Saturday, August 28, 2010

21st Century Book Review: Milton Chen’s Education Nation

Cover ImageEvery now and then there is one of those books that seem to leap off the shelf into my hands because the title captures the spirit of the moment in the world of public education. Earlier this year, Diane Ravitch’s book The Death and the Life of the Great American School System was one of these books. Milton Chen’s The Education Nation: Six Leading Edges of Innovation in Our Schools is the second book I have read this year that does a great deal to further all the conversation and rhetoric about school reform and innovation. While Ravitch’s book focuses on the misguided path to reform followed the Bush administration and taken up by the current Obama administration, Chen’s book offers some practical suggestions on what directions meaningful reform can take, and what schools of innovation can look like.

Using the logic and ideas of business strategist John Seely Brown, Chen argues that the seeds of school innovation and reform lie at “the edges  of the American education system” where the richest forms of school innovation are occurring. The edges of innovation described by Chen are: the thinking edge, the curriculum edge, the technology edge, the time/place edge, the co-teaching edge and the youth edge. Through the use of examples, Chen describes how each of these edges have the potential to bring about more widespread innovation.

The first edge of innovation described by Chen is “the thinking edge.” According to the author, this is the most fundamental to innovation and it involves “modernizing our thinking about education.” If we want to truly modernize and reform our school system, we need to “change our thinking about the education enterprise itself.” We need to examine the learning process, the role of students, the role of teachers, the role of parents, and the opportunities brought about because of technology. We have to overcome an inertial that wants to hold schools “just like they are” because of nostalgia and memory. As Chen effectively points out, we need to “update our thinking on how children learn best.” He advocates a move toward a more child-centered approach to learning like that described by the education philosopher, John Dewey.

The second edge of innovation described by Chen is “the curriculum edge.” According to Chen, the curriculum edge “represents the growing trend of transforming and reorganizing the most fundamental education activities: what students are taught and how their learning is assessed.”  There is a need to to reorganize the curriculum so that it includes advances of the twenty-first century. What Chen calls the “subject matter silos” prevent content from being relevant to our students. He would argue for more subject-matter integrated approaches to learning content. In addition, assessment should be in the form of project-based learning, rather than bubble-sheet tests. Chen would have us redefine the curriculum to provide students with projects and experiences that are relevant to students’ lives and the modern world.

Chen’s third edge of educational innovation is “the technology edge.” He advocates strongly for the need of getting a computer in the hands of every single student, and has a great deal of admiration for one-to-one computer initiatives. Also, the promise of online learning opportunities in providing high-quality learning to all students is leveling the education playing field. For example, online learning has made it possible to provide learning content to students in isolated rural areas in certain AP subjects that otherwise was once impossible. Chen also points out that technology has brought about what he calls “the death of the lecture.” Technology has made it possible to provide learning in more highly engaging ways. Technology has provided new ways of learning to read. It has also begun to provide powerful opportunities of learning through video games. In word, technology is transforming education at its edges.

The fourth curriculum edge described by Chen is “the time/place edge.” This edge “represents the destruction of the old view that learning happens within the four walls of a classroom, during a set time period each day." This old, persistent view that learning occurs in discrete time periods and in specific places is gradually being eroded away by a new world where learning and school is shifting to an institution that provides learning anytime, anywhere it is needed. Education systems that cling to this twentieth-century factory model of are losing relevance in the twenty-first century. Chen points out that schools are redefining the school day beyond its traditional boundaries. Schools are being kept open later and on Saturdays to provide additional academic support for students, additional recreation opportunities, and additional opportunities for extensive project-based learning. Places of learning are also being redefined. School is moving out into the larger community to take advantage of real-world opportunities of learning. For example, students are growing school gardens to learn about nature, nutrition and the environment. Even our national parks are becoming the classrooms where our students tackle twenty-first century content.

Chen’s fifth curriculum is “the co-teaching edge.” This edge of innovation is transforming the role of teacher and enlisting experts and parents as “coeducators” in the education of children. Chen acknowledges that teachers are the most important factor in the education process, but our policymakers have not acted in a manner consistent with this belief. Legislatures have made professional development funding one of the first areas of the budget to suffer the axe. Calendars are constructed that provide for few opportunities and even less time for ongoing, effective professional development. Even teacher preparation programs haven’t been a priority. They have operated with more limited resources than engineering and business programs in our colleges and universities. For all its talk about the importance of teaching, our own government has not “walked the walk.” Chen also points out that schools can enlist experts in areas such as the arts or technology to assist in providing education for students. Parents should also be enlisted as partners in the education of their children.

The sixth and final edge of innovation described by Chen is “the youth edge.” Our students are “marching through our schools, carrying transformational change in their pockets in the form of powerful multimedia handheld devices.” According to Chen, these young people are forcing innovation due to their use of digital devices. They carry “the reform we seek with them.” But as Chen points out, they still need “caring adults who can lead them to the right digital learning experiences.”

Milton Chen’s Education Nation is in some ways an answer to the question, “What should education reform look like?” Earlier this year, Diane Ravitch’s The Death and the Life of the Great American School System warned educational policymakers about their continued travel down a path of reform that overemphasizes testing and the de-professionalization of the teaching profession. Many critics of Ravitch have argued that she points out the problems, but she does not offer solutions. While that is arguable, one thing is clear. Chen’s book provides many ideas for educational innovation and reform. It is a great addition to the 21st century administrator’s book shelf.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Traditional School-Wide Book Reading: Creating a Culture of Big Ideas

I have been principal at the Newton Conover Health Science High School since January, and I have spent a great deal of time learning the culture of the school. The “Newton School” as it is fondly referred to by students and community members was established five years ago as a high school redesigned based on 5 Purposeful Design Principles delineated by the North Carolina New Schools Project. These 5 principles include: 1) Preparing College-Ready students, 2) Promoting powerful teaching and learning, 3) Personalization of student education experience, 4) Redefined professionalism, and 5) Purposeful design. (For more information on these design principles see here.)

But my post today is not about these design principles, it is about a tradition that was initiated here at the Newton School called “School Wide Reading.” Each summer, every student in the school is assigned one book to read over the course of the summer. The book assigned to our students this summer was the Nation Book Award winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. Every student in our school was assigned this book, and during the first days of school, students will be engaged in activities designed to bring about an examination of the book and its themes in light of our school-wide culture. One of the unique characteristics of the culture of the Newton School is the value of discussing ideas called “big ideas.” The school-wide read helps facilitate this discussion. I have finished reading the book in preparation of the first days of school so that I too can be prepared should students wish engage in the discussion of the books ideas with me.

This is the Newton School’s sixth year. Gone is the support provided by the North Carolina New Schools Project. We are now truly on our own, which means the struggles we face every day now are going to be to keep certain positive aspects of the culture alive, like the school-wide read. The culture at-large still expects its high schools to fit a certain mold, so schools like the Newton School are expected to become like the one down the road. We must constantly remind both ourselves and others, the value in our school is that we can engage students in an educational experience that still embodies what is valuable in the 5 Design Principles on which we were founded.

As we move into this sixth year, and away from our relationship to the North Carolina New Schools Project, traditions like the school-wide read must be kept alive, not because the tradition by itself is valuable, but because it is one cultural component that says we are different. Successful high schools have an identity that distinctly separates them from others, and that identity is defined by the traditions of its culture whether positive or negative. If our high schools want to become places of learning in the 21st century, we must create and maintain solid cultural traditions in our schools that define places where students are valued and learning is treasured. We them must tenaciously defend that culture from the inertia of a society that forces schools at the edge of innovation to become clones of the 20th century school. Our school wide read is one of many aspects of our culture that defines who we are, and as we begin this new year, we embrace it fully.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

My Blog Redesign

My apologies for the change in my blog design. I realize I just changed it a month or so ago, but for some reason I was never happy with that design. This weekend, I decided to try a new design that I thought more fitting. I hope it works much better than the other design.

It’s Time for Move Our Teaching into 21st Century: Lessons from a Computer Virus

This past weekend, I spent several hours trying to rid my family desktop computer from a particularly nasty trojan virus. This particular virus posed as antivirus software which someone in the family inadvertently installed when a pop-up came up warning them that the computer was infected. What made it extremely difficult to eradicate was that whoever engineered this particular virus apparently had thought of all the ways I had rid my computer of viruses in the past. As I searched for a solution, I tried many of my old tried-and-true tactics, only to find that solution would not work. This went on for several hours, until I realized none of the tools in my current toolbox would work. I told a family member at the time, “This is one of the worst computer bugs I have seen. It’s like it knows my every move and it blocks it.” I spent an entire Friday evening trying to get rid of it, finally surrendering at 3:00 AM, with the computer still infected.

The next day, I did some web surfing, and by searching with Google Images, I found an exact image of the fake antivirus messages on one of these computer forums devoted to do-it-yourself computer troubleshooters like myself. I read the solution presented there, and it looked similar to another one tried the night before, so I decided to look for other options. I even looked up the Best Buy Geek Squad to see what they could do for me, and their web site stated that they could get rid of the trojan virus for about 200 dollars. I decided that would be my final fallback position. I wanted to try to solve this problem myself before spending that much money on it. The computer was not usable in its current state, so I doubted I could do anything to make it any less usable. To make the story shorter, I used the instructions from the computer forum and the suggested freeware tools provided, and by that afternoon, I had cleaned the virus from the computer, installed up-to-date antivirus software, installed a malware blocker, and optimized the whole system.

I share this incident, not to brag about my computer wizardry, though it does make me feel pretty good to have solved a very complicated problem like this one. I share this incident because it illustrates, at least to me, all the kinds of thinking our schools should be having students engage in. I began with observation---examining how my computer was affected by the virus. Next, I gathered information about the problem. I used the Internet and Google search to find out if anyone else had problems similar to mine. After I discovered information about the problem from the Web, I began to evaluate the usefulness of the information and the solutions offered. I hypothesized which solutions would work given the aspects of how the virus affected my computer. Then I began testing the solutions to see if they would work. When none of the solutions would work, I had to reframe the problem: I can’t just get rid of the virus, I have to disable it first. Finally, I found new solutions to fit the new way I had reframed the problem. Ultimately, I was able to solve the virus problem.

This computer virus aggravated me to the point of muttering a few expletives, but as I think about it now, I think we are past trying make arguments about providing students with a 21st century education. Our failure to provide engaging real-world 21st century learning experiences that ask them solve real problems is now mal-practice. Admittedly, my problem solving venture was successful because of a tiny bit of luck combined with a whole lot of experience solving computer problems, but if we want our students to be able to think critically and solve problems, then we need to give them lots of opportunities to do so, and does not involve textbook exercises or bubble sheets.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Secretary Duncan: Cheerleader for the LA Times

I have started to write this post several times. A few of those times, I began trying to write a well-written reasoned argument to what's wrong with the LA Times releasing test scores of individual teachers, but others say it much better that I could. Larry Ferlazzo does a great job tracking all the posts on the Internet focusing on this issue. There are also those who do a much better job at pointing out the foibles and foolishness of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Bill Ferriter over at the Tempered Radical probably describes it best: "Arne Duncan Is Just Plain Clueless." What can I add to the discussion? Maybe not a great deal, but I went back to take a look at posts I have made concerning Secretary Duncan, and I have always thought he was a light-weight who has never had an original idea he could call his own. His reforms will do irreversible damage to public education, and it is his fault that the national dialogue has become so nasty regarding education in general and teaching in particular. Just for the fun of it, I thought I would share all my previous posts about the man of our ridicule.

Arne Duncan's Quiet Revolution: The Duncanization of the Great American School System

Secretary Duncan's Video to Principals: You Judge the Message

Taking Back the Reform Conversation from the Politicians

Lack of Support for Race to the Top Does Not Mean Lack of Support for Reform

Reflections on Winners and Losers for the Race to the Top Funding

Callousness of the Obama Administration and Mal-Practice of Secretary Arne Duncan

Race to the Top: Four More Years of NCLB Education Policy ??? Thank You Mr. Duncan!

So, I think it's obvious I'm no fan of Secretary Duncan. Perhaps I've said all I can say about him. I'm not sure. But I do think he's probably severed any good will he might have had left with his enthusiastic support of the LA Times. I wonder if I could nominate him for Keith Olbermann's Worst Person in the World?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

21st Century Book Review: Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

Cover ImageBefore this book was published, I looked forward to getting a copy with anticipation. I have been fascinated with what researchers are saying about the effects of the Web on our brains and and thought processes. Disappointingly, this book offers no groundbreaking insights in this topic, and for that matter any other. Carr opens the first chapters of this book with a long tedious history of the printed word and how that has affected thought and information processing. While this might be vital to his argument about how the Internet is changing the brain, it seems to go on forever. Could this information not been condensed into a chapter or so? Once Carr gets to the research on how the Web is changing our brains, he seems to go into long-drawn out descriptions of chemical processes and descriptions of physiological descriptions of how the Web is basically making us shallow thinkers, unable to think deeply about what we read and see on the Net. I was just a bit disappointed by Carr's treatment of a subject that has a great deal of merit, and a subject that needs to be discussed. In the end, this was one of those books that was difficult to finish. Plowing is the accurate term to describe how I moved through this book. While Carr does an adequate job of describing what the research says about how the Web is changing us, he does so in an uninspiring and didactic manner. This could have been an interesting book, but it reads too much like a diatribe against technology in general.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Four 21st Century Tech Tools I Don’t Use: They Haven’t Made the Cut

Recently a comment from Miguel Guhlin (@mguhlin on Twitter) made to my post about My Five Favorite 21st Century Administrator Tools set me to thinking. His question seemed to be a time management question regarding how is time for testing new tools balanced with the other priorities in life. I know the answer to that question for myself, but I can’t possibly answer it for others. I do spend a great deal of time trying out the new technology tools being unveiled almost every day, and to me that is a priority. But my other priorities do not suffer because I seem to forego things like watching TV and movies, which was once a favorite activity, to spend time in tech-exploration.

As I thought about the question though, I thought about all of the Tech Tools I have explored that have not made their way in my daily use. That does not mean they aren’t useful, nor does it mean they are not good solutions for others. It means that I have found other solutions that work more seamlessly in my daily routine. I would certainly encourage others to try these tools for themselves. We all have our own preferences and needs, which means what works for one person will not work for others. Learning from my list of tech-tools-that-haven’t-made-the-cut is just as beneficial as lists of my favorite tools. The beauty of computer technology is that we can customize the environment to our own needs.

Tech-tools I’ve Tried But abandoned

This list is not everything, but I will share a few. I would encourage others to try them out. They might work for others, and please do not take this list as disparaging these tools. In most cases I have abandoned an electronic tool only to discover a use for it later.

Task Coach

Task Coach is an Open Source task management solution. It is really powerful. It provides users with the ability to manage complex tasks that require sub-tasks. For someone who finds completing a great deal of projects with a myriad of sub-tasks rountine, this might be a solution. For my purposes, the simple Task List in Google Apps is sufficient, because I do not find myself managing projects that involve many sub-categories of tasks. For more information about Task Coach and for download:



I tried Netvibes after reading about it on a blog. It looked intriguing and I liked the idea of combining all of my social media feeds on one page, and the ability to organize my RSS feeds into Tabs laid out like a newspaper page. I tried it for a few days, and I even wrote about it here. But so far, it has not made it into my regular tool box. First of all, I do not like the way the feeds load. They only load when you click on the tabs. I have my RSS feeds placed into tabs according to categories like “Ed Tech.” I also found that I like the ability to view my “All Friends” feed and “Mention Feeds” side by side. I suppose I’ve gotten use to that because of TweetDeck. In the Netvibes Twitter Gadget, I have to click on a tab to load my “mentions” feed. That doesn’t work for me. I liked the ability to share blog posts in Netvibes. All that you have to do is read the post and just click on share, but to be honest, I wonder if it didn’t make the sharing too easy. Now, when I read a post in Google Reader I have to make effort to download the blog post and then copy and paste it into TweetDeck. This seems to make me a bit more discriminating about the posts I share with my PLN. In Netvibes, clicking the share button makes it so simple to share, the temptation is to click the share button every time. Don’t get me wrong, I still have my Netvibes account, and will continue to toy with it, but for now, it is not an everyday tech tool for me. Try out Netvibes here:


Mind mapping tools are a personal favorite for me. I often use them to take notes while reading an interesting book, or I will use it to map out a presentation that I am going to make in the future. I have used Freemind, Xmind, NovaMind, Mindjet Mindmanager, and Inspiration. I continue to use Xmind, Mindjet Mindmanager, and Inspiration, but I found Freemind not very user friendly. NovaMind might be a good product, but I already had purchased Xmind, Mindjet Mindmanager, and Inspiration, and a NovaMind purchase seemed excessive. But Freemind is the open source program, but it fails to deliver what I like in the others. All three products that I use either give you the ability to enter a presentation mode, or convert your slides to a presentation. Freemind does not allow that. I honestly do not feel it to be as easy to use as the others. Download and try Freemind here:

Remember the Milk

I recently mentioned Remember the Milk in a presentation on tech tools for task management. The truth is, I once upon a time used this Web 2.0 to maintain my to-do lists. I even installed the gadget that integrates it with Google Calendar. But my use of this tool stopped when I found Google’s own task list easier. For me, simplicity in a tech-tool is a virtue. Just like Task Coach, Remember the Milk is just not simple enough for my needs. I tend to navigate toward simplicity in the tools I use. The to-do list I need needs to be simple, even simpler than Remember the Milk. Check out Remember the Milk here:


When I started this post, I had planned to offer five tools that haven’t made the cut, but I honestly could not decide what the fifth tool would be. There are several tools I have used, but have not made part of my toolbox, but I am still exploring these tools. For example, one of these is PiratePad. It has the simplicity, and I have tried it, but I am not sure I have taken it through the paces of the four tools above. In all fairness, these four tools are found to be quite useful for others, so I encourage anyone to try them out. One of the features of computer technology I value is the ability to customize its functionality to my own preferences. Choosing the tools that are the best fit for me is why I use technology so heavily.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Google Moderator: An Easy Solution Idea Gathering and Discussion Generator for Administrators

Today I stumbled across a blog post from Instructify that described Google Moderator. I must confess, I had not heard much about it until I read that post here. I was intrigued enough to give it a try. I went to the Google Moderator page and created what it calls a “Series” on New Technology Use Ideas for the 2010-2011 School Year.” I sent invitations to my teachers, and bingo, it is up and running. This tool is bare-bones, but it is extremely easy to set up and use. I would encourage administrators who have a need for a technology tool that encourages sharing of ideas and fostering discussion to check out Google Moderator. Below is a video from YouTube about how to set it up. By the way, it looks to have some promise for the classroom too.


Main Screen in Google Moderator


Access Google Moderator here:

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

To Blog or to Not Blog? Question I Ask Daily

I have been feeling more and more pressure to post to my blog every single day. I see these other education bloggers posting three or four times a day, and I just begin wonder if something it wrong with me. I just don’t often have that much to say. Well, that’s not exactly true. I always have plenty to say. Sometimes it’s best just to not say it, especially in an open forum. But for me, it is real balancing act. I would love to post something of great substance every day, but sometimes the old techno-muse is not there, and I just don’t feel like adding to blogosphere chatter.

Maybe my expectations are too high. As a former high school English teacher turned principal, I criticize every single topic to death before I write the first word. I also can’t count the number of times I have started a blog post draft only to delete it or never post it. I have several of those on my local drive right now. Some topics I will feel the fire that accompanies the need to share, and somehow this fire fizzles out once I start the process of putting the words down. The topic loses it’s sizzle once I see the first paragraph or two on paper. For example, this evening I planned to share some quotes and ideas from Dan Ariely’s new book The Upside of Irrationality. I wrote two whole paragraphs, and had what I thought was a great opening, and ended up deleting the whole thing. The quotes and ideas I was going to use from Ariely’s book lost their power when I put them down on the page. That is something I remember well from all those years as an English teacher. My students and I both struggled to find those ideas and topics of significance, often leaving a big pile of wadded up paper on our desks. (As an English teacher, I always tried to write with my students, and yes, sometimes they would see my pile of wadded up paper too.)

I have come to realize a few truths about blogging in the two or three years I have been doing it. First of all, I absolutely adore the potential for authentic writing and the sharing it brings. For years, I have kept journals. I have loved writing since my six grade teacher praised the humorous stories I wrote with the spelling words each week. She told me I should become a writer some day. I also remember participating in the Appalachian Writing Project early in my teaching career, and I savored those morning writing sessions and the read-and-share time that followed. Blogging gives the writer in me the opportunity to write authentically and share what I’m thinking with others.

A second thing that I realize about blogging is that it allows me to plug in to this major education and technology conversation that is happening around me. Blogging is part of the means by which I can share what I’m thinking with others and also test new-fangled thoughts with an enormous audience. It was hard to do that when I started as an educator twenty years ago. I was isolated from the conversation in a classroom with four walls, with no means to connect beyond the two or three conferences a year I attended. Blogging is one of the tools that makes connecting to the worldwide conversation possible.

One final thing about blogging I have come to realize is that while it may be Okay to post a blog entry that lacks substance, I just can’t help myself: I will still probably be too critical and save the world from those posts I deem without substance. (This one barely made the cut.)  I just feel guilty sometimes adding to the Internet noise, so I meekly delete those posts that don’t cut the mustard. Others don’t seem to mind posting about the shopping trip they had yesterday or the picnic they had last Sunday. With me, I will share those things sometimes, but I try to find some kind of significance in them that is perhaps something others would like to know.

As I ponder the question about whether to blog or not to blog, I know a few things about myself. I may not be able to post each day. Then again, I also might find myself able to post three or four times in one day. I just can’t predict when I might feel the blog-muse inspiring me to write. And, yes, I am also going to be guilty of adding to the Internet clamor in spite of my good intentions. I, like many others, have perhaps come to love pushing that “Publish” button more than the “Delete” button. What that means in the long run is, unfortunately, I will subject the Internet with the all-to-common blog-post-drivel found everywhere in the blogosphere. I try to keep two things in mind about my blogging. First of all, there’s a lot of drivel out there too, so mine has company. And secondly? With all the choices of blogs on the Internet, no one is forced to read mine.

My Five Favorite 21st Century Administrator Tools as of Today: August 10, 2010

My essential technology tools package does change quite often. In the past several months I have found myself using these tools more and more, in the order that I introduce them.


What a powerful tool! I use two different computers to carry out the business of being an administrator. In times past, I used a flash drive to capture those working files that I might need at any location and at any time. While flash drives are certainly more reliable than discs, it has been so convenient to work on files in my Dropbox folder and know that I can access them anywhere without worry. While I am a firm believer in leaving work at work, Dropbox is an excellent solution for making sure you always have access to those files you might need in a moment’s notice. I haven’t used the share feature yet, but I do know it is a matter of time. For more information about Dropbox, click here.

Microsoft Live Writer

For the blogging administrator, there are a number of options available for creating blog posts. I have personally tried the extension for Microsoft Word and Blogger’s own editing tool, but my favorite for creating blog posts currently is Microsoft Live Writer. It is extremely simple to use, and best of all, it’s free. It is a WYSIWG blog post editor with a number of features. Your can easily insert video, photos, and hyperlinks. Best of all, you can save a post locally until you are ready to post it. If you are really daring, you can try out the Beta version of Windows Live Writer. It has the same look and feel of all the Microsoft Office applications. For more information and downloading, check here.

Windows Live Writer Main Interface


There’s a great deal on the web about Diigo, so I won’t waste everyone’s time trying to repeat all those great qualities. As an administrator, there are two features I love about Diigo at this point and time, and those features are available in the Diigo toolbar for Chrome. One of those is the highlight feature. I use Google Reader to follow quite a few online sources of information. Almost everyday, I stumble on some article that contains great information. With Diigo toolbar, I highlight the text. I can then make sticky note annotations, and bookmark the page. The second feature I love is that I can categorize that bookmark for easy reference. For administrators who want to grab all that web information, Diigo is the way to go. For more information about Diigo check here.

Google Reader

I have tried a number of RSS feed readers, and I always seem to return to Google Reader. I recently did a staff development session with some of our central office personnel and some of our teachers on Google Reader, and they were amazed at what you can do with it. Subscribing to feeds is too easy. Organizing your feeds is too easy. Even marking those you would like to read later with a little more attention is easy. I haven’t used the sharing feature as much, but I could see where that would be an added benefit. Google Reader remains one of those Web applications that I access every single day. Administrators everywhere would benefit from knowing how to use this application.


Google Reader

Google Docs

I find myself accessing Google Docs everyday as well. Recently, I used Google Docs when we were revising a self-study of our school. I simply provided those who needed access with an invitation should they wish to add or delete anything. The Google Forms feature is really powerful, and I have already been thinking of several ways to make use of this in the coming year. Last year, I used it to enter discipline data. This year, I would like to use Google Docs to create some walkthrough forms in order to gather data about teaching.


Google Docs Interface

These are my current top five web tools. They are tools that I find myself accessing almost every single day. As a 21st Century Administrator, I think it safe to say that this list could change at any time. I am constantly trying new applications and tools, so it is quite possible that I will find something next month that bumps one of these five from the list. Twenty-first Century Administrators need to be risk takers along side their teachers. This means always trying out new tools every single day. If we expect our teachers to be daring, then we must be equally daring ourselves.

Monday, August 9, 2010

President Obama's Actions Speak Louder than His Words

Could it be that President Obama and Secretary Duncan displayed a bit of hypocrisy this weekend? The media has been making a big deal about the basketball game played by our President and his educational sidekick at the Fort McNair military base in Washington, DC. NBA participants in the game included Joakim Noah, Derrick Rose, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Bill Russell, amd Earvin "Magic" Johnson. The game was billed as an opportunity to "entertain wounded soldiers and participants of a White House mentoring program."

While I certainly admire President Obama  and Secretary Duncan's efforts to "entertain our soldiers and the young people in the mentoring program," I could not help but wonder about some of the words in President Obama's speech at the National Urban League Centennial Conference. He stated:
"Instead of a culture where we're always idolizing sports stars and celebrities, I want to build a culture where we idolize the people who are shaping our children's future."
This even made me think about a couple of things. Was having this game with NBA stars contributing to the "culture where sports stars are idolized by our young people"? It would seem to me that President Obama's actions here are a contradiction to what he stated in his speech. He talks about changing a culture where sports stars are idolized, then the next week, he holds an event that seems to continue the culture of idolizing sports stars. It is no secret that President Obama idolizes basketball players. Just Google images of NBA and President Obama and thousands of images come up with the President standing with NBA players, playing basketball with them, and sitting in the stands watching them play. I do not fault the President for having his interests, but his actions this weekend seem to continue to support the same kind of culture he wants to change.

Perhaps I am being too critical of this President, but if President Obama is going to win back credibility with educators, he is going to have do more than give speeches full of empty rhetoric and start acting like he means what he says. The American Education System suffered under No Child Left Behind. Their patience with politicians spouting flowery words about supporting teachers is gone. President Obama and Secretary Duncan need to do more than travel the country making rosy speeches about how Race to the Top is changing education and how they want to support teachers. They need to genuinely listen to educators and stop dismissing opposition to their policies as simple "resistance to change."

Sunday, August 8, 2010

21st Century Side Line Item: Some People Just Don't Deserve to Own Pets

On Friday, my wife dropped at the animal shelter a pregnant cat abandoned by neighbors who moved away and left her behind. The animal shelter informed her that they would probably have to put her asleep, but they would not do it for twenty-four hours. This morning, my wife called me in tears while she was at work and asked me to go get the cat. I went to the shelter and picked the cat up and took her to the vet. This cat is the queen of conversation. She spoke to me the entire way. She looked up at me with her large green eyes and purred so loud it drowned out the sound of the car air conditioner. She checked out OK with vet, but we are going to have her spayed next week. I realize much of what I write about is tied to education and education policy, but sometimes things like this happen and I can't help myself. What makes me angry is that the people across the street (I won't call the neighbors again) left this cat behind. It seems to me some people just don't deserve to own pets.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

National Democratic Party Shows Its Real Concerns and It Has Nothing to Do with Teachers

This past Saturday, I received a phone call from the Democratic Party. I don’t recall the caller’s name, but he launched into a speech about how they needed my help to fend off the Republican take-over of the House of Representatives. I let him continue for some time  to try to instill in me the fear of what having a Republican majority in Congress would look like. Then he stopped suddenly and asked, “Can we depend on you for a donation of 100 dollars in our efforts to maintain Democratic control of the House?”

By that time, I could not help myself. I simply told him, “I could care less about the outcome of the elections this fall!” The caller then asked, “Why is that?”

“Well,” I said, “I really don’t appreciate how the Obama administration has treated teachers and educators with his Race to the Top agenda. You do know about Race to the Top?” “No, I don’t think I have heard about that,” he said.

At that point, I was amazed. This Democratic telephone fundraiser had never heard of Race to the Top. I said, “Tell you what, you might want to Google that sometime and learn where this administration stands on education issues.” I then told him how the Obama administration was simply continuing the the Bush administration’s emphasis on testing and about how that policy was destroying public education.

I doubt he paid any attention to my explanation of Race to the Top. I honestly doubt whether he heard anything I said. The fact is, his lack of knowledge about Race to the Top speaks volumes about his own political beliefs and convictions on about public education. It also reminded me of how I had made the mistake of voting for Obama in the last election. I had wrongly placed faith in a political party that historically has been a great friend of public education and public educators. That’s a mistake and assumption I will not make again.

Trust with the US Department of Education, Secretary Duncan, and President Obama is at an all time low among many educators. No matter how many times the Department of Education boasts on its blog “The US Department of Education Values Input from Teachers” many educators just don’t trust this administration. Many of us have too vivid memories of President Obama stating in March in response to the firings of all the Teachers at Rhode Island’s Central Falls High School, “If a school continues to fail year after year and doesn’t show sign of improvements then there has got to be a sense of accountability. That happened in Rhode Island last week.” That statement shows that we have a President who honestly believes that the failure of students falls exclusively on the backs of teachers. His department of education believes that too. Secretary Duncan applauded the firings of the entire teaching staff at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island. In his words, education officials were “showing courage and doing the right things for kids.”

Because of these kinds of statements, many educators do not trust this administration any longer. President Obama’s attempts to soften his earlier rhetoric at the National Urban League Centennial Conference last week were inane political statements that mean little. To use the old cliché, “Talk is cheap.” His statement that he believes that “a teacher is the single most important factor in a child’s education” only continues to support his belief that the success of a student rests solely on the teachers who teach him. Never mind the conditions and others who are responsible for the success of that child. That shows this administration’s true ignorance and how distant they are from the educator who sweats it out in the classroom day-to-day trying to teach in conditions not conducive to learning.

I would love to have made these same points to the Democratic Party fundraiser who called my house, but I would have wasted my breath. He didn’t care about education or he would have known about Race to the Top. I did tell him that I also wrote countless emails about my concerns to the White House, National Democratic Party, and the North Carolina Democratic Party and all I’ve ever received in return are emails requesting money. “As far as I’m concerned, I really do not care what the outcome of the election is this fall,” I told him. “There’s got to be some kind of accountability with our politicians. At that point, he thanked me and hung up. If the US Department of Education and the Obama administration values input from teachers, then they need to begin seeking that input, not just from teachers who say what they want to hear, but from those of us who disagree with their education policy.

Netvibes: Customize Your Web 2.0 Experience

Netvibes advertises that users "can personalize their web experience" which is done by choosing and placing objects known as widgets on tabbed pages. When I set up my Netvibes account about a week ago, I had some difficulty at first with how to manipulate the pages and make use of the widgets that were offered. In fact, I deleted my first Netvibes page after I had some minor trouble trying to figure out how to place the widgets on my page. Once I understood some of the mechanics of how to manipulate them, I succeeded in laying out my main page. I included widgets for my Facebook feed, Twitter Feed, my Gmail account, and feeds to my own personal blog.

Next, I had to decide how to make use of the ability to create subsequent pages and make use of the Tab feature. I decided that my other pages would be devoted to RSS feeds of some of my favorite blogs, and that I would arrange them by subject matter located on the Tabs. This allowed me to arrange the feeds on the page, and determine how I wanted the post previews from those feeds to look. I also included a Twitter Search widget so that I might follow along during events like #edchat.

What I personally like about Netvibes is the ability to layout your pages the way you wish and with the widgets you want. This customization feature is definitely a plus. I also like the pages and tab feature. Being able to use the Tabs to organize my RSS feeds onto the same pages makes accessing those feeds easier. I could see a teacher using a Netvibes tab and page to capture the feeds of their students in individual classes  as they post to their blogs. I am sure the functionality of Netvibes will only grow as they are able to develop more widgets. To set up your own Netvibes account, go to and follow the instructions.

Has anyone else found some educational uses for Netvibes and its widgets? Are there any examples of effective uses for administrators? I plan to keep exploring, but I would love to have some more ideas on how to best use this tool.

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My Netvibes Main Page

Feel free to any Netvibes use ideas that you have.