Archive for August, 2006

Can school districts tolerate “zero tolerance” policies?

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Can school districts tolerate “zero tolerance” policies? (Via BoardBuzz: NSBA’s Daily Weblog.) I’m glad to see the tide turning on this particular trend:

A new resolution from the American Psychological Association released yesterday says that zero tolerance policies are backfiring and “are not as successful as thought in creating safer environments to learn. These policies, which mandate that schools severely punish disruptive students regardless of the infraction or its rationale, can actually increase bad behavior and also lead to higher drop out rates.”

By the way, if you’re not reading the BoardBuzz, it’s the National School Boards Association blog… a good information source to keep an eye on.

Blogspot unblocked in China

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Blogspot unblocked in China (Via The Thinking Stick.) Jeff Utecht posted on a real milestone… it seems that Blogger is unblocked in China! Meanwhile, our house of representatives passed a bill 410 to 15 that would very likely block Blogger in any schools and public libraries that receive federal funds.

In the light of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat we have to consider the ramifications when China is moving toward greater openness, and our legislators are trying to move the United States in the opposite direction. Lets hope the senate can put an stop to this… or better yet, contact your senator and ask them to.

Games in Classrooms? or Classrooms in Games?

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Games in Classrooms? or Classrooms in Games? (Via 2 Cents Worth.) David Warlick has been posting more about games in education, too. This is a detailed post of his recent thoughts. If you missed it, go take a look. It’s exciting to see this topic gaining more traction in the edublogging circles.

Also, check out this recording of a conversation (prompted by the above post) between a father and son. Impressive Conversation (Via 2 Cents Worth.)

Thinking Worlds – Video Game Creation for Teachers and Students

Friday, August 11th, 2006

Serious Educational Game Online l Thinking Worlds l Virtual Reality (Via Chris Brannigan.) I will try to keep this post to a reasonable length, but I had a very exciting conversation yesterday (via Skype) with Chris Brannigan of Caspian Learnig, creators of Thinking Worlds:

Thinking Worlds™ is an incredibly versatile and globally unique educational games authoring engine. This game allows you to play, edit, create and even share games with other members of the Thinking Worlds™ community. Thinking Worlds is based on well researched and proven learning principles and has already been used to develop highly engaging games in many subject areas.

Chris explained that their work with commercial off the shelf games (particularly Civilization) led them to realize that only the advanced learners were doing the sort of higher order thinking and seeing the sorts of benefits touted by Marc Prensky, James Paul Gee, and Clark Aldrich, among others. I’ve noted something similar in the past. I know I get a lot out of even bad games, because I’m thinking about the design and thinking about my thinking, but in conversation with students I find that they are not approaching games on this metacognitive level – they definitely don’t think they’re learning, and that’s not ideal. Also, unless a teacher is providing the structure outside of the game, students are not necessarily drawing accurate conclusions from the content and are not necessarily exercising sophisticated thinking skills. (Among others, Kurt Squire writes about the importance of teacher mediation of students’ understandings of games they play, too.) For the most part, a commercial game like Civilization doesn’t make any effort to include such scaffolding.

So one driving idea behind the Thinking Worlds engine is to embed thinking processes (or scaffolding for higher order thinking) into the game engine. Thinking Tasks can provide structure for inquiry or for activities such as comparing and contrasting. Facilitating student reflection is also important to them. The games capture data which can then be used to identify trouble areas – and then new scenarios can be designed to address those thinking skills.

Another important goal (which sets them apart from other game generation systems in my mind) is that they aim for a user base of ordinary teachers and students. I haven’t been able to try it myself yet (my test PC is running Vista right now), but Chris shared that teachers will not need programing or scripting skills to make this work. He warns, though, that they do need a deep knowledge of learning. :)

You can download a Beta version of the authoring tool and the player today, and there is already some content available on their site that you can play – or amend (mod). Amazingly, they are also testing this in something like 3000 schools in the UK and around the world, including approximately 1200 schools in Northern Ireland, where it sounds as if this may be a big part of a significant curriculum overhaul.

I want to remind readers that my source here is just my conversation with Chris, but I’m excited to discover this product (he emailed me earlier in the summer), to finally learn what it can really do, and to hear that it is already being so widely tested.

I expect you’ll be hearing more from me on this, but if you are interested, don’t wait to get your hands on the Beta and try it out. Incidentally, Chris shared that if possible they want to keep the authoring tool and player free for educators (if they can find other revenue sources), and that regardless of the final costs, the community will always be allowed and encouraged to share content. Good stuff. :)

Thanks to Chris for making the call. I look forward to corresponding with him further. If any other readers are interested in communicating with him, let me know I’ll connect you via email.

Download Skype (with Video) for Mac

Thursday, August 10th, 2006

Download Skype (with Video) for Mac (Via Jock Schorger) I’m not sure how long this has been available… but my mentor at Walden University just pointed it out to me (during an iChat video conference). Finally, cross platform desktop video conferencing… though I’ll still use iChat for Mac-to-Mac calls. :)

Anybody on Windows want to test this out with me? I’m markdwagner on Skype.

Internet Awareness for Educators and Parents

Thursday, August 10th, 2006

The Laguna Beach Unified School District has hired me to develop an Internet Awareness workshop for teachers and for parents. The Orange County Department of Education is sharing the cost, and the final products (agendas, handouts, and presentation slides) will be released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license, so I’ll be sharing the results here.

Part of the concept behind this was to develop it in cooperation with the Laguna Beach Police Department, and that’s certainly been the most interesting part of the work… thus far. The LBUSD IT Director, Victor Guthrie, and I met with Captain Danell Adams and Detective Zach Martinez on Tuesday afternoon. They have been addressing this issue (and making presentations to parents) for some time now. Their department also conducted a high profile sting operation back in February and made a surprising 13 arrests in 11 hours. (These are arrests of men who came to meet what they thought was a 13 year old Laguna Beach girl, but which was in fact a team of officers.) Their experiences and insights (and they shared a lot of stories) were fascinating, but I think the most relevant points in terms of the discussion around these issues in the blogosphere were these:

– We (edubloggers) tend to make the argument that high profile cases are blown out of proportion in the press… that with over 90 million members in MySpace, of course there will be a few sick ones who fall for police stings (or, worse, actually commit crimes). I’m fond of quoting Wired Magazine’s statement that it is arguably safer to be a member of MySpace than to live in California (which has only 33 million residents and far more sex crimes per capita). However, there is another side to this (and it is among the things that we are not hearing). Captain Adams and Detective Martinez shared several stories that they cannot publicize because minors were involved… the public has no idea how many incidents (in this case real crimes) have actually been occurring in Laguna Beach. In one case, they couldn’t even press charges because the victim’s parents wanted nothing to do with the whole situation. Now, admittedly, Laguna Beach is a high profile community (especially on account of the MTV show) and it might thus attract more attention than other communities, but I think the point is valid: despite the seemingly blown out of proportion high profile cases, there are also many that never see the light of day. These things people fear are happening.

– Now, on the other hand, when we brought up DOPA, they were surprised to hear that it did not address criminals at all, and that it did not address educating students to be safe. These officers at least were not at all interested in blocking things in schools (though it would be unfair to say they opposed it); their primary concern was to teach kids how to be safe, which was something they very much would like teachers to take more responsibility for. They were also clear that they did not think blocking things at school (and even moving family computers into living rooms) would help… kids could still go to others’ houses and make unsafe decisions. (Note: As David Warlick has pointed out, there has been some more reasonable legislation passed already, including the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, CIPA, and COPPA.)

– They were also very concerned with online bullying and other crimes such as identity theft, which is more of a concern for teenagers than I would’ve thought. I’ve been telling people that kids can put their families at risk, but there are folks out there now mining MySpace and other sources for social security numbers and other sensitive information… and teens are falling prey to this.

There are several local law enforcement agencies working on this in Orange County, including the sheriff’s department, and none that I have interacted with are interested in fear mongering or scaring people – or even controlling people. They are interested in opening the eyes of students, parents, and teachers. I think this is still our first responsibility. I just want to do it in a way that leaves participants with the idea that these tools are popular for a reason and can also be extremely powerful in an educational setting.

If you are dealing with these issues, I encourage you to reach out to your local law enforcement agencies. They may be able to help, and the dialog may be enlightening.

Here is a (very!) rough outline, and a link to 1 page bit I’ve written on this already. I’ll share more here as I work on this. A draft is due on the 18th for a LBUSD board meeting on the 22nd. I welcome any feedback in the meantime. Personally, I’m concerned that parents won’t sit through the first 30 minutes while they are scared of the, well, scary stuff. But I can be engaging, right? :)

Note: Screenshots and live web demos will be used throughout. We want teachers and parents to know what this stuff looks like.

1 hour Presentation (90 minutes w/Q&A)

  • 15 Minutes: Technologies and Benefits (about 5 minutes each)
    • Introduction to the Read Write Web
    • Blogs, Wikis, Other Services
    • Social Networking (and IM)
  • 15 Minutes: Concerns (about 3 minutes each)
    • Inappropriate Content
    • Inappropriate Sharing
    • Intellectual Property
    • Fraud and Theft (including ID Theft)
    • Cyber Stalkers or Predators
  • 15 Minutes: Police Demonstration (including transition to next section)
  • 15 Minutes: Proactive Strategies
    • Move computer
    • Dialog (w/Talking Points… Prompting Questions)
    • Use the technologies (blogs, MySpace, etc.)
    • MySpace Accounts
  • 30 Minutes Q&A with Police and Me

Link to a 1 page overview of this topic. (Heavy on the text.)

Meanwhile… blog plans.

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

Meanwhile, I can’t believe I went a solid week without posting… and directly following the blogging institute to boot. I have some ideas for clearing out my drafts folder (and sharing some lists of links if nothing else) and for getting on a blogging schedule as part of my new routine.

For now, though, I have a conference call followed by another meeting this afternoon (these are good things now that I’m working on my own) and I’ll be back at it tomorrow.

On the “and life” front, Eva and I discovered there is a Tuesday night live jazz night at the Pomodoro across the street. We’ll be checking that out for the first time tonight. :)

Discussion: MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act

Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

Discussion: MySpace and Deleting Online Predators Act This afternoon I am meeting with a district IT director and a local police captain about an “Internet Awareness” program we are putting together for teachers and parents. I suspect I will be referring to the work of UC Berkeley’s Danah Boyd in the final presentations. In the article linked above she and Henry Jenkins of MIT (who I often quote for his work on video games in education) respond to questions about social networking sites (such as MySpace and Facebook) and the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA). It is a very detailed discussion of many issues surrounding these technologies and this legislation.

I’m curious why they end the article this way:

Henry and danah: We welcome further questions from parents. Our feeling is that there should be more public discussion of the opportunities and risks represented by MySpace and other social networks. Please send your questions to and we will do our best to respond.

Why not use the read/write web for this discussion… and model a beneficial use for the technology while they’re at it?

I also want to throw this out there… the edubloggers have been rather universally condemning this legislation. The more I learn about organizational and system wide change (and school change), the more I re-discover that disenting voices must be respected. Now, one can hope that legislators choose to listen to edubloggers… but what is it edubloggers could be learning from the authors and supporters of this legislation? How can we address their concerns and needs? Perhaps the answers to these things are rather self-evident and/or discussed indirectly, but this seemed to be the one thought I had about DOPA worth adding to what’s already been written. More on this later…