Video killed the Teaching Star

The droids we're googling for
Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Stéfan via Compfight

Hey man, my schooldays insane
Hey man, my work’s down the drain – David Bowie

I recently was involved in a conversation on Twitter that grabbed my attention.  One of the people I follow was attending a conference and the session they were at involved using Youtube. I suppose the question was raised, “what do I do if Youtube is blocked by my school?”  To which there was a reply, 1. Complain (okay I agree with this), 2. Add an “S” (to the http) – hmmm I’m not so sure I agree with this.  I know what the teacher was attempting to do.. show a video that was relevant and maybe helped students learn the material better, but exploiting a security weakness in the schools filtering system seemed to be rather underhanded (I’m also not a fan of giving advice at conferences that has the potential to get many others in trouble with their admin or I.T. departments).

When I raised the specter that perhaps it was best to download the video and then show it (thus eliminating the need to circumvent in-house security protocols while also having the added benefit of having offline viewing for reliability during down Internet moments) it seemed that I was in the minority. Some felt that they would “do whatever was necessary to teach the students” or that the blocking of sites like youtube had nothing to do with protecting children but was mostly administrator or I.T. ignorance.

At one time, I’m sure I would have been in the same camp with these educators. Maybe its the administrator side of me that is finally beginning to say, “hey wait a minute… there are reasons for this.”  I have youtube open for use by my teachers, but there are other schools and administrators that do not.  I’ve heard their arguments and I have to say that they are erring on the side of caution (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to children and potential exposure to inappropriate language in an annotated video, or an advertisement that runs counter to our Catholic values) – Note, my school is a Catholic school so this is a very big deal.

I guess what surprised me the most was that these educators felt it was their right to circumvent school or district policies to do their job.  My opinion is that one should work within those policies or work to actively change them to meet your needs. However, to do otherwise jeopardizes your job as you put yourself in direct violation of the policies set forth by those who are entrusted with making these types of decisions. You may not always agree with these decisions, but it is your duty to adhere to them or to find acceptable alternatives (such as downloading for offline viewing).

I wonder if those educators who “will do whatever it takes to teach their students” will still feel that way when they are removed from the teaching profession entirely because they refused to follow protocols put in place to protect children. Sure, it may be ignorance in some cases, but it is the ignorance of those who are held responsible for protecting children and they may need some education to help them understand how to safeguard children while maximizing learning opportunities. However, It isn’t the teacher’s call to willfully disregard these decisions… at least not without the possibility of negative consequences.

Its a tricky issue… so I welcome your feedback and comments… I’m open to dialogue, and as an administrator I can say that I’m not ignorant when it comes to technology… I see both sides of this issue… my main concern is that we may lose some great teachers because they decide they can do whatever they feel is in the best interest of learning even if it violates school policy.

I look forward to your comments. click the comment bubble at the beginning of this post to leave your mark, or click here to leave a comment, thought or question.

To Code or Not to Code: That is the If-Then-Else

Credit: Fox

Credit: Fox

 This is the key to a new order. This code disk means freedom. – Tron

There has been a lot of interest and talk lately in teaching children to code in school.  One only needs to look at the recent push from Computer Science Education Week and the “Hour of Code” to realize that the topic of coding is something that has garnered much interest in the education and business world. I’d like to examine the phenomenon in more detail.  First, I’d like to provide a little of my history to help you better understand where I’m coming from in this quandary.

Greetings, Programs!

It was 1982 (too bad it wasn’t 1984 or this would be an even bigger nerd post) and I had just witnessed  a cinematic work of genius called “Tron.”  I was immediately immersed into the world of computer programs, programming language, and imagery that inspired a lifelong love of computers and programming.  I was only six years old (a first grade student) but I was ready to learn more.  A lifetime of chronic asthma had already ensured that any sports were well out of the question for me.  My father loved computers and I remember having a Commodore 64 hooked up to our television.

Over the next 10 + years I didn’t really go for any of the typical things that young boys are supposed to go for, instead I logged onto BBS systems, had handles, worked as a sysop, squelched users, went to GWBASIC classes with my dad, taught myself HTML and designed my own web pages, Learned Joomla, WordPress, and PHP, became a Technology Coordinator and teacher, lets just say that I’m a huge proponent and user of technology and that most of what I’ve learned has been self taught. You would think that I’d be a huge proponent of this Coding movement… but I have a confession… I’m on the fence.

There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.

Okay, so just about everyone I know is talking about the merits of learning coding. Bill Gates, Code Academy, veteran teachers, hipster teachers (cringe), parents etc. But I have to wonder is Coding as they have attempted to introduce it worth its salt?

Here is the major problem I have with this initiative.  We have a bunch of students, we participate in Computer Science Education Week, and we have our students participate in the hour of code.  Okay, this is great, right? Kids have been shown the backdoor to the underpinnings of the internet, computer programs, iPad apps, etc.   They now have exposure to the “real world” in which they live. But where is the continuation of this initiative in the classroom?  I’m sure Hamlet would identify this as the rub. For all of you teachers that have participated in the Hour of Code, how many of you have continued to teach coding? Has it found its way into your daily conversations, lessons, or other learning opportunities?  I’m willing to bet that for most it has not.

If you are one who has managed to continue, I highly applaud you and I want to hear from you! Please share with the rest of the educational community how you have done this.  What I have observed from school to school is that there was a lot of hype about it and now it is woefully forgotten.  If this is the case, then it was a waste of an hour. It took time away from instructional minutes to help these students master the skills they will need in the future.  I’m not so blind as to say coding isn’t a necessary skill, I just think an hour of introduction is a waste and that we should dedicate more time to coding.

When I was a technology coordinator the term had very loose definitions.  Some were nothing more than glorified babysitters that taught typing.  I actually developed a curriculum of and about technology.  I taught coding as a yearlong course.  We used Scratch to develop our own programs.  My 8th grade students created their own webpages using only a text editor (no dreamweaver here).  I believed in the fact that they could learn but also understood that they needed to consistently hone this skill.  An hour is not enough time to help these students do much other than develop an awareness of coding. If this is the mission, fine. Mission accomplished. But I’d rather spend that hour helping a student that is reading below grade level work toward better fluency.

I’d like an honest response from the community.  How many of you that took part in the Hour of Code and are still teaching coding? Lets hold up the mirror and say, was this worth it, and if so, why?

I great article by Sean Blanda is on 99u.com and can be found here:You Don’t need to learn to code + other truths about the future of careers.  My take away is that “The smartest workers will be able to leverage technology to their advantage and be able to recognize the big-picture ways to utilize it.” But what does that mean? Well, let me try to put this into perspective.  I have no idea what takes place to really make most of my automobile operational. However, I know how to use it.  Should I learn how to be a mechanic? No. I only need to know how to effectively utilize the technology to get what I need from it.  I need to leverage this knowledge to the best of my ability.  I know a little about autos, but not enough to fix them. Should I take an hour of auto repair and expect to be better off?  Maybe, but I’d much rather have a year of instruction that is interwoven throughout my ELA, Math, Science, SS, etc. How much better off would I be if I had actually spent this amount of time on the topic.

I know I’m usually the one to push for change.  After all, this is Revogogy right? But I think that the change that we have witnessed is too little to amount to much good. I don’t want an hour of code; I want a year of code or more. Lets step up and make this a reality. Lets make it work within our Common Core curriculum. Why start small? Lets dream big and make a real difference.

End of Line

So that’s it. Its my rant, my angry shaking fist to the universe.  Let us do more than just an hour of something.  Lets stop falling for these novelty movements. I’m sure I’ll get some hate mail on this. There will be pushback. But honestly, lets do more. Even if you don’t agree with my statements I think you would agree that we should do more than we currently are doing.

After all, if you apply actual coding to the picture above of the Home Sweet Home, you’ll notice its an infinite loop. Its not accurate. If it were in basic it is missing some key components.  “print” should be in the code lines. I’m a major nerd but if you’ve only had an hour of learning would you catch that? Or is the gist that it means home sweet home (non-infinite loop) enough for the average person to know?

Please share your thoughts on this topic. I’d love to hear the pros and cons (just be civil okay?) I admire intellectual discourse to a heated tear down.  Also, I’m beginning at times to feel that I’m talking to myself on this blog. I value comments and others can learn from your insight. So, please leave a comment. I welcome your thoughts and the I/O it will create on this blog.

Libraries and Tech Labs: Oh My!

New York Public Library

Creative Commons License Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight

Moving backwards through time; Never learn, never mind – Soul Asylum

I’ve been reflecting on the nostalgic urge that seems to have a stranglehold on most adults. We tend to cling to those artifacts that we have learned to use and we resist changes that may make our lives easier.  One of the greatest challenges that I faced when we were building a new school was to decide what to do with the library.

For centuries a library has been the hallmark of knowledge and research.  Having a large school library made a statement that the school had the tools to teach students.  Yet, every book in the library we had could easily fit on an iPad and still have room left over. I remember the looks and comments I received when I said we were not going to have a traditional library.  Many simply couldn’t fathom how or why we would take this course of action.

I’m not one to just remove something without a reason.  A quick review of the records for books checked-out from the library revealed that over 80% hadn’t been taken from the library in several years.  A closer review of the inventory also revealed that many of the books were well out of date and no longer reflected accurate information.  The reality is that the library had become an antiquated showpiece that resonated well with adults and parents who had grown up with the library in school, but it received little effective use by the students.

I had a recent visit from a librarian who asked me why there was no library.  I gave my usual answer, which includes: “students use devices that have all the books and materials (updated in real time) on modern devices, the library wasn’t a room that was used effectively for the type of learning that once took place within its walls, we were able to create smaller classroom libraries that were designed to be able to change rapidly based on student interest and changing world conditions, etc.”  The only response I received was a nostalgic sigh and a statement that “… But there’s just something about a book, opening it, turning the pages.”

I can relate. I too grew up with libraries, but I wonder if this “something” about a book is our desire to hold onto our old ways of thinking and learning.  Are we forcing students to learn using an outdated method simply because we are most comfortable with the resources we used as children?

Many know that my background was in educational technology. So the common response is often “well then you must have put in a computer lab.” Once more, I had to reflect on this method of teaching.  Is an artificial lab experience really the way in which students interact with technology on a daily basis in their everyday lives? Therefore, we also do not have a computer lab.  Instead, we are focusing on using the technology that students work with in their everyday experiences.  We do not create artificial learning environments, but strive to create authentic learning opportunities for our students.

I know that this is a very divisive issue.  After all there are librarians and tech coordinators that still hold to the nostalgic way of thinking.  I think libraries and technology are  important for schools, but not in the nostalgic ways we’ve been implementing them. We have to change.  Administrators, Teachers, Librarians and tech coordinators need to reenvision their roles and responsibilities and take a leading role in creating environments that will better serve students.

I’m happy that I have made the bold choice to bring my school into the current century.  I believe that we need to use the technology of today to help prepare students to use the tools of tomorrow for a successful life.  Far too often we are using the technology of the past and this technology doesn’t even begin to prepare the students for the jobs of the present.

As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts on this very active and changing issue in modern education.  What ideas do you have for libraries and technology labs? How do you envision the future of these resources?

Click on the comment bubble at the top of this post or click here to leave a comment.

Expired: The current state of traditional pedagogy

 

 

Four steps to bring new life into the classroom

Hello again, I recently had the pleasure of attending a professional development seminar by Heidi Hayes Jacobs on the topic of Curriculum Mapping. I’ve long been a proponent for radical changes in pedagogical approaches within our classroom setting and it was refreshing to listen to another expert in the field of education share similar thoughts. While the topic of the seminar was “curriculum mapping” I felt a strong resonance with the underlying educational philosophy espoused during the session. I believe that if one were to choose the most important aspect of the session as a take-home point to remember, it is that we MUST serve our students by preparing them for their future. One of the great questions asked by Dr. Jacobs was to conduct an honest self-evaluation of your school and try to determine (overall) what year you are preparing your students to enter in adulthood. I have a feeling that few could honestly answer 2020 or beyond, which is a huge injustice to the students. After attending this seminar I walked away with a four step program in my head to bring classroom pedagogy into the era in which it belongs.

Step 1. An Honest Look in the Mirror

The first step is taken directly from Dr. Jacob’s question. “What year is your school preparing its students for?” When I gave this serious consideration, I was shocked to come the realization that it was somewhere within the range of 1970-1980 for my school. This era reflected a time when computers did not dominate the work force. When Apple was still just a hobby kit in Job’s and Wozniak’s garage. Now, I teach a great deal of technology in my classroom, in an attempt to prepare students for their future, however when looking at the school as a whole I was forced to come to the conclusion that many teachers still relied on paper and pencil, books, and pedagogical practices that they had been using for the last several decades. This is frightening… after all if Moore’s Law holds true (and it has for quite a while) the rate at which technology increases is exponential and doubles every two years. How then can we say we are reaching our students if we are using pedagogical methods that do not use technology that was created within the last five years? The truth is, a good honest look in the mirror is necessary so that change can occur.

Step: 2 Prehistoric tools for space-age learning

After this look in the mirror you may find that a great many of your colleagues are attempting to use prehistoric tools for space-age learning. It is difficult to fathom how teachers expect to truly prepare students for their future careers using only books, pencil, and paper. I’m sure the argument is that this approach has worked for hundreds of years and therefore should still be adequate for today. However, a hundred years ago we did not have technologies that allowed instant access to information from around the world delivered within seconds of searching for the information. A job a hundred years ago depended more upon your ability to be a skilled laborer or farmer rather than to be able to seek out information and turn it into something that can be used to support a family.

The truth is, our school system is largely outdated and needs a massive overhaul. Jim Grant in his book The Death of Common Sense in our Schools explained that our current school calendar was brought to American in the 1840s from Prussia by Horace Mann. This calendar prepared students for work in factories but also allowed students to return home to help on the farm. Essentially what Grant states is that “our current educational structure is built for a European state and an American farm economy that no longer exist”. This alone is a huge detriment to our students, and change to the calendar year and schedule is something that will take quite a bit of work to revise. However, as teachers, we have the ability to affect change on a much more local level (our classrooms). While its ridiculous to maintain a school structure built on “Expired” political and economic conditions, it is also equally ludicrous to maintain teaching methods and tools from the pre-cold war era in our information age. The truth is, we are supposed to be preparing our students for a future when they will hold jobs that use technologies that haven’t even been invented yet. How are we preparing our students for this future if we are not even using the current technology of today? Its akin to telling a person that they will one day be expected to navigate the internet to search for information effectively, however (for the time being) we are only going to provide them with an encyclopedia and a dictionary…. good luck future web surfer. If we are to truly aid our students in their ability to have successful lives, then we must prepare them for their futures by not only providing them with recent technology, but by surpassing the present to meet their future needs.

Step 3. Surpassing the Present to Prepare for the Future

What do I mean by Surpassing the present? Can it be done? I think it can. The trick is to envision the growth that may occur within the next five years and to provide an infrastructure and pedagogical methodology that enhances students’ abilities to thrive in the future. Dr. David Thornburg in his book Edutrends 2010 made the argument that we should not be striving to put into place systems of the present… because by the time we install and implement these systems, they will have already become outdated (Moore’s law in action). Instead we should be aiming for an attainable point in the future and striving to ensure that our pedagogy, technology, and students are prepared for this time. In that way, we are never trying to “catch up” to the technology trends, rather we are riding the wave and directing our students toward the rich waters of future success. What does this mean for the modern educator who has looked in the mirror and decided that prehistoric tools will no longer be used?

Essentially, it means that we must look at what exists in the present, and anticipate the future. I can easily ask my students to create a youtube video about a topic for their assignment and this will be a huge success in helping students to meet present needs. However, the future is right around the corner and a new service, or medium may arise that causes the extinction of youtube. The key is that educators need to be on the cutting edge. We need to be aware of current technologies and how they are used in the world to create jobs and stimulate the economy. If I am preparing students for their future they need to be prepared for the technology skills that will help them to lead successful productive lives. That means that we must seek to always be on the cutting edge, to embrace change and to prepare our students for a world that is rapidly changing. Kurt Vonnegut said it best: “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you can see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center”. I think this philosophy should be adopted by all teachers. If we live on the edge we can peer beyond the event horizon and help our students thrive in the world in which they will soon be living. Life on the edge means eliminating prehistoric teaching methods to give control of the learning environment to the students.

Step 4. From Controlling Students to Student Control

Most of our students are ahead of us when it comes to technology, and for the teacher who lives by the use of prehistoric tools this is a frightening concept. The traditional approach is that the teacher is sitting in what Paolo Freire would term an “Ivory Tower of Isolation” providing passive knowledge to those who are under them. Instead, I argue that it is important for us to acknowledge students’ advanced knowledge and to construct a more meaningful classroom learning experience by engaging them in solving real-world problems using the abilities they possess. I’m highly constructivist in my approach and I believe that students should own their learning experiences. This is difficult for some teachers though. There are teachers who believe that they must teach only from the textbook; what a frightening concept! The truth is, students bring with them a plethora of skills and knowledge that utilizes real-world technologies and that can be used to solve real-world problems. The traditional knee-jerk reaction has been for teachers and schools to bury their heads in the sand and say “you can’t use facebook in the classroom”; “You can’t use youtube”; “you can’t do X,Y,Z” etc. Educators have a long standing bad habit of ignoring the elephant in the room. Our students use technology every day. They are highly adept and efficient in its use. The day is coming when the student who is able to gather and use relevant information quickly and efficiently will be the best prepared for the world in which he lives. If we surpass the present, the future success of students will largely depend upon these skills. Embarking on this four step journey can be scary. Giving up a totalitarian grip on teaching practices is a frightening process for those who have lived by that sword. However, it is our duty to embrace change, to prepare our students for the information age in which they live. To do otherwise is an injustice to our students and our profession.

Your Thoughts:

I’ve been sharing my thoughts on the topic of necessary educational reform at the classroom level. I’ve intentionally kept this short and basic because I’d love to hear some of your thoughts or questions. Please feel free to leave a comment or question below.

 

Cutting the Noose- Liberating Teachers’ from the Shackles of I.T. Opression


Photo credit,Ѕolo

Traditional approaches, The Noose

I often write about technologies that can help educators be more effective in the classroom.  However, I’ve rarely taken the opportunity to speak directly to my compatriots in the Information Technology [IT] field of education. Tonight, I woke from a sound sleep and felt compelled to let loose some thoughts. It is my hope that they encourage constructive dialogue and intellectual reflection. I tend to have strong opinions when it comes to technology and how best to implement it in education.  I believe in empowering educators to make the most of the technology at their fingertips.  Few would argue that a teacher should be restricted in their ability to make the most of their resources to help students learn.  Yet, I find that the traditional IT approach has been to lock down computers, restrict installation of new software, and to block URLs behind firewalls that treat our teachers as if they were incapable of making good decisions about their use of technology.

I was born in an interesting time. I remember learning to type on a typewriter, yes with those hard-to-push keys that made your little fingers ache for hours. I also remember the first time computers were brought into the classroom… Oregon Trail any one? I grew up, not playing sports, but attending night classes with my father to learn how to program in GW BASIC on our commodore 64.  I lived during the time of the BBS (bulletin board systems) when a 300BPS modem could take an entire night to download a game or photo. I remember resisting the Internet and thinking that the BBS system would hold its own and my slow conversion to embracing the Internet. Self-taught HTML was a fun pastime. I offer you these memories, because I want you to know where I come from. I don’t believe there is a digital native or a digital immigrant. There are simply those willing to try to learn technology and those who aren’t. With the rate of technological advances, wouldn’t we all be considered immigrants anyway?

My background has afforded me the opportunity to work with many people in IT (not just in the education field). I’ve been known to bypass networks, crack a WEP key or two in order to test the security of my home network, I know the reasons for security in technology (especially in education).  However, the traditional business world approach to IT has been to lock down systems so tight that the IT person can easily diagnose problems, solve them, and put little effort into tracking down what may have gone wrong.   This approach may work well for the business world, however, in education, it tightens the noose around teachers’ necks. The ubiquitous image of the IT professional (portrayed well on Saturday Night Live) as a person in a white shirt who looks at a screen and tells the person having difficulty to “MOVE” so that he may quickly enter two commands that fixes the problem is prevalent among most business IT professionals.  How then do we (IT professionals in education) make a difference?

Turning IT Upside Down

I argue that we need to turn IT on its head. That means we don’t lock down our teachers’ computers so tight that they cannot pull up a useful video from YouTube that would enhance their students’ learning. We shouldn’t lock down their systems so that they can’t install new software that may, in fact, make them more productive.  I know the arguments… If a teacher installs software it may compromise their systemBlocking sites like YouTube is important so that teachers don’t waste time with useless videos…  These arguments may work for the traditional IT person who wants to maintain strict control over all technology within his or her domain, however in the realm of education it only tightens the noose and, just like the way the cell phone companies have throttled their bandwidth, we too essentially restrict our fellow educators’ ability to teach. I also argue that sites like YouTube can be extremely useful to students as long as policies and monitoring is put in place to ensure the protection of our students and that the work they perform is of educational value.

The key is to ensure that we empower our teachers.  Will they make mistakes? I’m sure of it; after all, we do as well. However, these mistakes are valuable learning experiences and training our teachers in the use and implementation of technology can mitigate mistakes. Taking the time to work with our teachers instead of pushing them aside and solving the problems for them like a magician in an ivory tower will help them to make wise decisions.  I challenge my fellow education IT colleagues to cut the noose from around our teachers’ necks. Yes, this may mean you’ll have to format someone’s hard drive at some point and reinstall the OS etc. There will be headaches; there will be challenges. However, I believe that the true spirit of the IT professional is one that loves a challenge.  Those of us who have the knowledge to bypass firewalls and utilize systems despite the noose that others attempted to place around our necks know that there is liberation in being able to make our own decisions about how to improve our productivity.  We owe it to our teachers to do the same.  After all, the end result is that our students will improve their learning because we took a chance on helping our educators understand and responsibly use the technology we give them

As always I welcome your comments and thoughts…