Comments Ketchup…

Kids operating a dinosaurbotA while back, I subscribed to the RSS feed for the comments on 2¢ Worth so that I could be notified when people had added conversation to any of my blog entries.  When it happens, I just click from the aggregator into the blog so that I can follow the thread from the original entry.

This morning, I had some catching up to do, so I just read through them clicking into the context of the comment only a couple of times.  A couple of things formed together for me.  First, someone, commenting on one of the posts — I don’t know which — suggested that what I was talking about was the purpose of education.  Why do we put children in our schools?  What are schools for?

Then I run across a comment that I was mostly impressed with.  But the author, a network filter administrator, said,

When I go through the process of adding a new Universal Resource Locator (URL) to the filter database I actually personally evaluate the site to see which of the state standards can be illustrated or in any way taught by the content of the site. If I find that none can it is immediately blocked.

Interpreted literally, this reminds me of a comment made by a keynote speaker I recently saw at a state school boards association conference.  It was a great keynote, funny, and thought provoking — in a good way.  But the speaker said something that I, personally, do not agree with.

If your second grade teacher teaches a fantastic unit on dinosaurs, but dinosaurs are not on the test, then that teacher is doing harm to your children.  Anything that’s taught that’s not on the test, is doing harm to your children.

Are the standards of instruction intended to be the extent of the instruction?  The answer to that question may well be, “Yes.”  But should the state define the limit of instruction?  I don’t think so.  Safety, I would suggest, should be the only limit to learning in our schools.

Added the Next Day:
I want to be completely fair to the two people I have referred to here. The keynote speaker was quite good, and right on target with most of the message. The statement about teaching to the test and the filter administrator’s strategy both come out of caring for their students. They are not at fault. The fault is an environment where AYP becomes so important, so critical to the schools and the district, that these actions make perfect sense. As much as it has done for children who were being virtually ignored before, NCLB does not enable. It constrains us from the innovation that is so desperately needed in our schools today.

Image Citation:
Ozawa, Ryan. “Dinosaurs Alive!.” Hawaii’s Photostream. 16 Dec 2006. 31 Oct 2007 <>.

Parents & Internet-Using Teens

I’m on my way out the door, but this just popped into my aggregator.  It may have been there for a while, just hiding.  But the latest findings from the PEW Internet & American Life Project are interesting.

Pew Internet: Parent and Teen Internet Use:

Parents today are less likely to say that the internet has been a good thing for their children than they were in 2004. However, this does not mean there was a corresponding increase in the amount of parents who think the internet has been harmful to their children. Instead, the biggest increase has been in the amount of parents who do not think the internet has had an effect on their children one way or the other. Fully, 87% of parents of teenagers are online — at least 17% more than average adults.

The study indicates that parents are paying a lot of attention to their children’s media consumption.

Parents check up on and regulate their teens’ media use, not just in terms of the internet, but with television and video games as well. However, those rules lean slightly more towards the content of the media rather than the time spent with the media device.

Alexandra Rankin Macgill, the author of the report, suggests that “The fact that the biggest increase has been in the number of parents who think the internet has no effect on their children suggests that parents are beginning to have a more nuanced view of the internet.”  She continues,  “It is a grey technology that can be helpful or harmful depending on how you use it.”  This is from the PEW Press Release for the study.

I wonder, though, — and this is just me wondering — if maybe the opposite might be true.  That in 2004, we felt that we understood the Internet as a rich source of content.  Some was good and some was bad, but it was a place to go to find answers.  Today, however, our children seem to be spending more time interacting in their social networks, and, in my opinion, discovering and even inventing new ways to learn through those interactions.  But we don’t understand this. 

What do you think?

I look forward to reading the rest of the report…

Resourceful & Ruthless Learning

Yesterday, I described how residents of San Diego County, who utilized the North County Times’ online discussion tools to call for and deliver needed news about conditions in their neighborhoods.  It was a different kind of journalism that emerged out of a traditional journalism.  It was resourceful and ruthless learning.

Another example occurs to me.  I’ve written several times about using a chat program during my workshops and speeches to facilitate backchannel discussions among participants and audiences.  This has worked remarkably well.  One exception, however, occurred when three (one in particular) people monopolized the conversation with junk talk.  Several members of the audience attempted to engage in conversations related to the presentation, but the effect of the abusers was a denial of access. 

Resourceful, Ruthess, and Risky
When I found this photo on Flickr, I considered changing the title of this blog to Resourceful, Ruthless, and Risky.

Several of the teachers were so eager to engage in conversation that they pulled up Skype and started commenting on the presentation there.  One even invited friends in from outside the venue, broadcast the audio of the presentation to them, and expanded the conversation even further.  It was resourceful and ruthless learning.

Years ago, when my children were both in middle school, our house was the gathering place for most of the kids in the neighborhood, mostly older than our kids.  My wife, Brenda, was especially open and hospitipal to the youngsters.  It mostly irritated me, but several of them genuinely impressed me.  Two boys, in particular.  One was always talking about rock bands.  He could discuss any band you might mention, give you the names of the members, the instruments they played, how they learned the instruments, the names of their parents, siblings, and girlfriends — and information I really didn’t want to know.

The other could talk about any movie you might be interested in, listing the cast and crew, and tell captivating anecdotes about the making of the movies.  Both were obviously resourceful and ruthless learners. 

In each of these instances, the learners engaged in responsive conversations, communicating from a sense of personal experience.  They worked in casual communities where they could ask questions, answer questions, and illustrate their accomplishments.  The invested themselves outside traditional boundaries of learning, where they could safely make mistakes and still earn attention.

Both of those resourceful and ruthless learners in my neighborhood were diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder — one with ADHD.  Both dropped out of high school.

Image Citation:
Young, Rich. “Escuela Adventista Central America Cultural Event 020.” Young in Panama’s Photostream. 25 Sep 2006. 30 Oct 2007 <>.

More than Technology & Less than a Wildfire

Several days ago, I received a voice mail from a newspaper reporter who wanted to talk about social networking.  I was working a conference at the time, and with sessions, meetings, and evening banquets, I was not able to return his call until I reached the airport, two days later.  His name was Gary Warth, and he was a reporter for the North County Times, serving San Diego. 

Canyon Country Fire 10-21-07Something was happening with the paper’s web site.  On Sunday, they’d hosted 175,235 visits.  But the next day, it climbed to 878,351 and on Tuesday it peeked at 1,054,354.  Of course the San Diego wildfires explained the interest (3.2 million visits for the week) and the increased commenting (19,010).  But what struck the staff of the newspaper was the dramatic shift in tone.  They were accustomed to comments and sudden spikes in their volume.  But these online conversations were typically “contentious as readers bicker about politics, immigration and other divisive issues.

As Warth reported in Online community comes to the fore during fires (27 Oct 2007)…

Readers asked one another for information about their towns or even their specific streets, and other readers directed them to maps or shared whatever they knew.

“Does anyone know how Green Canyon is doing?” wrote reader High Hopes.

Thirty minutes later, High Hopes had an answer from reader MKE: “Green Canyon from Reche to Winterhaven was OK. I think south to Mission is OK. Was at The VFW last night very smoky. No sizable winds at present along Green Canyon.”

A different kind of news service seems to have emerged out of the papers interactive online site.  It was a service that tapped into the community for reporters and on-demand stories as the communication shifted from broadcast delivery to multicast conversation.

Warth mentioned, during our brief phone conversation, a couple of other experts he’d talked with.  After reading the story, I learned that one of them was Bernie Dodge (San Diego State University professor and inventor of the Webquest), who’d been relying on Twitter to keep track of friends in the San Diego area.  Another was Andy Carvin, who’s been a student of this phenomena since the Kobe earthquake in 1995. 

The North County Times, as a traditional news service, provides information within an environment of information scarcity.  They sell news content.  What emerged during the wild fires, and was facilitated by the paper’s online presence, was a different kind of news service that was based on information demand and information abundance — and that information was free.  It’s a good long tail story.

..and it makes me wonder how we might provoke such information abundant, demand-oriented learning experience in our classrooms.  Are they happening already outside our classrooms?  How do we tap in? 

It will take more than just the technology.  And it should take less than a wildfire.

Image Citation:
“Canyon Country Fire 10-21-07.” DisneyKrayzie’s Photostream. 22 Oct 2007. 29 Oct 2007 <>.

Compare & Contrast

I’m currently planning (in my head so far) a presentation and extended workshop on personal learning networks. There are a couple of questions that are rolling around in my head right now, that I’d like to cast out into this cauldron of perspectives.

The questions are:

  • In what ways are personal learning networks like our students’ MySpace or Facebook sites?
  • In what ways are they different?
  • Are the stages for developing your personal learning network?
  • What are the fundamental characteristics of a personal learning network?

So if you have time and some thoughts on any of this questions, I’d love to stir them in.

A Conversation about Failure

Henry Winkler at the NYSSBA Conference 2007I have a general rule about my public speaking.  Don’t follow kids — and never follow a school board member who’s just read The World is Flat.  After my experiences at the New York State School Board’s Association conference in NYC this week, I have a new one.  Don’t follow The Fonz!

Henry Winkler (actor, director, producer, and author) was the opening keynote speaker for their conference, and it was an inspiring message for this audience — who seemed to be the most enthusiastically anti-NCLB group I’ve ever worked with. 

Most of you know that Henry Winkler suffers from dyslexia, a learning disability that results from differences in how the brain processes written and/or verbal language. What’s especially insidious about this condition is that it manifests itself in people along the entire spectrum of intelligence, including highly gifted individuals. Yet, when a person has difficulty reading, regardless of other exceptional skills, they seem to be labeled, automatically, in traditional classrooms, as slow.

Winkler gave a passionate presentation about his experiences as a student who was not living up to his potentials, resulting in a childhood of feeling that you are doing something wrong.  My own A.D.D. and difficulties in hearing made this an experience that I identify with.  I suspect that many of us do. 

NCLB has achieved much.  There are certainly children who are learning to read and do math, who were being ignored before.  But the real tragedy of the program is the narrowness of its focus, and the lack of vision when identifying skill and talent. 

How many of our children are dropping out of high school because they feel unable. 

How many of our children are being made to fell unworthy!

Oh yeah!  Never follow a kindergarten teacher either…

Looking for the Engagable…

Work Places We Love
A Flickr Group that I belong to, the offices of edubloggers.  We love what we do.  We probably love where we do it.

As I said in an earlier blog entry (Bring you Heart with You), I spoke at a business conference earlier this week.  The topic was mostly about the millennial generation as your employees and customers.  The talk seemed to be well received with quite a few enthusiastic audience members coming up afterward to comment, mostly folks who were less than 35.  One commented that a number of people around him were not buying into it.  They did not agree that this generation is different.

After lunch I had the opportunity to meet with various groups from the conference who were involved in roundtable discussions.  One group objected to the idea of young people being engaged.  An employer said that so many of his younger employees were lazy. 

Of course, it is difficult (impossible) to comment on specifics circumstances where my personal observations are specific and the statistics from the various studies that have been done are so general.  His employees may well be lazy. 

But when I consider today’s youngsters, the time that they spend on games, their social networks, continuing text messaged conversations; the enormous investment of themselves and their time in the more involved video games; and the amount of reading and writing that they do; it’s really hard to think of them as lazy.  It’s certainly true that too many of them spend to much time sitting, and that many of them would prefer to IM clients than to go visit them in their offices.  But it still seems to me that this might be the most engageable generation ever. 

Students Generate Energy from their Intrinsic Need to:
  • Work in responsive environments
  • Communicate
  • Share personal experience & identity
  • Form & participate in communities
  • Ask questions
  • Accomplish
  • Invest themselves
  • Safely make mistakes
  • Earn audience & attention

This is certainly an arguable point, when analyzed by specific element of how our children spend their time and efforts.  But I’m reminded of an online activity that I did a while back with educators at Irving School District near Dallas — a district that has had laptops in its students hands for quite a few years.  The task was to identify the activities that students engaged in, while online, that seemed to generate energy.  Their list continues to be something that I refer back to again and again.

See at the right.

Bringing your Heart with You…

Early Morning by a Pond
A lovely picture I took early that morning outside my hotel room…

I’ve not been able to write the last few days for a couple of reasons, not the least of which was getting seriously lagged out from too many days on the west coast.  It’s a terrible feeling, when I plant myself on the sofa of a hotel room, and sit through three episodes of Law and Order, because I can’t muster enough drive to get up and do something.  Law and Order is the best thing playing in most hotel rooms, and it plays every night on at least three channels.

Anyway, I’m feeling a little better now and wanted to share one little tidbit that I gathered from a business conference I spoke at earlier this week.  The opening keynote speaker was Steve Farber, leadership guru.  He was great, and a hard act to follow.  But what he said that had the biggest impact on me was that you’ve gotta have love.  You’ve got to love your job, and you’ve got to help your employees love their jobs. 

Two of his slides said…

After numerous interviews and case analyses, we noted that many leaders used the word love freely when talking about their own motivations to lead. *

I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did… The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work, and the only way to do great work is to love what you do. **

I especially liked it when he said, “you want your employees to bring their hearts with them to their jobs.”

I think that this is especially important with teaching and learning.  There is so much about teaching and learning that is about communication.  And it seems to me that when communication has heart behind it, then it becomes especially sticky.

* Kouzes, James M., and Barry Z. Posner. The Leadership Challenge. 3rd ed. Jossey-Bass, 2003.
** Jobs, Steve. “Commencement Speech for Stanford University.” Stanford University. 12 Jun 2005.

Measures for Success

Perhaps one of the most contentious aspects of my country’s No Child Left Behind legislation is how it measures the success of education reform — high-stakes, standardized tests, developed by state departments of education, based on state standards.  There is nothing inherently  wrong with wanting to assure that every child is mastering basic literacy and numeracy skills, and now learning the basics of Science — except that test scores have become the primary and often the exclusive measure for the success of every classroom and every school, and to many educators, high stakes standardized tests have become a barrier to true education reform.

Google Map of Green County's Snow Hill
Snow Hill is the largest town in Green County.

One place I’ve recently learned about that is stepping out beyond testing is Green County, North Carolina.  A low wealth, rural, county in the eastern coastal plain of North Carolina, Green County decided to base its education on opportunity rather than test scores by putting a laptop computer into the hands of every middle and high school student, starting in 2003.

iTEACH (Informational Age Technology for Every Child) is based on three critical elements:

  1. Infrastructure,
  2. Content, and
  3. Professional Development

One of the most interesting and courageous statements that I’ve heard made by several education leaders who have pressed for putting contemporary information and communication technologies in the hands of every student, is that we aren’t doing it for the sake of test scores.  Green County’s superintendent, Dr. Steve Mazingo, is one of them.  I recently presented at a quarterly meeting of North Carolina superintendents, and had the pleasure of hearing Mazingo talk about his schools and their 1:1 program.  He stated, up front, that their test scores had not improved that significantly (End of Course scores have risen from 67%-78%).

Of particular interest, however, is the number of graduating high school students who are going to college.  Prior to their 1:1 initiative, only 26% of students continued their education after high school.  On the last day of school, in 2006, 79% of graduating seniors had already been accepted at post secondary institutions.  In 2007, it rose to 84%.

Mazingo stresses that it is not the laptops that has caused this change, but its the change in education culture that comes from being connected, from teachers who must become master learners, from ubiquitous access (the entire county is now wireless), and I would suggest that it is when students see a community that cares enough to invest in their education and their future.

The measure doesn’t stop with college acceptances.  The county, in the last couple of years has see new business come, a new industrial park, a new recreation complex, and a new golf resort community. 

They want their educated and creative children to want to come home.

Main Takeaways from CyberCitizenship

Picture from Hotel RoomI’ve not been looking forward to this weekend as much as I guess I should.  Yesterday, I was at the Cybercitizenship  Summit at Yahoo, in Sunnyvale, and on Tuesday, I’ll be in San Diego.  So rather than spend more than half a day on planes and in airports flying home, I’m just camped out in a mid-range 92 year old hotel in San Francisco.

It’s a nice small room with a descent work desk, and a view of what is probably a similarly aged apartment building across the street.  I’d rather be home, or have Brenda here with me, but I’ll make due — probably take some walks and work on some ideas that have been bouncing around in my head with Class Blogmeister.

Yesterday was good.  It was very good, although the theme was much more about cyber safety than information ethics.  I think that my very enthusiastically and perhaps even over the edge presentation promoting a more participatory web, the need for more aggressive education reform, and the outside-the-classroom information experiences of our children was probably a good way to start a conference, that was very much about the dangers that lurk on the Internet.

I’ll probably write more about it later, but the bottom line ideas that I took away were:

  • The danger is real, though many of the statistics that are shared are misleading.
  • There are some very compelling and well produced products out there.
  • Filtering technology needs to become more sophisticated.
  • Managing the filters should be a group endeavor by techs and classroom teachers.
  • More parent training.
  • More teacher training.
  • A whole lot more training on dealing with cyberbullying and legal liability.

The yearning I left with was for the day when, as communities are and should be concerned about the safety issues of the Internet, they are equally concerned that their children are still attending 19th century classrooms.

2¢ Worth