Enough with the jargon! Simplify and talk about Teaching and Learning.

jargonI like things simple.  Break things down for me into their simplest terms and let’s talk.

This is the model I follow when I talk to anyone about technology I try to break things down to their simplest parts as I would when I was planning lessons for when I taught in my third grade class years ago.

By thinking about things within the lens of explaining something to a 3rd grader, I force myself to focus on key concepts and ideas. This is not to imply that I talk down to people or dumb down the issues; rather I try to understand the point or lesson I intend to teach and get those points across clearly and with as little confusion or frustration as possible.

Simplicity is something that I think is sorely missing when from professional development in education.

Attend any conference — or  take a look at any  conference program — and you will see sessions offered on the Flipped Classroom, Close Reading, Backward Design or whatever the flavor of the month (or the hot book is on ASCD) happens to be.

Recently I attended the Educon 2.5  conference at the Science Leadership Academy and sat in on an excellent session on “Close Reading” with Christopher Lehman (@iChrisLehmanChristopherLehman.com) & Kate Roberts (@TeachKate) from Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University. I had no idea what close reading looked like these days and was intrigued by the description:

“With 24-hour news cycles and the constant presence of screens, text rushes past us at an astonishing rate. We must slow down, read closely, and uncover subtle messages in texts. This conversation focuses on studying, collaboratively with students, close reading skills and their transfer into media, culture, and daily life.”

Reading this I thought I was going to hear a conversation that related to media literacies and how to parse information from all of the different sources coming at each of us — teachers and students alike — on a daily basis.

What I learned was how to “carefully and purposefully” read a text to take it apart and “annotate, look for patterns and ask questions” about those “patterns” by using the “lens of word choice and evidence”. [Using close reading strategies I pulled out these words:screens, rushes, subtle, media, culture, life – proof I was engaged and paying attention]

But wait… isn’t “Close Reading” really just talking about comprehension?!?!?

I asked that very question and the answer was yes (though nuanced to focus on a short piece of text).

So why not just say you are going to talk about new or improved comprehension strategies? Why call is something different, something that might confuse someone or make him/her think it is going to be something drastically different from something with which he.she has already spent time?

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The Art of WiFi… literally.

The following video was done by three people in Oslo, Norway is amazing!  It uses light and a long exposure shot to show wifi signal strength and show the juxtaposition of the physical and wireless worlds is truly a work of art.

More information here: http://www.thisiscolossal.com/2011/02/visualizing-wifi/


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Using Minecraft in your school’s admission process.

Do your students like to play Minecraft? Have they asked you if they can put a Minecraft server on your network? (Have you let them?)

I don’t know about you, but every time I walk into our Middle School Tech Center during recess I see students wall-to-wall with the majority of them playing Minecraft?  They are playing on their own, with others and in all sorts of ways.

It is amazing to see the structures they build, the worlds they design, but it wasn’t until I saw what they were able to do with the inspiration from outside the window that got me thinking about how the school might be ale to use this interactive world as an Admissions tool.

For the past year or so there has been a lot of construction going on outside the windows of our Tech Center as we constructed a new dining call and common room.  This had the attention of many of the students and when finally complete it inspired them to build the space in Minecraft.

As you can see the space had many interactive parts (including a working fireplace) and does an amazing job of replicating the space in a digital environment.  The ability to interact with the space, to walk around, to turn things on and off, to truly explore the space is what got me thinking about the use of Minecraft in Admissions.

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Learning from and overcoming the past to move forward.

When you make a decision about something… anything… big or small you are setting a precedent for things to follow. The bigger that decision is the more people will remember it and turn to it in the future as a guide for other, similar decisions.

As a school those decisions often become part of the institutional memory and students, parents, faculty, administration and the board aren’t soon to forget.

I mention this as I uncovered an old video of a news report that ABC (New York) did of our school’s decision NOT to go with a 1:1 program back in the later 90’s.

Our decision not to go with a 1:1 Initiative all those many years ago was something that we would need to overcome as we investigated and planned for doing something we had already said no to once.

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Google is offering a $99 Chromebook! Wait…does cheap make it right?

This is a quick reactionary piece to two things I read today that have me scratching my head.  Both related to Google and the Chromebook.

As reported on Engadget “Google (is) offering $99 Samsung Series 5 Chromebooks to public schools” and while this seem like a sweet deal I am skeptical for another reason.

Also in the in news today was a report that Google has a widespread outage or “service disruption” as Google reported (ZDNet).

Now these two thing were all the buzz on the Internet and social media today.  I couldn’t help but see something either in my Facebook or Twitter feed (sorry Google+ was looking at you today) about each of these stories.

What concerns me about theses new pieces is that people will jump into these cheap devices and not think about the issues and once they have these them they will be forced to deal.

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Picking the right wireless for your school.

Prior to the deployment of our 1:1 Learning Initiative we spent over a year working on our infrastructure.  Switches, firewalls, access points and other network devices/appliances were demoed and tested to handle DHCP, DNS, RADIUS, content filtering and connectivity.  We wanted to make sure we had the network nailed before we introduced over 1000 devices that would need constant, daily access.

One of the biggest concerns we had was for wireless.

The idea of plugging in devices was and is going away.  We needed to have a wireless network that was going to be able to not only give us the coverage that we needed, but also the capacity and be able to scale appropriately.

We also want to make sure that the network would have the highest degree of uptime possible.  We couldn’t afford to have faculty plan lessons and learning around a resource they couldn’t count on.

I feel the need… the need for speed” was a line that Tom Cruise used in Top Gun and while we aren’t flying F15s it applied to our wireless planning. We would want to make sure that the network felt like you were flying that F15.  We included redundant Internet connections at each of out locations (3) to provide the fuel to fly (Comcast & FIOS – load balanced).

But what wireless system to choose and how to make that choice?

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Your school, COPPA and Evernote.

In the summer of 2011 while attending the Lausanne Laptop Institute (now the Lausanne Learning Institute) I was having a conversation with my friend Hiram Cuevas (@cuevash) about our use of Evernote.  He told me how excited he was to hear about what we were doing, but had a question about how we were dealing with our younger learners, those under 13, and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).

I told him that was a really good questions.

For a good portion of last year (2011-2012) Reshan Richards (@reshanrichards) and I looked at not just Evernote, but all of the applications and subscription services our school used.  We dove into their Terms of Service and Privacy Policies to see just were we stood on the issue.

The result was we now have a COPPA policy, a form for Parental Consent and a page on our website with explicit notification of the tools we are using – http://www.mka.org/techtools.

In a recent email from Evernote they outline some of the update to their Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

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Evernote Forever on the Out of School podcast.

On November 20th (2012) I had the opportunity to talk with both Bradley Chambers (@bradleychambers) and Fraser Speirs (@fraserspeirs) about “Evernote Forever” on their Out of School podcast.

The discussion moved between many topics including the experience at my school using the application, how it has enhanced not only organization and collaboration, but assessment and feedback as well.  We also discussed the numerous options Evernote provides for the sharing of information and how it can be that transformational tool that allows you to bridge device, OS and learning environments in and out of the classroom.

Both Fraser and Bradley have a wealth of experience in educational technology. Fraser is credited with being the world’s first iPad school at Cedars School of Excellence in Scotland and Bradley is an accomplished Director of Information Technology for Brainerd Baptist School in Tennessee.

I hope you enjoy our conversation.


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Educators! Stacked Shared Notebooks in Evernote 5 is the BEST!

Evernote recently release a substantial update with 5.0.  There are some really cool new features, some amazing navigational changes and a much cleaner and appealing user experience.

After watching the video you  get a quick glimpse into some of what they’ve done, but one of the things missing from the video which was something our teachers was the ability to stack shared notebooks.

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User data migration in our 1:1 scares me!

I am continually impressed by what we have achieved in our 1:1 Learning Initiative.

We planned like no other school I know, we came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, all of our users – 4th-12th & faculty – are administrators on our own machine and they all keep their devices 24/7/365.

We’ve addressed problems and challenges as they have come up such as a mid-cycle OS upgrade and a full-fleet battery replacement.  We’ve learned from each issue we’ve face (will not to the OS upgrade again) and look to the next and try to figure out ways to solve it.

It’s the next problem that scares me… user data migration.

We are coming to the end of our first 3 year cycle of our 1:1 and we are looking towards the next device. As we do we are bringing different machines in and gathering both student and faculty testers to our cause to help us determine which is the better device to meet our learning and usage goals.

Part of this process has involved the transfer of user data from one machine to the next and it is at the heart of what scares me.

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