Sugata Mitra Strikes Again

Another fabulous article about Sugata Mitra from The Guardian and his thoughts on education. It is going to be the basis for a much longer blog post — when I have a few minutes to write, which just might be on the plane to ISTE!

To entice you, here’s the first paragraph:

Would a person with good handwriting, spelling and grammar and instant recall of multiplication tables be considered a better candidate for a job than, say, one who knows how to configure a peer-to-peer network of devices, set up an organisation-wide Google calendar and find out where the most reliable sources of venture capital are, I wonder? The former set of skills are taught in schools, the latter are not.


Read the Rest. It’s worth it.

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.


I ran across an article that I didn’t even know I needed to read until I read it….. “On Being a Changemaker” by Karen Pryor.

It hit hard. So THIS is what I’ve been doing, and WHY it’s been so incredibly hard. I’m making things change (well, I’m trying…. not succeeding yet.) The phases of change she defines fit perfectly. The reactions from people around me are exactly as she describes. I know, however, that my reactions have not been as effective as they could be, so my goal is to take her ideas as my guide. This applies both to my work and to the advocacy I do (or try to do) with my children’s schools.

With full credit to Karen Pryor, here are her steps of what people do when faced with change:

  1. Ignore you
  2. Pretend to agree, but actually do nothing
  3. Resist, delay, obstruct
  4. Openly attack you (the dangerous phase, but also a sign that change is starting)
  5. Absorb
  6. Utilize
  7. Take credit
  8. Proselytize

Read the rest of the article for more details, but I am especially struck by her effective responses. I need to internalize them. The one I am very much looking forward to is the last:

They’re taking credit for your idea? By all means let them; your goal is the change. Credit is a low-cost reinforcer and people who want it don’t satiate. Give it away in buckets.

I can’t wait until that day. So far, I don’t see it, but I welcome it!The process of change is hard.

For my reference, here is Karen Pryor’s complete list of effective reactions:

  1. When they ignore you, find allies and persist.
  2. Don’t be misled by lip service. Find allies and persist.
  3. Meet resistance with persistence. Move around the resistance; try other avenues.
  4. The stage of open attack is a touchy time. People can get fired, for example. Keep your head down, but persist. Don’t take the attack personally, even if it is a personal attack. Attack is information; it tells you:
    a) You’re getting somewhere: change IS happening, causing extinction-induced aggression.
    b) Your attacker is frightened. Empathize.
    c) Your attacker still believes in the efficacy of aversives.
  5. Absorbing and utilizing: this stage can last a year or more. Maintain generous schedules of reinforcement.
  6. They’re taking credit for your idea? By all means let them; your goal is the change. Credit is a low-cost reinforcer and people who want it don’t satiate. Give it away in buckets.
  7. Are they pitching the change? Good. If you want to change something else, you now have new allies.

– With credit to the Minnesota Council for the Gifted & Talented, where I first saw the story, and to MinnPost, Nov. 13, 2012, for the reference to Karen Pryor’s blog.

It’s Not Just Me!

Wow – I’m not alone in my dislike for AP History courses. As I was doing some research to submit a proposal to an education technology conference, I ran across an interesting “Roundtable” on about AP history courses.

Seems even AP History teachers aren’t always fond of AP courses. Their reasons sound quite similar to mine:

  • too much content too fast
  • teaching to multiple choice tests doesn’t teach anything
  • survey course doesn’t allow deep, meaningful work
  • etc. There are many more good reasons.

As a professional historian, I find these broad survey courses to be worthless. Does a student need to have a general sense of history? Of course. Do they need to learn this much this quickly? No way.

I’d much rather see students learn to understand the present through the past. Select a current event. Find the relevant history that brought us to where we are today. Dig deep. Find primary sources that build an argument and explain a situation. Give me a History Day project over an AP test any day.

I will be bringing this up at a curriculum night at the school. I fear I will be hooted out of there for daring to question their precious AP classes. I just find it interesting that 5 of the 6 teachers presented in that roundtable dislike the AP classes.


One Vision

Stumbled across the news that my old stomping grounds school district is moving to a 1:1 iPad initiative in some grades. A little internet digging, and I found some impressive information about their program. They’ve really thought this through, they’ve articulated WHY the technology is being used, and what the learning outcomes will be.

  • My Way
    Basic information about the project
  • My Way Presentation
    PDF of what I assume is a presentation they use for parents, school board, etc.

A few quotes and thoughts from the presentation:

  • “Each student has access to digital curriciulum via essential personal mobile learning device.” (empahsis mine)
  • Strong emphasis on personalized learning:  “The paradigm shift to a personalized learning experience is the process of contouring learning to individuals, recognizing that individuals inherently have different strengths and weaknesses, interests and ways of learning.” – Sir Ken Robinson
  • “1 to 1 programs provide for digital access and learning opportunities regardless of socioeconomic status”
  • “Providing all students with 21st century skills and making education relevant to today’s world are critical to closing both the achievement gap and the global competition gap.” — Public Opinion Strategies and Peter D. Hart Research Associates (2007)
  • To be really effective, teachers need to use the technology to achieve things they could not do without it.” –Ruben R. Puentedura

Huh. Makes me even more frustrated with what I’m seeing on a daily basis from my kids’ schools, and with the pushback I get from the schools when I ask about this stuff.

Internet is like Electricity…

An article in today’s StarTribune discusses a battle over putting broadband into rural Lake County, Minnesota.

I don’t have the background on this story, but it seems to me that the business interests missed the boat on this one, thinking only of their bottom line. Now the county is saying it needs broadband to stay competitive – -just like happened when electricity went in — so they’re taking action. The county is stepping up to provide a service that has been deemed essential, especially in an area like the North Shore.

What isn’t mentioned in this article is that if businesses don’t have broadband, neither do the schools. That means students in the rural areas don’t even have the option of becoming better connected students, of taking advantage of the learning opportunities that having internet access to the world provides.

Rural students deserve better. Thanks, Lake County, for picking up where the businesses failed you.