Country mice visit Big Apple cousins

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on January 27, 2015

Cartoon mouse staring at computer screenYou know the story. The city mouse goes to visit his country cousin. When the country mouse offers him a meal of simple country food, he sneers at it and invites his cousin to the city for a taste of the good life. But their feast in the city goes wrong when a couple of hungry cats move in and they barely escape with their lives. The country mouse returns home, preferring a life of simplicity to a life of risk and its rewards.

According to Wikipedia, the story can be traced back to Classical Greece literature. Many of the assumptions of country life such as the simplicity and lack of opportunities can still be found in 2015. In October, I had the opportunity to travel with a group of Arkansas educators to visit four schools in New York City. What we observed blurs the lines of country and city education.

We visited four schools including an elementary, middle school, high school and a technical high school. In each setting we saw great things happening but also observed a common theme. As we asked what technology they used in their daily instructions, each principal pointed out the interactive white boards recently installed in all rooms. Each principal also acknowledged that they were working on teacher training to make the technology more student centered and not so teacher centered. That is a problem we in Arkansas could relate to, but that was an issue for the majority of our state educators five to ten years ago. Our NYC counterparts were surprised when we mentioned we have schools moving from the boards to large flat screen TVs that mirror the devices the students have in their hands.

We did not see buildings that had any one-to-one classrooms (or 2-to-1, not even 5-to-1). The schools did have labs, but in most classrooms there was a teacher computer and the interactive whiteboard.

In the high school we visited, we saw a program that is similar to the EAST Initiative we have in Arkansas. It was VEI (Virtual Enterprise International.) VEI replicates all the functions of real businesses in both structure and practice. Under the guidance of a teacher-facilitator and business mentors, students create and manage their virtual businesses from product development, production and distribution to marketing, sales, human resources, accounting/finance and web design. VEI firms offer diverse products and services—from banking, insurance, and technology to publishing, advertising, app creation, tourism, and fashion. The specific program we visited was TSquared, which has only been in existence for a couple of years but is already award winning.

Classroom technology in Arkansas is far from perfect but it has shown growth and development over the past two decades. When lawmakers and educators discuss technology in the classroom today, computers are only one element of the equation. SMART boards, compressed video, Internet access, and a wide array of software tools are just a few examples of the educational technologies currently at our disposal.

In the November 2014 election, New York Bonds for School Technology passed. The investment of the two billion dollar bonds will focus on school technology upgrades including purchasing educational technology equipment and facilities, such as interactive whiteboards, computer servers, desktop and laptop computers, tablets and high-speed broadband or wireless internet.

The same tools should be able to drive networks of innovation in cities as well as in our rural areas. And it is happening. It is happening in the country, it is happening in the city, and it will hopefully continue throughout this decade. We share many of the same issues; dealing with students in poverty, single family homes, long transportation routes (ours are on a school bus and not a subway), all while implementing new programs and educating students. When the country mouse and the city mouse get together in 2020, they will find they have more in common than they expect.


Digital Citizenship à la Maslow

Posted by Michael Simkins on September 9, 2014

Depiction of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by J. Finkelstein. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of us are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s classic Hierarchy of Needs. According to his theory, we first need to satisfy lower level needs before we can eventually hope to reach the apex of existence, self-actualization. Of course, this makes a lot of sense. For example, we still believe that students’ basic needs must be met, such as getting enough sleep and having a decent breakfast before coming to school, if they are going to be able to concentrate on learning once they arrive.

This summer, I was studying up on digital citizenship for my Leading Edge Certification for the Administrator course, and some of us got into a discussion on how best to introduce the various elements of digital citizenship into the curriculum. For some reason, Maslow’s Hierarchy came to mind. I decided to play around with how the skills and “habits” of digital citizenship might fit into the hierarchy. Here’s what I came up with:

Depiction of a hierarchy of digital citizenship
Simkins’ Hierarchy of Digital Citizenship, with apologies to Abraham Maslow.

No, it’s not rocket science, it’s probably flawed, but it was a fun intellectual exercise. Plus it gave me a chance to make my first “Google drawing!” Could not, however, figure out how to color my levels as J. Finkelstein did his, but then he was using something called Inkscape. I checked that out and it looked like it would require a much longer learning curve.  There’s always a trade off, yes?


Mobile Watching Pioneered at Ozark High

Posted by Jim Yeager on August 26, 2014

I can easily recall the late summer of 1965 and the events surrounding the first day of school at Ozark High. Paris was our football rival, although I am not sure why, since I can’t recall a single victory over the Eagles in the entire decade of the 1960s. Nonetheless Ozark felt compelled to use Paris as a measuring stick, not only in athletics, but every area of education.

Dari-Delite signRumors spread at the Dari-Delite

I am pretty sure I was at the Dari Delite, where all news for teenagers was discussed, when I heard for the first time our arch rival’s innovative academic plan. Paris High School was initiating 1-to-1 television. Now television had been around for quite some time and most of us had a set in our homes. We could get all three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, by simply going outside and turning the antenna from west to east and from Fort Smith to Little Rock. TV was our main source of entertainment and in the last few years we were even able to see the World Series in color, but new technologies were about to change this narrow view of television as only a source of entertainment. Education was coming to TV and Paris was way ahead of the game. Televisions had gotten smaller and lighter in the last few years and Frankie and Annette could even take one to the beach. Portable TV was a reality, and now mobile watching meant blossoming possibilities for education. The Arkansas Legislature had passed a bill creating AETN, the Arkansas Educational Television Network. This new station, located in Conway, would broadcast educational programming all day, every day starting in 1966. Paris had seen the possibilities.

Which device to get?

Woman holding portable TV circa 1957
An early Philco portable television.

There were several choices for mobile watching devices. Philco had a small, lightweight portable with a no-frills look and a modest price tag. Most of us had Philcos in our homes. Zenith was the choice for discerning viewers with the means to have one. Zenith’s portable had the added feature of a Z on the back of it’s portable model, which readily identified the owner as a more informed and well-off individual. Folks liked that Z even though Bonanza looked about the same on their device as on our Philco. Paris’s plan was that each student at Paris High would get their own Philco 12 inch portable. They would carry the 20 pound model in a specially designed backpack with cushioned straps and pockets for supplies. Girls and smaller students could use carts designed and maintained by the shop classes. These were painted blue and white with an eagle on the side. There were no bounds to our envy!

Infrastructure needs

Old Zenith logo
The cool “Z”

Wires would have to be run to each desk and connected to an antenna on the roof, a small price to pay if students could see television at school. Add to this already innovative approach to mobile watching the added perk that kids could actually take the TV home! They could start watching an AETN program at school and finish at home. The school-issued TV would eliminate the need for fine tuning and channel selection since the student was already tuned in at school. How cool! Ozark had only two weeks to catch up! The school board meeting drew a standing-room-only crowd and the packed house cheered when the superintendent announced a plan to “beat Paris in mobile watching.” Every student at Ozark High would get their own take home Zenith! Our carrying backpacks would be much cooler and our carts a beautiful purple and gold.

Funding priorities

The day after Labor Day 1965 I started my senior year at Ozark High. The excitement normally associated with the opening of school was heightened exponentially by the anticipated implementation of 1-to-1 TV. Ozark had to let Mrs. Smith go. She was our Spanish teacher and since there was really no need for Spanish in Arkansas, she was expendable to make ends meet. We would miss her. The district hired the superintendent’s nephew to direct the new 1-to-1 TV program. He came highly recommended by the superintendent as a “young man who has probably watched more TV than anyone in Franklin County.” He could recite the plot of every episode of Andy Griffith. We also employed Mr. Homer Bosworth who ran the TV repair shop in town as a technician and Billy Wilson, an athletic young fellow, to run wire. No school could be more ready than Ozark for 1-to-1. We all met in the cafeteria to get our Zenith portables and backpack. The newspaper was there taking pictures and the cheerleaders even did a cheer spelling out Z-E-N-I-T-H and ending with “beat Paris!”

Levels of implementation

Mr. Wizard - television science man
Mr. Wizard – By NBC Television (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I remember Mrs. Willosent in English was not actually sure how to use the mobile watching devices, but she promised to find a way. Biology was a different story altogether and we had an assignment the first week. Our teacher was ready to go with the program. “Watch Mr. Wizard after school and there will be a test tomorrow.” It did seem odd that Mr. Wizard was covering simple machines and we were studying cell structure, but we had to adapt to the new technology. He called it “flipping the class” and we snickered. It was an exciting year. Ozark High was even featured in the Fort Smith paper. Our TVs with the cool Z were the envy of all the neighboring schools and most made plans for 1-to-1 TV for the next school year. Mrs. Willosent never really got it, but she let us turn on our TVs occasionally, especially when we had guests at school. We watched Mr. Wizard a lot and our American History teacher required us to watch the 6 o’clock news, which we eventually abandoned since we never covered the news in class. I also recall that I usually preferred to watch on my own television and I never quite got why I needed to carry one. I remember thinking it might have been a good idea to have a plan for how to use the TVs, but that was secondary to a need to compete with our rivals.

#1 in 1-to-1!

I graduated the next spring and I never really followed Ozark’s 1 to 1 TV program. I did hear that Clarksville was planning a “bring your own television” idea. I don’t know how that turned out. I will never forget the pride Ozark experienced touting an innovative technology program to compete with our rivals. We were number 1 in 1-to-1! I also remember that Paris beat us 36 to 0 in football.


Revisit Our Assumptions About “Digital Natives?”

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on May 8, 2014

I am not an avid subscriber to YouTube channels, but I do have a favorite—TheFineBros.  I love their series Kids React.  Created in 2010, it features Fine brothers Benny and Rafi off camera showing kids, ages 5 to 14, videos or introducing topics for discussion. New clips are released weekly.

Black rotary dial telephone with red indicator light
The rotary telephone – a spiffy model with red indicator light.

In the last month, two clips made me laugh and feel old! The content of the first video dealt with how kids reacted to rotary phones. The second looked at their response to a Walkman. In the discussion of phones, kids were presented a rotary phone. The question was, “Where have you seen this?” Answers ranged from in the movies to reading about it in a history lesson. Most admitted they had no idea how to work the phone and did not know how to dial. It was quickly agreed they would not want to use it because it would take too long. When asked what a “busy signal” meant, one boy suggested it meant something was “loading.” All agreed they wanted to keep their iPhones.

A fan of the classics

As the Fine brothers debriefed, some kids reflected on how technology has advanced. They wanted to know if you could text with a rotary phone, and they felt using one would make it harder to call each other because both parties had to be home. However, one boy did say he liked rotary phones and stated, “I’m a fan of classics!”

Watching the clip, I realized most children have had no exposure to the phone I grew up using. They see the symbol of a handset on their iPhone but do not make the connection of where that icon originated. Yet It was only about 20 years ago that land lines were the standard, because cell phones were too expensive and impractical. DSL or cable Internet was something only the rich families had, so most computers connected to the internet using the same phone line that you needed in order to make calls.

Sony Walkman cassette player with earphones
The Sony Walkman was introduced in 1979.

The Walkman clip was just as funny—and just as depressing! When presented with a Walkman, initial comments included, “What is this, a walkie-talkie?” and, “What do I do?” One girl knew it was a cassette player but needed help to find the on button. They were told they needed a cassette tape but they did not know what that was. When given a cassette, they asked how to put it in. A few of the children stated they were not going to give up but felt it was “so hard.”

You have to do stuff!

After pressing play they were frustrated because they couldn’t hear any sound. They tried to solve the problem by turning up volume but were told they had to have headphones. When given headphones, one girl stated that her grandpa had them. When they finally got the player going, one girl said she felt “so accomplished” but another said it took forever and was too complicated. One of the more telling statements was when a girl said she felt “lazy” saying so, “but you have to do stuff.” One boy remarked that he “could not imagine living in your day.” Others said they “felt bad” for people living in the 90s.

After watching these videos, I thought about the generalizations adults, especially educators, make about “digital natives.” We assume all technology is easy for students to learn since they were born into a technology-focused society. Yet, if we assume students know everything about technology, aren’t we limiting their opportunities to learn and ask questions?

Experience not age?

Maybe it’s time we look at basing the terms digital native and digital immigrant on experience rather than age. Some users over 30 are very technology savvy while we have students that lack tech skills due to lack of exposure in their educational settings or lack of access at home. Educators need to remember everyone has their own skill set and comfort level with technology. We need to be able to meet the learning needs of all. Don’t be afraid to teach technology skills when needed or pair students up for peer tutoring. Perhaps most important of all, make your professional growth goal to become a digital native yourself to better enable you to convert those immigrants in your classroom! While you’re at it, check out Kids React and the other series on TheFineBros.


The Twelve Days of Christmas, Reprise!

Posted by Michael Simkins on December 31, 2012

On the twelfth day of Christmas technology gave me…

Twelve bloggers blogging
Eleven hackers hacking
Ten jobs a-spooling
Nine spammers spamming
Eight files a-loading
Seven disks formatting
Six pics-ilating
Five mp3’s
Four session cookies
Three flash drives
Two open ports
And a cartridge for my HP!

Best wishes for a warm and peaceful holiday and a very happy New Year!

(The post above first appeared in Tblogical in December 2007.)