Archive for Social studies

Entrepreneurship and Schools

Should schools become more entrepreneurial? One person with whom I had a conversation the other day thinks so. Do you have special programs or events at your school? Spin them off so that they must be financially self-sufficient, forcing them to adapt to survive. Do you have untapped resources that you could leverage to raise revenue? Do you offer summer school or a summer teacher institute? How often do your buildings lay idle? What is your merchandise store like?

On the one hand, these ideas appeal to me for how they embrace the initiative of individuals. However, several distinguishing features of schools make me wonder how effective a business-style entrepreneurial approach would be in a school. For one, schools are culturally sensitive — they place greater value on relationships and humanity than your typical corporation. Second, schools serve students, so if an experiment within the school’s “core business” goes awry, students experience the drop in quality. Third, schools do not tend to hire for entrepreneurial wisdom. Whereas a business might cultivate an entrepreneurial spirit from top to bottom, how many individuals in a school are prepared to take strategic risks?

Maybe the answer is to start from the periphery of the school and proceed one step at a time. Perhaps the call is to ask schools to broaden their idea of how a school could operate. Let experiment — with sharing content, outsourcing our school merchandise, or starting a rich summer program — and then keep what works and discard what does not, but with an attitude that allows for failure rather than allowing it to retard innovation. If that goes well, then perhaps a day will come to shake up some of the assumptions that define the core program.

African connected

Catlin Gabel hosts one exchange student from Maru-a-Pula School in Botswana each year. Yesterday, our new student arrived in the States for the first time, but he had been in touch with his host family for weeks … through Facebook. He also asked where to pick up a SIM card for his phone. This is the first time I have welcomed such a well-connected student from Botswana to the States! Now, if only we could find him a Euro-to-U.S. power adapter …

The amazing, expanding conference


I originally planned to spend three days at Building Learning Communities the week after next. Then, I found out about the preconference trip to The Met, which I have long wanted to visit. Now, some bloggers have scheduled EduBloggerCon East for Monday.

I’m going to approach a five-day conference differently from the original three-day concept. Was planning to basically work all the time in order to make the most of the three days. Knowing that I can’t keep that up for five, I am going to pick and choose instead and just enjoy evenings with my family.

Not the Unconference They Hoped For

Some NECC attendees are disappointed over the second edition of the EduBloggerCon unconference at NECC. I am surprised at their surprise! Small size and nonstandard venue are part of a successful unconference design. Of course the dominant conference structure (vendors, too many people, too much structure) would intrude upon informal, spontaneous conversation. It seems counterintuitive to hold an intimate, spontaneous gathering in the midst of a huge, highly structured conference.

Keep it small. Keep it local. The most change you can make is within your immediate surroundings, hopefully in a school! Use the international network of edubloggers to expand your thinking and build collaboration, but don’t lose focus on the present and the applied. That will make the most difference for kids in school.

Community of practice

Borrowing ideas from Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Chris Lehmann, I would like to strengthen the connection between progressive education and instructional technology next year.

Lehmann deconstructs the Learning to Change video to propose several practical, potentially unpopular ideas: 1) fully adopting social web technologies in education implies committment to progressive educational principles; 2) doing this right requires a lot of effort.

Nussbaum-Beach proposes that educators may, through virtual professional communities, better understand how to teach students 21st century technology literacies.

In our school, teachers normally meet in face-to-face faculty meetings, departmental discussions, and informal conversations around campus. These provide limited opportunities to engage practitioners in thoughtful conversations about using technology to support teaching and learning. I have before experimented with a blog-like format for communicating new resources and ideas to my colleagues, but this became far too one-sided. Teachers rarely replied.

Teachers at our school are innovating uses of educational technologies in remarkable ways but mostly in isolation from each other and based on very different learning objectives. What if we were able to increase the extent to which innovators worked from shared principles and practices?

Could we attempt to create a virtual community of practice within our single school? We have several factors working in our favor. Most of our teachers already know each other. A virtual community could provide more frequent opportunities for discussion than faculty and department meetings. It would overcome obstacles of time and space keeping apart teachers from different divisions (e.g., lower and middle schools).

Challenges are also numerous: the competition for teachers’ free time is just as fierce as it is for face-to-face meetings. Email has so dominated in our school for the last decade that it is difficult to get teachers to hold meaningful discussion in another format. So many initiatives have a history of strong starts and then fizzle out.

One idea (from Nussbaum-Beach): to increase the potential success of this initiative, gain the agreement of a big enough core to actively participate in the online community from the start and take responsibility for its success. Others who show up will find an active discussion taking place, and the burden won’t fall on a tiny group of people (or perhaps just one) to keep the discussion going. Another idea: use occasional face-to-face opportunities to build synergy with the online discussions. A third: create one online space in which to conduct all discussions schoolwide, so that users will have multiple discussions in which to consider participating.

We had success this year building momentum around discussion of social network sites within our “technology advisory group,” a committee that meets monthly face-to-face. We produced two carefully thought-out emails that we sent out to the community, but these on their own did not generate actual discussion, though they did accomplish other objectives.

I field tested the idea of a virtual discussion group for instructional technologies with one teacher the other day and received an overwhelmingly positive response. This encourages me to keep trying with others.

To what extent will we discuss pedagogical theory? I don’t know. For one, many of our teachers already practice progressive education. Yet, it is so difficult to disengage many from the traditional emphasis on the technology itself.

Have you tried to generate online discussions among your teachers? Tell us about it.

Explaining Social Network Sites

Our committee on technology use wrote the following article to help explain social network sites to the teachers and staff in our community. What explanations have you found particular helpful/unhelpful at your school?

Understanding Social Network Sites
Catlin Gabel Technology Advisory Group

Last fall, the Technology Advisory Group (TAG) distributed a survey to solicit your advice about a vision for technology at Catlin Gabel. A number of you asked about social network sites: what are they, why are they popular, and what can we do about them? TAG devoted some time this year to study these questions. While we did not find simple answers, we did find a great variety of “expert” perspectives that helped us better frame the issue. We found several passages in these articles particularly helpful.

Social network sites (SNS) put people in contact with each other. You can maintain a personal profile, create links to “friends,” and share information with them. Online communities have existed since at least 1985, with the founding of The Well. Some of today’s leading social network sites include Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Ning. To better understand one, register a new account for yourself, and then search for “Catlin Gabel!”

Global Education Collaborative:
Independent School Educators Network:

What value do social network sites have for our students? Are they simply time-wasters?

When it comes to socializing with friends, youth prefer in-person (unregulated) encounters. They turn to SNSs when they can’t get together with their friends en masse or when they can’t get together without surveilling adults. They are desperately craving an opportunity to connect with their friends; not surprisingly, their use of anything that enables socialization while at school is deeply desired. [1]

Bridging social capital reflects the benefits we receive from our “weak ties” — people we don’t know very well but who provide us with useful information and ideas. Undergraduates who used Facebook intensively had higher bridging social capital scores than those who didn’t, and our longitudinal data show that Facebook use preceded these social capital gains. [2]

How does classroom management change? The above quotes help explain students’ motivation for using Facebook during class, but they do not help guide us toward particular classroom management strategies.

What effects do social network technologies have on our students’ social interactions with others?

Weak ties (e.g., casual acquaintances, colleagues) may not be reliable for long-term support; their strength instead is in providing a wide range of perspectives, information, and opportunities. As society becomes increasingly dynamic, with access to information playing a growing role, having many diverse connections will be key. [3]

While all humans need to feel connected to each other or to some cause, there are also times when we simply want to disconnect, and disconnecting is becoming increasingly hard thanks to social networking technology. [4]

How concerned should we be about online cruelty and privacy?

For teens, who can be viciously competitive, networking sites that feature a list of one’s best friends and space for everyone to comment about you can be an unpleasant venue for social humiliation and bullying. These sites can make the emotional landmines of adolescence concrete and explicit. [5]

It’s a lot harder to accept that social media is mirroring and magnifying all of the good, bad, and ugly about today’s society, shoving it right back in our faces in the hopes that we might face the underlying problems. Technology does not create bullying; it simply makes it more visible and much harder for adults to ignore. [6]

Our students are growing up in an increasingly interconnected world, mediated by social web technologies. The better we understand this landscape, the better we will be able to adopt the pieces that best support teaching and learning, relate to our students’ social needs, and manage a changing classroom environment.

Resources Cited

1. boyd, danah. “The Economist Debate on Social ‘Networking’”. Zephoria January 15, 2008
2. Ellison, Nichole as quoted in Dubner, Stephen J. “Is MySpace Good for Society? A Freakonomics Quorum” New York Times February 15, 2008
3. Donath, Judith, as quoted in ibid.
4. Chazin, Steve, as quoted in ibid.
5. Donath, Judith, as quoted in ibid
6. boyd, danah, as quoted in ibid.

Further Reading

boyd, danah, and Ellison, Nichole. Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship <>

Lenhart, Amanda. Madden, Mary. Macgill, Alexandra Rankin. Smith, Aaron. Pew Internet Life Report: Teens and Social Media <>

VanPetten, Vanessa. For Parents: Why do Teens Use Social Networking Sites? (video)

The Economist: Debate: Social Networking.

Chris Lehmann

Chris Lehmann

(uStreamed here)

Chris is challenging the audience in several ways. I think he’s trying to raise the level of urgency for school reform.

School 2.0 is simple: progressive education with 21st century tools
Who has read Dewey (a few hands) since grad school (almost none)
There is no silver bullet (to school reform)
Stop blaming schools
Industrial age created the current dominant school model
Funding does matter, because it pays people
John Cleese: “If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.”
“Lifelong kindergarten” (MIT Media Lab)
“Scary thought: What are we willing to unlearn and relearn?”

Pedagogy matters: be more intentional about the way we create our schools
Create caring institutions
If you give a test, you are not doing project-based learning
Incredibly empowered students

What do we gain/lose?
Have to give up breadth as the goal
Technology must be like oxygen: ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible
Don’t talk about “what” before “why”
Certain technologies are not additive, they are transformative (Neil Postman) (e.g., printing press)
Process trumps product
Simplify all the easy tasks, so we have time and energy for the complex
Research -> Collaborate -> Present -> Network
George Siemens: Connectivism
What if kids did “academic” networking, not just social network?
Transparency: we can invite the world to our schools
What is the role of the teacher in the age of Google?

David Pogue keynote

David Pogue

(very broad liveblogging)

David Pogue “sticks his neck out” to predict five rising technology trends.

Convergence of phone and internet

VOIP, Vonage, Skype, TMobile @ Home (phone call forwarding)

Google Cellular (texting Google to get business lookups, weather, driving directions, etc.

800 GOOG 411

Voice-to-text, e.g., SimulScribe, CallWave

Popularity Dialer (funny way to get out of a meeting)

RFID transmitters (embedding transmittable digital information in library books, shipping pallets, pets!, clothing, prisoners!)

FuturePhone: free international phone calls via Iowa due to a government subsidy for calls from rural areas, but they’ve been shut down as a result!

A la Carte Video


iTunes Video

Web 2.0

Facebook, YouTube, Craigslist

“Blogs can put a face on a company” — a more personal face on an organization (my note: this works when regular employees post about daily life, not when an organization posts official notices in a blog-type format)

Less well-known sites that are incredibly successful at putting people in touch with each other around certain information:

Prosper: person-to-person microloans

Kiva: Microloans for international businesses

Goloco: ad-hoc carpooling

E-Petitions: UK site for anyone to create a petition on any topic

Who Is Sick?: tracking what illnesses are going around

Technology is not a pencil

I am hoping to blog a lot while at ACPE the next two days. I thought I would start with an idea that has been nagging at me for a few weeks. I often hear school leaders explain that technology is like “a pencil.” I think they mean that technology should be incredibly simple and easily accomplish the job it is designed for. Pencils intimidate few. We don’t think too often about the pencil itself. Is it sharp? Eraser intact? Okay, let’s write.

Reducing technology to a pencil overlooks the manner in which it connects people to content and each other. The resultant learning environment is the focus, and it’s not a pencil. It is a complex, interwoven fabric through which students and teachers move to find, analyze, create, and share. The pencil (or whiteboard) metaphor discourages people from exploring the unique types of learning environments that one may create with technology.

Yes, we deserve technology systems that are easy to use, but we also deserve richness and power from these educational tools.

Authority and experimentation

Paul, nice job introducing the trip planning project using Google Earth. I especially liked how you explained how teacher authority (or “genius,” as you put it) is actually the face of experience. Students think you magically know all the answers, but this is actually because you’ve done the project many times before. Then you explained that moving the project into Google Earth means that you will encounter problems for the first time and not be as able to answer the students’ questions correctly the first time. I couldn’t read the students’ reactions to this … perhaps they were mildly stunned. I hope that the more adventuresome among them will view this as an opportunity to lead the exploration and define the project for future classes! Onward and upward. Good luck with it.