Category Archives: Uncategorized

Digital Zombie Series: The Digital Yawn

Coming off my SXSWedu presentation on “Surviving the Digital Zombie Apocalypse” and subsequent MindShift article on how our brains are “changing” with societal changes, I thought I’d start a 5-part series of observations and tools to cope with this new digitally instant world.  Today’s post focuses on a trend I’ve been noticing as our phones become more and more smart.

“The Digital Yawn” 

You ever have that moment, where you experience something and are somewhat annoyed by it?  Better yet, have you ever actually participated in something and end up annoyed at yourself?

I’m one of those people that feels naked without their phone.  I used to think I was in the minority, but after my SXSW presentation, I think I’m now just part of the “in” crowd.  I experimented going digitally naked once and felt the experience strangely freeing and refreshing.  It’s kind of like carrying a heavy back pack full of essential things and then putting it down for a moment.  You know you need to pick it back up again but enjoy the break on your back muscles.

The other day, I was amongst a group of colleagues discussing work life and talking some mild business when it happened again.

That moment.

I was witnessing something I sensed was happening more and more in social circles (even in non-social ones). Here’s how it goes:

Everyone is standing or sitting around, having conversation when someone decides it’s time to check his phone.  Maybe it vibrated.  Maybe it flashed or blinked up some sort of notification, but he checked it. Then, almost without fail, someone else in the group decides to do the same thing.  Only, they likely weren’t notified or “pinged” for any reason.  They were merely mimicking the action of a group member doing the same thing.  Or maybe they took his actions as an opportunity to break from normal social maladies to check their own device.

Only it doesn’t stop there.  A third person takes this opportunity to check their device. Then a fourth. Then a fifth.  Eventually everyone is checking their phones.  This experience is what I’m calling the “Digital Yawn”.

Witness a Digital Yawn in captured in action

Witness a Digital Yawn in captured in action

Originally, I wanted to call it something more viral like YouTuberculosis or iFluenza or maybe Cell Phonic Plague.  But since it usually isn’t a permanent or long lasting event, I had to search for something simpler but just as contagious like a yawn.

After some back and forth on ideas with colleague and blogger, Gina Dodd, I settled on the idea of a “Digital Yawn.”  It turns out this isn’t a completely unique idea as research would turn up this article from the Huffington Post mentioning the yawn parallel to cell phone usage back in 2012.  I think something more ubiquitous and device agnostic works better for these situations (especially with the proliferation of tablets in the world).

The second event that usually follows a group digital yawn is a moment of involuntary silence.  This is known as “Nocialization”, or the lack of socialization in a social setting. Again, research shows that this term has started to make appearances in Urban Dictionary in mid-2013.

While I think that as a society we are becoming more and more connected, that connection comes with a cost.  The cost of giving up face to face time with others.  The cost of being fully in the moment.

So what does all this mean?  Are we all becoming Digital Zombies?  Drawn to our phones like those walkers looking for brains? Are more and more of us are ambling about through the world slowly as we check our text messages?

No. I don’t think so. The reality is, like with any innovation or cultural nuance, society is quick to become addicted and latch on.  But eventually we level out.  Check out this picture Jacob Luevano shared with me on twitter.  Apparently there were paper zombies before there were digital ones and we have been nocializing for a while.

BcP30I5IIAEJ6De.jpg-large

No, I think like anything else, this pendulum will swing to center. Becoming aware of these social (or non-social) situations is the first step in balancing out our lives.  So the next time you are in a crowd of friends or trapped in an elevator with a bunch of strangers, resist the temptation to grab for that device and check on it.

Instead, lean back, breathe in the air, and smile.  You are now a member of a new movement.  We are battling the digital walking dead one person at a time. The apocalypse may come one day, but with all of your help, we can at least enjoy each other’s conversation and company as the end comes while our phones vibrate and ping away unsuccessfully trying to gain our attention.

Why We Should Stop Doing THAT

Stop it.  no-excuses-e1272580171400

You.

Yes you.

You know what you are doing.  You are making excuses.

“We don’t have enough time for THAT.”

“We don’t have any money for THAT.”

“State-testing is too…yada yada yada…for THAT.”

“My Tech Director won’t let me do THAT.”

“My community doesn’t support THAT.”

“Teachers have too much on their plate to do THAT.”

THAT.

Whatever your THAT is, hiding behind a layer of excuses is a cop out.  If you truly feel passionate about your THAT, you need to figure out a way to make THAT happen.

Don’t get me wrong, I said “We” in the title.  I’m just as guilty of making excuses in my mind.  However, I never verbalize them.  The second you give your excuses a verbal road to travel, you’ve started laying cement for the road-bumps along your journey.

Now you may say, “Yeah that’s great Carl. Way to be positive, but you are not a realist.”

I am a realist, but I also believe enough in my THAT to not let any of the above excuses stop me.  Does it mean long hours, tons of work, and lots of set-backs?  YES.  But that’s part of making THAT happen.

I’m at an event with some of the most brilliant minds in all of education. Hearing those excuses in the hallways here is rare when it comes to THAT.  As a member of the class of 2013 Apple Distinguished Educator class, I find that every one here is passionate about their THAT and their looking for more.  Instead of excuses, I hear the attendees saying things like, “I want to do THAT!” or “I would love to try THAT in my classroom!”

I’ll be honest, it’s easy to get a little optimistic in this crowd.  The passion amongst the 400 or so attendees is electric.  While we were all brought here because of our passion behind integrating Apple products in our schools, what I’ve noticed is all of our minds go way beyond THAT.

The beauty is everyone has a THAT.  What people decide to do with it is the difference between those that have a real desire to learn and those that are just working for a  monthly paycheck. But even those paycheck-to-paycheck workers have some THAT that sparks their interest and motivation, it might just not be in their work life.

I’m truly blessed to be working in a district on making  THAT better. Where all the teachers and admin believe in THAT. So you might be thinking…what is THAT?

THAT is for you to ultimately decide, but when you figure it out, don’t make excuses.  Don’t relax on your mission.  Commit.  Go all in.

After all, THAT is what makes us great.

THAT is why you get up in the morning.

THAT is what stimulates your brain on a daily basis.

THAT is why you fight for something.

THAT is the legacy you will leave behind.

Are you ready?

GO!

Why We Lie and How Technology Helps Us

We all lie.  Plain and simple, there is no way around it.  The depth at which we lie depends on the reasons and motivation behind lying.  No matter what the excuse, if there’s any truth it’s that we all lie.  Now that we have that out of the way, let’s get to the basis for why we lie, specifically in education, and how new technology now enables us to lie with greater ease.

A study on cognitive neuroscience by the Discovery channel posts the following explanations of why we lie:

We tell untruths for several reasons. Sometimes we actually lie to gain others’ respect. For example, maybe a coffee-fetching intern tells friends he’s a “research assistant.” Other fibs help stave off the consequences of making a mistake. Still others, a great many people, perhaps, will lie to spare someone’s feelings. While their hearts might be in the right place, and diplomacy may best trump the absolute truth, technically they’re still telling a lie. Want more reasons? Some men and women may lie to each other to present a better first impression. (So much for a good foundation for a relationship!) Clearly, there’s no end to the reasons people lie.

kid-painting-600x399

Work of art?

With all this lying taking place on a regular basis, it only makes sense that our educational systems provide the early fertile grounds for this learned behavior.  We in education may not like to take blame for this and rather eschew blame to the parents (lie #1). The truth of the matter is, we can’t help but lie in education.  When little Johnny comes up to us to show us his “work of art” (that looks more like a lower intestine) we applaud him for his work and effort.  We don’t say, “You know John, I have to say, what you’ve made there is quite disgusting.  It looks nothing like the object I asked you to create.  As a matter of fact, it looks like some sort of internal organ.”  We tell this fib to instill confidence in little Johnny, so we pass it off as allowable.  Since we are trying to develop confidence in our pupils,   let’s take the teacher-student interactions out of the equation and see what that leaves us with.

Even without that interaction, we are still borderline pathological in our lying habits.  One only need to observe a parent-teacher conference to see the tapestry of fabrications weaved to make the parent feel at ease about their child’s short-comings.  Make no mistake about it, this deception also helps the teacher.  With a giant class-size, testing pressure, administrative oversight, and all other things that weigh into a teacher’s day, it’s a miracle they can even come up with an helpful anecdotes about their students.  Luckily, with the invention of technology, we know have “hard data” that we can easily show parents that want more evidence.  We are data-driven junkies, not because we like interpreting data, but because we need it as back-up for the brief observations we may have with one of our students during the day.  Having a report or graph to show a worried parent, informs the parent that his/her child may have some faults, but it’s not the teacher saying it.  It’s the computer-generated read-out’s fault.

Technology allows us to be more impersonal and in some cases avoid possible conflicts too.  A few decades ago, when a principal or administrator had a problem with a teacher, he/she would call the accused into his/her office.  There would be a conversation, albeit an uncomfortable one, about how that teacher needs to improve upon his/her practice.  This is not only hard for the teacher to hear (imagine being told how to parent better) but it’s also uncomfortable for the boss trying to communicate steps for improvement.  Enter the magical world of technology and specifically in this case, email.  Rather than point out some faults to a few teachers, a carefully crafted “all staff” email can now point out the fact that jeans are only acceptable on Fridays or that recess should be no longer than 20 minutes in length.

Instantly, through the power of quickly delivered written words, a suggestion for improvement switches from personally threatening to professionally informative. The teachers “hear” the message and the administrator avoids any uncomfortable situations. We can also wield technology to help us out of sticky situations.  Like in the above “jean” scenario, when the boss sees an employee in jeans on a Thursday, he/she can refer to the email sent clarifying dress code.  “Don’t shoot the messenger, heh heh, it’s the email that said it.”  It’s amazing how brave people can be over email and how that impersonal communication can be a scape-goat much like the “office memo” in this great Office Space scene:

Of course, lies can also flow in the other direction in this scenario. Technology like text messages, give us a false sense of immediacy in conversations.  I will admit that I have seen part of an email or read a text message from someone and not acted on it right away.  The amazing thing about all the ways we communicate now is that email or texts are seemingly equated to the spoken word.  “Didn’t you get my text?” is a favorite comment relayed at my house.  While I don’t try to avoid, neglect, or ignore a text message asking me to pick up even more specialty diapers or the seemingly endless amount of prescriptions required to raise my three girls, I have seen a message and not acted on it right away.  And what happens when I’m called into question about whether or not I received the text?  I lie.

Little angels...all of them.

Little angels…all of them.

The ultimate vehicle for lying with technology is social media.  Look no further than Facebook to see not only how rampant lying is, but also how it’s become the new normal when it comes to how we tell our story.  For instance, if you examined my page from last Easter Sunday, you’d see that my estrogen-abundant family had quite the special day.  We woke up to presents from the Easter bunny, full of smiles and joy.  My kids spent the day, posed beautifully in their Easter clothes, exploring the grandparent’s backyard with our cousins.  We ended the day dancing and laughing with Grandma before quietly settling to bed preparing for the next week to begin anew.  The reality of the day is a lot less picturesque than the one I painted on my page.  Sisters screaming at each other over candy, a near death incident with a baseball bat and an Easter pinata, and three very cranky, sugar-laiden girls that refused to go to sleep.  With social media tools like Facebook, we can now paint pictures of ourselves that are far from reality.

This is the basis for our own personal “PR” if you will, but it’s also true with school districts.  Don’t believe me? Go look at any school’s Facebook or Twitter page.  You won’t find anything about the fight that broke out in the cafeteria or a heart-warming story about the C-student that quietly sits in the back of the class.  We promote what we chose to promote.  This isn’t lying to the true sense of the word, but it is deception.  One of my most read posts of all-time is the 10 Things Not to Do in a 1:1 implementation.   I wrote it to show the ugly truth and hard work that goes into these sort of initiatives.  I did it to help inform others, but also to show that while it may seem all rosy in the press, the reality is this new technology is messy, disruptive and hard to adjust to for everyone.  We need to continue to tell those stories in education as well as the good ones to paint a more accurate picture of what is taking place in our institutions.  Otherwise, we may not be telling lies, but instead, revealing only the truths that we deem worthy of telling.  Paint that picture for too long and we may end up with something short of a work of art and more like little Johnny’s lower intestinal masterpiece.

A more accurate view of the day from my youngest

A more accurate view of  Easter Sunday from my youngest daughter

#NoEmail4Lent Week 1 in Review

Week one of not using email to communicate is in the books and let me just tell you…it was HARD!  Despite some smirky grins and sighs from colleagues I made it all the way to 5:14 PM today without checking my email.

What happened at 5:14?  I cracked. When I started seeing the news fly about the Apple Distinguished Educators acceptance/rejection I had to go in and check.  I felt guilty about it (hey, I’m Catholic). However, technically I didn’t use it to communicate or interact so I think I’m still in the clear.

Week 1 Challenges:

First off, I could tell this would be tough when on day one I had 15 screens going at once. Getting “meaningful work” done would be a problem with all those screens going for communication.  I needed to streamline it.  Today I altered my auto-response to list ways to get in touch with me immediately (chat, text, twitter, phone, f2f) and ways to send me a longer message (Google Docs, Dispatch.io) or other ways to send me general stuff (Facebook, G+, Edmodo, etc).

My bigger challenge is that I’m starting to find that I’ve missed out on some important conversations or work related topics going around.  I started feeling bad for others that would have to work harder to get in touch with me.  While the point of this is make them think of other methods of communication, I don’t want this to turn into a situation where teachers can’t get help because of my Lenten goals. I’m trying to figure out a way to make that work.

Week 1 Positives:

From day one, I could tell right away that I’d be more apt to face to face conversations than before. Whereas in the past I might have either hid behind email or opted to send someone an email rather than have an actual conversation, I couldn’t do that any more.  I even had random people tell me that it might be a good idea for all of us to do this once a month or so.  I loved that idea!  I’m hoping to start an “Un-email” day around the office to encourage people to get out to campuses and talking more.

Smoke%20SignalsAnother positive has been the amount of different ways people have gotten in touch with me and the overwhelming support many have shown from the community, from member of our School Board to my Superintendent to even my wife (who was one of the biggest skeptics in this whole experiment).  It’s been nice to hear stories from all over and people sharing ideas with me. I had  a class of students from the Dallas area offer to send me letters which I thought was sweet.  I even had one community member try to send me smoke signals (via his Brisket smoker) as an alternate form of communication not on my list.

Week 1 Data: 

Some interesting findings for week one.  I only counted email in my inbox for my 4 email addresses that get the most email (yes, officially I have 8 email addresses, could be part of my problem there).  That means many hundred filtered messages were not counted.  Final week one numbers:

Unread email = 725

Non-email interactions = 406

Top 3 forms of non-email communication:

1. Face to face = 68 (doesn’t include repeats)

2. Twitter = 51 (not tweets, just interactions)

3. Texts = 23

Here’s what the 7 days look like in Graph form, ranking from highest to lowest.

NoEmail4LentChartWeek1

You can tell when the weekend hit (days 4 & 5) and also that Monday (day 6) was a holiday for our district. Email has started to decline slightly, but not much at this point.

Week 2 forecast: 

We are having our third child this Thursday, at which point my auto-response will change to “Paternity Leave”.  I’ll be curious to see if that affects people in any way.  Anyway, should see a dip in interactions, especially face to face. (except for doctors and nurses :)

Follow my daily log here: #EmailLess

10 Ed Tech Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2013

2013 new year sparklerPeople always try to be prognosticators at this time of year.  Resolutions, predictions, and usually at least one or two references to the end of the world will be spewn across the internet in the next several days.  So I decided to attempt my own top ten prediction list, only these are predictions I’m pretty sure won’t happen. Besides, I think I have a better chance of success when I go with failures, so here goes:

Top 10 Ed Tech Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2013:

1. The “21st Century Skills” will be renamed something more appropriate and clever -

We’ve all fallen in and out of love with this phrase in the Tech world.  “Digital living” or “soft skills for the global marketplace” have been bantered about lately as alternatives, but I haven’t really heard a good phrase to replace this soon to be 13-year old phrase.  In technology years, that’s like a century old.  If it hasn’t happened in the first 12 years of the 21st century, I doubt it will in the next year, but here’s my attempt:  We should call them “the Curious Core” and do away with those 4 subject areas of the 1950’s we clutch on to so tightly.

fail

2. The Flipped Classroom will become commonplace -

When done right, the idea behind flipped instruction (homework at school, lecture at home) is a valuable tool.  Although, it can also be just additional busy work or as Gary Stager puts it: “The flipped classroom outsources our inability to edit an obese curriculum to children who must pick up the slack in their “spare” time.  If this prediction comes true I pray it’s not at the cost of kids having to double their school day, but my money is we are still a couple years away before this becomes “commonplace”.

3. The PC will make a comeback!

Just wanting to make sure you are paying attention.  There will still be a bunch of PCs out there, especially in education where they can die a slower death.  The reality is, there is a use for both PCs and mobile devices in the new educational landscape.  That said, PC’s will continue a downward sales trend.

One Tablet To Rule Them All

One Tablet To Rule Them All

4. A Non-Apple tablet will rule them all -

Apple’s iPad is likely safe for another year, but the not-so-impressive price point of the iPad Mini and the closing of the gap by Samsung, Kindle, Asus and now the Windows 8 phenomenon will mean Apple will have to continue to up it’s game to keep the wide lead it has in the tablet markets.  And I haven’t even mentioned the biggest Apple competitor out there….Google.

5. More districts will  realize there needs to be more  instructional technology support staff -

In 2013 terms like BYOT, 1:1, Flipping, MOOCs and “insert tech term here” will all be parts of classrooms in districts across the land.  With all these great technology gifts comes a tail and it’s called training and support.  Unfortunately, I don’t think this prediction comes true to the determent of all of us trying to truly make technology integrated and invisible. I’m fortunate to have my team of #iVengers, but a district real close to me decided to go in the opposite direction. In 2011, this unnamed, large, urban, central Texas district purchased 20,000 netbooks while simultaneously firing or “re-structuring” their entire Instructional Technology Department.  Now, those netbooks sadly sit in closets waiting to be loved.

6. Someone will finally name their child “#” -

We have a bunch of crazy names out there already, why not #? The problem is people older than 40 will call him “Pound Sign” and people younger than 40 will call him “Hash Tag” causing all sorts of character confusion later in life for this kid.  No truth to the rumor that our third (due Feb. 26) will be called “@ Hooker”.

Bennifer attending a High-Stakes Event

Bennifer attending a High-Stakes Event

7. We will finally break away from accountability ratings based on high-stakes assessment

There’s a better shot of JL0 and Ben Affleck getting back together than this happening.  I do think there is a ground-swell movement sweeping across the country (and in Texas for sure) to do away with a lot of this.  I think we are still somewhat addicted as an educational institution to the perversion of high stakes testing.  Other options could be accreditation and local accountability systems tied into evidence-based learning and national assessments.  I just got way too serious there, who are we kidding?  We all know what a smash hit Gigli was, right?

8. There will be a record turnout (and heat) for ISTE in San Antonio in June

The ComicCon of the the Ed Tech world comes back to Texas this year. With budget cuts (see number 5) and Texas’ non-Common Core values along with record hot temperatures, the turn out for this event is likely to be down from San Diego the year before.  I predict convention goers looking to make more of a splash in the Texas area will instead opt  to attend the cultural event known as “iPadpalooza” held in Austin the week before.  At least there will be live music and food trailers there!

9. Internet Memes will become the hieroglyphics of our culture

As absurd as it sounds, this one is the one item on my list likely to come true.  I think I’ve seen these quirky photo-phrases double on my Facebook and Twitter feeds every day since mid-March.  What started as a bunch of “I Can Has Cheezburger?”  cats will eventually evolve into an actual university-level course I predict called “American Meme: A picture is worth just a few clever words”.

is-email-dead

Social Media = Email Death?

10. My “Giving up email for Lent” experiment will be an epic success -

This experiment is way ahead of it’s time.  In fact, maybe too much ahead of it’s time.  I’m going to attempt to give up email for Lent on February 13th, 2013.  I’m going to have an auto “In the Office” response that tells people the other 15 ways in which they can get in touch with me.  The premise is simple, the next generation of kids barely use email.  While it may never go away, (hey, we still have snail mail) I do feel it’s time we start examining how it’s used and the wide-variety of ways we now have available to us for communication.  My wife and several co-workers have told me this could be the end of me, but I figure between the religious reasons and the fact that it begins on the 13th of ’13, I should be safe.  Right? Stay tuned….

So there you go.  I hope you enjoy and please if you know a professor who could teach the Meme class or think of a better phrase for 21st century skills please comment below or just add to the list!  Happy New Year!

Using the Past to Learn for the Future – A 1:1 Tale

Harvey Barnett

Recently, Greg Garner (@classroom_tech) and I had an opportunity to meet with former Tech Director of Cupertino USD, Harvey Barnett.  Doing a Google search of Harvey turns up little, until you include the word “apple”.  It turns out, Harvey was acting Principal of Stevens Creek Elementary School, one of the first Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (or ACOT) back in the 1980s.  What did ACOT do?  It was one of the first longitudinal studies to focus on learning rather than technology.  It’s premise was that through increased access to technology, learning, problem-solving skills, and knowledge to content increased.  The basis of ACOT was a simple question:

 What happens to students and teachers when they have access to technology whenever they need it?

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?  The proliferation of 1:1 programs across America are based on this similar question, while they may not state it so plainly.  Mr. Barnett’s approach as building Principal and then later as Technology Director was the same: How do we learn with computers, not just from them?  That’s a challenge we have been facing on a daily basis during our 1:1.  I’ve written about SAMR and how substitution is the first level teachers begin at with 1:1 technology.  Turns out, that phenomenon has been happening since 1985 as well during beginning of ACOT.

Education has embraced the “project-based” concept of teaching, but the research from ACOT would suggest rather than an “all or none” strategy, there should be a balance between instruction and construction.  Mr. Barnett mentioned many challenges familiar to me during the beginning stages of this, including teachers opting out of using the technology or being hesitant to use it for fear of failure.   His primary bit of advice for this challenge, was giving that hesitant teacher an opportunity to see it work.  He stressed how important it was to have time and professional development, but that above all, he saw rapid transformation when teachers had opportunities to observe peers use the technology ubiquitously.  That’s a challenge many of us face.  How do we fund the time and training other than the summer and an occasional conference that’s primarily attend by the early adopters rather than the objectors?

One of the staples to getting those objectors on board is the theory in Geoffrey Moore’s book titled Crossing the Chasm.  I’ve spoken about this idea before but never known the basis of the research until today.  While his theory is based on technology adoption and success, Mr. Barnett nicely ties Moore’s concepts this to teacher professional growth.  There are innovators, pragmatists, conservatives, and the skeptics.  Once the innovators have convinced the pragmatists that the technology solves a problem for them, the conservatives are likely to follow.

Much like the SAMR model, Mr. Barnett recognized similar stages based on research by Ellen Mandinach that teachers will go through during a technology implementation.  While these are from ACOT research from 1985-1995, it’s incredible how much of it rings true today.

Mandinach’s Stages of Technology Integration with Teachers

1. Survival Stage – All teachers, from visionaries to skeptics go through this stage.  Teachers at this stage find real struggle against technology.  They know it will take work, might not always work for them, and in some cases, might actually fail on them in front of their students and lead to subsequent embarrassment.  You hear phrases like “I don’t have the time to work on this” crop up quite a bit during this stage, especially if other initiatives are taking place.  The primary teaching method during this stage is strictly lecture-based instruction.

2. Mastery Stage – At this stage, teachers are more comfortable with the un-predictability of technology.  Teachers begin to lecture less and guide student learning through a project-based approach more often.  Teachers begin to see technology as a way to solve problems, not just a scheduled time in the lab.

3. Impact Stage –  At this point the classroom is learner-centered with the teacher acting as a facilitator. Lessons will still address content standards, but the method of delivery is mostly project-based.  Technology supports these standards and in fact, enhances it over the traditional textbook.

4. Innovation Stage – The holy grail of learning happens during this stage.  Teachers see the students as both teachers and learners. Teachers develop lessons and project-based objectives with technology infused into instruction. Assessments, portfolios, projects, etc all involve student use of technology and access on a regular basis.

After looking at Mandinach’s stages, I realized that we are a far way off from innovation, but not as far off as one might think this early into a 1:1 implementation.  Teachers are planning and meeting to discover ways to integrate technology in their classrooms. While still primarily teacher-led, the instruction has started to shift to the students. This type of urgency and shift didn’t happen with Interactive whiteboards, projectors or document cameras.  It didn’t even really happen with computer labs. It’s happening now, because students have the tools and access all day. So how do we help get the teachers get from Survival to Innovation?  Barnett presented these six ideas along with the four stages on this presentation from 2002:

1. Inspire and support leaders

2. Teacher-driven, bottom-up decision making

3. Incentives for risk-takers

4. Emphasize process over product (this is a biggie!)

5. Recognize the need for time.

6. Provide access to appropriate hardware and software.

While we spoke more about these items and many others during our hour-long visit with Mr. Barnett, it seems like many things have not changed from the ACOT days to the 1:1 Tablet revolution taking place today. The essential question remains the same: We can get kids to learn from computers, but now how do we get them to learn with them?

More resources: ACOT2 – Apple’s update to the research

Technology: The Great Amplifier

 

Courtesy of Mike Licht

The power of technology in the hands of students can be both a terrifying and incredible thing to behold.  Students previously left to daze in the back of the room or too shy to take part in a discussion can now be heard.  Subjects that pique students’ interests are no longer road kill on the way to the land of high-stakes tests.  Even the most boring of interactions has an up-tick of engagement when technology is involved.

I recently witnessed one of our 1:1 fourth grade classes engaging with those dreaded “Fractions worksheets”.    I walked  in and the class was silent, even in rapture if you will,   with their fraction worksheets.  I even heard one of the students proclaim, “This is fun!”  This was not some sort of strange Twilight Zone episode, it was the teacher, Mr. Lofgren, making use of his newly delivered iPads to turn an everyday mundane task into one of excitement.  Now, I agree, this is purely a substitutive task on Dr. Ruben Puentadura’s SAMR model, but the participation was incredible to behold.  Every student wanted to share what they had learned, because, they were excited about learning.

The Worksheet Revisited

 

While this was an example of iPads in the hands of kids early, and the nuance of the device still intact, I skipped across town to take part in an interview with a 3rd Grade 1:1 teacher, Ms. Wright, and the local news.  Ms. Wright has had the iPads since last Spring and by her words they, “Completely transformed the way I teach and my motivation to teach and learn.”  Surely, all the amazement and wonder at the hands of a magical device must have some downside?  Well, it turns out, there is.   Two weeks prior to my experiences at the local elementary campuses, I heard story after story from some concerned parents of our secondary students about distraction in the classroom.  While there were only a few cases of this, I decided to dig a little deeper into why some teachers “just got it”, while other struggled with it.

During the course of my investigation, NPR posted this interview last week with some educational leaders all having various experiences with 1:1 tablets in their schools.  During the course of the interview, a caller called in claiming this was “entirely appalled” at the direction schools were going in with technology.  During the course of his rant, he made the claim that these devices “cover up bad teaching.”   This is where I have to disagree. In fact, as discovered from the previously mentioned situations, 1:1 technology seems to amplify teaching ability.

 

Ms. Wright’s class on the local news

Let’s take the first two examples, Mr. Lofgren and Ms. Wright.  While both of these teachers were at different levels of having iPads in their classroom, their students still used them appropriately. In the case of Ms. Wright’s class, the technology had almost become invisible and just a tool students used to expand on their own learning.  In the latter example, it turns out, a few teachers hadn’t really accounted for the idea that this access carries with it some level of expectation of use.  It had actually amplified what had been a flawed system in classroom management.  Unlike what the NPR caller stated, bad teaching is easier to cover up when the students are forced to turn off all technology, sit in rows, and quietly listen to lecture.

What can we learn from this?  Those of us entering the world of 1:1 learning, must prepare for the messiness that comes with such implementation. Continual professional learning for your staff braving this frontier is a given if you want it to succeed. You must prepare that with the great advantages to learning gained, come some ugly truths that must also be faced at times.  Don’t believe me? Ask a student in one of these environments.  That is assuming of course, you can get their attention…

 

This blog is cross-posted here: EdReach.us

Tech Forum LiveStream Session on Revisiting PD

Here’s my livestream session with Stephanie Sandifer and Elaine Plybon on Professional Development revisited.  Lots of good nuggets here:

Professional Development Revisited (LiveStream)

 

Whata-sizing Education

Those of you not lucky enough to visit the state of Texas or parts of the south, will have missed a trip to one of our proudest fast-food destinations. Whataburger started in Texas in the 1950’s and has gone through several transformations over the decades.  What started as a basic A-framed orange and white-striped building that served a couple of different hamburgers has evolved as quickly as American ideas of customer service have changed.  Their motto “Just like you like it” is more than just a motto, it’s their way of doing business.

Whataburger was one of the first fast-food restaurants to offer 24/7 dining service.  They added a breakfast menu like many other fast-food chains. However, the fact that breakfast is served from 11pm to 11am make it unique.  In 2009, it began a campaign to advertise the many variety of ways you could now order your Whataburger.  According to Whataburger Inc, there are 36,864 different ways you can customize your selection.

Education could learn a lot from what this now 700+ food chain has done to be successful in a hostile market.  Where the regular food chain was bound by time, much like we are between the hours of 8am-4pm everyday, it’s time we start operating like a 24/7 business.  We continue to preach life-long learning, yet what we really are saying is, learning for 9 and 1/2 months, during the day, and then being judged by our own food critique (see High Stakes testing).

Some schools and universities have adapted to this 24/7 idea by offering asynchronous online learning.   You can have your meal at any time, you just might not be able to sit in the restaurant while you are eating it.

Now let’s look at their extended breakfast policy.  Some people don’t like to be told when they need to eat a particular meal, just like we don’t always learn best during the middle of the day. Education’s latest answer to this is the “flipped classroom” idea.  If you don’t want to wait until the 9am class to digest your information, pull it up online at midnight and consume to your heart’s content.

The above trends are mirroring Whataburger’s ideas that the customer/student needs to have access to your product/learning whenever they want.  It might not always be in the building or during 6th period, but students that want or crave to learn more, can have it.

Whata-Learning?

Now let’s take a look at their latest promotional trend.  36,864 different ways to have your hamburger.  Can you imagine education giving students that many choices?  What level of personalizing and customizing would have to take place in order to make that happen while still giving the students a tasty product?  While many educational institutions have started this evolution using technology to help (BYOT or 1:1 programs) there is still a long way to go to reach a level of “anyway you want it, however you want it” learning.  The bad news is, some districts still fine success in churning out the In-n-Out burger way of doing things.  We’ll make a tasty dish and give you 3 options on how you want it.  While that success may work with the food inspectors (usually those with the name Pearson), they aren’t going to survive with customers.  Even those schools with the In-n-Out approach have reluctantly started to realize that and now offer an “animal style” choice that’s not quite so advertised in it’s schools via distance learning.

So how do we offer 36,864 different ways for a student to learn?  It’s going to take a lot more than some splashy technology and clever teaching tricks. We’re truly going to have to invest in each and every customer that comes through our doors and realize they all have different tastes and styles of learning.

And if that fails, maybe we could at least paint our roofs orange and white.

WhataApp – Doesn’t exist yet

Battling the Shark (in Life and in Education)

Those of you that are readers of this blog know that I sometimes like to link life events or pop-culture to education.  (See: Is “The Walking Dead” Analogous to Education) This past weekend I participated in the 77th Annual Deep Sea Roundup.  It’s the longest running off-shore fishing tournament in the state of Texas, so as you can imagine, there are a cast of characters that attend and participate in this event.  As many of Port Aransas’ finest walked through the doors the night before the tournament started, I couldn’t help but wonder, did they graduate middle school?   Did school even matter to them when they are experts on the open sea?

The average DSR contestant

Several of the participants not only could care less about formalized education, it was apparent many could also care less about dental hygene or skin care.  In fact, there were quite a few “purple heads” (based on the depth of their sunburn) and “raccoons” (weekend-ers that wore their sunglasses too long. See picture to the left) in the crowd.

You might think, this would be the last place to get an educational “aha” moment with all these stereotypical fishermen that spoke a mix of creole, texan, and some random mumbling.  One even spoke a whole sentence to me and all I heard was “hey! aincha gonna boosway on da hardim transim?”  My response without missing a beat was “You bet!”  At any rate, on day two of our fishing adventure, the true meaning of collaboration and the age-old over-used analogy of “guide on the side” became a glaring reality to me.

To set the scene, our crew (made up of myself and three friends Jim, Doug, and Beau) traveled out to an oil rig about 30 miles off-shore to try and catch some red snapper and possibly a trophy Ling or Kingfish.  As the day ended, our snapper was continually being cut off by something. Jim, the captain, and “teacher” if you will of the group, had a theory that something big, possibly a shark, was eating our catch.  To test the theory, he pulled a deep sea rod out and baited it with cut meat and double-hook.  If it was a shark, we were going to catch it.

After an initial failed attempt and loss of bait, the very next try we got a bite.  And it ran.  And ran. And ran!  With hundreds of yards of line.  Doug held the rod and Jim knew that if this was a shark, he would need all of us helping to bring him in.  He provided directions to Beau and I to get Doug mounted with the right belts to help support the rod (and his back).  When I wasn’t being used, he asked me to document the event on camera.  Jim used the boat to help bring in the creature (we didn’t know what it was at first) when Doug started running out of line.  After about an hour, we got to see it….an 8-foot, 150 pound Hammerhead!

Our first glimpse of what it was…

We were instantly met with another challenge, how do you bring a fish that size onto a 24-foot boat? Jim quickly jumped into action and assigned each of us roles to get the boat prepped to land this fish. Beau would lasso the tail, I would gaff (or attempt to gaff) the shark in the mouth, while Doug held the line. After we had the tail secure and the fish gaffed, Jim would lasson the head. After some battling and nearly getting bitten, we secured it along side the boat.  Once we felt it had died, it took three of us to bring it on board.

Preparing the gaff and lasso

Reliving the whole event, I was struck by many things but the most profound was when Jim said, “there’s no way we could have brought that fish in without each of you doing your part.”  It was a total collaborative effort with Jim playing the key role even though he didn’t reel the fish in himself.  Like in fishing, you have to have some level of experimentation when it comes to education. Jim had a theory and tested it.  He tested it by providing us with the right tools (in this case bait, double-hook, and a deep sea rod) to test the theory.  Once the theory was proven correct, he guided all of us in playing a part to landing the fish, all while steering the boat. Beau’s support of Doug and his belt as well as lassoing the tail.  Doug keeping the line out of the propeller and not falling overboard.  My moral support and documentation of the whole experience.  None of this would have been possible without Jim’s knowledge and guidance.

Doug bringing him in

For as much as teachers fear that loss of control in the class when they don’t stand in front and deliver content, there is something magical about true collaborative learning moments like this.  Their expertise are even more valuable in a collaborative problem-solving scenario in the classroom.  Without them students are more than a rudderless ship, they will never learn how to successfully solve problems before frustration gets the better of them.  If it had just been Doug, Beau and myself on that boat, we would have failed 100% of our attempts to hook the shark (much less land him).  Teachers’ roles are exactly what Jim provided us: tools, knowledge, teamwork, problem-solving, and an experience that will be with us for a lifetime.

Here are some photos and even a sneak preview I made on iMovie of the event.

From left to right: Beau, Jim, Doug and the shark (center)

Beau and I (in my iPadpalooza shirt!)

The Sneak preview: (55 seconds long)

Editor’s note: The shark would have won the tournament except they only accepted Blackfin and Spinner sharks.  We ended up donating the shark to Texas A&M DNA shark research center.
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