Jan 232014
 

iStock_000033215132SmallWelcome to this weeks instalment of Questions to Ponder for Learning Design #EDCI 335

This weeks question is:  Are our current schools / teachers / curriculum preparing students for the 21st century?

I am going to start off by saying that the problem with this question is that it is a tad misleading. It would suggest that the role of grade school is to prepare our children for the world but it isn’t. Grade school is designed to prepare kids for further education once they graduate from high school. Preparing kids for the real world is no longer part of our mandate.

Personally I think kids should be able to walk out of high school and become gainfully employed right out of the gate. When I say gainfully employed, I am not talking having a 100K a year job, driving a Porsche and living like a Gangsta. I am talking a good job that provides a living wage and an opportunity to improve their lot in life with hard work and further education. If this was the case then asking: Are our current schools/teachers/curriculum preparing students for the 21st century? My answer would be an emphatic NO!

Unfortunately, over the past 30+ years, under the guise of the tired old mantra, “You need a good education to get a good job”. Society has chosen to warehouse young adults in post secondary institutions, rather than employ them. So ingrained is this “Must go to school” mentality, post secondary education has become a multi billion dollar industry unto itself. At times it would seem that the primary purpose of education is to extract money from parents back accounts, rather than create employees of the future.

In reality kids graduating from high school today don’t need to be ready for the 21st Century, they need to be prepared to spend another 4+ years in a post secondary institution doing exactly what they were doing in high school. So if this is the inevitable plight of our children, my answer to this weeks question is YES! The existing school system does exactly what is required to prepare our children for their continued academic incarceration in the 21st Century.

Unrealistically, I would like to not lecture at all; not as the result of being shown the door by my employer, as will happen soon enough, but because lectures are a terrible way to teach. Since I am scheduled to give them, and can’t see how to provide one-on-one instruction to the nearly 200 students enrolled on the course, I know that I shall in fact stand up and talk for 50 minutes twice a week for 12 weeks – Alan Ryan, 2014.

The problem is that grade school is designed to keep kids from engaging with the real world, not to go out and be embraced by it. Even if we did make kids work ready by the time graduation rolls around, the only thing waiting for them is starvation wages and poverty. The reality is that what we have here is an 21st Century employment problem, not a 21st Century school problem.

I work with kids on a daily basis that are bright, capable and phenomenally talented and need nothing more than to see the light at the end of the tunnel. They could be and should be in the work world making themselves useful to society. Instead they are trapped in a system that insists on “educating them” indefinitely before deeming them worthy of a living wage.

The thought I frequently bandy about in my mind is this.  What if the solution is not to look for a 21st century solution but backwards to the 19th century. Instead of marginalizing our youth in a world of never-ending academia, why don’t we turn them loose to participate in the adult world sooner? The role of school / teachers / curriculum would be to provide “in progress” academic support for kids who are engaged with the real world. We already do this to a small degree with Apprenticeships and Co-ops but why are these programs not the norm rather than the exception?

The question posed is far bigger than any single school, teacher or curriculum. It is a question that needs to be answered by students, parents, teachers, business people and politicians. 

  • If you want work ready kids by grade the end of grade 12, the business world needs to provide living wages for them when they get out.
  • If you want to change what schools / teachers / curriculum teach, then you have to change what qualifies for graduation.
  • If you want to change what constitutes high school graduation, you need post secondary to institutions to change entry requirements.
  • If you want grade school teachers to support each child’s specific interests or “passion”, then provide the resources and the time to make it happen.
  • If you want us to change our teaching practice, then provide us with the time, resources and professional development to do it.
  • If critical thinking, innovation, resilience, adaptability and effort are what is most important in school, then stop placing so much emphasis on grades and value what really counts.

Our schools and teachers are more than capable of delivering a 21st Century education, it is the outside world that needs to do a better job in helping the new age of learning to come to fruition.

Some facts and figures

Registered apprenticeship completions, Canada, 1995 to 2007

Post Secondary Enrolment Trends to 2031

Unemployment Dynamics of Canada’s  Youth

University Tuition Rising to Record Levels in Canada

Dec 032013
 

I picked up a new class this year. Actually I was cajoled into taking a ICT class in exchange for one of my Planning 10′s. “Come on Keith your will be great! Besides you love techy stuff don’t yah?” Although I couldn’t argue the point, it was still a new course and I didn’t really know what was involved.

As any wily teaching veteran would do, I held off on committing to take the class until I checked out the IRP. (Integrated Resource Package) Once I had ferreted out a dusty old copy from the depths of the Tech office, I was perturbed to find that it was a 2003 version so I did what I should have done in the first place and went to the net and looked for something that had been written post Windows XP. As you have probably already guessed, the most recent version IS the 2003 version. In tech years, 2003 was a millennia ago. Essentially were still pounding out school work on stone tablets back then.

Taking a quick look through I wasn’t very inspired.

  • Microsoft Office (my grandmother uses Microsoft Office)
  • Web publishing tools (Could you be a bit more specific?)
  • Video editing (I thought that was film and TV)

However, I did see some mention of programming, some image editing and a few other snippets that lent me hope. I knew if I stuck with all the Prescribed learning outcomes, it would be a PAINFUL year for everyone involved, so I went down to talk to the all mighty and powerful people and said… “Sure, I will take ICT IF I don’t have to follow that IRP to the letter!” To which they said… “Giddy up!” 

Now you may be wondering what qualifications do I have to be teaching ICT and my answer is… None! Sure I am a tech geek but I haven’t taken any formal training in anything. Actually that is not true. I did take 4 weeks of first year computer science before I dropped it but that was in 1990 and in tech years, we were still killing wooly mammoths with our bare hands back then.

What I am familiar with is how to build websites for personal and retail purposes, how to optimize websites to be search engine friendly and I have a great deal of experience using and hacking the appearance of WordPress Sites. I also have been using Adobe Photoshop, Dream Weaver & Fireworks for a number of years as well. How this makes me worthy of being an ICT teacher, well that may be up for debate but it gave me enough of a leg up to say “YES! I will teach ICT” 

Although I felt confident to take on the class, I realized that the kids I would be getting were going to be light years ahead of me in many respects, in one area especially. Coding!

Regardless of my inadequacies in this area, I still wanted to make coding a major part of the course because coding is all the rage these days and all the cool geeks are doing it. This is where Open Learning comes in.

The only way I could provide kids with any sort of learning experience around coding was to utilize the wealth of Open Learning resources available on how to code. I realized from the get go that there was no way I could learn this stuff and turn around a try to teach it day in day out, so I resolved to just set them loose.

For me this was unnerving. This would be the first time in 17 years where I have not been dishing out the information the kids needed to know and god help me if things went sideways.

Now, three months into the year, my role has become more of a director of resources. If a kid needs help and I can’t answer the questions, I find another kid who can. I find and present to the kids learning resources and opportunities which they can utilize to enhance their own self-directed learning. At times it feels like we are moving a little fast and loose but the kids always seem to be on task, get things done and enjoy what they are doing. I have yet to have any eye rolling or groaning, I never have any absentees, they are all in class on time… It is a remarkably efficient classroom. Having said that, I am sure things will now go to hell in a hand basket.

What I do find myself doing as a “teacher” is trying to get the kids to think about what it is they are doing. What are the ramifications of the app you want to develop, the image you have created or the digital footprint you have made? So many of these kids view what they are doing with or on a computer as isolated events. Rarely do they think about the social ramifications of their digital creations or actions. To combat this blinder effect, I will take a class every couple of weeks and look at the social consequences of what we create using technology.

This little experiment has made me realize that I may no longer have control of the content but I do have control of the context. The traditional sage on the stage approach gives the teacher the power / responsibility to deliver content and context all at once but with open learning, context can be glossed over by the learner or is missing entirely from the content. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the teacher to frame the individual learning within the appropriate context.

These past three months have reinforced with me that Open Education in the absence of a living breathing teacher will be doomed to failure or at least can’t be considered “education” because without the teacher it is just information. As I come to the end of this post and this course, I leave you with an article that appeared in the Washington Post by Larry Cuban, that makes this point very well: The technology mistake: Confusing access to information with becoming educated

 

Cheers,

Keith Rispin

 

Jul 152013
 

schoolreformThis mid summer blogpost comes to you courtesy of a tweet I sent a few weeks back. It got a retweet or two and I had a wee bit of a discussion about what it all meant with my twitter friend @HGG, which eventually brought up an obvious question. If parenting is more important to a child’s academic achievement than school, why doesn’t the education reform movement focus their vitriol on the living room rather than the classroom?

Ultimately, I think we all know why reformers don’t point fingers at parents, it’s just bad politics and teachers are ripe for the whipping. The other problem is that there is a laundry list of things beyond the classroom that can derail a child’s academic progress, something I call “Academic Disruptors”. Some of these disruptors are related to parenting but much of it is simply a reflection of the twisted society we live in. The unpopular reality is that failure to thrive in school, is a MUCH larger issue than just a lack of rigorous academic standards or teacher accountability measures but reformers don’t want to hear that, they just want someone to blame other than taking a look at a socioeconomic system that has come to ruin.

Screen Shot 2013-07-05 at 8.33.36 AM

Out of curiosity I asked a few people (teachers and civilians) to give me three things they feel get in the way of a child’s success in school. Obviously the teachers looked beyond the classroom but curiously, I did not get a single response from a non teacher who pointed to the classroom. The list of “academic disrupters” I compiled are essentially all forces beyond the hallowed halls of your local school.

The list has some fairly obvious items but there are some not so obvious ones in there too. Many are interrelated but I mention them separately because they can stand on their own as an academic disruptor. What follows are the items from that list, juxtaposed with the two pillars of education reform as we see it being sold by reformers.

  1. Tougher academic standards
  2. Greater teacher accountability

As you read through, you may ask yourself “Yes well… how many of kids does this list really represent?”

My response is that any single item may not represent all that many kids but collectively, I would say that it represents a significant percentage of any school population. The other thing to remember is that this list is far from complete and could potentially be endless.

I hope as you read through, it becomes clear just how ludicrous the education reform movement in North America has become. The simplistic bifocal solution of tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability cannot fix the education system, simply because it does not address the real academic disruptors in our schools.

Poverty – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will immediately address the daily effects of poverty on a child’s ability to be academically successful.

Hunger – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will provide a child the daily nourishment they need to be ready to actively engaged with the curriculum.

Divorce – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will mitigate the emotional turmoil that can be created by divorce and ensure that students experience academic success.

Mental Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will negate any mental health issue that could impede a child’s cognition or ability to build positive relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Addiction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the root causes of addiction and substance abuse in our society and pave the way for academic success for our children.

Fitness & Health – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will address the epidemic of poor health and fitness issues faced by North American society and empower children to become more academically successful.

Body Image Disorders – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will protect our adolescents from the biological, psychological and environmental factors that are believed to cause body dysmorphic disorders and allow all children to be academically successful.

Digital Distraction – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will keep children from spending inordinate amounts of time outside of school on passive non academic activities such as gaming, surfing the web and playing on their smart phone.

Nutrition – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will prevent children from starting their day with a bag of chips and a can of coke. This will ensure that all children eat nutritious meals before during and after school, enabling them to be ready for their academic day.

Enabling – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will stop parents from enabling their children to engage in behaviours that negatively affect their academic performance and ensure academic success.

Pregnancy – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability, will prevent teens from having sex and conceiving children, allowing children to stay in school and be academically successful.

Employment – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that academically successful students will be gainfully employed once they have completed school.

Death – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will shelter children from the detrimental emotional effects of death in the family or amongst their friends, allowing them to be academically successful.

Developmental disabilities – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that children with developmental disabilities will no longer need psycho educational assessments or classroom assistance and they will still be academically successful.

Bullying – Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will eliminate all bullying regardless of where or when it takes place, allowing for all children to feel included in the school community and become academically successful.

Relationships - Tougher academic standards and greater teacher accountability will ensure that students do not get themselves involved in distracting or harmful relationships with their peers, allowing them to be academically successful.

Now if anyone tries to tell you schools can be fixed within the walls of a classroom, you can call BS with confidence that it can’t.

If you come up with anything else, feel free to add to the list. I would love to hear more.

**NOTE** This post is intended to be a critique of the school reform movement in the USA, not a critique of the Canadian education reform movement. It can however, be seen as a “Don’t go there” warning to Canadian education reformers.

Latest attacks on education

North Carolina axes masters degree pay bump

Mar 272013
 

earth_stopWell I called it. My powers of EdTech prognostication have once again hit the mark. Way back in December 23, 2011, I did a post called Digital Learning in 2012 – My Predictions. In this post, I predicted a push back from parents and other concerned individuals and groups about WiFi in schools.

Although I was a tad off the mark in my prediction, In 2013 the anti WiFi movement began to get some legs in British Columbia when the representatives at the 2013 British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) AGM tabled a four resolutions which addressed the membership’s concerns over WiFi in schools.

In the middle of the four resolution Anti WiFi package is Resolution 138, which backs up parents in BC and supports the BCCPAC’s May 2012 AGM resolution, calling for WiFi free education choices at both elementary and secondary levels in Province of British Columbia.

Resolution 137: The BCTF recognizes the World Health Organization’s classification of Radio-frequency Electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless devices as a 2B possible cancer risk to humans; that the BCTF ensures all teachers have the right to work in a safe environment, including the right to work in a Wi-Fi/ wireless-free environment.

Resolution 138: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Council’s May 2012 resolution, which calls on each Board of Education to allocate one public school at each educational level (elementary, middle, secondary) to be free of wireless technology such as Wi-Fi, cordless phones and cell phones.

Resolution 139: The BCTF supports the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils’ May 2012 resolution calling Boards of Education to cease to install Wi-Fi and other wireless networks in schools where other networking technology is feasible.

Resolution 140: The BCTF supports members who are suffering from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity by ensuring that their medical needs are accommodated in the workplace.

Further to these resolutions, some School Districts in both Canada and the USA have already moved to ban WiFi outright and some WiFi wary administrators are making executive decisions and pulling the plug here there and everywhere.

The push back is here and it is looking like things are about to get heated but I do have some questions about people’s understanding and motivations behind the WiFi bans. Sure I get it, we want our kids to be safe from what MIGHT be harmful but look around, everything is deemed as “possibly harmful” these days. Whats more, it is hard to take people seriously when they are rallying against WiFi with clenched fists in the air and inside that fist is their beloved cell phone.

I am not sure if people really understand that EMF’s or Electro Magnetic Fields are everywhere and emitted from things as mundane as your clock radio, hairdryer, kitchen appliances and baby monitors. EMF’s are even emitted from every wall socket in your home and yet WiFi is singled out as the lone crocodile in the reeds.

If this is an issue we are going to choose to fight in our schools we need to look beyond just WiFi. We should ban cell phones in schools (Good luck with that), get rid of computer labs, microwaves in cooking classes; welders, band saws, table saws and all other electric-powered tools in our shop programs… While we are at it, I am not sure if I should put my students in work experience placements where EMF’s are abundant or supporting their career choices where they might be at risk of EMF exposure. IF we are going to make this an issue in our schools, we are opening the door to liability issues way beyond the walls of the padded cells we call our classrooms and I am not sure I want to expose myself to that.

Whether you like it or not, Lightning the horse has been let out of the barn long ago and unless we can pinpoint examples of people dropping dead from the EMF’s emitted from WiFi, she ain’t gunna come back in any time soon.

Perhaps our time might be better spent trying to educate kids (and parents) about appropriate use of personal digital devices. Not unlike they way we do with sex and relationships, alcohol and drug abuse, poor diet and fitness and a litany of other 21 Century lifestyle pitfalls. Planting a scarlet letter on WiFi and calling for a good ole fashion public linchin solves nothing and eliminates any positive outcome WiFi might be able to deliver to our children’s learning environment.

JMHO…

Jan 252013
 

The-Tipping-Point-Malcolm-GladwellWell, as usual… I am light years behind the curve. I always seem to be a little slow to arrive at the party and when i finally do, all the cool people have already left but I never no mind, it’s all good. Better late then never my dear old pappy use to say.

My most recent late arrival, was a book called The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell. I found it sitting on the old and irrelevant table at Indigo while doing some Christmas shopping. Normally, I would have never even noticed the unassuming title but since I spent most of 2012 listening to educators yammer on about the “Ed Tech Tipping Point…” When I saw a book with “Tipping Point” in the title, it caught my eye.

Now that I have finally arrived at the party, long over though it may be, I can finally put my two bits worth into the Ed Tech Tipping Point discussion.

First of all, I have to say, I enjoyed the book. Gladwell brings up some very interesting points about social epidemics and I certainly understand why some educators are looking for just such an epidemic to occur with Education Technology. However, after hours of careful consideration, my conclusion is that there wont be a Gladwellian Tipping Point in Ed Tech. Instead, advances in Educational Technology will to continue to be (as it has always been) more of a slow submersion into the digital domain. A dipping point as it were.

Coincidentally, not a week after having come to this conclusion, I stumbled upon a Blogpost from Mind Share Learning, talking about the Ed Tech Tipping Point in their Top Ten EdTech Predictions for 2013. They seem to think that 2013 WILL be the year the Ed Tech tipping point occurs but I am holding my ground…. There will be no tipping point in 2013 or any other year and here is why.

I will try best I can, to relate Education Technology to Gladwell’s book. If you haven’t read the book, give the original article (on which the book is based) a quick read The Tipping Point – June 3, 1996 (New Yorker Magazine).

Stickiness

From a purely hardware perspective, the tipping point has already happened. If you don’t believe me, just look in your nearest high school classroom. There is a digital device in the hand of 90% of the kids and based on the degree of digital distraction going on at staff meetings, one in the hand of 90% of the staff as well. If I ask kids if they have a digital device to use for any given lesson, the majority of the class reaches in their bag or pocket and pull out more computing power then put a man on the moon. Now I realize that this situation is not the same for every school community but at my school, we long since tipped and are swimming in the digital deep end. The hardware is here and in the hands of many if not most but still we have not seen an Ed Tech tipping point.

Just as Gladwell tells us in his book, in order for an epidemic to occur we need “it” to stick and technology stuck to education long ago. The jump from scroll to bound books is an example of technological change. A little more recently, I remember how people thought VHS was going to revolutionize education; then desktop computers came along and were suppose to change everything; then the internet came along and distributed leaning systems were born, which promised to change the way we learn. Now mobile devices are being held on high and trumpeted by proponents as the most revolutionary thing education has ever seen… Adoption of new technology has always been a part of education but there is still no tipping point as Gladwell describes it.

In my mind this can only mean one thing, although technology itself is sticky, hardware is not. We find ourselves chasing the hardware, not unlike a heroin addict chases the dragon. The last hit is never enough and this is one of the reasons we have not seen an Ed Tech tipping point. When we focus on hardware acquisition, what we end up doing is moving the tipping point further and further away. If this continues, a Gladwellian tipping point will never occur.

Law of the Few

This is the idea that there is a small group of people who start, champion and spread a social epidemic to the masses. Gladwell refers to these people as Mavens, Connectors and Salespeople. Any one of these types of people can act as a tipping point but these types of people frequently act in more than just one of these roles. For example, many well-connected people are also good sales people, like Chris Kennedy (my superintendent). He has taken on the role of consummate Ed Tech ambassador. Myself, I am more of a grunt or as Gladwell calls it, “a Maven”. I don’t do a very good job of connecting with others or selling the idea of Ed Tech but if anyone asks for information or help with Ed Tech, I am your man.

Believe it or not, Gladwell’s law of the few is alive and well in education. These types of people are littered about the education profession and they have done a very good job selling the idea of Education Technology to their colleagues. New converts are joining the Ed Tech epidemic daily but just like the social epidemics Gladwell uses in the Tipping Point, it doesn’t infect everyone. Not everyone in Gladwell’s social epidemics bought Hush Puppies, got syphilis or committed suicide and just like a Gladwellian epidemic, not everyone in the teaching profession has bought into the epidemic of Education Technology.

Championing, Connecting and convincing others to join or become a part of a social epidemic is a difficult task and there is no reason to expect that everyone in the teaching profession will buy into the Ed Tech Revolution. Does this mean these are bad teachers? No… By Gladwell’s measure, it simply means they didn’t need, connect or were sold on the value of Education Technology.

Context

The third element of a Gladwellian epidemic is context, or the place where the would-be epidemic lives. This element can involve social, geographic, economic and other factors both big and small. It is here, I believe, that the most significant Ed Tech’s tipping point is hiding. The two most significant being, access too and pedagogical value of, Educational Technology.

Access to Educational Technology comes in many forms. As I described in the stickiness section, the school I work in is not starved for hardware. It is readily available but we still struggle with access to what we need to run a technology rich classroom environment. We have become victims of our own success and as such, we have significant difficulties assessing resources on the web because we frequently exceed the bandwidth capabilities of our network. (insert eye roll here and say… “Rich people problems!”) As ridiculous as it sounds however, if our digital tools don’t work, there isn’t much point in using them and teachers tend not to use things that don’t work.

If we want teachers to use all the latest gadgets, we need to give them access to not just the gadgets but the information sources they are built to use. I have done workshops where staff want to use iPads in the classroom but they have no wifi. This immediately relegates the iPad to nothing more than a high-tech paper weight. There are other school districts in this world that can’t afford to maintain their existing hardwired networks, never mind creating a learning environment that delivers ubiquitous access to all staff and students.

Without dependable and equitable access to the digital landscape for all stakeholders, we will not be seeing an Ed Tech Tipping point anytime soon, never mind in 2013.

As for the value of Educational Technology, It has to be said… The jury is still out. Proponents see wonderful things just waiting to be unleashed on our children’s learning spaces, yet the stalwart traditionalists have yet to be sold on its value. Kids who function well in the absence digital tools or perhaps I should say are not dependant on digital tools, still seem to out perform those who are immersed in the digital world. My own children are a case in point, they excel because they have strong reading, writing and numeracy skills, learned the old-fashioned way. In my household, digital skills are an adjunct to these old school skills not the means by which these skills are acquired.

The fear amongst many however, is that we are trying to replace the tried and true with the flashy and new. In doing so we are moving in a direction that puts engagement before good old-school foundational skills. A colleague said to me the other day.

“Our push to adopt digital learning environments seems to be an effort to engage the academically weak kids at the expense of the academically strong kids”

It is this kind of thinking on which Educational Technology has become hung up. Does technology really improve learning outcomes and who are we sacrificing in the process? Some feel the solution is to simply “unload the dinosaurs” then you will be rid of this kind of fear mongering but it has been my experience that this question resonates within the teaching profession, from newbie to retiree.

It is here that I believe the most significant Ed Tech tipping point lies. Prove to the world that technology improves learning outcomes for everyone. Make people understand that Ed Tech is not a replacement but an addition to a child’s foundational skills. Show people that old-school and new-school can coexist, that a learner who uses technology to amplify their foundational skills, will out perform those who don’t. If we do this, you might have a Gladwellian epidemic on our hands.

To conclude

As I said early on in this post, in some respects, the Education Technology Tipping point has already happened. Thousands of teachers have bought in and are using technology in their classroom on a daily basis but people like me, seem to look at EdTech integration as an all or nothing proposition. It is almost like we are in a bad episode of Star Trek – The next Generation and the Ed Techies have taken on the roll of the Borg and Old-School Teachers must be assimilated into the continuum but this is not how Gladwell’s epidemics work.

Not everyone is a part of a social epidemic. Technology has its place in education and it is becoming more significant as the years go by but an en masse adoption of technology in the classroom will not happen because epidemics don’t infect everyone, nor should they. As with any population that is exposed to an infectious agent, you don’t want everyone to get the plague. You need a portion of the population to survive and carry on.

I am glad there are people in our education system that stop and say “What the hell are we doing?” “Is this right?” and “Is this what is best for everyone?” Our education system doesn’t need lemmings, it needs thoughtful practitioners who challenge social or technological epidemics.

My final word… There will be no Ed Tech Tipping Point in 2013.

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

 

Dec 092012
 

I tried something a little different this week, just to change things up and get away from all that silly prescribed curriculum nonsense. Just for fun and a little curiosity, I resurrected a problem solving activity I learned back when I was a kid and introduced it to the modern digital classroom. The good old, “balance 12 nails on the head of one” activity.

What inspired me to bring out the old hammer and nails, was that I recently became the last person on earth to read “The Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell. In the Outliers, Gladwell makes reference to a math experiment that Berkley math professor, Alan Schoenfeld, does. It is pretty simple, nothing fancy. Schoenfeld gives the subject a math problem to figure out and then times how long it takes for them to find the solution or give up. In the book, Gladwell uses the example of a nurse named “Rene” who takes 22 minutes to figure out Schoenfeld’s math problem, then Gladwell goes on to explain in great detail why this is significant.

The long and the short of Gladwell’s well taken point, is this… (I paraphrase and take some poetic liberties here) In math, we tend to condition kids to try and figure things out quickly. We view those kids who can come up with the answer quickly, as the ones who are good at math. The ones who are left plodding along and take longer to figure out the problems, are the dullards and relegated to the numeracy dung heap. (1 guess which group I was a part of) In other words, our system rewards speed at the expense of thoughtful processing of the problem at hand.

This got me thinking about how the digital device might be furthering this fast is right conditioning we instill in our children. Just Googling it (as handy as it may be) might be compounding the problem of not taking the time to think things through. Why bother trying to figure out anything if you can just find the answer using your handy-dandy digital device?

But back to the nails… What I wanted to see was just how long it would take for kids to get frustrated with the task and either reach for their digital device for the answer, or give up.

The task is simple. Balance 12 nails on the head of a single nail, I had hammered into a block of wood.

  • I distributed 9 sets of nails to the class, so the kids would have to work in small groups. The idea being, that the problem solving process would be a collaborative.
  • I told the kids NO DIGITAL DEVICES to look for the answer on.
  • The first class I just let work straight on through, the second class, I promised a hint at the 20 minute mark.
  • Within 5 minutes some groups were looking for their device, which I quickly quashed.
  • At the 10 minute mark about 1/4 of the groups had given up but started back up again, at about 20 minutes whether I gave a hint or not.
  • In my first class, one student figured it out at the 45 minute mark and in the second class a pair of students figured it out at the 40 minute mark (with a hint).

The sad thing is, this was probably the best class I had all year. Fortunately I can put a curricularly relevant spin on the whole thing, so when the kids go home and say “Mr. Rispin is the best because we played with nails all class!” I will be able to justify it.

What this whole exercise has proven to me is that, we need to give kids the opportunity and the time to work on problems, whether they be academic or just silly nail hanging like activities, sans digital device. We spend so much time trying to cram curriculum down kids throats, that we forsake the value of thoughtfulness.

What is even more interesting, is that I was asked five times in less than 36 hours after that activity, if we could do that sort of thing again! So I think I am going to make it a Bi Weekly activity. Problem is coming up with the challenges.

Aug 092012
 

Well, it looks like another school year is on a collision course with my summer vacation, so I guess I better start being useful again. Since my usefulness generally doesn’t go much beyond the 9.7 inch dimensions of an iPad screen, I figured I should pen a preseason post on using iPads in the Classroom.

As I type this post, truckloads of iPads are being delivered and prepared for use in classrooms all over the world. Educational institutions are jumping on board the runaway train called the Apple Express, even though we have yet to prove that the iPad is the best personal electronic device for the classroom.

Undeniably, these are exciting times for tech geeks like me but what about my colleagues who are not sold on iPad mania but feel they need to step into the fray?

The devices are sitting in the principal’s office primed and ready to use but there has yet to be any Pro D on how to use these $500 paperweights?

What do you need to know before you start dolling them out to the inquiring minds sitting before you?

What follows are a few things I think every iPad using teacher needs to know, before being absorbed into the continuum of the iPad.

Plan your iPad time – I know it sounds a bit redundant but iPads do not a lesson make. Sure there are days when you can say “Go Crazy!” and students can spend the class exploring everything the iPad has to offer (within appropriate use guidelines) but they are not a replacement for good lesson planning.

This is something we learned very quickly in our little iPad experiment last year, not that we depended on the iPad to do the teaching but it didn’t take long to see that the iPad was more of a hindrance then a help in certain situations.

  • Kids don’t listen very well with an iPad in hand.
  • Class discussions are difficult to get going with an iPad in hand.
  • Group work does not always go well when each kid has an iPad in hand.

Cover your FOIPA – Not to be rude or anything but the Freedom Of Information & Privacy Act (Canadian) is nothing to mess with and can get you into a heap of trouble if something should go sideways during your class time, so you have to cover your vulnerabilities.

What people seem to misunderstand about the iPad, is that it is not the device itself which makes it a powerful educational tool. What makes it powerful is the immediacy with which students have access to relevant, real time information from anywhere at anytime. What the iPad is allowing teachers to do is break the traditional mold of using tired old, sanitized, static sources of information to deliver our educational gospel. In a way, the iPad is the tool of the pedagogical heretic.

Certainly, you can’t go out and let the kids use the iPad all willy nilly and may even need to engineer its use at the primary and intermediate levels but by the time students hit high school, we need to be able to turn kids loose and expect that they have the knowledge and the maturity to use any electronic device for academic purposes both effectively and responsibly.

So… To cover your FOIPA, ensure that parents are aware and approve of their children interacting with the real world on the internet before you turn kids loose with their iPads. Also ensure that parents and kids understand that students are expected to use the iPad in an appropriate manner in the classroom. Last year I sent a hard copy explaining what their child will be doing along with the expectations and safe use guidelines but I will also send a digital copy this year to ensure parents get the document.

Create Routines - Elementary teachers are really good at this and I should know! With a wife who is an elementary school teacher, I sometimes feel I am in grade 3. Everything has its time and place and in an iPad classroom, regardless of grade, it is a really good idea. Managing the use of the iPad is hard work but if the work you do with the iPad has been routinized, things become a bit easier.

The most common way to go about routinizing iPad use, is to tie it to a regularly scheduled task you do as part of your daily classroom activity. There are dozens of different tasks you can use for this purpose. What follows are three quick and easy possibilities.

  • Journaling – First 10 minutes of class have kids jot down some thoughts or a response to a prompt.
  • Twitter Time – Use twitter feed to follow a current event and have kids participate with comments and opinion.
  • Collaborate – Use a community sticky board to collaborate and share ideas after direct instruction.

Have a class set of Apps – Last year in our iPad pilot, we quickly discovered that in a BYOD classroom, Apps can be a pain in the backside. For any giving task, there can be as many Apps as there are kids in the classroom. It can be a logistical nightmare when they don’t all work as expected and you spend your class time troubleshooting App issues. This situation should be averted at all costs.

In the BYOD classroom, I would suggest providing a list of approved apps for use in your classroom and stick to it for the year. If a kid says “But I like this one!” Hold the line… You will be happy you did. If the kid insists… Don’t be their class time trouble-shooter.

In a setting where the iPads are school based this is not so much of an issue because you control the Apps that get installed but regardless of how kids are getting access to the device, MAKE SURE YOU ARE ALL USING THE SAME APP!

Take a risk – Now when I say “take a risk” I don’t mean push the boundaries of what might be considered acceptable use in the classroom… What I mean is that the iPad is in its infancy and it is front line teachers like you who are leading the way in discovering how it can best be utilized in the classroom. Forget the self-proclaimed iPad Gurus out there and cook up some hair brained idea of your own to try out in your classroom. Who knows, at this stage of the game, you might become an almighty iPad Guru yourself.

Roll with it – Here is the thing with iPads in a classroom… Things can go to hell in a hand-basket in a heartbeat but in the same breath, the opposite is true too. Because the information used in an iPad classroom is often dynamic, you never really know what might come up. Twitter feeds are a great example of an information source can send your class in a direction you did not plan for and sometimes it is a FANTASTIC learning opportunity which you just roll with.

For an example, you decide you need to do some current events in your Social Studies 10 class and the topic de jour is Arab Spring. You spend your entire evening researching and planning the perfect class and the next morning you are ready to enlighten the unwashed masses. You throw up the topic on the projector and put your flawlessly planned lesson into action. Not 10 seconds later the kid in the back of the room, who has only spoken once all year-long yells, “HEY TEACH! THIS IS SOME CRAZY STUFF… YOU GOTTA SEE!”

Cautiously you take a look at what is on his iPad screen and he has a live twitter feed of what is happening in Egypt live and uncensored. Tweets from a revolution on the other side off the world! How can your perfect lesson plan compare? So you throw up the feed on your projector and you follow and discuss what you are seeing unfold in your classroom live.

Compatibility – Although the whole idea of an iPad is that it runs Apps which do everything you need or want to do, every once in a while you will head to the web. Like most poor teachers who can’t afford an iPad of their own, you will find the websites you need to visit on your computer at home and assume everything is just ducky.

Next day, you show up at school – grab the iPad cart – get everything set up – the kids roll in – you start your lesson – send the kids to the great websites you found for this lesson and then you find out the iPad only works with one of the three!

You curse under your breath and frantically change gears. The only thing you can think of before your first coffee takes effect, is to have the kids pull out paper and pencil crayons and kick it old school.

 

So there you have it… My two bits worth. If you are venturing toward an iPad classroom, I hope you find my advice useful. It is an adventure for us all and things are changing on a daily basis. I also fully expect to make dozens of new errors over the coming school year, so check back often as I may have more advice to offer you.

Cheers & Happy New School Year

Jul 282012
 

Smack dab in the middle of my summer break, a disturbing thought came to me the other day. Actually it wasn’t the thought so much as the thinking part that was disturbing. Sitting pool side dozing in and out of lucidity, I thought to myself… “Kids need Personal Learning Networks as much as teachers or any other professionals do”

With a shake of the head, that brief but disturbing thought scampered away and I quickly settled in for a nap, only to be rudely awakened 30 minutes later by a drippy teenager, begging for money to go chase the ice cream truck.

All squinty eyed and muddled, my wily money-grubbing thirteen year old instantly sensed disorientation and robbed me of every last cent I had and booked it out down the street. Before I realized what had happened, that horrible thinking thing happened again. “If we want kids to effectively use technology for academic purposes, they need a Personal Learning Network”

As hard as I tried, I couldn’t stop thinking. This mid summer mental malady could only mean one thing! My red meat and beer levels had gotten too low and for that there is only one solution, so I gathered my things and headed back to the house to fire up the barbeque.

Unfortunately, even after a 12 ounce porterhouse and an undisclosed number of beer, the thinking didn’t stop. I realized that the only way I am going to be rid of this nagging brain activity, is by hammering out a blog post to cleanse out the thought hopper. After which, I will pour concrete in there so nothing else can slip in.

So here goes… My mid summer blog post on Personal Learning Networks.

Personal Learning Networks or PLN’s are another one of those hip and happening thingies that has recently taken the educational world by storm. Actually there has always been PLN’s, just that they were usually school or district based and required seeing the whites of someones eyes. Certainly, the face to face PLN is still important but with the advent of twitter and other social media, ones PLN has the potential to be global.

Over this past year, I have grown my own digital PLN by leaps and bounds through this very blog and the use of twitter and quite frankly, it has quickly become far more valuable to me then my face to face PLN. This is not because my colleagues aren’t fabulous, brilliant people but because in the digital world, I am free of the institutionalized hierarchies and protocol which can hinder ones professional growth. But I digress…

My thinking is thus… If a digital PLN has been so good for me, then it might be something we should be encouraging our students to create. I thought I might have an original idea here! I might become famous or something but alas… Others had beaten me to the punch. I did a little research expecting to find nothing on the notion of a digital PLN for students but unfortunately, there have been people saying this very thing since 2008 but in my humble opinion, not as well as me. ;-)

See what others say

The idea of a digital Personal Learning Network actually goes hand in hand with a recent post I did on the importance of creating a Personal Digital Learning Space. It is all part and parcel of a creating a positive digital footprint and using the technology to enhance our learning opportunities. Over the past couple of school years, I have stumbled upon a couple of kids who are way ahead of the curve and have done an outstanding job creating a PLN for themselves (Check out Joey Ahmadi and see how he has crafted his own digital identity and PLN) but by in large, kids make poor use of technology as a social learning tool. There are a couple of reasons for this but I will reserve comment for now.

Keep in mind, I am looking at the digital PLN from a high school perspective. When we look at this idea from what it means for primary and intermediate grades, there are some very different considerations to be taken into account. I am also making the assumption that high school students, have the maturity to begin creating a digital PLN which will be a positive representation of who they are and what they are all about.

Digital PLN Starter kit

In my opinion the following three items are must haves for a digital Personal Learning Network

  • Information source – We all need a source of information which meets our academic and professional needs. For generations of learners, this source of information has been the teacher, textbooks and classmates. Although these are still valid and important sources of ideas, opinion and yes even answers, in today’s world this is sometimes not sufficient and quite frankly rather static.

Personally, I still use traditional sources of information such as texts, talking to colleagues and on occasion attending a lecture but for my day-to-day professional development and information gathering, I have come to rely rather heavily on RSS feeds. Ever changing and dynamic, I have access to a wealth of information from reliable sources delivered to me on my digital device. Every morning I grab a coffee, fire up the ipad and peruse the latest in #edtech #education #politics #cycling

I currently favour an app called Zite which is infinitely customizable and more often than not delivers reliable content. When I find something I like, I can share it with my PLN, ponder what it means to me and my teaching practice, use it in my classroom… Sometimes it triggers a new thought which then turns into a blog post. The possibilities of how I use this information for my own professional development is endless and I see no reason to think a student’s experience would be any different.

  • Personal Blog – This is your home base, the place where you present your ideas to the world and where the world can share their opinion of those ideas. It is a representation of your interests and skills and it is the way you attract people to your PLN. It is amazing how a single blog post on a topic you feel passionate about, will bring out like-minded folks who are more than happy to help you further your academic or professional goals.

A blog is the foundation of your digital identity and its power for both good and evil is immeasurable.

  • Twitter account – I have to admit, I didn’t get twitter in the beginning. A site where you could share nothing but drivel in 140 characters or less… Wat Up Wit Dat? It wasn’t until I turned a class of 30 grade 10′s loose on the BCPSEA conference (A meeting of all the educational big wigs in the Province of British Columbia) that I came to understand the power of twitter. Thirty 15 year olds, engaging our provinces most powerful educational leaders in 140 characters. It was magic! Some of these kids took it to the suits and hammered them with smart relevant questions about their education and the big wigs answered back.

It was fantastic! In that 80 minute period, I immediately saw that twitter was a window to the world for these kids. Real people answering real questions in real-time and from that point on, I began using twitter to engage real people, with real questions, in real-time about my profession and interests.

Digital PLN’s are definitely not just for adults. In fact, I believe that in order for a digital revolution to occur in our schools, it will be imperative that we encourage and teach kids how to create a learning network that extends beyond the walls of our schools. In today’s world, information is ubiquitous and learning opportunities are but a click away. Lets help kids create and use a Personal Learning Network which will be with them through life.

Now back to my regularly scheduled barbecue induced oblivion.

Jun 282012
 

This past week, a few of my colleagues and I moseyed on up to Kelowna for the #Canflip education conference, to check out what all the flipped classroom hubbub was about? I actually had done a wee bit of it myself already but I have by no means “flipped out” quite yet. I needed more information and as you all know, I am the Eeyore of Edtech. I am always looking for something to be negative about, so I happily moped my way on up to Kelowna looking for a reason to be a naysayer.

For those who are not familiar with the term Flipped Classroom, it simply refers to the practice of reducing or eliminating in-class lectures by making the information piece of the learning process available to students outside of class time. When the student come to class they are ready to work on relevant activities, labs or projects, rather than listening to a teacher drone on for hours on end. Homework becomes nothing more than accessing the “lecture” or information online and then coming to class ready to ask questions and get down to work. Essentially, what use to be done at the kitchen table, is now done in class and what use to be done in class in done at the kitchen table.

This conference was the doing of three teachers Carolyn Durley - Graham Johnson & Paul Janke  from Okanagan Mission High School in Kelowna BC. They have become quite the trio around these parts, gaining notoriety for their class flipping. Fortunately for the likes of me, they are now sharing their experience because going to Chicago for the mother of all Flipped Classroom conferences is simply not in the stars for a small town boy like me.

Now as the Eeyore of Edtech, I would love to sit here and write several bellyaching paragraphs about how bad the conference was but the good folks at Okanagan Mission High School put on a hell of a show. Well planned and chock-a-block full of good info, it was a fantastic springboard from which attendees could begin to plan their own classroom flipping. The whole program was second only to the pulled pork sandwiches they served for lunch on the first day. They were straight up awesome!

Attendees ranged from the skeptic, to the recent #Edtech devotee, to hardcore Techno Geek but everyone seemed to be open-minded about the concept. For myself, there wasn’t much new, other than a couple useful websites and some nifty activities to go along with them but what I the conference did do was got me thinking… Yah Yah Yah groan all you want. Here comes Eeyore!

As with everything Edtech, I don’t necessarily think about what this means for me so much as I think about what this means for students, my colleagues and my school. As a result, I spent the whole conference asking myself things like, Would this be a good thing for every kid? What about the teachers who are master story tellers and their lectures are what makes them great? How many teachers have the technical skills or the time to develop the technical skills to flip their classroom? How do we introduce the concept to staff and support those who want to try it? and I wrapped up my thoughts with the idea of creating a Camtasia studio where teachers could build their videos with the help of expert staff and student volunteers.

Although I didn’t come out  of the conference inspired to turn teaching on its head, I will continue move ahead with turning it on its ear. The reason my buy in won’t be whole hog is because I see flipping the classroom as new tool to add to my tickle trunk of tricks, rather than a methodology on which my teaching should be based. I enjoy standing and delivering my lessons and in my humble opinion some of them are gems. Based on the kids laughter (on occasion) my students like what I do in the front of the classroom too, so I won’t be eliminate all lectures anytime soon.

In the broader scope of things, the conference reinforced for me that teaching is becoming evermore dynamic and complex but we need to recognize that everyone cannot be all things. With this in mind, I have resolved to help any colleague who wants to flip all or parts of their teaching to do so. I think there might be some traction in my Camtasia studio idea, where teachers have the space and tools to produce their materials but this will take some planning and the techno geeks like me will need make this happen.

Wish me Luck!

Some Resources

Flipping Math

Flipper Teach

Flipped Classroom

The Flipped Class Network

Camtasia Studio