Saturday, November 26, 2011

Should be our primary 'text'?

Having just returned from the ECIS Conference in Lisbon and having the opportunity to hear Hans Rosling, I would like to urge anyone who has not already downloaded/utilized the software at to do so now! It's free.

Hans' message
Hans is a great speaker, and his message of utilizing datasets to help re-construct our mindsets is a fascinating talk.  Summarized, the world is converging. The data dispels the myth of the "developing" and "first" world that still dominates the way we think of (and teach) global issues.  If you want to hear a similar speech he gave to the US State Department as a TED Talk, it's here.

However, it's more than his message that I find innovative.

More than an excellent use of technology
Granted the data compiled and shared at Gapminder is an excellent example of how technology helps us do something that simply could not be done 30 years ago. The charts and graphs can be easily customized and tell a beautiful visual story.  But, that's not the reason that Gapminder excites me.

Something more fundamental
I'd rather address the manner in which data like this is utilized. In the title, I used the word "primary", and all social studies teachers will perk up at the opportunity to utilize primary sources.  Gapminder is certainly not a typical primary source in that sense - telling a story from original materials that have not been interpreted or evaluated.

But my title was more in reference to making Gapminder the primary (as in "first") source for our social studies classrooms. As I was watching the data unfold and considering the classroom implications, my initial (undeveloped) thought was that it would be a convenient way for classrooms to gather data to support what they were learning in particular units. But in that way, Gapminder is only an organized, interactive, (cool !) encyclopedia of data.  We have to find ways to use tools like Gapminder in the classroom for more than a means to justify student research papers.)  Eg. "As can be seen, the GDP of Africa is far less compared to the countries of South Asia.")

The increased attention to 21st Century Skills - interpretation, analysis, problem solving, creativity, collaboration, etc. - requires that we re-consider the way we teach. What better way to get at so many issues than asking students to understand and interpret data to help tell a story?  Our textbooks and other secondary sources can be used to provide context and rationale to the data; but shouldn't we be asking students to construct data/story first?  Eg. "What story is this data telling us?"

Why don't we use data like this naturally in our units?

Perhaps students are not skilled enough at interpretation to come away with grand insights from this type of data? But if we aren't teaching them how to come up with the skills to see data, form their own conclusions, and ask what other evidence they would need to see to help verify their conclusions, then where are they meant to learn these skills?

Perhaps broad questions like that do not lend themselves well to self-contained units of study (WWII, the US Civil War, etc.)? There is truth in this statement. But the data assembled at Gapminder allows us to go so much further than World War II - they allow comparisons of many wars.

"What are the effects of Civil War?"
"Who 'wins' in a war, and how?"
"What are the effects of a revolution?"  
"What data might we wish to see to measure whether a revolution should be considered a success?"

Of course, these types of questions require "uncovering" and will lead to many more questions. (Great!)

So, if I had my wish, it is this. Consider the way in which a tool like Gapminder can facilitate a social studies flipped classroom. Instead of asking students to remember and understand our stories, can we increase the opportunities for students to construct their own story - and THEN see if other  secondary sources confirm, dismiss, reshape, and/or provide context to their thinking. That's how social scientists think, and we need to find ways to allow students to practice that skill.

In that way, Gapminder can really be the ultimate primary source. It's one of those sources that  allows our students to tell their story.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

"Tech Integration" R.I.P.

Since Halloween is right around the corner, I've tried to work in the R.I.P. theme into this post.

But before trying to explain that, I want to share a great resource for teachers at  With 3.5 million users, I think I'm one of the last ones to join the Edmodo environment. Edmodo is a safe (secure, protected) social network that teachers can create for their classes, and then share resources (threaded discussions, texts, etc.) with students. In addition, it's a tremendous resource for teachers networking with other teachers. There are a host of groups (math, etc.) within Edmodo for teachers to join.

Check it out. It's free.

Now onto my symbolic RIP request...

Having just come out of a two-day workshop on excellence within a 21st Century School, I got to spend a good deal of time with our (American International School of Budapest)  Middle School tech intergrationist, Bill Farren.

Bill won't mind me saying that we are doing a disservice to technology when we continue to refer to "tech integration".  Are we still stuck in a mindset that has us create compelling units and then think of technology as some after-thought that we should add in order to satisfy others that the unit is cutting edge?  When we think of tech integration as some after-thought we missing the more exciting question of how effective are we using technology.

Did our teacher-ancestors speak in terms of white-board integration? Or, ball point pen integration?

21st Century skills are asking students (and schools) to be effective users of technology.  When we start to think of those outcomes (or any outcomes), we only need to ask if technology will help us get there? Often times it will, but lets bury the technology integration label once and for all.

Bill, we'll work on getting some new business cards soon.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Digital Promise, Launchedu, ImagineK12: looking ahead

When we look at how to harness a new model of education, it will be interesting to see what type of changes educational incubators will bring about.

I'd like to share three promising initiatives that are on the horizon, and would love to hear of others of a similar nature. 

From their website:

Knowledge. Technology. Possibility.

A new national center founded to spur breakthrough technologies that can help transform the way teachers teach and students learn.
is authorized: 
"(A) to support research to improve education, teaching, and learning that is in the public interest, but that is determined unlikely to be undertaken entirely with private funds; 
(B) to support (i) precompetitive research, development, and demonstrations; (ii) assessments of prototypes of innovative digital learning and information technologies, as well as the components and tools needed to create such technologies; and (iii) pilot testing and evaluation of prototype systems described in clause (ii); and 
(C) to encourage the widespread adoption and use of effective, innovative digital approaches to improving education, teaching, and learning."

As part of the SXSWedu Conference from March 6-8 2012, Launchedu is described below.

Based upon successful Accelerator programs at SXSW Interactive and SXSW Music, LAUNCHedu provides an exciting opportunity for conference registrants to see promising entrepreneurs publicly pitch their startup education business concepts and products. LAUNCHedu sessions are sure to be full of fast-paced conversation and demonstrations before a panel of judges that include venture capitalists, successful entrepreneurs, and education practitioners.
Companies that are deemed to have the greatest opportunity for success and impact will move forward to an exciting final round of presentations, where the winners will be announced…and rewarded! SXSWedu appreciates the hard work of its LAUNCHedu Advisory Council, who is actively engaged in developing an entertaining, enlightening and rewarding experience.

Imagine K12 is a for-profit enterprise looking to invest time, experience, energy and resources in entrepreneurs who have a passion for education and the technical know-how to create their vision.  Over a three month period, we will draw on our extensive entrepreneurial experience, understanding of the Silicon Valley ecosystem, and knowledge of the education industry to help bring your idea to life, get your company funded, and to get your company on the road to success.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


My thanks to Tom Vander Ark for his post on Getting Smart entitled ImagineK12 Ready to Demo Edupreneurs.

The article shares the "incubator" concept (such as Y-Combinator) utilized by the business world for helping entrepreneurs bring their concept to market - except that the folks at ImagineK12 have used the same idea with bringing new educational ideas to market.

What an excellent way to work through what can be a difficult process - breaking into the educational market to showcase innovative technologies that have the potential to change education.

I hope everyone out there is able to spread the word regarding this concept so that the best ideas end up in front of our students.

Behind the scenes "thank yous" to the folks at Learn Capital who finance the operation and Startl, the non-profit arm of ImagineK12.

Put in your application. Share with friends. And help push the "edupreneur" concept !


Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Unique twist on an age-old problem

It's been awhile since my last post. The end of the academic year and summer getting the better of my writing consistency.  But no better time than the present to jump back in.

Kicking off the new year, I'm looking to further a PLC culture at the American International School of Budapest. The planning process of implementing a successful PLC was given a good jump-start today by a great skype session we had with Fran Prolman.  It's exciting to know that if it's done well, it's one of the main elements to providing satisfaction and happiness to the school environment. That's my top priority this year, and thanks to Fran, we have a better chance at success.

Along the lines of happiness, there's a really interesting article from "Connected Principals" relating games that are meant to increase the happiness factor at a school:  Kinder and Happier Schools: Gaming to Improve our Jen Factor .   A unique twist on an age-old problem, improving school culture.

For the meantime, I'll be working on the culture issue from the PLC angle. But I'm curious to know if any of you have experienced ideas like the Jen Factor in schools.

Here's to a great academic year...

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Teacher-Software-Developers: Pushing up the SAMR model

Having just completed our CEESA  (Central and Eastern European Schools Association) Conference, I'm filled with the usual flurry of ideas running around my head.

The keynote, Tom Guskey, was excellent with his presentation on the follies of our current grading practices. If I follow the theme of this blog regarding educational change, I'm not sure if there is a topic bigger than that of "how we grade" to make a difference.

But since I was a presenter at the conference I'll be a little selfish and share some thoughts and  questions that I'm still trying to answer.

Initially, I intended a solid session from Bill Mackenty from the American School of Warsaw who shared how he is working with staff there to integrate tech more using the SAMR model. Interesting stuff.

It led in nicely to a session I led on trying to link tech-based simulations to standards and benchmarks. My premise is this: (and I say all of this with a big question mark, looking for some guidance and feedback)

When we consider "content-based" technology solutions (think simCity, not Skype, wikis, etc.), there are two general camps and most solutions tend to fall on one side or the other - seldom in the middle.

In Group 1:  Some technology solutions are strictly content based, and targeted specifically at standards.. (Mavis Beacon, online math sites, etc.) While these sites are usually much easier to integrate into the classroom, and they are most likely more successful at helping students reach a specific few standards (compared to teaching without the technology), they are quite narrow and algorithmic. We could call them educationally "efficient" uses of technology to teach specific skills or content- helping students learn multiplication tables faster than they would without the technology. But they do little to transform education. 

In Group 2:  Simulations (simCity, World or Warcraft, Farmville, etc.)  offer excellent examples of Project Based Learning (and Challenge Based Learning). However, they are so open-ended that I believe teachers have trouble implementing them into the classroom unless they are willing to put in a large amount of time linking them to standards.  Or, alternatively, they may want to neglect the standards to some degree in an attempt to get at more engaged, holistic learning.  Despite their practical limitations, this group offers the potential to transform learning if done correctly.

My presentation is asking why we don't have more technology-based applications that link specific content into open-ended learning where students make choices in a dynamic, authentic environment? We reviewed 2 examples which I would consider this "middle ground" - based in enough content to be easily used by the teacher, and flexible and open-ended enough to place students in authentic situations where they will need to make decisions in a complex environment:

1) simCEO
2) Jason Science 

And we ask the same question in two different ways:
1) What are some other examples of technology that fall into this middle ground?
2) At what point are we going to provide a structure where strong teachers who have ideas galore for these types of projects can tap into the development world of technology to make them available for students on a large scale?
For example, in what way could creative teachers use technology to put students in open-ended, authentic, complex, (collaborative?),  "choose your own adventure" types of learning tasks centered around specific content goals such as:
a) photosynthesis
b) man versus nature (in relation to a specific book, perhaps)
c) international coalitions for regime change
d) individual rights vs. collective security

I know of many teachers who teach these concepts in fascinating, authentic ways. But why aren't we tapping into these ideas to produce technology integration ideas that can do it for us - better.

Or, to put it another way: Why don't we use the students' natural engagement with simulation-based learning to modify World of Warcraft to teach specifically about American History?

Any thoughts? Let me know.  I'd love to hear em.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

one-to-one computing webinar and CEESA conference

A great opportunity for those of you who are interested in making the transition to a one-to-one computing environment.
This webinar from DyKnow is scheduled for March 10.
Here's the link to the registration page and the webinar summary overview.

Presented by: Kyle Berger, Executive Director of Technology Services
Alvarado Independent School District

Seventy percent of students who attend the Alvarado Independent School District (AISD) are considered economically disadvantaged. Just like everywhere else, budgets are strapped and money is tight. So how is this district two years in to a one-to-one computing initiative?
In this webinar you will learn about the innovative strategies and groundbreaking ideas used by AIDS’s Executive Director of Technology Services Kyle Berger. As a change agent and thought leader, Kyle gathered support from local businesses, board members, parents, teachers and students. You will learn about what it took to plan this program and ongoing implementations. A question and answer session will  follow the event so come ready to ask questions and gather insights.

I'm busing preparing for the upcoming CEESA (Central and Eastern European Schools Association) Conference presentation on March 17-19. CEESA is an organization of international schools in the region.

The write-up of the presentation is shared below, and I'll post the slideshow of the presentation and notes after the conference.

This session will be an interactive session in which participants will share and walk away with examples and ideas applicable for the classroom.
The session will consist of:
1) a brief explanation and list of criteria defining 1) Project Based Learning 2) Challenge Based Learning, and 3) Authentic Assessment
2) briefly sharing a few simulations which come close to meeting these criteria:
a) content based simulations: Jason Science and simCEO*
b) open-ended simulations: Farmville and World of Warcraft
3) briefly sharing the benefits of using simulations in the classroom and the potential barriers/solutions that these same simulations pose in terms of assessment practices
4) collectively sharing other effective simulations that session participants have used
5) a collective discussion about the potential for and challenges with developing simulations for use in classrooms