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Two Reasons I Won’t Use My Typical Opening Today

For the last several years, I have been opening my keynote addresses by describing something that I’ve learning in the last 24 hours. It was usually something that I’d run across on my iPad (Flipboard), or a conversation I’d had, or some other striking something that caught my eye.  Today, it would likely be the Olkaria IV Geothermal Power Plant just brought on line in Kenya with the assistance of Germany’s continued development of green energies.  I first learned about the plant from the Kenyan cab driver who took me from the St. Louis airport to my hotel yesterday.

But no story today.  The first reason is trivial though not insubstantial.  It’s time.  I’ll only have 45 minutes for my opening talk.  It’s usually closer to an hour.

The second reason is more important.  It is my audience; school librarians, students of library science, and supporters and administrators of school library programs.  I’m not launching into a demonstration of personal learning because librarians and their libraries are almost entirely about person learning.  Their patrons explore, examine, experiment and discover – in much the same ways that we all conduct our essential learning outside of school.

These authentic learning experiences are way to rare in the classrooms of our schools, and this is due not to the best intentions, reflections and inventiveness of our teachers.  It is my country’s continue obsession with market motivated and industrial methodology of public education.

Our Greatest Missed Opportunity?

Apple IIe Computer

I’m working on my new book and just ran across this article, an ingenious project at Chapel Hill-Carrboro Schools, here in North Carolina. Jim Tomberg, a teacher at the High School has received a grant from state and federal funds, to establish a software development course for his school. The funds were intended to promote unique and innovative projects in education.

The high school students in the project were to create original, documented (software) to the specifications of teachers in the elementary grades. Tomberg wanted the programmers to work closely with the students and teachers receiving the (software).

To make the entire project educational, Tomberg says he “let the kids make all the decisions. They organized the whole course.” They studied various brands of computers and decided what equipment to buy. Then they came up with the idea of doing a newsletter about their study – all composed on computers using word processing programs.

The (elementary) teachers who requested material did, however, retain complete control over the content of the programs. In every case, students spoke directly with each teacher to insure useful results in the classroom.

Sheila Cory, the districts computer coordinator is quoted saying, “The computer is (forcing) us to reexamine our goals in education.”*

If you’d like to read the article, you’ll have to dig up a September 1983 issue of Compute Magazine, page number 100.

In many ways, I think that we were more innovative and even forward thinking back before computers and the Internet became mainstream.

* Blackford, J. (1983, September). Computers in school: New approaches. Compute!, (40), 100. Retrieved from http://www.atarimagazines.com/compute/issue40/computers_in_school.php

“Follow the Money” to Ferguson

Chris Lehmann challenged us (EduBloggers) last week to join the conversation about the police shooting of an 18 year old African-American man in Ferguson, Missouri and militarized posturing of law enforcement against the resulting protests. To be honest, I was not fully aware of the situation, too focused on getting my daughter ready to return to college and establishing a second residence to be closer to my and my wife’s parents.

I’ll agree wholeheartedly with all of Chris’ sentiments here, here and here, and would expound on them if I could. But, as a white, anglo saxon, protestant, eighth generation American, whose grandfather’s grandfather probably owned slaves, I honestly do not feel worthy to ardently express righteous sympathy with what I would characterize as second Americans. White man’s guilt?

I would like to ask a different question, though – and not as an attempt to distract us from a conversation about the unfulfilled promises (myths) of the American Dream. I ask this alternate question because I believe that there is another struggle happening here, one that possibly goes back to the beginnings of this country.

Looking at the picture to the right, I do not see how anyone could disagree with calling this a militarized police presence. But where did all that military hardware come from? Who bought it? ..and why? ..and Who got paid for it?

If we agree that one reason for learning (being taught) history is to avoid making its mistakes1, then here might be a useful starting question, “What were the historical mistakes that led to the situation of this picture?”

This could go almost anywhere in human history, of course, and why should formal learning experiences be limited (by testable standards)? But that’s a different issue — maybe.

We might, for instance, go no further than a little more than a decade ago, when 19 mostly Saudi Arabian terrorists, attacked the United States at it’s heart, New York City. Those 19 mostly Saudi Arabian men, using our own technology against us, were effective nearly beyond anyone’s imagination.

Our response was to make war in Afghanistan and Iraq and declare war on terror, establishing the Department of Homeland Security.  Although little else happened here, local police forces still find themselves armed for terror both from without and within. ..And you know what they say about a hammer.2

I would suggest that we responsibly and effectively teach history to avoid its mistakes, but also as a guard against having history re-written for us.

I will close here by suggesting that we ask students utilize contemporary literacy skills and do what Deep Throat3 said, “Follow the Money.”

 

1 A paraphrasing of George Santayana’s quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.Santayana, G. (1905). The life of reason. Project Gutenberg. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/15000

2 The Law of the Instrument, or as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.

3 Deep Throat is the pseudonym given to the secret informant who provided information toBob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of The Washington Post in 1972 about the involvement of United States President Richard Nixon‘s administration in what came to be known as the Watergate scandal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Believe I’m Doing this Again!

One of the nice things about writing again, is that it doesn’t require a huge monitor.  Therefore, I am not chained to my upstairs office.  I can do it virtually anywhere.  :-)

In our 35 years of marriage, there have been only a few instances when my wife realized what a cleaver fellow I am – maybe three. I think one occurred yesterday.

As you may be aware, I am winding down my career as an educator.  My wife, concerned about identity security, has spent parts of the last couple of days looking for my social security number included in two large file cabinets of documents from 19 years of clients and jobs.  She commented, as we were walking up to North Hills yesterday, that I had accomplished a lot in my years as an independent and been part of some pretty exciting developments in education and technology.

Then she said, “You should write a book about all of this.”  

My reply was simple, the same that I’ve said to colleagues who have recently asked, “So now that you’re not traveling so much, are you going to write a new book?”

“No!”

“I’m through!  I’m tired!  ..and writing is really hard work for me…”

Yet, this morning, as I woke and lay in bed, my mind was going like it hasn’t in many months, seeming to have realized that in some deep and evil corner of my brain, the decision has been made.  I had an outline written out by 8:30 this morning – for a new book about the history of educational technology.

I really can’t believe that I’m Doing this Again!

What Offends Me the Most!

Many of you know by now that I have, surprisingly, become a sports fan.  Although I played sports as a youngster, I’ve never been a fan of any sport, until recently – thanks to my son’s enthusiasm and nuanced knowledge of profession basketball and now soccer.  We hold season tickets for Bobcat (oh yeah, Hornet) games in Charlotte and we drive down regularly to pull for our favorite team (though I’m still getting my head around my team without Josh McRoberts).

Even though there are still aspects of sports fanaticism that bother me, only one thing truly offends me. It’s when the arena features, during timeouts, court competitions for attendees, sponsored by the “North Carolina Education Lottery.” It’s that name, Education Lottery, that sends needles through my soul.

It’s no surprise to the thinking citizens of NC, that our nine year old state lottery has done nothing to improve the state’s education – nor, in my humble opinion, was it ever intended to.  Even though our education budget, in dollars, has risen in the last three decades, its percentage of the states general fund has declined for the past 30 years, according to today’s WRAL.com article, NC education spending on decades-long slide.

In the 1980s, 44¢ of every dollar was spent on education.  Today only 37¢ goes to schools.  One would hope that a North Carolina Education Lottery would have at least slowed this decline, if not brought it to a haul.  But, in fact, the rate of decline has accelerate.  More than half (57%) of the 30-year decline occurred in just the last decade, since the Lottery’s passage in 2005.

The true effect (and intent) of the North Carolina Education Lottery is enabling an increasingly corporate-sponsored General Assembly to provide more tax relief to the state’s wealthiest and most privileged.

But what truly offends me every time I hear those four words, is how the lottery is perpetuating a myth, that in America, anyone can excel to the 1%, can reach a place of wealth, power and privilege – and therefore, we should all support any legislation that empowers, protects and advances the state’s (and nation’s) richest,

..and becoming a member could be as easy as a few dollars and the right set of numbers.

…and algebra is not required!

Browder, C. (2014, July 8). NC education spending on decades-long slide. WRAL.com.

Will Your Learners become better Educated as a Result of ISTE 2014

I know that I’ve not been blogging a lot lately, because the first thing I had to do this morning was update MarsEdit, my blog-writing software.

Yesterday, watching the tweets and status updates being posted by educators packing their bags, arriving at airports and train stations, bound for Atlanta and ISTE 2014 — well it got me to thinking. I’ve been an educator for almost 40 years and that many years in such a dynamic field makes you opinionated.  ..and I suppose it’s part of the character of old folks (60+) to express their opinions.

That’s why I tweeted out yesterday…

There were retweets, agreeing replies, and some push-back — reminding me that this old dog will never learn to fit his thinking into a 140 character message. So here’s what I meant to say.

You will speak to vendors and listen to speakers in Atlanta who claim to know how to fix education, how this practice or product will improve resource efficiency, teacher effectiveness and student performance.  Don’t ignore them, but ask yourself, “Are they answering the right question?”

I would suggest that rather than asking, “How do we improve education?” we should be asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be educated?” 

Years ago, when my Great Uncle Jim, the last of my family to live in the old Warlick home, passed away, and the house was sold, we were given permission to visit and take any furniture or other items, for which we had a use.  My prize was an old quilt that had obviously been stitched together during a quilting party, dated in the late 1800s.

Both Uncle Jim and my Grandfather grew up in this house, and they both went to college, Jim to NCSU (engineering) and my Grandfather to UNC (classics).  But when they graduated, they returned to rural Lincoln County, without daily newspapers, monthly journals or a convenient library.  They returned to an astonishingly information scarce world.

Being educated then was indicated by what you knew, the knowledge that you’d memorized, knowledge and skills that would serve you for most of the remaining decades of your life.

Today, we are swimming in information and struggling with a rapidly changing world, and the very best that any “education” can do, is provide for us is what we need to know or know how to do for the next couple of years.

Being education is no long indicated by what you’ve been successfully taught.  

Being educated today is your ability to resourcefully learn new knowledge and skills and responsibly use them to answer new questions, solve emerging problems and accomplish meaningful goals.

Being educated today is no longer measured by the number of questions we can correctly answer.

It’s measured by how well we you can discover or invent new answers, effectively defend those answers, and then we them to make our lives, communities and world better.

If they’re trying to sell you something at ISTE, ask them, “How will this help my learners to become better educated?”

If they ask you, “What do you mean by educated?” Then there’s hope.

Exactly 2¢ Worth!

Am I Missing It?

I just woke with a start.  Did I just miss the ISTE14 ADE (Apple Distinguished Educators) photowalk yesterday?  A quick Googling from my office (next to my bedroom) and I see that the event isn’t until next Saturday.  Most years I’ve been blogging by now with recommendations for ISTE novices, about what gear to take and how to behave.  But not this year.  I’ll be mostly taking it easy at home, taking pictures, taking walks, riding my bike, playing with the dog (my daughter’s studying in Europe and we’ve got the dog) and working on a slew of personal projects.

Talking with Carlos Austin, a local iPad photographer.

Will I miss ISTE14?  Well, I’ll certainly miss the photowalk.  Last year’s walk around San Antonio was phenomenal, especially because of the talented and ingenious photographers I followed around — both the gear geeks and the artists.

I’ll also deeply miss EduBloggerCon, now called something else (HackEd), where educators go to learn from each other.  I’d planned, for a while, to attend only the photowalk and HackEd, but figuring the cost and how much I’m enjoying becoming a homebody, I finally decided to forego Atlanta this year.  I can’t accurately say how many NECC/ISTEs I’ve not missed, but it’s more than 20.

I’d like to say one thing here, about why I’ll be at home on ISTE week – and I’ve written about this before   I submitted two presentation proposals.  

One was a standup and teach presentation about games and pedagogy.  It was accepted. 

The other was a very strange interactive performance (see NCTIES), designed to provoke the audience to self-examine their personal ideas about information and communication technologies and education.  It was rejected.

Look!  The best learning that I have done, was not taught to me.  The best learning came from a challenge, or curiosity, or an intriguingly inventive plot – and it involved a conscious and resourceful re-examining of my own knowledge and ideas.

Have fun at ISTE14 and question your learning.

You’re Learning Something Important when It…

My son and I went to Charlotte on Monday to watch the Bobcats’ final game. It was game four of the playoff series with the Miami Heat. It was an unfortunate pairing. If Charlotte had come in 8th or 6th place in the conference, they would have been playing teams that they could beat. But the Heat? The generous predictions gave the Cats one game. But the Heat is just too strong. Monday night, I watched our team, which was outmatched in almost every way possible, keep up with last year’s NBA Champions, with what could only be described as pure and unbridled heart!

My point in writing about this here is to say that if you had handed me the above paragraph three years ago, and suggested that I’d write it in April 2014, I would have ask you for what you've been smoking.

I was a player when I was young, with some talent in baseball and football. I wasn’t exceptional, by most measures, but I won first place in the NFL’s Punt, Pass and Kick competition in my town two years straight and 3rd place after that. I loved playing football and baseball, but I never picked up basketball. I was never very fast and have always had difficulty getting both of my feet off the ground at the same time ;-)

That said, I was never a spectator. I’ve never enjoyed watching any sport and have never been interesting in the whole jockese, sports-talk experience. I followed NCAA college basketball off and on, but only to an extent necessary for anyone who lives this close to Duke, UNC and NC State – but I always thought of professional basketball as lumbering giants brut-forcing their way to baskets and championships.

This all changed about three years ago, when my wife and I found ourselves watching YouTube clips of NBA games, narrated expertly and compellingly by our son, Martin. Like me, he had never had any interest in sports as a topic. He played in the band, and at the high school he attended, it was the band-geeks who were the cool kids on campus, not the jocks.

But Martin has an amazing ability to take a topic of interest and very quickly master its facts and concepts and be able to talk about it with people who have been immeshed in the matter for years. He inspired us by sharing professional basketball’s sights and sounds, and more importantly, its personality.

He showed us

The magical slight-of-hand of Ricky Rubio,

The sublime grace of Kevin Durant,

The nearly unshakeable cool of James Harden,

The fierce tenacity of Nate Robinson,

The unassailable concentration of Tony Parker,

The passion that can be evoked from that too weird face of Chris Bosh,

And the superhuman athleticism of Lebron (king) James.

We became interested and then passionate, and finally increasingly knowledgable about professional basketball, because of what our son conjured up for us. I understand much of the world around me, because I can identify with what I see. I can mentally put myself in the shoes of people and surmise their perspective. But what I see in most NBA games, I can not feel in my own muscles and this is compelling to me.

Our son provoked us by exceeding our imaginations.

Software can’t do this!

Government standards can’t do this!

Corporate models and for-profit schools can’t do this!

Only a skilled and inspired teacher can do this!

Only the “art” of teaching can inspire us by exceeding our imaginations!

 

Half the Teachers

A few days ago, I posted an article explaining “Why You Won’t See Me at ISTE ’14.”  In it I wrote,

I blame and accept the fact that experience that spans from TRS-80 to IOS has become a little less important compared to the creative energy of much younger educators…

This sentiment prompted an email exchange with an old friend, an educator whose years of experience span pretty much the same range of technological advancement as mine, “TRS-80 to iOS.”

Our discussion, however, had almost nothing to do with technology, but concerned the era in which we began teaching.

For me, it was a full 25 years before No Child Left Behind  standards-based teaching and punitive high-stakes tests stained the “art of teaching.”  Things were quite different in terms of the autonomy that teachers exercised in determining what and how their children learned – and some mediocre teachers, admittedly, took advantage of the freedom.  However, most, whom I came in contact with, used their academic freedom as a seedbed to create dynamic and effective learning experiences for their students.

For years I have felt that this-too-will-pass, that the arrogant belief that we can know and teach everything our children will need to know to be prepared for their future simply makes no sense, and that we would come to our senses.

Half of Teachers

But it occurred to me, during that email exchange, that more and more of the teachers in our classrooms today were trained to test-prep and have been indoctrinated to an education system based, more than ever before, on an industrial production model.

So I did some research and tinkering with a spreadsheet, and found that about half of the teachers in U.S. classrooms today have never worked in a school culture free from high-stakes testing.

To illustrate this, I made an infographic  that shows the decline in teachers who have experienced academic freedom and the rise in teachers who have always worked under the constraints of government/corporate standards.

To be sure, this does not mean that there aren’t young educators, today, who are courageously and creatively going beyond the regimentation that is the character of test-prep classes, nor that there aren’t older teachers who are happy to model their classrooms on mass production.  

But it does suggest a dramatic shift in the culture of our schools,

And perhaps,

An approaching point of no return.

About the Data:
I used a document from the National Center for Education Statistics  a part of the U.S. Department of Education (see below).  It featured demographic data about U.S. teachers, starting in 1987.  The table included gender, ethnicity, age, education, years of experience, and teaching levels and subjects.  I fairly easily imported the table into an OpenOffice spreadsheet and cropped it down to just the data on years of experience, starting with 1999.

To complicate things, the table included only data for every 4th year, 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011, which was not enough to plot the level of accuracy that I wanted.  In addition, the years experience were grouped, i.e. less than 3 years, 3 to 9 years, etc.  I searched further, but could not find any more complete data at the national level.  If you know of such a document, please comment below.

To fill in the blank years, I worked my OO spreadsheet so that it calculated trends from the 4 years and the experience ranges, and filled in the blanks, across and down, based on those trends.  Not a perfect solution, but the point of my infographic was to illustrate a trend, not precisely measure a phenomena.

Having such a seemingly rich data set enticed me to plot for other trends and anomalies, such as specific rises or declines in teacher numbers, indicating times of sudden influx of new teachers, or increased retirements or, and I hate to suggest the possibility, mass resignations.  Alas, it would take more completely accurate information to do such a thing, not just calculated trends.

Number and percentage distribution of teachers in public and private elementary and secondary schools, by selected teacher characteristics: Selected years, 1987-88 through 2011-12. (n.d.). Digest of Education Statistics. Retrieved April 19, 2014, from http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_209.10.asp 

 

 

 

Public Education in North Carolina Deteriorates Further

My daughter just alerted me to a 10:42 AM article appearing on the WRAL.com web site, Lawmakers Propose Dumping Common Core Standards in NC.  

Not surprising.  

Sen. Jerry Tillman, c/o WRAL.com

The puppet-masters of the Tea party have effectively used the Common Core standards to create a flashpoint for generating emotional energy against government regulation.  North Carolina is not alone in struggling with the politics of CCSS, as several states have abandoned the Common Core – as a title.

But the arrogance of NC’s General Assembly demands that we go further.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, said that other states, such as Florida and Indiana, had merely renamed Common Core in their repeal bills. Indiana, he said, “didn’t totally devolve itself from Common Core. This bill does that.”*

The clincher, and what provoked me to write this article, was that the proposed bill assigns the writing of a new, North Carolina curriculum to an “Academic Standards Review Commission,” which would be part of the state’s Department of Administration  not the Department of Public Instruction.

In an effort to find any logic in this, I found, not without difficulty, an organizational chart for the N.C. Department of Administration. Its offices include:

Motor Fleet Management Purchase & Contract State Construction
State Property Office Historically Underutilized Businesses Mail Service Center
Surplus Property Facility Management State Parking
Council for Women Human Relations Commission Commission of Indian Affairs
Youth Advocacy & Involvement Office Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation  

And, here it is…

-> Non-Public Education <-

 

Binker, M. (2014, April 24). Lawmakers propose dumping common core standards in nc. WRAL.

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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
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Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
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Raw Materials for the Mind
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