Friday, February 23, 2018

I usually have about 10 tabs open.

Back in the days when RSS was popular, I used it to control my internet reading. Twitter has replaced it. But here's my problem, when reading Twitter I often find myself opening several multiple tabs and then leave them open to read later. I bookmark. And then I rarely read my bookmarks. I used to archive with diigo and expect that I still have that account. I haven't checked it in years.

So, I resigned myself to pinning tabs, saving the most important websites to the task bar and leaving lots of tabs open. In my downtime, I go through my open tabs, reading these sites that had interested me. Messy I know. Far from best practice. It's just how I roll.

So I am glad to see the Reading List Chrome extension. With it, I can easily create a reading list to check out later by simply clicking the extension icon and then the green + button.  Now excuse me while I close my open tabs.

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Why We Do The Things We Do

Inertia. Newton's first law tells us an object will remain unchanged unless acted upon by a greater force.

I had lunch today with a friend who I first saw speak almost 30 years ago at Swarthmore College. Bill is a poet, a PhD, a Vietnam Vet, former Marine, radical, and fellow history teacher. Bill's not hopeful about the future. He's glad he won't have grandkids. He's happy in his own skin and willing to keep fighting the good fight for a better future despite his deep pessimism.
Image result for pushing rock
Unlike Bill, though I've a tendency towards misanthropy (except when teaching), I'm basically a hopeful person. This isn't a hopeful blogpost.

When 25 and witnessing the birth of the internet,reading and learning through the writings of Papert, Friere, Kohl, Kohn and Dewey, I really thought we stood at the cusp of a revolution in teaching and learning. It hasn't happened. It hasn't even started to happen.

At 30, I watched as for two weeks the horrors of Columbine dominated news coverage. I thought surely something would be done. It hasn't happened. It hasn't even started to happen. 

I'm closer to the end of my career than I am to the start of it. Education isn't changing. And now some morons think it is a good idea for me to have a gun in my classroom! 

Why are reactionaries so empowered? 

Real change is so very hard and fear is powerful.  "From my cold dead hands" as the NRA is wont to say. 

Are we really going to be lecturing at kids 20 years from now, 50 years from now? Will that still be the primary way teachers teach in secondary school? Will we confiscate their tech, their computerized glasses, their virtual reality thingamabobs and insist they take notes with pen and paper? Will teachers proudly confiscate this tech they way they proudly make kids put their phones away?

If the phones go away because rich conversation and a co-created quest for meaning is the goal, I can't complain. If the phones are banned because bored kids stop paying attention in boring classes, I want to yell and scream.

Will we have armed teachers? Will we still accept thousands of dead kids (within schools and without) as the price of liberty? I know I'm not being fair to my fellow teachers across this county as I conflate the murder of children with traditional schooling. They are not the same. Not close to the same. But these are the things that are on my mind right now and both are seemingly so entrenched that nothing is going to change the status quo.

Schools could be a part of the solution in this atomized society. It isn't going to be technology per ipsum. 

 In blogpost tribute, digital activist John Perry Barlow (requiescat in pace) talks with author, feminist bell hooks in 1995. hooks was prescient and Barlow was much, much too hopeful. 

John Perry Barlow: Much of what is critically ill in the American heart of the moment has to do with the confusion of information for experience, and reducing one’s map of the world to the informational. We are removed from all of the intuitive realities because we’re trying to experience them through this mediating and separating agency of television or the media in general. We’re living in highly desocialized conditions in our hermetically-sealed two-level ranch-style suburban homes.
bell hooks: I’ve been involved with a project called “Digital Diaspora,” and a lot of what people fear about computers is that they will simply intensify this privatization and alienation from body and spirit that you’re talking about. Do you see that?
John Perry Barlow: We’ve already been separated by information to an alarming extent. The difference between information and experience is that when you’re having an experience, you’re in real-time contact with the phenomena around you. You’re able to ask questions with every synapse in your body of the surrounding conditions. What I’m hopeful about is that because cyberspace is an interactive medium in a human sense, we’ll be able to go through this info-desert and be able to have something like tele-experience. We’ll be able to experience one other genuinely, in a truly interactive fashion, at a distance.
Just yesterday I had the experience Barlow describes as I Skyped with my daughter who is in Italy. Yet, we're more separated and more alienated, not less. Not me and my daughter, society. The West. The East vs. the West. And so on and so on. 
The overlay of technology upon schools and larger society have only reinforced long existing trends. We need deep, fundamental, societal and ontological changes.  Our kids are increasingly stressed, we're killing ourselves with opiates, the body politic is fragmenting, automation threatens, fear rules us and schools continue to chug along, largely as they always have. 
Tomorrow, I'll write about why I'm still hopeful. But not tonight. I'm very sad.

Thursday, February 8, 2018


I eschew textbooks; I make my own. I like to develop my own units. I also like to borrow ideas from several places and mix them together. I rarely do premade. But sometimes "off the shelf", especially when it is really great is just a delight. A big bang for only a little bit of work.

Probably 25 years ago,  I first came across the Choices Program. At the time, it was run directly out of Brown University's school of Foreign Policy, which  helped to develop it. 

Today, the program is still under Brown's auspices. I have used various role plays from them over the years including but not limited to:

No longer in their portfolio of choices was one I used to use with my 8th graders on the Yalta conference that seems to have morphed into this but it has changed substantively.

The materials and resources are rich, detailed and thorough. One could do one of these units for upwards of a month. I usually take 5-8 class periods. They're not terribly expensive, though they aren't cheap either. It's money well spent. 

Inspired by this the Choices program, I made my own Choices style role play about the War of 1812.  Here's some spirited 7th grade debate from several years ago. 

This hearing was moderated and led by students. Students asked the questions and answered the questions. For four class periods, I watched and enjoyed. Towards the end of the second class period; debated became particularly heated and as ideas and argument raged passionately back and forth across my class' Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, I began to smile. One student caught a glimpse of my smiles and said, “You are enjoying this aren’t you?” A visitor walking in the room at just that moment may have been taken aback by the zeal (and yes, noise.) But I was thrilled. Students were deeply engaged in learning, thinking, and debate all about the now forgotten political debates of our early nation. This was learning that was "sticky" 
Fast and Furious Debate and Lots of Learning

Finally, (watch out, the historian in me is breaking out) when considering the hostility of today’s political climate with its charges, accusations and counter-charges we bemoan its lack of civility and long for a more civil public discourse. We yearn for the days when our leaders actually “got along” and worked together for the common welfare. While we indeed live in a toxic political culture, it isn't unique to this generation. Our nation’s politics have often been full of vitriol. A little over 200 years ago, we were in one such period. (Google the Hartford Convention.) 

Unfortunately, we do not look to the past for the lessons that it could teach us. As a teacher, I try to have my students understand that our world did not have to turn out this way. This particular present was not preordained; indeed, it was the choices and actions of individual people that shaped and continue to shape the course of history. It does not just happen. Having students consider the choices and options of previous generations pounds this lesson home.

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