Archive for category Evolution

TEDxAAS – My first one…

The students in charge of this did a fabulous job!!

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ECIS Panel Discussion – April, 2012

Initial thoughts:


The initial question posited to the conference panel that I’ve been asked to address:

Information Technology in school – Does it improve  learning?

Gathered some resources to begin to address this question and related topics:

The key issue associated with answering the question revolves first around how you define improving learning.  The learning targets that are currently accepted often revolve around norm referenced test scores because of our reliance on these measures to show growth or performance against a larger data set.  There is some validity to this because of the large data set available after decades of using these measures and the large body of experience with these measures.

However, these kinds of measures are ill prepared to measure 21st century skills.  They effectively measure math, reading, writing, and core knowledge competency, but they do little to measure attitudes, intellectual processing skills, and skills revolving around independence, collaboration, and innovation.  We have scores of examples of students who are truly gifted as leaders and complex thinkers that routinely scored below average on the accepted measures.

So, if you are asking me whether information technology improves learning, I would have to answer “No”.

There is no clear empirical evidence that information technology as an independent variable has a correlation to improved student learning as a dependent variable in the traditional, measured definition of the term.

I would suggest that addressing this question from a quantitative point of view is faulty at the outset.  This is the same logic that has led to American ignorance of the impact of poverty on education and learning.  We’ve spent more than a decade comparing our results to international measures only to ignore how poverty has impacted our bottom line.  A recent AASA blog entry highlights the fallacy of the standards movement to address educational reform while ignoring this poverty gap between the countries (e.g. Finland with 4% in poverty vs. U.S. at 21%).  Quantitative measures are insufficient in addressing complex issues.

Logic confirms that If we want to address what technology enables, we need different goals for education.  In the truest tradition of backward design, it begins with this question:

What world are we preparing kids to live in?

Addressing that question and looking at essential skills for a 21st century world is where we truly should be focused.  In regards to this question, the next logical qualified questions is:

Does the use of information technology in schools prepare kids for a technology rich world we can scarcely describe in the current moment?

Then the answer would be a resounding and passionate — YES!!  Now let’s design and build measures for addressing skills that emerge from this backward design and use measures that are meant to really test whether students are developing 21st century skills.  Let’s get beyond the issue of technology as an entity and look at how we create technology rich environments that eminently prepare students for the world of their future.


Hattie research:

and one recently reported danger from CNET:


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The Future…

I know this is just a gadget on one hand, but for those with a science fiction come reality sort of mind, what are the implications of this?  Are we preparing kids for a world with stuff like this?  I mean really – Do the classrooms of today bear any resemblance to the technology they will live with after graduation?  Really???!?!?!?

This changes everything…

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Musical Farewell to Mount Cross Lutheran

Mount Cross Lutheran –

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Parents – Time to Select Your Child’s Hardware

Schools are increasingly struggling with decisions on how to support the growing trends in technology adoption in a fast paced and constantly changing technology rich world. The number of schools moving toward greater access to technology is growing with exponential magnitude. The challenge is the cost associated with these adoptions and further compounded by the increasing pace of obsolescence. Often, we are buying equipment that has a usable lifespan of far less than three years making traditional depreciation schedules useless.

But, first we need to begin with the rationale for including technology in the learning process. Even after two decades of study, there is limited empirical support for academic achievement through implementation of technology alone. There are benefits that emerge from the use of technology, but the tools we currently use to measure educational progress are unlikely to capture the nuances of how technology helps us to achieve those goals.

We have to start with a different perspective on the function of education to understand the “why technology?” question. In our look at curriculum and instruction, we often take time to ask another critical question — “What do children need to know and be able to do to be successful after schooling?” In the time of Sputnik we shifted our educational focus to include science and math in order to generate a work force that could challenge emerging Russian competence in the race to outer space. We have more recently shifted focus to develop skills in collaboration and communication because corporate leaders suggest that graduates join the workforce woefully unprepared for a fast-paced and competitive global environments that require teamwork and flexible ongoing skill development. We shift curriculum to include more phonics when basic reading scores show a decline and we return to a whole language approach when motivation, comprehension, and fluency lag. This tipping back and forth on agendas has often been described as a swinging pendulum and it serves as the primary source of teacher frustration.

With technology we confront a sustained trend that is more profound than these cyclical curricular iterations of the past. Can we legitimately argue that the concept of integrated technology is a fad? Can we continue to posit that a productive and intelligent life can emerge in an environment bereft of technological tools in the current age?

With each iteration of innovation, technology becomes increasingly embedded and ubiquitous in daily life. Along with that trend, the challenges of adequately preparing students to live in a technologically enhanced world increases at an ever quickened pace. More than any other curricular challenge of recent memory, this trend is poised to leave us with a growing split between those who can and those who cannot – a digital divide that will become the new yardstick of competence.

Schools have to recognize that there, in fact, technology is becoming embedded in schools despite their lack of responsiveness. Students bring technology to school in increasing numbers and this technology is a demonstration of how the trend has created a ubiquitousness without intervention. In light of this, it seems prudent that school consider a different approach to technology integration.

It’s time for schools to let go of control methodologies that are founding in outdated frameworks. Authoritarian control over choice is a throwback to an over-structured approach to teaching that has been proven ineffective. Instead, schools should welcome technology with open arms and — and this is important — students should bring it, not unlike the annual selection of the latest binder or pencil on the Fall supply lists. The recent BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) initiatives are an initial realization that schools can divest themselves of responsibility for user hardware and instead focus their energies on infrastructure and backbone to a technologically capable learning environment. The same should be expected of teachers and administrators.

I suggest that the time has passed where schools should expend capital on narrowing options for achievement with discussions of operating systems and minimum configurations. It’s time for schools to create an open and welcome environment enriched by cloud based applications that removes the need for Microsoft or Linux allegiances. Even the Horizon 2011 report finds this to be the most critical trend in the next few years and repeated again after first introduced in 2010.

The bottom line for parents – pick your child’s computer and then demand that schools allow that computer to accompany the child. By becoming an advocate for this paradigm, you support a move to a future-focused education that is more likely to prepare your child for the reality we all have to admit is on the near horizon.

The bottom line for teachers and administrators – build your own self-efficacy in regards to technology in order to assure your competence in guiding effective integration. If you don’t own and regularly update your personal technology, you should. If you don’t embrace the use of technology as a core skill for the future, you must.

Don’t delay! With the pace of change, we dare not pause and watch more ground lost for the sake of mindless caution and a stoic grip on entrenched and unenlightened attitudes.

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Leadership and Learning

Jay McTighe, one of the gurus behind Understanding by Design, has posted this video on his recent encounter with failure.  It speaks to the issue of leaders who are often marked by age that is associated with their experience. Even Jay is showing his age despite the fact that he is only 7 years my senior. (This fact caused me to go peak in my mirror.  Yikes!)

At the AAIE conference, this was apparent as I looked across a “wise” crowd of international school leaders.  The focus of the weekend was technology and the overall content of the conference fell short of accessing the robust technology available today.  That doesn’t mean it was a bad conference – just bereft of the tools we were discussing.  I would suggest that it drove home the point of the separation between digital natives, digital immigrants, and digital dinosaurs.  While Jay is talking mostly about learning (and learners), I’m suggesting that his insights also provide a unique focus on leaders who are desperate to remain open to innovation, but are challenged by their own fear of failure when addressing a complex and constantly changing context.

Marc Prensky helped us to understand through his keynote that our issue is about the difference between nouns and verbs.  We need to be less focused on the nouns which constitute the latest fads of technology tools (e.g. – Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc.) and focus instead on the skills (verbs) of the 21st century.  While we need to embrace the nouns as they emerge and are adopted, the process skills of problem solving, collaboration, and communication remain static and highly adaptive to the new context.  A powerful connection when considering Jay’s insight into how we address our fear of failure.  As Jay notes:

  • Don’t give in to negative self-talk
  • Don’t let an initial failure keep you from trying again
  • Be strategic – practice, details, visualize success

Surfing at 60 is possible for even our most experienced leaders.  And I’m not talking about the ocean kind of surfing.

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Holiday Letter 2010

It’s that special time between Christmas and New Year where we take stock of the year now past and look forward to the year ahead.  Here’s our letter that was sent to family and friends today:

Christmas Letter 2010

Enjoy and share…


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Simplicity is our enemy…

A couple of issues are nagging on me and, as I watched an old TED video by Dan Meyer, some thoughts formed on why we are struggling with change and reform in schools (or anywhere for that matter).  Dan quoted David Milch with the following when reflecting on the ills of a sit-com society:

It [television] creates an impatience … with irresolution….

We can see examples of this in every aspect of life.  We see it in politics and government.  We see it in advertisement and product delivery.  Certainly, in computers and technology, we have examples of this modality where immediate gratification drives our interest and decision making.

In fact, a recent parent conference confirmed my ongoing frustration with this simple solution mentality.  My son, who is generally a capable student, made a mistake on a recent test.  In one section of the test, he failed to read a direction that required students answering false in a true/false section to also correct the statement to make it true.  Like many of his classmates, he failed to follow this subtle direction and, thus, an “A/B” grade became a “D.”  At the conference held to discuss this issue, it also turned out that this was an object lesson in “following directions” and the teachers actually expected many of the students to mess up.  As luck would have it, the principal sat in on our conference and reiterated the school’s belief that this was a fair judgment of what my child was “taught.”  After all, “we have to teach kids that there are consequences in life and you don’t always get second chances.”

After holding my breath for a few moments, I simply asked for assessments that actually measured what my child knows and can do.  The response was, “we are not doing standards based grading, so we can’t do that.”  Interesting for a district that cites Stiggins on their website as a key reference and has pride in a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.”

So here is where simplicity fits into this discussion:

  1. We like the simplicity of object lessons, because it means we don’t have to monitor students as they work to assure success.
  2. We like the simplicity of quick and easy solutions because we can stand stoically behind them as ingeniously logical and sustainable despite the mythology upon which they are based.
  3. We like standardized tests and common core curriculum because we don’t have to be accountable for the hard work or results associated with our own professional expertise.  Instead, we can just implement and follow instructional guides with little thought to adaptation or unique insight.
  4. We like the political election cycle because we can regularly blame whoever is in power and vote them out only to find similar reaction to those elected in the next cycle — and on and on and on….
  5. We like to eliminate technology and leading edge curriculum from schools because they are far too complex to allow in a simple solution environment — and we might have to struggle a bit to get it right.
  6. We like making parents sign forms (with a witness signature) for every image that may accidentally be displayed on a school website (if there were any school website pages actually updated regularly) because we like the simplicity of signatures and absolving ourselves of responsibility.
  7. We like the simplicity of spending oodles of money contemplating geo-engineering to fix our planet in the future rather than conserving resources today – it’s simple and I don’t have to deal with it.

You get the picture?  We have allowed simplicity to guide our thinking to the point of seeking the 30-minute solution to all our problems.  We elected a president to a 4-year term of tough change only to be abandoning his efforts halfway through our commitment. We look for simple and quick solutions around every corner.  An economic meltdown should be solved in a fortnight.  Somebody please wave the wand and make 10% unemployment turn into 5% by morning.  Elect me and I can make that happen.  Right!?!?!?!?

Politics, education, and life are complex matters.  Get used to it.  Turn off the TV, read a book (I dare you), write frequent letters to your elected representatives, and realize that the world still turns at roughly the same velocity as it did decades and centuries ago.  Give our kids a break and let them explore the wonders of the universe rather than just mastering the drudgery of sanitized benchmarks.  Open their minds instead of hardening their hearts. Please?!

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Changing Paradigms and Getting It Right…

This explanatory video discusses ADHD and a variety of topics, but more importantly, it’s a valuable call to action against a different perspective on the needed reforms that should be taking place around the world. While I value that he has only touched on a few key topics, the references to globalization are critical to understand the complex dynamics in play. We dare not ignore the insidiously embedded nature of predispositions that have been layered upon us. Schools have effectively trained themselves into complacency and conformity over decades. Any change effort is fraught with challenge and acrimony when it confronts these well established myths of how learning should take place.

My take on the key points:

  1. We must attack this issue globally.
  2. We must dispel the grouping and packing of students. Remove the assembly line mentality to achieve the greatest gains.
  3. We have to abandon all attempts to create a perfect system to meet all needs. While I value that the business leaders want these systems to control costs, the reality is we need to spend less on obsolete materials and methods and move these resources to meeting the needs of the moment. Let’s capture the uniqueness of individuals and build responsive systems that are messy and less defined – let collaboration emerge as our primary response mechanism. (BTW – this will get rid of the teachers who want to plan really well in their first year and then repeat it 29 times until they retire.)
  4. Let’s focus our energies on truly accepting and understanding the concept of motivation and stop our practice of brainwashing children to accept carrot & stick as a way of life.

I’m sure there is more here that others would think worthy of equal emphasis. What do you think?

One reflection: Have you noticed how the successful “pockets” of innovation seem to first isolate themselves from interaction before they go public with their achievements? Look at the Harlem Children’s Zone as an example. The work there was isolated and tied to one innovator. He sold it selectively and built it as a distinct departure from the paradigms. After it achieved success, he trumpeted it and reigned in the additional resources to meet the needs of each successive generation. We see many of these “pockets of excellence” emerging everywhere. I say, let the diversity reign and let’s allow these pockets to multiply geometrically and meet the needs of the next generation of learners. Competition is dead. Long live divine inspiration and dedicated, purpose-driven organizations!!

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These two look nice next to each other, don’t you think?

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The next age of learning and leading…

Alan November has put up a new video that captures effectively the nuances of moving beyond current educational paradigms. The recent release of the “new” NCLB, the responses from AASA, and the Common Core Standards development are all symptoms of a system plagued by mediocrity and standardization – the antithesis of creativity and innovation. We can’t continue to churn out a homogenized curriculum under the dishonest banner of “guaranteed” curriculum. It’s not only dishonest, but grossly limiting to what we might otherwise accomplish.

Myths and Opportunities: Technology in the Classroom by Alan November from Brian Mull on Vimeo.

Read more:

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Apple iPad and Learning

Nice video from Kevin Honeycutt on the possibilities…

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Which path to take…

Two Million Minutes

A debate continued to brew regarding the general focus of education and how to reconcile the differences between schools in three distinct cultures and two significantly different dichotomies.  It’s western vs. eastern philosophy about eduction and the case is being used to both deride American education and highlight the realities behind the 21st century brain drain that is emerging in the United states.  Robert Compton says we should fear India and China.  Michigan State Professor Yong Zhao says “Wait one minute.”  So what now?  Where do we begin to reconcile this and what next in the debate?  These two points of view will generate the next decade of debate while schools languish in static complacency with teachers feeling more confused and disheartened than at any time in history.  Where do we turn for leadership in an environment where we are still debating Nation At Risk 25 years later?

Robert Compton Makes His Pitch

Yong Zhao’s Response

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In reflection on Jeffrey Canada…

After discussing the Harlem Children’s Zone…

What would you rather have, a blanket of mediocrity, or a quilt of excellence?

This American Life Podcast – Interview of Jeffrey Canada

Baby College – where it really starts.

Bringing the best of understanding childhood to the parents of Harlem.

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Response to the Evolution Debate: Memes

Susan Blackmore uncovers a new concept about the development of thought and ideas as she characterizes them as similar to viruses of thought.  She extends on this core thinking and presents a new concept:

"Temes" = technology generated memes.


So, here is conjecture about the concepts and their application to education and administration:

1.  Static and unresponsive curriculum is the antithesis of memes/temes.  We saw an example of this in an ASCD article about the absence of quality material representing Asian and Middle Eastern cultures in our textbooks according to a recent study.

2.  Instructional practices that focus on product without attention to process are grossly disconnected from memes/temes.  While the expression is to be considered important, there is an essential attention that needs to be driven to the process of how memes – conscious and unconscious – develop in the brains of children inside and outside of the traditional classroom.

3.  Technology, especially, is likely emerging as the primary method for developing conceptual processes that are self-generating and "infectious".  Consider examples like Digg, Facebook, and the like.  With this understanding we change from a focus on intelligence to a focus on Susan’s concept of replications.

So, in response to the evolution argument elsewhere in this blog, it’s not about evolution in the Darwinian sense, but is instead about the iteration of replicators that we are currently engaging.  Digital natives are at a higher generation of teme replicator than the immigrant generations before them.

So, the question for all of us in the administrative world is guessing at the temes that will "survive."  Ultimately, these "temes" will best prepare our students for the concepts they must "inherit" in order to lead a productive and successful life.  How we spend our educational dollars to support this process is an essential discussion.  While we resist trend temptation and early adoption, it is this kind of consideration that is, in fact, critical to replication in a fast paced information oriented world.  Can we avoid it when kids are plugged into this at home – or more accurately when they are away from both home and school either physically or virtually?

I don’t think so.

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With the Mind in Mind…Evolution

I won’t pretend to be a lead scholar on this topic and will, where appropriate, link you to the authors that are leading thinkers in this area.  The premise reads like this:

At a recent conference on technology tools for educational use, the statement was made that we “must come to grips with the evolution of the human brain.”  This stirred some controversy in the crowd to say the least.  How can you call this evolution?  What about the studies that point out how the brain can’t handle multi-tasking without giving up long term memory?  What about ….?  Haven’t you gone too far with this…..?”   etc. etc. etc.

So I consulted my handy search engine and found a couple of links to share and will conclude with  my thoughts.

First, from one of the leading theorists of brain research, I lead with the work of Dr. William Calvin and his book A Brief History of the Mind.  His concepts of how the brain has developed over time are interesting and although he lays out a belief that the brain has some catching up to do with regards to biological evolution, he has laid a framework for the next wave of brain “evolution” that is likely now that we have generally gotten ahead of ourselves.

Speaking of frameworks, no discussion of the brain can happen if you haven’t watched the TED video of the speech by Jeff Hawkins – Brain science is about to fundamentally change computing.  Jeff postulates that current theories of brain science lack a framework and, thus, we really know very little about the brain and it’s adaptability – but we are about to see a significant shift in our understanding because of his recent work in this area.

So, the question remains – Is the brain evolving as we get smarter and understand more and more about our world and everything around us?  I can’t answer that question, but I can’t help but look at history and conclude that it seems that the brain is always catching up with our own creativity.  Similar to the classroom, we have people that reach across a spectrum of brain “capability” and those that are at the front of the line are creating a world of increasing complexity.  If we accept the Darwinian concept of “survival of the fittest,” we must accept that these leading thinkers will propel us down a path of increasing brain capability.

The educational connection here is not about whether or not the brain is actually evolving.  I think it is a forgone conclusion that the brain will continue to develop and pass on genetic enhancements over long spans of time.  The real question is how to deal with the growing changes in the world and how to best prepare children to live in this world where brain capacity will determine survival.  If we can’t accept that the mind is changing – and likely faster than other biological aspects of the human species – then aren’t we doomed to delivering another unprepared generation onto society?

Even if we can’t agree on evolution (and don’t get me started on the creationist debates at the root of this), can we at least agree that the challenge of education is the preparation for what is clearly on the horizon rather than what we remember?

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