Safe Blogging as a Class/Learning Community

Photo Credit: Me.

Once again, we had another fabulous day in Texarkana ISD. Today we spent time discussing blogs with the elementary teachers. It looks as if this district is going to light up with WWW with elementary bloggers in the very near future. I look forward to having the kids in White Oak collaborating with the students here.

Below you will find the list of resources we discussed. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comment section.

Blogging as a Class Resources

Step by step directions for setting up an Edublogs Blog

Tips on Blogging with Students

Room 202’s Blogging Contract

Advice on Student Blogging

Acceptable Use Agreement – Digital Citizenship

Room 229’s Blogging Contract (5th Grade)

Learning to Blog the Elementary Way (includes blogging permission slip)

Blogging is Elementary

Elementary Blog Policy

Pam Cranford’s Class Blog

Any Soldier (site mentioned to find soldiers to communicate with)


Thank you, Texarkana ISD!

Thank you, Texarkana ISD, for such a warm reception at your back to school, instructional technology-themed conference today. It was so nice to have a welcoming environment when I know how hard it is to listen to someone talk to you for 90 minutes to start the day. Hopefully, I was able to get you motivated for the kiddos who will be filling the halls and rooms next week.

As I mentioned in my talk, I am listing the links to the videos and sites we talked about during both the keynote and my breakout sessions. If you have any questions or I left something off, please leave a comment and I will add it in or get back with you about your questions. I look forward to working with your district again in the future. Good luck in the coming school year!

Keynote – “Instructional Technology: Who’s driving?”
Breakout Session – “Social Networking: It’s not just for kids anymore”

My Introduction video

Introducing the Book video

Joe’s Non-netbook video

PS22 Choir “Landslide” video

Kaplan “Chairs” video

A Brave New World video

RSS in Plain English video

National Technology Standards:

Star Chart info

Dr. Helen Barrett’s ePortfolio work

White Oak ISD’s ePortfolio & blog site

Voicethread site (book review samples)


My son’s pirate story

2nd Grade teacher’s (Emily Richeson) blog

iTunes U

Edublogs (education only blogs)

Scott’s Delicious account (bookmarking)

Google Reader

Google Apps (Docs, Spreadsheet, Calendar, Presentation, Forms)

Twitter (Scott’s site)

Ten Tips for Growing Your Learning Network

Area 7 TCEA Conference Reflections

Dean and Alec plan it out.  Photo courtesy: techleslie

While I should have gotten to this a month or more ago, I am just now finally having the opportunity to review the evaluations returned at the end of our Area 7 TCEA Technology Conference held in White Oak ISD in June. Feel free to ignore this post, but I would appreciate any feedback you can give to allow us to improve it next year. Whether you were a virtual attendee or in person, your feedback will help us out.

First of all, let me thank the line-up of top notch presenters that gave of their time to help me out:

Dean Shareski – Keynote Speaker

Alec Couros – Keynote Speaker

Jennifer Wagner 

Maria Henderson

Diana Benner

Christine Voigt

Paul R. Wood

Joan Gore

Janet Corder

Pam Cranford

Randy Rogers

Corina Long

Mark Cockrell

Stuart Burt

John Maklary

Gerri Maglia & Jay Olson (TETN and ESC7)

David Phillips

John Simpson (PASCO)

Nina Peery

I think that is everyone, but if I missed you, please let me know. Each of you folks have a place in my heart for what you did for us that day. Giving of your time to prepare and present was absolutely awesome. If I can return the favor, please let me know. I will do whatever I can to repay each you.

As for the survey, I am happy with the return rate of the post event evaluations. It was right around the 50% mark, so I feel like I got some good feedback. I only had one attendee who was obviously forced to attend, but I included that response anyway.

The only written feedback that came with the only dissatisfied attendee was “Hands on step by step learning”. My assumption is that he/she thought it was a workshop instead of a conference. But when you throw in the several other satisfied attendees that asked for more hands-on content, it lets me know that it might be a good idea to see if I have any presenters willing to offer longer sessions that could become mini workshops to allow more hands on. We did offer three labs of hands-on sessions along with open wireless throughout the buildings, so there were opportunities to become more hands on if you just wanted to.

Looking at the other data, I found that the vast majority heard about the event from emails circulating with some word of mouth thrown in. The TCEA website only directed one person to the event. While the TCEA site was going through a major overhaul at the time, items could have been posted quicker and easier to see since they were submitted months before. The good news is that it looks as though board members will be able to add their own content (if you use IE), and that will allow for a smoother process. Maybe this will help next year.

We had the standard “rooms were too cold” complaints, but that is always a difficult one to overcome. While I felt the building was a bit too cold in the morning, it leveled out as expected as the afternoon rolled around.

I did have a few who wanted cookies and Dr. Pepper provided even though there were only positive comments on the BBQ lunch. It was good.  We did have coolers throughout the buildings all day with free water, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Mountain Dew, Sunny D, and more. I will try to remember the DP next time.

Everyone loves them some Randy Rogers. Photo courtesy: Dean Shareski

Upon reflection, I feel like I could have improved in a number of areas:

 – Gather more volunteers. I did this intentionally this year because I wanted to take the fall personally if things did not work out. Next year, I will find others to go down with me. Not really. I will find some giving folks to help facilitate sessions and check folks in to speed up the processes. It would not hurt to have a few folks stuff bags ahead of time as well. I had several great ladies in the admin office help out, but it is always faster with more folks.  Otherwise, the administration part went well.
 – Train volunteers. I want the facilitators to be able to start the UStream recording sessions for the presenters. Only one person (a first time presenter) did not want to be streamed. Everyone else did not mind. I would just like to have someone in place to hit record so we have the archive for everyone to refer back to.
 – Have a better PA system in place for keynotes. While I only had one complaint, we need to put a better system in that area that allows for multiple wireless lapels. No tech presenter in his/her right mind is going to stand behind a podium while presenting the entire time. Then, you throw in the Cool Tools Duel and you have the need for multiple mics. This would also help with the UStream of the keynote as well.
 – Continue to invite the virtual world in. We had what I thought was a tremendous presence of virtual attendees.  I was only able to follow the sessions from my iPhone (Twitter) due to me being everywhere at once, but the response seemed very positive. The interaction was off the charts of anything I expected. Having the Twitter board running over the gathering area was a really cool deal. I appreciate Master Audio Visual for supplying the screen and projector. It worked very well. We wanted to leave it because it looked so cool, but the campus admin shot us down on the idea. Something about middle school kids, pencils, markers, yada, yada, yada.
 – The conference Moodle was a great tool. I need to better prepare it next year. I would like to give the vendors a little more coverage on it if they would like. I had them in two places with links, but I want them to embed content to make it better for them and the attendees. I also feel like the way I linked the rooms to the UStreams worked well. If the virtual attendees downloaded the conference program, they could easily match the session room number to the stream.  Leading to….
 – UStream was great. Our network, thanks to @mikegras and Suzanne Woodburn, ran like a top. Their prep work on the network kept everything running smooth as silk. We had as many as 15 streams running at one time along with all of the presenter traffic, attendee traffic, and a video conference stream with no hiccups. Very nice. Thanks to you both (along with Cheryl Hawthorne who ran around stomping our any fires that came up).
 – The MacBook is a VERY powerful little tool. Why anyone would hate on the Macs is beyond me. I received tons of emails and Twitter messages after the event asking me what mics and cameras we used because the quality was so good via UStream. Well, we used the built-in mics and webcams of the MacBook. Those little, white, plastic laptops ran like a champ all day long. It was a good testament to our staff who are/were receiving MacBooks and realized how easy it really is to share with the world what is going on in the classroom. Next year, I will ramp up the audio and video quality settings on the streams since we know the network can handle it with ease. So next year, be on the lookout for even better quality streams.
 – Judging by the Flickr photos folks posted, everyone was having a good time and learning. I appreciate the crowd sourcing of those photos. Always nice to refer back to.
 – Registering participants and presenters via Google Forms was painless and worth every penny I did not have to spend. Thanks, Google Apps for Education!
 – Do a better job of letting the campus admin know the schedule/routine for picking up equipment after the event. While those of us working the event knew we would be back the next day to pick up the laptops locked in the rooms, the campus admin did not. He got a little concerned and picked them up himself which in turn made us scramble to account for all of them. We knew which rooms had them. He did not. Next year, I will do a better job with that, including the documenting of which machine was in which room and letting him know our plans.
 – Having Two Guys from Saskatchewan was a great idea, if I do say so myself. Alec Couros and Dean Shareski did awesome jobs in every way. They even sat around at lunch continuing the conversation with my superintendent and many others. Having their outside of Texas perspective did wonders for many in attendance. They see that the problems they face are systemic, and that if we are going to improve the system, we all have to work together.  The Cool Tools Duel was a hit, to say the least. While I know it is not about the tools, we are working with a lot of teachers who are not even the least bit familiar with what they have out there. Alec and Dean did a superb job of showing a wide assortment. Who won that thing again? Oh, and catch the tool list here on Randy’s blog.
 – Jen Wagner is a lifelong friend that I have never met. This sister in Christ did everything short of hijack a plane to get involved with our event. The weather did not get her there, but her persistence and the continuing assistance of Paul R. Wood and John Maklary sure did (along with more than a dozen online tools). I never heard one negative thing about attendees having to sit in a virtual session instead of a F2F one. That is a testament to the power of the Jen. Thank you, my friend. Sweet tea and BBQ still await you (with half a Chick Fil A shake for dessert).
 – Offering VC sessions are not the most popular, but they were attended, informative, and appreciated. We had two separate presenters utilize the portable VC system we have. One showed off the online offerings of TETN (yes, I let the TETN folks present; I even called and asked them to; see, I’m a good guy…mostly). The other session showed off the online database offerings for librarians. Our library staff loved it. Hopefully, others did as well.
 – We need to rethink our VGA connections. I had no complaints from presenters on the VGA connections being in the back of the room. I offered bluetooth wireless presenters, and some brought their own. I did have a few comments from teachers in attendance, though, that said they are now rethinking why they keep their connections in the back of the room. They realized how difficult it can be on the kids to be engaged if the speaker is behind their backs. Good point. I will plan on having extensions available next year just in case, though.
 – Twitter did a great job of just being a part of the conference experience. Many used it to retweet key quotes. Some used it to announce a session starting. Still others used it just to let their friends know where they were headed. Regardless, it was well used and appreciated. And, as I mentioned, having that ginormous screen with the Twitter Camp running was too cool.
 – While I appreciate the high rate of return on the paper conference evaluations, I want to make it online as well next year. This will not only help me with collecting and disaggregating the data, but it will show another tool our teachers can be using with kids. I use Google Forms for my surveys, so it should work fine.
 – While on the topic of surveys, I should have had one for the presenters. I plan on doing that now anyway. I am sure they can recall any issues, concerns, or good things still. I want and need them to be happy. If they are not enjoying themselves, I want to fix it.
 – I only had one session with no attendees (that I heard about). I wonder if it was that I had too many sessions offered at once, since that session really was a great one for elementary teachers. We had about 13 sessions running concurrently for 200 attendees. Maybe I should back it down to about ten sessions at one time and just add another into the schedule. I need to think on that one, but please feel free to comment on it as well.
 – Having three strands was good (admin, tech director, classroom teacher). No one commented on it, but I think it made a difference in helping them find a session. I plan on doing that again.
 – Master Audio Visual helped sponsor some of the travel to get the Canadians into Texas while Visual Techniques provided the very large screen they had behind them, which was cool. Both vendors are very supportive of what we are trying to doing in White Oak. We truly appreciate that.
 – When you order BBQ for 200 folks, send a full size cargo van or two SUVs to pick it all up. Thanks to Melanie and Cheryl, it all arrived safely…in multiple trips. Sorry. It was much appreciated, to say the least. While on the topic of food, I need to get the cafeteria to make cookies next time. They are awesome, and a few folks missed out on having them. They’ll be there next time.

Michael Gras and I spent the better part of the Thursday before the conference smoking ribs, brisket, veggie kabobs (thank you to @CClong‘s hubbie for grilling those bad boys), hamburgers, and more. We wanted our out of town presenters to feel at home their first night in the area. We all sat around the pool at the hotel breaking bread and reflecting on why we do what we do in education. It was an honor to be in the presence of those folks. I could not have paid enough money to gather that much talent. Yet, they did not come for the money. They came for the love of making things better in public education. You have to love that. It is why I am proud to call them all part of my PLN. I only wish more people could have enjoyed the time with us.

Speaking of which, if you missed out on presenting this year and are interested in helping us out next year, put June 11, 2010, on your calendar and email me (floyds at woisd dot net) about it. The smokers will be fired up once again, the golf courses will be beckoning, and the Gladewater Rodeo will be going on. We had a great time there as well. Then, you throw in what turned out to be a heck of a little area tech conference, and you should thoroughly enjoy yourself. Please consider it.
And for the one person who said we needed better door prizes, I’m not sure how to improve on iPods (including Touch), digital cameras, iTunes gift cards, an IWB, free conference registrations (TCEA and Bishop Dunne’s GeoTech Conference), complete curriculum kits for GIS, and more that I know I am forgetting. It was not a state level conference, but I thought we did a decent job with all of those prizes. Anyone is welcome to fill me in in the comment section below as to what else might be preferred. Other than a Plasma, that is. And remember, the registration was only $25 and we offered free breakfast snacks, lunch, and CPE credits for the day.

My final reflection concerns an award I received Monday night. White Oak ISD’s highest award they present is called the Roughneck Award. It is given to those who go above and beyond the call of duty. My superintendent presented it to me at a school board meeting. His presentation speech meant a lot for me to hear. He discussed my spending time on campuses instead of just in my office. He talked about my work on the district website, adding Twitter as a communication and collaboration tool, and building a program for electronic portfolios and blogs district-wide for staff and students. But the part that will stick with me was about this conference. He was bragging about the turnout and the quality of the sessions and presenters and the organization of it. Then he added one thing. He said that none of it would have been possible without the PLN that I have been able to develop using tools like Twitter and blogs. He said that being able to wrangle in that much talent with only the promise of BBQ and golf was a feat, but he felt those people came because of the relationship and level of respect they had with me instead. That was the take home line for me. He is right. If it were not for a bunch of free tools and encouragement by those I have met virtually, none of that would have happened and 200 educators would have missed out on a really awesome collection of knowledge. While receiving the award was definitely appreciated, having such good friends and bosses makes all the work worth it. Funny, it rarely seems like work these days.

Jen Wagner contemplating virtually calling time violations on Dean and Alec during the Cool Tools Duel Photo courtesy: techleslie

Survey Results
97 total responses (about a 50% return rate)

How did you learn about the conference?
68 – Email Announcement
27 – Word of Mouth
1 – TCEA Website
1 – no response

Overall, how satisfied were you with the conference?
67 – Very Satisfied
27 – Satisfied
1 – Dissatisfied

Overall, how satisfied were you with the technology (wireless access, conference Moodle, UStream sessions, Twitter, etc) available to you?
55 – Very Satisfied
41 – Satisfied
1 – Dissatisfied

Overall, how satisfied were you with the sessions offered?
58 – Very Satisfied
38 – Satisfied
1 – Dissatisfied

Do you plan on attending this conference next year?
77 – Yes
0 – No
20 – Maybe

What, if anything, could be done to improve your experience as an attendee at this conference?
 – several comments asking for longer sessions
 – a few requests for handouts to be mandatory
 – several requests for more hands-on
 – +++++ Excellent
 – Loved the Macs!  The most effective sections for me were the podcasting because there was a “beginner’s” session followed by a more intensive session. This really helped me understand more than jumping in over my head.
 – More time at each session; Make it a 2 day conference
 – Wonderful day. presenters excellent, great content, Cool Tool Dudes – COOL!
 – a couple of requests for presenters to specify if they use Mac or PC (most sessions were web based, so I’m not sure why this mattered)
 – Randy Rogers was awesome! (Randy swears he did not write that on his evaluation)

What is Web 2.0’s role in the classroom?

Wow. This was one of the best sessions I have attended at NECC this year. Not because there was any new solution to any problem. Not because there was actually a debate of an issue with opposing sides (there was). Not because I got to see and hear a lot of great minds all in one place (I did). I say it was the best session because it was a nice extension of the conversation we all need to have, but it was broader. We heard voices of those fearing their presence of even being in the room due to not grasping much of the concepts and terms being thrown around, yet they stepped up and voiced that opinion. We heard from those who truly wanted a line drawn between “tools” and “technology integration” from a pedagogical view. Contextual use instead of forcing a tool because it is the cool one to be using now.  That is just the beginning of the hour we had.

So here is where I am at. Pick through the content from this session and you can find dozens of strands of discussion to choose from to start your own conversation. Find the others talking about it in the backchannel and search them out on blogs or Twitter and continue it with them. They are in this conversation because they care and want to better education for our kids. They WANT to keep up the conversation. I do not know of one person in my experience of ed tech that will shut you down and not converse with you because you are new or on a different path than they are. Most want to learn from others who have different perspectives and experiences. It is what I stay in it for. Link your blog post back to here (since the trackback will show me where you are talking/writing at) and I will join in. I look forward to it.

Linked here is the backchannel of the session. Here are Wes Fryer’s notes on the session as well.  If I find the video or audio files linked somewhere I will link to those as well.

Talk on!

NECC Conversations: from the room to the poster

It’s a funny thing being a presenter. While I really work hard to make my own presentations engaging (and fail at times, I’m sure) I find myself more critical of others. Now, by critical, I mean both good and bad. I am always looking to see what makes one a better presenter over another and also what was the “thing” that released the crowd from the stream of thought so they would day dream instead.

With that in mind, several posts and conversations were had this year at NECC that I took notice of. While Scott McLeod and Doug Johnson do nice jobs of sharing their thoughts and even offering suggestions, one of the things that got my attention was a conversation had at the Google gathering with several others including Scott Meech and Dean Shareski.

Standard sessions have turned into sit and gets and have lost their luster. Poster sessions might be the better option. What makes one better than the other? The conversations. My presentation this year was changed from a standard session to a poster session. At first it was mixed feelings, but after having gone through my two hours of the poster session, it is all good. I was able to have deeper conversations with more people than if I had stood in front of an audience sharing the same information. The engagement for both me as a presenter and them as an audience was a far better experience than I have had in other settings. Dean noted that he felt it might be the better route to have the session conversations take place (as opposed to the unconference sessions conversations).

While many of us say the best PD takes place in the halls of the conference, maybe the poster session is the next best thing. Should that idea be expanded?

Now, let’s take ourselves from the position of teacher/learners at a conference and move into the position of learner in a school setting. Yeah, I would have preferred this type of setting in school as well.

Constructing Modern Knowledge


Last year I had the honor of attending Gary Stager’s conference Constructing Modern Knowledge. It was time very well spent. If you have the time and resources to make it to his event this summer, you will not regret it. He and his presenters will make you think, discuss, experiment, and collaborate like never before. If we are lucky, NECC will invite Dr. Stager to be a part of the debate at NECC, and you will be able to get a preview of what you have ahead of you.  Here is what you need to know:

Dear Constructing Modern Knowledge Pioneer,

I hope you are well!
are less than 2 months away from the 2nd Annual Constructing Modern
Knowledge institute and this year’s event promises to be even more
amazing than the fantastic time we spent together last summer. Folks
are registering for CMK09 and I want to make sure that as many
educators as possible know about the event. The talent assembled for
this year’s faculty humbles me. Where else can you collaborate,
experiment, think, tinker AND spend time with the likes of:
Deborah Meier –
a Macarthur Genius honored for her decades of service and innovation in
urban public education. Ms. Meier is the “mother” of the small schools
movement and her Central Park East in NYC and Mission Hill in Boston
provide stunning examples of creative, compassionate, competent public

Herbert Kohl – a
National Book Award winner and author of more than 40 books on
teaching, learning and parenting. Herb Kohl is one of the most
important educators of the past 50 years.
Brian Silverman 
a gifted recreational mathematician, scientist, bricoleur and raconteur
who has his DNA on nearly every version of Logo created over the past
30 years. Brian played instrumental roles in the creation of
MicroWorlds, LEGO TC logo, Scratch, Turtle Art, the Phantom Fishtank
and is now the president of the Playful Invention Company, creators of
the Pico Cricket. Brian even built a working tic-tac-toe playing
computer made entirely of TinkerToys.
Peter Reynolds 
the award-winning author, illustrator, animator, software developer and
inspirer will host a CMK Reception at his famed FableVision Studios at
the start of Wednesday night’s Night Out in the Big City (Boston)
That’s right, the Boston trip will begin with a rare reception at
FableVision Studios, high atop the Boston Children’s Museum.
Complete biographies of each speaker and the rest of the faculty may be found at
addition to other surprises I’m working on, each participant will again
receive a collection of open-ended tool software for their personal use.

TCEA Area 7 Technology Conference

As the director for Area 7, please accept my invitation to the following:

Area 7 TCEA is accepting proposals for presenting at our annual TCEA Area 7 Technology Conference to be held June 12, 2009, in White Oak ISD at White Oak Middle School (outside of Longview, TX).

Scheduled to be featured presenters are Dean Shareski, Alec Couros, and Jennifer Wagner along with great Texas talents Maria Henderson, Stephanie Sandifer, Randy Rogers, the GIS team from Bishop Dunne High School (Christine Voigt, Kyle Stevens, and Paul R. Wood), Diana Benner, 2009 TCEA Educator of the Year Pam Cranford, Janet Corder, and Joan Gore

One of the highlights of the day will be the closing session where some of the featured presenters will face off in a “Cool Tools Duel” sharing what they feel are the best online Web 2.0 tools available for educators in a rapid-fire style event (60-120 seconds per tool). This will allow all attendees to leave with a list of new things to try over the summer in preparation for the new school year.

Our local staff who were 2009 TCEA attendees are being asked to present at least one session at our conference sharing what they learned and implemented. Maybe you are asking your teachers to do the same in your district, and this is their chance to present to others. We already have sessions lined up for wikis, paperless classrooms, tools for the primary teachers, and Nings. But we need more!

The session might be a round table discussion about how to use different technologies in the classroom now and in the future, or it can demonstrate how you have used technology with your students, campus, or district this year. We would love more sessions on opensource software use, electronic portfolios, technology assessment (both educator and student), core area technology integration, elementary technology sessions, remote hosting/cloud computing, classes that have switched to electronic textbooks, and more.

Since we have all levels of educators that attend (admin, network directors, multiple grade levels, multiple levels of experience, etc), you can present on pretty much any tech topic at any level of expertise. If you presented at TCEA in Austin this year, submitted a proposal to submit (that did not get accepted), or are working on one to present at 2010 TCEA, feel free to use that same session in Area 7 for our conference. We anticipate having 50 minute sessions with 250 attendees.

We have a web form created for you to submit your session proposal online. This helps us organize the conference much easier than paper. We need to have your submission within the next three weeks in order for us to get our programs created and printed. We ask that you have everything submitted no later than the end of the school day on May 22, 2009. You will find the form here:

If you are interested in just attending the event, that is okay, too.  Registration is $25 for both members and non-members (free for presenters), and it includes the conference, Bodacious BBQ luncheon, a vendor area, and plenty of door prizes. Watch the Area 7 page on the TCEA site for registration information.  I also have updated information in the Area 7 Tech Conference Moodle located at  There you will find an agenda, session listings (as they come in), vendor information, registration information, directions, and any updates to the conference including presenter handouts.  We will have on-site registration at the same $25 rate as well, but we prefer at least a heads-up on your anticipated attendance so that we can have plenty of promo bags and lunch for everyone.

We look forward to a great conference on June 12th and hope to have your participation. Email me for more information –

Open Season for Opensource

I have the opportunity to co-present with Michael Gras and Miguel Guhlin at Tech Forum Southwest on Friday. Find below the session summary and the slideshow I prepared for the roundtable discussion. It is pretty cool to be asked to present at the same one day conference as David Warlick, Miguel Guhlin, and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach. Who knows? Maybe the bandwidth will play nice and we can UStream the session.

Open Source Goes to School
Christine Weiser (moderator); Miguel Guhlin, Scott Floyd and Michael Gras
Is education ready for free, open source solutions to education problems? According to our presenters, the answer is YES. They will share examples of how open source technology is allowing for open knowledge sharing—the creation of a global table at which student and educators share ideas—while saving money that can be used for staffing and other much-needed resources. Learn how students, teachers and administrators in their districts are using open-source software, including Moodle, NeoOffice, OpenOffice, WordPress and Joomia, to create an online world compatible with but outside the bounds of costly, proprietary software.

Miguel Guhlin

Scott Floyd and Michael Gras

Tech Forum Southwest

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: scott_s_floyd techforum)

SUPERNet IT Summit

Photo Credit: Michael Gras

I had the opportunity to speak with directors of technology, curriculum directors, and other school leaders at Chapel Hill High School. The event was sponsored by SUPERNet Consortium. SUPERNet is a collaborative of twenty-six rural schools that originally banded together to share technology resources, evolved into one of the most successful virtual high schools in Texas, and is now poised to become technology integration leaders for our portion of Texas.

They are on the cusp of getting it. Many of them have, but now most of them are. They realize that the curriculum drives the technology. That is part of what this meeting was about. I was sharing my experiences of working through the process in White Oak ISD as well as what we feel that we still have ahead of us.  Feel free to give it a listen (if you have 1:45 to spare). I am always open to criticism and other comments. I also added the PDF of the Keynote presentation as well. You will get the gist of when I move on to the next slide, I think.

One of the questions asked was about how we handle copyright. If you have read my blog before now, you have seen a post or two about this. We have not had ANY issues with this in our district. We are blessed with a very professional staff. So, that is where my response went. We train our staff on utilizing Creative Commons Share Alike images, video, audio, and other items. We ask our campus administrators to make sure to inform us if additional training is needed. If a situation comes up, we would handle it with that person on a one to one basis. If it is a repeated event, we would handle it however the campus administrator and superintendent prefers. The ultimate responsibility is on the teacher. When a copyright question came up during a presentation at TCEA last year, I called ATPE and got my response. Those are the folks covering my rear in court. The school district would not be responsible for that if they have tried to show me the light. I must repeat again, our staff is very professional. I cannot tell you how much easier that makes my job.

There was an interesting question that came up after the mic was off and I was packing up. An IT from Tyler ISD approached me with the question of how we handle public information requests concerning the blogs. I have to say, I did not have a clear cut answer. The simple, honest response is that the information is already public, so they can just print it off if they want it. There really is no need to put in paperwork to get it. We do not hide our teacher blogs. The other side of my mind is wondering about a post that creates an issue (which I hope never happens), so the teacher deletes it. Then a parent shows up wanting a copy of it. How is that handled? That is the question that has me stumped. I know we will have regular backups of our WPMU site, but what are the chances we catch it while an offending post is live? Feel free to comment below.

I would also like to thank my PLN for all of the PD you give me on a daily basis. Sometimes you feed my current beliefs. Sometimes you smack me down and change my mind. Other times, you challenge my thinking, and who knows where that will go. In my presentation I used material from Chris Lehmann, Dean Shareski, Dr. Scott McLeod, Miguel Guhlin, Kim Estes, Dr. Helen Barrett, and Darren Draper (who still has iTunes U K-12 while Texas doesn’t). There is no telling who I drew ideas from over the years, but I assure you this. If you are in my PLN, you are making a difference. Not only for me, but for every kid that ends up being affected by what I say through the people that hear it. Thanks to you. Stop by when you are in Texas and I’ll buy you some BBQ. Or Mexican.

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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