Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What teaching methods motivate students to enjoy learning?

As most of my Tuesday's go, I helped to facilitate the #edchat that takes place on Twitter from 7-8pm. We were joined by teachers, administrators, parents and, for the first time, students. Our topic this week; What teaching methods motivate students to enjoy learning? It was a fascinating discussion. Here is what some participants had to say:

  • I feel that teachers need more training in being "facilitators." Students need choices and need to feel that they are part of the learning process. Teachers need more training in how to use Web 2.0 tools. Their training should consist of a lot of modeling by classroom teachers who actually use the tools. Administrators also need to see the benefits of using the latest technology in the learning process.
  • Real world experiences, cooperative learning, changing the environment, facilitation, integrating tech, and allowing students to have choices regarding what topics they want to explore and how they would like to present the material.
  • Students are motivated by the excitement of teachers and other students. Giving students choices and input in their learning will also help motivate them. We need to concentrate on encouraging other teachers to motivate students and update their teaching practices.
  • Methods that bring relevancy to the material are what motivates students to enjoy learning. I saw several post about teachers needing to makes changes within themselves first and I agree with that 100%. What worked 30 years ago does not work now and that applies to any teacher that is reluctant to bring forth new innovations and discoveries in their classroom.
  • Students need to know what meaning there is in the learning. Students can understand the steps/the process, but if there is no application to their lives, what motive is there for remembering?
  • I was interested in the emphasis on real world application and student choice. There wasn't a lot of disagreement. However I started thinking, what does "real world" mean? Bills, taxes, 9-5, chores. Is this what we mean by "real-world" in education? I think we mean some kind of ideal world where people pursue their interests regardless of the constraints of authority. If we mean that we can prove that some one, some where uses the topics we teach, that is different (and probably not motivating).
  • I think it all goes down to how well the teacher interacts with the class and then introducing them to technology that supports their learning. I try and use lots of simple applications that the students can master -especially in terms of collaborating eg online whiteboards/Google docs etc.

As is true with most of our chats, several themes kept coming up over and over again. In order to motivate students, we as educators must be motivated ourselves. Students pick up on passion. They know when you walk in your classroom and you are not excited about the subject or topic you will be teaching and will not be motivated themselves. Why would they? However, if you walk in everyday, excited to be there, show enthusiasm for what you are teaching it will ultimately translate to your students. You have passion for what you do, now show your students.

Showing students your passion goes right along with another theme that came up over and over. Students need know who is teaching them and teachers need to get to know their students. Do you need to know everything? No (and there are just somethings we don't need to know!) But you need to know the types of students you are teaching. You need to understand where you students come from. If students feel like you have made a connection with them they will want to work for you.

Real world experiences are really the way to get your students excited about learning. Relevancy. You have to provide connections to what students are learning in your class to what students are doing or will do. For some subjects, that's easy. For others, like Mathematics (especially upper-level mathematics) it is hard for student to translate what they learn to why they need to learn it. Having more student-centered, problem-based, real-world activities are, I believe the key to motivation in the classroom.

So, what do you think? What is the key to motivation? Do you have any tips or tricks to share. What have you done that has work or not worked. Is it even the job of the teacher to motivate students? Should students be motivated to learn because it's the "right thing to do?"

Photo Credit-
1) "Hold out your hand, Monsignor!" (Photo provided by

Monday, September 28, 2009

What My PLN Means To Me

This video was created in response to a challenge made by Joyce Seitzinger (@catspyjamasnz) to introduce the concepts of a Professional Learning Network to a wide audience. You can visit her post to learn more and to see the other videos created. And I encourage you to make your own. What does your PLN mean to you?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Why Go It Alone?

Yesterday, as I was relaxing and catching up on some Tweets, when one entered my stream and really "spoke to me."

Glenn's statement struck me on so many levels. I thought back to my most early days of teaching. I was fresh out of one of the best teaching schools in the southeast, Western Carolina University. I was full of new ideas and techniques that I was ready to try out in my classroom. But I was also primed to learn from those who had been in the profession for much longer than I. I thought to myself, these teachers have so much to offer me and I have so much to offer them. We can work together, all for the kids. The first month of teaching was a wake up call. Many teachers, once the bell rang, closed their doors, never to emerge until the bell rang again to change classes. When I tried to reach out for advice or ideas I was quickly turned away. But for what reason? I was seen as the "rookie." What could I possibly know? I hadn't paid my dues yet.

Teaching is not an "island" profession. All of us; those that have been in 30 years and those that have been in 30 days, all have unique skills to offer each other. Remember, sharing is caring....ok...that was cheesy but you get the point.

Many do not see the value in Social Networking sites like Twitter, Ning, LinkedIn, Facebook, and others. I place most of the blame on popular media. In the US we have a fascination with celebrities. So when one is in competition with another to get to 1 million followers on Twitter, the value of the tool is somehow lost in the message. Most of the stories that show how useful these tools are stay within the education circles and never make it to the mainstream.

I have said before that schools and districts need to embrace the tools that students are going home and using. Yet many districts, again, only see the negatives. So instead of saying, these are the tools students are going to use and educate parents as to their use, we simply block their use, never to see the light of day classrooms across the country.

The ones that can push for use of these tools in the classroom, with the students who need to use them, are the ones on the front line. Teachers. If teachers can embrace these tools and use them, they can understand why our students need to use them to learn.

How do we do this? Simple. A PLN? What is a PLN you ask? A Professional Learning Network. In the days before social networking a PLN may have been built around who you taught with in your school and district. You may have even reached out to those you met at meetings and conferences. With the advent of email we had the listserv (which still survives today) that allow you to connect with others via a daily digest of messages. Now we have the "Real-Time" web where we are instantly connected. Let's, as Educators, use that to our advantage and learn from each other!

If you want to use social networking tools to grow and build your PLN, great! If you don't want to use Twitter, don't. If you don't want to use Facebook, you don't have to. Nings not your thing? Fine. You don't have to use the computer or any technology at all. Building and growing your PLN can be as simple as opening up the door to your classroom and sharing what you do with your kids with your staff. If you are an administrator or school leader, set up a time during your faculty meeting to highlight some amazing teaching you have seen. Encourage teachers to share with each other. Most importantly, give them the time to share. If you have to get subs so all the English teachers or 5th grade or PE teachers have to be out, do it!

Remember, teaching is not about isolation. We leave our homes everyday, and head to school, prepare lessons, do paperwork, serve as teacher, counselor, psychologist, referee, and sometimes waiter/waitress all for what? Test scores? Curriculum? Technology? Glory? If you are teaching for those reasons it might be time to consider another profession.

We do it for the kids. Plain and simple...

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tutoring On You Tube

The Khan Academy has one mission: To provide high quality education to anyone, anywhere. Through the use of technology, The Khan Academy hopes to foster new ways of learning.

For their first endeavor they recently posted to You Tube, over 800 tutorial videos that cover topics from Physics, Calculus, Chemistry, Finance, the Bailout and others. You can view the entire list at their website. They also have a You Tube Channel that you can subscribe to.

While most videos are helpful or high school or college prep students, there is a great collection of Brain Teaser videos. Below is one of my favorites.

So head on over to the Khan Academy site or their You Tube Channel and learn something new today!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Role Should Social Media Play In Education?

Over the past few weeks I have discussed how to begin using Social Media in your school or district, I have talked about Social Media Policies and I regularly share tips and tools on how to get the most out of Social Media applications. Last night was #edchat night. Our topic centered around what role Social Media should play in education. This stemmed from our desire to be a part of the 140 Conference (which I am happy to report, we are going to be a part of. Our panel was accepted and we will be appearing on Day 2.).

As always, the discussion was amazing. We were joined by, of course, teachers, but we also had several administrators, technology trainers, a superintendent, a member of a school board and parents. Here are just some of what people thought:
  • Social media offers students a way to collaborate on global teams to problem solve on global issues. In schools, students can learn digital citizenship, how to communicate on ICTs, how to work on teams that are located in various areas, and learn to communicate effectively with others of various backgrounds, cultures, and genders. All career fields require effective communication and collaboration with co-workers and most on smart phones and social forums. We must prepare students for a globalized world!
  • Social Media is a motivating tool to foster students' participation in the learning process. Teachers should plan lessons very careful so as to create really interactive environments.
  • Students need to be exposed to the various tools to aid in the educational process, whether they be traditional or cutting edge. They should be taught the strengths and weaknesses of these tools, and have the opportunity to use them. Students need to learn that they can gather information from many sources: print resources, online resources, experts in person and online, and fellow classmates. Group collaboration can sometimes be the strongest tool. One of the greatest developments is the extension of the classroom from 8 to 3 to all hours. Students can do work when it is convenient, and ask classmates and teachers for help when away from school. The boundaries have widened, and that is a good thing.
  • Social Media can help teachers develop better teaching practices.
  • Unfortunately, my district bans many SM tools for fear of educators wasting their day at work. Then, the district advocates for collaboration and learning communities. I believe the district does not see how Social Media is a powerful tool to develop more specific Professional Learning Communities and need some help understanding how it can help as opposed to waste time during the school day.
  • Social Media provides a dynamic avanue to connect our students with us, their peers, experts, knowledge, and experiences. SM enhances instruction and has the ability to allow students to create their own Personal Learning Networks. As always in education, it is our (schools) role to effectively enable the students with the skills necssary to take full advantage of the tools.
  • Learning is a social activity- as educators, we need to understand this very basic truth. The more we embrace it, the more successful we'll be in educating our students. Unfortunately, education has historically focused on disconnecting learners from social interaction. The move to genuine collaboration and cooperation is a slow process for many, as they reach beyond their comfort levels.
  • How does a country block social media and social media tools when they used them to elect their President?
You can read more comments here, and read the archive here.

For the participants, it was clear; Social Media in Education is here to stay. We have to embrace it and use it to engage our students. Over and over, I kept hearing how students should not be bound by the walls of their classroom. How true is that! Social Media provides amazing opportunities for students to see beyond their town to other places around their country and further, around the world. The pen-pal has been replaced by a Skype pal.

While the discussion center around the need for more use of these Social Media applications in schools there was also a discussion about access. As we have heard in the past, access is an issue. For some, the access issue was simply about hardware. Not enough computers or projectors. For others, the problem was much greater.

All over this country there are Administrators, Superintendents and Boards of Education that see no benefit of the use of these tools. Their minds have been poisoned by the negatives they hear in the press and read in the newspaper. Instead of using opportunities like the Megan Meier situation to teach our students about responsible Internet use or allow our students to harness the power of a collection of learners on Twitter, we simply block these and other similar programs. What does that teach our students?? I have said that and said that and said that. We do nothing but hold our students back when we do not provide access to these tools. And think about it? What are our students doing when they leave our classrooms for the day? They are going home and using the tools to connect with others. Let's, as educators, use that to our advantage! Take down the filters, knock down the walls and teach these kids the way they need to be taught and the way they want to learn!

What do you think? What is the role of Social Media in Education? Does it have place? If so, why? If not, why? What can we do to provide students and teachers better access to these tools? What other thoughts to you have?

Image From Flickr Creative Commons. View The Original Here.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The 140 Conference

Twitter is a powerful platform that has experienced exponential growth in the past 18 months. Most users see that little box that says "What Are You Doing?" yet don't follow directions. Many different groups have harnessed the power of Social Networking and used it to promote their business, generate interest in a cause, connect with members of the community, or to get information out to a specific group of people. I rarely tell what I am doing. Rather, I use the Twitter platform to connect to educators and those with a vested interest in education. I also share resources, interesting articles/blog posts and participate in the weekly #edchat where 100's of educators have dropped by to talk about educational issues and policy.

In the spirit of the emerging platform of Twitter, Jeff Pulver (jeffpluver) created the #140 Conference. From the #140Conf Website:

"At the #140conf events, we look at twitter as a platform and as a language we speak. Over time it will neither be the only platform nor the only language. #140conf is not an event about microblogging or the place where people share twitter “tips and techniques” but rather where we explore the effects of the real-time Internet. The original scope of #140conf was to explore “the effects of twitter on: Celebrity, “The Media”, Advertising and (maybe) Politics.” Over time the scope expanded to look at the effects of twitter on topics ranging from public safety to public diplomacy."

At the conference the audience is treated to over 20 panels and guest per-day, rapid fire style, meaning each presentation only lasts 15-25 minutes. But they are powerful. In the past topics have included the effects of Twitter on Newspapers, Twitters ability to influence music and sports, using Twitter to support the Social Good, and the effects of Twitter on brands. However, there has been one topic that is lacking; The Twitter Effect on Education.

There is an upcoming conference in Los Angeles, Oct 27-28. Aparna Vashisht (Parentella) has proposed a panel, entitled, Twitter in Education: How Twitter Is Changing Education, that she will moderate, that will include myself, Tom Whitby (tomwhitby), Shelly Terrell (ShellTerrell), and others to talk about how we are using Twitter, specifically, #edchat, to engage in discussion about educational issues and policy. (Read more about what #edchat is here and here.) What is so great about #edchat is that we have a wide range of participants. Teachers, School Administrators, School Leaders, College Professors, Superintendents, Members of School Board's of Education, parents, politicians and others have all joined our conversation. In past #edchat's we have talked about a range of topics including, the role of standardized testing in education, internet filtering in schools and what Schools of Education need to do to better prepare Pre-Service teachers. However, our most popular #edchat to date was on the role of Homework in Education where we were joined by special guest, Alfie Kohn, an outspoken advocate of less homework in schools.

The problem is Jeff is still deciding on whether or not this panel needs to be included in the #140 Conference. We need your help! Over the next few days you will see here and in my Twitter stream, blog posts and places for you to comment on why you think Twitter in Education needs to be talked about. Leave your comments everywhere! Show the organizers of the #140 Conference that Education is an important topic that needs to be discussed.

You can start by leaving just a few words below on how you use Twitter in Education. How has it changed your learning or the learning of your students? What do you get out of Twitter? What other thoughts do you have about the impact of Twitter on Education, either in the classroom or as a part of the profession?

Image from the #140 Conference Website.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Preparing Teachers For The Real World...

Last night educators from around the world descended on Twitter to participate in the weekly conversation known as #edchat. This week participants voted to talk about what colleges and universities can do to better prepare Pre-Service Teachers before they begin their careers as educators. Most were in agreement that our current system, while doing the best they can, needs improvements. Here is just a sample of what was said:

  • Schools of education should help pre-service teachers develop plns (Professional Learning Networks) and find ways to have those pre-service teachers observe classrooms as soon as possible in their education.
  • I think teachers need mentors for first year who want to mentor the teacher. I think they should teach effective integration of technology and action research for classroom management, etc.
  • First students must spend time in schools observing a variety of teachers and see how they teach and run their classrooms. Students need to have an excellent background in their subject area, a lot of training in classroom management and lesson planning. Of course, they also need to be skilled in the latest technology that they will hopefully have in their classrooms. Schools of Education should work together with school districts to provide training programs for Cooperating Teachers and mentors.
  • To prepare pre-service teachers: Spend as much time in the classroom as possible. I was in the classroom all four years of my teaching degree...outstanding experience! As much time observing master teachers as possible, in a lot of different grade levels and disciplines (library, tech, classroom, science, etc.) Learn how to write a lesson plan and curriculum that is standard aligned (we did this and had to teach a lesson to fellow teachers...they critiqued with great feedback). How to interact with parents and family of a student. Learn what to do in extreme situations (i.e. if a child is being abused, divorcing families, terminal illness of a family member, etc.) Learn how to integrate tech well. Learn how to write a grant. Learn how to build and sustain a PLN.
  • Pre-service teachers need less time in their college classrooms and more time in real world classrooms. They should be required to do st. teaching in more than one school/ district, so they can get a taste of urban vs suburban or rural and different socioeconomic levels. Schools of Ed need to hire educators who are still involved in real-world K-12 ed, either as teachers, admins, mentors, even volunteers. How can someone effectively prepare students to become successful teachers in today's schools if he/ she is not completely familiar with what today's schools are like? Nothing is static, everything changes. If you retired from the classroom years ago, how do you know what you are preparing your pre-service teachers for?
  • Remind them that they are special, wonderful and valuable people because they won't hear that enough.
You can read the entire archive of the #edchat here.

While several themes kept coming up over and over again there was one that most agreed was crucial; the need for Pre-Service teachers to spend as much time in the classroom as possible. Most agreed that having a firm understanding of theory is important. However, it is just that, theory. It is vital that those wishing to teach and be educators see what other educators do everyday. What I kept hearing was that there are so many varied requirements for observations and student teaching from around the country.

Personally, I was required to to spend almost 300 hours in a several types of classrooms before I was allowed to enter my Education program. After completing several educational foundations courses I spent over 3000 hours in classrooms working with teachers, students, parents, administrators and community members. At the time I wondered if it was all worth the time and effort. But when I got my first teaching job, I was thankful I had so much time spent, not in a college classroom but in real classrooms with real teachers.

My situation is not the norm. I heard everything from 1 day a week for 3 years until graduation to 1 day a week the last semester before graduation. Schools of Education need to do better. Teachers will consistently say that, while their classes in college are valuable, nothing prepares them for the "real-world" of teaching then being in the classroom with students. The more experience, the better off all involved, the teacher, students, parents, administrators, will be.

So what do you think? Do Schools of Education adequately prepare Pre-Service Teachers for the classroom. Is there more they could be doing. If you were a Dean what changes, if any would you make?

Image from Flickr Creative Commons. View the original here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

How Do Teachers Overcome Strict Internet Filtering?

Last night over 90 educators joined the Edchat conversation on Twitter to talk about strict Internet filtering. As I have discussed before, Web 2.0 and Social Media tools have found their way into classrooms and schools around the country. Some schools and districts have embraced the change and relaxed their filtering to allow teachers and students to use tools like Ning, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Google Talk, blogs, wikis, and others. However, there is still evidence that the majority of districts still have very strict Internet filtering, not only for students but teachers as well.

Our conversation began by discussing what types of filtering was in place around the country (and the world). A few teachers/administrators said that their school or district was open to the idea of Social Media and relaxed their filters. But there were others who said that their IT departments would not even listen to the idea of 0pening any Social Media tools. And a small few said blogs were forbidden. (One teacher said their administration interpreted CIPA in such a way that all communications with students had to be outlawed.)

Our conversation evolved into a discussion of what teachers could do to help stubborn administrations and school boards understand the need for relaxed filtering. Let me be clear. No one advocated for no filtering or using tools such as proxies for circumventing the filters. We want more conversations like the one during edchat to take place in districts around the country.

Here are a few summarizing comments from participants:
  • Though filtering is necessary to keep out undesirable content, it should be flexible so that quality educational tools and sites are not blocked.
  • We recently expanded teacher access. Teachers should take responsibility for modeling and monitoring internet use and be vocal about what they need for quality teaching with the internet. Their support of responsible use is the key to expanding access.
  • My district "does not support wikis, blogs, or social networking." Sigh. This is what I was directed when I signed on as an administrator a few years ago. Mind you, this is all due to one teacher, who, two years ago, set up a classroom blog, but did not know how to screen it. The result was a complete bashing of the district, its teachers, and the superintendent. My take: If you give kids no perameters, they are bound to create havoc; they're kids who question authority at every turn. Kids are naturally bred to push and question the boundaries that adults set for them, but if there are no boundaries in place to begin, well...I've seen the result and it has hindered the learning of teachers and students for years to come.
  • I think there need to be more conversations that are open concerning the true benefits for each district. The legal and financial details need to be drawn up prior to meetings so that people aren't operating on assumptions. From there, what's best for kids should be the top priority. If those simple steps are taken, tech can be more usefully integrated into any school with teacher and admin buy-in.
  • Filtering is too strict. Even teachers can't search and find resources necessary to assist students because the filters in the district are so tight...All searching must be done from home. Lift the filters and allow teachers to do what they do best...teach.
  • Filtering has become a real issue - but it is not working. Students know how to get around these if they really want to. My push has been to filter less and get the teachers more active in teaching students how to use technology effectively - filtering is not the answer when it comes to social networking.
  • Five years ago, I thought filtering was the way to protect our students. But now I believe that educating students on ethical behavior shifts the responsibility to the students for their safety, and in the long run, will be better for them.
You can see the entire archive of the chat here.

I think you can see that the theme that keeps coming up over and over again is the need for less restrictive filtering and more education. I could not agree more. Through the use of restrictive filtering we are creating a generation of Internet users who do not how to use the tool responsibly. All they know how to do is use other tools like proxies to get to what they want. Instead we need to start educating our students as to what is responsible Internet behavior and what is not.

My final thought is this, why block? Why not provide students the opportunity to extend learning beyond the school day through commenting on a blog or adding to a wiki? Why not provide students the opportunity to learn beyond the walls of their classroom and talk to other students halfway around the world through Skype? I thought we were trying to educate and prepare 21st Century students? Why are we refusing to use 21st Century tools?

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

I Thought Only Kids Did The Reading...

Web 2.0 and Social Media information is easily available for teachers, administrators and other school leaders. Through blogs (like this one), Twitter, News sites, Wikis, and general websites, it can get a bit overwhelming if you try to sit down and sift through all the fluff to get to the good stuff. Thank goodness for RSS and RSS Readers.

What is RSS you ask?

In a nutshell, Really Simple Service, or RSS allows you to get instant updates when your favorite sites change. For example, this blog has an RSS feed that you can subscribe to. So instead of checking back here hour after hour and day after day, your reader will notify you when I have added a new post. Most sites offer the ability to subscribe, via RSS, so you can keep up.

Not sure if your favorite sites offer RSS? Look for this symbol:

So, now that you understand a little bit about what RSS is now you need a reader. A reader you ask? Yep, you need a place to organize all those feeds in one easy to view location. Kind of like an electronic newspaper, except you get to choose the content. There are several options out there, but one of the best is Google Reader. Here is a great video tutorial on setting up a Google Reader account.

How To Use Google Reader

So, you are armed with your Google Reader and a basic understanding of RSS and how to subscribe to feeds. What else is missing? Ah, feeds! You need some feeds to subscribe to. Check out this post I did on Educational Blogs you need to be reading. There is also a great collection of all types of Educational Blogs, organized by curriculum area and/or subject matter here. And here is another list of Education Blogs.

So, go forth, subscribe away. Remember, it can be overwhelming at times. Learn from me. A few weeks ago my reader hit 1500 entries a day and I had to scale it back some. So, go slow. But do remember, check it each day and learn something new!

Image from Flickr Creative Commons

Thursday, September 3, 2009

What Is The Role Of Standardized Testing In Education?

Fighting through Twitter lag, search problems and downtime, the Tuesday evening edition of edchat pressed on. The topic this week: What is the role of standardized testing in education. With states under constant pressure from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and other mandates to assess student progress, there is a push from some educators to eliminate testing all together, arguing that testing works against students and creates classrooms where all teachers do is "teach to the test." What did participants think? Here are some responses?
  • What I learned tonight is that there is value to having both portfolios and standardized tests. A balanced approach to assessment allows our students to show learning gains in more than one way.
  • Testing has its advantages as well as disadvantages. I am upset that administrators do not allow teachers to be creative and teach what they want. All their efforts have to be for the standardized tests.
  • We need to realize a set of national standards that students should be able to achieve, but we also need to develop teaching methods that allow students to develop curiosity, learn at their own pace and learn info management skills that will follow them throughout life.
  • I believe that our curriculum is being dictated to us by the businesses that create the standardized tests. Think about all the money being made by not only the test creators but the textbook companies that change their books that we have to buy whenever "standards" are changed!! Does this test provide students with any skills that they will be able to transfer to real world situations? We don't even color in bubbles to take our driving test... it's done on computer!! THEN, there's the poor kiddos that aren't good test takers. They see that clock ticking and lock up! Many times these are the "perfectionist" kids that obviously know the material - but shut down in high anxiety situations.
  • Standardized testing in education is not going to go away. However, to teach to the test does a disservice to all students. Teaching student to think critically will prepare them for the test better than expecting them to memorize information that is meaningless to them. Establishing an classroom that promotes project based learning will create an environment for students in which critical thinking skills are emphasized, thus producing students who cannot only think, but will do well on standardized tests.
  • I think standardized testing is a useful and necessary part of assessing student knowledge in the same way that doing a mammogram is key to understanding your health (if you're a woman). Tests that are created for specific purposes and clearly articulated in intent to teachers will not soak up valuable classroom time and can serve as wonderful tools for helping students.
There were a few things that jumped out at me. First, there are those in education, teachers and administrators, that believe testing is, and should continue to be a part of our educational culture. It is a "necessary evil" as one participant noted. I would have to agree. While I am a firm believer standardized test are not the answer to making education better, they are necessary to see how students, schools and districts are growing (or not) over a period of time.

I do believe, as do some others that participated do also, that districts and states rely too much on a singular test to determine student success. We prepare students for 90% of the school year for 5 days that determine how much they have learned. This is where the "teaching to the test" comment comes up over and over. Schools and districts place so much emphasis on these tests over these 5 days. What exactly are we teaching our students?

There is the argument that good teachers don't worry about the tests and their kids do just fine. I agree, to a point. There is still, looming over the heads of teachers, good or not, these standardized tests. I truly believe that if less emphasis was placed on them, good teaching would be come great teaching.

One alternative to testing most agreed on was portfolios. Even if we can not eliminate testing (which I don't think we should do) there should be other, authentic means of which we evaluate student progress and growth. A portfolio that shows samples of work from the student could easily be used. The test would just become one part of growth process.

There is no easy answer to the testing debate. I do believe, however, we would all agree that reforms need to be made and conversations need to be started. We can not continue to evaluate our students with a singular test.

What do you think? How do you feel about standardized testing. Is it true that it is a "necessary evil?" Are there methods other than portfolios that are an alternative? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Remember to join us on Twitter every Tuesday at 7pm EST. Shelly, one of the fabulous organizers of edchat, created a great screen cast on how to follow the chat using Tweetdeck. You can also vote for which topic to talk about every Monday.

Image from Flickr Creative Commons. View the original here.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Why Have A Social Media Policy Anyway?

I have spent a lot of time lately blogging about Social Media. Whether it was trying to provide resources for getting the school year started off right with Social Media or providing you with tips for Social Media Leadership in schools. I really do believe that we are seeing (and some of us a part of) a revolution in education. For too long we have been teaching 21st Century Students with 19th Century methods.

All of this talk about using blogs, wikis, Twitter, Facebook, Nings, and others in the classroom always leads to a discussion on policy. People ask me about examples of good Social Media Policies. What they don't like to hear is that I don't have one. Ok, well, that is not entirely true. I do have examples of school policies that mention Social Media and Social Networking. Here are a few examples:

East Lothian Council Self-publishing and Social Media Guidelines: Pupils
Arapahoe High School Blogging Policy
Laramie County School District 2 - Safe Blogging Policy

Those are some well-crafted policies as it pertains to blogging and Social Media in general. But, when someone asks me about my best example of a Social Media Policy I have to say that, I believe the best policy is probably one you already have in place.

Why is there such a push by school districts to rush and have a policy in place for teachers and students? Look at what the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) did. Over the summer they redrafted their email policy which said, in a nutshell, that all communications with students had to be done through official CPS email accounts. Basically, the policy outlawed blogs, wikis, Twitter, etc, which was odd because a week earlier CPS was all over the media explaining how they were going to leverage the power of Twitter to keep the community updated. They have retracted a bit and are going to examine the policy to make more Social Media sited available.

My point here is that CPS and other districts around the country are knee-jerking and realizing they don't have a blogging policy, or a Twitter policy, so they create the blanket policies that, while hoping to give the appearance of openness in education and progressiveness, actually limit a teachers ability to use New Media in their classroom.

Most schools (because they have to) have an Acceptable Use Policy that covers general computer and Internet use. If schools and teachers are are doing a good job of teaching their students about responsible Internet use why create a whole new policy that just prevents progress?

How do you teach kids responsible Internet use? There are several free curricula available. Here are a few examples:

Digital Citizenship Curriculum
Digital Literacy
A Digital Literacy Curriculum from Microsoft
Technology Literacy Curriculum

I get asked all the time about my districts' Social Media Policy. You will be disappointed to know that we don't have one. Not because we haven't thought about it. We have spent a lot of time discussing what would work best for our kids and our teachers. We decided that what we have in place works. But it works because we spend a lot of time talking about responsible Internet usage.In my mind why limit a teacher use of Social Media or punish a student for an inappropriate comment on a blog (which should be moderated by a teachers anyway). Take the time to educate!

If you are a school leader, principal or administrator in district that is considering a Social Media policy, I encourage you to look at the computer usage policies you have in place and examine how you are teaching your students Digital Responsibility.

What do you think? Does your school or district have a Social Media Policy? Does it limit what you can do? Is your school or district considering a Social Media Policy? I look forward to the discussion!

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