Monday, December 17, 2007

TIES Conference 2007

I am at the TIES Conference in Minneapolis. There have been some great presentations and I wanted to share about them. But first I wanted to share a thought that has been bothering me. Where are our teachers? It is important for tech support people and integration specialists to see and hear all the information that is shared here, but it is far MORE important for our classroom teachers to see what is happening in other classrooms. As I watch teachers present on how they are using blogs, clickers, GoogleDocs, Scratch, and many other great tools in their classrooms, I keep thinking how it is the classroom teachers who should be making up the majority of the audience. I'd love to hear peoples' ideas on how we can make that happen.

One solution is to share all the handouts and presentations from all the sessions. Go to http://wiki.ties.k12.mn.us/Conference+General+Sessions and click on any presenter to download their presentation.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Scratch and MicroWorlds EX

Lou Paff from Oregon Episcopal School is presenting now on using these two tools in the classroom. These are basic programming tools for elementary age students. Students train icons to move throughout an environment. They use problem solving skills, patterning, geometry, and many other skills to figure out how to make it work.

Lou is using Scratch with 2nd graders. Scratch is a free download. Kids create a product and debug it as they go. What a great problem solving skill! All finished products can be uploaded to the website: http://scratch.mit.edu to be shared with the world. You can also collaborate with others once it is uploaded. Imagine designing your program to create geometric shapes as a way to learn about angles, shapes, coordinates, etc...

Lou is showing us an example in which students used paint tools to create an icon, called a sprite, and wrote a script to make the sprite walk, turn, change appearance, speak, and interact with another sprite. It is an animation.

I know there are people out there thinking, "What does animation have to do with educating kids?" The logical processing involved in creating these animations is very complex. We need to develop this kind of thinking in our students. So much of what our jobs require include logical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, collaboration, presenting a clear message. All of these skills are being developed through Scratch.

To find out more, go to http://scratch.mit.edu

http://wiki.ties.k12.mn.us/Lou+Paff

http://wiki.ties.k12.mn.us/Karen+Randall

MicroWorlds EX is another option. It is not open source so it costs money. It is a bit more robust so it allows the animations to be interactive. You can put buttons on it to allow kids to create basic games. Imagine kids developing their own games to review or practice concepts. Motivating?

For more information, check out: http://www.microworlds.com

Click on Library to see some examples of projects.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Wayzata Public Schools Future Conference

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This past Saturday, December 1st, Wayzata Public Schools hosted a Futures Conference. State representatives, board members, administrators, teachers, parents, business leaders, and community members braved the snow (it is MN, after all) to spend a day learning about the trends of the future and discussing their implications on our schools and community.

Gary Marx, author of Sixteen Trends, Their Profound Impact on Our Future, led the conference with a presentation on the sixteen trends he writes about in his book. I have included them below. From there, each table, made up of a cross section of the community, had a discussion about the implications of these trends on our schools, students, and communities. The discussions were great. At my table we discussed the need for more world language instruction, more focus on the process of learning rather than content, creating lifelong learners, connecting our schools to our local businesses and community members, serving the needs of all of our diverse learners, creating an environment of respect, and the need to improve our students' access to technology.

The next step is for the board to look over all the notes from all the tables to look for some common themes. They sound very determined to use the data from this conference to help drive where we go as a district. I am really proud of our district for hosting this and having this discussion. I think it is crucial for our schools to have an ongoing discussion about the implication of future trends on our schools and how we need to respond to them. I hope this is the beginning of a continuing discussion between all of these stakeholders. I also hope that it leads to real change that helps make our school district more responsive to the needs of a 21st century society.

I am very interested to hear from all of you about the importance of this conference. How do you feel about this discussion? What do you think about the Sixteen Trends? What ideas do you have for meeting the needs of our changing communities?

Trend 1: For the first time in history, the old will outnumber the young.
Developed World: Younger ® Older. Underdeveloped World: Older ® Younger


Trend 2: Majorities will become minorities, creating ongoing challenges for social cohesion.
Worldwide: Diversity = Division « Diversity = Enrichment


Trend 3: Social and intellectual capital will become economic drivers, intensifying competition for well educated people.
Industrial Age ® Global Knowledge/Information Age


Trend 4: Standards and high stakes tests will fuel a demand for personalization in an education system increasingly committed to lifelong human development. Standardization ® Personalization

Trend 5: The Millennial Generation will insist on solutions to accumulated problems and injustices, while an emerging Generation E will call for equilibrium. GIs, Silents, Boomers, Xers ® Millennials, Generation E.

Trend 6: Continuous improvement and collaboration will replace quick fixes and defense of the status quo.
Quick Fixes/Status Quo ® Continuous Improvement


Trend 7: Technology will increase the speed of communication and the pace of advancement or decline.
Atoms ® Bits Micro ® Macro ® Nano ® Subatomic


Trend 8: Release of human ingenuity will become a primary responsibility of education and society.
Information Acquisition ® Knowledge Creation and Breakthrough Thinking


Trend 9: Pressure will grow for society to prepare people for jobs and careers that may not currently exist.
Career Preparation « Career Adaptability


Trend 10: Competition will increase to attract and keep qualified educators.
High Demand « Even Higher Demand


Trend 11: Scientific discoveries and societal realities will force widespread ethical choices.
Pragmatic/Expedient ® Ethical


Trend 12: Common opportunities and threats will intensify a worldwide demand for planetary security.
Personal Security/Self Interest « Planetary Security Common Threats « Common Opportunities


Trend 13: Understanding will grow that sustained poverty is expensive, debilitating, and unsettling.
Sustained Poverty « Opportunity and Hope


Trend 14: Polarization and narrowness will bend toward reasoned discussion, evidence, and consideration of varying points of view. Narrowness « Open Mindedness

Trend 15: As nations vie for understanding and respect in an interdependent world, international learning, including diplomatic skills, will become basic. Sub-Trend: To earn respect in an interdependent world, nations will be expected to demonstrate their reliability and tolerance. Isolationist Independence « Interdependence

Trend 16: Greater numbers of people will seek personal meaning in their lives in response to an intense, high tech, always on, fast-moving society. Personal Accomplishment « Personal Meaning

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Prioritization vs. Elimination

At a meeting yesterday, someone shared this idea with the group. We were discussing power standards and strategically choosing which standards to focus on in order to have the greatest impact in a classroom.

We have all heard it before. We have probably all thought it before. How do we fit all the content expected of us into one year? It got me thinking also about technology and its role in transforming our classrooms. How do we make time for it when we are busy preparing for high stakes tests and making sure our students don't get "left behind"?

I often hear teachers talk about what to eliminate from their day to make time for new initiatives or new curricula. I think it is helpful for me to think about it in terms of prioritizing instead of eliminating. What are the MOST IMPORTANT skills your students need to learn? What are the skills that are taught because "we've always taught it"? What skills might benefit your students across all curricular areas? What skills might come in handy no matter what your students decide to do in their future, even if they change jobs many times throughout their lives?

I am interested to hear from you about this. What did you place at the top of the priority list? What fell to the bottom?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Evolving in a Metamorphic World

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Teachers are evolutionary. They start each year fresh, making adaptations to the way they did things in the past. Each year, getting incrementally better. They look back at their notes and change a lesson here or there, fine tuning their instruction. They reflect throughout the summer about missed opportunities and how they will not let that happen this year. They sift through files, throwing out old files and making room for new ideas. These are important processes for teachers to embrace change and try new things. Unfortunately, it is too slow. With the speed at which technology changes, teachers need to undergo a metamorphosis in order to transform into technology savvy instructors. The question is, how to do we take chimps and turn them into butterflies. Chimps are good animals. They are highly evolved, social, intelligent animals. But they can not grow wings in a week's time. They can develop opposable thumbs, given a few thousand years, but we are looking for transformation, the kind that takes place within a chrysalis.

So the question is, how do we transform our teachers into butterflies? How do we grow wings and allow our teachers to soar? Of course, we can't get all teachers to change overnight. However, we can start looking at ourselves differently. If we view ourselves as butterflies, we can jump from higher perches and try more challenging ideas.

Instead of weeding through an old file and throwing a paper here or there, try dumping the whole folder and trying something completely different. Butterflies are fragile animals, like our confidence when it comes to technology, but they are able to fly incredible distances.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Well Equipped Computer Lab - Feedback Encouraged!

I have the wonderful opportunity (and responsibility) to research and select some software for our elementary school computer labs. I have a moderate budget, but it is enough to purchase 3-5 new titles depending on costs. The committee will meet throughout this year and hopefully make its decision by March. I am very interested in the feedback of others, both within the district and elsewhere.

We currently have some software in the labs that are still being used. This is an opportunity to fill in some gaps. I also want to go on record as stating that I recognize that there are many websites, free or otherwise, that can meet some of our needs. However, as we collect websites for specific skills and concepts, we are learning that there are often drawbacks to many of them, whether it is the fact that they are not part of a cohesive program that can track progress and individualize instruction or that they have many distracting elements on the screen.

I also feel strongly that the core of our software should be constructivist in nature, giving students the opportunity to create, analyze, and communicate. Still, I believe there is value in software the focuses on specific skills (like math operations, for example) if it can allow for regular formative assessments that inform and direct learning for each student.

I am interested in your thoughts about the following questions:

1. What are the most important concepts that need to be covered by this software?

2. What specific titles have you seen or used that we should be looking at?

3. What titles do you recommend specifically for our kindergarteners who often don't have appropriate software in the lab available to them?

4.  Any other thoughts you have about software in elementary computer labs would be appreciated.

Thanks for your feedback.

Computer Lab

Computer Lab

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Broader Definition of Literacy

In my interactions with teachers from all over the district, I often come across people who wonder why technology seems to be taking over schools. When I talk with Language Arts teachers and tell them that we need to redefine language arts to include a broader definition of literacy that includes media and hyperlinked texts, I often get strange looks as if I am upsetting the very foundation on which we are standing. In some ways, I guess I am. Let me be clear. I am a firm believer in the importance of reading and writing. I love books in every sense of the word. I do not read ebooks just for the sake of saying that I can. But reading in today’s society is not the same as it was when we were in school, or even as it was 5 years ago. A huge shift has taken place. Reading takes place online as often as it does in books. Reading today include hyperlinks to other pages instead of linear books with tables of content. Reading today means access to everyone’s opinions, not just two or three expert authors. It means sifting through large amounts of information to find what is valid, up to date, and relevant. Reading today means multimedia embedded into the text. Interpreting media is a different skill than interpreting text. Our students need to be taught how to do this. They need practice and opportunity.

Now I can hear a few of you grumbling about how awful this is for our society. The amount of worthless information and the legitimate concerns of access to inappropriate information are valid issues. But ignoring them and pretending that our students will not access these sources of information is scarier to me. We need to include these skills and concepts as part of our language arts program, not some separate course that implies that technology does not impact all areas of learning.

What about writing? I often hear teachers talk about the fact that we need to focus on writing more in our curriculum. I agree. But what is writing? Has it changed too? When I was in school, I wrote on lined paper and spent countless hours rewriting in my best handwriting. Was that time well spent? Is it time well spent today? My audience was my teacher. My goal was a good grade. Today’s students have a global audience. They write on MySpace, Facebook, personal blogs, wikis, IM, chats, and many more online tools that allow their message to be seen by many others. I understand the inherent dangers in this. However, I think like all things new, we overemphasize the dangers and deemphasize the benefits. It is in our nature to be fearful and cautious. That’s not a bad thing, but we need to start recognizing the benefits of online collaborative tools that give students a global audience.

Unfortunately, this is where the discussion often ends. We tell teachers they should use these tools, but we often don’t continue the discussion to include examples of how these tools can transform their classroom. Let me give you a couple of scenarios that I think are excellent examples of language arts teaching.

1.    Students research a relevant topic to the curriculum. They learn how to search for, analyze, and organize information in both print and electronic formats. Discussions about the benefits of both help students learn when to choose each one. Note taking takes place online in a wiki. We use a wiki in Moodle so that only students who are in the class can view the wiki. However, students can view each others notes, sharing resources and adding to each others’ notes. A discussion tab in the wiki allows students and the teacher to offer feedback to the students. From the research, students can present information in a variety of ways, including written reports, multimedia presentations, podcasts, video, and others. In the case of the written report, students might use a tool like Google docs to write their report online. In this way, a group of students could collaborate on their report together from school or from home.
2.    Students respond to literature online. Through blogs, forums, and other formats, students can journal about what is happening in class. Not only can the teacher view students’ thoughts, so can the rest of the class and the greater community. As students respond to literature, other people can respond, adding their opinions and expertise on the subject. We often talk about the negative aspects of the greater community responding to what we write about, but what about the positive aspects? Imagine that an expert in the area being discussed comes across the blog and responds to the group. For example, let’s say your class is reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry and as students blog about it, a Holocaust survivor responds with their thoughts. Or perhaps you are reading The Black Pearl by Scott O’Dell and you get a response from someone who is a pearl diver, or expert on manta rays or Mexico. How does this enrich your discussion? How does it validate your students’ thoughts and encourage them to reflect on their reading?

These types of projects are happening in our district already. We have the capability to do it. Let’s give students what they need.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Technology Literacy - Whose building the roads?

Recently, I read Karl Fisch’s post on “Is it Okay to be a Technologically Illiterate Teacher?”. It got me thinking about this issue as well. Karl asks whether technology skills are the equivalent of reading and writing skills in the past. Does the success of our students depend on their ability to use technology? I think we could make an argument for this. Certainly our world is becoming increasingly technology-centric. Our businesses use technology for communication, research, data analysis, graphics, and so much more. That does not surprise people. I think what tends to surprise people is the way in which technology has wormed its way into other professions, as well as our personal lives. From farmers to auto mechanics, technology is becoming a larger and larger part of the jobs our students will do in the future.
In our personal lives, banking, shopping, communicating, and much more are becoming more dependent on technology. It seems to me that Karl may have a point. Look at how much technology has advanced and seeped into our daily lives in the last 15 years. 15 years ago, most of us weren’t using email, internet, digital cameras, ipods, and cell phones. Now these are the indispensable tools of daily interaction. There is a point on the horizon, and it is not far away, when not knowing how to use these tools leaves you completely on the sidelines of society. When you look at the changes in the last 15 years, it is easy to see that in another 15 years, the change will only be more pronounced. This is exactly when our students will be entering adulthood and needing to be productive members of society. How will they be able to do this without technological literacy?

My next question is how is making education technologically literate like going from horse and buggies to cars? (Thanks Sar for the analogy!) We can produce all the cars we want, but if we don’t invest in roads, gas stations, and driver instruction, we won’t get anywhere. Similarly, if we don’t invest in technology infrastructure and hardware, as well as quality, timely, ongoing staff development, we won’t get anywhere. Karl’s blog rails on the teacher who refuses to change. I don’t disagree, but what about the legislators, community members, and administrators who do not understand the need for this change or do not create a plan to undergo this change? I am not excusing teachers from the responsibility of learning the essential tools for learning and productivity for the immediate future. I am suggesting that we can accelerate this process by getting everyone on the same page about the importance of moving toward a curriculum that values technology tools as essential tools for participation in our society. Do our teacher preparation programs fully integrate technology so from the beginning new teachers associate technology to effective teaching? Do our state assessments test skills that are relevant to the jobs of the future so that districts craft their curricula to create success on these tests? Do the hiring practices and evaluation processes of our teachers consider technology literacy? All of these play a part in building technologically literate teachers.

Friday, September 7, 2007

If Technology is So Essential, Why Does It Always Break?

Recently, I have heard numerous teachers share this sentiment in one form or another. As our district works to get a great deal of new technology up and running this year, there is a lot of frustration when things don't work as planned. Specifically, we have installed a great deal of SmartBoards, projectors, and sound fields. Unexpected issues have put us behind schedule and some of our teachers have had to start the school year without their equipment working yet.

My first reaction to these comments is to share in their frustration. Many of these teachers went out of their way to take training during the summer so they would have time to practice with the new equipment, create resources, and get used to a new way of doing things. They should have had access to the equipment so they could accomplish this.

To their credit, most of the teachers I have spoken with have not let this stumbling block dampen their spirit. They are still committed to learning how to use the equipment in their classrooms. They are still excited about trying new things. But there are those who are saying that technology is too unreliable to become a part of their classroom.  How can they teach effectively when nothing seems to work?
While technology is full of its fair share of frustrations, from the above mentioned problem to glitches and computers freezing and slow networks and numerous other issues, we can not let this stop us. There is no question that technology is changing fast and our ability to learn it, assimilate it, and support it can not keep up. However, if you look at our kids, you will see that these things do not stop them. I've never seen a kid decide not to play a video game or use a cell phone or update their MySpace account because of a technical problem.

I often use the example in my trainings that when I taught third grade, I hated doing craft projects. I hated the mess, glitter spilling, glue on hands, paint on desks. But it never phased the kids. They loved doing crafts, and I needed to get over my anxiety of a messy classroom. The same is true of technology. We need to get over our anxiety of things going wrong. They will go wrong. Expect it. But don't let it stop you from moving forward and doing great things with essential tools.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Building Relationships with Technology

Earlier this week, our district brought in Pat Quinn, author of Changing Lives, to speak about the importance of building relationships. He was very well received and inspired our staff to think about how our actions impact our students. It got me thinking about how technology impacts relationships. I often hear from concerned teachers that technology is isolating and is counter to building relationships.



I understand this concern. I have seen computer labs filled with students who are absorbed by their screens and disconnected by those around them. They use headphones to keep the lab quiet at the expense of interacting with their neighbors. They are not required to discuss, relate, or share in any way. But is this what technology is really all about?

I say no. I say technology is about connecting people across time and space. In my classroom, students are using the technology as a tool to analyze, create, collaborate, and communicate. Technology means communicating with the world through email, blogs, chatrooms, social networks, wikis, discussion threads, multi player games, text messaging and video conferencing. These are tools that we need to use with our students to teach them how to be good communicators. They will use these tools if they are not already. But will they be effective, responsible, empathetic communicators without our guidance?

We want our students to be readers and writers. Here is a great opportunity to teach them these skills. These tools give them an instant audience. Writing a blog means a global audience. Imagine the care and thought your students would put into their writing if they knew people around the world would be reading it. Imagine the power of peer editing when students can read and respond online to each others’ work. Imagine the collaboration of students sharing research on a wiki. Does this sound like isolation? Or are we teaching students to build relationships in new ways? What are some other ways that technology can be used to help our students build relationships?

Friday, August 24, 2007

On the Cusp of Something Big!

I can feel it. There's a change. The conversations are different. People are excited. Rooms are transforming.

On a Friday before school starts, I have now spent two weeks talking to teachers, teaching classes, visiting classrooms. This year feels different. Of course, the new hardware helps. Projectors, SmartBoards, soundfields mean that the technology is in the classrooms now. Teachers sound excited. I have been so impressed by the turn out at the summer trainings. In my conversations, I hear teachers asking great questions and wanting to try new things. The stereotype of teachers who won't change, who are stuck in the dark ages. That isn't true here. These teachers are doing great things already.

I can't wait for the kids to arrive. This will be a whole new world for them. All day, everyday, connected to the world, interactive classrooms, multisensory lessons. This is going to be great!!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Smart Institute 2007

Last week, Wayzata Public Schools hosted the Smart Institute from Smart Technologies. It was a great conference with presenters from around the U.S. and Canada. The keynote speakers were Ben Hazzard and Joan Badger from Canada. They are the hosts of a great podcast called pdtogo.com. I highly recommend listening to it for great Smartboard ideas. They spoke about the stages of implementation. I liked the development from starting with what you know, playing with premade lessons, then creating your own lessons with websites and gallery objects. Next, comes student involvement in activities and finally is collaboration. This is helpful to me to know that teachers need time to move through these stages. While I want to see rapid development, I need to make sure that teachers have time to play around with premade lessons and get used to the tools before the jump into the later stages. They also shared a lot of great resources including voicethread, gapminder, swivel, and keepvid. I'll be adding these sites to my linkagogo site so others can find them easily.

I also got to see some great presentations! Chris Klein from Smart did a great job showing how to use iLife with Smart to create some great activities. Matt Oswald from Stillwater presented on using the Smartboard in math. I loved how he used the TI Smart View Calculator and used the Smart Recorder to record examples of how to solve some complex equations for students. Kim Hoehne and Lisa Carlson from Minnetonka presented on Smart Science. I was impressed with how they are using video to bring real world examples of science into their classroom. I hope to do more of this.

There was so much to see and learn. I enjoyed talking to so many people about their ideas and concerns as we move forward with implementing Smartboards throughout our district. I look forward to working with all of you this year as we learn about how these tools can transform our classrooms!

Ben and Joan's Keynote Chris Klein

Monday, August 13, 2007

Paper Clips

A couple weeks ago, my wife and I watched a movie entitled "Paper Clips" To me, this movie embodies what technology integration is all about. The movie is a documentary about a rural Tennessee school that starts to collect paper clips to represent the 6,000,000 Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. Now the premise of the project has nothing to do with technology. However, it is technology that connects this community with the world and creates a learning experience that will affect these students forever. By posting information about the project to the web, they attract the attention of some people around the world. Many famous people began donating paper clips. Holocaust survivors from New York came to visit them and share their experiences. German journalists get involved and help ship an authentic World War II German rail car used for shipping people to concentration camps. The rail car now houses a museum at the school that documents the project.

Now this would have been a powerful learning experience without the use of technology. The visual of 6,000,000 paper clips would certainly demonstrate the huge impact of the Holocaust. However, through the power of technology, this lesson transcended the walls of the school to include many people around the world. Some shared their experiences, others listened.

Can you imagine how your lessons could be transformed simply by inviting the public into them?

About

My name is Dave Zukor. I am the elementary technology integration specialist for Wayzata Public Schools in Minnesota. Before my current role, I was a technology teacher in a computer lab for grades 1-5. I also spent 10 years in a classroom teaching grades 3, 4, and 5.

Hello World!

"Technology does not drive change- it enables change."

-unknown source 

I am starting this blog as a resource for the staff here at Wayzata Public Schools, as well as anyone else out there who may find it useful. I hope to provide ideas on how to build classrooms in which our students are connected to the world. I don't just mean that they have Internet access, but that they are global citizens who interact with the world. They author to a global audience, they have conversations with people around the world, understand the different perspectives that people around the world bring to the discussion, and effectively and responsibly use tools that allow for these kinds of connections.

I hope you will take part in this discussion by reading and commenting on this and future posts. I look forward to hearing from you.