Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Free-Range Media = Free-Range Learning Innovation

At this year's Educon I had the opportunity to collaborate with some wonderful librarians (Michelle Luhtala, Joyce Valenza, and Shannon Miller) and a fantastic student (Michael DeMattia) to share our experiences and have a conversation about teaching and learning in a no ban and no filter zone. The conversation is important because around the nation there are schools that are making the choice to do what is most convenient rather than what is right for kids. Rather than thinking outside the ban and empowering children to use the devices they own and access the internet they encounter outside of school, students are being banned and blocked. 

During the conversation we shared ideas, experiences, and looked at questions such as the following: 
What is the difference between students in schools that filter aggressively and ban and schools that dont? What evidence do we have to demonstrate that there is a difference at all? If there is, is that difference relevant? Meaningful? Important? What do students have to say about it? Do they care?

Below is a presentation outlining what we shared.

Monday, January 30, 2012

What should every citizen know? My Answer.

What should every citizen know? That was the topic of a conversation that passionate educators were grappling with at this year’s Educon. Educators got to work quickly to make their case for what they felt must absolutely, positively be included (visit this link to see some of the thinking). Some educators went as far as to outline when each person should acquire the knowledge they believed was most important.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Conversations in the hall...better than a workshop or keynote?

I was surprised when my best friend said that unlike me she loved highschool. Really? Why? Everything she went on to explain about her love of high school had NOTHING to do with classes or teachers. It was all about the fun she had in the halls, passing between classes, laughing with friends, checking out what people were wearing and gossiping about who thought who was cute. In other words, what she valued wasn’t what was happening in the classrooms, but rather the relationships she developed in the halls. It was this part of her high school experience that led her to the successful career she has today.

As I reflected upon my time at Educon this year I realized that sometimes we don’t give enough value to our time in the hall. In fact, my buddy   even apologized to me for it as she encountered some friendly detours as we were moving together in the hall from one thing to the next. 

In our rush to get to the next session, workshop, or activity, sometimes we don’t stop and savor the smell those discussions that might be the roses that help our learning and personal growth bloom.  Instead of rushing off to sessions, what if instead we rushed over to people who had ideas we loved and wanted to explore further?

Cell Phones Optimize Learning Time

Guest post by Joyce Long, Colorado educator | Cross posted at Teaching Generation Text

Use phones to take pictures of important information on the board

In my classroom I see cell phones as a time saver and tool of engagement rather than a distraction.  For example, in my health class we were on a roll discussing the possibilities of making our own anti-alcohol/tobacco video, improving on the one we had just watched.  The students were excited, motivated, and full of ideas.  I knew they needed to get the ideas off of the board down before they left.  I didn't want to stop their thinking.  So, I waited until the last second and then asked them to get out their phones and take a picture of the board.  For the ones without phones I posted the photo to the class website and printed out a picture for those without computer access.  This allowed us to continue the brainstorm while on a roll, right up to the last seconds of class time.  

In the past I would have had to stop the storm so that everyone would have time to write down what was on the board, or ask them to write as we go, constantly interrupting the flow of ideas.   Now the ideas will be at home too, ready to look at and text adaptations, new ideas, specifics, details, etc. The kids who were absent go the picture texted to them and came back ready to go the next day. Creative energy is such a powerful force.  Having cell phones as a tool to increase the energy simply aids great educational experiences.

For more ideas about effective ways to use cell phones for learning, including research-based strategies, lessons, and more order Teaching Generation Text.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Hottest Posts This Week!

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see the top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re inspired, share it with others and/or leave a comment.

Aug 24, 2010, 21 comments                      2,034 Pageviews
Jan 20, 2012, 13 comments                         1998 Pageviews
Feb 5, 2011, 22 comments                          1634 Pageviews
May 10, 2010, 37 comments                        1628 Pageviews
Nov 22, 2009, 33 comments                         1546 Pageviews
Jan 22, 2012, 15 comments                         1388 Pageviews
Jan 19, 2012, 3 comments                          1382 Pageviews
Jan 23, 2012, 4 comments                          1344 Pageviews
Jan 25, 2012, 1 comment                           1334 Pageviews

Friday, January 27, 2012

Students Unite to Provide a Platform for The Missing Voice in Ed Reform

Join The Student Union

Education reform has been a hot topic this week in general and in particular it took center stage in our nation’s State of the Union address. But there’s an important voice that has been missing from this conversation. That is the voice of students.  There’s been a lot of talk lately about the need to hear student voices in the education reform conversation. 

Here are some of the articles I’ve read and written on the topic this week.  
There is now a place where young people who want their voices heard can come together to connect, communicate, collaborate, create, and come together to strategize on ways to transform learning in our country.  These young people are writing books, publishing in online spaces and magazines, organizing protests, and more. They want adults to start hearing what they have to say before it’s too late.  They welcome supportive adults to the group as well. The role of adults in the group is to listen and spread their message to other adults who care about children.

If you care about our shared future and want to help our youth, please invite any young people you know to join this incredible group called "The Student Union" at http://www.facebook.com/groups/TheStudentUnion.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Education: not ready to listen?

Guest post By Adora Svitak | Cross posted on Adora's blog

Editor's Note: This is the third post published at The Innovative Educator on this topic. The first post was Do we really want to listen to our children?  The second post was Listen to the students before it's too late.

The customer knows best.” It’s an adage seemingly old as time (for us young’uns, anyway). While it’s not always the case (as anyone who has worked an intense over-the-phone customer service job before may know), it’s certainly always valuable for businesses to listen to what clients are saying–whether surveys, market research, or feedback cards, many businesses have some structure in place to listen to their customers. And public feedback can have an important impact–Bank of America cancelled its $5-a-month debit card fee before it even began due to customer backlash.
In almost every area of the private and public sectors (think of representatives meeting with constituents or city hall meetings), there are ways for “customers”–those receiving the services or being represented–to make their voices heard. So why should education be any different?
Education? you might think. Surely there are those school board meetings or PTAs? But a crucial voice is missing in education: that of the student’s. How often do classroom teachers ask students to provide them with feedback on how their teaching could be improved so students learn better? When was the last time administrators sat down with students and gave them decision-making power or at least input–no, not just over the theme of the Homecoming Dance or how to decorate the school for the holidays, but important issues like curriculum, required courses, or assessment?
I’m asking these questions because of an email from a prestigious education membership organization that my mom recently received in response to talks about a potential book I was hoping to write (that would bring issues of student voice, reciprocal learning, and education technology to the forefront). It said that based on their research, the education community “is not yet ready to receive the message from a student.”
If the education community is unable or unwilling to receive a message about education from a student, I think we have problems. We’d find it unacceptable if our representatives suddenly started refusing to meet with constituents or if companies like Bank of America kept on charging ridiculous fees despite public uproar. Yet we accept that education doesn’t want to hear from students? We are the “customers” of our nation’s schools. It’s in our interest to learn in the best way we can–many of my fellow students have plenty of wise insights that I think could help change education for the better–but that simply won’t happen if the adults in the room are covering their ears.
A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora Svitak (now 14) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy and education transformation! Adora just started The Student Union  a group she started to bring student voices to education reform. She believes “Students + education leaders = positive change :) If you’re a student with insights to share about your education or education leader (teacher, policy maker, educational service district administrator, librarian, media specialist, whoever can have an impact on kids’ education), ask to join”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Parents Debate the Ban on Cell Phones in Class

Guest post by Lisa Cooley | Cross posted at The Minds of Kids

An interesting conversation took place this morning between my daughter, her two middle-school-age friends, my husband and I. It was about cell phones in school; the general complaint from the girls was about the ban on using cell phones, even at lunchtime.

The conversation turned to the ban in classrooms, and my husband, who I have apparently failed to bring up to speed on cell phone issues, brought up what he felt to be an issue of common courtesy: that kids should have cell phones turned off when in class, and their attention turned to the person who is trying to teach them. Reasonable, right?

My riposte: if a teacher can't hold someone's interest enough to keep their eyes away from their iPhones, what are you accomplishing by banning them? At first he was held up by the common courtesy thing, but I hammered away at the whole give-and-get-respect thing, and if he wasn't a quivering mass at the end of it....

Nah, he wasn't a quivering mass; he still holds that until the great education transformation,when all kids are pursuing their passions in and out of the classroom, we should still ask kids to be courteous to the teacher by leaving cell phones off.  

A lot of people haven't yet considered that when kids sneak peaks at their phones, when their fingers itch for the keypad during a lecture, it isn't a story that begins and ends with teaching simple manners. Yes, we need to expect common courtesy, but we also need to read the signs when we don't get it.

The message is that what kids are being asked to learn doesn't interest them. The attractive immediacy of connecting with their friends matters more. Contact with the living, instead of the dead material they are supposed to be learning, matters to them.

So what, my husband asks, if half the class is distracted by the other half that are texting away?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Help NYC Public Schoolers with GrayMatter

Guest post by Jeremy Meyers

Last year, my friends and I were NYC public high schoolers who needed resources for our own educational interests. Soon after we learned that many of our friends at different high schools similarly needed resources to ace AP tests, research microbes, and attend debate conferences. We had to made due without the materials we needed for our classes and extracurriculars and then focused our time on creating GrayMatter so that other innovative students like ourselves would be able to get the resources they need to learn.

GrayMatter enables anyone to help NYC public high schoolers get resources they need for school. All they have to do is visit www.graymatter.it to contribute to a project of choice, and get photos and thank-you notes from the students you reach.
Above: Screenshot of GrayMatter’s website. Choose a project to donate to and give--it’s just like an online shopping cart. Current projects are requests from NYC public high schoolers, and we look forward to reaching more students in the future.

An innovative teacher seeks creative ways to impart her knowledge onto her students. However, as students grow older, moving into secondary and higher education, they need to be innovative for themselves. As students develop into unique people, they develop unique ways of learning along with unique goals and interests. Sometimes those interests aren’t represented in the curriculum or in the selection of existing after-school activities, especially with budget cuts demanding larger class sizes and fewer extra programs. Innovation on the part of students is required.

Expressing these unique interests requires resources and funds. Tausif of Staten Island learned this when he realized that his school couldn’t afford to quench his yearning to enhance his knowledge of the bass. Tausif soon realized he had to be innovative to embrace this interest which was gradually becoming a passion. He turned to GrayMatter for help. Other students who have used GrayMatter have similar stories and came to the same conclusion: schools are not capable of catering to individual needs, aspirations, and interests. GrayMatter channels students’ innovative ideas and interests into an effective way to bring them into reality.

Jim, president of a community service club at his high school in Brooklyn, wanted to improve his club’s reach and leadership by attending a regional training conference. His school couldn’t provide him with the funds necessary for himself and a fellow officer to attend. Jim visited our website, www.GrayMatter.it, signed up for an account, and created a project by writing an essay about himself, his school, and how participating at the conference would impact himself and his club. After Jim’s project was approved by a the club’s teacher advisor, our team reviewed it and posted it on our website for anyone to contribute to.

So far 19 donors have contributed almost $400, all of which goes to Jim’s project (and none of which goes to support our organization). When Jim’s project is fully funded in the next few weeks, our team will use its funds to pay for the two students to attend the conference. As they attend the conference, the pair will take pictures and upload these pictures and a thank you note to the donors on our website. GrayMatter enables anyone to become a philanthropist and directly see the impact they have made and the educational innovation they have sponsored.

Please help these students in need: www.GrayMatter.it/projects
Like us on facebook: www.facebook.com/GrayMatterfdn
Follow us on Twitter: @GrayMatterfdn

Monday, January 23, 2012

Listen to the students before it's too late

Our country has made many advances when it comes to human rights, equality, and discrimination. Women and minorities are allowed to vote and own land. Salaries of men and women are coming more into alignment. People of different races are given the freedom to marry and states are moving toward giving marriage equality to couples of same sex. We still have a way to go when it comes to discrimination, but we are making progress in a number of areas with the exception of one group that is making no progress at all.

This group’s rights are being horribly violated.  They are being denied the right to have a say in matters directly affecting their daily lives. They are being forced and coerced into doing things they don’t want to do and are having harm inflicted upon them in more and more ways. They are having their belongings confiscated from them like prisoners and are banned from things that free members of our society have access to. Those who stand up and speak out are often drugged into compliance. They are being silenced and told their voice does NOT matter, they have no say, and our nation is not ready to hear them. They are our nation’s second class citizens.

The group being discriminated against is school children.  

Ironically, the refusal to hear and consider the voices of children, may very well be what leads to the demise of the public schooling institution as we know it.  Kids are smart. In many ways, especially when it comes to technology and social media, kids are often smarter than the adults who are trying to control them. Students are using social media to connect and take a stand on a variety of issues.  They are staging protests and boycotts. They are telling educational software providers that they hate their product. They are starting their own student-led schools and they are uniting to opt out of high-stakes tests.

Now there’s a new way for students who want a voice in ed reform to have one.  High school student, international speaker, and author, Adora Svitak has formed a new group on Facebook called The Student Union. This group is designed to bring students (and adults who support them) together on issues that affect them. In many cases these will be the issues where they have been silenced for far too long.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do we really want to listen to our children?

If you’ve been listening to the conversation about ed reform you may have noticed that there is one group whose voice is missing. That group is students and it’s not for lack of trying. Students want to be heard and they have a lot of smart things to say, but adults are often reluctant to listen. The problem is pervasive and overt with many organizations having no remorse or misgivings engaging in such practices.

Until now, these activities went largely unnoticed. This is no longer acceptable. It’s time to blast these doors open. Identify institutions that are engaging in discriminatory practices. Take a stand and tell these organizations that age discrimination is not okay. We can no longer leave out the most important stakeholders in the education reform conversation. Not only is this not okay, but students, educators, parents, and anyone who cares should boycott organizations that engage in such ageist beliefs. It is outrageous that such discrimination and silencing is targeted at the very people they should be serving.  

One such student who has been blatantly discriminated against is Adora Svitak. A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora (now 14) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy and education transformation! In response to this discrimination, Adora has started The Student Union. This is a group designed to bring student voices to education reform. She believes “Students + education leaders = positive change.

We need to be concerned because if somebody like Adora, who has credibility through years of working in the public eyes, is denied of access to share her voice, what about other students who have equal brilliant things to say about their education? Many of them have been told their voice doesn't matter, does not deserve to be heard, or is not wanted. These young people are often shut down before a struggle can even begin. To be clear, this is not about Adora not having a place to speak, this is about all the children don't have a place to speak. Adora has not been rejected because of her ideas, but rather because of her age. A class of people, not a person has, been dismissed. Adora's story is a concrete demonstration of the unjust and harsh reality that our adults have created to shut our children out.

To follow is the type of discrimination taking place within the organizations that inspired Adora to start her online student activism group.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Hottest Posts This Week!

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see the top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re inspired, share it with others and/or leave a comment.

Aug 24, 2010, 21 comments                                                            2,078 Pageviews
Jan 16, 2012, 34 comments                                                             2,010 Pageviews
Feb 5, 2011, 22 comments                                                              1,674 Pageviews
Jan 20, 2012, 10 comments                                                             1,671 Pageviews
Jan 19, 2012                                                                                   1,388 Pageviews
May 10, 2010, 37 comments                                                            1,383 Pageviews
Nov 22, 2009, 33 comments                                                            1,365 Pageviews
Jan 12, 2012, 10 comments                                                            1,326 Pageviews
Jan 17, 2012                                                                                  1,280 Pageviews

Friday, January 20, 2012

Are schools making our children illiterate to make a profit?

Professional writer and filmmaker Peter Kowalke didn't start reading until he was 11 which wasn't a problem for him because he didn't go to school.  He explained it to me this way.  
In school you read about doing things.  I preferred to spend my early childhood doing things rather than reading about doing things. 
He shared that this wasn't even something he thought about much.  When learning to read independently became more of a priority for him, he began picking up reading and from that point on there was no turning back. Peter is not unusual.  Dr. Peter Gray studies young people who were never schooled because they were unschooled or attended a Democratic school. The age these children learned to read has a wide range from about 4 - 14 years old. He found that when not coerced or forced, EVERY child learns to read well and by age 15 it is nearly impossible to tell the difference between a child who began reading at 4 and one who began in later years. (Note: This did not include children with severe cognitive impairment or those who don't speak English.)  For those unfamiliar with unschooling or Democratic schooling, it provides children with a natural learning environment where they have access to plenty of resources and support, but learning is not forced and children are given the freedom to learn what they choose when they choose. 

Reading proficiency among fourth grade students
From Students First 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reasons an innovative educator likes the Google Chromebook and some things I'd like improved

I have been using Google’s Chromebook for the couple months, and while there were some things I don’t like, overall, it has moved up as my top recommendation for a learning device for a number of reasons. Schools will love that it eliminates the need to purchase software licenses, servers, costly security solutions, and maintenance plans. 

The total cost of owning a Chromebook is up to 70% lower than the ownership costs for a traditional PC. After 3 years, schools receive a whole new set of Chromebooks and can keep their original set (without cloud management or ongoing support) at no charge. Currently Chromebooks go for $449 per device with service for one year ($519 with 3G) or $20 per month per device with an optional $3 per month cost for 3G. Schools should have some of these on hand for students without internet at home. The monthly option includes the hardware and operating system, updates, cloud-based management, and complete support. The one time purchase provides this for one year. This eliminates the time-consuming maintenance tasks like imaging, installing patches, and data recovery which schools often are not equipped to handle.

It’s fast!
If you’re like me, you don’t like to waste time. My previous laptop took 8 minutes to start up. Not with the Chromebook where you can enjoy “instant on.” You open it, it's on. You close it, it’s off. Additionally, the Chrome browser is faster than any other I’ve used.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Gifted/ADHD Connection

Guest post by Dori Staehle | Cross posted at Next Stage Educational Consulting

It reads like something from a science fiction novel: Millions of schoolchildren lining up everyday for the medication that will make them sit still, pay attention – and behave! Orwell’s1984 or Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron perhaps?

This is life imitating art. We’ve become so convinced that children need to be medicated in order to learn that we’ve completely ignored what’s really causing their inattention and hyperactivity in the first place.

As an educational consultant and private tutor, I’ve seen children medicated needlessly. I’ve seen the prevalent side effects, I’ve heard from frantic Moms after their sons were rushed to the emergency room. The sad fact is that the majority of children who are diagnosed as ADD or ADHD (often by their teachers!), are actually highly gifted, talented, and creative kids. The problem is: No one was looking for that.

Like they say, if all you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. Since most teacher training programs and even graduate programs don’t cover this, let me explain what giftedness is. Giftedness is a complex phenomenon which encompasses high IQ and creativity, along with heightened sensitivities, and uneven development (combined definition from Dr. Linda Silverman, The Columbus Group, and this writer).

At many of my workshops, I outline the symptoms of ADD/ADHD taken from the psychologist’s “bible”, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV).  Then, I add to the right side of the screen the traits of giftedness, as per The Gifted Development Center in Denver. Yes folks, both lists are exactly the same (you can seen this chart here).People who are super-talented, creative, or bright tend to be hyper. They space out when they’re bored or when they’re trying to figure something out. They tend to hyper-focus on areas of interest.

In addition, there are literally hundreds of medical conditions that can produce hyperactivity and inattentiveness (The Hyperactivity Hoax, Dr. Sydney Walker, http://amzn.to/z1djaQ).  Within my student population, 100% were right-brained, 95% were gifted, 90% were highly gifted with IQ’s in the 150-200 range (average IQ is 100), and all of them had allergies, asthma, hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), food sensitivities, or a combination of all four.

In 2000, I spoke at a gifted education conference and posited that a huge percentage of students that are being labeled as ADD/ADHD are actually right-brained gifted, talented, and/or creative students. We are, in fact, medicating brilliance. We are also ignoring the underlying medical conditions and not accounting for the biggest trigger: stress.

Schools are left-brained institutions taught by predominantly left-brained individuals (Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child, Jeff Freed). They don’t understand those of us who are right-brained and creative, who think in pictures and tend to be random, not sequential. So, they medicate what they don’t like or don’t understand. Surely, there must be something wrong with these kids’ brains! In fact, ADD used to be known as a brain disorder – even though most of these kids have high IQ’s! You can almost call it a “left-brained conspiracy”. No wonder these kids are stressed out – they’re not allowed to be themselves!

Therefore, it is no surprise that there is a huge incidence of gifted, talented, and creative kids within the homeschooling population (www.hoagiesgifted.org). They can learn in ways that work for them and be with others like them. They can spend a great deal of time on their passions and take breaks or blow off steam when needed. This is their version of normal. Maybe it’s time to accept that and not try to change it.

Dori Staehle has close to 20 years of tutoring and consulting experience and has worked with public, private, and homeschooled students and their families.  She holds a BA in French and German from Wagner College in NY, and an MBA in finance from Fairleigh Dickinson University in NJ. In addition, she has done both graduate and post-graduate work in gifted education and gifted psychology while in CO.

Dori has written and published several articles on gifted education and homeschooling and developed the theory known as The Gifted/ADHD Connection. She is currently writing a book which is tentatively titled Hearing the Music: Why We Chose Homeschooling Instead of Ritalin.