One More Thing about Bobby

I found my lab coat! SCIENCE!!!
(CC) Photo by Jake Fudge
Some of the comments that my last two blog posts have incited lead me to write one more thing about Bobby. I have no issue with anything that has been said in those comments. I feel, though, that a big part of the point of my story has been overlooked.

I will say here that I became a teacher because I wanted to help children and watch them grow and become more capable, compassionate and respectful of the culture and society of their community and their world. That said, I believe that teaching has become way to clinical. In our misguided efforts to establish success by being able to measure learning, we have fabricated a system of complex and rigid classifications with symptoms, diagnoses and prescribed treatments.  We have tried to make teaching a science, and it is not.  Teaching is an art.

In the early days of NCLB, being an educator was compared to being a pharmacist, where less than successful learners could be treated with scientifically proven best practices and the application of big data.  

Of course this clinical approach does describe part of what it is to teach.  I call this the teacher-technician.  However, what Bobby’d learned, that enabled him to diagnose my car’s problem from the telling of my entertaining story, did not result from an elaborate construct of scientifically proven best practices.  It happened because of a family or close-knit community that talked about cars; what made them work and what made them work better.  They valued good cars that could be made faster than they were off the showroom floor, and they valued the folks who could accomplish it.  They worked on cars.  They fixed them. ..and sometimes it didn’t work, and they talked about it – and they learned from what went wrong.

Bobby’s story is not  meant to promote classrooms that are shaped by established and described differentiations and toolboxes of prescribed remedies.  What I would rather see are teacher-philosophers who are skilled, knowledgeable and can facilitate a learning community that:

  • Values what is being learned
  • Respects the learning that comes from success
  • Respects the learning that comes from failure and
  • Celebrates what learners can do with what they have learned.

It is a classroom where students can turn around and look back at the concrete and public results of their learning.


The Story of a Successful Learner

Yesterday (or several days ago) I wrote about success as the element of learning that trumps lazy. By success, I mean learning that accomplishes a meaningful goal, as opposed to one that achieves an external and often symbolic outcome. This morning, I thought of a classic example.

1977 Toyota Corolla

After my first year of teaching, I traded in my aging Fiat station wagon for a brand new 1977 Toyota Corolla.  It cost $2,700 and was a wonderful car; drivetrain, chassis, body and four wheels – basic transportation that I kept tuned myself.  It cranked every time and never failed to get me to work or to Arizona or wherever I was going.  Until four years later.

The starter motor would turn, but the engine simply would not engage.  However, if I left it alone for about a half hour, it would start right up.  This didn’t happen every time I used the car, but each time it did, the pattern was the same.  I took it to a number of auto repair establishments, but, as is always the case, it would start flawlessly.  

I remember as if it was today, a rather short stocky fellow, slipping his Exxon cap off as he leaned under the hood and with grease- and tobacco-stained fingers, flipped open a plastic box that was mounted to the wheel well.  Seated into a circuit board were several microchips.  He said, “That’s your problem.  I don’t know what that is, but that’s your problem.”

The car cranked right up and I drove back home.  It was the next day that I was telling this story to a teacher friend, outside our rooms, during class change.  Several students were lingering close by, including a young man we’ll call Bobby.

I can picture him today; a good looking kid, tall, straight as an arrow, curly back hair and day-old stubble (before it was cool), and the broadening chest and shoulders that come to some boys as early as 15.  ..and he was still in the 7th grade. 

Ignition Coil for a 1977 Toyota Corolla

From the other side of the radiator he said something that I didn’t understand.  My teacher friend asked him to repeat and he said almost clearly, “h’it’s yer cule mista Warlick.”  

After engaging him in something similar to a conversation, I got that my coil was the problem.  An ignition coil is “an induction coil in an automobile’s ignition system which transforms the battery’s low voltage to the thousands of volts needed to create an electric spark in the spark plugs to ignite the fuel.1

This was better advice I’d gotten from any of the trained and experienced auto mechanics I’d consulted, so that afternoon I stopped off at Advance Auto, bought an ignition coil for a Corolla, installed it myself, and the car ran without fail until I sold it a couple of years and 95 thousand miles later for $2,300.

I’d never taught Bobby, but I knew that the teachers liked him, one of those guys they didn’t mind holding back year after year.  I told the story to another friend, whom I respected deeply, a woman who’d taught Bobby for all of these years, and she said,

“Don’t worry about Bobby.  His Dad owns a trucking company that hauls trees to the pulp wood plant.  He’s a millionaire, though you’d never know if you saw him.  Bobby’s going to go work for his Dad when he turns 16 and he’ll inherit the business.  He’s not dumb, he’s just lazy, and he always will be when it comes to learning.”

I don’t know what happened to Bobby.  I do know that pulp wood played out in the region, and Bobby’s business either folded, or he found some way to repurpose his assets into another line of business.

What I do know is that Bobby was not a lazy learner.  That he was able to diagnose the problem with my car, just from the telling of my story, convinces me that he engaged in deep and powerful learning experiences that taught him not only fundamentals, but how to apply those fundamentals for solving real problems.  

They were learning experiences that were qualified by


not by a SCORE.

Ignition coil. (2013, March 15). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 11:16, May 17, 2013, from

What is a second?

Why don’t you have a seat and let James May explain to you exactly how we came to the measurement of time we call a second. I certainly didn’t know when and why it came to be. I’ve only known James May as a presenter on Top Gear, but it seems like he also likes […]

What is a second?Why don’t you have a seat and let James May explain to you exactly how we came to the measurement of time we call a second. I certainly didn’t know when and why it came to be. I’ve only known James May as a presenter on Top Gear, but it seems like he also likes to spend his time teaching us things on Youtube. Might be worth checking out more.

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It Just a CTRL-C Now

When I started teaching myself to program computers, I had to have a book.  Radio Shack had a great book that came with their TRS-80 micro-computers (they were called micro-computers back then).  It was simple, well sequenced and funny.  Apple IIes came with a book, but not so good.  Learning PHP and MySQL also required books –– really thick ones.

It’s different today.  Anything I’m trying to get a computer or a web site to do, someone else has already tried and succeeded, and with the help of others who have already tried and succeeded.  Today, you simply tap into the conversations that they had, and you learn as well.  The result has been an expansion of knowledge about coding and an explosion of ideas for how to use that coding.

Anyway, I’ve been working for a number of months on one possible feature for Citation Machine that I suspect could greatly improve its functionality.  I’ve seen it before on other sites, but could not figure it out in such a way that it would work on all major browsers and both platforms (haven’t tested Linux yet).

It may sound trivial, but if all you had to do is submit a citation form and then simply press CTRL-C to copy the citation, and then CTRL-V to paste it into your document – well I think that’s huge.  Until now, you had to click into the box for the citation, and then double click or triple click to select/highlight the entire citation, and then CTRL-C and CTRL-V to move it into your document.

Now, thanks to the conversations of dozens of programmers who are better than me, you just submit the form and CTRL-C for the bibliographic citation.  To get the footnote you can double or triple click there, or click the [Select] button beneath it to have it selected/highlighted so that you can CTRL-C.  Same with the parenthetical citation.

Please comment if this causes any problems for you.

Is it Important Enough to Collaborate?

As a matter of disclosure, Ethan Warlick, whose comment I am responding to here, is my nephew. He will be graduating from the University of North Carolina in Wilmington next month and moving on to the real world of work and learning by joining a social media startup. I’m not sure if this is why I’ve elevated my response to full blog-status, or because of the story he tells, that.. of my roommates recently received a failing grade on a paper for “plagiarism.” Whether it was or wasn’t, he says he “missed a quotation mark,” I think that it will be interesting to learn new ways to deal with plagiarism from the summit! Especially from a collegiate perspective, as I hear about issues on campus constantly.

I scanned through a number of definitions of plagiarism from a number of sources and the most inclusive one came from Wiktionary, “The act of plagiarizing: the copying of another person’s ideas, text or other creative work, and presenting it as one’s own, especially without permission.”(Plagiarism, 2013)

There seem to be three parts here, or three questions. Did he copy the work of another person? Did he present the work as his own? ..and Did he get permission to use the work? Considering these three questions, I would have to read the offending paper to determine if he committed plagiarism.  But in my own work, attributing the expressed ideas of another person is more than just punctuation.

When I write (or draw, paint, compose, etc.) something, I am presenting it as my work — a representation of my ideas. When the expressed ideas of another adds value to my work, and I include the expression of those ideas, then it is my responsibility to credit the creator of that expression; and that is not simply a matter of punctuation.

Quotation marks simply, “..set off and represent exact language (either spoken or written) that has come from somebody else.” (“Purdue online writing“) They indicate ownership, but they do not attribute the owner. To avoid plagiarism, I must identify the creator and do so in a way that the reader will not fail to recognize the information’s source and the roll that it plays within my work. That credit best falls within the text along with some form of assistance to the reader who wants to validate its accuracy, reliability and validity.  If Ethan’s roommate credited the work with a phrase such as, “John Battelle recently said in a lecture..” or “Berkman Center fellow, David Weinberger wrote in …” Well, the writer isn’t presenting the work as his own, and is not plagiarizing.

So, if the roommate was simply careless in his punctuation, then was the failing grade fair? From a student’s point of view — that is to say, academically — then perhaps it was not fair. However, from a learner’s point of view, especially if the learner is preparing himself for endeavors that will rely on written communication, then I might consider it a fair, if not authentic, response.

When we finish school and begin to work (and continue to learn), we can still fail by leaving out a quotation mark. A potential client, customer, or employer can, and often does decide to choose another provider because it appears that I have used the words of another as my own. In my opinion, the concept of intellectual property should be an integral part of our basic notions of literacy — receiving, perhaps, even more attention than it already does.

But that said, I’ll let you in on a little secret; something that my teachers never shared. In the world, after formal schooling, we almost never do anything, that’s important, alone. It was one of my surprises when I left the solitude of classroom teaching to work more directly with other educators (district office). Those other professional educators were constantly asking me and each other to read their writing before they sent it; and I adopted the habit myself, when what I needed to say was important. Almost every day Brenda and I ask each other to read our emails before we hit the send button, and we usually catch each other’s careless mistakes. When the conveyance of an idea is important, then it takes more than one head to effectively construct its expression.

This leads me to wonder, are your school writings important enough that instructors encourage you to read each other’s work? ..or are they just grammar?


Plagiarism. In (2013). Wiktionary. Wikimedia. Retrieved from

Purdue online writing lab: How to use quotation marks. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Clipart, curtesy of


Teaching and Learning Essential Mindsets

Recently I have made the decision to return to school to get my masters in history. After several years of being out of school, I have thought a lot about what it takes to be a good student, and I wish I had thought about this when I was in grade school or I was […]

Recently I have made the decision to return to school to get my masters in history. After several years of being out of school, I have thought a lot about what it takes to be a good student, and I wish I had thought about this when I was in grade school or I was an undergrad. Challenge your students to come up with what makes them good students, and share this to inspire their fellow students.

This infographic shares some things that make successful students. It includes curiosity, passion, and discipline. Introduce these ideas and have you students brainstorm ways to incorporate these ideas into their education. Have them come up with ways to become curious about even the most boring subjects. Have them find something to become passionate about. Teach them to have discipline in their studies, even on the most stressful days. If they are willing to put in the work, any student can succeed.


So What is Plagiarism?

It’s a great question, that, like so many things, deserves a good answer and acknowledgement that the answer will be complicated. We too often treat plagiarism like many labels, red neck, communist, democrat, republican – black or white, right or wrong.  Gray areas complicate teaching, doesn’t it. But life happens in gray areas as do the ways that we use information.

  • American Copy Editors Society
  • Associated Press Media Editors
  • Society of Professional Journalists
  • Online News Association
  • American Society of News Editors
  • Canadian Association of Journalists
  • Radio-Television Digital News Association
  • Local Independent Online News Publishers

A cluster of media organizations (see right) are organizing the National Summit on Plagiarism and Fabrication, which will begin April 5.  The participants, invited by the American Copy Editors Society, will be conducting research aimed at producing a practical set of recommendations for combating and dealing with plagiarism and fabrication.  Their conclusions will be presented at the ACES conference in St. Louis that begins on April 4.

It is hard to predict what will come out of the summit, but the conversations have already begun, much of it aimed at bringing some sanity to how we treat the practice. Roy Peter Clark tried to describe the difference between plagiarism and carelessness in a Poynter blog post,

A classic case of overcharging occurred in 2007 when journalism teachers at the University of Missouri condemned a colleague of plagiarism after he used quotes from a student newspaper in an opinion piece without attribution. I argued then that while the practice may have been sloppy, to call it plagiarism was like “shooting a fly with a bazooka.”

Clark goes on to suggest four books on the subject:

Employers Identify Top 5 Job Skills

The other day I came up with a great way to give extra credit while strengthening your students. Giving extra credit for bringing in necessary supplies, such as tissues, is great, but students who give an extra push that will help them later on in life should get rewarded. Tangible rewards are one of the […]

The other day I came up with a great way to give extra credit while strengthening your students. Giving extra credit for bringing in necessary supplies, such as tissues, is great, but students who give an extra push that will help them later on in life should get rewarded. Tangible rewards are one of the best ways to motivate students.

In todays infographic, three major cities were surveyed based on the job skills employers in the cities seek. A lot of what was found was collaboration, project management, and internet skills. Well why not encourage your students to harness these skills in middle grades, upper grades, and even elementary grades, and reward them when they exhibit these skills.

This can be done in multiple ways. By having your students come up with their own marketable skills they already have and give them a confidence booster by rewarding them with these. You can also compile a list of marketable skills with you students, and have each student choose a few to work on, and then later assign them to students to give the students something to work on.

During assessments, if the students choose to go for this extra credit, have them outline how they used these marketable skills to complete the task. For instance, with collaboration, how did the students divide the work evenly based on each students skills? How did the students then come back together to share what they learned and put it together. Offer this explanation as extra credit. Many curriculums are teaching these marketable skills, but taking this extra step allows students to realize that this is a marketable skill and share how they used it, as well as receive feedback from you the teacher. Possibly even bring in professionals to give feedback.


Real Estate Market Today

Part of teaching economics is preparing your students for being good at managing their money today, and tomorrow. Part of this is real estate. Now, according to this infographic, it is a good idea to go ahead and buy today, if you are able. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that any of your students are in […]

Part of teaching economics is preparing your students for being good at managing their money today, and tomorrow. Part of this is real estate. Now, according to this infographic, it is a good idea to go ahead and buy today, if you are able. Unfortunately, it is doubtful that any of your students are in the position to do such a thing. But it would still be a good idea to go into the basics of what is involved in purchasing a home, so that students are familiar with it when the time comes.

This infographic begins by saying that this is the best time to buy a home. The market is projected to continue a slight decline and stabilize, and then begin going back up next year. Interest rates are in the same boat. It said that interest rates should be between 4-5%. Unfortunately, most of your student’s won’t be in a position to purchase for another 10-15 years, when the market is supposed to be high again.

As well as this information, it goes into the 5 most, and least promising markets. With your students, discuss why these changes are going to occur, and why the markets are projected as such. Do a mock home buying experience as part of a mock life. Look on websites like Zillow and and search for properties. If anyone you know is purchasing a home, or you have recently, go through the inspection. Ask an inspector, real estate agent, and mortgage agent to come in and talk about what needs to be considered. Ask your students to create wish lists, and see where they break with their lists. And finally, see what the final outcome is. Did they get the home of their dreams? Did they get a fixer upper? Most importantly, are they happy?


The Page is Dead! Long Live Curriculum

After keynoting
the recent SchoolCIO Leadership Summit and then facilitating their “Digital Content” discussion cadre, I was asked to compile some of the highlights of our case studies and conversations into a 100 word scenario for the SchoolCIO Magazine’s followup articles. The word limit made the task feel like a job.  But it is in that sort of efficient deconstruction, reflection, and reconstruction process that we gain new insights — that I learn.

One of the linchpin moments of the recent SchoolCIO Leadership Summit was when one of the attendees, in a rather off-handed remark, said — and I paraphrase:

We should not simply be transitioning from print to digital content.

We should be facilitating a transformation from an old and obsolete way of teaching and learning to a new and more relevant way of preparing our children for their future.

This remark brilliantly packaged a lot of the issues that had been struggling with for quite some time.  It suggests that we take a step or two back and shift our focus away from a new device for content delivery and refocus on something much broader and suggestive of how the game is changing.

A 50 word cloud, generated by Wordle, compiling more than 20 definitions of curriculum from the Internet

The word Curriculum comes to mind as one way of labeling this broader view. Admittedly, the word is fairly slippery, already having different meanings to different people — even among professional educators. Formal definitions range from a zoomed out departmental view, “..the subjects comprising a course of study..” to a closer micro perspective, “..a predefined series of learning events designed to meet a specific goal.” Scan the word cloud to the right.

But as I worked through my notes from the Summit, struggling with the language for my scenario, it occurred to me that a precise and universally accepted definition of curriculum simply has not been very important. Teachers had the textbook; a physical, reasonably durable, easily understood (and operated), dependable, and trustworthy tool that was carefully designed for instruction by experts. We had a practical point of focus that rendered curriculum, as a term, lighter than air, floating to a high and misty place, where its Latin lineage evoked a classical aura to the profession. At least that’s the way I see it.

Today, the textbook, consisting of printed pages glued or sewn together and bound in covers, is obsolete.  I believe that its role as the central, dominant, and trusted tool for instructional delivery is been based on a myth and is equally obsolete.  Our information landscape has morphed into something that is larger, more dynamic and vibrant, highly personal and yet broadly shared — and almost entirely unforeseen.

This new info-environment has radically changed how we learn.

Therefore, it must also radically change the practices of teaching and the institution of education.

This is the last book that I bought in order to learn to do something (2000). Today, the idea of buying a book to learn a new programming language seems ludicrous. If we’re not buying textbooks to learn after school, then why should we force them on our children’s learning?

As the textbook (in the form that I used it in the 20th century) declines, becoming only one optional component of an expanding and shifting array of resources and opportunities, the role of teacher will change.

This notion of  crafting learning experiences by orchestrating webs of content, tools, opportunities and connections implies a broad, partly informed, partly intuitive, and largely personal act of crafting curriculum. It happens as a result of education; experience; professional conversations; research; information resources, tools, and skills; a connection to the community; a genuine caring for children and their self-fulfilling future success; and a professional obligation to be a constant learner and model that practice.

This vision of teachers as curriculum curator is inconsistent with a central and arrogantly authoritative blueprint for everything that learners need to be doing for hours, days, and years of their childhoods and youth.

Curriculum should empower learning, not merely guide and filter teaching.

By relying on teacher currated curriculum over state-adopted textbooks, the transformation we may well see is a shift from classrooms of compliant students to environments of skilled, resourceful, and habitual learners.

…Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad