Summer Reading for School Leaders - Tech Learning

Summer Reading for School Leaders

Read exclusive excerpts from the education technology and innovation superstar authors Clayten Christensen and Alan November. Also: Check out T&L blogger extraordinaire Ryan Bretag's suggestions for the beach.
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from Tech&Learning


Excerpted from:
Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns
by Clayton M. Christensen (Author), Curtis W. Johnson (Author), Michael B. Horn (Author) Copyright 2008 The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

What might the classroom of the future look like? Students filter into their room. Chemistry workbenches, complete with such things as test tubes, reagents, pH meters, and a bomb calorimeter greet them. The students conduct experiments in which they measure the effect of changes in the pressure, volume, and temperature of gases. They record their experiments in their lab workbook, and the teacher grades them and returns it to the students.

This might not sound too different from the everyday happenings many of us recall from chemistry class, but there is a big difference. This all takes place in the Virtual ChemLab. The classroom of the future is, in this case, present and accounted for. Begun by a chemistry professor at Brigham Young University, the Virtual ChemLab serves some 150,000 students seated at computer terminals across the country. The professor took 2,500 photographs and 220 videos, and, along with some video-game designers, created a simulated laboratory to allow students to do all the above and more.

While it is not as good, perhaps, as doing the experiments hands-on (some have pointed out that these students could enter college science courses without having used a real Bunsen burner), the virtual lab allows students to try experiments that would be too costly or dangerous to do at their local high schools. What is more, it is infinitely better than many students' alternatives—nothing at all. For resourceconstrained schools in isolated rural areas or impoverished urban ones, this is a big improvement.

And as technology improves over time, who knows how good the virtual re-creation of a lab might become? Maybe one day the students will be able to feel the heat from the Bunsen burner and smell the chemical reaction.

In another classroom, students are learning Mandarin grammar. The students are wearing noise-canceling headphones and working on laptop computers. The teacher is kneeling beside a particular student. The students direct the work of a brick mason on his computer screen by having him assemble a sentence in the same way that he would construct a wall—block by block. There are stacks of blocks with words on them in the background of the screen, each colored for its potential role in the sentence. The student has been directing the mason to pick blocks out of the appropriate stacks to put them in the correct order of a Mandarin sentence. When all the required blocks have been assembled in the proper sequence, the Mandarin word replaces the English on each block and the student joins the brick mason in reading the sentence (which is written phonetically in the Roman alphabet). When the student doesn't get the pronunciation right, the brick mason looks pained. The mason then repeats the correct pronunciation, and when the student gets it right, the brick mason gives a high five. Mandarin is a tonal language, so the blocks then tilt to help the student see and feel the tones.

Another student in the same classroom is learning the same material from the same software program by rote memorization—listening to a native Mandarin speaker and then repeating the sentences, in a mode of learning familiar to her parents' generation. Both students are learning to put together sentences that they'll use in a conversation together in front of the rest of the class—some of whom are using the same learning tools as these two, but many of whom are learning Mandarin in other ways that are tailored to the way they learn.

In contrast to the Virtual ChemLab, this Mandarin classroom is indeed a classroom of the future—we've not seen it yet. But it can emerge, provided the technology is introduced disruptively. Where do teachers fit in this futuristic classroom? One, of course, is the teacher who developed the Virtual ChemLab. Another, in the room with the Mandarin students, was walking from student to student, helping each one, individually, to stay focused and to master the material in a way consistent with each student's way of learning.

As the monolithic system of instruction shifts to a classroom powered by student-centric technology, teachers' roles will gradually shift over time, too. The shift might not be easy, but it will be rewarding. Instead of spending most of their time delivering one-size-fits-all lessons year after year, teachers can spend much more of their time traveling from student to student to help individuals with individual problems. Teachers will act more as learning coaches and tutors to help students find the learning approach that makes the most sense for them. They will mentor and motivate them through the learning with the aid of real-time computer data on how the student is learning. This means, however, that to add value to this coaching, the future will require very different skills than those with which education schools are equipping teachers today.

Since customization will be a major driver and benefit of this shift to student-centric online technology, teachers will increasingly have to be able to understand differences between students, and to be able to provide individual assistance that is complementary to the learning model each student is using.

There is another potential benefit for teachers. Because student-centric technology allows for far more personalized attention from a teacher, we can do something counterintuitive in education—increase the number of students per live teacher. Facilitating this disruption of instruction has the potential to break the expensive trade-offs in which school districts have been trapped so that individual teachers can do a better job and give individual attention to more students. As a result, there will potentially be better pay for teachers.


Excerpted from:
Web Literacy for Educators
By Alan November
Copyright © 2008 by Corwin Press

While the words blog, wiki, and podcast are used to describe the enabling technologies, the real focus should be connecting students to an authentic audience and challenging them to create work that can have an impact around the world. Of course, to a student the word blog means free Web site and a potential connection to friends and the power of expression. Alternatively, in many schools, the word blog represents something that is automatically blocked via the Internet filter.

Of course, no one can argue that there is very questionable content on free blogging sites such as MySpace and Facebook, where students may expand their voices around the world. A small number of students have produced totally inappropriate and even vicious content. Blocking blogs in school is a natural first response against the potential deep harm this medium can create. However, now that blogging has gone mainstream (e.g., in presidential politics, corporate communications, higher education), it is time to revisit the upside of preparing students to understand the ethics and social responsibility that comes with all of this global power.

If we can all agree that students do not need our permission to have a blog when they leave the school house, then let's focus on the teachable moment. Our students need us to provide the excellent role models and the thoughtful ethics this medium demands. Blogs are not going away. Indeed, essentially all of the major 2008 U.S. presidential candidates used blogs to connect with the next generation of voters. If we do not teach our students how this powerful media works, the worst case may not be student abuse. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, the real danger is that a majority of our students will lack the critical-thinking skills necessary to separate the message from the medium.

Students are currently participating in what is probably the most powerful opportunity the Internet can provide—the ability to communicate within a global forum, build knowledge content as a community, and publish writing to an authentic audience. Think about how motivating it would be as a middle school student to have feedback on your writing from the real-life author of a book you are reading in class. Not all bloggers are going to have the opportunity to meet with nationally acclaimed authors, but the ability to communicate with anyone around the world—experts in your community or peer-editors in Japan—is entirely possible.

Blogging represents one of many tools that pioneering teachers are using to empower students to take more responsibility for managing their own work and adding value to the world. Thousands of teachers are using blogs as educational tools: they are relatively easy to create, you can create content in minutes, you can publish to a large audience or a targeted community, and you can invite almost anyone into a conversation. Even so, there are also some fierce critics who believe blogging has no true value in the classroom. Each has an important voice. Here are some of the common concerns I've heard from other teachers about blogging:

  • Blogs give too much freedom for students to express themselves.
  • Teachers will never be able to control comments.
  • Students and parents will have too much access to other students' published work.
  • Students will feel too much pressure to improve as they see the work and comments of others.


Unlike word processing, using a smart board, or having students present a PowerPoint presentation to classmates behind closed doors, blogging shifts the concept of the control of information. Perceptions of time, space, and relationships are expanded. The audience moves from teacher and class to the world. Teachers are no longer the sole or even the primary arbitrator of student work. It is even possible that teachers do not have to work as hard to motivate traditionally failing students or to set much higher expectations for excelling students. Parents can now have access to the writing of an entire class, compared to only what their own child brings home written in their hand.

Enter "pre cal" into Google and in one of the top spots you will find This is the class blog of Winnipeg math teacher and department head, Darren Kuropatwa. Darren is another pioneer who has engaged his students in producing a student guide to precalculus and calculus. Each day a different student is the official scribe of the class and is responsible for producing notes for publication of that day's discussion. Students are challenged to produce accurate notes with accompanying illustrations and examples by their classmates. At the end of this year, his classes will have produced a Student's Guide to Understanding Calculus. Before blogging we would expect hardworking students to be able to read the calculus textbook. Darren expects his students to write the "book"—i.e., blog. Darren's students are published around the world in real time. In fact, a recent check using the link: command in AltaVista shows hundreds of Web sites linked to the class site, including conferences and commentaries by leading educationalists and other math teachers. (Go to AltaVista and type: link: to generate today's list.)

Darren knows the power of students who understand that their work is being referenced by organizations around the world. His students are contributors to the world's "knowledge commons." Not only does he teach calculus, he teaches students that one of the responsibilities of global citizenship is publishing knowledge products to add value to the world.

As with all technologies, there can be serious abuses. We must balance the few amazing stories of blogging with what can go very wrong. We have all heard the horror stories of what can happen when students pick up a free blog from Blogger, Facebook, MySpace, and many other free sites. Death threats to fellow classmates and inappropriate pictures by young teen girls who are looking for dates are horrible examples of blog abuse.

The Pew Charitable Trust, a leading Internet in Society research organization, reports that a fifth of students in the United States already have their own blogs, and this number is growing. As with email, instant messenger, and text messaging, the question is not about whether students will be blogging. Eventually, the majority of students probably will have a blog.

The real issue is: what is the professional response to blogging? Because of abuse on the public sites that are not controlled by teachers, some schools are blocking all access to any blogging sites. The blame is on the technology and there is no opportunity for pioneering teachers to provide adult role models. (As a point of information, with the right software, all comments to a class blog can be moderated by the teacher for complete judicial control.)

Using the medium to teach responsibility is a direction recommended by Anne Davis ( from Georgia State. Anne works in the College of Education in the Instructional Technology Center. She writes that even when talking to second graders about blogging and about how to leave a comment, "I talked briefly about being ambassadors, of their class, their school, their state, country, and yes even the world. I spent time on the importance of learning how to use a tool well and being a good representative of responsible use of that tool. I'm planting blogging seeds so that when they are teenagers and want to 'write all,' maybe, just maybe, they'll ponder the possible results" (Davis, 2006).

We will need courageous leaders willing to explore the strengths and weaknesses of this medium. Our students will live in a world where they have access to increasingly more powerful communications tools. Who should teach them how to manage the power of these tools?

The amount of personal information many students post on their personal blogs is staggering. In many ways it's important for teachers to consider the use of blogs in the classroom if only to model appropriate behavior of this powerful communication tool and provide students with guidance and precaution about keeping themselves safe.

Keeping children safe on the Web is obviously a very serious issue. If you plan on creating a blog for classroom use, here are guidelines you should consider.

  • Choose a blogging service that offers moderating features. To protect the integrity of your blog and ensure it garners no inappropriate comments, you will want to be able to read comments first before they are published.
  • Instead of using student names, consider having students use pseudonyms or class numbers.
  • When posting student writing, be careful about publishing materials that include personal information that will identify students to the outside world.
  • If you have younger students (13 and younger) and wish to blog, you must be familiar with the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA; Federal Trade Commission, 1998). See
  • Cyber bullying is a real threat. Do not expect students to create their own blogs for classroom use unless you have precautions in place to carefully monitor their content and the comments they receive. In other words, please do not set your students up to be targeted in any way, shape, or form.
  • Check to see if your school requires a parental consent form before beginning.


What T&L blogger extraordinare Ryan Bretag suggests for this summer

I admit it. I've fallen into the trap of reading the business-minded books that seem to be quite the rage amongst many educators in the blogosphere. I've read the one talking about being flat and left-or-right-handed/brained/footed/something, a couple with –'–nomics' tied in nicely, and quite a lot about swells, networks, connections, ones, 2.0s, and everything else that makes me think of buzzword bingo (and yes, someone could easily play that game at my expense).

While all of these offered something and were worth the read, most seemed to be... well, the ideas in them lacked that lasting impact. Yes, there was initial excitement—those head-nodding moments of "Yes! Someone understands what I've been thinking." Then, it slowly faded to "it was a good read" though I couldn't really recall anything specific that was good about it, other than a few pearls or quotable moments.

However, included in this stack of non-education-specific books are some great educational pieces that challenge, expand, and potentially shift (A1), which makes these great additions to an educator's summer reading list.

Bretag's actual stack of books as seen on Flickr.

Nine Shifts: Work, Life, and Education in the 21st Century by William Draves and Julie Coates

Results Now by Mike Schmoker

Turnaround Leadership by Michael Fullan

The Children's Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer by Seymour Papert

On Common Ground by Rick Dufor

Building Engaged Schools by Gary Gordon

Dumbing Us Down by John Gatto

Learning by Heart by Roland Barth

What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee

Summer Learning List

It doesn't always have to be about the tech. I'm plotting my new summer learning list with a mindset on expanding and deepening my thinking. Here is my starting point that I will surely add to based upon recommendations:

Cultivating Communities of Practice by Etienne Wenger, Richard McDermott, and William M. Snyder

And What Do You Mean by Learning? by Seymour B. Sarason

Reframing Teacher Leadership to Improve Your School by Douglas Reeves

In Schools We Trust: Creating Communities of Learning in an Era of Testing and Standardization by Deborah Meier

Learning Places: A Field Guide for Improving the Context of Schooling By Michael Fullan

Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching, 2nd Edition by Charlotte Danielson



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