Holding down the fort: those NECC left behind

While our better third, Sarah Trabucchi, is down at NECC, we’re still enjoying following all the comings and goings through the blogs, wikis, and tweets of all those edubloggers we know and love — and through Sarah’s constant e-mails. So, thanks to all who are so diligently documenting the (un)conference. We’ve enjoyed reading so many diverse perspectives on the same event.

It’s been particularly interesting hearing people compare EduBloggerCon 2008 to last year’s in Atlanta. It seems like its turning into a much larger event, which is causing some people agina. But this is a wonderful problem to have — the fast growth of the event shows the influence of the blogosphere is growing, and education 2.0 is turning mainstream.

We hope we can be in Washington D.C. next year, but for now we’ll live vicariously through Sarah and all the other NECC documentarians.

Oh, and one more thing, if you’re an OOM fan, find Sarah and she’ll give you some post-its!

–Tyler and Jen (in muggy New York)

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My ‘a-ha!’ moment for today

I posed this question today to Scholastic’s Chief Academic Officer, Francie Alexander, and, as always, the answer she gave me has made me smarter.

I asked her this: Are kids starting more book clubs today than they used to?

Here’s the gist of what she said:

It’s obviously a trend. Kids are becoming more social, and making connections all the time on the Internet in social networks like Club Penguin and others. Adult book clubs have become more popular too, and kids want to do what we do.

Harry Potter has contributed to this too. In a way, the Harry Potter phenomenon was like a national book club. Millions of kids have read Harry Potter books, and they talk about them all the time at school, on the playground, wherever.

(Here’s the nugget that makes this exciting.) Kids who talk about books they are reading and enjoying in groups are developing important 21st Century skills, including how to learn collaboratively. “They are practicing 21st Century skills, right then, right there.”

Makes sense, right?

Government 2.0?

We talk a lot about Web 2.0 in the education space and in the communications industry. We watch as social media continues to completely transform business and The Media. And it’s been on our minds a lot as the election unfolds and armies of citizen journalists on the ground provide unprecedented local– and often, instantaneous– news coverage.

This morning I read a fascinating story about Government 2.0 by The New York Times’ political blogger Katharine Q. Seelye. Of course! (cue energy efficient lightbulb) Beyond the presidential campaigns, I hadn’t thought about how our government engages its citizenry online. Seelye writes about “Rebooting the System,” a recent conference held by the Personal Democracy Forum, a group of Internet experts who explore this very topic.
Some interesting highlights (but, trust me, it’s a must-read):
  • The U.S. government has more than 24,000 Web sites, with 24,000 different designs.
  • The Department of Defense has a site about herding cats.
  • Because of the American Rehabilitation Act (supporting people with disabilities), all government video has to be captioned.
  • The Transportation Security Agency (T.S.A., aka your friends who make you take your shoes off at the airport) has had so many complaints about airport security that the agency started a blog.
  • T.S.A. uses Twitter!
Seelye quotes Steve Clift of e-democracy.org who said that in a true democracy, everything should be online “unless the law says otherwise.”

What about you? What do you want from your government on the Web? How are you willing to participate in an “e-democracy”?

How do you help a struggling 7-year-old?

I’m wondering what some of you brilliant minds think of this story in today’s New York Times. I’m having trouble deciding where I stand.

It’s about a school district in New York that has begun holding back about 12 percent of its 1st-graders and placing them in a special, segregated catch-up class for a year before graduating them to 2nd grade.

They call it a “Gift of Time” class, and some early data shows it appears to be succeeding in bringing kids up to grade level — nearly 80 percent of the the 1st and 2nd graders in the program are reading on grade level now.

But the program is controversial. On top of seeing their children fall a year behind age-wise, parents of students being held back feel a stigma has been attached to their children because they were separated into a special class – a class for “a dunce child,” as one parent said. They aren’t just pulled out for extra help in reading or math for an hour or two; they’re enrolled in a separate full-time class.

Would students this young be better off (academically and socially) if they were promoted, and given extra help the next year? Or does the risk of them falling farther and farther behind make it worth the price (ie the stigma and lost year) of putting struggling students in full-time remedial classes?

I think I’m leaning toward the latter, but I’m still not sure. Here’s what a couple other bloggers had to say – from The MindOH! Blog and Et Cetera.

Help me out!

Summer fun can mean books AND movies

Lately, we’ve been taking a look at the Scholastic 2008 Kids and Family Reading Report, focusing a lot on how technology and the Internet can enhance kids’ reading, rather than fight against it.

I’ve been thinking about a couple of other non-digital results from the survey: 1) kids need opportunities to choose their own books, and 2) parents can help kids find books that resonate with them, especially after age eight when reading frequency declines.

All of which brings me to the point of my post today: movies! I think we can all point to anecdotal instances where a young person’s beloved movie became a spur to read the book on which the movie was based, or to read a novelization of the movie. (My personal anecdote involves seeing a novelization of Footloose at the grocery store and sacrificing three days of lunch in a row because I HAD TO HAVE IT.)

Charlotte’s Web, The Golden Compass, Lord of the Rings, Holes, Lemony Snicket, The Last Mimzy, Nancy Drew, The Princess Diaries, Harry Potter (of course) … and the list goes on and on. Kids will often pick these books on their own, because the characters and plots are familiar, but also because they simply love the story. Parents and educators can help by suggesting movie-related books or vice-versa. But why stop there? If your family saw the new Indiana Jones movie, why not look for non-fiction books about archaeology (or alien visitors)? If you saw Kung Fu Panda, there’s the perfect opportunity to read about kung fu and/or pandas. You get the idea–which isn’t a new one, but one that bears repeating– especially in the hot summer months.

Going to see the new American Girl movie? After you do, read the book, then extend the reading experience even further: go online and check out an interview with one of the stars on Scholastic News Online!

Study: Social networks give kids 21st Century skills

News of a fascinating new study landed in my feed reader this morning, and I’ve been yapping about it ever since. Here’s what it says:

MySpace, Facebook and similar social networking sites might actually be making today’s kids better learners, and are teaching teenagers many of the 21st Century skills identified as essential for the future workforce.

Conducted by Dr. Christine Greenhow, a researcher at the University of Minnesota, the study surveyed and observed 600 students from low income families in 13 urban high schools in the upper Midwest. The research, which is still ongoing, shows students see a connection between the use of social networking sites and learning. And it shows they are also developing valuable technology skills (HTML, content creation, design, troubleshooting, etc), creating original content, and learning communication and collaboration skills.

Here is a great video about the research.

You can see an interview with Dr. Greenhow here. Or read the news from UMN here.

This research comes on the heals of a report Scholastic released last week showing that technology is not turning kids away from reading, but is adding to their experience with books.

It’s been a good couple weeks for those of us who believe in the potential technology has for revolutionizing education.

Sneak Peek of NEW Timeliner XE (for your eyes only)

Scholastic and Tom Snyder Productions are super excited to be debuting Timeliner XE, the newest iteration of the classic Timeliner program, at NECC. In advance of the conference, we’re offering a special “Sneak Peek” of Timeliner XE to anyone interested in the next generation of educational software.

Designed and built using Adobe AIR technology, Timeliner allows students to create multimedia timelines with media, photos and information from the web…without ever leaving the program’s interface—making interactive web-based class projects easier (and cooler) than ever before. Editorial note: It’s super neat. Really. (Adobe is saying it’s one of the top AIR applications they’ve seen, period.)

“Using Adobe AIR, Tom Snyder Productions has created a terrific application that bridges the gap between desktop and the Web – for classrooms. TimeLiner XE is not only one of the best education applications developed with Adobe AIR so far, it’s one of the best applications we’ve seen across the board. Adobe is proud to have provided the platform upon which such a rich, educational program could be developed.”

-Peter Isaacson, VP for Education at Adobe Systems

The webcast, which will be next Tuesday, June 24th at 2pm EST, will be hosted by the brilliant Hedrick Ellis, the brain behind this snazzy new program. Hedrick and his team will be on hand to answer any questions you might have.

We’re really hoping you will be able to join us! If you’re interested in joining us, RSVP to strabucchi (at) scholastic (dot) com…once you’ve RSVPd, we’ll send you a login and password for the webcast.