Literacy in Tucson

I’ll be doing three half-day workshops and a keynote at a literacy conference in Tucson today and tomorrow.  New literacy is an old shtick for me, though I haven’t done the workshops in quite a while.  In fact, this is the first time since the Web 2.0 thing has become so ingrained in my thinking.  I’m going to let the workshops flow, and I suspect that blogging, podcasting, aggregators, and even flickr will likely work their way in.

The bottom line, I think, is that literacy encompasses the skills necessary to answer questions, solve problems, and accomplish goals with information.  Literacy changes as information changes, and that has certainly happened in the last 15 years, and again in the last 2 years.

Information, when I was taught, was a commodity.  It was something that you purchased, or borrowed, used, and shared.  Words were for reading, pictures were for looking at, audio was for listening to, and video was for watching.

Today, because of personal computers and the Internet, information has become a raw material.  It is not merely for consuming, but information becomes building materials with which we can invent new answers, solutions, and accomplish, hitherto, unimaginable goals.  Just what we needed for a rapidly changing world.

New skills!

Please forgive the use of the word, hitherto.  I’m old.  Cut me some slack!

Long Day

Long Day

It’s going to be a long day. I never sleep well before a conference, especially one where I feel, going in, a bit out of my element. It will be a literacy conference, where their speakers in the past have been reading specialists. My task will be to convince the educators that reading, in a networked, digital, and overwhelming information environment has gotten a whole lot bigger, and a whole lot more exciting.

So I’m up very early this morning, going through e-mail, checking my aggregator, fixing a problem on my web site, and trying to condense all the thoughts that were banging around in my head, at 3:00 AM, into a single blog entry.

I guess what woke me was a bit of bitterness that I’m feeling, during those moments when I take time to find something to be bitter about. I know that last year’s NECC was fabulous, in a fabulous city, with lots of new stuff going on. Our only complaint, leaving the conference, was the lack of WiFi access in the presentation rooms — and the folks at NECC had their ears on the blogosphere. It looks like we will have WiFi this year. (Look for more in 2¢ Worth about that in the near future.)

This year, I’ve already got a gripe. I’m sure there was no way around it, given the calendar, but this year workshops will be held in conjunction with the general conference, and I’m teaching an all day workshop on Thursday. ..and guess what! The keynote speaker on Thursday morning is Nicolas Negroponte.

Being a history teacher at heart, I am fascinated by the personalities that have fueled the unprecedented technological advancements of my adulthood, and one of the brightest personalities has been Negroponte. Born in Greece, his area of study was architecture. But his entry into the world of technology was about the architecture of how we interact with our machines. Out of this passion came the MIT Media Lab, a place, time, and event where people are “inventing the future,” as Stewart Brand put it in his 1987 book, The Media Lab.

I’ve visited the Media Lab on three occasions, and my impression is that they’ve built a play ground, invited a bunch of really smart people to come, and said, “play!” Out of this play ground came much of how we operate our computers, what we look at on them, and much more in what we see and hear about the world around us.

What amazes and intrigues me about Negroponte is that he successfully directed a lab where scientists were empowered to play at observing, tinkering, and inventing, and at the same time convinced corporate America to invest in the value of playful invention. What an incredible story-teller he must be. It’s the kind of story-telling we need to turn our classrooms into a place of playful learning and to convince the public that these are the classrooms that our children and our future need and deserve.

I’m not too bitter about missing the address. He’ll be talking about the $100 laptop (a major Negroponte initiative), and won’t be sharing much that I don’t already know and nothing that I don’t already believe. Still, I’d love to see him.

I’m actually, much more excited about the next time I’ll see Chris Lehmann, who recently had a conversation with the Media Lab director. That’s a conversation I’d love to dissect.

Off, now, across two time zones today, adding two hours to my day. Can you spell strainonthebrain?

Memorial Day — and Net-Learning

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868:

The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land.

General John LoganWith these words, General John A. Logan,  of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed the first Decoration Day, later to become Memorial Day, a day on which we, in the U.S. honor those who have died in battle.  The official national holiday was proclaimed in 1971 by President Richard Nixon, in the National Holiday Act of 1971 (Public Law 93-363), which established a number Mondays as national holidays, creating for three-day weekends.  My son will be home from school, today, though my daughter works for six hours at her summer job.

I wish I could say that I learned and remembered all of this in my history classes, or even as a history teacher.  But, alas, there is no need.  There’s Google.  A quick request from my Google textbook, put me in contact with the US Embassy in Moscow, where I found a large number of hyperlinks to other resources about the history and observances of Memorial Day.

To what degree has my laptop become an extension of my brain, and by result, of my actions?  To what degree have we as people and as a culture become dependent on the great inter-network, in our daily lives?  I suspect that the extent is somewhere between substantial and indispensable — closer to indispensable.  Yet we continue to base our investments in classroom technologies on the evidence that it helps students learn curriculum that, in most cases, is older than the Internet.

Another document that came to my attention this weekend was Home Broadband Adoption 2006, from the PEW Internet & American Life Project (Horrigan).  According to the report, 60 million U.S. citizens had access to broadband Internet in their homes in 2005.  Today, it is up to 84 million home broadband users, an increase of 40%.  A significant amount of this increase came from new Internet users who skipped dialup Internet, and went straight into high-speed.

Of particular interest were the demographics.  For instance, of the age groupings, the increase in broadband was greatest for people over 65, with a 63% increase.  The next was the 18-29 age groups with an increase of 45%.  Among African Americans, the increase was a whopping 121%.  Today 31% of blacks and 41% of English speaking hispanics have broadband at home, compared to 42% of whites.

Many of the percentage increases came from sectors that were previously on the lower end of broadband usage, where modest increases showed high percentage gains.  One exception was a comparison between urban, suburban, and rural citizens.  The increases were virtual identical, with nearly 50% penetration in our cities, and only 25% penetrating in the rest of the country.

In my opinion, this points to a trend powered solely by a market-place, rather than a recognition that equitable access to information is in the national interest.  This is why, according to TelecomPaper, an independent publishing and research firm, the U.S. has fallen to 19th in overall broadband penetration worldwide.  We will likely be passed by China in subscribership sometime in 2006 and by Slovenia in penetration by early 2007 (China will Pass US in Broadband).

2¢ Worth.

Horrigan, John. “Home Broadband Adoption 2006.” Pew Internet & American Life Project. 28 May 2006. Pew Charitable Trusts. 29 May 2006 <>.

“China will Pass US in Broadband Lines by Lat 2006….” 23 Jan 2006. Website Optimization. 29 May 2006 <>.

Hitch Hiking and Learning

I’ve been attending the eLIVE conference in Edinburgh. Well, I’ve actually been spending my eighteen-hour work days lately moving web sites to my new honkin’ dedicated server and programming. But, I’ve seen the conference, through “elive” tagged pictures in flickr, and through the bloggings of Will Richardson, Ian Mcintosh, David Muir, and John Johnson. So very cool. It’s not like being there. No! I’ve worked in Scotland, and nothing, nothing, nothing, is like being there. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so much at home. But I’ve breathed in the exhaust of the eLIVE event, and I’ve learned.

On Tuesday I was sitting in my office at StarBucks, writing, when my phone jingled and a text message appeared.

Oh My God, David — it’s been a long time since I’ve felt like a tech-dinosaur. This stuff is unreal. And our schools could USE THIS STUFF now. Now as in now.

I’m sure you’ve felt like this before, like suddenly you’ve been thrust into a conversation that has come out of no where, and you feel you should know where you are, and you try to hide your cluelessness. Or perhaps you haven’t had that feeling. Maybe it’s an A.D.D. thing. The best thing to do is pretend that you’re fully aware and above response. You ignore it.


The whole focus of this conference is ‘What do we mean when we say Open.’ You would love the spirit of this.

While reading this, my phone vibrated and jingled again and…

——– At the MIT Media Lab – wish you were here to experience all of this…. My observations would be richer if combined w/ yours.

I shot off, my thumbs typing as fast as they could…

OK! Who is this? I’m wishing I was where?

Of course, as my thumbs typed in a blur of action, I realized, “This has got to be Chris Lehman (Principal of the soon to open Science Leadership Academy, in Philadelphia). He replied…

It’s Chris Lehman ;-), and this event is amazing.

We talked, for a few minutes, about the culture of the Media Lab and its relevance to K-12 education. Then the conversation died down, as text-messaging tends to do — as my thumbs start to spasm.

But, I was there. My mind had hitch hiked up to Boston, and across to the U.K. and I have learned, and the event has become a part of me. Am I becoming a tenticled creature like my children, able to reach through walls, and listen, and learn?

In your conversation!

2¢ Worth!

Honest about Linux

Reinstall Reinstall ReinstallSome very good friends of mine aren’t going to like this, but my enthusiastic support of Linux is taking something of a hit. I’ve said it before. It isn’t my Mac, which is always there, ready to do what every I want to push it to do. But I have to confess that the amount of time I have spent tweaking my Linux machines (one 8 year old Dell desktop and one six year old Sony laptop), is really hard to justify, with everything else I have going on. The experience of installing and uninstalling software is never the same, and the maze that is the file directory continues to baffle me.

Admittedly, I’m going at this with almost no previous knowledge of Linux and no subsequent formal training. I’m sure there are easier ways to do the things I’m trying to do. But isn’t the tipping point for Linux in classrooms, not needing a Penguin Guy looking over your shoulder.

To be fair, almost no classroom teachers are allowed to tinker with their PCs or Macs, to the level that I’m experimenting. Someone sets it up, and it runs reliably for that teacher (most of the time). Linux could be set up with the software the teacher needs, and the machine would run reliably (most of the time). But it isn’t painless yet. They level of Linux knowledge required is probably not would it would have been five years ago, or perhaps even one year ago. But there will be a learning slope to climb. Of course, most techies enjoy mountain climbing, when it comes to learning new technology.

Anyway, I’m sitting here waiting for Ubuntu to reinstall on my Dell, because it finally became clear that its hard disk was too small to run KDE. It rendered FTP useless, and many of my SQL files are enormous. I just love that kind’a talk 😉

Curriculum is Dead — Teacher as Tour Guide

The other day, I wrote a rather heavy-handed entry, implying that with the increasing transparency of our classroom walls, there is no need for curriculum. This could have caused some confusion, not only because we all define curriculum in different ways, but also because the impression may have been read that with such rich access to the world outside the classroom, who needs pedagogy.

This is not at all what I meant, and I apologize if you took my words to literally. I tend to howl at the moon. It’s the different between, say, a math teacher (I was a lousy math teacher) and a history teacher (now that was my calling). In math, the point is made most effectively and eloquently by presenting the facts clearly and precisely and letting the logic speak for itself. History, on the other hand, makes its case with thunder, terror, and glory. Good history teachers really would rather perform history.

Anyway, the point is this. Education, defined by it limits, required a curriculum that was packaged into products that could be easily used in the classroom. We used textbooks with scope and sequence, pacing guides, and a teacher’s guide with the answers.

Education, defined by it’s lack of limits, requires no such packaging. It’s based on experiences, tied to real-world, real-time information that spans the entire spectrum of media — crafted an facilitated by skilled teachers, who become more like tour guides than assembly-line workers.

Certainly, some things have to be taught, and they may even be taught with the help of packaged curriculum. I would prefer to see something more along the lines of the Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (See What’s Left for the Classroom), than a basel reader. But, I suspect that learning to read, write, add, subtract, count, and measure, will become much less the predominant vision of teaching and learning that it is today, once students and teachers are empowered to participate with a universe that conspires to reveal its truth.

Gliffy — Web Based Graphics

Maine blogger, teacher, and web explorer, Cheryl Oates, brought to my attention this morning a new web 2 application, Gliffy. You sign up for free (pro version on the way) then draw or assemble flow charts, floor plans, and other graphical communications — and do so in collaboration. You can publish your projects as an image file on the web, so that it can be displayed easily through your blog or web page (see below). You can also add e-mail addresses of your collaborators, inviting them to come in and edit and improve your creation — graphic wiki?

The diagram below took me about ten minutes to construct, just feeling my way into the application. Very cool.

Imagine your science or history class constructing a visual outline slash diagram of your current unit of study, and collaboration.

“Going Safely Into the Night”

Technology & Learning Magazine’s Editor and Chief, Susan McLester, has joined the T&L Blogerati with a piece about a virtual night club in San Francisco.

Techlearning blog: When the Virtual Overlaps With the Real:

The San Francisco Chronicle headline “Going Safely Into the Night” described a new virtual space where teenagers can go to dance, listen to music, meet new friends, chat, take photos and generally just hang out. Yes, it is another one of those social networking environments like MySpace currently under fire— but I’m not heading in the “right or wrong” direction here. Instead, I’m more interested in the phenomenon from the perspective of a “digital immigrant” adult. When I visited the site (, I saw kid-created avatars (characters that represent them) lounging in groups or out on the dance floor. The chat was mostly wise-cracking, comments about favorite music, and other regular kid stuff. Though the scene was a familiar club setup and not exotic in any way, the environment was immersive like those of the more richly-rendered videogames. In the article, Doppelganger CEO Andrew Littlefield was quoted as saying, “You’re stuck at home. Your parents won’t let you out… You can text your friends or you can hang out in a glamorous nightclub.”

Here is the text of my comment to her blog entry:

…as for your blog, I certainly identify with it.  As fascinated as I am with video games and the video game experience, I personally don’t get it.  I lost interest after Pong.  My son goes off to college this year, and I am curious as to which game system he’ll be leaving behind 😉

All that said, from an older than 50 perspective, I suspect that this is just another instance where the kids will ask, “Why are you obsessing over this?”  I think that they see no divider at all between the virtual and the real.  It’s all their experience.  Separating the two has no meaning and serves no purpose.

My son walks out of his room and announces that he’s going to a movie and then out for fried chicken afterward.  “Who’s picking you up?”  “Alex!”  “Who’s going with you?”  An asundry of names of band-geek friends.  “When will you be back…”   (you know the drill.)

But it is clear and understood that he’s been with his friends already today, that plans have been made, changed, adapted, through on-going online conversations.  They operate in group mode, in a way that few people do, because the group is always around.  My son turns 18 this Summer, and he has not yet gotten his drivers license.  He simply hasn’t needed one, because he lives in group mode.  Enough of his friends are driving.

I suspect that we do obsess about it too much, because we’re from the old country, and speak with an accent.  It will always be that way.

A Billion Amateurs & Your Flat Classroom

There are several things that I like about formated RSS Aggregators. One is the ability to include a variety of media types on my aggregation page, including photos from flickr. My Aggregator (NetVibes) has a news page (news and news search feeds), education page (edubloggers and education news feeds), a tech page (self-expanatory), new media (web2.0 stuff), and entertainment (top grossing films, new films, new on DVD, etc.).

On my media page, I have aggregated the latest photo posted on flickr and tagged with Web2.0, and this morning I was treated to an interesting piece by cz_20turbo, who takes pictures with a message — written on them. This morning, it was a cropped photo of a WIRED Magazine cover with the words, A Billion Amateurs Want your Job.

I read this two ways. First of all, and probably the intended meaning, in a time of rapid change, where life-long-learning is the fuel that drives success. As the Partnership for 21st Century Skills reminds us, “Today’s students will have 10.2 jobs between the ages of 18 and 38.” Go outside the world of education and ask a group of adults how many of them are making a living doing what they learned to do in college. Very few will raise their hands. It’s a time of amateurs, because in a time of rapid change, we’re all making it up 😉 — and isn’t that exciting?

But the other thoughts that Turbo’s picture conjured were not so exciting. It’s a unique quality of teaching, education, and flat classrooms, that everyone is an expert. Most people have spent at least 12 or 13 years in classrooms, and the very nature of that experience was to instill deep seated notions of how we should learn — to be taught. We’re all experts, and we all have a rather firm image, or story, of how teaching and learning should happen and what a classroom should look like. A billion amateurs want to tell you how to do YOUR job.

We need to stir those impressions up, mix the colors, bring the heavy ingredients up to the surface and swirl the lighter ones down through the depths of the story. To do this, we need energy and an information environment that is dynamic, compelling, and accessible.

The energy is easy — our students. We need to learn to harness their curiosity, intrinsic need to communicate and influence other people, and the orientation to the future of now. The information environment, whose ecology feeds off of energy and access, is here and begging to be used. We need to communicate, tell stories, showcase learning and teaching — by learners and teachers. We need school and classroom web sites that are constantly changing, constantly new, and are a lens on to 21st century teaching and learning — and a lens on the future.

We need to stir things up and shatter the old stories. Think about it this summer, and rest, and play, and invent new stories about your job and its mission, and read. —– and thank you!

Number of Jobs Held, Labor Market Activity, and Earnings Growth Among Younger Baby Boomers: Recent Results From a Longitudinal Survey Summary, US Dept. of Labor, 2004. <>.

Photo Citation
cz_20turbo, “A Billion Amateurs want your job….and They will Probably Get It.” Cz_20turbo’s Photostream. 22 May 2006. flickr. 23 May 2006 <>.

Curriculum is Dead

A few days ago, I was scanning through some old presentations, looking for a picture that I remembered using years ago. I ran across a particular slide with the following text:

In the 20th Century, education was defined by its limits!

In the 21st century, education must be defined, not by its limits, but by its lack of limits.

The classroom that I taught in, in rural South Carolina, was green. It offered a 1942 map of the world, a broken black board, a bulletin board, thirty-five student desks, and windows that let in the light and circulated warm air out near the ceiling. Through textbooks and what I could draw on the corners of the chalk board, I taught world history, earth science, and basic mathematics to 12 and 13 year-olds — from inside that room. The desktop computer, as we know it, had not been invented.

In the 20th century, our image of the classroom and the stories that we told about teaching and learning were all defined by what could be done within the walls of our rooms and between the covers of our textbooks. Curriculum was a road map or blueprint that defined what and how we could teach our children about the world that they lived in — from inside of a box — a classroom. Education had to be symbolized. Teaching and learning had to be mapped out, sequenced, prescribed, and measured against arbitrary standards of performance — and scientific research helped us to determine which symbols, sequences, and prescriptions worked best.

The windows of the 21st century classroom let in more than light and they are no longer a distraction. We can now make our classrooms transparent, bring the world that our children are learning about into their classrooms, help them to learn by dialoging with their world, give each child a lens on which they can telescope and microscope their past, present, future, their place and time, their culture, and society. Within the context of a world-connected education, students will learn what humans do, they will learn to think and they will learn to communicate. No need for curriculum. Just guides and the tools to help them examine and interact with their world.

My point? I’m getting tired of hearing people continue to ask for the evidence that technology helps students learn. It doesn’t matter. We know — that good teachers help students learn. We need technology in every classroom and in every student and teacher’s hand, because it is the pen and paper of our time, and it is the lens through which we experience much of our world.

2¢ worth.

Photo Manipulation Source:
Hornung, Travis. “2004.06.05 Justin’s Pool, Inn n out, Sierra Drives 049.” Travis Hornung’s Photostream. 14 Apr 2006. flickr. 22 May 2006 <>.