Only a few seats left for Northwest Constructivist Celebration

If you are located in the Seattle area and want to spend a day learning about creativity, constructivism, and technology, be sure to check out The Pacific Northwest Constructivist Celebration.

Pacific Northwest Constructivist Celebration
Saturday May 16, 2009
Puget Sound ESD (Renton, WA – Seattle area)

Participants will enjoy the day’s activities, complimentary creativity software and a hearty lunch all for just $55. This event is a joint effort between the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the Northwest Council for Computer Education (NCCE), and the Constructivist Consortium.

Dr. Dennis Harper, founder of Generation YES will be there too!

Go to for more information and to register. There are only a few seats left so don’t delay!


Successful, sustainable strategies for technology integration and tech support in a tough economy

This weekend I’ll be in San Diego as an invited speaker at the National School Board Association (NSBA) conference. I’m not sure I realized how relevant it would be when I proposed Successful, Sustainable Strategies for Technology Integration and Tech Support in a Tough Economy as my topic last year.

I’ll be focusing on 5 strategies that create strong local communities of practice around the use of technology. All of these strategies include students as part of the solution. They are:

  • Technology literacy for all – Creating an expectation that modern technology will be used for academics, schoolwork, communication, community outreach, and teaching. A key success factor is teaching students how to support their peers as mentors and leaders.
  • Student tech teams – The 21st century version of the old A/V club, this strategy expands the definition of tech support from fixing broken things to also include just-in-time support of teachers as they use new technology. This digital generation is ready, willing and able to help improve education, we just need to show them how.
  • Professional development 24/7 – The old idea that teachers would go off to one workshop or a conference and immediately start using technology has been proven wrong. Truly integrated technology use requires a bigger change than that, and it doesn’t happen overnight. Teachers require more support in their classrooms that they can count on when they need it. Students can help provide teachers with this constancy and supportive community.
  • Students as stakeholders – Whenever schools initiate new technology programs, there is typically a call for all stakeholders to be included. Parents, teachers, staff, board members, and members of the community are invited to participate — but rarely students. Even though students are 92% of the population at the school, and are 100% of the reason for wanting to improve education, their voice goes unheard. Students can bring passion and point-of-view to the planning and implementation of major technology initiatives. They can be allies and agents of change, rather than passive objects to be changed.
  • Students as resource developers – Students can help develop the resources every teacher and student needs to use technology successfully. These resources can be help guides, posters, instructional videos, school websites, or teacher home pages. Students of all types can use their talents to build customized resources for their own school. Artists, actors, and techies can contribute to this process.

Building a self-sufficient community of technology users means that whenever possible, you build home-grown expertise and local problem-solving capability. This is the high-tech equivalent of a victory garden, only with teachers and students all growing their own capabilities with each other’s help.

In this tough economy, no one can afford to ignore the potential students have to help adults solve the problems of technology integration and support. Students are there, they just need adults to teach them how to help, and then allow them to help.

And after all, aren’t these the 21st century skills everyone talks about? Like solving real problems, learning how to learn, collaboration, and communication? How real is the problem of technology integration, and how foolish of us to overlook students as part of the solution, especially when the reciprocal benefits to the students are so great.


PS – For a look at how these strategies can be applied in laptop schools, download my new whitepaper – Student Support of Laptop Programs. (16 page PDF)

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Educational Technology Doesn’t Work?

Education Week: Reading, Math Software Found to Have Little Effect on Scores.

A year ago I wrote about Part 1 of a study on “educational” software – Headlines that won’t help. The preliminary results of the study found that various software test prep packages had little impact on student test scores. Now the second half of the study is out. Guess what. The software still doesn’t work.

All of these software packages promise to improve student scores in reading and math. But as endless research has proven, drilling kids for tests doesn’t result in significant test score improvement, and has negative long-term results in what students actually retain. It doesn’t matter if we drill more efficiently with expensive software. Doing things that don’t work DOESN’T WORK. How much simpler can this be? As I said last year, the headlines SHOULD read, “Bad Educational Practice Proved Ineffective, Again!

All of the studied software test prep programs are far removed from creative software applications that allow students to use modern technology to express themselves in innovative, personal ways.

But to repeat another prediction from a year ago, this will have a chilling effect on creative uses of software. To me, they are as different as zebras and baseballs, but all get lumped together under the banner of educational technology.

Now, every time we talk about kids doing interesting stuff that involves a computer, we’ll get hit with this. Making movies, programming, blogging, collaboration, projects, kids making games, exploring virtual worlds, GIS, Google Earth? What are you thinking, haven’t you heard? Educational Technology Doesn’t Work.

We have to find a better way to differentiate these things.


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What research says about project-based learning

ASCD magazine coverASCD’s always excellent magazine Educational Leadership, hits another home run with this month’s issue (Feb 2008). The overarching theme, Teaching Students to Think is supported by a dozen articles from a wide range of perspectives – teaching, classroom practice, assessment, content areas, and more.

One article of particular interest to tech-loving educators is Jane David’s What Research Says About Project-Based Learning. Educators often find that technology supports project-based learning, and vice versa. So finding research that supports project-based learning and outlines successful practice is one more tool in the toolkit of technology-using educators.

This article is a terrific, easy-to-read introduction to project-based learning and clear, quick summaries of relevant research. Many people believe that project-based learning is “good”, but something akin to magic. Articles like this can dispel some of these myths and help define what project-based learning might look like in real life. Some conclusions:

  • Some studies measure project-based learning impact on student achievement. Not surprisingly, it’s not as simple as test scores. Some studies found simple test score increases across the board or in different populations, but some didn’t. But improvements were seen in more complex assessments – attitudes towards learning, problem-solving, and planning ability. (Do you hear 21st century skills here?)
  • The wide variety of project-based learning experiences make a single research conclusion hard to find. However, this same variety meant that project-based learning is adaptable to many classrooms.
  • Some studies focus on the challenges of project-based learning–outlining the obstacles created by short class periods, mandated curriculum, lack of teacher planning time, and narrow focus on multiple choice tests. There are some terrific nuggets of information here about what commitments a school needs to make to create a serious project-based learning environment. It’s not something you just do every other Tuesday.

David concludes:

These studies suggest that project-based learning, when fully realized, can improve student learning. However, the research also underscores how difficult it is to implement project-based learning well. Together these findings suggest caution in embracing this practice unless the conditions for success are in place, including strong school support, access to well-developed projects, and a collaborative culture for teachers and students.

Yet, teachers can use the key ideas underlying project-based learning in some measure in any classroom. Using real-life problems to motivate students, challenging them to think deeply about meaningful content, and enabling them to work collaboratively are practices that yield benefits for all students.

I’d like to add that students themselves can be part of the solution that makes project-based learning possible in schools. Students can learn to be mentors in their own classrooms, leveraging the teacher’s ability to assist more students and overcome logistical obstacles. Student ownership of the project and encouraging a collaborative environment increases the likelihood of success. By including students in the planning and implementation of project-based learning, you gain student perspective and an opportunity to teach students valuable skills. They learn how to advocate for their ideas, plan, troubleshoot, and work in a group. When technology is involved, students can become experts in the technology too, and help mentor fellow students which further supports the collaborative process.

Our TechYES model of student technology literacy certification is built on this kind of research and practical experience. Student peer mentors can make project-based learning possible in situations where the obstacles might otherwise be too high. We believe that technology literacy and project-based learning are inseparable from 21st century skills. It’s too important to write project-based learning off as a “nice to have.”

Hopefully this article finds its way into administrator inboxes world-wide.