Thursday, July 30, 2015

My/Your Digital Generation

Summer, we are at the pool, relaxing. My son Asaf (19) looks around the pool eyeing many of adults on their smartphones. Not only adults but many. And yes, it did include me.

He says, "everybody complains about my generation, the way we focus on all things digital. Your generation is worse."

"You adapted every new technology quickly and thoroughly. You are the ones that afforded the first iPhones, tablets, and every little thing that comes out. You are the real YouTube generation because you had a choice, and you chose this!"

I love it when my kids have insights like this. And yes for a long time I have felt this way as well. I hear many adults calling for less use of technology in schools and at home. They reject the role technology can play at school feeling that it is just games, fun and not serious enough. They are afraid that our children will not move, not be creative. I admit that as adults, we have the obligation to protect our children even from the things we are doing/ have done. But at the same time we must remember that personal example is very influential. And so for me two questions remain as we educate the next generation:

1. If we lead by example, then we lead by showing appropriate and balanced uses of devices not lack of use. We must first look at ourselves and our practices. Do they mirror what we want our kids to learn or are we around the pool checking our smartphones?

2. We must ask ourselves what we are protecting our children/ students from? The old data about screen time is out of sync with digital realities and in many ways we still don't know much about the impact of new practices. Some like the American Academy of Pediatrics publishes concerns and limitations. They take the defensive approach if we don't know, let's not do it. This method works well for medicine, not so much for everyday well-being. The two questions that must follow are: what will kids be doing with this time? And what will they be missing if they do not have digital lives? Will they be ready to be citizens of the 21st century?

3. We must ask ourselves if when making an argument about screentime at school we are in fact making a class based argument. It may be that we are saying: "My middle class, son of a professional, student is getting enough digital exoerience and guideline at home therefore he and all other students do not need to spend time on it in school.

My son Asaf looked at me and added: "Yes, it's your generation, but it is especially you." I smiled: "I am ok with that." Later that evening, he was using three screens: A Netflix movie on the TV, a video game on his laptop, and the BBC news on his phone.

I wonder what his kids will do.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Are we herding cats or a climbing team?

I have been thinking this summer about the work we do together with teachers, wondering what metaphor we can adequately use to describe it.

Recently, I have written about the boot camp metaphor. Another metaphor I have repeatedly heard through the years is one about herding cats usually accompanied by this video. I've always been uncomfortable with this metaphor. It essentially communicated a rivalry, one person the lone cowboy/cowgirl trying to herd a group of individualistic animals that do not want to go. The herding cats metaphor must go because it does not recognize the expertise and capacity of teachers. Instead of herding we should be leading, guiding and showing the way.

In searching for a metaphor, I reached mountain climbing teams. It is a metaphor that works for me to describe what we do as educators and what we do in TechEDGE. Just to be clear, I am not a mountain climbing fanatic. In fact, I am quite wary of heights. What I've read and watched led me to a perception of what mountain climbing might be, and it is this perception that guides this post.

When I work with teachers we go on a journey together. This journey is much like climbing mountains:

Goals: Each journey has a goal, a peak. But once a team reaches the peak there are many others that suddenly look possible.

Teams: Each team has its personality. We work together to define goals and divide the tasks. We get to know each other well, creating a friendship stemming from shared experiences. We support each other since we are all tethered. There are pitfalls and many moments we just want to get off the mountain. Only when we work together, supporting and motivating each other can we make it to the top.

Leadership: I serve as a guide, I know this and other mountains more than many so I can support the climb. I sometimes lead but many other times I just sit back and let others lead, gain confidence until some of them go ahead and lead their own expeditions.

Work ethic: Climb one mountain at a time. It is arduous at times, exhilarating at others. The important lesson is to reach the goal and look down on the path you took. It makes a lot more sense than mountain hopping, where each school year you start on a new mountain before you finished climbing the last one.

Emotions: Every mountain inspires fear and excitement. Those are not mutually exclusive but instead both useful. Excitement motivates while fear keeps us from attempting things we should not. At the same time, those two must be in balance. Too much fear and we never attempt the climb, too much excitement, and we all tumble down.

It is important to remember to document the path and the achievement. Most of all it is important to celebrate once we reach the top. Not because we are done, because we have accomplished something significant.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Time to Retool the IEP?

"No, you can't do that. The IEP says that they must be tested in small groups with a teacher." The teacher who said that looked at me in frustration. "I know it would work but, the IEP is law."

Technology is changing the face of education. I am a big fan of the potential of learning in and through technology, but even those who are unhappy with the changes know that the only question left is when and how.

The hardest areas to change with the advent of technology are those that have been codified in law and as a result, generate a stream of templates directives and paperwork. Prime among codified practices is the IEP (Individualized Education Plan). The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates the IEP.

Assistive technology in many formats has always been part of the possibilities of working with students with disabilities, allowing them to be part of the mainstream classroom. The guiding principle is that of the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

The topic of LRE came up last week as we worked with teachers. As teachers explored the apps, that integrate into Chromebooks and iPads. Teachers commented on text to speech, touch interface, and speech to text feature, saying that they can see how students can now be a much more integral part of the classroom. They pointed out three main features:

1. Once we deliver differentiated through devices, teachers can differentiate the curriculum in ways that are not readily visible to all students and in a way that allow all students to remain in the classroom and participate.

2. With voice and touch interfaces, there is much less need to pull students out of the classroom as part of any assessment. All you need is a headset and potentially a quiet corner.

3. Teachers can track the progress and engagement of all students while paying particular attention to students with disabilities.

All of this will be possible only if we start studying these approaches and accommodations and move to change the content of IEPs to reflect the new classroom realities.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Boot Camp as Metaphor

I have been working with secondary teachers this week. As we were discussing technology integration, some explained that they just came from boot camp. A Google boot camp! I nodded, and we continued but in the back of my mind I was thinking: "boot camp? Why is it boot camp?"

I find it fascinating that as we get further away from the military as a nation we adopt more militaristic language to describe everyday non-military activities. Boot camp is a foundational experience for anyone that has served. It is a formative period in the life a recruit (or volunteer) that through intensive interaction, extreme activity, and a lot of yelling, to socialize you to army life. It serves to create new bonds with peers and help separate civilian life from a new and challenging reality.

The term got co-opted by exercise routines. The first few mimicked actual boot camp practices (complete with boots) but then it drifted farther and farther. So now a few intensive days or even hours of technology training are called boot camp. Really? The part of me that went through boot camp 30 years ago is rebelling. But then an idea occurs to me.

What if we recreated a boot camp for teachers in the spirit of boot camp? Technology integration boot camp. Longer than a week, intensive and transformative. Say five weeks of full immersion. Not just about technology but creation, teaming, collaboration. The idea would be to transform teachers in fundamental ways, so their practice is inherently different. For this transformation to be successful, we need to continue support for the first year of implementation. Boot camp could be a way to induct new teachers (who would love a few more weeks of pay). I believe we have at leat a partial model in the writing project that creates this kind of a transformational space with teachers.

So, Boot Camp? Only if you mean it!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lessons from Reddit: what it means for educators

Reddit is in the news again. I was introduced to reddit by Erez, my son, a few years back. I am not a frequent user, BUT I am extremely interested in the flow of reddit and the ways it behaves. Last week, the CEO of reddit Pao resigned after a power struggle with reddit users.  What caught my attention was the fact that even the leadership at reddit did not fully understand the power of the crowd. Reddit is a company founded to create communities and built value out of the willingness of many to create and participate with no monetary gain. This is a form of crowdsourcing, and what baffles me is that the leadership of reddit did not understand how crowdsourcing in a strong community gives the users at different levels immense power. The users can and did shut down most of the popular reddit pages in protest.

Even if you've never been on reddit (and you should) there are a few lessons here for educators.

The first lesson is for us as professionals. We should create online communities and use them to wrest control away from large businesses. If you are challenged by the big curriculum companies, band with other educators and create your own materials. At that point, the large companies will be less relevant. The new teacher union is not the NEA or other 20th century organizations with hierarchical leadership. They have their place, but the web has provided us with a new way to work, influence, and act. This can be where the next professional liberation comes from.

The second lesson is that the same structures that can empower us can empower others, including parents and even students. Learning about the way these structures work can be instrumental in forging new partnerships with parents and students and avoiding conflict.

Finally, we should remember that these structures are not inherently good or evil. They have the capacity to be both and we must help our students make moral decisions about the way they interact in such communities.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Better late than never- The joys of blogging

In May, I celebrated seven years of blogging. Blogging is probably the most serious writing
commitment I have ever had. This is a great opportunity for me to reflect on why I still blog.

Many better than me have explained the virtues of blogging, so here I want to talk about what I get out of blogging.

1. Blogging is putting my thinking into words. In a regular week, many thoughts zoom about in my head and between me and other educators. Blogging forces me to choose one idea and focus on it long enough to write about it. Long ago, Jean Detlefsen taught me that art is about making choices. Blogging is too. It forces me to commit to an idea at least long enough to compose about it.

Page views of
2. Blogging gives me an audience. I write up research in professional journals and present in conferences. Blogging, however, is probably giving the widest audience. Seeing that people are reading and interacting with their comments is a pleasure that I seldom get with journal articles. Readership is joy.

3. Blogging is sowing seeds for later writing. In some ways, I write for a living. Blogging creates seeds that allow me to play with ideas and language that makes more formal writing be much easier.

4. Blogging allows me to forget. Blogging about a topic allows me to "unload" the idea onto the web. Sometimes the value is in doing just that- unloading the idea so it stops interrupting everything else. In that way, I use it like David Allen does in Getting Things Done. It's just that for me its not about tasks and things to do it is about ideas.

5. Blogging allows me to be reflective about teaching and the changes I make as I teach. My teaching has transformed in recent years and blogging had much to do with helping it along.

Should everyone blog? Why I believe that the answer is yes.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The four things I wish tech innovators would do & discuss now

ISTE is now over, the keynotes done. The trumpets have quieted down. I have to be honest, I lately leave conferences with a sense of hunger, not for more but for something else. This sense got a direction when I met with Evi this week. So here are four things I would like to hear and see:

1. Educators who are staying with an innovation for a while. Too many of us are running from one innovation to the next permanent novices in a rush to get to the next big thing. From iPads to flipped classroom to Minecraft to coding to makers space. There is great value in repeating refining and becoming an expert.

2. Patience to train everyone, not just a select few. It is connected to the first section. If you stay with the same good innovation as a school/ district then you can get most teachers to join you. If, however, you keep moving the target it makes it hard for many of the teachers to join.

3. Research- innovation is nice but how do we measure its impact? If we really believe that technology can make a real and lasting difference we must insist that innovation comes with research and evaluation.

4. Race and inequality- many even most of the presentations and innovations ignore the social challenges we face as a nation every day. It is time, that race and inequality were a part of our discussion and action.

I believe that it is time for us to move beyond the excellent work done so far- up to the next level.

Friday, July 10, 2015

iOS, Cognition, and the Ghost of Steve Jobs

Despite my best efforts, Steve Jobs' ghost does not actually come and visit me. I never met Steve Jobs nor do I know what he would think. Instead, I am writing about the mythical Steve Jobs that occupies my mind and is loosely based on a guy that used to run Apple.

I am an Apple user, I love my MacPro, iPhone, and most of all my iPad. I also think that iPads are uniquely well-tailored devices for the classroom and talk about it weekly on my webcast iPads in the Classroom from TechEDGE. I love the iPad because it is designed with the human brain in mind. That is what makes it intuitive. In essence what iPads have done  is to reduce cognitive load, allowing the user to focus her attention exclusively on the task at hand. I believe that is the genius of the device and its interphase. I believe it is also the source of the limitations put on certain features including media multi-tasking. That is, some of the things that other devices can do are not really a failing in Apple's design, instead they are a result of a deep understanding of what people need (instead of what they think they need) to be effective users.

Now, however, in an effort to catch up" with Android Apple will be offering "real" multi-tasking on the iPad screen. I think this is a clear case of yielding to people's perception that they are excellent multi-taskers just like everyone believes they are above average drivers. There is mounting research showing that in general most humans are not good multi-taskers. We underestimate the number of times we actually shift attention and pay a hefty price in accuracy and efficiency when we do (e.g here). Until now the iPads would not allow multi-tasking on the same screen (apps can run in the background though). Now with the new features we can.

Adults can make their own decisions, but when we are concerned with using devices effectively in education the need for reducing cognitive load and increasing student focus is paramount. The new feature is an example of what people think they want but really shouldn't have. My mythical Steve Jobs would not let this happen.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Creativity, Coding, and the Adolescent Mind

Matt asked me this week what I thought about the Hour of Code. I answered honestly that I simply do not think it is enough. He continued to make the point that it was a good introduction, I think I made a face.

The bottom line is that introduction is not enough. My analogy is the arts. In the arts we take students to the museum, we believe that it is important, but it does not constitute a curriculum in the arts. If we look at the analogy of the arts even further it can get even more interesting. As I read some of Austin Kleon this week some of his points resonated with me. Young children will create art without reservation when you ask them or even on their own. Wait a few years, by middle school, they will refuse to create saying something like- "I am not an artist" or "I am not creative". This reaction is not a mistake, it is a natural consequence of creating self-concept in different areas. As students mature and acquire experiences they learn what they are good at and what they are less so. Social comparisons play a big role in this development. So by the time they are in middle school most children develop a sense of what they are good at.

The point here is that if we want students to become coders or artists they need rich experiences of mastery and growth in that domain. If they will have them at the elementary years they will have a much higher chance of having a positive self-concept for art and coding leading to a higher probability they will stay engaged.

Hour of code will not create self-concepts of students as artists nor coders, only making it part of school will!