Monday, December 14, 2009

Digital Learners

I've posted information on the "Did You Know" series of videos created by Dr. Karl Fisch, Dr. Scott McCleod and others. There are several similar creations that live on the web. While we can certainly debate the statistics that are presented and the issues they raise, I believe they all serve a similar purpose. They make us think - something we all need to do more of.

The most recent thought provoking presentation that was brought to my attention is a video by B.J. Nesbitt. While it is a couple years old already and borrows heavily on the "Did You Know" vids as well as one by Michael Wesch, (they are credited) it certainly makes us think. How do students in our classrooms today learn? Is it any different than 20, 50 or 100 years ago? What does it mean to be a digital learner and do we teach them differently? As parents, (for those of you who are) how do you want your children to learn?

There has been criticism of this video for using kids to promote an adult agenda. I can see how some would think that way, but I also think it can be looked at as giving a voice to students. As I said before, that is debatable, as are the statistics. However, if we focus on those things and even turn it into a political debate, we forget to think about the real issue - which is finding better ways to reach and teach our children.

Here is the video for those who are not in a school building that blocks YouTube...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Why wouldn't I want my child to have one...

Do you know how many times in the last two weeks I've said, "I should write that down and put it on the blog?" Too many to count. With the annual TIES conference upon us (for those not from Minnesota, it is the largest education technology conference in our part of the "states") it is high time I get going again! We'll shoot for once a week the rest of this month and then, hopefully more in 2010. I blogged about this once before, but here is a slightly different twist on the subject...

I will be presenting a session at the conference on the iPod Touch in the K-12 classroom from the perspective of a teacher and a parent. As my oldest son has entered into his teenage years, I've started to think more about this issue of digital learners. He is as engaged in the digital world as his parents will allow! He plays a few online games, is quite adept at accessing information and creates digital movies. He does not have a cell phone (he would have us believe he is the only one in 8th grade without one) but he does have an iPod Nano. I see what he and his friends do on a daily basis with the digital tools at their disposal and I can't help but start thinking about how useful these tools could be in the classroom.

Take the iPod touch, for example, and the over 100,000 apps available. It is no wonder that classrooms around the country are experimenting with it as a learning tool. With the proper apps (many of which are free) it is a graphing and scientific calculator, an e-book reader, a classroom response device, a video player, a podcast player and a web browser among many, many other things. So, as a parent... I ask the question, why wouldn't I want my child to have these tools available to him? That question brings up many more... Why doesn't the school allow my child to use this in class? Why doesn't the school technology department allow the device to connect to the school network - ever? When will education embrace the technology that is commonplace outside of the schools inside the schools? I'm sure I'm not the only parent wondering about these questions - or am I?

I'm curious what you think - please discuss.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Do They Know More?

OK... While I'm not ready to admit being "long of tooth" yet, I have started to notice that I am not among the young people at staff meetings, training sessions or other gatherings of educators anymore.

Today, Jon Larson, the ECMECC technology integration specialist was lamenting the number of times he had heard phrases to the effect that all of the new teachers are going to come to us with plenty of skills using (fill in the blank with a current technology.) Neither of us are convinced that is true. While the young folks may have more experience USING certain technologies, I don't believe they know much more about using the technologies to TEACH than those of us who have been in the profession for some time.

Ten years ago, I was working on a project at the University of Minnesota designed to transform the way pre-service teachers learned about using technology in the classroom. It was a bit painful trying to change the culture of having one class in the program that taught every education student how to use a half-dozen computer applications to an integrated approach to using technology as a tool for teaching and learning. That said, I think we managed to improve the program over three years.

So... I did some very quick and non-scientific research on some current teacher education programs around the state, checking course descriptions and requirements. I was disappointed to see that, in many cases, there were very few mentions of technology in course titles or descriptions. In fact, in most cases (perhaps the "U" being an exception), the list of requirements looked strikingly similar to my own course of study twenty years ago. I can only hope that technology is so integrated into the programs that it doesn't show up in titles and descriptions. After all, that is what we often say we want to accomplish in K-12, technology integration. I know that we are still far from that in our schools, so I fear that Academia may be even further behind.

I plan to do some additional research on this issue and I will report what I find here. I welcome any comments and responses. If you know of a teacher education program that is doing a great job preparing our teachers to use technology in the classroom, let us know. If you are a new teacher and want to describe your teacher education program, I'd love to hear about it. I hope I am completely wrong about what is going on. Clearly, it is easy to lose touch with issues that you've been away from for many years. For me, this is one issue that I need to reacquaint myself with as I work to make my organization more focused on technology professional development and integration.

Monday, October 5, 2009

MEMO - "Did You Know"

It has been awhile and it is utterly amazing how fast time flies when the school year is getting underway and we are in the "normal" swing of education.

During the past several days, I was in attendance at the Minnesota Educational Media Organization's (MEMO) annual Fall conference. MEMO is a professional organization for school library media and technology staff. ( It was a great conference (though I was quite distracted during it - more on that in a minute) with a very strong program for instructional technology. I suggest all media and technology professionals in Minnesota who are not members consider joining the organization. The cost is relatively low and what you get more than anything else is connections with others in your profession. You will make of that what you will, but we are at a point in time when those connections are as important as they ever have been. If you are not in Minnesota, there are similar organizations in most states and some national organizations too such as the AASL and ISTE.

One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Scott McLeod from Iowa State University (previously with the University of Minnesota). Dr. McLeod discussed many issues facing media specialists and technology integrationists in education today. He shared with us the latest version of the popular "Did You Know" video. I recommend you take a look. ( Be prepared to read fast as it moves right along! It is amazing how much information technology has changed the way we do almost everything -- except, in some cases, teach. I pin some of the blame for that on the mandates for accountability using traditional testing methods. It is difficult to effectively change the content and methods for teaching when we are still testing the same rote knowledge. Not impossible, just difficult. If you agree with any of this, you might consider sharing some of the information in the video and from Dr. McLeod's blog ( with school administrators, school boards, parents and legislators. We don't need to turn this ship on a dime. Dr. McLeod might have us think that we need to move quite quickly - but it would be good to start moving that wheel soon.

So, I mentioned that I was kind of distracted during the conference. We were experiencing some major network slowdowns in my school districts. Fixed now, but it took several days and it made me realize even more how important the network, Internet access and so on are to our schools. We joke about the phenomenon of being distracted with the phrase "look, a chicken!" Being at MEMO and having several "chickens" distract me made me remember the ultimate chicken that distracted us during a working session at a summer conference recently. It was "Mike, the headless chicken," and for those who don't know what that is, here is a chicken to distract you for a few minutes. How would we have ever known about this before the Internet!!


Friday, August 14, 2009

Satisfy your inner Geek...

The older I get the more I realize I don't know. When it comes to the hard core world of networking, I'm really on the periphery. So... I was looking to satisfy my inner geek with a little information on VLANs and I stumbled across a website that looks like it might be quite useful for those of us who are NOT network engineers yet find ourselves with questions that only a network engineer might know.

The site is all about traditional "IT" in the education setting. The forums in particular seem to be quite active and it looks like people generally get their questions answered quite quickly.

Have a good weekend!!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Technology on the school supply list...

OK... August is here and I'll now acknowledge the multitude of "back to school" promotions going on at every retailer (even Menard's is selling school supplies). We've downloaded the supply lists for our 1st and 8th grade children and are now planning our contribution to the economy. Fortunately, the highest tech device on either of the lists is a scientific calculator. Though I must rant for a moment... On the first grade list is a ream of photo copy paper and a package of dry erase markers. Isn't the school supposed to supply those? I draw the line when they start asking for toilet paper.

With younger children, we have it easy. I know that in a year or two I'll be among those shopping for a shiny new graphing calculator. I've seen models required at some schools ranging from $90 to $150 or even a little more. And... while our 8th grader does NOT have a cell phone yet, I know that is probably right around the corner as well. So that begs the question when will a smartphone or similar mobile computing device show up on the supply list? Or, phrased differently, why wouldn't I want my child to bring a device such as the iphone or ipod touch to school?

If I have to shell out $150 for a calculator anyway and a cell phone (to be used in an appropriate way, of course) why wouldn't I want all of it packaged into a single device. Not to mention all of the other functionality the smartphones have. I've talked about this for a couple of years now and done a few presentations on it. The reception from parents and classroom teachers is usually positive, but I meet a much more critical response from the technology folks in schools.

We recently had a discussion about mobile computing devices at one of our cooperatives regular technology coordinator meetings. I don't believe a single school in the co-op allows smartphones in the classrooms and most would not allow a (non-phone) device like the ipod touch to join their wireless networks.

As a former technology coordinator, I can understand issues like security, integrity of the network and so on. As a former teacher, I understand the classroom management challenges they present. However, as a parent, it gets a bit more fuzzy. I can spend $230 (or less) and equip my son with a device that is a scientific and graphing calculator, dictionary, thesaurus, foreign language reference, has full access to internet research tools, displays, stores and allows editing of word processing and spreadsheet documents, has access to hundreds of math, science and social studies applications, can function as a classroom response device, and... I'll stop there, but you get the picture. Oh... and if I want to, I can get one that is a phone too.

I can give him one, but he can't use it in school. What message does that send to our parents and students?

There are, in my mind, too many positives for us to draw a line in the sand and say "no" to these devices. It will be a challenge to figure out how to properly implement them and it will take a great deal of education for staff and students alike. Remember when the Internet was new and there were discussions about whether we should even let students access it? Try to take that away from an entire school and see what happens. We found a way to make that work (usually).

Plenty of people smarter than me have found great ways to use these devices in classrooms and I think it transforms teaching every bit as much as an electronic white board (and you can get a classroom set for 1/2 the cost). Try the phrase, "smartphone in the K-12 classroom" (or use "ipod touch" in place of smartphone) in your favorite search engine and you'll find a wealth of information. One of my favorite sites for ideas on using mobile devices is,

I'm sure I'll write more about this in the future. For now, I'd like to hear from you. Anyone in a school that is using mobile devices in the classroom? Has anyone tackled this with their technology personnel? Are parents asking about these devices or am I the only one thinking about it? Feel free to comment - oh, and you can chime in about your feelings on artificial vs. natural turf too if you'd like :-)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A little late to the party... but here we are.

One of my favorite episodes of the 1980's (and early 90's) sitcom, "Cheers" is when main character Sam Malone, the "once was" major league pitcher now tending bar in a small watering hole in Boston "where everybody knows your name," is given the opportunity to fill in as a TV sports reporter. Part of his duties are to do a nightly commentary called "I on sports." He proceeds to provide captivating discourse on such controversial topics as... "cheering for the home team" and "natural grass or artificial turf." His ticket back to bar tending is validated when he turns to a rap and ventriloquism on back to back broadcasts.

Why do I mention this? Well, I'm certainly late to the blog party. Hey... despite years of work in education technology, I'm not always an early adopter! Despite the tardiness, I hope NOT to be one of those people who thinks they have something to say but, in reality, has no business, "doing the sports news on TV." What I DO hope is that I can provide engaging and perhaps, once in a while, entertaining information about technology in the K-12 schools. I may cover the role of traditional IT in the school environment, new and interesting instructional applications, administrative issues such as funding or staffing, and maybe an opinion or two.

I expect to invite some "guests" to write at times and I invite comments and feedback of all kinds. We'll get this party going full steam next week. In the meantime, enjoy this set of clips from Cheers - and, "Cheers"!!