Life Skills 101

I got an interesting piece of literature in the mail the other day from my daughter's school. Apparently, they didn't make AYP last year in the area of Language Arts. Consequently, they were kind enough to explain the situation for me.

Of the forty assessments measured by NCLB, [your friendly neighborhood] Junior High made AYP in 39 of the areas. As you can see, one sub-group at [your friendly neighborhood] Junior did not make AYP in the area of Language Arts. Our plan to deal with this issue is two-fold: 1) We will conduct a thorough review of the state core curriculum in Language Arts to insure that major core objectives are being adequately addressed in the classroom, and 2) we will begin implementing practice tests to allow students the opportunity to see the testing format and to gauge their performance throughout the year.
As one familiar with this kind of edu-speak, I thought I'd provide a translation for those of you keeping score at home.

Because of NCLB, the federal government makes us test your kid to the max. Unfortunately, we screwed up and didn't get enough kids to take the Language Arts sub-test. Don't worry, we plan on doing better next year so that 1) you can feel confident that your kid is going to a good school and 2) we can still get that money from the federal government. Experience has shown that the best way to deal with this kind of problem is 1) to admit that we really don't know what is going to be on the test and 2) inform you that one of the critical skills we will be teaching your kid is to fill in the bubble.
You just can't make this stuff up.

Image Source: Flickr user COCOEN daily photos

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I Hope He's Only Scratched The Surface

For the record, Dean Shareski's Interesting Quotes set is fantastic. Here are three of my favorites, each from the set.

Image Sources: Dean Shareski

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No Teacher Left Behind?

As one of the converted, I like this. Really, I do.

Nonetheless, in viewing this video at this stage in my career, I'm left with a number of questions that likely only indicate that I'm getting tired. For example:
  • In spending so much time to create (shallow?) connections with such a wide range of educators on a global level, isn't it possible that one might also neglect local relationships that are equally (if not more) important?
  • What can we do to consistently maintain a healthy perspective?
Shifting gears to a higher plane:
  • Do we really think that all teachers need to be this connected?
  • Can every teacher (human being) handle all of the information? Are they "bad teachers" if they can't?
  • And what about those teachers that take 25 minutes just to create a Gmail account (PEBKAC)? Will it really be worth my time - and theirs - to help them enter the 21st Century? Or are the benefits of such efforts simply not worth the costs?
I guess what I'm really wondering is this:
  • Is it ever OK to simply leave some teachers behind?
I told you I was getting tired.

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A Google Site To Teach About Google Sites

So today I was asked by a middle school principal to teach her faculty members how to use Google Sites. To aid in the process, I decided to create a web site using Google Sites to teach about Google Sites.

If you teach a man about fish are you gonna hand 'em a rock?

While I don't think Google Sites creates the best looking web sites, nor is it the easiest to use (Weebly probably takes the cake there), it's very hard to argue with all the tools Google gives you with one little login.

I mean, global domination aside.

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What I Have To Look Forward To, Fall Edition, 2008


Yeah, I don't really understand this stuff, either, but I'm keeping my head down, gritting my teeth, and trudging forward. I mean really, does it get any better than this?

"Back in my day, we did multiple regression and correlation analysis in grade school. Uphill. Both ways. And we liked it!"

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What's Up

So here's my take on a few things I've seen lately (items all published within the last seven hours). Kind of a hodge-podge of ideas, so sue me.


First, it appears that some schools are simply too crowded:

Naughty Adsense

Moving on, it seems that Vicki Davis is sick of the inappropriate use of Google's Adsense. Here's a classic line from her recent post:

Seems that "seat of the pants" causes Google Adsense to think I'm needing some sort of medicinal improvement to my husbands and my love life! (It scans keywords in your email to determine what ads you want to see.)
I echo her sentiments:
Although I can deal with this, I think of the students I've recommended to use Gmail. I would like Google Adsense to allow people to OPT OUT of adult advertising.

Period. I don't want to see it and I don't want it in my inbox. I don't want it in my 13 year olds inbox nor my 11 year olds inbox. (Of course, you're not supposed to be able to sign up for Google until you're 18, but honestly that is not happening and everyone knows it.)
Widespread Cell Phone Use

To continue, Patrick Higgins' cell phone survey is the kind of survey I would love to see taken on a global level. Intriguingly enough, over 80% of the 6th and 7th graders (ages 11-13) he polled reported owning a cell phone. Such high numbers correspond with the results I received for high school students last year in a similar survey I attempted to conduct.

I wonder now if the increase in number is best explained by the population of students polled or the tremendous increase in cell phone ubiquity over the course of 15 months. Likely both.

Why Teachers Drink

Even though I don't drink, I'd love to meet Jessica Hagy. She's one of those math-types that actually makes sense to me.

And Today's Guest Speaker Is...

It looks like David Jakes has been spending more time in Canada, from the comfortable confines of his school in Chicago (or maybe he was at Ditka's, doesn't matter). Clarence Fisher explains:

Then today, we opened another live collaboration. This time, David Jakes in Chicago skyped into both my classroom in Snow Lake and Lucy Martin's at St. Elisabeth to talk to both our classes at once about digital storytelling. A planned event, David sent us several videos he wanted to use as examples in advance, and when he reached that point in his discussion, we simply held the call and the students in each classroom took several minutes to watch the videos.

David was a master as he talked to the students about weaving together the elements of video, still pictures, audio files (speech) and music files into a coherent whole.
How cool is that? A guest speaker, talking with two different classes at the same time, separated by over 1,400 miles. Apparently, it would take 19 days, 5 hours to walk that distance.

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Share This

If you haven’t noticed, these “Share/Save” buttons are popping up all over the place. Blog posts, news articles, and the like – everyone, everywhere, all must share.


Just between you and me, I don’t really use the things. I figure if I want to save and or share something, I’ll do it myself, thank you. A part of me likes the old-fashioned feeling of creating my own Tinyurls and another part thinks that hey: they can phish my login info using links in email, what makes this any different?

On a day when I didn't mind living on the edge, I decided to dive into one of these buttons a little further. You know… see what I was missing.

You want me to pick a service?  Holy crap.

Share this...

And I thought the paper or plastic decision was difficult.

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P.S. If you've found this post to be useful, please don't hesitate to:


Disrupting Class, Today

The ideas shared by Christensen, Horn, and Johnson in their recent book entitled Disrupting Class (2008) are provocative, to say the least. In their attempt to describe the future of education, they address many current educational issues and needs with seemingly plausible solutions and a theory just complex enough to nearly seal the deal. In the end, however, the aggressive predictions they posit have left me in doubt but with hopes of a future so well-defined.

Here's the projection that has me squirming the most:

The result of these four factors – technological improvements that make learning more engaging; research advances that enable the design of student-centric software appropriate to each type of learner; the looming teacher shortage; and inexorable cost pressures – is that 10 years from the publication of this book [2018], computer-based, student-centric learning will account for 50 percent of the "seat miles" in U.S. secondary schools. Given the current trajectory of substitution, about 80 percent of courses taken in 2024 will have been taught online in a student-centric way. Given how long some have been in the trenches of school reform, this will be quite a breathtaking "flip". (p. 102)
Now, I realize that this is likely a non-issue for higher education - because many colleges and universities are probably already seeing numbers similar to these. But K-12? An entirely different picture. In crunching the numbers for the just high schools in my district alone, I'm in complete agreement with the final sentence I've quoted above: This would be quite a breathtaking flip, indeed. While my large, urban district may not be representative of every institution out there, it can hopefully demonstrate a helpful perspective on exactly what they are proposing.

Do you understand that this kind of change would consequently require that the number of student computers we currently have in our district's schools would need to more than DOUBLE in the next TEN years and more than TRIPLE in the next SIXTEEN?

Ugh (we can't even maintain the computers we have now)!

Sure, life will be different when today's kindergarten students graduate from college, but will it really be that different? And will change really come that quickly?

Schools simply don't change over night.

Nevertheless, in allowing this topic to ruminate for several weeks now, I'm learning that perhaps the only things that really need to change in our schools are mindsets and policies. If schools were to encourage (or even require?) students to bring their "little Internet machines" to class, there's absolutely no reason we couldn't be Disrupting Class today!


If so, then I see computers playing a huge role. I also see mobile, hand-held technologies as one of the easiest ways to achieve the kind of computing (connectivity?) that Christensen, et al. predict will sweep across our schools. Other options for such wide-spread computing simply aren't as feasible.

Even in thinking different, however, I guess we still have a long, long way to go.

  • Christensen, C. M., Johnson, C., & Horn, M. (2008). Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Image Source: Flickr user 1541

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Controlling Mobile Phone Use in Schools

So it looks like the majority of schools out there really don't care to allow mobile phones in the classroom (aka those pesky "little internet machines" - hat tip to Mr. Higgins). As of this writing, roughly 90% of respondents claim that their school actually bans the use of mobile phones in the classroom, regardless of teacher preferences.

Sure, they're cool. Sure, they're engaging (surprise). But the truth is that even we adults honestly don't know how to control the use of mobile phones. We're as bad as the kids when it comes to not understanding (or not being willing to comply within) the limits of appropriate and non-appropriate use. This truth hit home the other day when I snapped this picture while waiting to place my order at a McDonald's drive-thru window.

(Taken, of course, with the camera in my cellphone)

Sheesh. Not even Ronald McDonald wants me to multitask. Do you think we have a problem here? Unbelievable.

The real issue for me, nevertheless, lies in the fact that we are the teachers. We ARE the teachers. Aren't we?
  • Are we not the ones that were hired because of our abilities to manage a room full of kids?
  • Are we really not capable of figuring out how to monitor and guide our students in their educational use of mobile phones?
  • Do we not have the responsibility to teach proper etiquette in using these new technologies?
  • Is banning really the only way to manage this issue or is it really just the easy way out?

Onward and Upward

On a positive note and in a positive direction, Liz Kolb has been blazing the trail when it comes to using mobile phones to teach and to learn. In a recent Twitter conversation, she shared the rules that she uses to govern her students' in-class mobile phone use. Ironically, these rules were created by the students themselves (again, if we can't beat 'em, why don't we join 'em?):
  1. Phone ringers must be set to vibrate at all times.
  2. Phones are placed at the front of the room, away from all students, when they are not in use as a class.
  3. All media/messages must be course related.
  4. All media published about/of others must be approved by them.
  5. All messages can be accessed at any time (through cellphone companies - no message/media is private)!
In order to monitor her students' progress and behavior, Mrs. Kolb says that she simply uses web sites that back up messages and media (Flickr mobile, Utterz, Gcast, and Jott all have this capability). She then uses these sites in the classroom, live, as the assignments are happening. By watching the media come in (and by noticing when the media is sent), a teacher can then tell which students are on task and which ones are not.

Bravo, Liz, and hanks for your shining example!

Now excuse me a minute while I go take this call.

Image Source: Flickr users RSEanes and yewenyi

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Friendipedia Wikifeed

Here's an interesting twist to the ever-evolving saga some call "following our friends." Two months ago, Christopher Blizzard launched a site called whoisi. The premise of the site is easy:

  • Take a little Friendfeed.
  • Add in a twist of wiki.
  • And you've got yourself some whoisi.
No accounts required.

So after I played with this for a while (why not tie the feed for David Warlick to an entry called Gary Stager?), I decided that I'm tired of "following" my "friends" this way.

Sheesh. Sometimes I miss the good ol' days.

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Poll: School Mobile Phone Policies

Just wonderin'.

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I've seen signs like this on classroom doorways across the state and wonder when we'll ever get a clue. In my experiences as a teacher, engaging the students can be one of the most difficult aspects to teaching. With that in mind, why would we ever want to ban a tool that - when used properly - can instantly connect a teacher with their students?

Unless, of course, there are policies in place (AA419, II A 7) directing one's behavior. So much for teacher autonomy.

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YouTube, Teaching, and Learning

I finally watched Mike Wesch's presentation to the Library of Congress that he's entitled "An anthropological introduction to YouTube." An absolutely incredible presentation, this is the kind of keynote that could get a guy nominated to speak at TED.

One of the most staggering messages of the presentation is given in the first two minutes.
In 1948, ABC started broadcasting - and they became the third network to do so... so they were the third major network... Those three networks, if they had been broadcasting every day, for every hour of the day, for [the last] sixty years, it would be over 1.5 million hours of programming. Which is a lot, but YouTube produced more in the last six months. And they did it without producers, they did with just people like you and me, anybody that's ever uploaded anything to YouTube.

Another interesting topic addressed by Dr. Wesch was the idea that in creating YouTube videos, people are basically alone while potentially talking to millions. This kind of "interaction" can't be healthy.

Or can it?

Teachers, alone or otherwise, too often focus solely upon the teaching that they do. Nevertheless, I wonder if this kind of YouTube-video-creation practice wouldn’t help them to think more about the learning that may or may not be taking place in their classrooms. On YouTube, even though the person creating a video is likely alone in their production, speaking to a camera, they are often forced to think about what the viewer sees as a result of their production. They think about the viewing experience before and during production.

Teachers should be no different.

Successful teachers not only think about the teaching that occurs in their classrooms but the learning, as well. Questions encompassing that which the students hear, see, feel, and experience - during instruction - are consistently addressed.

I think that teachers need to think more about what their students are learning, in addition to what is being taught. Can creating YouTube videos actually encourage the practice?

Nyeah. Maybe, maybe not.

Image Source: Jennifer Jones

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