Looking Forward to ISTE 2010

The Colorado Convention Center
(cc) Photo by Intiaz Rahim

It’s one of the interesting, often regretful, and often delightful aspects of being an independent consultant (free-agent educator) that weekends have very little meaning. I am often traveling on Saturday or Sunday, sometimes presenting, or working in my office at least part of those days. At the same time, there are often other days of the week that feel like weekends. I have spent the last two days either presenting to education leaders or to classroom teachers, or driving to or from Williamsburg or Berkeley County, West Virginia. Today is wide open. Even though I still have a few hours of driving home, having made it as far as Roanoke yesterday, it feels so much like Saturday that I’m almost expecting to spend the morning watching cartoons. I’d love to get home before 8:00 to watch Mighty Mouse and Sky King.

It will be a day off, but also a day of preparing for my trip to Denver and almost a week at ISTE 2010. It’s our first International Society for Technology in Education conference that’s not a NECC, and I have to confess that it’s left a bit of a hole in our conversations about the event. But it won’t take anything away from the experience, I’m sure.

My calendar is more than full with most of the time slots in my planner sporting the yellow exclamation warning of overflow — conflicts. There are lots of highlights, including EduBloggerCon, TEDxDenverED, and ISTE’s theme of excellence exploration on Sunday afternoon — plus much more.

I’ll be delivering two formal presentations, one as a spotlight address (Cracking the ‘Native’ Information Experience) and the other as a thirty-minute general address (Patron 2.0: The ‘Natives’ are Restless) for the Media Specialists SIG gathering.  In both of these presentations I will map out some of the important qualities of our students ‘native’ (outside-the-classroom) information experiences with their social networks, video games, and their hyper-connectedness, and suggest some ways that those qualities might be integrated into our classrooms, libraries, and school culture.

It occured to me this morning that I am suggesting a unique choice for us.

Will we benefit more from fitting video games and social networks into our curriculum — our methods and pedagogies?…


Do might we benefit more by expanding curriculum, methods, and pedagogies to encompass and harness the truly unique qualities of the millennial information experience?

The World has become A Lot More Interesting

It’s not a scoreboard that’s going to keep us prosperous and fulfilled.

It’s working to make our children into the people they need to be,
to carry us into a future we can’t even see,
people who will invent that future…

A while back, I did a little work with the Wake Education Partnership, for whom I delivered a 43 minute keynote for their members, including executives from IBM, SAS, RCB, a full dozen area chambers of commerce, etc. — I was in high cotton that day.

Their work is flowing through a document developed by a members committee, Suspending Disbelief (pdf) — and this is one of the best descriptions of new schools and new schooling that I have ever seen coming from a group that was mostly non-educators.

However, there is one assumption that is central to this document and much of the current flurry of ed reform rhetoric with which I do not agree.  It is the belief that we are engaged in an endeavor of competition, global competition, producing a competitive workforce.

I wonder if it is coming from people who are in the habit of counting things.  They count their sales, their circulation, their votes — and these are all very important things to count.  But our world is changing in some pretty dramatic ways, and much of that change can’t be measured or predicted.  The very rules are changing.

The political changes have probably not been better understood and utilized than by Barrack Obama and his astonishing movement for change.  Yet, it is the Obama administration, his Department of Education, that seems more intent on measuring, on racing to the top, than any before it.

I would love to see a study that determines if test scores would have predicted the extraordinary accomplishments of the creative, resourceful, dedicated, and relentless women and men who ushered in the digital revolution.  Were they all high achievers in their schools.  I would suspect that many of them were the guy in the next row, who often didn’t complete his homework, because he simply found something more interesting to spend his time on.

I do not believe that we should be working to make sure that our students know more than students in China and India.  It’s ridiculous when we consider that much of what they are taught, in a time of rapid change, will be obsolete by the time they enter their adult lives.

Today, it is not important to measure what our children can be taught.  In stead, we should figure out how to measure what they can gain through their growing skills of learning, curiosity, resourcefulness, and caring — and what they can do with what they’ve learned.

The world has become more cooperative, not competitive.  The world has become a lot more interesting…

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Opening up the Networks to Learners

Brenda had promised that travel would be scaling back after last week in Edmonton — and when you look at the calendar, it certainly looks that way.  I just didn’t know that I’d be headed back up to Canada just barely more than 24 hours after landing from Alberta on Saturday.  It’s OK, though, because I have been looking forward to my work in Windsor (Greater Essex County Schools), because it will be a small part presentation and then a lot of conversation about achieving classroom 2.0 within 1.0 structures.

iPod Touches are an established part of learning at North Rowan School in Salisbury, North Carolina

I know that one of the planned actions is to open up a layer of WiFi in their schools (not sure if it’s all schools) that will be available to students and the devices they bring to school with them.  I’ve had several conversations with Essex ed tech guy, Doug Peterson, about this in the past and have been intrigued by the concept.  But while in Edmonton last week, Sid de Haan, one of the ed tech consultants with the Edmonton Public Schools told me about one high school where they’d done the same thing.  They also established a portal for their students — and I wish I had asked more questions about it.

What got me to thinking was a few statistics Sid shared with me from the first day of the launch.  At the beginning of the school day, 800 devices were already logged into the portal, accessed through the student-ready WiFi.  At lunch, it was up to 1,200 — out of a total enrollment of 2,000.  He said that they were using laptops and a lot of iPod Touches.  He also said that there were a surprising number of netbooks, that parents had bought for their children, in anticipation of the new wireless service.

Of course you’d have to examine much more data on the usage of this student-ready network to draw any hard conclusions.  But I get the feeling that, given access, most learners will find a way to jack in.  Many of them were on Facebook, I’m sure.  Many were other places that were not strictly curriculum aligned.  But we do not control the verbal conversations that students have outside of the classroom and class periods, we shouldn’t require controlled conversations through the networks — within reason.  If it were me, I’d still have some filtering going on.  But I’d open things up to most social networking services, and perhaps even set up a body of students and teachers to manage what gets filtered and what gets released.

Here’s a question. if students are bringing their own network devices into their schools and classrooms, are the schools responsible/liable for what they access?  Anyone know?

In a similar conversation with Sandra Gluth, another ed tech consultant in Edmonton, I learned about another school where a corner of the building exceeded within the reach of the wireless service of a nearby apartment.  When I was in school, we had the smoke-hole, a place on campus where smokers went to puff their cigs.  Today, they gather in an opportune spot, to tap into the networks.

Blog Worthy Topics

It’s one of those ideas that has occurred to me during those moments when a perfect example presents itself, but then loses itself in the stack of other ideas of similar birth and death.  But here, at the beginning of the school year (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), it seems like a good time to suggest Blog Worthy Topics.  I’m thinking specifically of learner blogs, classrooms where both teacher-learner and student-learner are blogging, and sometimes looking for topics for writing, sharing, and engaging about.

So I want to suggest a Twitter hash tag, #bwtopic.  I just did a search of bwtopic in Twitter and it appears to be a unique string..  So, as you encounter a newspaper or magazine article, blog post, speech, YouTube or TED video, or whatever, that seems like an appetizing topic for learners to explore and build on, then Tweet it with the hash tag #bwtopic.

We can follow the suggestions via RSS.  Here is the feed (Atom) for a Twitter search for #bwtopic.


I’ll be posting this feed on the Class Blogmeister Ning network, so that teachers there will have ready access to the latest topics. 

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Teacher Shock

Flickr Photo by Noah Darnell Here

Browsing through some blogs the other day, I ran across this one (What are we Doing?) from Mike Meechin, a Florida social studies teacher. Meechin tells of a high school junior in his class, who asked a question, “about the pilgrims (U.S. History early 17th century) using the automobile.”

Now, as a former social studies teacher, I am disappointed that Meechin’s (or anyone’s) students seem to understand so little about geography and history. But I’m not surprised. There are two reasons for this generation’s lack of understanding about their world — in my opinion. First of all, we do not value this kind of knowledge ourselves. Ask most of your adult friends when the automobile was invented. Plus, I do not see how we can so emphasize the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) to the degree that we have, without devaluing, (in) our students eyes, history, geography, and sociology. Social science is one of several essential keys for enabling future prosperity. Yet, scanning through an education journal, while sitting on the tarmac, I ran across an article entitled, “Competing in the Global Economy,” subtitled, “Factors Impacting Science Achievement.” Don’t get me wrong, STEM is critical. But so too is understanding the social, cultural, and historic contexts of the world we are working and playing in.

The second reason gives me even more concern. I’ve often said that I consider myself lucky to have grown up during the golden age of Television. This new and compelling form of communication availed us the power to share ourselves, or worlds, and our stories in ways that had never been possible before. When taking my son to the University of North Texas a few years ago, to audition for their school of music, we took a drive through the country side. There, I was flabbergasted that he did not know what a long horn steer was. He gasped by the sight, and I immediately realized that he never watched Rawhide. I watched TV that, with the exception of Saturday mornings, was geared for a general population, across ages, that was experiencing this phenomena together.

My children have spent their time on Nickelodeon. Don’t get me wrong. I think that Nick has some wonderful and thoughtful programming. But it is still contrived to appeal to children by entertaining them on their terms. Their video games are similarly designed to entertain, and the culture of their social networking is almost entirely evolved out of what children want to do. This, too, is not bad. I have deep respect for what our children have made of today’s information environment. But they have missed so much, and I do not know how to fill this gap.

Because of how our children learn, I do not believe that we can teach it to them. I do not believe that we can or should expect them to learn history, geography, or sociology (or anything else for that mater) by telling them to, or worse yet, “Because it’s going to be on the test.” That worked for us, but I won’t for them.

What they learn well, they learn because it helps them. Knowledge and skills are tools for them, which they learn to use to accomplish goals. Their goals are to reach some level in the video game of the day, or to generate conversation through their social networking. To me, the question should be, “How do we infect these information ecosystems with the knowledge and skills that we know will be essential to their future.

Finally, and this is turning into a long blog because this is a two hour flight, I think that part of the problem is ours. How often do we, as educators, look at what we are teaching, and ask ourselves, “Is this really important?” As Meechin asks, “What are we doing?” How important is it for them to know that precisely where the invention of the automobile and early European settlement of North America fall in relation to each other on a timeline — well 300 years difference is a bit much to swallow.

I remember one instance, in my early days with computers in the classroom, where I asked this question. We were helping our students learn the states of the US, using flash cards. Each card included the name of the state, the geographic outline of the state, and its capital. I asked myself, why should students learn the shapes of the states. Of course it was an association thing to help students remember the states. But there were other things about the states that I thought it was important to learn, and using flash cards seemed an unnecessarily tedious way of doing it. So I wrote a game for our Radio Shack Model III computers.

The game placed a map of the U.S. on the screen — no small task for a TRS-80. Then the learner was informed of the state he was currently in, a commodoty to be delivered, and the state it was to be delivered to. Sitting by each computer was an almanac. Students had to find which state produced the commodoty, and then drive his truck to that state by typing in the name of each state to be driven through to reach the supplyer, spelling each state correctly. Then they drove to the target state. There was a counter running, so your payment for each trip depended on how fast you got there. In no time, the students were working without ever picking up the reference books.

It seemed that using the information as a means for achieving something, was a much better way of learning it, than simply memorizing from flash cards.

The bottom line of this ramble is that students armed with answers about science, technology, engineering, and math will not be able to compete or contribute to a global economy. It will be students who can can observe their environment, understand it, and inventively find ways to participate and contribute.

Question Your Textbook (cont)

Photo of Historian Examining a Historic Artifact
Photo from Wikimedia Commons

I’ve been all week on the road — either presenting, traveling, or sleeping, and it leaves little time to blog or even tweet.  But I’ve spent some more time thinking about Clay Burell’s project, “Teaching ‘Against the Textbook’.” 

What’s I find so interesting about this project is that the students are learning about history (or what ever the subject) by acting like historians.  When a historian encounters a new artifact or a new idea from a fellow historian, part of the job is to find the evidence that the object or ideas is appropriate to the conclusions that it implies.  Does its acuracy, validity, reliability… support the message?

Asking students to find the evidence that the information in their textbooks (or other resources, including their teachers’ lectures) is a way of learning how to learn.  And I continue to maintain that this is more than a social studies, science, health, or mathematics skill.  It is a literacy skill — what I might call “Learning literacy.”

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Filters Work

Flickr Image “Stay Behind the Fence” by Daniel James

The Internet has increasingly become a common and essential element of teacher lessons.  However, when asked about getting around the government-required filters, to conduct the deep research required to find the best resources,

..a frequent response is, “I have no idea.” The next most-common response: “I have no idea, but when I need to get to a blocked site, I ask a student for help.”

A recent Justin Reich op-ed piece (In Schools, A Firewall that Works Too Well) in the Washington Post (brought to my attention by Thomas Daccord) explores some of the issues of schooling in a world wide web that is fenced off.  He starts the piece with…

Web site filters in schools have had tremendous success in keeping one group of people from freely searching online. Unfortunately, that group is teachers.

Reich describes a Facebook group, with 187,000 members, devoted to sharing strategies for getting around school and library filters.  I won’t take any more from your reading of the article, except for one of his final statements.

The best strategy for protecting students online is educating them about Internet citizenship and safety. Young people need to learn about safeguarding their personal information, handling cyber-bullying, reporting and ignoring advances from strangers, avoiding online scams, and being courteous in online communication. They must understand the dangers and consequences of making details of their private lives available to the public. This education needs to happen at home as well as in homerooms, health classes, school assemblies, technology classes and guidance counseling.

Why Libraries?

One of the things I enjoy most about what I do is searching Flickr for CC photographs related to my writing. (( Mason, Randi. “TerryMoore’s Librarian Sketch.” Flickr. 15 Sep 2006. 15 May 2009 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/lucy_anne/728900655/>. ))
Anyone who knows a good librarian, knows about militancy. (( Puckett, Jason (JassModeus). “Librarian Tattoo.” Flickr. 15 Sep 2006. 1 Aug 2008 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/jazzmodeus/2723560261/>. ))
I understand the need for these rules, but this shouldn’t be the first or last thing that patrons see when using a library. (( Dombrowski, Quinn. “Librarian Rules.” Flickr. 15 Sep 2006. 26 Mar 2008 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/quinnanya/2363131151/>. ))
Librarians being librarians.  I wish I knew who that blue guy was. (( Metitieri, Fabio. “Second Life, Librarians Meeting.” Flickr. 15 Aug 2008. 15 May 2009 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/yukali/2764611639/>. ))
In searching for library images on Flickr, I discovered that some people have some pretty interesting fantacies about librarians. 😉

A few days ago, that Blue Skunk dude, Doug Johnson, published a blog post resulting from a conversation he was involved in with the fellow leadership of his school district.  The question at hand was, “How can middle school and high school library programs and facilities be improved to support student learning and achieve the ISB Vision for Learning?”  However, through the course of the conversation, the question morphed into, “Does a school need a library when information can be accessed from the classroom using Internet connected laptops?”

Well I can think of no one, NO ONE, whom I would rather be sitting in the presence of such a question.  If this statment puzzles or intrigues you then just google [“Doug Johnson” librar].  Johnson also offered up a list of published articles he has written about the essential need for libraries today.  Go to his blog post (The Essential Question?) to see this list — and bookmark the articles.

Part of his blog entry was a request for answers.

The new question is uncomfortable, messy, and incredibly important and not restricted by any means to one particular school. It is one to which all library people need a clear and compelling answer.

Then he closed with,

Do you have a good response? What part does a facility play in a ubiquitous information environment? How does the librarian’s role change? How do we assess our impact if physical visits become less frequent?

This blog post — which you are reading now — comes under the category of, “I spent so much time and energy writing that comment that I have to put it someplace else as well.”  So here’s how I answered Doug’s question. (Italicized text was added for this article)


I think that this is one of the most interesting questions in education today, “Why do we need libraries (or librarians) when virtually all of the information we need on a daily basis is only a mouse-click away?”

I ask the question a lot, and the answers often seem to fall into two categories.  The first is about books and their special place in our culture.  Why?  The answers frequently seem to be personal (I like the feel and smell).  The second reason is about librarians.  We need librarians to teach students how to be critical users of information — and much more.

Frankly, I do not believe that either reason will fly in the face of budget cuts and an increasingly information-ubiquitous landscape.

That said, I also do not believe that there has ever been a more exciting time to be a librarian.  Reinvention thrills me.

The traditional vision of the library portrays a place, where you go to consume content, to find information, read information, and sometimes to check it out.  Certainly many, if not most, libraries have extended beyond this limited function.  Yet the vision continues to be the same.

As you know, I talk about literacy a lot, and try to tie it to the old and recognized structure of the 3Rs.  I think it’s a good place to start, because it is about accessing, working, and expressing information (reading, arithmetic, & writing).  It seems that if the library could come to be seen as a place for all three…

  • Find, access, understand, critically evaluate the appropriate information for your goal;
  • Add value to the information by utilizing tools of analysis, translation, manipulation, and visualization of information;
  • Compelling express ideas through the appropriate combinations of text, sound, images, video, animation; and
  • Accomplish these things socially, collaboratively, and joyously.

…if the library might come to be seen more as a workshop where information isn’t so much a product, as it is a raw material (a “Kinkos for kids,” if you will), then it may remain not only viable, but an essential institution.

That’s my 2¢ Worth.

Again, go read Dougs post to see many other responses.

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