Education and the National Broadband Plan

Posted by Michael Simkins on October 5, 2009

fiberOptics by Matt Tanguay-Carel.  Used with permission.
fiberOptics by Matt Tanguay-Carel. Used with permission.

Most of us are aware that work is underway at the Department of Education on a new National Educational Technology Plan, but you may not know that education figures prominently in another federal technology initiative, the National Broadband Plan being developing at the Federal Communications Commission.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act directs the FCC to develop a plan that ensures every American citizen and every American business has access to robust broadband services.  The plan must include discrete strategies for how to use broadband to advance a wide range of national purposes from consumer welfare to health care delivery; education is among these.

To help collect ideas on what should go into the education component of the broadband plan, an IdeaScale portal is in place.   Here is a selection of some of the more interesting ideas contributed so far.

  • We’re asking the wrong question; it should be, “What kinds of research and development are needed to make emerging technology applications effective for learning?”
  • Collaboration, Internet research, and the organization and facilitation of the learning environment are the jobs of the modern educator; all of these technologies require broadband.
  • A blended model is best; use the technology and application that fits the current learning task.
  • In today’s challenging economic environment, the dramatically lower cost of broadband delivery makes the case for an online learning portal especially compelling.
  • Broadband can do more than just educate, it can inspire and open minds.

Have your own ideas about how broadband can make education better and/or cheaper?  Want to see what others have said and add your comments?  Like voting ideas up or down?  Visit US Educational Broadband Planning.


Change—it’s more than a wordle

Posted by Michael Simkins on July 23, 2009

Building 21st century schools takes leaders who know how to initiate and sustain change.   No easy task!

Initiating and sustaining change is the final topic we address in the School Leader Development workshop.  After reviewing some key resources on change management, the participants work in small groups to identify what they believe are the Big Ideas when it comes to leading a change process.   They write each Big Idea on a slip of paper.  I collect the slips, and then the fun begins.  It’s time for charades!

Eyes roll.  Grumbling erupts.  Passionate protestations ensue.  But I am unrelenting.   We will do this.  We review the basic rules of charades, including the common gestures used in the game.  Then each person, in turn, pulls a slip from the box and acts out a Big Leadership Idea until the rest of us figure it out.

There are two reasons I use this particular activity.  First, it tends to put the participants out of their comfort zones, which is exactly what they’ll be asking of their staffs.  And second, we have a lot of fun; see for yourself!

Below is the list of Big Ideas generated by the superintendents, principals, and other school leaders who attended our most recent workshop.  Click here to see a wordle created from this list.

Monitor, Assess And Adjust
Create Strategic Plan
Cast A Vision
Communication, Voice
Commitment To Change
Sustain Change
Share Vision
Collaboration, Deep Discussion, Task Cycle
Sustain Change, Inquiry Cycle, Internalize
Shared Vision
Model Process, Acquire Skills Yourself
Discussion And Input
Broad-Based Buy-In
Develop Expert Teams
Group Buy-In
Identify Needs
Teacher Buy-In


Loosen that leash!

Posted by Jack Jarvis on July 9, 2009

Yes, I know a lot about educational technology.  That’s why I’m in TICAL.  But when it comes to programming, to developing software and interactive website content, I am not even in the ballpark.  So I must admit I was impressed when I learned that an 11 year-old boy and his 9 year-old brother successfully developed and marketed a 99-cent iPod “app” to help kids memorize math facts.

A creative school project?  Nope.  The kids learned how to do this by going online and finding the information needed, by themselves, not a teacher or principal in sight.  The older brother “poured over college level computer-science textbooks” to gain the programming skills and the younger brother used Photoshop® to make the icons for the game.

Obviously, these two lads have a lot on the ball, but that’s beside the point.  There is a lesson here for our public education system.   If two bright kids  can learn to build iPod apps without a teacher holding them on a tight leash, what might the kids in our classrooms learn if we loosened the leash, gave them the tools, and guided them to their own discoveries?

Quite a bit, I think.   For example, give kids access to their social studies textbook online and task them with creating a written report about one of the ancient cultures such as Rome or Mesopotamia.   Then have them summarize that report into a PowerPoint® presentation that they share with their classmates.  We actually did this at my school.  The teacher never was involved other than to provide some guidance along the way.  No lecture, no worksheets.  The project was not assigned for homework, yet the kids chose to work on it at home.   By the time they finished, these students could tell you all about the culture they studied without once looking at their notes.

Yes, they did have to know how to go online, how to summarize information, and how to use PowerPoint®.  These are ways the teacher provided support and guidance.  But I think the idea is clear: today’s kids can go find information and use it in pursuit of their own learning.  We need to give them the opportunity.  We need to quit lecturing and worksheeting and start blogging and tweeting.  We need to trade in the choke collars for a clear vision of how students learn in today’s world.


Hope for the Future of Schools

Posted by Sandra Miller on June 15, 2009

Look to the Future by darkmatter; used with permission.

There is lots of talk about how our schools must change to prepare students for the 21st Century.  In fact, given the new technologies being developed everyday and the way in which young people embrace technology in their daily lives, it is obvious that our schools will change. So as leaders in our schools, where does that leave us? There is so much to change that it seems overwhelming.  Where do we start?

Many of today’s veteran educators used project-based learning and a constructivist approach in the early 90’s if not before. Students were taught to construct their own meaning using cooperative learning and projects. Current brain research confirms the effectiveness of such approaches.  Yet, in this decade, assessment became the guiding mantra, and students and teachers now focus their efforts toward higher test scores. Project-based learning and constructivism faded into the background as direct instruction and teaching to the test took center stage.

Today there is hope as project-based learning again gains momentum. One thing we can do is encourage this type of learning in the classrooms and beyond the school walls. The Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow 2 project has rechristened it challenge-based learning.  Whatever the name, the goals are the same.  Apples’ white paper, “Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow—Today,” is good reading for anyone who wants to share the future with others.  The following quotation is from that paper.

These are profound changes that require schools to become more than information repositories; they must also be places where students can acquire knowledge and skills they can use to solve complex problems for the rest of their lives. These changes affect the role of educators even more dramatically. Educators must become more than information experts; they must also be collaborators in learning-leveraging the power of students, seeking new knowledge alongside students, and modeling positive habits of mind and new ways of thinking and learning.

As we grapple with our current economic woes, new technology purchases will likely be minimal.  Yet there is important work we can do that will cost us nothing.  We can  share the goals for 21st century learning.  We can share them with parents, other administrators, teachers, support staff, and students.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills Framework is widely accepted and provides guidance in every possible area.

The road ahead for schools will be a challenge, but there is always hope.  Many new teachers will already know the technologies, but they need wisdom and guidance from us as leaders.  We will need to help young teachers learn how to share their knowledge with students in ways that will embrace 21st Century Skills.  We will also need to give them the freedom to help seasoned teachers reach new levels of teaching.

It is a small start, but it is a hopeful one. You aren’t alone and others have already laid out some guidelines. Share the information and point others to resources.  Then watch as the new generation takes over in our schools, and know you helped lead the way.


The $64,000 Question

Posted by Butch Owens on May 9, 2009

Again and again we hear that we must get students ready for the 21st Century.  Yet,  here we are nine years into the 21st Century and we’re educating students the same way we’ve been doing it for years.   We’re doing a pretty good job; in fact, we could probably continue the status quo for the remainder of our careers with fair results on measures such as test scores, college entrance rates, and graduation rates.   The downside of continuing with our present way of doing school is, of course, that our children—and they are our children—will be totally unprepared to compete in a globally connected society.

What do I mean when I say “our present way of doing school?”  I’m talking about our current preoccupation with constantly testing students’ accumulation of knowledge, without ever stopping to consider if the knowledge we’re forcing them to accumulate will be of any use to them.  Consider this:

If it’s easy to test, it’s easy to digitize.

Hank Rubin, president of the Institute for Collaborative Leadership, heard that remark made at the release of the 2007 PISA study.  It piqued his interest enough that he contacted the person who said it: Andreas Schleicher, the study’s lead author.  Says Rubin:

…in subsequent correspondence with Schleicher, I confirmed the deeper meaning of his observation: if you can ask a person a question for which we know there is a limited number of appropriate responses, then we can teach a computer to run through those same responses and select what evidence tells us is the most correct response. In other words, if you can test it then you can delegate the task, knowledge or skill to a computer! The implications are profound: why in the world will we need to invest education dollars in preparing students with knowledge and skills that will be the domain of computers by the time they are ready to enter the world of work?

The $64,000 question is, “What will students need to know to be successful in the future?” For starters, we must ask, “Is this something that a student can access in a nano second with a web search which yields thousands of references?”

I can’t count the number of times a day I do a quick search on the web to find the answer to a question.   It would seem very archaic to only have one textbook sitting here at my desk to look up needed information.  Yet students in our schools face this challenge daily due to limited access and our tight filtering policies.  It’s not until they leave school that they have unlimited access  to the rest of the world.  Until we find an answer to access, we will continue school as usual.

But wait!  The answer to the $64,000 question has changed since I started writing this post a couple of days ago.  I was operating on the assumption that when we want to know something, we make a quick search for the answers we need.  Not necessarily, it seems; the answers may find us on their own!  Puzzled?   Take a look at this TED Talks video and you’ll see what I mean.