“Mama, this is so exciting”

Strange as it may seem, our journey in promoting technology in classrooms has been linked with Monarch butterflies. We were associated with a creative 2nd grade classroom teacher who was teaching her class about butterflies by hatching and rearing monarchs. We worked with the class to generate what became our “butterfly project”. This was back in the day of the early Macs, before cell phones with great cameras and K12 oriented software such as Kid Pix Studio. We captured images from video and created a slide show using ResEdit to take sound segments from Kid Pix allowing me to create what is now a slide show in Hypercard. Students learned about the life cycle of the butterfly, learned about different butterflies and narrated images for the slide show. This generated a presentation for parents. I remember the student presentation ended with a song about butterflies

We became Monarch caterpillar hunters ever since. We planted milk week at our lake property and still search for monarch caterpillars from time to time. We have spent some time this week driving the backroads of northern Wisconsin looking for milk week and these caterpillars. While we spent several hours over several days doing so, we found one (and one other milkweed moth).

One of our preschool grandchildren is very science oriented. We call him “Sid the science kid”. He knows a lot about dinosaurs and a lot about certain bugs. He helps his mom with her flowers and knows about pollinators. We gave him our caterpillar in hopes he would get to see the transformation to the chrysalis.

This video and the following image are courtesy of Sid’s mom. It did not take long for the transformation we had hoped for to happen. Sid was thrilled and as you can hear he knew exactly what was going on.

Now we wait.

As sometimes happen, I am reviewing the research on project-based learning and direct instruction with my grad class this week. I think I may include a description of the butterfly project (updated).

What about edupreneurs?

I have thinking about this issue for some time. My initial interest was sparked by a growing list of individuals offering their services as educational consultants, presenters, and trainers who were teachers, but decided to leave the classroom in one of these other ways. I wondered at what point they could tout their teacher experience, often recognized in one way or another, to promote their new role. I admit this question stemmed in part from my own experience. How long after retiring as a full-time faculty member could I continue as an adjunct making the case that I was familiar with the best available research promoting one instructional tactic versus another. When did I lose credibility when I was no longer actively involved in research myself?

These folks have been described as edupreneurs as they are finding ways to generate income available from the funds available to support educational practice, but not directly from the practice of education. There are certain voids being addressed by these individuals. One might be the opportunity to provide staff development experiences and support schools do not feel they can provide themselves. With a decreasing emphasis on commercial textbook and educational resources, there is also an opportunity to create content resources available for sale (e.g., teacher paying teacher).

A recent issue has been making the rounds sparked by a New York Times article. The article holds a particular interest for us because the key example in the article is a North Dakota teacher familiar to my wife. I would describe the Times article as examining the potential conflicts of interest that may be created when educators make additional income promoting specific educational products and services. Larry Cuban has an interesting follow-up on the NY Times article. I encourage you to read both.

Some of the issues raised strike very close to home. My wife is an early Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) and a Google certified teacher. At the time of the Apple recognition she was a strong Apple advocate, but from my perspective the causality between her promotion and her award is important to understand. She was a strong promoter first and was recognized by Apple based on the projects she developed and the recognition received. Her approach diversified as other companies offered services and products she felt were effective. The projects and the awards certainly benefited her (and my) career, but I do not think that increased income was ever much of a motive, nor much of a reward. The opportunities she delivered to students and to teachers were the motives. She did spend most of her time without a class of her own, but she used her skills within a traditional school or university framework as a teacher/faculty support person and grant writer.

The concept of “addition” or “outside” income is different. It is not new, but the frequency in K12 circles may be new or at least increasingly visible. To the point, that such issues are not new allow a personal example. I spend a good part of my university career as a university department chair (psychology). One of the graduate programs that fell within my administrative responsibilities was a Ph.D. program in clinical psychology. Several of the clinical psychologists within the department and clinical practices completely external to the university. These opportunities allowed these individuals to substantially augment their incomes in ways not available to the other faculty members and this inequity was a source of some friction. There were benefits of a sort to those individuals who spent more of their time working within the university framework (e.g., merit pay for research productivity), but these opportunities provided nowhere close to the same financial benefits. Similar opportunities exist everywhere in higher education – business schools, engineers, etc. There are certainly benefits to the institution – there is credibility and experience to be gained from practicing and applying. There is professional development to be gained without funding from underfunded institutions. However, there is always the issue of equity and pushing a good thing too far.

Administrators and school boards may need to give this situation careful consideration and come up with policies that establish guidelines. Will entrepreneurs be allowed to use school time to make money elsewhere (say doing professional development in another district or at a conference)? Is there any related compensation to the district for the time spent in such pursuits? Will schools spend funds on services and resources that educators are personally financed to promote? Should educators and administrators be required to reveal to administrators and school boards benefits they have received from companies providing educational resources? Should limits or limitations be placed on time spent or revenue generated?

Making lemonade

I am teaching a grad class for the UND program in Instructional Design and Technology this semester. I have had the opportunity both before and after retirement to teach a course a year for this program and I truly enjoy the experience. This class theoretically combined on-campus and off-campus students using technology services that allow all to meet in a kind of virtual classroom. Because I no longer live near campus, my courses are now all online.

The technology for the class has not worked very well this semester. The U made a decision to move to a product that operates within the Blackboard environment (Collaborate Ultra) and for what remain mysterious reasons after week two. We have yet to have a class when we can all get the system to work. Last week was particularly problematic because I could not launch the class remotely. Tech people tried to help and even took over my system remotely but nothing would work.

I had enough and fell back on something I knew I could count on – Google Hangouts. I had used this system before with a grad class consistently mostly of K12 educators based my belief that you learn about technology by using technology and Google products would be available to K12 educators (and others) after the class ended. This would not necessarily be the case for a CMS such as Blackboard. I sprung Google Hangouts Video on the class without warning and had a functioning session without problems.

I have since decided to move the Google Hangouts for the semester. I will let the U tech people struggle with Blackboard Collaborate. I thought I would create a simple tutorial related to Hangouts video calls so that my group and others might take advantage of more of the features provided.

I must say I prefer the previous version of Hangouts to the present arrangement. The previous version of Hangouts allowed me to create a “circle” for my class, start a session and share it with a circle within Hangouts, and record the session for distribution to those unable to attend or those wanting to review the session. Google has changed some things. I cannot find a way to share the present version with a circle and the recording feature is now a function of YouTube live. I prefer the old system and I have what are reasonable alternatives.

So for the uninitiated, you being by connecting to hangouts.google.com.

You should encounter a screen that looks like this. I have X’d out the history of past hangouts I have used. I use video call for my class. If you must deal with more than 9 people in real time, you will have to make the effort to use the YouTube Live alternative.

Video call should bring up a screen allowing making use of your camera and mic and a couple of other things. In the lower left-hand corner, you should see an icon that will launch chat. I will get to that later, but you may want to make use of chat and video/audio with a group. The dialog box appearing in the middle of the screen allows the originator to invite others. In the previous version, this is where I would take advantage of Google circles. I prefer not to have to enter addresses for all members of my class, but I use the copy link to generate and copy a unique URL to the clipboard. I then send this link to all members of the class using any email system. Note – you will not see this link immediately as it is copied to the clipboard. Just assume the address is there and paste when you generate the email invitations.

Students click on the link they receive and show up in the video session.

The video Hangout call allows many features those of us who use online class systems are used to having available. In the upper right-hand corner, you should find an icon that launches the drop down you see here. You can launch that chat tool and screen sharing from here.

Screen sharing offers two options – share the entire screen or share the active window of an application (e.g., PowerPoint, the view from a second browser).

The chat pane is fairly standard and should appear on the left of the video pane. Participants can carry on a chat while others are speaking.

Here is my work around for recording. I simply launch Quicktime (I tend to use Apple products) and record the section of the screen that Hangouts window. I save out recording in 720p and then upload to YouTube for sharing and archiving. The upload takes some time for a multi hour class, but I do not have sit and watch while this is happening.


Cost per classroom

How are decisions made that commit funds for online services to individual teachers? I have been searching online to see if data exist on how frequently individual teachers are given a budget, allocation or allowance for instructional resources they can apply in their classrooms. I came up with nothing. My wife tells me this is not how it is done. Teachers write grants or seek funds from the PTO, but they are not allocated funds to be applied as the teacher believes meet classroom needs. Hmm….. Self-determination is such an important motivator.

I started thinking about this because I try to keep track of the costs of various online services I recommend. I start from the assumption that free is not a long term strategy for quality resources.

Just to make a guess at what such an allocation might look like I generated a short list for what a 5th-grade teacher might request. My items included:

Insert Learning




I could not find a NewSela chart, but I did locate a source I am using for estimation ($18 per student).

Total request for a 25 student class (no other classes involved) – $40 + $25×9 (five licenses = $225) + $18 x 25 ($450) = $715.

I suppose this seems like a lot. Newsela can be accessed at no cost, but the Pro version offers a management system allowing individualization (tracking) of individual students. I assume this would be the major purchase in the literacy area for the classroom.

I must admit to having no personal experience as a K12 administrator. I have a lot of experience as a college administrator, but my budget contained very little for instructional resources. Students purchased their own books and supplies. My instructional resource budget was a hold over from the days we rented a few instructional films and was never removed.

The online blogs of various K12 folks describe their use of the type of services I list here. I can explain to future or practicing teachers how these tools work. What I cannot track is how experiences with such services translate into use in classrooms.


Moderating comments in Hypothes.is

While layering services do not technically modify the content as originally generated by a web author, some have complained that annotations are not approved by the authors and may be problematic. For example, comments may be inappropriate and offensive. A comparison to blogs is used by some in explaining this objection. Blogs typically allow the author to control comments. The author may prevent any comments or moderate comments before the comments are released to the public.

Hypothes.is is one of the first services I am aware of that offers a partial way to address this issue. I say partial because the technique is under the control of the individual who creates a group for annotating web content and not the author(s) of the content annotated. So, for example, a teacher could moderate annotations generated by students the teacher has formed into a group.

The system is straightforward. Annotations made by members of an Hypothes.is group appear with a flag when viewed by members of a group. Clicking this flag by a member of the group sends an email to the group moderator who can then decide if the annotation is reasonable or not and delete the annotation should this be necessary.


Mastery revisited (again)

Mastery learning is one the concepts I discovered early in my career and that I continue to return to as a great idea just on the edge of meaningful implementation. I see mastery learning as different from other education concepts that continue to reappear even though the efficacy of these ideas is seldom demonstrated. To me, mastery learning is an idea that has waited for a practical method for implementation. Tutoring has always been an approach to implementation responsive to individual differences in learning speed, but the cost effectiveness of tutoring has typically prevented speed of acquisition differences to be accommodated. My interest in technology from the beginning has been related to the potential for personalization. The “personal computer” offers opportunities for many forms of individualization.

Educational historian Larry Cuban has recently begun generating blog posts focused on the Personalized System of Instruction – Fred Keller’s model from the late 1960s (here and here). As a model suited to technological support, PSI offers the best model from the early days. Bloom’s more group-based approach possibly received more attention because of Blook’s conceptual framework and concepts such as formative and summative assessment, but Bloom was also simply better known as an influential figure. I try to get my grad students to consider Keller’s perspective as a better starting point for individualized instruction.


Is the focus on STEM just another educational pendulum problem

The focus on STEM in education is in full force. Science, math, and technology are somehow linked to the economic success of the country. Resources and attention follow the factors that are understood to influence the bottom line. The weird thing, I think, is that this focus of attention and resources can be seen even at the level of elementary education. STEM for all despite the reality that the contributions to be made will require college and probably graduate-level education and most even at this advanced level will be unable to develop the level of expertise necessary to make actual contributions.

K-12 is a zero-sum environment and this environment is underfunded to begin with. Resources focused on STEM (time, content funding, educator support and professional development) mean there is less available for other content areas. Few problems facing the country are exclusively STEM-based. Consider the present climate-change issue. This problem is about science, but not because of science. The science is pretty clear. The problem is one of economics, failed information literacy, and ethics. More STEM will not provide a solution to this scientific challenge.

So many of our real problems are “social” problems better addressed by the second-class citizens of education professionals – social studies educators. Our biases when it comes to the importance of various content areas have long been obvious. These social problems must be addressed by anyone and do not require a graduate degree. What the solutions require is a focus on better understanding at all levels of education. It is time for K-12 folks to get off the STEM bandwagon and do a better job of preparing the total learner.