Apr 172013
 

I apologize but the original post has been removed for circumstances beyond my control.

If you want to participate in an excellent discussion on the topic, go to Linked In and search in the

Technology Integration in Education Digital technology into the classroom

Mar 042013
 

teacher farmerQuestion: What do farmers and teachers have in common?

Answer: They are both outstanding in their field… but they also have a few other commonalities.

  • Both farming and teaching have been around forever.
  • Both farming and teaching are nurturing professions.
  • Both farming and teaching have historically been respected professions.
  • Both farming and teaching have a very important foundational role in society.
  • Both farming and teaching have changed immensely in the past 30 years.

And now you are asking yourself… “Where is he going with this?”

Well this post started when I was marking some end of term assignments in which the kids looked at “Super Foods” and why they are better for you than the corn syrup saturated, genetically modified Franken-Food you can find in your local grocery isle.

This past term we spent a significant amount of time looking at the modern food industry and how it has changed our food supply so significantly, that there is very little food available these days that hasn’t been touched in some way by mechanization and science.

We talk about how big multinational companies, control virtually everything that gets produced on most modern farms. I talk about how the food industry in the United States, has successfully lobbied government to put into place the Veggie Libel laws, which effectively muzzle any kind of dissent or criticism about how food is produced. We talk about how only those with enough income can afford to make healthy food choices and that in some States there are even laws put in place that prevent farmers from selling healthy organic food products, to people who want it. Finally, as if the planets had aligned on queue… Just as we were wrapping up the unit, the Horse Meat scandal hit the news and illustrated that, food producers don’t have to tell you what is really in your food.

The kids were obviously relieved to hear that things are not quite so wacky up here in Canada but I caution them that we are on a similar road as the good old US of A. The question I then put to them is, how did this happen? How did “the people” lose control of their food system?

By the end of the unit, I usually have the kids looking at the food they eat with a much more critical eye and parents asking me “what in gods name did you tell them?”…  Which brings me to how I came up with me Teacher – Farmer comparison.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 7.51.32 PM

gawker.com/

Between marking sessions I was perusing my twitter feeds and saw one tweet, which led me to the headline you see to the left.

Upon reading the short article, all I could think was that I am really happy that I teach in Canada. Unfortunately , I had to remind myself that same sort of teacher bashing is happening here too. It would seem that all over North America, the teaching profession is under attack and public education is on life support.

It was then that I made the huge cognitive jump required to connect farmers and food, with teachers and school. I started listing off the following comparisons on the back of a students assignment (Thank goodness for erasers! ) and it all seemed to fit together like a shiny red apple on the teacher’s desk.

Laws are being put in place to silence teachers and their supporters, just as the Veggie Libel laws silence anyone who questions the food system.

Many jurisdictions in the USA already live with the reality that only the wealthy can afford to send their children to good quality schools, just as they are the only ones who can afford to purchase good quality food.

If public school systems are dismantled and handed over to private interests, it is conceivable that a single corporation will own the curriculum that teachers deliver, just like Monsanto owns the seed that farmers plant?

If big business is handed the keys to public schools, it is not unimaginable that they will administer them much like large stock yards or chicken houses.

The final comparison is one I came up with as I was writing this very post and it is a bit disconcerting to me but none the less carries some weight. The massive changes we experienced in our food production over the past thirty years, came on the back of technological advances. Those advances and the people who were offering them, promised a gastronomic utopia, where everyone would be fed and the world would be happy but at some point things went sideways. In many respects, these changes we are seeing coming down the pike in our education system, are fueled by a similar promise of a technological driven utopia in education.

As someone who is one of the purveyors of the technology that is being sold as education’s salvation, this is a bit problematic. I can rationalize my position by saying that I am one of the few who encourages thoughtful adoption of technology in the classroom but is that enough?

Even after my little (if not bizarre) revelation, I still feel there is a place for technology in the classroom. Technology is not the problem. The problem is allowing private interests to control that which is intended for the common good. Just like our food supply, our education system will become toxic if private interests get control of it.

Just say no to Education Inc. There is too much at steak. Tongue Out

The Smoking Apple

K-12 Database Jazzes Tech Start Ups, Spooks Parents

When private interests dictate public policy

Knowledge and Public Education in Crisis. “Accelerated Privatization of Global Education

Why Are Walmart Billionaires Bankrolling Phony School “Reform” In LA?

Sep 062012
 

Well I am closing in on my first Friday of the school year and I survived. Ok I more than survived. I had a great week! So great I am able to sit down and peel off a new blog post on our preseason Pro D event.

Every year the Thursday before school starts; our School Board brings in some highbrow intellectual, to bestow us teachers with some tid bits of wisdom that we can take with us as we navigate another school year. It is generally a pretty good show as Keynote Speakers are always top-drawer. Some of the A lister’s who have graced the stage of our school theater, include the likes of Sir Kenneth Robinson, Alfie Kohn and Stewart Shenkman, to name a few. I have forgotten the names of the others but they were big names, I swear! So good are these speakers, I even learn a thing or two each year. (insert dumbfounded slack jawed look here)

This years Keynote was Jennifer James, a renowned anthropologist from Seattle. I obviously don’t go to Seattle enough because up until last Thursday, I had never heard of her before but I have to say she was every bit as good as Sir Ken.

The topic this year was about change and James discussed how we (society) use cultural myths and belief systems to make sense of the world around us. Up until recently our world has changed slowly enough that we could seamlessly adapt these belief systems and myths to accommodate and make sense of changes in our world. Today however, technology is changing things so fast, that we can no longer adapt our beliefs and myths quickly enough. As a result, we are seeing conflict between what we believed to be true and the realities of the modern world.

James went on to imply that the education system is based on an outdated belief system, which is simply not adaptable to the modern world or the modern student. She went on in a round about way to say that, we (teachers) need to change if we hope to continue making positive change in young peoples lives. As much as I hate to admit it, she made a ton of sense but then again I am easily convinced. I have been lead down the garden path before because of a good keynote, as my brief association with AMWAY would suggest… but I like to think I am much older and wiser now. ;-)

but James is kinda right.

In the past 20 years, technology has kicked the stuffing out of our education system and left those of us who work as educators bruised and bewildered. As a result, we have come to a crossroads in the world of education and quite frankly, no one seems really know which way to turn. The only thing that is certain, there is no going back.

The problem with moving ahead however, is that we need to let go of the belief system and cultural myths which built the education system we have. The way we teach our children is so culturally engrained that any change, regardless of how small, is going to cause some level of duress for someone whether it be teachers, parents or students.

A perfect example is changing the school calendar. The one we currently use is based on the needs of an agrarian society. In North America, the majority of us are no longer living on farms or harvesting crops but suggest changing the school calendar and all hell breaks loose. Education is a part of culture and cannot be seen as simply a service that can be adapted on a whim as the demand changes.

When we take a look at resistance to change in education, the assumption is that the resistance resides solely within the ranks of the educators themselves but that is a simplistic view.

Yes teachers frequently view the discussion around change in education as an affront to what it is they do. Some have been in the game for as many as 40 years and much of the talk around how the education system needs to change, is downright disrespectful to good people who have have spent a career doing a great job. To tell them that what it is they are doing is wrong, invalidates an entire career. To many it seems like the powers that be, simply want out with the old and in with the new. You can’t blame teachers for getting edgy at the mention of spring thaw and south bound ice flows.

Parents are a funny group when it comes to change. Here you have a situation where the majority of people’s concept of what education is like, is their own school career. Using that frame of reference, they view their own children’s educational experience. Obviously parents want what is best for their kids and that includes the latest and greatest in technology and pedagogy. If for some reason they feel their child isn’t getting it, there is hell to pay.

The irony in all this is that, while teachers are on the line for being current and school districts are expected to provide the latest and greatest in facilities and technologies, when things go bad the most common laments among parents go right back to their own experience in school. “School isn’t what it use to be!” “Teachers aren’t as good as they once were!” “We need to get back to basics and start teaching what really matters!”

Talk to a parent and you quickly realize that parents are as stuck in the past as teachers.

For the kids, well… They are the pawns in all this, trapped between what was and what could be but kids are resistant to change as well. Many kids are still anchored securely in the old ways of teaching and learning, just like their teachers and parents. Every year I will have kids who just want to know “What will I be tested on?” and “What do I need to do to get an A?” Ask a kid to think for themselves and they are lost. “Uh… What is the answer?” They are as stuck in the teacher centered model as the rest of us.

Of the three groups, the students are undoubtedly the most receptive to change, then I would say teachers are next and surprisingly perhaps… parents are the least receptive to change in school system. The reason for this is that parents are frozen in the past. Change that they cannot gauge or measure against their own experience is frightening. It is a classic case of, better the devil you know then the devil you don’t.

The other reason I say parents are the most resistant to change is that, it always comes back to the ultimate question. “What is my child’s mark?” Parents want to know how their child is doing and their concept of success is based on old school measures of performance. Anecdotal descriptions of what their child can or cannot do are meaningless to many. “That is great! I am so glad my kids is outstanding at working collaboratively but what is his mark?” In the end, teachers give parents what they want. Marks based solely on content knowledge is a thing of the past but who are we to argue with a parent.

Yes James is right, we need change and resistance is futile but there is more than enough resistance to go around but it essentially comes down to this. As long as our education system is a slave to the culturally engrained belief that education is all about the mark, we will never be able to build a new belief system for our Education System.

Aug 242012
 

With only a few glorious sunny days left in summer and the start of a new school year looming large, I figured I should get up to date on the wild and woolly education scene in British Columbia. My go to source for what is “hip and happanin” in education is the Vancouver Sun’s very own @jsteffenhagen. Janet seems to keep people interested in education regardless of political leanings and always fosters some heated discussion that riles up left-wing nut-bars like me.

You would think after returning from a two month-long, Five Star summer vacation in such exotic climes as Prince George, Vernon and South Surrey, there would be something new and exciting being discussed in the press. it would seem however, that the @bcedplan is still the topic du jour.

This week, the Ministry has released a new BC Ed Plan document which “is a summary of the comments people made on the @bcedplan site”. (@mikesher) and I have to say, that it is a really pretty document. It is also pretty light weight and lacks in any sort of functional detail or “plan”

As it seems to be turning out, the BCEdplan isn’t really a plan as of yet. It is more of a mish-mash of theory, ideas and opinion, not that there is anything particularly wrong with that. I just feel I was sold a bill of goods. The BCEdplan was presented as the document that would guide us to a Twenty First Century education system but it is far from being that document.

In reality, we have a long way to go before we reinvent our education system and it will take time, effort and useful dialog, which I think the Ministry is trying to do. The problem is that, from the outside looking in, no one can figure out what is going on?

As a contentious naysayer, I am just trying to do my part in ensuring we reinvent responsibly. The following is a page out of the new “what you’ve said” annotated with the first things that came to my mind as I read Theme 4: Digital Technologies in Schools. As you will see, there are far more questions than answers, therefore much work needs to be done.

Nov 142011
 

I love the fact that we are moving toward a different model of teaching and learning because to be quite honest, I am not really a big fan of the old one. I didn’t really like the traditional model when I was a kid and I am not a big fan of it now as a teacher either. This is not to say the traditional model doesn’t work. Generations of people have been taught this way and accomplished great things as a result but these are different times and so things must change.

There is one thing that is troubling me however. As we move toward a more personalized “twenty-first century learner” (TFCL) model, there seems to be little if any discussion about the students part in the social contract we call an education system. Sure we talk about how we want the kids to be engaged and excited about learning but it is always in the context of what the school system is doing to create a new “love of learning”. It would seem to me that, the student need only take on the roll of grateful recipient in this new and improved, hand crafted education system.

I started to think about this the other day, as I was sitting down doing my homework at one end of the dining room table, while my daughter sat doing hers at the other. Up until now she has been one of these kids who is very bright, usually enjoys school and cruises through without too much effort. This year however, she has had to knuckle down a fair bit because her grade 7 teacher is old school and PILES on the homework. So far she has fared pretty well and has managed the workload with relative ease. What I am most pleased about this year, is her willingness (without too much prodding) to get the work done. In my mind she is demonstrating that she is willing to work her backside off and invest in her education.

During our little father daughter homework session, I began to think about our current education system and my children’s place in it and asked myself the following.

  • Why is there a movement under foot to change the system?
  • Is it really so bad?
  • Is the system failing kids or could it be that the kids failing the system?

My daughter is bright but is not a genius and she seems to be excelling in this archaic, factory system we call education.

  • If she can manage to plod along why can’t others?

My daughter is literate, creative, works well with others, has a keen interest in science and is a successful little athlete.

  • Where is the failure of the system here?

Then my wife came up the stairs and hovered over my daughter’s shoulder, inspecting every last pencil mark on the page and I thought to myself, School gives my daughter the opportunity to learn but her degree of success is more about what is going on outside the classroom. Sure a good education system is important and always will be but how well she does (thus far) has less to do with the school system and more to do with the effort my daughter puts in and a hovering task master of a mother.

So here is the issue I am having with the personalized TFCL model. We all know that there is no substitute for hard work and dedication to one’s education. We can see examples of this everywhere and teachers see it every day. The kids who excel make an extra effort, those who don’t are usually on the other end of the spectrum. My concern is that we are billing TFCL as a no fail, perfect fit system which guarantees unconditional success to all who enter. The social contract between student and school in the old system, which was based on hard work and effort between all stakeholders, is being replaced with a simple promissory note that guarantees a perfect and effortless education for students from K to 12.

As a teacher I can see the point of trying to create an education system that makes learning better because it is perfectly suited to each learner but as a parent, I don’t want easy for my kids. I want them to have to muscle through classes they don’t like. I think the effort it takes to choke down a class you despise holds as much value as the enlightenment you may gain from a class you love. Sure I want my kids to follow their dreams and have the opportunity to learn new, exciting and interesting things but I also want them to fail and then succeed. I want them to face frustration and overcome and perhaps even experience crushing disappointment and live to tell about it.

Life is not about perfect or easy and school should reflect that. We need to teach kids that life is more about taking pride in your efforts, whatever the result, not just doing what comes easy or is interesting. Unfortunately, I am not sure the TFCL model can accomplish this.

I am all for changing our current education system to meet the needs of Twenty First Century Learners but let make sure that the social contract between student and school, places as much value in good old-fashioned effort as it does the joy of effortless learning.

Nov 112011
 

Every year for the Rispin family Remembrance Day is significant. We are a one of many Canadian families which got the boots laid to them in the First an Second World wars. I have always appreciated the significance of my family’s contribution to Canada’s role in these wars but never so much as I do now, since my father passing in January 16, 2010.

He was a quiet man, never did he speak of the war of which he was a part, other than the most outlandish and far fetched stories one had ever heard but must be true. He bottled whatever he saw or felt about that war deep inside and never shared what he had really seen or endured during his 4 years sailing on the HCSM Hallowell in the North Atlantic. I am not even sure my mother knows everything he went through or what he saw as he was a tight lipped man. He was a silent in his remembrance and as a result my siblings and I are left to piece together what little he told us with what little we found in his personal belongings after he passed.

Although I have always done a little personal remembrance day shpiel since I have been a teacher, these past two remembrance days I have taken upon myself to share with my classes a very personal narrative. I go through what sacrifices that not only individuals from my family made but what these sacrifices meant to my family. I try to make the kids understand that Remembrance Day isn’t just about some long forgotten soldier but about how many long standing Canadian families will never be the same because of these wars. I try to make them realize that my family along with innumerable others, were irreversibly changed because of these wars.

I tell them about my Grandfather who died when my father was only 3 because of blood poisoning from a gunshot wound to his arm during the first world war. I tell them how my uncle was killed during a bombing raid over Düsseldorf Germany and that no one from our family has yet to visit his burial site. I tell them about George W. Silk and George W. Silk who were killed by the same shell in the same trench during the battle of the Somme in 1916. I even read to my class the 95 year old hand written letter by which my great great grandmother was informed of the death of both her husband and eldest son.

I tell them that a great masonry family who had a hand in building many of the turn of the century buildings in Vancouver and Edmonton, was decimated because of these two wars and that the skyline of both these cities may have been very different had these two wars never happened. I hesitate at times to tell these stories because I don’t want to bend history or overstate what some might consider insignificant but these stories are significant. It is the narrative of what brought us to this very day and a story all Canadians need to hear and appreciate.

It is incumbent upon those of us who are are descendants of those who navigated these wars and managed to maintain a bloodline, to share the significance of these wars.

My family is but one of many who gave selflessly to the dominion of Canada and we need to recognize that Remembrance Day isn’t simply about some long forgotten soldier. It is about long standing Canadian families that would be significantly different had it not been for these wars.

On this remembrance day, let us not just remember the ones who sacrificed their lives in wars both distant and recent but those who stand among us and sacrificed family members so we can be the Canadians we are today.

Nov 272010
 

I was thinking this week, about all these twitter feeds I am following and I could not get over just how…. Over the top, pro technology in the classroom they are. Twitter this, blog that. Gotta connect with kids on their turf, gotta be in touch with the pulse of web but there never seems to be any thought put to the other side of the equation. Perhaps if I followed #downwithtech or #twitteristhedevilswork I might get another viewpoint but I can’t help but wonder how my collegues who are less “wired” feel about this push to make their classrooms part of the digital landscape.

I know for a fact that there are a number of teachers who are not ready and perhaps will never be ready to drink the digital koolaid. They are great teachers, doing a great job in a classroom, just teaching it old school. They don’t need twitter, blogs, wikis and all the other digital tools at their disposal to get kids to learn. They are master teachers without the digital paraphernalia but they feel that the likes of me, are trying to dismantle and devalue that which they have spent an entire career creating and perfecting.

There are a number of other issues that lurk in the minds of the unconverted which we should be sensitive to well beyond the general notion that we Tech Geeks are out to get them and they are concerns that need to be heeded.

  • Availability of the Technology. This is a shortcoming for most schools. There simply isn’t enough technology to go around, for the kids or the teachers. We just haven’t hit a point of saturation yet where these digital tools are as ubiquitous as pencil and paper. Make it accessible without costing teachers anything and perhaps they will use it.
  • Some People Don’t Want To Use It! Plain and simple, some teachers see no need, nor do they want to use technology to teach. Does this make them bad teachers? NO! We the tech geeks need to respect that.
  • Management Issues. Even I, as someone who uses technology EVERY class, has issues around the appropriate use of the technology in the classroom. Some I ignore, some I stomp on but it is an additional piece of management which some people do not wish to have to deal with. Teachers have a dozen things going on at any given time in a classroom, why add more to their plate?
  • Foundational Skills. In the digital world it is EXTREMELY difficult to determine how much of a students work is cut and paste or simply written by someone else. Much of kids work is a conglomeration of different information sources and nary a word of their own. What’s more, in the digital world, most information is written in point form, written sound bytes. Twitter is an excellent example of how thoughts have been reduced to 140 characters of information, hardly what you would call a body of text which needs to be read and then dissected for meaning. I am in complete agreement with my luddite colleagues who firmly believe that, foundational skills are best taught and solidified through good old fashioned book lernin.
  • Just Don’t Got The Time or The Desire. Most teachers have lives outside of school and the 200+ kids they are responsible for in school. They are not all digital dependent like me, who spends more time with my laptop than I do with my family. We tech geeks love this stuff! We live it, we breath it and we have integrated it into our lives so that it is part of us. This is why using digital technology in the classroom is easy for us but some people DON’T want to make it part of their lives at home or at work.
  • Top Down Push. In my 15 years of teaching, I have learned more from other teachers than I have ever learned from an administrator but this is where the push to use technology in the classroom, seems to be coming from. All of us tech geeks have been playing with digital teaching tools for years but now that admin have caught onto the possibilities of digital learning tools, they seem to want all teachers to using them BUT if we are to expect other teachers to buy into the use of technology, it has to be a grassroots growth rather than by administrative decree.
  • The Digital Backlash This one is relatively new and has nothing to do with teachers. It is the digital backlash and the occurrence of parents who are not allowing their kids to have access to digital media. For me, this started last year with one kid and this year I have 6 kids of 160, who’s parents WILL NOT allow their children to have access to any type of social media. To tell you the truth, I am doing the same with my own kids. They will not have ANY social media account before their 16th birthday. I believe this is a growing movement and something that we as educators who LOVE this sort of thing will be faced with more, in the coming years.

Whether we like it or not, the digital revolution might just have to be a digital evolution when it comes to teaching. The reality is that there are good teachers doing GREAT things with kids without using the latest and greatest web tools. We the “tech geeks”, have no business going about, trying to (Star Trek Reference Warning) assimilate all teaching lifeforms into a digital collective. Yes there are some great things you can do, yes you can engage learners with digital resources, yes we have been sold BUT technology is not the end all and be all of learning. An excellent learning environment is about a teacher and the connection they have with the students and it. does not have to be a digital connection.