So What did You Do in School Today?

Look what we did in school today

(cc) nordicshutter

It has been a while since I’ve written, though it’s not for lack of anything to say. I’ve been re-strategizing some of the functions of Citation Machine for the approaching peak usage that comes as the semester hastens forward. Most of my strategies have been abandoned, but some may be fruitful. We’ll see.

Nice to have digital grease under my fingernails again 😉

Last week, I ran (via Skype) an unconference session for a PadCamp in Long Island, NY. It was one of those events I’d love to have been there for, where just the right people are having just the right conversations — and that pretty much characterizes my unconference session on the future of the textbook.

There were lots of progressive ideas that resonated loudly in that room. However, I kept wondering how these ideas might resonate in school board chambers or among elected legislators? I kept asking, “What’s the story we need to be telling?”

Of course, that was the wrong question, because that simply got more high-minded ideas percolating. What I should have asked was, “Who should tell these stories?”

I keep coming back to the kids.

A principal of a special project school of kindergardeners described some of the fabulous things going on there and I asked, “What do those kids say at dinner, when their parents ask, ‘So what did you do in school today?’

The initial answer was, “Oh, nothing!”

But then they corrected themselves realizing that we were talking about kindergardeners. These young children are excited about school — and their parents are excited about school. So might we ever expect middle school or high school students to talk excitedly about what happened in school today?

I suspect that the answer to that question, with notable exceptions, is, “No!”

But can we help parents to instigate those conversations, to break through their children’s adolescent cool, and get them to talk about learning experiences that defy boundaries, generate curiosity, and where innovation and creativity are common and not the exception.

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.

What do you think?

Steve Jobs – A Great Idea

There is much that can be said about Steven Jobs. I would like to simply say that he was a man of great ideas and the skills to make them happen.

During the creation of the original Macintosh, he told the designers that he wanted a computer that was as easy to operate as a telephone. It seems proper that last night I learned about the passing of Steve Jobs from a telephone that he turned into a computer.

I was especially moved by President Obama’s statement. He said that,

Steve was among the greatest of American innovators – brave enough to think differently, bold enough to believe he could change the world, and talented enough to do it.

I hate to be so crude as to inject politics into this time of mourning, but if the President truly values the qualities he attributed to Steve Jobs, then he will do what he can, fire who he needs to, hire who he needs, to turn our classrooms into places where teachers are less often prompted to say,

“That’s the right answer!”

and more often hear themselves saying,

“That’s a great idea!”

– Posted using BlogsyApp from my iPad

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.


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.

Government 2.0

Government Perspective Panel
I’m among the first to arrive at CityCamp Raleigh, a gathering of folks interested in technology and Gov2.0 (see GovFresh). I’ve heard of these things, and had some curiosity about it, and being a former state government employ and devote of the Web 2.0 conversation — well I’m here.

The impression that I have, at this point, is that government 2.0 is about accomplishing a better civil existence through the richness of new conversations made possible by contemporary technologies.

So I’ll sit for a bit, listen, and jot down ideas that cling to me. Until they start, they’ve got Neal Young and Cat Stevens playing through the speakers from someplace decades ago.

Next Day

I took notes during the two panel discussions (Government & Business Perspectives) on XMind, and that PDF file is available here.

A couple of things did cling to me that I’d like to briefly post here, and I’ll mention that I was quite gratified by the amount of discussion about education that seemed to naturally emerge out of the Gov 2.0 conversation. Here is a link to the Twitter thread for CityCamp Raleigh.

First, there was a story, told by Jimmy Goodmon, of WRAL.  As a point of context, WRAL (Capital Broadcasting) is a local TV Station and an Internet pioneer. They where among the very first public ISPs in North Carolina, along with the Raleigh News & Observer (anyone remember Goodmon has a son who is approaching school age, and he wanted to collect some data on schools that are available.

He said, “So I got the files, and they were PDFs,” followed by a rift of laughter in the audience.  But — and here is my point — how many of this year’s graduating high school seniors would get that joke?

Here’s the problem. A PDF file is essentially a paper publication that’s printed on your computer screen. You can read it and it looks just like the paper-printed version. There are important advantages to this type of file, but the drawback that nicked the audience’s funny bone is that you can do very little with the information. It can be searched. But you can’t sort or filter the school data by any particular criteria. You can just read it, but you can’t work it.

The preferred file format would be XLS or CSV, both of which can easily be imported into MicroSoft Excel and other spreadsheet programs. From here, the data can be analyzed deeply, the best schools surfacing to the top and the more worrisome schools sinking to the bottom.

This conference is largely about data, and how, with free access to workable public data, citizens can understand, discuss, and ultimately improve their civil environment be generating new solutions to local problems. But this requires an understand of data and how to use it as a raw material.

I’ve written before that all of this talk about data driven decision making is good. But I think it would be better if it actually became a part of what we help children learn.

So again, how many graduating seniors know what they can do with a CSV file? How many Wake County teachers understand that knowing this is important?

The other point that I’d like to share was actually a personal thread of thought that went through my mind during one of the panels. It’s about open source. I am by no means an expert on open source. But we, in education, tend to light-up when we hear about open source software, because we learn that it’s free. But what makes a piece of software open source is not that it’s free, it’s that it is free to be improved.

So if we were to carry this idea through to government, or a school —

What does a local government look like that is free to be improved?

What does a school look like that’s free to be improved?

But Who Champion’s Citizenship?

Family Fun, a (cc) Flickr Photo from Paul Reynolds

I just received another press release from a media relations firm, hoping that I will blog about the topic. More times than not, on the occasions that I do blog about it, the firm and their client can’t be happy.  This one led with, “CEOs tell governors to strength(en) math, science education standards.”

It comes from an organization called Change the Equation, a nonprofit devoted to improving STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) education in the United States. The organization was founded by Craig Barret (Intel CEO), Glenn Britt (Time Warner Cable CEO), Ursula Burns (Xerox CEO), Antonio Perez (Eastman Kodak CEO) and Sally Ride (Sally Ride Science CEO). The list of corporate members is impressive by any measure. I counted 76 of them.

I commend Change the Equation for its vision, probable funding and guidance.

But who’s championing citizenship?

Who’s putting mega-bucks and weighty influence behind education that prepares learners for civic responsibility, community awareness and the ability to artistically and passionately express oneself, and appreciate the expressions of others?

Who’s backing, with loud voices, an education that leads not only to successful industry, but also to successful and fulfilling home lives?

Who’s being listened to, as they demand education that leads to a democracy based on truth, knowledge and logic, and not emotional energy generated by fear?

Are We Wasting Children?

Adapted from Nightmare II, posted on Flickr (cc) by Hammer of Dawn

I had a nightmare last night. It doesn’t happen very often, and when it does, it’s usually about being insufficiently dressed, some weird misbehavior of gravity, or a spooky inescapable house in the middle of a field.

This one was different. It started on television, an intro to one of those TV News exposes. The reporter earnestly recites four names, with their school pictures lined up on the screen overlaying a sepia’d image, the aftermath of a grizzly gun battle. He continues, “..killed in a gang shootout — during school hours.”

The reporter describes evidence indicating that none of the four boys were gang members, that the killings were the consequence of simply being in the wrong place, at the wrong time. “So,” He says, “Who was responsible for these four senseless deaths?”

“Was it their schools?”

The report goes on to explain how the four youngsters, and many more like them, had fallen through the cracks of a school that was judged by the performance of its enrolled students, and that some students had become more valuable to the school, when dropped from their rosters.

It was a dream — a very bad dream. I have never encountered an educator, school, or school district that I could believe for an instant might be capable of encouraging students to drop out. But I do know, first hand, of youngsters who were so frustrated by the regimented nature of their classrooms that they dropped out, at seemingly little resistance from their schools. Though they were each diagnosed with learning disabilities (A.D.D. & A.D.H.D), these were all bright, talented, middle class kids, with college educated parents, and MUCH more to offer society than the ability to conform to a standards-based education regime.

But the catalyst of this bad dream, I think, was a conversation I had with an educator a couple of weeks ago. I do not remember if he was a principal or working on an education administration degree, but he told me about a course he was taking on data driven decision making. He said that they were leaning how to analyze student performance data in such a way as to identify those students, or demographics of students, who, with attention, could statistically improve the school’s scoring, and, consequently, the students who would be a waste of scarce resources, from the viewpoint of the school’s standing.

Essentially, he was learning how to “game the system,”

Are we gaming the system at the expense of children?  Is this really happening? Is this what public education in this country has become?

Are we wasting our children?


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


I made a big mistake last night!

I am extremely sympathetic to this sentiment. But would we rather close his schools, layoff the rest of his family, leave his continued good health to chance, watch his roads and bridges crumble, continue to arrogantly dominate the consumption of dwindling resources and deface the planet?

I don’t know if Obama’s spending is going to solve our problems. I do not know if we possess the creative energy to leverage that spending for change. But I am certain that giving money back to the rich, turning a blind eye to irresponsible greed, invading the wrong country, grossly underestimating the strength and resolve of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and continuing to divide this country did not and will not work.

I watched a little bit of Fox News — “know thine enemy.” I try not to vent my political views here, but I’m tired, my judgement is probably diminished, and I’m getting worried.

I report all of my income to the government. They get a lot of it and I wish that it wasn’t so much. But I’m not complaining. I am lucky to be in a position to be able to pay a lot of taxes. I am proud to pay it. It is my patriotic duty.

America does not come cheap, and its costs are more than the blood that we so eagerly celebrate. It’s our work, our dedication to a great experiment, and our patriotic willingness to invest in that experiment — to invest in this country. It is my opinion that those who seek offices of power by promising lower taxes are selling out the country.

The government is not perfect. It is far from perfect. ..and this country is very sick. But anyone who says that the medicine should not taste bad, that the cure is simple and cheap, that it’s the doctor who is responsible and not the disease — is actually trying to sell you something else!