Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Open 24 hours... but not in a row!

We are a one-to-one laptop school
- just not all at the same time ;)

I work in a school that does not have a one-to-one laptop program. Belmont Hill is an all boys independent school for grades 7-12. We are committed to a traditional education, while still being alive to innovation. This is my first year here and I have been thinking a lot about whether we should go one-to-one. The more I think about it, however, the less I am convinced that one-to-one is the way for us to go.

We have 3 computer labs, and 2 carts of laptops available to 425 students. For the most part, almost every student has at least one networked computer at home. In a world of cloud computing, where tools like Google Apps make word processing, spreadsheets and presentations easy to access no matter where you are, do kids really need to lug a machine back and forth to school? My students log plenty of screen time. Of course I am committed to using technology in the classroom, but do students really need computers in every class every day? That, in addition to the fact that our school does not have lockers (picture backpacks carried and dropped haphazardly across campus), keeps me questioning.

I know this may sound crazy coming from a technology evangelist. What do you think? Am I totally out of line? Or do I have a point?

Image Source: Open 24 Hours from the Flickr photostream of mag3737

Friday, March 20, 2009

Do we still need teachers?

I recently read Turning Learning Right Side Up by Russell Ackoff and Daniel Greenberg and was inspired to consider sending my students to Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, MA. Sudbury Valley is an alternative school (K-12) where students create their own learning and are guided by their own curiosity and interests to pursue knowledge without being "forced" to do so by adults. There are no grades, no classes, and no homework.

In the book Greenberg and Ackoff state that "Schools are upside down: Students should be teaching and faculty learning." (p. 4) "The objective of education is learning, not teaching." (p. 5) "... the most important thing for students to learn is how to learn and to be motivated to do so throughout their lives" (p. 46)

My children, ages 4 (pre-K) and 6 (1st grade), attend our local public school. While I feel that their teachers are committed and passionate educators, I have also seen the affect of our national obsession with testing push out all subjects but reading and math. My son, who is fascinated with science and animals, is begging for more science experiments. I want my children to be encouraged to pursue their passions, to follow their questions and to play. With this in mind, my family and I went out to the Sudbury Valley School for an interview.

As we walked around Sudbury Valley we saw children of all ages engaged in a variety of activites. Two seven year old girls had been playing in a room all day with all kinds of toys, teenagers were playing magic cards and were on computers, some were playing volley ball outside, others were hanging out and talking, and one boy sat at a piano composing music. I was struck by the absence of adults.

I understand that the premise behind this school is that children don't need adults to tell them what to learn, that they discover answers by themselves. But what I learned about myself is that I want my children to have a teacher. I believe in the power of teachers to guide and inspire students' learning. Maybe I am stuck in an old way of thinking, but for now, I am not ready to give that up.

Perhaps it is the teacher in me, having been an educator for the last 16 years, that still believes in teachers. Maybe I just want to save my own dying breed, but I do think there is value in what I do. I feel we teachers have something to contribute, even in a changing learning landscape. Yes, we need to focus more on creativity and innovation and less on rote memorization, but teachers still play an important role in that process. Obviously, I am a bit biased.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Two For Tuesday 3/10/09

1. befunky - Photo effects with one click, Turn your photos into artwork
Upload any photo andbefunky will turn it into a cartoon, a Wharhol-like painting a line drawing and more.It is simple to do and you can use the resulting image as an icon or profile picture. You can also create and purchase t-shirts, postage stamps, and coffee mugs (among other items) featuring your image.

2. Realtime Twitter Search Results on Google

Great Twitter plug-in for your Firefox browser. Once installed, your Google searches will show not only Google results, but also the most recent 5 tweets related to your query. This blog post explains how to first install Grease Monkey and then install the plug-in. I've done it, it is easy to do and it works.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What is good and right about schools today?

We are constantly barraged with books and posts about what is wrong with schools today and what we need to do to fix and change our schools. What if we take a moment to look at what is right about our schools.

Think about the school you work in or a school you went to,
  • what about the institution really "works/worked"?
  • what does/did the school do really well?
  • what do/did the faculty do really well?
  • what is/was most effective about the administration?
  • what are you most proud of?
I believe that, in all of the schools where I have worked and where I have attended, the first priority of the faculty and administration has been to provide the best education possible to all children. I am extremely proud to be part of this true and honest commitment to doing what is right for students. It is the common thread that connects me to great educators around the world.

Perhaps we can learn more from what we are doing right, rather than from focusing on what we need to change. These are my thoughts. I hope you will share yours.

image source: Success from kevinthoule's photostream on Flickr

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Gr8T Quotes from #NAIS09

I've just returned from the National Association of Independent School's annual conference. It was a wonderful experience. I had the opportunity to meet face to face with many people from my online network (always the highlight of a conference), to attend several very good sessions and to learn a lot.

Throughout the conference there was a very active back channel. People tweeted from a variety of sessions and shared some great quotes. In trying to pull together my learning from the conference, I did a twitter search for the hashtag #NAIS09 I've pulled out some of the highlights from several sessions.

Profilepic_normal Photo_2_normal Head_shot_normal Me2_normal Photo_232_normal Photo_av_normal Jonathan_martin_smaller_normal Michael_normal 3072291405_57183faf90_normal Sam_morris_normal
Thanks to my Tweeps above for taking the time to share with the rest of us!
From right to left:
 sarahhanawalddcinc66, raventechcookpnandikerriantoniovivaJonathanEMartintiomikelspecialkrbsamandjt

Sarah Hanawald and Jason Ramsden also live blogged several sessions!

Revitalizing the Veteran Teacher with Peter Gow
  • Raise your hand if you have a teacher in your school who just doesn't get it
  • You have to talk to the "undead" at your school. 
  • Change the physical space, change the team, change the responsibilities of the veteran teacher - keep them engaged.
  • Culture of our society does not value age - our schools mirror these attitudes. 
  • We all are going to be the "senior teacher" someday.
Enhancing Team Performance
  • When working with teams being a 'good listener' is not enough. One MUST contribute.
  • Teams often confuse activity with results masking effectiveness.
  • With teams Trust + Intimacy = Cohesion
  • Discussions on teams are often considered personal. Set the expectation that it is OK to disagree.
  • To avoid conflict most teams manage agreement. Take on the squeaky wheel head on!

Dan Heath's Keynote
  • Sticky ideas are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional, and stories 
  • Dangerous situations don't come with "dangerous situation" labels, they just Happen
  • The more you know about something, the harder it is for you to understand what it is like not to know about it
  • Sticky ideas use concrete themes to make things tangible. Details make things tangible.
  • Details cling to us

  • If you don't like the rules - change them 
  • Public education should be the great equalizer, yet skin color and zipcode still dictate how we educate.
  • We will continue to have brick and mortar schools, but the limits of the walls will and are dissolving through digital connectivity
  • No one voluntarily uses a Windows machine
  • Most organizations make mission statements and quite frankly, most mission statements suck.
  • We need a mantra for our school not a mission statement
  • Don't be afraid to be crappy - to be wrong - to take risks.
  • Do not be afraid of polarizing people. Great products do polarize people.
  • To be an innovator you need to be in denial – Don't let the Bozos get you down
  • Teach students how to figure out ANYTHING by themselves.
  • Teach students how to explain ANYTHING in 30 seconds. 
  • Teach students how to do a one page report.
  • Teach students how to work as a group
  • Teach students how to negotiate win wins.
  • Learning is a process, not an event.

The Impact of Technology on the Lives of Boys with Michael Thompson
  • Girls dominate written content creation online, boys dominate video uploading.
  • Parents prefer kids inside playing vid games, "safe" rather than going Outside unsupervised, "unsafe."
  • Laptops are the new outdoors 
  • There is no evidence that video games translate into aggressive behavior. 
  • Boys are trying to get dates Online, Girls are trying to get friendships
  • We must change how we assess and test kids rather than try and ban technology that "gives the answers

Digital Storytelling and Curriculum with Marco Antonio Torres
  • Quit, complain or innovate. Success predictor=attendance. Get kids to want to come to school.
  • Digital storytelling makes kids aware of process & product
  • Product= emotion and process =experience in working w/kids and media
  • Plan, Produce, Present & feedback
  • Is schooling getting in the way of learning?
  • New question, not "what kind of learner are you?" rather,"what kind of producer are you?"
  • Value is in the verbs not the nouns. In schools we focus too much on the nouns
  • What makes you an expert? Can I google everything you shared?
  • Are you an expert because you collect information or because you create info?
  • Experts have one right answer, others see many possibilities
  • Don't ask questions you can look up
  • Studio-->stage-->community is complete
  • Media levels the playing field in terms of 'who's on stage'- everyone can produce
  • Core values of today's workplace are collaboration, innovation not mindless repetition
  • Networked = Connected; often teacher networks are tiny. Branch out and make wider connections and networks
Surviving and Thriving in Challenging Times with Robert Evans
  • People can cope with all kinds of terrible things once there is predictability
  • Most schools practice conflict avoidance. We are good at the nice stuff, not good at the hard stuff.
  • Learning comes from loss, failure and disappointment.

Oprah's Closing Keynote
  • If you are not careful, your daydreams become a reality. 
  • The importance of educating woman: educate a woman & change a community
  • You don't have a visionary school without visionary teachers. 
  • You don't have a leadership school without leadership.
  • The job is not only to enlarge and illuminate the lives of our girls, but also of our staff and our teachers.
  • The only way to deal with a crisis is to stay in the moment.
  • I want them to speak up for the rest of their lives, to speak up for their community.
  • Oprah's goal for girls: "To be seated at the table where the decisions are made about the future."