Friday, May 28, 2010

Innovate Learning with Students as Teachers

Having students partner with, or teach teachers how innovative tools can enrich learning can prove to be an effective strategy in teacher professional development. Who better to support this learning than the students using the technology in their classrooms? Not only is this model meaningful and relevant to teachers, but it also provides students with an authentic audience to share their learning and ideas, and empowers them to become leaders in their schools.

In these two videos (followed by their respective PowerPoints) we'll see students from the United Network of Student Leaders in New York City present ideas for teachers using Smart Pens, Google, Moodle, and iTouches. You'll also see me Tweeting in the background about these fantastic students.

Kwame Ocran Presents Google, Moodle + iTouch from Ted 21C on Vimeo.

Shamim Ahmed Presents Livescribe Pens from Ted 21C on Vimeo.

If you're not incorporating students into your teacher professional development, the only question to ask yourself is why not and when do you plan to change this?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Inspiring Ways to Use Social Media In the Classroom

Educators interested in using social media to enrich learning will enjoy these ideas for using social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype in the classroom from Online Universities. The post includes real examples of educators using social media in their classrooms. Here are some ideas for K-12 classrooms.

  1. Make literature real. Have students create a Facebook page for a character from literature you are studying like this class did.
  2. Follow famous people. Many famous people are on Twitter. Have students follow someone related to what you are studying, such as following President Obama when looking at government.
  3. Twitter treasure hunt. Use GPS treasure hunting to send students in search of educational clues as one teacher did. (Skip to number 22 in the slide show.)
  4. Learn probability. This elementary teacher uses Twitter to teach the concept of probability.
  5. Study geography. Use a combination of Twitter and Google Earth to help teach geography-based lessons. This teacher used his network of Twitter followers to create an interactive lesson for his young students. Use her idea to spark your creativity for ways to use these two resources.
  6. Connect with other classrooms. Collaborate with another classroom, no matter where they are in the world, to expand learning opportunities.
  7. Recent public updates. The recent public updates on Twitter shows the most recent posts from all users and is a great tool to use when studying current events.
  8. Field trips. Use Skype to bring the field trip into the classroom when it is difficult or impossible for students to go to the source.
  9. Conference with parents. Stay connected with parents through social media to communicate their child’s progress.
Visit the original post for more ideas.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

IWB, I Loathe You!

by Jacob Gutnicki

Michael Lotta was in a foul mood… again. Why did the school have to buy those stupid Clever Boards? Quite frankly it robbed him of blackboard space and a place to hang his coat. If that wasn’t enough, a school wide memo required all High School Math teachers to attend a Clever Board Nuts and Bolts workshop. Michael thought, “I bet this is Perkinson’s fault.” How he detested the new AP. “The nerve of him! He thinks because he went to the Harvard Leadership Program that he is ready to be an AP. How long did he teach in the classroom? 2 months? What a disgrace!”

The Clever Board instructor started by showing the participants how to use the interactive markers and having them sign their name on the Clever Board. The instructor then showed them how to align the board using the Clever Board Tools. For the next hour the instructor showed them how to integrate the Clever Board clip art into their documents. Bill Perkinson the AP was attending the session and thought it was going rather well.

Suddenly, Michael blurted, “What does this have to do with teaching math?” The Clever Board instructor said, “Let me show this really fun shape game we can play. On one side of the screen are the shapes and on the other side of the screen are the names of the objects. The objective of this activity is to drag the correct word on to the shape.”

Michael yelled, “What am I five years old? High School Math! We want High School Math!” The Clever Board instructor started to stammer. Clearly, he was not prepared for this turn of events. The Clever Board instructor attempted to find Math Activities only to be shot down again. Michael said, “Multiplication? You’re kidding me, right?” The Clever Board instructor then said that he would install the Clever Board Geometry Pack and asked the participants to take a 15-minute break.

About 15 minutes later, the installation was completed. The Clever Board instructor rebooted the machine and noticed the display on the Clever Board mutated into the shape of a diamond. Michael blurted, “Hey that looks like a parallelogram.” The instructor attempted to adjust the screen. “Now it looks like a rhombus. What’s next? A quadrilateral?” After another 15 minutes of tinkering, the instructor proceeded to launch the Clever Board Geometry pack. Unfortunately this caused the machine to show the following message;


Michael Lotta could not be happier and said, “I give this instructor an Unsatisfactory.” The other High School teachers started grumbling as well and joined in the festivities.

Bill Perkinson was beside himself. He understood that this Clever Board workshop really stunk and would reinforce Michael’s biases. It would also probably sour the other Math teachers to this kind of technology.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

15 Additional Practices for Bad Professional Development in Technology

Last month's article The 15 Essential Practices for Bad Professional Development in Technology received some attention from readers here and those with whom I work. Having said that, I originally had no intention of creating a follow up article. However, I recently attended a few "Bad Professional Development Workshops" and started jotting notes. So... without further due, here are 15 additional best practices for bad professional development.

1. There is no need to start your workshop on time.

2. Workshops are an ideal time for a presenter to catch up with their e-mails and phone calls.

3. Start out your presentation slowly and then speed it up to mess with their heads.

4. Make sure your PowerPoint handouts do not match what they see on the screen because it is really funny to watch participants scratch their head and struggle.

5. Three-hour workshops do not require breaks.

6. If a participant cannot log on to the computer, ignore them.

7. Tonight I’m going to teach technology like its 1999!

8. Do not provide laptops or computers for the participants to work with.

9. Reading from a PowerPoint is the essence of good Professional Development.

10. Malware!! Schmalware!!

11. Manuals do not need directions. Screenshots without explanations are sufficient.

12. If the user's application is not working; its all good. Just tell them to look at what you are doing on the screen or look at their neighbor’s screen.

13. Speaking of screens, use the smallest font possible because its fun to watch participants squint.

14. If the application fails while are you presenting; blame the programmer who made the application. Never accept responsibility for your actions!

15. If a user insists on asking for help. Give them a blow-off answer like, "You should really ask your IT person for help."

Editors Note: I am attending another workshop later this week. Here's hoping it is a good workshop.

Monday, May 17, 2010


by Jeff Branzburg

Here is my latest educationally-related comic strip. Topic is innovation - what is it? When is a change innovative, and when is it not? Click this link to a survey
to add your opinion!

Creative Commons License

Friday, May 14, 2010

Erase Unnecessary Costs by Getting Smart about Interactive Whiteboards

I was at a presentation yesterday where school leaders and teachers were led to believe that the key to addressing the Achievement Gap was in part through purchasing Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs). Dr. Robert J. Marzano lead the presentation where he shared what has been called questionable research that showed how IWBs and response systems (srs) lead to student achievement. Egad! I wanted to shout out a warning.


You can save about $3500 hundred dollars per classroom if you buy a tablet and projector rather than an interactive whiteboard and get the same results, but you don't know that because this and other research (almost always commissioned by IWB companies) is purposely misleading you, comparing classrooms with IWBs to those without technology rather than comparing classrooms with IWBs to the much less expensive projectors/laptop or projector/tablet combo.

There's an incentive to mislead schools. It equals more profit for the IWB companies who have brainwashed educators into believing you need their $5000 device to increase student achievement. But once you know the truth about interactive whiteboards you'll realize, YOU DON'T!

Myth 1: You need an interactive whiteboard to show videos.
: You don't need an IWB to show videos. You just need a laptop/projector.

Myth 2: You need an interactive whiteboard to capture/record your lessons for playback later.
: You don't need an IWB to capture/record lessons. You can do this for free with a number of screencasting programs that require no downloads such as Screentoaster or ScreenJelly.

Myth 3: An interactive whiteboard is necessary if you want students to be able to interact with the content.
: An interactive whiteboard is not necessary if you want students to interact with the content. They can go to your Tablet and interact just as easily.

Myth 4: You need an interactive whiteboard to have access to interactive lessons and software.
: Interactive whiteboard software works on any laptop. You do not need the IWB and you can present the lessons equally effectively with a tablet and projector.

Myth 5: The kids and teachers just love interactive whiteboards and they keep them so engaged.
Truth: IWB companies spend big bucks to trick you into thinking you need the fancy and expensive gadget to educate innovatively. They want you to spend the big bucks that make them big profits. When you teach the same content with a tablet and projector they also love the lesson, interact, are engaged, and the added bonus is you can use that extra money to put much more interactive tech into the hands of every student.

Myth 6: Interactive whiteboards are necessary for tactile learners and students with special needs.
Truth: A tablet serves the same function for tactile learners and students with special needs.

Myth 7: The large size of the interactive whiteboard is necessary for student engagement. Students can't manipulate a tablet-sized device nearly as well. Especially young children or those with special needs.

Truth: What? Really? Have ya seen What Happens When you Give a 3, 4, 8-Year-Old an iTouch? Kids are perfectly happy on a tablet-sized device and if you've watched a teenager you've seen them use their phones like they're masterfully conducting a symphony. Small is big for kids. Big is big for adults...not kids. For visually impaired students or those with special needs laptops have a whole suite of free accessibility options available.

Myth 8: An interactive whiteboard enables you to connect with the world.
Truth: The interactive whiteboard is not connecting you to the world. Your computer with internet is connecting you to the world.
Myth 9: Interactive whiteboards are easier to use for educators because they combine everything into a single device. You don't need to worry about bulbs, speakers, extra wires, laptop, etc.
Truth: Interactive whiteboards don't combine everything into a single device. With all devices, you still need to replace projector lightbulbs and you still need a laptop. Speakers are an optional add on for computers and IWBs however with a computer you can get a nice set for under $40. This feature on an IWB raises the price hundreds of dollars and they often have issues. Additionally, the sales pitch that they're easy to use, often is not realized in schools. For instant recently during a visit to I school I asked a teacher how she and her colleagues like their Smartboards. Her response, "Well, when they work, I guess they're okay." At that school I visited three classrooms an every teacher needed assistance with using their Smartboard during my visit. As far as requiring less wires. Not true. Wires done right are the same whether you use an IWB or laptop/projector. It takes proper consideration of how to accommodate your device, but either way you need a few wires that you can run through walls, ceilings, or tape down to the floor.

Myth 10: You should get an interactive whiteboard because it's easy to use.

Truth: An interactive whiteboard is not that easy to use. In fact when they are not used or not used well, you always hear, that it is because teachers didn't get the proper professional development. Of course the IWB companies will be happy to sell you thousands of dollars of training to learn to use the devices. The training runs at a cost of about $1800 per day and that doesn't include the cost for substitutes. You'll also find that IWBs have a lot of technical issues. In most of the classrooms I visit I find teachers need technical support to get the devices going.

If I've succeeded in helping you see the truth and you realize you don't need to spend this much money to create a 21st century classroom, take a look at the numbers and see what you can instead put in the hands of children once armed with this knowledge. First is a breakdown of costs with and without an IWB.


Note: These are approximate numbers for items that you can purchase for a slightly higher or lower cost depending on if you select the high-end or low-end model.

Projector/Tablet Combo:

  • Projector - 748
  • Tablet - $1,098
Total Cost: $1,846

Projector/Laptop/Slate Combo:

  • Projector - 748
  • Laptop - $817
  • Slate/Airliner: $281.00 (gives the tablet function in a mobile format)
Total Cost: $1,846

Interactive Whiteboard/Laptop Combo:

  • Interactive Whiteboard - $4300
  • Laptop or Tablet - $1000
Total Cost: $5300

Total Savings - Tablet/Projector combination:
Now,with the interactive whiteboard myths dispelled you can spend your money on putting technology into students hands without sacrificing functionality.

In essence, you could buy one IWB or any of the bulleted items below:

  • 9 netbooks
  • 9 iTouches
  • 3 Tablets or Laptops
  • 2 class sets of student response systems
  • 28 Livescribe pens
  • 4.5 projectors

Now imagine schools that are considering purchasing ten IWBs. Instead they could furnish their school with any of the below bulleted items:

  • 90 netbooks
  • 90 iTouches
  • 30 Tablets or Laptops
  • 20 class sets of student response systems
  • 280 Livescribe pens
  • 45 projectors
  • 1 technology coach or technician

Those are the numbers and facts you should have in mind when making this purchasing decision. Whether you're an educator or a leader, it's important to make informed decisions, especially if those decisions can result in additional, or fewer, resources in the hands of children.

Related Posts:

Why Smartboards are a Dumb Initiative
The Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Interactive Whiteboard

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Smartboards are a Dumb Initiative

By Michael Staton
Cross posted at

See full size imageI roll my eyes every time I hear people talk about putting Smartboards in the classroom. Ugh….

Don’t get me wrong, Smartboards are cool. They are just the least cost-effective way to improve learning I’ve ever seen. (Except for building new physical plant, that’s worse.)

We need to acknowledge that all a Smartboard does is:

1) Instead of using the mouse at the keyboard to interact with content, the presenter can stand at the board (without access to a keyboard) and there’s some wow factor there that might amuse students for an hour.

2) It enables you to efficiently save content on the whiteboard, though you can do this without a Smartboard in various other ways i.e. screenshot, screencast, use Microsoft OneNote and press “Save” with a projector. Or, you could use an Overhead Projector, a transparency, and a scanner. Or, you could take a picture of the whiteboard with a camera. The reality is the “save the brainstorm” possibilities are endless on a much smaller budget.


Here are my two arguments:

  1. Smartboards don’t change the model that’s broken. They just make that model way more expensive.
    • With a Smartboard, the teacher usually still controls the content, stands in front of a classroom, and has to manage a bunch of kids through a lesson plan they’d rather not be managed through. It doesn’t give kids an adaptive learning environment, doesn’t differentiate instruction (though it does make it a little more media savvy), doesn’t enable social feedback, doesn’t reduce teacher workload, doesn’t make lesson planning more efficient, yada yada. It just makes the whiteboard a little more attractive.

  2. Smartboards are an administrative cop out. Administrators like Smartboards because when they spend money on technology they need to spend a lot of it and it needs to be on things they can point to and count.
    • Instead of re-imagining what school/classrooms/learning looks like/the student-teacher relationship, they write proposals with line-items, they spend money and buy things. Administrators get evaluated on test outcomes, true, (not learning outcomes), but they also get evaluated on anything else that can fit into spreadsheets and reports. A senior administrator can ask: “Why do you need more money?” and a junior administrator can say “Because we want to buy Smartboards.” This is convenient, because if you want to ask for additional resources, you need to specify how you are going to spend the money. Saying “I would like an extra 200K to experiment with ways to improve learning outcomes” just doesn’t cut the cheese. It’s also doubly convenient because an administrator can look moderately successful just by spending that money on what they said they would spend it on. ”Test scores are up 1%! And, we bought as many as 30 Smartboards!!!!” It’s less risky to buy objects you can count than spend money on more ambitious initiatives – like, let’s say, reading and math remediation for students supposedly at grade level.

Having said those two things, if I was teaching I would be thankful for a Smartboard only because I’m a gadget geek. Personally, though, I’d rather everyone in our education system start working towards re-imagining what’s possible.

Related Posts:

Erase Unnecessary Costs by Getting Smart about Interactive Whiteboards

The Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Interactive Whiteboard

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Ten No Nos of Teaching with a Projector or Interactive Whiteboard

I spend a lot of time visiting innovative classrooms in New York City. As I do, there is something that I've noticed in many classes I've visited - there are still some educators that don't seem to know the no nos for teaching with a projector or interactive whiteboard (IWB). Perhaps it's easier to notice when you're sitting as an audience member or an observer which is not often the case for teachers. If you're an innovative educator teaching with a projector or IWB, you too might be engaging in a no no or two. Here are ten no nos to avoid as you teach with technology.
  1. No no: Don't have your back to your participants Description: This is one of my biggest pet peeves and something I see all the time. The teacher sets her laptop up so that to use it she is facing the screen or whiteboard. The teacher then instructs the class with her back to them. Awkward! Educators should not be talking to a board. They should speak to a class. Solution: By simply flipping the direction of the laptop the teacher can see the entire class. Additionally, the laptop becomes her teleprompter as she addresses her students. Advantage: The teacher can maintain eye contact with her participants providing for a more authentic discussion. She can also see their reactions and level of interest.
  2. No no: Do not make a shadow on the whiteboard or screen with your hand or body. Description: In many classrooms the teacher is standing in front of the board pointing to things or speaking about things that are being projected. The problem is he's in the path of the objects projected and students can't see what it is he's speaking about. Solution: Be aware of the projection light. If you feel you must be at the board, perhaps you can use a pointing stick. You can also verbally tell students what part of the board you are discussing i.e. if you look in the top left quadrant. Finally, you don't need to go up to the board. You can engage the class directly from your laptop. Advantage: The students can see what it is you are sharing.
  3. No no: Don't project a small and/or crooked image Description: I often go to classrooms and am perplexed as I see a tiny and/or crooked image displayed on the screen. It's as though the instructor has turned on the projector and doesn't realize it may need adjustment. Solution: Make sure the image fills the entire space onto which you are projecting and adjust your projector manually or using the keystone feature to make sure it is not crooked. You can make the image larger by placing the projector the proper distance from the screen and/or using the adjustments on the projector. You can make the image straight by manually moving the projector left or right or by using the keystone feature on the projector. Advantage: A small or distorted image is a distraction that most teachers want to avoid. By ensuring your image fills the screen and is straight you're participants will more easily be able to see and focus on your presentation.
  4. No no: Don't leave your audience in the dark. Description: Teaching and learning should not occur in the dark. Don't turn off the lights during instruction. This does not encourage interactivity and engagement, but instead it makes some people rather sleepy. Additionally, it's difficult to have eye contact and see student reactions in the dark. Solution: Leave the lights on. In most rooms you can still generally see projected items with the light on. If your room has multiple light switches, just shut off the front lights. If you have windows, close the blinds in the part of the room where you are projecting. If it's really difficult to see with the lights on, get a few lamps for your classroom. Not only will this accomplish the goal, it will add a nice atmosphere to the room. Advantage: Your students will be more alert, engaged, and likely to participate in the lesson. Teachers can see their students and their students can see one another.
  5. No no: Don't point with your finger. Description: This is a big mistake I see all the time. Teachers think they need to point directly on the screen so they end up doing a dance between their laptop and the screen. Solution: Every computer comes equipped with a free electronic pointer. It's called your cursor. You don't need to run to the board to point at the screen. Students know what a cursor is and can follow it if you instruct them to do so. Advantage: If you point with your cursor rather than your finger you can maintain eye contact with your audience allowing you to better gage their interest and understanding of the lesson. You can also avoid doing the unnecessary dance between your laptop and the screen or board onto which you are projecting.
  6. No no: Don't waste instructional time fumbling with projector set up Description: Classroom time should not be wasted with equipment set up. Instructional time is valuable and it's important that technology using teachers are not robbing students of instruction with equipment set up. We never want students ready to learn with a teacher who isn't ready to teach them. Solution: It's important to become very familiar with equipment set up. Teachers often use tape on the floor so they know exactly where the projector, computer desk, and or screen should go. Many savvy teachers have a student responsible for setting up the projector at the start of the lesson while the teacher is beginning instruction. This is an elegant solution that involves your tech-savvy students. Advantage: Student learning is increased. Students with an interest in technology become more confident in their abilities and recognized for their talent.
  7. No no: Don't assume your audience can see what you can see Description: The person presenting is usually close to the laptop or interactive whiteboard and can see everything clearly, but those in the back of the room may not be able to see things as well. It's important that you remember to zoom in and out so that your audience can best view what you are projecting. Solution: While specifics may vary from computer to computer, they all have zooming features. On some computers you can use "ctrl" or "command" and "+" or "-" on other computers you can use the scroll wheel on your mouse. If these options don't work visit the help menu. Advantage: Participants will be able to see and hear what you are sharing. You may want to assign a student responsible for reminding you if you need to zoom.
  8. No no: Don't be a sage on the stage Description: While I often hear educators proudly discussing how engaged students are with interactive whiteboards, and I often hear sales folks boasting of the interactivity of whiteboards, I almost never see them used interactively with students. The same is true for a teacher with a projector. It's time for teachers to get off the pulpit and let their students shine. Solution: There are many ways to encourage interactivity of students with an IWB or projector. This should be worked into the teaching and sharing. Recently I saw a teacher projecting and presenting to students video clips of various classmates sharing. It was time for the teacher to step down and let the students share their own videos. They could have played their video and discussed it rather than the teacher doing that. Another class I visited had students working in groups. After wards they shared their learning from their desks while some irrelevant information was projected on the screen. This teacher also had access to five laptops that were in the corner of the room. The teacher could have given each group of students a laptop and let them put something together to project in a fun an interesting format rather than have each student go around and share in a bored tone what they had worked on. They could have placed their work on a shared space, a thumbdrive, or brought their laptop up to project. When students know their work will be shared and displayed, they are more excited and accountable. In another class a teacher was showing students how music and sound could affect the mood of a dialogue. He played the audio of various student's pre-recorded dialogue and then put different sounds and music as a background and discussed how it affected the mood of the piece. Again. Teacher, get off the stage. Let each student group present their work and select the sound they want to use. They love using these tools. Not watching you use them. Advantage: Students find an interactive classroom more engaging. When students know that their work is going to be shared and displayed, they are excited and more invested in the work. Share the limelight and let your students shine. Your students will love it.
  9. No no: Don't use your projector as a blackboard or replacement Description: If a blackboard/whiteboard would do, don't waste your bulb. They are costly. I've often gone into rooms where there's just an aim projected on the screen. Not necessary. Teachers need to know the tool for the cause. If you just have a sentence to project, turn off the projector and put it on the whiteboard. I've also seen a projector left on with assignment directions that were also handed out to the class or, each student has a laptop where the assignment is displayed. Again, turn off the projector and save the bulb. Solution: When developing lessons determine if you really need to leave the projector on the whole time. If you are just projecting a sentence, use the blackboard. If your students already have the work in hand on their laptop or paper, you don't need the projector. Advantage: You'll save hundreds of dollars on projector bulbs.
  10. No no: Don't waste money on an interactive whiteboard without some smart reasons Description: More often than not I go into a classroom and see a teacher not using their interactive whiteboard or I see them struggling to use it, but not quite knowing how and relying on another adult or student to assist. Many educators believe that you need a costly interactive whiteboard to teach engaging lessons with a projector, but you don't. None is required. Solution: Before wasting thousands upon thousands of dollars on costly interactive whiteboards take a moment and think. Will my teachers really utilize these boards to enrich instruction in a way that justifies the cost or might my students be better served by having access to technology in their own hands. A school can start with just a projector and save thousands of dollars. You can always purchase IWBs at a later time. In fact while IWB companies fund research that shows they are effective, more and more people are finding that student achievement is no higher in classrooms with IWBs than those with projectors only. To date in five years of searching and upon visiting many classrooms, I still have not seen instruction enhanced with an IWB. It may be happening somewhere, but I haven't seen it. Smart principals should ask those teachers who want interactive whiteboards to write a proposal to justify the expense and that proposal should clearly explain and state compelling reasons explaining how IWBs will result in more effective instruction than if they used a projector alone. If they can make a case, consider the purchase. If you find, as I have, that they can accomplish most of what they are talking about with a laptop (ideally a tablet) and a projector, you may want to reconsider. Advantage: You'll save thousands of dollars that you can allocate to technology that instead can go directly into your student's hands.
------------------------------------------ Related Posts: Why Smartboards are a Dumb Initiative Erase Unnecessary Costs by Getting Smart about Interactive Whiteboards

Stop and Listen to the Children

By Jacob Gutnicki

They say I gotta learn
But nobody's here to teach me.
If they can't understand it, how can they reach me?
I guess they can't,
I guess they won't,
I guess they front,
That's why I know my life is out of luck, fool!
Coolio, Gangster's Paradise

Many students often feel that they are misunderstood; viewed as a misfit. To be clear, it does not start out this way. Children entering kindergarten are usually enthusiastic about going to school regardless of their socioeconomic stratosphere. Unfortunately, over time our failure to understand their passions and struggles can result in students becoming despondent and feeling that their life is indeed out of luck. Luckily, both our children and students often drop hints. With this in mind, I will share with you a few anecdotes that depict hints in action.

Anecdote 1- Several weeks ago, I hosted the 3rd day of our High School Macintosh Certification Program. Students from East NY, Brownsville, South Ozone Park, Howard Beach, and the Rockaways were in attendance. Throughout the day various conversations were taking place. Topics included the best web sites for student research, running batch installations, software tools for cloning computers, and other topics. At one point of the day, several students asked me for a copy of the troubleshooting guide dispersed at the last session.

Anecdote 2- I have a nightly ritual during which I ask my son what he did during the school day. On one particular Thursday night this routine was a bit different. My son stated, “Daddy I think you should ask me what I did in school today.” Naturally, I asked him the question. He responded that he watched a video that discussed Earth Day. I then asked him, “Who is the president of the United States?” He told me that it was Abraham Lincoln and told me Abraham Lincoln built the first transcontinental railroad. I asked him, “So who is Obama?” He said, “Barack Obama he is also the president. He is a nice guy.”

Anecdote 3- A few weeks ago, I was watching my younger son play with toys at a playgroup. I noted to my wife, "Isn’t it interesting that he is choosing to play with the toy refrigerator and stack it with play food?"

Anecdote 4- My son has been playing Timez Attack (software that helps children learn multiplication) for the past few months. He also frequently visits the Big Brainz web site to investigate if the company is releasing any new versions of the software program. Naturally, he became very excited when he discovered that the web site was promoting a new screen entitled “Ruins”. However, there was no download available to update the software. With this in mind, I had a brief discussion with him during which I suggested that he write an e-mail to the company asking how to download the new screen. Needless to say, he was very excited and could not wait to compose the e-mail.

What does it all mean? These four anecdotes are very different, yet they are the same. All of the stories describe brief interactions with children. More importantly, each of these stories represents a chance to learn what motivates your child or student. In the second story my son discussed in great detail about Lincoln’s contribution to the railroad system. This turn of events is motivated by my son’s interest in trains. Similarly, my other son’s choice of toys speaks to what motivates him. Likewise, the conversations that took place with the High School students provided a glimpse of what motivates our youthful teenagers.

Finally, my son’s experience with Timez Attack shows how important it is that we listen to our children with an open mind. At first I did not understand what my son was referring to. Subsequently, I asked him to show me “the new feature” he was mentioning. He then logged on to his computer and showed me the “Ruins” screen. It then occurred to me that I should have him write an e-mail asking the company about the new feature. With this in mind, as parents and educators it behooves us to capitalize on their interests and use it as a springboard to motivate them to learn. So… Stop and listen to the children.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Five tips for asking better questions and why it's necessary for student success was cited today in The Brazen Careerist's post Five tips for asking better questions. If you don't follow this blog I recommend it as I feel my blog in part is about supporting teachers to educate students who will have successful careers. The Brazen Careerist's blog tells employees and employers how to be successful, so in essence it explains how students can be successful in their future which is exactly where educators are preparing them to go.

Here's the tip for which I was cited:

4. Asking good questions takes work – that you have to do yourself.
This struck me during my New York trip as well, because one of my best friends is Lisa Nielsen, who leads New York City Public School technology initiatives and writes a blog about education reform. She is a big advocate of me homeschooling my kids. She says that kids don’t need to learn subjects. Kids need to learn how to ask questions about things they are passionate about. And that’s no small task: First, you have to learn how to find your passions. Then you have to learn how to ask questions. Most adults can’t do either thing well, which is a good argument for taking kids out of school, I have to admit.

I've written about asking questions to help develop your passions a few times. Here are some of the posts related to this topic.

To read the other tips visit The Brazen Careerist post, "Five tips for asking better questions."

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Innovative Educator's Plan-Ning

Now that Ning has released their new plan going forward, many innovative educators are asking what I plan to do. In a nutshell their plan indicates that networks with more than 150 members pay $19.95 per month or $200 per year for the basic package or $49 per month or $500 a year for the premium package which includes things like video, music, and unlimited storage. For mini networks of less that 150 members the fee is $2.95 a month or $20 per year.

There plan does state that a
major education company will be sponsoring Ning Mini Networks for educators in primary and secondary education. Ning will remain free for K-12 educators and their students. We’ll have details on this program soon!
but, for many of us using Ning in Ed our networks are beyond 150 members, so this does little to address the needs of the most active users in education.

I run a few networks with more than 600 members and will be making a decision on which road to take in the next month. Right now it's looking like there are two options.

Will I...
1) Stick with Ning and figure out a way to pay for it?
This is the easiest solution, but I'm not thrilled with the idea. I am an advocate of "Free for educators" platforms like Wikispaces, Google Apps, etc.
2) Go with a new free service like Wackwall or BuddyPress? This is my inclination, but it doesn't port over all the developed content meaning all our discussions and ideas are lost.

How to decide...
I'm going to see what some of the bigger network hosts like Steve Hargadon are doing. Steve is the creator of the largest education Nings. You can read his take at New Ning Plans: The Good, The Bad, and the Unknown. I will also follow what Alan November is doing with his learning network. Next, I will take a look at all the companies ready to take a piece of the market. There are many sites to check out. In fact, I was amazed to watch the speed at which the alternatives to Ning document has developed. When I first visited the document there were more than 350 other viewers looking on as well. Instantly there's a list of possibilities for educators to explore. Finally, I plan to pick the brains of other smart people in my PLN to get their insights and advice. Once I piece this all together, I'll be sure to share.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The 10 Zens of Technology Planning

by Jacob Gutnicki

Your principal has drafted you to create a school based technology plan. You are both enthused and scared at this prospect. Where do I start? Do we purchase iPods for all the students? Perhaps we should invest in netbooks. I hear they are really cheap. Then again… I hear they are kind of flimsy and the keyboard is too small. Wait a minute… How are we paying for this?

With this in mind, I share with you “The Ten Zens of Technology Planning”

1. Establish a committee with stakeholders of varying interests- Make sure to include a Special Education teacher, ELL teacher, Math teacher, Science teacher, an administrator, as well as teachers from the other subjects and interests as this will promote school-wide buy in to the plan.

2. Conduct a Hardware and Instructional Needs Inventory- The Hardware Inventory should catalog the age, functionality, and condition of the technology equipment. The Instructional Needs Inventory will help the school determine what instructional focus the computer hardware will be used for.

3. Developing a Long Term Plan- Ask your committee the following; “In 5 years what 3 technological milestones do we wish to achieve?”

4. Developing a Short Term Goal- Ask your committee the following; “In 5 months what one goal do we wish to accomplish?”

5. Develop Activities to Achieve the Short Term Goal- Once the committee agrees on a short term goal, it becomes important to create a mini timeline of what activities must be carried out to fulfill the short term goal.

6. Grants- Grants are often a major funding source to help schools acquire and update technology with in a school. With this in mind, schools should aggressively seek grant opportunities. This includes funds available from local politicians, private foundations, donations, and public grants. In many cases, simply writing a letter and making a few phone calls can help a school net a grant or donation. For example, a company purchases new computers and may wish to donate their old computers as it helps them avoid potential recycling costs and can be used as a tax write off. Similarly, a local politician is running for reelection and might have funds to help a local school. Likewise, a philanthropist creates a grant opportunity offering free computers to promote his/her cause. In each of these scenarios the school that proactively seeks these opportunities is far more likely to benefit from one or all of these opportunities.

7. Repair and Repurpose Technology- All too often, schools are ready to throw out equipment that appears to be older. This is a shame as older computers can often be nursed back to health by re-imaging the machine. Additionally, older machines can be used as dedicated writing and research centers where as newer machines could handle photo and video editing applications which tend to be more taxing. If a machine is beyond repair, cannibalize it and use it for spare parts. Not only is it environmentally sound, it also teaches students a valuable lesson about computer repair.

8. Be Wary of Purchasing the Newest Technology Toy- New products typically are ridden with hardware problems, have a limited number of applications, and are cost prohibitive. For example, in 2007 the iPhone cost 500 dollars, was buggy, and had very limited features. Three years and several upgrades later the device costs only 100 dollars and has approximately 200,000 applications that can be used. One may also recall a number of school systems purchased the 1st generation tablet based laptops, which proved to be costly, underpowered, and buggy.

9. Research Software Solutions- As we all know there is no shortage of vendors trying to sell their wares. The best way to determine the effectiveness of a program is to test the software. Fortunately, acquiring trial versions of the software is fairly easy to do as reputable companies will usually offer white papers documenting the effectiveness of their product and will offer a demo version of their software.

10. Avoid Drive By Professional Development- All too often, schools will conduct one-session of professional development. This is a recipe for failure, as multiple sessions are needed to see a cohesive improvement. Additionally, follow up workshops are critical. It is also important to offer a menu of workshops as adults learning how to use technology have very different needs.


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