Who I am: Chris Lehmann
What I do: Principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA (Opening 9/06).
What I did: Technology Coordinator / English Teacher / Girls Basketball Coach / Ultimate Coach at the Beacon School, a fantastic progressive public high school in Manhattan.
Email: chris [at] practicaltheory [dot] org.
Matt Skurnick about Sustaining the Teaching Life
Mon, 25.03.2013 14:05
Jon Goldman was both my
English Teacher in 9th
grade and Advisory Mentor
for my four years at
Karen Greenberg about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Tue, 14.08.2012 11:13
Perhaps a more apt term
would be "altering
physics - two objects in
Amethyst about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:51
I really appreciate this
blog entry. Our roles as
teachers require, at our
best, a deep [...]
Mark Ahlness about The Long Haul
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:33
Chris, thanks. Pete is my
hero, and has been for a
while, but now that I'm
retired, after 31 years
Gary Stager about Saving Lives v. Changing Lives
Mon, 13.08.2012 22:15
No need to worry about
Others all around us are
debasing our [...]
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Friday, August 15. 2008
I've really enjoying playing with Drupal the past few weeks. We've done a site redesign at SLA, and now our DrupalEd install is our front page. I've learned a ton about Drupal, and while it does have a steeper learning curve than a lot of other systems, it is insanely flexible and powerful.
I've learned how to configure menus, ported the homework checker from Moodle (the first piece of real interactivity between Moodle and Drupal at SLA), configured a Upcoming Events calendar so that we can have that as a sidebar on the side of our page, posted our Student Handbook in wiki-style format, created a private faculty handbook wiki that we will continue to build together over time, and generally tweaked the site so that it closer and closer to what I want our web site to be. (And as soon as we have a student who is willing to take a stab at designing a sleek custom theme, we'll redesign the look, too.)
As we continue our work with SchoolTool, and as both SchoolTool and I play with interoperability between SchoolTool, Moodle and Drupal, we will move closer and closer to the Killer App that I've been dreaming about. I've no doubt now that Drupal is the absolute right pick as the content management system for that app.
(oh... and just a huge shout-out to Bill Fitzgerald of FunnyMonkey. He is as patient and available mentor as a person could want with Drupal. If you need a consultant or you have specific needs for a DrupalEd install, hire him. He is a teacher first which means that a) he can teach how to use this stuff, and b) his solutions make sense for schools and the classroom. Without the changes in Drupal that he has made by creating DrupalEd, there's no way I would have seen the power of Drupal in schools. And without his patient mentoring, there's no way we would have been ready to move Drupal to be the front of our website. Thank you, Bill!)
Blogged with the Flock Browser
Friday, July 11. 2008
My latest post over at The Faculty Room is up. It's in response to Scott McLeod's Leadership Day 2008 call, and it's entitled A Whole New School:
What is Good Technology Education Leadership?
Read the rest over there.
Friday, March 21. 2008
Wharton Professor and long-time digital citizen Kevin Werbach (anyone else here old enough to remember his Bare Bones Guide to HTML?) posts the Ten Challenges for the Network Age on the Supernova 2008 blog. He is using these ten challenges as the framework for the Supernova conference this year, and while I am often wary of education thinking that we just have to take the questions that business is pondering and apply them to education, I've known Kevin through various digital communities for around fifteen years, and I greatly respect the way he considers issues. He does look at these questions from a media / communications lens, and that lens has some powerful ramifications for education as well. With that... here are some thoughts on his ten challenges:
Scarcity and Abundance
For education, clearly this challenge is particularly relevant -- This is probably a blog post or three all to itself. (O.k. -- they all might be.) But I'd define this challenge in this way -- How do we handle the abundance of inputs and outputs available to our students given the scarcity of two major problems in our schools: Allowed / Accepted Channels of Access (number of computers per child, bandwidth, filtering, restrictions on publishing, etc...) and time.
Choice and Coordination
I love that it's not just education that is struggling with this. Kevin hits on the ultimate pedagogical question of the 21st century (and probably of the 20th, too, but that's another story.) How we help our students learn to navigate the Towel of Babel that is the internet these days is probably one of the most important things we can teach our kids. Smart, ethical use of information is everything. Kids do have more information at their fingertips than ever before in human history. More than ever before, they need teachers, mentors, guides, to teach them how to handle that. It is my contention that as educators realize that they no longer are or need to be the ultimate arbiter of all content in the classroom, what we must realize is that we now have a much more difficult and important job to do -- we must teach wisdom.
Aggregation and Fragmentation
Harder to apply this one to education on a "tech" level, but I'll take this one in a different direction. We spent the last century building comprehensive high schools where the big players did get bigger, such that you now have high schools of 4,000 - 5,000 students in many places in our country. (Not just urban -- the "Regional HS" is a staple around here.) Over the past ten years, in our cities, we are seeing the rise of the small school movement (and probably also the charter school movement), where schools do specialize around themes or learning styles or ideas. This movement is, in my opinion, nascent and still very fragile, but it's an interesting moment in time where school admissions are becoming market driven and schools are having to create more and more of a personalized experience for students.
This, of course, is also happening at a time where the big players have gotten bigger and bigger. "Data driven decision-making" (in quotes because I still firmly believe that much of the data schools are using is poor and therefore we're making bad decisions) and NCLB and, sadly, technology, has meant that every test score can now be immediately published. We are seeing, in schools, technology used administratively as big brother, with more and more standardization being pushed top-down from the federal, state and district levels, and sadly, the very tools that could free education are often used to bind it. This is the paradox that we have yet to solve.
Stability and Disruption
Again, this one hits education right on the head -- perhaps more powerfully and painfully than it does business. As educators, we must be hyper-aware that we cannot be revolutionaries at the expense of our students. One of the very real -- and not all that visionary -- parts of our job is to prepare the kids for college. Therefore, we must be very careful with the amount of disruption we cause because we must still create institutions that are recognized by the very slow-to-change higher-ed institutions that then select our students. This is one of the reasons that we so much more innovation in the urban districts than the suburban districts. Urban districts, by and large, are not viewed as stable, there isn't much investment and there isn't much trust, so disruption is easier, because there's more willingness to take risks.
We must take risks in education. We must challenge the tried-and-true way of educating students, but we must do it thoughtfully and carefully and transparently, because we don't have the luxury of just "going out of business." Every school that makes those choices poorly affects the lives of the students who honored that school with their choice to go there. This is -- as much as any other reason -- we must always, always, always humble ourselves before the enormity of the task in front of us.
Behavior and Rationality
People don't always act rationally, and students are people too. Ergo, students don't always act rationally. This is not a shock to any educator or parent. The fact that this translates to -- and is perhaps augmented by -- their behavior online is also not a shock. But it's also true that if we substitute "educational" for "economic" we also have a problem that our educational frameworks assume some level of rationality as well. It often seems obvious to teachers that "If student does this, they receive that." And yet, that very simple causal relationship (think, "Do you homework, do well in class.") is often missed by kids. I'd argue that is because those simple causalities often aren't, but again, that's another blog post.
How this relates to the way schools adapt to the digitial world is simply this -- we no longer have the luxury of assuming that we don't have to teach about this stuff. Every school should and must teach students the idea that "We are the stories we tell." Every school should and must teach digital ethics, teach the idea of creating a deliberate and thoughtful version of ourselves online. Every school should and must challenges students to think about their behavior -- on and off-line -- as if the world depended on it, because, quite honestly, it does.
O.k. -- this blog post is now a LOT longer than I expected it to be, and it's 60 degrees out here on the last weekday of Spring Break. Part Two is coming... thank you to Kevin for challenging me to think and write about this. Suffice to say, if these are your ten challenges, I think Supernova 2008 will be an amazing conference. When are you running one for educators, Kevin?
Technorati Tags: kevin_werbach, Network_Age
Monday, March 17. 2008
Al Upton is a teacher in South Australia who had been doing some really amazing work with 8 and 9 year olds and cyber-mentoring. I'd tell you to go read all about it, but I can't. The government shut down the program while it assesses the risk of kids posting work online. This is what we all fear... that someone can complain to someone on the other end of a phone in an office and all the work we do can disappear.
Go read the conversation, lend your voice of support:
And be sure to read the voices of the kids who feel the loss of a wonderful, innovative program.
Monday, March 10. 2008
As if there weren't enough reasons to go to NECC (EduBloggerCon, The Blogger Cafe, rumors of BBQ at the hotel, and you know... NECC), there's now another reason to go:
Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez and their friends will be hosting The Constructivist Celebration on June 29th. It costs $30 to attend, and Gary and Sylvia are some of the best folks out there at combining educational technology with progressive pedagogy in powerful, meaningful and real ways.
It's a small event, and Gary told me told that spaces are going quickly. Reserve your spot now, and I'll see you there!
Saturday, December 15. 2007
Very excited... going to be working on at least two sessions at NECC.
My own presentation -- School 2.0: Combining Progressive Pedagogy and 21st Century Tools -- has been accepted, as has a panel / workshop that I'm on with Bud Hunt, Susan Sedro, Darren Kuropatwa and Jeff Utecht. (Yeah... excited? Me?)
Time to book travel and go!
Thursday, October 18. 2007
[Things influencing this post:
David Warlick's K12Online Keynote
Tom Hoffman's -- On Modernism
The words of the students of SLA]
For a bunch of years at Beacon, I taught a senior English class called "Connection and Disconnection in the 20th Century." It was a semester-long, reading intensive class that really was a survey of some of what I thought the major literary themes of the modernist and post-modernist movement were and are. The class was reasonably analog, and despite that, some of my favorite moments of classroom teaching happened there.
This is one of the intro letters from the class:
To the students of Connection and Disconnection in 20th Century Literature:
(In retrospect, yes, I would love to redo this class with all those short pieces and the major pieces as blog entries. I remember toying with the ideas then, but I didn't have a specific audience for the pieces in mind, and at that point, it had been my experience that student blogging without an audience was not that productive. We did use the class forum extensively, and I had many a midnight IM chat with kids about the texts... but I digress.)
I was thinking about this class and its many conversations today after watching David Warlick's K12Online keynote, after spending two days at the T+L conference in Nashville, and after continuing to reflect on the words of the SLA kids when they spoke to a world-wide group of educators. And I think about our rush -- and I certainly implicate myself in this -- to create our global networks. I look forward to my every-five-minute twitter blast. And yes, many of our colleagues are right when they say that our kids are connected all the time. And yes, we all now check our emails when we're out to dinner with friends, or we call our friends from the baseball game to tell them that we're there. And there is much that is good about all of that. Indeed, I wouldn't give it up.
But, I think of the conversations of those classes with my seniors. I think of all the texts we read of people disconnected from the world around them. I think of Eliot's words in "The Wasteland" and Eliot's lament that the modern world, in its rush, in its industrial revolution, in its teeming mass of humanity, had lost its connection to that which makes us human, had lost its connection to that which ties us to the earth and each other.
And I think of what we've lost in our generation. Yes, the students are texting on their cell phones as they exit the bus, but they don't necessarily notice the sunset. And yes, David Warlick's son could carry on a conversation with friends while walking the campus of his new college, but over the two days he would spend with parents before embarking on a new chapter in his life, he was distracted from the company of his parents, and we don't even notice that that might be strange or wrong. And in our classrooms, in our meetngs, in our lives, we have given up the now, the immediacy of our experiences to record it, write it, share it, all the while pulling our attention away from what we do.
And I think of all of us, trying to sum up our worlds in 140 character tweets, joking -- but living -- the idea that "If it didn't tweet, it didn't happen."
And I think of our SLA kids, all with their facebook and myspace and AIM accounts, but all -- to a person -- when asked about what makes SLA special, talking about the immediacy of their relationships. And I think of the richness of the connections that exist. And I think of my old classroom, when we talked about these issues, no laptops, just a wonderful text, some great questions and a community of people debating our small 'a' answers.
I love our tools, and when we use them to enrich our connections, to deepen them in ways that matter (like the midnight IM conversation about the meaning of "The Wasteland"), they are powerful and deep and rich. I love that I spend my downtime in my life listening to people and talking to people, rather than surfing for something entertaining and mindless on TV.
But I also remember that there is nothing gained without something lost. And I miss the now. I want Jakob and Theo to be able to live enough in their moments so that they notice the details that we miss when we walk to work, headphones on, cell phone out, text-messages at the ready. Jakob is three, and when we talk or drive, he notices everything. He sees things I miss, whether it's a broken taillight of a car to the outfit that someone is wearing. He lives in his moment fully, and I miss my ability to do that.
As teachers, we learn the value of wait time in our classes, we learn -- and it's one of the hardest things I had to learn -- to value silence in our classes, to be o.k. with it. And yet, in our own lives, we are rushing to fill every moment of silence as if it were something to be feared. And, as we rush to embrace connectedness, as we rush to fill our classes with the world, we need to also teach our kids to appreciate and embrace the moments they live in -- even the quiet moments. We need to help them live in the now -- and we may need to help ourselves remember it as well.
The literature of the 20th century was filled with writers trying to make sense of a changing world, of a world where every traditional societal institution and norm was challenged and threatened and changed. As we talk about the education of the 21st century, let's learn from their struggle, and help our students embrace new and old, connectedness and the now, and let us always try to look at our own immediate worlds -- our present and our past -- with the awe and wonder with which we look at the future.
Monday, October 1. 2007
My NECC Proposal:
School 2.0 -- Combining Progressive Pedagogy and 21st Century Tools
In our hurry to learn "What's new," we can't lose sight of "What's best?" Examine using the new tools in a school-wide, constructivist manner.
Every day brings new tools so that even the most tech-savvy among us can feel overwhelmed. Fortunately, we can use what we know as educators to ground ourselves in sound pedagogical practice so that we can make smart choices about what tools to use and when. Looking at the work of theorists as old as Dewey and as new as George Siemens and the success of schools such as High Tech High and Science Leadership Academy, we will examine how to make smart decisions about how, when and why to use 21st Century Tools.
When we design curriculum that is build around inquiry-driven, project-based learning, where students and teachers work together to create new meaning and deep understandings, then we can use 21st Century tools to allow students to create meaningful, creative and authentic work, using the best available research, while collaborating with and presenting to people from all over the world.
In this workshop, participants will examine pedagogical and technological tools that can be used, school-wide, to create a progressive culture of innovation in schools. How can we look at pedagogical tools such as Wiggins’ and McTigue’s Understanding by Design to create constructivist curriculum built to allow students to demonstrate deep understandings with technology-embedded curriculum? How can we look at content and course-management tools such as DrupalEd and Moodle, collaborative tools such as Google for Educators and wikis, and social/academic networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter to create school-wide embedded technology strategies that allow access points for 21st Century learning for all teachers and students?
Sunday, September 23. 2007
(or Why I Wish I Knew the Moodle API...)
I just finished recreating the Parent Portal on our web site that allows parents to enter in their child's ID and get their five most recent homework assignments in each class.
It's a total hack because it reads the Moodle databases straight, rather than using the Moodle API. This, of course, meant that the program broke when we upgraded to Moodle 1.8. And this, like many other moments, is why we really need a full-time programmer to do what we really would love to be able to do. I can hack around from time to time, but realistically, I don't have the time to be able to learn the Moodle and Drupal APIs and then do the kind of coding we need to create the killer app that I know we could. That's not my job anymore, as much as I still enjoy programming.
We're really quite close to what we want... this diagram speaks to the dream I have of an educational web app that really could do it all. We're going to pay VERY close attention to Drupal this year, because the sense I get is that we might want to start using that a lot more than Moodle, but we'll see. Either way, what we really want is a School Information System database that also acted as a the student information system for any and all apps we would use.
Until then, I'll just hack code that gets us close, but really, that's less satisfying when I can see what we need.
Tuesday, July 31. 2007
Things influencing this post: Christian Long -- Getting Back to Basics
Re-reading Understanding by Design
The conversations about Twitter and Second Life, such as Will Richardson's What the Tweet? and Sylvia Martinez' Second Thoughts on Second Life
So interestingly, Christian is asking "What if the tech tools went away, would we have still changed our teaching?"
For me, that's one of those questions that I don't quite know how to answer because I've spent my entire career in progressive schools. Beacon was an amazing place to be a tech coordinator because the pedagogy was in place, and it was a question of how to marry the tech to it. In fact, early on in my careerI had the problem of teachers who already grasped many of the things that we, in the ed-blogger world, are talking about now, but they didn't see the need to use the net to do it. (And remember, this was mid-90s when the tools were not what they are today.)
And it's interesting in today's context, because I'm in Buffalo today working with the administrative team from a school that is moving into a 1:1 laptop, inquiry-driven, project-based model. I wasn't there to show them how to use technology to achieve this, I wasn't there to show them how to use wikis or RSS or blogs. I was there to talk about pedagogy and how this idea of schooling is totally different. We talked about curriculum design (thank you UbD!), we talked about student schedules, we talked about professional development, we talked about supervision of teachers, we essential questions and supporting / scaffolding student inquiry. (Thank you, Konrad for the incredibly timely blog post.)
And yes, in that context, we talked about technology. We used a wiki to tease out our ideas. I started the day by showing them Did You Know 2.0 and Ken Robinson's TEDTalk, and in both the discussions that came out of those short films, we talked about the ramifications of technology and information access on our schools. We did use Did You Know to talk about the impetus for change, and how technological advancement is creating a need for a new citizenry and therefore new schools, but that is lens for change, not a tech workshop. (In fact, can we all agree to use Did You Know instead of The World Is Flat from now on? Can I get an amen? Thank you.) And I showed them our Moodle site when we talked about supporting teacher development and supporting student discussions.
But the fun thing was that the discussion of the technology only happened when it made sense within the framework of the school reform we were talking about. "How do you support teacher development with limited common planning time?" "Well, let me show you our staff planning site..." "How do you encourage students to continue to develop answers to their questions..." "Let me show you how our teachers use the discussion forums..."
I think that's really important because it puts the horse before the cart. How can we create engaging schools? How can we teach students toward wisdom? How can we move beyond facts and skills and into enduring understandings and deep, connected learning? Those are the questions we need to be asking, and then we need to find the tools that support that vision, not the other way around.
In Understanding by Design (really a must read for folks thinking about curriculum / school reform), Wiggins and McTigue talk about "activity-based teacher" and how it's a bad thing. The kids are engaged, the classroom looks fun, kids are enjoying their work, often there are great examples of student work on the walls, but if you dig deeper and ask students and teachers why they are doing the activity they are doing, the answers often are shallow or non-existant. It's a half-way step to the kind of teaching we want and need to be doing, which is working toward deep, complex and thoughtful understanding.
My fear with the excitement over all the new tools at our disposal is that we are rushing head-long into "activity-driven" teaching and not toward understanding. In our rush to talk about Second Life or wikis or laptops or twitter, we need to stop and question how the tool will enhance deep understanding on the part of our students. We need to stop teachers who say, "I want to do a wiki project..." and say, "What do you want your students to learn, what is the project you want to do, and how will a wiki enhance your student learning?"
The tools are amazing, I use them every day. I even, in personal usage, use the tools just for the sake of the tools (hellllooooo Twitter), but our greatest limiting factor in our schools is still time, and we owe it to ourselves and our kids to step back and ask ourselves questions like:
In the end, what I'm hoping these tools do is help us to define a language... a process... for changing our lens from "What's new?" to "What's good?" and for the continued process of grounding our new literacy, our new tools, our new schools in strong, deep veins of pedagogy and process.
What School Leaders Need to Know About Digital Technologies and Social Media - Edited by Chris Lehmann and Scot McLeod
The Quote File
"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have too much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little"