Photo Credit: jonjomckay

I am really trying to understand this. Truly.

Congress promises $1 billion in new funding for ALL public schools to share for technology infrastructure. You know, the same infrastructure that hiccuped during the inauguration due to overload.

Now, the United States Post Office is saying it might need a $6 billion boost just to stay even for this year.

So….. new technologies gets 1/6th the stimulus money of snail mail? New technologies are available 24/7 while snail mail may go down to 5 days of delivery and WILL cost more to use? And have you even tried to get to the post office before they close these days?

Can someone say Sacred Cow?


Photo Credit: sunsurfr

I have been struggling with encouraging others to understand the importance of changes in the classroom. Don’t get me wrong. We have terrific buy-in with the ideas we are implementing, but it only takes one or two folks to slow down that progress. When we have teachers on campuses do more with less, it is a little frustrating to see those with more doing little to nothing.  As a superintendent from west Texas told me one time, “The only person who likes change is a baby with a loaded diaper.”

Well, my virtual buddy Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach posted about change this week on her blog. She did it so eloquently I thought I would just re-post it below. Thanks for saying it so well, Sheryl.

Someone in a community I belong to recently said, “Why should teachers change? We are asking them to work harder, do things in a new way, unlearn the old ways of doing things, and when they do all that we have asked we do what? Tell them thanks? I know we don’t give them more money. Maybe if they are really lucky we ask them to help the others who just don’t seem to get it. What a reward!

I face the same problems, some jump on board and others don’t, and I have started asking myself why should they change?”

Why change?

Here’s why– you change for the same reason you went into teaching in the first place. You change because what you do for a living was never just a job- but more a mission. You change because you are willing to do whatever it takes to make a significant difference in the lives of the students you teach. You change because you care deeply about kids and you know that unless you personally own these new skills and literacies you will not be able to give them to your students.

Why change? You change because of all the people in the world- teachers understand the value of being a lifelong learner. You change because you know intuitively relationships matter and you are interested in leaving a legacy to your kids– through what you do for other’s kids. You change because you understand learning is dynamic and that to not change means to quit growing.

Why change? Because you made the decision when you first became a teacher to do something that was larger than life and more meaningful than money, recognition, and status. You became a teacher because of change– the changes in the world you wanted to make one kid at a time. You change because you want to do what is right– simply because it *is* the right thing to do and you understand the need to model for others so they can do what is right as well. You are use to hard work and long hours. You are use to commitment with little recognition. You know what you do has lasting results.

You change because the world has changed and you know that not challenging the status quo is the riskiest thing you can do at this point. You change because you love learning and you love children and you know they need you to lead the way in this fast paced changing world and to do that you have to find your own way first. That is why you and they should change.

That pretty much sums it up

Updated 1/28 with photo quote created by Dean Shareski:

Are you a bench warmer?

While reading through the 2009 Horizon Report, I came across a quote that caught my eye. It was the same one that Will and others spotted as well:

Increasingly, those who use technology in ways that expand their global connections are more likely to advance, while those who do not will find themselves on the sidelines.

This statement goes for educators, administrators, students, and even organizations. Yes, organizations as well. I would even say that is some key advice for parents as well.

So, the question becomes, do you “quit, complain, or innovate?” – Marco Torres, 10/06

Still Thinking on the Virtual Education vs F2F

Photo Credit: me

Since I posted earlier on the subject, I have been struggling with what a completely virtual education would be like (hence the second cloudy picture in two posts on this topic). Obviously, I have the opportunity to be a virtual teacher for Florida Virtual Schools just like any other educator. I tried to put myself in that position. Then, I wondered about my son being put in the virtual only environment as an elementary student. It is so far out there that it is difficult to imagine. Mind you, I did my Masters in that environment, but I am an adult. We are talking K-12 in Florida now. How does one pull that off? What does it look like? Is there an ultimate vision for this setting that has yet to be reached?

Dean has a post with his take on this topic (sort of). He discusses the pros and cons of both face to face (f2f) meetings and those online. He makes great points about both. What I wonder, though, is if a distinction can be made for required classes where base-level knowledge is the goal (like most standards-based courses in public schools) compared to elected advanced core courses. Now, I realize the depth of knowledge and comprehension can be much greater when good conversation surrounds the topic, but let’s face it. Few of our kids love studying core subjects and just want to accelerate their progress to get to where THEY want to be (college, trade school, career, etc). If they can finish a core area subject at an accelerated rate at an adequate (whatever that is) level of comprehension, who are we to slow him or her down?

Dean also says (emphasis mine), “But the richness of conversations and willingness to be open and
transparent is difficult to foster in 3 hours a week where much of that
learning is teacher directed.” That is a good point. In a post-secondary setting, he makes great sense with that since the students are basically strangers gathering a few times a week to move forward in their personal, individual college plans.

In a public school, though, the kids all know each other. Then again, that could be the downfall. They know who will accept their input and who will not. We all know that occurs and limits many students’ participation. For example, I remember very clearly sitting in an English course in junior college. The topic had to do with conflicts and how they change literature. The specific time period we were talking about needed more context than the textbook provided to be clearly understood. So I did what any learner should do. I shared a number of things including how the Hessians played a role against the American revolutionaries. One student sarcastically replied with something offhand like, “That is ridiculous that you would even know that.” Being polite, I said, “Well, sorry about that.” The teacher quickly interrupted saying when we get to the point where we have to apologize for having knowledge, she would quit teaching.  While I did not go recluse in the class, I did not share so easily from that point forward. So does the protected cloaking of an online course allow a personality to shine through in all of its intelligence? Mind you, we are talking about students who voluntarily move into online courses.

Gary Stager adds in his valuable two cents as well:

  • First of all, the fact that kids have decided to avoid schooling and accept an alternative, any alternative should neither surprise nor encourage us. Dropping out may be the most rational response to the current system that will not be improved one bit by kids opting out for correspondence school.
  • What is lost when you never meet a teacher face-to-face? Is education merely the objective exchange of questions and answers? Of teaching and being taught?
  • While I remain a great supporter of the affordances offered learners by well-designed online learning environments (I have fifteen years worth of experience teaching online), the Florida Virtual School was not created out of pure intentions. One needs only to look at the new state law requiring online alternatives to school for every elementary school student and it’s easy to conclude that the Florida Virtual School is first and foremost a stealth plan for privatizing public education and cutting costs. Jeb Bush achieved what his ideological brethren only dreamed of by offering a scheme to parents that sounds futuristic. It is impossible to see this news in an apolitical context.

While Gary has a snarky way of saying things, you gotta love the depth of his thinking about this (and pretty much everything). I happen to agree that it is a perfect way for states to begin to privatize education. It will never do away with public education because many parents count on the school day to watch the kids while they are at work, but it will draw many away. Does that mean classism becomes a part of the problem now? Only the students whose parents can afford to stay home and focus on the kids’ education enter the online arena? Would the test scores be reflective of that make-up? Would the state quit funding (like they do anyway) new buildings for public schools because they can build virtual ones for a fraction of a percent? So does that mean kids still going to public school would be in sub-standard buildings?

Seriously, can you see what I am talking about when I say these things have been swirling in my mind way too much lately. I had to get some of them out so maybe something would gel for me. This is pretty much a brain dump post, but maybe you will find something and latch onto it. Jump into the comments and straighten me out. Please.

Textbooks, Technology, and Funding Revisited

The discussion on the TECSIG list serve has begun to echo some of the thoughts I have shared on here recently. The conversation began on the list serve when the Austin American Statesman posted an article titled “Should textbooks or technology be Texas’ spending priority?”  The money quote for those that advocate on behalf of public education within the Texas legislature is this one:

A 19th-century concept of learning is holding back Texas from bringing school technology into the present, some legislators say.

State Representative Dan Branch, also a member of the House Public Education Committee, shared that he felt “A textbook is a vehicle for content.  That vehicle is quickly becoming a horse and buggy.” Then the Statesman threw out this staggering statistic:

Since 1992, the state has allocated each year $30 per student for technology, which totals about $134 million in the current budget.

The bill for textbooks in the 2008-2009 budget was $496 million and will reach $913 million in the upcoming budget. Almost all of the $1.15 billion from the Permanent School Fund in the 2010-11 budget will be needed to pay for textbooks.

Why do we keep paying the textbook companies SO MUCH money when the things are virtually outdated almost immediately. Why do we not focus more attention within the curriculum and instruction side on how technology can help make the instructional process of delivering that content more efficient and timely.  Well, here is a TED Talks video from Richard Baraniuk that takes this thought a bit further:

So maybe opensource textbooks are a little too far fetched for what we do in public schools, you know, with standards and all. Rice University has been doing it for awhile now, though. But what it does not curtail us from doing is being proactive and collaborating on resources that we KNOW are good for what we are doing in our classrooms. If we cannot count on the textbook companies to be forward thinking and designing a textbook system that allows us as teachers and students to have access to the most recent changes in our field of study, then we must as educators find, create, and share resources that will do that for us. It is called collaboration. It is called being proactive and affecting positive change.

With that in mind, Seth Godin posts this morning on the worst business mistake he ever made. He ignored the internet when it was in its early stages. He wrote books about it and even taught others how to utilize it, but he ignored it himself. He calls it simply his “biggest business mistake.” So why did he ignore it then? Consider his reflection:

Because the rules of this new business didn’t match the rules of my existing business. (emphasis his)

Does this correlate to ANYTHING we are doing in Texas education? Does it correlate to ANYTHING we are doing in TCEA? Does it correlate to ANYTHING you are doing in your classroom?

Just a reminder to Texas educators. The 81st Texas Legislature convenes in January. What are your plans to be a part of it?

Will my son see the inside of a high school classroom?

Or will this be what his classroom looks like?

Will Richardson blogged recently about a conference he attended where he heard Andy Ross, vice-president of Florida Virtual High School speak. The quote does not need much lead-in, so here it is:

Finally, I think the conversation that most blew me away was the one with Andy Ross, the VP of Florida Virtual High School. They’ve got almost 1,000 full time staff now and over 20,000 kids on their waiting list to take classes. They can’t hire teachers fast enough. Kids can take their entire high school curriculum online without ever meeting a teacher face to face, though there are plenty of phone calls and e-mails. Andy said that their research shows that those kids do better on the standardized assessments than kids in physical schools, primarily because of the deep alignment of the curriculum and the programmed delivery.

Will’s reflections got me to wondering about where my son will be attending high school six and a half years from now. Sure, if it has four walls and a physical teacher, it will be White Oak High School. But, if it is a virtual environment that he excels in for whatever reason, then that is an option he will obviously have available. Texas has already started down that road, albeit years after Florida took the lead. Our own East Texas Virtual High School via SUPRNet has been ahead of the game (and the rest of Texas) on this as well since they visited Florida in the beginning to help get started on the right track.

Yet, we are talking 6.5 years from now. That’s like 30 years in tech life. How far along will we and our technologies be by then? Will Cisco Telepresence be the home solution? Or will it be like CNN’s holograms or more like a real hologram?

Regardless, consider the technologies we use and take for granted today, and think back five years. Yeah. Tremendous, huh? My son has some awesome times ahead of him. Will Texas public schools be ready? Will TCEA be a part of that preparation? Florida already is. They even have openings for Texas elementary teachers to work from home. That means they are taking OUR kids out of OUR classes and OUR teachers from OUR students. Now. How far behind are we?

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach mentioned at a conference recently, “We are preparing kids with the end in mind, and we don’t even know what the end is.” She’s right. But let me take that one step further. We are planning, prepping, and funding our schools with the future in mind, and we don’t even know what the future holds. Can we even begin to plan keeping unimaginable learning environments in mind? Is it possible for us to get out of the mold where we expect 100% of our students (K-12) to arrive for learning on a bus instead of in their pajamas?

I’m not sounding the Armageddon Alarm for public schools. I’m just saying, if we all think the trends we are seeing in places like Florida are either going to pass us by or fade into another realm as the pendulum swings back, I think we are making a huge mistake. What are we doing in our state and school districts to prepare for this paradigm shift?

Facing reality might be a good start.

Using the “Bible” as the Ultimate Electronic Textbook Template

Photo Credit: Americo Nunes

I recently got a second generation iPod Touch. While reloading my content and adding a few new apps, I found a new Bible app that interested me. It requires the Internet, but it still is really awesome. You might wonder why I am blogging this on an educational blog. Well, it is because the textbook companies can take some cues from this handy little app. The features are very useful in studying this content, so I know it would benefit students in the classroom.

Some of the cool features I have found in it are:

Text Highlight – Once you find a passage you like, if you hold your fingertip on the passage for a second or so, a box pops up. It gives you several options:

  • Email to a Friend or Self – type in the address and it sends it
  • Bookmark Verse – just like it says, it bookmarks it
  • View Contribution – shows additional information one might find useful to aid in the understanding

Search – Full search of the text; the results are short links with summaries.

Daily Read – This is a daily devotional.

Languages – MANY, MANY languages. For English readers, there are nine translations of the Bible; but you will find 16 other languages with multiple translations available for the reader. This is so useful for our classrooms today. Imagine all of these translations in one easy to switch format. Two finger taps and you can go from any language to one of fifteen additional languages. Our ESL teachers would love it.

Table of Contents – It’s easy to search by Book and then Chapter. It’s even separated into the major sections of the Bible (books of Law, Books of History, Books of Poetry, etc).

Photo Credit: Me

Cool features it could use to be a functional eTextbook:

Daily Read – Turn the daily devotional into daily tips/hints based on the topic currently being studied. Even short Pop Quizzes would be cool.

Portable – It is a must that it be designed with the portable technologies in mind (ie. iPod Touch, iPhone, Smart Phones, PDA’s, Flash Drive).

– It should read the text to you. This would help in many situations with students (hearing impaired, ADD/ADHD, dyslexic, etc). Since the Gen 2 Touch has a small speaker built-in, this would be nice.

– The Bible app does not have any, but it is an easy add-on for the programmers.

– Take advantage of the video abilities of the Touch with informational and tutorial videos.

– Since Safari is built-in to the Touch, as is wireless, this is a no-brainer. Link to outside reliable sources. If the URL’s go dead over time, no biggie. Apps can be updated easily anytime via iTunes. Heck, iTunes even tells you if there is an update available.

– Take advantage of the touch screen for the visually impaired.

– Allow it to wirelessly print important information. One thought here is that the ability to email the important information allows this as well, just with a few more steps.

– Practices quizzes would be a really cool addition.

– Links to secure, online, graded tests would be a nice add-on for the teacher. Short answer, multiple choice, and matching are good options.

What else am I missing? What do you think should be a part of real electronic textbooks? Consider all of your needs as an educator and the needs of your diverse student population.