Monday, November 18, 2013

Legislative Forum: Part I

I haven't written in a while, but am compelled to now after I attended a forum this evening at Southeast of Saline USD 306 in Gypsum, KS.

There were many things said on which I mean to comment, but I have to start with a relatively short piece for two reasons:  the sheer arrogance of the comment, and the fact that I'm extremely tired.

During the course of the question and answer session, one of the school board members was questioning the opinions of Rep. Tom Arpke, R. 24th District on the Common Core State Standards movement.  Mr. Arpke stated that he believes it is a waste of time and money for the Judicial branch to force a special session on school funding if they rule that the schools are being underfunded.

Oh, really?

So, Mr. Arpke, tell me why we are in this situation, again?  Oh, that's right.  I remember now.  The legislative branch willfully broke a law written into the state constitution.  Then, through the checks and balances set up by our government, the Judicial branch ordered the Legislative branch to follow the law.  Again, they chose instead to break it.  That's not all.  Then, they created a situation in which they would have no choice but to break it in the future.

That's right.  The representatives in the legislature chose to break a law, were ordered to follow it, broke it again, and then chose not to fix the problem but to create circumstances that guarantee that it continue.

Tell me, Mr. Arpke, am I going to be allowed to disobey the tax laws you voted for that I don't agree with?  After all, I'm just a lowly citizen.  You are an elected official.  I would estimate that your obligation to follow the laws is at least as great as mine, if not more.

It seems to me that there is quite a bit of a double standard at work in our state.  While I could lose my property and go to jail for breaking a law, legislators are allowed to do the same thing with immunity.

At one point in the forum, Mr. Arpke asked what we (schools) need.  We need you to follow the law.  It's not that complicated.  Unless, of course, you are educated at the funding levels Mr. Arpke prefers.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

10 Expectations Students Have of Schools

I'd love for you to watch this video, and then leave a comment with your opinions.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

PA1.F.6: Letting Them Fly

Do you have any idea what PA1.F.6 is?  Even when I tell you that it is a specific part of the district teacher evaluation form, you probably still have no idea what it evaluates.  

One of the biggest mysteries in education in my opinion is how we have managed to remain stagnant for so long in a rapidly changing world.  Do you know of any other major institution that is still talking about moving into this century after more than 13 years of it have passed?  Schools pretty much do things the same way they have since the days before the information revolution, and we are in the business of information.  Think about that for a moment. 

If humans suddenly had the ability to fly, would you still buy expensive airline tickets, wait in lines at the airport, check your baggage and hope that it arrives at the same place and time as you do, get bumped and cancelled and transferred, all before sitting uncomfortably close to a stranger with a bad cough and hope you don't have to use a bathroom the size of a mop closet?  Of course not.  

Essentially, that's what we do every day in classrooms. We act as if this new power doesn't exist.  Before the Internet was so ubiquitous, your access to knowledge consisted of what you could find at the library, who you could talk to, and how good of a source they might be.  If you couldn't find a person or a book with the answers you needed, you were out of luck.  

Today, nearly everyone in our schools has access to almost every piece of human knowledge.  And what do we do with that power in places of learning?  In the very places where information, learning, and knowledge are most revered, we ask everyone to shut off their access to the entire world of knowledge that is nearly instantly available at their fingertips.  

In these places where we prepare students for the world, we pretend it hasn't changed.  

In the places where we prepare students for the future, we continue doing what we did in our pasts.  

PA1.F.6 says:  "Integrates technology to maximize learning opportunities."  What does that even mean?  A digital worksheet?  Using a board that works with a pen?  Using a projector?  

It is buried dead last among a list of six criteria for the sixth section of "Productive Teaching Techniques".  Also in section F are providing remedial and enriched activities for various learners, differentiating instruction, implementing IEPs (which is required by law anyway), organizing students into groups, and effective pacing.  Only one score is given for this extremely wide swath of essential teacher behaviors.  One score.  For all of that.  

What gets measured gets improved.  I'm not sure we are really measuring what matters.  How is it possible for an administrator to properly evaluate a teacher on those 6 criteria with one single score?  Each is important enough for its own section on the form.  

By burying such an important part of what it takes to be a lifelong learner in an evaluation, we diminish its importance.  We bury the information itself away from our students.  We tie their hands before asking them to jump into the ocean and swim for themselves.  We are sending them into a maze blindfolded.  We are crippling them.  

It's time to stop crippling students with our own lack of technology use. It's time to give them wings.  It's time to let them use their ability to fly.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Be A User, NOT An Integrator

I was reading a blog by an aspiring teacher and ESSDACK intern, Taylor Tracy, about the end of technology integration.  His view is that integration will soon give way to technology innovation.  I'd like to piggy back on that idea, and say that we need to stop being integrators in favor of being users of technology.

The best way to be good at technology integration is to stop thinking about it as technology integration. What do I mean?  Let me ask you a question:  do you intentionally plan for the use of paper in your classrooms?  When do you use paper?  When do you use pencils or pens?  Exactly.  You use them when you need them.

That is exactly where we should be with technology by now.  Instead of planning for its use, you just plan for what you want students to know and how you're going to get them there.  The tools that lend themselves to the work of the day are the tools that get used.

So how do we get to that point of using technology as ubiquitously as we would other, more familiar tools like pens and paper?  Simple:  use them yourself.

You aren't going to begin to naturally see the usefulness of certain technology tools if you don't use them yourself on a regular basis to do...whatever.  If you want to be at the point where you can easily plug the best tool into the equation with the job needing to be done, you're going to have to be familiar with a variety of tools.  You'll need to know how they are used, their strengths and weaknesses, and how you would use them for different purposes.  Just knowing what is possible and available is a huge first step.  How could you know to let students use a tool if you don't even know it exists?

Technology is changing all the time.  It doesn't matter how far behind you might be.  The important thing is to jump in right now.  After all, if you're behind, that just means something better has come along and replaced what you didn't use last year.  It's like buying a car a couple of years after the first model comes out, so that the bugs are worked out.

The best part is that you can often get ideas from students.  You have to be willing to ask, and to let them choose tools that will meet your criteria for the learning part of things.  They might not always make the best choices, but that's why we're here-to help guide them when they are growing and learning.  Wouldn't it be great if we graduated students who were all resourceful at choosing effective tools to do just about anything they need to do?  What a marketable skill!

It couldn't be easier.  All you have to do is find a tool that you want to use for something, anything, that you need to do anyway.  Find a tool that helps you do it better, faster, or more completely.  Once you learn how to use that tool, it will be easier to learn the next one.  And the next.  And the next.  You get the idea.

Here is an example:  you know someone who is graduating.  You want to make them a slideshow.  You look online for some simple slideshow tools.  You find one, learn to upload your pictures and add music, add a few transitions, and you're done.  You learn to share the link to the slideshow with the graduate, send it to them, and now you know all kinds of things that will translate when you learn another tool later on.  Uploading files?  No problem.  Sharing links?  Get outta the way, you got this.

The next time a student has a bunch of images that they want to present in some way, your mind might just snap back to that tool you used, and you can give the student an option to use something similar.  That's what we're talking about:  students having the ability to use the correct tool for the correct job at the correct time.

That's not integration of technology, it's having a classroom with modern resources available for student use.

Friday, April 26, 2013

On: 8 Characteristics of a Great Teacher

Over at, I read a post called "8 Characteristics of a Great Teacher".  It was a well written piece, dealing with everything from confidence to how the great teachers choose to spend their time.  As a tech guy and former teacher, one of the characteristics caught my eye:

5.  They're Technologically Capable

Let's not belabor this point, after all, plenty of ink (or pixels as the case may be!) has already been spilled on this topic.  As time passes, the statement "But I'm not very good with ________." (fill in the blank with any number of technological devices) is sounding ever more like "But I'm not very good with a telephone."

The only time the sentiment above is acceptable is if it's followed immediately by "...but I'm very willing to learn!"  After all, we wouldn't accept such weak rationalizations from students regarding their work.  In 2013, as a profession, we lose credibility every time we allow excuses like this to go unchallenged.  Enough said.

The reason this caught my eye is because I still hear this as the prevailing "reason" why teachers aren't using technology or even allowing students to use it in their disciplines.

I'd like to know what you think about it.  Please post in the comments below.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

NOT Optional

John Spencer listed 11 Reasons Why Teachers Aren't Using Technology on his blog last July.  Forgive my lack of timeliness, I just came across it today thanks to my PLN on Plurk.  I took a screenshot of number 9 because I'd like to talk about it: (click image to enlarge)

The fact of the matter is that we are in a climate of compliance.  If we weren't, we wouldn't be putting aside everything we love about teaching, everything that made us choose this noble profession, in lieu of teaching to some stupid test imposed on us by people who know nothing about what we do every day (not to mention the fact that stupid test doesn't even do a good job of measuring what it is supposed to measure).  So, yes, compliance.

Compliance or not, I want to go back to that other part:  that we chose this profession for the love of learning.  To make a difference.  To inspire.  To create opportunity where there was only doubt before we came along.  Am I right?

If the standardization of people who are as unique as can be, negative media, politics, and lack of a decent and respectable pay grade haven't already squeezed that love of teaching out of you, congratulations!  Teachers are leaving the profession at nearly the same rate as divorce in this country.  If you're still in your classroom trudging away, there is very little incentive NOT to use technology.

Let me explain.  I assume that if you have put up with all of that stuff, you DO care about teaching and learning, and you care deeply about every student who enters your room leaving with a life-long love of learning that will serve them well for as long as they have a brain in their head and feet in their shoes.  If that is true, your comfort level hasn't ever mattered when it came to what your students really needed.  You have always put aside your own needs for your students.  You have sacrificed:  time, money, sanity, sleep...the list goes on-for your students.

You see why I'm having a hard time with this?  Just because it isn't required doesn't explain why good teachers still aren't using technology.  I think we are well beyond the argument that today's students need to know more about using technology for learning and creating than we did.  Yet, we still teach them the way we were taught.

There is a gigantic chasm between what we know our students need and what we are doing to prepare them for it.  The only thing I can think of is that maybe we are scared to venture away from test prep and "accountability", forcing us to "cover" as much as we can.

Why are you scared?  If you're a good teacher, what is the worst that can happen?  You'd never get fired.  It's very rare that a terrible teacher gets fired.  You're not going to get the boot because you're doing what you, the professionally trained educator, feel in your heart is best for your students.  Besides, if you're a good teacher, you'll get results.

It's beyond time that teachers take back their classrooms.  Take it back from the test development companies.  Take it back from the politicians who think they know how to do what you do, while having no clue what actually goes on inside a classroom today.  Take it back from the media, who would lambast you for belonging to a union or for thinking you shouldn't have to carry a gun to protect yourself in a place of learning.  Take it back from parents who show up only to yell at you for asking their kids to be responsible for their own learning.  Take it back from the businesses who want you to do things like Wall Street does them, as if that's a great model to follow.

It's your room.  It's your class.  It's your profession.  It's your passion.  They are your students.  You are the professional.

Now get out there and do what you already know your students need you to do.  Learn, grow, and change.  We model what we want from them.  Show your students how it's done.

Oh, and it's OK to ask them for help along the way.  ;)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tell Me How He's Wrong

Area Education Agency 267 posted a video called Education in a Digital World, in which issues around education and technology are discussed with Dr. Scott McLeod, an expert on educational leadership.

Here is an excerpt from the video:

“The world around us these days is both digital and global.  Technology is diffusing everything, we’re globally interconnected with people and places that were never connected before.  In this digital global age that we now live, we’re finding that for the most part our schools are neither of those.  Schools are supposedly knowledge institutions where we teach kids to be masters of information, and yet if you look out in the real world beyond schools and beyond universities at how knowledge workers do their jobs, they’re doing it all with computers.  Here we are pretending that we’re preparing students for knowledge work in a knowledge economy, a very hyper-connected, hyper-competitive, global knowledge economy, and yet we’re doing it with ring binders and notebook paper.” 
 -Dr. Scott McLeod

I invite you to watch the video.  In the comments, tell me what you think.  How is he wrong?  

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Technology Frustration

Do you have a lawnmower that only starts if you push that little primer button exactly 4 times, and pull the cord really hard three times fast?  Maybe you have a door that doesn't close unless you lift up on the handle a bit, or a drawer that sticks unless you pull it all the way out before closing it, or a TV remote that only works when you aim at the top left corner?  Chances are, there are all kinds of things like that in your life, and you don't even notice them.  

Why, then, do we freak out, throw a fit, get frustrated, and abandon an otherwise worthy technology tool if it doesn't perform exactly as expected every single time?  

For me, technology can be more frustrating than those other things because I don't understand why it isn't working.  I can clearly see that the door won't close because the latch isn't aligned with the hole it is supposed to fit into.  I know that when it's cold outside, my car door on my Taurus might not close without a little WD-40 to help the mechanism move down over the little post that holds it closed.  But when some piece of technology that works 99% of the time suddenly doesn't, it just irks me!  

I mean, machines are supposed to work the same way every single time, unless something changes from the time they last worked to the time they don't.  If nothing has changed, there is no logical explanation for why it suddenly doesn't work.  It's maddening.  It isn't like it has feelings and decides not to work.  It isn't broken.  No one broke into the computer and manipulated the code.  It just worked this time, and not this other time.  Argh!  

But I keep using the tools, or find one that works better.  I don't give up trying altogether.  

An inevitable part of using any kind of tool is dealing with the sometimes frustrating times that it doesn't work.  When I was teaching, we had dry erase markers and a dry erase whiteboard.  I didn't see tons of teachers hesitating or refusing to adopt that method of writing on the board simply because the markers occasionally dried out.  We just planned ahead and had extra markers around.  

If using technology tends to frustrate you more than anything else that doesn't work sometimes, it might be because you're thinking of it differently than what it really is.  It's just a tool.  Like a lawnmower that is hard to start.  It's still a much better way of cutting the grass than getting out there with your scissors.  The effort of that extra pull to get it started is worth it.

In the classroom, there are tools that are just that much better than the way we've done things in the past.  Give up your scissors and give the lawnmower one more pull.  It will be worth it.  

Monday, April 8, 2013

Even the Great Ones Need to Keep Up

There are lots of great teachers who never use technology.  There are so many things that go into being a great teacher that it is possible to be one of the best without electricity.  Great teachers inspire you.  They make you want to learn.  Their students are rarely absent, because they truly enjoy being challenged and the feeling they get when they accomplish what they didn't know they could do.  

Still, I would argue that those great teachers are not preparing students for their futures as well as they could be.  It is a major mistake to fail to account for the change that technology has brought upon the world.  

The workforce, the jobs themselves, the way we communicate with one another, the drastically changing rules of discourse in an online and always connected world, the ever changing ways in which we need to be aware of our online selves, the way we seek and scrutinize information that is ubiquitous and free-flowing, the list goes on-and all of it has a major impact on the world we are preparing students for.  

Failing to recognize or prepare students for that world is a mistake.  Even the best teachers cannot say that they are preparing students for life if they fail to recognize that life has changed dramatically in the last decade.  

The best teachers are models of life long learning.  We have to keep up to serve our students well.  

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Why Should I? Part V

This is the fifth in a series of posts titled "Why Should I?".  Each post will look at one reason why it is worth the time and effort to improve your 21st Century teaching skills. 

Preparing Students for Their Future, not Your Past

It's been said that technology isn't technology if it happened before you were born.  Does it blow your mind whenever you see a car go by?  Do you marvel at the images on a television screen, sneaking a peek behind the gadget to see where the people inside it are coming from?  Do you look around for the person on the other end of the phone, because they must be nearby?  Of course not.  You grew up with those things.  They aren't magic, they've always been there.  

The Internet is like that for our students.  It is just there.  It always has been.  Can you imagine how frustrating it is for them that so many of their teachers never let them use it in their classrooms?  It would be kind of like your teachers making you use a quill and ink despite the invention of ballpoint pens and mechanical pencils.  It's ridiculous.  

Yet here we are, still talking about it.  

Inside the walls of a school, ironically, is one of the last places that seems to be unchanged by technology.  Nearly every other part of the world has changed, and changed drastically.  Why do so many teachers still pretend that it hasn't?  How can we say we are doing our jobs preparing students for the future while walking into a virtual time machine to our pasts when we teach?  

Here is a fact:  your students are going to spend their entire lives in the future.  Yet, most teachers still prepare them using things from their pasts.  I've mentioned this statistic before, but when we did a survey of 99.9% of all certified staff in the district just a few years ago, more than half answered that they allow students to use computers/technology tools in their classrooms once per month, once per year, or never.  That's right, more than half.  Once per month or less.  

Sure, there are some things that are timeless.  Critical thinking, problem solving, working with others, communicating, the list goes on.  No matter what technology comes along, these will be important.  

Do you realize that these things are the very same things that are better taught with modern tools?  Technology tools help students solve problems.  They help students learn to think critically.  They can remove the things that got in the way of really thinking about the problems, so that they can focus on the creative thinking needed to solve it.  And do we even need to talk about communication?  About how much faster and more efficient it could be with modern tools than in our time in school?  How many more opportunities there are for students to create with digital tools today than even ten years ago?  

Teachers today need to stop thinking about technology as an add-on, as something else they need to do, deal with, or monitor.  It is simply the way the world works now.  

If you claim to be preparing students for the world, and you don't use technology to do it, you are preparing them for a world that no longer exists.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Why Should I? Part IV

This is the fourth in a series of posts titled "Why Should I?".  Each post will look at one reason why it is worth the time and effort to improve your 21st Century teaching skills. 


Remember letters?  I still like to write them, believing they are a lost art and a personal connection that seems to be missing from the ways we communicate today in short, 140 character spurts.  Not everything about technology is an improvement.  With speed and ease, we sometimes trade off other things, like the personal touch of a handwritten letter.  

The gains of technology, however, are often baffling.  Let's talk about classrooms.  When I was a kid, if my teacher wanted to seek the advice of an expert that didn't live in our community, we'd have to try and call.  We didn't have cell phones.  We didn't have phones in the classroom.  Often, we had to write a letter.  That would mean weeks to hear a reply, if we heard a reply at all.  That's a lot of time and uncertainty for a teacher whose lessons could depend on the answers.  

It's easy to see why teachers have long been stuck in the idea that they have to have all the answers, make all the decisions, and be the experts in whatever they teach as well as whatever might come up.  Relying on others was, well, unreliable.  It took too long.  It might not ever result in anything.  If it did, the opportunity to catch kids in that magical moment of interest was often lost.  

Today, we have Skype.  We have blogs.  We have wikis.  We have Google Docs/Drive.  We have instant messaging, text, and the list goes on and on and on.  There is absolutely NO reason whatsoever NOT to include experts in your classroom community.  You can reliably contact all kinds of interesting people all over the world.  It happens quite often.  Not nearly enough, but often.

Here is an example of how technology could facilitate an entire project, complete with an expert.  This photo is a screenshot taken from my Plurk page.  Plurk is what I use for my PLN, or Professional Learning Network.  I have lots of educators from around the world, tech directors, technology integration folks, and administrators on my timeline.  Often, the magic of the Internet unfolds.  Today it went something like this:  Ginger Lewman, a consultant at ESSDACK who happens to be a Problem Based Learning Godess, shared a link to a free copy of one of her recipe cards.  They are complete, multi-subject projects to serve as a springboard for just about any classroom.  This one was a challenge for students to save the residents of Pompeii.  Michael Soskil, a teacher in Pennsylvania, responded with an offer to Skype his brother in law as an expert. His brother in law happens to be an Archaeology Professor in the UK and knows a thing or two about the dig site.  

Bam!  Just like that, an opportunity for a high quality lesson that stretches students' thinking across multiple disciplines, involves them in real world problem solving and critical thinking, and even involves collaboration (just like the real world) with an expert in the field.  All I had to do was talk with some friends.  

How can we ignore the potential of things like this?  

Here is some more information for you to learn from and connect with the two great members of my PLN mentioned in this post:
Ginger Lewman:
Blog:  Edupreneur

Michael Soskil:

Why Should I? Part III

This is the third in a series of posts titled "Why Should I?".  Each post will look at one reason why it is worth the time and effort to improve your 21st Century teaching skills.  

Practicing What You Preach

What do we want for our students?  

Most of us can easily rattle off no less than ten answers to that question in just a few seconds.  Somewhere in your top ten, I would be willing to bet you would say something along the lines of "learning how to learn" or "being a life long learner", right?  

Well, then, we should put up or shut up.  

In the following paragraphs, I'm going to copy (with permission) Tim Holt's recent blog titled, I don't do technology in its entirety.  

” I don’t do technology.”
I cannot even begin to count of the number of times I have heard that phrase uttered by teachers and administrators.
“I don’t do technology.”
There are variations of the phrase as well, such as “I can’t figure this out, so I need someone to do it for me,” “It’s too complicated for me” and the most famous of all “I’m not a techie.”
All of these are used, in one form or another to avoid using technology in the classroom with students and to wash themselves of any technology-related instructional responsibility. 
It amazes me that in a profession that is all about learning, there are a vast number of people that cannot learn. They cannot practice what they preach.
“Hey kid, learn this stuff so I don’t have to.” 
Is ther any other profession that acts like that? Are there doctors that say “That is too techie for me, so I cannot learn that new surgical method?” Are there airline pilots that refuse to fly a plane if it has too many computerized instruments?
I was thinking about technophobic teachers the other day (or “Refuseniks” as I like to call them ) and I began to wonder what would a teacher do if a student used those exact same words in them, but with whatever they were teaching as the phrase? Would they put up with that? Or would they call the students insolent and then call their parents? 
“Sorry Mrs. Smith, you know, I simply am not a “mathie.”
Gee Mr. Lopez, I would love to do your science assignment, but I am just not good at science. I need someone to do it for me, if that’s okay.
I don’t do social studies. Sorry. I am just not social study-ee enough. Maybe when I find the time.
I am not a PE -ie.
I am not an Artie.
I am not a techie.
What that really means is “I am not a learner in a profession that is all about learning.”

I would like to thank Tim for allowing me to cross post his work here.  As always, I welcome discussion.  You do not have to use your name.  

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Why Should I? Part II

This is the second in a series of posts titled "Why Should I?".  Each post will look at one reason why it is worth the time and effort to improve your 21st Century teaching skills.  

Information Literacy

Let's pretend for a minute that every single one of us lives along the busiest street in the world.  Would you let your kids play in that street?  Would you even let them cross it without holding your hand?  

Today, there are 2.4 billion users of the Internet, the largest "street" in the world.  Every one of those users is on your block, so to speak.  Experts in the mobile device world estimate another 2 billion coming online for the first time in the next few years, with the help of Internet ready smart phones.  In spite of the massive number of people on your "block"- people that you don't know, people that you suspect are up to no good, and people who would victimize you and/or anyone you care about without a moment's pause - in spite of all this, we let kids play in the street.  

Now I want you to pause for a moment and consider your responsibility as a teacher.  Do you consider yourself responsible for teaching kids how to succeed?  Probably.  Do you extend that responsibility to teaching them how to learn after they leave school?  Most likely.  Do you believe it's important to keep them safe?  

Information Literacy, fluency, or whatever you want to call it is one of the most important things we can teach today.  As teachers, it's easy to see the connection between the Internet and the importance of showing students how to find good information, sort it out from the bad information, and use it effectively to get things done for a variety of tasks.  But we fall woefully short of our obligations when it comes to most of the things we should be teaching students about the world wide web.  

How many of you reading this can name at least 3 ways to check the validity of information on a website?  Do you know how to find out who owns the site?  Do you know how to check on the outrageous claims that seem to flood FaceBook posts and email en masse?  

When I was in school, I had to be a part of a gifted program in order to learn about the tricks advertisers use to dupe us into buying their products, the ways in which politicians twist facts to their liking and agenda (just ask Gov. Brownback), and to follow the money whenever a claim was made so that we could tell if someone had something to gain from it (Koch Brothers, anyone?).  As Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on him not understanding it."

I remember thinking back then, "Wow!  Why don't they teach this stuff to everyone?"  And today, I'm still wondering why we don't.  

A lot has changed since I was in school.  A lot more is at stake.  A lot more of us are at risk when we cannot read between the lines.  This is no longer something that can or should only be taught to a few.  This should be a mandatory discussion around every bit of information, regardless of the place from which it is gleaned.  

Students should be conditioned to question things.  Fact checking should be a reflex, and the tools and methods for doing so should be second nature.  

Taking things at face value today could be just as fatal as playing in the world's busiest street.  

November Learning resources for Information Literacy:  This site contains answers to the questions, and some great activities and examples.

USD 418 Draggo Links:

Monday, March 4, 2013

Let's Talk!

One of the blogs I like to follow is Dangerously Irrelevant, written by Dr. Scott McLeod.  In a recent post, he says that the answers we seek lie within us.  More specifically, he thinks that teachers and staff hold the answers to some of the most pressing "how do we?" questions related to school reform.  Here is an excerpt:

"While I’ve been sharing resources and trying to spark some ‘urgency’ to move forward faster, much of the time I’ve been asking questions. Questions like:
  • How can we get more problem-based learning into our classrooms?
  • What are some ways that we can make students’ learning experiences more global?
  • In two minutes, can you come up with five ways that you could increase student voice online?
  • How could you put your students to work to make something that benefited others?"

I'm interested in what you have to say.  What other questions might you add?  How would you answer the ones above?  

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Pictures to Think About

the original screenshot from
While running through my Google Reader feeds today, I ran across this post by Terry Heick at, and it made me want to try my own Google searches to see what came up in the instant list.  The results are below in screenshots.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, February 15, 2013

What Will It Take?

Today, an asteroid will zoom past the earth, narrowly avoiding a collision course that would take out an area roughly the size of the New York Metropolitan area.  We got lucky.  

We actually got REALLY lucky.  The fact is, we only knew about asteroid 2012 DA14 (click here to find out how to watch it) a year ago.  Scarier still, it is part of the mere 1% of objects that scientists think could potentially end life on earth.  If it were headed straight for us, we wouldn't have had time to prepare.  The best we could have done would have been to get out of the way and wait for the dust to settle.  

I bring this up because eventually, it just might be our fate.  At least, if education has anything to do with it.  

From my perspective, educational change is coming so slowly that it is going to take years before we catch up to where we should be today, and by then, we will be another couple of decades behind.  

What will it take to get things moving?  What will light a fire hot enough, bright enough, and smoky enough to signal the attention of those with the power to change things?  

It takes an event like Sandy Hook just to get people talking about serious gun control.  Even then, not much has happened.  The real changes that would need to take place to ensure kids are safe from being gunned down in their classrooms will not come anytime soon.  People would rather have high capacity murder machines than save one innocent life.  What kind of catastrophe will it take to motivate the United States to update its Industrial Revolution model school system?  

Shocking reports of failing national scores do little more than make people debate the validity of the tests and what the data means.  Comparisons to other countries that show us lagging behind only make people shout about different demographics as the cause.  A tanking economy - with businesses who want to hire but who can't find Americans with the skills they need - only gets people riled up about the  manufacturing and factory jobs that have gone overseas that these graduates used to be qualified for.  No one seems to realize that we need to prepare students today for different jobs.  Or, more accurately, no one is doing anything about that fact in our schools.  

Do we really want those factory jobs back?  Or, would we rather forge ahead and continue leading the world in innovation?  Apparently, neither.  

Instead, we keep right on churning out the "widgets" that are your children and mine.  We treat them like factory products.  We group them by age, run their lives with a bell schedule, give them mind-numbing busy work of repeated problems, and teach them to sit still and follow directions.  This was great when what we needed were obedient factory workers who didn't have to creatively solve problems, only do what they were told.  

But it isn't what we need today.  

Today, we need classrooms to be dynamic, social, interdisciplinary, multi-age, creative hubs outfitted with the digital tools that people actually use today to get their work done.  A modern classroom should involve real problems that students work together to solve.  They need to learn how to research, find things that will get the job done, and do it.  Kids should be able to go where they fit, not where they are surrounded by others who were born at approximately the same time.  

We need students who are willing and capable of working together to solve really big problems; like climate change, global poverty, population explosion and the ensuing fresh water shortage, terrible violence, and yes, even asteroids on a collision course with our home.  

Do you have a worksheet for that?  

So what will it take to get there?  What will it take before people realize that education is the only way to craft our future intentionally?  When will people finally wake up and realize that investing in children, although a long term investment, yields better results than anything else we could do for America?  

Do we want to make our future, or wait until an asteroid wakes us up?  

Never mind, I doubt even that would convince everyone that the education they received in 1950 isn't good enough for today's students.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Research and Data

From Project RED:

"In 2010, Project RED conducted the first large-scale national study to identify and prioritize the factors that make some U.S. K-12 technology implementations perform dramatically better than others."

From our own district analysis the same year, with more than 97% if teachers responding to the question: "How often are your students using digital tools and resources during the instructional day?"
  • Multiple times per day:  0%
  • Once per week-once per day:  38%
  • Once a month, once a year, and never:  55%

Can we finally get some discussion going on this blog?  You can even post anonymously.  

Friday, February 8, 2013

Student iPhone Contract

Recently, Janell Burley Hofmann published a contract for her son, Gregory, on her blog.  You can read the original here.  It went viral, garnering attention from major news outlets all over the country for its straightforward, common sense approach and expectations.  Here is a revised edition, for students:

Dear Student,
Oh, Happy Day!   You are now the proud user of an iOS device.  Wohoo!  You are a good & responsible student and you deserve this opportunity.  But with the acceptance of this opportunity comes rules and regulations.  Please read through the following contract.  I hope that you understand it is our job to educate you into a well rounded, healthy young person that can function in the world and coexist with technology, not be ruled by it.  Failure to comply with the following list will result in termination of your iOS usage.

We love teaching madly & look forward to sharing several million teachable moments with you in the days to come.
 1. It is the district's device.  Taxpayers bought it.  They paid for it.  We are loaning it to you.  Aren’t we the greatest?

 2.  We will always know the password.

 3.  Hand the device to your teacher promptly whenever they should ask for it.

4.  If it falls into the toilet, smashes on the ground, or vanishes into thin air, you are responsible for the replacement costs or repairs.  Mow a lawn, babysit, stash some birthday money.  It will happen, you should be prepared.

5.  Do not use this technology to lie, fool, or deceive another human being.  Do not involve yourself in conversations that are hurtful to others.  Be a good friend first or stay out of the crossfire. 

6.  Do not text, email, post, or say anything through this device you would not say in person.

7.  Do not text, email, post, or say anything to someone that you would not say out loud with their parents in the room.  Censor yourself.

8.  Nothing inappropriate.  Search the web for information you would openly share with your teachers.  If you have a question about anything, ask a person.

9.  Turn it off, silence it, put it away in public.  Especially in a restaurant, at the movies, or while speaking with another human being.  You are not a rude person; do not allow any device to change that.

10.  Do not send or receive pictures of your private parts or anyone else’s private parts.  Don’t laugh.  Someday you will be tempted to do this despite your high intelligence.  It is risky and could ruin your teenage/college/adult life.  It is always a bad idea.  Cyberspace is vast and more powerful than you.  And it is impossible to make anything of this magnitude disappear – including a bad reputation.

11.  Take a zillion pictures and videos.  Document everything.  Live your experiences, and learn the power of storytelling.  That is part of the reason why we are giving you this device to use.  You have a voice, learn to use it.  Memories will be stored in your mind for eternity, but your work can live in the minds of others.  

12.  Leave your device home sometimes and feel safe and secure in that decision.  It is not alive or an extension of you.  Learn to live without it.  Be bigger and more powerful than FOMO – fear of missing out. 

13.  Download media that is new or classic or different than the millions of your peers that listen to, read, watch, and play the same exact stuff.  Your generation has access to information and media like never before in history.  Take advantage of that gift.  Expand your horizons.  

14.  Play a game with words or puzzles or brain teasers every now and then.

15.  Keep your eyes up.  See the world happening around you.  Stare out a window.  Listen to the birds.  Take a walk.  Talk to a stranger.  Wonder without googling.  If you are curious enough to google it later, go ahead.  Just remember what made you wonder in the first place, and give it some more thought.

16.  You will probably mess up.  Your device might be taken.  We will sit down and talk about it.  We will start over again.  We are always learning.  We are on your team.  We are in this together.

It is my hope that you can agree to these terms.  Most of the lessons listed here do not just apply to the device, but to life.  You are growing up in a fast and ever changing world.  It is exciting and enticing. Keep it simple every chance you get.  Trust your powerful mind and giant heart above any machine.  We hope you enjoy your awesome new device.  Have a great school year!

Why Should I? Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts titled "Why Should I?".  Each post will look at one reason why it is worth the time and effort to improve your 21st Century teaching skills.  


It used to be that information was hard to come by.  In the last couple of decades, the amount of information has exploded, and the access people have to it has grown dramatically as well.  The Internet quickly evolved into a vast repository of nearly everything known to humankind.  Anyone with access can publish to it, adding to the amount of information out there.  Not all of it is accurate or even worthy of publication, but as the content grew, the tools we use to find what we are looking for have also improved dramatically.  

I remember driving to my grandparents' house in western Kansas with my family.  My older sister and I, who argued incessantly about anything and everything, would be in the very back area of the station wagon.  When (not if) we got into an argument, it might be a week before we could settle it.  We would have to go to the school's library, look it up, and prove our point.  That could take a while.  Summers were filled with unsettled disagreements, with each of us claiming rights to several wins in our column.  It still amazes me when I push a button and simply ask Siri to confirm that Bangkok is in fact the capital of Thailand.  

With what we have in our rooms today, we can access nearly every single bit on information known to man.  Any time something comes up that the collective intelligence in the room doesn't know, the answer is right at your fingertips.  Why would you deny your students access to that?  

Even if it is something that you can't find the answer to readily, or those really sticky topics, the Internet and the ability we have with current technologies make it possible for you to find and ask the person or people who can help.  Again, why wouldn't you want to model this for students?  

If "the real world" is what we claim to be preparing students for, then why do we make our classrooms the only place in the country where students cannot seek and find information in the way that the rest of our society does?  It doesn't make much sense when you think about it:  virtually anywhere in the country, a kid can whip out a smart phone and ask questions, talk to experts, connect with others in an online community dedicated to specific skills and work, etc.  But not in their places of "learning".  

Does anyone else see the huge disconnect there?  

I remember a grade level meeting at my former elementary school where the topic of Internet in school came up.  At the time, our district was rolling out a bunch of new technology, so that every classroom would have 5 desktop computers for students to use any time.  One of my colleagues said that they didn't want students to have access to the Internet, because they could just Google all the answers to her questions.  My principal replied, simply, "Well then it sounds like you need to ask better questions."  

That is at least a good part of the point.  We need to be engaging students in the kind of critical thinking and problem solving activities that can't simply be Googled.  They need the Internet to seek information, gather ideas, talk with experts, find tutorials and examples, and publish their work.  They need to be able to see what a setting looks like when they read a book that takes place in an unfamiliar place.  They need to be able to look up data to use in their arguments, to find out about current events as they unfold, and to access the vast amount of tools available online for them to accomplish their work.  

In essence, allowing the use and proliferation of technology in your classroom opens the entire world, and its experts, to your class.  It takes down the physical limitations of the space, and knocks down your classroom walls.  It opens your students up to the rest of the world, the one we say we are preparing them for.  

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reiss FINALLY Leaves Dark Side

From this picture, it looks as if Jenny Vernon was finally able to convert Lee Ann Reiss from the Dark Side.  Good work, Jenny!  

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Why Students Need Teachers to Use Technology Well

I assume it’s a sign of my age, but the best way for me to stay awake on my commute from Salina to McPherson every day is to listen to NPR.  The news keeps me engaged enough that I don’t get sleepy.  When I was younger, it was quite the opposite.

This week, a cartographic historian was on the program.  He was asked about the differences he saw between modern maps on our phones and computers and the ancient ones he studies, and he said that they open with ourselves at the center of everything.  

I hadn’t really given it much thought prior to hearing his answer, but it’s a good metaphor for the way technology has developed along with the invention of smaller and more portable Internet-ready devices.  Software on our phones, tablets, and computers is almost all designed to help us do something we need to do.  They are personal, designed for our use alone.  

Think about that for a minute:  there has never been a time in history in which people could collectively solve our biggest problems more easily, yet nearly everything made today is designed to help individuals with their own lives.  Technology is incredibly egocentric.  Should this concern us?  

From an educational standpoint, yes.  Despite being born into a world of technology, kids aren’t likely to use it for good unless they are shown how.  Where are kids getting their technological moral compasses?  Who is teaching them the digital right and wrong?  

It is absolutely loony to me when I think about how we raise our kids in this environment, particularly when it comes to what is expected of teachers.  We wouldn’t think of letting our children go into a crowded public place and shout obscenities, or even behave in a way that would be considered rude by others.  At the same time, Googling most 7th graders can get you to a Twitter account where kids openly say things that would give their grandmother a stroke, and it’s there for everyone to see...forever.  Meanwhile, teachers are required to know exactly zero about using technology in their classrooms, or how to model its use for students in their everyday lives.  

The capabilities of today’s devices are staggering, and that’s great.  But I’d like to think that technology in general-and the Internet in particular-could be used for things much more powerful than a digital bullhorn. They can be used not only to make our own lives easier, but to improve all life on earth.  But we don’t see apps being designed to improve the human condition, to end poverty, or to provide water to poor African villages.  

I believe that is where teachers come in.  Of course, we can just wait and see what happens when a generation of “digital natives” grows up using technology for their own needs, with little if any guidance and even less instruction.  Or, we could intentionally provide them with both the knowledge and understanding of how they could leverage these tools for the common good.  More importantly, we can make sure students understand that they should be leveraging its power in this way.  

We need to stop thinking of technology as one more thing we have to do. It is a way of doing things better than before.  Sometimes it’s a way of doing things that we couldn’t do before.  We need to learn how to use it in the same ways we want our students to use it in the future.  

Students are surrounded by technology.  They were born with it and have grown up with innovation that most of us ignored until we were behind.  Most adults assume that this makes kids naturally “good at technology”, but it doesn’t.  Students are good at doing exactly what they want to do and nothing more.  In other words, they can entertain themselves with it, they can use it to talk to their friends, but they don’t know how to use it to find good information, learn new things, or solve problems.  

So much has changed in the world in the last 20 years, yet it is strangely absent from most classrooms.  Despite the power of modern tools to change the world for the better, they won’t unless someone shows students how.  I am not willing to bet that it will happen without a responsible and caring teacher to lead the way.  Are you?