The World is full of High Fliers

I tried an interesting experiment this week within my various Professional Learning Communities. Inspired by a fascinating radio piece by John Hodgeman on This American Life about superheroes, I asked folks a fairly simple question: If you could have the power of flight or invisibility, which would you choose and what would you do with that power?

If you look at the graph above, you’ll see that most of the 30 respondents chose flight over invisibility. Hodgeman also found that a lot of folks chose flight (he went into bars and other social places to ask his question).

Hodgeman observed that, unlike the superheroes of comic books, most of the people he surveyed would not necessarily always use their powers for the good of the world, but instead, they would use it for themselves and family. I found some of the same in my survey. A few folks would fly to warmer climates (or, as one person put it: “I would get the hell out of the cold!”); or avoid airports for traveling the world (“Flight would make transportation easier and help me with time management as it would not take as long to get places!”; or save on some carbon fuels (I guess that is saving the world, right?).

Another interesting thing that Hodgeman found was that invisibility seemed to be chosen by people who see themselves more as introverts, who want to slip away unseen and be part of the background, while those choosing flight seem to be extroverts, impressing the world with their powers. Pretty fascinating.

And one person, explaining their choice of flight, noted:  “As a youngster growing up and for the first few years teaching and as a new wife, I spend far too much time trying to be invisible, to get along and not make waves, to accommodate, and to please — so “invisibility” has a rather negative connotation.

Here are the comments from folks who chose invisibility:

  • I would fade away at certain moments and then hear what the world says when I am not listening.
  • I would like to invisibly be where I should not be, hear what is not meant for my ears, see what is not meant for my eyes.
  • I would slip silently through the darkness, and blend in with the night.  I would sit in stillness in the woods.  I would disappear when a chronic complainer was seeking me out.  I would be a fly on the wall and listen to interesting conversations without feeling the need to but in.  I would hide in plain sight.  I would stand behind someone who needed the comfort of just knowing I was there.
  • I would spy and steal things gather information and sell it.
  • Among other things, I would “hide” when I got into a little trouble.  Also I have to admit, I always thought it would be cool to be a spy and what better power to have for that job.
  • Escape and observe.

And a few of the comments from those who chose flight:

  • I choose flight: fly, float, sail, soar. With that power I’d have the bird’s eye perspective, the really big picture, the true world view. Swoosh.
  • I would like the freedom that flight would give me. I could go wherever I wanted and get a bigger picture of my world. I could even fly back to the Caribbean to watch the sunset. Being invisible would bring me in closer to people, add stress to my life, and show me things I’d rather not see or know.
  • This would be my Star Trek Transporter. I could officially add the words “Beam me up” to my vocabulary and head anywhere I wish…and do so quickly. No more gas-guzzling vehicles, no more airport security or delayed flights. I would use my flight superpower for personal endeavors…and to save the random child falling from a tree or get down the cat stuck in it.
  • I am going to go with flying since my life would be markedly better if I could get places faster. But my true secret desire is to be invisible–that superpower just fits my personality better. I am very loud and easily excitable and would like the ability to slip in and out of places unnoticed.
  • I would fly. I know that sounds simple, but just imagine being able to do in real life what we occasionally get to do in our dream. In flight, I would be free. Invisible, I think I would be bound more than ever before.
  • I’m sure I’d be able to have more power over others with invisibility, but in the end I think flying would be more personally fun, which is more my thing.  What would I do with my flight power?  Why, I’d fly, silly!
  • Go on grand adventures, sometimes on my own and sometimes with my pet chickens (tucked under my arms and on my shoulder) as the poor darlings can hardly get airborne on their own.
    Life would be easier and more exciting!

Chickens?

Thanks to everyone who participated. I guess I will leave the survey open for anyone else who wants to join in. You can find it by going here.

Peace (in invisibility, my choice),
Kevin

Which would you choose? Invisibility or Flight?

I know this is a strange post, but I was recently listening to a fascinating radio piece by John Hodgeman for This American Life (the entire show was about superheroes). Hodgeman went around, asking people to choose between two superpowers: Invisibility or Flight. And then, he asked, what would you do with that power? It was so interesting what he discovered.
So, I figured, why not ask my friends the same question. Please take this two-question poll and pass it along your networks, too. I’ll share the results on another day.


Peace (in the powers),
Kevin

When a Whole School Blogs

(Note: this is cross-posted over at the NWP Walkabout site, too).

This is a podcast reflection of a conversation that I had with Tim Tyson after the Dublin Literacy Conference had ended and we were all at dinner. I asked Tyson about his old middle school, where he (as principal) had every teacher in the building reflecting on classroom practice and activities via blogs at least once a week. I was most interested in what he discovered and how he helped reluctant teachers along.

Listen to my podcast reflections

Peace,
Kevin

Thoughts about Dublin Lit Conference

(this is adapted from a post I wrote for a NWP blog)

“The gifted educator of the 21st Century is you — the precious teacher in the classroom.” – Tim Tyson

I’ll give Tim Tyson this: he can give an inspiring presentation.
Tyson (http://drtimtyson.com/) was the keynote speaker at the Dublin Literacy Conference in Dublin, Ohio, and if his job was to get this crowd of about 500 teachers thinking deep about the possibilities of technology and new media in our schools, he succeeded. Tyson arrived on stage just after an incredible group of student Japanese Taiko drummers created a joyful roar of rhythms and chanting that woke us all up to the beauty of student creativity.
Once the drums stopped beating and Tyson took the stage, you could barely hear a sound in the room as Tyson first showed us how he was podcasting, screencasting and using such tools as an online polling site (http://www.polleverywhere.com/) that participants in the audience used their cellphones to vote with, with live data spilling onto the large screen in front of us.

But it was the powerful stories of students using technology for learning, for reaching a global audience through research on important topics, and for pushing themselves beyond the normal expectations that had me (and others) hooked on the message. He didn’t mince words either, letting us know in plain language that the time is now for teachers to be tapping into emerging technologies that are central to the life of our students.
He said it is not enough to have the latest equipment in the room. We must also be thoughtful in guiding students to use it for learning and not just for creating random projects with no substance.
“The hard part (of using technology) is not having to plug in the interactive whiteboard,” Tyson said. “The hard part of our job is envisioning instructional practice in a completely different way than we have ever envisioned it before. That’s the challenge.”
And he noted that while assessment of learning is critical, “Too often, grading kills learning,” and he urged us as teachers to find way to measure learning that is meaningful for the students, so they feel empowered and supported along the way.
“The gifted educator of the 21st Century is you — the precious teacher in the classroom,” Tyson said. “We’re living in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and these don’t come around too often. It would be a shame to waste it.”
I hope Tyson’s message got through, and I think it did.
In the sessions where I presented, I tried to remind folks that it is OK to take incremental steps forward with technology, as long as the steps are being taken. We owe it to our students to find ways to engage our young people with technology, and for many teachers, events like the Dublin Literacy Conference may be the only real place where they will hear that message in a way that resonates as loud and as powerful as those Taiko drums.
You can almost hear the beat of innovation from way over here.

Peace (in the rhythm),
Kevin

Brain full of Concert details

My head is swimming with the details (and chords and lyrics) for our Benefit Concert scheduled for tomorrow night. There is some snow forecast (darn you, Mother Nature!) but I think we should be OK for the concert. It would be a pain to cancel and reschedule, given the number of acts of student and staff musicians on hand. (The Concert is raising money for Pennies for Peace and book donations for schools in New Orleans).

Yesterday, I was so happy because our librarian, Pati, agreed to sing my Haiti song for the concert and we practiced a bit yesterday. She has a lovely voice and I am excited to use a new song for the event.

Take a listen to the demo of “I Fall Apart.”

I hope to enlist a student to run my videocamera, so we can create  a video of the event. We’ll see ..

Peace (in the concert),
Kevin

The Path to Music

I was in our downtown over the weekend with my son, celebrating a great report card with a lunch at his favorite place to eat. Nearby, I noticed a store that I used to go to all the time. It is an eclectic used CD store. I used to browse through and almost always come out with something.

Not anymore, I realized, and although I felt the pull to head in there after lunch, I resisted. What would I do with a new CD? I only use an MP3 player for music in the house now. I felt sad about this and it reminded me of the transition from vinyl to CD (but I don’t miss 8-track days). But the reality is that I have a collection of discs that I never even look at. Their time has come and gone.

I did buy a new album this weekend by an artist named James Maddock.

That path I took was interesting: I was reading Paste Magazine, which has barely survived the tumult of the magazine world but remains a favorite of mine, and flipping through the music reviews. I saw an advertisement and read through some of the claims of “best album of 2009” and more. Hmmm. In the past, I would have written a note and put it in my wallet for the future. Maybe I would stumble upon the album. Maybe not.

Not now. Now, I jumped on my computer and headed over to LaLa, a music site, where I searched for James Maddock, and listened to a few cuts from the album that was getting such praise. Nice, I thought. I pulled out my iPod touch, connected to iTunes, downloaded the album and in about ten minutes, the house was alive with the music of James Maddock.

That is the digital revolution when it comes to music.

Peace (in the process),
Kevin

A Technology Manifesto for our School District

I wrote a few weeks ago about a meeting that some of us had in our school district around angling technology towards the center of the identity of our school district. I kept thinking about it and worried that if no one followed up on the meeting, the whole idea would just sputter out to nothing. There is still that possibilities, but I wrote down my own ideas for the school district administration and shared them this week on an Etherpad document, urging the principals and superintendents to collaborate on it (nothing yet).

Here were some of my main points of my manifesto:

Goals: How we do make our use of technology in the Hampshire Regional Schools more visible to the public (inside and outside of Hampshire Regional) and continue to integrate meaningful technology into the classrooms?

Rationale: We have invested, and continue to invest, significant funds into technology purchases in our school district. We “earn” significant money from School of Choice students electing to come here but we also lose significant funds from our students going elsewhere, too. By branding our district as one that is infused with technology and innovation, we have the opportunity to create an identity as a district that is preparing students for the world of the future. Beyond the marketing concept, the creation of this identity might help more teachers take the first steps into using technology in meaningful ways because they want to identify with the goals of the district. Finally, this shift might open the door for more grant opportunities for our district, as most organizations want to see the groundwork already in place before handing out money.

Audience: the public

  • Better public relations: Contact newspapers about technology-infused projects that showcase student engagement. Don’t be afraid of the press. Reporters love an easy story, and technology is still flashy for the newspapers. And if they can see kids doing something, creating something — that is even better. Make the reporter’s life easier by getting everything set up and ready for them, and positive stories will get written.
  • School websites — There should not be a single empty webpage on any of our sites. At the very least, every teacher should have a headshot and a welcome message. An overview of their curriculum would be helpful, too. And any sample projects gives more content to a site. An empty page sends a message that the school is not yet made its way into the 21st Century. Remember: for some teachers, even this step is difficult, but we need to create the illusion at least that we are all tech-savvy.
  • A unified technology mission statement: It would be nice to have some district-wide mission statement around our views of technology. In my view, the statement needs to be student-centered (remember, our audience is parents here) and engagement with technology for meaningful reasons that enhance our curriculum and prepare students for a world that does not yet exist. The tools are not nearly as important as the students.
  • I suggest we also create a short, five-minute video documentary of technology in our district that could be placed front and center at our district website and perhaps even on our individual school websites. It could showcase some student projects, some teachers talking about technology integration and give a flavor of some of the work going on. Quality will be the key here.
  • What about an App? I know this is a stretch, but some schools are starting to develop an App for iTunes that provides a feed of news from a school district. (see this article: http://www.billingsmiddleschool.org/beta/2010/01/20/billings-middle-school-iphone-app-released/) Even if the response is not overwhelming, a Hampshire Regional School District App puts the notion out there that our district is leap-years ahead of other school districts. Of course, then there is the issue of who would be responsible for putting news out there. We don’t want a dead App like we have dead Webpages.
  • Family Technology Night: Given the rise emerging technologies, it might make sense to have a night for families to come in to our schools and use the technology themselves. We could have parents and students work on a digital story together, for example. It would also provide yet another opportunity to talk about the pros and cons of kids and technology — a realistic view that technology is not the answer, but another tool for engagement.

Audience: the staff

  • Create a database/collection of successful technology: We know colleagues are using technology but we never get a chance to share or learn from each other. Why not find a simple (ease of use is key here) to collect ideas, lesson plan ideas, websites and contacts from within our district where folks are doing these ideas. We make our teachers the leaders.
  • Sharing tools/resources: This is similar to the last item. If there are resources out there that are useful, let’s share them with each other. What have my colleagues used that has been successful?
  • Technology coach/partner: This is a critical piece of the puzzle here. In my experience, there is a group of teachers who may never see the value of technology, and there is a group of teachers who are doing all they can to use technology. It’s the middle group that we want to make the shift — they see the value, but are not ready to do it on their own. We need to find a way to create partnerships or have technology coaches (like a literacy coach) to work with teachers in their classrooms for an extended period of time to plan and implement technology integration into the curriculum.
  • Technology Across the Curriculum — Teachers need to know that technology is a tool for any curriculum area. It is not a drop-off class, or some enrichment activity for high-achieving students. Technology can have a place in science, in social studies, in math and more. And this technology across the curriculum might lead to more collaboration among teachers, too.
  • Grade-level Teacher Collaborations — Perhaps the easiest way to begin is to have teachers at a common grade level work together on some unified tech-related project that starts first with collaboration among the teachers, and then extends out to the classroom. For example, students could do a community-based action project that involves some research of the place where they live that has a community service component to the project, and then use a blog or wiki site to post writing, podcasts, video tours, etc, for students in other towns. We could open it up for peer feedback across the schools. (note: this would also be good public relations moment)
  • Technology as part of any curriculum initiative — Instead of treating technology as an add-on, let’s make it a central part of any curriculum initiative that we do — even if it is as simple as sharing reflections through a collaborative site after a workshop session. I always want to know what my colleagues have taken away from a session. For example, our Literacy Initiative should have a technology component built right into the planning and into any offerings for our teachers.
  • Professional Reading Groups: It would be helpful if teachers could be encouraged to come together to read articles, books and websites in the form of a reading group/circle. This would allow for more connections among teachers as well as expose more teachers to the developments around technology in education. Ideally, a small stipend would be available for teachers, who would be expected to share out what they learning with colleagues in some fashion. Some recommended books might include: The Digital Writing Workshop by Troy Hicks; The Socially Networked Classroom by William Kist; or Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for the Classroom by Will Richardson. These groups could be a hybrid of face-to-face meetings and using online sites for discussions. A potential bonus: most of these writers will agree to Skype into reading groups to talk about their books with teachers reading and using them.

Ideas to keep in mind:

  • Equity and access issues for all of our students, not just those with financial means;
  • Recognize that students communicate/write/read in ways outside of our schools that don’t always translate to learning we do inside of our schools — that is what we want to tap into;
  • Sharing among colleagues is a critical way to learn and implement new ideas;
  • Maintenance and upgrades of existing equipment must be worked into any long-range planning. It does us no good to push with technology on machines that are broken or antiquated.
  • Administrators need to utilize technology to reach parents and community members (I know this is another equity issue, re:hilltowns)

What am I missing here? Is there something your district does that makes a difference in creating a sense of technology integration?

Peace (in the sharing),
Kevin

The walking, talking, teaching man

Our physical education teacher was able to get about 25 pedometers donated to our school as part of a data-gathering exercise challenge. He has handed off the pedometers to us teachers, asking that we record how many steps we take for each day, over four days, while in school. Later, the sixth graders in math will use the data in Excel spreadsheets to talk about mean, median and mode, I think.

So, of course, this new pedometer strapped on my belt provided a nice morning activity.

First, I asked the kids about the word “pedometer” and we broke the word down into its parts (root and suffix) and began making new words from “ped” and “-meter”, which dovetails nicely with our work in Language Arts this week around the Origins of Words.

Then, I asked my students to estimate how many steps I would take before the end of the school day. I did give them a hint, as I had already been wearing the device for 30 minutes before they arrived. Some, not all, used that information to think about the hours of the school day and base their number on that information.

We wrote all of the estimates down and in the afternoon, I announced my step count — roughly 4,000 steps — and we all cheered the winner.  A lot of students asked when they can get a pedometer (that’s is phase two, I think). I’ll be putting the pedometer on again today as I teach.

According to some websites that I found, approximately 2,000 steps equals a mile. That all depends on your foot size and your stride, but I am about a size 12 and I think I have a normal stride.

So that means that during the course of my school day, I amble about the classroom and hallways (mostly the classroom) for about two miles per day. Interesting …

How far do you walk?

Peace (on the peds),
Kevin

Getting Ready for the Concert

I’ve been trying to learn some bass lines for a few songs that I am playing in an upcoming Benefit Concert (to get books for New Orleans and donations for Pennies for Peace). I am the bass player in a quickly-formed band that includes a colleague, a drummer, two former students (one on guitar and the other on vocals) and a daughter of a teacher at our school (we named the band after her since she has such a wonderful voice).

I like the bass, but I haven’t played it much. Ever. It’s a whole different view of a song and I keep resisting the urge to get fancy. Keep it simple and keep it solid, I keep telling myself, and let the vocals be up front. I think my mindset as a sax player is to jump in front of the sound. And of course, hitting the right notes is always a good thing.

The other day, guitarist Steve set up his portable recorder and grabbed these from practice. The concert is next week and we are hoping to get the crowd singing along with the Fireflies song. They certainly all know it — I hear the melody down the hallways.

Collide (by Howie Day)

Fireflies (by Owl City)

The third song we will be doing is an original song written by some former students, but we didn’t record it that day. The song is called Hourglass.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin