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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!

Creativity: The Lego Way

Two 2×4 Lego bricks, of the same color, can be put together in 24 different ways.  Three can be connected 1,060 different ways.  Six can be combined in 915,103,765 different ways.  ..and, of course, children (and adults) have enthusiastically assembled them in nearly as many.  It’s when useful and reliable resources can be used in so many ways that creativity is invited.1

The best use of Legos, in my humble opinion, never involved lessons or even instructions.  You do not sit down and teach children how to creatively make stuff by clicking Lego bricks together.  You simply given them the bricks and let them play.

Might we achieve more inventive-minded students, if we could redesign curriculum to simply give our children the prescribed resources of mind, and then encourage and free them to play, construct and learn.  One example occurs to me, something that I witnessed in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada many years ago.

In early 2007, I participated in a provincial conference there and in addition had an opportunity to visit some of the area schools with my friend and NB educator, Jeff Whipple. At the time, the entire province was engaged in some pretty innovative initiatives.  I wrote about that visit here and here.

I was overwhelmingly impressed with everything that I saw in the schools around Fredericton, but the visit that came to mind as I started thinking about Legos was Chad Ball’s civics class.  He had decided to approach it in an entirely different way that year, based on a summer morning brainstorm.  Rather than present the content to his students in teacher mode, he simply made it available to them, the vocabulary and concepts of Canadian government, mostly through a wiki.

Students were then assigned to work in groups, to create a new political party.  They were to develop a platform, write speeches and even establish a mascot and logo – and required to appropriately and effectively utilize every vocabulary word and every concept of Canadian government in the process.  Chad taught in consultant mode, though he reported that he api;d often refer students to classmates who seemed to have a handle on the concept or practice. 

On the day of our visit, Mr. Ball had asked, on the class wiki, if there might be ways to extend the project.  Even though the posting initially evoked complaints from some of the students, within a half hour there were 102 comments on his posting, mostly suggesting ways that they might take their political parties to the next level.2

This style of teaching and learning is about empowerment, not compliance,

because learners are given access to building blocks,

..and invited to build something.

 

1 (2014). Brick by Brick: Inside Lego [Television series episode]. In Inside.Bloomberg TV.

2 Warlick, D. (2007, March 23). A Day of being Overwhelmed. . Retrieved July 21, 2014, from http://2cents.onlearning.us/?p=946

I Learn to Play & Play with What I Learn

I’ve been worrying over what’s to become of my 2¢ worth as I come to pay less attention to the education debate and less effort on promoting my own value to that conversation, which is at least a small part of what my pennies’ worth has been. Do I continue to have my children publish their video and infographic contributions, or drop the blog all together.

What continues to play at the edges of this conundrum is what was perhaps the most resounding nail I’ve hammered on during the final years and months of my professional career – that there is a distinct and crucial difference between learning and being taught. I suspect that there has been no time in human history where the ability to skillfully, resourcefully and continuously learn has been such an essential life long working (and playing) skill — lifestyle.

It’s a profound notion that begs the question, do we need an education system to teaches children how to be taught, or that helps them to learn to teach themselves? And if this is a question worth asking, then what does its answer mean to the pedagogies of our classrooms, libraries, school schedules…

As I have turned my attention away from writing about education and preparing for three keynote addresses a week (mostly not an exaggeration), I will must insist to you that I have not stopped learning. To treat my wife, I’ve taken on more of the cooking — applicable learning. I've started practicing the martial art of Aikido — reflective learning. Digital photography and the art and technique of post-production — information-rich learning.

I wonder if it might be useful to write about these learning experiences, removed from formal education. Though I've done a lot of thinking about my martial arts learning, the injured my coccyx (tail bone) from a bicycle accident, has prevented me from visiting the Raleigh Aikikai Dojo lately. I’m not yet mended enough to go and repeatedly fall down again. So let's look think about my photography learning.

Before
After

I bought a descent DSLR camera several years ago, as an incentive strategy for getting me out of the hotel rooms of the interesting and sometimes exotic places my work was taking me. The scheme worked, and I now have a wealth of snapshots going back close to twenty years. It’s afforded me a richer memory of my global wanderings, but also given me a virtual warehouse of digital images with which to learn and play.

I am mostly using three software tools: Photomatix Pro, to enrich photos by blending different exposures together; Photoshop, to shove pixels around with; and Lightroom for the finishing touches. They are all three, rich and powerful tools for working in a field about which I have no formal training. I simply look at the work of better photographers, watch videos and read blog articles about how they accomplished their masterpieces, pick out a particular technique of interest or need, and teach myself to do it.

And I play.

To the right are before and after images from the train station in Basel, Switzerland, where my wife and I changed trains travel from Frankfort to Milan. The before image is a fine snapshot. It’s clear and crisp. However, there is little sense of the station itself. So a produced a copy of the photo with the exposure cranked up, revealing the high rounded roof and ribbed structure. Blending these two files, with a third lower exposure copy, not only revealed the vast size of the station, but with some play, gave the photo an antique and artistically rendered effect. Near the far end of the building, there was a hint of some open windows with morning sunlight shining through. To excentuate this, I used some techniques that I'd learned the day before to enhance the beams of light add added some extra open windows, giving the photo not only a sense of place, but also of moment.

My point is that

I learn by playing and working and then play and work with what a learn —

..and there is no clear point where one ends and the other begins.

Might classrooms be a little more like this, where students learn by playing and working (accomplishing something of value) and then play and work with what they've learned?

Might these sorts of writings be useful to you, practicing educators?

 

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!

World’s Worst Session Title

It is with enormous pleasure that I will be part of the American School of Bombay’s 2014 Un-Plugged event in Mumbai, India.  It is also an even bigger privilege to be working with International educators again.  I’ve said many times that if I was in the beginning of my career, this is where I would be, expat’ing in some exotic land, making great friends, teaching great students and growing in educational institutions where innovation is part of the currency of success.

Even though my workshop, on Friday and Saturday, will be about visual literacy, and contemporary literacy will be part of the underlying theme of the day, this workshop will primarily and overwhelmingly be about something that I believe is the

Coolest thing on the Net,

Infographics and Data Visualization

Of course this, and most all of what we do in our classrooms concerns basic literacy, “The skills involved in using one’s information environment to learn what you need to know to do what you need to do.” (my definition)

As a teaser, here are two word clouds.  The first is taken from the descriptions of ASB Un-Plugged pre conference and hands-on workshops from 2012.  The second comes from the same category of sessions to be held next week in Mumbai.

2012 Preconference & Hands-On Workshop

2014 Preconference & Hands-On Workshop

Of course, this is a small sampling of the themes that are part of the conversations hosted by the American School of Bombay.  However I found a couple of things interesting.  First of all, might it be that we are finally getting over this whole 21st Century craze.  After all, we’re good and there.  Also, design seems a little more prominent and create and maker/making have emerged.

I’m so looking forward to next week and counting on the journey being less challenging than last week.

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 10

Here is the 10th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004.  The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

“Alf, how are you?” The teacher asks with genuine interest.

“I’m fine, I guess” the moody boy replies. Then he adds, “Ms. Crabtree, about the violence in my video…”

The teacher knew that this was coming. There is a hard rule in all presentations, especially images and video, that there be no violence demonstrated.

“You could have stopped the presentation right then, but didn’t,” Alf continued.

“The reason for the policy is to avoid the glorification of violence. You weren’t glorifying violence. You were using it to very effectively make a point. Your examples were not that different from the examples of the lions and the cheetah, which were also violent.”

Alf nodded his understanding and then looked directly at Ms. Crabtree and said, “Thanks!” It was sincere!

Meanwhile, Isaac Johnson’s workday had entered its more intense period as the large media center filled up with students and student teams working on their projects. All of the knowledge gardens were occupied by groups consulting with each other or working individually on specific components of their presentations. Many wore headphones as they consulted with other team members or collaborators via teleconferencing or worked with musical keyboards composing and editing background music or sound effects.

Mr. Johnson noticed Desmone standing by the bookshelf, apparently waiting to talk with him. He commended the students he was sitting with on their work and excused himself, walking over to the waiting teenager.

“I was just curious, Mr. Johnson,” she began as he approached. “How did you know that Alf would be here today?”

The young educator smiled at Desmone. “Do you remember when I checked Alf’s work files?” She nodded. “His last work was done on a computer whose owner was labeled as Sgt. Jonathan Frick. I know Sergeant Frick. He works the night shift for the police department. Evidently, Alf finished up his part of your project from the police station.”

Desmone cocked her head, not understanding.

Mr. Johnson continued, “Do you think Alf would have been working on his project at the police station if he had not fully intended to be in class for the presentation today?”

Desmone smiled. “Oh!” She immediately locked eyes with a friend across the media center, and looked back to the media coordinator. “Thanks, Mr. Johnson!”

“You’re quite welcome!” Mr. Johnson bowed slightly.

  

The End!

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 9

Here is the 9th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004. The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

Then he stops, and walks back to his seat. The room is silent, even Desmone remains motionless, until she smiles to herself and then turns and smiles at Alf. It was a powerful presentation, and there was also the provocation of Alf’s video clips. There would be much discussion of this presentation from the community, and many opportunities for the team to defend their work.

Later, after lunch, Sally sits in her classroom office reviewing the Reptiles’ presentation. Her classes are over and she has the afternoon to engage in planning and other professional activities including: review of student work, research for her own presentations, meetings with students and teams on their progress, and online meetings with other professionals and collaborators. All class performances are recorded and available through the school’s video archives. She has isolated the Reptiles’ morning presentation into a separate file, which she is now annotating with comments.

Beneath the video is another document displaying the rubric that had been agreed upon by the team. In most objectives, each member of the team received excellent marks. For Alf, the objective that called for compelling communication was an “A” easily. She checked him at “Exceeded Expectations”. It was a striking presentation and the quality of the video editing was exquisite. He had never demonstrated such skill before, and if she did not know that scores meant little to Alf, she might have suspected unethical use of copyrighted information. The presentation would provoke reactions from the community. Sally noticed that the outside comments bin was already filling up. She would spend a sizable part of the afternoon screening them for the students.

After reviewing the evaluations of the rest of the class and assessing the additional materials including student reflections on their project, Ms Crabtree wrote her initial comments for the team’s review and then set to writing her customary letters of thanks to the members. As she finishes her letters, Alf Greeley walks into the room.

“Alf, how are you?” The teacher asks with genuine interest.

Read the final installment here.

 

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 8

Here is the 8th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004. The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

Ms. Crabtree is drawn back to the presentation as Alf rises and walks to the front of the room. As he turns to face the audience, he nods to Desmone, who begins the multimedia presentation. Sally could tell from the expression on her face that Desmone is nervous about controlling the presentation since she had not yet seen it.

The large screen goes black again, but in rising volume, music begins to play, a very slow and eerie piece with cellos, wooden blocks, and low flutes. A citation surfaces into view at the bottom of the screen in white, crediting the music to Alf Greeley. Ms. Crabtree’s eyebrow rises as she acknowledges a new talent for this young man.

As the citation fades away again, a map of the world returns with a timeline to the right that covers a three thousand year range. The timeline pointer moves up the centuries and more splotches of red began to expand out becoming opaque, and then receding back into transparency. As the visuals proceed and the music fades back, Alf begins to speak, casually walking across the front of the room, identifying various periods of social turmoil and listing the number of people killed in violence as the labels and numbers impose themselves over the splotches.

As the timeline marker enters the later part of the second millennium, Alf describes the Protestant Reformation, The Inquisition, the Fall of Imperialism, American Civil Rights Movement, American War on Drugs. Alf finally says, “And the war on…” He stops abruptly.

Surfacing on top of the world map, a video clip materializes and shows the beating of Rodney King in 1992. Other videoed examples of violence by the police or military surface, play, and fade out of view, and as this occurs, Alf finishes his sentence, “…daring! Daring to be different, daring to resist, daring to celebrate or to mourn. Daring to be yourself in a world where fitting makes things run smoother, but makes people run cold.”

Then he stops, and walks back to his seat. The room is silent, even Desmone remains motionless, until she smiles to herself and then turns and smiles at Alf. It was a powerful presentation, and there was also the provocation of Alf’s video clips. There would be much discussion of this presentation from the community, and many opportunities for the team to defend their work.

The story continues here.

 

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 7

Here is the 4th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004.  The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

Several Days Earlier: 

They sat down at an unoccupied table and she laid her tablet down, saying, “I wanted to talk for just a minute about your report.”

“I’m not finished with it yet, Ms. Crabtree,” Samuel immediately replied, somewhat defensively.

The defensive plea was ignored by the veteran middle school teacher. She expected the reaction from the young man who was more comfortable writing computer code than prose. “I wanted to discuss something anyway. It is a good time in your process.”

The youngster resigned himself as Sally reached over and touched her index finger to the print login on the table’s 19” display. Immediately her tablet display was mirrored to the larger device. She pulled up a comments file that had been sent regarding a project from the previous year by another team. Sally continued by complimenting the boy on his thoroughness and the overall organization of the document, specifically pointing out the logical flow. Then she said, “I want you to read these comments from an architect, concerning the introduction of a project last year to design a school campus of the future.”

As Samuel read, Sally followed, reading it again. The architect had first applauded the students on their insights and technical abilities, but then criticized them brutally on the quality of their writing. She (the architect) explained, “Poor written communication conveys a lack of respect for an audience, the product being described, and a lack of respect for the writer himself. Poor communication puts a blemish on the entire message or product that is difficult or impossible to remove again.”

Isaac had walked up and was reading over their shoulders, having planned this meeting with Ms. Crabtree. Isaac said, “Writing text for people to read is a lot like writing computer code. Computer code is text that is written for a computer. You write it to convince the machine to do what you want it to do. If the syntax of the code is wrong, then the computer does not perform as you intended.”

He continued, “You write for people in order to affect them in some way, to inform them about a topic or event, or to cause them to behave in some way. If your syntax is wrong, then you can fail in what you want to accomplish.”

Samuel cocked his head slightly, a personal gesture indicating he was considering what the adults had said. Then he reminded Ms. Crabtree that he had not cleaned up the text, but admitted that he had never thought about grammar in that way. He said that he might get Mr. Johnson or Ms. Shuni to recommend some instructional software to improve his intuitive grammar skills.

Ms. Crabtree is drawn back to the presentation as Alf rises and walks to the front of the room. As he turns to face the audience, he nods to Desmone, who begins the multimedia presentation. Sally could tell from the expression on her face that Desmone is nervous about controlling the presentation since she had not yet seen it.

The story continues here.

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 6

Here is the 6th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004.  The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

Finally the images fade to a map of the world done in negative relief, appearing as it did millions of years ago. A timeline appears to the right of the map beginning at about 200 million years ago. A citation also appears in off-white indicating a Web site that was the source of their data. Immediately, a pointer, starting at the bottom of the timeline, starts to move up slowly. Simultaneously, landmasses begin to move in a motion with which the students are already familiar. Many of them have also used this animation from the Smithsonian Institute’s Web site.

The team is not downgraded for using the familiar animation. However, the class becomes noticeably more interested as splotches begin to fade in and out in specific locations on the map. Numbers are imposed over the splotches as they gradually expand and become more opaque and then shrink to transparency. Soft but intense music plays in the background, credited to a talented student who had attended Bacon school two years earlier, a short citation appearing in the lower corner of the display. Samuel speaks over the animation and music, describing periods in the planet’s relatively recent history of mass extinctions and seemingly spontaneous raises in species diversity.

“Each rise and fall has corresponded with some dramatic change in global conditions: ice ages, planetary collisions, volcanic or seismic calamities…” Samuel speaks on eloquently.

As he continues, Ms. Crabtree is taken back to a conversation she had with the boy during their work on the ecology project. Samuel is thought by many to be a technical genius. He has a genuine gift for understanding and using technology. He also has a flair for using these tools to communicate persuasively. She had convinced Samuel, however, not to handle the programming and data manipulation for this project, that he leave that up to Johann – that Samuel only be allowed to give Johann verbal directions. She had also asked Samuel to do more of the copy and script writing on this project, an activity that she knew would be a challenge for him.

Several Days Earlier: 

Sally entered the school media center, a faint electronic click registering her entrance from the chip in her nametag. She stepped aside, so as not to block the doorway, and surveyed the room. The media center has far fewer books than it did when she went to middle school in the middle 1980s. There is a section in one corner that consists of shelves with books of various sizes and colors. They are almost exclusively fiction books that students check out for pleasure and for assignments in their humanities classes. These books remain because it is a deeply held belief that students appreciate the experience of reading a story without the benefit of electronic appliances. Regardless, most reading is done with tablet computers and smaller pocket text and audio readers.

The biggest portion of the room is devoted to work areas that Isaac calls “Knowledge Gardens.” Most of these workspaces consist of a table, with a 19-inch display, attached to a folding cradle that can swivel 360o. The display can be assigned to any tablet in its vicinity when the owner touches the print login pad. Scattered around the table are small, but efficient, keyboards, each of which can also be assigned to any tablet with the touch of its print login pad.

There are also two small stages with 4×8-foot display boards where teams can practice their presentations. She also sees a number of work areas that are much more casual, with homey lamps, bean bag chairs, low sofas, and assorted pillows. The media center is set up for knowledge construction, not just information accessing. Students come here to work, and mostly to work in small groups. It is rarely a quiet place.

Sally found the Reptiles and walked over. All four were together discussing their defense of one of the information resources they are using. She caught Samuel’s eye and asked if he would join her for a minute. She had read through the talented young man’s text document for the project, which was comprehensive and well organized. It appeared, though, that he had paid very little attention to grammar and sentence structure.

They sat down at an unoccupied table and she laid her tablet down, saying, “I wanted to talk for just a minute about your report.”

The story continues here.

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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Books Written

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind
(2005)

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