Tuesday, December 30, 2008

My Latest Digital Distraction

When I was in college I used to drive 5 miles to use a laundromat in North Fargo even though there were quite a few other laundromats much closer. Part of the reason was that this laundromat always seemed to be cleaner and I could always find open machines but the other major reason was they had an arcade game there that I was addicted to. I never saw this game anywhere else and have not seen it anywhere since. That is until last week. The game is called Puzzle Bobbe and the point of the game is to try to clear the screen by grouping 3 or more bubbles of the same color. This game is extremely simple but rather addictive. I have lost at least an hour a day to it since I discovered it again online in Flash form. So, in the interest of promoting distraction, here it is:

  • Mouse click on the flashing "Push 1P Start Button"
  • Use right and left arrows to aim
  • Press space bar to shoot bubbles

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Project-Based Hybrid (Traditional ISD-Charter Partnership) Pedagogy Model

I have been thinking lately about how a project-based charter school within a school could work. Here are my thoughts on how the learning process would be structured:

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reasons Teachers Should Consider Online or Hybrid Teaching

This week our high school principal told our teachers that if they plan on staying in this profession for a long time they need to start looking at online teaching because it will be part of our jobs in the future. I decided to pull together some data that supports this statement in the following video. If there are any major arguments or any major relevant data I am missing please comment and let me know.

Reasons To Consider Online or Hybrid Teaching from Carl Anderson on Vimeo.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Embracing Disruption

Lets face it, the disruptive forces described by Clayton Christensen in "Disrupting Class," this post on Fluid Learning, and the subsequent conversations that have emerged today on Dean Shareski's blog and Will Richardson's blog are going to have an effect on our schools. These forces include the internet, personalized learning, and school choice. So far what we have seen play out is as technology and the internet improve the choice to either home school a child or enroll them in an online school has gotten easier; as more charter and magnet schools open they pull students from the enrollment of our traditional schools; and the inflexibility of our schools has led to an increased dropout rate and a growing number of students who see more value in teaching themselves what they think they need to know than seeking a diploma or degree. The result has been lots of either/or scenarios. You are either enrolled in an online class or you are enrolled in a traditional classroom...you either are home schooled or you attend a public or private school...you either are mainstreamed or you are in some kind of alternative program. This approach has spread us thin. All of these approaches either ignore altogether or place bets on the disruptive forces and such a polar choice leaves few good choices in the long run.

What is it, or what was it, about the schools we grew up with that our communities loved? What programs did those schools offer that added identity and built community? I would suspect that for most of us those things were the arts programs, athletic programs, extra curricular activities, clubs, and organizations. These were the things we celebrated and these are the first to go when disruptive innovation is dealt with in a polar fashion. How can we retain what we hold dear about our community schools in the face of disruptive innovation?

Before we can answer that question we need to look at what the disruption really is. The disruption is the internet. The internet is what is behind the flat world that Thomas Friedman talks about and it is the tool that makes the kind of grass-roots social action and semantic restructuring that Clay Shirky describes. The internet is the largest collection of data and information our world has ever seen and it makes information cheap. It also allows for the outsourcing of or automation of tasks that are routine. However, the internet is more than the sum of it's parts because behind each window that looks into this great big machine sits an individual with thoughts, knowledge, and wisdom. It allows for us to connect in ways we never could before not only with data but with each other.

Daniel Pink also addresses this issue by observing that what this disruption is going to call for in the economic world are people who can exercise the right sides of their brains, see the whole picture, and be creative. The polar approach we have been taking in response to this disruption has forced schools to cut back on programs that typically best nurture this ability in students.

Now, there are other disruptions that are effecting our schools besides just the internet and the rise of school choice. First, there is the health care crisis. When you look at projections for the cost of Medicare and Medicaid in the future, especially as more and more baby boomers retire, there will be less and less funds available for public education. This means either schools will loose funding or an already poor health care system will get even worse. Also, the recent downturn in the economy will have an immediate short-term effect that we won't be able to ignore. Two reasons schools will loose funding added to the loss of funds due to declining enrollment caused by school choice.

Why does this have to be so? As Christensen eloquently explains, large systems are ill equipped to implement sweeping changes. He gives examples in business of how disruptive innovations literally kill certain industries and examples of companies like IBM and Dayton-Hudson who weathered the storm by embracing the disruption and allowing it to flourish. Why can't we do this in our public schools?

I suspect one problem has to do with our miscategorization of different modalities of teaching as modalities of learning. Cognitively, is online learning any different than any other type of formal learning? Certainly online teaching is different than teaching face-to-face but is learning any different? One benefit to online schooling is the students have to be active learners, in an online learning environment passive learning is equivalent to absenteeism. In that way there might be a difference but active learning is active learning and the same level of engagement can be achieved in a traditional classroom as well. Online teaching strategies can be applied in a traditional classroom to support and extend learning just as films can be shown in classes to support the curriculum. Why do we have to think of online learning as one form of learning separate from others?

While there may not be a significant difference in how we learn online as opposed to face-to-face there is a difference in how we learn with different types of assessments and teaching strategies. From a funding standpoint we really have two different models: seat time vs. project-based. One involves a talking head and the other authentic assessments and both can be employed in either an online setting or face-to-face.

So, here is the solution I propose to deal with all of this:
  1. Schools need to start by embracing disruption and support it.
  2. They can do this by starting charter schools within their own walls, a school within a school concept.
  3. One charter school could be created that leased space in each of the host schools.
  4. This charter school would serve students who are dual enrolled in their school and the independent school district the charter is leasing a room from.
  5. These classrooms could be connected through digital tools and/or ITV
  6. This charter school would be based on a project-based model instead of seat time but employ online teaching strategies to enhance and facilitate instruction and inquiry.
  7. Students would meet one day a week with their teacher in the charter but have access to daily classes in the traditional school. The other days the students could work from home.
  8. The days students are present the teacher could meet with 10-15 students thereby keeping the perceived class size down to ideal numbers but meet everyday with a different group thereby increasing their enrollment for one instructional class hour to 50-75 students. This will reduce the cost of education.
  9. The independent school districts could then pass these savings on to retaining and growing programs that are done better face-to-face on a daily basis.
  10. This charter need not be a diploma granting institution and could exist only to support and enhance education in the ISD.
  11. This model could be franchised and opened in other schools. The more schools that allow a classroom for this charter in their district the better both schools become because more teachers in the network mean more course offerings and more funds directed toward arts, athletics, and extra curricular programs.
Many of our smaller schools already have a program that sets a precedent for this since most smaller rural schools have some kind of ITV setup and collaboration with neighboring districts.

I am serious about making this work and have been thinking about it for close to 3 years now. I have a potential sponsor for the charter and three districts with administrators interested in trying this out as well as 7-10 teachers who are interested in piloting this program so it is very possible this idea might fly. What are your thoughts? I would love any and all feedback.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

TIES Hangover

I have a mental hangover following this year's TIES conference. It will take some time for me to fully digest all the great ideas, conversations, and feedback from the past three days. First, I want to say thank you to everyone who attended my sessions. I think I learned more as a presenter from your feedback than you may have taken away from attending. My favorite thing about any edtech conference is meeting people. I met face-to-face for the first time many people I learn from in my personal learning network including Glenn Wiebe, Doug Johnson, and Marianne Malmstrom as well as reconnect with educators I already had a face-to-face relationship with including Scott Schwister, Michael White, Mike Walker, Chris Turnbull, Marcia A. Rockwood, Greg Berg, Cara Hagen, many teachers from NEMEN, Kathy Ames, teachers from Z-M Schools, Fridley, St. Francis, and Columbia Heights. I know I am forgetting some.

Some new and interesting ideas I came away with:
  1. Instead of the school buying laptops for 1:1 initiatives they could give vouchers so teachers and students can buy their own. This could alleviate some terms of use issues and allow those who want better computers to spend a little more.
  2. Use Twitter as a writing prompt.
  3. Use machinema in a media class to produce films based on what students in a writing class write. (asynchronous collaboration that mimics how work is done in the professional world)
Some observations:
  1. In the exhibit hall I saw a guy doing a price comparison using his iPhone while the vendor was giving him quotes. I don't envy these sales people.
  2. You could go to this conference and have whatever bias about technology, pedagogy, and learning reinforced because at each session time there were sessions addressing each view. (Ex. Internet filter Nazi types could safely retreat to sessions about network schematics, firewalls, filters, etc. while us constructivist teachers could gorge ourselves on web 2.0 bonanzas).
  3. While meeting people was great and presenting was extremely valuable from a participant standpoint I probably learn more participating in my PLN on a daily basis than attending a conference.
  4. For the past three years this conference has started with a highly inspirational and thought provoking keynote but ended with a dull-dry business oriented keynote and message from the Gov's office. Why don't we end this on a high note. It would be great if the highlight of the closing session was not the door prizes. Some suggestions for next year's speakers: Clayton Christensen, Clay Shirky, or Michael Welsh.
  5. The communities of interest sessions are what give this conference depth. They should be given more emphasis. (less General Sessions, more Communities of Interest).
  6. It would be real nice to see an online version of this conference in the future, maybe in the Spring.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sunday, December 7, 2008

RSS Feeds for Educators: Growing Your Own Personal Learning Network (Feedback)

We (participants at TIES session on Sunday) have spent the past 2 1/2 hours exploring elements of a personal learning network. I ask that you take a moment to reflect on this session by posting a comment to this blog post. I am interested in what you think regarding any topic brought up during our time together today. I am also interested in which tools and/or services you think you will find most useful. What went well and what didn't go so well.



Saturday, December 6, 2008

Looking Forward to TIES Conference

I am looking forward to this week's TIES Conference. Last spring, with hopes that one might be accepted, I submitted three session proposals and convinced one of the teachers I work with to submit a proposal by agreeing to be a co-presenter. All of our sessions were accepted. In addition TIES asked me to facilitate a community of interest discussion about MUVEs (or virtual worlds) in education. So, I guess for this conference I will be working. Here is a schedule of when I will be presenting:

Sunday, Dec 7 from 8:30 - 11:30

Monday, Dec 8 from 10:00 - 10:50

Tuesday, Dec 9 from 8:30 - 9:20

Tuesday, Dec 9 from 10:00 - 10:50 -

Tuesday, Dec 9 from 11:20 -12:10
Aside from three days in a row of nothing but Edtech and getting to play with all the new toys in the exhibit hall I always look forward to conferences like this one to network with people. Last year I ran in to some teachers and administrators I had not seen in quite some time. I also usually run into people I only know from the blogosphere. This year I hope to put a face to a few more people in my PLN. For instance, I have been reading Doug Johnson's blog for almost two years now and commenting for at least half that time. Doug happens to live in Minnesota so I hope to get a chance to meet him at TIES. I am also excited that I get to hear Daniel Pink.

Monday, December 1, 2008

This Will Not Be On The Test

Dean Shareski over at Ideas and Thoughts of an Ed Tech wrote a thoughtful response to Time Magazine's article about Michelle Rhee today. The following are the comments I added to his post:

I think @wmchamberlain is on the right track by stating that the problem lies in our lack of a concrete purpose for schools. However, our lack of a concrete purpose I think is the result of a larger problem for which the problems in our school systems are a direct result. The problem lies more in what driving forces our human race has allowed to guide everything from our structures of governance to our schools, to how we fulfill our material needs. This problem has its roots far back in our history to the invention of money for trading goods and services. Where at first benign, this tool has allowed the worst of human traits to inform and direct nearly every aspect of how people relate to one another, how we treat our environment, and what we value. For money to work we have to have a fundamentally universal understanding of the definition and concept of ownership. More specifically, things become possessions. Possessions can be traded. A variable can be assigned to hold the value of said possessions. Thereby laying the foundation for our economic system. A system that can be taken advantage of. An abstract system based on the abstract concept of ownership. When that system crashes as it has recently we don’t see material disappear, we have not really lost anything real. What we loose is the illusion we have created by investing in abstract concepts such as ownership and money.

Ownership has had different meanings historically by different cultures. Traditional American Indian cultures had a very different understanding of ownership than feudal systems that emerged in Europe or even Eastern cultures such as emerged in Tibet or Bhutan. Under feudal systems the concept of ownership was less abstract but was the foundation for it’s existence. The monarchy owns everything. The populous is granted by the monarchy permission to use their goods. As cultures indoctrinated under feudal systems evolved and systems of government changed the concept of ownership remained. These cultures later spread their view of ownership across the world through colonization, enslavement, genocide, and more recently commercialization. This understanding of and value for the concept of ownership and the evolved need for our species to hold on to this abstract notion has spread throughout the whole world. Cultures who have a different concept of or no concept of ownership at all are either looked at as primitive or are forced to comply and reform. Not to do so often results in the loss of basic needs, imprisonment, or even torture.

Ownership is control. Our economy dictates who has this control. Our governments are chiefly concerned with the economy. Our governments mandate standardized testing in math so members of our society can participate in this economy and understand their place. Our governments mandate standardized testing in reading so members of our society can communicate well enough to help drive this economic engine by producing goods and trading them with each other. All traditional reasons given for what schools are for all equate to the same thing: Schools exist to reinforce the concept of ownership and produce adults devoted to this notion thereby maintaining structures of control.

We are starting to see the flaws inherent in basing our society on the concept of ownership unravel. Ownership begets greed and greed begets lust, gluttony, and envy. Greed and gluttony have resulted in the decline in our environment that if left unchecked will ultimately result in our own extinction. This ownership society has also resulted in the diminished quality of life for most people living in third world nations and many of the poor living in our industrialized nations. This includes the “at risk” students in our schools whose basic needs are not met.

Now, we have collectively developed some concepts that run counter to the idea of ownership and have thus thrown a wrench in the ownership control system. Those include the Bill of Rights which includes freedom of speech. Based in our right to free speech the recent open source movement has brought the concept of ownership into question. Creative Commons also throws a wrench in this ownership idea as do socialized medicine and universal health care.

Our failing schools are a result of the collapse of the ownership doctrine. Standardized tests test a student’s ability to thrive and participate in an ownership society. What subjects of study would we value more if we eliminated our current concept of ownership? What would our world look like if ownership did not reign supreme. Those teachers, administrators, and politicians who support standardized testing, teach to the test, and use standardized tests in math and reading to measure the success of a school are agents of the ownership society. They are agents of a social system that has historically included slavery, genocide, torture, and greed.