The Wow Factor

At ISTE 2010 in Denver, I attended one of Howard Rheingold’s sessions, “Crap Detection 101.” In this session, Rheingold talked with educators about helping students learn how to wade through the endless amounts of data on the web… but most importantly, helping them discern facts from “crap.” I think a lot of adults could use these skills, in addition to our students.

Another form of “crap detection” that I wish educators would learn is how to know when they’re being taken for a ride courtesy of the Techno-Wow Train.


cc licensed photo shared by thekeithhall

I’m not knocking technology in this post. After spending more than a decade in techno-centric roles, that would be a step back for me. What I do have a problem with is when people use technology to make a fancy-schmancy spreadsheet or “beautiful PowerPoint” (oxymoron?) to present bad information (crap) with a nice, shiny bow or a few amazing bells and whistles.

For example, if I were giving multiple choice tests in my music classroom, and then charting the data into an impressive looking spreadsheet to give to my supervisor, I would hope that my supervisor would ask me how I obtained the data. I would hope that my supervisor would NOT be impressed by the delivery method (the spreadsheet), but would ask good questions about the data.

To clarify my point: in the music classroom, I should be assessing what my students know by having them demonstrate what they have learned. Through a multiple choice test, I can evaluate a student’s memory or understanding at the Knowledge level only. Or… maybe that they are good guessers. What is a quarter note? What is an eighth note? These can be answered on a multiple choice test. Do I really know, through a multiple choice test,  if students understand at a deeper level? Absolutely not.

However, if I give those students an activity where they must create their own rhythm patterns using quarter notes and eighth notes, as well as giving them restrictions– I want a rhythm pattern that is two measures long, with four beats per measure– NOW those students must use Application and Synthesis skills to demonstrate what they have learned. I can chart this data just as well as I could chart the multiple choice results.

Which assessment option is better? That’s a no-brainer. BUT… in a spreadsheet of data where I mark “understanding,” how will anyone know what my data represents? It could be the multiple choice data.

I’m really good at making fancy-schmancy spreadsheets. I can make you marvel at my super mad MS Excel skillz. BUT… what do you really want to know about my students? That their teacher can give you the Wow Factor when it comes to presenting data? or that the collected data really means something?

Gearing Up For NETA 09

Tomorrow is the first day of the 2009 NETA Conference.

After preparing all day, I’m really excited for this conference, as well as meeting and re-connecting with other educators.

Day 1: Looking forward to Hall Davidson’s opening keynote.

Also, NETA is providing a Bloggers’ Cafe this year. If you’re attending, plan to stop in and see us. You can find us on Wikispaces at

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow, and of course, you can always follow me, too: If you’re looking for more people to follow, there is a microblogging page in the Bloggers’ Cafe wiki that lists several educators on Twitter.

The best part of these conferences for me always comes from the conversations had with the people I meet… I always thoroughly enjoy the sessions and speakers, but I think I personally grow more when I participate in the discussions about what we all experience in those sessions. Really looking forward to that!

In the Game or On The Sidelines

I so appreciate Dean Shareski‘s vision… he often finds great photos to accompany great quotes. [image credits]1

How are you helping your kids/students make those global connections?

1 shareski. “Sidelines.” shareski’s photostream. 27 Jan 2009. 28 Jan 2009. .

original image:

Accentuate the Tech Positive

Techno-fear: a state where humans feel they are losing control due to advances in technology.*

Nearly every day, I’m bombarded by statements – in person or via some news outlet- expressing “techno-fear.” If a young person is in trouble due to something posted to a social network, there is a negative focus on the public nature of the social network. If an adult is fired due to inappropriate photos posted on the web, technology is to blame.

When I begin presentations on web 2.0, usually there is a least one person rolling his eyes or shaking her head when I start to talk about social networks and multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs). The audience assumes I’m going to talk about the dangers of these web environments.

Instead, the focus should be how these tools are used positively, how they can elevate thinking, and how they engage users. We can also discuss privacy and web permanence… but those don’t have to be scary topics.

How could we all approach these ideas positively with kids?

5 quick starts:

  1. Begin by exploring social networks and MUVEs for yourself. If you don’t understand these environments, you can’t speak the language… nor can you make any accurate judgments about their usefulness. (Darren Draper wrote a great blog post today about “immersion.”)
  2. Start genuinely talking to kids and asking them what they do online. Be open-minded and really LISTEN.
  3. Take note of all the good things that are happening online with kids; e.g., young people were more involved in the 2008 election than ever before, because of online political groups, forums, blogs, etc.
  4. Remember- technology is only a tool. We have to learn to use tools properly. When we don’t, we make mistakes. If students have no guidance about online activity, how will they know what it takes to be good digital citizens?
  5. Stay positive. Think about all the amazing things technology provides us today. Personally, I’m thankful that I don’t have to grind my own ink and write with a quill.


look again at my definition of ‘techno-fear’:

a state where humans feel they are losing control due to advances in technology

and remember “control” is an illusion.

*This is my own definition of ‘techno-fear.’ You can find Webster’s definition of technofear at

Blog Action Day 08- Poverty and Access

Today is Blog Action Day 08, and I started thinking about experiences I had while I was in the classroom.

I taught in a very small school, and there were very few families of “average” socioeconomic status. There were many well above average, and many well below. It was an environment somewhat foreign to me, as I attended schools where most students were all about the same.

During the time I was there, I remember thinking about the achievement levels of all the kids– how those levels mostly fell into the patterns we were taught (from college methods classes) to expect. There were, however, a few kids who completely defied the stereotypes.

There were 4 in particular who amazed me with their accomplishments. According to all definitions, they lived in poverty. Additionally, their parents were either non-existent at home, abusive, drug/alcohol dependent, or all of the above. Yet these children were THRIVING at school. They made the superior honor roll. They were involved in multiple activities- because it was such a small school, kids who were involved in anything were usually involved in everything. They were leaders in their classes, had excellent senses of humor, and were well-liked all around. No one seemed to care that they often wore rags or didn’t have the latest, greatest technology.

I often asked my colleagues, “What is it about these kids that enable them to excel when, all factors considered, they should be struggling?” We often shrugged our shoulders and felt grateful for those kids.

Now, I think back on those kids… I still don’t know what it was that helped them initially, but I do know that all the positive forces in their lives helped them to CONTINUE to thrive. I’m happy just to have been in their somewhere, whether my contribution had much of an impact or not. I know that, somehow, they experienced something or someone who gave them advantages that other children living in poverty didn’t receive. They were lucky.

But then I think about the other kids who were growing up in the same types of households… the ones who didn’t thrive. I remember the school nurse quietly offering t-shirts to kids who came to school in dirty clothes everyday. Or the principal allowing some kids to arrive really early in the morning, so they could take a quick shower in the locker room and then head to the cafeteria to eat a hot breakfast. As much as we tried to help, and as much as we wanted them to be successful, some of them were not. They struggled to read. They struggled with basic math skills, even in high school. They struggled with relationships with other students. I often wonder, what could I have done better to help them? Would they always be “behind” in life?  (Are they still behind now? )

Now, while I’m in a different position in a different place, I think about the kids in our schools who have similar situations. The “haves” walk in the door with their designer clothing and backpacks, cell phones, iPods, laptops- and although they’re asked to put those ‘distractions’ away at school- these kids have ACCESS. They are always connected. What about the students who aren’t as connected? Are they already behind in school on what educators view as traditional curriculum? If so, how much further behind will these kids be in 21st century skills? Do these kids have the same opportunity to learn the media, information, and technological literacies as their more affluent peers?

With what you know about your own schools, think about the following:

  • students who struggle with basic ‘traditional’ literacy skills spend more time on skill/drill and re-teaching activities– and less on critical thinking, problem-solving, and creative activities.
  • which kids in your schools struggle the most? Are they given time to think critically, or are they doing skill and drills?
  • which kids in your schools spend the most time connected to the internet during school? Those who have access at home already, or those who do not?
  • when you or your teachers use technology as a tool to facilitate learning, are you (they) replicating pen and paper activities with technology, or using the tools to ask good questions, solve problems, create new products and gain deeper understanding?

Now think about these statements:

Education is supposed to be the great equalizer.

Some have said that technology is the new great equalizer.

I think that, if we don’t make changes in our schools NOW, we are going to experience one of the greatest divides ever between those who can afford to be connected, and those who cannot. What are you going to do about that?

September Think-About: Questions

When you think of 21st Century Learning, what comes to your mind?

  • What are the skills that people need to succeed in the 21st Century?*
  • Is it all about the technology, or are there different approaches to thinking and acting in the 21st Century?
  • In addition to the core subjects, what should schools be adding to their curriculum?
  • How should schools change instruction to meet the needs of 21st Century kids?

I’m not bringing up a brand new topic that hasn’t been discussed over and over in the “edublogosphere,” but I wonder to what extent these issues are discussed in education in general. In other words, if you don’t have a “techie” in the room (and that could be a technology integration specialist/facilitator or any other person in a school district reponsible for overseeing technology in the schools), do these questions ever come up? I hope the answer is YES.

Does your curriculum and instruction provide opportunities for your students to:

  • tell stories?
  • solve problems?
  • take risks?
  • question and explore?
  • collaborate with others?
  • create and invent?
  • express themselves?

One of my favorite education quotes of all time is attributed to Roger Lewin: “Too often we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve.”

With the major problems in the world today, I don’t want answers that go nowhere (or that I could find myself). I want problem-solvers, creative thinkers, risk-takers.

Are your students learning these skills?

*Looking for a common definition of 21 Century Learning and the associated skill sets? Try and click on the Route 21 link in the lower left corner of the web page.

photo credit: cgines. “Puzzle pieces.” cgines photostream. 26 Nov 2007. 30 Sept 2008.