Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Sweet Spot: Building the Right Technology Curriculum

" . . . and the pitcher throws and your looking for that pill and suddenly there is nothing else in the ballpark you and it and sometimes when your feeling right and there is a groove there and the bat just eases into it and meets that ball. When the bat meets that ball you can feel that ball just give and you know it is going to go a long way. Damn, if you don't feel like your going to live forever." - John Cusack as Buck Weaver in Eight Men Out (1988)

We (administrators, a diverse group of faculty and our wonderful librarians) are searching for our "sweet spot" in technology integration. According to Wikipedia,  "A sweet spot is a place, often numerical as opposed to physical, where a combination of factors results in a maximum response for a given amount of effort." We are hoping to dig deep and work toward finding that just right combination of learning supported, infused, enriched or extended by technology. While we realize that this is not a static target but constantly moving, we are working towards creating an environment where as many of those sweet spots can exist.

On our PD day January 2nd, we will being the exciting task of creating anew a technology curriculum (preK-12) for our school. In preparation for this task, I've gathered resources (outside of our own curriculum maps, academic goals, and strategic management plan) to both provoke new perspectives and to ensure that we truly consider what would be the best sweet spot for us. By sweet spot, I mean that wonderful area where preparation, training, knowledge, and talent meet to enable both students and teachers to consistently connect with learning with depth and joy. Creating that sweet spot means we need to have the necessary tools, a deep understanding of pedagogy,  enough professional development, and a supportive community of learners to foster  that sweet spot.

The resources I've gathered fall into three categories:
  1. 21st Century Learning/Learners
  2. Innovation Trends
  3. ICT Integration Protocols

21st Century Learning & Learners:

ICT Integration Protocols: 

Educational Origami:

  • What are your schools identified ICT objectives and goals?
  • Are these goals administratively focused or educationally focused?
  • Where does your school want to be ICT wise in 1 year, 5 years or 10 years?
  • What level of consultation and buy in did key groups have, namely students, staff, the community?
  • How are these goals integrated into your budgeting and curriculum planning?
  • How are these goals supported by professional development for staff?
  • How are these goals resourced?
  • How are these goals implemented in the school, departments/faculties and the classroom?
  • Do you have peer review of your curriculum, subject, unit plans and of teaching practice? Is this collegial support or appraisal?
  • In Industry implementation of a new product and the training of staff are usually dollar for dollar. What is your ratio of ICT investments to training investment?
  • What revision and review process do you have in place for your ICT goals, investment and training? To what degree are your students, community and staff involved in these reviews?
  • To what level is the implementation of ICT into teaching and learning mandated? Is there any mechanism for checking or accountability?
  • What accountability is in place for technologies put into the classroom to ensure they are utilised?
  • What decision making process is involved in setting student and staff access and administrative rights to computers, networks and the internet? Who established your policy, your board, the principal or the technician(s)/support staff? What are the rationale for this decision - technical, administrative and educational? Who and how is this reviewed?
  • Are your pedagogies reflective of 21st Century teaching and learning? 
 Edutopia:  [one of the best compilation of resources on this area}

 The Plan:

 My plan is for us to discuss our dream graduate profile, work which we began in our Academic Council, and then build backward from there using Understanding by Design principles. Basically, if we know where we want to be, then we work backwards from there to build the road to get to the destination. In what ways can educational technology help all our students get there? We are going to meet first as a group and then split into three teams based on ISTE standards: Team 1: Creativity & Innovation, Team 2: Communication & Collaboration,  Team 3: Research & Information Fluency [combined with] Critical Thinking, Problem Solving & Decision Making and the last two standards (Digital Citizenship and Technology Operations and Concepts) will be examined by the core group of technology integration team. It is my hope that by dividing the work into teams with us coming together to report on our progress and to continue to draft and present our findings, we will create a living document, adaptable to change, reflective of our philosophy, and firmly focused on providing the best learning opportunities for our students. Hmmm, it seems suitable to close with another one of my favorite baseball quotes:
Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham: That's what I wish for. Chance to squint at a sky so blue that it hurts your eyes just to look at it. To feel the tingling in your arm as you connect with the ball. To run the bases - stretch a double into a triple, and flop face-first into third, wrap your arms around the bag. That's my wish, Ray Kinsella. That's my wish. And is there enough magic out there in the moonlight to make this dream come true?  [Field of Dreams].
I think there's enough magic out there. I'll keep you posted :)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dear Blog, Have You Missed Me?

I love Top Chef. While I realize the producers amp up the drama to increase viewership, I still admire the ability of the chefs to take all their hard won knowledge (whether garnered through professional school or on-the-job training) and apply it to new situations.  Cooking is a wonderful blend of art, intuition, and science [just like teaching]. It's the ability to use heightened senses and a knowledgeable palate to create a dish worth drooling over. I deeply admire the chef who can maintain dishes cooking on four different burners, continue prepping food, and toss off bon mots to his or her competitors. You know when Padma, the host of the show, comes in that some new challenge awaits the chefs. "Hello, chefs." She will slyly smile and then tell them they have to cook with one hand, or blindfolded, or swap dishes mid-cooking with another chef. I see this happen often to teachers and administrators. "Oh, by the way, we've just redistricted and added 200 students to your school and cut your budget by 18%, but you can still meet your educational growth target, right?" I am fortunate to be in a situation where we have been able to pilot an iPad program for our youngest learners, a teacher iPad pilot with Apple TV wireless connection, and SMART Boards for many of our middle and high school STEM teachers. Teachers are absorbing tech pd faster than I anticipated and are incorporating Twitter and blogging into the curriculum. All my problems are actually blessings but it feels a bit like Padma just came in and gave us our challenge.

When the head chef, Tom Colicchio, comes in to to check on the chefs, at least one chef invariably says, "I'm in the weeds." Tom will ask some questions, the chefs will sweat some more, maybe doubt their work. Yet, [most of the time] the chef pulls through with a magnificent dish. Who needs Tom Colicchio?  However irksome the chefs may find Tom, I think his questions inspire them to reach even higher. I sympathize as I feel like I've been in the weeds. I see daylight, sort of.  I have been prepping the framework for the creation of a new Technology Curriculum, pre-K through grade 12 [hence my absence from my blog]. My hope is that this plan will underscore our educational philosophy, reflect our understanding of digital learners, embody all the hard work we have invested in Visible Thinking, Curriculum Mapping and Differentiation, use of Social Media, and correctly anticipate where technology may lead us [Ouija board anyone?]. And oh yes, let's not create a plan that will be outdated 6 months after creation. A tall order surely but I have a hardy crew of volunteer teachers from all disciplines, and armed with the great research provided by my PLN, and our curriculum maps, I am confident that we will navigate these sometimes murky waters safely. Our school is yar, our sailors skilled, and we've packed plenty of provisions. Wait, has anyone seen the brownies? Hmmm, maybe I need Tom Colicchio after all. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Learning, Reimagined.

As often happens in this connected world, two articles flew by on my Twitter feed that caught my eye and sparked my imagination. The first was on an interesting new app called Spartify that allows you, the party host,  to turn over your Spotify playlist to your guests and allow THEM to control the music-"create a music playlist on the fly". I wondered how such a concept would translate to the classroom. What if a teacher had an app like Spotify that contained all the concepts he or she wanted students to grapple with that day? What if students could control how and when those concepts came through the classroom day. What if they could spend more time on a concept for deeper understanding and fly by the ones they know? What if they wanted to listen to Lady Gaga's version of grammar rules instead of learning from the text? What if a student wanted the bootleg version of Dylan's algebra? Well, a lot of folks are interested in personalizing learning for students but I think this Spartify idea is a step beyond.The students would be in control of personalizing their learning experience. Students would not just consume, but create their learning. Learning has stretched so far past books as we know them that it's difficult, yet so much fun, to try and prognosticate what classrooms will be like even 5 years from now. Hmmm, interesting and scary all at the same time.

The second item of interest was an article on the Fayetteville Free Library in Fayetteville, New York and how the librarian, Lauren Smedley, is reimagining the public library. Smedley's concept is to create a creative space, a Fab Lab, where the public would have free access to the necessary software and hardware to create and manufacture items. This software and hardware includes items like a MakerBot which is a 3D printer that "lets you print plastic pieces of your own design" according to the wonderful article at MindShift by Audrey Watters. She plans on opening the venue to the community to create, build, collaborate on their own, or through classes. The possibilities are endless! I love Smedley's articulation about what 21st century library should be--"free access to information and to technology, and not just books or using computers, but actually building and making things."

What an incredible time we live in.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Is a Picture Worth 1,000 Words?

The National Day on Writing was inspiring--so many good reasons to write flowed in the Twitter stream and other locations that day. However much we are inspired to write,  my thoughts have turned not to the power of the pen (or keyboard or Siri) but to the way we present our words.Ideas may lose their appeal or power not because we lack elegance to articulate our ideas but because we founder in our choice of how to present our ideas. We teach our students the power of words, that they can change the world through the ideas they communicate. However, are we doing a good job teaching them how best to communicate an idea? Word processing is the "tech tool" teachers cite most often as their most frequently used technology. The 2nd most cited choice is Powerpoint. Really? So word processing and Powerpoint are the awesome tools we are giving our students to present their thoughts to the world.  From random use of clip art to poor choice of graphs, to "Death by Powerpoint", our students seem bewildered by the overwhelming amount of choice when it comes to visually representing data or ideas and I suspect they are not being guided in their choice either.

Let's first discuss image choice. How many students really know how to select or create the best image? Students often turn to the most expedient or the most frivolous image use. Whether choosing the first image that comes up on a poorly planned Google image search, or throwing in a word cloud because using Wordle is fun to use, our students are not choosing wisely. Are word clouds harmful? Do geographic visualizations serve to dumb down or distort data? Can an ill-conceived graph convey the wrong idea? Maybe. I read a great article by Jacob Harris (New York Times senior software architect) on the Nieman Journalism Lab site. Harris advocates against the use of word clouds as data visualization for stories. He argues that word clouds (as opposed to other types of data visualizations which accompany news stories) are misleading, sloppy and open to too many interpretations, "Don’t confuse signifiers with what they signify." Harris, along with  those who contributed the many comments on his story, prodded me to think about the importance of teachers being knowledgeable about the variety of images and presentation tools available to students. Think how much more powerful a student's communication would be if his or her ideas were accompanied by the right images and presentation format.

Teachers should be able to guide their students as to whether an idea is best communicated through an essay, cartoon, Prezi, Glogster, Powerpoint, Keynote, newspaper, blog, video or any combination of those tools. If we limit the choice of tools to what a teacher is comfortable with, we clip our students' wings. Would you expect a carpenter to show up with only a hammer to renovate your kitchen? Teachers need to equip their students with the knowledge of how to find or create just the right image which means they need to knowledgeable practitioners too. Is that asking too much? Probably. However, I'm betting that mechanics know every tool available to fix a car whether it's a wrench or a computer. I'm confident that a surgeon knows when to use a scalpel as opposed to an x-ray. So why would the teaching profession be any different?

While many teachers complain that they do not have the time to learn more than one tech tool, they do work hard to present their lessons to accommodate many types of learners. Therefore, it should be a no-brainer that we need to transfer that knowledge to our students and teach them that when they communicate ideas through a combination of words and images, they need to choose the right tool to ensure that they are communicating their ideas clearly, transparently, and succinctly. Just as a sitcom is not the right tool for satire, a word cloud (while fun to do) may not be the best tool to visually portray data. Many folks (especially since his passing) have pointed out how wonderful Jobs's presentations were because he understood how to marry the impact of words and pictures to communicate his ideas. If you are asking students to create presentations, how much thought do you give to which tool they use? Should teachers "talk through" the pros and cons of Prezi vs. Glogster. Vs. Powerpoint?  How much time do teachers devote to taking about the importance of choosing the right image? If you are assigning a research project, how much time do you spend on the various types of charts and graphs student scan create and embed in a report? Setting the aesthetics aside, the format by which we communicate and the  images accompanying that information are potent ways to deliver ideas and our students need to understand their impact.

Remember, "a picture is worth a 1,000 words?" What if they are the wrong words? The wrong ideas?

What do you think?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Power of the Epic Fail

What is the single most important lesson we can teach our students? I know some would argue a "passion for learning", or "the ability to problem solve", or maybe even "to communicate concisely and elegantly an original thought". 


Another thought occurred to me though that above everything else there is one essential item we should teach our students: RESILIENCY. I've always thought it was important but as I get older and more difficult obstacles pop up in life, my resiliency is something I lean on heavily. I know that I will make mistakes but I trust in my ability to rise again. J.K. Rowling talked about the benefits of (epically) failing and resiliency at a Harvard Commencement speech:

"So rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life."

According to, "Resiliency is the ability to spring back from and successfully adapt to adversity." Resiliency has been on my mind, particularly the last two weeks. Seeing the resiliency of the OWS movement is a powerful lesson. Talking my daughter through her fear of failing at a task made me realize that I don't "talk out loud" my thought process when I make mistakes and verbalize the lessons learned enough with my children.  Last week, some critics slammed Tim Cook for his less than dazzling performance at the iPhone 4S event. With hindsight, the presentation by Cook and other Apple executives was masterful. They knew that Steve Jobs, their mentor, close friend, and former boss, was dying. Tough stuff. Yet, they rose to the occasion and certainly the pre-sale iPhone 4S orders have proven that Apple is on the right track. Jobs himself demonstrated resiliency throughout his career,especially when he got fired from Apple:

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods in my life. During the next five years I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the world's first computer-animated feature film, "Toy Story," and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. 
Students are so focused on the right answer. They fear failure. Standardized tests that emphasize only one right answer don't help to encourage our students of the worthiness of failure. This generation of "helicopter" parents  (I'm one of them), are famous for practically scooping up their child mid-fall so the child doesn't scrape his knee. We are missing the chance to encourage our children to succeed by not letting them fail. Make a mistake. What's the worse that can happen? Richard Branson is one of the richest men in the world and is known as much for his successes as his failures. "Being unafraid of failure is, I believe, one the most important qualities of a champion."

 There are dozens of examples we can hold up to our students of the importance of failure and resiliency.

However, I believe that students sometimes block out these examples. So perhaps it is up to us to model failure and resiliency. As difficult as it is to take a risk with our students, it is imperative that they see us talk through our failures so that they can better understand the value of resiliency. Without resiliency, failure can never be success.

"I have failed over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed."

So fail. Even epically. Just remember to get up and dust yourself off.

 “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”-Sir Ken Robinson

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Think Different-Steve Jobs & Learning

 Even though I had never met Steve Jobs, I felt devastated when I heard the news of his passing.  Much more so than than the death of JFK Jr., Princess Diana, or Michael Jackson, or any other icon I can think of, Steve Jobs's death seems to strike right at my heart. All night and this morning I've been pondering why this is so. I believe that like many teachers, Jobs inspired us in profound ways that we will not even realize for another generation. From memories of my first Mac, which seemed like pure magic to me, to my current Apple laden life (iPhone, iPad, iPod and my precious MacBook Pro) Steve Jobs has been a strong presence on and off for most of my adult life. He seemed to anticipate what I wanted before I even knew. My first computer lab was cluttered with his Think Different posters. Students would always ask, what's with the Think Different? I would always reply that the posters should be inspiration for you to think differently than you ever have, be uncomfortable, go down another path, think differently. While his influence on design will be felt for some time, more importantly his influence on how we think will be the real game-changer.

These are the top ten lessons that Steve Jobs taught me:

"I'm convinced that about half of what separates the successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance."

"That's been one of my mantras-focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."

"If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on"

"My model for business is The Beatles: They were four guys that kept each other's negative tendencies in check; they balanced each other. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts."

"We've kept our marriage secret for over a decade."
-- Jobs' answer to Kara Swisher asking about the "greatest misunderstanding" in Jobs' relationship with Bill Gates. (May 2007)

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things. And the reason they were able to do that was that they’ve had more experiences or they have thought more about their experiences than other people.”

"It's really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don't know what they want until you show it to them."

"Picasso had a saying: 'Good artists copy, great artists steal.' We have always been shameless about stealing great ideas...I think part of what made the Macintosh great was that the people working on it were musicians, poets, artists, zoologists and historians who also happened to be the best computer scientists in the world."


"Stay hungry. Stay foolish."


Thank you Steve Jobs. May you rest in peace.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The School Social Media Tug-of-War - Where's the Chi?

 Striking the Right Balance: Student Social Media Policies

Many of us are struggling with striking the right balance between social media/Internet use and restrictions.While teachers want to engage students in multiple mediums, ensuring that they are prepared to communicate in a thoughtful, respectful, and critical manner in all forms of communication, administrators want to safeguard their students (and their school) from any possible harm that may arise from such use. Where to find the social media chi? Fortunately for me, my school is overrun with talented faculty like Brandon B. Recently, Brandon's class used a Visible Thinking routine [Project Zero] to create a Social Media Policy for class use of blogs and Twitter. [We are currently working on a school wide policy.] I love that his students created a policy that not only incorporates safe use of social media, but that their policy also underscores the importance of how something should be communicated (proper grammar, spelling, your own words, appropriate language, etc.).

World History 2011-2012 Social Media Policy

1. I will not give out any information more personal than my first name nor will I post pictures of myself or my classmates.
2. I will not plagiarize; instead I will expand on others' ideas and give credit where it is due.
3. I will use language appropriate for school.
4. I will always respect my fellow students and their writing.
5. I will follow only the Twitter users that Mr. B. has instructed me to follow.
6. I will not communicate with anyone on Twitter that refrains from benefiting my knowledge of history, this course, or current events.
7. I will use constructive/productive/purposeful criticism, supporting any idea, comment, or critique I have with evidence.
8. I will take blogging seriously, posting only comments and ideas that are meaningful and that contribute to the overall conversation.
9. I will take my time when I write, using formal language (not text lingo), and I will try to spell everything correctly.
10. I will not use my blog posts or comments as a chat room. (No IM or texting lingo.)
11. I will not bully others in my blog posts or in my comments.
12.  I will never access another student's Kidblog/Twitter account or make any changes to their site.
13. I will only have one school account for Kidblog/Twitter and the username will consist of first 3 letters of my first name, first 3 letter of my last name, and my class period.
14.  I will provide Mr. B. with my username and password for Kidblog/Twitter and allow him permission to edit any post, tweet, comment, etc.
15. I will personalize my blog and keep my writing authentic, while taking responsibility for anything I add to my blog.
16. I will not provoke other students in my blog posts or comments.
17. I will only post photos which are school appropriate and are either not copyrighted or correctly cited.
18. I will not spam.
19. I will only post comments on posts that I have fully read, rather than just skimmed.
20. I will not reveal anyone else's identity in my comments or posts.
I pledge to abide by the XXXX Honor Code and should any infractions of these rules take place they will lead to consequences as deemed appropriate by the deans office:

I have read and understand the Social Media Policy.
Student Signature
Print name 

Are you there yet?  What would you add? 

Friday, September 30, 2011

Lessons Learned: Dolphin Tale

Last evening, I took my daughters to go see the movie, Dolphin Tale. (Fabulous movie!) Ten minutes into the movie, my heart sank when I saw how Sawyer, a shy, withdrawn, but bright young boy, is so apathetic about school. It soon becomes apparent that Sawyer is not disengaged with learning, just school. Sawyer suddenly becomes incredibly engaged in learning everything about dolphins and other members of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, when he helps to rescue Winter, yet his "by the book" summer school teacher fails to see the meaning in his student's new zest for learning. The teacher refuses to award credit to Sawyer, even though the boy is willing to do produce any work to report on his newly acquired knowledge. The teacher demands that Sawyer must be in his seat in order to learn, especially as he, the teacher, is such a GOOD teacher. 

How many Sawyers are out there? How many of our students are so disengaged with school? How many teachers fail to spend the time to get to know their students and help their students cross the bridge to the "land of engagement"?  

Finally, the teacher comes to realize that Sawyer's engagement with learning has resulted in not only Winter being saved, but the aquarium too. The teacher relents and grants Sawyer his summer school credit.

In the end, Winter the dolphin is saved, but so is Sawyer. What must we do to ensure that this is the norm? What must we do to guarantee that every educator learns this lesson?

Thanks to @dallasf & @shareski, I just watched the most fascinating video about a group of students who could not be more engaged :
The video showcases a pilot project where a group of disengaged high school students were able to "re-engage" via learning through establishing an independent school group. What they have learned is amazing. Check it out.

Dolphin Tale is a retelling of a true story. 
A young boy, Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble), befriends Winter, an injured bottlenose dolphin who loses her tail due to being entrapped in a crab trap in the Indian River in Fort Pierce, Florida. He motivates everyone around him to help save the dolphin by creating a prosthetic appendage to replace the dolphin's missing tail. Harry Connick Jr. plays a vet who rescues the mammal and brings her to the marine hospital he runs. Ashley Judd plays the boy's mother while Morgan Freeman is a doctor who creates a prosthetic limb for Winter. (

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A New Accountability-Digitize Me!

 My school has been thoughtfully discussing the uses of electronic or digital portfolios. The purpose would be twofold: to have a living, reflective authentic assessment of student work and to demonstrate growth tied to a student's individual learning plan over time. A worthy goal, right? Why aren't more schools doing this? While researching digital portfolios, I came across examples that seemed to fall into either a"fancy digital file cabinet of student work" or simply a photo gallery of "this is what we did". No reflection from the student. No comment from a teacher or peers. Just because you put student work in a folder online does not make it a digital portfolio. What was the purpose?  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a portfolio is defined as "a selection of a student's work (as papers and tests) compiled over a period of time and used for assessing performance or progress."

With so much emphasis on standardized test grades, providing parents (and someday college admissions officers and/or future employers) with a fuller, richer picture of one's academic achievement and growth should be our goal. With today's technology, it is not the burden it once was. One could use Evernote, Wordpress, or Google Apps for FREE to create such a living repository. Or there are wonderful companies out there like Digication (which actually handles the portfolios for free if you are a Google Apps school). Dr. Helen Barrett (I like to think of her as the Megamind of E-Portfolios) has a wealth of resources available, all which underscore that it doesn't take much to capture a child's growth in a variety of subjects.

Facebook recently introduced a totally new format, the timeline. Why? Well, according to Mark Zuckerburg, 
“Millions and millions of people have spent years curating the stories of their lives, and there’s no way to share them,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said.
Perhaps Mr. Zuckerburg is on to something. I believe that in this digital world, people do like to curate their lives. The time is ripe to do the same with our students. Collectively, teachers have spent millions of hours curating their students' lives. Many teachers, especially elementary teachers, spend considerable time curating each of their student's works into boxes or folders or the like, only to be sent home at the end of the year. Perhaps parents look at them. Maybe they get put in boxes to be saved and cherished. Maybe someday in the future they will be opened and the former student will glance at the work with fond remembrance? 

I think we can do better. Let's not curate without reflection. Let the curation be purposeful. Let's encourage our students to be reflective, to be "noticers", to take ownership of their learning, and to understand that a standardized test score is only a snapshot.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How did Social Media get so Unsocial? (or Where have all the manners gone?)

I always thought manners were more than just protocol or etiquette, but an expression of how you cared about someone else's feelings. A demonstration of consideration. I posted just last week about the need to educate our students on how to communicate in social media so that they understand how best to express their ideas in a clear and concise manner. I believe I fell short in my call to action. We need to do more. Recent events underscore the need to teach our students (and model ourselves) how to communicate socially in social media. 

Several weeks earlier an article by Sharon Noguchi, Educators Combat Crude Culture of Social Networks, popped up in many re-postings. In short, the article refers to the rampant profanity and crude behavior exhibited on social media by students, especially on Facebook and the steps that the legislature and educators are taking to combat this trend. 
     But now, as kids head back to school, they may find more adults are paying attention. Educators increasingly are joining in to challenge the crude culture of social networks, which they fear unleashes cyberbullying and sexting, heightens the social drama of puberty and teaches the wrong values.
     Even though Facebook flaming usually originates off campus, more schools are teaching "digital citizenship," how to care for online profiles, deal with bullies and speak up for what's right—a critical skill because teens often don't take problems to adults.
Several weeks earlier there was a great article in the New York Times, Teaching Kids How to Break Up Nicely By Benoit Denizet-Lewis. Mr. Denizet-Lewis reported on efforts to teach students how to responsibly handle ending relationships, to "face it, not facebook it".

      “When I’m done with a relationship, I’m not going to wait a day, an hour or even 10 minutes to update my status,” Roberto told the group. “When it’s over, it’s over. I’m done with you.”
      “The key word here is ‘racing,’ ” another girl replied with all the condescension she could muster. “Is that really healthy? Breaking up shouldn’t be a competition!”
      The group’s adult facilitator — who wore a blue “Face It, Don’t Facebook It” pin, in a reference to the apparently troubling trend of young people breaking up with one another via social media — nodded in agreement and suggested that Roberto consider taking a “technology timeout” the next time he felt compelled to race home and publicly declare his singlehood. Roberto reluctantly agreed to consider it.
A technology time-out? Ummm, I think we can do better. Are we really teaching our students to hide behind social media. When are we teaching them to be brave and responsible in our dealings with others? I think back to my parents' lessons and all my wonderful teachers' lessons and how they consistently modeled how to do the right thing. Whether it was "sharing is caring" or "if you can't say something nice about someone . . ." Have we educators been so overwhelmed by teaching to the test that we forgot to model some values along the way? Is it a failure by parents to actually parent? Or is the lure of destroying someone anonymously so great, that we cannot combat this trend? Good grief, there are even articles helping you choose which social media is best for you to use to break up!

How did social media get so unsocial?

When Carol Bartz, former chief executive officer,  was fired from Yahoo she turned to her IPad and vented to her staff:
To all,
I am very sad to tell you that I've just been fired over the phone by Yahoo's Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward.

Fantastic. short, sweet and to the point. Fired over the phone? Not a very classy job, Yahoo. Whatever happened to your manners? Whatever happened to building relationships? Of course since Ms. Bartz called Yahoo Board out for their lack of class, I expected to see her act the opposite way. Umm, not so much.
In a defiant, often profane interview with Fortune, Ms. Bartz said she intended to remain on Yahoo’s board. If so, it would make for some uncomfortable meetings because, in the same interview, she also called her fellow board members “doofuses.”
Ugh. Ms. Bartz, where have your manners gone? Where have all the manners gone? If you find them, please let me know. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Are We Putting All Our Lessons in One Basket?

     Two tweets crossed paths this morning on my feed and inspired this post asking if we are failing students by not teaching them how to communicate in social media? Are we putting all our writing lessons in one basket?
     The first spark was a tweet from @willrich45 about Digital Outcasts. Will discusses Nishant Shaha's definition of  a digital outcast as ". . . not somebody who doesn’t have access to the technologies; s/he is somebody who, after the access has been granted, fails to actualise the transformative potentials of technologies for the self or for others." Will suggests that we need to teach students not only how to use media properly, but how to employ it in the service of others. Really interesting point and as I was chewing on the implications of where Will's post was leading me, a tweet came into my feed from @DanielPink about how Columbia Business School is asking for 200-character admission essays. Here is an excerpt from the post:
Earlier this summer the University of Iowa's Tippie School of Management made headlines by ditching the traditional essay in favor of allowing would-be students to use Twitter to write a 140-character application. Now Columbia Business School is following suit by asking applicants, "What is your post-M.B.A. professional goal?" and limiting responses to just 200-characters—not words, characters.
     Good grief! A 200-character or less response to what is your goal? Of course the response would have to be incredibly focused and fresh to get the attention of the admissions committee. A great challenge but are our students up for it? 
     Daniel Pink's tweet reminded me of one of my least favorite doctoral classes. It was a required technology class and we had weekly assignments where the professor would post a question on one of the assigned readings and we needed to respond in a blog in 25 words or less. Not bad, right? Well the kicker was that your response had to be completely original. You could not repeat the thoughts of any previous poster. Of course, I would  sit impatiently by my computer near posting time so as to try and get my post in first, for the more time (and the more posts submitted) that went by, the more difficult it was to respond in 25 words or less with an original response. At the time, I cursed that class and that professor, but now I think he was genius. I read those weekly readings very carefully in light of how I might be required to respond any one of them. I tried to anticipate how others might respond. The professor's point was that it was not all about how you responded to the reading but understanding how others felt too, and by incorporating those communal thoughts,  perhaps you might change your perspective and respond with a fresh perspective.He required rapid, clear, and concise responses. It was great training for current communication practices.
     So, what do you think? Are we missing the boat in putting all our eggs in the basket of long essays and literary analysis? Should we be teaching our students how to properly provide a critical response to a blog, how to properly tweet, how to truly listen (read) to other responses and respond back in a thoughtful and concise manner? Wouldn't our students benefit from a laser like focus on their analysis and writing? And more importantly, why are we not taking the next step and teaching our students how to use these technologies to change the world for the better? 

     Let me know what you think   . . in 140 characters or less. :)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Be Humble & Celebrate Your Team: I-Leadership

 Since Steve Jobs announced that he is stepping down as CEO of Apple; stories, videos, collection of quotes, and whatnot are circulating around the web celebrating his reign as arguably the most inventive and creative leader of one of the most successful companies in the world. Especially popular is the 2005 commencement speech Jobs delivered at Stanford. My favorite excerpt from that speech:
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.

Essentially Steve was relating to the graduates that if you do what you love, you should not fear failure, it is part of the process of learning. However, my personal favorite Steve Jobs clip showed up in my G+ stream this morning. It is Steve Jobs at the WWDC conference in 1997. Jobs is back at Apple, and charged with bringing it back to life. No mean feat, especially after the failure of NeXT. An audience member questions Steve's ability to lead and calls him out on his lack of technical expertise [boy, I bet that guy feels like a jerk now]. There is a long painful pause and then Jobs rises from his stool,  almost like a down and out fighter, to reply to the smarmy, insulting questions. Steve Jobs is one of the smartest people I know and he has a wicked sense of humor so no doubt he could have squashed this fellow like a bug. Instead, Steve Jobs demonstrated the following leadership lessons:
  • Great leaders rise to the occasion (demonstrating restraint, class, and thoughtfulness).
  • Great leaders are humble about what they don't know and confident about what they do know.
  • Great leaders support and empower their team. They recognize what they are capable of and get out of their way.
  • Great leaders know it is NOT all about them. Jobs mentioned folks by name and celebrated their contributions to Apple.
  • Great leaders admit when they are wrong. 
  • Great leaders are candid and engaging.
  • Great leaders are  visionary and "get it" [new vision for Apple: it's about the consumer experience, not the tech] 
  • Great leaders are passionate about what they believe in and they invite you to follow them on that journey

And to you Steve Jobs, may God watch over you and your family. Yes, you have given us great products over the years and changed immeasurably how we interact with technology, but more importantly, you have give us endless inspiration, increased our aspirations, and generously shared your hard won life lessons. You have given us the ability to connect with each other in ways that I believe have far greater implications which we will probably not realize for another decade. So thank you Steve Jobs for your courage, vision and your heart. You taught me the most important lesson of all, don't let failure shape your life, instead let the architecture be the lessons you learn---and never be afraid to share those lessons. Thank you, Steve.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I Love You, Matt Damon!

Tony Wagner, please move over and make room on my hero shelf for the Mighty Mr. Matt Damon.I still have mad love for you Tony--not to worry, my love for Matt is pure. In case you were in a coma, in WiFi hell, or waiting for COMCAST to fix your Internet service (again!), you might have missed one of my favorite all time moments this year, Matt Damon's extraordinarily lucid speech at the SOS Rally in Washington, D.C. Boy oh boy, that man can SELL a message. My favorite part of his speech was Mighty Matt's slam on testing:"And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am ... can be tested."

Damon was in fine company including the usual folks: Jonathan Kozol, Diane Ravitch, and Linda Darling-Hammond. However stellar the company Matt, you outshined them all with your heartfelt message. I admit it, I cried. So, I have posted your speech below to anyone who missed it (although I am sure you can find it on YouTube too and then you have the added benefit of hearing Matt deliver these wonderful words). Will Matt's fine words fell the Testing Ogre? I fear not. But, more importantly, he has given me hope, and sometimes all it takes is a liitle hope to save the world.

I flew overnight from Vancouver to be with you today. I landed in New York a few hours ago and caught a flight down here because I needed to tell you all in person that I think you’re awesome.
I was raised by a teacher. My mother is a professor of early childhood education. And from the time I went to kindergarten through my senior year in high school, I went to public schools. I wouldn’t trade that education and experience for anything.
I had incredible teachers. As I look at my life today, the things I value most about myself — my imagination, my love of acting, my passion for writing, my love of learning, my curiosity — all come from how I was parented and taught.
And none of these qualities that I’ve just mentioned — none of these qualities that I prize so deeply, that have brought me so much joy, that have brought me so much professional success — none of these qualities that make me who I am ... can be tested.
I said before that I had incredible teachers. And that’s true. But it’s more than that. My teachers were EMPOWERED to teach me. Their time wasn’t taken up with a bunch of test prep — this silly drill and kill nonsense that any serious person knows doesn’t promote real learning. No, my teachers were free to approach me and every other kid in that classroom like an individual puzzle. They took so much care in figuring out who we were and how to best make the lessons resonate with each of us. They were empowered to unlock our potential. They were allowed to be teachers.
Now don’t get me wrong. I did have a brush with standardized tests at one point. I remember because my mom went to the principal’s office and said, ‘My kid ain’t taking that. It’s stupid, it won’t tell you anything and it’ll just make him nervous.’ That was in the ’70s when you could talk like that.
I shudder to think that these tests are being used today to control where funding goes.
I don’t know where I would be today if my teachers’ job security was based on how I performed on some standardized test. If their very survival as teachers was based on whether I actually fell in love with the process of learning but rather if I could fill in the right bubble on a test. If they had to spend most of their time desperately drilling us and less time encouraging creativity and original ideas; less time knowing who we were, seeing our strengths and helping us realize our talents.
I honestly don’t know where I’d be today if that was the type of education I had. I sure as hell wouldn’t be here. I do know that.
This has been a horrible decade for teachers. I can’t imagine how demoralized you must feel. But I came here today to deliver an important message to you: As I get older, I appreciate more and more the teachers that I had growing up. And I’m not alone. There are millions of people just like me.
So the next time you’re feeling down, or exhausted, or unappreciated, or at the end of your rope; the next time you turn on the TV and see yourself called “overpaid;” the next time you encounter some simple-minded, punitive policy that’s been driven into your life by some corporate reformer who has literally never taught anyone anything. ... Please know that there are millions of us behind you. You have an army of regular people standing right behind you, and our appreciation for what you do is so deeply felt. We love you, we thank you and we will always have your back.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What I Learned from Betty Ford

     Pure class and elegance underscored by solid steel. Betty Ford truly epitomized the great T.R.'s words of "walk softly, and carry a big stick". Betty Ford not only fought for women's rights, but she made it possible to openly discuss a myriad of issues that no one wanted to voice. She taught me that the best leadership is by example, if you want to get anything done you better be willing to get your own hands dirty, and that compassion speaks volumes. Betty Ford owned her weaknesses which was one of her greatest strengths. At a time when addiction was hushed up, she came forward and sought help. Betty Ford realized that shame cast a shadow and prevented others from seeking help. In her founding of the Betty Ford Center, she brought a rather large spotlight onto addiction and saved countless lives through her actions. Ford demonstrated endless compassion for those who sought help but also demanded that any resident of the Center contributed sweat equity toward its upkeep (as she did herself).
     Betty Ford was audacious in her own quiet way. She spoke out about many topics and ensured through her example that no subject was taboo if it meant supporting those who suffered at the hands of illness, addiction, neglect, or abuse. Betty Ford was a force to be reckoned with as she tirelessly fought for women's rights. She built consensus among disparate groups through her charm, common sense, and her ability to truly listen and find common ground. She never sought the spotlight for her own glorification, but rather used her fame to bring attention and support to where it was needed. When my thirteen-year-old twin daughters look for an example of how to live their lives, I point to Betty Ford. I always tell them not to look for mentors who rise when life is easy but rather to look to those folks who shine during their darkest hours. Thank you, Betty Ford.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Would Darth Vadar Do?

     Many teachers, good teachers, even GREAT teachers, think of technology as the DARK SIDE. Why? Well, perhaps it is just a fear of the unknown. Perhaps these teachers fear loss of control as technology sometimes slides you into more of a facilitator role (isn't that a good thing?). If you are a content area teacher, you keep up with how your content evolves so why not keep up with the best means to engage your students? If your lack of technology expertise makes you feel inadequate, become better educated. Make it a priority. After all, the fate of the Galactic universe is in your hands. As I blogged earlier, it's really a mindset issue that I believe will take more than one Jedi to fix.
      What would Darth do? I'm sure the Emperor would tweet him to find the best teacher who integrates technology seamlessly into his or her curriculum and then clone that person--and of course, blast any teachers who did not comply. Boy, that would give a whole new meaning to mandated professional development. I'm betting Darth wouldn't think that was the best method. Darth would probably consult his PLN for a solution. I think Darth would agree with Tom Whitby that we should begin with a different type of PD. Darth would push for relentless, rigorous technology training and he would then follow up with multiple classroom visits to see how things are going. (Can you picture that black cape strutting down your hallway?) Darth, although not the best dad, knows his son, Luke, while skilled, is no digital native Jedi. Darth knows that a Jedi only becomes a master through a lot of training and support. Of course, wouldn't all teachers want to become Jedis as they are given so much respect? Wouldn't all Jedis want to become Master Jedis?
     Lots of talk out there in the universe about "no excuses". I hear you. I understand your frustration. So Administrators, let's set the bar high. Let's set clear expectations about technology implementation in every classroom. Let's evaluate teachers based on those expectations. Let's make sure we support them with the right training, tools and encouragement. Let's remember what Yoda said, "There is not try, there is only do." So, let's do.

Darth Vadar, pictured here at the Laptop Institute during a lightsaber demonstration.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Mad Love for Tony Wagner

    I admit it, I have an intellectual crush on Tony Wagner. I {> him. My friends and colleagues are sick to death hearing about me extol the virtues of the mighty TW. Don't get me wrong, I have great respect for Daniel Pink, John Medina, Richard Arum, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Carol Tomlinson, Jay McTighe, etc. but I always come back to Tony Wagner. He hits the nail on the head as far as how we need to THINK about students, learning, change, leadership, education  . . . it's not what is taught that matters, it is what is learned.

 Teaching ALL students NEW skills is a new education challenge that requires development of new accountability structures, different ways of teaching and testing, and new ways of working together and with our students. The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner.

     In case you are not familiar with The Global Achievement Gap, Tony suggests that there are seven survival skills our students need to learn in order to be successful 21st century citizens: 

1.Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

2.Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence

3.Agility and Adaptability

4.Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

5.Effective Oral and Written Communication

6.Accessing and Analyzing Information

7.Curiosity and Imagination

     He advocates for schools to develop strategies for instruction/assessment of the BIG 3 C's:
  1. critical and creative thinking
  2. communication
  3. collaboration

     Thanks to social media, we can accomplish this challenge. Really. It's not rocket science. We just need to move out of our comfort zone. How about all those A.P. classes? If we must have them, then does it take all that much energy to push students to ask the right questions past the same old Powerpoint presentation? Maybe ask those questions across collaborative networks? To communicate those answers articulately (through Skype classrooms?), concisely (through Twitter?),  and creatively (well, pick your favorite medium . . . I think we have some choice here). Pat Bassett, president of NAIS, wrote a great riff off these ideas: Demonstrations of Learning for 21st Century Schools. (Really wonderful, insightful article.)

     So yes, I am a FAN. I cannot wait until Tony's new book comes out: Learning to Innovate, Innovating to Learn: What The Best Parents, Teachers & Employers Do And Why It Matters AND I am hoping to catch the documentary about his experience touring Finland's schools, The Finland Phenomenon (see interview at Huff Post 

     Tony is still at Harvard, but in a new position, Innovation Education Fellow at the Technology & Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard. If you are interested in some great summer reading, The Global Achievement Gap is in paperback and IBooks. Enjoy!