Posts Tagged “technology”

From a scholarly article I’m reading (emphasis mine):

“The software was subsequently enhanced to include an open data architecture that allows users and curriculum designers to create their own data libraries.”

My question: Why is software being designed BEFORE curriculum? Why is the assumption that curriculum designers will design around the software? Am I the only one who feels that there is something wrong with this?

The article:

Edelson, D.C., Gordin, D.N., & Pea, R.D. (1999). Addressing the challenges of inquiry-based learning through technology and curriculum design. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8(3&4), 391-450.

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Screen shot 2009-11-28 at 1.10.16 PM

I snipped this image from a PDF of a scholarly article I’m reading about a new tool (at the time) that was designed for inquiry-based learning in science classrooms. The actual article and the actual tool are not important, but the challenge listed here is. I should note that this challenge (or some form of it) was mentioned at least 4 times throughout the article.

Although the article is more than 10 years old, it highlights so many things that I think are wrong with the current state of tech in education.

What do you think?

Read the rest of this entry »

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I’ve been a fan of Jeff Utecht‘s for some time, and having worked in the EARCOS region for several years, I was eagerly anticipating his post where he would share his latest conference idea: a tech cohort within the EARCOS Admin Conference. You can read all of Jeff’s reflection here, but what really stood out to me is what he said about engagement and presentation being so key in the use of the backchannel chat. Basically, during the first keynote session, the backchannel chat was off-topic and active. The second day: a completely different scenario — the backchannel was on-topic and relevant to the presentation.

To me it was a fascinating look at how engagement and presentation of information leads to learning. It also leads to the discussion in the classroom why some teachers stuggle with students getting on Facebook and others don’t have any trouble at all. Here were administrators who came to the second keynote with all intentions to “screw off” in the chat room…and yet they found the information and presentation so engaging that it didn’t happen.

What Jeff says about engagement and presentation being key to learning really resonates with me. I have been reading about several different cognitive theories of learning and how they apply to using technology in education. Gavriel Salomon was one of the academics (in the ’80s and ’90s) who was saying pretty much what Jeff just narrated: that technology itself cannot simply imply the learning, but that mindfulness needs to be applied for it to be relevant. It sounds like what Jeff is saying in his post is that in the first keynote, the content was not engaging nor presented as something for learning — and therefore the backchannel chat was not aiding learning, either. But on the second day, the keynote was all of these things, and therefore the backchannel was, too.

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now what? by dak under CC 2.0

This is part of the reason that I get a bit concerned when educators look to that next “great tool” to help them with all the learning in their classroom. At times I wonder if they want the tool to do all the work for them, as if the tech or media itself will facilitate learning. While this is sometimes true, particularly with software that has been developed specifically for learning, most of the time we are taking tools which have been created with other goals in mind – such as productivity, or content manipulation, or sharing ideas – and trying to make them fit into our learning goals. I don’t necessarily see this as always being a bad thing, but sometimes I feel like the learning is lost at the expense of the tool, because educators are not mindful of the environment needed for learning. As Saloman, Perkins, and Globerson (1991) said, “One can plan, design, experiment, and simulate in ways not possible until now. But does this partnership make students any smarter, better skilled communicators, or better skilled learners (or alternatively, less skilled) as a result?”

In turn, what this means is that without mindful, pedagogical use of a tool on the part of the teacher, we then get students who use tools just for the sake of using them, and not in a way that is mindful. This applies, I feel, whether we are talking about Voicethread, or GoogleDocs, or a calculator. They are all tools that allow us to redefine or restructure the learning task, but they do not implicitly demand effort of our mental processes. It is reminiscent also of this conversation on Wes Freyer’s blog, about how simply having the technology does not mean that students are going to learn.

One of the things that drives me most crazy is when a teacher comes to me saying, “I’ve just heard about this great new thing called [fill-in-the-blank]! It sounds so great! How can I use it in my classroom?” I know that often my colleagues come to me because I seem to be using all sorts of “new cool tools” that perhaps they are not, and so they come to me in earnest, wanting to know how they, too, can enhance learning in their classrooms. But asking a question like this is putting the cart before the horse. What many of these teachers do not realize is that I arrived at that “new cool tool” by asking the question the other way around: “Hey, I really want my kids to be able to [fill-in-the-blank] by the end of this unit. What kind of tool will facilitate that?” … and thus begins my search. And whatever “new cool tool” I’ve used, I’ve tried to support it with scaffolds, differentiation, and mindful learning activities that allow students to think and reflect about what they are learning. I’ll readily admit that it’s not always successful, and I usually can tell right away when I’ve chosen the right or wrong tool for the job, but my learning is a work-in-progress, too, right?

So really, what I wonder is, technology aside:

Where is the meta-cognition in our teaching and learning? When are we thinking about thinking? When — and how — are we asking our students to do the same?


Salomon, G, Perkins, D.N., & Globerson, T. (1991). Partners in Cognition: Extending Human Intelligence with Intelligent Technologies. Educational Researcher 20(3), 2-9.

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Many of you who follow me on Twitter know that besides being an teacher dedicated to MYP and international education in general, I am a yogini. I have been studying yoga for only about 4 years, but in January 2008 I made a choice to get really serious about it (if you’re curious about the story behind that decision, IM me or Tweet me and I will share with you, as it was very much an “a-ha” moment). Since making that decision — only a little more than a year ago — I have learned so much about yoga, meditation, the human body, and myself — all dimensions of myself, including physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual.  To say that yoga has been transformational for me would be just beginning to describe the journey I’ve been on. It has been, and continues to be, a tremendously rewarding learning experience in the most holistic way imaginable. All aspects of myself are addressed through yoga. And believe me, this was not how I intended it to be. I began to take yoga seriously more or less because I wanted to do something physical and to feel strong. Yet, my practice has evolved into something so much deeper and more meaningful than just the physical asanas.

One of the many wonderful teachers I have had the pleasure of working with is Twee Merrigan. Twee is a dynamic and focused teacher whose openness and generosity is not only overflowing, but infectious. Her energy is genuine, and she wants her students to be genuine, too. I think this is what I appreciate most about Twee — that she expects you to be no one other than who you are. However, Twee recognizes that sometimes things get out of balance. And, let’s face it: things are often out of balance for various reasons.

Let’s look at education for a minute. (Not forgetting, of course, that this is an education blog, first and foremost!) One of the reasons I began this blog was an effort to balance some inequities I saw that were unaddressed in The System:

  • the unfairness of some prevalent methods of assessment and grading practices
  • the treatment of viewing and speaking skills as secondary to reading and writing
  • the lack of access to technology in schools, or — even worse — the use of abundantly available technology being used to “do” teaching and learning the way we did 15 or even 5 years ago, despite the fact that our world has changed
  • the lack of student choice in “standard” classrooms, being primarily driven by choices made by curriculum, teachers’ backgrounds, or admin decisions


Twee has recently written about how to, in the words of The Doors, “Break on through to the other side.” She suggests we re-name Global Warming and Economic Crisis to Global Balancing and Economic Re-alignment. Think about this for a minute. This is really what we are trying to do: we are trying to balance everything in the world.




So my question of the moment is this: How do we re-align education? 

My initial response is, “I have no idea.” My second response is, “I have a thousand ideas!” And then I get overwhelmed — out of balance again. 

Secondary questions, beneath the “How do we re-align education?” umbrella are:

  • Can we re-align education? or does it have to be completely re-designed — that is, do we have to throw it all away and start all over?
  • What parts of education need the most alignment attention? Is it the issues of academic vs. creative knowledge, as Ken Robinson emphasizes in Out of Our Minds? Or is it something else?
Thus ends my initial post on how I hope to approach education issues: with the hope of re-aligning and putting things in balance. I don’t profess to have any answers — only more questions. But please feel free to post your own ideas in comments. Or Tweet ‘em to me. :)


And stay tuned… 


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My mind is fresh from a weekend of intense PD with Jeff Utecht, who fervently shared his philosophy and expertise with me and my colleagues at UNIS Hanoi.  It was, in all, a fast-paced but much needed weekend full of tips, tools, and tidbits to think about and implement. I am sure all of who attended Jeff’s sessions had some big take-aways from the weekend; one of the big ones for me was the concept of the community in the 21st century.

What role does the community play in education this century?

The answer, I think, is complicated.  Jeff talked about how the community has to be built first, and how sometimes we as educators don’t get to choose where that community is — whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, SecondLife, or ClubPenguin.  But I wonder: Don’t we as educators have a responsibility to create that community?  Of course we should tap into communities already in place.  But when it comes to the “New Learning Landscape“, I think teachers do have an embedded and non-negotiable responsibility to build the community with our students.

One of the challenges we face at UNIS is that our digital, online community is currently quite closed. While I have argued before that this is not always a bad thing, that the walled garden can be a great place to learn tools and play with ideas, I do think that there comes a time (particularly at the HS level) when the community must branch out.  The fact that our students in grades 10 and 11 all have tablets (the first stage in our 1:1 roll-out) means that their community instantly was widened when they received their tablets.  Having that tablet in their hands means they can reach out all the way across the world if they wish — they are connected. And why should we stop them?  Not only does this new technology broaden their contact base and therefore extend their community, most of our students are third-culture kids who have lived in 4 other countries and are already part of an extended community outside our school doors.

If we are going to commit to the new literacies of the 21st century, we should enable our students to reach out to those communities, to find their authentic audience, and create their own learning environment.  To deny them of this is irresponsible.

I’m grateful for Jeff’s ideas this past weekend and I think it is a great start for the journey with our students down the intertwined road of communities and literacy.  Jeff got us thinking in the right direction, and armed with our wikis, blogs, Twitter accounts, and Nings, I daresay that our teachers and students are well on their way to embracing communities both within and beyond our doors.

And speaking of the community’s role in education, I happened across The KnowledgeWorks Foundation (courtesy of Lindsea, a member of my PLN and a contact of one of the KnowledgeWorks founders).  The KWF is an educational philanthropic organization with some philosophical golden nuggets that make it stand out as an organization.  The trademarked motto of KWF is “Empowering communities to improve education.”  How fab is that?  And if that’s not enough to get you browsing around their site, check out their Mission, Vision, and my favorite, their Values Statement:

Fanatical belief that all students have a right to a great education

Wow!  Finding the KWF was a great way to end my weekend, and I look forward to seeing what their community initiatives in education will bring to education in the USA and elsewhere.  You can also follow them on their Future of Ed blog.

All this excitement about communities, Web2.0, and literacy has made me very excited, but I’ve been so busy that the engagement has also made me rather ill — I have been fighting a nasty cold for about a week now.  So as I sign off this post, tea in hand, I hope that my community of learners and colleagues will understand if I’m “below the fold” for the next little while, laying low while I recover.

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I simply cannot believe I have not posted since June.  June!  In case you hadn’t guessed, things have been rather nutty over in my neck of the Educational Woods.

Where I’ve been

Briefly — for those 3 “regular” readers who may have assumed that I’d “taken off, eh” in my true Canadian form — this is what I’ve been up to:

  • A wonderful summer of laughter, love, travel, family, and yoga.  Blissful vacation in my home province of Alberta, Canada, and my partner’s home state of California.
  • In June (shortly after my last post) I received a request to run an MYP Language A level 1 workshop in Hong Kong — my very first MYP workshop ever!  Of course I accepted, not quite realizing how much work would be involved.  The workshop dates: Sept 13-15, 2008.
  • Also in June, I began studying for my GRE (Graduate Record of Examination), as preliminary application prep for grad school in the fall of 2009.  My exam date:  Sept 26, 2008.

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  • It then occurred to me that both preparing for my MYP workshop and studying for my exam were going to have to happen simultaneously.  No problem, right?
  • Wrong.
  • Back-to-school in mid-August.  Mayhem ensued.

You’ve probably already guessed that the MYP workshop prep took priority over my GRE study.  When I look back at the past two months, I still can’t quite believe I did all of this AND taught 4 different grade levels full time, coherently (OK, OK, semi-coherently).  So, you might say I’ve been insanely busy.

How it went

MYP workshop in Hong Kong: Wonderfully!  Far better than I had expected, and with plenty of positive feedback to boot.  It was well worth the two weeks of Hardly Any Sleep (yes, that deserves capital letters), and 3 nights of mediocre room service meals in my hotel room.

GRE: In a word — notsogood. Without going into too much detail, it sucked.  I hate standardized tests. Hate them.  Really, really hate them.  They have so very little educational value, and the very core of my Teacher Being wants to rebel and take a stand!  But dangit – some of the best technology / literacy / education programs in the USA require me to take them just to get my foot in the door.  So I have relented, and scheduled another exam at the end of November.  I promise this time I’ll study for the math section, though I might need some help.  Hey, if nothing else, it’s an excuse to go to Bangkok for another weekend, just in time to do some Christmas shopping.

What’s next: Affirmations

I’ve spent the past three weeks simply trying to catch up and get into a routine.  And now, suddenly, it’s Autumn Break!  What a great time for pause and reflection.

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My goals this year (even though we’re a quarter through already) involve even more focus on the integration of technology into my English classes to best reflect MYP philosophy.

I admit it: I am MYP FanGirl #1.  That doesn’t mean I don’t think the programme has its drawbacks and weaknesses — it most certainly does.  But I believe so strongly in it because it reflects much of what I know to be true as a teacher and learner that I unabashedly put my support behind it.  I definitely see myself growing even more within this educational framework, and I’ve been with it already for 7+ years.  I do not see my MYPness (yes, I said it ;-) ) waning any time soon.

I also will admit that technology has its drawbacks and weaknesses.  But it, too, is something that I believe strongly in because I recognize that our world is changing before us, and our students need to think differently than we did.  Like Einstein said, “We cannot solve problems using the same thinking we used when we created them.”  And so, at the heart of it all, I still believe that it’s not about the technology.  It’s about thinking and learning in different ways to make sense of the ever-changing world, and technology is a big part of the thinking, the learning, and certainly the change.

Where I’m going: Aspirations

So what’s down the road?

The more often I speak to other like-minded educators, the more often I am struck with this realization: the “making sense” part of our job is the same in every “schooly” subject area, and it almost always comes down to communication.

An abridged defintion of “communicate“:*

–verb (used with object)

1. to impart knowledge of; make known: to communicate information; to communicate one’s happiness.
2. to give to another; impart; transmit: to communicate a disease.

–verb (used without object)

5. to give or interchange thoughts, feelings, information, or the like, by writing, speaking, etc.: They communicate with each other every day.
6. to express thoughts, feelings, or information easily or effectively.
7. to be joined or connected: The rooms communicated by means of a hallway.

Interestingly, the origin of this word is from the Latin, commūnicātus, ptp. of commūnicāre to impart, make common.

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What I’m dreaming of is this: a place where the finest, most important skills of communication — that is, those that involve the imparting of ideas and interchange of thoughts and feelings — are not only taught and fostered in an English (or Communications) course, but across every aspect of learning at every age, in every subject area.  (Will there even be a need for subject areas?  The world is so interconnected now; the idea of separating them feels so outdated to me.)

And that’s about as concrete as I can get at the moment.  It all starts with a vision, right?  I have no clear idea what this scenario would look like, sound like, or feel like, but I’m confident that if I continue down the path I’m currently on, the tangible will eventually accompany what is currently visceral.

I envision a time in the not-so-distant future where my current job (English teacher — that is, teacher of both English language and literature) is obsolete.  Instead, I see the language, literature, and tools of communication being delicate, abundant, and essential threads across learning of all kinds.

Where does it all leave me?

I’m just not sure yet!


*I’ve left out some definitions here that refer to archaic uses or the partaking of the Eucharist.

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Having just returned from two back-to-back trips, I am now in contemplative mode before the craziness of the school week sets in. Trip 1: a conference for international educators in the East-Asia region. Trip 2: a vacation on the wonderful island of Bali, a paradise for so many reasons. (I will stop there lest I begin to wax lyrical about this inspiring land, as I realize plenty of others have already done this, so I really don’t need to. Plus, it could honestly take up another blog site altogether. Or a book, even.)

Trip 1 gave me plenty of insight into the world of education, particularly international education, and was a good “refresher” of both the positives and the negatives about being in this world.


  • There are some super cool things going on out there, for lack of better wording (and, well, it’s late here in Hanoi, and I’m bone-tired). Cool things like Jeff Utecht‘s talk about the movement of connectivism and such. I hope lots of teachers — and administrators to boot — were paying attention to him, particularly to his bits focused on the philosophy and theory rather than the nuts-and-bolts of RSS. While both are useful and necessary, the former is more revolutionary to the world of education than the latter, I believe.
  • There are some super cool people out there, and lots of them happen to be educators. I know lots of other super cool people too, and have found myself wondering why they aren’t educators, too. Hmmm…
  • I’m happy to see a dynamic duo coming together, even if in name rather than philosophy. I’m talking here about the IBO and EARCOS. Too often organizations like EARCOS seem (to me, at least) so overly focused on American schools overseas, which most IB schools are not. Props to both organizations for coming together.


  • Sadly, there are still too many educators who are teaching in traditional classrooms. I went to at least 5-too-many sessions led by professionals (many who have been in education longer than I have been alive, and I’m 33) who think about school as a place where students sit within 4 walls and at desks. When can we move away from this?
  • There are also a number of educators, from all backgrounds, ages, and disciplines, who think that all this “IT stuff” is about technology. There were a few tense moments for me when I wanted to jump up and shout, amongst 45 or so of my peers, “It’s not about the technology!” but I refrained, mostly because I am just tired of explaining it to those who don’t get it.
  • The staff at the Shangri-La had a difficult time remembering that I was actually staying in room 303. I was beginning to think that no one ever stayed in that room, or that it did not exist, or perhaps only existed in some strange 5-star hotel bad-karma vortex. Long story, but it was a pain in the neck.

Trip 2 – oh, there is always plenty of insight to be had when one is on vacation, isn’t there? :-) I won’t share it all with you, as most of it is journalled anyway, but I will share one particularly intriguing and relevant find:

The Green School.

I am really intrigued by this school. I have to admit, at first I was skeptical, thinking it was just another international school start-up by some over-zealous businessman. My partner showed me the advertisement in an edition of the Bali Advertiser, and I kind of shrugged it off at first. But he persisted, and upon our return to Hanoi, urged me to check out their website.


I am rather floored, to be honest. And I was so very wrong! What a wonderful, innovative, forward-thinking and un-school-ish idea they have for their sustainable, eco-conscious, whole-child oriented school. Their school is definitely on my watch list, and I daresay that I would love to stop by and visit the next time I am in Bali. They have a unique vision and philosophy, one that I dearly hope more schools latch on to, and not just by lip service. I imagine this school would be a wonderful place to work, learn, and experience all around. Props to the Hardys of Bali!

And on that note, I will end this post as I continue to contemplate the future, education, and my place within all of it. Hopefully it won’t keep me awake at night, as I have a busy first-day-back-post-Spring Break tomorrow…

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