Where it all began....

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

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 (one week 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.

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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 (one week ago) Permalink



Probably not.

Click here for my findings (PDF)

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Goals for this upcoming year

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership on Tuesday, September 02, 2014 (4 weeks 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.


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Welcome to a new school year!

Posted by Bill in on Monday, August 18, 2014 (one month 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.

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Vacation - needing it

Posted by Bill in on Monday, July 07, 2014 (2 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.

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Don’t use excel for important work

Posted by Bill in Blogging ,  Educational Tech ,  Personal on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 (4 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 (4 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 (5 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".


PD, ed-tech conferences and student learning…

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Design ,  Leadership on Monday, April 28, 2014 (5 months ago) Permalink



This article far better expresses my thoughts about conferences and student learning. I post this after asking if big ed-tech conferences make a difference in student learning. #edtech

http://www.tieonline.com/view_article.cfm?ArticleID=326

Well worth reading.



Silence is success in IT

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Design ,  Leadership on Thursday, April 17, 2014 (5 months 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.


ISTE Essential conditions are just…right.

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech on Thursday, April 10, 2014 (5 months 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).


Edtech Conferences - worth it?

Posted by Bill in Educational Tech ,  Leadership ,  Support ,  Twitter on Thursday, April 03, 2014 (about 6 months 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 (6 months 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 (6 months 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 (about 7 months 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 (7 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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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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