Where it all began....

I started blogging in 2003 to share my lesson plans with other teachers. I'm still posting regularly!

Yea! I learned something that I actually used!

Posted by Bill in Computer Science ,  Teaching Diary on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 (5 days ago) Permalink



I'm refershing my javascript skillset by going through a code academy course. Laborious, but helpful. Today, while supporting a co-worker on a powerschool customization, we were looking at a problem. I realized a variable was declared within a function but wasn't scoped to be used outside of the function (globally). Once fixed, we were running strong.

I just studied variable scope in my refresher course, and I'm grateful I did! As always, the wonderful stack exchange has a well-written piece about variable scope within javascript.

I suppose it is mildly depressing that I am excited about learning something that I can actually use. That must mean I normally learn things that are useless.

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What is computational thinking in K-12 space?

Posted by Bill in Computer Science on Friday, March 20, 2015 (one week ago) Permalink



Any look at computer science in the K-12 space leads inexorably towards the notion of computational thinking. My elevator speech on computational thinking is "thinking to computer". But there are many other, far better sources we can find below:

From Google comes this excellent answer

Computational thinking (CT) involves a set of problem-solving skills and techniques that software engineers use to write programs that underlie the computer applications you use such as search, email, and maps. Here are specific techniques.

Decomposition: Breaking a task or problem into steps or parts.
Pattern Recognition: Make predictions and models to test.
Pattern Generalization and Abstraction: Discover the laws, or principles that cause these patterns.
Algorithm Design: Develop the instructions to solve similar problems and repeat the process.


From the CSTA:

“CT is an approach to solving problems in a way that can be implemented with a computer. Students become not merely tool users but tool builders. They use a set of concepts, such as abstraction, recursion, and iteration, to process and analyze data, and to create real and virtual artifacts. CT is a problem-solving methodology that can be automated and transferred and applied across subjects. The power of computational thinking is that it applies to every other type of reasoning. It enables all kinds of things to get done: quantum physics, advanced biology, human–computer systems, development of useful computational tools.”

Computational thinking is thus a problem-solving methodology that can interweave computer science with all disciplines, providing a distinctive means of analyzing and developing solutions to problems that can be solved computationally. With its focus on abstraction, automation, and analysis, computational thinking is a core element of the broader discipline of computer science and for that reason it is interwoven through these computer science standards at all levels of K–12 learning Page 9 of the CSTA K-12 computer science standards.

From Jeannette Wing, regarding as the originator of computational thinking:

Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability. Just as the printing press facilitated the spread of the three Rs, what is appropriately incestuous about this vision is that computing and computers facilitate the spread of computational thinking. Computational thinking involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science.

Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science.

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What is computer science in a K-12 school?

Posted by Bill in on Thursday, March 19, 2015 (one week ago) Permalink



Computer science isn’t learning to use excel. Computer science isn’t about understanding system administration and packet shaping. It’s not about using simulations to better understand biology.

I think K-12 schools can get confused about the difference between computer science, information technology, and educational technology. They are distinct.

Computer science is the scientific and practical approach to computation and its applications. It is the systematic study of the feasibility, structure, expression, and mechanization of the methodical procedures (or algorithms) that underlie the acquisition, representation, processing, storage, communication of, and access to information, whether such information is encoded as bits in a computer memory or transcribed in genes and protein structures in a biological cell

An alternate, more succinct definition of computer science is the study of automating algorithmic processes that scale. A computer scientist specializes in the theory of computation and the design of computational systems source here.

There are many reasons K-12 schools don’t “do” computer science well. I suspect one of the larger reasons is the confusion about simple definition. I've seen "computer class" as a catch-all.

From Running on Empty comes an excellent description of why computer science is difficult to define and implement in K-12 schools:

Consistent with efforts to improve “technology literacy,” states are focused almost exclusively on skill-based aspects of computing (such as, using a computer in other learning activities) and have few standards on the conceptual aspects of computer science that lay the foundation for innovation and deeper study in the field (for example, develop an understanding of an algorithm).

As I learn and explore computer science in K-12 space, I would be curious to hear your thoughts about computer science in K-12.

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How do we understand transformation & SAMR?

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 (2 weeks ago) Permalink



I love SAMR because it articulates a clear model of technology integration. From a respected colleague and friend comes a question about researching successes with transforming learning with technology. His specific question is "what could I research to understand transformative teaching and learning as it relates to SAMR".

The best way to do this is to interview teachers who have changed the way students learn with technology. This is important, so please pay attention. We aren't looking at teachers who are "using more technology", we are looking at teachers who have changed their model of instruction, utilizing digital tools. A few examples:

1. A middle school social studies teachers used to teach geography using paper maps, now he uses digital maps. Transformative? No.
2. An elementary school science teacher used to teach the water cycle, but now students are engaged in project-based learning about "me and my world". Transformative? Yep.
3. A high school math teacher used to teach basic geometry on a dry-erase board, but now has kids exploring area and shape using a simulation. Transformative? Probably, but if they are just playing, then probably not.

The key point here is that transformative is about the verbs and not the nouns.

Here are some questions you could ask that would guide your thinking about transformational practice (used gratefully from this source) :

1. Did the assignment build capacity for critical thinking on the web?

2. Did the assignment develop new lines of inquiry?

3. Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible?

4. Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?

5. Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)?

6. Does the assignment demo “best in the world” examples of content and skill?

I posit that even the course "educational technology" is dangerous. As if there is a split between the two (there isn't).

Hope this helps.

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Spock?

Posted by Bill in Personal on Friday, February 27, 2015 (4 weeks ago) Permalink



Oh man. Leonard Nimoy is gone. What a loss, what a great loss.

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Sublime - is just so…good…

Posted by Bill in Blogging ,  Personal ,  Teaching Diary on Friday, February 06, 2015 (one month ago) Permalink



Well. I haven't been this enamored with a piece of software in a long time. Sublime - a text editor - has won my heart. The last time I got this happy about text editing was back in the day with UltraEdit. Someone put some love into this software.

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Pain Value Analysis & Problem Analysis

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership on Monday, November 17, 2014 (4 months ago) Permalink



I'm learning Service Operations in ITIL. I encountered some really interesting ideas about problems and pain in IT, and wanted to share them.

"...instead of just analyzing the number of incidents/problems of a particular type in a particular period, a more in-depth analysis is done to determine exactly what level of pain has been caused to the organization / business by these incidents / problems. A formula can be devised to calculate this pain level, typically, this might include taking into account the number of people of effected, the duration of the problem, and the cost to the business (ITIL Service Operation manual page 100)".

I'm also learning how to best analyze how and why problems occur - and some tools for getting to the very root of a problem. The technique you use depends on the specific problem you have, but here's the list I'm learning:

1. Kepler and Tregoe analysis
2. Brainstorming
3. 5-why's
4. Fault isolation
5. Affinity mapping
6. Hypothesis testing
7. Technical observation post
8. Ishikawa diagram
9. Pareto analysis
10. Chronological analysis

One of the reasons I so value these ITIL courses is because many of the problems we face in school IT have already been well-addressed and solved by other industries. I remain even more committed that learning and adopting ITIL and best-practices for managing IT in schools is the right way to go.


Technology, learning and choice…

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Design on Sunday, November 02, 2014 (about 5 months ago) Permalink



Slate has wonderful article about a professors choice to use (or not to use) technology in learning.

The article resonates with me on many levels. As I reflect on the SAMR model of technology use and learning, I see many cases where technology use really doesn't benefit student learning. And I believe this question, does this use of technology benefit student learning must be central in our thinking to use it. I've also seen technology use that fantastically improves on the way students learn - but this has more to do with instructional design rather than the actual blinking thing.

There is nothing automatically better about learning when we throw technology in the mix. We must carefully judge and balance the benefits of technology in learning. This requires time, testing, and a clear vision of your learning outcomes.

A last point about distraction. As I work in ed-tech, I see more and more how distraction and divided attention fractures and fragments learning. I believe a great gift teachers can give to their students is the experience of deep thinking. To spend a significant amount of time deeply knowing a poem or a part of a song is to know the "truth of a thing". And isn't that why we teach and learn?

Sometimes I worry that technology makes knowing the truth harder. There are all kinds of yucky implications about a generation of kids who blink from one thing to the next, but that's a discussion for another article.

Great article in the ongoing conversation about technology use and learning.


Social Media and PLN’s: a lot of a little

Posted by Bill in Blogging ,  Educational Tech ,  Teaching Diary ,  Twitter on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 (6 months ago) Permalink



#cdl_mooced I'm currently learning via a fascinating MOOC Coaching Digital Literacy. The unit I am working through is about social media and PLN's (personal learning networks). For the record, I love personal learning networks, and have benefited tremendously from my involvement in them.

I've been a social media user for a while, but I don't really think they work for me as a PLN. What I see in social media (twitter, facebook) is a lot of a little. After reducing the "signal to noise" problem*, I see people post links to tools, without any deep thinking or consideration of context. It's pretty easy to post an infographic, link to a blog, embed a youtube video, but it's much harder to meaningfully change student learning with that same link. Social media makes it very easy to share, but does that equate with better? I'm unsure.

Where I have seen social media shine is when a very specific content area is linked to another very specific content area. For example, when a third grade teacher "follows" another third grade teacher. Or when a 10th grade English teacher "follows" another 10th grade English teacher. Posting a link, a website, or some great web 2.0 tool might help, but I don't think it meets the definition of being connected. My bias is rooted in my growing conviction that focused, mindful attention is the best way to learn and remember.

This weekend, I'm on my way to Istanbul, Turkey where I will meet with other IT Directors from the Central and Eastern European School Association. We all work in similar schools, with similar issues, challenges, and successes. This is my primary PLN, and one which I derive great value from. This face to face contact, this focused, uninterrupted time where we are learning with each other is like solid gold for me. And it is this that is missing from social media.

Social media makes connecting quick, easy, and ephemeral. And that's the problem I have with it. I'm curious to hear your thoughts about this.

* Bill's social media signal to noise maxim: the ratio of cat pictures to actionable useful content determines the value of social media as a learning tool.


Was Queen Elizabeth II repaid for the tea that was thrown into Boston harbor during the tea party?

Posted by Bill in Blogging on Sunday, September 21, 2014 (6 months ago) Permalink



Probably not.

Click here for my findings (PDF)


Goals for this upcoming year

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership on Tuesday, September 02, 2014 (about 7 months ago) Permalink



Our first week is under our belts. We are supporting MAP testing, and school trips have started. I finally feel like IT has some breathing space - but not much. I think once MAP testing is complete, and the "normal school schedule" (whatever that means) has started, we will be able to start moving forward, and not tend to our "getting to normal". There are many exciting initiatives in our school. In no particular order,

High School iPad pilot
Physical education iPad pilot
New student information system (powerschool)
New web-based admissions system
Major upgrade to our web-based professional development system (which is working great)
Start of a new project, HR system
Process-MAP all the inter-system synchronization issues (how does powerschool talk to our finance system, to Moodle, to Google, etc...)
We also have a technology coach team that should coalesce a bit more, a we had two new coaches last year. I’ll be looking for more “lighthouse learning” from the coaches, and I think they could do it with their eyes closed.

In all of these, I see my goals to support organizational excellence and increase student achievement. I will be focusing on:

1. Getting Powerschool off to a great start. In ITIL lingo, Powerschool is in “service transition” - a fragile time when a service must be carefully nurtured, supported, and “tended to”. Our goal is get Powerschool to a “service operation”, where the operations, roles, and benefits of this service are realized, part of our institutional culture, and the service levels are being consistently met.

2. Get our web-based admissions off to a good start. Just like powerschool, this system is in transition, and we’ll want to do a bunch of hand-holding until it matures and becomes operational.

3. My personal goals will be to become certified in ITIL Service Design and ITIL Service transition. My overall goal is to become ITIL expert-level certified.

4. I will also be strengthening my mindfulness practice, and encouraging students and teachers to use mindfulness as a tool to better learn with technology.

5. Finally, I will be strengthening my skills as a leader. I am reading books, talking to mentors, looking for other IT leaders I would want to emulate, and reflecting on my own leadership practice as I continue to strive to improve.




Welcome to a new school year!

Posted by Bill in on Monday, August 18, 2014 (7 months ago) Permalink



Welcome back! I am excited to begin a new year.

As I was reflecting about our school, and our technology & learning program, a thought continued to return; we have absolutely everything we need to succeed here at the American School of Warsaw. Solid internet access, reliable and stable computers, tons of software, enough technical and learning support, all the pieces are here. We have a winning team of professional, smart, passionate, committed people who care about kids and learning.

My hope is at the end of this year, we look back and know we've pushed the needle forward for our students. That via our collective effort to support student learning, our students have stronger academic achievement, that every single kid has been inspired to excel. I know we can do this. I know we can improve student learning (and achievement) through the effective use of technology at ASW.

Let's set a high bar for ourselves. Let's take a risk and reach high. I can't wait for our students return to school.


Vacation - needing it

Posted by Bill in on Monday, July 07, 2014 (8 months ago) Permalink



I am on vacation, and loving my time to be with family and friends. To let go, relax, recharge, and think about a bigger picture is a fantastic opportunity.


Don’t use excel for important work

Posted by Bill in Blogging ,  Educational Tech ,  Personal on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 (10 months ago) Permalink



Computer Science professor Daniel Lemire talks about why folks shouldn't use excel for important work.

Lemire states, "They [spreadsheets] are at their best when errors are of little consequence or when problems are simple.". He also writes (and I agree) "Spreadsheets make code review difficult. The code is hidden away in dozens if not hundreds of little cells… If you are not reviewing your code carefully… and if you make it difficult for others to review it, how do expect it to be reliable". When I get a spreadsheet from my business office, I spend more time understanding the formulas than I do the business problem.

I agree with Prof. Lemire's points, but I also see a language problem in changing. In short: people use spreadsheets because they are easy and accessible AND they lack computational thinking skills to build (write) a program in a more organized, coherent way. Probably, people "know" excel and there is a cost to learning and mastering something new.

In schools, I see excel spreadsheets being used to run virtually all parts of an organization (HR, accounting, purchasing, etc..). I think people use spreadsheets because they are easy and well supported, AND they do not know how to program.

I think Prof. Lemire's point is well said, and his post moves me to do more to help kids learn about programming and computational thinking.



From the BBC: Computers can impact on children’s ability to learn, says union

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership ,  Mindfulness on Friday, May 23, 2014 (10 months ago) Permalink



From the BBC comes word from Northern Ireland. (please read this in your best Irish brogue)

1. Bah! Damn kids an' their computers, no time to focus, and they canna learn!
2. Eh, I remember when WE were small lads. Now THAT was a time to focus an be ON TASK
1. Oh yea...
2. Jeeeeeessssssuuuusss, we could stay focused for 30 hours a day doing something we hated while being whipped
1. Sounds like you were at an easy school. We were focused for 200 hours every hour, and if your attention wandered for even a moment, you'd be taken out and tossed over a cliff
2. oh yea, the old "focus cliffs of doom?"
1. aye, thems the one.

(end Irish brogue)

I support the notion and idea that focus and attention are in danger with technology. What I reject is this silly idea that If we keep doing what we have always done, everything will be fine. Technology (and other cognitive tools) have changed (are changing) the ways our kids think, communicate, recreate, and learn. It is a significant and major change, and will continue to challenge old ways of thinking about cognition and learning. This is at the heart of SAMR, and our thinking that learing must be different when you use technology.

But here's the thing.

I am a proponent of mindfulness in schools. Not hippy-tree-hugger stuff, but rather teaching our kids how to focus and think using the tools of mindfulness. We cannot pretend our context has not changed. It has, and we must adapt.



Interesting article and online discussion about “teaching computers”

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Design ,  Leadership on Tuesday, April 29, 2014 (11 months ago) Permalink



Hello Readers!

http://pgbovine.net/two-cultures-of-computing.htm

An interesting read that discusses different cultures between programmers and users. If anything, this article helps me remember the "spotify" world students live in today makes teaching computer science more of a cultural challenge.

I originally found this link in a very interesting online discussion about programming education making a comeback in primary education.

I am becoming more interested in the Computer Science Teachers Association efforts to teach computational thinking in schools (ISTE also has some excellent resources on the same topic: computational thinking).

As I reflect on what kind of technology education schools should provide, these articles and resources just seem right.

I am curious what you think about computational thinking and how K-12 schools should "teach technology".


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I'm the director of technology at the American School of Warsaw. I support the effective use of technology in schools and classrooms. I am also keen on the role of games in education. More than you ever wanted to know about Bill

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