Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Web 2.0 is an Education Conference

In the real world, what is the best way to network and exchange ideas? Where do you meet the most contacts and exchange the most ideas? Probably a conference right? You have all the people coming to one place. Then they break off into classes or panel discussions around a more specific idea or topic. People jump around, they go to different places they meet new people they catch up with old friends. People talk nonsense and people talk industry with individuals and within smaller groups. People introduce people to other people. You make contacts, you build networks, you build your Personal Learning Network, you find people that can help in specific areas. People go out and party. There is a lot of noise at a conference, there are a lot of breakout sessions that don't apply or don't interest you. There is a lot of knowledge gained and exchanged. 

THIS IS TWITTER. This is also Facebook but more richly immersed in the technology. Twitter is a constant conference. Where you hear a lot of noise but you can always break out and a network will form around a particular idea. You can eaves drop on conversations around a particular topic by searching a term with a "hashtag" (example: #education). You will make new friends and reconnect with old. You will exchange ways to connect at anytime (like phone numbers, or business cards for conferences - email address, facebook page, or just becoming a follower within web 2.0). 

What helps break down the noise is the 140 characters, the "#" symbol, and "@" in front of a name. What keeps you in sight of your connections are the everyday proclamations you don't have to worry about forming perfect thoughts around such as: "no seriously, will someone please let the old lady know where the beef is?" It's like the really funny guy of the group who you also treat as a subject matter expert. While you're talking industry with him, he's probably going to say a few funny things or gripe about the Cowboys in December (or rave about them if it's January 2010). It's off topic, but you don't lose respect for his knowledge, and in fact, you are more connected to him now because you know he's an avid Cowboys fan.

This is an idea that I think marketing experts haven't necessarily tapped into yet. They are very concerned about the brand, about the polish, and the professionalism (which they should be) but are still trying to apply the "Press Release" principles to social media. We don't often connect with someone just because they are "all business". We really start to rely on someone and form a real bond when we understand more about who they are outside of their business. That person becomes more approachable. This is what social media has changed in the world of marketing. It's making marketing people become educators. They now need to provide more than coupons to their restaurant, they need to toss out a recipe every once in a while. Make the owner write a blog about what it's like to run a restaurant. When a person is plugged into social media, they will ask questions of the person they are most connected with. I think this is why only 4% of the world's largest companies are on Twitter. But they do have workers on there who "socialize" for the company. 

---here's a tangent--- (oops, be aware, I just used a weapon of math instruction)
How does the marketing aspect apply to education? Well, marketing is essentially education - it's about educating as many people as possible what the company does, what they are about, how fast they work, even where they are located, and in the case of prescription drugs - why exactly you need their drug and what questions you should ask your doctor in order to manipulate the doctor into getting that drug.

Often times we as educators can even follow on the heels of what marketers are doing. Create the need or the buy-in, the reason for listening. Then fill in the backstory, why other people need it and how they've used it. Then how to use it yourself, and where to apply it. Why do you think Lowe's and Home Depot host classes on home remodeling? They must know I can google how to put my sink in. They aren't the library concerned about your knowledge base that's for sure.

So put that in terms of math. Put that in terms of science. Put that in terms of history. It just keeps applying to the teacher and the student.

In conclusion: 
A.) Twitter and Facebook are relevant and WILL advance your knowledge on a need to know time schedule. ***It's a constant conference.***

[tangent conclusion] B.) If you need fresh ideas for teaching a tired subject, if you aren't having fun (and I can assure you, your students are in turn not having fun either) then read up on some of the latest trends in marketing and follow suit. You'll look like a genius and all you did was figure out how to give those cheesy Kay Jeweler commercials some meaning in this world ("every alphabet begins with "A")

...Okay, I still can't save that one.

Disclaimer: After re-reading this post I decided it is quite stream of consciousness. So I've also decided not edit it. If I wanted to write and essay, I would have printed it... And then turned it in for a letter grade :) This is a blog, and therefore my ideas - however I see fit to spew them. 
Disclaimer for the Disclaimer: With "Educational" topics, we are often "required" to write as if we were John Dewey. I have found, however, that this is an unnecessary hurdle in moving information forward. I am only required to express my idea***there's a new blog topic*** hence the effectiveness and relevance of the text message***hey, there's another blog topic***  
Disclaimer for the Disclaimer for the Disclaimer: Not really, this one is a joke. Not that the other two are uber-serious. Just saying.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

No computers / not enough computers / We don't need computers in our classroom.

Problem: No computers / not enough computers / We don't need computers in our classroom.

The third of those is the one that's not like the other. I shake my smirk at you. We'll address it in turn.

Remember when I asked you to take a moment to consider what textbooks cost in terms of money? Laptops and desktops are dropping in price and getting very close if not cheaper than a textbook. Take a look at a notebook computer at retail price (try Walmart/Sams). You think you can't get those for cheaper at wholesale bulk pricing?

If you have no computers in the classroom... give me a name and number and I'll make a call. And DO!, use this as motivation to get out there and tell your administrator you need computers. Then do some homework on the costs and where you might find grants (or not in that order if you are intimidated by the pertinent person.)

If you have a computer in the classroom then you can always group students together and make sure that they not only take turns typing in search terms, but that they also all grab sources individually. Collaboration when it comes to computer skills is NOT AT ALL a bad thing. It doesn't even cheapen the experience. Engaged as the skill is modeled is a met objective in this case.

Why is typing in searching terms important? Who finds more and better information faster? Someone who knows how to advanced search? Or someone who knows alphebetical order? The second person - by the way - has to also be near a library and needing the information while the library is open. How far behind are those that don't know how to Google? And riddle me this: What's the driving force in learning/processing? ANSWER: It's feedback. QUESTIONS: Doesn't feedback often lead to more questions? And if it leads to more questions, then: How much more important is it to have feedback quickly? Especially in these times when, who has the time / concentration to keep up with all your questions? Technology and the innerwebs provide Instant Feedback, and drives learnng. Not just for the big questions, but for the tiny things you just want to find out more about. And doesn't that, in turn, fuel and drive a love of learning? And isn't that the greatest gift you could give your students?

But really, why care? Why be so passionate? What is at stake here? Our students are going in to college or into the workforce where computer skills are a must to be successful. Even those in technical trades could greatly improve their socio-economic impact by knowing how to use the internet to market themselves at low to no cost, how to get the most up to date info in their trade, and how to problem solve more quickly. Even the skill of networking, keeping up contacts, findingg subject matter experts, man the list goes on and on. AND: Once a person understands alphabetical order, there is no higher order skill in searching through a book to research. So what is the point of forcing that when they've got the skill if they needed it? How applicable is it to their lives and does it impact them at all? It's practically a dead practice. SO HERE'S A WHOLE 'NOTHER BLOG: How much would you have learned in American History if the teacher refused to speak English and would only speak Latin?

Here's a big point I'll steal from my wife: Not all students have the opportunity of technology and internet access at home, and they will never get it unless you do something about it. If you are in a rural area, it's even more important you provide them that opportunity. This is the actual POINT of public education.

Challenge your students at every turn. And make that impact you already make even larger.

Thoughts? Comments? Let me have it...

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

TextBook Terminator: The T100 Model

Problem: Textbooks
Solution: The Internet

So, I'm anti textbook. We don't have to get into the specificities of being green because I'm okay with supporting the tree harvest industry. But the problem really is that our society is moving away from reading from a book. And this is where the traditionalist (and maybe my wife who's the best reading specialist around) will say "You have to be able to read from a book." Well, I agree, and I'm not against reading the printed word.

So what's my problem? Like I briefly mentioned, we don't communicate and we don't get our entertainment from typed/printed material anymore - so what happens? Evolution my friends. As we continue to move more on line with communication, we are beginning to lose the need for something to be printed - it takes too long to travel (and frankly, printers have yet to catch up to the "it just works" side of the computer age). Making a choice between writing a letter and typing a message into Facebook becomes a decision that works exactly like how my high school biology teacher explained "Natural Selection". It's just a better choice - like a giraffe picking a mate by the longest neck, that one's going to get the most food at the top of the tree, so maybe your kids will too. And the simple genetics of the giraffe gradually lengthens the neck over time.

In the communication model, there is send-receive-feedback and back again. So what's the point of writing using envelopes and stamps waiting for the mail, waiting for the mail, waiting for the mail, receive... repeat (and this includes interoffice mail)... you get the picture.

So keeping that in mind, how up to date is your science textbook? How up to date is that info by the time the latest addition gets to you? How much new science is understood every day? How many of you know the model for evolution (monkey to man) is an outdated evolutional model? Yeah, look it up (and by "look it up" - an outdated phrase referring to text books - I mean google it. Or, I don't care, if you want to go to the library and search the Dewey Decimal system for the latest info be my guest. I'll bet you won't do it -first of all- and then you'll never know and how will that shape your thought process as a person? ). I mean, forget the debate to teach the theory evolution as theory - we are even teaching the wrong theory! Because we are using textbooks we haven't elevated our argument yet. This slows our educational process down, it slows our evolution of thought/acceptance down.

How much has forensic science shaped our thoughts on history? Look up (meaning google) the gunfight at OK Corral. You'll be hard pressed to find anything closer to the facts than the accounts that use the latest crime scene investigations. And how has outdated info shaped our thoughts on cowboys - even the word cowboys? How about law enforcement?

And let's not get started on the cutthroat industry of textbook publishing... this means you too super intendants and principals. I mean, *sarcasm* I wonder why the publishing company won't send a representative to you? Oh, why would they want to fly you to Hawaii to meet them when their offices are in Minnesota?"

Take a moment to look at what it costs -just in terms of money- every year per student to buy a textbook. Take a moment then to consider the damage and loss, the amount of updating and how outdated information is. Think about the loss of skills when a student turns a text book in at the end of the year, what does that tell them about History? It told me I was done with History, that the dates and mostly events no longer apply to my life. I won't need the information ever again and if I did how would I look it up anyway? I'd probably not bother. And what was that quote about history and "doomed to repeat"? You get my idea.

Solution Time: Google Search.
"Oh! We can't let our kids search Google! You can't control what they might find!"
-BESIDES- Wouldn't you and your parents rather the students run across offensive materials in a learning environment where things can be pointed out and corrected immediately? Rather them finding it by themselves, alone in a dark room? And you know they will find it, it may take them being in a college dorm room one day but it will pop up and will they know how to handle it? The stuff that is out there is traumatizing the first time you see it no matter what your age is or how mature you might be.
You can filter what they might find! And still give them the freedom to personalize and thus internalize process more effectively the most up to date information.


Why, Google Advanced Search, silly. If you are a science teacher, you can find all the science sites you could ever approve of out there on the interwebs, load them into what is called a Google Custom Search Engine (you can even customize the look and feel of your search engine) and turn your students loose. Having them write an essay using internet sources is much more "trackable". This also eliminates them running into sites where students trade papers on certain topics. It also gives you a way to use the custom search engine to type their best phrases in, and search with quotes to see how badly they may or may not have plagiarized!

Terminate the text book! It's a crutch for the traditionalist living in fear. And you may be a traditionalist, but I've just given you a workout routine that will let you burn the crutch! So get to it. Right now, before you think about it, RIGHT CLICK on http://www.google.com/cse/  and select "Open in New Tab" (or "Window" if you prefer) When you're done reading here you'll have the page to look at so you won't forget or think it's going to be some huge ordeal > Click on "Create Custom Search Engine" on the right > Fill in the blanks > Get searching. (you may need a Google Account and if you don't have one you should get one now. All that is required is an email address from any email provider.)

IDEAS that came to mind while typing this:
If they are able to type, let them take notes on google docs so they can access it at home and/or print their individual notes. Maybe instead of an essay you have them all find different sources and share to the group.You could have them copy and paste notes and pictures and even videos into a google slideshow and then they would be presenting organized thoughts (which is close to the writing process) and using visuals to emphasize that organization (a skill that is above the writing process). It provides a quick solution to stretching an assignment out over a long period of time because you're waiting on them to write / type.

OTHER IDEAS? Please post them!
FEEDBACK? Please comment!
DID YOU TRY THIS OUT? Let me know what happened!