Let the Kids Show Us

I dragged my son to an educational technology conference this afternoon. He brought along some stuff for drawing. But, did he want to draw a bunch of adults in the room? Nope. Well – he pulled out his iPod and found a photo of an animal to draw.

Gotta admit I wouldn’t have thought of doing that.


The Real World

I’ve been reading more and more criticism about Apple’s announcement on January 19. The critics are the pundits – those well respected names in the educational reform/tech world. The criticisms  vary, but focus on a few similar themes:

  • Apple didn’t revolutionize education
  • The tools are too proprietary
  • The copyright issue with iBooks Author is a killer
  • There are no social tools in the new products – no back and forth conversations, no shared authorship, etc.

I agree with all of it. They are, of course, correct in their assessment. Apple didn’t revolutionize education, the tools work only on iPads, the copyright rules are ridiculous, and there are no social tools.

But does that make the announcement a failure? Not in my mind.

The education tech/reform thought leaders don’t live in my world. While I wish what they wanted would happen, my world is years behind. Not only are the schools I see not ready to move away from textbooks, they aren’t ready to move to digital textbooks. They aren’t ready for the cloud. They don’t see the need or advantage of using technology. They see only the problems with digital: too expensive, too complicated, they’d have to teach differently, the kids would cheat, etc. These schools aren’t ready to move away from the teacher as the expert. They aren’t ready to allow other forms of assessment (to be fair, their hands are tied by NCLB.) They don’t see the need to teach students about digital literacy. They are afraid the students know more than they do.

(I will be flamed for criticizing teachers. I am not doing that. I am criticizing a system that doesn’t not empower teachers to look for new tools. A system that rewards test scores, not creativity. )

This is the world I see:

  • Kids aren’t allowed to use the $1.99 or free graphing calculator on their iPhone because they might text answers to friends. Instead, they have carry around an extra device – for $125.
  • NO CELLPHONES allowed in class. The teacher will take them for the day, or they are given to the office for a parent to pick up.
  • Teachers don’t see any use for technology tools for students, or they see technology as only a distraction.
  • The primary use of any technology in the classroom with students is for word processing and internet research.
  • Biggest advantage of giving iPads to students would be to free up the tech staff from managing servers – not because of the learning.
  • Students aren’t given accounts on Google apps because no one can think of a good use.
  • Honors  high school courses are taught without any use of technology. It’s all reading texts and taking multiple choice and essay tests.
  • The goal of the honors courses is to prep kids for the Advanced Placement tests and college – not to think critically about the content, access primary sources, collaborate with others, create projects, etc.
  • Can’t do a BYOD program because a few kids don’t have devices (instead of figuring out a way to get them devices.)
  • Teachers telling me they’ve taught this way for years and it’s worked. Why change?
  • Current events classes are taught by reading local papers in print with an “occasional” trip to the computer lab to read other papers.
  • Teachers not knowing how to connect a laptop to a wireless network.
  • Teachers only have Internet Explorer on their school owned laptops – no alternate browsers. (THIS ISN’T 2002! Give them more tools!!!!)

You see? This is the world I see every day as a parent. I spend my days reading the writings of thought leaders, talking to teachers all over the country (via social media, reading their blogs, etc.) about the innovative things they are doing with iPads, social media, BYOD, etc. Then, I go into my kids’ schools and to teacher trainings and see something totally different. It’s frustrating for me, and I know it’s frustrating for teachers and schools to have one more thing thrown at them.

That’s why I think the Apple announcement is a big deal.

  • Apple  – a mainstream, common name – promoting some of these technologies, that to the mainstream education world are new, different, game changing, is a very big deal.
  • Big name publishers FINALLY come out with a textbook that is starting – just barely- to take advantage of the digital medium is a big deal. It is a big deal to these districts that just can’t figure out how or why to move to a digital instructional model.
  • Making iTunes U freely available to K-12 schools is a big deal. This is a tool that many people know. It’s not some scary sounding software like Moodle that people who aren’t comfortable with technology find intimidating.
  •  The iBooks Authoring tool is a big deal. Yes, it’s only for iPad. Yes, it’s only available for Lion. No, it doesn’t have any social/collaborative authoring capabilities. YET. But, it is a great tool for teachers to tiptoe into. It’s familiar. It’s Apple. And students? The possibilities for students to create “books” as assignments and projects is huge.

I have the utmost respect  and admiration for the thought leaders in the education reform /ed tech area. I read their blogs daily.  I have learned so much from them. I am convinced that they are laying the path for where education has to go.

But, I would like to invite them to come to my world. I also have a ton of respect and admiration for the teachers I encounter daily. Their plates are already full, and we’re asking them to totally change how they do their job. Come talk to the teachers I talk to. Have them help the teachers I train learn how to find a wireless network. Teach them that there are different browsers  – the Internet Explorer isn’t  the internet. Model the new tools to the teachers and to the students. Show them positive uses of technology tools. Help them feel comfortable with a new look at education.

The real world is far behind. I’m hoping Apple’s announcement is a small step towards validating the new educational reality.

Yup, the Apple Announcement IS a Big Deal

I watched Apple’s announcement with great interest. The expectation was that this announcement would “revolutionize” education.

That’s a pretty tough expectation. Unrealistic. And Apple didn’t revolutionize education.

I’ve read plenty of criticism of the announcement.

Audrey Watters was totally unimpressed.  She wanted the revolution. She quoted Phil Schiller, “ It’s the same great content we’ve always had in textbooks, Phil Schiller said onstage today, just in a new digital format.” For Audrey, that’s the problem. She doesn’t want textbooks.  She has a compelling argument. She feels that primary source material is easily available now and teachers can compile it themselves.

In theory, I totally agree. In my first teaching job (7-8th grade social studies), there were no textbooks. I was allowed to create my own class, totally from scratch – including topic, sources, assignments, outcomes. It would’ve been a great opportunity – except I was 24 years old and had never taught before. I’d LOVE to have that opportunity now. I was in no way prepared for it then. We did end up with a pretty good class, somehow.

Most schools don’t run that way – wish they did. It would take more than a revolution in education to get states out of the business of selecting texts. It would take way more money to pay teachers fair pay for developing curriculum.

Beyond that, Audrey Watters and others complain that Apple’s products are proprietary – they work only on iPads. That the EULA is restrictive. That the “interactive” features are really only frosting, they are just the same type of teaching, just with bells and whistles. There is not social feature in any of the tools introduced.

All these things are true.

But I still think the announcement is a big deal. Why? Because it pushes mainstream digital publishers to recognize that digital texts are reality. It brings these ideas into everybody’s attention. Apple is much more of a household name than Inkling. It’ll take Apple to get school administrators, teachers, parents and students to take this seriously – even if they don’t have iPads.

Most schools aren’t anywhere near ready to abandon textbooks. Jumping to a digital textbook is enough of a revolution. For the schools that are lucky enough to already have iPads, this really is a great deal. It’s a great first step until the software and books mature.

The iBooks Author tool will be another step towards moving away from textbooks – it’ll let teachers (and students!) see that they can collect, curate and deliver content.

Things will evolve. It’s only a matter of time until Apple gets the pressure to have iBooks Author publish to other formats – or someone else will figure it out. The copyright issue will have to change. iTunes U will have to add some social features.

While this may not be a revolution, it’s a great first step!

Staying the Course

Sometimes I get frustrated as a parent. Not with my kids – but with the schools. I have spent the last year studying the impact of appropriate integration of technology in education. The results are overwhelmingly positive. Schools must move in that direction.

I try to talk with my kids’ schools. It is slow going. Obviously, they are the experts, and I certainly can’t jump in and tell them what to do. Yet, I also am responsible for my kids’ education and I have the right to speak up.

I think I’ve been respectful. I try to educate and inform. Yet, I feel like the schools really don’t want me involved. I see some movement, not much. Maybe I just want more action and faster. To me, it’s very obvious that incorporating the technology is a huge benefit, and I want it to happen now. Not at the school’s pace.

Saw this blog post today by The Tempered Radical. Basically, he’s frustrated with not having access to technology. Can’t say that I blame him. I do appreciate his comment about not criticizing his teaching when he has no access to technology.

I may try to change how I approach this. No longer will I be critical of them not using technology. I will ask how I can help them get technology and incorporate technology. I just ask their respect in return that when I ask about using technology in the classroom not to look at me like I’m crazy and stupid.

Creative Choices

For the last couple of days, my daughter and I have been weighing the good and bad points about taking an AP World History class. It seems like everywhere I turn, the signs are against it.

I guess it depends on your values and what you think matters. Whenever I ask the school, it’s all about getting kids ready for COLLEGE. OK, yes, that is valid. But truly, is that it? Is that all that high school is for? for COLLEGE? Are colleges really that myopic that they only want kids who do the traditional academic course? Is college admission and prep really all there is?

What about LIFE? Isn’t that more of a goal? What does the traditional AP type course really prepare you for? Reading heavy tomes of content and spitting it back on a test? Let me think how many times since college that I’ve taken a test. That would be ZERO. Never. Not once. How many times have I made a presentation? Many. How many times could I present information in ways besides a test? Always.

Which brings me to this great video about creativity that I ran across today. I’m just not sure rushing through a ton of content to spit it back is worth it. Take more time. Be creative. That will likely take you further.

Tough Choices

A follow-up to a previous post about my 9th grade daughter’s choices for classes for next year. Should she take Honors World History or the regular class?

The teachers had a curriculum night last week. It was a good chance to meet a couple of teachers and to take a look at the books used for the two options. I found out that the Honors class is basically an Advanced Placement class, but they can’t call it that. The books are both REALLY big and heavy (no wonder kids have back problems). The Honors book is very text based, and I think is a college level text. The class involves a good deal of reading, note taking, writing and tests. The class is like any AP class, preparing kids for the AP tests.

The book for the regular class included many more visuals, including graphics and photographs. I didn’t get many details about how this class functions, as the teacher who was there was an Honors teacher.

Neither course includes any online textbook, and the honors class uses very little outside resources (online or otherwise) and certainly never includes projects. In fact, the teacher looked down his nose at me when I even suggested such a thing. The online textbook will change probably for the class after my daughter, as I know the district is replacing its Social Studies curriculum. However, that doesn’t help her!

So, what to do? I need to email the teacher to get the textbook titles/publishers to see if we could find used copies or a digital version. If she had her own copy of the book, at least she could write in the book and wouldn’t have to carry the huge thing back and forth. My daughter loves history and social studies, and does very well. She deserves to have access to the higher level content of the Honors class. Yet, she’s not a kid that does well with strict, linear, traditional teaching. I’m not sure she’ll do well in an AP setting that is so focused on intense reading and regurgitating history facts and concepts.

She’s a visual learner who can express her learning much better in projects, like movies, performances, presentations than she does in tests. While yes, she needs to learn to write, does she need to learn to write for an AP test? Is this really a 21st century skill that will serve her best in her life? Are colleges really that focused on that kind of learning? Given what I’ve been studying for the last year, I’m not convinced that this is the best course.

Decision to be posted later.

The Generation Gap

I experienced the generation gap today.

Today, I attended a retreat for the board of a local community theater. The board is, happily, a mix of ages – from high school thru retired people. We were having a loose conversation late in the meeting about communications, especially how to find people at the last minute or in a hurry.

It wasn’t possible to come up with a way that worked for all. It totally fit the stereotype: the older folks don’t check their phones, and the younger ones don’t check email. What to do?

It was a multi-faceted decision:

  • a group text function for most of us, for urgent communications, etc.
  • a good old fashioned phone call to cell phones for really urgents/emergency contact; or to catch the admin who is constantly on the move
  • and Facebook messaging to contact the younger set! They’ll see Facebook messages immediately on their phones. Facebook messages were seen by that group as a much more reliable way to connect. Forget email!

I think the system will work. Just takes good contacts list with lots of numbers!


Next week, my daughter’s high school is hosting a Curriculum Night to give parents a chance to talk to teachers about course options.

I’d like to check with the Social Studies teachers. Next year, my daughter will be taking World History. Having spent the last year researching technology options in education, especially social studies education, I’m hoping to see some great tools being used. I’m concerned, however, that I’m going to see the big ole Holt Reinhart Winston (or other publisher) textbook.

One topic I’m sure (I hope) will be ancient Rome. For today’s learners, I’m wondering which is more effective: pages of text with flat images, or using at something like the Virtual History Roma app that reconstructs ancient buildings in 3D, shows Roman armor on a virtual model, integrates paintings that can be zoomed in tightly, etc.

Take a peek. You tell me your choice. I know mine.