Google Docs on Campus

I ran a few Google Docs workshops this week to help some teachers and administrators get a better handle on how, when, and why to use Google Docs.  They seem to go well (even though some arrived asking “will I need my laptop for this workshop?”).  Overall, there are a lot more people (faculty, staff, and students) using Google Docs these days.  It’s great – students are “losing” fewer papers; faculty and staff are doing more collaboration online; faculty are sending out more Google Forms to collect information from the community.

This entertaining video came across Twitter yesterday – made entirely in Google Docs.  It’s pretty impressive and a nice response to those who say the Google Docs is not a robust enough editor.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth the 1:30 minutes:

More Distracted or Just Different?

I read Sunday’s New York Times article “Grown Up Digital, Wired for Distraction” by Matt Richtel and I had a reaction similar to other EdTech folks around my PLN.  As I read it, I thought of all the parents reading it and getting over-excited about their children’s technology use.  In the article (read it, if you haven’t already), the author tells the story of a high school senior that cannot finish his summer reading because he would rather spend time on his computer making and editing his own films and conversing with his friends.  The author goes on to present a dilemma: are we raising a generation that is unable to concentrate because of these distractions (cell phones, video games, computers)?  Are the brains of these students different?  Should schools embrace technology or become a haven without technology?

I do believe there are kids who spend too much time in front of a screen, but I don’t blame the technology, I blame parents and educators.  Students are growing up in a vastly different world than we did.  Notice I used the word “different” not better or worse, just different. Today kids are drawn into these devices for several reasons – they are social tools and our brains crave social learning; they provide instant feedback which is so satisfying; and there is always something new out there (continually changing screens, software updates, etc).  Our brains, especially young growing brains, crave all of these things.  And our brains also crave exercise, art, and social interactions.  We all need to balance all of these activities in our daily life.  Adults need to model and teach students when and where to use or not use technology; help them determine how long is too long on the computer or cell phone; and how to put the distractions away and get to work.  Adults are just as guilty: some parents answer cell phones or text at the dinner table or in the car.  I don’t blame it on the cell phone, I blame it on the adult.

The answer, of course, is not to turn off all of the technology in schools.  We need to create schools that use technology as the powerful learning tool that it is when used correctly.  We need to model appropriate use.  We need schools that use technology to prepare our kids for the future.  I like Cathy Davidson’s response to the article, “Why doesn’t anyone pay attention anymore“, in which she says:

Our attention is shaped by all we do, and reshaped by all we do.  That is what learning is. The best we can do as educators is find ways to improve our institutions of learning to help our kids be prepared for their future–not for our past.


The problem is not in the students. It is in the mismatch between the way they are being taught and what they need to learn.

I like a lot of what Cathy Davidson says in her post probably because I have been reading her recent contributions in The Future of Thinking (a MacArthur Foundation report) that does a nice job framing a lot of what technology people have been talking about for years about the power of technology in the classroom.

Both of these posts (as well as other response posts) will be good framework to engage parents in a discussion about technology use at home and at school.  I think it is beyond time that school communities talk about the responsibility that comes with giving students these tools and it should be shared by both the school, the teachers, and the parents.

Photo: school zone by sevenbirches

Professional Development When You Want It

Time, time, time. That is the word that comes up most often when talking about how to bring more technology professional development to teachers. During the school year, teachers just don’t have enough time to learn about new technology, get comfortable with it, and figure out if it fits into their curriculum. And we, as schools, are not good about making enough time for it.  Educators therefore have to make their own time and fit in their learning where they can.

The K12 Online Conference is a nice way to get professional development when and where you want it.  I just loaded up my iPhone with 10 podcasts downloaded from the K12 Online site on iTunesU.  The K12 Online Conference is a collection of podcasts given by educators and, this year, students from around the world.  Each podcast is a presentation on teaching and tools and how they help improve learning.  This year’s conference, that went live during the last two weeks of October, had two themes – “Leading the Change” and, for the second week, “Kicking it up a Notch”.  Among the podcast presenters are well known names like Dean Shareski, David Warlick, and Darren Kuropotwa as well as students like Ben & Ben from Yarmouth High School who talk about their own podcast show, and middle school student, Nicolas Gutkowski, who talks about “Learning on my Own”.

No matter what level or subject you teach, you can find a podcast that will fit your needs at the K12 Online Conference. I have just started to listen to these presentations and there are many good ones to choose from.  I enjoy that I can access them when I am at work or as I make my commute home.  This is just one way that you can make professional development fit into your busy life.  Check out the offerings from the K12 Online Conference; they are most easily accessible on the Schedule page or from iTunesU.

More to Share

I have some more things to share as leftovers from my “tab clean up”.  This one is a great video of a homemade science project.  Now this is project-based learning at it best. Now, can we work something like this into our classrooms?  Think of the questions that can be asked, the hypotheses that can be stated, the stories that can be written, and the calculations that could be run?  Wow.

Playing Catch Up

I have been a bit behind the eight-ball since the start of school. There is no way around it – there is lots to do between troubleshooting network troubles (or in our case dealing with a network outage), databases to update, getting teachers ready to print grades and comments, the list is endless. But as I was finding myself with a little time in between projects, I began to clean up my browser window. I am one of those users who has a gillion different tabs open with the hope of going back to read each of the websites that I was referred to by Twitter, or listsservs, or Facebook, or email. In my little bit of time I began going through those tabs and bookmarking the sites, or reading and deleting the sites, to get my browser down to a neat and tidy 10 open tabs.

I came across a few that I didn’t know what to do with. I wanted to share them, but I didn’t feel the need to book mark them, so I thought I’d share them here, on my blog, which has been woefully under used lately.

The first site is this – Ten Things Teachers Should Unlearn – this is a post that I came across right at the end of summer and I thought a good reminder of assumptions that many teachers come to class with:

10 things I think teachers should unlearn…

1. Teachers know all the answers.

2. Teachers have to be in control of the class.

3. Teachers are responsible for the learning.

4.  Students are obliged to respect teachers.

5.  Learning can be measured by a letter or a number.

6.  Teachers should plan activities and then assessments.

7. Learners need to sit quietly and listen.

8. Technology integration is optional.

9.  Worksheets support learning.

10.  Homework is an essential part of learning.

I think most teachers know these things, but I think that when school becomes crazy and busy we often forget the fundamentals and we rely on old habits and may resort back to some of these things.  It’s an important list to keep in mind (or maybe inside your gradebook, if you still have one).


I Went to TED (xNYED)

Last weekend I made a trip to NYC (with fellow Mainer, Alice Barr) to attend the TEDxNYED conference.  When I signed up (or should I say “applied” – I have never had to “apply” to a conference before) to this conference, I wasn’t sure what kind of conference it would be.  As the date got closer, the speakers were chosen and there became a lot of twitter energy around “TEDxNYED”.  I, too, got excited to listen to these speakers – most of which I have never heard in person – and I was very interested in what they had to say as I have followed their words in the digital world.

I was not disappointed.  The speakers were terrific.  When I first looked at the schedule I wasn’t sure if I could handle the format – each speaker presenting for 18 minutes, one after another, with several breaks in between.  But I have to say, it worked.  The organizers of this event did a great job with the conference – from the schedule, to the food, to the number of attendees, and of course, to the live video feed which I heard was flawless. (The recorded video of these talks will be posted in a few weeks).  It was also the first conference in a long time when I didn’t pull out my laptop.  Sure, I was checking Twitter, etc on my iphone from time to time, but for most of the day I scribbled notes with the pen and paper they gave me when I registered that morning.

In reading some of the redux of the conference these last few days I am disappointed in some of the quibbling going on.  Some people had a problem with the conference format – that it was against what we are all striving for in the classroom (lecture) and that there was little time for conversation.  Yes, I agree to some extent but I thought it worked because we all connected with the speakers and were engaged with the content. (And who doesn’t liked to hear passionate speakers like Lawrence Lessig, David Willey, and Jeff Jarvis).  For me, it was reaffirming to hear these messages at this time of year.  Yes, they were preaching to the choir but sometimes I need that continued inspiration to remind me why I am pushing for change.  Each speaker had a different message (and maybe slightly different solutions) but to me the theme was the same – we need to push education forward, out of the 19th century where it has been stuck since the industrial age.

Here are some takeaways from the day (there were so many great one-liners, I could start a bumper sticker enterprise):

Andy Carvin (NPR) started off the day with the right tone.  He spoke to the increased ability for people to organize and rally behind a cause/disaster.  He showed the “power of participation” in the newly developed “Crisis Camps” that emerged out of the Boxing Day Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina and more recently the development of from the earthquake in Haiti.  All fantastic resources.

Michael Wesch sent a great message (one I plan to share with some Administrators) that people cannot “opt out” of the changes brought about by technology.  He told a wonderful story about living in a remote village in New Guinea and how that village (its culture, the relationships, and its people) was transformed by the development of the census – houses/huts were knocked down and reconstructed in rows to correspond to “numbering” and people were forced to have a “fixed” names.  After setting this stage, Wesch moved on to talk about how this translates in his classroom through several projects: a documentary, where each student is responsible for a small part of it and instead of a syllabus, the students are involved in creating and constantly revising a “research schedule”; in another project,he has students working on a world simulations game where each student is responsible for becoming an “expert” in a region of the world, then they are responsible for coming up with the “rules” of interaction between these countries and cultures.  Wesch described teachers roles as helping students move from becoming “knowledgeable to knowledge-able“.

David Willey (of BYU) gave a rousing call for “openness”.  He said openness and sharing is a must in education and the best educators are the ones who share the most successfully with students.  Right now, we have very powerful technology (technology that makes it extremely easy to share) but we have very outdated thinking.  He stated, “(if there is) no sharing, then there is no education”. His notes on his talk can be found here.

Lawrence Lessig hit the stage with a call to enable sharing in a way for people to have a “freedom to create while still maintaining a respect for the creator”.  I can’t possible do respect to his presentation by paraphrasing so visit his presentation here.

I enjoyed listening to Jay Rosen’s message from journalism that we “learn best by doing something that is difficult and that knowledge comes out of difficult problems”.

Jeff Jarvis took the stage by storm sans projection/presentation and (after berating the format of the conference) called for us to “move students up the education chain”.  Jarvis thinks teachers need to “do what they do best and link to the rest” – we should be using/curating the resources online for our students and turning our schools into incubators rather than factories.  Jarvis shares his notes from his talk here but wait for the video on his session, it’ll be worth it.

After lunch there were some great sessions on “practice” by Dan Cohen, Dan Meyer, Amy Bruckman, and Chris Lehmann.  All great messages especially Dan Meyer who encouraged the teaching of “patient problem solving” and he summed up his remarks with five suggestions – use multimedia, encourage student intuition, ask short questions, let students build the problem, and be less helpful. I think everyone left wishing they had Dan as a math teacher.  Chris Lehmann presented a passionate plea for change.  In it he expanded (in a way only Lehmann can) on Alvin Toffler’s statement,  “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn”.  What better way to end the conference?

What now? Well, I have returned to work as usual with no magic bullet for change but I have been recharged with words, wisdom, and connections from this weekend.  I will continue to make baby steps toward change, engage in conversations, and keep pushing that rock up the hill!

Book Reports

As a result of attending a few conferences and the listening to the buzz around the NAIS Conference, I’ve added a number of book titles to my reading list lately (I’m not sure how many I will get to).  Some of the titles I’m considering are: A Force More Powerful: A Century of Non-Violent Conflict, Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology, and Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.  I was doing a little research on them yesterday and I stumbled upon a post in a blog by Michael Stephens (Tame the Web), a professor in Illinois.  Michael posted book report projects in this post – they are videos, podcasts, Animoto book reports on current titles.  They are great – I haven’t had a chance to see and listen to all of them.  But if you have time, check them out.  Here’s one on John Palfrey’s book, Born Digital:

Following NAIS

I was unable to attend the NAIS Conference last week but I was able to follow much of the conversation thanks to Chris Bigenho.  Chris set up a blog, Twitter, and Diigo accounts to help us follow the action in San Francisco.  In the NAIS Conference blog, Chris did a fantastic job summarizes blog posts and twitter posts every day.  He was supported by many conference bloggers and tweeters – the coverage was great!  Thanks to Jason Ramsden, Demetri Orlando, Jamie Baker, Jonathan Martin, Jenni Vorhees, Peter Gow, and the vast many other bloggers of whose pages I have open in a tab on my browser but haven’t had the time to read yet.

One post I really appreciated was this one on Michael Thompson’s session on teaching boys by Jamie Baker (new to me in the blogger/twitter world).  Jamie did a great job summing up the session.  I’ve heard Michael speak before but I really enjoyed being reminded of his message (especially because I have to young boys at home).  I liked what Michael Thompson had to say about homework – it should be short, meaningful, and, if possible, online so they can get immediate feedback.  Homework should not be for show.  He also said that school work should be authentic and connected to the real world.  Boys are not “future-oriented”.  This is so true in my family – my boys are truly about the “here and now” and not motivated by the more abstract.  Boys are also great “strategic learners” – they are motivated by getting a decent grade in the shortest amount of time.

I also appreciated what Michael Thompson had to say about video games and technology.  Boys like technology because it empowers them.  And I think it satisfies them with immediate feedback. We need to understand this appeal and use it in our classrooms.  I think Michael Thompson’s message is an important one to be reminded of from time to time.  Classrooms need to be differentiated, not only to learning style, but also to gender. I will also keep these points in mind when I am at home at the dinner table wondering why my 4 year old needs to get up and do a little dance between bites.

I encourage you to visit Jamie’s site and read her whole post as well as her other NAIS reflections.  I am eager to continue reading more on the happenings at NAIS and will share my favorites here.

Is it Multitasking or Filtering?

There has been a lot of talk about multitasking in the past year.  Students (and some adults) think they can do it and parents and teachers say there is no way.  Brain scientists have study this as well with varying results.  Where does that leave us?  I don’t think there is any concrete answer to this – can we multitask?  Well sure, we do it everyday when we drive our car – we drive forward at the same time as we check our rear view mirror, shift gears, and then talk to our children in the back seat.  Certain tasks, however, distract us from our main task – if you are talking, I’m a much better listener when I’m not updating and checking my Facebook status.

I have followed Howard Rheingold and I like what he has to say on the subject especially in this post:

We are in charge of which information we pay attention to, but if we don’t actively construct, tune, and manage our own information filters, the raw flow of info, misinfo, and disinfo around us will take charge. It’s up to each consumer of information to make personal decisions about what to pay attention to and what to ignore. That decision-making is a mental process that all humans have always deployed in the world, but the world that we evolved in through pre-digital eons has been hyper-accelerated recently through our use of the media we’ve created.

I also enjoyed reading Henry Jenkins post after the release of PBS Frontline, Digital Nation, where he takes issue with the statements made about multitasking:

The film makes the point that they are often multitasking in the classroom and that they believe they are better at multitasking than current lab research suggests. I certainly encountered situations where most of the students had a lap top open in my class. In some cases, they were performing quite mundane tasks, such as compiling code, which required very little of their attention and would be mind-numbing if performed with their full attention. They are multitasking in the same way that a faculty colleague would knit during faculty meetings: the actions were routinized, most of the time they didn’t require much thought, but they absorbed a certain amount of nervous energy.

I highly recommend reading that post, he makes some great observations about tasks and how they are not all “created equal”.  I think we cannot just push multitasking aside and say it cannot be done.  I think we do it all the time.  I DO think we need to teach students the skills of filter their attention – knowing when and what they need to pay attention to. The world and learning is just going to get messier.

Now, I need to finish this post so I can answer my phone, post to twitter, and turn up my music!

Photo credit: Secret Blue

Sharing PD

This morning I had an email in my listserv asking about how teachers share their professional development opportunities once they get back to campus.  This is something our school struggles with and we don’t typically do much more than a quick share in a faculty meeting.  So in an effort to share my recent professional development (at EduCon) as well as my quest to get back to my blog, I have decided to sum up my notes and thoughts from EduCon in this blog post.

This was my 3rd EduCon and it felt big this year.  The panels and opening sessions were packed and I didn’t get a chance to meet up with many as many people from my PLN as I would have liked to  (or thought I would).  Unfortunately, I also attended this EduCon without anyone else from school.  I try to bring someone with me every year in order to share this experience but it didn’t work out this year.  So I will have to work extra hard to share my experience.

First of all I made a special effort to get to more SLA-led sessions (something I didn’t do last year).  Chris Lehmann has done a tremendous job with SLA and it shows in the teachers and the students who were everywhere and doing everything during the weekend – it’s inspiring.  In each classroom you can find these hanging on the walls – SLA’s “Rules”: Respect Yourself, Respect Community, Respect SLA as a Place for Learning; and SLA Core Values: Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation, and Reflection.  In each class a student takes, these two things are there, in their face, as a reminder of goals.  SLA also has a standard rubric in place for grading projects, big and small.  I think this consistency is great for all students.

The first session I attended was one led by SLA math teachers.  I should say that it is so hard to pick one session to go to because there are always 2 or 3 others that sound great so I am hoping to spend some time watch the archived footage. This session was titled: Projects in the Math Classroom: Learning Through Doing.  The SLA teachers did and outstanding job of sharing a sample of how they conduct their classes which are largely project based.  Most of the people taking part in the session (me included) were trying to get a handle on how much of the class time was student-project learning and how much was teacher teaching content.  At SLA they use UbD approach so each lesson begins with guiding questions which they give to the students at the beginning of the lesson so they have them in mind as the “goal”. The give homework and quizzes as well as smaller projects throughout the term.  The projects are given before the material is covered so the students can begin to make connections to the project early.  The SLA teachers also shared some other nuts-n-bolts about their department in general – they meet as a department once a week and they also meet in teaching pairs; there classes meet for 65 minutes 4x week; they usually schedule 4 benchmark projects each year with another 4 smaller projects; sometimes they run into scheduling troubles when more that one department schedules major projects at the same time.  I heard several words repeated over and over again which seem to be key in the success of this school:  meetings, feedback, and collaboration.  The department posted several sample projects from each class here – worth taking a look.

After lunch, I attended a session given by David Bill and Basil Kolani of The Dwight School, High Noon.  David and Basil talked about their experience of launching an online class at their school.  It seemed to be a mix of struggles and success but it was great to hear them talk about it and I think it was probably good for them to talk out loud about it.  They had trouble with buy in from school and from some parents who were worried about exposing their children to these tools. right now, it seems like the school still views this course as an experiment (unfortunately) but I’m sure by the time David and Basil are finished it will be more widely embraced. We also got to hear from some of their students about the experience through the eluminate chat room.

On Sunday I attended a session given by the members of the SLA science department. They did a nice job modeling good teaching in this session – we did a lot of small group discussion, whiteboard work in pairs, and reporting out.  It was great way to get us all talking and we were able to share with other science teachers our experiences, our dreams, and our immediate plans.

The weekend at SLA and EduCon was terrific.  It comes at a great time in the year to get me recharged.  I also come home with a lot in my head and I hope that I can manage to apply some of what I’ve learned here at school.

Photo Credit: