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I Can’t Believe I’m Doing this Again!

One of the nice things about writing again, is that it doesn’t require a huge monitor.  Therefore, I am not chained to my upstairs office.  I can do it virtually anywhere.  :-)

In our 35 years of marriage, there have been only a few instances when my wife realized what a cleaver fellow I am – maybe three. I think one occurred yesterday.

As you may be aware, I am winding down my career as an educator.  My wife, concerned about identity security, has spent parts of the last couple of days looking for my social security number included in two large file cabinets of documents from 19 years of clients and jobs.  She commented, as we were walking up to North Hills yesterday, that I had accomplished a lot in my years as an independent and been part of some pretty exciting developments in education and technology.

Then she said, “You should write a book about all of this.”  

My reply was simple, the same that I’ve said to colleagues who have recently asked, “So now that you’re not traveling so much, are you going to write a new book?”

“No!”

“I’m through!  I’m tired!  ..and writing is really hard work for me…”

Yet, this morning, as I woke and lay in bed, my mind was going like it hasn’t in many months, seeming to have realized that in some deep and evil corner of my brain, the decision has been made.  I had an outline written out by 8:30 this morning – for a new book about the history of educational technology.

I really can’t believe that I’m Doing this Again!

Creativity: The Lego Way

Two 2×4 Lego bricks, of the same color, can be put together in 24 different ways.  Three can be connected 1,060 different ways.  Six can be combined in 915,103,765 different ways.  ..and, of course, children (and adults) have enthusiastically assembled them in nearly as many.  It’s when useful and reliable resources can be used in so many ways that creativity is invited.1

The best use of Legos, in my humble opinion, never involved lessons or even instructions.  You do not sit down and teach children how to creatively make stuff by clicking Lego bricks together.  You simply given them the bricks and let them play.

Might we achieve more inventive-minded students, if we could redesign curriculum to simply give our children the prescribed resources of mind, and then encourage and free them to play, construct and learn.  One example occurs to me, something that I witnessed in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada many years ago.

In early 2007, I participated in a provincial conference there and in addition had an opportunity to visit some of the area schools with my friend and NB educator, Jeff Whipple. At the time, the entire province was engaged in some pretty innovative initiatives.  I wrote about that visit here and here.

I was overwhelmingly impressed with everything that I saw in the schools around Fredericton, but the visit that came to mind as I started thinking about Legos was Chad Ball’s civics class.  He had decided to approach it in an entirely different way that year, based on a summer morning brainstorm.  Rather than present the content to his students in teacher mode, he simply made it available to them, the vocabulary and concepts of Canadian government, mostly through a wiki.

Students were then assigned to work in groups, to create a new political party.  They were to develop a platform, write speeches and even establish a mascot and logo – and required to appropriately and effectively utilize every vocabulary word and every concept of Canadian government in the process.  Chad taught in consultant mode, though he reported that he api;d often refer students to classmates who seemed to have a handle on the concept or practice. 

On the day of our visit, Mr. Ball had asked, on the class wiki, if there might be ways to extend the project.  Even though the posting initially evoked complaints from some of the students, within a half hour there were 102 comments on his posting, mostly suggesting ways that they might take their political parties to the next level.2

This style of teaching and learning is about empowerment, not compliance,

because learners are given access to building blocks,

..and invited to build something.

 

1 (2014). Brick by Brick: Inside Lego [Television series episode]. In Inside.Bloomberg TV.

2 Warlick, D. (2007, March 23). A Day of being Overwhelmed. . Retrieved July 21, 2014, from http://2cents.onlearning.us/?p=946

I Learn to Play & Play with What I Learn

I’ve been worrying over what’s to become of my 2¢ worth as I come to pay less attention to the education debate and less effort on promoting my own value to that conversation, which is at least a small part of what my pennies’ worth has been. Do I continue to have my children publish their video and infographic contributions, or drop the blog all together.

What continues to play at the edges of this conundrum is what was perhaps the most resounding nail I’ve hammered on during the final years and months of my professional career – that there is a distinct and crucial difference between learning and being taught. I suspect that there has been no time in human history where the ability to skillfully, resourcefully and continuously learn has been such an essential life long working (and playing) skill — lifestyle.

It’s a profound notion that begs the question, do we need an education system to teaches children how to be taught, or that helps them to learn to teach themselves? And if this is a question worth asking, then what does its answer mean to the pedagogies of our classrooms, libraries, school schedules…

As I have turned my attention away from writing about education and preparing for three keynote addresses a week (mostly not an exaggeration), I will must insist to you that I have not stopped learning. To treat my wife, I’ve taken on more of the cooking — applicable learning. I've started practicing the martial art of Aikido — reflective learning. Digital photography and the art and technique of post-production — information-rich learning.

I wonder if it might be useful to write about these learning experiences, removed from formal education. Though I've done a lot of thinking about my martial arts learning, the injured my coccyx (tail bone) from a bicycle accident, has prevented me from visiting the Raleigh Aikikai Dojo lately. I’m not yet mended enough to go and repeatedly fall down again. So let's look think about my photography learning.

Before
After

I bought a descent DSLR camera several years ago, as an incentive strategy for getting me out of the hotel rooms of the interesting and sometimes exotic places my work was taking me. The scheme worked, and I now have a wealth of snapshots going back close to twenty years. It’s afforded me a richer memory of my global wanderings, but also given me a virtual warehouse of digital images with which to learn and play.

I am mostly using three software tools: Photomatix Pro, to enrich photos by blending different exposures together; Photoshop, to shove pixels around with; and Lightroom for the finishing touches. They are all three, rich and powerful tools for working in a field about which I have no formal training. I simply look at the work of better photographers, watch videos and read blog articles about how they accomplished their masterpieces, pick out a particular technique of interest or need, and teach myself to do it.

And I play.

To the right are before and after images from the train station in Basel, Switzerland, where my wife and I changed trains travel from Frankfort to Milan. The before image is a fine snapshot. It’s clear and crisp. However, there is little sense of the station itself. So a produced a copy of the photo with the exposure cranked up, revealing the high rounded roof and ribbed structure. Blending these two files, with a third lower exposure copy, not only revealed the vast size of the station, but with some play, gave the photo an antique and artistically rendered effect. Near the far end of the building, there was a hint of some open windows with morning sunlight shining through. To excentuate this, I used some techniques that I'd learned the day before to enhance the beams of light add added some extra open windows, giving the photo not only a sense of place, but also of moment.

My point is that

I learn by playing and working and then play and work with what a learn —

..and there is no clear point where one ends and the other begins.

Might classrooms be a little more like this, where students learn by playing and working (accomplishing something of value) and then play and work with what they've learned?

Might these sorts of writings be useful to you, practicing educators?

 

Will Your Learners become better Educated as a Result of ISTE 2014

I know that I’ve not been blogging a lot lately, because the first thing I had to do this morning was update MarsEdit, my blog-writing software.

Yesterday, watching the tweets and status updates being posted by educators packing their bags, arriving at airports and train stations, bound for Atlanta and ISTE 2014 — well it got me to thinking. I’ve been an educator for almost 40 years and that many years in such a dynamic field makes you opinionated.  ..and I suppose it’s part of the character of old folks (60+) to express their opinions.

That’s why I tweeted out yesterday…

There were retweets, agreeing replies, and some push-back — reminding me that this old dog will never learn to fit his thinking into a 140 character message. So here’s what I meant to say.

You will speak to vendors and listen to speakers in Atlanta who claim to know how to fix education, how this practice or product will improve resource efficiency, teacher effectiveness and student performance.  Don’t ignore them, but ask yourself, “Are they answering the right question?”

I would suggest that rather than asking, “How do we improve education?” we should be asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be educated?” 

Years ago, when my Great Uncle Jim, the last of my family to live in the old Warlick home, passed away, and the house was sold, we were given permission to visit and take any furniture or other items, for which we had a use.  My prize was an old quilt that had obviously been stitched together during a quilting party, dated in the late 1800s.

Both Uncle Jim and my Grandfather grew up in this house, and they both went to college, Jim to NCSU (engineering) and my Grandfather to UNC (classics).  But when they graduated, they returned to rural Lincoln County, without daily newspapers, monthly journals or a convenient library.  They returned to an astonishingly information scarce world.

Being educated then was indicated by what you knew, the knowledge that you’d memorized, knowledge and skills that would serve you for most of the remaining decades of your life.

Today, we are swimming in information and struggling with a rapidly changing world, and the very best that any “education” can do, is provide for us is what we need to know or know how to do for the next couple of years.

Being education is no long indicated by what you’ve been successfully taught.  

Being educated today is your ability to resourcefully learn new knowledge and skills and responsibly use them to answer new questions, solve emerging problems and accomplish meaningful goals.

Being educated today is no longer measured by the number of questions we can correctly answer.

It’s measured by how well we you can discover or invent new answers, effectively defend those answers, and then we them to make our lives, communities and world better.

If they’re trying to sell you something at ISTE, ask them, “How will this help my learners to become better educated?”

If they ask you, “What do you mean by educated?” Then there’s hope.

Exactly 2¢ Worth!

Am I Missing It?

I just woke with a start.  Did I just miss the ISTE14 ADE (Apple Distinguished Educators) photowalk yesterday?  A quick Googling from my office (next to my bedroom) and I see that the event isn’t until next Saturday.  Most years I’ve been blogging by now with recommendations for ISTE novices, about what gear to take and how to behave.  But not this year.  I’ll be mostly taking it easy at home, taking pictures, taking walks, riding my bike, playing with the dog (my daughter’s studying in Europe and we’ve got the dog) and working on a slew of personal projects.

Talking with Carlos Austin, a local iPad photographer.

Will I miss ISTE14?  Well, I’ll certainly miss the photowalk.  Last year’s walk around San Antonio was phenomenal, especially because of the talented and ingenious photographers I followed around — both the gear geeks and the artists.

I’ll also deeply miss EduBloggerCon, now called something else (HackEd), where educators go to learn from each other.  I’d planned, for a while, to attend only the photowalk and HackEd, but figuring the cost and how much I’m enjoying becoming a homebody, I finally decided to forego Atlanta this year.  I can’t accurately say how many NECC/ISTEs I’ve not missed, but it’s more than 20.

I’d like to say one thing here, about why I’ll be at home on ISTE week – and I’ve written about this before   I submitted two presentation proposals.  

One was a standup and teach presentation about games and pedagogy.  It was accepted. 

The other was a very strange interactive performance (see NCTIES), designed to provoke the audience to self-examine their personal ideas about information and communication technologies and education.  It was rejected.

Look!  The best learning that I have done, was not taught to me.  The best learning came from a challenge, or curiosity, or an intriguingly inventive plot – and it involved a conscious and resourceful re-examining of my own knowledge and ideas.

Have fun at ISTE14 and question your learning.

You’re Learning Something Important when It…

My son and I went to Charlotte on Monday to watch the Bobcats’ final game. It was game four of the playoff series with the Miami Heat. It was an unfortunate pairing. If Charlotte had come in 8th or 6th place in the conference, they would have been playing teams that they could beat. But the Heat? The generous predictions gave the Cats one game. But the Heat is just too strong. Monday night, I watched our team, which was outmatched in almost every way possible, keep up with last year’s NBA Champions, with what could only be described as pure and unbridled heart!

My point in writing about this here is to say that if you had handed me the above paragraph three years ago, and suggested that I’d write it in April 2014, I would have ask you for what you've been smoking.

I was a player when I was young, with some talent in baseball and football. I wasn’t exceptional, by most measures, but I won first place in the NFL’s Punt, Pass and Kick competition in my town two years straight and 3rd place after that. I loved playing football and baseball, but I never picked up basketball. I was never very fast and have always had difficulty getting both of my feet off the ground at the same time ;-)

That said, I was never a spectator. I’ve never enjoyed watching any sport and have never been interesting in the whole jockese, sports-talk experience. I followed NCAA college basketball off and on, but only to an extent necessary for anyone who lives this close to Duke, UNC and NC State – but I always thought of professional basketball as lumbering giants brut-forcing their way to baskets and championships.

This all changed about three years ago, when my wife and I found ourselves watching YouTube clips of NBA games, narrated expertly and compellingly by our son, Martin. Like me, he had never had any interest in sports as a topic. He played in the band, and at the high school he attended, it was the band-geeks who were the cool kids on campus, not the jocks.

But Martin has an amazing ability to take a topic of interest and very quickly master its facts and concepts and be able to talk about it with people who have been immeshed in the matter for years. He inspired us by sharing professional basketball’s sights and sounds, and more importantly, its personality.

He showed us

The magical slight-of-hand of Ricky Rubio,

The sublime grace of Kevin Durant,

The nearly unshakeable cool of James Harden,

The fierce tenacity of Nate Robinson,

The unassailable concentration of Tony Parker,

The passion that can be evoked from that too weird face of Chris Bosh,

And the superhuman athleticism of Lebron (king) James.

We became interested and then passionate, and finally increasingly knowledgable about professional basketball, because of what our son conjured up for us. I understand much of the world around me, because I can identify with what I see. I can mentally put myself in the shoes of people and surmise their perspective. But what I see in most NBA games, I can not feel in my own muscles and this is compelling to me.

Our son provoked us by exceeding our imaginations.

Software can’t do this!

Government standards can’t do this!

Corporate models and for-profit schools can’t do this!

Only a skilled and inspired teacher can do this!

Only the “art” of teaching can inspire us by exceeding our imaginations!

 

It’s Silly, I know!

It’s a silly distinction to make, I know, objecting to “personalize learning,” as a term for describing the current flavor-of-the-week in education reform/transformation conversation, preferring instead, “personal learning,” .  

As an advocate, I cannot fault the use of either label for student learning that is personal, needs-based, unconfined and empowered by personal passions and skills. That’s my immodestly paltry characterization that fits both terms.

I could, if I thought it would be the least bit helpful, call attention to semantics, suggesting that one is a verb, “..produce (something) to meet someone’s individual requirements..”, and the other an adjective, “..belonging to a particular person..”


But I guess what disturbs me the most and prevents me from letting go of this argument is that one can be

  • Packaged,
  • Monetized,
  • and marketed

to superintendents and legislators,

 

The other liberates learning.

But…

Wires
Will these wires be used to impose teaching or empower learning?

I’m happy about Obama’s ConnectED plan and the Broadband initiative, doubling e-rate funding.  Working in other countries, I know how uniquely special E-Rate is.  

However, I remain skeptical as to whether this program and its associated teacher-training will result in transforming education into the learning that’s relevant to preparing a new generation of learners, within a new information environment for a future we can not clearly describe.

If it happens, it will be because of what determined, creative and compliance-free classroom teachers do, not because of an emerging education industry.

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 10

Here is the 10th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004.  The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.
Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

“Alf, how are you?” The teacher asks with genuine interest.

“I’m fine, I guess” the moody boy replies. Then he adds, “Ms. Crabtree, about the violence in my video…”

The teacher knew that this was coming. There is a hard rule in all presentations, especially images and video, that there be no violence demonstrated.

“You could have stopped the presentation right then, but didn’t,” Alf continued.

“The reason for the policy is to avoid the glorification of violence. You weren’t glorifying violence. You were using it to very effectively make a point. Your examples were not that different from the examples of the lions and the cheetah, which were also violent.”

Alf nodded his understanding and then looked directly at Ms. Crabtree and said, “Thanks!” It was sincere!

Meanwhile, Isaac Johnson’s workday had entered its more intense period as the large media center filled up with students and student teams working on their projects. All of the knowledge gardens were occupied by groups consulting with each other or working individually on specific components of their presentations. Many wore headphones as they consulted with other team members or collaborators via teleconferencing or worked with musical keyboards composing and editing background music or sound effects.

Mr. Johnson noticed Desmone standing by the bookshelf, apparently waiting to talk with him. He commended the students he was sitting with on their work and excused himself, walking over to the waiting teenager.

“I was just curious, Mr. Johnson,” she began as he approached. “How did you know that Alf would be here today?”

The young educator smiled at Desmone. “Do you remember when I checked Alf’s work files?” She nodded. “His last work was done on a computer whose owner was labeled as Sgt. Jonathan Frick. I know Sergeant Frick. He works the night shift for the police department. Evidently, Alf finished up his part of your project from the police station.”

Desmone cocked her head, not understanding.

Mr. Johnson continued, “Do you think Alf would have been working on his project at the police station if he had not fully intended to be in class for the presentation today?”

Desmone smiled. “Oh!” She immediately locked eyes with a friend across the media center, and looked back to the media coordinator. “Thanks, Mr. Johnson!”

“You’re quite welcome!” Mr. Johnson bowed slightly.

  

The End!

Middle School 2014: A Future Fiction – Installment 9

Here is the 9th installment of a short story I wrote as the 1st chapter of Redefining Literacy in the 21st Century, written in 2004. The setting is 2014. It starts here.

Copyright © 2004 by Linworth Publishing, Inc.Reprinted with permission from ABC-CLIO, publisher of Redefining Literacy 2.0

Then he stops, and walks back to his seat. The room is silent, even Desmone remains motionless, until she smiles to herself and then turns and smiles at Alf. It was a powerful presentation, and there was also the provocation of Alf’s video clips. There would be much discussion of this presentation from the community, and many opportunities for the team to defend their work.

Later, after lunch, Sally sits in her classroom office reviewing the Reptiles’ presentation. Her classes are over and she has the afternoon to engage in planning and other professional activities including: review of student work, research for her own presentations, meetings with students and teams on their progress, and online meetings with other professionals and collaborators. All class performances are recorded and available through the school’s video archives. She has isolated the Reptiles’ morning presentation into a separate file, which she is now annotating with comments.

Beneath the video is another document displaying the rubric that had been agreed upon by the team. In most objectives, each member of the team received excellent marks. For Alf, the objective that called for compelling communication was an “A” easily. She checked him at “Exceeded Expectations”. It was a striking presentation and the quality of the video editing was exquisite. He had never demonstrated such skill before, and if she did not know that scores meant little to Alf, she might have suspected unethical use of copyrighted information. The presentation would provoke reactions from the community. Sally noticed that the outside comments bin was already filling up. She would spend a sizable part of the afternoon screening them for the students.

After reviewing the evaluations of the rest of the class and assessing the additional materials including student reflections on their project, Ms Crabtree wrote her initial comments for the team’s review and then set to writing her customary letters of thanks to the members. As she finishes her letters, Alf Greeley walks into the room.

“Alf, how are you?” The teacher asks with genuine interest.

Read the final installment here.

 

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Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Books Written

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind
(2005)

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