District Administration Magazine Webinar on Blended Learning…..check it out

Blended learning – the powerful combination of real-time and online interaction— is being adopted across the country to improve math teaching and student learning. By implementing an online supplemental math program that utilizes intelligent adaptive learning™ technology, your school or district can easily and effectively provide personalized instruction in the classroom and at home for all students, regardless of level or ability. Attend this web seminar to learn how to get started with blended learning and the keys to successfully adopting this latest technology to improve achievement of your elementary math students.

Topics will include:

  • The importance and efficacy of blended learning
  • Evaluating curriculum and blended learning model options
  • The latest and most effective technology used in elementary-level mathematics

20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network

“20 Tips for Creating a Professional Learning Network” by Miriam Clifford first appeared on the InfomED blog.

Networking is a prime form of 21st century learning.  The world is much smaller thanks to technology.  Learning is transforming into a globally collaborative enterprise.  Take for example scientists; professional networks allow the scientific community to share discoveries much faster.

Just this month, a tech news article showcased how Harvard scientists are considering that “sharing discoveries is more efficient and honorable than patenting them.”  This idea embodies the true spirit of a successful professional learning network: collaboration for its own sake.

As educators, we aim to be connected to advance our craft.  On another level, we hope to teach students to use networks to prepare for them for a changing job market.  But what is the best way to approach PLNs?

Learning networks are based on the theory of connectivism, or learning from diverse social webs.  Connectivism implies that learning relies on communicating ideas with others.  PLNs facilitate learning through meaningful interactions.  The advantages of PLNs today are two-fold.  In one way, they can improve classroom teaching and help develop new projects. On the other hand, they act as a form of communal intelligence that changes societal perceptions.

What are some ways to grow your PLN and improve the quality of your interactions?  As you will see, there are diverse ways to build your network and many new management tools.   Here are some simple tips:



10 Tips For Using PLN’s

  1. Keep the spirit of collaboration as your driving force.  PLNs are all about working together.  Be reciprocal and resourceful.  Don’t think about what you have to gain, first think about what you have to give. Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do.  By buying into the process and sharing useful information, your PLN grows naturally.  Collaboration creates a common ground and allows others to see your interests.  Genuine interest builds a solid, authentic network.  Try to see the big picture of how your ideas can change the world.  Social responsibility is the best kind of motivation for establishing a PLN.


  1. Join an online community.  Nings are online rings of people with similar interests. Sharing ideas and contacting people for direct feedback is more effective in a community setting.   Communities such as, Classroom 2.0  and The Educator’s PLN provide a meaningful circle of experts.  They provide professional development resources, such as online events, and are a great place to start networking.  Plus, using MightybellEdmodo, or Ning you can create your own virtual space to share pictures, documents, calendars, or projects.


  1. Join a Meetup group.  Meetups are common thread interest groups that meet in the real world.  The groups can also extend in social networks.  For instance, social studies teachers in your district or city might create a group to share teaching ideas.  Meetups take online networks and bring them into the real world.  And if you can’t meet online try using a cyberspace, like Google+ HangOut, SecondLife, or Skype. Some university academics even have virtual labs on SecondLife.


  1. Become a beacon of light.  PLNs rely on open sharing of information.  So if you know something, share it!  It’s best to start with a specific interest and then grow into other topics as time goes on. Become an expert in your niche by researching current trends.  This will draw a larger following on your network, because you can provide a novel source of information.  You might write a blog, start a Scoopit page to repost interesting articles, share a free tool, or create a Youtube video.  Cater to your strengths and use what’s comfortable for you.


  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  After all, PLNs are all about learning.  But don’t ask questions that you can easily research yourself.  Try simple searches on TED talks, Wikis, blogs, or news articles before posting a question. Try to be specific and think of how a question might generate interest from others.  For example, you may want to refer to an article or research study when asking a question.  Be specific!  This will generate the best answers.


  1. Be an active participant.  Brain power is the main asset of a PLN.  Spend some time to identify a specific cause and communicate it on your profile.  Let your knowledge of a specific cause help grow your PLN.  Keep up to date with your niche.  Stay relevant.  Try to post at least once a week.


  1. Remember to be polite and acknowledge contributions to the rightful owner. Show common respect for the people in your network.  This may seem like common sense, but can be a pitfall.  It took me some time to learn “web etiquette” over the years, but it has helped me tremendously.   Send thank you notes, acknowledgements, and use your true voice.  Not only does it make the other person’s day, but it will help you gain more meaningful connections.


  1. Designate a professional and personal account.  I keep my social life on Facebook and my professional life on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+.  There can be some crossover, but it’s best to keep it minimal so things are easy to find.  Certain groups will appreciate different types of content.  Your Facebook friends might find your baby’s stories adorable, but your Twitter followers might not appreciate extra messages cluttering their inbox.  Do this in ways that are comfortable to you.  You might designate accounts for each sphere of your life.


  1. Create a landing page.  It may be a good idea to consolidate all of your accounts on a landing page.  A webpage or personal blog will make it easier for people to find you.  It will also create a space where you can showcase the different projects you are working on.


  1. Engage newbies.  It is best to include a mix of newbies, peers, and experts.  Having this type of diversity in knowledge allows you to increase your mentoring skills.  It keeps with the essence of collaboration.  One blogger in Australia provided a great visual and commentary on how varying levels of expertise are vital to developing a meaningful PLN.  He describes how he learned in a PLN learning MOOC that the 3’Rs have been replaced by the 3 C’s Collaborate, Communicate, and Create.  PLNS create new projects through the power of active collaboration.



10 Tools & Strategies for Establishing a Productive PLN

  1. Use DiigoEvernotePocket, or Delicious to bookmark links.  You can access them anywhere and on any device.  For example, Diigo is like creating your own personal library.  Diigo is the preferred tool for educators.
  2. It allows you to highlight paragraphs and clip pictures while you are reading.
  3. You can bookmark a page in a “virtual” library or online archive, even PDFs or videos.  You can add your own tags to search for information later.
  4. Your entire school and class can add Diigo as a group, so that you can share resources.  For example, a chemistry class might share a digital periodic table, online lessons, or practice assignments.  Here is a great video about how to set up Diigo specifically for education.  They have specific accounts for educators to create a shared school library.


  1. Use a reader to subscribe to blogs.  Google reader allows you to manage multiple subscriptions to blogs. This allows easier access to new research.  You can also use an application like Scribd or Yahoo News Social to publically share what you read with others.


  1. Establish your own platform. Consider establishing a blog site on WordPress or  A blog provides a worldwide stage to share your views of education. You can spread your passion and find kindred spirits.  From there, you can develop lasting connections and plan new projects.  Fellow bloggers will appreciate the time you put into creating meaningful materials. Your ideas can be then be re-shared as a link. Many teachers keep class webpage or use applications such as PB works to share ideas.


  1. Share on Twitter first. Twitter reigns king, for now.  Anything can change with technology, but Twitter is the most commonly used tool among academics for expanding PLNs.  LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ also provide access to different types of networks. Later, you can use other tools to further expand and manage your network, such as Skype and Google tools. Many new platforms are emerging so stay current by reading tech or social media news on a site such as, Mashable.


  1. Consider your role. The article “Individual Learning” sheds some light on learning roles. Consider your learning style when designing a specific approach to your PLN:
  2. Activist-Learning by doing, such as writing a blog.
  3. Reflector- Learn by reviewing situations, such as posting opinions to articles.
  4. Theorist-Prefer to learn by researching information and data, such as by creating a model.
  5. Pragmatist-Apply learning to real situations, such as by creating a project that uses PLNs in the classroom.

According to Wikipedia, PLN roles can include, “searcher, assemblator, designer of data, innovator of subject matter, and researcher”.


  1. Aggregate resources together. Applications like FlipToast and HootSuite allow you to merge all of your social media accounts into one interface. You may want to play around with different types of portals until you find the one that is right for you. Map out an organized plan for using your PLN. There is a great chart of resources for mapping out your PLN plan on this blog.


  1. Take a free course to learn about PLNs. MOOCs are Massive Online Open Courses that are free to the public.  For instance, this course complete with handouts shows you how to establish a PLN.  You learn actively by taking small steps to create your PLN, such as creating a blog, twitter account, and content.


  1. Stay current with new tools. For example, try Pearltrees. This is one of my favorite new tools for PLNs.  Pearltrees is basically a visual organizer for your links.  Pearls are collaborative and public.  You can add pearls as you browse and share them with others on Twitter and Facebook.  Customize your experience.   There are many specific tools on different applications that allow you to customize and organize your PLN to fit your own needs.  Chrome and Windows 8 have several free applications that are worth trying.


  1. Simplify logins. You can speed up the log in process by installing a Password management application.  To further simply your PLN, use Google to keep a shared document drive, email, chat, and Google+ networking in one place.


  1. Establish a classroom learning network. Share your own expertise with other educators on a website or blog.  Create a class website or teach students how to create their own PLN. You might want to design a classroom project that relies on using one aspect of PLNs.  Doing so allows you to learn new ways to use PLNs. A YouTube video, The Networked Student, does an excellent job of explaining how a student might engage in a PLN. Teach students how to establish a PLN in small steps.  For instance, they might use Google scholar to research a paper or share ideas on Google Hangouts.


PLNs are a powerful change agent. And in today’s world an online professional learning network is indispensable.  Technology allows easy access to an unparalleled network of professional resources. Growing your network can lead to opportunities for professional growth and help change the future of education.


Feel free to add the InformED team on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.


Read more:

The Futurist Magazine offers a look into 2013 and beyond

Each year since 1985, the editors of THE FUTURIST have selected the most thought-provoking ideas and forecasts appearing in the magazine to go into our annual Outlook report. Over the years, Outlook has spotlighted the emergence of such epochal developments as the Internet, virtual reality, the 2008 financial crisis and the end of the Cold War. But these forecasts are meant as conversation starters, not absolute predictions about the future. We hope that this report–covering developments in business and economics, demography, energy, the environment, health and medicine, resources, society and values, and technology–inspires you to tackle the challenges, and seize the opportunities, of the coming decade.

With no further ado, THE FUTURIST Magazine releases its top ten forecasts for 2013 and beyond.

1. Neuroscientists may soon be able to predict what you’ll do before you do it.

The intention to do something, such as grasp a cup, produces blood flow to specific areas of the brain, so studying blood-flow patterns through neuroimaging could give researchers a better idea of what people have in mind. One potential application is improved prosthetic devices that respond to signals from the brain more like actual limbs do, according to researchers at the University of Western Ontario. World Trends & Forecasts, Jan-Feb 2012,p. 10


2. Future cars will become producers of power rather than merely consumers.

A scheme envisioned at the Technology University of Delft would use fuel cells of parked electric vehicles to convert biogas or hydrogen into more electricity. And the owners would be paid for the energy their vehicles produce. Tomorrow in Brief, Mar-Apr 2012,p. 2


3. An aquaponic recycling system in every kitchen?

Future “farmers” may consist of householders recycling their food waste in their own aquariums. An aquaponic system being developed by SUNY ecological engineers would use leftover foods to feed a tank of tilapia or other fish, and then the fish waste would be used for growing vegetables. The goal is to reduce food waste and lower the cost of raising fish. Tomorrow in Brief, Nov-Dec 2011,p. 2


4. The economy may become increasingly jobless, but there will be plenty of Work

Many recently lost jobs may never come back. Rather than worry about unemployment, however, tomorrow’s workers will focus on developing a variety of skills that could keep them working productively and continuously, whether they have jobs or not. It’ll be about finding out what other people need done, and doing it, suggests financial advisor James H. Lee. “Hard at Work in the Jobless Future,” Mar-Apr 2012,pp. 32-33


5. The next space age will launch after 2020, driven by competition and “adventure capitalists.”

While the U.S. space shuttle program is put to rest, entrepreneurs like Paul Allen, Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Jeff Bezos are planning commercial launches to access low-Earth orbit and to ferry passengers to transcontinental destinations within hours. Challenges include perfecting new technologies, developing global operations, building new infrastructure, and gaining regulatory approval. “The New Age of Space Business,” Sep-Oct 2012,p. 17



6. The “cloud” will become more intelligent, not just a place to store data.

Cloud intelligence will evolve into becoming an active resource in our daily lives, providing analysis and contextual advice. Virtual agents could, for example, design your family’s weekly menu based on everyone’s health profiles, fitness goals, and taste preferences, predict futurist consultants Chris Carbone and Kristin Nauth. “From Smart House to Networked Home,” July-Aug 2012,p. 30


7. Corporate reputations will be even more important to maintain, due to the transparency that will come with augmented reality.

In a “Rateocracy” as envisioned by management consultant Robert Moran, organizations’ reputations are quantified, and data could be included in geographically based information systems. You might choose one restaurant over another when your mobile augmented-reality app flashes warnings about health-department citations or poor customer reviews. “‘Rateocracy’ and Corporate Reputation,” World Trends & Forecasts, May-June 2012,p. 12


8. Robots will become gentler caregivers in the next 10 years.

Lifting and transferring frail patients may be easier for robots than for human caregivers, but their strong arms typically lack sensitivity. Japanese researchers are improving the functionality of the RIBA II (Robot for Interactive Body Assistance), lining its arms and chest with sensors so it can lift its patients more gently. Tomorrow in Brief, Nov-Dec 2011,p. 2


9. We’ll harness noise vibrations and other “junk” energy from the environment to power our gadgets.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are developing techniques for converting ambient microwave energy into DC power, which could be used for small devices like wireless sensors. And University of Buffalo physicist Surajit Sen is studying ways to use vibrations produced on roads and airport runways as energy sources. World Trends & Forecasts, Nov-Dec 2011,p. 9


10. A handheld “breathalyzer” will offer early detection of infections microbes and even chemical attacks.

The Single Breath Disease Diagnostics Breathalyzer under development at Stony Brook University would use sensor chips coated with nanowires to detect chemical compounds that may indicate the presence of diseases or infectious microbes. In the future, a handheld device could let you detect a range of risks, from lung cancer to anthrax exposure. Tomorrow in Brief, Sep-Oct 2012,p. 2


All of these forecasts plus dozens more were included in Outlook 2013, which scanned the best writing and research from THE FUTURIST magazine over the course of the previous year.

Now, here’s something even cooler. THE FUTURIST has made public the contents from Outlook 2006 through 2012, more than 400 forecasts in all relating to 2013 and beyond:

Happy futuring

Dec 2012



What’s the difference between PBL and Design Thinking | Great Post by Ewan McIntosh

Bianca Hewes and some others were last night asking some good questions to seek out the difference between design thinking and project-based learning (PBL) as techniques for use in the classroom. These kinds of questions we explore through out workshops with educators around the world, and there’s an explanation developing in a book I hope to release soon. In the meantime, here’s a quick and dirty take on the question from me:

For much of the past three years my colleagues and I been working through a specific innovation process with educators on the one hand, and non-education organisations on the other: media groups, technology startups, fashion companies, the UN, political parties… The process is design thinking.

When we work with creative, government or political organisations, the approach is a logical extension of what they’re doing, a welcome structure through which to explore a wider scope of a given challenge.

When we work with schools, we’re taking the Design Thinking process and marrying it with what we know from research about what makes great learning. However, there’s a piece of vocabulary that often gets in the teachers’ way of seeing what design thinking might bring to the learning process: PBL, or project-based learning. “It’s just PBL”; “This is the same as CBL”: the understanding of a model which is close, but not quite the same to design thinking, makes it harder to spot the differences and additional elements that could help enrichen practice.

So what are the key differences between a PBL project and one where design thinking is mashed with what we know makes learning great? (N.B. Following some criticism on Twitter, I feel it is worth pointing out that these reflections are just that, reflections on practice I’ve either observed first hand or have researched online. Don’t get mad: comment and take part in the discussion).

0. Important point: there’s probably less of a #PBL vs Design Thinking distinction to make, but rather, how can design thinking add to existing well-kent pedagogies of PBL?

1. A PBL project tends to explore a relatively narrow subject area, with a narrow essential question
In many, if not most PBL, projects I’ve seen, the project is defined by the essential question(s), which often sound like curricular checkpoints, or which funnel learning down a particular pre-defined path. In many, the groupings of students and their activities are defined (the film crew, the researchers, the presentation-makers, the event organisers).

In Design Thinking, the goal is to explore the widest possible area(s) for longer, to offer a good half-dozen or more potential lines of enquiry that students might end up exploring. The essential question(s) come much later in the process (as much as half-way through, in the synthesis stage) and…

2. In Design Thinking, the students, not the teacher, write the essential question(s)
In PBL, the teacher does a lot of the learning for the student: taking a large potential area of study and narrowing it down into a manageable project question. The teacher often delivers a “brief” for learners through two or three essential questions, much in the same way as a client delivers a brief to a design firm.

In Design Thinking, the teacher avoids asking a question at all, and comes up with what we call a generative topic (from David Perkins‘ work), a curiosity-mongering statement that opens up an area of study, doesn’t narrow it down. The questions that come from this investigation are the ones that students will go on to look at in more detail, come with ideas around solving or presenting.

Design firms like IDEO and our own web designers at NoTosh often take a brief from a client and then through their research, they change it. However, in learning, the use of a generative topic from the start speeds up the process, and teaches this skill of “helpful disobedience” of the brief. There’s little difference, in fact, between a traditional project-based learning experience and a deep design thinking experience if the educator is giving a brief: design thinking merely adds some structure to PBL, a new vocabulary, and, it seems from every workshop I spot online, lots of LEGOs, pipe cleaners and post-its. There is more to Design Thinking for learning than this utilitarian service-improvement model that’s currently getting big airtime!

A large part of our work with educators is working on how to develop higher order questioning skills in students. So many Design Thinking projects we observe elsewhere at the moment are based around relatively lower order questions, or on just school/community improvement. Design Thinking can be so much more than this, but it takes the marriage between Design Thinking as a creative industries process and the best educational research we can find. It’s hard to find people teaching Shakespeare, religious studies or mathematics through the process, the very things we’re seeing educators through our work begin to achieve. Core to raising that ambition is raising the quality of questioning in both teachers and students, something that remains untouched in most schools.

3. The ideas of what students will produce in PBL are often set by the teacher.
In Design Thinking students make the choice about what their prototype will be. Prototype or product ideas for learning are often set in advance in a PBL project (“you will produce a film”, or “you will be able to use multimedia and text”).

In Design Thinking the decision about which medium to use to show an idea lies entirely with the students, and again comes later in the process, when they know more about the initial exploratory topic.

4. Design Thinking provides a set of vocabulary that increasingly makes sense to employers in the creative, financial and governmental and innovation sectors.
The biggest challenge with PBL is that it was invented for education by educators. Design Thinking was created 30 years ago by a product design outfit (IDEO) as a way of working and thinking, to help provide better solutions to clients. The process helped bring about the graphical interface and computer mouse. It’s now coming into the language of many large firms as they seek a more structured way to innovate.

The language PBL uses is, by contrast, inconsistent and not usable outside the classroom. So, using a process that encourage deeper, wider thinking AND helps develop a life skill provides great value to learners.

5. And what about Understanding by Design..?
When we first came across Understanding by Design, or UbD, it felt, in the words of those harnessing it, very similar to their first impressions of design thinking. However, there’s a key difference. UbD involves the educator deciding on a final view of success and working back from that, designing learning towards the final goal. Design Thinking does it the other way around.

UbD almost tries to give students the impression they have choice, responsibility for their learning, real things to create in order to learn, but in fact, it fails to respect the choices learners make, as tangents are a) less likely to appear (the immersion phease of research at the beginning is narrower by design) and b) less likely to be given time and resource by the teacher when they do appear (such tangents are off the goal that the teacher has already set in mind).

Although controversial to say, I feel that UbD and many project-based learning approaches do nothing but disempower the learner, or at least not empower them any more than traditional coursework and chalk-and-talk. It’s maybe less the approach that is wrong (since depth and higher order thinking is a staple of most guides to project-based learning) but the practice that ends up occurring as people find themselves pushed back into the status quo of assessment accountability and content coverage fear from their superiors. As a result, many design thinking projects we see are too narrowly designed around school or community improvement, something Emillio Reggio and Montessori schools have been doing (better?) for scores of years. Why are we not seeing PBL or Design Thinking taking place across whole school curricula, from Shakespeare to science, school canteens to Cantonese?

It’s time people look more seriously towards the amazing work done by educators in Europe and Australia, where design thinking is truly stretching the scope within which learners operate. There. I said it! 🙂 And I promise that over the next six months we’ll share even more of those amazing learning stories.

This is a brief outline of five key differences between the two approaches. As I wrote above, there is a new book coming out soon from me outlining the amazing work done by our Design Thinking Schools and creative clients around the world. This will provide the depth that some folk might want after this briefest of explanations. We also run intensive workshops for educators and creative firms, wherever you are in the world, that help enthuse staff and set them out on the journey towards more student-led learning. If you’re interested in one of those, just get in touch.

August 16, 2012


“My results…” Care less about what everyone says

In England and Wales today, and in Scotland last week, youngsters have been receiving their examination results. All those months of hard work, well, work in any case, pay off in about the 10 seconds it takes to open an envelope and take a glance over the final scores. Some people even choose to do it in front of the TV cameras – you’d have never found me wanting to do that!

At that point in time, the effort, the learning that went on, and the lessons to carry on into later life all disappear into distant memory. It might as well not have happened.

But a tweet this morning from London’s friendliest entrepreneur Oli Barrett sent me seeking out the pre-envelope-opening tweets, all those people talking about “my results” on Twitter. The search string has been fascinating, particularly in the early morning.

USA Fairs poorly AGAIN in NAEP | Jeff Piontek wants to know your thought as to why.

In 2011, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tested 122,000 eighth grade students in their knowledge of science according to the 2011 NAEP Science Framework. Students are tested in their knowledge of science and their ability to work problems in three science areas: physical science, life science, and the Earth and space sciences. The test covered 50 states, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense schools. Students’ test scores placed them in one of four categories: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The terms Basic, Proficient, and Advanced are defined as:

  • Basic denotes partial mastery of prerequisite knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at each grade.
  • Proficient represents solid academic performance. Students reaching this level have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter.
  • Advanced represents superior performance.

While the national report card for eighth graders does show improvement, the results of the sample suggests that the nation as a whole has more students in the Below Basic category than any other:

  • Below Basic        36%
  • Basic                      34%
  • Proficient            29%
  • Advanced              2%

The achievement-level results in the eighth-grade NAEP science scores for the years 2009 and 2011 are:

  • At or above Basic went from 63% to 65%
  • At or above Proficient went from 30% to 32%
  • The number of students in Advanced stayed the same each year.

Here are some sample questions by science content area and difficulty level for grade eight students:


Physical Science

  • Describe the energy transfer between two systems
  • Read a motion graph

Earth and Space Sciences

  • Draw a conclusion based on fossil evidence
  • Predict a geological consequence of tectonic plate movement
  • Identify the mechanisms of a weather pattern

Life Science

  • Recognize a factor that affects the success of a species
  • Predict the effect of an environmental change on an organism
  • Explain an experimental setup to study populations of organisms
  • Recognize how plants use sunlight

Physical Science

  • Identify an example of kinetic energy


Earth and Space Sciences

  • Explain the effects of human land use on wildlife
  • Predict a lunar phenomenon
  • Relate characteristics of air masses to global regions
  • Identify a source of energy for the Earth’s water cycle
  • Predict the long-term pattern in the volcanic activity of a region
  • Investigate the magnetic properties of some common objects

Physical Sciences

  • Select and explain the useful properties of a material used in an industrial process
  • Identify the atomic components of the molecule
  • Determine a controlled variable in a chemistry investigation
  • Recognize an effect of electrical forces

Life Sciences

  • Identify the main sources of energy for certain organisms
  • Select and explain graph types and draw graphs from data that compare insect behaviors
  • recognize that plants produce their own food
  • Describe the competition between two species
  • Identify a function of a human organ system


Earth and Space Sciences

  • Predict and explain a weather pattern due to collision of air masses
  • Explain the formation of a rock based on its features
  • Draw a conclusion about soil permeability using data

Physical Science

  • Describe the evidence for chemical change
  • Identify chemically similar elements on the Periodic Table
  • Explain a change in energy due to friction

Life Sciences

  • Select and explain graph types and draw graphs from data that compare insect behaviors
  • Form a conclusion based on data about the behavior of an organism

The Impact of One-to-One

After nearly a decade of state- and district-wide implementations of one-to-one computing, researchers at North Carolina State University report on results from seven major initiatives.

Throughout the country, schools, districts and states are utilizing one-to-one computing initiatives as a vehicle for improving education. These initiatives involve placing a personal digital wireless device in the hands of every student and teacher in order to meet such goals as: equity of technology access, increased student engagement, improved student achievement, development of 21st century skills, and increased opportunities for students with special needs. In a recent white paper, Laptop Initiatives: Summary of Research Across Six States, North Carolina State University’s Friday Institute for Educational Innovation takes a close look at how well such goals are being met.
The white paper examines six statewide 1:1 initiatives plus one comprehensive district-level initiative. The initiatives are:
  • Florida’s Leveraging Laptops: The purpose of the Florida program was to develop “effective models for enhancing student achievement through the integration of the laptop computer as a tool for teaching and learning.” During the 2006-7 school year Leveraging Laptops served 47 K-12 schools (15 elementary, 13 middle, and 11 high) in 11 districts and reached 440 teachers and about 20,000 students. The program continued in 2008-9 with 73 K-12 schools and a focus on integrating innovative learning tools and project-based learning activities.
  • Maine’s Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI): MLTI, which launched in 2002, provides computers to all seventh and eighth grade students in the state. The program expanded in 2009 to include high schools, although the hardware for the high school students is funded by the schools, not the state. As of January 2010, MLTI served 100% of the public middle schools in the state, 55% of the public high schools and one private high school.
  • Michigan’s Freedom to Learn (FTL): FTL was started in 195 Michigan schools in the school year 2005-6. The goal of the program was to improve student learning and awareness of 21st century skills. The initiative took place in elementary, middle, and high schools. A total of 30,000 laptops were distributed to students and teachers.
  • North Carolina’s 1:1 Learning Technology Initiative (NCLTI): NCLTI, which started in 2008, was the result of a collaboration between the NC State Board of Education, NC Department of public Instruction, and Golden LEAF Foundation, with support from the SAS Institute. It included eight Early College (EC) high schools and ten traditional high schools, with approximately 9,5000 students in total, and had the overall goal of using technology to improve teaching, student achievement, and prepare students for work, citizenship, and the 21st century.
  • Pennsylvania’s Classrooms for the Future (CFF): The CFF initiative was implemented during the 2006-7 school year. The purpose was to prepare the high schools of Pennsylvania for the 21st century and to improve teaching and learning. By the end of the 2009-10 school year, the initiative had impacted 12,000 teachers and 500,000 students.
  • Texas’s Immersion Pilot (TIP): TIP was initiated in 2003 by the Texas Legislature to “immerse schools in technology by providing tools, training and support for teachers to fully integrate technology into their classrooms.” 23 school districts participated. One major goal was to increase student achievement through technology immersion. As of 2008, the pilot had reached approximately 14,399 students and 755 teachers in 29 schools.
  • Henrico County Virginia’s Teaching and Learning Initiative: The only county-wide initiative included in the white paper, Henrico’s program is the largest of its kind in the nation. The program began in 2001 and had two main goals: to improve students’ 21st century skills and to reduce the digital divide. Since 2001 the district has distributed 24,000 laptops to students, grades 6 – 12, and 3,300 laptops to teachers and administrators.
Data for the white paper was drawn from the research that was conducted by each of the initiatives. The methods used varied quite a bit from one program to another. For example, Florida made extensive use of teacher observation tools to evaluate progress and the Texas TIP researchers analyzed the level of implementation at each participating school (from those that were making relatively little use of the technology to the high-implementation sites that could more accurately be described as one-to-one).
Overall, however, the authors of Laptop Initiatives: Summary of Research Across Six States found some interesting patterns and consistencies across the board. Below are some of the key findings from the report, grouped into three categories: student outcomes; changes to instructional practice; and planning and implementation.
Teachers and students generally agree that laptops increase student engagement. For example:
  • Michigan: Students reported that laptops made it easier to do school work and increased their interest in learning
  • Maine: Researchers found that students were more engaged and more actively involved in their own learning; this was especially true of students with special needs and those who were at-risk or low-achieving.
  • Florida: Observers found significant increases in attention and engagement. Teachers’ action research results documented an increase in conditions that support learning.
  • Texas: Teachers reported that immersion increased student engagement
  • North Carolina: Teachers felt that technology enhanced student engagement, but also could create a distraction during class.
Teachers and students in some states concur that laptops increase student motivation, but results are mixed.
  • Maine: Teachers reported that students, and especially students with disabilities, were more motivated to learn and more interested in school.
  • Michigan: Teachers reported that laptops increased student motivation.
  • Texas: Students in the lower-implementing middle schools (those that did 1:1 less completely) were glad that they would not have the laptops in high school.
  • Henrico County: Teachers at the end of the third year felt that the laptops had not made a difference in students’ desire to learn or their interest in classes.
Students and teachers in some of the states thought that the use of laptops had a positive impact on student achievement, although this was not always supported by the test scores.
  • Maine: Teachers believed that the laptops improved student achievement in general and especially for students with disabilities. Students at the demonstration schools scored significantly higher in science, math, and social studies than did students at the comparison schools.
  • Michigan: Teachers reported that laptops increased student learning
  • Florida: Teachers’ action research results documented changes in student achievement (as measured by test scores, higher-level thinking skills, retention, and transfer of learning).
  • Texas: Teachers and students in higher-implementing schools believed that immersion improved the quality of students’ products and narrowed the equity gap, while teachers and students in lower-implementing schools believed that the laptops (which were used only occasionally) had a minimal or negative effect on test scores.
21st Century Skills (including technology skills, innovation, communication and collaboration)
  • Michigan: Students reported that laptops improved their Internet research skills. These students demonstrated significantly greater Internet and presentation software ability than matched-control students. They also felt that they used higher-order thinking skills to solve problems and challenges
  • Florida: Students in the program developed their abilities as producers of digital content, showed signs of developing innovation and critical thinking skills, and developed other workforce skills as a result of the initiative. Researchers observed significant increases in cooperative and collaborative learning and significant decreases in independent seatwork.
  • Texas: Students in the higher-implementation schools thought that immersion improved their technology skills, and teachers believed that immersion narrowed the technology equity gap.
  • North Carolina: Students reported that they used their technology to analyze information, create new information and submit assignments.
  • Maine: Teachers reported that laptops helped Maine students with disabilities interact more with other students and with teachers.
Self-directed learning
Students not only were participating more in group work but also were engaging in self-directed learning.
  • Henrico: Teachers believed that the laptops enhanced the learning experiences of students with different learning styles.
  • Maine: Teachers believed that laptops increased opportunities for individualized learning.
  • Pennsylvania: Students were more likely to choose and complete projects based on their interests, and their teachers were more likely to allow them to choose whether they worked independently or in groups.
Technology use for Instruction and the Changes in Pedagogy that Result:
Teachers in the initiatives used the technology in a number of ways and reported a positive impact on classroom instruction, and teacher readiness to integrate technology
  • Maine: Teachers used their laptops to plan instruction, create integrated lessons, present lessons, and create student assignments. The students used technology to complete assignments, create projects, and communicate with teachers and peers. Benefits perceived by teachers included increase in their own technology skills and classroom management benefits as a result of allowing tech-savvy students to help with technology support.
  • North Carolina: Students increasingly used their laptops to present information.
  • Texas: In higher implementing schools teachers and students used their laptops for increasingly more sophisticated tasks.
  • Michigan: Teachers were confident that they could integrate technology with their curriculum.
Teacher and student roles
Researchers noticed that the roles of teacher and students shift during the implementation of a 1:1 program.
  • Michigan: Teachers noticed that, with the laptops, their classroom practice increased student-centered activities.
  • Maine: Teachers and students noticed that with laptops in the classroom, students became teachers and teachers became learners.
It is generally acknowledged that effective leadership is crucial to the success of a 1:1 program.
  • Texas: In the higher-implementing schools the administrators were supportive of the program from the start and became more supportive over time, while in the lower-implementing schools support was marginal at first and became weaker as time went on.
  • Henrico: Administrators used their laptops for management and communication just as the teachers and students were doing.
  • North Carolina: Evaluators recommended that administrators could be supportive by facilitating professional development, setting reasonable 1:1 goals, modeling technology use, and communicating the vision of the program.
Professional development
Professional development is another important factor for the success of a 1:1 program.
  • Texas: The researchers found that, “Higher-implementing schools developed and maintained close relationships with professional development providers. These schools also gave professional development high priority by building in training days, basic training on teachers’ evolving needs, and holding teaches accountable for implementing what they had learned.”
  • Maine: Some teachers cited lack of time and insufficient opportunities for professional development as obstacles to the integration of laptops with the curriculum.
  • Pennsylvania: Teachers felt that the necessity of ongoing professional development got in the way of the program getting established.
  • North Carolina: Teachers agreed with the need for additional professional development and also wanted more opportunities to collaborate and share ideas with fellow teachers.
Robust infrastructure – including the opportunity to access the Internet is also important to one-to-one success.
  • Texas: Higher-implementing schools had good infrastructure before the 1:1 program. Lower-implementing schools had less than optimal infrastructure, which presented challenges for technicians.
  • North Carolina: One of the problems that teachers encountered was insufficient Internet access. They also relied heavily on technicians to assist them with smoothly integrating the technology.
  • Maine: Teachers identified lack of technical support as one of their main problems.
In general, the process of bringing 1:1 initiatives into the seven states and 1 county led to positive responses, ranging from improved student achievement to shifts in the way in which classrooms are run. Eight recommendations grew out of the 1:1 initiative research:
  • Develop a thorough implementation plan and train teachers before distributing digital devices;
  • Ascertain that the school or district has the appropriate technology and leadership infrastructure to run the program;
  • Secure strong buy-in from all stakeholders, including district and school leadership, teachers, students, parents, and the community;
  • Construct a leadership team with an eye toward members who will commit long-term to the initiative and support it;
  • Provide continuous professional development that is aligned with teacher needs;
  • Ensure continuous availability of efficient technical and instructional support personnel;
  • Enact polices for the appropriate use of digital devices and resources; and
  • Use data from project evaluations to inform and improve future program decisions.

KONY —- The real story, well at least one parents view of what it actually did accomplish!!!

I was happy to have both my son and daughter come to me and ask about KONY and the issues that are being presented in the video. I explained to them that it seems that everyone is talking about the Kony 2012 video, which has received more than 80 million views since it was posted.  My 12 year old son explained to me that it is part of a campaign by a non-profit group Invisible Children to bring awareness to the rebel leader Joseph Kony who’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has been terrorizing Ugandans and people in the Congo, the Central African Republic and South Sudan since the 1980s. The narrator in the film states that “Kony stands accused of overseeing the systematic kidnapping of countless African children,” and, “brainwashing the boys into fighting for him, turning the girls into sex slaves and killing those who don’t comply.” My son was heartbroken knowing we actively work with two charities in the Congo, one for rape victims and the other for HIV positive students, helping them get access to medicine and schooling. So this was something we had already known about and he wanted to know why Kony had not been brought to justice.

I explained that there are people who are actively working to do this but given the political climate it is difficult. My issue was with the video and how it was portrayed.

The video, which features  Jason Russell (co-founder of Invisible Children) trying to find ways to explain Kony’s atrocities in an age-appropriate way to his very young son, which made it only more compelling and moving. It ends with a three point call to action: 1. “Sign the Pledge to Show Your Support;” 2. “Get the Bracelet and the Action Kit” (for $30); and 3. “Sign Up to Donate a Few Dollars a Month.”

The group is targeting young people and, from what I can see on Facebook and Twitter, it has raised support from youth around the world.  In some ways I’m happy, especially that my son is taking more of an interest in global politics. It’s amazing to see young people engaging with issues beyond their immediate lives and thinking about the plight of other youth thousands of miles away, my son I am sure remembers the terms I always say to him and my daughter “think globally and act locally”. Not to disregard global issues but be the change you can be in your own community and then expand, we need help here in the U.S. and other places as well.

But, as has been pointed out in numerous articles and videos, the group has many critics. As the Washington Post reported, some experts argue that the crimes of the LRA “have been exaggerated and the attention they are receiving is disproportionate,” while others say that Kony and his group are indeed despicable international criminals but that there are many more effective campaigns to stop him, including some that have been working on the ground for many years. Others argue that the video and the campaign represent a “white savior” approach to the problems of Africa as the New York Times reported.

I’m not going to repeat what’s in the countless number of articles about this film (you can find them by searching Google News for Kony), but after reading several of them, it’s pretty clear that the issue is not as simple as depicted in the film and that Invisible Children — while deservedly getting credit for raising awareness — is not necessarily the best place to donate if you want to help the children of Africa. If you search and look for the Ugandan blogger Rosebell Kagumire who has major problems with Russell’s video. “He plays so much that this war has been going on because millions of Americans are ignorant about it, but this is not entirely true.” She also says that “the situation has improved in Northern Uganda and that it’s about conflict recovery right now.” And, she reminds us, “this is another video where you see an outsider trying to be a hero rescuing African children … it does not end the problem.”

Lessons Learned 

This leads to the issue of critical thinking and media literacy.  As an Internet safety advocate, I’ve been saying for years that one of the most important skills that young people (and older ones too) need is the ability to think critically about what they see online. Whether it’s a pitch from a company, an invitation to meet up with an appealing stranger or even a news items or an opinion piece from a pundit like me, it’s important to look beyond the page — or in Kony’s case, the video. Use a search engine and whatever other tools you have to learn more about anything that you’re on the verge of buying into. Ask your online friends but also consult as many expert sources as you can.  There is often more than one side to a story and even well intentioned campaigns by decent people can have nuances worth exploring.

Parents, please use this as an opportunity to talk with your child. You can talk about anything ranging from how great it is to get involved in issues to how important it is to do your homework before signing an online (or printed) petition, donating money, showing up at a demonstration or supporting a politician who’s rhetoric may be initially appealing, there are so many politicians that garner support because they can speak well or get people riled up but have no substance.

Investigating charities

I have a friend who I grew up with in NYC and he works for a company that is one I ALWAYS check before donating moey to the cause.  Charity Navigator, which rates charities on a variety of criteria.  Charity Navigator gives Invisible Children a 3 (out of 4) Stars for as an overall rating but only 2 stars for Accountability and Transparency with a score of 45, compared to 70 for the American Red Cross and 59 for the American Heart Association, just to give two examples. 

I can say that, all in all, the story did its job by promoting the fact that there is injustice in the world. It is also a teaching moment for all children and their parents which will hopefully elicit conversations about all content and can teach students about empathy and world issues.