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EdTech Update





So many books, so little time

The number of books being published every year has exploded. Bowker reports that over three million books were published in the U.S. in 2010. The number of new print titles issued by U.S. publishers has grown from 215,777 in 2002 to 316,480 in 2010. And in 2010 more than 2.7 million “non-traditional” titles were also published, including self-published books, reprints of public domain works, and other print-on-demand books. In addition, hundreds of thousands of English-language books are published each year outside the U.S. The Ten Awful Truths - and the Ten Wonderful Truths - About Book Publshing, HuffPost June 5, 2012

One of this morning's radio stories was about the release of NPR's Book Concierge - 350 books their staff and critics really love.

I have a problem. So far this year (according to my Goodreads records), I have read 40 books including books I've listened to and one or two short kids' books. I will probably finish a couple books more before the end of the month. I don't feel bad about that reading record, but it is one heck of a long way from the 350 titles on NPR's recommended list and one hell of a long way from the nearly 3 million books published in the US alone each year.

So I don't have to narrow my reading selection to only the "good books," I have to select from a very long list of well-reviewed and worthy titles of both artistic and a social value. While book selection is very much a personal choice (unlike in classes that kill the love of reading), I have some strategies that help me choose books I will enjoy:

  1. I read favorite authors. (Mystery writers especially.)
  2. I re-read old favorites. (Working on Watership Down that I have not read since 1977 or so.)
  3. I read for needed information (travel books, etc.)
  4. I trust the recommendations of a very select groups of friends.
  5. I never feel guilty about giving up on a book that is not doing anything for me. (I like Nancy Pearl's advice of subtracting your age from 100 and giving a book that many pages to captivate you.)
  6. I read book reviews in the newspaper.
  7. I avoid any book with girl in the title out of principle. (except the Lisbeth Salandar books)

This is probably the most obvious and least creative list you've read this year, but it is what it is. I once had what I called The Lazy Person's Reading Plan when I tried to alternate between "snack reading" and "healthy reading" and I would like to claim I still honor this, but, well, life's too short not to read for enjoyment 100% of the time. 

The key is finding books, of course, that you both enjoy and are worth reading.

In the past, this was the role of the librarian. That role has changed. Librarians must now teach all of us how to wisely self-select among books, among genres, among formats. Amazon and Goodreads just don't cut it.

How do select what to read, my more wise and literate readers?


BFTP: Pace of change and diversity of skill levels in PD

In almost every workshop I give for educators that involves technology skills, I find a growing distance between the most and least skilled in the group*. While this has always been somewhat true, it feels like the gap is growing wider every year.

My theory is that there is a direct correlation between the rate of change and the distance between the most and least technologically-skilled in any random group. I've tried to show this graphically: 


So my ongoing question lately has been: "How does one differentiate instruction in technology inservices for teachers?" Here are strategies I've used:

  1. Aim at the middle. Pitch the old workshop at the "average" attendee. Then half the class is bored and the other half is frustrated. Everyone being equally unhappy is achievable if you work at it.
  2. Ask for only skill-similar participants. If your workshop description states the needed skill level and clearly articulates its objectives, you have a better chance of getting a group with a homogenous skill level. Although plenty of people don't read session descriptions, may not have a choice in attending, or over/under estimate their own abilities.
  3. Use small groups. The activities in every workshop I give are group activities. Your chance of getting a mix of skill levels is pretty good in a small group and the more skilled can help the less skilled. I do advise everyone to "sit beside someone who looks smarter than you are." For some of us, that is pretty easy.
  4. Design activities with levels. Good workshop activities are like onions and ogres - they have layers. Start with a basic accomplishment, but add a few things that may challenge those who already know the basics. (Everyone has to create a motivational poster that defines a vocabulary word; if you have time, use photo-editing software to modify the illustration so it looks artsy, change the color of the frame, and choose a non-standard font.)
  5. Design multiple activities or multiple sets of outcomes and groups. Marti, one of the bright pennies working as a technology integration specialist in my department this year, helped new iPad recipients self-assess and then divided them into skill-level groups at the very beginning of the afternoon-long workshop. He worked personally with the least skillful group, set his assistant to working with the middle group, and left the advanced group with video tutorials,  a list of objectives, and each other for help. I was impressed at how well this worked.

We at least give lip service to providing differentiated instruction in our K-12 classrooms. Given the pace of change, the ever-widening skills gap, and increasing importance of good technology skills among all staff, we need to take customizing inservices more seriously as well.

Any differentiation strategies for inservices that have worked for you?

Never, however, as bad as the teachers Scott Mcleod has encountered:

... I continually run into significant numbers of educators who still don’t know how to work their Internet browser. They struggle with copying and pasting. They get confused just clicking between 2 or 3 different browser tabs. They don’t conceptually understand the difference between their browser’s Google search box and the box where they can actually type in the URL and get there directly. They have no idea that they can right-click on things like hyperlinks or images. And so on… [And this is just the Internet browser. I'm not even talking about individual software programs or online tools.]

OK, no digs at Iowa, although it's tempting.

Original post October 24, 2012


The reluctant restrictor

This past week I've been working with teachers and others in the district to create a "restricted OU." An OU is an "organizational unit" and we place groups of people in them (elementary students, teachers, etc) and then assign filtering settings and other permissions to those groups.

With the expansion of our 1 to 1 Chromebook project to grades 6 through 8, there have been increased calls by teachers and parents for highly restricted access for some students. These kids are the ones who seem to have either begun digital communications deemed inappropriate (My daughter is emailing much older boys.) or lack the self-discipline to keep the computer from becoming a distraction in class or elsewhere (The kid plays games when he should be paying attention to my lecture.) Basically the call has been, "Give these students computer access to ONLY what they need to do their school work and nothing more."

This sets up a number of challenges for me as a proponent of intellectual freedom for students. Is what is considered necessary for school universally agreed upon by all teachers and parents? What valuable resources and activities are we denying these students when blocking categorically by our filter? How do students learn digital safety and self-control without the ability to practice them? What is to keep a student from being placed permanently in the restricted OU because of one bad day or one slip in judgment? Will students in the restricted OU have less concern about having a working device if all they can use it for is school work?

I also worry that we will be asked to create not just one restricted OU, but dozens, each uniquely fit to single individuals, acting, as we would call it in the library world, in loco parentis. (I want my child to have access to CNN but not Fox News. It's OK for my child to have Snapchat but not Instgram.)

Certain due processes are in place. To be placed in the restricted OU, the student must have a 504, an IEP, or a parent conference with the school principal. All of a student's teachers must agree to the placement. Requests can only come from building admins, not directly from parents or teachers. The settings of the restricted OU will be reviewed quarterly by our filtering committee. 

We have created the OU and it becomes active next week. I just fear the slippery slope we may be creating.

Any advice from other schools where these challenges exist?