I can't stop thinking about last week's Second Life International Best Practices in Education Conference. The experience was so immersive that I'm forced to admit that Second Life (as an educational tool) is not going away - as a distance education professional development tool it is simply too effective. How else can you gather thousands of people (from all around the world) into the same environment with such minimal costs and maximum benefits? Apparently, over 1,500 people attended the conference. At one point in the conference the presenter asked the participants to type in where we were located (see screen-shot below). Amazingly, I was "sitting" in a room with people from dozens of countries around the world.

The presentations were also excellent. Each detailed ways that Second Life can be used in educational settings on all levels. If you missed the conference, or any of the sessions, I highly recommend browsing the conference archives - you can view/review video from any of the sessions listed thanks to Exactly like speakers do in normal, First Life conferences, each of the presentations included multimedia presentations to enhance the learning experience. Oddly, however, well over 90% of the pictures included in such presentations were made from screen-shots taken in-world (I suppose posting copyrighted material in SL doesn't fall within Fair Use guidelines).

As an outsider looking in, huge kudos to the committee that put it all together. Specifically, I think that Ryan Bretag, Beth Ritter-Guth, and Eloise Pasteur deserve a well-earned virtual round of applause (everybody /clap) for the hundreds of hours they have put in for the cause.

Once again, excellent job - when can we do it again?

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Copyright - Certainly Misunderstood

I don't think there is a more misunderstood concept out there in classrooms across the country than the issue of copyright. It's almost as if nobody understands all of the rules.

As far as educators go, I think that the ideas surrounding "Fair Use" are of greatest import. Believe it or not, teachers and students may use copyrighted works in many different educational settings. In listening to a recent Conference Connections podcast about Copyright, I learned many specific things. In the podcast, Gary Becker discusses some of the latest changes in copyright law. His statements are interesting and very informative. As a result of some of his statements about Fair Use, I looked further into the Fair Use Guidelines for Multimedia. Here are a few of the highlights that I found particularly helpful to teachers that may have copyright concerns:

  • Section 2.1 - Students may incorporate portions of lawfully acquired copyrighted works when producing their own educational multimedia projects for a specific course.
  • Section 2.2 - Educators may incorporate portions of lawfully acquired copyrighted works when producing their own educational multimedia programs for their own teaching tools in support of curriculum-based instructional activities at educational institutions
  • Section 3.1 - Students may perform and display their own educational multimedia projects created for educational uses in the course for which they were created and may use them in their own portfolios as examples of their academic work for later personal uses such as job and graduate school interviews.
  • Section 3.2 - Educators may perform and display their own educational multimedia projects for curriculum-based instruction to students, for face-to-face instruction, and assigned to students for directed self-study.
  • Section 3.3 - Educators may perform or display their own multimedia projects in presentations to their peers (for example, at workshops and conferences).
  • Section 4 - The preparation of educational multimedia projects incorporating copyrighted works under Section 2, and the use of such projects under Section 3, are subject to limitations of time, portion, and copying & distribution.
  • Section 6.2 - Educators and students are reminded to credit the sources and display the copyright notice © and copyright ownership information if this is shown in the original source, for all works incorporated as part of the educational multimedia projects prepared by educators and students, including those prepared under fair use. Crediting the source must adequately identify the source of the work, giving a full bibliographic description where available (including author, title, publisher, and place and date of publication). The copyright ownership information includes the copyright notice (©, year of first publication and name of the copyright holder).
So, is it legal:
  • For students to take pictures from Flickr and insert them into a PowerPoint presentation to be shown to a class? Yes - if the student cites the source.
  • For a teacher to take a portion of copyrighted music and use it to teach a concept? Yes - if the teacher cites the source.
  • For that same teacher to record the class session in which that copyrighted music was used and then publish the recording on the Internet? No - see section 3.2.
  • For a teacher to use copyrighted photos in a PowerPoint presentation to be given at a conference? Yes - if the teacher cites the source.
  • For that same presentation to be published on the Internet? No - Publishing on the Internet is viewed as a presentation to the world. The presentation can only be shown to a select group (see Section 3.3)
These specifics are what make Creative Commons licensed works so great! When an artist has licensed their work under the Creative Commons, (in most cases) they have already given you permission to use their work! I've found the easiest way to find Creative Commons-licensed photos is to do an "Advanced" search in Flickr (then check the box for searching only Creative Commons works).

Image source

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A Few Post-Conference Reflections

I have to admit - I thought it was a hit. The first Second Life International Best Practices in Education Conference was very interesting, to say the least. I managed to catch the first two keynotes and learned quite a bit. I walked away from the experience thinking that I would certainly do it again. I also wonder about how much work it took to pull off - behind the scenes. For example:

  • How do teachers display PowerPoint slides in SL?
  • How does one stream audio (or video)?
  • How does a teacher gain access to TeenSL (which seems to hold promise for an effective SL classroom experience), and how can I be sure that it's truly safe in there for my students?
As a result of the conference today, I came away feeling much better about the overall experience. It was quite interesting (didn't I already say that?) and even (dare I say?) fun.

Two additional observations:
  1. Most people are as clueless about SL as you probably are. During one particular session, participants were to grab a light-bulb and wear it on top of their heads (it was later used to vote during the session - great idea for interaction). A quick glance around the room revealed that at least half of the people there had no idea how to pick up the object. So as far as clueless goes - it's you and me both.
  2. Second Life minus audio equals ineffective teaching. Chat just doesn't cut it. You've got to be able to interact with voice - luckily, it's apparently coming soon to a virtual world near you.
Image source - 2

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SL Best Practices Conference

I'm sitting here waiting for Kenny Hubble's (Ken Hudson's) keynote to begin in the Second Life Best Practices Conference. All I hear is a barrage of camera clicks (from participants taking screen-shots - much like I have done to get this image.

As I am an SL newbie, I wasn't sure exactly how to best "experience" the conference. I originally thought that the best way to participate in the lectures is to have the Second Life client open on half of the screen, and open on the other side. That way you get audio with the text chat. The folks from SLCN have done a nice job in reporting on the events. Eventually, I learned that I could simply turn on the audio and experience the presentation (PowerPoint slides and all) just as I would in any other conference.

Quite a scene. I'd do it again.

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Pay Attention - Second Draft

I finally finished my "second draft" of Pay Attention. I'll be the first to admit that it's no upgrade al estilo J Brenman. I added a few pictures in key locations, bolded the red text to (hopefully) make it easier to see, fixed a few citations to give credit where credit was due, and performed a few other tweaks where I deemed necessary - all fixes that I have intended to do since about the day after I originally released it.

This screenshot is an example of some of the fixes that I made - I found a few excellent photos, licensed under Creative Commons, that are perfect for several of the snippets, and included them in key locations. I intend to show the entire updated version of the presentation at the upcoming TTIX conference on June 7, and will make it available to anyone interested (via download, TeacherTube, and possibly YouTube once again) at that time. I say "possibly YouTube" because I'm not impressed (gasp!) with YouTube's quality - it throws the timing off and makes the video too fuzzy.

Furthermore, I also intend to license both versions using the Creative Commons license once I learn a little more about it and I run it by the members of my team. I truly believe that we are all in this together - why not share and share alike?

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Teachers That Learn

I think it's fantastic when teachers continue to learn. When teachers continue as learners, additional life is added to the classroom. A perfect example of life-long learning can be found in my colleague, Bonnie Muir.

As many of you know, we (as Technology Curriculum Specialists in the Jordan School District) create podcasts for teachers. In the beginning, Kelly Dumont and I took the reigns and cranked out several podcasts in a row. Since we had a little prior experience in creating such materials, it wasn't extremely difficult for us to accomplish the task. What is old hat for some, however, is completely new material for others.

Needless to say, however, Bonnie has really taken this by the technological horns. In only a few weeks, she has turned into a podcasting pro. Her latest episodes show that she has truly come into her own (thankfully, she has created episodes 17-20, giving Kelly, Margo, and I time to work on other projects - Margo Shirley, the fourth member of our team has been busy enough with the JSD Comprehensive Balanced Literacy web site).

So, if you haven't given them a try yet, I highly recommend them ( Most of the episodes are geared toward teachers with little or no technology skill, but there are one or two in there geared toward even the high-end user.

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Rock Art or Forgetful Teachers?

So I went hiking last weekend with my dad and my two oldest kids. We were able to explore several different areas in South-eastern Utah - around the Canyonlands and Goblin Valley regions of the state.

Absolutely amazing.

I am fascinated by the desert and the way life manages to survive - so much like our students (lol). I am also amazed at the array of geological features present in Utah. From mountains to deserts to canyons to cities, this state has it all.

While hiking through the Horseshoe Canyon section of Canyonlands National Park, we were able to take in several different panels of pictographs (pictographs are painted on the rock, while petroglyphs are etched into the stone). The pictographs in this area are in very good shape and have several unique characteristics. One set is somehow located nearly thirty feet above ground-level. How they managed to reach that high is beyond me.

This particular set of drawings (below) is a part of what is called "the Great Gallery". I find it intriguing that "experts" still don't understand what most of the drawings mean or why they are there in the first place.

Personally, I don't see what the big deal is. Any teacher can easily see that such drawings are simply the remains of several ancient classrooms. Clearly, these particular pictographs are evidence that the teachers, as teachers often do, hurriedly forgot to erase the board.

Image sources - Me (You're going to have to trust me on this one. I realize that there is a photo very similar to mine on Wikipedia, but I took these myself. Honest.)

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What I've Learned From Blogging, Part 2

In a previous post, I wrote about how D. Keith Robinson has learned many things through blogging. To his list, I think it is now appropriate to add a few of my own.

Things I've Learned From Blogging

  • Teachers that blog are as nice as teachers that don't blog - I'm amazed at how kind teachers around the world are. Ours seems to be a profession full of kind, generous people that are anxious to help those that are anxious to learn.
  • Writing requires a lot of reading - As I've been a contributor to the blogosphere, I've found it extremely helpful to read before I write. Reading the work of others spurs ideas.
  • Writing is hard, reading is easy - It ain't easy comin' up with smart words to say on a regular basis.
  • The world is both bigger and smaller than I’d ever imagined - Keith listed this one, too, but it's too true not to include. Since I've created my blog, I've conversed (in person and through writing) with people from all over the world.
  • A good picture can make a good post.
  • There is great power in tagging - I'm almost convinced that tagging makes the world go around (or at least it will in the near future) because it makes for quality, inexpensive search-ability.
  • Like teaching, there's always tomorrow - No matter how bad it goes today, there's always a tomorrow.
  • Like teaching, there's always tomorrow - No matter how good it goes today, there's always a tomorrow.
Image source

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When Is Enough Enough?

My daughter (and every other member of the 5th Grade at her Elementary school) will be going swimming this week at the local swimming pool for an all-day activity. As a group. During school. In addition to the several field trips they've already taken this year.

A few weeks ago, they (the entire 5th grade again) went on an over-night trip to a nearby lake. As a group. During and after school.

At other schools, the scene appears to remain the same. On my recent trip to Goblin Valley (additional post coming soon), we ran into a huge group of elementary students from Provo - over 75 of them, from grades 3-5, all on a four-day, parent-free, $150 trip to Southeastern Utah. Is this an example of cheap baby-sitting or educational opportunity?

These extra-curricular activities seem a little extreme to me. It's just that we never had any over-night activities when I was in ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. We also never went swimming. In fact, the closest we ever got to swimming was when we threw water-balloons during the "School Olympics" that were held on the last day of school.

Perhaps I'm just a little too old-fashioned. Or experienced.

As a teacher, I can't imagine being in charge of the safety of over 75 elementary students in Goblin Valley. From broken bones resulting from jumping off of the rock formations to keeping track of the location of all of the students, this kind of chaperoning would simply be a nightmare. What sane teacher would volunteer for such work? Furthermore, what parent would trust their 8-year-old in such a situation? I have a soon-to-be-eight-year-old, and I wouldn't want him to go. Not that I don't trust the teachers (although I'm not sure I actually do - I'm not convinced I would even trust myself). It's just that the kinds of problems that could occur on a trip like this are many and varied. I'm probably over-reacting, but I can't help but question the need for such extravagance.

How do you feel about over-night, school-sponsored activities in Elementary school? Are they priceless activities that shouldn't be missed or would our kids be better off if we didn't go to such extremes?

Image sources (I'm still sorting through my own) - 1, 2

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What I've Learned From Blogging

D. Keith Robinson has been blogging for several years now. Several years ago, he wrote a great post detailing many of the things he has learned from blogging (be sure to check out the comments - some of them are as good as the post itself). I share many of the same feelings that Keith does and wanted to share a few of his points.

Things I've Learned From Blogging

  • The world is both bigger and smaller than I’d ever imagined.
  • There is great power in words.
  • Blogging can very easily be considered work. Lots of it.
  • 24 hours in a day isn’t enough.
  • Making a mistake and being called on it can be one the best learning experiences you can have.
  • You really can meet cool people online. And many of them are not so bad in person either!
  • It’s easy to mix up “it’s” and “its”. Same goes for “your” and “you’re”. Oh and “too” and “to”.
  • Don’t trust spellcheck.
  • I’ve got friends in low places.
  • The world is full of passionate people.
  • Storytelling is one of the best ways to convey a message.
  • People I’ve never met care about me, and I care about people I’ve never met.
  • Blogging is a great way to express yourself.
  • Blogging is a great way to manage knowledge and lessons learned.
  • Geek is the new pink.
  • Smaller is better.
  • Writing is hard!
  • Most people are more positive than negative.
  • Popular doesn’t always mean good.
  • The best way to become better at something is to keep doing it.
  • Comments make great content.
  • Conversations are a great way to communicate.
  • You’ve got to love what you do to do it really well.
  • People actually do read Web content.
  • Perfect is the enemy of the good.
  • Clever writing can be frustrating.

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Mobile Phone Mania

In my last post, I mentioned a recent survey conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life project. There has been some interesting data trickling out as a result. According to the study, 73% of Americans have a cell (mobile) phone. Amazing. Nevertheless, I'm still left with several questions: How many of these cell-phone-toting Americans are our students, and how many students world-wide have mobile phone access?

Participation in my recent (unscientific, but hopefully interesting) attempt to learn how many of the world's students have access to mobile phone technology has been a little underwhelming, to say the least. Until Graham Wegner's thoughtful plea I had received no data from schools outside of Utah (a sad thought, indeed). Therefore, I both thank Graham for his valiant effort and ask you, dear reader, if this quest to quantify mobile phone access in the K-12 classroom is worthwhile. Choose your own adventure from the options below.

Adventure #1 - Yes, Acquiring Mobile Phone Access Data = Gallant Endeavor

Great! Follow these steps to help out the cause:

  1. Check out the current results to see the data we're collecting (quick edit - for some reason, Google Spreadsheets is not always granting access to viewers - I'll include a screenshot below of some of the data we've collected so far). If you'd prefer to remain anonymous, I'm OK with that, but we should at least know what school your polling.
  2. You may submit your results as a comment to this post (or email me directly, if you prefer).
  3. If you're a blogger, please spread the word. The more data we can accumulate, the better our vision. To be honest, I'm not in this for any "credit" (if such a thing really exists) - but would love to have data from as many schools possible. In fact, I'd like to give you the credit, so if you want to send me a link to your blog (or website), I'll attach the link to your name in the spreadsheet.
Following established edublogosphere protocol, I will give you a deadline for all data submissions: May 23, 2007. If we can't gather it in a week, then we might as well be using a telegraph.

Disclaimer: I realize that this kind of a study isn't as scientific as it probably should be. Nevertheless, I think it can be quite helpful and can be conducted far more quickly. As more people understand that there is a significant population of teachers that would like to use phones to teach, then perhaps more will create support materials (lesson plans, etc.) that include mobile phone use.

Data To Be Collected (Click to enlarge)

Adventure #2 - No, Acquiring Mobile Phone Access Data = Frivolous Venture

Thank you for (not) playing, have a nice day.

My Experiences As An Expanding Omnivore

I'm an Omnivore. A technological "omnivore". I took the current Pew Internet technology survey and they have classified me as a part of the Omnivore typology.

But then again, I knew they would.

I've been a geek for as long as I can remember. I played Pong on my Grandpa's TV and taught myself Basic (the programming language) when I was 10. In fact, my dad even chewed me out (as a kid) for spending my hard-earned five bucks on Asteroids. I have a mobile phone, three laptops, a desktop computer, an iPod, digital camera, and video camera. I have watched movies on devices other than a television and have been creating web sites since the mid-nineties.

Nevertheless, the last month for me has certainly been one of expansion. Up until then, I had never really expanded my community to include participants in the blogosphere - I rarely commented on blog posts, and only blogged in private. Up until then, I had truly missed out on an amazing new world - a world which has its own rules, pecking order, and manner of checks and balances.

I'm truly grateful to be a part of this wonderful (new-to-me) community. Without it, I would have missed out on a number of rich experiences. Sorry for the sap - now back to work.

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Cellflix Film Festival

As many of you know, the idea of using mobile phones in the classroom (for actual learning purposes) intrigues me. For years I was the typical "don't bring your phone into this classroom" kind of teacher. I eventually came to realize that nearly every one of my students had both a phone and an iPod (you'll see that mobile phone access numbers for Brighton High School hover around 90%).

With this kind of access, why fight it any longer?

I have since been on a quest to identify educational activities that could be done with these technologies that students insist upon carrying into the classroom - in spite of authoritarian attempts to limit such practices (Wesley Fryer did a great post about this a few weeks ago).

The other day, I came across one of the most inviting activities for in-class mobile phone use yet: The Cellflix Film Festival. The rules are basic: Students (high school aged and higher) are to use their phones to record a 30-second film. Video can be edited using a computer with soundtrack and title effects being added to the footage. However, remember that all video must be shot using the camera in your phone. From the Cellflix archives:

You must shoot the story on your cellphone, but you can edit it any way you choose. Produce the best 30-seconds of small-screen cinema, and walk away with the $5,000 Texas Instrument's Audience Award or the $5,000 grand prize -- and the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping to make the world a smaller and more beautiful place.
The festival just completed its second season, with some extremely creative entries. Last year's entries were equally good. The video below took first place in last year's competition (watch it twice to catch the humor).

I personally think that this kind of activity holds tremendous promise for classrooms of all types - especially since so many phones now come with cameras built-in. A quick scan of the phones offered by two major carriers in my area (Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile) revealed that 70% of the phones now sold (51/73) include built-in cameras.

Imagine giving your class this kind of assignment (your class may or may not have its own 'Jimmy'):
Class, today we'll be creating mobile phone video reports. The assignment, due at the end of class, is to create a 30-second video clip explaining the definition of a vocabulary term that I will assign you shortly. Because not every phone has a built-in camera, I want you to work in groups of 3 or 4. No, Jimmy, you may not have 5 in your group. Your definitions should not be read directly from the textbook, but should be presented in your own words. No Jimmy, you may not swear in the video. Videos are to be G-rated.
Videos could then be turned in via email, or (even better) shared in small groups during class. It's not difficult to imagine how excited the students would be to share what they have created with each other. Off the top of my head, I can envision this type of activity working well in a variety of classes:
  • English - Mobile phone video book reports, poetry readings, story-telling
  • Math - Mobile phone video reports on vocabulary, section reviews, and section introductions
  • Social Studies - Mobile phone video reports on nearly any unit (history, current events, economics)
  • Foreign Language - Mobile phone video reports on culture, vocabulary, grammar - all in the language, of course
Now the inclusion of this technology in one's teaching would also result in several things:
  • At first, students would need guidance - control, if you will - to ensure that they stay on-task and focussed. I would recommend setting aside a specific time period for allowed mobile phone use (possibly ringing a bell when phones are to be put away). As a teacher, you will have to manage phone use closely or it will probably spiral out of control.
  • It will also need to be stressed, up front, that any and all activity that students do on their phones is voluntary - in other words, students may use their phones in class, but they aren't required (I'm thinking about students racking up huge bills here, and then claiming that "it was required for school"). A parent permission slip ahead of time may be a good idea. In my opinion, most kids will actually want to use their own phones, but you'll want to cover your bases ahead of time.
  • I can't imagine students not becoming excited about and engage in learning from an assignment of this nature (most have never been asked to actually use their phones in class). Therefore, make the assignment's content count.
Well, that's probably enough for now - just a few thoughts to get started. What's your take? Do you have any experience with this type of assignment?

Great Things Are Happening Out There

So, yesterday's last post may have sounded a little negative. Sorry. Sort of.

It's just that this battle to improve teacher performance often falls on deaf ears.

Needless to say, in spite of the many teachers that refuse to incorporate technology into their teaching, there are many really good things happening out there. I will share two.

Good Thing #1 - Sheradee Bradfield - Midvale Middle School

Ms. Bradfield is doing tremendous things with her social studies classes. She learned about geocaching a few months ago and decided to use it with her students. She created a cache near her school (about a mile away from her school - it's safer that way). In the cache, she put a total of three travel bugs - one for each class. Each travel bug has its own "goal", all decided by her students. Remarkably, one of the class travel bugs has traveled nearly 19,000 miles since its departure last November (it's currently in Germany, at this location: N 49° 08.692 E 007° 59.471).


Imagine the discussions Ms. Bradfield can now have with her students about geography and culture because their class travel bug is currently circling the globe! Without this technology, such conversations would never take place - or would be forced, at best. The picture below is of one of her class travel bugs in Italy - perfect for her social studies unit about the Roman empire.

Good Thing #2 - The Horizon Project

This morning I received an email from Julie Lindsay inviting me (and other Horizon Project members) to join her in Elluminate. Unfortunately, I was about 20 minutes too late to join the party, but I was able to talk with Barbara Stefanics, one of the Horizon teachers that also joined late. Ms. Stefanics teaches eleventh-grade students at the Vienna International School (in Austria).

I have to say that I was extremely impressed with both Ms. Stefanics and Elluminate. Ms. Stefanics seemed very confident and gave me a great tour. The Elluminate interface is very clean. It allows you to literally hold class with participants around the world (white-board and all). Without this technology, participant interaction (and probably instruction) would not be as effective.

One of my favorite features in Elluminate is the audio: only one person can talk at a time. To talk to the class, simply click the button - allowing your microphone to be heard, displaying your name, and disallowing anybody else from interrupting. We need one of these microphones in traditional, face-to-face classrooms!

So, for all of you teachers that are doing great things out there, keep up the good work! If you don't slack, I won't gripe. : )

My Second Life

I jumped back in to Second Life yesterday. I had visited SL about a year and a half ago and wasn't extremely impressed - I really couldn't figure out why anyone would want a second life - what's wrong with our first lives? Nevertheless, with all of the recent hype, I had to give it another try - besides, I want to have my A-game on when I attend the upcoming Second Life Best Practices in Education Conference on May 25.

My initial reaction? Second Life has grown up a bit. I quite like my new SL name (Thr33R1ng Binder) and was very impressed with the new tutorials offered on orientation island. Furthermore, the entire interface seems more responsive than before. All in all I was quite pleased. I teleported to ISTE's area and even checked out Drexel Island.

Needless to say, I am excited to participate in the upcoming conference, and promise to keep an open mind about what is presented. To be honest, I have only one concern about using SL for education: How can we ensure that the SL environment is safe for kids? As an SL newbie, I welcome your input.

I can see huge potential for virtual worlds as an educational tool - especially for distance education (and possibly a much needed tool if gas prices continue to soar).

Are You Ready to Use What You've Learned?

Oddly, I've been asked by several people within the last week about Professional Development. Along the lines of David Warlick's recent blog post, too many teachers take professional development courses but fail to implement the things they learn into their teaching. I see two solutions to this problem.

First, for effective professional development, teachers must be coached and mentored after the initial instruction. Without additional mentoring, teachers simply don't implement what was once "learned". The diagram below illustrates how vital this component is.

According to the research done by Bruce Joyce and Beverly Showers, when teachers participate in professional development that includes the following four key features, then that professional development actually translates into successful classroom practice:

  1. Teacher training must be based upon current research findings.
  2. Teacher training must include sound educational theory.
  3. Teacher training must include a demonstration of the practices being learned (modeling).
  4. Teacher training must incorporate time for participants to practice what has been modeled for them.
  5. Teacher training must be extended to include future coaching and mentoring (follow-up).
Failure to follow up translates into a (nearly) useless session of professional "development". What are teachers developing? Why, their filing cabinet of un-used ideas, of course.

Now, even though my job includes duties as a "professional developer", I'm not convinced that traditional professional development is the only way we can get teachers to improve their teaching (gasp!). In fact, in our newly flattened world, I think that other ways of teacher improvement could be far more effective. Podcasts, online tutorials, and even (heaven forbid) Wikipedia are all excellent resources that teachers could/should use to improve their instruction - I mean, sheesh - our kids are learning this way, why can't we teachers?

I'll tell you why not.

It's a matter of attitude.

Our students aren't afraid to teach themselves. At no other time in the history of the world have our students needed us (as teachers) less. If they have a question, Google-ing the question is far easier than asking a teacher (actual results may vary). When a teacher has a question, however, the story is entirely different. Warlick sums it up perfectly:
I’ve claimed my own frustration at teachers who ask, “But who’s going to teach me how to do that?” Sadly, we are a generation who was taught how to be taught — not how to teach ourselves. It’s one of the many reasons why the experiences that our children have in the classroom must become much more self-directed, relevant, and rich. They/we need to learn to teach ourselves. Teachers shouldn’t need professional development. They should be saying, hey, I’m going to teach myself how to do that this weekend. It’s about life long learning. Not about a life of being taught.
In my opinion, David Warlick is right on the money with this one. Many teachers today are simply tired - tired of learning. They've answered one too many questions. They given one too many quizzes. They've pressed "Play" on one too many VCRs.

So how can we change? Begin with ourselves - don't be afraid to take the time to learn something new. But then again, if you're reading this post, you're probably a member of the choir to which I've been incessantly preaching.

Onward and upward.

How Many Teachers Still Don't Know?

I attended a meeting today with math teachers from across the state of Utah. At the meeting, Rick Gaisford (from the Utah State Office of Education) showed Karl Fisch's excellent "Did You Know..." presentation. Throughout the entire presentation, there were a number of ooohs and aaahhhs from many different people. In fact, there were so many intrigued faces and engrossed viewers, that I was impressed to note how few teachers have yet to see Karl's prentation. If I were to estimate, I would guess that 90% of the teachers and educational leaders present in the meeting had not seen it before.

Which brings me to my questions.

  • How can we better promote technology use in the classroom?
  • How can we help more teachers understand the kinds of shift that are happening in our world?
  • How can we better prepare our students for tomorrow's challenges?
To conclude this post, I must exhort you to view Karl's presentation, if you haven't yet seen it. Then, as Karl so adequately puts it, please join in on the conversation.

Mobile Phones For Learning - A Follow-up

As a follow-up to an earlier post I wrote, I find Sue Waters' sentiments to be reflective of the feelings of many of us. Sue commented:

I know first hand the benefits of mlearning as I have clearly seen the gains with my TAFE students but as a parent with kids of these ages my first thoughts were the opposite.
My kids are in the same boat. My eleven-year-old just got an iPod for her birthday and it won't be long before she will want a mobile phone of her own. I don't think I'll be buying one for her anytime soon, but that subject is for a different blog, at a different time.

The study to which Sue referred in her comment raises the very questions I have about mobile phone use in the classroom as well as the reasons to use them. I'll summarize:
Murdoch University researchers are spearheading an innovative project to see how new technologies can help primary school children in their learning. The School of Education has been monitoring the use of mobile phones programmed with educational games to help children in Years 3, 5, 6 and 7 improve mathematics learning.

We have several problems:
  • The big problem we have in today’s world is engaging and motivating young minds.
  • We’re interested in discovering how new technologies can support learning.
  • Traditional teaching methods are simply not keeping up with what the students of today expect and what motivates their learning.
  • Kids use phones for talking, listening to music, sending photos and playing videos but the last thing they use phones for is education.
Employing technology in the classroom could be the solution:
  • The point of this is to use tools the students are familiar with to get them interested in science, maths and English.
  • Mobile phones, considered by many teachers as disruptive in class, could in fact be used to help teach children basic numeracy and literacy skills.
The project is being coordinated by Murdoch’s Centre for Learning, Change and Development in Australia. I, too, am greatly interested in its findings.

It Is What It Is

Interesting comment on YouTube Saturday. As I have heard others express similar feelings about teaching with technology, I suppose it is time to explain both the scope and purpose behind creating the "Pay Attention" video. Commented seaghan2007:

Presentations like this with their aspirational and panaceatic views of technology in education are infuriating! Any real teacher knows that learning happens in a variety of ways for different circumstances, eg Role-play around history with NO technology might be way way better than watching an exobyte of podcasts or video on the subject!! This unbalanced zealoutry is hurting those educators who are encouraging teachers to use ICT in classrooms - but in a 'real-world' warts-and-all environment.
Now here's my take as I would have expressed it if YouTube would have granted me more than 500 characters to reply.

To begin with, I am a real teacher and have taught/do teach in a 'real-world' environment. I began my teaching career in 1997. Since then, I have taught at the Middle and High School levels, in both traditional and "alternative" (at-risk) settings. Personally, I think every class could/should be labeled as "at-risk", but that is how many insisted upon categorizing my particular students. I have taught a wide range of subjects, including math, Spanish, ESL, video productions, and physical education. My students have gone on to become Olympic champions, drug dealers, movie stars, residents of the local penitentiary, successful business-persons and everything in between. Last June, I accepted a position as a "Technology Curriculum Specialist" and teachers became my students. With their needs, troubles, and fears in mind, I created "Pay Attention".

"Pay Attention" - What It Is
  • "Pay Attention" is a motivational presentation designed to encourage teachers to better integrate technology into their teaching.
"Pay Attention" - Why I Created It
  • I created "Pay Attention" because, in my experience, technology can help a teacher to provide rigorous instruction that is highly relevant to today's students.
  • I also created it because I think it is foolish for teachers to not use technology in much of their teaching (notice I did not say all of their teaching - more on that in a moment). The majority of students today already know how to use mobile phones, mp3 players, podcasting, Internet resources, and other educational technologies - why not use it to our advantage? As a teacher, I can certify that students are bringing the technologies into our schools in large quantities (you would have to be blind to not notice the plethora of mobile phones and tiny, white ear-buds dangling from our students' ears). To me, it seems foolish to refuse to use these items, beloved by our students, to accomplish educational objectives.
"Pay Attention" - What It Is Not
  • This video, like technology itself, is not a cure-all for many of the problems that currently plague education - in fact, I have never claimed technology to be the Panacea many hope it would be. Technology is great, when it works - but we would be dishonest in saying that technology doesn't also come with its own set of baggage.
  • In my humble opinion, to refer to the "Pay Attention" video "unbalanced zealotry" is simply a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. All thinkers should realize that technology is not the only tool an effective teacher has. In fact, there are times when technology is not the tool of choice. Would it be more effective for physical education students to go out and run a lap or surf the Internet for pictures of people running laps? Clearly, as a teacher that has (hopefully) learned to think, you can see that different kinds of learning activities require different tools - and just because a certain tool isn't used in every situation doesn't deprive it of any value. Because let's face it: when the job calls for a hammer, nothing less than a hammer will usually do.
Photo Credit: CraigMarston (

What are your thoughts? I certainly welcome your comments.

Mobile Phone Access in the Classroom - A Call For Help

As I share "Pay Attention" with teachers around my district I am often confronted about the concept of using mobile phones for educational purposes. Almost without fail, some teacher will exclaim that "every student doesn't have access to a phone". Personally, I don't think every student needs access to their own mobile phone to make an assignment that uses them meaningful.

I'm wondering what mobile phone access is really like in the classrooms across the world. Marc Prensky claimed in 2005:

In the United States, the penetration of student mobile phones is 40% in many junior high schools and 75% in many high schools (NOP World 2005); according to a Student Monitor survey (as cited in Kinzie 2005), penetration is 90% in U.S. colleges...

In some countries—including the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden, and the Czech Republic—cell phone penetration is greater than 100%, which means that individuals own and use two or more of these devices (Borghese 2005; Agence France-Presse 2004). Cell phone penetration in Asia continues to climb: Hong Kong and Taiwan have already surpassed 100% according to one prominent survey (IT Facts 2004; Simon 2004), and several years ago, J@pan Inc magazine reported that more than 90% of Tokyo high schoolers carried mobile phones (2001).
I think he's pretty close as far as US numbers go, but I'm wondering what numbers are like outside of the United States, and in rural areas inside of the United States. Nina Christou, from ESClub in Greece, sent me access numbers about her school yesterday in an email:
All the kids have mobile phones now (and better ones than the teachers)... Greece is known as the leading country country in Europe for mobile phones but the last for the Internet, for the moment. We hope to change the latter.
Because Prensky's numbers are relatively old (yes, two years is an eternity when we're dealing with technology), I want to conduct my own study - consequently, I need your input.
  • What is mobile phone access like in your school?
  • What percentage of students have access to mobile phones and would be willing to use them for school activities?
To report your data, either email me directly, or submit your information as a comment to this post. A running total will be kept in this online spreadsheet.

Thanks, in advance, for your input.

Click cartoon to enlarge.

Teaching with Technology Idea Exchange

I am pleased (and a little nervous) to announce that I will be giving the keynote presentation at this year's Teaching with Technology Idea Exchange. I have to admit that I am very impressed with the scope of TTIX (and not just because they have asked me to present). According to their website:

TTIX is an open conference that encourages free access to presentation information and materials, and facilitates the sharing of knowledge. Registration for this conference is and always will be free.
In the words of Dick Hardt, "simple and open wins". I didn't always believe that. With the "Pay Attention" video, however, I attempted to put his slogan to the test. I tried to create as simple of a presentation possible, and in sharing the video I have been open to educators throughout the world. Consequently, "Pay Attention" has experienced a better reception than I would ever have imagined.
The 3rd Annual Teaching with Technology Idea Exchange will be held June 7-8 on the Utah Valley State College campus in Orem, Utah. A tentative conference schedule can be seen here. Attendance is free, but pre-registration is required.

I hope to see you there!

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Children Versus Artists

I recently came across a blog that includes a post containing drawings that have been done by children. These drawings are then "enhanced" by professional artists. The drawings are absolutely spectacular and guaranteed to make you smile.

In viewing the drawings, I can't help but wonder what the children must think of the "improvements" made upon their original work. Do they approve of the changes? And even more, does the fact that adults have chosen to add upon their work inspire them toward further creativity? I hope (and anticipate) that the answer to both of these questions is "yes". Personally, I know that if someone were to build upon my work in a creative manner, I would consider it to be one of the highest expressions of compliment.

Excellent work, both artists (children) and grown-ups alike! Keep up the good work!

The Ribbon - A Timid Teacher's Best Friend

Office 2007 has been out for a few months now, and I have to admit that I love it (sorry Mac users, a comparable version won't be available to you until later this year). They have done a number of changes (basically, they re-designed the software from the ground up) that vastly improve the work flow. With all of the changes implemented in this new version of Office, I think these changes translate into two scenarios:

  • Previous Office users will have a slight learning curve to overcome. For me, it has taken about three hours in the software to feel relatively comfortable.
  • New Office users will be able to learn the new version of Office much more quickly than than they could have learned previous versions of Office - this is huge because it will allow teachers to focus on teaching curriculum content, rather than teaching computers (which is the way things should be done - a math teacher is hired to teach math, not PowerPoint).
One example of a key change in the new Office is what Microsoft has termed the "ribbon" (other favorite functions include a live image preview, better contextual menus, and the new XML-based docx format). Rather than static buttons and menu bar items, the ribbon changes dynamically, depending upon the task at hand. According to Microsoft:
The Ribbon is designed to help you quickly find the commands that you need to complete a task. Commands are organized in logical groups, which are collected together under tabs. Each tab relates to a type of activity, such as writing or laying out a page. To reduce clutter, some tabs are shown only when needed. For example, the Picture Tools tab is shown only when a picture is selected.

This new "ribbon" should result in an onslaught of high-quality documents being produced by our students. According to John Whitaker, a trainer from Microsoft that I recently spoke with, there are roughly 1500 individual functions in Microsoft Word alone - he further estimates that most users only use 2% of the functionality that Word has to offer. Hopefully the ribbon will bring many of these "once hidden" features to the forefront, empowering our students in greater ways.

The Horizon Project

I was recently invited to participate as an "expert reviewer" for the Horizon Project. For those of you unfamiliar with the project, I must preface a description with two words: very impressive. From the project's wiki website itself:

The Horizon Project is the follow up project to the Flat Classroom Project conducted in December 2006. The practices from the first project have been refined and the number of classrooms have been expanded to five to increase the geographic and cultural diversity. (See the classroom requirements.) This is a joint project between five classes ranging from grades 10-12 at the International School Dhaka, Bangladesh, Westwood Schools in Camilla, Georgia, Presbyterian Ladies College in Melbourne, Australia, the Vienna International School in Vienna, Austria and the Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China to research, discuss, and envision the education and society of the future according to the six trends outlined in the Horizon Report 2007 Edition.
Needless to say, I'm very excited and honored to be a part of the project.

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