Tuesday, December 07, 2010

2010 Edublog Awards

Just wanted to thank folks for nominating my post Why Teachers Should Blog for the 2010 Edublog Award for 'Most Influential Blog Post'.

Personally, I'm not that into awards. Actually, I take that back. I do watch the Oscars telecast every year. But that's more a habit than anything else; I like production numbers, what can I say? But as far as awards themselves go, I'm relatively ambivalent.

What I like about the annual Edublogs Awards, however, is not so much the awards themselves, but rather the nomination lists. Those nomination lists serve as a compendium of a lot of good writing and a lot of the most positive activity to have occurred over the course of the year. That's not to say that the lists represent everything, nor is it to say that everything in the lists is uniformally of the highest quality. But it's nice to see what our peers have nominated -- and it's nice to see that our peers have nominated. In other words, in these busy times, it's nice to see folks actually taking the time to offer up props to edubloggers where ever they may be and what ever they may be writing.

Check out those lists. The grab-bag starts here. Take a bit of time to look over all of the blogs. It's striking to see just how much quality thinking and serious debate is going on. Kudos to all you bloggers out there.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Teaching Paperless Means Not Paying For Things You Don't Have To

Thanks to the hard work and research of folks like Richard Byrne at Free Technology for Teachers, you have more free resources at your disposal than you could possibly imagine and you really don't have to pay for stuff like what's pictured in the screenshots below just to 'teach paperless':



[Subscribers: visit teachpaperless.com if you can't see the pics.]

Friday, December 03, 2010

Stop Teaching

A reader comments:
I'm of the opinion that technology is hurting education more than enabling it. Yes, access to the collected knowledge of mankind is a good resource, but students still need a guide and interpretor of that knowledge, a guide, a teacher! I am trying to envision my students asking me about how an fission occurs, and I say go look it up. What I am there for then? Could I be replaced by a sign that says, "Turn on computer and don't bother anyone."? 
Thank you for writing. Your comment really got me thinking.

After all: yes, what are you/we there for?

I tend to think that yes, if you or I could be replaced by a computer, we should be. After all, if all you are doing as a teacher is explaining 'how-to', I am sure that there are videos on You Tube that do a much better job. But I suspect that you are actually doing a lot more than that.

You are a teacher. Which means that you spend a little time each day teaching someone how to do something. But you probably spend a lot more time discussing why things happen. Because you are a discusser. And you probably spend a lot of time discussing what it all means. Because you are a philosopher. And you probably spend a lot of time helping frustrated students. Because you are a saint.

Students don't need guides. Kids need folks who can facilitate their being able to explore. Kids are natural explorers. And if you really want to ruin an explorers day, put 'em in a tour group led by a professional guide. Where's the adventure in that? Where's the sense of personal accomplishment? Teachers shouldn't be guides; they should be travel agents. Teachers should set up the trip, but ultimately each student has to take the trip on his or her own.

Kids don't need an interpretor. They don't need someone to interpret knowledge for them. What kids need is an interlocutor. They need some one to argue with. They need someone who can help them figure out how to interpret life's problems on their own. They don't need a translation; they need a conversation.

I've stopped teaching. That is, if teaching implies the hierarchical management and distribution of content for the purpose of assessing whether the content was understood. Instead, I've become a travel agent. I assess success by whether or not a student learned something about the world and about themselves out there on their trip. When they come back from their journey, I'm an interlocutor. I listen to what they have to say. I let them talk to me and I hit them up with some questions and I let them talk some more because I want them to understand what (and how) they think.

I respectfully submit that technology is not hurting education. More often than not, 'teaching' is hurting education.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Holiday Reading

If you are reading up on ed lit this holiday, start here.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

#latlang

Haven't posted in a while. Long story. And you'll hear all about it soon enough.

In the meantime, I did want to take just a moment while I've got it to dash off a note about a project my Latin II students are pretty excited about.

Two days ago, they started their own Twitter group all about the Latin language and the Ancient World in general. Their goal is to form a Twitter conversation/resource for Latin students, Latin teachers, and folks interested in all things ancient.

You can join their group on Twibes and follow the conversation at #latlang.

I'm pretty thrilled about this as well. I like the idea of kids creating their own hashtags. I like letting them loose to do their own thing. We'll see where it goes. They want to pick up 1,000 followers on the Twibe. They're also talking about starting a weekly discussion for Latin students at #latlang. So, I've agreed to give them classtime to facilitate that discussion and we'll see what happens.

If you could pass this info on to Latin teachers in your schools/districts, that would be a huge help. Let's do what we can in leveraging our networks to allow the kids to establish theirs.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Implications of Distance Learning on Teaching: a Conversation

As part of my course on paperless classrooms and social media at Hopkins, the students and I discuss the pedagogy of distance teaching/learning and the implications of distance learning on the teaching profession. This semester, I am opening up the conversation on Wiziq; you are invited to join us at 6:45PM EST tomorrow, Oct 28th, for great conversation and debate.

Go to http://www.wiziq.com/online-class/397322-jhu-paperless-classroom-2010 to sign up. It's free.

Please tag #jhusmed on Twitter with questions/comments on the conversation.

We look forward to chatting.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tech and International Students

PD today on the topic of working with a growing population of international students.

Would love to get some ideas here in relation to how you all are using tech to engage and empower these students. In my own classes, some of the things we do include letting international students use browsers in their primary language, encouraging them to use Google Translate to read the Web in their primary language (easiest to run through Chrome), and using primary and target languages on Google Maps. We also use all of the different language versions of Wikipedia, regularly translate and read news media in different languages, and use search engines from the 'country of origin'.

Another thing that I've found really enlightening is allowing international students to turn in work in their primary language. It's easy enough to use Translate to, well, translate. So let students turn in essays written in German, Korean, Urdu, or whathaveyou; of course the translation is not perfect, but it sure gives you a better idea of what's going on in a student's head than trying to make guesses based on the trouble they have writing in a target language.

This doesn't mean that English-language instruction in a US school isn't important -- of course it is for all sorts of practical reasons; all I'm saying is that we don't have to let language skills always get in the way of a student's ability to express understanding.

Getting past that language issue allows students to demonstrate their understanding of and engagement with content and concepts. And in most classes -- particularly in high school -- that's what we're going for. Furthermore, sharing primary language documents between students can help break down a lot of preconceptions students may have of one another based on language differences.

Would love to hear more ideas from all of you.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Advising the Advisor

This is the first year we're using an advisory system. Basically, instead of teachers having a morning homeroom, we meet later in the day with a small group of about a dozen students. The advisory groups are made up of students from ninth through twelfth grade. We meet to talk about school, classes, grades, and life in general. I've taken my kids out to exercise and @schickbob and I organized a tug-of-war between our groups which was covered by the yearbook photographers.

So, now I'm looking for things to do on a daily basis. Just today we began a TED-talk series. Right now, we're watching Pranav Mistry's recent talk about augmented reality. And we're actively taking suggestions on what you all think are the best TED-talks.

We also see this as a potential chance to reach out to classrooms in other parts of the world. And so, I would like to invite teachers from -- well, everywhere really -- who'd like to share classroom experiences via Skype to get in touch. I think it would be an excellent opportunity to spend a few minutes each day engaging with the classrooms beyond our classroom.

So I'm turning to all of you to advise this advisor. What sort of things would you do if you and your students had ten minutes a day to engage with the world however you liked?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Perspective

We were putting the finishing touches on the letters to our Senators and several students had just finished sealing and stamping. That's when one 14 year old boy asked me: "Where do I put the stamp?"

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sending Snail Mail from a Paperless Classroom

My kids are using paper this week. Two sheets per kid, actually.

This week's unit in Freshman Human Geography was on forced migration. As our case study, we looked at the events of the Sudanese Civil Wars and the Darfur Genocide.

We watched two striking films: God Grew Tired of Us and The Devil Came on Horseback. The first is about the plight of the Lost Boys of Sudan, the second about the situation in Darfur that arose out of the Civil Wars.

Then we looked deeper, using the resources of Google Maps, Radio Dabanga, PRI's The World, New York Times, and the BBC. Students looked at survivor accounts and explored the resources of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on genocide, violence, and witness.

And we blogged and discussed what we had learned.

All of this was done paperlessly. And most of it could never have been done in a pre-digital classroom. But now we come to the stage where we must put pen to paper. Because there are somethings that the digital medium does better than the analog, but there are somethings that pen and paper can still do that you just can't do with an email or a Tweet.

Things like getting noticed by a US Senator.

And so my students are taking everything they have learned and all the stories, discussions, resources, and realities we have digested over this unit, and they are sitting down, putting pen to paper, and they are writing letters to their Senators. They are writing about what they've learned and they are writing about their own personal reactions to the genocide in their own words. They are asking the Senators what they've done, what they are doing, and what they propose doing to assist and empower the victims and to bring the perpetrators to justice. They are learning what it means to play an active role in democracy and they are learning about the limits and realities of one nation's influence over the destiny of another.

And they are writing letters. Not because they don't have access to digital means, but because they do have the ability to produce what in these days of massive digital issue campaigns might be more effective in being something that gets noticed: a handwritten letter.

This has not been an easy unit. I've seen kids cry. I've also seen them smile along with John Dau and his Sudanese compatriots. I've heard them ask why they didn't know this was going on. And I've heard their questions and their frustration that something like this could happen.

As for 'Teaching Paperless'? Well, two sheets of paper per kid and a handwritten and heartfelt query is well worth it to engage them in that kind of learning.

Because, as I've said from the beginning: this paperless thing isn't about the dogma of paperlessness; it's about dynamism. It's about change. It's about using the connections to create situations where learning can take place. And sometimes the best way to do your part to effect change -- or to see the limits confronting it -- is to send a bit of snail mail.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Saying No

"No, I will not tell you the definition of 'austere'."

"No, I will not tell you where Laos is."

"No, I will not translate that for you."

"Do it yourself."



Been thinking about this recent TED talk by Sugata Mitra ever since catching it over at Will Richardson's blog. And over the last week or so, I've really been putting into action many of the ideas inherent in the talk. Most important I think -- and this is on top of a ton of important realizations in the presentation -- is the idea that if we want students to engage with learning, we won't tell them the answers.

Now, I work in a 1:1 environment. Which means that every single student in this school has a machine sitting in front of them that gives them access to the collected knowledge of recorded human history. So why would I treat them as if they do not wield such immense power?

And as an experiment, the way I've chosen to get them to realize the potential of what happens when they combine the power of their brains with the power of that access is to just say "no".

"No, I'm not going to define that for you."

"No, I'm not going to spell that for you."

"No, I'm not going to find that for you."

"No, I'm not going to repeat myself five times slowly for you."

You want to succeed in learning? Then learn to activate your own capacity to learn. Figure it out. Use that thing sitting on your lap and the connection to the world that it represents. And stop leaning on me; because soon enough I won't be here. And it will just be you and the world.

I asked a student yesterday if that made sense to her. And her response was simple, elegant, and telling. She said:

"Yes."

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Homework: From Chills to Thrills

So there's this debate that goes on in my head. It's about homework. And whether/how and what/when to give it. I think about how I've handled assigning homework over the years, and it's chilling for me to think just how lousy I used to be.

Because I used to be a homework freak. In my early years teaching, I was that guy who insisted students do problems #1, 3, 4-6 and then I'd check 'em the next day. I'd give homework before even reading the questions myself. And I felt fine with that. Because I really thought that so long as the students were 'working' they were 'learning'. So I piled it on.

And while I certainly learned a lot about the mechanics of grading homework, I'm not sure I did much more for my students than increase their stress and decrease their sleep.

So, I've sort of come around. I still give homework -- or more properly titled 'work that needs to get done on your own time' -- but these days I like to think that I've replaced the arbitrary with the essential and the busy-for-busy's-sake with something the students can actually 'use'.

These days, the homework I give isn't based on some arbitrary idea of how much work a kid should do 'at home' to reinforce something we did in class, but rather it's a matter of asking the students to do something necessary to prepare themselves for the next class. Homework becomes an act of preparation -- and hopefully sparks some anticipation not for seeing what you 'got right or wrong', not for seeing if you can jump through that next hoop, but anticipation for taking part in the next day's discussion, activities, and learning.

I want homework to be a cliffhanger. I want it to be the device at the end of the chapter of every thriller that won't let you put the book down until you've read the whole thing.

The key is that it has to make you want to continue.

It's like in life: if you have a meeting with a really interesting character, you prepare for the meeting -- you might review material and jot down notes, maybe talk to an associate beforehand to make sure you've got your bases covered, and hit the Web to make sure you understand both the material and the objective of the meeting. Your preparation is done in anticipation for the meeting and because you care about the meeting and genuinely want to talk about the matter at hand, you prepare out of a sense of thrill.

Yes, I said 'thrill'.

I want homework -- or work done beyond the limited time that I've got 'em in my classroom -- to come with a sense of thrill. I want it to accompany a sense that it's really helping one get in the right frame of mind to engage with what we're talking about in class.

Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the most complex thing on paper turns out a dud and sometimes the most simple thing turns out to have some real teeth. One way or the other, the trick in preparing kids to prepare is to more often than not get the teeth rather than the dud.

And it usually comes down to simple choices.

Consider a photography class. Is it a better use of my time and my students' time to have them go home and read a photography manual or is it a better use of time to ask them to take pictures? Sort of depends on a lot of factors, but I know which one is more 'thrilling'.

Consider English class. Is  it a better use of time to go home and answer questions out of a textbook or is it better to read a poem, jot down some notes about it, and discuss it with friends on Twitter or Skype? Again, in 'real-life' does anyone actually get a thrill out of answering canned questions? Yet there are bookclubs everywhere. And why is that? It's because people love to talk about what they are reading. They don't love to be graded on how they answer questions, they just love to talk. And in talking and discussing, they learn. And in this social media rich environment, it's downright backwards to refrain from tapping in to that.

What's a better use of time in history class: practicing the 'proper' way to write a DBQ or listening to the news and current events for 10 minutes each evening so that the next day when you come into class we can actually talk about what's happening in the world and why it's important to understand that what's happening now has a history behind it? Anyone can learn the format of a standardized answer. So who cares what anyone has to say in a standardized answer? It's a mystery to me that we allow random readers on an AP exam to tell us how well the children we engage with everyday understand a subject. That, my friends, is an affront to our professionalism. Furthermore, it makes for really boring and life-draining homework.

So I ask myself: why in the world would I do this to my kids?

And that question is the one that as a history teacher, I've most been mulling over endlessly.

A few days ago, we were talking about 'conflict' in one of my Freshman classes. I put a handful of place names up on the screen -- Israel, Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Tibet -- and asked the students if they could tell me anything about recent or past conflict in these places. And the one that really got me was Afghanistan: out of 35 or so Freshmen in two different sections, only two or three kids had any idea what conflict was currently going on in Afghanistan.

And it makes me wonder what kind of homework they had in middle school. It makes me wonder how a 14 year old -- living during wartime -- doesn't realize they are living during wartime.

I don't know. Maybe the two are not related. But maybe they are. Maybe we get so fixated upon the kids knowing what's in the book that we neglect what's in the world.

One way or the other, I'm thinking about what homework means and I'm thinking about how not to give it just out of a sense of obligation, and about how not to refuse to give it out of a sense of dissatisfaction with it's results, but to fundamentally change the way the kids and I approach it.

In that history class, for example, we're going to spend the year learning and discussing history in class, but as for homework I want them listening to daily podcasts from around the world about events going on right now. I want them to understand the history in every living event. I want the world -- in real-time and live -- to replace their textbook.

Because we don't live in a textbook world.

And we wouldn't want to.

This year, I'm gonna try to use a bit of chance to create asymmetrical understanding. That is, I'm not going to plan the questions -- and I'm certainly not going to plan any solutions -- before we sit down and listen to what's actually going on. I'm going to let current history lead my history class; and I, of course, as a person living in that history have no idea where this all leads, but like a researcher employing grounded theory, I really don't mind looking at something and examining it before deciding according to my own varied theories what the thing is. I'm going to use my own confusion and sense of wanting to understand -- I'm gonna use this stuff to my advantage.

Because I myself don't learn anything when I just spit out what I think it is that I am supposed to know.

Having read the arguments both for and against homework I can't help but try to think of it not from the teacher's point of view, but from the student's. If I were 15 years-old taking a class, I know that I'd have a better time understanding what was going on if I were prepared. I also know that completing boring (even worse -- patronizing) textbook work every night would drive me insane. So, if the teacher asked me -- given my busy 15 year-old student schedule of school plays, sports, band, family commitments, etc --  I'd pretty much say that I'd want to be prepared for class and that if that meant doing some prep at home, that would be fine. But don't give me homework out of a sense of obligation. And don't give it to me just as a way to get a 'grade'. Give me homework because it's going to help us get stuff done. And let's get stuff done that's going to thrill me.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Question of the Day: Accepting Change

And the question of the day is:

Do you teach your students how to accept change?

All 'hows', 'whys', and 'what-fors' graciously appreciated. Would love to hear how this applies to different subjects and different ages. Share your thoughts.

A Peek Into What We're Doing in Class

Just giving you a peek into the kinds of stuff we're doing this year in Human Geography class. Right now we're working on a unit about language and migration. Here are the last two posts from my class blog -- I think you can get an idea about some of the stuff we're talking about as well as see some of the resources we're using.


Recap of Indo-European Language Discussion

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2010


What we did in Section 2:


2. Played a game where we had to give directions in Urdu to a blindfolded friend.

3. Looked at the history of Indo-European language; (Here's a link to the Indo-European language map.)

4. Used Google Maps Streetview to explore places where Indo-European languages are spoken.

5. Discussed how English and Urdu are related.

Tonight, please finish up the Language Region Google maps. We'll use those next class. And remember to check our Twitter feed for announcements/updates. Thanks.

Language and Humans


MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2010

What we did today:


1) Review of how a human geographer can use the "Soda Pop" map to analyse migration patterns. Here's a link to the map: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_NLOcDtt0kJA/TIkbvmqtWaI/AAAAAAAABTI/GR6lF6RQWU4/s1600/Pop_vs_Soda.gif


2) Listened to a podcast about Dual-Language Schools: http://www.theworld.org/2010/09/08/learning-in-two-languages/


3) Debated whether immigrants to the USA should have to learn English.


4) Used Google Translate to read news in German and Korean.


Here's the podcast to listen to and summarize for homework: http://www.theworld.org/2010/08/20/a-persian-insult-an-inuit-dialect-and-urdu-directions/ (20 minute program -- spend about ten minutes writing brief three or four sentence summaries of each part of the program).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Making Connections: A Little Soda-Pop Story

Generic Names for Soft Drinks by County
http://popvssoda.com:2998/countystats/total-county.html

A note here to folks getting this via a reader, you definitely want to check this out on the site: www.teachpaperless.com so that you are sure to get all of the pictures; this just won't make sense without the pics. 

The map here is pretty amazing. Color-coded, it shows the national distribution of terminology used to describe soft drinks. You'll notice some telling facts. For example, the thin swath of yellow running down an otherwise red Florida's coast. That's East Coast migrants (aka retirees) bringing their slang to Florida. And notice which state seems most pluralistic? Yup, that's all those military folks from across the country huddled together in New Mexico.

Maps tell a story. And that's what my Human Geography students and I talked about today. We talked about how you could lay a map of something as seemingly innocuous as how people describe soft drinks over the context of patterns of human habitation and find a telling correlation.

They were pretty blown away.

Until somebody said, "But how do we know that's accurate?"

So we decided to do a little informal test. The 9th graders and I tweeted out the following:

Question from Freshman class: Hey world, what is the generic name you use for a softdrink? Please give name & yr location. THX! #JCHUMANGEO

And then we started chatting about the accents and dialects of different folks in different parts of the country. Had a nice discussion. And then I remembered to check to see what had come in via Twitter.

And I saw this:






Tweets 9/9/10

How's that for a little confirmation?

In real-time, sitting in a classroom in semi-rural Maryland, my 9th grade Human Geography students reached out to the world, asked it a question, and got a response.

We looked through the responses -- many of which included little stories of people's own lives and migrations -- and compared them to the map. The map proved most accurate.

Now that's what I call 21st century education: analyse information, check it against the real world in real time, and evaluate what it all means.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Paperless Survival Guide to Managing the Occasional Tech Snafu

Things go wrong. So it's always best to be prepared when they do.

One of the things I've found, especially with teachers new to working in a live social tech environment, is the fear of the tech breaking down and said teacher being stuck twiddling the proverbial thumbs.

So here's a shortlist of things you can do (or should think about) when broken tech brings the pain.

1. Prepare tabs of all sites you plan to lead students through in advance; this way, should your network go down, you can still manage through the majority of your web content. Students should also save offline syncs of info-style pages regularly accessed -- like e-books, encyclopedia entries, etc. In fact, tab-prep can suffice as a pre-classtime requirement for students.

2. If you have both wired and wi-fi networks available, consider setting up a small local hub in your room to connect computers should the latter go down. Or if you have your own portable 3G hotspot, share it.

3. Should the network fail while using Google Docs or while writing blog posts, have students dump their work into a word program and work there until the connection is re-established (this is what Gears should have been able to do). Anyway, make sure that your students know to do this from day one, it will save a lot of headaches.

4. I realize this could be considered a controversial one, so I won't tell you what to do, but I'll make a suggestion that you think about making "educational fair use" temp downloads of those YouTube videos you want to show. While I don't publicly condone hacking, there are plenty of easy-to-use and easily-Google-able resources that will help you do what you need to in a pinch.

5. Find alts. If you need a backchannel and Twitter gets scrambled, try TodaysMeet. There are plenty of Web 2.0 sites made specifically for education, as well; search through Richard Byrne's site for ideas.

6. Design assessments based on students both collaborating and playing to their individual strengths. If your network is shaky, you might be able to have a few kids online while others are working offline. Rotate it up, let kids share tech, for the sake of argument consider the parameters of a shaky network an opportunity to experiment with group dynamics and new forms of collaboration.

7. Let kids access the Net via their phones and personal Internet devices.

8. Have students create any and all new accounts -- i.e. Twitter, Google, YouTube, Jing -- from home or from the library. All new account registrations basically work the same these days, so just give the students the info they need and have them set up their resources as homework. This gets rid of the problem you often encounter in a classroom when trying to make multiple accounts simultaneously under the same IP address. There's nothing more frustrating than having an entire classroom of kids fail at trying to set up online accounts just because of security and redirect issues. It's a waste of time; so save time and have them do it on their own time.

9. Be prepared to improvise. And I'm not talking about flying by the seat of your pants. I'm talking jazz. You've got to practice the skill and hone the craft of improvisation everyday in every class so that when things do go haywire you're not completely screwed. If it were up to me, I'd make "Authentic Improvisation" -- as opposed to "B.S. Improvisation" -- a required class in ed school.

10. Know your students. I'm convinced that at least part of the fear of tech going down in flames in one's classroom is really a manifestation of a deeper issue: teachers not really getting to know their students and therefore not having the trust, conversational faculties, and mutual understanding of learning goals to get past a rough spot. If you and your students trust one another, you should be able to teach each other using nothing more than voices and gestures. And that's not some newfangled idea: that's what teachers have/had done for thousands of years.

11. Take a nature walk. Every classroom community benefits from mutual engaged experience. So you lose the wireless and your lesson is shot? Use it as an opportunity to go out and experience something with your students. Take 'em out for fresh air and conversation. Take 'em to the cafe for a snack and a chit-chat. See if the gym is open and shoot a few baskets with 'em. Don't dwell on what didn't work; rather, use the opportunity presented by a snafu to look at the world in a different way.

Now, if that wi-fi keeps going out or those computer batteries keep drying up after a half-hour of use, you're obviously going to have to deal with that problem. No one can integrate tech and education in those conditions. But with a good network in place, on those relatively rare occasions when things do fall apart, you should be able to manage without losing your hair. Consider the tips I've offered (all of which I've used at one time or another) and please leave some of your own ideas in the comments. Good luck!

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Easy

Decided to take a break from blogging with the plan to get started again the day after Labor Day.

Looks like that day has come.

And so, I offer this humble post -- which is really just a reflection on something that's been running mantra-like through my mind recently. Namely: this paperless thing is easy.

Really.

You don't need a guru to lead you through this mess. It's not even a mess.

I remember when I quit smoking. I'd started back in high school and got up to two packs a day by the time I was 23 years old. Then a serious case of bronchitis hit and I was put on my back for a few days with nary a smoke. Coming out of that, I decided to see how long I could go without a cigarette. And I wound up quitting.

I think about this now, because as I've said before, the number one reaction I had to quitting smoking was that I became furious at the cigarette companies. And I grew furious at myself. I was so angry because I felt like I'd completely been put on and because I'd wasted so much time and money on smokes.

And that's the same way I felt years ago when I went paperless.

I felt like for so long I'd been at the mercy of paper companies and printers and publishers. And I realize how that can sound silly; but as any teacher sitting under five sections of research papers knows, it's anything but silly.

These days, instead of waiting for all of my students to meet a deadline, I just have them share a Google Doc with me and I follow along -- popping in now and then to give advice and see what they are doing as they are doing it.

And that's a paperless move that changes the feel of teaching. It's an empowering thing. It's a formative thing. It's a thing that suggests what the future might be like rather than a thing that insists on dragging the past along out of some sense of perceived comfort.

And it's easy to do.

Easy.

And that's why in this -- what I guess you'd call the third season of TeachPaperless -- I am questioning whether or not I need to write this blog. Because so long as you can get computers and access, you can do this stuff. You don't need to pay me to come teach you. You don't need me to write a book to sell you. This stuff is easy; all you have to do is experiment a bit and find what works for you.

As for those of you -- many of you, in fact -- who don't have computers and access: make this your year. Make this your year to organize parents, students, and teachers together to figure out how to get real tech in your building. Make this your year to petition your admins, their supers, and all the rest to get what you want going on in your school.

Because it's 2010.

And if you don't do it now, when are you going to do it? And if you don't do it, who will?

So bring your A-game. Do some research and argue for the reallocation of funds from textbooks and printers to internet devices and wi-fi. Find grants. Find alternate funding. Get your parents on board. Get your tech thing worked out.

And then you'll have the chance to try out this paperless thing with your students. You'll have the chance to learn and to teach and to blog and to share. And you'll have the chance to realize that this stuff is easy.

And then, come one summertime soon, you'll have the chance to sit back and reflect on what you've done. And you'll think to yourself: this paperless thing is easy.

Easy.

Friday, August 20, 2010

TeachBookless

NPR ran a feature today on the future of books. Here's the part that most perked my interest (beings that many of us have been talking about this for some time now)...
Long the building blocks of academia, textbooks are seen more as albatross and less as asset these days. They are expensive — some costing more than $300. They are quickly outdated. They can be so heavy that students and teachers are forced to tote them around in wheeled luggage carts.
Students, professors and universities are rebelling against the weighty — and wasteful — tomes. Stanford University's brand new physics and engineering library is advertised as "bookless"; relying almost solely on digital material. Free and downloadable textbooks are at the heart of the growing "open educational resources" movement that seeks to make education more available and more affordable. Groups such as Connexions at Rice University and the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources in Silicon Valley are supporting free online textbook initiatives.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Question of the Day: Hey Kid... Got Tech?

Some interesting conversations on Twitter this morning got me thinking about the following question:


Does your school have any tech hardware/access requirements for students that are NOT provided for by the school?


Flashdrives? Laptops? MP3 players? 


Are you requiring students without home access to access after school via public libraries?


Are you in a 1:1 school allowing machines that students choose on their own as opposed to machines recommended by the school? 


Are there technologies your school is uniformly BANNING?


I'm interested in both public and private schools and whether (and how) you've seen expectations change over the last few years.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Just a Quick Note...

Ed Open Mic sessions will pick back up in September once the school year is again running full throttle. Will and I look forward to more chats and hearing what all of you have to say about redefining education.

For those interested, here's the audio of the last chat we had.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Guest Post at Edutopia: Increase Student Engagement by Getting Rid of Textbooks

Guest post published today at Edutopia. Came out of a recent #edchat and the comments many of you all made here about the pros and cons of textbooks.

Follow this link, head on over to Edutopia, and dig it: Increase Student Engagement by Getting Rid of Textbooks.

And thanks to Elana and Betty for the guest gig.

Friday, July 30, 2010

2010 Reform Symposium

The 2010 Reform Symposium starts today. Many exciting presenters on today's schedule including George Couros, Steve Hargadon, Mary Beth Hertz, Kevin Jarrett, and Sue Waters. There will also be a panel on Effective Leadership featuring moderator Lisa Dabbs along with Patrick Larkin, John Carver, and Janet Avery.

I'm happy to have been asked to present today. I'll be stepping to the plate at 10PM EST to offer what's billed as a keynote, but I hope will turn into more of a conversation:
Keynote: What We Do
Description: A view from the classroom and a conversation about what 21C learning looks like on the ground level. There will be many examples of the practical and everyday use of Twitter, Jing, Wave, Blogs, Wikis, and more as used by students and teachers alike as well as a look at how to transform the physical space of the classroom into a 21C learning environment conducive to collaboration, mobile computing, and tech-integrated differentiated instruction.
Date & Times: Fri. July 30th 7pm-8pm LA/ 10pm NYC/ 3am, Sat. 7/31, London/ 4am, Sat. Paris/ 12noon, Sat., Sydney/ 11am, Sat., Tokyo
Click here for more time zones!

Click here to see today's schedule, and see you there!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Rethinking Leadership

Join Will Richardson and I this evening at 8PM EST for the weekly Ed Open Mic!
 
On the heels of last week's discussion on redefining teaching, tonight's topic is: "Rethinking Leadership". Join in the conversation -- it's sure to be lively this eve! Click here to enter the Elluminate room at 8 EDT.
 
Ed Open Mic: No talking heads... just you talking.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

To Textbook or Not to Textbook?

Nice conversation today on #edchat got me thinking about what (if any) textbooks teachers are deciding on for this year.

Are you using what's been your standard for a while? Looking for online alternatives? Are you mixing it up? Nixing textbooks altogether?

Comment away, I'd love to hear what's going on in your mind.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Tonight at 8PM EST: Ed Open Mic -- "Redefining the Profession"

Join Will Richardson and I tonight at 8PM EST for this week's Ed Open Mic!

Tonight's topic will be "Redefining the Profession". We'll be talking about how the teaching profession has changed and is changing, and we'll be asking the question: "What can/should/must a teacher do to help redefine both her or his practice in the classroom as well as to redefine the teaching profession at-large in the digital age?"

Bring your big thinking hats and join us in our Elluminate room at 8PM EST. No talking heads, just you talking. 

Ed Open Mic Elluminate room: http://bit.ly/975gMR
Hashtag #edopenmic on Twitter.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ed Open Mic: Thurs 8PM EST

Sorry I haven't been posting lately. Been insanely busy using what hours the dog days of summer offer me to write a novel. Kid-sitting every day (which means a lot of field-tripping) all day and pouring sweat over a laptop in a public library carrel writing the book every evening all evening.

I need to finish this thing as I've got just a bit of writing time available; thus efforts at blogging have waned and I figure they will continue to be relatively slack until school picks up again. Will keep you posted.

In the meantime, we have another Ed Open Mic session scheduled for this Thursday at 8PM EST and we're looking for great topics. Do comment here and tell us what you'd like to chat about.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Change at the Grassroots: Open Mic Tonight in Elluminate

Join Will Richardson and I this evening online for an Ed Open Mic tonight at 7 EDT. Here's the link to the Elluminate room where we'll be chatting. The hashtag is #edopenmic

This evening's discussion will be on the theme "Change at the Grassroots". We'll be talking about how teachers can effect 21C change in their own classrooms and beyond.

No talking heads... just you talking.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Interview at ThinkSocial

Been out in the wilderness for a spell and have come back with some exciting news about a project we're about to embark on. I'll be posting info soon.

In the meantime... had a little Q&A with the Paley Center's ThinkSocial project recently. Here's a link to the interview.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

A Cost Measured in Lives: Responding to John Spencer

John Spencer is one of the best education bloggers on the planet. It is therefore with great delight that I read him taking on the perils of paperless classrooms in a blogpost a few days back. I'm going to quote a bit of it in full because I think we need to get this in front of our eyes.

For those of you who don't know John's work, he's (among other things) the writer of a blog called 'Adventures in Pencil Integration' which basically tells the fictional (yet familiar) story of a late-19th century teacher's struggles with new technology. In this scene, the teacher -- Tom Johnson -- is in a conversation about whether a paperless future is possible.
I'm sitting with Mr. Brown and mention, "I hate this march toward industry.  For all my pencil advocacy, I want to conserve paper.  I want a more sustainable way of life. I wonder if the answer is found in the telegraph.  Perhaps information can go paperless."

"We have that already.  It's called vocal chords."

"Seriously Brown, I'd like to believe that in a paper-free world, where all things are electrical, we would reach the point of technological progress that we can evade ecological disaster. I'd like to think that the pencil is just a step toward something better."

"I'd like to believe in leprechauns, but I'm skeptical of them as well," he responds.
... 

"Factories are more efficient and farms are more effecient and so we would think that this would lead to conservation.  But it doesn't.  We're at the dawn of an environmental disaster.  Replace the methane pollution of horses with horseless carriages. But we've just created a new problem. Yes, the automobile will be more efficient if we keep our same short-distance habits.  But we won't. So, we go paper-free, right.  Sounds good.  But then we switch from a renewable source of trees to coal and oil, which is essentially what's running our city.  People die each year so that you can brew your coffee electronically."

"So, what does that mean for students?" 

"It means that we can't propel a myth that the medium we choose is a free one.  There's always a cost.  A cost on our ecology and a cost on our relationships.  It's never neutral.  So, we traded in slates for paper.  Someday we'll trade it in for an electric alternative. The cost isn't always measured in dollars. It's often measured in lives." 
On the ecological front, I've been asked about this several times over the years and this is how my answer has developed: we are living in an era where the birth of one mode of communication is slowly eschewing the former. This is and will continue to cause redundancies so long as the former method is used with the frequency with which it used to be used in its prime.

In terms of schools, one may argue: "True, but paperlessness is a dream -- because it'll be a long time before every schoolkid has a computer and access to the Internet."

My reply: "But it will happen. The 'computer' may not look like what you or I currently think a computer looks like; but there is going to be a point in the future where every single school (and with deference to my international readers, I'll say 'every single school in the United States') will provide Internet access to students, all of whom will have devices with which to connect 1:1. This isn't science fiction. I just had a conversation with a woman who has a plan to get access to every schoolkid in Colorado for a relatively paltry $150 million; you have any idea how many individuals could afford to drop that kind of change in the name of philanthropy and education? Yes, it will take time, it will take money, it will take guts; but it will happen."

There is an enormous opportunity to overhaul the way we allocate funds in education. And primary to this is the way that teachers can use the free and non-profit resources of the Web to disengage from the world of Big Publishing that has existed in the form of paper textbooks in our classrooms since the early days of public education. Get rid of textbooks and you do three things: you eliminate all of the energy consumption and waste that goes into the making of textbooks; you take the filter of textbook editors out of the classroom and you let students and teachers engage directly with primary sources via the Library of Congress, United Nations, New York Public Library, etc; and you sort of force all those very intelligent folks who used to work in the textbook publishing industry to change careers and therefore perhaps approach things in a different way.

Continued use of paper and analog technologies -- that is the continued use of those technologies in ways that conform to their usage at the height of the pre-Digital paradigm -- will produce a surplus of waste. Is it true that electronics and computers are producing and will produce more waste via non-recyclable materials, poor energy usage, and throw-away consumable design? Yes, absolutely. But to say that the coupling of this waste being produced by a Digital revolution (which, by the way has already happened and isn't going away -- ask the music and newspaper industries) with the waste produced by schools in paper-form primarily as redundant information like daily bulletins, calendars, homework/classwork sheets, and tests (especially of the standardized mega-booklet form) is just a cycle bound to bring us to our knees (John's not necessarily implying this, but I've had that argument levied at me) is perhaps shortsighted as to the change the Digital revolution has already had on shifting our idea of what we 'need' and what we do with what we 'need' after we don't 'need' it -- and this will continue to have an increasingly (by necessity) impact in the way we approach our world as the exploitation of the poor areas of this Earth produce devastating problems that come back up the food-chain. E-waste is an enormous concern and one of the most heinous by-products of the way consumer electronics and computers are made and marketed. As I wrote back when Steve and I started the call for Paperless Earth Day:
As for the electronics waste side of the argument, we consumers should be insisting that manufacturers build 'shell-based' modular computers and mobiles that allow for the easy swap out of old individual components for new while being extra-durable and maintaining the life of the device itself for far longer than anything currently on the market. And we should be demanding (with our pocketbooks) that the companies themselves assist in electronics recycling programs that actually recycle the material components like lead and mercury in safe ways and refrain from shipping junked machines to third-world countries to poison the children of the poor who scavenge them for metals.

As for what we can do in our classrooms, Steve and I are asking that as teachers you pledge to refrain from using any paper or accepting any work on paper this Earth Day (April 22nd). And as for old machines: use Freecycle, support non-profit recycling programs like the National Cristina Foundation, and let's make a difference.
Part of source reduction means negating redundancy; part of it means not creating new problems. The key going forward is to advocate and to teach this generation to advocate for a technological mindset that challenges the traditional waste cycle. The connection made through the technology itself can be the window through which our kids see the world that their use of resources is having an impact on. Their use of the technologies causing the problem could potentially help solve the problem; further, the technological development of the poorest parts of the world will empower those people to engage directly and anti-hierarchically with the people whose consumption is causing the greatest distress. This isn't about pity; it's about connection and collaboration.

As for what this all means in terms of the classroom and the human dimension, I'd say that the single biggest change that has taken place with regards to technology over the past five years has been the increased value of understanding technology as a way to make human connections. Whether we are talking about teachers taking part in the global PLNs on Twitter or grandmothers and grandfathers getting a real-time glimpse into the lives of grandkids who live far away via Facebook and Flickr and Skype, we are talking about new ways of connecting people in an immediate, real-time, worldwide way. And yes it does have all the bad stuff that goes with it -- the privacy concerns, the poor examples of digital citizenship, the blatant marketing and commercialization of much of the Web. But for better or worse, that connection has been made; and it's not going away.

So let's engage our students with learning within the dynamic of opportunity that social technology allows. Let's use 'real-time' to mean something 'real' in education. The trick is to make the tech work for the human and not vice-versa; and I'd argue that the old way of thinking about tech was all about the human working for the tech whereas, in its best moments, social tech is made to be subservient to whatever objective the human puts it too -- whether using Jing to critique student labs or YouTube to broadcast student events. Social tech isn't monolithic; it's all about tweaking it to your own needs.

It was the paper school model world that gave us the Digital Age. Paperlessness and Social Tech driven dynamic learning was made possible by folks who learned via paper, static assignments, bubble tests, and lectures. What will the post-paper school model world give us? I like to think that thinkers raised post-paperless would dream up a new way of computing -- a form of 'sustainable computing' that ameliorates both the degradation that technology does to our environment as well as occasionally to our lives, our relationships, and our sense of being human. Because if Kurzweil and the rest are right about The Singularity, that'll be one of the greatest challenges facing the kids currently in our elementary schools. And it'll be a problem neither paper nor what we currently envision as computers will solve; it will require a new technology for a new time. Hopefully we will have used the technologies at our disposal -- whether the stuff of binary code or the stuff of the heart -- to prepare our kids for that eventuality.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Edu/EdTech Open Mic

Hey kids:

Will Richardson and I are hosting an Edu/EdTech Open Mic on July 15th [NOTE NEW DATE] at 7PM EST. It'll be a sort of audio/video get-together in Elluminate that may or may not turn into a weekly tradition -- at least through the dog days of summer.

We're putting a call out for topics that folks would be interested in chatting about. Think of this as a sort of virtual coffeehouse for teachers where everybody gets their chance to be heard.

Comment here with some topic ideas and I'll post details about the event soon.

- Shelly

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Blog Recommendation: Fed Up With Lunch

One of the most engaging blogs I've been following is called Fed Up With Lunch. It's a blog from the point-of-view of a parent who has decided to eat school lunches everyday throughout 2010.

Here's a bit of explanation from the blog's FAQ page:
I'm eating school lunch just like the kids every day in 2010 to raise awareness about what students eat every day. My hope is that the US becomes more reflective about how the food children eat affects their well-being and success in school. I certainly do not speak for all school lunch programs, but from the comments I have been receiving, what I eat is fairly typical of what most students eat in our country.
In addition to being informative, Fed Up With Lunch is way funny at times and includes a -- healthy -- array of guest voices, as well.

Check it out and see what's on the menu.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Post-ISTE Thoughts

Been thinking about what I think.

And what I keep thinking is this: for all the talking about "science", "technology", "engineering", and "math" (and now, "art" -- which I guess is supposed to make us feel better about standardizing education), we are missing out on a chance to reach kids and engage with them on the issues that really matter: life, death, love, compassion, creativity, truth.

I realize that there are many teachers who will say that they integrate all of these together in their teaching. And that is wonderful.

But it's not enough.

It's not enough to be a teacher of math or a teacher of history; we need to liberate ourselves from 1,500 years of disciplinarian categorization and move into a view of education as the preparation of the self in the matters of living.

Science, technology, engineering, math, and yes even art -- though wonderful and necessary in and of themselves -- are only tools, lenses really through which to measure, process, and evaluate the world.

We need to go beyond that.

I don't know what the "beyond that" looks like. I don't have the answers. But I do think that if we want to stay alive as a species on this planet, we're going to have to do a lot more than create new technologies. We're going to have to learn to love one another.

And that should be the only standard.

Thank you to all of the folks who helped me out at ISTE, from @SenorG who set me up with great hospitality to the ISTE volunteers and folks who were kind and happy to chat and give directions to a guy like me who is perpetually lost.

Thank you.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

ISTE 2010: Personal Learning

Checking out a session on PLNs led by a few masters: @bethstill, @mrplough07, @web20classroom, @bksmith, @rmbyrne, and @oswego98.

Similar to my feelings about the Twitter session yesterday, I really like the concept of this sort of session: it's neither about speaking to the choir nor about showing what cool stuff the speaker can do with tech, it's about teaching teachers how to actually use stuff to make connections on their own. And this session started up with a great question:
"How personal can a personal learning network be?" -- @mrplough07

Cory Plough introduced the session by discussing the fact that Twitter gave him something he didn't feel he had among his local colleagues: an ability to access solutions all the time in real time. This is really one of those things that separates where we are from where we were. And in school, it means we can spend more time on the questions "why" and "how" rather than "what" and "when".

Beth Still then described the ways that online colleagues becomes f2f friends; the PLN isn't a gimmick -- it's a real community. That community has the opportunity to meet at conferences like ISTE, but also via Skype and Google Chat and Facebook; these connections are different in "idea" and "form" from pre-socialmedia networks. It's necessary therefore to actively engage in understanding how the network works and explore avenues that make the most of the real-time aspects.

One of the first things most people come to realize is of course that the medium doesn't work so well for broadcasting; but it's beyond compare in its capacity to bring together folks of like interest together in a non-hierarchical discussion.

Many folks in the backchannel noted the amazement they have that they are learning from folks all over the world through their PLNs. That marks another shift: the ability to access knowledge and conversation where-ever it is.

Steven Anderson: "The 'Learning' part of PLN is the key". Steve also stresses the fact that this community is real. He also gets to the heart of it -- it's when your colleague asks where you got some info and you respond, "My PLN." and they say, "Your PLN-what?". It's essential therefore to bring people into the community and help them become an active part of the culture. We can't let the edu-twitterverse become exclusive; diversity of experience and opinion is key.

Because this is all part of a culture shift. It's about shifting hierarchies. It's about changing the way we think about geography and "place". It's about engaging in diversity (or it can be) in exponential ways. It's not just 'professional development' -- it's "personal learning".

ISTE 2010: Howard Rheingold on Critical Thinking and Networked Life

In session listening to Howard Rheingold. He's been talking about critical thinking, multitasking, identity, and network awareness.

On the issue of multitasking and self-awareness, Howard stresses getting students to think critically about the way they interact with technology and knowledge: "I am trying to establish the beginnings of some mindfulness." I like the way Howard uses a discussion of social technology to advocate for engagement and empowerment; he's got such a touch for understanding that the Net -- especially for kids -- is a public forum for exploring identity. The important thing is to be able to think critically about how the content distributed across the Net relates to that exploration of identity and to be aware of the "self" on the Net.

That's why it's so crucial to letting kids access the real Web in school; because anything less than authentic media in the classroom undermines the authenticity of the teaching and learning in a media-rich environment, or as Howard says: "Having a filtered version of the Web in your school is like teaching them to drive by watching a slideshow."

An interesting idea developed during the Q&A session. Basically an analogy was made between teaching media literacy and teaching sex ed. And Howard's take was that in both cases, what we're really teaching kids is how to make good choices. That should be the baseline goal of all instruction and conversation in and of digital literacies.

Check out the new Critical Thinking Wiki that Howard has started and share ideas related to "effective living"  in the networked world as you see it.

ISTE 2010: Rumors About Google Apps for Ed?

Got nothing but rumors here, but I've talked to two people here at the convention who claim that Google is going to include Blogger, Picasa, and a 'safety-mode' portal into YouTube in an update of Google Apps for Ed.

Presumably, that would mean that the TOS for kids under 13 would be a moot point as all activity could happen within the school's Google account and schools would of course have services archived/secured through Postini.

Stay tuned.

[UPDATE: @BillCamp shot over this release from Google from last month; it specifically addresses bringing Picasa, Reader, and Blogger into Google Apps for Ed. No specific mention of YouTube, but that would be the game-changer as so many districts currently block YouTube out of content concerns.]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

ISTE 2010: Schoology

Pretty darned blown away by Schoology, an LMS based on a social network that seems as both as easy to maneuver and as accessible as Facebook. In fact, the thing kinda looks like FB as students create profiles -- profiles that could grow into an academic digital portfolio over the course of a student's school career.

Does it have a grade book? Check. Can you take attendance? Both in class and schoolwide. Can students and teachers create profiles and share links, class material, class/homework, projects? Check.

But wait, there's more! (I feel like I'm selling a ginsu knife...)

In Schoology, users get: dropboxes, class analytics, blogs, bookmarking, collaborative workspaces, calendars...

Oh, and it monitors student profiles for abusive language and content and sends immediate notice to the teacher.

Oh, and the base version is free.

And for a set of fees, schools can choose what add-ons -- including archiving, different forms of back-ups, branding -- that they individually need.

I haven't used Schoology yet; heck for all I know it might be totally clunky. But beings that it is based on social tech and social learning, it represents another move -- along with Elgg, and to an extent Google Apps for Ed -- to further integrate the reality of the digital environment as it exists today into the reality of the formal learning experience. That's the key.

ISTE 2010: Mathematica

A regular complaint I hear from math teachers is that so little of this tech stuff relates in a practical way to teaching math.

Maybe they have a right to complain. Maybe they just don't realize what's happening in higher ed math teaching.

This afternoon, I got the chance to see something that might make tech a lot more useful for them. Met with the folks at Wolfram Research who were talking about their math software -- Mathematica. According to them, all 200 of the top universities in the world are currently using Mathematica.

The program lets teachers create interactive manipulable content and features thousands of ready to use 2 and 3D models for learning everything from algebra to geometry to trig to physics to chemistry.

Here's a link to their own video describing the software.

Wolfram has got an offer going for K-12 teachers looking to try out Mathematica; check it out and let us know how/if it works for you.

ISTE 2010: Paperless Recap

Giving a recap of the Paperless Earth Day Project and showing the various sorts of things that teachers around the world did during the action. The presentation will be in about 15 minutes (1:30PM MDT) via ISTE Unplugged; check here for the schedule of all Unplugged events and click here to join our presentation live.

ISTE 2010: You Have Seen the Future

"You have seen the future!"

That's what came out of the presenter's mouth. He was presenting what he called the "most important" advance in education we've seen in a decade. The result of endless hours of research and development. An advance that would finally allow us to truly assess our students in a way that matters.

The advance?

The Promethean ActivExpression. Which for a cost of only $2,000 for a set of 32 of the 1990's cell-phone shaped device, will change education forever.

Because it does this thing that's absolutely incredible: it allows kids to text responses and through the exclusive Promethean software, it allows everybody to see those responses projected in real-time!

And for only $2,000+ change per classroom! Amazing! Earth shattering! I've seen the future of classroom communication!

Except that this kind of communication premiered in 2007. And it's free.

It's called Twitter.

And not only is there nothing that the Promethean ActivExpression shoe-phone can do that your kids can't do in class sending an SMS to Twitter and following the conversation with Hootsuite, it's also a closed system that only works on Promethean software (well, actually, you can run the thing without the software and use it as a glorified yes/no clicker).

For any admin even remotely considering purchasing the ActivExpression system to "engage students with formative learning", I strongly suggest you first spend the summer learning how Twitter works in the classroom. Here's a great resource for you to check out.

As for Promethean showing you the future, tell 'em you've already seen it... and it's not what they're selling.