Connecting ed-tech to ed-reform

The design of American education is obsolete, not meeting the needs of our students and our society, and ignores most of what we have learned about education and learning in the past century. This panel will explore a new paradigm, including some specific examples, of how education in America can be reshaped in more productive and democratic fashions. YEARLYKOS: Education Uprising / Educating for Democracy

Education is broken – it needs reform. Sound familiar? That was 2007. It is any better? Worse perhaps?

But what does this have to do with technology?
As educators find themselves re-imagining learning based on their own tech-based awakening, the sense comes quickly that this is not about new technology, access to information, 21st century skills, or even 2.0-goodness, but broader-based education reform. But just as quickly, it starts to feel like there is no hope of changing a lumbering, entrenched educational system with a tiny lever called technology.

However, we are not alone, and it would be a win-win for both tech-loving educators and education reformers to join forces. The technology and online collaboration tools being invented today could tip the balance in the effort to reshape education “in more productive and democratic fashions.” The virtual voices of students and teachers alike could finally be heard in force.

But what is school reform? What does that word mean? To me, it has nothing to do with test scores. “Progressive” is probably the label I most identify with. In my years of working with teachers and schools, my vision of reform means a continuing effort to make schools more democratic, human institution that elevate the potential of every person involved. But even those words are really meaningless; I’d probably agree with a hundred other conceptualizations of what reform is.

It’s a bit of a cop out to say that if you read this blog, or know me, you already have a notion of what i’m talking about. Sorry about that. But I’m going to ask your indulgence to skip over the definitions and go straight to the goodies.

I’d like to share some of the resources I find inspiring on this topic, things that resonate with me. Yes, it’s completely personal, so perhaps you’ll just have to try it out and see if these resources meet your needs. Here are some of my pins in my roadmap to educational reform.

Seymour Papert is called the father of educational technology, and the only one on this list who is tied to technology. But for me, his work is the tangible bridge between technology use in schools and education reform. I find his writing inspiring and a constant source of big ideas.

Alfie Kohn is a researcher, speaker and author who as Time magazine said is, “…perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”

Coalition of Essential Schools are based on the work of Ted Sizer, a giant of progressive education. CES schools pledge to create and sustain personalized, equitable, and intellectually challenging schools. To me, The CES Common Principals are a great place to start when thinking about “what a school could be.”

Forum for Education and Democracy, founded by a group of prominent thinkers in education, including Deborah Meier, Angela Valenzuela, Pedro Noguera, Linda Darling-Hammond, Ted and Nancy Sizer, and others.

Susan Ohanian speaks and writes about making schools better places for students and teachers. She tracks “outrages” on her website – stupid test questions, ridiculous policies and laws, lies, contradictions and half-truths.

The Education Policy Bloga group blog “…about the ways that educational foundations can inform educational policy and practice! The blog is written by a group of people who are interested in the state of education today, and who bring to this interest a set of perspectives and tools developed in the disciplines known as the “foundations” of education: philosophy, history, curriculum theory, sociology, economics, and psychology.”

Bridging Differences blog is a running conversation between two education grande dames, Deborah Meier and Diane Ravitch. They have large areas of disagreement, but the blog is a great example of a dialog that is polite, respectful and constructive. This is a a MUST READ for any educator.

A longer list of my “go to” thinkers who feed my brain on education reform will have to wait… but I have one more –

Call to action – from the same 2007 conference on education reform where the opening quote of this blog came from.

Teachers and Teaching: Prospects for High Leverage Reform
Peter Henry (aka Mi Corazon)

Wedged between two Byzantine bureaucracies—unions and school districts, constrained by unreasonable public expectations, hammered by ideologues, criticized by the media, saddled with policies shaped by non-educators, America’s teachers have almost no room to maneuver. Their training, workplace, schedule, and assignment are mostly determined by others, and their curriculum arrives “canned” in the form of textbooks from large, well-connected corporations. In some schools, extreme instructional strategies tell them what words to say, when, and how, as if teaching can be reduced to a standard script.

There is, however, reason for hope: If teachers are liberated from these structural limitations, they have tremendous potential as “high leverage” reform agents. As Peter Senge maintains in his thoughtful classic, The Fifth Discipline, small, subtle modifications of a key organizational element can have a major systemic impact.

It goes on to call for two fundamental reforms:

  1. Giving teachers autonomy, power, control and authority
  2. Ending teacher isolation

And ends on this uplifting note:

A great and resilient society, capable of successful adaptation and change, cannot thrive with an educational system built in the 19th century—managed by top-down hierarchies, one-size-fits-all models and ruled by the cudgel of fear. Excellence is achieved through individual mastery, a collegial network awash with inquiry and creativity, undergirded by trust and tangible support from the larger community. If we want teaching excellence and the resultant development of full student potential, teachers must be lifted up, given the responsibility, authority and training which enhance their natural human abilities, and then respected for taking on this most crucial and challenging work.

Good stuff, eh? See why I don’t bother trying to come up with a definition of reform all by myself? Why not stand on the shoulders of giants.

Educators inspired by technology will see parallels in these resources with many of the thoughts expressed daily in the ed-tech segment of the edublogosphere. There is much to learn, many connections to make, and much to do.

But finally, at this time in history, we have to tools to actually make this happen. Ed-tech reformers have an important part to play… and we are not alone.


Live event this weekend – Alan Kay

There’s a live event this weekend that I would recommend to anyone interested in the “big ideas” of using computers in education. Alan Kay will be online in a conversation on the topic:

Important Questions in Education Research

Saturday, August 7th 2010 in the LearnCentral public Elluminate room at 11am Pacific – 2pm Eastern time.

This is part of an ongoing series of events organized by Maria Droujkova, who holds weekly Math 2.0 Webinars. But don’t be put off if you aren’t a “math” person. Alan Kay is one of the people responsible for there being ANYTHING called computers in education. He’s a unique thinker in this field and I guarantee you that there will be free and wide ranging conversation.

Alan is responsible for two quotes I love:

  • “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”
  • “… music is not in the piano. And knowledge and edification is not in the computer. The computer is simply an instrument whose music is ideas.”

So I urge you to join the conversation tonight, even if your interest isn’t in math or educational research. I do so because it’s a rare opportunity to connect first hand with one of the seminal thinkers of our time, and someone whose life’s work is reflected in everything we call “educational technology.”

Important Questions in Education Research with Alan Kay

Saturday, August 7th 2010 in the LearnCentral public Elluminate room at 11am Pacific – 2pm Eastern time. WorldClock for your time zone.

All Math 2.0 events are free and open to the public. Information about all events in the series is here

To read more about Alan: A still timely profile from 2003 on Alan Kay (Scholastic Administrator magazine)


The ISTE opening keynote – what I wish had been said

I know  this is not fair – Monday morning quarterbacking what someone else said in a keynote. I respect people who keynote, it’s a very difficult job to be entertaining while delivering a coherent, interesting message for a large, diverse audience. I cringe when people criticize, yet here I am doing it.

I did a quick blog post a few days ago about the keynote by Jean-Francois Rischard, the author of High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them. His book identifies urgent global issues and proposes better, alternative methodologies for developing solutions. According to Mr. Rischard, the effectiveness of any solution to a global problem hinges on technological innovation and collective action, including action by students.

But as I was listening, here’s what I wish he was saying.

  • These global problems must be solved by including people who are traditionally not included in solutions to big problems. These problems cannot be solved by the “usual suspects” – governments, military, big corporations, etc. We must find ways to include people who do not usually get invited to the table – people in small countries, the poor, and youth. The voice and energy of these traditionally disenfranchised people are necessary to solve these problems.
  • Technology is a solution to bringing these voices out and including people who are not at the table (yet.)
  • Youth must be at the table for the solutions of the future to be viable. They are the ones who will live there, they are the ones who will solve the problems.

In my mind, the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) movement is based on these ideas. Putting the power of the computer directly into the hands of children around the world means that these children have unprecedented access to information and ideas that can change their lives and their communities, and perhaps the world.

And why bring this message to ISTE 2010? Because these educators are where these youth are, and understand technology. Youth are not going to suddenly rise up and do this by themselves – the Facebook group “I hate BP” is not going to solve the oil spill problem.

Educators are like sherpas for the future. By guiding students to develop a global perspective, problem-solving skills and a voice, they are creating capacity for these students to gradually solve larger and more global problems. Students may not start by tackling global warming, but by helping to clean up the local marsh. The skills of collaboration, teamwork, creative problem solving are the same. Having an educator who can guide this process and help students learn these skills as they tackle real problems is crucial.

I think Mr. Rischard missed the point by saying that we should develop curriculum for K-12 that does this. I believe students learn these things by DOING them, starting at a smaller scale, but really doing things that matter, and with guidance from adults who have a real relationship with their students.

I’m reminded of my own daughter who was a theater and choir kid. The TV show Glee is essentially about her. One year the school board had to cut the budget and decided to cut field trips and transportation – but allowed an exception if the students were “participating” in whatever the event was. It meant that the football team kept their busses, but the drama trip to the Shakespeare performance was cancelled because they would be “just watching”.

The drama kids were of course upset and decided to “do something about it.” Luckily, the drama teacher was trusted by the kids, and they shared their frustrations and plans with her. She worked with them – past the plan to TP the board members houses to a plan to go to the school board meeting. She helped them understand that they could frame their argument in an educational context rather than an “it’s not fair the jocks get everything” argument. And she could do this because she was willing to listen — and because she listened to them, they listened to her.

The happy ending to that story is that they got the policy rewritten, and got a lot of praise from the school board for their thoughtful arguments that the creative process needed both participation and expertise. The clincher argument (thought of by one of the students) was that the policy would have allowed a trip to a “Color Me Mine” – one of those do-it-yourself pot painting storefronts, but not a trip to the art museum.

The point is that if we want to solve global problems, we know we need technology, we know we need the students who will solve these problems to come togther, and we know we need educators willing to develop real relationships with youth along the way.

The thousands of educators at ISTE 2010 hold the key to all of these.


-Posted from the Blogger’s Cafe at ISTE 2010

ISTE opening keynote – global issue networks

The final countdown to ISTE 2010, Denver, Colorado (June 27-30) has begun! Thousands of exhibitors and attendees will descend on Denver this weekend to learn about the newest applications, strategies, and issues surrounding technology education. The conference formally kicks off with the opening keynote Sunday night, June 27, at 5:45. This year’s opening keynote speaker is the former vice-president of the World Bank, Jean-Francois Rischard.

Wondering what he’s going to talk about and what the World Bank has to do with education?

Mr. Rischard is the author of High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them, a book that identifies urgent global issues and proposes better, alternative methodologies for developing solutions. According to Mr. Rischard, the effectiveness of any solution to a global problem hinges on technological innovation and student action. The presentation will conclude with a description of four kinds of strategic curriculum changes that will enable educators to help prepare students for these increasingly relevant challenges.

Many of Mr. Rischard’s solutions are centered on what are called Global Issue Networks. These networks vary in implementation, but one commonality is a focus on “user” driven solutions to problems; sort of Governance 2.0. Technological acumen and information literacy are going to be increasingly valued skills as the way we solve problems evolves in our inter-connected world.

See you there!

The Generation YES team – Sylvia, Dennis, Megan & Steve

P.S. We’ll be in booth 855 during the conference, along with students from local schools who will show what they are doing to improve technology integration in their schools. They will also be printing out business cards for anyone who leaves theirs at home! Come by and say hi!

Update on Maine Learning Technology Initiative

The post Students raising funds and technology awareness in Maine got a lot of comments and interest on this blog. Here’s an update from one of the participants:

First of all, our students are committed to this project! All of our students in Wells, Maine, had to get out of bed and to the school bus by 5:15 AM for the 3 hour bus ride to Orono. They all had planned their presentations with their teachers and then practiced for 2 weeks. Once at the University, they all attended the opening session, then walked quickly across campus to a variety of classrooms and within 10 minutes they were on stage, confident and presenting to students and teachers from around the state.

read more at: Tech Learning TL Advisor Blog and Ed Tech Ticker Blogs from TL Blog Staff –

Hope we see more from these motivated students!


Exciting events at the ISTE conference

ISTE (formerly known as NECC) is the largest national educational technology conference in the U.S. This year it will be in Denver, Colorado June 27-30.

Generation YES will be there in full force with a booth (#855) and other events. If you will be in Denver, we hope you will come by and say hello!

Pre-conference event – The Constructivist Celebration, Sunday June 27
Held once again the day before ISTE starts, this is a day-long workshop focusing on creativity and computing. For a very reasonable $60, you will receive free creativity software worth hundreds of dollars from the world’s best school-tool companies, breakfast, snacks and lunch, and a full-day workshop led by Gary Stager and other members of the Constructivist Consortium. Added bonuses: a free just-released “ImagineIt2” DVD and a TechYES mini-kit. It’s always a sell-out, but right now there are still a few spaces left to join in the fun, so register today – you won’t regret it!


  • Dennis Harper – Establishing Student Technology Leaders Programs for Districts, States, and Nations Wednesday, 6/30/2010, 8:30am-9:30am, CCC 605.  Discover how districts, states, and nations can establish effective student technology leaders organizations that meet integration, infrastructure support, and technology literacy goals.
  • Sylvia Martinez – Tinkering Toward Technology Literacy Wednesday, 6/30/2010, 10:30am-11:30am, CCC 605. Combine tinkering and technology and you have a time-honored tradition that allows imagination and creativity to lead the way to technology literacy.

Events in the Generation YES booth #855

  • Adora Svitak (12 year old author, blogger, and the youngest person to be invited to speak at TED) will be sharing her ideas for education from a youth’s point of view.
  • We will be sharing a new technology literacy study by a well-known researcher making the case for project-based technology literacy assessment. (more about this soon)
  • GenYES and TechYES teachers and students from nearby schools will be in the booth sharing their projects and tech integration tips.

Plus… we will be printing handy business cards for any teacher who forgot theirs at home!

Hope to see you there!


Students raising funds and technology awareness in Maine

(via Media Release) – More than 1,000 students and teachers will fight hunger this Thursday by correctly answering vocabulary, math and other curriculum area questions on their state-issued laptops. This is part of the largest Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI)  annual student conference ever, held at the University of Maine, Orono.

The conference is partnering with the United Nations’ World Food Programme to host the students and teachers on a specially-developed version of, a web site where users make donations of rice to feed hungry people by answering core curriculum questions around vocabulary, mathematics, geography, science and more.

Maine’s laptop program is the first to work with to create a localized effort to raise food for the hungry. A customized version of the site will be available to challenge Maine students, along with invitees from around the world, to raise as much food as they can.

The project showcases how technology can help make learning relevant and engaging for students by allowing them to address a real world problem via a social network while learning.

There is also a local hunger connection – students have been encouraged to bring canned foods to donate to the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Maine’s largest food bank.

The project also presented a technological challenge for network technicians at the University of Maine System, who are busy finalizing a wireless network that will host more than 1,000 wireless laptops simultaneously in the 1400 seat Hutchins Concert Hall in the Collins Center for the Arts.

A representative of from the World Food Programme will address students via video conference to kick off the event.

There will also be student-led workshops all day, such as:

  • “I came, I saw, iPod!” (Mary C. McCarthy & Students from Middle School of the Kennebunks)
  • News is Now, News is Complex, News is Us, News is Important! (Nicole Poulin & Students from Messalonskee Middle School)
  • Get Your Geek On! Starting a High School Tech Team (Shana Goodall & Students from Orono High School)

This sounds like a great idea to raise funds and awareness of what students are doing with technology! You can participate too – pass it on!


TEDxNYED and me

So back a few months ago, before I devoted my life to airplane seat testing, I got a chance to attend TEDxNYED. TEDx events are independently organized small conferences, typically one day filled with invited speakers who, in TED style, speak for a short time about a common theme. This TEDxNYED was held in New York City and the theme was education. It was a great day filled with inspiring speakers and terrific hallway conversations. I had every good intention of writing my reflections about the day, the speakers, and the theme, but time slipped away and I never did it.

Perhaps this is a good thing, because sometimes reflections need to percolate through the brain for a while. Plus, waiting this long means that the videos are all online for your enjoyment! So don’t take my word for it, enjoy the videos yourself!

First off, the facts –

Now that some time has passed, my reflections are coalescing around a few key points:

  • I am hopelessly attracted to people who DO stuff. Yes, thinking is important and I did enjoy some of the more cerebral speakers. But the one I recall most is Andy Carvin, who spoke about how quickly the Internet has changed response to disasters by crowdsourcing information. His talk, The New Volunteers: Social Media, Disaster Response, and You, was terrific. I think that K-12 students could be playing a huge role in completing local databases and maps that could be essential in a crisis. His video is embedded below.
  • I really enjoyed Dan Cohen’s talk, “The Last Digit of Pi”. It was geeky, historical fun. There is a sort of transcript here. But it did have a point about how hard it is to change ideas in education.
  • A couple of favorites I’d heard before: Chris Lehmann and Dan Meyer. Both did nice jobs, Chris talking about why this is all important and keeping the crowd going very late in the day. Dan did a great job of deconstructing a textbook math problem to remove the layers of “help” that it provides for students, and explaining why that “help” is not helpful in the long run. When students ask their own questions about the world (and there is a teacher there who can provide enough of an answer or just a bit of motivation), they become less dependent and more imaginative, critical thinkers. Be sure to watch their videos!

The diversity issue
I had more than one person whisper to me that it was a real shame how underrepresented women and people of color were as speakers. I KNOW the organizers tried, they told me they did and I believe them. What’s worse is that of the three women speakers, two were disappointing to me. Yes, I’ll be brave and name names. My two least favorite speakers of the day were Gina Bianchini, co-founder and at the time CEO of Ning (she has since left the company) and Neeru Khosla, co-founder and Executive Director of CK-12 Foundation. Gina Bianchini gave a generic speech about using technology to connect optimists, and then made a left turn into education, where it was immediately apparent that she knew nothing about the subject. Her idea of taking the “models” of open source software and agile product development and using it for teacher evaluation was breathtaking in its lack of understanding of any of these subjects. But there she was, simply being “optimistic” about it. Sorry, just not good enough. Neeru Khosla, on the other hand, is a woman with a plan, which she repeated over and over again in a relentless sales pitch. Her non-profit has taken textbooks and put them online for free. So without any thought to whether this is a good idea or not, but lots of buzzwords about digital literacy and 21st century skills, she pitched her website to the group. Digital textbooks are certainly worth talking about, and it would have been interesting to discuss if they have relevance or if it’s simply putting an old content model in new delivery system. But no, that was never touched on. It was simply a blatant sales pitch for a free product. Her session unfortunately stood out like a sore thumb for its commercialism and lack of thoughtfulness.

But… back to the good stuff. Here’s Andy Carvin – TEDxNYED Talk: The New Volunteers: Social Media, Disaster Response And You

I hope the upcoming youth-planned and youth-led TEDxRedmond event this fall is just as thought-provoking!


Constructivist Celebration @ ISTE 2010

New announcement! Here we go again – the 4th annual Constructivist Celebration @ ISTE is open for registration. If you are going to ISTE (formerly known as NECC) this June in Denver, consider coming a day early for this very special event. It sells out every year, so don’t delay!

Constructivist Celebration @ ISTE – Sunday, June 27, 2010 8:30 – 3:30

The Constructivist Celebration is an opportunity for you to let your creativity run free with the world’s best open-ended software tools in a great setting with enthusiastic colleagues who share your commitment to children, computing, creativity and constructivism. You might think of this stimulating event as a spa day for your mind and soul!

Best of all, the Constructivist Celebration @ ISTE is being held within a few minute walk of the Denver Convention Center, home of the ISTE Conference.

Then you will enjoy five hours of creativity on your own laptop using open-ended creativity software provided by consortium members FableVision, Inspiration, LCSI, and Tech4Learning. Participants will also receive a TechYES Student Technology Certification Mini-kit from Generation YES and SchookIT folks will assist with project development.

Creative computer-using educators deserve to eat like an Italian prince. That’s why this year’s Constructivist Celebration includes continental breakfast, mid-morning refreshment, a three-course Italian lunch and afternoon snacks. This is in addition to the free creativity software and Imagine it2 DVD each participant will receive.

At $60 for the whole package, the Constructivist Celebration is an incredibly affordable event!

Sign up today for the Constructivist Celebration @ ISTE 2010.

I’m excited about this event, it’s always a fun, fabulous day with a creative community. Every year it’s different, and every year I learn something new. I can’t wait to see some of you there!


ACEC 2010 Keynote – The 92% Solution

I’m on my way to Australia to keynote the national educational technology conference ACEC 2010. The presentation is called “The 92% Solution” – meaning students who make up 92% of the population at most schools.

The 92% Solution – Sylvia Martinez explores the timeless question of why teachers don’t use technology in the classroom from a new perspective.

Since the introduction of computers into schools, teacher professional development has been designed to teach teachers how to use technology in the classroom. Unfortunately, after 30 years there is little evidence that this effort has been successful. Conventional wisdom suggests that the problem is a lack of professional development. This is an assumption that should be challenged.

The days of “sit and get” technology professional development are over. Learn about what’s next – the 92% solution, a strategy that empowers students, improves teaching, and enriches the learning community.

I’m honored and excited to be taking part in this conference – it seems that there is an international recognition that we cannot advance into the future of education without taking the largest stakeholder group into account. Luckily, communication and collaboration technology is facillitating this — a perfect storm at this perfect moment in time.

See you there – Thursday, 8 April 2010 09:00 – 10:00 in Plenary Hall

I’ll also be doing a session – If Games are the Answer, What’s the Question?