Friday, October 15, 2010

Sorry for Apologizing....

..but I had the best intentions of using this blog to track all the major transitions as my school became a 1:1 laptop school, in order to provide a road map for other tech facilitators who are going through this transition and who similarly lack some anecdotal touchstones to normalize to. Unfortunately, so much has happened already that I feel like I have missed out on some important events, but, as they say; better late than never, so let me recap what has happened so far and I promise to be more faithful in keeping up in the future.

We did all our prep work last year: created as many predictive policies as possible, kept our invested population informed through postings on our webpage, sent home announcements and proclamations, and talked incessantly to our kids about the rollout in the fall. Even with all that, there really is no way to completely prepare for the logistical challenge of getting 1500 computers into the hands of 1500 5-12 grade students. The challenge was amplified because we had laptop carts last year which were unavailable this year, so until we had the laptops distributed, none of the teachers could use any technologies at all! So we ran weekend and after-school sessions for 3 weeks: 20 kids (plus a parent) per session, three on Saturday and one every day after classes. Each session began with a one-hour meeting where I explained our Student Use Protocols in great detail, then we had a 'out of the box hands-on session' where the kids got their computers and we changed passwords, installed programs, and gave some 'care and feeding of your laptop' details.

The Student Use Protocols are interesting. Knowing how powerful the forces are for teens to participate in certain distractive technologies like gaming and social networking, we knew it was an impossible task to completely ban those at school. However, we also know that not taking a stand at all was tantamount to being fully permissive, so we discussed with the kids the importance of making responsible decisions on their own. The big mantras were "do the Right Thing" and "think of what your behaviors would be if your parents were standing behind you." In general, the appeal worked as we have had very few incidents of teachers complaining that kids are chatting excessively during class, and I don't see TOO many kids gaming during their free time, but I do have to make a conscious decision to relax and be permissive; after all, gaming isn't evil and our kids are quite highly dedicated to their schoolwork. However, I sort of expect to see a general erosion over time and am already thinking of strategies to get the kids to realign their behaviors in the near future.

OK, more later....

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Future is NOW

I snagged this video and the text from another blog, repurposed, by Joe Archer of Ball State University . He wrote it so well, I can't improve on what he said, so I am reposting his comment word for word.

"This trailer was made by Fede Alvarez, a producer from Uruguay who uploaded a short film to YouTube and now has been offered a 30 Mil. dollar hollywood contract. The contract was sponsored by director Sam Raimi, whose credits include the Spiderman and Evil Dead films. Alvarez's short film "Ataque de Panico!" (Panic Attack!) featured giant robots invading and destroying Montevideo, the capital of Uruguay.

It was made on a budget of $300 (£186).

So far it has had more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.

This impressive feat just goes to show how much technology is bringing communication to the masses. Prior to the past five years, this would not have happened. There is a specific space being created with opensourceing and 'do it yourself' software like Youtube, which is breaking the hierarchy of society. Interesting. Space is allowing discourse."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Modern (Im)Morality

On a webpage discussing the battle of words between Apple and Adobe over Flash, someone said "Just jailbreak your phone, then you can run flash on it with no problem." This is my reply to him:

" 'Just jailbreak your phone...?' Does the concept of legality, intellectual property rights and moral standards not have a role anywhere in the digital world? It seems like people just want to do whatever they CDs, download illegal content, jailbreak phones, nethack, plagiarize, steal...

Yeah I're rolling your eyes at me. That scares me even worse. Its bad enough that breaking the law and violating IP rights has become commonplace and accepted, but even taking a stand against it has become disdainful. We have not only lost our moral compass, but laugh at the idea of even having one."

What are your thoughts on this?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

That's your JOB!!

A bit contrived, and obviously scripted by Dad, but the message is pretty clear.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Day In The Life of a 21st Century Teacher

I had one of those "THAT'S what I'm talking about!" days yesterday. We have all heard about how using technology in our teaching transforms our lives; well, my day yesterday exemplified that to me in a big way.

7:00AM; Wake up groggy, check my school email and private email on my iPhone, get up, and get ready for work
7:30AM: Arrive at work, plug my iPhone into my desktop charger, check my school email again, and respond to a colleague who had a problem accessing a file from his workstation when he got to work. Forward the message to our crack ETS team so solve it electronically in minutes.
7:35AM: Start prepping for a Games Development class I teach at 9:20. I need a project that ties together what we have been learning about strategies, so I google 'games course strategy projects' and get about a million hits with some excellent ideas. I browse the first dozen or so hits until an idea formulates.
7:50-8:15AM: Using Word, I create a document outlining the project for my students, save and upload it to our online resource files on our school teaching management system, and share the document with the class via the class web page.
8:15-8:30AM: I send an email to the HS faculty who are leading trips for groups of kids in 2 weeks, to be sure their trip webpages are updated and that their kids and parents know the URLs. Moments later, an email comes in from a basic-user colleague who forgot how to make changes to her site but whose flight information has changed. I email her a link to a file I created last year in our school management system that gives the basic steps for wiki management.
8:30-8:45AM: A student emails me that he will miss the Games class today, so I reply with the link to the project I will be handing out in an hour to the class. He replies with his thanks, and his promise to get an early start on it. I go to my online calendar and start blocking out time slots for our online parent conference signups that will be happening next week. Meanwhile, the colleague who had trouble with her Trip page emails me an enthusiastic message relaying her success.
8:45-9:00AM: I make an important phone call on Skype to the colleague who will be co-leading my student trip, as she is currently out of the country. Then I create a google.doc with a timeline of tasks and share it electronically with her. (Since I will be gone for the ASB Unplugged conference in Mumbai this week and for some Apple professional development training next week, we need to share our ideas and work collaboratively over the wires)
9:00-9:15AM: Put the final touches on my lesson plan for the Games class, finish my cooling cup of coffee, and go to class.
9:20-12:00: Teach my two classes. I tell the kids that I will be gone for the next 3 class periods for conferences and workshops, but I open the link on our class webpage to the 4-day project that I have created, and preview the task for them. They have to submit different components to their Blog sites on given deadlines, and they know that I do not accept any late work as there is no excuse for missing electronic deadlines. Laptops come out, and the kids get right on task. I work at my own workstation updating the online attendance and grades, the send each kids updated grade to theirs and their parent's email addresses. I notice another student absent, so I email him the class assignment. Minutes later, I see from the log that he receives and opens my email.
12:00-1:00 After lunch, I log on to check my seat for my flight to Mumbai tomorrow, as well as the flight status of a friend who is flying back to the US after visiting me for the past week. Then I start checking the students blogs to see who has started working on the project, and provide some encouraging comments to the kids who have tangible progress.
1:00-1:30 I start preparing for a meeting after school. I lead a group of enthusiastic kids who are crafting the Student Digital Use Guidelines for our 1:1 rollout next year. I create a google.doc with the agenda and put it in the shared folder, then email the 40 kids with the link and remind them of the meeting after school.
1:30-2:00 Spend some more time online arranging travel plans to the airport tomorrow and ensuring that all the games kids have accessed and read the document with their class project. Two students email me to claim that they had made certain blog posts before the deadlines last month, and I use the Page History tool to show them that they had actually done those assignments late. I them spent some time talking to colleagues on video chat with Skype about some ideas I have for faculty professional development the week after the trips, pay some online bills that cannot wait, and show one of the office secretaries how to create and share a google.survey with the HS faculty to gather some phone information for the trips. I also email all the parents in the high school with the link to the trip webpages.
2:00-2:30 Breathe time. I take a walk around the school to do some drop ins with teachers to see if anyone needs any help with anything. Lots of little tech assistance happens; this is my favorite part of the day.
2:30-3:15 The student meeting: Kids work collaboratively on to brainstorm Tech Use guidelines, and then send the link to the kids who could not make it to the meeting. I send an email to the entire group encouraging them to continue their work for the next two weeks during my absence to meet our deadline of having a draft of these guidelines done before we leave for our student trips. I promise to monitor their progress, but to let them own the process.
3:15-4:00 Final touches on preparing for my absence. I email the full faculty to remind them that I will be gone, but will be available online for assitance. Tidy up my desk, and head home to pack for my trip.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but as I reflect on my day yesterday, I realize how it was full of collaboration across time and space with groups and individuals, how information could be updated instantly, how I could monitor students' and colleagues' progress with different tasks, how I could productively multitask, how the school saved on 2 weeks of sub pay while I will be able to teach my classes remotely and stay caught up with grading....and how none of this would be possible without the tools and techniques available to me.

Its been said that 21st Century tools transform education...I can not imagine how the tasks that I did yesterday could have been done any other way.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

WORDLE: diagnostic tool or party trick?

Wordle ( is an online tool that has been growing in popularity over the past few years. Even on their own website, they describe their creation as "a toy for generating word clouds", yet I have seen it used more and more often as some sort of accurate diagnostic tool for analyzing discourse. The assumption, often unstated, is that if a word stands out clearly in a word cloud, then somehow it is of greater importance in the source document, and as such reflects a stronger opinion or point of view.

Nonsense. There are multiple reasons that this is anything but a good assumption, and using a Wordle in this manner is not accurate and nothing more than Pop Science, at best. First of all, the larger words are disproportionately larger than the others; a typical 'lying with statistics' trick is to take something that appears twice as frequently and make the representive indicator not only twice as tall, but twice as wide. This gives it FOUR times the impact, which is neither accurate or representative. Additionally, synonyms are listed separately; if an author uses one single word for an idea, that will ouststrip the more eloquent author who uses multiple words with shades of meaning. The role of color comes in; brightly colored words will stand out while yellows and pinks will blend into the cloud, regardless of their size. Orientation comes into play; words aligned horizontally are more readable than those that are vertical. The sheer mass of smaller words is dismissed into the 'cloud' while only a few large words are reduced to being representative of the entire article. And worst of all, word clouds completely ignore context, phrases or meanings...they only focus on individual words and the number of times they are used. What is accurate about that?

At best, a Wordle word cloud is an interesting party trick or a device for initiating conversation, but to use it as some sort of diagnostic or enlightening tool is folly.

For an exercise, consider strongly the message in this post, then follow this link to see the word cloud generated by this post: is this accurate? Does it represent the message here? You decide.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Best Practices for Tech Facilitators?

In his blog, the Thinking Stick, Jeff Utecht discusses his ideas for how to secure a position as a tech facilitator. Some discussion ensued about whether or not pedagogy should be a personal decision: should facilitators follow their own beliefs, or should they formulate opinions based on external, formal research, or should there be an oversight organization (such as ISTE) who articulate best practices and determine job descriptions for facilitators? I'm curious what others think about this.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The 21st Century Classroom....a work in progress

As a Technology Facilitator, I constantly encourage and help teachers make changes in their teaching practice. However, as a teacher who is developing and growing in my own practice, I am also learning to create a classroom using 21st Century tools. Am I an expert at it? Not at all, only a beginner. Am I concerned that being a beginner as a 21st Century teacher somehow compromises me as a 21st Century Tech Facilitator? Not even close; not only can I practice what I preach (growth and development), but I can model that its okay to try new things, to sometimes fail, and to share success.

So I want to talk about my course this semester: Introduction to Game Development. Its been an interesting journey, and I am quite happy with the results of my first semester. I get to repeat this course again next semester (two sections), so I can make improvements on things I have tried. I tested out some 21st Century methodologies, used online resources and got entirely away from the 'teach and test' model of school.

Initially, I started out with a book as a primary resource ("Challenges for Game Designers" by Ian Schreiber and Brenda Brathwaite). I find that I need some sort of security blanket....a text or a resource book that I know I can rely on come what may. As the kids did not have copies, I summarized the essence of the first two chapters into a Powerpoint: the topics dealt with the components of games (bits, game state, mechanics, etc) as well as the process of game design. Then I had the kids spend a month or so making different board games of different types (race, puzzle, gathering, rpg, fps, etc). By now, I realized that it was going to be hard to assess these games, so I created a simple grading sheet and had each kid evaluate every other student for different elements, such as Theme, Fun, clarity of the rules, etc. So far, so good.

About a month into the course, I realized that it would be helpful for the students to keep a blog about their games. So I created a centralized wiki site where they each got a page they could edit and use as a blog. They took to this easily, and I uploaded some pictures I happened to take of their games for them to incorporate.

First lesson for next year: I will let them find their own blog hosting site, and bring them all together via an RSS feed. Also, tell them to take pictures of their own games to keep on their blogs.

Once the board game component was done, we moved on to Scratch. Scratch is an excellent drag-and-drop programming language developed by MIT, mostly for Middle School but as we discovered it is versatile enough for motivated HS students to make some great creations. I made a Scratch Gallery where they could host their own games, and the kids started writing code.

This was an excellent idea! Right away, they started playing each other's games, and even kids from around the world started playing and commenting on their games. Some of the games are quite excellent, and the students were very proud of their creations. Each student also made their own Scratch page, and archived their work there.

Near the end of the semester, there was a failed attempt to branch into Flash programming.I started by having the kids create a database on our class webpage of their favorite Flash tutorial site, however, it turned out that most of the kids did not have Flash at home, or had different versions, and there were overwhelming tech problems with being able to email code or send programs between school and home, so I abandoned Flash and ended the year with a big Scratch project, where the students had to animate a music soundtrack they found in youTube or iTunes. Their projects were outstanding, especially this one.

For the final exam, I realized that they had left their blogs abandoned, so I created a rubric and gave them a couple of periods to update them. The result is that each student has a very thorough and insightful blog documenting their growth and their products from the class, and I believe they are all very proud of what they have done.

The best part: not one test or quiz all semester; all tasks were authentic; they published their work online and got feedback from kids all over the world, all their work was peer-reviewed, and I was not their primary source of instruction...they helped each other and used web-based resources.

My last task of the year was to gather feedback. I created a ning, and made each discussion thread a component of the class and asked them to contribute to the threaded discussions. I look forward to their feedback, but in the meantime, I think of the wealth of web-based tools that made this course possible: nings, wikis, blogs, Scratch gallery, our school course management site, youTube, web-based Flash tutorials, and about 20 pages of one textbook.