Flipped

I’ve been reading about “flipped” this and that lately. Now, I love buzz words as much as anyone. But why is everything flipped these days? I’ve just finished reading another article about flipped staff meetings. The idea behind these flipped staff meetings is that the mundane informational items are communicated via email or newsletter instead of being shared at the staff meeting. In other words, let people read what they can read and spend staff meeting time with teachers sharing best practices ideas and concepts. How is this a flipped anything? Granted it is a good idea, but flipped?

I was last a building principal over three years ago now. All of our meetings were run with teachers leading the way. We focused on school improvement ideas. We shared best practice strategies. We modeled lessons that were actually used in classrooms. We met in groups to discuss teaching strategies, students, curriculum, etc. We didn’t call it flipped. It was just good practice. I put out a weekly newsletter to share information (with a cute name, of course).

Flipped seems to be the most current fashionable jargon word available. I’ve heard just about everything referred to as flipped. So much so, that flipped has lost almost all meaning to me. There could be a good debate over whether or not the flipped classroom is actually effective or not. To do so, we’d first have to agree on the definition of flipped.

Now, I agree that not everyone is at the same juncture of their journey in educational practice. I’m sure that there are many concepts and ideas that I’m behind in understanding and applying. But can we at least stop glomming unto a name and applying it to everything?

School Visits

The last couple of weeks have extremely busy. Like most educators. However, I was also lucky enough to spend a great deal of that time in schools. Specifically, I spent time in classrooms and media centers (libraries). I miss watching kids learn. I miss the ”light bulb” moments. It was great fun to see that again.

I also spent a little bit of time teaching classes. Not the full on, teacher lessons, teaching all day, but at least I was able to do some real instruction. The topics were things that I was pretty comfortable with and have taught before. Mostly, I was teaching about technology, how to navigate through a web page, etc. (On a side note, it is amazing how many educators don’t really know how to use a browser. Things like bookmarking, Back navigation, etc are a strange concept to some.)

One of my favorite moments was in an elementary school. A teacher was running late. I was in a classroom to help with a Promethean Board issue. The teacher I was helping started collecting the students from across the hall. The room quickly filled and there were more students yet to arrive. I told the teacher that I would take the other class back to their room and get them going. The incredulous look was priceless. “Are you sure?”

I assured the teacher that I would be fine. I had a great time with the first graders. The teacher arrived a bit after we started things out.

I was once again reminded how different things are when you work year round. You lose a bit of the ebb and flow of the year. Since there is no “break” to look forward to, no real new beginnings or endings, the ebb and flow become much closer to a monotonous drone.

Moodle

I’ve posted about open source software in the past. One of my favorite pieces of open source software is Moodle. I’ve been working with Moodle for several years now. It keeps getting better and better. It is a very powerful tool. However, that power sometimes leads to a bit of confusion. The barrier to get going can be intimidating for some teachers.

I’ve been busy working on some projects that revolve around Moodle and making Moodle easier to use and understand. Some of these projects are public and some private. But all of them involve making Moodle easier to use for teachers.

I’ve been working on some tutorials for teachers that take the Common Core Standards and apply them to lessons within Moodle. The focus on these lessons is currently middle school lessons. The idea is that teachers can use the lessons directly, adapt them for their classroom (or grade level) and learn how to use Moodle along the way. This way, they can then implement their own lessons within Moodle as an expert. This is taking a lot longer than I had originally anticipated. However, it is not necessarily a bad thing. I continue learning and growing on implementing blended learning experiences. I’ve had the opportunity to teach in a blended learning situation. I also get to talk to teachers to learn exactly what their struggles are.

For some teachers, the basics are Moodle are confusing. I’m spending some time developing materials that should help teachers better understand the what and how – the main guts – of Moodle better. This leads to teachers having a deeper understanding and being more confident in using Moodle. I believe that this will pay off in spades in the long run.

I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to be in a student role using Moodle. This refreshing point of view really helped me sharpen my instincts as to what can make Moodle easier to use for students. This, in turn, has encouraged me to continue pushing a couple of projects that will hopefully bear fruit soon.

I’m really fortunate to be able to work with a Moodle Master. Plus, I’ve made some other connections that are extremely valuable in learning how to use Moodle for instructional purposes. The idea of developing that support system is crucial to all. The sum is greater than any of the parts. For those that continue to help, support and push me, I’m grateful.

Open Source- Part 1

Open source software is software that is free to use, modify, copy, distribute and more (actually, one could charge for open source, but the licensing means that the code must be freely available). Open source software has a big place in technology and our world. I’m a big believer in open source software. It is something that hits at our altruistic nature. But it really is more than that.

How can something that is free be any good? How can it be sustainable? How can it be trusted?

Quite frankly, I’m usually suspicious of things that are free. After all, there is no free lunch (at least that’s what my mom taught me). I worry about a lot of free services that educators “buy” into. After all, in most cases, if you are paying for it, you are the product. Some of these work out fine. Some don’t.

Let’s take a look at some free and some open source software.

Google Model

Although Google software isn’t usually open source, it is free. Google wants to keep you on the web. They make money be selling advertising. The more you are enculturated to spending time on the web, the more money that they make. Thus, trading services for your habits works for them. This is a similar model to television for much of the life of television (though that changed a bit with cable TV). (This also leaves out of the discussion entirely the concepts of privacy and how Google may be sifting through your data). For the most part, this is a trade off that people are satisfied to make. People trade seeing ads for free email service. People trade seeing ads for the ability to upload and watch videos.

Nings

Nings were very popular at one point. Nings provided a social aspect combined with blogs. Lots of people spent considerable time and energy developing communities that were tied to Nings. Only one problem, the owner of Nings needed to pay the bills. They decided to switch over to a pay model. Currently, Ning is still around. For $25 a month, you can get a basic plan.

Others

There are lots of free sites out there for teachers to use. However, all of them have bills to pay, server fees, hosting fees, and more. Some make money like Google by selling advertising. Others sell products or other services and use the free portions as their own type of advertising. Some are free now and will convert to a pay model once they have enough users (see Ning above).

Open source

So how does open source work? Well, generally, open source works on a couple of plains. Number one, the code is shared. Thus, even if the originator or original company wants to make a profit from the product, others can still use it for free. Others can continue to modify and develop the software.

Open source- model one – extras

One model of open source provides for the basic functionality of a product. If you want extras, you can pay for them. This is great model and people can try things out and decide if they need the advanced features or not. It also allows for users to become used to using things and decide on their own that they want additional features. This model is also useful in that people with highly technical skills (or the willingness to learn) can use the free version, but those who want someone else to do the work can simply pay for the service.

Open source- model two – altruism

A second model of open source is something that is developed and given to the world. This is one expression of altruism. These are frequently shared by many experts. Many of these products drive our world today. Things like Linux, which most web servers run, and Apache, another web server software piece, have been developed to make the world a better place.

Open source – model three – support

Sometimes businesses realize that they can make money off providing support and training for the software instead of the software itself. This is roughly analogous to music bands that really make their money by touring and doing live shows.

Many times businesses realize that their business is improved by contributing to open source software. Thus, some very large companies will actually provide employee time to continue to work on and develop open source software.

Examples

Below are a few examples of open source software that I use. This is not a comprehensive list. These are things that I actually use.

LibreOffice – This is a suite of software tools that can replace MicroSoft Office.

OpenOffice – See LibreOffice.

Calibre – eBook management. Also very useful for converting ebook files from one format to another.

Moodle – Learning management. You’ll need access to a server to use this. This is a very powerful learning management system.

GIMP – image editor package. Similar to Photoshop.

Optimism

PenniesThese really are exciting times that we are living in. Never before has it been possible to reach so many students in so many ways. As humans, we are very visually oriented. We respond to what we see. We make sense of the world by looking around, making judgements, decisions, based on that information that we perceive.

This is one reason that many classrooms have been so teacher driven. Teachers can provide a focal point. A good teacher directs the attention of the students when and where it is needed. Teachers used the tools at hand to do just that. A blackboard allows for all students to see the same thing at the same time. This eventually morphed into the overhead projector. This allowed the teacher to focus the attention of the students while maintaining eye contact. The teacher was able to direct the learning and evaluate as the lesson was under way. What a powerful concept. However, that doesn’t scale well. It lead to teaching to the middle.

Carol Tomlinson and others made a push for differentiated instruction. Who could argue with that? Well, at least until it came time to actual differentiate instruction. Turns out that creating multiple pathways for students can take a time. A lot of time. A really, really lot of time. That wasn’t time invested, it was time spent. Teachers who do a really excellent job of differentiating instruction (and there are some out there), tend to put in a lot of time. Now, most teachers put in a lot of time. I’m talking about 6:00am-8:00pm at school kind of time. It just isn’t a model that seems to be able to be spread far and wide successfully. Yet, I’m excited about Blended Learning and the ability to differentiate instruction. Why?

Blended Learning allows teachers to leverage work. It still means a lot of work. However, it is work that is invested. Not just in the kids in front of the teachers right then, but invested into the future as well. Blended Learning allows teachers to reuse, remix, share, steal, borrow, leverage, etc, the work of creating resources. This work isn’t just for that one class (or one student), but becomes a resource for future classes and students as well.

Blended Learning classrooms now allow teachers to use video easily. This feeds the visual needs of students. The students who need to see the presentation again, can do so. It has never been as easy as it is right now to create video recording that are available for students. And it will only get easier. This allows teachers to create those resources and provide them to the students. This has been a generating force for “flipped classrooms”. But it really goes beyond that. Visually, we can now easily video conference (and this will get even easier). That means that we can take students to places that we never could before. They can see what a place looks like. They can talk to students from other places with the full visual queues that humans instinctively rely on. It also means that we can use video that others have created.

Blended Learning classrooms can do so much more than that. But that focus alone is super powerful. Creating visually intensive opportunities for kids. Grabbing the attention of a student. Focusing their attention in a biologically supported way. All these are powerful options.

Yes, we are on the precipice of fundamental change. These are exciting times. There will be some struggles as we move forward. But just think about what we can do.

History

The world is certainly a different place. Not better, not worse. Different. I visit lots of schools. I love looking at schools. At what they have posted on the walls. At the student work. At what is highlighted. I’m fascinated by the different ways that schools are laid out. The difference between newer schools and older schools can be profound.

School Building.

School based on Independence Hall.

Security is an issue that is very obvious. In the building that I was fortunate enough to serve as a principal, the office was on the interior side of the building. Furthermore, there was no “security trap” (a second set of doors where you can contain people after they enter a first set of doors). Nope. Parents walked through the main doors, crossed through the hallway, and then entered the office. The building itself was beautiful. It was modeled after Independence Hall. The history of the building was fun. It was built in 1929. The most obvious feature was (and is) the central clock tower. (This was recently replaced. The original was all wood and filled with carvings and tools. The new version is fiberglass.) But when the building was constructed, there were no plans for security cameras, buzzers, etc. Furthermore, the building had additional construction at least three times. The additions jutted back from the ends of the building. This made the building into a basic U shape. After 9-11, there was an edict to lock all doors. The problem with this at my building was that we used the “exterior hallway” for traffic flow. That is, the kids would exit from one side of the building and enter the other. That meant leaving those two doors open all the time. Great for kids. Great for traffic flow in an overcrowded building. Not so great for security.

Many of the buildings feature portraits of previous principals. These portraits always interest me as well. In addition to the clothing, background and posture, I usually look at the plate that indicates the years that the person was principal. Many of these are measured in the decades. Lots of principals served as least 10 years with 20 not being unusual. These principals were an integral part of the community. Parents knew them. Parents may have attended that same school as a student with the same principal. Now, principals are moved around frequently. Principals may be in a particular school for three years and then move to another one. It is starting to become rare that a principal spends many years in one school.

All of this leads to the profound shift from place based to person based. Libraries used to be rooms (well, they still are, but that seems to be changing). Libraries are quickly becoming the web. More specifically, sites on the web. Community was built around a geo location – where you lived. Now community is based more around interest. For example, as my kids grew up, their friends tended not to live in the same neighborhood, but participated in the same activities.

The world is certainly a different place. Not better, not worse. Different. Are we preparing our students and children for this new landscape? Are we preparing ourselves? There is no point in living in the past. The present is here. It certainly is different.

New Playground

I read a neat article by Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic called The Overprotected Kid. The article includes interesting anecdotes about children growing up – especially the differences between some areas of Britain and America. It is a lengthy, well written article. The article makes several observations about the move to keep kids “safe”. I encourage you to make a good cup of tea and settle in to read it.

One of the points are that really hit home is that parents now spend more time with their children than ever before. This is in spite of adults (especially women, but also men) now working more hours than ever. That’s right, even though adults are spending more hours at work, they are also spending more hours with their kids. The article mentions how kids are rarely alone. In the author’s childhood, time was spent away from home after school and on weekends. I can relate to that. As a kid, when I got home, I checked in briefly, then headed outside to play in the park or in the street (I had the corner house, so the neighborhood kids largely gathered around my house for street games). Ms. Rosin points out that:
“ My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all.”

This mirrors my own childhood. But it doesn’t mirror the childhood of my kids. My kids spent much more time at organized events (one swam, one danced). In part, this was because of the culture change. There just weren’t kids hanging out for my kids to play with. (For the record, I think that my kids have turned out pretty terrific). They definitely had a different experience than I did growing up.

The article cites many cases of how we are protecting (or overprotecting) kids with little seeming benefit. Injuries aren’t down all that much. Kids are still much more likely to abducted by someone they know rather than a stranger. However, an abduction of a child hits the news hard. It makes it seem much bigger and important in our brains. So, we want to protect our kids from abduction. (Granted, we do want to protect kids from abduction, but the measures that we take are frequently irrational). (By far, the largest cause of death for children is auto accidents.)

There is a cost to all of the safety measures as well. Children need to make small mistakes as the growing up. From those mistakes, they learn important lessons that serve them well later on. This is part of the growing process.

In chatting with friends, we talked about how we used to meet up at the playground. One of my friends has younger kids. One of his sons was laying about. Dad asked his son about going out to the play or doing something.
“Hey, how about playing that game that you like” – a reference to a computer game that the kid likes to play.
The son’s response was that none of his friends were available to play.
“How about doing the campaign?” says Dad.
“No one does the campaigns Dad.”

After a bit of discussion, Dad realized that his son was doing just what he did as a kid. He was waiting for his friends to be available and gather. Only, instead of gathering at the corner or the field, they were gathering online. The characteristics are largely the same as when we were kids, the space is restricted to kids (no adults allowed), the kids all know each other, they wait for each other to be available and it is the play together that matters most. However, it looks really different to the adults.

I’m a pretty optimistic person. Times are changing. Things will not exactly the same as they did when I was a kid. That’s OK. I hope that we try to understand kids and support them. I just hope that we don’t try to support them too much so that they never get the chance to grow.

Educators and Social Media

Recently a Google employee caused quite the stir when he posted [a rant] (http://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2011/10/12/whoops-google-engineer-accidentally-makes-his-plus-sucks-rant-public/) on Google+ about the failings of Google+. It seems as though he meant to post the rant to a select group of fellow Google employees. However, instead of sharing only with them, the “Public” setting was turned on and the post was shared with the world. Keep in mind that this is not a novice user. This is a Google engineer with lots of experience and understanding of how the Internet and Google products work. The post was quickly picked up by bloggers. The author decided to take the post down. However, since it had been picked up and re-shared by many others, it is still freely available.

So, if this can happen to someone who lives and breathes the web, how about teachers and social media? Teachers are taking to social media more frequently (just like the rest of the world). There is a blending of the personal and professional. One wrong setting, one mistaken click, can have tremendous ramifications. Not to mention just plain [dumb decisions] (http://jobs.aol.com/articles/2013/06/18/teachers-social-media-mistakes/).

In the past, I’ve suggested to educators that they have two accounts- a personal and a professional account. Additionally, I’ve suggested that people make sure that they use two totally different pictures for each of the accounts. That way, they can set up one account as the professional “shout from the mountaintop” account and one account as their personal account. Additionally, I’ve suggested that people try to change the settings so that the accounts look as visually different as possible. This is certainly a start. However, the chances of error are still pretty high. Some accounts never really look very different. Facebook as an example, looks pretty much like Facebook. You can’t change the background color, layout, etc. Additionally, Facebook allows you to post pictures and status updates from various other programs. This can easily lead to thinking that you are posting a picture to one account, when in reality is going to another. The chances of simple mistake remain quite high.

Teachers need to absolutely understand that anything on the web is publicly available forever. Some things can seem to go drift off into the ether, but can be retrieved with a bit of research. This includes items from college and prior to being hired as a teacher. Again, one moment of weakness, one bad decision can have profound effects.

Teachers also need to understand the concept of “friending”. Many teachers will friend other teachers at work. Sounds great. You should be able to trust your fellow employees. And this can work out great. After all, you probably spend a lot of time together. Additionally, you have a shared experience that others just can’t understand. But friendship frequently extends more like a web with social media. Thus, something that you post can not only be seen by your friends, but frequently by friends of your friends. So let’s say that one teacher (Mary) is friends with another teacher (Jack). Mary has a bad day. Really rough. A particular student (Joe) caused ton of grief and heartache for Mary. Mary takes to social media and posts that Joe was really obnoxious and annoying today. Furthermore, Mary posts that Joe had a runny nose and hopefully will be out for a few days. Jack, the other teacher, posts a smiley face as a comment. However, Jack had at one time friended Joe’s dad. Now Joe’s dad will see not only Jack’s smiley face, but the original post by Mary. Now, maybe Jack and Joe’s dad had a great conversation at the beginning of the year. Joe’s dad seemed like a great guy (and probably is). Jack may not post much, so he doesn’t think too much about friending parents. After all, he is pretty conservative about using social media. None of that matters at this point. Mary’s post has gone directly to Joe’s dad without Mary having any clue that it was going to happen. Magnify this by the number of teachers, administrators, and staff in your buildings and district.

These issues can also get muddy quickly. There is no law against those over 21 purchasing and consuming alcohol. Posting a picture of drinking that alcohol can have unintended consequences. Never mind that the drinking may be responsible, done on one’s own time, etc. Remember the scenario above. It really only takes one common connection for information to be shared. That information may not lead to direct job loss. Rather, it can change the perception and attitude of the parents and community of the educators.

Humans have always commiserated with each other. Teachers have been known to blow off steam by complaining about things in the staff lounge. It may not even be the way that they truly feel. Rather it is just a frustration or combination of events of the day combined with being human. Many people look at social media as the new “staff lounge”. However, there is a profound difference. The audience in the staff lounge of old was known and limited. The social media “staff lounge” is unknown, unlimited and not restricted by time. Even though someone may have overheard a comment in the old staff lounge, and could repeat the comment, that was work and became less impactful with each telling (in general).

There are no easy answers. The web is not going away. Social media is not going away. Maybe some of these things will work themselves out. In the meantime, here is my advice:
• Set up two accounts on social media that you will use professionally and personally (don’t try to use all of them for professional purposes).
• Limit the professional accounts.
• Keep the professional account strictly professional.
• Keep the personal account personal. Don’t mix the professional and personal.
• Always check before you post to make sure that you are in the correct account.
• Always sign out when you are done.

Good luck.

A new perspective

In dealing with setting up accounts, ways of communicating and how people now want to interact, it's become clear that there is a new schema. In the past, we deal with locations. Now we deal with individuals. This is a profound difference and leads to some interesting effects. Let's take a look at the impact of this change. First though, let's look at the historical shift.

History

In the past, everyone had a home phone. Originally, phone numbers were developed based upon where the switching building was located. Thus, my first phone number was DUnkirk6-1772 (386-1772 – the first two letters of the exchange translated into numbers). Talk about location based. Your phone number was a reflection of where you were. Growing up, you called someone's "house". You asked if "they" were home. When the phone rang, it could be for anyone who lived in the house. If you wanted to reach someone at work, there was a different number. You either called someone's home or work. Eventually, answering machines were invented and if no one was home to answer, you could leave a message. Cell phones were invented. Now you didn't need to be in one place, rather you could answer the phone wherever you were. In the beginning, a cell phone was an additional phone. Over the past few years, home phones have been disappearing entirely. Many people no longer have a home phone. Rather, the cell phone is the only phone. No longer did someone need to know if you were at home or work, they simply called you. The phone is no longer a shared family or community based utility, rather it is a device for one. Thus, when the phone "rings", it is clear who it for. If one moves from one house to another, there is no need to change a phone number. The same phone number works. The idea of a phone has completely changed. It is now a way to directly reach someone. The system for assigning phone numbers has changed as well. Originally, large cities had the area codes closest to the number one. That made it easier for the switch board operators. Now, there is no advantage or reason for an area code to be one versus zero or nine.

Identity is another big issue. Going far enough back, people were from somewhere. More recently, addresses were used for verification. In order to know for sure that someone was who they said they were, a house address was required. Now, more and more, in order to prove who you are, we use email addresses. Again, a shift from a physical location to an individual.

Impact on Education

So how does this impact education. Let's look at the example of how parents and the community contact school. In the past, an address was an address and didn't change. Communication is more often done through email now. In a person based system, this means that you must know the person that you want to contact. For example, you can't just contact the Principal of the school, you need to know the name of the individual who is the principal. May not seem like a big deal, but it can be. Principals change much more frequently now that in days past (another blog post coming on that). Also, there are times when the principal isn't known (say when one has accepted a new position and the replacement hasn't been publicly named yet).

How about how we handle documents? In the past, there was a big filing cabinet that held the important papers of the school. (Actually, there were lots of them). In the principal's office was probably a filing cabinet filled with the history of the school. Past schedules. Pictures. Schedules. Important events. (Not that this was a perfect system. In fact, there are lots of problems with a location based system. Not as many things could be saved. Many items could only be possessed by one person. Access was limited. Theft/loss was a huge issue). Now that documents are person based, if the principal of building A moves to another district, all of those documents can easily be lost. If that account is deleted, all of those documents are destroyed. Additionally, how do we sort out personal documents from school documents? There may be lots of documents that are specific to that individual and are worthless to the school. However, those personal document can be intertwined with crucial documents for understanding and running the school.

Future

So what does the future hold? We are rapidly moving toward a more personalized and person-based system. This is not to say it is good or bad. Rather, sometimes we need to think and plan for these changes. There will be unintended consequences and pleasant surprises. As we move forward, we'll need to consider how we are setting up systems and make conscientious choices about why we make the decisions that we do.

Open Source

I'm a big believer in open source. I love the idea of leveraging a little bit of work from each of us for the betterment of all. I use several open source software solutions. I'll be discussing some of these in this blog. Here are a few that I like:

  • Moodle
  • LimeSurvey
  • LibreOffice or OpenOffice
  • WordPress
    Of these, Moodle is what I'm working on most currently. Moodle is an LMS (Learning Management System). Moodle allows teachers to leverage on-line strategies. Differentiation has always been possible. However, for many teachers, differentiation was incredibly difficult because it took so much time and energy. The teachers that tend to have done it well are teachers that would spend huge amounts of time. Moodle still takes time, but it can leverage that time much more efficiently. Additionally, Moodle can help leverage time by easily sharing great resources.

The problem with Moodle is that it is incredibly powerful. (One huge advantage of Moodle is that is incredibly powerful!) It is sometimes clunky (though it is getting better and better). This combination can mean a large learning curve for new users. And, although Moodle allows for teachers to easily share activities and resources, the development of really good resources is still in its infancy. This is something will continue to develop and more and more great activities will be available.

Some day, hopefully soon, Moodle will be more user friendly. Moodle will also have tons of shareable resources that teachers can download, manipulate for their uses and use for students to learn and grow. We're not there yet, but we are on our way.