Friday, March 28, 2008

Coming to a School Near You

Chris Pirillo, who has made his name through his work on Tech TV and on his web site, has announced that he wants to support the development of an open source Content Management System. (CMS) Chris wants to 'de-geekify' the process of managing a CMS and make it easier for individuals and groups to set up their own CMS the way they want it with individual modules that will allow: chat rooms, forums, video, podcasts, blogs, wikis, pages, etc. This way, a school or other organization could download the CMS and the modules they want to install and have their own 'walled garden' of tools for their school site. Chris is supporting the further development of the 'Drupal' CMS, there are others out there including, 'Joomla.' If you want to see some examples of CMS sites. The Sequoia Union High School District uses Joomla and the Alameda County Office of Education uses Drupal. (The video below is Chris' explanation, but it is about 45 minutes in total length, so beware - but the first few minutes will give you the best information)

This could be a huge benefit to school districts, lowering the 'technical point of entry' to have their own CMS. To do something like this in the past required a number of technical support staff to install and maintain the system for the school. One of the issues I see when I work with schools and technology is that the educators and the technical support staff don't interface well. I live in both worlds, having been a classroom teacher for many years and having some technical training, I often become the interpreter between the geeks and teachers. Time to get these guys on the same page... this might be it!

So, what is the cost of entry? One computer that can be used as a server. The rest of the material is free, unless you need to register a new domain name, which can be done for a few dollars a year. You will also need the support of your network administrator to get a static IP address so that people can find you!

I'm simplifying the process somewhat, but I think it is definitely something many schools could implement quickly and easily to create a dynamic web presence.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Change School: Climbing Pyramids - Real and Fabricated

Yesterday, I had the unique opportunity to go indoor rock climbing with my daughter in a facility like the one in the picture. I have to admit that I was a bit hesitant to participate myself, since for those of you who do not know me personally, I was at one time close to 300 pounds in weight and never had much confidence in activities like this. I was an athlete in high school and college and since I have lost a significant amount of weight, so I decided to give it a go. I think this is what some of our students must feel like when we ask them to do things that are completely outside of their character. The fear of failure and what the perception will be of the others around completely controls their behavior because they do not feel safe enough to take risks.

When I first strapped on the climbing gear I started getting a little nervous and I was in a facility with a lot of kids (Spring Break Week here!) and a few parents there watching their kids try to assault these walls of fabricated rock formations which are screwed into the wall. The wall or pyramid we are attempting to get students to climb is the revised version of Bloom's Taxonomy, pictured below. As teachers, when students start we try to provide more places where students can place their hands and feet to assist them getting up the wall. As their technique and skill level improves, we remove some of the supports that we initially provided. As for me on the rock wall... I missed on my first attempt up the wall, but I was successful in 7 subsequent attempts, including the course I missed on my first attempt. After I was successful the first time, it became easier and easier to transfer those skills and confidence to other climbing courses in the facility. Many of our students act the same way, a single success can be parlayed into a series of successes.

Too much of the time, our goals are tied to high stakes testing, which has limited value, since once the test is over, students usually do not maintain mastery of the material because it is typically learned out of context. The material has no meaning, because it was not applied to a particular idea. HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) help move students up the Bloom's pyramid. Project based learning, blogging, podcasting, video, etc. allow students to apply, analyze, synthesize and create their own mental maps and internalize the learning that has taken place.

Another aspect of high stakes testing is the fact that the tests are designed to measure a body of knowledge to be learned in a particular year and some students will be able to learn in that time frame, while others will not. Some of the work of Saphier and the Research for Better Teaching program, discussing teaching loops and support for learners can assist teachers in enhancing their own repertoire and in turn helping students achieve. What we are really after is creating a system where students can demonstrate mastery in a particular subject.

Will Richardson on his blog mentions some use of Web 2.0 tools and their value in allowing teachers to share, refine and connect to other teachers.

I know it would require some front end loading, but if districts were using wikis to house curriculum and encouraging teachers to work off of them as they move through the year, noting, tweaking, fine tuning, reflecting, etc., it would be one way that they could begin to make good use of a Web 2.0 tool and make it easier to connect to what other folks are doing. Not to mention the growing of some very important local network connections (which then, of course, could be expanded out.) And the other piece, of course, is that it’s a “safe” way to get started at least in terms of not having to deal with student participation issues.

Go back to the first "Change School" post. "Personally honest, but institutionally corrupt." What structures are in place that will help teachers move forward and improve their teaching? But that is for another post.

Are you ready to adjust the path along the pyramid with supports to help students initially move up the pyramid, but then remove the supports to provide students with an authentic learning experience?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Change School

I guess it is fitting that the leader of the Change Congress movement is also the founder of Creative Commons. I sure hope that Lawrence Lessig, licensed the material on the site as a share-alike attribution license, because I about to violate his copyright if he didn't. I spent some time watching the videos on the Internet with Lawrence Lessig and Barack Obama this weekend and came away thinking that the same way they look at the presidency and congress, I look at education and school. This was part of the debate I engaged in on Will Richardson's blog in December last year and he offered support if I were to ever run for political office. I feel strongly about this and I know there are plenty of others in the EduBlogosphere who feel the same way. Will quoted Clay Burrell and his thoughts about leaving schools if he really wanted to make a difference in the lives of his students. Well, I am quoting Barack Obama, when I say that teachers must have a "belief that change is possible."

We are preparing students for a world we cannot accurately define. (attributing this to David Warlick - since that is where I think I heard this first.) Karl Fisch, in his excellent "Did You Know..." video, states that students in our classes now will have 14 jobs... by the time they are 38 years old. We have 19th Century classrooms for 21st Century students and current laws encourage teachers to engage in the status quo because there is no motivation to improve or be innovative. There are a few teachers, who have taken it upon themselves to move forward, but their only reward is longer hours and the personal knowledge that they are truly "educational professionals." When speaking about congress, Lawrence Lessig states, "Members of Congress are personally honest, but institutionally corrupt." I could easily make this same point about the teaching profession. I know many teachers who are some of the most personally honest people I know, yet they are institutionally corrupt because they fall into the trap of "teaching one year thirty times."

Smaller Learning Communities and Professional Learning Communities show some promise, since they actively engage both teachers and students to take responsibility for learning and refining their activities as both students and teachers. The current state of education makes their wide spread implementation improbable since many of the core strategies of both require schools and school districts to lower class size and hold advisories in order to allow a group of teachers to have extended contact with the same group of students. Lowering class size and advisory periods costs significantly more than the traditional 35 students, seated in five rows across, seven seats deep. We have become extremely effective in moving the human herd from information grazing spot to the next spot, but is this the best way to educate them?

I think most agree this is not the best for our students or best for our society, but where does the tipping point come to change the system to something better? I have some ideas myself... more to follow.

Google Undercover:

Google has been the dominate search engine on the Internet for several years now, but there are many, many things you can do with Google that most people don't know about. Many of these hidden gems inside of Google add some tools that help you become a search engine pro. Many of you know about and use the 'link' and 'site' searches that you can use in Google, I cover these in depth in many of the presentations I do, specifically in the 'World Wide Literacy' presentation I have done at the CLMS Statewide Conference and at CUE in Palm Springs, when I pinch hit for Chris Dede. The two videos below cover many of these Google functions, that the advanced user uses regularly.

These are some lesser known tools that are deeply undercover, but can re
ally help you if you need to validate or track information that has mysteriously disappeared.

FileType Search: The filetype search is the one piece of this post that many people know about, but I included it because I think it is one that most teachers don't know about and probably should. Why? In many schools, the school subscribes to a service to check student work for plagiarism using or some other like service. These services do a great job comparing text passages with the written work of other authors, but typically will not index PowerPoint presentations. If you are having students use PowerPoint to present their work, you should know about how to use the filetype search to find PowerPoint presentations posted on the Internet.

Page History: Ever want to find a page that has mysteriously disappeared from the Internet? There are many ways to do this, but it all depends on whether you anticipate the page disappearing in the first place. If that is the case, most bookmarking services, like and will actually index or cache the page when you save it, so you can go back at anytime and see the page as it existed when you bookmarked it. Many of you know and use the 'Wayback Machine' at which will show you the entire history of many pages on the Internet. I frequently use this tool with students because of it's ease and simplicity. But there is a little known function within Google that will do the same thing, it is the 'cached' link that is part of every Google search. In the graphic below, I circled the 'cached' link to the copy of the page that Google has in its own cache.

Similar Pages: Some people don't see this as a thing of value, but I like to use it to validate the information on any page. If I can document that the same information is coming from two or more domains with different 'owners' (easywhois search) it goes a long way toward validating the information on the page.

Page Translation: You can use Google Translation to read pages from other languages, but there are three different ways to do this. First, use Google Language Tools, which will search the Google database for pages in the language you specify and translate them to the language you want to read them in. Second, you can use the search string to look for sites in one language and have them automatically translated into another language. Third, you can use the link provided in the Google Search Results to translate the page. (see graphic below)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Focusing the Beams of Light

I can remember back to 1989, when George Bush gave his 'thousand points of light' Inauguration Speech and dismissing it as just another piece of rhetoric from the Republican propaganda machine. Dana Carvey had fun with the same phrase on SNL over the next few years, but it eventually drifted off into the distance like most other political slogans. But in the last few days I have been bringing together many of my own perspectives, or points of light, relating to teaching, learning, access to resources, leadership and the like.

Yesterday, I was the SMCOE, listening to Bernie Trilling from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and discussing some of the issues during the break with people I know from around San Mateo County and in my own district. My motivation to get into administration after 20 years in the classroom has been very simple, I want to change the system of how teachers teach and how students learn. I want to see teachers become lead learners and students learn how to teach themselves. I want to see students have access to the greatest amount of learning tools and information that has ever been available in the history of mankind. Will Richardson, who tongue-in-cheek offered his support a few months back for any potential potential political office I was looking at running for, blogged yesterday about the urgency of getting 21st Century skills to teachers and administrators first. Will's post generated 130 comments in 24 hours. For this to happen, we need to reform the current teacher and administrator training programs. In California, there has been AB75, which provided funding for Administrators to be trained in using technology to give them greater access to 'testing and other quantitative measurements.' While this is important, it does not address the real issues relating to the use of technology in educational practice.

So, what does need to happen? Teachers need to take on a different role. It is simplistic to say that teachers need to be 'lead learners.' Mark Wagner's blog post from last year is a great start on the 'lead learner' approach when it comes to presentations, but how do we get this practice into the hands of the classroom teacher on the front lines with our kids on a daily basis? DuFour's writings on PLC's and SLC's comes very close to what does need to happen in schools when it speaks about bringing teachers together in common practice and teacher professional development and collaboration. Hillsdale High School in our district is following this model and has seen some success using the SLC/SRN Model.

How can we make it happen? Get Administrators trained, knowledgeable and willing to move forward. Knock on their doors and push another article about 21st Century learning under their nose. Keep the stream of information steady and constant. Ask them about the information you are giving them. Find teachers in your school that want to move forward and support them. If you write grants to get money for technology assets, make sure they get new gear and help them use it. Show them off to the Administration and other faculty members. In many instances, when you are implementing a tech integration program, you and your teachers are in an unfamiliar jungle. You need to be the machete to clear the trail and allow them to follow you.

Will this be an overnight transformation? No, but it will be steady and consistent and you will reach critical mass, where the faculty will follow and begin to do many things on their own... They just need the support of others....

... Gently stepping down off of the soap box...

Friday, March 14, 2008

21st Century Learning

As part of SMCOE's Council for Instructional Improvement meeting today, I am doing a follow up presentation to Bernie Trilling's presentation on 21st Century Skills. I am going to highlight some of the work done in our Global Communications Cohort, specifically around blogging and RSS feeds.

The Google Presentation slides are below!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Palm Springs: CUE 08

The first full day of the 2008 CUE conference is over, I felt like I was running around most of the day, since I was. The opening keynote from Vint Cerf was very well received by a crowd who for the most part weren't as 'star struck' as I was from being able to hear Vint speak. This is even after I have introduced myself to him at a Google event. For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, Vint Cerf is probably considered one of the 'Fathers of the Internet.' It is his work on the TCP/IP model that has allowed the Internet, as we know it, to work as well as it does.

During the keynote, Mike Lawrence announced that one of the spotlight speakers, Dr. Chris Dede was having to cancel due to transportation issues. I had offered to Mike several weeks ago that I would be happy to step in if he had any cancellations, since I had two presentations that I had prepared earlier ready to go. So, in the spur of the moment, I was speaking twice today after my short session at the Google Booth yesterday.

The two sessions, World Wide Literacy and Guerrilla Learning are available on my Guerrilla Learning wiki and I would like to get any feed back that people would want to share. I am also embedding the Google presentation for the "Guerrilla Learning" session below.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Doing the Google Thing

Well, it is the first full day at CUE and I was able to do a short 30 minute session for Google on Blogger and Google Reader in their booth in the exhibit hall. It was a great experience and I will repeat my session on Saturday morning at 10:30AM. I put together the presentation using Google Presentations and I am going to embed it here. I also mentioned several other resources to learn more about RSS and blogging.

The presentation slides are embedded above and definitely give you something new to do with web sites and blogs. I can see that I would use this tool in many different ways and convert many of the older PowerPoints I have into Google Presentations and then embed them into wiki's and blog posts.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

CLMS State Conference: World Wide Literacy and Guerrilla Learning

I am in Sacramento today, presenting at the CLMS Annual Conference in the Gateway Lab. I have been putting the finishing touches on the sessions I am doing this afternoon. World Wide Literacy and Guerrilla Learning. I have all of the materials from these sessions on the Guerrilla Learning Wiki.

I have presented on both of these topics before, but these presentations are adaptations of the previous sessions. Please feel free to check out and use any of the material on the wiki to use with your classes.

I am also doing a couple of quick (30 minute sessions) at CUE next week in Palm Springs. Blogger and Google Reader will be the presentations.

If you are around at either of these conferences, please come up and say hello!