Archive for Curricular integration

Annihilating Space?

Friday, a number of us attended a talk by Dr. Ellen Handler Spitz titled “Reflections On Space and Childhood.” Dr. Spitz presented a thorough investigation of how children use and explore space through play. She emphasized the importance of understanding and preserving child-centered spaces, even if they appear messy and disorganized to adults!

Dr. Spitz made only a passing, less than complimentary, reference to technology, but it resonated with me. She said that technology was “annihilating space.” This powerful turn of phrase suggests to me that individuals equipped with technology may overcome obstacles of distance and the limitations of some physical media. It also suggests that sitting at a computer workstation disconnects an individual from one’s immediate surroundings or at least renders them unimportant.

This characterization of technology contributes to a myth that is particularly difficult to dislodge in educational circles. Virtual technology spaces are not the opposite of the material world. This oversimplification is both inaccurate and does a disservice to serious consideration of the useful roles of technology in all disciplines, including art.

Painting and drawing are rarely considered virtual in nature, but the images produced with paint, graphite, and canvas are hardly concrete. They create a representation of an image that transcends the raw materials and taps into people’s imaginations. Though easier to manipulate, the activation of light-producing LCD pixels through computer commands is not the opposite of drawing but rather just another form of the creative process.

Music stands as another powerful example. Musicians have successfully blurred the boundaries between analog and digital instruments. Sounds waves of music create a mental representation much in the way that light waves create an image in the mind.

Dr. Spitz’s most compelling examples concerned the distribution of physical, play materials in a house or the painting of images on a wall. If children act as artists through play, they can certainly find rich playgrounds using technology.

Rather than destroying space, technology creates cyberspaces that children and adults alike may explore. Adopting a multifaceted view of technology is essential to furthering our understanding of the role of technology in the arts.

All Kinds Of Minds in action

You may know the whole-brain teaching philosophy called All Kinds of Minds. A majority of our teachers attend professional development days to learn this brain-based approach to teaching students, one part of our approach to progressive education. Teachers learn to construct learning activities that work for different types of learners. Students learn to identify their own learning strengths and weaknesses and appreciate the unique set of qualities that each person possesses. Such an approach gives students responsibility for their own learning. In the following video, second grade students share what they have learned about their own skills and brains.

The video also serves as a fine example of teacher use of technology to share student learning with the school community. This second grade teacher collected media, produced this video, and presented it to parents without requesting any assistance from our IT department. Well done!

Teachers teaching teachers

Ten teachers attended our professional development day today. Seven also presented! Interestingly, all but two were from the upper school, atypical for our professional development activities. We followed a model in which teachers did all the presenting and led the group discussion, which led to an energizing day that focused squarely on teacher interests. Here is a summary of content covered.

Tony presents at the tech training

Ginia shared the sophomore English Moodle site, which is organized by type of assignment (tests, recitations, essays, etc.) instead of unit or week. Forum is more useful than chat for “decentered discussion.” Encourages different voices to speak in the class. Art reported that education research in modern language acquisition has found that success in written, online discourse has transferred to oral participation in class. Teachers differed on how firmly they held students to proper writing form, though people agreed on the desire to do so. The best tools allow one to print a single document from the discussion of the day. English teachers use the forum tool to set up a space where students may post essay drafts and other students may post replies and response papers. It can be difficult to compare three drafts of an essay posted to Moodle. Ginia reflected that students don’t automatically think to check the website for course information. They appear to be more mindful of paper. Lisa and Daisy speculated that upcoming students will be more automatic about this due to online experiences in the younger grades.

Tony built on Ginia’s presentation by showing the Junior English Moodle site. He used one discussion forum for students to write and improve their questions in preparation for the upcoming Tracy Kidder assembly next week. The site uses the Moodle groups feature to keep section discussions separate. The site is most valuable to keep all of the drafts of the writing process in one place for the teacher and student to access. Can be a challenge for the kid who has a hard time staying on task, but teachers can help by monitoring computer use in the room.

Paul commented that the English program may have led to students’ higher comfort level with typing lab reports in science. While this has improved the quality of presentation, students are struggling to produce good diagrams in this format. This has led to a trend in which many students prefer to find an existing diagram and copy it into their document instead of drawing an original illustration. It’s interesting that the use of Photoshop here is widespread, yet use of Illustrator is rare.

Lauren shared a community, service learning project with which her students are currently engaged. She won a small grant to fund this project, working with our development and communications departments to refine her proposal. Her class is creating an online presentation of the Hispanic Presence in Oregon to complement a production at Portland’s Miracle Theater. Their project compares the hispanic presence during the depression to the present day. The curriculum has evolved as opportunities have appeared to interview good subjects around town. They have found no interview subjects from the depression era, but an author helped them understand that the lack of found information is useful information in itself. Contextualize this finding and move forward.

Lauren presents at the tech training

The theater director challenged the kids to make the site truly interactive. So far, they have decided to add a comment box to their website, in order to gather more stories. Also, students will be present at each performance in order to explain the project and potentially collect interviews on the spot! Students are collecting footage with Flip cameras, notwithstanding the lack of proper video lighting. The historical archives has commented that a serious deficit of raw material exists on this topic. The students’ footage has the potential to become an important research source, especially if the site persists and continues to collect footage after the theater performances are over.

Students are using the course Moodle site to manage the project, including notes, interview forms, and links to web-based resources. The teacher has stepped back and left room for the students to plan and execute.

The class built and distributed a survey using our internal survey tool. They got 79 responses to a survey about Hispanic Heritage Month, including a giant collection of narrative comments, which were really useful in guiding their work.

Lisa shared new work she is doing with students to post book reviews into our Follett Destiny library catalog — really exciting work. This has potential to change student perception of the library catalog from an external authority to a community resource. Already, fourth grade students are excited about adding items to this resource. They also rate the books on a five star system. We’d like to post audio reviews as well, and while Destiny may not support audio file playback, we may post them elsewhere and then post links to the catalog. Lisa also demonstrated how a teacher may create a public resource list of library items for students or other teachers to view.

Roberto shared a long-distance correspondence between a Catlin Gabel alum in Quito, Ecuador and Catlin Gabel students. Topics include poverty, energy consumption, and women’s rights, among others. Spanish V students are using an online bulletin board for this purpose.

Roberto also underscored the value of his document camera, which he uses every day. It helps him save time and paper. Roberto uses it for flashcards, homework correction, and editing. Lauren has used it for coins and maps.

For two years, Roberto’s Spanish V class has not used books. All of the resources are posted online. The Spanish I, II, and III textbooks have an online site that includes online activities and audio components. This has been especially valuable for students with learning differences or who want to slow down the audio to listen to it more slowly.

Pat demonstrated his use of the social format in Moodle courses, which transforms the course home page into a student discussion center. He also demonstrated the use of embedded images, YouTube videos, and RSS feeds within his course Moodle sites.

Dale showed how he uses the school website and email system to engage parents in narrative discussion about student artwork well before the semester reporting period. He posts photos of student illustration to the website and then sends an email message to parents with suggestions for what to discuss about the artwork with their children.

Fourth and Fifth Grades

It’s been a month since I last posted here? Wow. Two new responsibilities have kept me busy: managing our new web site configuration and teaching fourth and fifth grade technology classes. I see these lovely kids twice a week for forty minutes each. It feels exciting and appropriate to get back into the classroom after too many years in the office. Luckily, I still have all of my other responsibilities to keep me busy! ;^)

Fourth grade students take technology classes for the first time this year. They started typing practice in third grade but otherwise have had only occasional computer contact in their classrooms. We started with class expectations, explained the Smart Board, and then set up usernames and passwords to access network resources. Fifth graders got started similarly but then left for a week to visit three farms as part of their “Pitchfork to Plate” curriculum.

My main goal this year is to have technology periods build on activities taking place in the rest of the kids’ curriculum. The first two projects are already underway. Fourth grade students start keeping a reading log, and I’ve build an online database for them to use. They will use their newly acquired network accounts to access the database and post their first book of the year. This will allow for a simple lesson in structured data, fields, records, and reports. As the year goes on, they will see patterns in their own reading: what titles, authors, genres, and difficulty levels of books they have read. Once we have a fair bit of data, the reports will become more complex, and we will take a look at reading patterns across the entire class. I am excited to start the year with databases, which most adults conflate with spreadsheets!

Fifth grade students will build paper-based diagrams of how substances move through the farms they have studied. Whether studying milk, meat, or corn, the students will sketch a plan, search for clipart, and each create one or two frames for their diagrams. We are using as an example National Geographic digrams (though we won’t quite approximate the quality of their illustrations). We successfully resisted the temptation to use presentation software, which would only allow us to view one step in the process at a time. It’s important to us to be able to view the whole process at once, and we have the billboard space to spare! I suppose we could also create some extra-wide web pages with horizontal scrollbars, a favorite trick from the old days.

On a technical note, I searched for an hour to find a good source of free, vector, farm clipart, only to find the best source under my nose: Microsoft Office Clip Gallery! Too bad their clipart objects only download properly in Safari, and Firefox is our default browser!

Another tech point: I am using Apple Remote Desktop in the lab to make batch changes to the 22 computers in there. It’s allright, but I miss the capabilities of Workgroup Manager (but don’t really want to do the back-end Windows-Mac integration work there, either).

I’d like to expand my professional learning network to include more elementary tech educators. Drop me a line if you’re in that group!

Teaching Digital Citizenship

In a meeting yesterday, two division heads, our laptop specialist, and I met to kick off an effort to build a K-12 digital citizenship curriculum. We are trying to avoid a past habit of conflating discussions of teaching good decision-making about technology with the formulation of technology policies and restrictions. We want to start this conversation from a different set of assumptions: that our students are deeply immersed in digital technologies, so we need to find out how they spend their time online, what they value there, and how that may continue without impeding their participation in the school’s academic program. Next step: a conversation with all four division heads to decide how to facilitate this conversation with our teachers.

A number of teachers find ubiquitous use of social technologies disruptive and distracting. Discussions and of new technology policies will continue, perhaps even leading to their implementation, but this should not substitute for actual teaching and learning about life in a digital age.

These discussions also represent a new threshold in the role we have been trying to create for the IT department in the academic life of the school. For the first time in recent memory, IT staff will be teaching classes (some for just a few days, others for longer), deliberately inserting ourselves into the academic life of the school in order to inspire more conversation about what we should teach and what conversations we should have with our students.

We will simultaneously teach new classes and collect data on student technology use. Onward with both efforts! Classes start in just two weeks.

PNAIS TechShare Conference

I just returned from three days at the PNAIS TechShare conference, located in the foothills of Mt. Hood. It was a great conference. Though very small (maybe 35 attendees), we attracted a critical mass of teachers, kept the conversation focused on teaching and learning, and enjoyed the retreat-like atmosphere of a resort hotel. Gaining face time with Northwest colleagues we usually only “see” through email was most valuable. I picked up a lot of useful sites and tools to support our global education initiatives and made several contacts at other schools who are doing very interesting work. Best of all, I shared the experience with two colleagues from my school, which should really help with implementation of these ideas this year. Go TechShare!

We did devote an hour’s time to discussion of open source software. Interestingly, the conversation was not much different from similar talks two years ago. A lot of tech staff are still struggling with how to take the first steps to exploring open source software in their schools, and the categories of desktop, server, and web open-source software are mixed without much discrimination. I don’t fully understand why open-source technologies are not treated like other new technologies. You find the time to learn it because it’s interesting, your users are curious, and it has the potential to really help your operations. If it’s strategically important to your school, then you find the time to study it. I hope that we may one day take this conversation to the next level within our community of northwest schools.

Wow, has the Apple revolution arrived to the state of Washington! A number of schools are now wrestling with Mac client-Windows network integration, as students have begun to show up on campus with MacBooks. A whole bunch of conference attendees sported iPhones (and complained about the spotty signal reception at the resort)!

We maintained our global ed theme throughout most of the conference. The best part for me was learning what interesting global trips other schools have undertaken (Seattle Academy, Overlake, Northwest Academy, Lakeside, among others). However, when I asked the teacher group how many had tried a virtual exchange, no hands went up! Maybe the right people weren’t in the room, but I was surprised at the lack of virtual exchanges. Thankfully, the group received my presentation about our Gaza City Skype chat very well, and perhaps one or two will give it a try this year.

After a lovely retreat and conference experience up in the woods, I return to help launch our new web site tomorrow! Hopefully, by the end of day, you will see a whole new look and functionality at

PicoCrickets and Wigwams

A colleague sent this terrific workshop session description for this year’s Storyline Conference, which is happening in Portland.

4th annual storyline conference

PicoCrickets and Wigwams
Mary Boutton, Carole Lechleitner

This session will introduce PicoCrickets (tiny computers used to create inventions programmed to respond to light, sound, and touch) and demonstrate how they can be used to develop students’ programming and engineering skills while constructing Storyline settings. PicoCrickets are recommended for ages 8 and up.

PicoCrickets, based upon research from the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, provide entry points to programming and robotics, engaging students with diverse learning interests and learning styles. Strategies that promote this include: (1) focusing on themes, not just challenges; (2) combining art and engineering; (3) encouraging storytelling; and (4) organizing exhibitions rather than competitions. PicoCrickets support these strategies by enabling students to design and program creations while enhancing creative thinking, problem solving, and co-operative learning skills.

Through Storyline, the elementary social studies curriculum can offer a rich array of themes that can be integrated with PicoCrickets. We will focus on how PicoCrickets were integrated into the fourth grade Ohio history curriculum. The presenters will show how fourth graders used robotic technology and concepts to make their Native American and pioneer villages come alive. Participants will observe Native Americans cooking over a crackling fire in their wigwam, tanning a deer hide, turning a grist mill, and making a river undulate through the forest. Students’ work from the 2007-2008 school year will be highlighted. The presenters will share success stories and pitfalls that should be avoided.

The Presenters will also address how using social studies themes can heighten student motivation by giving students the freedom to work on projects they care about in a multi-sensory, artistic, and creative manner. Cooperation and team effort, rather than competition, are stressed, leading to participation in robotics by a broader range of students, particularly girls.

What is the Storyline Method?

Storyline is a structured approach to learning and teaching that was developed in Scotland It builds on the key principle that learning, to be meaningful, has to be memorable, and that by using learner’s enthusiasm for story-making, the classroom, the teacher’s role and learning can be transformed. Storyline is a strategy for developing the curriculum as an integrated whole. It provides an opportunity for active learning and reflection as essential parts of effective learning and teaching. At the same time it develops in learners a powerful sense of ownership of their learning.

The Scottish Consultative Council on the Curriculum

Focus on your school!

As I caught up on two weeks’ worth of blog reading tonight, a few thoughts struck me (yes, that’s all ;^). First, I’ve seen an increase in the number of school-based educators writing online, but it’s still not enough. The ed-blogosphere is dominated by people who don’t work in schools, and I want to hear about what teachers and students are actually doing in schools. So if you blog and work in a school, please keep writing about what is actually happening in your school!

Second, if you blog and work in a school, please remember that you have the most impact in your school! Fortunately, most school-based bloggers I follow seem well-rooted in their schools, but a few seem to have forgotten their local context when writing. It’s okay if you only post a blog entry once a week (or fewer). We know that you are spending your work hours meeting with teachers, keeping up a computing infrastructure, helping students, or building a new tool.

This past week at Catlin Gabel, our new Global Connect site gained its third, fourth, and fifth groups. We created Global Connect in order to have a Catlin-hosted, but not Catlin-branded, place to group blog for global ed. The site was originally for exchanges, but now pre-trip planning groups have also joined. I figured out how to use taxonomy access control lite to give groups the choice of whether they wanted their discussions to be public or private. Interestingly, the two groups actually talking with students in other countries opted to go private, whereas the three groups using the site for pre-trip planning went public. We’ll see whether that distinction holds up going forward. Next, I need to put a public commenting system into place, so just hold your horses (or use the contact form) if you were hoping to post a comment.

global connect

One man’s struggle to restore real-world issues to the core of the school program took another step forward this month with the launch of the Economic Crisis Reading Group moodle site. This one is private (sorry, legions of interested members of the public). 34 students have signed up for the Moodle course, which includes news and discussion about the most compelling post-inauguration teachable moment of the year. I hope this takes off, to prove that students are indeed interested in chatting online about serious issues in a school context.

moodle screen shot

This week will be dominated by (yet another) presentation, this time to our board of directors. Seriously, it’s been a great year for our IT team to discuss social networks and other compelling issues with teachers, students, and parents in the school community.

Presenting to Principals

Today, I presented a talk on social networks to a group of principals and other school leaders taking a course on technology at Lewis and Clark College. I organized my preparation around the facets of social network sites that I thought principals would find most relevant: impact on teaching and learning, teacher professional development, and internet safety. The group had lots of questions that demonstrated a strong grasp of the challenges facing schools and how social network sites might fit into that.

It’s important to fully appreciate the challenge facing anyone who wants to change a school, never mind fully integrate technology. Wanting to fundamentally change the model for schooling is a prerequisite to mastering an entirely set of new technology competencies. As long as one is not willing to reduce the amount of content coverage, as long as technology activities are relegated to the category of optional enrichment, as long as a teacher has to run the classroom, then the effort is not worth it.

The class students are learning about online professional development practices first-hand, each maintaining a blog for the class. In addition, I directed them to Classroom 2.0, the Global Education Collaborative, and the Synapse as a starting point. I hope they’ll keep blogging after the class has finished, so I may follow their work. I demonstrated how to begin to build a personal learning network and related anecdotes of the value of our peers’ online posts to building one’s own knowledge.

To learn what students are doing online, I directed the principals to the MacArthur Foundation series of reports on kids’ online lives, stressing the importance of consuming many reports to gain a multifaceted perspective. Talking to teachers and students about what they do online and what value it has for them is also essential for school administrators.

Still glowing over new tools?

In my first day at NCCE, I was surprised to attend sessions dominated by lists of technology tools and how to use them. Aren’t we well past that point? I certainly thought so after attending Building Learning Communities last summer. Then, session presentations were organized around teaching and learning — what goals did the teacher have for the course, how could one tell that students were learning? Tools were only discussed in the context of how they were strategically used to enrich an environment directed to specific learning objectives.

Excessive focus on the technology itself in the absence of an intentional learning environment reinforces unhelpful stereotypes about technologists and technology. 1) You can improve education just by adding technology; 2) Technologists aren’t interested in teaching and learning. Most of the conference attendees are teachers. Let’s upset the usual stereotypes and return to what matters.

NCCE organizers and attendees, may we set a simple expectation? Accept conference proposals that make a legitimate, explicit connection between the specific qualities of a technology and the construction of an intentional, thoughtful learning environment for children?