Class Challenge

The other day, at the end of a presentation for parents from a school in Milwaukee, a member of the audience came up excited about the possibilities of students using video to communicate.  He said that he was working with a boys club in the city, and was looking for a way to get the youngsters excited about something academic.  I suggested ThinkQuest, that they come up with some aspect of life in the city that they would like to teach, and the produce a web site that teaches it.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that these competitions might be a truly important contribution from the corporate world.  I’d love for Oracle to give every teacher in the U.S. a laptop of their choice.  And I’m not all that enthusiastic about making everything competitive.  But corporate and association sponsored competitions are one way to connect the classroom experience with the outside world.

ScreenNation VideoHere’s another one.  ScreenNation, of the American File Institute, just announced a new Challenge,

Make a movie, three minutes or less, reviewing your favorite movie.

Boy, I’d love to take the time to review “Burn after Reading!”
Anyway, your students can team up, figure out how to creatively express their opinions about the movies, without using any clips or music from the film, and then make a short creative video to submit to ScreenNation.

It not about the camera.  It’s about the communication 😉

You’re Probably Not Going to Believe This

[Hopefully, my only political blog post of the season -- and it's pretty pathetic]

Candidate Dolls

I must confess something that has been eating at my conscience for some time.  It’s one of those guilts that haunts you.  You can see it, in your nightmares, bringing you to a halt at the pearly gates, forcing you to examine your deepest and darkest of sins. [Image ((Beale, Scott. “Animatronic John McCain & Barach Obama Presidential Dolls.” Laughing Squid’s Photostream. 1 Sep 2008. 29 Sep 2008 <>. ))]

In my speeches, these days, I enthusiastically promote increased attention to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  In balance to that, I hopefully make an effective case for the critical need to help students learn the creative skills of art, music, drama, creative writing and all of the other expressive arts.  I do not, however, make single mention of physical education.

To me, however, this seems almost too obvious to even need mentioning.  But I am wrong.  The importance of physical health, in my own life, is obvious to me in that I know that I have walked five miles in the two days that I have been home — two walks to the store (1 mile each way) and two walks of the dog with Brenda (at least a mile).  Rasta the dog use to be good for four miles a day — but she’s old now.

What grates on me even more is my almost conspicuous omission of the social sciences.  This sin is rendered even more difficult to bear by the fact that I was a social studies teachers.  This omission became all the more obvious in two conversations I had during presentations in China were we concluded that context should be considered a literacy skill.  What’s the use of being able to use information by exposing what is true, employing the information, expressing ideas compellingly, and all within an ethical framework, if we do not know anything about the sequence of events and social, cultural, geographic, and economic nests that it rests in.

I am not sure what the connection is, but I woke up early this morning with a realization that is going to make me seem like the most ludicrous of hermits — and wholly irresponsible as a citizen of a democratic society. But…

With just over a month before the election, I can not recall having seen a single campaign commercial from any candidate who is currently running for political office – this entire season. It’s pathetic, I know.  But the millions of dollars that have been contributed to the candidates and have been spent on the campaigns have not touched me, at least as canned messages designed to tell me what I should believe.

I don’t watch Fox News.  I don’t watch CNN.  I don’t watch any news.  I read the newspaper (pretty weird, huh!) and I read the news sites.

I was forced by circumstance to watch Giuliani’s speech at the Republican Convention.  I also watched Obama’s Race Speech on YouTube.  I won’t mention which one disgusted me and which inspired me.

The rest of it seems to me to be a shameful effort to tell me what I should believe, and much of that is based on twisted truth.  I’m pretty disgusted by the whole thing.  I was not even compelled in any way to watch the debate.  Just more opportunity to deliver campaign incantations.

You see, I use to be a history teacher.  I cared a great deal about the context of our times.  I tried hard to convince my students that they should care.  My measure of success was when students walked out of my classroom continuing to talk about what we were discussing in class.  And largely because of this…

I can connect the dots.  I don’t need anyone to tell me what I should believe.  I can see it for myself.

If “It’s not about the technology,” then What is it about?

Nature & Technology

This morning, high school English teacher and web master of Web English Teacher, Carla Beard credited me with a quote she used in her blog post, It’s Not About the Technology.  “The most important thing to remember about technology in our classrooms is that it is not about the technology.”  Well it  sounds like something I would say.  It’s what a lot of us are saying.  In fact, this may well be the mantra that is replacing Integrate Technology.  Yet, I’m not sure the statement is that much more useful. [Image ((Svenwerk, “Nature and Technology.” Svenwerk’s Photostream. 3 Mar 2006. 24 Sep 2008 <>. ))]

Of course, it helps to some degree, as Carla writes,

Last school year I made this concept (It’s Not About the Technology) my theme as I trained teachers to integrate technology into their classrooms. For some the idea was already so ingrained that it went without saying. For others, though, this statement triggered a lightbulb moment. People almost seemed surprised to hear an advocate for technology saying this. They seemed to think that we thought it was about the technology. ((Beard, Carla. “”It’s not about the technology.”.” [Weblog The English Teacher Blog] 24 Sep 2008. 24 Sep 2008 <>.))

I think that it is natural for us to focus on the technology.  Most of us grew up during a century that was, in many ways, defined by it’s machines.  We identify washing clothes with a clothes washing machine, lawn care with a lawn mower, and getting to the store with an automobile.  So, as we witness the emergence of new information and communication technologies, which many of us could not have imagined at the beginning of our careers, it is natural that, as we try to envision “21st century” education, we should try to paint that picture with brush strokes about technology.

To be truthful, I wish that it was about the technology.  It would be much easier for us to affect the changes in education that our children, inheritors of the “21st century,” need and deserve.  Without a beacon, we’re only floundering with a desire to change, without a vision, or choosing to desire no change at all.

So, if it isn’t about the technology, then what is it about?

Those who know me or read this blog know how I would answer that question, and perhaps even know the story of why.  But before I include that information here…

What do you think “it’s about?”

What do I know about Math?

This post is a continuation of the most previous article, Being Measured… It is not necessary, but if you have time, read that one first.

This morning I will, once again, have the honor and the challenge of speaking to an audience who comes from a community of interest and expertise different from my own.  A few months ago, I spoke to music educators in the state of Pennsylvania.  I can’t even read music.  I have spoken to conferences for teachers of writing.  I graduated from high school believing myself to be a poor writer.  No, let me rephrase that, I was taught that I was a lousy writer.  Today, I speak to a group of math teachers in Minneapolis.  Like writing, and learned in school that I was not good at arithmetic.

So what do I say to the math teachers?  I’ve been hired to paint a picture of our times.  To explore, in front of my audiences, the defining nature of our future, the unique qualities of our students, and the emerging information landscape that is increasingly helping us to define the world that we live in.  But through that digital, networked, and overwhelming information environment, I have learned to write.  Not always well, and sometimes without the clarity that I wish for.  But with an audience and engaged conversations, I am finding my voice and have even found that I can learn through my own writing.

Empowered by the tools of digital music, I am learning how it works, not like a student in a classroom, or supervised over a piano, but like a scientist, testing the combinations and patterns of sound, and learning the power of the note that is not played.

Drawer Opens with Algebra

I told the story at the Learning 2.008 conference, about my first experiences with computers, and how my school received eleven Radio Shack Model III (TRS-80) computers — with no software.  Setting out to teach myself how to program them, I learned that programming was almost entirely about syntax and math — and the evening of that first day, I got down on my knees and forgave every algebra teacher I’d every had and thought poorly of.

The theme of this conference is algebraic thinking, and I believe that this is what I learned that first day of programming.  Algebra is not just solving X for Y.  Thinking in algebra is about working the Y so that the X behaves the way that we want it to.  Does this make sense?

A more recent example is my office in Second Life?.  I have built a file cabinet that holds, so to speak, my online handouts.  You click the drawer for the presentation you saw, and it delivers the online handouts to your web browser.  The drawer, however, is programmed to slide out of the cabinet when you click it.  This was done by taking the number that defines the position of the drawer on a particular axis, and algebraically incrementing that number one unit every fifth of a second, giving the illusion of sliding out.  Basically, it was not about solving the X by factoring through the Y side of the problem.  It was about working the Y side of the problem to generate the X that I needed.

I know that this is an over simplification of something that can take on a multitude of forms.  But it is so much of what I see as we come to understand and appreciate our world in a different way, through the information — the numbers — that are forming new lenses for us.  We are not just solving problems.  We are working the problems to invent new solutions — adding new value.

Wish me luck!

Being Measured — The State of the Blogosphere

The blogosphere is, once again, being measured by blog search engine, Technorati.  At one time, a regular on Dave Sifry’s (Technorati’s CEO) blog, the quarterly report has gone the way of the number of sites indexed by Google, a statistic that disappeared sometime in 2005.  But The State of The Blogosphere is back again, and it is telling some interesting stories.

Key findings in the introduction are that:

  • The HierarchyBlogs are not created equally.  They can be measured.
    Blogging is global. Technorati tracks blogs in 81 languages.
  • Blogs have representation in top-10 web site lists across all key categories, and have become integral to the media ecosystem. ((“The State of the Blogosphere 2008.” Technorati. 22 Sep 2008. Technorati, Inc. 23 Sep 2008 <>. ))

  • Bloggers write from different perspectives and to accomplish different goals.  They are personal, professional, and corporate.
  • Blogging is profitable.  The average annual revenue from blogs that include advertizing is $6,000.  At least $75,000 annually for blogs that receive at least 100,000 unique visits a month.

This report is coming in installments, the first day’s answering the question, “Who are the Bloggers?”  The answers here are pretty standard and predictable, with a few surprises.

  • 2/3 of bloggers are male.
  • half are 18 to 34 years of age.
  • 70% have college degrees, 40% earn at least $75,000 a year, and 25% earn at least $100,000.

This one struck me, though.  44% of bloggers are parents. Perhaps you might ask, during you next PTA meeting, how many in the audience have a blog.  The answer might be important…
Maturing Blogosphere

The most interesting finding, to me, was the apparent maturing of the blogosphere.  More than half of today’s bloggers have been doing it for two or more years, and more than have are on their second (or 8th) blog. ((“Who Are the Bloggers?.” Technorati. 22 Sep 2008. Technorati, Inc. 23 Sep 2008 <>. ))  (See the graph to the right.)

What continues to impress me is that we are measuring “us” here.  For the first time in history, we, as individuals, are observing our experiences, reflecting on those experiences, reporting them through a global publishing system, and engaging in conversations about what we are reporting.  Sifry says that blogs are, “..the exhaust of our attention streams – they are a tangible reflection on what we are spending our time and attention on.” ((Sifry, David. “Oct 2004 State of the blogosphere: Big Media vs. Blogs.” [Weblog Sifry’s Alerts] 14 Oct 2004. Technorati, Inc. 23 Sep 2008 <>. ))  For good and bad, what we care about is bing laid down, and the numbers that give our stories permanence can be measured.

..and this takes me to my next post.  The one just above this one.  If there is not a post above this one, there soon will be.

Early Morning Diary – Back in the U.S.

[warning -- some of the links provided here may lead to material objectionable to some]

I’m back in the U.S. after almost a week in Asia.  So it’s understandable that I got up at 2:30 in the morning.  I’m hopeful that I will easily re-aclimate myself to a Western Hemisphere mode of time, as I did manage to stay up until 9:30 last night watching something on TV, though I have no recollection of what it was.

I glanced at e-mail, my aggregator, and then set out to do some research, my K12 Online Conference presentation due soon (if not overdue :-/).  Wanting to make this a learning experience for me, I’m thinking about doing my presentation as a machinima.  It would be my first, and I may decide, after working it a bit, to just pull out the trusty video camera and walk around town again.

Thanks to CogDog Alan Levine for Feed2JS, which generated this RSS code.

First of all, I still consider myself a real Second Life Newb.  I’ve been there since April 2006, but not regularly enough to really get a hang of the place.  It’s like me and my SLR camera.  On the rare occasions that I have a chance to use it, I have to re-train myself.  Very frustrating.  So, I looked for some info on making machinima, especially in Second Life? (See RSS listing to the left), identified a few tools necessary.  But I’d also like to bring in some images and multimedia, and although most SL-using educators seem to be adept at multimedia delivery, I’ve never done it before.  If I have, I forgot how.

So here begins the adventure in learning for me.  I found, early on, a free tool called Zebra Presenter, open source, and available at the Zebra HK site [SL link] in SL. There I found a scene set up for a variety of presentations. The site appears to cater to businesses who are looking for space for virtual presentations. But I could not find the product there. So I went back to Google and found a web page or blog entry devoted to the product with the link,

Pick up your FREE copy at SLXchange

Here I find links to videos demo’ing Presenter and a four minute tutorial. But what really connected was that I was in the SL>Exchange, where you go to exchange real life currency for linden dollars. Again, I’m a newbie, so forgive me if this excitement seems overblown to you. But it’s another of those first realizations of an intersection between the real and the virtual — like the first time you printed a word-processed document into the real world with a dot-matrix printer. Look it up!

So here is the Market Place, where I searched for house, and found this very quaint haunted house for $610 Lindens ($2.85).  There is also the Currency Exchange, where you can buy Lindens or sell them.  This page also include exchange rate information and this graph that I almost understand.  There is also land for sale and an auction center.

So here, I can buy my own Zebra Presenter for L$0 (free). I have to first establish an account with the SLExchange that connects to my Second Life avatar, Suriawang Dapto.  So I click Register, fill in the form, and this validate — and here’s were it gets interesting.  I go to my e-mail, find the message just sent by SLExchange, and the link takes me to the instructions,

Using this Second Life? avatar: Suriawang Dapto Find any SL Exchange Terminal and type in open chat: validate <passcode hidden>

Site of SLExchange Terminal (SL ATM Machine)I go back to SL, and search for SL Exchange Terminal.  I get 670 hits, most of them landmarks, clicking into the first one — ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.  To the right is the scene I find, not what you’d expect, looking for a virtual ATM machine.  But I wonder in and found the terminal fairly easily, being very careful not to look closely at the pictures on the walls.

Standing at the terminal, I typed into my chat box,

validate <the code>

After a moment the machine chatted back that my validation was successful. 

Me at the virtual ATM MachineI returned to the catalog page for the Zebra Presenter, ordered it, and received the message that the order had been submitted and that the item would be delivered.  Climbing back into Second Life, I had a notecard saying that I had received the product.  Opening my inventory — there it was.

Now I continue to find this whole thing more than strange.  But paying money for virtual experiences in an immersive environment, able to interact with other people, through their avatars, is not, when you get right down to it, all that different from paying nine dollars at the local movie theater to watch a two-hour movie.  In fact, from an educational point of view, the manipulative and social environment holds infinitely more potential. 

Still, it’s a lot for a 30+ year educator to wrap his mind around.  But I’m getting there.

First Reflection of Learning 2.008

Bicycling in Shanghai

Record time from central Shanghai to PuDong Airport.  90 miles an hour over rough roads, in a 12 year old Toyota, behind a driver hollering into his cell phone.  It has left me a bit dazed and with too little time to properly reflect on Learning 2.008. My flight from Shanghai to Chicago boards shortly, and from there I go to Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and then back to Chicago before the final leg home.  It’s a shame, because I suspect that there are gems of lesson to be learned that still rest just beneath the surface of anything I am capable of considering right now.

There are a couple of things that I can report, and chief among them is the overall quality of this event, it’s planning and management, and the jewels of opportunity that it afforded to educators from across Asia and around the world.  Of special impact to me was the vast diversity of attendees, from schools in India, Qatar, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, and Canada.  We all say about the best part of the conference is the conversations.  Well this one renders that phrase totally inadequate.  I was also deeply honored by the company I kept among invited speakers: Clarence Fisher, Brian Crosby, Ewan McIntosh, Jeff Utecht, Chris Smith, David Jakes.  It was especially good to work with CogDogBlogger, Alan Levine — whom I’d not met before.

I guess that it is natural to leave a conference like Learning 2.008 with lots of questions — perhaps more questions than answers.  In talking about 2.009 in the cab yesterday, we wondered about a conference structure that would demand and generate answers, rather than just the questions.  I don’t know if that is possible, but one personal question that I am asking myself more and more is, “Can an evangelist enthusiastically promote his ideas, without sounding like he wants the baby thrown out with the bath watter?”  I’m sure we can, but I have to work on honing that skill.

Personally, the high point for me was the digital images conversation moderated by Ewan McIntosh yesterday afternoon.  It was an interesting tug-a-war between tips about fStop, Aperture, and depth-of-field from the master photographers, and the desire for a simple cheep (free) image editor for people who just want to put a six-million pixel digital image on a web page.  It was a fun game, refereed with charm and humor by Ewan.

For a visual overview of the conference, go here.

Technorati Tags:

Shanghai EduBloggerCon…

[Live blogged.  Please forgive typos and awkward wording]

I’m sitting at the Shanghai EduBloggerCon at

Classroom teachers are currently standing and explaining how they are using collaborative tools in their classrooms for teaching and learning.  I’m going to post snipits here for your enjoyment and education:

  • Not everyone is a blogger.  It’s important for teachers to figure out how they want to engage in the conversation.  It’s also important that kids be involved in making the dicision on how they should give voice to their learning.
  • Teacher speaking now says that in 27 years of teaching at all levels and all levels of income, he’s never seen students want to write like the poverty students he’s teaching now.  His students spend two hours a day writing.  He says that his students, who are largely ESL, are learning by working language.
  • Teacher now talking says that for it to be about the kids, it’s got to be about me first.”  The teacher has to understand the value of the technology, and then the professional can figure out or invent ways to take into the learning experiences.  She says that wikis are easier to maintain in the classroom than blogging with students.
  • Lots of talk about people Skyping into classrooms and talking about stuff with they’re doing.
  • Librarian is talking about a newsletter she use to publish in print.  Then she made it an e-mail through a mailing list.  Now she’s using Facebook, because that’s where the student are. Earlier in the morning, I asked her, isn’t putting this stuff on Facebook catering to the kids?  I expected her to say, “It’s where the kids are.”  She said, “It’s where the 21st century is.”  Good answer.
  • Teacher (New Zealand) says she has Skype on all the time, and if Brian Crosby (Nevada) knocks on their door, the interrupt whats being taught and start a conversation with Crosby.  We start to talk about what students are learning, not just being taught it.  “No matter what you are teaching or where, you can take the walls down.  It is so easy!”
  • Educator now is asking the question, “But why?”  We have to get beyond the “Wow!”
  • What exactly is 21st century literacy.  None of it is new.  I’m not interested in the pockets.  We need systemic and sustained change.
  • We’ve got every teacher with a blog.  We’ve got every student blogging.  But I’m worried about the parents.  I feel that I have to celebrate all of the technology.  Here question is this:  Should I have all of my teachers blog?  Am I making a mistake?  Two threads of answers:
    1. Small steps.  Support a teachers who are ready
    2. Teachers need expections.  Just don’t call it “blogging.”

Now breaking for smaller group conversations.  So I’ll post this now.  Please forgive any typos or awkward wording.

Learning 2.008 Has Begun — Nearly

Picture of Arrivals at Shanghai Airport

For me, it started at the Shanghai airport, passing almost effortlessly through immigration and customs, and seeing Jeff Utecht, standing just behind a scattering of people waiting for arrivals from Hong Kong.  We walked over to a neatly modern lounge where he enjoyed a delicious looking BLT.  I’d already had something made from chicken on the plane, so I enjoyed a Coke Lite.

He talked about his new job and I, about the work I’d done in Hong Kong.  I’m not sure where it came from, but we started talking about SMS (Short Message Service), and how people in the U.S. still prefer talking on the phone to txting.  Jeff was talking about going home over the summer and how his friends kept asking why he was txting them instead of just calling.

This reminded me of a conversation I’d had with Helen Wong, my Hong Kong host (she was usually introduced as my agent), and how disappointed she was at the turnout of parents for one of the schools I worked in.  I’d thought it was a pretty good turnout.  She said that they usually sent and SMS out just before such events, as a follow-up to what ever avenues had already been used to make the school’s community aware of an upcoming event.  She said that since it had been a holiday weekend, SMS would not have been useful.

But the way that she talked about it, made it pretty clear that for the school, and all of the schools she works with, txting is a heavily relied upon method of connecting with parents.  In the U.S., I do not know of any schools that are doing that.  I’m sure there are some, and there may be many.  But I suspect that it hasn’t occured to many administrators consider SMS as one of the contact items they collect and use.  At this point and in most communities, I doubt that there are enough txting parents to make it practical.

This will certainly change as younger parents enter the schooling years, but it ocurred to me, in our efforts to improve communication with the homes and communities of our students, what a powerful thing it might be to extend the conversation of our children’s educations into the pockets of their parents.

Just because it’s on the Internet…

Tim Berners-LeeBy way of Stephen Downes, I learned this morning about an interview with Sir Tim Berners-Lee [Image ((Basterra, Jonan. “Campus Party 2008 – Tim Berners-Lee.” Pixel y Dixel’s Photostream. 29 July 2008. 15 Sep 2008 <>. ))] on the coming launch of the World Wide Web Foundation.  The BBC reporter (Warning Sounded on Web’s Future) honed in on some comments that Berners-Lee made about the web’s use for spreading misinformation.  The mission of the new organization, which has been seeded with a $5 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, is to, to produce a technology that is good for humanity, which will be good for democracy, which will be good for science. ((Young, Jeffrey R.. “Web’s Creator Starts Foundation to Apply Networking Technology to Social Problems.” The Chronical of Higher Education 15 Sep 2008 15 Sep 2008 <>. ))

But Sir Tim commented about the reliability of the web, mostly stemming from this week’s switch on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN, where he and associates did their pioneering work on the Web.  The Internet was the vehicle for the spreading of..

..fears that flicking the switch on the LHC could create a Black Hole that could swallow up the Earth particularly concerned him. In a similar vein was the spread of rumours that the MMR vaccine given to children in Britain was harmful. ((Ghosh, Pallab. “Warning Sounded on Web’s Future.” BBC News 15 Sep 2008 15 Sep 2008 <>. ))

He said that they were exploring systems for labeling web sites based on their trustworthiness, but he indicated that he was not in favor of giving web sites a, “..number like an IQ rating because like peole they can vary in all kinds of different ways.”

Of course my long standing answer is literacy — that we expand our notions of what it means to be literate, to include skills and frames of reference that enable us to wisely judge the value of an information product.  The job of the librarian has become a personal skill.

That said, there are people out there who are much smarter and more creative than I am, and I have to wonder if there may be some way(s) to establish library-type features to the World Wide Web.