A Scary Story From A Not-Too-Distant Future Classroom

As Ms. Shannon entered her learning studio with the familiar ‘whoosh’ sound of the automatic doors opening, she noticed something different about her students.

It wasn’t the dried blood pouring from their ears or the vampire-like teeth they seemed to all be sporting. Being a teacher for 20-plus years, she had become accustomed to kids not following along with the school rules banning any type of costumes or “Halloween attire” from the school. Having fought (and lost) many a battle with parents, she had given up hope in some ways that the kids (or better yet, their parents) would actually honor any type of school rule.

No, what was different was that they all seemed to be actually sitting quietly waiting for some direction.

She dreaded this day.

From her first day as a teacher in 2020, to the present year 2041, she always hated dealing with typical rowdy behaviors from her 3rd/4th grade mixed class on October 31. It became a huge pain to try to keep them engaged in any type of lesson. She tried to have them create their own virtual haunted houses and even used augmented reality to zombify their “Facetagram” profiles. Nothing seemed to work.

They were obedient kids, but their boredom tolerance was almost non-existent. She felt as if she had to always entertain them and on Halloween, when they had visions of ‘safe-for-school’ candy dancing in their heads, she knew it would be particularly difficult to keep them engaged in any task.

So, this year, she decided to try something different. Something that would TRULY scare them.

“Class, today we are going to take a surprise field trip,” Ms. Shannon said.

“What? Where? Today? Our parents didn’t get a note, how can we do this?” the students questioned.

“Will it be a virtual field trip?” some pondered as the teacher liked to integrate virtual reality into her lessons regularly.

“No, it will be an ACTUAL field trip,” the teacher responded.

Following some moans and groans, the students slowing rose from their flexible furniture and ambled in zombie-like fashion past the interactive wallpaper at the front of the class (which was currently displaying a misty cemetery setting with headstones that had each of their names).

“Should we take our tablets?” one student asked.

“No, for this you will only need your eyes, your feet, and a snack,” replied the teacher.

As the self-driving bus landed in front of the school, the students filed in with a murmur. There was a mixture of excitement and fear. Usually all field trips had to be approved by parents, and most of these students had never gone anywhere without their parents careful planning. From pre-planned “play dates” when they were 3 and 4 years old, to the cavalcade of TaeKwonDo lessons, Oboe Practice, and Drone Racing League meets, they had all lived extremely scheduled and pre-approved lives.

After a quick flight out of the city, the bus came to rest in the middle of a forest.

“Alright class, everyone out!” the teacher exclaimed.

The students noticed her demeanor had shifted from grumpy to cheerful, which put them all at ease, albeit she seemed to be overly cheerful.

“Students, today you are going to be a part of something you have never experienced. In a few moments, I’m going to leave you alone here in these woods.”

The students shifted uncomfortably in their self-lacing shoes. Some began to look nervously to each of their classmates as if to say, “Do you think this is real?”

“Somewhere, there is a note giving you directions that you’ll have to uncover, but until then, good luck.”

And with that she stepped onto the bus which quickly flew up into low-hanging grey clouds and disappeared.

For what seemed like a lifetime, the students stood still, mouths agape.

“How could she leave us here?” one boy with an interactive t-shirt displaying a 38-year old dancing Billie Ellish commented.

“She’ll be back. I’m sure of it,” a girl with three pig-tails reassured.

After a few minutes, when they realized she wouldn’t be coming back, many of the students began to gather in small groups trying to decide what to do next. One group elected to stay right where they were until their parents came and got them. Another group started to cry and scream from the stress. A third group immediately began looking for the note the teacher had mentioned.

One of the girls in the third group, Sheri, had been a part of “the Scouts” as they had now been named. (Boy and Girl Scouts had been merged in 2036) Sheri had some knowledge of survival skills and immediately took up a leadership position in the group.

“Listen, we can’t wait here for someone to come get us. This is a challenge that we must overcome together. Our teacher is always talking about how we need to collaborate more, think critically, and problem-solve. I think this is a test to see if we can do that,” she stated.

“There are 20 of us here. If we work together, I’m sure we can find the note the teacher mentioned and get out of here.”

“LOOK!!” one of the boys shouted. “There’s an old cabin over there!”

The students gathered closely together as the dilapidated cabin seemed to leer at them behind spider webs and dead vines climbing along the sides of its walls.

“What are you crazy?!? Go into that place? NO WAY” one of the kids commented.

Sheri reassured them,”You don’t really think our teacher would leave us out here with something dangerous? She’d get in so much trouble from our parents. I think this is all an elaborate trick.”

As the words escaped her mouth though, Sheri began to wonder. She had noticed a change lately with Ms. Shannon. She seemed to be getting more and more pail as the year wore on. Her hair, normally perfectly placed, had become disheveled. She seemed stressed. And not just the normal stress that teaching 60 hours a week for a small paycheck had brought upon her life. No, this was different.

Secretly, Sheri thought that Ms. Shannon had finally cracked.

As the students huddled together and slowly approached the cabin, a deep fear had crept into all of their brains. They had never done anything without first checking for consent from an adult. A large group of kids decided to stay in the very spot where they had been left by the bus, opting to collect their snacks in a pile and await for their parents or the teacher to come back for them.

The smaller group, led by Sheri, progressed into the cabin. Inside, it was musty. There were strange all-in-one desk looking torture devices set in rows in the room. An old interactive whiteboard from yesteryear hung tilted off one of the walls. What was this place?

One boy named Leo chimed in, “This almost looks like a learning studio. I think they used to call it a ‘classroom’.”

Other students nodded. There were old, sun-bleached bulletin boards on the walls and alphabet letters strung up across the top of the wall (although four letters E,H,L, and P were missing).

At the front of the room was an extremely large desk. The students had never seen a desk of this size. One of them commented, “It almost looks like it could be a teacher’s desk, but teachers don’t have desks anymore so I’m confused.”

On the middle of the desk laid a single sheet of paper.

Sheri, with hands shaking, picked up the note.

It read:

You have all lived very scheduled lives. You have amazing skills when it comes to using technology, however, none of you have ever learned how to think or entertain yourselves. So today, I’m going to challenge you.

The note continued:

You have no directions. You can do whatever you want. There are no devices to help guide you out of these woods. You are miles from any resources or Wifi. There is only one way out.

Once you have figured out how to think for yourself, you will be freed from the forest. 

A loud SCREAM came from the cabin. The group of kids outside sprawled and ran in all directions.

I wish this tale had a happy ending, but it doesn’t.

The students would never leave those woods.

And to this day, if you ever hover near the old school house planted in the middle of woods, you might hear their confused cries for help and direction as they sadly never figured out how to think for themselves.

What Opportunities are Lost When You Ban Technology

This past week I had an interesting thing happen with my oldest daughter. She was playing with a couple of her friends at the neighborhood pool when some teen boys thought it would be funny if they took out their phones and recorded the girls and put them on social media. “Now do some silly dances!” the boys shouted.  My daughter, immediately turned and left saying “you can’t record me and post it. You don’t have my permission.” The other two girls stayed and started dancing saying “maybe I’ll be go viral on YouTube!”

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the above interaction. While I was extremely proud of my 10-year old’s decision to trust her instincts and leave the situation, I wondered about the other girls and even the teen boys. While I didn’t know the boys, I did know a bit about her friends and their backgrounds.  Both of her friends come from safe, secure households with responsible parents. One of the girls attends a school that has some technology. The other attends a school that bans technology. My daughter has been at a school with her own device since kindergarten.

Now, in the case of the above example, I believe my daughter’s “instinct” was actually implanted in her at a young age. Starting with her use of a device in kindergarten both at home and at school, she’s received hundreds of hours of discussion around appropriate use and digital etiquette. What would happen if I never let her near or around technology? Would these discussions still have meaning or relevance?

There is a strong movement afoot in certain communities to ban the use of all technology in schools, especially at the elementary level. It seems that piling on technology with kids is an easy target for various blogs, OpEds, and 60 Minutes specials. While I know the story of my daughter and her friends is an EXTREMELY small sample size, it made me ponder the following question – What teachable moments and challenging discussions are we taking from kids when we ban technology from their existence because “screen time is bad” or “it’s just easier”?

As with many important topics in life, I believe it is wise to enlist the thoughts and beliefs of those within our community. In my case, I have both a physical community (neighborhood) and my social community (Twitter and Facebook). I posted this idea that banning tech might do more harm than good and it quickly became a lightning rod issue.

Before I dive too deep into this, let me start by saying there are a lot of generalizations being made out there when it comes to the use of technology and devices. I’m going to make a few as well, but I do recognize that there are individual circumstances that may dictate a different path. I’m not here to preach or even “force” the use of technology 24/7.  This post is based on my thoughts and beliefs that have been accrued through 21+ years in education and 10+ years as a parent.

Before we get into the opportunities lost, I think it’s important to look at the top excuse behind why schools and families chose to ban devices from their kids. What follows below are the top arguments I’ve been presented with over my time as an educational administrator and parent.

The Silicon Valley executive parent anti-screen argument

This is probably the most popular arguments against technology is the “some Silicon Valley Executives put their kids in non-tech schools so they must know something” argument. I’ll get into the rational behind this argument in a minute, but I want to first point out that there is no great data around this. In fact, all I can find are stories about how one CEO or one set of parents (who happen to work in Silicon Valley) are sending their kid to a non-tech school.

Let’s put this into context. If there was a celebrity that all of the sudden told us not to vaccinate our kids because….wait….bad example. Ok, let’s look at this scientifically. There are 39 Fortune 1000 tech companies in Silicon Valley. They have, on average, over 2000 executives or managerial level employees (Google and Apple probably push this number even higher). Out of those 80,000 executives (again, a small number considering the population of Silicon Valley is close to 4 million) let’s say 1000 send their kids to non-tech schools (a generous estimate). That number is approximate as I was only able to find a little more than a dozen stories not involving the same Silicon Valley parents in my research.

There are 3 main “non-tech” type schools in the Silicon valley area, each with an average enrollment of 500. Let’s assume that most (2/3) of those kids come from Silicon Valley Exec parents (certainly possible considering the high tuition costs). So taking the 1000 students out of the 80,000 parents means that 1.2% of Silicon Valley Execs actually do this. And remember, my numbers are skewed to help with the argument here, it’s probably much lower.

So essentially, the anti-tech parent is saying that because 1.2% of Silicon Valley execs do this, the rest of the world should follow suit, regardless of what’s best for the kid or learning. This is a classic case of selection bias and confirmation bias– where you chose a small sample size to prove your narrative. As a parent, it gives you some cover because you can say, “See, if those parents do it, it must be the right thing to do.”

Screens are addictive and have similar dopamine release of doing heroin

I think the use of heroin as an example here is meant to really push the fear factor. Other things that release dopamine: running, holding your infant child, kissing your loved one – but no one would ever be scared of screens if the headline – “Looking at Your Screen has Similar Dopamine Releases as Looking at Your Infant Child.”

I came across this post in Psychology Today that details how we have all fallen prey to the “because…well…dopamine” argument. Don’t get me wrong, there are some companies that spend millions trying to figure out ways to get you hooked onto their particular app, but looking at Facebook for 20 minutes and taking an intense opioid are extremely different physical and mental experiences.

Should we monitor our screen time usage? Absolutely. Is it the “same” as doing heroin, not even close. Does screen time have an affect on the brain and mental health of our kids that could affect their well being? YES….But you know what has a stronger affect on well being? Eating breakfast. In this Oxford study, there was “very minimal” correlation to regular screen time and teenager mental health. (I will note that excessive amounts of screen time do have a larger effect….everything in moderation) In fact, it found that there items like eating potatoes or wearing corrective lenses had an even worse association with teen mental health.

As the research study (done with over 300,000 adolescents in the US and UK) tries to demonstrate, sometimes we cherry pick results in order to prove a point. In this case, there is a bit of observer bias and omitted variable bias taking place – cherry picking statistics that support our hypothesis and ignoring those that don’t. So yes, screens do have an affect on the developing brain, but so does sleeping, eating, relationships, exercise, etc.  

It’s too distracting and kids need to learn how to be bored

In my twitter post, one middle school teacher said “how do I compete with their phones and snapchat? It’s just easier to ban them.” While I agree, that it is easier to ban them, is that what’s best for kids and their development?

Teachers (and parents) have a role to play here. I often hear schools touting a “whole child” approach, which would mean that teaching kids how to manage their phones would be a part of that. To defend teachers for a moment, I would say that the amount of 20th century curriculum they are teaching is impacting their teaching of 21st century behaviors.

In my response to the teacher on twitter, I shared that in classrooms where I see technology being used best and with the most purpose are classrooms that are largely project-based. In these highly engaging classrooms, students are using their devices to collaborate and solve real-world problems. In largely lecture-based classrooms, learning and focusing is a struggle for many students which is why they drift towards their phones for distraction.

I know what some adults are thinking right now, “well they should be able to just sit there and listen.” For those adults, I would challenge them to do try and do the same thing and walk in the students’ shoes. In my #Student4aDay challenge in 2014, I found that even as an adult, it was hard to sit and listen in the full lecture-based classrooms. While I do think there are times to put tech away, we need to also teach kids how to focus and when it’s appropriate to take out a device and when not to. Banning devices, robs us of that opportunity.

What opportunities are lost with a ban?

The above excuses are rooted in some form of fact skewed with bias towards what ultimately amounts to the “easy button” decision of banning technology. Eliminating one variable in certain environments doesn’t fix the problem. In fact, it keeps us from addressing it all together. We’ve all had the talk with our kids about “don’t take a ride from a stranger”, but then at the same time we do it all the time with Uber.

This is a much more complex issues that warrants deeper conversations in and out of schools. The easy button is broken and we need to act rather than ignore to raise future digital citizens with empathy.

Teaching Digital Etiquette & Wellness

Many families raise their kids and teach them phrases of etiquette. Things like “say thank you and please” have been a part of our lives for multiple generations. Now, more than ever, we need to start doing the same thing with digital etiquette. We need to teach our kids how to interact with each other online. We need to demonstrate times when they need to put their device away. We need to have the crucial conversation around times when it’s not appropriate to take someone’s photo and post it online.

And we need to do this sooner rather than later.

In many of the student and parent workshops I give around the country around “Digital Wellness”, I’m always surprised by how much kids already think they know around interacting online. Many mention already having social media accounts before they turn 13 and almost all have little to no structure or family guidelines around their technology use (with the great exception being the rule around no devices at the dinner table).

Over the years, I’ve found that having these talks with 4th and 5th graders (9-11 year olds) proves to be more fruitful and impactful than waiting until they become teens. Some teens have already begun some bad habits when it comes to posting. Others have started to associate their self-worth to the amount of likes they have. Regardless of what the issue is, they all have questions about different scenarios that have popped up in their lives. Questions, that sadly never get asked because of the stigma around using technology is negative in their lives.

One of my favorite moments of my student talks happens after the talk is over. After EVERY single student talk I’ve given, I get approached by a handful of students, each with stories to tell and questions to ask. Some of them saw something inappropriate online and don’t know how to approach their parents. Others have heard or seen things from older siblings and wonder what social media is really all about. They are filled with questions and starving for answers, and while my talks help bring some of that to light, it’s important that the conversation continue at home and in the classroom long after I leave. Banning technology in schools allows educators and parents to “kick the can” down the road to high school, which I feel is too late.

Digital Parenting 101

I’ve taught online courses and written a book about parenting in this digital age. There are so many fears and concerns about what’s out there that parents opt to just hide it all from their kids as a fail safe. The ironic thing about parenting in the digital age is that the same basic rules apply to parenting in the pre-digital age. One example I like to share at parent workshops is the following:

You just baked a dozen cupcakes and put them on the counter to cool. Just at that moment, your angelic little child floats into the room to ask if he/she can have one. What is your response? Do you say, “sure, have as many as you want”? Or do you say “you can’t look at these cupcakes until you are in 8th grade”?  Common Sense Media (one of my favorite resources) posted a guideline for parents around technology use in the home. In it, they call out the idea of becoming a “media mentor”.  The idea is, that you don’t enable your kids to do what ever they want with tech, but you also don’t restrict tech out of their lives.

While it’s much easier to be a parent when you just let them do whatever they want or restrict them from ever doing anything, the truth is, we need to be raising adults, not kids. There is no easy button. Teaching them the balance with technology (as well as modeling it) is a challenging thing. Many of the parents I talk to at my workshops bring up the fact that devices in their home are a source of “extreme tension” and anxiety. I hear words like “fight” and “struggle” mentioned often. I too, have felt the fight and struggle with devices in my home, however, with the right guidance and discussion, it doesn’t have to always be a fight. This doesn’t happen if you ban it all.

The Future

I’ll leave you with a couple of quotes that I feel are really poignant for this extremely important discussion around “to ban, or not to ban”. One is from H.P. Lovecraft:

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

We are all experiencing this 4th industrial revolution together. Taking augmented and virtual realities and mixing them with artificial intelligence and throw in dash of data privacy makes up a recipe of what is to come, but we aren’t sure what that will ultimately “taste” like. It’s ok to acknowledge that we don’t know what happens in the future, but we do know that technology will likely play a major role in that future. Which leads to my next quote from John Dewey:

“If we teach today’s kids as we taught yesterday, we rob them of tomorrow.”

We need to bring this conversation around digital wellness to the forefront of both our homes and schools. Burying your head in the sand or banning it because of a wide variety of excuses does not ultimately help kids in their future. It just makes the present for adults much easier.

 

 

21 Things Every 21st Century Educator Should Try This Year (2019 Version)

In 2014 I wrote the original “21 Things” post with the hope that an educator reading it would be inspired to try one or two new things in their classroom. While the post has evolved over time, that continues to be the main driving factor behind this. As trends and technology change often, it’s important to keep evolving and growing as learners and educators as well. Before I present you with the updated 2019 version of the list, a few disclaimers:

  1. I know that this is an ambitious list. We need ambition to move the needle in education.
  2. While I love my friends in other countries, I’m not as familiar with their laws, so for the purpose of this post, put on your U.S. hat.
  3. Yes, technology costs money. Money that we are sorely lacking in education. That said, I’ve tried to differentiate some items on this list require little to no money, just a growth mindset.
  4. The purpose of this list is not to shame teachers into trying EVERYTHING on the list. My hope is that it will generate one or two ideas for a teacher to try this year.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to my 2019 version of “21 Things That Every Educator Should Try in the 21st Century”.  Some of these still remain from the original post, but there are also many new items centered around the latest trends. Many of the updates come from trends I’ve seen not only in education but also in the workplace like these Top 10 Skills Needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (from the World Economic Forum). Oh, and of course, check out the accompanying infographic at the bottom of the post as well…just be sure to read the full post before passing judgement.

1. Have an online debate

Something that our students (and society) desperately need is the ability to debate in a variety of ways, especially online. With the recent political climate in our country, more than ever we have to teach students how to have critical discourse online without falling prey to name-calling or inflammatory language. Using tools like Padlet or SeeSaw, you can create a “walled garden” of sorts for your students to have an online debate from topics as intense as “who has a harder job: a doctor or a lawyer” to “which is better: thin crust or thick crust pizza.”  Regardless of topic, the point is to model how to interact, make a point with facts, and concede when necessary.

2. Bring an expert voice into your classroom remotely

With so many resources and experts available, it only makes sense to bring in someone from “the real world”. This not only creates interest in the topic, it adds an air of authenticity.  Use Google Hangouts, Facetime, Zoom or Skype to reach out to a content expert to share their thoughts around a particular subject or topic. If you can, record it and post it to your class site or embed it on your blog to generate discussion at home.

3. Augment reality in an old textbook

As witness by the explosive emergence of Merge Cubes, Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming a new way to engage learners. However, buying a bunch of these may not be possible for every teacher. Luckily, on the back shelves of classrooms and libraries exist rows and rows of old textbooks, some of which are still in regular use. By using an augmented reality tool like HP Reveal, Metaverse, or ARLoopa, you can breathe fresh life into those old textbook pages. Take a graph and make it interactive or hover over an image to reveal a more in-depth video on the subject. While AR may seem like “flashy” technology, coupling its use with existing materials can be a cost-effective way to increase engagement and deeper learning.

4. Create an infographic to help review and understand information

Infographics have become a part of everyday society. People are looking for information quickly and visually. Creating an infographic to review content is a powerful way to help those students that are visual learners. Taking this one step further – have students create an infographic as a way to convey their information on a subject. There are many free online tools out there (like Canva) to help with this but my favorite is Keynote. (now with built in icons – it’s what I used to make the infographic for this post)

5. Design and deliver a presentation

This may seem like something every teacher can already do, so I’ll say that this challenge is more about working with students on the art and science of an effective presenting. Being able to communicate a point or idea effectively is becoming more and more of a lost art. The “3-legged” stool approach to balancing a presentation (content, slide design, delivery) can be an invaluable skill for all students going forward in life. To really challenge them, use a tool like PechaFlickr.net (shout out to @cogdog) to have them make up a presentation on the fly. While I prefer the use of Keynote, there are many effect tools out there that students can access to create and present from. One word of advice…take it easy on the bullet points.

6. Have a class social media account for students to post about the day’s learning

Just like the online debates (item #1), social media can be both a tool and a distraction at times. Using a class social media account (Facebook page, Instagram, Twitter, etc) that is moderated by the teacher can model how to use social media to share meaningful messages. Create a “social media PR team” that consists of students capturing events happening around the school that are then reviewed and vetted before posting. Doing something like this in upper elementary grades can be an effective way for students to learn appropriate posting behaviors before they dive into the middle school world of social media. Then ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.

7. Use Stop-motion to explain a challenging concept

One of the most effective and easiest to use features on a device is the camera. With the built-in time-lapse feature, you can capture changes over time like growth of a plant or the rotation of the Earth in comparison with the Sun. Using a free stop-motion app like iMotion, allows your students to take paper, scissors, and play-doh to demonstrate their understanding of a difficult or challenging concept like this video about the digestive system.

8. Integrate more movement into your classroom

A brain break at one of my recent workshops

Anyone who has seen me present or been to one of my professional learning sessions knows that I love to integrate movement into everything I do. There’s brain science that shows incorporating more movement throughout the day in your classroom can actually help with focus and engagement. Increasing oxygen levels to the brain via periodic movement helps increase attention and retention in your classroom. Make movement a regular part of your classroom routine by using brain breaks and standing discussions to wake your students’ brains.

9.  Take a Virtual Field Trip

Want to check out Machu Picchu? Maybe visit Mars? Why not take your class on a virtual field trip? The increase in ways to see virtual worlds via tools like Nearpod VR and Google’s Tour Creator, have helped bring this access to schools without the high-end cost usually associated with VR.

10. Build your own virtual world

Why just be a passive participant in a virtual world when you can build your own? With tools like CoSpacesEDU, you can code and program and interactive world for your students to visit, or better yet, have them build a world to demonstrate understanding of a concept. Don’t have time to learn all of that code or want a break from the screen? Panoform.com is a great hands-on way to have students draw their virtual worlds with paper and colors before bringing them to life digitally.

11. Bring Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the Classroom

Many teachers already do this with the use of Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. These “digital assistants” are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to A.I. and are becoming more prevalent in the homes around our country. Some questions to ask your students might include – What impact will these devices have when it comes to future learning? What happens with all the data that is captured when it listens? How might they help us in the future?

12. Fly a Drone (and discuss it’s impact on society)

Not all of us have access to drones, so flying one in your classroom or outside on the school grounds may not be feasible (or legal in some cases). However, there are several examples around the world now showing us how drones can help us and how they can hurt us. One thing is for certain, these are not going away anytime soon. With that said, a question for students is, what impact do drones have on our privacy rights and what legislation exists out there today around drones?

13. Produce a class Audio podcast

Have students create a podcast highlighting classroom activities, projects or students. One of the schools I consult with regularly in the Chicago area does this with their middle school. The “McClure on the Mic” podcast is created and produced by students and literally puts student voice at the forefront. Getting podcasts out there can be challenging, but if you want to get it to the web quickly, post it to Soundcloud or use a tool like SoundTrap.  For the more advanced user, use a podcasting site like Podbean.com and actually get the podcast posted to iTunes.  That way mom and dad can listen to the weekly recap while going on their evening walk or driving to work.

14. Create a classroom full of student entrepreneurs

What better ways to encourage teamwork, collaboration and global thinking that to introduce students to entrepreneurism to solve real-world problems? This past year, one of the middle schools I work with did just that by wiping away the bell schedule and spending time with student teams identifying issues with the school and proposals for how to fix them. Expanding this to local, state or national level help introduce students to the design thinking and project-based learning to solve actual issues.

15. Identify fake news and internet bots

As mentioned with items #1 and #6 on this list, we live in a time where internet bots are used to sway public opinion, sometimes with false or misleading information. We need to help students identify what is real and what is not online. This goes far beyond “fake news”.  It can be something as simple as understanding the angle of a post based on its title to identifying real people versus robots on twitter. The good news (or bad news) is that there seems to be an example of this happening every day in real time.

16. Have a “FailFest” to model risk-taking and perseverance

Many students today do not know how to cope with failure. As parents and educators, we often time protect and shelter kids from failure. As a result, students spend their formative years not knowing how to mess up and recover from it. I often equate it with the analogy of training wheels on a bike. If we keep those training wheels on the bike, they will never fall down. But what if we take those training wheels off when they leave our schools and they fall down and don’t know how to get back up? The concept of a “FailFest” would take more than this paragraph to explain, but basically the idea is creating an atmosphere in your classroom where students can make mistakes, take thoughtful risks, and celebrate failure. Giving students these life skills will encourage their future growth and expand their possibilities of greater life success…a goal no educator wants to fail at.

17. Practice mindfulness in your classroom

There is a lot of hype around mindfulness in schools and an increase in Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in schools.  While the impact of mindfulness on test scores may still be open to debate, there is value taking a pause and reflecting on the now. Technology can hinder some of that, but short of banning all tech, we need discover life balance in this new “instant-on” world. Give your students 1-2 minutes to stop, breathe, reflect, and simply “be present” every day. You may find it helps their learning as well as behavior on those dreaded rainy days or test-taking days.

18. Utilize robotics to tell a story

The fourth industrial revolution will definitely feature more and more robots in our world. Use of robotics in the classroom is currently relegated to specialized elective classes or maybe a Friday afternoon of free time in a maker space (see #19). The common misconception around these tools are that they are too pricey and one-dimensional for regular classroom use. By using low-cost robotic technology systems like Trashbots, schools can now have a wide array of materials for building robots and better yet, using them in a variety of subjects other than math and science. Why not program your robot to re-enact a moment in history? Or maybe have it tell a story?

19. Build a maker-space for hands-on learning

A maker space is not a new thing. It used to be called “shop class” when I was in school. However, unlike its 20th century relative, maker spaces today can be built into the classroom environment. They allow room for exploration, design, and iteration. And here’s the best part for schools struggling with funding – they can be almost free and require little to no technology. A trip to the local hardware store can yield some donated materials as a trip up to the attic to dig out those old childhood legos. Much like practicing mindfulness (#17), having hands-on learning activities can increase retention and help encourage creativity.

20. Become an activist for a worthy cause.

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes a little creativity is all you need to awareness to a cause. Whether it’s helping the fires burning in the Amazon or finding a cure for a disease, our new connected society can be a powerful thing when galvanized for good. Participating in a global project to help gives students perspective on their own lives while helping others with their life challenges. Empathy is a powerful skill that we need to continue to nurture and grow in our students as they become adults in their new fast-paced life.

21. Let your students drive the learning

While you could do all of these challenges by yourself, the real power comes in letting students own a piece of it. I recently did a talk on “Creating and Environment of Curiosity” where I delve into the mindset of the classroom teacher needed to create an atmosphere where students question, ponder, and drive their own experiences in learning.

I realize there are a lot of tools and concepts on this list that can be intimidating to learn, but we shouldn’t feel the pressure as educators to know and understand everything. Use your students for this. They have the curiosity and the digital acumen, it’s our job as the teacher to give them instructional focus and empowerment.  We live in wonderfully connected times.  Despite all of technology’s perceived misgivings and the apocalyptic fears that we are losing ourselves as a society, why not use some of this power for good?

Just know that as a teacher in the 21st century you ultimately hold the key to unleash this creative beast.  So try something on the list this year that may force you a bit out of your comfort zone because there is no better way to learn than trying.

Just be sure to share your successes and struggles when you are finished as learning in isolation helps no one.

 

Editor’s Note: I’m excited to share that I know have a presentation that is a great accompaniment to this post. If you are ever interested in bringing me into your school or conference, check out my site at CarlHooker.com for my topics, sessions, and workshops I provide.

 

My #NextChapter: Taking the LEAP

Anyone who knows me, knows I always have a soundtrack for different parts of my life. Friends and colleagues have shared with me that certain songs speak to them at certain parts of their lives. For me, the song currently speaking to me for this part of my life is the Talking Heads Once in a Lifetime. As a new school year kicks off, I find myself in a strange place. For the first time in 21 years, I’m not running around trying to help classrooms get set up with their technology, updating iPads, training new teachers, or helping with district-wide professional learning.

And you may ask yourself, well, how did I get here?

About 15 months ago I was wandering around New Orleans and stumbled into a local coffee shop. They had a bookshelf full of books with “Free- take one” labeled on each cover. My eyes were drawn immediately to the cover and title of this particular book:

The title caught my attention because that’s exactly the title we used when we launched our 1:1 program in 2011. Our LEAP program stood for “Learning and Engaging through Access and Personalization”, and while it was centered around 1:1 iPads, what made it successful was the learning. Seeing the subtitle for this book did intrigue me, but when I got home from the trip, I set it on my bookshelf in my personal office and didn’t read it….for almost a year.

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down…

Flash forward to this past spring. As I’ve told many a friend and colleague in person, there are always signs out there for us to see, and sometimes, they have to be banging you across the head to notice them. With some changes coming to both vision and structure in my now former district and increasing requests for my speaking and consulting side-work, I knew a decision was imminent.

While sitting at home over spring break, I began to discuss the possibility of leaving the 9-to-5 (more like 8-6) work as a district administrator to head into the freelance market of the “Gig Economy.” I discussed this with the one person in my life that has steered me right more than wrong, the mother of my kids….my wife.

“Sometimes, you just need to move on. If you don’t do this, you’ll regret it,” she said.

And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife…

That all sounds well and good. After all, I’m the type of person that likes to push people to take risks, yet now, for some reason, I was waffling. Tons of questions swirled around my brain including:

Am I ready to leave 21 years of education behind?

How will I continue to be relevant?

What about private health care? (this one still scares me)

How will this effect my kids who are going to school in the district I work?

I’ve received a monthly pay check since I was 16-years old. How will my family handle the uncertainty of consultant and speaking work?

All of these questions and fears started to creep into my mind.

And you may ask yourself – Am I right? Am I wrong?

To be honest, I still don’t have answers for many of those questions, but in the weeks that have followed, answers have begun to seek me out. Below are some of the main items I weighed before making this decision to take the LEAP:

Time

I think I spent a total of 85 days at my house this past year. From the main work and the travel of the side work, my days and evenings are pretty

Reflecting on what’s important…

well tapped. Late night board meetings, random travel changes, and staying up late to work on a project all took time away from my family. While I know travel will increase some in this new role, I’m excited with the opportunity to spend more time with my kids, my wife, and my parents who live near us. That kind of time is precious and you can’t put a price on it. Too often, we become a slave to daily grind and carry that work home with us. The benefit of time with family was the number one motivator for me to make the decision to leave full-time district work.

Time isn’t holding up, time is after us

Relevancy

I never want to turn into one of those talking heads on stage that hasn’t stepped foot in an actual school in decades. I’ve had the good fortune recently to be hired on as a part-time consultant in a couple of amazing school districts. Having these consulting opportunities in place allow me to both be a part of district decisions and model learning in the classroom with actual students. I always find my energy from the kids, so having these in my back pocket to maintain relevance helped with my ultimate decision.

And you may ask yourself, how do I work this?

Other Creative Opportunities

I’ve built up a very supportive and inspiring network of friends, colleagues, and companies over the years in my role at the district. Many have asked me about collaborating on different ideas and concepts but I simply haven’t had the time. My hope now is that I can devote some energy into those collaborations and seek out some creative opportunities that might have not happened while juggling all the work. In fact, some plans and collaborations are already in the works! In the coming weeks and months, you should start seeing the result of these as I try to impact the larger scope of education across the country.

I’m soft-launching my site this week: CarlHooker.com. If you’d like to seek out my services as a consultant, speaker, MC, event organizer or creative collaborator, go there. I’m excited for the opportunity to connect and collaborate with even more educators across the world now!

Letting the days go by…

Self-care

I feel like there are 5 things that garner the majority of our attention: Family, spouse, work, friends, and self. These things change in order based on the time of year or whatever your current relationships look like. As this blog is all about me being honest, I’ll tell you that the last item on the list has really suffered lately. As my attention focused on the other 4 items, I spent little to no attention to self-care. That inattention has caused increased stress, blood pressure, weight gain, and insomnia. It’s hard to be productive as a father, husband, or employee with my own mind and body falling apart. While I’ll now have different stresses to manage, I feel like I’ll have extra time to manage those with healthier eating habits and exercise, which ironically should help the other four areas that need my attention.

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was, once in a lifetime, water flowing underground

 

After my last day at “work”, I found myself behind the wheel of a large automobile as my family and I embarked on a 3-week RV expedition across the eastern United States. Having that gap and family time really confirmed my belief that this could all be possible and might just all work out. The journey ahead won’t necessarily be better or worse, it’ll just be different. I’ll miss many of the great students and teachers that I got to work with in my previous role, but also look forward to the many more teachers and students I’ll have the opportunity to work with in the future.

As a reader of my blogs and someone who’s made it this far on this post, I hope you’ll continue to come along with me on this #NextChapter of my journey and that our paths may cross in the future.

After all, you may ask yourself, where does that highway go to?

A Love Letter to the Teachers of Eanes ISD


“All good things must come to an end.”

Who said that? Do they really have to end? Does it always have to be the good things that end?

I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life in public education and the past 13 at this amazing district known as the Eanes Independent School District. During my time here, I’ve had three incredible children enter the world and the schools here. I’ve made connections and friendships with families, the community, legislators, business leaders and beyond.

To say it’s been an incredible journey is a gross understatement. While I am somewhat torn emotionally at the fact that this will be my final year at Eanes ISD, I’m also excited for what the next chapter in my life will bring and where this ride will take me. As I often do, lately I have been reflecting on my time here and all that WE accomplished. Without a doubt, the highlight of my career has been working with the incredible teachers in this district. You inspire me, make me laugh, make me grow, and push my beliefs. We’ve shared thoughts, ideas, tears, and struggles.

To the teachers of Eanes ISD, I cannot thank you enough for all that you’ve given me and my family.  So, before I go, I wanted to write you this love letter.

Have confidence in yourself. You have one of the hardest jobs on the planet, helping young humans learn. Know that this is EXTREMELY hard, but you pull it off with ease. Continue to have confidence in yourself and it will translate into even better experiences for you, your students and those around you.

Do the right thing, even when it’s hard. It’s much easier to just do the bare minimum or to not try something new. When I started in my current role here in 2010, integrating technology meant something COMPLETELY different than it does today. That said, the mindset around technology, while ripe with challenges, shouldn’t change our mission. The mission is NOT to raise kids, but to raise ADULTS ready for the world in front of them. Sometimes that means struggling with new things or trying a new idea that may fail, but remember to keep your confidence and your chin up through those times of struggle.

Change is inevitable and constant. When I started in this district, I always had a 3-year plan. Every 3 years I’d change schools or jobs. It took me 13 years to enact on my 3-year plan, largely due to the amazing community here. I changed my belief that I needed to constantly be changing jobs. My new goal was to see all three of my kids graduate from Westlake High School.

But now, that plan has also changed.

There will be many people that come in and out of your life here. There will be new standards to teach. New rules and policies to follow. And yes, technology will change (in fact, quite rapidly). You can either fear the change or embrace it. That sounds easy enough to do, “embrace change”. However I’m going to challenge you to also think about and question change when it happens. Understanding the “why” behind something is an important step in owning whatever the change is.

Have an opinion and don’t be afraid to express it. In fact, you are obligated to express it. We can’t continue to grow as a society or district or organization if everyone nods their head and moves on. Don’t be afraid to speak your mind. A couple of years ago we started a “League of Innovators” with this purpose. These teachers applied to be a part of group with the ultimate goal of improving the district as a whole, not just around technology. I cherish my time with those in the league and the impact they had on our program. Please continue to express your opinion, even when it’s scary.

Whenever possible, be transparent. Trust is built around communication and transparency. Be open to letting others come into your classroom and growing from their feedback. Expect the same transparency from your leaders, as it will also help them and the school grow as a result of having open conversations.

The struggle is real, but move past it. We all have things that we bring to work with us. From personal issues to family health, stress and struggle are a part of all of our lives. It’s how we handle it that makes the difference, not only to ourselves, but our students. We are humans teaching humans. We are in this for the outcome, not the income. Don’t let your bad days get the better of you and don’t let your best days go to your head. Try your best to keep your #EnergyForward.

There will be days when you feel like you are on an island. You close your door with a single goal of teaching the kids in the room in front of you. Never forget how amazing it is to help kids learn, but also never forget that even if you feel alone, you are not. Lean on your colleagues. Lean on your friends. Lean on your family. After all, learning is better when played as a team sport.

Know there’s a bigger picture and it’s not just about making people comfortable. With transparency and openness comes discomfort. Humans are built to avoid conflict. Since the early days of life, if we sense danger, we either fight it or flee from it. This evolutionary trait will not change overnight, but we can try and overcome it to engage in meaningful discourse. We can’t progress as a society if we spend all of our time either being compliant or having well thought out arguments typed on a Facebook thread. Disagreement and discomfort can be a good thing if it takes us all to a better place.

Don’t be stifled by fear. There will be times when you are afraid to try something new. While there are always consequences for actions, that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to try something. Fear can be suffocating to innovation and creativity. Take well-thought out risks that help improve learning and engagement for your students. Mistakes may happen, but modeling how you learn from those mistakes makes a lasting impression on the students in your classroom.

Creativity is born out of struggle. There will always be some roadblocks on the path to success. Time. Money. Resources. Restrictive filters. When embarking on a new idea or project with your kids, embrace the failures and learn from them. Don’t give up. Roadblocks are there to slow you down, not stop you.

You are a rockstar. You are the front line. Students will graduate. Families move out. Administrators will come and go. Change happens. Roadblocks will try to slow you down. You have to be the one to set an example for your students. You have to show them how to struggle and how to persevere. You have to put a smile on your face when an angry parent misunderstands what their 6-year-old told them you said. You have to grin and bear it when a new policy or directive from the state is passed into your classroom. These things are not easy. But you didn’t get into this profession for easy.  You go into this profession to make a difference.

Know that you have made a tremendous difference on one individual and his family. I thank you all for making these last 13 years amongst the best in my life. I will miss the day-to-day friendships. I will miss the philosophical debates. I will miss a teacher running up to me inspired with a crazy idea to improve learning in their class and then helping them achieve it. I will miss leading professional learning for you in a multitude of forms (online, workshops, LearnFestATX, etc). Most regrettably, I’ll miss being able to work alongside you.

As I head into the my next chapter as a full-time consultant and speaker, know that I carry with me the collective passion and knowledge of the incredible teachers I’ve worked with during my time here. I don’t know where this next chapter of my life we ultimately take me, but, because of your support, I do know this….it will KICK ASS.

With love from your colleague,

Carl

 

What’s the BEST Model to Support Technology Integration?

On a recent OnEducation Podcast episode (embedded at the bottom of this post), the hosts Mike and Glen got into a debate about what exactly is the “right” model of support when it comes to technology integration in schools? As they called out my name in particular, I felt it best to write this post in response.

Make no bones about it…Technology is a gift with a tail. It’s predicted that schools will spend $19 Billion dollars on technology in schools. This can range from a variety of devices, apps, software and various “STEM” tools but not necessarily servers, wires, and all that stuff in the closet.  Despite this large amount of money invested in technology, the amount of money to support and integrate these tools dwarfs the amount spent on the hardware and software. I’d also wager that a majority of that “support” money is primarily for personnel needed to repair and keep the technology running, not to integrate it into learning.

I’ve been integrating technology in some form or fashion during my entire 20 years in education. A few years ago I wrote this post about how funding support in both I.T. and instruction can affect the level of integration. From that research as well as my work with districts around the country, I’ve seen a wide variety of models when it comes to support. With most models, the two largest determining factors are budget and vision. What follows are the various models I’ve seen employed by districts around the country. Each model is followed by a letter grade that is completely subjective, because, hey, this is for education right?

The “Tech Support Only” Model

In this model, staff and funding for support go solely towards keeping everything up and running. That means at a bare minimum, the technology will work. Will it be integrated thoughtfully? That depends largely on the teacher and the goals and expectation of the principal. I would say a majority of districts and schools across the country use this model.

Grade= C- 

While it’s great that the technology can turn on and off, there’s really no way to know if it’s making a difference educationally without some intense expectations, strategies and vision from leadership.

The “Pay and Pray” Model

No tech support. No Instructional support. Just spend the money on devices and see what happens. Whenever you read research about how technology in schools doesn’t really help, it largely comes from schools that employ either the previous model or this one. Often times you’ll hear phrases like “well, some tech is better than no tech” but in terms of this model, you could almost make the case that this could be worse for students (not to mention the tax payers funding the bill).

Grade= F

No support at all is not an advisable model.

The “Vanguard Teacher” Stipend Model

When I started as a classroom teacher, this was the widely used model I saw for technology integration. The way it works is you have I.T. staff to make sure the technology is running and you add some stipend or an extra amount to a group of teachers or a single “rock star” teacher to help with the integration on campus.

Grade=B-

While the district saves money by not paying for a full-time staff member to support integration, this model puts a lot of pressure on the Vanguard Teacher to not only do their full-time teaching duties, but also support staff on a variety of issues. As someone who lived this role for several years, eventually the vanguard teacher also gets roped into helping with printer issues, projector issues, and everything in between.

The Ed Tech Consultant Model

This model seems to be on the rise as many districts that can’t support a full-time staff member. Having a consultant who’s an expert in technology integration can help build vision, support the Vanguard Teachers and converse with IT staff can be a huge benefit at a fraction of the cost of a full-time administrator.

Grade=B+

This model works best when school and district leadership are on board and match the vision for technology integration with campus-wide expectations. Also, having those Vanguard Teachers or to work with gives insight and boots on the ground so to speak. As someone who consults with schools and districts from time-to-time, I’ve seen first-hand the benefits of this model when done right.

The Full-Time Coordinator/Director Model

While far from ubiquitous, many districts districts land on this model of support by hiring a full-time administrator to help guide the integration of technology in schools. On top of helping with the vision and expectations, this person (also the role I’m currently in) works with all teachers, the community, leadership, and IT to makes sure all stakeholders are on the same page. While it does cost a district a little more, having a full time person coordinating the integration of technology came make a huge difference in learning and usage, especially when compared with the “Tech support only” models.

Grade = A-

The only reason this wouldn’t grade out higher depends on two factors – the amount of campuses to support and how they work with the I.T. Department. If an Instructional Technology Director has too many campuses to support, their impact is minimized as they can really only take a shotgun approach to integration. If they have an over-bearing or controlling IT department, it limits the amount of progress they can accomplish.

The 1:1 Coaching Model

This model involves putting a highly qualified, instructionally-focused staff member on each campus to support the integration of technology. Some schools have used current staff (instructional coaches or library media specialists) to sort of “hack” this model as it does cost the most money of all the models listed above. Others may not be able to have a person on each campus but have a centralized team. Both of those methods are helpful with integration and would grade out highly. However, having a dedicated ITS or EdTech on each campus to coach, co-teach, and lead innovation with technology on campuses can be EXTREMELY powerful. When coupled with well-communicated expectations from campus leadership and vision from the district, I’ve yet to ever see a more beneficial model of integrating technology into the classroom.

Grade = A+

Note: I may be a little biased as this is the model my district currently employs. That said, as someone who has been in the “Director” role for the past 8 years, I can tell you maintaining the A+ Coaching model isn’t necessarily easy. Whenever budget cuts come, as they often do in public education, it’s often the first position to come under the knife which can cause disruption and uncertainness to those in the position. Also, it’s important to coordinate these positions across the district to guarantee some level of fidelity or else risk the role being used differently from campus to campus.

Summary:

You can get various levels of technology integration depending on the vision, goals and budget of a district. I’ve lived through 3 different iterations of our “Ed Tech” position in my tenure and am now going through another “evolution” of sorts. As we’ve had a high level of support for years, we are evolving the position from someone who supports the integration of technology to someone who supports high quality teaching and learning with technology as an embedded part of that.

While it seems subtle, it does change the ideology around support. Removing the word “technology” or “digital learning” from a title implies that this person supports all learning, which is a good thing. That also implies that they don’t exist solely to repair printer issues or help a principal make a newsletter.

Regardless of roles, position titles, and support, without a well-communicated vision and expectation, technology usage will continue to be only substitutive in nature with the exception of a few outliers. If you have a moment, give the OnEducation Podcast below a listen. They start to get into the debate around the coaching and support models right around the 27 minute mark. Drop a comment below too if you have feedback on the models I’ve shared or maybe some I’ve left off.

OnEducation Podcast Episode “Let’s Bring the Weird”

Interested in bringing me to your district? Reach out here.

LearnFestATX – A Learning Event From The Future

Let me paint a picture for you.

You spend a lot of money to attend a conference for professional learning. You get flights lined up, hotel, transportation, etc. Then you go to the event. You spend the first hour trying to find the registration desk.  You wait in line for a half-hour to get your badge. Then you plop down on the floor and start looking over the schedule guide to see what sessions you’ll attend.

There’s so many choices, it’s almost overwhelming. It’s like walking into Costco without a shopping list. You go in wanting one thing, and you come out owning a 3-lb lobster claw that you didn’t know you needed. Once you do decide on a session, you stand in line for 15 minutes hoping to get in. Others are over capacity and you can’t get in, which causes you to speed walk 1.2 miles down the convention hall only to walk in late to a session and find the dreaded seat in the very middle of everyone.

After several hours of this, you are ready for an early happy hour. You see people laughing and having fun, but you’re not sure what they are laughing about and if they are in fact having fun. At about 2pm, you find a local watering hole with fellow attendees trying to hide their badge of shame around their necks as you are all clearly failures.

Or are you?

I would argue that you are not the failure, but instead that the conference event failed you. In its desire to pack the house with thousands of people, the large conference has lost focus on what’s most important: the attendee experience. Sure there are amazing speakers from all over and great content, but the UX (user experience) is severely lacking. Why go stand in line for a movie you might not want to watch?

On day 2, you wake up with a headache both from the early happy hour and the brain fog that comes from being overwhelmed. You go to the keynote, hoping for some inspiration. However, you are now “cattled” in and out of a 5000-seat arena where you end up skipping sitting down because you forgot to charge your laptop. So, you find a spot on the floor next to one of the 4 plugs in the 30,000 sq. ft. room. The keynote speaker is good (they usually are, to be fair) but now what? Do you engage in conversation with someone? Do you rush out the door before the closing remarks in the hopes of not being a part of the herd?

All of these above scenarios have been part of my experiences attending large conferences in the past. I feel like I spend much of my time being shepherded around or looking for the next session, but rarely walk away with my money’s worth in terms of knowledge and experiences. In fact, the best learning usually happens in conversations and dialogues with colleagues or things posted on the conference hashtag.

With all this in mind, in 2012, we created an event called iPadpalooza. We didn’t want to call it an “iConference” because we really wanted it to be something quite different. We wanted it to be a learning festival. A place to experience something different as an attendee. A place where the things that matter the most, the interactions, discussions, and collaboration are the focal point of the event.

Flash forward to present day.

Taking all past experiences, both good and bad, when it comes to professional learning, we are attempting something, well…different. The event formerly known as iPadpalooza is now LearnFestATX (after all, it’s about the learning, not a device). Last year, rather than just changing the name and moving on, we decided to beta test some new concepts in professional learning with a much smaller audience. Following that beta test, we discovered what worked and what didn’t. Taking just the parts that worked and adding in some of our own magic, we have created what we feel will be an event from the future, for the future.

Our motto this year is “Ready Learner One” along with a retro video game theme (sometimes the past can best prepare us for the future, right?). Many of the things we are trying are still top-secret, but here’s just a few highlights of things you could experience as an attendee this summer:

Three Different Perspectives to Learning:

As someone attending, you’ll experience learning in three different ways.  The first way is the most traditional in terms of learning as part of a large group (during opening and closing events) or a medium-sized group (during interactive and make-n-take sessions). The second way is learning as part of a collaborative team either with our Teacher Shark Tank or the APPmazing Race. The third way is learning as an individual by reflecting in our Mindfulness Lounge, participating in our digital petting zoo, lunchtime interactions, or attempting to win our massive easter egg hunt (details revealed at event).

Featured Speakers:

While the traditional conference puts featured speakers in certain rooms and only for certain times, we want our featured speakers to be much more part of the event. They should be learners too. As an attendee, you should have multiple opportunities to interact with them as well. Sure, there will be some scheduled sessions, but now with our new Mindfulness Lounge and Expert’s Lounge, you’ll have opportunities to sit, relax and reflect with some of the top educational experts around. Our featured speakers will also be playing multiple roles in some of the experiences that are taking place, from Impractical EdTechsters to the Ed Tech Family Feud to a Poetry Slam, you’ll see these folks in roles that stretch their thinking and yours.

A Different Kind of Keynote:

I can’t give away too much here, but for those that attended our beta-test last year with the “Silent Disco” presentation style, we’ll be doing that on a much larger scale during our opening session on June 12. Also, we’ll be bringing back our “What’s HOT in Ed Tech” challenge for the closing ceremonies. Let’s just say it involves some new ways to “spice” up a talk to a large crowd. We’re also super-pumped to have Manoush Zomorodi as our day 2 Keynote speaker. These large groups events will have tons of audience engagement as well as boat-loads of door prizes.

Dive Deeper Before the Madness:

While the main LearnFestATX runs on June 12th & 13th, we will also be having our 3-hour deep dive PreFest LearnShops on June 11th. No more fighting for a spot or a seat. Just buy your ticket, select your sessions, and you are guaranteed a seat.

In summary, I’ve always been of the belief that learning is an active sport. Sometimes that’s a team sport, sometimes it’s an individual sport. But the bottom line is, you get out of it what you put into it. This is true of either a traditional conference or our event. The biggest difference is, at our event, you don’t have to try to seek out those learning opportunities. At our event, they seek you out.

I hope that you’ll join us this summer at LearnFestATX. We do believe that learning as a team can be powerful too, so we offer great group discounts if you want to come hang out with colleagues or meet new ones. With our event, you have the ultimate level of voice & choice. Something we want our students to have as well, so why not model it in a professional learning environment?

Come see what all the fuss is about this summer in Austin:

LearnFestATX Registration

Hint for those of you that read all the way to the bottom of this page. Try and reach out to a featured speaker to get a 20% off discount!

Editor’s note: LearnFestATX was recently listed as one of EdSurge’s top Ed Tech events to attend in 2019!

 

What is Media Literacy?

On the first day of #SXSWedu I went to a panel session around media literacy. The panel consisted of educators and representatives from KQED and PBS. During the course of the discussion, one of the panelists mentioned that the term “media literacy” is really built around new forms of media.

When becoming literate in film, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, social media, etc, it’s about learning new forms of media. The term “literacy” is still centered around reading and writing. Thus, anything listed as “Media” literacy must be new.

I looked up the official definition of “literate” on Merriam-Webster’s website and this was the result:

In this definition, reading and writing is tied to literacy. However, some of the other definitions like “having knowledge or competence” is an interesting angle that is used with media literacy. Adding the word “media” as stated in the definition would mean you would have knowledge or competence of the media.

A different panelist brought up the point that if you have an Alexa or Google Home in your house, that you’ve just included a new form of media (A.I.) to learn and become literate in. That said, many people add these tools without thoughts of learning how to really use or leverage them.  They don’t think about the long-term consequences of a tool capturing your verbal data over time. As I wrote about last year, one of my main parenting fails was buying and Echo Dot for each of my kids, so this really hit home with me.

That said, I think that banning or turning away all new forms of media is also not productive or a good long-term solution.  Becoming literate in a tool, as by the definition above, means you understand the downsides as well as the positives to using such a tool.  That’s what we need to be teaching kids.

I threw out this concept around the term media literacy on Twitter during the event:

Here were a few of the responses:

Patrick’s thought here is where I was leaning originally and would be more in line with the Merriam-Webster definition. Just list items that have tech in them as media items that we need to become literate in, but then list the more traditional (books) as literacy. However, when he mentions digital or analog, it starts to throw me off a bit as digital means technology.  In an attempt to summarize: Not all technology is media, but some could be considered literacy.  Here’s a series of thoughts that I grouped together:

 

 

All of the above tweets refer to how the term can influence certain thoughts. This is where I really started to have a conundrum. In some ways, the way I was posting and gathering this data on Twitter is considered a form of (social) Media literacy. The idea that reading=consuming media and writing=creating media seems to make the most sense to me.

Using those ideas and removing the term “media” would insinuate that the person that has set up an AI home assistant would know how to “consume” it (have it play you music, give you a joke) as well as “create” with it (have it add to a shopping list or program it to flash your lights when a message comes in).

This new form literacy in the AR/VR world looks fairly weighted at the moment to the consumptive side of literacy. We are interacting and consuming virtual worlds or augmented material, but very few are actually creating in this space. My thinking is, as this becomes much more user-friendly through apps like ARMakr or Panoform, we’ll start to create with these tools and become more literate in their use as a result.

After writing all of this, I’m now beginning to wonder if the definition of literacy or to be literate needs to be rexamed. One of our amazing middle school teachers shared this:

It’s clear in the future, that students (and adults) will need to interact with multiple forms of media. Becoming literate in those forms of media will not hurt them, it can only help to give them an advantage in the future work place. Knowing that, we would be doing a disservice to the future of our students to not show them how to interact with multiple forms of media. Making them literate, thoughtful, empathetic and impactful members of society is one of the most powerful things we can do as an institution.

Creating this literacy doesn’t happen without the right tools, teachers, leaders, and mindsets when it comes to using all of this “media” in our world.

Bold Predictions Sure to Go Wrong for 2019

It’s that time of year when we like to make resolutions, change part of our diet, and set out with some goals for our personal and professional selves. For me, this time of year marks an annual tradition of making some bold predictions that I think might come true in the coming year. Last year was by far my most successful year of predictions coming true (or mostly true), so with my new found (false) confidence, I’ve decided to really step it up this year with my prognostications.

I realize that some of this may seem far-reaching, but hey, I said “BOLD” right?  Also, in looking back at some of my previous years, I noticed that my time frame may have been off by a year or two, but they still came true….eventually. (For the record, I don’t count those as accurate predictions)  These predictions are a mix of technology, education, and some fun. Part of what makes this interesting is your feedback, so please drop your bold predictions in the comments below the post. Even if it’s crazy!

Virtual Reality takes fright…er….flight in the classroom

This past holiday, my lovely wife surprised me with an Oculus GO VR headset. This all-in-one headset doesn’t require a computer or a phone to use and within a few minutes of use, I immediately become both motion sick and mesmerized with possibilities in Education. Even though the graphics aren’t quite there yet, just the experience of riding on a virtual roller coaster or even looking out the window of a 97-story building immediately immerse you in the world.  Imagine what that could look like in a classroom?  I know that Google Expeditions and Nearpod 360 Cities do some of this, but the world I’m envisioning has interactions with the students. Imaging taking part in the American Revolution or being able to be a member in the audience during Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro“?  Or better yet….why not put yourself in the shoes of the actual conductor?  With the now lower cost of these all-in-one devices and the mobility (no more lugging around a huge desktop) I can see a near future where Interactive VR plays a role in the learning experiences of our kids.

The Universal Translator will make learning a foreign language obsolete

This past couple of years, Google and other companies have really tried to capitalize on the idea of having a Universal Translator (think Ohura from Star Trek). The current versions of this are still fairly clunky, but I can see a not so distant future where learning a foreign language might not be that important. This doesn’t mean that all those LOTE (Languages Other Than English) teachers will be out of a job though. With an effective universal translator, knowing the culture and customs of foreign lands will become even more important should you accidentally say or gesture the wrong thing.

Alexa will accidentally burn down someone’s house

Ok, so this one is a little morbid, but is it really that far-fetched?  I wrote this post last year about When Smart Homes Attack about how my kids almost froze and starved to death because I changed the wireless router on a snow day. There are a TON of smart home devices coming out of CES this week (including this awesome SMART block of wood) and with the “Internet of Things” taking over homes across the country, there are some inherent dangers. Like imagine someone asking Alexa to play Turn up the Heat by Justin Bieber only to have it accidentally fire up the fireplace or stove? I see a future Black Mirror episode or crime novel in our future where someone hacks the smart home to kill its inhabitants.  (Ok…this is getting way too dark now)

Netflix will launch an EDU Version of its service

I’ve been pitching this to higher-ups at Netflix for the past couple of years, but all my emails and tweets go without a response. It seems to me that this is an opportunity for Netflix to expand its service to the educational market. My daughters already have their own customized channels full of educational content like Bill Nye and Magic School Bus. Netflix even offers one-time educational screening permission for certain programs and movies. We don’t want an educational environment where kids are just mindlessly consuming content, so this would have to be done with some fidelity, but I think there could be a potential use case where the teacher acts as the moderator of customized content for each student under a EDU subscription. Instead of binge watching…there would be binge learning!

Restaurants will post non-device zones similar to non-smoking areas

It seems that more and more we are facing an internal conflict of too much screen time (remember the smart wood I mentioned earlier?). Associated with us being glued to our screens is the feeling that we are doing too much “nocializing” (going out with friends only to be on your phone the entire time) rather than actual interaction. Don’t believe me? Walk through the airport sometime and see how many strangers are interacting with each other. Our district just went through a lengthly process evaluating our own use of technology in the classroom. The major concerns around screen time in schools is a valid one especially when you couple it with the heavy use of screens at home with kids after school. One of the major outcomes of our research was that we need to really educate and promote the purposeful use of technology in and out of schools. This isn’t just a school problem, it’s a social one. I predict that this year, in response to this, we will see restaurants begin to set up non-device zones for those that choose to not have their devices out. The only exception will be for people using their phone to read this post. (Ha!)

Someone will write a blog/paper using only predictive text

Imagine the world of the future and we can have access to our new home app using a mobile device?  (that was all written with predictive text…scary isn’t it?)  Surely someone will use predictive text to send a love letter, submit a college paper or even write out their wedding vows (see next prediction). Felix Jacomino actually crowd-sourced his predictive text poem a couple of years ago for his Ed Tech Poetry Slam. Here’s an example of a comedian who has re-written the Avengers script using predictive texts using an online tool called botnik. This could be a terribly lame prediction (begin predictive text) but it would also make the best way to play with some friends.  Um….okay?

A couple will get married over Facetime

A couple of years ago I became an ordained online minister in order to be the officiant at my buddy Chris Parker’s wedding. It seems to me, that if for $50 and an online application I can become ordained, then surely some couple out there can be married without being physically in the same location. In doing some quick internet digging, it appears that getting married over the internet is still not legal. However, my guess is that with modern laws being updated all the time and with the hustle and bustle of our modern lifestyles, someone will get married via video chat. Some questions I would have around this would be: Do they have to put it online so there are witnesses? Can the officiant be virutal as well or can they be married by a virtual assistant (A.I.)? How do you kiss the bride? I can hear it now: “Do you have the Ring (camera)?”

There will be a FortniteEDU for schools

Remember when people laughed at the thought of Minecraft ever making its way to the classroom? A Microsoft buy-out later, MinecraftEDU has made it into our schools. Imagine a Battle Royale where you have to solve math problems to get weapons or complete a simile to get a shield potion? Doesn’t seem that far-fetched now does it? If anyone can make this happen, my money would be on Mike Washburn who has already done some work in this space. He was the first educator I can recall showing and presenting the educational values of Minecraft way back when. C’mon Mike! Make it happen!

Kohler’s new smart toilet

A SMART toilet will save someone’s life

Yes, these are a thing. It seems hard to imagine, but considering there is now something called “Poo Purri”, it doesn’t seem that far fetched. In fact, Kohler just announced their high-end smart toilets complete with mood lighting and built in speakers. While that’s cool, futurist Michio Kaku predicts in this video that smart toilets have the potential to detect a finite amount of cancer cells before it grows into a tumor. How incredible would that be? Also, I’m posting this because I have some guilt from an earlier prediction claiming that a smart home would kills someone (there’s always a balance, right?) These toilets will have an impact in schools and public sector jobs too as they will have the ability to detect drugs/alcohol in student-athletes or politicians, which could get real interesting…

LearnFestATX will again break the rules when it comes to a conference

Last year, as we transitioned from iPadpalooza to LearnFestATX we went into “beta” mode to test out some new concepts to engage adult learners. Admittedly, not all of them were great. However, a few of the ideas were HUGE successes that we plan to feature along with other unique engagement mechanisms this June. From silent disco keynotes to the “What’s HOT in Ed Tech” challenge, this summer’s event in Austin will hit you on all fronts. This year’s theme is “Ready Learner One” with a play on classic video games from our past. So if you’re ready to Dig Dug deeper, be sure to register now as this is should to be a Knock Out!  (FYI – we are also accepting calls for proposals until Feb. 8 – accepted presenters can be part of the fun for FREE)

Robotics enter mainstream curriculum

Largely due to costs and complex programming, robotics has remained an after-school program or secondary elective. However, with new models of robotics like Sphero and Trashbots hitting the market at an affordable price AND coming with easy-to-use curriculum integration tools, this will be the year that robot goes from a “fun Friday” activity to mainstream. I may be cheating a bit on this one as Fred Benitez recently shared some science teachers at our middle school doing that very thing with Sphero and Anatomy:

 

THIS will be the year my children’s book series actually gets published

Third time is a charm right? I’ve had this false prediction on this post for the last two years and I think it’s time to make it happen. I even bought a website for it this past weekend so it better become a reality even if no one buys it. 🙂

There you have it. Twelve different bold predictions (a record for this post) on things I believe will happen during 2019. Like I stated at the beginning, I would love your thoughts on crazy, bold ideas that could happen in our near future as well. Comment below and thanks for reading!

Happy New Year everyone!

A Look Back: Bold Predictions for 2018

Making predictions isn’t easy folks. Let’s face it, even Miss Cleo sometimes got her prognostications incorrect.  Every year as the calendar turns, I attempt to take a stab at some things I predict will happen in the upcoming year.  These predictions are loosely based around education and technology and sometimes I get them right on the mark (like when Pearson lost its testing contract in Texas).  Other times, I was way off. Like the time I predicted that someone would develop a Star Wars-themed charter school (although, of that, hopeful I am). Looking back at my 2018 predictions, it was a mixed bag as per usual but overall, my best year yet in terms of predictions. Let’s see how I did.

Prediction: AR will help us “see” students’ level of engagement

Outcome: Very Close

My main thought on this was that augmented reality would tell teachers student engagement levels by merely holding up their phone or iPad and seeing the students’ thoughts via an engagement meter. I was off on that part, but imagine my surprise when Adam Phyall (@askadam3) and I visited the start-up village section of #ISTE18 in Chicago and stumbled across BrainCoTech. This company specializes in helping kids focus and engaged with brain exercises where you control something on a screen the more you focus. Sound like science fiction? Or maybe something from a Black Mirror? Check out the video evidence below:

Prediction: A school will fully implement AI to help with learning disabilities

Outcome: “Alexa, is this true?”  “Not quite yet”

As witnessed by my parenting fail with Amazon’s Echo Dot, we’ve still got a ways to go when it comes to AI and our kids. Artificial Intelligence has been used more and more in the classroom and most people probably didn’t even realize it. Any time a student using speech-to-text or a teacher asks Siri a question, the AI kicks in. While no school that I can find has “fully” implemented AI as the prediction states, there is some potential for AI to help with learning difficulties. Microsoft recently revealed their Presentation Translator and Seeing AI app to help with students that have visual or auditory impairments. The future on this is closer than we think. Now if I could just get Alexa to put away my laundry….

Prediction: “4D” technology will help kids truly experience history

Outcome: Still a little ways off

During a trip to Orlando last spring, I got to experience “The Void” – a 4D experience with Star Wars as the main theme. How it works: You and a team of 4 put on VR headsets and haptic-enabled vests. As you move through what is essentially a giant warehouse, you can actually reach out and touch objects, door handles, and even R2D2. During one treacherous mission, I had to walk on a catwalk over hot lava and could smell and feel the sulfuric heat beneath me. Theres some tremendous potential for this in the classroom, but I can tell you the cost to do this would quickly snap you back to reality. (see what I did there?)

Prediction: A Presidential pardon will happen via Twitter

Outcome: Nailed it! (sort of)

I don’t think was that much of a bold prediction, but who would predict that the present would tweet about pardoning himself as he did on June 4th of this year?

 

Prediction: This year #EdTechPoetrySlam becomes a thing

Outcome: Snap, Snap, Snap

With some ambition and a super-talented line-up of Ed Tech powerhouses, we were able to make this prediction a reality. Need proof? It’s now expanded to an international location thanks to Brett Salakas bringing it down under this past October. As far as the ISTE event this past summer, you had to be there to believe it. From Lisa Johnson’s and Brianna Hodges’ powerful words to Felix Jacomino’s campy Gilligan’s Island remix, for one magical night in Chicago, we were moved by just words. When all was said and done, Steve Dembo walked away with the championship belt with this stirring slam that invoked a TON of ed tech tools in a poetic way. (Come to Austin on June 12, 2019 for #LearnFestATX to see him defend his title!)

Prediction: A ride-sharing app for parents will be invented

Outcome: It already happened…sort of…

Apparently this was already the beginning of a thing when three moms launched the company HopSkipDrive in Los Angeles in 2014. However, this past summer, the company expanded to Denver and is looking to expand to other locations throughout the US. Drivers have to have a minimum of 5 years child-care experience and must past a 15-point background check before being hired to chauffeur kids as young as 6 to their next soccer game or play date. I can see it now: Teachers! Need to make some extra cash and have a car? Have I got the job for you!

Prediction: Oprah will run for president

Outcome: Incorrect

What next? Maybe Mark Cuban will run….

Prediction: Drones in education could be a thing

Outcome: Technically, correct

Hey, I did say drones “could be a thing” right? While this one is still a bit of stretch I did visit a school in McAllen, TX this summer that is having students work along side search-and-rescue and local agencies to use drones to track down criminals or find missing people. Now, if only they could get a cat out of a tree….

Prediction: “The Learning Festival” aka LearnFestATX launches with some unexpected twists

Outcome: Nailed it

The theme for this past summer’s event was “beta”.  We limited registration to 200 people in order to test out 7 new concepts that we hadn’t seen at a conference or learning event before. The result? Mixed. Some of the experiments worked while others failed. But three of the best will be on FULL display this summer as we open up LearnFestATX to a wider audience and promise to bring “unique engagement” to each attendee. (Early bird pricing now available!)  You’ll have to come to find out which won out.

Prediction: My new children’s book gets a publisher and is actually published!

Outcome: Nope

This marks the second year in a row that this has been a miss-hit on my predictions list. It’s time to think outside the box for 2019 as I’m now almost finished with it. Stay tuned.

Prediction: A Boba Fett movie will be announced

Outcome: TRUE

This was just for fun, but sure enough, following the release of Solo: A Star Wars Story movie, the announcement was made this past May with James Mangold from Logan fame directing. I can’t wait!

So ends my 6th year of making predictions. Like I said in the open, this was my best and most accurate year to date as I hit at greater than 50% for the first time. Tune back in some time early in 2019 for what is sure to be my best bold predictions ever!

If nothing else, I can guarantee one prediction to come true: It will be marginally entertaining.