Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hats off!!!

This is a self reflection post and it is keeping in line with the title of this blog. There are no links to other posts or articles because this is all me, for whatever that is worth.

I am still thinking about this today, a full day after the experience. Part of our job as educators, or should say most of it, is the ability to put on many different hats during the course of the day. Let's face it, most of the time the hats are changed during the same conversation with a student. As an administrator, the hats I put on and the ability to change the hat at the right moment in time is crucial when talking about reaching a troubled 13 year old.

This particular instance still has me thinking about whether or not I changed the hats successfully. The student has been in a downward spiral for quite sometime now, to the point of threatening some unhealthy scenarios on more than one occasion. (Forgive me being cryptic, but the web is permanent) I have dealt with many of these situations before and I am not sure why this one is sticking with me, but it has me wondering what makes us qualified to change my hat so many times? I do it now without even thinking about it, change my hat I mean, and I it often happens in the heat of the moment with student. To go from teacher, to administrator, to parent, to psychologist, to doctor, to friend is exhausting and dangerous sometimes.

It is a necessity in my profession and I just hope that I continue to make the right judgements and put the right right hats on at the right time with the right student.

Image Credit: MShades' photostream

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Share the Wealth

The nice thing about blogging is that it's okay to take a hiatus from posting to read other people's posts. The people that I have been reading have provided me with insights into a plethora of topics that I might not have otherwise stumbled upon. I thank the blogosphere for that opportunity and I hope to contribute back in some small way. It is so exciting to be involved in learning during this time of incredible change and shift and I am doing everything that I can to keep up.

Something dawned on me over the Thanksgiving feast with my family and I have been thinking about it for the last few days. The power of connectivity that Web 2.0 provides is contained somewhat to those in education. This is just my opinion so correct me if I'm wrong, but aside from knowing the terminology (blog, twitter, wiki, etc...) not many people in my family understand the potential nor do they get as excited about the possibilities. I have many different occupations represented in my family and I found myself trying to justify the uses of these tools. It made me wonder if my massage therapist brother understands the impact that connecting with potential clients using WEB 2.0 tools would have on his business.

I guess I am wondering if these epiphanies that I have had over the last 2 years could be shared with a different demographic. For instance, having a parent workshop at school to introduce social networking, social bookmarks and blogging. It might give them an advantage when helping their kids with schoolwork.

My mom has gotten on twitter lately, but for her it's just a way of keeping in touch with me, she enjoys reading the family blog that I keep and viewing the pictures I put on Flickr, but it is a big step for her to branch out and use those tools in other ways like sharing her own pictures with her friends.

I do know that there are many, many blogs out there on any topic you can think of, but I still wonder if most people still use them as static, informational sites. For me, and other like- minded people I speak to, its the communication and the connectivity that is important.

Just thinking out loud.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Thinking shift...yet again

There was a great post on "dare to dream" today that struck an interesting cord with me. When we think about learning in schools today the same things come out in the conversation. We hear about managing data and research and making it work for the student easily. We hear about making connections to prior experiences and we hear about collaboration to solve problems. We hear about being active readers and life-long learners and we hear about understanding the concept and applying past experiences to the new learning.

We hear about all of these things and when we throw the Web 2.0 angle into what learning is all about, we have ways to extend that learning and those collaboration experiences to anywhere the student happens to be.

Barbara's post, for me, spoke to the need to let students think and work through things for themselves. Most of the time we as teachers find these tools for the students to try and set up the parameters with which they need to use them. If we are really teaching self-sufficiency and trying to give students the tools they need to success in a world that is really just evolving, do we need to present them with a task and have them come up with the best tools to use? Are we being counterproductive when we give them the tools ahead of time?

Is it like spoon feeding the students? The tools are out there, and most of them are free, so maybe the focus should be on teaching the skills necessary to find the appropriate tool.

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Educating Andrew

I have been such a slacker when it comes to blogging. Thee are so many other things that have gotten in the way. These things, (see previous post), have been a little more important. This post is related to those other things, though.

My son asked me the other day to help him do his homework. He is four so he doesn't have any homework, but his idea of homework are these worksheets he does at his daycare that come from this big book of activities. The gist of most of these is matching or rhyming or helping the bunny find his way through the forest to his family. Homework, for him is pure pleasure.

As we sat I started thinking about the skills he was practicing. Matching-Analytical, Rhyming-Auditory Processing, Mazes-Problem Solving (what do you do if you run into a tree?)

So what is education going to look like in the future for Andrew? Will he still be given the freedom to do all of these things and still be taught or [figure out for himself] ways to manage and use massive amounts of data?

I hope so because there is something that happens in school that causes kids to stop seeing homework and schoolwork as pleasurable.

This talk by Sir Ken Robinson speaks to just this point.

All the technology in the world is not going to make kids like their homework again- that job is in the hands of educators. You, me and everyone who is fortunate enough to be in education these days.

What it's all about!!!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

It's all about discipline!

As you can see by my previous post, it has been quite some time since I have last written. That's not to say that I haven't been reading, however. In fact, my google reader is constantly overflowing and, some days, it is all that I can do to keep it current. Hence the title of this post. For me, keeping current with educational issues and technology (these to things always go hand in hand) is extremely difficult. Given the current state of education and the paradigm shift it is constantly seeing, staying current is almost as bad as falling behind. What I mean by this is that in order to function these days you need to be a couple steps ahead of the game and be able to see things coming before they pass you by.

Take, for instance, wikispaces. It is a wonderful tool for anyone who wants to connect with people in their immediate workplace of across the globe. My school has just started using wikispace over the past two years and I fear that by the time most people feel comfortable enough to implement this tool into their teaching, something new will come along and the frustration levels will soar even higher. This continues to happen and people continue to get disenchanted with these tools and refuse to buy into them.

SO how can teachers move ahead without getting completely frustrated with everything that is available and able to sort through the good, the bad and the ugly?

For me it starts with discipline. This is ironic because, as an assistant principal, discipline takes up a big part of my day. I have decided to look at things from a different prospective. It's kind of like curriculum development in that I look at the big picture. I look at things conceptually. The idea behind something like wikispaces is that people should be able to contribute the the space and include their own resources instead of a static "web page" that is there strictly for the taking. Wikispaces give people the freedom to create content as well as take content, in a sense it gives people the freedom and the opportunity to have dialogue. This then is the concept I take in. To me it doesn't matter what you use to create that dialogue, as long as it is started and encouraged.

The discipline that I try to have is that I don't let myself get overwhelmed with the magnitude of "cool" things available but rather the magnitude of possibilities these "cool" things will allow. When you think about it all WEB 2.0 tools have one thing in common and that is that they are about sharing information. It is not practical to wait for the structure of our schools to change (although it is certainly going to happen in not to distant future) so we need to find ways to work around the limitations of the 40 minute class and give students (and teachers) tools that they can use to continue the discussions beyond the walls of the classroom.

As school is about to start next week here in NJ, I am hoping to get back on some sort of schedule that allows me to balance my life (professional and personal) and really concentrate on moving forward.

Here's looking forward to the next "cool" thing.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007

More questions than answers

Do kids today have too much available to them? What is the parent's role in making sure that their kids are not abusing themselves or others using today's technology without really thinking about what they are doing to themselves or what they are doing to others? What is the school's role in making sure that the technology is used only for good and not for evil? What is evil? What is good?

The dilemma I have is that all of this is uncharted territory. As school employees, though, we are expected to know the proper lessons to teach and the proper course of action to take when kids make mistakes. No longer is the mistake cheating off of someone's homework or test, however. Now it's how many millions of people saw the video footage of some poor kid's teeth getting knocked out on YouTube. The mistakes made these days last forever. My fear is that all common sense has left when our students log on. Even when the student is spoken to about the common sense aspect of using social networking sites I sometimes get the feeling that they don't understand the ramifications. Does it take the experience of a embarrassing picture being sent all over school to make kids see? Where are we lacking when a student does not know enough by middle school to help the kid getting beaten up instead of worrying about videotaping it for YouTube?

As these issues become more and more prevalent in our school systems there will be more case law to refer to. It is and has to be a very sensitive issue when words like bullying are thrown around. If bullying that isn't physical was hard to detect before, it is a million times harder to detect and prevent today. So in an effort to be proactive and begin to examine some definite steps to take on an everyday basis I am asking for some guidance and some thoughts.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How my achievements mock me!

How my achievements mock me!

William Shakespeare
, Troilus and Cressida, Act IV Greatest English dramatist & poet (1564 - 1616)

I came across this quote going through my Google Reader and it got me thinking a bit, as all good quotes should. With all this talk of getting more educators to buy into the whole Web 2.0 thing and have more educators believe that the time has come to rethink the way in which we educate our young I can't help but to look at this quote and feel mocked. I am an advocate for the shift and I know that whether or not I believe in the the ways in which our students' needs are changing, they are changing. The mocking I feel though is not so much from the achievements, but from the sheer multitude of them almost at once.

Much of the social history of the Western world over the past three

decades has involved replacing what worked with what sounded good.
Thomas Sowell, Is Reality Optional?, 1993

(1930 - )

Not to use too many of these, but it has all been said before. The mocking of which I speak comes from the resistance, The resistance to the movement if you will. The people we debate with every day that see it as a phase. This too shall pass.

I have been having a hard time getting people to use the blog I have set up for professional development purposes. A few have signed on, but seem reluctant to post comments and really get involved in the discussions. I would love to get the wiki I created for the same purpose up and running, but sometimes it feels as if I am in the blogosphere all alone.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Losing your focus

I admit it- I lost my way today. In fact these last few weeks have taken me pretty far off course. Farther then I would like to admit even to myself. It's been one of those weeks that try even the toughest. One thing after another, after another- you get the point. Some monumental, some mundane, but all important in the moment. Some have gone away, some have not and some have taken a brief hiatus until they choose to show up again. I am a reflective person by nature so I have tried to save a little time each day to sit and think and recharge. Great in theory, unrealistic sometimes in practice.

The common thread, though, through all of this has been flexibility. I was taught that it was the acceptable "F" word in education and I like to think that I am and always have been very flexible. So without going into the gory details, which I am sure by comparison are old news, I am happy to say that I did find my way back to the main road today in the most unlikely place; the lost and found box. I was leaving school today and I noticed a student by the big plastic abyss of lost and not yet found items, and I stopped to say hello. Turns out he was looking for an item of some monumental importance, I learned a long time ago that everything is of monumental importance to the person telling you about it, so I helped him look. It was 5:30 in the afternoon and I had been at school since 7:00 that morning, but I stopped anyway. He was looking for a make-up kit. Instead of question him about the nature of the item I posed a different question. I asked him when he lost the make-up kit. He said it wasn't his (much to my relief) but his sister's. He went on to say that she lost it three month ago, just after getting it for Christmas, and he looks for it everyday. Even though his sister has chalked it up as lost forever, he has not lost hope because it will make her very happy if he finds it.

This experience taught me two things:

  1. This is what it is all about. Not state testing, not irate parents, not irate teachers, not bell schedules or parking problems or bus write-ups or even next year's master schedule. It is about the kids!! Period!! Jim (we will call him Jim) didn't have a care in the world at that moment in time except for finding the thing that would make his sister happy. It is my job then to encourage that good character and do everything in my power to keep him from losing that empathy and human compassion.
  2. That there is hope. Don't chalk something up as lost just because it doesn't show up the first 20 times you look for it. Persevere and only good things will happen.
I am thinking about buying Jim a new make-up kit (if I can explain that one to my wife) but I don't think that it would mean as must to him as finding what he's been looking for.

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Friday, March 9, 2007

New ways to meet and greet...

I have been extremely busy as of late. These are busy and stressful months for all educators and this year has been particularly exhausting. I find myself bringing home more and more work and it is becoming increasingly difficult to find the energy in which to finish it all. There is never enough time during the day and when I get home I truly want to be able to relax and refresh and enjoy my 3-year old.

What is making things even more stressful lately is that I feel as if there is never enough time to concentrate on things that are truly important and exciting at work, like working with teachers and students to think about learning and curriculum and how it all fits together along with technology. I love finding new ways to use technology, most of the time to make things easier to tackle and sometimes just to have fun and acknowledge my "inner techie."

I know it sounds as if I am venting here, and maybe I am a little, but I do have a point. I know I am not the only one feeling this way and I can't help but wonder if I can just chalk it up to the busy time of year. I can't help but think that education is really being given a complete overhaul and what I am feeling are growing pains. I just watched a short video clip that was posted on Ideas and Thoughts from an EdTech -entitled Virtual Worlds, Real People. I watched the video of a gentlemen with cerebral palsy who created Wheelies in Second Life a virtual world in which people can live and play.

The video got me thinking of the idea of a virtual reality for people who do not enjoy the reality we take for granted. This really wasn't what I needed, one more thing to chew on, but it really made me think about what sites like this one can do for education. I started to look around on the site and the business and education tab caught my attention.

Second Life is an exciting new venue for collaboration, training, distance learning, new media studies and marketing.

Hold a virtual meeting with your sales managers located in Europe and Asia. You can present the new sales initiatives and discuss them with your team real-time.

This, to me is amazing. Is it the answer we all are looking for to put more hours into the day? Probably not, but it is a great way to collaborate in a way that we have really only seen in the movies.

Just something else to add to the growing list of possibilities.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

See kids you will use this some day

Interesting article in the NYT today about wikipedia.

Middlebury College jumps the gun here a bit and bans the citing of wikipedia in essays and assessments. It is important to note that they did not ban its use, as that would be ridiculous, but there is a bigger question here: obviously we need to move towards teaching students to understand the premise behind tools like wikipedia and give them the skills necessary to look at the volumes of information available to them and make sense of it all. ( a daunting task for many of us) Are students at the middle level ready to sort through the volumes? Should we wait until High School to really hold them accountable for the information organization? Is it too presumptuous of us to think that students would be able to really question the validity of something they read on the internet?

This is a real world application knocking loudly-

Jason Mittell, an assistant professor of American studies and film and media culture at Middlebury, said he planned to take the pro-Wikipedia side in the campus debate. “The message that is being sent is that ultimately they see it as a threat to traditional knowledge,” he said. “I see it as an opportunity. What does that mean for traditional scholarship? Does traditional scholarship lose value?”

For his course “Media Technology and Cultural Change,” which began this month, Professor Mittell said he would require his students to create a Wikipedia entry as well as post a video on YouTube, create a podcast and produce a blog for the course.
I think in our zeal trying to make sense of all that is here and all that is coming redefining the basics has to take precedence. I remember being taught how to use those big encyclopedias but never being taught to question the validity of anything. Questioning the validity of the world around us is a basic skill that has to be taught as early as possible.
One of my wife's students quoted this the other day- Girl Moved To Tears By Of Mice And Men Cliffs Notes from The Onion half joking but half thinking second guessing the obvious use of satire.
The point is this: we are so thouroughly drenched with media that the lines of reality are blurred. Unfortunately questioning ones parents and authority figures comes before (and is a sharper honed skill) than questioning the validity of resources.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Where is the line?

The New York Times today printed this article about blogs- Debtors Search for Discipline via Blogs . It seems that these people are putting their financial information on their blogs in order to find a support group in an effort to pay down their own dept and manage their spending habits. As I read this article I couldn't help but ask myself the obvious question...if adults are doing it and and looking at posting their spending habits online as the norm, then how can our students determine the difference between safe and unsafe blogging...and is this considered unsafe? I could not help but to play Devil's Advocate with myself, as I often do, and ask so what? So what if these people are putting their personal habits on what if they think nothing of tracking their own financial trials and tribulations, even going so far as to post their net worth on line, for complete strangers. Then I began to ask myself what is the difference? Aren't I doing virtually the same thing right now? What is the difference if a student seeks support from his or her peers by blogging on "My Space"?

I am asking a lot of questions and I really don't have the answers. For me though we have to lead by example and finding support on the web is fine, the personal info is not. Our kids think nothing of posting specific facts about themselves and while I don't subscribe to the popular idea that everyone online is a predator...I do think that students will never learn where to draw the line if we do not draw it as well sometimes.


Saturday, February 17, 2007

Are we ready?

How are we going to prepare students for jobs in the future that do not even exist yet? How much has our job changed in just the last 5 years and with what is expected of a school changing every day, is it impossible to keep up? The following was posted in a blog I recently read:

I posed the question - What if you were to stand at the front of your class, on the first day of a new unit, provide them with a list of learning outcomes and say “Here is what you need to know, how are you going to go about it?” --Conversations on Change
Questions like this one are a step in the right direction. This is the way we have to begin thinking, for our kids sake. They will be required to deal with volumes of information and be asked to soft, classify, validate, synthesize and connect to the pertinent stuff and disregard the rest. Where is this skill being taught? It certainly is not something that students just inherently understand. Students are very savvy technologically but it is an unfocused savvy. This is not their fault but it is a reality. They have been born into an environment that spews information from every which way, but have not been given the proper filter system. Start a dialogue with a student about what constitutes a valid web source or even about the ways in which the student can filter information and you will be amazed at how little experience they have doing this.

If we are going to service our students properly, we have to start asking these questions and start thinking about ways to provide them with a filter of their own. This means, however, we have to start brushing up on our own savvy and being open to all this field of technology has to offer.

Friday, February 16, 2007

going against the handbook

I have recently ben looking through my school's handbook and I am begining to realize how out of date it is becoming. Teachers in my building are doing wonderful things with technology. Using cutting edge software with their smartboards that allows them to record entire lessons and make those lessons, along with the power point component, available to students on their IPODS. Teaching using wikispaces and encouraging students to spend more time in front of the computer than ever before.

Yet the handbook reads, as I am sure most handbooks read, very much like I remember mine reading when I went to high school.

Why not let a student carry an IPOD or a PDA around? It's almost a mixed message we are sending to this generation- on the one hand we are constantly finding new ways to connect to them using their language and on the other hand we are frowning upon the use of the same technology we are encouraging.

I can see both sides here and I don't exactly know were I stand yet- I do know that a student can walk out of one class in which the are encouraged to use their IPODS to stimulate their creative writing and into another class or even the hallway where they might have their IPOD confiscated as per the handbook.