Monday, August 31, 2009

Intrinsic Motivation

Dan Pink's talk about motivation from is fantastic. I'm trying to work out what it means for teaching. The basic idea is that providing extrinsic rewards works only when there is a clearly defined task. When the task requires some lateral thinking, extrinsic rewards hinder the accomplishment of the task.

Alan Lurie is also writing about motivation in his article. Both Pink and Lurie see intrinsic motivation arising from autonomy, mastery and purpose. All of which are lacking in the current educational model. Students have little autonomy. Lot's of mastery and little purpose. What would a model of autonomy look like in a school? Certainly not like the corporate environments described in this Slate article. Autonomy would look a lot like the concept of education by appointment. It would look a lot like gifted education, where students discover their passions and run with them.

Mastery is something that we may or may not do a good job with in education. Open source software and blogging communities are both examples of communities where mastery, individual thought, and contributions to moving the project forward are valued. How can we bring these sorts of communities into our classrooms where students are competing to show off their mastery of skills, concepts and attitudes?

The assistant principal in our high school is looking at this video. It will be interesting to see if he brings this video or these ideas into the staff meetings.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Teaching Naked

Wow!  I've been mulling over the idea of teaching naked, the last couple of days since I first saw this posting on Dean Sharski's blog.  My initial thoughts were wait a second.  Content is supposed to be what we're all about in schools.  Then Jose Bowen turned up again on the NPR all tech considered podcast, and I started to more fully understand his ideas about turning learning around.  He contends taht students come to class without any understanding of the subject, listen to a lecture, study like crazy and try to show that they understand.  Instead, he proposes a model where students listen to the lecture ahead of class, take a quiz or some other assessment to show that they listened to the material, and then discuss and explore the content in class.  As he states in the video above, most lectures last for 48 minutes and then have 2 minutes of questions, this way he can offer the same content and fifty minutes of questions.  To me these are powerful ideas.  I've already shared them with our high school faculty.  Several of the teachers are interested in giving it a try.

Then I drilled into Jose Bowen's site a little and found a set of podcasts that serve as the listening ahead of class for hs hstory of jazz course.  I listened to the bop and hard bop podcasts. I was struck by the fact that at the beginning of this podcast, he launches in right away noting that any categories are provisional, and this is just one way to organize and categorize the whole movement of Hard Bop.  Reminded me right away of David Weinberger and Everything is Miscellaneous. Very interesting ideas.  Even Bowen's old courses at Georgetown look like they built on diverse ideas. Anyone who can incorporate Wagner into a course on politics and culture has a lot of interesting thoughts.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Start of School - More

Tomorrow is the big day.  Summer vacation is over. Yesterday a colleague sent out a list of software items to cover during the extra time teachers will have during Ramadan. (UAE Ministry of Education guidelines have our school opening later and ending earlier for those students who are fasting [refraining from eating or drinking during the day, but often staying up late at night]).  The list reproduced below, bothered me.  At first I could not figure out why.  Then I realized it was just a list of software.  It was not addressing the "so what?" question.  If we are to be serious about integrating technology in meaningful ways, the technology needs to solve a problem for teachers in some way.

Please note that these topics are not all-inclusive. Attendants will bring questions.
First Class
  • Answer any questions about FC attendees may have
  • Web publishing
  • Mailbox Rules. Blocking Spam
  • Organizing your mailbox
  • Creating and managing Conferences and the users
  • Other minor items such as: Changing icons, Creating email templates, Recording your voice
  • Answer any questions about PowerTeacher attendees may have
  • Logging in, changing passwords
  • Gradebook setup. Straight points, Weighting and Standards
  • Printing reports
  • Creating class groups
  • Exporting gradebooks as spreadsheets
  • Comments for Assignments and Students (Comment Banks)
Directory Server
  • Logging in
  • Moving files around (Drop Box)
  • Using the Public web publishing folder
ACS Services/Software/Hardware
  • Subscription Services that ACS offers including: Library Subscription Services, Unitedstreaming, Brainpop, Nettrekker, Turnitin, Wordpress MU, MyAccess, etc. (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • OpenOffice (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • Promethean Interactive Whiteboards (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • Tinkerplots (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • Google Docs (exact dates/locations TBA)
  • Video and Still Camera usage (exact dates/locations TBA)
My suggestion was to reorganize the list according to problems that teachers might be having:
How do I share stuff with other teachers and students?
- Directory server
- FC web publishing
- FC folders

How can I communicate more effectively with parents, students, colleagues and admin?

How do I do my grades and reporting?

How do I create my class help page?
- FC web publishing

How can my students collaborate on documents?
-Google docs
- Word Press MU

How do I do ordering?

How can my students keep a reflective journal?
-Word press MU

How can I handle documents in different fomats?
-Open Office
-iWork tools

How can I take, organize, and share pictures of class activities?
-digital cameras
- directory server

How can I take, edit and share video?
-digital video cameras

How can my students improve their writing?

How can I pre-record and record my visuals for class
-Promethean white board

How can I share text, and artifacts, visual activities with my class?
-document camera

How do I prevent plagiarism in my classes?

What video libraries are available for my class?
-United Streaming

How do I create quick interactive surveys of what my students have learned?

This seemed like a better way to focus on teacher and student needs.  I also thought it would improve buy-in from the teachers.  My colleagues agreed with me, but it missed going out to the new hires, who got he original version.  The good news is that the conversation has already started to shift. I'm confident next time around we'll all be thinking about how to solve teachers' problems, instead of just giving them some tools that may be useful.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Going back to school

Summer vacation is almost over. It's back to school the day after tomorrow.  Four days of in-service and then the kids start.  I've been thinking about what I'd like to focus on this year.  More and more its' coming back to the idea of presentations.

The question is how to work with teachers to improve the presentations that their students are doing.  Step one in this journey is going to be to approach the administration and ask for their support in improving student presentations and what that those might look like. 

We're going to be working within a Ramadan schedule which means late starts and early dismissals.  It also creates a lot of space for working with teachers on ther tech skills.  One of my colleagues sent out a proposed list of topics.  My biggest concern is that this list was all focused on different technology tools.  I don't think that there will be much uptake in the presentations offered. I think in a school, we have to be focused on what problems the students and teachers are having and what technological solutions can make their lives easier.  In this case, the curricular problem is powerpointlessness.  Too many presentations in school are just bullets and talking points.  I think the introducations to wikis and blogs also needs to framed similarly, otherwise, no one will use them.

The tie in for the admins is that this all fits very much into our school's mission of 21st century skills ( Communication and Collaboration), and within the ISTE NETS standard 2b of "communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences using a variety of media and formats." It is cross curricular, and can be used in any subject. It also fits with 6b "select and use applications effectively and productively." and 6d "transfer current knowledge to learning of new technologies."

Garr Reynolds
also writes about Pecha-kucha, the Japanese movement of 20 slides each for 20 seconds (6 minutes 40 seconds in total).  I might try running this as a club and see if I can get seven or eight students to prepare presentations and then have a competition of sorts one evening with the admins, and maybe some external people as judges. 

These two prongs will hopefully help improve our students' ability to produce effective presentations.  This is a skill that will stand them in good stead long after they graduate

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

High Noon

I just finished reading Jean Francois Rischard's book, High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to solve them. I was very pleased to see global poverty as one of his main underlying themes.  Knowing that such passionate and intelligent people are running our world institutions is very heartening. 

Rischard's main thesis is that two forces are shaping our future.  One is the demographic explosion, with the world's population forecast to reach 8 billion by 2025. Rischard sees no good in any of the implications of population growth.  However, the other force, that of the New World Economy, which basically finds new ways to do everything, abounds with opportunities.

Others have blogged about his list of twenty global problems, so I won't reiterate the list here.  As an expat living abroad in what is basically a tax free haven, I am not fond of the idea of the Canadian government instituting worldwide taxation.  I am not the American model of wordwide taxation is particularly effective.  Currently the foreign earned income exclusion is currently set at $87, 600.00, and $18.4 billion dollars claimed as exclusions, which is about half of what US citizens earn abroad.

Rischard proposes two possible solutions.  One is for people to come together in global issues networks (GIN) around each of these twenty issues. (he does acknowledge that there may be additional issues).  Each GIN would enlist members from governments, business, and NGO's. Essentially, each GIN would draft benchmarks and then score each country with respect to the progress they were making towards meeting that benchmark.  His alternative solution is to use the G7 structure and add additional countries to create "G20's" made of responible ministers around each of the 20 issues.  He sees this solution as less desirable as it's track record so far has not demonstrated that it has the agility and flexibility needed to address these issues in a timely manner.

This book was written seven years ago.  Rischard was right on the money when he wrote that global financial architecture was an issue that needed a global regulatory approach.  However, we are now a third of the way through Rischard's twenty year timetable.  While reading the book, I was thinking how depressing for him, none of the solutions he proposes have been taken up.  Neither the Global Issues Networks, nor the G20 models.  The urgency around these issues, even global issues has not gained traction.

Rischard also displays a great openness to new ideas.  At the conclusion of he book, he asks for reader input at his website  Unfortunately, this domain has expired and is now parked, so there is no way to evaluate the quality of responses he received.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Summer Camp (School)

This summer, for the first time in a long time, I took a summer job.  The job manifested itself at the end of teh school year in the form of teaching an English summer camp at a local university working with high school students.  Like everything in the UAE, the summer camp was divided along gender lines.  I was one of two males working at the girls' camp.  I further lucked out by being assigned as the activities teacher.  The way the camp functioned was that there were two teachers, one for activities and one for English assigned to two groups of students.  Halfway through the day, the groups would alternate which teacher they were working with.  I got a great teaching partner, and can't say enough good things about her.

This was my first intensive interaction with Emiratis.  Other than seeing Emiratis in the store or on the roads, it is rare that living in my diplomatic bubble, have occasion to interact very much with the local population.  I have to admit, going into this these covered girls were a complete mystery to me.  Had I bee assigned to the boys camp, I know that football (soccer) and cars would have gone a long way.  These covered girls though I had no idea what interested and motivated them.  It turns out that mystery cut both ways.  they didn't know quite what to make of me either, white Western male and all.  I don't think many of them had ever had a male teacher before. I was surprised by how unwordly these girls were.  Few had any idea of who Benazair Bhutto was, or even Roger Federer. I was struck by how little these girls had travelled.  Mistakenly, I thought that all Emiratis were extremely well off and well travelled.  Most of the girls had been to Saudi Arabi for a non-Eid pilgramage to Mecca called an Umrah. The thing that was most shocking was that about a third of the girls were already engaged.  One of teh girls when discussing future career plans didn't even attempt to envisage a career.  She just pinted to her ring finger and said "married."

As the activities teacher, I had no job description.  It became quite clear early on that these students need help developing oral fluency.  I started each class with a song.  Fortunately I found a great web site that helped refresh my memory for camp songs from my time at Opemikon as a camper, lifeguard and leader.  The curriculum documents provided by the University were not very useful.  From the beginning I found that I had to dig a lot deeper.  This site was a great resource, as was this one. The problem was that my classes jumped around a fair bit.  I was up the night before struggling to find activities to fill my five hours the next day.  It all was a little disjointed.  If I do this again next year, I'll try and lay these out thematically better, but such is life when you're hired the week before to fill a slot.

The "camp" (really an ESL summer school) did not make good use of the feedback from and assessments of the students.  Right away in the first day of camp, they gave the students a placement test.  These results were never shared with the teachers.  We had no way of knowing what strengths and weaknesses these students possessed. Day 4 had the students writing another assessment.  the was to be a pre and post test to show value added by the camp.  Again these results were not shared with the instructors.  At the ends of weeks 2 and 3, student surveys were given out about how well the instructors were addressing the students' needs.  Again these results were not shared with the instructors.  At the beginning of the third week , I was observed.  I have still not yet seen the write-up of that observation.  All of these feedback loops had the potential to help make my teaching and the way I related to the students better, yet none were used. I find that to be a great pity.  On the whole though, working at the summer camp was a great experience, that I hope to repeat again next year.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Improving presentations

I just finished Garr Reynold's book: Presentation Zen.  It's a short read, but it was a good reinforcement of what I believe presentations need to be about. Having read the book, it is obvious that Dean Shareski drew heavily on material from this book for his video:

PowerPoint Extreme Makeover

What were the takeaways from reading the book?  I liked the emphasis on the fact that a presentation should be about storytelling.  Facts and figures are readily available on the Internet.  Where a presentation can make a great deal of difference is when it answers the question of "So what?"  In order to answer this question, the presenter needs to be able to understand what it is exactly they are trying to say and why it is important. This requires planning.  Garr recommends that this planning take place offline, with paper and pencil.  When you move into slideware like Keynote or PowerPoint, you set up three anchors and then use the slideware to build blank slides to follow these anchors.

Some other concepts that Garr explores in the book include signal to noise ratios.  By this he means simplifying slides to their essential elements, and doing away with distracting borders, and clutter.  Although he does not state this explicitly, many of his graphs and charts, in the improved slide have a summary headline.  Instead of "Number of bikes sold 2002-2007", the caption reads "Over 5,000 bikes sold in 2007."  This relates to Dean Shareski's point that if everything has the same emphasis, it is hard to tell what is important. 

Having worked this past year to improve student presentations, one of the questions that came up was what would a scope and sequence for teaching students to do better presentations look like?  For one thing we need to start with presentations taht teh students find meaningful.  For most students especially those at an international school, a presentation on 19th century American reformers has little meaning, and they are not going to be very passionate about it.  It will be interesting to see if I can work with teachers this year on improving presentations.  I like Garr' 4 step process of brainstorming away from a computer, grouping ideas together and identifying the core, and storyboarding (off the computer initially and then in the slide sorter).

Another takeaway was the idea investigating Merlin Mann as a speaker for one of our NESA conferences.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Future of RSS

  JamesLedbetter has a great article in the Big Money about the future of RSS feeds. Basically he's arguing RSS is a hard thing to make money of of, in that publishers like only to publish headlines to drive traffic to their sites, but bloggers like the full articles to appear in their RSS readers, so they can blog about it, which in turn drives traffic to the  original site.  The Big Money's experience suggests that the latter is the case.  He also points out that Really Simple Syndication is not really that simple and enjoys only about a 10% uptake.  I like my netvibes page and the availability of seeing the headlines from about 50 different sites all at once.  RSS was also invaluable in setting up the NESA Virtual Science Fair in that each course had a help button. The RSS reader allowed me to monitor all 500 teams for signs of trouble.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Summer Learning PD

In the part of the blogosphere that I read, there is currently circulating a Summer Professional Development/Learning Meme 2009 originally started by Cliff Mims.  in the spirit of this challenge, I'd like to declare the following goals for this summer:
  1. Learn GarageBand
  2. Read: Dan Pink's a Whole New Mind, Howard Gardner's Five Minds for the Future, Garr Reynolds' Presentation Zen, and J.F. Rischard's High Noon: 20 Global Problems and 20 Years to Solve Them.
  3. Start blogging regularly, at least twice a week.


Summer can be a great time for professional development. It is an opportunity to learn more about a topic, read a particular work or the works of a particular author, beef up an existing unit of instruction, advance one’s technical skills, work on that advanced degree or certification, pick up a new hobby, and finish many of the other items on our ever-growing To Do Lists. Let’s make Summer 2009 a time when we actually get to accomplish a few of those things and enjoy the thrill of marking them off our lists.

The Rules

NOTE: You do NOT have to wait to be tagged to participate in this meme.

  1. Pick 1-3 professional development goals and commit to achieving them this summer.
  2. For the purposes of this activity the end of summer will be Labor Day (09/07/09).
  3. Post the above directions along with your 1-3 goals on your blog.
  4. Title your post Summer Professional Development Meme 2009 and link back/trackback to
  5. Use the following tag/ keyword/ category on your post: pdmeme09.
  6. Tag 5-8 others to participate in the meme.
  7. Achieve your goals and "develop professionally."
  8. Commit to sharing your results on your blog during early or mid-September.
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