Learning Microsoft Office in K-5 is Like Taking Latin

Microsoft Office Word 2007
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There’s a small debate going on to decide if kids in grade school will be using QWERTY keyboards in the future. My bet, and the bet of most science fiction writers, is yes it will be a required skill.

If we’ve kept it until now – even though it was designed to keep the swinging mechanical arms of a manual typewriter from sticking together – we’ll probably use it into the future.

MSWord, PowerPoint, Excel are probably not going to be used.

They are already being usurped by wikis, blogs, google docs, WordPress, google wave-like things, all of which provide the basic functionality, but allow multiple people to edit a document simultaneously and keeping only one copy prevents the ridiculous organizational head-ache of making sure everyone edits the latest copy.

And the basic functionality of these options is getting more and more like Word, PowerPoint and Excel every day.

The new media is easier, cheaper, faster and has additional functionality like instant publishing and collaboration.

The kids in K-5 for the past five years have been Myspace- (at first) and now Facebook-ready. That’s their baseline. Learning Word and PowerPoint is extra, not a starting place.

Three years ago I was called down to a 4th grade classroom, because the kids were writing reports and “Didn’t know how to use Word.”

Upon arriving, I found the kids had inserted audio files in their word documents and were perplexed by the teacher who was demanding they “print their reports.”

They were making myspace pages about their reports using Word documents. They were using MSWord because the assignment had dictated which software to be used.

These kids were already multimedia. They are highly self-motivated by this new media, and that’s proved out by the hours and hours a day they spend publishing at home, after school, unassigned.

I asked the 4th grade teacher in the future to provide a rubric as to what media the students were not allowed to do with Word–problem solved.

Another teacher forces her students to do reports in PowerPoint. She’s aghast they don’t know how to use it. Why should they? They have Google Sites which allows multiple team members to edit a webpage with almost the same functionality as PowerPoint, and it is published and can allow (though we don’t allow this) for comments and global interaction. WordPress also allows for the same presentation as PowerPoint but with added functionality.

In that type of world, what’s the point of PowerPoint?

I realized this morning teaching Microsoft Office to K-5 students is like teaching Latin–something else that’s dead. They get certain skills, such as booting up, launching software, font and media placement. They learn to insert pictures and audio. All these skills learned using PowerPoint can be transferred onto the newer Internet-based media they work with 7 hours a day at home.

So, yeah, I guess there’s some benefit, but of course they learn those skills at home by 3rd grade without any intervention.

Seth Golden wrote, “Too often, we look at the new thing and demand to know how it supports the old thing.”

Perhaps that’s why Educational Management is having such a hard time adopting new technology.

So here’s the answer to that question:

All the skills students need to use the Microsoft Office Suite are learned in the K-5 environment using new media. They can easily pick up Word, PowerPoint and Excel in highschool if the workforce is still wedded to those stand-alone software options 15 years from now.

So, for now, let’s use the better, cheaper, faster technology they are motivated to use.

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We are Vermeer

The book “I Was Vermeer” by Frank Wynne got me thinking…

It’s about Han van Meegeren, a great 20th century art forger. The story exposes “fine art” as arbitrarily defined by critics. Talent is prerequisite, not predeterminer.  The book went a long way toward defining art.

The prosecutor at van Meegeren’s trial said, “The primary function of art is to rouse emotion in the viewer.” He was speaking of fine art.

Art in general terms, as opposed to “fine art,” is rather broad. Writing, design, drawing, photography, music, mashups, sampling, typography, page setup, display and organization, are ALL aspects of artistic expression. Expression being anything which can be interpreted. Even street signs are designed.

When one looks, everything interpreted has artistic elements.

In some ways, everything is art.

In a world in which most of the media’s audience have become producers, knowing that fact is important.


At my school our primary use of technology publishing is in 5th grade. “Think about writing to a specific audience.” “Can we choose pictures to better tell your story?” “Are there better videos to embed, which help the reader understand?” “Could we choose colors which are less distracting?” “Look for music which fits your message and audience.” Teachers are directing students–during social studies.

PicassoSelfPortrait1907Pablo Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” In the 20th century, the real question was how to remain an artist while going through modern education. “Art” has been considered an elective. “You’ll never make money as an artist, dear. Better concentrate on math.”

Looking at Powerpoint, Online Video, Blogging, Flickr, Blip and Twitter one quickly comes to the realization that everything is art. The challenge now is, how to train our children to be better and better artists.

Teachers are falling in line, and one reason it’s working: Nobody has said out loud, “But all this stuff is art!”

God forbid, because in education, art is both worthless and calling it art relegates it all the weekly art “special.”

Whatever we don’t call it, the issues and skills sets used to communicate online, are all from ART.


“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” — Salvador Dali

PaulGauguin“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” — Paul Gauguin. It also could be both, or neither. Well timed plagiarism (using Gauguin’s meaning as a copy of style) can be a cultural phenomenon–a social meme, a viral sensation. Artistic revolution never seen, isn’t.

Many bloggers (see Tumblr) are simply self-styled “curators.” They openly post things they find on the web into their blogs.  It’s called “CopyPasta” in the vernacular of the Internet. Those bloggers who curate sites of other peoples’ photos, statements and posts are creating a thing in itself.  A thing with a unique point of view.

“Forgeries are an ever-changing portrait of human desires. Each society, each generation, fakes the things it covets most,” wrote Mark Jones in Fake? The art of Deception. And Marshall McLuhan said, “Art is anything you can get away with.”  In today’s digital economy, copying the art one covets most, is very easy to get away with.

Taking and using people’s copyright is a problem indeed, but is it art? I would say, definitely.

The forger van Meegeren was clearly an equal of Vermeer in the eyes of the critics. On trial for selling an authentic Vermeer to the Nazis, van Meegeren had to expose himself.  When asked to prove the claim he had forged so many accepted Vermeers by copying a Vermeer in front of witnesses, van Meegeren said anyone could copy an existing painting of a great master. Instead, he forged an original Vermeer. When finished, the critics agreed.

Are forgeries art? I would say yes.


“Painting: the art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.” — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary. Writing and other multimedia production could work within the same definition.

Is the beauty of a spiderweb in the morning dew, art? Probably not.When two people happen upon the spiderweb and both start arguing over why it is beautiful. Is that art? How about if one of them takes a snapshot (not some artsy photograph) of the spiderweb, frames it on their wall, and then two others start arguing over why the picture is beautiful? Well then sure, that’s art. But is it the photo or the spiderweb that’s art? Clearly the spider did most of the work. If it is a straight snapshot, it would really be a question.  One could say the photographer “recognized” it as art, but what is the art recognized? At what point along this continuum does the “art” happen? Perhaps when people start to discuss the interpretation.

In many ways, when the interpretation of something can be criticized, it becomes art.

jonathan_swift“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” — Jonathan Swift

With many blogs and other Internet publishing being so personal, it sometimes seems the critics are all in confederacy against one, but it is the nature of art.

What we, the new producer class, create–are things to be interpreted.  Almost everything on the Internet is open to criticism, and getting used to that criticism is one of the real-world lessons for writer/producers on the web.

On the Internet, “comments” is a ubiquitous feature from photos to blogs, from wiki pages to mapping tours. Comments are something we need to teach children to moderate–which comments does one approve, respond or delete? Dealing with critics is part of digital literacy. It certainly is a reality our children will encounter, as all of them will have a significant digital footprint entering middle school.


“To be one’s self, and unafraid whether right or wrong, is more admirable than the easy cowardice of surrender to conformity.” — Irving Wallace, Saturday Evening Post.

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”– Theodore Roosevelt

It takes courage to produce, even more when there are critics ready to criticize.


Anyone who communicates in this modern world is an artist. You are either a good artist or a bad artist, but an artist you are–like it or not. We are all artists, and our students who are publishing are artists. To acknowledge this in our pursuit of education and technology publishing, will help everyone.

Online Work-Flow For School Newspaper Defined

futuregethandsdirtyThe Challenge:
Our 4th and 5th grades (12 classrooms, 230+ some students and 17+ teachers and specialists) want to start a single school newspaper.  They are requesting an online work-flow allowing students to write but not publish, teachers to approve and publish.  The look and feel should be of a newspaper, not a blog.  They at first want to print the paper to distribute to students and families, rather than it being an online publication.

Draft Solution:
We can use the work flow process provided by the blogging software WordPress. Students would be given the role of “contributors” and 20 teachers and specialists “editors” or “administrators.” We could use a newspaper looking theme (14 different options can be perused here.) The newspaper could be viewed online or printed out and distributed.

To Publish Online or Not Online:
The 5th grade does a long-form research and publishing project each year which employs all sorts of social and publishing mediums such as blogs and wikis.

We have an Internet Security Protocol which has three components:

1)Don’t provide any personal details (name, school, county, state, country).
2)Don’t allow any incoming communication channels (no comments or text surveys) the only exception being radio button surveys.
3)And we tell students, “Never meet anyone in real life you only met online.”

Thus having students work in a “live” online environment is not a stretch.  Research two years ago found a majority of 4th grade students were actively publishing online (Facebook, MySpace) on their non-school time and equipment.

However, most of the teachers engaged in this project are viewing this as a traditional printed newspaper.  They seek to print the document and distribute a printed version.  This provides another layer of security because nothing will go out unless it is printed and copied multiple times.

Solution Pro/Con Considerations
Blackboard Pros Blackboard is relatively un-hackable from outside the school system, could be used to assemble newspaper for printing, available via home both for student editorial work and family viewing, it is completely backed up.
Blackboard Cons Blackboard provides no workflow for assembling such a large newspaper publishing venture, it is cumbersome and clunky to use, most families have a hard time navigating into blackboard, multimedia and publishing features limited.  Blogging and Wiki features disabled for family viewing.
WordPress Inside Firewall Pros WordPress provides solid online work-flow for supporting large newspaper publishing venture. Behind the firewall it would not be viewable to anyone allowing students to write freely using their names, school name and other identifying information.
WordPress Inside Firewall Cons WordPress behind the firewall, students could NOT access from home to add items, if in the future the requirements change this installation would never be able to be seen outside the firewall, backups would be dodgy.  Initial investment would include a high-end desktop and backup system.
WordPress Outside the Firewall Pros The service would be fully redundant and backed up on a nightly basis, it would provide robust work-flow and be accessible online for student editing and family viewing. Newspaper could be both printed and seen online.  No setup or ongoing maintenance costs.
WordPress Outside the Firewall Cons The online newspaper would be viewable to everyone requiring use of Internet Safety publishing protocol like the 5th grade uses for other publishing.

1)Blackboard is difficult to use and has none of the work-flow needed for this large-scale project.  Blackboard forces students to have their name or student id number on everything they publish (which in violation of our safety practices).  The blog and wiki elements of Blackboard are not viewable by families.

2)Wordpress is a solid solution from a work-flow standpoint and allows teacher and different groups of students to have different roles in the editorial process.

3)Installing WordPress inside the firewall will make it more secure in the short-term to make sure nothing is published without being scrutinized by a teacher.  It gives teachers, especially those with no blogging experience, more comfort to know nothing will go out that is not printed first.

4)However WordPress inside the firewall is not future proof.  It doesn’t allow for a change of heart which would allow for the paper to be published online.  This option of online publishing is one all real newspapers are now engaged.  The backup of data on an internally running installation of WordPress would be dodgy.

5)Wordpress outside the firewall has all the benefits of WordPress inside the firewall and allows for future proofing in several ways:

a)It allows students to access the newspaper’s editorial features from anywhere.

b)It allows the published items to be viewed by anyone anywhere.

c)It requires students adhere to online safety publishing guidelines listed above.  Students could use pen names and the school’s nickname could be used in lieu of the school name.  Everything else could be open.

We will be thinking on this over the next few weeks with the teams in question.