Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Helpful Educational Placement

Seen at a school information night.

Any information parents want to give the school which would be helpful for the student’s educational placement, needs to be addressed to the grade level counselor, and received no later than…

I wonder if I should submit a response like this…

My child needs active, engaging, teachers who work with technology as a platform for instruction, extension, investigation, revelation, inspiration, engagement, collaboration, innovation, authentic experience creation, and connection to the world. He needs teachers who won’t assume that learning results from assigning worksheets and who use homework as a leveraged investment in the educational process. He should be placed with teachers who hold themselves to the same standards they hold their students. He should be placed with teachers who have high standards without being rigid. He should be placed with teachers who have figured out that they teach kids, not subjects. He should have teachers who have been given the freedom to do all of these things by their leaders and have chosen to do so even though it may not necessarily be easy or convenient. He should be placed with teachers who value and engage in professional collaboration for the good of their kids. He should be placed with teachers who will never call themselves digital immigrants or him a digital native. He should be placed with teachers who have been given the resources they need to accomplish all this. And, he should be placed with teachers who get paid enough not to have to choose between gas and groceries.



May 19, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Advancing Online Learning Conference

The people at Virtual High School, Liz Pape and all, have done a great job with the Advancing Online Learning Conference including some engaging speakers and breakout sessions. Dr. Mark Milliron delivered our keynote Wednesday morning, giving his take on current learners, the future of education and its relationship to the world. At lunch Dr. Jesse Harriott, VP of Research for Monster Worldwide spoke about preparing students for competition in a global workforce. Allison Powell from NACOLand Steven Ruscito from Middletown High School in Rhode Island took part in a panel and broadly discussed among the topics above the October 2007 Blackboard report Learning in the 21st Century: A National Report on Online Learning. Sessions I attended over the two days included Online Instructional Programs & Models; New Approaches to Online Science; Non-traditional or At Risk Students in Online Learning; Current Research in Online Learning; and using Virtual Classroom Tools. 

Today’s (Thursday, 4/11) keynote featured Robert Currie from Michigan Virtual High School who discussed, among other things, Michigan’s online learning graduation requirement and the CareerForward initiative created in conjunction with Microsoft’s Partners in Learning “to help Michigan students understand how to plan their work lives and career opportunities amid the implications of the global economy.” Specifically, students ask and attempt to answer the following “challenge” questions: What am I going to do with my life? What is the world of work like? What will I need to succeed? What’s next for me? 

Those are compelling questions for sure and Mr. Currie gave his presentation in the context of 21st Century Learning Skills. However, are those questions really anything new? Do we see them afresh in the spotlight of the future? Ask Gary Stager about his take on 21st Century Learning and he’ll probably tell you something like those are nothing new. Ask Will Richardson, Dave Warlick, or Wes Fryerand they’ll paint a slightly different picture. Regardless of where you (or they) land, the spectrum seems to support a deliberate and reflective approach to purposeful, relevant, engaging, and meaningful education. Additionally, if you haven’t read Alan November, Scott McLeod, Mike Parent, Karl Fisch, George Siemens, Clay Burell, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Jon Becker, and others to get a flavor of the varying perspectives, you must and soon. Feel free to contribute “must reads” of your own in a comment.

April 11, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

TxDLA 2008 Conference -Wrap Up and a Crackpot

The TxDLA has wrapped up but not before Gary Stager called himself a crackpot and gave a thought provoking presentation. The crackpot reference to himself came in the context of one who proffered so-called “crazy” ideas. I don’t know about crazy, but he definitely has some serious upstream opinions. He gave us a serious drink from the Stager firehose. In fact I’m still processing some of those ideas and deciding where I land. People like Gary Stager are like that, though. One minute I’m nodding my head in complete agreement and the next I’ve got the mental brakes pressed to the floor. Regardless, he’s a passionate educator who will leave you thinking.

Here’s some ideas from his presentation as they are filtered through my processing and frenetic note-taking. I have added the categories above the bullets for reflection more than anything else.

Right On! 

  • Stager cites a quote from Daniel Hillis’ Pattern on the Stone book [extended slightly for context]: “The computer…is a device that accelerates and extends our process of thought. It is an imagination machine, which starts with the ideas we put into it and takes them farther than we could ever have taken them on our own.”
  • If your classroom questions can be answered with a Google search, then let them.
  • Learning occurs in a community of practice where expertise is distributed.
  • Eliminate self serving and schizophrenic practices and policies.
  • We shouldn’t think of education as a competition.
  • Be open to emerging technologies and decentralizing tools.
  • The tools don’t matter unless they get in the way.
  • Collaboration begins at home.
  • We have operated on the SDSU curriculum for too long (Sit Down and Shut Up).
  • He routine meets kids who have never had a meaning conversation with an adult.
  • For faculty, collect the experts you want to study with.
    • Create a community of practice.
  • We should use technology to create authentic experiences in more domains in ways never possible before.

Hold On!

  • Stager doesn’t really care for Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind and wrote an article called The Worst Book of the 21st Century – a review.
    • It would seem to be a little incongruous for me to have a few posts ranting against the corporate influences in our school and then write so much about a business book. Essentially, I think we must look beyond the rigid structure of American education and begin the discussions that will take us there. That’s the take-away of Pink’s book for me even though Pink never intended this book for education.
  • ISTE should take a stand on how computers should work.
    • He said something like this very quickly and got a smattering of applause. I’m not sure where he was going with this, but to generally discount the efforts of ISTE leaves me cold.
  • An educational revolution will not result from web 2.0.
    • Maybe not completely, but it certainly could provide the spark. Indeed, many have suggested it already has.
    • Also, I think he may have thrown a backhanded insult at those of us who consider ourselves bloggers for education, saying we are standing outside the circle of expertise. He seemed to contradict himself when he asserted that a way to join the community of practice was to learn from our [experienced] elders and emulate their behavior and practices. I’m not sure what to do with that. Maybe I should ask Karl Fisch, Wes FryerAlan November, George Siemens, David Thornburg, Dave Warlick, or any of the other educational leaders that write on The Pulse blog.

Go on…

  • There’s nothing new about 21st Century Skills. They are simply the skills that rich people wanted their kids to have in the 20th century.
    • I would like to see a little more from him here than a simple dismissive attack.
  • Every course should be taught as liberal art.
    • He didn’t spend enough time here to give me a good picture and I’d like to know more.

More about Gary Stager so you can check it out for yourself… 

  • Stager-to-Go is the place where Gary Stager can share news & views not suited for his professional outlets.” He’s the Senior Editor for District Administration and its blog The Pulse.

March 29, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

TxDLA 2008 Conference -Day 1 and A Crazy Man

Today I’m attending the Texas Distance Learning Association Conference in beautiful Galveston, Texas. Alan November delivered the opening keynote and had a follow-up breakout session. At both presentations he rather strongly suggested insisted that we redefine student roles in the classroom. I have included an excerpt from his page below.

Student as Contributor: Digital Learning Farm
Before tractors and combines, more that 60% of the population in North America was involved in farming. Today less than 2% lives of the population works on farms. Farm children made a vital contribution to the family with real chores. While technology eventually eroded the meaningful work of children, we have enough technology today to restore the dignity of real work in school. All of our students can use collaborative online tools and research and global communications skills to add value to the learning community.
These contributions include:
* Curriculum Review Team
* Tutorial Creation/Organizing/Design Team
* Global Communication Team
* Official Scribes
* Resource Finders
* Technical Editors

If you are unfamiliar with Alan November, I would encourage you to check out the November Learning website and all the resources there. I’ve already registered for his Building Learning Communities Conference in July. Alan is crazy. I heard him say so today. And you know crazy people have dangerous, sometimes blasphemous ideas. The excerpt above makes myhis point. That’s dangerous stuff when you think about it. Are we ready to have kids do those things? (For an expansion on those ideas, check out TxDLA’s “blogstress” Harriet Watkins’ post about the keynote.)

As for his blasphemy, he suggested we actually let kids use Wikipedia with all its errors and unreliability! Only he took the insanity one step further when he suggested that we use that type of technology to give our students a global platform for publishing, commenting, and idea refinement. That kind of crazy talk will surely have some reaching for their benzodiazepines. (If you are going to click on that link to see what that word means, you are risking your educational sanity by using an unreliable source even if you get everything you need to know in the first sentence. You’ve been warned!)

Maybe we only want to give lip service to this whole 21st Century Learning stuff. Alan doesn’t. He made his doctoral students actually contribute to a Wikipedia article for their peers to review. Wow! I want to be crazy like Alan November!

March 25, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Frame of Reference

The rather lengthy educational biography has a point… 

I’ve spent almost all of my life in the formalized world of American education. I entered education, like many people, around age 5. I have very few memories of my early years in school. In fact I don’t remember much before 6th grade. I’m not sure why, but I have very few contextual experiences which jog my mind for those early years. My family moved around quite a bit and the four consecutive years of high school were the longest stretch I ever attended in one school -so I’ve been told.

For kindergarten through 1st semester of my 8th grade year, I went to public schools. Second semester of my 8th grade year I went to a parochial Catholic school. I hated the change in the middle of the school year, but my dad wanted me to go to a “good” school and this particular parochial school fed into one of Columbus, Ohio’s best high schools, Bishop Watterson High School. The school’s profile reads that it is a “comprehensive, co-educational, Catholic school for grades 9-12…A large majority of parents are college educated, business and professional people…The curriculum is largely college preparatory. More than 98% of graduates enter four-year or two year colleges and universities.” The Student Handbook dives deeper into the school’s philosophy, beliefs, and mission. Although I, at first, I reluctantly attended Watterson, I grew to like it. I was challenged -sometimes too much, I thought, and I found places to connect like the theater. I wasn’t a stellar student, but I wasn’t average or below. The further I got from Watterson, the better I remembered it.

I went on to Colorado State University (CSU) and earned my Bachelor’s in English and completed my coursework secondary teaching license there. Again, I wasn’t a stellar student and was only below average for the first year or two. I eventually made it to the Dean’s list my last few semesters, but that was when the courses got really interesting and engaging. Most of the teachers I had now have a * next to their name indicating emeritus status. I wouldn’t consider myself old, but that doesn’t help. I can’t recall any of the names of my education teachers and when I look over the faculty pages, no one rings a bell. I completed my student teaching at a high school in Fort Collins, CO where CSU is located.

After graduating from CSU, I began teaching at a high school in northern El Paso County, Colorado. I began as an English teacher and through a series of improbable events ended up teaching technology classes as well as coaching basketball -neither of which I had done before in any meaningful capacity. During that time I went to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS) for my Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction: Educational Computing and Technology. They call it Instructional Technology now. That degree and the work I had done teaching allowed me to become the school’s technology coordinator and later the database administrator for the district.

Later, I completed the coursework for my principal’s license from the University of Denver and moved into the assistant principalship at two different high schools also in El Paso County, but in two different districts. Now I’m working on the development and implementation of digital/online high school for my district and that’s where my frame of reference comes into play.

I consider myself a lifelong learner and have even explained my moving about in education as a restless desire to improve. I used to mean improvement for myself, but now I reference it in the larger frame of education. I know education can be better. I have hope that we, as a global community, can effect the changes that our kids need. But…it’s our (my) frame of reference that keeps getting in the way. The path that I took to get here is not all that unusual in terms of the schooling progression. Each step, however, contributed to my frame of reference and reinforced the historical traditions that informed (and continues to inform) it. My frame is common, not in a pedantic way, but in a shared experience way. It worked for me so it must work for my (our) kid(s) now, right?

If you’ve read any of the other entries here, you know that’s not what I think. Einstein has been attributed to say “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” That means we have to step outside our frame of reference. When I look at my frame of reference I see the fingerprints of traditional educational history all over it. We live in a very different, accelerated, connected, dynamic, (fill in your own flat-world adjective) time in history when our traditional frames can’t stand up to the expectations of the future. It’s that tension that scares the wits out of most people who have connections of any sort to the educational community.

To drop another name, George Washington is reported to have said “One of the difficulties in bringing about change in an organization is that you must do so through the persons who have been most successful in that organization, no matter how faulty the system or organization is. To such persons, you see, it is the best of all possible organizations, because look who was selected by it and look who succeeded most in it. Yet these are the very people through whom we must bring about improvements.” We all have had some measure of success and many of us (educators, parents, community members, policy makers, etc.) succeeded most, but that doesn’t mean our kids will if we do nothing to alter our current trajectory.

February 23, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments