January 31, 2008 § 1 Comment

I received an email this morning from ISTE calling for help during the upcoming TCEA conference in Austin to “refresh the NETS for Teachers.” These were standards that were first put into place for teachers in 2000, following the implementation of NETS for students in 1998.

From the ISTE NETS web page:

NETS for Students was unveiled at NECC 2007. NETS for Teachers (NETS•T) will be introduced in 2008, and NETS for Administrators (NETS•A) in 2009.

Doesn’t that seem a bit backward? I mean, when the standards first came out, of course everyone was gunning for what students should know, but now that kids are growing up with computers, shouldn’t we be focusing more on what the adults need to know?

According to the US Department of Commerce, the percentage of households with computers rose 20% in 5 years (1998-2003) with just over 60% of households having computers in 2003. If that trend continued, then we can extrapolate that close to 80% of households in the US have computers today.

Kids get it. It’s the adults that we should be focused on, not just because they need to know, but because of the top-down effect.

Why would you release new student standards for technology without making sure the teachers knew how to teach it, or that administrators, for that matter.

I think the root of a lot of problems with technology in education is that we have expectations for students, but don’t have any expectations for teachers or administrators. If you have administration that supports and expects that technology will be used, then teachers will have to get on the ball and learn or suffer on their evaluations. If you don’t have those expectations in place from the top down, it’s never going to get to the majority of students, no matter how great your standards for students are.


“If we use Google, we get kicked off the computer.”

January 23, 2008 § 3 Comments

One of my colleagues said that her daughter came home saying this a couple of weeks ago because their school now has Nettrekker.  Now I’m all for making Internet searches easier for kids, but there has been a push around here to use Nettrekker as the only choice for Internet research.

The argument goes like this: “Do you have a good set of encyclopedias and a crappy set of encyclopedias in your library so you can teach kids the difference between good information and bad information?  Then why would you teach them to search using Google?”

I think that argument sucks.  Even back in the day, you could pretty much believe that anything in hardback had been checked and rechecked.  Information literacy wasn’t needed (as much) because you knew that publishers had weeded out the crap for you.

Today, though, everyone needs to have a solid schooling in information literacy because of the simple fact that information is so much more readily available.  No longer do I have to trek down to the library to do my research.  I can do it from my bed in my pajamas.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Nettrekker is a great tool.  But it’s just a tool, and it has it’s flaws.  When students get to the real world, they’re not going to have a Nettrekker account so they’re going to have to discern for themselves what information is valid and what is not.

So I guess the real question here is, are we trying to educate our students, or make the job of educating easier for the teacher?

Moving on over

January 14, 2008 § Leave a comment

Back in October, I decided to try out Google Reader and Pageflakes.  I had “discovered” Pageflakes first, so I was partial to it, willing to give it a chance versus the mighty Google.

Alas, Google has slayed yet another product.  I have to say it, Google Reader is a much better, much more consistent experience.

I really wanted to give Pageflakes the benefit of the doubt, but in the end, it was blocking software and the clunky interface that did it in.

At first, I thought it was beautiful.  All of my blogs in little windows.  Click and it takes you to the post.

That was the fatal flaw.

First of all, when I started collecting too many blogs, I had to scroll to see all of them.  Then, if someone added a picture to their entry, it would push them down so the look of the page was never the same.

But it was the clicking.  One day, I went to click on a post, and up came our block notification.  Of course, it’s a fun blog that I probably shouldn’t have been reading at work anyway, but it frustrated me…especially since the blog had been open for so long before that.  Anyway, I decided to put the feed in my Google Reader to see if it would pick it up, and sure enough, the entire post came through.

So I started moving everything into Google Reader.  It’s so nice to be able to see at a glance when things are updated.  Oh, that reminds me of another problem with Pageflakes.  It’s a little flaky (pun intended) with feeds.  Sometimes I would see an old post at the top of a feed…one that I knew was older than the most recent, and refreshing didn’t solve the problem.  And it wasn’t on just one blog…it effected all of them at one time or another.

So now that my transition is complete, I really have no reason to use Pageflakes anymore.  I have my weather on my desktop, my podcasts in iTunes and my blogs and news in Google Reader.

But there’s the shortcut, still in my toolbar.  I guess I’m just having a hard time letting go.


January 10, 2008 § 2 Comments

Our children are growing up in an increasingly global society. Is that the reason that people are becoming so extreme about their views? I don’t ever remember a time in my lifetime when we’ve been more divided as a people in this country. It seems like everyone hates everyone else. Or maybe it’s what the media wants us to think so they can keep selling commercials.

I think there will be a breaking point, and it will come soon, when people realize that our differences aren’t that different and that it’s really OK to not be just like everyone else, and it’s really OK to have different beliefs. I hope that breaking point will come because the children today will be better educated than we were.

Of course, hope alone isn’t going to make it happen. It’s going to have to be taught, and if the example I’ve been reading and listening to lately are any indication, intolerance, rather than understanding is what’s being taught.

Luckily, there are students who aren’t falling for it, and because of the global community we live in, it’s easier for their voices to be heard and their stories told than was possible when the traditional media ruled.

I read this speech the other day about Matthew LaClair, who confronted his teacher for speaking about creationism and basically saying that evolution was wrong.

Yes, I realize the site it’s on. But I think it holds valuable messages for everyone. First, one needs to realize that the site this speech is posted on is a tool for promoting atheism. In fact, a lot of the sites that have info about Matthew are atheist sites. I’ll talk more about that in a minute. The first lesson that everyone should learn from this is that you need to know who the source of your information is – or as the old adage goes, don’t believe everything you read.

Being a site that promotes atheism, the stories you read will be slanted toward the “evils” of combining government and religion. In this case, a teacher talking about religion in class. Should the teacher have talked about religion during the course of the school day? It depends. If the teacher is espousing his opinions on religion and not holding an open forum where all views are welcome to be criticized, then, no, the discussion should not take place. This is what it appears happened. As Matthew points out, he did record the class, so there is audio proof of what the teacher said.

I remember when this story broke, and what the media covered wasn’t the fact that the teacher was in the wrong for how he was running his class, they focused instead on the fact that this student did not belong to a “traditional” church, which automatically shed him in a bad light. If the student had been a Christian simply standing up for what was right, would the story have even been run in the media?

At any rate, the student’s religious affiliation shouldn’t have mattered. What should have mattered was that the teacher was wrong. Why would he feel that he had the right to talk about his views on religion? Teachers are supposed to be impartial, especially when discussing these things with students in a classroom. Especially because there may be those in the classroom whose views are different from the teacher.

Case and point, is my second example. I was listening to This American Life this morning on my iPod and was horrified almost to tears at the story in Act 1. Please click on the link and listen to it.

If you don’t have time to listen, here’s the short version: Muslim family moves to suburbia. Sept. 11 happens. Neighbors view them suspiciously even though they had been in the community for a while. On the 1 year anniversary, the school DISTRICT distributes a book “explaining” why 9/11 happened. In it, it says that Muslims brought down the towers, Muslims hate Christians and want to kill anyone who is not Christian. The fourth grade daughter of the family is brought to tears by children, who were previously her friend, tormenting her about being a Muslim. At Christmas that same year, the teacher has her students reading books about Jesus and the meaning of Christmas. She tells the students that candy canes stand for Jesus, and the red represents his blood, and that if you don’t believe in Jesus you’re going to hell. FOURTH GRADERS! I don’t care who you are, you don’t tell fourth graders in a PUBLIC SCHOOL that they’re going to hell.

I’m not saying that teachers shouldn’t talk to students about religion. That is NOT the point of this post. I’m saying that teachers should take the opportunity to EDUCATE students about religion.

I taught 6th grade Social Studies when I first started teaching. Part of the curriculum was discussion of the major religions – Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Buddhism. I taught in a school that was 98% Hispanic, which means that most of the students were Catholic. Many of these students didn’t even know that Catholicism was a branch of Christianity, let alone that there were people in the world who believed in something other than God and Jesus. But we discussed the religions, and how, even though there are differences, the big 3 – Christianity, Judaism, and Muslim, ALL basically believed in the same God, the God of Abraham.

If more people would just learn this basic fact, I think it would clear up a lot of hate in the world. If educators could detach themselves when they’re teaching and think about the harm they can do by stating opinions as fact, we could make the world a much more tolerant place.

How does this all fit in with my blog, then? Why not use the technology we have to actually hold a dialog with students and teachers in other countries. Let them ask each other questions about religion instead of shutting them down, let them know that having beliefs other than the ones you hold true are OK. It’s OK to be different. Being different leads to better collaboration, leads to a better understanding of why people are the way they are.

Let’s really start using technology to solve the world’s problems.

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