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!