Where it all began....

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

Silence is success in IT

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Design ,  Leadership on Thursday, April 17, 2014 (one week ago) Permalink



We are completing MAP testing. This involves setting up four rooms with about 25 computers each and ensuring networks, networking, client software, and system settings are prepared for testing. We also ensure the tests, students, and data is correct prior to testing. We use older laptops to facilitate testing, our MAP coordinator ensures the testing schedules are distributed and proctors are trained.

Setting up for MAP testing isn't rocket science. But everything went especially well. No client computer computer problems, no data issues, everything worked really well, and it was quiet.

This has happened before. When we transferred to google apps for education. Everything went well, and it was just quiet. Kind of a funny thing about IT, we only hear from people when something isn't working.

There is a tremendous incentive in IT to design services well. Sort of a "measure twice cut once" kind of thing. When things are working well in a school IT department, things are quiet. When technology as a service is managed well, life is easier for everyone in a school.

We still have issues, but these come through our trouble ticket system, they are prioritized and addressed.

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ISTE Essential conditions are just…right.

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech on Thursday, April 10, 2014 (2 weeks ago) Permalink



Getting technology "right" in schools is difficult. I've seen more cases of poor implementation than good implementation. My touchstone question is "how is student learning better?".

There are a cluster of "things" you have to get right when you want to use technology to improve student learning. The ISTE Essential Conditions elegantly articulate what schools should do if they want to use technology to improve student learning.

In my experience, these conditions are correct, and serve as a good reflective standards when schools ask "are we doing this right"?

PDF here in case of link rot (which I doubt from ISTE, but you never know).

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Edtech Conferences - worth it?

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership ,  Support ,  Twitter on Thursday, April 03, 2014 (3 weeks ago) Permalink



I recently tweeted: Does participating in #learning2 (or any big ed-tech conference) make a difference in student learning? I've always been "meh" about them...

Are they worth it?

1. I've always felt these conferences were of dubious value. When I pay for staff to go to them, I usually get a standard bell curve one or two staff who had a life-changing experience, and one or two staff who were bored to tears and everyone else falls in between. My personal experience echoes this observation. Kids aren't benefiting.

2. I believe teachers grow best through self-reflection, peer coaching, and good professional evaluation. I'm not sure how ed-tech conferences facilitate this. Sure, teachers can learn about tools, and they might learn about some ideas for project-based learning, but how much of that is making a difference in the learning for kids? Is the learning return worth the time and money invested?

3. I see a wide variety of presenting skills at these conferences. Although this is related to point 1, the content and delivery can be variable. The keynote speakers are often more known as keynote speakers, and less as authentic innovators of classroom learning. I've been to many edtech conferences, and all the keynote speakers are compelling, but then there is that whole "our context and your great idea" problem.

4. One of the failings of these conferences is their focus on Nouns over Verbs. The conferences attract advertising and make money by selling advertising space. Many sessions are dedicated to advertisers who do not discuss how learning can be different, but by perpetuating the horrible myth that the tool is magic and will change things! This, by the way, is a disease in educational technology, that the tool alone will fix what’s wrong with learning. It never has.

5. If the goal is to learn new things / try new things, why not try a speedgeeking session? I think about locally produced organic produce being much better for you than crap made thousands of miles away. Back to point 2, I believe teachers learn best when they are engaged with a colleague and are learning with them (see also: plc). There is less of a translation cost when you learn locally.

6. The problem is that sometimes (sometimes), a teacher goes to one of these conferences, and the stars align, and there is star-trek sound effects, and they return profoundly changed. Sometimes that happens. Maybe we need to pay more attention to preparing our teachers to attend these conferences to increase the likelihood of Eureka.

I am curious what the 2 regular readers of this blog think about the big Ed-Tech conferences. Are they worth it?

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Dungeons and Dragons for 6th graders?

Posted by Bill in Games in education on Thursday, March 20, 2014 (one month ago) Permalink



Today an earnest, excited 6th grade (12 year old) boy asked me if I would help him lead his Dungeons and Dragons club. He had somehow found out that I like D&D, and really wanted to play.

Why does this make me feel uncomfortable? I told him I didn't have time (which is true) but maybe we could make a simulation club, and build games and simulations. He was cool to the idea.

Anyone out there have any advice? I still have this belief that there is a pejorative association with D&D. I still enjoy playing - but only five or six times a year. But is this an acceptable thing for kids in a school as a school sponsored activity?

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Animal dissections should not be computer simulated

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Games in education on Tuesday, March 18, 2014 (one month ago) Permalink



I am participating in an interesting discussion about the role of simulations and dissection. My thoughts are below:

There is a huge difference between a computer-simulated dissection and a real one. Simulations are great because they:

a. allow us to abstract an idea, piece of knowledge, or thought-object;
b. allow us to easily and quickly manipulate objects in a simulation to see what might happen;
c. allow us to model complex systems (see serious games as an example);
d. help us model and manipulate an environment.

If we support the use of simulations over real-life dissections, we should at the minimum include a discussion about the kinds of knowledge that using simulations support. The key point here is that simulation allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. A simulation is not a series of videos or images, which is what I see most "frog dissection" simulations sites.

Please know there is a difference between watching a movie of a frog dissection and simulating a frog dissection. I found many dissection sites that seemed to be a series of linked flash videos that showed different stages of a normal dissection process. For example, this site: http://www.whitman.edu/academics/courses-of-study/biology/virtual-pig is a series of images that describe what students should look for when they dissect a pig. Likewise, a cow eye dissection (eww, gross) http://www.exploratorium.edu/learning_studio/cow_eye/index.html is not a simulation, but a "click next and look" activity. This site http://www.biologyjunction.com/frog_dissection.htm is good because it has photographs and diagrams, but there is nothing "simulationy" about it.

This site http://www.mhhe.com/biosci/genbio/virtual_labs/BL_16/BL_16.html has interactivity, and could qualify as a good resource. Also http://www.froguts.com/demo/ is passable, but neither of these sites reach to the standard of a simulation in my opinion.

Online resources need to be more than just watching a movie or series of movies; they need to include meaningful interactivity (see https://www.explorelearning.com/ as a good example).

For the record, the gold-standard for online resources are resources which allow students to create simulations.

I had orginally wanted to try to stay away from the debate about dissection and stick with "what is a simulation". Personally, I disagree profoundly with the notion that a computer can replace a live dissection exercise. Organisms are gooey, slimy, and not "clean and tidy", as a computer would present an animal dissection. I also believe the affective element of dissection is part of learning (but I'm an IT guy, not a biologist nor an ethics expert) IMHO, technology would detract from learning if our goal in learning was for kids to understand the digestive system (and it's place in other systems) of a real frog.

To underscore my point, the real value of a simulation is to allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. grin this is not what most animal dissection sites (that I could find) do.

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Expression Engine 2.8 is out!

Posted by Bill in Blogging ,  Personal ,  Teaching Diary on Monday, March 03, 2014 (one month ago) Permalink



Expression Engine 2.8 is out. Really cool feature set that will save time and make it easier to develop great web-apps for schools.

My latest use of Expression Engine is for a professional development request system. Works like a charm!

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Hacking in High School: yes, but….

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Teaching Diary on Friday, February 28, 2014 (about 2 months ago) Permalink



A substantive article by Pete Herzog about hacking in High Schools.

I hope you read this reply, Mr. Herzog. You are so right about this. I think the key point is what schools do with hackers (geeks) when we find them.

Many times we have "caught" students doing stupid stuff like installing key-loggers, running port scans, writing bash scripts and changing /etc/hosts in amusing ways. When we catch them, we discipline them but then we invite them to learn. And this is my key point. We need to teach kids to be responsible and ethical digital citizens, but also teach them how to hack. And as you say, be "motivated, resourceful, and creative" learners.

I liken this to "geek fishing". Schools generally don't do a great job of fostering an environment of open exploration, discovery, hacking, and making. We have a curriculum to think about, after all. But when we discover a hacker / geek in our school, we have a duty to encourage them and grow them.

As I reflect more on this blog post, I think what should change in schools is our attitude towards hacking; to invite it, encourage it, and recognize the value this type of challenge / curiosity-based learning brings to learning. We also need to help kids make good decisions.

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Membership in Computer Science Teacher Association

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership ,  Personal ,  Teaching Diary on Monday, February 24, 2014 (about 2 months ago) Permalink



As I was learning about computer science curricula in the K-12 sphere, I discovered the Computer Science Teacher Association. I've joined, and I am learning a great deal about the value of their membership. I'm currently reviewing their suggested K-12 Computer Science standards, and learning more about computational thinking. I'm looking forward to learning more about how this organization can help me understand how best to plan, implment and assess computer science curricula in the K-12 world.

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Is anonymity bad?

Posted by Bill in Blogging ,  Personal on Friday, February 14, 2014 (2 months ago) Permalink



Interesting article written by Chris Poole about the merits of anonymity online. I remember when anonymity was the de-facto identity on the internet, and I've watched it change slowly with facebook. As a teacher, I've watched students exhibit truly exemplary behavior online, and I've also seen horrible behavior. Like in real life, just amplified.

I believe anonymity is the great "freeing mechanism" of the internet, one of the truly great things about "online". Gender, age, culture, and socioeconomic status all fall-away as barriers to participation in a free exchange of ideas. At it's heart, I think that is what the internet is; a venacular of idea. In an anonymous forum, the strength of an idea alone carries weight. Of course expressing the idea is important, but without the garbage that traditionally encumbers us.

So I see evidence how being anonymous online can be hurtful. I also see how it be very helpful. A few quick examples:

1. Stack exchange. Basically anonymous. The best ideas and responses to questions are voted to the top of the list.
2. Slashdot. Basically anonymous. Comments are moderated, but in a weird way.
3. Google Moderator. Not very anonymous, but has the same basic idea of voting for an idea.
4. Reddit. Anonymous. The thing about Reddit is the question being asked. So on the front page, the basic question is "what will create the most clicks?". But on subreddits, like /r/linux, answers to questions are voted on, with the best rising to the top.

There are obvious flaws with anon-think (see the Wisdom of Crowds). But that we should shun anonymity, or treat it pejoratively strikes me as myopic.

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Parents, students, teachers and Moodle: who see’s what??

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Design on Thursday, February 13, 2014 (2 months ago) Permalink



Moodle is a learning management system designed to support the learning / teaching relationship between a student and a teacher. Our middle school shares the student username and password with parents because we recognize parents want to support their students. Please know the window we use with parents is different than the window we use with students. So when a parent logs into moodle using thier student credentials, they will see a system designed for teachers to communicate with students. We believe part of middle school learning is to take responsibility for their own learning (in fact in our school vision says in part "we see the future reflected in our students' independent thinking"). In the high school, we do not grant access to Moolde for this very reason; the relationship is between the student and the teacher.

In cases where there is real academic trouble or difficulty, then of course, this rule can be bent. But overall, Moodle is about facilitating, supporting, strengthening the conversation between teacher and a student.

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An introduction to SAMR

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 (2 months ago) Permalink



Here's a youtube video I made a while ago that describes SAMR in depth, with a specific example how learning is different when we look at technology use through the SAMR model.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyWHIi2rW74

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Technology Integration—Will We Know It When We See It? A New Taxonomy

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership on Friday, February 07, 2014 (2 months ago) Permalink



wow.

What a great article about SAMR, principals, and thinking about technology integration. The article, Technology Integration—Will We Know It When We See It? A New Taxonomy, ends with this quote:

As leaders it is important to keep in mind the purpose of technology and how it can transform the classroom. We need to remember that, just as it is in the classroom with students, there is a range of experience and comfort in our faculties when it comes to learning about technology. As with Bloom’s taxonomy, we must take them from where they are and support them along the continuum.

Good stuff. PDF here, in case of link rot.

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Just finished Code Academy Intro to PHP

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Personal ,  Teaching Diary on Sunday, February 02, 2014 (2 months ago) Permalink



I just finished the CodeAcademy PHP introduction. Not bad, I have to say. I've been dabbling in PHP for many years, and I learned some new things, which is cool. I finished in about two days (total time, probably 6 hours).

I found the learning environment to be good. A few user interface quibbles, but overall, the teaching and assessment was spot-on. I liked the feedback when an answer was incorrect. I found the scope and sequence to be good. I think a more robust summative assessment would of been nice. I also think some different types of assessment would of been neat (look at this code, where is the error).

Amazing, the last time I formally learned about PHP, I used a book, and manually typed in the code. This was much different.

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Does everyone need to learn to code?

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership on Wednesday, January 29, 2014 (2 months ago) Permalink



Very interesting NPR show entitled: Computers Are The Future, But Does Everyone Need To Code?

I answer yes. Learning to code is a new kind of literacy. I think the faulty premise that NPR assumes is we should be preparing everyone to be a professional programmer. Not understanding rudimentary HTML, SQL, conditionals, loops, and objects is a new part of a new kind of reading and writing. Not knowing these things diminishes our ability to express ourselves, to speak in a new language. Creating is inherently empowering. In many ways the analogy of coding as a new foreign language is apt. Some things I heard and my response:

"If you are tax preparer, you don't need to code to do your job"

I disagree. Facility with programming (or as ISTE nicely notes, computational thinking) richly serves tax preparation. We have cognitive tools to automate processes, check for common errors, and facilitate communication. Why couldn't a tax preparer use a simple content management system to accept commonly requested information from clients? It's hard to imagine an occupation where technology could not support, replace, or enhance the task.

"Everyone should be an auto mechanic"

This again points to the premise that everyone should be a professional programmer. I don't think they should. But I assert that everyone should know how to read and write "in computer". I would argue that in addition to safely driving, you should know how to change your oil, change a tire, understand how a car operates.

However, the auto-mechanic analogy is weak. Computers are the lens through which we learn, communicate, and have fun. A car moves from point A to point B. The analogy between auto-mechanic and programmer doesn't hold water because reading and writing is exponentially more important than driving. This goes to the heart of my point about this NPR story; computational literacy is something everyone should know about.

What is interesting is the increasing abstraction I see in programming. Like the NPR guest said, I grew up with that blinking command line. It was an exhilarating experience. Now, programming with tools like scratch neatly teach students about conditionals, loops, objects, and other programing primitives.

Every kid should know this stuff.

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Mindfulness in schools: a good article

Posted by Bill in Mindfulness on Monday, January 20, 2014 (3 months ago) Permalink



From KQED comes this good article about mindfulness in schools. (open PDF here).

My favorite quote:

“When we look at low performing schools it’s not that these children are unable to learn, it’s that very often they are unavailable to learn.”

I only have one quibble with the article. I do not like using the word multitasking to describe what children pretend to do (it's not multitasking, it's rapid task switching). And if you want to really learn about the excellent psychological research about task switching, use task switching or attention as a starting point.

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What does it mean to be accountable?

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership on Friday, January 17, 2014 (3 months ago) Permalink



One of our school themes this year is accountability. This is a good thing, in my opinion.
In my experience in education, accountability is a pejorative word but it needn't be. I imagine accountability to be ultimately about results. And here is a key point; results can be broad, nuanced, qualitative and still be valid, but they still need to demonstrate a student has learned.

When people ask me "how do you know technology works in education", I answer "ask the teacher who uses it". I trust teachers to know when technology tools work with student learning (but I verify).

When I think about accountability in the context of educational technology, I look at learning outcomes and learning artifacts related to a technology inspired lesson. As we in the ed-tech community know, many times students make spectacularly snazzy presentations and demonstrate ZERO knowledge on the learning standard. It's hurts me when I see this.

Accountability is about "show me the learning".

We are adopting Dr. James Stronge's TPES teacher evaluation system at our school. There are 6 standards, 5 inputs and 1 output. The 5 inputs are:

1. Instructional planning
2. Instructional delivery
3. Assessment of/for learning
4. Learning environment
5. Professionalism

And the 6th standard, related to output is:

6. Student progress

All of these standards are measurable, and when used thoughtfully, improve accountability to student learning.

I've included the wikipedia entry below about accountability because I like what it say about the relationship between accountability and accounting. What is the saying, "what matters is what you measure".

What do you think about accountability in educational technology?


In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving. As an aspect of governance, it has been central to discussions related to problems in the public sector, nonprofit and private (corporate) worlds. In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences.

In governance, accountability has expanded beyond the basic definition of "being called to account for one's actions". It is frequently described as an account-giving relationship between individuals, e.g. "A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct". Accountability cannot exist without proper accounting practices; in other words, an absence of accounting means an absence of accountability.

Link here

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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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