Jobs and Why we NEED Tech in Schools

Very interesting article in Quartz by Christopher Mim today, “How the Internet is Making us Poor” about how jobs are changing due to technology changing. While this is nothing new (such as the examples about agriculture and manufacturing jobs), the pace at which this is happening with technology is significantly faster.

What’s changing? Society is basically dividing into two groups,  “People who tell computers what to do, and people who are told by computers what to do.” Mim goes on to explain why this is decimating the middle class, etc. In fact, he points out, many of the jobs where people are told what to do are disappearing as well (he uses Amazon as an example.)

My point with this is then why schools must start using technology – and not just using tech. They must start teaching differently so these kids are prepared to be those who tell computers what to do. This isn’t learned by taking standardized tests, either.

I had a great conversation with a decision-maker at my local district today. I am thrilled to report that the district has taken great strides to incorporate tech, and for the right reasons. High on the list was a way to equalize the playing field. This district has changed quite a bit in the last few years, and there are many refugees and families on free/reduced lunch. Kids who do not have access to tech at home deserve to learn it in school.

All kids deserve to be learning this way in school, or we’ll have more and more of those people who are told what to do by computers.

Homeschool: Week 1

I’m starting to put together the activities for my daughter’s French II homeschool. It’s been quite fun, even though I admit I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing.

I do have access to the online textbook. I’m not sure how she’ll access it when she’s at school, because I know it won’t work on an iPhone (one clear argument against BYOD. These online texts don’t function at all on phones, or at least not well.)

This lets me have a general idea about vocabulary and grammar that the regular class is doing. I have to figure out how much time to spend here, figure out how my daughter will learn it best, and how to assess.

I do know that she has an excellent auditory memory, so I’m looking up as many YouTube videos and podcasts that I can find. She can listen to these over and over while at school (they will work on an iPhone). Even if she doesn’t understand every word, it gets her used to the cadence of the language. Someday, it’ll get easier to understand.

The first chapter of the text focuses on Paris! This couldn’t be better, as I’ve lived there twice. I know the city, and we can certainly use the few things I have here, as well as online sources, to explore. We’ll look at the Louvre and other art museums, find historical resources (hmmmm – what era would be most fun? 18th century? 1920s?), and track down some literature (in translation) and movies (subtitled in English.)

Here’s a fun video we’re going to watch:

The Equalizer

The school district where I live has seen tremendous change in demographics in the last 10 years when my daughter started school. By the numbers, it’s about 44% free/reduced lunch, with one elementary school being nearly 90% ELL. The district has a significant (and growing) population of refugees – many of whom come to school literally days after arriving in the country. Many other students come from homes with lower incomes – whether formerly middle class families who have experienced job loss or other reasons.

If you evaluate the “achievement gap” by the numbers here, it’s truly scary. I sit on a district curriculum advisory committee, and have been able to look closely at the numbers. If our primary means of evaluating achievement is test results, then things look pretty bad. Students of non-majority ethnicities and lower incomes have significantly lower test scores.

I’d argue that things look even worse if we look at other indicators of achievement. I don’t know the numbers for graduation, or post-secondary education entry or completion. But I do know that the system is failing many of these kids in a crucial area: technology access.

In a Mindshift post this week, Tina Barseghian blogs about device access as the true equalizer. She has lots of statistics and more to support her argument. I just have anecdotal….

How do we expect students who never have access to devices of any kind to develop the digital literacy skills essential for success in post-secondary education? or in just about any workplace now? I dare you to find really any job that doesn’t use any technology. These students must have access to these devices and learn to use them responsibly in order to be functional in the bigger world.

A refugee family has many immediate needs to worry about: food, shelter, transportation, income. However, technology access should be an essential part of schooling, just like learning English.

Access doesn’t mean a computer lab in a school. Access means a personal device, or other immediate access. We all know that computer labs are taken up with testing now – there’s no room in the schedule to do other learning.

Access means teachers who feel comfortable with the technology, teachers who aren’t afraid to let it be used, to use it themselves.Teachers deserve access to training and tools in order to learn for themselves.

Access means a pedagogy in which teachers and administrators see themselves as guides, rather than solely content experts.

Access means devices. Here’s hoping my district can make that happen.

Responses to NO TECH

I’d like to thank Scott McLeod for yet another excellent post, this time addressing a concern of a school board member who opposed the use of technology. His post, “Which Students Don’t Get to Use Technology, Then?” makes some excellent points that I will read again and again as I gear up for more upcoming discussions about the lack of tech adoption in my kids’ schools. I’m hoping Scott doesn’t mind being a guiding light for me.

In my situation, as a parent, my questions and concerns are usually dismissed and I’m seen as a rabble rouser.  Since I work in the edtech field, I usually have significantly more knowledge about ed tech than most of the administrators at these schools. It helps immensely  when I can come in and refer them to real teachers and admins who blog about the concept and who are very well respected. So, thank you, Scott.

Yup. The Students Need Tech

Another blog post supporting the need for students to have technology — not just the teachers. In his post, “Wrong Focus: Teacher-Centered Classrooms and Technology,” Ryan Bretag echoes the findings of the study I referenced in my last post where personal ownership of the tools is the best indicator of success.

In one district I work with, they made a concerted effort to get white boards in all the classrooms, at least at some of the schools. I know there are some teachers who have them who never use them, other teachers who would like them but are reduced to asking for grants to get them. (Oh, that irritates me. Why should a teacher have to drum up the money to get tools that they need? Whether or not I think IWBs are the answer, still!!!)

But moving to getting tech in the hands of kids is a slow, arduous process. It’s been painful. In past posts, I’ve referenced how hesitant teachers are to have kids use cell phones for educational purposes. Nearly every classroom has a NO CELL PHONES sign. They say they are BYOD, but wow — there’s no evidence. My daughter could have an iPad, and even has an accomodation that says she can have it, but she won’t because it sticks out.

Those fancy white boards? They don’t do much if it’s just the teacher and one or two students who can do stuff. I loved Mr. Bretag’s comment about converting a lecture to powerpoint to IWB….

I’m working on a curriculum. We get many requests for prepared IWB slide shows. I can only hope these slide shows are being taken apart and used for something besides lecturing — even with fancy white board slides.

The Power is Personal

Over the last few years, I have been studying how schools adapt to the 21st century through technology implementations. It’s all over the board: 1:1, BYOD, classroom sets, iPads, Chromebooks, iPods, laptops, etc.

The one thing I have really noticed is that while any technology (used appropriately, and not just for substitution) is a great step, the real power is when students have their own personal device. It doesn’t matter if it’s a school owned device or their own device — but that it is theirs alone to use. To personalize, to explore and to use how they use it best. This has been clear at the couple of schools who are, in my mind, the front runners of this device adoption.

I’ve seen it at my house. We bought my 7th grader an iPad to use at school this year. His school was going no where when it came to tech integration, and it made me furious. Because they had no policy about devices, there was no reason he couldn’t bring it, so we sent it. Within a week, I could see the real power in making it his own tool.

He explored a variety of apps, and figured out what worked best. He played with different planner apps, notetaking tools and email apps. He found a blogging platform that worked for his journal. The power really was in his being able to make it his own.

He was able to select his own wallpaper, put his own apps that work for him. He organizes his apps in folder very differently than I do. It’s quite fascinating, and it works because it’s his own.

I’ve been saying this to both my kids’ schools – but as I’ve posted previously, it falls on deaf ears. Perhaps I’m too pushy, perhaps they aren’t ready to go this way. BUT – I was so thrilled to see this post from Tony Vincent’s blog “Learning in Hand” about a study in Scotland (key findings of the study) which comes right out and says that personal ownership of the device is the number one factor in determining the successful use of the technology.


Homeschool: Onward!

Our proposal to homeschool my 10th grader for French II was formally approved today. I must admit I was shocked at how easy it was to get it set up. I don’t know if the teacher knows yet – not sure how she’ll feel. I would like to talk to her so she understands why we’re doing this.

Classroom foreign language learning relies heavily on rote memorization and detail. I’ve long known my daughter didn’t excel at these, and it was proven in her first term of French this year. Oddly, she did quite well last year, but this year was more focus on the details of grammar and spelling, as well as significantly more vocabulary words to memorize.

My daughter struggled as she watched other friends easily pickup the vocabulary, remember the accents and master the passe compose and other grammatical structures. She was so frustrated, it was no longer engaging or interesting.

In the last month, my daughter was diagnosed with moderate language learning disabilities – in English. According to the psychologist, the disabilities are strong enough that she will have serious difficulty in a classroom foreign language setting.

She does have remarkably strong auditory memory, and they psychologist felt that in an immersion setting, she’d learn aural/oral language very quickly. But that isn’t possible in a traditional high school setting.

So, instead, we’ll work at home. We’ll do a significant amount of speaking and listening, watching videos, reading children’s books together, and working through tests – together. We’ll write – together, with support for her weaknesses. While not ignoring the weaknesses, we’ll focus on her strengths. We’ll analyze music and lyrics, we’ll make videos. We’ll read children’s books (that’s how we learn language as kids, right?) and use French in everyday situations.

Now, how to we convince colleges that this is legitimate learning? And isn’t learning from French speaking cats more fun?



Another Brick in the Wall

A Facebook friend asked, ” What’s your favorite down/melancholy song?”  I knew I had to answer with Pink Floyd’s “The Wall.” In my early 20s, I would blast this song/album whenever I was angry, depressed, or moody (which was frequently!) My roommate would turn around and leave if she came home and this album was playing. She was a very tolerant roommate to put up with me during those years!

Hadn’t listened to it in years. Whoa — words are pretty striking. While they obviously were about something totally different, they speak directly to the work I’m doing now:

We don’t need no education.

We don’t need no thought control.
No dark sarcasm in the classroom.

All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.



Relating to The Lone Wolf

Ran across this blog post about The Lone Wolf by Dave Truss in the Connected Principals blog.

Read it for yourself, but in a nutshell, he’s supporting those teachers who feel like they’re tryng, trying to move along a path, but are still stuck in the same schools, traditions, processes and bureaucracy as always.

While I’m no longer teaching, I am a parent who has been advocating for this education paradigm shift. And I’m getting no where. In fact, the other day after yet another offer to do something for my child’s school was rejected (this time was to teach a parent technology class, or a teacher class) I was tempted to email and ask why they will not work with me.

I know why, though. I’m way ahead of them and they aren’t ready to go there. It’s not their priority yet. In the meantime, they’ll keep making decisions about technology without thinking it through.