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EdTech Update





Quit reading this blog!

Quit reading this blog right now and go to John Peterson's K-12 education, learning and getting on the cluetrain right now.

John, you’ve made me realize I am old mindset educator trying to make yesterday’s rules fit a new model of learning. You’ve just expanded my mind. YOU could and should have given David Weinberger’s keynote at NECC!

And to think, you're a Minnesotan - sorta.  


When the gods wish to punish us

When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers. - Oscar Wilde

Mankato Area Public Schools (my district) passed both its referendums yesterday. One, for $6M, replaces roofs, boilers, and adds some classrooms. The other, for $3.5M ($500,000 a year for 7 years), is for technology. Our tech budget, in essence, almost doubled overnight. Oh, both referendums passed by big, big margins.

It will difficult to use "lack of funds" as an excuse for anything in the department anymore.

I have visions of "smart classrooms," big Internet pipes, and massive staff development initiatives dancing in my head. But like all tech planning in the district, this will be a truly collaborative effort involving our district advisory committee creating the overarching framework and every building articulating individual plans tied to building learning goals.

I'm excited.


In continuation from yesterday, this is what Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde in Best Practices: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools 2nd ed. Heinemann, 1998 look at as common recommendations(best practices)  from national curriculum reports:

  • LESS whole-class, teacher directed instruction (e.g., lecturing)
  • LESS student passivity: sitting, listening, receiving and absorbing information
  • LESS presentational, one-way transmission of information from teacher to student
  • LESS prizing and rewarding of silence in the classroom
  • LESS classroom time devoted to fill-in-the-blank worksheets, dittos, workbooks, and other “seatwork”
  • LESS student time spent reading textbooks and basal readers
  • LESS attempt by teachers to thinly “cover” large amounts of materials in every subject area
  • LESS rote memorization of facts and details
  • LESS emphasis on the competition and grades in school
  • LESS tracking or leveling students into “ability groups”
  • LESS use of pull-out special programs
  • LESS use of and reliance on standardized tests
  • MORE experiential, inductive, hands-on learning
  • MORE active learning in the classroom, with all the attendant noise and movement of students doing, talking, and collaborating
  • MORE diverse roles for teachers, including coaching, demonstrating, and modeling
  • MORE emphasis on higher-order thinking; learning a field’s key concepts and principles
  • MORE deep study of a smaller number of topics, so that students internalize the field’s way of inquiry
  • MORE reading of real texts: whole books, primary sources, and nonfiction materials
  • MORE responsibility transferred to students for their work: goal setting, record keeping, monitoring, sharing, exhibiting, and evaluating
  • MORE choice for students (e.g., choosing their own books, writing topics, team partners, and research projects)
  • MORE enacting and modeling of the principles of democracy in school
  • MORE attention to the affective needs and the varying cognitive styles of individual students
  • MORE cooperative, collaborative activity; developing the classroom as an interdependent community
  • MORE heterogeneously grouped classrooms where individual needs are met through inherently individualized activities, not segregation of bodies
  • MORE delivery of special help to students in regular classrooms
  • MORE varied and cooperative roles for teachers, parents, and administrators
  • MORE reliance on teachers’ descriptive evaluations of student growth, including observational/anecdotal records, conference notes, and performance assessment rubrics*

Which of these does tech support ... and how?


What drives your technology initiatives?

Last Sunday, I ruminated a bit on whether blogs were a technology for teaching writing.  And I found that I’ve been out of the English classroom too long to remember many “best practices” anymore. But I did remember I have a rather useful book sitting near my desk: Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde's Best Practice: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools 2nd ed. Heinemann, 1998. (There is a 3rd edition available.)

In the section on “Best Practices in Teaching Writing,” compiled from various national professional organizations such as National Council of Teachers of English, the book lists these as “best practices.”

  • Teachers must help students find real purposes to write.
  • Effective writing programs involve the complete writing process.
    • Selecting
    • Pre-writing
    • Drafting
    • Revising
    • Editing
  • Teachers can help students get started.
  • Teachers help students draft and revise
  • Grammar and mechanics are best learned in the context of actual writing.
  • Students need real audiences and a classroom context of shared learning.
  • Writing should extend throughout the curriculum.

So which practices are supported, which are hindered, and which are not impacted at all by technology use? (Thanks, Chris, for your comment about how David Warlick's Blogmeister supports the revision stage of the writing process.) Do I as a tech director know enough about teaching writing to answer this question?

Here’s the point I’d like to make. Isn't it time we start looking at best practices first and technology second? It is about dammed time that teachers do the technology implementation planning instead of us technology directors. It's an awful lot to expect from even guys and gals even as intelligent, (charming and good looking) as we techies to know the best practices of every subject and skill at every developmental level.

In other areas of the district, the impetus for technology implementation has come from outside the technology department. Building administration wants a reliable student information system. Assessment needs good data mining tools. Special education demands a better way to do IEP forms. Community education wants a simple way to keep track of building schedules. Transportation, human resources, finance, census – all these departments have pushed my department to find, implement and maintain technology solutions to make them more effective.

Where is the push from the classroom? We have our early adopters. We have some simple programs that many teachers use (too often more for entertainment value than educational value). Our library media specialists, business ed, tech ed and (strangely enough) PE folks push for technology to support their teaching goals and best practices. But compared to the administrative side, teachers just aren’t very demanding.


  • Do teachers not know about potentially useful tech applications?
  • Do teachers not know best practices?
  • Are teachers not able to link technology and best practices?

I am signing up for this year’s English teacher’s conference and asking to be put on the routing list for NCTE’s English Journal. And if I find that technology is being linked to effective writing practices in places where these English teachers hang out, boy, are they in trouble.

How much is it the technology department’s job to promote technology use? How much is the technology department’s job to support the technology initiatives of the pedagogical experts?


In his column this morning, Leonard Pitts described e-mail as "...a repository for the detritus of cluttered minds." That may well become the new subtitle of this blog.