Trip Report – Summit (NJ) Schools

Last week I took a trip down to Summit High School to take part in a teacher workshop day. There were about 200 teachers from the high school and middle school there. The day was dedicated to new media with a bunch of workshops on blogging, wikis, Skype and other Web 2.0 tools. most of the workshops were given by teachers in the district based on what they are already actually doing. That alone was impressive but the level of support from the district administration was perhaps even more so.

A lot of districts seem to put up barriers to adopting new technologies that involve too much use of the Internet. Oh sure they adopt search engines easily. And they are starting to allow access to some web based applications but active encouragement? Well that seems to be a little more rare. It exists of course and we are starting to see people like Will Richardson, Dave Warlick and Vicki Davis join real pioneers like Kathy Schrock doing in service training events around the country. But to me real success is when a district can use a lot of home grown talent to do the training of other teachers.

The highlight of the day for me, besides meeting the very supportive superintendent of schools and talking to teachers, was the keynote by Jim Cramer. Yes, that Jim Cramer of Mad Money fame. His kids go to the public schools in Summit and he supports the district with his time and money. I have to respect him even more for the time than the money. It’s easy to give money when you have it but no one has enough time. The keynote was pre-recorded because getting there during the afternoon was not practical but it was clear that a lot of time and effort went in to preparing and recording the  talk. I wish it was available online so that others could hear it. Maybe that will happen.

His keynote was about the importance of media education. Creating media for sure but even more important in his mind was the training to evaluate media. What’s good information and what’s bad? How do you know which is which? It was so encouraging for someone in the media to emphasize that the media should not blindly be taken at face value. Clearly the ability to create and evaluate media are necessary skills for the future. Actually as Cramer pointed out they’re already pretty important.

FWIW I talked about Popfly as one example of a mashup tool to synergize data and make it more interesting. It seemed to go well and the teachers were very attentive, asked great questions and stayed awake. 🙂 I posted my handout last week BTW. They’ve all got Macs in that district and Popfly seemed to work just fine on the Mac books that a number of teachers were using to follow along with. They had to use Firefox though as support for Safari is “coming.”

Oh one more thing I have to say publicly. The tech support person at Summit was absolutely wonderful. I complain a lot about tech support (mostly echoing complaints I hear from teachers) so I need to point out the good when I see it. In this case the tech support person went out of his way to make sure that the web sites I needed were going to be available for my presentation. He specifically white listed at least one page that was wrongly categorized as well. He got me connected to the building wi-fi in seconds, double checked that my dry run went smoothly and basically did everything a guest speaker could possibly have needed. With tech support like that it is no wonder that Summit is reaching boldly into the next generation of online tools in education.

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