Push the button

Beginning with the end

There…  glad I got that out of the way.  There ended the longest blogless period I’ve had in about three years.  Not that I’ve ever been that prolific.  In fact, I’m pretty satisfied if I get time to write one post a week.  I use Twitter for the smalltalk.  Blogging, for me, is about really exploring ideas from one perspective or another.  However, I’m a bit embarrassed to say that my last post was April 17th.  All that being said, it’s time to get back to the synthesis of thought that I only find through this approach.

For the handful of folks who read this blog, you won’t likely find much to chew on after this one, but at least I’ll get a few things off my chest and get back in the game.  I’ve been in a bit of a transitional period at school (yeah- both technically and mentally).  It might help to toss out a little historical perspective on my responsibilities since I became an educator.

Here’s my career timeline in a really small nutshell:

  • 1992: teacher: 7th grade science & odyssey (multidisciplinary gifted program)  also assistant wrestling coach
  • 1995: teacher: 9-12 general biology, honors zoology, honors botany, science investigations (independent research program under gifted ed.)
  • 1999: started Marine Biology program for upperclassmen in all three public schools.
  • 2004: moved to another SJSD high school to take head wrestling position with superstar brother as assistant.
  • 2007: began life as the generalist instructional coach for my building.  taught one period of Honors Zoology concurrently.
  • 2009: @erinlynnnash took the reigns of Zoology so I could switch to a Dual-Credit course with MWSU called Principles of Biology.  also moved toward a focus of technology integration within my building… a natural fit for me within our IC model.  (my 18th & last year as a wrestling coach)
  • 2011: move to a new district-level position, “Academic Technology Instructional Specialist” within the Curriculum & Instruction office of the SJSD.  this is a smart re-framing of resources for the future.  I will also continue as instructor of our Marine Biology program.

That makes it pretty apparent that next year will be my first year unattached to an actual building.  While I’m a bit misty-eyed at that prospect,  I’m also looking forward to the possibilities within this switch.  The pool of smart, energetic professionals I get to collaborate with just went from from about 70 to around 900.  Fear meet Excitement.  I think you’ll enjoy one another.


This little blogging project began as one small part of my firsthand attempts at understanding the wider ecosystem of the participatory web.  Specifically, what might this realm offer the student (or teacher) in seeking understanding and making sense of the world in which they are faced?  Because really…  at its heart, this is what education at this level should be.  Of course this is my opinion, but making sense of a very complex and changing world is what education in 2010 should be.  No?  I knew what I had been doing within my own classroom.  As an instructional coach, I got to see firsthand what was going on in other classrooms.  However, if I were going to help lead a school toward change in this direction, I had better get a broader view.


In this time, I have explored more cutting edge tools than I could ever highlight on this blog.  I immersed myself in the participatory web as much as seemed humanly possible.  I have made more national and even global connections than I ever thought possible.  Within the past year, I have begun to shake things down to what really works for me, all the while trying to stay abreast of the rest.  If we all learned the same way, this wouldn’t even be a challenge, right?

During the past few years, I sat side-by-side with colleagues as they willingly dove head-first into the realm of anytime, anywhere learning via digital technology. I have led professional development events at my school to bring all teachers into the fray.  I have led classrooms that, bless their hearts, have embraced the still-experimental nature of these tools of communication.  In chatting with my wife and teaching partner about the past few years, the role of reflective and authentic learning instantly came to the forefront of her mind.  Those two elements have truly been our focus.  I always wonder how that would have worked without such a prior grounding in instructional practice & action research.  Probably far less famously I suspect.  Of course, any time I ponder the convergence of the elements of pedagogy, content, and technology, I think of Dr. Punya Mishra and the TPACK framework he lined out with Dr. Matt Koehler at MSU.  I no longer make educational decisions of any sort without without running them through this filter.


As a baby step in engaging the whole of our local educational community, Dr. Jaime Dial and I created the Saint Joseph Digital Express as an adaptable structure for communication into the future.  Check it out.  This network was largely tossed out this past year as a potential learning sphere and will likely serve us well as we move into a more focused future on this front.  I’m also excited to have Will Richardson as a consultant and PD facilitator for the coming year.  He was my suggestion for getting things started and kick-starting the conversation.  Will will be working with local administrators, instructional coaches, and curriculum coaches to help us hone a mission for 21st Century instruction.  Will sets the tone well and sees the big picture of many of these current shifts that have potential to impact the world of education.  From my experience, he is an excellent facilitator and does a really super job framing tough issues and leading large groups in thought concerning these issues.  This work will certainly be translated down to the building level of the SJSD in various ways within the following year and as we move forward.

Might individual buildings move in different ways toward these new ideas?  You better believe it.  As our Curriculum & Instruction department in the SJSD believes, each child moves toward learning in different ways, so we believe in different learning communities moving in subtly different ways to tackle the issues of 2010 and beyond.  We have powerful instructional leaders in our building principals who will take this new learning and apply it as it fits to our schools.  Through our school improvement process and commitment to focused professional development in support of these plans, we all have made serious moves in positive directions in the past five years.


It’s hard to be perfectly patient and excitedly enlivened all at the same time.  Perhaps more than ever I’m happy to be a part of this district at this time. I’m happy to be a part of a public school district that keeps its eye on the ball with regard to instruction…  all the while fueling the innovation needed to stay relevant and authentic for today and into the future.

To my knowledge, in our district the word “technology” has never been included in any job title to date outside of our own Troester Media Center.  TMC is the physical brain of our Internet nervous system with all the associated services.  We have long enjoyed a powerful IT infrastructure with the foresight to deliver potential to each classroom and to deliver it fast.  We have owned our own gigabit fiber optic network joining more than 20 buildings since 1995.  Yes, I said it… fiber.  I’ve had nothing to do with any of those moves.  You can look above to see what I was busy with at that time.  And yet, I was always thankful for each new thing I was allowed to do during that time because of this technology.

Many changes have taken place regarding the world of digital communications since 1995.  Shoot-  many things have changed in the past year.  We are a district currently possessing more kit than 90% of public or private schools I have seen.  We have a K-12 instructional model that increasingly gives credence to a constructivist approach.  What we need now is to connect our gear with our mission.  We’ve had “T” in one silo and the “P” and “C” in another across town.  I believe we are well ready to aim toward true TPACK integration.  For so many years technology was used in large part to facilitate management and operations as well as a rather teacher-directed approach to learning.


Integration vs. transformation

However, in 2010, and for some time now, we’ve needed more.  Our kids need more.  They deserve to emerge from their school experiences tech-savvy and ready to take on the world like modern learners.  Delivering that requires a bridge connecting smart people who’ve been wanting the best for our kids for some time-  while speaking significantly different languages.  To do that we need well-supported tech-savvy teachers.  I’m looking forward to doing what I can to fulfill at least some small part of this effort into the future, for these challenges are certainly worthy. Sliding the title “technology” into any position within C & I is a significant move.  Significant in that it recognizes the importance of modern technology in making learning authentic in a world where information and communication comes increasingly digitally-flavored.  I would love to establish myself as a strong link between the world of slick gadgets and the world of differentiated, student-owned learning.  Instructionally, we are in a really good place-  particularly for a public school system.  Technologically, we have some of the best of the best.  The time is ripe for a marriage made in TPACK heaven.

While I’m leaving day-to-day contact with some really smart friends and colleagues…  I’m looking forward to working with another set of really smart colleagues and increasing friends.  One final thing is for sure-  I’m certainly glad I’ve spent the effort to cultivate a rich and varied personal learning network over the past few years.  Of course I’m going to need it.  I cannot imagine consulting on such a broad range of topics without all of you.  You might want to keep Skype running…



*”Push the button” by INoxKrow on Flickr
*”Moar Cute Duck Bum” by Duncan Rawlinson
*”Integration” by certified su on Flickr
*”go” by A_of_DooM on Flickr.

Growing a Tree of Professional Development

Arboreal aspirations?

During a time of the year when perhaps sugarplums should be dancing in my head, I seem to be conjuring trees.  More precisely-  massive, skyward-reaching, luxurious and well-rooted trees.  I can’t seem to keep from dwelling in the metaphor of a tree as it relates to a professional development plan.  My school, and most recently my district, have been hurtling down the path of a 1:1 laptop implementation in the near future.  As an instructional coach in the school that is essentially leading the way down that path, I have spent a great deal of time spearheading ground-level professional development for this project.  In addition, I have spent countless hours reflecting and planning…  and planning and reflecting…  on our progress.

I currently feel that professional development approaches can be split into one of three types.  I will also argue that these three types can and sometimes should be done in tandem.  In this post I will attempt to outline my belief that professional development -particularly in the edtech world- needs to at least somehow include the strategies depicted in this image:

PD tree - nashworld

If you could create a metaphor for a smart and effective professional development plan, what would it look like?  How would you explain the elements within?  It seems that I never get full clarity of thought until I can develop a clear visual metaphor that seeks to simplify that which is complex.  This one is slightly mixed, but it is where my mind is right now.  Like most of the rambling on this blog, these assertions are also mixed with a request for input.  Don’t hold back- I look forward to your reactions.


We began this quest last year from what was pretty well near ground zero in terms of educational technology integration.  We were a school blessed with the structural “stuff” of educational technology (powerful districtwide network, good saturation of laptop carts, projectors, clickers, data probes, etc.).  What we lacked were untethered computers assigned to staff, and a strong attention to “student-sided” uses of technology for learning.  It’s tough to imagine students using computers to learn if we do not do so ourselves, right?

Last year a volunteer group of twenty teachers spent extra time at our school as members of “Edtech Cohort One” in our building.  In this first baby step of the pilot, we had two goals:  1) to experiment with hands-on approaches to edtech professional development, and  2) to build a core of 20 teachers who could help serve as leaders the following year when our entire staff entered the world of purposeful edtech integration.  That “following year” is now.  Throughout this school year (which began with entire faculty PD events this summer) I have been watching closely for how to tweak this implementation if and when it is scaled up at the district level.  As it turns out, if is yes and when is now.  Allow me to explain this three-pointed approach.


You can’t move water up to the top of a tree without a good strong push from the roots.  If this were a science blog, I’d spend some time referring to how the roots of plants accomplish this primary pressure even though they have no vacuum power.  It’s pretty compelling stuff I assure you, but I don’t want to lose anyone.  I think I’ll play it safe and stick to PD for now.

03/365 Splishy Splashy

The “initiation” phase of edtech professional development in my corner of the world revolved heavily around “technology operations and concepts”  -to use a NETS standard to describe it.  The problem here is that in 2009, this is no longer a NETS standard for teachers… it is bottom of six standards for our students.  And yet-  we’re playing catch-up.  Let’s face it, catch-up is never as inspiring as forging a new path.  However, if this need is real, the entire mission will collapse without paying attention to it.  To put it quite simply, shove a MacBook Pro into the hands of a teacher who doesn’t already have a computer, nor even Internet access at home…  and you had better pay attention to operation skills.  That example wasn’t exactly the norm in my school, but it was certainly a real factor to consider.  When looking at minimal expectations, you have to honor all learners at their individual entry point.  Don’t we believe in this for our students?  Can you imagine ever effecting inspiring changes in curriculum and instruction with a lack of simple technology operational skills?

In this “initiation” phase, we focused first on care & feeding of the new hardware, followed closely with a push beyond the “default settings” in order to become comfortable with the parameters of all of the stuff.  Our aim is most certainly here, but you can’t even hold the gun steady without a firm foundation.


However, I believe it is important to not only push up from the roots of initiation, but also to exert a gentle tug of inspiration from the top.  Water would never reach the highest leaves of a tree without the slight pull of transpiration into the atmosphere.  Likewise, I believe most people will mobilize if shown a compelling impetus for change.  In my mind you really need a two-pronged approach at this level.  Tapping keys and clicking trackpads isn’t in and of itself very motivational to most people.  Teachers are rather overburdened folks as it is.  Achieving success in the role of lead learner in the classrooms of today requires a terribly broad skill set coupled with a relentless work ethic.  There simply isn’t much more time left in the day.


Therefore, I would argue that no successful teacher is going to be open to instructional reform without being shown a bit of the view from the top.  What I mean by this is that along the way, even in the beginning, we need to provide glimpses of model uses of our most effective tools.  We need to sponsor innovation and experimentation with new approaches, and encourage the adaptation and repurposing of the ubiquitous tools for communications that now surround us.  Many of these tools are finally allowing teachers to bring about the kind of collaborative, constructivist-leaning environment for learning they were shown in theory some time ago.  I believe it is smart practice to sprinkle in highlights of rich models where this type of environment is already in place.  We also need to outline some of the shifts present in today’s world that no doubt impact the generational divide between most teachers and their students.

From day one, we have tried to build in job-embedded time to both learn the operations and take a look at the potential for a more student-led environment.  We seek the type of environment where students are compelled to take advantage of the opportunities to seek knowledge and skills from other sources rather than their teachers and textbooks alone.  Along with the keytaps and mouseclicks, we have looked for inspiration in projects and tools that allow regional, national, or even global collaboration.  So assuming a solid base of operational learning and open minds toward instructional transformation…  what’s left?


Much is publicized about the importance of technology integration.  This publicity is usually accompanied by examples of our nation’s inadequate movement in this direction.  It is even rather routinely touted in the echochamber of many edtech social media networks to be the single greatest challenge we face in education today.  I’m sure I wouldn’t be the first to assert that educational technology integration is not the holy grail we are after.  I want more for our kids.  A quick glance back up to our tree model shows where I see integration in the big picture.  I see actual integration as a branching out toward content specificity where teachers in a given subject soak up the pertinent applications and processes…  and then skillfully weave them into the quest for understanding.  In a nutshell, this would be a solid move inward on Mishra & Koehler’s TPACK framework:


Integration at this level is a pretty lofty goal-  no doubt.  However, I hate aiming at what is the acceptable level by most standards.  Just using the latest tools to get the job done isn’t what TPACK is about, and it sure isn’t my cup of tea.  Instead, I favor drawing a bead on the transformation of our classroom experiences toward an end that features the teacher as learning coach in an open environment.  Now that goal…  that goal requires inspiration.


So let’s assume for now that our first two years forward with this implementation are a success.  I have no reason now to think that our teachers will not all possess a minimal level of tech savvy.  So where where might we go next in terms of staff development?  At this point, I have considered many options aimed at the best-case scenario for next year.  I would love the diverse input of my readers to help me nail down a more crystal focus for next year’s professional development.

I’m currently thinking that with a solid year behind us as a complete staff, we will now have the comfort level required to aim high and create more individualized  -and voluntary-  PD experiences that are aimed at content integration.  I have seen two basic models of edtech PD for high school faculties.  One model asserts that the aim should be to bring every teacher along to the same level of integration.  I think this might even be possible if it were the only element of change in the lives of educators.  However, another popular viewpoint is that PD for “all” is wasted on those that are resistant to change.  In this approach, more attention is paid to voluntary PD for those “ready to run.”


I would have to say that in December of 0-nine I am still of the opinion that a hybrid approach is best.  And yet-  I am thinking that the goal going into next year is to provide future PD around a more voluntary model for those ready to roll toward a deeper transformation of the classroom.  In short:  require a certain level of tech savvy of all teachers… followed by enriched opportunities for those most ready… to roll into the future. It takes three processes to move water from the roots to the tip of a tree.  This includes a push upward from the roots.  Also crucial is the pull from above, and don’t forget the attractive forces throughout the entire journey upward.

More concretely, I am often reminded of the model MICDS employed in their second year of 1:1 implementation.  Having strong peers just across the state is a valuable resource to say the least.  I was lucky to be a guest of several of the workshops spearheaded by Elizabeth Helfant at the MICDS Summer Teacher Institute.  Anyone with an ear to the current edtech landscape would tell you that this is a shining model of a professional development series-  at even a global level.  I can’t help but be influenced by such an inspired plan.  Creating a voluntary development series in the summer of this caliber is something that seems both realistic and smart at this juncture.  I’m now wondering how much of this model could realistically be implemented closer to home.  After a quick glance, do you blame me?

Now it’s your turn.  I need feedback.  We need feedback.  Feed our roots with your diverse wisdom.


*”PD TREE”:  my adaptation of “small tree on white” from stock.xchng.
*03/365 Splishy Splashy by Rachel Carter on Flickr.
*sunflowers by Marco Magrini on Flickr.
*TPACK framework by Punya Mishra & Matt Koehler.
*Oh. by Brendan Landis on Flickr.

Four Pillars of Technology Integration

I spent far too much time today on this image…….

Four Pillars of Technology Integration

But first

What are the key elements required for a transformation of teaching and learning through the use of technology?  There are obviously many reasonable ways to look at this.  From what position do you view this issue?  Are you a teacher, instructional coach, building principal, technology facilitator, director of technology, chief administrative officer of some flavor, superintendent, parent, or student?  For you, this issue will likely run through the filter of your current position.

It will also run through the filter of your experience.  Are you an eighteen year old student who lives a life that is highly digitally integrated, or are you a teacher of 20 years or more who is just now trying to become familiar with the Internet as it relates to teaching and learning?  Are you a superintendent or head of school who is beginning to open to the importance of a smart approach to technology integration, or are you a technology facilitator who has been a digital evangelist for the past five to ten years?

Those filters should all be applied to the problem of how to retool schools along the lines of technological transformation.  (Though I didn’t think it worked in the title of this post, you will see below that I would rather use the term transformation as opposed to integration.)  At this point, the vast majority of school systems are behind the curve in this area.  Being this far behind might just have one distinct advantage.  If there is no way to see any of the individual trees in a forest, you are likely going to be forced to start your mission with a whole-forest view to begin with.  This is not a bad thing.  It allows you to realize two important things:

1) You don’t need a flashlight.  It’s not that dark in there anymore.  Trust that there are others who have proceeded down this path before you, and they have learned many important lessons.  Collaborate.  Learn from their successes and failures.  Do not go it alone.  Resist the temptation to slap a digital device in the hands of each student and call it success.  Have a plan.

2) Rarely do we get to make decisions with the clarity that a little distance provides.  Take your time (but hurry).  Ask yourself: what can we do with these new tools available today that we couldn’t do before?  If we could remake our curriculum any way we wanted, how would we do it?  Think transformation of the way teaching and learning is done in your district, as opposed to integration into it as it exists.

Allow me to run this challenge through my own filter for the next several paragraphs.  For more on my filter for these ideas, consult the About page.  Also-  I certainly do not profess to know all of the answers.  I am currently sitting on top of a nice little foothill of educational technology leadership…  and staring up at some pretty massive peaks ahead.  Allow me to talk about a few things that make these peaks seem climbable from where I stand.

It is my belief that all schools (and/or school systems) need the following four pillars below any technology “integration” effort…


An Innovation engine

All systems need what I will call an “innovation engine.”  Whatever the system, whatever the setup, schools and school systems need pockets of sponsored innovation.  Without some folks directly charged with instructional innovation with digital tools, we will always be just trying to fit technology into what we do on a day to day basis.  It is far better to build innovation directly into the system, and to foster it purposefully.  I know this may seem somewhat fringe in the world of public education, but it can’t afford to be much longer.

“At enlightened, forward-thinking companies, managers understand the connection between learning, innovation, and higher productivity — in fact, employees at these companies may even be encouraged to spend time learning and experimenting with new technologies.”

~Joe McKendrick, FASTforward

So who will drive this engine of innovation in your school?  Will this be a technology facilitator?  Will it be a technology coach?  Perhaps an instructional coach.  An ad-hoc committee of teachers?  A requirement of your leadership team or department heads?  If you are thinking of this from a district perspective, where does this responsibility land?  Will you just hope for it, or will you truly sponsor innovation in new approaches to teaching and learning afforded by digital technologies?

Erector Set

Administrative support

An innovative technology leader will be of little use beyond their immediate world without direct, purposeful and inspired administrative support.  Administrators:  join forces with your innovation team.  Learn what they learn.  Push them to new heights.  Allow them to bring innovative approaches to the classrooms and teachers of your school.  Support your teachers every step of the way as they slowly transform the classroom environments they create toward new and better approaches to learning…

…and then hold them to it. Hold staff accountable for bringing their skills up to the present realities of the 21st Century.  We’ve been living passively in this century for almost ten years now.  It is time for all of us to sit up and take a direct and active role in the changes happening within the learning profession.  Without strong administrative support, advocacy, and supervision, no real and lasting changes of this magnitude are possible.  Guidelines for such leadership aren’t exactly guesswork.  Grab a copy of the NETS and familiarize yourself with these standards today if you have yet to.  They come in three fine flavors:  for students, teachers and administrators.

wwwwwwwwwwwwwww access

Unfiltered ubiquitous access

So now you have innovation closely coupled with administrative support.  With those two things, you can get a pretty immediate return for your buck, provided one more terribly important thing:  that you don’t filter the very usefulness out of the web. A school can have instructional innovation and local administrative support and still fail with regard to technology integration.  How do you kill innovation quickly?  Tie it down.  Even today, many schools filter all of the good, interactive raw materials right out of the web, just when it is becoming increasingly important.  Figure it out.  Ask a school who only lightly filters.  Ask.  Don’t assume there isn’t another way.

Our school system does currently block Facebook and MySpace.  However, our general approach is to put the filters in place required by law, (keeping out the really creepy things) and then keep the real Internet open for education.  Yes, that means we have open access to YouTube, Flickr, UStream, Ning, Twitter, Blogs, Wikis, etc…  We have our hands on far too much fuel for innovation to even worry about looking at Facebook and MySpace at this moment.  They are where our students already are.  But for now, we are luckier than 95% of school districts I encounter with regard to open access.  This fact has allowed us to move quickly toward figuring out the advantages and disadvantages of these powerful new tools in an educational setting.

Oh, and ubiquity.  Access to these tools must be easy and everywhere.  Soon after access is all around you, it doesn’t even feel like “technology,” it just feels like the way things are done.  This is a good thing, for when technology becomes invisible, we can finally focus on the value added from new uses of these tools.  The world is moving quickly toward wireless access in all corners.  If your school isn’t wireless, then only your students have wireless access.  That’s right-  via their phones.  You have a cell phone policy that bans their use in your school?  How is that working out?  You might be surprised.  Many of your students likely are on the raw, unfiltered Internet via the 3G connection of their cellphone more often in the classroom than you care to admit.  Why ignore this,  or worse yet, why punish it?  Embracing might just be the answer.  Some serious thought, study, and stakeholder input should be focused in this direction.

If your school isn’t at a 1:1 ratio of students to laptop computers… and the students don’t take them home with them night by night, all year long… then you don’t yet have an ideal learning environment for 2009 by most accounts.  Until then, however, there are other ways until that time to assure ubiquitous access.  Our school currently employs laptop carts at a ratio of better than 2.5 students to one computer.  60 of these machines will also be available for checkout from our Media Center in the fall.  Our Media Center/Library will also be open well beyond school hours.  It isn’t perfect, but it is allowing us to move ahead intelligently.  We are moving quickly toward the 1:1 environment that seems inevitable in schools.  Moving in that direction in a smart and purposeful way is the strategy we’re employing.

Nice Helvetica.

Instructional model

So now you have innovation on the ground level, administrative support, and unfiltered access.  Be proud.  If you can honestly say this characterizes your school or school system, then you are in a very small but fortunate minority.  You work with smart, visionary people who know how to plan and have been doing so for some time now.  If your lone goal is to have students, teachers and administrators all gleefully pushing buttons and gazing at computer screens…  then your work here is done.  Congratulations.  However, if what you were wanting out of this nationwide technology push was something a bit more…  substantial, then you had better finish reading.

The fourth pillar of “instructional model” is more than a quick soundbyte allows.  I see three levels of this notion with increasing value as follows:  1) You have thought about and encouraged good instructional practices in your building/district.  2) You have a well-articulated plan for effective instructional practice that is building or districtwide.  3)  You have a true learner-centered instructional model in place in grades K-12 that credits the constructivist nature of human learning.

I am fortunate to say that though our district has awakened late to the call of real and purposeful transformation via educational technology, the toughest of our four pillars has already been built.  The final pillar of a student-centered model for instruction that is carefully stated, professionally-developed, supported, and supervised…  is just freshly in place.  This is not so say that fluency in adopting this philosophy of approach is yet there, but the crucial first step is complete.

As I stated earlier, we are looking up at some pretty tall challenges ahead of us.  Locally, we have unfiltered access to all of the content and interactivity the web affords.  We have pedagogical experts in district leadership positions who have put in place an ideal instructional model for the future.  We have a quickly multiplying group of administrators at both the district and building levels who are responding to the call of the digital world, and we are making plans to foster innovation and creativity in our classrooms.

I feel like I am at the foot of a mountain that a handful of good people have climbed…  20,000 feet below the summit, yet armed with the best climbing gear and support I can get my hands on.  The immediate future should be interesting indeed.

I don\'t understand the question...

Where are you?

So where does all of this leave you?  How many of these pillars have been already constructed around you?  What have you done to help in that construction?  What do you see as the greatest challenges in this mission?  What can I or others do to help?  Are there other pillars that you believe I have missed here?

This post was initially intended to be a part of Leadership Day 2009 as conceived by Scott McLeod.  I am posting it at 1:30am on July 13th instead of on July 12th.  This is not to shabby considering my two baby girls thought that since it is technically summer here…  it should feel like it today.

Leadership Day 2009

***This post ended up being nominated for “Most Influential Blog Post” at the 2009 Edublogs Awards.  Nifty nomination.  Thanks much:


*I created the Four Pillars image above from the original raw image: “OSU Columns 1” by Steve Betts (Zagrev) on Flickr.
*Catracas by [ cas ] on Flickr
*Erector Set by vgm8383 on Flickr
*wwwwwwwwwwwwwww access by squacco on Flickr
*Nice Helvetica. by William Couch on Flickr
*I don’t understand the question… by flynnkc on Flickr

“It’s Not About The Technology”


I’m certainly not the first person to utter that sentence in reference to the integration of modern technology into the world of education.  This was originally posted to our school’s professional learning network, Virtual Southside, here.

*Full size image linked in citation below.

Then what is it about?

Folks… our mission really isn’t about the “technology.” I think most of us are starting to come to that realization. I would love for you to weigh in on this assertion. I am becoming less and less fond of the “…if we’re gonna be the ‘technology school’…….” phrase. Are you?

To be honest, I never did want that. The reason we used the “technology” moniker is that: 1) it was largely “given” to us, and 2) it is familiar to all who hear it. As you know, familiarity can distort meaning. What we believe in is a move toward a student-centered, constructivist learning environment. The fact that we believe the best way to achieve this goal is through the integrated use of emerging 21st Century technologies… does not make us a “technology school.” A technology school is a school that is centered upon gadgets and tools. Some would say this is all “semantics.” I couldn’t disagree more vigorously.

Our goal as high school teachers is to deliver a relevant and rigorous curriculum laden with the concepts and facts of many different schools of knowledge… as well as (and perhaps most importantly) the processes of learning. “Technology” is not our curriculum. Nobody writes “use chalk here” in a curriculum guide, and mentioning any other technology will only date your work in about two years.  Technological tools are way to interact with said content and process… but they are only the curriculum itself in a scant few of our courses.

Honoring PD in this area for once

I never wanted us to “teach technology.” I have always wanted us to use modern and emerging technologies to access and extend our current curriculum. Are there times we need to directly teach the best uses of a tool? Yes, of course… but this is just the first tiny step.  The first waypoint in this mission is to ensure that we are collectively savvy as a faculty first.  Continuing to put laptops in the hands of kids, all the while skipping directly over the lead learners in the room is just…  wrong.  It is ineffective, irresponsible and wrong.  I’m so glad that we have a staff who believes in this important part of our mission.

Therefore, I would like to propose a new set of language about what we are doing as we move forth into year two of our initiative:

Benton High 21st Century Learning Initiative

Really think about what this title says.

Finding our own way

I think the kids who have had the opportunity to interact with our cohort teachers this year are far more adept at accessing information and in finding creative new ways of demonstrating their learning than ever before. We have all absorbed that which we found most valuable throughout this first year. Our development should be allowed to be as close to the constructivist ideal we seek for the classroom.  Why wouldn’t we?  Some of us have even carried the torch directly into our classrooms at a very high level already. I have seen it with my own two eyes. The district “tech study committee” saw this as well in our classrooms in a recent walkthrough of our building.

With the coming summer of reflection and relaxed study, we will surely begin our second year far more prepared to bring this learning to our students in the classroom in a very regular and integrated way. What do you think?

*Artwork: “move technology to invisibility” courtesy Will Lion on Flickr


Where is the “Glitz”?

As author Brenda Dyck puts it in this article, the goal of teachers in technology integration should not be on the tool, but rather what the tool can do for you.  I wholeheartedly agree with this goal in essence.  She next states that:  “The effectiveness of technology is watered down when laptops are used solely for basic word processing, haphazard surfing, or creating jazzed-up PowerPoint presentations.”  Again, I couldn’t agree more.

The rub comes when she begins discussion of how teachers might get to the “mind meat” as she relays it from technology writer Jamie McKenzie.  She then proceeds to describe a model project called “Fluttering Butterflies”, wherein students use, of all things, wait for it…    a word processor to “keep logs in which they documented their observations about classroom butterflies”.  As I said above, I agree that glitz means nothing without substance.  However, when kids are being asked to watch butterflies there is no compelling reason I can see to go to all the trouble of pulling out computers.  This is a task far better suited to a paper & pencil “science notebook” or the like.  After all, the vast majority of working scientists today (who are the only folks getting paid to peek in at butterflies) still scribble notes in a journal.  This allows true scribbling, diagrams, schematics and other non-linguistic representations.  Relevance is key to education in the 21st Century.

She spoke of this activity providing a platform for kids to hone observation skills as well as fostering meaning making.  I agree that such an activity does just that.  In fact, as a classroom teacher of both zoology and marine biology, I have students conduct quite similar activities at the high school level.  However, as a teacher who not only has the benefit of 32 wireless laptops at his disposal, but is also being paid as an instructional coach to bring our building up to speed in terms of technology integration, I wouldn’t think of dragging out laptops for such an event.  This would only be cumbersome at best.

It would have been nice to see the actual site for the butterfly project, but as of publish time for this post, Fluttering Butterflies is no longer an active link.  Big surprise for an article written six years ago in 2002.