Saturday, December 8, 2012

Future Perfect?

A graduate student left Steven Johnson's Future Perfect in my mail box last week. I am logging my first few reactions and puzzlements as they relate to the topic at hand- education.
Before I get to education I would like to talk about knowledge. This is a feature I find lacking in much of the modern popular writing and even news. It is the lack of deep historical knowledge while cherry picking what the authors seem to remember from high school or early in their college days.

Steven Johnson juxtaposes traditional hierarchical governments with his modern peer network ideas. I am not opposed to looking at peer networks and their power to solve problems, but if you start from a historical perspective you should more than a high school textbok understanding of events as Braudel and others referred to the longue duree. I would actually hazard a proposition that peer networks and hybrid networks were more common historically than strong centralized states.

But enough about history. The book ignores education for the most part (very disappointing). Towards the end Johnson mentions that Obama's department of Education seems to rely on peer networks- but no evidence is provided in any way. He does talk a bit about merit pay for teachers but the discussion is short and lacks extensive examination of the evidence.

So why discuss Johnson through the lens of educational progress? I think that there is a potential for peer networks of teachers students and parents to disrupt educational process and product in helpful ways. Much has been discussed about the power of students working together in loose networks to learn both on and off line. What has been ignored to a degree is the power of teachers to do the same. Communicate and create a wiki-riculum or open-source curriculum. Not  anew idea and I have discussed before in this blog. Recent work I have been doing with some schools highlights the difficulty in unleashing the power of peer networks in schools.
1. The first one is compensation. I believe that in many cases teacher's compensation (material and otherwise) is so comparatively low that they do not pass the threshold (as suggested by Dan Pink) that allows them to contribute without the promise of financial gain.
2. Mandates and regulations inside educational organizations prefer centralized control limiting teacher's ability to find utility in materials produced by peers. These mandates are often a results of public pressure leading to politization of education standards and measurement. The price paid in this highly regulated and centralized system is limited innovation.

At the same time we must recognize that peer-networks in education must be studied. The best place to start may very well be in existing structures such as Edutopia. Thi is my first reaction more thinking required.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On Being Puzzled

A few weeks ago I found "The Room" from Fireproof Games for my iPad. It is a beautifully executed puzzle game but that is not the main point. I enjoyed playing and marveling at the quality and challenge of the game play. What I didn't expect was the excitement and joy that my two younger sons had helping me advance. Oren (8) and Itai (6) were full members of the team and we all had great ideas moving us forward at different points. Their joy in discovering another clue or opening another section was hard to contain- and they literally broke into a dance when we figured out a particularly hard puzzle.

The series of small joys at each step solved reminded me very much of Johnson's "Everything Bad is Good for You". The way video games can reward our brains in small bursts is almost unparalleled. To me this is what a learning game should be like. I try to avoid the term educational as it invokes unpleasant memories of unimaginative drill games. Well it is a learning game...
It teaches to think creatively, look closely, experiment and persist. These are skills that transfer well to any open ended problem that artists and scientists attend to. My play with my boys added another dimension, namely learning to work as a team: we take turns, practice patience, share victories and most importantly never play without the others.

We have since moved to new puzzle games not all of them as visually pleasing but the effects are still the same. They now insist on daily common gameplay and I happily concur. We are creating habits of mind and family bonding. I can only wish that we will find ways to combine this superb game play with content that reaches educational standards.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Speaking of Khan


A couple of weeks ago I caught Salman Khan on CNN. I have been a critic of Khan at times, but I do have to admit that the "unpolished" demeanor he has in interviews is somewhat endearing and usually lessens my resistance enough to actually listen. The anchor was interviewing him about the current state of education. I have to admit that I was initially miffed. There are many professionals that have dedicated their life to studying education and are coherent speakers on the matter. But here is this innovator commenting on the status of education, the Obama initiatives and what may come next. I understand why you would interview Khan about the future, but about the current state of affairs?

Then I listened to the interview (you can watch part if here Khan Video) and I have to admit that I was impressed by the clarity and focus of the statements. I especially liked these:

1. International rankings are not what we should worry about. We still lead in creativity and initiative.
2. At the same time we need to worry about who has a chance to participate in this economy- namely issues of equity.
3. We need room for creativity and problem solving.
4. We should preserve the room to make mistakes.
5. More homework is not rigor...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What Teachers do, the role of teachers in the 21st century.

I recently happened upon this meme on Facebook. The forlorn (yet handsome) man laments that everything he learned in college can be found on wikipedia. I glanced at it smiled and moved on only to double back and think. How is it different from previous generations? While it is true that wikipedia provides an ease of access and somewhat vetted information, it is not inherently different from the world in the last century. We had (and still have) books and journals in libraries some even available (gasp) for purchase. This made reflect on an ongoing question that we are grappling with as we rewrite our book on the Universal Learning Model (first edition here). The question is the role of the teacher in the learning process. We know that we are not the first nor the last to tackle this problem. Our angle though is cognitive, that is why do individuals  need a teacher for learning when the learning process itself is a set of brain activities? Why don't we just go to the library and read (or go online)? It is easy to understand the role of the teacher in the primary years. Early on they provide the skills that will allow you to access information effectively. The question is why continue into high-school and beyond?

Some might argue that schools are part of the power structure and seek to replicate themselves. While not without any merit, the universality of education in complex societies proves otherwise.

Here are my efforts to place the role of the teacher:
- Motivator- Teachers motivate their students to learn. We need motivation because learning is effortful. We seem to be much more motivated through human feedback than through any other means. For example Krashen described what he calls the affective filter.
- Model- Since thinking and learning is a temporal task largely absent from reading activities teachers can model the "how to" or procedural knowledge top their students in a way that is easier to follow than that of a text.
- Connector and organizer  This is true today more than any other time. We have access to a lot of information but we need models of how and when toi make connections. Even more so to have an organized view of  domain it's development boundaries and connections. These are hard to discern without a guiding hand.
-Mediator- Teachers adjust their action to the reader to make sure they are "getting it" and provides incremental steps to make sure a student experiences success.


I remember my first semester of undergraduate studies in History. My brain was on fire, fully engaged for the first time in my life. I read a lot but without classroom interaction, feedback, discussion, and lecture (yes lecture) it would not be as engaging and I would have probably stopped. So I would argue that the one piece of teaching that cannot be effectively emulated by machines or strict curricula is the affective/ motivational aspect of teaching- that is why machine based instruction (google, wikipedia, online video lessons or wolfram alpha) will never work. We need human interaction to motivate us to put this effort forward.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Cart, Horses, and iPads

A district I work with just announced they were ordering sa large number of Dell laptops. One of the key reasons mentioned in the news article announcing this move was the need to have enough machines to conduct state testing. Now, I don't mind assessment and accountability but I do think we need to start considering the impact on school decision making. I do not have a problem with the districts decision making progress, they are facing a reality and need to respond. I am, however, questioning a system in which accountability pressures dictate everything from teacher bonuses to decisions about which technology to buy and what it will be used for.

I will pull a NASCAR metaphor. In racing, crews choose tires to fit the conditions of the road so their driver will have the best chance to win. In education we invest in the photofinish camera instead... Only problem is with the wrong tires the photofinish camera views will be very sad.

As an iPad fan I have a request from Apple. Districts are asking Apple to create an ecosystem that will allow students to participate in assessments on the iPad essentially locking other features so students could not "cheat" (on the nature of cheating another time). I am begging Apple to not succumb to this pressure. If you will create such an ecosystems you will undoubtedly sell more iPads but they will be used in all the wrong ways for all the wrong reasons. Experience tells us they will have a whole set of closed apps that will disable the joy of exploration and cross validation. At the same time such devices will be unavailable for instruction months each year so students can participate in testing.
It is time to put the horses in front of the cart. It is time to invest in the right tires so all students can get to the finish line.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Teacher Self-Efficacy and Educational Change

Last year my students had iPads in elementary classrooms. The school had a set of iPads that was sitting idle most of the time, yet the teachers were reluctant to integrate them into their instructional units. It was not because they thought they were useless, instead the most common response was: " I do not know how to use them or what to do with them". Now this a response from a few teachers, and our data actually shows that even when there is low level of deployment iPads and iPods are the technologies most easily integrated into the classroom. That said I would like to address the issue of teacher efficacy.
One of the biggest challenges in trying to integrate curriculum using new skill subsets like art and technology seem to hit the same stumbling block. Teachers (and administrators) often do not believe that they know enough to make the change, they do not believe THEY have the capacity. This set of expectations is what Albert Bandura referred to as self-efficacy. The idea that having an expectation of success increases the odds that a person will persist with a task and stay engaged is not new, yet it is powerful. 

Changing expectations is not easy especially in teachers (adults) who have accumulated experience that may point to failure. Teachers come to believe (like many adults) that they cannot draw, play music or sculpt. On the surface they are right- at present state they probably would have limited results. But that is often not what they mean. What they mean is that they lack some innate ability to draw, or sculpt, or use technology. This sense of efficacy about a task limits their ability to explore new ideas and integrate  art, technology or just new ideas like project-based learning. When they do this they deprive their students from exposure to skill sets and new problem solving spaces. 

Students at all levels tend to see their teachers as having a finite and magically acquired knowledge, they seldom see them work through a new skill or solve a new problem. As a result they deprive their students from seeing a model of an individual who is gaining expertise through interaction with a task. Ironically, in this time of accelerated change, our students need thinking and problem solving skills more than at other time in history. We expect that in their life time they would have to repeatedly develop areas of expertise- in a way what Ken Robinson talks about when he discusses creativity.

So what can we do? I see the answer along two lines. the first is giving teachers the knowledge and skill so they would engage with more confidence while they learn to work in conditions of ambiguity. We did this in our ArtsLINC grant with what we called the studio experiment. Teachers were invited to participate in studio experiences with a teaching artist so they can feel confident (efficacious) integrating visual art production in their classroom. It was a great success.

The second is changing efficacy orientation. That is shifting in thinking and deed from the individual to the collective. Collective-efficacy is the notion that as a group we can tackle a task. This is very different because now I can estimate whether a group effort is successful. Data from research I have conducted a few years back showed that when teachers feel that they can tackle teaching reading for all students as a school they have better student outcomes. Not just that but their collective feeling predicted student result better than their personal efficacy.

So, to move ahead with the kind of school change that our students deserve teachers must have opportunities to learn, experiment, and enjoy a sense of collective efficacy that says- together, with our different skill sets, we can do it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

You Think Technology is the Answer to Everything!

My wife and I had a discussion a few days ago about high school requirements in our school district. I highlighted the fact that the requirements include four years of English, more than any other subject. Unlike the current national mood that seems to channel everything to math and science our district has stood firm on Humanities while increasing the requirements in math and science. Off hand I commented that I hoped that some digital literacies were included in these four years. My wife said "You think technology is the answer to everything!" There was quite a bit of emotion in the statement but that may have had more to do with the dishes in the sink...

I paused and thought "I think technology is the question, not the answer". Her response is probably a testament to what I talk about at home. My mind has been focused on art and technology integration for the better part of a decade now- so I understand my wife's exasperation with the comment. At the same time her comment echoed one made by one of my colleagues recently. In a conversation about technology he said that ultimately we need evidence that the integration of new technologies impact student learning. By that, of course, he meant learning as measured in traditional ways.

I think that both comments come from the same place. The underlying assumption is that technology is part of an educational solution. That it is supposed to solve old problems. I argue that technology can sometimes do it, but it also has a broader application. To be fully integrated we need to teach our students to participate in this digital world. Art is exactly the same, it can often be integrated so it can help achieve in other domains (in our research writing and vocabulary knowledge) but ultimately it helps build well rounded students who thrive in life and not just math.

Digital media, just like the arts, created new ways to express ourselves and to BE. It is omnipresent and have become part of the fabric of our everyday life in a way that transcends the notion of a tool. As a result digital media should part of school curriculum not as a tool but as a mode of learning and being.




Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Dragons and the Curse of the 99₵ App


As I sift through hundreds of apps for our iPad in the classroom podcast I am occasionally surprised by quality apps. In our TechEDGE conference yesterday Rob McEntarffer from Lincoln Public Schools showed me DragonBox. In this brilliant app (see geek Dad review) students learn algebra in a way that "sneaks up" on them. It teaches them algebra principles through a true game environment (bringing Gee's vision to life) . Such brilliant apps are rare because they are brilliant. But in effect most of the educational apps have limited learning value. Most have limited content and focus on drill in ways that leave the educator in me cringing and hoping for more.

The problem though may be that the app store set the income margin too low. Right now an app for 5.99 is expensive and gives purchasers pause. The dominant modes are free and 99 cent apps. I just wonder if developers can create and maintain quality educational apps at these prices. I have gone through more than a thousand educational apps in the last year and I can answer with a "not yet". There are some great apps but most fail even my basic criteria to be useful.

I believe that mobile devices with an emphasis on tablets are going to be dominant in education in the next decade maybe even longer. Apps are an important part of this ecosystem but to be useful we need a bigger pool of great apps that serve students need to learn.

The lesson from the print news industry is that new pricing models connected with technology seem to create changes that are irreversible. Some companies are trying to buck this trend by creating educational subscriptions e.g. Footsteps 2 Brilliance and BrainPop.
This is an interesting direction that I hope can be successful but here I want to identify here other possible solutions.

As we discuss flipping classroom I would like to suggest flipping the curriculum and professional development equation. That is, providing the materials for free (or for a nominal sum say 99¢) and charging for backend services such as professional development and data services. This is a concept I have written about before and I think can potentially be viable. The Dynamic Indicators of Basics Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) seem to have successfully followed this model providing the assessment for free but charging for training, data services and optional assessment materials. While it is a not-for-profit organization it still proves the concept.

An effort like this may benefit from a partnership with a university combining the entrepreneurship of start-ups and the educational know-how of university faculty. This combination can make excellent products for the educational market that mesh gaming concepts and excellent content that lead kids to learn.

Finally, states and districts can choose to partner with universities and invest in creating digital materials to replace the commercial curricula altogether. Such efforts would require upfront costs but may actually reduce the dependence on commercial products and save districts significant amounts of money that can then be invested in professional development and emerging learning technologies.



Saturday, September 1, 2012

Current and Future Teachers Reflecting on iPad Use


We have used iPads in the Reading Center all summer. I decided to include unedited comments of some of my students who agreed to share the comments.


         Using the iPad during class helped me become more comfortable with technology. I have never used technology in the school setting before. It also helped me know what was available as far as apps and how wonderful they can be in assisting with learning. I won't have an iPad available for use next year, but I am seriously considering buying one. I think it is a wonderful way to enhance classroom learning and get kids ready for the future. I particularly liked the iCard Sort and eBook Magic apps for what I do now. I can see how Show Me would be a great way to present lessons as well.
        The iPads were a huge help during this session. Not only did it give variety, but it helped motivate my student to learn.  I don't think he writing would have come as far if we hadn't been able to publish his work.  He was so proud that it was a book that he wanted to keep writing.  He even decided to write a chapter book and as a second grader, that's big.  I was able to use the iPad for things we could have done on paper, but worked better using technology.  Sam was more engaged when we used the iPad than when we worked with a pencil and paper.  I would definitely keep using the iPads for this class.
          I would use them to record important lessons in case kids are gone or if I'm gone.  You always have to review and if you can give the iPad to a child or a group of children and have them review or learn what they didn't before, that can save you time.  Then, you can go back and talk with them about what they heard and saw.  I would use the internet to show kids how we could research topics.  I would use the eBook Magic app to publish their work and encourage more writing.  I would also use the iPad for revisions.  The kids could type up what they have and correct it, saving paper, while still having the drafts available.  I didn't have a ton of apps on my iPad, but I would also ask my colleagues what apps they have found helpful and use them as much as is educational in my class. 
The iPads used during my teaching was such a great experience! It has allowed me to learn how to apply it in a classroom setting and how to select appropriate Apps for my students. This was one of the highlights for me during this summer session. I wasn't familiar with the iPad prior to this class, even though I had it in another class. Now I am going to purchase one because I realize that this is going to be a necessity for me in my instruction  for my classroom. 
           If iPads and other technologies are available at my school, I will come back to the learning center to ask for help if I do not understand how to use it. I find that this is something I desire to learn and apply to my teaching strategy. Students can be learning the same thing on different levels with iPads. I find that I am able to gain access to resources and students need this as we are entering into one of the most exciting times in education with technology. I am excited to see how technology is going to change the learning experience for classrooms. It want to participate in this process. I will use the iPad for assessments, work stations, connecting community and classroom,  grading, homework, creating lessons and anything that will cause my students to learn. 
           The iPads were such a great thing to get to use. I had never used one in any other class and so it was a learning experience for me as well. It helped with all of my lessons because he would get tired of writing a story and so we would create one in puppet pals or in ebook magic. He was still having to come up with the ideas, it was just more interactive this way. Also brain breaks were so easy to do with an iPad because the games were right there and they were educational.
          If iPads and other technologies are available at your school, how do you anticipate using them?
I really like the educreations app. I would use that to create my lesson plans and if students weren't sure on what they learned, they could go back and watch/listen to it again. It's also a great way to make the class interactive. Having that in the palm of  your hand and can look up anything at any time is beneficial overall. Students can create documents and share them, students can check in/out, and it's just a really great resource to have.
          The iPad has been extremely useful in the tutoring session and allowed e to really explore the possibilities and have practical applications for them.
If there is iPad use in the school I will be in I will be extremely excited because it allows me to teach students and give them a more immersive experience. Allowing them to have more connectivity and having more feedback right away to help me as a teacher design my lessons to help my students more.
          I think the ipads helped me learn more about using technology in the educational field. With the way society is today, by the time I become a teacher, every school could possibly have ipads and technology like Ipads. So, having the training with ipads is really beneficial as I will have a boost ahead of someone who does not have the training. I anticipate using ipads by using them as a motivator and literacy stations. Using an activity that is fun yet educational at the same time, makes learning fun for students. 

Couldn't haver said it better myself...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Home Literacy Environment in the Digital Age

Recently I have been working on home literacy environment and came across the Home Literacy Environment Questionnaire (HLEQ) by Griffin and Morrison. The measure was designed in 1997 and addresses paper based print only. In only 15 years the measure has become less and less relevant.
This brought me back to an observation that Berliner, perhaps my favorite educational thinker, made in an Educational Researcher piece. His claim was that some social research is very time dependent and has an "expiration date" [my phrase].

The rapid changes in what it means to be literate and the ways literacy plays out in a media rich digital world have made a large variety of research and practice tools irrelevant. Surveys and interviews that are paper centric in reading and writing miss whole potential worlds of engagement that exist parallel to the print world. In today's world access to magazines newspapers and libraries is paralleled to websites, applications and online newsstands.

It also means that publications cycles for research must be shorter if they explore new tools. These tools need to be comprised of modular pieces that can be removed when they become irrelevant and added to as new technologies become relevant.

Some examples can include: Adding to "How many hours of TV watching does your child do daily?"
"how many hours does your child play video games?" "How many hours does your child spend online?"
In addition to "how many books do you have at home?" We could add- How often do you use e-readers/ tablets to access magazines or books?"

I am working on such an instrument right now and will report some results soon!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Video Game like Thinking

Years ago I remember Sarah and I observed our boys playing when suddenly one of them called 'pause' then proceeded a discussion about the nature of pressing the 'X button'. This was not a video game but rather a game they were playing outside borrowing the rules of video games they were playing at the time.

Fast forward a decade or so. Two weeks ago we were in Breckenridge for a family vacation. We sat for lunch in a small pizza/italian place. It's one of these places with paper and crayons so everyone was busy creating in one form or another. Oren who is 8 was busy creating mazes. Now Oren has been a maze fanatic since he was 5 or so. Usually he creates very elaborate designs that can be challenging. He often uses what appears to be mishaps in drawing (e.g. what appears to be accidentally incomplete lines are actually openings) to make the mazes harder.

This time he hands me a this puzzle with a smug look on his face.

Patiently he explains: S is for start F is for finish. I stare at him blankly, he smiles and encourages: "Just do it Abba". I draw a straight line from S to F and he responds smiling: "yes that's it". Then he proceeds to draw this one:

My first instinct is to see if any of the corners just appear to be connected or have tiny gates in them. No the boxes are all closed. "Can I go around?" I ask suspecting a trick. "No" he answers smiling. I know something is going on but I honestly cannot figure out where he is going with this. "I give up" I finally say. Oren then explains patiently. The thicker lines are doors and when you step on the lower case 'f'
they open. "How am I supposed to know that?" I ask incredulously. He looks at me not sure what I mean: "you try it out. You move until you step on the 'f' and see what happens."

It is common to hear "grown ups" criticize video games and the way they seem to engross kids. Here in a different way you can both see what video game thinking is and its impact on learning and thinking.
Oren created a basic level that demonstrated some of the basic rules. Then he proceeded to the real challenge. He also assumed a level of interactivity that is a part of all such games. The static paper and pencil game rules are too simple interactive/ experimental rules are so much more interesting and challenging- mostly because you have to experiment before you know the solution for sure.

I could go on for a while analyzing what appears to be his thought process but I would like to suggest that this video game thinking is analogous in many ways to learning in new domains, especially science and the arts. Instead of repeating known solution to familiar questions, what scientists and artists seek are new ways to respond to problems. They have to interact with ideas, materials and symbols to solve the problems. Video games fostered the right way opens our children to a new creative and thoughtful world of discovery and creation.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Talking About His (My) Generation

My oldest Erez is now 18, for a few years now he has been drawing on the generational divide between us as he makes his point about pop culture discussions. While I have a very different way of looking at the world I truly appreciate his point of view. It matters because this is how our students learn and if we do not adapt we will stop being relevant.

More than anything else I learned from Erez how to flow with change. He is an early adopter of new ways of doing and social media. At the same time he is an early deserter of new technologies as they wear thin.
This is how I observe the cycle. First he finds a new technology, a few years back it was StumbleUpon. For a few months Erez was on StumbleUpon everyday for a few others. In fact he stumbled so much that the service told him they were out of new webpages to share with him. For a while he continued visiting occasionally but now he rarely uses it anymore if at all.


So, contrary to commonly held beliefs, his generation does problems with attention. Instead they just use attention differently. It seems that he has learned to concentrate on one problem very intensely for short period of time and develop expertise that is very local. Once, however, that the technology has been mastered and maximized attention shifts quickly to something else. Considering the current and projected rates of change in technology it seems to be a very effective strategy- that holds no emotional or cognitive ties to a specific technology. Instead concentrates on maximizing short term benefits (even if they are social) and then moving to the next technology.

Erez adds:
I find it exciting to discover new ways to manipulate technologies that I am given. As before mentioned I master different technologies and move on. Though sometimes rather than move to a different technology I just modify the one I am given. For example after playing Fallout New Vegas non-stop until I finished, rather than immediately move on I stayed with FNV and installed mods which modify the game whether it be graphics or actual gameplay. This allowed me to be comfortable in the fact that I had basic knowledge of the technology, but now I have a new technology to master.



Frankly I am reminded of a book from a time when I still read books, I Robot by Isaac Asimov. In this book robots are powered by a brain that has become so complex that all the scientists are unsure of how its basics work, rather they just add on to it. I believe this is where my future is headed, the mods I have on FNV will have mods, and those mods will have more mods and so on and so forth until the original game no longer resembles what I play now. However, no one will complain because no one remembers the original, not because it's taken a long time, but rather because no one was attached to it like my father says above, "no emotion or cognitive ties to a specific technology." In truth I am unsure if this is a good thing that will continue until we have super robots, or a bad thing that will see us hit a capacity of understanding and watch the latest generation struggle to stay focused on one technology for a long time. Anyways, all we can do is wait and see.



Last word from Guy:
I find it interesting that Erez's goto metaphor is from gaming. I was thinking about it as I wrote my piece but was wondering if I was stretching the concept too far. Apparently it was not far enough.


Thank you to Erez for being a co-Blogger

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What Tech Startups can Teach Educational Reform

Photo from: yoursmallbusinessgrowth.com
Let me start by saying that I have never been part of a tech startup so my view may very well be skewed. I recently read that many venture capitalists prefer investing in entrepreneurs that have already failed once. Actually in a phone conversation with my father he quoted the late Uri Menashe who told him once that he likes hiring retired IDF officers after they had failed their first civilian position. The main lesson for me is that to be successful you need to fail a few times, sometimes many times.

The problem is as Sir Ken Robinson likes to point out repeatedly is that we are building educational systems that seem to converge on the exact opposite direction. High stakes tests that constantly push one answer and the notion that failure is not an option.

So what are the lessons of startups?

1. Collaboration: most if not all startups are based on a group of individuals with different capacities and skills working together to accomplish something that hasn't been done yet. Relationships and the ability to work with others are crucial.
2. Failure must be an option: while the long term must be successful the road to success must include many short term failures.
3. High expectations: startups are successful only if they do something new, or something old considerably more efficiently that it essentially becomes something new.
4. Continued innovation: Once you do succeed you must work to improve and work on the next problem.

There might more and different ones for those who are inside startups but these are my takeaways. What does that mean in education? I believe that points to a very different system than the one we have now. Instead of a high stakes low expectation system I advocate a low-stakes high-expectation system. That is true in the classroom and in the school, for students, teachers, and administrators.

The fear of high-stakes is driving administrators, teachers and students to focus on the most direct route to a known answer- the exact opposite of a startup. Low stakes allow honest discussion and the option to fail occasionally so you can succeed in the long run. If every failure has high stakes we who are a risk averse species (see Arieli) shy away and stop innovating and taking risks. For education to match the needs and fast paced changes in modern society we must make room for low stakes so educators can experiment and provide room for short term failures leading to subsequent spectacular successes. We do not need to give up on high expectations instead we need to be patient for long term gains while short term fluctuations occur. In essence its what your investment advisor told you- don't pay attention to short term. In essence it makes all the leaders managing our educational systems akin to day traders instead of high-tech entrepreneurs.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Making Connections through Art

A few days back I was invited to the Kamishibai presentations in the Arts and Literacy workshop class. Monique and Nancy led the class which ran for the fourth time in five years. The presentations were on the last day of the workshop and were as always fun, creative, and thoughtful. One of the groups presented a fractured Goldilocks allegory to their preservice program.
While it was funny and creative what struck most of all was their conclusion. They explained that the arts integration workshop helped them put all the rest of the information together. In that way art didn't just integrate different subject matter but instead it helped them connect theory and practice in a way that didn't just replicate what there was. It allowed them to imagine what might be possible if you imagine.

Monique then introduced me and asked me to say a few words. I naturally wanted to extend their thinking to the ways technology fits in all of this. The point I tried to focus on (on the fly) is that technology has changed the arts equation once again. Once technology gave access to art to all through reproduction, book, and poster making art possible in all homes, consuming art stopped being just for the rich. Now technology has enabled all of us to produce art for an audience.

Music, movies, poetry, and visual art can be created and shared through digital means. It is a revolution in creativity, in art and in consumption.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Future of Teacher Education

In the last few weeks the videos describing the demise of higher education institutions has been making the rounds on my discussion boards. If you haven't seen it take a peek at EPIC 2020. Obviously I do not take this projection literally. It is one of many possible turns we can take. It does point to a problem that has been well identified. It seems that many perhaps most of the colleges and universities have adopted a wait and see attitude. Let's see how it turns out attitude that watches the few pioneers or the leading institutions and then turns to act.

This attitude served institutions well over the last 100+ years. Higher education seems to be averse to risk and very slow to react and move in new directions. The question that EPIC 2020 asks is relevant though. It is relevant because the pace of change has accelerated so much that the wait and see attitude may very well have some devastating outcomes.

If you have read my blog in the past you probably know that I believe that in teacher education we must move to mobile, social, and flipped learning. I have yet to have serious institutional backing. I would argue that universities should use multiple pilot projects to find out what works and constantly explore the boundaries of what's possible.

When I think of teacher education I am referring to both pre-service and in-service. I believe that we can create large scale classes that can serve many practicing teachers in schools around the country (the world?). Thinking about this brought me back to the work the exceptional Dave Brooks have been doing at UNL more than a decade ago. In many ways the learning paths in massive courses have been outlined in the work he did then and is still doing.

This topic with some ideas about mobile learning may very well be the topics that guide my work this fall. Welcoming thoughts and partnerships. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Technology, Art, and Social Justice- The Face of Integration

Photo from Akhila's Blog
I usually focus of the problems of integration teacher quality etc. But at the heart of what we do as educators we should always ask ourselves- who are we leaving behind? This is especially important in the digital age. Our ability to focus on channels, devices, and technologies can obscure the fact that not everyone has critical access to technology, media, and the arts. Not seeing our audience obscures the fact that it is too often just like us!

I am using the term critical access in the same way the Bob Calfee used critical literacy two decades ago. The idea is that physical access to devices and networks is not enough. Instead we have to think about ways to encourage the development of media skills and the participation that comes with them.
The ever present focus on "basic skills" for all students (see world literacy summit video) practically guarantee that both nationally and internationally students who are behind will find themselves progressively lagging. What are we doing to make sure that all students are getting critical access to technology? That they have the skills to engage with media? I believe that the solution is making sure that all schools provide critical access and that we do not assume that students, just because they were born in what we think of as the digital age, posses critical access to technology, media, and the arts. 


My cousin Amit Trainin is an illustrator, graphic designer and currently the head of the visual Arts Dept. at Minshar Art School. Seeing the recent graduate exhibition strengthened in me the notion that arts, media and technology are intertwined and are at the very core of our everyday life. People can choose to live outside the digital, artistic world but they can do so only if they first have critical access that allows them to make such a choice.

So when I focus on technology and the arts I put an emphasis on access, not just to the physical (though it is necessary) but also the skills that lead to Critical Access. As teachers it is what we all must do!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

One Skill for Teachers

This week I promised my students that I will do as I asked them. Come-up with something I have not done before. True to my promise and to my own thinking about use flipped classrooms I came up with a within class activity focused on making a short instructional video. I presented some options using the iPad including using the front facing camera, the ShowMe app and a few other great options. The assignment was simple. Think of the most important strategy you taught your student this summer, design a short video reminder of it and shoot it in one take (two at the most). No editing, low expectations.

The response was stunned silence followed by "do we really have to?'s". I was a bit surprised, almost every teacher in the group said "I do  not like my voice". I get a similar reaction when I ask everyone to draw. Every student hesitates, apologizes and does her best to find a way to avoid the task. Making movies was along the same lines.

Part of it is the fear of the complete product that will be there to be judged without our ability to mediate. The other part is the fact that we fail to meet our expectations to be Bogart or Knightly. It took me a while to adjust to viewing myself on the techedge01 videos for iPad in the classroom. It was jarring at first but after a short time I got over myself and moved on. I have come to realize that I am not and will not be Bogart. I can tell you that I am too stiff, wordy and academic but I am getting better.

Video in my eyes is too good a tool to avoid using for instruction, especially when we need to individualize instruction for students at very different levels. My students reaction opened my eyes to this barrier of discomfort about performance. Maybe we all need to dabble in performance arts to let go? or just get used to making videos for instruction.

My conclusions force everyone in teacher education programs to make short videos enough to desensitize them. This way when they teach the option to supplement, support or even flip using videos will be just a few simple steps.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Revisiting iPads in the Reading Center

I am spending another summer in our Reading Center. Graduate and undergraduate students are working with a wonderful group of striving readers and writers trying to get a leg up on the next schools year. This is the first summer that we are incorporating our own set of iPad 2 (last year we did iPad 1).

We are trying to study this year, how, exactly the iPads are being used. Anecdotal data collection already shows four patterns.
1. iPads for teacher use- teachers are using the iPads to record student work for assessment, track their own interaction, store lesson plans, and record student assessment and teaching notes.
2. iPad games as a reward/brain break- 60 sec of angry birds can motivate students for quite a while. While this is useful we are trying to steer everyone to focus on games and apps that have literacy related educational value.
3. iPad for student use in Reading/writing apps- using specific apps to practice a skill or strategy (e.g. using iCardsort for word sorts).
4. Co-use: Finally students and tutors use the iPad together to get more information about content. They are using dictionary.com, Google search for pictures to illustrate the meanings of new words etc.

As I am trying to negotiate a tablet policy in our program. One of the administrators asked me if it has to be an iPad. My answer is both no and yes. I have no special allegiance to Apple, Steve Jobs is not my personal savior, and I am writing this blog on my Dell (last in a long line of laptops). I think tablets are the present (not the future- they are here) and are making a daily impact on education as well as every other aspect of life in the US. So the NO boils down to: I am open to other options since I believe that it not not really based on a specific device but a concept.

At the same time I cannot with a straight face say there is any other serious option outside the iPad and its iOS ecosystem. For example when looking at the web traffic on our own website about 20% was on mobile devices last month. Out of that 20% over 95% were from iOS devices. Clearly our mobile clientele has voted as have most k12 schools entering the tablet era.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Creativity, Literacy and Gaming: An Anecdote about Little Big Planet

My six years old son has been asking me to help him spell lately. "Dad" he shouts from the general vicinity of the TV "how do you spell test? Oh I got it". After a few questions I was curious so I came to see what he was doing (the yelling back and forth was getting less fun). I see Itai perched on the couch in front of the tv manipulating characters and obstacles as he is creating a level in the game LittleBigPlanet. He was integrating writing, his knowledge of games, and design decisions to create a game level. As I was expressing my wonderment about his creativity Asaf who is 16 turned to me and said. "He has been doing it for months!". "I knew he playing" I said "but has he published them online?" "Yes", was the answer, "he made about a hundred, but he can publish only 20".

My thought is something like this: while we argue about how much technology and how should be part of our children's educational experience they are actually moving ahead. But only if we give them great tools to work with: Lego, iPads, LittleBigPlanet, all commercial ideas yet all outstanding educational tools. With some guidance children of this generation can become the most imaginative generation the world has ever seen- combining powerful tools, experimenting and social dimensions. Piaget talked about the child as a scientist learning about the physical world about her. Now after the physical world they can start exploring virtual worlds of possibilities- expanding the potential for development.
This somehow made me hopeful.
Trailer About LittleBigPlanet Publishing

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Teachers goin' Mobile

I am spending a good portion of my waking hours at the KDS Reading Center this summer. Class starts with introducing iPads. My students last year have never used an iPad. This year I have about 20% that have personal iPads. Now we provide everyone with an iPad for use during tutoring while some educational systems are buying devices in bulk, teachers are buying individual devices and changing their own classroom circumstance from the bottom up.
At first the potential expenditure considering teacher salaries took me a back a bit. But then I reflected that teachers have always supplemented what districts and schools provide with things they bought on their own. This is just a single larger purchase, on the other hand unlike a glue stick it is not just for the classroom.
A single teacher owned device in the classroom is not a solution for technology integration, but it is a start. If supported with some casual professional development it can become the foundation to wider, successful mobile adoption when student devices become reality. As with other technologies, small scale use will produce local expertise that can be leveraged when wider implementation of mobile happens at the school.
Of course schools can help along by purchasing a few devices for teachers...

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Creative Teaching, Personal Growth, and the Brain Drain

Take one: One of our presenters in the Tech EDGE conference (coming next week for the third time) told me when we had a few  minutes that she was tired of how slowly her district was transforming. She felt that after 5+ years at the forefront of technology implementation she wanted to move to better and bigger things.
Take two: At the NETA conference last spring I came face to face with a sobering reality. Here was a crowd eager to learn, eager to grow and be creative in teaching. We heard exceptional speaker, learned new applications and had way too much coffee together. But conversations around the tables and the professional reality of many of the presenters (and I suspect participants as well) was in transition. Many were working at the district level, ESU (Educational Service Units), some even for technology companies.

The question is whether education or more specifically teaching is experiencing a "brain drain". Is it possible that  teachers leaving the profession after 5-20 years experience because they cannot be creative and innovative in large bureaucratic systems? The data I have is anecdotal (there is a dissertation in this I am sure) but still intriguing. It is possible that creative and innovative teachers seek out more education, professional development and new ideas. I have long held the belief that there is a point in a teacher's career that she feels that there must be something else out there beyond the district. That when teachers seek out professional development, graduate degrees and new projects. The irony is that the new knowledge and innovative ideas can be exactly the thing that starts distancing them from the classroom until they cannot see themselves going on and start looking for alternatives. When the opportunity is there they get a doctoral degree, become teacher educators, or perhaps go work for Apple.

Why now? I think that there are structural reasons in public education that may be encouraging the "brain drain". On the one hand the increased pressure on teachers to "perform" on high stakes standardized measures constrain curriculum and creativity leaving little to no room for experimentation. This is contrasted by the fast paced changes in technology and society. The difference in rate of change is staggering. Finally, it is more socially acceptable and often necessary to change careers at least once in adulthood.

While I understand the urge to make personal changes I wonder if the state of public education might be progressively hurt by this phenomenon. Are the best minds running in the other direction? It could be that this is "The new normal" for education. The challenge is not just having a younger less experienced teaching force, it is that a good portion of the veteran work force are exactly those who are less likely to innovate and lead positive change. Now, to be totally honest, I am not in the classroom anymore either. I made the same move. How, I wonder, can we create schools that will allow teachers like that to stay, grow, and innovate without leaving the profession? Should this even be a goal?

Monday, May 28, 2012

On Inspiration

It is the end of the year in our school district so my children came home with all that was left in their class. Oren who is in second grade came back with his writing notebook. It turns out he has been prolific and wrote among other creations a 13 chapter story. I give full credit to his fantastic language arts teacher Todd. What I found curious among his story is his take on Khoya. Khoya is a digital book on the iPad made somewhat famous through a TED presentation. The book itself delightfully integrates visual, musical and text elements while taking advantage of interactivity (see review and demo here). Oren has created his fan fiction- version of the story with borrowed vocabulary, storyline, and characters. Yet the story had a lot of him as well. I relearned what I already knew and we keep hearing from research. Reading with and to your students and children is crucial, it expands their vocabulary and world of ideas- it makes them creative and gives them a foundation from which to soar.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Art Education & the World

This post is a little preachy. I thought about it for awhile and decided to nevertheless publish...
After spending 5 days discussing the 2015 redrafting of the millennium goals with an emphasis on learning I started thinking. Here is an opportunity to have broader say in the way the leading countries impact the development of education in the developing world and we- we go to basics. The tone is similar to my previous post on new literacies and the narrow definition of what students all around the world need.
The discussions around the tables were about reading fluency, phonics and in some circles empowerment and local control. Before we lose our focus and make other nations repeat our tortured paths to education and follow in our footsteps through the power of our funding let's try to learn from the mobile wireless revolution in the developing world.
I've used this metaphor before and I think it still applies. For developing countries to get to where they want to be they do not need to necessarily follow every step that the the developed world went through. In fact, they can and probably should decide on their own priorities and leapfrog to that place.
This is where goals in arts can be really put into place. Encouraging the continuation and expansion of local art forms, atrisanship and culture should have equal footing with decoding and fluency. The integration of rich meaningful experiences will help enhance children's school experiences and prepare them for a full meaningful life. The revolution should be making school relevant and delightful with music, visual art, dance as well as writing and math. The whole world is striving for creative citizens- not for decoders who can perform simple tasks. Technology and creativity can help bridge those differences and increase the diversity in the world of ideas. So my call is simple: lets make room in the new goals for something more than basic education. We should not wait until the "basics" instead it should be part of the basics making education a full experience that can leapfrog whole generations into the 21st century.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Diversity in the Teaching Force

While not directly related to arts integration nor literacy it is a topic that I've been thinking about quite extensively lately.  We are embarking on a path that will increase the number of diverse pre-service teachers. The goals are two-fold. Enriching all students in our program by having diverse viewpoints and personal histories that will help all children understand their increasingly diverse students. At the same time increasing the diversity in the teaching profession so students have role models that look familiar. I am in no way suggesting that African American students should have only African American teachers or vice versa. I am just suggesting that the data we collected shows such disparity that we have to act and act now. Link to the full file is here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

World Literacy Summit

I am spending a few days in Trinity College in Oxford as part of the World Literacy Summit. We are also trying to create a declaration going forward www.oxforddeclarartion.org.
What has gotten me thinking is the feeling that we are talking about old literacies and we are neglecting new literacies that will really provide a leg up in development.
My question is somewhat neo-marxist in its tone but important to contemplate. Are efforts in the developing world to extend old literacies foundational to integrating them into the 21st century OR are we setting them up to be a century behind so they can stay our industrial periphery while we reap the befits of the information age and knowledge economy?
The best answer I heard was this morning with a focus on adult literacy with Friere's work using the REFLECT process as presented by David Archer from ActionAID International. Let the participants define the parameters of literacy instruction as you help problematize their goals and foster discussion.

I just wonder how much of this work is filtering down to the larger development projects and their evaluation efforts is the true challenge.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Back to Creativity- A Response

I find myself in a discussion on creativity with Kurt Knecht and Bob Woody. I come at creativity from the psychological research side and my experience conducting research on the integration of arts into the elementary curriculum for a decade. I did not measure creativity, in fact I resisted some of the pressures. I find that most measures of creativity are artificially focused on a small subset of tasks without extensive validity to back them up. I am not opposed though to the social science  endeavor studying the phenomena as Kurt has said. I come at it from the educational side and my understanding of how our political and educational leadership systems work.
It is widely perceived that America's advantage in the world is it's creativity. We once manufactured, engineered, were well funded and had a technology edge. As a society we feel that America has lost its edge and we are worried looking for our advantage over China and other threats. Our political system needs to manufacture a solution that will get them elected. The way things go the next logical step is to say: well if our advantage is creativity then how do we promote it from kindergarten and how do we really know children are creative? At this point the big testing companies will offer a test of creativity- a standardized one and we will create a generation of students "uniformly creative" then discover it didn't work and blame teachers and unions. My reluctance is really fear of a series of intended consequences that leads to less time for music and art in school because we have to teach creativity.
Finally a note about the nature of creativity. I believe that creativity is rooted in a deep understanding of a domain as a precursor. Lehrer describes the study of mopping to find a new solution. The key part of the story for me was that Continuum designers studied mopping for 6 months then learned from an expert who was years at the task, that is I believe he described the evidence that creative innovation is actually linked to doing! The second aspect the Lehrer highlights and I actually agree with is having the space to try, fail and retry. It is where schools have the hardest time creating the time and space to experiment. We have packed the curriculum with so much "stuff" so many standards and tests that teachers are hard pressed to find time for their students to experiment and wonder per Kurt Knecht or play per Margaret Latta. Without this space to be wrong creativity is a risk not worth taking.
This space for risk with the notions of Flow and Studio habits of mind are the best linkages to elementary education (my domain).
So in summary I do not think we should shy away from studying creativity, only that we should be very careful as both Kurt and Bob emphasized shy away from over generalizing. My suggestion is always to go back to the original studies and avoid the urge to read journalistic versions.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Flipping Rant

Khan and Gates
No, its not what you think and it is still a clean blog. I spent some time thinking last week on flipped learning a term that is in very real danger of becoming a cliche. It started with Khan and his academy that I have discussed before and even recommended on my netcast. I have actually used a version of a flipped classroom in a methodology course I teach in the summer using the Khan academy mini lessons to help students go through the fundamental calculations in descriptive statistics. More recently Hake a prolific observer of science education has posted a series of responses to the quality of the Khan academy instructional approaches (very old fashioned really) that can be seen here. I agree with much of what's been said there but here I have another point to make.
Everyone is hailing this approach as the new silver bullet- new thinking about education that will help transform education. I have the sinking suspicion that the support for this model is actually rooted in two very irrelevant sources. The first is the observation that the instruction on the Khan academy video's is in fact very old fashioned. It is exactly the same thing that I had in Math when I went to school, the only difference is that you can watch it your time repeatedly without driving your teacher crazy.
The second reason this approach is deemed great is that it is supported by someone that has never been an educator and knows very little about learning theory. We love innovators in education that come from other realms and can show educators the light.
Students discussing the media they read at home
during Literature Circles
My rant, however, goes in a very different direction. English language arts and social studies teachers (primarily) have from the dawn of time been flipping their classrooms. They sent students home with the direction of consuming media (books, movies, photos, source documents). The  in class everyone discussed the novels, source documents and produced projects about them. Yet, this does not occur to CNN, BBC or Bill Gates. It turns out that every high-school teacher has been doing it for years. So why do we like when Khan does it? again because it is in math, because it is coming from outside education, because first he made his millions in the stock market and then he discovered education- such a sacrifice. Much more than a teacher that has skipped the getting rich part and dedicated his life to children without the benefit of earnings and Bill Gates loving embrace.
My flipping sisters and brothers who teach in flippin' ways you were there first and will still be there even after Khan fades into distant memory.