Radical Teaching

we can do more

Fair Use and copyright

Ah, copyright, copyright.

That’s the nagging thought far to the back of your mind as you bend over the copy machine, inhaling the fresh scent of hot toner and assuring the line of teachers behind you that you’re “almost done” (a lie).  Am I making too many copies of this? Is this excerpt longer than what I’m allowed to use? But most likely, unless you are fresh from an inservice workshop on the topic, these copyright anxieties are way, way below the other more pressing items on your “to consider” list – below, for example, “Will Janie ever learn to tie her own shoes?” or “Is it my turn to buy the coffee filters?”

Copyright today is a touchy subject. Historically, it was pretty clear: an author and publisher who worked hard writing and producing a printed work had the right to make money off it without other people copying it word-for-word and making the money without the effort. If nothing else, “copying” a few decades ago involved a lot of hard work. Now, thought, it’s as easy as pressing “print” or using the “copy/paste” command. Besides, what are we to make of the plethora of written material available online? What about pictures, which even respectable sites seem to use with a blithe disregard for ownership? What about copyright on code – can you load one piece of software on two computers?

Intellectual property rights are being hotly contested in court, even as I type away.  We, as consumers, are in the middle of a battle between the corporation-model of development – strict legal enforcement of copyright- and the model represented by Creative Commons and Open Source. Check this debate out. It’s interesting.

But what do I need to know right now, before my colleagues in line at the copy machine attack me with staplers?

Here’s a good basic explanation of copyright and fair use, in a teacher-oriented site complete with apple clipart, from Cathy Newsome. Check it out. Noting that she “reserves all rights,” I will not excerpt her bullet points for you, but here are answers to common needs:

1. Attribute, attribute, attribute. Give the fullest citation you can, on anything that is copied or downloaded. Do your best here – sometimes no copyright information for a photo, for example, can be found, but you can cite the site where you got it.

2. Copying stuff to hand out to students

  •  Keep it short, generally one poem, article, essay, or chapter. Don’t copy more than three different things from the same anthology (the reasoning being that, if you want more than that, your school should buy copies of the anthology).
  •  Keep it temporary. Don’t keep copying the same resources year after year. Again, the law assumes that if you’re going to want it over and over, you should buy it.
  • Don’t sell it. (Duh.)

3. Showing pictures and multimedia in the classroom

  • There is generally no problem with this, as long as the copyright information is visible.
  • Must be related to your curriculum. (Your principal will also appreciate this.)
  • Don’t charge for the viewing. (Duh, but this means that you cannot, for example, hold a fundraiser by showing a copyrighted movie in the gym and encouraging donations.)

4. Using pictures, music and movies in student multimedia projects, handouts, programs for the school play, etc.

  •  In general, you can use 10% or 3 minutes of an item, whichever is less. 
  •  Don’t use more than 15%  of a published image collection, or 5 images, whichever is less.

5. Using copyrighted (non-open source) software:

  • One purchased copy per computer. Period.
  • Your school should have a written policy on this and a staff member in charge of keeping track of software licenses.
  • If you can’t afford to buy the programs you want to use, check for freeware programs that do similar things. (Open Office has many Microsoft Office-suite type applications, for example.)

All clear? Don’t worry – specific what-ifs will be covered in your school’s copyright/fair use manual or one of the many websites devoted to the topic. In general, copyright laws are designed to protect the profits of the copyright holders, so ask yourself: Am I using this to avoid buying it? (Of course you are.)


June 22, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Blocking and filtering – the Child Internet Protection Act

Why was CIPA created? 

Schools are, or should be, in the business of providing information. Lately, by which I mean in the last century, new information has been created at a much greater rate than it can be processed by any human being. Therefore, schools are now, or should be, in the business of providing access to information. That is, we can no longer educate by trying to transfer information from the teacher’s brain to the student’s brain. Instead, we educate by teaching students the skills they need to seek out and understand information for themselves. This difference is crucial for our pedagogy.

However, “access to information” has taken on a new meaning in the Internet Age. The fact is that most adults believe that children should not have access to certain kinds of information, pictures, etc. – mostly those with sexual content. (Since this blog is called Radical Teaching, and not Please Send Me Hate Mail, I won’t go into the reasoning behind most adults’ beliefs on this – only point out that our presumption of children’s innocence, and the need to “protect” them from certain kinds of information, is relatively unusual in the global and historical macrocosm.) 

Censorship of Print 

Just ten or fifteen years ago, most information still came from printed books, and it was easy enough to censor school libraries to include only materials that most community members find acceptable for their children.  A few parents did, and still do, help provide drama and excitement to the local papers by demanding that particular items be removed. But it was still assumed that the school could control the printed materials available to students.  Not so with the Internet.  Forget Harry Potter or Go Ask Alice – now students in their wired classrooms can have instant views of graphic pornography and chat online with cyberfriends who turn out to be sexual predators.

Censorship of the Browser 

As Americans, we therefore demanded that something be done. The trouble is that schools cannot collect websites the way they collect books in a library, including the helpful and excluding the unwanted. The Internet is an endlessly useful tool for education because it is virtually limitless, with new information being created every fraction of a second. The only way to exclude what we want excluded is to rely on commercial filtering software.  That is what various federal and state laws directed at “protection of children” (from information) are, in effect, mandating. The latest and most far-reaching law, the Child Internet Protection Act, or CIPA, was proposed by Senator John McCain in 1999 and signed into law in 2000. Here, in a nutshell, is what it says: (find it also in its original location at the Federal Communications Commission)

“What CIPA Requires

  • Schools and libraries subject to CIPA may not receive the discounts offered by the E-Rate program unless they certify that they have an Internet safety policy and technology protection measures in place. An Internet safety policy must include technology protection measures to block or filter Internet access to pictures that: (a) are obscene, (b) are child pornography, or (c) are harmful to minors, for computers that are accessed by minors.

  • Schools subject to CIPA are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online activities of minors; and

  • Schools and libraries subject to CIPA are required to adopt and implement a policy addressing: (a) access by minors to inappropriate matter on the Internet; (b) the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications; (c) unauthorized access, including so-called “hacking,” and other unlawful activities by minors online; (d) unauthorized disclosure, use, and dissemination of personal information regarding minors; and (e) restricting minors’ access to materials harmful to them.

Schools and libraries are required to certify that they have their safety policies and technology in place before receiving E-rate funding.

  • CIPA does not affect E-rate funding for schools and libraries receiving discounts only for telecommunications, such as telephone service.

  • An authorized person may disable the blocking or filtering measure during any use by an adult to enable access for bona fide research or other lawful purposes.

  • CIPA does not require the tracking of Internet use by minors or adults. “

[That last bullet point is a bit puzzling in light of the earlier one, “schools subject to CIPA are required to adopt and enforce a policy to monitor online activities of minors.”]

It may at first appear that CIPA has no teeth – schools and libraries not wishing to comply may simply forgo federal “e-rate” subsidies for technology. In fact, the Westchester Library System in New York has done just that. (Libraries, which cater to adults as well as children, have been the major source of challenge to CIPA; the American Library Association took it to the Supreme Court, which found CIPA fully constitutional.) But giving up that funding is simply not a viable option for most organizations, and giving it up would involve the highest administrators of the library system or school district, not just individual teachers or schools.

So schools have purchased the latest in filtering technology (an expense not provided for by CIPA). In general such filters are successful at blocking access to the most obvious pornographic materials. The trouble is that filters are even less able than antivirus software to keep up with the dizzying pace of change online. Many sites contain both helpful educational resources and resources to which most parents would object. YouTube is a prime example. 

At the elementary level, it may be possible (though sad) to limit school computers to sites intended just for children. By middle and high school, though, students need access to the full online world. There, it falls to individual schools and districts to interpret the requirements of CIPA, deciding what is to be fully blocked and what left to the discretion of the classroom teacher. Here, too, schools are addressing two fronts: blocking accidental or intentional viewing of “obscenity,” and preventing students from using the web for fun instead of work. Again, many sites blend the two functions.

What does this all mean for educators?

For legal reasons, it’s important to know the requirements of CIPA and make sure that your school is compliant. However, much more important for us is your school or district Acceptable Use Policy, or document with similar title, which outlines the rules for what the filters can’t control. Acceptable Use outlines what kinds of things teachers and students may and may not do online. Most are congruent with our common sense – no shopping on E-bay in class; no playing World of Warcraft while supposedly typing a paper- but it still pays to know the exact specifications. For example, can students browse “clean” entertainment sites when their work is done at the end of class? Can your elementary class join a electronic  pen-pal group in which they use their real first names?

June 22, 2007 Posted by | CIPA, safety | Leave a comment

NCLB and state technology plans

The higher powers above us are realizing that kids need to leave school with a certain amount of experience with technology- hopefully more than that of the higher powers themselves.
What are our goals for our students? As in every field, it’s no longer enough to train students on certain specific skills. We can’t predict what they will need in their futures. Right now, in June 2007, looking at the job announcements in the newspaper, we might say, “Every student needs to be competent with a basic word processor, spreadsheets, presentation software, and basic search-engine use.” Some technology teachers teach accordingly. But that’s just like the old-fashioned way of designing, say, a history curriculum by saing, “Every student needs to recite the major dates and battles of the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.” It ignores the fact that, in five years, students may need to use completely different applications in ways that we can’t imagine – because they are not yet invented.

Now, more then ever, we need to focus our teaching on independent thinking, creative problem-solving, and, especially, self-instruction. Our students ought to be able to think, “Hmm, to do this project in the way I want, I need to learn some basic HTML. I know where I can find an online tutorial [or manual, or expert peer] and teach myself what I need to know.” That’s how the people actually working and inventing today’s technology keep up. So do doctors, who know that by the time they graduate medical school, much of what they learned may already be obsolete. So do auto mechnanics, unless they want to be limited to working on cars built in the year they completed their training.

Let’s take a look at the broad view. In the past, world economies were based heavily on the human capital of experience. The farmer who’s worked the same land for decades knows exactly how to make it yield the best crops. The engineer who’s been built the same bridge in a dozen towns know exactly how to make it safe. But now, economies are relying much more on the human capital of creativity and flexibility. Almost every occupation requires constant re-training to build on new ideas, and the most valuable people are those who don’t need to be marched to a mandatory class to learn what’s new in their field. Many schools have talked for years about the mission of “fostering life-long learning.” Well, now they’d better get serious about it, because life-long learning is here to stay.

So what do our educational policymakers have to say about all this? Let’s take a look:

Here is the full text of the 2001 Elementary and Secondary Education Act, known as NCLB (No Child Left Behind). I’ve extrapolated some of the relevant paragraphs dealing with technology:


    (1) PRIMARY GOAL- The primary goal of this part is to improve student academic achievement through the use of technology in elementary schools and secondary schools.

[Note that the major focus is on academic achievement, with technology as a tool rather than an end in itself.]

    (2) ADDITIONAL GOALS- The additional goals of this part are the following:

    (A) To assist every student in crossing the digital divide by ensuring that every student is technologically literate by the time the student finishes the eighth grade, regardless of the student’s race, ethnicity, gender, family income, geographic location, or disability.

[What do the framers of this law mean by “technologically literate?”]

    (B) To encourage the effective integration of technology resources and systems with teacher training and curriculum development to establish research-based instructional methods that can be widely implemented as best practices by State educational agencies and local educational agencies.”

How are these sentiments interpreted at the state level?

Let’s take a look at the home state of Microsoft. Here are definitions from the Technology Plan of the Washington State Office of the Superintentent of Public Instruction (OSPI):


    While technology, in its broadest sense, can be defined as “the practical application of knowledge” (from Webster’s online dictionary), in this document we define educational technology to be “the combination of human imagination, inventiveness and electronic tools that transform ideas into reality to meet a need or solve a problem.”

    Educational technology includes hardware (computers, handheld devices, printers, digital cameras), software and content applications (programming classes, productivity software), and media (the Internet and videoconferencing).

    Educational technology may be applied in several ways:

    • For learning and academic achievement in the classroom—curriculum and instruction.

    • For sharing information and best practices—professional development through regional, statewide, and federal initiatives and funding sources.

    • For monitoring and diagnosing student achievement and professional development—assessment and reporting of results, interactive (online) information resources on school characteristics, and analytic tools.

    • To facilitate school administration and organizational effectiveness—grade checkers, productivity software, attendance monitoring, compiling information,and communicating with students, peers, administrators, parents, and others.

    Stated simply, educational technology is not computers, software, and the Internet. Educational technology is, ultimately, “the combination of human imagination, inventiveness and electronic tools that transform ideas into reality to meet a need or solve a problem.” [The Plan is quoting itself here, from the Vision Statement at the beginning of the document.]

So, things are looking good for technology students in Washington. Here is another piece of OSPI’s technology plan, from a section called “Teaching Philosophy Matters:”


Is it clear that the righthand column is preferred? Educational reseach has shown, time and again, that students taught using collaboration, project-based learning, and flexible problem-solving can transfer these skills to the real world. In case it’s taken a while to scroll from the top of this post, I will note again that these types of self-teaching are what’s needed in today’s economy, not to mention students’ personal lives.

How about that portion of NCLB quoted above, calling for “technological literacy” by the eighth grade? Washington State read that section too. Here is the rather intimidating chart of “Technology Literacy Indicators for 8th Grade.” It includes both old-school skills (using certain types of applications) and new-school mindsets (integrating knowledge into real-world projects).

Ultimately, of course, education is in the hands of the teachers and their students.

For amazing examples of classrooms where technology is helping kids learn to think, visit www.edutopia.org. I think one thing all those teachers have in common is that they don’t fall into the trap of “covering content.” They know that they are not there to push kids through a set sequence of experiences with a set outcome – because they don’t know exactly what the kids will need to know in the future. They know that one real learning experience is worth a dozen chapter quizzes. What do I mean by a real learning experience? Here’s what I’ve come up with so far, from observation and reading. A real learning experience resembles the natural learning we do as young children or adults, when no one is trying to make us learn. True learning has the following features:

1. Genuine interest in a question or problem, often arising spontaneously (“Could we make a kite that stays up with no wind?”)

2. Assistance and tools provided only as needed and requested for self-teaching (“Hey, Mr. Smith, what kind of kite material will let the least air through?” “Why don’t you try these three and pick the one that performs best?”)

3. Opportunities for reflection and modification of original theories (“This kite sucked.” “Why did it suck?” “Maybe it was too heavy. Let’s make a lighter one. How much weight can we eliminate . . “)

4. Authentic sharing of knowledge gained (“Can we post an Instructable for the windless kite?” “I bet the fifth graders would like to see us fly these kites and hear how we did it.”)

If you have experiences of true learning that differ, please comment so that I can continue my “reflection and modification of original theories.” In the meantime, I take it as a very encouraging sign that policy at the highest level is beginning to reflect what educators have always known: Our mission is not just to teach, but to teach students how to learn.




June 15, 2007 Posted by | project-based learning, teaching tools, tech ed | Leave a comment

Freemind – mindmap/web program

Here’s an example of what a web will look like in the working window. It’s been saved as a .jpg.

Here is what it looks like exported as HTML.

  • Mindmaps
    • Uses
      • word sort
      • organization
      • comprehension
      • vocabulary
    • History
      • 1990
      • Present
    • Types
      • bubble
      • spider

June 9, 2007 Posted by | teaching tools | Leave a comment

Blog about blogs

This is not even Blogs 101 – let’s call it Remedial Weblogs for the Interested but Ignorant. Note that I fit this category myself.

What is a blog?

“Blog” is short for weblog, or personal diary/log on the World Wide Web, if you prefer.  According to Wikipedia (see upcoming entries about this phenomenon . . . ) the term was coined by blogger Peter Merholz in 1998. Before that, though, online diaries were already common. Now blogs are used, not only as diaries, but also for discussion and commentary on specific topics (like this one), for social networking, and to share media. They are also used as public sites by businesses, organizations, and politicians. Some famous blogs offer independent news reporting, an alternative to the mainstream media.

Blogs are different from other personal websites in a few key ways:

* Blogs are hosted by a parent site that has developed a blogging application. For example, we are at this moment resting comfortably in the arms of WordPress, which hosts this blog for free.  Blog hosts also make it easy to create a new blog. (IfI could do it, almost anyone can.) Creating a stand-alone, non-blog website involves more choices and often you will pay for bandwidth.

* Blogs consist mainly of posts, or entries, where the blogger has created some more or less interesting text content. Posts will have, at minimum, a title, body, and date. Posts can be tagged, or assigned categories, so that readers searching for information can find what they’re looking for.

* Blogs retain the “diary” format; posts appear in reverse chronological order. (Say that again?) The most recent post appears at the top, and readers scroll down to see older posts.

What can I do besides writing posts?

Comment: Want to say something about what I’ve said? Welcome to Web 2.0! We are making virtual communication more and more like real conversation. Blogs make it very easy for you to agree, disagree, call me names, or bring up irrelevant topics, just like my real friends do. At the bottom of each post, there is a “comments” link. Click there and type your comment in the box. If I write something really provocative, as the blog title promises I will, you may see a whole string of comments, with commenters commenting on each others’ comments. This is what we call a conversation.

Links: Most commonly, bloggers blog about other things online. To do that, we need to link to other sites. This is the phenomenon that makes it possible for you, the reader, to spend hours clicking from one linked site to another while your dinner burns and the children launch the dog from a homemade catapult. For example, I can create a link to here, or here, or here. It’s more polite, though, if I tell you what the link is: here is the site of the late John Holt, my ghostly mentor.

Widgets: Pretty much everything here that’s not a post. To your right are mostly link widgets to articles that I don’t want buried when I add more posts.

RSS Feeds: Some of the widgets to your right contain feeds from various news sites, automatically updating the article titles when the site has new content.

Trackback: What if my blog becomes so exciting that people start talking about it on their blogs? Wouldn’t I want to know, so that I can skip with joy and go out to buy a round of cigars for all my friends? Unfortunately, the Internet is so beautifully anonymous that I wouldn’t know. Enter trackback.

1.I place a trackback URI at the bottom of my post. (Unfortunately this particular WordPress theme does not include it.)

2. Mrs. Uninspired at Nowhere Elementary reads my post. “Wow,” she thinks. “This Radical Teacher is out of his or her mind. I must refute his or her statements in my own blog, TeachToTheTest.” She sees my trackback URI. “Ah,” she thinks, “this blogger is requesting politely that I alert him or her when I discuss her post. I shall do so.”

3. Mrs. Uninspired copies the trackback URI into her own post.

4. Hey! I can see someone is blogging about my blog! Hooray!  

Permalink: Here’s another linking scenario. Suppose I read the post about my post at TeachToTheTest, and I write my own post about it. (Exhausted yet?) But I know that Mrs. Uninspired will be writing plenty more posts in the coming weeks, and I don’t want people to have to scroll down her blog searching for what I’m refering to. A permalink solves this problem by permanently linking (bet you never guessed that was coming!) to a particular item. In WordPress, we create permalinks using this format: 

http://<selectedsubdomainname&gt;.wordpress.com/<4 digit year>/<2 digit month>/<2 digit day>/<article name>/

Here’s a permalink to a post at  Wells On Education, here at WordPress: 3 Pros and 3 Cons of Teaching To a Test. This is an example of how blog format is different – a post itself can have a separate URL.

June 8, 2007 Posted by | blogs | Leave a comment

What can Jumpcut do?

The Great Hike

June 2, 2007 Posted by | Videos | Leave a comment

Work smarter, not harder

The teaching profession is full of demands. There seems to be nothing that we aren’t asked to do. In the last century, schools have taken on a lot of jobs besides teaching academic content – we have nurses, nutritionists, eye and ear checks, counselors, special education departments, lessons on citizenship and morals.  I’m certainly not arguing against all these additives to our schools. Schools can reach kids whose needs are not being met in other ways, and we can’t expect kids to learn abstract concepts when they can’t even depend on one square meal a day.

We have more specialized school staff, but teachers, too, are doing a lot more than just teaching. It’s exhausting to constantly hear demands from every corner for more focus on the basics, more enriched, hands-on experiences, more art, music, science, technology, more anti-bullying curriculum, more caring and compassion . . .  without any offers of more respect, autonomy, or (horrors) money for teachers.

But I think we, as professonals, are up to the challenge of providing more for our students. (We certainly try – oh boy, we sure try. How do you feel when you hear the ever-popular, “Teacher, huh? It must be nice, getting off at 3:00 and never working summers!”)  From watching some amazing teachers at work, I think the secret is to work smarter – do more with the time you have, rather than piling item after item on top of each other.

A perennial problem is how to include “extras” crucial to student development – like music, art, and technology – while bringing students up to speed on the 3 R’s. Fortunately, all those skills are easy to integrate. Students can make beautiful watercolor paintings of the insides of cells. They can learn to swing dance as they study World War II. Rather than squeezing the topic of “computers” into our daily schedule, we can find creative ways for students to use technology as the learn and practice traditional skills.

Here are a few examples of Web tools that can enrich the classroom:

wikispaces – Whole-class discussions can be difficult. Some students are shy, some hog the floor, and others can’t focus in that learning style. Try creating a wiki for the discussion instead. Discussion is anonymous, and can take place over time. It combines the privacy and focus of individual work with the excitement and collaboration of groupwork. For example, post a poem in the wikispace, along with thought-provoking questions. Challenge students to contribute to the wiki over the course of the week. Even if you have only one or a few computers in the classroom, everyone will have a turn.  Or create a wiki for a class project – wikijunior can provide examples of collaborative nonfiction writing.

 instructables – This site houses posts from around the world, all “how-tos.” You can find science projects, such as the Paper Boomerang, and art projects. Some include instructional videos. With a little help, even elementary students can create and post an instructable of their own. Howtoons are instructables in comic-strip format, particularly good for kids to create.

May 31, 2007 Posted by | tech ed | Leave a comment

What is this blog for?

Well, after many hours of fun playing with widgets and exploring other sites, it’s finally time for me to create content for this blog. It’s quite hard to address an anonymous and possibly nonexistent audience, but lots of other people seem to manage it.   

 What is this blog for?

1. Teacher toolkit. The Web is big. This blog will gather lots of stuff in one place, including resources for teaching traditional content, information on tech ed, and professional development / networking sites.

2. A guide for others on the same journey. If you, like me, are committed to helping kids learn using the best, most effective (and cool) tools, but don’t know quite how to tackle the Web 2.0 beast, come along with me. We’ll have fun!

May 31, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment