Vive la Difference!

December 20, 2006 on 4:38 pm | In nycist, technology | No Comments

From a response I wrote today on the NYCIST listserv:

I find it so interesting how in some ways we all have such similar schools and in other ways our experiences are so, so different. There are schools that have dumped Dell and would never go back; other schools have nothing but praise for them. Some schools swear by HP, others by IBM, others by Apple. You find it more cost effective not to cover your iBooks, and we couldn’t possible survive without a 4-year warranty on our laptops. We get warranty repair on some 10 to 20 iBooks/MacBooks and on a similar number of Dell notebooks every week, and that’s not even including the failed A/C adapters that are also replaced under warranty. Granted, our situation is different as a one-to-one school with a parent-buy model, but I can’t imagine our managing the repair process if we didn’t have coverage for the full active life of the machines.

Vive la difference!


December 18, 2006 on 3:28 pm | In education, nycist, technology | No Comments

At the last NYCIST meeting, someone began a thought with, “We all accept that curriculum should drive technology use and not the other way around.” Heads nodded in agreement, and I found myself nodding along out of habit. He was only stating what for so long has been the bedrock of educational technology theory, especially in traditional independent schools. We’re not trying to change what you do; we’re just giving you new tools to add to you kit.

I’m sure I’ve said those very words in the past, but lately I’ve had the sense that the ground is starting to shift under our feet. Maybe we’re finally entering an age in which technology is developing in ways that can make it truly transformational for education. In certain subject areas, technology clearly does have a direct effect on curriculum. Computer Science, certainly. Science, sure. I could probably find examples from each subject, but perhaps the conversation we should really be having is the one about how technology affects pedagogy – not necessarily what we teach, but how we teach it.

The current buzz is the need to teach students 21st Century Skills. Time magazine even did a cover story on How to Build a Student for the 21st Century. But what exactly are those skills? They are not computer skills per se but are instead the skills required to stay afloat in a technology-rich, information-driven, global economy/community.

So it’s not about content and curriculum; it’s about managing time and information and relationships. Students need to learn to communicate and collaborate and innovate and connect and think critically, creatively, and holistically. They need to learn to access the incredible resources that technology makes available, which means that schools need give students the opportunity and training to tap into those resources.

Is the traditional classroom giving students the chance to learn these skills? Even at one-to-one schools like mine are we taking advantage of the incredible opportunity to turn learning into something more vibrant and participatory? How do we do make time for more exploration in learning and still continue to build the foundation of core knowledge that students need? What does the school of the future look like?

Art Remixed

December 4, 2006 on 9:19 am | In education, nycist, technology, web 2.0 | No Comments

I visited the Barnes Foundation collection in Merion, PA last week. What an amazing place (and a fascinating controversy)! Barnes created his foundation as a school to educate people from all walks of life about art. He believed that art could change lives since, in the end, “art and life are inseparable.” It was not his goal to teach people the craft of painting ( “for that would be like teaching an injured person how to scream”) but to guide them to learn how to see.

I suppose that’s really the goal all good teaching — helping our students learn how to see. To see threads, connections, possibilities, and beauty in the world around them. To spot valid arguments and faulty premises. To separate fact from opinion, evidence from bias. To focus on the important details while still keeping the big picture in sight.

At one point in the audio tour through the Barnes galleries, the narrator described Cezanne’s impact on Picasso, explaining that Picasso did not imitate Cezanne’s work but “reworked its influences into his own unique forms.” Fast forward to 2006, and that same remark could describe what’s happening with blogging and the read/write web. Reading, writing, mixing, remixing. Learn from what others are doing, think about it, analyze it, synthesize it, internalize it, and go write about it.

Ultimately, though, it’s not about the product; it’s about the act of engaging in the process, of looking at what others are doing and then putting brush to canvas.

TALL Tuesday 2.0

November 30, 2006 on 4:40 pm | In education, nycist, technology, web 2.0 | No Comments

At my school we have a Professional Growth and Development program known as TALL Tuesday. While I can never remember what the acronym stands for, the program represents the earnest efforts of the school to carve out time for sustained professional development. For a set number of Tuesdays each school year (this year we have six meetings) the academic day ends an hour early and faculty members meet for two and a half hours in workshops organized and run by their colleagues. Each faculty member chooses one of the offered workshops and stays with that group for the entire year. This year’s offerings range from Mentoring to Social Justice in the Classroom, Global Warming to Write Your Own Textbook. This year my colleague Michael Bernstein and I decided to run a Web 2.0 workshop.

The group met for the first time this week, and from my perspective the session went well. Michael and I have also gotten positive feedback from some of our colleagues, but I’d welcome folks to use the comment feature of this blog to respond with thoughts, suggestions, or critique as well.

We began the meeting by getting a sense of why people had chosen this group. The answers ranged from general interest to specific ideas or needs. We then showed Epic 2015, Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson’s rather dark vision of the future of information and the Internet. It’s a powerful reminder both of the potential of the new tools being developed and of the possible negative consequences they carry. We then offered an overview of our take on Web 2.0 and something of a roadmap for our journey.

After Epic 2015, we figured it apropos to begin our exploration of Web 2.0 tools with those offered by Google. A few people already had Gmail access, but most had to create new accounts. We briefly looked at the e-mail and calendar, partly as a familiar starting point for discussions, but also as way to demonstrate briefly how AJAX and other similar technologies are changing the landscape of the web. Our main reason for using the Google offerings, however, was to introduce Docs & Spreadsheets (formerly Writely), looking especially at the remote access and collaboration features.

We ended the session with a quick look at the use of weblogs in education, using as an example the Secret Life of Bees blog that Will Richardson had used with one of his English classes. It’s a great example of how blogs can be used to motivate student writing and validate their thoughts and ideas. We’ll pick up with blogs and blogging at the next meeting.

Michael and I are excited that teachers from the workshop are already taking some of the tools they explored and putting them into use in their classes. To wit:

1. As preparation for upcoming parent-teacher conferences, one teacher is setting up shared online documents so that students can write reflections about their work and parents can read and add to them, all before the meeting happens.

2. Another teacher has set up shared assignment calendars that students can link to using iCal and have them update automatically.

Seems that folks are hitting the ground running. I really think that these tools can be quite exciting, useful, and, frankly, fun. Exploring their potential can be, in the words of one teacher, “truly energizing — even inspiring.”

I look foward to session two in January!

My Very Excellent Mother

November 27, 2006 on 7:43 pm | In education, nycist, technology | 1 Comment

One of the topics that I’ve been thinking a great deal about lately is the nature of knowledge in an age of ubiquitous access to vast amounts of information. What does it mean to be an educated person these days? How much data do we need to carry around in our heads when facts are only a few key search terms away?

Not long ago I was going through some papers that my mother had saved from my elementary school days. I came across a report I had done entitled “The Solar System: Our Nine Planets.” As if on cue, my nephew–a sixth grader–walked into the room and informed me with the utmost authority and confidence, “There are only eight planets.”

How many children over decades and decades have memorized the nine planets? It was so important to know them, to get them RIGHT! What mnemonic did you use? My Very Excellent Mother Just Sent Us Nine Pies? And then, poor Pluto got demoted.

This strikes me as an apt illustration of some of the problems we face as educators. We feel compelled (by tradition, society, colleges, the SAT?) to teach a body of knowledge, but what in the world does that mean? How do we manage the expanding information and the shrinking globe (universe, even)? The obvious answer is that we need to develop skills in our students, not tranfer facts to them, but what does that look like within the context of a “traditional” education?

Technology certainly offers us new opportunities to get our students to connect with others and explore ideas outside of the walls of our schools, but the promise of technology is yet to be realized. We’re still mostly in the mode that technology should support what good teachers already do. Perhaps. But maybe we’re getting closer to the point where it’s truly going to be transformational.

Here Be Dragons

November 15, 2006 on 9:22 am | In education, nycist, nysais, technology, web 2.0 | 1 Comment

Reflecting on last week’s NYSAIS EdTech conference, I’m reminded of the commonly held belief that early mapmakers marked the edge of the known world with the words “Here Be Dragons.” While this belief seems to be something of a folk myth, it provides an apt metaphor to describe the current landscape in the educational technology field.

With rapid technological advances, teachers and students face a brave new world out there beyond the known boundaries. Web 2.0 tools have the capacity to open up new territories in teaching and learning, but their promise also carries with it a fear of the dangers that lurk at the frontiers. Ed Tech visionaries extol the virtues of open, collaborative, organic learning environments, while at the same time parents, teachers, and administrators wrestle with the potential negative consequences in our students’ and children’s lives of venturing alone into these uncharted lands. To make matters worse, the children tend to be the explorers, even the natives, of this new world, while most adults struggle to keep up.

Furthermore, these new technologies are also forcing us to examine and reevaluate long-held beliefs and practices concerning teaching, learning, and knowledge itself. How’s that for a challenge? While this is a very exciting time to be in education, it can also be quite daunting.

What’s the answer? One step at a time, I’d say, even when those steps are sometimes quantum leaps.

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