Learning Russo's Ramblings

Struggling with Chaos

My friend Steve O’Connor, whom I met by chance when we were presenting in the same room at NYSCATE a few years back, just tweeted about a poster titled, “The Internet Will Not Be Another TV”. Here is the poster:

Internet NO será otra TV by Miguel Brieva

There are many things I like about the poster. It is an argument for Net Neutrality in the EU, and can apply anywhere in the world. What struck me most about it, however, is how the same concept can be applied to the current state of education.

If the top circle is restated as, “The School that Education Establishment Wants,” the picture is a perfect example of how school is today. Separate compartments, all designed to keep students focused on goals designed by those in charge.

If the bottom circle is restated as, “The School that Learners Want,” a much more authentic style of learning is depicted. Inquiry is led by the student (regardless of age), and the Internet is in fact a key tool that supports the inquiry.

Where does the question about struggling with chaos come in? Simple – when inquiry is driven by the learner, the environment is messy. That is the way it should be, but managing learning like this in an educational  system that is so structured is difficult to do. It’s the age-old conversation on how schools can best support learning.

The main example I’ve been struggling with for the past few months is the use of personal mobile devices in the classroom. I’m all for it, but I also know that managing such an environment is tricky. Its one thing when a group of adults “back channels” at an ed tech conference, where by nature everyone in the room wants to be there and shares the same passion. I’m not so sure how well back channeling would be in a Geometry review class where all the learners struggle with the most basic concepts, and don’t want to be there in the first place.

For me the personal mobile device is indispensable. A smart phone, tablet, and laptop completes the suite of tools that I use constantly to learn, be productive, be reflective, and be creative. And I’m from a generation that grew up where the latest technology was the Apple II that you could program in BASIC. Today’s elementary school students expect (I mean this in a good way) that they can access anyone and any information from their device. How can we not take advantage of this?

The time is coming where the personal mobile device will be in the classroom. It’s necessary. It’s inevitable. I’m struggling with chaos…

Image credit:
Internet NO será otra TV by Miguel Brieva

Russo's Ramblings

Educational Administration vs. Educational Leadership

As I finish the first couple of weeks of my first administrative job (assistant principal for our summer high school), it is very clear that there is a distinct difference between being an administrator and a leader. A principal needs to be both, but it can be easy to favor the former over the latter.

The first week has gone extremely well. Our program is for remediation and acceleration so there is a nice mix of students, and we have great teachers and support staff. Summer school is a well-oiled machine that needs light tendering to keep it on course, rather than drastic steering to make it go in a different direction.

Administrative duties come up constantly. Be it dealing with student scheduling issues, a parent with a concern, a student who has chosen to do something inappropriate, a teacher with a home emergency, or a required fire drill, the stream of tasks never seems to end. An administrator has to be able to handle these activities in stride as they are the primary things that interfere with the learning environment in the classroom.

Leadership duties are there constantly, but not necessarily in sight. Deciding how to act on scheduling issues, parent concerns, student actions, etc. is driven by leadership beliefs and can have long term consequences. It may be easier to resolve an issue one way, but may be detrimental to the bigger picture. Beyond daily actions, the need for program leadership – how the school serves the needs of the population – can be missed if one only focuses on the day-to-day.

What are some of the key program questions for our summer program?

  1. What is different in summer school for remediation students that might help them succeed?
  2. What is the learning environment like for the students? Is it challenging and engaging?
  3. What courses are being offered for acceleration? Is there a need to alter these?
  4. What courses are being offered for remediation? Is there a need to alter these?

These are some of the questions that need to be considered on a regular basis, as answers to these will have an impact on the answers to all the daily questions.

It would be very easy to get caught up in only dealing with the day-to-day tasks. Handling them takes excellent skills, but being content taking care of those items can divert attention away from the more important bigger picture. We have a great setup in our school, but program (leadership) questions and daily (administrative) questions are equally important to ensuring the continual growth and integrity of the school.

Image credit:
Keep your eyes on the objective by wildphotons on Flickr

Russo's Ramblings


Typically my last post in June relates to how it is time to power down the blog, do some updates, tinker with the theme, and move into summer mode. This year this won’t happen for a couple of reasons. First, I’m very happy with how the blog has developed and become part of what I do. Things are humming along, and I don’t feel a need to change. Secondly, there is a transformation underway…

This past May I finished working on my administrative certification program for both School Building Leader and School District Leader at Canisius College. I am in the process of being certified through New York State (which is quite a process, but that topic would be a whole separate post). I will be able to apply for building or district level administrative positions.

This step allows me to move into another facet of the school structure, or another “life” as I like to think of it. Having been a student and an educator for many years, the opportunity to become an administrator is very exciting. I do not have agressive plans to pursue any administrative job that arises; rather I have opened the door for when the right opportunity comes along. It may be tomorrow, next week, or next year, but I am on the lookout.

One experience on the docket is to be the the assistant principal for our summer high school program. I was the intern for the program last summer and learned a great deal. I am looking forward to participating in such a great program. The staff is excellent, and the opportunity for students to both accelerate and remediate is great. The summer school experience allows me to get a sense for being an administrator.

This transformation is interesting and invigorating. I have long considered myself a learning junkie. I have also found that change every so often is a very good thing (as evidenced by my jump from music to computers a few years back). Change helps keep you fresh and (hopefully) on top of your game.

Down the road I picture myself in some sort of district level role as I do like working with systemic issues and solutions. Who knows what will happen, but the ride sure will be fun!

Image: High Tension by JGrindal on Flickr

Russo's Ramblings

How the iPad Can Change Students’ Game

At the end of last week’s post, How the iPad has Changed my Game, I wondered what it would be like for students to have an iPad for school. I did some very informal research and sent my iPad off with different students this week for a day and asked them to use it however they could during the school day to help them with their school work.

One day with an iPad is no true test, but the students were obviously very excited to try it out. Here is what they had to say:

J., 7th grade:

I think that schools should get iPads for the school because it can help kids in so many ways.  Taking notes, using it  as an agenda mate or even studying with flash cards.  You can go on the internet to research.

K., 7th grade:

The iPad was very useful during my classes. In music when I finished my composition in music I showed the teacher the piano app. I also used this as an agenda mate when my hands got tired of writing. If I needed to look up a definition I had a dictionary at hand. In lunch, my friends and I had music to listen to when we had finished eating and cleaned up. I liked everything about the iPad. If I could use it in school everyday, I would.

T., 8th grade

I used it in science to take notes. If I had an iPad to use in school I would use it everyday. I would use it as an agenda mate and I would take all my notes on it.

D., 8th grade

In art I was using Doodle Buddy. I think the iPad is something good for students to have in school. It would be good to have as an agenda mate or research tool.

What is the difference between a tablet like the iPad and a laptop? The two main reasons I see are the form-factor (flat book vs. bulky keyboard and screen) and the availability of apps. In speaking with and observing these students using the iPad, I started to think about the various ways it could fit into each and every class – walk the halls with me for a few minutes…

1st period, Science: Collect microscope data using the ProScope Mobile

2nd period, ELA: Enter/edit literary responses in a discussion forum

3rd period, Music: Compose music and email the music and notation files with the app, Music Composer

4th period, Spanish: Record target language conversations with the app, Voice Memos for iPad, and email them to the teacher

5th peroid, Math: Practice solving equations in the app, Draw for iPad, and share them with classmates over Bluetooth

6th period, Social Studies: Review historical videos on YouTube or Discovery Education Streaming

7th period, Band: Put the iPad on the music stand and play music from the app, Scorcerer

8th period, Physical Education: Enter fitness data into a Google spreadsheet (AFTER keeping iPad in locker room and moving actively for 40 minutes in class…)

9th period, Art: Sketch designs using the app, Doodle Buddy, and post work to the class website

So that is just a glimpse of what could be. All in a device that just turns on (as opposed to boots up) and tucks in your arm like a book. There is a incredible amount of room for deepening the learning experience for students. I totally acknowledge the proprietary nature of the iPad and some inherent limitations, but I’m still sold.

So the question becomes, does the school try to provide the iPads, or come up with some unique solution where families purchase them and get to keep them?

Russo's Ramblings

How the iPad has Changed My Game

Since I purchased an iPad a couple of months ago, I have been really enjoying using it and seeing how it fits into my work and play flow. My kids really enjoy using it to see how it fits into their game playing flow. Students in school enjoy seeing how it fits into their before-school, working, hanging-out, doodling flow. I thought the iPad might be a popular item, but I had no idea what temporary rock-star status I would have simply by having one. I knew something was up when, while picking up food at a McDonald’s drive-thru, the nice young lady at the window looked in the back of the car where my son was playing on it and screamed, “Is that an iPad?!?!?! Cool!!!!

What has changed? I now have a small form-factor device that allows me to be in a meeting, workshop, or other group environment and be able to read documents, take notes, and research supporting information on the Internet, without having an intrusive laptop screen sticking up. I can easily pass the device to someone else to use as if it where a piece of paper, not a piece of equipment. This may seem like a small deal, but to me it really is a big deal. Now when I prepare for a meeting or conference, I do not print out copies of documents, I just make sure I have them loaded on the iPad.

A couple of things make this setup even better. The iPad relies on touch, obviously, but there are times when some type of pen would be handy. I found this out when I was trying to sketch a diagram at a conference a few weeks ago. Drawing with your finger is not comfortable when trying to handwrite. Enter the Pogo Sketch from Ten One Design – this handy stylus has a capacitive tip which allows you to use it on the iPad (and other touch screens) as if it were your finger. Another item that will help my workflow is an app that allows you to markup documents. Often in meetings you want to write notes on various pages – I have browsed the App store and there definitely are solutions for this – I just have to pick one and run with it.

I knew things had changed for me a couple of weeks ago when I was looking for a book. At the Summer School Conference for Administrators, a principal from Roscoe did a great workshop that related leadership to lessons from To Kill a Mockingbird. Having never read the book (amazing, huh?), I turned to the iPad to purchase/download  it. I wanted to be able to read it on the fly among the many other things I do on the device. Interestingly, I could not find an electronic version in the iBook store, Kindle store or anywhere else. I *gasp* resorted to going to our school library to checkout a *gasp* paper copy! Don’t worry – I’m not saying that I don’t want print books – it’s just that there is now an option that blends multiple media into one place, and I’m hooked.

Let me put in the disclaimer now that while the iPad has a ton of possibility, it is by no means perfect. Do some things drive me crazy? Sure – the whole Flash-non-support deal is frustrating since there is so much Flash on the web. The App store is huge, but that results in thousands of proprietary ways to get something done, on a device that is very proprietary. I am very excited that Google announced a tablet, and if the One-Laptop-Per-Child concpet tablet ever gets going, that will be awesome also. All I’m saying is that right now, the iPad’s positives definitely outweigh its negatives.

So now I wonder, if this has really changed my game, how might it change the game for a student who is able to go through the school day with it? One-to-one initiatives are popping up all over (finally), and the iPad may be one solution for students. An iPad is a consumption device more than a creation device (we still need laptops or desktops), but the types of input and resources available make it a real possibility for student use. I’m going to try an experiment this week with a couple of students and let them take it to all their classes for a day. I’m really interested in how they think an iPad might (or might not) make their learning better. Hopefully I’ll convicne them to share there thoughts here next week. Stay tuned…

Russo's Ramblings

Communicating with Prezi

Prezi is a web 2.0 presentation tool that allow for much more control of how material can be presented visually. The easy-to-use interface lets you create interesting dynamic content very quickly. Courtesy of Twitter, I just learned of this short slide show demonstrating how Prezi can be used in the classroom:

My initial reaction to Prezi is that it is just another slick visual tool that will distract rather than enhance. Used well, that probably won’t happen and there are some definite advantages to what Prezi has to offer. I guess I’ll have to create a few and see how it goes…

Russo's Ramblings

Resistance IS Futile!

A little over two years ago I wrote a post titled, Is Google Big Brother, right after attending the NYS educational technology conference, NYSCATE. Basically I was concerned about how a for-profit company may use personal data in ways we are unaware of.

Now, looking at my Google Dashboard to check out the Google services I use, what I see is:

Buzz, Calendar, Contacts, Docs, Gmail, iGoogle, Reader, Tasks and 15 other services from the Google mother ship.

So much for being paranoid – while I was not watching, I was assimilated. Hook, line & sinker. I rely on many Google services to manage my daily life (especially Calendar, Tasks, and Gmail). All the work for the degree I’m working on in educational administration is produced, shared and stored in Google Docs. While I have resisted the Twitter rage for various reasons (though I did recently sign up for a Twitter account), as soon as I saw Buzz, I jumped on board. Maybe I was just finally ready for the microblogging world – who knows. As with many of the Google services, Buzz seems to put lots of pieces together in the right way.

The Google cloud rocks – I will still continue to read the privacy policies and have offline versions of critical documents – but you can count me one of the Google Army now.

Resistance IS futile!soldiersCreative Commons image courtesy of zsoolt on Flickr.

Russo's Ramblings

This One Got My Attention…the XO-3

Soak in this image for a few moments…

and now this one…


This is the next-generation concept design from the One Laptop Per Child team. This device does not exist yet, but the XO-3 as it is called simply looks awesome. I’m not sure what is the most appealing part – the slim design? The onscreen virutal keyboard? For many years I’ve been in the camp that tablet computers are the wave of the future (see this post). Like many, I’ve been disappointed by the design and/or price of current offerings.

It’s impossible to make judgement without being able to actually use this device. On appearance, it looks like this tablet could be the one that fills the mobile-tactile-interactive media device need.

What if it came in at the projected price of $75? What if it was in the hands of EVERY child in EVERY school IN THE WORLD?

It is still just a concept device, but as good concepts should be, this one just demands attention. I’m in…

See and read more about the XO-3 on the blog (images courtesy of that site).

Russo's Ramblings

Where in the World is Santa?

Forget about simply imagining where Santa is on his busy night delivering presents. Thanks to the folks at NORAD, in partnership with Google, you can track Santa in Google Maps and/or Google Earth.

NORAD has been tracking Santa for over 50 years now. Check out this article at CNN on how the government’s primary missile defense operation got into the business of keeping up with Mr. Claus in the first place (it is a very sweet story).

In 2007, Google partnered with NORAD to provide real-time (Santa-time?) coverage of where the jolly man is, complete with YouTube updates from sightings around the world.

I’m getting more and more hooked on the capabilities of Google Earth, and just watching Santa’s journey for a little while, I learned so many more things about our world. My kids were captivated, and without realizing it, got a great geography lesson. Way too fun!

No matter what religion you celebrate…Happy Holidays!


Learning People Russo's Ramblings

Online Learning is Big Business

I recently attended a presentation by online learning vendors who have been awarded a contract by our local BOCES. They offer online courses for students who need to make up missed or failed classes (credit recovery) or want to get ahead or take a low-enrollment class (credit accrual). The vendors offered to us through this contract are Apex, Aventa, Florida Virtual Schools and Pearson NovaNET.

The three things I came away from these presentations with are:rsscar

  1. Online learning is big business (as evidenced by the reps who flew/drove in from all over the country)
  2. Online learning is an inevitable, rich, plausible model for delivering instruction (note the order I put those in)
  3. Online learning is most effective when there is human interaction with real people along the way (read: teachers are still the most important part of learning)

IMHO, based solely on the presentations I saw (and not too much additional research on my part yet), the programs I like the most are the ones where students have access to teachers/experts as they experience the online course. Some of the products appear to have more of a support system for this while others seem more stand-alone. All of the reps talked about how human guidance was important (although not all the products had that guidance built-in).

It goes back to the basics of teaching and learning – anyone can be an expert in a content area. It is people who go beyond the knowledge and use their passion to connect with students who are successful in helping students achieve. All of these online systems offer the content in some rich-media, sequenced, accountable fashion. I think the ones that will be most successful for student learning are the ones that include the most important part of the learning process – people.

Image courtesy of Shira Golding on Flickr