Monday, December 27, 2010

Can US Learn Ed Reform from Finland?

Pasi Sahlberg, Director General of the Center for International Mobility and Cooperation at Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture, offered some interesting advice regarding what the United States education reformers could learn from them in a recent article “Learning from Finland: How One of the World’s Top Educational Performers Turned Around.”

According to Sahlberg, “Finland should interest US educators because Finns have employed very distinct ideas and policies in reforming education, many the exact opposite of what’s being tried in the United States.” Our education reformers dismiss all of what Finland does because “that country lacks diversity” or because the business world suddenly thinks it knows how to educate our citizens. What exactly are these big differences in education system characteristics?

  1. Finland approaches testing in an entirely different manner.  According to Sahlberg, Finnish children never take a standardized test. They also do not use standardized tests to compare schools or teachers. Instead, teachers, students, and parents are all involved in “assessing and deciding how well students are doing what they’re supposed to do.” Students are given sample-based learning tests to provide information to school leaders and politicians regarding how students are doing.
  2. According to Sahlberg, “Finland has created an inspiring and respectful environment in which teachers work. What does this mean? It means all teachers in Finland are required to have higher academic degrees which guarantees both teaching skills and content knowledge. Teachers are respected on the same level as medical doctors. Finns trust public education more than any other public institution.  Finn teachers are trusted as professionals.
  3. Sahlberg also says school leadership is different in Finland. He says that without exception, school principals, district education leaders, and superintendents are former teachers. This is in contrast to American culture that idolizes business CEOS and non-government leaders, who may have excelled in their distinctive lines of work. Our current batch of ed reformers think that if you can lead a corporation successfully, you can lead a school system, even though you have never taught a single class.

What can the United States learn from the Finns? Here’s Sahlberg’s three takeaways from the article and my commentary:

  1. First, the United States needs to reconsider those policies that advocate choice and competition as the key drivers of educational improvement. Not a single one of the best educational systems in the world rely on them. Sahlberg points out that Finland shows that a “consistent focus on equity and cooperation, not choice and competition,” leads to an education system where all students learn well. The United States is a world leader among developed countries in poverty rates and in income disparities. We continue to hang on to the American Dream (Myth) to our own peril. Education reformers believe that the same market-based system we have used to distribute income in this country will work for our education system. It will work as advertised. Those with resources under this system will get a quality education; those without resources will not.
  2. Provide teachers with government-paid university education and more professional support for their work. Make teaching a respected profession. The Obama administration education policy has done a great deal to erode professional support for teachers and respect for teachers. While both President Obama and Secretary Arne Duncan talk about supporting teachers, their words and actions indicate the contrary. When the Secretary of Education applauds mass firings and the posting of student test scores tied to individual teachers, one hardly believes that he truly supports teachers. This administration no longer has credibility in this area when it claims to support teachers.
  3. Finally, Sahlberg says the United States has “much they can learn from these other world education systems.”  Will Americans let go of their pride and undying belief in American exceptionalism long enough to learn from these countries? I’m not sure culturally this country is ready for that.

After reflecting on Sahlberg’s article, I am not convinced that the United States can learn from Finland or any other country for that matter. Too often politicians with political agendas and a persistent belief that this country is somehow better than the rest of the world prevents us from looking to others for better ways of doing things. Our insistent belief in doing things our way, and pride will most likely cause us to continue to look for “educational silver bullets.” Instead of showing arrogance, perhaps it’s time to look for ideas to improve education in places that have found some answers.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

No Excuse for Third World Schools in Country That Bails Out Bankers for $700 Billion

Perhaps as we approach the New Year, it’s time to reflect on the progress during the past year the Obama administration has made on educational issues.

We certainly can thank the Obama administration for putting education on the forefront of a national debate that is truly beginning to ask the question, “How do we make our education system more effective?”

Where most of us disagree with this administration is its persistent “Blame-the-teacher” approach to reforming schools. In this culture created by this administration, billionaires have now taken on the job of self-appointed educational experts, and have continued with the Obama administration’s message that demonizes teachers’ unions, and seeks to continue the effort to de-professionalize the teaching profession. All this rhetoric continues to ignore some of the real problems with our American education system: lack of commitment to provide equitable resources for all students in this country.

Bill Gates and Arne Duncan continue to crow the mantra that: “More money will not resolve the problems in our education system.” Perhaps that’s true if you are looking for a cheap solution that only hides or shifts around the symptoms of those problems, like calling for charter schools does.

A lot of people had hope that with the election of our first African-American president, many of these educational inequities would be addressed. Instead, we’ve had a continuation of George W. Bush’s education policy that places testing at the center of everything we do. We’ve had a President who relies more on business leaders and right-wing think tanks for advice on education matters rather than listening to real education experts like Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, and those who spend their lives in schools and in classrooms. And, we’ve had a President who, instead of being open to the criticism of professional educators, only resorted to dismissing them as “for maintaining the status quo.” In sum, this year “We’ve had little change in education that we could believe in.”

I recently stumbled on this video excerpt from the film “Corridor of Shame: Neglect of South Carolina’s Rural Schools.” I realize it’s an old video, but my favorite writer, Pat Conroy, has an introduction at the beginning of this video that I think captures the real problem in public education. I read his autobiographical book The Water Is Wide several years back about his experiences of trying to teach poor kids on Danfuskie Island, and I was moved by his passion to attempt everything he could to reach those kids. But in reality, the gaps in educational resources were often much too great, even for a Davis Guggenheim “Superman” teacher or principal. Pat Conroy states in this video, that he’s afraid “the water’s grown wider” in recent years for these kids in rural schools. I have to agree. With a Presidential administration sidetracked into believing in reforms that totally leave out educators, and ignores the role of poverty in education, that river has turned into an ocean.

Corridor of Shame: Neglect of South Carolina's Rural Schools

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Fostering an Environment of Innovation and Experimentation in 21st Century Schools

If I want an innovative staff, I can't just talk the talk; I have to be willing to innovate too. Sometimes that's hard. After being in public education so long, the temptation is to just go along with the protection inertia provides. Yet, true innovation will ask both teachers and administrators to take risks. Here’s some principles of innovation I consider to be important:

1. Sometimes you have to get out of the way. The teacher side of me gets excited when I hear teachers talk about something new. The administrator side of me wants caution and care in order to avoid upsetting policy and the higher-ups. I have to sometimes shove the administrator away just a bit. If we are going to be innovative as a school, then we're not always going to do the "safe thing." I have to remind myself of that at least a thousand times a week. Sometimes, if our teachers are being truly innovative, my job is going to be a bit more difficult. Let’s just say I might have a whole of explaining to do at times.

2. Sometimes you have to move out front. Leading means sometimes being in the front when it comes to technology and innovation. It means that as leader, I am out there experimenting too. If the expectation is innovation, then school leaders must be willing to practice what they preach. For example, I am sitting here this evening trying to complete my first blog post using software and my iPad alone. I am using technology and software I have not used before to carry out a task. As leaders we can't expect our teachers to move out of our comfort zones if we ourselves are not willing to do so. True innovation means we live at the edge of that comfort zone.

3. Sometimes you have to suspend belief. Logic and the normal way we do things sometimes gets in the way of trying out the new and novel. If we want our teachers to try out new ways of doing things, then we need to move out and suspend what we normally see as the way to do things. While we don’t want to suspend common sense and solid research, we have to let go of long held beliefs to adopt the new and innovative.
In The Innovator’s Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation by Peter Denning and Robert Dunham innovation is defined as “the adoption of a new practice in a community.” It is vital that as teachers attempt to innovate successfully, I exercise leadership that boldly supports them and not hinder them.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Is Comparing PISA Scores an Exercise in Futility?

Dr. Jim Taylor’s post “PISA Test Doomsayers May Have It Wrong” puts some perspective on how our students did in comparison to other countries. We are bombarded every day by those who have declared our educational system “unsalvageable” and in need of reform, but Taylor points out clearly what those who get hung up on the numbers fail to acknowledge. Perhaps is futile to compare US student performance to other countries because to do so ignores some very big differences. Here’s just a few of those differences:
  • US has one of the highest poverty rates among developed countries. 22 percent of Americans live in poverty compared to Finland a Denmark who have poverty rates under 3 percent.”
  • About half of the 40 million elementary and secondary students in the United States qualify for free or reduced lunches.
  • The United States has the greatest income inequity among developed countries as well.
  • The United States has the greatest demographic diversity with more than 25 percent of our students who speak English as a second language.
  • The United States has one of the highest low-birth weight and worst access to health care to any of these countries.
Taylor goes on to show, if you break down international test scores into equivalent groups, the United States does just about as well as any of the countries at the top of the list.
I must agree with Dr. Taylor though when he admits that for a large segment of our students, the education system does not work. He puts that segment at 60 percent. We do need to find a way to make education work for all our students.
Let’s not minimize the real problems we have in our schools and education system. We do have some persistent and difficult problems in our schools. But instead of panic and dispensing with the rhetoric of gloom and doom, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.

UPDATE: This afternoon, I stumbled across this post from NASSP entitled "PISA: It's Poverty Not Stupid."  It shows even more dramatically what happens when the United States poverty rate is taken into consideration with these international comparisons.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

3 Reasons an Administrator Needs an iPad

For over a month now, I have been testing the capabilities of my iPad, and I have to admit, it has now become a seamless part of both my professional life and personal life. I would encourage all administrators to consider investing in an iPad for three reasons.

1. The iPad increases my level of "connectedness" to my staff and to PLN. Let's face it, taking a laptop into a meeting is a bulky enterprise at minimum. I have gotten into the habit of taking my iPad into every meeting I attend. During those meetings I am always connected to my teachers back in their classrooms. Using Skype and Google Talk, we can always be in contact even when I'm not in the building. For example, back at school, a teacher might have a question about whether I can attend a parent meeting that afternoon. They Skype me asking about my schedule. I immediately respond that I'm available or suggest a better meeting date or time. The combination of having my iPad and software like Skype gives me a level of "connectedness" with my staff at all times that was once not possible. I also gained another level of connectedness with my PLN using Twitter’s iPad app and the BlogPress app which allows me to compose and post blog posts using my iPad.

2. The iPad increases the level of my access to the cloud. With the applications like Dropbox, Google Docs, and Docs to Go, I have access to my entire professional document library with my iPad. I can type a letter and save it to my Google Docs or Dropbox, and have immediate access to that document using my Docs to Go app. I can type on my iPad  the outline of a letter to be sent to my parents and save it to edit and print later using my desktop. Another great function of the iPad is that I can access documents like our student-parent handbook on my iPad at any time.

3. The iPad increases my ability to manage the day-to-day tasks of my job. With apps like GoTasks and Google App for iPad, I am able to easily add tasks to my to do list and dates to my calendar. For example, should I find myself in a meeting and someone requests a meeting date, I can access my Google Calendar, locate an acceptable date, and add it to my calendar. The iPad provides just one more access point to my Google Tasks and Google Calendar.

Getting an iPad should be a "no-brainer" for the administrator. It provides increased connectivity, increased access, and a higher level of job manageability. Just make sure you download the right apps.

Short List of Must Have iPad App List for Administrators

Skype for iPad

Dropbox for iPad

Docs-to-Go for iPad

GoTasks for the iPad

Google App for the iPad

Twitter for iPad

BlogPress for iPad

Friday, December 17, 2010

Top 5 Blog Posts for 2010

The 21st Century Principal blog is almost a year old, and it has been quite an adventure. I have learned a great deal about blogging do’s and don’t’s in the past year, but I won’t bore everyone with those yet. Instead, I would like to share my Top 5 Five Blog Posts for 2010. Looking at my statistics, these were the posts that have been accessed the most during the course of this past year.

1. Could “Race to the Top” Be the Next Four-Letter Word After NCLB? In retrospect, when Race to the Top was announced, it made a large number of educators skeptical, including me. After enduring the ludicrousness of NCLB for the past several years, we are all afraid of having ed reform “done” to us again. Only time will tell whether this reform effort will truly make a difference.

2. Teacher Welcomes Texting in Classroom: 21st Administrators Need to Welcome Teacher Experimentation  This post includes a video of a teacher who thinks outside the box with texting. I said it, and I still mean it: Administrators need to support technology experimentation, and sometimes that means removing barriers to experimentation. And sometimes it means cleaning up a mess or two when the experiments don’t work. It’s called risk, and innovation must have it.

3. My Favorite 21st Century Administrator Tools as of Today: August 10, 2010 This post was a list of five  essential and mostly free technology tools that I still use now.  These tools are must-haves for school administrators. I might add a few more iPad apps to that list now though.

4. 5 Considerations for Allowing Students to Use Personal Computing Devices on School Wireless Networks With this post, I received a lot of emails regarding our policy for allowing students to use their own computers with our school wireless network. More and more schools are looking at providing students with this kind of access, and having procedures in place to make that happen are important.

5. Edmodo: Alternative Social Media Tool for Classrooms Using Facebook in schools makes many administrators and teachers a bit queasy due to all the security and privacy issues. This post is about Edmodo, an alternative social media solution. I have two teachers working with it now. It’s a fantastic tool.

Best Twitter Resources from 2010

Twitter is a powerful tool with which educators can engage in a global conversation about teaching and learning. Its power is in its ability to allow users to connect and to share. In the two or three years I have been using Twitter, I have been able to connect with some of the best minds in the education business.  It is central to my own professional learning network.

Some Twitter Resources for Year 2010

50 Power Twitter Tips by Chris Brogan

Top 20 Sites to Improve Your Twitter Experience by Vadim Lavrusik

26 Twitter Tips for Enhancing Your Tweets by Debbie Hemley

The Complete Guide to Getting the Most Out of Twitter by Cameron Chapman

25+ Incredibly Useful Twitter Tools and Firefox Plugins

Effective Twitter Backgrounds: Examples and Current Practices

99 Essential Twitter Tools and Applications

8 Useful Tips to Become Successful with Twitter

Twitter: 10 Psychological Insights

The Quick Guide to Twitter Chats

Twitter in Plain English Video

Thursday, December 16, 2010

5 Simple Classroom Management Principles

Learning to manage a classroom of students was the most difficult thing for me in my first years as a teacher.   For new teachers, managing that classroom of first graders or twelfth graders is often an baptism of fire. It seems no matter how much you learn about this topic, there is always room for improvement for all of us.
One of the first big lessons for me as a classroom teacher was learning to strategically choose my battles. That first year of teaching I quickly found out that I did not have 30 students sitting on the edge of their seats listening to my every word. One common reaction is to suddenly bombard students with rules and regulations. One veteran teacher told me then, “You need to crack down on them at the beginning. That way you it’s a lot easier to lighten up later in the year.” Another teacher told me, “You need to avoid having too many rules. Be lively and lighten up on them. You’ll have a much better time teaching and they will have a better time learning.” With that contradictory advice, it’s a wonder I didn’t just throw my hands up and walk out of the classroom forever. What I really learned from these two teachers was, “I just have to find out what works for me. It’s all in the teaching style.” I did find what works for me and survived in the classroom for 16 more years before moving into administration.
And that’s the issue. As much as I would love to offer some earth-shattering advice to new and old teachers about classroom management, it just “ain’t” gonna happen. Honestly, I can talk about what worked for me and that’s all. So here are four principles that guided my classroom management. Those principles are:
  1. Always let a student maintain dignity. No one likes to be singled out in front of their friends. When I dealt with misbehavior, I always tried to make sure that it was not in any way a public, personal attack on the student. If the student loses face among his peers, you have lost the war. I always tried to speak privately with a student about his misbehavior, not eviscerate him in front of his peers.
  2. Never take yourself or subject so seriously that you lose sight of the fact that you’re teaching students. With the high-stress testing culture, this is hard to do sometimes, but we can’t ever forget that those kids sitting in our class have needs and wants quite different from what we have. The best teachers crack a joke every now and then. I used to have a corny joke of the day or story to share with my students. While I am not great at one-liners, I can do some pretty dumb stuff now and then, and “dumb stuff” can be real funny sometimes. You just have to be willing to laugh at yourself.
  3. Be transparent to your students. Students appreciate teachers who admit mistakes and say they’re sorry. More than once over the years I made mistakes, but I tried to make it a point to sincerely publicly apologize.
  4. Enlist your students, when possible, in keeping order in the classroom. While high school students don’t often like to be classroom monitors and rat each other out, if you create the right kind of climate, your students will remind each other when they are out of line. It is hard to do this though, because you have to get out of the way and let them do it.
  5. Keep those class rules to minimum. I have worked with teachers who had 25 class rules posted on the walls of classrooms. It’s not hard to guess what they spent most of their class time doing: enforcing rules. Having four of five rules that cover a lot of behaviors always worked best for me, but to limit it to just four or five means you have really decide what behaviors are most important.

Those are five classroom management principles that worked for me. The key to solid classroom management for me was integrating ideas that I tried into my teaching style. In the end, the advice given to me by the first principal I worked for was probably the best: “Just have fun teaching! If you aren’t enjoying it, the kids aren’t enjoying it.”

Classroom Management Resources

Smart Classroom Management: This is an excellent blog with a lot of practical advice about the subject. You need to subscribe to this one.

The Teacher’s Guide: This web site has links to all kinds of classroom management advice.

Discipline with Dignity: I have two editions of this book at home, the 2nd and 3rd, and I began teaching with the 1st edition. This solid book gives teachers a comprehensive approach to classroom discipline. I found quite a few gems in this book over the years.

Education World Classroom Management Archive: This is quite an extensive list of resources for classroom management tips and ideas. It has been in existence for sometime, but it is an excellent starting place for classroom management.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Facebook Filtering: Solution or Innovation Hindrance?

Does Facebook have any instructional value? That has been the question I have explored this week. What answer does this administrator arrive at? “Maybe.” If you set aside the issues of staff productivity concerns, legal concerns, student safety concerns, and potential data security concerns, I still come to the conclusion that maybe Facebook and like social media applications have classroom potential. Where does that leave me as an administrator? I am still open to its possibilities, but after my little informal Twitter poll, I am not convinced entirely it’s the best social media solution for the most common uses that were provided to me. The top five uses provided to me by Tweeters on my PLN were:

  1. Communication to Parents and Community
  2. Tool to provide guidance and instruction to student in proper use of social media
  3. Writing Instruction
  4. Collaboration with Other Students
  5. Sharing of media

In the course of my explorations, and with the help of my PLN, I did collect some interesting Facebook resources.  Here’s some of the best.

Interesting Facebook Resources

Drive Belonging and Engagement in the Classroom Using Facebook (PDF)

The Very Unofficial Facebook Privacy Manual

YouTube Video: Facebook Top 20 Learning Applications

A Teacher’s Guide to Using Facebook

Facebook Apps for E-Learning

Using Facebook to Connect with Students and Parents

8 Real Ways Facebook Enriched Ms. Schoenig’s First Grade Class

Schools Should Not Block Social Networking Sites

50 Useful Facebook Tips for Teachers

The final lesson I take this week from my exploration of Facebook in the classroom specifically, and social media generally is this: Administrators must be extremely cautious in wielding the filtering-ax. Let’s not destroy innovation by knee-jerk reactions. There is risk in experimentation, and that means there are going to be some messes to clean up once in a while.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Educational Use of Social Media: Some Logistics and Legal Concerns

What should you consider if you are going to establish a Facebook page for your school or district? Are there any possible legal pitfalls for having and maintaining a social media presence? How can you make sure staff members who are using a social media presence to promote the school, district, or their classroom are not violating the law or propriety? As schools and school districts try to establish a social media presence, there are some potential legal issues to consider as well as logistic issues.
Establishing a social media presence is important in the 21st century, because that environment is where an increasing number of our constituents and community spend their time. Just walk through the business section of the bookstore today, and you will now find a whole section of books that focus on social media and marketing. Businesses have learned that social media environments like Facebook are just another way to promote themselves and their products and services. Schools and school districts can benefit from that promotion too, but there are special considerations for these organizations that do not necessarily apply to businesses.
The first group of considerations are the legal ones. This article from the National Law Review “Legal Issues for a School Board to Consider Before Creating or Approving a Facebook Page,” and this presention posted by lawyer Daliah Saper on Slideshare “Legal Implications of Social Media” does an excellent job of describing the legal landmines school organizations must navigate around. Here’s a summary of those considerations:
  • Freedom of Speech and Public Forum Issues: Case law obviously grants individuals the free speech right to post or speak in any context that could be regarded as a public forum. Some lawyers argue that one might be able to make the case that allowing open comments on a social media page could be considered a public forum. The implications of this would mean that deleting and removing comments that were deemed inappropriate or unsatisfactory by the school district would be seen as censorship and a violation of the poster’s first amendment rights. School administrators would do well to consider this argument, and any procedures regarding the removal of material posted as comments, if they allow comment posting at all.
  • Public Records Laws: While no court has yet to issue an opinion regarding whether a social media page is public record, because it is published by a public institution, one could possibly make this argument. In light of this, schools and school districts need to possibly consider processes for archiving information posted on such sites.
  • Open Meetings Laws: This concern would mainly apply to school board communications. According to the National Law Review, it is conceivable that three or more members could post comments or opinions on a district Facebook site. It is possible the argument could be made that this constitutes a violation of open meeting laws.
  • Confidentiality Laws: Federal and state law limits the disclosure of personally identifiable student information. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) prohibits the disclosure of health information of both students and employees. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects the privacy of students’ educational records. It is possible that someone would post information in violation of these two laws. It might be important for schools to have processes and procedures in place to make sure information posted is monitored and removed if found in violation.
  • Student Discipline Issues: If a school or district allows postings or comments, it would be possible for a student to post controversial, harassing, disrespectful or other undesired comments on the page. There may be some legal issues regarding whether the school or district has a right to remove such comments because it might be argued that those comments are protected speech.
  • Copyright Laws: Facebook pages and other social media environments are based on the idea of sharing both written comments and other media Because of this, it is possible that someone using a district social media page could post some media item violating copyright law. Again, the district would need some kind of monitoring to ensure that copyrighted material is not posted on its social media site.
  • Badmouthing School or School District: For lack of a better word, “badmouthing” seems to describe when an employee posts derogatory comments about a school or school district on a social media site. While arguments could be made that such postings are free speech, schools and school districts need to be prepared for how they will respond to these postings.
  • Social Media Sites Used to Harass Others: The act of allowing employees use of social media, may mean that they will post comments that could be seen as abusive and harassing. Schools and districts need to have plans and procedures in place for how they will respond to these comments.
With these issues in mind, here are some additional questions to consider regarding the  use of a school or district social media page:
  • Are you going to allow comments on your social media pages?
  • How are you going to archive postings on your social media page?
  • What guidelines and policies will be in place to address the posting and comments of board members on social media pages?
  • How are you going to make sure confidential information will not be posted in violation of FERPA and HIPPA?
  • Who will monitor postings on school and district social media pages to make sure confidential material is promptly removed?
  • How will abuse and improper use of the social media pages by students and staff be handled?
  • What is the plan to ensure that information or postings on your social media pages are not in violation of copy right laws?
  • How will the school district and administration respond to postings that are highly critical of administration?
  • How will the school of district handle the use of social media pages to harass others?
Here are some logistical considerations for schools and school districts looking at using social media:
  • Who owns the social media page? If that page is used by a district employee for the official business of the school system, does it not belong to the school district?
  • What policies will guide employees in the use of personal social media accounts in conducting official school and district business? The best advice is that no employee will use a personal social media site to conduct school or district business. To do so causes a lot of questions about privacy and public information. This will also take care of the issue of whether teachers should friend students on Facebook sites.
  • What procedures are in place to ensure that passwords and log-ins to official school and district pages are provided to the right people? Is the district going to have one person who manages access to these social media sites?
  • Who will monitor all social media sites for the district?
  • Will the district have a clear social media policy?
In this age, having a social media presence is important for schools and districts. But because schools are government entities, there are legal and logistical considerations that other organizations do not have. Here are some additional posts and resources on the use of social media by educational organizations.

Interesting Resources for Social Media in Schools

Legal Issues for a School Board to Consider Before Creating and Approving a Facebook Page
Twitter and Facebook: The New Tools of Productivity or Distraction
Slideshare Document: Government and Social Media-The Legal Issues to Consider
Slideshare Presentation: Legal Implications of Social Media

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Future Educational Leaders Need Ability to Manage Technology Shifts

I stumbled across this post from Matthew Ingram entitled “Future Leaders Will Be Those Who Can Manage Technology Shifts.”

According to Ingram, “The big question for businesses today is how they adapt to (technology progression) and particularly how the leaders of companies handle the implementation of technology inside their organizations, and try to help their employees evolve and succeed. And the leaders of the future will likely be those who are flexible enough to move with those changes, rather than the people who moved up through the ranks the traditional ways.”

Leadership in schools will also require this same ability to adapt and help others adapt to the progression of technology. That means having leaders who embrace technological change rather than trying to keep it outside the building. (Hence my argument regarding Facebook.) If we are going to be educational leaders in this quickly shifting technological landscape, we need to be agile in every way possible.

In the video below, Allen Delattre makes an excellent argument for needing a new kind of business leader able to manage technology shifts. Much of what he says could be applied to educational leadership as well.

Watch live streaming video from gigaomtv at
Leadership for Managing Technology Shifts

Administrator’s Dilemma: Facebook-Yes or No?

What good is Facebook in education? That question and several variations of it is what I asked on Twitter two days ago. As schools continue to encounter both teacher and student issues with this social media environment, the pressure to block access is going to get more intense.  (See my previous post “Social Media: Facebook-What Good Is It? All of the Tweets or responses I received about the educational value of Facebook basically can be summarized in the six following items:

  • Facebook as a communication tool
  • Facebook as a tool to teach responsible social media behavior
  • Facebook to teach students about social media advertising
  • Facebook to teach communication skills such as writing
  • Facebook to teach students how to research
  • Facebook to teach students how to collaborate in social media environment

My next question to each of these was, “Is Facebook the best tool for accomplishing that goal or learning?’ I’m not sure I ever received a solid answer to that question, and the reason is fairly obvious now. It is perhaps impossible to argue the value of Facebook from a strictly educational perspective. It’s true value lies in the capability to connecting people, and in sharing information, video, photos, games, and other things. That is what it’s designed for, and educational tasks and learning that call for this connecting and sharing could be facilitated by using Facebook. But, I am still not entirely convinced that this social media platform is the best one for connecting students, teachers, and people resources. I am equally unconvinced that Facebook is the best means of sharing information and media. There are other alternatives much more suited for this.

In face of the pressure to block access, can we justify keeping Facebook access for both teachers and students? Of course there’s the usual arguments that you’ve got to trust your staff to be professionals, and that you shouldn’t punish the whole for the sins of the few. But are these enough to argue successfully for open access? The student argument for Facebook access in school becomes even more problematic. Why should students be able to log into Facebook during school hours? Those of us who have been in administration for awhile have had our share of “Facebook-related” discipline issues, and those alone make us want to curse its existence. It would make our job somewhat easier if Facebook did not exist, but does blocking access to it on our school networks make it go away? Does it lessen in any way my Facebook-related discipline referrals? No, because many students can access it on their smartphones now, and they have access to it everywhere else anyway. Are we going to ban them next because we want to keep schools Facebook-free zones?

Ultimately, I arrive at the following rationale for keeping access to Facebook open: It is a total exercise in futility to try to block access to it. It is waste of time, money, and already scarce resources to try to regulate access. Today we find ourselves trying to regulate access to Facebook, tomorrow it will be some other site. I don’t know about other administrators, but I have enough other battles to fight with a whole lot more severe consequences.

Social Media: Facebook-What Good Is It?

Just Google “teachers, facebook, inappropriate” and a flood of articles appear relating the indiscretions and sins of teachers who have overstepped the bounds of propriety by posting inappropriate statements, pictures, and videos on Facebook and other social media accounts.

This past October, three teachers in New York were fired for having inappropriate relationships with students on Facebook. One of those relationships led to a sexual relationship. In November 2008, five North Carolina teachers got into hot water for posting inappropriately on Facebook. The phenomenon is not limited to the United States either, nor is it limited to just Facebook. In May of 2009, a teacher in Scotland used Twitter to post inappropriate Tweets. She criticized the school’s management and tweeted about personally identifiable information about individual students in her classes.

When you read these news stories your immediate reaction is to question the sanity and intelligence of people who do these kinds of things, yet, what schools are struggling with is a very unique 21st century problem: the power of social media to connect people in ways that once was not possible, and the ability of individuals to share information in and about their lives on a scale not possible before. The knee-jerk reaction of school administrators in response to these kinds of incidents is to simply shut down access to all social media in the schools with the belief that will resolve the issues.

Added to the concern about teachers using social networking inappropriately, is the concern about loss of productivity. In August 2010, the Tech Journal South stated emphatically that “Social Networking at Work Leads to Productivity Loss.” In Europe, the concerns are echoed where it is believed that billions are lost through social media. Wading through these articles makes you wonder if there is any redeemable quality for social media at all. In article after article, the “evils of social media” are reiterated over and over again. Then there’s the studies. A Nucleus Research study found that nearly half of office employees access Facebook at work, and that companies lose on average 1.5 percent of total office productivity when employees have access during the workday. According to a study performed by the British employment law firm Peninsula, “about $ 264 million is lost per day by British corporations due to office workers dillydallying on Facebook.” This same study also said 233 million hours are lost every month as a result of employees “wasting time” on social networking.

With all of this negativity, is there any value to be found in social media beyond its ability to connect people in ways and on a scale never before possible? If social media causes all these problems, then how can we argue that teachers and students need access to these during the school day?  Based on the problems that Facebook causes with both students and teachers, do you think school administrators are justified in blocking all access to social media in schools? Is there any rationale to offset the compelling argument that social media only causes “people to dillydally” and waste time?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Edmodo: Alternative Social Media Tool for Classrooms

Recently, I posted a series of questions on Twitter that asked for ideas and examples of effective use of Facebook as a classroom or instructional tool. I received only one example, and that was from a teacher who uses Facebook as a classroom communication tool. What was even more surprising, were the Tweets that suggested that Facebook be kept as far away from the classroom as possible. Most posters suggested that there were much safer and better alternatives to Facebook. One of those posters reminded me of Edmodo.

I actually experimented a bit with Edmodo back in the summer when I set up my account. It’s interface looks easy enough, and it has some features that make it much more suited for classroom use than Facebook, or even Twitter. This site is designed for educational interaction. It has a public timeline for whole class or group postings and the ability to direct message within groups. Teachers can post assignments, announcements, and reminders to students as well. It even has a calendar feature as well.

Here’s a collections of other blog posts, links, and how-to videos that provide all the “How-tos” for this free classroom web tool.

15 Brilliant Ways to Use Edmodo in Your Classroom

Using Edmodo in the Classroom: 5 Days Later

Using Edmodo in the Classroom (A Presentation)

Blog Post Commenting on Edmodo’s Features

Edmodo: Microblogging Solution for the Classroom

Social Networking Power with Edmodo in the Classroom

Using Edmodo in Your Classroom: Provide an Online Learning Experience for Students

Edmodo Is a Twitter for Education

Edmodo-A Free Web 2.0 Classroom Management Tool

Edmodo: Tutorial Video

Learning Telecollaboratively: Edmodo-The Free Communication Platform for Education

List of Resources for Using Edmodo in the Classroom

Learn It in 5: How-to Video on Edmodo

YouTube Video: Edmodo, Microblogging in the Classroom

New Features in Edmodo YouTube Video

Edmodo Instructions for Teachers Part 1 YouTube Video

Edmodo Instructions for Teachers Part 2 YouTube Video

Edmodo Instructions for Teachers Part 3 YouTube Video

Edmodo Instructions for Teachers Part 4 YouTube Video

Presentation: Using Edmodo in Your Classroom

While all of these resources focus on the classroom, I can’t help but wonder whether it is possible for administrators to use this tool for professional learning and discussions. There must be more resources and ideas for using Edmodo. Please feel free to share.

Friday, November 26, 2010

How to Be a Perfect Librarian: Love of Books and Learning Personified

The first time I encountered Ms. Johnson, our school librarian, I was genuinely frightened. She looked the part of “Keeper of the Books” and she lived the part as well. She dressed very conservatively and always wore her hair the same way. I’ll always remember the long dresses she wore, and her gray hair, which she always pulled tightly into a ball at the back of her head. She was “sternness personified.” She could with a look put second graders, the group to which I belonged, in their place.

It was Ms. Johnson who introduced me to world of books and the power of narrative to hold and keep attention. She could read Grimm’s Fairy Tales like no other. She read poetry in way that rattled you and made you instantly want to be a poet. Her reading of “The Princess and the Tin Box” has stayed with me all these years, and even now, when I read a particularly engaging narrative, I remember her.

She truly did take the job of “Keeper of the Books” seriously. On my first official visit I still remember her meticulously reviewing the proper ways to read and treat a book. I remember how she carefully showed us how to read a new book that had never been open so as to keep from damaging its spine. I also remember her strong admonition to avoid cleaning your nose with a finger. She reminded us that such actions were not sanitary, especially if you intended on handling one of the library books afterward. She constantly reprimanded students whose fingers strayed to the nose area. Once I made the mistake of scratching my nose. All it took was a stern stare from Ms. Johnson to remind me that even that was not allowed.

For all of what would be considered her harsh ways today, Ms. Johnson was probably the first lover of reading and books I encountered. She was stern, and expected students to treat both books and the library with respect bordering on reverence. Yet, the delight she took in introducing children to books and reading was evident in how she both read stories to us, and how she would walk around with students making recommendations on what they should read. Once, I wandered out of the elementary section of books to the more challenging junior high section. I expected an immediate reprimand. Instead, I turned to see what Ms. Johnson was doing. She looked up saw me, smiled, and returned to guiding some other student in a book selection. A few days later, I worked up the nerve to ask if I could check out a book from the “big kids” section as I called it. She had me walk over and show her the book. It was some massive tome of geology, complete with hundreds of color photographs. I was fascinated with the pictures of volcanoes, deserts, and prehistoric animals in the book. She took the book from me, turned it over in her hands a few times before saying, “I guess you’re ready to check this out, but you’re going to have to tell me about it when you finish with it.” From then on, Ms. Johnson allowed me to check out books from anywhere in the library. A year later, she even asked me to help her in the afternoons while I waited for my bus to return for its second load.

While the term library seems to have been replaced in most schools with “media center” and the title of the “Keeper of the Books” is no longer librarian, but media specialist, there is still a power to be found in that place. Perhaps that power no longer resides just in books but also in the technology. The “librarian” of today can introduce students to so much more.

Yet, I can’t help but wonder how Ms. Johnson would have reacted to the placement of computers in her library. Perhaps she would have reacted angrily, and considered such actions a demonstration of sacrilege. Or, who knows. she might have embraced technology and saw it as another opportunity to introduce students to a much wider world than the one they were experiencing. Ms. Johnson had a love for the learning that books could bring, and wanted to share that truth with students. I inherited her love of reading and learning from books. In the 21st century, perhaps she would realize that having technology---the web and all of it’s resources---is just one more way to foster that same love for learning, and her position would transform into some kind of “Keeper of Learning.”

Thursday, November 25, 2010

What I Learned about Project-Based Learning in Fourth Grade

Today, as I drove to my parents home in my home town, I had to drive by the old elementary school where I spent the first eight years of my education. That building is now abandoned by progress and time, but seeing it always causes a flood of memories about the many, many days I spent walking its halls. This afternoon I thought of Ms. S- - - -‘s class, fourth grade and my earliest experience with what might today be called project-based learning.

Ms. S - - - -‘s fourth grade class was challenging for me that year. Suddenly, I had a teacher who expected her students to turn in lots of projects, and up to that year, I had not been asked to do much of that. I remember one particular project asked us to use our imagination and create some scene from a story we’d read. In this story, there was a fort, with soldiers and native Americans---all those things that could catch a young boy’s imagination. I decided I was going to create a complete panorama of the scene using a box and cut-outs.

A few days before it was due, I gathered together my box, scissors, glue, and crayons, and the afternoon before it was due, I settled in the middle of my bedroom and went to work. To make the ground look authentic, I gathered real leaves from the water oak in our back yard to glue on the stage of my panorama. I also gathered some small sticks to include as well. I laid all these things out on the floor and went to work. I used notebook paper and scissors to carefully cut out the silhouette of the stockade fort, then I carefully and meticulously colored each log. I then cut out silhouettes of soldiers and native Americans and added detail and color to them using the crayons. Once I had all of these things created, I began to carefully glue them into place in the box creating a 3-D scene of what I saw in the story. When I finally finished two and a half hours later, I looked upon my work with pride. I was excited about it, and could not wait to share it in class the next day.

The next morning, I arrived in class with my panorama box tucked under my arm. I couldn’t wait to share it with my classmates. I walked over to my table, and a pod of students were gathered pouring over another student’s creation. Everyone was excited. As I walked up, I saw this massive fort built out of popsicle sticks, and real toy soldiers and Indians were placed around it in frozen battle formation. The fort was awesome and I knew it. George, the student who brought it, said, “Check out my project. My Dad and I worked on it all night last night. We had to go to the hobby shop and get the popsicle sticks, then we went to the store and bought the soldiers and Indians. Ain’t it neat?” I muttered, “Sure.”

I suddenly didn’t feel so excited about my panorama. I turned it away, trying to prevent anyone from seeing it. I was too late. George said, “Let me see your’s.” Before I could stop him, he pulled my panorama away from my side and peered into it. He snickered and leaned over to Amy and said something, and they both laughed. By that time, Ms. Steen entered the room and asked us to place our projects on a table at the back of the room and sit down. I placed mine on the table, carefully turning it to the wall so no one could peer inside it.

A few days later, we received our grades on those projects. George got an A of course and made sure we all knew it. Me? I made a C. By the time we received the grades though, I know longer cared about it any more. I had gradually grown accustomed to the fact that many of my classmates were able to create better projects than mine, and the grades they received seemed perfectly fair. They had fathers who could help them with theirs. Mine had just been laid off from one job, and was having to work second shift on another. They also had parents who could go out and buy popsicle sticks and other resources for their projects. My parents struggled to make sure five kids were clothed and fed. Fourth graders know little about equity, and I knew very little then. I just accepted the fact that some people can build better projects than mine.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Top iPad Apps for School Administrators

Any technology device is only as good as the software installed on it. Combined with desktop access and Android phone access, I am able to use these applications just about anywhere. These are my iPad application recommendations to administrators.


In an earlier post, I recommended Evernote as premium app for administrators. For many of the same reasons I listed there, adding Evernote to the iPad is a no-brainer. With Evernote, I can’t foresee ever having to take a legal pad into a meeting ever again. The iPad app is free, and you have all the same functionality found in the Desktop or Android versions. Throw in a premium subscription, and its functionality gets even better. Check out Evernote at their web site.


I also recommended Dropbox as an administrator application in an in an earlier post too. Dropbox is basically a virtual flashdrive that you can access from the web, or from any device on which you have installed the software. It automatically syncs your files to all these devices. It is a fantastic place to store all of those documents you need constant and immediate access to. Adding Dropbox to my iPad just gives me another layer of access, since I have it on all my computers, and my Android phone too. Throw in software like Docs to Go, and I can read all my MS Word, MS PowerPoint, MS Excel, and PDF documents wherever I’m working on my iPad. Check out Dropbox at their Web site.

Documents to Go

I actually examined several of these so-called “mini-Office” apps before deciding on Documents to Go. I had used Documents to Go a few years back on an old Palm. This application had good ratings as well, so I paid for the iPad version. Documents to Go gives me the ability to read MS Office and PDF documents, and it also gives me the ability to edit them, though I’m not sure how much editing I will do using the iPad. Since I still use MS Office for a great deal of my documents editing, I have found this application invaluable. It even allows me access and edit my Google Docs. For more information about Documents to Go, check out their Web site here.


As a regular Twitter and Tweetdeck for desktop user, I have found Tweedeck for the iPad to be a familiar application. The iPad version is only slightly different from the desktop version. Being able to access my Personal Learning Network with the iPad adds another dimension to connecting to the national education conversation. For more information about Tweetdeck for the iPad, check out the Tweetdeck Web site.

Google Mobile App and GooTasks

Since our school system uses Google Apps, having access on my iPad to my email, Google Docs, and Calendar are vital. Google Mobile App gives me that access. For more information about this app, check here. I also use the Task List in Google Aps, so I needed a way to access my task list on my iPad. That’s where GooTasks comes in. GooTasks allows me to enter tasks using my iPad, and it syncs very easily. For more information about GooTasks, check here.


As an avid reader, it was only a matter of time that I get an e-reader. One of the reasons I have been reluctant to purchase an e reader is because of my concern regarding not being able to access books from all of the e-book sellers. With the iPad that problem is quickly resolved by downloading each of the major e-readers. I have iBooks, the Nook reader, the Kindle reader, and Free Books reader. The iBooks Reader is Apple’s e-reader, and provides you with access to their e-books. The Nook Reader is Barnes and Noble’s e-reader, while the Kindle Reader gives you access to Amazon’s e-books. These applications are free to download. The Free Books app currently costs $1.99. This application gives you access to over 20,000 classics.

Mobile RSS Pro

Being able to read my Google Reader RSS feeds was a must on my iPad. I tried a few free apps, but none of them gave me the functionality I was looking for, and ease of being able to thumb through my subscriptions quickly. That’s where Mobile RSS Pro does an excellent job. I can thumb through the articles even more quickly than I can on my desktop. I can also share what I’m reading very easily through Twitter or Facebook. This application was well worth the $2.99 I paid for it. For more information on Mobile RSS Pro, check here.

Honestly, I’m only  a week into using my iPad, but I have found it much more useful than I thought I would. It’s easier to carry around than my laptop, and it provides me with an additional layer of access to both my documents, as well as my PLN. But it truly is only as good as the applications I have installed on it.

Is It Reform or Is It Memorex? Nature of True Education Reform

Most of us who have been in education for some time remember the old Memorex cassette tape commercials. The one I remember has Ella Fitzgerald singing, and at the end, the voice over always asks, “Is it live, or is it Memorex?” Then a glass shatters. Here’s the video in case you missed or weren’t born yet.

Old Memorex Commercial

After 21 years in education, and hearing the word “reform” tossed around by at least four presidents and who knows how many politicians, I can’t help but sometimes wonder, “Is this finally it? Is this is the reform that’ll work and solve all of our problems in schools and in the classrooms. I don’t how many times as a classroom teacher I encountered the “latest reform” coming down from on high, only to discover a couple of years later that, “No, that’s not it.” Which usually happened when control of the legislature shifted from one party to the next. For example, the Democrats would be in power for a while, and they would promote differentiated pay, which allowed teachers to earn extra money for taking on extra tasks. Then the Republicans would sweep into power, and in a frenzy of budget cutting, wipe the money away for that program. That has happened repeatedly over the years, and it is a reality of our great political system.

Now, as an administrator, I am inclined to believe what Diane Ravitch states in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, “School reformers sometimes resemble the characters in Dr. Seuss’s Solla Sollew, who are always searching for that mythical land where they never have troubles, at least very few.” That fantasy keeps being replayed over and over as new policymakers move in, and others move out. The truth is, there is no magical solution or silver bullet that’s going to resolve out education problems. We keep searching for reform like it’s some pot of gold a the end of a rainbow. Like Ravitch states, “We will continue to chase rainbows unless we recognize that they are rainbows and there is no pot of gold at the end of them.”

Right now, our educational policymakers are chasing quite a few rainbows, perhaps not realizing that none of these are going to bring about true reform by themselves. Charters won’t do it. Merit pay won’t do it. Restructuring teacher pay won’t do it. The Common Core Standards won’t do it. STEM won’t do it. Early Colleges won’t do it. In fact, just about any single idea you propose, by itself will not do it. There is no single reform measure that is magically going to place the United States at head of the world achievement line. And to be honest, I’m not even sure that’s a worthy goal.

Then what do we do about reform? First of all, let’s quit chasing rainbows, or searching for silver bullets. Reform is hard work. Let’s roll up our sleeves and honestly look at what’s working and what’s not. Those things that are working and have worked, let’s hold on tight to those things. Secondly, let’s convince policymakers to back off and give us educators some room to experiment and innovate. How many times are we truly unable to try something new because it interferes with state testing, or violates some state board policy? If our leaders are truly for reform, they need to give us, those in the schools, some room to make things happen. And, they need to trust us as educational professionals. Imposing political agendas from on high won’t work.  Finally, let’s move our thinking about teaching and learning beyond what we currently know. We need to be willing to look at every aspect of classroom practice. We need to be willing to explore and try new ways of teaching. We need to move out of our teaching and learning comfort zones. We need to embrace technology. In short, we need to be willing to explore new ways of teaching and learning.

Being a educational veteran of 21 years, I naturally have a healthy level of skepticism when someone starts tossing the “r” word around. Questions explode across my mind when that happens and I am reminded of a variation of the Memorex commercial statement, “Is this real reform, or is it the latest political agenda?”

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Nominations for the 2010 Edublog Awards

Being a neophyte in blogging, this is my first year attempting to nominate Edublog winners, but I am going to give it a try because these are blogs I read religiously. Thank you for the wonderful year of information and resources.

My nominations for the 2010 Edublog Awards are:

Best Individual Blog: Michael Smith’s

Best Individual Tweeter: Steven Anderson @web20classroom

Best Group Blog: Connected Principals

Best Resource Sharing Blog: Free Technology for Teachers

Best Teacher Blog: The Innovative Educator

Best School Administrator Blog: The Principal of Change

Best Educational Tech Support Blog: The Education Technology Blog

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OK I’m Hooked on My iPad E-Readers, So What?

My iPad arrived on Monday, and I have spent the last week taking it through the paces, and testing applications. It has settled the question of whether I am going to buy a Nook, Kindle, or Sony E-reader. I don’t need either one of these. What I have discovered is that I can download the Nook E-reader, Kindle E-Reader, and others and not have to worry whether the one I bought is going to be out of business in several months. Because I am an avid reader, I will confess that I have spent quite a bit time this week browsing in the online bookstores, but losing myself in the aisles of the local Barnes and Noble is still one of my favorite pastimes. It’s just that now I can do it 24 hours a day while lying in my bed.  While I have said many times, there’s just something about holding a book in my hands and the smell of the pages that’s hard to give up, I am finding it way too easy to obtain books, and I love the fact that I don’t need a reading lamp any more. I’ll have more to say about specific e-readers in coming posts.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

New Web 2.0 Anti-Cyber-Bullying Tool:

Here’s a Web site where students and others can provide anonymous tips when they have encountered bullying or abuse. I briefly looked over the site and it is a legitimate site. You can check it out here. My questions are many at this point, like who protects the data and information that students enter into the Web site. As an administrator I would be concerned regarding who also might have access to what my students report. But the idea is interesting and worth some more thought. What do you think? Could we use something like this instead of that anonymous box sitting in our schools?

Update: I received an email from the creators of and they assured me that they have security measures in place that would prevent abuse. I plan to give this web site a try beginning on Monday. I’ll keep everyone posted regarding the outcome of its use.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Blame Game for US Low Achievement Continues

Jay Matthews’ post here entitled “Even Our Best Kids Lag in Math—Middle Schools to Blame” quotes a study done by Eric A Hanushek and Paul E. Peterson which blames the decline of US student math scores in comparison to other countries to “failure to raise standards for teaching and learning.” Matthews himself says he “blames middle schools.”

This looking-for-blame game is definitely in vogue today because our United States is suffering through an economic depression that is proving difficult to climb out of, and Americans have suddenly awakened to the fact that there are countries who can score higher on tests than our students. I think the immediate danger is accepting the word of some charlatan or salesman selling snake oil. Instead, there’s a whole lot of finger pointing happening, and blaming happening. The free-market reformers are saying that “just a little competition will fix it.” The pro-charter reformers suggest converting our public schools to charters will fix it. The “Waiting for Superman” reformers blame teacher unions and getting rid of them will fix it. The  blame game list is currently very lengthy, and as researchers keep digging, I’m sure there will be others added to the list.

Ultimately, a great deal of time and energy is expended trying to fight all these battles. I have said time and again that teacher and education organizations need to take back the reform conversation from those pushing their own private agendas. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and find solutions to the problems we face in our schools. Those of us who are in the schools every day know that there are no easy solutions. It honestly takes a lot of hard work to teach today’s students. We can best solve our education system problems disengaging from the blame-game and start working to make reform happen.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Texting and Social Networking: The New Boogeymen!

Yesterday, researchers at the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine released a study declaring that texting and social networking are the boogeymen we’ve always thought them to be. They described a whole list of “bad things” that can happen to teenagers who engage in what they call “hyper-texting” or “hyper-networking.” They chose to define hyper-texting as sending more than 120 messages a day, and hyper-networking as spending more than three hours per school day on social networking sites like Facebook. I won’t go into their entire list of evils brought on by hyper-texting and hyper-networking because you can read that for yourself here at CNN’s story. But basically the implication is that students who engage in their idea of hyper-texting and hyper-networking become smokers, illicit drug-users, binge drinkers, and the list goes on. CNN throws in for good measure that these activities have also been blamed for car accidents and for promoting bad grammar. (Never mind that CNN might be promoting bad grammar themselves by their own misspelling of the word “language” in the second to last paragraph) which reads:

And educators have long decried electronic forms of communication for gutting written launguage skills in students, starting with emails, expanding to instant messaging and continuing with text messaging and social networking. (Misspelling Theirs Not Mine)”

They do acknowledge that “teachers complained about poor grammar before the Internet too,” thereby pointing out that these complaints are not new. CNN just reminded us again, that scapegoating is again live and well, and those who are foes to social media now have a Case Western Research study that backs up their belief in “evils of texting and social networking.”

When are we going to stop looking for something to blame for the ills of our societry? Texting and social networking are just like anything else: when used in an excessive or obsessive manner, there’s going to be problems. Researchers promoting these kinds of studies aren’t helping by looking for these“boogeymen.” As an educator and technology advocate, I bristle each time these kinds of studies are released. I can just picture some parent or teacher using this kind of research to support not using technology in the classroom which we know is of benefit. I’m sure if the lives of each subject in this study were examined more closely, there would be additional factors that led them to engage in the “evils” described. Let’s quit looking for boogeymen and single causes. Instead, let’s look at how we can help them be more responsible in their choices in the use of technology.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Top 5 Premium Web 2.0 Administrator Must Haves: Xmind Mindmapping Software

I began using Xmind with the free version about a year and a half ago. It is one of the simplest mind mapping tools you can find, with a very shallow learning curve. Even with the free version you can create excellent mind maps. But for $49 a year or $44 per year for educators, you can download the Xmind Pro version which gives you the following features.

Feature Description
Brainstorming and Presentation Mode In the brainstorming mode use a full screen editor and timer to record responses or ideas. With presentation mode, you can present your ideas to an audience.
Security Set a password to protect access to your Xmind mind map.
Gantt View A tool for managing project tasks in a single view. It can help you organize your project plan.
Export Export Xmind maps to PDF, Text, Word, PowerPoint, other map formats.
Search Allows searching of mind maps, but also searching of the web. You can use this search feature to find images from the web. You can then drag and drop them onto your map.
Privately Share Users can share their maps privately with users they designate.
MapShot Using the MapShot feature, you can take snapshots of parts of your map to save for pasting into other applications.
Map Merge Allows users to merge smaller maps together into a single map.
TaskInfo With TaskInfo view users can define specific task elements in a map.
Gallery Users get hundreds of high-quality images to use in their maps.
Design Your Own Theme Users can give their maps a custom look with this feature.

Mind mapping software can be quite expensive. You can easily spend anywhere from $100 to $300 on a high quality, business-grade product. With Xmind Pro, users can get a mind mapping tool that has a wide variety of features for only $44 per year. That’s even cheaper than Inspiration, the mapping software for students. To get more information about Xmind, or to download the free version of Xmind, you can access it here.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Top 5 Premium Web 2.0 Administrator Must-Haves: Evernote

Evernote is an excellent application for anyone who copiously takes notes of all kinds from a variety of web sources. I am an avid reader of blogs and web sites, and Evernote provides me with just the right tools to capture information and graphics from the Internet. With this software, I can capture anything I find. I can make a text note, snap a photo, or grab a screenshot and keep all of these in one place. I also use the program to take notes from my book reading. With Evernote, I can also organize my notes, and it makes anything I place there fully searchable. This means when I make a note of an article I read on a blog, whether it is two or ten months later, I can search to find that very article. Evernote is a powerful, simple notetaking tool, which brings me to my reasons for making it a must-have premium Web 2.o tool.

  • In comparison to Microsoft OneNote, Evernote is simple and very user-friendly. While OneNote is loaded with many more features, for the “not-so” experienced user, the sheer number of those features is overwhelming. Evernote is extremely user-friendly, and even the most technophobic administrator or educator can learn to use it.
  • You can post notes and access notes from anywhere. I have the client version of Evernote on my work laptop and my personal laptop. I also have Evernote on my Droid phone. When all these are synced, my notes are accessible in any where I might be. And if I do not have the client installed, I can access my notes through the Web. While Microsoft’s OneNote also has the potential of being accessible any where, currently there is no Droid app that I am aware of, and its web version has sometimes not worked well in my Chrome browser.
  • Evernote is relatively inexpensive. You can currently purchase a premium account for $45 per year. The premium account gives you 500 MB of notes per month along with the following features.
Premium Feature Description
Note Allowance Uploads are unlimited to 500 MB per month in premium account compared to 40 MB per month for free account.
File Synchronization Any file type can be synchronized in the premium account while in free account this synchronization is limited to images, audio, ink, and PDF files.
Search within PDFs In premium account, you have the ability to search within any PDF files placed in a notebook.
Access to Note History For premium users, you have the ability to access various versions of your notes through the note history feature.
Offline Notebooks Premium account users have offline access to notebooks using iPhone, iPad, or iPod.
Notebook Sharing via Web Premium account users can allow others to read and edit notes in Evernote.
Maximum Note Size Premium account users have a maximum note size of 50 MB while free account users only have 25 MB.
Support Premium users get premium support.
Security Features Premium users get SSL encryption which means notes are more secure.
Hide Advertisement Premium users can hide the advertisement in the client software.

I honestly like Microsoft OneNote’s power, but it currently fails to meet my notetaking needs for three reasons. First of all, Evernote’s desktop software can be installed on any computer I use, and I can easily sync my notes all these computers. OneNote only allows me to install on one desktop. Secondly, Evernote is much simpler to use. Much of my notetaking just doesn’t require all the power tools found in OneNote. Evernote is so easy, most administrators with the least experience with technology can learn to use it. Finally, I have access to Evernote on my Droid phone. I can access notes I have in Evernote, or I can even add notes to Evernote right from my Droid phone. Currently, to my knowledge, that is not available in OneNote. For more information regarding Eevernote, check here.


This morning I downloaded Evernote 2.0 for Android, and it is a much better app. It works faster, and the main screen is much more accessible. I can access all my notes, or a specific notebook. I can access any of my notes much more quickly with this update. The upgrades on this app make having a premium account even more desirable. For Lifehacker’s take on Evernote 2.0 for Android, check here.