Thursday, March 17, 2011

"There's an App for That!"

When Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote the words, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," she could not have imagined that one day millions may apply this sentiment in pondering their utter adoration of a little electronic gadget. I have never met an iPhone or iPad owner who had anything less than complete and unconditional love for it, nor any who could not ramble on about their favorite Apps quicker than making a list of admirable qualities in their loved ones (try it-it's true!). So, here's my quick list of fav Apps, plus a couple links to other App-lover education-specific lists.
  • Maps: Where would I be without my all-in-one self and destination locator? I never have to know exactly where I am headed until the moment before I walk out the door...brilliant.-standard, free; Also worth mentioning if you live in NYC is the NYC KickMap subway map (kick lite version is free and sufficient for navigating the underground) Educational Application: How many kids in Boca Raton don't know that the beach is East? Teaching kids to plan trips and navigate N,S,E,W before they learn to drive or have to travel the subways on their own is critical to keeping them safe.
  • Google Apps: access to my life on the go, enough said. -free Educational Application: Read, edit docs, check your email, plan your due dates...bring some level of organization to the chaos of teen life!
  • Good Reads: Social networking for book nerds (that's me!). I can plan my reading, see what other people are reading, form groups, discuss, and even read from full e-texts on my phone (often for free)! -free  Educational Application: Lit circles, virtual book clubs, blogs
  • Eucalyptus: Classics on the go in full text library. I bought this one before I was reading heavily on Kindle (which offers most classic titles for free), and thousands of literary and nonfiction classics can be downloaded into a personal library. You can annotate, highlight, modify the text color, size, and lighting...and even flip rather than slide pages (I found this thrilling).-9.99
  • Shakespeare: Let's face it, how many times have you been sitting on a train uptown or in a car and really needed to access some muse from the old bard? -free Educational Application: really?
  • Kindle: Yes, I do have four ways to read on my phone! Does this surprise anyone? This is now my go-to for reading because I can pick up right where I left off in my actual Kindle, and I love the shared notes feature. I can highlight, take notes, and even publish my notes. I've thoughtfully spared my FB friends this experience though as I'm inclined to highlight my favorite quotes frequently and might flood the news feed with them if I posted everything. Thankfully my daughter is as big a book nerd and we swap quotes from our Kindles. -free (just pay for the actual books, but many classics are f-r-e-e)
  • PS Express: I love posting pics on the go to FB, but touching them up with this lite version of photoshop is so much fun. -free Educational Application: mini projects done and posted in one class period
  • Wikipanion: All the wikipedia haters out there will be remiss to discover that I am a wikipedia fan. More on this topic in my next blog, but in the meantime, wiki lovers can rejoice in the availability of this easy-search wiki friend. -free Educational Application: research, even if you are not a proponent for the inclusion of wikipedia as a valid resource, it's certainly a good place for idea finding and thesis formation, and it contains a list of links to other, more "valid" sources
  • NPR News & Pandora: combined to represent my serious side and my fun side. Free news and free music. Educational Application: social studies class warm-up; current events
  • Training Peaks: Helps me chart my fitness and reminds me of my goals each day. -free Educational Application: PE
  • Fluid, DoodleBuddy, and Emoji Free: Absolutely pointless apps which children love to play with when they grab my iphone...though I have to admit they are remarkably captivating for me too when I'm in need of a mindless activity to release some stress. -free Educational Application: well...kill time after a test?
So there you have it, my (abbreviated) list of reasons I love my iphone aside from all its other wonders. The fact that I can't make a call with it right now without the call dropping, well, that's irrelevant isn't it?

Check out the Top 10 Apps as reported by Education Weekly here and a teacher-run wiki with a huge list of education-specific Apps

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Return to Sender -- THE Journal

Return to Sender -- THE Journal

From the article, "Work readiness is no longer just about the three R's; now it's also about turning information into knowledge through Web searching and vetting. It's about developing effective multimedia presentations. It's about seamlessly using digital tools to collaborate and problem-solve."

The phrase "21st Century Skills" is ubiquitous in education speak right now, but the bridge to the effective development of this skill set continues to evade educators. Gordon's article points to technology as a critical tool in fostering creative, multifaceted, interactive, and collaborative problem-solving skills, but while the necessity of technology is unequivocal, technology--even the best technology--is not enough to render 21st century competency.

In order to fully actualize the new picture of a graduate, other paradigm shifts must take place. As Gordon's article implies, the focus must shift from content to skill in the assessment of student achievement. Measuring what our students can do rather than what they know is far more complicated than providing tech tools. It means providing creative, collaborative, and open-ended environments; it means putting the problem ahead of the content to allow for diagnosis and discovery; and it means developing a different system of assessment. Even while the the recently published Core Common State Standards focus more heavily on skills than content, states are already at work creating 2D standardized tests to measure what are in fact 3D competencies.

An even more daunting opponent to reform is the antiquated higher education model which is proliferated by our continued reliance on 2D forms of student assessment for college acceptance and our continued reliance on school brand for job placement. While the collective higher education voice has been strong in pronouncing a problem with the high school "product"--pointing out the dearth in critical-thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills among the ranks of new students at even the most illustrious universities--there have been mere whispers of admissions reform at these same universities. As long as the universities who set the pinnacle standard of achievement continue to focus on traditional, 20th century skills, the prioritization of these skills will preclude the full integration of 21st century skills. Similarly, if as Gordon's title implies, employers of college graduates are inclined to "return" the products of our current college system due to inadequate skills mastery, then these same organizations should not look to the traditionally hallmarked names of universities as the sole measure of the quality and depth of an applicant's skills.

To successfully effect change, we need to redefine accountability for educational reform. It cannot rest solely with educators and their ability to provide technological resources for students or even their ability to develop the types of learning environments conducive to 21st century skill development. It must be shared with university admission boards and workforce constituents who have authentic power to not just sanction but demand the change by themselves changing the measure of success at the finish line of each "race".

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Redefining Preparatory, an article written for the Grandview Preparatory School community

Redefining “Preparatory”
By: Tiffany Della Vedova, Academic Dean
October 6, 2010

When we opened our doors a little over a decade ago, it was with a specific vision. Our founders, Gene and Carolyn Ehlers, sought to create a learning environment which would uniquely engage students on an individual level by synthesizing the traditional with the innovative. They imagined that preparing a student for college did not have one set track. They also had the foresight to know that the preparation necessary for success in college and beyond would evolve quickly with the changing world. Even still, none of us knew in the year 1997 just how quickly the birth of new technologies would affect the future of our schools and the future and present lives of our children.

We find ourselves today having to look at the world through the crystal ball of prediction, and speculate from trends and the consensus of experts exactly what our children will need to know in order to succeed at the highest level in college and beyond. To redefine readiness each year for our students, we revert back to the vision of our founders, marrying the conventional with the revolutionary. Further, when we speak of academic readiness, it is never mutually exclusive to character growth. The combination of these values and skills is evident in our school creed and in each lesson taught in the classroom.

The value of connection is ubiquitous within our community. The beginning of our creed, “Together we build our future” takes on many meanings. In Advisory, our students learn the importance of having a mentor as they experience the process as a mentee. This helps them come to understand their own role as mentors to the younger students at Grandview, and in some cases to each other, as they engage in peer tutoring and take on leadership roles within the school. Together also means a partnership between the teacher and the student, the home and the school. We seek to connect our students’ life experiences with their classroom ones, individualizing their learning paths by tapping into their viewpoints and interests. Likewise, we endeavor to engage parents in the learning process, often assigning “home learning” which involves family discussion or parental feedback.

This year, we have also taken the concept of connection a step further, helping our students to see online networking and collaboration in an academic light rather than a purely social one. Through the implementation of Google Apps in our school, our middle and upper school students now receive and submit work electronically, develop their own online learning portfolios, and collaborate in real time on live, shared documents. A Forbes magazine blog earlier this year highlighted the rising trend in online collaboration, citing a Gartner prediction that online meeting and collaboration will replace 2.1 million airline seats per year for business travel by 2012. The same article revealed the creative ways in which large companies such as Accenture and Proctor & Gamble are using online technologies, ranging from video conferencing to simulated product launches. We strongly feel that adding online collaboration to our definition of preparation will only give Grandview graduates an advantage heading into the next stage of their lives with such practices on the rise.

Understanding the way we connect with each other and our learning helps our students make important decisions as they connect the choice to the outcome, whether that decision be which club to join or when to sign off Facebook and take notes in class. Part of our mission is to provide choice and to empower students to make choices each day, in each moment, and to understand the responsibility associated with each decision along with the outcomes of even the smallest ones. At the high school level, our students are reading the book Blink which explores the decisions we make on instinct and in the span of two seconds. When we recite our creed, we state that we understand that “choice is responsibility” and that “we must choose wisely”. The truth is that sometimes in life, we have to make choices quickly and at other times, we have the luxury of time and research, but what we hope to impress upon our students is the need to think about these choices and to use the tools available to make them and understand why we are making them. Subsequently, instead of structuring their every move by preventing choice, we place them in situations to use their best judgment thereby fostering this essential skill.

In the classroom, we can see evidence of this focus through differentiated instruction methods in which students have some level of choice in the way they receive and demonstrate mastery of learning. When faced with the choice of whether to make a model or a video, we hope that students will think about how they learn best and decide which is the path best suited for their success.  Students also learn to experiment with different methods of studying. Research tells us that variation in method and location of studying are conducive to higher success on tests. In one study, students who studied the same material twice in the same setting performed poorer on a test than students who studied the same material twice in different settings. Brain researchers speculate that this is a result of our brain forming different associations between the material and the learning environment to help us remember; therefore, the more associations built the higher the learning outcome (Carey, 2010). This means that the old method of mandating a student sit at the kitchen table until finishing their work each day may get the work done, but may hinder deeper absorption of the material. Instead, maybe students learns that by associating vocabulary with dance moves or the times tables with a rap beat, it becomes easier to remember. The critical element is creative experimentation and individual ownership over the process as our students get to know themselves as learners.

In a video talk which has since gone viral, Sir Kenneth Robinson, renowned creativity specialist, accuses schools of “killing creativity”. Of the various reasons parents choose Grandview, one of the more important is the commitment to the creative growth of our children. While several schools at the local and national level have cut Arts programming, we have continued to add courses to our visual and performing arts curriculum at all levels. The July 2010 Newsweek report on “The Creativity Crisis” exposes the prevalence of such cuts at the national level along with the sacrifice of creativity-centered learning to test prep in the midst of our test-centered, achievement-oriented educational climate. Authors Bronson and Merryman reference our national fixation to compete with China and quote a faculty member of a major Chinese university as saying, “You are racing toward our old model [of skill and drill]. But we are racing toward your model, as fast as we can.” IBM recently identified creativity as the number one indicator for leadership, and it is easy to understand why…because the one thing that has yet to be outsourced is American ingenuity and creativity. And we believe it begins in the classroom, where students learn to comprehend and synthesize with freedom and appreciation for divergent approaches.

Regardless of the changes surrounding our children, we are confident that as they accumulate the skills we are providing them, they will move forth with the readiness to succeed in a triumphant way. The final measure of this success will not be found in test scores or grades, but in their confidence and sense of self. For this, we turn to each other as a reminder to fill them with purpose and lift them up each day. Excelsior ad Augusta, ever upward to honor!  

Referenced Works:
Bronson, P. and Merryman, A. (2010, July 10). The Creativity Crisis. Newsweek. Retrieved from
Carey, B. (2010, September 7). Forget what you know about good study habits. The New York Times. Retrieved from
Mitra, S. (2010, January 29). CIO priority: virtual collaboration. Forbes. Retrieved from
Robinson, Sir K. (2006). Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. TED Talks. Retieved from