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Category Archives: Tech Thoughts

Random thoughts on technology and how it plays a role in our mission

Blogging from an iPhone… This might change my life.


I’m sitting here in Travis C where Kim and I have presented for the past two days, thinking about all that’s happened so far. I can’t explain to you the drastic shift I’ve seen this year in terms of technology and KIPP. In order to attempt an explanation, it helps to think back on my first and second years at the Summit.

The first year in New Orleans I was just beginning my first year of teaching, and was placed in a tech position. I desperately looked through the event calendar hoping to find sessions giving me something (anything really) to work with. I had no idea what I was doing and desperately wanted resources from more experienced tech teachers. By the end of the week I had found ONE other tech teacher. And not a single tech session.

Fast forward to year two in Phoenix. There I sat through two Bus-Ops sessions only because they had the word technology in the title. Turns out they had nothing to do with teaching or my classroom. Beyond that there was nothing. I met two other tech teachers, and also lucked out with meeting up with Ignacio that year, which gave me someone willing to indulge me in my growing excitement about Technology and KIPP.

Now here we are, year three, in San Antonio. While no longer teaching at GCP, my vision for KIPP and how technology needs to play a role hasn’t changed. The planning team this year for Summit is incredible, and was super receptive to our ideas for Tech workshops. As a result we got to present four tech workshops, and there are two more on the agenda for later in the week. There’s a tech roundtable tomorrow, and I’ve met over 10 tech teachers/facilitators! While I’m still overwhelmed by what needs to be done, through teaching I’ve also learned the importance of recognizing growth to be as significant as achievement.

And boy are we growing 🙂

An example of what resumes could begin to look like…

Christopher Penn, the Chief Technology Officer of the Student Loan Network, has posted online what could be the resume of the future. This interactive, online resume, includes a video introduction embedded in the center of the page (which I’ve embedded below here for you to see), a written introduction below, links to his websites and blogs on the left side as well as all the ways to contact him on the right (including AIM, Skype, and Twitter).

This could completely revolutionize the way our students find jobs in the future, as well as the importance of their digital footprint. I’m totally intrigued… there go the next couple days of my life as I begin to piece together my own 🙂

As I’ve been working more on my workshops for this year’s KIPP Summit in San Antonio I’ve found myself involved in a lot of big-picture thinking. The workshops focus more on tangible, daily ways to integrate more technology in our rooms and schools. But like any great lesson, the most important take-away has to be the WHY. Why should we take the time to figure out this technology, and learn all the skills we need to effectively implement it in our rooms?

So through all this thinking I’ve narrowed it down to three big WHYS. Here they are:

1. Are our classrooms right now preparing our kids for what their future will really look like, or what we’re used to it looking like?

The truth is we are teaching our kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet. The careers they lead 20 years from now will look entirely different from what ours look like. We aren’t servicing them if we’re preparing them for what we’re used to and not for what they will actually face. Instead of memorization of facts, we need to transition our classrooms to focus more on their ability to ingest and digest information critically, and their ability to publish and create. With the growth of Web 2.0 anyone can publish, and those who don’t learn how to will quickly fall behind.

2. Our kids are already using a ton of technology outside of school (cell phones, video games, internet), so who’s explicitly teaching them how to use them safely and responsibly? Are we modeling for them what it looks like to use Web 2.0 for learning and communicating? Are we showing them what a great MySpace profiel looks like, and what kinds of groups can be created for learning rather than just socializing? Are we creating lessons for how to keep themselves safe while navigating the Internet? Are we teaching them how permanent and damaging Internet footprints can become if we don’t think ahead while creating them?

If we don’t clearly and explicitly plan units around these ideas, and daily lessons checking to make sure they understand, we are not preparing them for successful professional careers that use these tools to their advantage rather than their detrament.

3. Like I said in point two (and many educators are saying everywhere) , kids are using all these tools at home. My last point would be to question WHICH kids are using these tools at home? I can tell you my students without computers or the Internet are certainly not using them at home. So where and when are they exposed to this technology? If not at school, who will teach them how to use it? It worries me that by ignoring these skills in our classrooms we are just creating an even larger divide between the students who have and those who don’t.

I’ve finally settled down to read David Warlick’s book, Classroom Blogging, after using it for reference purposes for several months now. This quote really caught my eye, and forced me to seriously reflect on the long-term mission of both KIPP and Teach for America. It also made me wish I was a better writer so I could effectively put all my reactions into a nice, organized, well-written post, rather than the rambling you are about to read. If only I had begun blogging in 8th grade…

“Facts are a mouse-click away, and our students can click it faster than we can.”

Two main thoughts come to mind.

1) We talk, read and think frequently about the achievement gap in our schools and with our students. It begins when our students often come in as 5th graders significantly behind grade level, and continues into high school where statistically many students from our communities have a lower chance of attending the college of their choice.

If the ability of students to teach themselves, using all the tools available online (ie developing your own personal learning network), is becoming commonplace in areas where students are able to click the mouse at a much faster rate (in homes where computers and the Internet are as common as televisions), then are we not actually widening the achievement gap by not giving our students that opportunity in our schools?

If we know that many of our students do not have the tools at home, and we do not give them the opportunity to learn those same skills at school, then not only are we stealing their knowledge of the most basic computer skills, but we’re also stealing from them the ability to continue their learning independently using online resources to teach themselves and expand their learning network. So while students in more well-resourced communities leave school to head home and spend much of their evening online expanding their personal learning networks, our students are falling even more behind, instead of beginning to close the gap through their hard work at school.

2) Are we as teachers also contributing to a widening achievement gap by not being tech-savvy ourselves? I frequently question this in my own classroom. There have been days when I introduce a new Web 2.0 skill and several of my students are already familiar with it. This gets to the root of what I believe David is suggesting with his comment. It pushes me to think about what role we (as educators) are playing in actually widening the achievement gap if we are resisting to learn the very skills our students so desperately need to even run at the heels of higher performing schools, let alone actually catch up.

How scary to think about all the hard work we put into our unit plans, daily materials, decorating our classrooms, and designing vocab chants, and that it could actually be undone by the omittance of computers and technology in our classrooms. We sometimes forget that it’s not just about being able to use a mouse and keyboard (although that is definitely a prerequisite that many of our students have never been taught, as I learned rather quickly on my first day of teaching last year), but it’s about being able to navigate the plethora of information that is now available with just the click of the mouse, IF you know how to find it and use it.

Where are those skills being taught now? How are our kids being taught to continue to teach themselves, outside of school so they stop falling behind?

To close out our Web 2.0 unit (that didn’t get nearly as much time as I would have liked), we are going to be discussing Internet Footprints for the next two days. In retrospect this should have absolutely been done first thing, because we’ve actually been changing their footprints throughout the unit as we became more involved in online discussion and conversation.

The goal of teaching the idea of an Internet Footprint is to get students to think about EVERYTHING they create online. The idea that what they put on their MySpace profile can affect college and job options in the future, your blog can be found and looked at by ANYONE, not just your intended audience. Comments you leave on other blogs and VoiceThreads wlll reflect on you, and again can be read by many more than what you originally expect.

But the question I’m struggling with is how much of your Internet Footprint do you really control? Clearly you have most of the control over your MySpace profile, but what about pictures that others tag of you, or comments that others leave on your page? Yes, you have control over your blog, but what about others who reference your blog in theirs? That becomes part of your Internet Footprint, because when someone googles your name, that web site will also appear. I have a picture that was taken at a American University basketball game where I look ridiculous decked out in my red, white and blue that was featured in a recent EagleBlog post. While I did pose for the picture, I didn’t have any control whether or not it appeared online. But again, that has become part of my Internet Footprint. So where is the focus when we teach this? Simply on what we are posting online, or the idea that the Internet is everywhere. We have to be aware everywhere because you never know what could end up online, and eventually impact your Internet Footprint?

I would love thoughts on this, and how to teach it, before we dive in next week!

I received an e-mail from a KIPP listserve I’m on that made me think…

“I also recommend using technology to block myspace, facebook and other social networking sites – make sure that you are also blocking proxies which allow people to bypass your firewalls and access those sites.”

What this e-mail suggests is that we take two things that many of our kids love, and spend a ton of time on at home, and do whatever we can to completely remove them from our schools. Our instinct when we hear the words ‘MySpace’ and ‘Facebook’ is to quickly block them at our schools because most students are not using these tools properly. Isn’t it our job to teach them? Not just about math, english, history and science, but about life? The choices they’re making on MySpace and Facebook at home are life choices that have the potential to put them in danger and lose their jobs and future opportunities, or at the very least cause some embarrasment and regret about pictures posted and comments made. Yet we, as their teachers, do nothing but try as hard as we can to completely block them from all school computers.

Here’s my thought (and I’d love to know yours): What if our curriculums actually included a unit where we explicitly taught MySpace? That’s right, we teach them how to use MySpace in our schools. We could teach everything from how to create a page, how to design it, how to upload pictures, how to ‘friend’ people, and how to then communicate with other MySpace users. The students would understand that coming in to school every day they would be bringing up their MySpace profile on school computers. My guess is, even if there were no school created regulations as to what content they could include on their MySpace page, they would naturally become more selective in what they include, knowing they would pull it up on a computer screen in a classroom with 20 other teammates and a teacher. Isn’t that what we want to teach them? That their profile is actually public, despite how private it feels in the comfort of their own home?

In this curriculum other uses for MySpace could be introduced. When they teach themselves about MySpace at home and with their friends, the most appealing use is for socializing. However, there are a ton of ways MySpace could be used for educational purposes. Imagine if people created groups based around shared interest in books, and then pursued discussions with other students, at other schools, all over the country? What if those interested in music could share ideas and upload songs they themselves had created? What if students interested in poetry creation and performance uploaded VoiceThreads with their own poetry performances? (If you don’t know what VoiceThread is, check this out!)

My fear is that MySpace has turned into what it is (as Miletha, one of my 8th graders, described, ‘A place that is truly ours, with no rules and no adults watching’) because of a lack of explicit instruction about what it looks like to create an appropriate, or productive, MySpace page.

I guess the bottom line is that I detest the idea of taking the tools that engage our students the most OUT of our schools, instead of implementing them INSIDE our schools to help our students become succesful academically, and in life.

Pat raised an interesting point in his comment responding to my last post. What else is there online that can help us share resources and work smarter, not harder?

I think the connection between schools in creating this big, happy, online KIPP family is SO much larger than just blogs and aggregators. I think a KIPP wiki would be another incredible start, and as soon as someone can figure out a great way to organize a wiki like that so that information is easy to find and access, it could change the way we work. (Don’t worry, I’ve already started thinking about it…)
However I see wikis and blogs (and the many other parts of Web 2.0 I think we could, and should, be using) as serving entirely different purposes. A KIPP wiki would be a great place to go to make planning (and even execution) more efficient and effective, whereas blogs and aggregators makes dialogue and conversation ABOUT these more meaningful.

I think back on all the Friday evenings spent at La Tolteca (the best Mexican restaurant in RoRap) discussing teaching and even bigger picture education theory over delicious Mexican food. Friday evenings are the best for that because the pressure of the week is off our shoulders, and we have not yet started worrying about the upcoming week. We are then afforded the rare opportunity of having those discussions that don’t necessarily directly impact your classroom the following Monday. But again, it stays within our staff. A lot of the ideas people raise, and the discussions that result, are brilliant, and would push us even more if they included outside perspectives. For now I see blogs as one of the best ways to do that, since there’s no time limit, no location requirement, and no invites… anyone can participate, anytime!

Only downside is the lack of chips and white dip…

For more specifics about how to be part of that discussion, see yesterday’s post, “Give me five minutes and I might change your life”.

Blogs as coffee shops…

My thoughts on blogging mentioned yesterday were perfectly summarized in this brilliant blog post from a blog titled “Markitude: Commentary on the trappings of my life”.

Thought I’d include it here:

People congregate to share ideas.

In urban areas, the coffee shop maybe a favored location to exchange ideas with people in person, or more frequently, online. Forums have been an online fixture, along with newsgroups for many years, and people with common interests tend to gravitate to these areas. Blogs traffic can come from a variety of sources, referrals from other blogs, search engine keywords that occurred in a post, or through referrals from the blog hosting site (hot blogs, next blog, top blogs, etc) based on traffic volumes. As a small sidebar, this latter method tends to be self fulfilling in that once a blog makes it to that list, simply being on the list will drive more traffic. If the blog is interesting, it will stay on the list in seeming perpetuity, ala Scobleizer. If not, then it will cycle through once all the casual clickers have found it, taken a peek and moved on.

Those that stay, and come back day after day appear to do so because of an affinity to the author or the subject of the blog. Posts start a conversation between the blogger and any audience member who chooses to comment, as expected. But then something more interesting can occur. Commenters, begin to have discussions amongst themselves within the comment threads, leaving one comment related to a previous comment rather than the original blog entry. It’s not just a many to one relationship with the blogger, but rather interaction amongst the commenting community. When the same small group of commenters are present day in and out, does the subject blog begin to take on the aspects of a social destination, a virtual coffee house? Are the visiters there for the coffee, or the venue and other patrons?

Quick win for vocab… every week on Wednesdays my students homework assignment is to use their lingo (vocab) to create a script of some kind (“Script it Out” if you will). They can create a movie script, TV show script, commercial, song, rap, poem, fiction story… the options are really endless as long as the product is well thought out and uses their lingo in sentences, in a way that shows they understand the meaning.

Well needless to say while at first this can be exciting and a little different, eventually it becomes just another homework assignment they have to complete. Quick easy win= YOUTUBE! The best scripts are performed the next day (Thursday Theatre) in class, and recorded on my small digital still camera. The good ones are then uploaded on YouTube. If you teach in a computer/Tech lab, it’s easy to embed it on your blog and have them all watch it the next day. If you don’t, just put it on your website (or tell them what it’s titled) and you’d be amazed at how many kids will find a way to look at it outside of school.

Following a class discussion earlier this year about how YouTube is revolutionizing fame, and every middle schooler wants to be famous, kids will do whatever it takes to get their work (and performance) on YouTube.  Whatever it takes in this case is quality homework.  What a beautiful win-win situation 🙂

Just another way technology can help invest kids in your subject…

P.S.  Struggling to get videos in a format that upload easily on YouTube?  Try VisualHub- best converter I found after a ton of research last night.  VERY user friendly.