Lead, follow, collaborate, or get out of the way.

Photo Credit: notanalternative

[Background: For some insight into the argument presented below, let me
share this. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) uses a government subset organization called Texas Education Telecommunications Network (TETN) to share TEA updates and other material via a distance learning network. School districts must pay to receive those connections. As budgets have been crunched due to continued shortfall funding by Texas leadership, school districts have had to trim away even the important things. You know, the things you should be getting for free like state mandated updates. This is not a plea for TETN to be free for all of their services. They also offer DL sessions for classrooms that many find very useful.]

Notes from TECSIG, October 2 & 3, 2008:

TEA – Let me begin by saying, I truly respect Anita Givens. Her work on behalf of public education and technology has been tremendous. We are lucky to have her in the new position she now holds. But I believe respect between two professionals is appreciated most when there is some honest pushback and not just a bunch of agreement. (It is the reason I like Gary Stager and the work he does.)

While TEA may rest on the idea/reason/excuse of cash-strapped and man-power lean, the rest of us are in the same boat but are utilizing the free technologies that are out there for us. Government is not thinking that way. Government wants to place a high price tag on what it does because it makes it seem more important, I presume. As a public school district employee, I find it extremely important to have timely policy and program updates from my governing body. Cost should not be an inhibitor.

A few years back I blogged about how another state passed a bill requiring all government offices to consider free, opensource options when looking at alternatives. Texas does not do that. For too many years we have listened to our state’s leadership talk about how transparent school districts need to be. Texas government doesn’t do that either.

So, to TEA, my suggestion is a simple, classic line heard many times: Lead, follow, or get out of the way. And let me add one more to that. Consider this turn of that phrase: Lead, follow, collaborate, or get out of the way. If you cannot make the system better for any of a long list of reasons, let us help. Somehow we are able to harness the free resources that are out there for our schools and classrooms. Let us use those same systems to get the word out about new programs, policy changes, and important deadlines. Don’t claim some false statement of copyright (which you do not have in this instance anyway thanks to Texas Sunshine Laws) and slow down the information superhighway. We are not talking about private conversations here. We are talking about large group policy and program updates. You know, the stuff you and the tax payers expect us to live up to.

While we can go ahead and repost the information without repercussions, it would be nice for TEA to step up and applaud the fact that Texas educators care enough about their state system and local school districts that they are willing to be a part of the solution to make it the best it can be. Why anyone would think or do otherwise is incomprehensible. We do not extend our personal learning just to aggravate the state. We’ve better things to do.

As an aside: Please don’t tell me that TEA has been “telling you for eight years” about a tech literacy assessment. We both know that is a cop out. Sure, NCLB came out then and it is a part of that, but there has never even been a hint of holding anyone accountable until May 9th when you folks shared it with the limited number of people in attendance that day. Even still, the limited funds that MIGHT be lost by ignoring the mandate is not enough to move many districts to act. Why districts would choose to defy assessment now in as an important area as any is ridiculous, with our without the consequences. But I digress. I know it was a statement made as more of a defensive measure than one that was thought out.

TETN – These folks are in a bubble of sorts. They want to be relevant. They need the money stream to stay afloat. Yet, they have become an old version of what we use now with online tools. They are the land line compared to the cell phone. The HBO to NetFlix and iTunes. The post office to email.

What if you propose to place Marco Torres’s decision-making self-reflection on it: “Complain, Innovate, or Quit.” TETN is in the Complain stage. The problem with that? They’re a vendor. How long will they survive in that spot? Relevance is a limited state of being. Remember that. Go for Marco’s second option in that list. Please.

Yes, there was more to those two days in Austin than TEA and TETN, but let’s face it. We all go there to hear what is expected of us next. Yes, Apple did a fine job of professional development the first day. Maria Henderson is always pure genius (even if her old links are dead due to the Mobile.me upgrade. Sigh.). So, if you want to know more about them, go to one of their offerings for school district administrators.

But, if you want to be a part of TEA opening the virtual doors to their massive amounts of information, become part of the solution. If you want to stand in the way because you have nothing productive to do, you’re wasting your time. You cannot hold up progress. The Texas Legislature meets in January. I’ve started my game plan. Have you?

What does it take to be on the Texas SBOE? I’ll let you decide.

So you think you know who is running Texas education, huh? Well, take this little quiz provided by Texas Monthly to see just how knowledgeable you are about the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE). When you are finished, do me a favor. Come back here and leave me a comment and let me know which thing(s) surprised you the most.  Then register to vote in the upcoming SBOE elections after you find the right person to represent you/us.  Then consider visiting this place:

UPDATE 9/23/08: In the comments below, Scott Laleman asked about who made up the candidates in the races. I am listing them here with the incumbent named first:

District 2 – Mary Helen Berlanga (D) vs. Peter H. Johnston (R)
District 7 – David Bradley (R) vs. Laura Ewing (D)
District 13 – Mavis B. Knight (D) vs. Cindy Werner (R)
District 14 – Gail Lowe (R) vs. Edra Bogle (D)


District 6 – Terri Leo (R)
District 8 – Barbara Cargill (R)
District 11 – Pat Hardy (R)

Find information on registering to vote, click HERE.

My good friend and fellow education advocate, Brock Gregg, has written an article each of the last two months about just this situation. Take a look at them:

Never Make an English Teacher Mad

The Seven Dirtiest Words: Educators who show up at the polls

This is good stuff from a man is who well respected around the Capitol by all participants in the process.

UPDATE 12/04/08 – Yep. She’s on the state board. Who elects these people?

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.

TechForum Southwest Notes – Roundtable with Anita Givens

The following are my few notes from my short meeting with Anita Givens and three other school districts held 11/2007. They are strictly my thoughts/perceptions/views/etc.

tech funding to support LRPT – will be asking for new money every session headed toward 75 to 100 per student

hb 2864 (point person – Richard Lagow) –

  • renewal for second year will place priority on first year districts looking at number of students served;
  • in other words, if we do 200 this year, we will get first consideration for 200 next year then second consideration with the additional students;
  • Anita suggests get in this year, or be prepared to miss out on the money next year due to limitations of renewal money amounts (My note as of 1/10/08 – This grant processing is not going well at TEA due to limited funds and more interest than expected; legislators should fund higher next year)

K12 databases being worked on

sb1788 (point person – Anita Givens) –

  • not funded, but what can we do until it is funded;
  • creating criteria for dl classes;
  • criteria for educators PD and certification;
  • look at web-based learning site for progress of this process;
  • if student is getting full day’s worth of ADA on a campus, they are going to be eligible to take up to two online course for additional ADA;
  • requires teacher to have PD about teaching online before they qualify to teach DL course; taking NCOL to help with standards/criteria for each area (student and faculty);
  • these standards must be in place 6 months prior to implementation;
  • bill says open program by 08-09, but no funding or time right now to get it all done in time, maybe by mid-year;
  • will not lose ADA based on taking online coursework, funding is lost via the network providing the courses;
  • districts will have autonomy to create their own VHS networks, rules are permissive to allowing students to take courses from other networks;
  • build ADA off kids in private schools and homeschooled;
  • “we do not get docked for having a kid fail and repeating a year so why would we get extra money for a kid that succeeded a year early?” (My response was that the doctor does not give me my money back for the visit and/or prescriptions when he does not heal me either.);

Tech Assessment Pilot –

  • going out for RFP to figure out costs;
  • waiting for this process to take place before proposal hits ISD’s;
  • vendor side takin gplace this month, maybe March-May to get it in place;

Notes for after event:

email Richard Lagow about our elementary online coursework

ask about textbook updates for software between adoptions, etc

I would like to thank Mrs. Givens for taking the time our of her schedule to meet with us at that event. It is refreshing to be able to talk to a face instead of a voice mail these days. Her candid answers are exactly what we need to be able to guide us in our planning. Sometimes what is not said is almost as powerful as what is said. Thanks again!

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Google Maps and the Political Machine

googlemaps_politicsThanks to Google Maps Mania for the link, you can view the caucus results for Iowa inside Google Maps to see which precinct voted which direction for their 2008 presidential primary. An even neater use of this is the sidebar that has current topical links to articles, videos, and even a “How the caucuses work” article link. How sweet is that? Those Google guys and gals are some innovative folks. Wonder if it has anything to do with the fact they get 20% of their work week for personal interest research and projects? Maybe? 

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Artist of the Day Dead After Just Ten Years

threat_levelDan Pink recently posted a short quote from a presidential candidate (from a NY Sun article).

“Education is only a true education if we’re developing both the left and right brain of the student,” Mr. Huckabee told scores of bloggers listening in person and on the phone. “The left brain is great for math and science and all the logical forms of education, but knowing what to do with what a student has learned is as important as what they’ve learned. Music and art, teaching the stimulation of the creative side, is absolutely critical to a total well-rounded education.”

Finally, here is a discussion of substance about education. I was wondering how long we had to go during this election cycle before we heard something more than “We need to fund our education system better” (like we have not heard that before and are still in need of it). While I may or may not agree with everything this candidate is saying during the campaign, he at least is saying the right thing here. And the media needs to listen and promote this. The rest of society needs to understand why their kids “have no common sense” or know the true answer to “What were you thinking?” (when no thinking was really going on during the bad decision). Our students are left with little or no opportunity to explore their creative side once the standardized tests kick in. It’s not fair to them, and it actually takes away a lot of the fun of teaching (remember I went from teaching primary to middle school). So you can imagine how it takes away a lot of the fun of learning.

Then that leads to the entire conversation Dan Pink started with his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers will Rule the Future. Even the 2.oh students are talking about it on their blogs. Anthony Chivetta wrote a post about “Teaching the Process of Design” to students. Funny thing is, design is dependent on design:

I would argue that the reason watching student videos can at times be excruciatingly painful is that they lack a cohesive design. Often, they represent a hodgepodge of ideas strewn together with very little thought to creating a unified whole. However, when students begin with picking a thesis, and then work from that thesis, a pattern, a design, begins to emerge. When the question for every single decision is “what supports my thesis?” those awkward transitions, strange cuts, and random transitions begin to make sense.

I have to say I agree here. Much of what is needed to be true designers comes from the ability to organize the design ahead of time. That come in so many fashions from basically every core subject taught in school. Papers make no sense without organization. Math results are wrong with corrupt organization. Science experiments go awry with disjointed organization. History makes no sense with a disorganized presentation of the facts.

Proper design forces abstract thinking. Abstract thinking engages the right brain. Engagement of the right brain generates new ideas, products, manipulation and processing of data, and visions. 

If we just model correct design through curricular creation and delivery, expect the same high levels of design quality from our students through problem based learning, and showcase the products with exemplary design, then maybe, just maybe, others will notice the importance. It may be just a detail in learning. But as they say, the devil is in the details. It separates the winners form the losers. In our students’ futures, it will separate the have’s from the have not’s.

So to go full circle with this somewhat rambling post…..pay attention to the presidential candidates. While we all know Congress holds the real power, we must recognize a true visionary in the White House can lead to a more innovative (some will call it catch-up) vision for education. It is about time.

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Oh. no. he. didn’t.

threat_levelCNN/YouTube Republican Debate on November 27, 2007:

In Wednesday’s CNN/YouTube debate, Sen. John McCain let slip a fairly stunning admission. The Arizona Republican assured viewers that he wouldn’t need to lean on his vice president, George W. Bush-style, for national security expertise, but might “rely on a vice president” for help on less important issues such as “information technology, which is the future of this nation’s economy.”

Surely he didn’t say that. Right? I mean, how could he consider information technology “less important” while also saying the “future of this nation’s economy” is built around it? Herein lies our problems.

Legislators and congressmen are really good about trumpeting the importance of technology and its use in the classroom. They seem to realize its importance in the future of our society (as evidenced by the economy statement) and that without question our nation’s teachers and students should be masters of its use. Graduating high school and college students without the prerequisite technology skills is considered a travesty. But then they turn back around and either cut/eliminate spending on edtech or say something stupid like what the presidential hopeful said above. When it comes to technology, presidents and other national leaders have had such classic statements as “the Google” or “the Internets.” There is more than one? Are you kidding me? And we should vote for people like that? What if these same folks said things like “those Irans” or “I will only get consultation on less important things like hunger in America.” Would we accept that from a national leader we have elected to be our representative in the international spotlight?

When you consider we are on the verge of standardized testing for technology proficiency in Texas, surely we need someone who understands that you cannot teach such skills without the equipment. Equipment requires funding. Then again, it really is not about the equipment directly but more indirectly. Still, you cannot do it without the required materials.

You see, the aforementioned candidate does have it right in one way. A priority is information literacy. Our students and staff need to understand the importance of navigating the overwhelming amount of information they are receiving at ever increasing speeds. Students are required to master more and more earlier and earlier. Why they do not have the manipulation of much of that information channeled through technology tools (hardware and software, fixed and mobile, direct source and collaborative, etc.) is a little disheartening. It is cheating them in many aspects because they are going to face it in that manner after the PK-12 days are over whether they are prepared or not.

It is too easy to say the problem with our politicians is caused by a generational gap. That is ludicrous to consider as a valid excuse in today’s times (we don’t accept with our educators). What if we allow politicians to place the same treatment on other issues near and dear to our hearts? Literacy. Health Care. Poverty. AIDS.

So again I must ask, is this the type of comment we want any of our leaders to make?

I am not endorsing any candidate or party within this post. What I am advocating is that we make ourselves more educated on the candidates with the issues important to our classes full of kids, not to mention our personal futures as citizens in this great nation. McCain is expecting his VP to understand such trivial topics like information technology. Isn’t it very likely his VP choice would come from the group of folks standing next to him on the debate stage? Don’t believe that “your” candidate can just have someone really good on staff to take care of what they do not know about. They must truly understand the importance of the issues.

By the way, were you aware that one of the parties nearly did not have a CNN/YouTube debate? Too many of its candidates were scared of what it (the ability for citizens to ask questions via video online) had to offer. Funny how technology can do that to the uninformed. Don’t let our students end up like that. Uninformed in technology = illiterate in technology. Illiterate in technology = “Would you like fries with that?”

Thanks to a Tweet from Carolyn Foote (librarian at Westlake High School in Austin, TX) for bringing the article to my attention.

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Rock the Web – 07-08 National Youth Presidential Forum

rock_the_webHey history and social studies teachers!  Here is a great chance to get your kids involved with the upcoming election in a 21st Century way.  Here is what their site has to say about the event:

On November 14, 2007, The EWN Foundation together with the Lou Frey Institute of Politics and Government at The University of Central Florida, The Presidential Classroom and The United States Association of Former Members of Congress will conduct a three hour National Youth Presidential Forum (NYPF). The NYPF will be webcast to an estimated 25 million students, who will be first time voters.

Presidential Candidates will participate in the Forum from remote locations of their choice. The candidates will field questions from a moderator and students representing the Presidential Classroom. After the webcast, students will participate in an on-line vote for the candidate they would choose in the 2008 Presidential Election. Student’s feedback about the candidates’ responses will be collected and provided to the candidates after the event.

Each student will receive a login code from their teacher, 7-10 days before the event. They will pre-register to vote at www.rocktheweb.org. There will be pre-event class work assigned by the teachers. Then each student will attend the event at their respective venues. After the event, each student will receive a unique ballot code that will enable them to return to the web site and cast a vote and complete a survey about the Forum.

The goal of the NYPF is to increase the knowledge of our youth and to promote participation in the upcoming 2008 Presidential Election.

Check out the Rock the Web site for information and registration. 

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It’s Someday, but Tomorrow’s a Comin’

easystreetI have recently been a party to a common conundrum schools face daily. This time it is with an organization, but it still truly pertains to schools as well.

How exactly do we utilize the new technology tools we push so hard to get teachers to integrate when we are so worried about the negative outcomes we have yet to see?

I find it odd to be in this position as a leading organization, personally, but it is a valid, current argument. So is this the type of thing that begins honest, open, valuable debate? Is this where the real learning starts? I sure hope so.

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Ammo…Currency for the new Millennium

bumper_sticker I was in Florida on vacation with my family when I came across this bumper sticker. While, its intended meaning was not, how I would say educational, it definitely drove my mind into the educational arena for whatever reason.

I have spent the last year and a half reading, listening, and learning about 21st century students, classrooms, and learning. David Warlick, Wes Fryer, Miguel Guhlin, Vicki Davis, and more have all been great examples for me to follow in this new area. While I have always felt that I was on the cutting edge of instruction with technology, I realized that I was… only it was the edge just ahead of the rest of my district. It was not the edge that my students were teetering on.

Their edge is dangerous. It has few boundaries and requires them to take risks to learn new skills. Their edge is the manipulation of multiple environments virtually to engage with others of like interests. Their edge is scaring the living daylights out of teachers everywhere so much so that new rules are being written almost daily to halt the tide. But why?

What the kids know, and few of us do, is that the future is now. Technology is just a tool to comprehend, adjust, manipulate, collaborate, integrate, mash-up, publish, and communicate. Technology is just a tool to share, envision, enlist, create, and orchestrate. Technology is just a tool. And every tool has a use. Our students are using this tool. Sometimes the right way, sometimes not. Ever hear your dad say, “If you are not going to use a (insert tool name here) the right way, don’t use it at all.” That is where we are at. Sometimes the tool is not used the right way, but it is mainly because we have not shown students how to do that. That is mainly because so many of us do not know how to do it ourselves.


So what does this all have to do with a bumper sticker seen on the back of a rusted, black primered 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am on Dale Mabry Boulevard in Tampa, Florida, on a balmy summer evening in June of 2007? Ammo. Plain and simple. The ammo our students use, to be exact. It is most definitely the currency of the new millennium. It is the currency that will deliver them into the new millennium with strength and knowledge beyond our comprehension. It is the ammo that we build our profession on. It is the ammo that we use to build our skills as professionals. The ammo? Information.

David Warlick and others have said many times, it is not the technology that is the focus. It is the information. He lists three things about information and how it has changed: 1. information has become increasingly networked, 2. It is increasingly digital, 3. We are overwhelmed by information.

Information is networked.  I read and hear about people continually frustrated about their children memorizing odd facts to regurgitate back on to tests (capitals of states, major crops for regions, etc).  I am fine with asking kids to know these things.  No, let me restate that.  I am fine with asking kids to know how to find these things.  Right now it is as simple as Google.  I am also fine with asking kids to remember these things AFTER engaging activities to learn them.  Webquests, wikipedia searches, Google searches, informational videos/podcasts creation, wiki creation, fictional newscasts, and more can all give them these experiences.  The point is, these kids can access and share information in ways they never could before.  Networked.  Yes, they are, and yes it is.

Information is digital.  This is pretty simple to demonstrate.  In 2002 alone, people around the world created so much new information (mostly digital), it could fill 500,000 Libraries of Congress.  If it were not in digital format, where would we house it all?  How would we and our students ever access it in an efficient manner?  Blogs, wikis, and other digital tools are the avenue to which this information is being created.  And that was nearly six years ago.  Can you imagine now?

That easily leads to David’s last point: we are overwhelmed by information.  Easily, this is the most fundamental reason to be using new read/write web tools in the classroom.  Yes, we are overwhelmed by what is out there.  our students are not.  Yet if we sit back and do not offer them the chance to use tools that will allow them to wade through the mass, they will just grab the first ring they pass by and claim it to be accurate and factual.  Consider these two sites:  Dog Island & Tree Octopus.  Both are very believable.  Both are very false.  Could you tell the difference if you were a kid?

We have not even hit on the ability to use and process this information in appropriate ways.  That is a lengthy topic for another post, but start with this and this.

I am not preaching the “tech only” way of instruction.  Putting a computer in front of a student (or teacher for that matter) does not a lesson make.  Nor does it build new knowledge and higher level thinking without proper use.  Technology is a tool. Or should I say that technology is the key.  It can open doors for our kids in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Probably the most telling quote comes from Net Generation Comes of Age, written by Dr. Larry Rosen, Cal State professor who has been studying this generation of kids. He says,

“A baby boomer and even a Gen X would say, “Well, I use the Internet” or “I use my cell phone a lot” or “I text message” and so on. Gen X learned how to use technology, whereas the Net Gen kids were raised steeped in technology and they don’t use it, it just simply is.”

Technology allows our students to do new things with old and new stuff that will drive our future and theirs. It is the information that guides our futures. It is the information that causes us to think and operate at higher levels. It is the technology that allows us to collaborate, communicate, and create new things with information.

So as you begin this new experience of integrating technology, keep these things in mind. Regardless of the content area you teach in, your students need the ammo that only you can provide. Let them use technology to process it, and you will be impressed with the outcome.


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