Friday, June 26, 2009

A Twenty First Century Curriculum Unit

I can't help but thinking about the core curriculum units that we'll be marketing at NECC this upcoming week. The units use Google Earth to promote social studies and English/language arts learning. We will be marketing five products:
  • Considering the Realities of the Holocaust
  • Gatsby of the Twenties
  • Okies Head West
  • Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Colonial Economic Regions
Unlike so many of the exhibits at NECC, we make no claims that our units are "cutting edge," particularly not amongst the other kinds of resources that will be available at the NECC exhibit hall. You won't see any new technology at our exhibit booth. But, you'll see something far more important. You'll see an exhibit of resources that will promote the highest quality learning in core subject areas.

Just about every teacher, and every student, has at least heard of Google Earth. Most think of it as a fun toy to zoom in on their house and see what it looks like. Some are a little afraid of it thinking that it might violate some of their privacy. We use Google Earth to promote the highest quality learning. We demonstrate that popular and free technology can engage students in learning about important ideas. We use Google Earth to harness existing web resources, including awesome videos and stimulating pictures, in such a way that students can use them to advance the development of content knowledge and skills.

Our products do not frown upon the learning resources of the Twentieth Century. Instead, we incorporate them into Twenty First Century learning. In order to learn with our units, students will still have to use pens and pencils to respond to prompts. They'll still have to keep paper. But, that's good because most teachers still use pens and pencils. Most core subject area teachers still expect students to write. Of course we don't ask students to write for the purpose of writing. Rather we ask them to write to facilitate higher level thinking. Ultimately, students take their written work and develop multi-media presentations. They transform Twentieth Century learning into learning for the Twenty First Century.

I've always said that the best teachers are the best copy-cats. They know how to use other people's resources and ideas to promote the highest quality learning. I've also insisted that good copy cats can't simply replicate somebody else's work. They have to tweak it to fit their own situation. After all, within the context of education every context is different. Our curriculum resources incorporate the best of others. We've also developed the resources in such a way that teachers should feel fully comfortable adapting then as they see fit.

Stop by Booth 3744 at NECC. If you are not at NECC contact me so that I can send you demos.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Staying in Touch?

A Washington Post blog is running an entry entitled, "Where in the World is Mark Sanford?" The entry states, "South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has not been seen or heard from since last Thursday, according to the State newspaper, although those closest to him remain unconcerned." His staff reports that occasionally the governor does like to go without communication.

In today's culture of 24/7 connectivity, what does it mean for an individual to go three or four days without communicating with others? Perhaps an unusual behavior, is it a negative characteristic? If it's a positive characteristic, why so?

I've heard of several outward bounds programs that require participants to spend a complete day on their own in the wilderness without provisions. What's the point?

Perhaps the point is to come in touch with the most important voice in the whole world - one's own voice?

Sometimes it's simply nice to stay in touch with.....Yourself!!

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Student Perspective: School's Future?

Pundits and policymakers often discuss the future of school. What will classroom teaching and learning look like in five years? ten years? one hundred years? But, I have not heard of many people asking their students to consider what teaching and learning will look like in the future.

You might consider asking students to write papers in which they consider the ways in which Twenty First Century technology will shape the future development of education systems. Just consider the ways in which this one question could open up student minds:
1. How often do they consider the differences between Twentieth Century technology and Twenty First Century technology?
2. Students use technology, but how often do they stop and think about the meaning of technology?
3. Have students ever considered the nature of the educational system, or for that matter, the meaning of the word "system"?
4. Challenge students to consider the difference between teaching and learning.

Just some questions to consider on a slow Friday afternoon.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Uprising in Iran

Challenge students to open this Google Earth layer that contains numerous markers and annotations associated with the uprising in Iran. Challenge them to complete the following activities as they peruse the site:

1. Select three annotations from the site and explain them in further detail.
2. Add one or more of their own annotations to the site, explaining more recent developments in the uprising
3. Identify one or more pictures available online related to the uprising and incorporate them into the Google Earth layer

Please note that in order to use this Google Earth file, Google Earth will have to be downloaded onto your computer. If you don't already have it, you can download it from

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bringing Novels to Life

Reuters has published an article entitled, "Twitter Goes Literary With Ulysses Performance." The article states, "Bogost and McCarthy (two literary enthusiasts) registered 54 of the novel's characters as Twitter users and adapted the chapter in a large series of 140-character or less first-person statements, using a specially created software to automate a performance." They specifically worked with Chapter 10, Wandering Rock.

What a wonderful idea!!

Literature teachers could ask students to recreate literary scenes using Twitter. To create a private Twitter network, students could simply develop private hash-tags. Teachers could choose how closely they wanted students to follow the prose of the text. Personally, I'd prefer to challenge students to simply use the text as a starting point and then creatively expand upon it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Have you heard of the Layar? Its website calls it "The World's First Mobile Augmented Reality Browser." Basically, a picture of your surroundings appears on the screen, but in addition you can find out information about the stores/restaurants that you can see and even those that are nearby but not within sight. Perhaps you want to know what houses are for sale and how much they cost? Perhaps you want to look at a menu without going into a restaurant? While this will be available for Google's Android before it is available for other mobile devices, it seems like a very worthwhile tool.

So, what is the lesson implication?

Teachers could ask students to develop layers, probably for Google Earth and not for the Layar, revealing information about important buildings within the students own community, or a community under study. I can quickly think of the following benefits from having students do this kind of an activity?
  1. Students practice their writing (if the class collaborates with another class in a different part of the world there's an authentic audience)
  2. Students practice their research skills (They'd need to learn about a building befor they could add information about it to the Google Earth layer. For some students, simply asking a restauranteer to see a menu so that they could write about it is a worthwhile objective.)
Surely, many communities already have Google Earth layers. But, a student centric layer would provide information from a different perspective.

How long do you think it will be before students can develop these kinds of layers for a "Layar" application?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Elections in Iran

The New York Times is running an article entitled, "Top Cleric Calls for Inquiry as Protesters Defy Ban in Iran." The article begins, "Hundreds of thousands of people marched through central Tehran on Monday to protest Iran’s disputed presidential election in an extraordinary show of defiance that appeared to be the largest antigovernment demonstration here since the 1979 revolution."

Consider asking students to:
1. Search Twitter for information about the crisis in Iran and report back something interesting to the entire class. (Challenge students to demonstrate that the information that they report is accurate.)
2. Create a Google Earth Layer devoted to the crisis in Iran. Students could mark sites where important events are occurring.
3. Try and find somebody in Iran with whom the class could have an exchange. Twitter and Skype will help accomplish this objective.