Sunday, March 27, 2011

Perhaps It’s Time to Rethink Term “Gifted”?

Cover Image“Talent is not a thing; it’s a process,” is the argument made in David Shenk’s book The Genius in All of Us.  For years, the nature versus nurture debate has simmered, with most of us coming out on the side of nature at times. Since psychologists Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray warned that our society was increasingly becoming stratified between those who have the genes for intelligence and high cognitive functioning, and those who are unfortunate in that they inherited genetically the lot of mediocre intelligence and only average cognitive functioning, it has been widely accepted that there are those who are “gifted” or “talented” and then the rest of us.

But, what if, genetics is more complicated than that? What if our talents and giftedness are not solely dictated by those magical genes we carry inside us? Shenk’s book tries to provide such an argument by pointing out a new “dynamic model” of genetics called “interactionalism.”  In this model of genetics, rather than being blueprints that dictate who or what we become, genes are more like “knobs and switches” that respond to a wide variety of factors both internal and external. According to Shenk, these factors include things like: nutrition, hormones, sensory input, intellectual activity, and even other genes. The old genetics model basically says that genes come first and influence what we are and what we become. The interactionalism model says it all begins with interaction with these internal and external factors which determine how genes express themselves.

This model of genetics is intriguing to me as an educator. Like Shenk, it makes me ask the question, “What if no one is genetically doomed to mediocrity?” Shenk clearly qualifies this model of genetics by saying that it doesn’t necessarily mean that we can become whatever we want to become. We are still limited within both environmental factors and genetics, but he gives us a perfect analogy in his book to describe our genetic differences. He says, “Our genetic differences aren’t straitjackets holding us in place; they are bungee cords waiting to be stretched and stretched.” Perhaps we as educators can consider ourselves these “stretchers of bungee cords” in some fashion. Our job is to find a way to tap into and use what Shenk calls “Positive Environmental Triggers” to pull all we can academically from our students. Shenk gives a list of some of these positive environmental triggers in his book:

  • Speaking to children early and often
  • Reading early and often
  • Nurturance and encouragement
  • Setting high expectations
  • Embracing failure
  • Encouraging what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset”

David Shenk’s book and the ideas of genetic interactionalism are definitely something we as educators should ponder. What if our school policy is actually holding back students who could otherwise demonstrate a level of talent or giftedness of which we were not aware? What if there are missed opportunities to “stretch” students beyond the achievement boundaries many have set for them? I think we’ve all known those occasional teachers who seem to miraculously do just that. They get students to do things that no one else has ever been able to do. Just maybe, these teachers actually redefine the word “gifted” by what they do with kids.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Textbook Publishers Are Major Obstacle to Adopting E-Books in Education

I was disappointed this morning in watching textbook adoption presentations done by several major publishers. I might as well have been sitting in a textbook presentation from the mid-1990s. My hopes and expectations for seeing cutting edge technological innovation from these companies were dashed to pieces. Somewhere inside I felt a bit sorry for these publishers. I’m not sure but I think I might be witnessing a “Blockbuster Scenario” involving our major textbook publishers in this country.  As you know, Blockbuster didn’t see the video streaming train coming, and tried to break into the business way too late. Now they’re sitting on the “Chapter whatever-you-call-it block.” It appears textbook companies are caught in the same trap. They are on the verge of irrelevance, and I ‘m not sure they even know it.  During the course of their presentations and during my conversations with their sales reps, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that these guys don’t get it. Here are some assumptions I think they still cling to about textbooks.

  • The textbook is the central instructional tool used by teachers in the classroom. Obviously, there are some classrooms where that is the case. I hate to disappoint them, but that isn’t true in the vast majority of classrooms I visit, and my last few years in the classroom, there were entire weeks at a time when we did not use textbooks. Textbooks for many teachers are supplemental tools, not the main act anymore. I don’t hear teachers saying things like, “Get our your books and turn to page 433 very much any more.” More and more teachers are turning to the Web and technology for instruction. Textbook companies are still trying to sell educators books that were designed to be the main act of teaching, and a lot of teachers just don’t use those books that way any more.
  • Students and teachers don’t care about the size of textbooks. One textbook I reviewed yesterday had 1500 pages and had to weigh close to 10 pounds. Students very much care about the size of textbooks. If they have a teacher who assigns homework, they have to lug that massive tome homeward at the end of the day. Talk about fostering resentment! Creating a literature textbook of massive size might have lots of resources in it, but it will not make students love literature any more. I really don’t think teachers and students are interested in getting more poundage for their money. Textbook publishers need to consider their customers which does include the students who have to put their product in their bookbags. Sometimes even the best teacher would have a problem convincing a student that carrying around a 10 pound textbook is their best interest.
  • Textbook publishers think 21st century educators are willing to pay full textbook price to get e-textbooks. And, as an addendum to this, they also believe progressive educators will want to have to buy their physical product to get their e-texts. Yesterday, I was told repeatedly by each publisher that I had to purchase their physical textbook to get access to their e-text. One company did offer to strike a deal though. I could buy their e-text alone, but I had to pair it with their textbook software in order to get their e-books, and the price of their e-book was the same. Textbook publishers and their marketers are caught in the same limbo that caused Blockbuster’s demise. They really don’t see that they are going to have to find a way to provide their customers with the products they want. I am interested in purchasing e-texts. I don’t want physical books to go with them. I don’t want some big software package to go with them. I don’t want to pay as much for an e-text because it can’t cost as much to create and distribute an e-text. My advice to them is: “If you can’t provide me with the e-book I want, I will find some way to get what I need and want.”
  • Textbook publishers are following the state and federal policymakers when making  marketing decisions and not classroom teachers and educators in general. For example, over and over, the sales pitch of the day during the presentations yesterday was, “Our book aligns with the new common core standards.” One textbook publisher happily and gleefully pointed out that they were the only textbook company to publish the relevant common core on the beginning page of each literary work in their literature book. Who cares! I can’t speak for all English teachers, but for me what was most important about the text I used was the actual literary works included, not what was written in the margins.
  • Language ArtsTextbook publishers still are publishing the same literary works in texts that have been there for last 100 years. For example, I opened a ninth grade textbook, and the first three short stories I encountered were three that I used when I began teaching 21 years ago. I’ll concede that they are generally considered classics, but doesn’t anyone write classics any more? Also, let’s face it, in the interest of engaging students, could we not, just once in a while include something different? It seems that there are short stories, poems, and plays that have been declared by the muses to be fodder for textbooks for all eternity, and textbook publishers never stray outside that list.
  • Textbook companies still believe that questions and activities at the end of a story or chapter are useful. Again, I can’t speak for all language arts teachers, but I never used the questions at the end of the story, poem or play. In my experience, students hate those questions, and they cause more of them to hate literature than having a 10 pound book to carry around. Also, most of the time, the activities provided at the end of the selections were not useful of engaging for the students I taught. I had my own activities to use with the selections I was reading, so those things were not needed. Now some would argue that this feature is useful for new teachers. I would argue they were not. There’s nothing more useful than having a mentor teacher willing to open their toolbox to share their instructional activities. Just give me a textbook that has quality, highly engaging literature. Keep all that other stuff.

I think it is clear that textbook publishers are caught in a time warp. They aren’t paying attention to their customers. They still count on the fact that states have this pile of money that can only be spent on physical textbooks, so perhaps they figure teachers will choose one of their products because they have to. Ultimately, the products they sell are little different from, at least the ones I used when I began teaching 21 years ago. After my experience watching their textbook presentations yesterday, I think they’re in a world of trouble. They had better begin re-engineering their products, or they’ll go the same way as Blockbuster.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

4 Ways Twitter Has Changed the Way I Do My Job as an Educator

Today, I stumbled across an article from CNN entitled “5 Ways Twitter Changed How We Communicate.” CNN posted the article in honor of Twitter’s 5th birthday and to describe the 5 ways Twitter has “changed the digital communication game.”

According to the CNN article, Twitter has basically changed communication in the following ways:

  • Made a fast flow of information possible:  In other words, Twitter has made it possible for news to spread extremely fast. This also makes it possible for rumors to spread quickly too. According to the CNN article, Twitter allowed for real-time news in Egypt and Haiti during the events in those countries.
  • Removed the celebrity filter:  Twitter allows us to experience celebrities as they really are in 140 characters or less without the information passing through a publicist. This might be problematic for the celebrities sometimes, but their mis-steps are much more visible.
  • Created thought leaders:  Twitter has made it possible for some individuals to become what CNN calls “thought leaders” because they now have an audience that once was not possible. This individuals lacked audiences in the past which meant they had no one to share their thoughts with. Now, these individuals can attract thousands of followers through the use of Twitter.
  • Strengthened what is called the “second screen”:  Twitter has made it possible for individuals to not watch TV alone again. While the show occurs, Twitter users can carry on conversations in the background. Now events like the Superbowl or the latest episode of Desperate Housewives is now a social not a solitary event.
  • (Over) Simplified the conversation:  Twitter has made the possibility of communicating in simplified statements possible with its 140 character limit. Often this means individuals make statements and then have to go back and explain their statements. Some really debate whether this has improved communication of not, but certainly we’ve all met those we wish had a limit of only 140 characters to say what they had to say.

I’ll admit that Twitter has changed digital communication in the ways described above, but how has Twitter changed the way I do my job as an educator? Many, no doubt, see Twitter as a total waste of time, and they will never be convinced of anything different. Yet, there are aspects of my job as an educator that have changed with its use.

  1. Networking and Connecting with Other Educators:  Networking and connecting with other educators was more problematic before Twitter. Before Twitter (BT) opportunities to connect and network with other educators was limited to those educator conferences you attended twice a year. Connecting with educators on other continents was near impossible due to the cost, time, and distance. Twitter has made it possible for any educator to connect with other educators with the click of a “Follow” button. While some would question the quality of the connections, they are only as good as the users make of them.
  2. Information, Resource and Idea Sharing: With Twitter, it is possible for educators to globally share information, resources and ideas in a simple, expensive manner. BT, sharing with individuals in far away places was limited by technology and costs. Twitter is one of those technologies that has made the cost of sharing zero. That means the ability to share with the crowd, both ideas and resources for teaching simply and effectively.
  3. Engaging in Education Conversation: BT (Before Twitter), conversations about education were limited by space and time as well. Those conversations took place in teacher lounges, over the cafeteria food, or even while standing in the parking lot next to the car just before going home. Twitter has made it possible to effectively engage in the global conversation about education and education reform. While the 140 character limit poses some problems, used in combination with other tools like blogs, Twitter users can have conversations on the substantive issues facing education today.
  4. Source of Ideas, Resources, and Information:  While Twitter makes it possible for an individual to share ideas, resources and information, it is also a source for the same things. BT (Before Twitter), sharing was problematic between teachers who worked in different parts of the building, much less teachers separated by continents. Twitter has become a constant flow of ideas on any number of topics concerning education. Its stream flowing across the desktop provides an endless flow of links to teaching resources and educational information. Call it the flow of professional development.

Twitter has certainly impacted communication in our society. It has also changed the “digital education game” as well, especially for those users who have pushed it to its limits.  Ultimately, like any technological tool, it is only as good a tool as you make of it. Happy Tweeting and Happy Twitter’s Birthday!

Monday, March 21, 2011

NOOKStudy: Barnes and Noble’s Powerful Free E-Text Application

One of my favorite E-Book applications for the desktop is Barnes and Noble’s NOOKStudy.  This application is not designed so that you can curl up in your easy chair and read a book. It is designed with students and those reading for research in mind. It has features that make it quite useful in education and for personal reading. Best of all, it’s available for download free from Barnes and Noble. Here’s some of the most interesting features of NOOKStudy.

  • With NOOKStudy, students can organize their notes, handouts, documents and E-Texts in distinct sections that they can create. All manner of documents and texts can be stored together in one place for easy access.
  • PDF documents can be imported into NOOKStudy too. This allows users to add other notes and documents to the E-Reader.
  • NOOKStudy also allows users to view two books at one time for those instances when there’s a need to compare and access multiple texts. With this Dual View, you can even open different parts of the same text and view them side by side.
  • The Highlight and Markup feature allows users to highlight important passages of text, and place notations for additional reference.
  • NOOKStudy also allows users to take notes and add them to the e-book. This feature also allows users to add external links to sites for additional information.
  • Users can add tags to notes for easy access to those notes later.
  • Highlight a word in the text, and with an easy menu, search for that term with Google, Wikipedia,, Wolfram-Alpha, and YouTube.
  • Users can search their own notes for specific terms.
  • Users can print and copy text with ease with NOOKStudy.
  • When finished with taking notes on a text, users can export those notes as a word document or text file to use with other applications or print.
  • Use Fullscreen view to read text.



NOOKStudy Main Interface Screen


NOOKStudy Book Screen

NOOKStudy is a powerful e-text application that combines the ability to easily read text with an ability to make notes and highlight text. It is an excellent application for serious students and serious readers. For more information about NOOKStudy, please see Barnes and Noble’s Web site.

Just How Bad Is the Budget Situation in North Carolina? Video by NC High Students

I think this video says about all that can be said about both our budget crisis in North Carolina, and the approach our political establishment is taking with budget cuts. This video was created by Career Technical Education students in a multimedia class. It is a very moving tribute to what is currently happening in education in North Carolina.

The Impact of Budget Cuts in Education from WNDR News on Vimeo.

Thank you to the students at AL Brown High School in Kannapolis, North Carolina for reminding us of the importance of education.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ideas for Helping Administrators and All Educators Move to Being Paperless

I have completely given up the habit of taking a pad of paper and a pen into meetings any more. Just about everything I do now is electronically, and I as a school administrator, I’m becoming ever closer to being paperless in the day to day activities of my job. The technology gadget trio of my laptop, iPad, and Android phone have had much to do with my being able to go paperless.  If I were going to make recommendations for apps on these three devices, here are my current favorites. When I say favorites, that means I access them frequently throughout the day.

Desktop/Computer apps

  • Dropbox: There is not a single day that goes by that I do not access my dropbox on multiple occasions. I save all my work documents in my dropbox folder, so that I have that immediate access with multiple devices and with multiple computers. Also, sharing folders and files is so easy with this application. I haven’t pulled out a flashdrive in months. This application literally makes being paperless possible for administrators and all educators as well as students. (Drop information available here.)
  • Evernote:  I have posted on this application alone several times. I can’t say enough about this one. I use it for my daily to do lists and for taking notes during the large number of meetings I attend. With the desktop application on both my laptops, those notes are always synced between my computers (Note: I have been experimenting with Springpad, another note taking application. It shows as much promise as Evernote with some features.) (Evernote information and download available here.)
  • NOOKStudy:  This amazing application is available as a free download from Barnes and Noble. It is an excellent e-reader tool for individuals like myself who like to make notes and have access to multiple books at one time. I am the kind of reader who reads four or five books at once, and NOOKStudy for the desktop opens multiple books with tabs so that I can flip from one book to the next like I do in real life.
  • Google Docs: There is also rarely a day that goes by that I do not access Google Docs in some manner as well. The ease with which documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and forms can be created is so simple. Being able to access those documents with other devices is also a plus.

Ipad Applications

  • Dropbox:  This application allows me to access my Dropbox files on my iPad. I use DocsToGo in combination with Dropbox in order to open any Microsoft Office files of Open Office files. I can also read any PDF files I have placed in my Dropbox during those times between meetings. Dropbox is a must have application on my iPad.
  • Evernote:  I never take a pad of paper or pen into meetings any more or during teacher observations. I use Evernote’s iPad application to take notes in both meetings and during those classroom visits. My iPad has literally replaced the old legal pad I used to carry around. I don’t even have a legal pad in my desk any more.
  • NOOK for iPad:  I have the NOOK application installed on my iPad too. I have purchased several E-Books from Barnes and Noble in recent months. I have always carried a book around for those down moments when I might have a chance to read. Having NOOK on my iPad gives me the ability to crack a book any time without having to carry the book around with me. (As a side note, I also have Kindle, iBooks, and another app called Free Books installed on my iPad. I have books in all those applications too. I only wish there were a desktop application for iBooks and the Free Books application.)
  • GoDocs for iPad:  I recently purchased an app for the iPad called GoDocs that allows me to access and edit Google Docs files. It is especially easy to use for accessing and reading Google Docs files. So far, it allows me to read any of my Google Docs easily, and I can edit existing Google Docs too. Right now it has proven to be the best option for Google Docs applications.

Android applications

  • Dropbox:  I have this application installed on my Droid phone too. This gives me another layer of access to my Dropbox documents. The application, Quickoffice, allows me to open and read Office Documents and PDF documents. There have been a few times I’ve needed access to documents in my Dropbox when I had no desktop or iPad access.
  • Evernote:  I have the Evernote application installed on my Droid phone too. Just like the iPad application, I can read any notes I’ve placed in the application. I can also create new notes for those times when I do not happen to have my iPad or laptop handy.
  • NOOK for Android:  I also have the NOOK software installed in my Droid as well. I can access the books I’ve purchased from Barnes and Noble through my phone too. There have been a few times when I’ve been waiting for an appointment, and I’ve pulled out my Droid phone and read a few pages from an E-Book I was reading.
  • If you notice, I do not have an Android application listed for Google Docs access yet. Perhaps someone out there has a workable solution. I haven’t found a suitable application for access to my Google Docs with the Android yet.

I have truly found myself using less and less paper during the course of the day. Having access to all of these applications on multiple devices continue to make it possible for me to rely less and less on physical, paper copies. What are your favorite applications that allow you to do your job without using paper? Please feel free to share.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Springpad: Educator Note Taking and Task Management System

In my previous post, I wrote about Evernote and how I use it during the course of my job as a school level administrator. Recently, someone called my attention to Springpad,  another note taking and organizational application. It has enough additional features to be interesting as an educator tool. It offers some of the same capabilities as Evernote, and a few extra ones too. Here’s my shortlist of what Springpad can do. I know this list will grow longer and I use the application more.

1. Create notebooks to organize information.


 Springpad’s Main Screen

2.  Jot down notes like administrator meeting notes or parent meeting notes.springpad2

Springpad Note Taking Screen

3. Create checklists of things to do or activities that need to be checked off as you do them.


Springpad Checklist Screen


4.  Use the Springpad extension clip pages for later reference.


Springpad Chrome Extension


5.  Use the "Look It Up" feature allows you to search the web for items and with a button, clip them into your Springpad notebooks.

6. Use Tags to organize things and make them easier to locate.

7. Set email reminders for items in your notebooks.

8.  Share with others by email the items you have in Springpad.

9.  Share items using Facebook and Twitter.

10.  Use "The Board" feature to make your own wall to post sticky notes and to organize your thoughts.


Springpad Board Screen


11.  Make your notes public when you feel the need to share.

12.  Take Springpad with you everywhere you go. It has an online app, iPad app, iPhone app, and an Android app.


I only recently began experimenting with Springpad in earnest. As a potential note taking app, I can see promise. As a potential application for school administrators, it has features that make it a useful note taking application. To create a free Springpad account check here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

5 Ways School Administrators Can Use Evernote

Evernote has rocketed to the top of my most-often-used applications in recent months. It is one of the first desktop applications I open in the morning, and one of the last ones I close in the afternoons at the end of the day. Last spring, I purchased a premium account, and it has been well worth the money. Evernote is clearly an administrator must-have application. Below are some of the ways I use Evernote as an administrator.

  • Use Evernote to collect all the notes, bits of information, and copies of digital information that come across your desk during the course of a day.  As a school administrator, there is a constant flow of things into my office, and keeping it accessible and organized is a must. I don't use a file cabinet or paper copies of anything anymore. Everything I do is electronic. Evernote gives me a place to organize this information for later accessibility. I can copy and paste pertinent parts of emails or documents and paste them in an Evernote note in my "Inbasket" notebook. I am even thinking about getting a scanner so that I can scan and include these items in my electronic files too. Evernote makes collecting easy, and it makes organizing what you're collecting easy too.
  • Use Evernote to create and maintain To Do Lists. I have a To Do List every single day, and I create it electronically and place it in my To Do List notebook. This allows me to easily transfer those "undone" tasks to the next day’s To Do List. Since I have the Evernote app on both my Android phone and my iPad, I can access my To Do List at any time and wherever I happen to be. Because Evernote allows me to put a "checkbox" in my lists, I can check off tasks as I do them too. There's satisfaction of being about look back through my To Do Lists after a period of time and see what I have accomplished.
  • Use Evernote to collect ideas and information from professional reading.  Those that know me, know I usually read four or five books at a time, and that I am a copious note taker. I love collecting thoughts, ideas, quotes, and snippets of information from my reading. I have a "Professional Reading" notebook in Evernote where I place notes from my reading. Because I can access Evernote from practically any where, I have constant access to them.
  • Use Evernote to make instant copies of engaging web information. My reading includes following a number of blogs, and a daily list of about 200 RSS feeds that I follow through Google Reader. While I can use Diigo to bookmark an engaging article, Evernote allows me to snapshot the whole thing and place it in an appropriate Evernote notebook. For example, I recently stumbled on an article about Problem-Based Learning I wanted to share with staff at a later date. I clipped it and placed it in my Inbasket notebook for later action. Evernote is an easy and functional way to collect web information and organize it.
  • Use Evernote to share administrative notes or project notes. I must confess that I haven't fully utilized this capability yet, but I can see occasions when I might need to allow another administrator access to my working notes on a project. Or, I might need to collaboratively work on a project and with Evernote, I can a project notebook with whomever I desire. Evernote’s simple collaboration features make sharing notes easy.


Evernote’s Desktop App Interface

I've found Evernote to be one of the most useful day-to-day applications in my job as a school administrator. For me, its simplicity, its organizational features, and its accessibility on multiple devices make it indispensable. I can create notes on my work desktop, and through the magic of synchronization, it appears on my iPad, my Android  phone, and on my laptop at home. It is a must-have application for administrators. To create an Evernote account and download its desktop software, check here. For those teachers and technologists that want to engage administrators in using technology applications, show them how to use Evernote. What are some other ways to use Evernote as educators? Please share.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Engaging More Administrators in Using Social Media

How do we engage administrators more in using social media and in developing a Professional Learning Network? That was the question at the center of my presentation at the annual North Carolina Technology in Education Society’s (NCTIES) 2011 conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. As I point out in my presentation, which is included below, the media horror stories often give administrators from the school level to the superintendent level pause when it comes to using social media tools, and there have been no shortage of those stories:

And so the many stories go. With all this negative publicity, it’s easy to see why administrators run in the other direction when someone tries to convince them to engage in social media.
But the reality is that so much good can come from engaging in using social media on a professional level. What have I learned from using it? Here’s the truth about what I’ve learned so far by engaging in its use.

1.  It has allowed me to network not only locally, but nationally and internationally. I have engaged in sharing information with other educators and administrators across the United States and Canada. I’ve been able to exchange ideas with an administrator in Saudi Arabia, a teacher in India, and a technologist in Australia. Social media is a tool that fosters the ability to build and maintain global network connections.

2. It provides me with a perpetual flow of educational resources and information. Social media tools keep me connected to the latest ideas regarding education reform and policy. It provides me with a steady stream of technology resources to share with my staff and with others. It is a daily dose of professional development. Social media is a tool that connects me with cutting edge information in the field of education and beyond.

3. It helps me develop a 21st century understanding of social media’s place in our global society. As a consumer of social media professionally, I know blocking access to it will not make it go away. It has an established place in our information society, and treating it like some dirty magazine sitting behind a counter in the convenience store is not helping me be a 21st century educator, and it is depriving students of access to an important part of our culture. Using social media helps me to understand that its value far outweighs the horror stories in the media.

4. It allows me to engage in a global conversation about education with educators and others around the world. There is an international debate occurring about education reform, the proper place of technology, and many other education topics. That conversation is happening through social media tools, and the administrator who wants to take part in that discussion, needs to engage in the use of those tools. Using social media gives me a means and a voice in what is happening in education today.

How do we get more administrators engaged in the use of social media and engage in developing professional learning networks? It’s an uphill battle to get them to look past those horror stories, but perhaps we can get them to look beyond those. Those who continue to try to wall out that which they fear, will find the world has passed them by.