Friday, December 17, 2010

How tutoring strengthened my belief that content is not king!

I've been teaching for 20 years this year and I am a firm believer that there is too much emphasis on content.  I see students and my own children often wondering, fighting, and resisting that the information that they are required to learn is unimportant or does not apply to them.  Which then leads to parents and educators struggling to defend the status quo when students ask the following: Why is this important?  How does this impact me? Or how is this helpful?

These questions prompted me to reflect upon a blog post on memorization back in December of 2008: Education 2.0: Never Memorize Again? If you haven't read this blog and you are interested in stirring up the pot in the faculty room, leave a couple of copies by the coffee maker or stack of holiday treats.

So what is prompting this post?  A couple of things come to mind.  A recent question from a student on how to calculate the angle between the hands of an analog clock and my latest experiences tutoring chemistry.

The geometry question is a classic anachronism. The student who was struggling with the concept asked how many analog clocks do you think I see in day?  Now I'm not saying that the concept itself is not valid but the question does appear to be out of sync with the student experience.

With respects to tutoring HS chemistry, it's been a wonderful opportunity to take a step back and look at the vast quantities of info students are required to learn just in this course.  I couldn't help but empathize with my student's musings about why is she learning this. What I found most disconcerting were the follow up questions. What do I need to know? Is there a pattern, a mnemonic, some quick fix to assist her learn the material?

Now I couldn't help but feel sorry for her because so many students are in her shoes. I love science.  I actually would rather watch the Discovery Channel than most sporting events but it seems like she's already ruled out chemistry as anything but interesting and more of an obstacle.

This is far from a unique observation but if I had a magic curricular wand, I would probably cut close to 50% of the curriculum in chemistry and approach the learning through integration with Environmental Science, Biology, and Physics and include experimental design/project based learning and hands on activities that are more topical.  I would stop asking students to memorize the periodic table but ask them to use the info that it stores.  Learn by doing, constructing, and making connections.

I'm not saying that memorization should not be utilized or is not valuable.  I am however hoping more teachers will stop using memorization as a crutch in order to crank through content. It's time to develop new activities, simulations, and opportunities that use the concepts students need to know without forcing them to memorize on a regular basis.  Leverage Tech to assist with learning and with the right balance, the content objectives will be mastered because the affective objectives were emphasized a bit more.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Readability: It's Quietube for Print

Websites are just chock full of advertisements, distractions, and at times unsavory content.  To clean up articles, blogposts, or websites, try using the Bookmarklet Readability.  When one goes to the Readability website, one will have an opportunity to select the format for the article, website, or post.
There is a preview option which takes the guess work out.

Here is the setting interface:
The settings selected in the image above are set for newspaper, medium, and wide. Making these selections alters the javascript in the bookmarklet to the desired format.

After selecting the settings, drag the bookmarklet into your bookmark toolbar. To activate, click on the bookmarklet when it's time to clean up an article.

To see it in action, I've included images of an article before and after applying readability.


As one can see, applying Readability cleans up the article substantially and although not visible in the image above, it provides the option to email and print out this version.

Curious about how to clean up youtube clips? Then check out my post on Quietube: Video without Distractions.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Blogging about Tweets: Open-Source Texts

I continue to be amazed by the conversations that I have on twitter.  I talk it up regularly but I can't seem to get the majority of my teachers or administrators to dive into this incredibly valuable application.  So instead, I use twitter to feed my faculty and staff with little pearls that are shared by peeps from around the world.  I must admit that when asked where did you find this information or resource, I'm proud to say that it came from my PLN on twitter.

All right I'll get off my soapbox and back to the gist of this post.

In early December, @fredbartels posted a tweet regarding online texts.  Below is a transcript of our conversation.

fredbartels: How do we get the Chemistry teachers together for a day to brainstorm replacements for textbooks?5:33am, Dec 03 from Twitter for iPhone
cuevash@fredbartels How about organizing a series of unconference events to bring folks together? thoughts?5:48am, Dec 03 from Web
fredbartels@cuevash Unconference events to bring folks together is a brilliant idea! Who do we get to organize and fund them?6:02am, Dec 03 from Web
cuevash@fredbartels it may be possible for individual school's to sponsor a certain discipline and have an opportunity to connect w all on the web6:26am, Dec 03 from Echofon
fredbartels@cuevash Seems like a viable approach. What would be the incentive for a subject area specialist to attend one of these?

At this point I fell off the conversation because family life took over.  A few days later we picked up right where we left off.

cuevash6:43am via HootSuite

@fredbartels Realized I nvr responded to ur last tweet re: unconference and incentive 4 subj area specialists.
cuevash6:44am via HootSuite
@fredbartels Hope to gather life long learners who would want to participate in a collaborative effort to develop a superior resource

cuevash@fredbartels for students that is inexpensive and or free, accessible from the web, self managed and updated for accuracy and relevance.6:46am, Dec 11 from HootSuite

cuevash6:49am via HootSuite
@fredbartels it would be great if discipline leaders would emerge to facilitate the process and perhaps dev a standardized format.
@fredbartels @cuevash Brilliant! A compellling rationale for helping with open source 'texts'. Love how Twitter can help distill ideas down to essences.

So where does this leave us?  Well the conversation is certainly far from over but perhaps with sufficient interest, we can overcome inertia and get something started.

Are you interested? Know someone who might be interested?  Then join the conversation but at minimum let others know.

Thanks Fred for the inspiration!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Modeling Classroom Management

Today was a professional day at our school. However, as with most meetings at school I am often stunned by the number of colleagues who are engrossed in other things.  Laptop screens were up and cell phones were being used to send text messages.  That said, I can only imagine how those individuals  would react if their students behaved in a similar manner while they were giving a presentation. 

Am I guilty of this behavior? Absolutely. But before I could start tapping away at the keyboard today, our MS Head, Phil Spears, did something that caught not only my attention but the attention of the entire division.  Prior to his presentation, he asked the faculty for some tech free time and he requested that we lower the lids of our laptops.  
That was it!  Phil modeled effective classroom management albeit with his teachers. He had our attention and we were all better for it. 
So is it the technology's fault? Hardly, it is an exercise in self control, restraint, and ultimately respect.
Ok class, lids down!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Leveraging your Student Information System

Four years ago, St. Christopher's School had over 10 databases that held every imaginable piece of information. To make matters worse, none of the DBs spoke to each other and in some instances the flat nature of the DB allowed only one user to view or edit information at a time.

In an effort to reduce the number of DBs and also allow for various members of the community to share information, we moved our data onto WhippleHill's combined website and student information solution. The move to their system could not have been a better move for us. And as a heavy user, having access to so much information has made it easier for our school to leverage other systems.

So what exactly am I doing with the information stored at WhippleHill?  We're using the userid which I'm pretty sure is serving as a primary key of sorts at WhippleHill as our student's ID for a variety of other applications.  For example, student ID's are now standardized for ERBs, the Library Check Out System, and DyKnow.  But as an AlertNow  and PickaTime subscriber, I fairly confident that those IDs are being used through their respective APIs as well.  As I look to the future, my hope is that we will start to use this number for Point of Sales transactions for our dining hall and bookstore..

Is this anything new?  Hardly! But there are still plenty of schools that miss out on how to leverage one of the most powerful DBs at their school.

Getting Back in the Saddle

My blog has been neglected for too many months.  It's not due to a lack of things to write about but more a time issue.  Fortunately, my PLN but more specifically @raventech wrote a piece on For Startes; Neglect is not an Option which for all intensive purposes has gotten me back in the saddle.

I have lots to share in the coming posts and I look forward to everyone's feedback and constructive criticisms.

Let's hear it for the 2010-2011 school year to prompt a fresh start.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Celebrating Our Faculty's Accomplishments

 A few months ago, our tech department launched a new technology blog-St. Christopher's Tech Central Got Tech?! Now a blog itself is not a new concept but rather than having posts written by the techies, we've been soliciting teachers to share their successes. In addition to those posts, we post information about training opportunities, tech tips, and controversial articles.

As a result, we have teachers from our lower, middle, and upper schools sharing and commenting on the blog posts.  The asynchronous discussions are taking place and our teachers have been expressing their opinions and applauding their colleagues' efforts.  But perhaps the best part about the blog is that it is written by the faculty and causing what I like to call positive peer pressure.

So if you have a few moments, please stop by and write a comment and show our faculty that they have an audience considerably larger than our school community.   

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Reflecting on the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators

Having had some time to take in all the information from the GTAdmin, I still find my mind swimming with the  multitude of ideas and possibilities this forum has provided.  I was surrounded by fabulous educators from "venti sized" school districts to small public and private schools and every possible combination in between.  But the most impressive aspect of this group of educators was their passion and desire to enhance the learning process.  An enhancement that is not limited to students but one that is shared with all constituents connected to their respective schools.

That said, the amount of information we received was incredible.  There were practical solutions for mundane problems, creative solutions for assessing student performance, solutions for enhancing communication, solutions for giving student and teachers control over their learning environment and the list goes on and on.   Mark Wagner reminded us that we most likely felt as if we were drinking out of a fire hose but our group handled the volumes of information with grace.

Our collective and individual epiphanies at #gtadmin were emotional, inspiring, and perhaps can only be matched by a child's excitement having arrived at Disney World for the first time.  

Yes, this was a Google sponsored event and yes it focused on Google Apps, but the real take away from the academy is that it wasn't so much about the technology but it was about learning and building relationships.  The lead learners, by the way I love that description for the presenters, were as Sir Ken Robinson puts it, "In [their] Element".  They love what they do, they love what Google Apps provides for their school family, and they are transforming their schools.     

What am I looking forward to?  I am anticipating the ongoing conversations with this group of educators.  To me, it seemed like the dialog was just getting started when it ended.  We need to keep this momentum going.  We will need each other when things get difficult, we need to celebrate our schools' successes, and share our failures.   We need to discuss authentic assessment, differentiated instruction, the college process, and a multitude of other issues as the face of education continues to evolve.

Finally, a word of thanks to Google, WestEd, Cue, and all of the lead learners for sharing.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The World is Our Classroom, a flickr group

This year I decided to participate in a daily photo journal along with quite a large number of educators from around the world. As one can imagine the diversity and variety of photos is just spectacular, but recently, 2 photos caught my eye- Jo Fothergill's The Classroom and @Allanahk's Old School Room.  After seeing these photos, I decided to create a flickr group called: The World is Our Classroom.

So what am I after?

About The World is Our Classroom

The goal of this flickr group is to collect images of classrooms and or school buildings from around the world. By providing a global perspective we will be able to view the similarities and differences in the learning environments we provide our students.

Now I have yet to add a photo of my school, but I will do so soon.  Please join us as we look at the classrooms and schools from around the world.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A student's creative solution

Recently, our instructional technologist, Brian Zollinhofer, aka @zollinhofer, shared an email he received from a student.  He posted the email as a blog post on our school's tech blog, but I felt it needed to be shared here as well. Enjoy!

Last night, I got the following email from a student at home:
I need help with recording a photo story at home.
At the time, I wasn’t really sure what Billy meant, or how I could help.  I eventually figured that he needed a way to record his voice into his Photostory project.  Perhaps the program was having problems.  Perhaps he didn’t have a microphone to record his voice.  It just wasn’t clear from the email.
About an hour later, I received another email:
Never mind My Rock band mic [for the Xbox 360] works
I actually chuckled at Billy’s problem solving.  Instead of giving up, he thought of other ways he used his voice with technology.  The game Rockband came to mind and he realized that he was able to plug his microphone into his computer.  Good job thinking outside the box!  There’s proof that video games aren’t entirely bad.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Google Teacher Academy for Administrators

It happened. I was accepted to participate in the Google Teacher Academy for Administrators.  So what exactly does this mean? It means that in March I will be traveling to San Antonio, TX along with 49 other administrators from around the country to participate in an intensive workshop that is "designed to create a strong professional learning community of administrators who support each other over the course of a year, so if you are not local, you must be willing to be resourceful with all technologies to facilitate communication and collaboration with your fellow Google Certified Teachers." 

I am very excited about this opportunity and I am already amazed by how quickly this group of admins has started to network using Twitter.  By comparison, I am coming from a very small school, a JK-12 private school, but I suspect most of our issues, concerns, gripes, and observations are similar with respects to teaching, learning, personnel, and the role of curriculum.  

With that, let the sharing and learning begin!

Quote taken from:

Monday, January 18, 2010

Getting too comfortable with your PLN or Social Network: Colorful Acronyms

Is it possible for one to get too comfortable with their PLN or Social Network? If the past few weeks are any indication, I would have to say yes. So what exactly am I suggesting here? Well it's just an observation, but I am often surprised by tweets and or Facebook status updates that contain colorful acronyms or a missing letter from certain 4 letter words from professional colleagues, friends, and others. Now I am not guilty of using colorful language but I am particularly careful where, when, and with whom.  As role models for our children, students, and young faculty we must be vigilant and remind ourselves that our digital footprint extends much further than our PLN, friends, or followers.

So, is it necessary to use these acronyms or replace a letter so the profane word is not "obvious"?  I hope it is not because it reminds me of the message I convey regularly to my students and my own children. If you get comfortable using language a certain way, it becomes more difficult to control when it should or should not be used  and I believe the same is true with tweets and status updates.

The Bugs Bunny cartoons figured this out a long time ago.  There was no need to use an acronym or "misspell" the term, they kept the meaning hidden but it was still an exclamation. Now, I really respect my PLN and friends on FB but I can't help but wonder why it persists.  Our audience is much larger than we can ever imagine which means we must avoid this pitfall and not get too comfortable with our PLN or social network.  Young people struggle enough with the concept of knowing your audience, so let's avoid giving them mixed messages because the acronyms and misspellings are not fooling anyone.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Virtual Spanish Immersion

In a couple of weeks, our 8th grade Spanish students at St. Christopher's School will be participating in a new curriculum that provides a form of immersion that does not require visiting a Spanish speaking country.  According to Fran Turner, Director of International Studies and 8th grade Spanish teacher, it is an opportunity for our students to be paired up virtually with another school in Colombia in an effort to offer our students structured interaction with native speakers on a regular basis.  Please take a moment to watch the interview with Fran as she describes this wonderful opportunity, which was made possible by a grant from the Bowles Endowment for Innovation and Creativity in Education  at St. Christopher's School.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Quietube: Video without the distractions

Today I learned about a new script that removes the sometimes unsavory and or distracting content that can surround a Youtube video.  Quietube is a website that has a script in the form of a button that can be dragged to your toolbar similar to Diigolet. To activate quietube, simply go to the video you wish to view and click on the quietube button on your toolbar.

To illustrate my point, students at our school created a wonderful parody of Miley Cyrus's Party in the USA video.  It became quite viral on campus but soon inappropriate comments started to appear and some unrelated and potentially problematic videos also appeared. The comment section has since been tidied up in the before image but one can see a video about a violent protest. The after image as one can see, has none of the distractive material that surrounds the before image.  And if things couldn't get better, the script also provides a shortened url which can be posted or forwarded without fear of what might appear when one goes directly to Youtube.

Before quietube:

After quietube:

According to quietube, it also works with the BBC iPlayer, Viddler, and Vimeo.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

123, ABC, TCP/IP, and now PLN-the power of your personal learning network

Our school is seriously considering replacing our desktops for a more mobile approach.  We've tossed around the idea of netbooks throughout the fall and I've been the guinea pig with my Acer Aspire One.  (See my post/review of this netbook here.)  I've run this netbook through some pretty rigorous use and our tech department seems satisfied that these devices can handle just about any classroom app we can throw at it.  The only exception however seems to be in the area of video production but I have yet to try anything beyond a standard Youtube length.

With our concerns about the netbook's firepower behind us, we needed to look into the sturdiness, network connectivity, and mobility of these devices.  We looked at the Acer, HP, Asus, and Dell netbooks and we found that the Dell seemed to fit our needs the best.  Our next step was to contact another school that uses the Dell Latitude 2100 with the cart to validate what we thought was going to be a good match for us.

Now as an avid twitterer, I've been tweeting away about our thoughts to Dell Latitude 2100 and sure enough, @bkolani aka Basil Kolani from the Dwight School in NYC replied via twitter that his school deployed 5 netbook carts in the fall of 2009.  So we set up a Skype session where several members of our tech department were able to ask specific questions about their experience not only with the netbooks but the cart itself.

If interested, one may listen to our Skype conversation here.  It is unedited so be patient in the opening seconds.

After the Skype session our tech department was relieved that many of their ideas regarding the new direction had been validated.

There is nothing better than having a member of your PLN validate the potential direction and financial investment our school will be considering and for that I am truly grateful.

Dave Warlick's Picture of his Personal Learning Network