Who Moved My Tools?

First attempt at transparent screenWith credit to Spencer Johnson and his book, Who Moved My Cheese?, who moved my tools? The tools I’m referring to are the software tools that we rely on every day.

I’ve had a great time at NYSCATE so far, in the hands-on workshops that precede the regular conference. I spent two rewarding days with David Jakes – first in the workshop titiled, Creating Immersive Learning Environments with Mixed Media, followed by, Cartography on the Cutting Edge. David is a terrific educator who knows how to harness the value of technology while still focusing on the core learning literacies that are timeless.

In Thomas Friedman’s book, The World Is Flat, the world changed while we were not looking in terms of the global economy. Similarly, while we are busy using Word, PowerPoint, and every other installed program on our computers, the game has changed in that all of the software has moved to the web. There are many names for this – cloud computing, software as a service, browser-ware, etc. The bottom line is that the computer you type on is the vehicle that gets you to the software and content – all located on the web.

We spent two days talking about and beginning to build powerful environments for students and teachers – and all the tools are web-based (see list here from David’s site). There are pros and cons to this, but the fact is that web-based tools allow for RSS feeds, html code that is embedable, and a multitute of uses and a re-uses. The internet connection and browser become the only necessary resources to communicate, collaborate, and be productive. In this light, is it a suprise that Google jumped into the browser market with Chrome?

The web is the new slate on which we will be drawing our future – literally – how will we harness it and make it what we want it to be?

Image courtesy of JcMaco on Flickr.

Off to NYSCATE 2008

The annual state conference for educational technology, sponsored by NYSCATE, is this weekend. Just a few of the things I’m really looking forward to are…

…weekend workshops with David Jakes. David does incredible work in his district, and is very motivating to work with. He’s doing the Sunday keynote as well.

a ton of sessions on Monday & Tuesday – I’ve yet to pick the ones i’m attending, but there are lots of great choices.

…the other keynote speakers, Marc Prensky, Don Knezek and Gary Stager – what a lineup 🙂

…connecting and reconnecting with colleagues from my district and people met at previous conferences and online.

my session on Video in the Classroom, which is Tuesday from 8:45-9:45.

It’s going to be a fun, tiring, exciting time!

Image citation:
Reynolds, Peter. “Quest2008.” NYSCATE. 21 Nov. 2008 <http://www.nyscate.org/07/pix/quest2008.gif>.

WordCamp Toronto 2008

I’m excited about attending a geeky opportunity this weekend – WordCamp Toronto. WordCamp is a gathering of WordPress users held regionally around the world throughout the year (see this page for other WordCamps). Over two years ago I switched to using WordPress to power this blog, and never looked back. 🙂

One of the main attractions at WordCamp is a talk by the founding developer of WordPress, Matt Mullenweg. I think it’s just cool to be able to connect with someone like this in this setting. Looking at the list of attendees, I think I may be one of the only educators, but I’m looking forward to the conversations.

You may just see a whole pile of tweaks and changes to the blog after this weekend is over!

On Making Software Accessible

I’ve been listening to the NECC (National Educational Computing Conference) podcasts available free via iTunes. David Thornburg, leading thinker and educator, spoke in a presentation titled, “Open Minds, Open Education, and a View of Open Culture.” The focus was on 1:1 programs for students and open source software.

The quote that jumped out at me was near the beginning:

“Singe platform software is anti-child.”

Pow. Ouch. Absolutely right. I’ll be the first to admit I have a personal preference for some software apps that are on one platform but not another (e.g. Visual Communicator and iLife). However, anytime a piece of software, be it Windows-only, Mac-only or even Linux-only, is used with students, it will prevent the home use of that software by the student if they have another platform at home.

To that end, open source, cross-platform software solutions that students can download and use at home for free will do more to break down the walls of technology than pretty much any other technique we can try. In the best case scenario, time using technology in a class setting is far less than in a home setting (unless in a 1 to 1 program). If the software is accessible anywhere, the benefits go up dramatically.

This year we are installing many more software programs that are open source cross platform (OSCP?). Two examples are OpenOffice, much like the Microsoft Office suite, and GIMP, which is very similar to Photoshop. I plan to make a concentrated effort to help our students realize the power of these accessible programs.

Bravo, Ladies!

Three students from Heim recently won the Generation YES Go Green video contest. In the contest, students were directed to produce a video about how our school is Green and/or how it could be better at it. In the GenYES spirit, all aspects had to be student-driven. I can tell you without a doubt it was, and doing so proves how much our students can do given the right resources.

Once Caroline was approached about this contest by Mrs. Merlino, she immediately enlisted Mary and Kelly to join in. The only time I heard from them is when they needed a resource, or some guidance in how to do something. They did it all, and a fine job they did.

See the winning video at the Generation YES site here, along with the other talented student winners from California. Their videos will be featured at the National Educational Computing Conference in San Antonio June 29-July 2. Bravo, Ladies!

Podcasting in Science Class

One of the best technology conferences recently was one I did not go to. Rather, it was one I was supposed to go to, but due to a very busy schedule in the labs, could not. So at the last minute I approached a science teacher to go in my place.

It was the best thing that could have happened. Mrs. Merlino went to Riding the Digital Wave 2008 at our regional BOCES site, and got hooked immediately on podcasting.

Why was this best? Because since I go to many events and see many new things, I sometimes spend too much time thinking about how something could be rolled out, or what the logistics are, etc. I’ve been hooked on podcasts for a few years now but never got over the hump of getting them into the classroom. Mrs. Merlino saw the end product of podcasting at the conference, and came back to me for the details. With a bit of leg work, we soon had a plan, a podcast feed host, and results.

I’d like to share an example of her podcasting with you. For this initial attempt she was doing an end-of-year review show to help students prepare for the final exam. As we worked together, I suggested that she get students talking, and present it in a way other students could relate to. In this example, Mark and Kevin talk about moon phases (total time = 3:33):

Get the Flash Player to see this content.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Note the player above is audio only, although it looks like a video window.

One of the very useful tools with this medium is that when you engage in a dialogue, you can talk through the thinking process. In other podcast episodes, Mrs. Merlino speaks with students, and when they don’t understand, they discuss that. This is a huge learning tool!

To listen to some of the other episodes in her podcast, titled Merlino’s Mystery Media:

Click here to subscribe in iTunes

Click here to subscribe via an RSS aggregator

Her students are coming in this week to create their own podcasts – it should be really cool!

A School is People Learning: Revisited

Forgive me for waxing a bit philosophical here, but I want to spend a bit of time revisiting my mantra for education…A School is People Learning. I first wrote about it here during NYSCATE last year, and reaffirmed it here just before this school year started. This year’s NYSCATE brought it back again.

At Milton Chen’s keynote, he showed the terrific video, Animal School. Take 5 minutes now to watch it if you have not seen it. I could not see the video very well during the keynote, and until it was just re-sent to me, I did not realize how powerful it is. It goes to the heart of our primary goal in schools – people. Our customers, our students, are the majority of the people in the school, and although they come in with unique talents, strengths, and weaknesses, it seems like all we do is teach to the test, and beat back all the things that will make each child do their best.

There is no simple solution to making things better for every person, and we do an incredible amount here everyday to foster our students’ strengths. This video is a reminder for me to try just a bit harder, or try something different, because our students depend on us to. dog.jpg

Image citation:

Bondseye. Pose. Photograph. 2007. Flickr. 29 Nov. 2007 <http://www.flickr.com/photos/32731319@N00/492552952>.

Synthesizing NYSCATE #2 – Is Google Big Brother?

nyscate2007.jpgLet me begin by saying that Google is awesome. The breadth and depth of tools coming out of Google each day is unreal. This post is not meant to be a “paranoia” reaction. Its just something nagging in the back of my mind. I’ll try to voice it and see if it makes sense.

At NYSCATE, I attended 2 sessions in which the various tools of Google were presented. Some are true Google creations (Blogger, Earth, Maps, Reader, etc.), and some are independent, but linked to Google (GoogleLitTrips). There were 5 sessions at the conference which focused on some aspect of Google. They have even started a network of educators, “Google Certified Teachers.” For me personally, I have trained on it – I was a co-presenter for a hands-on workshop 2 years ago at NYSCATE on using Google.

One of the hottest tools in recent years is Gmail. The web based email has a unique conversation hierarchy, and 5GB of storage. You can archive, rather than delete, email, resulting in the ability to track down old messages you want. You’ll notice the contact at the top of this blog is my Gmail account.

Blogger was a great independent blogging site that Google purchased and made better. It’s easy to create and begin publishing a blog, and there are awesome examples of how Blogger blogs are lighting classrooms on fire (you must see apcalc07.blogspot.com right now if you never have before!)

Web History is a newer tool (I believe) which can remember all of your web searches from the point that you activate it. You can go back and review old searches to find information you are trying to recall.

Google Docs may well mark the end of the stronghold of Microsoft Office. Docs has word processing, spreadsheet, and, just recently added, presentation files available for creation and sharing. More than that, online collaboration is available with multiple users simultaneously editing the same document. Those of us from my district who attended NYSCATE are collaborating on a presentation file to summarize our take-aways from the conference. Its a simple and powerful way to bring people together virtually.

I ‘ve really just begun to talk about what’s available. I hear many people, rightfully so, singing the praises of Google. So where is my issue? I think it comes down to the fact that all this information is stored on Google servers (a joy for any IT department since they do not have to worry about storage). Its not that I’m worried about server failure or space. Terabytes of storage are added everyday to the Google “cloud.” Its that Google is a business. Businesses are in the business of making money. In this age of Google frenzy, millions of people a day are storing information on these servers that can be used to profile them for future use. It is an advertising/marketing holy grail, far better than any grocery store loyalty card.

By no means am I accusing Google of doing nefarious things. My concern is that we are placing a lot of eggs in one basket, and that at the end of the day, a for-profit company holds the handle of the basket. This is where I hear myself sounding paranoid – I’m not a paranoid type. Microsoft got into the OS and productivity software game early, and came on strong. Google got into the Internet game early and is coming on extremely strong. There is much talk that they will be at the table when bidding opens in January for the 700mhz bandwitdth auction by the FCC.

Maybe this is my subconscious reacting to the riveting Epic 2014 video that I first saw a couple of years ago (take the 8 minutes now to watch it if you have not seen it). I can best sum it up by recalling something from the Constructivist Celebration pre-conference workshop on Saturday. I briefly spoke with Gary Stager and told him how I appreciated his tendency to disagree with many educational technologists. The comment he made (I’m paraphrasing here) was: If everyone thinks something is a good thing, there is something inherently bad about it (keep in mind our brief conversation was not about Google at all – this is me re-purposing his comment in my context).

Well, that’s more than enough about this. If you managed to read this far, I would love your feedback. Tell me I’m just plain paranoid, or tell me to get a life, or anything else. But if you’ll excuse me, I have to go now. I have to go check the RSS feeds in my iGoogle account.