Friday, September 16, 2011

Key Components in 1:1 Classrooms

As we get into the meat of the school year, I started thinking about what are some hallmarks of great 1:1 classrooms.  Whether 1:1 or not, great classrooms may share some characteristics of best educational practice.  However, I have tried to focus on some of the characteristics that are key in 1:1 classrooms.

This statement stands on the premise that a 1:1 environment is inherently different from a traditional paper and pencil classroom.  If you don't agree with that statement then you might disagree with a lot of what I write.  The world continues to change at an accelerated rate and 21st century learning environments are different.  Not only are they different, the continue to change and transform.  So what are some major ways 1:1 classrooms are different from a traditional classroom?

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous
Ironically, although this is probably one of the most poignant changes taking place in the 21st century, it is one that seems to be one of the slowest to be recognized by all stakeholders in the educational process.  Learning is no longer limited to the 8 to 3 school day.  It isn't limited by the classroom location.  Students can learn anywhere at any given time if they have the resources to do so.  In Korea, we are blessed to have tremendously fast internet and wireless access available nearly everywhere.  We also have a plethora of mobile devices that can truly support learning for our students in a variety of modes and mediums.  With trends such as the flipped classroom and blended classrooms, education is just beginning to take advantage of asynchronous tools.  Information on the internet waits for me until I'm ready for it.

Digital Containers
The physical homework tray at the back of the room has given way to the Moodle course, wiki, or website.  Teachers in a 1:1 setting must have a digital container for their class.  This container does much more than collect student work.  It is a hub.  It links to resources.  It facilitates collaboration, dialogue, and communication.  It creates a home base that brings learning together and tracks progress.

Focus on Product
Yes, I know traditional classrooms do this too.  However, 1:1 classrooms dismally fail to achieve the very goals of being 1:1 if they do not get this philosophical pillar in place.  It is not about the laptop being a word processor or just a word processor.  It is about students creating a product so their learning is meaningful to them.  (For more on this, you might want to examine Bloom's Digital Taxonomy.)

Display Student Work
Students desperately want to have an audience.  Students may like their teacher but that isn't really the audience they are looking to please.  They want to share their work with their friends and even family.  Sometimes this is inside the school and sometimes it is outside.  High achieving 1:1 learning environments find ways to celebrate and display student work to a valued audience for the students.  It gives them pride to have their work "published"and inspires them to go above and beyond on their own.

Classroom management and common vocabulary
If a teacher has poor classroom management, it will only get worse in a 1:1 setting.  Give students engaging projects and know when it is time to close the lid and get students off the screen.  The laptop is only one tool available for learning.  It is not the sole avenue of learning.  If this is an area you are working on, I suggest developing common vocabulary across the school such as...lids down, quiet on the set, hands up (no typing), share screens, freeze...just to name some examples.  When teachers set clear expectations that are commonly known in every class, it makes it easier for both the teachers and students.

These are just some of the ideas that stuck out to me.  What is missing from my list?  Are these on the money?  What is your experience?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Value Educators

If we squash the art of teaching, we are indirectly limiting the education of the next generation to the past when they so desperately need to prepare for the future.

Have you noticed that everyone thinks they know how to educate others?  Everyone went to school so why wouldn't they be able to give sound educational advice? I've been to the doctor too but I suppose you might want to give some thought to accepting medical advice from me.  To be even more specific, I've seen way too many IVs inserted.  That doesn't mean the nurse is handing me the needle.  I've been to Starbuck's but that doesn't mean I know how to make a white chocolate mocha.  You get the point.

The world continues to change at an accelerated rate and 21st century classrooms are a different environment than what we grew up in.  Not only are our classrooms different, but they continue to change and transform at this accelerated pace.  Educators are being asked to learn new information and strategies faster than ever.  Because the amount of information and research available is greater than ever before, the pressure for teachers to be experts in their subject area is immense and more difficult than ever.  I think the tremendous amount of transparency in education plays a role in this as well.

Teachers must exemplify the same 21st century skills that we seek to instill in our students.  They must filter information, collaborate with students, and leverage information and tools for learning in an ever-changing environment.  And perhaps one of the most difficult areas to navigate is the parents that pressure teachers to be something they are not...and shouldn't be.  This does not mean that parent pressure is a bad thing.  We don't get do-overs with children so we have to get it right.  However, too often parents want the education they had because that is what they know...not the education their children need for the future.

It is in this 21st century environment that great teachers are to be prized more than ever.  Although I would argue salaries often reflect the value we place on teachers, value occurs in other ways.  I have been blessed with some outstanding colleagues at both of our schools in Korea.  Teachers, value yourselves and your work.

Parents, in this era of transparency and rapid change, respect the teachers your children have and acknowledge the future requires a different education than the past.  Teachers have a skill in creating learning environments for children.  Ask questions about what they are doing.  Seek understanding.  Be a collaborative learner with teachers and see that the art of educating students is not an easy one to master.  As you engage in this process, you may find some powerful ways to come alongside and help your child.  And like so many pieces of art, each classroom may look, feel, and smell differently.  If we squash the art of teaching, we are indirectly limiting the education of the next generation to the past when they so desperately need to prepare for the future.  I am blessed to work at schools where parents place such a high value on their teachers as so evident even in the last couple weeks.

For some thoughts on 21st century learning environments that educators are navigating, check out these blog posts by some others and the related comments on it.

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Flipped Classroom

Flipping the classroom, or reverse instruction, has been quite trendy lately.  For those new to the topic, it means giving lectures or instruction to students over the internet and using the in class time to actually do work, discuss, or solve problems.  Teachers often accomplish this via podcasting of lectures or screencasting sample problems for students to use as a model. You can see examples of it on many educational blog posts and Youtube is increasely filled with more academic content than just Angry Birds tutorials.  I've been watching this trend and seeing some of our teachers begin engaging in it.

Salman Khan has a great TED talk on what has eventually developed into Khan Academy.  He has some interesting insight and thoughts that are fantastic for reflection.  He has found strategies to gather data to impact what is being presented back to students.  Take some time to watch the video if you haven't.

As I've watched the application of these ideas and concepts to the classroom, some educators have really used this with tremendous benefit to students.  Research has shown the benefits for students to be able to pause, rewind, and carefully take notes on a lecture.  Some teachers have given students a lecture to view at home and then use the in class time for discussion or to practice solving problems.  Aside from increasing the class time available for working with teacher assistance and student to student interaction, sending these lectures home gives students a finite time of homework.

On the other side of the coin, I have seen teachers put a lot of extra time on students because they now put every lecture up on Youtube.    It is important for teachers to retain balance in the work they send home.  I also think the art of the interactive lecture can be lost in this format.  At times, lecture is an appropriate way to deliver instruction (despite what I would call myths that this is never appropriate).  However, interactive lectures engage students and flex the content around the responses and reactions of the participants.  And I do mean participants.  To relinquish a presentation to one way video can leave out the interactive nature of teaching.  It's not all bad but something to consider within a flipped classroom context.

We need to be careful that we don't misapply the flipped classroom methodology so it overburdens students and removes an important element of personal interaction from students that is the learning and dialogue we desire in our classrooms.  As with so many things in life, we need balance.   I have seen some applications that take and mistakenly apply it in ways that just aren't helpful and really don't embody the same type of online education that Khan and others advocate.   I've approached this idea with caution because extremism can be dangerous in any trendy fad.

What do you think?  What do you see as the pros of the flipped classroom and the pitfalls to avoid?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Macbook Air vs Macbook Pro

I recently had the opportunity to test out a 13" Macbook Air (1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB RAM).  I specifically wanted to compare it to my 15" Macbook Pro (2.53 GHz Intel Core i5 processor with 4 GB RAM).  I'm sure you can read more technical comparisons on the web.  I thought I would provide my feedback as an administrator in the educational setting.  

With the solid state drive (flash drive like a USB stick for those non-techies), I found it was superfast to copy files to the MBAir. The solid state hard drives and associated benefits are the future of laptops.  The screen is really sharp and crisp (which also shows in the specs).  Overall, although it was less workspace, the smaller screen size wasn't a big deal unless I was trying to work in one window and reference another window at the same time.  It was not a big drop to go from 15" to 13".  I also found the trackpad more sensitive and responsive than my current MBPro which may just be due to a newer model.

The laptop is amazingly light and lives up to its "Air" title.  At the same time, it felt solid and wasn't flimsy despite its thin body.  It had 2 USB ports, the same as my MBPro and I really liked having them on each side.  In some ways, this was more convenient than having them both on the left.  The hitch for some users is that you may have to plug more things in like a USB to ethernet line adapter or a disc drive when needed.  I also applaud Apple for keeping the SD card slot in the 13" MBAir model.  This is a big plus for me.

The boot up time at around 15 seconds was roughly 1/3 of the time needed for the MBPro to startup.  I found video imported into iMovie slightly faster on the MBAir, probably due to the higher write speeds on the solid state drive.  Exporting and rendering the movie took 3 times as long on the MBAir (31 minutes as opposed to 9 minutes on the MBPro).  I concluded that it came down to processing power.  The MBAir just takes a lot longer to render.  You should plan on doing it overnight or over lunch for bigger projects.  I also found iMovie sluggish for longer movie creation (7 minute movie).  This may be remedied with more RAM.  I had no issues at all with a short 3 minute edit I worked on.  iMovie was the only program that I found sluggish, even with only 2 GB RAM and running multiple programs.  Garageband performed well under these same conditions.

As I tested the MBAir over approximately 2 weeks, I will note that I did not have some of my usual programs running in the background since I didn't transfer everything over.  For example, I didn't run iTunes or my task list manager in the background.  Although the computer performed well for most tasks, I would likely advocate for 4 GB RAM for my own daily use as I think it would help the multimedia and number of programs I use.

I have to say the new MBAir was very impressive.  Like many gadgets, it has a niche--mobility.  If you want mobility and a strong all around laptop, I was very impressed.  If you are doing a lot of multimedia and rendering of projects that take higher CPU processing, you may want to consider sticking with the MBPro for right now.  

The biggest missing component from the MBAir is the i3 processor.  The newest MBPro models utilize the i5 or i7 processors which are quite high performers.  The potential addition of the i3 processor in the MBAir in future models may make it even more attractive and I wish they had added it to this one.  The other two small perks that MBAir misses is the backlit keyboard and ambient light sensor to adjust screen brightness automatically.  These are hardly big omissions but aspects of the MBPro I do like.  

If you have questions about my experience, post them in the comments and I'll do my best to respond.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Valuing What is Valuable

In this post, I'll diverge from my usual topics of education, technology, and leadership.  I took a couple hours to join some other administrators in going to a local foundation that ministers to the mentally and physically disabled.  It is supported by municipal funds and the foundation includes something like 7 different facilities including a K-12 school, dormitory, factory where they make circuit boards, and a printing business.

These circuit boards go into GPS screens and other small devices.

Seong Se Rehabilitation School has all kinds of disabilities from mental to severe physical impairments.  Their facilities are built for the many wheelchairs in the facility.  The kids have smiles on their faces as they learn English, math, computers, etc. and attempt what are very difficult physical coordination tasks for some.  The vision of those that run that foundation is to raise the view of the disabled in Korea. As a result, they run a first class facility that does an excellent job educating these children to accomplish a level of functionality some might not have dreamed possible.

As I walked around and watched both the adults that were working and the kids in school, I had to stop and reflect on what I (and we) value in life.  In our fast-paced, busy world, it is easy to become transactional.  We give something and expect something in return.  Sadly, we often apply this concept unconsciously even in our most altruistic moments.  Even in helping the poor or the disabled, we want them to contribute to society.  What does that mean?

Does it mean they can take care of themselves?  Does it mean they can provide some work or labor for others?  Or is the goal to make sure they don't drain tax dollars as adults?  Are we benevolent yet transactional at times?  If we expect this kind of return in life, I fear we will be disappointed at many levels (and I'm not just talking about by people with disabilities).  The smiles and lives of these people contribute greatly.  For some it will not be a economic contribution nor a measurable gift.  However, they offer us an opportunity to give of ourselves and get nothing back.  To give freely without reservation or expectation of return.  They can remind us of the value of human life.  They remind us of our humanity - that life isn't a series of transactions.

We need foundations like this to keep us from losing perspective.  We need to teach our children in our schools this principle as well.  We have to remember what is truly valuable.  We need to take advantage of the opportunity to give gifts of our time, energy, and love.  Perhaps I didn't depart from my usual topics as much as I thought when I first started this post...

Then the righteous will answer him, 'For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
-Matthew 25:37-40 (Bible)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Fighting Back the Chaos

Today's world is full of information overload.  Perhaps it would be accurate to say application overload in some cases.  As we move from device to device or application to application, maintaining some semblance of organization is critical.  Yes, critical.  I'm not an organization freak as those around me will attest, but having some idea of how to organize information and resources is important.  We constantly run across websites we want to refer back to later.  We identify resources that are useful to share with others.  We also access certain information from different browsers or applications.  For example, I have about 3 different applications for twitter just on my laptop which I use interchangeably.  Then we move from our laptops to our iPhones to iPads etc.

CC Information Overload by Jorge Franganillo (Flickr)

We are not always on the same device so how do we make the "cloud" (internet based applications and storage of resources) work for us?  If we do not have a plan, chaos will take over and we will just miss out on resources buried in an overwhelming pile of stuff.  We need to help students with this skill too. I'll outline some of my own personal strategy to fight back the chaos.

I am always surprised how many people don't use bookmarks (see my previous post for more on bookmarking).  I have all my common sites in my toolbar.  This makes them easy to access anywhere.  I use Xmarks to sync all my bookmarks across all my devices.  This also makes them accessible by logging into the Xmarks site when on a public computer.  Although Xmarks can do other things like sync passwords and such, I use it solely for syncing bookmarks across devices and browsers.  It has an install plugin for almost any browser on any platform.  I have upgraded to the premium and find it worth every penny but a free version is available.

I also use Dropbox.  Lots of different applications allow you to use Dropbox to access information across devices (see more info here).  I find this is a valuable tool for having files and information easily synced across multiple devices.  It also makes a backup always available in case a device is lost or stolen.

I like Instapaper for reading articles later.

For example, I typically check my twitter network on my phone which regularly gives me useful links and information.  I have several methods to deal with this information.
  1. I have created a free account with Instapaper.  I have added this bookmark applet to my toolbar on my browser which allows me to just click on "Read Later" and it is saved to my account.  Instapaper can be accessed on my iPhone or laptop easily.  It tracks what I have read and I just archive after I have finished.  I always know what articles are yet to be read.  
  2. I often just skim my Twitter and don't do extensive reading.  So I email myself a tweet at my gmail account.  I have setup a filter that automatically removes it from the inbox and labels it so I can review it later.  Filters are powerful and often underused email feature.  This also makes it easy to search tweets I want to find later.
  3. I can use my Diigo account to bookmark certain links right in my phone.
  4. Xmarks makes a lot of this simply because it syncs my bookmark applet for Diigo and Instapaper across browsers and my phone.
Lastly, I also highly recommend RSS feeds.  I use Google Reader to keep up with blogs that I follow.  It is easy and accessible on my phone or laptop.  

How do you keep your life organized between browsers, applications, and devices?  Do you have other recommendations to share?

Friday, April 1, 2011


I am always surprised how few people use bookmarks and I believe we need to be more proactive in teaching students to use this effectively. I use 2 tools to meet my bookmarking needs.

First, I use my local laptop to bookmark items that are private to me.  That might range from financial institutions to travel resources.  These are things that I save for my own personal reference.  I do use Xmarks to sync bookmarks across browsers and devices (I'll write more about this in my next post).

Secondly, I use Diigo to bookmark a fair amount of material that I want to find later.  It seems the bookmarks on my computer are more static and ones I use over and over.  The ones on Diigo are usually things I want to reference and search out later.  The other aspect of Diigo is the social bookmarking aspect. Although I can choose what is public and private, most of my bookmarks are public.  I have created several lists where I just add links.  I am pretty diligent about tagging so I can effectively search for these resources later.  Adding links to Diigo is easy on both my iPhone and my laptop.  It is also my way to share some of what I find for those that want to follow the list.

I have the following Diigo lists to which I actively add links as I come across them:

  • 21C Libraries: I place links to how libraries are changing and adapting to a 21st century context here.  This is a relatively new list for me.
  • 21st Century Schools & Education: This is a broad category that relates to a lot of topics that I write about on my blog.  It is probably my most active list.  I like to bookmark good articles and such I find here.  I don't necessary agree with everything I bookmark, but it allows me to archive stuff in one place.
  • Cool Tools: This is just for software and applications I find that seem neat.  Some are for me to look up later and pursue further reviews.  These aren't always ones I would recommend.  It is like a brainstorming space or a post-it note to check out later.
  • Japan Earthquake Links:  I created this one to compile some resources I found and that might benefit students on the recend natural disaster.
  • Leadership: I like to post general leadership links here.
Diigo has some other cool features like posting highlights and sticky notes onto websites.  Some teachers find this valuable to help students as they are reading and research information.  I personally don't use that as it isn't my purpose.  It might be useful for some classroom teachers, particularly in conducting some webquests.

Do you use bookmarks?  Do you use different apps to accomplish your goals?  Feel free to share your ideas in the comments.