Monday, September 29, 2008

The Power of One

Last week I attended the K12 Open Minds Conference in Indianapolis.  On my way home, waiting for my flight at the Indy airport, I purchased a copy of the 75th Anniversay edition of Esquire magazine.  Now understand something--I don't typically read Esquire (I'm not that sophisticated), but a fact that keynote speaker and futurist Dr. David Thornburg stated piqued my interest in the magazine.  A limited number of the 75th Anniversary edition was printed with electronic ink on the front cover enabling the printed words to change and images to flash--ON THE FRONT COVER. 

The reason I bring up electronic ink in Esquire magazine is that it poses some essential questions related to k12 education. Are we doing enough to get technology into the hands of our students and teach them ways to creativly solve problems in a world where new innovations are changing the way we live at a faster pace than at any time in world history? When ink becomes electronic and paper becomes the circuit board isn't that a sign that students working on paper and pencil tasks may be going the way of monks writing on scrolls?  Alternatively, and just as important, what are we doing to teach students how to live a good, balanced life in an ever increasingly fast paced and stressed out world?   In my opinion these are the questions we NEED to be asking and  answering. 

Part of the answer seems obvious to me.  Students need to be at least working on computers on a regular basis in school.  One-to-One computing, where every student has access to a computer throughout the school day, should be a basic goal of schools.  This can happen soon with the price of laptops decreasing and availability of open source and free software increasing.  School Districts and parents need to do what they can to provide access to computers for all students, while teachers need to be flexible enough to change how they teach to maximize student learning through the use of computers and other newer technologies.  

Now the only question is will the money for one-to-one computer initiatives dry up in the current state of our economy?


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Quick Update, or How Technology Initiatives Can Turn a Quick Update into a Long Update

This has certainly been the busiest start to a school year in my career (O.K., that's at least my excuse for not posting anything since September 1, which by the way, seems an eternity ago). Here is a quick update on some of the things that has been keeping me busy (other than actually planning lessons, grading assignments, attending meetings, etc...) :
  • Web 2.0 class -- I am in the middle of an outstanding graduate class on incorporating web 2.0 technology into the classroom (see my post on what I learned in class). The class is taught by Jim Gates and is offered through Harrisburg University. I spent a week this summer at Harrisburg University learning about all the free and powerful learning tools that are available online. The class is still meeting through a forum on the class Moodle. We just had a synchronous class session where we discussed the progress of our projects. It lasted over 3 hours, but it was beneficial to hear how other teachers are using these tools in the classroom. Shouldn't the time to share and reflect on what we do be more of a priority for teacher development, especially considering all the technological changes that are changing how we learn, and consequently, teach? We have one more synchronous class session, and then our final showcase is on October 25th at Harrisburg University. The project that I will be showcasing involves student blogging. Which leads me to...
  • Student blogging -- I believe every student should be exposed to blogging for various reasons. First, blogging is a more interactive and engaging way for people (not jusst students) to write and express themselves. By encorporating links, images and video into a blogpost the student not only becomes a writer, but also a creator. Second, students should get the opportunity to write and create for an authentic audience. When this happens the grade becomes less important than doing your best, because people outside the confines of the classroom are watching. The simple addition of a Clustrmaps can be a very motivating experience when you see your words and creation are viewed by people around the world. Third, educational blogging provides a safe way for students to learn the educational and real world value of technology. Students are advanced users of technology to socialize and play games. How about teaching students to responsibly use technology to communicate, collaborate and create content that solves a problem; or expresses their viewpoint to elected officials; or simply to share ideas and learn from other people that may not have been in their same network if not for blogging. Lastly, I personally have learned more in the less than one year that I have been blogging than in all of my inservices and graduate classes combined. It's not even close! To be an effective blogger you need to read other blogs. Voila! Now you are exposed to a plethora of new ideas. Poof! Now you blog about something you read. It's almost like magic. Throughout this process you have just read, reflected, written, and created something that didn't come from a $5,000 expert speaker and trainer, or a $3,000 graduate course. It was free and you became your own best teacher. Why not provide the same opportunity to students? So the question now is which blogging service should we use? Blogger? WordPress? Edublogs? ePals? The one I am currently intrigued with is 21Classes. Hopefully, I will be able to decide, communicate with the parents, and get the students blogging soon (very soon)! Which leads me to...
  • Student Technology Training Sessions -- Fortunately, Hershey Middle School is progressive in its view of technology. As evidence, two other 8th grade teachers, the Principal, the Technology Integration Specialist, and I have been planning sessions to teach all 8th grade students basic information about blogging, wikis, rss, Google Docs, VoiceThread, and ethcial use. The plan is to do this over two days and for students to apply what they learn in some form. The original days we had planned to use have been pushed back to allow staff technology training to occur prior to the student training, so that all the teachers will be able to more easily and confidently use the tools in their class after students have been trained. It is nice to see an attempt to coordinate a plan to teach these tools. Hopefully, these training sessions can be a model for other grades, and maybe even other schools. Stay tuned...I will be updating our progress and results of the training sessions.

So, as you can see I have been...Wait...Stop!!! I forgot to mention that I will be traveling with our Assistant Principal to Indianapolis to attend the Open Minds/Open Source Conference from September 25th -- 27th. Unfortunately, I will miss our Back to School Night. However, the plan is for me to present via Skype. Hopefully, there will be no glitches, but I am preparing a Flowgram just in case.

O.K., now you can see why I have been so busy lately. I'm sure things will slow down...Philly field trip in November...Project Citizen starting in not long after Project Citizen...Oh well, June will be he before I know it.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Election 2008 Online Resources

Since the Presidential campaign is heating up and the school year has officially begun there is no better time than the present to blog about online election resources for students. Before we know it November 4th with roll around and we will all witness history as either an African-American is elected President or a woman is elected Vice-President. Even if this were a run of the mill Presidential election it would still provide rare teachable moments about our electoral process, government, and American democracy that cannot be provided in any other non-Presidential election year. The following list should not be considered the end-all-be-all election resources list, rather it is what I have found during my time surfing the net. Many of the resources I found via an excellent blog post by Larry Ferlazzo entitled The Best Sites to Learn About Presidential Elections from his Websites of the Day blog. So, here is my newest top 10 list--The top ten Election 2008 online resources for students and teachers:

10-The New York Times interactive timelines for John McCain and Barack Obama.

9-Google's Power Reader in Politics shows us what online articles and blogposts the candidates (or more precisely their campaigns) have shared from their Google Reader. It's an interesting way to see what type of information each campaign wants to put before the public. It also includes the shared readings of various national syndicated columnists.

How about getting students their own Google Reader accounts and having them share what they are reading?

8-YouTube's You Choose '08 campaign channel hosts the official Obama and McCain YouTube channel, as well as videos showing the candidates on various issues and the latest campaign video news.

7-PBS's The Savvy Voter may be a holdover from the 2004 Presidential election, but it provides a nice overview of how citizens can become critical consumers of political information. The topics covered include: how to dissect an ad; how to interpret a debate; how to analyze a poll; how to evaluate a platform; how to assess a web site; and finally, how to view news critically.

6- Check out everything that PBS Vote 2008 Access, Analyze, Act: A Blueprint for 21st century Civic Engagement has to offer. There are loads of resources from lesson plans and interactives, to election rss feeds to podcasts. The lesson plans cover topics such as campaign finance, the campaign trail, civic engagement, the electoral college, political advertising, political humor, and polling (to name just a few of the topics). This site is really worth checking out.

5-The National Student/Parent Mock Election is another great resource with loads of lesson plans. However, the best feature is the national mock election on October 30th, 2008 that NSPME sponsors. Having students vote in a Presidential mock election before they turn 18 is an experience that demonstrates the importance of voting and civic participation.

4-If you want to find out about where all of the candidates stand on a whole slew of issues then you must go to the Pro/Con Election '08 website. Pro/Con goes beyond the major candidates to profile the political stances of all the primary candidates and the major 3rd party candidates. Oh, but there is much more...Other resources include: candidate summary chart, step-by-step guide to becoming a U.S. President, candidate videos, candidate speeches, candidate finances, and contact information for the candidate (to name just a few of the more interesting resources). The main Pro/Con site is a great debate/discussion starter, although it does not shy away from controversial issues.

3-The Living Room Candidate is an excellent collection of historic campaign television advertisements. This website is produced by the Museum of the Moving Image. Teaching students to be critical viewers of campaign rhetoric in tv ads is one of the most important things we should be teaching during the election season. What a great way to teach media literacy and critical mindedness that is so important for all citizens. The extensive collection includes such classic campaign ads like Lyndon Johnson's Daisy ad; George Bush's Dukakis Tank Ride ad; and, the infamous 1988 Willie Horton ad. The videos are searchable by year (beginning with the 1952 campaign and including the 2004 campaign), type of commercial (biographical, children, commander-in-chief, documentary, fear, real people), and Issues (civil rights, corruption, cost of living, taxes, war, welfare). The collection also includes 2004 web ads and partisan ads, like the Swiftboat Veterans and ads. The Living Room Candidate also features lesson plans that focus on the influence of campaign ads, and the use of images and words for persuasion, among others.

2-eLECTIONS is an interactive game students play that demonstrates the electoral process. Students choose a platform to run on by choosing positions on a variety of issues. The game progresses in a game board-like style through a Presidential campaign with students having to make strategic decisions, like determining which fundraising events to attend to determining which states to campaign in. As the students progress through the primaries into the general election the decisions they make help to determine whether they are elected. This interactive game is a fun way to introduce topics related to the election that otherwise could be a challenge to make interesting for the average student (campaign finance, for example). There is also a teachers section that include lessons and resource videos. eLECTIONS is a creation of Cable in the Classrooms in partnership with CNN Student News, C-SPAN, and the History channel.

1-I love what C-Span Classroom has done to support our teaching of the election. There are 8 election resources that contain lessons aligned with C-SPAN video clips. The lessons include printable charts, graphic organizers, and discussion questions. The 8 resources are: Elections, Electoral College, Candidates, Debates, Campaign issues, Finances, Campaign ads, and polls. Again, each of these resources include lessons aligned with video clips--very nice!

Another nice feature is the StudentCam competition open to secondary students working in teams of 3. The topic is A message to the new President, where students create a short documentary explaining to the new President what the most important issue we face as a nation. The documentary must show multiple perspectives on the issue, while including C-SPAN content. Deadline for submission is 5 pm on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2009. Here is the FAQ for the competition.