The Moss-Free Stone

“If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old” -Peter Drucker

No, It Won’t

December 9, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, creativity, Educational technology, innovation, Teaching and Learning

There is a new video about educational technology and reform that is all over social media this week (see below). It’s a well-produced, nicely narrated, and basically says nothing that hasn’t been said for decades. It asserts that, essentially, ed tech’s potential to reform is limited to a small degree by the type of media and to a much bigger one by the way the teacher creates the learning environment. As Will Richardson points out in a comment after the video, this is Dewey, Papert, Montessori, etc. There are heavy influences of Mayer’s theories on multimedia and learning. All of which is fine, but the video’s creator stops there, and really offers nothing new or nearly radical enough to truly “revolutionize education,” as the title promises.

Same chapter, different verse. Reform will not come through social learning experiences, focused, concerted attention on curriculum, rigor, standards, data analysis, letting kids sit on yoga balls, etc. We’ve been doing that. It isn’t working, yet we keep trying harder.  The word “change” means “to make or become different.” This isn’t different–it’s re-labelled, louder. Will nails it when he asserts that different in education is for us to do something very uncomfortable and radical– to unclench our grips on the profession and our students. He comments, “The bigger issue I have here is that it says nothing about transferring the agency of learning to the learner.” This means handing control over, actually letting kids determine the course and style of their learning. Will rightly contends that meaningful, sticky learning occurs when students are actually self-driven learners, exploring things that interest and mean something to them. In his latest blog post, he shares a passage from Seymour Papert in which Dr. Papert describes education as it exists today as being unnatural and structured in a way that is nothing like native learning. He explains that teachers are constantly pulled between the rigid, technical structures imposed by the system of education and their desire to make learning meaningful and learner-centered, even natural. I often jokingly describe my job as “Director of Non-Compliance”, and I really do see a big part of my job as being to help teachers struggle against the limitations of the system. Back in 1994, when he wrote The Children’s Machine, Papert had the foresight to know that the technology tools I share had the potential to either complete the entrapment of our students in our expectations and structures or liberate them to take control of their own destinies. He was spot-on, and all one has to do is visit multiple campuses, classrooms, labs, etc. to see this played out to either extreme. The astounding intelligence and capacities of our technologies has the potential to free our students from our out-dated and limiting expectations. If we come to grips with the idea that there is no ideal curriculum, no checklist of state standards that will satisfactorily prepare our kids for their tomorrows, technology, books, the classroom, other learners–all can become tools for exploring, connecting, creating, inventing, imagining, and learning. This, by the way, has to become the school model, not just an activity tucked in an hour here or a day there. It begins with an examination of what we want from our schools and our kids’ learning. If, as many would assert, we want “21st Century Skills”, life skills, discipline skills, or whatever label we choose here in 2014, our kids need daily chances to actually DO them.

Here is a challenging but worthwhile exercise. Imagine your own ideal classroom, with no limits but your imagination. Try to envision something beyond the system you and I came up through. What does it look like? What are the kids doing and who decided what they would be doing? Where are you, and what role are you playing? What is technology used for in your class? If it’s hard for us as educators to go to a truly new place, it’s no small stretch to say it’s darned near impossible for educational policymakers to do so. If, however, we really want things to change for the better, this is what reform must become–education must “become different”.

One more thing occurred to me even as I wrote this. This applies to the hottest thing out there, the flipped classroom, in a big way. Flipped classrooms still most often dictate the what of learning, the when, and the how. While it may be a good strategy to maximize our instructional time, it is nowhere near the type of reform I’m talking about here and it is far from being about giving students power.

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10 Robot Challenges

November 17, 2014 by · 2 Comments · Educational technology, innovation

The following are suggested activities for robotics programs. They range from the fairly simple to surprisingly complex. I like these because they all can be related to some type of real-world problem situation where robots might be employed as a solution. For example, the dark navigation problem: robots might be used to navigate dark, inhospitable environments where sensors beyond visual must be relied upon. I think most of them will be great opportunities for students to “fail forward”, too, as they progress through designs and programs to solve each problem.

  1. Create a robotic trash compactor.

  2. Double the speed of the robot over a given distance.

  3. Use the robot to clean solid or liquid spills.

  4. Navigate through an obstacle course in the dark.

  5. Climb inclines that are as near to vertical as possible.

  6. Create a robot that can jump.

  7. Navigate a maze using sensors, not simply programming the path.

  8. Teach a robot to play a musical instrument.

  9. Teach the robot to construct the tallest stack of blocks.

  10. Start/stop a video camera upon a sound or other trigger.

I am always on the lookout for more activities of this nature, so please don’t hold back–share yours in the comments.

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Infographic: School Makerspace 1-2-3

November 11, 2014 by · No Comments · creativity, Educational technology, innovation, Maker Movement

Infographic I created to illustrate a sampling of the basic tools for starting a school makerspace from scratch without breaking the bank (at least not at first). Were I to expand on the idea, I’d include the need for ample space and volunteers or staff to mentor students and ensure safe activity in the makerspace.

schoolmakerspace
easel.ly

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New Podcast: #20: 6 Skills You Should Have

October 8, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, leadership, Teaching and Learning

Image source: https://conventionsofsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/napoleon_1.jpeg

Image source: https://conventionsofsociety.files.wordpress.com/2014/08/napoleon_1.jpeg

Just uploaded a new episode of the Moss Free Show entitled 6 Skills You Should Have. That’s have, as in already. These are baseline, starter-level skills that all educators (administrators included) should possess by this time. I was inspired after reading about 10 different such articles and blog posts this week, some with as many as 33 skills teachers need (You see–I’m actually much more concise than you gave me credit for!). These kinds of posts are extremely abundant the past few months. I found examples from Discovery, Edudemic, THE Journal, Edutopia, just to name a few. As I read, I started to see that the vast, diverse skills were connected by just a few, broader categories, and this podcast/blog post was born. In summary, the 6 skills are:

  • Find information–Use a variety of tools and strategies to find exactly the thing or information that is needed, when it is needed.
  • Communicate–Use the right tool for the message and the audience; be able to use a variety of means and media, whether written, images, sound, video, etc.
  • Connect–Use technology’s networking capabilities to build relationships with other educators so that you can share ideas, questions, answers, frustrations, victories, etc.
  • Learn–Know how to develop your professional knowledge and skills using online resources.
  • Wisdom–Be able to avoid behaviors and practices that would endanger you or your students safety or privacy, your professional reputation, or your hardware/network.
  • Fit–Understand how technology fits into the flow of instruction in ways that make learning more relevant, exciting, and powerful. This should become as natural as blinking.

I explore these 6 to a little greater depth in the podcast below. Give it a listen and let me know–did I leave anything out? Am I way off or getting close?

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The Maker Space Starter Kit

September 3, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, creativity, innovation, Maker Movement

The latest Moss Free Show went up today, The Maker Space Starter Kit. I discuss inexpensive tools that can make up the raw materials to get a school or classroom maker space started.

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Change the Subject(s)

August 29, 2014 by · 3 Comments · 21st Century Skills, collaboration, creativity, innovation, society, Teaching and Learning

Warning: Can of worms ahead. Proceed with caution.

3438757479_73d0de635f_zWe in education give a lot of attention to the latest ideas and shiny reform efforts, but we are fundamentally slogging around in wet cement when it comes to some of the most basic concepts, concepts such as school hierarchies, grade levels, age-based grades,  or even subject areas. These sacred cows are virtually unchallenged. Why? Tough question. Certainly, it’s easier on us to do what has always been done. It’s also almost certainly influenced by educators’ increasingly diminished power to control what they teach and how it is taught. Pressure to pass tests plays a part, as it seems to sap the creative, innovative spirit from even the best of teachers. It begins, though, with a lack of questioning. We’re a very passive bunch, we teachers. We’re also too busy, too uninformed about alternative ideas, and too darned nice. So, we just train our eyes ahead and march as we’ve always done.

The antiquated idea of teaching students subject-area knowledge in isolation is groundless (unless one considers a couple of centuries of tradition to be “grounded”). While some would argue that it once applied well to preparation for a different economy and simpler society, I would argue that it never did, and that the only place we go to learn something in isolated, sequential chunks is school. The rest of learning in life is situated in dealing with real problems with real people in real settings, and there is abundant, sloppy overlap. Quickly and without using a search engine answer the following:

  • Who was the 21st president of the United States?
  • Why did the US and the United Kingdom fight the War of 1812?
  • What is an isomer?
  • What do mitochondria do?
  • What is the slope-intercept equation of a line?
  • What is the formula for converting degrees to radians?
  • What is the difference between a gothic arch and a Roman arch?

How’d you do? I must admit, I wrote the questions, and I can only answer 3 correctly (I think.). I know for certain, though, that I learned every one of these things once upon a time. Some teacher believe he or she was imparting something very valuable to me. They may have been correct, but I can’t really judge, since I can’t remember. Maybe the girl sitting in the next row was distracting me that day.

I have 2 children, one starting the 5th grade this week, the other in the 8th. Both are bright, enthusiastic, high-achieving kids who kick STAAR (Texas’s state assessment) butt. They are great at the school “game.” While this certainly does not displease me, it is not what I stress with my kids. I don’t ask them to balance chemical equations or identify the main character and setting in Where the Red Fern Grows when they get home from school, because I frankly don’t care. I also suspect that their future employers, employees, customers, spouses, families, friends, etc. won’t care. They won’t care because these things just don’t matter, unless you’re in a tiny, specialized segment of society (Anyone have a lot of historian friends? No offense to historians–I’m sure you are very nice.). I taught 6th grade science, and I’d like to confess something to my former students: Your brilliant mastery of biomes? Completely useless. My apologies.

I know the defenders of the faith will rise up against such blasphemy. To them, I say I’m sorry. However, I’m not sure I can stand one more justification phrased as “Knowing this makes a person more well-rounded,” “Those who don’t learn from the past…” or “You need to know this to be a good citizen.” My highest priority for my children is not to be a well-rounded voter. Those are dandy, mind you, but just not good enough. What I want for my children are the traits and skills that have led to the successes of the most important, impactful people and the perfectly happy ordinary Joes alike. Among them…

  • Great communication skills. Our kids have to know how to read, write, and listen, and speak (Requires less shhhh-ing on the part of the teacher.).
  • Functional math. This means the minimum math needed for whatever direction they choose. Don’t force algebra on everyone. It really isn’t helpful. No, it isn’t.
  • Critical thinking. Don’t take everything at face value–a lot of ideas are wrong (even on the Internet). Know how to tell the good from the bad.
  • Problem solving. Failure and challenges are everywhere. Be prepared to take an alternate route, and another, until you find the right one. Innovation and creativity are closely related ideas. So is being able to figure out why your car won’t start.
  • Physical well-being. I want our kids to make choices that make them healthy (diet, exercise, etc.). I have a certain lifestyle I expect my kids to support in my old age.
  • Relationship skills. Not talking dating here–talking about being able to work with the person next to you or the person on the other end of that email. 2 is greater than 1 (That’s functional math right there.).
  • Technology literacy. Doesn’t mean every kid is a Mark Zuckerberg. It means every kid can safely, responsibly, and effectively leverage what they need when they need it.

Image source: https://flic.kr/p/4avhK1

I’m sure there are  more (Educator/author/reformer Roger Schank has a very thorough list here.). The point is, these are universally useful abilities and traits that span the traditional subjects. Couldn’t the old, establishment knowledge and skills (that still have relevance) be addressed in the context of mastering these new ones?  Couldn’t all of these be addressed in the process of inquiry- or project-based learning? If you REALLY want to get crazy, you totally abandon the neat, orderly idea of subjects entirely and put these life skills into whatever meaningful context they most naturally fit–maybe even in finding answers to kids‘ own questions.

I know this is real pie-in-the-sky stuff, but I’m an optimist. I know it can seem like we’re hopelessly oppressed under test and governmental agency and regulations. These kinds of changes would likely take too long to get started for my kids to benefit in any way. It’s good to have a dream, though, and this is mine, based upon 23 years as an educator and almost 14 as a dad. It’s also important to never settle. We can do better, but we have to be willing to question even the most fundamental ideas first, and this may be the most fundamental of all.

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SUPER Handy Guide to Copyright and Fair Use for Images

August 22, 2014 by · No Comments · 21st Century Skills, Teaching and Learning

Copyright and Fair Use questions can be very complicated and confusing. Curtis Newbold of The Visual Communication Guy blog has come up with a really great flowchart that answers students’ questions about whether or not the images they want to use in their projects are fair game. Click the image below to see the full-sized version, which would be a great tool to share with students this fall.

Can I Use This Picture?

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