Rapidly Changing Times mean Rapidly Changing Contexts

Last week I wrote a blog entry entitled, The Cement is Drying. It utilized some admittedly heavy handed imagery to express a moment of frustration. Two very good friends of mine, David Jakes and Meg Ormiston, commented on the unfairness of my connection between Chicago and a Gangster culture. I apologize. It was inappropriate and, in 2006, inaccurate. I grew up with Jimmy Cagney, and movies and TV shows about Elliot Ness, and Al Capone.

I know that David Jakes is at least ten years younger than I am and Meg is probably younger than that. In fact, the term gangster has an entirely different connotation today than it had in the 1950s and earlier. So again, I apologize.

Yet, the imagery that I used remains one that I believe. That as time moves forward, and as our technologies, challenges, and cultures change, there are those who would, with the best intentions, enact policies that have the affect of sinking our children down to a world and a time that these policy makers are more comfortable with, and sink them away from any chance to take part in the wondrous possibilities that rapidly changing times afford us.

All of that said, I want to express my admiration of the school board members (with the exception of one) who attended the TLN Executive Briefing on Friday, and listened to myself, Ken Kay (Partnership for 21st Century Skills), Sheryl Abshire (Tech Director of Calcasieu Parish School System) and her superintendent and board member, and the amazing children from Gen Y, and continue to follow the vision of NSBA’s Ann Flynn. There was sincere and enthusiastic desire to prepare their children for the opportunities of a rapidly changing world.

The Cement is Drying

I had dinner last night with Ann Flynn, Director of Education Technology at the National School Boards Association, and her staff, Colleen O’Brien and Jason Assir. Joining us was Ken Kay, President of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Ken and I will be keynoting the TLN Executive Briefing today.

Later in the afternoon, we’ll be hearing from a group of middle school children about the things that they care about and the kind of education the wish they were receiving. I hope that I can podcast that exchange. There will also be a culminating discussion of the board members and superintendents who are in attendance, and Apple will be podcasting that exchange.

The registration for this event is low, and there are probably several contributing factors. It would be unfair to say that there is a lack of interest in technology, among school board members. But generally speaking, the discussions last night were not all together optimistic about the prospects for modernizing classrooms in the near future. Added to this, I learned this morning that the 1:1 initiative in Illinois is no longer on a firm foundation because of a lack of funding and politics. I hope that it pulls through.

Since I’m sitting here in Chicago (gangsterland), looking onto the Chicago river from my hotel room, I can’t help but imagine a school student, sitting in her seat, and blandly listening to a lecture being recited monotonously by her teacher, who looks remarkably like George Bush — and the student’s feet are resting in a bucket. Small men and women are silently pouring wet cement into the bucket, snickering at each other, and whispering to the child, “It isn’t personal, honey. It’s business!” I can’t quite get to the point where they lower the child into the river, because I think there is still time. But not much!

Here’s a “Sick & Tired” Activity

OK, it’s the next day, and I’m cooled down from my Sick and Tired posting yesterday — though all I have to do is to think back to the two weeks that I wasted a year ago, fighting spam that was pouring into Class Blogmeister, to get steamed up again.

But let’s take this to the kids. I believe that the answer to the problem is not purely technical. It is a matter of literacy, of ethics in the use of information. We should be teaching our children that spam, viruses, and malicious hacking are dangerous and enormously costly.

So lets take the $198 billion projected cost to the world from spam next year. I found lots of figures, but that one was the most impressive. Yesterday, I found some figures for the cost of things that we might really like to achieve, and compared that with the cost of spam. It makes a point, at least in my mind.

What if we asked kids to find their own costs. What would like like to do for the world, with $198 billion? then blog about it. An interesting assignment since it involves social impact and/or scientific impact, math, writing, etc.

Just a thought!

Sick and Tired

AngryI debated one or two additional interjections to include in the title of this blog entry, because I’m getting pretty… well, you get the picture.

I spent at least a couple of hours yesterday trying to figure out a way for one of my Class Blogmeister teachers to receive e-mail notifications of student posted articles and comments. It seems that her district’s spam filtering software blocks messages from the mail server that Blogmeister resides on. Her tech folks tried to reconfigure the filtering software to allow the messages to go through, but without success. This is after I spent a couple of days, rewriting code in Class Blogmeister to address notification messages from the teachers e-mail address, hoping that it would fool the span filters. I guess someone else had already thought of that.

I’m not blaming the spam and virus filters that schools are using, or even for cranking them up so high. I blame the spammers, virus authors, and malicious hackers that see the Internet as a toy to be played, at best — and at worse, as a place so wild, that ethics do not apply.

So I did some quick research, and according to the Radicati Group, a technology market research firm, spam alone will cost companies $198 billion in 2007.

OK, so let’s tell some stories:

Did you know that spam’s going to cost us $198 billion next year?

  • That’s a laptop computer, xBox 360, the yet to be released PlayStation 3, a PSP, broadband Internet for a year, and cell phone and PDA — for every public school child in the United States. (Video Game Consoles Reviews)
  • It’s almost four million more teachers. (Digest of Education Statistics)
  • Six Category five withstanding levees and floodgates around New Orleans. (All Things Considered)
  • That’s four times would it would cost to end chronic hunger in the world (Allen).

We need to make clear to children that spam, virus, and hacking are not a game, that they cost us all a lot.

Allen, John. “Compared to war, feeding world’s hungry has modest price tag.” NCR Online 28 Mar 2003. 05 Apr 2006 <http://ncronline.org/NCR_Online/archives/032803/032803h.htm>.

“All Things Considered.” Debate Rages Over Cost for New Orleans Levees. National Public Radio, New York. 23 Feb 2006. Broadcast. 05 Apr 2006 <http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5230499>.

“Digest of Education Statistics, 2004.” IES. National Center for Educatioin Statistics. 05 Apr. 2006 <http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d04/tables/dt04_002.asp>.

“Video Game Consoles Reviews.” ConsumerSearch. Nov. 2005. ConsummerSearch Inc.. 05 Apr. 2006 <http://www.consumersearch.com/www/electronics/video-game-consoles/>.

More on The New Story

Dean Shareski posted an interesting blog entry this week in Ideas and Thoughts from an EdTech about telling the new story. The title of his post is “Telling the Old Story”. Unfortunately, there appears to be a problem with his WordPress and I was unable to post this reply. So I just thought I would doctor it up a bit, and post it here.

In the entry, Dean includes a quote from the monthly newspaper of his provincial teachers association, describing the experiences of a teacher who was using technology in one of the projects that she has her students do each year. The quote closed with…

Zakaluzny explained that when her students had done similar activities in the past, many of them became frustrated if they made a mistake because trying to correct mistakes usually means beginning the activity again.When using technology, however, it is easy to alter the size of words, move graphics around, or insert more content without having to start over. Zakaluzny commented that students not only enjoyed this lesson, but also put more time and energy into making their posters just right.

I think that the example that Shareski used is right on target in illustrating the problem with the “Integrating Technology” story. Now that students are using computers and the Internet as a tool for their learning, and, oh yes, they’re enjoying it more and spending more time and energy on their work — we have integrated technology. We can relax now.

I’m afraid that we can never relax again, at least when it comes to continually retooling our classrooms and re-crafting our students’ learning experiences. Now here, I’m going to chide Dean just a bit. It’s what he asked for in his post. Dean says that we need a…

…new story about how learning happens, how technology changes the nature of teaching and learning.

This is absolutely correct. However, I think that the story that is going to change our classrooms into ever improving and adapting learning engines will come from outside the classroom. These stories should be told outside the classroom, and they should be told from an outside the classroom perspective.

Its not so much that technology has changed the nature of teaching and learning, but that technology has changed the nature of information and how the world works, and how people work and learn and play. Because the world that we are preparing our children for is changing so dramatically (and continuing to change), we must rethink the what, how, and why we are teaching our children, and retool our classrooms to accomplish new goals.

The stories will come from forward thinking educators. But we need to get those stories out into the public, and get parents, neighbors, school board members, legislators, and even presidents telling those stories.

I think that we should start working now on some new stories, and set a target of having a list of good stories available for Open House next year. We can make them available to teachers and ask them to select one or two of these short “did you know that…” stories to tell to their parents at open house, and to post them regularly on their classroom web sites.

I guess I need to put together a Wiki. Give me until next week. I’m home today, but off to the NSBA conference for the rest of the week and into the weekend. This could be an interesting project.

Podcasting Session

[This session is being moblogged, so there may be grammar and spelling errors]

Preparing for a podcastingThe podcasting session will be face-to-face, so there should be no technical difficulties 😉 Now, with that said, they don’t seem to be able to get here computer to display through the projector. OK, the display is up, and she has changed her hard drive icon to the Starbucks emblem. My kind’a geek.

The presenter is Corey Rogers, and her URL is www.mrsrogers.net, and her students podcast is OLMSCast. Her online handouts for a session she did a MACUL last month are available at http://www.mrsrogers.net/MACUL/

This woman is geekier than I am. I’m loving this. Her students do a classroom podcast, and it is about instruction. Here are five reasons why a classroom should podcast.

  • Communication with parents/community
  • demonstrate learning
  • student ownership of product
  • authentic audience
  • METS (Michigan Ed Tech Standards)

She just pulled up her iTunes Podcast play list. I know it’s just because I’m in the audience, but she is subscribed to Connect Learning. That number eight. I now have eight listeners. She says that one of the benefits is that students evaluate each others podcast programs. She now playing a little bit of TWIT, Leo LePort’s podcast. Too techie for me.

She has mentioned several times already that she and her students have conversations about issues of the podcast, and other podcasts that they listen to. This is important and all to common among blogging and podcasting classrooms — new conversations.

She makes the audience a specific issue for their podcast. Who is the audience they want to address. At first, the audience was the community, but the kids hated it. Then they expanded the audience to students, parents, and community.

Focus is also an issue, and she suggests that students determine the focus. The name and logo of the podcast is great fun for the kids. They love to see their logo graphic on iTunes. Cool!

They do some interviewing. Here are some of her pointers:

  • 5 W’s and H’s
  • Avoid Yes/No Questions
  • Listen
  • Follow-up Questions

Tony Vincent has a guide for teachers who want to podcast, but she was not able to get connected to the Net and couldn’t show it. This is probably worth investigating.

She distinguishes between sequenced recording and individual. Sequence is when they do the podcast at once, in sequence for the entire program. She simply gives the recorder to students as they are ready, and then they edit the program together.

They have a lot of conversations about the content and their goals. She told a wonderful story about how they discussed how they would do an interview in order to make it succinct. Lots of conversations tied to content and goal.

She’s teaching me some stuff about Audacity that I didn’t know. Very cool.

After each podcast, they do a blogging assignment called “Success & Suggest”. Students critique the program with suggestions.

Moodle Session

[This session is being moblogged, so there may be grammar and spelling errors]

Virtual Moodle PresentationI just finished the opening keynote, here in Oakland, MI. It went well, though one of my web pages got blocked by their filtering software. No problem. I asked them to use their imaginations.

A Moodle session is currently going on. I just realized that it is being video conferenced from another location. Here are some of the high points in this totally packed presentation room.

They found that the functions of Moodle and Black Board were practically identical, except that Moodle is free. They hired a consultant to install the open source software on their servers, and it tool about an hour.

All teachers who are involved in the staff development of this ISD, must take a course in using Moodle. They learn how to set up a course. One of the problems with open-source is that there is not a lot of documentation for teachers, though there is some available for Moodle. The coordinator says that he has never had a problem getting timely answers to questions — within 30 minutes.

The suggest that teachers use Moodle as a course enhancement rather than beginning with an online offering. One of the interesting things is that fairly quickly, teachers were asking for totally online classes. They traditionally offer blended (hybrid) classes that combined face-to-face and online.

The presenters have a Moodle course that you can visit.

They are having some technical difficulties with the video conferencing software. They are not able to share their computer screens available to us. They are doing a very good job of adlibing, talking about some of the more unorthodox applications of Moodle.

A teacher at one of their schools, has installed Moodle onto his web server in his home, and the other teachers at the school are using it. He is able to tweak the site for the school’s specific needs.

One teacher is also using Moodle with 5th graders. He said that he was going to make all of his students “geeks”. Not a good goal, but the affect was very engaging for the students. He makes extensive use of the discussion forums.

They’ve just brought in a computer and an additional projector so that we can see the Moodle that the presenters are using.

Professional Blogging

Will Richardson wrote, on March 30, about the need for more research on the instructional value of blogging. The entry pointed to a very interesting post from Kairosnews, where the author (Clancy somebody) reported on conclusions drawn by a group of educators concerning several aspects of the practice.

The one that most struck me and the one that was quoted by Richardson was entitled Weblogs and Professionalism. You can read it in its entirety at Kairosnews or just the part that Will quoted in his blog. But the salient points are:

we need to move the profession towards a space where we’re more aware of blogging as professional activity. …how can we start thinking about blogging as professionals?

The problem with this recommendation is that most teachers today would hear someone suggest and wonder, “Why?” Aside from the legitimate excuse that they do not have time, most teachers would see no need for blogging — no benefit to their classroom.

This is one place where we need a new story. In some of my presentations (including Telling the New Story), I introduce a picture of my senior English teacher, Vera B. Hoyle. It’s a pretty scary picture, so I usually prepare the audience. But the point I make is that she taught exactly the same thing, in exactly the same way, on just about the same day of every year of her 42 year career. …and in the industrial age, this was fine, because the curriculum and our teaching strategies did not change.

Today, the world is the curriculum, and the world is changing every day. In a time of rapid change, education must become highly adaptable, a place where teachers can retool their classrooms every day. The time issue must be solved. It’s a very simple problem (granted that the solution would not be simple) that, if solved, would have a dramatic impact on teaching and learning. But a significant part of that impact would come from the professional discourse that would be necessary in order for teachers to productively manage adaptable classrooms. It would come out of well thought-out and compellingly written (and illustrated) conversations from teachers who are paying attention, reflecting on their observations, sharing their insights concerning the impact on teaching and learning, sharing, and continuing the conversation.

We need to be building a context (a story) that makes it obvious to teachers that they should be blogging, and that they need the time to blog and retool.

It’s Not that they are Playing

I spent much of last week presenting to teachers and superintendents in New York and New Jersey. Then I drove back up to Newark, turned in my rental car, and then trained, walked, and bused my way out to Long Island, where my brother owns a house — without WiFi. The intensity of my recent presentation schedule along with two days, totally disconnected, left me with nothing to say today on 2¢ Worth. In fact, being my day to write for the Tech Learning Blog, I cheated, and found an old 2¢ entry to recycle into T&L.

All that said, I was sitting on the plane a few minutes ago (delayed on the tarmac), scanning through the April issue of Leading & Learning with Technology, and ran across an interesting piece, one of those “yes” and “no” arguments entitled “Can Games Be Used to Teach?“. Taking the “yes” argument was Alix Peshette, a technology training specialist from California. She was followed by one of my all time heros and tech visionaries, David Thornburg, taking the “no” side of the argument. This surprised me, but the interesting thing was that both parts of the article were saying pretty much the same thing — that it depends on the game. I beg to differ.

Thornburg described with distaste the site of exhibitor booths where conference attendees crowd around four deep watching a video game show being played by enthusiastic volunteer (well, they’ll get a T-Shirt out of it.) The winner will be the player with the most correctly answered questions. After listing several other drill & practice style scenarios, he suggested that…

…there are “gaming” environments of value — simulations of real-world phenomena. I gladly recommend SimEarth and other programs of this kind for educators.

Thornburg draws an interesting distinction between a game show (fill in the blank game), and the more open-ended simulation style of game. I would carry it a bit further and say that it isn’t the difference between the kinds of games being played, but between the learning expectations. One type helps students to memorize facts. The other helps them to master concepts, develop problem solving skills, and do so in a more authentic fashion.

Certainly, both types of learning are necessary. I would suggest (not for the first time) that in a time of rapid change that relies increasingly on inventive and resourceful problem solving and self-directed learning, the emphasis is tilting toward the conceptual learning and less on memorizing facts. Still, some facts must be known by members of a culture.

If it is important for children to know the multiplication tables or (for heaven sake) the capitals of the states, and a mock game show helps them do that, then I say, “Bring on the prizes.” If students need to understand the interdependence of cultures in an increasingly globalized world society, then strap on your roman helmut and let’s play Civilization.

I know that David’s children are all grown. If he still had children at home and watched them playing today’s deep and engaging games, he would probably have written differently. So, what am I going to do next year when my son goes off to college.

I wonder which game system he’s going to leave behind. 😉