Saturday, December 15, 2007

To teach or not to teach technology, that is the question…

The other day after giving a demonstration on a program called Inspiration ( to my staff I asked staff for their opinion on whether or not we should entertain purchasing it for use in our computer labs. I received the usual mixed bag of comments but one comment in particular grabbed my attention and kind of shook me. The comment centered on the opinion that computers are doing too much for us, in reference to using computers to setup writing. After getting over my initial shock I started to think of how to respond to this comment. I thought for several days on an appropriate response and eventually came to the conclusion that no comment was really necessary but I did think it would make an interesting post to my blog.

In thinking about the comment, the teacher had a valid point. All the stories on the news and research indicate kids are spending more and more time either in front of a computer or a gaming system. Now I know that for every study that says this is bad there is another study that says there is some benefit to this. Being a technology teacher I am biased when it comes to the use of technology but I am also aware of it's draw backs, hence my famous saying "The more I work with technology the more I like paper and pencil". This saying stems from my early days in technology education when technology was not as reliable as it is now (although I am aware that some may argue with me on that). I also agree that students need to learn how too effectively use paper and pencil to write and express themselves but I am also aware that in this day and age so much of what is done in the work place is not done using paper and pencil. So I ask you to consider what if we applied the same logic we use with technology today to past that of the technology of the past.

What if we said that students shouldn't use paper and pencil because it allowed them to work outside of the teacher's guidance/supervision? What if we said students shouldn't use books because it messed with their oral skills (retelling history as some cultures stress)? What if we said students were not allowed to take the bus to school because it took away from their physical development (not walking to local school house)? What if we took away teacher's email, my god how would we communicate (don't laugh it happens)? Some of you may think these questions absurd but take a moment to think about the impact of each of these questions on not only a student's education but the financial impact they would have on a district, state, etc. Makes you think a little doesn't it?

Now I am not advocating that we only teach students to use technology to do everything, what I am saying is that we need to start teaching them how to use technology as one of the many tools at their disposal. More and more teachers complain about how we must compete with video games and TV and computer games. Why should we compete with them when we can embrace them? One of the major standards set in place by ISTE is that students need to learn to become producers of technology not just consumers. I can tell you first hand that teachers as well as students are masters of consuming technology. Case in point I used to be great at using the computer to play games, listen to music, read blogs, surf the web. Although now I am starting to practice what I preach in creating this blog, using demo software to create videos of my tech lectures, I am becoming a low level producer. I am working on helping the students in my technology classes become producers as well in the projects I have them create. In doing this I am noticing a difference in their engagement and interest in the subject matter. Students naturally would come into my classes excited until they found out what the curriculum was (typing, basic office skills, etc.), they quickly got bored and constantly looked for ways to get out of work (playing games, surfing the webs, etc.). I used to fight this until I took a step back and looked at what some of them were doing or trying to do. Yes I had the gamers but for the most part I had students trying to access their email, chat rooms, blogs, interactive sites that allowed you to dress dolls, MySpace, etc. In grouping these sites I found that the majority of them were production oriented in nature, not that some would see that upon first glance. This opened my eyes to the power of having students be producers. I changed my curriculum to a project based system where students were producing PowerPoint decks on Repetitive strain injury, planning a vacation, participating in discussion groups, etc. and noticed a turnaround in attitude. When I told students they could either do their pre-write using a word web or by participating in an online discussion guess which one they chose and actually did. Now I will say that students still try and play games in class and I deter it as much as possible but there are times that I do let it go as students need a break just a we teachers need a break as well. However for the most part I have students engaged in what I am showing them and what they are learning. They are interested in how they can use this awesome new tool called excel to do their math homework for them. How can they use word to "do their proofreading and commenting for them" (track changes)?

What I am saying is that when you are faced with the dilemma of should I teach students how to use technology to do something that can be done also using paper and pencil I challenge you to not take the tools out of their hands. Ask yourself this question as well, When a student is out in the real world will they be asked to do things using paper and pencil or using a computer?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Proofreading on the web?

Now I will be the first to admit I am not the world's greatest writer. My spelling is not the best (thank god for spell check) but I do try and proofread all my posts before sending them to the web. This is more than I can say for some major and local news agencies. I have noticed over the past couple of years that there are more and more news stories out there that are a writing teacher's nightmare. No real huge errors like the one that cost a CBS anchor his job (if I remember correctly). No they are small errors like added letters, any for a for example, or forgotten or miss used words in sentences. However it is these small errors that can lead to interesting problems/issues in the wonderful world of Middle School.

In reading a couple of articles on my local news website ( I was shocked to see misspellings and bad grammar. But it just isn't the local news agencies I have seen these same types of errors on big news sites such as and This has been going on the past couple of years now and makes me wonder, Is it more important that the story get posted to the web first (at all possible cost) or that it is correctly written (and we potentially lose viewers)? I also wonder what if these blunders were present on the story copy that the TV hosts read on air. Would they simply read through them and make the corrections or would they read them as is mistakes and all? Would they be forgiven or would they be chastised? Thankfully we may never find out since their editors/proofreaders are better than the editors/proofreaders for the websites. I can only hope that the grammatical errors are corrected as they are pointed out throughout the day. But why are they even allowed to be posted in the first place? What kind of example are we setting for our kids if we allow easily corrected errors in news stories to make the web? I can't wait till I hear the words "but Mr. G. why should I proofread and make corrections if CNN doesn't?" a good question that I have no satisfactory answer for.

It is interesting when public school teachers are scrutinized so heavily for not be "professional" unless we have a degree and/or several years of experience in the subject matter we teach, yet private school teachers need only have a degree in some cases. Now don't get me wrong I am not picking on private school teachers, I sometimes think they have it worse than public school teachers (based on what I have heard from friends who teach in the private sector). Yet the person who is responsible for not leaving any children behind can make up words at a whim as well as other blunders of syntax and grammar. Are we as a society becoming more lax in what we let go in our published writing and public speaking? One may say "what is the harm with just a few errors?" It gives us someone to poke fun of and provides good material for a technology teacher like myself to show my students what happens when you don't double check your work. But I have to wonder when they will ask me the question "But Mr. G. why should I proofread and make corrections if CNN doesn't?"

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Giving Education a 2nd Life

In between work, caring for 2 new twins, and personal time I have been exploring a new world. After reading an article in Learning and Leading with Technology (or was it Edutopia, arrgh I have twin brain) about using the "game" Second Life in education, I decided to check it out. Initially after reading the article I was a bit skeptical about using this "game" at all however, I quickly am finding my attitude changing. I am going to assume that most of you reading this Blog know what Second Life is. For those that don't feel free to check out their website to find out more ( My intent here is to explore a bit about the site and discuss its possible uses in the educational field.

Second life is a virtual reality site where people can not only interact with each other but also change the environment. Within this virtual world you can buy and sell objects (that you create), land, services, etc. You can attend concerts, work, build a virtual home or office. They have their own economy where linden dollars are traded on an exchange. There are several other virtual worlds out there (, World of WarCraft, etc.) but to my knowledge Second Life is the only one that is not a true "game" it is more of another world. There really is no end game with second life you just are there to exist the closest game that approximates Second Life would be "The Sims" but I believe it to be more than that. The interesting thing for me is to see the number of corporations and organizations that are entering into Second Life. Recently I saw the TV Program CSI: New York advertise virtual crime solving game in Second Life. ISTE (International Society for Technology Education) has an island setup in Second Life as well. There are probably more but as I am just a newbie starting out and only just in my 2nd day of the true second life world (you start out in a tutorial and then a learning island). I have a ton more space to explore as I continue my foray in to Second Life, however I want to change gears now and talk about possibilities.

I want to discuss the possibilities of using Second Life as a tool to teach children and adults. I know that some of you may scoff at the thought of teaching in a virtual world. There are several questions that come to mind to support the notion of not being able to teach. Questions such as: How will we know students are paying attention, How will they do assignments, How can they be learning in a game?, What if they look up the answers to our questions?, I could go on and on with these questions and I could answer each one of them but I am sure there are plenty of counter answers as well. But what if we set our biases aside for a second and think about the possibilities?

Within Second Life there is a separate Teen world that adults over 18 are not allowed, except in an educational capacity. This is where one would potentially set up their educational shop (sort ta speak). We would be meeting kids in their "world" that they feel comfortable. There is the constant complaint I here from some teachers that they feel they have to compete with "video games" will here is a way to turn the game into an educational tool. There are very few limits in Second Life, such as gravity. Residents are able to do/create anything they want (as long as they are within the core values set up by the owner (Linden Research, INC.). Think of the possibilities in a science class or a materials class or a programming class? This is the perfect tool for students to meet one of the goals ISTE has for students which is for students to become creators of media and not just consumers of it. Within this world of few limits they can create tools or products that are only dreams now. They can test scientific principals and theories that are impossible here. In a social studies class they can work on visiting lands that were created and populated with individuals from the lands they are studying. The possibilities are endless in my opinion. The question I pose to you all out there is how do you see second life being used as an educational tool?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Technology Standards and a call for more resource teachers

I have to apologize for not posting sooner but with the birth of twins in my household I have had my hand full.

I have recently applied to be part of a team that is developing Educational Technology Grade Level Equivalencies (GLEs) for our state (Washington). I am not sure how many other states have GLEs for Ed Tech, but I for one am excited that we are finally doing this. I have worked in two school districts in my short time teaching and I have found that there are varying opinions when it comes to the standards movement in education. One could say there is almost one opinion for every teacher.

As I stated earlier I believe they are a good thing. Personally they have helped improve my teaching as well as given me spring boards to start from when I have been asked to teach subjects that are new to me. I have also found that with standards like the ones that the International Society of Technology Educators (ISTE) they help illustrate what needs to be taught. When I first started working in the Ed Tech field I had very little (as there was very little) experience in what students needed to know. The district I was working in had its district standards (or what they called standards) but these were more of a curriculum map for a curriculum that wasn't there. They talked about what students should be able to do at various grade levels (ex. Kindergarten-understand and use a mouse, basic understanding of keyboard layout). They were helpful to me in my role as a technology resource teacher but were of little help to the general ed teachers, if anything they served to further frustrate teachers with just one more thing that needed to be taught. As I began to read and understand the ISTE NETS (National Educational Technology Standards) for all levels (Students, Teachers, Administrators) I found that there was more than just basic computer operation to technology. The ISTE NETS also helped me to see that Ed Tech was not, and should not be a separate curriculum but should be integrated. They also helped me see how easily one could integrate (and in most cases already is) into what they are already doing. The NETs were and are very broad in what they ask of students which is good, but they also come with examples of technology integrated lessons. These example lessons show that integration is more than just plopping kids in-front of a computer and letting them research or type up a paper there is problem solving, data collection, and much much more. There is the use of digital calculators, probe-ware, MP3 players, GPS devices, presentation devices you name it. Our students are just salivating at the chance to utilize their technology (MP3 Players, Cell Phones, Gaming systems) in an academic way; they are just waiting for teachers to integrate it. However, with all the other things we must teach (and biases) technology often goes to the way side. Technology use and instruction is often times put into its own class (especially at the upper levels) where both students and teacher are forced to use technology in a stand-alone environment. I propose that continuing down this educational path will spell the death of technology integration.

Students need more than just a class on how to use technology, they need to see how technology can be and is interwoven into everything they do. This is where standards and technology resource teachers become crucial. With standards teachers will know what needs to be taught when. The basic structure will be in place to allow teachers to mold and adapt lessons that help students meet the standards that are set forth. Resource teachers (both building and district level) are needed to make this happen. I fully agree that regular classroom teachers have very little time in their day to modify or rework lessons they are using to meet state and district standards in reading, writing, math, science, etc. Having a resource teacher available to look at their lessons and assessments and make suggestions at where technology can be infused or integrated will eliminate the lack of time issue.

Resource teachers eliminate the lack of time issue regular ed teachers give in several ways. They provide a just in time training style for when students need to learn more about a specific program or hardware. The resource teacher would schedule time to teach how to utilize the technology in the context of the lesson that is being done in the regular classroom. They also serve as a support for the regular ed teacher that wants to teach certain aspects of technology on their own. The resource teacher would have the time to research best practices of technology use as well as assess and maintain records of how students are meeting the standards set by the state and federal government.

Well I think I have given enough for people to chew on for awhile and also I am hearing the call of my infant twins. I can't wait to read comments and get feedback.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kid Nation

Last night I watched the TV show "Kid Nation" on CBS. The concept of the show is that 30 some odd kids ranging from 8 years old to 14 years old were sent to an old west ghost town and give the task of creating a viable town. Now believe me I am not a huge fan of reality TV by any means but this one might be a bit different. One interesting difference between this show and others is that no one is voted off; they have to ask to leave at the town meeting. They have competitions for jobs/pay. They also have to deal with real issues such as those who don't pull their own weight, bullies, bossy kids, cooking, etc. Watching them work together is an interesting site, as there is no one age group that is stepping up and taking charge yet they all want someone in charge. There is a town council who makes decisions such as who is on what team, who gets the golden star at the end of the week, and what prize do we get for winning the challenge. This last one was interesting and sort of re-establishes my believe in kid kind, as they had to choose between more out-houses and TV (those chose the outhouses). One thing I find interesting is how involved the kids are in wanting to make this town work. Looking at it from a teaching standpoint I see all spectrums of Phil Schlechty's patterns of student engagement (Shaking up the School House, Schlechty 2001) from rebellion to authentic engagement. For the most part I would say that the kids were in the ritual engagement arena.

What brought me to write this entry was thinking back to my first teaching assignment in a Microsociety school ( Even though it was a tough teaching assignment as a first year teacher I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge posed. I see a lot of similarities between Kid Nation and the Microsociety program especially in the arena of engagement but also in the arena of real life experiences. I see kids working in actual jobs just like adults do in the real word. I see kids tackling tough issue such as bullying, speeding, inequality, and many others just as we adults do. In the school I was at my responsibility was to help run the small businesses. Students in this area were responsible for creating and maintaining their own small manufacturing or service type business. Watching this 3rd through 5th graders work on their projects and maintain checking accounts, etc. was interesting to say the least. I wouldn't want to work for some of them as they were strict task masters. The one thing I was able to observe of the whole school was how seriously students took their jobs; they really got into their jobs and took them very seriously (which I am beginning to see in Kid Nation as well). This kind of harkens back to the elementary school teacher philosophy of student jobs (row leader, calendar monitor, etc). These "jobs" were used as more a management tool to help teach responsibility but wouldn't it be interesting to see what the impact these "jobs" had on student performance. It would be even more interesting to see what sort of an impact "jobs" would have on a higher level as well.

One of the things I look for in my tech classes are real work community service projects my students can apply technology to. One year I had students work on running a food/coin drive for the local food bank one spring. Another year I had students work on writing PSA's (public service announcements) on RSI's (repetitive strain injury) for their peers. This year I am toying with the idea of having my students tackle the task of planning of our response to a lahar (volcanic mud flow) drill in our district. I have only just mentioned to my students that I am thinking of doing this and I can see the excitement in their eyes at taking on this real world task. Just seeing the excitement in their eyes helps me to realize why I love this job so much. J

Friday, September 7, 2007

Games in Education: Opening Pandora’s box or meeting students on their level?

As a middle school technology teacher I get the same question from students every year, "Are we going to get to play games?" My pat answer is "no". This usually gets some grumpy faces and less than positive comments from some of my older students. Although as I reflect back on this question of my students I find myself wondering why not allow them to play games? I wonder to myself (and the occasional colleague) why are we as teachers so against the use of video games in the classroom? Is it because we are conditioned this way by our teacher education programs, our colleagues, or is it a philosophical decision? I have as yet to find a decent educational reason why. In talking about this with some colleagues and friends the discussion turns to the topics of role playing and how that was seen as a great evil back in the mid to late 80's (think Dungeon and Dragons). I was told many a time I was doomed because I engaged in role playing with my friends. However, we use role playing quite extensively in education at all levels and subject areas. Board games are making their way into the classroom as well. In my administrative classes we played a board/role playing game based on the introduction of a new form of professional development in our district. Board games are also used as both reward time and academic enrichment in elementary classrooms. Can it be that time just needs to go by before video game playing is accepted in the educational field?

I pose the question here, why don't we use video games in education? I have been playing video games for almost 20 years now and have seen all different types of games. I find them to be relaxing after a long hard day at work, I find them to be a great way to relate to my students, and I also find them to be a great source of education as well. Now I fully agree that sitting down in front of a monitor for hours at a time is not good for kids of any age (young and old alike). However, I believe there is some merit to introducing them into education as well. I am sure that most of us have heard in the news about the various studies on video game use by adults. One such study by the JAMA, looked at how playing video games impacted a surgeon's laparoscopic surgery skills ( ). It was found that in those surgeons and residents who played video games performed better on a laparoscopic training simulator than those who didn't. There have also been studies on how playing video games help the elderly avoid dementia as well as keeping their brains sharp. In most of the studies and articles I have read both the pros and cons of video games are discussed ( ). I whole hearted agree that time on games and/or on the computer should be limited but I also think it is time for our profession to look more into the use of video games as a tool.

I have talked with one of my fellow classmates who has used video games with some of his high school social studies kids. In the few years he has been using a simulation type game like Age of Mythology (Microsoft) he has seen an improvement in test scores as well as an understanding of the principles of economics. There are a ton of these simulation type games out there that are applicable to any subject area. Games like Roller Coaster Tycoon (Atari) for science, Flight simulator (Microsoft) for pilots, and as mentioned earlier Age of Mythology or Age of Empires (Microsoft) for social studies. There are also a number of games out there that can be used to work with young students on hand eye coordination, fine motor skills, shape recognition, basic problem solving, typing, the list goes on and on. I believe it is time we start to explore more into the uses of video games in education. What are your thoughts on this issue?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Teacher Professional Development, A Slippery Slope or the Yellow Brick Road?

I have been working on developing an effective training model for the teachers in my district. This has been a rather interestingly fun task to undertake and I can't wait to start the training. The reason for the training is that we are deploying MS Office 2007 this year and with the both subtle and drastic changes in the interface and some of the features, training is needed so our teachers don't freak. Over the past two months I have been thinking about how to conduct the training so that it best meets the needs of teachers, administrators, kids, etc. and so I decided to pose the question to all you out there to give me some feedback on this issue, but first some background.

This started after doing a demo of MS Office 07 for our district. I was pretty shocked at the changes that were made. Things are quite a bit different and can be confusing at first, but once you play with it things start to make sense. I dare say this is one of the program interface changes that Microsoft has done that actually takes the user in mind, at least in my opinion. After doing a year of demoing the new Office our district Director of IT gave the green light to install it on staff machines and select student machines. Needless to say I was elated and terrified at the same time when the word came down the pike. If your buildings are anything like mine you have an awesome mix of those staff who are your early adopters, those who are comfortable, and those who know just enough to be dangerous. Some may think this creates a trainer's worst nightmare but I have actually come to enjoy the diversity of my staff as it helps keep me grounded in reality. My tech team and I undertook the informal/formal task of surveying staff on two questions in regards to training: 1. What style of tech training would you like? And 2. How would you like tech training conducted? The responses we got back were as varied as my staff but there was one clear message "be respectful of my time." In creating the training for Office 07 I tried to keep that message in mind. What I created over this summer was a training model that incorporated elements of a PowerPoint Deck that introduces the new interface and some of the key changes that may drive people mad. The second part takes advantage of our new online community. I designed a series of sites centering on each of the essential MS Office programs used in our district. On these sites are links to online interactive audio lessons developed by Microsoft (which I feel are pretty good at teaching the basics), various discussion boards (tips and tricks, questions, share outs), some simple tasks to be done for accountability, and document libraries to share our creations. The last part of the training is a scheduled training session with me and teachers who have a specific task/project/document they want to do/create. At this training session we work solely on creating whatever it is that the teachers want to create and will use in the classroom(s). My hope is that by haveing teachers do the basics online at their own pace it will be respectful of their time and empower them to request more specific training. Then once they have a feel for the new look and feel we can come together and work on specific skills.

I developed this model after the feedback I received on the shotgun style training I did a few years back where the message was that people enjoyed the training but they didn't leave with anything but a major handout and from anecdotal feedback on our mentor training we designed as part of our HP Teacher to the Future grant project. They like the time of the training, during the school day, but did not have enough time to really get to know the program they were learning. So I am hoping to meld the two together in this online/ targeted mentor style training. On a side note I am also toying with the idea of leading our building tech leaders through the online portion of the training and them go back and lead their building through what they went through (the mentor portion).

The preliminary feedback I am getting on this idea is rather mixed. Some feel it is a great idea in theory but that in reality people will not do the online portion. Others feel that it is a great idea and that staff will appreciate the effort put into the online portion that they can do on their own time and then come together and create something they will actually use throughout the year.

My question is: What are your thoughts on the proposed training model? Will it work or will it flop? What would you do to improve it? I look forward to your comments.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Beginning My Journey into the Wonderful World of Blogging

Welcome to my first foray into the world of blogging. As the description says I am a middle level teacher in the arena of technology. This blog is both a learning experience as well as an opportunity for me to share and gain insights into the tools my students are ad will be using. So feel free to share your thoughts and ideas as we journey through the world of teaching at the middle level.

On another blog I read about whether or not we should be focusing on teaching kids 21st Century skills (technology, blogging, podcasting, etc.) or more generic skills that allow students to effectively communicate and function in the 21st Century. I tend to believe the latter of these two. Kids today come to use with a basic skill set on how to sign on and get to where they want to go and do. However, I am noticing more and more that kids are lacking a basic understanding of not only how the technology works but how to utilize it to effectively communicate and problem solve. To them (if some of them are reading) it may not seem important to know how a computer works, how to save files with unique names, how to touch type, how to do an efficient search, etc. I know when I ask my students this question I am told "I already know how to use PowerPoint" or "I know how to get where I want to go" or my personal favorite "why would I need to know that" (same excuse I used in geometry class). I get the same excuses every year yet when we actually get into the programs and tools we use in my classes the frustrations of the students are very abundant. As we work through the class I find that some are even amazed by some of the things I show them, for example that you can change the interface language on Google. The biggest frustration that I see with my students is that they struggle with wanting to do something but not wanting to look stupid by asking the teacher for help. To help alleviate this stress I encourage students to use the help features associated with the program they are using, however this causes more stress because often time's students don't know how to use these tools.

The phrase "work smarter not harder" comes to mind in situations such as these. It is imperative that we as teachers, especially at the middle level, start teaching students how to use technology within the context of not only the content we teach but also how to use it. The excuse that teachers give me when I work with them on integration is that "students are already tech savvy". I would counter that with that students are tech comfy. They are not afraid to use technology because it is something they have been exposed to all their lives just as most of us have been exposed to the current technology of our times (TV, VCR, Telephone, Tape recorders, CD players, Cars, etc.) for most of our lives. Just as we had to learn how to use these technologies (thus allowing us to become comfortable with them) so too do students have to learn how to use current technologies.

So it is important that we as teachers not shy away from 21st century and beyond technologies and the skills required to use them but embrace them.