Monday, December 6, 2010

Life moves pretty fast

"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."- Ferris Bueller

I was thinking about that great philosopher Ferris Bueller earlier today. I was reflecting on a conversation that I had this past Friday with our school superintendent, associate superintendent, personnel director, and IT administrator. Our school principal was kind enough to join me and support me. The topic of the conversation was the school district's recent decision to block facebook and twitter on all school employee computers. I had requested the meeting and the assembled district staff had been gracious enough to hear me out.
I will spare you all the details of the meeting except to say that I have the utmost respect for everyone there and that our discussion was wide ranging, free flowing, and ultimately concerned with what was best for teachers and students. Every time I talk to the people at the district office I am impressed with how much they want to "push the envelope" when it comes to technology. I am also cognizant of their plight when it comes to managing over 400 employees. We all know that there are people out there who will take advantage of the system and the decision to block facebook and twitter came about because there were teachers in the system who were spending too much time on both of these sites during the school day. I can't defend those teachers and I won't do that here. Suffice to say our conversation was a good one and all realized that there is a compromise solution out there and we are pursuing different avenues to come to a consensus decision that we can all live with.
What really struck me during the conversation though was the use of the term "social media." I don't really know how long this term has been around but I do know that it has been around less time than I have. All of us were throwing the term around and we were using it and terms like tweet and friend throughout the conversation. Prior to the meeting, I had looked up "social media" jobs on and had found the term in 15 job descriptions in our geographical area. How many of those jobs would there have been 5 years ago? 10 years ago?
What I'm trying to get at here is that all of this is very new. Who knows what communication is going to look like five years from now? Facebook certainly hopes that people are going to use their message service. Google hopes we keep using their email. Is messaging going to be more like SMS or more like mail in the future?
We don't know. And that was the point I was trying to make in my conversation. None of us knows what the future holds. When I was a kid, a mobile phone meant a really long cord. There was no email. There was no satellite TV.
Why do we limit technology? Why are we limiting these things? The abuse of technology is not the fault of the tool. It is the fault of the people who misuse it. That's where staff development comes in. That's why we have another new word "netiquette." We need to train staff that it probably isn't a good idea to be on facebook all day. We then need staff to impart this "netiquette" to kids. All of us are trying to figure out what this new world looks like and we are trying to find our place in it.
As newer technology enters our world we will deal with these ideas more and more. I don't know what the next big thing is. I just know that we have to be ready for it. We become ready for it by educating ourselves on what's new and what will have an impact on our lives. We do that by stopping to look, to play, to fail, and finally, to learn. Take the time to stop and look around. Life moves pretty fast.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

grading papers

Well, the Thanksgiving holiday break comes to a close today so I'm going to spend the rest of the day working on grading papers. I have to say that teaching never feels like a "job" except when I have to go through the drudgery of "grading." It just seems as if we should have come up with better forms of assessment by now. The one size fits all worksheet, quiz, multiple choice exam, just doesn't feel authentic to me and it never has. Besides, once all the grades are in that's when the real massaging of the numbers begins- classroom participation, extra credit, etc...
Technology should really be answering this question for us. The days of bubble sheets are hopefully numbered. I want to see technology leveraged in a way that frees teachers from the "marking blues" and gets rid of the "red pen syndrome." Data should be driving our decisions when it comes to curriculum design and lesson ideas. I want a data tracking system that shows me what every student in the classroom knows with regard to my course objectives. I want this data to show me when I need to reteach and when students need refreshers. I want pinpoint accuracy- "Johnny knows objective 1.01 but he didn't get 1.02." When we get to this point with technology then you can free teachers to really teach and to personalize the learning for every student.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Posting from an iPad

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our school recently purchased several Ipads. Right now I am sitting in a comfortable chair in my home study and I am typing out this post on the onscreen keyboard of the iPad. The keyboard is fairly intuitive as it tries to guess what I really mean and autocorrect my mistakes but it is going to take some time for me to get used to typing things in this manner. I guess that's really true of a lot of new technology though and it has never stopped me before. There is always a learning curve and some things may seem very weird the first few times that we try them. Eventually though, we begin to master the new ways of doing things and it becomes easy and we wonder what the big deal was in the beginning. As teachers, I think it is very important that we try new things and that we remember what it feels like to be a novice. We have to be able to go out on a limb if we expect students to be able to do so. It's funny that we often want our students to take chances but so few teachers are also willing to do just that.
So remember to try something new as often as you can. Even if you are sitting in a comfortable chair...

Monday, November 22, 2010


today many people across the globe who are interested in educational reforms are writing about it as part of the #blog4reform day. i figured i would jettison my 2 cents worth out into the blogosphere and see if i could start some conversation of my own.
before we begin to talk about reform though, we need to ask ourselves "what is the purpose of education?" i think we would have many different opinions and answers to that question. is the purpose of education to prepare students for jobs? to be good citizens? so that they will be informed? there are as many answers to the question as there are ways to reform education. we need to start with that.
when we talk about reforming education, are we really talking about reforming schools? because "education" is in the process of a makeover already. i can learn about anything with access to a computer. want to know how to build a treehouse? there are videos and plans online. need to learn a foreign language? there are programs available that can help you do just that. education is changing even as we speak. schools should echo those changes that are already taking place.
so after we figure out the purpose of education we figure out how to redesign schools around our answer. we keep in mind the architectural principle that form follows function and we begin to see what schools should look like. if schools are meant to prepare people for jobs then we design curriculum that prepares students for the jobs that they will have in the future. we get rid of the vestiges of the industrial age. no bells. a flexible schedule. no seat time requirements. we focus on creativity. we focus on teamwork. we focus on production. we use data to inform our decisions. we build relationships.
if the purpose of education is to make better citizens, we concentrate on civic education, real world solutions for real world problems. we build schools that are problem based schools and we strive to make our students expert problem solvers. they understand their place in the world and realize that superman isn't coming to save us. they realize that it is up to them to make the world a better place. we make character education a big part of what schools do and we talk about what it means to be a citizen of the world.
if the purpose of school is to inform citizens then we spend lots of time looking at information and trying to decide what that information means. we scour the news, we learn historical concepts, we look for trends in data and we push students to become lifelong learners in their search for knowledge. we teach them what it means to be thinkers and how to dissect arguments and how to search for truth.
so i don't know exactly what the school of the future looks like but i do know some of the important ideas for those schools to focus on. i do know where to begin.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

ipads new to our school

on monday of this week, our school received three ipads that we had ordered. since then, we have been investigating the use of ipads in school. i have received many helpful hints and ideas for apps that were "must have" from my PLN. granted we are only in day 3 really of the testing but i have a few early observations.

#1. what good is an ipad as an instructional device if i can't show the app through a projector to all my students? i mean, there are some really cool apps out there but it doesn't make one bit of sense if i can display those apps to a crowd. gathering 24 students around the ipad just doesn't work. come on. there has to be an easy way to mirror the ipad display.

#2. tweetdeck on the ipad is about as cool as it gets. can't say enough about this app. it just works the way all things should work on an apple product. apple spends a large amount of time thinking about design and making things intuitive on their own software. tweetdeck has taken this into account and the app is just smooth.

#3. when e-textbooks on the ipad become as cool as wired magazine on the ipad we will no longer have students overburdened and weighted down with book bags. i need a team of software people over here right now. let me design an e-textbook for us history that is native to the ipad and i will put every other textbook company out of business. for sure.

like i said, we've only had these things for a couple of days and i'm sure that there is much more to learn. i'm sure that some of you out there will let me know if i am in error with any of the above. so far, i can see many uses for the ipad in education but i don't think we have even scratched the surface of the way this thing should scale in usage. once software types really begin to figure it out, every student in america is going to want one of these and schools may be willing to buy them for them.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

trying it again

read a great article by dean shareski this morning at huffington post and it made me think about getting back to blogging.  you can read the article here.  dean makes some great points and it made me decide to get off my butt and try some more blogging.  i guess i had just gotten to the point that the blog felt like more work that i had to do.  i was never really into it because i don't think i really had an idea of what i wanted to say and what i wanted to talk about.  but now i'm going to try it again.

i think most of the problems with the blog were in my head.  i kept thinking that blog posts had to be long and that each of them should have some well defined reason to exist.  and maybe they do for some people and maybe that will happen eventually here.  but it isn't going to happen today.  

the reality of it all is that maybe i just need a place to write about school-type things.  maybe i don't need that writer's filter all the time.  maybe sometimes i just have to muse to myself about what is going on and maybe, just maybe, other people will want to comment on those musings.  maybe if you just write it, the comments will come.  and the comments and the reflection are really where it's at when it comes to a blog.  you know i could be having this conversation with myself in my head and it would probably do me some good.  but it is the sharing of ideas and thoughts that lead to us pushing ourselves in new directions.  and that's really what we want to do.  so here's to yet another promise to write some more and to reflect some more and hopefully this time it sticks.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

moving in the right direction

yesterday we had our district technology meeting.  usually these meetings are a little frustrating for me because we are often TOLD what the district is doing with the monies that have been earmarked for technology.  at my last teaching gig, the individual technology committees at the schools made those decisions.  i still think that it makes sense for the schools themselves to have a pot of money and to make their own decisions about the technology purchases that they make.  but that’s a different story and a different post.

yesterday, after listening to how those monies would be spent this year, something different happened.  yesterday the principal of the school in which i teach was able to present to the group an idea that we have been working on here at the school for a while.  yesterday we brought up the idea of opening up the school wi-fi to the personal computers of students and teachers.  the committee as a whole had a good conversation about the pros and cons of the idea and it was decided that we should draw up a policy concerning the idea.  our school would then pilot the program as we begin to look at how this would work for everyone in practice. 

yesterday was different because common sense prevailed over fear.  a group of educators, tech types, central office people, and our superintendent had a conversation about the future.  and we decided that we were going to own it.  we were going to be proactive instead of reactive.  in education this so rarely happens. and it was so simple.

and it reaffirmed my belief that schools can change and can embrace the future.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

back to school

well, school starts back tomorrow with a string of teacher workdays before the kids come back on august 25th.  this summer, like all the previous summers, has sped by and tomorrow i will begin my 16th year in the teaching profession.  the start of school is always an exciting time.  there will be much to do- meetings to attend, getting the classroom ready, solving scheduling problems, working on the school improvement plan, talking with other teachers about the upcoming year, the list goes on.

i am dead-set on blogging more this year.  there are always lots of things to talk about and to share.  i am going to try to not be overwhelmed by the idea of writing more and would love some reader input from time to time. so as we ramp up the year, i'll be doing my best to try and put some thoughts and ideas down here.  i'm sure there will be plenty to write about.  it is school, after all.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

another test post


Thursday, July 15, 2010

this is a new test post from my scribe fire blog updater.  this is only a test.

but if it works you can expect some updates sometime soon.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

lots of things happening

well, it has obviously been a while since i have posted here. thought i might get back at it. lots of things have happened since my last blog. i have lots to cover but first, let me get at what has been happening the last few days.
last week we had a group from ASCD here at our school. this group was here to film our school and our students as an example of a school trying to emphasize problem based learning. here at the newton school, our students are required to complete health-science projects. the group from ASCD wanted to film the process that our students go through when working on these problems.
an example of a health-science project (so called because we are a health-science high school): Water and how it is essential to life. from here, students can relate it to climate change, disease, food production, water pollution, etc... the students get to work within the topic and relate the topic to things that they might find interesting. they have to have a driving question, they have to talk about cause and effect, it has to be meaningful and show empathy, and has to answer a host of other things that are all part of our rubric.
as i am writing this, there have already been three students come in to the office and ask for help. they need help with the focus part of the project most often. we provide them with ideas and try to challenge their assumptions. we also want them to spend time thinking about dissenting opinions and want them to prove something to us and to their peers. they will have six weeks to work on this and then will have to present their findings in front of an 'audience' of peers, parents, and teachers.
we think, and hopefully other people think, that this kind of thing might be really how we begin to change education. problem based learning projects answer some of the big questions that we deal with when we talk about educational change. does it allow students to incorporate their own interests? yep. is it individualized? yep. does it help to foster critical thinking skills? another yep. does it pertain to the curriculum? still another yep.
so the people from ASCD were here to film and ask questions and see how this whole PBL thing is done here at the newton school. they spent a couple of days walking around, talking, listening to teachers and STUDENTS, and picking our brains about the things that we do and why we do them. we enjoyed it and i hope that they got some information that they can use and pass on to others. their questions certainly got us talking and thinking.