Reflecting on Tech Integration


As most of you know, I am at a new school this year with a new twist on my former position. I still teach technology but now I have time to plan my lessons around what students are learning in the classroom. I did write a technology curriculum, but will only need to fall back on it when necessary. Instead, I have been reviewing the literacy and science curricula of my students and planning lessons that infuse technology into the concepts they are learning in the classroom.

As an example, my 2nd graders were focusing on synonyms and antonyms. Last week, we used PicLits to create pictures with synonyms. It was the first time they had ever used the computers in the lab, so the assignment was simple, but they did a wonderful job. First, we brainstormed synonyms of words and then they chose a group of synonyms to put on a picture of their choice.

You can see their work on our student work wiki.

Today, I will be pushing into a 6th grade class for a stream table lesson on erosion and landforms. The students will create streams and then create a birds-eye-view map of their stream, labeling areas like delta or canyon.  Tomorrow, they will come into the lab with their drawings and, working in their same small groups from the stream table lesson, they will use Google Maps in satellite view to find examples across the planet of various landforms. They will also have to explain how they think the landform was formed. These responses will be in the form of comments on our assignment page.

I will have the students take photos and video of the science lab today for use in making a documentary-style video about the experience.

Needless to say, it's exciting.
Read On

NBC Steals the Cake


I just watched NBC's Education Nation Teacher Town Hall and participated in an online Twitter conversation with the hashtag #educationnation.

I saw two tweets from friends that really caught my attention:


It is probably true that NBC will get all the attention for having brought together so many educators in one place while those of us who have been doing this for a year either through our use of Twitter or the weekly #edchat discussions

I guess my hope is that other teachers will see the value of conversations like these and join us.

The next step: action!
Read On

Sustainability and Gadgetry


Those who know me well know that I am a very deliberate and conscious about my impact on the environment. I eat mostly organic, I avoid processed foods, I never eat fast food, I buy as local as I can, I've been recycling since I was nine, which also the time around which I started cutting the soda can plastic rings to save ocean animals from strangulation (back then they still dumped garbage into the Hudson River).  I am part of a committee that is starting up a food co-op in my neighborhood so we can have access to local, sustainable and healthy food, I walk or take public transportation when I can, and ride my bike for farther away errands. I try to use as many biodegradable cleaning products as I can as well as recycled products, and I rarely buy packaged food to avoid throwing out too much trash.

Basically, I am an environmentally conscious person in almost every aspect of my life.

Except my 'gadgets.'

photo courtesy of NOAA
This epiphany came to me while I was reading an article in Newsweek about China's new initiative to start mining around deep sea vents. The article describes the unique ecosystems that thrive around these vents. 1,300 new species have been discovered in these ocean communities since 1977.  The vents, which spew seawater as hot as 750 degrees Fahrenheit, create massive mineral deposits. The seawater that leaves the magma under the ocean floor brings with it melted minerals that cool and harden as they hit the cold ocean water temperatures. One of these deposits, according to the article, is 600 feet across and 120 feet high. Inside these deposits are minerals and ores like copper, gold, silver, nickel and tellurium, which is used to make computers, CDs and DVDs.

As I read this, I began to think about all of my gadgets, my 2 laptops, my phone, and all of the processors that run nearly all electronics these days. In all of my attempts to be environmentally friendly and conscious, my gadgets are the one place I have been slacking.

I am pleased to know that my Macbook Pro is made of one piece of aluminum, but the processor and most of the parts inside are made in China. The last thing I want is for my love of gadgets and devices to cause the destruction of an ecosystem that is not only unique, but that also has provided microbes that enable DNA fingerprinting, and other biological compounds that could hold cures for diseases.

Right now, China is in the process of exploring these vents in the Indian Ocean near Madagascar.

But this is not the first time that a mineral found in our beloved devices has had negative implications on our planet.  In addition, the mineral coltan, which is in every cell phone on the planet, has caused political strife, corruption and deaths in the Congo, where it is mined. Some call coltan the new 'blood-diamond.'

Does this mean that we should ditch our devices?

We don't necessarily need to stop buying new computers and cell phones, but we DO need to be more conscious of where and how they are made. We should make sure that our old machines get recycled, and that these materials that are so costly to mine are reused.  We should also be making sure that we know where the parts of our devices come from. We should be pressuring companies to mine sustainably. I hope that, just like the consumer campaigns against Nike's sweatshops or against Congo's blood-diamonds, consumers will start demanding that their digital products contain sustainably mined minerals.

Australia, one of the places that coltan comes from has already moved in that direction. Check out the sustainable mining conference that happened just this summer.
Read On

Able to Leap Tall Buildings....and Save Education?


Tonight my feathers have been rustling over the soon to be released documentary, Waiting for SupermanBefore I go on, take a look at the trailer.

Okay, here we go. So when I first watched the trailer I immediately felt doom and gloom come swarming down from above.  I knew exactly where the movie was heading.  The long and short of it: "Education is broken. It needs to be fixed." But we all knew that anyway.  Sprinkle in some Michelle Ree, some Arne Duncan, some Geoffrey Canada and you've got all of the big names in school reform.  The problem? I assume that there's a lot of discussion about what's wrong and a lot of generic, crowd-pleasing rhetoric about how education needs to change. Kids don't have a chance when the teachers are incompetent and a child's only chance is to get into a lauded charter school like KIPP or The Harlem Children's Zone's Promise Academies.  Don't get me wrong, I think that the HCZ has done wonderful things and is a great initiative.  It's also funded largely by private donations.

I predict that teachers' unions will be blasted, that Randi Weingarten will be made to look like the devil and that there will be no concrete examples given of successful schools that are NOT charter schools.  I also predict that there will be a lot of talking heads and not a lot of actual teachers in the movie, further perpetuating the myth that we are stupid and don't know what we're doing.   There will definitely not be an appearance by Diane Ravitch.

I guess what worries me is that this movie is wonderful mid-term election fodder and it will stray the conversation from the real issues of ineffective government accountability policies, lack of funding and an overall lack of creative vision when it comes to education. In addition, I fear it will perpetuate the idea that the US is at 'war' with other countries to get back on top when it comes to education. If we are trying to 'win,' then, as described in a recent Newsweek article, The Creativity Crisis, we're not doing a very good job.
When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”
Everyone else in the world seems to have figured out that inquiry and problem-based learning creates a better learner and a better citizen.  Education is not a battlefield.  If we treat it like one, then yes, we will end up with the system we have today.  Or as Neil Postman spells out in Teaching as a Subversive Activity:
The institution we call “school” is what it is because we made it that way. If it is irrelevant...if it shields children from reality...if it educates for obsolescence...if it does not develop intelligence...if it avoids the promotion of significant learnings...if it induces alienation...if it punishes creativity and independence...if, in short, it is not doing what needs to be done, it can be changed; it must be changed.
 And that was in 1971.

So I hope that this movie will address the real issues. I hope that all of the rhetoric on the website about changing the education system and "demanding world class standards for all students" doesn't turn out to be a marketing ploy.  I definitely plan on making a point to see it as soon as it comes out.  If you do buy a ticket to see the movie, and you get a Donors Choose voucher, use it to help fund my project!  I do have to thank them for that.

For more commentary on the film, check out these posts:

An Inconvenient Superman by Rick Ayers
Waiting for Superman Sends Educators to Detention Hall by Bonnie Goldstein
Read On

Across Oceans and Across the Street


Tonight I hosted our biweekly committee meeting for the South Philly Food Co-op that myself and a small group of community members are working hard to open. There's something special and intimate about having a group of people who are not necessarily your friends, but with whom you share a connection, sitting in your living room.

Part of our efforts have included door-to-door surveying of neighbors and community members as well as participating in community events and speaking at civic association meetings. I have never learned so much about my neighbors or my community. In the process of finding neighbors to survey I officially met my neighbors two doors down whom I have been smiling and saying hello to for a year now.

Which got me thinking.

With all of the amazing opportunities that technology offers to open up our classroom walls and make global connections between students across oceans are we forgetting the importance of the community across the street?  Technology has the power to connect students with their neighbors and to become active members and participants in and spokespeople for their local communities.

So lets open our classroom walls to the world outside our window as well as the world beyond our reach.

Photo courtesy of Bill Gracey on Flickr
Read On

We Need Headphones!


So this post is a shameless plead for help.

For those of you who have been following me on Twitter for a while, you may know that I have started a new job at a charter school in North Philadelphia. The students have never had a technology teacher who taught more than keyboarding and the school is in the process of upgrading the technology in the school. We have a new Mac lab for the older students (3rd-6th grades) and an old Dell lab for the little ones (K-2nd grades). I am planning on introducing my students to multimedia projects as a way to show understanding and I know from experience that my little ones will need to spend some time navigating sites like Starfall to get used to using the computer.

However, the school did not have the funds to purchase headphones to go with the computers.

As a result, I can imagine 25 computers all spitting out various music, sound effects and other noises while my students work on videos, and I foresee podcasting as impossible.  The older lab's computers don't have external speakers, so my little ones who are beginning reading won't be able to listen to stories or directions on sites we will be using. As for providing my students with screencasts to help teach them how to use various applications or complete an activity, that will be totally out of the question, too.

I have begun to realize that in order to provide my students with the skills they will need to be successful as 21st Century learners, we need something as simple as headphones.

So PLEASE help us achieve that goal and allow us to complete exciting digital projects and build our literacy skills by donating whatever you can to our Donors Choose Project.  And of course, pass the project along to anyone you think might want to help!

Click here to view the project
Read On

Save Trees: Don't print me!