Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Classroom Instruction that Works and Web 2.0

Next year, our district will be focusing on Summarizing and Note-Taking from Robert Marzono’s Classroom Instruction That Works.

In my research putting together resources for teachers on my school wiki, I came across a wiki – [Web 2.0] & Marzono’s [CITW] - focused on Marzono’s Classroom Instruction That Works.

What I really like about the wiki is it’s linking of web 2.0 tools to CITW concepts. The wiki also contains some great links to CITW and Web 2.0 resources. And in great wiki fashion, it allows registered users to contribute information, resources, or models to it.

I did learn from the wiki there is an ASCD book entitled Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. It’s on my Amazon list and I’ll report back once I’ve had a chance to read it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

2008 Digital Schools Report & Bandwidth

The 2008 America's Digital Schools Report just released contains some interesting, reassuring, and potentially problematic trends to technology adoption and student learning. eSchool News has a well-written, descriptive summary of the report.

The bandwidth trend is a bit concerning (and very interesting as a former network engineer) especially since much of our learning and understanding through tools depends on a crisp, robust network.
Karen Greenwood Henke wrote a comprehensive article How Fast Is Fast Enough? in Tech Learning which cites the 2006 version of the Digital School's Report. (In full disclosure, I was quoted in the article) Bandwidth was mentioned in that report too with 40KBPS being the optimal throughput available to students according to Henke.

My fascination with this topic in part inspired me to write No Data Left Behind which was published in the February 2006 edition of Learning & Leading with Technology.

For a teacher new or just starting off adopting technology, I think bandwidth can cause some concern. Quite possibly, no matter how effective or powerful the tool, it can be perceived not as such with slow bandwidth really being the culprit. I'm sure many of us at one time or another excitedly wanted to show an application to a teacher or administrator only not have it work well because of network congestion. This is similar to a prospective car running rough in the dealer's lot when considering buying it.

Also to state the obvious, the content-rich world in which we live requires bandwidth to view it. Pictures, video, audio, and text - staples of 21st century learning and understanding - all require bandwidth. Global learning (and competing) on a global basis have bandwidth as a prerequisite.

Before going back into the classroom as a teacher, I spent time assessing and auditing schools' bandwidth (and technology) needs as an educational technology consultant. Most schools from my experiences can reclaim about 5-15% of their total bandwidth through "low-hanging fruit". These "low-hanging fruits" usually can be as simple as:
  • Removing unneeded protocols from the networks (a good protocol analysis will show this)
  • Simple routing adjustments
  • Simple access-list adjustments
  • Duplex settings on Ethernet ports
  • Properly configuring Frame Relay or ATM interfaces
  • Removing or adding needed policy-routes
  • Relocating a server
  • Proxy Server Adjustment/Tweak
  • Broadcast Domain Resize (VLANs or Subnet Masks)
Here are some things that can be done to assess, increase, or reclaim bandwidth:
  1. Hire a knowledgeable consulting company to do an audit. A good consulting company will be able to perform detailed protocol analysis and network data collection. Also, they should understand the RFPs (technology standards) and also the unique needs of school networks. As a sidebar, be wary of "upselling" - some companies may use the audit to sell you gear and additional services.
  2. Use tools such as PRTG and HostMonitor to collect network capacity and performance data. Having a baseline set of data is crucial.
  3. Leverage logging on switches, routers, firewalls, proxy servers, and other devices to collect data at least initially (too much logging can actually decrease overall performance).
  4. Use a Cymphonix appliance to help make sense of application-bandwidth and user traffic.
As we like to make data-driven decisions when it comes to learning, networks and bandwidth, I believe, should be approached using the same principle. There are many tools, many free or low-cost, that can collect and aggregate the data in easy to read reports. This data is not only vital in knowing but also planning, reacting, and communicating the state of the network to school folks who ultimately will approve additional bandwidth.

Should you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

**Photo Credit** Photo retrieved from: http://www.ads2006.org/ads/order08

Monday, May 5, 2008

Economics of Teaching and STEM

Think Globally, Act Locally
I can't but to help read eSchool News articles such as "Summit: Save STEM or Watch America Fail" with a mixture of patriotism and worry.

I don't usually write about such global, and possibly political, issues. But after reading this article and hearing these undertones for quite some time, I felt compelled at least to explore an issue that isn't as abstract and far removed I think as many folks may think.

I like most Americans want our country to thrive. Thriving in our today's age, we must be successful on a global stage. To do this, it is pretty clear, we as a country need to to make science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) a funded national priority among other things.

I don't think technology is the answer to all of our issues in education. But I'm amazed that with what is available today and the power and resources it brings to our collective tables that we haven't found a way to make math, science, technology, and engineering come alive for more of our students. And that's despite having many, dynamic, caring teachers working with students in these subject areas.

Aside from technical tools, Project-Based Learning and Understanding by Design models give us a whole set of tools that connect STEM to life and the world. No longer do students need to memorize only facts from a book, answer them on a test, and then move onto to another unit without much reflection, collaboration, or imagination. PBL and UbD give us powerful platforms of learning that can contextualize STEM for a wide range of learners.

The million dollar questions (54 trillion if you read the article) are:
  • How do we make STEM a priority and effectively achieve our goals within it?
  • Why isn't STEM already a priority?
  • How do we translate a national economic priority to the classroom teachers?
  • Should we be looking to STEM 2.0?
  • How can Personal Learning Networks (PLNs) help connect teachers with "global" issues?
Part of the answer lies, I think, in an interesting observation: there is a missing link between our global economic education priorities and those of the classroom teacher. That is, priorities of folks at different levels of education don't always coincide. The needs of classroom teachers are likely to be completely different than the needs felt at more global levels.

From my limited experience there seems to be two primary economic drivers in education: taxes and earning potential. The amount of money spent on schooling is historically a hot button topic. Earning potential, the second driver, is seen as an individual benefit of learning. A third driver can be very obscure - that's the collective benefit of having students who not only have an interest but excel in STEM. This is the missing link discussed above. For me anyway, this seems to be the common ground what is discussed in economic terms and what goes on in our schools.
  • Do we classroom teachers spend time talking about the economic impact our instructional, curricular, and learning choices are having on our students, our regions, states, and country? Why don't we?
  • Should we be having that conversation at the teacher/grassroots level?
  • Do we need to be having that conversation at the teacher/grassroots level?
Sometimes I think policy is akin to not connecting learning to a student's life...there's no resonance. While there may be a great need seen by some, unless that need is truly understood and seen (contextualized even) chances are it may not stick. The policy may be mandated but not implemented. My past school culture post comes to mind discussing the differences between policy and culture.

I began this post with the popular environment slogan, "Think Globally, Act Locally". There's no doubt we are working hard locally. But in doing so, are we thinking globally? Maybe we need to adopt this mission or vision statement into our daily practice...maybe it's time we think about the economics of teaching. What do you think?