The Collision

I’m depressed now.  I just read an article about electronic voting machines and concerns about their security.  This particular article concerned the security of companies that hire themselves out to test the security of electronic voting machines.  Where does it end?

I see a huge collision coming, and it frightens me.  We are ushering in new technologies that are enriching our lives in amazing ways.  But they also have the affect of breaking down many of the walls that we have relied on for millenniums that protect us from our wildness.  Our children go forth into a world, exposed and accessible to people we do not know.  Our democratic way of government is in jeopardy.  Our very identities are threatened.

I’m not being a luddite.  I believe that these connecting and enriching technologies are essential to us as thriving and progressing societies.  But as connective / wall-shattering technologies continue to advance, our wildness continues to be a part of who we are and how we think. 

Mobile phones are giving us access to that which is almost unspeakable, as evidenced by the recent release of video from Saddam Hussein’s execution — and I have to admit my on morbid fascination.  I watched it — and became nearly sick.  But I watched it.

I worry about a world without walls with people who continue to fear, hate, and want pain — and to be fascinated by fear, hate, and pain.  I fear an enormous collision between a connected world and a world that is so afraid.  I guess this is why I keep ranting that ethics must be a part of what we consider basic literacy skills.  But this is not nearly enough.

How do we heal a wild world — in time?

Sorry, just venting.  I may remove this blog entry at any moment!

You are welcome to comment.  But, please, no criticism!

Lakes on Titan

 Two radar views of Titan
The Cassini spacecraft, using its radar system, has discovered very strong evidence for hydrocarbon lakes on Titan. Dark patches, which resemble terrestrial lakes, seem to be sprinkled all over the high latitudes surrounding Titan’s north pole.

I grew up during the earliest years of space exploration.  This is probably the reason why I get so excited about what we are doing in the Solar System right now, even if only with robotic vehicles.

JPL.NASA.GOV: Multimedia:

when we took this radar pass back in July, very high up into the northern hemisphere, once we got into the region above about seven degrees north on Titan, there were just lakes everywhere. We detected a whole lot of lakes, in fact over 75 lakes, ranging in size from about a mile-and-a-half across to over 40 miles across, so these are quite a lot of lakes, and some of them quite substantial in size.

Jane Plat interviews Dr. Ellen Stofan, a member of the Cassini radar team.  They’ve discovered lakes on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn.  They aren’t filled with water.  Probably methane or ethane, but they are big and they probably have waves.

If you’re interested in space exploration, give the podcast a listen.

A Story about Information

I took a year off from school before I graduated with a BS degree in education.  I’d had almost four years of book-learning and felt that I needed some life-learning, so got a job working in a factory. 

 Image, Source: intermediary roll film
The factory machine shop that I worked in was not much different from this LOC American Memories photo from 1954.  It was a noisy, dirty, and dangerous place, but the work was not without its up-side.

Because I’d taken drafting in high school, I fairly quickly got promoted to Set-up Man. A set-up man (or woman) supervised a number of machine operators.  But the name comes from the fact that he also sets up the machines for the various parts or products that they fashion.  When we finished an order for a particular carburetor manifold and needed to fashion another type, my job was to get the blue prints for the new job from a file cabinet, and then take my tools and literally disassemble the various manufacturing machines that I managed, and then reassemble them so that they would drill the wholes to the correct depths and widths, and machine the correct screw seatings, and mill and sand the surfaces within the accepted clearances.  Then I instructed the operators in running the machines for the new parts.

Several years ago, after I left the state department of education, I called the personnel department of that plant.  I honestly do not remember why, but I asked about a set-up man position.  The woman I was talking too was fairly new to the factory, and did not know what I was talking about.  She had never heard of the job.

You see, they did not have set-up men any more.  The manufacturing was done with robotics.  The person who took the place of the set-up man, now calls up the specs for the new part from a computer network.  Then he or she takes that information and writes an instruction set, or program code, that is then uploaded to the computers that control the robots, and the instruction set re-purposes the robots to fashion the new parts.

It is now and information-based job.  When I worked there, people worked with steel, plastic, and magnesium.  Today, the people who work there, work with information.

One thing that has happened to information, that should be impacting what and how we teach, is that information has become the raw material with which people work.  We mine it, we work it, fashioning it into an information product that will be valuable to other people, and then express it in some compelling way.  It may be a story, a report, a song, or a design.  It may be a piece of computer code, or a sales pitch for a new marketing or distribution technique.  It may be a new experience that people will enjoy.  It may be a new way to grow wheat that is resistant to whatever wheat needs to resist. 

We still teach too much as if information is the end product.  We teach it, you learn it, we test it.  Instead, we need to present information as a raw material.  You access it, and then you do something with it, that adds value in some way.  You construct your own knowledge.

Once again, I’m not saying that processing information replaces memorization.  It’s just that learning to work with information is as important — as critical — to our students future, as learning it.

2¢ Worth!

Image Citation:
Gottscho-Schleisner, Inc., “R.E.F., Jericho Turnpike, Mineola, Long Island. Machine shop..” The Library of Congress American Memory. 22 Oct 1954. The Library of Congress. 4 Jan 2007 <>.

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Listen to Will Richardson on Blogging

Steve Hargadon just published a podcast interview with Blogger and School 2.0 advocate, Will Richardson.  As Steve says, in the associated blog posting…

This interview was intended to help someone new to educational blogging to hear candid advice from Will Richardson, author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms.

This is part two of a multi-part podcast on School 2.0, which began with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, and followed by Science Leadership Academy Principal, Chris Lehmann (whose recording may be available at your reading of this post).  You can listen to Will interview directly from this MP3 file, or go to the EdTechLIVE page to listen to all of the podcasts. 

Good stuff!

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Looking Forward >>>

This is a photo by Puerto Rican artist, Reavel, that showed up when I did a creative commons search on flickr for forward.  Read on to understand why.

Perhaps I came off a bit over zealous yesterday, in my post about teaching students to memorize.  I’m not suggesting that because we carry laptops and net-connected mobile phones around with us, we (educators) can all go home.  Far from it.  I think that our jobs just got a whole lot richer and more interesting, as several readers implied in their comments yesterday.  What I am suggesting is that the education that many of us were brought up in assumed a scarcity of information, and therefore, relied heavily on our brain’s ability to memorize.  It was a central part of education.  ..and for the past several years, we, in the U.S., have come to over-emphasize memorization rather than reshape education to reflect a much more abundant information environment — because memorized information is easier and cheaper to test.

I agree that having to constantly look up facts in the workplace will not be productive.  However, I suspect that those facts that are crucial to one’s work will be learned fairly quickly, as we will come to memorize what we need to in the work place.  It’s why I’m suggesting different kinds of questions and/or different kinds of assignments that are more workplace-like — more relevant.  These assignments might be designed to require students to memorize some listing of information in order to perform.

Ditto to Ewan Macintosh, who’s original post (Sparknotes straight to mobile) sparked this conversation.  I agree about the value of Sparksnotes and Cliffnotes to help students answer those questions of meaning from their teachers.  However, if those teacher questions asked for conversations among students, rather than just answers, then each student becomes personally responsible to the class for their answers, and the answers that they share become building blocks for greater knowledge — and I suspect that Sparknotes would not be sufficient for this.  Does this make sense? 

I agree that we need a balance, but that balance needs to be wrapped around today’s information landscape. ..and I fear that too many teachers and curriculum developers are shaping their work around the way they’ve always done it, more than the shape of today’s information.

Another commenter suggests that the best defense against getting the wrong information from your research is a proper context, some prior general knowledge of the topic — and I agree.  But memorization is not the only way or even the best way to do this.  Many years ago, I helped my daughter study for a test about the American Civil War.  We talked about it, using the textbook as our base.  I read through the chapter and we talked about why the south and the north fought the war, what their advantages and disadvantages were, and what they would each gain by winning.  At the end, she knew about that war, could talk about it, and could answer good questions about that period of U.S. history.  Yet she made a 52 on the test, because she couldn’t name the dates of the major battles of that war — and this was a GOOD teacher.  I suspect though, that should was probably better prepared to conduct further research and further self-teaching about the Civil War than many of her classmates who had memorized dates.

Finally, Steve Ladan, an educator in the Philippines, asks about what they should be teaching where students do not have convenient access to computers and the Internet.  That’s a big question, bigger than me.  But I continue to believe that the answer to all of this lies in our notions of what it means to be literate today, the skills required to use information to accomplish goals (my definition).  Certainly those skills include the ability to read, to independently perform basic calculations, and write a coherent paragraph.  But it also means the ability to:

  • skillfully and resourcefully find the information that is appropriate to your task,
  • to decode the information from one format to another,
  • to evaluate that information to determine its value, and
  • to organize the information in ways that add value.

It means being able to process information when it comes in numbers, but also when it comes as images, sound, or video.  All digital information is processable.

It means not merely being able to write a coherent paragraph, but how to express your knowledge and ideas compellingly, using not only the written word but the digitized and networked word, and images, and sound, and video.

I believe that these are all basic skills, and that teaching them does not only happen in front of a computer.  The most important parts happen during conversations in the classroom.  For instance, when a student asks a question in class, we (teachers) might say, “How should we go about finding the answer to that question,” rather than simply answering it — teaching students to learn to rely on their own resourcefulness.  When a student answers a question or turns in a report, the teacher might ask, “How do you know that that is true?” The student who expects that kind of question becomes responsible for the quality of the research, not just the paper he turns in.

I suspect that parts of this can happen without a computer in every student’s hand.  But they need some level of access to digital networked information.  Do you have a computer in your classroom?  How do you invite that technology into your conversations?  Do you have Internet in your classroom?  How do you connect it to your classroom instruction?  What is the availability of cyber cafes?  How might you introduce a learning culture into them, or the local cyber cafes into the culture of your school?  I don’t know the answers to these questions, because I’m not there.  But I think that you have to use what you have and believe that the rest will come — faster than may seem logical today.  It’s a problem that we face in much of the U.S. as well — though it’s not because we can’t afford it.

It’s because we’re not looking forward, and I guess that’s what I’m suggesting that we all do.

Image Citation:
Reavel, “Look Forward.” Reavel’s Photostream. 14 Oct 2006. 3 Jan 2007 <>.

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It’s in the Questions We Ask

edublogs: Sparknotes straight to mobile:

If your kid called you up in the middle of an exam and asked for help would you be annoyed?

Ewan Mcintosh would be, especially if his students knew that they could access SparksNotes directly with their MMS enabled mobile phones.  Go to Ewan’s blog to learn more about SparksNotes on a phone, but I’d like to comment just a bit here.

Many years ago, interested family members were invited to come to the Warlick home, a house that was built buy my great great grandfather, Maxwell, a fifth generation Warlick who still spoke German as his primary language.  The last Warlick to live there, a great uncle, had just died and the house was being sold outside the family.  So we were invited to come and pick and keep anything that we wanted.  I got a quilt.  But I also got a very keen sense of the households that lived there over the past nearly two-hundred years.

I knew that education was very important to the family.  The sons were sent to a boarding school in Pennsylvania.  My grandfather and one of his brothers each got college degrees in the early years of the 20th century.  His brother (and the last inhabitant of the  family home) earned a degree in engineering at North Carolina State University, and my grandfather a degree in the classics from the University of North Carolina.

Yet, I saw little or no evidence that the house ever held very much information.  I am certain that they did not receive magazines or newspapers.  The house was many hours buggy ride from the nearest town, Lincolnton.  There were probably a few books in the house, but not many and they were not regularly updated.  My point is that being educated in that time was defined by how much knowledge you could hold in your head.  It’s where Information was stored — in our heads.

Today, we almost literally swim in information.  It is in our walls, on our desks, in the very air that we breath.  We carry access to a global library of content in our pockets.  Yet we still largely define education on 19th century terms, how much you can memorize and recall.

Enough said — except that this how theme reminds me of something a superintendent said to me last year (2006) as he was taking me on a tour of his South Dakota district.  He said that we are asking to many questions that require an answer, when we should be asking questions that require a conversation.

Pictures from Eastern North Carolina

The Landmark Project is taking a few days off and enjoying one of our favorite little towns, Beaufort, North Carolina.  It is the second oldest town in the state (1709) and many of the old 18th century homes are available for rent, but we’re in a smaller more contemporary house about a mile down Front street from downtown.  I was supposed to rain most of the time where were here, so we didn’t mind the distance.  As it is, I’d enjoy being closer in to do more wandering and shopping — a wonderful Italian Ceramic shop we always spend money in.

Anyway, here are just a few of the pictures I’ve taken on our trip.  You can click them to get the larger view directly in flickr.

baldeagles Two of several bald eagles we saw around Lake Mattamuskeet, near Swan Quarter, North Carolina.
cormorant This is a Cormorant I took a bunch of pictures of while he was hunting. Then he took off, and smooth water beneath his wings captivated me.
tundraswans1 The reason that we went to Lake Mattamuskeet was the Tundra Swans. They fly down from northern Canada and Alaska to winter on several wetlands of the central east coast of the U.S. This enormous natural lake is the largest winter habitate for these magnificent birds. They make a lot of racket too.
tundraswans2 More Tundra Swans on the water — one in a rather embarrassing pose in the background.
sunrise A sun rise worth getting up early for.
sunrise2 More of the sunrise.

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2007 — Beginning the Renaissance

I grew up in a three-stop light mill town in western North Carolina.  The younger among you must realize that back in the middle of the 20th century, there weren’t as many stop lights as their are today, meaning that the town was a little bit larger than three stoplights might imply.  There were 16 thriving textile mills at that time (0 now) and it was the headquarters for my father’s employer, Carolina Freight Carriers Corporation (now defunct).

My father worked as an accountant and efficiency researcher for the trucking company (after five years as a school teacher).  The job was about as information-based as you could get back then, though he spent a good deal of his time operating an adding machine.  I remember that one of them actually had a crank.

I knew, while I grew up, that I wanted to work like him, using information, rather than like the fathers of many of my friends who worked in the mills.  As it turned out, I did work in mills and manufacturing plants for some time, and it wasn’t a useless experience — but that’s another story. 

My point is that when I looked at my Dad, I thought I was looking at my future — and for decades, that was true.  If you wanted to see your future, you looked at your parents’ generation.  What’s more, is that I believed that there was a well designed and smooth-running system in place that would make sure that at some point, at some moment, we would know all that we needed to know to be ready for that future.

Boy, did we get surprised!

The days of being able to see and touch your future are gone.  Our environment is full of  new  and emerging technologies and the affects of new technologies, and our cultures are being reshaped by an information landscape that seems almost shapeless.  ..and any system that is intended to prepare our children for their future must be designed around that technology-rich environment and information driven culture.  Anything less is just preparing our children for my mills and my Dad’s adding machines.

Yesterday, I wrote my reflections of 2006, and suggested that we may be seeing the rise of a new attitude toward education, a new willingness among educators and society to re-vision what it is that we teach our students and how we teach it.  If this is true, and we continue to talk about a different kind of education with different outcomes, and begin to act on these ideas, then what I see starting in 2007 is a new age in education — an education renaissance.

I’d like to spend a little more of your time exploring just a few ideas of what an education renaissance might look like.

  • Students actively pursue learning — Our children’s intrinsic curiosity does not go away by middle school.  Instead it is refined, because we come to understand that curiosity is a potent source of energy to be harnessed for education.  Further more, we empower learners with access to content and tools to work the content in order to satisfy their curiosity and the other needs of growing children and young adults.
  • Teachers become learning consultants – managers and modelers of learning — Regardless of what that introduction implies, teachers stop looking like managers and start to become partners in their classrooms.  They are consultants who help their students learn to teach themselves (It’s the best thing they can learn to do today).  Teachers can do this, because they too become empowered with access to content and the tools to work the content, and are connected to dynamic networks of professional collaboration.  Teachers explore, experiment, and discover along with their students, even if they already know the material.  They always learn something new and celebrate it with their students.
  • Classrooms become learning engines — We stop relying on laws of physics — mass & momentum — to drive learning, and instead, cultivate our classrooms into learning engines.  I believe that we are going to learn a lot about this as we start to pay attention to video games.  We will learn what it is about highly interactive games that make children (and adults) want to learn, and begin to infect our classrooms with these same elements of need.
  • Schools become museums of learning — School will cease to be citadels of learning.  Instead, they will turn themselves inside-out and become an integral part of their communities.  They will come to mirror their communities as the communities come to mirror them.  People will see not only the raw data of the traditional assessments of their children’s most basic information skills, but also the relics that result from the real learning that happens afterward, the learning that happens as students begin to lay the tracks to their future.

This education renaissance will not occur because we decided to increase our technology budgets, or hire technology integrationists for every school, or install state-wide networks, or simply rewrite curriculum.  It will happen because we have realized that a different kind of education is required to meet our children’s needs, and we are committed and courageous enough to make sure that all of the conditions are orchestrated together to see it happen.

We have no choice!

Image Citation
Perry, Curtis. “Adding Machine.” Curtis Perry’s Photostream. 1 Nov 2005. 16 Dec 2006 <>.