Archive for February, 2007

International Children’s Digital Library The International Children’s Digital Library is another excellent reading resource. Several books can be accessed and read online. Their mission statement is as follows:

“The mission of the International Children’s Digital Library Foundation is to excite and inspire the world’s children to become members of the global community – children who understand the value of tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas — by making the best in children’s literature available online.”

This resource is another associated with an earlier post: Reading is Fundamental. Enjoy!

Global GangIn the latest issue of Tech Trends from the AECT was a review of the online Flash based game Disaster Watch. The game, from Christian Aid, shows students “how to limit damage to a local community when disaster strikes.” At the end of the game students are given an opportunity to read about real-life stories of children who have survived disasters. This game follows along the lines of the Third World Farmer Game I shared a few days ago. The game is part of a larger educational site called Global Gang that has other activities and resources that are interesting too. Although these role playing games are far from real life, they do surround and address important issues that can facilitate discussion and reflection on the everyday lives of people from around the world. Try Disaster Watch today!

TuxYesterday I read about the Ohio school district that is planning to replace the operating systems on computers running Windows ME in their school district with Linux. The savings by not upgrading to Windows XP is estimated to be around $412,000.00. Obviously these computers do not have the capabilities to upgrade to Windows Vista, but with Linux the life of the machines will be extended. What to do with legacy equipment is often an issue in school districts. Getting the biggest bang for your buck in an institution with a limited budget is important. Linux is a viable choice, and I am curious as to what version of Linux the Ohio district has chosen or will choose. Whatever it is, they appear to be making a wise decision that will save money, utilize operable equipment, and expose their students to another operating system choice that is for the most part FREE!

Edubuntu is a FREE version of Linux that is expressly designed for use in schools. You can try the operating system without installing it on a computer by downloading, burning, and using a Live CD version. After you try it out, it can easily be installed from this CD and placed on a PC or Mac computer. Edubuntu also comes with OpenOffice.org installed and provides a nice alternative office suite of software for word processing, etc. Other versions of this “family” of Linux distributions include Ubuntu, Kubuntu, and Xubuntu. Each version can have education software installed later if one wanted to choose specific programs found in Edubuntu for specifc grade level needs. Xubuntu is designed to work on computers with limited capabilities (memory, processor, etc.) and may be a good choice for an old computer you want to continue using at home or would like to donate to a school or a student in your family or neighborhood. There are many other possibilities with other versions of Linux.

The concern for many people is the ability to be able to use Windows dependent programs, and this is being addressed with emulation software via WINE or Crossover Linux. Some of these solutions will have cost, but when compared to upgrading commercial software and/or hardware there is a huge savings. With tightening budgets for technology, open source solutions are becoming popular, and we will probably see more schools like the one in Ohio making the move to Linux.

As I mentioned a few days ago I have been reading David Warlick’s book Raw Materials for the Mind. Having been a “technocentric” educator for the past 13 years much of Mr. Warlick’s information is review for me (I can always use a good review!); nevertheless, this is an excellent text for those who are getting in on the technology integration process in their classrooms. David surveys various web tools in a systematic process that enables the reader to utilize the vast resources found on the Internet in an easy to follow manner. I highly recommend this book to teachers that want to increase their technology “toolkit” as it is literally an “owner’s manual” and “how to guide” on web utilization. Administrators, instructional technology directors, and department heads would be wise to digest and pass on the information found within.

Now, this begs the question, why are so many educators not utilizing technology and the Internet to supplement and diversify their classrooms? With texts like Warlick’s Raw Materials for the Mind and so many other resources, it seems, from my observations, that many are only scraping the surface of these powerful tools. Innovation is obviously carried out via diffusion, and as I spend my days I see technology incoporated and integrated into almost every aspect of human life in the developed world. American education seems so far behind as an institution when it comes to the rest of daily life. Granted, there are examples of technology use in schools today, but it does not exist in a seamless fashion. Technology in education is almost a novelty or something to “do” separately rather than “be” natural to a certain extent.

I believe that things are changing, but the diffusion process in schools is tortoise like. Levels of use seem to hang at the awareness level but can’t seem to overcome some huge barrier that prevents extended, deeper utilization. In part, I think there is some resistance based on fear, but there are so many new teachers entering the workforce that I would think we would see a large upturn in technology use. I think that it is a matter of a lack of support and training in school districts today that serves as a major stumbling block in this dilemma. Not enough central office administrators recognize the need for a knowlegeable instructional technology support staff that can diffuse technology integration via professional development by training, assisting, encouraging, and nuturing educator’s technology use and integration. District office personnel see the need for information technology support staff that administer networks or repair hardware, but these important service people often do not have the experience, training, or skills to transfer the application of this “heartware” into a classrom setting. The heart is maintained, but the rest of the body doesn’t seem as active as it could or should be! I think a few districts are starting to figure this out, but they seem few and far between at this point in time.

Do you agree, and if so how do we change this?

A few days ago I posted about my foray in publishing a book through Lulu.com. Today the book arrived and it was quite fun to see the “finished” work. I plan to go through it and refine a few things before offering it up, but for now I am just pleased with the process and especially the results from Lulu.

Instructional Technology in Theory and Practice by Neil Hokanson

Developing Beginning and Early Readers

With growing readers at my house it becomes imperative that we provide a supportive, positive, and modeled environment that encourages reading. My 6 year-old son is reading books that his kindergarten teacher sends home each day. My 14 year-old daughter and 10 year-old son are avid readers, and my 8 year-old son recognizes activities that often trump reading. My 3 year-old daughter loves stories and is fascinated that her 6 year-old big brother can now read! Reading is important in our home, and that is a key element in the success of any child’s reading development. Three sites that have been part of our early reading support in our home are as follows:

BookPALS Storyline Online

Learn to Read at Starfall

Reading is Fundamental

My son’s kindergarten reading program: Little Books

My older children’s school reading programs: Reading Mastery Horizons and Accelerated Reader

Please share your online finds that provide support for early and continuing readers!

“Computing award goes to female for first time” CNN.com

On another note, I was pleased to read the following article (linked here) about Frances E. Allen, the first woman to receive the Turing Award:

“One of the most prestigious prizes in computing, the $100,000 Turing Award, went to a woman Wednesday for the first time in the award’s 40-year history. Frances E. Allen, 74, was honored for her work at IBM Corp. on techniques for optimizing the performance of compilers, the programs that translate one computer language into another. This process is required to turn programming code into the binary zeros and ones actually read by a computer’s colossal array of minuscule switches.” (CNN.com)

For my two daughters, and the “flat world,” Allen serves as a great role-model for young girls and women around the world. Congratulations!!!

Annenberg Media

Annenberg Media is an excellent educational resource. As the site states:

“Teacher resources and teacher professional development programming for K-12 teachers FREE through our satellite channel and Video on Demand.”

I have used this site for several years, and I highly recommend educators take a look at the multiple, interdisciplinary resources you will find there. It is excellent for content specific professional development, and the “Video on Demand” resources are superior!!!

The World is Flat by Thomas FriedmanThomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat is an interesting look at how, according to the author, technology has “flattened” the world and opened up the connections that people can make. It looks at the leveling of the playing field in business, education, and overall life, and offers ideas on how to deal with the competition that has been created now that parts of the world that once were isolated are now in the thick of globalization. Friedman points out the constant, upward swing that is being achieved by people in China, India, and other parts of the world, and the slumbering position of many Americans in the process. While young people in China and India are working hard to stake their claims in the tech driven world, young people in the United States are seemingly focused on sports, video games, and television.

Although the situation is not simply that cut and dry, Friedman does illustrate the crisis that continues to grow for those who are seemingly oblivious to this flattening effect as the world changes and becomes more connected. Friedman’s challenge is that Americans wake up to the task at hand and make sure young people are prepared for this new world that is being created whether one notices the changes or not! Science and engineering are two areas that Friedman identifies as in great need of attention, but identifies current decisions that shy away from a focus on these fields. Friedman points out that the tools (especially technology) exist for most people to take part in this collaborative process, and that it is not too late to make it in this “flat world.”

On a personal note I will share the flattening effects in my world that Friedman may have not had an opportunity to see or recognize. I grew up on a ranch that was homesteaded by my great-grandfather in the late 1800s. I watched the world flatten in the dairy barn as milk cans sitting in a water tank and loaded by hand onto a truck were replaced with the installation of a bulk tank that could be connected via a hose to the milk truck. I sat in sales offices as new tractors and equipment were purchased that increased the productivity of the ranch. I witnessed beef cattle go from short, fat, and stocky to tall, lean, and efficient animals. I sat on tractors and put up hay, cleaned out barns and sheds, raised cattle to show at the county and state fairs, spent time outside with my family working together, witnessed nature in its fullest form, and lived a life that is slowly passing into history that some would label legend.

The RanchFriedman mentions farmers in the context of needing to become environmentally responsible. What farmers is he talking to? Huge, corporate farms that are “flourishing” and “creating,” as opposed to growing, food in this flat world? The few family farms that are left where I grew up have always been environmentally responsible; however, those days are coming to an end as these properties (open spaces) are being sold to make way for housing developments. These developments are not for the so called middle class, but are retreats for the wealthy. This is the flat world I see where I come from.

My dream was to take over the ranch of my forefathers. Was it the flat world that took that dream away? In part I believe it did. Friedman speaks of the need to adapt and change to meet the challenges of this flat world. Despite my deep down desire to work the land I met resistance in that I was encouraged to get an education, a degree. This is not necessarily a bad thing! I did, and became an educator. My thoughts were this will allow for an opportunity to get back to my roots with skills I can use elsewhere while working the land. Not so, with the demands of one career, education, the other could not be. Why? Because I have a firm belief that you must focus on your job at hand. My job was to educate the youth of my community with all the passion and focus that I felt was expected by the community.

In the meantime, the world was flattening. As it flattened I added to my skill set by studying and earning a master’s degree in instructional technology to keep pace with the changes. It became so flat that the land of my forefathers gained value. Not value in the agricultural sense, but value in the fact that it was an open space. Now an open space that will be filled, defeating its beauty and attractiveness. Nevertheless, it was inevitable in this so called flat world. It is a world based on economic gain, in part based on greed, but also based on survival.

Draft HorsesThe generation that sold the homestead was the generation that is most affected by this flat world. A world that is passing many people by because they do not have the time to revamp and reload to keep pace; however, in the end it is my generation that is now required to compete on a global level and actually seems to have had to let the legacy all go by the wayside. To an extent my generation’s hands are tied by economic trends that out price land and under value human skills and competencies.

Then, what about my children? What type of world are we creating for them? If my future is so uncertain in a competitive, globalized, flat world, I am quite concerned about what we are creating or leaving for them. Yes, they will have to work hard to compete, to become educated, to become flexible, to prepare for and adapt to change, but what legacy is left for them?

In 1993, my wife and I took her grandfather back to where he had grown up on his father’s homestead in Platte, South Dakota. The farm had been sold many years before but much of what he and his family had constructed via blood, sweat, and tears remained; although, in a deteriorating state of existence. As I filmed him describing the various buildings and as he reminisced about those days gone by I was shaken by the reality that this would be me someday, standing where I grew up, on property now owned by someone else, describing a way of life that was gone for me and my posterity too. That is what a flat world is to me. Flat and void of any opportunity to carry on tradition, working the land, spending time outdoors, working together as a family.

The ChildrenThese opportunities have been disappearing for many years now. Being able to get sushi, or a latte anywhere, anytime, and as fast as possible has become the mark of advancement, progress, and social satisfaction. To me, this is not progress and to a certain extent it is repulsive. Progress is in the eye of the beholder, and there are some things worth saving. Why are we giving legacies away or selling them? I think because of the attitudes that the world is flat and it is viewed as a game as to who can gain, amass, and capture wealth. Those who sell the legacy are often caught up in other people’s activities in that game, and those other people do not care about the legacy. These “opportunists” are only concerned about taking advantage of people in this flat world and the cash that is gained in the process with no thought of the prospective expense to a progeny.

In geographic terms relief is how high and rugged or low and flat a place is. High relief is steep, low relief is flat. Relief in other terms is freedom from anxiety or distress; so, could we say low relief or a flat world brings high anxiety and much distress? I think there may be something to that. Taking advantage of something or someone isn’t always a good thing and often results in anxiety and stress: low relief to many for sure! This flat world, that I think has some truth to it, is literally flattening ways of life that have intrinsic value. Value that is lost once it is flattened, sold, replaced, globalized, and “economized.” Now, I will move on and continue to take my place in this flat world as a competitor, trying to survive, and I guess win, but what is the prize? I don’t like sushi and don’t drink latte! To this point, that is my flat world. What is yours?

I am nearing the end of Thomas Friedman’s book The World is Flat. I have plans to share my summary/thoughts on this text soon, but in the meantime I thought a link to the interview of Mr. Friedman on NPR would make for a good listen. This interview is what first piqued my curiosity in the book, but I was in the middle of my master’s program and had to put it on my “to read later” list (Much later, but now I have the “expanded” edition!). I have always learned a lot from Mr. Friedman’s reporting and written works in the past. I may not always agree with everything he has to say, but he is definitely one who piques my curiosity and stimulates my critical thinking skills. Enjoy!

For review purposes I think it is important that we investigate and understand the idea/reality of Web 2.0. The following video does a pretty good job at explaining the parts, ideas, and people behind it (We the people are the main role players!):

I have been reflecting on my technology use in the classroom and wanted to narrow down five things that enabled me to be successful in that pursuit:

1.  Set aside a section of time each week to focus on technology (ie. One Planning Hour).

2.  Search for, join, and collaborate with other educators that are actively integrating technology in their classrooms (In House and Online).

3.  Before creating an activity that utilizes technology, look for existing activities (Don’t reinvent the wheel!).

4.  Be patient and try, try again (It may not always work like you wanted it to, but don’t give up!).

5.  Listen to and act upon criticism from students and actively involve them in integrating technology (Students have great ideas on how to use technology to learn!).

I can think of many more, but these are five I believe have helped me the most.  What do you suggest?

Geni is an online family tree generator that uses AJAX allowing for an easy to create geneology map!  It has the ability to add more detailed information such as pictures, dates, etc., and is quite fun to use.  Try it out, and I think it has a lot of possibilities in a classroom setting for family history projects.

As I am reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat I started thinking about it as a social scientist (I am a social studies teacher in my previous training). The thought of relief came to mind. In simple geographic terms relief is how steep or flat an area is: high relief is steep, low relief is flat.

Then, I thought of relief in terms of ease of burden or anxiety and how that compares to the geographic definitions and combined the ideas. Following Friedman’s premise a round world could be associated with high relief. In effect, as people are separated by geography and the physical barriers that exist (distance, terrain, water, etc.) the world is isolated, maybe even simple (less anxiety?). A flat world would then exhibit low relief! Remember, I am combining definitions of relief here. Continuing this idea, with “low relief” in a flat world we are more connected, the playing field is leveled, but now there is more anxiety, unknown (danger?). Although the opportunities are now open and more diverse with new technologies in a flat world, there is “low relief.”

So, my premise is “The World is Flat,” but there is “Low Relief” especially for those who benefited from a round world for so long. What do you think? Have I committed too many historical fallacies and linguistic twists!?!

On a side note, I found this cool video of what appears to be some students’ project describing relief (geography) and temperature. Enjoy!

I’ve known about Lulu.com for quite some time now and always wanted to try it. Their website states:

Lulu is fast, easy and free
Publish and sell easily within minutes.
No set-up fees. No minimum order.
Keep control of the rights.
Set your own price.
Each product is printed as it is ordered.
No excess inventory.

The key is having content to upload for publishing; so, that task aside I gave Lulu a try. The process is just as described on the site, and I would say very easy. For now my publication is not available for sale as I have ordered a copy to preview. It will take 3-5 days to produce, and I should get it by the end of next week!

On another book note, I am currently reading Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat and David Warlick’s Raw Materials for the Mind. I have been meaning to get Friedman’s book since last Fall. He is a wonderful journalist and author, and I actually developed an entire lesson plan around his report “Searching for the Roots of 9/11” that I used with my geography students the past few years. Concerning the other text, this is my first Warlick book, but I know from what I have learned from his blog (2 Cents Worth) and podcasts (Connect Learning) it will be an informative and beneficial read. I will report on my thoughts on these texts as I work through them.

The World Is Flat [Updated and Expanded] : A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
The World Is Flat [Updated and Expanded] : A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century

Raw Materials for the Mind
Raw Materials for the Mind

Given an ideal educational setting what would be your hopes and dreams? Some of mine would be: laptops for every secondary student; wireless connectivity in all buildings; enlightening professional development; immersive technology integration; wholesale collaboration among staff, parents, students and the community; and the resources to fund, manage, and sustain it all!

Given a current educational setting what are your hopes and dreams? A few of mine include: a caring technology support staff that is not overburdened and that is equipped and available to offer training and assistance with a focus on technology integration in the learning process; every staff member represented with an online web presence (web pages, especially a blog); full utilization of current technology hardware and software in the classroom; students engaged in dialogue with staff, each other, and parents concerning the social skills particularly when it comes to technology in today’s world; responsible, research based decision making when it comes to the life of and utility of hardware and software; a serious consideration of open source options; and a positive outlook and approach as to what we already have access to with an eye on what we can try or do in the future.

Please share your hopes and dreams on an ideal and/or current educational setting!

The folks at Infinite Thinking Machine have a video that is relevent to my topic here: