A Post to Regret

In general, I try hard not to write posts that might offend or appear to be critical of the schools and teachers in my kids’ lives. Teachers work hard. They have too much to do. They are expected to do more than is humanly possible. They serve as nurse, college professor, psychologist, coach, judge, referee and more. They aren’t paid nearly enough.

Yet, sometimes I get frustrated. Really frustrated. Like today.

I’ve been very lucky to immerse myself in the field of educational technology for the last two years (almost). I don’t have to be distracted by field trips, parent-teacher conferences, truancy, etc. But today I am frustrated by schools, teachers, administrators refusing to think outside the box. By refusing to try to learn new things. By thinking that since that’s how they learned (whether it’s 3 or 30 years ago) that that’s how it needs to be.

Isn’t that enough? Nope. I’m frustrated with the snail pace of decision making. With the constant phrases, “kids will be distracted by the technology.” “Kids will just cheat.” (perhaps we need to redefine our definition of cheating, by the way.)  “I learned without technology, so can they.” With the refusal to think that there is more than one way to teach a child.

Quit telling me (or them) to put that computer back in their pocket. That’s how the world works now. Why aren’t kids being encouraged to do the same? Instead, teach them how to use it responsibly. Take advantage of what they want to use and teach them with that. Quit telling me that you can’t use any technology in class because not everyone has a phone, or texting, or a smartphone, or an iPad. Then figure out how to get them something. It can be done.

Do you think perhaps the reason kids are goofing off and being distracted by their technology is because your lesson is boring????  That perhaps that page of math problems that looks exactly like my math book 30 years ago is no longer engaging to a kid?

Quit telling me that it’s their job. Quit telling me that students should make themselves interested in the topic, that they are in school, that they need to make themselves motivated. They should be interested just because it’s what they are supposed to learn.

That’s a cop out. It’s the education system’s job to keep changing, to keep things relevant to kids. It’s a teacher’s job, and administrator’s job to keep looking for new ways to engage and educate students.

I don’t know about you, but my workplace looks pretty different now than in 1988 when I had my first “professional” job. I typed memos, made photocopies, put them in envelopes and put them in interoffice mail. It’d take two days to get info out. Scheduling a meeting? It took a nimble secretary hours to nail down everyone’s schedule and send the paper notice out. The job I have now? It didn’t exist even five years ago. Couldn’t have been envisioned.

Yet, my kids’ schools teach pretty much the same way I was taught, and I graduated from high school 30 years ago. It’s a disservice to kids to think they all should learn the way we were taught.

I know there aren’t enough hours in the day. I live in that world, too.  Don’t expect to hand teachers (or students!) a device and expect them to come up with great ideas. Thinking outside the box takes inspiration. Give teachers time to read blogs. Send them to conferences. Encourage them to watch webinars. LEARN! Start trying new going to half-day seminars. Watching a webinar. Open your mind. Learn something new. Or – get this – have the kids teach you.

If you’re a teacher, I’m sorry if I offended you. Instead of being upset, please help me understand. Why aren’t my kids’ schools keeping up with the world?

Student Learning at the Center

Interesting article, “Rethinking Teaching” from the Oberlin Alumni Magazine about how teaching at Oberlin is changing. Overall, it sounds like they are moving away from the professor lecturing for hours to student created content and visual learning. Collaboration between departments is increasing, which in the end is a win-win.

Steven Volk, a History professor, is using a flipped classroom model. He has students watch a 30-minute lecture on video before class. Then, in-class time is spent on discussion. He seeks to create a community of learners.

We know that the way students learn best is to construct knowledge in their own heads.

– Steven Volk, History prof

Professor Volk seeks to teach students to think and work with material, to to memorize facts:

Volk doesn’t expect his students to recall all the details they’ve discussed in class — after all, they have smart phones if they need to know that Bolivia’s independence from Spain took hold in 1825. He approaches his classes with what he calls the “backward planning” hypothetical. “If I bump into one of my students 10 years after graduation, what do I want them to remember?” he says. “Not the details, but the concepts and the learning skills: how to investigate, read closely, analyze, interpret, and work with others.”

Visual Learning is OK

I think one of the problems with moving to a more integrated technology framework at schools is that people think it implies that students don’t learn like they did before. Kids don’t read. Kids don’t focus. Kids don’t write. Kids don’t….. etc.

Somehow, there is the attitude that if kids aren’t learning like kids learned 20, 30, years ago, then it’s not valid.

But really, do any of us learn and consume information like we did 10, 20 years ago? I doubt it.

Look at newspapers – even if you read a printed paper (and I do – I get two papers delivered to my door every day), the newspaper is different than it was 30 years ago and certainly different than it was 50, 75, 100 years ago. Pictures were non-existent and very rare. Articles were much longer. Print was much smaller. That’s how people got information. Not now – photographs are prevalent, stories are shorter, fonts are bigger, infographics and maps visually represent information that wasn’t possible to communicate before.

How about YouTube? The viral nature of some videos is amazing. If you need to know how to do something? Kids will check YouTube before looking anywhere else. How to tie a tie? Much easier to communicate if you have a video than to describe in a book. Cooking? Same thing. Building something? Same thing. The instructional possibilities of using video are huge.

RSA Animate is a good example. These are excerpts from thought leaders with intricate drawings. Do the visuals detract? Absolutely not. They are a huge plus. Are they popular? You bet. TED Talks are another example. Video of thought leaders giving short, powerful talks.

The list could go on. How about art history classes? Are they still making slides? Or using collections found on many museum sites to build lectures?

So, why are schools (not every school/teacher, thankfully!) so resistant to meeting students’ learning needs through visuals? Why has coursework not moved in the direction of working with increasing visual learning? Why still rely on heavy print texts and assignments?

Moving to visual does not mean dumbing down.

DIfferentiated Testing

Interesting article in a New York Times School Book (“Students Learn Differently. So Why Test Them All the Same?”, Feb. 17, 2012) about the New York State testing requirements. This particular teacher blogger is an ESL teacher, and his description of teaching to the test is distressing. (Not the teacher — but the fact that he had to totally design a course to help kids pass the test.)

In his case, he is dealing with English language learners, and it is (well, should be) that testing needs for this population should be different. Not only do we teach to the test for native English speakers, for the same happens to newly arrived immigrants, when truly, there must be more important things for them to learn.

I think the concept Mr. Goldstein presents is valid for native English speakers, as well. Any teacher knows that kids have different learning styles. Some kids need pictures, some need to hear it. Some need to move things, some need to see words.

But I don’t think standardized tests come in different learning styles, do they? They heavily favor the text based learner. The kids who read and process text easily. Standardized tests exclude the visual thinker, the kinesthetic learner. How is that fair?

Open Internet Tests

When I was in high school, we lived in fear of open book tests. They were  much harder than “regular” multiple choice tests. The teachers that gave them were also well known for asking us to really think and analyze.

Now, there are open internet tests! Seriously – what a great idea. This post by Jonathan Martin shows exactly why. A theater history teacher did an open internet test with great results. See the post for student comments – seems they all thought it was harder — and better.

…taking the time to think through as a teacher what kind of questions can we ask which will continue to be meaningful assessments when Google and Wolfram Alpha are available is, I think, a highly productive exercise, and, of course, will generate a more authentic assessment experience far more well aligned with the real world of professionals for which we are preparing our students

The teacher’s rationale for doing this test:

did I really need the students to regurgitate information or could I ask them to utilize  Internet resources and their class notes to compose essays based on questions that they helped craft?


It’s a great idea. It’s more closely aligned to what will be expected of them — yes, in college, and ultimately, in the working world. It’s teaching critical thinking, analysis, digital literacy, writing. The list gets long…. much better test of what students know and how they think than picking a letter on a multiple choice test.


Student Technology Bill of Rights

Ran across this incredible concept, the Student Technology Bill of Rights, by Brad Flickinger. Check out both Post 1 and Post 2. I won’t quote him here, but just highlight my favorites. (And will be taking them along to kids schools. Wish me luck!)

#3: “I have the right to submit digital artifacts that prove my understanding of a subject” hits home at our house right now. Many previous posts have discussed the Pre-AP World History class that my daughter will take next year. Text. Text and more text. Nothing wrong with some text, but we have decided that she will just do projects visually and digitally. I’m tired of having to constantly advocate for digital/visual assignments. It’s just what’s going to happen.

#5: “I have the right to access social media at school. It is where we all live, it is how we communicate — we do not use email, or call each other. We use Facebook, Twitter and texting to talk to each other. Teachers and schools should take advantage of this and post announcements and assignments using social media — you will get better results.” This is so true.

#7: “I have the right to be taught by teachers who teach me and demand that I use 21st Century Skills.” So true. My kids’ assignments should not look like the work I did 30 years ago when it is so clear that teaching to all kids modalities and using 21st century tools work better.

#9: “I have the right to be protected from technology.” Yup. It is now the school’s responsibility (along with home) to teach digital citizenship. Teach kids to start building a positive digital footprint.

#11: USE THE CLOUD. Yes, please. I almost cried when my son said he had to buy a flashdrive for school. REALLY???? I refused. And this when the teachers use Google Apps for Education daily. Why not the students? (footnote: this will be changing soon!!)

#12: Let them text: if a kid wants to write by texting, why not? It’s EXACTLY the same argument I heard when I was teaching, although in this case is was whether to let students write in the cultural dialect they spoke at home. I let them. They were writing, communicating, thinking. We also taught “educated” English, but didn’t cut them off from who they were.

These are great. Thanks, Brad!