A New Addition to My PLN

I just found an education blogger to add to my personal learning network. Yong Zhao was the opening keynote speaker for the Wisconsin School Leadership Academy this week, a conference that I will be closing tomorrow. I checked out the conference site just before boarding the plane in Burlington, VT and then linked over to his site and blog, saving a number of his most recent entries to Instapaper for read during the flight.

The bad news is that I’m completely changing my closing address. I’d be pretty much delivering the same message with a different accent and without his academic authority. The good news is finding a new teacher.

Even though we have spoken at the same conference on several occasions, I’ve only seen him present once. He was clear in his presentation, compelling, and very good at something that only a few keynoters do well, turning his message into a story — complete with surprise ending. But his blog hammers through to some of the fundamental reasons why the Obama Administration’s approach to education reform is wrong and why our current Secretary of Education should be replaced.

One of the pieces that caught my eye was A Pretense of Science and Objectivity: Data and Race to the Top, where he does not criticize data, but our worship of it’s collection and use as what’s going to save education in America.

I’ve written about data-god on several occasions and agree with Yong that good data can be a good thing. But the government’s monotheistic approach devalues the rich and telling data that is exchanged during typical learning conversations that happen in the classroom everyday and effectively hobbles the teacher’s role in working these data exchanges with wisdom, passion, creativity, and confidence. This is the greatest loss and most costly to our children — the loss of our confidence.

I’ll leave the rest to you, and look forward to reading more from Yong Zhao.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Access Rd,Chicago,United States

If it Works…


All things require traction to work — boundaries to push on or pull on. Learning is no different. We had the teacher or the textbook to tell us if we got it right or wrong, or the bell schedule to work within. In less certain times with unpredictable futures, there need to be new boundaries to get traction.

Photo Credit: Wireless Network Learning Resource Centre Edge Hill University by JISC infoNet

I delivered a keynote address last week in Austin to a group of educators and researchers who, from their university settings, support county extension agents on issues ranging from fire ants to precision agriculture.

After the keynote, I had a chance to talk with a number of conference attendees and one said something that I had to stop and write it down. As a way of factoring down some of the ideas that I shared in the talk, comparing old notions about education with becoming educated in a time of rapid chang, he said,


If it’s right, it works.


If it works, it’s right.

I researched the statement this morning, figuring that it was a famous quote, and although I could not find an author, there were many references to the statement and its use in a lot of different contexts, including moral issues of relativism — far from my reading of its intent in that conversation.  So I’ll stick with my interpretation.

When I was in school, I was being taught what I would need to know to be ready for a future that we were fairly certain about.  I could fairly easily and reliably depend on the adult experiences of my father and even my grandfather as models for my own impending adulthood.  We had no way of even imagining the rise of personal computers, the Internet, bio- and nano-technology, energy crisis, water crisis, globalization, global terrorism, and I could go on.

In that comfortable place of certainty, I could be taught the right answers with confidence that they would remain the right answers throughout my future.

Today, we can’t be certain that this answer, this formula, this interpretation, this language, will be the one that helps us accomplish the goals we might strive for 10 or 20 years from now.  If this is true, then how does it affect how we teach?  …what we teach? …how we learn?

We often get mileage, or think we do, when we say that even with all of these advances in information and communication technologies, our classrooms have not changed — and in some fundamental ways they have not.  But many of us are crafting brand now learning experiences for our learners that do not reflect the “methods” we were taught in education school, perhaps even diverging from the basic pedagogies that seemed so universal then.

My daughter took the Praxis test on Saturday, as part of earning her elementary grades certification.  I have no doubts that she was being tested on the education styles that she learned in college, which were no different from the ones I learned at the very same college 35 years ago.  Yet, many of us are not teaching from those pedagogies because we see that so much has changed.  We are experimenting with and even inventing new types of learning experiences that different pretty dramatically from what we were taught and the way many beginning teachers continue to be taught.

I could have shared some of these new ideas with her, but it would not have helped.  The last time I helped my daughter prepare for a test, it was 8th grade and the unit test on the Civil War.  When she walked into that classroom, she could talk about and write about the reasons for the war, what the North and the South wanted to achieve, the advantages that the North held and those of the South, as well as their disadvantages.  She could tell you who won and who lost and why.

She made a 52 on the test because she couldn’t give the dates of the major battles of the war.

It seems like I’ve veered way off from my initial point, but I haven’t.  You see, in secure and predictable times, there are more right answers, facts, skills, and knowledge that we can depend on — that will work.  In times that are less predictable, less secure, and rich with opportunities, the right answers, are the ones that work.

A major element of formal learning today should be the act of finding, assembling, and testing for answers that work — not just memorizing the “right” answers.


Such a Punch…

Cropped from a Flickr Image by Fiona Grant

My last blog post just just shy of 1000 words. Vera B. Hoyle (my senior English teachers) would be proud. But in this day and time of being overwhelmed by information, it’s the short statement that counts.

Gary Stager and I can quibble about a trillionth here and a trillionth there, but he certainly packs a punch and says what’s true in this comment posted on a recent blogging by Will Richardson.

If a human is breathing, he is a “true learner.”

School teaches at best a trillionth of the knowledge available on the planet yet we quibble endlessly over which trillionth of a percent is most important. (short answer – the most trivial and less useful least useful)

Who cares?

If teaching was an actual profession, all curriculum and assessment issues would be resolved internally within that profession, not imposed by committees of anonymous (and amateur) bureaucrats.

What is the “true lesson” of education for students when they see their teachers routinely trampled and become increasingly helpless?

This obsession with measurement of human achievement IN ALL OF ITS FORMS is a form of arrogance at best and psychosis at worst.

No more to be said, but thanks, Gary…

Added later: Also passed along from Gary — http://bit.ly/b93AVh

If I was a Petulant Child

I just finished some email correspondence with a client, an upcoming presentation to teachers in the mid-west. Brenda had sent my AV needs PDF, and the client wrote back saying that everything was well within their means — except for Internet, no Internet available in the venue.

Being the polite and ever-conciliatory fellow that I am, I responded that this would be no problem. I can harvest all of the sites I need for the presentation and finesse myself around any online demos that can’t be easily simulated. This is my standard reaction and this is what it should be. After all, even with the best and most progressive of intentions, we are still catching up, and we’ll likely continue to be catching up for quite a while. Even though I often speak at venues that are not primarily education oriented, and many of them have adequate to exemplary technology in place, there are still those that pat themselves on the shoulder because they can wheel an LCD projector out for your Powerpoint are simply not there yet for a variety of reasons.

Accepting that, I got to wondering, what if I was a 12 year old, a member of the ultimate customer base that we are all serving. What if they’d invited a game-playing, text-thumbing, Facebook browsing youngster to speak? How might she have reacted?


No Internet? Wait a minute. You want me to talk about how my generation thinks, how we interact with each other, how we play – and work – and learn, what we care about and where we do it — and you want me to do it without the Internet?


Actually, I am not sure that “Dude” is quite the expletive that it was a couple of years ago. ..and a reaction like this would owe itself mostly to the petulance that comes naturally to many 12 year-olds. But I suspect that a more important part if this response — the part we need to be paying attention to — is that preparing today’s children, within today’s prevailing information environment, for an unpredictable future, should assume a networked, digital, and information-abundant learning environment, regardless of whether it is the children who are doing the learning, or the educators.

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Lassiter Mill Rd,Raleigh,United States

Continuing to Rethink Creativity

A while back I wrote about creativity, suggesting that it was something that could only be achieved when trying to accomplish a goal. These notions came from conversations I’d had with educators who were engaged in one of my IdeaPlotter activities. It also, almost certainly, comes from my preference to inventiveness, as a goal for our continuing conversations about “twenty-first century skills.”

Then I did a fairly dramatic about face after seeing Graham Callum perform with his guitar at TEDxBANFF, noting how, because he taught himself how to play the instrument, played it like he invented it.

Now, holding an iPad in my hands, I am starting to think about creativity again. I’ve had it since Friday, and possibly owing to some busy preparations for a couple of events and some stinginess on my part for some personal time, I have not spent as much time with this machine as I’d thought such a new and amazing toy would demand. Only now am I doing with it on of the major reasons why I bought it — being able to write conveniently and comfortably without the inconvenience of a laptop or even the smaller and easier to carry net book.

So why creativity? Why now? Well it seems to be one of the peculiar qualities of this information device that it come mor as platform than a machine — that it’s true power will come from the creative and talented people who will recognize the gaps it might fill in the lives of people. I will concede, also, the creativity in the quirky, yet interesting apps that will serve no practical application other than something to show your friends.

I am finding that I am reading more. I’m not certain yet whether it’s the cool appeal of the iPad and the information experience it pits in your hands. ..or if there is some compelling quality to reading with such an accessible and interactive device. I will continue to think about this.

I think that we will continue to be surprised by some of the uses we’ll be putting out iPads to, such as this new adaptive rack, with which you can attaché you iPad to the kitchen cabinet for ready reference will you cook that new web recipe. You can read about it at Mashable and also watch a video. ((Dybwad, Barb. “iPad Gets Custom Install in the Kitchen Cabinet.” Mashable. Mashable, 5 May 2010. Web. 5 May 2010. .))

Note: I wasn’t very satisfied with the WordPress app, which vie used extensively on the iPhone. So I searched out other editors of which I only knew of one, Blogpress ($2.99). I always hesitate to pay. Don’t know why, when I’ll readily pay that much for a large bag of peanut M&Ms at the airport. Almost went for Captain’ Blog ($.99) if just for the name.

Location:Yadkin Dr,Raleigh,United States

Is This Creativity?

OK! I honestly do not know what this invention was meant to accomplish

Lassanya en verano / Lassanya in summer time by Mònica

Woe! Talk about biting off more than I can chew. But somebody asked a question the other day, during an unconference sessions I was running, and I knew this was going to be “blog-worthy. She asked, “What would Ken Robinson say?”

We were using my idea plotting tool to try to ramp up a basic classroom activity, so that it would provoke levels of thinking higher up Blooms Revised Taxonomy. Folks were suggesting enhancements to the lesson, and, as almost always happens, we got up to creating way to fast.

Each time that I do this activity, I find myself suggesting (while admitting that I might be wrong) that in order to be creative, the student’s work or procedures should be aimed at a specific objective, problem, or audience. There needs to be a goal. On that day someone suggested we click the (i) by Creativity, where upon the following definition popped out.

Putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing.

Oops! No mention of “why.” I do not recall where I got that definition, because I hadn’t added the citation feature at the time that I added that scale. But Anderson & Krathwohl say pretty much the same thing in their description of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy, defining creativity as:

Putting elements together to form a coherent or functional whole; reorganizing elements into a new pattern or structure through generating, planning, or producing. ((Anderson, L.W., & Krathwohl, D.R. (Ed.). (2001). A Taxonomy for learning, teaching and assessing: a revision of bloom’s taxonomy of educational objectives: complete edition. New York: Longman.))

OK, I guess I was shot down. Both definitions described process and outcome but not intent or goal. No mention of audience. No mention of the “why.”

Then someone asked, “What does Ken Robinson say about creativity?” ..and someone else in the group, within a minute read out,”

Creativity is “the process of having original ideas which have value. “((Robinson, K. (Speaker). (2006). Ken robinson says schools kill creativity. [Web]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html))

I had to go to the Sir Ken Robinson TED Talk video to find his definition, for the sake of this blog, and I felt vindicated, because Robinson says that there needs to be value — implying that it needs to do something for somebody.

It seems to me that to create (invent, innovate, etc.) you must have direction, and sense of where you are going, what you’re trying to solve, who you are trying to make a little happier. You my student combine ideas, objects, or procedures that accomplish the goal in a way that surprises me, then she has been creative.

But doesn’t come easily, and it doesn’t come without mistakes. How often do we give our students permission to make mistakes. As Robinson says later in his TED talk,

“If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you wan’t come up with anything original.”

What we do not want our students saying, is what I friend of mine’s daughter said recently when ask about the purpose of school. She said,

School is the place where you do not want to get caught being wrong.

It Was Good Enough for Me

Our classrooms require a better window on the world than this… ((Han, Churl. “My classroom in Frieze.” Churl’s Photostream. N.p., 29 Jan 2006. Web. 8 Apr 2010. .))

I frequently receive comments and e-mails from readers expressing their agreement with something I’ve written or said. And then they lament the realities. “But, I have only one working computer in my classroom.” “But, interactive white boards are a pipe dream for us.” “But, Internet is too slow and/or too filtered for practical use.” ..or “We’ve been told to stop using technology or any supplemental materials after March and use only materials designed specifically around test prep.

We are not working under these conditions because of our zip code or because of some unavoidably cyclical function of our reality. These constraints do not happen like weather patterns that we simply have to hunker down and wait out. They happen because of decisions that people make due to greed, misinformation, politico-social agendas, or ignorance.

That we continue to try to prepare children for the future under these conditions is not the problem. The problem is that there are some (many) who still believe that these conditions are good enough.

“What was good enough for me is good enough for ‘your’ children.”

My advice?

  1. Dream and decide:
    1. What you want your classroom to become?
    2. What kind of access to information you need, in order to facilitate learning?
    3. What kind of access to information does your classroom need for relevant learning to happen?
    4. What kind of access to information do your learners personally need to drive their own learning?
  2. Answer the questions,
    1. “What will your community’s children be able to learn in this classroom?”
    2. “What kind of relevant and compelling learning experiences might your community’s children enjoy?”
  3. Reject any technologies from item 1 that do not directly contribute to item 2.
  4. Take the answers to item 2 and turn them into a story.
    1. “Here is the classroom that is possible.”
    2. “Here is what your children will learn in this classroom.”
    3. “Here is how they will learn and what they will do with what they learn.”
    4. “Here is the classroom I want, the classroom your children deserve, the classroom that our future requires.”
  5. Tell that story. Set up a page on your web site called “My Dream Classroom.” Update it regularly. Share it with other teachers. Share it with your students, your friends, and the parents of your students.

    Make its upkeep part of your personal professional development.

The Difference between Lecture & Textbook?

I’m sitting a Starbucks working through a final draft of Gardener’s Approach… (before it goes to the editors) and happened to glance over at my Twitter stream, discovering a trend of shouting out Will Richardson quotes. Excellent stuff. But one of them caught my attention for the slight spasm it caused.

Assign the lecture for homework, do the rest in class.

Now I completely understand the sentiment here. You do what you do where you can best do it. If you can deliver a lecture via video, then you push it through the Net to the point of most convenience for your students, reserving the classroom for its best activities — discussion.

Is there a place for lecturing in Second Life?

Flickr Photos (L/R) by Gary Hayes

A statement like this is useful and powerful, especially in a <140 message. But I feel that, in practice, the application should be conditional. First of all, as I first started considering the two chemistry teachers in California who first brought this technique to our attention, I was duly impressed. But I also starting thinking, “So, they’re watching a video of a 50-min lecture online. When are they reading their textbook (or whatever their textbook has evolved into)? Are they spending more time involved in history (from my context) outside of class so that we can spend more time discussing issues in class? ..and I have nothing against students spending more time outside of my classroom engaged in learning. But if it’s just about consuming content, then why doesn’t the textbook chapter suffice? What are you adding that the textbook does not contain? If you are adding more, then why not just type your lecture out and have students read that too?

Plus, can’t discussion be done outside of class? In fact, there may be some important advantages to holding discussions via the network?

I guess I have two real questions here:

  1. How does you’re lecture add value to the learning experience? ..and if there is value-added, is part of that value lost when viewed through a 5×5 window?
  2. What does it mean that the textbook is left out of this equation? What does the textbook evolve into?

Of course there is no one answer to these questions. It will be different from teacher to teacher and for the same teacher, from time to time. What seems important to me is that teachers should be skilled no only in making content available in a variety of way, but to be able to determine the mode of conversation that is most appropriate for the learning objective.

All that said, I think that Will’s statement is a useful one, because it cracks open some possibilities that some teachers may not have considered.