Drowning in Rice and Other Deep Subjects From CMK 08

Thinking. It is the one thing all of us either don’t do, take too little time to do, don’t have the time to do, or just plain don’t know how to do. So how are we expected to put more time into an already tight school day schedule.

This and more is part of our quest for knowledge at the Constructing Modern Knowledge conference here in New Hampshire. Our first day was loaded with theory, shared wisdom, and even some practice.

Paul Wood and I visited the MIT Museum on Sunday with Gary Stager. Among the things we found were some truly awesome feats of engineering from Arthur Ganson. An incredible thinker and visionary himself, Ganson had multitudes of examples of his “tinkering” on display. When you look at these items of work, you might wonder why someone would spend so much time creating these little glorified table decorations. Some might say, “Why?” I say, “Why not?”

The physics, engineering, math, research, and above all, thinking involved in these pieces of work is astounding. One can look at each and decide it is a simple machine. True enough. But what is so simple about the entire process from vision to creation? Not a whole heck of a lot. Take a look at some of these things in the short videos I shot:

These babies are like throwback to what I did with Legos, but I didn’t have the motors and, oh yeah, Ganson’s worked. But, now I’m an adult who can think, and by golly I want to make one of my own. So, when it came time to “tinker” during the exploration appointment of the day, Paul and I decided we wanted to replicate the rice river piece utilizing the Lego robotics kits, some rice, and a handkerchief. This is what you get with a couple of southern folks get together and attempt to think really hard (pics and video):

Videos:

So there you have it. Three minds, a few cups of rice, a hanky, and some Legos. One simple machine. Maybe we made Ganson proud. Maybe not. But what I do know is that we thought our way through this entire process as a group, out loud, internally, through trial and error, with outside comments, and with pride.

We thought.
We designed.
We created.
We thought some more.
We redesigned and recreated.
And then we thought some more.

Yep. It was a wonderful day, and I’m pooped. Can’t wait until tomorrow. We promised Tally from Israel that we would do whatever project she has dreamed up tomorrow. We might need to rethink that decision. That girl is some kind of smart.

Stories Online for Elementary Teachers/Students

I have blogged about this before, I think, but there have been some enhancements to the site that makes it worth repeating. The Storyline Online site is one where stories are narrated by actors and actresses. It is an awesome addition to the classroom.

The addition I have seen is the activities to download that go with the books. Very nice. Wish I had these when I taught first grade. I counted twenty-one stories as of today.

The screen capture above is Amanda Bynes reading The Night I Followed The Dog. Very. Funny. Book. Take a look at the site and see what it can do for you.

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When the Network is Useless/Powerless

In May 2008, Texas Education Agency announced it was finally going to require all public school districts to prove 8th grade tech literacy in an annual report. The tool was not given, and each school district was left to its own to make the best choice for itself. Through the kindness of Kari Rhame at Deer Park ISD, I moodleized an objective piece they had been using with their 8th graders. It was not the assessment I really wanted, but with a short timeline, we had to make due. I believe we shared that Moodle course on our server with about a half dozen school districts that did not have a Moodle of their own. I am not really sure how many times the file was downloaded from our wiki, but I suspect quite a few since it was freely offered via the TCEA Tech Coordinators‘ List Serve.

Anyway, TEA also announced the same day that they would be requiring the reporting of teachers’ tech literacy in the same report. Again, this was really no surprise since our district had been discussing it for a few years at this point. The surprise was that TEA is only requiring the STAR Chart self-evaluation as the instrument of choice. While this is definitely one way to do the assessment, I find it the weakest and worst choice. For one reason, the STAR Chart is the tool we use to show need in the district for training and funding (grants, budgets, etc.). Once the teachers find out that it is counting as their self evaluation with the state, they are going to ratchet up the scores to make themselves look better (not an unexpected happening). The bad thing here is that it will knock many school districts out of grant work because the need will not show through (TEA recently used the STAR Chart to decide who qualified for the large Vision 20/20 technology grant). We need a more performance-based assessment with the self-evaluation tool built into it. We are pursuing ePortfolios, but that is for another post.

Now, this is where I was headed with the network not working. The third component to be reported to TEA was a surprise. They decided that we would report administrator tech literacy at the same time. The issue here is that there was no tool/instrument in place and we would have to wait for its creation. Realizing that the NETS-A from 2002 was going to be the driving force behind its creation, I set out to see what was already out there. Enter Dr. Scott McLeod and the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE). Scott’s work had already taken him down this road, so he created the Principals Technology Leadership Assessment (PTLA) self-assessment for administrators. Basically, it took the NETS-A and used a Likert scale for what is a simple self-evaulation tool. Perfect. This is what we are needing for the current requirements. An email and discussion board conversation with Scott ended up with his full permission to utilize the tool however we needed. As a matter of fact, this is what the PTLA site has to say about how much CASTLE will do to help out:

The PTLA will be made available to K-12 school organizations and educational leadership
preparation programs as follows:

1. PDF Download. School organizations can download the PTLA assessment and instructions in
PDF format. Organizations are responsible for their own data entry and analysis using Excel,
SPSS, or some other data analysis software program. This option is free to K-12 school
organizations and educational leadership preparation programs.

2. Questions Download. School organizations can download the questions on the PTLA
assessment in Microsoft Word format. The questions then can be cut-and-pasted into
organizations’ own online survey software. Organizations are responsible for their own data
analysis using Excel, SPSS, or some other data analysis software program. This option is free to
K-12 school organizations and educational leadership preparation programs.

3. CASTLE online survey. Organizations are welcome to use CASTLE’s own online version of the
PTLA. CASTLE staff will send the resultant data file to organizations in Excel format.
Organizations are responsible for their own data analysis using Excel, SPSS, or some other data
analysis software program. This option is free to K-12 school organizations and educational
leadership preparation programs if they grant CASTLE permission to use the data (anonymously)
as part of its ongoing nationwide research related to principals’ technology leadership knowledge and preparation.

4. CASTLE online survey and data analysis. CASTLE not only will host the online version of the
PTLA for organizations but also will analyze the data for them. This option is available to K-12
school organizations and educational leadership preparation programs on the same terms as
Option 3 but also will involve a small charge per PTLA participant to cover CASTLE’s personnel
and time costs.

CASTLE believes in making the PTLA as freely available as possible to school organizations. The
PTLA also is available for a small licensing fee to for-profit corporations and other entities that stand tomake money from their usage of the PTLA. We are open to other creative possibilities for the PTLA; please contact us if you are interested in using this assessment.

Can you ask for anything better than that? I just knew this was what TEA was needing, and it was going to save a lot of state time/money in preparing a tool/instrument for use. In less than a week of the announcement, we had what they were looking for.

After a few emails and phone calls, I ended up with the right person in charge of the instrument creation at TEA.  Now, I am going to skip some of the details because they would confuse you as much as they did me, but basically I was reassured that the NETS-A was the tool to be used (I think they meant guidelines, but my requests for clarifications about this were just met with copy and paste version of the NETS-A). Finally, I got word that they NETS-A was being given to the IT department to create an instrument to use. Yeah. The IT department. At this point, I had linked to the PTLA in several emails, offered to meet with them in person to discuss what Scott had created, and even offered to meet with them at NECC with Scott so he could answer their questions personally. No response.

So what does the tool look like that TEA is going to use? Well, no one has seen it as of yet, but I was told it is a five or six question Likert scale self-assessment. It truly is quite shorter than what CASTLE offered, but it lacks any level of detail that would prove helpful to the person charged with creating professional development for administrators. Worse, the main goal of the piece created was to provide administrators with a “quick and easy” self-assessment that would not scare them off. What? The STAR Chart that the teachers complete takes about fifteen to twenty minutes to fill out, and it provides a decent level of feedback. Since it is (was?) all anonymous, most teachers were quite honest about their skill levels and their opinions of other aspects of technology in the school district (budgeting, infrastructure, leadership, curricular support, tech support). The PTLA would have taken the same or less time and offered just as much feedback, yet it was either ignored or deemed too time consuming for leadership to complete (not by the local leadership to be clear).

So, you see, the network has failed. Not my network, mind you. My network came through like the champions they are. That is why they are my network. Who would question the experience, leadership, dedication, and sincerity of passionate educators spending their off time sharing resources with other like-minded educators? The sad thing here is that the state did not trust one of its own to help it out in a bind. It instead chose to use more state resources (which is already over-burdened from state mandates and being short staffed). Worse than that, it chose to use minimal standards to gather data apparently just for the sake of gathering data. I hope to see the bigger picture in this as we move further through the process.

Sad, really. Does it mean that the state leadership doesn’t understand the power of the network it leads? Does it mean that without the lobby power of textbook companies you cannot get a serious audience in the state office to hear you out?  Or does it simply mean that in government, it is business as usual? Whatever it means, it will not deter me from working toward a system in Texas that is efficient, effective, and focused on the main thing: providing the best education to the kids of Texas.

Here Comes Everybody, but is Everybody Else Prepared?


As I reviewed Will Richardson‘s archived interview of Clay Shirkey, author of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, there were a few things that jumped out at me that I noted and wanted to work through.

Clay started off discussing the typical learning/assessment style found in education today:
Individual assignments/individual grades – old school only known environment

He then goes on to discuss one literacy that he feels we are lacking in teaching our students:
“At least one literacy is collaborative literacy.”

These are some notes I made from his talk:

What does it mean to be a good collaborator? Two ways (essential literacies for the 21st century):

  1. When you are collaborating, how do you participate in a group that is valuable?
  2. How do you participate in a group where you are learning instead of just freewriting?

We want students to have a set of absolute basic skills (the three R’s), beyond that we want them to be able to figure out of all the thinking tools we give them, which ones are best for which kinds of challenges. Big challenge in school system in US is a move to a much more cut and dry measurement system (NCLB driven Testing) which changes the system away from more flexibility towards measurement. However, what we get out of that is the challenge. “A lot of what we want the schools to do can’t be measured in the way we measure them. There is a mismatch between the goals and the measurement.” The assessment is determinant of how we think about the rest of the curriculum. Consider goals and then consider measurement system. Industrial system of measurement is for widgets and creates an industrial style system of curriculum and measurement.

He also shared this: Internet provides basic support for collaborative work.

Funny he mentions that the Internet is the basic support considering all of the posts going on concerning one of the presidential candidates. But, I digress.

What Shirkey said struck a chord with those of us involved in helping educators utilize more technology in the classroom. Many of the so called Web 2.0 tools are built around this collaborative environment. White Oak ISD switched to Google Apps for email and the entire suite of collaborative tools that come with it. Some campuses have taken the lead in that area and utilize Google Docs to schedule student tutoring, detentions, testing windows, and more and share the document campus-wide. This is a great start for them to see the power of these collabroative tools.

The Official Google Blog - Insights from Googlers into our products, technology and the Google culture

The down-side is that schools in general are slow to adopt these tools, meaning that students are not getting the collaborative environment practice they so sorely need for today’s workforce. Take this recent post on the Official Google Blog for instance. Jonathon Rosenberg, Senior VP of Product Management, guest posts giving advice to students. He tells them to “major in learning.”

At the highest level, we are looking for non-routine problem-solving skills. We expect applicants to be able to solve routine problems as a matter of course. After all, that’s what most education is concerned with. But the non-routine problems offer the opportunity to create competitive advantage, and solving those problems requires creative thought and tenacity.

So what does that have to do with collaboration? Well, take a look at the primary factors Google looks for in hiring and evaluations:

… analytical reasoning. Google is a data-driven, analytic company. When an issue arises or a decision needs to be made, we start with data. That means we can talk about what we know, instead of what we think we know.

… communication skills. Marshalling and understanding the available evidence isn’t useful unless you can effectively communicate your conclusions.

… a willingness to experiment. Non-routine problems call for non-routine solutions and there is no formula for success. A well-designed experiment calls for a range of treatments, explicit control groups, and careful post-treatment analysis. Sometimes an experiment kills off a pet theory, so you need a willingness to accept the evidence even if you don’t like it.

… team players. Virtually every project at Google is run by a small team. People need to work well together and perform up to the team’s expectations.

… passion and leadership. This could be professional or in other life experiences: learning languages or saving forests, for example. The main thing, to paraphrase Mr. Drucker, is to be motivated by a sense of importance about what you do.

Pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me. Everyone knows about the great things at Google: unlimited sick days, in-house dining, truly personal spaces for offices, and the one that I like the most – 20% of the work week on job related personal interest research/development.

So the question is begged, can your students operate in that environment? Are they self-directed and self-motivated enough to handle this setting?

These characteristics are not just important in our business, but in every business, as well as in government, philanthropy, and academia. The challenge for the up-and-coming generation is how to acquire them. It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel. Keep in mind that many required skills will change…

Rosenberg signs off his letter with perhaps one of the most profound statements we should be drilling into our students (something not tested on the state standardized test, by the way):

And then keep on challenging yourself, because learning doesn’t end with graduation. In fact, in the real world, while the answers to the odd-numbered problems are not in the back of the textbook, the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market. Learning, it turns out, is a lifelong major.

Now, get to thinking about how it affects you as a teacher and lifelong learner. Consider change. Consider sharing your learning processes/struggles/successes with your students to model what being a lifelong learner is all about. Consider what your students and perhaps your own children are heading into once they leave the hallowed walls of your academic setting. What are you going to do about it?

Enough said. Let the conversation begin.

(photo credit: #1 – Me; #2 – Dean Shareski; #3 – Google Blog)

If I taught ESL….

I was perusing some links posted to Del.icio.us by Wes Fryer, who is in my network. He posted some really cool children’s literature links where one can read the books online without paying. I like this method because it gives ESL students plenty of practice with literature they might not have already come across, that have diverse themes, come in both fiction and non-fiction, and are available with any internet connection without having to go to the children’s section in the public or school library.

Now, I don’t teach ESL, but I really think this would make good practice for the students. It can be self-paced and allows students to use personal choice in their own learning. That has to be a good thing for students working hard to adjust into a country that probably already scares them.

The book above is from Lookybook. The link below is from Big Universe. Big Universe also lets you create your own book.

Clue for Writers… and then some

“a zoo at night” “a thief” “no one wants to help your character”

Those are the three story components given to me by the Interactive Plot Creator found at Writing Fix just in case I could not think of a story to write on my own. Winner of Writer’s Digest 101 Best Websites for Writers 2008 award, this is a wonderful little tool that offers your students a way to get out of the “I don’t know what to write about” slump they always seem to be in. Give it a whirl. Seems to me a neat use of just this feature would be daily/weekly writing time where you put the site up on the VGA and the kids all learn at the same time what will test their creative writing juices. It could even be turned into a circle story where everyone starts their own and passes it to the right after a set amount of time. It would be an interesting twist seeing as everyone has the same three components (setting, character, and plot) yet end up with entirely different stories.

By the way, you will also find plenty of other pertinent tools that will help in your writing classroom:

11) Author Studies Homepage

This site is created by the Northern Nevada Writing Project which is a part of the National Writing Project. I had a chance to meet these folks a few years back at the NCTE conference in Tennessee. They are extremely dedicated and are focused on improving the way writing is taught and viewed in the classroom. Their tools work write along your NWP, New Jersey Writing, or 6 Traits training. Trust me when I say, this site will change the way your students view writing in the classroom and how you create lessons for your students.

Facilitate, not Frustrate

At a teacher conference in Austin today I had the opportunity to speak to a group of educators from Region 7 about the importance of technology use in the classroom and keeping our legislators informed about what we are doing. Part of my conversation was based on Miguel‘s notes from the CTO session with Hochberg, Strama, and Eisler. Having our students tech literate has always been important, but now that Texas is requiring school districts to PROVE that proficiency there is a whole new focus being placed on it. And the biggest step we need to make here is to educate our legislators on the fact that the state standardized content area tests have nothing to do with whether computer use is valid. But that is for another post.

Well, that conversation led to two teachers from a Region 7 school district (one high school and one intermediate) sharing how they cannot use technology in their district. Obviously, there was some hyperbole involved in the comment, so I asked for clarficiation. They shared two things that drive the tech boycott by the staff in the district:

1. The filter is so clamped down that the students cannot do legitimate research. The teachers are equally as frustrated, so they don’t use it for lesson preparation or even as part of the course work. Basically, the Internet is useless. I have heard this complaint before, and it is definitely a frustrating situation to be in. I always wonder what higher power gives these tech directors the authority to lock down the network so tightly. This is a continual debate on the TCEA TEC-SIG list serve, and there are no winners in the debate but plenty of losers: students. I’m fortunate enough to not have this issue in White Oak.

2. Two teachers witnessed a major student incident in the hall. In the midst of the teachers emailing each other notes on the incident to make sure they had evertyhing noted to present to the campus administrator, the superintendent shows up to talk to the two of them. The superintedent wants to know why these two teachers are conspiring against a student like they are. Now remember, all of the conversation was done via email. They later find out that the tech director is reading EVERY email going through the district’s system and decided that he/she (a non-educator) knew enough about the situation to report the two teachers to the district administrator for ganging up on this student.

So I have a few take aways from this conversation:

– If there is a job in a school system that offers a person that much time to just make teachers’ lives miserable, then it is a waste of tax payer dollars.

– If there is a position created in a school district that does not have student learning as the MAIN focus attached to it, then it is also a waste of tax payer dollars.

– Why do campus administrators continue to let someone so obviously out of touch with teacher and student needs control such a large part of what happens (or should happen) on their campuses? One would assume that there is at least one person willing to step up and share the importance of access and use with this individual and eventually that person’s boss if needed. These anal controllers of the DISTRICT’s network have no business in education since they only work to hinder it. There have to be some limitations to protect data, access to inappropriate sites, cyber-bullying, etc., I know. But when it gets to the point where staff and students give up using any technology, then there is a major issue.

– Those of us in the tech side of the school district need to remember that curriculum drives the technology and not the other way around. Our job is to facilitate technology use, not to frustrate it.

Twitter, Transparency, and Political Process

Earlier this week I found a post in my blog reader from Off the Kuff political blog from Houston. Twitter was the topic, and Congress is struggling with its use from the Congressional floor. Here is what was said:

The actual issue is one that we discussed a few months back. Existing House rules actually forbid members of Congress from posting “official communications” on other sites. This was first noticed by a first-term Congressman who was worried that posting videos on YouTube violated this rule. Other Congressional Reps told him to not worry about it as everyone ignored that rule, and no one would get in trouble for using various social media sites such as YouTube. However, that Congressman pushed forward, and eventually got Congress to act. Of course, rather than fixing the real problem (preventing Reps from posting on social media sites), they simply asked YouTube to allow Reps to post videos in a “non-commercial manner.” YouTube agreed, and that was that.

However, the existing rules still stood. Culberson’s complaint stems for a letter (pdf) sent by Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano, suggesting that the rules actually be changed to be loosened to deal with this situation and make it easier to post content on various social media sites. Culberson, however, bizarrely claims that this is the Democrats trying to limit what he can say on Twitter. But that’s actually not at all what the letter states. The problem isn’t this letter, but the existing rules that are already in place. In fact, based on the letter, it would appear that this would make it possible for Congressional Reps to Twitter, so long as their bio made it clear they were Reps.

A bunch of people tried to understand this, and even I asked him to clarify why the problem was with this new letter, as opposed to the existing rules. His response did not address the question at all — but rather was the identical response he sent to dozens of people who questioned his claims. He notes that based on the letter, each Twitter message must meet “existing content rules and regulations.” Indeed, but the problem is that’s already true based on those existing content rules and regulations. The problem isn’t this new effort, but those existing rules and regulations, which mean that his existing Twitter messages violated the rules.

It’s really disappointing to see someone who had embraced the technology use it to try to whip up Twitter users into a frenzy, while misleading them to do so — and then not using the tools to respond to actual criticisms. The problem here is that the existing rules for Reps is problematic. It’s not this new effort to loosen the rules, other than in the fact that the loosening of the rules might not go far enough. That’s not, as Culberson claims, an attempt to censor him on Twitter, but simply an attempt to loosen the rules with a focus on YouTube and (most likely) with an ignorance of the fact that Twitter even exists.

Will Richardson elaborated on it some more today from his blog when he shared this NPR quote:

Given the rules in place, this clash between the old ways of talking to the Congress and the potential new ones may have been inevitable. Noyes says Culberson and Ryan are active users of the Internet. “They have been Twittering all over the place,” he says. “They’ve been Twittering back and forth, engaging one another in debates over politics and policy.” The reporter describes Culberson, in particular, as something of a Web maverick and a poster child for the issue.

Isn’t it ironic that these politicians have taken this tool and used it similarly to what educators have been doing? They realize the potential of the immediate personal learning network. And it is free. Guess that is what really bothers the politicians. They prefer something be used that costs tons of money and has too many channels of bureaucracy to be useful to anyone. At least they all don’t. But the best part of it to me as a political advocate for education is that it limits each side of the debate to 140 characters at a time. Yeah!!! No long winded, topic spinnin’, off-the-topic runnin’ fillibusters. Get to the point, and get there quickly because you only get 140 characters. Can’t you see the timeline for the debate:

Senator 1: @Senator2 We’ve got to consider the fact that schools are only able to handle so many unfunded mandates. At some point funding is required.

Senator 2: @Senator1 They’ve enough money already. Why give more when they just waste it? They buy all the best software, computers, etc. To what rslt?

Senator 1: @Senator2 You mean like the equipment in your office EACH of your staff members use EVERY day? Like the iPhone you are Twittering from?…

Senator 1: @Senator2 All of which is paid for by PUBLIC tax dollars with staff taught in PUBLIC schools to do the work for the PUBLIC?

Senator 3: @Senator2 Burn!

Senator 2: @Senator3 Shut-up! You’re in my party. I’m blocking you!

Or at least it might go something like that. I just wonder how Twitter would handle the public information requests for the Twitter conversations. 😉

Now, let me see if I can get my state senator and representative on board for the next legislative session.

Video Converting Success


I volunteered to make several copies of some DVD’s of our teachers doing what they do best in White Oak ISD: teaching. Our primary campus principal had a great idea of videoing key segments of the day in her teachers’ lives. She then created a video to give to teachers who have been hired to join our school district next school year. What an awesome idea! I am glad I volunteered to do it because it gave me some insight into what the direction is on her campus with her teachers, and technology is definitely a big part of it.

Now this principal has been an early adopter for me already this year in a few separate instances. One, she asked for laptops for her teachers. The first thing she wanted was to get a few MacBooks and a few Windows based machines so her teachers could compare and decide. (as a side note: one of her teachers had over TWENTY enhanced podcasts up in less than a week and never owned a Mac!).

Her next tech integration involved interviews for new teachers. One (or more) of her teachers shot quite a few pictures of what the classrooms and areas of the building looked like while the kids were in it functioning during the school day. Then, text was added over portions of the pictures to label the event/area being viewed. It was all then compiled into a very nice looping video that each applicant was to watch after her interview prior to leaving the building. Yes, a slide show is considered fairly low tech, but when a campus decides to jump into the tech waters and finds a neat way to tie in even a slide show during staff interviews, I say good for them. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure they used Keynote and exported the file as an MOV file since it was looping in QuickTime. That is a pretty good skill to have for a primary teacher, I must say. I have been very proud of the work my elementary teachers have done this year. They have not backed down from the challenge to integrate more technology. As my Australian buddies on Twitter would say, “Good on them!”

So anyway, I was headed into the conversation of the video conversion. If you need to rip a file off a DVD (which is what the video camera recorded to as a VOR/VOB files) and convert it for podcast use, grab you a copy of the free program Handbrake. It converts to either AVI or M4V files. I had issues with the AVI, but the M4V worked flawlessly inside iMovie and Final Cut Pro. Converting to M4V allows me to put it right into our Virtual Roughneck podcast blogs without any editing if preferred. It is by far the best product I found to do the trick. It will also come in handy when I start moving DVD’s onto my iTouch.