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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

You Wouldn’t Believe!

I was just scanning through a Facebook feed I have for folks I went to high school with, and an old friend posted a YouTube video of the Temptations singing, I Wish it Would Rain.  Maybe you have to be close to my age to be able to appreciate the marvel of spanning the decades with a mouse click, or a tablet touch.  What if it had been suggested to us, in 1969, that this sort of thing would be possible.

These thoughts reminded me of a day in 1967, when Mrs. Cole, our 9th grade civics teacher, suggested to us that by the year 2000 we would each own our own computer, and it would be small enough to carry in our shirt pockets,

..and it would be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide!

The thing is, that in 1967, we didn’t believe her.  The very idea of having such a device, so soon, was beyond our imaginations.

It’s an important story to me, because we cannot begin to imagine the astounding possibilities of our children’s future, the tools and opportunities that they and their children will take for granted.

As an educator, it begs the question, “What do our children need to be learning today, and how do they need to be learning it, to be ready for an un-imaginable future,”

“..to be able to create a future • • • that’s better!”

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!

Welcome to 2024

in a sense, this presentation was a follow-up of a short story I wrote as a first chapter of a book I wrote in 2004, describing a middle school in 2014.

I’ve never had so much fun doing a presentation — that I had never done before. The fact that the 2024 version of myself had traveled more than 87,000 timezones to get to the NCTIES conference, and the jet lag that implied, took a lot of the pressure off.

The scenario went like this. My wife, children and granddaughter chipped in to buy my a trip back to 2014, to visit an old education technology conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. I walked into the session dressed as the eccentrically old geezer I am certain to become, limping with a cane, because of a self-defense class injury. I am toting my granddaughter’s book bag, which we will excavate to reveal clues as to what education becomes ten years from now.

I did a Q&A, fielding a number of quite interesting questions, for which the trickier ones, I was able to hide behind the FCC Commission on Cross-Temporal Communications Act of 2022, paragraph 14.

I was also honored to find Adam Bellow in the Audience and convinced him to take a selfie of us together, which I could pick up later from the Twitter archive, housed at archive.org.

 

My only regret was having left my notes back in 2024, so there was much that I forgot to include, such as, “If you want to party like it 2024, then you’ve gotta wear argyle socks.” You can write that down.

At first I was a little relieved that ISTE turned that presentation proposal down. Now I wish they’d accepted it. :-/

 

But…

Wires
Will these wires be used to impose teaching or empower learning?

I’m happy about Obama’s ConnectED plan and the Broadband initiative, doubling e-rate funding.  Working in other countries, I know how uniquely special E-Rate is.  

However, I remain skeptical as to whether this program and its associated teacher-training will result in transforming education into the learning that’s relevant to preparing a new generation of learners, within a new information environment for a future we can not clearly describe.

If it happens, it will be because of what determined, creative and compliance-free classroom teachers do, not because of an emerging education industry.

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.

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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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