It’s Not All Black and White: A Conversation Around Equity

“People have one thing in common; they are all different.” – Philosopher Robert Zend

Last summer, Adam Phyall and I were engaged in an interesting conversation. This isn’t uncommon as anyone that knows us knows we can debate and discuss just about anything under the sun, but this time it was different. For one, we weren’t at a conference or a school building. We were “tubing” down a river in central Texas (a favorite past-time of ours down here). I throw that in not as a non sequitur, but to mention that we were both out of our normal “professional” environments which enabled some freedom in what turned into a highly engaging discussion around equity. During our 3 hours down the river we discussed our backgrounds. Where we came from. How we were raised. What we each had to overcome and what kind of supports we had. How we raise our children and how we find and cultivate “our crew” of friends.

We discussed race openly and honestly. This included conversations that might be uncomfortable for some, but with our years of friendship and genuine empathy, it was absolutely captivating.  We wondered – how do we help students understand the differences in race and culture in a way that is productive? Too often uncomfortable conversations are avoided or left to HR personnel that come in and talk to staff about equity in the hopes it makes its way into the classroom. Not knowing how to proceed on that front, we stuck a pin in the conversation until a later date.

That later date was a month later. I was about to take the stage at the GAMEIS conference in Savannah when Adam came in to chat. We sat in the front row and re-engaged in the conversation from a month before, albeit in a much more formal setting now. As we went back and forth, we weren’t aware that more and more people began to seat around us and listen in to our discussion. They were both “highly engaged and intellectually stimulated” (their quote, not mine) at not only our content but how we addressed what they admitted was a hard topic to tackle with honesty. At one point near the end of the conversation, Adam remarked, “We should just do this as a session.”

Image courtesy of Rick Bough @rbough

Our opportunity would arrive just a few weeks later. As we are both national advisors for Future Ready Schools, there was an opportunity to present our idea at the February TCEA conference in Austin. Future Ready Schools not only tackles the issues of technology, budget, privacy, and curriculum, but is also an organization that champions opportunities to solve issues of inequity in schools across the country. Adam and I had our opportunity to formalize what started as an informal discussion and turn it into an interactive conversation around equity.

On February 3rd, we walked into our session with both excitement and un-easiness as to how our conversation would be accepted. To ramp up the talk, we decided to wear coordinating t-shirts of “Ebony” for me and “Ivory” for him. As it was a Monday morning session in a week-long conference focused on technology tools, we weren’t sure how many people to expect around the topic. We were pleased to see so many show up ready to engage and discuss the truth about stereotypes we make regularly in our schools and how to use student backgrounds as a way to better inform our instruction rather than pass judgment on their character.

During one of the segments, we asked the audience to list what words we use in education that could lead unintended stereotypes. While Adam and I brainstormed a few, they came up with an overwhelming amount as you can see in the screen shot below:

We also discussed recent cases in Texas and New Jersey of students being asked to change their appearance and what other cultural assumptions we might be making in schools. Technology also has a part to play in this discussion. As was witnessed at the conference, eSports is making a HUGE splash across many high schools throughout the country. Those students on eSports teams can practice in school but many also practice at home on $3000+ computer gaming systems.  That immediately eliminates many of our lower-economic students from participating, a talking point many in the crowd hadn’t immediately considered.

While I won’t go through every point of the talk, our main goal was not to tell them how to solve every issue of inequity, but rather to make them think and reflect on their current situations. Neither of us represent an entire race. We only represent a viewpoint of two educators that have lived somewhat mirrored lives only from opposite identities when it comes to race. We listed the following three questions for audience members to reflect on:

At the end, we attempted to summarize our unique viewpoints with passion and emotion in 3 minute co-poetry slam titled “Ebony and Ivory”. After the talk ended, we were overwhelmed with the amount of support and interest from the audience. Many commented on the fact that these were the conversations we needed to be having regularly in schools. What kinds of conversations are you having at your school around equity and race? Too often times, these conversations are not conversations at all. They are a set of bullet points on a powerpoint at the beginning of the year staff orientation or a required video that staff watch along with blood-born pathogens so that schools can “check the box” on equity training.

We had definitely touched on a nerve while at the same time stretching both of us out of comfort zones when it comes to presenting. We’re not sure where this goes next but we do have some plans on how to engage students more in this conversation at the classroom level (stay tuned). We also hope to expand this session to more events in the future, as we feel this is a conversation that needs to take place in district offices and classrooms across the country.

Interested in having Adam and Carl come to your district or event? Reach out here: Mrhook.it/speak

The Power of an Outside Voice – A Reflection on Professional Learning

I spent the past 21 years in education as a teacher and administrator. During that time I spent a great deal of my efforts on bringing high quality professional learning to our staff and community. In many cases, the professional learning events we provided would have not been possible without the help and support of an amazing team of educational technologists and coaches. While surveys and reviews of our work was always very positive, I started to learn during my career that sometimes, teachers need a change of voice and perspective to inspire them.

In 2011, I remember Dean Shareski being in Austin for a TEC-SIG event. I’d followed Dean on twitter like thousands of other educators and had been a part of his highly engaging conference sessions. When our librarian (Carolyn Foote – a superstar in her own right) told me that Dean was willing to come in a day early and do some training with staff, I jumped on the opportunity.

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Dean spent the entire day at Westlake High School training teachers on digital literacy, creativity and the importance of building a good network. While these were all things that Carolyn and I had been preaching to staff for years, there was something magical that happened when Dean said it. The staff lit up with ideas and began to come to us inspired to try new things.

As I left that day, I remembered two things that have stuck with me and are now the driving force in my new career as an educational consultant and speaker:

  1. Timing is everything when it comes to having a culture ready to try new things along with the tools and support with which to implement the change.
  2. Having an outside voice validate and align with your beliefs while also inspiring staff is a powerful catalyst to implementing campus and district-wide change.

Dean on stage at ISTE with me during his 2018 poetry slam

Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to get to know Dean better as well as many other educators that travel the world making an impact on education through story-telling, resource-sharing, and idea-inspiring professional learning. As someone who now does this for a living, I hold that responsibility with the upmost importance. A district is putting their trust in me to not only align with their vision, but also inspire their staff to grow, innovate and learn.

Flash forward to the fall of 2018.

Our district had run several extremely successful professional learning events with iPadpalooza and LearnFestATX. These events brought in speakers and ideas from all over the world. Our staff were exposed to some of the greatest minds and most passionate educators I had ever met. As we were gearing up for our 2018 Professional Learning Conference (an internal-only event required of all staff to attend at the beginning of the school year), we debated who to bring in as a keynote speaker. In the past we had brought in a mixed bag of speakers. Some were inspirational (like Angela Maiers) and others were not as well received for a variety of reasons.

When we surveyed the staff the number one reason why they didn’t respond well to certain speakers, the top reason was a lack of authenticity. They felt as they were being sold an idea that either they weren’t ready for or felt like they didn’t have the support for (see my reason #1 above on timing). One staff member even wrote in her review of a particular speaker that she felt like she was “listening to a used car salesman”. Those reviews and the feelings of staff have greatly affected the way I do things when handed a microphone and a stage, but also really put the pressure on me and my team to bring in the best speaker possible. One that was authentic and would inspire as well as someone who truly cared about being on stage and sharing their story.

Tom Murray on stage during our 2018 PLC event

Enter Tom Murray. I’d gotten to know Tom over the years through my work with his organization Future Ready Schools. He and I share similar beliefs and approaches when it comes to making the most of your opportunity on stage in front of a school staff. As we are friends, I didn’t want to introduce him as I felt like that could affect perceptions of the staff (“oh, it’s one of Carl’s friends), and wanted to see how they would take him without any background. One of the trademark moments of many of Tom’s talks is a part where he talks about “misunderstood song lyrics” and how what we communicate can sometimes be misread. While I’ve seen him do it a bunch of times, it culminates with the crowd singing Bon Jovi’s Living on a Prayer with extreme enthusiasm.

Knowing my staff as well as I thought I did, I bet Tom back stage that there was NO WAY the staff would respond to this. Needless to say, I completely lost my bet. Not only did they respond to him, his message, and his story, when the Bon Jovi part came, they stood up and sang. And not just the next lyric, they sang the ENTIRE SONG!(See below) Later, I came on stage as Tom received one of the first standing ovations I can ever remember our staff giving.  I told the crowd that he was my friend, but if he didn’t do well, I was going to claim I didn’t know him :).

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Tom, Dean, Angela, and others have spent thousands of hours working on their craft as orators of information. They truly embrace the opportunity to share with staff from all over the world. They provide an authentic and different voice that schools need when the timing is right. This blog isn’t necessarily a tribute to them, but more of a reflection of an “awakening” I had while being in their presence as well as the many amazing speakers we had hosted over the years.

Having someone who agrees with your vision and can effectively articulate your message is a powerful thing. If the timing is right and the staff is ready to hear the message, brining in the right outside voice can have a positive impact on your learning culture for years to come. And most importantly, as teachers take ownership of that message, it will ultimately impact the learning of thousands of kids in classrooms in your school.

School districts spend millions on technology and flexible furniture, but the hardest thing to change is pedagogy and culture. Do not feel like you have to do it all by yourself. Bring in authentic voices to help you light a fire behind your vision and use them as a catalyst for the change your striving for.

I for one am glad we did with Dean, Tom and Angela. Their impact and support over the years is still with me and I will forever be grateful to them for both inspiring me and seeing the power of this work.

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Interested in bringing Carl in as an outside voice for your next event? Reach out here: Mrhook.it/speak

My TCEA 2020 Manifesto

This year marks the 22nd year that I’ll be attending the TCEA conference. For those of you joining me at the event this year, I thought it might be nice to share a few ideas on how to make the best of your TCEA experience.  I created this “manifesto” of sorts for those that are either going for the first time or are just needing help not being overwhelmed by all the great sessions in their lineup.

If you are a first-time or veteran TCEA-er, hopefully some of these tips will help you as you make your way towards Austin next week.

If you are with a group, create a back channel

Attending a large conference with a group can be engaging but you also can run into serious FOMO (Fear of missing out) on sessions you don’t attend. At my previous district, I invited all of our staff attending to our own district Slack channel. Slack is a great way to share resources and communicate in a group format that won’t crowd your inbox during an event like this. I consider it kind of like a group text on steroids. If you aren’t comfortable with Slack, using a running Google doc or a Wakelet board would be another way to collaborate and share resources. We will still encourage staff to follow along at the #TCEA2020 hashtag, but using a private back channel can be powerful when reflecting and sharing after the event is over.

Download the app

Once on site, you’ll want to make sure you have a mobile version of the schedule. You can grab the giant paper notebook schedule if you prefer, but lugging that thing around can be cumbersome and you won’t know when sessions cancel at the last minute. Create an account and save sessions you’ll want to attend on the app. There’s also a social feed, a map, and a few other goodies located in the app. Be sure to upload a profile picture so you aren’t just a walking silhouette. 😉

Events

TCEA has several vendor-sponsored events that happen each evening of the week (especially Tuesday-Thursday). While it’s nice to have free food and beverages, I’ve found that these events are where I make the best professional connections. Sharing stories about our successes and failures over a malted, fermented beverage can be quite the bonding experience after all. The Exhibit hall opens at 3pm on Tuesday this year, so be sure to visit some of the vendor booths and see what is going on in terms of evening events and the tons of amazing giveaways they seem to always have. Also, check your email, as many VIP or after hours events may get lost in your spam.

Scheduling Quirks

TCEA doesn’t follow traditional conference schedules (1 hour sessions repeating throughout). There are variety of sessions from 50-minute talks to 90-minute hands-on to 2-hour poster sessions and even half and full-day workshops. When you are locating your favorite sessions in the app, be sure to pay attention to the start and end times as many overlap.  Also, note that this year, TCEA has a dedicated time slot for the Exhibit hall (2:00-3:00) on Wednesday and Thursday, so that will likely be when it is most packed.

Sessions that intrigue me

I’m lucky enough to have 5 sessions accepted this year, but as they are spread out throughout the week, I’ll likely get a chance to check out many more sessions than I normally do (see my session list at the bottom of this post). Here are a handful of the sessions I’m intrigued with by day:

Monday – 

Fake News, Alternative Facts – Jennifer LaGarde

Empowered by What You See – Kasey Hutchinson & Adam Phyall

Making OER SMART – Leo Brehm & Bruce Umpstead

Tuesday – 

Curating Virtual Reality w/Spark – Monica Burns

Esports Immersive Experiences

Future Ready Culture: Creating Equity through Empathy – Brianna Hodges

Wednesday – 

Digital Wellness: Engagement Toolkit – Lisa Johnson & Chris Hanson

Educated by Design – Rabbi Michael Cohen

Creative Story Telling with Spark – Claudio Zavala Jr

Thursday – 

Personal & Authentic – Tom Murray

Let’s Bring Literacy to Life with Making – Shannon Miller

Infographics: Not Just Posters, 25 Creative uses – Rachelle Poth

Friday – 

Top Apps and Practices for Busy Administrators – Leslie Fisher

Create Augmented, Virtual, and Mixed Reality – Jaime Donally

Takeaways and Reflections

Attending an event like this can be incredibly rewarding and energizing to those of us in education. However, it’s important that those that attend also bring back and share their learning with others on campus.

Here is a list of questions to keep in the back of your mind as you attend sessions and look for things to bring back. (shout out to Lisa Johnson @techchef4u for these)

  1. What are the top sessions/topics that you liked?
  2. What are the top sessions/topics that you would like to take back to your campus to impact change?
  3. What are the top sessions/topics that challenged your beliefs?
  4. Who was someone you connected with that impacted you?
  5. Who are the top people that engaged you?
  6. What are the top resources you found most impactful?
  7. What are the top pieces of research or studies you feel are most impactful for our students and/or teachers?
  8. How will I share my new discoveries from this event with my staff?

While there are many other questions you are thinking about than the ones above, keeping these in the back of your mind while attending TCEA allows you time to reflect when it’s all over and also think about ways to share your new discoveries with others when you return.  Learning doesn’t happen in isolation.

For me personally, my barometer of success is fairly low. If I walk away every day and have both learned something new and met a new colleague, I consider the day a success. I hope you all have many successes next week and please come by and see me either at my sessions or somewhere in between!

 

My Professional Learning Nightmare

If you’ve been in education for any length of time, you’ve likely experienced a myriad of professional learning experiences. Conferences, webinars, book studies, workshops, and the dreaded “mandatory training” are all part of the lexicon of learning for the everyday educator.  Strangely, a large part of our profession dreads these events. Then again, maybe that’s not so strange.

We try and tell teachers to make their classrooms student-centered with voice and choice. We want them to incorporate movement and mindfulness as well as risk-taking into their instruction. Then we absolutely do NONE of that when it comes to professional learning. During my 10+ years as a provider for professional learning, I try to emulate all the things we are asking our teachers to do. If you’ve ever seen one of my sessions you know there’s movement, voice, choice, and conversation taking place regularly. I’ll admit, there are some times when I can tell educators just want to sit in the back and surf on the web or grade papers, but usually by the time we are finished, they approach me with comments like:

“You know, I hate ice breakers, but I’m glad I did that.”

or

“I really just wanted to sit in the back and get my 6 hours credit, but I’m glad you got me to participate and try new things.”

I think at our core, all of us are learners. However, I think for many of us, we have been subjugated to instructional malpractice when it comes to the teaching of adults, otherwise known as andragogy. Brianna Hodges and I are in the midst of a several-year debate on the subject that teaching adults is different than teaching kids, otherwise known as pedagogy. We recently took this debate on the air with the OnEducation Podcast, and while the debate remains unresolved, I do think we need to consider the learners in our audience whenever we plan professional learning.

Last night, I woke up in a cold sweat. I’d just had a series of nightmares about attending a variety of professional learning and ALL of the worst things I could imagine were happening. I quickly grabbed my notepad to write down some of the things I remembered so I could think about a cure for each uncomfortable situation. The following scenarios may make you cringe or may hit a little close to home, but please know, these are all completely hypothetical and pulled from my series of nightmares.

Nightmare #1: The professional learning that could have been an email

As I walked into the room I could tell there was something wrong. Everyone had their laptops open around the table and no one was making eye contact. Had I done something that offended them? Was my zipper down? Had I forgot my clothes? (remember, this is a nightmare). Finally my boss says, “I’m glad you all are here, this shouldn’t take very long but we need to go over our TPS reports.”  Obviously I had been watching Office Space recently and that had crept into my dream. I looked down at my watch and it was 9:02. I sat down in my chair and a foggy haze seemed to drift around me. It seemed like the clock was spinning rapidly and people’s faces seemed to get sucked into their laptop screens.

My stomach started to growl. You know, that uncomfortable growl that everyone else notices but you try and pretend your chair was just making a funny noise? Was I hungry? Or starving? Had we taken this meeting right through lunch?

What I looked like following this meeting

Then, I noticed my beard was growing at an abnormal rate. How long was this meeting going to take? What was this all about anyway? At the end, my boss asks me in a question in a voice that now sounded like my old varsity basketball coach, “Well Hooker, what do you think?!”

And then I wake up. The anxiety I was experiencing was similar to those that recount tales of being stuck in a small space or trapped in an elevator. It was like I was suffering from some sort of claustrophobia of learning.

Cure: I think that schools and districts have the best of intentions when holding meetings to discuss things. However, rather than making the meeting focus on items that could easily be handled over email, make it about outcomes. Consider “flipping” your faculty meetings so that time together is time to collaborate and problem-solve, not just disseminate information.

Nightmare #2: The all-day sit-n-get

I drifted back off to sleep and awoke in a strange room.  The walls were colored that sanitarium off-white tone. Everyone was in a chair and desk, but they all appeared to be wearing straight jackets and Hannibal Lecter-like masks. Suddenly, the lights dim and a person wearing what appears to be some sort of 1940’s style army sergeant clothes walks in. He begins to show us videos of classrooms, a wide variety of apps, and even shares some clever quotes. I was almost in a hypnotic state as I watched slide after slide loaded with bullet points about “optimal learning production” flash across the screen.

My back started to ache so I tried to stand up, only to find that I had been chained to my desk. Others in the room seemed to be struggling to move in much the same way. The presenter didn’t stop or even recognize the discomfort. He continued to drone on in what was quickly becoming a very monotonous voice similar to Ben Stein’s teacher voice in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The room began to spin. The walls closed in as the florescent lights over head began to buzz and flicker. The temperature seemed to be increasing. I was in hell. Finally, I got the courage to try and rock myself back and forth to try and tip over my desk in the hopes of breaking the chain. When I finally started to tip over, I awoke with a jolt. I had fallen out of my bed and found myself wrapped up in my sheets.

Cure: There are many days in our lives where we have an entire day dedicated to professional learning. Sometimes, the provider has only one job: to make sure you hear and see every bit of information they have prepared. The average adult brain can go 18-20 minutes in lecture setting before needing some sort of transition. My cure for the all-day sit-n-get is to break the day up into 20-minute chunks. Some of those chunks may involve some lecture or information sharing, but they never go longer than 20 minutes without some sort of brain break or discussion question to focus thinking. I often have my attendees “Stand-n-talk” to someone across the room about a question or idea. This accomplishes a couple of things:

1. It gets them out of their seat, thus increasing oxygen flow to the brain.

2. It makes them talk with someone that might not know as well, thus helping them expand their thoughts outside of their echo chamber.

Need other ideas on how to break up your professional learning day? You can find some of my favorite brain breaks on this google spreadsheet.

Nightmare #3: Drinking from a firehose

After picking myself off the floor and crawling into bed, I quickly fall back into the dream I was just in. Only now, something is a little different. I appear to be the only person in the room. I’m still strapped to my desk, but now there is a spotlight blaring into my face. I can’t quite make out what or who is behind the spotlight, but I do notice a 60-second countdown timer on the wall and what appears to be a panel of people sitting at a table taking notes.

Ready to drink from a fire hose?

The timer goes off and a door to my left opens. Someone walks in as a slide lights up on the projector screen. They quickly go through their presentation (about an app or idea, I can’t quite remember) and then proceed to walk off to the right and punch a giant red button.

I hear the squeak of a nob turning and look up just in time to be blasted in the face with a stream of water. As I shake off the water, I notice the timer go off again as another person walks in from the left.  They also rapidly go through their presentation as the 60 seconds counts down. Again, after the rapid-fire presenting of non-sensical information, the presenter slaps the red button and I get sprayed by a hose. And then another presenter walks in, followed by another and another and another. Each one does the same thing. They present information quickly and then punch the red button. After what seems to be 50 or 60 of these, I wake up in a cold sweat (and realize I need to go to the bathroom).

Cure: This scenario reminds me of the early days of apps when you would see all sorts of sessions that were “60 apps in 60 minutes”. They are referred to as firehose sessions for a reason. I will admit that one of my more popular session offerings is a “list” session, however I try and do it a little differently by building in some time for attendees to reflect on what I had just covered. Another cure for these rapid-fire sessions besides doing a little less and allowing for reflection, is to differentiate and prepare self-paced challenges ahead of time. I’ve started doing a session on “Google Tips & Tricks” which can admittedly be a misleading title. However, once the session starts, I give all the attendees access to the resources, which include a ton of self-paced challenges. I tell the crowd that there is no way I’m going to rapid-fire through all of these and that I know most people learn best by actually using the tool or strategy. Creating self-paced challenges ahead of time transfers the voice and choice of instruction from the presenter to the attendee.  They can self-monitor how much information they are taking in and decide whether or not to crank up the hose.

While these nightmares may seem extreme, my dreams were influenced by real events that I’ve experienced during my 21+ years in education. I do not have cures and solutions for every problem when it comes to professional learning. However, I do think if we begin to be just a little more mindful of our adult learners, we can start to make perceptions and attitudes around professional learning change for the good. One of the biggest compliments I ever get as a professional learning provider is when someone says, “I always look forward to your sessions because I don’t know what to expect but I know I’ll walk away entertained and with something useful.”

I think for providers of professional learning the best way to judge the success of what we provide is a simple math problem. Take the speed of which people are running to your workshop and divide it by the speed of which they are running away from it.

And hopefully don’t make these nightmares a reality.

 

 

 

Bold Predictions Sure To Go Wrong in 2020

A new year AND a new decade.  WOW. That went by pretty fast. It feels like just last year I was in the classroom trying to figure out why the Reader Rabbit CDs weren’t working on my Compaq computer. A lot has changed in the past decade and a lot WILL change in the next one. It’s hard to believe that I’ve done these predictive posts every year now since 2013.

Last year, one prediction that I totally missed was that I would leave my district administration job after 21 years in schools to take on the role of full-time consulting and speaking. While I didn’t predict that, I can say that so far I’ve loved working with schools and conferences all over the world to collaborate on thoughts and ideas for improving education. When it comes to my predictions over the last 7 years, my success rate has been around 50% which is much better than any baseball player or professional gambler.

That said, these predictions are meant to be taken with a grain of salt. They are meant to challenge both your thinking and mine. Some of them may seem like a future Black Mirror episode while others are just silly, but I’m trying to be BOLD so cut me some slack. So buckle up for 2020!

Social Media gets a mute button

With the 2020 election coming up at the end of the year, you know social media will be rabid with people from both sides of the aisle as well as a LARGE amount of trolls from Russia. While some companies like Facebook have tinkered with a snooze button, I think this is the year that an app comes out that takes all of your social media, text messages, emails, smoke signals, etc. and mutes them all for a period of time. This would be much simpler then having to delete all of your accounts or even mess with notification settings (although those are good skills to teach students).

A school goes 1:1….exercise bikes

Last week I caught wind of a tweet by @MrHamiltonPE (which as since been deleted) where they started a “READ and RIDE” program at their school designed to get some motion into their day. Almost immediately twitter tore it apart claiming it had to have been an article from the Onion or at best it was a misinterpretation of “active learners”. Part of the dangers of thinking differently is that you risk ridicule, but I don’t think the concept is completely out of realm of possibility. Personally, part of my daily routine is to now spend an hour on a stationary bike doing research or reading a book. Movement is a good thing when it comes to increasing oxygen levels in the brain and awaking the receptors for learning. So while this strategy might not be the right fit, there is something to adding more movement to the classroom. So why not go 1:1 with exercise bikes?  Remember when we used to spend thousands of dollars on eClickers?

With gamification and Orange Theories popping up everywhere, it might only be a time before a tool like CyclePath becomes widespread.  It connects to games that you play on a mobile device so if you want to run in the game, you have to actually cycle faster.  Not a terrible idea…

The Ed Poet’s Society goes Global

Back in 2017, following Lisa Johnson’s inspiration, we began an Ed Tech Poetry Slam (click here to watch the ISTE 2018 version). What started as a fun after-conference event idea has grown substantially since then, mostly due to the amazing educators who are a part of the Ed Poet’s Society. Brett Salakas (@mrsalakas) has taken this idea to Australia and really started to run with it, hosting his own poetry slam events down under. This year, he and I have a couple of tricks up our sleeves, but our hope is that this becomes less a prediction and more of a self-fulfilling prophecy as we try to make Ed Poet’s a global phenomenon. Stay tuned!

The 2020 Election will be heavily influenced by TikTok

As I mentioned in my first post, social media will play a huge role in the 2020 election. This particular prediction may have seemed crazy a few years ago, but when you think about how the last few years have gone with our leaders and their use of social media, is this really out of the realm of possibilities?  I think with TikTok announcing tighter security measures and guidelines last week, they are setting up to potentially be the go to source for where the masses get their information. While the company wants to remain politics free, this is social media…they should know by now that they have no control over that. This year, the election will be televised! (in little 10-15 second cute, loopy videos)

Elon Musk takes a crack at “disrupting” education

Will this be the year Musk takes a crack at education?

The mogul has taken on space travel with SpaceX and extremely strange concept electronic cybertruck recently. He is known for taking on concepts and ideas that seem to be rooted in traditionalism and then re-imaging them. So why not education? It’s 2020 and we are still hearing terms about how education needs to take a step into the 21st century. Flexible furniture and mobile devices aren’t enough, we need significant changes in mindset and vision. Time for Mr. Musk to take a crack at disrupting education. Let’s just hope it turns out better than his truck windows.

The Ambient Classroom becomes a concept

We’ve heard a lot about artificial intelligence and the use of digital assistants like Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa to help us through our day at home. Despite some security concerns, some schools have even started to implement programs with the consumer listening device in classrooms. This isn’t a new thing as you can find articles from the past couple of years about using inexpensive Echo Dots in the classroom.  “Ambient Intelligence” is the next level in artificial intelligence and I predict (assuming security concerns are addressed), that it could have a HUGE impact in the classroom.  Imagine a classroom environment that adjusts based on the mood, lesson, time of day, activity, etc? It is technology that actually reacts to the users in the room. How’s that for personalized learning?

“WiFi for All” finally happens

In 2013, President Barack Obama announced his ConnectEd initiative with the goal of getting internet access to underserved schools all over the country. While this has only been mildly successful, there are still many without access. With the rapid push towards 5G and the launch of satellite internet in the past year, there should be a point in the near future where students shouldn’t have to go to Starbucks for free WiFi. The LEO (Low Earth Orbit) satellites launched by Amazon and Tesla claim to offer robust internet access to even the most rural communities. Not only that, but with more internet options (like in my neighborhood, where I only have one), that would mean competitive pricing for current internet services. So, while it might not be free yet, I think we are closer to being a completely internet-saturated country, which will be important for all the TikTok videos we’ll be watching this year.

The micro-projector movement takes hold

A kindergarten teacher does small group instruction as her Nebula projects her iPad in the background

Remember back in the day when schools would spend over $5000 to install an interactive whiteboard to be mounted on the wall? It was one of ed tech’s early attempts at “modernizing” the classroom, but in reality, it only perpetuated the ‘sage on the stage’ approach to learning. Now many districts are shifting to large, mobile interactive displays. While I like that these are becoming more mobile, they are not very cost-effective for the district trying to keep their budget afloat. One of the districts I consult with was trying to come up with an idea for making presenting information more mobile but at a lower price than those large mobile displays. We decided to try a mobile micro-projector. For around $250, they purchased a handful of these Nebula Capsule and almost immediately saw benefits to both teacher and students in having an alternate way to display information. With built-in airplay and an HDMI port, any device can connect and display information on a flat surface. The screen instantly adjusts and bezels based on what it is projecting on. (hint – the lighter the color of the surface the better) It was amazing to see how just having one other projector made the classroom much more dynamic and less “front of the room” focused.

I will publish three VERY different books this year

I’ve been predicting that I will publish a children’s book for the last 3 years and failed on that prediction every year, but this year, I’m raising the bar.

This year I will publish 3 books in three different genres.

This prediction could be more about me blackmailing, but I already have the early ground work laid to make this happen. I’m hopeful I can find a willing publisher out there to take a risk with me, but if not, maybe I’ll take the ultimate risk and self-publish!

There you have it folks. My latest bold predictions for tech and it’s impact on education in 2020. One thing I didn’t list is less of a prediction and more of a hope. As I travel around in my new role, I hope that I get the opportunity to meet and engage in conversation with more fellow educators and colleagues. Despite all the excitement and rapid changes in technology, I still find that having good discussions with thoughtful educators is the biggest thrill for me.

I wish you all an innovative and safe 2020 and hope to see you at an event in your neighborhood this year!

A Look Back at Bold Predictions from 2019

For the past several years I’ve made an attempt to make some bold predictions on the future of technology and its impact in schools and society. They range from semi-realistic to too-silly-to-be-true, but ironically, some do come true. Before I post my list for 2020, it’s always good to look back and judge how I did. After all, the internet never forgets, so I might as well own my mistakes.

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

Outcome: Getting close

While some would say this post is a bit of a softball toss considering VR has been around for more than a decade, recent explosions in inexpensive hardware has made it much more attainable. I still think we are only scratching the surface of this prediction and will be interested to see how it progresses in 2020.

Prediction: The Universal Translator will make learning a foreign language obsolete

Outcome: No lo creo (translation: I don’t think so)

Like most new things in tech, the first generations of these translators are still pretty awful. I don’t think the foreign language department or language immersion schools have much to worry about…yet. However, my guess is people that worked for Blockbuster thought similar things about Netflix and Redbox….and you see how that ended up.  Not very bueno.

Prediction: Alexa will accidentally burn down someone’s house

Outcome: Nailed it…unfortunately

Yes, this was a strange and morbid prediction loosely based on my story from the previous year of “When Smart Homes Attack“. However, about 2 months after I posted this, a retired firefighter actually returned to his home and found that his 3rd gen Echo Dot had set ablaze. While this wasn’t exactly what I predicted (my thought would be that some sort of stove would turn on by accident), it does raise awareness of the power of AI as we put it into our homes.

Prediction: Netflix will launch an EDU Version of its service

Outcome: Still out of service

While many other video streaming companies are out there vying for clicks and views, the major player in paid video streaming is still not taking my calls or emails to launch NetflixEDU. Sounds like a wasted opportunity to me or more than likely a way to avoid major copyright infringement by them. Some how, it has to work though…

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

Outcome: Going unplugged is trending

My blurry pic at a recent restaurant banning phones

It’s becoming more and more of a status symbol for fancy restaurants to block and ban cell phones to the supposed joy of patrons. However, it’s not just fancy restaurants doing this as I snapped this quick pic of a BBQ joint outside of Ft. Worth over the holidays. (blurry because as I took out my phone, someone yelled at me)

Prediction: Someone will write a blog/paper using only predictive text

Outcome: It has been predicted

This one was definitely silly, but I thought I would put it out there in the universe and even tried to write a sentence in predictive text. I will say, that my Gmail is getting smarter and smarter at completing my sentences for me (at what cost? who knows…) but we are still a few years off (maybe?) at this happening over an entire blog post. Yes there are tons of social media bots out there doing this to manipulate us daily (reminder folks, it’s 2020 – election time), but not a blog post. However, someone at the New Yorker took my idea an ran with it in this October 2019 article titled “The Next Word“. Close enough for a win for me!

Prediction: A couple will get married over Facetime

Outcome: Still illegal, but not for long

In doing some more digging around this prediction, technically it is possible to have a proxy marriage and Facetime could facilitate that. However, that still hasn’t happened. That said, it is interesting that there are a WIDE variety of Facetime marriage counselors out there…which is interesting.

Prediction: There will be a FortniteEDU for schools

Outcome: Won the Battle Royale

I might have cheated on this one a tad as I know Mike Washburn was working on this behind the scenes. I chatted with him a bit last month while being interviewed on his recent OnEducation podcast and while we didn’t bring the topic up on air, he mentioned some recent developments on this front.  In December he posted a link on his twitter account (pic below) to Epic Games reaching hosting an Interactive 3D contest for teachers with likely more ideas to come.

Prediction: A SMART toilet will save someone’s life

Outcome: Not fully flushed-out yet

I’m a CES nerd, so when I saw these trending last year, I thought there might be a chance someone would buy one and have it save their life via early detection.  As of this writing, it hasn’t happened yet that I can find, but someone did write just a few weeks after my prediction about the future of these devices and our health. This prediction isn’t totally down the toilet yet(although my puns are starting to stink).

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

Outcome: It was a game-changer (and ender)

LearnFestATX Dueling Keynote – Ann Kozma vs. Matt Joseph

Little did I know when I wrote that post that it would also mark the end of my 13-year tenure with Eanes ISD. However, we did do some pretty epic things to finish out the event including the still-never-attempted “Dueling Keynotes” using silent disco headphones. What a great way to end my run in the district and kick off the #NextChapter in my career as speaker/consultant. I’ll miss that event and iPadpalooza that came before it, but predict there might be other exciting events to lead in my near future…..stay tuned. 

Prediction: Robotics enter mainstream curriculum

Outcome: We will See-3PO if it happens

I think this ground swell is continuing to grow and we’ll see more and more examples of teachers using inventive ways to use coding and robotics to showcase student learning. I’ve been lucky to advise on one of the companies (Trashbots) and have seen them really work hard at seamlessly integrating STEM into mainstream curriculum without a ‘heavy lift’ for classroom teachers. I’m excited to see where the future of this ends up in our schools.

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

Outcome: Progress, just not published

I predicted this for 3 years and finally started down the path to production. By soliciting the help of best friend, fellow educator and amazing artist Chris Parker (@kreyus), I might have finally overcome the final roadblock holding this project back. Hoping for a summer launch of this new series as well as…wait….don’t want to give too much away. 🙂

So there you have it. Overall, 2019 wasn’t a bad year for my predictions although there were some surprises. I’ve got some ideas brewing for 2020 and will have those up in the next week but here’s a hint: It’s time to be BOLD.

Mr. Hooker’s Winter Guide for Heating Up Learning in Your Classroom

It’s cold and dreary outside. There’s the smell of snow or musty wetness attached to all your students as they come in from the weather. The dreaded “indoor recess” phrase is on everyone’s minds but what is a teacher to do? How many episodes of Koo Koo Kangaroo can kids dance to on GoNoodle? I mean, what’s the limit?

Worry not! Below are a collection of fun, engaging, and interactive ideas to get your students moving, grooving and learning in a different way. Many of the examples below are meant for classrooms that might only have access to a few devices and around the idea of mixing both hands-on with digital interaction.


Create an “Amazon Box” Village 

The days that follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday can only mean one thing….TONS of boxes from the company with the little smile on it. As our houses fill up with these boxes filled with holiday joy, why not take advantage of all this material as a teacher? On Monday after Thanksgiving break, send a message home to parents to send in those boxes! (As a parent with an office full of these, I’m happy to comply)

Have some left over boxes? Put them to use!

Drawing inspiration from the Caine’s Arcade documentary, have students bring in a handful of boxes of varying sizes in order to design a small village. Each student will design a place of business and tie in components of financial literacy. Then, using markers, construction paper, glue and scissors, they’ll design their building facade and discuss its placement with the village commissioner (a student elected by the class). Students can write advertisements for the local village newspaper advertising their goods and services (tying in language arts) and even make commercials that can be tagged on the buildings using FlipGrid’s new Augmented Reality tool.

As the winter break approaches, slide the desks to the side of the classroom and layout your village for all to enjoy! Students can even record “flyover” tours of their village like those found in Apple Maps or even design their own mini-virtual realty tours using panoramic photos in Google’s Tour Creator.


Make a Virtual Realty Holiday Scene

It is important for students to understand that the holidays are much more than just Christmas or Hanukkah. Why not have students research the many different cultural celebrations of the holidays and then use a tool like Panoform.com to have them draw out a virtual scene?

As a teacher, this is a great mix of both analog and digital tools as you print out the grids from Panoform and discuss how items will need to be laid out to go from a 2D worksheet to a 3D virtual world. Students place important items from their holiday celebration throughout the grid then upload it to any device via the web to enjoy the new virtual world.

When everyone is finished, take a virtual gallery walk of each scene and have students explain the items they place in their virtual holiday celebration.


Use Brain Breaks to Open Up Creativity and SEL Skills

Most of the sessions I do at schools or conferences involve a WIDE variety of brain breaks. While movement in general is a good thing for awaking the brain (especially on a dreary day of no recess), many of these brain breaks also stimulate thinking while enhancing 21st Century skills like collaboration and communication. Here’s just a few of my faves that are good for any age or classroom and only take a few minutes which is great for waking the winter mind!

Endless Handshake

My favorite way for finding random partners is to play a song while students walk around shaking as many hands as possible. (You can also do fist bumps or high fives) As soon as the music stops, whoever they shook hands with last is their partner. I try and do this between or before each brain break activity. Think musical chairs, only without the chairs.

Thinking on the Fly

In pairs students are given one minute to generate a list of as many items that fit within a certain category. One catch – they must alternate responses. The teacher can either put the category up on the board or on the screen and to add to the fun/pressure, have a large timer somewhere that the kids can see it. Categories can range from “Things Found In Winter” to “Holiday Movies” to something more aligned with curricular topics like “character types found in a fantasy novel” or “settings found in books”. For those teachers that teach world languages, have students create their lists in the language they are learning!

Here’s Ms. Reyna (@MsReyna2) using Thinking on the Fly with her students.

Three-Word Stories

I was inspired by Jimmy Fallon’s Three-Word Stories and have been using it as a brain break in many of my workshops. The idea is that you and a partner take turns telling a story using 3 words at a time, but here’s the catch, one of you has to get the other to say a particular secret word. I usually have the partners face each other with one of them with a back to screen where I flash the secret word on screen for a few seconds. Feel free to tie the “secret word” into any themes or units you might be reviewing and sit back and watch the hilarity ensue!

Team Charades

Team charades in action at a recent workshop

Starting in pairs, students make up the shapes or objects you assign them. After a few rounds, have the pairs match up with another pair to make a group of four. You can then have the groups recreate scenes from famous stories, make up math problems, or recreate historical events. Then have the groups of four merge with another group to form a group of 8. Larger groups, mean larger objects. Have them recreate the water cycle or Stone Henge, the choice is ultimately yours.  Just be sure to emphasize and applaud the creativity as students think outside the box when creating their objects.

If you want to see some more brain break ideas, check out my giant Google spreadsheet of ideas here for free!


Have a Game Show!

Nothing like a little competition to raise the heat in the classroom. There are a wide variety of quiz gaming tools out there (Quizziz, Kahoot, Quizlet Live) but in this iteration, you put kids into teams of 3 or 4. If you have time, you can design your own Jeopardy! like game show using Powerpoint, Google Slides or Keynote, but to save time, I would recommend using a Flippity.net’s game show template. (Note: be sure to publish to the back-end spreadsheet to the web to make sure it works)

Then, students use mini dry erase boards or clipboards or a device to post their answers. The key here is making sure students are discussing their answers before posting them. Award bonus points as you see fit for groups falling behind or pick a random question as the “Double Jeopardy” questions for more points. This is a great way to review a unit and adds some competition and collaboration into the classroom.


Make the Classroom Into an Escape Room

One of the best activities for really getting kids to discuss feelings/frustrations is having them work collaboratively on solving clues using something like BreakOutEDU. Last year, when I got to substitute for my daughter’s 4th grade class, we busted out a few BreakOut kits for the kids to experience for the first time. Don’t have the means to purchase these? Check out the bevy of Digital BreakOuts available online for classrooms that have access to a few devices. While only half the groups succeeded in the particular challenge, what was amazing to me was the inability for some of the kids to persevere when faced with adversity and pressure. Some gave up and some argued with their teammates constantly.

This may not sound like a joyous time as a teacher, I found that the time we spent on discussion after the 45-minute BreakOut to be the most valuable. How can we do a better job listening to each other? How do we overcome adversity as a group and support each other?

In this day and age of social media discourse, disagreement and vitriol, spending a few moments to have an outward discussion around this would go a long way to handling arguments in the future while also promoting a sense of community in the classroom.

BreakoutEDU success and fail w/4th grade

I hope some of the above ideas are useful in not only helping you survive the gap between Thanksgiving and winter break, but also as ways to enhance learning in your classrooms.  Happy Holidays everyone!

 

 

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.