The Clarity of Time

This article has been sitting around for a while unpublished. I decided to give it a whirl and publish it.
It is amazing how time and distance provide sanity in the wake of a heated conversation or passionate comment. Clarity, I've found, is almost always gained in retrospect instead of in the moment. I don't know if that is always true for everyone, but that seems to be the case for me.

Online evaluations are tabulated and in from the November Missouri District Educator's Conference, and it was after reading the comment section that I realized I have developed a pretty short fuse when it comes to personal feedback that I don't agree with.

That was just over a week ago and thankfully I decided to practice what I preach and not post anything while frustrated. Time truly does provide clarity for me, and I think that I just need a little time to process things before I respond.

The area I was most interested in was the virtual presentation on Tuesday morning by Will Richardson. I will not go into details with regards to the half a dozen specific comments, but I would like to share the one comment that garnered the "Did you just really say that out-loud" award:

"I know that going outside of our own "circles" shows a willingness to learn from others...but Will Richardson wasn't just provacative...he insulted much of who we are and what we do. Learning based on "passion"...peer validation...virtual face-to-face over and above the dinosaur in the corner (real life teacher) blood was boiling."

I'm not really sure if anything else needs to be said at this point, other than I really pray that this was not what was going through the heads of the majority of teachers last November during the keynote. The comments about a glitchy connection, and wanting to have someone live, or the frustration about fellow teachers not honoring the time by talking over the PA, were warranted, but the above comment is by NO MEANS acceptable (pun intended, the conference theme was "By All Means").

Obviously the person who left that comment wasn't listening. The presentation, more than anything else, wasn't as much about teachers as it was students. If the commenter would have been paying attention, Will's comments were about the shift in our information and media culture and the need for teacher's to examine their practice in light of these changes. And that was the whole reason for his talk. We need to start having this conversation and it's fascinating to me that there are a core group of people who don't want to have it!

William Bennett and his coauthors in his book "The Educated Child" commented about public schools, but I think it could also be said of parochial schools as well:
"The public school establishment is one of the most stubbornly intransigent forces on the planet. It is full of people and organizations dedicated to protecting established programs and keeping things just the way they are. Administrators talk of reform even as they are circling the wagons to fend off change, or preparing to outflank your innovation...."
I'm not exactly sure what Lutheran school teachers are trying to "protect" by not engaging in educational change conversations. Many Lutheran schools are or will die as they refuse to engage the world around them.

The main driving force behind educational change today in America as I see it is the educational technology community. It is through the pedagogically appropriate use technology that teaching learning to students begins to take flight. For in the use of technology, teachers finally have the tools to truly differentiate instruction. It is through the use of technology that teachers can utilize the passions of students to help students learn to be problems solvers and critical thinkers. It is through the medium of the Internet that students can now become world class researchers. So why don't more embrace it?

There are some theories, but in the end I think it's about teachers not doing what is right for students because they are just too afraid to engage the world around them. They hide behind statements about Internet safety and appropriateness. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of bad stuff out there. We don't call the world wide web "The Wild West" for nothing. But when we don't engage this younger generation in this information, media landscape that they are born into, ignorance will only breed more ignorance, and comments like the one above will continue to permeate the public debate about technology and learning in this century and the next.

image: "June 19th, 2009". Flickr user: crookedteethhh .

Missouri District Educator's Conference Day 2 Take-a-way.

Pretty seamless day. A bit hectic. A little running. A little last minute stuff, but over all it was a great day.

Cindy Lane did an awesome job with her Google Tools Presentation. I learned some of the little things that just makes Google an awesome partner for teachers (Show Options is my friend!). Besides her sectional, I enjoyed just hanging out with her at lunch and swapping stories and sites.

The Technology Open House, I've decided, was a success! After spending forty-five minutes with a teacher getting the Bible on his Blackberry, I feel pretty good. Especially since I don't have a
Blackberry and don't have a Bible app on my phone.

A lot of great questions came our way from colleagues: What firewall do you use? How do you handle content filtering? What websites can I use with my first graders with an LCD projector in my room! We also spent time talking with an administrator or two about how they can incorporate connected learning into their own professional life.

I've also spent more time thinking about value. The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that teachers need to find personal value in their own learning, before we can expect them embrace self-learning using technology. That sounds backwards...seeing is how they are teachers...but old habits die hard.

Looking forward to our virtual keynote with Will Richardson tomorrow morning. We'll see how well that will be received. There will likely be some skeptical listeners, but we are hoping that some ears and minds will be open to confront the issues facing 21st century education!

You can lead a horse to water....

I love the old saying, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." It's probably the most appropriate saying for professional development as well. There is no way you can make a teacher want to learn. If they don't want to, then they don't want to! But I do wonder if there is a way to help make them "thirsty" enough to recognize a nice cool "drink" when it's placed in front of them?

Honestly speaking, I'm not exactly sure how to do that! Well, that's not totally true. I do find myself agreeing with Will Richardson's last blog post at Weblog-ed on this point. Will suggests that the best way to engage teachers in learning is to encourage them to first be selfish learners. Selfish not in terms of ignoring the needs of others, but rather, first encouraging them to use tools to learn about something that is of maximum value for them.

In my previous post, I talked about how value needs to be created and engaged before any learning takes place. Inevitabley if you as a teacher do not find value in learning a new skill, then frankly you won't extend the effort needed to learn it. There is way too much other stuff going on to waste time learning something that has no value. But if a teacher can find value (in this case value would be attained by engaging teachers in something non-profession related) that they will begin to use those personal tools in the professional realm as well.

So again, how can you do this?

Besides making learning completely personalized, which I believe to be the best option, I envision removing the stuffines of a traditional learning environment and replacing it with a more relaxed gathering place.

At the upcoming Missouri District Teacher's Conference, which by the way is going to be a drastic departure for us in terms of what we've done before, we are organizing a kind of technology information booth. I got the idea from the work that Amy Vejraska (and other colleagues...sorry I don't remember names) did at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference last year. It seemed like a great idea, so we are going to give it a shot!

The information booth with be staffed with knowlegable teachers who can answer questions about wikis, blogs, Delicious, Diigo, Twitter, Second name it! Our hope is that the non-threatening, "Hey, come check us out" atmosphere, that most teachers will let down their guard and feel comfortable enough to ask questions, share ideas, or try out some different tools.

Will that help create value? I don't know, but we hope that the relaxed atmosphere will help break down any barriers to potentially finding out if something can have value for them.

Personalized and Non-threatening...I guess you've got to start somewhere!

Image "Thirsty Horse" by Flickr user: [alxandr]

The "Value" of Learning

The original title I had for the blog was, "Are you a Learner?" I could hear in the back of my mind Lisa Durff screaming...."YES!" For I know no better advocate for teacher learning than she! Thanks for your passion my co-learning friend.

Being a learner I think is one of the first callings an educator has. How can you stand if front of a class and exalt the virtue of life long learning when you yourself don't find value in learning?

I don't know, maybe you think you are too old? Maybe you think it's too hard? Maybe you find the tools too intimidating? I mean, really, what did you think teaching was going to be like?What ever the excuse, I think it boils down to do you find value in learning? Of course on this blog I'm speaking specifically about teachers learning the art of implementing digital tools into the educational process. For me, teacher technology use is a life long learning issue.

Recently, I've been thinking more about how to motivate teachers to want to utilize more technology tools in the classroom. Motivation I believe is the key to successful integration and implementation. I often run into teachers whom I am tasked with helping, who do not have the motivation to want to learn new things. I'm nearly convinced that being a good technology coordinator is like being a good used car salesman. If I could just "sell" you on why this tool would be good for you to use, or why this teaching strategy is better than the one you've been utilizing for the past 25 years, or why it's important to engage children in a "digital" process along side the hands-on process. Then they would get it! You've got to sell it!

Can I make someone find value in the learning of new skills? I partially agree with Dennis Grice's twitter post today, "To accept something as valuable depends on one's trust in the authority & reliability of the source." Maybe the teachers we try to lead frankly just don't trust us! I would hope that's not the case, but it could very well be.

Do some people not choose to engage in ongoing learning because they don't have "an attitude or openness" to learning new things, as put by Dave Black in a like-minded tweet?

For what ever the reason, I'm more and more convinced that learning is tied tightly to the concept of value. If you don't value it, you won't engage or learn it. then, as someone who says he takes professional development seriously, do I help my staff "value" the technology tools available to them? How do I reach the teacher at the conference sectional who comes up to me after the presentation and says, "that was all well in good, but....(insert obstacle or excuse here)?" Is it my job to sell life long learning to teachers? How do you convince someone that technology tools have changed education....dare I say, have changed learning forever!

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that I find a critical and deep connection between a teacher's technology adoption and their view of life long learning. Is that too simplistic?

Image: "It is the work." fromFlickr user shareski

Re-thinking Conferences

As a part of the Missouri District Educator's Conference planning committee, it has been a joy to work with some folks who are willing to take risks! Many conversations, ranging from what we want our conference to look like, to changing formats, changing locations, and even changing the number of days the conference convenes, where all important as we decided the future direction of our District's professional development opportunity.

The thing that is most clear coming out of our planning process is that our conferences need to change! No longer can we decide to end sectionals early on a Monday so teachers can go shopping at the outlet malls. Especially if this is the only professional development opportunity they have all year!

We purposely chose to follow the lead of other successful gatherings: This year a major part of our time is going to be a Learning Galleria (like poster-board sessions). We have wonderfully talented teachers in the Missouri District, but most of them would never present for an hour in front of their peers. But if we could encourage them to be at a table with hand-outs and have conversations about their projects or units, they would be more than willing to do that.

This year we are also culling our sectional load down to six. We believe we have assembled six wonderfully talented presenters that we want as many of our MO District teachers to be engaged with. The most exciting part, at least for me, is that we will get to enjoy a virtual presentation from Will Richards entitled "A Web of Connections."

God willing, this will be a powerful experience for everyone involved. We pray that the change in format will be well received the greeted with open minds.

Below is a video that I stumbled upon several months ago about re-thinking conferences and how we can better engage teachers in a more meaningful learning process. I wish we could have implemented more of their ideas this year, but as Bill Murray repeated over and over again in the movie "What About Bob," it's about "Baby Steps!"

Conference Logo "By All Means" created by Jon Fiala and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution, Non-Commercial, Share-Alike license.

Why do YOU blog?

So...Why do you write a blog?

Why do I blog?
(As a side note, can you really call yourself a "blogger" if your average posting rate is about one every two months? Not sure, but I'm hoping YES :-)

So why do I blog?

Do I really want people to read what I write? Most definitely, but not for narcissistic reasons. For with increased readership and recognition comes responsibility for more posts, and with more posts comes more time needed for blogging. Frankly, I am having trouble making use of the time I've got now.

The reason I bring this up, is that I'm struggling with how to frame my student's blog work for this coming school year. In the past, each student has had a blog and they were in charge of writing articles that correlated to assignments and occasionally write a post about something of self interest. It was really just a form of blogging direction instruction? So how do we blog then?

After reading "The Element" by Ken Robinson, I recognize the importance of letting students write about their passion. I hear folks like Will Richardson talk about allowing kids to be surrounded with other folks who are passionate about the similar things and forming networks. So how can I encourage my students to write about those things that they are passionate about while still providing a format for classroom reflection? This is my struggle!

Our students use Classblogmeister as our blogging engine and the kids don't seem to get many comments on their writing (With the exception of Lisa Durff's class in Maryland!). It is the comments that I know encourage kids to keep writing, after all, it's nice to know you are writing FOR someone else and not just the teacher.

What are your thoughts???

I think maybe we will have students keep a blog of personal interest this year and just have them write about things they know and love. It's nicer to read something when it is engaging and written because someone wanted to, not because they had to. That's not to say that there won't be the occasional blogging "assignment," but at least it won't be the blogs ultimate purpose.

Also, my thinking is that student comments will be more worthwhile and of higher quality because they are commenting about things of interest to them as well.

Does this mean that I'm going to change my blog because I don't get any affirming comments? :-) Nope, like I said before, I write to process....but it IS nice to receive a comment every now and again.

That just means I've got to start reading and commenting more on other people's stuff. After all, community is an "All Way" street, not just one way!

(image: "blog" by inju)

Changing the teacher or changing the teaching?

I'm sure that the answer to the question posed in the title is a false dichotomy, because you can't really do one without the other. It does make for an interesting discussion starter though!

I was confronted with this questions while doing some SMARTBoard tutoring this week. We were walking through the hows of using the SMARTBoard when it became apparent that my colleague's teaching wasn't going to change. The addition of a new tool was the only thing that was going to be new. Was the fact that students could now underline words during direct instruction make them more engaged learners?

So at what point do you stop the learning with your peers and really have the discussion about adopting a new teaching pedagogy. I know I don't have to be the smartest person in the classroom when it comes to content, but I had better be the smartest person in the room when it comes to leading, facilitating, and mentoring colleague and student learners. This forces me to be the pedagogy expert, not the knowledge expert and it is this "expertise" that makes us teachers...and that is new for some people, including ME! It's like learning how to teach all over again. It's times like this where I wish I wouldn't have had Ed. Psych. my freshman year!

This idea of change, as it relates to the practice of teaching, is going to have to be a common thread in all of the professional development I take part in, either as a leader or learner.

I have the opportunity to provide some in-service for a very small Lutheran school for a half-day the last Monday in July. They are getting a laptop cart and want to know if I can work with their staff and teach them "what to do with the computers." Not sure how much I can get done in 3 hours? They want me to teach them tools, but I wonder if the time should be spent working through teaching strategies? There is not enough time to do both?

The one thing I can NOT do, is teach them the same old way. Maybe modeling effective strategies will be enough? Can I differentiate enough to make the three hours worth while or will the old "spray and pray" strategy have to do for this one time meeting? Who knows how many of their minds will even be open to a new teaching paradigm with new tools?

Along these lines, I ran across an article from Educause entitled: "The Three-E Strategy for Overcoming Resistance to Technological Change." It does an awesome job of addressing the introduction of new technologies to the 92% of technology users who really need to be convinced!

Well, I don't really know where I'm going with this blog, but to say that I'm learning that being a teacher is getting harder and not easier. The rules and tools have changed so much that you can't just sit idle anymore and not be part of the change.

These are interesting times to be a teacher!

Just a little time in Second Life

Spent a little bit of time in Second Life tonight. That's me in the picture getting my "groove thang on" at a new Christian dance call The Fire Escape (The link is a landmark in Second Life, so you'll need an account to check it out).

I'm really impressed with how the Christian community is starting to latch on to virtual worlds. I actually went into SL this evening to join a prayer meeting in progress (thanks to Lisa Durff for the heads up).

I know joining a prayer meeting in a virtual world doesn't sound exciting, but it was! Each person had an opportunity to offer up prayer, praise, and thanks to God, it was very cool and done in a very reverant manner. I know Lutherans tend not to pray with folks from other denominations for fear of being synchronistic, but it was pretty cool to pray with the other 25 or so people there (where ever "there" really was...we may have been under water, I can't be sure).

This is just my own personal observation, but there don't seem to be a lot of faith growing communities on the Internet (that I've noticed), so when you run across them they really cause you take notice. It was awesome tonight to be able to join with other folks who share a passion for Jesus and fully trust in the work he has completed for your behalf. The LCMS Ablaze! ministry team should consider how they can be more open and receptive to online communities like Second Life or Facebook.

I really didn't have the time to spend just hanging around in SL tonight, but it was worth it! I've been thinking the past couple of days about some of the observations Clay Shirky makes in his book Here Comes Everybody about the power of latent groups. I do think Christians are a latent group, except on Sunday mornings of course, and that for the most part, we are still relatively uncoordinated on the Internet.

It was nice to be organized for an evening!

Textual Harrassment--An addition to the D.C. Curriculum

It is vitally important as 21st century teachers that we engage our students in their understanding of digital citizenship! For example, getting students to think about their online posting habits. Am I posting something that is Legal, Appropriate, Responsible, and Kind (L.A.R.K)? Am I protecting myself, my computer, and my network by "thinking before I click?" As a Christian, can I Google myself and find a positive digital footprint?

These are only a few important concepts, but right now I'm struggling with how to handle the subject of online sexual behaviors?

Thanks to the EdtechTalk community for pointing me in the direction of this article from Slate on"Textual Misconduct." The number of students constantly harassing each other with texts, as well as requests for nude pictures, is on the rise. The article has me struggling with at what age level does this topic fit. Unfortunately, you'll get as many different answers as their are people, but I think the question is still legitimate.

I have broached the subject of "textual harassment" and sending inappropriate phone pictures with 6th-8th grades at school, but have not gone into much detail. So far we've framed the entire conversation around how to support a friend who might be having these issues.

I'm definitely not naive enough to think that Lutheran School students wouldn't do something as sinister as take a nude photo of themselves and send it to a boyfriend or girlfriend over a cell phone, but I'm not sure that our community is ready to have an "open and honest" discussion about it. Especially with parents decrying the evils of this new technology and it's potential to "poison the minds of our kids."

I have used the site, but it seems to have greater us as an individual resource for teens rather than one for the classroom (Just a heads up about the alternative life-style resources under that "need help" section. That may be a point of concern for some communities).

The balancing act that is played out in our classrooms, as it relates to student use of technology and the appropriateness of content, seems unbearable at times. As I said before, we don't want to be so naive as to think that inappropriate use doesn't happen (We've had our share of students barraging each other with texts about "going out" with other students), but at the same time we don't want to over expose them either. Is it better for students to learn about the ugliness of technology use sooner rather than later? Will they be better equipped handle situations or are they better off trying to process a request for a nude cellphone picture when it happens? What of the voices that echo our children are "growing up" too soon? Is Pandora already out of the box?

When demoing the ThatsNotCool site to our 6th-8th graders, much to my surprise, the more mature audience wound up being the 6th graders. Sure you got the occasional, "that's gross!" "Why would anyone do that?" But they were attentive, engaged, and seemed to GET IT! Instincts would tell me that the 8th graders, our more mature group (sarcasm intended), would be the target audience, but I'm not so sure.

Maybe the answer is that there is not "right time" to have these conversations? The right time for my kids, may not be the right time for your kids! But we do know that there needs to be a time. The conversation needs to be had, and I'm not sure it's taking place at home. At least yet!

So until then, how have you introduced these conversations? Are you scared? Are the stakes too high not to?

We live in interesting times.

Generations in Change--Phil Bruno

METC 2009--Fighting Plagiarism: A Fence or an Ambulance?

Doug Johnson--A Fence or an Ambulance? Original poem by Joseph Malins

Simple Tip--when you copy and paste, change text color so students remember what is theirs and what isn't.

Put as in the hands of the students.

"The principal sin of plagiarism is not ethical, but cognitive" Brad Hokanson, U of Minnesota

How can we construct research assignments to minimize plagiarism and create more meaning

Anupholstraphobia-- Fear of not covering all of your material :-)

Elements of a good assignments:
The Four A's:

Assignments that Matter

  1. Have a clarity of purpose and expectation- WIIFM(What's in it for me).
  2. Give students choices--generate built in motivation
  3. Are relevant: personal, timely, local
  4. Stress higher level thinking skills--We don't want creative paraphrasing (compare and contrast, write a prevention article, story from POV, Analyze of fear of). Move up Bloom's! Research questions must move up the pyramid (Stay away from the three R's: rote, restraint, regurgitation).
  5. Answer a Question: legitimate and useful (level 1-4 questioning)
Ken Macrories I-Search Tips:
  • Let the topic choose you.
  • Use local experts
  • Tell your findings as a story
  • Reveal feelings to create a lively paper

Activities that involve

In the full presentation:

Assessments that help--formative assessments

In the full presentation:

Attitude is all (Teacher Attitude=Philosophy)

All kids are able to do creative work. J-curve--given enough time, every child can improve their skills

Engaging kids Spirit and creativity

Poem of the stick with it frog

METC 2009--Differentiating Instruction Using Technology

Meg Ormiston--Differentiating Instruction using Technology

METC 2009--Prof. Dev. Analysis

Christine Tomasino---The People You Meet in Training: Analyzing your Tech Professional Development.

METC2009-Gathering a Gaggle of Google Tools for HighSchool

Presentation by Cindy Lane, First Missouri Google Certified Teacher.

METC 2009--Computer Activities for Little Folks

Seasons, They Are A Changin'

While procrastinating doing the dishes this afternoon, I decided to peruse Facebook and catch up with some old friends.

There were the usual SuperPokes, Suggested Friend Requests, Snowball Fights, and "Hey, join this group dedicated to the saving of bald eagles from certain death" groups, but what started to really catch my attention wasn't the number of friendship requests, but the number of people who requested friendship that I hadn't thought about in 10, 15, or 20 years. You know what I'm talking about? Those people who were part of your life for a season!

There is the old saying that God gives you certain people in your life: Friends for a Season, Friends for a Reason, and Friends for a Lifetime. Those folks who you thought where only part of your life for a season are now coming back around and seeking access to your life again. Now adding them as a friends doesn't necessarily qualify as '"being a part of your life," but it does get one thinking about the power of social networking. Those friends, acquaintances, and"what-was-I-thinking" relationships start to come back around, and force you to contemplate how we treat the people around us.

With social networks, getting up in the morning and praying that God would use you to make an impact on others, starts to change ones outlook on our "seasons."

Open Channels: connections with people who you wished you had kept in touch with, but let slip away; folks you spent time with, but where glad to move on from; acquaintances and passers-by who you knew only by name; a boyfriend or girlfriend whom you hurt, or who hurt you; people who you have wronged or who have wronged you; anyone who you know or knew, and anyone who knows or knew you.
Social networks should force us to examine the expected and unexpected consequences of our relationships. I'm starting to realize how important it is to view others in light of God's Grace!

With the potential of us all being connected, what about those "seasonal" people?

"There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven" Ecclesiastes 3:1

I wonder what Solomon would say about Facebook??

Image: Seasons by ganzoman