Community Outreach to the MAX!

Wow! What an amazing example of effective community outreach! This gives me so many ideas! Kudos to Starkville, Mississippi’s schools!

Starkville School District “Believe” from Broadcast Media Group on Vimeo.

Online Curriculum–is It Improving?

From a link in Wes Fryer’s post today, the following video from Dr. Jose Bowen of SMU really hit home:

Online multimedia tools (podcasts, videos, slideshow tools) enable professors to deliver lectures online and, in turn, facilitate authentic learning through discussion and exploration in the face-to-face setting. What an inspiring vision that is! How I wish that this kind of leadership and vision proliferated in today’s schools and universities!

I envision a totally online classroom being successful with this model too, if discussion boards are adequately facilitated by interested and skillful faculty. Unfortunately, in my recent online grad classes at a Texas university certainly did not engage me in this way. I’m wondering if most online courses–both 9-12 and university–are so poorly designed.

My daughter, a sophomore in college, is currently living the nightmare of poor online curriculum design, and it is such a shame! This summer, she has taken both an online German language, and a political science class to satisfy degree requirements at her university. They have both been horrifically tedious for her and I would dare to guess that very little authentic learning has taken place–it’s been more about us paying for the course and her checking the course off her list. I daresay no meaningful learning has taken place, although she has earned A’s in the classes. Very frustrating in a time when an engaging and community-enhanced curriculum could have provided a rich experience.

Her current poli sci course literally consists only of reading a chapter from the breathtakingingly expen$ive text, and taking a 20-question online multiple choice quiz over it. Repeat–for twenty chapters! To be fair, the professor has tried to provide some relevant contemporary content to the course by assigning several extra credit readings (even John Stewart’s America) and Frontline videos. She’s really enjoyed those, and has wanted to talk about them–fortunately, she has her father and me! There is absolutely no collaborative element to the class, and unfortunately, the interesting, contemporary content serves only as extra credit–how many of the students don’t even bother to do the extra credit, much less discuss it with someone?
Watch video/take quiz/get extra points. No discussion or exploration of the subjects at all? Can’t we do better than that?

Are most online courses utilizing the multimedia and collaborative tools in the way that Dr. Bowen encourages at SMU, or is my experience and that of my daughter the norm? Are more engaging programs on the rise, I hope?


A Vision of University Classrooms Today….

In a post today, Wes Fryer relates a conversation he had recently with a university professor at Oklahoma Christian University, where all students are required to use Apple iPhones or iPod Touches. He relates:

When I learned this professor taught at OC, I enthusiastically said, “Wow, you’re going to have all your students bring iPhones to class this year!” His response was:

Boy I sure hope not. I have a tough enough time having them keep their laptops closed all the time during class.

I almost passed out on the spot, but I was torn by a simultaneous urge to weep.

Sadly, Wes’s post reminds me of an experience that my husband and I had at a large north Texas university (over 38,000 students) a few weeks ago at Parent Orientation–our daughter is an incoming freshman there this fall. At one of our sessions, the Dean of the Honors College spoke to us. She was an engaging and entertaining speaker, using humor and compassion to make her point to a room full of slightly tender freshman parents, not yet entirely ready to set their kids off to the wider world . I was really feeling good about her message of helping all students to reach their individual goals, guiding them as they transition to the adult world with skills as well as a solid ethical base…

THEN she said it.
She said that she makes it clear on the first day of any class she teaches that no laptops, cell phones or handheld devices are to ever be brought to her lectures. Students are to take notes with pen and “an old-fashioned yellow legal pad.” Then, she said, if they felt the need to use their computers in studying or “transferring their notes later”, she was OK with that. In her mind, the act of writing information down with pen and paper passes for kinesthetic learning, I suppose. And, after all, what would students ever do academically with a computer other than transfer the professor’s wise words to a MS Word document? It all made me sad too, Wes, and so vividly brought to mind Michael Wesch’s A Vision of Students Today.

As Wes noted in his post, this particular dean had no concept of the possibilities that 21st century tools can offer–and it seemed to be black & white to her. Computers can not be useful tools for learning in her classroom (or lecture hall). There is no room for the question How do we harness the power of this tool that keeps popping up in my lecture hall? Furthermore, this being the viewpoint of the DEAN, is there any leadership in that institution (or at least that college within the university) to foster continued learning by the professionals? To change the status quo and address the needs of these 21st century learners?

I will certainly say that the experience left me with a feeling of trepidation about dropping $8,000+/semester there for the next 4 years. I know however that 1) the situation would probably not be noticeably different at most American universities and
my daughter will get from her experience there what she puts into it, and she’s an enthusiastic learner with a strong and stable background. (She’s a real keeper!)
She’ll be fine. But really, doesn’t she (and all those like her) deserve better?

Back to the questions that we keep coming back to: how can this change? What can we, in the profession, do? What are we doing that is meaningful, and what do we need to toss and reevaluate? How do we encourage other professionals to “buy in”?

Photo attribution: Old Notes, New Purpose by idiolector on Flickr. Creative Commons non-commercial share-alike license.

Podcasting with Purpose

Bob Sprankle’s latest Bit by Bit podcast is posted, and I’m just getting around to listening to it. It is the audio from his Building Learning Communities keynote, entitled Podcasting with Purpose.

Wow! Well worth a listen! I think his title is slightly off the mark though, because this presentation explores so much more than just podcasting, per se. He used podcasting as a catalyst for change in his classroom–a change that is much deeper than just one tool. How I would love to have had my child in a 4th grade classroom with this much authentic learning, peer teaching/learning, exploration. His is a story of how these changes are about more than the tools–the change is in the focus of the classroom (learning rather than teaching) and authentic work that engages students. Thanks to Bob Sprankle for a great example for the rest of us who are trying to advocate these changes to teachers that may not love the tools…yet.

The presentation slides are below, and you can get the keynote here. Do them together–and then share! Also, I recommend that you subscribe to his podcast feed! It’s really a great one to have in your ipod!

Another Post About Creativity…

I’ve been way out of the loop with my blog/professional reading for the last few weeks. End of school just always slams me, and then I got to go on a wonderful vacation, so it’s literally been a couple of months since I’ve really read what is showing up in my google reader! I can’t wait to begin looking through and thinking about what recently happened at NECC.

Anyway, this morning (since I’m still a bit jet-lagged), I got up early and began reading David Warlick’s blog–he always gets me thinking! He has a turn of phrase that so often provides a clarity that I just can’t express as well myself.
In his response to Clarence Fisher’s post, (
America, You’ve Got Trouble ), David considers how both Canadian and American classrooms can effectively incorporate the changes that are necessary to our students tomorrow.
He says:

The problem, in my opinion, began when we started to consider and to treat our students as our future workforce. When it became our industries that were at stake, rather than democracy, then we had no choice but to mechanize education, to turn it into an assembly line, where we install math, and install reading, and install science, and then measure each product at the end to make sure that they all meet the standards — that they all know the same things and think the same ways.

The sad part is that this theme of class as future work force is just about too firmly entrenched to turn around in the short months and years we have, before it’s too late. I’m finding myself promoting the creative arts skills for the sake of the economy, rather than a richer life for our children. But even within that story, I think that we can retool our classrooms in a way that does help our children inside and outside their work experiences.

Standards–and minimum standards, at that–are being used on a massive scale in our schools to ensure just that–learning at the lowest acceptable level by the greatest number of children. We put great time and effort into ensuring that minimum competencies are met by all (or most). Admittedly, we do talk professionally about “extending the learning” of all students, especially those who we know will pass the test in the end, but is that enough? It seems artificial & prescriptive to me…a bit disingenuous, in fact…to allow “extension,” but primarily for the students who have already met the minimum. Is it enough that all our students know the “same things and think the same ways?” That is scary to me…and sad.

More and more, I find myself out of sync with the general practice in my profession–at least locally. Shouldn’t we challenge all our kids to think creatively? Not just with the goal of better standardized test scores in mind! Honoring our students’ creativity and fostering its development is what will make a difference in their adult lives–both economically and personally. Is there room for that when minimum standards consume our practice? What is the answer?

Sir Ken Robinson: More on Creativity

We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children. And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope they are. Our task is to educate our whole being so they can face this future.
Sir Ken Robinson
October 2006, Edutopia magazine
A new video, from April 2008, posted at Edutopia. (16 min)
Are you meeting the creative needs of the students in your school? Are most of our schools?

LookyBook !

Our group reviewed LookyBook tonight, which looks like a very interesting web site! At Lookybook, you can do just that: look at a children’s picture book online–the entire thing! What a great resource for classroom teachers and librarians! It’s a great selection tool as well as being a fantastic way to share the illustrations in a picture book. Very slick!

And best of all…’s not currently blocked in our district!!!

We wondered about the copyright compliance of it all, and I did some reading–started with the terms of service. But here’s an article from the Novato (CA) Advance newspaper that leads me to think that copyright is not a problem in our classroom settings.

Lookybook allows you to set up your own “bookshelf” so that you could have the books you plan to use with your classes collected in one easy place. And one of the coolest features is that you can embed a book into a web page or blog! Very, very slick!!

Here’s a sample, Poultrygeist by Mary Jane Auch:

Inspiring Elementary School Blogs!

I happened upon a wonderful elementary school web site / blog that I just have to share with my web 2.0 classmates. Go look at Pashley Elementary School’s Library Blog now!

Librarian Kristina Neddo maintains a wonderful, regularly-updated blog that contains new book reviews, news about library events and fun web 2.0 projects that various classes have completed, including Voicethreads, how-to screencasts that could be used by faculty or students, and more! It doesn’t look like the blog is too old, but it is really a great example of library 2.0, I think.

I’m really inspired by looking at this librarian’s efforts to keep her library program vibrant–and I’m impressed that there seems to be a schoolwide (maybe a districtwide) understanding of the importance and power of emerging web technologies. I seem to spend a lot of time in my school day hitting road blocks–filtering issues, teachers/admin feeling too overwhelmed to try one more new thing, testing, testing, testing…. It’s great and reaffirming to see a librarian using these webtools effectively! After looking at this library blog, I’m confident that Ms. Neddo is a leader in her school’s efforts to really engage learners. Lucky kids!

Dr. Tim Tyson–another great keynote

OK, OK, OK…I know I’ve been full of suggestions, must-hears, must-reads, must-sees, but I’m going to add another to my list–if only to store my thoughts here for my own future reference.

I’ve been listening to back-episodes of Bob Sprankle’s Bit by Bit podcast for the last few days. Among insightful blog posts, he’s posted all sorts of wonderfully rich and thought-provoking podcasts, including several keynotes from various conferences he’s attended, including the Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference last fall. Today I had a real treat hearing the keynote speaker from that conference (Bit By Bit Podcast #56), Dr. Tim Tyson of Mabry Middle School in Marietta, GA. Dr. Tyson just seems like the kind of administrator that I’d wish for to lead my daughter’s school–he’s a real visionary, I think. Visit his school’s web site, Mabryonline , if you have a chance. Wow!

Here’s a link to Dr. Tyson’s Keynote, entitled Moving from Personal Knowledge to Global Contribution , linked from Bob Sprankle’s great site. I think Tyson’s one of the most inspiring speakers around–how I WISH we could get someone like him to speak in our district! Wish, wish….

New Video and Rethinking…

Great video I just discovered–it’s a response to Karl Fisch’s Did You Know . Did You Know is the most important education-related video of the last 2-3 years, imho. I think every educator, every administrator, every school board member should watch it–more than once. If you haven’t watched it yet, watch it now and then perhaps read (or listen to, like I did) Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat 3.0 . It will change your outlook–I promise.

Anyway, I found this new (to me) video, called Mr. Winkle Wakes, on Scott McLeod & Fisch’s shifthappens wiki, as I was trying to reinvigorate/refocus myself before returning to school tomorrow after spring break. How true it is! How wrong that it is true…

I’m left again with the question how do I foster the needed changes in my school community? Modeling doesn’t seem to cut it because the most resistant teachers (and we have a lot of them) seem to think that I know how to do these things, but they could never learn. I (as librarian) have “so much more time” than they do–they can’t possibly “fit it in.” After school/conference period trainings are ill-attended. Administrator doesn’t want to “bother” the teachers with things like Fisch’s video–“we just ask so much of them anyway–we can’t put another thing on their plates.” Teachers are under so much pressure to focus on state testing to the exclusion of any other authentic learning/evaluation.

I’ve so far failed to ignite change in my school. That’s clear.
What are your ideas about effecting change so that our students really are being prepared for their own future? What are you doing in your schools???

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