NECC 2008 Day One

Arrived in San Antonio yesterday afternoon about three hours later than planned thanks to a late flight out of Dallas. Usually, I like to take the first afternoon/evening I arrive at a conference to register, walk around the conference center and surrounding area to get acclimated, meet up with people I know, and then start meeting people I don’t know. Because of the delay, I was able to register and then meet up with some people from our state association. After that, we walked around the Riverwalk to get dinner — I felt like I was going to collapse, I was so tired. Oh, and did I mention it’s a bit hot in San Antonio? Yikes.

So, this morning was “acclimation time.” Met some very nice people from Texas, and then I volunteered at Presenters World for three hours. While volunteering, I met some more great people from Texas (TCEA) and talked to them about using the NECC Ning and Twitter (Hi, Karen and Katie!).

Haven’t decided yet whether I’ll live blog any sessions, or maybe just take notes and then post later. For now, maybe I’ll just conclude with the fact that NECC can be so overwhelming… so much to do, so much to learn. It’s a great opportunity, though, for educators of all levels and experiences.

NECC 2008- My 10 Goals

On Sunday morning, I’m flying to San Antonio to attend NECC 2008. This will be my third conference, and as always, I’m really excited to attend.

Some other Ed Tech folks have been posting their goals for NECC, and I thought that was a great idea. When I was a NECC newbie, I was very overwhelmed with all the available sessions. Even though I used the conference planner in San Diego (even downloaded to my PDA while I was there), I was really never certain about which session to attend… when to hit F2F networking opportunities, etc. Last year in Atlanta, I was even more overwhelmed by the sheer size of the convention hall. I had mapped out every session and workshop, and I wanted to visit more vendors/exhibitors. I probably made it through 1/100 of the exhibitors. That might have been due to the fact that their was an ice cream vendor in the same place each day in the Exhibitor Hall, so I tended to go back to the same area every day. haha

SO… for San Antonio, these are my goals this year. Some of them are already checked off–

1. Mark all sessions I want to attend in the conference planner. (CHECK)

2. Volunteer for ISTE. (CHECK– am scheduled to volunteer Monday afternoon)

3. Stop by the Bloggers Cafe.

4. Go to the Second Life playground.

5. Gather more ideas (especially those with any research-based themes) about digital learning and using Web 2.0 in our schools.

6. Search for more evidence that blocking too much on the internet does a disservice to students and faculty (I already believe this, which you know if you read my posts at all).

7. Look for ties between goals #5 and #6 that support our district initiatives.

8. Attend more sessions and workshops than I ever have before at NECC. Yes, I’m optimistic.

9. Catch up with fellow Ed Tech-ers that I don’t get to see very often.

10. Go to the Alamo. I didn’t sign up for the NECC-sponsored tour, so maybe I will find some friends who want to “wing it” with me. ??

If you’re attending NECC 2008, leave a comment or shoot me a link or trackback to your own blog posting of NECC goals. If you’re not able to attend in San Antonio, did you know you can be a virtual conference-goer?

Why I Think Mark Bauerlein is STILL Wrong

Mark Bauerlein is the author of The Dumbest Generation.

Will Richardson makes his argument here. There are a lot of comments on Will’s post, both for and against Bauerlein’s assumptions, for lack of a better term.

Mark Bauerlein is also interviewed here.

What Bauerlein still fails to understand:

  • Yes, most adults say that young people are “tech-savvy.” Bauerlein argues they are not. I agree, only in the fact that young people know how to use the technical aspects of new technologies. They do not always understand the WHY’s, the SHOULD’s, and the SHOULD NOT’s. (See one of my previous posts regarding the three classes of the Digital Divide, especially Class II.) Does this make them dumber? NO. That would be like saying to a person, “Here’s a car, but I’m not going to teach you how to drive it” — and then telling them they were stupid for driving the only way they knew how.
  • The reason that many young adults know how to design a mind-blowing MySpace layout, but not really anything that will help them in the workforce (his assumptions, not mine) is that many of the adults in these young people’s lives won’t take the time to learn what their kids/students are doing. Without guidance and positive role models, many young people are turning to the things that merely interest them… usually social things like friends’ comment walls or who’s “pwning” whom in World of Warcraft.
  • Bauerlein asks: Who do they want as their heroes? Pop stars, or George Washington, Margaret Thatcher, Jesse Owens . . .?” Is the technology to blame if they choose pop stars, or is it society? Are our young people less intelligent if they would rather watch Hannah Montana… or revel in the schadenfreude brought about by the fall of Britney Spears? Honestly, is this because they are a “dumber generation,” or is this typical of young people in general… as well as our society (who makes the news more often? Britney or Warren Buffett?) I’m fairly certain that a teenager in 1957 was more interested in Elvis Presley than what the Russians were doing with Sputnik. As a fact, a preference does not make one more or less intelligent.
  • I have no argument with Bauerlein as he notes that reading and literacy are incredibly vital to one’s education, experience, writing skills, etc. I love books and wouldn’t trade reading a book for reading a blog, commenting on a social profile, or playing around in Second Life. But I can do ALL OF THE ABOVE. I have the maturity to know I need to have all those experiences. My 15-year-old doesn’t have that maturity. Her experience is dependent upon what I help her learn… but also what her school helps her learn. If her school and/ or parents never introduce her to Web 2.0 technologies, she is left to her own devices to know how to use those tools. I have encouraged her to blog to improve her writing skills, including self-assessment and revision. In blogging, she can choose to write about whatever she wants, and will probably be more engaged. On top of that, she can have instant feedback from more than one person — most students’ writing never sees an audience beyond their classroom teachers. If she uses this tool, she has opportunities to learn above what she can do with pencil and paper, but someone has to help her learn about online responsibility and accountability.
  • I don’t think that Generation Y is dumber… and that they don’t care (see Bauerlein interview linked above) . I think many of them are more socially aware of their world than anyone in my generation ever was… because they are more connected to that world. My teenagers know about what has happened recently in Myanmar and China. There are groups in Facebook, groupw\s started by TEENAGERS, who are sending donations of food, clothes, and money through accredited, reliable sources to help the people of those regions. My generation’s social awareness (at the same age) would have been entirely bankrupt without Bob Geldof, Quincy Jones, and Michael Jackson writing songs that happened to be on MTV and happened to be about helping others. We thought it was cool because it was a bunch of musical superstars getting together to sing “catchy” tunes. Did I really know anything about the plight of the children in Africa? No, but I could tell you who was singing which line in “Do They Know It’s Christmas.”
  • What Bauerlein also doesn’t understand is that generalities tend to influence people in power– the very same people making decisions about testing school children, writing policies that dictate what can be taught or used to teach. When older generations read his book, his “citations” of statistics, they automatically label an entire generation. Are there some kids who care about nothing other than Halo? Yes. Are there others out there scoring higher on ACTs and SATs than ever before? Absolutely! Perhaps our education standards and measurements are more to blame for the statistics Bauerlein cites so proudly. When we measure kids in our public schools with tools that were used to measure kids 10 years ago, 20 years ago… in some cases even 50 years ago… then WE as adults and educators are failing that generation. When we have kids failing because they can’t read, is it because they’re too “dumb” — they don’t care, they’d rather play video games? Or is it more because the older generations haven’t figured out how to be relevant and meaningful to a generation who needs career preparation for jobs that don’t even exist yet?

To be completely honest, I do cringe when I go to the mall or to the movies and encounter young people who use offensive language as if it were everyday, acceptable language. When I see young men with their waistlines sagging below their knees, I just want to throw a ball of twine at them and shout, “PULL UP YOUR PANTS!” When I hear my daughter and her friends say the word, “like,” 62 times (yes, I actually counted this once) within the course of a 10 minute conversation, I want to take an ice pick to my eardrums. However, do I think they’re dumber because of who they are and when they’re growing up? No. If I see a child with bad manners, my first thought is, “Why isn’t there an adult in this person’s life teaching this kid some manners???”

I’m also pretty certain that adults in 1957 thought that kids who listened to that crazy rock and roll and followed that devil, Elvis Presley were the dumbest generation. If you do a search for successful adults who were teenagers in 1957, whom do you find?

If you really want to call a generation the “dumbest,” Mr. Bauerlein, why don’t you point the finger at the generations before Generation Y… and call them out for not owning up to their responsibilities in properly educating, preparing, and engaging these young people? We must prepare them for THEIR world… not ours. Our world is gone. Their world is now.

An Early Think-About: What’s Your Top 5 Wish List?

What’s on your Top 5 wish list for new technologies you want to bring into your school/district? Even if your wish isn’t really a “technology,” please leave your list in the comments. I’ll post results soon.

My Top 5 (in no particular order):

1. Skype

2. An unfiltered internet connection for all– or a less restrictive filtering policy.

3. The opportunity to help others see that technology is a tool, not an extra to teach– and that using this tool could help students demonstrate proficiencies differently. Additionally, students might be able to think more critically, creatively, and digitally if given the chance to learn in “their own world.”

4. Wikis, Nings, more teacher blogs, and other social-networking-collaboration options. I use them constantly for my own work, but I don’t think we have enough people taking advantage of these fabulous tools! (for some, it’s a policy thing)

5. The chance for our students to participate in something like Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsey‘s Flat Classroom Project!

The Digital Divide- Not Just the Haves and Have-Nots

For quite some time, the Digital Divide has been a term describing the existing gap between the “Haves” and “Have-Nots” — pertaining to access to technology. Essentially, the Digital Divide classifies people all over the world into two classes: those who have access to and know how to use digital technologies, and those who don’t (to read more, go to the Digital Divide Network).

The more I work with kids, however, I feel there are really three classes that need our attention:

Class I: this is the class of students who have digital access, at school and maybe at home– who are creators, producers, problem-solvers, etc., who have been given the opportunity to work with educators in digital environments. They have had guidance concerning how to use these tools responsibly (from educators and parents); and at some level, this class of students understands the implications of what they create and publish for the world to see. These students work in digital environments in and outside of the classroom and view their digital experiences as learning, socializing, and global responsibility opportunities. In some cases, these students also will have had an opportunity to learn about a healthy balance of “plugged in” time vs. “unplugged.”

Class II: these students also have access to digital environments, but have had less guidance from adults as to best digital practices. In their schools, their personal digital devices (e.g., cell phones, mp3 players) are usually banned, and computer use and web access is most often viewed as a reward rather than the norm. Academically speaking, this class of students will use web resources for research, but are usually digitally unaware of validity and reliability of said resources. There is little to no guidance for this class of students, either at school or at home, about what is acceptable, appropriate, and responsible behavior on the web. Their view of digital environments is generally limited to socializing opportunities… envision a social networking page with multiple inappropriate comments, photos, and videos. These students tend to stay “plugged in” more than their Class I counterparts. Although this class of students has digital access, these students probably will not have the advantages and preparation for post-secondary education and adult life that the Class I students will have.

Class III: these students do not have digital access at home. If their schools do not provide the proper balance, these students are often cheated of digital experiences entirely. In schools where technology is viewed as an extra or as a privilege, many of these students fall behind at extraordinary rates. They do not create, publish, produce, or problem-solve in digital environments, and they are usually relegated to the state of consumer in the classroom. Higher-level thinking skills are only nurtured within this group by outstanding classroom teachers; however, without the digital experiences, this group is so far behind the Class I students, they may face an unsurmountable disadvantage as adults in the 21st Century.

This post is not promoting an initiative for all schools to add a 1:1 laptop ratio into every classroom, assuming that a laptop is the panacea for the Digital Divide. Nor is it an assumption that students can’t learn higher level thinking skills without technology. Think, however, about the following examples:

Jack: has access in school and at home, has a web-enabled cell phone he is allowed to use to find answers and to communicate with the world around him, has parents who set reasonable limits for the time he spends “plugged in” and have guided him about responsible behavior. Jack creates his own podcasts about how to use digital video editing software, writes his own blog about the upcoming US elections, and creates public service announcement videos for teens that may be seen on YouTube and sometimes even local television stations.

Brittany: covertly text messages her friends during classes at school- where cell phones are banned, populates her MySpace page with provocative photos of herself and her friends, chats with strangers online and pretends she is much older than she truly is, publishes her cell phone number and home address on all her social networking sites, and writes a research-based paper for her science class on global warming using only the first five returns on Google. Brittany has no limitations on how much time she spends “plugged in.”

Delanie: Delanie does not have a cell phone or a computer at home with internet access. The only time she has any digital experiences is when her classroom teacher takes the entire class to the computer lab. There are some computers in her classroom, but she has a more difficult time in school than her peers and it takes her longer to finish classwork. The computer in this classroom is a privilege and may be used only after worksheets are completed and turned in to the teacher… with no mistakes. Delanie has no idea about the world of blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc., except for what she hears other kids talk about.

Do you know students like Jake, Brittany, and Delanie? Would it surprise you to know that, even though I changed their names, these examples are students I actually know?

How would you classify your own students? What can you do to help bridge their Digital Divide?

Digital Natives and their Digital Immigrant Parents

As we continue our attempts in helping adults understand how children are learning– and how they need to learn in school– we tend to forget about one very important group of adults: PARENTS.

At one point, I assumed parents would advocate for finding new ways to engage students in their own learning. Who wouldn’t want their own children to have the best possible learning environment? What I’m finding, at least in our area, is that parents sometimes are the ones more concerned with standardized test scores, with how their child is competing with the next… and the Web is simply something that kids do on their own time.

eSchoolNews posted this yesterday:

“American parents agreed by a wide margin that digital media skills are important to kids’ success in the 21st century, but they also expressed skepticism about whether digital media could contribute to the development of skills such as communicating, working with others, and establishing civic responsibility…

• 67 percent of parents said they did not think the web helped teach their kids how to communicate.
• 87 percent of parents said they did not believe the web helped their kids learn how to work with others.
• Three out of four parents did not believe the web can teach kids to be responsible in their communities.”

Maybe they haven’t heard about students at Wells Elementary School in Wells, Maine who use blogs and podcasts to learn collaboratively. In this Apple Education featured profile, teacher Bob Sprankle is quoted,

“Instead of me teaching the kids discrete skills in isolation… in the process of making podcasts they’ve started teaching each other these skills… Creating the podcasts has completely changed their writing and language skills.”

And maybe parents haven’t noticed that young people are creating groups daily in Facebook, such as  “Helping Orphans in Myanmar” or “Relay4Life”  where important information, dates, donation websites, and other calls for action may be shared with anyone who joins the group and wants to help. These groups don’t always make the traditional news media… and a lot of parents don’t have a clue what their kids are doing on Facebook. It’s not just about stocking up on friends anymore.

My kids are so much more globally aware than I was at their ages. They have genuine concern for what’s going on in their world, and they want to do something about it. When they can’t find an avenue to help, they blog about how they feel and ask if anyone else feels the same way.

And maybe these same parents haven’t heard about The Pitot House entry on Wikipedia. Will Richardson talked about this particular Wikipedia entry at a conference I attended recently. This entry in Wikipedia was first added by an elementary teacher and her 3rd grade students, not by any historians or community experts in New Orleans. Here’s a real-life experience for these kids… they had to research the landmark and then decide what to tell the world about it. This wasn’t a report that only the teacher would read.

To be certain, there are some concerns about the chaotic nature of the Web. As a parent, I can understand the hesitancy. But as we continue to press educators to open their minds to the educational possibilities of the Web, it becomes more and more obvious that we need to invite all the stakeholders into our discussions… and parents most definitely need to be involved.

May 2008’s Think-About: Teaching to the Test

My friend, Tony Vincent, sent me this link today-

As an educator- and a former music educator- this really hit home with me. While I agree that schools should be accountable for ensuring that every child learns the skills necessary to be successful, I don’t agree that testing them ad nauseum is the way to prove they’re learning. The result, as most of you know, is that schools and teachers feel they need to teach to the test. Creativity is not only sapped out of the students, but from the teachers and their art of teaching as well.

A lot of classroom teachers and support staff resent the stipulations in NCLB. I guess my questions are:

1) In order to prove AYP, are we required to subject our students to a litany of tests? Are there other acceptable methods to show progress? Is this a case of misinterpreting requirements?

2) Critical thinking, creativity, learning to express oneself in an intelligent and responsible manner… aren’t these important life skills? Ah, but how does one test and prove that a student has learned these things? Too many times, we ignore content and skill that can’t be tested objectively.

3) There is research that shows students who are asked to use higher levels of thinking, not just comprehension and regurgitation of facts, perform at higher levels on standardized tests (anyone have any good examples to share?). Since this is the case, wouldn’t it make more sense to prepare students to do more than just excel on a test?

I can’t stop thinking about this today. Kids are dropping out of school at record paces- 1 in 4, according to a University of Minnesota study. 1 in 4! We need to keep them engaged and involved in school… help them learn the skills that are relevant to their world.

Pulling students out of Art, Music, PE, or worse yet, eliminating those programs in order to concentrate on the “core” subjects is unthinkable to me. For many students, the only reason they stay in school is because of a music program, or athletics, or a talent for painting. Reading, writing, math, science… they are essential. I won’t argue that; however, research about good Physical Education programs, music programs, and art programs have shown time and time again that kids perform better overall when involved in any of these programs.

Weaving Digital Literacy and 21st Century skills into the mix… it sometimes looks as if we have all these extras to teach. If we could simply learn to teach DIFFERENTLY… it could work. It does work. There are teachers right now who are successfully implementing these skills into their curriculum, and the students reap the benefits. These same students are outperforming their peers on standardized tests. In the next month, I’m going to be posting as many of these examples as I can find. If you have some you would like to share, please add to the comments!

A final thought, from Mr. Holland’s Opus:

Vice Principal Wolters: I care about these kids just as much as you do. And if I’m forced to choose between Mozart and reading and writing and long division, I choose long division.
Glenn Holland: Well, I guess you can cut the arts as much as you want, Gene. Sooner or later, these kids aren’t
going to have anything to read or write about. [my emphasis]

quote found at

Blogging Can Be Good for Kids!

I know I’m a little late in posting this, as it was published on April 30, but I think the findings are promising.

Blogging helps encourage teen writing from eSchool News:

“Bradley A. Hammer, who teaches in Duke University’s writing program, says the kind of writing students do on blogs and other digital formats actually can be better than the writing style they learn in school, because it is better suited to true intellectual pursuit than is SAT-style writing.

‘In real ways, blogging and other forms of virtual debate actually foster the very types of intellectual exchange, analysis, and argumentative writing that universities value,’ he wrote in an op-ed piece last August.”

In my personal experience with students, they tend to be very excited about their blog posts. Kids who don’t ordinarily “shine” in the classroom are proud of their personal writing and want to share it with others. The opportunity to revise and update as they blog and then receive feedback… it’s all about those authentic experiences that make writing powerful for kids.

If You Can’t Imagine It, You Can’t Make It Happen

I sat through a meeting the other day, listening to educators discuss the merits of not accepting zeros on missing or late assignments vs. “it’s too much work to follow up with kids, so I’m giving zeros anyway. Plus, I have to teach them to be accountable.”

Regardless of how you feel about this “hot topic” or any of Ken O’Connor’s work, I think it’s important to look more carefully at WHY kids aren’t doing their work in or out of the classroom. Personally, I feel a lot of kids aren’t just behavior problems. I think they’re bored. Bored out of their ever-living minds.

When they walk in the door of their school, they are required to “unplug.” How many classrooms still look like the straight, orderly rows that existed 10, 20, 30 years ago? Even if the classrooms aren’t orderly, how many teachers are willing to give up their role as “knowledge provider” and become the guide that assists the students in their self-directed learning? As soon as those kids walk out the door of their school and go home, they plug back in. They become creators. They become developers. And they learn in spite of what happens at school.

I’m not saying that all schools are like this… or even every classroom. But I do think there’s a huge dilemma in American education where the almighty test score reigns, and teaching to the test has become the rule. Kids who know how to play the “game of school” will perform adequately, but imagine what they could do if given a chance to move outside that game. And those kids who don’t play that game very well could wake up to a whole new world of learning. That’s really exciting!

Will Richardson just posted “Waking Up With a ‘Cognitive Surplus.'” Read it. Then go read Clay Shirky‘s book and book blog. Everything my measly little brain has tried to express in the last two years is right there.

I really think that we, as educators, are smack dab in the most exciting and phenomenal of times. Think about the possibilities! Imagine where you might be able to lead kids… or even better… where they might be able to lead you! If you’re not excited about this, I’ll be blunt. Maybe it’s time to consider another career. Our kids can’t wait for you to catch up or buy into what they are doing. They need our guidance. They need boundaries. They need to know how to be safe. But that other stuff we think we need to teach them? They can find that in about 10 seconds. Help them analyze, evaluate, synthesize it. And then allow them to grow with it. Can you imagine it???

I hope so.

Web 2.0 as Teacher-to-Home Communication

A question was posted regarding how the home-to-school connection (I also like calling this “teacher-to-home communication”) is coming along with new technologies and schools. Talk about a “rock and a hard place.”

I think there are a few factors that make the seemingly simple act of communicating through Web 2.0 more difficult than we would like to think.

1) TIME- yes, teachers in a lot of school systems have access to their own teacher web pages (or at least a building web page). However, how much time and money has been allotted to teaching the teachers how to use those pages? For some, this won’t be that big of an issue. For others, this is a very, very steep learning curve.

Also, it takes time to populate that web page, even when it’s a template-based system. If I want to make sure students can see a copy of the assignments we did in class, whether the student was absent or just misplaced the assignment, that will take time for me to add to the web page. Teachers already have minimal planning time for instruction. When do they find the time to add to their web pages? And what about Wikis? Blogs? Photo-sharing sites? TeacherTube?

2) INTERNET SAFETY- like it or not, it’s a federal requirement that schools keep kids safe . In some districts, that means blocking most of what we consider Web 2.0 tools. Our district blocks a lot of blogs, wikis, and photo-sharing sites because they aren’t regulated or moderated. My personal opinion, which I’ve posted many times, is that we can’t teach kids to use the internet safely when we block everything, but federal funding speaks louder than those of us “trying to make a point.” Regardless of my opinion, the situation is some Web 2.0 tools simply aren’t available in public schools.

3) USE by Parents & Students- if a teacher communicates through Web 2.0 tools ( for this example, let’s assume the teacher uses a wiki published on the web), will the students use it? Will the parents use it? Maybe a better question is: will the parents and/or students who need this communication MOST actually use it? There are so many factors here, it’s nearly impossible to know. Important questions to consider: do the families have internet access? if they do have access, will they check the wiki page every day? If they don’t have internet access, then what?

On top of all those issues, there is a HUGE divide between what some parents know and are able to do with Web 2.0… compared to what their kids know and are able to do. Web 2.0 education for the families is another need. Do parents and kids know they can add to a wiki? Or leave a comment on a blog post? Or comment on an instructional video on TeacherTube? Again, this is another learning curve that requires attention.

I don’t have any magic answers or solutions, but I do see some issues that we could begin to tackle. Dialogues need to occur amongst learning communities about how we should/could be communicating with Web 2.0.

Short side note: As a parent, I appreciate Web 2.0 as communication… and I use it. But a) I understand how to use it, b) I’m not blocked from using it, and c) I have access at home to it. How many of your students’ parents are like me?