Interview with Karen Cator, Part 1: The DOE’s Guide to Allowing Online Access in Schools

Last month, the Department of Education released its 124-page, information-packed National Education Technology Plan. I spoke with Karen Cator, the Director of the Office of Educational Technology, about the reality of implementing some of these guidelines into the existing public education system.

Her answers were direct, forthright, and sensible. It’s apparent that the authors spent a great deal of time finding forward-thinking examples that educators and administrators can use as guides. Here’s part one of three of our conversation.

Q: The National Education Technology Plan has been out for a month now. What’s been the reaction so far from the education community?

It’s been predominantly positive. In general, some have said it’s too visionary or too far out, and some have said it hasn’t gone far enough, so I think probably we struck a balance in the middle.

The plan put out a high-level vision and tied it to the ground with research and sidebars, with goals and recommendations, and even a “getting started now section.”
Continue reading

Napa New Tech: School of the Future is Here

What does the high school of the future look like? It’s one that emphasizes useful, relevant skills that can be applied to college and the work world beyond. One that encourages students to be critical thinkers, responsible for their own actions. One that trains them to work collaboratively and push themselves to outside their comfort zones. And one that uses the benefits of technology to reach those goals.

If these are the tenets, then the folks at Napa New Technology High School in Napa, Calif., believe theirs is the model.

One of 62 schools in the New Tech Network, Napa New Tech High has turned the traditional high school model on its ear. Its objective is to deliver responsible citizens who are ready to work or go to college, and learn the skills to be prepared for the world outside the confines of school.

I visited the campus recently and came away with a clear understanding of the school’s vision. There’s a lot to cover, but in essence, I’ve boiled it down to these five ways I consider New Tech a school of the future.

1) Breeding a culture of accountability.

Aligning with the growing movement of teaching 21st century skills, one of the recurring mantras at New Tech High is the pervasive culture of respect, trust, and responsibility that goes both ways between educators and students. For instance, you’ll hear no bells signaling the end of class periods. Students are trusted to keep track of their own time, just as they would as grownups in the outside world, and to show up where they need to at the appropriate times. They can organize independent study projects with teachers and work on their own or in groups in the school’s airy atrium/cyber café. Continue reading

Lady Gaga Songs Teach History

For those who think history is boring, maybe Lady Gaga can change their tune.

Two Hawaii teachers have created music videos for YouTube that use pop songs to teach classical history, according to an article in the Star Advertiser.

So far, the duo has produced 49 videos on YouTube.

“We’ve only had wildly ecstatic responses. It just blows them away,” Mahelona said [one of the teachers]. “The kids just eat it up. And then they take the exam and just from singing the songs, they would remember everything.”

Lady Gaga’s famous “Bad Romance” helps illustrate the French Revolution. Check it out.

Wednesday 1/5: News Roundup

Texas School districts adopting CSCOPE online curriculum – School districts throughout Texas are adopting a new curriculum tool aimed at improving student test scores. Supporters describe it as a user-friendly online curriculum management system that can be customized, complete with timetables for covering required material within the school year.

Google Pushes Education Software Through App Store – Google is talking with makers of educational software to help build a marketplace for online learning programs, an industry whose value may approach $5 billion (MSNBC)

Ore. district says iPods fire up kids for reading - While other school systems across the nation have banned personal cellular phones or mobile internet devices, the Canby School District is one of a growing number of districts that is fully embracing mobile learning technology. (

Policy, Fiscal Challenges Confront State Officials – Despite bleak fiscal conditions that could thwart some of their priorities, governors and state lawmakers—bolstered in some cases by new Republican majorities—are expected to press forward this year with ambitious education proposals that could include changing teacher job protections and expanding school choice. (Education Week)

Virtual Students Are Used to Train Teachers – Real-time classroom simulations like TeachME, supporters say, offer promise for a host of teacher-training applications. Through them, candidates could gain hands-on practice with urban students, or practice a discrete skill such as classroom management. (Education Week)

How Do You Measure Success in Learning?

“Some kids who struggle the most are bright kids who’ve always gotten A’s but now are not necessarily getting the grades they’ve gotten. When it comes to things like collaboration, critical thinking, pushing above and beyond, they don’t know what to do when they’re graded on those things and sometimes they get a D on an assignment. Other kids who’ve never been successful are doing great.”

- Howard Mahoney, principal of Napa New Tech High School in Napa, California.

I’ll be posting more articles about the school and its innovative program in the next few days.

new tech school of future

What does the high school of the future look like? The folks at New Technology High School in Napa, Calif., believe theirs is the exemplary model.

One of more than 60 schools in the New Tech Network, New Tech High has turned the traditional high school model on its ear. Its ultimate objective is to deliver responsible citizens who are ready to work or go to college, and generally be prepared for the 21st century.

Here are five ways New Tech qualifies as a school of the future.

1) Breeding a culture of accountability.

One of the recurring mantras at New Tech High is the pervasive culture of respect, trust, and responsibility that goes both ways between educators to students. No bells

1)   Culture:

Feeling of how they’re doing work is different from traditional schools. There’s not as much control. It’s much less about control. No bells or hall passes, we can see from one classroom to another, our kids are basically treated as much asp ossible like an employee in an company. With respect and trust. Professional culture of trust, respect & responsibility.

Rather than come up with rules to control behavior, we give them as much freedom as possible, we come up with as a community, them but give them norms and behaviors for work we want everyone to do. Ownership of community.

If you don’t have this atmosphere, it’s hard to think about academic achievement. Even in urban schools focus on culture as primary piece, until that gets esptablished it’s hard to do anything else.

4th year Bill & Melinda gates foundation pushing small schools initiative. They wanted to replicate model across the country. Got grants.

How do you transfer knowledge to communities? How to get other schools to understand

62 schools that are replicating the model.

Core elements:

Doesn’t help to try to piecemeal your way to change. They’re seen by the rest of the system as cancer. The whole system fights against that change.

You can see pockets of innovation all over the country. Ther e are individual schools. But when you talk about meaningful change that’s sustainable, we’re talking about much more system change.

What New Tech system represents is unpackaing fo traditional model, envisioning what 21st century looks like, then putting it back components together so that everything meshes together and none of it seems like a cancer.

3 big areas:

2)   curriculum.

Project based. It came from fundatmental belief that we have set of skills we want to teach kids. Critical thinking, collab, communication, core set of skills, 2 approaches you can take: create electives that teach collabr, or you embed collab into every single class. If you do that, it leads to project based learning. The level of engagement is higher. Learned from Buck Institue: projects were cool but not tied to standards, but int his era of high accountability, we have to train teachers to look at standars that state derive, where’s the meaningful application of that knowledge. So now we start with standards and build curriculum around them. But provide deeper learning experience that also teaches 21st cneutry skills.

3)   technology

biggest levers of change, throwing computer into classroom, you empower knowledge on their own. Traditaionl classroom teacher passes out info, learning happens in classroom with teacher. But in this enviornemtmn less lecturing, less teacher-led acitivites. Kids are finding path to knowledge their own way. Tech allows that to happen. They become empowered and no longer have to raise their hand and ask the teacher unless they’re really stuck.

Push them become life long learners. It happens at any time as long as you have access to info and tech.

Dislodge their traditional path, then all these peieces in place.

One tech example: GRADEBOOK, easiest ways to do grading.

If a kid turns in a paper late, we mark them down.

In new tech, if you take Bplus paper and give them c-, you no longer know what the kid did well and what they did poorly.

They might be graded on 4 different criteria; content, written communication (even math), critical thinking if there’s analysis, work ethic.

Our rubric has that. When they see grades online, what they see is here’s my score in, in critical thinking, in content, in work ethic.

It’s not about them avoiding something they’re bad at, but improving it.

Conditions for Success: Scaling

You have to get to 1-1, project based learning, team teaching.

If they’ve got pacing guides, you have to cover this topic on this day, it won’t work. It has to be flexible. If you’re not ready for this, let us know when you are.

Whole years’ worth of planning. Financing, facilities, negotiating issues with district, student recruitment,

First major training event is with principals. We go visit schools, they’re writing master plan of how to put thins together, what it’s like to govern a new tech school.

Then we do shadowing experience, observing school environemtn.

Give them big picture by bringing them here.

5-day training. 400 new teachers last year for 27 new starts.

Blitz of project based learning,

Schools in Indiana. Converting entire schools that are converting.


We’ve figured out the school part, but the big challenge for us is to create a district that supports the infrastructure like this.

Then in transformations to brand-new initiatives.

Teachers are busy teaching.

Site visits 10 times a year to different school. Have a platform that we can see their rubrics and can help them.

Remote support during skype, email, phone,

National conference come together every year and get re-energized.

Training trainors, every teacher

Traditional schools of ed don’t graduate students that are ready for this, so a lot of time has to be spent training teachers.

Small agricultural community like new tech high

What does a 21st century school DISTRICT look like?

In Michigan, Indiana they have to reinvent the economy.

Krista: we’

1/3 rural 1/3 sub 1/3 urban

works in every community.

Half of kids have free and reduced lunch.

Looking for ways to have laptop

Netbooks for students

Trying to figure out what’s the video game policy here. On school computers,

Bring your own computers to school, video games as teaching tools. Video games in the cyber café. For the most part,

Headphones on? Can you play games if your games aren’t good?

Asking input form students. If this was a job, this would be afireable offense.

Columbus ohio can take laptops home. The

Rather than being passive recipients of rules, give them power to make smart choices.

How do

Students have bought in,

Ipads don’t work on network yet. Wifi versions work. Stoneware.

Can’t create multimedia, limited functionality.


Textbook plays a different role here. There’s so much info on the web. We do have textbooks and pull out occasionally to research, but we don’t do worksheets off textbooks. If there’s info on audio, video and text on web,

In general, our schools do better in the humanities, language arts, and science,

Math is average. We’re not doing harm to kids, but we still have a ways to go to crack the math nut. There are lots of people we’re having conversations with,

Engagement, grad rate, off the charts. Students going to post-secondary

Asked families to provide computer for kids, and for those who can’t, there are desktops at schools.

93% of kids are bringing laptops. Everyone else has desktops at school.

moving towards cloud computing.

51% of kids are on free or reduced lunch overall at New Tech.

at Napa New Tech, 33%

very few laptops have been stolen, and if they were, they were off-campus.

No Digital textbooks.


In general our students do better across the country in humanities, language arts, social studies, science, math is still at average. We’re not doing harm to kids, but

Our kids are going to college,

We’re trying to redefine what the definition of a great school is. Not just good test scores or great football teams. If we had a national assessment around critical thinking, which we unfortunately don’t, you change the whole dialogue.

We’re tyring to available through assessemtns,

New superintendent is a big supposrter, if we can get policy changes, if you could have culture surveys as part of school report card, you could change dialogue.

Lottery system. No entrance tests or requirements.

Want kids go through process ask for 1-page essay about what they want.

We get kids to commit to a full year.


Period of adjustment, big learning curve.

Some kids who struggle most are bright kids who have As but now they’re not necessarily getting grades they’ve gotten. Things like collaboration, critical thinking, pushing above and beyond, they don’t know what to do when they’re graded on those things and get a D on an assignment.

Other kids who’ve never been successful are doing great.

383 students

some of the kids, four of them have finished up high school, juniors or seniors in high school, leave take their exit exam and go straight to community college.

But high school graduation is once in a lifetime opportunity, senior year in high school they might level.


Schools have even demographics. 1/3 are rural, 1/3 are

Biggest growth is in the Midwest. In CA there isn’t a lot of money to go around

$450,000 or $500,000 over 4 years

Mobile Learning Could Be Key in Achievement Gap Equation

By Leslie Rule
Leslie Rule is studying at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in the Technology, Innovation, and Education (TIE) program.

Can mobile learning bring quality education to under-served communities? Research is pointing in that direction.

A recent report by Pew Internet and American Life Project shows that the mobile Internet may be the very technology that finally helps close the “digital divide.” Researcher Aaron Smith notes that access to the digital world is increasingly being untethered from the desktop, and this is especially true for people of color: African Americans and English-speaking Latinos are more likely to own a mobile phone, use non-voice data applications, and take advantage of a wider range of features compared with whites. Most interesting is the finding that minority populations’ attitude towards, and use of, the social web is different. For instance, minority populations are much more likely than whites to view government use of social media as helpful and informative.

A 2010 poll by Education Next found, “online learning is growing more acceptable to the public at large.” According to Harvard Graduate School of Education Professor Marty West, who conducted the survey, there was a 10-percent jump in support for the idea (from 42% to 52%). “In a single year, [that jump] is highly unusual,” he said. But what’s even more telling? That support for the idea of online learning is higher among minorities (African Americans: 61%; Hispanics: 65%). Continue reading

Parents: Set Limits and Good Example

A great story about how parents can help kids manage their “screen” time to make sure they don’t overdose, so to speak, includes the following advice:

Parents need to play or watch their kids playing their games. [New Hampshire pediatrician] Dr. Charles Cappetta says you would help your kid with their homework, why not help them with their video games?

Just as with texting and non-educational video games, parents can and should step in to limit time spent with gadgets, just as they would with good eating and other lifestyle habits.

Cappetta suggests what he called the “5210″ approach. It stands for five fruits and vegetables, two hours of video games, one hour of physical activity and zero sweets. And he suggests this approach for parents, too.

Tuesday 1/4: News Roundup

More Schools Embrace the iPad as a Learning Tool - A growing number of schools across the nation are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through “Jeopardy”-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems. (The New York Times)

On First Day, Chancellor Visits Schools That Work - The tour on Monday, more than an introduction to the system, was a tightly choreographed showcasing of the Department of Education’s biggest successes and newest programs, like using technology to help teachers in the classroom and breaking up big schools into small ones. (The New York Times)

Electronics show to bring fiercer competition to iPad – Aiming to capitalize on a trend started by Apple last year, several new tablet computers are expected to debut at CES 2011 in Las Vegas this week (

Tom Horne to Withhold Funds Over Ethnic-Studies Controversy – Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne announced today that Tucson Unified School District is in violation of a new state law that bans public schools from offering ethnic-studies courses that are designed for a particular ethnic group or advocate ethnic solidarity. (