First the Bad News…

The bad news is that the Bush Administration has proposed zeroing ($0) the Enhancing Education Through Technology (E2T2) fund for next year. It isn’t the first time that our president has turned his back on modernizing schools in the United States, and we will hope, pray, and lobby Congress to reinstate a few hundred million dollars of the pathetically low original funding of the program.

This, when, in Saturday’s Weekly Radio Address, the president urged Congress to make his budget cuts permanent, while only weeks ago he signs a bill pushing the ceiling on the national debt to nearly $9 trillion. That’s more than $30,000 for every U.S. Citizen, and one in five of them haven’t reached the age of 15 yet.

OK, enough sport with mr. president. The good news is that 37 state governors reported in their state of the state addresses…

…that their state budgets were projected to be in balance or with a surplus, according to “The Governors Speak: 2006,” a report from the National Governors Association (NGA) summarizing the 2006 state-of-the-state addresses from the governors of 44 states and Puerto Rico. (Ascione)

If you haven’t already, read the April 11 story in eSchoolNews, “State funding to the rescue?“. It will lift to your spirits, especially if you live in Texas, Massachusetts, Florida, Oklahoma, or several other states mentioned in the article for their intentions to invest in education technology.

So if money is beginning to grow again, what’s the case for educational technology. We know that it helps children learn. But lots of things help children learn, and its a hard sell, because it’s a complicated sell. I just don’t see legislators being interested in education strategy. My observations are that elected officials are interested in what’s in it for them and for their consituents. A few more computers, even if they are being carried into classrooms under the arms of every student, just doesn’t get there.

We need to sell a much larger vision of 21st century classrooms where students are learning twenty-first century skills and twenty-first century content, using twenty-first century tools. We need a simple, yet comprehensive picture of teaching, learning, and classrooms that inspires the imaginations of politicians and voters.

It’s a new story that leads to new goals of future citizens, future leaders, future prosperity — enthusiasm about a future so potent with possibilities that we just can’t wait.

OK, I’m getting kind’a carried away here. Tomorrow, I’ll post a slightly more practical examination of “The New Story”.

Ascione, Laura. “State Funding to the Rescue?.” eSchool News Online 11 Apr 2006. 17 Apr 2006 <>.

Flat Classrooms — Future Oriented Students (cont.)

future.jpgI feel a need to rant politics here. I believe, and I preach, that the quality of rapid change that we immigrants from the old century are finding so hard to accomodate may actually be a precious opportunity to inspire learning among our students. Part of being, what Alan November calls, fearless learners is being empowered not only with the contemporary tools of learning, but also the responsibility of learning.

Students should be shown a future that is theirs for the inventing, problems that they will solve, new experiences that they will facilitate, and new conditions that they will be challenged to adapt to and make the most of. If this is portrayed as their learning expectations, then they are empowered to be fearless.

I grew up believing that when I became an adult, the system would have adequately and appropriately prepared me for my adulthood and all of its responsibilities. I believed that there was a body of knowledge that would be taught to me, and after that moment, I would be ready to be an adult. I’m still waiting 😉

Waiting learners are not what we should be cultivating in our classroom. Waiting learners have no energy to drive the learning engine. Waiting learners are not fearless learners. I believe that the message that we need to be delivering is,

“We don’t know what you’re going to need to know in the future! We can not describe the jobs you will have or the opportunities you will enjoy! We do know that you must have the skills to teach yourself, and that you will need to understand and be a part of the place, people, and the time in which you live and from where you have come — and we will do everything that we can to help you do that.”

There were two parts of that statement. A description of new goals (teaching students to teach themselves), and a promise that we will do this for our children. Yet, if children are paying attention, then they see us, their communities, saying, “We do not need to be paying so much for education.” “My children are out of school, why would I want to pay for this bond?”

The schools of Wake County, my county, are trying to pass a bond referendum. We desperately need new schools for the thousands of new students who enter our county every year. The last bond attempt failed. Indications are, that this one will fail as well, as proposed. The school system has been trying to pare down the amount. For instance, the announcement was made this week that new high schools will not have stadiums. The classroom sizes of new elementary and middle schools will be smaller than originally planned. These two decisions will save millions, but at the expense of what?

Children who are paying attention do not see future oriented adults in their community. The see stinginess, and a complete lack of concern for their children, their children’s future, and their own future. It makes me angry 😉

November, Alan. “Flat Classroom Learning Engines.” Leadership Practice.18 Apr 2005.Apple Learning Interchange.15 Apr 2006. <>.

Ruurmo. “Suenos…Del Futuro.” Dec 2005.15 Apr 2006. <>.

Flat Classrooms — Future Oriented Students

startrek.jpgI’m carrying on with this discussion, though there seems to be very little conversation regarding… I suspect that it is because many schools are on spring break and that many educators have switched off their computers for finer things. Or it could be that I’m biting bark and totally out to lunch on this one. Regardless, I’m going to trudge along.

Curiosity and a desire to communicate and influence other people are a given. They happen because neurons are firing in their brains. It’s being human. However, the energy that can be harnessed from an orientation toward the future must be cultivated. It is a cultural thing that either happens or it doesn’t. In our case, today, it’s not.

Certainly we are helping our students to prepare for their future. It is what school is about. We offer career education. We ask younger children to write reports and to tell stories about what they want to be when they grow up. We offer a curriculum that we claim will prepare them for their future (the height of arrogance in my opinion). But what we offer, and what we prepare our children for, is merely a snapshot future that a few people have defined and described, and it’s just more content to our students bulging memories.

So what kind of future orientation do I think would provide energy for a flat classroom learning engine? Well, in the first place, the future that we point them toward should be relatively empty, not full. It shouldn’t be a future that they can depend on, but one with infinite possibilities. The evidence is right in front of us. There is no way that we can predict the technologies, cultural and social characteristics, work environments and experiences, or learning opportunities that our children have to look forward to.

For Instance:

My wife is out of town today. I’ll go to Starbucks in about an hour and write, working on a new book. At lunch, I’ll pack up my computer and walk over to Panera Bread for a sandwich and then a few ours of programming (working on Son of Citation Machine) tapping into their free WiFi. Now how could I or my teachers have possibly predicted this kind of work environment in the 1950s and 60s.

So what we have to do is to create an irresistible void of possibilities for our curious and communicative students and say think, dream, wish, and describe. A few years ago, newspapers, magazines, news broadcast shows, and bloggers, were identifying the great people and accomplishments of the last year, century, and millennium. Wouldn’t it be interesting to ask students to blog (or express in some other way) their top ten people or accomplishments of the next decade, century, or millennium — answering the question, “What do you believe will be the greatest accomplishment of the next decade, and describe the sequence of events and the people who were responsible.

It’s this sort of speculative and inventive conversation that needs to be a part of what drives learning in our flat classrooms. Are these conversations completely new? Of course not. But we need to point students toward people who are speculating, science fiction writers and genuine futurists. Keep teaching Shakespeare and Yeats, but lets explicitly integrate speculative science fiction as an essential genre of literature into our reading lists, and units of high school English I, II, II, & IV.

Today’s children think they are familiar with science fiction. But I’m not talking about “Star Wars” and “Planet of the Apes”. To be truthful, I would not be the one to suggest this list. I suspect that it would include Arthur C. Clark, Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, and Neal Stephenson, but this is by no means a complete list.

The point is that our children must gain a future oriented wisdom at the same time that they are learning the wisdom of the ages.

Please do visit the wiki page to participate in the futher development of ideas around the flat classroom learning engine:

Flat Classrooms — Intrinsic Communicators & Influencers

A Note: I feel like apologizing for these rantings on the flat classroom. There is nothing here that is new, that you haven’t heard. I just wonder if a different context, a new story for these characters, might be useful as we continue to retool education.

David Davies commented to my original entry on Flat Classrooms that… what extent do you think students in the not-so-flat classroom are not curious, not self-directed, uncommunicative, etc?

Certainly, kids are still curious and they are self-directed learners. We call it play. To them it’s work, it’s what they do. The explore their environment, which is becoming increasingly virtual, and they find interesting things to do with it. But it’s play.

Back during World War II, there was something called Yankee ingenuity. It was a characteristic of Americans, that we held for our selves, that we were creative and resourceful problem-solvers. If this was a unique quality that we had, then I have a theory as to where it came from. We were, perhaps, one of the only culture that actually gave its children an extensive childhood, and that it was through childish play, that we became resourceful problem-solvers. I don’t know if this makes sense to you, but I think that play is an important learning experience.

Davies goes on to say…

Is it the students per se that have changed or their environment? The classroom environment is ever changing is it not?

I’m not absolutely sure where the writer is coming from on this, but I’ll respond to what I’m reading, and it is undeniable that our children’s environment is different from where and when I grew up. My children’s first computer was an Apple IIe, and they learned to type using FrEdWriter (raise your hands if you remember FrEdWriter). Today, slightly more than a dozen years later, their chatting with the world, and publishing videos that they’ve produced sitting in their bedrooms.

images-6.jpegMore to the point of this title of the blog entry, they are master communicators and influencers. They write incessantly, using a language and grammar that they’ve invented. They follow and they lead through their communications. They play their video games for a week, get board, and invent new games to play in the old video game environments. Play is a flat learning engine, powered by the energy of curiosity and and the intrinsic need to communicate and influence.

Have classrooms changed? To some degree and from some perspectives, they have. But the model is still gravity driven, the heavy load of standards, being carefully directed downwardly to minds not yet full to over-brimming.

I think that the leverage point for unleashing the energy of curiosity and self-directed learning, is our children’s intrinsic need to communicate and influence. If we can make classroom learning, more of a conversation between student and teacher, learner and curriculum, classroom and the world, etc. — then perhaps we’ll have our perpetual learning engine.

Again, absolutely nothing new here. Smarter people than me have talked about it before, and good teachers understand it intuitively. But if we can couch it into a timely context, turn it into a story, then maybe we can get some traction, and start moving.

Jumped off the Cliff & in Freefall

I'm in Linux LandThat’s how I addressed my e-mail message to Paul Gilster, my neighbor and Linux guru, when I installed Ubuntu Linux on an OLD Dell (P2) desktop computer last week. Don’t know why I did it. Certainly didn’t have time. I just felt like having something running in the background while I worked on the code for Son of Citation Machine.

My first foray into the world of Linux.

I downloaded the install file onto my Mac, and then burned an install CD with the Mac Disk Utility. Had no idea that would work. Then installed the operating system. As it Installed, I Googled with the Mac, references to Ubuntu and the particular Belkin USB wireless adapter on that computer, and found references to some real compatibility problems. Most advice said, “Go spring for a different network solution.”

So I wrote to Paul, saying that I was in freefall, and couldn’t see the bottom. I just knew what a pain in the “back there” it was going to be to download the adaptor driver from the Belkin site, burn it onto a CD with my Mac, and then tweak the settings until I finally got it to work. This had been my experience every time I had to reinstall Windows on that machine, because my daughter kept using Kazaa, and the popups were threatening to catch fire from the friction.

At any rate, when the install was complete, the wireless adapter worked like a charm — no extra driver needed. Too cool for school! I can’t say how astounded I am at the ease of use this operating system affords, and the software that installed along with it, including a very fine productivity suite, Open Office, an extremely feature-rich graphics package, Gimp, a suite of other image and multimedia applications, Internet tools, and a digital Library of Congress of resources and help available on the Internet — and it all came one on CD and it was free.

I must confess a good deal of skepticism about open source in the classroom, thinking it the rantings of the geekarati. Yet, the ease that I have had in reviving a $1,200 computer that was all but useless to me, with tools that are more than relevant to today’s information work, is a compelling opportunity to bring more access in our classrooms to digital networked information and facilitate 21st century learning for our 21st century citizens.

Flat Classrooms — Curious Students

I posted my first Flat Classrooms blog yesterday, and the topic wiki has already attracted some attention. In that original post, I went ahead and fleshed out some characteristics for the Flat Classroom Student. Magically, additional qualities have appeared for the teacher, physical learning environment, and curriculum of a flat classroom. Amazing!

12214778_bf99bef705_m.jpgI’d like to put some of my thoughts down today, concerning the first two characteristics of the student of a flat classroom — curiosity and self-directed learners. It is often said that students enter our classrooms as curious beings. I suspect that if we truly watched children at play, without the hindrances of classroom regiment, we would also identify characteristics of a self-directed learner. Yet, appearances indicate that somewhere along the way of their elementary and middle school years, childish curiosity and desire to put themselves to learn for its intrinsic value, seems to go away — at least in terms of the learning expectations that are stipulated by our governments, and probably from the perspectives of most middle and high school teachers.

I suspect, though, that curiosity does not truly leave, nor does our children’s desire to accomplish their own learning within topics that interest them. A flat classroom must invite curiosity back into the formal learning environments, by nature of its flatness. It values the students’ intrinsic learning needs, as much as it values the teacher’s position as one who can facilitate learning. Absolutely nothing new here, especially for those of us who spent our years in the education schools of the 1970s, reading A.S. Neill and James Herndon.

The learning engine, though, must feed on the energy of curiosity in order to move, and we should come to agreement that in a flat world where the answers are changing, it’s the process of the question that is becoming more important. It’s more important how we learn than what we learn.

So how do we respect student’s curiosity — in today’s classroom? Very difficult, when nearly every day is spent trying to cover the state standards. What I woke up this morning thinking about, was an annual assignment that all of my students would receive. They are tasked with delivering a presentation to the class on a topic that I, as the teacher, and at least five other students agree would be of interest and value to the class. Then the student would set about, on their own time, conducting the research, planing the presentation, and constructing the audio/visual elements that they will need. Each student project will have a student advisory committee who will continuously evaluate their preparations, and when all members of the committee have agreed (based on a either a standard or customized rubric) that the project is ready, then the student will deliver the presentation to the class.

The presentation would be recorded and digitized, along with all of the ancillary materials, and it will be archived in the school library for later reference and for the creation of derivative works by future students. In addition, any other class in the school can request that the student deliver the presentation for their students. The presenter becomes an expert, and in most cases, that expertise grows.

In return for a presentation that receives a specified evaluation from the entire class, the student can exchange a perfect score for any three, or four, or ten other grades earned in the class during the year.

OK, this is all lincoln logs, and you can knock it apart and put it back together in any way you want. But the goal is to invite curiosity, value self-directed learning, and perhaps help students learn to make themselves experts, a critical skill for a flat world.

Remember that the The wiki page is at:

Flat Classrooms

Gravity is a wondrous thing. Given a high place and a low place, things can very easily be moved from high to low, by the reliable force that makes all things come down. But as we desire to move stuff from one place that is no higher than its destination, then we must rely on muscle. Muscle is effective, but it is limited and it insults the animal who is pressed into labor. So we invent engines.

In a world of economic mountains, gravity works very well for the few who live on the mountain tops, in exercising their dominance. But as the world becomes flat, muscle insults us all, so we invent engines — systems of supply chain that further flatten the world.

ClassroomWhat about an education system that is challenged to prepare children for their future — and it’s not their father’s future. So what about a flat classroom? Traditional education has been an environment of hills. The teacher could rely on gravity to support the flow of curriculum down to the learners. But as much as we might like to pretend, we (teachers) are no longer on top of the hill. The hill is practically gone.

For the first time in history, children are more comfortable, knowledgeable, and literate than their parents about an innovation central to society. (Tapscot)

In many cases, students communicate more, construct original content more, and more often collaborate virtually with other people, than do their teachers. Those teachers who pretend to stand on higher ground, appear, to many of their students, to be standing on quicksand.

I wax hyperbole, but the point is that our times require a different kind of classroom, one that can no longer rely on gravity. We must invent a perpetual learning engine.

I hope to spend the next couple of weeks talking through some ideas concerning a flat classroom learning engine, most of which I am still forming. But I would like to begin with a list of characteristics for students in a flat classroom learning engine.

  • Curious
  • Self Directed Learners
  • Intrinsic need to communicate
  • Intrinsic need to influence
  • Future Oriented
  • Heritage Grounded

I’ve constructed a wiki page where a lot of this content will be posted. You are invited to go in and hack the concepts, adding your 2¢ worth any where and at any time. I plan to start explaining what I mean by each of these characteristics in the next couple of days. But feel free to go ahead and do some writing in the wiki.

The wiki page is at:

Tapscott, Don. Growing Up Digital. McGraw-Hill: New York, 1998.

A New Story Wiki

Hack the Story Wiki PageDiscussions about The New Story have grown, and it has spread in lots of different directions. As I suggested last week in More on The New Story, a wiki page might be helpful to us, especially in the challenge that we devise some compelling new stories that teachers might tell to the parents who attend their open house in the beginning of the 2006-2007 school year.

The wiki page is up, and I invite you to come to and add your ideas and your further insights about the compelling stories that will affect education reform.

To add a new story, click the edit link (#1), indicated in the included image. You can also add to a growing document about the new story, by clicking the edit link (#2) and including your insights or by clicking the existing hyperlinks in the section to delve more deeply into our changing world.

Hack the story!

The Work of a Master & Podcasts from the NSBA TLN Executive Briefing

Podcaster, Tim WilsonLast week, I delivered a keynote address at the Technology Leadership Network Executive Briefing at the NSBA Annual Conference in Chicago. It was my classic, Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century speech, and it was very well received by the technology-conscious school board members in the audience. The address was also exhausting for me. I’m not sure why, excepted that school board members, as well as superintendents still intimidate me a bit 😉

Also in intimidating attendance, was Savvy Technologist, Tim Wilson, who was doing some podcasting of the conference for Apple. I’d met Tim before, but not really gotten to know him until that day. After Ken Kay’s compelling speech about the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, Tim interviewed me for a conference podcast. It didn’t go very well. As I said, I was very tired, and just couldn’t seem to articulate my answers very well. I was actually surprised that Tim posted the podcast the next day. I was even more surprised at how well it came out, thanks to his masterful editing of the audio. It sounds a bit like I’m on speed, because of all the confused pauses that he edited out, but he made me sound almost intelligent. The message is good, owing to Tim’s interviewing style.

“Thanks, Tim.” He is the master! He also had some really cool podcasting gear with him.

You can click directly into the interview, or go to the NSBA Annual Conference Weblog entry about the Executive Briefing to access both my audio podcast and a video podcast of Ken Kay’s Address.

Welcome to Sone of Citation Machine

First, I want to welcome you to Son of Citation Machine (SOCM). It’s been exciting to finally get this baby out, and, as is often the case, it’s birth has been rocky. At the same time, it happened at exactly the right time. It’s the end of the semester, and Citation Machine is serving more than a half-million page views a day.

So what’s different about SOCM that helps with all this traffic. Mostly the software is much simpler. I reprogrammed most of the site so that the information involved in a citation comes from a database, so that Citation Machine just simply gets the format, plugs in the information, and then displays it for you to copy and paste.

Even with these economizing efforts, Citation Machine is threatening to bring down many of the other sites served by my hosting company. So I have been further economizing, at the same time that the technical folks at Dreamhost (my hosting company) have also enacted (heroic) measures to keep the service going.

I’m going to close now, by saying that I appreciate all of your suggestions. You have given me new ideas for further enhancing SOCM. More about that later.