5:00 AM

Over the coming days, I am going to be writing short articles describing the activities that I am scheduled for at the National Educational Technology Conference (NECC) the end of this month. It promises to be an exceptional conference for many reasons. For me, personally, it will be my first experience with downtown Philadelphia. The more I hear about the city, the more excited I am, hoping to take lots of walks to see and experience as much as I can (on a budget).

But my first engagement, so to speak, at NECC will be a pre-conference workshop, Advanced Interactive Web Site Building with PHP (June 26). This will be a day-long, hands-on workshop on programming. PHP is a language that has been popular in Europe and Asia for years (First developed by Rasmus Lerdorf, a Danish-Canadian programmer, who is currently working for Yahoo Inc.). In the last couple of years, the language has taken off in the U.S. and is now reported to be running on one third of all domains. PHP, in a sense, is an add-on to HTML in that it can be written in with the HTML code giving a web page and extraordinary amount of interactivity.

PHP has the added advantage that it is a highly efficient and easy to learn language. Lerdorf says, “I really don’t like programming. I built this tool to program less so that I could just reuse code.”

This workshop is already full, but I look forward to other opportunities to teach it. As many of you know, I love programming. It’s like playing with legos, only you never run out of those little square, four-post pieces. 😉

At Home & NECC Bloggers

6:54 AM

Sorry I haven’t been writing very much. I am in my home county right now (Gaston County, NC) working a district-wide staff development conference. And it is a conference. I haven’t counted the presenters, but their program book is a thick as any state tech conference I’ve attended, with presentations from locals and out-of-staters alike. the topics include differentiated instruction, brain-based research, 21st century literacy, and “making teaching fun”.

I did my contemporary literacy keynote yesterday and have been spending the rest of my time there teaching teachers to build web pages with PiNet, which the district has installed on their web servers.

Can’t Attend NECC? We’ll Blog it For You!
Here’s what SEGA Tech is saying.

Thanks to the kindness of Barbara Hewick, a Web Marketing Manager at ISTE, it looks as though SEGATech and others will be blogging the NECC in Philadelphia. If you’re unable to make to NECC, relax; you can check our blog for news and commentary concerning the conference. Thanks, Barbara!

This could, indeed, be a new kind of NECC, the beginning of something uniquely valuable, as conferences become as much a journalistic sharing beyond time and space, as it is a focal event of smart people getting together and growing their skills and knowledge.

Very cool!

The Challenge of Wikipedia (a response)

6:55 AM

Will Richardson brought up two incredibly important issues yesterday in The Challenge of Wikipedia.

I’m on a wiki and Wikipedia bender of late, trying to get my brain around all of the implications for educators in terms of how to teach research and the use of sources. I think that this is actually a bigger challenge for elementary school teachers who are in that pre-exposition gray area. For instance, if my daughter gets assigned a “report” on Argentina, why wouldn’t she go first to the Wikipedia entry? The bigger question is why would she go anywhere else? The entry has 4,100 words and about 125 links to more information. It’s got maps and charts and pictures. It’s been edited like a gajillion times, most recently today with updated GDP figures. Ok, I know, I know. It might be all wrong. But you and I know…it’s not.

Many of you have had the experience of demonstrating Wikipedia to a group of teachers, and they become so excited — until you click the “Edit This Page” button. It is no exaggeration to say that they are shocked. If it’s librarians, we wheel in defibrillators.

Richness and extent of accuracy aside, it is understandable that educators feel like their feet have been knocked out from under them by the Wikipedia. We have been taught to assume the authority of the information that we encounter. But today, our information environment is changing into something that is…

less worthy of this assumption
but at the same time
more valuable.

I would make the assignment like this. Look up Argentina on the Wikipedia, and collect the facts and concepts that are appropriate to the assignment. Then prove that those facts and concepts are true, by researching elsewhere for evidence of their accuracy and appropriateness.

We have to stop teaching students to assume authority and teach them to prove it. A big shift in the nature of how we teach!

Will takes us to the next level when he says…

The bigger, bigger question is why should she do that report at all? I know she has to learn how to write, to organize ideas, to use different sources of information etc. And believe me, I want her to do all of those things. But do I want her doing what I did as a kid? (I did Argentina, you know.)

I did a report about Argentina too. I remember nothing about that report, but I do clearly remember the Bola that I made, and demonstrating it’s use to the class. Took us almost 30 minutes to get Skitter Jones free from those things. 😉

Part of learning is expressing what we have learned, and more than that, expressing it in a way that accomplishes something. I do not write reports any more. I haven’t written a report since I was in school. But I do write, and I draw, and manipulate images, and edit sound and video. I produce information products that are designed to affect people in some desired way. Rather than giving students an assignment to write a report, they should write a travel log of Argentina, or make a travel brochure, or a news cast of some even happening in the country. Assignments should reflect the new information environment.

All Teachers, Great Teachers

6:55 AM

I finished three days of staff development yesterday with an incredibly weird, but also incredibly talented group of elementary school teachers. We finished the event in a local western-style restaurant and dance floor, viewing the teachers’ video productions. Their assignment was to produce a video, 30 seconds to 2 minutes long, that effectively conveyed some aspect of how media has changed over the past ten years. The number one constraint was that they were not allowed to use any words, spoken or written. The rest of us tried to determine the theme they were communicating.

Videoing TeachersIt was digital charades, but the teachers had at their disposal any props that were available in their school and video editing software to craft their presentations — and they were enormously resourceful, creative, and hilarious.

Now the idea I left this small rural eastern North Carolina town with was, “No school has that many incredible teachers!” No Way!

It brought to mind a line from my first book, that I have not thought about in a very long time. It goes…

There is a thin line between being a mediocre teacher, and being a great teacher.

Among those that we blame for less than great teachers are schools of education, lack of effective staff development, and now it’s the credentials that define highly qualified teachers.

I believe that it is none of those so much as it is a vision of 21st century teaching and learning, access to appropriate professional tools to achieve that vision, and the time to retool classrooms.

Given the resources and time to succeed, I am convinced that all teachers can become great teachers.

Owning Your Learning through Podcasting — Room 208

4:28 AM

I am in the middle of a part e-mail / part MP3 interview with Bob Sprankle, an elementary school teacher in Maine. He is the producer of Room 208, a weekly podcast, written, organized, and performed by his 3rd and 4th grade students. Bob e-mailed his Room 208answers to me yesterday as an MP3 file, and I only just got a chance to listen to them yesterday evening, after a day-long workshop with a weirdly creative group of elementary teachers in Eastern North Carolina.

I’ve already started putting together a podcast for the assembled interview, but a couple of things that this amazing teacher said, were simply to important to wait. As is my nature, as an self-pronounced technology sceptic, I asked Mr. Sprankle, what his students were learning now, as podcasters, that they weren’t learning before. ..and I asked him to go beyond the technology skills that they were learning.

His answer was long, but I will include it in its entirity in the podcasts. But one part in particular deserves printing now. He said,

As students are in class learning, they are starting to think, “is this a podcasting moment?”…or in other words, is this learning relevant? Do I want to share this with the larger community? Is it important? Is it meaningful to me? If it’s not, why not. After all we want to spend our days doing something that is meaningful.

This is a profound statement. When students begin to filter what they are learning, through this desire to produce and publish, then they are thinking about their learning in terms of its context and in terms of their context. Bob goes on to say,

You can’t just fake it for the show. You’ve got to really get in there and understand this information in order to make this show. You’ve got to own it. Students constantly examine it, review it, because they’ve got to teach it.

That phrase, “You’ve got to own it”, is important. This should become a mantra for teaching in the 21st century. We’re educating too much for our own ownership, so that we can show what a great job we are doing as a society. Let’s figure out how to make our students the owners of their learning.

2¢ worth.

My Take on the Edutopia Article on Blogs — AARRGGH!

5:55 AM

Image from Blog On articleWill Richardson’s on the war path again. I haven’t read the article yet, but I understand his frustration. First, the Blog On article, in Edutopia’s June/July issue, uses the picture to the right to portray blogging. To be honest, I actually can’t think of any one picture that might adequately defining it. Perhaps students at their desks, or in a library, or even under a tree, with their laptops, would have been better. I don’t know and I can’t say.

But his main beef appears to be with the article’s definition of weblogs.

Blogs, short for Weblogs, are online journals filled with personal thoughts and Web links.

To be fair to journalist (and what is unfair about journalism), their challenge is that they may only be able to devote one sentence to the definition.

So how would you, Will, or anyone else, define weblogs in one sentence?

Joys of Programming

3:49 AM

OK, it’s very early in the morning. I have so much to do, so many projects going on, and I hit the road this morning for a week of travel. This morning, I will be keynoting a week-long staff development institute that is put on by some very dedicated educators and the Wake Education Partnership. They’ve hired me to talk about contemporary literacy, but I will be plugging in some info about blogging and wikis. It’s all about the new information environment.

I have enjoyed my many weeks of very little travel. Probably too many weeks. One must make a living. But during that time I’ve written one book, revised another, and am currently finishing up a chapter for an ICT book that will be published in Europe. I’ve also done a great deal of programming. Writing is work. Programming is play.

When I was 11, I loved to play with Legos. I actually think that they were invented around that time. The joy of Legos is that you have a limited variety of shapes that you can assemble in an unlimited number of ways to create objects of personal value. Programming is the same. You have a limited number of commands and functions. However, you can assemble them in a limitless array of constructions that have value not only to me, but to others. It is the same pleasure as Legos.

I am working on several contract programming projects that I am very excited about, but have also been working on some personal projects, such as The Education Podcast Network (EPN). This is a directory of podcasts programs that may be useful to educators. They range from programs about education and the future of education, to podcasts on specific content areas.

NECC Blog Dog Word MapYesterday morning, I got up early with a new idea. The National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) will be held the end of this week. Although there were a few sessions last year about weblogs, blogging has hit is stride during the past 11 months, and I am sure that people will be blogging about the conference as it approaches, during its proceedings, and afterward.

Yesterday, I put together a web page that accesses Technorati’s index of podcasts and generates an RSS feed of those entries that include the terms NECC and 2005. It then lists the most recent 20 or so postings, the titles hyperlinked to the original weblog. I’m calling it NECC Web Dog, though I’m sure that name’s already been taken. There is also a modest Word Map that highlights the most often used terms in the blogs, and a link to Flickr, and all pictures that mention NECC in the description or as a tag (only three three right now, with some images of New England Crafty Chicks, and New England Conference Center).

It occurred to me that this type of tool could be easily adapted for other topics and events. What do you think?

Oh Yeah! If you blog about NECC, be sure to include NECC and 2005 somewhere in your entry. 😉

Home from New York

7:41 AM

It’s great to be home, here early on Saturday morning. All are still asleep except for me and Rasta the dog, who is waiting somewhat patiently for our 4 mile walk. I’m looking forward to it too, and we’ll get on the way when the latest Ed Tech Musician podcast downloads into iPodder and on to my iPod.

Yesterday was a very good day in rural New York, speaking to about a hundred library media specialists about contemporary literacy, and then in the afternoon, a short session on Blogs, RSS, and Podcasting. It was great fun with a great group of professionals.

Vivian Vande Velde speaking to NY educatorsFor me, the highlight was listening to author, Vivian Vande Velde talk about the joys and some of the pitfalls of being a children’s book writer. Many of her works are fantasy and sci-fi, and, as you might imagine, she is controversial among those well-meaning community members who pay a lot of attention to what children read and have a very narrow tolerance for new ideas and how ideas are expressed.

Vivian, just sent out an e-mail to the the conference planners and to me with some pictures that she took and that were taken by attendees with her camera. So take a peek.

Time to go walk!

Listening to Vivian V.


I’m at the “Redefining the World” conference in a small town in Upstate New York. The children’s book author, Vivian Vande Velde, is talking to a large group of school library media specialists. She has already talked that one of the challenges of writing books is the limited amount of influence authors typically have on the post production of their books. She said that she has had a better experience than others, but I can vouch for that problem.

As I’m sure I have reported before in the blog, I am now publishing books using an online service, where I have complete control over the layout, illustrations, and even the price. Vivian is showing pictures from her books and talking through stories related to the book and stories from her life. She is an excellent and amazing story teller, and I look forward to reading some of her books.

By the way, many of you have realized that my blog has changed. I finally realized how much time I am spending troubling ongoing problems with the RSS files that my homemade blogging tool was generated. So I gave it a try, and sure enough, I had WordPress installed on my server in less than five minutes, and the theme laid out in less than 30 minutes more. I like it, and the RSS files seem to be dependable.

It’s getting close to time for me to do my presentation on weblogs and RSS. Great fun!

Education as Conversation

3:48 AM

I travel today, and to be honest, I’m kinda looking forward to it. The glamor of airports, tiny coach seats with the back of the seat in front of me too close to my face to even hold a paperback book, and those delicious pretzels. I so savor all seven of them. It still has has the aroma of glamor to this man who was 40 years old the first time he rode in an airplane.

So I’m up early this morning, planning to move some of my web Blogmeister and EPN over to the web server on my laptop, so that I can demonstrate them to my audience of librarians tomorrow in upstate New York, without having to depend totally on a working network. “Assumption is the mother of all screw-ups,” I always say.

book coverStill, I’m spending the first moments of my morning blogging, and today its a news story that was waiting in my aggregator, from The New York Times, A Town’s Struggle in the Culture War. At issue is a book, The Buffalo Tree by Adam Rapp, and its removal from the schools. I see this struggle over culture and values in schools as extremely counter productive. While our classrooms languish in the industrial age and much of the rest of the world catches up and passes us by, what brings passion to those who govern education is the brief reading of a passage from the book by a 16-year-old student. Read completely out of context, the delivery still provoked the school board to unanimously vote to ban the book from the High School curriculum less than an hour later. (Two board members were not present.)

Now what’s bad about this? Is it the exercise of political power over the curriculum experts — their teachers? Is it the vast waste of time and effort that the controversy is costing? Is it a right/left thing as the number of challenged books rises 20% after the re-election of George Bush (a connection made by the American Library Association).

What woke me up this morning was the beginning of a new Podcast program, swirling around in my head (that’s how ideas start for the A.D.D.). The concept is education as conversation. We traditionally think of education as being the delivery of skills and knowledge, depositing stuff into the heads of our students. What does education look like, if we start think of it as more of a conversation than a delivery?

How might the controversy above play out? Would controversial ideas be considered differently by the community if they thought of their classrooms as places where students consider, evaluate, adopt or reject, and build on knowledge; as opposed to a place where students are taught.

I’ve not read The Buffalo Tree, so I may be way off target here. But I still think there might be something to thinking about education as conversation. I think you might hear more about this from me, and I’ll expect to hear from you.