Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Provision threatens Internet access in schools

June 14, 2011

At a time when Internet access is becoming so important in our lives and the future lives of our students, the Republicans who control the Wisconsin State Legislature have advanced a measure that threatens Internet access for public schools and other institutions.

According to State Superintendent Tony Evers, three-quarters of our public schools get Internet access through WiscNet – a not-for-profit network service under the auspices of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A provision inserted into the state budget by the Joint Finance Committee will likely make it impossible for WiscNet to continue offering Internet access, driving up the cost to school districts if they are forced to use other Internet providers. The provision will also cost the state millions in federal funding.

Evers says this provision will impact Wisconsin’s public libraries, public and private schools, the university system, and technical colleges.

“We all know the critical importance of having access to high-speed, affordable Internet access to educating our children and providing online information resources to the public via our libraries,” Evers said. “We need to make absolutely certain that our schools and libraries have such access, especially in rural areas.”

If you live in Wisconsin, please email your legislators by going to and tell them how important education is to our state and how critical it is to maintain affordable Internet access in our schools and libraries.


Protesters pitch a Tent City in Madison

June 3, 2011

Citizens from throughout Wisconsin are returning to the State Capitol beginning this weekend, but with a different approach from the mass rallies of February and March.

This time they are setting up Walkerville – a ‘city’ of tents around the Capitol Square calling attention to the devastating state budget cuts to education, health care and other programs benefiting Wisconsin’s working families. This Tent City will stay up possibly for weeks as the Legislature debates the Republicans’ Draconian state budget, with its massive impacts on children, parents, the elderly, disabled, union workers and much more.

Walkerville information is available on several websites, and updates will be posted regularly through social media. Here are a few of the websites that have information about Walkerville:

You can follow updates on these social media sites:

If you know of other good sources of information about the Walkerville Tent City, please add them in the comment section below.

It’s a 5 o’clock world

December 22, 2010

In the 1960s, the Vogues released “It’s a 5 o’clock World,” a catchy tune that became a big hit. “It’s a 5 o’clock world,” they sing, “when the whistle blows, no one owns a piece of my time.”

The song conjures up images of the 9 to 5 factory worker anxious to reach the end of the day so he can go home to “the long-haired girl who waits, I know, to ease my troubled mind.”

A reflection of its time, right? Well, maybe not so much. Despite huge changes in our society and advanced technology it is still a 5 o’clock world for many of us. You only have to venture out at rush hour to realize people are still living in the 9-5 workday world, all fighting each other to get to work at roughly the same prescribed time and fighting each other to get back home at roughly the same prescribed time.

Yes, some jobs simply require you to be in a certain place at a certain time. If your job is to check people out at the grocery story, attach a door to a car on an assembly line or see patients at the clinic, you pretty much have to be there to get your job done.

But for many 21st century jobs, a dramatic shift is taking place, and technology is driving it. I know many people – myself included – who spend at least part of the day – or a day here a day there – working from home or doing work at the coffee shop or even while on vacation. And, of course, there is no 5 o’clock whistle that protects us from working evenings and weekends. The trade off for this less rigid schedule is that in some ways someone “owns a piece of our time” all hours of the day. But for most of us, that is a fair tradeoff.

More and more jobs are moving away from the clocking-in, clocking-out routine, and schools are beginning to get into the act too.

No more snow days?

At the recent SLATE conference in Wisconsin Dells, Discovery Education’s Hall Davidson raised these very questions: Do student have to be in the school building from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day? Do teachers always have to be in the classroom?

As schools make increasing use of online education resources, students and teachers – just like people in the workforce – can get more of their work done remotely. There are of course virtual schools, but I am talking more about the hybrids – schools that combine face-to-face instruction with online learning. Maybe one day in the classroom and – for students – one day at home completing projects online, with online access to their teachers, who likewise might be at home. Maybe a student would have three classes at school in the morning and two at home in the afternoon.

A snowstorm forecast for the next day? Have the students connect to their teacher from home, Davidson says. Yes, that’s right, no more snow days! And if done right, schools could save a lot of money on transportation. Child care and technology access are issues that would have to be addressed, but there are many ways to work these amended schedules out, and many schools are experimenting with them.

Yes, the school schedule of the 21st century is still pretty much like it was in the 20th century, but ever so slowly change is taking place. In schools, as in the workplace, the clock is ticking on our 5 o’clock world.

ClassTech: Spanish teacher uses technology to make her lessons ‘muy interesante’

November 23, 2010

You might think that someone who has taught for 38 years would know everything they need to know about teaching their subject. But Pardeeville High School Spanish teacher Kathy Casey says she never stops learning new and exciting ways to teach.

Kathy’s students don’t just work out of a book, they experience Spanish in multiple ways, including through innovative online learning tools with strange names like Yodio and ToonDoo. They interact online with people in Spain, and they share their work through wikis.

Kathy has devoted a lot of her time to learning these new technologies and putting them to work for her students.

She shared some of what she does with me and WEAC Assistant Editor Matthew Call during a recent visit to her computer lab classroom. Embedded below is our first edition of ClassTech, where we examine how educators are using technology to Move Education Forward in Wisconsin public schools.

Will the new Groups feature revolutionize how we use Facebook?

October 12, 2010

Facebook just did something I had been hoping for years that they would do, and I think it’s going to revolutionize the way we use this incredible tool. They call it Groups, and it allows you to easily share status updates with social circles of selected people. (Yes, it has the same name as an old Facebook feature called Groups, but it differs markedly.)

What does that mean? Well, suppose you just took some awesome pictures of your baby (or grandchild) taking his/her first steps. Of course you want to share it on Facebook, right? But do you really want to share those pictures with that crabby guy in Topeka you met two years ago at a business conference? And does he really want to see them? Probably not. So now you can create a Friend Group of people you know (or at least think) would be interested in those really cute pictures. And stop bothering the crabby guy with your personal status updates.

You can create a Group for your work friends, your immediate family, your extended family, your old high school friends, or even people you “friended” (even though you don’t really like them) just because you didn’t have the nerve to ignore their request. Then, every time you post a new status update, simply select which group or groups you think are worthy to see it. How cool is that?

Facebook says it’s not eliminating Friend Lists, which provided a more complicated way to do pretty much the same thing, but they may as well. Unlike Friend Lists, I predict usage of Groups will become commonplace because it is logical and because the incorporation of dropdown lists to easily select groups associated with certain tasks (such as status updates) will make it more visible and accessible. With Facebook Groups, you can also have chats and send emails just to people in a group you created.

In addition, Facebook Groups help alleviate at least some of the privacy concerns people have about using Facebook. If, for example, you have 800 friends (which, by the way, you really shouldn’t because you can’t possibly know who all those people are), and you tell them all that you are going out with a close friend to The Social Network at a local theater, you never know whether one of them might take advantage of that information for nefarious reasons (such as breaking into your apartment). But you may want to tell five of your close movie-loving friends who you know you can trust. Now you can.

I have already been experimenting with the new Groups feature, and it’s working very well for me. I created a group for my immediate family, so we can share status updates on everything from family vacation pictures to my daughter’s latest activities at college. Of course, the college activities she shares with me may be very different than the ones she shares with her friends, but believe me I am OK with that. And, with Groups, my children won’t have to see the work-related “junk” (as they see it) I might post. I can limit that “junk” to an entirely different group of people.

So have you tried the new Facebook Groups yet? What do you think?

Adding a kick to YouTube

March 12, 2010

Have you ever wanted to download a YouTube video? Of course you have. Who hasn’t? But, when you tried, you probably discovered it’s just not as easy as you thought it would be.

Although you can usually count on the brainiacs at Google (which owns YouTube) to turn such a task into a breeze, in this case they simply don’t, or won’t. (I imagine they have their reasons, although it seems hypocritical to me that the world’s biggest advocates of online sharing of information – and the world’s biggest privacy disregarders – have concerns about protecting – of all things – YouTube videos.) Yes, there are several third-party tools to help you get-r-done, but I have yet to find one that as convenient and straightforward as KickYouTube.

No software to download, no URL to remember or bookmark, no pop-up ads, no annoying icon blinking away on the top of your menu bar. This is work-around at its best. And all you have to do is remember one word: Kick.

Here’s what you do:

  • Go to YouTube.
  • Open the page with the video you want to download.
  • Add the word Kick in front of YouTube in the URL (so, for example, it reads
  • Hit enter, and that gives you a new KickYouTube frame around the video.
  • Select the type of file you want to create (options include AVI, MP4, HD and iPhone).
  • Click the green Go button to the right, which changes to Down (I know, this is a little weird).
  • Right click on the Down button and click “save target as …” or “save link as …”
  • Give it a name and save it on your hard drive or external drive.
  • Share and play.

It’s a great way for anyone to save these videos, but it can be especially useful to teachers who maybe want to show an educational YouTube video (seriously, not all YouTube videos are sleazy and the weird – just, it seems, the most popular ones). Often, teachers can’t access YouTube from their school computers. But with this tool they can download the video at home, save it to a jump drive and take it to school where they can do something that budget cuts and administrative roadblocks often prevent them from doing – use technology to help educate the masses.

This is not your father’s classroom

March 8, 2010

I really didn’t expect to see this at the conference of educators I attended over the weekend – about 25 participants gathering in a darkened meeting room … dissecting a frog.

But this wasn’t the kind of sometimes-disturbing frog dissection I remember from middle school. No, this time there was absolutely no mess. In fact, there was no frog.

This very clean, very humane, very un-queasy dissection took place on a Smartboard, the leading brand of interactive whiteboards that are replacing chalkboards in classrooms throughout America (other brands include the Promethean ActivBoard, Luidia’s eBeam, Mimio, and PolyVision). Using a whiteboard, a computer and a projector, this class of teachers sliced and diced the virtual frog wide open, revealing the amphibian’s anatomy as well as one of the many awe-inspiring features of this new marvel of classroom technology.

Trainer Naomi Harm demonstrated the SmartBoard, and the participants were as captivated as, well, a pinned down frog.

For me, this was nothing short of amazing. I caught myself with my jaw hanging slightly open, like a kid watching a puppet show. I am somewhat of a tech gadget geek, and I work for an education association, so it surprises even me that I have never before seen a SmartBoard in action. I have heard and seen enough about them to instinctively know they are cool and useful but I had no idea about the incredible extent of their abilities to enhance learning, raise student interest, help teachers manage their curriculum – and their students – and make education so much more insightful and fun.

And while I knew they were becoming increasingly common in classrooms, I didn’t realize the extent to which they are permeating schools until Naomi told me that 74% to 88% of classrooms in her area at least have access to one. (In many cases, that means more than one classroom share an interactive whiteboard on wheels.)

I don’t have space here to go into all the things a Whiteboard can do – and I couldn’t possibly do it justice anyway – but you can get an idea by watching this YouTube video.

One thing I learned that I didn’t know before is that the image on the whiteboard is projected from a regular old computer or laptop equipped with special software. I guess I thought the whiteboard had a computer inside of it. Not the one I saw Naomi demonstrate. Another cool application of an interactive whiteboard, I learned, is that the teacher can record a lesson so students can review it later – maybe because they were absent, either physically or mentally.

According to Naomi and some of the teachers I talked with, many of the interactive white boards in use were purchased with grant money, including recent federal “stimulus funds.” Others were bought with targeted money included in school district referendums. But, of course, many school districts don’t win the grants and just can’t afford them.

As you can imagine, the things are not cheap, although they are not quite as much as I thought they might be. Naomi gave me some general figures which I calculate as suggesting you can get an entire package – the board, cart (wheels), computer, and projector – for around $3,000. But we all know that school district budgets are going the other direction. And whiteboards, unlike the old fashioned chalk boards, require a lot of professional development in addition to the hardware and software. Yes, the software accomplishes amazing things, but that means that teachers have a lot to learn about it to make good use of it. And, as with any software, the training is ongoing. And, as with any technology, I suspect there are ongoing maintenance issues and costs.

So that all leads to this growing dilemma: If classrooms are going to teach students in ways they can best understand, and in ways that they find interesting, and in ways that will truly prepare them for our technology-dominated world, they are going to have to keep up with technology, and interactive whiteboards are in many ways the epitome of that technology in the classroom. Yet, the demand is growing for this expansive – and expensive – technology at a time when schools can least afford it.

How is this all going to play out? Educators, students and parents are anxious to find out. And so are a lot of very nervous frogs.