Fast and Furious – Keeping Up with Changes at NYSED

The New York State Education Department (NYSED), like many other states educational agencies, is undergoing massive restructuring due to the Race to the Top (RTTT) funding initiative. There are many arguments to be made about whether the RTTT program is worth it or just another national political toy. It does not matter which side one falls on – the reality is that there are many changes that are coming down to New York schools beginning this fall.

The amount of information, and the resulting changes, are coming out incredibly fast from NYSED. Law passed last year require NYSED to implement many new programs this fall, including the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and a new evaluation program for teachers and principals. As I have been trying to maintain a handle on what is going on, my personal recommendation for those trying to get their heads around what is going on in NYSED boils down to 2 items:

  1. Take approximately 2 hours to watch the presentation, “Bringing the Common Core to Life,” by David Coleman, a chief architect of the Common Core State Standards.
  2. Read the news updates from NYSED Race to the Top page. You can subscribe to the news updates via a listserv or RSS feed if you like.

Two hours to watch a presentation? Yes that is a long time to recommend you take, but it is worth it. David Coleman is a key player in the CCSS. He is a compelling speaker, and when you listen to him, he really does bring the standards to life. He gives examples of what the CCSS will do differently and better. He takes time to provide one specific example in ELA (Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail) and and one in Mathematics (6th grade fractions). He then extrapolates those specific examples to demonstrate how the CCSS promote deeper learning on less topics, which is a different direction than current New York State Standards.

What watching his presentation has done for me is provide a framework for understanding the CCSS, and how they complement, and then improve on, what we already do. He acknowledges that New York does great work already, but that by shifting the focus, and depth, we can do better. He very eloquently describes how all subjects (Science, History, Technical Subjects the Arts, etc.) play a key role in the CCSS. His presentation is very motivational in investigating the CCSS more deeply.

The news updates that come from the NYSED RTTT page are an easy way to keep up with decisions and issues the State is dealing with right now. For example, a memo from John King, Senior Deputy Commissioner for P-12 Education, was released last week. In it he includes the updated time line for implementation of the CCSS, and asks for model lessons from teachers, with guidelines for submission that are correlated to the new standards. Reading this memo alone, and the accompanying documents, shed a lot of light on where the State is at in terms of the RTTT implementation. The time line for implementation is aggressive. NYSED appears to be pushing for all teachers to introduce CCSS lessons next year, and not just grade 4-8 teachers of ELA and Mathematics.

As I read the news updates, I find it prompting me to keep up with what is going on with the state education governing body, the Board of Regents. Each month, the Board meets for 2 days to govern education policy. Each meeting covers an incredible amount of topics with far reaching scope. The meeting this month on May 16th and 17th deal with multiple topics related to the RTTT initiative (also known as the Regents Reform Agenda) and consideration for revising graduation requirements for high school students.

It is hard to feel the impact of actions at NYSED and the Board of Regents in day-to-day work, but what is going on now at the state level is going to be felt directly by everyone in the very near future.

 

Cogito Ergo Blog

I reflect, therefore I blog.

A tweet came through last week that caught my attention. I retweeted it, favorited it, and now have spent some time looking back, reading, reflecting, and now writing:

As is the case with social media, the path to the origin of the thinking took a bit. Shelly Terrell sent this tweet about a post by Justin Martin on the Connected Pricipals blog. Justin’s post was in response to the “ground zero” post by Ryan Bretag, “My Principal Doen’t Need to Blog.” Ryan’s original post is brilliant – he uses not too many words to propose an argument that blogging is not worth it for his principal (who is an exceptional leader). What Ryan unleashes is an awesome response across the spectrum related to administrators and the value/need/time in blogging (including my response here…)

The thought about “to blog or not to blog” hits home with any blogger since we constantly wonder, “is it worth it?” As I read through the original post, comments, and subsequent posts, here are a few things that stood out to me.

In Ryan’s argument, he makes the following comment:

In life, we make trades of our time and the question really comes down to whether blogging would be a better use of time for our principal than…

  1. Visiting classrooms
  2. Getting to know and connect with 2,100 learners
  3. Getting to know and connect with hundreds of educators

In my first administration experience as summer school assistant principal, I made a conscious effort to be out and about as much as possible. My daily social media connections definitely went down (not logging into Twitter, Skype, etc). I completely agree that the most important job of an administrator is personal connections.

One of the responses to Ryan was from Russ Goerend:

For me, blogging is where I reflect with the purpose of asking other, smarter, people to reflect with me. Reflection is the one thing I saw missing from your list of what your administrator does. Is that a possible reason that tips the scales?

Reflection is the bell-ringer for me in blogging. I think reflection in teaching practice is important. Any good teacher or administrator reflects, whether in voice (chatting with a colleague) or in public (a blog). The difference between vocal reflection and written reflection is that writing it down makes a difference. To paraphrase Peter Reynolds, writing turns ideas into action. Writing it down in public makes a bigger difference. Is written public reflection on practice for everyone? Nope. Can it make a difference in the practice of a teacher or administrator? IMHO, yup.

Before I move on to more of my own thoughts, I want to point out one more comment that came through on this topic. It is a video post by David Truss:

I love the media response, as opposed to a typed response. His thoughtful comments, along with visual support, is awesome. Thanks, David, for providing an exemplar for media communication. I hope to move that direction in my own blogging – I think it is much richer ūüôā

To bring together my own thoughts about why I blog, I took a look at the wikipedia article for blog. Under the sub-heading for types of blogs, here is the description for a personal blog:

Personal blogs
The personal blog, an ongoing diary or commentary by an individual, is the traditional, most common blog. Personal bloggers usually take pride in their blog posts, even if their blog is never read. Blogs often become more than a way to just communicate; they become a way to reflect on life, or works of art. Blogging can have a sentimental quality. Few personal blogs rise to fame and the mainstream, but some personal blogs quickly garner an extensive following. One type of personal blog, referred to as a microblog, is extremely detailed and seeks to capture a moment in time. Some sites, such as Twitter, allow bloggers to share thoughts and feelings instantaneously with friends and family, and are much faster than emailing or writing.

I bolded the part that stands out to me most – blogging become more than a way to communicate – it is a way to reflect. The comment about bloggers taking pride in their work, regardless of readership, also rings true. I have always blogged for an audience of one (me), although it is fun when people stop in to read and/or comment.

Blogging takes time. My personal goal is to try to do one post per weekend, when the idea comes to me. Note that it happens on the weekend, and that there are the time trade-offs that allow me to find those few (3-4) hours to craft my thoughts. I have found that I do enjoy the writing process. Not everyone does, and not everyone has the time to devote to blogging. Ryan’s principal doesn’t, but he is still a great leader. If his principal does try blogging (and makes the trade-offs to do so), I believe he will find it valuable. I do not believe that anyone who takes the time to do it will find it un-worthwhile.

In any case, for me, cogito ergo blog. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Collaboration, Coaching and Reflection

Professional development is a key component in helping students learn. When teachers are focused on improving student learning, they need support (i.e. professional development) for themselves to continue to learn. Some of the most inspiring colleagues I have worked with are those who, even after a long career, continue to seek out opportunities to improve their craft. Experienced and successful educators acknowledge that there is always something new to learn, a new technique, or new concept that will help kids.

Collaboration, coaching and reflection are not new concepts. What they are, however, are new ways to approach professional development to improve learning in a systematic way. I will use the analogy of my past experience as a band director to draw connections to how teachers have always coached, collaborated and reflected, and compare that to how we can make systemic change.

From the beginning of time, musicians would perform a concert, and then go out to celebrate (or commiserate) afterward on the performance. This is true of concert musicians as well as music teachers after a school concert. What typically happens in the “after-hours” celebration is a lively dialogue among teachers involved in the concert and colleagues who attended the concert. Discussion ensues about what went well, what could go better, and steps to take for next time. It is a dynamic, fluid process of collaboration, coaching and reflection that moves teachers forward. Next steps that might happen is that a particular teacher might go to visit a colleague to see how he/she works with their students to solve a similar challenge. A guest clinician might be brought to school to coach teachers on rehearsal techniques. Teachers may get together after school for a few weeks in a row to teach each other about instrument intricacies. These types of experiences are informal, and occur spontaneously after a performance. How can we formalize this process so it benefits every teacher, every day, but does not water-down the effectiveness?

The same exact scenario above can be played out by any teacher in any discipline immediately following a major benchmark assessment or other summative assessment, such as a state exam. Math teachers, for example, will have a spirited dialogue about an exam as it is being administered, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses they suspect among their students and how they perceive students will perform. This continues as the results are reported and strategies are investigated to help students succeed.

How are more recent professional development models in-line with the collaboration, coaching and reflection needs of staff? With the data team as a fundamental unit now, the model is in place for regular and routine dialogue along these lines. At its core the data team is a formalized way for colleagues to collaborate on how students are performing, and identify strengths and needs for students. During this process they might decide that assistance is needed with a particular instructional strategy or technology so a coach is called upon. In my role as technology facilitator I consider myself the “technology coach” for whomever needs assistance. Throughout the data team process, reflection is built-in as well as teachers think about their students’ performance and their own teaching.

As an aside, with the NYS Race To The Top initiative, one of the key components of the new structures being created is called the school-based inquiry team. NYSED defines the inquiry team as:

School-based Inquiry Teams ‚Äď comprised of teachers, teacher leaders and administrators ‚Äď are charged with becoming expert in accessing, understanding and using data to identify a change in instructional practice (e.g. teaching division of fractions) that will accelerate learning for a specific group of underperforming students. Based on what is learned from that experience, teams work with school staff to implement and monitor system-level change to benefit all students. The reflective practice that is used as the basis for the Inquiry Team‚Äôs work is intended to support continual, evidence-based improvement of student learning. While each school is to have at least one Inquiry Team, more teams may be put in place should the school find it valuable to do so.

Click here to see NYSED document with this definition.

To me this refers to the data teams we already have in place. While there are many individual teams and no one overriding data team to analyze system-level change for the whole school, the purpose of our data teams is in line with the definition of the inquiry team above. It appears we are well positioned as components of the RTTT initiatives are rolled out in the coming years.

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

While it is not as relaxed as an after-concert celebration, the more formalized process of collaboration, coaching and reflection built into our data teams and the coming RTTT initiatives put us in an excellent position to help our students excel.

Staff Development Day March 2011

On Friday the district held a staff development day where we split up by curriculum area K-12. The focus for the day was on design questions from Robert Marzano’s The Art & Science of Teaching. Facilitators for each curriculum area were formed into what were called design teams, and included content teachers, administrators, and a technology facilitator. I was the technology facilitator for the Health and IDEAS team.

In our district, health education at the elementary level is done through the IDEAS program. The IDEAS teachers are gifted and talented certified teachers who provide level one gifted programming services to every student in the school. Elementary students have IDEAS class once every five days from kindergarten through fourth grade. At the middle school level, students have health class for 20 weeks in eighth grade. At the high school level, students can take the required 20 week class during any year.

One of the biggest successes is that it was first time all the health teachers K-12 had the opportunity to work together for a full day! Just the fact that they could have professional dialogue with all level colleagues was awesome. They really enjoyed the time to work and share together.

One of the biggest challenges health teachers have is that many times the content they teach is about things students should not do (tobacco, alcohol, etc.) and true assessment can be difficult. While a student can have all the knowledge about why smoking is bad and get a good grade on a health test, it is whether or not they choose to smoke when outside of school that is the true reflection of their skills. One form of feedback we discussed is the Search Institute Survey administered every other year by the Town of Amherst in partnership with district schools. It is an anonymous survey given to 8th, 10th and 12th grade students about their supports and behaviors related to the 40 Developmental Assets. Results for the Town of Amherst (not just the Williamsville district) can be found on the Town website. Individual schools have results for their buildings.

We spent part of the morning defining and refining learning goals and had work time for each level (elementary, middle and high) to have dialogue on topics of their choosing. We also allowed time for working with technology tools of their choice. All of the documents we shared went through district Google Docs accounts in a shared folder. We used Prezi for the main presentation points during the day (see presentation embedded above), and also show examples from Xtranormal and Animoto.

I have the good fortune to see the health curriculum through not only this dialogue day, but also through our district curriculum council. The health teachers presented their overall curriculum recently, and to me there are two overriding themes to all the units health teachers do:

  • goal setting
  • decision making

These themes are found throughout every unit, at every level. Whether it is an elementary student thinking about food choices, or a high school student thinking about relationships, these themes are essential to those conversations.

Part of the afternoon was spent focusing on providing effective feedback. As many health teachers are also coaches, we used the coaching analogy to talk about how effective feedback in the classroom should be like effective feedback on the playing field.

I have to say for me this was one of the most stressful days to prepare for personally since I was not that familiar with the health curriculum or the teachers involved. That being said, it is not the role of any one person to be the expert at everything. This day was about collegial dialogue, where everyone has something to contribute. The other facilitators I worked with were awesome. We had many meetings where we discussed and planned how the day should go. Once the staff development day got rolling and we were working together, it was great. Overall I think it  went very well. Feedback indicated that participants were happy, and they provided ideas on how we will structure the next day we are together, which is scheduled to be at the end of August. I feel much more comfortable about the next time we are together now that we have some momentum!

I’ll finish with a great Animoto video created by Tricia DeSantis (Assistant Principal at East HS) on learning goals – note the awesome soundtrack!

Technology Integration in the New NYS Teaching Standards

New York is a winner of the Race to the Top funding initiative sponsored by the federal government. There is a whole host of passionate conversation about what RTTT means for education. I’m going to skip that part of the dialogue for now and focus on what has been going on in New York, and specifically on what has already happened at the state level and the implications for the very near future.

For the past 2 years during the state’s involvement in applying for and winning a RTTT grant, the Board of Regents has actively been implementing parts of what it calls the Regents Reform Agenda (RRA) (sorry for the multiple acronyms – it’s easier to type). The RRA is essentially the plan in place to carry out the items specified in the RTTT application.

One of the components of the RTTT application is an updated performance review process for teachers and administrators. New York had to change its application, which was rejected in the first round, to reflect a more concrete process in which to demonstrate an updated review process. In May of 2010 new law was passed by the legislature Рsection 103 of the laws of 2010 specifically addresses teacher and principal performance review. The new section of the education law, 3012-c, can be found here.

The law indicates that teachers and principals must be evaluated on a combination of student performance (40%) and personal performance (60%). Regarding the 60% based on personal performance, the law states, “The remaining percent of the evaluations, ratings and effectiveness scores¬†shall¬†be¬†locally¬†developed,¬†consistent¬†with¬†the¬†standards prescribed in the regulations of the commissioner, through¬†negotiations conducted pursuant to article fourteen of the civil service law.” (Section 3012-c(2)(h))

The standards prescribed in the regulations of the commissioner (as mentioned in the law) were just approved by the Board of Regents at the January 2011 meeting. They come in the form of the New York State Teaching Standards. There are seven standards, with underlying elements and performance indicators, that outline the skills necessary for teachers. These standards were designed so rubrics for performance could be developed. The work group putting together the teaching standards stopped short of developing specific rubrics, as there are other groups working on that right now. For a list of FAQs surrounding the development of the standards, click here: Teaching Standards Q&A

Here is the full document with the newly adopted NYS Teaching Standards: New York State Teaching Standards

So in the age of technology and its use in the classroom, where does New York State stand in terms of what teachers should be doing with technology? One of the questions from the Q&A document provides some light:

Q. Is there a separate standard for a teacher’s use of technology?
A. The ability of educators to use a variety of technological tools, techniques, and  skills to inform and enhance teaching, learning, and other aspects of  professional performance is crucial to their effectiveness in today’s learning environment.  Since technology is such a prevalent factor in today’s world and is included in so many aspects of teaching and student learning, a decision was made to infuse technology throughout all of the Standards rather than to isolate it in a single Standard.  Therefore, references to the use of technological resources, knowledge, and skills are found throughout the Teaching Standards ( e.g. Elements I.6;  II.6;  III.4;  III.5; etc. ).

Technology, or technologies, is referenced 11 times within the standards – below are the specific references. Take a look and see what you think. Please note that I am only showing any mention of technology. Some of the items items are elements within standards, and some are performance indicators within elements.

  • Teachers demonstrate knowledge and understanding of technological and¬†information literacy and how they affect student learning.
  • Teachers use technological tools and a variety of communication¬†strategies to engage each student.
  • Teachers incorporate a knowledge and understanding of technology¬†in their lessons to enhance student learning.
  • Teachers explore and use a variety of instructional approaches, resources,¬†and technologies to meet diverse learning needs, engage students, and¬†promote achievement.
  • Teachers incorporate instructional approaches and technologies to¬†provide students with opportunities to demonstrate mastery of¬†learning outcomes.
  • Teachers engage students in the development of multidisciplinary skills, such¬†as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and use of technology.
  • Students utilize technologies and resources to solve real world¬†problems.
  • Teachers organize and utilize available resources (e.g., physical space, time,¬†people, technology) to create a safe and productive learning environment.
  • Teachers ensure that all students have equitable access to available¬†resources and technologies.
  • Teachers use multiple measures and multiple formats, including¬†available technology, to assess and document student performance.
  • Teachers advocate, model, and manage safe, legal, and ethical use¬†of information and technology, including respect for intellectual¬†property and the appropriate documentation of sources.

I like the fact that technology is not a separate standard, as it needs to be used as a tool. I like the fact that ethical use is specifically mentioned. I like the statement, “students utilize technologies and resources to solve real-world problems.” As a matter of fact, I think every statement included in the standards related to technology is excellent.

I wonder how this is going to play out. Since the annual professional performance review (APPR) is a locally-negotiated item, how will these standards come into play when the review document is created? According to the state, there are a number of pilots underway right now to test various types of rubrics to support the standards. As with any measure of professional performance, the meat and value of the review will come with the details of how the measurement is done.

The new New York State Teaching Standards represents a top-down model for improving teaching and learning, motivated by the Race to the Top initiative. We are going to spend a lot of time transforming current systems to this new model – I hope it’s worth the time and effort.

There’s an App for That

We just received 4 iPads to use in the building. My initial thought is to put them in the library since that is one place that all students have easy access to, and would get them the most exposure. In order to maximize the potential for their use, we are going to start with a “study” where we get feedback from teachers and students on the best apps/uses for the iPads.

I’ll get the ball rolling by taking a few minutes to look back to the posts I did last year regarding the iPad:

Now that it a little over 6 months since I wrote those posts, what apps have I come to rely on the most on my iPad? Here are my top three:

  • Safari – No big surprise here that the main task I do is use the Internet. Many times while working at a website, I will learn that there is an app for the website (for example, The Buffalo News has a news app). I then download the app, and depending on its usefulness, may begin to use the app instead.
  • Mail – Managing and responding to email on the iPad is very easy.
  • Angry Birds – if you have not been bitten by the Angry Birds bug, be warned – it is a game that will suck you in quickly! If I ever happen to forget to bring my iPad home, my kids are very upset if they do not get their Angry Birds fix (we have even ordered the Angry Birds stuffed animals…we’re completely hooked).

Clearly the iPad has become my productivity/entertainment center – there are a whole host of apps that I use on a regular (but not every day) basis for a variety of things. In the hands of my kids, it is very interesting that they often choose some of the creativity apps and YouTube videos (that we watch with them) in addition to games.

Which brings me to the task at hand – what apps should we be installing on the iPads for school? Some of the general categories are:

  • eReaders (iBooks, Nook, etc.)
  • Content area apps
  • Voice recording apps (the iPad has a built in microphone)

I’ve put together a wiki page for staff and students to collect our thoughts on what apps to install on the iPads. I’m looking forward to how this rolls out.

Just a footnote that I want to bring out here – we have 4 iPads for 650 students. The iPad is a highly personal device (I can attest to that). As we share the device, I keep thinking about a comment Brian Smith from Monroe 1 BOCES made recently:

I still contend that these won’t be successful until they are made personal.¬† Meaning, give it to the kid to have for the entire year.¬† Let them take it home, play with it, read on it, correspond on it and make their learning personal.

I’m currently in a pilot with iPads and the students are lukewarm to the device because they know it will go away or that they won’t be able to make it work for them personally.

~Brian C. Smith (@briancsmith)

We are not at the point where everyone has one, but I think keeping in mind Brian’s comments make sense as we get going on getting the iPads out.

Looking forward to some awesome learning!

Creative Commons licensed image, iPad 3G and iPad Wi-Fi, by Yutaka Tustano on Flickr

Farewell, Friend

This post is a tribute to a fantastic educator and colleague, Earle Holt. Earle is retiring from Heim Middle School after a 43 year career. His last day is December 23, 2010.

Earle has touched so many lives in so many ways. Most importantly, as an art teacher he has had a great impact on thousands of students who have come through our school. One hallmark of Earle’s work is the wall block, and more recently, wall tile. Every 7th grade student for the last 43 years has created a personal reflection of themselves or something important to them, and either painted it on the wall or created it on the computer and had it mounted on the wall.

If you walk through Heim Middle, in every hallway you see something like this:

Click image to enlarge

There are over 12,500 individual pieces of art, all created by students. There are many instances where parents and their children have shared the same experience creating a wall block/wall tile while they attended Heim. On any given day you might find an adult scanning the walls to find their work of art from years ago.

I first worked with Earle when I arrived at Heim to help solve a problem Рno more room to paint on the walls. We came up with a plan (actually he had the plan and I just helped get the technical kinks worked out) to have students draw their design, scan it, and finish creating it using paint software. The printed design is heat laminated to tile, then mounted on the wall (closer to the ceiling, above the painted wall blocks). The transition from painted wall blocks to scanned/printed/laminated wall tile was fascinating, and a great success.

More than this particular project, though, is working with and observing Earle when he works with students. He has such a nurturing and warm style, and he truly cares about each and every one of the students. I have worked with him in his classroom regularly over the years. Recently in light of his retirement, I’ve tried to pay a few extra visits. His classroom environment is quite remarkable.

His “corner of the world” has also been known as the place to get a cup of coffee, tea, and tasty treat whenever a break is needed. You always leave his room with a smile or a laugh. His warm, welcoming style reverberates with staff and students alike.

I put together a brief slide show below as a tribute to a great person. Earle will be missed, but he deserves all the best that retirement has to offer.

Farewell, friend. The coffee is on…

Music by Kevin MacLeod
Direct link to YouTube video

Web Literacy 101: Look Up!

I have a geeky habit that I would like to admit…I prefer to type out web addresses, rather than bookmarking them.

Why? Because it forces me to think about how websites are organized, and it tunes me into the browser address bar and what site I’m at. I completely understand that using the search box to find a site can be more efficient, but the concern I have is that clicking on search results, without noticing the actual web address, leads to misunderstanding how sites are organized. It is a basic skill that can greatly improve basic web literacy.

Take for example three sites used regularly by our district: the public web page, our school intranet (WITS), and our new Google Docs accounts. If you do not know the web address for one of these, obviously a search is in order. After visiting each of the sites, by looking up, you notice the web addresses of the three sites are:

  • www.williamsvillek12.org
  • wits.williamsvillek12.org
  • googledocs.williamsvillek12.org

It becomes obvious that the overall domain is williamsvillek12.org (also know as the second-level and top-level domains), and within there are multiple sub-domains (also know as third-level domains). If you are looking for the Williamsville wiki site for a particular teacher or group, you will find web addresses including these:

  • www.wiki.williamsvillek12.org
  • hmedtech.wiki.williamsvillek12.org
  • “nameoftecher”.wiki.williamsvillek12.org

Once again, the overall name remains williamsvillek12.org, while the sub-parts change. In the case of Williamsville wikis, all share the same third, second and top level domains (***.wiki.williamsvillek12.org). It is only the very beginning of the address that changes.

This analysis can be applied to any web address, and should be the first step in web literacy for students – what is the URL of the site you are at? What is the top-level domain (.edu, .com, .org, etc.)? By reading the URL, can you determine any information about the site? Every time you click, keep your eye on the browser’s address bar – one click can take you somewhere you do not expect.

Let’s take it one step further to look more closely at our district Google Docs accounts – the web address is below. When you click on it, keep your eye on the address bar (the link is set to open in a new tab or window).

When you click on the link and go to the site, notice that the address changes to something much longer and crazier:

  • https://www.google.com/a/williamsvillek12.org/ServiceLogin?service=writely&passive=1209600&continue=https://docs.google.com/a/williamsvillek12.org/&followup=https://docs.google.com/a/williamsvillek12.org/&ltmpl=homepage

That is a very different web address, but stick to the base address – www.google.com. We have a district Google Docs account with a district web address, but the actual accounts are on Google’s servers, not servers owned/managed by the district. There are many more interesting pieces about that web address that are more geeky and I will leave out, except for one (can’t resist…) – buried in the web address is “service=writely.” Before Google Docs was created, there was an online word processor called Writely that really got the ball rolling in terms of writing and collaborating online. Google purchased Writely’s company in 2006 and merged it with its Google Spreadsheets application. Even though Writely went away years ago, it still lives in the web address for Google Docs (and is the technology behind Google Docs).

OK, sorry to geek out there, but I think you get the point. Web addresses are extremely informative. There is no need to know the ins and outs of every web address, but the basics can really shed light on the world wide web for students. All you have to do is look up!

Image licensed from iStockphoto.com

One Pipe

I have been tinkering around with my Google Voice account after a colleague, @MrWarnes, showed me what he was trying with it. Then, speaking with our assistant principal, we got to talking about how tools like Google Voice and Skype are making traditional land lines obsolete. Wouldn’t it be great if everything you need for communication and productivity in school were in one place, one pipe if you will, coming through the ethernet cable?

Five years ago we cut the extra “pipes” into our house. We canceled our land line and switched to a VOIP phone service. All of our communication has been going through our cable modem. Some of our friends still find it “shocking” that although we have internet access through the cable TV provider, we don’t subscribe to cable TV. This is only due to the sticker shock of paying for so many channels that we never watch. Additionally, with the onslaught of Internet video services (Hulu, etc.), I believe the days of over-priced, over-stuffed channel services are numbered. In the last couple of months, fiber-optic service has been introduced in our area. We have signed up to convert to the higher quality dedicated pipe.

Of course it is possible to have one pipe for all communications, and there are many companies that are capitalizing on making the computer the single point of communication. How might this look in a school setting for a teacher, an administrator, or better yet, a student?

What would a main office look like if a principal (and his/her secretary) could manage all incoming and outgoing communication through the computer? What if a parent were able to go to the school website and click on a link to automatically call the school? What if the principal had an alert set up for any time the school hashtag was mentioned in Twitter, and could quickly respond if necessary?

What would a teacher’s classroom look like if all of their communication could be handled through the computer? No more leaving the desk or classroom to make a call, and then having to wait to get back to the computer to find necessary information. Voice calling access for teachers on their computer would be a huge benefit.

What would a student’s learning world look like if they had some form, any form, of technology at their disposal in the classroom? The technology divide for learning between adults and students is growing so large it is scary. We have arrived at a point where as adults and professionals, we could not last a day without the technology that we need. What sort of disservice are we doing by not providing our students with the same opportunity?

Mobile phones, and smart phones specifically, are the alternate form of the one pipe scenario. Just as the data machine is adopting voice on the computer, the voice machine is adopting data on the mobile phone. Adults are more used to the computer version of one pipe, while kids are more used to the mobile version. The type of pipe does not matter – what matters is having access to the pipe for learning.

Each of us needs only one pipe to be connected to the world. Each of us needs a pipe. All day, every day.

Thoughts or comments most welcome here, through Google Voice, or through Skype:

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Talk to you on the pipe!

Do You Want Me To Make That Harder For You?

This week I’d like to share with you a personal screen-play about the power of technology, creativity, and children…

  • Cast: Father and son (yes, me and mine)
  • Setting: family room on a weekend afternoon
  • Props: couch, iPad, desktop computer

Background: Remember the cool wooden maze game, Labyrinth? It is a wooden box with knobs on the side, and the goal is to guide the steel ball through the maze without falling into the holes. I have many memories of playing this game. Fast forward to 2010 – I have downloaded Labrynth 2 HD for the iPad. There are virtually limitless mazes to solve, new materials, bumpers, cannons, etc. My son is hooked on it. Following is a re-telling of what my son discovered:

Father: (on couch, playing Labyrinth 2 HD on iPad) Drat…got blown up by a cannon again…

Son: Daddy, click on the Create button on the screen.

Father: OK – let’s check it out…there is a “New” button – it looks like you can make your own levels.

Son: (squeals) Really?! Let’s do it!

Father: The directions say to go to a website, enter the code for the software, and design levels on the computer.

Son: (leaps to the computer) – I’m at the website – what is the code? (enters code) (investigates for a few moments while figuring out design interface) (squeals again) Awesome!

[2-3 minutes pass]

Son: OK dad, try out my level! (leaps back onto couch)

Father: (opens level created by son) Is this the one you just had on the screen on the desktop computer?

Son: Yes!

Father: Sweet! (finishes newly created level quickly)

Son: (leaps back to computer) Hold on – I know what I have to change! (brief pause) OK try it now! (leaps back to couch)

Father: (reloads level, son is eagerly hovering overhead, watching intently) Oooo – tricky, but I think I can do this – thanks for putting this wall here.

Son: I think I need to add some cannons and a few holes here…(leaps back to computer)

Father: Got it!

Son: Reload it and try again! (leaps back to couch)

Father: (reloads level) Grrr…hmph…grrr…almost…rats. (tries again multiple times) Whew, got it finally!

Son: Do you want me to make that harder for you?

The above scenario is one that has played out countless times in my house. There is a magic mix of design, creativity, physics, and immediate feedback that is spectacular. The physical manipulation of the game on the iPad (Labyrinth is on the iPod Touch also), combined with the ability to design levels and immediately try them out creates a hyper-motivating environment which my son (and now my daughter) loves to work in. One aspect we have not begun yet is to create and share levels with other people, but I’m sure we will get into that before too long. While the original analog version of Labyrinth is still fun, it cannot compare to where the current version has gone, thanks to technological connections.

There are many thoughts and ideas triggered for me when I think about this scenario, but on my mind right now is this: The students entering our schools are familiar with and live in these environments. There is content they have to learn that is most likely not familiar to them at all. What are we doing to help our students learn in ways that will immerse them and motivate them?

To use a concept from David Perkins book, Making Learning Whole, what are we doing to help kids “play the whole game?”