Groundswell Has Moved

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Some Big Questions

This morning I came in to find that a fellow staff member at Carol Morgan had emailed me a survey asking to answer some questions. thinking nothing of it, I opened it up to find only three, very large, very daunting questions which i found myself struggling to answer. The questions were as follows
  • In your opinion, what is the purpose of formal education (school)?
  • In your opinion, what are some of the most important things we need to be teaching students?
  • In your opinion, what are the most important challenges students will face when they finish school (including university)?
Certainly we have all discussed in one way, shape or form these questions and their implications for what we do in our classrooms and in our schools. However, never before have I had to try to form a nice, neat , concise, opinionated response to directly answer them. I decided to post these on my blog to see what kind of response I would get from others out there. Being that I think my regular readership is under 5 I don't expect to get a lot back but anything would be interesting. So what is your opinion?

Help Wanted

I am looking for a new spot to host a website, maybe my blog, wikis, podcasts...basically anything and everything I could need. Do you know of an all in one offering like this (that's free or very cheap). If so drop me a line, i would like to hear what everyone out there is using.

0-120mph in a blink of an eye. Welcome back to school

Holy Hectic Batman! It must be the end of August because I am up to my ears in work right now. I just got a "new" lab this year which was desperately needed. By shuffling some computers around were able to put 4 computers in each of our 5th grade classes (a first here at CMS). We moved some of the old high school and middle school computers into my elementary school computer lab to update the computers that were moved out. Needless to say the lab looks great (better than the pictures show anyway) and my room that now connect to the elementary library is ready to go. Those of you who manage computers in your classroom and or a computer lab know how much work it is cleaning old programs off computers and loading new software onto them can be. Minus a few small issues that still need to be taken care of by our wonderful IT staff, we are pretty much off and running and the 07-08 school year looks very promising. Here are the things that I am really excited about exploring and doing this year

  • Last year, the elementary school here led the way in switching to a standards based curriculum and school. This meant a complete overhaul in both the way teachers taught their classes and the way we reported student achievement. Last year we used the old Pearson Centerpoint which has now turned into Powerschool. We found that it was not set up to handle standards based reporting so the school has switched to using Webgrader. So far i am impressed with what it can do and its flexibility in handling the new demands of standards based reporting. In the future I think Powerschool with make the changes necessary to handle this but for now we are forced to use a third-party product. As is always the case when new programs are introduced here, I spend much of my time training staff and then afterwards answering their emails and questions when it comes to problems they might be having. I am always able to tell immediately know how well a program works and how user friendly it is by the amount of questions I have from the ES staff. This year after the Webgrader training I have not had a single question regarding any of the topics we covered. Although I would like to believe it is my superlative teaching, I know that it is the quality of the Webgrader program that is speaking for itself.
  • I have already been in touch with Chris Craft and Kim Kofino about joining Chris's project "Life 'Round Here". It is a digital storytelling contest that looks to dispel the prejudices we as global citizens have about different countries around the world using Microsoft's Photostory to edit and create digital story books. The project looks to contrast perceptions vs. realities in our respective countries. The deadline is coming fast for my 5th graders who are interested on October 31st.
  • Terry Smith a 4th grade teacher in Hannibal Mo. has graciously invited me to join his Monster Collaboration Project. I am rounding up teachers now who might want to participate in this one. Kids, from around the world (are you seeing a trend here?) will collaborate to build a monster for Halloween. Terry has been doing this for a while now and I think it will be a fun project for the kids and as always, will expose them to new kids and cultures around the globe that they will need to work with. Terry and I collaborated on the 1001 Flat World tales project started last year by Clay Burell in Korea.
  • Speaking of Clay Burell, I am looking forward to again participating with the 100 Flat World Tales Project again this year. Last year, the three Schools that participated were able to post our stories with art work and make revisions to each other stories using our class wiki. View the 1001 wiki HERE. You can link to the two other schools wikis HERE and HERE.
  • As I mentioned before we now have all of our 5th grade classes with 4 computers in each of them. Along with the Academic Tech. Director here at the CMS, we will begin working shortly with the teachers in these classes to incorporate these computers into their daily instruction and pedagogy. This should also aid the 5th grade classes in participating in collaborative projects with other schools since the students now have the opportunity to work both in their classrooms and in my lab.
  • I have just started a Masters Certificate program through San Diego State University. The 15 credit, 5 class, Certificate in Distance Education is something that I have searched and looked for, for a while. I liked their course offerings the best and they seem well tailored to where I want to move next in my career-designing online ed. programs/courses for universities/business/or state or private online schools. I have two classes this fall, Intro. to Distance Education , and Project Management in Distance Education . I will be blogging about my experiences in these classes and the program in general in the future. It has been exciting all ready to be in touch with and work with leaders in Distance Ed. like Fred Saba and Donn Ritchie from SDSU
  • Finally, I am working on an Elementary School Wiki for CMS so that teachers can go in and use it like their own personal webpage to alert parents and students to what is going on in class, assignments, etc.

Anyway, guess that's it for now, lot's going on but that's how it is for us teacher types. I described it like going from 0 to 120mph after a long summer vacation. Funny, I get little sympathy from my non-teacher friends...

Fell free to send me what is new with you and the 07-08 school year when you get a chance, maybe we can get something going.



It's Friday So I'll Keep It Brief

Two things I will share today....

First, I stumbled upon this quote yesterday from Jack Welsh, former CEO of General Electric. I thought it highly relevant to the state of education in the US and internationally today. Hopefully it will give you something to think about over the weekend. it goes like this,

"When the rate of change outside exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is in sight."

What does this say for education? For all the conversations, recommendations, proposals, and dialogue I see going on in the blogosphere I still see things going on in the "business as usual" vein where I work. I still see the vast, vast majority of school doing things more or less the same way they did things 10 years ago. So, why is change in education so difficult to initiate? Will we ever catch up? Will politicians and school boards ever get with it and make the decisions and calls that need to be made?

Secondly, I received this as a subscription to
Jamie McKenzie's site. It is an article about teaching visual literacy in the digital age which certainly needs to part of our 21 century curriculum in our classes. It is worth reading and equally disturbing to think about how easily or perceptions can be distorted and manipulated in this digital age. Please read it HERE.

Have a good weekend...Paz.

This story came to me through my subscription to the North American Council for Online Learning forums today. Being a Michigander the message hit a little closer to "home". TOM WATKINS, president and CEO of TDW and Associates, a business and education consulting company, was Michigan's state superintendent of schools from 2001-05. I decided to contact Tom about using his article in my blog and he graciously accepted. I included it in my blog because I have been struggling with this idea of "keeping up" lately (my last post-Of Big Hair and Social Networking) and what and how most teaching in the world continues to look like despite the fact that the world has changed drastically from the time when the pedagogy we continue to practice was effective in meeting the needs of the learners and society is served. Anyway, here is Tom's article.

Detroit Free Press Schools must play high-tech catch-up April 18, 2007 BY TOM WATKINS The iPod-in-every-pot plan that state House Democrats appeared to be promoting and then backed away from last week was just plain goofy. The idea of bringing more technology into our schools, however, is not, and it's too bad that the House Democrats have set it back some when they should have been focused on solving the state budget crisis. That's the best thing they can do for kids. But let's be clear: The students in our schools today will confront a rapidly changing, disruptive, information and technologically driven world that will defy predictability. Will they be ready? The answer is no, if we continue to think our public schools should resemble what they were when today's adults passed through them in the 20th Century. A recent report by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization that includes the country's top business, education and technology leaders, captures the essence of the dilemma facing our schools: "Today's education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn." We need to break down the 2-by-4-by-6 paradigm of today's public education system -- two covers of a textbook, four walls of a classroom and a six-hour school day. As Michigan attempts to catch up with the 21st Century, this state must realize that our children have to compete with the children of the world, not just those from adjacent school districts or states. It is imperative that policy makers and educators address the fact that in a hyper-competitive, entrepreneurial, information age, the old way of providing education must be altered -- and sooner rather than later. Michigan's students must be the recipients of an agile system of education and public policies that effect substantive change. IPods and other technological opportunities can and should be part of revolutionizing our schools. Information technology changes the relationship between people and knowledge and is reshaping in profound ways when and how we learn. Does the rapid evolution into a knowledge-based global society driven by information technologies sound like your neighborhood public school? If not, how can we expect our children and our state to be prepared to compete in the future? In a rapidly changing world, staying even is falling behind. Michigan cannot lead without casting off the anchors of attitude, archaic laws and public policies and beliefs that bind us to the 20th Century, status-quo education model. The House Democrats had the right idea, but rather than advancing the cause, their bumbling may have tied another anchor to the much needed education revolution.
In my response to Tom's article I wrote the following email to him

This issue brings me to start to wonder about school sovereignty. Would schools be more readily adaptable to changing technologies if they were independent of state mandates, budgeting, etc. In other words, if schools we empowered to make the choices that they saw fit would we as educators be able to adapt and “keep up” more consistently to the changing technological landscape that education faces? It also strikes me how much, at the Carol Morgan School, we do not deal with since we are a privately funded school and what that means in terms of the use and integration of technology at this school. It is much easier for me to get the tools that I see as necessary to teach my classes. Whether that be ipods, webcams, land on Second Life (we are exploring this now along with the implications for how these virtual settings might be used in the elementary grades-if you know anything about this please pass it on), money for video conference field trips, etc., as long as my rationale for the request is sound I usually am able to get what I want. However, there is one major component inherent in all of this and that is trust. I have the trust of my administrators that what I am doing as a tech teacher is the direction our students need to be taking to stay “current”. They trust that the tools I need are the tools that the students need and this is where I feel that the public education system sometimes falls short in the US.

I think trust is a very important factor of educational reform. Without trust from administrators, school boards, or state legislators reform seems to be headed towards a dead end. Jeff Utecht has written on the topic of trust and I think it fits well here with what Tom is saying in his article.

Furthermore and on a slightly different tack, I have been struggling lately here with my role and my job. Truth be told, if teachers at my school were "keeping up" with the changing educational landscape and 21 century literacy skills I would be out of a job. We would not need an upper elementary tech. facilitator because teachers, given the proper professional development and resources, would be facilitating their own use of technology in their classes. In fact they would be facilitating it at all they would just be teaching with it similar to their use of a whiteboard, a pen, or a pencil in their class. The truth is though, we are a long ways from this from where I stand. Among the factors I see contributing to our need to "catch up" in education is lack of on-going accountable professional development for teachers, teacher resistance to change, the failure of teacher training programs at the university level to adequately prepare new teachers to meet and foresee the changing educational/technological landscape, the failure of school administrators to "take the bull by the horns" and do what is right for student learning rather than what is right for the school board, local politicians or state legislatures to name a few. Unfortunately what happens here in classrooms I feel is, at least, the norm of what is happening in international schools around the world as well as stateside schools for that matter. The question looms then, will we in education ever fully catch up? Will we ever get ahead of the curve? Will our students ever leave a 12th grade ready for the world that awaits them outside of academia?

I would love to hear any comments or thoughts from those of you who might read this who teach in the states. What are your thoughts about "catching up" Can we catch up? What are the major barriers in your opinion?

images from NACOL.org, http://www.slowleadership.org/2006/06/mistrust-and-trust.html

Of Big Hair and Social Networking

Remember the good old days when things like Calvin Klein jeans, big plastic combs in your back pocket, Gloria Vanderbilt jeans, and big hair bands were all the rage. Remember what we referred to these things as? Fads. That is right Fads. Yep, they have all come and gone (and they might come back again someday-hopefully minus big hair rock 'n roll), but they were just that, fads. Upon return from a very relaxing and very unplugged spring break here in the DR I cam e back to find a number of the edublogs I follow in my Netvibes account were discussing these new social networking sites such as Twitter, Ning, Facebook, the omnipresent Myspace, Jaiku, and beyond. It got me wondering...

There seems to be a lot of talk out there about how and where these fit into the realm of Educational Technology or if they fit at all. Most bloggers are trying these sites out themselves in order to see how they might fit them into their classrooms. I have no problem with this and actually I enjoy reading about their trials with these new Web 2.0 apps.

Stepping back though and trying to grasp what these networking sites provide, and what they might provide educationally, I was struck by an iconic vision of the 80's, the tight jeans with the big comb in the back pocket. Shortly thereafter, the word fad jumped into my head and I figured it worthy of a post here. You may have disagreed when you saw the picture of Poison above but if you're still reading, congratulations. I'll admit, I went to many of the sites I listed above to see what they were all about, most I had already checked out but Twitter for example was new to me. So where does social networking and technology in education fit? Hell, after thinking about this for a week, reading numerous posts, and writing one of my own, I have no clue. I don't see it/get it like many others out there are also saying. I guess I am starting to wonder if we do need to get it. Do we need to include social networking in the tools we employ as educational technologists? Will social networking sites last-are they here for good? And, what about the changing landscape of social networking sites themselves. The massive Myspace population is now losing some people to Facebook. Was Myspace the first of many social networking fads or will it re-invent itself to avoid the outcome of big hair rock n' roll?

Obviously I am not posting answers here but just some thoughts. Should we as educators be chasing fads and should we also be trying to see they educational benefit in every new Web 2.0 application? Would we be better off to let time and good judgement take its due course before actually rushing to the next "new" thing? When did it become important for us to "know" people we don't know and will never meet? What is the educational value in students knowing up to the minute updates of someones personal goings-on? Have we really moved that far from face to face social networking?

Finally, anyone who has ever been to Latin America will tell you about the plazas in the middle of most towns, from the smallest to the biggest you can usually find one with a statue of someone dead or a nice fountain of falling water. While there is much in Latin America that I do not admire, the idea of the central plaza is one that I have come to fully embrace. I now find myself rating the plazas I see driving through towns or when traveling. I guess what strikes me is that there are always people in these plazas, relaxing but almost always talking to other people...face to face no less. In the flat world will there be room and/or time for this type of social networking or will all of these non-virtual meeting places become the ruins of the pre-social networking age?