Thursday, April 19, 2007

Adams 14 Launches Global Learner Initiative

I am excited to announce that Adams 14 is launching an ambitious program to propel teaching and learning into the 21st Century. The program, Global Learners, is aimed at increasing student achievement and 21st Century skills by increasing the availability of technology to teachers and students and the use of technology in the classroom.

The grant is funded by both district technology funds and a competive grant CDE (Federal block grant awarded to states under Title II Part D). The program will initially focus on 26 teachers district-wide. Nine teachers from the math department at Adams City High School, eight teachers from the 6th grade at Kearney Middle School, and nine teachers that self-select to participate in the program. Teachers that participate in the program will receive a laptop, projector, SmartBoard, and extensive professional development on integrating technology in the standards-based classroom and effectively using 21st Century tools with students.

Checkout the website.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Global Competitiveness Discussed at National Governor's Initiative Meeting

Today at a National Governor's Association meeting in Cupertino, California governors, their representatives, and experts in the field of technology discussed how education can adapt to prepare students for the workplace of the future. Discussants at the event, sponsored by Symantec, concluded that an increased emphasis on innovation, math, science, and technology in America's public schools was the only way to stay competitive in the future. Janet Napolitano, the current chair of the National Governors Association, Napolitano established the "Innovation America" initiative. Innovation America's goal is to come up with a list of strategies to enhance innovation and global competition by each state.

Napolitano suggested it was time for a change stating that the content of courses and method for teaching has not changed since she was in school. Do you believe that math and science are the focus that can maintain America's competitive edge in the global economy? Do you believe it is time for shift in teaching strategy? What do you think should be the focus of K-12 education? What strategies do you believe should be introduced into teaching to the K-12 student?

Friday, April 13, 2007

A little competition

This was posted on the Abilene, Kansas High School Dialogue Buzz website (Courtesy of Kansas High School Dialog Buzz website, via Rae Niles) It was an anonymous post, but VERY powerful. Feel free to share this with educators, parents and stakeholders about the power of the seamless use of technology. What do you think? Is there another side to this competition scenario?

Let’s have a little competition at school and get ready for the future.

I will use a laptop and you will use paper and pencil. Are you ready…?
I will access up-to-date information - you have a textbook that is 5 years old.
I will immediately know when I misspell a word – you have to wait until it’s graded.
I will learn how to care for technology by using it – you will read about it.
I will see math problems in 3D – you will do the odd problems.
I will create artwork and poetry and share it with the world – you will share yours with the class.
I will have 24/7 access – you have the entire class period.
I will access the most dynamic information – yours will be printed and photocopied.
I will communicate with leaders and experts using email – you will wait for Friday’s speaker.
I will select my learning style – you will use the teacher’s favorite learning style.
I will collaborate with my peers from around the world – you will collaborate with peers in your classroom.
I will take my learning as far as I want – you must wait for the rest of the class.
The cost of a laptop per year? - $250
The cost of teacher and student training? – Expensive
The cost of well educated US citizens and workforce? - Priceless

Doug Johnson on his Blue Skunk blog added the teacher's perspective to this competition. Check it out here

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Will you live long enough?

I came across an interesting post in Will Richardson's Weblogg-ed. As educators should we be excited or depressed about the shifts occurring in our environment? Do the majority of educators believe that the world of our current students will be much different and that we are obliged to prepare them for their new world by folding in Web 2.0 learning experiences and tools? Some believe that educators are and have always been reluctant to change, that we do need to keep teaching pretty much the same as we always have. Where do you fall on this spectrum? Will you feel like Moses may have felt, or are you poised to accept the challenges of 21st Century Learning and Teaching?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Is Wikipedia Bad for Education?

Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger recently criticized the Irish Secretary of Education for stating that Wikipedia was a good educational tool for children. In fact, Mr. Sanger said that Wikipedia was "broken beyond repair." Sanger cited inaccuracies and related issues with Wikipedia as reasons why children should not be using it as an educational tool.

Wikipedia has suffered some set-backs in terms of credibility including cases of high-profile inaccuracies and the recent case of an editor being revealed as lacking any real credibility in his subject area. Does this mean that Wikipedia has no educational value? The answer to that question depends on expectations for students.

When students are asked to complete a research project what are they asked to do? Frequently students are asked to write a comprehensive paper answering a question like "what role does terrorism play in world politics?" Students are paraded down to the media center and given a quick once over on plagiarism, quality sources and source vetting, and the pitfalls of the web. These students are also given a model and (sometimes) clear instructions on what to do: 6-8 pages, double-spaced, 1 inch margins, professional font, and at least 6 citations in APA style. In other words, a term paper. At the same time teachers are instructed in how to catch students who "cheat" (download term papers).

Librarians have staked out territory on whether or not to "let" students use Wikipedia for projects like this. Some say that it can't be trusted while other librarians cite studies showing Wikipedia is just as trustworthy as traditional media. What rarely seems to enter into the discussion is whether the assignment and model provided to students are worth anything.

Instead of repeating what has always been done, why not challenge students to do an original research project on terrorism as the topic. For example, introduce students to the Terrorism Knowledge Database and get them thinking about analyzing data for a region or comparing regions over time (I challenge you to do the same). Get students to use data visualization products like Many Eyes to create graphics of data from the Terrorism Knowledge Database (like bar charts, line graphs over time, or distribution maps of events across the world) or tag clouds of speeches/columns of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Tom Tancredo, Tom Friedman, and Molly Ivins and compare how often terrorism associated words are mentioned. Instead of using Wikipedia to do research on terrorism, create a collaborative wiki in your own class where students are charged with defining terrorism, describing terrorist groups, and analyzing changing terrorist tactics. Sure, much of their initial material will be derived from sources like Wikipedia, but as the project progresses the students will make cognitive extensions and start to develop their own material.

There is no question that Wikipedia has some issues to resolve to attain the level of credibility they strive for. However, the inaccuracies and scandals surrounding Wikipedia should only be a minor issue to educators. We should focus on creating assignments that challenge students to do more than traditional "research".

What do you think of Wikipedia? What are some assignments that you would suggest?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Wisconsin Representative Ron Kind: An Advocate for Ed Tech

The US Department of Education recently released an evaluation of reading and math programs they refer to as "Educational Technology". The Ed Department referred to selecting "technology products" for the study, not to evaluating an approach to teaching with technology. The Department of Ed ended up evaluating the effectiveness of Waterford, Plato, Pearson, and the like. In the end (not surprisingly), they concluded that "On average, after one year, products did not increase or decrease test scores by amounts that were statistically different from zero." In other words, these sit and get programs had no effect.

Ron Kind, a Congressman from Wisconsin, published an opinion article today on that argues that the Ed Department does not understand what Ed Tech is and is using a flawed and contrived measure to try to cut the Enhancing Education Through Technology monies. In short, Representative Kind argues that there are many evaluations that already exists that show that students learn when technology is integrated appropriately and the Department of Ed is missing the point if they only look at technology to offer direct reading and math instruction to children.

What do you think?

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Who Owns Culture in the 21st Century

I was listening to this wonderful discussion with Jeff Tweety and Lawarence Lessig around copyright law and digital media. Lawrence Lessig is a Standford Law Professor that is well known for his advocacy for reduced restrictions on copyright and for the creation of Creative Commons licensing. Jeff Tweety is the lead singer of Wilco, a band that is well-known for its effective use of the Internet to release an album in 2002 after being dropped by their record label.

The discussion at the New York Public Library focused on the legal restrictions that stunt the organic development of culture in this digital world. Today's children are clearly adept at taking music, film, or pictures and creating a "collage" that is new. An example that Lessig cited was the mixing of the Beatles White Album and Jay-Z's Black album by DJ Dangermouse into the Grey Album.

There is also this money quote from Jeff Tweety in response to whether he has a problem with people downloading his music for free: "the only people complaining are the people that are so rich I don't know why they would ever have to be paid again."

What does this all mean for public school educators? Are we required to teach children the most restrictive limits of the copyright law (sometimes called fair use) and hold them accountable for these? Or do we encourage children to be creative and engage in the creative processes that includes remixing regardless of the legal restrictions? Or do we find ways for our students to become part of the conversation with lawyers, artists, and lawmakers? What should students know about Creative Commons?

PS: I find it slightly ironic that when I went to get a photo of Wilco for this blog all the photos on their webpage are "all rights reserved".

Thursday, April 5, 2007

PowerPoint or Presentation

PowerPoint is firmly entrenched in the curriculum of the public schools. Students are frequently schooled in the finer points of finding appropriate animation and using the "right" template for a PowerPoint. Here is the text from the Denver Public Schools Secondary Information Literacy and Technology targets: "multimedia presentation (using PowerPoint or other appropriate software), with slides that include text, transitions, graphics imported from other electronic sources." (Grade 6) Beyond 6th grade students are expected to add animations (i.e. bullets, buttons), hyperlinks, and then maybe some video clips or charts.

(Book cover image from

Denver's expectations are not uncommon for students. In fact, the use of PowerPoint by students is considered a high achievement and something to aspire to. Unfortunately, the research shows that PowerPoint done in the traditional manner is more difficult to understand than just reading a document or listening to a speaker. (Here is some research on how to do PowerPoint right)

What does this mean for educators that are trying to prepare students to be Global Learners with 21st Century Skills?

First, call for a moratorium on PowerPoint presentations. (Hey, teachers and administrators that means ditch the overheads too). When we use PowerPoint in an ineffective way we are modeling for our teachers and students. We are sending a powerful message that it is okay to ignore research and do what is convenient (or what is culturally acceptable).

Second, teach students and colleagues to be presenters. Being a presenter is so much more than creating slides. Being a presenter means knowing how to tell a story that evokes emotion and (potentially) calls your audience to action. Being a presenter is a 21st Century Skill, knowing how to make text fade in or out in PowerPoint is NOT.

Third, read constantly about what it means to effectively use visuals. Even though I called for a moratorium on PowerPoint, truth be told effective use of visuals can help tell a story, evoke emotion, and help people remember your point. If you read one blog on a weekly basis, read Presentation Zen.

(Image to the left is a sample slide that was posted at
This is serious. If you question the seriousness of this issue read this excellent blog post regarding the relationship between use of PowerPoint and the failure of the Iraq war planning. (no kidding). The post is a partial review of Thomas Ricks book Fiasco where he writes: "That reliance on slides rather than formal written orders seemed to some military professionals to capture the essence of Rumsfeld's amateurish approach to war planning." The post also mentions the Columbia Shuttle Accident Investigation Board report that stated, "The Board views the endemic use of PowerPoint briefing slides instead of technical papers as an illustration of the problematic technical communication at NASA."
Modeling effective methods for communicating is absolutely essential in the public schools. We need our students to understand that effective communication is not writing bullet points in PowerPoint. Now we know that may be the opposite of effective!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Developing Expert Voices--Involving Students in Setting High Expectations

Darren Kuropatwa over at the A Difference blog has created an assignment challenging his math students to summarize their learning and create a real-world product. The students are to create four (new) problems that demonstrate what they have learned. Not only that, they are to publish the result of their work on the Internet. They can publish to,, bubbleshare, or any other location that allows wide distribution. (Potentially 1 billion people that have access to the Internet)

Here is what is really cool about this assignment, the students were also heavily involved in creating the rubric for evaluating the presentations. Read the posts where the students are discussing the weighting of particular dimensions. These students are thoughtful and involved in their own learning. They OWN their learning.

Read this post from John Albright and read the rubric and assignment from Darren Kuropatwa's students. Also check out this assignment (the "un-project") from Sargent Park School.

Are the students provided an opportunity to demonstrate the skills that the Denver-metro business leaders mentioned at the CTE advisory meeting (effective, communication, critical thinking, multi-tasking, teamwork, tech-savvy, work ethic, trustworthiness, trainability, cultural awareness)? Do you have ideas how we might create more opportunities like this for students?