Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Think I Get It! Now, What to do About It!

I have been looking through my blogs and there is a common thread running through many of them. People in my PLN are upset with Obama's pick for Secretary of Education, but that's not what motivated me to jump in here. It is the discussion around that topic. The discussion of change.

We all know that change is very difficult for some and somewhat difficult for most. In the best of times when everyone appears to be moving forward change still comes slowly. This has always seemed to be true of education.

I think I might have stumbled upon the reason why this is so. It seems that the harder some of us try to move forward the more the system pushes us backwards. Most people are not aware of this and mistake the change backwards as real progress.

Let me explain this phenomenon as I see it. You see I have been working very hard to get teachers around my area to see that students have changed and that teachers must adapt to their electronic world. It's a connected world out there and our students understand that, at least they understand it on their turf and terms. So what have we done about this. We've tried to cut them off from their world and are trying desperately to keep them in ours.

I'll bet that almost every educator wants their students to become life long learners. We even know how to do that. Students who are self motivated do much better than most. It's really hard to keep someone uneducated when they really want to learn. However, we are doing our best to do just that.

I have always been told that tracking is a dirty word in education, yet we have created the biggest track of all by trying to convince all students that they must go to college. Take a look at our college drop out rates and you'll see that it just hasn't worked, but what k-12 educator feels responsible for that. Hey we graduated them and sent them on to college didn't we? We did our job! Really?

I believe our strength as a nation is our people and our creative genius. Some have called it good old Yankee Ingenuity. We are letting that slowly slip away as we teach to the standards and the tests. Why should our children be excited about school when they are practicing for the tests, reviewing for the tests, taking the tests, and then debriefing the test results, only to gear up for the next tests. I would bet that if we could some how create a test on test taking, our nation would be number one in the world. Hey, maybe then we would satisfy the people who think that student achievement is best measured with standardized tests. We could then just teach our students about test taking and get on with real education. Giving our students reasons to want to learn about everything again!

You see I think we are going backwards and the reason I am so frustrated sometimes is it's not just helping to steer people in the right direction but also getting them out of reverse first. Here's what Ira Socol said that put this into perspective for me,

"But in schools, we go backwards. We even declare it, saying, we're going "back"wards "to basics." When we let a few new things trickle in, we control them so fiercely that they change almost nothing. Rather than tearing down classroom walls our kids now spend more time in school and even take fewer field trips. Rather than alternative evaluations we now have standardized tests for all ages. Rather than project-based learning we now have Core Curriculum. Rather than social justice we have "zero tolerance." And rather than the freedom of mobiles in the classroom we have the coercive control of clickers. Rather than the freedom of the Internet we have filters and blocks. Rather than the interaction of messaging and blogs and Twitter and Skype we have rules against these technologies. Rather than pushing past Wikipedia and print-based knowledge design, we don't even allow Wikipedia in so that we can discover its limits. Rather than computers allowing for individualization, we "lock them down." We've stopped dreaming - unless we are dreaming of the Eisenhower Administration and pretending it was all things I am quite certain it was not. And since we've stopped dreaming, we've stopped progressing. We're so afraid these days. I never understood how Europeans just 'gave up on progress' when the Roman Empire fell, but now I do. We have done the same. Retreated to our dark, isolated classrooms, hiding from the world, hoping it all goes away."

This is what we are up against. I see that now. What to do about it is another thing altogether.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Students Blogging

My media class is about to begin their first blogging activity. This is not the first time I have done this with my media class. However this is the first time I am reaching out to the blogosphere for feed back. Please visit my student's pages and feel free to make comments. I know that they would be thrilled.

If you have a class that would like to participate in the discussion please do so. You can contact me at .

Here is the activity. I ask my students to give me their opinions to questions relating to the media. I conduct this activity over 5 or more weeks. Students are to formulate their opinions through research on the web. They must cite their sources in their post. They can use any form of source they wish. This could be text, pictures, audio, or video.

I usually will ask different questions based upon their responses. The conversation can go in just about any direction. It really depends upon their interests. Of course I keep it all media related.

I have found that I get more thought and more writing out of the students. I used to give this assignment as a research paper. Boy has this changed the outcome of what the students learn.

I hope we get some participation from many students and teachers. If you want to join in, or if you can't, please share our activity with a colleague.

The blog can be found at http://classblogmeister.com/blog.php?blogger_id=68130

Friday, November 28, 2008

Student Podcasts!

I have been reflecting lately on my digital destination due to this year's NYSCATE theme of "Discovering Your Digital Destination." I've been thinking about how much my personal learning has evolved and how much my teaching has changed. I've realized I owe it all to podcasting. Yes, podcasting.

I have met some fantastic people through the many podcasts I have produced. My PLN has grown in ways that were impossible only a few short years ago.

We were one of the first to use podcasting in eduaction and have been spreading the word since our first podcast nearly 3 tears ago. We have created a CD that outlined how to use podcasting in the classroom. We no longer have that available.

I have begun to write a book about student podcasts. I was inspired by David Warlick to do this. I do not consider myself a write so it should be interesting. I am going to try to self publish it online. It was through this self reflection and seeing where my journey has gone that gives me the confidence to try my hand at writing this book.

I will begin the process of asking my network for help with this endeavor. So, if you could tell me how you have used podcasting in your classroom or school I would really appreciate it. You can tell me stories of your experiences or even a colleague. I would be very interested in the information.

You can comment here or twitter me at mdionne. Here is a list of podcasts I am involved in.

The TechPodZone
Room 531
Hall Pass

Thanks so much for being part of my PLN.

Access Denied!

I recently gave a presentation at the annual NYSCATE conference. The topic was Personal Learning Networks. My discussion was more about what my PLN has done for me and my teaching and learning than about how to create and use a PLN. You can see my presentation at the NYSCATE Wiki. I used google docs for the slide show. I also tried to backchannel, but the wireless connection was not very good.

My partner could not make it this time. Rob Hansen tried to connect from home via Skype, but again the Internet connection did not work well enough for us to use it. I was disappointed about the lack of a good Internet connection. There were two activities that we could not demonstrate because of it.

During the conversation I realized a couple of things. One was that there are an awful lot of people who are seeing actual web 2.0 activities for the first time. The second thing I observed was that most people there were frustrated with their abilities to use these tools online because they are being blocked at school.

I see this as one of the major roadblocks if not the major roadblock that we face. Why? This is something that we can control. I do believe in some level of filtering, but not excessively. Especially when educational tools are blocked.

I attend several tech meetings during the school year with techies from all levels. So far the reasons that I am hearing for the excessive blocking are."That's my job", and "We need to protect the kids!". Once you get into a discussion with them you can tell that the real reason for this behavior is to protect their job. Why do we let this false sense of security trump our kids education?

There are some people who take this as a challenge. I believe there is more energy spent trying to stay ahead of the kids than there would be educating them. I think it is hypocritical of us as educators to out right ban the use of technology when we can educate the kids to use it appropriately. We believe kids can be taught higher order thinking, math, science, etc., but we can't teach them how to use the Internet appropriately?

Fear should not rule here. I think if you create a culture of trust you can get so much more from your students. Once students are taught how the technology should be used in schools they will for the most part behave accordingly. Yes, you can point to a few every now and then that will cross that line but then deal with it. Way to often we make blanket policies to deal with individual problems.

I believe you should trust, but verify. This actually takes less time than waiting and watching for violators. Some techies are proud to say that they beat the kids at their game. I wonder why you need to play the game at all!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Personal Learning Networks!

When I am asked, "How did you figure that one out?", I answer with "It's the network!" Now I don't have the large group of people to point to like the guy in the phone ad, but they're there.

Personal Learning Networks (PLN) have been around and discussed forever. People have coined many phrases to describe this concept. No matter what you call it, it's the social aspect that makes the network so valuable.

Our networks used to consist of mostly physical tangible resources and people. They consisted of our colleagues who were close at hand. In fact, our network was geographically centric. The closer the resource or person was to you the more you relied upon them. The only time your networked area grew was when you physically moved. Occasionally your network expanded for a brief moment when you used the phone. This was very rare because most classrooms did not have a phone and still do not.

Now your network is not bound by physical location or geographic area. We can work with anyone from anywhere. We just have to reach out. Whenever I do reach out I am astounded with the number of people willing to share.

I am presenting at NYSCATE, NY State's annual tech conference next week. My topic is PLN. I will be discussing the tools I have used and implemented in my classrooms. Here is a link to my presentation. I will post the entire presentation after November 25th.

However I would like to discuss some personal experiences I have had since I've jumped into the "Network".

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's been a Zillion Internet Years Since I Posted Last!

It's been a very busy year at school. I have talked with several colleagues and we all agree that this year seems to be more hectic than ever. It seems that my schedule doesn't allow for any disruptions. If one or more occur than my whole day is in chaos. I haven't had the time to read my blogs and write. Does anyone else feel this way?

As I prepare for my presentation at NYSCATE this year I am reminded to follow some of my own advice. One of the pieces of advice I will be presenting is to keep your blog roll down to a manageable number. Mine has over 40 blogs in it. Now I'm sure that is small compared to some.

So what did I do about it? I found myself with only enough time to actually keep up with 4 or 5 of the blogs. Then, along came Flock. A new web browser that bills itself as a social web browser. I really like Flock. It has a feed reader built in. I now have only 4 or 5 blogs in Flock that I read. The others are in Bloglines and I get to them when I have time.

I hope to keep this blog more up to date. You can also listen to my podcast over at Podcasternews. It's called Hallpass and I discuss technology tools that can be used in the classroom.

Well, got to go and discover what's new out there. Maybe I'll bump into you!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I was just inspired by our 8th grade class to create a post for my blog. Thank you kids!

About a week ago I was invited into our 8th grade English class to teach them how they could use a classroom blog. The teacher was so excited and immediately adapted a project for use with Class Blogmeister. I helped the teacher implement the program and showed the students how to use the blog.

Tonight I thought I would take a look at how they have progressed. Wow, am I impressed and inspired. This was the first time blogging for this teacher. I am impressed with how well they all have done with this tool.

If you haven't started blogging with your students you really need to. Let this serve as an inspiration to you as well.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Where will it all end?

Is this where I'm heading?

Oh my! I am sitting here in my usual spot on the couch, with my feet up, listening to podcasts, and reading my blogs. Oh, it's 6:00 am, Saturday and I'm enjoying the quiet time.

The difference now is that I have 2 laptops I'm using at the same time. Am I going nuts? My regular laptop is tied up uploading my student podcasts to our server. I am also doing grades.

My other laptop is a brand new Eee PC. Wow what a great little device! We will definitely get some of these for our elementary students next year. It would also be great for several teachers as well.

So while my full size laptop chugs away, I have found more things to try. You just never know what treasures await you when you enter the network! Here are a few.

http://openpd.wikispaces.com I am hoping to share and learn from this group.
http://twitterpacks.pbwiki.com/education-pack Great Twitter resource

We held a class for teachers using our new professional development tool. Moodle. I think this is going to be an exciting tool for our teachers. What a way to teach Web 2.0 concepts.

Check out these links for other resources:


Oh, gotta go, my other laptop is done.............geeeesh!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

If you are anything like me you started your tech trek several years ago. Maybe even used a TRS 80 or even a VIC 20/C64.

Back then the major source of computer information was a magazine. There were several to choose from. Believe it or not, I still subscribe to one magazine and it is a computer magazine.

Truthfully, I have been thinking I should not renew it next time. Until today. The most recent issue did a piece on free and open source software. Most of the list I recognized but there were enough nuggets to keep me subscribed for another year.

Besides it is still more comfortable curling up with a magazine than with my laptop. Here's what I found:

Windows Live Photo Gallery

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Our Schools!

I just read Wesley Fryer's blog entitled A contrary view of education and NCLB and have to agree with him. Here's my take on things.

I've read some where, sorry can't find the article that most communities are very happy with their schools, but when you ask the same people about our educational system as a whole they will tell you that it is failing. How can this be?

I have been in education for 27 years and have seen its ups and downs. I have watched our kids go to prestigious colleges, the military, and into the local job market. There have been some definite trends that are consistent. We have slowly walked away from occupational education. We have been selling the notion that everyone must attend college. We treat "tracking" as a dirty word. In doing so we have created the biggest track of them all, college bound.

Another trend has been even more disturbing. This is the trend of testing. The results are scary.

Students have no time to be kids. Schedules in schools have become tighter to make up for the time taken away for the actual testing and preparations. Participation in the arts has dwindled because we need more teachers to prepare students for the tests. Teachers have become paranoid because they know that they are being judged on results of testing when by they do not control all of the factors that go into the preparation.

Evidence of these factors above is pretty apparent in my district and I would bet that if you poll the parents they would say our school does a great job, overall. So, what are the results of all of this testing?

I think we are starting to see the results. I see middle and high school students who are experts at the mechanics of taking a standardized test. I see students who are fearful of failure and rely on directions from others too often. I see students who are not very creative and act like lemmings. I see more and more students who haven't a clue about their future aspirations. I also see a local business struggling to hiring skilled machinists. It just happens that our district used to offer courses in machining until 15 years ago. At that time we did away with the classes.

The biggest fear I have is that we are losing the ability to create and innovate. That clearly has been our nation’s biggest asset. Why are we focusing so much on testing? I believe it's because it's the east way out. In this age of sound bites how else can you point a finger?

Here's my solution. If politicians want us to become more like business then give us all of the control businesses have. For instance, in business they choose the raw material that they work with. I say, let me choose the students I work with. In business they have quality controls throughout the manufacturing process. I say, let me have quality controls and the ability to eject inferior materials along the way. In business they receive bonuses for raising the company’s bottom line. I say cheers. I believe if we had the same controls we would not need tenure because our success rates would be through the roof. Give me a year under these conditions and I'll compete on any test with any school or nation.

Of course I am not suggesting that we do this. Our kids are not widgets and we as a nation have decided we must educate everyone. Rightly so. Yet we constantly compare ourselves to other nations who do not.

I came into education at a time when the Nation at Risk report came out. Talk about having your enthusiasm put to a test! I am still here and as optimistic as ever. I just do not understand why we continue to beat ourselves up as an institution.

I believe we have the best economic engine in the world. I know it's tough to remain number one. But, I ask you one question. If our educational system is so bad how has our economy remained at the top and become the envy of most? We must be doing something right!

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Students reaction to the Students2oh.org

I've been using Classblogmeister as a final exam for my media class for high school seniors. Directions for the final exam were to post there opinions/reactions to my posts. Topics related to the media, it's role in society, and media events. Each student had to post every time I posted and comment on at least 6 of their classmates posts for each question.

I was very pleased with the results. First of all I had 100 percent participation. They all seemed to enjoy writing. This was their first time blogging and it was the first time they were able to read what each other wrote.

The last post I made asked students to visit students2oh.org and react to what they saw. I also asked them to comment on the web 2.0 activities they participated in in class. I think you might enjoy their reactions.

Please feel free to leave comments on their posts if you visit.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another class is over and I just hope my students are better prepared for their future. This semester was filled with web 2.0 activities. I think I have podcasting figured out as a classroom activity. My students produced some pretty good podcasts. They will be posted to the web soon.

I used the classroom wiki as the center of my class. Each student was given space and they posted projects and used the wiki for communications. I hope to improve the use of this space by encouraging the use of the forum and more classroom interaction. Comments from the outside world would be a big boost.

We have a new district website content management system. Each teacher is mandated to maintain a web page. We use a product called SchoolFusion. The classroom web pages have several of the web 2.0 tools built in. I am hopeful to take full advantage of these tools. It has a section for the teacher to make available files for students, (my class is paperless), a place for announcements, a calendar, a forum, and even a chat section. You can incorporate pictures and video. The best part about it is it's ease of use. I may even switch from my media wiki to the classroom web page.

I'm still not sure about our classroom blog and how to incorporate it yet. So far I have used it twice for a final exam. That seems to work very well. I am getting much more thought and writing out of my students. I am definitely getting more interaction between them. Now for some outside participation. Check it out. I think I'll try to assign a topic for each student to blog about and have them include multiple media types throughout the course. Any suggestions?

We have used some other tools along the way such as blabberize, youtube, flickr, bubbleshare, and several other video services. They seem to keep the students attention. As always, technical glitches abound. I think the best thing to realize is that it will happen and be prepared for a backup plan. Be flexible and understanding. I have found that my students appreciate it when I can be flexible when technical difficulties pop up. One of my goals is to teach them to trouble shoot and problem solve as we go.

So one journey ends and another begins soon. Hope to see you somewhere on the road to becoming Teacher 2.0 and beyond.