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How Can We Focus Our Institutional Energies?



Right now at our school there is a scramble going on. Teachers are feeling pressure to get the technology in their classes and start using it. More than excitement and readiness to use cool, new tools i think there is a bit of appeasement going on. The head-of-school has asked teachers to present proposals to the dean of academics about their ideas. As far as i’m aware there have been two proposals that were sent to me for editing for viability and technology apropos. There are a few more projects that are not necessarily vying for the board of trustees money but still looking to push ahead with good ideas.

There seems to be forward movement but our institutional energies are not focused and we are wasting a lot of time scrambling instead of finding some real solutions.

How are we going to focus our energies to make some great progress towards a culture of technological integration? We need to come up with some great Pilot Programs; examples within each department selected by either subject matter or teacher, who want to work with the educational technology specialist to find projects and teaching techniques to introduce technology to.

Right now Kate Moore is working on a Pilot Project for the Charles Dickins unit in English I. Kate is working on an interactive narrative that explores the world that Dickins describes, a victorian england simultaneously wrought by an extreme socio-economic dichotomy. She will be using narrative to engage kids in (engaging, processing, lateral thought,) activities that reward research and lateral thought.

Another rewarding pilot program is the use of ning a platform that allows you to create your own social media website. Steve Henrikson, the history department head and one of THE most respected teachers on campus, came to me and wanted to see if he could incorporate social media into his class. Steve believes that allowing people to beg, borrow and steal ideas the conversation and thought in class will be much richer.

The third Pilot program we are doing is moving three teachers off of conferences and onto our new Branson web-portal, Branson Community Groups. BCG is a way for classes, groups, teams and any other school related group to share information, to participate in discussions, disseminate assignments and manage your group affiliations.

I’m very excited about these projects because they will be examples for other teachers to discover novel and visionary ways to communicate with our students. At Branson our technology initiative is not and should not be about putting more things in the class; more computers, more devices, more websites. I honestly believe that our technology initiative is about discovering new techniques in the classroom, new projects to bridge different types of learning so our teachers can feel comfortable pushing forward with what they think is most important for their teaching style.


Teachers Hold the Keys to Institutional Change


After the Board of Trustees retreat The Head-of-School sent out a list of questions for the faculty and staff in attendance to move forward with. He proposed we have an after work think tank about 2 weeks after the retreat. This is the moment many people have been waiting for to see what initiatives will take priority and immediacy.

The Questions are:

    1)What professional development do we need?
    2) Is there something each department/teacher could do better using technology?
    3) What should we be doing to promote information literacy and best research practices?
    4) Should we offer courses in technology and/or advanced digital media?
    5) Are there several key projects/activities we could support ti enhance what we are doing to want to do using technology?
    6) Are there any pilot projects we could support to answer key questions?

1) What Professional Development do we need?
Professional development is on the mind of The Head-of-School and the deans. They know we have a resistant staff in some cases, especially when it comes to giving up classroom time for P.D. and giving up summertime for P.D. I think the push is going to be for teachers to give up some summer for P.D. before we come back to school.

This week i contacted Brian Mull of November Learning to see about setting up some P.D. for next August based around his presentation on innovative and transformational tools to use in the classroom. The Head-Man is aware of it and will probably mention something about it in the meeting on monday. I agree with his philosophy of using summer time to do so. Because i have to work during summer so might as well make the most of my time there by assisting faculty members incorporate technology.

Brian has a good collection of tools that address a wide variety of needs and we can tailor that toolkit for our teachers and start providing training on those tools to teachers AND students. I think working with our students will help out teachers figure out a way to use these tools in a complimentary way rather than some artificial structure deemed “educational”. Profesional development can not happen if out teachers are using disparate sets of tools from the outset. It will be my job to design a “Teachers Toolkit”

2) Is there something each department or individual teacher could do better using technology?
I think we can focus on using the technology we already have more effectively such as the Wipple-Hill website and incorporating that as an online extension of our school community. Doing some professional development about what is possible will give teachers an idea of where they want to go. In each department we have forward thinking teachers who can and have acted as modelers of technology. The tech committee should be meeting to discuss the activities of these teachers and how they can be generalized.

3) What should we be doing to promote Information Literacy and best research practices?
Our librarian Lori has some great ideas and structure already set up to provide kids with basics, tailored for each grade level and subject. But we both do not think this is enough. Lori and I both want to work with faculty to integrate Information Literacy and Analysis into the subject matter of all of the school’s students. There is much room to create a culture of media literacy at our school and could even be part of their marketing, but it has to be part of the curriculum and not some extra mumbo jumbo on the side.

4) Should we offer courses in technology and/or advanced digital media?
I have very strong opinions about our digital media offerings. Right now the course is taught by a fine artists who teaches mainly from an “Art for art’s sake” perspective. Which is fine, but there are very few lessons about media savvy or analysis. 9th grade is a prime time to start educating kids about the visual-emotional mechanism that makes media so compelling. Asking kids “Why is this movie scene so emotional”, “How are these ads manipulating our emotions or expectations of a product?” and then having the m create compelling content with emotion and conflict and resolution etc. That aspect of the arts education is missing at our school.

In my opinion an introductory digital media class should first focus on the principles of design and story teling with are key to any medium. Secondarily the class should use tools to create audio, visual and film/moving media incorporating these principles. The course work for digital media should be topical be all encompassing giving kids time to create blogs, utilize photography, create video, podcasts and design objects for print and the web.

Branson does not have to be the most “technical” or technology oriented school but we can still prepare out kids for digital interests and careers in fields other than strictly programming.

An Advanced Digital Media course would focus on developing concepts and executing them in a more polished manner and using the principles of design in all fields to create compelling content. Advanced D.M should focus more on design work (creative print and web) and film (which incorporates audio) and spend more time crafting the concepts. Part of our Information Literacy curriculum should be led by the digital media department showing kids the value of creating and analyzing the media they encounter.

5) Are there several key projects or activities we could support to enhance what we are doing or want to do using technology?
I see the role of our Tech Committee being vital in identifying teachers who are using technology in new and progressive ways and generalizing those uses out to other teachers in the department or to those with similar class structures.

Also with the new acquisition of Community features to our website we can engage students, parents and alum while driving more activity and content to our website making it a portal for the school community. Along wit hthat the use of the podcast format to deliver information through our community portal. Departments like college counseling, the academic deans and the registrar can use podcasts to spread frequently asked questions and update the community about coming events

6) Are there any pilot projects we could support to answer key questions?
The Tech Committee has been going through a bit of an identity crisis, trying to figure out where they fit in, in the technology scheme; where their influence lies and their general purpose for being. I am of the opinion that the Tech Committee should be coming up with innovative solutions and finding teachers that are wiling to try them and providing feedback.

I would like to see the Tech Committee help teachers pilot digital textbooks using the California Learning Resource Network list of free digital textbooks. The job of the tech committee should be to evaluate the usefulness of resources like these and ways to bring them to the classroom. As a committee we need to be selecting teachers to pilot ideas if not piloting them ourselves, collecting data about these projects and using our collective resources and experiences to propose effective iterations.

These are my direct responses to the questions at hand.

Other Issues?
Our network admin and myself were also talking about setting up a film and audio studio where we can do advanced digital media and utilize it for classes who wanted to incorporate a media aspect to any projects or curriculum. The studio is already used for filming and we can enhance this space with some film and audio tools and have a great corner stone for our technology and digital media initiatives. It is also a shining star we can show our parents and prospective parents and students. I would like to propose the digital film and audio studio to our Head-of-School and own the project including teaching the intro or advanced digital media classes and providing professional development to our teachers regarding it’s use.

Weekly Wrap-up


StudiousThe week is winding down and here i am enjoying the last 75 minutes or so of the work week. I wanted to recap some things i made progress on this week. Every Monday the Academic Dean and myself sit down and we talk about what i accomplished the week before, a justify your paycheck kind of meeting except with laughs and smiles.

On Monday, Karen started talking about visiting schools with 1:1 laptop programs to talk to the administrators about their implementation, roadblocks and opportunities. She had in my two school, Sacred Heart in Atherton, CA and Castilleja in Palo Alto, CA. Unfortunately i didn’t create as much time as i should have earlier in the week, so i called Friday afternoon a little after lunch time, of course no one was there.

Boss-Lady also wanted me to contact the speaker from November Learning, an organization that sent Brian Mull to speak to our Board of Trustees and Department Heads about technology. I did a little stalking of Mr. Mull on linkedin as well as the NL social media site. I sent an e-mail explaining that we would like him to come in during the summer time and do some professional development regarding the tools he showed us and some others. I forwarded the proposal to Karen and Woody and that may be something we talk about on monday (i’ll tell you about monday subsequently)

Karen had a VERY ambitious idea about a professional development where teachers and students work together to learn different tools that we can use for school. It seemed like a pretty huge undertaking. I know it’s possible but getting the faculty to agree on the purpose and usefulness is going to be the daunting part. For the sake of my long term efficacy i know i can’t get scared that people won’t agree to give up their class time or whatever time easily, but it would be so much easier if they did.

I decided to call the event, Teaching Teachers Day and i came up with some survey questions to address and assess the student’s thoughts about what would be useful. My main assignment for this week was to create some kind of orienting questions for students to answer and give us some hints about where to move forward. Teaching Teachers will be a challenge.

Karen also really liked the first video/screencast i did about how to deal with out bluetooth pens for the digital whiteboards. She wanted me to start making weekly broadcasts for the students and faculty. We deemed this offie’s tech tips and the first installment can be seen here. It’s pretty basic. i think i will have different people doing the voice overs each time. She also thinks a weekly podcast with branson events and happenings would be something that super engaging to parents because they could hear kids voices and learn about what they are doing in the classroom, during clubs and on the field. But i have to get Samantha on board and that might be kind of slow in the going. We’ll see.

Other random things i accomplished this week…
i subbed for Rich’s statistics class, we talked about searching for data using google, clean vs crappy data and how to formulate questions based around data me collect

I also helped Kathy’s A block Marine Biology class create presentations, some students chose to use google earth/ocean for their whole presentations, which is going to look really cool, i want to stop in and see some of their presentations, especially the google ocean group.

Last but not the least pain in my ass, err joy of my life, is rolling out the new initiative of “One Pen, One Computer, One Teacher” . We are creating a 1:1 bluetooth whiteboard pen environment, ahaha. But yes, going from one whiteboard pen per class to one per person has begun and it’s my duty to see it through, yippee.

Also, i helped History Dept chain Steve, one of the most senior members of the faculty to start a ning social media site for his second term ethics class. That is really exciting, because Steve is a really smart and engaging teacher and person, being the object of his attention is a special treat of itself. But working with Steve and the ning site was exciting. Other teachers want to start social sites and i hope even MORE do after we get the Ethics ning site up and rolling.

And i got paid yesterday, happy day.
Is this what your week looks like an an Ed.Tech.Specialist?

Offies Tech Tips


My Boss came up with a decent idea to create a pod/screen/video cast that addresses common problems called “Offie’s Tech Tips”. She wanted the tips to be friendly reminders about things people regularly get stuck on, with or in. A common problem at my job is people complain their computers are running slow or there is some problem. Our school is an entire mac campus and macs are advertised as “easy” to use, but never have they deemed them user-error-proof. A common problem when using apples and at our school especially is that people do not quit programs. They very often close the window and assume the program has taken care of itself. When in reality that program is still lurking in the RAM somewhere eating up system resources.

I made this video to help people remember the difference between closing a window and quitting a program and the magical wonders of “cmd+tab” and “cmd+Q”.

For whatever it’s worth, enjoy.

Narrative as Curriculum


Charles Dickens - courtesy of
Working in the 21st century knowledge industry and being the 21st century synthesizer that i am, i think i have come across and interesting and relatively novel concept; Using Alternate reality Games in education as a form of project based learning.

For my own sake, i have opted to treat this concept as “Narrative as Curriculum” or “Instructional Narrative”

What is an alternate Reality game?

ARG’s weave together real-world artifacts with clues and puzzles hidden online to create an engaging, collective experience for players. In an ARG players follow a narrative through clues, puzzles and events orchestrated by the game designer. ARG’s are not computer games or video games although electronic devices are frequently used.

How is this useful within education??

Alternate and Augmented Reality Games foster collaboration and a type of thinking which is synthetic, where players assemble disparate pieces of information to solve puzzles and make sense of artifacts and other clues, a great exercise in lateral thinking. Alternate Reality Games are enjoyed by people of all ages through varying participation levels and the collaborative effort of groups or the entire group working together to solve some mystery.

In the (free) Novel Little Brother the main characters skip school to play an alternate reality game and a bunch of other things happen. But this kind of participatory culture is on the radar of our kids. Little Brother is a novel aimed at the late middle – early/mid high school generation. But i find the book to be QUITE entertaining myself.

I am working with the English department at my school to develop a Narrative as Curriculum for a Charles Dickens Unit that multiple sections of English I will use. The goal of the unit is to have students

understand how poverty limited opportunity for young people in Victorian England. We want them to understand that attitudes toward children and childhood differed greatly from contemporary attitudes. We want them to understand how poverty as a social “ill” was framed in Victorian England–who or what was to blame and what remedies were considered practical and moral. We want them to understand why Dickens was outraged by poverty and attacked his society’s indifference to it in his work.

To accomplish these goals in a new and novel way we are going to use Narrative as Curriculum to have students examine the Victorian attitudes and societal norms through inquiry. This inquiry is the “Game” aspect where clues, puzzles and artifacts are presented for students to examine and piece together some form of mystery or to come to some conclusion. The artifacts, puzzles et cetera are to be used as centerpieces for discussion, debate and examination of Charles Dickens, child poverty and the ensuing changes in society.

Alternate reality gaming and Narratives as fiction are ways to train students in the art of synthesis, self directed problem solving and lateral thinking; skills that are valuable in today’s knowledge centric environment. Understanding the social evolution from Victorian England to the time we live in is a very important lesson for children since we are still dealing with some implications from that time. But how we learn about that era of history is also important.

I am excited to start piecing together the Narrative and creating some cool and interesting artifacts.

Open Content and Private Schools?


Creative Commons and Private Schools?
If you are a lover of information and have been breathing over the last 3 or 4 years you may have noticed the coming-of-age of Open Courseware. Yale and stanford offer a huge range of undergrad and graduate course material online. The iTunesU “Store” is a huge repository of free courses on everything from Game Theory, Economics, Biology, Thermodynamics and any language you might want to learn. Massively Open Online courses are also a new concept in this OpenEducation movement.

Coming back from the board retreat my co-worker and I were having our usual lively discussions and we started discussing the use of CreativeCommons licensing at a private school.

At a public school the implication is obvious. CreativeCommons does not allow you to use the original or create derivative works and charge for it, in the most basic sense. So in public school, which is not paid for directly, there is no conflict.

But at a private school that costs about $40,000 a year, lets say, we use content from the Khan Academy to help our students understand some Algebra 2 concepts, and we remix a couple of those videos into one whole video that is supplementary and secondary to the main course material. For kids who need extra help, not everyone gets a copy of this. Is this a violation of Salman Khan’s CC licensure?

Exmple Number 2
Private school educators use GoogleBooks to compile a reader of out of copyright stories and commentary that is available under CC licensure. During second semester this reader is the main reader used in multiple 9th grade English classes. Is this kind of use at a private school violating the CreativeCommons licensing agreement?

The students are not paying for the materials directly.
Does the fact that the students are paying for the schooling affect the licensing in an educational setting?
How is CC applied to private schools?

Are there any educators, public or private that are dealing with CC issues and questions?

Board Retreat Reflection


Hotel Healsburg
Lobby of the Hotel Healdsburg, site of the 2010 Branson School Board Retreat

This past Thursday and Friday I was fortunate enough to attend our school’s Board of Trustees retreat addressing the use of technology at Branson. The meetings went well, although there were no definite resolutions there was some quality dialogue about the use of technology at a school thats already ahead in the game of education.

Recently out college counseling board released some amazing statistics. Branson graduates are accepted at a significantly higher rate into the top 100 colleges and universities than the national population of graduates. Branson parents are students are definitely getting their money’s worth.

Brian Mull of the November Learning spoke on Thursday after lunch. He showed us some valuable tools for teachers and students. Web applications like Diigo, Google custom search creator and the Khan Academy. He also spoke to us about jing and doign screencasts. Which was funny because that morning i sent out a screencast for our faculty to help trouble shoot problems we’ve been having that i know would be issues in my 2 day absence. hehe apparently everyone was looking at me when that came up, i was taking notes.

I would like M. Mull to come speak to our faculty and introduce some of those tool, projects and potential uses so we can start a dialogue. I really appreciate his Wolfram Alpha demonstration.

Milton Chen's Education Nation
On Friday Milton Chen, the authof of Education Nation spoke to us before lunch. Mr. Chen is from the Edutopia Foundation and shared with us some examples of educators leading the way using technology and redefining a modern and relevant education. He has an incredible vision of education and i hope that his ideas become mainstream. Mr. Chen dealt with some very large ideas and had some incredible examples but it was hard for us to see how we can use these exemplars at our school. Education Nation deals primarily with underachieving public schools as compared to our over achieving private school.

Last up was Matt Levinson author of From Fear to Facebook, a book detailing his experience as the point man dealing with a 1:1 roll-out at Nueva Middle school here in Northern California. The book is a beautiful cautionary tale of how to deal with All of the issues of giving middle school students laptops and how to prepare the faculty, students and their parents. Great book and he is a good presenter; I felt bad i did not have more (any) questions for him. Levinson quelled some trepidations the Board (comprised of Branson parents and alum)

Levinson’s story is about 30% analogous to the situation we find ourselves in. He worked at a middle school implementing laptops and we are a high school implementing iPads

Other thoughts
1) As much as Brian Mull talked about twitter, his twitter was filled with a lot of LSU football references and an article on learning that was on the front page of the New York Times. Sorry Dude.
2) All 3 speakers were interesting, knowledgeable and super smart but the board did not have a plethora of questions answered about our specific technology needs.
3) The Board Chairman constantly asks “Are We Behind”. And at lunch before we even heard one speaker i asked him, “What is Behind?”Over the last 10 years Branson graduates have excelled and surpassed the national acceptance rates of our country’s top 100 colleges and universities. We are not behind in any sense of the work. But, how can we use technology to get ahead?

I walked away feeling like I personally showed my competency and enthusiasm in the discussions i led and participated in. Which is important, considering this is my 3rd week on the job.