How Times Have Changed

This week I took my children on their usual trip to the library. The kids enjoy walking up and down the isles like most children do. Jenna stopped abruptly and asked, “Mom, what are these?!” I turned my head to find a small series of World Book Encyclopedias.

13596_10152569598153376_3208475644401819863_nThe look on her face was priceless when I explained that when I was a kid, if we wanted to learn about something, we had to look the word up in these books, and in some cases, that’s all we could use. I opened a sample and showed her that the texts are comprised mostly of just words. Her jaw dropped. This is my generation’s version of “When I was your age I walked to school in a snow storm up hill both ways!”

I got to thinking about how I learned to acquire information when I was her age. I remember having a set of Funk and Wagnalls on the shelf; I would comb through that set looking up all sorts of facts. My brother wanted to play football, so I researched the sport. 7th grade brought a cultural assignment on Nicaragua, and I’m pretty sure a few reports were created compliments of those texts.

Just think of what information acquisition is like now. My daughter can search for anything her mind questions by simply grabbing my phone, an iPad, or jumping on a computer and calling up thousands of resources. Lucky for her she can also consult her local library where she can tap into all of Southwest Wisconsin since the libraries are digitally linked. Information at her age is infinite.

What a limitless time to grow up, right? Here’s the deal though — she’ll need lots of instruction in how to sift through all of the junk of the web. Any guess how much of the content on the web is junk? So, she’s going to need critical thinking skills to sort through that mess.

Ask your teacher how he or she handles that. Yes, as a parent, it’s your job to assist with those questions, but there’s nothing wrong with checking in with the teacher.

Do you remember your first set of encyclopedias?!



PD Reading

Professional Development

(As it relates to Educational TechnologyThis is a small visual sampling of some good reads.

With a quick search on Amazon, you will find a long list of books related to Educational Technology. Authors from all over the world are sharing their insights and inspiration. Often you can find authors that will really challenge your thinking, ask you to step out of your comfort zone, and learn new tools. As you will discover my list is far from expansive. Once you do your own searching you will discover that you can branch out into several areas related to Educational Technology. For example, a search I conducted awhile back brought me to Daniel Pink’s work and I have enjoyed his work ever since. Many of my purchases have been made via Barnes and Nobel because I have a Nook. The good folks at B&N have now made a Nook app for my Ipad and cell phone!

First list below is a list of digital resources for connecting to other professionals. Beneath that you will find a list of professional development books.

Personal Learning Networks (PLN’s)

Books to Find

My Favorite Picks

On My Personal Nook


Thoughts After Reading “Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology”

by Collins and Halverson (2009)

I finished this book awhile back and have been meaning to write about what it has to offer a reader. I really like what Collins and Halverson had to say. I already agreed with their points, so this was an easy read for me. Collins and Halverson present two sides of the story — the enthusiast’s and the skeptic’s side. Both of which are very apparent in any school today. They also explain the evolution of education through the eras and how those changes have impacted reform.

Collins and Halverson point out that our students will need two unique skills — the skill of being able to be a successful life-long learner and expertise with informational technologies. Students need to be willing to persue further education, some times on the fly, and then be able to learn additional technologies. I find it interesting that I used the term “students”, but really everyone needs to be able to do this. We are at that point where every adult and young adult needs to have these habits and skills. We need to be constantly learning new information and skills, but it’s not enough to just learn facts. We need to synthesize our learning either that be in the form of writing, video, audio, building, et cetera.

As I’ve gotten older, I have often thought about diversifying myself as a teacher and leader often asking myself, “What else can I learn?” For me, though, it’s a passion. It’s fun. Lucky for me, I’ve directed myself to a career that I find fun. This means that learning is more like a game than actual work. Currently, I’m experiencing a hurdle that is putting my beliefs to the test. I was hired as a Technology Coordinator back in November, and while the majority of the position is my dream, there are aspects that make me very uneasy because I am not well versed in areas related to network and server maintenance. Granted, I wasn’t hired to do that, but it would certainly be to my advantage to learn as much as I can. In this particular case the learning curve is wicked, but because I have that drive to learn, I am sure I will get to where I want to be. Despite my age (I’m not a “digital native”), I still have a drive for learning new technologies and solving problems. I think this is a quality our kids have and we need to support them. Flexible learning is important for anyone today — we do not all learn in the same way nor should we all learn the same things. Whether we like it or not, technology can help us work our way through this era.

As society has swallowed this reality, we have put more computers in the classroom or tossed in a technology course here and there. Sure, those are probably good additions, but are schools and teachers really changing the way they think about learning? Collins and Halverson would suggest that the change is slow. If we were to let students determine their own mediums for learning that would mean we would have to give up some of the control and trust that students will make the right choice. Guess what folks? For the past several decades we’ve been making the choices for our kids and it hasn’t always been right either. There can certainly be a melding of student choice and adult guidance that will help our students enjoy learning and explore new skills and concepts.

Collins and Halverson would also suggest that we need to focus more on skill based learning than fact based learning (15). Many of our occupations today require a solid education, but also the need for “just-in-time” learning that comes with the ability to ask good questions, conduct wise research, and think through problems. Guiding students through this process will empower them to take control of their own learning — now this is the type of learning that transcends disciplines. I think of a teacher I was working with this week that had her students creating videos demonstrating propaganda techniques. My role was to offer assistance when asked. What was interesting and yet not surprising at all, was the students just tinkered through the tool I handed to them — Jaycut. They had never used it before, but they already had enough background knowledge to know what to do with it. A few made mistakes or the program hiccuped thus locking up their browser, but the students had the perseverance to keep working towards the finish line. I only coached a group here and there for no more than three minutes. The teacher and I were clearly the guides on the side and that’s the way it should be.

Collins and Halverson point out both sides of Technology Integration — the enthusiasts and the skeptics. Even though I side with the enthusiasts, I do see some of the points a skeptic might observe as Collins and Halverson point out. For example, if we allow students to determine the path of their own learning and focus on skills, it could be a reasonable assumption that students might not perform well on standarized testing (45). While this could be true, I am a bit disheartened that schools have put so much stake in standardized testing. That is a whole different blog post, I suppose.

Collins and Halverson will leave you with many ideas for change. I’ll list just a few below:

  • “Simply inserting technology into classrooms and schools without considering how the contexts for learning need to change will likely fail” (140). I couldn’t agree more. While I do think it is important to share new tools, the ultimate goal is to change the way we think about learning.
  • “We need to think about how to integrate nonschool resources into learning environments” (140). Schools need to open their doors to all sorts of resources for educational use. Our tools no longer need to come from a textbook company or cost tens of thousands of dollars.
  • “Learning [plans] might involve taking online courses, going to a learning centerfor specialized training, getting a technical certification in some area, joining an apprenticeship program, or learning from a computer-based tutorials to enhance particular skills” (142). The point that the authors are making here is that students should be able to create a plan for self discovery that includes a variety of learning avenues. I think back to my high school days — we all sat in the same classroom and we all received the same information. Rarely was education customized. Those days should be in the past.

Overall, the book is worth the $15 dollars. Put it in the hands of a teacher and hope it sparks change. I would love to engage in conversation with anyone that read the book.

Book Notes: Security vs. Access (ISTE New Release)

I am just finishing reading “Security vs. Access” by LeAnne Robinson, Abbie Brown, and Tim Green. This summer I attended ISTE 2010 in Denver, Colorado. This is my second trip there and each year the trip has been a life changing experience for me. Not only do I meet fabulous thinkers, I am presented with oodles of ISTE books at ISTE Central. For me, these are hard to pass up. I’m an English teacher that loves non-fiction. ISTE books are great inspirational reads to me.

I chose this book because I’m moving teaching positions from a high school to a middle school. At the high school I have enjoyed a freedom online in my classroom and with my students. As I move to the middle school I would expect more restrictions with the age group I’m teaching. With this in mind, I need to educate myself on the subject of safety in the middle school.

You can read the Table of Contents here if you want. It’s a quick read at 132 pages. The book does a fine job balancing the desire eager teachers like myself want to feed, with the necessity of protecting our youth from making poor choices, on the internet and with school network access. Actually, it does a fine job explaining why teachers need to understand this complex topic to protect themselves from devastating their career.

Here is a list of topics the book discusses: Inappropriate content, Predators, or Ensnaring Young People, Misuse of Mobile Communication Devices and Cyberbullying, Network Securty vs. Access, Inappropriate Uses of the Network, Copyright Infringement, Data and Identity Theft, Exercising Professional Responsibility, and lastly the National Educational Technology Standards. The book has logical pattern as it discusses the threat, misconceptions, and recommendations for each chapter.

I really think I need to be prepared to understand cyberbullying. In the high school, I’m sure it went on, but not in the digital classroom. Rather it existed on Facebook. Of course that does not make it okay, but I was not aware of the significance. With middle schoolers, I might see a more evident use of cyberbullying in my classroom. This book addresses measures I can employ to prevent cyberbullying in my classroom.

I benefited from the scenarios of each chapter as I often caught myself thinking, “Gee, what would I do if this happened to me?” The situations the authors present have happened to real teachers. There are several recommendations and policy suggestions I can use in my classroom. I like the idea of obtaining verbage from experience sources. I really feel there is content here I can use to help parents feel more at ease.

As a parent, I found the book insightful when reading the chapter on predators. To quote the book: “The real threat is an adult preying on young people by presenting himself or herself as someone who is sympathetic, likeable, and trustworthy, and suggesting that having sex with him or her would somehow be a positive experience” (31). As a parent, that statement frightens me. Those people are harder to point out to my daughter and son because they could be friends or relatives of their friends. Worse yet, the predator will use friendship to get closer to my children. Great, now I’m not going to sleep tonight.

Towards the end of the book they provide a works cited with many of their resources being online. And of course, they end with the National Educational Technology Standards, which is just a nice lil’ freebie. 🙂

I would suggest buying the book. If you are an ISTE member the book is just under 21 dollars. If you are not an ISTE member, well you should be. Anyway, you can buy the book here.

Processing Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”

Back in June I read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind.  I really enjoyed the book, but now it’s time to process and apply. What can I do with this knowledge in my classroom? How can I apply these ideas to the material I deliver? It all makes a lot of sense. I plan to revisit this post to apply it to my classroom.

Rather than regurgitate a mess of quotes, I’m going to cut right to the chase. Pink suggests ways to develop the six senses of the right side of our brains (senses: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning).

Design: Pink’s first suggestion is to keep a design notebook and carry it along to jot down design ideas. The user is supposed to jot down notes when they see great or flawed design. This activity will give the individual a hightened sense and awareness of design and how things operate. It might even help them redesign something they dislike. Pink gives a nice list of design museums to travel; too bad none are near Wisconsin. 🙂 Well maybe students can create a virtual tour of awesome design in Wisconsin, maybe even Seymour. Actually that sounds fun to me…

Story: Okay, now an English teacher would like this one. Pink suggests writing a mini-saga of just 50 words. Now that’s an assignment my students will do! 🙂 He also suggests trying Storycorps ( I’m entertaining the idea of having my seniors do this. I wonder if they’d revolt. He lists one great storytelling idea that I would enjoy exploring — digital storytelling.

Symphony: You really need to read his book to understand this concept. I think it describes our students so much. The idea of developing your “symphony sense” to to learn to see how things operate together, to synthesize the whole process or picture. He suggest studying this through art, which brings back a flood of memories. I remember feeling my mind come alive in art class as I seemed to settle into a mood, almost as wonderful as a massage! He also suggests entertaining a variety of skills – to explore our boundaries. One can also develop our symphony sense by enjoying the art of metaphors (music to my ears!). I’m not good at writing them, but I always perk my ears when I hear a good one. Lastly, we need to be able to see the big picture when it comes to projects, concepts, dreams, etc…Pink suggest that we actually listen to symphonies. I’ve listened to symphonies while driving, but I’ll usually imagine me riding my horse as its hooves gait along to some beat in the music. In my imagines I can distinctly envision my horse changing direction or gait when the cymbals crash…and that’s when I come back to reality as the minivan hits the shoulder. I’m delighted to see he suggests drawing as an important skill to enjoy.

Pink focuses on empathy being another sense to develop. I’ll admit – in the day to day drone of the school day, I’ve often felt that students aren’t empathic at all. Pink swears that our society feeds off feeling empathetic in sales, product creation, etc. Now THAT I can see. For example, when I go to a hotel I want a location that will understand what it’s like to take two children under 4 to a hotel. I want a kiddie pool, toiletries, free breakfast, quick checkout, crib in the room when I arrive, free internet, non smoking, etc…whatever they can do to show they’re thinking of my relaxation. The tests in his book should be fun (not all the links worked if I remember right), but I did take the fake smile test and I did well. Studying genuiness is interesting and useful in my speech class when we study audience feedback.

Play: I love this section as it seems relaxing and enjoyable. Playing games, instilling humor, and joyfulness are all suggestions by Pink. YES, now I have a reason to show my Seniors endless episodes of Seinfeld. He does advocate gaming…that one is hard for me to jump into. I’m not a gamer. Maybe Wii…I could try that.

Meaning: Again, this sense is an English teacher’s dream. We’re always looking to make sense of human experiences and the meaning of life and our vehicle has often been literature. Everytime I read Thoreau I ponder about my rat race of a life. Pink says this generation seeks this spiritual walkabout as well. Pink suggests we practice gratitude by making efforts to say thanks in meaningful ways through writing and visitation. He also provides a link ( to assess our spirituality, not in a religious sense but just in general. The test has to be scored on paper, but I bet with a little google searching, I could find the test online. Another suggestion provided is to picture ourselves at ninety and consider what we have accomplished and what we would have done differently. Of course, this provides inspiration to lead life to the fullest. This sounds like a student blog entry or even video project to me.

If you want to read the book yourself, you can obtain it from your local library. If they don’t have it, I’m sure it can be found via interlibrary loan. That’s how I obtained my copy. Of course, you can buy it from Amazon or Barnes and Nobel for less than 25 dollars. If you enjoy owning books, but are on a budget, is a great website. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future: Daniel H. Pink: Books A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future: Daniel H. Pink: Books

Here’s a book to put on your reading list. Although I’m not finished reading, Pink’s book explains the difference between the right and left hemispheres of our minds and why each behaves so differently. I find it very interesting because I’m left handed and find myself different than others. Not that just my hand dominance explains it, but it’s certainly gives me an excuse! In all seriousness, you should read it. I’m looking forward to the 2nd half of the book as it seems to explain ways to explore the right side.