Thoughts Going Into the 2011-2012 School Year

As I get ready for the 2011-2012 school year here are some thoughts I have bouncing around my head.

Computer Technology 7: This is the course I really worked hard on since, in all honesty, last January. I have notes scribbled across three or four Livescribe notebooks, four notebooks in Evernote, one Livebinder site, and one blog post on this website. It was written across three states over the summer. I consulted PhD holders, Media Specialists, administrators, and people working in the technology field. Probably put my job in jeopardy by begging, pleading, arguing, debating, and discussing the course's needs with district Instructional Technology gurus. The only thing I have not done yet is threaten anyone’s life but the year is still young.

There are still some last-minute compromises left to do with the other Computer Technology teacher and it should be ready to go. I can tell you how it will look. The course is building off what students learned in Computer Technology 6 which was how to create basic digital text, audio, and video media. Now the seventh grade students will need to take these lessons and apply them to a variety of tasks designed to share their knowledge of cybersafety. For example, a student may research the topic of cyberbullying to create a presentation in Prezi. Once the presentation is create, he or she will do a screencast giving the presentation which will be uploaded to the student's Livebinder page.

After all the media options are done then the students will be introduced to computer programming using Scratch. I already have the ebook, Shall We Learn Scratch, by Jessica Chiang loaded on Edmodo for the students to read. This is the first time I have worked with an ebook with students and I am looking forward to the experience. The things I will closely watch is how well students like using an ebook and if any of them download the book onto an iPad, Nook, Kindle, or other device. Students will work through the problems in the book to get comfortable with writing programs. Then the students will create their own original program. If there is time, they may even write apps for Andriod and iOS devices.

While I have tried to foresee every possible problem, there are still about a million things that can go wrong with this course. Also, would someone please let me know where I can get a job that allows me to be a whinny, spoiled, overpaid teacher who only does this to get the summers off. I worked my tail off to create this course and did not receive one penny for the effort. Still, it had to be done if I wanted to make sure my students have a great experience.

Apps and gadgets I can't wait to use: This year I really want to test how mobile devices can work in a classroom setting (one of the things that can blowup in my face). I am going to set Edmodo to send me a text message whenever a student has a question. This would allow me to help students in turn, force the students to send proper messages, and inspire the students to use a social network as a collaborative tool. Students will be told to ask questions on Edmodo while they are working. I will encourage the class to post an answer to the question if anyone knows the answer. If a question is answered correctly before I get to the student who asked the question, the better off students will be. I plan on making use of my new tablet as well. One thing is to determine if a tablet will be good enough for a student to complete most of his or her assignments. I wrote about Socrative earlier but I am really can't wait to try this out with my students. This app is a web-based Student Response System and is much cheaper than makers of the so-called "clickers" that Promethean, Smart, CPS, and other vendors make. Apps can be downloaded to iOS or Android devices and works pretty good. Once an assessment is completed, the teacher will receive a spreadsheet report by email. I plan on giving Edublogs another chance this year. When I received emails saying no emails would be needed and there was no more advertising it made me one happy camper. While Kidblog is a great blogging app, the way it requires teachers to administer the blogs got to be a chore. Also, it was easy to accidentally delete an entire class's blogs. I still think Kidblog is a good blogging tool but probably more for elementary or some middle school teachers who may take care of only one blog per class or really does not care about creating tools students can use as they move from grade to grade. Finally, I hope I can get all of my team on Google+. The ability to communicate with each other using this platform has lots of potential. Also, if Hangout works, if a teacher is missing a meeting  or needs to talk face-to-face it can be done relatively easy.

Renewed focus on reading and writing in United States History and Social Studies in general: Last year I heard, to my dismay, that some high schools were telling history teachers to stop writing and only focus on preparing for the End of Course exam. This troubled me because I knew that this approach would not prepare students for college and the worship of test scores had gone out of control. This year reading and writing are put back into the curriculum. Teachers will be expected to have their students read primary sources, answer document-based questions, and write essays. Theodore Roosevelt and I say "Bully!"

Working with the adults: I am really excited to hear about the number of teachers who are willing to give Edmodo a chance when they realize Computer Technology would continue to use it. There are more teachers in my school willing to use technology and they would like something to help make the task easier. Attempting to use the school's network and website for communications, collaboration, and exchanging assignments is not getting the job done. Plus they like the fact that most of the students already have accounts and are trained on how to use it. Another thing I would like to do is gather a group of teachers who are willing and attempt to take charge of our own professional development. Two things I would love to work with a group on is creating and delivering better presentations. Another learning opportunity I would love to do is start looking more at brain research and how we as teachers can use it to help our students. One of the things I learned over the summer is that countries that outperform the United States had true professional teachers who were expected to research or get training the latest techniques then share them with the rest of the faculty. I wonder how many teachers will want to give this a try too.

Alright, here are my main thoughts as we start the 2011-2012 school year. It will be interesting to see how things progress over the course of the year. To all of you who will soon have young faces staring up at you as school starts I hope you have a great school year.

Kindergarten Cop 2011-2012

'Today I watched Kindergarten Cop (1990) for probably the million-sixth time. After watching this movie I wondered what would happen if the movie took place in the upcoming 2011-2012 school year? The movie has a tough cop, played by former California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger, going under cover as a kindergarten teacher to find the ex-wife of a ruthless drug dealer and enlist her aid in putting the scumbag away. Needless to say, the kids gain the upper hand on Schwarzenegger who thought the job would be easy. Unable to quit and loose the bad guy, the cop decides, in modified Schwarzenegger fashion, to get tough and kick some kindergarten tail. Some rather unorthodox measures brings the kids in line and they soon love Schwarzenegger's character as he begins to have a soft spot for the kids as well. The kids learn about discipline, physical fitness (a Schwarzenegger pet cause), and what to do if a stranger approaches. These are lessons the kids need for the inevitable confrontation with the bad guys. The experience changes the cop who decides to trade-in his gun and badge and return to the classroom permanently. Nice heartwarming and inspiring movie, especially for teachers right? Let's see, how long would Schwarzenegger's character last today? He would not even get inside the door and if he did he would be in jail and definitely not offered a contract. He is why:

No school principal would let him in the classroom. The cop had no certification and no experience teaching and the principal was going to let him in a kindergarten classroom to try to catch a drug dealer? I don't think so. Granted, another cop with teaching credentials and experience was supposed do the job but she got sick so Schwarzenegger's character had to step in. Possibly, the cop could have posed as a janitor or hall monitor but not a classroom teacher.

Now I don't profess how the police would actually do an undercover operation in a school but let's say he gets in with the kids. Now what? It seems the kids are not covering the material prescribed by state standards. The kids are too busy learning discipline, physical fitness, stranger danger, getting questioned about their parents, how to evacuate the building for a fire drill, and the Gettysburg Address. Where was the reading, math, and other subjects that the students will be tested on at the end of the year. My goodness! The students were not even taught test-taking strategies! How will the school make AYP? Needless to say, Schwarzenegger's character would not be offered a contract for the next school year and the principal would probably be out the door too. Come to think of it, the actress who played the principal (Linda Hunt) is now the federal agent in charge of the Los Angeles branch of NCIS.

What about the abused boy? Schwarzenegger's character really gave to that father didn't he? Actually, the cop would have gone to jail for assaulting the father. Also, the cop would have been kicked out of school for subjecting the school district to a lawsuit. Of course it would have been just one of the several lawsuits filed over having an unqualified cop in the classroom in the first place that exposed the children to danger. The cop would also be in trouble for not reporting the suspected abuse when he first heard about it which actually is a good thing.

Finally, what about the ferret? We can't have him in the class because the district's risk management specialist says it is a potential liability. Personally I am not against class pets because I used to have a hamster named Jeb Stuart running around my room and my high school students loved it. Alas, word came down from district and all the pets had to go. Perhaps Schwarzenegger's character can find out what the teacher on the Target commercial did with her hamsters, Lewis and Clark.

While Kindergarten Cop makes for an entertaining movie, it is unrealistic in terms of actual education. It does show even a tough cop can just walk in and become a teacher just like that. Since the movie came out in 1990 which predates NCLB, we can't gig it on high-stakes testing. Yet, there is plenty that exposes the movie as an over simplification of teaching which continue with this summer's  Bad Teacher. Again it is supposed to entertainment isn't it?

Please let know if I missed any other scenes.

Tablets Take Two

From Instant Upload

A few weeks ago I wrote about getting an Acer Iconia A500 tablet and the reasons I got with the biggest one being economic (Staples had a $100 off tablets coupon deal). Well, I have been putting the Acer through its paces and so far I have been pleased. My biggest reason for getting a tablet was to have a bridge device between my phone and my laptop. There have been times when taking a laptop to places wound up being impractical. On the other side, trying to do some tasks using my phone have been a bit of a chore too. So I guess the tablet is my Goldilocks device, just right. Am I ready to sell my laptop yet? No way! When I was shopping for a new computer a few months ago I actually asked if a tablet would suffice. I was told no in no uncertain terms and I agree with that answer now. So what do I use my tablet for?

One thing I have heard is that tablets are not creation devices which is not true. I like to hole up at a local coffee shop and write my drafts of blog post (such as this one) or other documents such as course curriculum. Then I retrieve the document and put the finishing touches on it. When I had an iPhone, the typing experience was not too bad but it changed when I switched to my Atrix Android phone. It was just uncomfortable for me so I stopped drafting documents which hurt my productivity, especially my blogging. Even though I can attach a physical keyboard to my tablet I think doing so defeats the purpose of having a tablet. I know the ASUS crowd will disagree with me but if I need a keyboard I should just bring my laptop. I do recommend spending a few dollars and purchasing a good mobile office suite app such as Quickoffice Pro. While Google Docs has an app it is not a great writing experience for me. Probably the best app to have on any device is Evernote but using it on a tablet is a great experience. I also, like checking my social media and responding, especially Google+ in which I tend to share my opinion more than Facebook and Twitter. One thing bit of creativity I have done that surprised me is taking pictures. I always thought a camera on the back of a tablet was a waste but there have been a few times I actually snapped a photo with my tablet because it was handy. The ability to edit photos and video is getting better but it still does not compare with using the power of a laptop.

How do I consume using my tablet? The biggest strength of tablets is as media consumption devices. I do surf the net for sites but I sometimes mark them using Read it Later. When I sat in on some interviews recently, I used my tablet to lookup candidates' websites without being too obtrusive. Reading news and blogs is great on my tablet when I use Pulse and the Google Reader apps. After school, I can go somewhere to get away from my classroom and use the tablet to check student blogs and check-in with Edmodo for grading and answer students’ questions. At home I must check the IMDB app several times while I am watching TV  to learn more about a program or movie. Another nice thing is I have logged in to watch streams of a few conferences because I don't have to drag out the laptop and it really does not drain my battery. Something I would like to try at a conference sometime is hookup my tablet and have it show back channel streams while my presentation or demonstration is going on my laptop. The problem is my tablet uses an HDMI port for video out. It looks nice but many projectors do not have an HDMI port.

While my laptop will never be too far away and I will always have my phone, I actually see my tablet becoming a constant companion. It is light and has a small footprint which is perfect for coffee shops and attending conferences. My tablet allows me to do small writing projects or start larger ones. It fits into a small slingpack I bought at Eddie Bauer's along with my Nook and Livescribe notebook and pen. All I have to do is grab it and head to the library, coffee shop, book store, or other places and I am ready to be productive or playful depending on my mood. This setup also allows me to grab a few things from the store without lugging a lot of weight. Will tablets become the computing device most people will use in the future? Without a doubt and I think Apple is pushing us that way now. Can students be successful using a tablet in the classroom now? Yes, with some logistical help from home and school. Remember, tablets are not yet fully functional computers yet but I believe they make a better device to bring than a phone (but phones will work too). Chances are if you see me then my tablet is probably not too far away.

Questioning Socrates

Here is another reason to start letting those mobile devices into the classroom. I saw this post from Mashable about a new, web-based student response system called Socrative. The idea is to create quizzes and students would use computers, iOS, or Android devices to take these quizzes. Teachers can see how students are doing in real time. Results from the quizzes are emailed to the teacher in an Excel spreadsheet format. There are free apps for teachers who have iOS or Android devices to give quizzes remotely. Right now the site is in beta testing and is free to use. Hopefully, this will continue for teachers or least an inexpensive price to use. Other sms devices, usually known as clickers, by companies such as CPS, Promethean, and Smart can run into hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Plus, the companion software can be complicated to figure out and take valuable time to setup a quiz. Socrative can be up and running within a few minutes at the most if you have to write questions. Quizzes can be multiple choice, true/false, or short answer. 

Here are some screen shots to show you how Socrative looks:

This is the Teacher's main page where quizzes can be created and shared with students. Each teacher has their own room number to share with students so the correct quizzes can be taken.


Teachers can create, import, or delete quizzes.

This is the students' page where they enter a teacher's room number to start a quiz.

Once a student enters a room they need to identify themselves for the record. Teacher can tell students to enter other names if he or she is concerned about privacy.

This is a page from a multiple choice quiz. All the student needs to do is click on an answer.

Students get instant results when they answer questions.

If a student misses a question, he or she is shown the correct answer.

Blogs v. Social Networks

'WordPress' photo (c) 2006, Adriano Gasparri - license: versus
There have have been some interesting conversations on Google+ about the future of blogging. The basic question is will social networks such as Google+ replace traditional blogging as we know it? It seems some in the mainstream tech world claim Google+ and any other similar social networks can replace blogging. Their logic is this, most bloggers used social networks to share links to their blogs to their followers and possibly an extended audience as followers shared those links with their friends. This would hopefully drive traffic to the blogger's website. The reason social networks such as Facebook or Twitter did not function as blogs was because of limits on the number of characters used to write a message or tweet. Go over the limits and things get tricky. URL shorteners such as helped in promoting blog posts on social networks. Now we have Google+, which is still in private beta and new users need an invitation to get in, and the character limitation is now gone. Google also makes it easy to insert links and embed media. Add the fact that a Google+ post can go to select groups or the public, then it can serve all the functions of a blog. Or can it?

One of the curriculum changes I have been wrestling with this summer is should sixth graders setup and write using a traditional blog such as Blogger or Word Press. I have used Blogger, Edublogs, and Kidblog in the past with some but not overwhelming success to suit me. Also, with between 210-240 per semester, it becomes an issue of do I want to have some kind of life outside of school? My wife and son would like to see me once in a while if only for me to give them money or pickup something at the store. Our school network really drags sometimes when attempting to access the sites, causing frustration for me and the students when we go to the site. Finally, whenever I hear about how all students take to technology like ducks to water I roll my eyes. Most students may be tech-savvy but definitely not all. This was a lesson I learned the hard way last year. To make writing online a much easier and more enjoyable experience, I am thinking of using the learning social network for blogging or online writing.

In the past, most teachers would post a question or writing topic in a blog post then let the students write their responses. This is usually done on schools' websites but I found our district's current system is rather had and buggy. I tried it last year and students' replies went all over the place. For example, I would find a response written during second period over in third period. The site also uses a code name system for the purpose of protecting identities. Unless I had the roster of student names and code names, students would be protected from getting a grade because I could not tell who was who. I could change the settings to show the names but why should I do that when I am logged in as the teacher? Fortunately learning social networks, such as Edmodo and Schoology, can allow responses to a teacher's post or let the student post independently. Both have the capability to allow the teacher to have selected students' writings made public that gives students the feeling of sharing with the outside world. Finally, students can insert links and/or embed media easier than on traditional blogs.

An argument can be made about using sites such as Blogger, Edublogs, and Kidblog for online writing and I am not proposing traditional blogging is going away. If I did, you would be reading this in Google+ instead of my website. Actually, my seventh grade students will probably be creating Edublog pages this year. This will give them them some experience with managing blog on the most popular blog engine in the world today. Blogger is out because our district blocks it because of the Next Blog button on each site. However, I have come to believe it is easier for students to write on the learning social network site then move them along as they get more experience. Finally, it will be social networks such as Facebook or possibly Google+ where students will do most of their online writing in their future. Would it not be a good idea to teach them how to share on these sites properly? Then again, laws like the one recently passed in Missouri might put an end to student writing online. Please give me your thoughts about using blogs or social networks for students to write online.


Take One Tablet

Photo by the author
From Instant Upload

I had been waiting for the right moment to jump into the tablet market but that market would not wait for me. After doing a personal technology refresh by purchasing a Macbook Pro and Motorola Atrix, I felt it was time for me to slow down a bit. Also, I have been waiting for the iPad that I wanted and I thought the iPad 2 was not quite it. Android tablets, while arousing my curiosity, just did not have what I wanted as far as apps were concerned plus I still have a considerable investment in iOS apps from my time with the iPhone. Also, I thought Android tablets were overpriced for what you got. Then why am I writing this post on a Acer Iconia A500 Android tablet? Like the Godfather always says, "Give him an offer he can't refuse!" In this case the Godfather was Staples. Earlier this week I noticed the Acer tablet was on sale at Best Buy for $396 which got my attention and started researching the device. I was surprised at what the Iconia had under the hood and the positive reviews it got from users and critics alike. A couple days later, Staples had a coupon for $100 off any tablet. Staples listed the Iconia for $399. So with the coupon the tablet is now down to $299. I found a way to snatch up this deal.

This is the third Acer product I have owned and I had great experiences with a desktop and netbook that gave me a lot of years of service. After purchasing my tablet I went to Barnes & Noble to set it up. Fortunately, a table next to an outlet was available. So I pluged it in and started the setup process. The 10.1 inch high resolution screen looks good and with a NVIDIA Tegra 2 Dual Core processor and 1 GB of RAM it is pretty fast. This tablet has not one but two USB ports, a micro and 2.0 port to connect to a computer, additional storage, or other peripherals. The Acer tablet also has a micro-HDMI connection and can mirror displays which is nice and something my Atrix can only do if I pay AT&T more money. The Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" operating system is a bit different than the 2.2 found on the Atrix but comparing a phone to a tablet is a bit unrealistic. The 5.0 rear facing and 2.0 front facing cameras do a great job at taking pictures but still wonder why a tablet needs a rear facing camera except for classroom activities. Another feature that impresses me is the ability to add a 32 GB micro SD card to the 16 GB of storage Acer put in the tablet. The iPad does not have these specs!

There are a couple drawbacks with the Iconia. First, the thing is heavy for a tablet. Much heavier and thicker than the iPad all tablets are compared to. Also, with all of the USB ports the Iconia has, you would think you can charge the tablet but no. Guess I will have to pack another charger whenever I take this tablet on the road. Fortunately, the Iconia has up to 8 hours of battery life so I won't have pull that charger out too often.

How would this work in schools? If promised updates to all tablets that will intergrate them to Android phones comes then it could be a good device. It quickly and easily found the wi-fi signal at Barnes & Noble. There are enough apps in the Marketplace for students to do a wide variety of activities. I am actually drafting this post on the Blogger app which is free to download. The typing experience is pretty good in the widescreen mode but is a bit award and hard in portraite mode due to size and weight of this tablet. Also, because of the weight, this tablet won't be replacing my Nook anytime soon as an ereader. If manufactures can produce tablets like this consistantly for under $300 then we have an economical way for students to purchase technology.Given that I was able to get this tablet on a near impulse purchase, the Acer Iconia and other Android tablets will probably finding their way into schools this fall or the next. Are we ready to welcome them?

Opening American Minds

This post was inspired by the report "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: An American Agenda for Education Reform" by Marc S. Tucker for the National Center on Education and the Economy (May 24, 2011). This report was from a study the NCEE did of countries that consistently did better than the United States in education and what those countries did to get on top. The countries primarily studied were Canada (Ontario Province), China, Finland, Japan, and Singapore. It is important to note that each country studied what other countries did to improve education, developed a national will which led to a political will to enact change, and did not use anything remotely put forward as reforms in the United States. The United States at one time did have the best education system in the world but made the mistake Ancient China made in determining there can be nothing learned from other countries and closed our minds and our doors to other practices of other countries. Like how Europeans, Americans, and the Japanese used improved technologies invented in China to virtually colonize the once proud Asian country, the same is happening to the United States in education. Hopefully, we can learn from China's mistakes in the past (as they have done themselves) and look outward to rebuild our once great educational system like Japan did during the Meiji Restoration that modernized Japan and turned it into a world power in a short time-span. 

Office of the Governor of our Great State

Over two years ago our state saw three of our biggest companies that provided jobs to over three thousand of our citizens close their doors and move to an Asian country. The political rhetoric that was going around included unions were hurting our state’s ability to compete because of the high cost of compensation. Another complaint was policies in Washington are hurting business with burdensome regulations and taxes that force them to other countries that are more accommodating. I ran on a platform that promised to work hard to bring more jobs to our state and the people of this great state have entrusted me to do just that. One of the first things I did as governor was to sit down with the heads of the companies who are leaving to find out why they turned their backs on us. Their answer startled me. They told me our education system was not producing the quality of workers that can help them stay competitive in a global market. They further told me that their requests to previous administrations for improving our state’s education system fell on deaf ears or was explained away because teacher unions would not allow reform or Washington had their hands tied. 

I wanted to say the same things to but I decided to form a task force to study not only the country where those businesses are going but other countries that consistently outperform the United States in education to see what they are doing and we are not. After we studied the education systems of Canada, China, Finland, Japan, and Singapore I gathered a nonpartisan group of legislators, business leaders, parents, college representatives, teachers, teacher’s union representatives, school and district administrators, and school board members from across the state to create a system of education that will prepare our children for the challenges of the 21st and 22nd centuries. Based on their report, I am making the following recommendations to change our education system into one that is world class:

  1. Improving teacher quality. Much has been said about the relationship of the quality of teachers and the quality of education. The first step is to change the way teachers are trained for this profession. Those who wish to be teachers will need at least a bachelor’s degree in the subject area in which they want to teach and teacher training programs will be done at the graduate level. Those who wish to be considered for a slot in a teacher training program must have above a 3.0 GPA in coursework in their major, pass a rigorous state teacher entrance examination, go before a review panel to include a school administrator to determine a candidate’s fitness and desire to teach, take rigorous coursework in the art of teaching, student teach under the guidance of a master teacher for one year. 
  2. Improving teacher compensation: Teachers in our state will become among the best compensated in the world in order to attract quality candidates for our new teacher training but also keep them in our classrooms for years. Teachers who teach in our lowest performing schools will be given bonuses provided student achievement is improved. It was pointed out our teachers were among the lowest paid in the country and did not even make half of what other professionals with similar education credentials made on average. 
  3. Treat our teachers like professionals: This means not only means having the rights of being treated like a professional but also the responsibilities. Teachers will be expected to work together to improve their students. Also, teachers will be expected to determine what staff development is needed to help them achieve their educational goals set for their students and implement those techniques in the classroom. While teachers will be given curriculum guidelines from the state, the teacher may use whatever means he or she believes will accomplish objectives. While this may mean longer work hours teachers will now be compensated at a level that expects them to do what it takes to accomplish educational goals.
  4. School governance: First our schools will be controlled by the state department of education. They will be the entity responsible for setting curriculum standards, funding schools on a needs basis, assigning teachers and administrators to schools that match their talents to the needs of the school. This means taking power away from our local school districts and even county councils but I believe this would streamline many school functions which would help save money in the long-term that can be put back into the classrooms. Also, the state can better allocate money to schools who are struggling instead of local boards who may not have the tax base to adequately fund their schools. Counties can form advisory groups that can send recommendations to the State Superintendent of Education but will have no governing role in schools. While parents are still encouraged to engage in their children’s schools they can contact regional education offices if they have any problems. 
  5. No Child Left Behind: The State Department of Education will refuse any money from the United States Federal Government that have any restrictions the State Superintendent believes will interfere with the education of our students. While I have directed that our department of education follow all civil rights and special education needs guidelines set by the U.S. Government, we will not participate in mandatory testing stipulated under No Child Left Behind regulations. I believe that mandated high stakes testing of our children every year was one of the reasons our educational system was deemed inadaquet and I am prepared to replace funds lost by not complying with No Child Left Behind. Teachers will be expected to use diagnostic testing such as Measures of Academic Progress or other means of testing to help determine what individual children need. However, there will only be two test this state will require students to take. The first test will be given at the end of the eight grade to determine where individual students will go to further their education. Students who score high on these tests and show aptitude will be sent to academic high schools where they will be given coursework to prepare them for college and higher study. Other students will be sent to comprehensive high schools where they will learn vocational skills that will prepare them for work after high school, the military, or entrance into a technical college for further study in their vocational field. Later, these students will be expected to do work-study programs in which students will do coursework then go to work in businesses to gain valuable work experience. It was determined that this method actually lowered the number of school dropouts and reduced discipline problems because students now have incentives to work hard in school to achieve their academic and career goals. Our schools will provide a well trained workforce demanded by the businesses of our states. The final measurement will be a report all high schools will do on their students for up to five years after graduation. Things measured will be college or vocational college graduation rates, are former students employed in the vocation trained, how well are former students doing in the military. These reports will be used to not only measure the overall effectiveness of schools but determine if schools are meeting the specific needs or local businesses, colleges, and the military.
  6. Given the need to raise teacher compensation and the probable lose of federal money, revenue sources will be needed to fund this ambitious program. I have worked with businesses who have agreed to a raise in their taxes on profits. In return, state businesses will have direct input on skills and curriculum that need to be taught that will help them be competitive in a global market place and helps them lower their training costs. Also, businesses in this state will be given first opportunity to recruit top students whether it is in our high schools or state-supported colleges. This would be a win for our state because it keeps our best people at home. 
  7. Our state will continue to benchmark with school systems around the world. We will also continue to learn what school systems that are better than ours are doing to see if we can adopt it for our state to make it the best school system in the nation. When our goals are met, we be a state businesses around the world will want to come to.

The proposals I have just presented will not be easy, cheap, or quick in improving our school system but I am sure will bring the improvements we need as opposed to the measures that have been offered before. In the countries we studied, none did high-stakes testing like we do, treat our teachers the way we do, offer vouchers or charter schools like those that have been proposed. I do not want to have the discussions I had with the three businesses we lost anymore. To do that we need to consider education in this state an investment in our future instead of a short-term cost to be cut. I am reminded of how Ancient China determined one day that there can be nothing new learned and closed its doors as well as its minds. Then one day China paid the price as other countries used technologies invented by the Chinese but improved to virtually enslave it. Let use not become like Ancient China and close our minds as the rest of the world takes away our future. Thank you.

What is a 12 Year Old to Do?

Is Anybody Home? Free Girl Looking in Window Creative Commonsphoto © 2006 D. Sharon Pruitt | more info (via: Wylio)
Earlier this week Miguel Guhlin shared on his blog this question: Is it ethical for a teacher to have a student lie about his or her age when signing up for a website? My first thought is why not? The 13 year old age restriction before being allowed to sign up for a site is almost the Internet version of removing a mattress tag or maybe following the 55 mile per hour speed limits on Interstate Highways. Yes, its the law but is it really strictly enforced? The age restriction was placed by the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 otherwise known as COPA. This federal law says that websites cannot collect information on children under the age of 13 without parental consent. This law also says that children under the age of 13 cannot be marketed to via electronic means such as email. Instead of taking measures to protect children and obtain parental permission, most sites just forbid children under the age of 13 from signing up for a service as part of the terms of service. If a child is found to have violated the terms of service by signing up then the company will terminate the account. The purpose of the law was not to prevent children from signing up for websites or email, it was to prevent information to be collected and used to market to children. However, most people interpret the law that signing up a child without parent permission or violating the terms of service is illegal. Not true.

Now back to the original question, is it unethical for a teacher to get a child to lie about their age to sign up for a website? Yes. However, do we as teachers do unethical things to get our jobs done? All the time. One of my grad school professors said that "teachers need to be great thieves." We usually have to do unethical things all the time to get our job done. Is it ethical to ask parents to bring in tissues, hand sanitizer, and other items on a supply list because the school does not have the budget to provide those items? We would be upset if we went to have surgery and the surgeon told us that we needed to bring the surgical instruments? Still could we be held accountable and risk our professional career if we had a student sign up for a site against a parent's wishes? Yes again. This is why I always recommend that teachers inform parents about what they plan to do using the Internet. My students have to have an acceptable user policy (AUP) signed by themselves and their parents. If a parent does not wish for their child to participate in an activity then I have to find an alternative assignment. Does that cover me ethically? I think so because I made a reasonable effort to inform parents of my intentions but others may disagree. In may way of thinking, in order to teach students how to use the Internet safely, students need to use the Internet.

However, Miguel's post and discussions gave me pause and food for thought. Where are websites that are appropriate for children under 13 years old that can be used in schools for educational purposes. Sadly, I could not think of one so I created one but I need your help. I created a wiki called Sites for Younger Students where we can enter links to websites that are appropriate for younger children. Anyone can edit the page but I do ask that you enter the link and give a brief description of what the site does. Please make sure the sites are educational or can be used for an educational purposes. Also, please share the link to this wiki because I am sure there are many elementary and middle school teachers looking for sites that can be used in their classes. Thank you for helping out with this project because working together we can help all children.

Update: Miguel updated his discussion with some useful information. You can read it here.

Woody Rant: Phone Mounts

Okay, I can't take it anymore. One of the things pundits, "experts", and even my own friends said when Cisco decided to kill my beloved Flip camera line was "people are starting to use their phones to create video." I can understand that logic up to a point. Even I reach for my phone more often than not to take pictures or videos. Television shows show people grabbing their phones to record some fight or other altercation. The video camera on my Motorola Atrix is better than my Flip camcorder because the Atrix can shoot in HD. Big woop! I sometimes shooting HD at the consumer/amateur level is overblown anyway. Do you all want all of your flaws shown in glorious color? Didn't think so. A television news reporter I know almost broke into tears when I announced I could now see her show in 42 inches of High Definition glory and she preps for looking good on television everyday.

Alright, if phones are the new recorders of our lives then where are the accessories that help do the job? Mainly tripod mounts. The pickings are pretty slim. Amazon has a few that supposedly fit the iPhone 3GS or iPhone 4. That's it. David Warlick once observed that in the future, people will think we only have one arm because the other one is working the phone/camera. I say another question future historians pouring over Facebook pages will have is did these people never have any fun? They are never in the pictures uploaded on the ancient social network site. On second thought this might be a good thing depending on what is going on.

If phones are supposed to function as cameras then they need the accessories to help with the task. I tried to interview someone with my phone once and it was not a pleasant experience. My arms ached because I had to hold them still for so long. Naturally, the video was jerky because I could not hold the camera still. A tripod is designed to cure that. So all I am asking for is a decent tripod mount so I can shoot some decent 720p HD video with my phone. Hey people is that so hard!?

Google+ School Equals?

Image from GoogleGoogle+ has captured the attention and curiosity of many people around the world. This is Google's latest attempt at creating a social network to compete with both Facebook and Twitter. Google+ is currently in a beta test right now and it is a real beta test because invitations are needed to create Google+ accounts at this time (we all know Google never releases a product out of beta). I was fortunate enough to receive an invite from an EdTech friend who likes to use me as her personal guinea pig which I usually don't mind. The concept is basically like both Facebook and Twitter, just enter whatever you want to share with your network. This can be links to articles to ever popular what you had for lunch on a given day. Right away the big difference is you can direct your message whatever group or circle you wish to see it. Circles are groups of friends, followers, or whatever you call the people you share your life with online. I like the circle concept Google uses because circles can be created for whatever purpose you need. For example, everyone has a everyone and public circle. Along with those circles I also have Acquaintances, Friends, Ed Tech, Family, and Work circles. Whenever you wish to add someone in Google+ you can just drop them into whatever circles you wish him or her to be in.. Then when you post a message just choose the circle who gets the message. Sounds like a social networking teacher's dream right?

Not so fast. While I do have segregated circles involving a Personal Learning Network (PLN) and teachers I work with, I don't think you will be seeing a student circle anytime soon in my group of circles. While the privacy settings on Google+ look a lot better and simpler than on Facebook, I am still not trusting Google totally yet. Also, While your messages might be delivered to select groups which would not include students, what about their messages? Until they learn about what information should be shared and to whom you will might get blasted with student messages including some inappropriate ones. Of course, you might let a message slip through as well. I still like that high wall that separates me from my students online and I don't think the circles are a high enough wall. Finally, what about turning-in assignments? Yes, you can chat on Google+. Yes, you can exchange links to website too. Yes, you can even post assignments on Google+. However, you really should not post a grade on it or discuss the work on the site and I would think having to search for each student to send a message would become tiresome. While schools and their media centers can use this effectively, I think teachers should stick to learning social networks such as Edmodo or Schoology for the time being.

Personally, I am excited about Google+ and the promise it has as a social network. It will be great for PLN's. Will it be the Facebook "killer"? Not anytime soon. However, Twitter is the social network that should worry. Google+ does not have the same restrictions Twitter has on space. You can insert a link and know where it is going which beats just looking at those URL shorteners which are handy but potentially dangerous since you don't really know where the link will take you or what it can do to your computer. Big pluses in my book. I also, hope some of the collaboration tools from the defunct Google Wave will make it to Google+ to turn a potentially great communication application into a great collaboration application as well. If you wish to join one of my circles just look me or up.

New Course Questions

I have spent just about everyday of my so-called summer vacation working or at least thinking about how our school's new Computer Tech 7, the seventh grade course, is going to look (at least for the first semester). Last year we decided to put Computer Tech 7 on the back burner and just teach Computer Tech 6, the course for sixth graders. The reasons for this move were:

    •    It allowed us to develop one course at a time.
    •    All students had a course of basics from which to start with and grow from there.
    •    Gave us a chance to see what technology would and would not work in relation to computers and the district network.
    •    I really wanted to procrastinate on the Computer Tech 7 subject.

The principal was reluctant at first but I was able to win him over and bought myself some time which I wisely used tweaking the Computer Tech 6 course. When summer came I knew I had to stop procrasinating and get to work on Computer Tech 7 and I have. So far the course is going to be split into four main areas of concentration: Cybersafety, Online Media and Presentations, Web Presence, and Computer and Application Programing. Another piece of the puzzle is animation and I will get to that shortly. As i have been jotting notes down and evaluating various applications I wish to use, there are many questions that still need answering. Here are my main ones:

    •    What should I do about email addresses? Most of the applications I wish students to use in Computer Tech 7 require email addresses to sign-up for accounts. While most of my students already have an email address there are those few who have not signed up for one. Should I make having an email address a prerequiesite for the course? Should students have to go outside of school to obtain either a Gmail or Yahoo account. Should students sign-up for application accounts outside of school because sometimes checking email is required and something students cannot do. Is there a service that could help me circumvent this dilema and not get me fired?
    •    Should Computer Tech 7 (and even Computer Tech 6) become flipped classes? Last year I taught a couple of sections blogging via some videos I created out of necessity. Little did I know I had flipped my classroom. As I was watching what was happening at ISTE 2011 on Twitter, I kept seeing mentions of Flipped Classes. This new way of education has the teacher automating or videoing mundane tasks such as lectures. Students are expected to watch these videos at home and take notes on what they saw. Application practice and homework would actually be done in the classroom where the teacher can give more individualized attention to those students who need it since time is not taken doing a lecture. it is an interesting concept but i wonder how well this can work in reality. When I did the blogging lesson it worked surprisingly well. I am willing to give it a try this year but I have another teacher to think about who might not be so willing to try flipping his class. Will he be able to pull it off?
    •    What should students use to blog? My students will be continuing to research and write. That will never change as long as I have a say in the matter. It is the method of delivery that I am thinking about. Should I continue using Kidblog which is more like a traditional blog or should I just have students write in Edmodo. The reason this is becoming an issue is I found out Kidblog is not the independent blogging platform I thought it would be. Students blogs have to be organized into classes and while the blogs can be transffered it is not an easy task. Especially when talking about 240 students and some of the students were not in my class last year. Students should remember their Edmodo logins (yeah right, good luck with that one). All is needed is the new student code. Also, do students really need to learn to use a Word Press engine blog?
    •    What web presence should students create for themselves? Right now most of the students have a Edmodo account but is a learning social network enough? I believe students should have a central location they can have links to their work so they have an online digital portfolio that can be shared when needed. I have tried Wikispaces in the past but there were problems because students accidentally did edits on other pages. This was quickly taken care of but it took away instructional time. Google Sites looks interesting but again I am running into the email problem. Other options is PBWorks but email requirements will be a problem too. I am still looking for other solutions.

I am sure other questions an problems will come up during the first semester Computer Tech 7 is taught but like Computer Tech 6, they will be addressed in the second semester. If any of you readers have any suggestions, especially about the email problem, I am all ears.

Confession of a Nookaholic

Hi, I'm John! Hi John! I am a Nookaholic and have been since February of 2010. My story starts with my desire to try out an eReader with my choices being the Amazon Kindle and the new Barnes and Noble Nook. I selected the Nook because of the touch screen and value-added features such as Free books on Fridays, Read-in-Store, and in-store deals. My new Nook became what I thought was a friend when I had to spend long hours in the hospital with father-in-law before he passed away and later with my wife's surgeries. Many genres such as technology, business, economics, mysteries, politics, science fiction, fantasy, classics, and history flashed on that eInk screen. My Nook was a constant companion in my various adventures. The WiFi and 3G connections helped satisfy my cravings for new reading material no matter if I was at home, a relative's, or a hotel.

Little did I know when Barnes and Noble announced the Nook Color last fall I would be plucking down my credit card on not one but two of those eReaders. One was for my wife and the other for my son. Both wanted to be able to read books but also do some light Internet surfing and the Nook Color filled the bill. My wife got to read her favorite author, Patricia Cornwell, and catch up with family and friends via Facebook. Unfortunately for me, she also learned how to show for goods other than books on the device. My son got to read some of the books he needed for school and surf the net with his Nook Color. I just downloaded his summer reading titles he better start reading. Hopefully, he will use the highlighting and note taking functions so he can be ready when school starts back in August.  I thought it was rather funny, maybe even cute that every member of my family had their own Nook eReader. Little did I know I had a problem.

I hit my bottom and was forced to admit to a problem this past May. As I was reading some books on education, I wanted to do some highlighting and note taking when I noticed I was not happy with the experience. I had to use directional arrows to highlight passages on my Nook. This quickly became an unpleasant chore and I gave up on the endeavor. Then I started looking at my wife's Nook Color with jealous envy. The ability to just touch the screen to highlight a passage and the better touch keyboard mocked me and made me feel inadequate. I began to wonder if I should go ahead and get my own Nook Color. It was like a siren song beckoning me to financial ruin but I could not resist its call. Then Barnes and Noble added to my torment by announcing the new Nook Touch or Nook 2nd Edition. A simple, eInk reader with a touch screen interface much like the Nook Color. However, this new Nook did not have the ability to surf the Internet or download apps like its colorized sibling. Actually, I did not need these features. I just wanted a simple eReader that was smaller, lighter, and was easier to highlight text. How did Barnes and Noble crawl into my mind and design such a device?! Before I knew it I was on the Barnes and Noble site with credit card in hand. My hands shook and sweat poured from my body as I quickly selected express shipping. Sleepless nights came and went as I eagerly awaited the arrival. As my son and I returned home from school one day I noticed a package by the front door of my house. My son noticed it too and we both sprinted for it. Shamelessly, I body checked my son into the bushes in front of the house and quickly grabbed up my prize. I locked myself into my room and hungrily tore open the packaging. There it was in all its glory, my new Nook eReader. My fix at last.

My new Nook has been a constant companion like my old friend. I think about how Theodore Roosevelt always had a book with him wherever he went and I am sure he would have worn out many more Nooks than I have. The features I wanted are all there. It is very light. It is so small I can put it into my pocket sometimes. The interface is simple and works fast. Finally, I can easily hightlight text on the device. The only complaint I have is that the time is not displayed on the screen as you are reading like the other Nook devices. This should be taken care of with a simple software fix. It would also be nice if it had a sudoku game too but I am satisfied for now. Satisfied until a new Nook is announced and the hunger grows again. Then again, is an addiction to reading such a terrible thing?

Thoughts from the Upstate Technology Conference 2011

The 2011 edition of the Upstate Technology Conference just wrapped up for another year. UTC has become one of my favorite conferences because of the quality of the sessions and keynotes. This is the result of the hard work of the Instructional Technology Staff of the Greenville County School District. Not is this hard work done to provide quality educational technology training for Greenville teachers, they also invite anyone to attend free of charge. Those Greenville folks know how to share and collaborate!

I was fortunate enough to give two presentations. One was on using mobile devices in the classroom and the other was on using Edmodo to communicate with my students. In the session on mobile devices there was some great discussion among the participants. It surprised me that the group mostly accepted the fact that technology is becoming more mobile and it will filter into the classroom soon. The biggest discussion was around how to do manage students to make sure they stay on task. There was agreement with the analogy of when paper was introduced to students to use there was some resistance by teachers who feared there would be doodling and note passing going on. We don't see spiral notebooks be taken away and teachers have developed classroom management techniques to combat these problems but it has not gone away. Students texting each other just presents new challenges in classroom management but this group seemed up to the challenge. The group also thought about ways to incorporate the mobile devices and agreed that school-funded 1:1 initiatives will never happen. Parents are going to have to pony up the money. As far as Edmodo was concerned, this group was very accepting and liked the idea of a way to interact with their students online in a variety of ways safely.

When I was not giving presentations I was attending some to see what others are doing. With the large list of opportunities it was difficult to choose six to sit in on. One thing the planners of UTC did was to bring in some fresh ideas. While podcasting is a great classroom tool, do we need more of it? Sprint had an interesting idea of managing content with the Sprint ID Pack which allows IT managers to select which apps will be allowed for a business or school. This will need work if students are allowed to bring their own mobile devices but it is a start. The next session allowed me to see an application I am considering for Computer Tech 7 at Bluffton Middle School, goAnimate4Schools. It was good to hear how a teacher in Greenwood, SC used this application with her students. A session of some web applications stimulated my thinking towards looking at some more offerings for my Computer Tech 7 class. This might become a two-year class with all of the possibilities. I gave some time to the historian in me as I learned about the Library of Congress's program to video interviews America's war veterans to get their authentic story. I love researching primary resources in history and this would be a way to engage student to help create those sources for future generations. Finally, my good friend Shirley Smith reported on South Carolina's e-Textbook experiment. She brought two participating teacher from the project to tell their story. One had netbooks and the other had iPads with textbooks loaded on them. One thing that stuck out was that the teachers really did not need the textbooks when they had other resources at hand. While did not go to the session on QR Codes, from what I hear they may be over used by teachers. Turing-in homework assignments as QR Codes? Really?

I still have a lot to digest from the two days at UTC and will over the summer. I am also looking forward to next year as I get to always see old friends and make new ones. Thanks Greenville for your hard work!

Gadget Updates

Barnes and Noble announced a way for my to hand over $139 gladly for a new touch screen Nook. Yes, I already have the original Nook and each of the other members of my immediate family have Nook Colors. Why do I need another Nook? The biggest reason is the ability to highlight passages of text with the swipe of my finger. The other day I was reading a book on my original Nook in which I wanted to highlight some passages and take a few notes. While it can be done on my eReader, it is a real pain. I had to use arrows to scroll to the start of the passage, start the highlighting, scroll to the end of the passage using the same arrows. After attempting this a few times I gave up because it was too time consuming! The size (6 inches) and the batter life (up to two months) are appealing as well. This Nook does not have apps but will have all of the magazines in the store. Also, it is a WiFi only device. The eReaders will be due out June 10 although you can pre-order yours now on Barnes and Noble's website.

Another of my favorite devices, Livescribe, announced Livescribe Connect recently. The free Connect Basic allows users to send notes and audio done by the Echo or Pulse pens to MyLivescribe, Facebook, Evernote, and mobile connectors. Connect Premium allows users access to Connect Basic features along with uploading notes and audio to email and Google Docs. 4GB and 8GB Echo users can download Connect Premium for free while all other Livescribe smartpen users can download the service for $14.99. Thank goodness this did not require a new pen to purchase. The ability to send notes and audio to Livescribe and Google Docs can be useful in a variety of ways. However, you probably will not see me sending Livescribe pencasts to Facebook unless there is no other way. If you have ever seen my hand writing you will totally understand why.

Photo of Nook: Barnes and Noble

Photo of Livescribe Pulse Pen: Livescribe


Research Assistant on the Go

Doing researchphoto © 2006 View D'World | more info (via: Wylio)

Recently I wrote a post about Easy Bib and how it can help with research projects. One of the things I said Easy Bib needed was mobile apps. Well I guess they listened because today Easy Bib announced a iOS app that can be downloaded for free on the iTunes App Store. All the user has to do to create a MLA, APA, or Chicago style citation entry is scan the barcode or typing the title of a book then presto, you have a properly formatted citation. Once you have your citation you can email it or export it to the Easy Bib site. This should be a welcome addition for researchers who don't want to lug around a laptop everywhere. Now if they could get that Android app out.

Should schools privatize technology?

Disagreementphoto © 2011 Michael Coghlan | more info (via: Wylio)
The annual Beaufort County Budget War is about to begin and this year's battle looks to be a near fight to the death if you believe the political rhetoric that is flying around the press and local blogs. Each year the school district has to submit its budget for the coming fiscal year to the Beaufort County Council for its approval. It seems the councilmen and women always kick the buget back to the school board with two words in big bold red letters: CUT IT! Despite the rhetoric, a compromise that will please no one will eventually be reached because both groups of politicians don't want to actually kill public education with an election year coming up. However, the reality is that school districts do need to look at what they need to fund and possibly cut. One thing that has not been mentioned too much, yet, is technology. There is a lot of people screaming that schools should be privatize, which would be a mistake, so they could run more efficiently. South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley wants to privatize school buses, another mistake based on my experience as a soccer coach. So why not get schools out of the technology business? How could education technology be privatized so school districts can save a few bucks?

  1. Take Google up on their offer for Chrome netbooks: Google wants to get their new cloud-based Cr48: Disabling boot verificationphoto © 2010 Jamal Fanaian | more info (via: Wylio)
    operating system into the mainstream by offering schools a sweet deal. For $20 monthly subscription, each student would receive his or her own netbook running the Chrome operating system with all of the software added on. Even better, the subscription also includes all hardware and software upgrades. With this deal you could possibly cut down your Instructional Technology staff and forget having to purchase software such as Microsoft Office per user. There are potential savings of thousands of dollars there alone. Would schools be willing to switch to Google Docs and other cloud-based applications? Some computers would be needed to do tasks such as MAP testing or other assessments. However, if schools actually jump on these deals the NWEA would migrate over to Chrome just to keep its customers. The school wireless network would also have to be maintained or even strengthened because if it goes down the netbooks don't work.
  2. Cloud-based applications: If schools don't want to get into bed with Google totally they could keep their computers and just go with the cloud-based applications. The savings would be in software alone because the computers would need people to service them as in-house or contracted technology staff. Also, networks would need to be larger to allow the machines to work or at least go to the Internet for the applications.
  3. Open-source: Similar to cloud-based because it can be had for next to nothing. Even the operating system, Linux would be open-sourced. While this sounds good on paper, it can be a nightmare trying to support on network systems. I have seen one open-sourced software disappoint students when they tried to run it on the network system. Flashing screens come up as the computer crashes. This would require more staff to service and maintain the network and we are not talking security issues here.
  4. Parents provide the equipment: Maybe it is time for schools to tell parents they may have to purchase either computers or mobile devices and let the schools save those hardware and software costs. All the schools have to provide is the Internet as they would in the Google Chrome deal. Actually, schools could entice AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint to put up towers near the schools so the devices could receive a 3G or 4G signal and schools don't need the Internet that much. Just a small network for services. Of course the telcos would have to have an education plan for all that data being iPhone 4 Bumper + Universal Dock w/o Adapterphoto © 2010 Yutaka Tsutano | more info (via: Wylio)
    used. or they could setup wifi hotspots. All maintenance would be the responsibility of the parents who would make sure their children take care of those expensive devices. All the schools would do is require hardware and software standards each student brings whether it is tablets or netbooks. Schools could just upload textbooks so students would have them. The textbooks would delete themselves at the end of the school year. Some might say classroom management would be a nightmare.

Well here are some options for Instructional Technology to do its part for cutting school budgets while providing quality education experiences for students. While some of these ideas might work, each one is not a magic bullet to save education. Would schools be better off passing technology to outside parties? If you have any other ideas to save money through technology I am all ears.

The Burden of Higher Education on Students (Infographic) shared this infographic that shows both the rising cost of a college education and the rising amount of debt college graduates have when they graduate. However, students are willing to take on this debt because they still believe a college education is the path to better paying jobs in the long-term. Fortunately, this faith the students have is well founded even if it may take a little longer to get there after paying off those college loans.

Another interesting detail is that most college students are borrowing money and/or working to pay for college. I worked nights in a hospital to pay for my college education but needed loans for my masters degree and will probably have to do both whenever I decide to get that doctorate I have been squawking about for years. Why has it not happened yet? I have a high school sophomore and my family will have to be making these financial decisions and on a teacher's salary that won't be easy.

Student Finances: Young, Broke and Determined
Courtesy of:

How well is your state treating you (infographic)?

The folks at Certification Map created this infographic in their blog about the how much states have cut their education budgets in the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years along with its impact in certain states. It is interesting that five states (including my native South Carolina) cut their education budgets by more than 10% in and 13 others made some form of education budget cuts in 2008-2009. That number jumped to 14 in and all but nine states made some form of education budget cuts in 2009-2010. Certification Map claims that states have cut over $15 billion 2010 from 2009. It will be interesting to see how much more will be cut in 2010-2011.


Teacher Certification
Brought to you by Teacher Certification Map and MAT@USC | Masters of Education


Let the Gamification Begin


photo © 2009 Erin! Nekervis | more info (via: Wylio)
A few years and a few less pounds ago I belonged to a gym that had, what I thought, was a brilliant way to get people motivated to come to the gym and exercise more. The gym sponsored contests which had members do various tasks in the gym for some kind of reward. One example had members keep track of the number of minutes they exercised. Once a member reached a required number of minutes they were given a t-shirt. Another contest tracked the number of miles a member walked, ran, elipitaclled (okay, I made this word up), or biked. The member was given a toy car he or she moved from Bluffton to some destination with those arriving alive also receiving a t-shirt. Along with myself, many other members killed themselves in that gym not to get fit and healthy but to get the blasted t-shirt. Those shirts became badges of pride by those who put forth the blood, sweat, and tears required to get the reward. Instead of becoming fit, what happened is gym members were motivated by receiving the t-shirt reward. The term for this is gamification which is defined as "the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications". Gamification is being used more in the tech world as a way to attract people to websites to achieve multiple hits on the page. This is usually done as a marketing tool or a way to attract "eyeballs" to advertisements to a site.

I got to wondering if gamification would work for education on a large scale. The economist in me says that people do respond to incentives. Instead of grades, students who achieved certain levels of mastery or proficiency would earn rewards which would be tracked. Achieve mastery in all the levels of a unit then a larger reward is given. Achieve mastery in a number of levels of unit mastery then receives a larger reward. I have seen teachers do something similar with something as simple as candy (much to the chargrin of teachers who later greet students hyped up on sugar). Our school is trying disciplinary measures which students collect points or signatures based on behaviors such as doing classwork, meeting dress code, and behaving in class. Those students who receive the required number of points or signatures are eligible for priviliges, participation in special activities, allowed to go on field trips, etc....There are also negative rewards such as demerits which punishes those who score too high on total board. In the movie Freakonomics, at risk students at a Chicago area high school were paid for good grades each quarter with a bonus given to a student who won a lottery at the end of the school year. Unfortunately, grades did not go up overall but was there too much time between pay days? I wonder what would happen if students were paid every week or every other week?

Would students, conditioned to working toward a goal by demonstrating prior knowledge or performing learned tasks to get an instant reward when they play their video games, do the same if given similar instant rewards for learning in school? I have heard this argued at conferences and in blogs or articles. However, many students have told me school for them is boring because they are forced to sit down, be still, listen to someone attempt to give them knowledge that has no practical meaning for them because it will help them in some distant future they (and we) cannot comprehend. Given this uncertain outlook, is it any wonder students are not motivated? Perhaps educators should add gamification with its quick and relevant rewards for success to help motivate students to achieve more in the classroom. Why not get the local movie theater to give movie passes or a local restaurant give free meals to students who beat their targeted goals on Measures of Academic Performance or other test predictor assessments?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Nook Color Tablet?

Just a little while ago I recieved an email from Barnes and Noble saying the long awaited Nook Color App store is now ready. This is what I had been waiting for because it now unleashes some of the Android operating system on the Nook Color to give a tablet experience. I went over the the Nook Apps site to see what was in the initial offering. As to be expected, the offerings are rather slim but there are a few apps teachers should look at if they have the Nook Color or thinking about one. Here are some of the apps that caught my attention:


Word of the Day (Free): Could be a way to review vocabulary or pickout those great SAT words.

Study Droid ($2): Allows users to create flash cards on the web and study anywhere.

Miss Spell's Class ($1.99): another way to learn vocabulary from ($2.99): handy dictionary app never hurt anyone.

Math ($1.99): Basic math tutor.


Fliq Calendar and Fliq Notes (Free)

Quickoffice Pro (Unknown): Allows users to create and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files on the go.

Goodreads (Free): Possibly a great way to get kids to read. Users can keep track of what they read, give recommendations for books, form small book clubs, and more.

My6Sense (Free): Allows users to read their RSS and Social Media feeds on the go. Could be good for picking out those blogs and tweets that are valuable to class.


GoBeeChallenge (Free): Surprised this offering was not located in the learn section but looks like a great way to learn geography from the National Geographic.

Pulse News Reader (Free): Another blog reader which has a limit on the number of blogs one can subscribe to.


Drawing Pad ($1.99)

Tikatok (Free) Barnes and Noble is trying to hook budding young authors with their free app that allows kids to create and share books they create.

Matching Zoo ($1.99), My First Zoo ($.99), Animal Show ($1.99): Looks like some Nook Color App developers have a soft spot for animals. Should be good to teach students about the other creatures that inhabit the Earth with us.

Tap To Talk (Free): This could help ESOL and students learning to read.

There are other offerings such as language tutors available as well. If you did not see something you like, you could get the developer's kit and start programming your own apps. The Nook Color should give developers with an interest in education an interesting challenge to create apps that tap into the reader's abilities. I could see some interesting apps that could help students read better in the future. In the meantime enjoy Angry Birds.