30 June 2010

ISTE 2010: Parting Thoughts

My last session was one presented by Jenny from Elementary, My Dear, or Far from It, along with Unlimited and Clairvoy. They showcased a variety of web 2.0 projects students from their elementary schools are doing, explained some nuts and bolts, and addressed the challenges they face. The audience was very engaged. The duties were shared among the three presenters and it was a great way to keep things moving. I have followed blogs from that school for a long time and it was a wonderful opportunity to hear more about the culture of the school and learn about what their kids do.

I have a couple of people I hope to connect with this morning before I head to the airport. I've selected two quotes from my tweetstream to share as parting thoughts...

What We Should Be Talking About

What Has Mostly Been Talked About

I have more general thoughts to share during the upcoming days. Sorry, ISTE, but I'm not coming back until you're ready to talk about good instruction and people. When you're done with "cool stuff," call me.

29 June 2010

ISTE 2010: Day Two Recap

Conferences are marathons. ISTE 2010 is no different. Today, I delved a bit deeper into the course.

The Good
  • I attended an interesting session on copyright law and fair use. I know this doesn't sound like an exciting topic, but building understanding is a necessity (especially in this mix-n-match digital age). Resources are here, if you're so inclined.
  • I really like meeting so many of my online network peeps in person. Not all of the conversations are in depth, but it is still nice to put names with faces, hear voices (and accents!), and be able to connect in real life. This conference has offered me far more opportunities to do this than any other I've attended.

The Bad
  • A session on visual literacy that I'd had high hopes for turned out to be completely useless. The presenter did not appear to have any sort of agenda. I should have known it wouldn't turn out well when he told the audience he would provide a link to his resources and website at the end. Dude, if you have to try to bribe people to stick it out to the end, then maybe you should work on your presentation skills.
  • This is still a conference about stuff and not about kids. I heard grumblings about this from others...along with some concern that this doesn't bother many others who are here. I've sat amongst many an attendee who was eating up bad information from presenters with a spoon---starving for information with no ability to tell that they'd been given shit instead of steak to eat. Is PD really so poorly done in schools that sessions at this conference look good?

The Ugly
  • I went to the Exhibit Hall today. Oy. It appeared as little more than acres of space to devoted to (you guessed it) stuff. 

Tomorrow is the final day of the conference. I'll be headed home before things are all said and done here. I am anxious to get back home to my routine, sea level home, and moisturized air (especially after tonight's nosebleed). 

28 June 2010

ISTE 2010: Day One Recap

Today was the first day of the International Society for Technology in Education conference. It's no secret that I get around to a variety of events, although this is the first conference in a very long time where I have not been a presenter. I have, however, accumulated some wisdom along the way about what does and doesn't work at these carnivals.

What I Like (So Far):
  • Roundtables: These are rooms with 4 - 8 simultaneous conversations. It's a chance for people to present some research or pose a question with a few people interested in the same topic. This is a great opportunity to present dissertations or very specialized items of interest. The only downside is that the rooms are a little noisy.
  • Poster Sessions: This is a lot like an electrified science fair. Every three hours, a new group of presenters sets up their presentations. The sessions are organized by topic, e.g. early childhood, STEM, English language learners. There are even students presenting EdTech projects. It's a little crazy to walk around in, but it's a great opportunity to showcase how technology is being used by different areas.

What I Don't Like (So Far):
  • It's All About the Stuff: There appear to be no conversations or sessions that are focused on instruction. It's all tools all the time. Yes, I do know that I'm at a technology conference, but I don't think that excuses people from just reeling off one tool after another. There is no connection to a "So what?"
  • Teachers Who Don't Prepare: I am the first to admit that when I made a jump from working with kids to working with adults as learners that I didn't know what the hell I was doing. Sure, there are some similarities, but there are also unique needs for every group. I saw a presentation today consisting of running through a series of spreadsheets---there was obviously no thought as to audience needs or organizing a message. The presenter had not tested the tech being presented and there were major errors and gaps along the way. If you are selected to present, take the time to create a quality learning experience for others.

The Score (So Far)

At this point, I would say that if you're looking for a national conference to go to...and want to see technology in action...I would make a beeline for ASCD. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not go to ISTE. If you're serious about classroom instruction, this does not appear to be the right place to get support.

Tomorrow, I'm exploring the exhibit hall and attending a few more sessions. Maybe ISTE will wow me then.

27 June 2010

News to You

I'm away at conferences this week. I had one set of meetings Friday through Sunday...and another set which picked up tonight and runs through Wednesday. These are technology meetings and conferences. While I am certainly an advocate for educational technology, I am not rabid about it. I view EdTech as one tool in the instruction toolbelt---not "the" tool. However, I am surrounded by those who do see EdTech as the be all and end all. It's rather disturbing.

Exhibit number one is a (paraphrased) list from a discussion about the "new learning environment." Here are the characteristics people listed:
  • Student centered
  • Connections beyond the classroom
  • Personalized for the kids: includes formative assessment, instruction matched to learning styles and at the level needed for the student
  • 24/7 learning that is not confined to the classroom
  • collaboration between students
  • Partnerships with the community and integration between subject areas
  • Real world experience; authentic learning
  • More creation of learning using the upper level of Bloom's Taxonomy
It was at this point that I started going a little ballistic. These are "new" things for the classroom? New to whom? No one in the room was willing to answer...and I wondered if it was because it was new to them. Ouch.

But the bigger beef I had with the discussion is that every other person in the room believed that these things were only possible with educational technology. I told them I realized it was heresy for me to disagree with a room full of state EdTech leaders, but I really felt it had to be said. (I also told someone their legislative report wasn't "sexy," but that's a different story...) It was also a lonely place for me to be.

Really? No collaborative work ever occurred before the existence of GoogleDocs? No student ever had a real world experience that connected the classroom with the outside world? Until now, there were no teachers who encouraged critical thinking and who differentiated learning?

Did we not send men to the moon with technology less sophisticated then what I have in my cell phone? Did we not eradicate smallpox long before fax machines and the Internet?

Oh, but they said, the technology allows the experiences to be richer---kids can generate and look at more data! Talk to people in other countries! I believe that technology facilitates those experiences, but it is not necessary in order to have them. I was still lonely in the room. Nope, they said, it's impossible. Only with technology can students have meaningful learning experiences.


I have smaller (mini-burger) beefs with the list, too. "Learning styles"? Bunk. Bloom's Taxonomy is not a hierarchy and was not intended as such. Those who believe that "recall" is a lower skill than "analysis" are dangerous. It's not the verb people---it's the task. Bloom does not describe cognitive demand merely by the box you put the verb in.

It should continue to be an interesting few days here. I imagine that it's a bit like being an atheist at the Southern Baptist Convention. Or perhaps I should consider myself to be a wolf in sheep's clothing. Either way, I'm sure that nothing I report here will be news to you...only to those who are too blind from the kool-aid to see need for good classroom instruction (with or without tools).

18 June 2010

Amuse Bouche

At long last, the draft Educational Technology Assessments for the state of Washington are now posted. This is only the beginning of a larger buffet of assessments and professional development that will be made available over the next 12 months.

The assessments are not only unique for our state in terms of their components and format, but also for the US (in terms of EdTech).

If you're so inclined, go have a look. The group of educators I've been facilitating this year has done outstanding work. I'm so excited that we can finally share some of it with you.

Into the Future

The local paper has been running articles and slideshows of area graduations on its website. I like the ceremony. It's the last time we fuss over kids. I am always surprised by the number for whom graduation represents the end of formal schooling. They won't be attending college or university. It's off to the working world---the beginning of adulthood.

I looked through the pix from the school I taught at two years ago---my sophomores all grown up. I didn't see many former students in the pictures, but I was thrilled to see two young men from one of my classes. I was sharing a classroom at the time, and the Physics teacher constantly derided my "brown boys." They made it through that awful school and dealing with people like him. I'm so happy that they're free of that environment. I haven't a clue what their plans are from this point. I have seen other "brown boys" I had mentioned for scholarships and doing well in athletics. I hope it burned that teacher every time to see them do so well. I hope there are more just like them who survive that school and find ways to thrive as they move off into the future.

16 June 2010

Weaving Webs

Like most people, I have a Facebook account. I think I have posted there maybe 4 times since I joined 18 months ago. I know lots of people who absolutely love that space. Me? I just find it really weird. There is this mash of people I grew up with, people I taught with in NM and here, one person I work with, a couple of people from my birthfamily, former teachers, former students, and those I only know from blog/Twitter connections.

A blog provides a point for some common conversation. I might not know all of my readers and commenters, but we are gathered here for a particular purpose. It doesn't matter so much that our lives don't connect in other ways. Facebook is similar in that we have disparate pieces of my life connecting around something in common (me)---but different in that we don't really have anything to talk about.

Do I tell my high school band director how many "grandstudents" have passed through my classroom? That I, too, have friended former students (some of whom are teachers), like some odd sort of genealogy? Should I introduce my teaching buddy from Carlsbad, NM, to my teaching buddy here? Does my stepsister need to meet my office mate?

Facebook has allowed me the opportunity to reconnect with a lot of people from my past. What it didn't warn me about was the dystopian side effects. I remember those from my school days as they were---and that is definitely not who they are now. I'm not the same person, either. I don't know how to reconcile things. I also don't know if it would have been better to keep the memories intact or be faced with the present.

There is someone I went to school with who lives in this area. I know that doesn't sound like a big deal, but keep in mind that our tiny west Texas town only graduated 60 or fewer students a year. She has a business in Tacoma and recently hosted a wine tasting. I only knew about this through Facebook. I did go to the event and had a very nice time. With all of the webs and connections I have spun over the last 20+ years, there really was something comforting about being with somebody who wordlessly understood the past. Time will tell if there are words for the future.

13 June 2010

It's a Major Award!

As I start to come out of the project-induced fog I've been labouring under for the past few weeks, I am realizing how remiss I have been in not only blogging, but supporting the edublogger community. My commenting on other blogs has dropped off, tweets with meaty links have slowed---in short, my engagement with my own learning has been poor. A very busy summer at work lies ahead of me, so I don't know how soon I can truly make amends, but let me start here:

This is from Jenny at Elementary, My Dear, or Far from It, who recently said I was one of her favourite bloggers. Right back at'cha, Jen. I read lots of blogs, but my absolute favourites are those written by classroom teachers. I especially love elementary because those blogs are about kids and all of the delightful, frustrating, funny, and heart-wrenching things when you put 20+ of them in a classroom with an outstanding teacher. The focus is on how we help children---not strategies, tools, policy, and all of the other things that stand between us and them. Don't get me wrong, I read edublogs focused on those other components and enjoy them---I'm just saying that a blog from a classroom teacher will always be at the top of my list. So, thank you, Jenny, for your passion for the classroom and all that you share on your blog. See you in Denver in a couple of weeks.

Joanne Jacobs had a post yesterday asking "What happened to the teacher bloggers?" It reminded me of my question last fall about Where have all the bloggers gone? when I was hunting for science bloggers. I do think edublogging has changed over the 5+ years I've been posting here. There used to be a lot more classroom teachers and stories of classroom life. But I also recognize that the reasons people blog change with time, as do the rest of their lives. Media changes, too. There are far more classroom teachers I can connect with on Twitter than I can through blogs. Perhaps the widespread use of texting and cellphones with data plans has made the ways teachers want to communicate different. Teacher bloggers are now teacher microbloggers. For me, it's not important which medium teachers use to communicate their ideas and reflect on what happens in the classroom---it's important that we find them and listen.

12 June 2010

Balancing Act

I have been thinking a lot about balance recently---not so much in a life sense (work vs. personal life), but the types of decisions made at a state or federal level about assessment.

The Common Core Standards were released last week. Washington did not display the teenager-like enthusiasm of a few others who jumped on the document before it was even complete. Our restraint lasted until the day of release. Ahem. One assumes that others are taking a more, um, stately approach toward this event.

It isn't that I don't understand the appeal of a single set of standards. What's good for kids to know and be able to do in Washington would seem to have much in common with other states. If we carry that thought a step further and consider assessment, it also makes sense that each state not be spending millions of dollars with their own little wheels to invent. State-level assessment is not going away, no matter how much we debate its usefulness---why not make the development process as efficient as possible?

My fear is that in the spirit of all the compromises which have to be made in order for a single set of standards or assessments to serve their many masters, things become average. Sure, lesser quality areas get a boost---but those which were excellent lose their edge. A diversity of options is a good thing. We are moving away from Survival of the Fittest when it comes to ideas and exchanging them for mediocrity. This is not a trade which should ever be made.

I heard this week that there is pressure to make our state assessments "cookie cutter." If we don't use exactly the same type of rubric with the same number of points on it---well, that's apparently a bad thing. Ditto for other ways we package assessment materials. I was told that if we aren't uniform, schools will complain that things are too confusing. Where's the balance---make things identical (i.e. dumb things down for perceived complainants) or make things meaningful for the content? If I need three levels of performance for educational technology and you need four for math, then the balance for me is what best communicates to the student about their learning---not some magic number in a rubric column. I find these sorts of conversations a ridiculous waste of time...and yet, we are apparently being forced to have them with the edu-teabaggers.

Draft assessments for educational technology will be posted in a few days. What I hope is that people see that we've tipped the balance in favour of the student. This is not to say that there haven't been compromises along the way in terms of the pieces included, formatting, word choice, and other features. There will no doubt be calls over the next year to revise things to suit different stakeholders. We will accommodate what we can, but when it comes to what is best for content and kids, there will be no negotiating with the cookie cutter wannabes. They're far too off-balance to ever be satisfied.

05 June 2010


I'm spending the weekend working my way through hundreds of tiny edits to our edtech assessments. Although every document is intended to be slightly different (grade level, subject matter), there are some commonalities. It is this need to ensure that there is not only common language among the pieces that are the same, but articulation through the grade levels. It's tedious, but important, work. These are the last of the pieces before this project makes it debut.

One of my last decisions is how to name something: our scoring "tool." It's not really a rubric. It's not really a checklist. It's two great tastes that taste great together.

We modeled this tool after some that have been developed for science and math questions used on the state tests. Here's how it works. Each Grade Level Expectation (GLE) has been broken down into its main ideas for a particular grade level. These appear in the "Attribute Name" column. Next to each is a "Description" of an at standard performance. This is where the checklist format makes an appearance. Either the student gets the point...or s/he doesn't. The teacher only has to decide whether or not the student evidence fits the description. Points earned are totaled and then compared to the second table in order to make an overall determination about the student's ability to meet the standards. This is where something more qualitative and rubric-y comes into play.

I'm not sure what to call this sort of a combo tool---it's the Swiss Army Knife of scoring options. Science and math do refer to it as a "rubric," but I'm not so sure that's the right word. We aren't identifying a range of quality in the performance. Although the first portion really is a checklist, that word isn't enough to describe the whole thing.

Any suggestions for this whatchamacallit?

01 June 2010

Busy Busy

Posting has been light here for the last couple of weeks while I put the finishing touches on my major project for work. We are just about ready to put out some drafts of the assessments that teachers have been building---definitely an exciting milestone. I feel really proud of this work. There has been a lot of sweat and tears (along with minimal blood) as teachers have built these tools. We will have something that not only no other state has, but also goes well beyond the offerings we have internally.

I have one more meeting with my group this week in order to put on the finishing touches. I am fortunate to have a small band of committed educators. I know how miserable it is to have to prep for a sub. Traveling takes a lot of energy. Time with students is precious---especially at this time of year. And for the group I meet with this week, they have done all of this two days a month since January in order to support their peers statewide. Their respect for the commitment to the group is incredible. I find it both inspiring and humbling. 

Just as most educators are gearing down for summer break, things will be kicking into high gear for me. There are drafts to be finalized and posted, professional development materials to build, and getting the field test ready for fall. It's a good kind of busy.