The Strength of Weak Ties

Everyone participates. Everyone contributes. Leveraging the power of digital networks to connect people, resources and ideas to drive creativity and innovation forward...and actually accomplish something!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The New Fabric

These technologies continue to be woven into the fabric of what we are and how we operate....

Check out the latest Flickr pool on the New York Transit strike (via digg and matrix) as well as the Google Maps mashup Guide to the Transit Strike of New York.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Evaluating Professional Development

I'm in the process of writing an article on evaluating professional development experiences and am looking for examples of effective/unique evaluation procedures for measuring the impact of professional development on student learning. What evaluation methodologies are you using that help you draw a direct link between professional development and increased student learning? If you have such a program in your district, and you would like to promote it, I'd be glad to feature it. Leave a comment or contact me directly at

Have a safe and restful holidays.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Here we go again...

This article made front page headlines of the Chicago Sun Times on Wednesday. It's yet another story about students who use blogs inappropriately. Please take a look at the student comments contained in the article, such as:

"It's none of their business. Why are they monitoring online student journals in the first place?"

This student obviously doesn't get it-how many students fail to realize that they are publishing for a global audience? The article also provides the transcripts of the blog postings, and the threats against the teacher. From another student:

"A blog is like your journal. You should be able to say whatever you want in it and not worry about getting in trouble, especially because it's done on your own time and not in school,"

We've all got to do a better job educating these kids. That means we need to start developing or refining school policy as it relates to the use of this tool, we need professional development for teachers, (ok, and yes the time!) and time for curriculum development.

As Dave put it:

The technologies are here, we’ve simply turned it over to kids to make of it what they will. What should we expect?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Time Part 2

Anyone interested in the question of teachers and time and technology should read Jim Holland's When Teachers Don't Get It: Myths, Misconceptions, and other Taradiddle, posted over at Jim makes some pretty compelling arguments about the "I don't have time" issue. Here is an excerpt, about the complaint from teachers that there isn't any good software to use:

To be cynical, and with apologies to my well-intentioned colleagues, I wonder if software could speak whether it would say “We don’t have any good teachers to use.”
Wow. He's even more frustrated than me. Requires free registration.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Digital Storytelling Day 4-Flickr Searching

Today was the first day kids were on machines locating imagery for their digital stories. I was interested to see how many would use Flickr as the initial resource for imagery-all 26 students did. Almost all jumped to the Flickr resources from the digital storytelling platform we created in Blackboard. Here are some intial observations of the use of Flickr:

1. The use of tags to locate imagery was new to kids (we had worked with them). They're used to using multiple search terms in Google, however they adapted quickly.

2. They used multiple paths for searching within Flickr. Some used the Creative Commons search page exclusively, and some used the multiple tag search page, together with the search within the title and descriptions. Some ignored the Creative Commons Search page and used the search on the introductory Flickr page.

3. About 50% of the kids found something that they considered inappropriate, although no one showed me when they found it nor did it become a distraction for any student or group of students (they are seniors). When I pushed them a little farther, they said it was just stuff they see on TV but that they shouldn't see in school. Overall, I was concerned, they weren't, which makes sense because I'm and educator and they're kids. A single period with 25 kids searching multiple topics was enough to convince me that we need to be careful with younger kids and probably create pre-selected image pools for them. I had used Flickr with adult groups, and had not really seen anything inappropriate as the result of their searching, although I certainly knew it was there.

4. When using the Flickr search available on the first page of Flickr, as well as with the multiple tag search, the kids quickly found that the search could be sorted by Most Recent and by Most Interesting. To see the difference, here is the most recent search return and the most interesting search for the tag barns. There is quite a difference in the quality of the photos....

5. Some used the Flickr tag cloud to search. Others used the Flickr Colr Pickr, although neither tool would exclusively return appropriate Creative Commons licensed photos. They just sifted through them.

6. Most had about a half of the images they needed in a single period (50 minutes). Many of the images I saw as I answered questions were very good choices and quite dramatic photography that will support their writing.

So, all in all, a productive start watching the kids work through a new resource and, in the process, we learned a great deal about the student use of Flickr.

Time on my Mind

On my Web site, I have a feature called JakesNation, where I talk about my favorite things. Most are restaurants, but I do have some other things there. One is about my favorite teachers. Here is the description of the characteristics of my favorite teacher:

Anyone who wears their passion on their sleeve, anyone who realizes its about kids and not them, anyone who steps out and takes risks beyond their comfort zone, anyone who hasn't taught 30 years one time, anyone who is more than 5 periods and out, anyone who refuses to use the dreaded worksheet, anyone who refuses to use time as an excuse for absolutely everything, anyone who will move forward despite the obstacles...

I’ve highlighted in bold what this post is about.

Frankly, I’m tired of the time excuse. It’s almost a reflex now in teachers. “I’ve got no time to learn that, do that, participate in that.” An on and on….

In David Warlick’s post, We Are Afraid, David says this:

“Today, as a high school senior, he’s [his son] producing his own videos, and distributing them to friends over the Internet. It’s not just technology. The very nature of information has changed. Yet teachers have no more time to reflect on these changes, master new skills, harness new opportunities, and protect children from new dangers, than my teachers had in the 1950s and ’60s."

Yes they do.

That’s a pretty big blanket statement-many districts do provide teachers with time to do just that. And what ever happened to the prep period-wasted surfing MSN, creating online greeting cards, checking personal email, building ridiculous PowerPoints, or just grading poorly designed “assessments?” That’s right-how many hours are wasted grading worksheet after worksheet (10 questions X 120 kids = 1200 answers to grade-yep, now you don't have time) that provide limited potential to improve instruction. Let’s try a different type of assessment, called assessment FOR learning that provides a better picture of what the kids are learning and how to improve instruction that can be done every day, in real time, to improve how you teach on how kids learn.

Regarding the mastery of new skills, we all know that there are some districts that do not, or cannot, provide frequent and quality professional development. But what about the districts that can and do, and conscientiously provide quality programs during the school day about meaningful issues, provide substitutes for attendance, and provide post-program experiences to extend the learning beyond the original program, but can’t get any teachers so sign up? What about that? Why does that happen-well, the answer is: "I don't have time for that."

Sometimes to improve what you do, you have to step away from the classroom. Invest in yourself and your kids. Take the time....

What I am saying is that teachers must shoulder some of the blame for time issues. It’s not just the fault of the administrators...we all bear responsibility for time management and improving the use of time in schools, and how technology is used to support learning but to say we haven't been allowed to do our jobs, or haven't been pushed, well, that's not true. I push all the time in my job, and I get pushed back (read resistance here)!

However, on a positive note, I’ve never met a teacher that couldn’t make time for something they thought would improve what they do in the classroom.

So with that in mind, could a teacher spare 15 minutes of time to advance their own professional growth as it relates to technology or education in general? You can't argue that-just 15 small minutes during one day in one week-that's an hour a month. Nine hours in a school year. Not much, but what would you suggest a teacher could do in that time frame that would increase their understanding of the Read/Write Web, assessment, leadership, or any other topic pertaining to education?

Let's build a list. Simple things that can move everyone forward. Hopefully you'll have the...time... to contribute one thing.

Contribute to the list at my wiki page:

Monday, December 05, 2005

Digital Storytelling Day 3-The Gift

Today we built a digital story for the kids, called Coming Home, which is my story about coming home from an extended six year stay in the South. It was very simple, with about 10 images (from Flickr) and a single song (from , but it was based on the MasterCard commercials:

Watching the Bears on Sunday...0 dollars
Traffic Jams on the Kennedy...0 dollars
Seeing and smelling a cornfield again...0 dollars
Coming Home...priceless.

During the construction of the movie, the teacher I am working with asked the kids if they should be writing some of the process down. The kids just looked at the teacher with a look that said "Ah... we've got it."

Recently, I saw Gary Stager of the Thornburg Center present at NYSCATE. One of his comments has stayed with me and that was that kids come to school with a gift. The gift is their affinity for technology. We need to take advantage of that gift, use it, and nurture it to help them learn and to become life-long learners.

So, we've spent two classroom periods with them showing them some new technology. Only four students had used Pinnacle Studio before, but I left the class completely comfortable with their ability to use the software. Very few had seen this type of software, but their comfort level with technology permitted rapid assimilation of how to operate the tool. That's the gift they bring.

Now our job now is to take that, and help them through the process of building a story that is elegant, exhibits craftmanship, and is representative of who and what they are. That takes professional educators.

That's our gift to them.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Digital Storytelling-Day 2

In this session, we showed the kids Flickr and it was a new experience for them-none had seen or heard about the site, and these kids are high school seniors. We also talked with the kids about intellectual property rights and how to include appropriately licensed music and imagery in their storytelling projects-none had seen or heard of Creative Commons licensing. So, we've got some work to do but I wasn't entirely surprised-we often over-estimate how tech aware our kids are.

We've given the kids a set of tools to work with, including traditional image sources such as Google, Mamma, and alltheweb. We also have encouraged them to share their completed digital stories online at, but this will require them to use their own images, or use images and music from sites where the original authors have permitted use through Creative Commons licensing. Since we haven't made it a requirement, I'll be interested to see how many make digital stories that are 100% sensitive to copyright.

Monday: storyboarding and image visualization

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Digital Storytelling SawHorse

I'm getting ready to help teach a senior English composition course the process of digital storytelling, along with master teacher Matt Formato, of Downers Grove North High School. Today, we showed them a series of stories created by students from the past several years to give them a feel for the kinds of things you can do with the medium and to set the bar for expectations. Tomorrow, we'll begin the process of demonstrating the software we use (Pinnacle Studio 9 Plus), along with having a discussion of intellectual property rights and the application of Creative Commons licensing. Within this process, we'll also demonstrate Flickr and as sources of imagery and music, respectively, where students can legally obtain the resources required to begin composing their digital story. Finally, we'll show them, a repository for digital storytelling movies, where hopefully many will upload their stories to share with a global audience, and in the process, demonstrate that they too have a voice, and a competitive one at that.

To support this process, I'm in the process of building a digital storytelling platform for the kids (I'm tempted to call it a digital storytelling saw horse) using Blackboard. Within Blackboard, I simply create a new class, and enroll the kids in the class manually, so when the kids login to Blackboard, they will now see another class in addition to their class schedule. Other classes can also be enrolled as necessary.

You can access the class as a guest to see how Blackboard works, and how we can use the tool to support learning.

Shameless Self Promotion has published my article, called Making a Case for Digital Storytelling, today (registration required). In the article, I outline why all kids should experience DST.