Beyond the Textbook

I have been invited to participate in Discovery Education’s Beyond the Textbook Forum.  I feel quite honored, especially as I’ve scanned the names of other folks who are attending.  It will be a special treat to spend some time with Steve Dembo and David Jakes, two talented thinkers and conference speakers.

One thing that struck me about this event is the title.  When talking about my dissatisfaction with print-based textbooks, I often ask, “What will textbooks evolve into?”  This implies some assumptions, that textbooks, as we know them, will simply morph into something else that acts like a textbook.

The title of this event seems to be asking what the other side of textbooks might look like — and the opportunity of this wide open idea fascinates me.

We’ve been assigned to use our blogs and Twitter to solicit from our readers some ideas about what we might find on the other side of textbooks.  As a teacher, I need a simile.  I need to be able to say,

“The learning device(s) that our learners will walk into their classrooms with will be more like a ________________.

So, if you don’t mind, would you think for a moment about this task and fill in the text box above with no more than 150 characters that complete the sentence. You’ll notice that I’ve changed your question a bit, “..will behave more like a…”

If you would like to expand on your thoughts, please feel free to post a comment.

Added at 12:17 PM two days later – Here is a word cloud from the similes that have already been posted.

Reflections on Neck Ties

It’s an odd title for a blog entry, but it’s how Ken Shelton, Thursday’s keynote speaker pronounced our NCTIES conference. North Carolina’s ISTE affiliate, NCTIES has hosted what has become the primary focal event for folks interested in education, technology and other aspects of retooling classrooms in this and surrounding states.

Shelton delivered a high energy and courageous keynote.  He walked up on stage with his computer bag and hooked everything up after being introduced and with us watching. Astounding!  I insist on connecting and testing everything an hour before the speech begins.


The high point of the conference, for me, was being lucky enough to get into Shelton’s photography workshop on Wednesday morning. The biggest part of the session was a photo safari along Fayetteville Street to the old Capital Building, and then back down Salisbury street. It was wonderful being tutored while actually wandering around and taking pictures.

On Friday, Ken asked me if I’d noticed any improvement in my photos from the beginning of the walk to the end. Always taking such questions seriously, I thought hard and honestly said that I couldn’t think of anything in particular – not the polite thing to say. But with some reflection, I can say the my eye improved, that is to say that I got better at finding photos to be made, rather than snapshots to be taken. You’d have to have taken the workshop to understand the distinction. (Hope you’re reading this, Ken.)

It was great seeing and talking with some old friends from the old days, but there were not very many.  Being a conference that I have attended for many MANY years, I have a basis for impressions that seem important to me, and one of them was the youth of the NCTIES attendees.  I know that it’s partly my advanced age that causes this feeling, but someone else commented to me about the number of classroom teachers who were attending this conference – and most of them were very young.

This conversation compelled me to post the following tweet, “Sitting with P. Sheehy, L Gillispie & C Lawson & thinking, ‘Any sufficiently tech savvy teacher is indistinguishable from a wizard.'”

Another thing that impressed me was the technical sophistication of most of the attendees. They were imaginative, tech-savvy educators, who were open to new ways of using their skills and their tech to create new learning experiences for their learners.  It was exciting.

This sense of rising sophistication was most apparent during an unconference session I facilitated on tablets in the classroom.  It was not a structured as I would like, and, as usual, I walked away feeling that I had not done my job.  I hadn’t taught anything.  I’ll never get over that.  But the ideas flew and grew and partly at the bidding of several attendees who played the devil’s advocate better than I could have.  The bottom-line message, to me, was that our learners deserve convenient (easy & fast) access to today’s prevailing information landscape to practice relevant learning.

..and this brings me to the last impression I’ll report here, and that was the overwhelming prevalence of tablet computers.  I asked others, who agreed that there seemed to be more people with iPads and other tablets in their hands at the sessions and keynote than laptops.  In fact, at some points, laptops seemed to be the exception.  It’s all bringing into focus a term that I’m seeing more and more, that we are entering the post-PC era.  I’m not sure I entirely agree with the picture that evokes, but I do not recall seeing any tech rise in prominence so quickly.

Thanks to the conference committee at NCTIES…

12 Ways to Provoke Supportive Learning Conversations at Home

I wrote a blog post last week about home conversations about school.  It ended with a question  of sorts,

I wonder how a school or classroom might start that dinner table conversation by sharing everyday glimpses of teachers and learners exploring, experimenting, discovering, and sharing passionate and inventive learning.

So I thought I would compile some of the responses I got, with just a few of my own insertions into this 12 Ways to Provoke Supportive About Learning at Home.  The items are re-phrased in my own words.  Please return to that original post (So What did You Do in School Today?) to read comments in their original wording.

(cc) Flickr Photo by Flatbush Gardener

Edited with Pixelmator

But I want to start off with something that my nephew, Ethan Warlick, student at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, wrote:

Three years ago, when I was a senior on high school, I had nothing to tell my parents when they asked what I had learned in school. After graduating from high school though, I have noticed that I want to tell my parents what it is I have learned in college classes. I think one of the issues with my high school experience was that I was being taught rules and principles instead of life relevant problem solving tools. (Ethan Warlick)

I still don’t know how he found my blog, but his comments feed wonderfully into the first item of this list.

  1. The first thing to do is to ask yourself the question, “What happened in my classroom today that the parents of my students would be genuinely curious about?” (Ecaterina)
  2. Find creative and effective ways to share with parents (and the community) what is being learned this week in my class, how it is being learned, why it’s being learned, and what my students are doing with it. Suggest questions that might be asked of children at home to provoke dinner table ((I’m using “dinner table” as a generic term for any chance family members have to talk. For me, it was riding home from a family visit, in the back seat of Dad’s ’52 Ford Wagon, with my chin resting on the back of my parent’s seat (before we had seat belts))) conversations. This can be done via letters and newsletters. But most of today’s parents are probably more accustomed to getting information via their computers, tablets or mobile phones. Consider a Facebook page for your class (observing safety policies), a Twitter feed, or daily updates to your classroom Web site. (Christina C & Alfonso Gonzalez)
  3. Ask students (periodically or on a daily basis) to take inventory of their newly gained knowledge and skills and to write a letter to someone at home describing how they are growing through learning. (Christina C & Cary B. Todd)
  4. Make learning more engaging for students by integrating the creative arts. Asking learners to express their learning through art, music, or performance helps to grant them ownership of their learning, and it gives them something to take home on paper, a thumb drive, or a web link. (Christina C)
  5. Encourage students to engage their younger siblings in dinner table conversations about what they are doing in school and to share what they remember about their experiences in those grades. (Jennifer T.)
  6. At open house, encourage parents to periodically excavate their children’s book bags for homework and test papers, letters home, unfinished art work, etc. The artifacts that they find can raise useful entry points for family conversations about school. (Jennifer T.)
  7. Integrate social networking into classroom and school operations (observing safety policies). Encouraging students to engage in networked conversations, within the context of curriculum, and then making those conversations available to parents, can give those parents a window on the learning experiences of their children. There may also be opportunities to invite supportive participation from parents. (Ashley Bitner)
  8. Engage students in edgy classroom activities that will not only inspire their curiosity, but also the curiosity of their parents and the community. (Sean Wheeler)

    Sean’s high school English class just built a chair as part of a quarter-long project. I’m curious as to why!

  9. Record (video or audio) students working or performing, engaging in discussions, and other learner-active experiences, and share with parents through the classroom web site, blog or via email. Update publishings frequently (observing safety policies).
  10. Look at the PBS and BBC web sites, how they often include text and other media to extend specific programs. Here is an alphabetical listing of PBS programs linking to web pages that expand on the issues of the program. If students could enhance some of their reports and presentations, utilizing a full range of media, and publish these multimedia expansions as an integral part of your classroom web site, parents (and community) would want to come in and see, learn, and engage at home.
  11. Set up an ongoing online survey or Tweet out questions to parents (and grand parents) asking how the current curriculum topics connect with their work or personal experiences, drawing that information into the classroom through their children. “Have you ever seen a volcano or experienced an earthquake?” “What were your grandparents doing during World War II?” “Do you ever use algebra?” “Do you use chemicals in your work?”
  12. Enable and empower learners to necessarily, resourcefully and responsibly teach themselves. When they earn their knowledge and skills, they own it — and students will take home with them what they own. (Heather F)

Instituting Learning Habits

I had the pleasure of facilitating an unconference session at Friday’s CUEBC conference in Port Coquilan, British Columbia. I had just finished my keynote, so it was a great way to follow-up. Admittedly, I did not start things off very well (my prompting question was too complex), but the session turned out to be productive — in my opinion. There were quite a few beginners, but mostly some well connected educators, for whom this was probably not their first unconference experience.

There was a great deal of knowledge, experience, and vision apparent in the room and a variety of topics explored. However, what still discourages me is how often I continue to hear educators say that we need to “teach our students this skill” or “teach them that skill.”

This is not incorrect.  We have to teach skills. We always have and we always will. But it seems to me that a large and explicit part of 21st century learning and the transformed classroom is the notion that skills must become habits. We need to teach our students important skills, but we need to also craft and cultivate learning environments and experiences where learners are constantly provoked to use those skills as part of their learning practice.  We need to instill a learning lifestyle.

We teach reading at an early age. Then our learners use those skills throughout the rest of their schooling. We need to more fully describe the expanding qualities of literacy that reflects today’s networked, digital and info-abundant environment, and then make sure that learners are utilizing all of these skills as part of their learning practices.

I’ll say it again, We need to think about ”learning literacy”, not just literacy.


What I should have asked at the beginning of the session:
During the day, I had a number of educators come up to me explaining that they were still in university, or a first year teachers, or experienced but considering technology in their classrooms for the first time. They wanted to know, Where to go to begin to learn how to transform their classrooms for 21st century learning? ((What do we call 21st century learning when we’re more than a tenth of the way into the century?)) That’s the question I should have prompted the unconference session with.

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?