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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Better Cynic Than Me!

Roger Skank posted a cynic's dream post about education reform over at Education's Place for Debate. Even the title is terrific: One More Time: Rich Folks Misunderstand Education Reform.

He lists and supports five reasons why politicians will never seriously tackle education reform:
  1. Teachers
  2. Publishers
  3. Testing companies
  4. Universities
  5. Parents
Must reading for the educational curmudgeon in all of us.

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Friday, April 20, 2007

I'm Running Away To Join a Band

I want to try out for a great new band. I think we could make it...

Click here to see my audition tape.

Thanks for the post Miguel.

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Thursday, April 19, 2007

Social Networking Trials

I have a MySpace account. I don't use it. Oddly, my reason is because the pages take forever to load, and I'm impatient.

I have a Facebook account. I don't use it. Mainly because my age would make it too creepy for teens and 20-somethings to include me in their network.

I have tried Twitter. I don't really want people knowing what I am doing all the time. Twitter's feature of mapping where you are is also disconcerting to me. Do I really want people to know I'm not home so they can break in undetected? Do I want them to know where I am? I'm more private than that.

I have thought about Second Life, but just because there is a 3-D, avatar component does not make it much different than other venues as far as I can tell. I am going to create an identity and play around. Perhaps during some summer days I'll get an opportunity to wander. My name is Chevyer Forder in SL.

I heard about Ning through one of the feeds I read daily. My initial thought was could I create a ning account for our students, and monitor it as a Media Center promotion? Could we discuss books, homework, and make it safe? I think it can be done. Will it be allowed? I think it should be. Here's why.

I have joined the Library 2.0 and Classroom 2.0 groups in Ning. The Library one has some things that have been good. The Classroom group is great. The goal is to discuss ways to use web 2.0 tools in the classroom. How do we overcome fear, time, and other obstacles? You can make "membership" open or by permission. Once in, you can request other members to become your friend. I haven't figured out any advantages to "collecting friends" because all the features I have with my friends I also have with any other member. I am enjoying my time in Classroom 2.0. I have joined in on a few conversations. Not to make it sound as a "misery loves company" saga, but it is nice to know that many of the struggles we face are also faced by others from around the world.

However, I must remind myself that just because many face the same difficulties of filters, bad policy, fear, and other educational technology issues does not make the current practices the right practices for our students. If everyone is doing the wrong thing, this does not justify our following suit. It's time to play the trump card, and take control of the hand we have been dealt. What is the trump card?

I think the trump card could be to get the kids so interested in Learning 2.0, and in what could be, that their parents "revolt" if their kids are denied service. It has worked many times before, but not often in academic issues. It is usually a sports-related issue.

If we use a tool that kids relate to, then we might be able to teach them the things they otherwise might not learn. It is a way for adults to "earn the right" to be heard by the students.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

8th Graders - Water Rocket Project

The final day before Spring Break the 8th grade science teachers took their classes outside to launch water rockets. Now that CRCT is over, the teachers are beginning to look at their new curriculum for next year. This will be a unit of physical science they will be covering. Below is a video montage of the events.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Miguel & Will Both Know the Answer

Recent posts from Miguel and Will are not connected to one another, but the answer to their questions is the same. Here are quotes from their posts.

From Miguel who states he "doesn't get" all the Web 2.0, School 2.0, etc. and yet understands the importance of us changing:
What I do get is this: Those granite-rock, plodding, myopic institutions we call schools restrict our creativity. Any effort to reform, to modify, to adapt, these institutions to what needs to be, to what already is, fails. Actually, it's a foul lie. We can't get there from here. Somehow, we want to jump the gap holding on to all our curriculum guides, 3-ring binders, policies and procedures, quaint ways of interacting and meeting and making decisions. But all that must go. We just have to let it go. Let it go. Let it go!
Then...
Oh. Another question pops into my head. As an educator, I want to work somewhere where people have let go of fear. To get there, will I have to let go of my steady job? Let go of what passes for traditional career? Let go of...well, you get the idea. After all, the only way to fly with the eagles IS to let go of the branch and FLY.
And from Will who provides his insight to the University of Michigan's new graduate degree in Social Networking.

So, does anyone else find this a little ironic? I mean how in the world would this particular degree “certify” anyone as a social computing specialist any better than, um, spending a year or so just actually becoming a part of social learning network, learning from the various teachers and conversations within it, and building a rich, online portfolio that illustrates your ability to be an online community manager, social network analyst, community organizer or any of the other descriptions they list as possible outcomes? For, um, zero dollars?
The answer to Miguel's question, though admittedly cynical, is because of money. Miguel states that the "steady job" is something he likely would have to give up to pursue the "well, you get the idea." Not many of us can afford to do that. The risk of economic loss is too great. Chris Lehman is not starting schools everywhere :^) And I am not aware of other schools who are willing to let go of the 3-ring binders and jump the gap. I would submit that most schools are unaware there is a gap that needs jumping.

The answer to Will's question, though admittedly cynical, is because of money. Will is an inspiration to many of us. He has done (and continues to do) what many of us would like to be able to do. Although I would really like to see him in the classroom again someday. He is an example of a life-long learner, and he has advocated this for his own children. There is a ring of truth to what Will suggests, that spending a year immersed in social networks will likely provide a better education than the classroom. This has been my experience. However, I do not get a pay raise based on my skills or knowledge in the educational arena. I get a pay raise based on obtaining higher degrees. This is the way it works in education.

Perhaps it is not fair. Perhaps we should be paid based on our attained skills. Perhaps, well, you get the idea. We do not make the jump unless we have some way to ensure our lifestyle is maintained. We get the higher degree, even though we may not learn anything new, because we can increase our income to improve our lifestyle.

I know money is not the end-all, be-all of existence. I know the love of money is the root of all evil. I know money can't buy me love. But I also know the lack of money ain't much fun either.

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Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Another Great Video

Current information on kids' use of technology, pedagogy, and ideas for reaching today's student. I would greatly enjoy using this video as a way of true discussion of using technology in the classroom. Perhaps some day. When the students are ready the teacher will appear.

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Monday, April 09, 2007

I like playing with Personality Profiles...

I always wonder how much I have changed over the years. I used to be a INTJ in my 20s. I was an ENTJ in my 30s. I just tested INFJ. You can check the TypeLogic page for brief descriptions. Thanks D'Arcy for the prompt. Oh, by the way...this is pretty accurate...except the alternative medicine guru part :^)

You Are An INFJ

The Protector

You live your life with integrity, originality, vision, and creativity.
Independent and stubborn, you rarely stray from your vision - no matter what it is.
You are an excellent listener, with almost infinite patience.
You have complex, deep feelings, and you take great care to express them.

You would make a great photographer, alternative medicine guru, or teacher.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

Authority without Accountability - Why we Outsource School Filters

Beating dead horses, that's what I feel like I do when I approach this topic. I have called internet filtering modern-day bookburning, and I still believe this to be true. Some have said I am exaggerating. In my mind, I am not.

What is filtering? The denial of information.
Who chooses what is filtered? Someone other than me, that's for sure.
But who? Is it local Tech Departments? Possibly, until they get so many machines that it becomes too difficult or time-consuming.

What are Tech Departments to do? They outsource. Our system has chosen a company called 8e6 Technologies. The name itself means to "ignore" or "get rid of," as in "to 86 something or someone." See the In Other Fields section of the Wikipedia article. I even remember the "Morning After Pill" being called the RU486 which, like the license plate world translated to "are you for 86?" and fundamentalists referred to the 'Abortion Pill' as one which would kill the newly conceived baby.

The symbolism of 8e6 Technologies is not lost on me. They are helping kill the possibilities of teachers and students using the technology on which schools have spent millions of dollars. It has killed my passion to use online resources which may be here one day and blocked the next. The response time on unblocking sites is nearly two days. By then, I don't need the site. So what's the point of asking?

I had a conversation with Vicki Davis (the CoolCatTeacher) at the Georgia EdTech Conference about the difficulties we have due to filters. She sympathized, and said she does not face this in the private school setting. But as she has grown in her network, she is seeing what we face on a daily basis in the public education setting. She is beginning to offer the same words and thoughts as many of us have over the past two years.

But I wonder if it is too late for this generation of teachers and students. Many of us in the middle of our careers were here when the hardware was originally purchased, and the internet wiring was installed. Only a few teachers used computers for educational reasons in the mid-to-late-90s. Then as the pioneers showed success in their classrooms, others began to emulate. Then more computers were purchased. The want and need for wired computers became greater.

Then the "sell-your-soul" program came along. The e-rate promise of the Federal Government. Buy all your technology needs at a reduced price with a grant-like promise. Usually grants are given for opening new avenues to educating students. The e-rate promise suckered schools in to thinking they could get computers and internet hookup at a fraction of the cost. It sounded too good to be true...and it was (is). In effect the government regulations surrounding e-rate makes a computer slightly more useful than the IBM Selectric typewriter of the 1980s. "Here are some new LeBron James Nike shoes kids, but you can't wear them in the gym. You might trip and skin your elbow."

All e-rate schools have to have filtering software on the network. I used to call the network admin of our school when I would find an unappropriate site my students would find. As more students got home computers, we had more inappropriate sites in the search histories. So we taught ourselves HTML to create webpages. We used Filamentality pages to create Hotlists, Samplers, and WebQuests. These pages would have the links our students could use. We knew where they could go (because we did our homework), and when a page was up which was not one of the predetermined options teachers would know students might be straying.

Then fear and laziness set in. Teachers who thought using a computer would make their life easier (much like the TV makes a good babysitter) found out that students need direction. Teachers quit (or never started) making pages with predetermined links. They did not realize that the teacher still has to interact, move around, and monitor the students as they are on computers. I still see it. Teachers say, "Here's the topic kids. Go do some research."

So, in the process everyone has gotten lazier. Teachers do not plan ahead. Students are without direction. And Tech Directors read the "visited web site log" and see there is a problem. Instead of training teachers how to conduct a computer-focused lesson, they call an outsider to make decisions for them. If a bad website comes through, it's not the Tech Depts fault, it is the filtering company. No accountability required. Convenient, isn't it?

Tech Departments have the authority to tell teachers what they can and can't use online (authority), but they rid themselves of the accountability of potentially harmful websites that the little eyes might see.

We all should be ashamed of ourselves. It's not about the technology, it's what the technology will allow you to do. Now we are unable to do much of anything.

Teachers should be made accountable, but they have probably lost their opportunity for several years, perhaps even a generation. Tech Depts should be responsible for training teachers in the dynamics of teaching a computer-focused lesson. Training is what should be outsourced - since most Tech Depts consist of workers untrained in pedagogy.

I don't pretend to even have answers anymore. I have many questions though. And when the questions get you in hot water, having answers could be dangerous.

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