Why should education leaders embrace digital technologies in their schools?

Why should education leaders embrace digital technologies in their schools? leadershipday2014_01-300x240

1) If you are in a state that adopted the “Common Core State Standards” (CCSS) you really don’t have a choice. There are many (yes many) English Language Arts standards alone that require students as young as kindergarten to use technology to read, produce and publish digital content and to collaborate in doing so. Just a few examples from the CCSS:

K – 12 – Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

K-12 – With guidance and support from adults, explore a variety of digital tools to produce and publish writing, including in collaboration with peers.

6th grade – (NOTE: by 6th grade the “… guidance and support from adults …” is gone. 6th graders are to master this standard on their own) Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.

5th grade –  Analyze how visual and multimedia elements contribute to the meaning, tone, or beauty of a text (e.g., graphic novel, multimedia presentation of fiction, folktale, myth, poem).

I’m not sure how we get our students to the mastery of these standards, and many others without ubiquitous access to and utilization of the technologies required.

2) Collaboration – This was already stated in the standards above, but those were specifically language arts standards. Communication and collaboration are already key to being educated, but also in getting a job. Learning to collaborate with the student next to you in class or in your group is great, but technology makes it easy (yes, easy) to collaborate globally. Will it be “good enough” if students just learn to collaborate in class? Will that foster solid collaboration skills with today’s (and tomorrow’s) technologies? Not that getting a job is the only reason to learn solid collaboration skills, but getting a job without having those skills is not getting easier. Mastering all the ways collaboration is leveraged personally and using technology is vital.

3) Programming and design – 3D printing (did you know they are printing whole houses, food and blood vessels already?), also –  software development, engineering, graphics, architecture, transportation, art, medicine,  and much more all rely on programming and design skills … this is what is happening now in fields with good paying jobs.

4) Inventing (often referred to as “making” these days) – This is hands on and motivating and requires the skills developed through pedagogy that includes all of the above.

5) Problem solving – (See above)

So you think children are already mastering these skills and technologies on their own by using their smart phones and other technology 24/7? Ok, let’s see how that works out with your students.

I don’t pretend that I’ve included all the reasons that leaders should consider (please add your own in the comments). But these are not easy or cheap changes that have to happen. We’re not going to provide the technology and professional development and commitment to change on the cheap. Only real leadership will get us there.

Learning is messy!

Rethinking School District Social Media Policies for Teachers / Students

I’ve been fortunate enough to teach in a school district that blocks very little – blogs, Twitter, Flickr, wiki’s, YouTube, Cover-It-Live, and more are all open. FaceBook and the obvious porn and other sites are blocked. However in my job as STEM Facilitator I hear from teachers locally and nationally in school districts that block most to all the above and more. If there are any social possibilities, whether it is moderated or not … it’s BLOCKED, no questions or comments allowed.

I’ve also been asked to share with local, state and even the US Department of Education, “What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students?”

So for everyones benefit it would be more than helpful to get feedback about that here. Especially if you are an administrator or government representative that has successfully dealt with this issue. The Common Core State Standards require students to collaborate globally, and certainly many of us can sing the praises as to why and how that is a valuable learning experience. So again – What would be the most useful thing we could do to encourage district leaders to rethink their social media policies for teachers/students? PLEASE share in comments and I will pass on.

Thanks in advance!

Learning is messy!





Who Gets Noticed? Telling? Or Not So Much? You Decide

A few weeks ago I noted to a local education reporter here that their Twitter follows included basically zero (or only VERY few) educators – almost all politicians and other media people and  neo-reformers (Rhee, Broad, Students First, etc.). To their credit they not only acknowledged that, but followed me and then asked me for other educators to follow, which I obliged (although I did promise more which I’ll have to follow up on – Geez!)

That leads to today when, as I was cooking dinner, I noted through another media person I follow,  that a very high state education official was on Twitter. I clicked on who they follow and noted … wait for it … that they followed basically zero educators – mostly politicians and media people. Now this person has been on Twitter for like 2 weeks or so and perhaps doesn’t get the 2 way street that is Twitter (well or their PR person doesn’t), but for someone in charge of setting education policy … it does raise my eyebrows a bit.

Next I started checking various school board members, school administrators that have Twitter accounts, and state “education reporters” from media outlets. Guess what I found? … Yep about the same story. Mostly (really almost ONLY) followed other media types, politicians, the neo-reformers (not sure they understand or care the issues there), and various others, but almost no, or literally no actual educators.

Now to be fair, I’m not saying its a conspiracy to keep teachers down (mostly, 🙂 ), but I do think it shows a basic … um .. “unawareness”, …. a not even thinking about getting a balance or inputs. Also, it takes some time to search around and find people (in this case educators) on Twitter, but still … really?

I think mostly it demonstrates how many get a Twitter (or other social presence on the web) because “you’re supposed to,” without understanding how its supposed to work … that its actually supposed to be a 2 way street … you’re supposed to read the Tweets of those you’re connected with, and learn from them, and interact with them too. Just sending out your thoughts to seem “connected” is actually pretty (actually, very) lame … really like using everyone else. It’s condescending really … we should hang on every one of your Tweets (thank you, thank you, thank you!) but you don’t have time to interact with ours (I’m looking at you @arneduncan – but also many others).

Again, I’m not surprised by this … I just think, maybe, it is a part of what the media and others don’t get about what teachers / educators see as a deck stacked against them when it comes to coverage of education issues. Those with money, power and a high media presence (see above) get their views reported … others … not so much.

Learning is messy!

STEM in the Connected Classroom

I was gone to Boston last week to an “Engineering is Elementary” training so I was remiss in sharing my newest post at the “Voices from the Learning Revolution” blog. The post is entitled “Going Deep: STEM in the Connected Classroom.” It’s my brief attempt at discussing where we are with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and some of what needs to happen if the promise of STEM education is to be realized. Head over and leave a comment if it strikes a chord with you.

Learning is messy!

Independence Day

It’s been a tough year or so under “new” administration, and short of actually revolting, a change needed to happen and so it has. I’ve taken a new position in my school district being the Gifted and Talented specialist at 2 of our 7/8 middle schools. Both are STEM Academies and are early in their implementation of a more project/problem based, technology integrated approach. One is also piloting a 1:1 laptop program with HP Netbooks that will roll out this fall when all teachers will get laptops, followed the next fall with students acquiring them.

Someone thought my experience might be a good match for the position – and my wanting/needing a change led to a quick decision on my part. Somewhat ironically I was interviewed for the position over the phone while I was standing outside “It’s a Small World” at Disneyland while on a trip with my family.

I’ll let you conclude why I chose the title and timing of this post, but needless to say I’m very pleased with the change and look forward to being part of a new direction for our school district.

Learning is messy!

Well Said

(UPDATE: 4/24/2012 – see the update below-)

Mary Broderick, President of the National School Boards Association, wrote a heartfelt letter to President Obama about the sorry state of education in the US after years of “reform.”

I especially appreciated points she made like:

“We want for each American child the same things that you and Michelle want for Sasha and Malia—inspiration, aspiration, creativity. I know you don’t want an overemphasis on testing. I have heard you say it.  Experience in schools and communities, supported by research, tells us that relentlessly focusing on standardized tests erodes our national competitiveness and deadens curiosity and drive. Clearly, we need some testing to gauge student learning, and we have no problem with appropriate accountability. But we have swung to a far extreme that is significantly hurting children. “Students are numbing over testing for testing’s sake…. We can’t test this country into excellence.” (Sonny Savoie, LA)”

As well as:

“The focus on strict quantitative accountability has never worked for any organization, and it has not worked with No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Teachers are trying to meet the mandates of those programs and consequently “our children suffer and are not getting educated to their individual potential.” (Carolyne Brooks, IL) Teachers’ focus on tests is undermining their potential and initiative, making it more difficult to share a love of learning with their students.”

It is a strong letter that is well worth your time.

4/24/2012 UPDATE: Tim Holt left this comment on the School Board News blog where my link above takes you. Tim makes a great point!:

“Madam President,
While I applaud your letter, especially the idea that your organization has finally taken a stand after only two decades of standardized testing throughout the US (we have been living with it in Texas since the mid 1980?s), may I suggest a follow up letter:

How about a letter to each school board that is a member of your organization asking that they stop the practice of hiring superintendents with the sole purpose to “bring up test scores?” This would do more than anything that President Obama could do; if your members would stop the insanity at the district levels.

Imagine what would happen if your organization members all of a sudden stopped hiring district leaders based on what a superintendent can do for test scores.
Stop approving purchase orders for materials whose sole purpose is to remediate for test.
Stop paying for consultants to help teachers teach to a test.

I would love to see that letter as well.

Tim Holt”

Learning is messy!

Leaving Their Mark – Redux, Redux

This is a first I think, a second repost of a post on my blog. I’m doing so because of my appearance on NBC’s Education Nation Teacher Townhall. I talked about things my students have done and an innovative pedagogy, and although this post is 2 years old it shares many examples of that innovative pedagogy.


The end of the school year is always tough. Lots still to do, lots of emotions, lots of memories. This one is tougher than most because not only are we closing in on the end of another school year, we are coming to the end of 3 years together. As I was reflecting upon this the other day it occurred to me just how large a legacy this class is leaving behind.

This has been my first experience in a 1:1 laptop classroom. It certainly isn’t all about the technology, but the technology really has leveraged what they have accomplished because it has connected them easily to so many and allowed them to share and archive those connections easily along the way.

It started in fourth grade when we began blogging and learning about being understood and being careful with language so it meant what we meant and was clear to the reader. Their blogs became a way to share their stories, but also what we did and learned and what we accomplished- and we accomplished a lot. When I broke the news to them in December of 2006 that we had a student that showed up on my attendance over a month earlier and that we had never seen her … but that there might be a way to include her in our classroom using Skype video-conferencing, they were intrigued and awed that we might do that. After our first experience we decided to share it with the world and in just a few short weeks the students had designed and produced a video that taught the world just how powerful these new tools can be.  Their video has been downloaded thousands and thousands of times. (Update – about a million times now)

Not only did we use Skype most days to include our classmate, we also began making connections with others. We were interviewed over Skype by Lee Baber’s class in Virginia about our experience and made connections with other classrooms about science and other topics.

We were very fortunate that our classroom was chosen to have a special guest. Grace Corrigan, the mother of Christa McAuliffe, the  “Teacher in Space” who died tragically when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded during launch, visited our room, and we Skyped out her visit to classrooms in Virginia and New York and they were able to take part in the question and answer period Grace agreed to.

To finish off that year we visited a local animal park, Animal Ark, and afterwards designed a wiki page to help further anyone’s learning about the animals there and included a lesson and video about designing your own animal.

In fifth grade as we continued to blog about our experiences, my students’ exploits became known to others and so we would get contacted by schools to participate with them – usually because they didn’t know of anyone else that knew how. One such experience was Skyping in George Mayo’s middle school class from Maryland. They had made some short videos and wanted us to watch them and give them feedback. It was easier for them to have us do this than the elementary school NEXT DOOR because they were at lunch when this class met and they couldn’t work out the details. We watched  and wrote our reactions to their videos and gave them feedback when we Skyped, and they asked us questions about including our classmate.

I was contacted by Skype about making a short film about our “Inclusion” experience. They sent a film crew to our classroom to shoot a mini documentary about how we did it. Even though our classmate was now with us in the classroom, they had her stay home one day and do school from her computer. They hung lights in our room and shot video all morning as we did what we usually do. They interviewed students and then packed up and shot in the afternoon from our classmate’s house. They produced 2 versions of the video. Here and here.

We continued to blog almost every day either writing new posts or reading and commenting on others. We built relationships with a number of classes around the world and to help keep track we began adding links to them on our class wiki page. Most of my students are second language learners and when we started blogging it would take most of them a week to edit a post into publishable quality. I don’t require my students to have zero errors on a piece before it publishes, but my students’ writing skills were very poor in general. They used poor English and grammar, and punctuation was almost nonexistent in some students’ work. They left out the details that made meaning for the reader, and we won’t go into spelling. At first students would write their posts by hand on lined paper and edit them several times before word processing them. Next they would print them out in a large size, double spaced to have room for editing. Many students would have 5 or more copies of their story all marked up by me in 1:1 meetings with them before their work was “publishable.” That’s why it took a week. By the end of fourth grade about half the class would publish in 2 days. And by the middle of 5th grade some students were publishing the same day as the assignment was given, and almost all were publishing in 2 days. We killed a lot of trees the first year, and I (and they) felt bad about that, but the impact it had on their English, spelling, punctuation, style and more was worth it. And the students continue to write and write and write (but we don’t print very often anymore).

During fifth grade, I believe initially over Twitter, but then in email, a fifth grade teacher in New York, Lisa Parisi, mentioned to me how much she liked the comments my students left on her students’ blogs. I explained that we had really been working on the quality and substance of our comments, not just saying, “Nice post” or “I liked your post” but also explaining why. Our students began doing more reading and commenting on each others posts.

Lisa and I wanted our classes to do a project together and so the “Mysteries of Harris Burdick” writing project was bornThis book, written by Chris Van Allsburg, is the ultimate writing starter I’ve ever seen. After reading and discussing the book in class our students wrote collaborative stories using Google Docs so they could work at the same time on their stories even though they were thousands of miles apart. They even discussed things over Skype so they could meet their co-writers and have discussions about where their stories were going. Other teachers joined the project and paired their classes. The project won an award.

This year we participated in 2 projects that stressed being safe online. We talk about safety fairly often, pretty much anytime we use a new application – blogs, wikis, Flickr and so on and anytime it comes up in the news we tend to review the issues and what the people involved did right or wrong that caused or helped the problem that came up. We participated with a bunch of schools all over the world in the “7 Random Facts” project … sharing seven random facts about yourself without revealing any information that could identify you. By request we followed that up by participating with another class in another safety project where the students wrote vignettes about someone NOT being safe online and then wrote a moral to the story. We shared them in a Skype session with the other class. During this time students in my class shared that they had MySpace and other sites that they were really too young to have and that they had taken down inappropriate information about themselves.

The “Around the World with 80 Schools” project this year has been incredible in how it has made my students more aware of world geography as they met and talked with students on almost every continent.

Most recently we are finishing up our Reno Bike Project, project where we are helping a local non-profit organization that rehabilitates old bikes and sells them inexpensively, spread the word to get people to donate bikes to them. The Public Service Announcementand web pages they designed were just published and we are doing some other activities to help get word out.

I’ve left plenty out here to save space, but the point is these students have left a mark, a legacy that will survive their graduation to middle school and beyond. Not only have they done community service that effects their community, but they have participated globally and left the archive for others to ponder and I hope improve on. Most importantly they have vastly improved their writing, research, communication and numerous other skills along the way. They were only held back by my limitations and the limitations of the system.

I’ve learned at least as much as they have and I believe I’m a better teacher for it. I’m chomping at the bit to take what I’ve learned and share it with my new class. As of this writing I’m being moved down to 4th grade again to begin a roll up to 5th and hopefully sixth grade again. I’m really going to miss this class and I want them to know that and to know they have made more of a difference in this world than they realize. They can be proud!

Learning is messy!

My Panel @ The New York Times “Schools For Tomorrow” Conference

I’ll be participating in New York Times Schools for Tomorrow Conference next week. From the web site:

” …  we’re bringing together 400 of the most influential leaders in teaching, government, philanthropy and industry. The goal: to harness the power of technology to improve the learning experience. Democratize access to quality education. And elevate the American student to a higher level.

It’s not a question of “Can we do it?”

It’s a question of “When?” … “

The updated agenda came out today. This conference is not in the typical presentation style, but mostly a series of panel discussions. The panel I’m on is:

Brian Crosby, Elementary School Teacher, Risley School, Nevada
Jeff Piontek, Head of School, Hawaii Technology Academy
Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

My first reaction was to wonder how this panel represents “The teachers’ perspective” with only one teacher, from one level of K-12 education (and no higher ed?). My understanding is that the audience will be well represented by teachers, but this seems to illustrate  one of the issues education is facing – a lack of teacher voice.

The conference will be streamed live.

Learning is messy!