Friday, May 28, 2010

Beautifully and Simply Explaining Technology

One of the things that many of us who train teachers struggle with is finding explanations or the whys of certain  types of tech. Twitter, blogs, wikis, RSS, podcasting, etc, all can be very complex for those just starting out and learning how they can integrate these into their classroom.

Fortunately, all of us have Common Craft.

Simply, their product is their explanation. They create wonderfully animated videos called "In Plain English" that do just that. These videos really break down technology so that anyone can get it. I use this videos for just about every workshop or training I do. Why? Because, just like they say, their product is their explanation.

Here are some of my favorites:

There are tons more:
Augmented Reality In Plain English



Wikipedia (This one is brand new and does a great job of explaining exactly how Wikipedia works and how we can better use it as a resource.)

Protecting Online Reputations (This is also another one I use a lot with kids and parents.)

And that is still not all of their technology line.

Oh, technology not your thing? No problem. there are videos for how to prepare an emergency plan, how a U.S. President is elected, everything you wanted to know about borrowing money and how CFL lightbulbs work. Oh and in case you were wondering, Zombies In Plain English.

So if you are a person just starting out in the world of technology, a trainer or just someone who wants to know more about how the world works, head over to Common Craft and check out their videos.

Do you use Common Craft in your classroom or trainings? How has it worked for you? What tips or tricks would you offer? Leave some comments below.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Promethean Gala

Later today I have the honor and pleasure to join educators from all over in the opening of the Promethean Academy at the Promethean World  Headquarters in Alpharetta, GA. 

As it says on the Academy Gala page:

"The Academy seeks to empower those who represent Promethean as employees, business partners, and Learning Centers with the knowledge and skills needed to transform today's traditional classroom to the 21st Century Classroom."

Just from the talks I have had with the folks at Promethean it is going to be an amazing place to learn, explore and collaborate. 

If you can't be there in person, they have set up a site with several video feeds so you can watch not only the Ribbon Cutting but some of the other events afterwards like a few Dual Pen competions with their newest ActivBoard products or a conversation about quality professional development. The festivities get underway at 2:30pm EST and you can grab a full schedule here

Are you gonna be there? Drop me a note in the comments so I can be sure we connect. If you can't be there take some time today to check out the video feeds. It is gonna be a great time!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Looking For Change? It Starts At The Top....

(I had the honor of guest blogging for Jason T. Bedell, the brains behind TeachMeet Nashville that you might remember I gave the closing keynote at earlier this year. I appreciate the opportunity and you should head over and check out his blog and follow him on Twitter if you aren't already.)


We hear a lot about change in education. Seems like everyday there is a new discussion popping up about something that needs to be changed. Whether it is the use (or non-use) of Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom, to the conversation swirling around what exactly 21st Century skills are to talk of even a complete overhaul of our current system in favor for something different, there always has been, and what I feel, always will be a desire for something different. We are never content with what we have. And you know that's quite alright with me. We in education should never settle for anything. There is always room for improvement and we should all have the desire to do better by our students.

But what if you are in an environment where change is unacceptable? I am sure we can think of one teacher who has crossed our paths who is comfortable with the status quo. We might be able to change the minds of those around us. Or maybe not. But what if you are in a school or district where the leadership is fearful of even the talk of change? That is a different story altogether.

Change starts at the top. Change comes from the top. It all starts and ends with school leadership.
School leaders (administrators) are responsible for a lot. There is no doubt they have a tough job. But, let not the challenges of the day-to-day cloud our judgement for the future. School leaders have to understand the culture in their school, their staff, their students and their community. They have to understand the needs of all those groups and understand the direction they are going, where they are and where they need to be. And at the very top, they should have a desire to do better for their school because it is what is best for the school community and not themselves. Ultimately, when school leaders look inward at their buildings they should see a need to do things differently; constantly seeking out new ideas and new ways of accomplishing their goals. They have to change.

But the ideal situation is a building that has leadership that thinks that way.  Are their buildings like that out there? Sure there are. I believe I am part of one. Our school leadership is always trying to do better. Even when we might be at the top of something, it is never enough, we have to do better. Not for ourselves, but for our students and our community.

The reality is there are not enough schools that have the ideal leadership out there. You might even be in or know of one of these schools, or even worse, a whole district that is missing the ideal leadership. What can you do? What do you do?

First, don't get discouraged. It is easy to give up the fight for the change your students need when no one wants to follow. You look around and realize you are all alone but sometimes trails need to be blazed and sometimes you have to blaze that trail alone. Just remember your purpose and remember who you are doing it for. 

When you are faced with the challenge of a school leadership that thinks differently than you challenge it. Challenge everything you can. Does your school have a leadership team or school improvement team or a school board? Are you going to the meetings. Are you speaking up. Be a thorn in their side. Question the why and how of everything that the school is doing. But remember, there is a line between questioning everything and being belligerent. You can push your agenda without being pushy. 

Use social media to your advantage. Did you read a great blog post? Why not send the link to the school leadership with the offer of setting up an RSS reader with other great blogs. Find an interesting resource on Twitter? Send it out to the staff and mention that you got it on Twitter. Maybe you do a workshop highlighting some of the things you have found that have helped your change process. Invite administrators to read an #edchat archive or, better yet, get them to sit and talk while you participate. Many have misconceptions about Twitter and blogs and social media in general. Help change their minds. Perhaps you don't show the how, but you show the why.

Change starts at the top. It takes a strong school leadership to be the driving force behind change. But isn't the saying you can lead a horse to water, but you...well you know the rest. The point is you can't make anyone do anything. You can present them with opportunities, suggestions, ideas. But they have to want to do it. Help them understand why the change is needed and be a model of the change you desire. 

New Posted Resources 05/18/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

What Motivates You?

I am in the process of reading Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Dan Pink. I am only a few pages in (well a few screens because I am reading it on my Kindle) but I am already having a hard time putting it down. What Pink aims to do is lay out the science behind motivation and how we can use that to find success in our own lives. So far I think it is great and if you get a chance pick up (or download) a copy and check it out.

But before you do, you can get a little preview of the book. And this just isn't any kind of preview. The Royal Society For The Encouragement Of The Arts (RSA) put together a great animated video of a talk Pink did at the RSA when he came to talk about motivation. Not only is the talk awesome, the animations to go along with the talk are great.

What motivates you? What motivates you kids? Leave some suggestions down in the comments.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Keeping Up With It All. My Favorite Tool Ever!

I admit it.

I am addicted to Twitter.

And I have admitted that before. I truly enjoy the people I am able to connect with and have conversations with. But I am most addicted to the resources because that is how I started. I spend lots of time finding stuff for my teachers. And I figure if it works for them, why not share with other educators.

There are tons of links, articles videos and other great stuff that come across my screen everyday. I can never keep up with it all. People ask me all the time how I have time to go through everything. The key is I don't do it the moment it comes up. If I see an interesting tweet with a link and I have time, I will dig deeper but most of the time I only glance, decide if it is something to look at and save it for later.

There are lots of ways to save tweets for later. Each tweeter has an RSS feed that you can subscribe to in a reader like Google Reader or on a page like Netvibes or Pageflakes. And that is an ok way but you still have to do that for each Tweeter and still have to scroll through each user to find the good stuff.

Others suggest using a social bookmarking service like Diigo or Delicious and that is better to save links but then what if what you find is no good or not what you expected? Then you have to spend the time to go back and delete the save. And that can be time consuming. Diigo does have the advantage of the Save It Later feature that doesn't bookmark but does save for later. And it works but for me it was too many steps and I needed something that would work on any device and I can access on any device.

My favorite tools that I absolutely can not live without is Read It Later. It is a beautifully simple service that saves your links for later. The best part, the app works on just about every device out there. So I can go seamlessly from my PC, to my iTouch to my Droid and have complete functionality and access to my complete list of saves.

Sounds little like Diigo right? Don't get me wrong, I love Diigo. But the thing that sets Read It Later apart is the Unread/Read features. I have the standard list of unread links. But what if I read one, uncheck it and forget to save it to my Diigo account? No worries my friend. Read It Later saves every link I have ever saved to read later in a nice little list I can access anywhere. And it is searchable too by key term, tag or date. Now that is handy!

As I said before Read It Later is available for any browser with the simple bookmarklet. There is one for adding the site to your Read It Later List and one for marking it read. But if you want more functionality you can get the Read It Later Extensions for either Firefox or Chrome.

Want to have access on your iTouch or iPhone? No problem. There are apps for those devices too. Do you have a Droid? If you use the Dolphin you can use the bookmarklets or you can download the PaperDroid app in the Android Marketplace.

Once you get your list started (and you have some time) you can log into your account, anywhere you have Internet access and see all the sites you marked and can visit them at your leisure. Each site opens in a new window so you don't have to worry about going back and forth to your list. Once you are done with the site you can unckeck it but remember, you have the "Read" list so you can revisit it in the future.

One of the new features is your List with a brain. Called Digest, you get a highly organized and personalized site of all your saves that reads like a newspaper. It costs 5 bucks. I haven't done it but it looks neat.

Right now I have over 300 sites. Yep, over 300 in my list. Some have been in there since I started using the service about a year ago, and I just haven't gotten around to looking at them but I know I want to some time. So if you are looking for a quick and easy way to save all those great resources you get from Twitter that you just don't have time to check out, give Read It Later a try. I promise, you won't know what you did before it!

New Posted Resources 05/12/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Overcome With Techno-Fear...

Just so you know...this is a bit of a rant....

There has always been fear of change in schools. Take the year 1929. The following quote appeared in The Rural American Teacher:

“Students today depend upon store bought ink. They don’t know how to make their own. When they run out of ink they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”

We see it in our schools today. I experience it in my role as a technology trainer. Teachers often have a great deal of fear when we introduce a new piece of hardware or software into the classroom. Fear is a natural part of the growing process. I have no problem with my teachers being fearful of using new tools, as long as they are open minded to the learning and growing process. My problem is with teachers (parents, community members) is that many are fearful of technology because they either don't understand or because it is simply a different way of doing things. 

One of the biggest challenges I face with teachers is their fear of screwing something up in front of their students or appearing that they (the teacher) doesn't know everything. It is a battle I face everyday. And just when I think I am (and those of us that train teachers in general) think we are making headway and opening doors the loudest voice in the education debate tries to slam that door shut.
President Obama gave the commencement address at Howard University. Before I talk about his speech lets go back in time a bit and remember that this was the President (candidate, President-Elect) that could not go anywhere without a Blackberry. He remarked that he had to have it to conduct business, even quoting in January 2009 that "They're going to have to pry it out of my hands." 

Keeping that in mind, this same President said this just 2 days ago: 

“You’re coming of age in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us with all kinds of content and exposes us to all kinds of arguments, some of which don’t always rank all that high on the truth meter.
With iPods and iPads and Xboxes and PlayStations — none of which I know how to work — information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of emancipation.” 


Ok, Mr. President, lets talk have a little conversation about Education, Technology and Fear....

I think this is an example of the same fear my teachers have about technology in the classroom. He admits in the speech he has no idea how to use an Xbox or Playstation or iPod. That may be true (but come on, an iPod. He can't even figure out a shuffle? My grandmother has one and uses iTunes. Oh and plays Wii everyday). And I agree with the fact that he says "information becomes a distraction." We have to learn how to filter what is coming in via all our technology and learn what to spend time on and not. We as teacher trainers have to teach our teachers this and teachers have to teach our kids how to do this. But to dismiss iPods or iPads or gaming devices as simply  "a form of entertainment." is a major step backwards. 

This is the pervasive attitude we are fighting with some of our teachers. That these types of technologies don't have a place in learning. But again, I believe his statement, and the fear of others stems from what they do not understand. If he (The President) would take a step back from RTTT (Race To The Top) and the other flawed policies of teacher performance pay and slashing funds from the education budget he should take some time to visit some classrooms. Why not head down to Pender County, NC and talk to my friend Lucas Gillispie who has one of the most successful iPod Integration projects around. Not to mention his use of World of Warcraft with kids in the classroom. Or talk to my friend Ric Murry who is successfully using cell phones to teach his kids history and geography. There are so many other examples and I bet we all can think of something really awesome an educator doing something to make a change in the way they teach kids. 
So instead, Mr. President, of dismissing what you do not understand and calculating the fear we in education are trying to eradicate, take some time, travel the country. Go in to classroom and look at what teachers are doing with technology. You have an open invitation to my school anytime you want to come. And I am sure we can find you 100 others where you will see the future of this country learning in the same ways, with the same tools they will one day use as citizens and job holders in our country. 

In the same speech this same man said that "Education is the answer to a troubled democracy." If that is the case, Mr. President, lets leave education to Educators. I just can't trust it in the hands of politicians...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Keeping The Door Of Learning Wide Open

This week I had the honor of guest posting over at the Microsoft Teacher Tech Blog for teacher appreciation week. Below is the post that appeared there on Thursday.

Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on slate without chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”

This was a quote that appeared in a principals magazine in 1815. But I wonder? Is this the same sentiment that our educators have today?

Unfortunately, there are teachers and administrators out there that still believe that the advancement of and use of technology in the classroom is detrimental to learning. Just last week, Anthony Orsini, an Administrator in a New Jersey middle school, sent home a letter that strongly encouraged the parents to get their students out of all social media sites saying,
"Let me repeat that - there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None."

Mr. Orsini, I have to disagree.

While he might not think there is a legitimate purpose in for students using Social Media I can think of several reasons why our kids should be deeply involved in using social media and more generally, technology, in the classroom.

A great friend of my, Tom Whitby, and I have traveled across the country talking to various groups about the use of Social Media in schools. Tom loves to ask people if they have or know kids between the ages of 3-10. A good majority of hands go up. Then he asks how many of them are on the website Webkinz. Not as many hands are still up but there are still several. The point of the questions are that a child's use of social media begins long before they enter our classrooms. Webkinz is one of the largest social networks for kids in that age range. They are playing games and connecting with kids across the world. So we will let them do that but ban the same thing in our classrooms?

The education community continues to stress the need to teach 21st Century Skills. Many would agree that one of those crucial skills is the ability for our students to collaborate and connect to seek out appropriate information. There is only so much collaboration and connections that kids can make in a classroom with their peers. Why limit ourselves to our 4 walls like this principal in NJ? Many of these tools that we can use to connect students are free and so very easy to use and kids can make instant contact to other kids across the globe. Instead of reading about another cultures customs in a boring textbook why not talk to someone living there and make that connection?

Remember pen pals? I was always so excited to get that letter from my pal in Germany. Of course my teacher was working on reading and writing skills but I didn’t care. I just wanted to tell him all the awesome things I was doing and hear the same from him. We can still do that. We can still teach reading and writing skills and talk about geography and history, but we can do it real-time. That can, and should change the way we educate our kids.

These kids have access to all corners of the planet. The opportunities for learning are truly limitless. Yet Mr. Orsini has decided there needs to be limits placed on learning because of an unfounded fear. Educators have a duty to understand and explain risks of the use of these tools. However, if we are teaching those skills to our students why close the door to learning and take us back 100 years when we should be advancing at record pace?

I encourage all educators, to not to dismiss Social Media in the classroom merly because of some unfounded fear. Talk to your parents and talk to your students. Explain the risks but show the benefits and open the door to the boundless opportunities this type of learning can bring into our classrooms and schools.

New Posted Resources 05/07/2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Echo Chamber Of Education Reform...

One of the complaints I get and hear about Twitter, specifically, educators on Twitter, is that it is an echo chamber. Meaning that most of us that take part in things like #edchat, general discussion or just sit on the sidelines, generally feel the same way about education, that we are headed down the wrong path and need to change. Often the conversations go around and around, there is some fist bumping but no real action. 

You know what I think? To an extent the complaints are correct. I often see or take part in discussions that give me a sense of deja vù, that we have been here before, going around in our circle again...

Last night's #edchat was dedicated to figuring out how to move the conversation away from Twitter, blogs, and the Intertubes in general, and take it to the people who really matter, policy makers, state and local legislatures, boards, media, and anyone who will listen. 

Here are a few highlights:
  • Ed reform takes TIME-time to meet, time to discuss, time to explore, time to learn. To have more influence, teachers must invest TIME.
  • To participate in ed reform, teachers must embrace new roles & responsibilities, looking beyond their own classrooms.
  • Admins need to actively encourage teacher leaders & provide opportunities for growth & participation in decision-making.
  • Teachers must have positive relations with parents & community (and media).
  • Teachers must take the extra moment and advertise the great things they do, and not consider it bragging!
  • Students actually have far more power than some may think. They may influence many if inspired.
  • Mustn't forget who we serve. First students, then families, community, society, administration, school board? in what order? 
  • For effective change, we need effective teams working together, Build relationships with your own staff. Tribes.
Be sure to check out the entire archive and visit the new #edchat Facebook page for tons more info.

Here are some of my thoughts...

There are tons of people both on Twitter and off who are taking their message to the masses. Jeff Pulver believes in education so much that at his series of 140 Conferences he has upped the number of education related panels and talks from 1 in Los Angeles in Oct. 2009 to 4 at the most recent in NYC. At conferences around the world many educators are talking to audiences about why we need social media in the classroom and how relying completely on summative assessments is the wrong way to look at student achievement and other "hot button" education topics. 

The problem is, most of the time, the same people are hearing the same messages. And even further, those people already agree. There aren't enough educators talking to the people that matter. And really, that isn't their fault. I blame those that refuse to listen. Take state government. A politician will get in front of a camera all day long and say they are for education and that education is a priority. But when it comes to putting your money where your mouth is that politician is suddenly silent. It isn't the voices of the students or educators that they listen to it is the big bucks of donors that keep them in office who's voices are the loudest. 

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of educators that stand up and talk to those in positions of power. (I being one of them.) But until those in power begin to listen we can't make any inroads. 

So what do we do? 

First, we have to quit talking about testing. Someone last night said that when we talk about reform we ultimately come back to testing. Yes, the system most of us have is flawed. But I believe it is the way data is used, not collected that is the problem. Standardized tests can tell you a lot about individual students and how those students assigned to a particular teacher compare to each other. But when that data is used in such a way to compare kids to different teachers, or even worse, to different kids at different schools in different districts, that is a misuse of data. Education leaders using only the test is also an example of a flawed system. If we encourage teachers to use more formative assessments along the way, have students produce products that demonstrate learning, when it comes time for the summative assessment (the "Test") there will be no worries because you, the teacher, know what your kids were lacking, made some changes to your teaching and all turned out alright. We need to face it. Tests are here to stay at least for the time being. Do something different in your classroom. And forget about tests. 

What else can we do? Educators have to reach out and add voices to the chorus. Get to your parents, make them an ally. Talk to your community. Make them a partner. It is easy for policy makers to ignore educators. (Frankly, they do it all the time.) But when we add local businesses, parents, community leaders, it gets that much tougher for them ignore. We have to quit thinking that parents and the community are the enemy. Schools were once centers of our community. We have to get back to that. Separate, we are week. Together we are strong. (Clichè?)

Finally, we have to stop believing that there is some magical, one-size-fits-all change out there. The problems I have at my school are completely different from all the other schools in my district and from your school. While there are general things we all need to focus our effort on; technology in the classroom, teacher prep, professional development, PLC's. None is the exclusive answer for every situation. Figure out what change is needed in your area and start there. Start small. Change in the classroom is easy. Doing different is often contagious. You start doing things different, and suddenly your team or grade level is doing it too and then your school. Thats when things get noticed and you can spread your message. 

The key in all this is to not get discourage. Change in education is like an ice age. It happens slow. But it does happen. Stick with it and remember, its not about us. It is about those kids that come through our doors everyday. Don't they deserve it? 

Monday, May 3, 2010

Why Not Invite TED Into Your Classroom?

If you haven't already heard, TED is one of the world's coolest conferences. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Desgin) brings together some of the most forward thinking, progressive and really fascinating people on the planet to talk about, really anything they want.

There are lots of things that TED can teach us in education and tons of ways we can use TED in the classroom. Here are just a few...

Presentation Skills-This past weekend I came across a great blog post called The TED Commandments. Not only can the content of specific talks add amazing content to the classroom, the techniques that the speakers us can also teach kids a thing or two. Here are the TED Commandments that all presenters should live by:

  1. Thou Shalt Not Simply Trot Out thy Usual Shtick
  2. Thou Shalt Dream a Great Dream, or Show Forth a Wondrous New Thing, Or Share Something Thou Hast Never Shared Before
  3. Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion
  4. Thou Shalt Tell a Story
  5. Thou Shalt Freely Comment on the Utterances of Other Speakers for the Skae of Blessed Connection and Exquisite Controversy
  6. Thou Shalt Not Flaunt thine Ego. Be Thou Vulnerable. Speak of thy Failure as well as thy Success.
  7. Thou Shalt Not Sell from the Stage: Neither thy Company, thy Goods, thy Writings, nor thy Desparate need for Funding; Lest Thou be Cast Aside into Outer Darkness.
  8. Thou Shalt Remember all the while: Laughter is Good.
  9. Thou Shalt Not Read thy Speech.
  10. Thou Shalt Not Steal the Time of Them that Follow Thee
Teaching With TED-There is a great wiki created a while back that offers suggestions on how to use TED talks in the classroom. There is also a great collection of Education and student centered videos with discussion points and links for further information. 

TEDxNYED-One of the really cool things that the TED conferences have done is spawned spin offs. In cities around the world people have put on or are putting on their own TED events centered around topics that are meaningful to them. Earlier this year there was a great TEDx conference in NYC on the future of technology in education. There were several great talks by some great educators. If you are a teacher or technologist take some time to check out some of the videos. 

Here are a few of my favorite education related videos:

Do you have any other great TED in the classroom resources? What about a video that you used with kids? Leave some links in the comments and share!