Thursday, December 16, 2010

Creating A Course-Specific, Secure Pseudo Web Server in Moodle 2.0

In today’s day of “click and drag” web site publishing brought to us be Google Sites, WordPress, Webbly, and the many other tools available, having an understanding of the coding behind the creation of a web page is still important to students. Having that knowledge is useful to understand the mechanics that makes up the information they are viewing on the LCD screen in front of them. Providing instruction to students and opportunities to create actual web sites by using basic html coding, or using tools such as Dreamweaver, goes a long way into providing them with an understanding of the pretty pictures on their laptops or mobiles. Completed student web projects can be showcased using your Moodle course.

In addition, many educational software applications export completed projects in a web site format. Examples of these types of applications include Teacher Gradebook software, Adobe Flash, RunRev’s LiveCode, etc. etc. (Note- For Flash and other web plug-in type content, the visitor to you Moodle course must have the accompanying software plug-in installed on their computer.)

Using your Moodle course to publish a web site enables you to share web sites you or your students have created in a secure environment; only you and the students in your course can view the shared websites (provided you don’t have guest access turned on). The media richness and interactivity of your Moodle course can be enhanced by including custom web sites, Flash projects, and other widgets generated through exporting them out into a plug-in web technology and uploading them into your Moodle course.

Moodle 2.0 - Creating a Course Secure Pseudo Web Server from John Patten on Vimeo.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Power of Web 2.0 in Moodle 2.0

For all of us, having an audience for what we write is key for helping us to improve our writing skills. With systems such as blogs, the ability for individuals to share their thoughts in writing, and then for others to comment on that writing is very powerful; this process of learning by sharing through Web 2.0 tools is not unique to adults and schools can help students to improve their writing using the same types of systems. Achieving an environment for students where they can share, reflect, and comment on each other’s writing can be done in Moodle using the database activity.

The database activity in Moodle allows teachers to create embedded database directly in their Moodle site. These databases can be populated with information by the teacher, or populated by the students themselves. In this example, I have created a database that has been designed to provide a tool for students to anonymously reflect on their learning. These reflections are shared amongst all students in the Moodle course and each student has the ability to comment on all individual student reflections. In addition, the teacher has the ability to rate individual anonymous record posts submitted by the student and an average score can be recorded in the Moodle gradebook at the completion of the database activity.

Video Tutorial One

Moodle 2.0 - Introduction to Database Activity from John Patten on Vimeo.

  • How this particular database activity appears to a student.
  • All students can contribute comments to each student’s record in the database.
  • Moodle 2.0 comments appear much more “Web 2.0” like and been integrated into many of the activities and resources in Moodle version 2.0.

Video Tutorial Two

Moodle 2.0 - Database Activity Settings from John Patten on Vimeo.

  • The initial database activities settings configuration.
  • Providing students with the ability to comment on each other’s contributions is vital for improving writing, holding them accountable, and generating discussion regarding what they are learning.
  • The “Require approval” setting if used, will provide the teacher with a button to approve any new record added by a student before it visible to other students. This can also be used as a way to provide a system to collect and store information from students without making it public to other students. For example, let’s say a student has posted some content in a new database record but there are some grammatical errors in the post. The teacher could add a comment to that students post regarding fixing the grammatical errors. That original post and the teacher’s comments would only be available to the specific student and the teacher. Once the student has corrected the errors, the teacher could delete their comment and then approve the students record so that it is visible to the rest of the class.

Video Tutorial Three

Moodle 2.0 - Database Activity - Designing the Database from John Patten on Vimeo.

  • Creating fields for your database and adding those fields to the list view, single record view, and Add (record) view templates.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Difficulty of Solving Your Own Problems

We had our most recent Innovative School Thinking Meeting last night, November 4, 2010. The group has dwindled to a select few individuals consisting of: one middle school principal, one superintendent, one board member, one semi-retired principal, and one director of technology. We started off sharing the video of Katie Salen and her work with the New York City public middle school Quest To Learn. The Innovative SchoolThinking committee is expected to be looking to the future, 2020 and beyond in terms of how our schools should be in order to provide the best education for the students they serve. The difficulty with attempting to determine the future, beyond the obvious, is being able to provide a story, or to create a story, that provides a vision for all stakeholders for what schools can be in 2020. Ultimately, that is one of the goals that we would like to get out of these committee meetings. This is no small task, especially when you're looking at: 1. An institution that have relatively been the same in how the operate for over 100 years; 2. All members of the committee are products of these institutions, and in our case; 3. Overall our schools in our district have been on the whole quite successful.

However, the need for improving our schools and creating a new story is a result of the projected and ongoing changes that are occurring in our community. Two examples of these changes are the massive influence that technology has had in the last 15-20 years and the projected demographic changes in population projected for our little "neck of the woods." The influence of technology on how we live in this day and age is unmistakable. Unfortunately it has not yet translated, or lived up to its potential in our schools. There are many reasons for this and though we constantly struggle with improving our use of technology, it is happening in very small steps. For example, when a member of the committee asked me about a class that is part of one of our 1:1 student laptop initiatives, she witnessed students creating sentences using some
identified vocabulary words. She was wondering if this was what we meant in terms of under-utilizing the technology. I would have to say if this was the extent to how these computers were being used, then yes they are being under utilized. But if what she witnessed was just the first part of a series of activities that had students then electronically share, evaluate, modify, record, re-synthesize the collected work into a new format, which can be done very easily electronically (GoogleDocs, VoiceThread, etc.); then that extends the initial use of technology she witnessed to one that is much more appropriate.

The second glaring need is the fact that we have not been able to narrow, or close the achievement gap. What we (royal we) have been doing has not made a big difference in lowering the achievement gap for minorities. This effects us as a district because by 2025 in California the projected Hispanic population in California will go from approximately 29.1% of the population in 1995 to 43.1% of the population in 2025. We have a very large Hispanic population in the central valley and if we continue to educate our students in the same way, it would seem logical that an increase in the students that fall into the achievement gap category would mean an increase in students who are not achieving. This responsibility falls squarely on the shoulders of our schools.

Here is where the difficult part comes in to play, can we create a story that provides a road map or a vision to address our needs in a more global approach. In our short discussions last night two ideas related to implementing change stuck out, the first was the strategy which I would label as abrupt and to the point. It was a more "top down" approach, as opposed to bottom up approach. This strategy seems to fit mostly with some of the more popular charter school enterprises we hear about in the news. They can capitalize on their ability to focus on a specific clientele or population that is disenfranchised with the current state of their neighborhood public school. This approach works for the specific clientele but it does not appear to scale well. The problem I see with charter school innovation is that it provides only pockets of innovation and ignores the larger institutional changes that are needed when addressing, for example, the needs such as technology and the achievement gap. Change on a larger scale is far more complex. An entire district, and the schools within the district, do not appear to have the ability to adopt a change model that is more suited to a nimble individual school. The second idea shared was one where the larger systematic change happens more gradually and smaller actions led by passionate, enthusiastic small groups of individuals. These small actions are programs that are very different than what is the norm at a school; they must be compelling, engaging and excite students. One example suggested was something similar to what is being implemented at Quest To Learn, using game theory and design but on a smaller scale, possibly an extended day program at a middle school. If implemented correctly, the belief is that the enthusiasm for this type of program would spread across a campus, affecting parents, and the conversations that take place inside school, during collaboration meetings between staff, and outside of school in the community. A successful program like this could lead to a community in favor of funding more technology across the district, such as site wide 1:1 computer initiatives, digital texts, district created digital "texts," and support for infrastructure that would support wide use these types of tools.

But let's hold on for a second, we may have an even larger problem, and that is, are we even capable of formulating a story to address our needs? Steve Hargadon has a very nice post in Redu, Factory Schools: A Debate where he writes that the popular opinion right now is that our public schools are broken. "If there's a more general acceptance that the story or narrative we've told ourselves about the purpose and value of education for the past 100+ years is now broken, there's also an awareness that we don't have a ready replacement for that story." Compounding this idea are the facts that one, many of our schools have been doing quite well up to this point, and two, we are all products of the existing system. On Ewan McIntosh's blog, he shares a post titled Culture Popped: what can pop culture teach museums, the arts and education about engagement. In the first few slides he has a quote from Clay Shirky, "Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution." And one from Upton Sinclair, "It is difficult to get a man to solve a problem when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." Mr. McIntosh's presentation was not referring to schools and education in general, but was more business focused, but I can't help but think some times, that at some unconscious level, we in education suffer from this malady at least in regards to coming up with new stories.

We measure the success of our students based on the structure of a 100 year old paradigm. If we are really thinking about doing things better in schools, shouldn't we be measuring students using a paradigm that does not make us conform to the existing paradigm? For example, last
night someone mentioned the fact that there have been attempts to change things in the past, for example in the 70s. The result of some of those early trials were children starting third grade with a kindergarten reading level. Or in another example, of a state assessment for math that was more critical-thinking focused. It resulted in utter failure by the students and as a result the assessment was never used again. If we are really thinking outside the box, maybe a model of instruction that results in a student, in what we would now call third grade, with what we would call now, a kindergarten reading level is okay in our new story? Maybe the assessment that we were using to evaluate our students math and critical thinking skills was right on target? Maybe we were not doing a good job at instructing our students and providing them with the skills we were trying to assess them on? Or maybe we should have just evaluated our scope and sequence a little more closely and made some modifications?

My involvement with the school innovation committee has generated many more questions than even a faint outline of a new story. How long can we continue on the current path? What will the ultimate results be if we do not address them now? Is there a problem to address? Will it all just
sort itself out on its own? Can we afford to let it? ...

*(Image Creative Commons licensed courtesy of sjdunphy via Flickr)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Community Based Education Reform vs Structural Reform

There has been some recent discussions and posts related to how public schools should go about reforming themselves, for lack of a better word, in regards to educating children. The Federal government has offered money to states in a competitive grant process called Race To The Top. The two awarded states this year promised sweeping changes in terms of assessing students and monitoring their progress through statewide data systems. These types of proposals are very large and usually recommend systems that are meant to be implemented across the board in all schools and all school districts. Larry Cuban in a post describes these types of reform efforts as large structural reform (more about this later on with links to his post on the topic). Large reform projects are not new to public education, and have been deployed and implemented for many years. One such example, on a smaller scale, is the text book adoption process that occurs every 7-8 years. School districts around the country adopt a new text book/program and deploy that program in a manner that gets the most students through the most content by the end of the school year. If you have been in education for more than ten years, it's a safe bet you have gone through at least of few of the large structural reform projects yourself.

The flip side to large structural reform, is reform that is created locally. In this model, needs are determined by the community and school (as they relate to the students,) ideas are researched and generated to address those needs, and plans are created to put those ideas into action. Of the two types of approaches, the locally generated reform model is the most difficult to implement, and as you would have imagined, is also the most successful in terms of creating positive changes in improving instruction.

Why is this type of reform so much more difficult to implement than structural reform? The obvious answer is because it requires greater participation and a full understanding of what it takes to prepare our children for the 21st-century. Usually many of the members of a this type of group do not have a strong background in education pedagogy, they are not educators in the traditional sense and will only have familiarity with education based on what they remember from their schooling and/or their children. Another reason for why this type of reform is more difficult, is that it demands participation. Committee members must be able to speak and share their ideas without feeling like they have something to lose. Most people still are uncomfortable sharing their ideas with, essentially, strangers. There is an insecurity that comes with this type of committee, and due to the technology tools that are often used to help facilitate the discussions, this insecurity is amplified.

I am currently experiencing this first hand in the committee that I am co-chairing for our district. We are in the very early stages of developing this group, but already some of the challenges are apparent from the initial meeting and follow up online (or lack there of) discussions. We have our second meeting in August and the goal is to have shared some areas that we would classify as needs, electronically, prior to that meeting. Our second face-to-face meeting we will focus on those needs and begin the process of prioritizing those needs.

The following are pieces that have sparked my initial reflections I've written about above and on some ideas related to some of the work I've been involved with in my district:

Will Richardson's post titled, "A Summer Rant: What's Up With Parents?" expresses his frustration with attempting to engage parents in the education of their own children and the community in general with helping to motivate them in helping to improve our schools. To see the wide range of feelings on his ideas in this post, be sure to check out the comments.

Larry Cuban's Blog, School Reform and Classroom Practice, July 27, he writes a post titled, "Admitting Error is Very Hard To Do: Structures and Classroom Practice.

He begins his post describing how Alan Greenspan testified in Congress to the fact that he was wrong regarding the belief "that self-correcting market structures and federal regulations were enough to avert a major recession." He uses it as an example to demonstrate the difficult in admitting error. His introductory paragraph about Greenspan sets up his own admonition that for a great part of his educational career, he believed that structural reforms would lead to better classroom instruction. Now, after 15 years of teaching, and years of research on the topic, he feels this fundamental idea was incorrect. He goes on to describe that one of the champions of large structural reform projects are policymakers. It's a policymakers job to work in scale, designing solutions that get the "biggest bang" for their/our buck$. He goes on to describe that "changing one child at a time, changing one teacher at a time, changing one school at a time is incredibly inefficient use of limited resources." However, he has come to believe that to be successful in improving teaching practices, the "slow-motion Mom-and-Pop-store-one-school-at-time" is the correct process. We have all witnessed sweeping structural reforms come and go. His research and others have demonstrated that structural reforms do not lead to improvements and that working directly on individual and collective teacher norms, knowledge, and skills at the school and classroom levels have a far better chance of improving teaching practices.

Chris Lehmann is the principal and instructional leader for the Science Leadership Academy, in Philadelphia, PA. He runs a high school that has been doing a lot of innovative teaching and learning. As a result they have been getting a lot of good press and kudos for the work that they are doing and the accomplishments of their students. A lot of this attention on SLA has produced a great deal of discussion on how to grow or implement their practices in other schools. Mr. Lehmann has been spending some considerable amount of time reflecting on this ideas in his blog, Many of his posts about what happens at SLA contain a foundation that is based on school/local community collaboration. Whether that is projects that the student partake in, or determining the direction and needs of their school. Each year SLA sponsors a conference titled EduCon, it is primarily a tool for SLA to share the innovative practices they are implementing with other educators on a wider scale. Attendees get to see and discuss practices that are taking place at SLA and at the same time, SLA gets to pull ideas from the presenters and attendees that help them improve what they do. EduCon naturally inherits many of the same philosophies that are a part of SLA. In a recent post, Mr. Lehmann discusses what it would take to grow the EduCon experience beyond their little neck of the woods. In the process he describes both the core principles of EduCon and some of the core principles of SLA. All of which are his attempt at bringing the practices conceived at the local level into an arena that is more broader in the hope of gleaming nuggets of information that can be used not only by SLA, but by all participants.

1. photo courtesy of Max-B, CreativeCommons Licensed.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Creating With Computers (Part VI) - The Student Reading Recorder Example

The fundamental design concept behind all of the Web 2.0 tools such as Twitter and Facebook are very similar to my simple Student Reading Recorder application. What you see on your computer screen when you are looking at Twitter or Facebook is the same thing that every single person on the planet sees, at least in respect to the layout of the elements on the screen. What is different is the content that fills in those little elements of space on your screen. The way Facebook and Twitter determines what to put in those little boxes within the layout is based on information that you generated and they store in their database. In Twitter for example, every person with an account that has selected me as someone to follow has an entry in the Twitter database that identifies my account as one that they want to follow. When I add a new tweet, that action initiates a query through the twitter database looking for all accounts that have marked my account as one that they are following. When the query locates my unique account information in somebody else's list of people they are following, it pulls my last tweet out of the database and puts it into the list of tweets of the for that individual. At least that's how I imagine it. I don't work for Twitter or Facebook, but my hunch is probably pretty close. My little reading application works the same way.

My database consists of four tables. The first table holds information about the teacher. The second table holds information about the students. The third table in the database holds information about the assessments and the last table holds information about the individual student assessment results.

The first screen of the student application pulls information from the database out of three of the tables. The start button initiates a call to the database that queries the database to retrieve the unique identification number for the specific teacher that the students types in to the "class" field. This identification number is then used to generate a drop down list of every student that has that teacher's unique identification number saved into their student record. When the student selects their name from the drop down list, a second call to the database is initiated and uses the student's unique identification number to retrieve the students current reading assessment activity. In addition, it uses the student's unique identification number to retrieve their avatar icon for the upper right of the screen. The avatar icons are titled with the student's unique identification number.

The remaining icons on the screen consists of two buttons. The red circle button begins a recording session. This recording session works with Apple's Quicktime technology and requires that the QuickTime player is installed on the student's workstation. The sound recording is actually saved to the local "recordings" folder on the student workstation. (This works in the same fashion for both the Macintosh platform and the MS Windows platform. The Linux platform does not have an Apple QuickTime player so it records audio a little different. I will describe the Linux version in a separate post.)

In order to provide the teacher with the ability to evaluate the student's reading recording from any networked computer, the green triangle button, which is used by the student to navigate between the screens, also uploads a copy of the student recording to the remote server via an FTP process.

A copy of this application is linked at the bottom of this post. One important fact, this tool has not been designed for commercial release. This is an in house tool designed for a specific goal and in a specific environment. The environment that this application is running is very robust and latency issues at home over a DSL speed connection are not experienced in the classroom.

The remaining student screens provide students with additional focus on thinking about their reading using the recording that they created in screen one. This second screen prompts the student to listen to their recording and count the number of words that they read. They can strike the space bar on the keyboard to help them count the number of words that they read aloud during the recording.

The third screen simply has them rank how well they felt they read the paragraph and allows them to drag a marker on a line to identify their rating.

The fourth screen allows the student to listen to the recording again and identify one word that they thought was particularly difficult to read aloud.

The fifth screen provides a ranking which is actually just a number that increments by five each time they do an recording activity. The screen is particularly vague as I am interested in how the students that use this tool would describe what this number represents. Obviously the more times they do an activity the more obvious it will be that the number increases.

Remember, even thought this application is functional, it primarily serves as an example of what can be done with these types of rapid application development tools. Revolution is a great tool development tool and seeing how they provide a free version and educational pricing on more complete versions there is only a small investment in time to get started.

Download Examples
Examples of the Macintosh and Windows Student Applications Available Here

In part VII I will share the teacher management components of this example application and show off some of the other features of Revolution that helps make developing tools with this product much easier than traditional programming languages.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Thoughts On Privacy and Social Media

The has been a lot of discussion lately on the issues related to privacy on Facebook and other web 2.0 applications. The straw man argument would be, "Well, you don't have use them. Nobody is making you." The fact of the matter is that we do in this day and age and depriving students of the necessary skills and guidance with these tools puts them at a disadvantage. Would it ruin their lives if they didn't get the experience and instruction? No. But it does put them at a disadvantage in our current global environment.

Part of the problem has been created by ourselves. If we had been teaching students how to use computers and technology beyond word processing and creating PowerPoint presentations for the last twenty years, our students wouldn't need Facebook to collaborate and communicate. They could be creating their own social networks, just-in-time, when they are needed and have complete control over their design and data. Imagine if you could roll our own "Facebook" as simple as creating a PowerPoint presentation. The server, database, and your code, all in your pocket, or stashed in your sock drawer at home available to those that you choose.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Creating With Computers (Part V) - The Tools

As I mentioned in Part II, my early interest in computers and education was launched when I first discovered HyperCard in the mid 1980s. The ease at which you could quickly create a custom application to do what you wanted it to do and to address a specific task was very enticing. The continued development of HyperCard by Apple lead to more and more possibilities including the ability to incorporate multimedia into custom applications. In my opinion, Hypercard was the ideal computer development tool for the classroom teacher and allowed for the development of instructional materials tailored to the needs of individual students. HyperCard eventually was retired by Apple, but other companies picked up where Apple had left off. Development tools such as SuperCard, ToolBook, and Metacard continued to evolve the HyperCard development model. This model of application development based on objects and events began to gain more and more popularity to the extent that one such tool, HyperStudio, became very popular with students and teachers. Though this tool was similar in design, it is targeted more toward students and is not as versatile as the previously mentioned software tools. However, it provides an excellent starting place for students to understand many of the important concepts of application development.

In 2003 Runtime Revolution purchased Metacard and used it to develop Revolution. RunRev, as they are now known, has developed mutliple versions of Revolution and address the needs of the wide range of users. RunRev produces versions of Revolution that run and compile on all three major operating systems, Windows, Linux, and MacOS X. Applications developed in Revolution can also be deployed as browser plug-ins similar to Adobe Flash applications. One attractive feature of Revolution is projects designed and developed in one operating system, such as Mac OSX can be compiled and deployed as standalone applications on Windows and Linux operating system. Future versions of Revolution are in the works that will provide deployment on mobile operating systems such as Google's Android.

Developing in Revolution is done by dragging objects from palettes to your window and then programing those objects using Revolution's Transcript programming language. Transcript is very similar to HyperCard's HyperTalk programming language and uses very English language like commands. The following example should help to better illustrate this description:

In Part VI I will begin to tie the conversation back to my example, the student reading tool, and share the necessary steps of connecting the student tool to a remote database.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Creating With Computers (Part IV)

As we turn to more and more web based applications, the importance of a databases to store content used by the application becomes more and more important. Google Docs essentially is one very large database. When you log in to your Google Docs account, it pulls information in its database that is related to you and displays it within a template window of your web browser. Clicking on one of the documents in the documents list, you have previously created in Google Docs, results in another call to the Google database and this time returns the content related to the title of the doc that you clicked on. My little student reading application will mirror this type of database operation, but instead of displaying the information in a web browser window, it will display the information in a custom application. Understanding how databases work with computers will be a central skill as we move forward in developing our ability to control computers and use information constructively.

My experiences with databases and computers stems primarily from my work with setting up content managements system and blogs. Applications such as Mambo/Joomla, Moodle, and WordPress use databases to store content. Each of these applications use a database called mySQL. MySQL started out as an OpenSource database application at approximatly the same time that the Apache web server software was released. These two applications have supported a great deal of innovation that has been developed on the world wide web beginning in the mid 90's. In any case, my experience is pretty limited and my point is that with just a little knowledge you can begin creating something that takes advantage of a backend database to support a custom application.

In developing the mySQL database for my application, I used a mySQL application running on a hosted service called On-Rev. On-Rev is a relatively new service provided by RunRev, the makers of the application development tool I am using to create this student program. There are many benefits to using the On-Rev service with Revolution, however what I'm about to describe can be achieved with any hosting services that provides the mySQL database application. The mySQL database is primarily controlled via the command line. What this means is that there is no primary graphic user interface for the mySQL application. This was done on purpose to maximize performance capabilities of the database application and to conserve valuable microprocessor cycles to server your data and not a "pretty" user interface. Fortunately, there have been a number of "front ends" to the mySQL database that provides a more graphic user interface for manipulating the database (for those of us that have grown up clicking a mouse). The application I will be using is called phpMyadmin and it is a web based front end to the mySQL database. Using this tool you can easily create new databases, new tables within the database, and new fields to store your information within those tables. If you choose to use a mySQL database hosted on a commercial services provider, such as On-Rev, there is a good change that the phpMyAdmin tool will be available to you for manipulating the mySQL database.

For my student reading application, I decided to develop four tables within the database. Each table went with a particular component of the student reading application.
When developing your database, it is important to spend quality time thinking about all its pieces and how they will interact with your application. It is much more difficult to make changes to your database after you begin to create the actual desktop application as any new changes made to the database could have unforeseen consequences which will take time to decipher and fix in the desktop application. As with most things, careful planning upfront is crucial to eliminating difficulties later.

In the next part, I will begin sharing how the student desktop tool is going to be created and how the desktop tool exchanges information with the remote database.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Creating With Computers (Part III)

Revolution is like a software Erector set. With a little bit of familiarity with the language, it is very easy to quickly create custom applications. I began the process of developing this tool by thinking about the ultimate goal, a software tool that students would use to hopefully improve their reading. I started with the ultimate goal in mind, and then worked back to components that would make that goal successful. The following is a list of features that I determined the student component should incorporate:

  • Simple student log-in a first grader could master.
  • The ability for a student to easily record themselves reading a passage of text.
  • The ability for a student to easily play back their recorded audio file.
  • A strategy to allow students to concentrate on what they read by providing them with a tool to count the number of words they read within the time limit.
  • A simple scale that allows students to rate how well they feel they read the passage.
  • The ability to identify at least one word that they felt was the most difficult to read.
  • A number presented at the end of the activity that represents their ranking/total score.

My hunch is that these described activities would help to improve a student's reading ability by steering them to think more acutely about their reading. Research has shown that special needs students actually do quite well working in a student-computer environment. The computer is often less threatening and students are less likely to be nervous or suffer from performance anxiety when in front of a computer as opposed to in front of their teacher. This I thought would hold true for all students. I envision this student tool being used in a center or independent group activity where students have 15-20 minutes at each activity.

After defining the components of the student software, it was time to decide on how it would be designed. I knew that I would want to be able to retrieve student work so that the students' teachers would be able to evaluate their students' work post activity. In order to do this, all student input would have to be stored in a database. Fortunately for me, Revolution provides this ability quite easily and I will be describing this process in a later section.

As I continued to work backward from the student activity component, my planning resulted in three supporting components. The first is the main administrator tool for creating teacher accounts. The second component is the teacher tool. The teacher tool should allow for the creation of individual student reports based on the students' activities. In addition, teachers should be able to create, edit, and delete students accounts. Finally, teachers should be able to create and edit new assessments/activities and assign assessments/activities to students in their class.

All these components require the storing of their data in a database. The creation of the database and the resulting tables in the database will be described in a later blog post.
(image courtesy of:

Friday, May 7, 2010

Creating With Computers (Part II)

I was talking with my wife about some of her work with her English learner students. She was sharing all the assessments that they incorporate into their daily instruction and their practice for encouraging and modeling strong reading skills. I began thinking about the types of software that have been promoted to help students with their language arts, specifically reading skills. Scholastic's Read 180, Accelerated Reading, and Auto Skills came to mind. I was wondering how well those current software tools promote students to critically evaluate and think about their own reading skills? How many of these tools really get students to think about their reading?

These ponderings then turned to other thoughts as to what the ideal activity, or activities are to encourage students to think about their reading skills? Would an activity that promotes students thoughts about their reading skills even in the most basic activity fosters the needed attention to improve their reading abilities? What would those activities look like and what software tools are there that provide this instructional strategy without direct teacher participation? I could not think of one software tool that would promote this type of self-directed learning strategy that was simple to use, and could be started and completed in it's entirety in a 15-20 minute block of time, and provide the teacher with a record of the student's work.

The previous two paragraphs essentially defined the question or the task. Since I could not think of a software solution currently available, I decided to just create one myself. Granted I am not a classically trained software programmer. I'm what's referred to as a hack. Somebody who can get the computer to do what they need it to by "hook or by crook" at least in regards to software programming. My passion for technology in education began in the mid 1980s when I was introduced to the MacPlus and a new program on it called HyperCard. I fondly remember learning the trick to unlock the HyperCard Player so that it would divulge it's hidden software authoring tools. Though HyperCard is no longer being developed, there are a number of tools that have have picked up where HyperCard had left off. One such application, and my current favorite is Revolution by RunRev. This application is very similar to HyperCard. It is event driven and utilizes standard English resembling code. Many people earn their living developing in Revolution. One of the nicest features of Revolution is that you can develop on one platform and deploy on Macintosh, Windows, and Linux platforms. Soon RunRev has claimed you'll be able to deploy on the iPhone/iPad and Windows Mobile too. If you are interested in learning more about Revolution, they have a free version you can download called RevMedia.

Now that I had defined what I needed, an application focusing on reading that fosters students self assessment and analysis of their own reading, I set out to define the components.

(Photo courtesy of

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Creating With Computers (Part I)

In the educational technology circles that I inhabit, a lot of discussion has taken place around the new Apple iPad. I've been interested in two opposing conversations that have taken place surrounding this new device. On one hand are those that feel this new device is going to change everything in regards to how we think about the personal computer and public education. On the other hand is a group of individuals who don't doubt the device will be a big success but that the device won't change education too much because it is primarily a device to consume content. There are some truths to both arguments and only time will really present the clear picture. However, after 19 years in public education, from what I have seen, the adoption of technology into everyday regular instruction has been limited at best. Sure there are pockets of innovation, but most of our instructional practices and strategies over those 19 years have not warranted the use of technology. The majority of technology use in schools has required that students know some fundamentals with the computer, where to save files, how to use a web browser, how to create a new slide in PowerPoint, and how to search using Google, etc. etc. For the most part, these skills can be taught after about two hours of instruction and some practice. My son did not need any training on how to use Facebook or locate the latest Flash based arcade game. If you know how to write, and have some familiarity with a keyboard, you are already a master of every social networking tool that's been and will be developed. Not surprisingly, the reasons for why computers and technology have not been utilized in a manner that takes advantage of their innate capability to create and innovate stems mainly on the primary charge of our educational institutions. Our focuses has been on eliminating the achievement gap, and improving our scores on state standardized tests. These are not bad goals, but our world is changing and our current goals are the same as every other developing country.

What is going to distinguish our students from those students in China or India?

I remember hearing a respected member of the community, out of frustration at the current budget mess suggest that we could save money by reducing our electrical costs by removing the technology tools, computers, projectors, etc. If you think about it, in ridiculous sort of way, turning off all the power to an average school may not hurt their standardized test results provided you had classrooms with windows or lots of candles and you'd save some money. Nobody would truly advocate for this but I am just attempting to make the point that what we currently evaluate our students on does not necessarily necessitate that we use technology to prepare them for these assessments.

We need to begin thinking about how we can instill in our children qualities that distinguish them from the rest of the world. One of the tools that we've had at our fingertips for the past 20 years, but have neglected to put it into use for this endeavor is the computer.

In (Part II) I will begin sharing a model of using computers that can provide us a strategy for distinguishing our students from the competition and showcase their many diverse talents.

(image courtesy of Xuoan's Dailies

Friday, April 9, 2010

Funding for California Public Education

photo courtesy of Fickr and stuartpilbrow

On Easter I jumped into a spirited conversation about school budgets with my Dad and brother-in-law after dinner. In one of my jabs, I suggested we get rid of Proposition 13. My father just about fell out of his chair! He quickly came back at me with, "education gets all kinds of money just look at the California State Lottery." Yea, let's look at the California Lottery. Since it's inception it has provided approximately $17.5 billion dollars to K-12 education. In my district that is $1,000,000, about 2% of our annual budget. The perception of my father is that it actually provided much more funding. Public education is not cheap. The California State Lottery helps support projects and programs, but it is no windfall for public education. The general public's understanding of how public schools are funded is dismal.

Some resources that will help if you too are a little confused when it comes to funding public education:

The Basics of California's School Finance System -

The Basics of California's Proposition 98 -

California School Finance Highlights 2009-2010: The Impact of the Fiscal Crisis on California Public Schools -

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Value In The Teacher

Thinking Out Loud & Organizing Ideas My CUE2010 Concurrent Session: Defining Web 2.0 - The Skill of Strategic Socialization

Henry Jenkins, Provost's Professor of Communication, Journalism, and Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California was interviewed in the PBS special Digital Nation. A colleague of his from the University of Buenos Aires, Ariel Glazer, mashed up the Pink Floyd and Jenkins interview. The complete video which Mr. Jenkins feels many ways, captures some of his core themes and concerns better than the PBS documentary, is available here:

Though I thought this mash-up video clip would be a great introduction to the topic of strategic socialization, it and other ideas began to led me to investigate why we should be using modern tools in education in the first place. The recent EduCon2.2 Conference and Bud Hunt's session on The Caring Classroom , articles such as "10 Takeaway tips for Social and Emotional Learning" that were recently published in Edutopia, all lead me to begin thinking about what fundamental principles are at work in a class room when students are being successful. Though technology is great, it is not going to replace the teacher. The teacher will always be a key factor in the success of students. The effectiveness of that teacher depends on how well they can "teach." And when I think about the most fundamental aspect of teaching, it leads me to think specifically about communication. However, communication alone does not result in student learning. Effective communication results in student learning. So, how does a teacher provide effective communication and what is effective communication? Communication is only effective when the target of that communication values the communicator, in this case, the teacher. The following thoughts are ideas related to how a teacher and our institutions can generate value in our teachers in the eyes of our students. As related to the use of technology and strategic socialization, technology, as you will see, plays one role of many used to generate value.

A part of my job is to provide guidance and examples of ways that technology can be used to fundamentally change the way we teach students for the better. Obvious ideas that quickly come to mind are the ideas of improving communication and extending the time students are in "school." I'm not going to touch the latter, that one is a slam dunk in terms of the use of technology, however the first one is essential to the success of the second.

Communication is a big topic and in terms of education, effective communication is a necessity in promoting the highest levels of student achievement. In order for the communication to be its most effective, the message being received must be of value to the individual receiving it. In education, if the messenger is not valued is the message they are sending really considered communicating? A large part of the value placed on the message by the receiver is not necessarily related to the message itself. Most of the time the value comes from the message sender and not the actual information that is being communicated. In order to create effective communication in the "classroom," this value needs to be fostered between the teacher and the students, and vice-versa. There are many ways this value is cultivated by the teacher. It is not just generated between verbal exchanges between the participants, it is also built through external influences all of which are in our control. For example:

How does the information presented by Liz Coleman foster improved communication (generate value in the minds of our students for their teacher)? Teachers adopting a mindset that all subjects are worthy of study, beyond just their particular expertise, will be interpreted by students that their "expertise" or contributions are valued, even if their strong suit is not say, geometry or algebra. To carry on the math example see Dan Meyer's blog at for examples of this concept in a math class. Dan brings in much more than math content into his math classroom. Marco Torres generates value in his work with students and video production too... Marco's emphasis on fundamentals of story telling, planning, and technique enable students to explore concepts that are of interest to themselves, besides developing an understanding of the core instruction.

The video of a student explaining their work is another example of a teacher that has incorporated multiple disciplines into a lesson to strengthen, in this case, the student's understanding of math but honoring the student's values and interests, all of which translate into value in the teacher in the eyes of the student.

The Old Stand-by Is Still Relevant Because it Generates Value Too - Expectations

The following video is a common story of disenchanted/disengaged student. Richard Florida is an author and popular speaker covering topics such as the importance of creativity in the world and education. Embedded in this clip also is idea of "value." He doesn't speak directly to it, but where does the idea of learner value for their "teacher" appear?

He makes some good points, but the underlining idea here is not that technology is the solution, its what the use of technology generates in students. In my opinion he's missing a very big point. He shares how he hated school, never went to classes even in college, but would have high level, intense conversations with his buddies over beers. He talks about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs dropping out of school, but now in adulthood being very successful. What is he actually saying underneath those words? He is essentially saying there was no value for him in what was being communicated in school. Would he and his buddies have benefited if their teachers had higher expectations? If students perceive teachers honestly care, have high expectations, and are looking out for their best interest, does that build value? Recent popular movies such as Stand and Deliver or Freedom Writers counter Mr. Florida's view of his own education by providing a ("Hollywood") view of teachers with high expectations and students that become successful by a large degree primarily for the development of value they develop for their teacher and ultimately for what is being "communicated" to them.

(Full Richard Florida video available here: )

Design and Environment Generate "Plus or Minus Value"

Larry Rosenstock, CEO of the San Diego's High Tech High

This clip provides the ideas behind the school environment at San Diego's High Tech High. It does not look like a school, it looks like an "incubator for a start-up company." There are glass walls, you can see easily into classrooms, and the walls of the place are hung with examples of student work. How does this create "positive value" in the students at this school for their teachers? How could we create this type of environment in existing school/classrooms if we didn't have a spare industrial building laying around to use? I'm not even going to address the issues of generating negative value. I'm hoping those examples would be pretty obvious after watching the video.

Another big point that I feel generates this "value" in students for their teacher, indirectly, is the idea of not categorizing students. At High Tech High there is a conscious effort not to segregate or separate out students.

When you segregate you are unconsciously, or consciously, assigning value. By not segregating your are creating value by affirming individual contributions and strengths. This is similar to the point about liberal arts mindset in the point above with the video of Liz Coleman.

The full video on San Diego High Tech High can be viewed here:

Stefana Broadbent - TED Talk Video

I said I wasn't going to point out the factors that could induce "negative value" factors in our learning environments, but Stefana Broadbent outlines many of them in this excerpt from her TED talk video. How would the things she describes create a negative effect in how value is generated by a students for their teacher? These are factors that are not the direct result of the teacher's the way.

Stefana's TED talk is really about the emergence of some new phenomenons brought on by our advances in communication technologies. She says in the past, and right up to today, Imposed Isolation has been the norm ... in our institutions...however, that is changing due to technology. We school our children to this norm, schools mimicked the environments we would find in the work-world outside of school. This is changing and all institutions need to adapt. Imposed Isolation is no longer becoming the norm.

What kind of message does this send our students when we block the tools they use to communicate with the people who THEY value? If we are proponents of communication learning), high expectations, and student achievement, but yet we block students from communicating with those that THEY value, does that build value in ourselves as teachers in the eyes of our students? We need to invest ourselves in our students and strive to become one those 5-6 most influential individuals that Broadbent describes. We need to use these tools to build value. (The full TED Video by Stefana Broadbent is available here: )

Motivation & Value
Daniel Pink's new book Drive explores the topic of motivation. He breaks down the history of motivation into three versions, Motivation 1.0, Motivation 2.0, and Motivation 3.0. Motivation 1.0 are the basic motivators that include the need for food, reproduction, and survivability. Motivation 2.0 are the traditional institutionalized techniques he refers to as the "carrot and the stick." Motivation 3.0 is more related to intrinsic motivation. He uses examples of OpenSource software development where there is not monetary, or extrinsic reward. People create software just to create it in the hopes of helping others. He also uses the example of Tom's Shoes, Where for every shoe they sell they give a pair to a child in need. Employees are motivated by the intrinsic reward of being associated with a company that is helping children. Altruistic? Maybe, but it motivates workers and buyers. Motivation 3.0, intrinsic motivation, which is tied to teacher expectations, builds value. Teachers promoting intrinsic motivation in their students promotes the idea of value in them, and in return add to the teacher's value (in the student's eyes).

As a side note regarding Pink's book, he claims that the baby boomer generation are all approaching their 60s. In his words he describes this generation as one who has worked very hard, but may be feeling like their work has not lead to any substantial achievements. He implies that they my be struggling with their intrinsic motivation drives. He claims every thirteen minutes, 100 adults turn 60. He says this will continue until 2024. Pink thinks the Boomer generation aging will result in a wave of volunteerism as they struggle with their Motivation 3.0 drives that have been neglected in the Motivation 2.0 work days. They may be a resource that schools will want to begin preparing to tap if Pink's prediction is correct. Would a program in our schools that takes advantage of this volunteerism generate value in teachers by their students?

"Caring about students is listening to them, learning about them from them."

Chris Lehmann the Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia made that statement earlier this year at the EduCon2.2 conference. That statement drips with value generating potential. A school culture that honors that philosophy will generate value in the eyes of students for teachers and learning. That philosophy requires a commitment that begins with the teacher and transcends to the foundations of the learning institution. Developing a learning organization that creates value does not happen over night, it takes time, planning, and a concerted effort.

Many strategies can be developed to bring about additional value in schools. The title of my CUE Concurrent session is Defining Web 2.0: The Skill of Strategic Socialization. Web 2.0 tools provide an easy entry point into establishing strategies to develop more value. The first is allowing modern communications tools in schools, and providing students and staff with instruction on effective use. The second is for teachers to model the use of these tools with their students, and the third is to use these tools ourselves to grow and learn as educators.