Archive for the ‘Elementary’ Category

Dell Computer has sponsored four education Think Tanks over the last year, or so, and I have been fortunate to participate in three of them. At each get-together educators, education related organizers, education industry executives, and most recently students, were brought together in an open discussion on the weighty topics of education and education reform. All of the discussions were video-taped, and live-streamed, and even animated on a mural to a viewing audience. The final production was archived to a special website maintained by Dell. During these discussions the participants were even tweeting out discussion ideas in real-time, which reflected out to the growing community of connected educators on Twitter. Transparency abounds at these Dell Computer think tanks.

Each of the groups is given four to six general topics of concern in education to discuss for about forty-five minutes to an hour. Since the members are all invited guests, they are usually intelligent, passionate, and well-versed in aspects of education specific to their profession.

What I love most about this latest group, and others similar to it, is that if you put a number of intelligent and reasonable people together in a room to come up with a goal for the common good, the results are usually positive and helpful. This is a real teachable-moment lesson for all of our politicians in Congress today.

Dell has provided a great platform for getting to the heart and identifying some of the pressing problems of education through the eyes of these educators, but it doesn’t provide a means of enacting solutions to those problems. If it were a question of educational problems being identified and solved by educators within the education system, there would be far less a problem. But, like all complex problems, there is more to it than that. Progress is being stymied by the 6 “P’s”. By this I am not referring to the military expression “Proper Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance”. I am talking about Poverty, Profit, Politics, Parents, Professional development, and Priorities preventing progress in Public Education.

Profit is a big deterrent for change in the system. Most educators agree that high stakes, standardized testing is one of the leading problems with the system today. The idea of changing that anytime soon is remote however. The leading education publishing companies are making a BILLION dollars a year alone on creating and maintaining standardized tests. The profits are even higher in the area of textbooks, so progress in that area, even with the advent of the Internet and endless sources for free information, will show little change soon. Of course these companies all have lobbyists working on the next “P” Politicians.

Politicians are very much influenced by money. Some may even distort the facts to support the interests of their financial backers. Since education itself is a multi-billion dollar industry, that until recently was not, for the most part, in the private sector, it has become the goal of some politicians to put more schools into the private sector. This has made public education a political football. Education for Profit is the new frontier. Along with that comes an initiative to publicly praise teachers, while privately and politically demonizing them. For too many individuals the words Education Reform are code words for Labor, or Tax reform, or both.

Business people and politicians are quick to solicit the help of Parents. Parents, who are familiar with the education system of the 19th and 20th Centuries, the very system under which most of us were educated, are easily duped into trusting the lies of standardized testing. The belief that test results are an indication of learning, and that if the scores are low, it is the fault of the teachers, is a concept delivered by politicians and profit conscious business people. This is a concept that is easily believed by those who are less educated about education. We need to educate parents that although it is true that the teacher can be the biggest influence in a child’s life, the teacher is not the only influence. This less emphasized fact, that the teacher is not the sole influence in a child’s life, brings us to another “P”, Poverty.

If we factored out all of the schools in our education systems which are affected by poverty, we would have a great education system. Poverty however, represents people. Children in poverty have many things acting upon them and probably the least influential is the school system. A child who is hungry cannot learn. A child who is sleep-deprived cannot learn. A child who is fearful cannot learn. A child who is not healthy cannot learn. A child who is not in class cannot learn. What does a standardized test mean to these children? How can we hold the child responsible for those test results? How can we hold the teacher responsible for that child’s test results?

And finally, we arrive at the last “P”, Professional development. To be better educators we need to be better learners. We live in a technology-driven culture that moves faster than any we have ever known. We need to educate our educators on how to keep up to be relevant. Professional Development must be part of the work week. Skills have changed in the 21st Century, but many who are responsible for teaching those skills have not changed themselves. They need education and not condemnation.

My final “P” is for Priority. If education was more than a lip-service commitment from the American people, we would not be having these discussions. We tied education to taxes and that will never bring us together on needed solutions. That is the very reason National Defense has less of a problem. If we are determined to fix education, than we will need to fund it differently. Public education is our National Defense. It is too important to privatize for political gain or profiteering. Educators need to educate Parents, Politicians and Business People about education and not the other way around. Educators must also educate themselves on what education is, as we move forward, because it is, and from now on will always be a moving target.

As always this is just my humble opinion.

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I recently attended a complete immersion of education philosophy, education methods and pedagogy, technology tools for learning and connectedness with education thought leaders from around the world. All of this took place at one of our premier annual education conferences, ISTE 2012 in San Diego. Educators attend these conferences with their own focuses. They select the sessions they need from a smorgasbord of high-quality presentations on education topics given by practitioners and authors, all vetted by a screening committee of educators.

A majority of the comments that I heard from attendees were positive, with one exception. There were some presenters who adopted a stand-and-deliver lecture style — the death-by-PowerPoint presentation. Many educators simply hated this type of presentation and were fairly vocal about it. Of course, I am but one person talking to a small sample of people, so there might be less to this than I was led to believe.

Of course, individual presentation styles cannot be controlled by screening committees. It will only be through feedback that these methods will dwindle and die. We will always have a lecture form of method for teaching, but we can hope for it not to be a focus for all lessons. The more engaging give-and-take, discussion-oriented presentations seemed to have been more popular with the folks with whom I spoke. This should be a lesson to all educators to take back to their classroom practice.

My personal focus for this conference was to make connections. Connectedness among educators is something you will be hearing quite a bit about in the upcoming month. It has been so declared as a national month of observance. Of course, the irony is that many of the national organizers have not been connected educators. Educators who have been connected and working those connections were contacted late in the process. That is another post for later.

ISTE 2012 is one of the best sources for connecting with education experts and education thought leaders. My goal was to touch base, connect or reconnect with as many of these folks as possible. Fortunately, each time I connected, a valuable conversation resulted.

Many educators use various methods to connect with other educators for the purpose of professional exchanges. These exchanges include ideas, information, websites, webinars, videos, advice, connections to other educators and personal relationships. Connected educators use conferences such as ISTE 2012 for face-to-face meetings with those digital connections.

All of this is valuable to a profession that before digital connections was somewhat isolated. Digital connections can provide a bridge to cross that void of professional and personal relationships. The connectedness of ISTE attendees is most prevalent, and there appeared to be a high percentage of connected educators in attendance. This, of course, is my opinion, but with all of the social media tools at my disposal, I am probably directly or indirectly connected to 40,000 to 50,000 educators.

Who should I connect with?

That’s the question that I always get from people new to digitally connecting with other educators. I went to ISTE to seek out and connect with education thought leaders I hold in high regard. My standard was to connect with those who not only have great ideas in education but also are willing to share those ideas. An idea not shared is only a passing thought that will never become an idea. The best part of ISTE 2012 for me is that no one was unapproachable. As in social media, ideas at ISTE 2012 were the focus, and a person’s position and title took a back seat. My interest was to interact with many of the folks who are public supporters of those ideas. These are the people I follow and interact with daily.

I always hate putting out lists because there are too many people who might belong on that list but are left off. I will say that this is a partial list of those with whom I connected at ISTE 2012. Most were presenters and keynoters. Feel free to use this as a starting point or an additional resource for educators to follow on Twitter.

@dwarlick, @shareski, @teach42, @djakes, @adambellow, @dlaufenberg, @joycevalenza, @mluhtala, @willrich45, @mbteach, @web20classroom, @cybraryman1, @kylepace, @thenerdyteacher, @coolcatteacher, @shannonmmiller, @stumpteacher, @BethStill, @chrislehmann, @kenroyal, @SirKenRobinson, @smartinez, @garystager, @stevehargadon, @ewanmcintosh, @InnovativeEdu, @amandacdykes, @2footgiraffe

My apologies go to the many whom my faulted memory has omitted. I am sure they will be included on some follow-up lists.

ISTE 2012 provided many things to many educators. My best take-away is the great face-to-face connections with people with whom I have been digitally connected, as well as with those with whom I want to be connected. In a profession that relies on teaching relevant information to ready students for the world that they live in, we must maintain our own relevance as educators and citizens. Being a connected educator is the best way we can maintain that relevance. ISTE 2012 reinforced that position for me, and my personal goal is to connect the dots and help all educators to be connected.

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For several years, I have been involved with social media as an educator — asking questions and sometimes providing answers with other educators. I was once asked for my special power. My answer: “My ability to connect the dots.”

It enables me to look smart without knowing the answer to the question, because I connect people with questions to those with answers. That is one of the advantages of being a connected educator. Social media is a great vehicle for these connections because of the vast variety of collaboration-minded educators who populate it and their willingness to help. It’s a teacher thing. What I like the best about social media is that ideas are considered on their own merit, without regard to the title of the person offering them. Administrators, teachers and students are all equals.

Some of the brightest educators I have known over my 40-year career are people I met through social media. Without Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+ and others, I would not be connected to as many educators as I am. At best, my personal learning network would consist of teachers in my district and those I connected with at whatever conference I was lucky enough to attend. If I did not meet with them in person, I would need to call them. With social media, however, my connections are global and endless. I exchange ideas with educators worldwide. I have seen my blog posts translated into other languages.

I find that one of the big myths of social media is that it doesn’t allow for strong relationships. I have found the opposite to be true. The strongest relationships I have had with educators have all been formed through social media. I have opened my home, as people have opened theirs for me, as a result of our social media connections. Authors are more than pictures on a book sleeve to me. I exchange ideas with many all of the time. My ideas appear in their books. All of this could not happen with the frequency it does without social media.

Now, I have been offered a unique position. I am able to call on many of those connected educators to share their ideas with more educators. These ideas will be appear on SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Education. These are educators talking about education. Many have their own blogs and are on Twitter or LinkedIn, and I would encourage all educators to follow them. These are our education thought leaders. Their perspectives are a welcome refuge from politicians and business people who have dominated the national discussion on education for the past several years.

It is our intention to show you what can be accomplished in education with the latest methodology, as well as the newest technology for learning. This will be an educator’s perspective, delivered to other educators and addressing some of the oldest needs of our education system. It is a great opportunity to strengthen the educator’s voice in the national conversation on education.

SmartBlog on Education has a potential readership of almost three-quarters of a million educators. Guests whom we hope to provide represent the best thought leaders in education that social media has to offer. Your support and comments will be an important element in guiding us.

Do you read SmartBrief’s roster of free, concise, daily e-mail newsletters for education professionals? Sign up!

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My last post, Hypocrisy in the Profession of Education, seems to have gotten quite a few people talking about educators needing to learn more. Of course there were some who disagreed, which is an inevitable consequence of blogging. One of the comments that caused me to think even more about this educator/learner topic was a comment that I had received concerning the methods I suggested might need a revisit of learning. Authentic learning and project-based learning were two that were specifically mentioned by a commenter. The comment was to the effect that these were methods of teaching that have been with us for years, so why would educators need to learn them? That set me to examining why, or even if, we need to revisit any of the things we should be teaching. What is different about: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation from 20, 50 or 100 years ago? Obviously, the function, and purpose of those skills remains the same, so what is different? Why are we being told our students need better preparation in these skills? If we have always taught these skills before with success, what makes it different now?

We always taught kids how to write and encouraged them to get published. This was the goal of any good writer, the success of publication. The idea of submitting transcripts to publishers in great numbers as a buffer against the inevitable rejection slips was also advised. For many English teachers their greatest pride came from having a published student. What’s the difference today? The computer is the publisher. There are no rejection slips other than an audience response. Kids understand this, but many educators are playing catch up if they get it at all. I recently listened to two college professors describe their writing program and not once did they mention the words “Blog”, or “Post”. Writing for a post for an audience is different than writing a composition for your teacher to read. This is an area that all educators need to discuss and learn.

We always taught critical thinking, and how to vet sources. We taught which newspapers and magazines were reliable, trustworthy sources. Today newspapers and magazines are disappearing. They are being replaced by 24/7, cable news cycles, websites, blog posts, and social media. There is much more of a need for critical thinking skills than ever before. There are fewer reliable sources to count on. The super-pacs have proven that sound bites and images are more persuasive than facts. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Communication has always been taught. We have always had kids stand before the class and deliver reports and presentations. Science fairs in every county in America have kids communicating their data on poster boards. That happens with such frequency that Poster Board manufacturing became an industry in this country. How many job seekers will put “great poster board skills” on a resume’? Yes, I know there are other important things kids learn from this beyond the poster board, but why not take them beyond the poster board? Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Creation is the highest point on Bloom’s Pyramid. Some educators think that it is the peak of the pyramid because it is so hard to get to without mastering all the other skills. Some people may not think everyone is capable of getting to that peak of higher order thinking skills. We might find that the reason many students don’t reach a point of creating is that we have always limited the means they had to do so. We were only equipped to receive prescribed reports, oral projects, and an occasional video project. That has all been blown up by the evolution of technology and social media. Justin Bieber was barely in his teens when he launched and promoted his creations into a multi-million dollar industry. He did not use a report, oral report, or a video tape to do this. When it comes to creation, we as educators shouldn’t limit our students. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

Technology has evolved at a rate which has changed our culture as a society, and has had a profound effect on education. Society’s demands on what it expects from contributors has evolved, so that what we turned out as literate in the past, is no longer literate in today’s world. Even with that being said there are many who doubt it. There are schools that refuse to recognize technology as a factor in education. Again, this is an area that educators need to discuss and learn.

I am not attacking educators on this. Our society in general needs to discuss and learn. We need more people to be connected. Technology is not going away or standing still. It will continue to evolve whether individuals accept that or not. If it is a factor in our society as a tool for: communication, collaboration, collection of information, critical thinking, and creation, then we must teach our citizens how to use it as a tool. Our kids will be required to do so in their world, which is not here yet. It should change priorities in education as to what we teach and how we teach it. Authentic learning and critical thinking are now huge factors because kids are learning and interacting without the benefit of a classroom or a school.   Education must not be limited by standardized testing. Our responsibility as educators is too great. These topics of discussion would best be served through leadership. Education administrators may need to prioritize these discussions over those of budgets and tests. These are the concerns that need to be driven by Professional Development. This is an area that educators and parents need to discuss and learn.


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My friend, John Carver, a prominent education leader in Iowa, Skyped me the other day just to kick around some ideas in education that he was considering.  John and I often have discussions about education. Of course my favorite thing about our discussions is that John often likes what I have to say. As always, things came around to the role of technology in education. John has been a leader in the 1:1 laptop movement in Iowa schools.

During the course of our discussion we both agreed that there is a need to clarify and agree on quite a few of the things that many of us take for granted. These are things that we all assume are commonly understood in education. The most obvious being an agreement on what the goal of education is. It has been my experience in my observations that if you ask 50 educators, “what is the goal of education?”, there will be as many as 49 different answers. Of course point of view has a great deal to do with one’s definition. Students, teachers, administrators, and parents would each approach it from their own perspective, but that would be true of anything.

There is no subject however, that this is more obviously less definable than when we attempt to define technology. Ironically, many believe that the definition is universally agreed upon. I often argue that when it comes to using technology that there is not a generation gap, but a learning gap. I do believe that. The idea of what anyone considers technology however, is very different depending on a person’s age. This may be a reason for a slow adoption of technology as a tool for learning. I have written about this before, inspired by a Sir Ken Robinson video. The idea being that, what we consider to be technology, is totally dependent on when it was introduced into our lives.

There is a book and a movie that immediately come to mind that underscore this: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court; and Back to The Future. In both stories the main characters introduced tools from their culture that were no longer considered technology, to a culture unfamiliar with them, and therefore astounded at their existence as well as their capabilities. That is a concept that we easily understand, as long as the future is brought back into the past. It gets tricky trying to apply the same idea from the present moving forward.

Let us consider the automobile. When it comes to travel today, beyond using our feet, the automobile is probably our transportation of choice. Rarely do we refer to it or even think about the car as technology, because it has always been with us. We were born after that technology was invented, so it has become a tool of our everyday life. We don’t research its worth or try to decide whether people should use it or not. It is here to stay and evolve without another thought other than how to make it better or cheaper. The same is probably true of TV’s and Phones. We have them. We use them. We always expect that they will be with us in some form.

Now let’s address computers. Much of our adult population can readily remember when this technology was introduced. They have a memory of the first PC’s and Mac’s. They can track memories of rotary phones, princess phones, car phones, and mobile phones. These were all invented within their lifetime. Most adults knew where they were when “Al Gore invented the Internets”. This, to them, is technology. They reserve the right to use it, or not, since they know the benefits of what came before. Not too many are holding on to rotary phones, but I have not yet given up my land line (My Choice).This attitude accounts for the experience of many, many educators today. They grew up and learned without technology. It was invented in their lifetime so they have a choice to use it or stay with the tried and true of days gone by.

Now let’s look at the student perspective. There isn’t one kid today in our modern culture that doesn’t have access to a computer. Most kids today live with cellphones, if not Smartphones specifically. If you don’t know it already, a smartphone is simply a complex computer with phone capabilities.What many adults don’t get is that computers and smartphones are not considered technology by kids. They are not in awe of the capabilities of these tools. They expect it. It is part of their world. Educators should not be so arrogant as to think they have the ability to decide whether or not kids can use these tools for learning. The kids do it with, or without adult permission. Any educator has the right to choose to live in a cave, however, they do not have the right to drag their students in there with them.

As long as these technologies exist and continue to move forward, we as educators have an obligation to teach responsible and thoughtful use of these tools. We as educators have a responsibility to be relevant in what and how we teach. I do not know if kids’ brains are wired differently as a result of all that is new in technology. I do know that what astounds me with these tools, is thought to be expected by students. They sleep with their Smartphones. Just ask them. Their perspective to this technology is the perspective we must deal with, and not our own. Our perspective becomes more irrelevant each day.

I love this video. If you have any doubts of what I have just said, watch this video. This is how a one year old approaches something that we all take for granted, a magazine. The child’s perspective however, is one that assumes the very technology that many adults have yet to accept. Learn from this small, but tech-savvy, one-year-old. Click here to view the video.

I now will send this post to my friend, John Carver to use any way he sees fit. I welcome you to do the same. Of course your comments are welcomed.

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For years I served on the board of directors of The New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education, a group known to most as NYSCATE. One thing that I always had a problem with while working with NYSCATE was the name of that group. The name gave the perception to teachers that this was a group for computer teachers. It is actually a wonderful, professional group that supports technology for all educators in any subject areas. As any honest politician worth his/her salt will tell you, facts don’t matter, perception is reality. As this is a rule of politics, it is also holds true for many people in the profession of education as well. Perception is Reality!

My teaching career started before computers of any kind were in education. I remember in the very early 70’s buying a four-function calculator from Sears for $99.00 in order to do averages. (Now they come free in the mail in order to solicit donations) In my experience the earliest introduction of computers into schools came through the Math department. Math teachers stepped right up to accept technology as quickly as it would arrive. Computers were not used as learning tools, but rather stand-alone technology that required its own language, and understanding, and courses were developed to support that. The math departments across the country developed and promoted computer courses to specifically teach about Languages, programing, hardware and software.

This created a mystique about computers that continues in the minds of many even today. The perception was that in order for anyone to use a computer, a course of study would be required to understand the languages and mechanisms of the mysterious world of computers. Computer companies struggled to remove that mystique in order to have people buy into the idea of ubiquitous computing. Apple understood this early on and simplified computers enough to make big advances in the education market. It was quite a while before computers began working into the classroom. This was also slowed down by the strategy of computer labs. Teachers again were given a level of obstacles to overcome to use computers in class. Schedules had to be followed and classes had to be physically moved. Laptops and mobile devices are improving this situation. But, getting beyond the desktop computer does add more technology for teachers to learn.

There are now two directions for computers in education to take. There is the study of computers, which is most necessary for the development and evolution of technology. This is very specific to computers as a course of study. The other direction and probably larger role for computers in education would be as a tool for learning for any of the courses in education at any level. These very same skills for using these tools for learning will probably become the same skills used for the tools of whatever profession or vocation a student may enter. This is one of the many ways we prepare our students for life. We are developing technological strategies and skills that will be a basis for a real life experience.

This is what NYSCATE and similar Educational Tech groups support. They help all teachers in all areas; understand how to apply technology in not only what they teach, but also how they teach. As a director of NYSCATE, I would invite teachers to attend the NYSCATE Conference. The response that I more often than not heard in response is one that I think is still a prevalent perception today. Many would say, “Why would I go to that Conference? I am not a computer teacher.”

Now, you might say that the name of the organization may have just been misleading to teachers, and that is why people responded in that manner. I would agree that this might apply to a few, but I don’t think a majority of the respondents. I say that because of my experience in proposing courses and changes in courses over the years. A majority of times that I have proposed adding technology tools or using technology strategies in classes or lessons, those who approve such proposals would immediately point out that I was not a computer teacher. Their perception was that you needed to be a computer teacher in order to use technology in a class. This happened not only in a public school setting, but the same type of objections has recently come from Higher Education as well.

Technology is progressing so quickly that many people are finding it difficult to keep up. As a practical matter it may be impossible to keep up with every change or development in technology. We can’t however ignore the fact that technology has an impact on everything within our culture today.  As educators we must understand that Technology can not follow the same procedures as textbook adoption. Schools have no power to control the development or acceptance of technology. Educators can’t approve or disapprove of parts of technology that they think people should find acceptable, or not.  Technology provides: the tools our kids now use to learn, the tools people use to work, the tools families use to live. This will all happen with or without teacher approval.

Technology teachers are teachers who teach technology-specific courses. A teacher is one who teaches children with tools for learning that will provide them with technology skills which will translate to skills needed for work and life. As professionals we need to stop separating out technology from learning. It has become part of everything we do. It will not go away or even take a single step back. We also do not need to know how every bell and whistle available works. As teachers we need not use every form of the technology ourselves, but we need to enable our students to use it. Teachers should not always limit the use of technology by their students. For some projects teachers should allow students to select technology tools for learning to explore, collaborate, create, record, and present content. The actual use of technology in a course does not always need to fall on the teacher. In many cases the student can be the teacher and the teacher can be the student. That takes an open mind and a flexible, adaptive approach to learning and teaching. These are not bad traits for any teacher to have; be it any teacher in general, or a computer teacher specifically. Technology has become a tool of our profession, whether we use it, teach it, or study it, we need to deal with it. It is now a required part of what we do in our profession. For technology to become ubiquitous we need to stop compartmentalizing it from what we do.


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In order for educators to teach kids, they need something to teach. Exactly what it is that educators should teach has often been discussed and continues to be the focus of ongoing discussions for over many generations. The delivery of that content, in regard to what to teach, has never been of great concern, because the bulk of it came in the form of text, delivered in a book called the textbook. In the 50’s the education pioneers introduced film strips, 16mm films, and recordings to supplement the textbooks. The 60’s brought the video tape and the overhead projector. With the turn of the century came the disc technology, as well as a wider use of the internet. Today of course we use interactive white boards and document cameras. All of the new methods of content delivery however are, for the most part, just add-ons to the backbone of any curriculum, the textbook. Of course the publishing of textbooks became a multi-million, or billion dollar industry. The importance of Textbooks was reflected in school districts with their strictly adhered to textbook adoption policies. Textbooks are a big deal. It is a common experience of all educators and all parents. The textbook, along with the apple on the teacher’s desk, is an iconic symbol of education in America.

A decade into the new century we have a new way to deliver content. The internet not only delivers text, but allows it to be manipulated, transformed, evaluated, analyzed, merged with video and audio, created, and published.  This goes way beyond that which could be accomplished by the printed textbook. It offers educators the potential for not only presenting content to a student, but allowing the student to actually interact with that content to demonstrate more than understanding, with the potential of actual creation of the student’s own content, as well as publishing it out to others for authentic feedback. Teaching the content is the process, getting students to use the content and independently obtaining, and continuing to evaluate and use more content should be the goal.

There are now a number of ways educators have to deal with content. On opposite ends of this list of learning tools are two extremes. The textbook, as we know it over the decades at one end, and Open Source Resources of the internet on the other end. As an educator I have never liked being shackled to a single, stagnant textbook. I am personally comfortable guiding students through Open Source learning. This however, is not the comfort zone of most educators. Comfort zones are the biggest impediment to education reform. I do realize that any effective use of the internet as an open source resource for educators to use for students would require a massive undertaking of professional development for millions of educators nationwide. I would imagine that the billion-dollar textbook publishing industry would have some say in this discussion as well, so the move in that direction would be slow in coming. I believe the challenge is to create the best solution in a mechanism that is recognizable as a textbook, but enables the functions of the internet to incorporate many more tools for learning.

Educators are now beginning to establish a voice through social media. Opinions expressed by educators through blogs and social media are now beginning to gain recognition in the national discussion of what is education to be. I think that is one of the main reasons that Discovery Education used some of the leading connected educators from social media as a focus group, or think tank, to discuss what is “Beyond the Textbook”? Discovery Education was looking to gain insights to their own attempt to devise or improve such a much-needed product. Of course another reason is to have the very same people create a buzz about whatever comes from this forum. Cynics would say that we were being used and manipulated by a corporation. I would like to think that we actually have gotten what we have been asking for, for decades; an educator’s voice in what education needs.

After a long day of discussion between about 16 invited educators and the same number of Discovery Education staff, we came up with several concepts. Most of what we suggested already exists in some form today. They are tools of the internet that could be incorporated into a mechanism for learning, assessing, and creating content. Here is a list of some of the suggestions of the components that the group valued and thought should exist in what should exist as we go beyond the textbook:

  • The mechanism will exist on the internet allowing 24/7 access with computer or mobile access.
  • Many forms of content may be included: text, videos, audio, animation, graphs, and diagrams
  • The ability for flexible content will be provided.
  • The teacher will be able to add or subtract material to meet the needs of the students allowing for differentiation.
  • Content will have highlighting and note-taking capability
  • Content will be linked to dictionary and encyclopedia for easy reference.
  • Content will have language translation capability.
  • Content will be linked to other supplemental material for further exploration.
  • Formative assessment will be built into lessons to assess understanding before moving on.
  • There will be a social media component for collaboration and feedback.
  • Students will be able to create content within the mechanism.
  • Student created material will be archived and shared
  • Student created material will be placed in an ePortfolio within the mechanism.

These were some of the highlights of what came from the assembled group. The group had elementary, secondary, and higher Ed representation. Most members were very active participants in social media and education Blogs. I cannot adequately express the admiration that I have for each of the people in this group, most of whom I have met before and all of whom I follow on Twitter. These are people I often recommend following on Twitter. I have also now added to my Twitter list many Discovery Education employees who are working toward implementing our suggestions in some form into their existing and ever-evolving product, techbook. I should note that this entire project was led by Steve Dembo of Discovery Education. It is my hope that other industry leaders will begin to go to the educator’s voice on social media for input and transparency in their development of new products.

Members of The Beyond The Textbook Forum included: @rmbyrne, @courosa, @NMHS_principal, @bethstill, @teach42, @dwarlick, @dlaufenberg, @mbteach, @audreywatters, @shareski, @sciencegoddess, @wfryer, @imcguy, @djakes, @jonbecker, @principalspage, @joycevalenza, @lrougeux, @halldavidson, and of course @tomwhitby

My apologies to anyone that I may have left out.

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There are certain education conferences that people look forward to attending each and every year. Certainly the big national conferences with thousands of attendees and hundreds of vendors are the conferences most familiar to educators. The state organizations usually draw big crowds of educators as well. At one time this is how educators networked and saw the newest of the new, and the best of the best. All of that is represented at big education conferences.

With the introduction of the internet, conferencing as an activity has changed. There is a transparency to conferences that was not possible before. Social Media has armed educators with the power to report out exactly what is happening at any conference. Not only are there tweeted comments about the conference, people often comment on specific sessions for all the world to see, blemishes and all. For those who closely follow conference tweets through the use of hashtags, there are many horror stories of presenters who crashed and burned, having each and every flame described to the world in tweets from the audience.

A specific hashtag is created for each conference, so that it can be discussed on Twitter. The symbol, # starts the tag with a few identifying letters to follow. For example: the hashtag for the upcoming ASCD Conference will be #ASCD12. Anyone tweeting from, or about that conference will tag their tweets with that hashtag. Anyone wanting to follow what’s going on at that conference, need only create a follow column for #ASCD12, and each and every tweet about the conference will flow through that column. I have found TweetDeck and Hootesuite to be the best Apps to use for this purpose. Social Media people are beginning to gauge a conference’s success by the positive buzz generated by tweeters. Social Media savvy organizations are beginning to understand this and are developing Social media strategies.

Of all of the conferences dealing with education, there is one very small one (I think between 3-400 attendees) that creates the greatest Buzz with the Social Media connected educators. The audience of attendees is made larger by the Livestreaming of sessions over the internet to those who couldn’t attend in person.  For the last four years EduCon has taken place in Philadelphia sponsored by  The Science Leadership Academy, which is headed up by Chris Lehman, an outstanding educator, leader, and speaker. This conference differs from most others centering about education. There are very few vendors. There are very few formal presentations. EduCon is based on discussions lead by discussion leaders. The leaders present the topic which they have some stake in or knowledge of, and direct the discussion from there. It is a simple formula with no bells or whistles.

There is another thing that makes this conference different from the rest of the education conferences. Most of those big one’s have been around for years, and are learning how to adapt to social media. #Educon in many respects was born through social media. Most of the educators in attendance are connected educators. It is almost a requirement for connected educators to tweet their impressions out about #Educon at every session they attend. When you look at a twitterstream for the #Educon hashtag it is not a trickling brook, but a white-water rapids of a river racing with tweets of opinion, reflection, information, and occasionally adoration. If all conferences were only judged by the buzz they created, the EduCon would rival or surpass all the top contenders. I am sorry I missed actually attending EduCon this year, but I am keeping up with the tweets. I look forward to next year.


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To understand why certain decisions are made, we need to understand the decision maker and the pressures under which certain decisions are made. This is sometimes referred to as looking through the lens of the decision maker. It takes into view many of the factors pushing and pulling on an individual responsible for making a decision. Sometimes decisions of some magnitude may require a number of individuals on a number of levels to make separate decisions. Each of those decisions is made looking through a different lens.

Certainly the leader of any School district, the Superintendent, has the most politically influenced job. Most often the position is held by an educator who has exhibited great business management skills as a primary focus. Of course it is not expected that Superintendents need professional development at this stage of their career. They must be able to effectively deal with huge budget considerations with every decision. Matters of money, procurement, personnel, labor relations, and infrastructure all fall to the Superintendent. There are demands by government both State and Federal requiring conformity to regulation. There are pressures from the reform movement for increasing accountability, as well as legal considerations at every turn. This leaves little time for weighty research to support every decision affecting education in the classroom.

The decisions for technology in education for most districts fall to the IT director. This position is often filled by a person with a technology background and not always from education. The pressures on the director in this position revolve around getting technological things to work smoothly. It requires using the bells and whistles of technology that the public expects to see for education in the 21st century. This also involves the Public’s perception of SAFE access to technology for their children. This perception can vary with communities depending on each community’s understanding of technology. There are also the problems of installing technology to a not-so-tech-friendly environment in regard to infrastructure, or user acceptance. They must also get teachers to understand the bells and whistles of technology to ensure the adoption of the high-tech stuff in order to justify many high-priced ticket items. Again, this leaves little time for weighty research to support every decision affecting education in the classroom.

Each building in each district has its own Educator/Manager, the Principal. Many of the business and reform pressures seen by the superintendent also come into play on the building level for the principal. There is a very real pressure coming from dealing personally with parents, teachers and students. Many considerations of both public relations and labor issues affect many decisions.  Again, this leaves little time for weighty research to support every decision affecting education in the classroom.

Of course there are the decisions of the teacher. Considerations in this position include pleasing all of the other decision makers in regard to accountability in supporting all of the decisions and mandates that have worked their way down to the classroom. Teachers serve: The superintendent, the IT director, the principal, the parents, the law, and the students. Now there are also questions of teacher accountability being tied to many things out of the teacher’s control. Again, this leaves little time for weighty research to support every decision affecting education in the classroom.

Now at the bottom of the list, but never the less a decision maker in the education system, is the student. The ultimate decision to be made in the entire education system is dependent on what has worked its way down from the top. The final decision is whether or not kids will accept the opportunity for learning being offered to them by the system. Their decision will be based on relevance, curiosity, and personal need. How much of this is addressed once the decisions affecting the learning in the classroom have passed through so many lenses. Are we focusing those lenses on the needs of learning for our children, or are we losing focus because of everything else?  Maybe we need to refocus our support so that most decisions are made with education in the classroom as the prime directive.

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As an educational blogger I would love to think, that once I reflected on an issue in education, and addressed it in my blog, everyone would clearly understand the error of their ways and fall in line according to my sage advice. Of course the reform movement would move forward, and I would expect a small plaque would be placed on a bench in front of the lobby of some school commemorating my great contribution to the system that we call education.

That being said, the reality is that many educational bloggers have to continue to reflect and continue to revisit subjects that are like festering sores on the body of education. As we move forward in time, we are confronted with new technologies and new ideas that force us to make changes in our lives. If we make no change, we are destined to live in a place that will no longer exist for the majority. The culture moves on leaving some behind. This may be okay for some adults, but it is not okay for the children we are educating for the purpose of not only living in the future, but hopefully thriving. It is always frustrating when answers to problems are so obvious to some, but a large number still don’t get it.

With that in mind, I am again writing about a subject that continually pops up in media, wherever media may be these days. I was prompted to write this post when I saw yet another blogger writing on this very same subject, forcing me to again comment, again reflect, and start my own post, again. The post was “When Should We Introduce Social Media?” by Brian Bennet.

As parents and educators, one thing that becomes immediately apparent dealing with kids, is that you cannot control, limit, or stop kids from growing up. It happens, and we must accept it as a fact of life. Along with that growing up, kids adapt to the culture to which they are exposed, and make it their own. There is nothing adults can do about that either. The best adults can do, is to try to prepare kids to make the right decisions and to be critical thinkers in arriving at those decisions. That will prepare their generation for moving forward without the adults’ generation which in reality will be left behind.

Unless we are Luddites,we have no chance of stopping the future development of Technology and all that it affects. Technology is a given in the future of our children. Social Media is one such effect of technology. It is here and it is being embraced by young and old. It is accepted and will continue in the future to be with us. We can debate its effect on society, its merits, its pitfalls, and its relevance, but we can’t ignore it, hoping that it will go away. The same can be said of most technology. If we can’t control it, we must certainly learn and teach how to deal with it. Blinders may work well on horses, but they look silly on people.

What individuals do on the internet, stays on the internet for the entire world to see. This is referred to as a digital footprint. Everyone should Google themselves to determine their footprint. Most people began leaving their footprints as they became involved with social media. They made that choice as adults. In this post however, I am talking about kids. Kids today begin leaving their Digital footprints on the internet at birth. Let that sink in, AT BIRTH! “You are crazy, how can that be?” you may ask. The proud parents of any new-born will predictably announce, for all to see, by the essential announcement tool at hand today, Social Media. They continue their storytelling of their never-ending adventure with their children with every new milestone or vacation recorded on Facebook, Twitter or personal Blog.

Of course, you say, but the kid is not involved with Social Media! Not so fast. The toy manufacturers were in this, and saw where it was going, and recognized its potential way before parents and teachers. Webkinz World has over 5 million members and Penguin Club has over 12 million. Surprise! They are Social Media Sites for toddlers and kids under 10. Chances are if your toddler is not a member, he or she knows someone who is, and that someone is telling your toddler all about it. Now here is a ridiculous question: When should we introduce kids to Social Media? A better question must be: When will we begin to teach kids to use Social Media responsibly? If they are social Media aware as toddlers, and they are watching their parents and siblings modeling the use of Social Media at home, the age of introduction is a moot point.

Now that that question has been asked and answered, we need to ask another more important one, so that we may address our responsibility. Social Media is here to stay. It is now, and will continue to be, in the lives of our children. When will we begin to deal with that? Blocking and filtering are just stupid. We will look back at those policies some day and ask; What the hell were we thinking? We need our kids to learn how to be safe, collaborate, interact, critically analyze content and most importantly create content. In order to learn that it must be taught. We do not teach by blocking and filtering. Leave the blinders to the horses.

I live on Long Island, New York. We are fortunate to own a second house on Fire Island. I know what that means to the future of my daughters. I made sure that they could swim before they could walk. I was responsible for their safety and ability to thrive in the environment in which they were to live. I also taught them about Social Media and the internet. They now teach me. When will this senseless debate end?

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