I am working on the roll up blogs for yesterday and will be Live Blogging today which will also be converted to roll up blogs. I was a little busy last night creating the keynote based on the events of this symposium. Check back often for more information and feel free to comment on material that is already posted on the site.


August 5, 2009 at 8:07 am Leave a comment

My First Experience with Claymation-Turtles Laying Eggs

First I must say, I was in a fantastic group with great ideas. Dave had just returned from a trip to Mexico where he watched turtles lay eggs. This life experience was the source for this movie.

This short (very short) claymation was created in a hands on session at the Urban School’s Integrated Technology Symposium. I have never done claymation before and this little clip was a result of 45 mins work from concept to completion. This is more of a proof of concept than anything else. While I saw this used to have students explain their understanding of scientific concepts such as chemical bonding, molecular attraction and other abstract concepts, it could be used in any discipline. Here you can have students create and capture an artifact of understanding that can be shared with others- peers as well as students from other schools. This was created using iStopmotion and iMovie and Quicktime. There is also a PC solution for this process but I still need to get the links.

August 4, 2009 at 4:17 pm 1 comment

Realities of Teaching in a Laptop School: A Panel Discussion

This panel discussion was the final session of day one and allowed for both prepared questions from the moderator as well as questions and comments from the floor and those following in the online environment. Rather than going through a rundown of the discussion, I will pull out recurring themes that presented themselves in this session as well a s throughout the day. The panel consisted of Moderator Mark Salkind (Head of School) and panelists Jonathan Howland (Dean of Faculty, Henri Picciotto (Math), Courtney Rein (English), Steve Speier (Language).

How has the laptop helped or hindered student writing?

This first question stimulated considerable responses from the panel as well as the floor. From the perspective of an English teacher, the students do more types of writing today than ever before. The laptop allows students to draft papers in class while she collects sentences for later discussions as a class. With greater access comes greater access to audiences and forms of writing. By making the writing public the accountability goes up. Students are more accountable when they are writing for their peers than when they are writing for the teacher. Authentic writing for authentic audiences.

Another theme centered around the concept of pedagogy, collaboration and good teaching. It was commented that laptops have the ability to “expose bad teaching”. Consider the laptop as an amplifier of teaching effectiveness and pedagogy. This led into a discussion regarding classroom management practices. “Isn’t the laptop a distracter?”. Of course the laptop can be a tool of distraction. But so can a book, phone, or even a pencil. Students have always been good at using items as distracters. One suggestion was to close the laptops when you have the need to give direct instruction- “lids down”, “clam shell”(left slightly open). There was also talk about the power and motivation of multiple students working around a single computer such as in the documentary film project in “Telling their Stories”.

As for larger problems, the students know the rules. They sign an AUP as do the parents. Students are monitored especially in the 9th grade as most are new to the 1:1 laptop idea. The school uses software to monitor online student activity (Apple Remote Desktop). There was a discussion about trust and the need to balance trust with verification. If you aggressively monitor, how can you say you have trust. This is something that is balanced out as suspected violations occur. Therefore, the idea is to build trust in the community rather than simply monitor all activity at all times.

What about time outside of class? With greater access comes greater time online. It is important that we manage that with expectations. Some teachers make online office hours or set time limits outside of school. You need to create boundaries that hold up on this “permeable environment”.

What about testing and assessment? Here the conversation focused on several areas, How do you maintain the integrity of the testing environment when all students are on their own laptops? Control of site access, preloaded papers etc. Another aspect of this discussion focused on the need to match the assessment with the form of instruction. Testing is not appropriate for all types of instruction. It was noted that it is our responsibility to develop authentic assessments that can’t simply be answered by downloading outside answers etc. There is a culture of trust in the school evidence of cheating is treated on a case by case basis.

Communication, how has the laptop changed communication, this was largely addressed at the top of this post. However, a great comment was made by an English teacher “Don’t send me an e-mail that I will need to correct”. Others take a different approach. The important thing here is to match the communication to the situation.

Finally, there was talk about the being able to authenticate the gains in learning if they exist. This discussion focused more around quantitative studies related to standardized exams like the AP and IB. It was agree that this type of study would have problems being validated if it attributed the gains or losses to the use of the laptop. Learning environments are very complex systems and this would have to be done is a controlled artificial environment. However, there was anecdotal evidence about increases in writing abilities. This however, is the same problem when looked at as being specifically attributed to being a laptop school.

In closing this session, it was again emphasized that the collaboration is key. “In the past, you wanted a teacher who was a superstar in their field—not needing a helper. Now you Urban looks for teachers who want to collaborate.” It is now what you can understand and do with the knowledge. In the early days of the transition to laptops, faculty were paid a stipend for work they did in preparing for laptop lessons. Now they focus on collaboration. The laptop is not the focus, rather, faculty collaboration.

As an editorial comment, I realized at the end of the session that I was a city where I could visit “The Pirate Store” or 826 Valencia. I bring this out at this time as this is a wonderful example of the power of writing for authentic audiences, writing for purpose. If 826 Valencia is new to you, may I suggest a walk to that address in San Francisco (if you are here) or visit the following sites. You will be amazed.

As always, comments are welcome and wanted.

August 4, 2009 at 3:14 pm 1 comment

Making Math Visual and Interactive

Henri Picciotto is the Math department chair at Urban and started working with computers back on 1977. He reminisced about the commodore computer (wow, I remember those). The transition for the math department to the 1: 1 was natural. After all, they have been using 1:1 devices for many years- calculators. Before calculators, students would be shown a pattern and need to construct it by hand. Now, they are shown a pattern and they must construct a formula that will produce the pattern on their calculator. Since math teachers and students have been doing this for years, the transition to laptops was relatively smooth. With the advent of the calculator, “speed and accuracy in computation are no longer legitimate goals of math education.” New higher order thinking activities are possible and needed. While there is still a need of basic skills, one might challenge what constitutes a basic skill today. If you have any doubt, Henri shared Wolfram’s Alpha- check out www.wolframalpha.com. Enter an equation and see what happens.

So where does the computer fit into a math class? Henri believes it is there to visually support what has always been done. Programs like Cabri II and Geometers Sketchpad can help students visualize abstract math concepts and demonstrate their understanding of concepts. Interactive white boards (Smartboards) can be used to allow students to physically manipulate objects to build understanding and demonstrate the construction or meaning of a formula. While this can be done at the desk with various types of blocks, the solutions on the IWB can be archived and shared with others as there is no single solution to any of these problems. Both the software tools and IWB allow for the teacher to capture the students understanding. While there are many solutions, some are more “elegant” than others which can also provide insight to the students depth of understanding related to the concepts being covered.

Implications for learning with manipulatives include:

  • The ability to capture understanding, generate reflection and discussion
  • Complements and supports what is already being done
  • The ability to visualize data

Moveing from manipulatives to visualization tools, we first looked at the ability to compare two data sets and explore their relationships. This can be done with simple temperature data on two scales- Fahrenheit and Celsius. These tools work well for explorations in Geometry as well. Using Cabri, we saw how a student could “discover” the relationships between angle of attack and rebound such as in a soccer match. How do you maximize the angle of a triangle as you move one point along a straight line? What relationships can you discover? Students can explore with the digital tool and get instant results. The same can be accomplished in a 3D environment as well. Cabri 3D allows for similar manipulations of geometric objects within the 3D environment so that all relationships can be explored. For example, how is volume of a pyramid related to the direction in which you move various points of the pyramid? What happens if you move outside the existing plane? These tools provide immediate feedback to the students explorations allowing them to discover the relationship for themselves. In another example, a student was able to take smoking data available from the web and use Fathom to discover relationships and trends.

Now, what about computer programming you ask? Well, Henri believes that all should have some understanding of programming. This provides another way to capture a student’s understanding of the mathematics. Using Scratch from MIT, students can tell a story with their math. Programming allows students to use the understanding and to demonstrate it to the world. Urban also makes use of ALICE, another programming language to develop and capture students understandings in mathematics.

So what are the implications for students learning math in a computer rich environment?

  • Students are more motivated
  • There is a lower threshold for access to information and concepts
  • You can raise the ceiling by creating challenges for the students
  • Students develop a deeper understanding of the mathematics

And implications for the teacher you ask?…

  • Deepens understanding of Math as well
  • The Teacher must learn the software
  • Curriculum evolves- same courses but there is a different approach

Finally, remember that you can’t mandate this change. The teachers must “want” to explore these techniques and tools. They need to experience the reason why they can enhance their courses through the use of technology. Mandating the use of technology in the math department is almost certain failure. Explore the possibilities available to you. Scratch was designed for kindergartners but works well with 10th graders. Consider your school culture and listen to your students. They will help you to learn about the new tools and the ways technology can help them learn.


Henri Picciotto Site: www.matheducationpage.org (Rich math resource)

Scratch: http://scratch.mit.edu/

Fathom: http://www.keypress.com/x5656.xml

Alice: http://www.alice.org/

Teacher Community for Scratch: http://scratched.media.mit.edu/

Diigo group for virtual manipulatives online: http://groups.diigo.com/groups/virtualmanipulatives

Leadership Resource:

Godin, S., Tribes: http://www.amazon.com/Tribes-We-Need-You-Lead/dp/1591842336

Seth Godin’s Blog: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/

I share the two Godin sites above because he writes about change on his blog and in Tribes. Here you can learn more about leading for change rather than managing status quo.

August 4, 2009 at 6:28 am Leave a comment

Extending Oral Practice Within and Beyond the Classroom

First up was Steve Speier of the Language department. Here he shared about ways they extend oral practice within and beyond the classroom. It was wonderful as Steve made it clear he was not a technical wizard but rather someone who saw the possibilities. In fact, he said multiple times through his presentation, that the technology tools were secondary. It is funny that a conference on integrating technology would put technology in its place. I quote “the more we keep technology out of the picture, the better”. Sound strange? Well this is part of the transparency needed to make technology effective as a learning tool.

Now the goal of their language department is to get learners to move through the various levels of proficiency. That is to move a learner from an L1 where you simply memorize words, concepts etc to an L4 or higher where the student is able to demonstrate understanding of more advanced use of elements of the language. So how do you do this you ask. Well, it is not by focusing on the technology you are about to introduce. Rather, you focus on the goals and objectives of learning before you throw in the technology.

Now enter the laptop. What does this disruptive technology add to these learning goals and objectives? How does this technology possible enhance and support these goals? Here are a few idea that were presented.

  • Scaffolding and spiraling curriculum. This is enhanced through the archiving possibilities of the laptop and the school’s use of Smartboards (IWB-Interactive White Boards).
  • With the laptop, it is now easier to provide more opportunities for differentiate instruction
  • There is greater access to visuals which are used to make the learning of a language more authentic. Here Steve demonstrated how students and teachers could create image prompts linking them together to create meaning or a story. A more natural approach to learning a language.
  • Access to authentic voices is available when everyone has a laptop.
  • Collaboration and planning was key. This also a message we heard multiple times throughout the day. But more on this later.

Prior to the arrival of the laptop at Urban, Steve reported that little of this was going on. In fact, the only place where oral practice could take place was in the classroom. Now students can use digital recorders or their laptop to create audio responses to audio prompts while away from the campus. These can then be shared with other students all of which informs the work in the classroom.

One great site that was shared where you can get recordings of native speakers is http://www.laits.utexas.edu/spe/sup08.html. This is a free site that provides a small video of the speaker along with the text in the target language (Spanish). Steve uses these as prompts for language acquisition but keeps the focus off of translation. Since all students have laptops, they have access to this and many other resources at any time making the learning more student centered. Since this transition, they report greater fluency and fluidity in the speaking and listening by the students.

One particularly cool project consisted of students providing images of items and actions that they sequence into a short video with audio describing the items and actions. This is what I call an artifact of learning. Students are demonstrating their command of the language in a natural authentic way. Very impressive examples. Students then exchange these files which again extends the learning possibilities. The actual exchange of files is not really a tech skill that is taught but rather a natural shared literacy. It was reported that there was very little direct instruction on the tech skills.

In the end, the success of the use of the laptop in the Language program is largely by design of the lessons and learning activities. The focus is taken off of the technology, teachers and students collaborate and use all the resources you have. Remember that the technology department is a resource, other teachers are resources and most important, students are a resource. What I like about this as it starts to sound more like a community of learning rather than a community of instruction.

A couple other sites where shared as places where you can learn more about the natural acquisition of language and the use of technology to help facilitate.

Digital Stream Conference: http://wlc.csumb.edu/digitalstream/

ACTFL: http://www.actfl.org

During the Q&A, we learned that text books are only used as ancillary as most content is available online through the many resources available when everyone has a laptop. As you consider making this transition at your school, don’t forget to consider your own school’s culture. You can’t just take the Urban model and apply it to your school and expect it to work. You must get the teachers collaborating and always consider the learning goals first. Technology is always there to support the learning.

August 4, 2009 at 4:52 am 1 comment

The Journey Begins: A Vision of Integrated Technology

After a few quick logistics (how to get wireless etc.), Mark Salkind (head of school) kicked off the symposium providing us with context and a framework for the journey that was embarking. Urban is a  high school (9-12)  of about 350 students and 50+ teachers. They strive to be for inclusivity as they embrace the diversity of the heart of San Francisco, their location. This diversity extends beyond ethnicity as they also seek to include the diversity defined by approaches to learning.

As Mark continued to share about the school and its mission, he used what I believe has got to be one of the best quotes of the day. He was talking about the diversity of learning and how Friedman talked about people in their workplace needing to learn how to learn. One way that Urban does this is through trips out to their community where the learning is in place. This “pedagogy of place” was the money quote of the morning as it speaks volumes to their philosophy of learning.

This is Urban’s 8th year as a laptop school. While they were an Apple Distinguished School in 2007-2008, the transition was slow and deliberate. Talk of how this was done at Urban became a recurring theme throughout the day. In essence, they started with their mission and what it means to teach and learn. Otherwise, they started with their broad goals and kept the focus off of the technology. The realization that “digital tools could be powerful to put into student’s hands for teaching and learning” meant that they needed to see how this technology could transform the learning taking it beyond the classroom.

Several items were obvious to the school as they started this journey…

  • Technology provided ways to communicate with each other as well as the world in ways never before possible.
  • The classroom now could extend beyond the classroom walls and even the walls of the school as students and faculty collaborate.
  • The access to information was far greater than any other time in history.

While the school is obviously a technically rich learning environment, the “teach no tech skill before its time or need”. This again was echoed throughout the day as it rapidly became obvious that the focus was not on the technology but on the pedagogy for learning and how technology enhances and improves that experience. In other words, there are not “technology classes”. In fact, it was argued that the students might say there are no “technology projects”. It is not about learning the technology but about allowing the technology to become transparent to the learning process. Thus was born the idea of seamless integration. By de-emphasizing technology, you make technology normal. “Normalize the digital tool, make it natural”.

So how do you do this you ask? How do you make this transition? Here are a few items to consider.

The head is the catalyst as the schools public leader (I like this as it implies that there are private or internal leaders as well. Read Seth Godin’s Tribes and you will understand)

  • Relate the changes to benefits and the school mission
  • Get the board onboard
  • Minimize teacher mandates for use early on.
  • Use student/teacher leadership to help move the school forward
  • Establish ad deliberate pace (Pace yourself). Urban tool about 3 years to transition to becoming a laptop school.
  • Minimize concurrent large scale initiatives and allow for the transition to take place.

So with this framework we transitioned to the rest of the morning presentations which will follow.

August 4, 2009 at 4:08 am 1 comment

Live Blogging Day 1 of Integrated Technology Symposium at the Urban School in San Francisco (Starts at 9am PDT)

Live blogging of today’s events will start in a little less than an hour. There will be several sessions throughout the day and I hope you might be able to join us on the live blog for some of these. I will be posting the happenings here, resources, major concepts etc and opening the blog for participation and dialogue to those who log in. All the information you need to access the Live Blog site is posted on the link below. We will be doing this over the next three days and would love to see you here “virtually” if you have a moment to join the journey. This will also be a chance for you to explore another technology that might prove useful in times extended closing (Swine Flu etc) or for regular use when extending your interactive learning experiences beyond the classroom, school, city, state, country. However, you do need to stay within this world (at least at this time).
Live Blogging Information
Symposium Blog

August 3, 2009 at 7:23 am Leave a comment

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