Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lessons from Chicago

President-elect Barack Obama’s announcement this week of Arne Duncan as his pick for Secretary of Education has me reflecting on my own visits to Chicago Public Schools, where Duncan has been CEO for the past seven years. Chicago is a mandatory stop for anyone interested in education reform. In 1995, when the Illinois legislature gave Mayor Richard Daley control of the nation’s third-largest district, CPS became ground zero in the battle to fix the nation’s public schools.

Chicago already had a long history of failed school reform efforts by the time the mayor took charge. A previous Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett, breezed through the Windy City in 1988 and declared the city’s school system “worst in the nation.” Bennett even singled out one school—Goudy Elementary—as the worst of the worst. (Note to Duncan: That’s the kind of negative publicity stunt that doesn’t help schools or kids.)

When I was researching urban school reform in 1999, I made a bee-line for Goudy Elementary. I wanted to find out if anything had changed from a few years earlier, when a somber Chicago Tribune series began, “Welcome to Goudy, where the future dies early.” I was greeted by Patrick Durkin, the no-nonsense principal brought in to fix the mess. Education wasn’t Durkin’s first love. This fast-talking father of eight was a former fire captain who shifted careers after being badly burned. But from the purposeful way he walked through that building, greeting teachers, students, and parents by name, it was clear he’d found his passion.

Durkin found a way to make school work in the high-poverty Uptown neighborhood, where immigrants were accustomed to being served poorly by public institutions. He introduced a schoolwide focus on reading (including the use of the Reading Recovery program to boost literacy), and was ingenious at finding space for personalized instruction in an overcrowded building. I remember him showing off one cubbyhole used for one-on-one tutoring; it used to be a walk-in safe. And he had zero tolerance for what he called “foolishness.” His first day on the job, he was waiting outside to greet his new students when rival gang members from a nearby housing project got into a fight. Durkin jumped in to break it up himself.

Clearly, leadership was something Durkin understood. But he also knew this: “When a place is failing, you can do anything you want.” That’s what he told me when I asked him about the support he had received from headquarters to turn around this one-failing school. Goudy didn’t get any attention, he said, until its students began to thrive. (Eventually, the story of Goudy’s turnaround became the opening chapter in Making Schools Work.)

A few years later, I made a return trip to Chicago to interview some exemplary teachers about how they were integrating technology into instruction. I was staying at a downtown hotel and needed to grab a cab to get to my interviews. I remember asking the doorman, a young African American man, for help with directions. He took a look at the address, took another look at me, and said, “What are you doin’ going to that neighborhood?” I explained that there was a school there I wanted to visit. “I know,” he said. “I went to that high school.”

At the doorman’s alma mater, I met a smart social studies teacher who had ideas galore about how technology could help her students. Only problem was, her kids had virtually no access to computers. The district was rolling out ambitious plans for professional development around technology use. But decisions about hardware were being made by local committees. So access varied widely from one neighborhood to the next. At her school, she had a principal who didn’t much like computers and few colleagues who shared her vision of 21st-century learning. And her students? They shared the doorman’s sense of the place: Why in the world would anyone choose to go there?

As our incoming Secretary of Education prepares for his challenging new role, I’m thinking again about those Chicago schools. I heard through the grapevine that Principal Durkin passed away a few years ago, but Goudy Elementary continues to serve its diverse children well. It’s now a technology magnet school. Not sure what’s become of the doorman’s alma mater. I’m willing to bet, however, that CPS remains a mixed bag, with some pockets of excellence and some places where no kid should have to spend time. That’s not unlike what Duncan will find if he looks closely at the state of public education across the country today. His challenge—the nation’s challenge—is figuring out how to make excellence the new norm.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Join Us for Educon 2.1

Oct. 17th, 2008 012
Learning that Sticks: Make It Memorable with Projects that Matter
Join the Conversation at Educon
2.1 with Suzie, Jane and guests
If you can't join us in person we'll have a way you can participate at a distance.
Here's our session:

What do you hope students will remember—years from now—about what they learned with you? This conversation is about real-world projects that push beyond traditional PBL practices to engage students as community leaders and change agents. We plan to use a variety of media to share powerful examples and facilitate a discussion that will include students as well as teachers. For example: What happened when students in South Central Los Angeles took on the role of citizen scientists to investigate—and publicize—local pollution levels in their own neighborhood? Why do students in rural Kentucky care so much about preserving the memories of their coal-mining families? What’s changed in the lives of Seattle teens since they collaborated with youth from South Africa to make videos about the meaning of compassion? After participants hear about these projects, we will invite them to talk about: --Why are projects like these still the exception? --What barriers stand in the way of real-world learning? --How can we maximize technology to overcome challenges and leverage opportunities? --What can we do collectively to make sure every student has opportunities for this kind of engaged, meaningful learning?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Unlocking the Toolkit

How often does this happen? You learn about a Web 2.0 tool and start imagining how you could integrate it into classroom activities. Then you remember: Oh yeah, my school (or district) blocks these tools. And that's too bad--for teachers whose creativity is limited, but even more so for students who miss out on opportunities to learn.
In this Edutopia article, Los Angeles high school teacher Antero Garcia goes beyond the arguments I usually hear about why the toolkit needs to be unlocked. He argues that keeping technology away from low-income students is a social justice issue: "Sooner or later someone is going to expect my students to be able to quickly and effortlessly post to a blog, add to a wiki, or collaborate via some sort of social-networking protocol. And once again, my school will have failed to prepare them for such a task."
That's what motivates Garcia to find ways around the barriers. What works for you? Please share your strategies for unlocking the toolkit.
Illustration by Adriano Gasparri, Creative Commons

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Star Light, Star Bright...

...How many stars can you see tonight?
There's still time to take part in the Great Worldwide Star Count, continuing until Nov. 3. This is an opportunity for your students (and their families) to contribute their night sky observations to a global database. By adding their findings, citizens scientists from around the world are helping scientists understand the effects of light pollution. Check out the Great Worldwide Star Count web site for details, along with more information you can use for further investigations of astronomy, geography, mythology, and more.
Photo by Ben McLeod, Creative Commons

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

School of Everything

From "active retired people, to teenage whiz kids, to hobbyists in their garden sheds", the UK's School of Everything imagines removing the space between those who know and those who want to know.

"At School of Everything, we believe that learning is personal, and starts not with what you 'should' learn but with what you're interested in. So we're building a tool to help anyone in the world learn what they want, when, where and in a way which suits them. Putting people in touch with each other, not with institutions. Our goal is to do for education what YouTube has done for television, or what eBay did for retail: to open up a huge and fertile space between the professional and the amateur. A space where people teach what they know and learn what they don't."

The School of Everything launched in September. It is the work of the Young Foundation, a charitable trust which carries on the work of Michael Young, founder of Which Magazine and the Open University. Imagine how this might play out!

I think I'll seek a tatting coach.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Project Resources to Chew On

Looking for a project idea that integrates math, science, and global awareness with the added benefit of real-world service learning? Consider focusing a project on hunger, an issue with local as well as global implications. In the U.S., one in 10 families faces food shortages. Around the world, hunger kills every 3.6 seconds. What can kids do about this big problem? Plenty. This recent Spiral Notebook post pulls together a list of classroom resources for tackling hunger. Comments from teachers offer more ideas. A teacher in Washington, D.C., for instance, describes how her seventh-graders responded when they took on hunger as a policy issue: "It exposes my students to the idea that they can communicate with officials and the media and that their ideas and opinions matter." Seems like a lesson worth repeating.
Photo by Michael Glasgow, Creative Commons

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Yeah, but...what?

In a recent Edutopia article called "Put to the Test," writer Bernice Yeung tackles some of the concerns that keep teachers from taking a project approach with their students. Yeah, but what about meeting standards? Yeah, but what about time? Yeah, but what if I lose control of my kids? She calls these the "Yeah, buts," and then sets about knocking them down with answers from practitioners who swear by project-based learning.

One of the strongest endorsements for PBL comes from Carla Williamson who heads the Office of Instruction in West Virginia. It's one of the first states to encourage PBL in every classroom. Williamson explains in the article why students deserve this kind of learning experience: "The end result is that their learning is so much deeper...That's something they carry with them for the rest of their life." I'm eager to know more about the support West Virginia teachers are getting to make this shift in practice.

As the new school year gets underway, are you wrestling with any "yeah, buts" in your own classroom or school? If you've already overcome similar concerns, what helped you move forward?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

From Local to Global

We've blogged before about Telannia Norfar, the innovative Oklahoma math teacher who tracked her first collaborative project experience on PBL Birdside View. Now, she's taking it up a notch and jumping into her first global collaboration with a math teacher from Australia. Once again, Telannia will be using her blog to reflect on the experience--giving us all a window for watching the project unfold. Hers is a story worth following. Although she has an eye on the big picture (i.e., what her high school students need to learn), she pays attention to the nitty-gritty of project-based learning and doesn't hesitate to write about challenges. She's also adept at making projects work with the tools already at hand, as she explains in this Edutopia article. Will be fun watching what unfolds when Oklahoma meets Australia.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Not the Slammer!

Brad Moon, who blogs as Geekdad over at Wired, has picked up on the ongoing Flat Stanley controversy. In a post called "Flat Stanley Gets a Lawyer," he shares a shot of the little guy behind bars. Moon's take on the trademark kerfuffle: "This doesn’t sit right with me and I shudder to think of what Hollywood, corporate branding and a marketing blitz could do to a grass-roots, classroom-friendly effort like the Flat Stanley Project."
Meanwhile, Flat Stanley Project founder Dale Hubert tells me he's still trying to work out a way for the project to continue. And--teacher to the core--he's mulling over ideas for educating kids about patents, trademarks, and media awareness.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Visualizing Migration

click on the image to see a larger view of the Minard Map
After a lot of hard thinking Jamie, a student in my PBL course, has focused her class project on US migration stories. After examining the Oregon Common Curriculum Goals and NCSS standards it was clear that 'regions' was a big topic for grade 5 social studies. But she had to ask hard questions-- What is essential about the study of regions? Is that a way to talk about diversity so we understand the complex fabric of our country? How are regions defined? Might my hometown in E. Oregon be more like Winnemucca, NV (another region) than Seattle, WA ('same' region)? Jamie overlaid geography standards relating to human movement onto this examination of regions and came away with this: I would like students to work together to look at the movement of people throughout time, why they migrate to our Northwest region, and specifically our community. These imprints on a region include its ethnic make-up, spoken languages, religious institutions, traditions, architectural styles, local food, music, clothes, and other cultural markers—all clues to the past, present, and future of that area and generations of its people. Thus, an essential part of understanding a region is its migration story.
Her plan is to engage schools across the country in shared study-- so they teach each other about (what they must operationally define as) their regions. Understandably, lots of technology may be employed, from Skype conference calls to ePals collaborations to Google shared spreadsheets to multimedia reports. I get carried away and wonder, what might we put in virtual time capsules? What would a population flipbook look like?
One more wrinkle I'm ironing out (hoping it helps Jamie and her teaching partner): Could kids mine population and demographic data to see waves of migration? Could they visually display data in an annotated timeline to show population change and also ethnicity or emigrant employment? My inspiration, my vision for this comes from the famous Minard Map showing Napoleon's failed march on Moscow. I've admired it in Edward Tufte's Visual Displays of Quantitative Information, and then in real life (OK maybe a copy) at the Finding Our Place in History exhibit at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in May. Now I'm no geographer, but through a single degree of separation, I know a geographer! I just asked Jim Meacham, director of the University of Oregon InfoGraphics Lab, if he might lend a few brain cells to this problem.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Flat Stanley Saga Continues

Since I started tracking the troubles of the Flat Stanley Project, the controversy has been picked up by those in the tech world who think hard about issues like trademark and "infinite good." TechDirt's Mike Masnick has generated a lively discussion with his post, "Flat Stanley Learns How Ownership Of Infinite Goods Hurts Everyone." Meanwhile, Canadian teacher Dale Hubert, creator of the Flat Stanley Project, says hearing all this chatter is a little like "attending one's own funeral and overhearing the comments of the mourners." We can only hope that rumors of the project's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Getting It Done in Hannibal, MO

Please meet us in Elluminate at 10:00 Pacific on July 24 for a tour of project teacher Terry Smith's classroom. This event is held in conjunction with the Reinventing Project-Based Learning Summer Course at University of Oregon, instructor, Jane Krauss. Find the event here and click on "event" to join the session. We look forward to meeting you there! Links to Terry's window on the world are found here on the course wiki.

Getting Off the Starting Blocks

During a poster session in the Global Gallery at NECC, I met a teacher who said she was eager to get her students involved in collaborative global projects. I talked up a few spectacular examples, describing just how far students can go when given the opportunity. But she was stuck on the starting blocks. “How do you find partners on the other side of the world?” she wanted to know. I told her about the Flat Classroom Project and several other wonderful collaborations that have grown out of the edublogging world, where like-minded teachers frequently connect. “I don’t have time to read blogs,” she said, then launched into a list of the many other demands on her day.

Making global collaboration easier for busy teachers is one of the goals of ePals, a free communications platform that includes classroom blogs, email, and other tools to foster connections. It’s the largest online community in K-12 education, with some 13 million students and teachers participating in 200 countries. Ed Fish, CEO of ePals, describes his strategies for getting barriers out of the way in this Spiral Notebook interview. By making it faster and easier for teachers to find partner classrooms, Fish says he hopes to release educators to focus their energy on the creative side of project design and implementation.

What I find especially powerful about ePals is the translation tool that allows communication among learners who don’t speak the same language. The tool translates text to and from Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, German, Japanese, English, and Chinese. Users pick the language pair that meets their needs. Rita Oates, ePals vice president and a longtime educator, told me that the tool was developed to answer requests from teachers who wanted to be able to overcome language barriers. And it works: ePals participants speak more than 130 languages.

I can’t help wondering why more teachers aren’t taking part in these kinds of online projects. Have you steered clear of global projects because you don’t know how to get started? What help or support do you need to start bringing the world to your classroom?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Trouble in the Flatlands

A decade before Tom Friedman wrote The World is Flat, Canadian teacher Dale Hubert was connecting children around the world through his Flat Stanley Project. “I was building a social network before YouTube or MySpace,” Hubert told me recently as he reminisced about his years in a virtual place he calls "the flatlands."

Through Hubert's grassroots online project, thousands of children from more than 40 countries have made connections—to each other, to literature, and sometimes even to world leaders, astronauts, and movie stars—by exchanging their own paper versions of Stanley Lambchop, the boy squashed by a falling bulletin board in the 1964 book, Flat Stanley.

And now the popular project may be coming to a close due to legal troubles with the estate of Jeff Brown, the late author. I explain the situation in more detail in this story for Edutopia.

It’s too soon to know how the controversy will end, but Hubert is determined to find a way to continue connecting children with the wider world. Already, Flat Stanley is a popular guy on YouTube, Flickr, and countless classroom blogs. Hubert imagines incorporating more Web 2.0 tools to expand the global conversation. And he already has a back-up plan if he can’t keep the current project alive. His goal, as always in the flatlands, will be “authentic and meaningful communication.” Stay tuned.

And So We Begin

I just launched a university course yesterday called (naturally) Reinventing Project-Based Learning. We've had a wonderful start with deep discussion (why projects?) and happy tech adventuring (our own Ning and wiki).
I'm of a mind that people will best understand PBL by experiencing PBL so off we go on a learning adventure that starts with the study of postage stamps and dives straightaway into the ways we transmit ideas over a distance- we'll analyze systems, civics, history, communications, commerce, geography and more.
Think about it (students are)-- Where might a study of postage stamps lead us?

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Tech Girls to the Rescue

In a post at Spiral Notebook, I interview the creator of a new resource to combat cyberbullying. Debbie Heimowitz developed Adina's Deck, a 30-minute film geared to middle-schoolers plus online resources for teachers, while she was a graduate student in education at Stanford University. To make sure the story would resonate with her intended audience, she brought in middle-school girls as script consultants. While confronting the dangers of cyberbullying, the film also shows how technology can be a force for good. And it casts girls as geeks. Says Heimowitz, "We wanted to show an example of girls who can navigate their way around the Internet like any expert in Silicon Valley." Girl Scouts of the USA and an increasing number of schools are using the film to jump-start discussions about cyberbullying and online safety.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Stanley—Squashed Again!

The adventures of Flat Stanley began with a crash. In the 1964 children’s book by Jeff Brown, a falling bulletin board squashed a boy named Stanley Lambchop. On the bright side, he was so flat that he could be slipped into an envelope and mailed off to distant places.

A Canadian elementary teacher named Dale Hubert added the power of the Internet to the story and, in 1995, launched a global phenomenon known as the Flat Stanley Project. Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren in more than 40 countries have since exchanged their own “flat people,” or sent them off to famous people. Flat Stanley has been photographed on Oscar night with Clint Eastwood, traveled aboard the Space Shuttle, journeyed to Antarctica, and visited heads of state around the world. And kids around the world have learned more about everything from geography to culture to storytelling.

Now, Hubert’s wildly successful, grassroots education project is at risk of being squashed. Flat.

A long-simmering legal battle with the estate of Jeff Brown led Hubert to post this message earlier this week:

“Sadly, the Flat Stanley Project may be forced to end.”

Hubert invites letters of support for his project. (Email to

I don’t know about you, but I hear a whopper of an adventure story in the making. Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, June 20, 2008

See You at NECC!

Here's our NECC planner-- Can't make it sharable but if you see times that are open and want to get together, please post a comment.
Some places we may cross paths:
*EduBloggerCon, Saturday
*Reinventing PBL poster session, Global Gallery Sunday night
*Author visit, ISTE bookstore Monday and Tuesday at 11:00
*Blogger Cafe lightning demo Tuesday at 10:00 (My Friend Flickr- new mashups)
*Jane in NETS*T Implementation panel Monday at 3:30

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Learning in a Messy Environment

Elise Mueller is a Bellingham, Wash., teacher who seems to be in an ideal setting for project-based learning to thrive. She and two fellow elementary teachers share teaching responsibilities for grades 3-5. Students come to Mueller's room for social studies and language arts; her colleagues teach science and math. All three teachers integrate technology, and they regularly plan projects that cut across disciplines. But as Mueller told me recently in an interview for Northwest Education magazine, there's still one remaining challenge: getting students on board.

"This is a shift for kids who are not used to driving their own learning," she admits. The project approach often involves "learning in a messy environment." Students are asked to make choices, to work in teams, to tackle problems that may have more than one right solution. "If students are used to just following directions," Mueller admits, "it can be frustrating. It's a new arena for them."
The story goes on to describe what happened with one group of students who took initiative on a project--with fantastic results. But I can't help wondering how many more students never get that opportunity. How well are we preparing them for the "messy environment" of life beyond the classroom?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

CyberCamp Update

Here's more information about our upcoming chat with the Colorado CyberCampers. Bud the Teacher has opened the conversation to all-comers. Please join us in Elluminate, 9:15 a.m. Pacific, Wednesday, June 11.
Our Slide Deck

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Visitors' Day at CyberCamp

Looking forward to a Wednesday morning conversation with the reflective group of educators taking part in CyberCamp, a summer institute currently underway in Colorado. CyberCamp is about integrating technology into project planning--and so much more. Participants are blogging away about their learning experience, capturing what it's like to sometimes stretch beyond the comfort zone. Organizer Bud Hunt (aka Bud the Teacher) has opened a window on the whole experience, using a variety of digital tools to show the world what it looks like when educators take risks, provide each other with constructive criticism, and strengthen their professional network. (Check out the Cybercamp blog, wiki, and Ustream channel, or listen to Bud's podcast about planning the institute.) Jane and I will be joining CyberCampers virtually on Wednesday to talk about using digital tools with PBL. Naturally, it will be an open forum. Stay tuned for details.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Galaxy of Projects

What does project-based learning look
like in your corner of the universe?

Join the Flickr group Reinventing Project-Based Learning ( 70 contributors to date) and share your images. Please tag your photos 'rpbl'.

This sphere, created with api Tag Galaxy, represents all flickr photos tagged rpbl. In the Tag Galaxy environment you can spin the globe and pop out individual photos for a closer look. See what you get when you put in tags 'flower' and 'macro'. Beautiful.

Thanks to Ewan McIntosh for sharing this great tool!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Transparent Teaching and The Glassine Surfer

net-efekt on flickr, cc license
I am teaching a new course through the University of Oregon this summer and need your input on the syllabus (pdf). If you are willing to critique, please let me know and I'll invite you to collaborate on a google doc.
**Update** I just created this course flyer (pdf), gives a good overview**
The course focuses on constructivist pedagogy underlying project-based learning, practical instructional design methods, and processes for implementing and evaluating projects. Most time will be spent in collaborative activity in which teachers plan quality projects they'll use right away. Along the way we use about twenty digital apps. We end the course with a 'critical friends' review and celebration. (I'll try to video stream the event.)

I'm operating from the belief that we can become great project teachers faster if we have the opportunity to learn in project mode ourselves. We will have a project strand called The Glassine Surfer (look it up) where we get busy as students would with a class project. On the surface it looks like a project on postage stamps but deep down it's about communication, culture, economics, and change over time.
-Jane Krauss
Please help me make this class great! Request an invitation to the google doc!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Join Us Tonight!

We're looking forward to tonight's conversation with Teachers Teaching Teachers, starting at 6 p.m. Pacific at EdTechTalk. Host Paul Allison tells me that many of his colleagues will be using Reinventing Project-Based Learning in conjunction with National Writing Project summer institutes. That's exciting news, and we're eager to learn from writing teachers about their experiences with digital-age projects. Teachers Teaching Teachers is a terrific example of the by-us-for-us professional development that's happening more and more. Please join us!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ben Christen's Rubber Stamps

My Custom Stamps!
Originally uploaded by benchristen

I really am going to get to my Philly blog entry soon, just too busy to give it the treatment it deserves. Meanwhile, in prep for a course I'm teaching where teachers use Flickr to find creative commons photographs on the topic of postage stamps, I came across Ben's rubber stamps. What rubber stamps would you have made? (I'd make a virtual one I could use on Twitter that says "Don't tweet that". :)

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Run Out on Rail in Philly

I visited Chris Lehmann at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia today. We were getting along swell, talking a little about club sports at SLA. One thing led to another and suddenly Chris was saying: "I should kick you out of my office right now!" Small world and all that, turns out Chris coached the Ultimate team that my son's team beat at Nationals in Corvallis in 2004.

More later on the great tour by Devon, a ninth grader, and stories about School of the Future visit and Philadelphia Public Schools.

Reinventing in Pennsylvania

I had the pleasure of exploring project-based learning with forty educators from Montgomery County PA yesterday-- what a game bunch. We started with an activity I call "Mrs. Grable's Bag". (Mrs. Grable was my third grade teacher.) By the end of the day folks were wiki-ing and ning-ing away, and most importantly, had created the germ of a project. Today I'm off to the School of the Future (Microsoft-Philly Pub Schools collaboration) where I understand our book is guiding curriculum redesign. Next it's off to Science Leadership Academy (Chris Lehmann, principal), and finally a nice get-together with Paula Don's crew at Philly Public Schools. More soon! Here's our new Ning, we'll see how this goes.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Watch a Project in Action

In a cross post at Edutopia's Spiral Notebook, I offer an update on the collaborative project that I first talked about here. Telannia Norfar, the dynamo behind this effort, is a reflective ninth-grade math teacher who blogs at PBL Birdside View. She is providing a wonderful window on all the nitty-gritty details of designing a real-world project that crosses disciplines and meets the needs of diverse learners. And now, the students have entered the picture! Stay tuned for more updates or visit her blog to find out what's new.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Willoby and Himrod Attend EditJam

By way of Diane McGrath, a great video from AfterEd at Columbia Teachers College.
Follow silly-smart guides Willoby and Himrod as they tour EditJam, where kids produce their own programming for a 24-hour Web news channel.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Improve Student Research with Google Custom Search

Imagine designing a customized search tool that limits hits to sites you know are useful for kids. You can do this now by creating your own Google Custom Search Engine.
This picture shows the widget of a custom search engine on the topic of postage stamps. A teacher can place such a widget in a blog, wiki or shared "start" page for students to use for topical searches. Another remarkably google-y thing? The creator of a custom search engine can invite up to 100 "volunteers" to contribute to and refine it. Imagine having kids develop an operational definition for project-suitable sites to be queried by the engine. That would require critical thinking of a high order!

Monday, April 28, 2008

What's essential? Join the conversation!

Please join us in a conversation about the essential learning functions technology can deliver to support any learning enterprise, and especially project-based learning. We will be hosting a Classroom 2.0 Live! Webinar, Essential Learning with Digital Tools, the Internet and Web 2.0, on Wednesday, April 30, at 5:00 PDST. Read more about the session and download a document we'll be discussing here.
As new technologies emerge, we want to capture ideas for connecting these tools to the essential learning functions they can deliver. This is your chance to contribute new ideas to update a “hot swappable” resource (also an appendix to Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real World Projects in the Digital Age). Learn how to log into Elluminate in advance here.

We have invited some notable thinkers from the world of Web 2.0 in education, so it should be a lively discussion. Please mark your calendars and spread the word!

And thanks to Steve Hargadon for organizing this event.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Truth is Out There

Here's a nifty model for 21st-century learning. Less than two weeks ago, Australian educator Dean Groom blogged about a group he was setting up on Diigo. Focus: project-based learning. Motivation: Dean's school--Parramatta Marist High in Sydney--is moving toward a PBL curriculum, supported by Web 2.0 tools. Dean is using Moodle as "a central hub" for managing assignments and resources.
It's a new learning model for Australian schools and, naturally, raises some questions. By setting up a Diigo group, Dean has found a way to not only exchange ideas with educators from around the globe, but create a community around PBL.
Within days, the Diigo group was off and running, with a growing collection of bookmarked resources and forum discussions about everything from software to professional development ideas. By this morning, the group had grown to 43 members from at least four continents.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

We Are Our Phones

A history of family phones in Flickr. Phone in bottom row, second from left is back in action, ugly but serving me well enough. -jk
Originally uploaded by jkrauss

I was working at a study table in the public library the other day when a guy nabbed my purse. Within ten minutes he was buying cartons of cigarettes at $38 a pop and selling individual packs to street folks for easy cash. My driver's license was found in front of the county JAIL (hmmm) but that's all I got back.

Among the lost items? My 2 year-old magenta Razr phone.
Instead of getting a new phone and committing to another two year service contract (I'm anticipating a new 3G iPhone in June-- I'll wait), I decided to buy a $20 sim card and put it in an old unlocked phone.

While I was waiting to be helped at the t-mobile store I watched a newly desperately phoneless young woman trying to get back in action. She was broke and trying to figure out how to get back to 24/7 texting and talking without having to settle for a plain-jane phone. She overspent "just a little", committed to another two year contract with t-mobile, and left very, very happy. When I got home with my sim card I rummaged through our pile of retired and mostly broken phones and found the funky unlocked one. Back in business.

Interesting what's become essential to modern life these days. How much of your identity is balled up with the phone you carry? Mine, not so much (I say that now.)

Friday, April 11, 2008

Lunching in London

In a post over at Spiral Notebook, I tell a bit about my recent London visit with Linda Hartley, creator of Classroom Displays.

What fun to meet up in person with a colleague you've only known online. Thanks to the blogosphere, you can now find friends and good conversation wherever your travels take you!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Press 1 for Learning

New Zealand teacher Toni Twiss weighs in with this bold suggestion for what to do with students’ mobile devices: Turn ‘em on! Where others see distractions or worry about surreptitious videotaping of teachers-run-amok, this secondary teacher has no qualms about students harnessing their mobile devices for learning. She offers plenty of examples, ending with how she and her phone-wielding students are loading up their mobiles with everything from street maps to German phrases as they prep for an extended trip to Europe.

Wes Fryer and Ewan McIntosh are two others who see learning potential when they consider the ubiquity of mobile devices. All three educators emphasize the importance of teaching students to use this technology responsibly. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for meaningful learning.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Who are your storytellers?

Thirty years ago, Vicky Colbert returned to Colombia after completing a master’s degree in education. Her graduate studies at Stanford had been all about the possibilities to be achieved through active, child-centered learning facilitated by well-prepared teachers. But back in the country where she grew up, she found high dropout rates, lack of training to improve teaching methods, and few connections between school and community. Undaunted, she took on a challenge that no one else seemed to care about: improving rural education.

Recently at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, I heard Colbert describe the successful program she has developed. She calls it Escuela Nueva—Spanish for “new school.” Working first in small village schools, she was able to help teachers see the value of students learning cooperatively in multigrade classrooms. Learning at their own pace, driven by their own interests, connected to their communities, students began to blossom. And because Colbert created demonstration classrooms and encouraged peer-to-peer professional development, other teachers took notice. The model quickly spread—from rural to urban areas, then from Colombia across Latin American. Escuela Nueva now reaches some 5 million children in more than a dozen countries. The model will expand next to secondary schools.

Listening to Colbert, I was stuck by her determination to change not just one or two schools, but the entire system of education. Although she has worked within government for part of her career, she is savvy enough not to rely on bureaucracy to maintain reforms. She has built alliances with the business world, such as coffee growers who need employees to understand how to work as a team. She has gathered data to prove that her approach works. But the key to lasting change are the teachers and community members who now demand schools that are good for children. Colbert calls this “bottom-up social change,” and it seems like an idea that needs to be exported back to U.S., where Colbert’s hopeful vision first took shape.

Colbert shared one practical idea that teachers—anywhere—can borrow without having to wait for seismic change. Escuela Nueva uses a simple but powerful strategy to engage parents and other community members: invite them to share what they know. Each school fills out a set of “family cards” to capture the talents, skills, and interests of parents and other community members. “We ask, who in this village is the artist? Who is the storyteller? Parents have knowledge,” Colbert says, “and we want to bring them in to the school.” The result is what she describes as a “greater sense of belonging.”

This common-sense approach reminds me of asset mapping (a strategy for identifying community resources that Jane and I describe in more detail in Reinventing Project-Based Learning). Without doubt, Vicky Colbert is an asset for children and everyone who cares about their future.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Ideas in the Nick of Time

Heard any good ideas lately? How about training rats to sniff out landmines? Or asking cab drivers to gather air pollution data? Or combining mobile phones with gaming to help illiterate children and their parents learn to read?

Attending the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford last week, I was struck by both the ingenuity of world-changing ideas and the urgency to get more good work accomplished—and fast. From global warming to health pandemics to pending water shortages, the world’s problems aren’t about to go away on their own.

Among the highlights were keynotes by former President Jimmy Carter and former Vice President Al Gore, both Nobel laureates. President Carter showed us what optimism looks like at age 83 as he talked about his quest to eradicate waterborne illnesses that disproportionately affect the poor and the young. Vice President Gore explained why his relentless quest to end global warming is now focusing close to home. “To convince the world as a whole to act in time,” he said, “first we have to convince the U.S.”

Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health and subject of Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains, is another social entrepreneur who has no time to waste. He has devoted his life to bringing quality health care to the poor, first in Haiti and now in Rwanda, Peru, and elsewhere around the world. This means delivering “goods and services that should be rights,” he argued in a firebrand address, “not commodities.”

This was the fifth-annual conference about a field that is still in its infancy. Social entrepreneurship harnesses strategies more often found in the business sector to solve social and environmental problems. Many who practice in this arena like to talk about “silo busting,” or breaking out of narrow ways of thinking about problems. They often pull from disparate fields to come up with new ideas. Sometimes, they even reach over into the “silo” of education to effect change.

For example, much of India suffers from alternating cycles of torrential rain and drought. It’s also a place where poverty and illiteracy are generational. Bunker Roy, an engineer by training, decided to build underground tanks to collect rainwater during the wet season. Then he built village schools atop the water tanks. Children who were previously not enrolled in school began attending so that they could drink what Roy calls “sweet water.” This was the start of an idea that has blossomed into Barefoot College, a rural development effort that connects villagers with practical knowledge to improve their own lives.

Social entrepreneurs and their big ideas offer the world such hope that some researchers have made a study of their defining qualities. Not surprisingly, they tend to be risk takers and innovators. They often react with righteous indignation when they encounter injustice. But they are also stubborn optimists. Don’t these sound like qualities you want to nurture in your students as you prepare them to become global citizens?

I’ll share more highlights from the Skoll World Forum, both here and on the Spiral Notebook blog, in coming days. You can also find video clips from the conference at the Social Edge blog. For classroom-ready videos and unit plans about this field, take a look at The New Heroes PBS series (full disclosure: I helped to develop the online materials for educators). And if you’re still wondering about those mine-sniffing rats and other ideas that kicked off this post, take a look at: Herorats and MobileActive.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Faces Speak a Thousand Words

Terry Smith, fourth grade teacher in Hannibal, Missouri, established a collaboration between his class and students in Australia. What better way to get to know aussies than to taste their favorite treat? Terry's Vegemite Communications video tells the story. But don't stop here-- check out other gems in this busy teacher's treasure chest of imaginative projects.

Find more videos like this on Classroom 2.0

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Big Screen, Big Lessons

What’s your school best known for? Do you have a tradition of excellence that you share with your community or even the larger world?

Next Monday night, a full house is expected at the 1,600-seat Rosebud Theater in Effingham, Ill., for the fifth-annual AHA Film Festival. The event showcases the work of talented young filmmakers from a high school multimedia class (students also plan and organize the festival, learning more real-world skills). It’s a testament to what teachers can accomplish when they give students room to run with their ideas.

The successful program is the brainchild of two award-winning educators, Joe Fatheree from Effingham High and Craig Lindvahl from Teutopolis High. Their schools aren’t even in the same district. Effingham is a small town (pop. 12,000), and Teutopolis is only a fraction of its size. But such factors haven’t stopped these teachers from teaming up to pool resources and creative energies so that students can make real movies about topics that matter to them.

What makes it all worth doing? In a recent discussion about digital storytelling on Spiral Notebook, Fatheree told me about the value of challenging his multimedia students to use higher-order thinking skills for advanced problem solving. He cited more benefits from collaborative learning, project management, and other life skills. He went on: “It will help them develop an entrepreneurial mindset that will prepare them to meet the challenges of the 21st century. Students cannot hide ‘C’ work on a 30-foot screen.”

He's not just talking hypothetically. Fatheree and Lindvahl are also accomplished filmmakers themselves.
This year’s student festival includes documentaries, comedies, animations, music videos. Across all genres, viewers can expect solid storytelling, careful editing, powerful visuals—all skills that students master in the classroom and then take into their own productions. A jury will award one of the entries a grand prize, but it’s easy to see that everybody wins as a result of this tradition.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Watching a Project Unfold

What do the myriad details of project-based learning look like in action? What sorts of questions arise when teachers agree to collaborate for the first time? How do you make sure a project adds up to more than a series of engaging activities?

The answers should become more clear in coming weeks, thanks to a dynamic high school math teacher who has agreed to open a window on her next project, from start to finish.

Jane and I met Telannia Norfar Thursday night during a conference call organized by Sarah McPherson, discussion leader for ISTE's SigTE book study group. Telannia told us about a class she teaches called Logic, Inc. She's the CEO. Students take turns sharing management responsibilities as they work on real-world applications of mathematics.

Telannia suggested that teachers would benefit from watching a project unfold--from initial idea through collaborative planning to implementation with students and engagement with experts. We agreed, and she gamely offered up her next project as a real-life, real-time demonstration.

Will it get messy? Maybe. Will everything unfold according to plan? Probably not. Will it be worth watching? I think so.

Already, Telannia is showing us some of the qualities that PBL teachers tend to exhibit. She's willing to try new ideas to meet her students' learning needs. She came to teaching after earlier careers in journalism and telecommunications. So she knows from experience that projects aren't just an interesting idea in education; they're how the real world operates. And she wants to make sure her students are ready and able to participate in life after high school.

I'll be checking in often to watch her next project unfold. (Her students will be blogging about their experience, too.) Stay tuned for updates.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Where Teachers are Entrepreneurs

Recent press about high test scores for students in Finland has many wondering what secrets we can learn from the Finns. In eSchool News, this story about an international delegation organized by the Consortium for School Networking emphasizes Finland’s emphasis on project-based learning and teacher autonomy.

The Wall Street Journal (in “What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?” ) describes a Finnish approach to learning that’s “simple but not easy,” emphasizing “well-trained teachers and responsible children.” What does this look like in action? As WSJ reports:
Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. "In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs," says (Andreas) Schleicher of the Paris-based OECD, which began the international student test in 2000.

One more factor is worth nothing: teacher collaboration. Our research about real-world project based learning led us to interview a cross-grade teaching team from Oulu, Finland, about the development of a project to foster inquiry among primary students. Teachers wanted to encourage young students to pay attention and ask questions about the real world, so they had them use camera phones (ubiquitous in this mobile-phone-loving country) to snap photos en route to school. One student team got curious about local recycling habits and used their photos (along with GPS and a networked learning environment) to gather more data. They wound up advising the school on how to expand its recycling efforts—applying their understanding to an authentic problem. Pasi Mattila, one of the teachers who designed the project, calls this kind of approach “meaningful and motivating learning.”

If students grow accustomed to learning that is meaningful and motivating right from the primary grades, it shouldn't surprise anyone when they continue to excel academically as teens.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Projects for the Privileged? Let's Hope Not!

In the February issue of Educational Leadership, Jane David takes a look at the research behind project-based learning.

Within her overview of PBL pros and cons, one important point gets buried: "Because teachers tend to find this approach difficult to implement with low-performing students and may lack supporting technology, it is less likely to be embraced in high-poverty schools, which could increase rather than lessen existing inequalities."

Seems critical to challenge this perception so that real-world projects aren't seen as just another perk for students of privilege. I know there are many excellent examples of authentic projects that engage diverse learners (including students growing up in poverty). Marco Torres and his students' powerful multimedia projects come to mind. With access to digital tools and new approaches to learning, these students--growing up in one of the poorest areas of Los Angeles County--gain an outlet for their eloquent voices. Shouldn't that be a possibility for every student?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Future Starts Now

Will Richardson's question--"What do we know about our kids' futures?"--has sparked a firestorm of discussion about 21st-century learning imperatives. Miguel Guhlin has synthesized the many suggestions on a wiki and invites others to contribute. Not surprisingly, his list echoes the big themes of the refreshed NETS-S, highlighting such critical skills as collaboration and problem solving. But there are some interesting new ideas here, too, such as being courageous, having empathy, being "design aware," and having an orientation toward the future.

What might unfold with more competency in all these areas? Here's a recent application of 21st-century skills that seems to fill the bill: Babajob is a new social-networking site in India's Bangalore region that connects the poor with potential employers. Seems simple, yet it took an economist to figure out that poverty persists here because the poor lack connections to find better-paying work. Babajob, created by a former Microsoft researcher, combines the power of personal connections with social-networking technology, along with some creative problem-solving strategies for overcoming the digital divide. This New York Times article about Babajob tells more of the back story, and gets me thinking about those essential "future skills." Seems like we need to be teaching them today.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lots of Ways to Skin a Cat

I've been wanting to read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. but wasn't making it a priority until I learned from Vicki Davis that a Twitter book group has formed to read it together. What is it about the possibility of shared experience that helps us get things done? I look forward to an enriched reading experience with the bonus of conversations in Twitter.

For-Us By-Us professional learning is taking many forms! 5K+ educators raise all boats in Classroom 2.0, 116 readers discuss Reinventing PBl in the SigTE Book Group, 60 educators meet in San Francisco for a learning free-for-all during Clrm 2.0 Live... No one is sitting around waiting for someone else to decide what is important or what form our learning should take. It's a really exciting time for those who love their work and love to learn.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What's missing?

American teens are plenty confident that they can solve the world's most vexing problems with the help of technology, according to the latest Lemelson-MIT Invention Index. There's just one not-so-small catch: more than half of today's high school students feel unprepared for careers in technology and engineering. A large majority of teens (79 percent) recognize the value of project-based learning. But just as many cite a need for more funding to support hands-on, real-world learning.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Drop by Drop...

Looking for a real-world project idea? Consider this: Around the world, one in five people lack access to clean, safe drinking water. Children, especially, are at risk of water-related diseases. Imagine the many directions you could go with a global project that challenges your students to make sense of world water data, develop a water-awareness campaign built with Web 2.0 tools, or engineer their own solution to the global water shortage. (To get their imaginations "bubbling," just introduce them to the Play Pump--a well powered by a merry-go-round that's pumping clean water to children across Africa.) World Water Day is coming up on March 22. Will your students be taking part? Share your projects with us.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Did you focus?

Was your school part of the Focus the Nation teach-in on global warming yesterday? In my hometown of Portland, Ore., the biggest event drew more than 3,000 to the University of Portland campus. Students had a chance to grill everyone from the governor to senators to climate scientists, and they came prepared with thoughtful questions. Smaller events took place on middle school and high school campuses across the state. But the one-day teach-in was just the start. Your students can still join this project by getting informed and then voting for their top priorities for action. On Feb. 18, the results will be hand-delivered to Congressional offices across the country. Hard to imagine a learning project that's more grounded in the real world.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Enough Sugar in Your Educational Technology Diet?

I've heard more than a few people say they are confused by the XO's user interface. Biggest hint for working with Sugar: think verbs rather than nouns. (More on this below.) Learning the Sugar GUI is an intellectual challenge-- we are so fascile with the Mac and PC interfaces that we forget there are design decisions behind them. Just as learning a new language helps you understand your native language better, contemplating Sugar will make you think about what's behind the GUIs you are familiar with and human-computer interactions in general.

David Thornburg wrote a thoughtful paper Is There Enough Sugar in Your Educational Technology Diet? (available here: Scribd) that revisits the development of the graphical user interface (see a screen shot of the first from Xerox) and explains how the XO's Sugar evolved based on the question: What interface works best for kids? Seymour Papert advised that a computer for children would be verb (action) oriented rather than noun (object) oriented. Instead of folders and documents (nouns) on which familiar UIs are based, think writing playing, chatting, drawing (verbs) and time (journal: what activities did I do yesterday?)

Other small computer designers are looking at kids as kids rather than proto-adults, and are grappling with appropriate design-- Check out SNS Project Inkwell, which imagines a variety of computing devices designed especially for children. Take a look at PI's functional requirements for student devices (pdf).

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Photos from the XO Camera in VoiceThread

All the features of VoiceThread function here - poke around!

You must give VoiceThread a try! I was introduced to it by Terry Smith, an outstanding teacher in Hannibal, MO. Free accounts for schools! Become a contributor who comments on this photoset in voice or the written word HERE.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Focus on Solutions

Imagine a conversation that engages thousands of students and other community members about their shared future. Now imagine the dialogue leading to real action--action that just might save the planet. That's the idea behind Focus the Nation: Global Warming Solutions for America. Here's how it works. On Jan. 31, at K-12 schools and college campuses across the country, business as usual will be replaced by a national teach-in on global warming. The emphasis is on solutions so that students will come away informed and prepared to act. This is a chance to put real-world, project-based learning strategies into action. Intrigued? Check out the Focus the Nation site to learn more about webcasts for K-12 schools, video chats with politicians, and the wealth of resources available to help inform the conversation. And if your school is taking part, please tell us about your plans--and the actions your students decide to take.