He was Bouncing off the Walls

That’s what a workshop participant said about my contact for some recent work I did here in North Carolina — a client school district I personally care a lot about (think Barney Fife). They’d originally contacted me about doing a workshop for their staff development team on integrating Web 2.0 applications into the curriculum, looking for best-practice examples that they could take forward to the teachers they serve. I declined!

Now I’ve said from time to time that one of the perks of “trying to make a living without a job” is that I can pick and choose from among the jobs I’m asked to do. To be honest, the number of times I’ve declined a job could be counted with the fingers of one hand, leaving me enough for a cub scout salute — and a free thumb for for balance. But I did it that day, because I have become increasingly uncomfortable about going out and teaching something — telling teachers (or staff developers) here is what you should do and here’s how.

Something about giving a guy a fish comes to mind.

Now it’s not that I disapprove of teaching something. Some things need to be taught and some contexts require it. It was appropriate to teach teachers what a blog was, a couple of years ago, and to suggest how students’ blogging might result in more effective, reflective, and constructive writing. However, any teacher who doesn’t know what blogging is now, has left their classroom door shut too long.

So the district called me again a few weeks later, saying that they wanted to rent two afternoons of my time, and what could I do that would help their staff developers support teachers in using Web 2.0 applications. So I told him about the conversation I facilitated at EduCon a few months ago, using a yet-to-be-named idea plotting tool, and how this “unconference” approach was designed to help educators understand the fundaments of Web 2.0 applications (or whatever) and to discover or invent ways of using the tools to facilitate high order learning.

Long story-short, I was bowled over by the ideas that the educators came up with when they were working together to boost traditional learning activities up Bloom’s (revised) Taxonomy, springboarding off some of the qualities of the tech-infused classroom (Technology-Transformed Learning Environments). You can read more about the process here (My Educon Conversation).

We ended the afternoon with a meeting to map out my second afternoon with them, and it was mentioned how uncharacteristic it was for my contact to be so hyper at 3:00 in the afternoon. I walked away with a heightened belief that teachers and teaching are an isolated and insulated experience — that we find a way to teach something and then do it the same way for 30 years — and this is a huge barrier to retooling classrooms. Educators desperately need the resources, the avenues, and the time to re-invent themselves in collaborative conversations and that this needs to be an assumed route in our “Race to the…” future.

The Race… Continues

Strauss compares the Race to The Top competition to Bravo’s Project Runway program

On 4 March, the U.S. Department of Education announced that 15 states and the District of Columbia had been named as finalists in the Race to the Top “competition.”  It’s for $4.35 billion made available by the government to “dramatically re-shape America’s educational system to better engage and prepare our students for success…” ((Hamilton, Justin. United States Government. 16 Finalists Announced in Phase 1 of Race to the Top Competition Finalists to Present in Mid-March; Winners Announced in Early April. Washington: Department of Education, 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://www2.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2010/03/03042010.html>.))

The Finalists were:

  • Colorado
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Illinois
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Massachusetts
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee

The department’s 4/3/2010 press release quoted the Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, as saying,

These states are an example for the country of what is possible when adults come together to do the right thing for children.

Yesterday (29 March) the Department announched the two (only two) states that would “win” the Phase I funding, Deleware (approximately $100 million) and Tennessee (approximately $500 million). ((Hamilton, Justin. United States Government. Delaware and Tennessee Win First Race to The Top Grants. Washington: Department of Education, 2010. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://www2.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2010/03/03292010.html>.))

I became aware of these happenings last night when taking one last look at the news feed on my iPhone, where Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet blog entry caught my attention.  Comparing the mid-March presentations delivered by state teams to the reality fashion show “Project Runway,” Stauss quotes Michael Horne (executive director of education at Innosight Institute and co-author of Disrupting Class) as saying,

There’s a lot of great jargon, but when you step back from it, it’s hard to figure out what they just said they were going to do.

Horne was also quoted in a 29 March DelawareOnline piece,

The strengths of (Delaware’s) application were its use of data and how it ties that to teacher evaluations…  But the (state’s) plan falls short in other areas, including innovative programs and a student-centric focus. ((“Rep. Greg Lavelle criticizes ‘Race to the Top’ program.”DelawareOnline 29 Mar 2010: n. pag. Web. 30 Mar 2010. <http://www.delawareonline.com/article/20100329/NEWS/100329035>.))

The panelists comments from the mid-March presentations are now available on the Department of Education’s web site.  I haven’t had a chance to read through them yet, but this might be revealing, as states continue to pin down exactly what the department is looking for — an invaluable aid as they continue to vie for the Phase II funding.

I continue to wonder, though, about how close the efforts to win grant money are to truly retooling classrooms for 21st century learning.

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The Teaching Profession

Flickr Photo “Teaching” by Adriaan Bloem

In an ongoing conversation at Will Richardson’s Weblogg-ed blog, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach commented on March 23,

I think it is a hard sell to say teaching as it is currently structured is a profession– it is at best a semi-profession for the very reasons you cite.

I would like to respectfully and conditionally disagree.  If you think of teaching as something you do in one room, beside the room of another teacher, beside the room of another teacher, delivering content or directing skill development, checking off standards sheets, and doing pretty much the same thing year after year — then I would agree with Sheryl.  Semi-profession might actually be generous.  Much of the job, especially as addressed by NCLB, is more like being a technician, applying prescribed, researched, and government-approved techniques on students, based on high-precision measurements.

I suspect that the term professional, has described teachers because they’ve earn a college degree, and years ago they were among the only people in many communities who were educated to that level.

It’s an interesting conversation that Will has instigated, because it asks us to think hard about what a teacher is and does in this technology-rich, information-driven, and rapidly changing world.  As I think about it, it seems that teaching well and appropriately to these new conditions involves:

  • Constantly researching and re-experting yourself in your subject area.
  • Continually accessing, evaluating, and appropriately applying new techniques and strategies with your learners.
  • Engage in action-research to test original and class situation-specific strategies.
  • Engaging in ongoing and constructive conversations that extend the knowledge and experience of individual educators to group knowledge.
  • Skillfully finding and developing authentic learning resources and sharing them with a greater education community.
  • Remaining aware of current events, advances in technology, and social conditions and engaging in ongoing and collaborative curriculum development that addresses and leverages change.
  • Liaising with the local community to bring the village into the classroom, and to project the classroom out into the community.
  • Engaging in professional development, including self-directed, local school authority opportunities, and larger conferences.
  • Practicing a learning lifestyle, sharing personal learning within your professional environment, modeling lifelong learning.

As I stated in my comment on Will’s original post,

I think that we have to start emphasizing to our communities that being an educator today involves more than standing in front of the classroom (keeping their children). In our blogs, classroom web sites, newsletters, Tweeted picts, and in every other way possible, we need to include images (picts/texts) showing teachers engaged in professional development, self-development, research, collaboration, liaising with the community, materials development, evaluation of assessment, planning, …

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Learning Begs for the New Information Environment

Yesterday was the first day of the Inspire & Innovate conference, here at the Sydney Olympic Park, home for the 2000 Summer Olympics. It’s an interesting place that the city is trying to re-purpose for continued use. There is a combination of athletic facilities (of course), but also a performance venue, stadiums, and some corporations have set up presences here. I hope to take a train into the city this evening, so I can say I’ve been there and take some pictures to prove it.

I did not present yesterday, but was witness to some great ones, starting with Stephen Heppell. I really like the way that he uses his Mac folders for presenting. I’ve tried it and with great success, except that I couldn’t find a convenient way to project my presentations for later access — online handouts. So I’ll use it with some workshops, but most shorter presentations I use slide deck software or Prezi. It was a fantastic presentation though. He’s a master story teller and knows about so many of the greatest innovations going on in education.

I think that the highlight for me was a video played during the opening by folks with the ed department. It was a series of interview with a variety of area students, asking them the standard questions about how they use technology, how it’s used in the classroom, what would you change — and there were no real surprises. What impressed me was the quality of the video — much better than I usually see coming from a single department of education.

Now I am one who knows what kids are capable of — what they can produce with their knack for technology, the time that they have to tinker, and their perspectives on digital media. But I have to say that I was surprised when it was announced that the video had been produced by a student, and they invited him up on the stage. The students who were interviewed were also present and available for us to talk to after the opening keynote and introductions.

The first fellow that I encountered seemed to be playing a first-person shooter game on the computer he sat at, but when I asked, he explained that the building he (his avatar) was wandering around in was of his creation. It was good, quality graphics, and very responsive — and it was online. He used Big Hammer to build the environment, and then imported it into Half-Life, a video game with an engine that enables people to modify the game, creating what’s called “mods.”

I asked what class he created the building for, and he said that it was a technology class. Then I asked if he could utilize the skills he’d learned in other subject areas. He looked a bit confused, so I asked if he took History. “No!” came an emphatic response. “History teachers aren’t going to use technology in their lessons.” He said (my paraphrasing). Then I asked if he was taking literature, and he said, “Yes.”

“So could you build virtual environments for books or plays you’ve read in that class.” I returned.

Then his eyes popped open, and he said, “Yes, I could do some stuff for Literature, but I want to go back to history. I could build a pyramid, stone age village, ….”

This got me to wondering. First he rejects working with history, I assume because of the way that history’s been taught to him. However, when confronted with questions about using the tech that he’s learned, he bounces back to history, where the applications are almost automatic.

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Leading Up to Tomorrow

The warning popped up as people were leaving and the BOCES Communications Director was taking some pictures of the presenter and other

Ok!  So you know you are becoming too much of a AV geek, when you spend nearly a half hour making sure that the audio and video for your computer are just right and that all of the web sites you need to load are not blocked — and then you forget to plug your computer into the electrical socket.  Here’s what popped up, luckily, just after my keynote for the Erie 2 BOCES professional development conference in Freedonia, New York a few days ago.  Sadly, this isn’t the first time this happened.  At least with my solid body Macbook Pro, I have enough battery life to get away with it.

From there I flew to Newark, New Jersey, took the NJ Transit across the river to the city, where I met Brenda, who’d taken Amtrak up from Raleigh.  We had a nice night’s rest at the Courtyard Manhattan (Marriott can be relied on for the best mattresses in the industry), followed by a walk for several blocks to breakfast at the Tick Tock Dinner, next to Penn Station.  They even served grits.

My brother Dennis, who lives in Manhattan, met us there, and then took us on a whirl-wind walking tour up as high up as 79th street, and down to something called The High Line. The High Line [tagged flickr photos] was actually envisioned and lead by two friends of my brother, who found private funding to turn sections of unused elevated train track a into a greenway — of sorts.  It was crowded (first Spring day of NYC 2010), but it was interesting to be walking along a path about fifty feet above the city’s bustle. [photos here]

Then it was a sandwich at a pub in The Village, back up to the hotel on 40th street, a shower, and a car out to JFK, where I had to finesse a visa that I didn’t know I needed to enter Australia — and now approaching (I hope) Sidney.

I’ll be speaking at a South Western Sydney Regional ICT Conference on Wednesday.  It’s my first time in Australia and I look forward to learning where they are with education reform.  From my web-based interactions, they seem to be very much where we are in the U.S., though I’d have to admit that there seems to be more innovation going on there at the local level.

I also look forward to spending a little time with Stephen Heppell, the opening Keynote speaker.  He and I keynoted a library conference in Toronto a couple of years ago, and I was deeply impressed with and influenced by his message, and especially by what he is contributing through his consulting services with schools in underdeveloped countries.

Along the way, I’m starting to read Linda Darling-Hammonds new book, The Flat World and Education.  So far, it’s a lot of the same statistics that I’ve already heard, read, and used, that paint a picture of an American schooling system that is virtually standing still (and deteriorating in some respects) compared to some other locations that are making a concerted and nationally lead effort to restructure their schools, curriculum, and learning methods for a knowledge-based economy.  I look forward to reading more about Darling-Hammonds vision for moving the U.S. forward.

From someplace over the South Pacific and probably your tomorrow, this is David Warlick signing off.

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Some Good Tech-Transformed SD Questions

Bruce Knox posted the following comment on my recent post about the “Technology-Transformed Learning Environment.”  He writes…

My job involves sitting with teachers and coplanning their units of work with an emphasis on infusing technology. I am going to take your 5 points and final comment to ask 7 questions of my teachers as they consider planning a unit.

1939. Anacostia High School, Washington, D.C. “Carpentry shop.”

To see the kind of learning that I’m trying to describe, think of the old shop class that some of us attended in the ’60s and before.

Bruce did a good job of sumerizing the rather vaguely presented list I wrote about.  He has also given me a chance to expand on the ideas, my comments inserted below, italicized and indented.

  1. What questions will your students be asking?

My notion of this would be questions that are largely unpredictable.  My question of teachers would be, “What barriers will your students encounter, that will compel them to ask ask questions, seek information, or invent solutions?”  Rather than inserting questions into the unit, we should insert reasons to ask questions, barriers to overcome.

  1. What will their conversations be about? Who could they be conversing with?

These qualities are all thoroughly interconnected.  The posing of questions is what provokes the conversations.  But the questions can be aimed at and involve exchanges with classmates, students outside of class, experts, you, other teachers — but perhaps even more often, the exchanges are with information sources such as reference books, periodicals, online encyclopedias, online databases, search engines, and often by working information with spreadsheets, graphic enhancement, visualization techniques, etc.  It’s learning by exchange.

  1. How will the assignment/unit talk back?

It’s a clever way to express it.  But what I’m looking for is, “How will the learning experience reveal or uncover the desired knowledge or skills?”  In a way, we’re looking for an experience that waits for the learner to do something, before the answer forms.

  1. How will this increase the self-value of the student or develop something of value to someone else?

In what ways will the learner grow, as a result of the activity.  This can be a new skill that is self-identified as worthy, or a resulting product that the learner is proud to include in his or her portfolio.

  1. Where are the opportunities to make mistakes safely?

I think that it needs to be stipulated that these be good mistakes.  Where might students get it wrong, and in getting it wrong, find the right way.

  1. Where is th opportunity for you to ask your students, “Surprise me!”

In what parts of the unit can you not predict the method or outcome.  Where will the students as for clarification, and your response will be, “Surprise me.”

  1. What will your students be able to do with what they have learned?<

This is core, I think.

This last one, I think, is one of the most important shifts that should and will come from technology-infused learning environments. Because learners are empowered to not merely consume knowledge and skills, but to literally mine it, work it, and express it compellingly to real audiences, then learning becomes something that you “do with,” rather than being “done to.

To me, this is the definition of instructional rigor.  Not how much you are taught, but what you can do with what you learn.

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First TEDx

I’ll be performing my first TEDx (April 22) presentation in Banff Springs, a resort that’s tucked up in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.  I don’t know if TED talks have titles, but if they do, mine will be called "Extreme Revelations: Three Stories Spanning Thirty Years." 

I hope I don’t mess it up…

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Technology-Transformed Learning Environments

Photo of Students Making a Presentation

"Students & faculty gave presentations on technology used for sustainability. ((Wilburn, Jeremy. "Technology Day at UIS 2009." Flickr. N.p., 19 Feb 2009. Web. 12 Mar 2010. .))
It isn’t about technology. It’s about becoming responsible for learning…

It was six years ago that I was asked by Linworth Publishing to write a book about technology for teachers — and, in mapping out the book, concluded that advances in technology was not nearly as disruptive for teaching and learn as how ICT has changed how we use information.  So the book (Redefining Literacy 2.0) turned into an exploration of contemporary literacy — reflecting today’s prevailing networked, digital, and abundant information environment.

However technology has advanced and it is becoming increasingly prevalent in our classrooms.  The achievement of one to one (computer to student) learning environments is now close to being a universal desire, while pocket and under the arm technologies have become a prevailing and almost indispensable part of how we work, play and connect to each other.  It should no longer be in questions that personal information and communication technologies are a critical ingredient to learning today. 

But what does a learning environment,

Defined by ubiquitous access to personal ICT,

Look Like?

How does it behave?

How does it transform how we teach?


..and how schools operate?

I got started down this path when a friend asked if I would be willing to work with their district’s school principals regarding technology. My immediate response was to suggest others, whom I felt were more qualified, because they were currently or had more recently been school administrators. But then he said that they wanted principals to understand what technology-infused learning looks like — what to look for.  Well, this got my noggin going.

Tech-infused learning certainly involves the effective and appropriate use of information (contemporary literacy), which includes accessing, working, expressing knowledge — through the networks, digitally, compellingly, and with consideration of others. But what do you look for to see that?  What does the learning experience look like.

  1. You see learning that is fueled by questions.  I’m not talking about teacher-suggested or textbook-sponsored essential questions, though they would certainly not be inappropriate.  What I would look for is a learning experience where the learner is propelled by continually encountering barriers, asking questions, coming to understand the barriers, and solving his or her way through them.
  2. Students are engaged in a way that provokes conversation.  As students are formulating and asking questions, they are engaged in conversations.  They may be conversing with classmates, students in other classes, other experts, the teacher, or other teachers.  However, these conversations are not limited to exchanges with people.  They might more frequently be exchanges with  print references or with a digital constructs, such as an online reference sources, spreadsheets, data visualization, tinkering, or programmed experimentation.
  3. The learning situation is responsive to the learner’s actions — the assignment talks back, so to speak.  Students are working their learning in such a way that their decisions, actions, and conclusions are responded to.  It might be a smiley face.  Or it might be that a digital bridge (or model bridge of tooth picks) works — or falls down.  The responses might be immediate, as when working with digital constructs.  However, the responses can be delayed, as with blog comments or product critiques.  The key is that the responses are authentic and relevant to the product or action — not just symbolic grades or measures based on standards with meaning only to bureaucrats and politicians.
  4. The learning experience compels a personal investment by the learner and contributes to the learner’s identity.  The learning work should result in value, either value to the learner (increased self-value) or in an end product that is of value to others.  It might be a new skill that the learner can apply today.  It might be a report and recommendation to the school board.  It might be a report, presentation, or collaborative reference entry that classmates will rely on for their continued learning.  The possibilities are to numerous and varied to mention.  But the tech infused learning experience, because of the multidimensional connections that it promotes may — and should — serve to embellish the learner’s identity, even if it is through the learner’s avatar.
  5. The learning results from significant opportunities to safely make mistakes.  The experience of learning in tech-rich environments should be playful.  Many video games are about playful work or hard learning.  The learner should be free to explore wrong answers — and good wrong answers should be celebrated for the learning opportunities they enable. ((This evolving list of qualities originated with a discussion I had with teachers in Irving, Texas, who had been working in 1:1 classrooms for several years. I was impressed by their sense of the qualities of their students ‘native’ information experiences and I have continued to find applications for their shared ideas.))

In a sense, the "student-centered learning" side of differentiated instruction is "personalized learning" — a learning experience that is free to surprise the student and even the teacher.  In fact, in the tech-infused learning environment, the teacher should regularly be saying, "Surprise me!"

Bottom line is that we will see learners becoming responsible to their peers, audiences, and communities for their learning.  ..and that responsibility will not be based on a measure of their learning (how much or how well), but on what they have learned and what they can do with what they’ve learned.

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My Wimpy Self

My Wimpy Self

Have you wimped yourself? I did, first thing this morning. See?

It started with Facebook, a quick scan of what’s happening (or the latest 15 happenings) and Jennifer LaGarde having wimped herself into… (see left).

I’ve been looking for a way to caricature myself, so this caught my attention, and I clicked over to http://wimpyourself.com/. It’s based on the movie, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, (“Its not a diary it’s a journal”) opening March 19 (“Holy Moly, how have I come to LEARN so much about this movie)..

OK, it’s viral advertising — and it worked for me. Through a typical kindergarten technique of change the pants, change the hair, change the chin, I wimped myself — and was grinning the whole way.

Hmmm, could you infect your virtual learning environments with this sort of viral engagement. “Pop! Jennifer just finished her essay. Wanna see it? ‘squeek! squeek!'”

If only I could get my wimpy self to stop scratching its butt…

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Five Tips for Communicating

Yesterday, Ralph Jean-Paul suggested “5 Powerful Ways to Write Dynamic Content” in the Famous Bloggers site.  It’s a short read but speaks more broadly to communication than just blog writing.  It’s about competing for attention, which, in a world that supposedly is doubling its technical information every 72 hours, we’re all making decisions on what we’re going to read and what we’re going to ignore.

I would insert one additional recommendation — Have something to say. I’ll append Jean-Paul’s list and suggest again that you link over and read his explanations.

  1. Be Unique
  2. Write for Humans
  3. Be Interesting
  4. Commit to Quality
  5. Have a Call to Action

Added a couple of hours later

I would also add that the writer (communicator) be open to learning something new in the conversation that your ideas evoke.

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