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Public Education at a Crossroads

March 28, 2012 1 comment
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"(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A good friend of mine and respected colleague, David Gamberg, recently posted some thoughts on the state od education.  David always provides an insight that provokes thought and discussion, and frequently challenges the way we think and behave.

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How do we judge performance while maintaining the humanity of a profession that rests on an exchange of ideas between the child and adult? Thus is the dilemma faced throughout our nation as we grapple with the impact of testing our students and evaluating our teachers in the age of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) process. The art and science of teaching and learning is of course more than either the sharing of ideas and the grading of students and teachers.

The system of educating our youth has been a public covenant, which has supported our economic, political, and social growth for over 230 years. In recent years, we have arrived at a crossroads in education, one that requires a careful balance to move forward. The basic platform for the delivery of knowledge and skills that has been the centerpiece of our system for the past 100 years often referred to as a factory model of education is under assault. Disruptive forces from many directions are challenging the very foundation of the educational establishment as we know it. What will it take to preserve our democratic way of life throughout the twenty-first century given the tumultuous changes that are at hand?

Our American way of life has benefited greatly by supporting and promoting this covenant with education. Public schooling has led to advancements in science, business, and culture that transcend the borders of our country. As the beneficiaries of this covenant we are now wondering how to rekindle the spark of innovation in public education that has been the thread of our democracy woven together since the days of Jefferson and Franklin. Is it through charter schools? Merit pay? Enhanced testing and evaluation measures?

In times of data driven decision-making, rapidly advancing technologies, and disruptive innovation, a battle is being waged for the hearts and minds of many stakeholder groups both inside and outside the world of education. The public-at-large demands results and looks to either a return to basics, or to an elevation of expectations by applying pressure on students, teachers, and schools that is born out of a competitive spirit which is as American as apple pie.

The rhetoric is at a fever pitch given the high stakes of how a well-educated populace will drive economic growth both now and in the future. Those who seek to reform education simply by applying the metrics of a return to the good old days, or those who apply the analytics of contemporary high performing corporate entities, possess only a partisan or a partial view of the picture. The image of a Norman Rockwell classroom, or a teacher crunching numbers as though they were reading the latest profit and loss statement reflects the larger chasm between those who cling to the past and those who have taken up the false mantle of educational reform predicated on an overly simplistic business model.

Many teaching and learning models of old, along with the dispositions of practice that reigned supreme can appear outmoded. In the front of the room looking out at rows of desks, the teacher has stood at the chalkboard lecturing to students with them dutifully following along in their textbooks. The fountain of information that was once poured from a singular source be it the teacher or the textbook, now flows both to and from multiple sources at lightning speed. There is, however, one element of the process that is essentially the same since the dawn of time—rapport. This is the element that shall not give way to any new methodology, technology, or structure.

When a teacher and student have rapport there is a relationship built on trust and respect. The student can confidently approach new material, take risks, and know that their interests are primary. It is not simply that the student enjoys either a class or the teacher. Rather, as with a great coach, the teacher can demand and expect an intrinsic desire on the part of the student to come to a deeper understanding of why something is so, or how something works. To be taught something is to acquire this understanding such that the student may use this knowledge or skill in ways that lift the quality of any process or product.

We see this every time a teacher kneels down and reassuringly works at the eye level of a student to provide insight into a problem or task. When a teacher checks in or checks back repeatedly to ensure that learning has taken place that reassurance pays dividends, as the student is more willing to step forward in new, more difficult directions. What may be misrepresented as building self-esteem is actually a carefully orchestrated set of uniquely human traits to create the conditions for optimal learning.

Delivering content at the touch of a finger on a 24 hour, seven day a week basis is now possible and cost effective. However, who will step in and guide a child towards a path of self-discovery that bears any resemblance to what we may consider to be truthful and accurate? Separating fact from fiction, and imparting the basic tenets of an understanding as to why and how things are in math, science, history, and literature has always been the province of our teachers in school.

Unfortunately, the notion of exercising what may be akin to “a bedside manner” in rendering the teacher-learner relationship now seems to give way to a boiling down of the bottom line of test scores and tax dollars. Advancements in technology, brain research, and organizational efficiency have produced new, more effective structures and tools that can be harnessed to replace old ways of doing things. The new paradigm shift demands a new kind of educational system, one that not only embeds the use of these tools and structures, but also one that captures the imagination of all participants in the process, both students and teachers.

The art and science of how a learning organization moves forward and progresses towards any definition of what we may generally describe as “improvement,” requires many components. There is no silver bullet for the prescription of success. Returning to the notion of a bedside manner, a doctor cannot write a script formulated simply on data from a chart or solely based on the cost of care. Careful attention to these and other details including rapport with the patient creates the dynamic that results in the wellness of any individual.

The American experiment in a free and boundless democracy, at least in part driven by a public system of educating our citizens, has come as a result of an unquenching determination to try new things, be bold, work hard, and take risks. In this ever more complex world where students acquire the habits of mind that will allow them to prosper and carry forward the values of our society we must ask ourselves how to build a system that promotes and protects a true understanding of that which is important to the soul of education.
-David Gamberg

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Facebook for Educators: Safely & Securely

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...

Image via CrunchBase

I came across a great post today on the TL Advisor Blog.  The information presented is very helpful for educators who are interested in using the Facebook social network for professional use, but may be uncertain about how to do so safely and securely.

As the Director of Technology for a K-12 school district, I do not block many of the sites that my colleagues in other districts do.  It has been my experience that the more barriers and limitations that educators encounter in their quest to utilize the latest technology, the more it will result in the educators becoming frustrated and giving up quickly on the use of technology in general.

I also recognize that the educators in my district are professionals and should be treated as such.  Each day these educators present materials to our students in many different formats.  Being professionals implies that they will use their best judgement and carefully monitor the information they are presenting or is being accessed by their students.  

Yes, there are those that may not behave as professionals, but my experience has been that this is the rare exception and far from the norm.  I will not burden the vast majority of the educators, who are working hard each day to provide  the best learning environment for their students, with road blocks put up to prevent a limited few from behaving inappropriately.

There are tools for me to review online activities, when warranted, after a problem is brought to my attention.  I have no desire or need to be monitoring the activities of the educators in my district in real-time.  

Instead, I prefer to spend my time working to assist my colleagues in their efforts to find the and utilize the best technology resources for and with our students.

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“Advice for Choosing Pages, Groups or Profiles When Using Facebook for Education by Lisa Nielsen

I’m an advocate of using real world tools in school.  After all, if we’re not using tools of the world in our classrooms, then what world are we really preparing students for?  The one that is most convenient… or the one that is right for kids?  If you want to do what is most convenient, then you can work at a school where they ban, block, filter and restrict.  You know those schools.  Some kids’ heads are on their desks, others are facing forward listening (but are they really?), and others are engaged in the outdated skill of taking down the words their almighty teacher says or writes on the board. Paper, pencils, pens, outdated textbooks are plentiful.  In schools where we’re doing what is right for kids, you see engaged youth who use the filter between their ears to determine how to best access information. Students are empowered rather than restricted from using personally owned digital devices in school.  At these schools they understand that people, not tools, have behavior.  Fortunately, more and more often these schools that mirror the real world are starting to crop up in places like New Canaan High School in Connecticut and The School in Harlem, New York.

When I speak about schools such as these, I often get a lot of questions like this one I received recently from a Twitter follower. 

“Great ideas for Facebook, but would we be taking a social risk? Facebook is taboo for many admins and districts are frowning on FB because of the potential risk for unprofessional behavior bit.ly/gCEp2n .”

My reply to such inquiries is always the same.  Tools have no intent.  Facebook doesn’t cause a risk for unprofessional behavior, but it catches those who engage in such behaviors.  What we’re really saying when we block and ban is that we don’t want to bother dealing with issues such as those who have chosen to publicly engaged in unprofessional behavior.  It is much more convenient to turn heads the other way.

After I’ve convinced educators that Facebook is a powerful tool in education because it’s one that our kids are already using and it is our professional duty to use and help keep kids safe in the environments of their worlds, I’m often asked this question: 

“Would you encourage using a Facebook page or profile to connect with students? Is there a difference?”


Students bring their own devices to New Caanan High School
and use an unfiltered internet

There is not a one-size-fits all answer.  It depends on your intent.  If you are like me or Principal Chris Lehmann you have one profile because it’s just another way to communicate and you’ll communicate with your students in any way they wish.  The idea of being two separate people may just be too hard to keep track of and you enjoy being a professional and social role model for students.  If you are like librarian Michelle Loots (Luhtala) you use a personal page to connect with friends and family, a professional profile for students and apage to keep students in the know about library activities.. If you are like first grade teacherErin Schoening you create a page as a window into your classroom to connect students with parents.  If you are like Brooklyn Tech High School you use a page as a place to connect with present and past students and teachers.  You might be like Education Land, a group created to connect those who are interested in education.

If you want to understand how you can maintain a professional presence on the site separate from your personal profile, here are some tips, directly from Facebook’s Safety for Educators page (note: You may also want to visit the “Teachers” page in the Facebook Safety Center.)  First they suggest that if you are a teacher and have a personal profile, you can consider creating a group or a Page specifically for interacting with students, parents, or colleagues. Create Friend Lists to control what parts of your profile students are able to access.  If you don’t get the difference between pages, and groups, and friend’s lists here is how it’s explained on Facebook’s Safety for Educators page.

Pages, Groups, and Friends Lists Overview 

Pages 
Pages are for broadcasting great information to people on Facebook. For example, you could create a Page called “Ms. Smith’s 9th Grade Science Class” where you post daily homework assignments. Anyone can become a fan of a Page on Facebook. People who choose to become a fan of a Page will see updates on their profile. To create a Page, click
 here. Pages are free, you can control them with your personal profile, and they keep your profile separate from your students.

Groups 
Groups make it easy for members of a community to connect, share and even collaborate on a given topic or idea. For example, you could create a group called “American Literature 101 Discussions” where you and your students can contribute to group discussions. Or you could create a group for all of the educators in your your department to collaborate on lesson plans and share ideas. To create a group, click 
here.

Friend Lists 
Friend Lists
 provide organized groupings of your friends on Facebook. For example, you can create a Friend List specifically for your students. Then you can control which parts of your profile are visible to this entire list. You can also filter your view of each list’s stream of activity separately on the home page, or send messages and invites to this group of people all at once. To learn more about creating and managing Friend Lists, click here.

Connecting with Other Facebook Using Educators 
If you want to connect with other educators who are using Facebook for Learning, join the Facebook in Education page.  This page is a resource for teachers, professors, administrators, counselors and others who work in education. You can refer to this page for privacy tips to help you maintain both a personal and a professional presence on Facebook. You’ll also find answers to common questions including how to report abuse to Facebook and the best way to use Facebook as a communication tool in your school. To become a fan of this page, click 
here and choose the “Become a Fan” option at the top of the page.

Read Librarian Michelle Luhtala’s response to this blog post at Y U Need 2 “Friend” ur Students!

Lisa Nielsen is best known as creator of The Innovative Educator bloghttp://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com and Transforming Education for the 21st Centuryhttp://ted21c.ning.com learning network. Lisa is an outspoken and passionate advocate of innovative education. She is frequently covered by local and national media for her views on “Thinking Outside the Ban” and determining ways to harness the power of technology for instruction and providing a voice to educators and students. Based in New York City, Ms. Nielsen has worked for more than a decade in various capacities helping schools and districts to educate in innovative ways that will prepare students for 21st century success. Her first book “Teaching Generation Text” is set for a fall 2011 release. You can follow her on Twitter @InnovativeEdu.”

I could not agree more…

March 17, 2011 1 comment

Heather Wolpert-Gawron posted a piece which was featured on Edutopia today.  As I read through each of the issues and corresponding responses, I found myself nodding in agreement and quietly saying “yes.”  Yes, to everything she wrote.

Yes, legal concerns can be overcome through proper modeling.  Yes, teacher training is possible and who better to teach teachers than other teachers?  Freeing up teachers from mundane an outdated tasks to allow them the time to impart 21st century skills on today’s students makes perfect sense.

I may be wrong about this, but whenever I poll teachers and students about technology available at home, the response is that nearly all (if not all) students have computers and broadband access to the Internet.  Those that do not are directed to the local public library.

Of course implementing technology can be expensive, but as stated, “”we cannot afford to fall any more behind in our comfort and use of technology.”

It is time for parents, community members, teachers and administrators to ban together in recognizing the importance of effective use of technology to the future of our students.

We speak about the achievement gap between the different cultures in our schools. Meanwhile, however, many of the stakeholders in education have created a vast trench that lies between those who accept the inevitability of technology and those who still refute its place in our classrooms.

Policymakers demand our schools must reflect the 21st century, yet continue to deny schools the funding to do just that. Additionally, our districts block many of the online sites for collaboration from our schools.

It is fear that guides many of the decisions about educational technology: fear that we will be left globally behind by countries more committed to technology integration and also fear that our students will somehow be scarred its use.

Frankly, there are many reasons to avoid providing technology as a more common and frequent tool in education. However, as stated in “Strictly Ballroom,” one of my favorite movies, “a life lived in fear is a life half lived.” Fear cannot shut us down from our mission: to educate students for their future.

For the Naysayers

Here are some typical arguments against technology in schools — and better ones for using it:

1. The legal issues are daunting: what if a student writes inappropriate content online? Answer: Our job is to teach them how to use the tools of the real world. After all, using a circular saw is dangerous too, but only through shop class have many students learned to build a birdhouse safely. So is it with technology. Parents and teachers must be a part of monitoring and modeling. It may be scary, but without teaching students about appropriate use, they will surely encounter exactly that which we are most scared of.

2. How ever will we train all those teachers? Answer: It’s simple. Have teachers train teachers. Give teachers who know how the paid release time to be trainers during their contracted hours of those who don’t know how. There are willing teachers on every site, at every district, teachers willing to take on hybrid roles in education that allow them one foot in the classroom and one foot working to improve the pedagogy and practice of those who need to learn. For those who train, they will, as a result, avoid burnout by being permitted ways to utilize their other skills, all the while helping other teachers improve their own 21st century knowledge.

3. Where does the time come from? How can we add more to a teacher’s plate? Answer: How ’bout this? Don’t. Instead, take something off teachers’ plates rather than put more on. We have to prioritize, and including technology is too important. We can’t continue to have teachers waste their time on the curricular needs of yesteryear. We need to redefine how a teacher spends their time during the day and redefine the curriculum of tomorrow.

4. Some students don’t have access to technology at home so how can we expect them to use it for assignments? Answer: To this I say, many homes don’t have libraries either, but we still teach how to read. The fact is that it’s a school’s job to step up to provide and instruct. Even though some students may not have access to a computer at home, the school needs to see its role in equalizing the differences between those who have and those who don’t. It’s also society’s role to find a way to provide for those homes in a more equitable way or our country’s children will be left behind. Some districts are already working in conjunction with phone providers and computer companies to help bridge this gap. Those districts should not be few and far between, but should be commonplace.

5. It’s expensive. Answer: Nevertheless, “we cannot afford to fall any more behind in our comfort and use of technology.” Policymakers need to start backing up their demands with funds. Parents need to be a part of monitoring their student’s use at home. Teachers must continue to develop the skills that make them the technology guides in the classroom. For as the gap gets ever wider, the money it will take to fill the divide will increase. We are already in the red. Our reluctance to think and plan ahead has already created a debt of technological knowledge.

Taking Action

We can’t allow fear to dictate our progress, nor can we allow those who won’t move forward to dictate whether we do move forward. We cannot allow policymakers to insist on adoption and not provide for it, or worse yet, tentatively provide it and not find bravery and support by those within education’s walls.

Teachers need to be on the forefront of curriculum, not in its wake. We need to be leading the charge towards preparing our students for their future, not hindering our march towards tomorrow.

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Making the the Case For Social Media in Schools

October 3, 2010 Leave a comment
This is icon for social networking website. Th...

Image via Wikipedia

The use of social networking tools in schools is still a hotly debated topic.  Many administrators and teachers struggle as they try to balance the many positive aspects of allowing teachers and students to utilize social networking sites tools, with the concerns about potential abuse of these tools, as well as concerns over confidentiality and maintaining a safe educational environment for their students. A recent Mashable post on this topic makes some wonderful points on this topic.

A year after seventh grade teacher Elizabeth Delmatoff started a pilot social media program in her Portland, Oregon classroom, 20% of students school-wide were completing extra assignments for no credit, grades had gone up more than 50%, and chronic absenteeism was reduced by more than a third. For the first time in its history, the school met its adequate yearly progress goal for absenteeism.

At a time when many teachers are made wary by reports of predators and bullies online, social media in the classroom is not the most popular proposition. Teachers like Delmatoff, however, are embracing it rather than banning it. They argue that the educational benefits of social media far outweigh the risks, and they worry that schools are missing out on an opportunity to incorporate learning tools the students already know how to use.

What started as a Facebook-like forum where Delmatoff posted assignments has grown into a social mediacomponent for almost every subject. Here are the reasons why she and other proponents of educational social media think more schools should do the same.


1. Social Media is Not Going Away


In the early 1990s, the InternetInternet was the topic of a similar debate in schools. Karl Meinhardt was working as a school computer services manager at the time.

“There was this thing called the Internet starting to show up that was getting a lot of hype, and the school administration was adamantly against allowing access,” he says. “The big fear was pornography and predators, some of the same stuff that’s there today. And yet…can you imagine a school not connected to the Internet now? “

Meinhardt helped develop the Portland social media pilot program after Delmatoff saw his weekly technology segment on the local news and called to ask for his advice. In his opinion, social media, like the Internet, will be a part of our world for a long time. It’s better to teach it than to fight it.

Almost three-fourths of 7th through 12th graders have at least one social media profile, according to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation. The survey group used social sites more than they played games or watched videos online.

When schools have tried to ban social media, now an integral part of a young person’s life, they’ve had negative results. Schools in Britain that tried to “lock down” their Internet access, for instance, found that “as well as taking up time and detracting from learning, it did not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions.”

“Don’t fight a losing battle,” says Delmatoff. “We’re going to get there anyway, so it’s better to be on the cutting edge, and be moving with the kids, rather than moving against them…Should they be texting their friends during a lecture? Of course not. They shouldn’t be playing cards in a lecture, they shouldn’t be taking a nap during a lecture. But should they learn how to use media for good? Absolutely.”


2. When Kids Are Engaged, They Learn Better


edublogs image

Matt Hardy, a 3rd and 4th grade teacher in Minnesota, describes the “giddy” response he gets from students when he introduces blogs. He started using blogs in his classroom in 2007 as a way to motivate students to write.

“Students aren’t just writing on a piece of paper that gets handed to the teacher and maybe a smiley face or some comments get put on it,” he says. “Blogging was a way to get students into that mode where, ‘Hey, I’m writing this not just for an assignment, not just for a teacher, but my friend will see it and maybe even other people [will] stumble across it.’ So there’s power in that.”

Delmatoff says that at first her students were worried they would get in trouble for playing because they actually enjoyed doing activities like writing a blog.

“But writing a blog, that’s not playing, that’s hard work,” she says. “Karl and I started thinking we were really on to something if kids were thinking that their hard academic work was too much fun.”

Her students started getting into school early to use the computer for the social media program, and the overall quality of their work increased. Although Delmatoff is adamant that there’s no way to pin her class’s increased academic success specifically to the pilot program, it’s hard to say that it didn’t play a part in the more than 50% grade increase.


3. Safe Social Media Tools Are Available — And They’re Free


kidsblog image

When Hardy started using blogs to teach, he developed his own platform to avoid some of the dangers associated with social media use and children. His platform allowed him to monitor and approve everything the children were posting online, and it didn’t expose his students to advertising that might be inappropriate. He later developed a similar web-based tool that all teachers could use called kidblog.org. The concept caught on so quickly that his server crashed in September when the school year started.

Many mainstream social media sites like FacebookFacebook and MySpaceMySpace are blocked in schools that receive federal funding because of the Children’s Internet Protection Act, which states that these schools can’t expose their students to potential harm on the Internet.

Kidblog.org is one of many free tools that allow teachers to control an online environment while still benefiting from social media. Delmatoff managed her social media class without a budget by using free tools likeEdmodo and Edublogs.


4. Replace Online Procrastination with Social Education


nielsen graph image

Between 2004 and 2009, the amount of time that kids between the ages of 2 and 11 spent online increased by 63%, according to a Nielson study. And there’s no reason, Meinhardt argues, that schools shouldn’t compete with other social media sites for part of this time.

He helped Delmatoff create a forum where she would post an extra assignment students could complete after school every day. One day she had students comment on one of President Obama’s speeches; another day she had them make two-minute videos of something on their walk home that was a bad example of sustainability. These assignments had no credit attached to them. “It didn’t get you an A, it didn’t get you a cookie. It didn’t get you anything except something to do and something to talk about with other students.”

About 100 students participated. Through polls taken before and after the program, Meinhardt determined that students spent between four to five fewer hours per week on Facebook and MySpace when the extra assignments had been implemented.

“They were just as happy to do work rather than talk trash,” Delmatoff says. “All they wanted was to be with their friends.”


5. Social Media Encourages Collaboration Instead of Cliques


edmodo image

Traditional education tactics often involve teacher-given lectures, students with their eyes on their own papers, and not talking to your neighbor.

“When you get in the business world,” Meinhardt says, “All of [a] sudden it’s like, ‘OK, work with this group of people.’ It’s collaborative immediately. And we come unprepared to collaborate on projects.”

Social media as a teaching tool has a natural collaborative element. Students critique and comment on each other’s assignments, work in teams to create content, and can easily access each other and the teacher with questions or to start a discussion.

Taking some discussions online would also seem to be an opportunity for kids who are shy or who don’t usually interact with each other to learn more about each other. A study by the Lab for Social Computing at the Rochester Institute of Technology, however, found that this wasn’t the case. The study found that using educational social media tools in one of the Institute’s courses had no measurable impact on social connections.

Delmatoff argues that with her students, however, new connections were made. “If you’re shy or you’re not popular or any of those hideous things that we worry about in middle school — if you know the answers or have good insights or ask good questions, you’re going to be really valuable online.” she says. “So I started to see some changes that way.”


6. Cell Phones Aren’t the Enemy


69% of American high schools have banned cell phones, according to figures compiled by CommonSense Media, a nonprofit group that studies children’s use of technology. Instead, Delmatoff’s school collectedstudent’s cell phone numbers.

Delmatoff would send text messages to wake chronically absent kids up before school or send messages like, “I see you at the mini-mart” when they were running late (there’s a mini-mart visible from the school). She called the program “Texts on Time,” and it improved chronic absenteeism by about 35% without costing the school a dime.

“The cell phone is a parent-sponsored, parent-funded communication channel, and schools need to wrap their mind around it to reach and engage the kids,” Meinhardt says.


Conclusion


Nobody would dispute that the risks of children using social media are real and not to be taken lightly. But there are also dangers offline. The teachers and parents who embrace social media say the best way to keep kids safe, online or offline, is to teach them. We’re eager to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments below.

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