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This weekend I went with our Cub Scout pack to the North Carolina Aquarium at Ft. Fisher near Wilmington.  We had the unique opportunity to spend time “Sleeping with the Fishes” without the threat of a mob boss making it a permanent arrangement.    I have to say, that this is one of those times when technology does not need to be the medium for learning.  I am sure that may be a shocking statement coming from one who spends his days and even his nights extolling the virtues of becoming technologiacally literate.  I am also a teacher and believe that the technology can’t replace some things, like the excitement of reaching out an touching nature.

We arrived on Friday night with our mostly 9 and 10 year old boys and a parent or two for each and got set up.  Sleeping on the floor, in a sleeping bag, on a cot or an air mattress in front of a soaring tank of fish is an experience I can’t put into words.  It is just something you need to experience.  Telling you that I looked up and saw a Sand Tiger Shark swim by as I lay on my cot is a far cry from actually being there and seeing it.  As well, waking up to see the sunrise slice through the tank and fish swimming through the light with flashes from their colorful scales just cannot be captured in a photo.  Let me emphasize that I am not a great photographer when fully awake so at first light–count your blessings I don’t attempt it and then share.  That would be seconds of your life you would never get back. 

Our 15 hour odessy began after setting up “camp” and moving to see a live box turtle, snakes, and an American Alligator named Dot.  Wonderful experiences for our boys to touch (carefully and gently) members of the animal kingdom that normally would either run away or attempt to make them a snack.   We handled various types of Shark jaws with teeth intact.  The Aquarium is anticipating their acceptance of a Megaladon Jaw complete with real and replica teeth.  Some of those teeth are as big as your face!

 

Beyond the presentations, the hands on with our friends from another kingdom (you may remember from science – kingdom, phylum, genus, species…..) there was some creative fun and culture in personalizing tee-shirts with fish printing.  I digress for a moment that in our Art program we have just added a new Macbook pro, scanner, digital cameras, Bamboo electronic tablet and software….lots of software.  I love that the art teachers have their own techology tools but allow me to implore: never abandon painting a fish (rubber or real) and printing it on a tee shirt.  Fish printing is an art form in Japan and it was so cool to see neon flounder or purple starfish painted creatively and then pressed carefully on a shirt by kids and adults alike.

 

After the fun of the evening, the tee shirts drying and all of us prepped for light’s out as the fishes “just keep swimming, just keep swimming, swimming, swimming….” we started drifting off to sleep….

The next morning  we arose, we shined, we saw fish and other wildlife once again.  The morning allowed us a private tour of the aquarium and more hands on experiences.  Below is one of my new favorite pictures.  Two kids sitting in a convex (or concave from the ‘inside the tank’ perspective) watching the fish in the tank and getting audibly excited as different and newly named friends swam on by. 

Look at that!

The tour was great.  The experience was great. I do believe that our scouts were enriched by the educational and fun experience.    The technology in this post?  I used my iPhone to take the pictures but was otherwise unplugged from the technology for that period of time.  I have documentation of the experience due to the technology I carry.  I can share that as I have done here.  I have memories of the experience that are uniquely my own and I am a better person for it.  I can say with some reasonable sureity that my wife and boys have their own views and experiences that add to their lives too. 

The point?  Sometimes, even for a technology centric person, it’s not about the technology.

As a parent I want the latest and most useful technology tools in the hands of my own kids.  As a student, I want it in my own hands.  As a district level administrator specializing in technology integration, I want it in the hands of the thousands of students and teachers and administrators I serve. 

The future of technology is not just the software, not just the hardware but is inclusive of the social network that uses it all.  Having an integrated tool that is mobile is a key in making it all work.

From a practical standpoint, and as a parent of kids who bring home (no kidding) 40lbs of books in a book bag each day, the idea of a single, lightweight, mobile and easily transportable device makes perfect sense.  If that device is connected socially; allows for input for notes, creation of documents, charts, pictures; carries the latest updatable information, it has hit the target squarely in the middle. 

Technology tends to get out to the masses and is used in business by those who figure it out long before it hits the classrooms.  This has to change. I have said for years that the last place to get the most up to date technology is a school setting.  By the time it gets there, it is no longer the latest or the greatest anything and our kids in school are shorted on that end. 

How great would it be if electronic text books came out before best sellers on an e-reader?  How awesome would it be if the first million Wii or X-Box Knect showed up in k-12 Gyms before the living rooms of the world?  How incredible would it be if a lightweight, touchscreen slate computer was issued the first days of school to each student and wireless was ubiquitous in each building rather than having to be tied to a wire? 

How can it influence the future?  If we take the use of technology tools as seriously as we take the ability to read, write, cipher and understand science and the world we live in, the influence is endless. The problem is the fear.  Not the fear kids have (they have little to none), the fear that some of our teachers and educational leaders have.  The lack of relevance that technology tools seem to have to them is amazing.  If once patiently embraced, I can see the future taking flight.

I can see it.  I can feel it.  I can almost touch it.  It is the future.

I wanted to repost this from last summer on my other Blog as I was thinking it is still relevant…

The NECC 09 conference has ended and this whole week has been an incredible read and great to follow online. I wasn’t able to attend, but with all the Twitporting going on, it was like being there. The statement that is the title of this post struck me first–and then many others bowled me over.

I read and re-read this Tweet on my smartphone over and over. I let it roll around in my head the last couple days and wanted to be somewhat coherent in my thoughts about a statement that has the potential to be very powerful.

As I read it once, I thought “content=curriculum and how does that become irrelevant?”

It doesn’t.

Curriculum doesn’t become irrelevant, it will always be there–it is the basis from which we teach. Curriculum may change, content may change, but it will not become “irrelevant.” In essence, it will take care of itself so perhaps it is not the thing we need to “worry” about.

The “process is the future” statement speaks volumes. Process by which we teach; process by which students learn; process by which students demonstrate understanding–there is the future.

In this web 2.0 world, those processes need to evolve much as the evolution has been from a single aristocratic student and his (purposeful) mentor evolved to classrooms and schools with teachers. Our processes need to evolve as tools have evolved from writing on the ground in the dirt to paper and pen to slates and chalk and eventually to our digital tools. How we as educators communicate with our students and they communicate with us is a process that we need to hone. What tools we use should become a part of our daily lives as it does for our students.

With that in mind, think about what tools there are to reach out to others educationally. Do you know? Do you want to know? What are your thoughts?

This was written by Andrew Churches of New Zealand recently and punctuates a point – 8 actually – about what we need to be doing as teachers in this age.  Realizing that many out there are not big on change; this is an era of change at an increasingly rapid pace.  As I have said before, information is the new currency.  Being a master of it or at least being a master of knowing how and where to get it is another key to success in this century. 

Orignially published in the NZ Interface Magazine (http://www.nz-interface.co.nz/articles.cfm?c_id=10&id=28)

What are the characteristics we would expect to see in a successful 21st century educator? Well, we know they are student-centric, holistic, and they’re teaching about how to learn as much as teaching about the subject area. We know, too, that they must be 21st century learners as well. But highly effective teachers in today’s classrooms are more than this – much more.

1. Adapting
Harnessed as we are to an assessment-focused education model, the 21st century educator must be able to adapt the curriculum and the requirements to teach to the curriculum in imaginative ways. They must also be able to adapt software and hardware designed for a business model into tools to be used by a variety of age groups and abilities. They must also be able to adapt to a dynamic teaching experience. When it all goes wrong in the middle of a class, when the technologies fail, the show must go on.

2. Being visionary
Imagination is a crucial component of the educator of today and tomorrow. They must look across the disciplines and through the curricula; they must see the potential in the emerging tools and Web technologies, grasp these and manipulate them to serve their needs. If we look at the technologies we currently see emerging, how many are developed for education? The visionary teacher can look at others’ ideas and envisage how they would use these in their class.

3. Collaborating
Blogging, Facebook, Google Docs, Wikispaces, Bebo, MSN, MySpace, Second life, Twitter, RSS – as an educator we must be able to leverage these collaborative tools to enhance and captivate our learners. We, too, must be collaborators; sharing, contributing, adapting and inventing.

4. Taking risks
There’s so much to learn. How can you as an educator know all these things? You must take risks and sometimes surrender yourself to the students’ knowledge. Have a vision of what you want and what the technology can achieve, identify the goals and facilitate the learning. Use the strengths of the digital natives to understand and navigate new products, have them teach each other. Trust your students.

5. Learning
We expect our students to be life-long learners. Teachers must continue to absorb experiences and knowledge, as well. We must endeavor to stay current. I wonder how many people are still using their lesson and unit plans from five years ago. To be a teacher, you must learn and adapt as the horizons and landscapes change.

6. Communicating
To have anywhere, anytime learning, the teacher must be anywhere and anytime. The 21st century teacher is fluent in tools and technologies that enable communication and collaboration. They go beyond learning just how to do it; they also know how to facilitate it, stimulate and control it, moderate and manage it.

7. Modeling behavior
There is an expectation that teachers will teach values, so we must model the behaviors that we expect from our students. We are often the most consistent part of their life, seeing them more often, for longer and more reliably than even their parents. The 21st century educator also models tolerance, global awareness, and reflective practice, whether it’s the quiet, personal inspection of their teaching and learning, or through blogs, twitter and other media, effective educators look both inwards and outwards.

8. Leading
Whether they are a champion of the process of ICT integration, a quiet technology coach, the 21st century educator is a leader. Like clear goals and objectives, leadership is crucial to the success or failure of any project.

I got an email from a friend asking me what I thought about the Kindle and the applications in education.  Actually, I was asked if I had one first and then the educational application.  I wanted one, especially the newer, larger version but I am holding off.

I think that (as much as some PC diehards don’t like Macs) the new iPad has greater potential than the Kindle. While I think the Kindle is an ideal reader, and it has established a high base line to achieve, It may be limited to just a reader. Certainly, it has the capability to highlight and take notes, but I am not sure of the expanded capabilities beyond that. As long as teachers are using it to have students read and prepare for a discussion, it can be good. I would love to get one in my hands and do a side by side comparison of what uses it would have in the classroom.

The iPad it seems will have expanded capability for other uses as well as regular internet connectivity. The downside is that (at this point) there is no plan to include any office type products. It will read Word docs, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets but lacks editing capability. However, with office as an online product in the cloud, that capability may exist without folks really knowing it. I think the iPad will have far greater capability than a kindle and it will have access to the Kindle software as well as library (there’s an app for that).

Kind of renders the Kindle a little less attractive.

Your thoughts?

21st Century or just Digital?

On vacation this week in Orlando and of course, this is near Tiger Woods home. Tiger has been THE story since the beginning of the month and along with that has been the controversy of “do we drop the Tiger association” by companies because of bad press?

So what does Tiger Woods and his issues have to do with education or technology much less the two put together? I know, taking advantage of the story of the moment…read on tech types.

Recently there has been some “less than favorable” press regarding the coalition for 21st century skills and if perhaps there might be some things that have not been above board. Say it’s not so! A group of individuals who form an organization that seeks to guide a common purpose and they come under scutiny with someone funding a fault. Hmmm. That’s unusual he write’s sarcastically.

I have been thinking about something however before the issue arose that something may be amiss at the organization. Do we really need to continue to call technologically filled classrooms “21st century classrooms” or the ability to use technologies “21st century skills” anymore? I am not trying to ditch the moniker at the first sign of trouble, we are after all 10 years into the 21st century.

Here’s my thought, rather than using the 21st century name as if it represents the Holy Grail of education, how about we just call them “digital classrooms” and/or “digital skills?” Maybe even “current” skills? Current might be reaching since the skill set required to be current changes so frequently that even digital native and Twittermaster Ashton Kutcher might not even be able to keep up.

I welcome your thoughts and hope all have a great holiday.

Mike

After my last post regarding something a bit more philosophical when it comes to a 21st Century Classroom, I thought about more of what it might look like–what it might physically look like.  I have actually been thinking about it for as long as I can remember.  I thought I might focus more on the tools and perhaps take it one at a time.

In a classroom that includes 21st Century tools (21C) computers or even netbooks would be obvious.  Whiteboards would be obvious. Data Projectors would be obvious.  Document cameras are becoming more obvious.  Digital still and video cameras (sometimes in the same piece of equipment) are obvious.  Important none-the-less, but still obvious pieces of 21C tools.  I want to get to those later. 

A year ago, I had the opportunity to put some less-than-conventional tech into classrooms in schools in my district.  I thought of our reading program that supports those who need a little extra help.  That program had been in place for years with the same teacher doing the same things year after year after year.  Nothing really wrong with the method, nothing really wrong with the teacher–she was very good at her job and did still make modest gains.  The issue was that the program was not forward thinking–it was not as engaging for the kids that teacher served.  I thought that this program didn’t need an overhaul, just some updating. 

With that in mind, I went for a couple items that I knew have value.  I turned to Leapfrog.  My now 3rd grade sons have had Leapsters since they were 3 years old.  This was probably the most valuable investment that we have made in a piece of technology for them.  They walked into Pre-K with the knowledge of letters, numbers, colors and shapes.  I credit the endless play on the leapster for a part of that.  It reinforced what we had been teaching them at home.  It was (is) engaging for them.  I ordered a set of 6 for the program with a multitude of cartridges. 

The second piece I came across was the TAG reading system.  This is a pen that connects to the computer, has software loaded into it for specific books and interacts with the special books that you can order to go with the program.  OK, so what is so special?  Students learn to read high interest reading material with a little bit of help at their own pace.  Kids use the pen with the loaded software for that book, as they read the story there are multiple methods of help.  Don’t know the word?  Touch it with the pen and HEAR it read to you. Can’t put together the words in the sentence?  Run the pen over the top of the entire sentence and HEAR it read it to you.  When kids have problems with phonics, this is the tool to assist.  I bought 10 pens and 10 sets of 8 books.  Our district’s Special Needs coordinator ordered 10 as well.  that program is flourishing under the tutelage of the teacher I selected to take over the program after the previous teacher retired.

The idea behind this was to “seed” a couple schools (of our 17) with something different.  To put out there some new tools that would engage kids to learning without really knowing that they are learning.  This is the difference in an updated classroom today.  Several years ago, Marc Prensky gave his talk about digital natives vs. digital immigrants and our kids (the natives) kept telling us and continue to tell us, “engage me or enrage me!”  Engagement is a key to these new classrooms and her are just two of the tools to get there. 

Have a great evening and I welcome your comments.

Mike

21st Century Classrooms

I had a great talk today with one of our school based Ed Techs regarding 21st century classrooms.  This school would like to set up a room that is the “model” to follow bringing teachers and students in to use the current technology for a lesson–cotaught with the ET.  The idea then is that the teacher returns to their own classroom with more confidence in using the technology.  I think there can be major agreement that kids don’t necessarily need confidence in using the technology, rather some of us do. 

A recent article in ASCD’s Educational Leadership entitled “The Principal as a Parachute” discussed how individuals who are true learners are not afraid to fail as they learn from their mistakes.  There are those of us (educators) out there who don’t take those risks as we want to be successful in our endevours.  This limits our growth.

As I digressed there for a moment, the point is that in order to develop 21st century classrooms, it will take more than tools to get us there–it will take risks by those who teach to get our kids there.

My question to you is, “what does a 21st century classroom look like?”

Have a good evening.

Mike

Getting Started (again…)

Here I go again. Starting a new Blog on a new service not because my former blog service was bad…no, I am a continuing victim of my iPhone addiction. WordPress has an app…so it makes it easier to blog on the go. and believe me, I am on the go….

Welcome to this new version of my Educator and Technologist view blog. As I work and serve others in my current position, I think it important not only to write about technology and education, but to listen as well to what others have to say about it. I do however, believe that if I am going to lead technology in my district, then I need to communicate as widely as I can with as much vigor as I can.

That being said, I am headed out the door. Welcome and feel free to drop a few words here.

Mike

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