Too Much Technology?

What is it that makes a public school valuable?  Is it the information it provides?  Is it the opportunities that available there? Going forward in these times of inter-connectivity, where the physical school building and the learning experiences are not synonymous, what do public schools provide that is exclusive?  What do individual schools have available that is not available anywhere else including other public schools? The answer: Relationships.  The face to face, regular social relationships that almost all of us crave are available there (or at least they should be).  I certainly remember that favorite teacher, the good times in classes, and the interactions I had that made my “schooling” a valuable experience.  After all, if Salmon Kahn can teach all the kids in the school Algebra better than the teachers employed there, why does the school keep those teachers employed?  Technology in the form of computers, smartphones, netbooks, web 2.0 tools…etc, are great things, as long as there is an allowance made for nurturing relationships where students feel valued and their learning is important enough for a personal touch by a caring teacher. Using online tools to grade student work, to set up outside of class meeting for students, and to schedule when things are due, can make a lot of what we do in school convenient, but when the use of those modes of communication crowd out meaningful, face to face contact, schools loose that one advantage they have: real, live, meaningful social relationships. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to lining up to drink from the fire hose of information available via Twitter or other social media tools, I have been a frequent costumer for a long time.  Although I am not the most savvy user, I would like to think I am pretty proficient at finding and using the information that is useful for me to further my own professional development.  The beauty of the Internet and its connectivity is its ability to connect people and resources in ways that were not available a decade ago.  I believe the connectivity and sharing of ideas and resources has revolutionized many parts of our culture. Schools need to take advantage of and change their structure to accommodate the possibilities available via these technologies, but they cannot forget to leverage the one thing they have over the budding industry of online schools…real, live, meaningful interactions.  Need some proof of the human need for this live interaction?  Follow the tweets of the folks attending the annual ISTE Summer Conference in San Diego this June.  Inevitably they will talk about how amazing it is to connect with their personal learning network, live and in person.  It will be the most incredible PD available…..why?  Because they will get what they crave:  Real, live, face-to-face interaction with people they usually only interact with online.  Do we depend to much on technology?  No.  But we must not forget to emphasize the one thing that truly differentiates and gives value to our brick and mortar schools: real, meaningful, face-to-face relationships!

Photo courtesy of the humansocietyoftheunitedstates photostream on Flickr

So What Has Changed Since I Started Blogging and Tweeting?

  • The first PHSprincipalBlog (changed to Director 4/1/2009) post was on 9/18/2007.       (332 posts overall)
  • I have been on Twitter for 4 years, 3 months, 2 weeks, 4 days, 1 hour, 27 minutes, 23 seconds (Nov. 29, 2007) according to

My activity on my blog as well as on Twitter have diminished as of late. I still find an incredible amount of value/entertainment by engaging in the online discussions, I just find it harder to make time to write and send out 140 character tidbits.  My participation in these discussions has ebbed and flowed over the past four years and I am sure I will get more bursts of blogging energy.  As I contemplate these little facts, I am really surprised that I have been at it so long.  Time is passing at what seems like an ever increasing rate.  I would swear that every year I live gets shorter! One question that has surfaced in my mind of late is how have these “practices” changed me?  Changed our school?  Has there been a real value created for the teachers and students at PCHS?

Changes in my personal practice
  1. I have discovered a wide range of educational bloggers, created an RSS feed for my favorites, and read the ideas and thoughts of my favorites everyday.  I think carving out a part of my day to read about what others are doing in their schools has been one of the most productive changes I have made.  View my Google Reader feed.
  2. I have made presentations to administrators across the state about using social media to connect to one another and to inform their practice.  (an example)
  3. I use Youtube to inform my school community and Board of Education. (example)
  4. Attended ISTE 11 and met many educators who share similar passions about making public education stronger by using modern technology to engage and connect students. (Live From the Blogger Cafe)
  5. Committed myself to lead my staff by being a transparent learner.  I have been become a SMART certified trainer, a proficient user of Google apps, a regular user of Evernote and Diigo to catalogue Internet resources, as well as a Twitter and Facebook in the classroom proponent.
  6. Have been a regular user of an iPad and iPhone to make my daily work more efficient.

“So what?” You may ask.  Well, so what is what I say as well.  Because none of that means a thing to anybody but me.  If all I have done is taught my self how to use these tools then I have failed to lead.  I have failed to make much of a difference in the lives of students and the learning experiences they have a on a daily basis.

So what has changed at PCHS?  

  1. The first blog a PCHS was not mine, nor was the second, (both by our Librarian/Curriculum Specialist-Sarah Hill), but my act of accepting the challenge to blog (again by Ms. Hill) eventually led to a steady group of PCHS teacher bloggers.
  2. Not only have teachers started blogging a PCHS, we also have several groups of students that are blogging (here, and here, for example). By the way, they love to see that people from across the country and world visit their blogs!
  3. A small legion (is there such a thing?) of PCHS teachers have joined Twitter and occasionally they actually tweet something.  I know they lurk more than actively participate, but several are drinking from the fire hose of educational content that flows on Twitter. Our AP Literature class  has had #hashtag chats about the books they are reading and the teacher has used a Twitter back-channel to promote in-class discussion.
  4. Did I mention that some of our teachers are blogging?  Check out this top Art Blog by our own @DestinGirl73
  5. Our freshman English classes have done online-Shakespeare projects where students have created “Facebook-like” pages for the characters and have interacted with students from different sections virtually using different Web 2.0 tools.
  6. I think one of the best by-products of our experimentation with transparent learning has been our willingness to take risks.  This past fall we decided to do an all school thematic-project based learning unit where we turned off the bells, disregarded normal class grouping patterns and let the students and teacher work together to solve engaging problems…check out PumpkinPalooza2011!  We just did a presentation about this project to the Illinois High Schools Connections Conference!
  7. We have begun to see where subject areas and individual classes are beginning to “cross-pollinate”.  Chemistry classes and clothing classes are meeting together. Geometry classes and Consumer Science classes are finding common ground and are meeting together.  Art and English. Welding and Art. English and Science.  We may find that we can build high school co-credit classes where students can earn more that just a credit in one area, they may earn credit for (for example Geometry and Drafting) two classes at the same time.  The possibilities are being explored.  That is the most exciting thing.
  8. Students are meeting with human resources both virtually and in “real life” on a more regular basis.  We have had students visit local businesses and have had visitors to classrooms via the Internet as well conventionally.
We still have a lot of work to do, but I feel more strongly than ever before that we are willing to meet the challenges to make our learning environments relevant and engaging.  We have the unique opportunity to design and build a new school complex that will be both flexible and transparent and able to accommodate learning for today’s world and the challenges of tomorrow.


Learner Frustration! Old Dog-New Tricks

Photo by phsprincipal

We have to remember that learning new things can be very frustrating.  My experience this week certainly has been that way.  I have several things I am working on in my very scarce spare time and when things did not go right this week, frustration set in.  Sometimes the necessary gets in the way of what we are passionate about.  Talk to your students. They get very frustrated when what they want to learn about is overshadowed by what they “have” to learn about.  For this blog I have decided to start with the positive first. Last week when Ken Royal tweeted out about administrators interviewing about positive things they are doing in their practice, I decided to jump in.  To create my part of the interview, I downloaded Audacity and made an audio file for the The Royal Treatment. Full disclosure:  I had used Audacity before to make recordings so technically, I re-learned how to do it.  I did use for the first time transfer my audio files to be used on the podcast.  Here is a short screencast with a demonstration of how I made my audio file (apologies to those devices without flash!)
Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Now for the frustrating part for me.  As you know, I learned how to download and edit video using my iPad, so I have decided to make a fantastic Christmas lipdub using my iPad.  The problem is that there is no way to create multiscreen edits with the iPad that I have found.  So I have down loaded the free movie editor called Lightworks.  Lightworks seems to be a fairly powerful, open source(free), movie editor.  The learning curve is quite steep for this old dog though.  It has been hard for me to put together my lipdub, having started over many times because I have very little ability to be entertaining unless I am unintentionally screwing something up.  Hopefully it will come together before Christmas!???

Next on the horizon: How to create a website using Drupal.