Tech Literacy

I'm working on a short brief about technology literacy.  What is it?  How important is it that schools have technology literacy goals?  What does it mean to be technology literate?  The task of definining technology literacy (if there is even such a thing) is not as easy as it would appear.  Teachers, students, administrators, employers, and parents all have slightly different definitions... I want to know what you think:

What is technology literacy?  What role should schools play in ensuring students are tech literate?  How important is it that teachers are tech literate?

Please leave a comment and let me know your opinion.  Thanks!

More change?

Seems like change is the current hot buzzword.  The folks at Kaplan University are using it in their new ads.  Ads that are very critical of the current teaching methodology.  What do you think?  Do you agree with the tone and message of these ads (ignoring the fact that they are for a University).  I do like the idea about using technology to enhance and transform the way that we learn, however I worry that many "traditional" classrooms simply re-create this model in a digital, online form (ex. Blackboard).  This is not exactly transformational.  Transformational happens once we start teaching students how to think creatively.  Also, GO UNCLE PHIL!

Kaplan University Ads

It's Elemental!

Matter-Iron-Kiran from Science5 on Vimeo.

This week, students in Miss Blandford's & Mrs. McCann's science classes began to finish up their element "videos" and they have really turned out great.  Of course, the student projects are fantastic but I'm really proud of the teachers.  About a month ago - during a "lunch bytes" session (lunchtime technology professional development) - I introduced the idea of using PhotoStory to do a project.   I spent a minimal amount of time showing them how easy the application was to use, showed them the basics of the workflow (writing a script, storyboarding, gathering images, etc.), installed PhotoStory on their computers and they did the rest.  I bounced in from time to time to answer a question or two but otherwise they did it all.

Even better, they are already thinking about how else they could use this application (creating procedural/directions videos, unit summaries, book reports, etc.).  I mean, now that the students (and teachers) know how to do it, why not leverage that knowledge.

A couple of observations and things I liked about this project:

  • the use of free applications means the kids can work on new projects at home

  • the students created educational artifacts that can be viewed by other students

  • students worked through a logical process to create a product

  • it was easy to do

  • the teachers are thinking about new ways to use the tech skills they learned

  • it blended pedagogy and technology

  • the tech guy (me) was a minor participant

  • I now have examples and ideas to share with other teachers

  • it was fun :-)

Food, glorious food

I'm a big fan of project-based learning (PBL) and students in my 6th grade technology class just finished what I believe to be a great activity.  Fun, creative and loaded with all sorts of learning opportunities.

I began the unit by telling the kids that I had just spoken with the CEO of the once powerful MegaFood corporation.  She explained to me that, given the recent economic downturn, the MegaFood company was in a difficult time.  In short, the company needed our help.  Sales have been down and moral was at an all time low.  What they needed was a new product to re-invigorate the entire brand.  They needed us to create a new "on-the-run, quick meal" product.

I explained to the kids that it was going to be their job to create several different product ideas and the advertising campaigns for those ideas.  Once they were finished, they would pitch these ideas to the CEO and board of the company.


My goals for this unit were:

  • to work on descriptive and persuasive writing and speaking skills;

  • to understand the advertising techniques used to sell (i.e. to become savvy consumers);

  • to understand some of the basics of quality design (and how it can aid in getting "the point across")

  • to practice effective presentation skills

  • to promote risk taking and creativity

Of course, the students also learned a load of technology skills related to PowerPoint, Excel, CoreFX (drawing on the computer), Audio recording, Internet applications, and more.  What is important here is that they improved their technology skills by participating in an activity where the focus was not to learn the technology.  The purpose was to improve the skills required to create, design & pitch a new product... which, I am proud to say, they did with flying colors.

Take a look at one of the finished projects by clicking on the image below.  For best results, download the PowerPoint for viewing (that way the animations and radio ad will work - click the radio on the radio ad slide to play).

I uploaded all of the finished (and mostly finished) presentations up to our space for sharing and "showing off".   I think that some of these products could actually be taken to market (hmm, maybe my retirement scheme). I love projects like this where all of the kids have the same general assignment but they all go about it in different ways.

Newsmap... visualize the headlines

I was looking through the blogs today and came across a post about a web app called Newsmap.  What is neat about this is that it...
provides a tool to divide information into quickly recognizable bands which, when presented together, reveal underlying patterns in news reporting across cultures and within news segments in constant change around the globe.

It is pretty amazing.  At a glance you can look at similarities and differences between news headlines (pulled from Google News) from a variety of countries.  This could lead to some great discussions at school.  I think that it would be neat just to have some of these headlines up on a projected screen in the morning when students come in.  Since you can't control the news, keep an eye on it to ensure nothing inappropriate shows up (you might want to keep "entertainment" turned off). Think of it as a continually changing classroom poster... you don't even need to lead a discussion about any of the headlines for students to benefit (although if you did...)  The screenshot below (click to enlarge) shows the business headlines for Oct 30 @ 6AM EST from five English speaking countries.

Uploaded with
plasq's Skitch!

School Tech Security... Bane or Benefit?


Two things about this post:

  1. It is participatory (please comment.  Do you have similar issues?)

  2. It is a bit of a rant*

I'm frustrated.  Lately it seems that I've been running into a wall when I try to do (what I think are) fun and creative activities that are using a variety of technology initiatives.  The wall is called security.  Here are a few examples:

  • This summer I taught a unit on digital storytelling.  My students really created some wonderful final products.  We went through the whole process (scripts, storyboards and all).  When we were finished I uploaded them to vimeo... which is filtered by our system (natch).  Kind of took a bit o' wind out of the sails of my students.  Of course, they viewed them at home and no permanent damage done... other than the fact that I could not have students view each other's videos when we were in school so we could critique, discuss and otherwise utilize (and learn from) their hard work. Thanks security.

  • I really am encouraging my staff members to get comfortable using school laptops instead of their familiar and comfortable desktops (for a variety of reasons).  The only problem is that our school's wireless security is so strict that it requires them to have two different logins (one for home/one for school) and they need to tweak a couple of settings prior to getting it to work out of school (every time!).  Frankly, a few of the teachers don't think it is worth the trouble (i.e. they think laptops are complicated and now I have even more work to do).  Thanks security.

  • USB thumb drives are great, students can transport their work around and have access to it from just about anywhere... except at my school.  You see, our security software does not allow students to install drivers on school computers.  So, not all USB drives work for students unless the teacher logs in first, installs the particular drivers, then the student can use the drive... on that one computer (helpful).  Thanks, security.

  • Honestly, I could go on... but I won't.  Now these are all fairly minor and we have created work a rounds for many of the issues.  But it still frustrates me.  Technology should be seamless and invisible (or at least we should strive for that).  Otherwise it has the appearance of being difficult to, more trouble than it is worth and not useful.  With that reputation, we can almost guarantee that it won't get used.

Now I may be rambling at this point so let me ask a few questions: Is security a learning speedbump for you all out there?  Is it really a necessary evil precaution?  Also, I'm sure that security has some good points too, refresh my memory on those, please.

* And I'm not a security expert so I could be totally wrong and misguided.  I promise I'll do a bit of side research to learn a bit more about the topic :-)

Budget plan gives ed tech the boot... again

The Federal Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) program, which helps put technology into the hands of students in classrooms across the country, is slated for zero funding for the fifth straight year under President Bush's 2009 budget proposal. And for the fifth straight year, advocates of educational technology* will look to Congress to preserve the program, which this year -- thanks to Congress -- will receive $267 million in funding.

I guess the real question here is "who cares"? I'm not actually sure I do. Personally, I think many schools have plenty of technology initiatives that they don't maximize the usage of right now. Sure, new ideas and initiatives come down the pike all the time but do they REALLY need to be purchased. It is not fact that a school has the technology that makes a difference, rather it is the meaningful use of that technology - by a skillful teacher and motivated students - that creates a lasting impact. I could do plenty of creative, innovative, interdisciplinary teaching with a ten year old iMac, HyperStudio 3.0, KidPix and ClarisWorks. I don't need new and shiny (although I'm a big fan of it for me personally). Spend the $$ somewhere else. Give it to DC public schools to build adequate schools.

* Who are these advocates? My guess is they are the companies that stand to benefit from technology spending. The Microsofts, Smart Technologies, and Blackboard.coms of the world. Let's not be snowed by slick advertising and questionable research showcasing the educational gains.

Top News - Budget plan gives ed tech the boot

AssortedStuff — Did You Notice The Change?

Over at AssortedStuff, Tim made a great observation that I spend a lot of time thinking about myself. What changes have really occured since the widespread introduction of technology into classrooms over the past couple of decades? For me, it is not that teachers are using technology but how are they are using it to enhance and transform (ultimately) the way that they teach. What effect has the use of technology had on teacher pedagogy and teacher beliefs? I do believe (firmly) that the technology tools that teachers have at their disposal can really change the way that a teacher approaches his or her craft. The challenge is, how do we facilitate the appropriate use of this technology? (and I don't think the answer is "create a technology implementation plan").
At our office staff meeting last week we were asked to offer some statements about what technology in the classroom looked like in 1994, looks like today, and what it will look like in 2020.

In case you haven’t already been hit over the head enough times with the 2020 concept, that’s the year our current kindergarten students are scheduled to graduate from high school.

All of them perfect, of course, since that will happen in 2014 by decree of NCLB.

Anyway, the purpose of the discussion was to give our director some talking points on the subject to take to a meeting with the assistant superintendent the next day.

I really wasn’t able to offer her much in the way of positive sound bites.

My co-conspirator Karen and I were the nay-sayers in the room, coming to the conclusion that very little about teaching and learning has changed in in those 13 years and that technology has had very little influence on basic classroom practice.

And the way things are going with American education, the classroom of 2020 will look very much like those of today, and, for that matter 1994.

In our overly-large school district, computers have certainly had a big impact on administrative functions. Email and general web use is routine for just about everyone, as is online access to some HR functions.

In the high schools, everyone uses electronic attendance and grade books. Elementary teachers have become very comfortable with using laptops since most have had one for three or four years.

Sure, we’ve put a lot of technology into our school buildings since 1994.

But has any of it actually affected student learning? Has it changed the way teachers teach?

Of course, there are little pockets where computers and networks have made an impact. Corners where teachers and students are making great use of the tools available.

However, most of the classrooms I’ve observed, especially in the high schools, are organized and run pretty much as they were thirteen years ago.

Or twenty-three years ago. Or thirty-three years ago. Or…

Source: AssortedStuff — Did You Notice The Change?