Category Archives: Techy

Because Nothing Can Stop the Learning! An #AltSXSWedu Recap

Last Friday was an upsetting day. The conference I had attended for the past 10 years (SXSWedu) announced it was cancelling along with the larger SXSW that often brings thousands of people to Austin and over $356 million dollars in revenue to the city. Whether you agree or disagree with the decision, I was frustrated. I realize that being frustrated at something like a conference cancellation is extremely small in the scope of what is happening around the world, but I’m just being honest. This event was the most diverse conferences I have attended, and selfishly, I looked forward to growing global collaborations and connections as well as the sharing of ideas for learning.

That night, I agreed to meet my friends downtown at their new bar, called Idle Hands, on Rainey Street here in Austin. When I arrived the mood was somber. The service staff were depressed. Uber drivers, stage crew, bands, waiters, bartenders, valets, food trucks and more make a significant amount of their income from the SXSW event and all the subsidiary events that happen before and after it takes place. In the case of one of the bartenders I spoke with, he makes almost half of his yearly income in the span of just a few weeks because of it.

While this was happening, I pulled out my phone to look at see what the reactions were on Twitter, Facebook, and text messages. The responses ranged from “thank god they cancelled it” to those that were now stuck here because of the late cancellation. Many of these people were from overseas.

People like Ryan King from China and Tracy Mehoke from Wisconsin (by way of Abu Dhabi) were here in Austin and now wondering what to do with themselves. Others like Krista Vaught from Florida and Vitor Bruno from Brazil were educators in a similar predicament of having already arrived here and literally collecting their baggage when the announcement came out. These people began to find each other through various social platforms and quickly formed an “EdUnconference” Slack channel as a way to connect and try and coordinate some meet-ups around Austin.

While this was happening, an idea started to rise up in my mind. We have all of these brilliant minds trapped in Austin, but no way for them all to gather. I’ve hosted educational conferences for years in Austin and around the world. While those events take months to plan, I didn’t have that kind of time. I had 72 hours.

I also needed a place. Enter Idle Hands. Like many bars in Austin, their space had been rented out for SXSW, but those sponsors had since dropped out leaving a fully-stocked event space with complete with service staff but missing an important thing….people. I pitched them the idea of hosting “an alternate event” to SXSWedu. They were all for it and excited to help out. The owners of Ranch Hand, a local food truck that had taken up residence in the kitchen of Idle Hands said, “We have nothing to do and would love to have some people to serve!”

I immediately put the news out on Twitter that night.

Within minutes Krista reached out and told me about the Slack channel. Magic started to happen. On Saturday, I got up and bought a domain and built a website out for AltSXSWedu.com. I threw together a quick form for presenters to submit ideas (so quick that I left off the field for people to enter a presentation title!) and an Eventbrite page for people to get their free tickets. By mid-day Sunday we had 20 submissions with over 50 people that were listed as attendees and I started to think…this might actually happen.

On Monday, I met up with Krista and Tracy for the first time in person. We started going over the logistics of what the 2-day event would look like and how we could utilize the space (a former house converted into a bar) to facilitate discussions and learning. I’m the type of person that thinks and creates better collaboratively and having these two share and bounce ideas off of was amazing. Krista agreed to lead the opening session with an activity called “Collaborating with Strangers” and Tracy was going to MC some “Flash Talks” – quick, 5-minute talks with no slides, for anyone that wanted to get up and speak. We had poetry, topic mixers, round-tables, and immersive experiences. Late Monday night some signage was put together and name badges were created.

First attendees begin to arrive on Tuesday morning of AltSXSWedu

I reached out to some local vendors like Bulb, Kahoot, Squarecap, Firia Labs and Brainpop to cover items like waters, coffee and snacks for attendees. I contacted good friend Humberto Perez to see if his band MariaBloom and another band could play both days to wrap up the event. All of this happened in less than 48 hours. My INCREDIBLE wife, Renee, who always is so supportive of my crazy creative ideas, was by my side for the next two days helping run registration, logistics and answer questions.

Then Tuesday morning arrived. I didn’t know what to expect. As people started to arrive, I grabbed my portable speaker and started blaring some Stevie Ray Vaughn to welcome our international guests to the event. The learning could not be stopped!

Photo credit: @MissJShields1

In all, over 120 people would attend and over 30 sessions were shared either face to face or virtually. Using my daughter’s portable karaoke speaker, I kicked off the event by telling everyone that they were not attendees….they were organizers.

We shared ideas.

We invented the #AltHandShake (photo left)

We argued about educational strategies and theories.

We collaborated on how to address the rapid shift to online learning that was about to take place.

We learned.

As the event wrapped up on Wednesday afternoon, I was physically exhausted but mentally and emotionally fulfilled. I made connections and learned ideas that I rarely do at a large conference. This event COULD NOT have happened without the support of the amazing companies like those mentioned above and amazing people like Ryan, Tracy, Krista, Renee, Anne, Jami, Humberto, Vitor, Meghdut, Pauline, Anna, Claudio, Carolyn, Al, Nikki, Rebecca, Sarathi, Maru, Suzanne, Reyna, and many, many more that made this event happen.

Minds from all over the world, brought together because of a virus, showing me that learning can’t be stopped even when the world around us is facing uncertainty.

I will cherish the new connections I made, the things I learned and the memories I made for the rest of my life.

Press:

We did have a few news agencies come by to see what we were up to. If you’re interested in hearing more, here are links to their stories about AltSXSWedu:

CBS Austin –  Group organizes alternate version of SXSWEdu conference

KXAN Austin – Educators in Austin for SXSW rally to form 2-day AltSXSWedu

EdSurge – SXSWEdu is Called Off. But the Sessions and Parties Are Still Happening

Photo Credit: @meghamind_7

 

 

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!

 

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.

 

 

What is Media Literacy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here were a few of the responses:

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Look Back: Bold Predictions for 2018

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

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

Outcome: Very Close

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

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

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

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

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

Outcome: Still a little ways off

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

Prediction: A Presidential pardon will happen via Twitter

Outcome: Nailed it! (sort of)

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

 

Prediction: This year #EdTechPoetrySlam becomes a thing

Outcome: Snap, Snap, Snap

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

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

Outcome: It already happened…sort of…

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

Prediction: Oprah will run for president

Outcome: Incorrect

What next? Maybe Mark Cuban will run….

Prediction: Drones in education could be a thing

Outcome: Technically, correct

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

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

Outcome: Nailed it

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

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

Outcome: Nope

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

Prediction: A Boba Fett movie will be announced

Outcome: TRUE

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

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

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

Technology Fear Therapy for Parents and Schools

Just in time for the Halloween season comes this post inspired by Wes Fryer (@wfryer). A few months ago I noticed a change on Wes’ Twitter profile to now include the job title of “Technology Fear Therapist”. See below:

Notice the title change by Wes…subtle

Annually, I travel to all the booster club meetings and church groups around my district giving talks around technology, social media, and our kids. His title change, while arguably un-subtle, struck a chord with me when it comes to those in my role in a school district. I’d say this same role applies to the teacher that uses technology meaningfully in their classroom or the parent that uses it as a tool in their homes.

We have entered an age of extremism in some ways. Everything is good or everything is bad. It’s either black or white, there is no grey area. Technology, being fairly new on the scene, has seen the brunt of this extremism as you can scan articles, blog posts, Facebook rants, tweets, and even commercials like this one here that are intended to subtly shame people for having their phones out. Parents and schools are feeling judged, whether justified or not, about their usage of technology and that of their kids. What’s interesting is, I don’t see the same level of judgment when it comes to a kid that reads too much or a kid that paints too much. However, once that kid reads or creates on a screen, judgment ensues.

This reminds me of an H.P. Lovecraft quote that I use quite often is:

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

This fear of the unknown has affected how we approach technology usage with our kids and could debilitate the future wellness of our kids. As with anything in life, balance is what we should be trying to achieve. Being fearful of technology or social media or banning it all together doesn’t help with that balance.  My hope in this article and the accompanying talks is to empower parents and schools to work with kids on this balance. To do so, we need to first look at what is creating or increasing the fear and then determine how do we turn that around so that we can embrace the changes around us.

A Disclaimer on “Research”

Know this, research can be used negatively or positively to persuade an audience. Part of the extremism I mentioned above around technology is usually accompanied by a line that looks something like this: “More and more research is showing that [insert tech term here] is bad for kids.”  Let’s unpack that for a moment. The first part of that sentence isn’t fact-based at all, it’s an opinion to the person writing it that they perceive an increase in research towards one direction or another. The truth is, there is more research out there (which happens over time naturally), but it’s in both directions and sides of the argument (again, remember the extremism).

I recently had an enlightening discussion with a colleague (Dr. Holly Moore) around research and how it’s viewed and used. Essentially, saying the words “there is research out there” supporting a side to an argument doesn’t really make it so (obviously). However, linking to research in the form of scholarly research articles that have been vetted at a university or medical level can be powerful. Links to a New York Times post or a blog post don’t qualify as actually vetted research, those are just the opinions of the writer, meant to persuade readers or increase readership.

Let’s look at the following example that was recently shared with me: A Dark Consensus on Screens and Kids. The title gives me pause immediately as it implies there is some sort of national agreement on what follows. Then take a look at the tag-line “I am convinced the devil lives in our phones” – that’s a major red flag and should add some level of skepticism about what is to follow unless….it supports your own narrative. Looking over the article, it’s riddled with anecdotes and stories from a handful of people. Another red flag – This article includes ZERO links to actual research. At the end, there are some links about some big name Silicon Valley people that made choices around their own kids and technology usage.  Note that the attribution to Mark Zuckerberg isn’t actually Mark, it’s an associate at his former company. There is a link to Melinda Gates where she actually talks about working to balance tech with her kids and even the Steve Jobs article where he talks about he limited technology use at home. That’s a much different story than “consensus of Silicon Valley figure heads is that screens are bad.” But you can see why the title is so attractive and why for some, it helps support their narrative.

It reminds me of a post I wrote earlier this year – EVERYONE Who Reads This Blog Becomes Smarter, Study Shows – as a way to lure in readership. Even in the cases of research that is not just an opinion piece like the NYTimes article above, you have to look at who is sponsoring the research as it may be used to push an agenda in one direction or the other.  The larger concern as a community is that people read these articles and consider them to be absolute truth. This only expands the technology fear and is exacerbated by the following two effects.

The Echo Chamber Effect

We are creating our own echo chambers around all sorts of topics (especially politics at the moment). Whether it be on Facebook or chatting with other parents at our kid’s soccer game, our conversations influence our actions and reactions. However, our conversational circles are extremely closed and lack, in many cases, a diversity of thought or opinion. We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people that share our morals and beliefs. This also means when someone from our trusted circle brings forth an example or blog post that supports our beliefs, we believe to be a hard fact even if it isn’t. This “Echo Chamber Effect” leads to an increase of the next Technology Fear Factor…

The Anecdotal Evidence Multiplier

Someone saw someone once do something inappropriate with technology. Someone heard from a friend that a kid was having behavioral problems due to screen time. Someone shared an article like the NYTimes one posted above that is really just a series of anecdotes, but cause for concern. This story or situation is shared and re-shared in the trusted circle which therefore causes the human mind to feel it must be widespread when in fact, it’s a single situation shared multiple times. This isn’t unique to technology by the way, but lately it seems that tech is the largest passenger on the Anecdotal Express.  Whenever I hear of someone struggling with their kids and technology, I try to remember there are two sides to every story and there are multiple other factors that might be having an affect on the child (family environment, sleep, diet, expectations, etc.) before I take it in as fact.

Hearing a story, even from someone in your trusted circle, doesn’t mean it’s 100% fact. The culmination of many of the above effects is evidenced by this recent findings from an Australian company called Reachout. (somewhat similar to our CommonSenseMedia here in the states)  One of the lead findings is that 45% of parents worry about social media usage with their teens more so than the 25% who worry about drug, tobacco and alcohol usage with teens.  Technology has now become more dangerous in these parents’ minds than things that actually do physical damage to the body. That’s not to say there isn’t the possibility of emotional and psychological damage due to social media (more on that in a minute), but that we are more worried about the unknown of social media versus the known vices we all grew up around prior to adult life.

Social Media

As you can tell by the above data, social media can seem like a scary place for some. Despite all of its perceived ills, there are some positives as well. According to a Pew Internet Study (May 2018), the feelings of teens when it comes to social media is pretty mixed. While 24% feel that social media negatively impacts their lives, 31% feel it adds some benefit. The rest fall in the middle of either indifference or no impact.

So whether we like it or not, it does have an effect on kids’ lives. As educators, we need to work with students on this impact and teach them how to balance its effect so that positive number is increased (or at least lower the negative one). As parents, we need to have open and ongoing discussions with our own kids around situations that arise on social media, just like real life.

Our district has spent the last two years investing heavily in curriculum and resources around social emotional learning. Technology and social media are intrinsically tied to this initiative. That said, there are some very intriguing resources available to the general public around the topics of social media, mindfulness, and tech-life balance (scroll to the bottom for these resources).

Screen Time

The debate around screen time has been happening since the 1950’s and the invention of the television. It’s not a new argument, but as we have seen an increase in screens entering our lives, there has also been an increase on research around their effect on our eyes and minds. The American Academy of Pediatrics  has put out guidelines around screen time for the last several decades and recently updated some of their recommendations. Schools around the country are faced with a conundrum when it comes to screen time and kids, so keeping the recommendations of the AAP in mind are key when issuing school work on screens. In my parent talks, I reference the following graphic to show that screen time can fall into four quadrants and even within each quadrant is a continuum based on the media being used or consumed.

Screen time can fall into these four quadrants

As a parent, teacher or school district, it’s important to discern how the screens are being used inside the classroom (a place that schools can control) and inside the home (a place where parents can control).  Keeping on the same page as a community around this topic will strengthen the connections being made and help students learn balance and self-management as they age out of our programs.

Trends

A large amount of energy has been spent around the research and effects of social media and screen time and with good reason. These two topics even deserve their own sections in this post (above), so I think it’s important to note that these are two of the top issues weighing on the minds of parents. That said, sometimes I try to think and predict what’s next? A few trends I see globally that will have an effect on our kids are:

The Internet of Things (IoT): When we increase technology access, we increase the chances for something to happen (whether it be good or bad).  On the smart home front, I had my own parenting flop recently when I gave all three of my daughter’s an Amazon Echo Dot in their room and then FAILED to set up any type of restrictions right away. While they didn’t get into anything too bad (turns out the Chordette’s song Lollipop has an alternate version by Lil’ Wayne), they were able to freely purchase anything they liked. “Alexa, send me some puppies” and “Echo, send me a pet from the Amazon” were a couple of requests which resulted in the strange delivery below appearing on my doorstep a few days later.

Stuffed animal puppies and a boa constrictor from Amazon! (Turns out my parents were behind this prank)

While the prank above did illicit a fair share of laughs around the Hooker household, it did make me pause and think. As parents in this world of the “Internet of Things”, we have to consider that anything with connectivity has potential benefit and detriment depending on the action of the user. Again, it’s all about the balance.

(for a quick laugh tied to this topic, see my post on “When Smart Homes Attack“)

Augmented and Virtual Reality: The increasing use of augmented and virtual realities in the everyday world will have a tremendous effect on the future of our kids. They’ll be able to pull up their phones or put on some glasses and instantly see shopping deals, directions, and traffic patterns to avoid. Doctors can already use augmented reality tools to locate veins and virtual reality is allowing doctors to train and practice delicate medical procedures.

We can already immerse ourselves in virtual parts of our world and even other worlds (read Earnest Cline’s Ready Player One to see the possibility of this). Just like with smart devices and the internet of things, the increase of technology also means that we’ll need to make sure we increase attention on keeping our tech-infused life balanced. While I see some tremendous benefit to these technologies, I also worry about over-use and misuse of these tools if left unchecked.

The Ever-Changing Role of the Parent

So what does all this mean for the role of parents? As a dad of three little girls, I am both excited and exhausted to think about what the future holds for them when it comes to technology. I know my role as a parent (just as the role of educator) is to help maintain and model what good digital wellness looks like. All three of my girls are different in many ways, but I see this a lot when it comes to their behavior and attitude around screen time (specifically the passive-entertainment based screen time from the graphic above). We have struggled with our middle child around this, but like anything else when it comes to parenting, consistency and communication are the key. We’ve spent a great deal of energy in helping her learn self-management. As the AAP puts it, we need to become media mentors for our kids.

This is NOT easy. The easier solution would be to not have any of our kids deal with technology at all, which is justified by anecdotes and fear-learning stories. Just make it a complete no-tech zone at home, problem solved right? This may be the easier solution in the short-term, but it’s not a long-term way to teach and raise our kids around these tools that will be with them the rest of their lives. Our role as parents and as educators is teaching them the right balance.

After all, we’re raising adults, not children, right?

Tools and Resources for Parents and Schools

This is in no way a comprehensive list, but a good start when it comes to tools and discussion points with parents and school communities around a balanced approach technology usage.

Common Sense Media I’ve mentioned this in this post and several past posts. A great FREE resource for parents when it comes to apps, social media, movies, etc.

Note To Self Podcast – Manoush Zamarodi is an amazing podcast host who brings in people from a variety of industries to discuss how we keep life balanced in this every changing world.

TechHappyLifeA site created by Dr. Mike Brooks (a local Austinite) on tools and tips for balancing a “tech happy” life. I’ve also had the pleasure of watching Dr. Brooks speak and would say he’s a great person to consider brining in to your next parent group meeting. He’s even put out a book recently titled Tech Generation: Raising Balanced Kids in a Hyper-Connected World.

Dr. Devorah Heitner – I’ve become familiar with Devorah’s over the years and have seen her present at SXSW here in Austin. I also interviewed her for my own book series around this. He book ScreenWise is a tremendous resource for any parent and I see now that she’s even offering up a Phonewise Boot Camp for parents!

Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential – The Education Initiative out of UC-Santa Barbara has some potential for helping high school students when it comes to actual strategies and training around digital wellness and life-balance. Dr. Michael Mrazek and his team of researchers are discovering new ways to help schools with this and with the help of the Department of Education, hope to be reaching at least a million high school students yearly from now until 2025.

Right-Click: Parenting Your Teenager in a Digital Media World – This book came highly recommended to me from colleague Brianna Hodges and has many easy to digest scenarios and tools for parents of teens and pre-teens.

Kerry GallagherKerry is another colleague that I’ve come to know over the years when researching digital wellness. She is a practitioner (she’s an AP at a school in the Northeast) and a tremendous speaker on a variety of topics but especially in the world of digital connection and our youth.

Mobile Learning Mindset: A Parent’s Guide to Supporting Digital Age Learners(shameless plug alert) A 10-chapter book I wrote around this topic along with tools and scenarios for parents to consider.  Got to pay the bills some way!

 

The Marriage Between IT & Curriculum

Relationships are always a work in progress. Kayne and Kim. Will and Jada. Beyonce and Jay-Z. Carl and Renee. The list goes on and on.  Some couples make it, others end in divorce. While every couple has its own unique circumstances and situation, there are some common tips to make their marriage more successful.

Over the last few years, more and more, I feel like a marriage counselor when it comes to the couple known as “IT & Curriculum.” This relationship is a tricky one, because there is no way to opt out. While my district has what I would call a very healthy relationship between the two, it wasn’t always that way. And when I go out and speak with other districts, there seems to be some common problems that arise between curriculum and IT.

Last week at #TLTechLive event in Boston, I had the honor of being the opening keynote to address this topic head on. And while I won’t recap the entire presentation, I found some interesting insights over the course of our one hour “counseling session” that I thought I would share here.

Presenting the vows of Ed Tech

The Vows

Like any marriage, there need to be a set of agreed upon vows or standards. During my session last week, I donned some preacher robes (actually a graduation gown) to deliver the vows between IT and Curriculum. Here’s an abbreviated version:

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called….Learning.

Curriculum – Do you solemnly swear to check interoperability standards before purchasing an application?

IT – Do you solemnly swear to being open to new ideas, as long as it furthers the learning of our kids?

….in sickness and health, through printer errors and slow wifi, until death or the end of public education do us part….may I have the ringtone?”

As I recited the vows on stage, I realized that wedding vows sound an awful lot like Acceptable Use Policies.

Patient #1 – Dealing with Insecurity

With all the new applications or online textbooks being purchased almost daily it seems, our schools have many points of vulnerability when it comes to data. The IT side of the relationship wants to be open to these new programs and applications, but also is concerned about security and data privacy.

While there is no magic bullet answer to this relationship issue, many districts and states are moving toward a standard agreement when it comes to the use of student data. In fact, in Massachusetts, there is a Student Privacy Alliance which connects districts across the state to leverage the collective power in getting companies to agree to their student data privacy agreement.

With all the recent news with the Zuckerberg testimony to Congress and the subsequent avalanche of companies changing their terms of service when it comes to user data, this issue in the relationship between IT and Curriculum could soon be going away, allowing the happy couple to finally go on the honeymoon they’ve always wanted.

On stage with one of my ‘patients’ @MatthewXJoseph

Patient #2 – Spicing things up…in the classroom

If you’ve ever been a teacher and attended some state-wide or national ed tech conference, there is almost always some app or tool that you learn about that you want to try. However, when you get back home, IT says “no” before you even attempt to pilot it with your students.

The truth is, there is more than just IT that needs to vet new tools. I’ve seen many an app out there that is really just students mindlessly tapping on screens and not vetting in any type of research. In our district we have a workflow for requesting new apps for students (the app store isn’t on their iPads) as well as our League of Innovators – a group of early adopters that are willing to try and test new software or hardware. What mechanisms does your district have in place for trying new applications or tools? Is there a process for piloting new ideas?

These questions can sting an unstable relationship as it gives IT the impression that you are happy with what they are offering and your eye is starting to wander. However, a stable relationship has an open dialogue and a process for getting new ideas, if effective, into the hands of students.

Patient #3 – Feeling out of sync

After the honeymoon phase, typically a couple decides to purchase their first house. In the case of IT & Curriculum that could be in the form of a Learning Management System (LMS) or perhaps a large online textbook adoption. This new purchase has many needs and requires the attention of both sides of the relationship.

For IT, there is nothing more frustrating than finding out that Curriculum has purchased a new adoption that either doesn’t work on the district’s existing devices OR requires a lot of heavy lifting to get student data into the system. The good news is, there are more and more platforms moving to a Single-Sign On (SSO) approach and with the One Roster standard from IMS Global becoming more widely adopted, the issues of data uploads via .csv files may soon go away.

Patient #4 – Worried about our kids

@SimplySuzy – final patient of the day

At some point in a relationship, kids enter the picture. With IT & Curriculum, they are there on day one. The focus of both ‘parents’ in this marriage should ultimately be the students. Many times, districts purchase expensive software or applications in the hopes of enhancing student learning.  But how do we know if that’s actually happening? How do we measure the effectiveness of the programs we are using?

For me, it means pulling up usage statistics of over 40 applications or online resources. This process can take more than a week and the data comes in a variety of formats which is rarely longitudinal in terms of usage. Again, the good news here is that there are now tools in development to help with this efficacy of use and ultimately, learning. One company I’ve been advising with over the past year that does this very thing is CatchOn. Their motto is simple – “Simplify the evaluation of Ed Tech usage.”

Once you have the data you need at the touch of your finger, the next challenge becomes those hard conversations in the relationship around budget. Maybe curriculum is spending too much or IT is too much of a penny-pincher, whatever the case, once you have the usage data you can make better decisions for your “family” around whether to cut a program or keep it and provide more professional learning around it.

How do we save this marriage?

Through all of the issues between this couple, the keys to an effective relationship sound eerily similar to that of an actual marriage:

  1. Better communication
  2. Empathy and understanding of both sides
  3. Being open to new ideas
  4. Working together, not separate

And ultimately…we need to stay together…for the kids.

Editor’s note: Looking to learn more? Check out my book Mobile Learning Mindset: The IT Professional’s Guide to Implementation which includes an entire chapter dedicated to the marriage between IT and Curriculum.

Trashbots: How Some Students Are Helping Educate the World in Robotics

Trashbot Co-founders Sidharth and Rohit Srinivasan with Paul Austin

I am lucky enough to work with amazing students every day in my district. That said, every now and then, some of them really stand out as change-makers in the world. This post is about a pair of brothers and their inspiration approach to educating the world in the realm of robotics using a low-cost way that “up-cycles” existing everyday materials to build their creations. Please enjoy and share the information below so we can help these guys make their dream come true!

I first met Rohit and his brother Sidharth a couple of years ago after they won the Student Start-up Competition at SXSWedu. They are both Westlake High School students and, for the past several years, taken their love of robotics and combined it with an altruistic desire to help educate youth all over the world in a low-cost way. My first impression was that these boys seem wise well beyond their years and I had to keep reminding myself I was speaking to teenagers, not adults.

For more information about their company, I asked co-founder Rohit Srinivasan to give me an overview on his company’s philosophy and mission:

Trashbots is a low-cost robotics kit with an artistic twist. Our vision has developed from multiple years of teaching STEM in the US,  Mexico, Congo and India where its founders have taught 1000+ students ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade. We observed kids need better problem-solving and creativity skills. STEM kits have been seen as a solution, but have limited impact because they require major infrastructure, and are expensive.

Right away, I love the way he his tackling a problem that isn’t unique to just schools in the U.S., but around the world. Here’s how he’s doing that in an affordable way:

To tackle this problem, we founded Trashbots. The company’s platform we have created is distinctive – first, it maximizes creativity by allowing kids to use commonly found materials such as popsicle sticks and straws. Second, it’s less than $100 and one-tenth the total cost of ownership of alternatives because it also requires minimal infrastructure – no active electricity or Internet, just a Bluetooth-compatible device. Third it is scalable – the same platform can serve curriculum needs of kids from K through 12th grade by facilitating from basic building through mechatronics, 3D-printing exploration and programming with Python / Javascript.

A student in Peru program’s her first Trashbot.

Did I mention these are students? They have been doing this for many years on a volunteer basis mainly using their vacation time to travel to India and help teach kids in orphanages learn how to create and program robots.  And by the looks of things, they are just getting started…

Since its founding, Trashbots has spent the last 18 months developing the platform and seen strong validation from students, teachers and education administrators. We have taught 1000+ kids across Peru (at the invitation of Education Ministry), Indian orphanages, Mexican colonias, and in schools in the US in urban and rural settings.  We have conducted teacher workshops at TCEA, ISTE, and SXSWedu. Solely from word-of-mouth marketing we have pre-orders for 750 kits from 60 schools in 5 continents. In recognition of this traction, we were honored to be selected as a top 10 2017 Edtech startup by the Global Edtech Startup Association, named one of top 15 innovators reshaping Texas by Texas Monthly, and featured in the Statesman, Austin Inno and Silicon Hills News.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of student ideas and pitches in our student entrepreneur course at Westlake. This is different. These young men came up with this on their own several years ago and have been growing with a grass-roots style of marketing and engaging leaders from all over the world.  Their company is driven by three tenets:

 

  • Build differentiated products in terms of affordability and ability to enhance problem solving and creativity
  • Be community minded by embracing openness and enable makers to submit creative designs on our website and open CAD designs of key building blocks for self-serve and printing by our users.
  • Support all 1.3 billion kids, particularly in under-provided communities to have better access to our platform. We intend to donate kits and enable our more fortunate users to sponsor kits for students in such communities.

As they are tackling this global challenge in non-traditional ways, it’s appropriate that they are securing funding via crowd-sourcing. They are kicking off a campaign on Indiegogo to officially capture the interest in their platform.

Here’s where you come in. The way crowd-sourcing works, the more people they can get “interested” via email, the more likely they will get featured on Indiegogo and get funding. Do me a favor and sign-up (for free) to support these kids and their very impactful dream of providing all students with access to learning robotics and coding.

Please visit their Indiegogo pre-launch page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trashbots-low-cost-stem-with-an-artistic-twist/coming_soon or their website at www.trashbots.org.  And if you could, share this article with other educators and colleagues that you know would support the great work they are doing (and tweet them at @trashbotsorg!)

From the minds of youth….comes our future. Show them some love my fellow educators!

7 Strange Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do In Keynote

I use Keynote for MacOS for pretty much everything these days. I’ve even starting teaching some “Keynote Master Class” courses for teachers and coaches in my district and at other events that I’m a part of.  Even in rooms with the most polished Keynote users, I always show them something they didn’t know they could do with it.

Here are a few things I bet you didn’t know you could do with Keynote:

1. Make your own icons

With the latest iOS11 update there is now a bevy of new icons available. All of these icons can be manipulated, edited, color formatted, and broken apart. However, there may be times when the icon you are looking for is not in Keynote. Did you know you could create your own?

Here’s how.  Let’s say you are wanting to make a cloud icon different than the one in the shapes kit. Simply make a bunch of overlapping circles, select all of them, then click on “Arrange” and “Unite” to create a solid icon that you can now change into multiple colors. This is different than “Group” as it binds all the assets together into one solid shape. You can also use tricks like “subtract” to create voids or spaces in your shapes (like when creating an iPad icon).

Once you’ve finished creating your new icon, two-finger click (right-click) on the object and choose “Save to My Shapes”.  You’ll be prompted to give it a name and from now on, this icon will appear on your “My shapes” list in Keynote.

2. Create a Choose-your-own-Adventure story

Do you remember HyperStudio stacks? How about those old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories? With slide hyperlinking in Keynote you can recreate this same feel by making text or images “hyper-linkable”. Two-finger click (right-click) on an object to “Add link” then select Slide as the link destination. Select the slide that you want the image to link to.  The good news is, you can re-arrange slides and the links will remain intact.

 

3. Make powerful Infographics

Keynote comes with multiple export options including images and PDFs.  You can also change the size and shape of your keynote slide in the “Document” menu of your presentation. Besides the standard and widescreen options, you can create a “Custom slide size.”  One note, do this BEFORE you create your slides or infographic as it will alter the images and text on your slide if you do it after the fact.

Now that Keynote comes pre-built with icons and you can create your own (point #1), you can design, group, and arrange items on a longer slide that is visually appealing. Since Keynote has pre-built guides, it will do the spacing for you and lock them into place when they are evenly distributed.

Once you are done creating your infographic, export it as either an image or a PDF to share with others in device agnostic formats.

Side note: I also use Keynote to create custom banners for Google Forms, since you can change the slide size to something wide (Like 940 x 360) and export it as an image. (I even made the featured image for this blog post in Keynote)

4. Create a Color Pop effect with black & white images

I love seeing black & white images where a part of the color of the image stands out. In the past, if I wanted to make this “Color Pop” effect, I had to import the image into Photoshop, remove the color, create a layer, lasso the object, add back the color, etc.  Now, since I can change the slides into any custom size and import as an image (see #3 above), that means I can do the same thing with an image that I alter.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Add the color image you want to alter to your slide.
  2. Customize your toolbar (go to View->Customize toolbar…) and add the “Adjust Image” tool and the “Instant Alpha” tool to your tool bar.
  3. Select the image. Copy/paste it on top of itself.
  4. Select the image and click on the Adjust tool.
  5. Turn the saturation all the way down (-100)
  6. Using the Alpha tool, carefully remove part of the black and white image (click and drag in small amounts) to reveal the color image behind the black and white image.
  7. For bonus, add a text box that matches the color with a quote or saying (use the eye drop tool on the color palette to match colors)
  8. File -> Export to…Images

Here’s a finished example:

5. Design art for a Children’s book

Every year I try and predict certain educational or technology innovations. I also use this post to “blackmail” myself into trying something different and expanding my skill set. This year, I said I would create a children’s book and after months of struggle, I found inspiration in a strange place….Keynote.  Since you can create and edit your own icons (#1 on this list), and Keynote comes with a freehand drawing tool, I can now create icons and characters for the book and design all the art on custom-sized Keynote slides (#3 on this list).

I don’t want to give away the final design as it’s still in draft mode, but because I’m creating this entire book in Keynote, that means I can also “read” it to kids in full-screen mode (via Keynote) once it’s published. I’ll even add animations to it…

6. Create a GameShow Spinner (as seen on Jimmy Fallon)

I absolutely LOVE the random celebrity generator that Jimmy Fallon uses on his show to get celebrities to do impersonations of others or singing random songs. (Here’s a good example of Ariana Grande remixing songs with other artist’s voices.)  As I watched this bit, I wondered…could I recreate that random wheel spinner in Keynote?

It turns out the answer is yes. It takes a lot of steps so rather than list it out, I created a little video of how I did it:

 

7. Recreate the Stranger Things opening title animation

This was admittedly just for fun until my friend from down under (Jonathan Nalder @jnxyz) approached me to create a workshop on thinking creatively or “Stranger Thinking”.  I decided to see if I could use Keynote to re-create the iconic opening credits from the hit Netflix show Stranger Things.

Using the Magic Move transition and the soundtrack to the show, I was able to recreate my own version of the opening sequence. Here’s how:

  1. First I created the “ending” slide, or where I wanted the words to end up when they finished moving. For this particular animation, I broke apart the words into different parts and changed the shadow to red with some blur to give it a semi-neon effect.
  2. I found a found that matched the show opening (Benguit font) to create my word and made some transparent rectangles with red borders to create the moving shapes coming into focus.
  3. After I finished the ending slide, I duplicated it. On the first slide, I moved all the objects off the slide canvas into various areas in the grey area around the slide so it starts out blank.
  4. I then added the Magic Move transition and set the duration to 10 seconds.
  5. I added the Stranger Things audio file to the slide deck soundtrack. (choosing Document->Audio)
  6. I recorded the slideshow (Play-> Record Slideshow)
  7. I exported the file as a Quicktime movie.

Here’s the final result:

Now that I’ve started unlocking the potential of Keynote, I know I’m going to find more uses for it in the future. I also am working on making the above instructions into instructional videos on my YouTube channel for HookerTechTV. One person to follow that has really expanding the uses of Keynote is Katie Morrow (@KatieMorrow). She recently released a “Coding in Keynote” project and has even used Keynote to create 3D Hologram images.