More of being Overwhelmed in Fredericton

The conference is over, and I head out to the air port very soon.  Once home, I stay there for nearly a week — while the azaleas are in bloom.  Look for pictures.

Flu ShotSo where did I leave off.  Oh!  Flu Shot.  It’s a book written by Kendrick Lacey about a killer flu pandemic.  Classes across New Brunswick read the book and blogged about it.  Then the author was contacted, and he interacted with the students about the book and about the threat of pandemic disease.  He even did a public reading of the last chapter of the book for the classes over a PolyCom teleconference hookup.

It would be exciting to say that Mr. (Dr.) Lacey was able to interact in these ways from all the way in San Francisco, London, or Paris, but I think its even better to say that Kendrick Lacey worked with these children from a small town north of Fredericton, New Brunswick, just a few miles away.  It’s good that we can connect around the world with the Internet, but isn’t it better when we can use technology to connect to the value of what is local to you? then there was Matt Van Raalte, a high school math teacher, who as jettisoned his textbooks for Wikispaces.  All of his students have laptops.  So through Wikispaces, they have access to his presentation slides, his work sheets, and many other resources.  The textbooks lay in a stack in the corner of the room.  One thing that struck me was a sight-impaired student in the classroom, who was reading the materials from the same wiki the other students were using, using the same computer that they were using, but configured to display the material in a dramatically enlarged view.  Nothing special.  Just digital networked information.

Jeff told me that almost without exception the French Immersion classes (classes that are taught entirely in French) score better on their standardized tests.  This is largely because the Immersion classes are self-selected higher performing children.  The exception is Matt Van Raalte’s laptop math students.  Whipple was quick to qualify that Matt is an exceptional math teacher.

From there we went to the BBT lab where students develop a wide array of technology related skills, computer applications, computer aided manufacturing, robotics, etc.  It is largely self-paced, and one of those classrooms that looks far more like a work place than a classroom.  In a small office, just off from this lab, I met two teachers who work in offices, at an array of computers and displays, teaching students as far away as Mexico.  They are distance learning teachers, and one of them teaches three courses in two languages.  I’m still getting my mind wrapped around this.

At the conference, I met Ian Foggarty (sounds like a rock star).  Ian is a physics and biology teacher who has taken on the idea of students as producers.  Rather than giving his students a lab manual for doing their experiments, their job is to write the lab manual.  They are doing it online, and are keen to make it as interactive as possible — and they are willing to go as far as to hire another student to come in and add some flash animations to their project.  They pay him a carton of chocolate milk every day.  They also want to include some user input features, and suspect that this is going to cost at least some chocolate-chip cookies.

I have to mention Jacinthe Robichaud, the Director of Partners in Learning with Microsoft Canada.  She talked to me about the Classrooms of the Future, of which there is one in Philadelphia, and she was especially enthusiastic about the one in Singapore.  She used a term that I found intriguing.  She said that they are after classrooms with soft walls.  I usually refer to classrooms with transparent walls, but the idea of a classroom that you can reshape (I’m talking figuratively) for the need is equally useful.  It is the kind of re-configurable that is critical to adaptive teaching and learning.

Finally, I participated in a breakfast meeting yesterday with David Kirkpatrick, a representative of the New Brunswick Provincial Government.  They (the legislature) are in the middle of budget negotiations, and he asked us (me and several folks from the DOE), why, when they visited schools, teachers didn’t talk about technology.  Kirkpatrick, himself, was obviously sold, but he was looking for a story.  He was looking for that elevator pitch.  And it isn’t easy.  We explained that talking about technology is like talking about chalk, that talking about networks was like talking about hot water.  It’s a tough question to answer.  The reality of it is that modernizing classrooms requires a huge leap of vision, a realization that your economic future depends much less on geography, and more on your citizenry’s access to global information and the skills to work that information.  It’s a golden opportunity for outlying jurisdictions, but will not happen as a result of any single budget negotiation.  It will come from an ongoing commitment to retooling.

It’s been a fantastic trip and now it time to get out to the airport.

Two Early Morning Eye Openers

First thing I run across this morning is Vicki Davis’ very clever video called Technology Fear Factor.”  She expresses most of the message with a combination of IM speak spelling via a tatooed finger pointing to keys on a computer keyboard.  Well it’s probably not real tatoos.  Very clever and very true.

Teach the World.(c)Also, through her video, I discovered TeacherTube.  It appears to be an independent entity, a moderated education-oriented version of YouTube.  It does look and act a lot like YouTube, so my initial impression was that it was a subset.  But evidently not.  My search of Technorati indicates that I am a bit late to this party, but plan to upload some stuff soon.

Also, I’ve not had time yet to mention Steve Hargadon’s School2.0 social network.  He’s using Ning, a social network builder, and there already seems to be a highly active Library20 network.  I’m not sure how helpful these will be.  Do we all really need a new place to go.  It’s what I like about blogs, podcasts, and RSS, that the network is so organic and so boundaryless.  It follows us around. 

Still, this may be very useful as an anchor to attach resources and conversations to.  I’ve already joined both, and also TeacherTube.

A Day of being Overwhelmed

As you know, I’m in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and today is the first day of their Literacy & Learning conference.  They suggested that I come up a day early, as a buffer day, just in case weather was being ornery.  Evidently, they had Jason Ohler set up to to keynote a conference her a few months ago, and he got stranded in Toronto.

It’s an excellent thing that I came in a day early.  They certainly kept me busy, filling my notebook with lots of blog fodder.  It started at breakfast with some DOE folks and then a short meeting at the Nashwaaksis Middle School, where Jeff “The Wiki Man” Whipple gave me a demonstration of BridgIt conferencing software from Smart Technologies.  They are doing a lot of collaborative projects here with classes in New Orleans, Malaysia, and Serbia, to mention only a few.  I saw a more local example after our meeting, as a grade eight class was delivering reports to a class in a rural part of the province.  They were using a mobile PolyCom setup to facilitate the audio and video, and Bridgit to share pages.  Interestingly, they used Wikispaces for the presentation and the multimedia, including links to video and spread sheet files.

A high point of the day was getting to meet Gary Gallant, who, several years ago, traveled to Antarctica, and worked with scientists there, transmitting his experience over the Internet to thousands of students here in New Brunswick and around the world.

In reflection, what I didn’t see in the teleconferencing activity yesterday, nor in the poster presentations yesterday at the conference, and what was most certainly an integral part of what these children experienced, was the literacy.  ..and I’m not talking about just the reading and writing, but what strategies they used to find the information they were using?  On what criteria did they decide what texts and what images they were going to use, and the texts and images they didn’t use?  What did they do with the data that they collected to draw their conclusions?  What I was seeing are VERY impressive uses of technology.  But I think that an explicit part of these demonstrations should be the information skills that learners and teachers have practiced to get to these amazing projects.  Of course, I saw it.  I could see what it took to get to this fabulous work.  But if a legislator or city alderman is watching, the skills should be an explicit part of the demonstration.

I did get to see kids practicing these skills in Chad Ball’s class, where he is teaching civics in a different way.  Rather than teaching the concepts and vocabularies, Chad simply posted the information on the class wiki, pointed his students to it and then assigned them to work in teams and invent their own political party.  They were required to have a platform, to write speeches, have a mascot and logo, and to present their party to the class, and to utilize all of the vocabulary words and political concepts in the process. 

Chad told us that he had just decided to suggest that they take the project further this year, and had posted this suggestion on the class wiki.  The students complained at first, but by the time Jeff and I got to the class, a half hour later, there were already 102 comments on that wiki page, from the students, mostly talking about ways that they might extend the project.  A very flat classroom!

I was fascinated that several of the students created a party web site, using Piczo, which is a social networking site that seems to be favored by youngsters in Canada.  What’s interesting is that the site is blocked by the school district.  How do those kids do that?

I’m going to close here by mentioning that the technology mentors are doing something that I haven’t seen before for professional development.  They come into a school with three substitute teachers (they call them supply teachers).  They go to the classrooms of teachers who have expressed an interest in learning some specific technology skill or piece of software.  They drop off the substitute and then take the teacher(s) to the PD lab for an hour or so of training.  What strikes me about this procedure is not just that it is incredibly efficient, but it also sends the message that professional development is part of the job.  It isn’t something that happens after work, on weekends, and during the summer.  But it is important enough that it is part of your work day.

My work day continues today with a breakfast meeting, another keynote (flat world and flat classroom stuff), and then three breakout sessions.  I’m already tired!

Day One in Fredericton — Work & Fun
Jeff Whipple, Me, and Gary Gallant.

All I can think to say is WOW! WOW! WOW!  I met and got to know a number of folks from the New Brunswick Department of Education this morning over breakfast.  I was struck immediately with a down home relaxed nature among the provincial leaders, especially considering that they are putting on a conference tomorrow.  In a few minutes I felt at home with friends. 

Afterward, we went to Nashwaaksis Middle School, one of the 1:1 exploratory initiatives of the province, and home base for technology mentor and edublogger,  Jeff Wipple and vice principal and Antarctic explorer, Gary Gallant.  I won’t go into details now.  To much to say, and I’m tired.  Sufice it to say that my jaw was on the ground for most of the morning visiting classrooms in the middle school and Leo Hayes High School.

After school visits (which I’ll talk about later), Jeff and I drove out to his uncle’s farm to learn about maple shacking.  I think that’s the term (please correct me Jeff).  It was just like my 4th grade social studies class.  You drive a special stake in the maple tree, hand a pale from it, with a tin tent over the pale.  Then you take the sap, boil it down, and you have syrup.  Ernie and his two certified maple syrup experts (don’t remember their names) shared the details. really impressed me was Ernie’s airport.  There are two terminals, though terminal 2 is actually the out house.  There are lights (solar), a radio, weather station, and pay phone equiped with an authentic bullet hole from an eager hunter.  He also has a hanger with one working air plane, a helecopter, one disassembled airplane, an ultralight, and scale model of a DC-9 passenger jet.

It was a great visit and a wonderful break from the job.  Thanks Jeff and Ernie, and thanks Ernie’s wife, Lauren, for the coffee and Poppy cakes.

It’s ICT

It’s not about the technology, but about a new information landscape.  Technology is merely the way that we navigate it.

I landed in Fredericton, New Brunswick last night.  I’d thought it would be shortly after nine, but it was actually shortly after ten.  I need to find out if I’m east of Easter Standard Time, or simply not observing daylight saving time. 

It’s a provincial conference that I’ll be working, delivering two keynotes and a number of presentations on web 2.0 applications.  I do not know enough about this province’s technology initiative to comment yet, especially as it would appear that it was about the technology.  As Andrew Pass commented on Are Computers a Tool?

I think it’s dangerous to put too much of an emphasis on the importance of computers.

Too true.  As we talk about technology integration, most of the rest of the world talks about ICT — Information and Communication Technologies.  It’s an interesting label, because it seems to qualify the word technology by applying it to information and the flow of information.  Of course, we’ve had information and communication technologies before, and we didn’t call them that, and we didn’t need information and communication technology integrationists,

    But what’s changed



Alan Kay is credited with the phrase, “‘Technology’ is anything that was invented after you were born!”  We certainly a lot of what we use to manage information was invented after we were born.  Satellites didn’t exist when I was born.  So since so much of this is new, not a part of our cultural sense of how we work, then these IC technologies are something that we have to spend a lot of time talking about.  But I agree entirely with Andrew’s statement.  There be dragons in these woods.

I’ll say it again, because it will be a major part of my message here in Fredericton, that it isn’t how technologies have changed that is causing those who are paying attention to rethink education.  It’s how the landscape has changed.

  1. The world economy is changing — becoming much more global and cooperative.
  2. Our customers are changing — today’s students are accustomed to a type of information experience that is completely different and dramatically richer than that of their parents and teachers.
  3. The very nature of information has changed — becoming more networked, digital, overwhelming, and a number of other characteristics that the information landscape has taken on in just the last five years.

I will mostly be talking about number three, but it is this changing landscape that we need to be talking about, that needs to be driving our decisions and plans.  Computers are merely THE tool that we use to navigate it.

Image Citation:
Dame, Ed. “Compass.” Ed Dame’s Photostream. 21 May 2006. 21 Mar 2007 <>.

Computer as Tool Continued…

I was quite surprised, when I poked my head into 2¢ Worth, here at the airport (Free WiFi), to find eight comments on yesterday’s post, “Are Computers a Tool?”  Eight is a lot for me, and I continue to be surprised that anyone is reading this stuff.  I was so intrigued by the ideas shared by these readers that I thought I’d comment on their comments in a more threaded way.

First of all, we are talking syntax.  Talking about integrating technology and how the computer is just a tool still has a great deal of usefulness.  But as we talk to educators and other education stakeholders about technology, I think that we need to chose our words carefully.  We need to say exactly what we mean, to describe an entire picture of what teaching and learning look like, and where it takes place.  We need to avoid jargon at all cost.  We accomplish our goals by describing them very carefully.

First, I’d like to react to Clarence Fisher’s statement,

“Computers can completely be used to replicate paper based skills. But, if they are being used that way, use the paper instead. It is cheaper and easier.” 

This is exactly what I would have said a few years ago, that you use the tool that is appropriate to the task.  But when I try to think forward to my children’s future, I simply do not see a lot of paper.  I don’t see paper skills as distinct from digital skills.  I just see literacy, the skills you need to use information to accomplish your goals, and I suspect that the information is going to be almost exclusively digital and networked.  It’s how they should be learning those skills.

I recognize that I am in a unique situation, where I do not have to work within the constraints of a school, district, state agency, or university.  Therefore I can say things with conviction that are difficult for most educators.  But I think that it is important that someone can say, “Expense should not be an issue!”  “Our children are in our classrooms!”  “Our future is in our classrooms!”  We should spare no expense in making sure that we and they are doing their very best.

What Clarence says next is right on, and should be shouted from our rooftops.  I would reword it just a bit.

We need to be using our machines to do things that are different, that are (were) not possible without them (before). Forming networks between students and teachers, obtaining information using RSS, telling stories, and getting our voices heard. Computers can make learning different, but simply having them and using them to replicat(ing) what we were doing before, does not do that. It requires massive change in classroom pedagogy, which we are still learning about.

Karen Janawski evokes Richard Wanderman’s reference that paper is “mistake intolerant” and that technology is “mistake tolerant.”  This is an important way to think about technology from a pedogogical point of view, but the fact is that this concept expands out into the real adult world.  An important reason why computers are so useful to us is that most mistakes cost us most less than before, and for this reason, we are able to be much more productive.  She goes on to suggest that,

“Technology is the great equalizer for students with learning struggles/disabilities/challenges, whatever you want to call them.” 

Amen!  But this is a big part of life outside of school as well.  I suspect that we all have intellectual deficiencies of some type.  I know I have mine!  But in a world with technologies that amplify our minds as well as our muscles, the sense of equalizing is not only a personal issue or a classroom issue.  It is a broadly systemic issue.  It’s life, not just pedagogy.

My favorite non-educator blogger, Cherrie, shifts my original concluding question, (Does paper represent an adequate tool for learning skills related to a digital networked information world?), and asks,

“Does the education system represent an adequate tool for learning?”

It’s an important and ongoing question.

Pam Shoemaker says,

“Yikes! In my district, my title is “Technology Integration Coordinator.” Do I need to go to the Board of Ed to request my title to be changed to ‘Digital Skills Integrator’?”

Digital Skills Integrator’s not bad.  Frankly, I don’t know what to call it, because we’re not there.  How long will we need a learning technologies expert?  For how long will technology be advancing that fast?  I’d actually rather see us all become obsolete, because we have some how empowered every teacher to be able to keep up.  But that’s another conversation.

Megan Golding says,

“Absolutely, I believe paper represents an adequate medium for learning (many) digital networked skills. That’s because some online skills are exactly the same as the offline ones we grew up with: spelling and grammar, the ability to express thoughts in a coherent paragraph, and reading comprehension.”

She goes on to say,

“However, I think we need to move between the electrons and the dead trees regularly. Some of those online skills just can’t be taught on dead trees. Writing with hyperlinks comes to mind as a prime example.”

In a system that is resource constrained, this is a logical and useful statement.  I’m just trying to push us to think about where we should be.  If we can make a compelling enough case, tell that new story, then perhaps we’ll get permission to go there.

A. Mercer grounds us again by saying,

“I’m noticing that as we’re doing more online work, my walls are a bit bare. There is something immediately accessible about charts to the whole class during the majority of the school day. Until there are smart boards all over my classroom, that will probably be the case.”

Until our classroom walls are all covered with electronic-paper (not so far down the road as you might think), then paper is with us.  It’s part of our world.  We can handle and manage it with our hands.  The digital is of another realm.  It is a different dimension that we are still coming to terms with.  But all that said, I still believe that we should be teaching our children literacy skills that are releavant to an increasingly and ultimately an exclusively digital networked information environment, and I believe that this is where they need to be working.

I’ll read the Pappert article on the plane!

In closing, here’s what Jennifer Wagner said almost immediately after I posted the blog.

You are right — the computer is not a tool — it is an Open Door to possibilities.

Two Unusuals Warrant a Blog

I’m sitting in the Phoenix International Airport, Gate A6, waiting for my flight to Boston — two hours from now.  It was an unusually long security line, a bit more than an hour, which is way longer than usual.  But what made the time barable was the woman who was hollerin’ instructions.  Usually this was extremely irritating, but she was signing her instructions in a gospel style, and doing it quite well.  All she needed was a Hammond organ, and stained glass behind her, and we would have been there.  I love personality showing up in unexpected places.

Speaking of personality, the second unusual was another airport patron walking by, a guitar strapped to her back and following her on a leash?  — a white ferret.  Another one that I’ve not seen before.

All Done & Learning

I’m all done with my presentations in Phoenix and my voice is ragged.  All that’s left is driving back to the airport where I have a hotel — flying out in the morning.  So, I’ve stepped into Tony Vincent’s presentation on Blogging and RSS.  I just did my Web 2.0 session so we had worked out that I would go easier on the Blogging stuff, and send folks over to his session for a more detailed look at edublogging.

There is nothing like the honesty and sincerity of conference presenters who are talking from the classroom — and are very good at it.  At least some of his teachers are using Kidzblog. I remember taking a look at it a while back but there was something about it that didn’t work.  Maybe it required Windows OS.  It is actually a client/server set up, where students use an application (Windows and OSX [new]), and then publish to the local server.  It doesn’t allow commenting, which is a pretty big drawback, from the conversations I have with educators, commenting is a huge feature for students.  I interrupted Tony and asked, and he said that the old version did not allow commenting, but the new version does.

Tony is now showing samples of teacher blogs.  They…

  • Post daily assignments.
  • Announce about upcoming field trips.
  • Reports on what’s happening in the classroom — classroom stories.
  • Post photos of notes from the white board.
  • Use the blog as a platform for students’ work.  Teacher poses a question, and students comment their answers.
  • Use a school-wide blog to help with school management.
  • Use their blogs to engage in professional conversations.

Tony is providing an interesting counter point to the RSS stuff that I use.  I use Google Reader and Netvibes.  He uses Bloglines.  I like Technorati.  He likes Bloglines search.  That might be an interesting panel discussion for a conference.  Have some powerbloggers get together and talk about their tools, what they use and why.  What are their favorite features?

Are Computers a Tool?

There are a number of phrases that we use in our ed tech speak that, though useful in some contexts, might actually do more harm than good.  One is Integrating Technology or Technology Integration.  I’ve talked this one down for years, that it isn’t about integrating technology, but integrating the digital skills that are a crucial part of contemporary literacy.  Integrate the skills, and the tech has to come along.

Another one that I’ve heard frequently over the past weeks, that does continue to have some value, is Technology is a tool.  There’s nothing really wrong with this one.  It hopes educators along the way of understanding that it isn’t technology for technology’s sake.  It is just a tool.  I guess what I’ve come to believe is that technology is not just a tool, it is the tool.  I could go so far as saying that anyone who is practicing information/literacy skills without technology, is practicing obsolete skills.  That isn’t entirely accurate yet, but it’s where our lessons should be.

When I was struggling with what to do with all the Radio Shack Model III computers my school, back in 1983, computers for which the district had bought no software, I did the only thing I could.  I taught myself how to program so that I could create activities for our students. 

One program that I wrote was called Trucker Geography, and it ran like this:

  1. You would start in a state, randomly chosen by the program.  ..and I have to tell you that making a map of the U.S. with a TRS-80 Model III was a challenge and a half.
  2. You would receive an order for some commodity to be picked up and delivered to another state, also randomly selected. 
  3. You used an almanac, a book that accompanied each computer, to find a nearby state that produced the commodity.
  4. Then you drove to that state by typing in the names of each state that you would drive through in order to get there.  You had to spell the states correctly, and the more time it took, the less money you made.
  5. When you reached that state, and loaded the cargo, you drove to the target state, once again, by typing in the names of the states you would drive through.

There were four instructional goals for the program. 

  • Students learned the relative locations of the states on a map.
  • Students learned to spell the names of the states.
  • Students learned about the economic importance of the states.
  • Students learned to use an almanac.

We were using the computer as a tool to help students learn to do things that we were, by and large, still doing  on paper.  We were using computers to continue the paper training of our children — and these tools were pretty good at it.

Today, however, computers are THE tool.  Computers and the Internet are today’s information landscape.  It is where we manage commerce, communicate, play, and access information, even the information we use to look up in an almanac.  Twenty-eight years ago, those sixteen kilobyte computers were useful tools for helping children develop what were still paper-based skills

The disturbing question today is, “Does paper represent an adequate tool for learning skills related to a digital networked information world?”

If not, why are we acting like it does?

Image Citation:
Beale, Scott. “H2K2.” Laughing Squid. 18 Jan 2007. 19 Mar 2007 <>.

Report on Latinos and the Internet from PEW

Pew Internet: Latinos Online:

Latinos comprise 14% of the U.S. adult population and about half of this growing group (56%) goes online. By comparison, 71% of non-Hispanic whites and 60% of non-Hispanic blacks use the internet.

What I found most interesting from the report was that of English-Dominant Hispanics, 78% use the Internet.  Of Native-born Hispanics it was 76%.  Of Whites in the United States, only 71% are using the Internet, and of Blacks, it was 60%.

Of all Hispanics, it was 56%.

You can download the PDF report at: