A Problem-Solver with Wings

I’m not a huge Blogvangelist. It’s one of many tools out there, all of which I recognize as being in flux. It didn’t exist as an important part of my world two years ago, and perhaps will fade out in the next two years. I’ve been around long enough to accept that fads come and go, and that it takes nothing from their value to recognize this.

But blogging makes such a great and simple lens through which to witness and interact with the new information environment. In the old environment, you typed your knowledge and ideas on paper, or scratched it with a pencil. Then you carried it to its destination. You read books that you walked or road to obtain and that others walked or road to deliver. You drove to the theater, bought CDs (Albums in my world) at the store you walked to, consumed information that somebody handed to you.

It was a foot and mouth information environment, and our information economy road on wheels.

Our children have sprouted wings, and most of us don’t even see them. Mark Ahlness blogged a story yesterday about his classroom, where school technicians were working on the LAN, resulting in the students’ network folders being inaccessible. They had access to the Internet, though. One Student needed to print something, but did not have access from her computer to the printer in the corner of the room. Mark continues…

She was typing in Word – wanted to print, but could not – and could not save to her network folder. But she had Internet access. There was only one computer in the room that had access to our printer at that time. She turned to me and said, “Couldn’t I just copy and paste this to my blog – like not ask for it to be published or anything? Just save it there…. and then I could go to that other computer that can print, log on to my blog, open that saved article, copy and paste my writing from my blog article into Word – and then print? Like, would that work?”

“Like, my goodness,” Mark says. He has butterflies in his classroom (3rd grader butterflies), and Mark sees the wings, and he rests in awe that these kids are learning, practically by themselves, that they have wings.

It’s going to happen. But will it happen with our guidance, or without? Will it happen to a generation of children, or to a select few and privileged? Will our future be one that matches the times, or one that frustratingly looks longingly back to better times, because those are the times we prepared our children for?

Got to get thing together. Flying to Utah today.

He’s Done it Again

My nation’s principal leader, President George W. Bush, has cut to $0, once again, federal funding for Enhancing Education Through Technology (E2T2) program. Bush’s FY07 Budget Proposal, for the 2nd year, has zeroed out E2T2 funding. Last year, through heroic lobbying by CoSN and many others, the $500 million dollar program was cut to only $272 million.

To me, it’s simple. How do we prepare our children for their future, when we aren’t even afforded today’s information technologies? I must be missing something, because George Bush is surely a smarter man than me.

NECC Keynote

The MIT Media LabI woke this morning with rather more solid ground under my feet than usual, because I woke up thinking about the past. I’m a peculiar sort of edgeek, because, unlike so many ed tech’ers who came out of business education and math, I use to be a history teacher. But it makes sense to me. I always taught history from the perspective of technologies — that when we invented the bow and arrow, it changed our cultures in these ways. When we invented agriculture, it changed how we lived. When I saw that first Radio Shack (TRS-80) Model I computer — a machine that you operated by communicating with it, I was sure that this was going to be one of those technologies that would change us.

Out of that context, I’ve always been fascinated by the unique people and communities from which the last 30 year’s of innovation have come. The people include Jobs, Wozniak, Bill Gates, Alan Kay, Jaron Lanier, Tim Berners-Lee, Marc Andreessen, and many others. The communities have also fascinated me, the places where somebody, seeing a need for innovation, would hire a bunch of really smart people, put them in a room (or a really modern looking building), and say, “Play!”. These places have always been something of a Mecca for me — places of pilgrimage. One day, I’ll tell you about serendipitously finding the Media Lab on the campus of MIT. Other communities were Xerox Parc, the birth place of the mouse, WYSIWYG, Ethernet, and a graphical way to operate personal computers, that was given away to an excitable boy named Steve Jobs.

the National Center for Supercomputing Applications was another such community with lots of young, but less famous folks invented user-friendly Internet tools, including the first graphical web browser, Mosaic.

But, for one of the most interesting of these places, let’s return back to the campus of MIT, and The Media Lab. This still vibrant bed of innovation came less from a wire-head sentiment, and instead from an interest in design and architecture — interested less in how machines work, but in how people interact with machines. Much great work has come from the Media Lab, much of it in the field of education. But perhaps the most notable personality is that of Nicholas Negroponte, the center’s chief administrator. His talent has not been in research and invention, but in convincing people that research and innovation were valuable enough to invest in. This has given Negroponte a unique lens on the last 40 years, which has manifest itself most recently in the $100 laptop. But you can read much about this man’s vision by revisiting the early years of WIRED Magazine, a venture that he partially funded in return for the opportunity to write a monthly column about being digital in the early 1990’s. These articles were later compiled for Negroponte’s book, Being Digital.

Nicolas NegroponteAnyway, this blog has gotten to long, and it’s time for me to get to work. But all of this has led to something important. At the AZTEA conference last week, a representative of ISTE announced that Negroponte will be one of the NECC keynote speakers this year. Another of my life’s goals, almost achieved.

It’s happened again — “I Quit”

Yes, another education leader has cut himself loose from the ship that is the U.S. education system, a vessel that seems to be doing nothing as much as it is sinking. Another raft has set loose in the currents of our times, with a navigator who has long gotten the fact that trying to reroute the currents to suit the ship is lunacy, that redesigning the ship to ride the currents of time, though hard and scary work, is the only thing that will get us to the end — healthy and dry.

Blogger coffeeGreat luck to Will Richardson. I’m sure we’re all going to be hearing and seeing a lot more of him, and this is only good for us and our future. It’s also going to mean a lot more reading 😉

Will! This cup of coffee’s for you. It’s a great place to go write.

Read Will’s announcement at weblogg-ed

Cultivating a Classroom Learning Engine through Information Economics

Information EconomySeveral months ago, in an interview at the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco, venture capitalist, Vinod Khosla, was asked what he thought about the value of content in our evolving information-based economy. He said,

Content, today, is still the dominant thing. But one thing that I can say, is that it is going to be the company that can grow and maintain audiences, not content, that succeed in the future.*

This statement comes out of times that are both exciting and tumultuous. Bedrock institutions like newspapers, TV and radio, and even the textbook industry are feeling the threat of a structural foundation that has turned quicksand. Consider that:

  • Bloggers, acting as citizen journalists, have been responsible for politic-altering reporting, that traditional media ignored until the blogs themselves became the story.
  • Podcasting’s staggering growth in publishing and listenership has radio and television programmers stumbling over each other to offer their own rss feeds.
  • Most of us are doing more of our reading online. But even print has become astonishingly democratic, where you can write your transcript, upload it to a web site that will then publish and sell your book online, printing it on demand.
  • Listen to a recent interview (Part 1 / Part 2) between EdTech Talker’s Dave Cormier and Jeff Lebow, and Wikimedia’s Danny Wool, talking about their efforts to produce open source collaborative textbooks.
  • The content belongs to us. It’s controlled by us. ..and we are producing an increasing amount of it. So I suspect that Khosla is right, we will not be able to control the content — even in our classroom (especially in our classrooms?). Our best bet is to maintain the audience. Think about facilitating a successful classroom by cultivating its students into a learning engine. Here’s one scenario:

    First of all, you toss your textbook. Not so radical. It happens every day, and has been for years. Instead of a textbook, each student is given a wiki page, and instructions on how to grow their wiki page into a web site for their class — a personal class notebook. Their job is to produce a study guide that they can use in preparing for their unit tests.

    These wiki pages can be visited by the entire class. Classmates can even copy sections from study sites and paste them into their own wiki pages. The goal is to have an effective and efficient study experience before the test. We might even allow students to use their web sites during the test — open wiki tests. In this dynamic new information environment, is the goal to learn how much we can memorize, or how well we can find, use, and communicate information?

    Cheating? Yes, if there is no credit given for effectively valuable work. But we count the page hits. Each visit to your wiki notes from a classmate earns you points. When text or other information is copied from your wiki site, you get points. The students who produce the most effective and efficient study guides get extra points added to their grades. The classroom becomes an information economy. Actually, they’ve always been information economies. It’s just that we might encourage them to trade with each other, not just the teacher.

    Some students might start creating study portals, instead of study content. They will make it their job to graze the pages produced by their classmates and then write an effective outline of study, linking to the best pages in the class. That student gets points for organizing an efficient front-end.


    2¢ Worth.

    * Khosla, Vinod. "ITConversations." Vinod Khosla: In Conversations with John Battelle. Web 2.0 Conference, San Francisco. 5 Oct 2005. Audio Archive. 25 Nov 2005 <http://www.itconversations.com/shows/detail796.html>

Are Kids Smart? — Depends

Our local capital paper, News & Observer, featured an article on the front page today, “IQ tests show kids are smarter than parents”. Due to copyright restrictions, they could not include the article online. But the article reports on the continuing increase in IQ test scores since the advent of the test. The long article suggested possible reasons, but the bottom line was that our “…intellects develop to the degree that the times demand…” and the demanded intellects at present seem to be what the tests measure.

The article featured the work of New Zealand researcher, James Flynn, and what’s been called the Flynn Affect, this increase in IQ. Only scant mention of this was included in the article, but I have read other references to Flynn’s research pointing to a recent escalation of our general intelligence, and speculations that it has been a result of new technologies. Consider the tools that we use on a daily bases, digital watches and VCRs. These are machines that will perform numerous functions for us, but with a very limited number of buttons. We must reason our way into the operation of the device to make it do what we want. My children can reason through a cell phone or VCR in minutes. For me, I stopped wearing a watch years ago, and my VCR is a 12:00 flasher.

The article ends with Flynn’s conculsion that…

…modern American kids, while relatively skilled in abstract thinking, lack a lot of the basic three R’s and rote knowledge that their forebears possessed. At age 10, when IQ tests are generally given, stronger abstract-thinking skills give them an edge. but by the time today’s students exit hight school, their achievement levels in reading and math are much closer to their great-grandparents’.

Could this be (my words) because we continue to teach our children in the same way that their our grand parents were taught, teaching methods that are contrary to the unique learning skills that our children enter our classrooms with?

What do you think?

Greve, Frank. "IQ tets show kids are smarter than parents." News & Observer 4 February 2006: 1A.


I’ve been up since 3:30 AM, and I’m tired of work. Deciding to take a short break before lunch, I ran across a few jewels, include this — PortableApps.com. Sweet!

I can’t help but assume that you already know about this. I’m so slow with this sort of stuff. But in case you reside in the slow lane with me, PortableApps is a suite of applications, mostly open source, that have been scaled down such that they will fit on most portable devices (thumbdrives, portable hard drives, iPods and other portable plug-in devices.

You just download the apps and them drag them over to your device. Then, as you are in portable mode, away from your computer, and you need to do some work, you can sit at another computer, plug in your device, and you have access to these apps and your personal data. The software includes:

  • AbiWord (word processing)
  • FileZilla (FTP client)
  • Firefox (Web browser)
  • Gaim (instant messaging)
  • NVU (Web editor)
  • OpenOffice (office suite)
  • Sunbird (Calendar)
  • Thunderbird (e-mail)
  • and more!

At present, PortableApps is PC only, although most of the apps are available for Mac individually.

Reflections on Thursday MEGA Meeting

The Friday Institute, Raleigh, NCYesterday afternoon, I attended an MEGA (Middle Educators Global Activities) meeting. Sponsored by North Carolina State University, META holds meetings regular late afternoon meetings that are attended by educators from Wake and surrounding counties. The expressed focus is science instruction in the middle grades, but the scope ranges far beyond that.

Yesterday’s presenters were Matt Friedrick, with the NC Center for International Understanding (NCCIU), and Len Annetta, of the NC State College of Education, and director of HI FIVES (Highly Interactive Fun Internet Virtual Environments in Science). I took notes directly in my blog yesterday afternoon, uploading it periodically — mostly because I thought that was a cool thing to do.

I have just a couple of reflections. I have already written a bit about the international connections program in a comment that I just posted to the original entry, in response to some observations by Ewan McIntosh. I hope that I interpreted Ewan’s statement accurately. Besides that, I believe that, in order to get teachers and school in North Carolina, across the U.S., and in other countries to want to participate, the NCCIU needs to offer something that they need. I suggested, during the presentation, that they collect best practices. I’m not sure Matt saw where I was going, and there was not a way that I could explain it succinctly. But if they could collect something, as a result of the interactions that are already taking place, and publish that information on the Web in a way that would draw other classrooms in and make them want to be a part of this, then that may be a useful strategy for accomplishing their goals. I don’t know what information that is or how it might be posted, but they certainly have access to more powerful imaginations out there than mine.

Len gave a fun presentation. He is a talented speaker, and, being a game player, knows how to have fun (hmmm, may be something there). However, I am a bit skeptical about teachers having the ability to develop video games that compete with Halo and Roller Coaster Tycoon. Many of our students, after-all, are connoisseurs.

What I find intriguing about the way that my son plays video games with his friends is that the tire easily of the games that are designed into the gaming environments, and start to make up their own games. Most of them are versions of what we used to call “tag”. But given the adaptiveness of these gaming environments, they can create some pretty compelling fun.

During one of Len’s demos, it occurred to me that if you just created a space, with carefully configured rules of physical behavior (mass, gravity, attraction, etc.) stuck some interesting objects out there, and then asked teams of students to create their own games, they might discover, through their interactions, some important knowledge about physics, chemistry, social dynamics and governance, and much more. Or perhaps create a world and invite students there to interact. But have some game masters or deities controlling the game, and creating situations that force the students to react, through research, logic, collaboration, and action.

One of my all time favorite books is Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card. In it, the students of the orbiting battle school play video games on their computers, but the teachers interact in the back ground by changing the conditions of the game, to teach their students resourcefulness.

Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was a tour of the Friday Institute. I’m not sure how they characterize the place, but it appears to be an education research center, that is providing a powerful magnifying glass between researchers at NCSU and the teachers and learners of Centennial Middle School, directly connected to the center. I recorded the tour, and hope to podcast it in the near future.

MEGA Meeting

This is a Moblog. Please forgive rough text and misspellings.

I’m sitting in the Friday Institute. More about that later, but we are just beginning a MEGA meetings. More about that later. Dr. Lisa Grable is introducing things, and I just found my way into their wireless network, so I’ll be blogging this in real time. According the Grable, on the day that they opened this center they were the most “wired-up building on the campus.” Only days later, other centers on the campus of North Carolina State University got ideas for enhancing their services, and have since surpassed the Friday Institute.

While people are introducting themselves (never know how to introduce myself), they took a handful of us on a tour of the center, which I podcasted. We’ll see more about in Connect Learning.

Matt Friedrick is going to start the show, entitled “Collaboration in a Flat World”. He is project manager for North Carolina in the World. Kids will be selling to the world and buying from the world. 1,100 companies in NC are doing business internationally.

Matt is talking about their program…the goals of their program. I’m not listing them, because they are all very closely aligned with stuff we’re supposed to be teaching already. No surprises, yet!

We’re watching a video now from the Asia Society. It’s a very good video with lots of quotes from state and national leaders.

The limits of what our children learn about their world are their teachers.

What do you think about this statement?


Here are some recommendations from the end of the video

  • Analyze what’s alreadin in place
  • highlight best practices (spread the word)
  • develop a plan
  • support professional development
  • reach out (many businesses have international ties)
  • engage parents


North Carolina has been labeled the most ambitious state in integrating world studies into the curriculum. One of the ideas of the program is to have classrooms from different countries studying the same thing. This is an interesting concept, with much potential, considering accessible video conferencing technologies.

by 2008 every school district in NC will have at least one school in school partnership.

Kim Quinn, one of the people quoted use to be a pig farmer in eastern North Carolina. He saw a need for a special syringe for inoculating livestock. He started a company that now serves 48 states and 27 other countries.

Tom Rabon, of Red Hat, says that it is less important to us what happens in South Carolina or Virginia than what happens in China.

Caroline McCullen just asked how they solved the language barriers. Matt said that there are several answers to that question, but that for the schools they have considered so far, emphasize English. Good thing!

Somebody just asked, “How do you handle timezones!” He said, “badly!” It’s a big problem, but one that indicates our growing international practices.

Another challenging question was about internationalizing mathematics instruction. Matt admitted that math was probably the hardest subject to include in their program. Some ideas were shared by the audience.

Next is Dr. Len Annetta is a science educator educator. He’s talking about HIFIVES – highly interactive fun internet virtual environments in science. As Len started to approach folks with strategies for using technology in science instruction, he suggested that they use video games. People didn’t like the idea. But then when he suggested HIFIVES, they bought in. They like acronyms more than they like video games.

Len is going through some slides. I’ll ask if they’re on line. But I just saw an interesting term, Stealth Learning. Can wait to learn what that means. It means, “Kids learn something without knowing their learning.

He’s showing a game that his class created, but I wonder where the game is. There were some interesting graphics and 3D environments, but I didn’t see the game. What is a game? What is it about games that draw kids and and keep them? What are the elements of a success video game? Are their consistent elements? I imagine I’d have to take the class.

He just demonstrated their next version will use Second Life II VR engine. He set up a virtual chair, and then with a cross-bow, shot helium balloons at the chair until there were enough to raise the the chair.

Roger Stack is commenting on this blog, as I write it. If he gives me his AOL IM screen name, perhaps we can chat.

“Cry Freedom!” Cry for a Return of the Personal Computer

I guess that when I put more than a couple of minutes into a comment, I may as well take full credit and post it here. Credit goes, however, to Miguel Guhlin, and his latest T&L Blogerati post, Cry Freedom. The Mousing Around author describes how blogging and surveillance software is used to protect us and our students, but the results are a crippling of our technology.

Then, regular commenter, Cheryl Oakes, points out something that stuck a cord with me. She says,

I don’t want to learn the language of programmers, I don’t want to have to think about what happens in the background of the sytsem I am operating. However, this is the wakeup call for me to include more discussions about technology ethics and how we are all part of this new system.

Very clear and too the point. I guess that all I’ve done i to expand on her notions. You can read them, or toss them out with the rest of the varbage.

I agree with what Cheryl says, that the answer is in making the ethical use of information part of using information. It’s why I include Ethics as one of the four elements of the basics, when I describe contemporary literacy. The blocking measures implemented by school districts, and in the case of the U.S., by federal law, is merely a Band-Aid — and Band-Aids aren’t bad, as a temporary measure. But at the risk of sounding like a left wing, bleeding heart, liberal (haven’t said that in a while), the solution is to understand and then erase the behavior, not wall it off. In a rapidly changing, technology-rich world, we’re just going to have to keep making thicker and thicker walls, and this gets us no where.

I clearly remember the days, when a computer in a teacher’s classroom was the teacher’s. She could install what ever software she could get her hands on. One of the popular features of the earliest incarnations of most most ISTE affiliates was a disk of public domain software that was given out at their meetings. Today, you have to go through what seems like a mindless bureaucracy to get software installed on your computer. To be fair, there are good reasons for this. Our tech support staffs are shrinking when they should be growing, and Band-Aids are needed to prevent crippling breakdowns of our technology. So along with teaching the ethical use of information, we should also dramatically increase our tech staff so that schools and teachers can be free to experiment, innovate, and turn their computers back into the tools they’re designed to be — a personal computer.

2¢ Worth