I'm a Skype-er!

Had to write about two new tools that I've actually been able to figure out!  Thanks to Danita's help, I'm officially a Skype-er!  I must admit it is a very liberating feeling, knowing I can speak to and see others through my computer!  It is one thing to read about it, and even very cool to watch it done (David Warlick's Skype with Vicki Davis at NCect 2006 preconference wiki workshop), but to actually do it yourself brings a little bit of a geeky rush!  Even got the webcam to work!  Now to plan some fun ways to use it with our students.  Danita and I are planning to have some of my elementary kids interview some of her 6th grade science "experts" via Skype.  Should be great!

I have also been working on a powerpoint presentation that I will be giving tomorrow in my graduate class (which is a weekly videoconferencing-based class with 3 other sites.  Our professor is in Arizona, and two other sites from Missouri join us - way cool!) on a chapter in the book, Cultures of Curriculum (my assigned chapter was "Confronting the Dominant Order" - more to come on a future post).  I really wanted to embed a video from YouTube to better illustrate the social experiment carried out by third grade teacher June Elliott back in 1971.  Not being able to figure out how to do that in PowerPoint, I just put a link on the appropriate slide.  But in doing so, I worried that I needed a back up just in case the Internet was down, or the connection not working during class tomorrow night.  Thank goodness for Wesley Fryer's Post "Power Of Digital Text" which alerted me to the idea of saving YouTube videos using the free YouTube Downloader.  I also needed to download a free FLV player because that is the file extension with which the videos are saved.  Now, as a back up plan, I have the video saved on my hard drive!     Now I can go to bed!  AHHHH!

Photo Credit:  Just Too Tired To Continue!

A Feather for Your Cap!

This post is a huge shout-out to my good friend and talented colleague, Danita!  And it comes at the perfect time!  After emailing back and forth yesterday about an interesting (and depressing) dinner outing she had with fellow educators last week, I had not been able to stop thinking about her lament.  What can we do to encourage educators doomed to become extinct industrial-age dinosaurs to use technology?  In my comments to her, I voiced that I was going to focus my efforts on those educators who are working hard to change the way they teach, mainly because I am assured that my energy will be put to good use!  I have begun to shine huge spotlights on teachers in my school who are trying new technologies, engaging their kids in projects that are collaborative, thought provoking, and technology-infused!  I have posted their class projects/products on our wiki, in emails (cc-ed to the superintendent and others at the CO), on my blog, and anywhere else I can think to put them.  Guess what?  My phone is ringing off the hook!  Teachers calling to check out the new ELMOs, the Qwizdom sets, the projectors!  It is like with children in our classrooms, praise and support goes much further (and promotes fantastically infectious energy) than complaints and constant nagging!  I'm going to continue to focus on the courageous educators around me!

Now, back to the reason for this post!  My son, Carlos, a 7th grader, came home today excited that he had gotten to see the new wiki of his social studies teacher, Ms. Unangst.  They read some laptop guidelines from it as a class, and then, using the laptops, were guided to a link on the wiki where they worked at a geography website.  Although this lesson did not utilize the wiki in the collaborative sense, it's a start!  Just the fact that my 7th grader, who rarely speaks about school unless provoked by his meddling mother, was excited about it speaks volumes!  Way to go Danita, for continuing to open the eyes of educators at our middle schools!  Some of them ARE listening! 

Flickr: Black Swan Cocktail Cap

Playing with New Toys!

Well, we had a great trip to the Legislative Technology Day event in Raleigh on Tuesday!  One of our fourth grade teachers and three of her students presented their Great Kapok Tree movie.  They had fun telling the legislators about how they used Audacity to manipulate their voices.  We were very proud of them!

Meanwhile back at The River this week several teachers have played with our new Elmo Document Cameras and word is spreading fast!  Teachers will have to start planning early to sign up for them, which is great news!  Our new Qwizdom sets are also in great demand, as more and more of our staff give them a try and realize how easy they are to use!  The kids LOVE THEM!  Here's hoping all our new toys are checked out every day, and that there is a waiting list!

The Great Kapok Tree Readers' Theater Version by Mrs. Shuey's 4th Graders


Food For Thought

I was just reading one of my two "allowed" reads from Education Week online, a commentary by C. Jackson Grayson, Jr., chairman and CEO of APQC, the American Productivity & Quality Center, entitled, "Benchmarking:  What It Is, How It Works, and Why Educators Desperately Need It".  The main thrust is to explain what benchmarking is (an active and disciplined set of steps to determine how a best-practice organization achieved a benchmark, then to learn that, and finally to use it in your own organization), and how it could improve the quality of today's educational system in the US.  The section that really caught my attention and made me pause to think follows:

There will be some academicians, researchers, and policy people who will be horrified with my recommendation that all 6 million teachers, principals, and administrators be involved and empowered to search for and adopt any best practice that works for them. Their objections are reminiscent of the management terror evoked in the 1970s and ’80s, when the Japanese automobile industry (Toyota in particular) adopted a model that involved assembly-line workers and empowered them to make decisions that would assure quality control. They could literally “stop the line” until a problem was solved—by them.

U.S. managers said, “It won’t work. Those employees don’t have the judgment, skills, or attitudes to make those decisions. They’ll goof off, quality will go down, costs will rise.” But for those firms that followed the empowerment model, the reverse happened. Quality rose and costs fell, because employees were trusted, trained, and treated as competent professionals. The federal No Child Left Behind Act assumes that educators won’t or can’t make the right choices on hiring teachers and choosing teaching practices. Are educators less committed than business employees? I doubt it.

I suggest that we drop the “highly qualified teacher” and “research-based practice” requirements from the law. Accountability mandates would be kept at current high levels, but administrators and teachers would be involved more directly in reaching them, and empowered to search for and implement best practices that work for them. This is a radical proposition, I realize, but our education system is going to fail under its present behaviors and assumptions about how to improve—namely, by setting high goals and then micromanaging key processes. It was a mistake in business, and is a mistake in education.

I would love to know what you think!

Photo: Old School Sign

Excitement over Wikis!

Wow, now I know the rush a pyromaniac must feel when she strikes the match!  Yesterday ten brave souls ventured into the world of wikis with me, and the wildfire has begun!  I am so excited!  One of our third grade teachers was so addicted to working on her new wiki last night, that her husband actually had to ask her if they were having supper!  AND, she actually dreamed about wiki pages!  Wow, an ITF's dream!  (Great story Lauren!)  Then if that wasn't great enough, one of our 5th grade teachers called me into her room where she was showing her kids her "just out of the oven" wiki!  Their homework for the night included adding some information to the Social Studies page where they are beginning a study of the Civil War!  (Way to go Mrs. V!)  I couldn't be more proud of our teachers here!  I will happily post about their developing wikis (with links) after they have some time to populate them.  They'll be worth the wait, I can tell already!

Photo:  Ice Fire

Interesting Thoughts on American Math Skills

Although I have come to dread snow days (maybe because I have three boys at home!), I did get a lot done today on one of my Master's projects.  Our cohort is working on creating Teacher Resource Books (TRBs) with at least 10 lessons included, as part of our independent study seminar course.  The focus is on integrating Earth Science with other curricular subjects.  I've asked to "steal" a third grade class for their unit on soil, and have been designing a unit that will integrate technology and math with  hands-on, inquiry-based science.  I miss having a class of my own, and am really looking forward to getting into the classroom again!  Any great soil ideas???

I was reading an article from a recent issue of Riverdeep's Classroom Flyer, which I receive once a day in my inbox.  The article was very timely, especially after meeting with our county Title 1 Teachers and Director.  We were informed that our 3rd grade math pretest scores were not as high as we would hope, and that further program development would be directed at K-2 Math.  We had a good discussion about the need for students to develop critical, and multi-step thinking skills in math.  The following quote is from a guide designed to help K-2 teachers set up math centers and activities in their classrooms that would promote just this kind of thinking.  It is published by The Center For Innovation in Education (1990).  Probably better known for their "Math Their Way" series.

Below is a table taken from a chart in the The Piaget Primer (the ages have been rounded off to the nearest year), (p. 92) which shows the average age when children conserve for each type of measurement.  The age ranges are based on Piaget’s earlier studies.

Average Ages of Conservation*

Number......................................... 6 - 8 years

Linear ............................................ 6 - 8 years

Solid amounts .............................. 7 - 9 years

Liquid amounts ........................... 6 - 9 years

Area ............................................... 8 -10 years

Weight ........................................... 9 -11 years

Solid volume ................................ 8 -10 years

Displaced volume ........................ 11 -14 years

Ed Labinowicz states in The Piaget Primer, (p. 92) that there are some surprising differences between the ages reported for Swiss and American children. The developmental sequences remain the same. However, there are many reports that American children achieve the “landmarks of development” at a later age, particularly at advanced levels. Labinowicz feels this discrepancy is reflected in the surprising low percentage of formal operational thinkers in the American adult population.  Perhaps the reason there’s a low level of “formal thinkers” is that the American schools have typically focused on workbook mathematics requiring children to fill in right answers. The focus is on mastering computation rather than understanding mathematical processes and patterns.

Ouch!  Sometimes the truth hurts.  The article (chapter) goes on to provide some great ideas for creating daily math opportunities for young kids, by the way!

Photo:  Christel Hendrix