Monday, December 29, 2008

Check out this new tool!

I am always looking for ways to improve teaching and learning. Today while browsing the Web, I came upon a curious tech tool. Now some would refer to it as a toy...not I! For any level of student, this is a great tool. A pen that will remember your pen strokes and then download the information to your computer to save/store for later. When you get tired writing, it'll record for you! Check it out here.

I love the implications of this for public education. What do you think?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Who says that our kids can't read?

I am in my 18th year teaching physical science, but in my first year of US History. It has been a bit of a struggle...a work in progress if you will. At times I feel like a first year teacher. I have been trying to bring in technology when possible and will continue to do so. However, my most successful lesson to date came not out of technology or some grandiose elaborate scheme. No, it came from reading. Let me explain...

We have just completed the Revolutionary War and are starting on the Article of Confederation (AOC). I asked the kids to brainstorm a list of issues that they would face when developing their own country. The list that they came up with was impressive...teacher certification, military, voting and so on. Here comes the reading part...I asked them to them read the AOC to find how these topics were addressed. They read and re-read looking for these things that the authors of the AOC did not include. They were shocked to find that if they, mere 8th graders, could come up with them and that our forefathers did not! And they had to read to be successful!

So don't tell me that our kids cannot read. They choose not to. So maybe it is not the reading that is the issue...maybe itis that we are not giving them the right reasons or motivation to read.

I welcome your thoughts...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Schools are Changing?

In this age of instant gratification using computers, I have a few concerns from a technology and an educational view.

1. If we are so tech savvy, then why was Sarah Palin vetted better?
2. If we are so tech savvy, then why are son many companies asking to be bailed out? Can it be that they were blind to what was coming or that they did not use technology properly to see what was coming?
3. If we are so tech savvy and want our students to be, then why do so many school systems block sites or worse, not have policies that govern technology use adequately or even worse, lack the hardware to use technology properly?

Just a few of my favorite questions at Holiday time...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Modern politics and technology

So we have elected a new President. Pres-elect Obama raised much of his money by on-line donations. He is a leader in technology by that alone! Will it be enough to get the schools on-board?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Content Review using Technology

Here in Maryland, we are forced to have kids prep for a number of exams as well as classrooms assessments (tests and quizzes). Often for kids who cannot or do not take good notes, a review of material is a must. However, time is of the essence and in the school day, there is not always time to review. So, I have begun to use quia for review. It has several ways to review...quizzes and games. Both of which I have found to be of great value. The quizzes save me time as the computer grades them for me as long as I have put in the proper answer key. The review games are valuable for those who need something a bit more interactive.

Another site that I like for review games is this game. This does the same thing but with a sports type theme. Kids can take a shot on goal in soccer or a 3-point basket in basketball for each question that they answer correctly.

Scores here have gone up, so they are working.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Technology and Science Achievement

I have been lamenting the use of technology for a while now...are we using it enough? Are we using too much? Are we allowing technology to replace skill development? Are we using technology just to use it?

Recently in my science classroom, I have begun using several on-line simulations from the University of Colorado at Boulder. I wrote activities to go along with these simulations that directed kids how to manipulate the action. Whether coincidence or not, the grades on these assignment have skyrocketed! Now as a science person, I understand validity and reliability. However, I still find these results rather intriguing.

What are your experiences with on line simulations? Are they similar to mine?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Technology illiteracy and responsibility

Will Richardson has suggested that schools bear some responsibility for technology illiteracy in school aged students. He advocates that schools should teach kids how to properly access and use social networks including facebook and others. He says that when kids are unprepared, it is the responsibility of the schools, not that of the parents. Never mind that we have assessments thanks to NCLB that have nothing to do with technology. Never mind that we have have filters that would block those types of sites anyway. Are we to take time out of an already croweded curriculum to teach how to use social network sites? Kids cannot even use academic sites properly. Why are we continuously allowing parents to abdicate their parental responsibility? What happened to parents being responsible for actions taken by thier kids? If I am going to raise your child, I need to have fewer of them, have greater latitude in doling out consequences and higher pay!

Should I warn my students about these kinds of sites? Yes. Should I advise them about use if asked? Yes. Should I model Internet responsibility? Yes. But teach them how to properly and safely use social networks? Not in the current educational climate of accountability.

Your thoughts?

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Data and the US Elections

My wife has recently stated that she will not vote in the Presidential Election as our state (MD) is a democratic state and that her vote, one way or another, would not matter. I wonder if this is a result of data or the Electoral College? How many others are not going to vote this year because the polls say that their candidate is so far behind that their vote would not matter. Or, and perhaps worse, their candidate is so far ahead that their vote is not needed. I do not know about you, but I have NEVER been a participant in an exit poll (and I vote) nor have I ever been asked to participate in a poll either. So it begs to question the validity and reliability of these polls.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Data and technology

As a potential technology leader, I understand the importance of data. I understand how it is important to the decision making progress and how data is related to that data. What I do not understand is the data collection itself...where does the data come from? Who collected the data? How was the data collected?

I guess my point is this; if data is being used to drive decisions, education or otherwise, why would the sources, who collected it and other factors not included? Would these answers not make the data more important to stakeholders and also give the decisions based upon that data more relevant?

Your thoughts please...

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Simulations and Reading

It's funny...Will Richardson just had a post about reading on vs off line. I found it to be a bit controversial and had to respond to his post. My kids did a simulation from UCo at Boulder and an amazing thing happened...the kids did not read it! Just like I thought that they would not. I disagree with Will Richardson in that reading is reading and kids need to be taught not how to read on line, but how to read vs how to skim. Skimming is what they did! We need to teach kids to read and skim and more importantly, when which is appropriate to do!

I am curious about your thoughts and opinions.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Simulations...boon or boondoggle?

I have been assigned this year a class in US History for 8th graders. I also teach 4 sections of physical science. My personal goal for this year is to bring in technology whenever a teaching tool, a learning tool and a tool for expression.

In history, I have found and used simulations that puts kids in the shoes of colonists in Jamestown as well as on board ship. Kids have done fact exploration online and this week are going to start their project that will use iWeb.

In science, however, I have run into some walls. For one, the system blocks many online sites that offer simulations. For another the computers that we use are a mixture of old and new and not all of them can handle the software. Finally, in science, I find that many online sites offer kids little or no chance to make mistakes...many are canned to the much so that there are not chances for kids to make errors. The hands-on, using equipment and manipulation, allows for this.

So here is the crux of my question...which is better? Exposing kids to science through technology in a very cookie-cutter way or is the equipment using part best? Are there simulations/sites out there that will do both? What have others of you found?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

What Defines Tech Savvy?

The new school year has just started and I had high hopes of a very technology ready class. I have web-based applications bookmarked on delicious ready to go. So I asked all 127 of my kids the same questions.

Of 127 kids, 5 had their own start page where they control the content.
Of 127 kids, 3 had heard of RSS feeds or readers and none knew what either was.
Of 127 kids, 56 of them looked at me like I was speaking gibberish when I suggested that they secure a thumb drive.
Of 127 kids, 5 had heard of delicious but 2 thought that it referred to food.

Is this what we are calling tech savvy? Is this the group that is termed "Digital Natives"? So they can use a plug in template like facebook or myspace. How useful is that? How do we bridge that gap between social networks and the real utility of the information super highway?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Tech overload?

I was speaking to a friend the other day and she had just returned from a trip. She was complaining that her GPS battery ran out and she got lost. I asked her if she had a map. She stated that she did but that she had forgotten how to read it.

Ask a middle school student to multiply 15 X 18 and the first question you are likely to hear is "Can I use a calculator?"

Take them to the library and assign a research question and you will hear "Why can't I just Google it?"

My point is technology eroding needed skills or is technology replacing needed skills? I concede that memorizing the counties of Maryland or memorizing state capitals is likely no longer a needed skill, however, technology is now replacing our need to do basic math, to spell and to use proper grammar. Not to mention basic research.

Is this a good thing? Is it a good thing to have basic skills mechanized? I am curious to hear your thoughts.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Wonderworks water...fall up or down?

Last week we visited Pigeon Forge TN and the Smoky Mountains. While there, we visited a place called Wonderworks. It is billed as a museum for the mind. Check out the video! See if you can figure out what in the world is happening. I know that it took me a while...

Kids and the Blogosphere

I have a blog, which you know if you are reading this. My 8 year old wants a blog. My wife says, "What's a blog?"

But blogging has issues in my mind.

Issue 1. Why blog? In the professional world it has the purpose of replacing the company bulletin board and constant access. Blogs are used personally to vent, share information or simply to create a community of like-minded individuals. In education, is blogging fair to those with limited or no computer access?

Issue 2. Technology for technology's sake. If a child cannot type, is a blog going to help or hurt that student? Is a blog going to really spark creativity in a child who cannot type? There is a fine line here between using the technology for a purpose and just using technology.

Issue 3. Access and monitoring. When blogs are used in schools, the whole monitoring thing comes up. Who will monitor the blog? How will we be assured that the rules of decorum are followed? More responsibility for the already overworked teacher?

Issue 4. Research. Kids and adults alike need to understand that blogs are largely opinions and should be treated as such. Information included in them should not be taken as the gospel truth unless they are backed up with an additional source.

I do not claim to have the answers, I am just posing the questions! Yours are welcome as well.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Education 2.0

Look out world! Web 3.0 is coming!

Web 3.0? Whoa!

There are those who read this who may say what happened to Web 2.0? Well, nothing happened to it, it is here! Kids are using it to communicate and network; and yes even to do homework. From facebook to myspace, kids are more wired than ever. What about us? Where are we?

I am not sure where you are, but teachers need to get into web 2.0 as they are what kids are using. We have the advantage of teachertube for videos, scriblink for whiteboards, Jing for screencasting, and sites for podcasting. How many adults cannot even create an e-mail attachment or open one? It is time all, no past time; to get on board. The Web 2.0 world is growing fast. Either we get on board the train or the kids will leave us behind.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Charity Begins at home

I received an email from the HCPSS website from a PPW who was working with a family in need. My wife and I were talking about how we could help and my sons 8 and 4 overheard. They also wanted to help. They collected toys, books and such to donate. They also keep a "charity box" where they place spare change and sometimes parts of their allowance. My oldest wanted to use the money to help. So with the help of my wife and the $16.00 in their box, they headed to the store. They managed to get one piece of clothing for each member of the five person family. I am so proud of them that I cried!

I think that I will share with them the 25 days website to see what others are doing.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Screen Casts and on-line Video Training

This week in class we are looking at and ultimately creating screencasts. I have looked at a number of casts and they have run the gamut from horrible (c'mon, reading to me?) to great (showing how all tabs and icons work).

If done properly, I see the screencast as an invaluable tool. Teachers can use it to record discussions or demonstrations for absent kids or for kids to reference later. School based administrators can use it to post PD opportunities and communicate to parents. Kids can use them to communicate to their teachers their understanding of a variety of concepts. Remember that screencasts can be used to show anything on a computer...from we sites and how to use them to showing how to use MS Office products. Jing and Camtasia are great tools for making these casts.

Text vs video casts depend on what you are trying to accomplish. If you are showing how annotations are made in a Word, Paint or .pdf document, then perhaps text is the way to go. However, if you are training a group on how a web application works then video is likely your best bet. As a result, the goal of what is being presented seems to dictate how it is received.

In the final analysis, the author of the screencast needs to understand that certain design constraints ought to be adhered to. These include but are not limited to:
  1. Making sure that the speaking voice is easily understood
  2. Be careful of cognitive overload...screencasts ought to choose to one topic or capability and stick to it, developing new casts as needed.
  3. The screen cast ought to include motion...and not those of highlighting a link that the speaker is referring to
  4. Make the cast interesting and informative so folks will benefit from it.
I do not claim to be a screencast expert....yet. But with these four criteria realized, the screen cast and its content can become valuable teaching and learning tools.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Day 2 at i3U

Today at i3U sponsored by HCPSS concluded today at Marriotts Ridge HS. I attended sessions on the Personal Response System (PRS), Google Earth, Excel and the things hidden in MS Word. I learned some tricks to make data bases easier. I learned that I need to update my version of Google Earth and some of the nifty things that it'll do. Finally, I learned what the potential in Word and PRS there is. I learned how to make forms in Word! I had no idea that could be done. As for the PRS, I have one, now if I can get the software installed, I am raring to go!

Monday, July 21, 2008

i3U conference Day 1

The HCPSS just provided a great opportunity for teachers to stretch their minds regarding technology and teaching. The keynote for this conference was Will Richardson. He opened with a few stories and ended with a challenge. In the end, he rather threw down the gauntlet as far as integrating technology. I was also lucky enough to attend his workshop today on literacy. He has me convinced to try twitter to get class going this year as I am teaching a class (US History) out of content. I am thinking about using twitter to get ideas from the weblogging world. In the past at workshops like MICCA, WR convinced my to try blogs and wikis in my science teaching. Guess what!? Kids loved it! It is a practice that I plan to continue. From WR, I also learned about the location widget that you now see on this page. Thanks Will!

BTW...I WR also autograph my copy of his book...I me a geek.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


This week in class I will be tackling what seems to be the hardest assignment to date...using .html programming language to create a web quest on the web. We did have a face to face class where we were introduced to it and given some tricks and tips, but I think that for me the best way is going to be good ole' trial and error. I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Photo editor

The photo above was taken by me at the National Zoo in Washington, DC. I edited the photo using Adobe Photoshop Elements. I got rid of red eye on my son in the background. I added a talk box for each of my two kids. I also used the program to adjust contrast, focus and size of the photo. I used Word to add the text. Imported it into Photoshop again from a screen shot, cropped it and resaved it.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Is Today's Tech Too Much for Today's Kids?

As I drove back from Bald Head Island (a place you really need to visit), we stopped at a Cracker Barrel restaurant for dinner. While waiting for our names to be called for seating, I wandered around the old country store. That is not the reason for this blog...the reason for this blog is what I saw the kids doing, mine and others. They were playing! With the sample toys and being social with each other. No MP3 players stuck in kids ears; no PSP or Gameboy machines. And I cannot help but wonder if we are not selling our kids short by providing the access to technology a little too our parents may have done with television. I saw kids thinking about how to solve puzzles with their brains and hands instead of a computer mouse. Are our kids becoming too technology dependent to the point of losing the ability/desire to think? I know that technology allows kids to create creatively and to share their work with others and that is a good thing. But I wonder, is there a point where providing technology is providing too much?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The future of Desktop it a thing of the Past?

When I was first asked this question, my get reaction was a resounding "yes"! With all of the other tools out there, why would ANYONE ever use Adobe or MS Word? However, in completing some recent work for classes and private contractors, I am backing off of that resounding "yes". I think that there will be changes, but I do not feel that DTP will go away. True, there are a plethora of on-line publishing sites that are independent of the PC/Mac debate. That being said, the need to type and print will never go away, especially for those old-school teachers like me...I love technology but do not always trust it. If nothing else, DTP products will still provide a backup in the event of computer crashes or power failures. DTP will, I feel, remain a viable tool for kids to use to display certain understandings of topics and concept attainment. See this article for more on this discussion.

Multi-Media Tips

Having looked at presentations by Bill Gates, Garr Reynolds and the like I see now where some, ok many, of my created-for-the-classroom presentations were way off. They were busy or distracting with graphics and transitions. However, what happens to middle school kids if all information is put onto the screen at one time? How do we still keep kids from reading ahead while still maintaining integrity under the tenants of CLT? Moreover, how does one know when it is appropriate to give note sheets? Does this not encourage kids to read ahead and not pay attention to the verbal message? Just some random thoughts and musings....

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Teachers and the Technology Gap

I just finished reading a blog post by David Warlick where he was amazed at the enthusiasm that he felt from teachers in Colorado and Hawaii, even though the school year has just ended. While I am a bit surprised by their willingness to listen and their excitement (I personally am exhausted), I fear that the gung-ho attutude may be short lived. See, the problem, in my mind, with implimenting technology and "toys" as Warlick put it, into the classroom, more often than not is not the teacher. It is a short-sighted school bored (not a typo), a misguided principal or state big whigs with eyes on test scores instead of real learning. The money to purchase new equipment is not there thanks in large part to Pres. Bush and his cuts even while force feeding us NCLB. I was laughed at when I proposed, that to save network space, we issue each kid their own flash drive. It would work, but the money is not there. Every time I hear about a new technology proposal being shot down or tabled due to money, I can almost hear the Emperor from Star Wars VI say, "Now, you shall pay the price for your lack of vision".

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cognitive Load Theory

The tenents of CLT need to be shared with staff, young and old. This will assure that all are aware of the need to take an audience into consideration when making presentations to an audience of any type.
I think that the presentation that I will use is one where slides are shown as a before and after. Download a few slide shows from google or slideshare and edit them through the CLT lens. By showing the differences after making changes to fall in line with the ideas of CLT, perhaps some will see the differences and adjust their presentations accordingly. Technology used in education to present information, to adults and kids alike, need to be ulilitarian. In other words, if there is no need to have the fly-in, the graphic or the fancy background, then do not include it; especially if the pretty takes away from the meaning of the slide. The graphics in a presentation is not the reason for the presentation; the content of it is the reason.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Getting into the groove...

I have been looking at presentations that I see in a new way. I am trying to see them through the CLT (cognitive learning theory) filter and am having issues with the busy-ness of some slides and videos. Even the ones from United Streaming seem to be loaded and assume lots of prior knowledge. So my question is this, where do you draw the distinction between too high a cognitive load and having to assume some prior knowledge? Isn't some prior knowledge required to derive new knowledge from presentations? So if I show a slide on the periodic table, am I to assume no prior knowledge at all? Thoughts?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Now I know that this is not due until week 5, but I wanted to play around a bit and add this funny comic. In the Cohort, Scott and Demetri included, who can state what is funny about this cartoon (note the source in the cartoon itself) and why I use it in chemistry presentations...


Another hot one today in the Old Line State.

Having had a chance to digest the content from yesterday's class, we are in for a ride! New toys and tools and new teams! I LOVE the tool (Skype?) that connected us to Tenn remotely I wanna learn how to do that!

Monday, June 9, 2008

First night

Wow....TONS of information tonight; most of which is rather easy to use. I have a blog for the class and am now using iGoogle and Google Reader. I have set up a delicious account and gotten a refresher on aggregator and RSS feeds. Lots of cool stuff. Still worried about the "you are going to need help" comment from the HCPSS web guy. I have secured the use of a flip video camera and now have to get my scanner working again. Busy and productive night!