Thursday, December 29, 2011

Building Shared Vision

School Leaders are constantly challenged to confront the reality of dictates and mandates from a variety of external forces, all in the name of political expediency. But the challenge to the true learning organization is to meet the vision that best affects the learning and achievement of our students.
One of the key components of 21st Century School Leaders is the concept of ““shared vision””; the ability to create consensus around a plan to implement change and movement toward an impactful objective.
Peter Senge, in his book The Fifth Discipline describes a “shared vision” as "... a force in people's hearts, a force of impressive power....At its simplest level, a “shared vision” is the answer to the question, "What do we want to create?" " A “shared vision” is a picture that everyone in the company carries in their heads and hearts.[1] The “shared vision” serves as a collective objective to move towards in re-creating a school organization.

So what does a “shared vision” do for your school? It converts the school into 'our school'. It creates a sense of commonality and gives coherence to diverse activities. It creates excitement and makes an extraordinary school. It allows everyone to work together. It creates a common identity and a sense of purpose. It encourages new ways of thinking and acting. It gives courage and fosters risk taking and experimentation. Basically without a “shared vision”, that vision you spent time creating is pointless and meaningless. And without a “shared vision” the learning organization/school cannot exist.
The “shared vision” serves several key purposes:
·         It clarifies the general direction for a change and in doing so simplifies the direction of the decisions that must follow
·         It motivates people to move out of their comfort zone, to take the time to develop new skills and work with different levels of resources
·         It coordinates the hundreds of decisions and actions involved in change
So, how does a 21st Century Leader create a “shared vision”? Where does one start?
Step #1: Get the right people on the bus
School organizations are made up of a diverse group of people, and if you had no role in hiring these people, you will be most certainly challenged by the group. But, begin looking through your faculty and staff, and start asking the right questions.
·         Can I work with this person?
·         Will they be adaptable to and collaborative in developing a new vision for the school?
·         How resistant will they be to change?
After you have taken the time to consider the potential each person in your school can offer to the enterprise, start creating a team to work on the vision statement. For the others, start finding a way to get them off the bus- moved out of your building- or developing a plan to reinvigorate their outlook. This may sound heartless, but there is nothing worse than to have an uncooperative, tenured teacher/administrator on your staff.

Step #2: Preparation

Schedule a workday for creating the vision. An off-site location is best, if possible. You want to minimize interruptions, and get people away from their day-to-day environment in order to stimulate creativity.

Consider the use of a neutral "facilitator". That is, someone trained in group process that has no biases or stake in the game. That way, as a leader, you are able sit back and focus on being a participant, and not have to worry about the mechanics of the meeting. Removing yourself as the focal point also helps open up the free flow of open dialog.

Step #3:  Determine appropriate "input" to the vision.

Schedule the meeting far enough ahead of time to allow for preparation. Send out documents to review ahead of time, i.e., relevant research, student achievement data, survey results, or any other information needed to prepare the participants. Establish the expectation that preparation is a must in order to participate, and follow-up to make sure people have done their pre-work. Following up may sound like baby-sitting, but it's also a good excuse to get a feel for where each participant is coming from, plant some seeds, and create a little pre-meeting buzz.

Step #4:  Set the stage.

At the start of the meeting, review the desired outcomes, agenda, process and ground rules. Take extra time here to check for understanding and agreement. Doing this sets the stage for how the rest of the day will flow - you are modeling collaboration and consensus. Going slow here will allow you to go fast for the rest of the day.

Step #5: Create and use a process that ensures full participation, openness, creativity, and efficiency.

A trained facilitator can help you with this, or you can design it yourself. The key is to have a plan and process - you can't just go in and "wing it" like you may be used to doing in a regular meeting. Here's a process that I've used:

- Explain to the team what a vision statement is and why they are important. You might show a few examples.

- Ask the group to imagine what this team, organization, or project could look like 3-5 years from now. What would success look like? What could you achieve? What would they love to achieve? If they were to pick up a newspaper 3-5 years from now, what would the headline say about what this group has accomplished?

- Either individually, in pairs, or in groups of 3-4, have people create those headlines on flip charts. Tell them to include pictures, phrases, or anything else to describe that desired future. Give them about 30 minutes.

- Ask each person or team report out to the larger group. If you are the leader, go last, so you don't bias the rest of the group. This also gives you the opportunity to incorporate other's ideas into your vision.

- The facilitator or leader should be listening for and recording on a flip chart key phrases that describe each vision. This is the time to listen and to ask clarifying questions, but not to evaluate.

- add up up the number of phrases (n), divide by 3, and give everyone that many stickers to "vote" with (n/3). Explain it's not really a decision making vote, it's simply a way to quickly take the temperature of the group and see how much agreement there is.

- Start with phrases that received a lot of vote, discuss, and check for agreement. Do the same thing for phases that received no or few votes, and ask if those items can be crossed off. Work your way to the middle items, using the same process - circle it or cross it off.

- If there are any issues where consensus can't be reached after everyone has had a chance to state their case, then the leader needs to make the final decision.

- You end the meeting with a list of phases that will form the vision statement.

Step # 6:  Do the "grunt-work" off line

Group time should not be wasted creating the vision statement and wordsmithing it to death. The leader can do this off-line, and/or ask for 1-2 volunteers to do it. I've even seen it done during lunch to present back to the team in the afternoon.

Step #7: Talk to the outliers

If there was anyone who disagreed with the output, or who's favorite idea was not incorporated, talk to them privately to make see how they are committed to the vision. Explore ways to make connection of the vision to their interests and needs.

Step #8:  Re-convene the group and review the draft vision statement. 

Step #10:  Review the draft with key extended stakeholders that were not at the meeting.

This is the time to review the vision with other. It's a chance to get input and make it better, and to begin to build a broader coalition of support.

Step #11:  Communicate the vision and begin to make it a reality.
This format is very basic, and there may be other ideas that people have experienced that are much better. But, the main concept is to pursue the development of working through a collaborative process to create that “shared vision”
Here’s hoping that 2012 will be the start of an exciting year to create that “shared vision” and the change you need to enhance learning for your students.

[1] Senge, P.M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

5 New Years Resolutions for 21stCentury School Leaders

I hate making New Years resolutions, probably because I never end up keeping them!! My all-time worst resolution to break a promise with is losing weight. Oh well, I will keep trying.

But, some resolutions are worth keeping, especially if you base your entire career working with children, in these perilous times. Keeping the faith and maintaining resolutions to guide us through these times makes sense. So here are some resolutions suggested for School Leaders:

1) Experiment with a new 21st Century Instructional concept each week and model it for your faculty, students and the community.
Ken Kay, founder of EdLeader 21 has created the 7 steps for creating a 21st Century school community. It's direct and applicable to any school community leader, and it forms a basis for outlining a step-by-step process for establishing a direction for all school leaders.

1. Adapt your vision of 21st Century vision, outcomes, expectations
2. Create community consensus
3. Align your system.
4. Build professional capacity.
5. Embed the 4 C's in the curriculum.
Critical Thinking
6. Support teachers in the classroom.
7. Improve and innovate. (from EdLeader 21,

2) Assimilate a mobile device in your supervision and administration of your school/district, and model what you are doing for your building faculty and school community.

Smartphone and tablet technologies are wonderful tools for school leaders to use in leading their school community. Whether using it for observations, dictation, or student attendance and behavior management, mobile technologies have come a long way since the Palm Pilot. I use an iPhone and iPad in my daily work as a superintendent, and I model this for my school community, regularly.

3) Find ways to use social media in your leadership role, and model it for your school community.
Twitter and Facebook are synonymous with mainstream social media, and they become excellent tools for communicating and sharing all that is possible and exciting in our schools. Consider having a Twitter site for your blog, and school activities. Engage the community with Facebook and keep the positive things, and some of the challenging concerns, in front of the community regularly.

4) Write a weekly blog for your school community.
Writing a blog on your 21st Century School Community is a great way to advertise, share information, and live the model of leadership transparency for the community. It helps to know a school administrator has feelings, and ideas, and desires to nurture an open school community.

5) Model, model, model everything and anything for your school community.

Finally, be a model for everything you desire from the members of your school community. Whether it is using mobile technology, PowerPoint, social media, wiki's, portals or blogs. Model the vision, walk the talk.

Here is hoping 2012 will be an exciting your of 21st Century learning and inspiration for your school community.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chicken Little and Drug Use in Schools

“Chicken Little,” the dubious children’s fable of a hysterical chicken running hither and yon, yelling that the “sky is falling,” represents, to some degree, the level of hysteria and fear-mongering that can come about when things are blown out of proportion.
In the past week, at our high school and throughout the district, fears were raised when it was announced in the media that a student at BCHS was arrested for selling methadone to two other students, and kids were rushed to the hospital. Realizing that this was a serious situation, the high school principal and I felt that we needed to send a note home to the school-community regarding this situation, sooner rather than later. Our purpose in doing so was to inform parents of the seriousness of this issue, and to ask families to hold those difficult conversations with their kids about drugs, and potential abuse.
You might say that we received some angry responses from some parents that our letter was tantamount to a “chicken little” response and that “kids will be kids,” or that the school is at fault for turning its head to the issue that has been prevalent in the school for many years, “so why do anything about it now?”
Fueling the media rush even more is the Time Union blog on the subject that has been focused on smearing the school district’s reputation and selling more newsprint, rather than holding a serious discussion of the issues plaguing kids throughout the region, or the YNN news team confronting parents and students on the school campus to drum up even more hysteria.
The purpose of this posting today is to set the record straight and provide information for the school-community:
1) We had a series of drug busts and issues where some students were held accountable by enforcement of the Student Code of Conduct as well as charges being processed by the legal authorities of the county.
2) DARE programs at the elementary level have been important in promulgating understanding to the seriousness of alcohol and drug abuse. Unfortunately, as students get older, access to drugs and alcohol are easier.
So, what is a school district to do when children are allowed to use drugs and alcohol throughout the community? How do we manage to teach and re-teach the ideas that drugs and alcohol are dangerous, inhibitive, and harmful to their health, welfare and safety?
1) Parents need to be actively involved with their children about these issues, as well as the school district. Having regular conversations, checking their clothes, backpacks, and personal effects is not an invasion of privacy, as much as it is a monitoring of their safety and welfare.
2) Be concerned about your child’s social activities, and whom they are meeting with afterschool and on the weekends. Be interested in what they are doing when they are not home.
3) If you notice signs that there may be drug use, work with your family doctor or the school counselor for advice and direction. Allow others to work with you to get your child back on course. Don’t sweep it under the carpet or turn a blind eye to what could evolve into an episode of personal destruction.
For now, the district will be intensifying efforts to proactively supervise and manage a difficult situation through enforcement of school rules and regulations, continued education of the student body to reinforce the seriousness of drugs and alcohol abuse, and to provide information as to what the district is attempting to do in keeping our students safe.
For those people that think these issues are nothing more than “kids being kids,” remember, that when a student is suspended from school for an extended period of time for this infraction, or has a police record that follows him into adulthood, or overdoses on a controlled substance, it will be too late to say “let kids be kids!”

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What global competition?

In NYS yesterday, our beloved Governor Cuomo once again, lashed out against the education system of NYS public schools when he was asked a question in a news conference regarding the lack of a tax on millionaires. This is a typical tactic of political leaders when asked a question they do not wish to offend certain people, they divert the answer to punish the helpless and more needy programs so that they can sound tough and masterful.

"The fact that everyone wants it ... doesn't mean that much," Cuomo said. According to the governor, the exodus of wealthy New Yorkers could be an issue if the tax is extended. Cuomo said the people of New York are not being honest with themselves if they think New York can have a reputation for high taxes and being "anti-business" and still have a "rosy" future as a state.
The governor went on to say that more money doesn't mean better services. "My answer is better performance."[1]

And with that remark, he launched himself into another attack on the public education of the NYS students, emphasizing that a NYS education is 34th in the nation. Taxes are high and we are not doing our job as educators. So, preserve the millionaires in the state, and raise the tax levy on middle class Americans that are just basically getting by, while shouting that it costs too much to provide a world class public education.

World class education?

First of all, the global competitiveness we all seek is overrated. What are we competing against? The cold war is over. The mentality of the 60’s where the USA needs to be the best at everything has given way to absurd and reactive behaviors among what we are truly producing. Americans only need to be better than themselves. There is no global competition, just a global networking of the best minds in the world attempting to forge a new enlightenment of knowledge, research and education.

Second, the standards that predict global competitiveness are skewed. We are one of the only nations that takes into consideration all of our children in these competitive assessments, such as the TIMMS evaluation. Special education or children with identified disabilities are as much a part of the education of this country as other children are part of the equation. Countries such as Belgium, Indonesia and other so-called “economic powerhouses” avoid mentioning their special needs children. So, it appears that the standards for comparison are not stacked equally.

Lastly, when a political figure such as our NYS governor attacks education, he is also attacking himself, and his predecessors that have done nothing more than favor the wealthy with their elaborate tax breaks and loop-holes, and demoralized the educational system of the state to bare bones insanity. The fact that we are 12 years into the 21st century and there is not a common sense approach to funding public education without burdening the middle class is astounding to say the least.

And still, Andrew Cuomo has the temerity to insult our state and our schools into implying there is some ratings list in the sky that pigeon-holes our educational efforts as inferior. It’s as if the great Carnak has reappeared to enlighten our leaders.

The reality is there are too many bad assumptions being espoused by our political leaders about our educational systems. In a wonderful blog comment by Michael Paul Goldenberg he outlines the mythical assumptions that distort the realities very nicely:

… education and our "global competitiveness" have not been shown to be causally linked? That, while we continue to win more than our reasonable share of Nobel Prizes, dominate the world politically, economically, and militarily, none of the folks who can be counted on to tell us that "the sky is falling" in US public schools have EVER credited our world dominance to our public education system? Neither have the generations of doomsayers before them going back at least to the 19th century and likely much further. And that the insanity of using international test scores that are not comparing similar populations from many other countries to those being tested here only further invalidates the premise that our schools are failing and that our children are woefully under-prepared.[2]

But, as I have referred to in previous blog entries, education remains the “whipping post” of politicians. It’s the only issue they can use to divert attention away from the real matters they can do nothing about, such as the economy. And, still we bear up to the same attacks facing our responsibilities to educate every child that walks into our schools, regardless of the rhetoric and the attacks.

Oops. Time for another lashing!!

[1] Krieg, F. (October 17, 2011). Cuomo: Millionaires Tax To Expire. Legislative Gazette. Retrieved October 18 at
[2] Goldenberg, M. P. (2011, October 8). Globally challenged: are us students ready to compete? [Web log comment] Retrieved from

Friday, October 14, 2011

What we learn from Steve Jobs?

Steve Jobs was an amazing individual.
His innovative and creative spirit spawned the Apple Corporation and he blazed a trail into all the areas of personal computing and technology that we use in our everyday lives. He embodied a truly unique spirit and was instrumental in changing the manner schools use technology to support instruction.
And I write all this on a PC computer. What a tribute!
As Superintendent of Bethlehem Central I work to meet the demands of the State in implementing the mandates of testing, testing and more testing in order to prove whether our school district is doing an excellent job of teaching students. And, then I am struck with the realization in the form of a question:
Will our schools ever produce another Steve Jobs?
Do we inspire children to be creative? Or, do we deny them this opportunity due to the structure of how our schools run currently?
Last week, on ABC's 20/20, Chris Cuomo did an excellent piece on the life of Steve Jobs. He summed up the inventor's life in seven rules that guided his work and achievements. These were derived from his comments, actions, and presentations. In many ways, they sum up the direction we need to move as a school district. Allow me to paraphrase his thoughts.
Steve Jobs' rules for life as applied to schools:
Teachers are highly trained individuals that can offer so much to children through their knowledge and capabilities. Whether it is reading, writing, math, science or technology, teachers can truly be an inspiration to children if they work in an unfettered manner free of the assertions and assumptions of educational testing and the mediocrity it breeds. They entered the profession to do what they do best, and that is to motivate and inspire children. In spite of the demands from our politicians, they try every day to do just that.
Despite the budgetary problems BC had last year, we developed a "bold vision" to immerse our students and the school community into 21st Century learning by employing personal devices wherever and whenever possible. We have committed ourselves to preparing students to be the next inventors of the newest technologies and to be ready for a future that will soon envelop us.
Unfortunately, the community rejected our idea to make this dream a reality, but the school district continues to find a way to make this dream a reality in everything we do, say and teach.
3) SAY NO TO A 1,000 THINGS.
In other words, simplify our profession. This will be difficult given the interference of the politicians that care more about winning votes than preparing students for the 21st Century challenges. But, as a school district we need to thrive to push back against the absurd demands that come to us from the state, even though we must test, test and test more to make this standard of mediocrity conform to the political rhetoric in Albany and Washington.
In another time, we hope to say no to the 1,000 mandates that were supposed to be curtailed in March, and still haunt our inability to fund the other things that will truly make a difference for students.
Many of us, teachers, administrators, support staff and students are stretching our comfort levels to learn new things. No matter what the venue is, we need to encourage organizational learning and that includes all of our school-community members. If everyone experienced one new idea each month we would be light years into the future of preparing children to do their best.
In schools we should be selling dreams of educational success and creative opportunities, and not the bill of goods found in a report card or testing manual. With over 38 years in education I can confidently say that children learn best when they are challenged to confront a new reality. To do that we should mandate time each week in class for children to confront creative projects and problem solving activities.
Schools are great learning environments for super experiences that challenge and motivate people. From Nature's Classroom in grade 5 to Lab School active learning and research environments in high school, our district is filled with many "insanely" great experiences. We need to do more of them and encourage some risk taking in the process.
When Steve Jobs presented the idea of the iPhone, he changed the face of telecommunications and smartphone computers forever. In education we need to master a similar message that attracts the creative genius of children to master their potential in order to confront new realities.
The message in what I have presented is that public school districts need to unshackle themselves from the mediocrity of what the established bureaucracy have created and be allowed to reach for the stars. For, I am quite concerned that if we do not, there will be little chance of inspiring the next innovator of future challenges.
Let's hope we all learn something from people like Steve Jobs.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Tribute to a Great Man...Steve Jobs

For years I declared openly, to many of my friends that I was a PC person, and could not be bothered learning on a Mac or an Apple product. I felt the disdain of those that stated Apple products were more user-friendly than PC computers. I advocated openly that PC’s were the way of the corporate world and there would be no place for Apples in the future. And then, iPhones, iPods, and iPads began appearing on the educational and corporate horizons of America. Suddenly, there were many people using a wide range of Apple laptops at conferences and meetings, and I began to sense that my perspective may have been skewed by prejudices from my background. So, I purchased an iPhone and an iTouch, and use an iPad in my job. My wife even owns and uses a Macbook, and for some reason I am becoming enthralled with Apple products, and continue to use PC equipment as well, just like all the kids in our schools!

Unfortunately, this morning, many of us awoke to learn that Steve Jobs, the founder and guru of this Apple  mania, passed away after suffering from a debilitating illness for many months. The commentary and tribute to the life of this great man have been quite extraordinary and unusually full of praise. The tweets on Twitter continue to abound with praise and condolences to the figure of the person that has been referred to as the 21st Century Thomas Edison

After reading many of these items, and continuing to go about my day using my iTools, it dawns on me why the world is saddened today, more than ever.

For educators around the world, the tributes to Jobs are more a huge thank you for the contributions he made to 21st Century education. Schools have always found Apple products user-friendly as opportunities to let children and learners to soar for new heights of achievement, investigation and research.

In an outstanding tribute to Steve Jobs by columnist Stephen Levy he wonderfully portrays this figure as a model for what we all should be teaching in the schools:

"If Jobs were not so talented, if he were not so visionary, if he were not so canny in determining  where others had failed in producing great products and what was necessary to succeed, his pushiness and imperiousness would have made him a figure of mockery. But Steve Jobs was that talented, visionary and determined. He combined an innate understanding of technology with an almost supernatural sense of what customers would respond to. His conviction that design should be central to his products not only produced successes in the marketplace but elevated design in general, not just in consumer electronics but everything that aspires to the high end."[1]

For me, the key words in that passage are visionary, determined, innate; in short the things we encourage when we discuss creativity, the focus of the 21st Century student. How we get to that objective, when institutions governed by political inhibitions demand otherwise faults the educational direction our future will demand.
In another interesting article on creativity and multitasking, author Cathy Davidson states that the learning differences of children today, as opposed to 20 years ago, have changed, and if we seek to make a difference we need to grab hold to the inertia of true 21st Century learning:
“Multitasking is the ideal mode of the 21st Century, …On the Internet, everything links to everything, and all of it is available all the time. Unfortunately, current practices of our educational institutions- and workplaces- are a mismatch between the age we live in and the institutions we have built over the last 100 years. The 2oth century taught us that completing one task before starting another one was the route to success. Everything about 20th century education, like the 20th century workplace, has been designed to reinforce our attention to regular, systematic tasks that we take to completion. Attention to task is at the heart of industrial management from the assembly line to the modern office, and of educational philosophy, from grade school to graduate school."[2]
Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and yes, Bill Gates were instrumental in building this new future for all of us. The new global context for learning in the 21st century is indeed the mission and the task. We need to use these tools to encourage the creativity and risk-taking of our students.

[1] Levy, S. (2011, October 5). Steve jobs, 1955-2011. Wired, Retrieved from

[2] Davidson, C. N. (2011). Please give me your divided attention. The Chronicle Review(September 2, 2011)., B6-B9.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Always our best...

We have a principal in one of our elementary schools that lives and speaks the school motto often to her staff, her students and her parents. The motto is "Always our best!". Wherever she travels throughout her school when she is with students the motto is there also;
"Always our best, children."
Many times we confront the reality of wanting to do our personal best. As we remind children in a school to be focused on this, it would seem simple enough to have a coach constantly with us reminding and motivating our personal best.
In an interesting article found in the New Yorker Magazine, an experienced and veteran surgeon defines the concept of finding one's personal best. He uses an interesting analogy regarding this idea explaining how even professional tennis players use a coach to observe, guide, analyze and evaluate the player in order to reach that elusive potential to be the best player he/she can be. The author seeks to find that same desire to improve as a surgeon. Do we, as educators approach our profession any differently ?
Providing teachers with peer coaches or mentors to offer feedback, certainly nothing new in this regard, but it is hardly ever employed. Most teachers feel a safety and security within their classrooms away from the lingering observations of an administrator. Being able to practice one's craft or teach is the dream of every teacher; unhindered and free to do the instructional situation to one's benefit. But, in this day of professional performance review and high order accountability the necessity of providing feedback and criticism challenges that framework.
There is much to be learned from peer review, and the mentoring possibilities are astounding when we task veteran teachers to work with one another. Every teacher should have a mentor, and every mentor should be working with colleagues to become a true profession.

Gawande, A.( October 3, 2011). Personal Best. New Yorker Magazine. Retrieved October 1, 2011 on the Internet at

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Teachers Make the Difference, Not NCLB

"There will be a special memorial service for the departed friend of all public educators throughout the US. Our good friend and motivation for all we are struggling with in the schools of this country has been laid to rest. Rest in peace "No Child Left Behind". We owe so much to you.

  1. Learning standards
  2. core curriculum standards
  3. assessments, assessments and more assessments
  4. teacher and principal evaluation systems
  5. the drain on educational creativity
  6. and the derailment of true 21 st Century education
  7. and the angst, anguish and anxiety of children that must take these tests to prove something
NCLB is survived by three presidents, four secretaries of education, and a host of corporations that made their business fortunes in developing tests, psychometrics,consultants, workshops, and a slew of testing manuals that are too numerous to mention here. The big business of waging war on a mythical gap of achievement that NCLB was supposed to address was quite profitable for many people, including our political leaders, and corporate stockholders. But, the more aggrieved parties are the thousands of children that were victimized by this penchance to be tested and to perform to an arbitrary standard.

Unfortunately, the legacy of NCLB will be with us for many years, and on Friday, 9/23/2011 the real issue at the center of its existence was the lack of money. President Obama has discovered it cannot be managed in the same manner that it was originally conceived. For the states to take ownership of any accountability system is the best news to come out of Washington in many years. But, what will be the assurance that they can manage it any better.

In reality, the true learning accountability system that will make a difference in closing gaps, differences or needs will be the system that revolves around the teacher and student, not a bureaucracy. Only a classroom teacher can make the difference and create a truly unique learning environment that will emphasize qualitative and quantitative accountability. Where children will feel respected and able to learn on their terms and when they are ready, not because the State has willed it to happen at some arbitrary time.

Here's hoping that our political leaders will focus on something they can make a difference with, such as the economy and world peace, and leave education to the people that are trained to manage and perform in it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Another Global List...

Today's NYTimes has formally announced that the US is definitely in crisis, once again. Another global assessment of needs and speed has been conducted and it is now confirmed that the US has the slowest Internet speed in the world.

"Internet speeds in the United States have long trailed those in other countries like South Korea. Downloading videos, games and other big files often takes far longer for Americans than their counterparts across the globe.
In the latest global rankings, the United States remained a slow-poke, placing No. 26 in terms of speediest Internet connections, according to Pando Networks, a company whose software is used for sharing large files. South Korea led the list followed by Romania and Bulgaria."(1.)
What is the country to do? The list of nations with faster baud-rates for Internet delivery reads like the list from the 2008 TIMMS assessment showing how the smaller countries are outdoing the US. The country went into lockdown mode, remember?

We became a "Nation at Risk". Learning standards were the cry of the day, followed by a swoon of wailing and moaning for more tests to assess the begeebies out of anything that smiles, breathes, or quirks in our schools. It was a national calamity that a list like that was made public. Three presidential initiatives were created to move the US closer to the top. The nation then began calling for charter schools as the only way to bridge the "gap".

And the turmoil continued into the common core standards, more assessments, and currently, teacher and administrator evaluation tied to student test performance. Boy, have we improved things!

And today, while observing our high school faculty working with our students I witnessed a wonderful interaction by a social studies teacher and his class discussing the real motivation behind the American Revolution. The Socratic style of the teacher created a classroom of expectation and participation. Students were engaged discussing the application of concepts and the synthesis of those ideas with the current events in Libya, Syria and Egypt. Relevance or boring?

The QuickDraw McGraw testing company will not be able to create an assessment to capture the creativity of that teacher or that class. The College Board does not have a question like that on the SAT's, do they?
But, that has become the yardstick we will determine how to get to the top of that proverbial "list".

Back to the slowest Internet speed in the planet. It explains much about how long it takes for my data and downloads to filter down. Do you think the Governor of NYS will launch into a political crisis to improve the Internet speed of the state so that two things will improve: the US will go higher up on the list and he will improve his chances to bully his way to national office?

I can hear Congress now, NO INTERNET LEFT BEHIND will become the new mantra to save our download speeds.

The list of the fastest download speeds by country:
1) South Korea
2) Romania
3) Bulgaria
4) Lithuania
5) Latvia
6) Japan
7) Sweden
8) Ukraine
9) Denmark
10) Hong Kong
11) Netherlands
12) Finland
13) Moldova
14) Taiwan
15) Norway
16) Russian Federation
17) Iceland
18) Aland Islands
19) Belgium
20) Slovenia
21) Switzerland
22) Germany
23) Congo
24) Czech Republic
25) Hungary
26) United States

1. Kopytoff, V.G. 2011. America: Land of the Slow. The New York Times, [online] 20 September. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 September 2011].

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

QR Codes and Does eat Codes and Li'l Lambs eat Ivy

I have this great fascination with gadgets. My iPhone comes with a complete set of apps for me to occupy my time whenever I get bored. Using a scanning app in a store, I can scout for prices on items and log online to find if there is a better deal somewhere else. I have scanned all sorts of data icons but my favorite is this one:
I love QR Codes.  They speak to me as if they were inkblots appealing to my psyche. To me they represent a wrapped present with some goody for me to see once I decode the black and white decoration. There is a secret behind this thing that can be found everywhere from grocery stores, clothing stores, libraries and even churches. The QR Code has become the symbol of 21st Century iconography.
So, what is a QR Code, and why should 21st Century School Leaders be interested in them?
According to Wikipedia, “ a QR code (abbreviated from Quick Response code) is a type of matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code) first designed for the automotive industry. More recently, the system has become popular outside of industry due to its fast readability and comparatively large storage capacity. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be made up of any kind of data (e.g. binary, alphanumeric, or Kanji symbols).[1]
There are a variety of smartphone apps that can read these codes very fast and easy. In fact ATT makes an app specific for my iPhone called the ATT Scanner. (I use it often to amuse myself in Kohls’ while my wife is shopping. That place is loaded with QR Codes!!). It doesn’t take any extraordinary power to use a tool of this nature. Just point, scan and voila the information is retrieved.
In classrooms there are many things that can be done with QR Codes. For a great Powerpoint on the topic check out this link to “40 Interesting Ways to Use QR Codes in Classrooms”
QR Codes can be used to summarize information for student exhibits, advertising school events, multiple choice tests, and ways to scavenger hunt inquiry learning actively having students scan for information in more global contexts. The technology is easy to use, can be found on most smartphones that kids are carrying around already, and it will give them another motivating tool to view the world.
There is an excellent LiveBinder file by Steven Anderson, District Technology Director from Winston-Salem North Carolina that encourage you to review if you would like to learn more about this great learning tool

[1] QR Code. Wikipedia.  Retrieved September 14, 2011 at