Passes Diigo as EdReach’s #3 Referrer

I think this is pretty important news- especially for education news sites. Move over Diigo. Diigo has been a pretty good referrer for EdReach, and they’ve occupied the education space extremely well over that past couple of years. But the past couple of weeks there’s been a rolling stone gathering lots of moss- and that stone is Our number 1 and number 2 referrers are probably not surprising- Twitter and Facebook, thanks to our Facebook page and awesome network of Twitter sharers.

When premiered earlier this year, we tested it out with EdReach, to little avail. We thought that if Diigo was to have any competition in the bookmarking space, this could certainly be an option. Well, I haven’t seen much happen with and educators for the past few months, but then something big happened: launched for Education.

Now, EdReach has been getting pingbacks every hour by new educators “scooping” EdReach content. Surprisingly, many of these are coming from educators that are outside of the U.S. It’s an interesting trend.

I know many educators are fond of, another link/newspaper tool, but I’ve never found  that paper-like experience to be of much value, because it’s so… bland. So little effort goes into creating it. creates these “news” papers based on the people you follow on Twitter, not on your Tweets. creates their paper based on your bookmarks, so it is somewhat more of an authentic experience. for education has a huge opportunity to be the new “cool kid” on the education block, seeing as how Diigo has made very little improvements over the past couple of years. What do you think will happen?



Celebrate Success and Take Ownership of the Message!

I get excited about education a lot!  One thing continues to bother me though and that is the continued lack of a cohesive effort to celebrate success in our schools.  We have so many people embedded in reform that we end up putting out more of a negative message than may be productive. is focused on combining our voice to give everyone a bigger voice! As our About Us page states …

We all want one thing- to take education forward. As much as we may argue, we still want what’s best for our future thinkers and creators that are sitting behind little tiny desks and also behind great big board room tables.

Education has never gotten the voice that it’s truly deserved- just check any Online newspaper and look for the education section. Keep looking- because you won’t find it there.
But you will find that section here.

With this in mind, when I was at EduBloggerCon in Philadelphia recently, I submitted a session that was focused on education, media, and the messages we want to be sent.  The question I had was, “Why isn’t education on the front page of the news?”.

For me, the answer in so many ways comes back to what is all about!  While I have been perseverating over the issue for quite sometime, a colleague of ours who was in the session wrote up a nice piece about the conversation and one great idea that came out of it, “#EduWin“.  I asked Candace if we could cross post it and she has agreed.  Thank you Candace for this well written piece!  #EduWin (more about the author at the end of this post)


… One of the discussion topics (EdubloggerCon) I chose to join this year was entitled Why isn’t education on the front page of the news? (Let’s talk about strategies to push this important discussion to the forefront in a positive and meaningful way). The gist of the discussion was that yes, we can convince local news to cover a unique event at our school, but that’s the end of it. No one will ever hear positive stories about learning in today’s schools in higher venues. When will positive stories about the bloomin’ good ever gain national notice?  It is much easier (and generates ratings) when the media cover:

a. stories of education failures

b. stats of comparisons to other cultures– limited to the first sentence of the Executive Summary

c. stories of the high cost of education to taxpayers

d. all of the above

Fortunately, this EBC group was pro-active in approach and did not linger in the weeds of  woe-is-us-nobody-likes-teachers. We brainstormed. We generated a very do-able, very positive, and very realistic strategy to make the voices of winning education stories resound beyond the local news: the hashtag #eduwin.

Here is how it works:

  • Every time you see a change in a student because of something that clicked, write about it in a tweet or a blog post, hashtagged #EduWin.
  • Every time you see another teacher do something that works, share it, hashtagged #EduWin.
  • Every time you see a tweet from another educator  about the way students are LEARNING, retweet it or share it on Facebook, hashtagged #EduWin.
  • When you’re having a bad day, set up a Twitter search or do one on Google (when they get Real Time working again), looking for items hashtagged #EduWin.
  • When you hear people griping about the state of education today, share a story you saw hashtagged #EduWin.
  • When your class does projects, shoot some video and upload the clips of kids talking about what they did to YouTube, hashtagged #EduWin (cute kids or kittens can’t hurt…)
  • When a parent volunteer wants to be helpful, ask him/her to take some pictures of the good things going on in your class (maybe from the back or close-ups of hands so there is no concern about identifiable pictures) and share them on Flickr or Facebook, hashtagged #EduWin.
  • When your kids make glogs, Voicethreads, or other online projects that shout powerful evidence of learning, add the hashtag #EduWin to the very best examples (and resist the urge to put the hashtag on ones that could be appreciated without context)
  • When you give awards to your students, us the title EDUWIN on the awards.
  • When that one non-reader finally recognizes the sight words, clap and say “#EduWin!”
  • Collaborate every day with teacher colleagues on the digital storytelling of E#EduWin.

As an FYI, one of those in the discussion asked whether the tag is Ed-U-Win or eduwinor edUwin or edu-win. It is read as any and all of these, but written simply, #EduWin.  For through #EduWin, you win, our kids win, we all win, and edu wins.

Now you have to pass it on. #EduWin. You’re it.


Well put Candace!

Original Author:

I am a 27 year teaching veteran and the Director of K-12 Initiatives for a non-profit learning and technologies company. I am in charge of, a free, ad-free teacher resource site in its twelfth year of continuous service to teachers and students around the world. I am a teacher, first and always. Thus the title of my blog.

Candace Hackett Shively

The Changing Publishing Landscape: Amazon Launches Textbook Rental while Borders Liquidates

Sorry for the outrageously long title, but these both of these stories that were reported today are telling about the the impact eBooks are having on the publishing and distributing industry.

First, Amazon released information that it is launching a Kindle eTextbook Rental service. I believe that this service will greatly benefit for college students, and there are possibilities that secondary education could benefit from this as well for those schools embracing 1:1 programs with students.

Kindle Textbook Rental is a flexible and affordable way to read textbooks. You can rent for the minimum length, typically 30 days, and save up to 80% off the print list price. If you find you need your textbook longer, you can extend your rental by as little as 1 day as many times as you want and just pay for the added days.

Amazon has really put together a nice set of features for this service:

  • Rent once and read across all connected devices that have a Kindle App
  • Pay for only the time one needs the book (from 30 to 365 days)
  • Keep access to all highlights and annotations even after the rental period

College students currently spend thousands of dollars on textbooks, most of which are only used for many of which 6-18 weeks depending on the term of the course. Then most students attempt to sell those books back at a very small fraction of the price originally paid. With the rise in anytime connectivity by college students, the ability to be able to digitally rent textbooks for only that time will be amazing. I envision college students carrying around all of their Kindle digitally rented textbooks, their notes, audio recording or podcasts of lectures and important class related videos all on a 1.5lb internet connected device. Being able to access digitally searchable personal notes and annotated Kindle eTextbooks (even after the rental period) will be really helpful for spiral curricular classes. I can also envision secondary students leveraging these same features.

This could also benefit district textbook budgets either by offsetting some costs from student paid rentals, or reducing textbook adoption to only the number of students taking a specific course. Additionally, this has the possibility to reduce the number of out of date textbooks by by always being able to “rent” the latest version of books at a reduced cost opposed to outright purchases from our ever lengthening textbook cycles.

As one service launches, another dies.

Today, Borders announced the full liquidation of all of assets and holdings. Borders Bookstore was once a bright and shining star in the book world getting started as a small college town book store eventually becoming a retail giant. After failing to move quickly to the changing publishing and ebook industry, the four decade old organization will be shuttering all stores and layoff all 10,700 employees. Borders had been hoping that an auction held Monday July 18, 2011 would result in a buyer. However, as Mike Edwards, Borders Group President, related to employees that auction was unsuccessful.

For decades, our stores have been destinations within our communities – places where people have sought knowledge, entertainment, and enlightenment and connected with others who share their passion. Whether you work in our stores, distribution centers, or at the Store Support Center in Ann Arbor, each of you has played a valuable role in helping ignite the love of reading in our customers. Together, Borders and Waldenbooks associates have helped millions of people discover new books, music, and movies, and I hope you’ll take pride in the role we’ve played in our customers’ lives.

The full text from Mike Edwards, to all employees can be found here.

A sad day for print lovers. The publishing industry has been and will continue to be in turmoil until old line publishing finds a new revenue generating business model of which, the ripple effect on distributors, publishers, syndicators, and even authors will be years in shaking out. As readers, our choices and desired flexibility started this snowball rolling, and the possible avalanche that has been gaining size and speed will take us for a while as well.

How do you think the closure of Borders will impact literature discovery for students and future readers? Do you prefer the touch and feel of print or has digital dramatically increased your reading interests?

If you have thoughts and ideas about how Kindle eTexkbook Rental could benefit students, please share in the comments.

Image Credit: joeltelling from Flickr CC

Going Mobile With Google+

Google+ in EductionEdReach has been looking at all the facets of the new Google+ platform this past week.  Today’s focus is going to be on how Google+ can work on mobile devices (Android, iOS) and how that could potentially impact education.  There has been no formal announcement for Google+ going under the Google Apps for Education umbrella so the product can be easily used in schools, but there is talk that it “might” be coming.  How would that affect mobile learning? More importantly, how COULD that affect mobile learning?  Here is a breakdown of what we know of Google+ and mobile devices as well as some thoughts on how this technology could help in a mobile classroom environment.

Android: The Google+ app for Android phones was in the marketplace right away when Google+ was released.  The app is very clean and straightforward.  You can easily hop between the following:

  • Stream – You can see the information from who you are following
  • Photos – You can see photos in album views from 1) People in your circles, 2) Photos of you, 3) Your albums or 4) Photos on your phone.  I really like how quick and fast this area moves.
  • Circles – You can go here to choose a circles of yours to see who is IN that circle.  Allows for you to quickly hop to a specific person’s page.
  • Huddle – Group text messaging.  I’m very excited to see this grow. I don’t know that many are using it right now or know that it’s there. I sent a message to some colleagues and they have yet to respond. Could be they are on a different phone (iOS that doesn’t have this yet) or that notifications for this aren’t set up on that person’s particular phone.
  • Profile – A direct link to all of your content in your particular profile.
  • Notifications – An area at the bottom of the app has a Notifications link showing what you have missed out on recently.  Very handy to plow through those “follows” and messages if you haven’t yet gotten to those types of things.

The mobile app is pretty streamlined.  During these first few weeks of using it, the community has voiced a few critiques that are important to point out:

  • There’s not an easy way to “share” something.  If you’re browsing through your stream and you see a post you like and you want to “share” it with others on Google+, there is no current way to do that.
  • Some don’t like that after installing an app, when taking a picture on your phone from anywhere (not just in the Google+ app), the picture now automatically goes to your Google+ photos area.  The picture is marked as private until you “un-private” it.  It appears this is on by default, however, the user can turn this off by going to MENU > INSTANT UPLOAD and unchecking the “Automatically upload new photos & videos to a private web album”

iOS App: Currently, as this post is written, the Google+ app for iOS has still not been released in the App store.  Many articles and references to workers from Google say that the app has been submitted and is just being held up with Apple’s approval process.

Mobile Device Browser: Don’t have the iOS Google+ app yet?  No problem!  Even though the official app is still not released for iOS, the use of Google+ in the web browser on an iOS device (iPad, iPod Touch, iPhone) or Android device isn’t a horrible experience. In fact, I think it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had “in-browser” for navigating a site.  You can navigate in your browser to and keen observers will notice that your device will forward you to the mobile address of Login with your credentials and start browsing around!  Tip: I would tap the “bookmark” button in the browser to make a shortcut for your home screen so you can easily get back here.

Your “Home” area shows the same choices as the App, minus Huddle.  I like the consistency here with the App so it doesn’t matter how you get here, the experience is close to the same.  I also like when looking at your social stream, you can flip the screen to the right to see any “Incoming” posts from those following you but you’re not following yet.  If you flip to the left instead, you get the “Nearby” posts.  Part of the App and mobile browser experience is a little checkmark that resides on the top right that you can click to ‘check-in’ with your location.  These posts will then populate the “Nearby” stream so you can easily connect with others around you.  I’m guessing this will take off more as people use the “checkin” features built into the App and mobile versions of Google+.

Currently in the browser experience, there is no way to take or upload a picture, not even from the Photos area.

Educational Impact

Google+ as a platform on mobile devices?  Think about all students under a Google Apps domain having Google+ access and the world of possibilities this could open up on mobile devices.  And I don’t mean to go the route of “doom and gloom” for what could happen that would be negative.  Let’s focus on the positive.

  • Huddle allowing for students or teachers/students to “group text” (with Google Apps). (stop snarking with the eyebrows about district policies and such right now related to students texting — we’re just dreaming)
  • Photos/video uploading instantaneously to the cloud.  This could help to foster a discussion and deeper understanding about file management and what’s private and what’s not.
  • Easily communicate with class members or teacher while working “in the field” on a project.
  • An opportunity for students to ‘take the classroom with them’ where a teacher can post something to a class circle and students can get to that content anywhere.

I personally am very excited at the opportunities that Google+ could bring.  I’m more excited by the way in which the mobile aspects of Google+ don’t lose a lot of the quality (yes, some features are missing still, but that will come) that one experiences at the computer.  I’d really like to see how and if this is going to be included in Google Apps for Education.

With Google+ only have been out now for about two weeks, what are other thoughts you have about how it could be incorporated on mobile devices?

Light the Fire: Learning Through “Sparks”

Google+ in EductionA feature of Google+ that has great potential in the classroom is “Sparks.”
“Sparks brings you stories on the things you love from all across the Web, so it’s easy to strike up meaningful conversations with your friends.”
Setting up your Sparks is super easy. Simply type in some key words into the search box and Google+ builds a stream of information for you. Sharing these links with your circles takes two clicks.

Google+ Sparks LogoGoogle+ is designed to enhance what some are calling the “alive web” which attempts to remove as many of the barriers to spontaneous conversation as possible. The purpose of Sparks is to give you something to talk about and discuss.

In an educational setting Sparks would provide an interesting way for students to follow research topics, obtaining information from sources that they may not have considered previously. Helpful articles can quickly be shared to the other members of the group if a circle has been created for them.

While the idea behind Sparks is great, it has a lot of growing up to do before it will be a compelling tool for anyone to use. Sparks could become a more powerful and useful feature of Google+ with a few additions:

  • Make sparks more like Google custom search, allow the explicit exclusion or inclusion of specific websites.
  • Integrate Google Reader into Sparks to read and share your favorite feeds directly in Google+.
  • Enable Spark sharing. Currently you can only share a specific article, not an entire spark.

Another important unanswered question is how Sparks content is chosen. Google Engineer DeWitt Clinton provided only a very cursory explanation in the Google+ help forum:

“[It’s a] new algorithms over a new corpus. Still very much in flux and being further expanded and tuned. I’m sure we’ll give a tech talk eventually about the technology behind Sparks, but this is very early days still.”

Google+ Sharing SparksSeveral bloggers have mentioned that the results returned by Sparks appear very similar, but not identical, to a Google New search. Searching for very narrow search terms such as a specific person or a school may not return any results.

For right now, Sparks leaves a lot to be desire. Without customization or a way to fine-tune the returned results, its power is limited. In an educational setting Sparks has great potential as a news aggregator which could assist students with research reports. Adding the ability to include specific RSS feeds would also provide a way for teachers and school administrators to push content such as homework reminders and project directions directly to students.

Set up some sparks. See what you find. Perhaps it will start a conversation with some friends!


An Introduction to Google+

Just about one week.  That’s how long Google+ has been open to “invite only” status, though that admittedly is still a bit on and off.  Fortunately, some of us on the EdReach network were able to get in and are continuing to play around with all that this new social network has to offer.   John Sowash started us off with our first in a series of posts on Monday about how Google+ could be used in Education.

For this second post, we wanted to give readers more of an insight and a “how to get started” look into Google+.  As you get in to Google+, we hope that you’ll find these walk through screencasts helpful.




Be sure to come back to EdReach tomorrow for a deeper look at Circles and specifically how Circles can be used in Education!

Google+ In Education

Google+ in EductionLast week Google re-entered the social media field with the launch of Google+. Initial reactions have been positive, a good sign for Google which has struggled to find it’s place in social media. 

What does Google+ mean for educators? For students? For schools? This is one of the topics that the EdReach team will be exploring this week.

This week we will be featuring a series of posts related to Google+, from a basic overview for those who haven’t had a chance to explore yet, to more in-depth discussions of the features of Google+. Here’s what you can expect:

  • Tuesday: An Intro to Google+
  • Wednesday: Circle Me Up: Exploring “circles”
  • Thursday: Let’s Hangout: connecting through “hangouts”
  • Friday: Light the fire: learning through “sparks”
  • Saturday: Going Mobile with Google+
  • Sunday: Where can we go from here?

It’s important to note that Google+ isn’t even a week old. We are still experimenting and exploring. Additionally, as with most Google products released in Beta, features and services are likely to change, evolve, and improve in the coming months.

If you haven’t been able to explore Google+, now you can: access is now available to anyone. Click here to sign up. Check back with the EdReach Crew and we’ll keep you up to speed on what is happening and how Google+ will impact teachers, students, and school.

Is EdTech the Answer? Rupert Murdoch thinks so!

Mr. Rupert Murdoch

Last week the Wall Street Journal posted an interesting article in which Mr. Rupert Murdoch (who owns News Corp.) criticizes K-12 education as being “stuck in the Victorian age.” He then went on to encourage business leaders to invest in educational technology which he believes represents a “$500 billion industry”. Murdoch also argued that schools “need to incorporate more personalized learning” and that technology would provide a scaleable platform to achieve such goals. He went on to emphasize the goal of creating “software that will engage students and help teach them concepts and learn to think for themselves.”

While I am a supporter of educational technology and believe that it does enhance and improve the learning environment, I disagree with Mr. Murdoch’s assertion that technology is the answer to the challenging issues that we face. It’s a three-pronged approach:

1. The Student– students hold a significant amount of responsibility for their own learning. The character of the student is a direct indication of their potential. Initiative, responsibility, diligence, and determination are critical for student success.

2. The Parents– parents must be involved in and aware of their child’s academic progress. No one is better suited to track and monitor the progress of a student than mom or dad. Without parental support a student will face significant academic challenges.

3. The Teacher/School– The teacher and school as a whole have the task of providing an environment conducive to learning; one that challenges and stretches the individual. This includes proper curriculum and intrastructure.

If a breakdown in this structure occurs, learning will be negatively impacted. An interactive whiteboard can not compensate for a parent who does not properly support and encourage their child to succeed academically. A blended learning environment will not compensate for a lack of determination and diligence in a student. An iPad will not compensate for teachers who are inadequately prepared or unwilling to extend the effort required in order to be an effective teacher.

While educational technology is a important part of the educational system, it’s not the most important part. Students have learned very well without interactive whiteboards, online instruction, or iPads. It’s the teachers, parents, and students who make learning possible.

I welcome the investments of business men and women in the education sector. I have no doubt that some of them will develop extremely innovative and creative solutions to existing problems. I worry sometimes, however, that the integration of technology into education is seen as progress in and of itself. It is what the technology enables, student learning, that is important.

I do not foresee a day when a software program alone can provide all of the necessary instruction and feedback for a student. Even the best online programs have dedicated teachers behind the that facilitate the course and provide dynamic feedback to students.

I believe that Mr. Murdoch is well intentioned, however I am concerned that the emphasis he is placing on technology will obscure other important aspect of educational success such as student effort, parental evolvement, and high quality teachers.

iCloud for Education

iCloud stores your music, photos, apps, calendars, documents, and more. And wirelessly pushes them to all your devices — automatically. It’s the easiest way to manage your content. Because now you don’t have to.

With it being the last week of school for many, not everyone may be aware of the possibly landscape changing announcement Apple made on Monday at it’s World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC). Widely anticipated was information on the next version of OS X: Lion. Additionally, expected was information about the next update to iOS: iOS 5. However, hints and rumors about what the giant data center in North Carolina could be for always led to the conclusion “iTunes in the cloud“… Personally, I believe that few people would have guess that Apple would offer for free a completely automated backup and versioning system that could encompass Pages, Keynote, and Numbers (and much more). The fact that it appears iCloud will also seamlessly background sync all of these documents to Lion and all linked iOS 5 devices is nothing short of… Magical…

Imagine a flipped classroom where both personal and district owned iPads are linked to an iCloud account. The teacher shares an assignment template up to iCloud, and within seconds all student devices receive the information regardless of whether they are at school, home, a friend’s house, the library, or even a Panera. Class schedules and assignment calendars are always updated with the latest information. Digital stories can be published and reviewed by the class instantly. Having a classroom developed ePub textbook instantly accessible to students who can then collectively annotate, highlight, bookmark and review the material… Magical…

Of course there will be challenges, but what are your thoughts about the possibilities of iCloud in education?

Open Houses…Advice for New Teachers

You’re a new teacher. Congratulations, you’ve made it through your first year of school. In the past couple of week’s you have probably received several open house invitations which is likely to lead to great social discomfort:

Image Via Flickr user c.a.muller

Are you obligated to attend all of the open houses that you are invited to?

Can you pick and choose?

Should you just skip them all?

Does a Facebook invitation hold the same weight as an invitation mailed to your home or put into your school box?

Do you need to bring a gift?

These are some of the questions that I had to work through during my first few years as a teachers. Here, for your review, are my policies regarding open houses.

1. The invitation

I will not consider attending an open house unless I receive a personal invitation. It can be put into my school mailbox, hand delivered, or mailed to my home address. Facebook and casual “hey, c’mon over” invitations don’t cut it. Perhaps this is an old-fashioned, and stuck-up policy, but it makes for an easy decision.

2. Picking the Party

Just because I receive an invitation doesn’t mean that I attend every open house. Sometimes I am surprised at the students who send me invitations: “I haven’t had you in class since your freshman year and you haven’t talked to me since. Why are you inviting me to your open house?” There are some students, however, that I have become very close with as a result of their involvement with teams that I coach, extra-curricular activities, or frequent informal conversations throughout their high school careers. These are the students that I am connected with and feel that it would be appropriate to attend their open house.

3. The Present

It is customary these days to give graduates money. I graduated in the year 2000 and remember raking in over $2,000. I’m sure that today’s graduates pull in even more. Despite this custom, I am a teacher and don’t have spare cash to doll out to students. Most other graduation gifts are too tacky to be seriously considered. So, instead of the gift, I write a fairly long personal note to the graduate commending them for their hard work and providing some insight or encouragement for the future. No Washingtons, Lincolns, or Hamiltons.

These three rules keep the number of open houses that I attend each year to a manageable number. This year I only have two on my calendar.

Veteran teachers, what are your rules for attending open houses?

Looking to the future

This post will be a bit more personal than my previous ones as I am currently writing it on my iPad from a hospital bed. On Monday, I was admitted over the concern of a possible pulmonary embolism (PE). So, for the past two days, I have had multiple tests, chest x-rays, and a CT scan. The good news is that both cardiac issues and a blood clot (PE) have been ruled out. However, I somehow have contracted pneumonia and pleurisy. Having no pneumonia symptoms (and continuing to have no symptoms) like coughing, difficulty breathing, etc. made this event all the more startling and led to the concern over a possible blood clot. All in all, I am happy to have pneumonia and hope to be able to head home today.

So, what does this have to do with education? While I have been in the hospital, (by the way, other than for getting better, it is really boring) no fewer than 8 doctors have walked by my door carrying an iPad (including my own). In taking a few minutes to talk with my doctor about his use of the iPad, he related, how in a very brief time, it has changed his practice. I must say that he was an early adopter of digital medical records, however, the iPad has made them completely portable. In addition, the diagnostic medical apps, the ability to always have access to X-rays, results from MRI’s and CT scans at the touch of a button, in a device that lasts through rounds as well as his own practice hours. He sees the iPad as having dramatically changed the medical industry in a very short time. Dr. Cheng even took a few minutes to walk me through my own medical history, all previous medications, even my current medical charts, lab work, X-rays, and the video of my CT scan, all at his fingertips, and all within a few taps on the screen . Additionally, since he has personally been keeping medical records and notes since he purchased his first Apple IIe, he can go back in time to see if an ailment today could stem from a previous illness or injury.

“Steve Jobs has done an absolutely remarkable thing. These devices will revolutionize everything.” – Dr. Francis Cheng

In watching the doctors move throughout the ward, and during my discussion with Dr. Cheng, the thought that kept running through my head was how in a little over a year has a single device has penetrated – and for some – has transformed industries. So much so, other manufacturers, OS providers, and tens of thousands of application developers are all pushing (and succeeding) for a piece of that penetration. Or shall we say transformation?

From a personal perspective, last night I was able to FaceTime with my sons before they went to bed. Actually, my sons were able to FaceTime me. I had sent a txt home to ask my mother-in-law to have the boys get my wife’s iPad so I could “call” them, but suddenly, MY iPad lite-up as my 6 year old Joshua FaceTime’d me. We had never done this in the past, but he “knew how to do it”. It was amazing to be able to play “rock-paper-scissors” with them and to be able to see Joshua and Noah smile before they went to sleep. Could we have done this over Skype? Sure… Could my son have initiated that call because he “just knew how”? Even with my MacBook Pro at home, I don’t think he could have pulled that off…

As education continues to move from “teaching” students to helping guide them to apply what they know, I believe the iPad has the incredible potential to change learning and teaching, but only if we stop holding to preconceived notions about how or what education is or “should be”. That said, I also agree with David Warlick’s view that technology is still the wrong answer. But, only because I think that we are trying to force it through our preconceived ideas of what pedagogy with it should look like, or arguing the merits of ports, and “real” keyboards and upgradability before a device even comes out of the box. Believe me, I don’t have the answer, frankly, I wish I did. But, watching how individuals, groups, and entire industries are changing mindsets, leveraging interests, adapting to challenges, and applying what they learn to meet and exceed needs… Isn’t that what learning and education is all about? If so, why are we as educators caught up in the small meaningless arguments?

[update] I would like to also apologize for the delay in this regularly “early morning” scheduled post… But, while writing I received the “OK” from my doctor to be released from the hospital. Now to head home for a few more days of bed rest and to be with my family.

Microsoft … cringe … buys Skype?

Once again, a major merger between tech companies may have a big impact on schools.  It has been reported that Microsoft has purchased Skype for a nice tidy sum of money.

Microsoft is apparently buying Skype because of its mobile device platform and its need to answer Google Voice and Facetime.  It does seem like a good match from that perspective … but I wonder … What does this mean for education?  Will Skype remain free?  Why did Microsoft want Skype?  Didn’t Skype just open a fantastic educator network?

According to, “cringe/krinj/Verb: Bend one’s head and body in fear or in a servile manner: “he cringed away from the blow”; “surrounded by cringing yes-men”. Noun: An act of cringing in fear.”  … Yep … that sounds about right from this educator’s perspective!

When everything is finalized, I worry that Microsoft will lose the understanding and impact of Skype as a free resource for the classroom.  While Skype’s CEO will remain with Microsoft and head the Skype department, will they lose a lot of their key personnel with the move to Microsoft’s corporate structure? Will we be looking for a new “free” platform in a few years?

Finally, the interesting take on this story is that Skype may get integrated into Facebook more effectively.  What does this do for your thoughts on Facebook and Skype?

From an education standpoint, we don’t really know what this really means yet.  Personally, I can’t imagine that this will impact schools negatively. This is an example though of how we need to remain aware of the tools that we have traditionally become reliant upon that are free platforms.  Let us know what you think!



White House Webinar on Osama bin Laden – [update link to Archive]


[update] According to the White House,

“Tens of thousands of students across the globe, tuned in to the live webcast to hear Ben Rhodes, Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, to discuss Osama bin Laden.”

There were over 1700 questions asked through the live chat as well. Here is a link to the archives to watch the event.

[Original] Many students today know little about Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, or the events that took place on September 11, 2001. Many more were not even born at that time, however, their lives, experiences, and personal freedoms have been shaped and irrevocably changed since that date.

Today, Thursday May 5, 2011 at 12pm CST, the White House is presenting an amazing opportunity to students in the United States and around the world. Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, Ben Rhodes, will be conducting a live webinar discussion on Osama bin Laden. During the presentation, students in participating classrooms will be able to submit questions to Mr. Rhodes. Those questions will then be answered live at the conclusion of his presentation.

This is a tremendous opportunity for our nation’s students. However, because of the sensitive nature of the topic, the White House is recommending only middle school and high school classrooms register for this event. Only an internet connected computer (and a way to share with students – projector and speakers) is needed to participate. Questions will be asked via a live chat window.

For more information and to register your classroom to participate in this event, click on this link.

Image Credit: White House Photo of the Day

Are You Ready for the Edu-Social Future?

Last week I wondered if Silicon Valley was abandoning education. This week, I’m all but convinced. In just that short time span, there’s been a flurry of editorials and news articles flaunting the power of social media, and the death of Bin Laden is only going to bolster this.

This article from last week’s Business Week doesn’t help education’s chances at being part of this new tech boom. What you understand from reading Ashlee Vance‘s article, is that Silicon Valley is more focused and more determined than ever on getting you to purchase a pair of gym shoes, and getting us to click on advertisements. While the academics of the world yearn for the next big breakthroughs, the major innovations in the next few years are going to focus on the billion dollar Groupons, Zyngas, and Living Socials- and how they can get a cash-strapped nation to squeeze out their very last dimes.

If I didn’t think Facebook was boring, I might be more excited about this.

Where does education fit into all of this? Besides, which isn’t really declaring itself an education tool, there are very few new tools emerging that appear to have education in mind.  Matt Montagne suggests that the new technology innovations will come from educators using tools that aren’t really intended for education- educators that take platforms, and find new ways to make stories, find new ways to- teach.

The inherent problem with this, is that, besides and some other much less worthy platforms, social media all but excludes education. Besides the fact that social media is not very much accepted in schools, the business of social media hasn’t found a way to truly integrate itself into schools. So while the positive side of me thinks Matt is right- if all we’re left with is social media- then educators have it 100 times harder. Schools fear social media, so what we have is an innovative stalemate. Educators like Jeff Utecht have found ways to integrate Facebook into the classroom, but famed tech educators like David Jakes will say that students “don’t want teachers in their space.”  The social media money is flying around Silicon Valley like syrup on waffles, and education still doesn’t know what to do with social media.

Reading and the tech blogs are beginning to get redundant these days. Social, social, social. I won’t deny that I dive into my Twitter ten times a day- social media is very much part of my life. But is education’s only play in this game- to get friendly with social, so we can bottom-feed off of the Tech Boom’s left-overs?

What will this edu-social future look like?

Image Credit: ecmorgan on Flickr

Delicious acquired by Avos … The original YouTube guys!

20110427-112914.jpgI have been very critical of Yahoo for quite a long time but I think they might have done something very good for education finally. They sold Delicious!

Avos, a new company started by the founders of YouYube have purchased Delicious. Delicious was synonymous with social bookmarking until it sat under Yahoo’s lack of innovation for a few years!

Yahoo’s email … Please note the intro paragraph …

Yahoo! is excited to announce that Delicious has been acquired by the founders of YouTube, Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. As creators of the largest online video platform, Hurley and Chen have firsthand expertise enabling millions of consumers to share their experiences with the world. Delicious will become part of their new Internet company, AVOS.

… A better intro may have been … We know you are excited because we almost killed Delicious and we have given it to somebody who can actually do some good with it.

What does this mean for education? It means innovation and exponential potential again. YouTube has been wildly successful as we all know and its impact on education continues to grow! Youtube’s success is a direct result of the innovative thinking from their founders.

Wait … Maybe Delicious is a canary in the mine!

Bookmarking continues to have enormous value, especially for educators. See …–-new-strategy-4-archiving-from-smeech/

How to Eliminate Test Anxiety: Eliminate the Test

We’re all interested in what happened in Connecticut this past week: little girl goes missing for a few days, causes a state-wide search, national Amber-alert, Twitter frenzy, social media fracas, then luckily, the kid ends up being found. The caveat is the reason she gave for going into incognito mode: she was stressed over the state standardized tests.

Almost immediately, the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog jumped on it, and, once again, the issue of test anxiety and the merits of standardized testing are put into light. I found the beginning of a parent forum asking, “Are we as parents, adding to the stress?” , and I start thinking: are we as teachers adding to the stress? Are school districts? Are state Boards of Ed?  Is Arne Duncan?

We all are.

Think about it- we’ve created and are part of a system that is under such pressure for results we’re making the experience of school a pressure cooker- when it should be a place of wonderment and inquiry. We’re so eager to get data, and positive data at that, that some may have even changed students tests to improve their school’s chances. We know that SATs don’t ask for ideas- they only ask for answers, so even the highest level of standardized tests don’t ask for critical thinking. We also know that SAT scores are directly related to income, and that with a few hundred dollars of test-prep classes, you can become an “expert test-taker.” It’s a game that we’re all playing, and everyone is losing. We’re watching the pot boiling, hoping for change.

Even our own President Obama said today that standardized tests are too often used to punish students and teachers and shouldn’t be the only method of measuring student success. So what’s the answer?

How about eliminating the test altogether? Or at least changing the concept of what we know as the traditional test?

Video Games as “Tests”

I recently came across a fascinating article in the Harvard Education Letter (let Harvard be the one to change how kids get into college- oh the irony). This article is about using video games as tests or simulations. The article posits: what if World of Warcraft or Halo actually tested a student’s ability to think critically? This simulation could pull students’ knowledge and ability to solve problems, reach new levels, conduct inquiry, and draw from the their experience in the classroom. To quote the article directly,

“based on these principles, Gee and others (Gee & Shaffer, 2010) are currently developing new models of assessment that immerse students in virtual worlds to measure abilities that are difficult, if not impossible, to capture on pencil-and-paper tests, such as the ability to solve problems and conduct scientific inquiry.”

This reminds me directly of- and sorry to draw from Star Trek you non-trekkies- but- the Kobayahsi Maru Test, which was this life-like simulation that every Starfleet Academy member had to endure in order to graduate. We’re still stuck in, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it here, an industrialized version of education, and our tests are proof positive of that. Our students are multi-tasking, multi-level, multi-communicative, multi-social, and our state and national standardized test don’t address these skills at all.

According to Christ Dede, Professor of Learning Technologies at Harvard, game simulations over written tests: “provide more complete and accurate information on student abilities because every decision a student makes is recorded. That information is more accurate than asking a student to “show your work.” The volume of information also makes the data on student abilities more reliable than the more limited information available from written products.”

Will this type of test prove to have a different form of performance anxiety, or will this be a more authentic assessment that students might actually be excited about taking? We’ve been talking about 21st Century learning for some time now. Isn’t it time we started talking about 21st Century assessment?

Khan Academy: Great Idea- With One Glaring Hole

I’ve been following the Khan Academy for a while now. I love the idea of putting learning online. I believe that there’s a big advantage to having access to a teacher’s think-aloud at any time of the day, anywhere in the world. That is an extremely powerful idea, and it wasn’t available or possible a few years ago. So- Salman Khan began making his videos for his cousins, putting them on YouTube, and we all started to take notice.

The idea of learning with the Internet finally began to take shape with Khan Academy, so I showed them to my students. I showed these videos to other teachers. I showed them to my neighbor and my dog. And the one clear problem that kept coming up: they were boring. And dreary. And long (20 minutes?)

So I, with the help of a colleague, created our own math channel called Mathademics ( I thought that math teachers could make their own mathcasts, and I thought our math teachers could do a better, more flavorful job doing this with SMART boards, ENO boards, Elmo cameras, and other tech. So far, it’s catching on. My aforementioned colleague created her own offshoot of Mathademics called Mathademics4kids ( where the kids make the tutorials. Teachers have started to get their kids to teach other kids through math tutorials. Now more schools have started franchises of Mathademics (see here). Kids are engaged. Kids are having fun learning math! It’s not 2000 videos yet, but they’re not boring.

The Khan App

Now- Salman Khan has taken his 2000 math videos and tied them to an online curriculum of sorts: I’ve been playing with this all day. I’m stumped. Basically, the App asks you to input answers to math questions. If you know the answer, you get another, then another, then another, then another- until you get ten in a row. Then you are considered proficient when you get 10 in a row. If you have trouble, you can watch one of his videos. Something is missing here. Well a couple things. First of all, I’m reminded of Carl Sagan’s quote:

The simplest thought like the concept of the number one has an elaborate logical underpinning.

The Khan Academy is not teaching concepts and ideas. Khan Academy teaches answers. 1 + 1 = 2 . The concepts and the ideas are really what we want our students to understand, not the rote knowledge. We need a good teacher to facilitate the discussion of what the concept of numbers can be. Algorithms can represent video games, computers, life, and millions of other concepts, yet the Khan App teaches math like it’s a brain game. Get the answer, and move on. In Dan Pink’s book, Drive, we learn that rewards for deeds often backfire, and so I’m suspect about the Khan App’s “badge” reward system as well. I like the idea of data tracking on the backend that allows teachers to see the progress of their students. That’s neat, but it’s disingenuous for me to like that if I don’t like the math practice interactive.

But one glaring hole has yet to be undertaken: context. I’ve had my kids watch math videos, and, in fact, YouTube is full of them. However, when my students go home to engage in math learning, they need one huge thing that Khan Academy doesn’t have- their own teacher’s style, their own teacher’s examples as they relate to prior discussions in class, their own teacher’s process as they think through a problem, they need to see their own teacher mastering technology, mastering online publishing, and just plain being a master. Khan Academy is a symptom of a teaching profession where too many teachers are too shy or too old-school to jump into the publishing world. We need that to happen faster.

A student in my district sees their math teacher in middle school for 90 minutes per day. Khan Academy cannot give my students the context they need to make most of the connections they need to fully engage in these videos, I believe. Context is key.  Ever wonder why so many of those math videos are boring? You’re missing the context by which they occur in.

I think the idea of putting math learning online is a great idea, but I’m not sold on the Khan Academy yet. Maybe it has a place as a practice tool among a larger, more thoughtfully guided application of concepts. Maybe it’s great for schools that have terrible teachers, and for students who need more practice in a world where their school is failing them (that could definitely be). Maybe it’s great to just help drive up SAT scores, which, also just ask for answers- not ideas.

Ideas- why can’t Khan Academy teach those?

Image Credit: Cayusa on Flickr

Lights, Camera, Teach…

There are many ways that lawmakers propose to improve education; most of which involve teachers doing something additional. Wyoming’s House Bill 166 seems to be another idea that misses the mark for improving education. This bill suggests that videotaped lessons become a mandated part of every teacher’s evaluation. The bill also goes on to recommend teachers be evaluated, in writing, on a monthly basis.

As a novice teacher and as an experienced classroom teacher I had opportunities to review videotapes of some of my lessons. I admit I learned from watching those tapes but my videotapes were for learning purposes, not tied to my evaluation. At times, I was the sole audience. An article on this subject from the Wyoming website mentions that another bill in the Wyoming Legislature would require these videotapes to be reviewed by an instructional facilitator or experienced teacher, and a parent representative. This parent would then report to the Board of Education. Where are the administrators in all of this? Why would untrained evaluators, fellow teachers and parents be the ones chosen to review these tapes and evaluate/report on their content? I cannot imagine other professions would allow such a thing to occur nor would it even be suggested.

Besides the fact that a videotape would provide only a small glimpse into a teacher’s effectiveness on one given day for one class period, the time and money involved in Wyoming House Bill 166 is not sustainable. If the Wyoming schools are like any of the schools in which I’ve worked, administrators can scarcely get through the observations and evaluations they already must do. I cannot imagine how they will keep up with evaluating every teacher on a monthly basis.

School is not a reality show. If Wyoming lawmakers wish to improve the education of their students, this is not the way to accomplish that goal. The evaluation of teachers is important and can provide a snapshot of what is going on in her classroom. Just as we would not evaluate a students on a single point of data, or for performance on one stand alone day, teachers should not be subjected to this narrow type of evaluation. Currently, there are four district who will be piloting this evaluation concept. It will be interesting to see how that pilot works out and if Wyoming House Bill 166 becomes a law.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons