Report a Bully

I am often criticized for serving to much honey with my presentations about technology and the new information landscape — and rightly so.  I tend to present almost exclusively the positive and productive side of these tools.  I have done a number of parent presentations about the challenges of online digital children, but even those tend to be overwhelmingly positive.  I simply ask parents to be parents. 

What to you ask? 

What do you say? 

What are your rules?

..around your children going out with friends, to the mall, to the dance, out on the town. 

It’s the same when they go out on the web.  Not much that is new.  Just new technique.

In a couple of months, I’ll have a unique opportunity to present to a group of education leaders, as part of a National School Board Association event, with Nancy Willard, of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use.  Nancy has made it her mission to understand and make people aware of the negative and dangerous sides of the new information landscape.  Like me, she also presents its productive value, but it will be a great opportunity for me, and for the attendees of this meeting to get a fairly rich point-counterpoint to the lives and circumstances of the Millennial Generation.

That said, I got an e-mail yesterday from Jeff Cannon, a principal in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Cannon has created an interesting web site called, Report a Bully.  You can register your school for free, make students aware of the site via your school site, policy booklet, etc. — and then ask students to annonymously report those who are hurting or threatening to hurt other students at the school.

There is a chance that this sort of tool might be abused, so practices and procedures would have to be put into place that simply incorporate this tool or a tool like this.  But it’s another use of the new information landscape, a venue where we share and grow knowledge, and hopefully solve problems.

Great work, Jeff Cannon!

Image Citation:
MotherPie, MYC. “MYC Rooftop Honey.” NYCMotherPie’s Photostream. 24 July 2006. 13 Dec 2006 <>.

..ground rules for teachers who blog

Blogging teachers “welcome parents into their classrooms by facilitating active at-home participation,” says Dr. Tim Tyson, principal of Mabry Middle School in Georgia.

EDTECH: Focus On K-12 – Blog Rules:

As blogging becomes more pervasive, schools have begun establishing ground rules for teachers who blog.

This article includes recommendations for blogging professional development, district policies, and revising AUPs to reflect the read/write web.  It includes quotes from Dr. Tim Tyson from Mabry Middle School, Chris Lehmann of the Science Leadership Academy, and Tom McCurdy of the Pinckney Community Schools.

Reactions to Time Mag Cover Story

Next week, Time Magazine’s cover article, How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century, will bring to the forefront — for one week — issues that we’ve been talking about (angsting over) for years.  There’s not much that’s new here but it is a new and unique opportunity to get some of these ideas out in front of people who still envision their own 1970s (or 1950s) classrooms when they think of education.

That said, I must admit some apprehension.  I remember how excited I was, back in 1983, when the Nation at Risk report was published, pointing to an education system built on mediocrity.  I thought that finally we would start investing in education.  As it turned out, all that got invested was a new platform from which politicians could blame educators and promote their own brand of industrial age education.

Even though the Time story explicitly criticizes the mechanized classrooms of the past (and present), I’m still a bit afraid that the wrong people will be empowered to affect change — rather than empowering educators to reinvent education.  I’m not saying that we can do it alone, but no one knows more about teaching and learning than we do.

Now for a few reactions to the story.

…Kids spend much of the day as their great-grandparents once did: sitting in rows, listening to teachers lecture, scribbling notes by hand, reading from textbooks that are out of date by the time they are printed…

It’s grandparents, and parents who were taught by grandparents, who maintain our education system.  I suspect that there may be some way to insert the very children we are teaching into the formula, some way that they might come to define certain aspects of their own education.  After all, the future we’re preparing them for is the future they will invent.

This is a story about the big public conversation the nation is not having about education, the one that will ultimately determine not merely whether some fraction of our children get “left behind” but also whether an entire generation of kids will fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad or speak a language other than English.
Add this image & link to your blog or classroom web site

This is what the story is about, and I hope that we can get a lot of people to read it.  Perhaps we should all put a picture of the magazine on our blogs and classroom web sites.  I wonder if Blogmeister teachers would mind if I put it on all student and teacher blogs.  Better ask!

The 21st Century Skills, as described in the article.  The report from the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce seems not to be available yet.

Today’s economy demands not only a high-level competence in the traditional academic disciplines but also what might be called 21st century skills. Here’s what they are:

  • Knowing more about the world
  • Thinking outside the box
  • Becoming smarter about new sources of information
  • Developing good people skills

Certainly there are teachers and administrators who are leading the way in each of these areas.  However, world studies, creativity, information literacy, and interactive skills are not part of THE STORY of classrooms that people typically think of and tell.  We’ve got to change that story.

Can our public schools, originally designed to educate workers for agrarian life and industrial-age factories, make the necessary shifts? The Skills commission will argue that it’s possible only if we

..add new depth and rigor to our curriculum and standardized exams,

But what does this mean?  Who knows what this looks like?  Who can speak both from the point of view of the trained and experienced teacher and classroom manager, and from the context of a rapidly-changing, information-driven, technology-rich world?  No one I know!  More later on this…

..redeploy the dollars we spend on education,

Certainly this is true.  However, we can’t do it the way its been done for the past five+ years, taking from one critical program and giving to another critical program.  It’s how we got in this mess, by rightly deploying resources to assure that all children could read and do basic math, but away from equally critical programs like social studies, music, art, and innovative education.

I think that one of the most important things we could invest in is the time for our teachers to pay attention, interact, reflect, and reinvent their own classrooms.

..reshape the teaching force and

Again, what does this look like.  We can certainly change pre-service.  Not easily, but it’s a solid thing that can be retooled.  We can also implement ongoing inservice.  But a continually adapting teaching force is not something that you just fix.  It’s got to be part of the culture of the job.  It’s why much more professional time for teachers is so crucial, so that retooling is something that they do everyday as part of being a teacher, not just a servicing you get every couple of months.

..reorganize who runs the schools.

This one’s easy.  Trained and experienced educators run the schools.  But perhaps more than anything else, education in the 21st century is about conversations, and our schools must operate within conversations between classrooms and homes, schools and communities, and lots of potent, two-way conversations between students and their learning experiences.

Most of the rest of the story includes some inspiring examples of schools that are moving to the edge of the wave.  But what they make me wonder is if all schools might become charter schools.  Each school is free to reshape itself within the context of a dynamic curriculum that reflects today and tomorrow, but incorporating local needs, local opportunities, and a desperate need to make schools powerful engines for improving neighborhoods, villages, cities and the world.

2¢ Cents Worth

How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century

David Truss, in commenting on yesterday’s 2¢ worth, points to an upcoming cover article for Time Magazine.  It is available now, online. How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century — Dec. 18, 2006 — Page 1:

For the past five years, the national conversation on education has focused on reading scores, math tests and closing the “achievement gap” between social classes. This is not a story about that conversation. This is a story about the big public conversation the nation is not having about education, the one that will ultimately determine not merely whether some fraction of our children get “left behind” but also whether an entire generation of kids will fail to make the grade in the global economy because they can’t think their way through abstract problems, work in teams, distinguish good information from bad or speak a language other than English.

This is a great article, if only that it validates what most of us have been saying for years.  This simply says it more loudly and to more people — and probably more eloquently.  Read it!

~~~~~~~~~ half-hour later ~~~~~~~~~~~~

Now what do you think?

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You Don’t Have to be a Gamer couple of weeks ago, at my state’s educational technology conference (NCETC), I tried out several new presentations.  One that seemed to be a hit was Video Games and Education, a one-hour introduction to the basics of video games.  I must confess that I felt a bit disingenuous in presenting this topic, as I am considerably older than the 34 years that Beck and Wade1 report to be the cutoff for people who have grown up playing video games. 

Among the topics were video games’ rapid evolution (Pong to PlayStation-2 Pro Tennis), the various genre (Platformer, adventure, MMORPG, Simulations, etc.), how most games today are actually a hybrid of all of them, and various twenty-first century skills that seem ready-made for video games as a learning tool:

  • Critical Thinking/Problem-Solving
  • Teamwork/Collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Creativity/Innovation
  • Ethics/Social Responsibility2

We also explored some of the Serious Games that are being developed (Food Force and Carnegie Melon’s PeaceMaker), virtual worlds (NICE3 and Second Life), and large-scale urban games, things you can do outdoors with mobile phones, such as lifesize PacMan in Manhattan — think about it.

What surprised me (or what I hadn’t taken time to really think about) was the people who attended and the reasons why they attended.  There were a handful who are obviously younger than 34, who are gamers, and who get the idea that many video games are learning engines.  There were also a large number of tech directors who are always looking for what’s new.  They’ve already seen presentations about Inspiration, PowerPoint, using Word to teach writing, and even Blogging 101.  There were also a number of people who said afterward that they had come in as skeptics, completely unconvinced as to any instructional value to video games.  One man actually came up before the session asking how kids could possibly learn when they are in the Alpha state that video games have been proven to put them in — so 1990s.

What bothered me were the parents who came up afterward thanking me for helping them to realize that their children’s hours at playing video games was actually healthy.  Wow!  That  is not what I’d meant to convey.  “Just because there is some potent redeeming value to playing many video games, doesn’t mean that you can stop being a parent.  You must continue to talk to your children about what they are doing, and send them outside every once in a while.”

A LAN Party

But I think that the best part of the presentation was the last slide, which lists some things that we can do today to start benefiting from our students’ video game activities today.  This is an edited list that I got from Bill Sams4.

  • Start a gaming club in your school.  Set up some LAN parties in your library.  Get students talking about video games within the context of their schooling.
  • Students are great resource on video games.  Allow them to talk about them and teach you.
  • Connect with the serious game effort (
  • Recruit the Digital Natives in your faculty.
  • Pay attention to the Key Players (Henry Jenkins, Jame Paul Gee, and others).
  • Pay attention to your students.  Ask them about their games.  Ask them to write about their gaming experiences.  Ask them to describe their avatars and their ambitions for their avatars.

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1 Beck, John, and Mitchell Wade. Got Game. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
2 McLester, Susan. “The Workforce Readiness Crisis.” Technology & Learning 27(2006): 22 – 29.
3 Johnson, Andrew. “The NICE Project: Learning Together in a Virtual World.” Proceedings of VRAIS ’98. 28 Dec 1997. Electronic Visualization Project, University of Illinois. 11 Dec 2006 <>.
4 Sams, Bill. “Games, Multi-Player Environments, Immersive Reality: Virtual Worlds & Avatars: What does it mean for learning? .” TeachU. Jan 2006.

Image Citation:
Ronberg, NK. “DSC_1937.” Nkronberg’s Photostream. 16 Aug 2006. 11 Dec 2006 <>.

An Alien in an Alien World

My wife does not understand why I am so upset.  Well, upset is the wrong word.  I am visibly uncomfortable.  The difference between us is that I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms, and I need to feel comfortable — and I’m not comfortable in a handicapped room.  It starts when I walk in.  The room is the wrong shape.  The furniture does not fit.  So much of the space is wasted  But it really doesn’t hit me until I walk into the bathroom where the sink and toilet are the wrong height, the walking space is too big, and the shower is totally not a shower.  It’s a place for hosing down.

Now please don’t get me wrong.  I am not being insensitive to the needs of people who are differentially-abled.   On the contrary, I am sympathetic to being in a place that is alien to your shape, to your mode of conveyance, to your various disabilities and abilities.  It’s the whole point.

We are all so different.  But I suspect that the place we are most different is in how we think.

I’m not sure, because I am not a specialist.  But I do not believe that I could ever be taught to be a strong reader.  I’m an effective reader.  I certainly read a lot.  But there is a resistance in my mind, to the easy translation of arbitrary  symbols (text) into facts and concepts.  There are stages of reasoning that must take place in my mind that does not seem to be required by my son, let’s say.  I took piano when I was young.  But I could not learn to read music.  I understand its concepts.  But his ability to look at musical score and immediately translate it directly into his instrument seems superhuman to my way of thinking.

There are those whose minds resist the easy understand of the elegant language of numbers, the understanding of a spacial world, the ability to handle and manipulate complex and abstract concepts.  And they each have their strengths and talents — and I wonder how many natural mathematicians, engineers, artists, composers, story tellers and innovators we are wasting, when we measure our schools almost exclusively on their ability to produce good test takers.

How many natural born leaders are we squandering as we teach them to listen, watch, follow direction, regurgitate facts, to sit down and shut up.  How many leaders are we losing when we teach them to be taught — in stead of teaching them to teach.

How alien are our classrooms?

Image Citation:
a77eBnY, “Handicapped.” a77eBnY’s Photostream. 24 Apr 2005. 10 Dec 2006 <>.

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A Wonderful Article by Anita McAnear

I finally got around to scanning through this month’s Learning & Leading with Technology, and was instantly captivated, infuriated, depressed, and provoked by Anita McAnear’s Issue Oriented piece, The Net at Risk.  McAnear overviews some of the high points of a recent Bill Moyer’s program, The Net at Risk, which you can view on the web.  I was moved to watch about half of the piece yesterday afternoon, and knowing that I will not have another chance before Monday, I wanted to go ahead and share some of my notes.  But for a better thought out and crafted overview, check out your December/January issue of Learning & Leading, or click to a PDF of McAnear’s article at the ISTE web site.

Interact: Moyers on America Citizens ClassThe program is essentially about the telecoms’ interest in and lobbying for control of the Internet, and their apparent lack of interest in actually improving the Internet, to keep us in line with the service and cost enjoyed by many other industrial countries around the world.  For instance, we, in the U.S. pay about $40 a month for 1 Megabit of service.  I’m afraid that I am not sure exactly what a megabit means, but, according to the program, Japan and South Korea enjoy one hundred times that speed for the same price.

At the heart of it is the claim that the Telecoms promised, in the early 1990s, that with rate hikes and $25 billion in tax right-offs, that they would provide information superhighway service.  For instance, 5,000,000 households in New Jersey would have 40 megabit service by 2006.  Today, no household enjoys service near that fast.

The program blames federal and state telecommunications commissions for not holding the telecoms to their promise.  They’ve (telecoms) walked away with 128% increase in their revenues, and they have not reinvested it back into the networks, as we continue to use, what the program refers to as 19th century technology — copper.

The program also told the story of Lafayette, Louisiana, who, in an effort to attract business and to keep their creative children at home, decided that they did not want to wait for the Telecoms.  Electricity passed them by in 1896, and the city formed the Lafayette Utility system (LUS).  A coalition of democrats, republicans, conservatives, and liberals, got together and called for a municipal bond that would allow the city to borrow $125 million to have LUS run fiber to every home. 

They knew that they would not be able to compete with the ad dollars that would be applied by Bell South and Cox, so they formed the Fiber Film Festival, inviting citizens to create and submit their own ads urging passage of the bond.  They won.  Yet Bell South and Cox, ground the move to a haul with litigation, delaying the installation by a year at a cost of $125,000.

As a result of telecom lobbying ($40,000,000), 14 states have passed laws making it difficult to impossible for U.S. municipalities to do what Lafayette is doing.

Another issue, which I did not get to watch all of, was Net Neutrality.  I must confess that this one has confused me.  The Telecoms arguments are logical.  Yet, when someone in the program mentioned that Google and YouTube would likely not happen on a network where you have to pay more for the speeds required by these services, it all started clicking.  Citation Machine would be impossible.  Receiving, at present, over 800,000 page views a day, I would not be able to afford the extra bandwidth that this service requires.  Charging two rates for Internet service would serve to hold a status quo,  crippling innovation.

Timothy Woo, a technology law professor at Columbia University, calls it extortion, charging higher rates for certain services — because they can.  It gives them control, because they can.  It happened in the 19th century, when Western Union charged substantially less for service to Associated Press, than other news services.  The Government came in and called the wires, Common Carriage, and held that the fee should be consistent for service through the wires, through the canals, through the see ports, etc.

Well, that’s as far as I got, and now it’s time to go walk the dog.  I will definitely watch the rest of this program when I get back to my office on Monday.

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Leaving the Flock — for a while

Like many of the bloggers I read, I became infatuated by Flock, a Firefox derivative browser assembled and maintained by a talented group of programmers and designed to incorporate the new web, Web 2.0, into a single browser.  It is an amazing piece of software.  However, I never came to grips with the way that it hands the links bar.  Flock allows you to create additional links bars which you can toggle between.  I had a basic links bar, a presentation bar, a projects bar, and an entertainment bar.  Flock, and most other browsers allow you to put folders in your links bar, creating drop down menus, so that I can have a presentations and projects menu in my single links bar.

In addition, a continuing nuisance to me was the lag that occurred every time I clicked to a popout page.  I stayed because of its integration of flickr, and how well flickr pictures could be integrated into the browsers wonderful blog editor.  But the lag finally drove me to investigate Firefox 2.0 — and I’m back with the fox.

Flickrfox tag searchWith the addition of a number of extensions, I now have very close to the functionality that I had with Flock, but with a faster browser, FirefoxFlickrfox gives me a side bar where I can scan through my flickr photos, those of my contacts, and even search for tagged photos.  I can’t drag them directly into my editor, like I could with Flock, but just a couple of mouse clicks gave me access to the 240 x 180 version of the image in flickr, which was draggable.

Deepest Sender For blogging, I am using Deepest Sender 0.7.8, which cleaned up a lot of the quirkiness of the earlier version, includes inline spell checking (a must for me), and, by switching something on in my Mac’s Accessibility preferences, I can highlight text in my blog, and have the computer read it to me (another necessity for me).

So I’m as happy as a tick on a hound dog, and will probably hope back over to Flock, after the new year, when they’ve unleashed their new version.

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2006 Edublog Awards Nominee

Me, being Gushy

I wanted to wait a day before responding to this, so that this entry wouldn’t be all gushy.  I didn’t want to say anything like, “Holy Sheep Dip!” 😉

Like Christopher Sessums, another nominee for Best Individual Blog, I am honored not only by the fourteen people who submitted 2¢ Worth, but especially by the company I’m keeping on the announcement page.

And, a few hours later, I was double honored (and all the gushy words I’m not using) when Josie Frasier sent me a second e-mail, announcing that CoLearners, my wiki handouts site was nominated for 2006 Best Wiki.  I’ve got to go clean it up now.  Again, my thanks for all of the nominations and especially for the wiki spaces that are now associated with my online handouts.

Relevant Links:

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Evaluating Blogs

Some of the folks at the Class Blogmeister mailing list have been talking about evaluating their students’ blogs.  They’re looking for rubrics and other tips for assessing student bloggings.  One rubric that came to our attention was a Blog Reflection Rubric from a course (EDTEC 296), taught at San Diego State University.  So if anyone knows of, or is using a rubric for evaluating student blog writings, please comment or send me an e-mail.

My personal inclination is to ask, “Are you teaching blogging?” or “Are you teaching communication?”  If it’s blogging, then you do need a separate blog evaluation rubric.  However, if the reason for student blogs is to improve their writing skills, then use the same rubric you would use if the students were writing on paper, or typing with a typewriter or word processor.  (Did I say typewriter?)

Of course, there are some distinct differences between writing on paper and writing on a blog.  Your assignment might involve reading the blogs of classmates and then comment, responding to their writings in some way.  This would probably require a richer rubric for evaluation, because you are evaluating a conversation, not just the putting down of some ideas.

On the other hand, we are talking about an avenue of communication that is fundamentally different, resulting in a new and rich source of content — a blogosphere.  In what ways does this dynamic and diverse information landscape differ from our traditional print/published environment?  What are its advantages?  What are its weaknesses and potential problems?  I think that these are conversations that should be happening in almost every classroom, especially in conjunction with blogging assignments.  It challenges, in my opinion, our very notions of what it means to be literate.

A few months ago I posted a number of questions that might be used with blogging assignments to help students think about the content that they are writing and reading, within the context of a different kind of communication.  I’ll repeat them here.

When reading a blog, ask:

  1. What did the author read in order to write this blog?  What did he or she already know and where did that knowledge come from?
  2. What are the other points of view?  What are the other sides of the story?
  3. What did the author want readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
  4. What was left unsaid?  What are the remaining questions and issues?

When writing a blog, ask:

  1. What did you read in order to write this blog?  What do you know and where did that knowledge come from?
  2. What are all points of view on the issue?
  3. What do you want your readers to know, understand, believe, or do?
  4. What will not be said?  What are some of the remaining questions about the issue?

Image Citation:
NYC, Susan. “Students Hard at Work.” Susan NYC’s Photostream. 27 Sep 2005. 8 Dec 2006 <>.

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