“Currently…”

Ancient Library
An Ancient Repository of Knowledge

What was at the core of much of my advocacy for retooling education came from a condition that can best be illustrated by the Knowledge Doubling Curve. Recently adjusted by Faras Batarseh of the London School of Economics, it states that Until 1900, knowledge was doubling roughly ever century. However, by 1950, it was doubling every 25 years. 2000 saw it doubling every 12 months. Today, says Batarseh, “knowledge is doubling every day.”1

There are a number of logical reasons, but it leads to a society that is plagued by VUCA.

  • Volatility is about the nature and dynamics of change, and the nature and speed of change forces and change catalysts.
  • Uncertainty, describes the lack of predictability and a loss of the sense of awareness and understanding of issues and events.
  • Complexity, considers the multiplex of forces leading to and confusion.
  • Ambiguity, represents the haziness of reality and the potential to misread information.

Change is the new normal and there is not a single area of study or interest that is not in affected..

and..

Change has embowed a new significance to the word, current.

Public school instruction can no long afford to lag decades behind what is known today about science, health, mathematics, philosophy, and even history. It’s the reason I use to say (back when people were paying attention to what I had to say.)

We need to stop teaching students how to be taught, and start teaching them how to learn for themselves.

We will have achieved real education reform, when no teacher believes that they can teach the same things, the same ways, year after year; and when we are providing them with the resources and the time to retool their classrooms every day.

For this technology-rich and information-driven world, the best thing we can be teaching our children is literacy – learning-literacy.

1Batarseh, F. A. (2017, September 21). Thoughts on the future of human knowledge and machine intelligence [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/businessreview/2017/09/20/thoughts-on-the-future-of-human-knowledge-and-machine-intelligence/

How Much Information?

Here is something from my seemingly endless preparation of The Quiet Revolution.  It’s a story that I often related to audiences to illustrate the changing nature of the information that we are using today and our need to redefine literacy.

VEB Carl Zeiss Jena, 1-Megabit-ChipThere was a study conducted by the University of California at Berkley called “How Much Information.” They discovered that the world generated five exabytes of information in 2002.

You are probably thinking,

If I knew what an exabyte was, I’m supposed I would be impressed.”

To clarify, if we added five exabytes of information to the Library of Congress, the largest library in the world, it would require the building of 37,000 more Libraries of Congress to hold that year’s additional information. The kicker, however, is that only one one-hundredths of one percent (00.01%) of that information ever got printed. All the rest of the new information was digital, existing as 1s and 0s and residing on the memory cells of magnetic tape, disks, optical discs and integrated circuits; and requiring digital technology and technology skills to access and use that information. If more and more of our information is digital and networked, then we can take the paper out of our future workplace.

This also begs the question, “Why are we continuing to spend so much time continuing to teach our children how to use paper when we need to be teaching them how to use light – to use digital information?

Were We Ready?

A few days ago my son posted this short statement on Facebook:

We weren’t ready for the Internet

He got some affirming comments and I just added,

Because of the Internet and other advances in telecommunications and broadcasting, we have become a world of nations divided by ideology instead of nations divided by borders. You can’t “storm the beaches” of the ideas that are contrary to yours.

Being a Digital Detective

Being Literate Means being a Digital Detective

This is actually something that I’ve thought about for quite a few years and the reason I spent the last 15 years trying to convince teachers to redefine literacy.

The fact is that we believe what we read on the Internet, because we were taught to believe what we read.  Our schooling was purposely limited to textbooks, compelling (and not so compelling) lectures and library resources selected by librarians with advanced education.  We try to limit our students’ learning to what is reliably accurate.  As a result, our notion of what it is to be literate is limited.  Can you “read and understand what someone, who you trust, has handed you to read.” ..and can you answer questions about it on a test?

In my efforts, I respelled the 3 Rs with 3 Es.  Instead of teaching children to read, we should be helping them learn to Expose what is true.  To expose what is true, you must learn to read it.  But being able to search for, find and synthesize the information, and select that which is most appropriate to your situation, has become just as critical as being able to read it.

I use to suggest to teachers that they should, at every occasion, ask their students, “How do you know that’s true?”  I added that students should be free to ask their teachers, “How do you know that’s true?”  I suspect that if political candidates were regularly asked, “How do you know that?” and we demanded answers, our leadership might be quite different.

The other Es were:

  1. Learning to Employ information, instead just teaching students to calculate numbers
  2. Learning to Express Ideas Compelling, instead of just teaching students to write a coherent paragraph
  3. There was a 4th E – exposing, employing and expressing information with respect for and devotion to what is true, Ethically using information to answer question, solve problems and accomplish goals.

Extraordinary Learning

A 15 year old Canadian schoolboy, with a fascination for the ancient Mayan Civilization, recently theorized a correlation between the star positions in major constellations and the geographic locations of known Mayan cities. Based on this theory, he used Google Maps to suggest the location of an unknown ancient city. The Canadian Space Agency was so impressed that they used a satellite-based space telescope to study the spot and confirm the existence of the hitherto, unknown city. 

In my work I ran across many ordinary youngsters who — with access to technology, supportive teachers and unconstrained curiosity — did extraordinary things. It all begs for a more empowering and imaginative way of educating our children. 

Why We Need to Rethink Literacy

C02 TCP social media image 97

From the Consensus Project

97% of scientific papers written by climate scientists state the position that global warming is caused by human activity.  This is not a secret.1 Yet, according to a 2008 Gallup Poll,2 questioning people in 128 countries, only 49% of U.S. citizens believe what these scientists are telling us.  That’s a smaller portion of the population than 86 other countries.3

My point is this.  What we typically think of as literacy and what’s taught in schools, needs to expand.  In the age of Internet, social media and 24 hour news, literacy is no long just the ability to read and comprehend.  It is equally critical that the literate be skilled and inclination to detect if what they are reading is intended to inform their behavior, or manipulate it.

1 Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S. A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., … Way, R. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature (doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024). Retrieved from Environmental Research Letters website: http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/8/2/024024/pdf

2 Pugliese, Anita; Ray, Julie (11 Dec 2009). “Awareness of Climate Change and Threat Vary by Region”. Gallup. Retrieved 22 Dec 2009.

3 Climate change opinion by country. (2016, March 26). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 22:38, May 9, 2016, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Climate_change_opinion_by_country&oldid=711997815

The Next Disruptive Wave in Education

Many would disagree, but I believe that the introduction of new information and communication technologies into our classrooms has had a productively disruptive effect on education. We have certainly not seen its full potential, and reaching it may well be impossible for a human society.  But I’ve recently wondered about a new disruptive influencer on the horizon, one that has the potential to further progress formal education – or destroying it – in my humble opinion.

Consider that even though some presidential candidates have promised to bring back the manufacturing jobs that America has lost to China, the jobs that actually left our shores are a mere ripple, as Matthew Yglesias put it in a recent MoneyBox article,1 compared to the manufacturing jobs we lost to robots during the same years – and those jobs will not return.

And now we have driverless cars, just around the corner?  Sam Tracy, in a 2015 Huffington Post article itemized the numbers of Americans who make their living by driving: taxi drivers, chauffeurs, bus drivers, driver-sales workers, school bus drivers, postal service carriers, light truck deliveries and heavy truck transport.  It totaled almost four million jobs, with wages of almost $150 billion a year.

Will there really be new jobs for them to train for?

Then entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Sam Altman, says this in a recent Freakonomics podcast, that, “..90% of (the) people (may) go smoke pot and play video games, but if (only) 10% of the people go create incredible new products and services and new wealth, that’s still a huge net-win.”2  In other words, is there a national economic need for 100% employment in the near future, or even 15% employment – besides what Altman refers to as a “..puritanical ideal that hard work for its own sake is valuable.”

All this is to suggest that the job of schools, sooner than later, may be to educate our children to be unemployed.  Consider the recent media interest in the concept of basic income.  Here is a Google Trend graph of the frequency of the term’s searches.

Google Trends  Web Search interest basic income  Worldwide 2004  present

Google Trends - Web Search interest_ basic income - Worldwide, 2004 - present.jpg

In the most general terms, basic income would have the federal government handing out to all citizens enough money to live on.  Those who want more would work for a wage. Those who do not, would find some other way of spending their time.  Experiments are already underway in Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland & the UK.

Even though I suggest an open mind, I do not want to spend this blog post arguing the merits or dangers of such an arrangement.   What I do want to ask is, “What would you say to a student who says, ‘I don’t need to know this because I don’t need a job?'”  What if he is absolutely right?  The next question is “What would he or she need to know for a future that does not require employment?” and “How might preparing our children for productive leisure change the WHY, WHAT and HOW of formal education?”

What do you think?

Coincidentally, this article, Machines Won’t Replace Us, They’ll Just Force Us to Evolvepopped up in my Reddit stream just minutes after submitting this blog post.

Yglesias, M. (2012, November 19). Nothing Will Bring Back Manufacturing Employment [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/11/19/global_manufacturing_employment_is_in_decline.html

Weller, C. (2016, April 19). A Silicon Valley entrepreneur says basic income would work even if 90% of people smoked weed instead of working [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://www.techinsider.io/sam-altman-praises-basic-income-on-freakonomics-podcast-2016-4

A New Education Environment

The best of my teaching resources

 When I taught Middle School Social Studies in the 1970s, I used a five-year-old textbook, a few old maps and globe, which predated WWII, a well managed but tiny school library and two stacks of ancient National Geographic Magazines, inherited from my grandparents and cut to pieces for the pictures. The New York Public Library’s upcoming release of 180,000 documents to the digital public domain is a small contribution to the vast infoscape that we learn in today. I taught with information scarcity. Today’s teachers teach in information abundance. This dramatically changes how we teach, what education looks like, and even what it means to be educated. 

If no NCLB, then what?

So What!I have decided to elevate my response to Benjamin Meyers’ recent comment to a blog post.  He mostly agreed with my sentiments over the demise of No Child Left Behind, with his personal experience of test-prepping high school students for the ACT.  It was his first teaching job and it was what he was hired to do.

I certainly found incredible resistance and boredom from the students. It seemed like the harder I tried to teach the test to my students, the more they hated the subject of science. Indeed, high stakes’ testing has a nasty way of creating negative feelings toward school in students.

Indeed, it seems that the more we seem to care about our children knowing the answers, the less they seem to care about the questions.

But then, Meyers put forth a relevant challenge,

NCLB was created for a reason. Our schools seem to be lagging behind in performance compared to the rest of the world. This in spite of the amount of money that we spend on education and the number of hours that our students spend in the school building. If we are not going to improve education through legislation such as NCLB, then what is the best policy adjustment that our country can make that will actually make a difference?

But were our schools lagging behind?  The scientific research that we never saw was the proof that a generation who could pass tests could, as a result, prosper in a world and time of rapid change.

Were the the countries that were out performing us on tests, also out performing us in the real world?

Of the 32 countries who topped us in the Science PISA test, in 2012, only 7 ranked above the U.S. in the “World Happiness Report,” compiled regularly by an international team of economists, neuroscientists and statisticians.  They were Finland, Canada, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland and Denmark.1

I’m not saying that our schools were good enough in 1999.  They weren’t, and they left many, many children behind.  But to improve education in the U.S., we need to rethink what it is to be educated.  Being an educated person is no long based on what you know, as much as it is what you can resourcefully learn and what you can inventively do with what you can learn.  The job of the science teacher is to help students learn to think like scientists and to care about science – and even want to become scientists.  The same for other disciplines.

Once we understand what we need to be doing for our children, as a society, then we need to pay for the very best ways of accomplishing it.  Personally, I don’t think we’re paying enough to our teachers and for the infrastructure required to prepare our children for their future.  I also do not believe that our children need to spend as much time in classrooms as they do.  Learning is not as place-based as it use to be.

Four hours in school a day and redefine homework.

1 Brodwin, E. (2015, April 23). The happiest countries in the world, according to neuroscientists, statisticians and economists. Business Insider. Retrieved December 18, 2015, from http://www.businessinsider.com/new-world-happiness-report-2015-2015-4

“Are teachers going the way of local bookstores?”

In my new situation of retired educator (or semi-retired educator. I can’t really decide), I find myself paying less attention to Twitter and more to friends and relatives on Facebook.  But this morning, when I started my computer and Twitteriffic flashed up, I scanned through the most recent tweets from my long-time and famous educator friends – and my eye landed on one by Doug Peterson  actually a retweet of Miguel Guhlin’s,

The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher is a March 25 article in The Atlantic written by Michael Godsey, a “veteran high-school English educator.”  Asked by a college student about the prospects of becoming a public-school teacher, he writes,

I never think it’s enough to say that the role is shifting from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator.” Instead, I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The “virtual class” will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a “super-teacher”), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.

To that, I say, “poppycock!” How’s that for post-career reflection and rejection of the ideals that I seemingly promoted for the last 20+ years? But the fact is that I never promoted such a future for the classroom and find the arrangement to be personally revolting and counter-productive to what I believe the purpose of education to be.

It’s an interesting question and one that many of us have challenged ourselves and each other with, “What is the purpose of school.” Here’s a good answer, in my opinion – Why School by Will Richardson and what is described in Invent To Learn, by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.  But here is my ready answer that is short and to the point.

The purpose of school is to prepare our children for adult life during the next 70 to 80 years.

Life doesn’t happen on a video screen and it can’t be simulated with a game.  Goddey’s “fantastic computer screen” will help as will the games and video clips from top thinkers on TED.  In fact, they are essential.  But the fallacy is the assumption and fear that technology replaces the teacher.

To be sure, nobody in education, but those in the darkest recesses of denial, believes that the role of the teacher is not changing.  The shift from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator” is certainly happening – and it should.  But NOTHING, my most loyal readers, IS EVER THAT SIMPLE.

A phrase like “sage on the stage to guide on the side” is intended as an idiom to focus the attention of experienced professional educators who already grasp the changing conditions that are reshaping school.  It is not an all-encompassing description of the future of classroom instruction.  Frankly, while reading Godsey’s advice to his student, I saw no need for classrooms at all – and that’s the last thing I’d want to see for my grandchildren and their children.

We have to acknowledge that there is a powerful cabal that desires and promotes just the scenario described by Mr. Godsey.  They fancy an education system that spends its billions on their videos, games, tutorials and assessment products, instead of unionized public school teachers.  Products, whose service can be measured (test scores), can be marketed.

In my mind the most preposterous statement in the whole article is the advice of a superintendent, aired on NPR, “If you can Google it, why teach it?”  ..and this gets back to the question, “What is the purpose of school?”  If education’s objective is to equip our children with facts that they can recall on state test day, then I would agree with the superintendent’s statement.  But if its purpose is to prepare our children for adult life, then the job of the teacher is to help learners to understand what they’ve Googled and develop the essential literacy skills and habits of questioning, analyzing and assigning context to the Googled information.

What we can predict about life in the next 70 to 80 years is almost nothing, beyond the timeless practices of responsibility, compassion and providing value to the community.  It will continue to be a time of rapid change, inventions that redefine how we accomplish our goals and discoveries that challenge our beliefs and philosophies.

The common core subject of every classroom today should be learning to learn.

And this brings us back around to Michael Godsey’s apparent fear that his college earned knowledge of literature has become obsolete.  Our classrooms still require experts.  But experts today are no longer known for knowing all there is to know about a subject.

Today’s experts are known for being highly skilled at learning and relearning the ever growing and often changing knowledge about their subject.

This is the notion of expertise that teachers need to model and that students need to see every day, the essential and constant practice of contextual learning-skills / learning-literacies.

Adult life is about learning.

 

 

I Just Learned a New Word

In my efforts to write this book about the history of educational technology (as I have witnessed it), I’m finding myself doing more reading than writing. I guess that’s normal for book-writing, though it surprises me since I am typing this mostly from my own recollections.

This morning, in my reading, I learned a new word.  It’s mesofacts.  These are facts that, when learned, seem to be dependable, longterm and applicable truths – when in fact, they are likely to change within a lifetime, and often within a few years.

In his Harvard Business Review article, Be Forwarned: Your Knowledge is Decaying  Samuel Arbesman relates an example, a hedge fund manager saying in a conversation, “Since we all know that there are 4 billion people on the planet…”  4 billion people is what I learned when I was in school, and it still surprises me when I heard that it was up to 6 billion and now 7 billion.

Arbesman says that these mesofacts are far more common than we realize.  It makes me wonder about how much of what we are expecting our students to memorize, will simply not be true in their adulthood, and may even be problematic.

This all supports something that I heard someone say a few years ago.

Any question, whose answer can be googled,
should not be on any test.  

Another epiphanic statement, which may or may not be attributable to John Dewey is,

If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s,
we rob them of their tomorrow.

 

Another word I learned is scientometrics.  Its the study of the shape of how knowledge grows and spreads through a population.

 

Arbesman, S. (2012). Be forewarned: Your knowledge is decaying. Harvard Business Review, Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2012/11/be-forewarned-your-knowledge-i