Monday, December 22, 2008

Change is Easy

Put One Foot In Front of the Other

We talk a lot in education about the need to change. People often have a difficult time with change. There are many reasons for it. But one thing is for sure. Change is a constant. So for those who are feeling a little stressed about the amount of change we are undergoing, here is a fun way to think about it. We are all where we are. We can only move forward from that point. So commit to taking one step forward!

Happy Holidays!


Video Credit: 1970, Bass/Rankin Productions, "Santa Claus is Coming to Town".

Sunday, December 21, 2008

ASCD Article on Creative Skills

ASCD's Education Update had a great article in their December issue on developing the creative skills in our students in order to prepare them for the 21st century. I was glad to see them recognize that creativity is interconnected with inventive thinking. The article talks about how many of the jobs our current students will hold in their future do not exist yet. Many of these jobs will require them to think creatively in order to solve problems that we haven't even identified yet. To do this, we must teach our students to be inventive, imaginative, and risk-taking. The article mentions three main ways to get started.

1. Model Creativity - Create cross-curricular units, give kids opportunities to use creative tools to solve problems and communicate learning.

2. Use Mistakes as an Opportunity to Learn- We need to encourage students to take risks. We need to send a clear message that mistakes are not a bad thing. Mistakes lead to new learning.

3. It doesn't have to take a lot of time- The article suggests you can do it in 5 minutes a day.

So, start thinking about your own classroom. Are you developing creative thinkers? What can you do to increase your students' opportunities to think imaginatively and problem solve creatively? I'd love to hear your ideas!

Image Credit:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

TIES Conference

If you didn't get to the TIES Conference this year, touch base with someone who did. Our district sent many more people this year than in the past. It was really great to see the excitement of the classroom teachers as they learned from some really great presenters. If you want to see notes from some of the presentations go to to see what attendees thought of what they saw. If you want to see the presentations themselves, go to It's the next best thing to being there!

Here are a few highlights. Feel free to add to the list!

1. Daniel Pink's Opening Session - he really makes it all make sense!

2. Ben Friesen's presentation on his Middle School Elective Class based entirely on web-based tools. I left wishing I taught a class just like that!

3. Mark Garrison's presentation on Adding Images, Audio, and Video into Your Classroom. I need to learn more about Alice Isen's research!

4. Tim Wilson's presentation on where technology is going over the next 10 years. Scary, yet exciting, all at the same time!

5. So many great conversations. Thanks to Carl Anderson, Dave Eisenmann, Mark Garrison, Lisa DeRoy, Matt Robinson, the Wayzata staff who attended, and many others I was able to bounce ideas off of and listen to your great ideas. I wish we could do it more often!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Bloom's Digital Taxonomy

Thanks to Andrew Churches for this updated look at Bloom's Taxonomy. It really shows how many of the technological skills that we have been working on integrating fit into Bloom's Taxonomy.

I especially like how collaborating is interwoven with all levels of the taxonomy. If we are to teach our students to effectively colloaborate, they must have these opportunities at all levels, not just one or two.

I think the verbs that Andrew adds represent the kinds of opportunities our students need. It really demonstrates how many of these new skills really teach a broad range of thinking skills. If we really want our students thinking critically and deeply, these are activities that can really get us there. I'm curious if you have any other verbs that you think should be added to Andrew's list.

For more information on Bloom's Digital Taxonomy, visit to see Andrew Churches' analysis.

Monday, November 24, 2008

What if we don't?

I have been having a lot of conversations recently about all the things that could and do go wrong with technology. It is true that technology is imperfect and often frustrating. However, I believe that if we focus on the opportunities afforded by technology and less on the obstacles, our brain tends to notice the frustrating aspects less and less. There are too many wonderful things that can be learned from technology to let the everpresent nagging issues stand in the way of taking advantage of these opportunities.

So I ask you, do you focus on the opportunities or the obstacles? Do you say What If or What if we don't...?

What are the consequences of not doing something? Is there a bigger risk to our students if we don't give them these opportunities?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Itch that Scratch!

I spent quite a bit of time this week working with fifth graders using Scratch. I had a great time, and so, it seems, did they. Ms. Arvig's class decided to blog about it in fact. Their comments are overwhelmingly positive. The amazing thing to me is that while they clearly had fun, they also learned some important skills like logical reasoning, problem solving, and creative thinking. As they get better at using Scratch, it can be a tool for math (program your sprite to create a shape or to follow a pattern), language arts (recreate a scene from a story, write your own story), social studies (create a scene from history), art, music, technology, and more. I hope to continue working with classes on this, and I hope teachers will continue to bring their students to the lab to work on projects like this.

Monday, November 3, 2008

The World Beyond Google Images

Thanks to Grumpy Old Teacher and Cool Cat Teacher for some great alternatives to Google Images. I especially like Flickr Storm for the ability to search strictly those images that are legal to use. I also recommend Creative Commons Search Page. Let's be good models for our students and use images that are legal. Remember, just attributing the source isn't always enough. Be responsible. Use sites that help you find images that don't violate copyright laws. Even better, tell your students you are doing it and help them do the same!!

“Highly Educated Useless People”

This is a quote from Ted McCain's Teaching for Tomorrow. It is a powerful term. For me, it means questioning what I teach to ensure that everything I teach is preparing my students for life. Further, it means prioritizing what I teach to place a greater value on teaching the MOST important skills for success in the future. As I think about what students have learned from me, I have to be honest. At least some of what they learned was how to take a test, how to remember trivial information that could be found almost instantly, and other relatively meaningless skills. The most powerful learning that took place in my classroom involved students creating, thinking, problem solving, collaborating, and sharing their learning in effective ways.

As teachers, we need to ask the question, "What is the purpose of this?", often. But furthermore, we need to ask, "Is there a MORE valuable lesson here?" What have you done recently to change from preparing highly educated useless people to preparing highly educated useful people?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Evolving in a Metamorphic World Part 3

Caterpillar eating my tree
This has become a series of posts. The first two posts are here and here.

Thanks to Cheryl, Amy, Karen, and France for our discussion on this issue on Tuesday. In my last post, I wrote about how we must act like caterpillars to consume as much food(learning) as we can before we are ready to metamorphose into butterflies. The discussion generally leads to questions like, "When do teachers have time to read and learn at a rate that will lead to this metamorphosis?" It got me thinking about caterpillars again. Have you ever watched caterpillars eat? They take such small bites that it is difficult to see that they have actually eaten anything. But over time, they can consume many leaves that larger than they are.

With the tools available to us today, we can be constantly collecting information in small bites throughout the day. We can't wait around for those staff development days when we have hours to dedicate to learning. We need to be efficient consumers of information. In addition, our students need experience with this as well. Kids are more adept at multitasking, allowing them to read in small amounts and process in between opportunities to read. With tools like RSS aggregators, we can have access to information quickly and easily. We don't need to waste time going to search for the information. Let it come to you.

Set aside 10-15 blocks a couple times a day and commit to reading relevant articles or trying one new idea, or writing one new lesson that infuses technology and 21st century skills.

Mark your calendar for one month from today. At the end of the month, look back on how much you have learned and adapted. You will be amazed at your metamorphosis!

Good luck and let me know how your metamorphosis is going!!



Friday, October 24, 2008

Don’t Be the Bat Lady!


A few weeks back, I took my son to a local nature center to see a presentation on Bats. The woman who spoke was a nice woman who volunteered her time to present on a topic she is very knowledgeable about. However, all I could think the entire time she was speaking was, "I could have found this information online in a fraction of the time." Then I got to thinking...

How often in education are we the Bat Lady? We stand up and lecture to our students about the topic of the week. Why? Do we think they will retain much of what we say? I can say that I did not remember much of what the Bat Lady said. Do we fear giving kids the freedom and power to find the information on their own? Do we not trust that they will be able to find it? Maybe they won't. But they will never find it if we don't start teaching them how to be efficient searchers and sifters of information.
I think the Bat Lady would have been better served to excite my son and I about bats and encourage us to learn more. She waited until the very end to play a short video about bats. Why not show it sooner to get us hooked? Why not let us turn the room into a bat cave and determine what we would need to survive? She could provide the information, but we would access it as we needed it, not when she determined we should need it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


You Are What You Think!

I recently watched this video by Charles Leadbetter. It really got me thinking more about what we are teaching and how we are teaching it. I have had many conversations with people about the power of blogs, wikis, social networks, and Web 2.0 tools. I think this video does a great job of expressing what I am trying to get across. As we talk about building global connections and online collaboration, we are really talking about a shared development of ideas. We need to stop promoting an ownership of ideas mentality. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we know that rarely do our successful ideas develop in isolation. They develop through professional discourse, asking questions, researching others' work, and synthesizing all this information into a new idea. We need our students to do more of this, way more of this.

Instead of writing a research project in isolation, we need to provide opportunities for students to share their research, discuss and adapt their work, and develop new ideas based on their discussions. Instead of worksheets, our students need to think and create. We learn more through creating than we ever do through regurgitating information. The information is out there. We need practice analyzing, organizing, communicating, collaborating.

Share a project you have done recently with your students that focused on these skills. How could you adapt an old project to incorporate these skills in a better way? I'd love to hear what people are doing.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chock Full o’ Computer Tips

I often think of little tips that make computer use much easier and more efficient. Collecting all the tips into a little booklet has been my goal for a while, but it never seems to happen. Here is a link to a blog that has done a great job of pulling together a bunch of tips. Read the comments as well as many readers have added great tips to the list.

Thanks to David Pogue for the post!

I'd like to add one to the list that I find incredibly useful. When you Google a topic and click on one of the choices, it can be hard to find the part of the article that is relevant to your search. Try using the Find feature. On a Windows machine, type Ctrl-F. On a Mac, type Command-F (or Apple-F). This will bring a window at the bottom of your screeen. Type in the word you would like to find within the article and it will take you directly there.

Happy "efficient" computer use! Feel free to share your favorite tips!

Friday, October 10, 2008


Thanks to Steve G. for bringing my attention to this great website.

If you are a user of Kidspiration, Inspiration, or any other webbing software, then I highly recommend It is a web version of Inspiration. The menus look very similar to the software version so the learning curve is pretty easy.

So why use a web version if you have the software version? Access! and Collaboration! You can create an Inspiration web from any computer. You can invite others to work on the web with you. Imagine having students from different schools creating webs to demonstrate how people and businesses collaborate across the globe. Imagine students working on their webs from home no matter what software they have. Imagine going to one webpage and seeing all your students webs.

Here is a sample web created by Belinda and me just for fun:


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Not So New Year’s Resolution

Okay, so this would have been a better post for last month, but hey. Better late than never.

Let's think about what we do. What change(s) do you want to make right now to move your teaching (and your students' learning) into the 21st century. Every one of us can do something to improve, and I know you all do many things everyday to improve your teaching. But let's focus on 21st century learning. Do the changes you make in your teaching help move your students towards the kinds of skills necessary for success in the future?

So, please share. What change(s) will you make today, this week, this semester to ensure that you are providing your students with a truly 21st century focused education?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is all this Information forming the Tower of Babel?

You have all heard the story of the Tower of Babel. While the story is biblical, it has also become synonomous with all things in which multiple languages cause confusion.

I wonder if the proliferation of information over the Internet is our Tower of Babel? Do we have so much information and so much stress to try to organize all this information in our lives, that we are destined to bring down the tower? Will we reach a point at which our society can no longer handle the amount of information that is being thrown at it?

Of course, I don't know the answer, but I do think that the key to all of this is in how the information is organized. We need to drop our old ways of organizing data. For example, filing in file cabinets. With the amount of information that comes across our desks, it is unrealistic to file it all in cabinets. Our offices would become so overcrowded that we would be pushed right out. So how do we organize all this information?

We need to use tools like RSS Aggregators that push information to us rather than asking us to go to multiple websites in search of the information. I use as my aggregator, but there are many to choose from. You simply add webpages that you want to get feeds from and they feed the news articles from all the added websites into one webpage.

We need to become adept at using search engines to find reliable, up to date information quickly and easily. The different languages in this case are the myriad of opinions and perspectives that we are bombarded by. How do we determine what is the truth vs. what is someone's opinion? Reading multiple perspectives and sources is more important (and accessible) than ever before.

As our students get older, they will be asked to sift through gobs of information as part of their lives. What are we doing to help them learn the skills necessary to do this? Where does this skill fit on the continuum of other skills we teach? I put it very high. How about you? What skills are more important? Which can be pushed lower on the continuum to make more room for this one?

Friday, September 26, 2008

What does the Classroom of the Future look like?

This is a question that comes up all the time. As we purchase classroom tools and design professional development and rewrite curriculum, are we moving in the right direction? This is a tough question.

In my mind, there are two main philosophies about the Classroom of the Future: Instructional and Educational.

Instructional means the tools that allow teachers to instruct in more engaging, interactive ways. This might include a Smartboard, document camera, projector, soundfield, any other tool that the teacher uses predominantly to deliver instruction. These are powerful tools, but they are limited by the fact that it is mostly the teacher who uses them. Many of our teachers are working hard to design lessons using these tools that are more interactive, including students in the lesson more. I have seen how effective these tools can be in engaging students of all ages.

Educational means tools that allow students to construct their own learning. The most obvious example would be student computers, but others include handheld devices like PDA's, cellphones, ipods, etc... Video and digital cameras are another example of tools that allow students to create products that demonstrate their learning. But what about robotics, sims, video games?

All of this leads to discussions about what we teach, how we teach, and what needs to change. I invite you to join me in this discussion as we explore what is the best way for us to prepare our students for their future rather than ours. What are the challenges? What excites you about these changes? Where would you like to see us go first? Please take a moment to join the conversation. Click on the Comments link below. 

Friday, September 19, 2008

What’s All the Buzz About Web 2.0?

We have been talking a lot recently about Web 2.0 tools. There are many new classes being offered that focus on Web 2.0 tools. Why? What's the big deal?

Web 2.0 tools are web based tools that allow users to both read the content AND participate in the creation of the content. For this reason, they are often referred to as the Read/Write Web. These are powerful tools that allow users to author to a truly global audience, receive feedback from the public, collaborate with colleagues without regard for time or space, and access works in progress from anywhere they have an Internet connection. In addition, many Web 2.0 tools offer up to the moment information on a variety of topics.

For all of these reasons, Web 2.0 tools have an important impact on education. They allow teachers to collaborate with other teachers around the world. They allow teachers to quickly and easily collect information that is relevant to their classroom. They allow students to write in meaningful ways and share their work with audiences other than just the teacher.

While these tools are incredibly powerful and teach students how to be digitally literate, they are not without their challenges. Protecting our students from spam, advertising, and online strangers is a reality that we must consider. Finding accurate information among throngs of information is another challenge for students (not to mention us.) For more information about this, I highly recommend reading The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki or Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. We must TEACH our students how to function in a society that is inundated with information. We must redefine what literacy means to include accessing information, evaluating information, and using social networks responsibly and efficiently to deliver and receive information.

To begin your foray into Web 2.0 tools, here are some great places to start:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Metamorphosis revisited

I posted before about metamorphosing in an evolving world. I want to revisit this idea. It has been bothering me that change seems to come so slow. There are many reasons for this, including leadership, state testing, resistance to change, resources, etc... But despite all of these factors, I truly believe that we can bring about more significant change. I'm not talking about technology, so much as I am talking about rethinking what we teach. While I see many teachers evolving (including myself), I think we are too painfully slow for the kinds of changes that need to take place.

Photo by Morti Riuuallon

The best way for us to metamorphose is to follow the example of the butterfly. The caterpillar starts by eating constantly. We, as teachers, need to consume information as if our future depended upon it. It does. We are becoming obsolete and our only chance of remaining relevant into the future is to understand it and adapt to it. If you are looking for a place to get started, here is a short list of books and websites that will help you understand why and how we need to change.

1. A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink

2. Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida

3. Teaching for Tomorrow by Ted McCain

4. Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky


This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will help get the ball rolling.


Photo by Morti Riuuallon

The next thing a caterpillar does is make a cocoon. It sequesters itself so that it can focus completely on the job of metamorphosis. While we don't have the option of completely sequestering ourselves, we can still keep to the spirit of it. We need to chunk out some time to focus on this change. We need to plan, think, create, practice, and share. Perhaps setting a goal of meeting once or twice (or more) a week to focus on this change would be a good start.

Finally, the last step to a butterfly's metamorphosis is emerging from the cocoon, changed forever, beautiful, colorful, able to fly. If we immerse ourselves in the needs of our students and the changes in our society, we will emerge with new skills, beautiful ideas, changed forever. We will look back at our caterpillar incarnations and wonder how we ever survived as a caterpillar.


Photo by Morti Riuuallon





Thursday, June 5, 2008

Teaching for Tomorrow Part 3

Please post a comment about Section 3: Teaching Students How to Solve Problems. What do you think about the 4D's? What ideas do you have for developing evaluations of process skills?

Teaching for Tomorrow Part 2

Please post your comments on Section 2: Six Ways to Teach for Independent and Higher Learning here. What do you think we are doing really well? What areas should we be focusing on for improvement?

Teaching for Tomorrow Part 1

A group of teachers are reading Teaching for Tomorrow by Ted McCain as a summer book group. As we read we will be sharing (I hope!) our ideas about the book. If you are not part of our summer book group, feel free to join in the discussion. All ideas are welcome!

If you have any thoughts about Section 1: What Skills Will Students Need for the 21st Century?, please leave a comment on this post. Hopefully this will lead to a discussion on this topic. I look forward to hearing what you have to say.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

From Cool to Tool

Thanks to a great conversation with my friend Cheryl, I have been thinking a lot about the many great new tools that we have at our disposal. The challenge that we have is not really how to use the tools, but how to make them a meaningful part of our curriculum. It is hard not to walk into a classroom and show a teacher a new tool without saying, "This is so cool!" More and more, I find myself saying, "This is an essential tool!" or "This is a great tool for helping your students learn to..."

I guess the question that arose in my head during this conversation is this. Can we get to the TOOL phase without going through the COOL phase? So much of what I know about technology integration has come from playing with cool technologies. If I had simply said I won't use it until I have a great curricular need, I might never have used it. In other words, it is through playing that I learned enough about the tool to figure out how it could be effectively integrated. So I think we need to have some play time for teachers while we also have the discussion about whether or not there is an effective implementation for that tool.

I guess what I am really saying is let's have fun exploring these tools. The integration will come along as we get to know the tools better. We need to give our teachers permission to play a little!

Monday, May 19, 2008


Great Tool for Reading Text Out Loud!!

Thanks to Wes Fryer at Moving at the Speed of Creativity for turning me onto this website. is a website that will convert any text from Word, pdf, RSS, or html to an audio mp3 file that can be downloaded onto your mp3 player or embedded onto your webpage. This is such a great tool and so easy to use. Simply click on the type of file you want to convert, upload it and let the website do the work. When it is done, you will see a link to click to download it directly into iTunes!What a great tool for teachers! You can quickly and easily convert text, webpage info, or stories to audio and let students listen to them on an ipod or computer. Or you can embed the text on your webpage and have kids access them from home. Just be aware of copyright issues if you are converting books. Many can not be converted to mp3 and then posted on our webpage. Check with your media specialist before posting content on the web.

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Friday, May 9, 2008

Copyright Laws or Waiting for Divine Intervention

I continue to become more and more aware of how little we know about copyright laws in education. Just for fun, walk through your school and try to find the person who really knows the laws. Yet we expect our kids to follow these laws. I think in many ways we are waiting for divine intervention.

If our staff doesn't understand the laws, then they are clearly not teaching them to kids. How exactly do think they are learning these laws. Here is another assignment. Now that you have found out that no one in your building can explain the laws to you, go locate a binder or a weblink or something connected to your school that explains it all. Good luck. Don't forget your magnifying glass and Sherlock Holmes hat.

We need to do a better job of educating ourselves and our kids on copyright laws. Just for fun, here is a short list of things you definitely can NOT do:

Your kids can not go to and download songs to embed in their movies.

They can not add photos from the Internet to put into their presentations without citing their sources appropriately. And no friends, Google is not a source.

TEACHERS can NOT make multiple copies of CD's to share with their grade level, even if it is for educational use.

As we rewrite our Acceptable Use Policy for the fall and go into curriculum review next year, expect to hear a lot more about this issue. And expect to see a lot of visibility for it (read: weblinks, posters, lesson plans, etc...) If you have any other good ideas on how to communicate appropriate use and copyright laws to staff, students, and parents, let me know. Thanks.

In the meantime, here are a couple good websites with info on copyright laws. 

Friday, May 2, 2008

How far out can we plan?

This has been coming up a lot lately in my conversations with teachers. Many of them want to know what is the plan for projectors, for SmartBoards, for computers on carts, etc... It is always a very tough conversation. Often, the answer is that the plan for the coming year is to complete putting projectors in classrooms. After that, there is no script for what to do. The reason? The minute you commit to a plan, you are stuck with it. Teachers expect it. If you need to change the plan, you upset a lot of people who have been patiently (?) waiting for their turn to get a particular piece of equipment. I don't blame them. I would feel the same way.

The problem is that technology changes so quickly that to commit to doing something in two years is like playing the lottery. Every week I learn about some new technology that could potentially revolutionize the classroom. How can we commit to a piece of equipment then that might be obsolete by the time we purchase it.

Instead, we need to allow for some flexibility. But how do we do this and still send a clear message to teachers that we are working on your behalf to give you the best tools to do the job? When teachers are already stretched to the point of maximum patience waiting for equipment while neighbor classrooms are outfitted ahead of them, it is difficult to communicate this without building anxiety. One thing is for sure. You can never communicate too much, just not enough.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Wonderful World of Updates

As a SmartBoard district, we have many teachers using SmartBoards, Airliners, and, of course, Notebook software. So as a Notebook user, I am very excited about the new version 10 that has recently been released. It has many great new features which I will be sharing in later posts. However, as the primary trainer for users of Notebook software, this transition raises many questions about the value of updates.

Many of our users are new to Smart Notebook software. I have trained about 100 people this year alone. Now I need to go back to them and tell them that this great tool I showed them is about to look quite different. To a third of them, this will be welcome news. They want the updates. They want the new features. They will pick it up quickly. To a second third, this will raise trepidation. Just when they are getting the hang of it, they go and change it. They will require a fair amount of support to bring them up to the same level of comfort with the new version. That leaves the remaining third. I am concerned that there is a group of people out there that will welcome this change as an opportunity to jump off the ship. They might say something like, "See. That's what's wrong with technology. It keeps changing. We don't have time to keep up with these changes. Better to go back to the old way of doing things."

I admit, this is not a scientific study. My numbers are probably not accurate, but the three groups are real. How do we unroll this change to maximize the excitement of the first group, while minimizing the anxiety of the other groups? I plan to communicate the change to them often so there are no surprises. I of course plan to have many trainings in the fall, but I still worry that teachers will arrive in September to an unfamiliar looking Notebook program and decide not to use it.

Am I overreacting? Is there something we can do to minimize this problem? Do you have any experiences with similar issues? I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Leading by Example

Last week, my colleague, Ken, and I presented at the MASA Conference for administrators. Our session was on 10 Reasons Why Administrators Should Use Web 2.0 Tools. Here is a link to our presentation wiki. Please feel free to offer ideas and suggestions on the off chance we are ever asked to do another similar session. Thanks.

The most important idea we tried to get across is that teachers need to see these tools being used in a professional capacity to begin to buy into the fact that these are important tools for their jobs. Administrators can create 21st Century Work Environments that model how these tools should be used. This would send a clear message that using these tools are strongly encouraged while also giving real world examples of how to use them. I hope the message got through!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why Pink Matters

I went to the CoSN Conference in Washington DC this week. In the course of two hours, I had the opportunity to see two diametrically opposed speakers, Gary Stager and Daniel Pink. At least they would have you believe they are diametrically opposed. I don’t really get it.

Gary Stager blogged this week about how Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, is the worst book ever. Harsh words. He must have very good reason for attacking a man who in many ways embraces the same principles that Stager embraces. In his book, Pink talks about the need for more creative thinking, synthesis level thinking, and play in our lives if we are going to be successful in the future. Stager spoke about Why Papert Matters (referring to the great educator, Seymour Papert). He spoke about constructionism, the theory that students will be more deeply involved in their learning if they are constructing something that others will see, critique, and perhaps use. Through that construction, students will face complex issues, and they will make the effort to problem solve and learn because they are motivated by the construction. Sounds like they are barking up the same tree. If we are going to engage our students in tackling more complex issues, doesn’t it make sense that we should engage both sides of their brain so they can think both algorithmically and heuristically? Don’t we need to provide opportunities for students in the area of gaming if we are going to maximize their potential to think creatively, problem solve, and feel engaged? Stager might argue that it is the creating of the game that is more powerful than the playing of the game. I won’t argue that point, but there is room for both I think.

My point in all of this is that both men are arguing for change. Let’s stop teaching rote memorization and lower level thinking skills, and let’s start challenging our students to think deeply about important topics. Let’s help them solve complex problems that matter to the world outside the classroom. Let’s help them think, try new ideas, fail, rethink, and come up with new solutions. The message to get us there can take on many perspectives, but the message is still clear: We need to teach differently, with an emphasis on problem solving, constructing meaning, and effective communication.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

It Is Not About the Technology… Sort of.

In my job as a technology integration specialist, I spend a lot of time teaching people how to use technology, convincing people of the power of technology, and demonstrating how technology can be embedded into our curricula. However, the more I do these activities, the more I realize that it is not about the technology. But before you start rejoicing that I will suddenly stop evangelizing about educational technology, I’d better explain.

When I say it is not about the technology, I mean that I am spending a lot of time thinking about the outcome. What do I want kids who graduate from school to be able to do? Do I want them to multiply, memorize capitals or dates, or write beautiful five paragraph essays? No, I want them to be successful in this new society, controlled by ubiquitous access to massive amounts of information, instant and cheap communication with the whole world, and access to tools that do many of the tasks that have traditionally been taught in schools. So how do I do this?

First, we need to look really hard at what we teach and how we teach. We need to engage in a conversation with our students about what the world looks like that awaits them when they graduate. What are the opportunities, what are the challenges? There are many of both. We don’t address them in school. As a teacher, how often do we discuss the importance of issues like global competition, a job market that is moving away from routine tasks and more and more towards creative problem solving, collaboration, and flexibility? How often do we discuss or, better yet, use digital tools in ways that solve complex problems, access and organize massive amounts of information of varying quality, communicate persuasively, and collaborate across time and distance? How often do we discuss the dangers of Internet safety, including cyberbullying, copyright laws, privacy, and content that is increasingly subjective?

How often do we neglect these issues in order to teach math facts, spelling, historical dates, or other low level thinking skills? I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a time or place for these skills, but if they are the bulk of our curriculum and they come at the expense of the other important skills, what are we really doing for our kids?

So, it isn’t about the technology. It is about teaching 21st century skills and putting student learning in the correct context. However, I’m not sure how we do all that without the use of technology. Are you?

Internet as a Democratic Tool as Compared to Radio and TV

For those who insist that we are in a downward spiral in which our youth read and write less and less, I would like to offer this up. Since the early 1900’s, the way in which information has been transferred has shifted from a largely written text to radio and then television. This transformation has lead to a society of consumers. We passively accept information from multiple sources. We have no avenue to question its authority. There are no letters to the editor. Only recently has radio begun a discourse in which listeners call in to speak about their viewpoints. Unfortunately, many of these radio stations are highly biased programs that solicit one-sided debates. They are capable of sifting out callers, allowing only those who they choose to get through. They can also cut off callers at any point. Not very democratic. Television is even less democratic. Channel after channel of information (I use this term loosely) is streamed into our homes in a solely one-sided fashion. We accept the information, but no public debate is formed, no discourse is furthered.

But the Internet is changing that. For the first time in a century, the primary source of information for our citizens is democratic in nature. Blogs, wikis, and other Web 2.0 tools invite a discourse. Our citizenry is encouraged to read and write in order to discuss a whole range of topics.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of us, the educators, to further this opportunity. If this vehicle for social discourse is to be powerful, we must teach our youth how to use it responsibly and effectively. We must promote this public conversation and empower our students with knowledge, thinking skills, communication skills, respect for different opinions, and technical skills and access to be able to participate.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Techno Paralysis

hs_us_technology_pda_clinical_assistant_doctor_pda_sp5.jpgNow I'm not a doctor so I don't know if this is a real medical condition, but it has been my observation that many people suffer from "techno paralysis." This is the condition when people, often teachers, get so overwhelmed by the degree of change in the area of technology, that they seem unable to decide where to get started with trying out new tools. In other words, there is too much to learn, so they end up not learning any of it.

I don't have a cure for this disease, but one thing that seems to be helpful is starting small. Pick one thing to focus on and get started with that. For example, just focus on blogging. Don't worry about the myriad of other tools. You will never learn them all anyway, so why not just choose one to learn? What tends to happen is this removes the paralysis to some degree and builds some excitement. I hear things like, "Wow, I'm not as dumb as I thought!" or "Hey, I can do this!"

The other great part about this is that once you learn one tool, the second is often easier to learn because many of the processes are the same. For example, once you can upload a photo from a folder on your hard drive, you can repeat that process on other applications.

The key for me is to not get too carried away with all the bells and whistles right away. There will be time for all that later. First I need to start with one thing and build on it. So if you know anyone that suffers from techno paralysis, put on your white coat and prescribe them a healthy dose of "Start Small."


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Using Voicethread

Recently, I have been spending a good deal of time training staff members on the use of Voicethread. Voicethread is a Web 2.0 tool that allows the user to upload images and then narrate them or type comments about them, creating online, collaborative, multimedia presentationws. It is incredibly easy and powerful. What I love about it is the versatility of it. You can upload presentation slides and narrate them, you can upload student created artwork and narrate them, or you can upload photos.

I inevitably get the question, "So why would I use that in my classroom?" Here is a short list of ways it can be used:

  • Storytelling

  • Book reports

  • Narration of a multimedia presentation

  • Sequencing

  • Field trip narration

  • Explanation of how to process complex problems - see

  • Virtual field trips to far away times or places

  • Current events

  • upload diagrams/concept maps and explain their meaning

  • How to Videos

  • Anything, everything

Here is a quick Voicethread that explains what it is all about:

Friday, February 8, 2008

Internet Safety Presentation at the Parenting Forum

I had the opportunity to present at the Wayzata Parenting Forum this weekend. I am attaching my presentation in case anyone is interested. The presentation was created in Smart Notebook which could not be uploaded so I converted it to pdf. The only problem there is that the video on the 4th slide is not viewable. Oh well.

I thought it went really well. The discussion was far more interesting than the presentation. I wish I had recorded it. I spoke with a teacher who came to my presentation and he had a great idea. He said we should present this to parents when their kids are in kindergarten. One of the big discussions at the presentation centered around how much easier it is to set up safe routines for using the Internet if you start when the kids are young. Taking a 12-year-old and changing the rules now is much more difficult. I would love to see us present this to all kindergarten parents, but finding a way to bring them all together is a bit of a challenge. I'd love to hear some ideas for how we could do this.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Another MLK Reflection


I know. It's the trendy thing to do, but I can't help thinking about Martin Luther King on his birthday (or at least when we choose to celebrate his birthday) without thinking about all he was up against. He fought the powers of fear, status quo, and inertia to bring about one of the greatest changes in our society. That leads to my thinking about my own (admittedly on a much smaller scale) pursuit of change. Actually, it gets me thinking about all of our need to change.

I think about what would have happened if MLK and all his followers decided it was too hard, too dangerous, too overwhelming to change. What if he said, "I can't do this." Our society relies on the courage and resolve of its citizens to bring about change. Are we ready to take on our own small transformation? To look at the changes ahead in education and say, "We can do this. We must do this. We will do this."

Photo credit:


Monday, January 14, 2008



The Internet: a dark alley or the neighborhood soda shop?

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I will be speaking at the Parenting Forum here in Wayzata next month about Internet Safety. I have spoken on this topic before, and I always try to frame it in this way. Would you drop your child off on a dark street in Minneapolis and say, "Have fun! I'll pick you up in two hours!"? Of course not, but we stick children on the Internet unmonitored for two hours without thinking about it.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a doom and gloom guy. We as parents do bring our children to a variety of places, show them the way, teach them how to cross streets, introduce them to people, etc... Over time, we entrust them with more responsibility to walk on their own or meet friends there.

So why is it so hard for us to understand what is appropriate when it comes to the Internet? I always take students to websites. We explore them together, discussing possible dangers, responsible use, and appropriate behavior. Over time, they are given more responsibility to visit those sites on their own. If we meet people online along the way, I introduce them or help them make wise choices about how to introduce themselves, just as I would if we were walking down the city streets.

The Internet to me is the neighborhood soda shop. It is a place to socialize, have fun, make a purchase, or run an errand. Good parents supervise their children going to and from the soda shop, just as they should supervise them online. We would never suggest that kids not go to the local hangout to see their friends. So why would we suggest that online hangouts are inherently bad?

We need to provide our kids and students opportunities to learn how to interact appropriately online. This is their global neighborhood with places to hang out, have fun, play creatively, listen to music, and so much more. Let's not take that away, but let's not abdicate our responsibilites as parents and teachers to teach our children to act appropriately and safely in all aspects of their lives.

Photo credits: