Changes Are Coming Quickly

When I moved back to southern New Jersey to be closer to family, I knew that it was a possibility that I would not be in a school for a little while. Unfortunately, that turned out to be a whole year. For the last year, my time has been split. I have been working as the IT Coordinator for a healthcare company. It is not something I enjoy, but I’ve been thankful to have a job. Also, I’ve been working very closely with Dr. Kevin Washburn and Clerestory Learning, a partnership I announced in September of last year.

Now, I will continue to work with Clerestory Learning/Make Way for Books. Working with Kevin and his wife Julia has been one of the pleasures of my career so far. They are passionate people and are making a real impact with what they do. I am proud of the work we have done together, especially this interactive unit design tool,  and look forward to the exciting projects we have planned.

I was just offered a position as a school library media specialist at a K-8 school district. In speaking with the superintendent and the facilitating teacher over several interviews, I am very excited about it. They are looking for someone who wants to collaborate and co-teach with teachers, help train and equip the teachers, and bring the library to the 21st century. It seems like it is going to be a great fit for what I love to do. I just found out last night and I start tomorrow. I can’t wait.

I haven’t updated this blog much lately. Part of that is because I’ve felt a little disconnected not being in a school where I can try all the new ideas I read about regularly. That should change, though, and I expect to start updating it more regularly soon.

 

What’s the Point?

For the last few years, I have been a staunch proponent for the integration of technology into the curriculum, although not with some specific conditions. Recently, I have read several concerns from politicians in different countries about “throwing money at” education. While I choose to look at money spent on education as an investment, technology is one area that may be expensive and politicians, policy makers, parents, educators, and students need to know whether money spent on technology is a wise investment of tax payer money that will result in greater student learning. I would like to look at some of the reasons in favor of technology integration as well as the concerns some people have and the optimal conditions in which technology integration can benefit student learning.

Reasons - There are many reasons that I am an advocate for effective technology integration. Here are some of those that I consider the most compelling.

  • True Differentiation – As teachers, we talk of differentiation often. This refers to the practice of having different goals for students according to their abilities, allowing them to progress at paces different from others in the class, and allowing them to demonstrate their understanding in multiple ways. Once students understand how to use technology to learn, they can solve a problem or meet a goal in multiple ways. Those who need it can have extra scaffolding or resources. Those who finish early can learn more deeply. It makes true differentiation a more manageable procedure when the teacher does not have to prepare specific individualized material for 125 students but rather can include students in the process of setting goals and determining how to meet them.
  • Equality of Access – Schools cannot control what resources students have at home. Some students may have books, computers with Internet access, or access to a library whereas others may not. What schools can control is how students can have access to information during the school day. Making computers and the library, as well as other spaces depending on the school, open to students before, during, and after the school day can go a long way towards helping students become independent learners. Implementing a 1:1 program (where every student is given a device, such as a laptop, tablet, smart phone, or something else, by the school to use both at school and at home) can go even further by helping students to have access at home.
  • Engagement – There is a fallacy that is often promoted in education. It is thought by many that a silent classroom where every student appears to be listening to the teacher is an effective classroom where the students are paying attention. While that may be the case occasionally, I am more often than not concerned. Learning is messy and does not occur solely through listening. Students need to be doing more than listening (This is not to say that students never need to quietly listen to directions or explanations, but rather that that should not be the primary mode of learning.). Ideally, a technology-infused classroom should be allowing the students to participate in the learning process and, therefore, be more engaged. Greater engagement leads to greater understanding and retention.
  • Collaboration – Being able to work together with people of all different ages groups, cultures, and geographies is a skill that will help students in any position. There are so many tools that can help to augment collaborate within the classroom as well as make it possible to collaborate with others from around the world. Learning with and from students and experts beyond the classroom can be a tremendously enriching experience.
  • Independence – In the traditional model of teaching, learning seems to occur through transmission. The teacher says, the students hear and learn. However, real learning does not often occur that way. Now, through technology, students do not need to wait for the teacher to learn about something. There are some many resources available in some many different media (audio, text, video, etc…) that students can become independent learners in many ways.
  • Passion – Related to independence, students become more invested in the educational process when they have some choices about what and how they learn and when they can learn, at least in part, according to their passions. While the teacher should help students to discover and explore their passions, students should be able to simultaneously explore their passions while working towards mastering standards or investigate how what the class is learning about has significance in their own lives.
  • Authentic Audiences – It has never before been easier to get an authentic audience to look at one’s work, whether it is a song, a video, a written piece, etc… If the teacher is the only person to look at a student’s work, it cannot be authentic and, thus, looses meaning to the student. Students can easily send work to, for example, a local senator or to other students in different parts of the world; it means a lot to kids when their work is validated by those outside of their normal classroom.
  • Promote Digital Literacy Skills – Digital literacy skills have become a vital part of everyday life. Students need to be able to sort through the multiple streams of information that are directed towards them every day. They need to be able to discern what information is sound and what is false. Proper etiquette online becomes more important all the time as social networking becomes more embedded in the public consciousness. Without these skills, students can easily get into trouble online. Teachers need to ensure that their students have these skills. Remember also that school library media specialists can be a great resource for this.
  • Assistive Technology – All students have strengths and weaknesses. Assistive technology can help to allow students to learn on a more level playing field. Screen magnifiers, text-to-speech programs, and many other assistive technologies can help students to learn in ways that might not be possible without.
  • Efficiency – Unfortunately, paperwork is a large part of many school systems. Technology can allow people to streamline many repetitive tasks so that we have more time for the important things, such as actually working with students.

Concerns - There are many concerns about investing in technology in schools, some of which may be valid and some may not. Below, I try to explore some of the most common.

  • Distractions – It is a fairly common belief that having access to technology and the wide variety of sites on the Internet will be too great a temptation to keep children from distraction. However, if students are distracted, it is largely due to the classroom environment. When technology is introduced, students need to be trained on how and when to utilize it. The expectations need to be clear that it is a learning device and should be used as such. There are three reasons that I do not subscribe to the idea that students will be too distracted. First, when students are truly engaged, they will be focused on the task at hand and not their next Facebook post. Second, if a student is not paying attention, it is most likely not because of the computer, but rather the computer simply makes it more visible. If a student is not paying attention, generally the teacher, lesson, concept, etc… is not as interesting or important as something else in the student’s life; therefore, the teacher needs to find ways to make the class more interesting and important to the student. I am aware that this is a somewhat broad generalization and does not apply in every scenario. Third, when students leave school, they will be subject to countless distractions. Teachers need to help them learn to deal with those distractions rather than shield them and leave them unprepared.
  • Technology does not change the way we learn – I agree that good teaching definitely existed before technology and still exists without technology today. However, saying that technology has not changed the way that students learn is a fallacy. Technology is changing every aspect of life and schools need to stay current. Another way to think of this is to examine what we could not do before. My first year as a teacher, I did not have access to much technology and I taught in a relatively traditional way for the first few months. In the second and subsequent years, I was able to procure my own computer lab for my students. Letting them work in an inquiry-based classroom, solving real-world problem, and networking with people around the world made a tremendous benefit in their learning. We could have done some of that before, but not to the same extent. I believe that technology can allow for a great depth of learning that may be difficult to attain without it.
  • Infrastructure – This concern is the most valid to me. Unfortunately, many schools simply do not have the hardware to give enough students access or the network infrastructure to allow many students to be online at the same time. Retrofitting a school to support ubiquitous wireless or looking into buying devices with 3G/4G cellular connections can be expensive, but Internet access is simply a must.

Conditions - There is no 1 ideal classroom. Teachers have different strengths and, more importantly, students all have different needs. There are some aspects that need to be given thought to before integrating technology though.

  • Paradigm shift – When every students or every group of student has a device, be it a laptop, a tablet, a phone, or something else, the paradigm in the classroom needs to drastically shift. By nature, when every student has a device, it becomes more about them. As the classroom become more student centered, the lessons need to reflect that. Many teachers have tried to teach traditional lessons in a 1:1 environment, using modern devices as expensive notebooks. In this case, it becomes very easy for students to stop paying attention or pay attention to something more interesting. When every student has access, we need to take that into consideration and find ways to utilize that.
  • Careful forethought – While I obviously believe in the power of technology to transform learning, it is not necessary or appropriate to use in every situation. Therefore, careful thought must be given to how and when technology will be used and that needs to be explained to students at the beginning of a lesson.
  • Have a backup plan – Technology is built by people and therefore fallible. So, a backup plan is always a good idea. If you ever teach a lesson dependent on technology and have the technology fail, you will quickly understand why. What will you do if the Internet goes down or the site you want to use does not work? What if 2 students’ computers go down? Usually, nothing adverse will happen, but the lesson will run more smoothly in the event something does happen if you plan for it.
  • Teach safe and proper use – As mentioned above, this is simply a must. Technology cannot be introduced to students without teaching them responsible use. This should happen both when they are first exposed to technology and be ongoing as they utilize it throughout the year.
  • Proper training for staff – It is unrealistic to drop off a lot of technology and expect teachers to know what to do with it, both technically and pedagogically. Training and support, both at implementation and during normal use, is tremendously important to ensure success. It is a poor investment that spends millions of dollars on technology and nothing on training.

What do you think? Are there any other advantages or concerns that you feel strongly about or that you disagree with?

 

Update on Techniques for Effective Technology Integration

Over the summer, I wrote the first 5 chapters of a hopeful book, tentatively titled Techniques for Effective Technology Integration (Catchy, right?). I turned it into a manuscript proposal and sent it to some educational publishers after some advice and encouragement from some educational writers I know. The help I received from my PLN in writing it was immense.

After talking with 2 publishers, I’ve narrowed it down to the one that I would like to work with. I can’t reveal that at this time. What I can reveal is that, before I get to a contract or publishing stage, I need to rewrite those first five chapters. My goal in writing this book is to provide sound pedagogical techniques around technology integration that will help teachers to effectively integrate technology regardless of the specific tools. Hopefully, that will be of more use than a book of tools that are quickly dated. I need to give the book a much tighter focus and spend less time on individual tools.

The main area where I will need help is in providing real examples as I am not currently in the classroom.

I will be leaning heavily on the experience of my PLN and hope you will continue on this journey to help equip teachers to improve education for all of our students.

Marathon to End Poverty

I have not written a blog in over a month, which is the longest dry spell in my nearly 2 years of writing here. There are a lot of reasons for that which I will not get into at the moment, but I do hope to start reflecting on teaching practice here again soon. This post is about a newer passion of mine and is not directly education related.

In the last few weeks, in no small part due to the help and support of my friend and marathon-runner Kevin Washburn, I’ve taken up running. Currently, I’m reading Ryan Hall’s book Running With Joy. I find reading his physical and spiritual journey helpful as I prepare for my first half-marathon next weekend.

I am not that competitive by nature; I have no illusions of winning any races. I just like running. I like how I feel physically, mentally, and spiritually when I am running; especially when I’m running outside. One of the things about Ryan’s journey that connected with me is that the smallest things we do can make a big impact, both on their own and when added together with acts of others. In the classroom, that the smallest things, like actually smiling at a child, can make a difference in a child’s day or life.

Ryan and Sara Hall started the Hall Steps Foundation. It is started with the goal of ending global poverty. At first blush, it sounds almost laughable. However, it is their philosophy which resonates with me. No one can do this alone. However, everyone, moving in the same direction in support of a cause can make a big difference. Some of the initiatives that they are supporting are:

  • “constructing community wells in East Africa to secure water access”
  • “funding an orphanage in Kenya to ensure access to shelter and basic education”
  • “sponsoring legal counsel for victims of human trafficking in Southeast Asia to enhance victims’ physical autonomy.”

With that goal in mind, I have signed up for my first marathon. I am going to be running the North Face Endurance Challenge in Bear Mountain, NY on 5/7. I would be honored if you would stand with me. I am asking for donations of $26 for this charity. $26 is a symbolic amount for the charity, although any amount, more or less, is definitely appreciated.

My initial goal is to raise at least $500. If you all come through and raise more than $500, I will register for the 50k instead of the marathon. I cannot guarantee a good time, but I can pledge to keep moving forward as we strive for this important goal. Thank you.

You can donate here:

Also, if desired, I will post a picture/link in the sidebar of this site for any donations over $100.

Thoughts on 1:1

I just read a post by Patrick Larkin on his school’s journey to becoming a 1:1 school. In this particular instance, his school will be utilizing iPads; every teacher and student will have one.

Ira Socol, as he is so skilled in doing, points out in the comments one of the inherent flaws in the 1:1 system. While I have recognized the limitations of 1:1 programs, I have generally (and still do) regarded them as positive, assuming of course that there is the proper IT infrastructure, support, and pedagogical adaptations. Ira’s main point is that school’s involved in 1:1 programs like this implicitly assume that all students are the same; that one device will meet the needs of everyone.

Before I delve into my thoughts on a different direction for 1:1, which was prompted by Ira’s comment, I would like to preface this with a few thoughts.

  • First, this is not a slight at Patrick or BHS. I know Patrick personally and it would have been an honor to work with him had I moved to Burlington like I had planned. I believe BHS moving towards giving every student an iPad is an overall net good. It will help the teachers to move towards a more student-centered pedagogy; it will give students more access without depending on the whim of a teacher; it will help both teachers and students to view and use technology as a tool that can promote learning. Having been following the blogs of Patrick and other BHS staff, I feel that they are moving wisely, involving many stakeholders in the process and having classes test drive class sets of iPads for shorter periods.
  • Second, I recognize that many programs are using the 1:1 technology to personalize instruction and help meet the individual needs of their students.
  • Third, I recognize that many districts, not just 1:1 districts, are locked into restrictive contracts with a specific vendor, but I am not a fan of these contracts and find they usually benefit the vendor more than the district.
  • Fourth, the ultimate goal of 1:1, which for me is helping students to become independent, life-long learners, is unchanged.
  • Fifth, bring your own technology is an important movement and technology will only become more ubiquitous. Until every student has a device, though, I like the idea of the school system providing devices, whether for all or for those that do not have access.

I really take Ira’s point to heart because I feel that the choice of device is a very personal decision. I love my Droid X, but it would not work nearly as well for my wife, who prefers the iPhone. What I would like to see a school district do is to bring in many devices in the price range that they are willing to accommodate and have a day where students can try them and learn about the advantages and disadvantages of each. Then, allow the students to choose what will work best for them once they have tried them and have all the information.

Some possibilities:

  • Traditional tablet computers:  laptops that also have a touchscreen have many benefits when they are well designed.
  • Laptops: Mac, Windows, and Linux all have distinct strengths. Give students a choice.
  • Smart phones: there is a lot to be said for a computer that you can take anywhere. There is a precedent for schools buying smartphones for students with data plans so that students can have universal access from everywhere.
  • Netbooks: while I am not a fan of netbooks generally, the form factor does make them appealing to some.
  • Tablets: I love tablet computing, but it is not for everyone. Some do not like the soft keyboards, some prefer to have a lot of applications open at once, etc… The new crop of Android tablets, running 3.0, and the iPad both are good examples of powerful tablets.

I know that finding insurance and vendor contracts may be difficult. I think, though, that the main concern for many will be teacher apprehension at dealing with divergent platforms. At one point, this would be a greater concern for me than it is today.

  • First, a 1:1 environment really needs to be student-centered in order to be successful (so do normal schools, but it is even more apparent when students have a potential “distraction” on their desks or in their pockets). This is taking it just a little further in that direction.
  • Second, this usually comes from teachers wanting everyone to be able to do the same thing, on the same platform. It is convenient, but it is not necessarily the best. I prefer, once students are trained on how to utilize their technology, to give them a problem and allow them to solve it and present it however they deem fit. Not everyone needs to send in their essay in .doc format, for example.
  • Third, as HTML5 progresses, we can accomplish nearly everything that was traditionally done on the desktop in the web browser, which is nearly universally available from major devices now.

Lastly, this scenario scares a lot of IT directors and facilitators. Unfortunately, especially as smartphones become more ubiquitous, you will lose control of your network as they either use their own cellular networks or get around it. It is better to train them on how to responsibly use technology than to try to limit their access beyond what is required by federal, state, and local requirements

What do you think? Is this a viable idea?

Architecture of Learning Give Away

My friend Kevin Washburn just published his excellent book, Architecture of Learning, for the Kindle (I thought it was excellent even before we were friends). The book focuses on designing instruction around how the brain actually learns.

In the joint interest of helping other educators to grow and to celebrate the debut of Kevin’s book on the Kindle platform, I would like to give away one copy. It is quite simple. The winner, chosen randomly, will receive a gift of the book in their email. The winner will be chosen Sunday evening.

Rules

1) Leave a comment on this post, preferably about why you think this text could benefit you and/or your students.

2) Tweet out the following message: “Architecture of Learning by @kdwashburn is now available for Kindle. http://goo.gl/xxqFL #profdev #education”

Promoting Reflection

Today at Educon, I led a conversation titled “Promoting Reflection.” I really wanted to stay true to the spirit of Educon and make this a conversation/workshop, not a lecture. I tried to take on the role of the facilitator and tried to make sure that I talked less than the group as a whole. I steered the discussion, but it belonged to those in the room and those participating online. I wanted to share some of what we came up with today. It is a combination of the work from our collaboration Google Doc and my own planning about the topic.

What is reflection?

  • Thinking about stuff
  • Meta-cognition – thinking about thinking
  • Creating associations
  • Learning

Slowing Down the Learning Process – Pro/Con

  • http://notyetfullytrained.posterous.com/quote-from-joan-richardsons-slow-down-to-spee
  • Not an inch deep and a mile wide
  • Get a chance to make connections – things aren’t in isolation
  • An opportunity to process and retain
  • More careful analysis – less “frantic”
  • Teach less and learn more.
  • Without DI, kids get bored.
  • Let students know why we are slowing down.
  • Thoughtful about what you are going to include – forces some prioritizing
  • Ask STUDENTS! They are the best resource about what they need.

Characteristics of a Reflective Educator

  • The reflective educator has time set aside specifically for thinking about his professional practice, growth needs, and students’ needs.
  • The reflective educator takes action upon his focused thoughts about professional practice. He does not continue in a course of action that he has realized is not working.
  • The reflective educator analyzes his own lessons to see what worked and what did not. He makes changes as necessary. When a lesson does not go well, which will happen to everyone, he learns from it and does not teach the lesson the same way again.
  • The reflective educator recognizes the inherent differences in his classes (when he has more than one group of students) and does not treat all classes the same by teaching exactly the same lesson.
  • The reflective educator takes planned time within class to determine the efficacy of the lesson and take steps to improve it, if need be.
  • The reflective educator knows both his strengths and his students’ strengths. His lessons are designed around their strengths and areas of interest to maximize learning.
  • The reflective educator is cognizant of his own weaknesses and takes planned steps to improve in those areas.
  • There is culturally no time for rest – there are too many activities and demands for attention. Must be prioritized.
  • Must have a life outside of school. Physical activity provides opportunity.
  • Retreats from the normal day is helpful.
  • Reflection is an active, intentional process.
  • Reflection involves being challenged.
  • Reflection = caring.
  • Using spirituality to support educational reflection.

Reflection and Passion

  • Reflection is a state of mind that needs to be developed.
  • Students need to practice reflective skills on things that they care about to develop a reflective mindset.
  • Promoting reflection is tied to making learning meaningful. When it is something they care about, they will naturally think about it. Reflection is a way of processing things that matter.
  • Don’t force it outside of school; the risk of killing their passion is not worth it.
  • Create a #GTD=Getting Things Done mentality, to support your reflective process

Public vs. Private Reflection

  • There is an inherent risk of failure or rejection in a public medium.
  • Learn about and make connections, such as reflecting with others on sites like Comments4kids.blogspot.com
  • Reflection comes at the end of learning.
  • Public information can help benefit others.
  • Learn communication skills.
  • Closed networks can help protect students as they learn
  • Comments promote authentic dialogue

Intro to Blogging

After this, we looked at reflecting in different mediums and we experimented with several different types of blogging. Here are some of the sites that we looked at in the different ways of reflecting. There are many different ways that both we and our kids can learn and share. I think it is interesting that by far the most popular tool was Posterous. Even those without laptops were able to take out their smartphone and start a blog within minutes.

Written Blogs – Use laptops

  • WordPress  jasontbedell.com/tutorials
  • Blogger      Uses a Google Account
  • EduBlogs   Same as WordPress
  • Posterous  – private@posterous.com sends a private post and post@posterous.com posts normally to the blog.

Audio blogs/Podcasts – Use phones and computer microphones.

  • iPadio
  • Audioboo.fm

Photoblogs – Use Cell Phone Pictures.

  • Posterous
  • Instagram

Video Blogs

  • YouTube
  • Vimeo
  • Posterous
Google Reader
I encourage you to support all of the bloggers: brand new, returning, and veteran. Here are their blogs and Twitter IDs if they have any.
Name Blog Twitter ID
Philip Cummings http://pgcummings.wordpress.com
http://notyetfullytrained.posterous.com
@Philip_Cummings
Jeff Pelich http://www.jeffstechlinks.com @jpkitchener
jay brown http://brownjay.edublogs.org
Megan Howard http://marymeganhoward.edublogs.org/ @mmhoward
Bill Belsey, grade 5 Teacher
http://www.coolclass.ca
http://www.billbelsey.com @Inukshuk
Debra Guglielmini http://nychudson.blogspot.com (education practice reflection) @questionmyworld
Bill Campbell My Posterous &  TabletTails @BillCamp
Rod Corbett http://rodcorbett.posterous.com @rbcorbett
RJ Stangherlin http://blog.discoveryeducation.com
http://beatingbackcancer.blogspot.com
http://learningllamas.blogspot.com
http://changingconnections.blogspot.com
(school blog is currently private)
@pearlgirl22
@PADENLC
Dana Patterson http://danelovestoteach.edublogs.org @dane1434
Katie McFarland http://katiemc827.posterous.com @katiemc827
Lisa Dabbs (virtual attendee) http://teachingwithsoul.com @teachingwthsoul
Crystal Collins http://crystal-mess.blogspot.com @CrystalMess
If you found any benefit in this session, please consider coming to or watching TeachMeet NJ. Stephen Davis, Jamie Josephson, Samantha Morra, and myself will be presenting in a block on promoting reflection.

Nook Color as an Android Tablet

[Warning: Technical Post Ahead]

A few days ago, I picked up a Nook Color e-reader. I like e-readers, but I did not buy it because I wanted an e-reader. I wanted a tablet; unfortunately, I wanted to spend less than $300. I think that $200-300 is a great price range for a tablet. $600-900 is far too expensive for what I want to use it for. I was vacillating between the Archos 101 Internet Tablet and the Nook Color. They are comparable in price at $300 and $250 respectively. The Archos 101 in 10.1 inches and has some better specs, including cameras and a slightly faster processor. There are concerns about build quality though. The Nook Color is an e-reader first and foremost, but has a great community of developers behind that are trying to open it up to its full potential. I chose the Nook Color for a few reasons.

  1. The Archos is out of stock everywhere; the Nook Color is only out of stock almost everywhere.
  2. The build quality of the Nook Color is outstanding.
  3. The community working on hacking the Nook Color is very passionate about it.
  4. I wanted to experiment with the 7 inch form factor; it is much more portable than the Archos 101 or the iPad, which is comparable in size.

How is it as an e-reader?

When I opened the Nook Color, I did use it as an e-reader for a good 5 minutes before hacking it. My main concern with using the Nook Color as an e-reader is that it has a color LCD screen. This is similar to looking at a computer screen whereas the Amazon Kindle, the original Nook, the Sony Reader, etc…. use an e-ink screen that is much closer to looking at paper and is very easy on the eyes. I will say that I was quite impressed. After reading for several hours on it, I had very little eye fatigue or strain. I’ve already read a few books on it now and am reading significantly more because of it.

Library

What is hacking and is it legal?

When you buy a product, such as a cell phone, an iPad, a tablet, etc… you are buying it in the state that the manufacturer wants you to use it in. However, my philosophy has always been that it is my device. I paid for it and can modify it to do anything else, as long as I am able. The justice system recently ruled that it is completely legal as well.

I am a little biased. I like to tinker. I open things up to see how they work and then see if I can make them better. It’s just part of my curious nature.

The Nook Color is based on Android, an operating system that runs millions of cell phones and tablets. However, Barnes & Noble set it to open their application by default and not allow you to close it. Thanks to the industrious work of many very smart people, it is extremely easy to hack, or root which is the proper term in this situation. Following these directions, it took me about 5 minutes.

Applications

First, while I recognize the elegance of the user interface (UI) of the Nook Color, it is not my preference. I set it to use a different launcher called Zeam. Here is a picture of my new home screen, which I will probably continue to tweak regularly.

Home Screen

Second, the Nook Color runs Android 2.1, which is built for smaller cell phone screens. Some applications, like the NY Times tablet edition are optimized for larger screens. Others are not. Your mileage will vary depending on application. Also, lacking a microphone, Bluetooth, and camera, applications that are dependent on those features will not work well.

Dolphin HD: The default browser on the Nook Color is not anything amazing. Dolphin HD offers a great experience though. You can choose your user agent (mobile or desktop) to determine how you want to interact with the web. It has tabbed browsing and several great plugins. My favorite plugin for it is LastPass; I never have to remember another password.

Google Reader: I read hundreds of blogs every day and the official Google Reader application works quite nicely. I especially like that you can use the volume key to navigate.

Google Reader

GMail: GMail works well, although there is a lot of wasted screen space.

WordPress: WordPress works very well on the large screen and it is easy to write new posts.

WP1 WP2

Twitter: The official Twitter application works well, although I would love to see a columned UI to take advantage of the larger screen or an app like Twitter for iPad.

Twitter

QuickOffice: I love QuickOffice. I can edit Microsoft Office files and it integrates fully with DropBox and Google Docs.

11-01-22-25 QO2

Pandora: Pandora works just as well on the tablet as on the cell phone.

Angry Birds: I do not play many games, but some do look quite good on the Nook Color. In particular, Angry Birds is a lot of fun on the big screen.

There is a lot of potential to the Nook Color. While it certainly is not for everyone, I am very pleased with it. I am looking forward to some great potential on the horizon and to changing the keyboard to a more useful one, but it is probably the best tablet that you can get for only $250. The 7 inch form allows me to take it anywhere. The nature of tablet computing means that I often get more done while computing less because I can take it out, accomplish the task, and put it away without all of the distractions that often accompany me when I am on a normal laptop.

Invite Someone to TeachMeet NJ

I drafted this letter to send to schools to invite people out to TeachMeet NJ. If someone wants to improve as an educator, I cannot think of a better gift to give than an invitation to this free event. The connections and learning are invaluable resources that can have an immediate and profound effect on the classroom. Feel free to modify this letter in any way, but do someone a favor and talk them into coming out. We want to make as large and impact and involve as many people in the educational discourse as possible.

Dear Educators,

My name is Jason T. Bedell. I am one of a group of passionate NJ educators planning a free unconference for educators called TeachMeet NJ. TeachMeet is free for everyone to come; there will be no advertisers or vendors. All speakers are educators who are voluntarily sharing their strengths and passions. I want to invite everyone who cares about education to be a part of this interactive event where everyone who wants to be heard can have a voice: teachers, librarians, administrators, aides, parents, politicians, policymakers, and anyone who cares about improving education is welcome.

TeachMeet is a particular kind of conference that really empowers educators. No money ever changes hands; it is all about educators helping each other to improve for the benefit of their children.  Everyone who wants to present is welcome. We believe that all educators have experience that we can learn from.  Educators choose topics based on their areas of passion; this gives every session a sense of urgency and importance because all the speakers are discussing topics that they feel can make a profound impact our children.

The focus of TeachMeet NJ is on excellence and innovation in the areas of pedagogy, assessment, and technology. To give many people to opportunity to share and to accommodate many types of sessions, we have 4 different types of sessions that will be going on. View our schedule for more information. All of the sessions will be interactive and involve the participants in the learning process. This is not a conference where everyone sits and listens.

  • 1 hour sessions that explore topics in depth. Some examples of topics are Teaching Students How to Think not What to Think by local AP history teach Aaron Eyler, Teaching the Learning Brain by lecturer and brain-researcher Dr. Kevin D. Washburn, Improving Schools with Social Media by NJ principal Eric Sheninger, 1:1 Sustainability and Feasibility by instructional technologist Rich Kiker, and many more. Whether you are a classroom teacher, librarian, administrator, and technology professional, there are sessions to meet your needs.
  • 15-minute sessions organized around topical blocks. These are fast-paced sessions around broad topics such as assessment or digital storytelling that demonstrate a tool or technique. This allows exposure to a wide-range of ideas from many talented educators.
  • 5-minute sessions spontaneous sessions organized around topical blocks. Similar to the 15-minute sessions, the 5-minute sessions are structured around different topics. The unique aspect of this is that they are not planned. The 5-minute sessions are audience driven where participants can come up to voice their opinion on the topic at hand and foster dialogue.
  • Other sessions, such as a panel discussion by NJ students on how they use technology to empower their learning and a Web 2.0 Smackdown, that do not easily fit into the above categories.

There will be 6 rooms of sessions running concurrently throughout the day. There are still some openings for presenters, so can still participate by emailing jasontbedell@gmail.com. Even if you do not want to be a formal presenter, there are a lot of opportunities to participate the day of the event. Please learn more at our websitehttp://tmnj.org.

We also recognize that the most valuable time at most conferences comes through networking with other educators. To help facilitate this, there is time to network built into the schedule and there is a blogger’s café open all day where you can meet with others.

Please make sure to reserve your tickets at http://tmnj.eventbrite.com. Tickets are free, but we have a limited amount of space.

Also, I would like to ask you to pass this along to your staff and invite them out as well. Having been an attendee, a presenter, and a planner of several unconferences, these are amazing events that really can make an immediate difference in your classroom. The connections you make with teachers coming from as far away as New England and Alabama can last a lifetime. We really hope to improve education for all of our students. I hope you will come out. If you have any questions, email jasontbedell@gmail.com, follow me on Twitter @jasontbedell, or check out the website.

Thank you for all you do.

Sincerely Jason T. Bedell.


The Urgent and the Important

A few years ago, my wife and I were attending a church in TN. The pastor, Landon Meadow, gave a speech on the idea of the urgent vs. the important. It is one of the few sermons from that time period that really stuck with me from that year. The gist is about the dichotomy between urgency and importance. So we are speaking the same vocabulary:

  • Urgent: Something that is screaming to be taken care of right now.
  • Important: Something needs to be attended to that has great value or ramifications.

Trying to balance life and family with 2 full-time jobs is never easy. While I am not a resolution type of person – I’ve made and broken them in the past – I try to regularly evaluate my priorities. For example, is work becoming more important than my family? If I say no, is that reflected in my actions and how I spend my time?

For me, the definition of urgency is Twitter; it thrives on it. Email is the same for me. I feel my phone vibrate letting me know I received a new mention, direct message, email, etc… I always feel obligated to answer right now and feel a sense of guilt, even though I know it is misplaced, if I do not immediately respond. While I do not remember the specific article, I read a study showing how social networking raises dopamine levels in the brain and lowering usage can result in withdrawal-like symptoms. I find that reflected in my own life. I look for my phone even when it is not there.

At home:

Is that tweet more important than my daughter learning to stand up?

Is that email more important than spending time with my wife?

At school:

Is that paperwork more important that the student standing in front of me?

At work:

Is the latest post in my Google Reader contributing to my goals or distracting from them?

What I have been doing in my own life the last few months is setting specific boundaries. I get home from work around 5:30. Between, 5:30 and bedtime, it is family time. I may answer the occasion message after my kids go to bed, but I am trying to make it a point not to open the laptop. To really be productive at work and in life, we have to have balance so I am making family time a priority in my own life. While it is hard to ignore the urgent, sometimes it is necessary.

How do you handle the delicate balancing act?