Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Lots of interesting stories about technology in education

I have not fallen off the face of the Earth just yet--- I fell behind in reading and posting to the blog! I've been keeping up with pertinent news, by opening more and more tabs across my browser's window. Finally today I'm going through the articles and finding some pretty interesting stuff....

For instance-- for those in my local area-- I did not see this in the local news papers, but I did catch it on ASCD's SmartBrief (2/3 of the way down Successful Charter School...)-- KIPP's Harbor Academy in Annapolis will shut down next year. Not because they haven't been successful, but because they can't find space. This considering that Annapolis Middle School is half empty, but won't share space with the successful KIPP program.... very interesting. Honestly, I'm sad to see one of the 2 county charter schools close. It's definitely very, very difficult to be a charter school in AA County and in Maryland. With hopes of one day opening a school of some type, it's sad to see a successful model close its doors.

As for the rest of these links.... I'm closing out the browser windows and linking to articles that catch my attention!

  • Another cool quote from an interesting article about SMART boards and Promethean boards (seems the term SMART dominates even when referring to other company's products!): "It is this integration of technology into classrooms that is "really changing the classroom culture and helping us to become better educators," Cleveland Stewart, superintendent of the Gateway School District, told a group of district board members and elected officials last Friday." Check that out again--- technology integration is changing classroom culture and making teachers better. It's SO true. Even better--- those words came from a Superintendent! A little further down, another good quote, "Much of what we have incorporated into the classrooms is nothing new to many of our students. They already use much of what we're now just bringing into the classroom," Ms. Teaters said."
  • Educators aren't the only ones trying to tap into our students' technology tendencies.... Doctors are now using technology to reach / teach kids also!

    "Physicians and nurses at Cook Children's Medical Center are urging youngsters to try a shoot-'em-up computer game called Re-Mission that teaches them about their disease and pushes them to keep up with treatments.

    Re-Mission is just one example of an emerging spate of so-called "serious games" that blend technology, entertainment and education to reach the so-called Xbox generation."

    The article discusses other potential uses for these 'serious' video games, including awareness games related to healthy living and childhood obesity.

  • Another fascinating article about San Diego rolling out a 1-to-1 initiative using custom laptops running Linux.
    It starts with a great goal: "Always-On is split into three phases, and SDUSD is in the middle of the first phase, which began in March. The project's goal is to give students access to laptop computers with software tools and resources to help prepare them to learn, live, and work in the 21st century."
Here's how it's working now: Phase I of the pilot, which began in March, used $300,000 to fund machines in nine elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. Each teacher has his or her own set of laptops; some have the same students all day long, and others rotate students, so the students who go to that specific teacher's classroom have access to the laptops."
  • Now if this article summary doesn't grab you, I'm not sure what will!
    East Chicago, Michigan City, Switzerland County, and Tell City share more than a common Hoosier heritage: They--along with more than 70 other Indiana high schools--are using inexpensive computers and open-source software to reinvigorate teachers, engage learners, and ensure that Indiana's students are prepared for the world of tomorrow.
    Great quote about kids today: "When asked if the Linux operating system and open-source software had hampered his productivity in any way, one student said, "It's mostly the same--the web is the same, the word processor is better than what I have used before, and Moodle is great. I have a Windows computer at home, and my friend has a Mac. I use Nintendos, Xboxes, and PlayStations, and I also use my cell phone, my sister's cell, and my friend's. They are all just a little different, but it is no big deal. It's just nice having access to computers in my classrooms." It's clear that today's students are routinely involved with multiple operating systems and software as a regular part of their lives.
    The results?? It's working!

    "I have never seen this degree of collaboration and excitement among teachers in all my years as a superintendent. The students are excited, too. It works," says John Williams, superintendent of the Rush County Schools.

    "These are not computer labs. The technology is in my classroom. Every student has access [to a computer] every period of the day. The computers are available on demand," says Carla Beard, English department chair at Connersville High School. "Not only do we use a variety of software packages, we also have full access to the internet and all of its resources. inACCESS is making a positive difference in learning. Students are engaged and feel more comfortable with rigorous research on more complex topics. This is what they are used to and how they have learned to work."

    I think that just about sums it up! If only we could get all schools and students to that point. Access to technology is critical. It's exciting to see progress in that direction and to read positive reports about successful programs!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Data, data, data

(If you skim this post, make sure to catch the site links!)

I'm sitting in an intense presentation about using data to make instructional decisions. Today's full day session is an overview of the importance of data and an exploration of several methods of examining data. This is in preparation for our follow up training using our new technology tool that will give teachers/principals/the district access to incredible amounts of data that can be organized in a variety of ways. (I must admit that this tool seems to pack a whole lot of power.)

Tapping into my love for math and numbers and my past experiences in diving into data as a math department chairperson, this presentation is right up my alley. It's bringing back lots of memories--- not only the late nights of sorting through data and creating visual representations that made the data easy to understand quickly-- but also my passion for using data to improve student achievement.

We're focusing on 100% Stacked Graphs and Scatter Plots--- boy does this ever answer our students' questions of when will I ever use this math lesson. It's amazing to see the power of adding a line on these graphs and comparing student performance from year to year. I know I can't capture this in words...but trust me, it's amazing to look at one graph and end up with 4 conclusions --1) meeting standard and improved over last year, 2) meeting standard and decreased performance compared to last year, 3) not meeting standard, but showed improvement over last year, and finally 4) not meeting standard, and decreased performance compared to last year. While it's very exciting data to have access to, I can also remember the anxiety.... I'm not sure I would have handled knowing that I had students in category 2 or 4. That's harsh to feel like I've failed students. I know there are always other factors that come into play, but none the less.... No matter what, access to this data will have powerful implications.

This software will work with previous years' data as well as current formative and summative assessments. Another very cool feature of this software is the ability to click a button and get a matrix that will split your students into groups for re-teaching, enriching, etc... So cool! What a time saving feature.

Two websites have been mentioned that no one in the room was familiar with....
  • -- go ahead, find a school you care about-- you'll see the basic info. Now take it to the next level.... do an opportunity gap analysis. This will compare your school to other schools that teach a similar population and provides an opportunity gap. This site is doing extensive research to identify the factors that make successful schools function-- check out the research section.
  • --provides more data and analysis features (I didn't explore this one as much so I'm not too familiar about the features!)

Understanding the power of these sites should compel all of us to dive into the data a little more so we are informed when the public starts asking questions.

My questions---
  • As this develops it's obvious that the next step will be using this data to compare/rank teachers (and even being able to factor in the varying levels of difficulty represented by each child).... how will this impact our teachers?
  • How long will it take to train teachers and school-based staff to use this data effectively so that it is integrated into all decision making?

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Coming Soon.... New technologies

So the articles and topics crossing my screen today are all about the new technologies coming down the pike in the very near future.

First, a co-worker emailed this link to Microsoft's Surface technology. The videos are short and very cool. Amazing to think that this will be available later this year. Even more amazing is to think of the many ways this will change our lives and interactions. And .... what about our classrooms???

The second article was shared with me by my dad. This article highlights the next new thing that Google is creating.... Google Gears. This is (somehow) going to provide access to web based stuff when you don't have access to the web (on a plane, somewhere where only dial-up is available, or even in remote parts of the world). While it's all still very vague to me, it sure sounds awesome! (Ready to take the plunge and be on the cutting edge of this one? Here's the beta version---

Sure makes me wonder about the implications for our schools and classrooms. My newest questions are more global though--- what are the implications of these technologies on our lives and communities? Will everyone have access to these and will they truly transform how we do everything? Or will this be the next new geek toy only used by the super-geeks who are really on top of this whole technology shift? When will all this technology be mainstream?

Will these new platforms /services/ tools eliminate the need for computers as we know them with clunky mice? Will everything be touch screen in just a few years?? Will all the technology skills we're learning now be obsolete?

Technology sure keeps things very exciting!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

1st graders blogging!

My lack of blog posts has been due to a brief vacation in which I flew to Oklahoma to help move my sister's family to Atlanta, Georgia. (Yes we made a movie-- my nephew the movie star narrates his adventure and shows off his new house, but I can't post it on here... I'll keep playing with it or you can email me for a copy of it.) I always love to travel as it reminds me of how diverse our world (and even our country) is. We have really been enjoying Georgia--- everyone has been SO friendly. (That is until I got to the Atlanta airport. I am currently suggestion that everyone avoid this airport at all costs. :-( I've been to 3rd world countries that were able to better manage their airports). As I sit here on the floor waiting to board an overbooked plane I am catching up on a few articles.

Here's an excellent story about a teacher who is passionate about using 21st Century skills and tools to make learning meaningful and engaging for her students. It's well worth the read!

I am frequently asked to show examples of actual teachers and students using blogs and podcasting in the classroom and to tell why these tools should be used in instruction..... if the only reasons are a) students are engaged and excited by this method and b) students are exposed to and trained to become proficient in the tools/software/technology that will be needed for the rest of their life..... I personally think that's enough.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Hands-on learning = Meaningful learning

I am a firm believer in the power and need for hands-on, real world learning experiences. I know that it's much more difficult to implement, that it requires a significant amount of work and planning on behalf of the teacher, and that it doesn't lend itself to much test prep--- but when it's all said and done, I believe that students truly learn when they are required to solve real problems, to create authentic products, and to connect all content areas in their thinking.

Therefore, I loved watching this video clip about Thomas Jefferson High School's unique project. Grant funded, long term, multi-disciplinary, hands-on, strong connections, partnering with experts, meaningful learning .... amazing learning!!

Our students need experiences like this!

Video/story found at this blog:

Monday, May 21, 2007

Good Things Happening in Education

The stories crossing my screen this morning have been very positive with regards to education in general. The first article is about an innovative principal who is making significant changes at her school for the good of teaching and learning. Her creativity with funds and schedules is increasing what can be done during the school day. Her passion is captivating her teachers and her parent community. That alone seems like a recipe for success.... when your stakeholders buy in to what you are doing, they will support and work along side to make sure it works.

The second, a local article, highlights an awesome Father's Club that was formed here at a school in Montgomery County Public Schools to connect African American dad's to the school.... the results are amazing! (to get to the article, scroll down to the bottom of page 1, the article is in blue called "Kingsview fathers make a difference for African American students" it is continued on page 8)

It's nice to read about things that are working in schools and about people who are willing to try something new to make a difference.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

It has been very disheartening to read about the recently reported failures of some school laptop initiatives. So as I was reading this article, I was fearful of the slant they would put on the whole 1:1 computing environment in schools.... until I read this sentence:
Computers can transform the way students learn only if instructors change the way they teach.
There it is in a nutshell. Instructors must change the way they teach. Connect that idea to this awesome graphic I saw on Miguel Guhlin's blog.
It's obvious that technology is not going to go away. It is the future. It impacts everything in the world. Including our classrooms and students. So, no, technology can not be optional for our schools, districts or classrooms. We simply must start adapting our classrooms and instructional models to include these technologies. But that doesn't mean that we toss the technologies into the classrooms and hope for the best. We must support our teachers as they learn these new technologies. We must re-write our curriculum to support new types of learning experiences. We must integrate technology seamlessly into instruction, not make it an add-on, not see it as optional.

More highlights from the article:
  • To productively use laptops in the classroom, teachers need to be willing to surrender their supremacy.
  • Students no longer need us for the facts because facts are instantly available on the Internet. Instead, they need us to help them figure out what to do with all that data. It's ironic that law school professors are leading the laptop backlash, since their discipline saw this trend coming decades ago when they stopped trying to teach the law and focused instead on teaching legal reasoning.
  • So what does a classroom look like when laptops have been successfully integrated?
    • Students are working individually or in small teams to solve engaging problems or answer compelling questions.
    • They are synthesizing their own experience, ideas from the professor, and sources that they can find on the Web.
    • They are talking with classmates, but they are also collaborating with people outside the classroom walls by e-mailing experts, posting to blogs, or editing pages on wikis (websites that allow users to add, remove, or edit content).
    • The teacher has come down from the lectern and is moving throughout the room, watching what students are doing, asking questions, posing challenges, and brushing shoulders with the student who just checked the scores on
    • Periodically the action is stopped. The teacher instructs the class to close their laptops, except perhaps one designated scribe. They talk. They share their insights, their solutions, and their obstacles. The Socratic exchange is fueled by the insights developed through electronic inquiry. The powerful face-to-face questioning isn't competing with the laptops; instead, it depends on it. When the dialogue ends, the teacher encourages students to reopen their notebook computers and summarize the important points of the conversation.
    • Sometimes the instructor is delivering content, but more often the teacher is helping students learn how to learn.
  • Instructional changes in today's classrooms need to be as radical as the technological innovations that spark them, and university administrators must recognize that upgrading the network won't deliver results without upgrading the instruction.
  • Schools can't expect overburdened teachers to leap into the 21st century in their spare minutes, and faculty will need grants, time, and resources to advance their teaching.
  • The best method for infusing technology into the curriculum is to support a few innovative teachers in developing new courses that use computers to enhance the academic culture of the school.
  • In the long run, though, the strongest educational institutions won't be the ones that leave laptops out; they will be those that discover the most powerful ways to bring them in.
Wow! This article really gets it. And doesn't it make the future of learning in our classrooms sound so very exciting?!

Monday, May 14, 2007

24 Math Competition

For 4 years, I have co-coordinated Anne Arundel County's Middle School 24 Competition. Every year after the event I sit back and process the event.... and ever year I am convinced that we need to find a way to spread the interest in this game.

If you haven't been to a competition, it's hard to imagine. If you walked in during the middle of a round, it would be nearly silent. You would see students sitting at tables with 4 competitors and 1 proctor. Once time is started, the proctor places a 24 card on the table and students race to solve it first, after it is solved another card is placed on the table. To solve a card, students may add, subtract, multiply and/or divide; they must use each number on the card and may only use each number once, their final answer must be 24. One other catch-- when students state their solution, they must state their last step first (ie 8x3=24) then proceed to explain their entire solution. After 10 minutes, time is called, student points are tallied, and students are re-seated at new tables. Play continues like this for four rounds. During the 4th round, the top scorers are seated at the competing table and they play the final round to determine the champion for the year.

Here's the catch.... when we started this competition 4 years ago we used a basic single digit 24 deck. Last year we increased the difficulty of the challenge and again this year we increased the difficulty, ending up with:

  • The Red Level -- alternating rounds of double digit cards and variable cards
  • The Gold Level -- alternating rounds of fraction/decimal cards and variable cards. Students must determine a variable that will solve both wheels and then state their solutions.
Involving over half of the county's middle schools, this competition draws approximately 60-70 competitors each year. Many schools have created after school clubs dedicated to preparing for this competition. When I was teaching, I had students come at lunch time every day to play. We always had so much fun. One of the benefits that I really, really value is the problem solving discussion-- one of my students used to grab my hand after we solved a card and I was able to replace it with a new card and say "Wait! Wait! Wait! I want to share how I solved this card." He was delighted to tell the group that he had a different way. His excitement was contagious... soon after, everyone had to share how they had solved the card. It's hard to generate that sort of discussion based around a text book problem.

Watching students play this game and/or compete is truly any math teacher's delight--- students willingly sitting at a table adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing double digit, fraction and decimal numbers in their heads at a very fast pace!

So now.... how do we get this to spread? .... Yes, we're working on this idea and hope to find a way!

Monday, May 7, 2007

Infuriating conclusions about student technology use

Reading this article in the New York Times about how the Liverpool Central School District plans to phase out it's laptop initiative infuriates me!

Here are some of the key ideas:
  • ... the Liverpool Central School District, just outside Syracuse, has decided to phase out laptops starting this fall, joining a handful of other schools around the country that adopted one-to-one computing programs and are now abandoning them as educationally empty —
  • “After seven years, there was literally no evidence it had any impact on student achievement — none,” said Mark Lawson, the school board president here in Liverpool, one of the first districts in New York State to experiment with putting technology directly into students’ hands. “The teachers were telling us when there’s a one-to-one relationship between the student and the laptop, the box gets in the way. It’s a distraction to the educational process.”
This sounds to me like there was a lack of planning and coordinating about the use of the technology in the classroom. You can't just give students laptops and think it's going to make them smarter! Yes, putting a laptop on each student's desk will cause the box to get in the way when that's all you do with the technology. However, when it's integrated in the curriculum, when lessons are modified to use the technologies and to take learning to new levels, when teachers are trained about how and when to use the laptops effectively, and when they are used appropriately 1:1 initiatives have tremendous power!
  • Yet school officials here and in several other places said laptops had been abused by students, did not fit into lesson plans, and showed little, if any, measurable effect on grades and test scores at a time of increased pressure to meet state standards. Districts have dropped laptop programs after resistance from teachers, logistical and technical problems, and escalating maintenance costs.

Don't fit into lesson plans? Perhaps the lesson plans need to be modified, more geared for 21st century learning and thinking. Abused by students? This comes as no surprise... kids abuse everything! Perhaps manufacturers need to work on creating something a little more durable and students need to be trained to value these technology tools. Think of their iPods and gaming devices... they don't intentionally break those. When it means something to them, they value it and take care of it.
  • Such disappointments are the latest example of how technology is often embraced by philanthropists and political leaders as a quick fix, only to leave teachers flummoxed about how best to integrate the new gadgets into curriculums. Last month, the United States Department of Education released a study showing no difference in academic achievement between students who used educational software programs for math and reading and those who did not.

Why do philanthropists and political leaders embrace technologies?? Because they use them daily; their lives have changed as a result of these technologies.... business isn't done as it used to be. But our classrooms haven't changed. They look just like they did way back when. These philanthropists and political leaders may actually be seeing that it's time to bring our schools into the 21st century and that it's time to prepare our kids for their future jobs using these tools.
  • Many school administrators and teachers say laptops in the classroom have motivated even reluctant students to learn, resulting in higher attendance and lower detention and dropout rates. But it is less clear whether one-to-one computing has improved academic performance — as measured through standardized test scores and grades — because the programs are still new, and most schools have lacked the money and resources to evaluate them rigorously.

So there is some good news in this article. Motivating reluctant students. Higher attendance. Lower detention rates. Lower dropout rates. Aren't these great things??? These are successes to be celebrated in their own accord. If students aren't in school, if they drop out, and even if they are there but don't get involved in their learning--their scores won't be so hot. The technology motivates them to try, motivates them to show up, and motivates them to stay in school. It connects to their world.

Take a look at that last sentence of the quote..... no money or resources to evaluate the initiatives rigorously. No wonder there's no good data out there to show the true gains that technology can make when it's planned for prior to dumping all these new tools on teachers and students and when it is used effectively.

Although 1:1 initiatives are expensive, the cost of implementing them half-heartedly and watching them fail is far more expensive. Let's face it: technology is not going to curl up and go away because our K-12 schools weren't about to find a way to embrace it. Technology is here to stay and it is changing every aspect of life.
  • But Mr. Warschauer, who supports laptop programs, said schools like Liverpool might be giving up too soon because it takes time to train teachers to use the new technology and integrate it into their classes. For instance, he pointed to students at a middle school in Yarmouth, Me., who used their laptops to create a Spanish book for poor children in Guatemala and debate Supreme Court cases found online.
Here it is: train teachers? Integrate it into classes? Imagine that. You don't throw computers into existing lessons and make it fit. Lessons have to change. Our goals need to be to have students use these technologies to create, to collaborate, to do things we can't even imagine---but most importantly to LEARN. Allow students to create meaningful products that culminate their work and can be share with others. Not only do they learn and deeply learn, but they help others. and make an impact.
  • “Where laptops and Internet use make a difference are in innovation, creativity, autonomy and independent research,” he said. “If the goal is to get kids up to basic standard levels, then maybe laptops are not the tool. But if the goal is to create the George Lucas and Steve Jobs of the future, then laptops are extremely useful.”

Great point... laptops are not a cure all. Technology can provide individualized learning opportunities. It can be used to re-teach, to fill gaps on an individual level, and to extend learning. But technology will not replace all modes learning. Teachers are still the best source of learning. However, when teachers embrace technology and are trained to use it effectively, amazing gains will be evident in learning.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Count down to 02:03:04 on 05/06/07

For all my number geek friends.... :-)

This article from USA TODAY is re-posted here in it's entirety.
Numerologists: Your moment is about to arrive. Mathematicians and lottery players: You may want to pay attention, too.

On Sunday, at 02:03:04 a.m. on 05/06/07, time will align itself in a perfect pattern, 2-3-4-5-6-7.

For those who slept though last year's 1-2-3-4-5-6 moment at 1:02 a.m. and three seconds on April, 5, 2006, this is your second chance.

"There are numerical patterns in nature all around us," says Edward Burger, who teaches mathematics at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. "Some are more significant and some are more beautiful than others. And this one is a silly one."

Silly, yes. And a moment that will not come again for another century, in 2107. Of course, the times and dates will align sequentially once every year until 9:10 and 11 seconds on Dec. 13, 2014, or 9-10-11-12-13-14. After that, time will revert to its usual untidy mix of hours, minutes and seconds passing through the days of our lives.

Trying to Envision the 1:1 Classroom Environment

The Maryland State Department of Education recently released The Maryland Technology Plan for the New Millennium: 2007-2012. A few summaries of this plan include:
  • A 1:1 student to computer ratio at the secondary level
  • A 1:3 student to computer ratio at the elementary level
  • Staffing of 1 instructional technology specialist for every 100 instructional and administrative staff members
  • Staffing of 1 technical support staff for every 300 computers, 1 local area network (LAN) administrator for every 40 servers and 1 wide area network (WAN) administrator for every 25 sites
While this plan excites me, it also makes me wonder! Logistically... how do you fund these initiatives? How do you fit this many computers into the classrooms we currently have? How do you train educators to use all this technology effectively? etc...

Truth be told, I am spending a fair amount of time right now trying to figure out what this 1:1 device really will be. Will it be a laptop? That seems unlikely, and I'm starting to think that it's not the best option. Are we really going to have elementary students lugging a laptop back and forth to school every day, and if we do.... will the laptops be safe?! Also, what does a classroom full of laptops look like? Frankly, the picture below does not excite me. (Image found embedded in this article about using laptops to increase student achievement.)

While the students have access to technology, the classroom looks so traditional that I'm not sure we've made much advancement towards 21st century learning. If students are quietly sitting in rows, clicking away at their own computer, are we making any progress towards teaching students to work collaboratively to learn? Are we encouraging students to use the technology to create like their generation is so apt to do?

I believe our vision for the future of educational technology has to encompass discussions that are more broad than "should we give the kids laptops, hand-helds or amazing cell phone?" Our discussions need to focus on the learning environment, the content, and the method of instruction.

In the meantime, I'm also asking myself the logistical questions.... currently I'm trying to explore the pros and cons of the options available now--- are hand-helds a viable option? Are laptops the way to go? What about some of these newer devices.... can cell phones (maybe Apple's) do the job, what about the $100 Laptop?

2012 is not far away! That means there's not a whole lot of time to get answers to all these questions! On the other hand, it means that we're going to see a lot of change in our classrooms in the near future... that's only 5 years. Although I can't even imagine a classroom with a 1:1 computing situation, it's exciting to try to picture it!

Monday, April 30, 2007

Building 21st Century Achievers by Kevin Honeycutt

Although I did not get to attend the "Know the Child, Optimize Learning"
conference in Kansas last week, I was able to enjoy an incredible session that Wesley Fryer podcasted. This session, Building 21st Century Achievers, presented by Kevin Honeycutt, is engaging and extremely important for educators to hear.

He talks about how we initially try to stay one day ahead of the kids in terms of technology, but eventually we begin to recognize that the technology is their skill area.... if we focus on the content and teaching and make the technology available to our students, they will learn the technology much faster/better than we can teach them. We aren't teaching technology, we're teaching kids... kids who happen to learn best through technology. It's time we stop making them unplug themselves when they come into school. Let's tap into what they are using outside of school to teach them!

To hear the podcast, click here. It may take a minute to load.


Friday, April 27, 2007

America COMPETES bill passes the Senate!

Every since the STEM conference I attended last month (I blogged about it here and here), I have been closely following the America COMPETES act. While catching up on my BlogLines account this afternoon, I was pleasantly surprised to see that it passed in the Senate!!

Here are a few highlights from the story
  • "The bill would authorize a doubling of the National Science Foundation’s budget within five years and add an array of new programs intended to support risk-taking research."
Highlights from another article about it:
  • Drawing wide support from Democrats and Republicans, the Senate approved legislation dramatically increasing federal funding for research. The bill also seeks to jump start a revival of student interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs from elementary to graduate schools.
  • The 206-page bill passed on an 88-8 vote after more than three days of debate.
  • To attract more students and teachers to STEM studies, the bill would create programs, grants and scholarships, including expanding statewide specialty schools in math and science. Several other programs in the bill focus on improving the skills of STEM teachers.
  • The passage of the America Competes Act follows approval Tuesday afternoon in the U.S. House of two bills also aimed at improving America's competitiveness. The legislation envisions 25,000 new STEM teachers to prepare the U.S. workforce for a 21st Century economy. A second bill provides grants for young scientists to pursue high-risk research.
  • IA President George Scalise said the bills are an "important step toward advancing two important goals -- supporting basic scientific research at U.S. universities and preparing more American students to pursue careers in science and engineering."
  • Lezlee Westine, president and CEO of TechNet, added, "To maintain our status as the most competitive and innovation nation in the world, we must make strategic financial and intellectual investments that will guarantee our national and economic security for generations to come."
Highlights from another version of the story:
  • The House of Representatives is also debating legislation that would increase funding for teacher education, creation of magnet schools, and partnerships with federal agencies to enhance competitiveness.
A little more on that topic from this article:
  • Senate passage came a day after the House approved legislation intended to boost the number of highly qualified math and science teachers in U.S. schools. The bill, which passed 389-22, would authorize more than $600 million through 2012 for scholarships and stipends for college students studying math and science in preparation for teaching careers. They could receive annual scholarships of $10,000 if they commit to teaching elementary or secondary pupils upon graduation.
Oh boy, even more bills/acts to follow on these same topics:
  • Specifically, H.R. 362, the Science and Math Scholarship Act, and H.R. 363, the Sowing the Seeds through Science and Engineering Research Act, are designed to help eliminate the shortage of skilled workers in the U.S. (link to article)
  • H.R. 362, also known as the "10,000 Teachers" bill, would establish programs at universities to recruit strong students majoring in science, math, and engineering into careers in teaching, and provide those students with specialized education courses. Students would receive scholarships amounting to $10,000 per year.
  • The bill also would provide in-service training to math and science teachers to improve content knowledge and teaching skills through specially tailored master's degree programs and summer institutes.
  • Finally, the bill would strengthen existing programs at universities designed to expand the pool of undergraduate students who will become the next generation of scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians.
One more tid-bit of info I hadn't seen in any of the other articles was reported here:
  • The measure is being called the America Competes Act and now
    goes to the House. It would create science magnet schools, each of
    which would be adopted by one of the Energy Department's national
This is all so very exciting to me. I'm so glad to see such an interest in STEM areas and to see the government coming together to support it. This is where I wish I knew how to be more involved. The School House Rocks song of How a Bill Becomes a Law is playing in my head now, but the formal process neglects to mention how the average-joe can get involved with all this political stuff! Any ideas on how to be more involved politically on topics like this???

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Local students publish book on web!

It's such a cool feeling to read Will Richardson's blog and realize he's talking about a class in my (new) school district!

In short, a 7th grade class at Silver Spring International Middle School in Montgomery County, Maryland wrote short essays, compiled them into a book, and have published it on! You can buy a paper copy of their book, Stories from the Past, or ... download it for free! Not to mention the fact that it will soon be available on Amazon, Borders and Barnes and Noble.

From a student perspective.... How cool is that! Their work is published and available for the world to read. Kudos, to Mr. Mayo's class and to Mr. Mayo!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Pretty Good" Poem

Yesterday I attended a morning conference and an afternoon meeting. Both of which have my brain working overtime to process... this is the easiest post I can get up quickly. Basically, I just want to share a poem that was presented to us at my morning conference (Maryland Council of Staff Developers). It ties in very well to the hot topics pertaining to things like Friedman's The World is Flat.

Something to seriously think about and to share with others.....

I am copying this straight from the book the speaker wrote (Quality Teaching in a Culture of Coaching, by Stephen Barkley, page 20)

" Rafe Esquith (2003) , winner of the American Teacher Award, inspires and challenges us to rethink the way we educate our children in his award winning book There Are No Shortcuts. He cites a poem given to hum by Charles Osgood of CBS News. It goes like this:

There once was a pretty good student,
Who sat in a pretty good class
And was taught by a pretty good teacher,
Who always let pretty good pass.
He wasn't terrific at reading;
He wasn't a whiz-bang at math;
But for him education was leading
Straight down a pretty good path.
He didn't find school too exciting,
But he wanted to do pretty well,
And he did have some trouble with writing,
And nobody had taught him to spell.
When doing arithmetic problems,
Pretty good was regarded as fine;
Five and five needn't always add up to be ten,
A pretty good answer was nine.
The pretty good student was happy
With the standards that were in effect,
And nobody thought it was sappy
If his answers were not quite correct.
The pretty good class that he sat in
Was part of a pretty good school,

And the student was not an exception;
On the contrary, he was the rule.
The pretty good school that he went to
Was right there in a pretty good town.
And nobody there ever noticed
He could not tell a verb from a noun.
The pretty good student, in fact,
was part of a pretty good mob,
And the first time he knew what he lacked was
When he looked for a pretty good job.
It was then, when he sought a position,
He discovered that a life can be tough,
And he soon had a sneaky suspicion
Pretty good might not be good enough.
The pretty good town in our story
Was part of a pretty good state
Which had pretty good aspirations
And prayed for a pretty good fate.
There was once a pretty good nation,
Pretty proud of the greatness it had,
But which learned much too late,
If you want to be great,
Pretty good is, in fact, pretty bad.

Definitely something to think about! Pretty good just won't cut it.

Microsoft's K-20 Innovation Tour

Wow! On Monday I had the opportunity to attend the Microsoft K-20 Innovation Tour at George Washington University in Washington, DC. I just love going to these things!!

Basically, we were able to view the World Premier of School of the Future Documentary and then hear from and interact with a panel group about the project. The movie was interesting--- it served it's basic function of providing background information about the project. This is another one of those instances where I wonder where I've been and how I missed out on knowing that this was going on--so for those of you who are not familiar with the School of the Future let me catch you up to speed.

For over 2 years, the City of Philadelphia and Microsoft have been collaborating to create a model high school (FYI Microsoft did not pay for this school, the city funded it---Microsoft paid 100K to have it's name on the auditorium I think). This school opened in the Fall of 2006 with it's freshman class. For the next 3 years a new group of freshmen will enter until the school reaches it's maximum capacity of 750 students. You read that right--- it's a very small school. Not only is it a small school, it's a very unique and special school. When they started, the ditched the model of what all the other schools look like (because our schools are outdated!). They dreamed, planned and designed a building, curriculum, and environment based on the needs of today's students. Here are a few of the highlights, in completely random order:

  • Entirely digital--- there are no textbooks; all assignments are submitted digitally
  • Mentors-- every student has a mentor from a local college
  • "hosted solution" -- Drexel University hosts and supports their network
  • Hiring Practices of teachers--- teachers were interviewed and then some were advanced to the next level... in that level they were given a puzzle (ie Sudoko) and required to work on it collaboratively; they were also asked to create a lesson plan as a group--- the key things the hiring team were looking for in candidates were their willingness to say "I don't know" and also the fact that they were able to be highly self-critical (notice--tech skills were not on that list, no was being the best of the best)
  • Culture of PD-- Professional Development are not one time experiences at this school--- it's constantly happening; teachers collaborate with each other and leadership provides the time and necessary resources to do that
  • Curriculum---teachers develop it as it goes using an inquire based model. Standards are kept in mind, but do not drive content. Inquiry Based. Real World. Relevant. Engaging.
  • Scheduling --very flexible, there no is set schedule (ie 6 55 minute classes a day), if students need 2 hours to do something the time is there, need a trip to the zoo---go!
  • Parent Community-- the community is encouraged to use the building, it's open till 10pm with 80% of the first floor available to them including a fitness center, a performing arts center and an interactive learning area. Also, parents are given refurbished computers and can get wireless internet for $4/month. The school has a portal for parents to tap into that allows them to see students grades/assignments and to connect to teachers.
Overall, I am very impressed with what they've done. When you think of all the red-tape involved in trying to do something like this, it's amazing to see that they were able to make it happen. I have a few concerns about how likely it is that this model can be replicated (a mentor for every child, a school that cost $64 million to build for only 750 students, etc..)....but it's a start to say 'We need to re-examine our systems and create schools that cater to today's students AND communities.'

Microsoft's Partners in Education page focused on Building the School of the Future, with links to more info.

News Coverage of The School of the Future (video)

CBS Article

Professional Leadership Education Competency Wheel -- designed by educators, for educators to be incorporated into professional development and hiring practices to build school system personnel

Friday, April 13, 2007


Between Spring Break, a quick flu-like bug, discovering my dog's paranoia of all things related to thunderstorms, and my recent movie making project I feel like I haven't blogged or read my BlogLines account in almost 2 weeks! I feel so lost. :-( But I'm back now! There have been so many blog topics rolling around my head that I've wanted to blog about. Don't worry, those are on the way.

I've started a new book and it's giving me lots to think about. The book, Wikinomics, was mentioned at one of the conferences I attended a few weeks ago. Seems like a natural progression-- Tipping Point, The World is Flat, Freakonomics, and now Wikinomics. I have an entire post brewing in my brain about a few of the topics I've read so far about how the new focus on mass peer collaboration will impact education.... very interesting stuff!

Then there's been the MCPS Student Media Festival. I volunteered to help in any way that I could... and was asked if I could make movies of all of the 2D entries. This has been a lot of fun (although a little tedious--- every individual entry (500 or so) was on it's original disk and had to be pulled to my computer, then renamed, then sorted to determine who won, compiled into a Photostory for each category, student creator name and title of entry added, then all the photo stories were tossed into movie maker which resulted in two movies--one for middle school, one for high school.) In the process... I got to see amazing student work. I am so impressed by the talent.

Well, it's quittin' time... and Friday! I'm off to battle Rockville traffic and then relax! Rest assured, good blog entries are coming next week. :-)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Combating students' lack of technology skills

I recently read an article that summarizes my concerns with regards to the lack of technology instruction in our schools.

Highlights of the article:

  • "Starting next February, federal law requires every school district nationwide to grade the technological literacy of its eighth-graders."
I feel like this is news to me! But also like it's something I should have known about.... how did I not realize this??
  • Unlike No Child Left Behind’s academic expectations — a cornerstone of the accountability movement that penalizes shortfalls with sanctions — falling short on technology will not have consequences.
Ahhh, this may explain why I didn't realize the federal mandate for technology skills--- it's not being enforced. I know that Maryland has been hard at work on defining the technology standards for students, teachers and administrators. I'm excited to see the goals they have established... and curious to see how they will be implemented in schools.
  • "This may be the millennial generation that texts, IMs and blogs with ease. Yet teaching today’s tech-savvy kids to search and scrutinize information in an academic way — skills they will need to survive in an increasingly technical work force — is another matter entirely, experts said."
BINGO! Kids know how to use technology socially. That's extremely different than using it to do research, being able to evaluate sources, and to create documents/presentations/products.

With such a strong emphasis on testing and achievement in math and reading, technology just doesn't seem to rank high enough to warrant a class of it's own. However, in a previous post, I mentioned that students are REQUESTING these classes--- they want to learn how to use the internet correctly (and safely), how to create good presentations, how to work with multimedia, etc.... Furthermore, our students NEED these skills. Once they enter college they will be required to create presentations, to sift through knowledge and determine what's valid and what's false, etc.... Technology is a significant part of our student's lives, so we need to train them while they are with us in school how to use it appropriately and effectively.

One local school system has started to do just this. At the e-Communities Summit I attended this week, I sat in on a session called Impacting Student Achievement and learned of a course that Prince George's County has been implementing with their middle school students. Get this... they teach them how to type, the course is a hybrid that exposes them to Blackboard and online learning, students learn word processing and Power Point in the context of content! I was so impressed by this initiative that I emailed Barbara Liedahl, the presenter, and requested e-copies of the documents she shared in her workshop so you could see them too (but you'll have to email me if you want to see them because my free blogger account doesn't seem to let me upload docs)! In our email exchanges, I was fascinated to learn that this is step one... they plan to continue with a Year 2 and even 3 Course where they hope to touch on more advanced topics like wikis, blogs and podcasting!!! How exciting! Hopefully other school systems are developing similar courses so that this education becomes part of the expected educational experience for every American student.

Way to go PGCPS and Barbara Liedahl for paving this path of technology education for students!!

Stem Conference thoughts continuted

Amazing how when you attend a conference or have topic brought to your attention how you hear all sorts of things about that topic in the days and weeks that follow. That's what's happened with STEM lately. Seems that everywhere I turn I am reading something else about STEM initiatives and activities ..... some of those links will be in the next post. Today I want to wrap up my thoughts about the conference.

One of the most memorable speakers from the conference was Emma Call. A senior at Baltimore's Polytechnic High School. Initially, it might be surprising to hear that a 12th grade student stands out as a superior presenter at a conference with esteemed professionals presenting. It's not that they weren't good--- as I noted in my previous blog-- but she was really good and she embodied the purpose of our gathering. It was almost a as if she was living proof that if we focus intently on STEM initiatives all students could experience similar successes.

So a little about Ms. Emma Call. Identified as GT and nurtured throughout her middle school career, Ms. Call felt that teachers had really helped foster her growth early on and steer her educationally starting in middle school. Soon after arriving at Poly, Emma started working at "her" lab with a JHU professor as her official mentor (special emphasis on "her" as one of the professors at my lunch table chuckled about how a high school student claimed ownership of the lab--but keep reading--she deserves to feel like she's a vital part of this lab). Her mentoring relationship allowed her to be working directly in the field she was interested in. She mentioned how she would attend the professor's advanced college classes, with only a background in high school biology, but her that brought up more questions and inspired her to learn more (content technically way beyond her high school level). Since then, she has posed her own research questions, written papers and been published in the professional community. Additionally, she has had the opportunity to compete nationally in things like the Intel Talent Search and many others.
She placed 10th in the Intel Talent Search:

Emma Call - Tenth place, $20,000 scholarship
Emma's project focused on the fabrication of 3-D microcubes, which have potential use as novel drug-delivery devices. She plans to move on to Case Western Reserve or Johns Hopkins after graduating from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.
(Also check out the news post on her school's website) She's the 3rd Poly Intel top 10 winner in 3 years, first female-- go Emma!
Her future is bright ---she has excellent choices for her college education and already has a real idea of what college will be like. She has not only been adequately prepared for college, she's lived the experience. Add to that, she's networked across the country with professionals in her field of interest. She's already learned how to write professionally, how to give and take constructive criticism, and how to learn what she needed to know when a gap in knowledge may have existed.

Needless to say, I was very impressed with Emma. Sure it's easy to say she was a gifted student and received lots of extras that most kids don't/won't/ can't get.... but why?? We need a lot to make it happen.... things like:
  • Professionals supporting our schools and students. Take these kids out of the classrooms occasionally to show them how what they are learning will prepare them for their future.
  • Early identification procedures for GT, interest/propensity for success in STEM fields or others---so we can hook them early and inspire them (to be curious perhaps!).
  • Access for all students to interesting, challenging opportunities (some in STEM Fields, some not).
Sometimes I think it's not possible.... but I know that's not true. The more we talk about it, the more we hear from the Emma Call's out there, the more we force the issue with policy leaders and funders ... the more likely we are to make it happen.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Interesting Article: U.S. no longer 'technology king'

Ok, so between the STEM Conference on Friday, the e-Communities Summit yesterday and a few random topics taking shape in my mind, I have tons of posts I could be writing now..instead... an internet search took me on a tangent and I read this article in the BBC News. And my disclaimer, this article is definitely outside of my education realm as it focuses on global business/technology issues.

The first two paragraphs do a good job of summarizing the idea:

"The US has lost its position as the world's primary engine of technology innovation, according to a report by the World Economic Forum.

The US is now ranked seventh in the body's league table measuring the impact of technology on the development of nations."

Interestingly enough:
  • "Despite losing its top position, the US still maintained a strong focus on innovation, driven by one of the world's best tertiary education systems and its high degree of co-operation with industry"
The US is always credited for innovation. It is said that our schools do a good job of teaching kids to think outside the box and to be creative. This seems to agree. But how is that?? I don't feel like the schooling I went through in my K-12 years or at the college level OR the curriculum that I taught to 5th, 6th and 8th graders inspired innovation or thinking outside of the box.
  • "Denmark is now regarded as the world leader in technological innovation and application"
Loosely connected to this idea (since I didn't make it to Denmark), Iceland is ranked 8th (previously 4th). I remember their strength in technology being explained to me during my visit to Iceland last year. Something about a result of several factors..... one being that since they waited in the initial wave of wiring the country, the wiring is top-notch and allows for faster, more wide-spread connection. Then there was also a strong emphasis on education in the country. Not sure how it all relates to innovation and technology application, but I'm sure it does! Education always leads to success. :-)
  • Factors cited in Denmark's success: "The country's efficient market environment, conducive to the availability of venture capital, and the sophistication of financial markets, was also given recognition."
Is the converse of this true? Does this imply that the US has a less efficient market environment and is less conducive to the availability of venture capital, etc....
  • "China was knocked to 59th place, nine positions down, with information technology uptake in Chinese firms lagging."
This surprises me... I guess as much as I hear about China and all that's happening there I would expect them to be higher on the list and to see that more innovation is happening there. Apparently I'm wrong!

So this is all entirely over my head. I don't understand the factors involved in these matters. But I do find it interesting. Especially in light of the focus on STEM topics in recent years (and the conference I attended last week).

Monday, March 26, 2007

Perhaps I'm Curiously Hopeless...or Hopelessly Curious

I came across this quote earlier this week and had to stop and think....
"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."
I've always been curious. This means I'm always asking questions. And, one rabbit trail leads to another and another. It also means that I'm frequently sharing tid-bits of information with friends and asking more and more questions to learn things from as many perspectives as possible. And then wondering even more.... it's a vicious cycle :-)

One of my passions as a teacher was to determine ways to make my students more curious. Curiosity leads to questioning, to action, to a quest for knowledge. During my first year of teaching, I read a book called Developing More Curious Minds. (I highly recommend it!) Great book--lots of neat ideas. While curiosity isn't one of those traits that you can learn about in a book, this book does have many great ideas about how we can infuse curiosity into our classrooms and curriculum. We don't need to dump information into students' heads... we need to make them wonder, to spark questions in their minds, to ignite their own passions.

I'm still stumped with regards to curiosity. I think I agree that there's no cure for it, for to cure curiosity is to kill inquiry and passion. But I'm not so sure that there's a way to make someone curious either. I was always convinced that teachers had the power to do so.... but not all kids are inspired to curiosity. However, those who come to us curious or who develop a deep sense of curiousness while with us are empowered to greatness!

Excellent STEM Conference..ponderings, resources and links

On Friday I had the opportunity to attend the STEM Education in Maryland Conference at Mt Washington Conference Center in Baltimore, MD. Jointly sponsored by The Maryland State Department of Education, Johns Hopkins University (my alma mater) and Morgan State University, the conference aimed to spotlight exemplar STEM programs and to assist counties that are in the start-up phase. I stumbled upon this conference while looking for a new post-grad program. Long story short, I kind of invited myself, but was warmly welcomed to attend! Am I ever glad I did!

The welcoming remarks were offered by an inspiring compilation of renowned leaders including, Dr. Ralph Fessler (Dean of the School of Education at JHU), Dr. William Brody (President of JHU), Dr. Nancy Grasmick (Maryland State Superintendent of Schools), and Dr. Patricia Welch (Dean, School of Education, Morgan State University). On a side note, when he was introduced, Dr. Brody's hobbies, among others, were listed as piloting and learning Mandarin Chinese. This information alone set my mind a-wondering..... in addition to leading one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and being a noted engineer and doctor, this man takes the time to learn a new language and to pursue other hobbies! I was inspired. :-) (Along those lines...go ahead and take a minute to read the bio's of each of those listed here--- talk about success!)

Dr. Brody's mantra, entitled the Calculus of Innovation:

Knowledge drives Innovation. Innovation drives Productivity. Productivity drives Economic Growth.

Dr. Grasmick's remarks were also thought provoking. She discussed the impending BRAC initiative set to greatly impact Maryland with over 45,000 new jobs (most paying over 70K annually) -- (this affects my county with a significant influx of students). I also learned that Dr. Grasmick was the only voice representing K-12 in the recent report Rising Above the Gathering Storm. On a very promising note, Dr. Grasmick unveiled the fact that STEM funding, while technically still pending in the State Legislature, has been awarded for next year. This funding will provide financial assistance for counties in the start up phase as well as larger grants for counties in the implementation phase. --- I always love to see it when money is supplied to help schools reach the goals set before us.

After being warmly welcomed, we were introduced to several phenomenal proponents of STEM education--mostly professionals with careers that require these skills. Marc Donohue, Associate Dean of Engineering at JHU, launched this 'panel discussion' (although it was not a panel discussion) by defining STEM as a meta-discipline, not 4 separate silos, and stated that today's problems are trans-disciplinary. While they started as individual content areas (math and science), they quickly grew to multiple areas (math, chemistry, physics and biology). However as time passed, new disciplines began to develop within and between these... such as organic chemistry. We are now at a place where these disciplines do not stand alone. Problems are no longer simply related to biology or math, but encompass aspects of each of these disciplines. For example, he discussed the IED Detection problems in the war in Iraqi and also the field of Nano-Bio Technology. (Unfortunately, we still teach them as separate units in elementary/secondary school). He had a neat graphic to show this....

By the completion of Dr. Donohue's explanation I was able to clearly see the difference between inter-disciplinary (aka multi-disciplinary) as we know it in education--- and this concept of trans-disciplinary.

I'll have to save the rest of my notes/thoughts for another post as I'm out of time today. Up next--Emma Call, senior at Baltimore's Poly Tech HS. Wow--- was she ever impressive!