Think about that the next time you’re listening to a presentation.

I don’t care if you have 20 computers in a classroom or 20 pencils. They can not do or change education without the instructor understanding what can be done with the tool they have been given. We do not ask students to use a pencil to read with, because we know that’s not what a pencil does. Educators understand what a pencil can and can not do. We have used it, tested it, and found its limits. We understand that it works best on paper, can be used in art, and is a great tool if you are drafting something as it is easy to erase. It is not a great tool if you are looking to keep a document for an extended period of time as the graphite easily rubs off, fades, and smudges over time. We use a different tool for those types of documents…a pen.

The computer is the same. It is a new tool. You can give one to every child in your school, but if the instructor does not know what the tool can and can not do, how can you ensure that the tool will be used, used properly, and used to it’s fullest extent?

The computer is just hardware, I don’t care if it is branded Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, or Lenovo. It will not revolutionize education…that’s what educators are for.

Dr. Tyson has done amazing work at his school, but he has set up a system that allows teachers to experiment, play with, and utilize the use of these new tools. I’ve said it before Tim Lauer, Dr. Tyson, and Chris Lehmann, are administrators who are taking these new tools and changing the education system within their schools. There is a difference between changing a school and having one or two renegade teachers in a school using technology. These folks have changed the systems within their schools. From the way they communicate with their parents, community and students, to the way learning happens and engages students. These educational leaders are not waiting for the spread of technology to happen from the renegades to others, but instead are standing up in front of their staff and making it happen.

It’s just hardware, it will not change education, it will not make our students smarter, it will not make our lives easier unless we are willing to take a long deep look into our systems and change the way we do things. We are talking about a pedagogical shift in the way learning happens, in the way classrooms are set up, and the way we view our students in this new digital world.

It’s just hardware.

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

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I wrote a blog entry over at techlearning yesterday called New ways to communicate talking about some of the new ways technology can impact learning in school.

Wednesday I had a chance to try some distance learning out on my own. I work on two difference campuses that are, by taxi, about 2 hours apart. I’ve picked up a class this semester on the Pudong Campus, therefore limited my time on the Puxi campus helping teachers there.

Here’s a picture I took of teaching the class. We have a state of the art video conferencing system that connects the two campuses. It’s mostly used for teacher meetings, and to my knowledge this is the first time it’s actually been used to teach a class. On the left is the AP Abnormal Psychology class in Puxi and on the left is my computer screen. We took about an hour to set up new blogs for them and walked them through the back side of WordPress. It’s been awhile since I’ve worked directly with high school students and I found it very refreshing. The best part is, as I was walking them through how to register for a new blog step by step like I do with the 5th grade, two of the students said “done!” I hadn’t even gotten to the part where they were to put in their e-mail address. So I changed my plans and told them to explore and if they had any questions to ask. So they went off customizing there themes. Two of them even put clustrmaps on their blogs before class was over. While the students were self discovering their new blogs. I was walking the teacher through step by step how to set up her blog. The students were helping her when she didn’t understand something. When all the technology works….teaching this way is fun!

[tags]SAS[/tags]

There’s been some talk around groups in the blogosphere. Some really good discussion happening over on Bud the Teacher’s blog. David Jakes had a great post as well.

What’s got me thinking about groups is it’s the US that makes this place powerful not the YOU. Does Time Magazine have it wrong?

The YOU, to me, is the people that use these great tools. If you use wikipedia, read blogs, watch YouTube videos. That’s the you, the you that uses the knowledge and entertainment.

The US are the creators. Those who edit wikipedia, write the blogs, and create the videos. All of this is done in a collaborative, connected group and sub-group world.

I belong to many different groups in this connected world and there are sub groups within those groups. My groups look something like this.

  • Educator
    • International Educator
      • Technology Specialist
  • Blogger
    • Educational Blogger
      • edtech blogger
      • techlearning blog
      • nextgenteachers blog
      • utechtips.com blog
  • Baseball Fan
    • Seattle Mariners
  • Basketball Fan
    • Gonzaga Bulldogs

I can keep going but hopefully you get the point. Just because I belong to one group does that mean I can not belong or take part in the larger group?

Let’s take nextgenteachers.com as an example. Yes, it is a group of bloggers/teachers coming together to talk and discuss technology in education. We are a group, but we still all have our own voices in the large group of the edblogosphere. At the same time I can still be part of the techlearning blog. A group with a different mission, different audience. Does that make one group better than another? I’d argue no, just different.

Just because I belong to a group of baseball fans that follows the Seattle Mariners, does that mean I can’t appreciate baseball as a sport? Follow baseball as a sport, as a season?

We join or form groups because we like communicating with people or find people that have things in common with us.

I created the blog utechtips.com and made it a group blog by inviting people to post and be contributors to the growing knowledge there. The site is now a group of 5, all of us from my school here. We are a group who all have something in common. We love tech and we all work at Shanghai American School. That’s not to say the group won’t change. The love tech part I’m sure will always be there, but the all working at the same school is soon to change as we move to other schools and other voices are added.

What is the down side to groups? Some people think they become to exclusive, and maybe they can. But if you want to start a group you should have a say to who is included. What’s the harm in that? If Women of the Web2.0 want to be a group of women…good on them. I don’t have to listen to them if it bothers me that much, I don’t have to give them my hit, my bandwidth, my time. But I for one like the group, like what they talk about, and like their angle. That’s why I listen to them. If I never become a part of that group, it’s OK with me…maybe the groups not right for me.

If you don’t want to join a group….what ever it might be…that’s fine….but don’t tell me I can’t like the Mariners because they came in last place, or first place. It’s not dividing the conversation it’s creating new conversations, new angles, new approaches and that is always a good thing!

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