Games and Rules

When I was young I played baseball and football (wasn’t fast enough for basketball and couldn’t jump with a flip). Soccer hadn’t arrived in small town America yet, and rugby was just another word for football, we thought — and we didn’t even know that football was just another word for soccer. But I digress.

I played these two sports. I knew their rules and developed skills based on those rules — and played them for years. We also played Checkers, Go Fish, and hours and hours of Monopoly. We learned the rules and played the same rules for the duration of our childhoods. The rules didn’t change.

Fast forward to my children, the millennials. My son was telling me about a brand new video game he’s purchased. It is another immersive world game with its own set of rules, goals and game dynamics. This particular game is a sequel to another game whose rules he can only deduce since he’s never played it.

My point is this. I and my generation grew up playing a highly defined and culture-defining set of games, whose rules stayed constant and stayed with us. My children’s generation is growing up constantly learning new games, learning new rules, and achieving new goals. If this observation is correct, what are the implications. Does this contribute to some of the uniquenesses of this generation, both good and bad.

And I wonder if having to constantly cultivate new leaning schemes and communities to adjust to new information environments is exactly the kind of childhood necessary for inheriting a rapidly changing world.

Where in the World is the United States


This is from an infographic that will appear next week in Infographic-A-Day (IGaD). I found it from TICs y Formación, one of the infographics blogs that I monitor through my iPad.  It’s a Periodic Table of World Internet Facts.  It’s a frequently used theme, a periodic table, for expressing information.  I like to use the Period Table of Elements as an example of how “There’s nothing new about infographics!”

To the far right of the table are a set of lists, the top ten of countries around the world concerning their use of the Internet.  Here are four of the lists:

Top 10 (Number of Users)

  1. China
  2. United States
  3. Japan
  4. India
  5. Brazil
  6. Germany
  7. United Kingdom
  8. Russia
  9. France
  10. South Korea
Top 10 (% of Population)

  1. Iceland
  2. Norway
  3. Sweden
  4. Netherlands
  5. Denmark
  6. Finland
  7. Australia
  8. New Zealand
  9. Luxemborg
  10. South Korea
Top 10 (Bandwidth Speed)

  1. Japan
  2. (South) Korea
  3. France
  4. Finland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Germany
  7. Australia
  8. Denmark
  9. Portugal
  10. Iceland
Top 10 (Fastest Growing)

  1. China
  2. Japan
  3. India
  4. South Korea
  5. Australia
  6. Taiwan
  7. Malaysia
  8. Hong Kong
  9. Singapore
  10. New Zealand

As an educator, I believe that there is much to be excited about in the world of teaching and learning. At the same time — and in the autumn of my career — I am haunted by a nation (my nation) that seems less than inclined to invest in itself — except for an elite part of itself.


What I Hope for My Children

About ten stitched photos from the Prairie in Utah

I’ve had one of those weeks that I try not to put myself through anymore. It was six audiences, seven airports, two airlines, two hotel chains and way too much fast food. My entire August use to be like that, but I’m through. These were invitations I simply couldn’t say no to.

Doing fewer gigs, I’m personalizing my presentations a little more, but all three of these centered around student engagement and digital natives. Of course, typing these two terms makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, because they are overused catch phrases that have become so much a part of edu-speak that I simply can’t be confident that you take the same meaning in the reading, that I intend in the typing. So, as a personal exercise, I want to write my definitions, for each, right here.

Student Engagement: Learning that results from mental muscle, where the learner solves a problem or accomplishes a goal by planning and applying self-inventory, inquiry, exploration, experimentation, discovery, intellectual alchemy and inventiveness; gaining knowledge and skills that are personally and immediately valuable to the learner (increasing self-value); and in some elemental way surprises the teacher.

Digital Natives: The generations who have always known and have included as an element of their culture digital information and communication technologies, resulting in a uniquely intuitive but historically limiting perspective on literacy (using information to accomplish goals).

There! That was fun.

But the main thing that got me writing this morning was a comment from one of the Texas teachers I presented to earlier in the week. She said that the challenges of becoming the kind of teacher who engages today’s children in the learning they need to accomplish today seem overwhelming. But, she continued,

“As a parent, it is exactly the kind of teacher that my teenage children need right now.”

Right Now!


Transformative Questions

Theme photo from the presentation…

I’m in Eden Prairie Minnesota today opening up a conference whose principal question is, “How do we create a culture of learners that thrive in the 21st century?” I will be doing an adapted version of a presentation that is most often called, “Cracking the ‘Native’ Information Experience,” where I identify and illustrate a number of qualities of our children’s outside-the-classroom information experiences. Those qualities are,

  • That the experience is responsive,
  • It provokes conversation,
  • It inspires personal investment, and
  • It’s guided by safely-made mistakes.

This presentation culminates with a set of transformative questions that might guide teachers (librarians and administrators) in creating learning experiences and environments that are more relevant to our learners ‘native’ information experiences and skills.

I may have posted these before, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it is perfectly ok to repeat yourself in your own blog.

Classroom Teachers:

  1. How might I alter this assignment or project so that it “Responds” to the learner? How can the experience “Talk Back?”
  2. How might I plant barriers within the assignment that force learners to “Question” their way through — to value the “questions” not just for “answers?”
  3. How can I ban silence in my classroom, provoking “Conversation” with my assignments and projects, expecting learners to exchange ideas and knowledge?
  4. How can I make their learning worth “Investing” in? How might the outcomes of their learning be of value to themselves and to others?
  5. How am I daring my students to make the “Mistakes” that feed the learning dialog?

Teacher Librarians:

  1. How can I make my library “Respond?” How can I make it “Talk Back?”
  2. How might it become a place that evokes “Questions” — not just answers?
  3. How can I ban silence, provoke “Conversation,” and expect patrons to explicitly exchange knowledge?
  4. How can I make this library a place that inspires “personal Invest”?
  5. How am I daring my students to make the “Mistakes” that feed the learning dialog — expanding and enriching the information experience?


  1. How does the learning here “Respond” to the learner? How does the learning “Talk Back” to the learner and to the community?
  2. Have my classrooms banned silence? Do the learning experiences “Provoke Conversation” by expecting learners to exchange knowledge?
  3. Are my classrooms places that student “Questions” as much as their answers?
  4. How do the learning environments in my school inspire learners to invest their time and skills for something larger?
  5. How are learners being dared to make the “Mistakes” that feed the learning dialog and how am I a part of that dialog?

Are they addicted to their technology?

This from a recent Mashable post,

It’s clear that today’s students rely heavily on electronic devices even when they’re not incorporated in the class room. In one survey of college students, 38% said they couldn’t even go 10 minutes without switching on some sort of electronic device. ((Kessler, Sarah. “How Students Use Technology.”Mashable. Mashable, Inc., 10 Aug 2011. Web. 11 Aug. 2011. <>.))

As a writer, I know how we try to seek out words and wording for impact readers, so it is possible that Sarah Kessler did not mean to imply some sort of Un-natural relationship between students and their devices. Yet that’s what it sounds like and I suspect it’s what some people want to hear, that “my child is addicted to his cell phone!”

Is this three individuals or a meeting that’s larger than it appears? (Flickr photo (cc) by Susan NYC

I don’t know, but it makes more sense to me that they can’t go “10 minutes without switching on some sort of electronic device,” not because they want to listen to a hum or see the glow. It’s because that device is where their friends are. Perhaps asking how long they can go without their tech is more like asking, “How long could you last in solitary confinement?” Possibly, my generation could last longer, but there’s probably less reason for alarm in that. (TINTSTWSNBV) ((This is not to say that we should not be vigilant))

As an aside, the blog entry I’ve quoted includes an infographic.  If you want to read it, I would suggest that you do so with a critical eye and especially with the intent of the publishers in mind.  My concerns were best described by Dan Meryer in Stop Linking to “Top 100 Blogs” Lists.

Another Year of Un-teaching Innovation

This is the antithesis of learning to be innovative

The new school year is starting, marked by more daily requests for Class Blogmeister accounts; professional development institutes; and the ubiquitous opening school event with the color guard led pledge of allegiance, acknowledgements from the chairman of the school board, and the out-of-town speaker.These years are different and not just for the throngs of teachers who are still looking for positions rather than schools struggling to fill classrooms with teachers. What’s different are education leaders who are mentioning with increased frequency phrases like 21st century skills and 21st century learning. Yet, I would find it interesting to challenge them to clearly and succinctly define and describe either phrase as a concept.

For certain, Innovation or its near cousin, creativity, would be a part of that explanation, even among those who stumble and stutter their ways through. ..and as professionals, we proceed to break down, classify, and sequence an approach to teaching innovation and creativity in a step by step fashion where by its achievement can be measured and accounted for. It makes me stop and wonder, “If you can teach and measure creativity, is it still creativity?” I don’t know.

I suspect that there are ways to help learners develop creativity as an assembly of resourceful problem-solving and goal accomplishing skills. Smarter people than me would know. I am certain, however, that innovation can be untaught.  Acknowledging that some skills and knowledge should be assured, we should also accept that applying education and measuring it’s achievement requires a “right answer” and “wrong answer” approach. You’re either right or Wrong. It reminds me of the high school student who said, “The purpose of school is to not get caught being wrong.”

Learners are required to fill in the bubble of the right answer with a machine readable No.2 pencil — when, to help learners become innovative, we should ask, “How many different solutions can you think of for this problem — and defend?” Rather than how many students can come up with the same answer, we should celebrate the different answers that they can suggest — and defend.

My country is in a real mess, and it’s spread way beyond our own boarders. But I’m not pessimistic. You see, in the nearly sixty years that I have been around, the world has changed dramatically. Some of that change has happened too us. But much of it has been a result of really smart people (some of whom were not impressive students) thinking of brand new answers and brand new solutions and builting brand new technologies that have reshaped our cultures. Anyone my age has to be astounded by the innovation we have seen in just the last 30 years.

I’m not pessimistic because I think that we can innovate ourselves out of this mess, approaching it with something brand new, something that is not one old right answer — “Raise taxes,” “Cut spending,” “Regulate industry,” or “Hands off business.”

It will be something that is interesting, logical, brand new, and something we’ll all want to pat each other on the back for — and it will happen because we stopped teaching innovation out of our children.

Cultivating a Learning Environment: Six Suggestions

A learning culture requires a learning community

The education world, as defined in 2011, is driven by core standards. In my opinion, this is an unfortunate result of a newly-realized awareness of our precarious position within a global economy — and a healthy decline in our sense of entitlement. It is not that I object to standards. To be collaborative, creative and all of the other ‘ives of “21st century skills,” we must have a common core of context through which we can connect with our world and with each other.

It seems unfortunate to me because increased pressures to assure the highest student achievement of rigorous standards have made teaching a far more technical endeavor than it use to be. It has become more scientific and less philosophical.  Because of this, what we like to call the “learning culture” of our schools has become a teaching culture, where conversations involve best practices and measured student achievement instead of empowered learning.

This concerns me for several reasons that become more obvious almost every day. We live in a time of rapid change owing to accelerated technological advancement, increased globalization, power shifts on almost every societal level, and the changing nature of information. We are preparing our children for a future of frightening uncertainty, but astounding opportunity, and to prosper within that future, our children must become skilled, resourceful, and habitual learners — not just lifelong learners but adopting a learning lifestyle.

Here are several suggestions for promoting a learning culture in your school(s). It’s a list that I have adapted and republished a number of times and I hope that you find them helpful as you continue to craft your learning environment(s).

  1. Fill your school(s) with learners. When interviewing prospective teachers, ask “Tell me about something that you have learned lately.” “How did you learn it?” “What are you seeking to learn more about right now that is not related to your teaching – and how?”  Find out how proficient they are at network learning.
  2. Be a public learner. Open your faculty meetings with something that you’ve just learned – and how you learned it.  Include in the daily announcements some piece of interesting knowledge that is obviously new. “Did you know that a California power utility has just gotten permission to sell electricity from outer space? Make frequent mention of what you’ve learned from your Twitter stream, RSS reader, specific bloggers you read.  This should not be limited to job specific topics.
  3. Introduce new ideas that are not necessarily related to school.  Share links to thought-provoking TED talks or other mini-lectures presented by interesting and smart people.  Ask for reactions during faculty meetings, in the halls, or during casual conversations with employees and parents.
  4. Make students’ outside-school-learning part of the conversation.  Find out what their passions are and ask them what they’ve just learned about it.  Suggest that they write something up about it for the school web site or annual research publication. ((Using on-demand publishing services like Lulu, you can easily compile, format, and publish quite professional anthologies of student essays and research that you can add to the school library and the community can purchase online.))
  5. Make your school a curiosity lab.  Plant around the school (especially in the library) intriguing questions that might provoke curiosity in learners (How many steps does a centipede have to take to travel a foot?  Who was the youngest person to sail around the world?).  Reward students who answer them and video their explanations of how they found the answers for the school’s web site.  With the help of creative teachers, invent a mystery for your school and plant clues around the school.  Require student-participants to research the clues they have discovered in order to find their way to the next clue.
  6. Make all school stakeholders public learners.  Ask members of your staff to write essays about their latest vacations or hobbies and publish them on the school web site or annual research publication.  Ask teachers to devote one of their classroom bulletin boards to information about a personal passion of theirs, sharing their latest gained knowledge and achievements.  Suggest that they produce TED style multimedia presentations about a topic they are especially interested in and post them on the school’s web site or perform them at PTA meetings. Learn about the hobbies and travels of the parents of your students and ask them to share what they are learning and how they are learning it through essays, videos, Skyped-in conversations, etc.

Other versions of this list can be found here and here.


My Mistake

I’m embarrassed to see that my last blog post was more than two weeks ago. You might think I’ve been on vacation. I guess that if you consider many uninterrupted days at home, in my consistently lived-in office, and having to think no more deeply than what’s required to code some minor design changes in Citation Machine to be a vacation — and I do — then that’s why I’ve been off the grid. And it continues for a few more days, after I get home from yesterday’s gig in Brownwood Texas. I’m currently sitting in the Terminal D Admirals Club, a perk for spending so many hours on cramped, germ infested American Airlines planes.

Some of the networked participants in yesterdays central Texas presentation

Something interesting happened yesterday during my two-hour talk with educators from central Texas. As some of you know, I often start me talks with something that I have learned in the last 24 hours. I want to try to formalize the constant learning that we all do as an integral part of our jobs.

Yesterday, I jokingly suggested that one way to make our learners smarter is to change the web browser they are using — drawing attention to study conducted by AptiQuant Psychometric Consulting Co. that looked at data for more than 100,000 Internet users. The study reported that users of Internet Explorer, version 6, have an average IQ of just more than 80. The report continued with other browsers, leading up to Camino and Opera users being the smartest of Netizens, with IQs approaching 130. As a Google Chrome user, I inhabit a community whose IQs are barely more than 110.

I learned about the report from a Mashable blog post from last week, and visited the study’s web site for verification.  But I didn’t check very deeply  Of course, during my presentation, where most of the audience had laptops connected to the open wifi, an intrepid participant, Debra Walker, found that the study was a hoax and she reported it in the Knitterchat backchannel.  I discovered her comment, while reading through the transcript during subsequent presentations, and I inserted my apologies before posting the transcript to the presentation’s online handouts.

The AptiQuant web site now admits the hoax and reports the story of how it started and propagated.  It was a programmer who was frustrated by having to code his startup website for the older versions of Internet Explorer.  I can actually feel his pain.  Testing my changes in Citation Machine for compatibility with IE is a part of the job I’ve been putting off.  I know I’m going to pull my hair out.

I don’t feel very bad about my mistake though.  The story was seriously reported by The Tech Herald, International Business Times, The Herald Sun, PCWorld, Forbes, CTV, CNN, Times of India, San Francisco Chronicle, and many others.

One thing we can learn from our students’ outside-the-classroom information experiences is that having permission to make mistakes opens up powerful learning opportunities.  Perhaps we should give ourselves permission to make mistakes, so long as we are willing to say, “I made a mistake yesterday, and here’s what I learned from it.”