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Travelling with Sacagawea

I recently returned from a trip to northeast Florida where I did some work with the St. Johns and Clay County schools - really nice people who arranged to have the temperatures there  high enough to thaw this Minnesotan out. The Clay County dinner was exciting since I got to speak about the importance of school libraries and their impact on student achievement not just librarians, but to administrators, department chairs, and  school board members as well. It's always fun to be able to preach those not already in the choir. We need to do more of that as a profession. I'm pretty sure we've already convinced ourselves that we are important.

I took my Garmin GPS to use in the rental car again on this trip. I've nicknamed its female voice Sacagawea and she did a fair job of getting me where I needed to go. I ask her to guide me to the following locations:

  • My hotel in St Augustine
  • Clay County High School in Green Cove Springs
  • A school office building in St Augustine
  • The downtown public library in Jacksonville
  • The Jacksonville airport

Of the five locations, Sacagawea was unerring on three of them, and I could have relied on her exclusively. One, Clay County sacagawea.jpgHigh School, was located on a state highway and Sacagawea has problems with addresses on highways and roads and I never could get her to even admit there was such an address. Going to the St Augustine school address, she routed me a couple blocks west, a few blocks north, and then a couple blocks back east right onto the same street I started on. It didn't look like the scenic route and I don't give Sacagawea credit for having a sense of humor so I have no idea what that was all about. In downtown Jacksonville, the taller buildings made getting a satellite signal difficult.

As much as she is really handy when she works, I don't think I will be relying on Sacagawea alone anytime soon. Only getting three out of five trips right is not nearly good enough. I'll continue packing my MapQuest directions and consulting the cheesy map from the rental car company. Which leads me to ask the bigger question: Just how reliable does a technology have to be before one is willing to rely on it?

In an earlier posting, I suggested teachers demand that any technology they use work 99% of the time. Is that an overly high expectation? Analog telephone systems brag about 5 nines reliability - pick up the handset and there is a 99.999% chance the thing will be working. That means out of an entire year, the phone system is down less than nine hours.

Before a teacher ventures into the lab, how reliable does it need to be? Is a 90% uptime acceptable? Over a two week period and ten classes, if things aren't working one of the class periods will a teacher still use it? I don't know.

I thought our district had been heading toward that 99% network/Internet reliability mark  with the network being down less than 90 hours throughout the year. Then the "denial of service" attacks started last week and have been overwhelming our firewall ever since. We still have Internet connectivity, but is seems about 1/10th as fast as normal.  Teachers are already saying, "the network can't be trusted." How much ground will we lose on this one?

I am packing Sacagawea for my trip to the ISTE board meeting in Santa Fe this weekend. But I'll also make sure I have a road map.  I am only willing to trust Sacagawea's artificial intelligence so far. After all, the operative word in "artificial intelligence" is artificial.


Mystery solved

Two readers recently reported being unable to post comments to the Blue Skunk, while others were commenting just fine. I contacted SquareSpace that hosts my blog and they immediately responded, guessing that the comments were being treated as spam. Yup, both postings included links to edublog sites. The SquareSpace folks fixed it immediately.  Such a deal. If only all companies were so responsive and helpful.

I've moved the last two posting to the comments section of the appropriate post. I appreciate folks' patience. - Doug 


One staff development approach does not fit all

My writing "assignment" for the 2007 spring/summer edition of the MACUL Journal is due soon. Here's the lead:


Consider these teachers and their technology professional development needs:

Judy has just come back to teaching after a ten-year stint as a stay-at-home mom. During new teacher orientation, she learns that she is now expected to keep her grades using a computerized gradebook, take attendance online, read the staff bulletin as an e-mail attachment, use the district’s “mapping” software when writing curriculum, create all student materials using a word processor, and keep her classroom webpage current. There is also this strange looking device called an interactive white board in front of the room. “How, after only ten years,” she wonders, “can I feel so out of touch? And how do I learn to do all these things?”

Tom’s just about had it with the “personal narrative” unit in his writing class – he can’t get the kids interested. But he’s been reading that when students write for a wider audience than just the teacher, their level of concern and writing quality goes up. He thinks he’d like to try a class webblog so students can post their narratives and get reactions from other students. Ah, but where to start learning how to create a blog?

Juanita is a part of the site team that is responsible for the building improvement plan. One of the big tasks this year has been looking at student test scores and disaggregating the data for specific groups of students like English Language Learners. While the district uses a giant online data mining/data analysis program, its complexity baffles, not just Juanita, but the rest of the site team as well - including the principal.
Do any or all of these scenarios sound familiar to you? Judy, Tom and Juanita are all modeled after real teachers in the Mankato (MN) schools, but can be found in any district across the country. Each of these teachers has a very real, but very different need for “technology" staff development experiences. To think that any one training program or any one training approach will satisfy the requirements of all teachers in a district would be a mistake.


But how can any district meet the diverse technology training needs of all its teachers?


 Clever approaches your school or district has taken to extend the reach and effectiveness of its staff development in technology efforts?