Nov 262013
 

As part of my EDCI 338 course, I was to partake in some Open Education opportunities and then reflect on the experience in the form of blog post or other. I was going to go with other but as marking piles up and report cards loom, time has grown short and I find myself defaulting to what I do best…ish

For those who aren’t quite sure what Open Education / Open Learning is, it can be loosely defined as

Activities that either enhance learning opportunities within formal education systems or broaden learning opportunities beyond formal education systems.[1]

With this rather broad definition in mind, We were given a bare canvas of options to choose from… (Bit of an oxymoron there I think) Choose anything online that involves learning in an open forum and so I chose to attend some Adobe Training Tutorials in an effort to kill two birds with one stone. I needed to gain some knowledge of a couple Adobe products for teaching purposes and I could use it for this assignment. A win-win all round.

This practical approach to the task at hand, immediately brings me to the first and perhaps most important point about Open Learning.  In order for any kind of open learning to work or be meaningful, the learner needs to have the motivation to be there. In my case my motivations were three-fold.

  • Personal interest
  • Professional need
  • Academic requirement

First and perhaps most importantly, I had a Personal Interest that could be served by Open Learning. I love using Adobe products and frequently wish I knew how to use them better but even though I have an interest, I am lazy. After a hard day at work, I want to sit on my butt and watch Duck Dynasty, not sit in on a live tutorial about the latest version of Adobe Photoshop CS6.

What this tells me is that personal interest isn’t necessarily enough to motivate someone to take advantage of an Open Learning opportunity. It certainly wasn’t enough for me and I know dozens of other people who would tell you the same.

What eventually pushed me to partake was a Professional Need for more knowledge about how to use Adobe products. Standing in front of thirty 16 year olds without any idea what you are talking about, is a humbling if not  scary experience. I learned this early on in my teaching career and try to avoid this situation at all costs. Fortunately for me Adobe has some great online tutorials and live web events for the likes of me and they top-notch productions.

So Open Learning had me in its clutches, I had the internal motivation and an external motivation to attend The Adobe’s Open Learning Tutorials and then along came another, the Academic Requirement for EDCI 338. With this trio of motivators in hand, I attended live sessions on Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Elements and a one on demand session on Adobe Premier. I also stumbled upon a session called Is it Possible to Predict & Enhance Learning with Big Data , which I am hoping to attend.

So what is the point of this blog post you are asking?

Well the first conclusion I have come to about Open Education, is that in order for this type of learning to work there has to be the motivation to partake and it may require more than just a personal interest. In my case it took an external kick in the pants to get me to sit down and actually engage with an Open Learning opportunity.

Unlike the field of dreams: If we build it, people won’t necessarily come. I think this is something we need to take into account as we begin to build this 21 Century Education system. If we build it entirely around the notion that if kids are interested in what they are studying, they will engage. I have had an interest in Adobe products for years and have been meaning to sit down and learn more but it wasn’t until I had an external motivator, that I actually did something about it.

I feel my experience and that of countless others should be seen as a cautionary tale. Open Learning is undoubtedly here to stay and I am glad of it but I remain unconvinced that Open Learning is a viable alternative to our traditional grade school system. I think the key is in the definition I offered earlier. Open Education should  continue to be… activities that either enhance learning opportunities within formal education systems or broaden learning opportunities beyond formal education systems

Reference

^ D’Antoni, Susan (2009). “Open Educational Resources: reviewing initiatives and issues”Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning 24 (1 (Special Issue)): 4.doi:10.1080/02680510802625443.

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?

Jan 052013
 

2012 was once again an interesting year for Public Education. From Delaware to Chicago to British Columbia and back to Ontario, pundits and the politicians sold the story that all the struggles our youth encounter can be laid squarely on the shoulders of every teacher that has ever walked this earth. Just short of being the spawn of satan himself, teachers are source of all that is wrong in this world, especially as it pertains to today’s youth. unemployment, failure to launch, mental health issues, drug and alcohol problems… you name it, it is the education systems fault.

I however, would beg to differ. Yes I know, as one of satan’s classroom cronies, my objection is predictable but read on, I might actually make some sense by the end of this post.

I see education as being waaaaay down on the list of roadblocks the youth of today face. From the bedroom in which our kids are conceived, to the boardroom in which they are received, our children have more stacked against them than just what people perceive as an inadequate public education system. In fact, I would say there is simply one roadblock our youth face and that is, we have stolen their adulthood or at least postponed it indefinitely.

The obvious question then becomes, who is an adult? and I found a satisfactory answer in a Psychology Today article entitled Who is an “adult?” The path from adolescence into adulthood. March 3, 2010 by Jennifer L. Tanner, Ph.D.

…it became apparent that becoming adult was about, well, becoming. Across cultures, Arnett’s findings have been replicated. Accordingly, an adult is someone who-accepts responsibility, makes independent decisions, and becomes financially independent.

The article goes on to discuss the precise thing I am talking about here and what I refer to as the Abyss of Suspended Adulthood

The funny thing is, the evidence is all there right in front of us. Most of it already identified, researched and publicized. Anyone who isn’t seeking election or is remotely sober, should be able to see that education isn’t the biggest problem our youth face but alas society is myopic. Scapegoats are easier to understand then our own miserable misdeeds.

Although the central issue here is the deadultation (new word) of our youth, the process has three parts working in concert to sideline anyone under the age of 30.

  1. Post Secondary or Starve
  2. An Economy of dependence
  3. The Engineered Child

 

Sep 282012
 

This week I have an outstanding guest post by Sophia Coppolla from Onlinecollege.org  to share with you. It is a detailed look at building your Personal Learning Network. This is something I spoke briefly about this past summer in Personal Learning Networks – Not Just For Adults Anymore but Sophia ramps it up a bit in her take on building your PLN with a TON more suggestions and resources.

It is a great read and I am very pleased to present it to my readers.

The Social Media Guide to Growing Your Personal Learning Network

Personal learning networks are a great way for educators to get connected with learning opportunities, access professional development resources, and to build camaraderie with other education professionals. Although PLNs have been around for years, in recent years social media has made it possible for these networks to grow exponentially. Now, it’s possible to expand and connect your network around the world anytime, anywhere. But how exactly do you go about doing that? Check out our guide to growing your personal learning network with social media, full of more than 30 different tips, ideas, useful resources, and social media tools that can make it all possible.

Tips & Ideas

Get started developing your social media PLN with these tips and ideas for great ways to make use of social tools.

Guides

Check out these guides to find out how other educators have used social media and other tools to grow their personal learning networks.

Tools & Resources

Want to really make the most of your PLN? Use these popular social media tools for learning to grow and take advantage of your network with the latest technology.

  • Classroom 2.0: In this networking group, you can get connected with other educators who are interested in Web 2.0, social media, and more in the classroom.
  • Ning: On Ning, you can create your own social website to bring your PLN together all in one place.
  • Diigo: Collect, highlight, remember, and share all of the great resources you find online with your PLN on Diigo, and annotation and online bookmarking tool.
  • Google Reader: With Google Reader or any other great RSS tool, you can subscribe to blogs and stay on top of it all.
  • Slideshare: On SlideShare, you can upload presentations to share with your personal learning network.
  • Twitter: Perfect for finding people to add to your PLN, participating in chats, and sharing what you’ve found, Twitter is one of your most powerful tools for growing and maintaining a personal network.
  • Facebook: Another powerhouse for PLNs, Facebook is a great place to connect, share, and grow your network.
  • Scribd: Read, publish, and share documents on Scribd with your PLN, whether you’re sharing classic novels or lectures you’ve delivered. Plus, you can find documents and get connected with their owners.
  • Yahoo! Answers: Find and share information, connect with others, and build upon your personal learning network on this popular answers site.
  • LinkedIn: The gold standard in professional networking, LinkedIn is a great place for education professionals to get connected.
  • Quora: Similar to Yahoo! Answers, Quora offers a professional place to share your knowledge and grow your network.
  • Google+: Often overlooked in favor of Facebook and Twitter, Google+ is a growing network that offers lots of great possibilities for developing PLNs.
  • Pinterest: Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ get a lot of love from personal learning networks, but Pinterest offers a great way to find other educators, and great resources.
  • Delicious: One of the most popular social bookmarking sites on the web, Delicious makes it easy to share what you’ve found and find new followers for your PLN.
  • Paper.li: Using Paper.li, you can curate and share your favorite PLN tweets on a daily basis.
  • Scoop.it: Like Paper.li, Scoop.it is a great tool for curating an engaging PLN magazine based on resources from your network.
  • AddThis: Become a sharing machine with the AddThis toolbar, a great way to immediately share web resources on the web’s most popular social media tools.
Mar 132012
 

As the Teacher dispute in British Columbia starts to get ugly with plenty of mudslinging from both sides of the political spectrum. It would seem things are starting to come to a head simply by the pinch which only the withdrawal of Volunteer services can bring.

Teachers in school districts throughout the Province are now being told to ONLY do their job as outlined by contract and to work bell to bell. What this means is that any “extra time” a teacher volunteers to their school in the way of coaching, clubs, study sessions… etc, will be withdrawn. The strange thing is, it seems that the public feels that this action is more reprehensible than the legislation which got teachers to this point in the first place.

Like the kids, for many teachers the extra curricular stuff is the best part of their school day. Teachers do not volunteer out of obligation, they volunteer out of a love for the activity they are supporting. Despite the old adage, “those who can do, those who can’t, teach” Schools are packed with incredible people who have achieved great things in their lives. All of them want nothing more than to impart their wisdom, their skills and their experience on their students and extra curricular activities gives them this opportunity. With this said, the withdrawal of volunteer services is not taken lightly and there will be some instances where teachers will continue giving their time, regardless of professional or personal consequence.

So where does this leave us? Well for the short-term, things will be messy and both kids and teachers will be deprived of the opportunity to do what it is they love to do. How long will this last? It could be months, it could be years but one thing is for certain, this has been many years in the making.

Teachers giving their time, is not as simple and straight forward as one might think and before the general public goes straight to taking on a “HOW DARE YOU” position, one needs to understand that there is more to it than a simple temper-tantrum.

Teachers can no longer afford to “donate time”.

As I wrote in a previous post Teachers simply can no longer afford to give away their time. In cities like Vancouver, many teachers (usually the <40 crowd) need to work at least one additional job just to pay the bills. If a teacher is racing off to go to another job after school, they won’t be spending time with your child after school for free.

Should it come to the point where participation in extra curricular activities becomes part of a teachers job description, it would become a significant problem for many, as people’s livelihood would be at stake.

Liability issues are scaring teachers away from giving their time.

We are a litigious bunch nowadays and because of this, many teachers refuse to take on the responsibility of any activity that requires 24/7 supervision. Where common sense and personal responsibility use to be the code by which most extracurricular programs were run, today this expectation is not enough.

We no longer look at our youth as sentient beings, capable of making mistakes of their own doing. Instead if a kid screws up, we immediately start looking for an adult to blame. It is because of this, I will not take any group of kids anywhere that requires me to be “responsible” for them over night.

I have heard stories of coaches taking shifts, standing watch in hotel hallways all night long, to ensure kids are not sneaking out at night. I have been on watch myself until 1 am on occasion because kids could not behave themselves. I have even heard of programs resorting to requiring parents to accompany their child on road trips in an effort to mitigate liability issues for the coaching staff.

Our desire to blame an adult rather than expect our children to behave responsibly, is quickly destroying extracurricular activities all on its own. If a coach cannot have a reasonable expectation that kids are willing and able to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner, then you cannot expect teachers to take on that responsibility.

Pay for participation programs are poaching kids from school activities.

Kids have so many opportunities outside of school, that many simply do not have time for in school activities. We over schedule our children in an effort to enrich their lives but in doing so the “free” programs like those in schools, tend to suffer.

In Canada, many of the best athletes in a school are playing hockey. Depending on the level they are playing, some may try to do both school sports and club hockey but usually school sports are secondary. A kid can only attend one practice or game at a time and it is the free one that will get forsaken.

In the larger centers there are also a myriad of fine arts programs that draw kids away from in school programs and then of course there is the constant drive for academic excellence that send kids to extra studies outside of the school hours.

As a coach this is frequently a HUGE headache as teams may start a season with a full roster but kids will fall away as the season progresses until the team is no longer viable. The result is that, there is not much motivation for a teacher to give up their time for a fruitless cause.

Sometimes thank you just isn’t enough

I have a colleague who takes 6 – 8 kids every year on a hardcore wilderness experience over 10 days, during which he is on 24/7. In addition to this, the responsibility he takes on when he is in the middle of the bush is extraordinary as there is no support. No principal, no parents, no ambulance service, no nothing. He is literally on his own in the wilderness. Of the 240 hours he spends with these kids, only 64 of that might be considered “billable time” but he gets no additional pay, no days in lieu… absolutely nothing other than a thank you

Now that sort of thing would be unheard of in private industry, lets see a lawyer do that for free! I am thinking it would be an absolute “NO!” and the public would accept that but if a teacher says “NO!Ain’t gonna happen”, all hell breaks loose. Teachers are instantly labeled as selfish, greedy, uncaring and money-grubbing. If a teacher even thinks about saying “NO” they are instantly vilified. It just doesn’t add up.

Just like the BC Liberals have said, we need change in our school system and it looks as though the changes the @BClibs want to make will be at expense of the teaching profession and if that is they way they want to go, so be it. If they want to go to a free market system, where teachers are nothing more than a commodity, then teachers will more than likely start treating their time as such. You can’t have it both ways, where teachers are freewheeling with their time all the while the employer is trying their best to short change them at every corner.

Like it or not, the Good old days are gone and we are all going to pay for it in the end.

Side Note

Here is a great Video on what motivates us in the work we do. At about the 4:40 point in the video, pay close attention to what is most important in getting the most out of an employee.

Jan 312012
 

Happy New Year my friends ( I am going by the lunar calendar ) It has been a while but I really haven’t had much to write about, or at least there hasn’t been anything über exciting to share. Winter blah’s seem to have set in and it seems like me and the iPad cohort are just simmering like a pork roast in a slow cooker.

Actually we have been doing stuff but I think there just isn’t as much NEW stuff to share. What we did launch in the new year is the iDoc project I was talking about before Christmas and the kids have been working diligently on their documentaries.

The assignment was to take a teen health issue and create a 15 minute documentary on the topic. See Assignment Here Rubric is Here

I really didn’t want to restrict what it was they did but I had to give some guidance in how they should set up the iDoc so the assignment reads a bit like a step by step but I hope it is open enough for some liberal interpretation. Sometimes we give kids too much guidance and provide too much hand holding, so I tried to leave things up to some application of creative licence.

The single most important element of this iDoc is the 10 questions which the kids are researching and asking others for the video clips. These will be what guide the production and ultimately achieve the “Purpose” of the video. That being, sharing relevant information which teens should be aware of.

During this process, I am learning some things myself.

  • You must resist the urge to organize, control and supervise the kids every move
  • You cannot be a slave to the curriculum
  • Time is your friend
  • Patience is a must

In other words you have to roll with it. This is not the world of the standardized learning outcome. It is a learning environment of unpredictable learning outcomes and challenges but it is real learning, not that prescribed stuff that the ministry doles out in those must cover packages called IRP’s

Now for those of you who are reading this and saying BUT YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW THE CURRICULUM!!!!! Don’t worry, I am giving the kids a dose of boredom every 3 days, just so they will be all lerned up reel good, by the end of the year. Lord knows, I don’t want to deprive the kids or some quality ministry approved learning about STI’s and Drug addiction.

Finally, what has become so incredibly clear in doing this iDoc project, is that with the freedom that tools like the iPad provide us, comes a greater responsibility for learning. What might be surprising to some is that this shift in responsibility will not be onto the backs of teachers. As teachers let go of their role as the one who knows” and embrace a role as the one who shows”, students will need to take on more responsibility for finding the information they need. The days of passively sitting in the classroom looking to teacher for the answers are dying a rapid death and as such, so will the traditional responsibilities for learning.

I am loving my new role as director, as the kids come to me and ask, what do you think? or what should we do with this? I just hope this is the way we are going and it isn’t an anomaly in our daily academic routine.

Jan 102012
 

Blog posts are funny things. The thesis usually comes to you at peculiar moments throughout the day. In the middle of class, in the shower, driving home from work…. Or In the case of this post, while writhing in pain on the living room floor @ 3am, with a nasty case of kidney stones. If I were to truly share all the thoughts I had in the wee hours of that night, this post would be rated PG13, littered with F bombs and other expletives but in between the colourful language, a blog post was sketched out.

For some bazaar reason, during my two hour battle with a 4×6 mm stone that was raking its way through my kidney, I was thinking about the school system. Don’t ask me why, you would think I would be trying to picture sandy beaches and baby bunnies but that was not the case. Instead, five questions bounced between the F bombs. Each contrary to everything we have come to accept as a society about the value of education and its place in this world.

I know what you are saying, “why can’t you be agreeable about anything?” But when you are born a contrarian, you just got to go with it. Besides it is waaaaaaaaaay more fun then being agreeable.

What follows is what I like to callThe Kidney Stone 5 – Thoughts of a delirious pedagogue, or the other working title. Questions worthy of consideration, as our policy makers sketch out what the Twenty First Century learner is going to look like…

Here goes nothin! I make no apologies.

Why does someone have to have a degree to make a living wage?

It would seem to me that sometime in the past 30 – 40 years, someone / somewhere decided that the only people who deserve to make a living wage are those who have some type of post secondary education. Simply putting in an honest days work for a living wage, just isn’t good enough any longer. In fact it is virtually unheard in the Western World. Of course there is a long list of reasons why this is the case but really, why can’t someone who doesn’t want to go to school for 4 or more years, make a living?

I can’t help but think about members of my family, who graduated from High School in the 70′s, never went to post secondary school but worked hard and made a great life for themselves. Now at the age of 55 – 60 they are looking at retirement with their house paid off, money in the bank and everything is rosy. Try that today and more than likely you will be living in subsidized housing and visiting the food bank on a regular basis?

At what point in the past 40 years did hard work become unworthy of a living income?

Why do we work so hard at warehousing young adults in the name of education?

Is education really all it is cracked up to be? Sure it has its place but why can’t people work and learn at the same time? Back in the day that was how it was done but somewhere along the line book lernin became king and real learning was out. We all know that warehousing youth in the name of education was done by design, it kept young people out of the workforce and left the jobs to the older people but does this really have a purpose any longer?

With the Baby Boomers starting to retire, perhaps we can stop warehousing our youth well into adulthood and start employing them. Perhaps going back the way things were before factory schools were established, teaching people along the way in real world situations rather than artificial learning environments that have little application.

A Good Read: The Coming Melt Down of Higher Education

Is keeping twenty somethings dependant and unproductive really good for our society?

By the time many young adults graduate from post secondary, they are in their late 20′s / early 30′s, carry immense debt and have yet to begin their productive adult lives. Many can’t even conceive having a life like their parents did. Buying a home is impossible and starting a family is laughable. They have been effectively shut out of the “real world” for a third of their lives all in the name of education. Historically this was a persons most productive years both from an economic and biological standpoint.

It begs the question, is this really good for our society, our economy and our youth to actively prevent them from actively contributing to their community?

A Good Read: The Higher Education Bubble

Perhaps every kid doesn’t need to be inspired, perhaps some just want their independence?

Anyone who reads this blog, probably graduated from high school back in the day, when grade 12 was the end of the line for many if not most. Do you remember the excitement you felt at the prospect of being FREE of school and independent of your parents. The prospect of starting your life, becoming an adult and being responsible for yourself. Now that was motivating, that was exciting.

In the past 40 years, under the mantra of education creates opportunity and choice, we have created a system of dependence and uncertainty and taken away perhaps the single most important choice of all. The choice to be an adult and get on with one’s life.

What is interesting about this thought is that things are not all that different today. I have kids on both ends of the academic spectrum who would like nothing more than to just get out of the system. On one end, I have kids who run their own businesses, are actively contributing their community and just want to get on with their well laid plans. On the other end, I have kids who just want a job, a pick-up truck and the opportunity to make a comfortable living.

Quite frankly, I struggle finding issue with either scenario.

Perhaps it isn’t our school system that is failing our youth. Maybe its the world outside the system, that sets them up for failure?

It is undeniable that the world has changed immeasurably in the past 40 years. It is also pretty hard to argue against making some changes to an education system, created for a world that no longer exists but there is a problem. Those who are calling for change refuse to recognize that the struggles our youth face in today’s world are not only caused by the education system. It would certainly be nice it were that simple but in reality, the problem has two sides.

Yes, we need to change things in our schools so kids can be better prepared for the Twenty First Century but our youth struggle in the real world because they are walking into a world that the education system can’t possibly prepare them for.

  • It is a world rejects the presence of youth in the work world.
  • It is a world where simply working hard isn’t good enough to make a living.
  • It is a world where I make more than 3 times what my father did but my home cost me 27 times more than the one he bought when he was starting out.
  • It is a world where academic inflation forces bright, skilled young people out of the workforce and into an academic warehouse, where they spend a decade of their lives preparing for work that might not pay the bills.

Sure it is convenient to point at the schools and say, “it’s their fault!” but in reality, some of the biggest problems facing our youth, have nothing to do with the school system they are a product of. Our education system may need some updating but I would say the world it delivers our kids into, is in dire need of repair.

So what does this all mean?

Well, I would hope that at some point, someone realizes that the difficulties our youth face involve more than just the education they receive. I hope that someone comes to understand that marginalizing youth in educational warehouses is not the most productive use of their time or ability. I hope that we rediscover that person’s worth can be measured by something other than the education that they have.

Finally, I hope that the move towards the Twenty First Century Learning model is more than just a new and improved way to warehouse our youth. If we are going to change the school system, lets take a big step backward and allow our youth to be contributing members of our society. Unfortunately this will require policy makers to stop pointing fingers and start to address the other reasons our youth fail to thrive in today’s world. Unlike the passage of my kidney stone, our children’s road to freedom shouldn’t be a one way street.

Dec 152011
 

A student asked me last week if I was going to “do the iPad thing next year” and strangely I said yes without hesitation. You would think after all the frustrations I have had and all the bellyaching I have done over this little digital device, I would have at least gave him a five second “ummmmmm” before I answered.

When I think about it though, it is a no brainer. I have been given the opportunity by the powers that be, to break new ground in the brave new world of education. Plus, I love technology! God forbid a solar flare should knock out all electronics on earth, I would be doomed both in and out of the classroom. Whether this kind of digital dependence is a good thing for me or my students is another story but I digress…

As much as I would love to say that the iPad experience has been GREAT! So far it has been a mixed bag and to be brutally honest, I would have to say that everything that didn’t work, was all the kid’s fault!

Kidding! The collective gasp of horror by my superiors reading that, is almost audible. I am going to pay for that one tomorrow ;-)

We did do a number of good things this term and I will share at some point, I promise but it seems that people want to know about our difficulties so they can steer clear of them or fix them. The positives are there and we are building on them, we just need to clear the playing field of the pedagogical land mines first so more people can come and play.

With all that said, in keeping with the pointing out the negatives theme, here are my 3 biggest issues up until Christmas Break.

Me – I have to take some heat for this but then again, I am not sure that blame need be assigned but teaching strategies might need to be retooled.

As with any course, there is curriculum you need to plough through and every kid needs to have equal and measured access to it. This term the content I was doling out simply did not lend itself too much creativity, collaboration or individualized learning. The only difference between the iPad version of the course and my regular class is the way the information is dispensed, processed and ultimately presented.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and we actually learned something from it:

  1. Traditional curriculum is no more engaging coming off an iPad, then is out of a book, handout or other traditional delivery method.
  2. When you have to plough through material which does not lend itself to individuality, the iPad is not necessarily the way to go.
  3. For cranking out work, a laptop is a far superior tool.

Now with all this said, after Christmas break, things are going to change as the curriculum lends itself to some very cool possibilities from this point on. I am looking forward to turning the kids loose on a project where they will be creating 15 minute documentaries on health and or social issues relating to teens, using only the iPad. There are just so many fantastic things that could come of this and I am really quite excited about it. Alternatively, it could be a complete unmitigated disaster but I am shooting for the fantastic option so stay tuned.

The iPad - Regardless of what Apple would have you believe, the iPad is not the end all and be all of learning tools.

It is my opinion that before the iPad can be considered education’s panacea, Apple needs to step up and address some of the functionality issues that I have discussed in previous posts. Whether they do or not, is anyone’s guess but as long as they continue to take the position of “the iPad way or the highway” then there will continue to be problems around functionality in the classroom.

At this very moment, (as I type the blog post on my PC) if I had to buy an Apple product for my child, I would choose the Macbook air. If I had to buy a tablet, I think it would be an Android device rather than an iPad. The reason being is that the file systems of both the Macbook and an Android tablet are not locked up like the iPad, giving you far greater freedom in how you use the device.

At the moment the iPad’s primary purpose is for dispensing media and it will remain as such until they give users access to the file system

The kids – Yes the kids have to take some of the heat too but I will be kind.

The intent of this little pilot was to see if the iPad would be a tool that engaged kids, made assignment completion easier and ultimately improved learning. What we were hoping for (but all knew better) was that the iPad alone would somehow be so engaging that no matter what we did, learning would take place. Now a little of that has been happening but not enough of it for us to jump up and yell “IT WORKED!”.

What we have discovered is that the ability of a student to self regulate, is imperative in order for the iPad to be a useful learning tool in a classroom. Kids need to be able to put the device down when the learning situation calls for their attention elsewhere. Kids need to be able to stay on task and not compulsively default to game play or other non productive activities when the teacher is not watching.

Certainly, the teacher needs to create a classroom environment where these things are expected but ultimately, the kids who can self regulate will thrive in an iPad classroom and those who cannot, will have greater difficulty succeeding without constant teacher intervention.

I am sure most of this will all be ironed out as we move along. In time we will develop best practice around using these tools K to 12 but it wont happen over night. When you think about it, we are creating a new academic culture that will define the classroom etiquette by which kids conduct themselves in Twenty First Century learning environment. There is still some heavy lifting to do but we will get there.

So, as I settle in for a long winters nap and visions of sugar plumbs dance in my head. I think all of us who are involved in the iPad cohort can settle in for a great Christmas break knowing that we did good. Sure there is a TON of work ahead but it will be fun. I liken it to getting first tracks on the ski hill. You look down the slope and it is all yours to do with what you will and you just know it will be a great run.

Cheers!

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 092011
 

As I stumble out of my 15th year of teaching and look ahead to the last half of my career, I can’t help but marvel at the changes I have seen in the classroom. It is really quite amazing how quickly our education system has changed. I can still remember the first day of my teaching practicum at Spectrum High School 1993. I thought it was just so cool when I saw one of the teachers, printing out a crossword he created using a new fangled program on his Apple II. The only problem was that he could only create a few every month because the ribbon for the dot matrix printer was too expensive and office staff got mad at him for wasting it on his silly crosswords. Today I find myself part of an iPad pilot where I have essentially gone completely paperless. The classroom is being revolutionized and turned upside down by the digitization of information and curriculum delivery. So much is changing so quickly , it is difficult to keep up at times.

The pedagogical wisdom I was imbued with during my university years has become a faded memory. In part because of the distance between then and now but also because, much of what was dispensed in the 90′s as educational gospel, just doesn’t apply any longer. In 18 short years it seems like I have been transported from the good old days of education and deposited in the middle a brave new world in the digital classroom. These are uncertain times for education but there is also great excitement for what lies ahead and I for one, look forward to being a part of what is shaping up to be an educational revolution.

Although I reminisce with fondness the past and feel great excitement about the possibilities that lay ahead, it cannot be said that everything in our school systems are rosy. All anyone needs to do is flip on their local new cast and see that education systems all over North America are struggling with major issues around achievement and engagement of our students. To complicate matters, major discord between policy makers and educators has completely stalled any sort of cooperative approach toward making positive changes to our education system.

Policy makers feel that today’s teachers are not committed enough, don’t do enough to engage their students, spend to little time on professional development and expect far too much in compensation. In short, they feel teachers care too little about the job and expect too much in return and naturally teachers are taking great offense to this affront on their professionalism.

Now as someone who is smack dab in the middle of their career, I get to see our past move on and our future take its place. It is a weird place to be at times but I believe it affords me a clear view of what is really at issue here and it really isn’t all that complex.

My colleagues who are leaving are dong so after 30 years of outstanding service. Not a single one of them would I dare criticize for the work they have done and the lives they have influenced. They are the foundation on which our public school systems were built and flourished for decades. The new teachers who replace my esteemed colleagues are outstanding in their own right. Bright, energetic and well-educated, they all show extraordinary promise and are excellent additions to the profession BUT…

Where my retiring colleagues were able to focus their energy on their job, own a home, raise a family and have a relatively comfortable living over the course of their career, up and coming teachers haven’t a prayer of doing the same. The standard of living which the profession once enjoyed is retiring right along with the teachers who enjoyed it. What we are seeing today, are teachers struggling to just to make ends meet. Most young teachers I encounter are working 1 or 2 additional jobs over and above their teaching assignments just make rent, never mind supporting a family or buying a home.

Now some might say: “As it should be! If those lazy teachers want more money then get another job and quit robbing the tax payers pocket!” but the ramifications of this attitude are rather significant. Instead of teachers investing time and effort in their careers and the school for which they work, they use their time outside of the classroom to simply pay the bills. All those things that my retiring colleagues use to do outside class time, are falling by the wayside out of economic necessity.

The result is that you are left with teachers in our schools who simply can’t put the time in that society has come to expect from their teachers. What we are seeing ever more frequently, are young teachers leaving the profession in very short order. They hardly stick around long enough for a cup of coffee in the staff room.

My last student teacher bailed on the profession after only two years. This young man was a phenomenal talent and made me look like an itinerant Sunday school teacher right out of the gate. He loved teaching and would have been an asset to any school he set foot in but he saw no financial future in it so he left. When discussing his departure over a pint he said, “To be the teacher I would want to be, I would have to invest too much of my time and effort in exchange for too little money. It simply doesn’t make good economic sense to continue.”

This is but one example of many and part of a growing concern about the future of the teaching profession. The equation is simple. We can’t expect teachers to be as vested in their careers and their students as our retired colleagues were because they simply can’t afford to?

The question then is, will this situation continue to get worse? Unfortunately I can’t see any improvement coming down the pike and there are a few reasons for this.

  • The tax dollars are simply not there to pay teachers in a way which would make much of a difference to anyone’s bottom line. To give teachers a raise that would create a lifestyle similar to that our predecessors would be intolerable for most taxpayers.
  • As long as North American kids continue to fall in international rankings, there will be no impetus to pay teachers anything more than what they all ready get.
  • Public opinion toward teachers is hostile, in large part because teachers can no longer do the job as it was once done.
  • Paying teachers in a way which allows them to do the job as their predecessors did, would be political suicide for anyone who dare step up and made it happen.

What it all comes down to is that in spite of entering an exciting new age in education, moving ahead will be difficult. The good old days, where teachers could afford to invest in their careers and countless hours to their students, have come to and end and they are not coming back any time soon.

It is a sad state of affairs and I am sure I will get spanked for this post but it is just the way a teacher who has a clear line of sight to the past and the future, sees it.