Learning should be the Focus



The New York Times Article, A Silicon Valley School That Doesn’t Compute has started many conversations this week at school and on the Internet. I think we need to keep our focus on what schools are about: Learning. Granted, as the Digital Learning Coordinator, I favor access to digital tools and am presently helping our school test iPads and MacBook laptops with a small number of sixth grade students. My bias is that students need to have access to these tools and the networks that connect students to other learners and other teachers. Will there be distractions, yes. There always have been as I remember doodling in my English notebook in high school. Should we have removed the pen? Below are some bloggers to have read for years and others who I have found by following the links in their posts about this article. I think the article was poorly written and do not agree with most of it, however, I do agree it should be about Learning and not about the Technology Arms Race where schools purchase technology so they appear to be high-tech. If it is truly about the learning, then teachers, administrators and other members of the learning community must also be learners.

Update 10/26/11 Will Richardson who writes at willrichardson.com wrote a post titled Its not an either or question where among other things he quotes Diana Laufenberg’s Tweets:

Maybe this statement …. using tech will not make your school awesome, not using tech will not make your school awesome, but employing the tools at your disposal to effectively serve the learning in your school community will make your school awesome.

That is the essence of what we should be doing instead of arguing over whether or not a device is the best thing for schools and learning. Besides, how do we make sure our good teachers remain both good teachers and teachers at our schools? Are we really willing to toss aside some folks in our move forward? Note: All of us are getting older and could be seen as excess when a newer model comes along.

George Couros writes at The Principal of Change. These quotes are from The Blur Between Leading and Teaching discusses his thoughts on what schools could use to guide their look to the future.

  1. Anything that we do with technology has to be focused on learning first.
  2. We need to always focus on “why” we are doing something before we focus on what and how.  We also need to clearly be able to articulate that to those we work with.
  3. Any plans that we create must help to build capacity within schools so that all stakeholders benefit.

Later on he lists what he sees as the characteristics of great teaching and great leading:

  1. Give trust, gain trust. As soon as you show that you trust people to do great things, they are more likely to do them.
  2. Provide some clear goals and objectives to the work you are doing.  With those in mind, ensure there is flexibility in the way people achieve those goals.
  3. Let people build and share their strengths and interests.
  4. We can learn much more from a group than we ever could from only one.  Do your best to bring people together and empower them to be leaders.

Jonathan Martin just wrote a rebuke on his site 21k12blog.net where he lists his objections to the article as a parent of a student at a Waldorf school. Solid points are made and it is clear from the comments that sides are being taken as one commenter suggest he remove his son or daughter from the school so someone else with more supportive parents could have the seat. Really, is that the solution? Remember our children are watching us every minute of the day and our behavior matters. When can we disagree and still leave the person we disagree with having some value?

In the comments is where I found a link to this post by Ira David Socol where he adds to the list of issues presented by Jonathan in his post. He titles his post: Class War at The New York Times. While he clearly is tired of the battle of Yes Technology vs. No Technology, (as am I), he makes more good points about learning and change.

“But it is important for Messers Richtel, Eagle (of Google), and Thomas to know is that, despite their claims, the old technology is neither superior nor more natural than anything which has come after. For years now I’ve had to point out that every time new ways of “manipulating the world” appear, those who hold power tend to oppose them. Socrates opposed both writing and literacy. The Catholic Church opposed Gutenberg’s printing press. Alcott had to beg those funding Common Schools to install black-boards and give kids slates, even though the private schools of the wealthy and places like West Point had had them for years.”

We all must be learners in this time and we must as teachers and schools, know when to use technology for the goal of helping our students learn and when not to use technology. Period!

Nothing is really new as it shows in the book referenced by Ira Socol:



Here is also a nice humorous way to look at the adoption of technology. This movie was referenced in my last faculty meeting when I did my Switch presentation. It is an oldie but a goodie.


Flapping Our Wings in 6th Grade Digital Learning Class


Image: ‘With the Wings of a Bird’



I knew I wanted to try new methods of teaching and learning with my new sixth grade Digital Learning class. For the price of $39.95, I set up an Edublog for us to use to reflect and share our learning experiences. We just did our first post which asked students to write about an image that I provided to them via our blogs Media Library. The image is from Wikimedia Commons http://commons.wikimedia.org which allows me to also discuss copyright and some advanced skills like linking and target for links. We also discussed categories and tags so that we can build a logical tag cloud.

I plan to have them write reflective posts from home as work they do outside of class and to teach them how to share their VoiceThread portfolios through the use of embedding code. This was just the first post of what I hope will be many more from my students. They are editors which mean posts they make go live which as I told them, puts the responsibility on them to make sure their posts are “postable”. We went over the blogging and commenting guidelines which you might find useful to read as well.

Visit the blog and watch us learn together. http://dl6th.edublogs.org/

Digital Learning Class Portfolios – Second Trimester


Manage Project‘ 

My Digital Learning course, formerly called Foundations of Technology, for 5th grade are developing their online portfolio that could live outside of both the classroom and our school. My goal is to give the students an opportunity to share their work and reflect on what it means to them. The idea of parents or other students also sharing their comments is a secondary goal. A third goal will not be obvious since the actual portfolio is the showcase for finished projects, and that is creativity, design and even fundamental technology skills centered around formats, copyright, privacy, communication, and others that are embedded into the projects we create. I used the term scaffolding with the class today as I wanted them to begin to connect the things we do in class instead of thinking, we start new each time. I was prompted to talk about this due to the age old question of “can I, can ya, or  can you”. I have a standard answer in that I ask them the question of “Where is Kenya?”. Often they understand this play on words although I feel like I am undoing some long learned rule of learning. I told the students today that if I taught you how to use it last week, it is OK to use it this week as that is the scaffolding part of this class.

So, I share now the portfolios of my students as we work on creating a digital portfolio using VoiceThread. For the price of a site license, this is incredible software for our students to begin telling the story of their learning. Remember that learning is often messy. That term is from a web site that I have read for years. http://learningismessy.com/blog/

Miriam W. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550600/

Sydney L. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1597437/

Alex G. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550599/

Wilson H. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550601/

Maggie D. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550598/

Lexi C. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550596/

Haley C. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550602/

Ted M. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1597392/

Jack E. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550595/

Drew H. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550603/

Annie W. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550594/

Ian W. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550591/

Davis C. http://damiddle.ed.voicethread.com/share/1550593/

Is it a Toy? Is it a Bird? No it is a iPad


‘Superman’ http://www.flickr.com/photos/12426416@N00/142079357

I have been part of a group of teachers who are looking at the iPad to investigate how our students could learn with them. I love it and see benefits, but think I agree more with these two blog posts. I am guilty of promoting cool tools without working as hard to adjust the teaching styles or the learning environments. Does a SMARTBoard on the wall make the learning different by itself? Is it transformational or just easier to control the computer?

I shared these links with our crew as I have yet to answer the deeper question of how will my students learn differently with this device? Is the iPad the best tool to put in the hands of students? While I like my iPad a lot, I have wondered how I would teach my class if each student only had that device. I think this is an important question to answer before or if we take a leap. I could teach some of what I do now but not the “heavier” lifting topics. For instance, no VoiceThread due to lack of Flash support. Creation is limited or at best restricted and I believe learners need to be creating more and consuming less.

Cathy Davidson has a great post about the iPad and how it alone will not change anything if there is not also a change in learning and teaching style.  How would our students learn in new ways with this device? Could they learn more if they either had a laptop or a desktop?

Without the right pedagogy, without a significant change in learning goals and practices, the iPad’s potential is as limited (and limitless) as the child’s imagination.†† That’s great on one level–but it misses the real point of education as well as the full potential of the device.† What iPad and all forms of digital learning should do is help prepare kids for this moment of interactive, complex, changing communication that is our Information Age.† This is the historical moment† that these kids have inherited and will help to shape.† Are we preparing them for the challenges we all face together simply by spending our tax dollars on iPads?

Read all of her post at http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/pointed-response-nyt-article-ipads-schools

I am not sure where we will go with iPads as there are still some hurdles to overcome with content creation. Would it be the best tool for all students or are there grade levels where it makes more sense and some grades where it makes less sense. I agree with Mark Belinsky.

“But the iPad will leave students between a computer and a hard place. Indeed, it is a third device. And one that I’m quite fond of. But it’s a poor substitute for computer learning”…. It’s not that I want to deprive young students of these experiences, but when I think of the potential for interactive curriculum, there is so much more than what the iPad can offer. And it can be delivered faster. While the lack of proper mutli-tasking might be good for focus, it certainly slows things down. When I’m researching for an article or a report, I have the virtual equivalent of having books and articles scattered across my desk. When I have several devices, I often do, relegating a content type to each device. Kids who are in the process of learning what the world has to offer don’t need to be doing so with the brakes on.

Read all of his post at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-belinsky/horrified-by-schools-that_b_804750.html




Donnelly Think Board Using Google Doc

Donnelly Think Board - Google Docs.jpg

Students never stop amazing me with how quickly they adopt and put into practice new tools. We have been using Google Apps for Education since late October and each day I see students being successful with this new tool for OLD uses but also now using them for NEW uses. Patti Donnelly’s English class is using a Google Doc as a Thinking Board to discuss how they could collaborate throughout the school using technology. I will share with you some of the writing, understanding this is a LIVE  private document that as I write this post, students are adding their ideas and thoughts. I asked permission to share some of their content and was granted it. The image above was created by the students in the Google Doc.

Student additions:

Student Cyrus: I’m in green (they chose colors to easily identify editors)

Like Mrs. Donnelly was saying during LA, what if we could collaborate throughout the school technologically? We start small, then inspire the city, which leads to the country, then the continent, then the world. DA has almost all the tools necessary, iTouchs, laptops, and now with access to Google Docs, we could easily be socially involved with the upper and lower schools. The problem is will we. Mrs. Donnelly, I think you’re right; if we have the tools, why not try it-the worst that could happen is that it doesn’t work, but who cares, at least we tried. If we start, it can and probably will cause a chain reaction, which means the world will be able to connect wherever and whenever via Internet or maybe a worldwide software. This global change may not happen in our lifetime, but if it works, it could cause a whole planet to connect and communicate with technology. Also, the global connection could be used for not just business or school, but also helping end world hunger, or pollution, or stopping war. Imagine how much better this world would be without that stuff. But you can’t know what’s happening in the world if you can’t communicate. Families could have more time together, because they wouldn’t have to hunt down information about the world. Learning would be upgraded and fun, and the world would be happy. If we want a change in the world, we should start now, and I think it could start at DA.

Student Collin: Guys, what Cyrus says make a lot of sense. This would be the ideal situation but, this may not happen because it is too big. We should try and express our opions here because if we do then people who look at this will look deeper and catch on.

Teacher Donnelly: Cyrus, this is so powerful!  What do others think?  Just brainstorm ideas….what comes to mind?

Student Hunter: Black/Yellow

I agree with Cyrus, It makes a lot of sense but this might be hard to get out to everyone.

Student Cyrus:

I think we should add some stuff about how people learn. I believe there should be 3 separate parts of a school-

1. the section for visual learners

2. the section for audible learners

3. the section for learners who need to move to learn

We can have technology in every room, which means there would be quicker access to information. Kids also get more excited with technology in the room, which means they will be more excited about learning, and like the video said, school is kinda boring right now, which is why more and more people are dropping out. You’d think advancement in technology would be good for schools, but hardly any schools have used it to an immense advantage. Technology also gets students more involved because they’re not jut listening to a teacher talk. Mrs. Donnelly is introducing iTouchs and laptops to us, except we use them for school, not surfing the web. DA can definitely take a huge step towards the world of technology if we try.

Student Collin: This makes sense but we need to really stretch this out. If we want to pull this outside of our classroom we need to build it into a large essay type thing. Then we can pull it outside and place it inside the real world for everyone to see and then press it into this.

Student Cyrus: I think we could make something like the video or maybe an essay and post it on youtube. Mr. Schaefer’s blog is going to help with the publicity, too.

Student John H.: is purpleish-

Think, is it the way you learn or is it or the things you use to learn. The answer is not that technology is the answer, it is how we use it. We have the tools we have all we need, we just need to use it to our liking. We have the goods we just need to use them. If you do not enjoy using the technology you can go to another side of campus. Or if you enjoy working with sound you can go to certain classes or go to a different moodle course or something along those lines.

Student Collin: Guys, What if we build advanced moodle course that recognizes advanced students and give them challenges that the teachers will allow them to do in class. For example. The 6th grade course would have different sections that are password protected so that the teachers could give the password to the best of students. Then when there is review or something that is stupidly simple for that student so they do added work for tons of extra credit and other incentives.

Student Cyrus: People should take a test to see which part of the school they belong in. The moving learners can be interactive and play games or something that helps them learn well. The visual learners can look at diagrams or charts to help them learn, and the auditory learners can listen to the teacher explain about the material.

If this doesn’t work, we could just have different types of schools. I still think technology should be used more in schools, though.

With this sort of discussion taking place in a 6th grade class, I wonder what could happen by 8th or 9th, … In fact check out this link that came across my Twitter feed today where what the students above are discussing is taking place. http://www.prototypedesigncamp.com/

What a great time to be a teacher with the tools we have today.