Thursday, December 30, 2010

Top 5 Books That I Read In 2010

The best books I read this year are all non-fiction and deal in some way with education and technology--go figure. The following books are highly recommended for anyone interested in teaching, technology and creativity. Although, not every book deals with technology (or education), they all are thought provoking books that help to answer some critical questions about how to best educate students in the 21st century.

So here are my 5 favorite books from 2010 (in no particular order):

The Element, by Sir Ken Robinson

The Element presents a very convincing argument for school transformation (not reform). Robinson weaves real stories of brilliant people from various disciplines to argue the case that we all need to find our element (where our passions and talent merge).The Element is a great book to read if you are interested in creativity and fostering it in our schools. Unfortunately, our current school reform movement is centered on testing and accountability to the exclusion of fostering creativity in our children. Follow Sir Ken Robinson on Twitter-- @SirKenRobinson

The Death and Life of the Great American School System, by Diane Ravitch

A must read for all teachers, parents, politicians, or anyone interested in our public school system. The Death and Life of the Great American School System details the history of the standards, testing, and accountability reforms of the past 20 years and how they have been a failure. This book is especially credible since it is written by Diane Ravitch who used to be one of the leading national advocates of testing and accountability. This book is especially important to read as part of the ongoing national dialogue regarding school reform and as a alternate companion to Waiting for Superman. Follow Diane Ravitch on Twitter-- @DianeRavitch .

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, by Daniel Pink

Another insightful, thought provoking, and practical book by Daniel Pink. Drive details how the carrot and stick approach to motivation is actually a de-motivation in most instances. Pink convincingly argues that intrinsic motivation is what truly drives people to be the best they can be. As is Pink's custom he doesn't just explain the issue (which he does very well), he provides practical ways to motivate ourselves and others. Drive is a must read for all educators, because education is the business of motivation. Without motivation nothing follows. Be motivated and follow Daniel Pink on Twitter-- @DanielPink .

Where Good Ideas Come From, by Steven Johnson

Another excellent book by Steven Johnson. This one takes the big picture view of how good ideas are cultivated throughout history. Johnson illustrates that good ideas typically come from connections and the free exchange of ideas. The myth of the lone genius is exposed as Johnson demonstrates that the vast majority of inventions and brilliant ideas were built upon knowledge already available. By being able to access this knowledge people are able to create new things and ideas that were impossible in prior years. One of the main implications from the book is how the internet and the free flow of information and social connections are enabling people to come up with good ideas at an ever rapid pace. Johnson writes that his previous two books, The Ghost Map and The Invention of Air, could be read with this book as a kind of trilogy on the cultivation of ideas. This book presents a forceful argument for why social learning is needed in school to encourage innovation. Follow Steven Johnson on Twitter-- @stevenbjohnson .

What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly

What Technology Wants may be the most important and insightful book about technology that I've ever read. The ideas from this book still have me thinking about my relationship with technology. Kelly presents a very thoughtful and balanced argument that technology has a historical trajectory and that it has wants much like living organisms have wants. By realizing that technology (Kelly uses the term technium) has wants we can more accurately predict our future. According to Kelly, technology has numerous wants that mirror life, which include efficiency, diversity, specialization, sentience, and structure. I can't think of a better book that explains the meaning of technology. Kevin Kelly doesn't Tweet, so find him at his website--

The first book I will be reading in 2011 is a book I've been wanting to read for over 5 years--Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. I'm interested in this book for several reasons. First, it is a modern classic and will soon be made into a movie. Second, Abraham Lincoln's choice of including his political rivals in his cabinet is a classic study in political and organizational leadership that modern leaders (i.e. school administrators) can learn from. Finally, any book that can provide new insights into Abraham Lincoln's Presidency 150 years after the fact is worthy of serious attention. And this will be the first book I will read on my brand new NOOKcolor eReader.

Happy reading in 2011!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Where Good Ideas Come From

Take time to watch this TEDTalk by Steven B. Johnson about how networks and connections are the true nurturers of innovation. His new book, Where Good Ideas Come From, is released on October 5, 2010 and will be in my hands that same day. As I watched this talk I was constantly thinking how his insight can influence the classroom and educational practice.

So, should the learning theory of Connectivism be given a serious look in educational settings? What would a connectivist school look like in practice?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Learning in a Connected Age...

…requires that we share our knowledge. That is why organizations need to encourage blogging, social networking, and collaboration.

When I began teaching in the early 1990′s I learned about best practices from inservices and my immediate colleagues. Occasionally, I would read a book that contained pearls of wisdom for the classroom teacher, but for the most part my ability to access knowledge of my profession was limited and controlled by where I taught.

Since the dawn of the internet, and more recently the social web, I have been able to transform my teaching in ways that were impossible prior to the free and easy access of information that the social web provides. I now gain most of my knowledge of best practices from my professional learning network, which has had the added benefit of motivating me to be an even better teacher. I am now free to learn from educators all over the world at any time of the day.

This freeing up of information is why organizations need to embrace blogging and the voice of their employees. It can be a transformative and motivational act for organizations to “lose control”.

image source:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Civil War + Augmented Reality=Student Engagement

It's very appropriate. On the 147th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg the American Civil War Augmented Reality Project begins a campaign on Kickstarter to make the use of augmented reality a "reality" for students studying the American Civil War.

Take a few minutes and watch the video on Kickstarter to get an understanding of the project. Contribute and you can get some cool shout outs and gifts if the funding goal is reached. At the very least spread the word about this cool project.

Just so you know the American Civil War Augmented Reality Project is the brainchild of high school history teacher and tech geek Jeff Mummert. Check out his Hershey Before Hershey project to get a sense of how history and technology can be melded to form a new and engaging tool to view our past.

Unfortunately, to make this project a reality we need funding. So please help us by spreading the word or contributing. Thanks!

Here are some of the American Civil War Augmented Reality sites (give us a shout out) :


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

American Civil War Augmented Reality

I have a serious request...Please check out the American Civil War Augmented Reality proposal and comment your honest critique of the proposal. ACWAR is the brainchild of history teacher and technology enthusiast Jeff Mummert (check out Mummert's Hershey Before Hershey website).

With guidance and support this proposal can become a reality.

So, what do you think?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Future of School Field Trips

As an 8th grade American History teacher I am fortunate to take my students on two field trips. In the fall the entire 8th grade goes to Philadelphia and in the Spring our team goes to Gettysburg. Both trips are designed for students to "walk in the footsteps of history".

In Philadelphia the students tour the National Constitution Center to get a wonderful overview of the workings and history of our government, and then spend the remainder of the day in small groups visiting group selected historic sites in Olde City Philadelphia. The self guided tour is popular with the students because they have a say into which historic sites they visit and they can schedule some time at Starbucks. There is nothing like visiting the self proclaimed "most historic square mile" in our nation with students as they are learning about the foundations of our nation. This trip really brings the classroom to life!

When we visit Gettysburg, the students get to walk the same fields where thousands of Americans fought and died for what they believed America should represent. A lot can be learned about the Civil War in a regular classroom setting, but students will never get a true appreciation of the devastation of the Civil War without walking in the final footsteps where so many Americans walked in 1863. The connections from the field trip form a frame around which students can paint their own understanding and significance of the Civil War as they apply their field trip experience to what they learn in class.

So, how can technology enhance traditional field trip experiences? I am not thinking about virtual field trips. Virtual field trips are fine in their own way, but they do not enhance an actual trip. I have some ideas, but I would love to hear how others would use technology to enhance field trip experiences.

To get the ideas flowing view the following TEDTalk by Blaise Aguera y Arcas as he demonstrates augmented reality:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Transform--Not Reform--Education

I'm sick of hearing about education reform. It is too easy for politicians to be in favor of reform. The problem is education reform is a misnomer. Education reform is about more of the same old 20th century, industrial era accountability thinking--high stakes testing and standard curricula.

Why don't we try some new words and approaches. Instead of "education reform", how about "educational transformation"? This approach is dangerous because is means that the traditional educational approach that has been driving education "reform" would be dismissed in favor of real change.

What would educational transformation look like? How about taking a cue from Harvard Education Professor Tony Wagner, who has written about what schools need to do to be relevant in the 21st century. Wagner's 2008 book The Global Achievement Gap details 7 essential skills schools need to be teaching students:
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
  • Agility and Adaptability
  • Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  • Effective Oral and Written Communication
  • Accessing and Analyzing Information
  • Curiosity and Imagination
Wagner has written about the blueprint for educational transformation, but it is up to fearless teachers, administrators, and politicians to create an environment where these 7 skills can be emphasized in school. Sadly, the Educational-Testing Complex would take these skills and create a standardized test to assess how collaborative, adaptable, and curious students are.

For a real example of a school that is trying to transform themselves check out the Hunterdon Central High School's 1:1 computer initiative and their use of Wagner's 7 skills.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Top 5 Tools for My Classroom

As a teacher who is interested in teaching with technology, I am fortunate to teach in a 1:1 classroom where every student has a computer every day. This has allowed me to use technology to get students more actively involved in the lessons, give more timely and better feedback, and better customize learning opportunities for all students. The effect of all this is that students are writing, editing, communicating, and thinking more about their work than they did B.C.--before computers.

The top 5 tools that I have my students use that facilitate student achievement in our 1:1 classroom include:

5. Moodle
I have used Moodle less this year than the last few years because of some of the other tools on this list, but it still is an effective platform for an online class. My favorite feature is the report that enable teachers to track student use of the site. My least favorite aspect of Moodle is the very linear and limited appearance, and sometimes cumbersome features (like creating quizzes).

4. CoveritLive
CoveritLive is a live blogging tool. I love CoveritLive as a platform for backchannel classroom chats during videos or student presentations, and to conduct evening study sessions. The sessions are easily embedded onto other websites and an archive of the session is automatically created at the conclusion of the event. CoveritLive is my preferred tool for synchronous class events outside of school hours.

3. Ning
Since social networking sites have become the way students primarily use the internet to connect and share with others it only makes sense that students have the opportunity to learn in that way in school as well. Ning is a nice site because it allows for an ad free service for educators and is easily customized to the privacy and learning needs of a k-12 class. I set up a private Ning site called iCitizen for a Citizenship unit. Students created profiles, joined groups, added videos and events, and asked and answered questions related to the unit. The great benefit of Ning was that it provided an authentic voice for students who are either shy or who are bored in a traditional school setting.

2. Google Docs
The primary way students submit work, collaborate with one another, and manage their assignments is with Google Docs. Google Docs (and Moodle) has allowed for my class to be virtually paperless. It has also taught students the importance of creating an online system of organization. The downside is that students have figured out how to pass notes with Google Docs (not that students ever passed notes before).

1. Wikispaces
I love wikis! The students use their Study Hall wiki on a daily basis to post assignments, take notes, post content related resources, ask questions, and learn from each other. In the beginning of the year I did most of the posting, now I may do 10-20%. It is pretty much a student run resource that has essentially taken the place of Moodle as the primary online class resource.

So, what are your favorite tools for the classroom?

NCLB--OUT, More of the Same--IN

Obama Calls for Sweeping Changes in Education Law

I never liked the No Child Left Behind law because of its focus on high stakes standardized testing, the focus on what counts on a narrow band of disciplines to the exclusion of the arts and physical education, and on unrealistic goals like the 2014 goal of having every student at grade level--or else.

Unfortunately, the new and yet to be named education program that was unveiled by President Obama on Saturday has many of the same flaws of the NCLB law.
  1. A focus on high stakes standardized tests
  2. A focus on federal direction leading to ever more regulation and red tape
  3. A focus on winners and losers
In each of these areas the "new" educational direction we are taking is more worrisome than the old NCLB for the following reasons:
  • More and ever higher, higher stakes tests. A cautionary tale is the mass firing of the Central Falls teaching staff that was applauded by the Obama administration. Read: R.I. Grad: 'It's not the teachers' fault'
  • More federal interference and the obsession with accountability measures are destroying public education. Read: Diane Ravitch's latest article--The Big Idea--It's bad education policy. This article hits the issue on the bullseye and is especially convincing since Ravitch used to be an advocate for accountability in education.
  • Obama's Race to the Top program identifies winners and losers. Unfortunately, it's the students who are ultimately the losers when so much of our focus is on jumping through the hoops that the federal government has placed in our way. Read: Obama's contradictions on education and Obama and NCLB: The good--and very bad--news.
Hopefully, this too will pass. Unfortunately, it will probably be when another President is elected and declares that the Race to the Top was a failure and institutes a new federal program to rescue the millions of students from under-performing schools. Oh, and those schools will probably be the loser schools from the Race to the Bottom, er- Top.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

*NEW* Teacher Talk Podcast

Here is my debut podcast episode for Teacher Talk by Art Titzel, entitled "The Need for Educational Innovation."