krispin

Jun 122014
 

iStock_000010622696SmallWhenever there is a labour conflict between Teachers and Government all the mythology that surrounds the teaching profession begins to swirl about

Every myth ever conjured about teachers by child or adult is suddenly used to twist together a bizarre caricature. The image of teacher is transformed into that of an immoral, greedy, freakish demon which needs to be put in its place for the good of the children. To that end, the Government is inevitably called upon to exorcise the beast and the demon teacher is legislated back to work.

I have managed to survive two rounds of demonization and legislated exorcism in my career and I figure I am destined to survive another but In the meantime, lets take a look at some of the myths society uses to shape their concept of ‘teacher’ in both good times and bad.

Myth #1: Teachers never leave the school.

I think everyone at some point in their young grade school lives, figured their teachers never left the school. I still remember standing dumbfounded when I saw my grade 1 teacher out and about in the community one Saturday. I still remember asking   “Mom! Why is Mrs. MacDonald out of the school?

Myth #2: Those who can’t do, teach

I would say this is the most famous and perhaps most resilient myth out there about teachers but ultimately it is a falsehood.

In my 18 years a teacher I have worked with a former olympic athlete, a CFL lineman, a world-class marathoner, lawyers, a fire fighter, a former military officer, a professional dancer, a touring musician, authors and a myriad of other talented and wonderful people who have come to teaching for any number of reasons.

What is perhaps more inspirational are those who went straight into teaching because THAT is what they wanted to do more than anything else in this world. It is these teachers that are the foundation of our school system and to speak ill of them is tantamount to speaking ill of Gandhi, God or Gershwin.

Myth #3: Teachers are not as well-educated as people in other professions.

Let me just start with this. What a load of stinky horse manure.

90% of the teachers I work with have Masters degrees. Of that 90% most have 3 degrees. A number of teachers I have worked with over the years have had PhD’s and one of my colleagues is finishing up a PhD from Oxford. So if you think this myth to be true… You might want to reassess your definition of education.

Myth #4: Teachers don’t have children of their own.

Even as a Sr. High School teacher I get looks of amazement or an audible “Ew gross!”, when students learn I have children of my own. It is as if there is this belief that teachers take and oath of celibacy or are surgically sterilized as part of some ritualistic initiation into the teaching profession.

Honest, many of us have children and we know what it is like on both sides of the playground fence.

See #Thisismystrikepay for further evidence that we procreate.

Myth #5: Teachers don’t care about kids!

Lets just stop and think about that for a second… Yah you are right. That one is just an outright stupid myth.

Myth #6: Teachers don’t understand how difficult job action is on families

Refer to myth #4

Myth #7: A good teacher can be effective regardless of circumstance.

This myth is a favourite amongst those who are looking to ‘reform’ the education and justify cutting teacher wages, taking away teacher benefits or changing conditions of employment. They say things like “If we had better teachers, our school system wouldn’t be in decline” or “The reason Finland has such a GREAT education system is that they have better teachers”

On the surface it is easy to get on board with this myth and say “YAH! If only we had better teachers!” and as flattering as it is to have people thinking that teachers are capable of overcoming massive class sizes, lack of resources, poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, family discord, eating disorders, physical abuse, hunger, medical conditions, bad parenting, learning disabilities… All without any help. It isn’t going to happen.

As fantastic of a teacher as I think I am, there are just some kids I cannot help within the confines of a classroom without the proper supports in place outside of the classroom.

Myth #8: Teachers are not as good as they use to be.

Let’s be honest. Teaching back in the day was a piece of cake. There was nowhere near the complexities in the classrooms of the past that we see in our classrooms today.

If you grew up in Canada and are over 40, your school experience was more than likely very WASP’Y. There was no diversity of any kind when I was a kid. There was no such thing as ESL and if there was, it wasn’t in my school. Learning disabled kids went to a “special school” or they dropped out. Bad kids were eventually kicked out.  The curriculum was simple and straight forward. There was no special adaptations or deadline extensions.  All anyone needed to do in order to pass was to be present, polite and have a pulse. Life and teaching was simple back in the day, today not so much.

Myth #9: Teachers don’t care about taxpayers!

Lets see… Last I recall, I get a whack of money taken off my pay cheque just like everyone else in this world and it is called income tax. I guess that makes me a tax payer just like everyone else.

Of course we care about the tax payer because you and I are getting hammered to death with rising fees and rates to compensate for the corporate tax cuts the Government handed out when they came to power. This whole mess we have before us today is because of taxes and the lack or misappropriation of said taxes.

Myth #10: Teachers get paid through the summer.

One of the very first conversations I ever had about the teaching profession after I graduated was based on this myth. No I do not get paid during summer. I get paid over 10 months, September through June. Some teachers choose to have their pay distributed over a 12 month period so they have some income over summer but we get paid for a 10 month period.

Myth #11: Teachers can collect unemployment benefits over the summer.

There was a time way back before I was a teacher that this nice little perk was true (in some jurisdictions). Today however, if you have a job to return to in September (Continuing Contract), you cannot collect UI.

If you have a Temporary Contact and do not have a job to return to in September you can collect Unemployment benefits and the tax payer is funding your summer. The irony here is that the Province would like to be able to run the education system as if all teachers were temporary teachers. This would end up costing Tax Payers far more than what the current system does because the Province would be on the hook for paying 40,000 teachers during the school year and paying unemployment benefits for 40,000 teachers over the summer months as well.

Myth #12: Teachers qualify for a full pension after five years. 

This fallacy comes from the way a teacher’s pension is calculated. Even my family seems to think this is a truth. “Boy must be nice to qualify for a full pension already!”  Is the usual summer time backyard barbecue refrain.

Teachers qualify for a full pension after reaching a factor of 90. (Years of Teaching + Age = 90). This qualifies you for a full pension and your income is based on the income of your best five years.

Myth #13: The teachers pension pays you 100% of working income and all their health benefits for as long as they live.

Don’t I wish! If a teacher reaches factor 90 they can collect 70% of their working income during their retirement years. Health benefits are not paid once the teacher reaches 65.

Myth #14: As a tax payer, I am paying for every last cent of a teacher’s retirement.

I could see how people would be annoyed by a teacher’s retirement package if this were true but the teachers’ pension is 80% fully funded. This means that 12 billion dollars worth of investments, managed through a joint trusteeship between the BCTF and the Provincial Government generate enough revenue to cover 80% of the payouts to retired teachers.

The remaining 20% is funded jointly between tax payers and teachers but the ultimate goal is to make the teachers pension entirely self funding so absolutely nothing comes out of the tax payers pocket. In fact it would be in the taxpayers best interest to ensure this pension fund does become self funding rather than seeing it dismantled.

Myth #15: Teachers can’t be fired.

Well I hate to break it to you but since I have been teaching, I have seen a number of teachers dismissed and it didn’t really seem all that difficult to send them packing. If the union was standing in the way, it acted as more of a door mat than an obstacle

What people don’t seem to understand is that there is a process for dismissing teachers and this process is there to protect everyone involved. Contrary to popular belief, to have a system that allows teachers to be fired on a whim is neither ethical or practical and can result in more harm being done than good.

 

There you go. 15 common myths about teachers that are just a bunch of bunk. So next time you are talking to the demon in your child’s classroom, remember their horns and devilish red skin are probably made up of myths.

Jun 022014
 

The slow grading economic attrition of the working class in BC is closing in on a breaking point. When the BC Liberals came into power in 2001 they promised sunshine and roses for everyone through tax cuts and bountiful work. Their campaign slogan may as well have been “Vote for us and you will be oozing money in no time!” but alas that promise never came to fruition and now the arrival date of our sunshine and roses has been pushed to some unspecified date beyond 2017.

Since the BC Liberal landslide over the BC NDP – 13 years 17 days ago (and counting), I can honestly say I do not know a single working class family that is better off today than they were on that momentous day. In fact most are worse off and falling deeper down a rabbit hole of debt and despair. The promises made in the 2001 haven’t come close to their billing and the working class families I run with, are having to cope with a stark decline in their standard of living.

How people are dealing with the economic abyss the BC Liberals have created varies. Some people I know have left or are leaving the province, others have downsized living spaces but most of the changes people face fall into the grin, bear and cut costs category. The one car family is coming back into vogue (not necessarily a bad thing); Families are dialling back on extra curricular activities for their children; Vacations are spent close to home; dining out is not as frequent… Essentially the middle class lifestyle in British Columbia is drying up.

So why is this a big deal you may ask? People cutting back on the consumerism of the past 30 years is a good thing and I agree! The problem here is that all this fiscal restraint isn’t part of any kind of back to basics, common sense economic movement. It is the direct result of BC Liberal’s piss poor economic policy which is actively eroding the spending power of BC’s working class.

You would think that someone who has been gainfully employed since 2001,  shouldn’t have to cut back on their child’s extra curricular activities or worse, leave the province because they simply can’t afford to fork out any more after tax income but this is what is happening.

Clark has always been a bit of a miser, especially when it comes to the Public Service but recently she has spoken repeatedly about the need to keep wages low for other British Columbians as well. Clark doesn’t seem to understand that in order to have a healthy economy and a healthy community, people need to have money to spend on things other than their mortgage, utility bills and groceries.

“Clark said she’s concerned raising the minimum wage from its current $10.25 an hour could hurt job creation, even though Sinclair has said it isn’t enough for people to make ends meet.” - Vancouver Province, March 2014

“The premier is predicting B.C.’s liquefied natural gas industry will soon be competing for labour with Alberta’s oil patch and Saskatchewan’s potash industry, and says she’s concerned about rising wages.” - Canada.com, March 2014

“We can’t build an industry in our province or in this country if we see wages, if we see huge wage inflation.” - Vancouver Province, March 2014

To prop up her rhetoric, Christy Clark ensured she would be able to utilize Temporary Foreign Workers in an effort to keep wages low as she moves ahead with her LNG plans in Northern British Columbia.

OTTAWA — B.C.’s natural resources sector, including the budding liquefied natural gas industry, was declared to be in Canada’s strategic interests Monday as part of a non-binding federal-provincial deal that includes a commitment to encourage the active use of the Temporary Foreign Worker program. - Vancouver Sun, March 2014

Now I am not saying run away wages are a necessarily a good thing but the reality is, British Columbians need to be able to make a wage that reflects the cost of living in this Province. If wages are going to continue be actively suppressed by government, the only people that will remain in this province will be the wealthy and legions of temporary foreign workers

Downloading of costs

The other element of the income attrition workers in BC are experiencing is the downloading of costs onto the public. When the BC Liberals were voted in back in 2001 they promised the lowest personal tax rates in Canada and to the delight of many British Columbians they delivered. What the BC Liberals replaced taxation with however, is the never-ending increase of fees that tap the remaining after tax income from workers wallets.

Education

From the outset, Christy Clark has been systematically dismantling BC’s public education system and downloading cost of educating our children to the parents.

As much as people love to side with the government and malign teachers, what seems to be forgotten is that the public education system is the education system of the working class. For most, it is the only means by which to affordably educate our children. Because of chronic underfunding over the past 13 years, School Districts have been forced to cut back on funding for programs and services for children of working class families.

What school districts then have to do is download the cost of what is no longer funded, directly to parents. Course fees, supply fees, band fees, lab fees, sports fees… Even the cost of critically important services such as psycho educational testing has been downloaded to parents. If you want your child tested in a timely manner, you have to fork out the money for a private assessment because these services have been cut to the point where kids are on waiting lists for a year or more before they are seen by an educational psychologist.

The BC Liberals will tell parents that there is plenty of money to go around. “it is just a matter of schools being more efficient, accountable and innovative to make their funding go further” but the reality is that the BC Liberals have intentionally downloaded the cost of educating working class children, directly onto their working class parents.

Fee & Rate Increases 

Since 2001 there have been a slew of other costs that working British Columbians have had to bare and all of them together more than make up for any tax break the BC Liberals have handed out since their election

BC Hydro - 36% rate increase since 2001 – 2013 and an additional 26% increase through 2016

MSP Premiums - 85% increase since 2001 costing the average family an additional $736 a year for the average working class family

BC Ferries - 70% increase on major routes and 80% increase on minor routes since 2001

ICBC - 27.6% increase in basic vehicle insurance since 2001 ranking BC as the 2nd highest in Canada for Automobile Insurance

University Tuition - 100% increase in tuition to British Columbia’s post secondary institutions since 2001.

Cost of Running the BC Legislature - 94% increase to keep our MLA’s plump and satisfied while screwing over the BC public

How long the BC Liberals figure they can keep up this pattern of holding down wages while downloading costs to the good people of BC is anyone’s guess. Perhaps my biggest concern is that there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Christy doesn’t seem to have any plan to improve the standard of living for the workers of BC beyond her new pet project, Liquid Natural Gas. Even if all of Christy’s LNG plans do go through I am not sure we can afford another 13 years and 17 days (and counting) of BC Liberal Rule.

May 232014
 

So I got called greedy today.

I was driving to work, turned on the radio and lo and behold! The melodic sound of Christy Clark’s voice filled the passenger cabin. Apparently she is on another Sound Bytes Over Facts media tour and I was lucky enough to flip her off… I mean flip her on, just as she was calling teachers “GREEDY!”

After getting a hold of myself and resisting the urge to drive into oncoming traffic, I began to wonder. How much does a MLA cost as compared to a teacher?

We are constantly hearing how much teachers want and how much teachers cost but who costs more? Who gives the biggest bang for the tax payers buck?

Now my approach to this calculation is going to be crude, I am not going to itemize facility costs, support staff cost, supply costs. I am just going to take the total cost to run the Legislature and the total cost to run the School System and break it down on a per MLA and per Teacher basis, as if MLA’s and Teachers pocket the whole budget. So here goes nothing.

Since BC Liberals took power total MLA compensation and Legislature operational costs rose from $36 Million to $70 Million. That is a whopping 94% increase to do business in just 11 years. To add insult to injury, in 2013 MLA’s sat for only 36 days.

Tyee Spending Costs Explode
CBC No Fall Legislative Session
Globe & Mail BC Legislature Sits 36 of 572 Days
Globe & Mail Liberals, NDP Back Speaker

Compare this the operational costs of BC Schools, which went from 3.6 Billion to 4.7 billion in the same period of time. That is a 30% increase to run and organization that is 352 times bigger than the Legislature.

2001/02 funding 
2012/13 funding 

Greedy Tax Suckers
Cost To Do Business
Increase Since 2001
Number of Greedy
Days
In Session
Daily Greed Index
MLA's$70,000,00094%8536$22,000 : 1
Teachers$4,700,000,00030%30,000186$842 : 1

Although there is a segment of the population who will read this and immediately jump to the tired old refrain of “Quit your whining and get to work”. My hope that my readers who are remotely rational, will see the absurdity of a someone like Christy Clark saying “Teachers cost too much, teachers are greedy”, when she is sucking off the tax payer’s teat harder than anyone.

So this is my message to Ms. Clark.

Before you go pointing a finger at someone and calling them greedy, perhaps you should check your narcissism at the door and realize there are three other fingers on your hand pointing directly back at you.

It is people like Christy who give politicians a bad name

Note: These numbers are based on a simple Internet search. If someone has more accurate numbers, please share.

May 132014
 

Wait!!! Before you click away, I know what you are asking. “Why in gods name are you comparing British Columbia and Finnish education system? That is a tired 1-string banjo you are playing and no one wants to hear it.“ and I completely agree with you BUT this is different… I promise.

This post was born from a Twitter conversation with one of British Columbia’s finest politicians @MaryForBC. The gist of which was, I complained about the @bcliberals and their education funding policies and @MaryForBC countered with pleasant 140 character “Golly gee Keith, things aren’t that bad!” (I paraphrase)

During the discussion someone threw Finland into the mix as a foil to highlight all #BCED shortcomings. Then, @MaryForBC countered with a predictable insult, suggesting the main reason the Finnish system is so good is that they choose their teachers from the top third of students whereas BC Teachers are chosen from the bottom third… and so it went.

@MaryForBC did however; open the door for a broader conversation about the differences between Finland and BC. Tweeting that: “I think it is all worth looking at” So just for fun I collected some data.Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 11.56.17 AM

Please understand that I do not intend this to be the final word on the subject, just a conversation starter. I realize I am trying to compare a Nation to a Province but even so, I feel the comparison is still compelling. In compiling the information shared in the table, I had to look here there and everywhere so it is a bit of a hodgepodge but I am confident that all the data is accurate. I will update should I find better information.

In the comparison, I do not look at just school related items. I take a look at the bigger picture, specifically the economies of each. The similarities between Finland and British Columbia are really quite surprising. Population, exports, income levels are all relatively similar. When you are looking at the side-by-side comparison in the table that follows, try to consider how the similarities and the differences play out in the respective school systems.

What I found most surprising in all these numbers was the unemployment rates of these two jurisdictions. Finland has a higher rate of unemployment than British Columbia yet it’s rate of childhood poverty is just slightly over half of what BC’s is. When it comes to children in classrooms poverty is an extraordinarily important measure. There is no amount of teaching skill that can overcome the immediate effects of poverty and Finland seems to realize this.

Another difference I found interesting was actually in a similarity. The difference came in how teachers’ unions are viewed in each jurisdiction. In British Columbia the teachers’ union is viewed as the spawn of Satan, whereas in Finland the teachers’ union is seen as a partner in education with which government has a cooperative relationship.

Beyond the aforementioned, what this comparison illustrates to me is that Finland seems to see value in supporting all their citizens and their education system is only a small part of a social and economic system that works toward this end. To simply credit the success of Finland’s education system on the way they train their teachers, as @MaryForBC did, is astoundingly myopic.

I would hope that this comparison instead, illustrates that the current state of BC’s education system is not a simple matter of teachers not doing their job or being greedy but instead is the result of choices our government(s) has made. Choices that do not put all citizens on an equal footing. Choices that do not even come close to showing the kind of egalitarianism that Finland shows toward its citizens.

 
British Columbia
Finland
Education Comparison
Teaching CredentialsBachelorsMasters
University Tuition5 - 6K per yearNO COST
Professional DevelopmentTeacher directed & out of pocketTeacher directed - State funded
Professional AutonomyUnder AttackVery High
Teacher OrganizationUnionizedUnionized
Teacher EvaluationContract drivenContract driven
School Governance60 School DistrictsManaged by Municipalities
# of Public school Students549,836600,000
# Private Schools347 (2012)NO for profit private schools
Req Classroom Hours850 – 950592
Instructional Days186180
Class Size AveragesGrade dependentNo greater than 20
School Start5 - 6 Years6 - 7 Years
General Comparison
Population4.4 Million5.5 Million
Dependant Population50% (Approximate)53%
GDP220 Billion247 Billion
GDP per capita $43,473 (CAD)$38,658 (USD)
Income gap Top:Bottom10.8 Times5.6 Times
Population Below Poverty Line15.511.9 (2012 - Updated)
Child poverty rates18.6%9.4% (Updated - 2012)
Unemployment rate6%8%
Youth Unemployment13.2%20.5%
Number of Billionaires 51
Personal tax rate 70K/yr29.7%40%
Corporate Tax Rate11.5%20.0%
Exports$74 Billion (2012) $78.23 billion (2012)
May 072014
 
IMG_3913

Our Printer – Cat NOT included

3D printing in my classroom has taken over my life. I need to go to 3DPA (3D Printing Anonymous) post-haste. Last night was the final straw as I was flopping and flipping about, trying to figure out how I am going to get 30 student 3D print jobs completed before the end of the year.

Since this very cool piece of machinery arrived in my classroom May 1st, I have been doing everything in my power to get the kids up and running. Creating their own 3D objects to print before year’s end. The main focus has been figuring out how kids can create bobble heads of themselves.

The machine we decided to purchase the Flash Forge 3D printer based on the reviews we found on-line and ultimately the price point. As conscientious educators, we had to seek out a product that would provide us the most bang for our buck and I think we hit the mark. So far the printer has been bomb-proof and worked right out of the box. One of the extruders is a bit finicky but I think it is just a simple matter of finding the right setting. The biggest challenge is capturing an image that you can actually print.

We have had a varying success over the past three weeks trying to capture and render a 3D image of ourselves. Our first go round we were following a guide from a website called Instructables. It used an app called 123D capture to collect our images and render a 3D model. Unfortunately, of the 30 kids in the class, only 4 of them managed to capture and render an 3D object worthy of printing.

This is not to say that this particular method wasn’t any good just that it wasn’t intuitive or efficient enough to get a classroom of 30 kids up and running without a lot of hand holding and troubleshooting.  I would still recommend reading the guide as it has a lot of good information for preparing the capture for printing so it is still worth a perusal.

Enter Skanect

I stumbled upon this bit of 3D capture software while looking for another method of capturing 3D images that was quicker and less fussy. Essentially it is a brilliant piece of software that allows you to hack the scanning power of the XBox Kinect and employ it to do a 3D scan of pretty much anything you want.

Now all I need to do is connect my Kinect to my laptop using a $2.99 adaptor from Amazon, fire up the software, sit a kid down in an office chair, line them up into the scan zone and tell them to slowly rotate around for 30 – 50 seconds. Voila! Bob’s your uncle and you have a 3D scan of yourself.

The following scan of pretty old me took 15 minutes from scanner to printer. Kids work coming soon.

ScanningRendered ImageCleaned up Image
PrintingFinished ProductPainted

Resources

Here are some 3D scanning and editing resources worth checking out.

Skanect - 3D scanning with your XBox kinect scanner

Instructables - Great resource for learning how to creating 3D objects for printing (FREE & Paid)

123D - 3D capture software. On and offline versions (FREE)

Meshmixer - Great little 3D editing tool for prep your images for printing (FREE)

Sculptris - An AWESOME 3D sculpting too worth checking out (FREE)

 

 

 

 

 

Mar 302014
 

Well here we are… At the end of another course for another term. I have to say this one was a lot of work but I think I survived but we shall see when the grades come out.

This weeks Blog post is supposed to answer the question, “What will future learning environments look like?” and my short answer is… I haven’t the foggiest.

Actually that is not true, there is one thing I can be certain of. Learning environments of tomorrow won’t look anything like the learning environments of today.

There you have it, the sum of my collective wisdom but I suppose my prof might like a little more insight so I guess I have to give a long answer.

I think it is safe to say that future learning environments will be a lot messier than they are today. For better or worse, the regimented, orderly Victorian school model we were all brought up in  is quickly going the way of the Dodo. The extinction of this 300 year old educational paradigm has caused a great deal of distress for many and for good reason. This is what we know, this is what has worked for 300 years and this is what brought us to this point in history. Why throw it out?

People genuinely feel that we are on the brink of a change that may lead the world to ruin and they may be right or they may be wrong. That is the thing with change, you can never predict the result with 100% accuracy. So where are we headed?

I think the biggest and most immediate changes will being at the top and move their way down to the lower grades and much of this will be driven by the economy not technology. We are already seeing kids question why they should bother going to University if becoming gainfully employed once they are done is a crapshoot at best. A university education is no longer a ticket to a prosperous existence. As a result, young adults are starting to assess their education needs rather than blindly heading to University because that is “just what you do.” The result of this is that the one size fits all on masse education system is crumbling from the top down.

Young adults are now faced with either going through the motions of a traditional university education or doing something that allows them to become gainfully employed without acquiring a mass of educational debt. It is here where you can begin to see the engine behind the personalized learning movement.

If a young adult can become educated in a field that interests them and provides them with gainful employment without 4, 5, 6+ years of university education, then why wouldn’t they take that opportunity? If we can start a young adult down that road when they are 16 and have them become a useful tax paying citizen before they are middle-aged, why wouldn’t we?

It doesn’t take much to see how starting from the top and working our way down the grades, personalized purpose driven education can begin to take hold. The problem is, how deep do we go? Don’t we need a common education by which we can build our society around? If we allow our children to specialize too soon, doesn’t that deprive our children from educational opportunities down the line as they get older?

These are good question that need to be considered but in the same breath, having our population of young adults warehoused indefinitely in post secondary institutions just because “that is the way it has always been done”, isn’t very good for them or society either.

In a world where university dropouts have proven to be just as capable of success as the long tortured university graduate, you begin to wonder if encouraging kids to go through the motions of a lengthy prescribed education program is really the best thing for everyone?

Don’t get me wrong… Education is good. Your odds of living a happy, healthy, productive life still go up if you attend a Post Secondary program but is there a better way?

So back to the original question. What will future learning environments look like? With the aforementioned in mind, here are my predictions.

  1. Learning will become ever more connected and dependent on the internet.
  2. If schools don’t deliver the curriculum they desire, students will develop their ares of interest outside of the school setting.
  3. If skills learned outside of the school setting begin to be recognized by employers as valuable and relevant we will begin to see an increase in High School Drop out and a decline in Post Secondary attendance.
  4. Organizations like Degreed will continue to recognize and give credence to work and learning done outside of the formal setting.
  5. In the digital world, programs like Mozilla Badges and Google’s Certification will continue to grow and allow learners to showcase their learning and skills outside of the formal educational setting.
  6. Hands on learning opportunities will become more in demand and traditional lecture style learning will decline significantly.
  7. Student will have to become more independent and self motivated as teachers stop dragging kids through the curriculum.
  8. Assessment will become more about show me rather than test me.
  9. Thousands of students will be left behind in this transition from old school to new school.
  10. The age of Free Agent Learning will become the order of the day.

For better or worse this is my prediction for the future of learning in the Western World.

There is one factor that may throw a monkey wrench into the who thing, which is probably worth a mention and that is the way we parent our children these days. Today’s parents have this strange compulsive need to engineer their children’s lives and this need for control fly’s in the face of what 21st First Century Learning is all about.

Parents these days won’t let their children be independent, experiment, inquire, free play or god forbid fail. Everything a child does these days has to be a carefully engineered exercise, maximized for optimum learning.

21st Century Learning is about independence and letting go of control over the child. 21 Century Parenting is all about complete control of every aspect of a child’s life. The two are completely incompatible.

Mar 152014
 

This weeks topic is MOTIVATION or lack there of.

I am supposed to answer why and how I stay motivated to be a lifelong learner, specifically as it pertains to this program I am currently in. I suppose I should start with the things that will get me bonus marks which consists of a little must see video by RSA. It encompasses all the reasons I am doing this program.

This video looks at a number of motivators that drive us namely Money, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose and is rooted in the research of Edward L. Deci. There is also a very good book by Daniel Pink called Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates us.

I will tell your now that yes one of the reasons I am doing this program is so I can get paid more. I know… greedy no good teachers shouldn’t get paid anything! They should be forced to work for nothing and live in jail like cells, only to be let out for the school day then back in when their work day is done. (how can you tell it is contract negotiation time again?)

But in line with all the “right motivators”, the other reason I am doing this is that I want to become more autonomous in the work I do. In the public school system the only way you can become more autonomous is to do something no one else is doing. As the vice of scrutiny continues to clamp down on teachers and what they do in the classroom, professional autonomy is on the decline. It is my hope that by doing something that most people are not doing and has yet to have a defined role within the school system, I will be afforded more autonomy in my career going forward.

The mastery piece of my motivation is for the most part, well under way. I know stuff about educational technology that most teachers don’t and as a result, I get asked to do stuff for others on a fairly regular basis. The problem is, that I don’t have that piece of paper that says I am a master of this area of expertise. Yes I get a lot of attention and work because of what I know but I would like to further this knowledge and formalize my “mastery”

The purpose piece is easy. I see a purpose in what I do with technology. I do not view myself as a particularly good classroom teacher. To be quite frank, on some days I feel like I am a fish out of water but when I am working with technology and helping others use it constructively, I am comfortable. It is something I believe I do well and so my purpose is to get myself into a position where I can help others effectively use technology as a teaching tool.

The final motivator I will discuss is the one which is driving me to complete this post as quickly as possible. I have a flight to Maui I need to catch and if I don’t finish this post… I am going anyhow.

Cheers!

Gonna put the world away for a minute 
Pretend I don’t live in it 
Sunshine gonna wash my blues away 

Knee Deep – Zac Brown Band

 

 

 

Mar 092014
 

Screen Shot 2014-03-09 at 6.48.47 PMWell here we are once again, typing like a fiend on a Sunday night. Shiraz in one hand Macbook in the other, sitting at my dining room table. There is something therapeutic about this combination but I must say, it is hardly a poetic. Before this program is over my goal is to write something while sitting at Le Dôme in Paris. I will leave you to figure out why this is significant.

If anything, this Masters program is keeping my Google rankings up because I am cranking out content on a weekly basis. Not only am I getting all edumacated, I am moving up the Google charts for a variety of keywords.

As coincidence would have it, this would be an example of a 21st Century Skill that people should have and it is referred to as  SEO or Search Engine Optimization. Recently it has been rebranded for the lay person as the “Positive Digital Footprint”.

I wouldn’t say this is a do or die skill but if you are going to operate in the wired world and get recognized for your work, you need to know how to leverage the net for you benefit.

The problem is that schools spend so much time “protecting” our kids and shielding them from prying eyes on the web, this isn’t really something that schools see as something that should be taught. Yet for an adult who wants to get noticed and make a living these days, it is kinda important to create a positive digital footprint that people can find. See more at Teach Hub

Although I get ragdolled by my colleagues for promoting or trumpeting the importance of my second skill, I still think it is perhaps THE MOST important of 21st Century Skills. That is being a Free Agent Learner. The days of looking at education as a means to an end are gone. There is no endpoint to our education any longer, we have to continually be learning and if you cannot do this on your own, you are screwed.

Actually I think being a Free Agent Learner is more of a composite skill than a skill all of its own. To be a really good Free Agent Learner you need to have three things.

Reading Skills - I do not care what anyone says, the ability to read well trumps all other learning skills and will remain as such until I am long gone. It is such an efficient way to gather information that there is simply nothing even in this high-tech world that can compare.

Communication skills - I was about to put down writing skills but here is an old school skill that has given way to modern technology. Yes writing is the primary communication skill of a Free Agent Learner but it has given way to other means of expression as of late, primarily video and podcasts. Getting the message out seems to be easier than getting the message in.

Will / desire / purpose – Up until today I would have put this down but after seeing the Tony Robins Ted Talk (Yes I said Tony Robins) I would have to say this is the glue that keeps it all together. I think Robins referred to it as “emotion”. Now I don’t think this is actually a skill but it is crucial to being a Free Agent Learner. It is the realization that you have to be dependant on others for your learning and your future. Steve Jobs put it very well in this really short clip 

Problem Solving / Critical Thinking Skills are one of the Trendy 21st Century learning skills that everyone and their dog are espousing as Critical to a child’s future. The problem is, kids are not allowed to problem solve or think critically any longer.

Kids don’t have to  make decisions of even the simplest of kind because we the adults have created a thought free bubble in which they live.  In the 2009/10 season of CBC’s Doc Zone they produced an episode called Hyper Parents & Coddled Kids which masterfully brought to light just how engineered our children’s lives have become, something we now call helicopter parenting.

The irony here is that even though we have come to realize kids can’t think for themselves because we have over engineered their lives, we think the solution can be found through creating even more engineered learning opportunities so they can think critically and problem solve.

I have an idea, how bout turning off the Xbox and throwing them outside for a couple of hours each day so they can problem solve and think critically all their own. See some examples of just how it was done back in the day

Collaboration is the last of the 21st Century skills I will share in this post and I figure I would start with saying I hate collaboration. I know (((GASP))) Take away his teaching certificate! He is a wretched, wretched man for  speaking such heresy… but it is true.

I use to play along with all those collaboration crazed people because I thought that it was what I had to do but then Susan Cain came along and reassured me that not playing well with others was ok.

As Ms. Cain puts it: The bias against introversion leads to a colossal waste of talent, energy, and happiness.

I work with kids every day that do amazing work all on their own but stick them in a group they fall by the wayside. Now don’t get me wrong, people who collaborate are important and we need to teach kids how to do this but does it need to be the end all and be all of 21 Century Learning?

There needs to be a place for those who do their best all by themselves. More Susan Cain Quotes

I know there are dozens of other 21st Century skills out there I could have chosen and probably should have included but I gotta go to bed. G night.

Feb 232014
 

magpie

EDCI – 335  Blog Post #6

Attention is a scarce commodity in schools these days. Some students can muster a few minutes of it, while others can barely pay enough attention to determine what class they are sitting in. In the past 17 years, I have seen a definite shift in the ability of kids to pay attention. I have anywhere between 30 seconds and  5 minutes to get my point across at the beginning of class and that is about it.

Even the tried and true such as showing a movie in class is lost on most kids these days. You can pretty much forget about asking kids to identify a plot line, a theme or moral imperative within even the best that hollywood has to offer. Unless the movie you are showing starts off with either a gratuitous sex scene, a gunfight or aliens having gratuitous sex in the middle of a gunfight, kids just aren’t interested.

So where does this leave us teachers?

The question we are struggling with at this point is. Are teachers just not effectively utilizing digital teaching tools to engage students, or is technology simply leading the human race to ruin?

The biggest problem here is that we do not have enough longitudinal data to be able to point a finger at any one digital innovation and say “SEE!!! Satan lives within!” We also don’t have enough information on how to effectively utilize technology to engage kids and maximize learning. All we can go by is what we see before us in our classrooms and the anecdotal evidence is mounting. The digital world has changed how our children learn and interact with the world.

The thing about the digital world is that everything is designed to demand your immediate attention. Our devices and our social networks constantly beckon us and demand a response. It is like some sort of digitized Pavlovian experiment where instead of a bell, there is a notification sound or buzz in your pocket and the reward is a little message instead of a chunk of meat.

Our need for recognition and adulation from our peers via social media has become so all-consuming that we interrupt virtually anything to check our messages. The Retrevo Gadgetology Report in 2010 looked at data from 1000 social media users and discovered that some people are even willing to interrupt sex in order to check their messages. Now last I checked, sex takes ones full attention… usually. If digital technology is powerful enough to pull you away from perhaps the most enjoyable human interaction of all, teachers don’t have a hope in hell in keeping their student’s attention whilst regaling them with the finer points of Shakespeare soliloquies.

Gigi Vorgan & Gary Small wrote in their 2009 book iBrain that:

When paying partial continuous attention, people may place their brains in a heightened state of stress. They no longer have time to reflect, contemplate, or make thoughtful decisions. Instead they exist in a state of constant crisis-on alert for a new contact or bit of exciting news or information at any moment. Once people get use to this state, they tend to thrive on the perpetual connectivity. It feeds their egos and sense of self-worth and it becomes irresistible.

How we go about competing with this state of perpetual attention seeking in a classroom is a bit of a mystery at the moment. If Vorgan and Small are correct, the very things we are trying to get kids to do in the classroom are effectively hamstrung by this constant need for digital affirmation. Of course the simplistic solution is just banning the device from the classroom but that doesn’t work because your students spend the entire class jonesing for their digital fix.

The simple thinkers in the crowd (usually politicians) then say… “Well then if they are glued to the device all the time then start delivering curriculum through it!” but the kids are not interested in the device so much as the kind of message it delivers. How do you go about breaking curriculum into snippets of information that “feeds their egos and sense of self-worth” so kids will internalize it? Personally I don’t think we need to butcher our curriculum to suit the digitally dependant.

As much as I love technology, I don’t think the solution can be found with more technology. I work with kids everyday who have managed to find a balance between digital and non digital learning environments. The can read, think, reflect and do all those things we have expected of kids in days gone by and then they can turn around and use technology to demonstrate their learning with some amazing results. As much as I would like to claim these kids have found this balance by way of a teacher such as myself, more often than not it is because of their parents digital use policy at home.

To solve our problems in the classroom involving digital technology, we need kids to have home environments where access to digital devices is not unlimited or unmonitored. A home where phones are not welcome at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table and the digital device is never used as a pacifier. Books should be paper and plentiful and never should attending to your cellphone be more important that attending to your child.

Paying attention to something isn’t something kids only do at school. In fact it starts long before they ever set foot in our classroom. As with everything, a good foundation begins at home.