My Session on E-Portfolios with Staff and Students


Slide Credit: Dr. Helen Barrett
I have had several inquiries as to how my poster session went that was centered on using free online tools (Web 2.0) in creating, organizing, and maintaining electronic portfolios for staff and students. Well, in a word, great! I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to speak with so many others trying to do the same thing we are. While I am in a better situation than most due to a technology department and curriculum department that plays VERY well together, we still have our struggles. Training is one of them. There is so much to building effective
eportfolios that one person relatively new to the concept cannot learn and regurgitate it all back to staff in a productive way.

Thankfully, someone I admire for her knowledge and ability to share and teach stepped up to my session. Dr. Helen Barrett appeared in the corner of my booth. Fortunately, I saw her arrive and noted to everyone there that she was THE one to talk to about all things eportfolios. Anything I have to share about eportfolios would pale in comparison to this wonderfully read and prepared professor.  Another awesome piece of luck was that my curriculum director walked up behind me about the same time. I put the two of them together quickly to schedule some training in our district. If/When we are lucky enough to get Dr. Barrett in White Oak, our staff and students will never be the same again. We will be fully on track to creating portable archives of learning and teaching that all should be proud of. Exporting the eportfolio from the WordPress blog right to a flash drive will be a common happening for our students in the near future to allow them to take their representative work with them to college interviews, job interviews, competitions, etc. 

Another piece of luck came along when I ran into Sue Waters from Edublogs. After a lengthy conversation with Sue in the Blogger’s Cafe, my chief of technology and I decided it was time to move our entire WPMU blogging system to Edublogs Campus Ultimate where it will get the care and support it deserves. James Farmer, Sue Waters, and company will do more to keep up our system than we ever could. We know that this will now be the Cadillac version of our goals that we have wanted and needed all along. I have already noticed an unprecedented increase in speed in initial loading and navigating within and between blogs. Thank you, Edublogs! Our staff and students are going to be overjoyed when they log back in.


Photo Credit: AJC1 (Hartnell-Young, E. et al. (2007) Impact study of e-portfolios on learning partners.)
Another advantage for me in the move to Edublogs Campus Ultimate is the ability to batch create blogs and users. This was a headache when our system was at SiteGround because having a class or two of kids hitting the server at the same time never ended with anything but timeouts and 404 errors. It was what pushed us into seeking out a better host of our system. Considering we went from a Gig of traffic a month to over a Gig a day by the end of the year, we had to do something proactive before it all crashed down around us. You can go read for yourself all the benefits of making the move to Edublogs Campus Ultimate, but I can see this relationship being a very good one for all of us in White Oak ISD.

Stay tuned as we ramp up our electronic portfolio process with training by Dr. Helen Barrett and implementation by our staff and students this school year.

Little Copyright Thugs

Okay, so Alan Levine was kidding in his comment to the post introducing this video to me when he called them “little copyright thugs.” One has to kid about the topic after seeing the following video posted on Alec Couros’s blog. But let me say before you watch it, art and music are SOOOOOOO important for all of us to be able to express our emotions and life lessons in a format rather then keeping them pent up inside and not letting the world see how great a person each of us can be on the inside. We all have our favorite picture or song or poem that means the world to us for personal reasons. I think this teacher and many of the kids just found one of their own. 

With that being said, here are the “little copyright thugs.”

Can you see the engagement in the song that the kids had? It was not “hey we’re making a movie” or “watch me be the star of this thing.” It was a genuine expression of engagement brought out by an educator that we all hope to see in our classrooms (albeit, I never had poetry written or recited in my class with such passion as these kids shared). Oh, and the kicker is that these kids have been invited by Stevie Nicks after she saw this video on YouTube to sing it in Madison Square Gardens. Feel free to drop by the kids’ blog and let them know how great they really are: http://www.ps22chorus.blogspot.com/ Not bad for a campus where 3 out of 4 are on free/reduced lunch, huh?

Quick point here. Notice they blog. Notice that we now notice how great these kids AND their teacher both are. Enough noticing. Read on.

Now, let’s consider what Alec was getting at. This explicitily shows why we should be publishing our kids’ work. They are going to experience things because of this short 2 minute video that most of us only dream about. Why? Their teacher thought enough to show off what they can do to the world. Sure, it might all be a fluke that Stevie Nicks saw the video and invited them, but the fluke was not possible without that teacher making that concious choice to publish the work. Also, think of the lives this can touch with those kids. Already fighting their way out of a hole poverty-wise, they can now see they have value, skills, hope, and a teacher that obviously loves them very, very much. Did you catch his commentary at the end? It was three words: “That was goooooood.” I have not seen a bigger smile on any face than he had on his at that moment. Even Darren Kuropatwa zoomed in on that part of it. It just says so much.

So, let’s review here. The kids practice a Fleetwood Mac song. The teacher decides to record them singing it. The outcomes:
1. We are inspired by what these kids can do with a passion.
2. The parents obviously know their kid’s teacher loves his job and his students a TON.
3. Stevie Nicks sees the video via a social networking video site, cries, falls in love with the kids, and invites them to perform at Madison Square Gardens.
4. Ed tech guys and gals jump on the story as a way to motivate their own teachers to do such things as publishing more (any) student content.
5. The students see a new value in school and learning and that there is light at the end.
6. Teacher gets a book and movie deal and becomes Mr. Holland’s Opus II: The Modern Version (I made that up, but it could happen).

I hope Alec finds a way to weave this post and video into his time with us in White Oak on June 12th. Did I mention he is one of the keynoters and a featured presenter? Feel free to join us.

In the meantime, fire up your class blog and get your students’ work out there. The world needs to see just how good they (and you) really are.

7 Year Olds as Digital Storytellers


Photo Credit: scragz

My wife and I are very fortunate to have such a wonderful second grade teacher for our son this year. She, Mrs. Richeson,  finds great ways to bring the parents into the classroom via technology. We have had the chance to watch our son retell stories through readers theater video podcasts. Now, she stretches their writing abilities and has them share them with everyone in audio podcasts.

During our parent conference the other day, my wife (a 6th grade language arts teacher) commented how she was not sure how Mrs. Richeson was able to do all of the things she does getting the recordings made and posted. She just smiled and said it was no big deal with the MacBook. As the instructional technologist for the district, it was a good confirmation for me that we are headed in the right direction with the right tools. I taught first grade myself. Everything extra is a big deal. To hear her share how easy she found it was affirming. 

First, a little background to my son’s story. La Cucaracha is “cockroach” in Spanish.  He has loved that Spanish word ever since he heard Phillips, Craig, and Dean in concert in Tyler.  They had a children’s CD that he wanted. Needless to say, the song about the bug is his favorite.  So, according to his teacher, Christian took a long time to write his story. She wondered what was slowing him up, but she also was glad that he was writing. A lot. It wasn’t until the end of the story being recorded that it all made sense. He was writing a story around a song with the internal goal of getting the song into the story as the closing and it make sense.  Pretty high level, if I do say so myself.  Yes, I’m proud of him.  So have a listen to his creation. Make sure you hang in there long enough to hear him sing in the end. About a roach. 🙂 

Listen to the podcast of the story “The Rock Boy” by Christian.

“The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong”


Photo Credit: DairDair

Can it be that the pendulum is finally swinging back the other direction?  This just in from Charles at Off the Kuff:

TAKS changes coming

Stepping out of campaign coverage for a second, here’s a look ahead to some TAKS tinkering the Lege will take up next year.

Texas public school students could face less pressure on the TAKS test under a proposal that key lawmakers unveiled Tuesday to overhaul the state’s school accountability system.

Under the plan, elementary and middle school students would no longer have to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test to advance to the next grade level.

Schools still would be held accountable for low test scores, but they would get credit for improvement — even if students fell short of certain targets.

While several parents and school leaders praised the proposed changes to the school grading system as being more fair, others expressed concern that Texas would be lowering its standards. The Legislature is expected to consider the idea, offered by a special House-Senate committee on school accountability, next year.

“What this proposal does is eliminate the high-stakes testing in elementary schools, and I think that’s a very positive development,” said Spring Branch Superintendent Duncan Klussmann.

[…]

The revamped school grading system, which would require extra help for the struggling students, also would base annual performance ratings on three years of test scores instead of a single year and would give credit for student improvement. Districts would get judged on their financial health, too.

Pasadena ISD Superintendent Kirk Lewis applauded the move to averaging scores, noting that under the current system a school could be stigmatized with a low rating if it barely missed the mark in one subject one year.

“I think it will be helpful in taking some of the pressure off the schools,” Kirk said. “I believe in accountability … but the tweaks they’re making, it appears it would be a positive improvement over what we’ve got.”

Legislative leaders concede weaknesses in the current system — which rates schools on TAKS scores, graduation rates and dropout rates — and they heard complaints from educators and parents during hearings around the state this year.

“We found that the TAKS was the main focus of a lot of our education efforts, and it’s a minimal-skills test,” said House Public Education Chairman Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands.

Standardized testing has its place, but I think the consensus after ten years of it here in Texas is that it’s become an end rather than a means to an end, and that it’s high time some effort was made to scale it down a little. I think bigger changes than this are ultimately needed, but this is a step in the right direction. Kudos to Rep. Eissler for listening to the feedback from parents and educators.

My comments on this:
This could be good news for those with elementary-aged students who just might not need that kind of pressure. It is also great news for elementary teachers who have been forced to be a part of the pressure-packed system. I can say fairly confidently that this is in large part to the new leadership that the House Public Education Committee has found after the previous chair’s defeat during election time. While I have had the opportunity to testify before the Interim Committee on Accountability, I would not have expected much movement on our suggestions, yet so quickly. Glad to see it was taken serious. Thank you, Chairman Eissler. I look forward to working with you more in the coming session.

My post title comes from a quote by Carl Gustav Jung – The pendulum of the mind oscillates between sense and nonsense, not between right and wrong

Literacy Superhero…Away!!!!!

Photo by Dean Shareski

I love being on this side of teaching. Don’t get me wrong. I miss my English and reading classes at the middle school, but now I get to work with all of the staff and students on every campus. Being able to see our brilliant teachers and their students expand their technology use and enjoy it makes it even better.

But I also get to network with some really great minds outside of White Oak. One of those great minds resides only a few hours west of us in Burleson ISD. Kim Estes has gone above and beyond what many people would do outside of their every day jobs in helping us. I will expand on her work with our ePortfolios after I finish the monument to her in my office, though. 😉

As I was reading through her newly redesigned blog, I found what every tech-loving, literacy teacher dreams about: a course outline complete with 6+1 Traits standards (our ISD uses New Jersey Writing, but they are basically the same) seamlessly meshed with technology integration where the curriculum is driving the technology. She created the outline, and then she found tools that supported the work.

Kim, you are a jewel to share this with everyone. I honor you by reposting it below with credit to you for the hard work it took. Thank you for being so generous in so many ways to us. Everyone who uses any part of this: I would appreciate it if you would leave a comment below to let Kim know what a valuable resource this truly is for us.

Continue reading

The Google and The Presidential Election

All I am doing in this post is copying and pasting a Google resource for those interested in utilizing the election in the classroom in any way. Google has done the legwork for you:

Bring the political process to life in your classroom

It’s back-to-school season in the U.S. and social studies teachers everywhere are excited about the November elections and all of the ways that politics has evolved since even just four years ago. Technology is advancing. Internet fundraising has brought all kinds of new small donors into the political process, social networking is helping campaigns and citizens organize themselves in new ways, and YouTube, which didn’t even exist four years ago, has swept the political dialogue.

With technology producing such dramatic changes in American politics, we want to make sure it’s easy for teachers to bring some of the best Internet tools into the classroom to help students get engaged. Working with the National Student/Parent Mock Election, we’ve pulled together a site called Elections Tools for Teachers where you can find descriptions and suggested learning activities for tools like YouTube, Google Maps, Elections Video Search and Power Readers, which we announced here yesterday.

We want students to walk away from their engagement in this election with a sense of excitement about our democratic process and with the belief that their voices matter. As Gloria Kirshner, president of the Mock Election has said, “In the classrooms of today are the Presidents, Senators, Congress members and, most important, the voters of tomorrow. Whether we are sending these children to the White House or to the polls, we hope to send them with a deep understanding of ‘government of the people, by the people, and for the people.'”

Please let us know if you find Elections Tools for Teachers helpful in your teaching, and we hope you’ll enroll your students in this year’s National Mock Election on October 30th.

As always, if I can assist you in implementing this in your classroom in any way, I am more than happy to help out.

In the Middle and Working Our Way Out

Okay. So it wasn’t the wallpaper of Miguel Guhlin on a computer that got my middle school teachers engaged and excited on Thursday. It was something better.

MacBooks, iPod Nanos, two 165 quart all terrain Igloo coolers, and plenty of Pasco science probes. So it cost a bit to get them going, but it worked. As we rolled in the two huge coolers with boxes stacked on top of each and two rolling carts with a dozen Higher Ground laptop cases, I felt like Vanna White as I unveiled the new tools these educators have at their disposal this year. For the record, all of this was planned and ordered months before my wife ever was hired to teach 6th grade ELA (which I am extremely proud to have her in our school district now). I am already getting the “She is way better than you ever were” comments, and they are right.  🙂

Anyway…..We began with 4 GB flash drives. Each teacher received one with his or her name engraved onto it. We felt like that gave them the true ownership each of them needed to feel free to utilize the thing without fear of it being taken away or whatever. It was a hit to say the least. Michael and I had some grant funds we used for them, and the teachers thoroughly appreciated it.

Next, I handed out iPod Nanos to each table. No, it wasn’t for them to keep. They did get to help me unwrap them and got to play with them for a little bit while we discussed possible uses in the classroom. With two 15 unit docking/synch stations, they should see plenty of action even with being new to teachers. My hope is that they become in such high demand that we must buy more. This is, of course, meaning that they are being utilized in the classroom to improve content knowledge, deeper understanding, and a higher level of student engagement in the entire learning process. See, Gary Stager. I was paying attention.

Then we opened the coolers up and shared some information about the probes inside. Some may wonder why we put them in coolers. Well, we are building a 23 acre nature center (behind our elementary schools in the picture above) for all campuses to use. The coolers will make it easier to tote the tools out to the learning site while also giving some heavy duty protection to the equipment. The pneumatic tires will make them easy to roll over even big brush, rocks, and what have you. For the most part, the only folks worked up here were the science teachers, but that’s okay. I was excited, and I am an English teacher. Well, and a techy (and all of the probes had USB jacks, so that made it click for me). For me, the highlight of this part was having the sixth grade science teacher figure out what the nearly six foot long physics probe bundle was all about. Something about inertia, speed, something, and some other somethings. Truly, that baby is on its way to the high school since they are the real physics folks. That will be true of other probes we bought as well. Our middle school science teachers will be working their way through all of the science probes and helping us move them to the appropriate campus for other teachers to use. Thank goodness for those ladies, because I would have been lost on that sorting deal. I do plan to stick close and learn more about it, though.

Finally, after about thirty minutes of the other stuff, we hit the MacBooks. I had each person grab a laptop, battery (fully charged from the battery dock), and a comfy chair. Since Macs are new to our staff, I spent plenty of time walking them through the basics (icons, Finder, shortcuts, the cool Ctrl+two finger zoom function). We spent a few minutes in each of the iWorks apps: Numbers, Keynote, and Pages. Then we hit the popular suite of iLife: iMovie (I downloaded HD since no one can figure out 08 anyway), iPhoto, iTunes, and Garageband. I showed them how easy it was to record a lecture in Garageband, add a quick audio clip to the beginning as if it were a news show, and export it out as an MP3 file. Then we uploaded it to the Apple podcast blogs we use. I think they were relieved seeing that it was as simple as sending an email. I showed them how easy it was to do the same thing in iMovie with the built-in iSight camera to make a video podcast. Cool enough. They really enjoyed the part where I had one of the teachers use iChat in the back of the room and call into my session. Once they saw how easy that was, I think their attention got even stronger with the Mac. Everyone loves a good video chat.

Throughout the session, I stuck to the same mantra: You now have a very powerful tool in your hands to create, captivate, engage, enthrall, and any other snazzy verb you can think of. You can capture priceless learning with the students. You can provide resources for absent students or those needing remediation. You can allow the kids to teach you.  You can allow yourself AND the students to publish. They NEED a creative outlet to do this.

That is my son. Give him a MacBook (or Legos or piles of scrap whatever) and a little instruction, and he can create like crazy. He will show you how his understanding goes beyond what he might could show you on paper or on a state test. That is my son. He will show you how the right brain can engage in ways the left never can by sharing beautiful bits of himself that his teachers, his mother, and I helped to create by teaching and loving him. That’s my son. He will WOW you with his awesomeness of a sponge-like brain, not by regurgitating facts on a score sheet, but by composing his own score sheet to share with the world. That is my son.

It’s also your son (or daughter). We must provide new outlets for kids to practice and publish their learning. They need to showcase their content knowledge in some way other than a bubble sheet, a test proctor, and a newspaper article reporting the results. When they publish personally in these new ways, there is immediate feedback and reflection and relearning. When their knowledge is judged by one day and a few hours on a test, the only thing they get there is a snapshot result. They do not use that to motivate themselves to learn more, to discuss the successes and failures with peers, or as an opportunity to find a mentor to further their knowledge. The most they get is either a party or extra tutoring (my rant on the state, by the way, not the teachers).

This is the driving force behind what we are doing at our middle school. We are working toward building electronic portfolios (WordPress MU) that the students can upload these types of products to where they can showcase their learning and skills. They can build on them and add new ones. They will be able to edit, recreate, share, and even take the portfolio with them when they leave our district. They will be the models for the campuses they left and the ones they head to. Their expectations will be higher than ever before when they enter a new classroom. They need the freedom to produce, reflect, rethink, and react in their learning. This is their chance. This is an opportunity to collaborate with peers and teaching faculty at a whole new level.

While we work through this process, I will share more of my reflections in this blog.

I want to leave you with the same video I left my middle school staff with (and I shared back in June on this blog). My wife said it tied everything together beautifully (not consciously planned on my part).  My lead in (off the cuff) was that we are the ultimate force in the classroom. How we prepare and present ourselves to our students is ultimately how they decide whether they turn themselves on or off for learning when they enter our doors. Is our focus on teaching the same year of instruction for thirty plus years? Or is it to refocus how we perceive actual learning with today’s youth and offer and foster an environment that promotes their full participation in the process with an open mind and an innovative spirit?

intro_me

Photo Credits: (1) Miguel Wallpaper – me, taken at TCEA office in Austin during Thinkfinity training; (2) Google Earth snapshot of WOISD – me in Google Earth; (3) “I like my voice” – Peter H. Reynolds, scribbled on a napkin if I remember the story correctly.

Learning and Buying In


I realize that picture may not look like much to most folks. It is JUST a Google calendar after all. What it represents to me, though, is a much bigger accomplishment. Buy-in. I was able to work with our intermediate campus staff today with a number of technology tools. The best part is that the day was pretty much set aside as learn what you want. They came to me or their peers and asked for help and got it. We covered web pages in Joomla, importing contacts in Google Apps, setting up a Blackberry to check the school email (still working on that one, sorry phone), adding attachments to emails, and more. It was great to watch the teachers going around and helping each other when it was really not that way one year ago. They are really feeling comfortable with utilizing the tools and showing each other what they are doing with them, and I could not be more proud.

Our elementary computer lab teacher decided that she wanted a better way to reserve the computer lab that would eliminate mix-ups as well. She asked about the Google Calendar that is in our Google Apps for Your Domain system that houses our school district’s email system. Perfect. I showed her how to add events with details, how to invite the campus staff so they can add their own, how to subscribe to the calendar and even receive a morning agenda in her email box, and then add the link to her webpage (Our Joomla site is not playing well with embeds for some reason right now). She was off and running. (NOTE: She even told me she needed to “Pimp my link!” That just isn’t natural coming from an elementary teacher, especially one who I have taught two of her kids over the years.) Immediately a reservation was placed by the third grade. She showed others during the day how to add the calendar to their account and edit at will. Yes! Now, if I can only convince her to go to the other campuses and share that with those computer lab teachers. Just maybe.

Thank you White Oak Intermediate for starting the school year off on such a positive note! Looking at what you folks are doing with your web pages to keep the kids and parents interested, informed, and excited is pretty cool. I look forward to even more great stuff this year!

Constructing Modern Knowledge, Tinkering, Homework, and What I’ve Learned


I have actually started this post a number of times in my head. I am not sure why it has been hard for me to get out, but it has. I am glad that it has. That just means I have been pondering it, and we all know when I ponder it’s a good thing. Right?

Let me set up quickly what has been fascinating about it. My son asked to spend a week at Camp Invention in Coppell, TX. We wondered what it would be like for him since it was sponsored by the US Patent Office and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He spent the week tinkering. He loved it and learned tons about thinking his way through processes. Then I headed off to New Hampshire and a week with Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez, Paul R. Wood, Peter H. Reynolds, and Alfie Kohn just to name a few at the Constructing Modern Knowledge Conference. What the week boiled down to for me was about giving kids time to tinker and learn. I returned home for a few days and then headed to Austin for Thinkfinity training. First site that pops up for me during the investigation time? Yep, more tinkering: Invention at Play.

Now, I’m not going to go to the extremes like some and say the entire day should be letting the kids tinker. There has to be direct instruction for them to build their learning from. What I will say, though, is that kids DO need time to tinker (I say tinker because play just doesn’t cut it even though the kids will think they are playing). They do some of their best learning while tinkering and exploring. Why can we not give them concepts and send them to the Lego bins to come back with a contraption that demonstrates the concept learned? Application is a much higher level than just comprehension, and create is the HIGHEST level of the new Bloom’s chart. We as educators have always said that if you can teach it effectively, then you understand it. Why not let the kids take a concept, create something with that knowledge, and then teach it to the class sharing why it is applicable to what they designed and built?

Does this take time away from direct instruction? Sure, but isn’t the learning at a deeper level allowing us to not have to reteach the concept again and again? Besides, when a student asks about the concept later in the school year, some other student in the class is going to say, “Remember?! That is when so and so built the ____ and_____.” Get it? The kids are making the learning connections and reteaching each other. Sound like real life? It’s getting there. I would say it would benefit our kids much more and prepare them for the Dell’s, Eastman’s, militaries, and Apple’s of the world to hire folks who have spent time trying out things, failing, rethinking, retrying, failing, rethinking, retrying, … You get the picture. Shall we bring up Google’s 20% rule of employment once again? Sounds like it should be a mantra for education (for students and teachers).

Now, one thing that struck me as odd at Constructing Modern Knowledge was my reaction to Alfie Kohn. Many consider him a great mind in education. My less than enthusiastic reaction wasn’t due to the fact that he failed to answer a simple question about his college degree (I asked what it was in and he told me it would take too long to explain. What?!?). It was more on the fact that, while he has great ideas, he fails to recognize how the system works (or more likely refuses to accept). The gist of his argument is that teachers created the system we are in and are the only ones who can fix it.

Well, not exactly. Neither of us can argue the other in the ground over it because it is from opinions based on a number of facts that we draw our views. My view is that teachers did not make the problem. We followed the law that told us to prepare students for tests that the state would be giving students. How we respond to that law controls how we teach in our classrooms. Some lend themselves to a more test-prep environment, while others have a more open structure where students do more authentic work with less worksheets involved.  But, nonetheless, we are following the law here. Not giving the tests is NOT an option if we wish to maintain employment.

Alfie’s view seems to be that if teachers just decide to change, then the system will be forced to change. Uhm, idealist? In my view, yes. Alfie says that those of us who praise our students for doing well on these tests are just adding to the problem. Yeah, I did not like that comment either. Instead, he feels we should ask the student…ready for this… “So how do you feel (or what do you think) about your grade?” My complimenting the student is doing harm while his analyzing them like a psychiatrist is good? Really? I hear his parenting books are built around this same type of concept. I do not think I will be buying or reading them anytime soon. I like the way my wife and I parent just fine. To turn our son into some walking research project just doesn’t do anything for me.

Let me say that Alfie’s views of what should happen in the learning realm of the classroom are pretty strong. I disagree with his view on homework where he boldly states that there has NEVER been research that shows that homework is beneficial. I am guessing these items do not count as research to him (personal note: Glad to see Marzano agrees with me that Kohn misrepresents the research findings). One of those links even researched the research and found that out of twenty studies completed on the effectiveness of homework, fourteen showed benefit while only six did not.  I do want to state that I think a little homework is good, though. Twenty math problems over the same concept is too much if the same can be done in five. If the kid is getting the five wrong, why keep adding to the problem with fifteen more? At the same time, five problems is enough to know whether the students gets it or not.  Reading self-selected pieces of literature for ten or fifteen minutes a night is a good thing. Minimum numbers of AR tests (or points or whatever) per week is not. And so on. You get the drift.  Basically, hours of homework every night is ridiculous, but limited practice of subjects is not. Let’s just not let it take over the family life. No, I have no intention of getting into a debate with Alfie about these things. I am just reflecting on what I heard and my views in comparison. I have a job and family to attend to. Spending countless hours (more) finding ammunition for a debate that will effectively go nowhere is a waste of both of our times.  He is obviously set and secure in his opinion. Same here. Moving on.


But what Alfie says about kids needing time to explore the concepts they have learned (with thinkering and such) is spot on. We learn more when we have that type of time. If we choose the object, then we are going to be more engrossed in the learning that goes with it. Deeper levels of learning, too.

So what did I get out of all of my weeks of travel in July and early August? How about this:

  • Gary Stager’s favorite phrase is, “So what?”
  • His views on ANYTHING can upset anyone with thin skin, but he does it to make you think more deeply.
  • He and Sylvia have a lot of Legos.
  • Lego Robotics make great learning tools outside of the competitions many students enter. Just unstructure the learning around them and turn the kids loose.
  • Alfie Kohn has some good ideas on student learning (overlooking the homework issue here) and some warped views on child rearing (IMHO) and student motivation.
  • He also thinks teachers control the entire education world. That will only happen when teachers start voting en masse.
  • Peter H. Reynolds is one awesome dude. I would love to have him visit our students in person or virtually. He has an amazing talent and a wonderful personality the students and teachers will love.
  • I wish Peter spent a few hours teaching us to be artists even when we think we are not. Release the right brain, folks.
  • John Stetson is one very bright person. It was good to have someone around who knows gear ratios like the back of his hand.
  • Dr. Cynthia Solomon (from OLPC fame) is one of my new favorite people. Ever. She is like a female Gary Stager with a grandma’s personna (don’t be mad, Cynthia). Her quick wit, challenging questions, and wonderful insight make her one great person to be around. Besides, sarcasm befits a Harvard grad.
  • The most important take away is that we MUST give our students more time to tinker and think their way through the learning and creative processes. It will take time for them to get use to the opportunity, but they will hate it if you take it away. Consider it. If we go from no time to even one hour a week, it will be progress.

I look forward to my continuing conversations with the great folks I met at all of these events. Sylvia and I already have a few plans in the works to better prepare our middle school science students through reflecting on their learning in a meaningful manner. I cannot wait to share that project as we move through it. I expect Gary will throw in a few “So what?” ‘s just to drive me forward even more. In fact, I count on it.

Image Credits:
I took them all at the MIT Museum – 1. Great Wall of Ideas 2. Mantra for the Great Wall of Ideas 3. Hologram at MIT Museum

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Flickr takes even more museums online

Paul R. Wood at the historic Rutt’s Hut in Clifton, New Jersey

From the Flickr site:

The key goals of The Commons on Flickr are to firstly show you hidden treasures in the world’s public photography archives, and secondly to show how your input and knowledge can help make these collections even richer.

You’re invited to help describe the photographs you discover in The Commons on Flickr, either by adding tags or leaving comments.*

You are going to find photos from some really awesome resources. How about:

Flickr invites you to be a part of the experience by adding descriptions to images that you are familiar with. Some photos that have previously been listed with no information have had the back stories filled in by either the person in the picture or family members who were familiar with the history of the photo. This could prove valuable to those studying writing, art, history, humanities, or geography. I am sure there are many more content ties than that.

In case you are wondering what the above pic has to do with this post, only two people would know the back story (and a colorful one it is) about this image shot at the world famous Rutt’s Hut. An 80 year old historic location like that wants the stories to live on. Flickr is allowing just that through the photo history offerings from these museums. We should take advantage of the first person narratives many of them offer. I would say many or all of them would make for great story starters for young writers who are stuck or just like the challenge of creating their own back stories.