On the Other Hand

I probably made a dozen of these from scrap lumber and discarded lawnmower wheels or disassembled roller skates if I was desperate

This morning, while preparing for an upcoming presentation on Internet ethics, I jotted off several comments that began with, “Remember When.” They were all designed to lament back to a time before the Internet, when we did things differently, because we couldn’t surf, text, or tweet. My plan is to illustrate how much we have come to depend on a dependable information network. I posted most of them on Twitter (#rememberwhen) and Facebook.

For the fun of it, I also listed in my notes some of the elements of my own pre-Internet childhood that I suspect most children today are not experiencing because of the Internet, video games, texting, etc. I decided to post some of them here for your enjoyment.

  • Remember when childhood happened almost exclusively outside?
  • Remember when a child’s most important resource was a saw, hammer, and bag of straightened nails?
  • Remember when we daydreamed about building a raft, putting a propeller & wings on our bicycle, or exploring a wilderness with a musket and bowie knife?
  • Remember when there was more you could do with a pair of skates than just strap them on your feet and skate?
  • Remember when we use to pretend — out loud?
  • Remember when every tree was scrutinized for its treehouse suitability?
  • Remember when playing house was done with chairs and blankets (not with simulation software)?

Does this ring true for you?

Engagement v. Empowerment — continuing thoughts (part 1)

Go Ahead, by Xavier Donat ((Donat, Xavier. “Go Ahead.” Flickr. 10 May 2009. Web. 8 Jan 2010. <http://www.flickr.com/photos/xav/3519476035/>.))

I’m with Chris Lehmann concerning his sense of discomfort over our recent near obsession with “engagement.”  He says, in a December 27 blog post (Engagement v. Empowerment…) that

“..first and perhaps most disconcerting, is that engagement too often got translated to ‘fun.'”

I agree with Chris that we’re going to lose that battle — and it’s the wrong battle.  We have invaded childhood enough already, and venerating their hyper-connected, hyper-transparent culture as something we need to replicate in our classrooms results in a creepy tree house effect — which just makes us look foolish.

We want our children to learn and we tend to believe that if we see more engagement in them, then we will see more effective and perhaps more relevant learning.  This is possibly true, though I can’t help but feel that the formula that ignites these results is far more complex.  I pulled up the little dictionary app from my dock and read through the definitions of engage in its various forms, and nothing magical jumped out at me.  In fact, most of the definitions seemed to treat the word from the observers’ point of view — we see another person occupied, unavailable, attracted, involved, employed, or having agreed to marry.

Engagement is the learner acting to learning.

Empowerment feels better to Chris, as it does to me.  I see us contributing more to the actions of learning when we empower learners than when we engage them.  It seems easier to facilitate as well.  Lehmann says,

..that in the end, (empowerment) is the word — the idea — that sets us up for a more student-centered classroom because it is about what the students get from the experience once the class is done, not what happens during the class.

What my mind’s eye sees, when I think of empowered learners is that “..it is about what the students are able to do to get (some gain) from the experience once the class is done.”  If students are empowered, as learners, to accomplish learning goals, instead of its being done to them, then fun simply stops being a factor.  Chris writes about the empowering coach who is going to put the team through un-fun and sometimes grueling drills so that they will play their best basketball.  The drill for skills and endurance is work and it feels like work — and, “It’s o.k.” says Lehmann.

..we have to understand that school is work… but that it can be meaningful, powerful, empowering (and even engaging) work.

But my notice that the definitions of engage seemed to be from the observer’s perspective applies here.  The learning experience needs to be meaningful, powerful, and empowering to the learner.  It is not something we should try to see or do, but something the learner should feel.  It’s what fuels the work that enriches the learner in some self-realizing way.

I’m incredibly engaged by my work.  I’m incredibly lucky, that way (see “U.S. Job Satisfaction at Lowest Level in Two Decades“).  And much of my work is fun, though that’s not important.  Fun can’t really be measured or handed out. What engages me is success, and what enables that success is empowerment (appropriate resources & tools), and what is fun is when my imagination is empowered to make success more certain and more interesting.  ..but that’s me.

I just did a Twitter search for “fun” and before I’d read the first two tweets, that little yellow refresh notifier popped up, telling me that there were 63 more tweets with “fun,” then 132, then 349.  Maybe we shouldn’t underestimate the importance of fun.

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So Little Time

You can tell when your hotel is in the shadier part of town when the safe is sitting right out in your room.

So many blog articles in the hopper, and so little time. 

I’m sitting in a hotel near the Philadelphia Airport, from where I’ll fly to Toronto later today.  But I’m hold up here working on an article that I’d thought was finished.  It’s always the case, you agree to write an article.  It seems like a no-brainer, you write it up, send it in, and it comes back to haunt you.

“Would you expand on this?” “More detail here?” “We’d love it if you could add this idea?”   I’m not really complaining, because it always — ALWAYS — makes it a better article. 

But time is precious!

..and deadlines are loom like a — well I’m currently reading a book about the French Revolution, so you can imagine my imagery!

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A Nice Evening…

Not a lot of writing going on these days, the waning  weeks of Summer Vacation claiming much of our attention.  I certainly haven’t been writing much of consequence, especially as I’ve been busy with school districts, who are kicking things into action early with staff development institutes.  Yesterday had me opening things up for Currituck County Schools, in the far northeast corner of North Carolina.

That day went well with an address to the full faculty and staff of the district in the morning, and then the afternoon with the high school teachers.  Those of you who do what I do know what a tough gig the first day of the new school year can be.  Teachers are seeing each other for the first time in weeks, and they have so much to do to be ready for their students — and now they have to listen to this guy from Raleigh with credentials that “don’t really have anything to do with my biology curriculum at all.”

Picture on Pasquotank RiverIt was a tough afternoon, but I think that the high school teachers who came up to the district’s new tech facilitator and their director of technology, wanting to know how they can set up a blog, wiki, or RSS aggregator were a testament to what I think is an approaching tipping point for a new age of educational innovation.  One teacher came up to me after the workshop to tell me about the several other teachers in her proximity who typically resisted technology, but were taking copious notes during the presentation.  Of course, they could just as easily been writing lesson plans.

Anyway, what I wanted to write about, really for my own reasons, was Thursday.  I spoke to the ed tech facilitators in Winston-Salem and then drove by Raleigh, picking up Brenda, so that she could drive me the rest of the way to Elizabeth City.  After settling into our room, we drove on down to the town, situated on the Pasquotank River, and nicknamed “The Harbor of Hospitality.”

After walking around a bit, we had dinner out on the patio of Groupers, a locally favored seafood restaurant and lounge.  I suspect that the fact that the temperature was in the mid-seventies (24c) with a lovely breeze blowing off the river is the main reason for the blog post.  I typically will not eat outside between April and November.  But aside from some flies, most of which I trapped under the butter bowl (talk about some pissed-off flies), it was a wonderful time.

After supper, we walked around the town some more, and then over a bridge and down one of the tributaries, where we watched locals crabbing — quite successfully.  I assume that they were blue crabs, but I could be wrong.

So, again, this post is mostly for my future enjoyment.