Thursday, December 31, 2009

My New Year's Resolution... to learn Swedish.

Because I need to be back in that headspace of learning something completely foreign for the first time. Hopefully it will make me a more understanding teacher.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Thinking Field Trips: A Visit to the National Portrait Gallery

Weirdest thing.

I take a five day break from blogging (my first break since last February), and I actually wind up with MORE page views and readers than I have all year. Hmm. Maybe I should take breaks more often.

I use the term "break" lightly, as anyone else out there with three little kids will understand.

Yesterday we took the tykes to D.C.

Visited the National Gallery of Art and the Portrait Gallery. I used to live in the District and I can't begin to count the number of hours I've spent at the NGA; but the Portrait Gallery has been closed for the longest time as it was undergoing extensive renovations. This was the first chance I've had to visit since the re-opening.

And I'm glad I went.

Two exhibits in the Portrait Gallery present a perfect opportunity for students to learn about the nature of biography and representation through visual images.

The first is the collection of portraits of American presidents. You can browse through the images on the Smithsonian's site. On the website, each portrait is accompanied by a biographical sketch of the president's term; in person, audio and video recordings bring the leaders to life.

And there's something for everyone. Personally, I liked the audio collection of FDR's Fireside Chats. One of my sons liked the lifemasks of Lincoln; the other thought Andrew Jackson looked like a vampire.

The second exhibit was the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. Situated directly across the hall from the portraits of presidential power, the portrait competition exhibits the work of all those anonymous Americans whose portraits are no less distinct nor distinctive. The whole exhibit feels like the visual equivalent of a Terkel book; that is to say: these portraits represent a peoples' history in their "own words".

Right now, my boys are in the dining room drawing portraits of one another. Learning by looking and by engaging with looking. All to often a skill we fail to appreciate in the classroom.

While most field trips to Washington, D.C. involve a visit to the NGA or the Air and Space Museum, I encourage you to walk off the Mall a little bit and seek out all the faces and stories waiting for you at the National Portrait Gallery. Or visit the gallery online and see what the digital realm has to say about the ways in which we present ourselves and each other.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa's on Twitter

NORAD + Google Maps + Twitter + Santa = Christmas Eve Geography Lesson

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Guest Post on Bringing Tech to the AVID Classroom: AVID Is Awesome, But...

Here's the second in our series of Weds guest posts on TeachPaperless. Today's blogger is teacher Ben Knaus.

Ben is a middle school AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) elective teacher and coordinator at Cityview Performing Arts School in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. He is in his tenure (third) year of teaching, 2nd year with the AVID program, and 8th year working in a school (all at Cityview). Ben is also a devoted husband, father of two beautiful little ones, and a huge technology fan. In his spare time, he is an adjunct professor at Saint Mary's University-Twin Cities co-teaching (with @wwolfe105) the Technology in the Classroom course in the Master of Instruction program. Ben also blogs at and posts on Twitter as @learnteachtech.

What is AVID?

"AVID is a fourth through twelfth grade system to prepare students in the academic middle for four-year college eligibility. It has a proven track record in bringing out the best in students, and in closing the achievement gap. AVID stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination." [Source:]

Basically, AVID takes students who wouldn't normally be thinking about college, who have parents who didn't go to college, or who need an extra push to get to college and gives them the skills they need to make to college. How many times did I write college? Four. Yes, four in one sentence. Did I mention there is a push in the AVID program to attend college?

Why is AVID Awesome?

AVID is awesome because students who don't know how to be highly effective students get the skills they need to be highly effective. In the AVID elective class, we learn questioning, note taking (Cornell Notes), discussion and debate, public speaking, organization, and study strategies. We also learn a lot about colleges and careers from field trips and guest speakers.

I love just about everything in AVID. One of my favorites is that we have tutors. We have four adults (2 college students, 1 retired teacher and 1 adult from the business world) who help twice a week. They guide students on questions from other classes and ensure that they are getting the necessary support. The students eventually take over the tutorials and run them with tutor assistance. It's an amazing process to watch and be part of.

The other amazing thing is that I get to work with the AVID students for up to three years. I'll have the 6th graders until they leave for high school. The program and the class structure build relationships, which is the key to being successful in any area and I preach this whenever someone will listen.

But... The Technology

There are 8 general standards in AVID that are broken down into 42 objectives. Here's standard 2, objective 6:

"2.6 Refine research skills, including the use of technology, for all academic classes."
[Source: AVID Standards, link not available]

Out of 42 objectives to meet, only one deals with any sort of technology.

There is a serious lack of technology built into the program.

How many jobs have you had where you don't use some technology during your work day? How many college students do you know that don't word process, take notes on a computer, or research regularly on the Internet? How do you expect future college students to be successful if a college-prep course isn't requiring technology? (See how we use questioning in the AVID program?)

So, what's the solution? In my dream world, every AVID student would be given a netbook to use at school and at home. I would also request the City of Minneapolis to give AVID students access to Wireless Minneapolis. This proposal would give the students access to everything they need both inside and outside the classroom, 24 hours a day.

In the real world, AVID students need access to computers, at the very least, in the AVID classroom. No student, especially the typical AVID student, is prepared for college if they don't have the basic technology skills needed in the world outside of the school.

And since when is school not part of the real world? (Again with the questioning...)

That said, what am I doing now?

We use the Promethean board in the room for note taking and brain storming.

We use Activexpressions for short answer responses.

I have students use Wordle to brainstorm and reflect.

After the winter break, I'll have students start portfolios using eFolioMn and, hopefully, start some blogging.

Personally, I blog, Tweet, research, and RSS constantly to find new ideas, concepts, and strategies (both tech and non-tech) to bring into my classroom. That's done with two old eMacs, a teacher iMac, and my personal MacBook.

Finally, I've covered my back wall with whiteboards. We don't use chart paper for group work or other activities. The students just start writing on the wall.

How fun is that? (Sorry, had to sneak one last question in!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tech Engaged by Default?

Interesting discussion today on WBUR's OnPoint radio show.

The subject was landlines and what their future looks like. And while we might joke that "the future don't look so hot" for 'em, in fact what we're seeing on the ground is a re-distribution of the whole organization of the way companies respond to the ways that we want to communicate with each other.

The way we communicate with one another.

What's more, one of the patterns I'm noticing is that of getting beyond the idea of 'obsolescence' as a singularly defined event and more towards an understanding of shift as a matter of true 'evolution'. I mentioned this a couple posts back and it was striking to hear how on the show this afternoon how it relates to the telecom industry (which now could more precisely be referred to as the communications/entertainment industry given the foothold of cable in the market).

One way or another, it sure as heck looks like culture, innovation, the individual, and the sheer power of digital communication are now caught in an inflating Möbius strip.

This is indeed Zeitgeist stuff.

And the more I think about it, the more I think that the majority of folks left on the fence about the role of tech in the 21st century are going to simply fall into the 'user' catagory by default as society changes around them.

Monday, December 21, 2009

A Different Perspective

An anonymous reader left the following comment (I reprint it here unedited except for the exclusion of a personal attack on one of the regular contributors to our discussions here on TP):
Unbelieveable...if you people really think that this is the successful way to the future, then your as stupid as the students that cant spell the word 'future'. Students have no social skills what-so-ever being raised in a computer generated world. They have no English skills as a result of comp slg...oh what you dont know what computer slang short-cutting is. The have no spelling skills as a result of spell check. Good luck living in a collapsed society ripe for a Chinese take-over when the idiots you put out in the world try and run this country. If society truly allows this to happen, you'll doom us all...

I invite all of the readers of this blog and all of the members of this PLN to please leave a comment in response to this statement.

I'm sure that you all will have a wiser and more lucid set of responses than I could manage alone.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Specific Dates of Change

Interesting question via Tweet showed up via @AdrienneCorn:
So, what year are you guessing this full blown paperlessness will debut?

I guess my response would have to be that there isn't going to be a single year in which society decides paper's time has run its course. (And mind you, when I say 'run its course', I'm pretty much talking about paper's role in the printing and publishing industries; we'll still see paper used in a variety of formats from cardboard to toilet-paper to napkins... and I hope that paper-in-schools will see its growth actually in expanded art and hands-on arts and crafts classes.)

Rather than try to pin-point a specific date, I'd reference back to the changes digitization has already brought to the music industry, audio-video production, and library cataloging.

In the first case, the decade has seen 'invisible' MP3s by-and-large replace physical CDs. No one would have seen that one coming back in '91 when Nirvana broke. Likewise, no one really knows what the forecast looks like for the magazine, newspaper, and publishing industries. Schools might wind up going paperless by default.

Second case: I remember when I started recording music we had to scrounge up money to buy tape and rent time in a recording studio. While studios are certainly still around, tape is now pretty much just the domain of audiophiles who can afford to shell out thousands of dollars on reels and reel-to-reel machines. The rest of us use our Macs and record whenever and where-ever we like (for better or worse, this isn't a matter of comparing analog to digital... it's just a statement of fact).

Same goes for digital access. Whereas in the past, a good question from a kid in class might prompt a "Good question. Go look that up on your free time.", a good question from a kid now prompts: "Good question. Let's look that up right now". And within seconds, we've all learned something.

I think this has enormous implications for school libraries. Where earlier, libraries were prized for the breadth and depth of their collections, the new libraries are prized for quality of and savvy in access. I recently visited a huge school library which upon first glance looked quite impressive; until upon closer inspection I noticed that no less that a third of the collection consisted of out-of-date encyclopedias, atlases, and job-reference books.

The third case should be obvious: Boolean search killed the card catalog. It's a case where technology fundamentally altered the way an institution functions.

All three of these cases took place over a period of years. And none of them completely wiped out what came before (at least not yet). You might want to go to your local (natch, 'corporate') CD/Book/Magazine/Coffee joint to pick up a CD for $20. Surely you might be in a band so rocking, you don't mind paying $10,000 to record your new album. And maybe -- and I admit without shame that I fall into this catagory -- you just love roaming the stacks of a big old library.

Well, you can still do all of those things. It's not the purpose of paperlessness to destroy any of those things. Just like it wasn't the purpose of the cell phone to replace the landline.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Snowy Haiku

Cars under comfort
Of snow. The street is quiet;
Night is just keystrokes.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Break Starts Now

Winter Break starts now!

I'll be blogging as usual daily through the break, and I welcome any suggestions you have for topics and conversations.

I'm particularly interested in hearing some more global perspectives from readers as I have relatively limited experience in that vein and I've been getting more requests for discussions with a global perspective.

So, all you teachers outside of the US: please share your thoughts, ideas, visions, and observations. Because paperlessness is borderless.

Response to Questions About Education and Obsolescence

An anonymous reader left the following comment regarding the post '21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020':
Ok, so why should I even bother going to school? If I can learn from my house what is the point? You think kids who don't do their homework in the first place are going to take advantage of the broken barriers between home and school? Socializing is more important to most high school students anyway. Teachers will NEVER become obsolete! We will always need those positive role models and leaders in our society. Why bother studying if I can just go to Wiki and look up anything I want? What's the point of learning everything we do in school and being tested on it later if I can access the same knowledge at anytime? Why educate doctors if anyone could diagnose you based on the symptoms wiki has to say?
Do we seriously want a generation of kids who can't even print their own name on paper? This whole advancement in technology is sounding very scary to me. We can't operate our world with the touch of a button because what happens when that button fails, when the system has a glitch, when the satellite didn't receive necessary information, when we have lost data? Computers can't take the role of people because people are not programmed.
I believe that technology has many incredible purposes and we should utilize some of them but when we start to become dependent or let it control the way we live I think we have a problem. For example, I probably used spell check 10 times in writing this, and what has that taught me? Using technology in a balanced way is the only way it should be used.

Signed... A concerned student

While I generally refrain from responding at any length to comments submitted anonymously, I do wish to take a closer look at this reponse point-by-point and respond in kind.

1. Ok, so why should I even bother going to school? If I can learn from my house what is the point?

The point is that that is the point.

You can learn from your house. Or on the light rail. Or at the library. Or in a restaurant. Or in line at the grocery store.

You can learn anywhere.

And you don't learn in school just because it's a school. In fact, as we all know, there's plenty of 'not learning' happening in school buildings.

As the decade wears on, students (and teachers) will have more choices. And we'll have ever more opportunities to be learners.

2. You think kids who don't do their homework in the first place are going to take advantage of the broken barriers between home and school?

We have to get away from the idea of 'homework' altogether.

We have to address the fact that reading a book for class does not necessarily make you 'learn' better than reading the website of your choice. Completing math problems in a textbook does not necessarily make you 'learn' better than playing an MMOG.

Teachers have an obligation not to dictate what content is best for their teaching, but what content is best for the learning of each student individually.

Sound difficult to pull off?

Well it is.

But that's the challenge.

3. Socializing is more important to most high school students anyway.

Yes. In fact, socializing is important to everyone regardless of age. We are social creatures.

Remember that old quote from Aristotle? Humans are political animals. Well, that's not really the best rendering of the Greek. What Aristotle really meant was: Humans are civic animals. We live in communities. We are inherently social.

That's exactly why social media is so powerful. Because it extends community beyond the borders of place and State.

What we are all learning now is that we can harness the power of these online communities to functionalize learning in ways Aristotle only could have dreamed of.

In the future -- if not now -- learning itself will be primarily a form of socializing. In a way, it always has been.

4. Teachers will NEVER become obsolete!

It's not really a matter of whether teachers will become obsolete; it's a matter of whether the institutions that currently support learning will become obsolete.

And they will.

Just as they did when the Academy was closed down. And when the abbeys were replaced by universities. And...

The point is that individual teachers will either adapt or die. That's a brutal fact of history.

5. Why bother studying if I can just go to Wiki and look up anything I want?

That's a great question. And I'll answer it in two ways.

First, ask yourself what your purpose in studying is. Are you trying to memorize facts for a test? Are you trying to build what teachers call your 'prior knowledge'? Or are you using the act of studying to further your skills of analysis and evaluation?

Given your answer to those three questions, there are a variety of reasons why you would want to go to the wiki.

The other way of answering: if your studying can be accomplished merely by looking something up on the wiki, then you are not really learning anyway. You, as a student, should either be demanding of your teachers or of yourself higher standards of intellectual discovery.

6. What's the point of learning everything we do in school and being tested on it later if I can access the same knowledge at anytime?

First, refer back to my answer to #5.

Then start to question the authority of the person assessing you in this way.

But don't do it rashly. Think it out. Think about what 'being tested' really means. And be honest with yourself about what your learning and understanding mean.

7. Why educate doctors if anyone could diagnose you based on the symptoms wiki has to say?

Sources like the Mayo Clinic online and Web MD aren't there for the education of doctors. They are there for the education of patients.

We are living in an age in which the resources are available for individuals to educate themselves about issues directly related to their lives.

That doesn't make everyone an expert. But it does make the society as a whole more accountable.

8. Do we seriously want a generation of kids who can't even print their own name on paper?

There's a good chance that we're currently raising the last generation in human history that will use paper.

9. This whole advancement in technology is sounding very scary to me.

Yes it is. Just as it always has been.

Travel back in time and ask the hunter-gatherers about it.

Sometimes the most important things are scary.

It's scary to graduate into a Recession-lined job pool. It's scary to have kids. It's scary to live on your own. It's scary to move to a new city.

That's life.

10. We can't operate our world with the touch of a button because what happens when that button fails, when the system has a glitch, when the satellite didn't receive necessary information, when we have lost data?

Systems have been failing long before the advent of digital technology. Read up on what happened to Harappan society. Read up on what happened to the ancient Mycenaeans. Read about the many 'Dark Ages' and periods of chaos and illiteracy that cloud great swathes of human history.

If anything, the multiplicity of culture and data in the current climate make that sort of doomsday scenario actually a little less likely.

That said, surely there will come a day when all of this changes. But it'll likely be a gradual change: more an evolution into something else than a sudden jolt. It won't come with the press of a button.

But who knows.

11. Computers can't take the role of people because people are not programmed.

There is an argument to be made that industrial/institutional schooling has been 'programming' people for generations.

12. I believe that technology has many incredible purposes and we should utilize some of them but when we start to become dependent or let it control the way we live I think we have a problem. For example, I probably used spell check 10 times in writing this, and what has that taught me? Using technology in a balanced way is the only way it should be used.

Technology has always influenced the way we live.

A campfire is technology. The wheel is technology. So is an MRI scanner. And a space telescope.

Technology lets us do things in new ways. And once we experience a new way -- or a better way -- of doing something, we tend to go with it. It's the process of innovation.

As for what spell check taught you, it matters little to me. Because what matters to me most is the fact that you were able to contact me with your ideas. What matters to me is that you sparked my thinking. And I appreciate your comment and the comments of so many of my readers for doing exactly that.

In a way, spell check didn't 'teach' you anything; rather, it just helped facilitate your ideas.

That's sort of what a good teacher does.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Life Stuff

Sitting on a stool in the kitchen typing up this post.

The boys are playing the free version of Timez Attack here in the room with me (Mac overtop the dishwasher).

Mom and the little girl are upstairs reading a book about feet. Later on mom and dad will go on a WoW raid together.

This is life in 2009.

Good stuff.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Free Thinking (as free as walking down a sidewalk)

Today starts the first of a series of Wednesday guest posts written by TeachPaperless readers.

And I'm happy to introduce Dan McGuire as the first guest blogger.

Before becoming a Minneapolis elementary school teacher, Dan tried his hand at poetry; he also spent about twenty years peddling lobster boats, packaging, computers, and telecom gear in regional, national, and international markets.

You can read more of Dan's thoughts about education on his blog; and you should follow him on Twitter: @sabier.

Free Thinking (as free as walking down a sidewalk)

A few years ago, when the city of Minneapolis was entertaining proposals for a new public wifi system, one of the vendors that submitted a proposal offered to give free wifi access to the Minneapolis Public Schools in return for letting the vendor mount their nodes on the school buildings that 80 years ago were scattered strategically all around town (too many of which are currently being sold off way too cheaply).

That possibility wasn't acted on; it was a dream that didn't come true.

But, it was and still is a very real possibility.

Broadband/wifi doesn't need to cost public schools a dime. It could and should be free.

Free text messaging is already a possibility that could become a reality if only we insisted that that's the way we wanted it to be. Providing text messaging costs the telecom carriers nothing, zero, nada. We're simply allowing them to charge us to use something that should be as free as walking down a sidewalk. I wrote a blog about this last summer.

Ira Socol , Will Richardson, and lots of other folks are talking about the day when schools decide to quit wrestling with the horse and instead decide to jump in the saddle start riding this bronco.

I mean: let kids use phones, or whatever, to communicate.

We already know how to manufacture enough of the devices, and the means of connecting doesn't need to cost anything. The biggest hurdle is deciding that we want to participate in the future instead of the past. It's about as hard as flipping a light switch and turning on the lights.

Once we make the decision, we'll need to do some more dreaming and questioning.

That's when it gets fun.

The future of networked and mobile environments is in the questions that teachers ask, and in our persistence in asking them and taking stabs at answering them and refining the answers and asking more questions.

Call it the Hypertext Socratic Method, or get seriously academic and go with Punya Mishra's TPACK. I personally like the 21st Century version of John Keats' Negative Capability theory: the ability of "Being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason."

John Dewey would be with me on that.

Because the future of education is not about things or even the way things are connected. As my friend from down under, Tomaz Lasic says, "This is not about computers, this is about people."

People and the questions they ask, I'll add.

I first ran into Tomaz when I had a question about how to do something with my Elementary Math, Science, and Writing Moodle site. I went to what has become for me a trusted source of knowledge: the Moodle Community Forums. Tomaz is a champion on the Moodle forums. He's been offering guidance and advice to students and teachers for years.

Tomaz's video on how to set up a Moodle database for students (Tomaz calls it the Moodle Swiss Army knife) was one of those "OMG, this is really cool" teacher moments. (Though I still don't get why someone would be that interested in water polo, but I guess living your life upside down on the bottom of the planet does things to you. And even though there's a fourteen hour difference in our clocks, his students were making similar comments about us when they got a glimpse of my students playing American football in the snow at recess this week.)

The future is not some new app, or even a new uber-theory cooked up by a guru followed by thousands of people on Twitter. The future is all of the new PLNs being created, FOR FREE, by teachers and learners all over the planet, on their own time. The future will look something like the kind of professional development being created by Nellie Deutsch and her friends at Integrating Technology.

They're doing it with class, passion, and grace: FOR FREE.

I passed up an invitation to spend an hour or so with some clicker vendors and a famous writer of books about education on Monday because, well, I don't like fighting for parking downtown at rush hour -- especially with 2" of fresh snow and temperatures hovering around 3 F.; that and I really wanted to go to my kid's basketball practice which I hadn't watched or helped out with for a couple of weeks.

As it turned out I didn't get to see much practice because I got drafted to make a delivery from the team to the food shelf and I had to shovel that two inches off my corner lot sidewalk. One way or the other, I learned more after basketball practice by spending time clicking on Twitter links from my PLN than I would have with the vendors and the writer.

(Now, if the someone had offered to chip in for a nice dinner and cover the parking and maybe toss in a little PD stipend, the decision would've been a little tougher; but basketball would still have won.)

Ultimately, I'd like to see education not be a market. When I moved to Minneapolis they gave me a library card FOR FREE. Well, my students and I need information access to wifi and texting, too; they're today's libraries.

Access is the sidewalk to the future. And it should be as free as walking down a sidewalk.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020

Last night I read and posted the clip on '21 Things That Became Obsolete in the Last Decade'. Well, just for kicks, I put together my own list of '21 Things That Will Become Obsolete in Education by 2020'.

1. Desks
The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.

2. Language Labs
Foreign language acquisition is only a smartphone away. Get rid of those clunky desktops and monitors and do something fun with that room.

3. Computers
Ok, so this is a trick answer. More precisely this one should read: 'Our concept of what a computer is'. Because computing is going mobile and over the next decade we're going to see the full fury of individualized computing via handhelds come to the fore. Can't wait.

4. Homework
The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don't need kids to 'go to school' more; we need them to 'learn' more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).

5. The Role of Standardized Tests in College Admissions
The AP Exam is on its last legs. The SAT isn't far behind. Over the next ten years, we will see Digital Portfolios replace test scores as the #1 factor in college admissions.

6. Differentiated Instruction as the Sign of a Distinguished Teacher
The 21st century is customizable. In ten years, the teacher who hasn't yet figured out how to use tech to personalize learning will be the teacher out of a job. Differentiation won't make you 'distinguished'; it'll just be a natural part of your work.

7. Fear of Wikipedia
Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it's time you get over yourself.

8. Paperbacks
Books were nice. In ten years' time, all reading will be via digital means. And yes, I know, you like the 'feel' of paper. Well, in ten years' time you'll hardly tell the difference as 'paper' itself becomes digitized.

9. Attendance Offices
Bio scans. 'Nuff said.

10. Lockers.
A coat-check, maybe.

11. IT Departments
Ok, so this is another trick answer. More subtly put: IT Departments as we currently know them. Cloud computing and a decade's worth of increased wifi and satellite access will make some of the traditional roles of IT -- software, security, and connectivity -- a thing of the past. What will IT professionals do with all their free time? Innovate. Look to tech departments to instigate real change in the function of schools over the next twenty years.

12. Centralized Institutions
School buildings are going to become 'homebases' of learning, not the institutions where all learning happens. Buildings will get smaller and greener, student and teacher schedules will change to allow less people on campus at any one time, and more teachers and students will be going out into their communities to engage in experiential learning.

13. Organization of Educational Services by Grade
Education over the next ten years will become more individualized, leaving the bulk of grade-based learning in the past. Students will form peer groups by interest and these interest groups will petition for specialized learning. The structure of K-12 will be fundamentally altered.

14. Education School Classes that Fail to Integrate Social Technology
This is actually one that could occur over the next five years. Education Schools have to realize that if they are to remain relevant, they are going to have to demand that 21st century tech integration be modelled by the very professors who are supposed to be preparing our teachers.

15. Paid/Outsourced Professional Development
No one knows your school as well as you. With the power of a PLN in their backpockets, teachers will rise up to replace peripatetic professional development gurus as the source of schoolwide prof dev programs. This is already happening.

16. Current Curricular Norms
There is no reason why every student needs to take however many credits in the same course of study as every other student. The root of curricular change will be the shift in middle schools to a role as foundational content providers and high schools as places for specialized learning.

17. Parent-Teacher Conference Night
Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.

18. Typical Cafeteria Food
Nutrition information + handhelds + cost comparison = the end of $3.00 bowls of microwaved mac and cheese. At least, I so hope so.

19. Outsourced Graphic Design and Webmastering
You need a website/brochure/promo/etc.? Well, for goodness sake just let your kids do it. By the end of the decade -- in the best of schools -- they will be.

20. High School Algebra I
Within the decade, it will either become the norm to teach this course in middle school or we'll have finally woken up to the fact that there's no reason to give algebra weight over statistics and IT in high school for non-math majors (and they will have all taken it in middle school anyway).

21. Paper
In ten years' time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thinking About Obsolescence

Funny one came through the Twitterverse this eve.


Only it's not that funny, is it?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Thinking About 'Technique' and 'Innovation'

Siemens noting the distinction between 'technique' and 'innovation'.
Technique is about duplication and scale. Innovation is about novel, serendipitous connections.

But 'technique' can also be about careful listening, or mutual acceptance of set of conditions for conducting an experiment.

And 'connections' can just as well turn out politicization, as anyone who has ever observed a school cafeteria can attest to.

I'm leaning more towards an anthropological/sociological definition of clairvoyance. Where technique and connections alike are part of the Zeitgeist and innovations are little hits that have the potential, though not the implicit right, to create new rhythms.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

TeachPaperless on Facebook

Join the TeachPaperless Group on Facebook for further discussion of all things 21C education!

It's an easy way for folks interested in paperless culture -- and who are already on FB -- to connect.

Friday, December 11, 2009

On Baking Pies and Raiding Dungeons

My son has been having trouble with fractions.

He's eight-years-old, a twin, in third grade, obsessed with D&D and 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid'.

And he hates fractions.

So last night, he and my wife baked a pumpkin pie.

You can see where this is going.

This morning, he took the pie to school to demonstrate a practical application of fractions to the class. I don't know if he snuck the whipped cream into his bookbag.

A couple weeks back he was really interested in pendulums. So we made one out of a string and a teacup. Again, he took it to school and showed the kids what he'd made.

He's good at making stuff.

And he understands math when it means something more than words and numbers on a page.

I've been thinking about this all morning. And I've been thinking about how well (or how poorly) we manage to let kids 'make stuff' to demonstrate their understanding once they are in high school. I'm particularly wondering if we really understand today what it is that kids are 'making'.

My Latin I students are reviewing for the midterm today. Lots of memorization and plugging away at vocab and grammar. And that just comes with the territory; you can't learn a foreign language if you don't nail down the basics. But just a couple weeks back, the same kids researched, wrote, directed, and acted in a play of their own design on the life of Julius Caesar. And I can safely say that while after a semester of daily classes I have a safe guestimate of how each student will do on the rote midterm stuff, I had little idea of where they would go or how individually they might shine on the performance assessment.

Turns out, one of the shyest kids in the group absolutely killed on stage -- a total natural.

Yet without that performance assessment, I'd never had guessed.

Veteran teachers know all about this. I've talked with teachers of 35+ years experience who marvel at how the quiet kid (or the 'troublemaker', for that matter) was found out to have hidden talents through performance assessment.

We know this stuff works. And we know that the opportunity to perform can then motivate the kid to engage more deeply in the traditional modes of work often necessary for success -- especially in the case of subjects like foreign language and math.

So, it's with a certain dismay that I pick up teacher hostilities towards gaming.

Yes, I realize that last sentence might seem like it's coming out of left field; allow me to explain.

I had a student in my class last year who by all standards would have been considered 'average'. He got 'average' grades in most classes and he produced 'average' results on exams. He did have two qualities, however, that often suggested that something was going on with this kid that was entirely 'not-average'.

First of all was his imagination. I've never had a student who so regularly asked questions that seemed so completely out-of-the-blue, and yet seemed to get at some of the big issues in relatively accessible ways. I'm not talking simple daydreamy teenaged stuff; I'm talking really really far out stuff on what seemed at the time like the most random topics -- from economics to war to social relations.

Second was his complete lack of interest in all things extra-curricular. No school play, no sports, no clubs, no nothing. Just this kid with an extraordinary imagination who wanted to rush out of this joint as soon as 2:45PM hit.

Later I came to understand how all of this fit together.

Turns out the kid was working a level-80 character on World of Warcraft. Led his own guild; mastered dungeon raids; and in an act of gaming obsessiveness I can't begin to fathom, pushed his character through the final 15 levels in two week's time over Winter Break (this is a task that takes even hardened gamers months to accomplish).

When I told another teacher about all of this, the reply was: "Well no wonder he had lousy grades".

I think that's exactly the wrong way to look at this.

Consider, if the kid had been captain of the football team. Or captain of the chess team. Or lead in the spring musical.

Only the most cynical of teachers would have said such a thing about him.

But because he spent countless hours gaming, he was just a lousy student.

I contend that the fact that we had such a monster gamer in our midst and neither recognized nor reached out to him to help him bring those talents into focus with our goals in education is actually an indictment of our role as educators.

In fact, he wound up leaving this place thinking that gaming was the source of his mediocre academic record. How cruel!

The fact of the matter was that he didn't need statistics class to teach him numbers. He didn't need psychology class to teach him human behavior. He didn't need literature class to teach him how to analyse.

The game taught him all of those things. In spades.

Here was a kid leading other real human beings (only in avatar form) into battle and through dangerous and complex quests. This was a kid who had mastered a complex system of auction houses and was making in-game gold by the pound. This was a kid who could tell each person individually in his 25 man group what kind of armor to bring to a specific battle based on intelligence of the comparison of fighting classes across a spectrum of character types, classes, and races -- each with its own particular and peculiar modifiers.

And yet, on paper he was a 'C' student.

I think we failed that kid.

Because he was anything but average.

And that brings me back to the baking of a pie.

Early on as young teachers, we learn that kids learn best if they can manipulate things (whether physically or metaphorically) and if what they are learning motivates them to learn more.

The baking of a pie, for example, can produce two great effects: understanding of fractions and love of baking.

Yet, when it comes to gaming, this correspondence so often appears to be beyond the grasp of a teacher. And while it may be understandable that someone may have a knee-jerk reaction against the violence depicted in many games; that does little to dispel the fact that it's often the kids who are masters at such games who are also masters of logic, strategy, and cunning on par or greater than any of your best athletes.

In the end, I guess I'd like to see more kids baking pies and more teachers levelling up and going on dungeon raids. Because there are all sorts of performance assessments; and serious gaming may offer some of the greatest clues into the real creativity, task determination, and intellectual aptitude of a given child.

At the very least, understand that if you see gaming in competition with -- rather than as a potential complement to -- your teaching, then you are going to miss those kids every time.

Game on.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Affording the Revolution

"The digital revolution is pricey."

That's what we keep hearing. So, I set out into the Twitterverse today to get an idea of what schools were really paying for tech.

Specifically, I wanted to know how much it would cost to put broadband in a school in the good ol' USA.

Didn't count the cost of computers, no auxilary costs, no extra staffing. Just the cost of taking a bare building and getting it up and wired.

Prices for laying the pipe seemed to be in the five to ten thousand dollar range (depending on circumstance and locale). And the monthly plans ranged between $2500 and $3K a month.

So, for roughly $40,000 one could estimate getting a building wired.

That's a lot of dough.

And then I started to think about what that $40,000 really represents.

Back when I started this blog, I did an evaluation of our school's paper and printing budget. And for a school of about 850 kids and 100 faculty and staff, we spent an annual $25,000 on materials, repairs, and licenses. (And we're a 1:1 school).

That doesn't count the thousands spent on Microsoft licenses, email servers, and other tech stuff replaceable by open source and cloud-based alternatives.

And then there is the matter of textbooks. Whenever I hear someone naysay 1:1 computing costs, I ask them to compare the price of Ubuntu netbooks to the annual costs of textbooks and textbook replacement.

Folks, it's really all about the reallocation of resources.

You have the funds. We have the means. It's just a matter of getting past the fear and setting our priorities to meet the fundamental demands of the 21st century.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Speaking of Awards... (Nobel Prize Education Site)

The folks who brought you the Nobel Prize now bring you... Nobel Prize inspired educational games!

Mostly Flash-based, the games run the gambit from the sublime to the mundane; but over all, the site is fun and full of tons of auxiliary information. While some of the little adventures were obviously put together for younger students, the texts, lessons, and ideas are often quite advanced and more than applicable to students of all ages.

The games range in style and pedagogical purpose, with some, such as 'Lord of the Flies', serving double duty as both a reading check and a source for further biographical and research purposes; and others, such as 'The Ear Pages' used to help explain complex scientific concepts.

I particularly liked the Peace Prize page's interactive 'Conflict Map' which asks the simple yet disturbing question:
In the course of the 20th century, mankind experienced some of the most devastating wars of all times. Where did these wars take place?

The answer forces students and teachers alike to confront some pretty harrowing realities.

For more in depth research and information purposes, the site hosts an excellent overview of all of the Nobel Laureates with internal links to biographies, photo sets, and transcripts of their Nobel acceptance speeches.

2009 Edublog Award Nominations

The nominations for the 2009 Edublog Awards were announced this morning.

Tons of amazing blogs, wikis, and networks set up by folks working every day to integrate authentic 21st century teaching and learning into the everyday classroom experiences of students.

And I'm rather humbled to have picked up three nominations myself.

I'm personally most interested in seeing what happens with the 'Most Influential Tweet Series' and the 'Best Teacher Blog' categories.

In the former, I strongly endorse #edchat.

And in the latter category, I most strongly endorse Andrew B. Watt's blog.

Those two resources have done more to solidify my own effort to keep at this edublogging thing than anything else; whether it's the lightning fast discussion pumping through an #edchat Twitter session or the philosophical cool of Watt's most reflective posts, I am regularly reminded why I blog.

I blog because we are living in special times and we have a special task before us: to draw up and implement a fresh concept of education for a new century in which we are all but a keystroke away.

My own blog was nominated for three awards (listed below), and though in general (at least from a personal point of view) I tend to think awards are a silly thing, I'd nonetheless be honored if you had the inclination and found the time to vote for this blog (especially as the prizes are great new resources I could use both with my kids and to create closer connections and deeper interaction with all of you as well).

More importantly, I hope that the fact that this blog was included in the nominations means that folks are getting something worthwhile out of the writing and discussion here.

That's all a blogger can really hope for.


TP was nominated for:

Best New Blog

Best Resource Sharing Blog

Most Influential Blogpost of 2009 (for Top Eleven Things All Teachers Must Know About Technology)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

On Revolutions

Commenting on my recent post 'What Are We Preparing Them For?', Reader Steve writes:
Every generation has a revolution of one type or another. I think what is most pressing is that teachers/education leaders keep operating in the present and not the past, facilitating relevant and meaningful learning opportunities for their students.

On the "relevant and meaningful learning opportunities" front, I totally agree with Steve.

But, on the "Every generation has a revolution of one type or another" meme, I've got a bit of a quibble.

While it's true that each generation sees new things replace old things, few generations get to see new structures replace old structures.

Take mass communication, for instance.

Ever since the introduction of the printing press, mass communication has been accomplished by means of the few spreading ideas to the many through pamphlets, books, radio, TV, etc.

While the specific technology changed (you could say we had a 'Radio Revolution' or a 'Television Revolution'), the structure itself (top-down distribution of information) remained intact.

With the introduction of blogging and social networking, everyone is a content creator; and each content creator has the structural means to compete for a voice with every other content creator regardless of money or power. Seth Godin and others have talked extensively about this.

That structural change marks a revolution of a very unique type; for it marks a structural revolution of the very highest order.

It marks a revolution that alters 500+ years of the way we create and digest mass communication.

I'd say that the Digital Revolution -- or what more precisely might be called the Network Revolution -- is the most recent of only a handful of structural revolutions reaching back thousands of years from the Agricultural Revolution to the Industrial Revolution.

And I'm really trying to refrain from hyperbole here.

I'm literally saying that the current shift in structure that we are witnessing will result in a fundamental shift in culture and social outcomes on the order of those two previous structural revolutions.

I'm literally saying that the current shift is altering and will continue to alter our cultural and social perceptions of hierarchy and authority to degrees we can't imagine.


Consider the ways that the distribution of music, television, and movies has changed over the last decade. You buy CDs anymore? Really? Rush home to catch your favorite show in fear of missing it and being left out of the storyline? Really? Rent movies from a store? Really?

Now apply those patterns to school, government, and medicine.

That's just the tip of the iceberg.

We don't really know what life was like on a day-to-day basis before the Agricultural Revolution. But we do have a pretty good idea of what it was like before the Industrial Revolution.

And all we'll have to do is to look back at our scrapbooks of Polaroids to see what it was like before this one.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Guests Blogging on TeachPaperless!


Looking forward to a great series of guest posts coming soon on TeachPaperless!

Starting next week, I'm planning on publishing a guest post each Wednesday for several weeks; the guest bloggers are all members of this PLN.

They are: Shelley Krause, Heather Mason, Ben Knaus, Dan McGuire, and Andrew Carle.

And there may be more.

I love the idea that this blog can play a little role in facilitating both discussion and the type of culture we teachers want for both the benefit of our professional development as well as for our increase in ability as 21st century educators.

Thanks to the entire TeachPaperless PLN for your thoughts, criticisms, ideas, comments, refusal to accept easy answers, and especially for your fearless determination.

This blog would be nothing without each of you.

Fearless. Because we have to be.

-- Shelly

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Dealing with 'Friends': Using Multiple Feeds to Separate Personal and Professional

Kax has got questions about what to do when a student starts following your Twitter feed. Check out his post and the comment discussion that follows.

Personally, this hasn't been a problem for me.

I've got several Twitter, FB, Delicious, YouTube, etc... accounts. They are set up for a variety of both personal and professional uses (education PLN / music / family / and more). My high school students understand that while they are welcome to contact me through my professional 'classroom' feeds, I will refrain from accepting and/or block 'em from my personal feeds.

Seems like good rule of thumb in dealing with minors as well as a way to teach kids that there are different uses for different social media.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

TeachPaperless' EducationPLN Twitter List breaks Top 250 Twitter Lists


Just got the word on this via (of course) someone in my Twitter PLN. Turns out that as of today, I'm 248 on listatlas' list of the top 250 Twitter lists.

Check it out, we're right there with the Wall Street Journal's news list and MTV's 'The Hills' list... which just goes to show how ridiculous these things are.

Nonetheless, the Twitter list has proven rather useful as it lets you hone into certain aspects of your PLN in ways that used to take the jerry-rigging of a Search tab and an extra app. And, more evidence that 21C teachers are prepared to take over the world, just above my list is Shelly Terrell's great ed PLN list.

That's right, you heard it here first, folks: Twitter Ed PLN Lists are the van-guard of geeky ed tech advocates bent on world domination.

I'd say that's a good thing.

And hey: if every teacher follower of Terrell and my feeds followed our PLN lists, we'd be number 2 out of all 250 lists listed!

One way or another, I invite you to join my Twitter List and hope to see you joining in the conversation.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Bring the Web into the physical world

Read Wes's post this morning about watching TV on your iPhone and it got me thinking.

Now that we can receive the stuff we used to sit in a living room together with other people to watch individually on the cellphone in our pocket, it's time to figure out how to bring the stuff on the cell phone in our pocket back to communal physical experience.

Twitter ain't enough. Getting CNN on yr iPhone certainly ain't enough.

I want us to push for the next step: personalized mobile networked 3-D projection. It's high time to bring the Web into the physical world.

What does this look like? How would it work?

I have no idea.

So let's do it.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The Sound of Memory: Using Audio to Spark Learning

Next Tuesday will mark the 29th anniversary of the death of John Lennon.

Stumbled across this most unique document of that night on YouTube. It's a recording of a scan through the radio airwaves of NYC on the eve of the 8th of December, 1980.

Long before the advent of the mainstream Internet, we (likely as a whole species) have had this innate desire to record things. Scribes, redactors, editors, painters, printers, photographers... recordists all.

Personally, I've always been most in-tuned with audio recording.

I try to bring as much audio into my classes as possible. As a Latin teacher, you might think that I'm talking about a lot of pronunciation and recitation; but no, I kinda find a lot of that stuff to be a bit boring. When it comes to bringing audio into the class, I'm talking about using archival material; obscure pop songs; speeches; sound effects; and the sounds of real places, real people, and real things. I'm into bringing these things into the realm of my students' awareness and using them to catalyse new investigations, new discussions, new understandings and realizations about whatever we happen to be studying in class.

Folkways offers a number of interesting environmental recordings that can spark interesting discussions about sound, technology, memory, and the stuff of history; check out Sounds of the Office, Sounds of Medicine, Sounds of the Junkyard, and the mind-blowing Sounds of Insects.

If it's voices and real-life stories you are looking for, check out the website of the Third Coast Audio Festival. I've used their '99 Ways of Telling a Radio Story' to inspire my kids to write; and their podcast called Re:Sound is top notch.

They've also got an English language version of Peter Leonhard Braun's 'Bells in Europe' which, in telling the story of how the Nazis melted down bells to make weapons, is one of the most powerful and celebrated radio documentaries of all time.

And if you are looking for more info on good audio and striking radio, you might stop by KFAI Minneapolis/St. Paul's Listening Lounge blog. Their little list of links is essential.

Back in college, I fell in love with the 'little stuff' of art history. Sure, there were the Raphaels and Van Goghs, but I remember my favourite two museum-bound items were a little 16th century salt and pepper shaker set and an elegant ancient glass urn.

Relatively anonymous things. Relatively random.

But precious. And full of meaning.

It's like that with audio, too. A snippet of conversation or the reminder of a sound we haven't heard in some time can lead us into new investigations, new discussions, new understandings and realizations.

And so next Tuesday, I'm going to start our Latin III class with a listen to the Lennon/NYC recording. We're studying Horace right now -- the original 'carpe diem' guy. We've been talking a lot about what it means to express the things you hold in your memory; and we've been talking a lot about why art and poetry are such powerful and memorable forms of expression. We've been talking about why poets are remembered. We've been talking about the lyric of memory.

So, we'll listen. And think.

Who knows what kind of conversation it might spark.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

My kids made something today.

My sophomores are getting ready to start reading Caesar's 'Gallic Wars'. A classic second-year text, the book is a series of commentaries written by Julius Caesar and it presents his account of the war.

It also gives his version of what the Celts of Ancient Gaul were like.

And, of course, that's part of the problem.

Year in and year out, I read this text with students and year in and year out one of them pipes up and says: "Hey, wait a minute. Isn't this book a little bit biased against the Celts?"

And I reply: "Yup."

So this year, one of my students suggested we try to level the playing field a bit. And so, as a class, we started scouring the Web for good info about the Celts themselves. We found bits of folktales and records of archaeological digs, we unearthed ancient artworks and explored even more ancient mythologies.

But we had to look all over the place for this stuff. There was no one depository adequate for the Celt-curious needs of high school sophomore Latin students.

So we decided to make one.

And that's how we came to create... drumroll, please... The Wiki of Annotated Web Links For the Study of Ancient Gaul and Ancient Celtic Culture!

So now, we're asking other teachers and students to take our wiki out for a test drive.

Edit it. Add to it. Improve it.

If you take a look, you'll see that only the first of three sections so far is organized alphabetically; and only the first section has been completely vetted (my kids have got some homework tonight!). But, you'll also find that all of the entries are in proper MLA format. And the sources range from university collections to museum holdings to records of digs to out-of-print compendiums of knowledge and information.

You might find some of the annotations to be a bit bland or too general. That's fine: go ahead and scrub 'em out and write your own. A wiki is only as useful as its readership is vigilant.

You may find the rating system a bit limited (as we only allowed sites that scored a '3' or better in our class discussions); so perhaps you will change that or find a better solution.

Perhaps you'll do any or all of these things. Because wikis aren't just about information; they are about the constructive argument that unfolds in the process of making decisions.

In a way, a wiki can be the best manifestation of Hegelian principles. They are truly synthesized projects; and that synthesis itself is catalyzed by human engagement and debate.

Best of all, wikis are made. MADE. By people. People working together. People editing one another's work. People teaching and learning by doing. And people working and learning together and producing something helpful to others.

My kids made something today.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Progressive Education from 60+ Years Ago

The words of John Dewey, still relevant:
"The world is moving at a tremendous rate; no one knows where. We must prepare our children not for the world of the past, not for our world, but for their world."

That's the basis of my idea of education.

Monday, November 30, 2009

What are we preparing them for?

Reader Bonnie writes:
A question like “What are we preparing them for?” still stops me in my tracks. I thought all this technology discussion was about ‘how’ to prepare them. I know what I am preparing them for and it hasn’t changed for over 20 years.

I’m preparing them to think for themselves. I want my students to question everything, especially their own actions. I want them to celebrate diversity and respect difference. I want them to be responsible for their own actions and how their actions have global effects. I want them to care for the earth and their fellow living beings. I try to prepare them to act when they see or hear injustice.

The technology I’m avidly learning right now will definitely make my goal easier to achieve and I think more relevant and more interesting for students. These are great things! But I’ve known some amazing teachers who have achieved these goals with very little technology. Technology alone is not going to make our world a better place.

This is part of the reason why I think we've got to hit the mute button on the "T" word.

Fire is technology. The wheel is technology. The compound bow is technology. "Technology" is just the craft of figuring out a way to do something.

When I say “What are we preparing them for?”, I'm not qualifying that as a statement as to the bearings of education (let alone technology) on their rational and ethical thinking procedures.

I'm actually in a way thinking less of the students and more of the environment they'll live in. I fully realize certain limitations in bringing this forward in the debate, but I think about it nonetheless.

I think about what travel will be like in 2110. After all, it was only in 1910 when a North American airplane first claimed the life of a professional pilot; and yet, despite any hassles, air travel stands not only as the icon of the 20th century but as the safest form of getting from here to there.

I think about what art will be like. After all, it was only in 1907 that Picasso up-turned 500 years of European figurative painting. Been to a museum lately?

I think about what music, and the press, and grocery stores, and shopping malls will be like in 2110. In a way, only shopping malls seem relatively unphased over the centuries.

And so, I prepare my students to be critical thinkers. I prepare them to be able to handle abstract concepts and open-ended questioning. I try my darndest to prepare them for the challenges that lie ahead no matter what.

But in the end, I realize that the world facing them on the other side of the Digital Revolution is as foreign to me as the world of the Agricultural Revolution was to the hunter gatherers.

I'm obliged to recognize that I'm of a generation caught in the transition between two ages. And these sorts of cultural/technological revolutions just seem to catch up to us now and then.

One way or another, the world is fundamentally changed as a result.

Our students need the critical capacity to be able to handle this change. You better be putting them through the paces of Lao-Tzu, Plato, Seneca, and Kant. But none of that will forecast how the world looks after the dust of this revolution settles.

And thus, for a simple guy like me, all I can ask is: “What are we preparing them for?”

Population and Technology

In 1810, the population of the United States was just north of 7 million.

In 1910, the population of the United States was just shy of 100 million.

In 2010, the population of the United States will be greater than 300 million.

In 1810, the population of the United States per square mile was 4.3.

In 1910, the population of the United States per square mile was 26.

In 2010, the population of the United States per square mile will be at least 80.

Let's put this all into a little perspective.

There are over 270 million cellphones in use in the United States. That's almost double the number of land lines.

Now, if the average cellphone is 4 inches long, then if we set all those 270 million cellphones lying in a straight line, they'd measure out at 1,080,000,000 inches or 27,432 kilometers. That's more than half the circumference of the Earth at the equator.

And that's just the cellphones in the US. There's another 634 million in China. And 427 million in India. And Germany, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, and Russia sport numbers well above 100 million each.

As for the Internet, there are 231 million users in the US (on a good day).

In other words, there are more than double as many folks online in the US today as there were people in the US a hundred years ago.

Now I know that these sorts of stats get cited and bandied about all the time; yet no matter how often I look at them they nonetheless give me shivers.

Because 2110 is gonna make 2010 look like 1910. And we've already produced children who will live to see that day.

What are we preparing them for?


The numbers for 1810 and 1910 come from the 1990 Census of Population and Housing, "1990 Population and Housing Unit Counts: United States", (CPH-2).

Sunday, November 29, 2009

From the Archive: Books Were Nice

On the heels of the last post, here's another entry from my stint over at

It's a post that stoked a bit of chatter and lots of great discussion.

It's called: 'Books Were Nice'.


And if you like, please check out this oldie-but-goodie on the anomaly of printed books.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

From the Archive: Goin' Mobile

Here's a post from my stint a while back guest-blogging at

It's a piece titled 'Goin Mobile' and it's got a little bit to do with experiential learning and a little bit to do with mobile computing.

It's got a lot to do with homebases of learning.

Friday, November 27, 2009

K12 Online Conference Info

Wes Fryer's got the low-down on the Classroom 2.0 pre-game show and Richard Byrne's got the info on some of the programming.

Here's the word from the creators themselves.

Looking forward to the con, and hoping to (virtually) see many of you there!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nothing says "Happy Thanksgiving" like Freaky Institutional Home Ec Instruction and a Romantic Piano Score

It just wouldn't be a 'Paperless Thanksgiving' without this MPEG archived diamond of a 1951 instructional film about childrens' ettiquette at the dinner table.

Hope you all use cloth napkins!

Thanks to the Internet Archive for this gem.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Logo Hampered Ontologies

I'm beat after another long session battering about the pros and cons of the big three Logo Hampered Ontologies.

Yes, 'Logo Hampered Ontologies'.

Ok, so it's an anagram for: 'Moodle, Google, Sharepoint'. But it's apt. And it's been consuming me.

The short of it: me and a few folks at school are thinking about which of the three will best serve the needs of teachers and students in a 21C setting.

Each have strong points. Each have weak points.

Moodle is 'made' for education. But it's definitely a work-in-progress and may have scalability issues. I also feel like it's sort of set up as a digital version of a 20th century classroom (i.e. it does tests and quizzes really well, but how well does it integrate with multimedia and social networking?)

Google Apps for Ed has all the parts for free -- and the sites are housed on the Cloud; but 'Sites' is pretty clunky (even compared to other free site-building services like Weebly and Wix) and there's quite a learning curve (especially with Wave).

Sharepoint is solid in its own way, but its dropboxes and calendars pale in comparison to Web 2.0 alternatives. And I'm just not convinced that its wiki or blog functions can touch dedicated sites like Wikispaces, Blogger, and WordPress. I've also had so much difficulty running 3rd party ware on MS browsers (and long since given up), that I just don't have much faith in the accessibility and flexibility of Sharepoint. But I may just be out-of-touch with what MS has been developing.

I'd really like to know what you all have to say about these Logo Hampered Ontologies.

What have you used? What do you use? What are the pros and cons and if you were the one making the call, which way would you go?

Looking forward to your responses; and please forward this on to folks who can extend the discussion; I really want to get an idea of what people's experiences are with these three monsters.

Monday, November 23, 2009

From Nit Wit to Net Wit: 4 Social Networking Rules for Schools

On the heels of yesterday's post about mistakes schools make entering into social networking, I submit the following ideas and suggestions to schools who want to get the most out of the opportunities social networking offers.

1. Don't use it just because it's there.

Having a Facebook page does not demonstrate that you understand a darned thing about 21st century networking. There are over 400 million users on Facebook; welcome to the club.

I hear so often how excited some institutions are because they've set up a "Facebook presence". And I want to tell these people: "Don't you get it? It's not about you being excited about being on Facebook, it's about folks on Facebook being excited about you being there."

The same folks tend to use Facebook (and social media in general) as an analogue to the sorts of communications they made in the pre-digital days. And I want to tell them: "No, no, no! The comments wall of a Facebook Group is not a place to post your press releases. It's a place to make an offer of community and to join in the already happening conversation."

Likewise, I see schools creating Facebook pages because they think that's what 'being hip to social networking' is all about. Fact of the matter is, in many cases a user-defined Ning would work so much better to help the institution achieve its goals.

The key to getting the most out of social networking is in understanding one simple maxim: Don't use it just because it's there. If you find yourself creating a need, then you are doing the wrong thing.

Step back, figure out what it is that you want to do (and be specific, don't just say 'reach more people'), and find the tool that best helps you achieve that goal.

Personal example: For years, I maintained a class blog where I'd post homework assignments and links to further reading. Over the last two years, I've found that I can use Twitter along with Delicious and a wiki more effectively than I was using the blog. I post assignments and maintain conversations about classwork on the former and I archive, brainstorm, and create reference libraries on the latter two. So, I stopped using one totally legitimate technology in favour of using another.

The trick isn't 'using technology'.

The trick is finding the technology that's right for you, whether you are a classroom teacher or a large institution.

2. Don't centralize your Facebook communications.

I'm an alumnus; I'm not really interested in whether or not school's closed next week. I was also a bit of a geek back in high school (go figure), so whether or not the varsity football team is having a winning season really isn't all that interesting to me. I was, however, in the Drama Club; I'd love to know what's happening with the Spring Musical. And I was a member of the Jazz Band; I'd love to know what songs are in the current set list.

Now, if you send information forth from a centralized point, you might get my attention once or twice. Soon, however, I get too bored by the football headlines to bother even reading through whatever other information you may have sent out. You lost me.

I still count as a number in your 'friends' list, but you've effectively lost me.

It didn't have to be this way.

This is social media, after all. So be social. Don't style yourself after the PR that worked back in the days of print. Instead, let the individual departments and programs establish networks with their own alumni and constituents; and let me be a part of whatever network I so choose.

If you are using Facebook for networking, this is an essential understanding.

The football team should have it's own network run by the football team and football alums. The Drama Club should have it's own network -- and not limited to current students, but engaging alumni and local professionals.

Now, it's fine to have a 'school' presence. But by-and-large, that central hub serves mostly as a glorified calendar and business card. It's the micro-networks that do the real job of engaging like-minded folks. To use a popular term: your school is comprised of tribes. The job of a communications director or alumni office, therefore, should not be to 'tell constituents the news', but rather to show them where to find the tribe of their choice.

3. Think outside the Tweet.

Twitter is essentially whatever you want it to be.

As a quick and effective way to send a message or link to your public, it's unparalleled. Just don't let the "What are you doing? / What's happening?" prompts squelch your message; they're just red herrings. What you need to do is make your Tweets work for you. For a main office, I suggest a daily morning Tweet with a highlight and a link to morning announcements. For Athletic Depts, go ahead and Tweet your game schedules, rankings, and links to news coverage of your student athletes. Guidance Depts: Tweet college links, links to sites useful for stress relief, and links to sites where students can get further tutoring or mentoring. Academic Depts: there's no reason why the English Dept isn't Tweeting its reading list or why the Math Dept doesn't Tweet classic problems in Analytic Geometry or Calculus.

Now, the first instinct of many an educator is: But, why?

Well, the short answer is: because Tweeting is one of the most positive things you can do to foster motivation.

Students and Parents will appreciate the daily Tweeted schedule; the Athletic Dept may see a surge in its fan-base as videos of players go viral and schools compete against one another virtually for fans -- particularly in the case of High Schools looking to recruit, a sound Twitter community will bode well towards getting great information and a variety of perspectives out to parents and students. For the Guidance Office, you may well find that students start picking up the ball to create their own tutoring programs and clubs based around academic and social issues discussed via Twitter; and certainly the Departmental Tweets have the potential of fostering communities based around common love for a subject.

The trick here is to allow it to grow naturally. Don't force all of the kids to follow your English department feed; that's a disaster in the making. Rather, let the kids discover their own tribes and use Twitter to let those tribes flourish. Go ahead: create content and send it out there; before long, your constituents will be the ones creating the majority of the content and you'll be the one learning what makes a community a community.

4. Don't be afraid of the 'unofficial'.

Despite the best intentions of a school to 'own' its brand, no institution ever really 'owns' its memory. Schools are comprised of people, and the people themselves are the reality of the school.

Now, those folks in charge of creating a web presence soon will have realized that there exist 'unofficial' versions of your brand all over the place -- in the form of blogs, Tweets, Facebook Groups, and more.

What does an effective communications director do?

Well, he or she points to the best of the 'unofficial' and says: "Check this out."

For those of you choking on that last sentence, consider the example of the band Radiohead. For years, the band has listed (under alt/radiohead sites) 'unofficial' sites created by folks all over the world with one thing in common: a love for Radiohead.

The result?

More love for Radiohead.

People love to be in a community with like-minded people. People love to debate the minutiae of their passions. People long for means to connect.

Translate this into your situation.

Now, I realize most of you aren't rock stars. But you are the people who produce the environment in which most human beings undergo the fundamental changes that make them into young adults.

That's powerful stuff.

Now there will be students who have not liked their school experience. And they may use the Net to express this to the world. And that's fine. Because there are also students who will have loved their experience. And some of them too will use the Net to try to express this to the world. You can think of these constituencies as the Yin and Yang of Net identity.

The trick is to mute neither while pointing folks towards what you think is most valuable.

And hagiography and glowing hyperbole is not always deemed 'most valuable', so make your decisions wisely. The goal here is not to use your links to create the impression of what your school is like, but rather to use your links as a means of being a partner in the creation of a broader digital alumni and school community.

'Unofficial' sites and 'Unofficial' networks are good. It means that there are folks whose experience connects in some way to your place. You then have to decide whether given site or given network provides value to your community.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Something for Alumni Affairs and School Communications Directors to Think About Regarding Social Networks

My high school alma mater announced that it's started a Facebook page.

Well, thing is... they didn't exactly start it. Turns out an '03 alum had launched an 'unofficial' page years back that had gained about 700 followers and was steadily turning out information for alumni about what was happening at the school.

The alumni relations dude at the school stumbled upon the page and was amazed. So he and the director of communications staked out a deal with the alum who'd started the whole thing to take over as admins of the site and bring it all into line with the 'official' brand of the school.

I can only imagine how quickly those original 700 fans moved on to join a new unofficial page.

Nothing destroys a social network quicker than an institution trying to co-opt the resources developed by 'unofficial' means. As an alum, I find it much more interesting to occasionally see updates sent out by fellow alums -- real human-being fellow alums who aren't an institution trying to sell me alumni Beef-n-Beer nights and raffle tickets.

Fellow alums who can share the 'unofficial' history as well as state their own opinions on the current trajectory of the school. Not some nitwit admins and communications directors trying to re-brand the school into my brain.

I went there. I'm an alum. Remember?

If schools themselves are going to get into the social networking game, they have to realize that there are just certain aspects of a network that they'll never be able to replicate as an institution yoked by a necessarily limited voice.

Alumni Affairs folks, head's up: those original alums didn't link together in that network because of the existence of your school and your institution's varied publiciz-able successes. They linked together in that network because of their shared experience in attending your school.

They didn't link there because of you. They linked there because of each other.

And the shared experience of a student body has very little to do with what communications directors like to share with the public.

There are myriad ways institutions can use the Net -- and I hope my alma mater finds a way to make it work. But, taking over an alum's friend page probably ain't one of the most effective routes to building a grassroots community. You may see initial returns in terms of the number of friends you rank, but before all too long, your network will bore of soccer scores and mission-themed posts; and the heart of the communication that existed originally will find somewhere else on the Net to flourish.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Results of the 'Concerning Tech' Contest


So, the 'Concerning Tech' contest wound up producing so many more great results than I ever could have considered.

And there were so many good ideas submitted by so many cool teachers that I just couldn't possibly give them up to the whims of chance.

The result being: everyone who submitted to the contest will receive an invitation to write a post to the whole TeachPaperless readership.

Believe me, this is both a blessing and a curse ;)

Details forthwith; congrats, and, most of all, thanks.

Friday, November 20, 2009


A reader suggested I write a haiku poem distilling what I've learned over the course of 600 posts here at TeachPaperless.

At first I thought it was a silly idea, but the more I considered it, the more I realized it was perhaps the most perfect vehicle for describing what I see as the 'nature' of the discussion that has occurred through these posts.

I myself certainly have been changed by the ongoing conversation; and I dare say that this blog, and the daily interaction it fosters with my PLN, has made me -- over the course of the last ten months -- a much better teacher than I'd ever thought I could be.

And I hope this blog is of some value to you, too.

Thank you for your readership, advice, criticism, and fearlessness.


Signpost, bent metal
On the corner; in the field
Sapling fresh, rising

That's sort of what this blog means to me.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Bookworm Who Loves E-Books

Steven Anderson has a post today on whether or not libraries should have books.

He cites the example of the headmaster of Cushing Academy in Massachusetts who -- according to the Boston Globe -- is remaking his school's library into a media center where e-readers replace books. From the Globe article:
“When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books,’’ said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. “This isn’t ‘Fahrenheit 451’ [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We’re not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology.’’

Beings that we're in a sort of transition period between media, it's no wonder that folks will have strong reactions to Tracy's impulse. The article cites students and faculty quite upset with the manoeuvre. I'm sure there will be more than a fair share of supporters and detractors on either side.

Coming down on the side of the tomes, Steven writes:
I am one of the biggest advocates for progressive technology in the classroom you will find. There is nothing I want more than students to be immersed in technology whenever possible. However, one has to question the wisdom of this man. Replacing a collection of 20,000 books just does not add up for me. It is doubtful that even 25% of the paper books that were available before are available in a digital format. While there are services like Google Books and the various eBook outlets, I think it is premature to call books "outdated technology."

I understand where Steven is coming from. My bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, dining room, living room, car, and office are all littered with books. I'm absolutely certain that I own more physical paper than most human beings. I love books. As I've said they were nice.

But for all of the books I own, page-for-page I know I've read more digital text than paper text in my lifetime. Because, even for someone has always been as voracious a reader as me, I can safely say that since buying my first laptop some ten years ago, I've seen my own daily reading increase exponentially.

I think part of it is that there is just so much more text out there.

I used to read the front page of the NY Times and the Baltimore Sun each morning. Now, in the course of the day, I read the NY Times, the Sun, the Washington Post, Politico, Le Monde, The Independent UK, the Daily Dish, and the BBC Online along with very generous doses of the two dozen or so blogs I follow daily, the info and links I pick up from Twitter, and the literally hundreds of emails I've learned to filter through.

The way I used to teach, I'd read student writing twice a quarter; maybe three times in some classes. Now I read it via their blogs on a daily basis.

And as for novels and full-throttle non-fiction books? Continuing my traditional ways, I usually have two or three books out from the library on any given week. And I usually have twice as many bookmarked on my computer to read in e-format.

As a self-confessed bookworm, this is what I have to say from an utterly selfish point-of-view: I love the Internet and it has made me ten-times the reader I used to be.

Call me new-fashioned, but I actually prefer reading digital text. I prefer reading it, and I sure prefer writing it. I don't buy into the 'snuggling up with a good book' argument for physical text's superiority to e-text. On any given night, it's a toss-up for me whether I go to sleep reading an old paperback or an e-text. And given the limited and frustrating holdings of our public library, more and more it's becoming a case of the later.

Am I arguing for the end to books as we know it?

No. Because, I really don't think I have to. Time will take care of that.

Understanding Wireless

Katie Ash just published a short piece of an interview with a district's network coordinator that I found frustrating enough to run off a quick response (subsequently withdrawn) asking for more clarity in helping teachers and admins understand how a wireless system works and what challenges these systems face.

Why withdrawn?

Because sure enough, just last month, Katie ran an excellent feature in DD which did exactly what I was asking for. I'd suggest folks who want to better understand the ups and downs of wireless in schools skip passed the interview published today and go straight to the DD article.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Using Authentic Gaming to Engage Kids in Authentic Learning

Here's a reader comment from Steve Lissenden on yesterday's post about gaming and student networks. I repost it here for your perusal as I think he touches on some really important topics -- like using MMOGs to foster creative writing -- that all of us should consider when we talk about authentic assessment and measuring student understanding.
I'm a teaching assistant in a year 5 class (9/10 years old) I am trying to engage one student, who is almost totally switched off from most lessons, by tapping into her interest in WoW. I asked her yesterday to write me a story based upon her adventures in WoW and she straight away picked up her pen and started to list the characters in her story. She has not yet started writing sentences but even so this is progress.

I intend to keep going down this route and intend to bring in opportunities to explore other virtual worlds, such as Myst, as a platform to engage creative writing.

I'm also having conversations with the children about the games they are playing on their consoles to understand the networks they are involved in and the contexts they prefer. This in itself is something new as I have found most teachers either do not think to discuss gaming or, in some cases, actively discourage talk about games. This something I find baffling considering the major part gaming plays in children's lives and the many opportunities this provides for educators to connect with their students in meaningful ways.

Gaming itself is a form of 'text'. And, especially in terms of fantasy MMOGs, games are complex narratives. Well, if you've got a kid who won't read a book, but who maintains a high-level character on a complicated MMOG, the problem likely isn't that the kid isn't able to understand complex narratives.

There's something deeper going on.

I think the key to Steve's method is getting the student to write about his or her character and their experiences in the game. As any gamer knows, it's easily possible to get by on quests after only reading a small portion of the available [directional] text within the game itself; so the experience within the game is often more self-directed and often less driven by a written narrative.

A problem for teaching kids reading and writing?

Not necessarily. Steve's method bypasses the obvious difficulty therein presented. [i.e. Steve makes it not about reading the text necessarily, but reading the experience.]

For if I'm reading him correctly, what Steve is getting at is that he's got a student who may not be a great reader, but who has a natural inclination for internalizing narrative.

And I think most kids internalize narrative. And it expresses itself in different ways whether in MMOGs or running around in the backyard with a wooden sword. It's the foundation of the kinds of role playing games all creative kids enjoy.

The thing we have to consider in terms of reaching these kids is that their internalized narrative might turn out being a better vehicle for expressing understanding and aptitude than any narrative we can pull from the shelf and force upon them. The internalized narrative might prove more valuable to authentic assessment than any of the books on our shelves.