Sunday, January 31, 2010

On Creativity, Innovation, Motivation and Learning

Here's a Google spreadsheet List of TED Talks I've gathered on creativity, innovation, motivation and learning that every educator should watch.  Each of them are entertaining and inspiring in different ways.

Feel free to add any TED Talks that you believe should be shared with teachers, administrators or anyone else interested in teaching and learning.

If you are curious about TED, you may want to start at the home page and browse through the hundreds of video presentations.  TED2010 is scheduled for February 9-13.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Stranded in the Last Century?

This was supposed to be a podcast but events outlined below precluded me from having the tools to complete it and upload the finished video. I had also planned to talk completely about a different topic but I made a change based on the experiences I had while attending the Michigan Association of School Administrators' mid-year conference this week.  

The conference, an annual event intended to bring superintendents and other leader up to date on the many challenges facing our schools, was held in the Marriott inside the Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. This large, modern structure identifies the Detroit skyline and is typically highlighted anytime you see a view of downtown Detroit on television. Constructed about 30 years ago, the multi-towered building originally was owned by the Ford Motor Company but is now the world headquarters for General Motors.  

With that prestigious background, you would probably think the Renaissance Center is a world-class, high tech facility, and perhaps it is - but not in the Marriott Hotel. What's the problem? There is no wireless internet or even any consistent, easy way to plug into the internet, outside of the hotel lobby area. It's basically a 70-story structure full of bedrooms and spacious meeting places, but almost totally disconnected from the 21st century world. And it's smack dab in the middle of the world headquarters of an organization that used to be considered the most powerful corporation in the world, with profits that exceeded the gross national product of many developed nations, and considered a leader in world progress! Let me re-emphasize "used to be," but no longer is. The lack of easy public connectivity in Detroit's signature hotel and conference center is symbolic of the decline of the former number one automaker, a dying dinosaur mired in the previous century, headed for extinction.  

My point in all this is to highlight the need for our own district - Godfrey-Lee Public Schools - to continue moving forward, despite nagging financial problems due to Michigan's economy, and steer our schools and our classrooms into the 21st century. Our students are here to learn and they want to do so in an environment that reflects their world, not the world we grew up in. General Motors refused to move forward and lived for decades on the laurels of the 50's and 60's, the heyday of automotive manufacturing, and look where that attitude got it. Will schools continue to do the same at the risk of suffering similar consequences?  

Not the Godfrey-Lee school district, not on my watch! Like most school systems, I recognize that we have been changing far more slowly than the various modes of inventive, collaborative, participatory learning offered by the Internet, rapidly expanding through an array of contemporary mobile technologies available to our students. Our students, unlike most of us, have no memory of the historical moment before the advent of the Internet, and no understanding of what life is like cut off from their friends, disconnected from the world, and unable to actively participate, create, and publish in a digital world. Students entering our classrooms and schools have come to rely on participatory learning for information about virtually everything in their lives. There should be no doubt, we either choose to change with our students to meet this expanding reality or we risk becoming irrelevant.  

Technology is not about learning to use computers or common software applications - it's about using digital technology to learn. To this end, we've been working on the initial steps of crafting a new technology environment through our RebelNet Stoneware project, purchased several netbook carts, recently completed our wireless access, and opened our new 6th Grade Campus for 21st century learning. Our next and most significant step will be moving forward this fall with a 1-to-1 technology initiative that begins with the incoming 6th grade class. The intent of our plan is to put mobile wireless digital technology in the hands of every student, beginning at the secondary level, to ultimately create an "anytime, anywhere, any device" collaborative learning environment. The plan also calls for sufficient classroom technology that complements and supports these networking devices that not only expand on the ability of teachers and students to explore an expanding world of knowledge, but will also help to cut back on the costs of traditional, paper-based media.  
To help us get to our vision, I am working alongside our Board of Education, administrative leadership team, change leadership team, and technology and media staff to identify existing as well as new resources, align our budget to reflect digital learning priorities, and develop the definitive course of action that will move us forward into the future. I am envisioning a five-year plan centered on the 1-to-1 concept that keeps in mind the following key principles from a recent report on digital media published by the MacArthur Foundation:

· First is self-learning, where we collectively recognize that discovering online possibilities is a skill now developed from early childhood through advanced adult life. Access to technology is not limited by age, it is not owned by any one generation.

· Second is the creation of horizontal learning structures which recognize that learning is no longer top-down, but rather a collaborative process that focuses more on discovering and discerning reliable information instead of simply memorizing information. Our students have unlimited access to information but it's up to us to help them learn where to look, how to analyze its validity, and how it can be used to further their own learning.

· This leads into the principle of collective credibility to replace the old school standard of presumed individual authority. Classrooms will no longer be the bastion of one authoritarian instructor - the so-called sage on a stage - but instead will become increasingly interactive, interdisciplinary, and collaborative knowledge-creating learning environments. It will be here that students of all ages will learn by analyzing and researching multi-dimensional, complex problems that cannot be resolved by any single academic discipline.

· The fourth principle is the practice of collaborative learning in ways that extend some of the most established practices, virtues, and habits of individualized learning, but in a world of social-networking, instant global communications, and expectations to work as a contributing member of a team.

· And finally, the recognition that increasingly rapid changes in our world's makeup require that teachers and administrators necessarily learn anew, acquiring new knowledge and skills, facing up to the unprecedented situations and challenges that face us as primarily immigrants in a digital-age.

I've probably talked too much, so let me wrap this up by reminding members of our staff that several days ago, I sent around a link to a video of first graders in the town of Moose Jaw, a city smaller than Wyoming located in south-central Saskatchewan, Canada. This short video, titled Little Kids...Big Potential , goes much further than anything I said in this message in illustrating the future of learning. If you haven't viewed it, you really should. Burying our heads in the sand with regards to technology just plain and simple will not work. The digital age is here to stay.

Now, you may be wondering how I was able to upload this to my blog this afternoon. Thank goodness for McDonald's and its free wireless internet access! At least one corporation understands the significance of moving into the 21st century.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Juggling Tweets with TweetDeck

I fiddle a lot with my TweetDeck, trying to find the perfect mix of columns that help me to both learn from my growing list of colleagues and to engage in collaborative inquiry across the globe.  To add to the complexity of managing my personal Twitter account (coloneb), I keep tabs on our district account as well (leerebels)

Because I use a MacBook Pro, I have a wider screen that enables me to see 5 columns at a time.  The first column, of course, is reserved for my "All Friends" and it is often the most active column, especially as the number of folks I follow grows.  It is a 24/7 column because it represents every time zone in the U.S. and a few from the other side of the globe.

The second column I use for my mentions just to make it easier to follow any conversations or responses to my tweets.

The next two columns are setup for the two hashtags I am currently following: #edchat and #edtech.  Hashtags are used to organize tweets around a similar interest, topic, location, or theme.  I have experimented with other hashtags but for now have settled on these two.  This allows me to read, retweet and respond to others who share my interests but whom I haven't yet decided to follow.

My fifth column is currently occupied by @ShellTerrell's educator-pln list that at the time I wrote this contains 432 educators from around the world.  This saves me from having to follow each individual within the list but still benefit from their collective wisdom and conversations.  Periodically, I pick out an individual that most resembles my interests and I follow them.  By the way, ShellTerrell tweets from Germany making her the ad hoc leader of the night shift.  She also serves as one of the outstanding moderators of the #edchat Twitter discussion on Tuesdays (12 pm and 7 pm, EST).

I have lately added some additional columns that require me to scroll right to see them.  They are not as important and don't require regular tending but I found I was missing out on some important communications so I've added them.

One is the direct messages column for private communications.  I'm not an advocate of using Twitter to convey private messages but sometimes it makes sense so I want to check it occasionally.  The next column is a list of my favorite tweets that I have tagged for reference later.  I don't always have the time to immediately follow a link and have found by tagging it as a favorite, I'm less likely to lose it in the constant flow of tweets.  I can now conveniently follow or share the link when I get time.

The next column is currently occupied by TweetDeck's New Followers feature.  I like this because it helps me weed out spam or unidentified followers with ease.

Two additional columns are for the district Twitter account so that I can keep track of messages and replies surrounding district events and issues.

TweetDeck's flexibility is precisely what I need to get the most out of Twitter.

Friday, January 22, 2010

5 Reasons Why Educators Should Network

"The period of isolationism in the United States ended during World War II, but while political isolation is no more, educational isolation is still prevalent in public schools today.
Many teachers go to school each day, teach their students and leave. If they're struggling with how to teach a lesson that will engage their students, they might ask for advice from the teacher down the hall, but a lot of times, they struggle alone."
Read the rest of this well-written commentary by Tanya Roscorla at

Media Blitzed?

national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that with technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth.  Today, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).  And because they spend so much of that time 'media multitasking' (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.

Here's a list of other key findings from the Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Oldsreport:
  • Among all 8-to 18-year-olds, total amount of media exposure in a typical day has increased by 3 hours 16 minutes since 1999.
  • Most media is utilized in a multi-tasking format.  For example 43% of 7th-12th graders use other media while listening to music; 27% multi-task while reading.
  • Among all 8-to 18-year-olds, ownership of iPods or MP3 players has shot up from 18% to 76% in the past 5 years; the percent of this age group owning cell phones has risen from 39% to 66% during the same period; ownership of laptop computers rose from 12% to 29%.
  • 8-to 18-year-olds talk on a cell phone for an average of 33 minutes per day but use their cells to consume media such as music, games and TV another 49 minutes each day.
  • Television content viewing still leads media consumption by 8-to 18-year-olds on a daily average of 4 hours 29 minutes, but only 59% of this time is spent watching shows at their scheduled time.  In contrast, they consume print content for only 38 minutes each day.
  • Only 12% of music listening comes from actual CD's.  Most comes from iPods/MP3s (29%) and computers (23%).
  • Among all 8-to 18-year-olds, the average amount of time spent using a computer in a typical day has risen from a mere 27 minutes in 1999 to 1 hour 29 minutes today.  At the same time, internet access has grown from 47% to 84% of homes with children in this age group (59% have high speed internet access and 33% have it in their bedrooms).
  • Most recreational computer use by 8-to 18-year-olds is for social networking (25%), playing games (19%) and watching video (16%).  Only 6% use the computer for email.
  • Video game playing by this age group has risen from an average of 26 minutes per day in 1999 to 1 hour 13 minutes today.  The biggest increase was by boys (from 17 to 56 minutes per day).
  • Average daily print reading time has remained relatively flat since 1999 (from 43 to 38 minutes per day).  Only 3 minutes per day is spent reading print newspapers.
  • 11-to 14-year-olds spend the most time exposed to media (average of 11 hours 53 minutes per day).  8-to 10-year-olds average 7 hours 51 minutes per day.
  • Hispanic and Black 8-to 18-year-olds are exposed to 13 hours of media in a typical day compared to 8 hours 36 minutes for Whites.
  • 64% of 8-to 18-year-olds reported the TV is always on during meals; 45% reported it is on most of the time even if no one is watching it; 71% have a TV in their bedrooms (on average this group watches twice as much TV per day than kids who don't have TV's in their bedrooms). 

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Next Generation

Here is a concise - and I believe very accurate - picture of how organizations (Enterprises) will be effected by the generation now emerging from high school and college.  These same impacts will be felt by school districts both from the perspective of a young teaching force as well as students undergoing continuous transformations centered on new and yet-to-emerge technologies.

The Next Generation Collaborative Enterprise

Now picture this. Priorities are set by clusters of experts that make decisions. Decisions are communicated real-time through social media applications. Work is shared on a secure collaboration technology platform. Individuals are able to apply themselves to the work based on their skills and availability, regardless of their geographic location. Expertise outside the Enterprise is included ‘on-demand’ to bring necessary knowledge to bear. Funding is directed based on milestones. Direct accountability is embedded into the social network. Finally, organizational functions become less relevant and ‘Re-orgs’ become obsolete. Leadership is defined as the ability to influence, envision and execute ― rather than the authority to command and control. is important to point out that collaboration must not be confused with consensus or teamwork. Collaboration does not mean everyone must agree before any decision is made. Nor does it suggest that there is no room for individual creativity. Quite the contrary! Collaboration encourages clusters of experts with diverse skills to make decisions quickly.
From a technology perspective, the enterprise collaboration platform must make it easy for an individual to access and share information with other experts. This collaboration technology architecture incorporates mobility, security, synchronous and asynchronous communication, personalization, community, team spaces, borderless networks, and rich interactions ― and we will likely create additional functionality that will evolve over time.

The characteristics of this next-generation workforce include:
  • greater importance on an individual’s visibility and reputation;
  • schedules that occur any where and at any time based on working moments;
  • rewards and compensation based on value of contribution and expertise;
  • managers who act as coaches to ensure the right skills and resources are applied to the right priorities;
  • communications that use richer mediums, are multi-lingual and require new behaviors; and
  • organizations that are formed based on business priorities and are staffed from a global marketplace of talent.
Posted by Padmasree Warrior 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

12 Things I'd Do Right Now to Improve Education

We don't need NCLB, Race to the Top, or any other alphabet soup to improve K-14 education in Michigan.  Here's my simplified wish list of changes:

1.  Limit the federal government's role to strictly setting national learning standards and return 90 percent of all federal taxes previously used to fund the department of education and its numerous grant programs to the states.

2.  Abolish the state department of education with the exception of the state superintendent's position and limited administrative staff.

3.  Limit the role of the state superintendent to serving as chair of a state-wide council on K-14 education consisting of all intermediate superintendents; this council will provide oversight to the K-14 system.

4.  Place community colleges under intermediate school districts.

5.  Fund all school districts equally based on pupil enrollments. Mandate that per-pupil state aid be increased annually based solely on CPI.

6.  Legislate that districts use an established minimum percentage of its general fund revenues strictly on instructional expenditures, without exception. A starting point would be 65%.

7.  Provide a state-wide sinking fund that serves to equalize the per-pupil SEV in each school district to provide a more equitable basis for school maintenance and construction.

8.  Outlaw the use of graded school systems by 2016 requiring that all schools develop a system of instruction and advancement based solely by demonstrating mastery of learning standards.

9.  Prohibit the use of all multiple-choice testing systems by 2016 and require that the majority of assessments used to determine mastery of learning standards for each student be by demonstration.

10.  Fully fund and require by 2014 that mobile technology be used by secondary students in grades 6-12 during at least 50% of all instructional time; expand this to all K-12 students by 2018.

11.  Eliminate all Carnegie unit and seat time requirements.

12.  Legislate a restriction that schools may not close for more than 4 consecutive weeks at a time during a calendar year and provide additional state funding for costs associated with this mandate.

Horizon Report Notes Key Changing Trends in Education

For the past eight years, the New Media Consortium's Horizon Project has been using research to report annually on the changing landscape of education via the increasing integration of technology.  Here are four key trends noted in the 2010 report that will likely drive education change, especially the way learning and instruction is delivered, over the course of the next five years:
  • The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing.
  • People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want to.
  • The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized.
  • The work of students is increasingly seen as collaborative by nature, and there is more crosscampus collaboration between departments.
The Report notes one critical challenge that will continue to emphasize a more expanded role for technology in the classroom:

Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.

Students will require an ever-increasing amount of digital literacy as they graduate from high school and college.  This infers that instructional staff and school administrators will need to stay on top of the ever-changing digital landscape to ensure our schools remain relevant.

The Report details a number of technologies that are likely to have a growing impact on education:
The immediate concern will be expansion of mobile computing and greater use of open content curriculum, instructional materials, and resources.  As noted in the 2010 report:

Users increasingly expect anytime, anywhere access to data and services that not very long ago were available only while sitting in front of a computer linked to the network via a cable. In addition to the typical software for email, communication, and calendaring, new tools allow users to manage personal information (such as Evernote, Nozbe, Wesabe, and TripIt), collaborate and easily access and share files (Dropbox and CalenGoo are two of many possible examples), or keep abreast of social networks (Limbo, Facebook, Foursquare, Whrrl), and generally make checking and updating work, school, or personal information flows something easily done on the fly. 

Open content has now come to the point that it is rapidly driving change in both the materials we use and the process of education. At its core, the notion of open content is to take advantage of the Internet as a global dissemination platform for collective knowledge and wisdom, and to design learning experiences that maximize the use of it.

Of course, the challenge for the educational community will be staying abreast of these and other technology changes as they occur by shaking the past practice of being late adopters.  Structural changes to budgets, calendars, schedules, staffing, and other resources must be aligned to support these changes.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Michigan's Race to the Top Plan

Having now had the belated opportunity to review a final summary of the state's plan, my concerns remain the same.  The plan is based on a number of unfunded "will develop" tasks at the state level that are not yet determined or spelled out, nor do they adequately describe the potential costs and requirements at the local level.  Therefore, any agreement to the plan is an agreement to do something that hasn't even been decided or developed yet.  That's akin to purchasing an auto that hasn't even been designed, let alone built.

My other concern is the seemingly significant costs to local districts, especially given the state's 31-year history of ignoring the Headlee amendment's prohibition on unfunded mandates to local governments and schools.  A number of those new costs are structurally recurring versus one-time.  This is particularly true for the expansion of CEPI and data collection.  CEPI, which has existed since 12/23/78 is already at the center of significant unfunded mandates for Michigan school districts. The Final Report of the Legislative Commission on Statutory Mandates dated 12/31/09 estimated the center's reporting requirements amounted to an annual unfunded mandate between $50 and $100 million, and this has been going on for over thirty years!  A court case (Adair) is currently pending but moving at a typical slow pace.  RttT definitely intends to increase the amount of time, resources and staffing at the local district due to a new CEPI Statewide Longitudinal Data System (SLDS).

There are other long-term costs associated with on-going professional development, designing and testing new evaluation instruments, adopting, as well as aligning and assessing new college, career, K-12 math and ELA standards that haven't even been completed yet.

The entire concept in the plan (as well as the recently adopted legislation) continues to force a "plain vanilla" state-wide system for operating local school districts, yet the state does not uniformly fund schools.  We saw this with the new graduation requirements and corresponding Michigan Merit Curriculum.  The state wants everyone to be the same and produce the same results but doesn't fund schools equally.  RttT is simply going to exacerbate this problem.

It's evident from the plan's summary that much of this has been throw together in haste merely to satisfy Secretary Duncan's power grab in return for a "few pieces of silver."  Michigan taxpayers need to ask the question, who is going to fund all of these ongoing change initiatives when the federal money runs out?  Districts need to understand the new funding cliff this creates.

At the moment, I cannot recommend that our district sign onto the plan but will wait until I meet with our teacher association leaders and Board of Education tomorrow.  We are trying to determine precisely how much of this plan will effect us anyway due to the recently approved legislation versus what is being added on at potentially greater costs.  If it turns out we have to comply with most of the plan anyway, than why not take the money?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

One Hashtag Helps Educators Change Their Schools

Awesome article in the national Converge magazine about our weekly Twitter edchat which has done more to advance professional learning and educational change than any traditional professional development program.

One Hashtag Helps Educators Change Their Schools

Friday, January 8, 2010

Growing Frustration with Politicians

I found this fascinating quote today:
If we ever needed proof that – despite all the promises, platitudes and protestations – no politician gives a damn about students, this is, Education On The Plate, Jan 2010
You should read the whole article.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

"3 R's" Not Just for Students

The "00" decade just completed could easily be identified with the latest "3 R's" movement: rigor, relevance and - belatedly - relationships. A number of leading education researchers and consultants have been promoting rigor and relevance since the early 90's, but Bill Daggett and the International Center for Leadership in Education gave them added prominence by underscoring the criticality of relationships when it comes to learning:

If there is not a high level of positive relationships, students will not respond to higher expectations. ~ Willard Daggett, Leadership for Rigor, Relevance and Relationships, International Center for Leadership in Education, 2006.

While the Center's focus has been primarily on student-student and teacher-student relationships in the context of rigor and relevance, I contend that employing the 3 R's can be just as critical for the success of district and school staff.

Rigor in the classroom most often refers to academic rigor but just as easily could imply the rigorous expectations and standards for the adult staff necessary to operate a district, school and classroom successfully. Daggett uses Bloom's Knowledge Taxonomy to describe the levels of rigor in academics - knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation - each of which can readily be applied to our professional work life. As educational professionals, we have an obligation to hold ourselves and our co-workers to the highest possible standards when it comes to being, knowing, and doing on an everyday basis. This equates to professional rigor in which we constantly demonstrate a thorough, in-depth mastery of challenging tasks that expand our cognitive skills through reflective thought, analysis, problem-solving, evaluation, or creativity (Daggett). These can be accomplished through regular inquiry, self-learning, and collaboration, face-to-face in our work settings, attendance at quality professional development opportunities, and by expanding our personal learning networks (PLN) to encompass social networking across the internet.

Relevance for students refers to interdisciplinary and contextual learning situations directly connected to real-world problems ranging from routine to complex. Relevance for teachers and administrators implies establishing a vision and mission, and moving forward on school improvement and change initiatives that have purpose and are focused on the agreed-upon needs of that particular school and student population. Initiative-overload, all too common in many districts and schools, leads to the loss of relevance and lack of common commitment amongst the professional staff. When teachers and principals in particular see the relevance of an initiative or strategy to the desired end-results, they are more likely to be successful. As with students, educational leaders should not confuse staff excitement and activity with relevance. To be relevant, the work must be meaningful (Daggett) and connected to the vision, mission and improvement goals of the school. There must be congruence between the desired end-state and the work being done.

Relationships are critical to completing rigorous work successfully (Daggett). Members of the staff are simply more likely to personally commit to more rigorous expectations when they know the Board of Education, superintendent, and other educational leaders care about them and how well they do. We are willing to go out of our way and make physical, emotional and intellectual investments in our profession when we are encouraged, supported and assisted. Just as students will engage more fully in challenging learning when they have increased levels of support from the people around them, educational professionals are willing to step out of their comfort zones, take greater risks, and go the extra mile to help the organization achieve success when they know someone has our backs. Daggett goes further to identify the four types of relationships that are critical to success, modified here to focus on staff:

  • Relationships essential for supporting the teaching and learning process in the classroom.
  • Relationships among teachers, administrators and support staff that influence good teaching, support functions, staff development, problem-solving and decision-making.
  • Relationships that support and maintain learning and development in the profession, including those that extend beyond the school or district boundary.
  • Relationships with parents and the community.

While relationships change over time, the best way to cultivate positive, professional rigor, relevance and relationships is through collaborative behaviors, initiatives and structures within a school system. The old days of isolated "teacher-as-independent-contractor" did not value collaboration as a fundamental tool for school improvement. Staff maintained polite, social relations but each individual teacher and administrator were expected to function independently and solve their own problems. This worked out for they factory-type of school dominant in the 1900's but doesn't work for today's students. They are social, collaborative, and responsive to visual and hands-on learning situations that require the adult members of the school communities to replicate those same characteristics to be successful.

By focusing on building strong staff relationships in a rigorous and relevant professional work environment, we can take a giant leap forward in providing our students with the learning environments they need.

I'd be interested in exploring strategies that have worked or are working to increase and improve the "3 R's" in schools and districts.