Sunday, June 18, 2006

About This Blog

This blog has been getting some visitors from outside of Arapahoe lately, probably because of mentions by Anne Davis (here and here) and Will Richardson. In addition, I'll be presenting at the Technology in Education Conference this week (on blogging, RSS, and so I imagine there may be a few others dropping by. So I thought I would take a moment and describe the purpose of this blog, how it got started, and the staff development we are doing at our school.

In August 2005 we received a grant from the Plan for Social Excellence in support of a proposal for staff development on the topics of constructivism and the use of technology to foster student-centered classrooms (more on this below). At about the same time, our school board set aside $1 million districtwide for "innovative grant proposals." There really wasn't a whole lot of restrictions placed on what we could propose, simply that they be innovative, forward-looking, probably include a technology component, and not be "education as usual." We wrote a proposal that piggybacked with our Plan for Social Excellence grant and - somewhat to our surprise - were awarded full funding.

The goal of both grants was to improve teacher and student use of technology to achieve curricular goals, to help transform our school to a more student-centered, constructivist approach, and to prepare our students to succeed in the 21st century. While technology was certainly a big part of this proposal in terms of dollars, the heart of our proposal was staff development. We felt that what our teachers needed most was the time and opportunity necessary to transform instruction to meet the needs of our students and utilize the tools of the 21st century. They needed the time to work together to explore new technologies and techniques, the time to discuss and collaborate with each other, and the time to transform their lessons to a more student-centered, constructivist approach.

These grants allowed us to provide teachers the time - and the necessary technology - to accomplish these goals. The teachers selected for staff development (16 teachers the first year funded by the PFSE grant, an additional 32 teachers in a second cohort the second year funded by our district grant - each cohort will meet for three years) meet formally about every two to three weeks (with the grants paying for the sub coverage when they have to miss class). In addition to the staff development, the grants are allowing us to put a mounted LCD Projector and fairly recent computer in all of our classrooms, so that students and teachers have access to the resources of the Internet and other materials to practice "just in time" learning. Finally, we will have three classrooms next year with wireless laptop computers. These will be "model" classrooms where students and teachers will have the tools necessary for a 21st century education, and where teachers can demonstrate the most effective uses of 21st century technologies to the rest of our staff. (If you really want, you can read the entire grant.)

The Fischbowl was then conceived as a blog to support our staff development effort. I am the principal "author" of the blog. I'm the Director of Technology at Arapahoe High School (fancy title, but basically means I'm the technology coordinator for the building). In the beginning, the blog was simply a place to "continue the conversations" we had in staff development every two to three weeks, to extend the discussions beyond the time we had face to face. As the year progressed, I started to post more to the blog about relevant educational issues, new technologies, and whatever else I thought might be related and thought-provoking for our teachers, even if it didn't directly relate to what we had just talked about in staff development. If you scroll back through the archives, you'll notice that the pace of posting really picked up over winter break and then throughout the spring. You'll also notice that I'm not the only one who posts to the blog. Throughout the year we asked teachers participating in the staff development to occasionally post their thoughts and reactions to topics we discussed in class, and then also encouraged (sometimes as a homework "assignment") the other teachers to comment. In addition, each of the participating teachers created their own personal blog, where we asked them to reflect on their own learning and teaching, on their thoughts and ideas about the topics we covered, and on any changes they implemented in their classrooms. (You can find these blogs by looking on the right side of The Fischbowl under Personal Blogs - underneath those you'll also see some of the Class Blogs that some of these teachers created for use with their classes. As a side note, some students from those classes have also started commenting on The Fischbowl, lending a much needed student perspective to our discussions. We are discussing ways to bring students more into our face-to-face staff development as well.) As you might imagine, some teachers took to blogging and reflecting (in a public forum) more than others, and posting certainly tapered off as things got busier and we got closer to the end of the school year.

We have now "finished" the first year of staff development and - based on both formal surveys of the teachers (and their students), and on discussions with the teachers, it has apparently been very successful. While we certainly have a long way to go, the teachers are very excited about being able to implement some of the ideas we talked about (both technological and pedagogical) from the beginning of the school year in August. While many of them started making some changes during the school year it is, of course, much easier to start at the beginning of a school year (or semester). I do want to emphasize, however, that we are not dictating "one right way" to teach as part of this staff development. What we are asking our teachers to do is to examine all of those assumptions they have made about education, instruction, and their classes and really think about what they feel is important and what the best ways are to achieve their goals. For many teachers, they really haven't thought about a lot of these issues since their methods classes in college. Once they were actually in the classroom, it was survival mode at first and they naturally did many of the same things their more veteran colleagues were doing. After a while the focus was often just doing those things better when what was needed - sometimes - was to question whether those were the right things to be doing in the first place. While I as the "leader" of the staff development certainly have strong opinions, we've all agreed that we will continue to be individual teachers with differing opinions, styles and ideas about what is "right". My role is to get them to think about their instruction, to "push" their thinking and make sure they are not only doing the best job they can, but that what they are doing truly aligns with their beliefs. In the end we will hopefully do a better job of working together to achieve our common goals for students. And we will discuss freely and openly the issues facing our students in a time of rapid change.

So, for those dropping by, this hopefully gives you a better idea of what this blog is about (I know this post is rather long and it's past my bedtime, so I may be rambling just a bit). If you have questions about our staff development, our blogging, or anything else, feel free to comment on this blog or the teachers' personal blogs. We are very excited about what we are doing and would love to have you enter into our "conversations."


  1. This is an excellent model for professional development that will actually lead to classroom change. Well done.

  2. Have you seen a blog critiquing the "cult" of modern education by a teacher who calls himself "The Instructivist?" His heart is in the right place, and he does identify misuse of constructivist approaches.

    Here's his address:

  3. Well, after a brief look, there are some interesting things there, but I just have a hard time with someone who appears to have so much anger. He or she (and the fact they are blogging anonymously is a concern as well) appears to delight in picking and choosing ideas to belittle, but rarely offers constructive (pun intended) ideas.

    My understanding of constructivism (and I'm not claiming to be an expert) is not what he or she is usually attacking. He or she often attacks misguided approaches (or what he/she makes out to be misguided approaches), not the idea of constructivism itself. And - like many who see things in black and white - he/she appears to simplify issues in order to ridicule them. For example, I've never met anyone who supports whole language who doesn't believe phonics is an important part of learning to read. Yet critics of whole language always use that tactic. I've never met anyone who supports the NCTM Standards who doesn't believe basic mathematical skills are important, yet critics always use that argument.

    I hope to find time to read more from this blogger - including whether he/she is actually a classroom teacher or not. What we are trying to do here - as almost all teachers are trying to do - is find the best ways to meet the needs of our students. Even if this blogger disagrees with some of these ideas, I guess I don't see how ridicule is going to help him/her accomplish his goal. I believe the world is changing rapidly and so are the skills and knowledge that students need. I'll be curious to see if "instructivist" believes that as well.

  4. Hi Karl
    Impressive stuff going on here! A sense of dejavu too as this sounds very similar in many ways to the ICT PD programme here in New Zealand. Blogging is such a cool tool for reflection isn't it.
    I am a National Facilitator for this programme and use my blog to provide ideas, software, etc to clusters and facilitators for clusters.
    In our model clusters of schools are funded to provide professional development in ICT/pedagogy/learning theory to their teachers over three years. The focus is usually on whole school development rather than what you are doing with focusing on a smaller group of teachers.
    Overall though very similar.

  5. Thank you for a concise summaries, insightful comments and an "ahh"moment. I have quoted parts in my blog

  6. Karl,

    Outstanding! There were many stories I already knew, some that have been updated, and some I didn't know. The most powerful country was a real eye-opener.

    One suggestion and one request.

    The suggestion: You should provide a citation for each of these, listing it's source. Claims like these need to be easily validated.

    Well, two requests actually. I'm going to link to your blog from 2¢ Worth. But would you mind adding your findings to the Hacking the New Stories wiki page. If you don't have time, let me know (david[at]landmark-project[dot]com).

  7. On more thing! This presentation would be great for playing during open house gatherings this and next month. Would you give us permission? Can you

    o Give us permission
    o post your credits (cc), and
    o perhaps redo the slides with citations?

    Again, and outstanding job!

    -- dave --

  8. As an educator from the USA who has worked in Chile for over 25 years, I find this Did You Know version 2 video outstanding! I have made several presentations at education conferences and plan on using the video (with credits, of course) in the future. Having worked on developing a new social science K-8 framework that will help students learn, live and thrive in a global society, this video is a good backdrop for conversation and stimulating fresh thinking. Thanks for a job well done. BTW, version 2 is an outstanding improvement over the original. Rob Siegel,

  9. Hello Karl,

    Extremely interesting material, very well presented.

    Now, I fundamentally disagree with
    "Predictions are that by 2013 a supercomputer will be built that exceeds the computation capability of the Human Brain" unless you are defining "computation capability" in a very narrow and not very relevant way... we better start focusing our energies on what we can do to train and improve our own and our student's cognitive and emotional self-regulation skills to be able to thrive, learn, adapt, in the new world that you illustrate so well.

    I recommend reading any of Antonio Damasio's books on decision-making and emotions, or Elkhonon Goldberg's The Executive Brain on the role of the frontal lobes and pattern recognition, to see that it will take a while for computers to match our "intelligence", if they ever do.

    Thank you for a great presentation!

  10. Hello Karl, you wouldn't believe how fast your presentaton Did you know/Shift happens has spread here in Uruguay and Argentina. Or you would, considering how it has spread all around the world. It has been played at the two main regional and interantional events taking place in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Piriapolis, Uruguay.
    As for your blog, I have subscribed to it and taken it as a model of blog using for teacher development purposes. I have linked it to my professional blog too.
    Just wanted to say thank you for sharing your experiences.

  11. I just caught wind of your video "Did You Know". Great stuff.
    Although I'm not American (I'm a Canadian doing my Masters in Finland), this issue goes across borders.

    I've blogged a few times about my thoughts on the education system in Canada. To sum it up: don't lower the bar, and teach us to work smarter, not harder. (

    What I like about your thoughts so far is it combines the ideology of collaboration, innovation and tech for possible ways to improve the system. I agree.

  12. I realize the link didn't work. will get you there.

  13. Thanks, good information !!

    Who ever controls technology,
    controls world.
    Roman emperors ruled the world because they built roads.
    Britisher’s ------ built ships
    Russians ------ built spaceships
    Americans invented Atom bombs and Americans stills rules the world with Information technology.

    Study the latest tech news and tips at

  14. A valid point, Satya. The power is shifting to Asia however. Economically, this is not good news.

  15. Hi, I would love to get some more info on the sources behind the "Did you know?" video. If you could please contact me on my email:

    I hope to hear from you!
    Best regards,
    Bragi Thor,