Bill MacKenty


Coming together and eating

Posted in Personal on 27 - November 2022 at 10:10 AM (4 days ago) 21 views.

So simple, so profound and so togethering. How eating together brings us together...

When I was earning my superintendents license in NYC my supervising administrator instilled a simple truth:  feed your people. This resonated and resonates with me as a highly effective means of creating bonds, trust and connection. We just had Thanksgiving yesterday and I was struck how simple it is; good food, relaxed atmosphere, and people ...just connect... There is quite a bit more to leadership, but feeding people carries with it a physical and metaphorical benefit I really love. 

I think there is a certain vulnerability and assurance when we eat - something so basic - I don't know why food doesn't figure more prominently in our day-to-day meetings.  

Enjoying the moment

Posted in on 26 - November 2022 at 05:31 AM (5 days ago) 18 views.

Cooking large meals can be fraught with anxiety. Here's how I battle it

Nothing especially tricky here. We've 14 people coming over for a slightly delayed thanksgiving, and today is the big day!

  1. We spent time to carefully plan what, when and how of the meal prep
  2. We pre-cooked the creamed spinach yesterday
  3. We got some things ordered via caterer (pies and a green salad)
  4.  We've already started setting the table a day prior

Other than that, honestly engaging with "what's the worst thing that could happen" is a fun way to manage anxiety around large meals, and I find myself relaxing through meal preparation and enjoying the process of cooking (and preparing food for people I love). 

A quote from the Joy of Cooking:

We can offer reasoned counsels and repeat the lessons of experience and tradition, but the truth is that if the table is attractive and clean, the food and drink honest and good, the company amiable and interesting, and the host generous and calm, an affair can be a resounding success no matter where the glasses go or who is sitting where. And that is our last word on entertaining. 

Sabbatical learning - part 1

Posted in Blogging on 23 - November 2022 at 06:47 PM (one week ago) 33 views.

The plan for learning

If a good replacement can be found, I'm approved for sabbatical leave next year. My plan for learning includes: 

  1. Design and construct curriculum to substantially improve student usage of git (a version control system) and the IDE visual studio code
  2. Design and construct curriculum for OOP Python
  3. Design and construct curriculum for advanced Python
  4. Design and construct curriculum using Jupyter notebook
  5. Design and construct curriculum for artificial intelligence / machine learning / advanced topics
  6. Rebuild every learning engagement and assessment in the two year IB computer science course (this is hundreds of learning engagements and 30+ assessments)
  7. Design and construct curriculum for Rust
  8. Design and construct curriculum in node.js, javascript, mongo DB, Linux

I'm already doing some of this stuff, but this sabbatical will help me by granting me the time to invest deeply in learning and reflection. Exciting stuff. 


Posted in Teaching Diary on 19 - November 2022 at 05:50 AM (one week ago) 77 views.

Truly a wonderful learning opportunity...

This weekend, we are immersed in a Lego robotics competition. Students and coaches have come from other international schools to compete in a robotics challenge. The nature of the challenge is to program a robot to perform different manipulative tasks of various difficulties (within 2 minutes and 30 seconds). For example student robots need to push the red section of the windmill.

This will then trigger a different piece to fall, which must be collected for different points. The cool thing about this project is how many different times student-groups can attempt these challenges. It's ultimate design in my opinion, where a student will try / fail / try / fail many different times. This constant cycle of iteration is really at the heart of learning, construction and design - and is just such good stuff. 

Procedural generation as a teaching approach

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 17 - November 2022 at 05:09 AM (2 weeks ago) 54 views.

In computing, procedural generation is a method of creating data algorithmically as opposed to manually, typically through a combination of human-generated assets and algorithms coupled with computer-generated randomness and processing power (ref).

The amazing thing about procedural generation is that infinite unique possibilities can be created with little work from humans (ref). I've been interested in procedural for a few years, and would encourage you to take a peek at the following resources to learn about procedural generation: 

  1. This is an excellent introductory article
  2.  Dwarf Fortress (an incredibly complex game that is largely procedurally generated)
  3.  No Man's Sky (this a wiki article describing how procedural generation works)

What is cool about procedural generation is how easy it is to start with procedural generation.  In the example code below, we can get the following output: 

  1. Discovered in the small village of Tr'lor
  2. Hatched in the ocean of Greenest
  3. Born in the small village of Mirkwood

# procedural generator to write a brief history
import random

origin_1 = ["Born", "Hatched", "Invoked", "Discovered"]
origin_2 = ["in the land of", "in the wilds of", "in the forest of", "in the ocean of", "in the small village of", "in the modest hamlet of"]
origin_3 = ["Tr'lor", "Kor'mer", "Kobiyashi", "Greenest", "Mordora", "Gondor'e", "Rivendell", "Mirkwood"]

story_part_1 = random.choice (origin_1) + " " + random.choice(origin_2) + " " + random.choice(origin_3)

I have some students working at high levels of complexity and other students working with more basic levels, as seen above. But for all of them, this is a fun approach to deconstructing a complex system, identifying the patterns within the system, and introducing the correct randomness to the system to make it unique. 

Procedural generation gets us close to modeling and simulation where a student must understand a system in order to create a model of it. In my opinion, modeling and simulation is close to the the very best learning we can get

Procedural generation goes into the stratosphere when students apply machine learning to highly complex systems. 

update from Poland

Posted in Blogging Writing on 16 - November 2022 at 05:09 AM (2 weeks ago) 78 views.

A Russian missile strike in Poland...

Welcome to the occasional update for the academic year 2022 - 2023.  I’ve lived and worked in Warsaw for almost thirteen years and these are my perspectives about current events in Poland. 

We learned yesterday (Tuesday) there was a Russian missile strike in Poland. The village is located less than 10 km from the Polish-Ukrainian border. It is inhabited by about 500 people, 2 people have died.

There is much we don't know but we know the missile was russian-made, and it exploded in Poland. 

According to Polish press, General Waldemar Skrzypczak stated:

It was probably hit by Ukrainian anti-aircraft weapons and misaligned, or it was misprogrammed and, as a result of various errors, went where it saw a different target. Or she got lost and flew until she ran out of fuel, the general estimates.

(almost all words in Polish have a gender associated with them, hence the word she)

To say the least, things are a bit tense in this area of the world. IF this is an attack, this would trigger article 5, which states:

“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

This is essentially Poland asking for formal help from the alliance, and falls under a key NATO idea “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us”. Many things to unpack here:

  1.  Russia is losing the war Ukraine. badly
    1.  Russia's military has been pushed back to pre-February 24 borders, and the Ukrainian military has made stunning gains. If you are interested in non-political reading of the war, I cannot recommend highly enough.
    2. Napoleon famously quipped:  Never interrupt your enemy whilst he is in the midst of making a mistake. Putin is making a doozy
  2. …but there's still a war…
    1.  missile attacks continue, and just yesterday there were more attacks on Kiev, and Russia fired over 100 missiles.
    2. Following a pattern in recent weeks of lashing out far from the front after battlefield losses, Russia fired long range strikes at the capital Kiev, where air raid sirens rang out, two explosions were heard and columns of smoke rose into the sky. The mayor of Kiev said Russian missiles hit two residential buildings (ref).
  3. Russia made an uncharacteristically rational decisions by retreating from Kherson
    1. Russian military action has been irrational, disorganized and remarkably inept.
    2. The manner in which the Russian military retreated from Kherson was more careful and competent than what they have done in the past
  4. Since this conflict began weapons, supplies and help have been pouring into Ukraine from Poland
    1. but the missile hit a grain storage in a tiny village, nowhere near anything of strategic importance
    2. There are also tens of thousands of American (and NATO) troops / equipment / missile defense in Poland
  5. Seems to me the last thing Russia wants if to trigger a war with NATO
    1. Considering their stunning failure in Ukraine, a war with NATO would be unimaginably stupid and result in a catastrophic defeat of the Russian military
  6. Please understand: nothing unites the Polish people like an attack 
    1. In Poland, as a rule, there is bickering, complaining and division but when the need arises, the Poles unite at remarkable speed and in remarkable solidarity.

We simply pay attention, listen carefully, and get on with our lives as best we can. 

Different categories of games in education

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 14 - November 2022 at 03:19 AM (2 weeks ago) 32 views.

Nuance and discernment, baby

I've used three different kinds of games in my classroom. 

The purpose of this blog post is to help teachers understand the differences, similarities, and characteristics of the three types of games. 

COTS - Commercial, Off the Shelf game. I've covered COTS games for a while. COTS games are designed for the mass market - they are designed for enjoyment, challenge, and fun. COTS games can often cost many millions of dollars to make, and a hit game (AAA title) can generate hundreds of millions of dollars. COTS games are increasingly being released for the personal computer and consoles. COTS games offer: 

  1. High production value (very high quality graphics and sound)
  2. Low technical problems and very strong technical support 
  3. Strong user communities (fan sites, active forums, etc...)
  4. Often these games have very active modding communities
  5. Work on a fairly new machines; older computers (more than 3 years) might have problems.
  6. Run locally (from the internal hard disk) 
  7. Have exceptionally good gameplay
  8. Very good tutorials, which check for understanding
  9. Adjust difficulty based on the players skills
  10. A game kids want to play at home 

Edutaintenment Many teachers are familiar with these titles - Millies Math House, Reader Rabbit, Sammy's Science House The hallmark of these games are kid-friendly graphics with gameplay that follows a "solve these problems and get to the next fun thing to do". Sometimes players are asked to do something like bowl for math problems. 

The general feel of the games is really fun math or reading worksheets. These games are fun, and build basic skills. They are valuable and good learning tools. In my context of games in education, these games generally don't fit well. They are a little to oriented to the drilling model (but who says drilling has to be no fun?). Characteristics of edutainment titles: 

  1. Marketed exclusively for schools / education
  2. Content-specific (titles focusing on math, reading, spelling, foreign language, etc)
  3. Marketed for specific age or grade levels
  4. ESRB ratings are often intended for general
  5. The back-story of the game is minimal
  6. Gameplay is generally segmented and measured around learning objectives 


Serious games Serious games are a relatively new phenomena (although people have been seriously playing games for a long time). Here's wikipedia's view on the matter; I like what they say. I think of serious games a single-topic, highly specific semi-simulations. Serious games have similar profiles: 

  1. They are usually web-based
  2. They usually have a very specific theme (peace in the mideast, health sim)
  3. They are not meant to be in-depth simulations, they are meant to model the most important dynamics of a system
  4. They are short-term games 
  5. They are deliberately designed to teach, explain an issue, or clarify the dynamics of an issue

Of course, playing  a game invites a healthy dissociation and leans heavily towards recreation. As much as I have tried over the years to integrate incredible student passion playing games and learning, I have failed.

If you really want cream-of-the-crop, high-level learning with games, ask kids to develop models and simulations. It takes a long time to do this well, but learning is magnificent. 

saying goodbye to an idea

Posted in Blogging Writing on 10 - November 2022 at 04:49 AM (3 weeks ago) 48 views.

This is actually a thing...

After more than 20 years of development, I have shut down, a text-based game built on pennmush. I haven't touched code on in more than 10 years. Github repo here.


Modern Command simulates running a contemporary nation-state. You assume the role of a Prime Minister (or President), and make decisions that effect the lives of millions of people in your country.


Technology, social, political, military, and economic issues all reflect events in today's news. You will control and manipulate this world just like real life leaders do; you will issue orders, sway opinions, budget resources, provide a vision and structure for your apt minions to do their work. You will negotiate, order, ask, sign, give, take, listen and talk.


Here's the final announcement. My avatar's name was Boris: 

Announcement: Boris shouts, "Thank you, Modern Command."
Announcement: Boris shouts, "you have provided me with many hours and days of escape, enjoyment, and fun"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "it is time for me to move on, but you will always have a special place in my life"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "I am saying goodbye"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "the enjoyment of creating and crafting and making"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "was made possible by you"
Announcement: Boris shouts, "so long, and thanks for all the fish."

GAME: Shutdown by Boris
Going down - Bye


The purpose of this blog post is to reflect on the grief of saying goodbye to an idea. Moderncommand was a dream for me, made real. I suffered a little bit from perfection; waiting until the game was “just right”. But I was proud of the systems I wrote and the time and effort I put in to make a good game. 

The game was a dream and it's time to say goodbye - this frees me to embrace other ideas and other stories. But the feelings of grief are real. I think when you have an idea you also have dreams about the idea; what it could be, what life would be like with the idea. 

I don't think you can fully move on until you say a proper goodbye. 

No peace without balance of power

Posted in Blogging Writing on 09 - November 2022 at 04:44 AM (3 weeks ago) 39 views.

Personally and politically, this seems like it may be true.

Power is possession of control, authority, or influence over others (source). There are different kinds / types of power, and different contexts with which it exists. 

Peace is not the absence of conflict; peace is about a real balance of power between and amongst groups. We cannot negotiate through a position of weakness, but rather strength. 

I live in Warsaw, Poland. As the war rages on in the Ukraine I see how power (coalitions of power and alliances of power) can create peace, but only when there is a balance of power - that one group is not dominate over another. For Ukraine, the only path to true peace is to fight. I think this may be true for all of us.

The design cycle works

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 08 - November 2022 at 04:59 AM (3 weeks ago) 61 views.

Considered and deliberate approach to design leads to high quality solutions. The obverse is also true.

My 9th and 10 grade (ages 15 and 16) students are working the design cycle as they solve a problem through programming. The problems are all unique, and fit the student's skill / capacity window.  An example of some the projects are below:

How to find the perfect guitar?A web-based application to help people find a guitar based on certain criteria
Which sport should you play?A web-based application help people decide what sport they might enjoy
Dungeons & Dragons character builder helperA web-based application to help people build a D&D character

The students have begun to really think and understand their problem. As they dig into the problems, I note they are changing their success criteria and more carefully adding features based on research into solutions. This process - of inquiry into a problem and understanding the problem deeply - reinforces the power of design. 

In education, we talk about transfer learning, where students can transfer learning to novel scenario or situation. A key question I like to ask is:

What do I want my students to know / be able to do in 5 years, 10 years

This kind of approach to solving problems is extraordinarily powerful, and a good thing™ to have in schools. Students who do not attend to this process generally do not have high quality solutions.

Tramping in Kabaty

Posted in Bushcraft on 07 - November 2022 at 05:17 AM (3 weeks ago) 52 views.

savoring (and stumbling) through nature.

Went for an early-morning tramp in the woods in the Kabaty woods. Stunning area in the heart of Warsaw with plentiful wildlife and beautiful flora to enjoy. I brought my normal kit with me; my pathfinder canteen with a small folding titanium stove. I had planned for a nice walk and perhaps a stop to make some tea. Instead though, I walked almost all the way to Kabaty; almost 45 minutes one way. It was cold, and I regretted not bringing a small backpack with me; my hands were cold as I carried the canteen. 


I saw a beautiful woodpecker, red nose and jet-black body. He didn't want to let me look at him for a long time, so I only caught a brief look. The sound of the other birds singing was serene and beautiful. I saw one, maybe 2 other people during my walk (it was early). 

I was wearing my normal hiking boots with normal socks. I wasn't even half-way through my tramp when I recognized the classic sensation of a blister on my right foot. Chastising myself, I thought my shoes were broken in enough to prevent blisters. I suspect the shoes are fine, but a winter of light walking has made my feet a bit thin. 

Big learnings: backpacks are best for tramping in the woods, a bit of foot powder and shorter walks are in order to break in my feet for the upcoming camping / bushcraft season. And of course, nothing beats a tramp in the woods. 

The original hum

Posted in Blogging Writing on 07 - November 2022 at 05:08 AM (3 weeks ago) 41 views.

A sound before our mother's heartbeat?

Lithe and moving, lost and ecstatic. There was nothing but the dance. The music flowed through him and he through the music. a perfect connection of sound and movement. He flowed as he flowed, as the music took him, each person did; each with their own call to the sound. 

But everyone on the dance floor was lost (and found) in the sound. The descendent; the earth, the ground, the body were triumphant. It was just perfect movement. 

It started adequately episcopal. 

A Proper Wedding (with People In Formal Attire). A lovely couple, a nice setting. A chuckle and tear as vows were exchanged. Toasts were made. Dinner was enjoyed and some wine was drunk. 

(Some wine was drunk, indeed).

And the traditional party favorite songs, and the traditional party dancing, mostly constrained and happy. 

It wasn't until a few minutes before the last song. Ties had been discarded, shoes had been cast aside, when it just. simply. started. The beat began and people just became lost in the movement, the moment and the move. Made of red light,  a thread emerged on the dace floor and oscillating and the guests just had to follow it; they had the surrender; then came the joy. And then the ecstasy.  The bodies began moving and couldn't stop if they wanted. The light from the thread spread out and everyone who was dancing coalesced. 

The music and dancing consumed them. And as it consumed it sought ground; with feet, with the earth. In a moment they all knew the first sound. Each person knew the hum. The body. The sound of life. 

..and he became, for a moment, fully alive

A wonderful way to learn software engineering

Posted in Computer Science on 06 - November 2022 at 04:28 AM (3 weeks ago) 48 views.

Authentic student projects; choice, choice, choice.

I teach two different courses primarily concerned with software engineering; 

  1. Designing Solutions Through Programming
  2. Solving Complex Problems Through Programming

In both courses I offer students a choice about what problem they want to solve. As long as the problem isn't too easy or too difficult I approve the project. This creates agency which well-serves my students. I find I get increased engagement, excitement, a sense that students are working a “real” solution which matters. From AMLE:

Student agency relates to ways that students can intentionally influence their own circumstances (Bandura, 2006). Agency can also be defined as a “student’s desire, ability, and power to determine their own course of action” (Vaughn, 2018, p. 63). Agency depends on “intentionality and forethought to derive a course of action and adjust course as needed to reflect one’s identity, competencies, knowledge and skills, mindsets, and values” (Nagaoka et al., 2015, p. 6). These elements suggest areas within which teachers can support student agency: through curriculum, instruction, assessment, and the ways in which they structure learning opportunities (source).

This is though, more difficult to manage. I like to use templates that students can alter and modify to build solutions. We deliberately and carefully learn about each part of a template so students can understand the code, and not just copy-and-paste chunks without understanding how it works. 

I plan on writing more about this, but this overall structure, where we teach students how to code, walk them through a template, and then build an authentic application allows them to transfer their learning to build applications and then “think software engineering”. 

The two types of forests

Posted in Bushcraft on 05 - November 2022 at 09:54 AM (3 weeks ago) 51 views.

How should we think about forests?

As we tramped through kabaty forest  I was reminded there are two types of forests; one where man decides how it should look and one where nature decides. This one is the former; the forest is beautiful, but is unmistakably touched by humans in every way. We would ideally like a more diverse forest floor; with evidence of decomposing tree's and a more wild, unkept look. I was taught the average lifecycle for old-growth forests was about 400 years. When man steps in to interrupt that natural cycle it can take a few hundred more years to get back into the natural rhythm. 

There is debate about how to best manage forests. There is often discussion about harvesting forests, utilizing them responsibly, or just letting them be. As dead trees decompose, a very specific ecosystem develops; one in which very specific bacteria and insects thrive. These bacteria and insects give rise to a connected ecosystem that continues the growth cycle of the forest, creating topsoil that then in turn nourishes more growth, etc… Old growth forests are increasingly rare in our world, and deserving of every bit of protection we can offer them. 

This is one aspect of bushcraft I find appealing; leave no trace, never cut live wood unless absolutely necessary, and to work with nature as opposed to against it. The wild isn't something to be tamed; man's insatiable desire to destroy it is. 

Early morning

Posted in Blogging Writing on 03 - November 2022 at 05:47 AM (4 weeks ago) 62 views.

The early morning is magic. Quiet, still, and a time to focus prior to the cacophony of the day.

I've always been an early bird. Lately I've been getting up around 4 or 4:30. I get so much work done. 

I should clarify: I don't mean work for work. I mean making progress on things I care about. Giving myself time to focus on personal goals and make progress on growing in a way I like.

There is a cost to this of course. Going to bed early I miss time with my wife, who is a bit of an evening starling. We still connect - but I suppose I get my quiet time in the morning and she gets hers in the evening. There's a balance in that. 

To the morning, to the start of things, to the time of focus and clear thought, free of interruptions, I salute you.

Letting go / picking up

Posted in Blogging News Personal on 02 - November 2022 at 04:49 AM (4 weeks ago) 47 views.

Sometimes we need to let things go to make room for new ideas.

I have made a list of projects I am letting go. I'm doing this so I have have space / room for new projects and ideas I want to work on. I have feelings of nostalgia and genuine loss as I let go of these older projects, but I am also feeling excited about working on projects I feel have value and interest for me. 

So, without any further ado, I'm letting of of the following projects: 

  1. balanced gaming (a site where I wanted to engender a conversation about balanced gaming for schools, parents and students).
  2. modern command (a text-based game simulating the command of a modern nation-state, powered by the pennMUSH server).
  3. interactive fiction

I'm picking up: 

  1. writing
  2. bushcraft
  3. drawing

How do we measure students computational thinking?

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 13 - May 2016 at 08:50 AM (6 years ago) 60 views.

This PDF answers the question. Good stuff.

Building a computer science wiki

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 11 - May 2016 at 01:15 PM (6 years ago) 42 views.

I've been very busy online lately, just not here 😊 Please do take a look at my computer science wiki. I'm building it for my high school, middle school, and IB students. Once it is filled-out enough, I will probably ask the internet for some help to add to it. Please enjoy, and check out the list of recent changes.

Linux server with lots of students - assigning individual read / write for students in /var/www

Posted in HOWTO Linux Teaching Diary on 25 - April 2016 at 05:37 AM (6 years ago) 41 views.

I use (and love) linode for my web hosting, email, database, and other linux needs. I'll be using linode for my web applications class next year (about 15 students). I had a problem thinking how would I enable students to write to a web directory (var/www) without giving them all SUDO access (and allowing them to write into another students directory). 

This took me some time to find a solution, and it is beautifully simple (of course). Click here to see the thread

If you make /var/www writeable by its group and add the user to the group, that user will not have to use sudo. 

Try this: 

sudo adduser www-data 

sudo chown -R www-data:www-data /var/www 

sudo chmod -R g+rwX /var/www 


The user should then be able to edit /var/www/ files without hassle. The first line adds the user to the www-data group, the second line clears up any files with messed up ownership, and the third makes it so that all users who are members of the www-data group can read and write all files in /var/www. If you are logged in as you need to log out and log back in for the group membership to take effect. I confirm this works.

Six rules for asking questions in computer science

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 12 - April 2016 at 11:43 AM (6 years ago) 40 views.

The more complex code is, the longer it takes to understand and debug. If it is poorly written code, a multiplier is added to the time required to read it. I have worked with my students to build a "must do before asking questions" list in computer science. 

1. Google your question 
2. Re-read your code (or function). It can be helpful to read this backwards 
3. Use debugging tools 
4. Ask the person next to you 
5. Read error messages! 
6. If you have to ask a teacher for help, make sure you ask a very specific question about a very specific topic

 Great questions get great answers. Bad questions get, well, not-great answers.

Increasing complexity == increasing time to read

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 08 - April 2016 at 11:32 AM (6 years ago) 36 views.

I need some advice about a common question: "can you look at my code really quickly"? I am starting to work on increasingly sophisticated programs with my students. My students ask me to help them diagnose a problem, suggest alternatives, or figure out what is broken in their code. My problem is reading their code takes time, thinking about what they are doing takes time, and suggesting a good alternative takes time. This isn't something I can do in 30 seconds. How do you manage student requests for support and assistance when their code is very complex and requires more than 5 or 10 minutes to read? 

Object construction

Posted in Computer Science on 02 - April 2015 at 10:30 AM (7 years ago) 41 views.

connecting new learning to learning in the past

I'm continuing my learning in JavaScript. 

Today, I reviewed and refreshed my understanding about objects, and object instantiation. 

I have always clearly understood creating, modifying, and deleting objects and their attributes. Today, though, I learned a new term: object literal notation and object constructor

In my PHP work, I've seen "constructor" term, and truthfully, never fully understood it. After review and practice today, I see how it works. 

It's funny, I always "hook" my new learning onto something I learned in the past. In this case, my work building text-based games was instrumental in my understanding of objects. @create foo; @set foo=thing/value, etc... 

I have forgotten how much I enjoy /just coding/ and hacking. It is a real pleasure.

Computational thinking, Minecraft and a 5 year old?

Posted in Computer Science on 30 - March 2015 at 11:59 AM (7 years ago) 43 views.

According to wikipedia, the primary characteristics of computational thinking are decomposition, data representation, generalization/abstraction, and algorithms. 

Specifically, computational thinking is a problem solving framework where: Analyzing and logically organizing data Data modeling, data abstractions, and simulations Formulating problems such that computers may assist Identifying, testing, and implementing possible solutions Automating solutions via algorithmic thinking Generalizing and applying this process to other problems ...are used to approach problems. How then, can we use minecraft to help a 5 year old (my daughter) start to understand these concepts? 

I think the best way is to build a trap for monsters. Firstly, she would have to use cause-and-effect thinking. She would also need to break the trap into it's different parts. She would need to design a trap, and test it. In broad strokes, we will approach like this: 

  1. Define the problem (zombies, skeltons, and creepers)
  2. Understand the component parts of a trap
  3. With the component parts, she will design a trap
  4. She will test the trap
  5. She will generalize ways the trap can be used in other situations 

Ok, I'll be honest, this isn't a good example of computational thinking. The classic decomposition, data representation, generalization/abstraction, and algorithms are not really present. But this would get us on a good road, wouldn't it? What do you think?

Yea! I learned something that I actually used!

Posted in Computer Science Teaching Diary on 24 - March 2015 at 01:39 PM (7 years ago) 62 views.

I'm refershing my javascript skillset by going through a code academy course. Laborious, but helpful. Today, while supporting a co-worker on a powerschool customization, we were looking at a problem. I realized a variable was declared within a function but wasn't scoped to be used outside of the function (globally). Once fixed, we were running strong. I just studied variable scope in my refresher course, and I'm grateful I did! As always, the wonderful stack exchange has a well-written piece about variable scope within javascript. I suppose it is mildly depressing that I am excited about learning something that I can actually use. That must mean I normally learn things that are useless.

What is computational thinking in K-12 space?

Posted in Computer Science on 20 - March 2015 at 10:13 AM (7 years ago) 27 views.

Any look at computer science in the K-12 space leads inexorably towards the notion of computational thinking. My elevator speech on computational thinking is "thinking to computer". But there are many other, far better sources we can find below: From Google comes this excellent answer Computational thinking (CT) involves a set of problem-solving skills and techniques that software engineers use to write programs that underlie the computer applications you use such as search, email, and maps. Here are specific techniques. Decomposition: Breaking a task or problem into steps or parts. Pattern Recognition: Make predictions and models to test. Pattern Generalization and Abstraction: Discover the laws, or principles that cause these patterns. Algorithm Design: Develop the instructions to solve similar problems and repeat the process. From the CSTA: “CT is an approach to solving problems in a way that can be implemented with a computer. Students become not merely tool users but tool builders. They use a set of concepts, such as abstraction, recursion, and iteration, to process and analyze data, and to create real and virtual artifacts. CT is a problem-solving methodology that can be automated and transferred and applied across subjects. The power of computational thinking is that it applies to every other type of reasoning. It enables all kinds of things to get done: quantum physics, advanced biology, human–computer systems, development of useful computational tools.” Computational thinking is thus a problem-solving methodology that can interweave computer science with all disciplines, providing a distinctive means of analyzing and developing solutions to problems that can be solved computationally. With its focus on abstraction, automation, and analysis, computational thinking is a core element of the broader discipline of computer science and for that reason it is interwoven through these computer science standards at all levels of K–12 learning Page 9 of the CSTA K-12 computer science standards. From Jeannette Wing, regarding as the originator of computational thinking: Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. To reading, writing, and arithmetic, we should add computational thinking to every child’s analytical ability. Just as the printing press facilitated the spread of the three Rs, what is appropriately incestuous about this vision is that computing and computers facilitate the spread of computational thinking. Computational thinking involves solving problems, designing systems, and understanding human behavior, by drawing on the concepts fundamental to computer science. Computational thinking includes a range of mental tools that reflect the breadth of the field of computer science.

What is computer science in a K-12 school?

Posted in Computer Science on 19 - March 2015 at 09:13 AM (7 years ago) 25 views.

Computer science isn’t learning to use excel. Computer science isn’t about understanding system administration and packet shaping. It’s not about using simulations to better understand biology. 

I think K-12 schools can get confused about the difference between computer science, information technology, and educational technology. They are distinct. 

Computer science is the scientific and practical approach to computation and its applications. It is the systematic study of the feasibility, structure, expression, and mechanization of the methodical procedures (or algorithms) that underlie the acquisition, representation, processing, storage, communication of, and access to information, whether such information is encoded as bits in a computer memory or transcribed in genes and protein structures in a biological cell An alternate, more succinct definition of computer science is the study of automating algorithmic processes that scale.

 A computer scientist specializes in the theory of computation and the design of computational systems source here. There are many reasons K-12 schools don’t “do” computer science well. I suspect one of the larger reasons is the confusion about simple definition. I've seen "computer class" as a catch-all. 

From Running on Empty comes an excellent description of why computer science is difficult to define and implement in K-12 schools: Consistent with efforts to improve “technology literacy,” states are focused almost exclusively on skill-based aspects of computing (such as using a computer in other learning activities) and have few standards on the conceptual aspects of computer science that lay the foundation for innovation and deeper study in the field (for example, develop an understanding of an algorithm). 

As I learn and explore computer science in K-12 space, I would be curious to hear your thoughts about computer science in K-12.

How do we understand transformation & SAMR?

Posted in Educational Tech on 11 - March 2015 at 09:56 AM (7 years ago) 27 views.

I love SAMR because it articulates a clear model of technology integration. From a respected colleague and friend comes a question about researching successes with transforming learning with technology. His specific question is "what could I research to understand transformative teaching and learning as it relates to SAMR". The best way to do this is to interview teachers who have changed the way students learn with technology. This is important, so please pay attention. We aren't looking at teachers who are "using more technology", we are looking at teachers who have changed their model of instruction, utilizing digital tools. 

A few examples: 

1. A middle school social studies teachers used to teach geography using paper maps, now he uses digital maps. Transformative? No. 
2. An elementary school science teacher used to teach the water cycle, but now students are engaged in project-based learning about "me and my world". Transformative? Yep. 
3. A high school math teacher used to teach basic geometry on a dry-erase board, but now has kids exploring area and shape using a simulation. Transformative? Probably, but if they are just playing, then probably not. The key point here is that transformative is about the verbs and not the nouns. 

Here are some questions you could ask that would guide your thinking about transformational practice (used gratefully from this source) : 

1. Did the assignment build capacity for critical thinking on the web? 
2. Did the assignment develop new lines of inquiry? 
3. Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible? 
4. Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world? 
5. Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)? 
6. Does the assignment demo “best in the world” examples of content and skill? I posit that even the course "educational technology" is dangerous. As if there is a split between the two (there isn't). Hope this helps.


Posted in Personal on 27 - February 2015 at 09:56 PM (7 years ago) 25 views.

Oh man. Leonard Nimoy is gone. What a loss, what a great loss.

Sublime - is just so…good…

Posted in Blogging Personal Teaching Diary on 06 - February 2015 at 06:37 PM (7 years ago) 29 views.

Well. I haven't been this enamored with a piece of software in a long time. Sublime - a text editor - has won my heart. The last time I got this happy about text editing was back in the day with UltraEdit. Someone put some love into this software.

Pain Value Analysis & Problem Analysis

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 17 - November 2014 at 07:42 AM (8 years ago) 27 views.

I'm learning Service Operations in ITIL. I encountered some really interesting ideas about problems and pain in IT, and wanted to share them. 

"...instead of just analyzing the number of incidents/problems of a particular type in a particular period, a more in-depth analysis is done to determine exactly what level of pain has been caused to the organization / business by these incidents / problems. A formula can be devised to calculate this pain level, typically, this might include taking into account the number of people of effected, the duration of the problem, and the cost to the business (ITIL Service Operation manual page 100)". 

I'm also learning how to best analyze how and why problems occur - and some tools for getting to the very root of a problem. The technique you use depends on the specific problem you have, but here's the list I'm learning: 

1. Kepler and Tregoe analysis 
2. Brainstorming 
3. 5-why's 
4. Fault isolation 
5. Affinity mapping 
6. Hypothesis testing 
7. Technical observation post 
8. Ishikawa diagram 
9. Pareto analysis 
10. Chronological analysis 

One of the reasons I so value these ITIL courses is because many of the problems we face in school IT have already been well-addressed and solved by other industries. I remain even more committed that learning and adopting ITIL and best-practices for managing IT in schools is the right way to go.

Technology, learning and choice…

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 02 - November 2014 at 09:03 AM (8 years ago) 26 views.

Slate has wonderful article about a professors choice to use (or not to use) technology in learning. The article resonates with me on many levels. As I reflect on the SAMR model of technology use and learning, I see many cases where technology use really doesn't benefit student learning. And I believe this question, does this use of technology benefit student learning must be central in our thinking to use it. 

I've also seen technology use that fantastically improves on the way students learn - but this has more to do with instructional design rather than the actual blinking thing. There is nothing automatically better about learning when we throw technology in the mix. We must carefully judge and balance the benefits of technology in learning. This requires time, testing, and a clear vision of your learning outcomes. 

A last point about distraction. As I work in ed-tech, I see more and more how distraction and divided attention fractures and fragments learning. I believe a great gift teachers can give to their students is the experience of deep thinking. 

To spend a significant amount of time deeply knowing a poem or a part of a song is to know the "truth of a thing". And isn't that why we teach and learn? Sometimes I worry that technology makes knowing the truth harder. There are all kinds of yucky implications about a generation of kids who blink from one thing to the next, but that's a discussion for another article. Great article in the ongoing conversation about technology use and learning.

Social Media and PLN’s: a lot of a little

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Teaching Diary Twitter on 23 - September 2014 at 10:07 AM (8 years ago) 29 views.

#cdl_mooced I'm currently learning via a fascinating MOOC Coaching Digital Literacy

The unit I am working through is about social media and PLN's (personal learning networks). For the record, I love personal learning networks, and have benefited tremendously from my involvement in them. I've been a social media user for a while, but I don't really think they work for me as a PLN. 

What I see in social media (twitter, facebook) is a lot of a little. 


After reducing the "signal to noise" problem*, I see people post links to tools, without any deep thinking or consideration of context. It's pretty easy to post an infographic, link to a blog, embed a youtube video, but it's much harder to meaningfully change student learning with that same link. 

Social media makes it very easy to share, but does that equate with better? I'm unsure. Where I have seen social media shine is when a very specific content area is linked to another very specific content area. For example, when a third grade teacher "follows" another third grade teacher. Or when a 10th grade English teacher "follows" another 10th grade English teacher. Posting a link, a website, or some great web 2.0 tool might help, but I don't think it meets the definition of being connected. My bias is rooted in my growing conviction that focused, mindful attention is the best way to learn and remember. 

This weekend, I'm on my way to Istanbul, Turkey where I will meet with other IT Directors from the Central and Eastern European School Association. We all work in similar schools, with similar issues, challenges, and successes. This is my primary PLN, and one which I derive great value from. This face to face contact, this focused, uninterrupted time where we are learning with each other is like solid gold for me. And it is this that is missing from social media. Social media makes connecting quick, easy, and ephemeral. And that's the problem I have with it. I'm curious to hear your thoughts about this. *


 Bill's social media signal to noise maxim: the ratio of cat pictures to actionable useful content determines the value of social media as a learning tool.

Was Queen Elizabeth II repaid for the tea that was thrown into Boston harbor during the tea party?

Posted in Blogging on 21 - September 2014 at 09:09 AM (8 years ago) 24 views.

Probably not. Click here for my findings (PDF)

Goals for this upcoming year

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 02 - September 2014 at 01:17 PM (8 years ago) 24 views.

Our first week is under our belts. We are supporting MAP testing, and school trips have started. I finally feel like IT has some breathing space - but not much. I think once MAP testing is complete, and the "normal school schedule" (whatever that means) has started, we will be able to start moving forward, and not tend to our "getting to normal". There are many exciting initiatives in our school. In no particular order, High School iPad pilot Physical education iPad pilot New student information system (powerschool) New web-based admissions system Major upgrade to our web-based professional development system (which is working great) Start of a new project, HR system Process-MAP all the inter-system synchronization issues (how does powerschool talk to our finance system, to Moodle, to Google, etc...) We also have a technology coach team that should coalesce a bit more, a we had two new coaches last year. I’ll be looking for more “lighthouse learning” from the coaches, and I think they could do it with their eyes closed. In all of these, I see my goals to support organizational excellence and increase student achievement. I will be focusing on: 1. Getting Powerschool off to a great start. In ITIL lingo, Powerschool is in “service transition” - a fragile time when a service must be carefully nurtured, supported, and “tended to”. Our goal is get Powerschool to a “service operation”, where the operations, roles, and benefits of this service are realized, part of our institutional culture, and the service levels are being consistently met. 2. Get our web-based admissions off to a good start. Just like powerschool, this system is in transition, and we’ll want to do a bunch of hand-holding until it matures and becomes operational. 3. My personal goals will be to become certified in ITIL Service Design and ITIL Service transition. My overall goal is to become ITIL expert-level certified. 4. I will also be strengthening my mindfulness practice, and encouraging students and teachers to use mindfulness as a tool to better learn with technology. 5. Finally, I will be strengthening my skills as a leader. I am reading books, talking to mentors, looking for other IT leaders I would want to emulate, and reflecting on my own leadership practice as I continue to strive to improve.

Welcome to a new school year!

Posted in on 18 - August 2014 at 07:31 AM (8 years ago) 18 views.

Welcome back! I am excited to begin a new year. As I was reflecting about our school, and our technology & learning program, a thought continued to return; we have absolutely everything we need to succeed here at the American School of Warsaw. Solid internet access, reliable and stable computers, tons of software, enough technical and learning support, all the pieces are here. We have a winning team of professional, smart, passionate, committed people who care about kids and learning. My hope is at the end of this year, we look back and know we've pushed the needle forward for our students. That via our collective effort to support student learning, our students have stronger academic achievement, that every single kid has been inspired to excel. I know we can do this. I know we can improve student learning (and achievement) through the effective use of technology at ASW. Let's set a high bar for ourselves. Let's take a risk and reach high. I can't wait for our students return to school.

Vacation - needing it

Posted in on 08 - July 2014 at 02:19 AM (8 years ago) 22 views.

I am on vacation, and loving my time to be with family and friends. To let go, relax, recharge, and think about a bigger picture is a fantastic opportunity.

Don’t use excel for important work

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Personal on 28 - May 2014 at 08:14 AM (8 years ago) 25 views.

Computer Science professor Daniel Lemire talks about why folks shouldn't use excel for important work. Lemire states, "They [spreadsheets] are at their best when errors are of little consequence or when problems are simple.". He also writes (and I agree) "Spreadsheets make code review difficult. The code is hidden away in dozens if not hundreds of little cells… If you are not reviewing your code carefully… and if you make it difficult for others to review it, how do expect it to be reliable". When I get a spreadsheet from my business office, I spend more time understanding the formulas than I do the business problem. I agree with Prof. Lemire's points, but I also see a language problem in changing. In short: people use spreadsheets because they are easy and accessible AND they lack computational thinking skills to build (write) a program in a more organized, coherent way. Probably, people "know" excel and there is a cost to learning and mastering something new. In schools, I see excel spreadsheets being used to run virtually all parts of an organization (HR, accounting, purchasing, etc..). I think people use spreadsheets because they are easy and well supported, AND they do not know how to program. I think Prof. Lemire's point is well said, and his post moves me to do more to help kids learn about programming and computational thinking.

From the BBC: Computers can impact on children’s ability to learn, says union

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership Mindfulness on 23 - May 2014 at 07:26 AM (8 years ago) 17 views.

From the BBC comes word from Northern Ireland. (please read this in your best Irish brogue) 1. Bah! Damn kids an' their computers, no time to focus, and they canna learn! 2. Eh, I remember when WE were small lads. Now THAT was a time to focus an be ON TASK 1. Oh yea... 2. Jeeeeeessssssuuuusss, we could stay focused for 30 hours a day doing something we hated while being whipped 1. Sounds like you were at an easy school. We were focused for 200 hours every hour, and if your attention wandered for even a moment, you'd be taken out and tossed over a cliff 2. oh yea, the old "focus cliffs of doom?" 1. aye, thems the one. (end Irish brogue) I support the notion and idea that focus and attention are in danger with technology. What I reject is this silly idea that If we keep doing what we have always done, everything will be fine. Technology (and other cognitive tools) have changed (are changing) the ways our kids think, communicate, recreate, and learn. It is a significant and major change, and will continue to challenge old ways of thinking about cognition and learning. This is at the heart of SAMR, and our thinking that learing must be different when you use technology. But here's the thing. I am a proponent of mindfulness in schools. Not hippy-tree-hugger stuff, but rather teaching our kids how to focus and think using the tools of mindfulness. We cannot pretend our context has not changed. It has, and we must adapt.

Interesting article and online discussion about “teaching computers”

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 29 - April 2014 at 10:23 AM (8 years ago) 20 views.

Hello Readers! [url=][/url] An interesting read that discusses different cultures between programmers and users. If anything, this article helps me remember the "spotify" world students live in today makes teaching computer science more of a cultural challenge. I originally found this link in a very interesting online discussion about programming education making a comeback in primary education. I am becoming more interested in the Computer Science Teachers Association efforts to teach computational thinking in schools (ISTE also has some excellent resources on the same topic: computational thinking). As I reflect on what kind of technology education schools should provide, these articles and resources just seem right. I am curious what you think about computational thinking and how K-12 schools should "teach technology".

PD, ed-tech conferences and student learning…

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 28 - April 2014 at 07:47 AM (8 years ago) 19 views.

This article far better expresses my thoughts about conferences and student learning. I post this after asking if big ed-tech conferences make a difference in student learning. #edtech [url=][/url] Well worth reading.

Silence is success in IT

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 17 - April 2014 at 03:32 PM (8 years ago) 15 views.

We are completing MAP testing. This involves setting up four rooms with about 25 computers each and ensuring networks, networking, client software, and system settings are prepared for testing. We also ensure the tests, students, and data is correct prior to testing. We use older laptops to facilitate testing, our MAP coordinator ensures the testing schedules are distributed and proctors are trained. Setting up for MAP testing isn't rocket science. But everything went especially well. No client computer computer problems, no data issues, everything worked really well, and it was quiet. This has happened before. When we transferred to google apps for education. Everything went well, and it was just quiet. Kind of a funny thing about IT, we only hear from people when something isn't working. There is a tremendous incentive in IT to design services well. Sort of a "measure twice cut once" kind of thing. When things are working well in a school IT department, things are quiet. When technology as a service is managed well, life is easier for everyone in a school. We still have issues, but these come through our trouble ticket system, they are prioritized and addressed.

ISTE Essential conditions are just…right.

Posted in Educational Tech on 10 - April 2014 at 08:21 AM (8 years ago) 11 views.

Getting technology "right" in schools is difficult. I've seen more cases of poor implementation than good implementation. My touchstone question is "how is student learning better?". There are a cluster of "things" you have to get right when you want to use technology to improve student learning. The ISTE Essential Conditions elegantly articulate what schools should do if they want to use technology to improve student learning. In my experience, these conditions are correct, and serve as a good reflective standards when schools ask "are we doing this right"? PDF here in case of link rot (which I doubt from ISTE, but you never know).

Edtech Conferences - worth it?

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership Support Twitter on 03 - April 2014 at 04:21 PM (8 years ago) 14 views.

I recently tweeted: Does participating in #learning2 (or any big ed-tech conference) make a difference in student learning? I've always been "meh" about them... Are they worth it? 1. I've always felt these conferences were of dubious value. When I pay for staff to go to them, I usually get a standard bell curve one or two staff who had a life-changing experience, and one or two staff who were bored to tears and everyone else falls in between. My personal experience echoes this observation. Kids aren't benefiting. 2. I believe teachers grow best through self-reflection, peer coaching, and good professional evaluation. I'm not sure how ed-tech conferences facilitate this. Sure, teachers can learn about tools, and they might learn about some ideas for project-based learning, but how much of that is making a difference in the learning for kids? Is the learning return worth the time and money invested? 3. I see a wide variety of presenting skills at these conferences. Although this is related to point 1, the content and delivery can be variable. The keynote speakers are often more known as keynote speakers, and less as authentic innovators of classroom learning. I've been to many edtech conferences, and all the keynote speakers are compelling, but then there is that whole "our context and your great idea" problem. 4. One of the failings of these conferences is their focus on Nouns over Verbs. The conferences attract advertising and make money by selling advertising space. Many sessions are dedicated to advertisers who do not discuss how learning can be different, but by perpetuating the horrible myth that the tool is magic and will change things! This, by the way, is a disease in educational technology, that the tool alone will fix what’s wrong with learning. It never has. 5. If the goal is to learn new things / try new things, why not try a speedgeeking session? I think about locally produced organic produce being much better for you than crap made thousands of miles away. Back to point 2, I believe teachers learn best when they are engaged with a colleague and are learning with them (see also: plc). There is less of a translation cost when you learn locally. 6. The problem is that sometimes (sometimes), a teacher goes to one of these conferences, and the stars align, and there is star-trek sound effects, and they return profoundly changed. Sometimes that happens. Maybe we need to pay more attention to preparing our teachers to attend these conferences to increase the likelihood of Eureka. I am curious what the 2 regular readers of this blog think about the big Ed-Tech conferences. Are they worth it?

Dungeons and Dragons for 6th graders?

Posted in Games in education on 20 - March 2014 at 11:33 PM (8 years ago) 21 views.

Today an earnest, excited 6th grade (12 year old) boy asked me if I would help him lead his Dungeons and Dragons club. He had somehow found out that I like D&D, and really wanted to play. Why does this make me feel uncomfortable? I told him I didn't have time (which is true) but maybe we could make a simulation club, and build games and simulations. He was cool to the idea. Anyone out there have any advice? I still have this belief that there is a pejorative association with D&D. I still enjoy playing - but only five or six times a year. But is this an acceptable thing for kids in a school as a school sponsored activity?

Animal dissections should not be computer simulated

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 18 - March 2014 at 06:14 PM (8 years ago) 23 views.

I am participating in an interesting discussion about the role of simulations and dissection. My thoughts are below: 

There is a huge difference between a computer-simulated dissection and a real one. Simulations are great because they: 

a. allow us to abstract an idea, piece of knowledge, or thought-object; 
b. allow us to easily and quickly manipulate objects in a simulation to see what might happen; 
c. allow us to model complex systems (see serious games as an example); 
d. help us model and manipulate an environment. 

If we support the use of simulations over real-life dissections, we should at the minimum include a discussion about the kinds of knowledge that using simulations support. The key point here is that simulation allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. 

A simulation is not a series of videos or images, which is what I see most "frog dissection" simulations sites. Please know there is a difference between watching a movie of a frog dissection and simulating a frog dissection. I found many dissection sites that seemed to be a series of linked flash videos that showed different stages of a normal dissection process. For example, this site: is a series of images that describe what students should look for when they dissect a pig. Likewise, a cow eye dissection (eww, gross) is not a simulation, but a "click next and look" activity. This site is good because it has photographs and diagrams, but there is nothing "simulationy" about it. 

This site has interactivity, and could qualify as a good resource. Also is passable, but neither of these sites reach to the standard of a simulation in my opinion. Online resources need to be more than just watching a movie or series of movies; they need to include meaningful interactivity (see as a good example). For the record, the gold-standard for online resources are resources which allow students to create simulations. I had originally wanted to try to stay away from the debate about dissection and stick with "what is a simulation". 

Personally, I disagree profoundly with the notion that a computer can replace a live dissection exercise. Organisms are gooey, slimy, and not "clean and tidy", as a computer would present an animal dissection. I also believe the affective element of dissection is part of learning (but I'm an IT guy, not a biologist nor an ethics expert) IMHO, technology would detract from learning if our goal in learning was for kids to understand the digestive system (and it's place in other systems) of a real frog. 

To underscore my point, the real value of a simulation is to allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. 😊 this is not what most animal dissection sites (that I could find) do.

Expression Engine 2.8 is out!

Posted in Blogging Personal Teaching Diary on 03 - March 2014 at 10:48 AM (8 years ago) 18 views.

Expression Engine 2.8 is out. Really cool feature set that will save time and make it easier to develop great web-apps for schools. My latest use of Expression Engine is for a professional development request system. Works like a charm!

Hacking in High School: yes, but….

Posted in Educational Tech Teaching Diary on 28 - February 2014 at 08:27 AM (8 years ago) 17 views.

A substantive article by Pete Herzog about hacking in High Schools. I hope you read this reply, Mr. Herzog. You are so right about this. I think the key point is what schools do with hackers (geeks) when we find them. Many times we have "caught" students doing stupid stuff like installing key-loggers, running port scans, writing bash scripts and changing /etc/hosts in amusing ways. When we catch them, we discipline them but then we invite them to learn. And this is my key point. We need to teach kids to be responsible and ethical digital citizens, but also teach them how to hack. And as you say, be "motivated, resourceful, and creative" learners. I liken this to "geek fishing". Schools generally don't do a great job of fostering an environment of open exploration, discovery, hacking, and making. We have a curriculum to think about, after all. But when we discover a hacker / geek in our school, we have a duty to encourage them and grow them. As I reflect more on this blog post, I think what should change in schools is our attitude towards hacking; to invite it, encourage it, and recognize the value this type of challenge / curiosity-based learning brings to learning. We also need to help kids make good decisions.

Membership in Computer Science Teacher Association

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership Personal Teaching Diary on 24 - February 2014 at 09:13 AM (8 years ago) 18 views.

As I was learning about computer science curricula in the K-12 sphere, I discovered the Computer Science Teacher Association. I've joined, and I am learning a great deal about the value of their membership. I'm currently reviewing their suggested K-12 Computer Science standards, and learning more about computational thinking. I'm looking forward to learning more about how this organization can help me understand how best to plan, implment and assess computer science curricula in the K-12 world.

Is anonymity bad?

Posted in Blogging Personal on 14 - February 2014 at 12:49 PM (8 years ago) 16 views.

Interesting article written by Chris Poole about the merits of anonymity online. I remember when anonymity was the de-facto identity on the internet, and I've watched it change slowly with facebook. As a teacher, I've watched students exhibit truly exemplary behavior online, and I've also seen horrible behavior. Like in real life, just amplified. I believe anonymity is the great "freeing mechanism" of the internet, one of the truly great things about "online". Gender, age, culture, and socioeconomic status all fall-away as barriers to participation in a free exchange of ideas. At it's heart, I think that is what the internet is; a venacular of idea. In an anonymous forum, the strength of an idea alone carries weight. Of course expressing the idea is important, but without the garbage that traditionally encumbers us. So I see evidence how being anonymous online can be hurtful. I also see how it be very helpful. A few quick examples: 1. Stack exchange. Basically anonymous. The best ideas and responses to questions are voted to the top of the list. 2. Slashdot. Basically anonymous. Comments are moderated, but in a weird way. 3. Google Moderator. Not very anonymous, but has the same basic idea of voting for an idea. 4. Reddit. Anonymous. The thing about Reddit is the question being asked. So on the front page, the basic question is "what will create the most clicks?". But on subreddits, like /r/linux, answers to questions are voted on, with the best rising to the top. There are obvious flaws with anon-think (see the Wisdom of Crowds). But that we should shun anonymity, or treat it pejoratively strikes me as myopic.

Parents, students, teachers and Moodle: who see’s what??

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 13 - February 2014 at 09:11 AM (8 years ago) 15 views.

Moodle is a learning management system designed to support the learning / teaching relationship between a student and a teacher. Our middle school shares the student username and password with parents because we recognize parents want to support their students. Please know the window we use with parents is different than the window we use with students. So when a parent logs into moodle using thier student credentials, they will see a system designed for teachers to communicate with students. We believe part of middle school learning is to take responsibility for their own learning (in fact in our school vision says in part "we see the future reflected in our students' independent thinking"). In the high school, we do not grant access to Moolde for this very reason; the relationship is between the student and the teacher. In cases where there is real academic trouble or difficulty, then of course, this rule can be bent. But overall, Moodle is about facilitating, supporting, strengthening the conversation between teacher and a student.

An introduction to SAMR

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 11 - February 2014 at 11:21 AM (8 years ago) 14 views.

Here's a youtube video I made a while ago that describes SAMR in depth, with a specific example how learning is different when we look at technology use through the SAMR model. [url=][/url]

Technology Integration—Will We Know It When We See It? A New Taxonomy

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 07 - February 2014 at 02:00 PM (8 years ago) 15 views.

wow. What a great article about SAMR, principals, and thinking about technology integration. The article, Technology Integration—Will We Know It When We See It? A New Taxonomy, ends with this quote: As leaders it is important to keep in mind the purpose of technology and how it can transform the classroom. We need to remember that, just as it is in the classroom with students, there is a range of experience and comfort in our faculties when it comes to learning about technology. As with Bloom’s taxonomy, we must take them from where they are and support them along the continuum. Good stuff. PDF here, in case of link rot.

Just finished Code Academy Intro to PHP

Posted in Educational Tech Personal Teaching Diary on 02 - February 2014 at 06:59 PM (8 years ago) 16 views.

I just finished the CodeAcademy PHP introduction. Not bad, I have to say. I've been dabbling in PHP for many years, and I learned some new things, which is cool. I finished in about two days (total time, probably 6 hours). I found the learning environment to be good. A few user interface quibbles, but overall, the teaching and assessment was spot-on. I liked the feedback when an answer was incorrect. I found the scope and sequence to be good. I think a more robust summative assessment would of been nice. I also think some different types of assessment would of been neat (look at this code, where is the error). Amazing, the last time I formally learned about PHP, I used a book, and manually typed in the code. This was much different.

Does everyone need to learn to code?

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 29 - January 2014 at 11:55 AM (8 years ago) 13 views.

Very interesting NPR show entitled: Computers Are The Future, But Does Everyone Need To Code? I answer yes. Learning to code is a new kind of literacy. I think the faulty premise that NPR assumes is we should be preparing everyone to be a professional programmer. Not understanding rudimentary HTML, SQL, conditionals, loops, and objects is a new part of a new kind of reading and writing. Not knowing these things diminishes our ability to express ourselves, to speak in a new language. Creating is inherently empowering. In many ways the analogy of coding as a new foreign language is apt. Some things I heard and my response: "If you are tax preparer, you don't need to code to do your job" I disagree. Facility with programming (or as ISTE nicely notes, computational thinking) richly serves tax preparation. We have cognitive tools to automate processes, check for common errors, and facilitate communication. Why couldn't a tax preparer use a simple content management system to accept commonly requested information from clients? It's hard to imagine an occupation where technology could not support, replace, or enhance the task. "Everyone should be an auto mechanic" This again points to the premise that everyone should be a professional programmer. I don't think they should. But I assert that everyone should know how to read and write "in computer". I would argue that in addition to safely driving, you should know how to change your oil, change a tire, understand how a car operates. However, the auto-mechanic analogy is weak. Computers are the lens through which we learn, communicate, and have fun. A car moves from point A to point B. The analogy between auto-mechanic and programmer doesn't hold water because reading and writing is exponentially more important than driving. This goes to the heart of my point about this NPR story; computational literacy is something everyone should know about. What is interesting is the increasing abstraction I see in programming. Like the NPR guest said, I grew up with that blinking command line. It was an exhilarating experience. Now, programming with tools like scratch neatly teach students about conditionals, loops, objects, and other programing primitives. Every kid should know this stuff.

Mindfulness in schools: a good article

Posted in Mindfulness on 20 - January 2014 at 12:40 PM (8 years ago) 14 views.

From KQED comes this good article about mindfulness in schools. (open PDF here). My favorite quote: “When we look at low performing schools it’s not that these children are unable to learn, it’s that very often they are unavailable to learn.” I only have one quibble with the article. I do not like using the word multitasking to describe what children pretend to do (it's not multitasking, it's rapid task switching). And if you want to really learn about the excellent psychological research about task switching, use task switching or attention as a starting point.

What does it mean to be accountable?

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 17 - January 2014 at 09:07 AM (8 years ago) 14 views.

One of our school themes this year is accountability. This is a good thing, in my opinion. In my experience in education, accountability is a pejorative word but it needn't be. I imagine accountability to be ultimately about results. And here is a key point; results can be broad, nuanced, qualitative and still be valid, but they still need to demonstrate a student has learned. When people ask me "how do you know technology works in education", I answer "ask the teacher who uses it". I trust teachers to know when technology tools work with student learning (but I verify). When I think about accountability in the context of educational technology, I look at learning outcomes and learning artifacts related to a technology inspired lesson. As we in the ed-tech community know, many times students make spectacularly snazzy presentations and demonstrate ZERO knowledge on the learning standard. It's hurts me when I see this. Accountability is about "show me the learning". We are adopting Dr. James Stronge's TPES teacher evaluation system at our school. There are 6 standards, 5 inputs and 1 output. The 5 inputs are: 1. Instructional planning 2. Instructional delivery 3. Assessment of/for learning 4. Learning environment 5. Professionalism And the 6th standard, related to output is: 6. Student progress All of these standards are measurable, and when used thoughtfully, improve accountability to student learning. I've included the wikipedia entry below about accountability because I like what it say about the relationship between accountability and accounting. What is the saying, "what matters is what you measure". What do you think about accountability in educational technology? In ethics and governance, accountability is answerability, blameworthiness, liability, and the expectation of account-giving. As an aspect of governance, it has been central to discussions related to problems in the public sector, nonprofit and private (corporate) worlds. In leadership roles, accountability is the acknowledgment and assumption of responsibility for actions, products, decisions, and policies including the administration, governance, and implementation within the scope of the role or employment position and encompassing the obligation to report, explain and be answerable for resulting consequences. In governance, accountability has expanded beyond the basic definition of "being called to account for one's actions". It is frequently described as an account-giving relationship between individuals, e.g. "A is accountable to B when A is obliged to inform B about A’s (past or future) actions and decisions, to justify them, and to suffer punishment in the case of eventual misconduct". Accountability cannot exist without proper accounting practices; in other words, an absence of accounting means an absence of accountability. Link here

Digital Learning: a video that gets close to SAMR

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 14 - January 2014 at 01:36 PM (8 years ago) 14 views.

Great youtube video: be here now

Posted in Mindfulness on 08 - January 2014 at 10:30 AM (8 years ago) 21 views.

[url=][/url] I am still surprised how little time I spend here and now. I often think about the future, or perseverate about the past, leaving me little time to be in the here and now. I remain convinced teaching our kids (and modelling) about mindfulness must be part of a technology program.

ITIL: Services in a K-12 School

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 27 - December 2013 at 04:41 PM (8 years ago) 13 views.

For external customers (students, families, and prospective families) : Learning with technology hardware tools Learning with technology software (and web-based-applications) tools Learning management service Information service covering school activities, athletics, and school-life Information service covering academic progress and progress towards standards Information service covering school community activities Interactive admissions services Interactive re-enrolment services Interactive enrolment services Information services for prospective families For internal customers (teachers, administrators, professional support staff) : Interactive information service covering student information - including progress towards meeting standards Information service covering internal school information Interaction services for calendaring Customized reporting services Interactive admissions services Interactive re-enrolment services Interactive enrolment services

Tech Coaching vs Tech Coordination

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 13 - December 2013 at 10:40 AM (about 9 years ago) 14 views.

It boils down to nouns vs verbs. An integrator is more centered around nouns (specific stuff that blinks). A coach is more centered around verbs (teacher instructional practice and student learning). For example, an integrator makes sure that active board functions properly, and the teacher knows how to use the board. A coach works with teachers how to differentiate instruction using the activeboard. Another example, a math coach does not come in with math worksheets and leave. Nor does a reading coach bring in books and leave. They are intimately connected with supporting student learning by coaching and developing teacher competencies. Instructional coaches are different than technology coaches. A technology coach is concerned with learning, teaching and the cognitive tool of technology. An instructional coach look more holistically at student learning and the instructional practice. There is management of technology resources in both the coaching model and the coordination model.

MOOC’s, learning, and teaching, oh my!

Posted in Educational Tech on 11 - December 2013 at 02:29 PM (about 9 years ago) 13 views.

From the Old Gray Lady: [url=][/url] I watched with interest the fervor around online courses and online learning. As usual, the technology skeptic and the technology evangelist in me battled. From the Skeptic: This is a money-saving initiative. Solely using computer assisted instruction doesn't work (but blended models show promise). Teaching and learning is more than mere presentation of content. With no proven procedure to validate student learning (via a teacher), how do we know our students know? Won't MOOC's further create distance via the digital divide? Don't MOOC's only really help certain types of learners? Don't we know that lecturing is only so effective? Aren't the instructional delivery models limited in an online course? From the Evangelist: How else can a motivated learner access instruction from world-class faculty? Isn't this a noble experiment, where many people, working together, build a collective understanding? Doesn't this help us cull high-level content and present it coherently? With proper gamification, can't we make this style of learning much more engaging? Isn't this the "mother of all differentiated learning"? I end with this question about learning and teaching. I always believed the ultimate goal of education was to teach students how to think. How does an electronic system understand how you think? hint: it's more than passing a test.....

Geeks on the difference between training and learning

Posted in Educational Tech Design Teaching Diary on 28 - November 2013 at 07:20 AM (9 years ago) 16 views.

Great video and talk about the difference between training and learning. [url=][/url]

iDiots: a clever commentary on what we may become

Posted in Mindfulness Personal on 20 - November 2013 at 07:08 AM (9 years ago) 15 views.

Without much further comment: [url=][/url]

Reform ECPA: Tell the Government to Get a Warrant

Posted in Linux Personal on 15 - November 2013 at 07:16 AM (9 years ago) 14 views.

Hey readers! I've just signed this petition, and I urge you to, as well. Americans are deeply concerned about NSA surveillance. But the NSA’s not the only problem. An outdated law says the IRS and hundreds of other agencies can read our communications without a warrant. That law, known as the Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), was written over 25 years ago, before the services we use today even existed. Right now, several bills in Congress would fix this by updating ECPA to require a warrant, but regulatory bodies are blocking reform in order to gain new powers of warrantless access. We call on the Obama Administration to support ECPA reform and to reject any special rules that would force online service providers to disclose our email without a warrant.

ITIL Certified and Management in Schools

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 29 - October 2013 at 07:05 AM (9 years ago) 11 views.

I just earned my Foundation certificate in ITIL. As I learn more about managing technology for enterprise I see the benefit and value of bringing these best practices into the school. I believe schools traditionally do not manage technology well. There are many reasons schools don't "do" technology well. 1. Our outcomes are a little fuzzy Schools don't have a bottom line that is easy to measure. When we try to only use a norm-referenced or criterion-referenced test to measure learning, we reduce what learning is. As such, clearly defining outcomes, benefits, and easily measurable products (in a management output-model) are tough. I'm not saying it can't be done, but it's fuzzy. 2. Leadership in schools is difficult Schools are classically under-staffed at an administration level. How does one administrator effectively evaluate 30 staff members? Coupled with intense pulls from parents, district and state mandates, lack of training in project management (and IT management), the stage isn't set well for leadership to be successful. 3. Management isn't a "thing" in schools Management isn't a language we speak in schools. Outcomes, milestones, measuring, metrics, Demming Model, KPI's, RACI, and value aren't part of our nomenclature. I'm not sure why, but there isn't a culture of management in schools. I don't look at "the union" as the reason schools don't have strong management, I think just historically this is the issue. 4. No one really understand how technology works It's odd, because this is a chicken and egg problem. Clearly defining measurable outcomes from student technology use can be done (via the Service Strategy and Service Design parts of ITIL). But schools don't do this because they don't have expertise or knowledge managing technology. I have personally heard many principals, superintendents, and directors say they simply don't understand how technology works, or how it impacts student learning. My final thoughts on this? Management frameworks like ITIL and PRINCE 2 project management has immense value in organizations, especially when there isn't a real culture of managing. I'm not a shill, but after 15 years in this business, I clearly see the value and benefit of implementing more structured approach to management in schools.

ITIL Lifecycle Processes

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 20 - October 2013 at 09:28 AM (9 years ago) 13 views.

ITIL Lifecycle Processes For my own study notes, and to help anyone out there who wants it. Service Strategy Service Portfolio Management Financial Management Demand Management Business Relationship Management Strategy Generation Service Design Service Catalog Management Supplier Management Service Level Management Availability Management Capacity Management Design Coordination IT Service Continuity Management Service Transition Evaluation Service Validation and Testing Service Asset and Configuration Management Change Management Release and Deployment Management Service Operation Incident Management Problem Management Request Fulfillment Event Management Access Management Continual Service Improvement (ITIL® is a registered trademark of the Cabinet Office)

ITIL in Education

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 20 - August 2013 at 09:54 AM (9 years ago) 16 views.

Wouldn't it be great if there was a framework schools could use to effectively manage technology? Wouldn't it be great if there was a group of battle-tested best practices we could use to ensure technology delivered the benefits we desired? Wouldn't it be great if other industries, focused like a laser on results, developed a group of procedures to ensure technology was delivered as a service to support the mission of the business? I've been in the ed-tech business for a while now (since 2001 formally). I've seen several different scenarios how technology is managed in schools: 1. None. A computer is (sometime literally) placed in a room and left for a hapless teachers to plug and in and gather dust. I've also been in schools where interactive whiteboards are put into classrooms (a school-wide implementation) and teachers are left to their own devices. This doesn't end well. 2. The teacher runs the tech program. In addition to a reduced teaching load, they get the honor of being "that guy". In no particular order, they manage the network services (including DNS and DHCP stuff), user authentication services, database services, file storage services, front line support services, and of course a bevy of other services. I like to call this style of technology management "huh?" 3. There is one system administrator and a computer teacher. They fight because the sysadmin's need for a stable & secure user environment clouds and eclipses the need of the IT services to benefit the users. Or more succintly, technology is poorly managed, as it does not serve the customers nor the business needs. Rarely are the IT services well defined in this case. 4. A well-resourced school has technology director, data-manager (or DBA), a system administrator, and 2 front line technicians. To support the teachers, there are usually 1 or 2 full time technology coaches or integrators. That's commitment. But even then, I see questions about effective managment and "what are the clear, measurable benfits to learning that technology brings to the table". What I know about these 4 different common approaches to educational technology is they don't always work. Are schools realizing the benefits of technology enhanced learning? So the longer I've been doing this, the more value I see in management processes like ITIL. When I learned (and began practicing) project management, it was like an epiphany. Clear process that supported success, and controlled for time, quality, benefit, cost and risk. you know the most important question we should ask when we start an IT project? Is this worth doing? I want to be very clear, though, that these process need to be tailored for a school environment. ITIL is a framework for effectively managing IT as a service. We are incorportaing ITIL into our environment at my school, and already see the value of service strategy, serice design, service operation, and so on. I will be writing more about ITIL in schools, and what we see working, and what we see not working. tl;dr: The core competency of schools is teaching and learning. Not managing technology. Schools should learn from other industries about effective IT management so the investment returns value.

My kids want to use Unity3D for a science project

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 11 - April 2013 at 01:42 PM (9 years ago) 14 views.

From an excellent 6th grade science teacher comes this question. My answer is beneath. I have a couple guys in 6th grade who are dead set on doing a science fair project involving video games. Both guys want to use a program called Unity 3D. 

How in the hell do I turn this into a project with an authentic research question such as "What affect does __________ have on _________?" 

If you have any suggestions or could help me point these kids in a different direction, I would be most appreciative. This is tricky to get right. In a nutshell, you have to be much more strict about the instructional design than with other activities your kids might want to try. The problem is sadly universal. The boys will absolutely light up about this project. They will go full-nuclear in their enthusiasm, energy, and time with this. But at the end, there is a very good chance they will not meet your learning goals. 

They will tell you, brimming with excitement, "look! we made this guy's arm move, and we put in the radioactive monsters that blah blah blah". And you will ask, "have you met these learning goals? And they will pause. And there will be this uncomfortable silence, and then they will say "look at the tank we built!". This is the same thing when kids build a powerpoint presentation that is all fluff, and no content. So if you are willing to hammer them with oversight (and I mean a daily check-in against an obnoxiously clear rubric), then I say go for it. 

Also, please know this project will take longer than other projects because the kids are going to want to do everything, all at once. One last thing: If your kids do choose to use this learning tool, and they manage to model their science project as a simulation, it will be a very powerful learning experience. I can't think of a better way to learn than to create a simulation or a digital representation of an idea. I'm curious how you will proceed.

My idea of a good social experience for teachers

Posted in Personal Teaching Diary on 26 - February 2013 at 09:06 AM (9 years ago) 13 views.

This is a proposal I sent to our school social committee. I'm not sure what they will think about it! I would like to have the first annual ASW Dungeons and Dragons game. The purpose of this game is to have fun and learn about a foundation of geek identity and culture, Dungeons and Dragons (version 4e). I imagine each game will take about 2 hours, with 5 to 6 players. I have already created the characters and settings, so gameplay should be fast. There is a a small bit of reading prior to each game, and ideally each player would watch one of the lord of the rings movies prior to playing. The game would be classic D&D, "the hero's hack and slash to save the world kind-of-story". Players would choose a classic class such as fighters, barbarians, rogues, clerics, magic-users, wizards, archers, etc.. Players will have a chance to play the following races: human, elven, dwarven, goliath, and perhaps a dragon-born. They will in turn fight the classic monsters, including orcs, dire-wolves, skeletons, spiders, and perhaps even a beholder. I was thinking about the following dates: Thursday, March 21 2013, from 1600 to 1800 in the board room Thursday, March 28 2013, from 1600 to 1800 in the board room Light snacks and drinks would be served (as is traditional for D&D games). I will handle all logistics, registration, total cost for one game would be less than 50 PLN for snacks. Anyway, I know this is pretty far over on the "weird" scale, but it does strike me as a potentially fun and social experience for our community. I would especially welcome people who have never played Dungeons and Dragons before. My request is for you to think about this proposal and get back to me with your reaction. If enough of you think this should be a "go" I would ask that you talk it up with your various divisions.

Stack Exchange: better questions and answers

Posted in Educational Tech Support on 25 - February 2013 at 03:03 PM (9 years ago) 15 views.

This email describes a neat site I've found and I wanted to share with you. Please let me know what you think by replying to this message. For as long as we've had the internet, we've had a place to ask questions and get answers. In fact, the very first internet spaces were called BBS's (Bulletin Board Systems). They were designed to facilitate questions and answers. Fast forward 30 years, and communities are still one of the most important parts of the internet. Asking, answering, and connecting are still at the heart of what it means to be online in 2013. However, most forums for communication are flat. Someone asks a question, and several people give different answers, only some of which may be right. If only there was a way for us to interact with questions and answers that let the good stuff rise to the top. Enter Stack Exchange.  Stack Exchange has some pretty interesting features: 1. all questions are tagged. This means if you click on "structure" tag in the writing stack exchange, you will see all questions and answers related to structure; 2. all answers are voted on, and the top-rated answer is easily visible; 3. there is an ongoing comment stream for all questions. This gives you a sense to what isn't right about a question or answer; 4. you can contribute to answers or ask questions;  5. all stack exchanges have an indicator if a question has been satisfactorily answered; 6. when someone asks a question on a Stack Exchange site, the community reviews, revises, and proposes answers to it; 7. answers are rated and ranked by the rest of the community; 8. members also vote for questions they find useful, or against those they see as unclear or unproductive. The more votes, the more visibility – so when you search, you get the best answer to the best question; 9.questions and answers can be edited by other members, Wikipedia-style. This lets the community continue to polish and update content even when the original authors aren't available. (features 7, 8 and 9 are taken from this page) Please take a moment or two to explore Stack Exchange. Stack exchange is an umbrella of many different areas of interest. Perhaps some of these may pique your curiosity: Ask Different: a stack exchange for Apple users English Language Usage: a stack exchange for serious linguists Cooking: a stack exchange site about cooking Photography: a stack exchange for questions and answers about photography Physical fitness: a stack exchange about everything Bicycles: you get the idea... Math: for you know, math stuff Biology: why did we evolve bladders, anyway? German: questions about German language (or French if that is your thing) Here's a list of all the different stack exchanges ordered by name. I think Stack Exchange represents a modest but nice step forward in our quest to ask and answer questions about, well, anything online! Please let me know what you think, I'm curious to hear your reaction to this site.

7th grade Minecraft Project

Posted in Games in education Practical Advice on 10 - June 2012 at 10:04 PM (10 years ago) 19 views.

The tl;dr version: Our 7th grade went on a field trip and re-created the visited city in Minecraft (learn about minecraft here). It didn't go as well as I hoped because I didn't plan well enough with all the teachers. Lots of awesome-sauce when kids started using the game (which is why we love games in education). 

A slightly more thoughtful description of the whole thing: 

Our 7th grade recently visited Zamosc (wikipedia-linkage here). It was a great trip. Everything about this trip was wonderfully planned; the learning prior, the planned exploration and interdisciplinary questions when the kids were in Zamosc, and the post-trip learning and projects. In many ways, this trip was a text-book example of how to really make the most of a field trip. One of the old post-trip activities was to build a cardboard building in the city. Here's the learning: Zamosc is a very rare (and is listed on UNESCO sites here) example of a perfectly planned and realized Renaissance town. The city was designed and built along the principals of the human body, with the brain or head being the palace, the heart being a cathedral, yadda yadda yadda - read more about Zamosc here). 

After hearing me blather about games and education, one of the teachers approached me and asked if we could try minecraft instead of the cardboard paper towel rolls. This project was her idea, not mine. So we decided to try building a city in minecraft that echoed the principals that we learned about in Zamosc. The kids were given rubrics, parents were notified, pre-built minecraft servers were purchased (Hey multiplay, how about some love for educational and non-profit folks with some educational pricing?). We bought user licenses (thank you, minecraft EDU), installed the clients on the kids computers, and set off! This project was run with four 7th grades (2 teachers, 2 classes each). Immediately, I noticed one class was taking off whilst the other wasn't quite. 

Coincidentally, I spent much more time planning with one teacher, and barely any with the other. Related to this, I didn't spend enough time with the middle school technology coach to plan this activity (I am the director of technology at our school). The coach was very helpful, but again, without clear planning, the project had some holes in the boat from the start. Right away we saw some some great stuff. In one class, kids learned very quickly, helped each other, and began building. Whenever we use computer games (or any game) in education, the enthusiasm and energy goes nuclear. Especially with our boys, their engagement and involvement was a wonderful thing to see. In the other class we ran into technical problems (I'll get to that in a moment), and some "what do we do now" questions. The kids built their cities fairly well. Based on our criteria, it was clear they understood the principals of Renaissance city ideals and had lovingly built their cities to reflect the same. By that measure, this project was a fantastic success. Here are four screengrabs that don't do any justice to the hard work of our kids. However, as noted above, I cant really walk away and hand anyone a trophy. 

Next year? Maybe. But this project had all the classic marks of a first-time run. In the interest of sharing our success and failures, here's the list-o-things-you-should-think-about: 1. Classic: plan, plan, plan. I walked this through with one teacher, and not the other. It showed. I also didn't include the technology coach enough. Big oops. 2. Superflat world worked well for us, we used creative mode. 3. Using a company that rents pre-setup servers was a win for us (all we worried about was bandwidth) BUT.... 4. Better to have a separate server for each class - much easier to manage. So with four 7th grades, I should of had four separate servers. 5. The only plug-in's I used were noTNT and one that stopped lava. 6. I didn't whitelist, and I should have. We had some vandalism that took away from the fun. 7. Kids love games. like, REALLY love them. Watching the time, energy, and motivation they poured into this project was satisfying. If I had put even an hour of more planning time into this, it would of been a home run. 

Other teachers noticed this project, I hope to have more takers next year!

Evaluating Technology Coaches with NETS-C

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership Support on 29 - May 2012 at 03:46 PM (10 years ago) 11 views.

How do we know technology integration is bettering student learning? Evaluating the effectiveness of technology integration is tricky because many different forces influence effective integration. We must speak with teachers, talk with students, evaluate integrators, reflect on learning goals, and look at academic achievement. We must understand the context and culture of technology use in a school. Just as understanding teaching and learning is complex, so is understanding technology integration. My point? Evaluating technology integration is not a simple thing. I have not seen a good instrument for evaluating technology coaches (formally called technology integrators). Commonly, teacher evaluation forms are used with technology coaches. Wholly inappropriate. Coaching is different than teaching, the aims are different, the process is different, our understanding of successful coaching is different than our understanding of successful teaching. Where teachers must demonstrate an improvement to student learning, coaches must demonstrate an improvement to student learning through an improvement to teaching practice. Working with the technology coaches at the American School of Warsaw, we have created an instrument based on the NETS-C ([url=][/url]). Please find an editable version here, and feel free to use it.

Cyberbullying Protocol

Posted in Educational Tech on 30 - March 2012 at 02:51 PM (10 years ago) 13 views.

The Protocol In summary: 1. become aware 2. communicate to the team 3. get the story straight 4. intervene appropriately 5. follow up In depth: TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE. UNFORTUNATELY, CYBERBULLYING IS A "DROP EVERYTHING AND DEAL WITH IT" ISSUE. 1. When an adult in the school becomes aware of a cybullying issue, or an issue they think might be cyberbullying, they should immediately report the concern to their school principal, counselor, technology coach, or technology director. If the adult has access to any digital information at this time (i.e. websites, blogs, messages, etc.) then they should take the opportunity to gather evidence through digital photos, screenshots, forwarding messages, etc. whenever possible. 2. Once informed, a member of the school administration team should communicate to: the building principal the building counselor the technology director 3. The team should designate a fact finder, who will develop a timeline of the incident with any additional evidence (screen shots, network access logs, etc). The fact finder is responsible for making sure the team has a very clear understanding of the timeline of events. 4. The team should reconvene, make sure everyone agrees and is on board with the timeline, and then hand-off intervention to the building principal. 5. The team should meet after the incident to: briefly debrief and review the incident. ensure appropriate steps are taken in a larger context to address the issue.

Defining Games in Education

Posted in Games in education on 29 - March 2012 at 05:43 PM (10 years ago) 17 views.

From a wonderful email asking to define serious games, comes this answer: 

To the layperson, a game is a game is a game. However to those of us in educational technology (and those of us passionate about games in education) the difference between Math Rabbit and Spore are gargantuan. To define those both as "games" is akin to calling Shakespeare and William McGonagall [1] "writers". 

An educational game (computer): aka: edutainment, is a deliberately structured and scaffolded learning activity, usually constructed with colorful, fun puzzles interspersed with learning activities. These games often require a set number of solved problems which are followed by a short animation, cutscene, or puzzle game. Learning activities are often framed within the game theme. For example, learners may be playing a bowling game where simple math problems are superimposed on each of the pins. As the player correctly answers the math problems, the pins are knocked down. When the player has knocked all the pins down, they may have an opportunity to virtually roll a bowling ball down the lane, and hit some pins, without needing to answer any math problems. 

A serious game (computer): players controls a limited number of variables to effect an outcome in a specific scenario. They are usually web-based, they usually have a very specific theme (peace in the mideast, health care, politics), they are not meant to be in-depth simulations, they are meant to model the most important dynamics in a specific scenario, they are short-term games, they are deliberately designed to teach, explain an issue, or clarify the dynamics of an issue, and the point is to simplify complex issues to players gain an understanding of this issue. 

Although you didn't ask, there is one other category of games - I will give a very short definition: 

COTS - commercial off the shelf games, where there is no pretense of education. These games are built solely for the purpose of entertainment. COTS games can cost tens of millions of dollars to produce [2] but hit titles can bring hundreds of millions of dollars [3]. When used in the context of good instructional design, COTS games can be powerful learning tools. 


These definitions are mine. I give them to freely to use, but please attribute 😊  Please share your paper with me when you publish it! 


Getting Geeks Going

Posted in Educational Tech on 26 - March 2012 at 12:17 PM (10 years ago) 10 views.

One of my favorite things about education technology is finding young geeks, and getting them started on a good road forward. I think my most professionally rewarding experiences have been helping kids with a nascent interest in computers or IT get their feet off the ground. It's pretty easy to find the geeks, they hang out a lot in the computer lab or the networking center. The first thing I do is look for the kids who only want to game. I ask them questions that help me see if they are curious to learn more about computers and IT. If they don't seem interested, I let them be. But if they do seem interested, I try to see what area of computers and IT I can steer them into. This list of questions is a good start. If a kid lights up about one thing, we push into that area of IT. Fun stuff. Perhaps this will help someone else get their geeks going at their school. 1. You have three computers at home, and you want to share files between the computers. All the computers can go online, and you can ping the computers IP address, but you can't seems to share files between them. You don't want to use dropbox, because you know an internal network is much (much) faster than dropbox. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a fix? 2. You are playing a multiplayer game and you notice latency. Interestingly, though, the latency seems random. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a fix? 3. You visit moodle for your classwork, google calendar for your events and appointments, and maybe gmail for some groupwork. you also spend some time looking at blogs and wiki's from your teachers class. You are tired of doing this, and you have decided to program a portal page that would slurp information from all these different sites into one page. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a program? 4. You want to write an application that would work on a iPhone or iPad. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a program? 5. You are pretty sure someone is hacking through your computer. You don't know why, but you think they are. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a fix? 6. You want to write a graphically-rich, hella-fun game. What steps do you take to implement the grand design of your game? 7. There is a cute girl in your science class, and you want to impress her by writing a highly complex formula in Excel. You have no idea if this will work, but hey, why not try?! You have an idea to write a formula that will instantly convert a currency amount into another currency using live exchange rates. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a fix? 8. You want to build a device that has an infrared sensor fixated on your door. When the door is opened, three things happen: 1. a light chime goes off, 2. your computer automatically goes to a random educational site, 3. a picture is taken of the person entering your room and emailed to your email account. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a fix? 9. You want to add a better graphics card and more RAM to your home computer. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a fix? 10. You want to setup an website. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a fix? 11. You want to setup a comlex website with membership modules, forums, file mangers, and stuff like that. What steps do you take to understand the problem and implement a fix?

CEESA Games in Education Notes

Posted in Games in education on 16 - March 2012 at 06:19 PM (10 years ago) 17 views.

I just had an opportunity to present a games in education presentation at the 2012 CEESA conference (PDF here and link to google presentation here). I continue my search and work around games in education. I marvel at the passion, energy, and enthusiasm kids throw into their games. It's amazing. I know we can use games successfully, and my experience informs the potential for success.

Project Management in Education

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership on 28 - February 2012 at 11:15 PM (10 years ago) 12 views.

Do tasks, milestones, resources, work-breakdown-structures, gantt charts, PERT charts, and TCQ belong in K-12 education? As I grow in my role as a director of technology, the ability to effectively plan and organize has emerged as a key skill. Last year I realized I sucked, horribly, at large-scale project planning. I have just finished a project management course (not a certification course, thank you very much), and I am very excited about what I learned! In a nutshell, I have learned to spend much more time planning, really getting clear about scope (and vision), deliverable tasks, milestones, and map resources. I presented this to the leadership team today, and I think it was well received; my essential message was "when you come to IT with a project, we are going to spend much more time getting really clear about what you want, mapping the time and resources, and delivering a high-quality solution for your team". I am reading everything I can get my hands on. Here's the current list: [url=][/url] [url=][/url] [url=][/url] [url=][/url] (this next one isn't quite related to project management) [url=][/url] Just the idea of brainstorming every task related to a project and then scheduling those tasks makes me feel so much more relaxed. I also like the democratic nature of the planning. For example, we'll get everyone related to a project in a room, and they will think of every possible task needing to be addressed for a project. Then we will schedule the tasks (using sticky notes), identify resources, and finally slurp all that into a project management tool (we'll probably go with MS Project 2010 standard). This will then give us a clear picture of our project and tasks - and who is doing what. Moreover, we will have clarity about how long a project will take, what resources we will use, and even basic costs (if I do costs - I might not). I don't have a clear vision for how we will assign and track tasks once the project commences. Our small team is very high functioning, and I dont need to manage a whole lot, but I am thinking a lot more about the "management" part of project management. It seems like many of the tools online (attask, wrike, 5pm, basecamp) are designed to monitor task performance - which is important - but for me, it is the planning that is uber-sexy. I'll write more later.

The Digital Citenzship Opportunity

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 12 - December 2011 at 09:33 AM (about 11 years ago) 16 views.

Digital Citizenship has always been a nebulous idea for me. I always appreciated and referred people to Zen and the art of the internet when understanding "how to be" on the internet. At my current school digital citizenship is not at the front of our ship right now; however, I do see evidence of digital citizenship infused into our curriculum in the form of "laptop drivers licenses", AUP's, (and RUP's), and we also have a very well defined cyberbullying protocol which is sadly used more than I'd like to. Our middle school employs a monitoring tool to support students to make good choices. We had our very first "red-card" situation this week in the MS, where two boys were playing games after being warned repeatedly. We have a pretty good system to support abuses, and we have an excellent system to communicate with parents (not just about digital citizenship, but everything else related to technology). Perhaps the best opportunity we have to help our community understand digital citizenship is when there is a problem. We had a case last year where, literally, 2 days after a 3 week digital citizenship course some kids made a gossip-girl-style facebook group with extraordinary hurtful things on it. This after an intensive course! The real teaching and learning happened at that moment of opportunity, parents, students, and teachers were all hot about this issue, and that is when we saw real change and awareness in student thinking about digital citizenship. I've found the cyberbullying protocol to be especially effective in resolving specific issues.

CEESA Minecrafting

Posted in Games in education on 16 - November 2011 at 11:10 AM (11 years ago) 15 views.

Amazing, The Central Eastern European School Association (CEESA) has created a Minecraft server that schools from across Central Europe are playing in. The server, located in Moscow, is available for students at any CEESA school. I ran my video-game club through our first trial of minecraft yesterday afternoon, and we had a neat time. This project has just started, but with many schools involved, it is enormously exciting. I am hopeful for a bright future. Here's our experiences, and some reflections about this experience and learning. Initial expectation about the experience. For many players in our video game club, there really is nothing better than killing your friend in the most imaginative way possible. In gamer terms, this is known as griefing. We reviewed a prezi made by a student in Moscow with the rules, which offered common-sense suggestions like not destroying each others buildings, killing other players, and generally being rude. The members of my video game club were shocked and let-down when they realized this wouldn't be part of their minecraft experience. When they saw no zombies, spiders, and explody-thingies, they were again disappointed. There was an intelligent conversation about the "essence" of minecraft - what made it a game, what makes it fun, why people come back. There seemed to be a general consensus that with a common enemy (mobs) players would have a reason to visit the game more often. We are going to suggest adding in PvE (or perhaps, just a part of the world can be PvE). But then, there is that whole "game" thing going on. Despite their concerns, they were very quickly immersed in the world. We saw the center of the world and set off to build the Polish section of the world. We built a big Polish flag, and started building a platform. There is an idea to build a very big train system linking the different districts, and the center district. Last night, still learning about Minecraft, I started building The Wieliczka Salt Mines. I was reminded again why I am drawn to games as a powerful tools for learning. The students excitement, motivation, and energy was palpable. They were pointing at the screen, shouting and yelling, impassioned. And then, they started building; trying to make the most beautiful buildings they could. There were complaints about student players being 'ops'. I promised them I would investigate (I think the server is set up for creative mode). As my readers may know, I am an enthusiastic proponent of Dr. Richard Bartle's player types - which basically states people play games for different reasons (explorer, socializer, achiever, and griefer) there are other types, but you get the idea. I saw my student quickly adapt their playing styles to the confines of this world, and just love it. Learnings and further steps 1. We have an opportunity to learn, discuss and reflect on online behavior, ethics, and community. This server offers a lens for us to participate in a virtual community - and learn much in the process. These kids don't know each other - there is very little glue to keep them together. 2. There is an amazing opportunity to build important cultural buildings and places here - why not a famous church in Croatia, the famous metro system in Moscow (or Red Square), old town in Kracow, beautiful sites in Helsinki, etc... Why not create a microcosm of Europe on a minecraft server? Here we see a place where students can virtually represent anything. 3. Teachers have an opportunity to learn how to teach and work with other schools in CEESA. Our athletics department might be able to give us some advice - how do you work with CEESA kids you don't really know? I would like to begin offering online / blended courses in Warsaw to other students throughout CEESA. This server is a great place for us to fall flat on our faces as we learn to virtually interact with each other. For further steps, I suggest we: 1. Build a collaborative vision of our minecraft server - At some point, we need to be able to answer the "why are we doing this" question. 2. Institute a "uservoice" type service so the different schools can agree on what sorts of features they would want in the game ([url=][/url]). Basically, uservoice allows users to vote on a feature request, and it is very easy to quickly see what your community thinks is important. 3. Maybe have a guiding question or idea in the moodle forum each week. We can then focus our efforts in the game towards answering this question or exploring this idea. One last thought - games are educational in very different ways; please don't think "playing minecraft will make their math skills stronger". Take a quick peek here for some summaries and thoughts about games and learning I've written over the last 5 or 6 years. Game on!

How do you evaluate technology coaches?

Posted in Educational Tech Leadership Teaching Diary on 01 - August 2011 at 01:14 PM (11 years ago) 17 views.

How should we formally evaluate technology integrators? You know, the folks in the classrooms, meeting with teachers, holding workshops, coordinating trainings, hand holding, pushing, shoving, cajoling, and generally doing everything they can to move technology forward. Saints, the lot of them. We have a special opportunity this year to create a formal evaluation for these folks. As technology director, I'll be formally co-evaluating the technology coaches with the building principals. These evaluations will be "official-in-the-personnel-file" evaluations. So what should be on them? Some of them are pretty easy: communication skills organization and planning contribution to the work environment But what about the meat and potatoes? How do we point to a technology coach and say "yup, that is effective technology coaching". Do I look at teachers that have worked with the technology coach? Do I look at the students who are in the classes? Artifact research? I see many technology coaches using project-based integration. Maybe we should just look at projects and base evaluation on their projects - that seems a bit thin to me, though. The purpose of evaluating a technology coach is to evaluate if this person is improving student learning in our school through the effective use of technology. I'm wondering: Are the coaches available for teachers? Are the presentation of training differentiated? Are the coaches working to change building culture? Do we see teachers using technology effectively and progressing with coaches? Are coaches using differentiated instructions for their teachers? Are coaches partnering? Ultimately, I think the smart thing to do is let the coaches build their own evaluation instrument. Of course, we will include goal statements and all that other normal stuff, but I think they all know best. What are your thoughts? What do you use to evaluate technology coaches?

The 10 moms doctrine

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design Personal Teaching Diary on 29 - July 2011 at 03:59 AM (11 years ago) 17 views.

If you ask 10 different moms what they would do in a given scenario, you will get 10 different answers. Especially related to computer use, filtering, and behavioral standards. Last year our school had a strong parent technology partnership program (I intend to build on it this year). One of our activities was to present a scenario and ask parents what they would do (this was led by the indomitable Nick Kwan). One of the questions was "what would you do if you walked into your child's workspace and they quickly minimized a window?". The answers ranged from "nothing" to "take the computer away for a week". Our school has a one to one laptop program. The school owns the laptops and the students take the computers home with them. We use open dns for filtering. The students have admin access to their laptops (which is a topic for another blog post - I love it). We got several (well-placed) criticisms last year which stated students were coming home with laptops, and parents had no way to control this device. I considered this complaint fair, because there really are a wide range of parental attitudes and beliefs to technology use. I tend to be fairly liberal and open about tech use, but many parents are not - they are conservative and very careful about technology use. Is it fair to send kids home with no way for parents to control their device? Of course we talk about social contracts, and talking with your child, and trust - but some parents have strong beliefs that a computer should be locked down (the 10 moms doctrine). The obvious choice is to install filtering software and teach parents how to use it (or teach them to use open dns). It's an option. If parents want to activate filtering, we tell them how to do it. If they don't want to activate filtering, then they don't. We are clear that there is to be no filtering during school time, only at home (from 3:00pm to 7:00am). We also talk about parenting advice and tips and offer parents a venue to discuss technology issues and share solutions to problems with each other. We talk about the technical weakness of filtering, that filtering alone can't solve many problems, and that at the end of the day, there has to be some kind of involvement with parents and their child's technology. tl;dr: people have different values, ed tech should do what they can to respect and support those values.

More on learning HTML 5

Posted in Personal Teaching Diary on 27 - July 2011 at 05:32 AM (11 years ago) 16 views.

I have encountered a wonderful resource for learning HTML 5, Dive into HTML 5 by Mark Pilgrim. Not sure which adjectives to use, so I'll just use the always-helpful-but-not-really-because-it-is-overused, "awesome". Everything about this online book is great - I even (finally) got educated about unicode and character sets. His links for further reading are great. I've spent about 4 hours just reading and digesting - I'll certainly come back to this as I learn more and start implementing an HTML 5 site.

Becoming familiar with HTML 5

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Personal Teaching Diary on 24 - July 2011 at 07:29 AM (11 years ago) 17 views.

With some vacation time left, I'm spending a few hours getting up to snuff on HTML 5. For a rank newbie, I find the w3 schools to be a good primer. I've never been much a javascript programmer, but it looks like that sexy canvas element uses it. I doubt I'll take the time to learn javascript, but it looks like I am going to need to sink my teeth into it. I follow many people, including Rick Ellis, who said something like 'think of every website as an application'. I like this idea - the idea of static, "brochure-ware" is a dead end. Especially for schools, I believe the web is (and should be) a full suite of applications to serve the community. It seems like HTML 5 very much understands this idea. I love the built in form authentication elements in HTML 5, the local storage, and the whole "the web is the application" idea. I hope major browsers don't screw up the implementation. I'm sure I'll build a "test school" webpage with HTML 5 and my favorite CMS, Expression Engine to learn HTML 5.


Posted in Educational Tech Linux on 12 - June 2011 at 08:01 AM (11 years ago) 16 views.

How can we have internet when the government / corporate tries to shut it off One system, known as fab-fi, can be found here. I'm putting this in my "mandatory for offline access folders". I would love to try to build this with some students.

Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death - Part 2

Posted in Games in education Text-based gaming on 06 - June 2011 at 07:11 AM (11 years ago) 15 views.

(Part 1 here) I have started this exercise late in the year, and haven’t had any luck grabbing students. Drat. I invited some teachers to participate, but they haven’t bitten. I intend to continue onward, building our text-based space game about quivering communist zombies. A simple exercise, to create a reasonably accurate model of the solar system, yes? Let’s dig. We start with the planets (trivial google search) and then move to modeling them in hspace. We use the new universe wiki to help us. We use this fairly well referenced guide to get us started. Creating the actual planets objects is pretty easy. In pennmush, logged in as a wizard (with hspace running, of course): @create Earth @create Mars @create Venus @create Sun etc... We then assign each object an attribute . 1 is an internal attribute for planets in our example, assume #4 is the object for earth, and #5 is the object for Mars @space/addobject #4=1 @space/addobject #5=1 And then we need to define size, mass, name and location. And here, friends, is where things get interesting. Let’s look at the actual command syntax: @space/setobject #5/NAME=Earth @space/setobject #5/MASS= MASS HERE @space/setobject #5/LOCATION=10000 10000 0 So, what is the mass of earth? Again, a google search reveals: 5.9742×1024 (it is referenced to NASA, and I checked the source, so it looks legit. A first task is to convert scientific notation to standard number that hspace can understand. We know 5.9742×1024 equals 5,974,200,000,000,000,000,000,000 (which is freaking huge) So we simply plug this in. @space/setobject #5/MASS= 5974200000000000000000000 We do the same thing for size. I know, MASS isn’t SIZE, but for the purposes of this game, this will work. According to the wiki, hspace uses size of an object for sensor reading (very weak sensors might not see pluto) and MASS for how much an object can “hold”. For planets, this is kind of irrelevant. But if you have a big ship that serves as an aircraft carrier, mass is important. We are using cartesian coordinates to represent position. We’ve placed the center of the sun at 0,0,0. So where do we put earth? We are not modeling orbits, but we are trying to be “about right” with distances. So we return to our resource page and look at how far earth is from the sun. We see the mean distance is 149,597,890 kilometers. so, if the sun is at 0,0,0, we can put the earth at 149597890,0,0 This puts the earth on a straight line from the sun - pretty far away! The syntax: @space/setobject #5/LOCATION=149597890, 0, 0 We’ll need a pretty zippy ship to get around our solar system. I wonder how fast a ship would need to be in order to make it from Earth to Mars in a decent amount of time?

Differentiated Distraction and blocking?

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership Support on 03 - June 2011 at 08:28 AM (11 years ago) 15 views.

I was speaking with a seasoned classroom teacher yesterday about our 1:1 program in the High School. This guy is no luddite, but he’s also not on the “bleeding technology edge”. He is a consummate professional and well-respected amongst our high school staff. I asked him to share his thoughts about our 1:1 program. “Well, Bill, you know the 500 pound elephant in the room is...” I started praying his next words weren’t “..our horrible technology director...” He continued, “is distraction.” We started digging into this. There are some kids in his classes that are using technology in ways that make sense for him such as taking excellent notes and then sharing them online. However there are some kids in his class who are measurably suffering because they are distracted. Instead of notes, they are doing Other Stuff. Fill in the blank, playing games, on facebook, chatting, etc... I hear from many teachers, parents, and even students that distraction is a major concern. I get it. I know divided attention (aka multitasking) hinders learning. I also know when technology is used effectively it really transforms teaching and learning. As we were talking, I kept coming back to this idea that some kids were doing well with technology and some weren’t. I taught for 10 years, I moved kids around my classroom if they needed to be closer to the front. I made every effort to differentiate my instruction so different learning styles could access the content. Why not do this with technology? If a student has a problem focusing, or is easily distracted, why not support that student by blocking all but the most important applications? If a student has special learning needs, we make accommodations. However in technology what I see is a “block everything or block nothing” approach. I think of this an potentially important tool in the “how can we support students” toolbox. Now for the obligatory explanation stuff: 1. I understand effective classroom management is intimately related to effective teaching. 2. I understand selectively blocking alone will not fix anything about distraction - but it will help. 3. I understand teaching and learning in a 1:1 classroom requires a different way of thinking about learning and teaching. 4. I understand kids can always become distracted. But I know there is something about technology that magnifies this. 5. I understand blocking will not keep a determined student to become distracted. If a kid wants to not pay attention in class, there is little we can do to stop them 😊 Curious to hear your thoughts...

Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death - Part 1

Posted in Educational Tech Design Games in education Practical Advice Text-based gaming on 06 - May 2011 at 07:58 PM (11 years ago) 15 views.

I'm developing a new game, Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death. It's a text based game with an integrated (hardcoded) space system. What this game means, and why I'm developing it, is what this post is about. Quivering Communist Zombie Space Death (herein qczsd) is a game where players take on the role of humans desperately trying to save the earth from quivering communist zombies in space. The game is deeply educational, deeply funny, satirical, blatantly ribald, and of course most of all, fun. Basic mechanics are all textual! The player creates a persona (over-the-top stereotypical), get's a ship, and flys on different missions to take out the zombies. There is a leveling up mechanism, and "buy better crap for your ship dynamic". The zombies will be AI bots, and there will be all sorts of funny in-space dangers. Here's the website: [url=][/url] I'll be blogging frequently about qczsd - talking about my journey of learning as I create this new game. Let's start, though, with the first task to make this game. We are using trusty pennmush, which can be found by clicking here and hspace, which can be found by clicking here. Let's start off with the first student assignment. Let's see where they go with this one: We are going to work with an accurate model of our solar system. What does this mean? It means that we are going to try to accurately model the planets, their distance from one another, mass, and even their moons. We of course also need to know their location from each other. What we are NOT modeling is orbits and gravity (I'll write the "difference between fun and realistic" post later). So, finding the names, mass, and distance of our solar-system planets is as easy as a simple google search. It might help to cross-reference them so we know the numbers are right. But we will eventually need to represent the location of the planets on a XYZ grid. Here's where it get's kind of interesting. How do astronomers (you know, the dolts who didn't even see the communist zombies coming) measure and represent distance in space? What scale of measurement do they use? How do they represent mass? Let's start with a simple assumption (that might be wrong). Let's say the very center of the sun is 0,0,0. Where would the center of the sun's closest planet, Mercury, be? Students should answer these questions and have the answers in the comment of this blog post as soon as they can.

7 highly effective Facebook habits

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 12 - April 2011 at 04:37 AM (11 years ago) 16 views.

A colleague passed this article my way, a quick 7-point primer on the psychology of Facebook. If you are going to use this medium, you should at the least be aware of some interesting research.

Technology Professional Development

Posted in Educational Tech Design Support on 26 - March 2011 at 09:54 AM (11 years ago) 14 views.

Why do we professionally develop a staff? Because I want our teachers to effectively use technology to support student learning. I want our teachers to have skills, practice, and confidence in their use of technology in the classroom. I want our teachers to not only know how to use the actual tools, but to understand how technology can improve learning. The best professional development I ever had was from a peer. I invited her into my classroom to watch my teaching, and 40 minutes later she had 4 pages of notes. It was a powerful experience. As I moved from a classroom teacher (grades 3 to 8 computer classes) to an instructional designer, I had great value from interactions with my peers. These experiences have informed my thinking about professional development. I buy into the idea of personal learning communities, and learning from our peers. I think our school should create time for teachers to meet together to discuss "what works best". At the start of faculty meetings, one of our teachers spend 5 minutes describing a tech integration project they are working on. So as a technology director, I am thinking about professional development and what is the best type of professional development for my staff. I believe that very specific professional development is better than general professional development. For example, I would prefer our 4th grade teachers to attend training specific to the task of technology teaching the 4th grade instead of a general non-specific training. David Warlick is a guy I pay attention to. I don't quite agree with everything he says, but attending his session cultivating a personal learning network really helped to reinforce my thinking about good professional development. He spoke mostly about how hyperconnectedness makes learning easier (you cant help but learn when you are connected to people - I like that) - I add this to my list of "things that are actually different with technology". Teachers can connect and learn from a community of people in ways previously unimaginable. The Personal Learning Network isn't about people who are close to you geographically, but of a common mind (or common question). The point? A personal learning network makes a lot of sense to me. Any time spent working on the facilitation of a personal learning network is time well spent.

Presentation: games in education notes

Posted in Games in education on 26 - March 2011 at 09:14 AM (11 years ago) 16 views.

Presentation notes for the games in education presentation. PDF here

Presentation: the SAMR model of integration

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 26 - March 2011 at 09:12 AM (11 years ago) 15 views.

Here's the SAMR presentation notes. PDF here.

An introduction to SAMR at ASW

Posted in on 21 - March 2011 at 04:26 AM (11 years ago) 11 views.

Click here for a PDF file of a presentation I gave in Budapest at the annual CEESA conference. SAMR is a framework for looking at technology integration in steps - at the bottom level, a teacher is simply substituting what they used to do. Then we move to augmentation, modification and finally redefinition. The skeptic in me always gets a little louder whenever the words "framework, technology, and integration" are used in the same sentence. But a simple question remains in my mind; if you teach the same way you have always taught, simply adding in technology, what's the point of using technology? There's more to speak about SAMR, and getting teachers to ask themselves this simple question, but for now, please feel free to use the notes.

Moving from a drop-off model to an integrated model

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 16 - March 2011 at 04:30 AM (11 years ago) 15 views.

The question popped up on a moodle forum about moving from a lab environment to a more integrated environment. Right now, and for several years, we've had a weekly schedule where teachers bring their classes to the lab and work with an ICT Teacher. (The teacher stays for the lesson; it's not a send-them-away special class like Music or Physical Education.) The “drop-off” model plagues many school tech integration efforts. If your teachers are already involved and invested in integrating, the transition will be less disruptive. I see you say, “stays for the lesson” - is that “stays in the back with coffee chatting / checking email” or “stays walking around the room looking / commenting on content”? The distinction is important. Another key question to ask is who is “responsible” for the lesson. Is there collaborative planning, developing the assessment, sharing responsibility for teaching necessary skills during the project in addition to monitoring students during lab time? If your ICT teacher consistently finds ways to involve the teachers in taking the lead on the lessons, the transition to teachers working with students independently (either in the lab or classroom) will happen naturally, or maybe with a little nudge. But essentially the lab is fully booked with those scheduled classes, so there's not a lot of wiggle room for extra time in the lab or extra time with an ICT teacher. Ask 5 random teachers: why do we want to change this? If they can’t answer the “why”, then you’ve got a vision problem. Although you can’t make 100% people happy 100% of the time, this change will ripple into teachers classrooms. Observe good change management. We're looking at changing that and making it more of a flexible sign-up approach, so that during units where more technology integration is appropriate, classes could book more time with the ICT teachers. This makes sense. At ASW we use google-shared calendar to manage lab time. The Tech Integrator also shares out her calendar so folks can schedule a project in the lab (or classroom with netbooks) when she is free if needed. Many teachers just sign up for the lab (we use our lab for the higher end projects not feasible on our classroom netbooks). Also, we'd like to free up the ICT teacher's time a bit more so that they could push into the classroom more often, and not always be in the lab. At the same time, we don't want to lose the contact time with each class. How do you view the primary role of your ICT teacher? Tech teacher or coach? If it is coach, it is imperative that you free up your ICT teacher to work collaboratively with classroom teachers. Is there technology in the classrooms as well, or is the lab the only technology available? We're a bit worried that less-tech-enthusiastic teachers would choose not to sign up as often. There's also the concern that students wouldn't get the necessary ICT skills if they weren't taught explicitly, the way we have done it in the past. This points to vision. There is also clear empirical evidence that administration expectations of technology use stimulates use. I don’t mean to beat this point to death, but vision, vision, vision. If teachers have a plan how they will integrate, you are in luck. If not, oof. We're thinking of having a trial year to phase it in, maybe cutting every other scheduled class next year so that we could keep some but still free some time up for sign-ups. Um, no. This way, your reluctant teachers would just wait it out until the model went back to the old way. Do the vision thing right. Spend a year at it, throw some money at it, and get everyone on board. It’s so hard to bring reluctant faculty on board if they haven’t bought into a vision. It’s so much easier when everyone is on board. Have any of you had experience - positive or negative - in switching from a set schedule to a more open one? At ASW we have just moved to an open schedule is the ES tech lab. Funny thing, the teachers we spent a year with clearly explaining “we are moving to an integrated model” didn’t have a lot of hard bumps. But there is one grade level who was never told “we are moving to an integrated model”. Guess where we are having our biggest pushback? And this grade level isn't composed of luddites! They are enthusiastic, experienced and willing to try new things - but they didn't hear (or buy into) our move to an integrated program. Ideas or suggestions for us? Things to watch out for? Please see above. Really. Visioning isn’t a sexy bold thing, but it SO CLEARLY realizes effective integration. If you've made this transition, was everyone happy afterwards? Most people are - but we have a very veteran, experienced, and vocal grade level who wasn’t on board with this change. To be fair, we are actually down an integrator. Our Elementary school should have 2 integrators; we only have 1. Our success this year really belongs to our elementary school integrator, who has been working very hard to push into classrooms and meet with teams on a regular basis. She deserves the credit for our successes. Looking back, would you do it differently? Sure we would - spend a year visioning, have 2 full time integrators, and really make sure this change was going to improve student learning. As it stands now, this change feels like an awkward start to a race. But we are finding our stride, and moving forward.

More tools to combat cyberbullying

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design Leadership Security on 15 - March 2011 at 06:59 PM (11 years ago) 17 views.

Hat tip to our fantastic elementary school integrator, Cheryl Bohn, who found this great news, [url=][/url] . From the article: Facebook is announcing a new suite of tools to protect users from bullying, foster a stronger sense of community in the social network, and “create a culture of respect” among Facebook users. Facebook’s latest changes boil down to two main aspects: an improved safety center with more multimedia resources, and better, more social tools for reporting offensive or bullying content. You can see the Facebook parent and teen safety center by clicking the links below. [url=][/url] [url=][/url] Thanks, Cheryl!

The four noble truths. Explained, part four.

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 10 - March 2011 at 05:50 PM (11 years ago) 15 views.

Original germ here 1. Engage, stop, turn off, reflect. 2. Program 3. Participate 4. Sift I spoke about part one here, part two here, and part three here. The last noble truth speaks to sifting through information. This is a new cognitive skill that most kids simply didn't need 20 years ago. You went to the library, grabbed an encyclopedia and got your answer. Today learners need to sift through several layers of information to find their answers. They need to find the answer to their question They need to navigate layers of information (media, images, sounds, text) They need to carefully evaluate the information they find They need to correctly source or cite the information they find They need to put the information in their own words, or make it their own They need to see the debate or discussion about their question To sift is to cull - to look carefully at the noise and find the signal. No better argument for the neccesity of a teacher. Kids have access to an unparalleled amount of information. But they need to sift through it and look for their answer. It's a specific skill, to sift, to cull through a torrent of flashing images, pictures, and movies. It's a specific sort of thing to do. How to sift? Well, google does this well, by elevating information based on who links to it (although, google, I think you need to be better at comment and blog spam, and efforts to game your search results). By analyzing arguments, debate, and discussion. By deeply knowing about one thing, and then hooking other knowledge into that. I'll sum all this up and probably write a book based on it.

The four noble truths. Explained, part three

Posted in Educational Tech Design on 03 - March 2011 at 04:37 AM (11 years ago) 13 views.

The four noble truths. Explained, part three. Original point here 1. Engage, stop, turn off, reflect. 2. Program 3. Participate 4. Sift I spoke about part one here and part two here. Here's part three. What does it mean when a kid can learn about anything, anytime, from anywhere? What is the socio/spirtual meaning of google? Informal learning is this idea that kids learn outside the classroom. The things that aren't really taught in school. The things that kids are really interested in. The third noble truth states kids should deeply participate in a community they are passionate about. You want to use the word affinity space? Fine. One of the things that is "different" in the 21st century is how kids can learn deeply and quickly about something they are passionate about. When you hold an internet-connected device in your hands, you are able to access and learn about almost anything. But you can also contribute and create for your community. A word about the inevitable "I'm only interested in boobs and computer games". We have a duty to ask our kids to think deeply - when I ask a 17 year old student about his passions, and he says "boobs and computer games" I get it. That is, technically, what many boys are passionate about. However even a brief conversation and time for reflection will reveal deeper more meaningful passions. "Hey kid. What really matters to you?". This is related to point 1, about time for reflection. It's also kind of normal good teaching, asking kids to stop and think. Encouraging kids to use the affinity space amplifies my idea about teacher as guides. Then our kids connect into a community of like-minded, passionate people who share their interest in making the world a better place. And this beautiful thing emerges about their age not mattering as much, their socio-economic status, just their ideas. And as teachers, that's what we want to grow - a kid's ideas and thoughts. Our kids will access these like-minded communities on forums, social networking, instant messaging, inside of games, websites, youtube, and every other manner of digital expression. When you have deep knowledge in one area, you can connect and attach new knowledge into it. I am told it is easier to teach a student a new language when they already have mastery of a primary language. It is much harder to teach a new language when there isn't mastery of a primary language. To ignore, dismiss, block, or marginalize affinity space is to ignore, dismiss, block, or marginalize authentic learning.

QUESTION: moving to cloud-based storage

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech HOWTO web 2.0 on 28 - February 2011 at 01:21 PM (11 years ago) 17 views.

In response to this question: I would be interested in your experience, if you have made the switch, in moving to the ”clouds” for data storage. I can’t quite get my head wrapped around this concept, but am willing to try. Good question. First of all, let's get some terminology out of the way, just to be sure we are all on the same page. Definitions 1. Cloud computing (from wikipedia) : The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) provides a somewhat more objective and specific definition: "Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction." Ref: here I think of cloud-based storage as "file-storage service located on a remote cluster of high-availability servers, designed to be accessed anywhere, anytime, from anywhere with secure collaborative capabilities." 2. Data Storage: Purpose-built file storage, as opposed email-as-storage or google-docs as storage. This distinction is important because I know many people who use gmail as storage. I think you are asking about substituting an in-house file-server with cloud-based file server. Answer My experience in cloud-based storage has been overwhelmingly positive. We are slowly moving our students to dropbox. Starting in the 8th grade, our middle school integrator is testing dropbox. So far, it has been great. The cool thing about most cloud-based file servers is how they keep files available even when there is no network access. Unlike traditional file servers, cloud-based file servers sync excellently. Let's say you have three computers called Home, Laptop, and Work. If you are using local file storage (your hard disk) you will not be able to access the files from another computer (e.g. if you create a file on Home, you will not be able to access a file from Work). Most organizations have a file server that securely stores your files. Some organizations set up systems where you can access your Work files from your Home or Laptop computers, but this requires no small amount of careful configuration. If you are working on a file on your Laptop, there is no way for that file to be automatically added or synced to your Work or Home machines. Enter cloud-based storage. I use dropbox (watch the video on the front page) as my cloud based storage solution. The neat thing about dropbox (and their ilk) is how they synchronize files across several different computers. Let's say you are on your Work computer and you create a file called Budget. You save this file to your dropbox folder. every computer that is linked to your dropbox account then synchronizes that file. So your budget file is automatically added to your Home and Laptop computers. If you work on Budget at Home, it will be automatically saved to your Work and Laptop. If you a smartphone, and you've setup dropbox, it can be automatically updated there as well. So basically, anywhere you save, the file is updated on all the other computers that are connected to dropbox. Cool, huh? even if you lose network access you will still have access to your files. Files aren't so much STORED on the cloud as they are SYNCED on the cloud, and with approved devices. But wait, there's more. You can share folders with friends and colleagues. So you might have a folder in your dropbox folder called "for friends". You can control who has access to this folder, and anytime you add or remove something to this folder, your friends will have access to the files. Very handy, you don't even need to email files and folders. When I moved from New York City to Poland, I purchased the 50 gig option, and put EVERYTHING (music, files and photos) in dropbox. I could safely ship my desktop computer knowing everything was backed up. In the even you DO lose a file, you can simply restore it within dropbox by clicking "show deleted files". Keep in mind, you are only paying for what you use. You aren't paying for a server, and spending a bunch of time managing this server. It's really nice. It's not all roses, of course. In no particular, here are the issues with dropbox you should be aware of: 1. data ownership. If an employee saves their stuff in their dropbox it may be hard to keep the data when they leave (not only a problem for dropbox - think USB drives). 2. data security. By default, dropbox stays on a computer. If a laptop is stolen, a malicious person might be able to access the data on your dropbox folders (you can turn off syncing though, so this really isn't THAT big of a deal). 3. no network access. If you lose network for a LONG time (a week or so) 4. the first sync. When you first setup dropbox, it can take a very long time to synchronize your files (upload). Our director waited 3 or 4 days until all his files were uploaded. By now that they are online, he doesn't need to worry about what is where, even on his iphone, he has access to all his files. Hope this helps!

The 2011 Horizon Report released

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 23 - February 2011 at 04:44 PM (11 years ago) 15 views.

Want to know what technologies are going to emerge and be implemented in the next 1 to 3 years? What's happening that is important? Check out these choice bits from the 2011 Horizon Report (PDF here) - 1. The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching, and credentialing. 2. People expect to be able to work, learn, and study whenever and wherever they want. 3. The world of work is increasingly collaborative, giving rise to reflection about the way student projects are structured. 4. The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized. On the near-term horizon — that is, within the next 12 months — are electronic books and mobiles. Electronic books are moving closer to mainstream adoption for educational institutions, having appeared on the mid-term horizon last year. Mobiles reappear as well, remaining on the near-term horizon as they become increasingly popular throughout the world as a primary means of accessing Internet resources. Resistance to the use of mobiles in the classroom continues to impede their adoption in many schools, but a growing number of institutions are finding ways to take advantage of a technology that nearly all students, faculty, and staff carry.

The four noble truths. Explained, part two.

Posted in Educational Tech Design Leadership on 21 - February 2011 at 07:12 PM (11 years ago) 16 views.

Original seed here 1. Engage, stop, turn off, reflect. 2. Program 3. Participate 4. Sift I spoke about part one here. Here's part two. Thou shalt program. This is the difference between being a consumer and producer. Computation is more than making a powerpoint presentation. 21st century learning is more than just using a website. It's about understanding code. The numerical, clean, clear code. Am I saying every kid needs to be a geek? No. Not everyone CAN be a geek. But they should know how to code. It is the next literacy. Really. Alice? Ok, if you must. Our kids need to learn to create programs. Not just use them. I want to be clear here. I am not saying that kids should only program. I am not saying kids should exclude all the great "web 2.0 stuff" instead of programing, but I am saying that programming a computer is a necessary literacy. As all my students will tell you, I prefer the command line. Use IDE's, I really don't care. But kids should know how to code. Even to know what code looks like, to program a computer, to "make a computer do stuff". It is the center of things in 2011. Ask, what if kids don't know this? What if kids don't know know how to program? Many people drive cars without ANY IDEA how they actually work. I get it, I only have a passing familiarity with how cars work. I can change a tire, change oil, and I have a personal understanding of the horribleness of a CV joint that has failed. But if kids don't have a passing familiarity with programming, and the act of creation, won't they be a distinct disadvantage? Math, science, even (gasp), the humanities, offer an opportunity to understand and learn programming. Schools should offer programming classes to all kids as part of the "normal curriculum". Thoughts?

The four noble truths. Explained, part one.

Posted in Blogging Educational Tech Design Teaching Diary on 17 - February 2011 at 05:05 PM (11 years ago) 16 views.

Orginal thought here The four noble truths of technology and learning. 1. Engage, stop, turn off, reflect. 2. Program 3. Participate 4. Sift I believe it is important to stop, reflect, turn off, and consider when we we are using technology in the classroom. This happens naturally when teachers are using technology to reinforce an idea or concept. The classic pattern is "let's learn about XYZ, a discussion, activity, and then a closing discussion". When teachers are using technology to teach, they must remember to stop using technology, and allow their students to reflect and think about what they just did. Take a look at that mashup - is it any good? Does it demonstrate learning, or just that you know how to use the tool? Does it meet our ideas for learning? This is the classic idea of kids who get caught up in the tool, and not the learning. Not rocket science, but very important for learning with technology. I think we can extend this idea further. When we are asking our kids to use technology and media, we need to ask them to stop and think. We didn't need to do this before the rise of 1:1 programs or ubiquitous computers. Why? 1. Divided Attention. This idea of multitasking really is bull. The more I understand about divided attention, the more I believe that we need to ask kids to focus and input on one thing at a time - sometimes. Part of being a digital learner is sifting (see my discussion on noble truth number 4) and learning to process and filter multiple streams of incoming data. Sometimes, kids should be free to "open the hose" and get drenched in the information flow that is the internet. But sometimes, they should stop, discuss, and think deeply - you know, Zen. 2. That so much of the internet is about commercial posturing, marketing, eyeballs and selling. Kids need now, more than ever, to separate the "froth from the foam". To carefully evaluate the information, the idea, the "sense of truth" they have. Kids need an adult to guide them in this maze of stilted information. 3. We have so many students who see the first three google results as gospel. This is lazy. Again, stopping and reflecting, digging a bit deeper, look for a different facet on this gem. Using different databases, different repositories. Even wikipedia (which I love). Students could benefit so greatly from simply reading the discussion page and seeing the disagreements people have about the article. I often find more truth in the argument about a wikipedia page than the actual page! 4. And finally, the way our brains work. A cognitive scientist I am not. But I know when we step away from the screen, and give ourselves time to digest, we tend to remember better. There is balance here. There is this unending stream of intense information, media, images, links, connections, and fun. It is not ok to turn it off, but better to teach our kids how to engage and then disengage. And then engage.