Thursday, December 9, 2010

An Evolutionary Idea: Students Opt Out by Opting In

A few weeks ago my elective class decided they wanted to work on their own projects. One group decided to create a video news show which worked very well. The other decided to do comedy skits. That one didn't work out so well. The problem was they liked the idea of doing the skits, but had no idea how to (or any desire to find out.)  As you can imagine, this was a problem.

I decided to go back to the normal lessons where I direct their learning. They were instantly back into their comfort zone and enjoyed the return to normal. Tuesday the students learned about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Yesterday some of my students were expecting the same type of lesson on the death of John Lennon. I didn't have one prepared so I created one for today. When the students came in some were excited, others not so much. Really, this realization has become a game changer for me.

I realized that I could design lessons for the students, but I could also allow them to design their own lessons. So tomorrow we will begin plans to create a way for students to design their own lessons, their own learning. When a student isn't interested in a lesson I present, they will be able to pull out one they have designed (and reviewed with a conference with me) and work on it instead. Students will still be able to follow what interests them and opt out of what doesn't. We will be able to individualize learning and still get in the skills I want them to learn and because we will have set up guidelines (I am thinking a template using Google forms) they will not be left without a purpose, directions, or goals.

I will share the template and the students efforts when this gets rolling.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Accident of Geography Won't Save Us

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ggas_human_soc.jpg
 In Jared Diamond's impressive book Guns, Germs, and Steel the author ascribes the the fall of the Incan empire not to the superiority of the Spanish, but by the accident of geography. The proximity to domesticated animals shared throughout Europe and Asia as well as the shared knowledge and innovation by those people. This is a very simplified explanation of the book. I highly recommend you read the whole thing.

As I was explaining this concept to my class today I realized that this is how classrooms are today. Some classrooms are like the Spanish, of which the Flat Classroom Project is a great example.  These teachers are facilitating the sharing of knowledge and innovation in their classrooms.

Most classrooms are like the Incan empire. They are isolated, not realizing what is outside their classroom. They assume they are the masters of learning using the same techniques that have worked for generations. They do not even know that they are being passed by.

Now that the problem is identified, what is the solution? I think that we must not only expose our classrooms to other classrooms, we must find ways to create learning communities with them. I am not espousing "quick hit" projects where students work together with others for short periods of time. Instead I believe we need to create long term communities that share knowledge and innovation through longer periods of time. We shouldn't rely on an accident of geography to get us where we need to go, we need to reach out and learn from others.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Netflix is a Great Resource for the Classroom


My students are watching Guns, Germs, and Steel a great documentary by National Geographic base on Jared Diamond's book by the same name. My school library doesn't have this video (I looked). My county library doesn't have it either. I could have bought it, but I didn't have to because I have a Netflix subscription. I didn't even have to have them send me the disk, this documentary is one of many that is streamed online.

If you have been thinking about getting a subscription to Netflix, now you have one more compelling reason to spend the $9!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

If Your Students Posts Are Not Being Commented On By Other Students, Their Audience is Not Authentic!

I had a great and very valuable discussion with Melanie McBride a couple days ago. It centered around commenting on students blog posts. Melanie made the point that students need to be creating peer networks through their blogging and commenting just like we adults do. She wrote that teachers using their social capital to generate comments is "an artificial model of how community works...peer developed networks are what kids need to learn."


This brought to the front something that has been bothering me for a while. The original idea was for Comments4Kids to be a way to identify student work that could be commented on. My plan was and still is to have my students leave comments on these posts. Of course I like to leave comments on the posts too, but the value in the process needs to be experienced by my students too. 


Do you really believe that students writing for other teachers is any different than writing for their own teacher? How authentic is the audience when they are virtual teachers? For our students to write for an authentic audience, that audience has to be their peers. Peers that have no "educational" agenda. Peers that are reading the posts because they are interested in what the author has to write.


I am not saying you should not comment on student blogs. What I am saying is the students won't find the value in your comments like they will from another student. Make time for your students to comment.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection


I guess it is my turn to reflect on the unconference that was edcampKC. A few weeks before I went I wrote a post about what I wanted to get from the conference. While I really feel that my goals were realistic and that they were met, I was not ready for the let down that has happened this week. 

I really wanted to meet my online friends, and I did and they are wonderful. What I didn't see coming was the letdown from going back to my building where I have no one to share my passion with. I had no idea (although in retrospect I should have) that meeting and conversing with people face to face would mean so much to me. 

A couple years ago a new teacher came into my building. He shared a real interest in how I was using tech in my classroom. He was someone I came to depend on to talk about tech, tools, and how to best leverage learning from them. Unfortunately he only stayed one year. It was a tough transition to go from having someone to share with to being without, I didn't realize how much I missed him until this week. 

I guess what I want to express is that online connections are not a good enough replacement for the relationships we develop off line. I really want to spend more time connecting with those I met on Saturday, but I realize that this simply won't happen anytime soon. It hurts.

I have spent a lot of time and energy trying to create relationships online and to foster others creating their own relationships. I think I need to move some of that effort back to my school district. I also need to find ways to help my students learn the same lesson. There is no more important community than the one you are with every day.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Stanley Is Flat and He is Making the World Flatter Too!


In the mail Monday I had a surprise, Flat Stanley! Jason Schmidt's class in Omaha, Nebraska sent him to us. 

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I decided to post the letter I was writing on my class blog and sent it out on Twitter. After Jason talked to me aand Theresa Murray, he decided to create a wiki for his class and those that he sent Stanley to.


While Flat Stanley has been around and has been a successful teaching tool for years, the ability to get almost instant information back from wherever Stanley is sent is very compelling. Creating a more permanent record is also very useful. Now Jason's students have access to the information at their fingertips with all the added benefits that the internet provides with information that can be found about each place. Flat Stanley is flattening the world!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Should I Punish Students for Bad Behavior in Another Class?

My school has in-school suspension for students that behave inappropriately. I am not sure if it is because of not doing homework or because of what they have said or done. As the "computer" teacher I have never given any work for those students to complete, not much of a punishment if I let them use a computer in my opinion.

Today a teacher asked me if I ever sent any work for the student to do. When I replied I didn't she implied the student was "getting off" from doing the work in my class. My reply was that it would be hard for them to do the work in ISS when we are using the computers. I could figure out some make-work for them to do, but our administration is just as capable of that as me.

Thinking back over the exchange I have a different response. I really don't think I should punish a student by giving him/her make-work for improper behavior in someone else's class. What do you think?

Journaling Using Pen and Ink


In my media history class I have been having my students create journal entries detailing events that happen during the American Revolution. Here is a link to our blog where you can find the posts.

A few years ago I received a calligraphy kit to use for teaching an after school class. It has a class set of pens and points that we used to create handwritten journals entries. While the students enjoyed the activity (I may let them continue to do them that way if they choose), they did have a problem with the pens. They are extremely messy and since my students are not used to working with this new medium, there were a lot of spills.

I think that having the students use the old-fashioned tools helps them to understand a little more about the complexity of the process of writing that the soldiers would have had. Imagine having to carry around all that material just to write a journal entry!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Using a Comic Book Creator with Character Education


This week my students will be using the Marvel Create Your Comic web application to illustrate this month's character education word peace.

Originally I thought I would have the students use the application to create a fractured fairy tale. That entails re-telling a fairy tale from the point of view of one of the characters. I start that lesson by reading The True Story of the Three Little Pigs an amazing story by Jon Scieszka. Unfortunately, the application does not allow the comics to be saved. The students would have to create a couple pages in class then download them. I think this would really alter the flow of the story (even if they had already written it out.) That is when I decided to go with the character ed. word.

This may sound like I am trying to fit a lesson around a web app, but that is only because I am :)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why EdCampKC is Important to Me


On Saturday, November 6 my wife and I will be attending EdcampKC at the University of Central Missouri. EdcampKC is an unconference where the attendees are also the presenters.

Many districts, including mine have focused all or a very large percentage of professional development money toward communication arts and mathematics. Unless the conference can be tied directly to either or both of those areas, there is no monetary support from the district. Obviously, this means that I must pay my own way to any conference I wish to attend that deals with technology, even unfortunately technology that can be tied into those areas. Thanks to the sponsors, this conference is free. All it will cost my wife and I is a hotel room, gas, and some money for food. When you consider how expensive other conferences such as METC or ISTE are, you can see how inexpensive this conference really is.

Speaking of METC and ISTE, are you aware that presenters are still required to pay to get in to the conferences they are providing the professional development for? While METC gives a discounted rate for presenteres, ISTE requires payment in full! If you choose to present at edcampKC it will cost you nothing. If you choose to just attend edcampKC the price is still zero!

I will be presenting this year at METC on the importance of commenting on student blogs. While I have never been to this conference before I gather it is a rather large conference. When I went to the ISTE conference in San Antonio I was overwhelmed by the number of people attending. My point is, I am looking forward to edcampKC because it will be small enough for me to make real connections with others. I went to ISTE to attend, I am going to METC to present, but I am going to edcampKC to meet people. These are people that share my passion for student learning who I will not only learn from them at the conference, but I will be able to continue to learn from them online throughout the year.

Ever since I really started to participate on Twitter, my goal was to find passionate educators that care about their students and want to focus on learning. While I have made many contacts and even a few good relationships I cannot wait to develop the types of relationships I have jealously followed others making at unconferences they attended.

I also want my wife (a pre-service teacher) to develop a few relationships to that can help guide her through the rest of college and into her teaching career as well. :)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Got Your PD Right Here!


I am receiving the best professional development I have ever experienced at school. I am "team teaching" a math class.

Math is definitely not my strength. I got through by following patterns. I am very good at identifying them. I am not good at being able to understand the "why" of math. Does it make you wonder why I was placed in a math class to team teach?

So, I find myself sitting in a class that I do not feel comfortable in. Not only am I unfamiliar with the objectives (even after reading/studying them over the summer) but with the vocabulary used. Students are expecting me to be able to help them identify why they don't "get" something.  How can this be great professional development for me if I am not comfortable?

I have become a student again. I am learning the math concepts and definitions with the students. I ask more clarifying questions than they do. I am remembering my student roots, learning in a classroom.

The first full week I taught the math lessons. I wanted to pull my own weight and show that I could do the job. After teaching a lesson my teaching partner broke the lesson down for me and we talked about what I could have done to make it better. For some veteran teachers this would be a problem, but not for me. I know I am in over my head and I am grateful to have an experienced teacher help me out.

Although the team teaching has been difficult and we have not yet found our comfort zone with the shared responsibilities I would still say this has been successful for me. I am learning math and how to be a better teacher.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A Work in Progress?


My goal this year was to use my lab to extend learning from the core curriculum. The eighth grade students have an assignment they are working on where they create a presentation about the European explorers from the 15th and 16th centuries. Here is a link to the actual assignment information. (Please note I did not type the assignment;)

Is this an incredible, transformative assignment? No, it relies too much on factual information which my students are getting online (not that there is anything wrong with using the net to gather info). If you looked at this assignment at face value it probably would be considered inadequate, but is it? What non-assessed things will my students be doing through this process?

They will have to analyse the information they gather for accuracy. One of my students found an explorer's birth date on Wikipedia to be in the 1800's! She brought this information to my attention and started a good conversation about reliability of all information.

They are working on their presentation design. Will their choices work with the assignment? Will they create their own Death by PowerPoint? How will the other students react to their choices?

They will have to present their PowerPoints. Will they read the information off of the slides? Will they speak with a loud, clear voice? Will they show sings of nervousness or even refuse to stand up in front of the class?

We often discuss the importance of grades, here is an example of where the most important parts of the assignment are not graded. This is a work in progress, but it is much farther along than it first seems.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Classroom Hack: Creating Postcards Using Student Work


Here is a quick way to let your students show off their artwork and get in a quick lesson on writing postcards. The picture above is a postcard I made in class from picture a student drew to go along with a media history assignment. I took the pictures and printed them onto card stock and cut them out. Then I had them write a postcard explaining the assignment and had them mailed. Soon the parents will get a surprise in the mail!

You can do the same thing with pictures of the students as well. Why not take a picture of the science experiment they are doing, the activity they are doing in their PE class, or them working on a computer? There is something special about receiving handwritten mail and it is even more special when it is from someone you love!

Please note: If you are using a laser printer you need it to heat up before running card stock in it. I print 25-30 blank pages first before I run the card stock through so it heats up enough that the toner sticks to the paper.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Universal Design Tool: VozMe.com


While I have had the VozMe code on my blog for several years, it has just been brought to my attention that VozMe can be used in two other wonderful ways.

VozMe allows text to be read aloud. One way to do this is for the publisher of a site to add html to the site that allows a button to be placed on the site. You simply highlight the text you want read aloud and then hit the button. The text is then read to you.You can also download the audio as an mp3. This is great for accessibility when the site owner has the technical skill to add the code. 

Another way to use VozMe is to copy the text you want to have read to you and go to the VozMe website. Paste the code into the box and hit the Create MP3 button. You can even choose between a male or female voice. Very simple to do and the audio can also be downloaded this way.

The third way, and in my opinion the best, is to add VozMe as a favorite or bookmark to your browser. You will need to find the instructions for your preferred browser on this page. Once you have the bookmark, all you have to do is highlight the text and click on the bookmark. It will open a new page and read the text too you. You can again choose from a male or female voice and download the mp3. How cool is that?!

Special thanks goes to Ira Socol for pointing these functions out to me. If you are interested in Universal Design (and you better be!) read Ira's amazing blog SpeEdChange

Friday, August 27, 2010

Student Learning Manifesto


My goal for my students this year is to require them to be more reflective with their learning experiences. I have spent the first week of school having my students create a Student Learning Manifesto. Here is a link to the post for the students. 

Here is Kiley explaining her manifesto. 

I am having my students share their work this year on Grou.ps. You can check out our grou.ps here. The best manifesto (so far) was written by Yolanda. I was very impressed by her critical, reflective thinking and plan on using this as a student example for the other students.

I have decided to be much more transparent with my reflections this year as well. I will be posting (hopefully) weekly reflections of my teaching and learning. Maybe you would like to join me?

Monday, August 16, 2010

I Had Cancer


I had a rough week last week. Tuesday my wife and I took our two youngest children to get their back to school shots. My wife had also made an appointment for me because she was worried about a mole on my shoulder that had gotten significantly bigger in the last year. Wednesday I had surgery to remove a very large piece of skin and the mole.

Both the nurse practitioner on Tuesday and the dermatologist on Thursday were convinced I had melanoma. Honestly, the dermatologist really scared me. She was visibly shaken when she saw the mole. I am pretty sure that when the doctor is worried enough that the patient shot full of Novocaine notices the prognosis is pretty bad. She told us we would find out on Monday what the pathologist found. She explained that I was likely looking at biopsies and all sorts of other unpleasant things.

Saturday I received a call from the dermatologist. She quickly explained that she had gone into work and checked the fax machine. She saw the report from the pathologist and wanted to let me know that although the mole did have melanoma, it was in situ  which means that it was contained in the skin removed and I would not have to have biopsies or other horrible procedures. Before she hung up she told me I needed to go home and celebrate with my family.

There is no way for me to explain how the shock that I felt after meeting with the dermatologist affected me. I virtually shut down any thinking about the upcoming school year. I went in to school on Thursday and Friday, but spent less than an hour both days because I couldn't focus on any work. The only thing I could do to get cancer off my mind was by diverting myself by watching movies at home. I am still not back, I have no idea what I will be doing my first two days of school. School starts in three days.

I had the support of caring medical professionals, my wife, and my family, but I still couldn't function. Today I was thinking about my students and all the major, life altering situations they face: divorce, death of loved ones, neglect, and abuse. Most of them don't have the support system in place that I was fortunate to have. What hubris we show when we expect them to continue to work.

It is time for us to reflect on our tough times and how they affected us. We need to make sure we show compassion for students going through stressful situations. We need to be part of their support system.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

One Teacher, One Smartphone: How I Plan to Use My Smartphone in School

Always one to leverage technology as best I can I decided that getting a smartphone would be a great way to add some new tools in my teacher's tool kit. I have had a Droid X for a couple of weeks and have been experimenting with it. Of course, the idea is to find ways to make the my life a little easier.

Pictures
Those of you that visit my class blog Mr. C's Class Blog know that I like to add a lot of pictures and video from things going on in my classroom. Being able to add pictures to a post is very important because it allows me to share student work, recognize students, and make posts more interesting. Because the Droid X runs on the Android operating system which is made by Google I can easily take pictures using the native camera app and share the photos directly to Picasa where Blogger stores the pictures used on blog posts. It really makes adding pictures a breeze. Here are a couple of examples I took in my classroom.


Video
Video is also a very important tool I use in the classroom. I record student presentations, science experiments, some assemblies and (my favorite use of video) student reflections. I use Ustream to stream video from my classroom to my blog all day and I really like the service.  I downloaded the Ustream Android application and I am really pleased with the result. As the video streams live it is also being recorded on the Ustream site and when the streaming is finished it allows me to save the recording or discard it. The app streams video using 3G (don't know if it will stream over wifi) which is great because I don't have to worry about the network when I make the video. As you can see from the short video, it seems to work best if the camera is stationary. Since I plan on these videos to be mainly student interaction I see no problem with it.


Of course the camera will take video which is stored in memory on the camera and that video can be shared through wifi to places like Youtube, but this adds a little more complexity (plus the video upload is pretty slow).

File Sharing
If you like to keep certain files handy with you and you use Dropbox on your computers then you will be happy to know there is a Dropbox Android application that is great for sharing files. You can have your students get Dropbox accounts and set up a class shared folder that will not only allow them to drag and drop any work they have for easy access from your desktop, but also from the smartphone. And you can add things from your phone into the folder as well.

I will be using this with other teachers in the building to share files really quickly. It is much easier to use than setting up a shared folder on our network and the files will be accessible at home (or on my phone!)

Note Taking
If you need to take notes or even share notes with students Evernote is a great addition. You can use it as a pretty good file sharing program like Dropbox, but you can also take notes on the program. Again, this will be a great fit for sharing notes with other teachers in the building. Please note, unless you pay for the premium service the shared notes will not be editable by the people you share the notes with.

Have an iPhone?
Good news, the iPhone has these apps available for you to use too.
Pixelpipe HD this application allows uploading to Picasa as well as a number of other picture sites. 

Please Share
Are you using your smartphone in the classroom? Do you have any suggestions or applications that I can add to my digital tool kit? Please share them in the comments.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Twitter, School and Schrodinger's Cat

I use Twitter as an aid to learn about teaching methods, get teaching ideas, or to help others looking for the same. It seems that lately there have been many conversations describing how classrooms (a little) and schools (much more often) have to change for the benefit of the students. I have not been as engaged in these discussions, instead I have usually chosen to just follow them.

Now that school is starting I am beginning to view these conversations as a Twitter version of  Schrodinger's cat. The (very basic) idea is that you put a cat in a box with a device that may or may not kill the cat. While the box is shut the cat is neither dead or alive, it simply has the potential to be one or the other. 

When we open up the box what will we see? Will we see more Van Meter/SLA type schools or will we see a dead cat? When school starts we will realize the outcome of this summer's experiment. I hope the cat is still alive.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Online High School


Who doesn't want to join this school?

I would like to think of myself as a advocate for increased integration of technology in schools and someone who is not "old school" in anyway whatsoever. However, here lately I'm starting to feel like that push for technology in education that so many of us are calling for are starting to be addressed in the wrong manner.

Recently I was contacted by a nice young named Victor who worked for a company called UDEMY. Victor asked me to answer a few questions regarding technology and education, and last one he asked was one that kinda lit a fire in me...the question was:

As a teacher, do you think it is possible to one day have all-online classroom in the future?

A fairly harmless question at face value, but it was compounded with countless advertisements I have heard in the past few months that promote attending high school online. This got me thinking, is using technology in this manner really an making valuable use of technology? I can see the purpose of online courses and degrees for adults, but do we really need to move high school to the internet?

Call me old fashioned, but there is something special about the human component that comes with junior high and high school. While I do advocate the integration of technology into education, I don't think that making a high school diploma available online encompasses what school is all about. The way I see it technology should be used as a tool to help engage students in a lesson. In my ideal classroom, I would use heavy components of technology with my students that would require them to use technology outside of the classroom to connect with what we are doing in class. However, I still believe the the relationships that are built in a physical classroom are too valuable to leave behind and cannot be replaced by any form of technology....but, that's just this old timer talking (Class of 2003!)

Joe McClung
Fayetteville, AR USA
http://mcclungsworld.com

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

We Should Listen to the Kids!

As teachers, most of us tend to think that we know everything and that the students should listen to us all the time! Well that was how it was like when I went to school. The students' opinion was never taken seriously. How could it be as the teachers were always right! My dad was a teacher and a principal when I was a little kid. I had to keep quiet or else I was not allowed to get any treats from him.

Then I became a teacher in the 21st century and guess what I had found out or rather what I had learned! As a first year teacher, I had never used Mac computers when I arrived at my present school. I didn't even know how to use the mouse which has no right or left clicks. I felt quite embarrassed that I had to ask a Year 6 student to show me the function. I dared not ask my colleagues because I didn't want them to know that I couldn't use the mouse! I am proud that since then I have advanced quite fast and actually know a lot more than the six and seven years old children in my class. Even then I find myself asking them about certain things that they had learned from their ICT lessons and they never hesitate to show or teach me! They never ask me why I don't know how to do certain stuff because they have this collaborative learning nature which many adults are still struggling to get used to.
A week ago, a Facebook friend has posted the following video on my wall and I thought that it is a wonderful video to share with my friends-whether you are a teacher or not.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Let's Try to Move Beyond the Echo Chamber

I think I am getting a little stagnate with my PLN. I follow great people and get lots of ideas, but it seems that everyone I follow also follow the same people. (Not really unusual since as I said I follow great people ;) I would like to expand my PLN a little bit, how about you?

There is nothing wrong with following great blogs from David Warlick, Wesley Fryer, and Dean Shareski. I think it would be good to see what other, less well-known, bloggers are writing about. Diversity is a good thing!

Let's make this week, July 5-10 a week of discovery. How about we try to find a few new blogs to follow this week that we are not already following and share them on Twitter? We can tag them with #NoEcho so we can see what is being discovered. (I know this will just expand the echo chamber, but at least it will get bigger.)

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Repurposing School

Rexford School, Rexford, Kansas

On my way to Colorado with my church youth group we stopped in Rexford, Kansas for the night. I noticed the school building as soon as we came into town since it is the second biggest building around next to the grain elevator. Since Rexford is so far away from other towns and is not very big I asked a local about the school.

This building and the gym next to it house the 6th through 12th grade for Rexford and another town that is ten miles away. The other town's school houses K through 5th grade. This was an innovative way for both communities to keep a school in their town in the 1960's when so many small schools were consolidated (including the schools in my district.) While neither community were able to keep their own schools intact, they came up with a solution they could live with, they repurposed their schools.

Again we are going through tough economic times where schools are being closed and innovative ideas will need to come out and schools will need to be repurposed again. Will technology give us some of the answers schools need to survive (if not thrive?) Is this the opportunity for more online classes to be integrated into a school's curriculum?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Should Public Education Be Free?

I have been listening to Chris Anderson's book Free: the Future of a Radical Price. In the book he talks about the perceived value of free. The perception of free is often something without value. Of course this is something we sometimes ignore because of our experience of "free" sites we use on the internet.

I have often thought that more of the public would be interested in public education if they had to go to their local schools to pay their taxes. (In Missouri property tax helps pay for local schools.) This would make the person paying actually see the connection between schools and taxes. Obviously the problem is there are a lot of people that don't pay property taxes directly.

Recently my jr. high team was creating a supplies list for next year's students. I made a comment about the expense of the list, I thought it was pretty low compared to some of the other grades. The other teacher told me that he knew of a school that just collected money from students to buy supplies. Then the teachers use the money to buy supplies for the whole class.

What would happen if we required our parents to give $30 dollars to the school at the beginning of the year for supplies? Would parents value their children's education more if they had to write out a check?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I Won't Teach Facebook in Class

Facebook has become an educational pain in the butt. There are lots of good arguments about why students should be educated about it, especially the privacy issues that keep cropping up. Still, I won't teach it.

The first reason,  Facebook is blocked at my school. I have no opportunity to leverage it as a learning tool. I can't even use it to promote the work our students create there.

I find very little usefulness for myself in Facebook. It isn't that I am less social than others that are online, I just use other tools like Twitter. Therefor, it would take a lot of my time to learn how to not only use it fully, but to know how to make it private.

The last reason is what convinced me to not teach Facebook. I am not the parent of my students. I am tired of being the social site police for my school. Parents need to take responsibility for their own children when they are online at home.

I will still teach digital citizenship at school, but I am done with Facebook.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Here There Be Dragons

I am fortunate because I have great conversations with intelligent educators through blogging and twitter. One theme that is revisited over and over again is the lack of "professionalism" in education. Many of my friends and acquaintances online are dynamic educators in their settings with a large percentage of them involved in leading professional development sessions. It is easy to forget these are not the norm.

Much of the conversations we share have to do with technology. Much of that deals with how we can disseminate the use of tech through our faculty. Again, I am not having these conversations with the average teacher.

There is often a conversation about how we, the teachers that use technology in our classrooms, have a difficult time getting other teachers and admin in our buildings or districts to see the value of using the tools technology offers. Does it have something to do with technology?

I came across this tweet by Gary Stager on my Twitter feed Friday. I questioned him about that, honestly I did not understand what he was trying to say. I asked him if there was an entry barrier to the teachers that didn't "get" technology.

I have thought about this for several days. Gary, you are absolutely right. We should no longer make excuses for teachers that choose to stay ignorant of the advancements in education. We have allowed them the comfort of the cycle of poor teaching, teaching the same ineffective way they were taught because that is what they know.

It is no longer enough for us to allow the teaching profession to wallow in what is known and comfortable, we need to push them into the unknown. We need to place them in the unexplored territory and allow them to fight the dragon known as change.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Maybe an Inch Deep Isn't Bad After All

Yesterday as I was checking out the apps I had downloaded for my new iPad a thought occurred to me I never use a productivity application to its fullest capabilities. I learn to use what I need to do when I need to do it, nothing more. This made me think: Is there something wrong with using only part of a tool if it fulfills my needs?

 I realize that it is a ridiculous question. My next thought was what if curriculum is the same way? Do students really need to have a deep understanding of every objective?  Is a basic understanding of plants good enough or do we really need to know the names of all the parts? Can't we look up what we don't know?

I understand that some knowledge is very necessary, but can you say that about most of your curriculum? Do the students really need to "deeply understand" all of it? If we spent more time teaching critical thinking, problem solving, and information vetting they could find the answers they need. Shouldn't we stop wasting their time focusing on the trivial?

Let's get back to teach curriculum that is a mile wide and an inch deep.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Are We Having Real Conversations Using New Media?

Two days ago I became aware of a flurry of commenting being done on Mary Beth Hertz's blog Philly Teacher. Two posts in particular make me think about conversations: Politics and Education and Encouraging Dialogue.I would suggest you read the posts and comments in their entirety before you keep reading here.

What I have floating through my head is something that really bothers me. What if we are not really having conversations with Twitter or with blogging/commenting? Can true conversations take place when we limit ourselves to delayed back and forth dialogue? A large percentage of communication takes place through body language and we sure can't see each other when we are typing responses. I wonder if the personae I project online misrepresents who I really am (and I rarely filter anything, ask my wife ;)

The back and forth dialogue on Mary Beth's blog would suggest that no real conversation is taking place in several of the threads. It seems to be more of an outlasting match. Is there a better way to handle these moments?

Could this lack of connecting conversations explain why we still covet face-to-face conversations and are willing to spend our time and money to attend conferences?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Where do we draw the line on commenting?

I use Feedjit a lot as a way to monitor where traffic to my class page is coming from.  Its not perfect, although I have to say that overall I think it provides a good free service.   Its been a way of locating classroom blogs and I really believe the importance in paying dues and acknowledging sites that are promoting yours. 

Its also been the source of three sites that have 'riled' me over the past three years.

The first was in 2009 from a blog in the USA.  It was directly critical of the semantics emanating from my class page.  I know that my language can be a bit loose at times, it always has.   At first I was offended by the criticism that I read, and it was very negative.  However I effectively took the bait and commented back. That's what the sites author was after and they took it upon themselves to launch a series of posts criticising the work that my students were publishing online.  On behalf of the students I suppose that I took offence that someone should criticise them, and tried to stand up for them on their behalf.  The funny thing was having done that, to little effect (except as I said fuelling the 'fire' of the other blogger) we had a class discussing about it.  One of the students in my classroom during that discussion likened it to name calling in the classroom.  They said "Mr Webb why don't you just ignore them so they get bored and go away and bother someone else?"   I just sat there and had one of those moments of clarity thinking "uh-huh".

A few weeks ago I found another linking site to my class page taking the work, taking one piece of work from one of the students in my class and using that as the basis for the critique of teaching, students and the New Zealand education system.  I felt it prudent not to respond in a similar vein to the point the child had made about "ignoring" them.  So the other day I received this comment from the author of the same site, which was left in a form of a comment on my class page.   Again as I felt it wasn't in the correct context I chose not to publish it, but felt it was worth repeating here:


"Is it wise to get young children all worried about things like global warming? Especially when it isn't scientifically proven. I worry that such teaching is merely going to raise a generation of neurotic overly anxious young people who have little hope for the future.  It seems wrong to inflict such concerns on the young who lack the maturity to process it. Childhood should be a time of joy in learning not taking on the concerns of the adult world."

As I say I believe the person leaving the comment was looking for a reaction for their site.  Its taken a piece of work from an individual student, completely out of context I believe and made some assumptions, and judged a particular student for it.  I know on some class sites that comments are automatically published, and possibly I could have published this, but where do we as 'gate keepers' for our site draw the line?

Did I do the right thing in choosing not to publish this comment? Has anyone else had similar experiences?
Should I have discussed this with the student concerned or the classroom? In opening our students up for the greater community by publishing it online do we take the good with the bad?

Myles Webb/NZ Waikato

Friday, May 14, 2010

Learning How to Fish

 Fly Fishing the Beaverhead River, Montana by Circumerro

I've taken up a new hobby, fishing! Although I have lived around water all my life I have never been that interested in fishing. I went a couple times when I was young, but I was never "hooked".

The church I attend has a lot of men that love to do outdoor activities. They hunt, fish, and some even trap. Since I prefer sleeping in hunting is generally out of the question. I decided that I could take up fishing since it can be relatively inexpensive. (I spent about $40 dollars on a rod/reel, tackle box, and some lures.) The most expensive part so far has been the fishing licenses.Oklahoma non resident license is $42!!!

Since deciding I have been fishing five times so for. Four times I accompanied a more accomplished fisherman and once I went on my own. The only time I didn't catch at least one fish was when I was by myself. Last night three of us caught 77 white bass. It was a good night.

Until I have a lot more experience I will always be more successful when I fish with someone else with experience. They don't catch the fish for me, they simply model where, when, and how to fish. I become successful emulating them. What implications does this have for my classroom?









Monday, April 19, 2010

Violence, Bad Language, and Nudity

Photo by Publik16
I have been thinking about my prejudices lately. I can honestly say that I have changed a lot in my 40 years on the planet. When I was in my teens I used a lot of profane language (to the chagrin of my teacher grandmother.) I decided at the ripe age of 18 that it had become too big of a part of my vocabulary and stopped. (It is amazing how well operant conditioning can work!) After 20 years and 4 children I find it offensive.

This is why I have a problem. Every night on television there are shows on almost every  channel that show very violent acts. It isn't unusual to watch a police show where several people are murdered and assaults are commonplace. We don't allow potty words on broadcast tv, but shooting people is just fine!

I have decided that the reason violence is allowed is because we are an empire building nation. We want to expand across the globe. Manifest Destiny on a global scale. To get citizens to be soldiers we have to make them immune to the psychological problems violence causes. That is why we encourage our citizens to watch violence on television. I gets them ready...

As an educator I have to ask myself the question, "Which is more damaging to my students: violence, bad language, or nudity?" I can honestly say I would prefer my children to be called names or exposed to a naked body than to be assaulted or killed. I would assume you believe as I do. Why then do we allow/encourage our students/children to watch violent content? Give me four letter word or some nudity over that any  day.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Artcyclopedia: The Art Teacher's Best Friend


I have been showing art teachers Artcyclopedia for years. It is a fine art search engine that allows you to search by the name of the artist, name of the art work, or even the name of a museum. It also has a list of clickable art movements that you can look at and get a quick overview.

For example, if you do an art search for the painting Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat it will take you to a page that links you to four sites about the painting. (One of the links no longer works though so make sure you check before you assign students to them.)

If you click on browse artist by movement you will see a list of the artists in that movement that are also linked to a search page about the artist.

While your first stop may be to Wikipedia to get your information for a painting or artist, you may want to give Artcyclopedia.com a try if you are interested in browsing or want to get a larger picture of art.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Are We Really Sure That Our Successful Students Are Really Successful?

I was reading a post by Donte Rome where he says:


' I've been in college for about 3 years now and it amazes me how i can pass classes without ever having to buy the books for them. I can just google any information i need and the informations is just as accurate.'

This made me wonder, Are our successful students really successful? If our students can make it through our classes by using a search engine are we really measuring what we should be measuring? What do you think?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Is Disney Leading the Way with Digital Content?

I received an email from Disney Movie Rewards last week that shows an interesting feature that Disney is trying out. When you purchase certain Blu-Ray discs from Disney and enter the Movie Reward code onto the site you suddenly have the opportunity to watch the movies streaming online.

Here is how the page looks that shows the movies that are available to watch online after you put in the code. (The Hannah Montana movies is my daughters, I swear!) All you have to do from here is click on the watch now button.


Depending on the download speed you have, the movie starts within a few seconds. The quality of the stream is adjusted to meet the download speed you have available. You can also watch the stream full screen.


While this is a great feature that Disney has come up with, think about the implications. Disney is a huge media company that creates a lot of content. This feature may change copyright as we know it. We already know that when we buy a disc or download a movie we don't really own it, we simply own the right to view it. Now Disney has begun to give us a different license where we can purchase the physical media and have the rights to watch the digital content that is stored on the cloud. Is this the opening move in an all online presence for Disney where content will only stored and accessed on the cloud? Will the rights to the media be transferable after death? (Can you see the massive library of content that will be available to our great-grandchildren?)

I like the idea of my content being online, I also like the idea of having the content in my hand. Are we seeing the beginning of the end for all physical forms of content? There are a lot of implications to this and it definitely bears keeping an eye on.

One last thing, I am curious if this is available outside of the United States?

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Great Tool: Google Alerts

Google Alerts is a great way to keep track of what is going on online. If you have a Gmail account you can set up an alert for a specific term and Google will email you when that term is posted on the internet. You can set it up to email you immediately or less often.


You can manage your alerts and change their settings or even delete them.


This is what the alert email looks like. It puts the key term in bold so you can see how it is used in context.

Why would you want to set up an alert? If you are like me, you want to know when you are being discussed on the internet. Another great way to use it is to see if someone is talking about your blog, wiki, podcast or other content you have created and posted online.

I love to use it to see who is posting about a pet project of mine: #comments4kids.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cooking With Jacob:Independent Research Projects Can Foster Learning

My digital media class has been tasked with doing an independent learning project. The only guidelines I have given them is to find something they are interested in and to record their learning in some digital form. The purpose of the assignment is to allow them to have a little fun with their learning. (Believe it or not I do have the option of doing something strictly for fun!)

The students have the opportunity to choose any digital tool to help them. One of my students, Jacob, chose to use a wiki to record what he is doing. The wiki, titled Cooking With Jacob, reflects Jacob's new interest in food (a subject I hold near and dear to my stomach!) He has started to record recipies he is collecting.


I have encouraged my students to use audio, video, and pictures for recording learning to go along with text because they are so engaging to the audience. Jacob came into my lab yesterday and grabbed our digital camera and tripod to record a presentation he was making in speech. Here is the video he recorded and posted on his wiki:

Isn't this what we are looking for as educators? Not only do we see the integration of technology into the speech class, but more importantly we see learning being connected through two different classrooms. When I changed jobs my biggest goal was for my class was to allow students to use digital tools to reflect what they are learning in their content areas. Yesterday a student took the first step.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Kidblog.org: A Great First Step with Blogging for Students and Teachers

Kidblog.org may be just what the teacher ordered, especially for students under 13 years of age. I have spent many years looking for a way for my under 13 students to create content on the internet with limited success. Most sites require a person be 13 years or older before they can create an account. If they create an account under 13 they break the TOS (terms of service) which means their account could be suspended or deleted.

Kidblog allows teachers to create class blogs for their students under 13 in a very easy way. After a teacher signs up for an account and create their blog, they can simply add the students name and password. When the student goes to the blog site, there is a drop down menu for their name and they only have to enter their password.

Another great feature of the site is that both comments and posts can be moderated. For those of you that have students that are beginning their online experience and may be inclined to share too much information or those who might want to start flaming others this is a must.

The major drawback to the site is that it has no customization options. You can't add the great widgets, slideshows, or plug-ins you may be used to. You can't even change the template or colors.

Despite the drawbacks, I think Kidblog is a great way to introduce new teachers and new students into blogging. While it does lack some functionality, it will definitely hit the spot for many students and teachers.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Lesson in Copyright

A few days ago pictures started to appear in my moderation que on my 7th grade class Ning. Two of my students had found a site that had pictures they liked from the Manga series Vampire Knight. Not wanting to break copyright law I deleted the pictures and talked to my classes about copyright, creative commons, and how to ask for permission to use copyrighted images.

One of the students that had posted the pictures wanted to ask for permission to post the pictures so I had her bring in a copy of her book to get the publisher's information. The book was published by Viz Media LLC.

I went to their website and found an online form to fill out.

I had Hou type on the form and ask for permission to post the pictures.

I like the Vampire Knight to put on my blog.....but my teacher wants me to ask permission if i could put it on my blog.
-Houa


Then I added:

My student was posting pictures found on websites from the Vampire Knight series. I would not allow them to be posted because we don't have the right to publish these pictures. We decided to contact you and ask for permission.

The site she would like to post the pictures on is at: http://noelclassof2011.ning.com/

Thank you for your attention to this matter,

-Wm Chamberlain
Noel Elementary School
Noel, Missouri

It isn't enough to discuss copyright with our students, we need to help them find solutions to copyright issues. While I don't know if we will be given permission to post these pictures I do know that Houa has learned how to ask instead of just take. The process is more important than the outcome.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Creating Digital Video Reflections

I have been meaning to do this all year, but things don't always happen on my time table. Today I finally finished setting up my Digital Video Reflection area. My plan has been to have a place where students can jump in and make a quick video where they talk about their learning and then post it to their blog or the class ning. I believe that reflections is the most important step in the learning process and I want to be able to facilitate it in my school.

Why did I set this up when students are perfectly capable of writing their reflections? The answer is simple, because it is awesome! Let's face it, we live in media rich culture. Why read when we can see a picture; why see a picture when we can watch a video?

Why put up the students reflections where they can be seen by others? The same reason I write these posts, because I want people to see them, reflect on them, and hopefully leave a comment. My students want their learning validated just like I want to have my learning validated.

Here is my set-up. I use a Logitech webcam mounted on a tripod (with masking tape) to get enough elevation for the picture. The webcam is hooked up to my laptop along with my Blue Snowball microphone. Although the sound is not as loud with the Snowball, the students don't have to wear the headphone/microphone combo.

I set up a barrier so that the student recording wouldn't feel watched as they create their videos. It is hard for many to put themselves "out there" with their recordings and this can help them feel more comfortable.

This shot is from the back. I put the screen behind the student so it looks a little nicer than the wall/window combination. I plan on getting a few more screens to place around to cut down on the background noise and to make the student more comfortable. It looks raw, but if you have ever been to a television station before, only what shows on the camera matters.

Here is Yessy doing the first video reflection on the new set-up. She does an amazing job with her explanation. After she was finished I had her post the video on the seventh grade class ning. It will be used as an excellent example for the other students to emulate.

I would love to be able to set up a station like this in each classroom so that students would have access to them all the time. Imagine students having a Youtube channel that is devoted to what they are learning!


Thursday, February 4, 2010

Get Rid of Grammar in Elementary School!


Yes, I expect to get flamed with this post. Ten years ago I suggested to a room full of educators in my district we should stop teaching cursive writing and was almost burned at the stake for my heresy. There were over 40 teachers in this meeting and the vote was me for everyone else against.

Now it is time to discuss another subject that I think needs to be done away with (at least on the elementary school level.) Grammar should not be taught as a class in our schools! We teach the same thing in 3rd grade as we do in 8th and they still don't learn it!

If we spend 25 minutes a day on parts of speech every day for 170 days a year that equals 71 hours. If we do that for six years it equals 425 hours, but how many of your 8th graders can successfully pick a noun out of a sentence? Why do we continue to teach them something they won't or can't learn?

I am not advocating allowing students to use poor grammar or conventions while writing, after all writing as a form of communication needs to have rules or the communication suffers. Obviously we cannot let this occur.

What I do say is that there is no real need to learn about nouns, verbs, or adjectives unless (and maybe not even then) they fall into two types of jobs; teaching grammar or being in a writing profession. After all, can't we require our students to make better word choices without identifying them as a specific part of speech?

Let's throw the systematic teaching of grammar out of our grade schools, it isn't needed!

Let the flames begin!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why iPads Are a Good Choice for Students



There is a lot of back and forth between the education community that uses technology in the classroom over Apple's newly announced iPad. While the impression I get is that most are disappointed with its lack of a few critical features (camera?) I still believe that the iPad can be successfully adopted and implemented in schools.

I am writing this post as a counter to Russ Goerend's post. I have agreed to contrasting the iPad to three other tech tools; iPod Touch, a generic netbook, and a MacBook. I would compare them, but it is the differences that are significant for this particular post.

iPad versus iPod Touch

First up is the iPod Touch. The iPad has been said to be just a big itouch. There are some obvious differences such as the ability to purchase Keynote, Numbers, and Pages which have been optimized to work with the touch screen. This allows students to create presentations, documents, and spreadsheets. While these are very basic technology tools, they are also tools that most adults in the business world have to be able to use. Because these can be rather text extensive the new keyboard docking station that will be available for purchase will make creating written content on the iPad much easier.

The second difference is the size of the screen. Not only does this make using the iWork applications usable on the device it also makes using it possible to use it comfortably as a reader. I have two readers on my iTouch and while they are usable for short periods of time, I would not want to need to rely on them as my main reading device. The size of the screen also makes watching content much more pleasurable. For example, my school subscribes to Discovery Streaming which allows me to create student accounts where the students have access to all the video content. If Apple decides to allow the Flash plug-in to work on the iPad even more content will be able to be used by students.

Finally, the price difference is significant. The iPod Touch starts at $199 and the iPad comes in at $499 for its cheapest model. When you consider the screen size and the newly available applications I believe it is worth the extra money.

iPad versus MacBook

The Macbook is a great tool for use in the classroom. It has everything a teacher would like for a student computer. The built in photography and video creating software is great and relatively easy to learn. How does the iPad compare? First lets look at batter life. Apple claims that the Macbook has a 7 hour battery life. Since this is a best case scenario I am going to assume that only one application is being used at a time. I can also say from experience you won't get 7 hours of video life on it. The iPad has been touted as having a 10 hour battery life and Steve Jobs said you can watch videos on a plane from San Francisco to Japan. Compared head to head using Apple's own site the iPad has a 3 hour longer life. This will allow it to have a long enough life to make it through the day at school even when the battery has started to lose its punch.

The Macbook starts at $900 from the education store. We don't know yet if there will be education pricing for the iPad, but the Macbooks is still about twice the price. You can outfit almost twice as many students with the iPad.

Finally, in my opinion the most important distinction between the two is the operating system. The iPhone/iTouch os is much more user friendly and intuitive that the Macbook's. My four year old can operate my iTouch without any prompting from me, but there is no way she could do even simple things on my Macbook.

iPad versus Netbook

I feel a little unprepared to compare
the two because I don't have any hands-on experience with a netbook. That being said, I am familiar with the size, form factor, and most importantly the operating systems. Netbooks happen to be great tools with a few drawbacks. What makes the iPad seem to be robust is due to the inability to multitask. Because netbooks run full operating systems that allow multitasking you can quickly bog the processor down with too many open apps.

While netbooks can create content with video, I have yet to read a review where someone recommends it. Most do have built in webcams which allow for picture taking or video conferencing. According to Apple's site the iPad has the ability to connect it to a camera or a SD card. I don't think that video conferencing is a necessary tool for each student to have all day access to.

Finally the nod again goes to the iPad because of the operating system. I won't reiterate my above arguement, but I can address Linux here. I have recently installed Linux on a couple computers in my lab to try them out. While I can say it works much better than it did two years ago when I last played with it, it still is pretty hard to navigate. If I have trouble with it I am sure my students will too. The ease of use for the iPad again gives it the edge.