Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Some of my favorite things

My top 3 of 2018

1) Though a Googlephile, in my little world of ed tech, my favorite thing of 2017 is IOS 11.
2) I've become a huge fan of and its standalone IOS apps Sparkpage and Sparkvideo.
3) Google Arts and Culture- just keeps getting better and now it has an app as well.

okay, a bonus
New for me (but not new) Breakout EDU

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Take Summa Time Off

Commonweal, the erudite Catholic publication of politics, faith, and culture is a site I read regularly. Though my faith is important to me, it isn't what this blog is usually about. An article this month caught my attention and I thought of my teaching. It starts with a perhaps too much of a modernist take on why the prolific author and saint, Thomas Aquinas stopped writing suddenly in December 1273 in the midst of his masterwork, Summa Theologica. 

While saying Mass, Aquinas received a vision that made all of his works, as it put it, "mere straw". Catholics have long thought it a profound spiritual crisis/ awakening that silenced Thomas. Malesic, instead posits that Aquinas suffered from burnout and that after decades of churning out four thousand words every day (today that would be 15 pages single-spaced typed every day) he simply was exhausted.

Malesic then pivots to tell his own story of walking away from a tenured professorship at the age of 40. Because of more duties, more stress and more pressure he began to lose the love for his craft of teaching, a craft he once won awards for. He continues:
"What I experienced—and what I see, admittedly somewhat anachronistically, in the final days of Thomas Aquinas—is burnout. We toss around that term imprecisely, applying it to languorous teens, drug addicts, and Graham Greene characters. But psychologists who study the phenomenon have a definition for it. Burnout is a response to the chronic stress of work, manifested in exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of inefficacy. Anyone who works in an institution or responds to clients’ human needs is at risk. Thus burnout is a malady typical of post-industrial capitalism, where the simultaneous imperatives of productivity and cost-cutting breed conflicting norms that workers cannot fulfill without risking damage to their inner lives."
 My own little school could be headed towards budget cuts and layoffs. Certainly, times are tight and some people feel they are being asked to do more for less. We are stressed.

Malesic that points out that it is often the best who succumb to burnout. From here, Malesic shifts to a critique of the modern capitalist ethic. While I largely agree, it isn't what I wish to address here. Instead, it is the complaint/ refrain I get from the teachers I am trying to support. Five years ago, I left a middle school where I taught for 22 years. Those I taught with and who remain all say they are busier than ever. I asked a friend why they feel that way. I reminded him that during our fat years when the school was booming, he and I taught many more students year and we had a much heavier coaching burden. It wasn't just the two of us that did this; all of us did it. We were also required to go to all plays and concerts and were encouraged to attend games.

Today, the average load is far less. Most teachers teach fewer than 50 kids, some fewer than 40. the coaching requirement has been substantially reduced. Yet they feel busier. I can't say whether this is or isn't true. I can't help but wonder if this "busyness" is more related to stress and uncertainty than their amount of work.

No matter the purpose and cause of this stress or whether there is more or less work today than there was 15 years ago, it speaks to the importance of self-care. We need to practice balance. The best teachers give and give and give of themselves. Again, it is often the best of us who tire.

I don't know what stopped Aquinas from finishing Summa. Aquinas was fully a man of his time and undoubtedly believed the mystical vision he saw that turned his life work to straw. Thomas was very human and not just a towering intellect. He was a poet and big rambling mass of a man. His Latin is said to be too witty to translate effectively though his great hymn is still sung every Holy Thursday by Catholics around the world. Though some of my more traditional fellow Catholics believe that a vision from God silenced him, like Malesic I wonder if there is more to the story, anachronism or not.
If you've found this blog, you care about kids, teaching, and education. Perhaps (and probably) you are among the better teachers in your school. Make sure you remember that your teacher self is only part of who you are. Take time over your break this week to remind yourself of that and to recharge your batteries. Don't damage your inner lives. Don't feed easy cynicism and most of all, don't doubt your usefulness.

Monday, December 18, 2017

ADHD and Tech Addiction. Some Thoughts

Are the iPads like an addictive drug giving ADHD kids massive dopamine hits as this article suggests?

Or is the iPad a wonderworker for kids with ADHD?

While I lean towards the latter point of view, clearly the iPad and tech devices can be "addictive". Some suggest tech lights up the same part of the brain that alcohol and drugs do. It's why we reach for our cell phone to text while driving even though our wiser part knows it is a terrible idea. It's akin to the alcoholic taking another even though he knows it is a bad idea. A part of ourselves can't help it.

Despite this, off the top of my head, I can think of several ways an iPad/ iPhone can be helpful to an ADHD student. A student can take pictures and refer to them later, as working memory is an issue for students with ADHD. Similarly, having a calendar set with notifications for classes, assignments and meetings could be a student's best friend.

Pecha Kucha

If you're in the Philadelphia area on January 18 please join us.

Monday, December 11, 2017

End of an Icon?

From this article:

"Apple is masterful at making radical pivots. It killed the floppy drive, the CD drive, and the headphone jack in iPhones, while Macintosh systems went from the Motorola 68000 to the PowerPC chip to the Intel X86 line of chips.... What I'm sensing is that like the old Apple II (forever), the Mac will be phased out and the whole line will be replaced by iPads."
This strikes me as a strange doubling down. Of course, Apple's been right, time and again.  Yet, I can't help but wonder If the iPad Pro really enough of a computer to compete directly against the Surface laptop. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Loving Some of the IOS 11's Features

For several years, I used my iPad almost exclusively for all of my teaching with tech. There's much I liked about the iPad. Over the past couple of years, I've grown increasingly excited by the Chrome OS, specifically the vast array of free apps and extensions that add functionality to the bread and butter Google docs, sheets, presentations and gmail. As a result, I followed changes in the IOS for iPad much less closely. Though, to be honest when I did check I didn't see any significant difference between its various iterations from IOS 6 through 10. IOS 11, however, has gotten my attention.

IOS 11 does some things I like. ALOT!

For teachers, there are two changes that jump to the forefront. The first is that I can now edit any screenshot. Here's how. Take a screenshot. A small window will appear for five seconds in the bottom of the screen showing the screenshot. If I click that image within five seconds, different editing tools will appear on the bottom of the screen.

The other tool I really like love is the screen recorder. There's never been an easy way to capture what's going on on my screen on the iPad. To show kids how to do something on an iPad just got much, much easier.

Finally, I've written a bit in the past about QR codes. But they are so totally 2014 and from what I've read, seemingly dated. But now, in IOS 11, the camera doubles as a QR code reader automatically. When you bring up your phone’s camera against a QR code, it will be scanned instantly. I think this has the potential to breathe new life into QR codes in education.

Check out this video from Mashable highlighting the many changes of IOS 11. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Visual Essay

The traditional essay assignment receives its fair share of criticism from progressive educators and ed tech types and many of these arguments have merit. Several years back, I bookmarked this article from Slate. The author provocatively suggested- and it ignited a mini-firestorm- that colleges should stop assigning essays to students arguing among other things that for much of history, exams were oral. Indeed, the author goes on to write that the Greeks and Romans wrote epics, plays, dialogues, and treatises and that they composed speeches without using the essay. It does make one wonder how the essay seized its singular place as the way to demonstrate knowledge.

Thanks to Google and Wikipedia, I now know that it seems that Montaigne was the first to write, or at the very least name, the essay. As a literary form, it is about 450 years old. This post gives some explanation on how the essay became the standard school assignment.

Of course, we know that some disciplines have never embraced the essay. The poster is the standard format for sharing research finding in the social and natural sciences. Poster sessions dominate in higher ed conferences as well as in traditional middle and high school science fairs. Folks in the humanities have never embraced this visual genre in any significant way.

I do believe the essay has value for the type of thinking it helps to develop in students. I assign the occasional essay. Recently, however, I decided I wanted my students to create something visual instead of writing an essay. As an ed-tech integrationist who also teaches in the humanities, I've come to believe that being able to make a point through visual means is an important component of literacy.

Thus, as a culmination/ summative assessment of a week-long simulation in which I assigned students to argue four different foreign policy options, I asked students to write an "Option 5" using infographics and charged them with telling me what they think is the best option.

As I wrote to my students in giving them this assignment,  "Magazine ads, banner ads on websites, billboards on highways and busses. Visuals are everywhere. Yet rarely do we ask you to consider this in the classroom. As Karen Shramm points out (she's cited in the Read, Write, Think link below) 85% of what we know is gathered from visual perception."

Recently, I've been struck by the power of the infographic. Good ones allow for visual rhetoric. Arguments are augmented and advanced by spatial arrangements. Infographics can also require the same type of thinking that is required in a successful essay.

Before getting started, I shared some examples of effective infographics and talked about about what made a good infographic. I modified a rubric I found through Read, Write, Think and then we looked through some terrific infographics from the 

To make their infographics, I encourage students to use Piktochart. I also showed them how to use Google Drawings as an alternative. Once finished, they posted their finished infographics to a Padlet wall.

I am really pleased with how the finished projects turned out. One of my two favorites graces the bottom of this post. Infographics promoted the type of thinking a good persuasive essay demands of students. Yet it also did more.  I admit to being less clear on what that "more" exactly is. But there was a difference in understanding in some students for having made the infographic instead of writing an essay. It demanded more care. I also think the answer lies somewhere in the fact that by graphically representing the thinking process, it let students organize their thinking in a different way.

Final point and full disclosure. I believe in giving students agency- real choice. Students were also allowed to write a traditional persuasive essay or give a presentation instead of making the infographic. Two students in the class wrote essays.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Integrating Ed-Tech

I just found this great Padlet on integrating tech into our traditional school disciplines.
Made with Padlet

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

One Size Doesn't FIt All

'Differentiation is not a set of strategies, but rather a way of thinking about teaching & learning.' -Carol Tomlinson

One Size Fits All? 
When I was in 1st grade 40 years ago(!), I remember being put into math groups and reading groups. Despite never being explicitly told, we knew right away that some groups moved more quickly than other groups. We knew who was "smarter".

Isn't this differentiation? All kids were not doing the same thing. I remember three distinct groups in my elementary school class of 34 students. Was Sister Phillip Mary using differentiated instruction? Is this what Tomlinson wants us to do?

In a word, no. But having students work in groups can indeed be part of a differentiated classroom.

Vitgotsky tells us (c'mon ed-geeks, remember him?) that there is a zone of proximal development for every student. A Goldilocks zone where things aren't too hard- but are challenging enough, just above a student's ability level. Obviously, this place isn't the same for every student.

Giving choice in text- varied by reading level, choice in the assignment, and choice in learning method- all are means towards differentiation. But Tomlinson is right, it ultimately isn't a technique. It is a way of thinking. If I'm stuck in a "coverage" model, I will never really differentiate my instruction.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

I'm really digging the new Google Calendar

My colleague +Dan Crowley showed me yesterday that Google updated Calendar. I really it! I like its ease of use. While one can't customize it to the degree one could in the old calendar, most of those customizations were things I never did anyway. I really like the new visuals- it borrows the increasingly universal google symbols one sees in Google Classroom. It is more intuitive and easier to use. The date icons are much larger and the whole thing is just better looking.

The other GREAT feature is that I can now directly link to docs, spreadsheets, and presentations directly in the invitation so that attendees can view them in the Event Details. Makes a lot of sense.

Anyway, the change is coming soon for everyone, but jump in now. I can't think of any reason to stay with the old calendar.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Infographic instead of an Essay?

Here's the most current assignment I've given my students. We have recently completed a role-play from Brown's Choices Project which assigns students to present and then debate 4 possible foreign policy options. The simulation's setting is the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

Stay tuned for more information on how it goes and to see examples of the infographics my students create.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

It is about doing! Sticky learning requires active thinking.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Ditch that Laptop! (Sarcasm Alert!)

"Ditch the laptop!" "Take notes with pen and paper!" "Science proves it!" scream recent headlines across my Twitter feed. I tweeted in response that this is true for some students but not for others and it provoked more commentary both pro and con.

Folks skeptical of technology like to share articles (electronically of course!) proving the limits of ed-tech. The most common critiques I run across are the related topics of cursive handwriting and note-taking.

There are hosts of studies and articles, such as this one from NPR and this one by Mueller and Oppenheimer, suggesting that laptops inhibit effective note taking and thus detract from learning. 
"The students who were taking longhand notes in our studies were forced to be more selective — because you can't write as fast as you can type. And that extra processing of the material that they were doing benefited them." (Mueller)
I concede Mueller's point. I totally get it that for students who are frantically typing everything, the class is not about learning, but instead about transcription. I also concede that students and the students around them are more likely to be distracted and off task with a laptop. I've experienced it myself.

I have two separate responses/ objections to the "ban the laptops" argument. My first objection is to its insistence on one size fits all teaching. Learners are different and thus require different strategies to succeed. Some students learn more when taking notes. Every learner is unique, but what is common among all learners is that they require strategies to succeed. It is disheartening when capable students flounder because they lack the tools to leverage their strengths and support their difficulties. 

My other response/ objection is a broader concern about a rather narrow definition of what good teaching looks like.

1) When we dig deeper into the study Mueller did at West Point, we read, "Permitting laptops or computers appears to reduce multiple choice and short answer scores but has no effect on essay scores." (emphasis mine)  Is learning about thinking or recall? Essays get to thinking, multiple choice questions get to recall. 

2) Do we teach students how to take notes digitally? The study shows that students with laptops type much of the lecture whereas traditional notetakers write only essential points because they cannot write as fast as they can type. However, there are tremendously powerful note-taking apps such as Evernote and Notability. Take a look at what Alice Keeler does with Google Keep. I suggest that the metacognition involved in the process Alice Keeler shares is far different than transcribing the teacher's lecture. Also, check out this use Google Keep from the I Review Anything channel. Do we teach digital note-taking? It is a different skill than taking notes with pen and paper. 

3) Once notes are taken, technology can help a student organize them (via Evernote, Keep, Notability and countless other apps and extensions) and search within them more efficiently. Suppose we taught students to only listen and type down main ideas instead of transcribing the lecture and then showed them how to search within their notes? I'd like to see a study commissioned about this. 

4) Studies show that students forget what they learn after a test. So, even if students do better in the short-term when taking notes by hand, does it matter at all that students do better on tests if they are going to forget it within weeks anyway? To say that students learn more in the medium or long-term via handwritten notes is fundamentally untrue. 

5) I'll admit it, the lecture has its place. Sometimes it is the easiest and most efficient way to share knowledge. As I've written before, information is ubiquitous. It is accessible from anywhere. All of the world's knowledge is several clicks away. So, why don't classrooms reflect that? Why is lecture still the primary mode of instruction, especially in High School and College? Studies such as these miss the point. Technology allows us to significantly change the way we teach. These studies bemoaning tech use in the classroom are always set in traditionally formatted classes.

6) Information is ever-changing and ever-increasing. We simply can't know it all. In most professions, we should encourage people to look things up and not memorize. Harvard Medical School, hardly a wishy-washy progressive haven, recognizes this and has changed its program.

There's a place for traditional note-taking and some students should take those notes with pens on paper. I concede that. There's a place for lecturing and direct instruction. I concede that too.

For once, though, I'd like to see critics of ed-tech in school ask themselves some bigger questions about the point of schooling and learning and what we actually want students to be able to do. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Tech Apps + Google Slides = Bingo

It's been a bit since my last post because I've been very busy training teachers and students over these past few weeks.  I'm pushing hard for my school to adopt digital portfolios.

"Why portfolios," you ask?

  1. They document learning and store learning artifacts. 
  2. They offer a place for reflection 
  3. As portfolios become a showcase for learning, students become curators of their own learning story.

I've been pushing portfolios for a couple of years now and I've made only halting progress. I have a more robust support from the administration this year and I've been given more time to lead training sessions for teachers and students. Inspired by Calcasieu Parish Public Schools' training materials, I created my own series of cards using Google Slides for students to work on during the training sessions. (Feel free to use these resources.) 

I then used Osric's bingo card generator to make bingo cards with the squares of the bingo cards filled with the names of the apps and tools listed in this slide-show.

In the two days of training, students worked through the tasks listed on these cards. I'm happy to report that when they returned to regular classes, students were able to think of ways to use some of these tools to demonstrate their learning.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Not Fair!

My wife teaches in a school where 80 page IEPs are common. She's had students whose accommodations have kept them from taking any assessments at all or from having to do any homework. To teach a student without expecting the student to demonstrate any learning quickly gets absurd. How can one learn without practice?

Not every learning difference can or should be accommodated in a mainstream class.  That said, this case  really bothered me.  This Nobel prize winning scientist's career is over because he refused to share his PowerPoints with a learning disabled student. I just can't understand why he chose to die on that hill. It is an utterly reasonable accommodation. The student is still responsible for showing mastery just as every other student must show it. Why the utter refusal to share his slides in advance? I think it comes from confusing fairness with treating every student the same way.

If I can make it so a student can learn, am I not obligated to do so? Isn't it arrogant of me to refuse to help? I'm sure this Nobel prize winning scientist thinks he is somehow protecting the integrity of the course. Yet there is more than a trace of arrogance in this.

I'm thinking of the physically challenged students I teach. Some don't see as well. They could never take notes. Others don't hear as well. Others aren't dexterous enough to write notes. How dare I say they can't learn? How dare I not modify my teaching to make sure more students can succeed?

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Deck Toys Review

I tested out Deck Toys today. I had never heard of it until reading this ed tech team post today.
I'm very much intrigued by anything that gamifies learning. Students like games. Teachers have used review games for years and years and they are usually popular activities.

I liked some of the features of Deck Toys- such as it allows for self-paced game play, it offering a variety of game play options, and it being easy to use, Kahoot favors the quickest thinker. Students can get everything right in Kahoot and not do well compared to peers. Kahoot is fun but learning shouldn't be measured via Jeopardy! rules.

I didn't like the clunky visuals in Deck Toys and cluttered (ad-filled) screen (at least on the student preview screen through which I played one of its games) made it hard to read the graphics. I also didn't like that the game is primarily geared to factual recall.

If you are looking for an alternative to Kahoot, definitely take a look at Deck Toys. I don't think it is a "game-changer" but it will be useful once in awhile as a change of pace in the classroom.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

If We Were Starting From Scratch....

In every aspect of our lives, we have blind spots. We make assumptions. Last year, I wrote a post about making a change- a very obvious and much needed change- at the day camp which I run. It took me years to even consider the most obvious option. The reason I didn't change was because I made all sorts of assumptions, unthinking assumptions about how things were supposed to be and couldn't see the obvious answer right in front of me.
Teaching looks fundamentally much the same as it did 800 years ago.
 Think about that.  

Today in my International Relations class, which contains two Chinese citizens, I shared this sentence on the board and asked students to count the "Fs"

Go ahead, you try. Count the Fs:

How many Fs did you count?
(I counted 3.)
The correct answer is 6. 

David Brown shares this simple test on his website. He suggested that most native English speakers see 3 Fs while non-native English speakers see 6. While not a large enough sample size to prove anything, my American students except for one of the all said there were 3 Fs and my two students from China correctly counted six. 

Orwell had it right when he said, “To see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”

What is right in front or our nose but we cannot see when it comes to the field of education? I'd posit that we make enormous assumptions that school is just supposed to look a certain way. This certain way consists of content delivered through lecture, discussion, labs and practice problems and is assessed through papers, labs and especially tests. This learning is then "graded" according to a A-F scale that was invented at the turn of the 20th century. 

Technology allows us to think about teaching and learning in fundamentally different ways. Brain science tells us all sorts of things about how the brain works. Yet, in a world where virtually every other industry is changing rapidly, the field of education has been remarkably resistant to change.

As a thought exercise. If you were starting truly from scratch, what would schools look like? 

For me, I start with deciding what matters and what is worth knowing in 2017 and beyond. Usually in schools, we just add new stuff. New history content is added. Maker and STEAM is added. Yet we also keep almost all of our legacy content. 

We should consider what skills are essential for this world and what ways of knowing are needed for success and happiness. 

We also will need to redefine the role of the teacher. Jane Hart, in this article  suggests a change of name entirely from teacher to "modern learning advisor". Okay, I admit it is a mouthful. How about simply "learning advisor"? There will always be a place from some direct instruction. But I've found I teach more effectively when I'm not doing most of the talking. 

Students should have real choice in what they study. Yes, some basic numeracy and literacy must happen but not necessarily in the same order or with the same methods we currently use. Yet, Wolfram in his famous TedTalk points out that most of us equate numeracy with calculation skills. Higher order math thinking is reserved for the very few. So I'd even suggest that numeracy and literacy may need to be redefined.

I don't have all the answers. But I find this thought exercise to be most interesting because starting from scratch can let us move past our blind spots and basic assumption of what things are supposed to be like. 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Back to Life Back to Reality

I've been teaching for almost as long as this Soul to Soul song has been out.  The lyric which I use as a title to this post always pops into my head about this time of year.  Indeed, for teachers, it really is "back to reality".

I'm entering my third year as a Tech Integration Specialist. I've learned so much over the last two years. Some high hopes have been tempered but some seeds have been planted that I hope will take root.

I've been pushing for digital portfolios for several years and now have very firm administrative backing for this effort. I admit here, dear reader, that this is a stealth campaign of sorts for larger changes I'd like to see. For if we really embrace digital portfolios, we will have to put digital artifacts into them! Also, it will force us to reconsider how and what we assess.

I'm always hopeful this time of year. Big dreams. I hope that other teachers who read this realize some of their dreams this year. If you don't dream big, you don't get disappointed. But you also don't change a whole lot.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Addicted to Technology?

I once totally dismissed concerns about too much tech use for children. I didn't (and still don't) consider technology to be inherently anti-social or isolating. I contrasted time spent on a computer with the more passive TV viewing of older generations and considered it an improvement- and still do. For generations, older folks have worried about the habits of the young. American society has bemoaned the "kids these days" for generations. This Slate article shows that at the turn of the last century, society feared the "dime store" novels were corrupting youth across Europe and the United States. I figured panic of tech use was simply more of the same of such fear-mongering. Also, I dismissed screen time concerns as excuses by teachers who were resistant to change.

Looking at myself honestly, I know I read differently than I did in the past. I find it harder to stay with a book. I read all the time on my iPad and watch very little video. It is not as if I am not reading. In fact, I'd rather read a news story than watch a news story. My twitter feeds me a steady stream ed-tech, tech, education, sports, politics news- all rich and interesting. The vast majority of these reads take less than 5 minutes. When I read a book or longer scholarly article, I have to really work at staying with it. 

It doesn't help that I have an addictive personality. For me, too much is never enough. It's why I'm twenty pounds too heavy despite exercising regularly. If some is good, more must be better! Many argue that technology is addictive. Though not addicted to my phone, I am often on my iPad- for hours a day. While I feel we use "addiction" too loosely- as one doesn't going through withdrawal when a cell phone is taken away the way a heroin addict or alcoholic does when their drug of choice is removed- the mental obsession with technology is real.

Some argue, such as Twenge does quite convincingly in this article, that kids are being psychologically damaged by too much time on social media.

In light of the news that tech is addictive and psychologically damaging, what's a school to do? Should we become Luddites and embrace the Waldorf school practice of banning technology? In addition to banning black crayons (really!) , Waldorf Schools ban TVs and computers arguing that distraction of electronic media inhibits engagement between teacher and students. Can we really put the genie back in the bottle?

I'm the first to admit that many ed-tech promises are oversold even while feeling that we really haven't tapped tech's potential in the classroom. To me, banning technology entirely seems as silly as banning the color black for a child's palette of colors.

What can we do? I offer these 5 suggestions. 
1)  Only use technology when the technology allows the lesson to be transformed (or at least Augmented according to the SAMR model). If only substituting, don't use technology! 

2)  Teach mindfulness and self-awareness in school and at home. Mindfulness leads to awareness and promotes a sense of peace within oneself. Some suggest the escapism that we can become addicted to is lessened.  

3) Explicitly incorporate instruction about screen addiction and the how to use and respond to social media by teaching digital literacy. If the research is right, we are falling into a mental health crisis that we have yet to respond to. Twenge writes that psychologically, teens today "are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Much of this deterioration can be traced to their phones."  

4) Incorporate digital literacy instruction throughout the day. Talk about it in language arts and social studies. Teach it in science and health classes. 

5) Okay- only half-jokingly- how about giving kids Jitterbug phones- the "old people" phones that are advertized in AARP magazines. They just make phone calls. Perhaps we should get the addictive smart devices away from kids. 

   If this seems too extreme, have students put phones away and keep phones away at school. Insist that students talk to each other at recess and lunch. At home, parents should have students put their phones on the dining room table and leave them there for most of the night- letting them use the phones for an hour a night. Teach healthy habits. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ed Tech, A Mixed Bag

There is much to chew on in this article I came across just recently from a Washington Post column from 2016 . I agree with much of it and disagree with some of the author's conclusions.

I agree fully with Strauss that technology can "perpetuate, traditional teacher-centered instruction that consists mostly of memorizing facts and practicing skills.” A textbook on an iPad, looking up facts online, or playing Kahoot to reinforce recall are, "examples of how technology may make the process a bit more efficient or less dreary but does nothing to challenge the outdated pedagogy.  To the contrary:  These are shiny things that distract us from rethinking our approach to learning and reassure us that we’re already being innovative."

Yet, I disagree with her when she writes,  "Perhaps it hasn’t escaped your notice that ed tech is passionately embraced by very traditional schools:  Their institutional pulse quickens over whatever is cutting-edge: instruction that’s blended, flipped, digitally personalized.  This apparent paradox should give us pause.  Despite corporate-style declarations about the benefits of “innovation” and “disruption,” new forms of technology in the classroom mesh quite comfortably with an old-school model of teaching that consists of pouring a bunch o’ facts into empty receptacles."

I agree with half of this. I really don't see many traditional schools passionately embracing flipped and blended learning. Strauss has a wider scope than I do; but my reading and knowledge of schools suggests the opposite to me.

She is right that many technology tools mesh quite comfortably with old-school methods of teaching. As I’ve written before, it really depends on how we use technology. Seymour Papert (before he passed), Will Richardson and other early advocates of tech ed in schools now openly worry about what tech ed is becoming- a corporate reinforcer of the status quo. Indeed by the year 2000, Papert was already growing worried by the dismantling of his revolution and the idea averse ed tech establishment. Corporations sell schools what schools want to buy- tech that reinforces the dominant paradigm.

My final thought is more of an aside, Strauss bemoans open gradebooks. Grades get in the way of learning. I truly believe that. They discourage risk-taking and encourage conformity. Yet, I disagree with her thought that open gradebooks only serve to increase the deleterious and pernicious effects of current grading practices.  The damage is already done. Besides, we can't simultaneously tell kids grades don't matter and to ignore them while grading them. It is unfair to students to keep them guessing.

It's a great column. Give it a read.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


I'm taking a terrific course from the Change.School folks. I'm learning some things and relearning other things. It is increasingly clear to me the power of inertia. It is hard to shake up the status quo- even if a majority of folks say they want to. Look at the Republicans in Congress right now. It was so easy to vote 62 times to repeal the ACA when they knew President Obama would veto the repeal. But when things get real.... Look, school change and the ACA aren't the same thing and I won't go out of my way to conflate them further beyond saying that powerful forces get in the way of change. (In hindsight, Obama's effort to get the ACA is more impressive than it was seen at the time- whether or not you think it good policy, it was impressive politics.) In the case of school, I also think simple weariness gets in the way. Teaching and administrative jobs can be so all consuming. Time to think long-term in the midst of the year needs to be intentionally carved out, and often it isn't.

When plans are made in the summer, often they aren't realized once school starts in the Fall because we revert to old patterns. The patterns of school are deeply ingrained throughout the entire education establishment and infrastructure.

Change agents must be clear in messaging and consistent in promoting change. Otherwise, reversion to the status quo is almost inevitable. That's why schools have largely stayed the same despite decades of "reform".

Monday, July 3, 2017

If we started with a totally blank slate, what would schools look like?

As Russell Ackoff says: “If you don’t know what you would do if you could do whatever you wanted, then how on earth can you know what you would do under constraints?”
The Tom Carroll essay  “If We Didn’t Have the Schools We Have Today, Would We Create the Schools We Have Today? helps me frame my thinking. As the US sits in the middle of a healthcare debate,  and substituting schools for healthcare, the obvious answer is “No!” I think it is safe to say the same is true for schools.
Carroll points out that an 1880s surgeon walking into a an operating room today would be almost totally lost whereas an 1880s teacher might be perfectly capable of leading a 2017 classroom. The surgeon likely wouldn’t understand the procedure or instruments. Not so for the teacher. Yet, I do not think change is inevitable. The current model is remarkably resistant to change.
So, how do we get there if change is not inevitable? Culture matters. Leadership matters and yet a larger societal change also needs to happen.
ExDee Hock, first CEO of Visa and author of Birth of the Chaordic (chaotic and orderly) Age asks this powerful question of all of us: “And what if those with the greatest power, wealth, and position were to open their minds to new possibilities, loosen their tenacious grasp on the old order of things, abandon the palliative of cosmetic change, open their eyes to new forms of organization, seriously question their internal model of reality?”
What modes of realities to I struggle to let go of? I have to be less cynical with the Luddites and skeptics among us. I then might be better able to help guide change.
This Grant Lichtman video tells us rather ominously that schools such as mine shouldn’t be thinking in 5 year windows for long-term planning. Instead we should be worried if we will be around 20 years from now. Lichtman says change IS coming. The question is, will we prepare for it? Or will we be shuttered shut?

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Money, That's What I Want.

The early Beatles sang:
The best things in life are free
But you can keep them for the birds and bees
Now give me money
That's what I want

Interestingly, after getting all the money they could possible want, they sang, All You Need Is Love

In the post below, deBoer challenges the unquestioned assumptions about schooling in America. These assumptions are so unquestioned that he calls them "dogma".

"6. The purpose of education, from a policy perspective, is predominantly or purely financial/vocational; civic education, humanistic inquiry, socialization, aesthetic appreciation, cultivation of emotional intelligence or compassion, or similar are presumed to be of secondary importance if they are deemed important at all."

The entire reading is profoundly counter-cultural. It challenges many unquestioned assumptions. And this particular point that I highlight above is central to his argument because our culture defines "success" as being wealthy or at the very least working in an esteemed field. Politics aside, or at least partly aside, Donald Trump was perceived as successful despite his many, many faults. It is why he is president. One's happiness, one's dedication to family and to spouse, one's contributions to arts, science and the humanities all are considered less important than wealth and a great teacher, artist, or social worker is not esteemed the way folks such as Donald Trump, Jamie Dimon and Steve Jobs are esteemed. Remember the scorn heaped upon "community organizers" in the 2008 election? Is it really any wonder that "the purpose of education, from a policy perspective, is predominantly or purely financial/vocational?"

I'm guilty of this kind of thinking even though I'm cautioning against it. Let me tell you that I've worried that my daughter, an English major, will have a hard time upon graduating. At least I've had the grace not to tell her that and have had the wisdom to keep my mouth shut. I too am guilty of defining success, under the guise of "wanting what is best for her" by how much money she WON'T make!

Of course, I know the race for "success" is indeed a race to nowhere. It truly is fool's gold. Did anyone see the Silicon Valley start up owner who decided to pay himself and everyone who worked for him $70,000? He read studies that show there is a close correlation between happiness and money up to that point. It makes sense. At that salary- in most places in the USA- one will have a house, car if wanted, enough to eat, enough to buy clothing, enough to have most creature comforts and enough to go on a vacation. After $75,000, more income does very little to make someone happier. Many in America thought him a fool, including his brother who is suing him.

DeBoer gets it right. The primary purpose of schooling in the United States is financial and vocational. Everything else is secondary- even if the schools themselves don't fully buy in or claim to not fully buy in. I teach at a religious school where we proclaim morals and values are primary. Yet at my school, the bottom line is still the bottom line.

Consider this: every time schools are seen to be in crisis, mayors, governors and presidents empanel blue ribbon commissions of business leaders to fix schools. You know what we should have done after the financial crisis of 2008? We should have convened a panel of teachers to fix the mess! (I'm only half joking.) Have you noticed that we don't ask teachers their thoughts on how to improve schools and that instead we ask business people? Y'know why? We aren't "successful".

About my daughter, I want her to have enough and so I worry. She's the eldest of 5 and though she will leave her undergrad years debt free, we can't afford to help her at all for graduate school. I fear the debt she will carry and so I start playing that mental game and think about "success" even while recognizing that our traditional measures of success are sorely lacking. This argument is implicit, I believe, throughout deBoer's post. Americans are miserable. Our happiness index is falling in comparison with other countries. Some of us may be wealthier, but we aren't healthier or happier. As we define success in terms of wealth and career achievement we create unhappy people. Rich folks always want more money. Successful people chase more successes and neither of these paths will lead to happiness and well-being. They may increase pleasure, but they won't increase, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. I'm not against money or success. I wish I had more of both myself.

Schools mirror broader societal values. And these values have messed up many of us. Sadly,  to challenge the broadly accepted dogma is all but impossible. It's sad.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Google Shortcuts! /create

Want to make a start a google slides presentation faster than you ever have before or speedily open a new google doc, form or spreadsheet? Simply add a /create to the end of your url.

For instance by adding /create you get or try out It'll save you a few clicks. 

OR even better yet, get Google Docs Quick Create Chrome extension. And it'll be even faster still. 

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Oceania is at war with Eurasia and the Earth isn't Getting Warmer

"Oceana is at war with Eurasia. Oceana has always been at war with Eurasia." In this world where facts are optional and "alternative facts" is now a term central to our political discourse, it seems we are living in a society against which Orwell warned us. In this era, it is ever more important that we teach students to be critical consumers of media. The fact that almost half of American citizens believe climate change is a lie is due to years of disinformation from oil companies who took a page out of the tobacco industry's book. It's been a big con. 

To make our students critical and careful consumers, we have to teach and we must let them practice! Digital and media literacy are important skills that are largely ignored in schools and clearly it shows. Stanford's study showing that students are easily fooled by fake information online received a lot of media attention after the US presidential election. It is clearly concerning. Indeed, it's so easy to bemoan the flaws of "the kids today". But adults aren't really any better at this and are frequently duped as well

KQED and Common Sense Media both have great resources for teachers. Click around on both sites to see lesson plans and units about media literacy. We as teachers do not need to create good lessons and units from scratch. There is a lot of good stuff out there. But we do need to take time and teach it and let students practice.

Can we once and for all drop the notion of "digital native"? It means very little. Our students may be frequent but passive consumers of media, but they need to be taught how to engage with media and become facile with tech tools.

Monday, May 29, 2017

A Final Exam?

One of the charged topics within my school and within broader education is the final exam. Its proponents usually make two main arguments as to why exams are a good thing. The first argument is that a final exam forces students to look back, relearn and consolidate knowledge from the course. The second, at least at the secondary level, is that it prepares kids for the exams they will have in college. If my department chair was writing this post, this is what he would say.

I'm not a fan of finals; but I'm not terribly opposed to them either within the current paradigm. I do think there are better summative assessments and I also believe a well-crafted final that emphasizes themes, ideas, and big-picture thinking isn't the worst thing in the world. Yet, I am giving a final project, not a final exam for my course.

My problem, as I said, really isn't with the exam. It is the paradigm it is embedded within. It is the teacher-centered, content coverage model that bothers me. Little agency lies with the student and ultimately very little of the knowledge the student is responsible for "sticks" anyway. It gets into short-term memory and is forgotten within weeks.

Good PBL assignments and assessments are "stickier" because they put the learner in control. The best "final" at my school is a project for the traditional and very demanding science course. But to my mind, the final is brilliant. It is a project, not an exam. Students are tasked with finding connections to themes discussed in this integrated science course in pieces of art and famous pictures. It challenges kids to go deeper and there is no silly "guess what's in my head" that too many teachers play with the final exam.

What should good finals look like? In my International Relations class, I gave students a choice of options- choice is always important- and while most students are going to do a more traditional, though tech-based assignment (they will use Adobe Spark Page to embed video, text and visuals) a couple of students are doing more open-ended projects. One student is reviving Amnesty International at my school and serving as the leader of the club as a final project. You know what? This student may not be forced to remember some of the concepts she learned this year, but she will be applying those concepts as she writes letters next year.

Finally, a plea: As you give your finals, please don't try to trick kids. Too many teachers think they are being clever when they try to fool their students. That's educational malpractice. Make it about thinking and not memorization, except when absolutely necessary. And yes, I do think there are some things that a student just has to memorize- such as irregular verbs in Spanish.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rules of Great Teaching

Again I have come across Sylvia Duckworth's rules of teaching. I like all of them. My five favorites are rules 2, 5, 7, 9 and 13. Both pedagogy and content knowledge are important. I'd add a couple more to her list.
16.  Collect feedback constantly. A good teacher should constantly be gauging both formally and informally how it is going in the class.  
17. Let students play expert. The most authentic tasks asks students to be expert and share that expertise. 

What are your favorites on her list and what would you add to the list? 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Kids Are Alright

I'm trying to get a student-led tech team up and running at my school. Though inspired by the students at Burlington High School and the amazing work done by their teachers, unlike the students at Burlington where the Genius Bar is actually a class for credit, my goal is to eventually make my group a club.
We met last week for a couple of days- more explanation below- and I gave them quite an ambitious list of tasks:

  • Paint a Green Screen- check.
  • Build an awesometable -check
  • Make video for teachers of tech tip kids wish their teachers knew-check.
  • build a survey for the student body. check
  • Create a how to video for DoInk Green Screen. Check
  • Test run Time-Line tool maker. check
  • Test run a word press blog vs. a blogger blog to help me, the tech integration specialist decide the blogging platform for next year. Check. Here is the wordpress blog they made for themselves and that we hope to share with the student community. Embedded within the Blog is a terrific awesometbable. 
These tasks among several others took most of the day last Thursday and Friday at my school. At the school I teach at, students spend a week a year of giving service. Almost every student goes off campus to help at places such as food pantries, nursing homes, schools, parks and the like. I kept 13 kids back on campus with me as a tech intern service group.

These 13 boys (sigh, I couldn't get a few girls) worked diligently for the two days and they got quite a bit accomplished.

It is amazing how much work motivated students accomplish. Thanks to Naim, Devin, Jerry, Wexler, Kai, Sylvan, Timin, Josh, Teo, Ian, Hugh, Pierce and Jack. You got a lot done.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Power and Privilege

I'm a mid-career teacher and truth be told, at 26 years in the field, I'm closer to being finished than I am to my start. At the start of my career, I planned to teach for a few years and then pursue a law degree. I wasn't gung-ho on being a lawyer, but I figured that's what I was supposed to do with the degree from the college I went to.