August 2009

In my neck of the woods, Massachusetts, school is about to start for the 2009-2010 academic year. Teachers have rested, restored, researched, reviewed, and generally gotten themselves ready to perform again, to act on all the training and experiences they have had. They are ready for the job ahead, giving students the chance to develop new skills and build on the ones that they more or less mastered the last time around.

Teachers are about to have the opening day meetings with the superintendent, principal, curriculum coordinator, department head, etc. That mixes with some scurrying around to make sure all the textbooks have the school’s official stamp in them, and there are actually enough desks for the arrival of the audience.

After reading a blog post about journalists, bloggers and the “audience”, it seemed valid to remind us all that students are a teacher’s audience. The students are ready to interact with the teachers they have and with the tasks they are assigned and…

In this 21st century, they also have the tools to be really interactive. It may be just a guess, but I think it is true. I bet there are more students doing live publishing to an Internet audience than there are teachers doing so.

There are Facebook, Twitter, Edublogger, WordPress, among other tools. There is email, too, with a more direct connection even if it is with a smaller scope. Email reaches those who are in the “To:” list and maybe the recipients “Forward to:” list and reactions appear very quickly in the “Reply to all” messages. Facebook, Twitter, etc. can have an even bigger audience if you get “followed”.

So what does it mean for the final year of the first decade of the 21st century? If your teaching is amazing, your students may talk about what they learned in your classroom. If your teaching stinks, they may also talk about the classes that really rot. Especially, if your teaching stinks, students will ask each other for help before they will ask to stay after school to get extra help from you.

Embrace the challenge. Get hooked in to the tools of the Internet yourself, Mr./Mrs./Ms./Miss Teacher. Find out what it means to be part of the wider interactive process of learning going on these days.

If you have embraced email on a personal level, consider taking it to the next level and connect with your students by email, and with their parents. Be honest, don’t give them the false hope of constant one-on-one interaction. Parents do generally have brains. They know that having even two children to handle around the breakfast “minute” before the bus arrives doesn’t leave time for accepting the squabbles which delay everything. Students and parents will value honest interaction from you, even if it is periodic instead of instant feedback to a yammered question. Your superintendent and principal have probably harped for years about “keeping the parents informed”. Email can be a path that works for you on many levels. Students who know you send email to thier parents will need to acknowledge the assignments you mention. Parents who know what your expectations are may be willing to support them at home. Administrators might even acknowledge your effort, even if they cannot recommend a raise.

Go further, if you dare. Start a blog. Write about your assignments from the perspective you have of them. You are a teacher. Teach with all the tools at your disposal. Don’t hand out a reading assignment from a 10 year old textbook and then drone on about it in class the following day. Give the reading assignment. In your blog, encourage students to find supporting information on the Internet. Talk about your understanding of the content, and give them some links to sources about which you are aware. Encourage them to leave comments at the blog about other sources they find. Make your blog an extension of the classroom discussion. Students will share their finds behind your back because their friends appreciate their effort. Build in that curriculum support to the assignments you give. Your effective students should be able to get wider appreciation for what they were able to do.

If you are not sure about this and want help, that’s fine. ASK! There are teachers who have been eager early adopters who are already telling how to do it. If you cannot find a local “guru”, look beyond your school’s walls. There are numerous early adopters talking about the 21st century tools. One example is Greg Kulowiec, a dynamic history teacher in Plymouth, MA. Take a look at his blog: The History 2.0 Classroom.

Find out more directly from Greg by looking into two events. Greg is going to be a presenter at the MassCUE Technology Conference, October 28 and 29 at Gillette Stadium. Since the Massachusetts Superintendents organization, M.A.S.S. is co-sponsoring the conference, there may be more opportunities for school personnel to get attendance approved. ASK Tomorrow!

Greg is also going to host the TEDxPlymouth gathering at Plymouth South High School and is also tentatively scheduled for October. TED is all about “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

Look, too, at other teacher blogs. See what they are doing.

Leave comments here about the best ones you find. Include your own, of course.

No matter how you embrace the 21st century tools available to education, take the step into your classroom, your stage. Look directly into the eyes of your students, your audience. Begin your interaction.

Here’s a challenge:

Read the following post.

Then think; digest the ideas.

Write a proposal for what you want to see in the evolving ebook “format”. Submit it to somebody. Let your wishes be known. Comments will be enthusiastically accepted here, but don’t stop there. Spread your ideas as widely as you can

Help make sure ebooks meet your educational needs.

I am no fan of software patents. It seems to me, as it has to many people vastly smarter than I am, program algorythms are not suited to patent protection.
Such patents are common these days, and a judge has just handed down an injunction against Microsoft which will prevent MS from selling Word, that well-known word processor in MSOffice.

Versions 2003 and 2007 contain the ability to import custom XML files, and that violates a U.S. patent held by a Canadian company i4i.

For years, the Linux community has been watching the progress of court battles surrounding the Unix company SCO. SCO may be in its last stages of bankruptcy proceedings. Now we’ll be able to switch our attention to this new litigation.

Word definitely isn’t open source software, but if sales of Word cannot be made (presumably also the Office suite with Word in it) maybe more people will take a shot and try when they cannot upgrade to the latest Word.

If you have been looking for a “talking point” with the school administrators, why not bring this issue up?