Sunday, January 14, 2007

Resolution 2007 - Promoting Digital Equity

As you move forward in the digital age, take the time to notice who we might be leaving behind. How about adding digital equity to your 2007 resolution. Consider expanding the definition of No Child Left Behind to include “no child left behind in a digital age”. My 2007 resolution is to renew my commitment to digital equity and provide increased resources to teachers for bridging the digital divide in their schools.

  1. I resolve to update my collection of keyboarding resources and promote keyboarding skills in ALL students.

    Ignore those who tell you that we don’t need to teach this skill anymore because of the voice recognition technology or because today’s kids are on the computers so much they pick it up naturally. Those who use effective keyboarding techniques will build skills and gain increased productivity, while those who don’t will get further and further behind in their schoolwork. Don’t forget to include assistive technology options for students with disabilities.

  2. I resolve to know which students lack access to digital tools at home.

    Informally inquire about students access, so that you can provide solutions that help these students and their families. I make old keyboards available with keyboarding practice sheets AND teach students how to practice on a keyboard alone. I was surprised at the number of 3rd and 4th grade students who took me up on this offer (some of them have computers, but complain that other family members horde all the computer time). I know of at least one Vermont school that refurbishes old machines with Linux and open source software and makes them available to families in their district. Making parents aware of public library access to computers, or creating public hours for your own computer lab can increase access.

  3. I resolve to promote sensitivivity to lack of or slow Internet Access.

    Many communities still have only DIAL UP access. If you post documents online for parents, make sure that the families without Internet are aware of how they can also access these documents. Break the documents down for quicker download for dial-up users. For example , if your school’s program of studies is online, consider posting it as separate “chapters” or text only format for dial-up users. Using a free PDF maker can ensure that your documents are posted in a format accessible to all users. Consider differentiated assignments and resources to accommodate students with limited or no access.

  4. I resolve to revive the TechSavy Girls program and create new opportunities for girls to build skills and confidence in their use of technology.

    While it appears that most middle school girls have confidence and skills equal to their male counterparts when it comes to technology use, interest and participation levels decrease significantly during high school and college years. The ratio of girls to boys in high level computer classes has actually decreased during the past decade and hover around the 12% rate.

  5. I resolve to make Web-based and Open Source Software available to students to increase home access to digital tool.

    Our regional technology users group is exploring the use of more Web-based and Open Source resouces in our schools. In a series of parent workshops, we distribute “FREE” open-source software for parents who attend. One of our teachers is adding OpenSource platform productivity tools to his lab to increase students familiarity with these tools. This is also a great way to promote greater understanding of tech “concepts” and skills transfer.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Choose Your Own Resolution

Choose Your Own Resolution

I can only speak for myself, but I believe in self-improvement. If my husband read that statement, he would probably remark that I’ve been watching too many TiVoed episodes of Oprah. However, I have observed that while some people are born brilliant and gifted educators, most teachers, myself included, have to really work at reaching our personal and professional best. I think we all owe it to ourselves and to our students to continually seek out new and better ways of educating.

So…it’s that time of year, and even if you don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, how about pledging to kick things up a bit in your classroom at least? Here are my suggestions!

1) Provide a window into your classroom.

Parents want to know about their child’s experiences at school, not to necessarily harangue teachers, but to simply learn more about their children. You can do busy parents a huge favor by providing a few glimpses. Some ideas are:

• Take lots of pictures of your students engaged in class work and of their actual work. If you use a regular camera, have your photos put on a disk when you get the filmed developed.
• Compose a newsletter for parents and send it out via email. Trick this out a bit by sending it out via Google Groups or…
• Jot down a few notes about classroom activities and add a few pictures in a blog or a wiki.
• Schedule volunteer activities for parents using Google Calendar.
• Get fancy and make a brief video about classroom happenings just like Bre Pettis did in Room 132.

2) Organize your digital closets.

Just like you probably already organize your paper based resources and other materials, take some time on a regular basis to organize whatever you store on your computer. One of my colleagues borrows from the business world and uses a popular management system created by David Allen called Getting Things Done.

My own suggestions are:

• Make folders on your computer for handouts, forms, and correspondence. Consider creating a folder for each student for storing examples of work and photos taken in class. Take a few moments each week to sort digitized items into these folders.
• Start thinking about the end of the school year. If you get organized now, you can easily burn a CD of your students’ work in June for an end of the year surprise.
• Also, consider making a yearbook for your class. There are many services that do this now for a fee. A few services to checkout are Snapfish, Blurb, and Shutterfly. I like Apple’s service that works with iPhoto; two years ago I created a softcover photo booklet for my daughter’s kindergarten class at a reasonable cost.
• Start tagging files. This will make searching for documents and pictures much easier. I know teachers who name files with students’ initials, so that they can easily find documents when searching their computers. Also, Mac users can select a file and then go to the File menu to select Get Information. Under the Spotlight Comments field, you can label that file with keywords. Using Spotlight, the OS X search tool, you can pull up anything that is tagged with a keyword later on.
• Backup all of your files. Do this now without delay. I paid the price this year and lost many photos when my hard drive crashed unexpectedly. Documents and other items that don’t require a lot of space are stored on my .Mac account and in my file server account at school. I also have a huge new external hard drive for storing my photos and video. Call me paranoid, but my original DV tapes and back up CDs of photos are stored in a fireproof safe as well.

3) Go global and take your students along for the ride.

• Start exploring Google Earth.
• Join the Google Earth Community.
• Take your class on a virtual field trip at Tramline Virtual Field Trips.
• Join a collaborative project at Global SchoolNet Foundation or at iEARN. Check out this list from Eduscapes.
• Go on a tour yourself. See Mike Searson’s iStory tour blog for inspiration.
• Apply for an Earthwatch Fellowship or a Fulbright Teacher Exchange.

4) Find some online neighbors. Join a community.

Busy teachers can find support and fellowship online. Here are a few starting points:

Education World’s Message Board Center
• Golden Apple Foundation’s Teacher Excellence Network
Support Blogging wiki
Tapped In

5) Subscribe to free professional development.

Here are a few of my favorite sources for finding listservs, web sites, and podcasts for improving professional practices:

H-EDTECH Discussion Network – an educational technology listserv
ISED-L – a listserv for private school educators, but may be of interest to public school educators as well
Edutopia – Their site and blog are fabulous, and make sure to sign up for their free magazine.
• Free educational podcasts in the iTunes Store
• If you are really feeling adventurous, learn more about RSS feeds by browsing Will Richardson’s RSS: A Quick Start Guide for Educators.

6) Acknowledge another educator.

Share your story about a teacher (or learning experience) that made a difference in your life. Take a moment to reflect on your own experiences through this project I recently started using Google Earth.

As always, I am interested in YOUR thoughts and suggestions. Please take a moment to leave a comment! And I almost forgot... here's my resolution. Thanks to Charlene Chausis for referring me to this fun resource!

Photo Credit: Sally Mahoney Click here to see the photo in Flickr.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Say YES to creativity in 2007

David Thornberg's ideas are often like a draught of cold, pure spring water on a hot summer day after a five mile hike.

Jordan River source

Thanks to Miguel Guhlin, I found David's post "The Power of Yes" today. This is my favorite paragraph:
Enter Linux and OSS. Imagine a software world where the answer is YES, not NO. Yes, you CAN give a copy of your presentation software to a child who wants to finish a project at home. Yes, you CAN play DVD's from any region in the world on your computer. Yes, you CAN tweak a program to add a new feature, or even fix a bug yourself. Yes, you CAN use an operating system that takes less than a class period to boot up. Yes, you CAN have all your software updated automatically for free. Yes, you CAN make older computers behave like energetic teens by eliminating the software bloat associated with Windows. Yes, you CAN save enough money to bring even more technology into the hands of children. Yes, you CAN be part of a global community of educators who see technology as a tool of empowerment for ALL children, rich or poor.

As educators and parents, we SHOULD focus and emphasize more positive, empowering messages with the young people we interact with each day over negative, controlling messages. It amazes me to realize how so many people in our world seem to act like sheep rather than shepherds. When we talk about the purposes of education and the need to help students develop independent capacities for creative and critical thinking at conferences or in the blogosphere, I think we often return to school buildings and educational environments where these ideas are at-best paid lip service, and at-worst ignored in a high-stakes testing environment which places the highest value of the transmission of curriculum content into the brains of learners so they can score well on standardized tests.


We've got plenty of metaphorical "sheep" in educational circles, we need more visionary shepherds like David who can lead us into a land of opportunity. Among your resolutions for the new year, in addition to being constructively digitally disruptive and gaining new personal experiences with digital social networking sites, I'd encourage you to try out more open source operating systems and software solutions. Ubuntu, OpenOffice, Moodle, and Audacity are a few of my personal favorites. To understand a technology and form credible perspectives about it, you need to have sustained experiences using it. Thankfully, the financial cost of using open source tools is minimal or non-existant. What you DO need to be willing to trade is TIME. I have found my time investments in open source technologies to be extremely valuable to date.

For more on David and his refreshing ideas, I recommend his article "Pencils Down! How Decontextualized Standardized Testing Can Destroy Education" from 2001. I also have notes from his 2005 TCEA preso, "But Wait, There’s More: Redefining Education in a Light-Speed World," and a podcast recording of David's 2006 TCEA preso "March of the Penguins - Linux on the Student Desktop!" I missed NECC last summer and hearing David there in person, but he shared the same preso at NECC in San Diego. It is available as a NECC 2006 enhanced podcast.

Say "yes" to creativity in 2007!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Key technology trends for Educational Leaders in 2007

Plano ISD is and has been a technology leader in Texas and throughout the United States for many years. On my own technology planning help wiki page for school districts, I link Plano ISD as a district with an exemplary technology plan, along with Bellingham Schools in Washington state. The eSchoolNews article from December 15th, "Education 2.0: The next evolution of school software has arrived" provides more evidence for Plano's leadership and vision in the area of student learning and educational technology. According to the article:
Within five years, [Plano ISD Technology Director Jim] Hirsch predicts, not a single desktop in this 52,000-student school system in metropolitan Dallas will carry the image of a proprietary school software program. Gone will be the familiar Microsoft applications and desktop icons that over the years have become synonymous with document creation. In their place will be a suite of lesser-known, but equally capable alternatives--or, what Hirsch likes to call "open technologies."

The Strategic Open Source Initiative in Texas and the work Steve Hargadon and others are advancing through EdTechLIVE not only supports awareness of-- but actual implementation of open source solutions in K-20 schools that is exciting to both witness and participate in. The MIT Media Lab's $100 Laptop Initiative may currently attract more press coverage than some of these less ambitious open source educational technology initiatives, but make no mistake: Open source solutions are here to say and are only going to grow in their use and adoption by a wide variety of organizations and individuals. The Linux-based student desktop computer initiative in Indiana should and will earn the attention of educational leaders around the world, interested in more affordably bringing the promises of high technology and our flat world's information landscape to the students and families they serve.

March of the Linux PenguinsThe wealth of free and open source tools available for educational leaders, like this extensive list from Miguel Guhlin of applications that can be used for "walled garden" blogging and safe digital social networking, will increasingly get the attention of even "technology-challenged" administrators who work every day with limited school budget dollars.

My perception is that some schools and school technology leaders, when faced with the prospects of open source software solutions, may feel a bit trapped by the operating-system specific software programs their teachers and students are likely using in addition to Internet web browsers, email clients, and basic productivity software.

As I discussed in my final podcast of 2005, "Educational Banners and Resolutions for 2006," web-based software that is standards-compliant should be a top priority for school officials at all levels. In 2007 and the years to come, it will increasingly become fiscally irresponsible for school finance officers and other administrators to ignore POWERFUL and FREE operating system software, client software, and web applications that not only permit users to perform more "traditional" computing tasks like word processing, printing, email, web browsing, spreadsheets, databases, and presentations, but also more collaborative tasks made possible by web 2.0 or read/write web technologies.

I am enthused to see that commercial software programs like Study Island, Accelerated Math, and Accelerated Reader have been released in web-based versions which are accessible to any user on (or potentially off) the school network using a compliant web-browser. Although I am more enthused from an instructional perspective by programs like MyAccess Writing and KidBiz3000, the fact that programs which have been exclusively client-software based (like Accelerated Reader) are moving to web-based platforms is great news, especially to money-strapped school districts eyeing open source operating system and software options.

The cost-savings schools are and can realize when they transition to open source software solutions, as Plano ISD is doing, represent substantial sums of money. The good news is, transitioning from proprietary operating system and productivity software programs to open source alternatives (like edubuntu, ubuntu, and OpenOffice) does NOT represent a "downgrade" in capability and potential for schools and the learners which work in them. Conversely, given the hostile malware environment which continues to cripple many school computer systems inadequately patched for security vulnerabilities, Linux-based computing offers exciting potential for less problematic computing for everyone: users and administrators alike.

While open source and web standards are certainly key technology trends for leaders to watch in 2007, the greatest challenge in educational technology and education in general will remain issues of "mindware" rather than hardware or software. Making the case for collaborative and engaging education which safely and effectively leverages the powerful tools of the read/write web will remain one of the abiding challenges of 2007 and the years which follow.