16 December 2009


I think its time for some closure on Educational Research. Through talking to several people, I have drawn the conclusion that Ed. Research is one of the most stressful classes in the program. Well good. At least it's over. In the words of another professor, "let the stress ooze out of your fingertips, use the words "I" and "me" freely". It looks like the tone of the current writing class is going to be much more conversational, so I thought it would be appropriate to have a (probably one-way) conversation about Research. Let's finalize that and get back to the casual style of writing with which we are more comfortable, shall we?

I think I'll just post the summaries sent to me by my colleagues about their presentations in a nice numbered list with my comments following:

  1. "My paper was about pacing calendars.  Teachers and administrators are in agreement that they want pacing calendars but would like them to be flexible documents that allow teachers to do what is best for their students yet gives them direction in accomplishing all the state standards before the testing window in April. ~R.G." This presentation had a great opening, in which she took many large books and dropped them on the table and reminded us what it was like to be a new, overwhelmed teacher.

  2. "Title:  The ADD Learner The research took a closer look at children with ADD and the challenges each faces when trying to learn and survive in the educational environment. The study looked at people who are affected by ADD and how parents, teachers and family can have a huge impact on the success or failure of the person with ADD. ~T.B."  I learned so much from this one! There are so many issues that students with ADD deal with each day. Many of the symptoms were unknown to me previous to this class. Hopefully, I'll be able to recognize them now and offer some assistance.

  3. "Student Nutrition or a lack of it is a large part of our Discipline problems.  Google the Healthy Schools Program and read a little.  The schools that have done a whole school concept have been extremely successful. How much better could our schools be if our Professional Development was on Nutrition and Fitness and the teachers, staff and students share this together with parent education.  I would rather spend time teaching than dealing with the behavior problems we are dealing with now. ~S.T." This one took a really hard look at the nutrition programs of our schools and made me re-think some of the choice I make in my own life. I also loved the "fake food" that looked exceptionally real

  4. "Homework in Elementary Schools -- While the current research CLEARLY states that there is no academic benefit to giving elementary students homework, EVERY teacher interviewed uses it regularly. Conclusion: teachers assign homework out of tradition and not based on available research. ~K.R." Even though this one was specifically about elementary school, I did a lot of soul searching about homework in my own classroom. I wondered, WHY do I give homework? Is it necessary? Is there a correlation in my class between student achievement and homework? Interesting!

  5. "Mine was Cell Phones in School. Basically, it was looking at the pros and cons of using cell phones at school. I also looked at using cell phones for technology use in the classroom. ~K.B." If you've read this blog for very long you know exactly how I feel about this one! I embrace technology integration, especially cellphones. Its the one piece of technology that nearly 100% of students have, even if they have no internet access, they have a phone.

  6. "All things are difficult before they become easy."- Thomas Fuller "This quote best describes English language learners and writing skills. With a variety of effective teaching methods available it all comes down to each individual English language learner, meaningful experiences, and daily writing practices. ~R.J." I really had to take a hard look at the way in which I deal with ELL and ESL students in my class. I constantly wonder, am I being too easy on them? Am I using skills which will enable them to be more successful? Or am I JUST enabling?

  7. "The topic of my presentation was the motivation of Pre-Advanced Placement Students.  Here's a run down of what I found the most important to me:
    1) Students can't achieve without motivation.  Doesn't happen.
    2) Giftedness isn't just genetics, so you can gain it or lose it based on your environment.
    3) It's not about stopping apathy, but correcting the state prior to apathy.
    4) The three main sources of motivation identified by the students were parents, college, and accomplishment.
    5)  The three main sources of apathy identified by the students were not understanding, when hard work doesn't pay off, and low grades. (Remember they're perfectionists...)
    My favorite quote due to its percise truth: "I've been taught that if you work hard, it will happen."  We teach this to our kids all the time, but do we really teach them what to do if it doesn't? ~S.A." Yikes. What do we do when students work hard and they don't get all they had hoped for? Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. I've used those words in conversation many times since hearing this presentation. Thanks for good information. I'm rethinking how I treat my honors and non-honors kids.

  8. "What Teacher strategies helped you learn Spanish Fast. Students were interviewed to find the most effective strategies that helped them learn the language fast. They were Span. III students. The most repetive pattern was repetion and a descriptive teacher. ~Z.B." This one had the best video, made by students, I had seen in quite some time. Really enjoyed seeing the fruits of a caring teacher's labor.

All of the presentations, even the ones not listed here, were top notch. I am in a class with some really high achievers. That really puts the pressure on my to be on my game. Thanks to all of you who responded with summaries. And to those of you who weren't able to, thanks also! This class and the people contained in it have already made a tremendous impact on me, both personally and professionally. I'm looking forward to growing both as a colleague and as an instructor. Keep up the good work guys!

As always, thanks for reading.

I am

an accomplished teacher because: I care about my students (Core Prop 3). I have developed relationships with students. Students come and ask me for my opinion about life issues. I was a finalist for teacher of the year which leads me to believe my peers feel I am an accomplished teacher (Core Prop 5). I have a difficult time promoting myself. I have difficulty giving myself compliments because there are probably some self image issues that I have unresolved for whatever reason (Core Prop 4). My students come to me for help with things like participating in a holiday assembly (as the teacher who tweets), to proctor military physical entrance tests (as the timer, not as a co-runner), and to talk about which college they should attend. I don't think I am the only teacher with whom students have this type of relationship (Core Prop 5). However, when I began teaching, I remember wanting to teach because my wife was someone who had this type of relationship with students and I wanted to be an influence (Core Prop 1)  on students in the same way she was.  My mantra of teaching is "to build and maintain good relationships with students and be a positive influence in their lives (Core Prop 2)." I am an accomplished teacher because I am doing that. I set out with a purpose and I am succeeding at achieving that goal.

This writing is being done in class as part of a graduate-level Reflective Writing class designed to help me learn to write for the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification. The writing prompt was: I am an accomplished teacher because... I also had to go back and see which of the NBPTS Core Propositions we wrote to without even knowing what they were.

13 December 2009

the power of social media

While helping my favorite son with his homework this morning, I got a phone call. It was my wife calling. This may not seem strange and normally it wouldn't be, but she was calling from the other end of the house. She called because there was a great segment on the Oprah show (we DVR anything we want to watch) she wanted me to see. If you decide not to read the link, I'll sum it up in a few short sentences: Journey got a new lead singer because of social media, specifically, Youtube. The band's guitar player and spokesperson, was about ready to give up on the 10 year search for a lead singer when he happened to see a Youtube video (I don't think I got the exact video, but its the same singer and band in the same venue) of a guy in the Philippines who was covering one of Journey's hits, "Faithfully" at the Hard Rock Cafe' in Manila. To make a long story short, Journey found its new lead singer. Thanks, at least in part, to social media.

The wife didn't call me back because of the social media connection, she simply wanted to share a "rags to riches" story, probably because she knows I'm a sap and enjoy a good segment of Oprah every now and then (no need to spread that kind of information around, though). I was simply struck by the incredible power of social media, whether purposefully used, or accidentally "stumbled upon", pun intended. As I said in my research paper, its no answer to any of the world's problems, but it is a very powerful tool which can be used to affect change.

The second time today I was struck by the power of social media tools was when I made a humorous/serious comment on Facebook about a great movie, "The Breakfast Club". Here's my comment: "I think about things I hear at school. Like "these kids have changed" "they are more arrogant this year" and then I wonder about the custodian in The Breakfast Club when he said: "Oh come on Vernon, the kids didn't change, you did." Hmmm. Is there truth to that? Will I ever feel that way? I hope not."  If you'd like to see the entire conversation that ensued, its here. One of my students chimed in and I thought, what a great opportunity for a guest blog post. A perspective on generation-Y from someone of that generation! I know, you are wondering when I'll get to the point. Well, its now. We were conversing using social media. This was pointed out (by me) in our conversation. There is no way I ever would have had that conversation with a student inside the walls of my classroom. #1, I'm not that good at remembering what I did over the weekend, #2 we have too much information to cover and never would have taken the time to talk about this.

I think social media is changing not only the how we communicate, but the "with whom" we communicate. I can tell you from experience, no matter your thoughts on the evils or advantages of social media in education, I have deeper relationships with my students than I ever would have if I still had the rule of "Yes I have a Facebook and No I will not friend you". This was where I was when I first started teaching. I've changed a bit since then. Not sure why, not sure how, but I've changed. I, for one, think its for the better.

What do you think?

11 December 2009


I suppose its not really doubt as much as it is rethinking and reevaluating why I blog. You know, what's the point? Do I aspire to be someone like @BadAstronomer? Or @wesfryer? Or even @pursuingtruth? These guys all blog for different reasons and I'm sure they receive some benefits that are intrinsic to blogging. I guess what I am trying to say is this: "Is there any intrinsic benefit to blogging?"

This post is really a reminder to myself that there is a reason putting thoughts in my head down into the keyboard, which really means into the blogosphere. Its a big world out there and there a lots of people with a lot (and nothing) to say. I think most of the time I fall into the latter category and less into the former. I started blogging for me. In fact, I've been asked recently about the feasibility of adding an online component (particularly blogging) to the graduate program in which I am involved. An email I wrote today just talked about the fact that I am becoming more and more of a believer in journaling, which I realize is nothing new to many of you. That's really the reason I decided to do this. It wasn't to gain a large following (I'm saying this as I have, in the last 30 minutes, invited about 50 people to follow my blog through Facebook). I didn't do it to effect a major change on the educational system as some people are doing with the voices of their blogs. I certainly didn't do it to make any money. Good Lord. I'm a public school teacher. I don't do anything for the money.

On the other hand, part of journaling is going back and looking at what I have written in the past. Its about reflecting on what I've done in the past and how I have grown/changed/been affected. But, when is the last time I did that? Just last week, I was posting parts of my research paper here expecting you guys to reflect on it for me! Okay Bowie! You are totally missing the point!

I think its time to go back and read what I've written in the past. How have I grown? How have I changed? What am I doing (if anything) different than I was then? What did I say I'd do differently the next time I taught a lesson? If I'm not doing that, I'm definitely blogging for the wrong reasons.

Why do you blog? Why do you tweet? Is it because you want to be heard? Or is it because you want to look revisit a picture from the past? Either way, I'd love to hear your comments. After all, its supposed to be a two-way conversation even if its just me talking to myself!

07 December 2009


Here's the abstract of my research paper. I honed what I had initially done as a significance of study and then added what should be in an abstract. Honestly, whether you guys like it or not, I think its some of my best writing and I'll probably go with it. However, if you have positive comments, I'd love to hear 'em. I could use a little encouragement about now.

I'm just ready for this project to be over. I'm not sure I'll ever have it in me to do any kind of dissertation. I can't imagine what writing something like this would be like.

So, here it is:

Much of contemporary pedagogy is based on the belief that education should be made relevant to students. Social media is one way to achieve that relevance in today’s culture. Society as a whole continues to rely on electronic exchanges of information in presentation, acquisition and production. The day of immediate access to knowledge has arrived, and it has come in the form of social media. Surveys indicate that students are heavy users of social media and are not opposed to its use in an educational setting. Social media has evolved out of the early write-only Internet to a place filled with scholarly opportunities for community. This evolution has education poised to capitalize on the collaborative and creative aspects of social media. As a result, educators around the world are experiencing success in the integration of social media into the classroom as an educational tool. This research was conducted through interviews of educators and students using social media as the sole vessel of communication. The data notwithstanding, that an entire study was researched, composed and even redacted utilizing only social media demonstrates the power of these tools. The conclusion of this study is that social media, while not problem free, can certainly be used as a tool to augment purposefully planned lessons, build community and encourage students to become producers not just consumers of knowledge. Whether the course content is focused on writing, mathematics, technology, or science, social media can be smoothly integrated into an already effective educational experience or strengthen one that is not quite engaging students.

05 December 2009

Within this paper I have to tell the reason for conducting the research. I basically have to "sell" my reasoning for doing the research. It's freaking social media! Enough said, right? Well, apparently not because that's not the "way its done" in formal academic writing. Following is a very very very rough draft of my "significance of study" section. I'm interested to hear what you have to say about it, so here goes...btw, it'll be the last post of the evening as tomorrow will be here soon and I'm ready to pull the pork out of the smoker and hit the sack! So here it is:

Significance of Study
Many schools of education rely heavily on the belief that education should be made relevant to students. Social media a one way to make be relevant in today’s culture. Society as a whole is moving, more and more, toward an electronic exchange of information. What possible motivation do students have to buy in to the need to get an education when it is using a system of information delivery, bound textbooks, that is based on technology dating back to the early Greeks? Education is being left behind by not adapting to current trends in culture and society. Social media is becoming more and more pervasive throughout society. Companies are implementing viral marketing campaigns through mediums such as Twitter and Facebook. New job descriptions are being written everyday, which involve marketing through social media. Information is exchanged freely without cost. Companies no longer rely on advertising firms to get their product in front of the consumer; they simply hire a social media consultant and take matters into their own hands. Why should education be any different? There is no reason to wait for the next textbook to come out when, through a collaboration of many classrooms, a current textbook could be written in wiki format. It could be changed to remain up to date. Why do teachers need to wait for the next how-to-teach book to come out when they can begin adding book writers to a network of social bookmarks and start synthesizing the exact same information the authors are reading?

The day of immediate access to information has arrived and it has come in the form of social media. Wikipedia is a great example of this. Celebrity pages on Wikipedia are updated before shows cataloging their ridiculous antics are even on commercial break. It seems there is a never-ending stream of editors willing to make this worldwide collaborative effort the be-all, end-all fountain of information. Social media tools like wikis are more accurate than print information because there is no waiting for a new edition to be printed.

Social Media is going to be revolution. Albert Einstein once said, “If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting the results you've been getting.” This is the trap of education. Many teachers are unwilling to change their method simply because they have always done it that way. That is not a good reason to keep teaching students the same way. In many ways, its similar to a farmer who plants his seeds by hand and harvests his wheat using a hand-swung scythe. Meanwhile, his neighbor is using a state-of-the-art tractor planting machine and an air-conditioned, satellite navigation equipped combine to harvest. The old-fashioned farmer is constantly wondering, “Why am I not being more productive like my neighbor?” Hopefully the education system, with some help from the inside, will realize we have been planting all of our seeds by hand while there is a state-of-the-art electronic planter sitting in our classroom waiting to be used.

forshadowed problems

In this section I'm supposed to talk about questions that may or may not be answered, but nevertheless are questions about my subject. I'll let you in on a secret, I don't answer most of these questions, but I'd like to. Especially the ones about funding the technology. Maybe some money will fall from the sky into my classroom account.

Without further adieu, here are the foreshadowed problems from my research paper:

How does one get teachers to buy into using social media? How can students be convinced social media has educational value, as well as social? How do school districts control the potentially dangerous aspects of social media, e.g. predators, sexting, cyber-bullying? How much instructional time should be committed to the use of social media? How do districts fund technology access to create a successful social media environment? Once funding is determined, how do districts address the physical security issues inherent with expensive computer equipment, i.e. what will prevent laptops from walking out of the school? How do teachers keep from blurring the line between recreational use of social media and instructional use? How can teachers be taught where the line is between recreational use and educational use? Is it the job of the school district to make education this relevant? If it is the district’s job, how does a district go about implementing a plan to begin social media integration? If it is not the district’s job and is a gray area, should social media usage become its own class and then the students are responsible to apply this knowledge to other classes? Is this integration the job of secondary education or is it the job of post-secondary education? Since social media changes so rapidly, when does a particular aspect of social media become out of date and no longer relevant to education? How does education know when to integrate some part of social media? Is longevity a determining factor? Is it permanency? Or is there some combination of these and other factors?

data analysis

Please be kind...this is my first attempt at actually writing a true research paper. I'm talking about a paper in which I did real field research. Sure I've synthesized stuff I've read, but gathering data? Never really had experience doing it... So, here comes the first draft of the data analysis. Seems to me there is more talking and less analyzing than there should be...let me know what you think.

While the group interviewed during the process of gathering data on social media usage in an educational setting was not a large one, the subjects were chosen purposefully so that data would be obtained from participants who have experience with the use of social media, either positive or negative. The overwhelming majority of participants stated that their student’s educational experiences were enriched because of the use of social media. Many of these educational professionals feel that students are “plugged in” after school and it is “silly not to utilize social media to present information to students”. They also felt that it is a teacher’s duty to expose students to the type of tools they will be required to use both in the post-secondary education setting and in the corporate world.

When asked “why do you use social media in your classroom” a high school computer applications teacher said, “I came from the corporate world and I see these as tools with which students must, at the bare minimum, be familiar.” She felt if she didn’t teach them about social media, she would be doing them a great disservice. When the instructional technologist was asked the same question, she said, “This type of interaction encourages collaboration, not only between students, but between teachers and students”. It can really change the relationship between a student and a teacher. When teachers are willing to be transparent and step out into cyberspace with a real, authentic persona, students recognize what is happening and are more willing to be real with the teacher in return. Another teacher said he uses social media to “add interest to the class” and “encourage engagement” in what might otherwise be a fairly boring project. Another teacher indicated that students are going to use this type of media outside of class and it was “her duty to teach them to use it correctly and safely”. One of the participants made the analogy to sex education; students are going to figure out what to do, now would you rather have them figure it out from someone who might not be teaching them the most intelligent, safe way to do it? While that may be a rather crude analogy, it really makes an excellent point. Students need to be taught good digital citizenship because they are going to learn how to use it one way or another.

A Department of Education official stated he teaches teachers how to use social media because it “gives a sense of empowerment whereby they have access to a vast network that has been purposefully created”. The interaction he is referring to is his Twitter and Delicious network, which he has created by looking for people with common interests. He follows people for whom he has respect and through social media is able to see what they are talking about and what they are reading. Its similar to hero worship wherein one does the same things his or her hero does. Thereby, becoming more like the hero.

The only student available for interview summed up the reason high school teachers should be using social media; “Every student should be exposed to some kind of social media in high school because they basically throw it at you in college”. This brings up an excellent point: why the disparity between high school and college? Why are high school teachers so reluctant to bring social media, i.e. online collaboration, into the classroom when college professors are typically more willing to embrace it? This seems like a good topic to research further.

A Junior-level Earth Science teacher talked at length about a wiki project he had been working on for over the course of about six weeks. In this project, students are required to write about a particular phenomena related to astronomy or geology, or research a scientist and synthesize the information about the person’s life. When asked which aspects of the project he liked, the teacher responded with an answer that is thematic in wiki projects: “As a teacher (and consequent grader) I can track all changes a student has made to the wiki through the history tab”. This coupled with the ability to revert to any version in the history of the page, make wikis an excellent platform to use for almost any kind of writing project. During the course of the project, the teacher set weekly goals for students. The student progress towards a particular goal was easily traced by looking to see which page a student had edited and how often (or rarely) editing was done. He also liked the ability for students to be able to access their work from any computer with Internet access. He works in a school district in which students can only access work stored on the district “H-drive” when they are logged on to a school computer. With a wiki, this problem is eliminated; all a student needs is access to a computer with Internet capability. This teacher had students peer-edit each other’s pages. This is exactly what wikis are intended for and develop not only collaborative skills but writing skills, as well.

An instructional technologist pointed out to the researcher that wikis are also an excellent way to showcase student’s work. She also noted that it encourages “peer accountability”. She recounted an instance to demonstrate the fact:

I had been involved with a classroom of secondary students working on a wiki. There was one student who, during the course of his writing made the comment that he was “proud to be a racist”. Before the teacher could even be made aware of what was being said, the student’s peers stepped in and moderated the document to remove the offensive material. This was far beyond what teachers normally expect in this type of project.

She continued to point out that this was the first instance she had ever encountered this type of interaction between students. If this were carried out live in the classroom, it is likely it would not have been quite as civil of an exchange.

One of the participants in this survey is an English teacher at a large urban high school. She teaches Junior-level English to a wide socio-economic variety of students. One of the ideas she constantly stresses to her classes is to consider their audience when writing. She stated,

Wikis and blogs really broaden the audience of student writing. Up to this point these kids have only been writing for a teacher to read. No one else gets to see the finished work. What motivation do they have to seriously consider the audience when it is only a teacher reading it? With a wiki or a blog, students have to consider the fact that anyone with an Internet-connected computer has access to their work.

She continued to point out that there are actually widgets which can be inserted into your website which will give a visual representation, usually in the form of a map with dots, to show where the visitors to a website are coming from. Students are better able to get a sense they are writing to a broader audience when these tools are utilized.

During an interview with a technology teacher, the topic of process skills being taught when using social media in the classroom was addressed. She indicated that the main “meta-skill” taught is the process of critical thinking. Learning to use one type of social media carries with it a set of skills that can be readily applied to another type of media. For instance, synthesizing a paragraph into a 140-character post for Twitter applies to synthesizing research ideas to a wiki page. A Department of Education official stated he teaches teachers how to use social media because it “gives a sense of empowerment whereby he has access to a vast network that has been purposefully created”. The interaction he is referring to is his Twitter and Delicious network, which he has set out to create. He follows people for whom he has respect and through social media is able to see what they are talking about and what they are reading. Its similar to hero worship wherein one does the same things his or her hero does. Thereby, becoming more like the hero. When asked how student’s educational experiences are enriched by the use of social media, he replied, “Have you heard of the two by four by eight model of education? Students learn within two covers of a textbook, inside the four walls of a classroom, during eight hours of a school day; social media has the capacity to transcend that.” This is really the heart of what social media is about, at least when it is applied to an educational setting: it extends the classroom out into an environment in which students are more comfortable.

Social media can also extend the hours of a school day. A technology teacher informed the researcher of having the ability to see when students were online and actively posting on the discussion board within a Ning. She was pleasantly surprised to see that students were online occasionally on Friday nights completing assignments, many times well in advance of the due date.

The participants in this project have all had varying degrees of success in their efforts to integrate social media into some type of educational setting. A science teacher said his students didn’t really get the point of doing a wiki instead of a standard research paper, but many did enjoy the more creative aspect of making a webpage instead of “just writing a boring old paper”. A technology teacher indicated that she was “surprised at the high level of thinking students were putting into their responses on the discussion board”. It also seemed to her that students who seemed shy in class were more willing to open up and share in an asynchronous online setting. A state Department of Education employee stated that its very difficult, especially with Twitter, to “keep the signal to noise ratio” down. Sometimes there is so much information, its difficult to sift through what is important and what is just garbage. It simply becomes overwhelming and the reader gets nothing because of information overload. Another science teacher, who uses a discussion board as a means of having student review articles online, stated, “This type of interaction gives my students a non-threatening way to see there are many diverse worldviews, just inside our classroom. Think of all of the worldviews when you consider the enormous number of people outside our classroom walls!” He is actually building community by pointing out their diversity.

Many of those interviewed have future plans when it comes to social media. One said, “I just want to keep up with the most current tools available, my students are going to know what they are, so I have to do the same.” The Earth Science teacher said he would continue to use his wiki project even though some of his students “didn’t get it”. He feels you cannot adequately judge the success of a project based only on a single group of students. A technology teacher is going to increase the integration of social media into her courses. She feels this is the format of a class, especially a class in which students are learning about computers and specifically digital citizenship.


Here is the intro to my paper so far, cut and pasted right out the document:

With social media becoming increasingly popular in today’s “connected” culture, it seems inevitable that it would invade the ranks of education. It appears to be doing just that, albeit very slowly. Teachers are resistant to change. Tradition runs deep in the education sector and social media is a very young kid on the proverbial block. Whether contributing to a wiki project, being part of a discussion board, communicating through Facebook, sharing online bookmarks through sites such as Delicious or Diigo, or using Skype to bring an expert into the classroom, participants in this study agreed that students are interacting, collaborating, building community, and networking. These skills are needed to keep students successful in the future. They are process skills that may not be specifically stated in any skill set put forth by any Department of Education, but they are certainly eluded to, especially in the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards.

Many naysayers of social media are slowly starting to change their tune. Just a year or two ago it would have been common to overhear a comment that went something like this: “With all of the computer stuff like Facebook and MySpace, kids are becoming less and less communicative, Before long, they will not be able to talk to each other at all”. Actually, it seems the opposite is true. Students are becoming more and more communicative. While they are using a computer keyboard to do it, they are still learning how to communicate through verbal and written expression like never before. Negative comments seem to be fewer and farther between as we go.