Sunday, November 25, 2007

Why I am Glad Medicine is Not Like Education

I have been battling kidney stones ever since Thanksgiving and they don't want to leave. However, there is something I am thankful for after two trips to the emergency room, one trip to the doctor, untold gallons of water consumed, and lots of pain medication. I am thankful the medical profession does not treat technology like education sometimes does. If it did I might be dead!

When I was in college I worked as a patient transporter in a hospital's radiology department which allowed me to observe various exams and equipment. Back in those days, doctors ordered an Intravenous Pyelogram (IVP) for patients complaining of kidney stones. This exam involved injecting a contrast dye of iodine into the patient that would eventually pass into the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. Wherever the dye stopped, that is where the stone usually was. A series of x-rays were taken over time to track the flow of dye through the body. There are some risks with this procedure. The biggest was the contrast dye could cause serious, even fatal reactions to those who were allergic to iodine. Another negative is the exposure to radiation in the groin area with the series of x-rays requried for the exam. While this exposure was usually not threating, you always want to reduce exposure to any radition. I had this procedure done the first time I had kidney stones over 8 years ago.

This time doctors ordered a Computer Tomography (CT or CAT) Scan. This non-invasive procedure can render a 3-dimensional picture of the targeted area of the body, which in my case showed exactly where the stone was and exactly how large it is. Due to non-invasive nature of the procedure, no potentially harmful chemicals are put into the body. Also, CT-Scan technology has improved so much better that better images can be taken with less exposure with x-ray radiation. Training using CT-Scan equipment must have gotten more widespread over the years. When I worked in Radiology, the department only had about 4 specially trained technologists who operated the equipment. For a CT-Scan to be done in the early hours of a holiday or the evening of a weekend, it required calling in a technologists for life or death situations. More routine procedures would have to wait for normal business hours. This time with my kidney stones I was given CT-Scans at 4:00 AM on Thanksgiving and 8:00 PM on a Saturday with a technologists already on site.

Obviously I lived through one IVP but I would never recommend it. Fortunately there is something better. This is because the medical profession is striving to produce better procedures which save more lives, provide more comfort to the patient, and hopefully lower the costs for healthcare. Imagine where education might be if it was as willing to adopt new technology like healthcare.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Busy Short Week

It was a very short but packed week. Monday, I had the pleasure of working with a education professor from the University of Nevada - Las Vegas about video podcasts. We also talked about some other technology challenges for teachers. Tuesday, I did a Tech Tuesday on creating movies with Microsoft Windows Movie Maker. Everyone who participated had a great time. Finally, a group of science teachers wanted their students to explore websites on sound and light. Despite claims to the contrary, a test of the sites was done and they worked. What did not work was the URL to a website that led to the other sites. I had recommended the teachers put together a wiki linking the sites, providing student instructions when they got to the sites, and assessment questions. This fell on deaf ears. Fortunately, myself and tech savvy teacher got together to create a wiki with the desired links. It worked perfectly and now these science teachers are believers.

Sorry I look like I am yawning. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Too Much Information or Not Enough

An ARS Technica article tells about a Ohio Education Association (OEA) memo recommending teachers to not participate in social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. The reason given is to keep any possible inappropriate postings from being used against teachers by administration or parents which could jeopardize careers. Another reason given by the OEA is to make sure there is no question if students post fake sites in an attempt to embarrass teachers. A third reason is students using these sites to contact teachers could be considered inappropriate contact even if the site is considered professional.

While it is commendable for the OEA to take these steps to protect is members which is one of the purposes of the organization, this position is too drastic. What the OEA should do is sponsor workshops and in services to educate teachers about social networking and how they work. These workshops could include information on appropriate use, how to spot fake sites and what to do when one is found, and how they can be used for professional development and networking. Social networking sites are being used by professionals to network and share information with other professionals more and more. For teachers to not make use of these professional opportunities is short sighted.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Education: A Matter of National Security

According to a CNET article, former Democratic Senator Bill Bradley claimed national security is "going to be won the classrooms" and "A train wreck is going to happen unless we wake up in this country. " Bradley was speaking to a group of technology elites about education's inability to produce enough skilled workers. To change the situation, the former New Jersey Senator called for national standards, doubling teacher's salaries, and pay schemes based on student achievement. Bradley further went on to say it is time for the federal government to enforce national education standards because of the to produce the qualified workers needed for the future of our country. Anticipating critics who would cry local control of schools would be taken away he responds, "Well, sorry. This is a national issue."

This is not the first time education was considered a matter of national security. The National Defense Education Act of 1958, a response to the launching of Sputnik by the Soviet Union, provided the first federal funds for education. The purpose of the act was to increase math, science, and modern language abilities in students to counter a perceived education gap with the Soviets that threatened national security. In Senator Bradley's claim education is a matter of national security has validity. The ability of today's students to learn how to learn, problem solve, and work collaboratively is important. Considering the current war against a loosely organized terrorist group transcending the borders of sovereign nations, the argument that the future of our national security is in the classrooms has merit. The military is constantly reviewing its strategy and tactics and developing new ones to achieve its objectives with the constraints set by civilian authorities.

One of the biggest problems with the No Child Left Behind law is the fact that while every student is supposed to show they are learning according to standards, each state develops those standards and definitions of success. This inconsistency further hinders the ability to produce highly skilled and adaptable workers needed to meet the challenges of the future. National standards can be achieved with continued local control of schools. Adopting national standards could free school boards and district administrations to concentrate more on providing tools, training, and support for teachers to meet those standards.

While no teacher or administrator will ever claim to be overpaid, care must be taken when implementing pay scales based on achievement. There is an old story from the Soviet Union about a nail factory. The manager of the plant, whose position and salary was based on performance, was given a goal to produce one million nails in a year. The nails that were produced were too small and weak to be of any use for construction purposes and the industry suffered. However, the manager met his targeted goal. The next year, the central planners set the plant goal to produce one million pounds of nails during the year thinking the manager would correct the situation. The manager achieved his goal but the nails produced where like heavy spikes and proved to be too big for construction purposes. The industry still suffered and the housing shortage continued. If teachers are told their pay is based strictly on academic achievement based on test scores, then students will be highly skilled in taking tests but those skills will not help students in the real world. While their pay may be based on achievement, teachers must be assured they will have creative freedom to make learning more meaningful for their students without fear of economic loss.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Teacher Bytes November 13, 2007

Here are some random thoughts about using camcorders in the classrooms.

Learn Vocabulary, Feed the Hungary

An English Language Arts teacher came into the lab with her class today to finish unp an assignment. She directed those students who were finished to go to a website called She explained the purpose of this website is for students to learn vocabulary. However, this site has an interesting twist. presents you with a vocabulary word and four choices, all you have to do is select the answer you believe is correct. For each correct answer you give, the site's sponsors will donate 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. The site is adaptive, as the user gets more answers correct, the words get harder. If you get an answer wrong, the words get easier. For those who are competitive, there are levels 1-50 with 50 being the highest. There is also a little bowl that tracks how much rice you have earned. This site can be used in all classes as part of the curriculum or a reward for good work. I must give this warning: this site is very addictive.

Please share how you would use in your classes.

Monday, November 12, 2007

No Child Left Behind Left Behind

Click on the following links to view the rest of Senator McCain's speech: Part 2, Part 3

In a November 2, 2007 article about the No Child Left Behind law, US News and World Report writer Eddy Ramirez wrote the law was "expected to be one of the most contentious debates of the political year...But as the calendar ticks into November, little has been heard since early summer...." I went to a meet and greet for Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain in Hilton Head Island recently. Here are the topics Senator McCain covered during his half hour stop: the war in Iraq (we are winning but the Democrats want to surrender), illegal immigration (backed off the amnesty program because we need to secure the borders first), Social Security (lady had a good idea and he would study it), beating Hillary Clinton (I guess she won the Democratic nomination but she is a liberal who voted to cut funds from the troops in Iraq), Iran is evil (Iranians are transporting powerful bombs that kill American soldiers), cutting back on pork barrel spending (drunken sailors don't like to be compared to Congress), health care (our system is the best in the world and government would mess it up, just look at Canada), and claimed to be the only conservative Republican running who has experience in national security affairs (invoked Ronald Reagan's City on a Hill). Other topics included not letting soldiers die in vain, close the Guantanamo prison for Enemy Combatants and send the occupants to Fort Leavenworth, forbid the use of torture because it is immoral and it could be used on American soldiers in future wars (McCain should know).

The one topic that was not covered was education, No Child Left behind in particular. In the Republican debate in Orlando, Florida (October 21, 2007), only Fred Thompson was asked if No Child Left Behind was it a mistake? Rudy Giuliani danced around the issue before finally saying parents should enforce the standards. No other candidates were even challenged. It is mid-November and No Child Left behind is supposed to be reauthorized before the end of the year. While our country faces serious challenges the the next president must face, education must be one of these challenges. Our economy is changing from an industrial to an information based economy. The War on Terror is a new type of war that will require new tactics and weapons that have probably never been thought of before 9/11. Attention to education will be very important if the United States is to continue leading the world.

Please let me know what you feel Presidential candidates should do about No Child Left Behind or education in general.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Teaching Media Literacy

Wikipedia defines media literacy as "the process of accessing, analyzing, evaluating and creating messages in a wide variety of media modes, genres and forms." Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather calls for more education in media literacy. Andy Carvin of Learning.Now recently engaged in a conversation on his blog with students about how media literacy should be taught in schools. According to students who participated in the discussion there is agreement on the importance of consuming and producing media responsibly. How to teach responsible media literacy is different story. There seems to be three diverse groups. One group believes there should be separate courses on media literacy. Another group believes media literacy should be incorporated into courses on technology. A third group thinks media literacy should be incorporated into existing academic courses such as English or Social Studies. Other debates focused on when it should be taught. Considering students start creating original media content are marketed to at an early age, and politicians such as Howard Dean and Ron Paul signal a changes in the rules of politics by effectively using the Internet, media literacy should start in elementary schools and become standard in all curriculum at all levels.

When do you think media literacy should be taught and how?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Movies to Flip Out Over! Teacher Bytes Episode 16

I never really could get into video blogging, vlogging, video podcasting, vodcasting, or whatever you called. The reasons included carrying relatively big camcorders, trying to connect them to a computer, or fooling with web cams that made me look like I was in a 1970's Kung Fu movie. Pure Digital Technology has created a simple video camcorder called The Flip which gives you all of the tools needed to create great videos in one small inexpensive package. With the Flip Video Camera you may be seeing more of my mug than you wish.

The model I recommend is the Ultra with 60 minutes of recording time. This digital camera is fairly well designed. The dimensions of this camera are 4.17" x 2.16" x 1.25" which allows you to carry it in your pocket and carry it anywhere. Whenever you want to record something just turn the camcorder on, point and shoot with one button. There is a 2x digital zoom to get a little closer to the action but not much. It has 2 gigabyte memory which allows for 60 minutes of recording so you don't have to worry about buying and carrying tapes or memory cards. The power source is is two AA batteries which is surprising since most electronic devices have rechargeable batteries these days. Yet, this could be a blessing in disguise since you could purchase rechargeable AA batteries but still purchase alkaline batteries if a back up power source is needed. The viewfinder is a 1.5 inch transflective TFT which should work in bright daylight. Video output can be done in two ways: a TV out jack which you can connect with televisions through RCA jacks or to a computer via a USB jack that pops out the side. Finally, the Flip Ultra has a tripod mount while the Flip does not.

The Flip has a good selection of simple video editing and sharing software built in. There are three different ways to save videos. You can save to a folder the built-in software can put into your computer, save on the camcorder to take to a retail store and burn a DVD, or save for e-mailing. There are some basic editing tools which can trim video on either end and you can create a movie. provides a limited version of its software which can allow you to create a movie in different styles with background music the software selects or you can upload (make sure its legal). You could create voice overs in Audacity, Garage Band, or other audio creation software and import them into your movie creation. Too bad Pure Digital or did not include title and end credit slides in the Flip which could make creations look much better but you can do that in iMovie or Windows Movie Maker. The Flip really shines with its online share capabilities. Finished videos can be uploaded to either AOL Video or YouTube with the push of a button. For more artistic creation you can create video greeting cards online and e-mail links to the site.

For teachers who are looking for a cheap (around $149 for the Flip Ultra) and easy way to integrate video projects into their classes they will be doing back flips over the Flip Camcorder.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Teacher Bytes Episode 15

This is the first attempt at video blogging. The Flip Video camcorder was used to create this posting. I have also used this camcorder to record some video around school with success. I will post more about the Flip in a later blog post. I also discuss how video did liven a class up I was working with today.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Let's invite the Huns

Since I got back from the South Carolina EdTech Conference, things have been hectic around here but I wanted to share some things I got from the conference. It seemed for me and some others I spoke with, this conference could be a transition conference. What I mean is that we have been hearing Web 2.0 hype for awhile. While Web 2.0 is important for the future of education I feel there is something bigger building up and coming down the pike soon. My guess is distance learning will be the coming thing because it will bring together all of the Web 2.0 tools and can link students to teachers who can help them.

The other thing I took away is it may be time to bring students into the conversation on how best to educate them. For the second year in a row, we heard experts talk about how today's students are different because they are "Digital Natives" and have a different way of doing things. Districts across the country are spending millions or maybe billions of dollars, hiring and firing consultants, hiring and firing school administrators, to make Federal Government mandates. Yet, I have never heard of any true discussions about education which involves students. There was one brave young man who entered the Fireside Chat during the K12 Online Conference who provided thoughtful contributions to the conversation that night. Perhaps we need to hear more from young people like him. Perhaps it can give some fresh perspective on what needs to be done.

All in all, it was a good conference and I am looking forward to next year.