Category Archives: Web 2.0

Transferring Facts v. Building the Future Together.

Over the last five years, I’ve really been wrestling to understand the changes that are needed to create the schools that our students deserve.  

For me, that wrestling started when I realized that it was becoming harder and harder to truly engage my students in the lessons that I was teaching.  Instead of being active participants in class — something that I’d never struggled with before — my kids were increasingly passive and disconnected from the work that we were doing.

Sure, they were still playing the “grade game” — turning in tasks that showed mastery of the standards.  But there was little to no real inspiration in their efforts.  It was clear that they saw school as something to be endured instead of enjoyed.

So I started thinking about the differences between ENGAGING and EMPOWERING learners.

The way I saw it, traditional schools stripped learners of any real agency — and learners without agency are uninspired.  What’s more, I want kids to leave school convinced that they can change the world around them for the better — to see themselves as people with both the capacity and responsibility to be a positive influence their communities.

That’s when I started tinkering with purpose-driven learning — the notion that kids are most motivated when they are wrestling with causes or issues or problems that are meaningful and purposeful beyond the classroom walls.  If I could use problems as an invitation to learn the required curriculum — an idea that Garfield Gini-Newman calls “problemitizing the curriculum” -I could meet the expectations outlined in the required curricula while simultaneously creating learning experiences that my kids really WOULD care about.

But I’ve always struggled to explain in clear and simple terms what this change in education should look like — and that’s kept my thinking from spreading widely beyond my own room.

It’s easy to SAY that empowerment trumps engagement and that purpose should stand at the center of the classroom learning experience, but what exactly does that MEAN?  How would learning experiences be restructured if that shift stood at the center of the work we did with kids.

That’s why I was jazzed to stumble across this Erik P.M. Vermeulen bit describing the expectations of millennial learners on Hackernoon in my stream this morning.

In it, Vermeulen writes:

“The world has really changed. Education has become less about the transfer of “fact”-based information/knowledge and much more about exploring and building the future together with the students.”

That’s SUCH a powerful statement, y’all.  Read it again.

And then ask yourself a simple question:  Are the bulk of your learning experiences about transferring facts or about exploring and building a better future together with your students?

Chances are that if you work in a traditional school, you’re still transferring facts.  And if so, chances are your kids are bored.

How do you fix that?

Constantly remember that transferring facts is a heck of a lot easier and more inspiring when it happens as a part of an attempt to explore and build a better future together.

Kids need purpose, too — and all too often, that purpose is missing from the work we do in schools.

#trudatchat

If you want to learn more about using causes as levers for learning, consider checking out Creating Purpose-Driven Learning Experiences — my latest book for Solution Tree Press.

——————

Related Radical Reads:

Should We Be Engaging or Empowering Learners?

How Engaged are YOUR Students?

Why Can’t THIS Be School?

 

 

Simple Truth: Your Attention Has Been Hijacked.

Here’s an interesting confession from a guy who has been a tech enthusiast for a long while:  I HATE smartphones. 

Like legitimately hate them.

My animosity towards them has been growing and growing over time.  It started when I caught myself laying in bed every night and opening Instagram to see whether anyone had liked the photos of my daughter that I used to share there regularly.

I’d anxiously wait for the number of new notifications to be updated — and often, I’d be upset that I didn’t get as many notifications as I wanted to.  I really felt ignored at times, trying to figure out why some people would have 60 or 70 or 80 likes on pictures of their kids and I’d have four.

Then, I’d start looking at the people in my network who had liked the pictures of OTHER people in my network.  I’d see that people I considered friends were actively liking content shared by each other, but they never seemed to like or favorite content shared by me.  “They are shunning me,” I’d think.

I’d even play games where I’d go in and like and favorite pictures with increasing regularity.  “Look, I’m here and I’m saying I like your content!” I’d think every time I’d drop a like or a comment on pictures of other people’s kids.  And then I’d wait to see if they’d reciprocate — reloading my stream tons of times each night to see if anyone had noticed me.

If they did, I’d go to bed relieved.  If they didn’t, I’d go to bed feeling sad.

How crazy is that?!

Only adding to my animosity towards phones has been the impact that they have had on the people around me. 

I’m a pretty social guy.  I love being with and around others and engaging in deep conversations with them.  But I started to notice that every time I was with other people in a physical location, there were fewer and fewer sustained conversations because people were CONSTANTLY checking their iPhones or their SMART Watches.

Heck — a few years back, I ponied up a bunch of cash and went to ISTE and couldn’t BELIEVE how little attendees actually interacted with the people they were sitting with.  At one point, I was taking a break in a seating area on a really comfortable couch.  There were ten other people in the same area.  None of them looked up from their devices a single time.

I see the same trends in my family life, too.  Our living rooms — places where we used to gather to connect and to laugh and to enjoy — have grown increasingly quiet as people pull out their phones and sift through their streams instead of invest in each other.

That pattern has strained the relationships that I have with people in my life who pull out their phones the most often.  I just don’t enjoy being around them anymore because I know they are going to turn away from me and turn towards their devices every time that we are together.  Seeing their phone out makes me resent them — and, given how frequently they keep doing it, I’m not sure they even care.

Here’s what’s REALLY evil:  The people who are designing social apps are TRYING to “hijack” your attention.

Need proof?  Check out the details in this article on the Guardian.

Did you know that app designers are attending $1,700 seminars on how to “manipulate people into the habitual use of their products”?  Does knowing that the person responsible for the next update of your app has probably studied the role that anticipation and craving and triggers play in the human mind — and are intentionally using that knowledge to develop features that take advantage of those inner needs and impulses.

And can you spot the built in features of the social apps that you use the most frequently that exploit your inner needs and impulses?

Here’s one:  The “drag to refresh” feature on so many of your favorite social services is intentional.  From a purely technical standpoint, you could see your new notifications immediately when you open an app, but by requiring a drag to refresh, app designers are manipulating your need for anticipation.  It’s like the feeling you get when you pull a handle on a slot machine.  You can’t wait to see what comes next — and because that anticipation is so strong, you are likely to KEEP dragging to refresh all day long.

Sometimes, you’ll be disappointed because you won’t have any new notifications.  That will cause angst.  You’ll work harder to create and to share content in those social spaces that people WILL like and share.

Other times, you’ll hit the jackpot.  A post will take off and you’ll see it shared and liked over and over again.  And every time that you drag to refresh, you’ll feel the rush that comes along with seeing dozens of new notifications.

Either way, you’ll keep coming back to your social service.

You’re a digital moth, y’all.  And drag to refresh is the flame.

#sheesh

Should we blame social services for trying to turn you into a habitual user?  

Of course not.  They are creating a product that they need to profit from.  If they didn’t think through how to best capture your attention, they wouldn’t be acting in their own interest.

But we should be aware of the fact that they ARE trying to manipulate your attention — and their goals have nothing to do with helping you to be a more complete person.

So what are the solutions?

Here are mine:

(1). You’ll never see me checking any social apps on my phone while we are together:  That’s a promise I made a few years back to the people in my lives.  I may pull my phone out to check the time or answer a call from my kid — but even then, I’ll tell you what I’m doing so that you know that you are more important to me than any social stream that I may be swimming in.  We owe that to each other.

(2).  I’m uninstalling MOST social apps from my phone:  The challenge with social apps is that we use them most frequently while we are on our phones.  Here’s why that’s a problem:  Our phones are almost always with us.

Hanging out on the couch with your partner and/or your kids at the end of a long day?  You probably have your phone with you, too.  Sitting at Thanksgiving dinner with relatives you haven’t seen in six months?  You probably have your phone with you, too.  Visiting with friends who you value at a local brewery?  You probably have your phone with you, too.

So the times when you should be the MOST present are also the times when you have a device full of services that are trying to pull you away.  And given that it’s difficult to resist the tricks being used to manipulate you into using those services, you are far more likely to allow your attention to be hijacked — and by default, to turn away from the people who you are physically present with.

But if there aren’t any social apps on your phone, that social interruption can’t happen. Better yet, over time you will rethink your relationship with your device.  You won’t see it as a tool that feeds your need for anticipation or craving or triggers. It will be easier to ignore if it isn’t the primary source of reward and anticipation and need and craving in your life anymore.

I’ll always keep Twitter on my phone.  That’s because it is a place where people reach out to me with questions about the professional work that I do.  But I don’t need Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Untappd on my phone anymore.  Those are purely social services to me — and in order to prioritize the social interactions that I have with the people around me, I’m going to intentionally turn away from having similar interactions with people on my my phone.

Does that mean I won’t use social services at all?

Nope.  It just means that I’ll have to dig my computer out to participate in those spaces — something I’m far less likely to do when I’m on the couch with my kid or at the bar with my friends.  I’ve got Twitter open right now in a tab on my browser — but I’m also sitting alone in the back of a Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery banging away at the keys on my computer.  If my attention is hijacked, it isn’t being stolen from people that I care the most about.

(3). I’m going to nudge the people in my life — my peers, my relatives, my students — to take the same actions.  I’m going to teach them about the manipulative design features in social services that are pulling them away from one another.  I’m going to encourage them to think through the consequences of divided attention — on their own happiness, on their relationships with other people, on their ability to learn.

I’m going to ask them to think about whether or not it is ethical for companies to design products that intentionally leverage human behaviors to steal their time and attention without being explicitly clear about their intentions.

These are conversations that we need to be having.  Otherwise, divided attention and intentional manipulation through app design become the new normal.

And I’m not OK with that.

Does any of this make sense to you?

______________________________

Related Radical Reads:

Banning Smartphones in Class May Be the BEST BYOD Policy

Are YOU Teaching Students about Attentional Blink?

I’m Going “Topless” in 2015

Do Your Technology Investments Advance Your Priorities?

Last week, a client that I have consulted with for almost a decade asked me a simple question:  With a TON of digital tools being embraced by teachers but a limited budget to pay for district-wide subscriptions, how could he be sure that he was making the right choices about which tools to invest in and which tools to walk away from.

That’s an essential question, isn’t it.  And probably one that you’ve had to wrestle with at some point in your professional career.

The truth is that there ARE a ton of great services being developed for the educational marketplace.  But it is equally true that we DO have limited budgets.  We simply can’t invest district resources into every single tool that teachers believe in, no matter how valuable those tools seem.

The good news is that identifying the right tools to invest in is actually pretty darn easy.  

In fact, the best decisions around technology investments can be made by working through three simple steps:

Step One:  Clearly define the core teaching and learning behaviors that you want to see happening in your classrooms.

The way I see it, school leaders have two primary responsibilities.  First, you must create a clear and compelling vision of general terms like “effective instruction” and “meaningful teaching and learning spaces.”

I ought to be able to ask you to describe what an ideal classroom would look like in action and you ought to be able to give me specific descriptions.  What would teachers be doing in those classrooms?  What would students be doing in those classrooms?  Why do those behaviors matter to OUR students and OUR communities at THIS point in time?  How would technology be used to support the core instructional and learning behaviors that you value the most?

Once you’ve developed a clear and compelling vision of the teaching and learning behaviors that you want to see happening in your classrooms, you need to communicate that vision consistently to everyone in your system.

If your principals and teachers have no real sense of what your “ideal classroom” looks like in action, they can’t take proactive steps to create those classrooms on a regular basis.  As my good friend Becky DuFour likes to say, clarity precedes competence.  You can’t expect meaningful change until people understand exactly what you mean by “meaningful change.”

Need some help developing a clear vision for what meaningful instruction should look like in your classrooms?  Here are some planning handouts that I use in workshops that I run:

Technology Vision Planning – A document that can help school/district leaders to carefully define a technology vision based on their community priorities.

Technology Vision Statements – A document that can help school/district leaders to develop a set of clear statements defining what effective technology integration would look like in their classrooms.

Technology Scenario –  An example of a scenario that a school/district might develop to communicate a vision of an ideal classroom in action.

Step Two:  Identify digital tools that can be used to support the core instructional/ learning behaviors that you believe in.

Finding digital tools in today’s educational marketplace isn’t the hard part.  A simple scroll through your Twitterstream will leave you buried in potential services to spend your money on.  And the fact of the matter is that, with rare exception, ALL of those tools and services can probably improve teaching and learning in SOME of your classrooms.

That’s why you have to be deliberate about FIRST defining what your priorities are and THEN identifying specific services that advance those priorities.

Don’t over-complicate this.  Start by creating sets of simple If, Then, Because statements detailing the reasoning behind each individual choice that you are thinking about making.  Here are a few examples:

If we believe that teachers should be providing instruction that is carefully targeted to the individual needs of students, then we would invest in MasteryConnect because it automatically tracks and reports progress on classroom assessments by student and by standard.

If we believe that professional learning teams are the most powerful change strategy in a school, then we would invest in Global PD because it provides comprehensive resources that support learning teams at each individual step of the collaborative process.

If we believe that intervention efforts in our multi-tiered system of student supports should begin in the regular classroom, then we would invest in Brainpop because it allows for quick initial reteaching and retesting of core concepts without requiring a ton of additional planning on the part of the classroom teacher.

If we believe that students must begin to accept ownership over tracking their own progress towards mastering important outcomes, then we would invest in SeeSaw because it allows students of all ages to begin building digital portfolios of artifacts that can serve as evidence of their learning.

Once you’ve developed your initial If, Then, Because statements, have teams of teachers and school leaders challenge the service that you’ve linked to in the “then” portion of your statement.  Are the services that you’ve identified capable of supporting the core behaviors that you say that you believe in?  Are there other services that do a better job supporting the core behaviors that you believe in?

For some extra fun, try to write If, Then Because statements for the services that you ALREADY invest in.  You might just find that you are spending money on services that do nothing to support your vision of what good teaching and learning should look like in action.  The fact of the matter is if you struggle to write an If, Then, Because statement for a service that you are spending money on, you are probably wasting your cash.

Step Three:  ALWAYS compare the per pupil price of services that you are considering to the money that you are spending on other school products.

Whenever I make technology presentations, I nudge school leaders to invest in the paid versions of the services that they believe in.  That often feels counter-intuitive to my audiences, who have grown up in a digital age where we expect every digital product that we use to be free.  That also feels impossible, given that a school or district-wide subscription to any service can cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

But there’s good reason to invest in the paid version of services.  Perhaps most obviously, the paid version of services often include additional features that have real value.  Often, those features facilitate collaboration between teams of teachers, communication with parents, or tracking of progress at the school and/or district level.

Perhaps most importantly, purchasing the paid version of services can help to ensure that the services you are investing in will be around for the long haul.  The simple truth is that digital services are for profit companies that are trying to make ends meet.  If we want them to help us meet long term district goals, we have to count on them being a part of our instructional/ learning practices for a long while.  Purchasing the service helps to make that possible.

So how do you justify laying out anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000+ for a subscription to a digital service?

Start by figuring out the per pupil cost.  Chances are that those costs will fall into a range somewhere between $3 and $7 per kid.  Then, ask yourself how that $3 to $7 per kid compares to other things that schools spend money on.

Is that more or less than your students spend on school spirit wear?  Is it more or less than your students spend on their student planner/agenda for the year?  Is it more or less than your students spend on their field trip to the zoo?  Is it more or less than your students spend on their fall festival or their field day at the end of the year?  Is it more or less than your students spend on admission to a school athletic event or dance?

How does that $3-$7 per kid compare to the cost of the staff polo shirts that your school buys every year?  How does it compare to the cost of the motivational posters that you have hanging up in your building’s hallways every year?  How does it compare to the cost of the meals that you purchase for your faculties for professional development days?

What you are likely to find is that the services that you need to support the instructional / learning behaviors that you say that you believe in don’t cost a heck of a lot when you compare them to the cost of other things that you are already spending your money on.

If that’s true, start advertising that to everyone in your school community.

Ask teachers if they are willing to forgo faculty polo shirts and staff meals on professional development days in order to invest in services that can help to change instruction and learning in your building.  Ask parents if they are willing to sponsor a subscription to a service instead of purchasing a team t-shirt.  Ask the PTA if they would consider rolling their yearly fundraiser proceeds into a subscription to a service instead of a campus beautification project or an end of the year gift from the graduating class.

The fact of the matter is that until schools are fully funded by our state legislatures, our primary goal should be to prioritize our spending on things that can make high quality teaching and learning more effective and efficient.

We don’t always do that.

Does any of this make sense to you?

Essentially, I’m arguing that schools and districts need to start putting their money where their mouths are when it comes to technology spending.  In the words of Richard Elmore, for every new increment of performance that you demand from classroom teachers, you have an equal obligation to provide the time, the tools and the training necessary to meet those new expectations.

That’s impossible when we aren’t making deliberate choices about the digital tools and services that we are purchasing.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Does Your School Have Technology Vision Statements?

Is Your School Wasting Money on Technology?

Note to Principals:  STOP Spending Money on Technology

 

“Glorified Notebooks with Onboard Cameras.”

One of my favorite Radical Readers is Bob Schuetz.  Bob regularly pushes my thinking by leaving provocative comments, and that’s something I really, really dig.

A few weeks back, Bob left a comment arguing that all too often, classroom technology — iPads, Chromebooks, BYOD devices — become nothing more than “glorified notebooks with onboard cameras.”

(click here to view original image and credits on Flickr)

Slide - Glorified Notebooks

That thinking is rolling around in my mind today.  Here’s why:  Outside of the purpose driven learning work that I do during our schoolwide enrichment period, most of the technology work being done in my classroom probably fits into “glorified notebook” status.

My kids take pictures of notes that I write on the board and store those pictures in dedicated folders in their Google Drives.  I hand out and collect digital versions of handouts using Google Classroom.  Videos and still shots of lab experiences are captured and incorporated into final products, replacing the hand-drawn observations that students used to complete in required lab reports.

And while those uses have made life infinitely easier for both me and my students, there’s nothing revolutionary there.

A part of me feels a sense of shame about that.  I’m a pretty progressive teacher who has been experimenting with technology in teaching and learning for almost 15 years.  Why the heck haven’t I figured out something better, right?  How can I be progressive while simultaneously creating learning experiences that are nothing more than digital versions of the same tasks my students were completing a decade ago?

But a part of me wants to remind everyone that nothing has changed about the curriculum that I’m being asked to teach or the outcomes that I’m being held accountable for.

My state standards are still massive, covering more content in one year than is truly reasonable.  Worse yet, the end of grade exam that I am required to give is nothing more than 35 fact-driven multiple choice questions covering isolated details from that massive set of state standards.  Finally, our end of grade exam carries incredibly high stakes:  Student results become a significant part of my annual evaluation.

All of those realities influence the choices that I make as an instructor, y’all.

Of course I’m going to have my kids keep a detailed digital notebook.  Collecting evidence and information (read: completing fill in the blank handouts that are organized by unit and never lost because they are automatically stored in Google Drive) is essential in our state.  Students need something to study from for the end of grade exam.

And there’s no way I’m going to find the time and space for self-direction and investigation in my room.  Self-direction and investigation take time that I don’t have.  Getting through everything that is required is already darn near impossible — and getting through everything that is required becomes a priority when you are held accountable for nothing more than the number of isolated facts that your kids can remember at the end of the year.

So I get it.  Schools really DO need to change.  And technology really CAN help us to transform learning experiences.  

But let’s not pretend that teachers can drive that change in spite of their required curriculum.  Our classrooms and our learning experiences are a reflection of the expectations set by our state standards and end of grade exams.  Until THOSE change, our classrooms are going to look a lot like they always have.

#truth

____________________

Related Radical Reads:

Lessons Learned from an Amazing Group of Student Bloggers

Why Can’t This Be School?

Blaming and Shaming Teachers for Low Level #edtech Practices

 

 

Grades AREN’T Motivating.

Check out this tweet that landed in my Twitterstream, y’all:

Brett’s right, isn’t he?  

We SHOULD barf every time someone makes the argument that without grades, students can’t be motivated to tackle meaningful tasks.

More importantly, we should stop using grades to sucker kids into completing assignments in our classrooms:

 

Slide - If It's Not Graded

(click here to view original image on Flickr)

So how SHOULD we motivate learners?  

Easy:  By rethinking the kinds of work that we are asking them to do.  Any task that is worth doing should be relevant and interesting.  Learners should be hooked by our assignments and should be convinced that every task will strengthen their knowledge and skills in important areas.

Any task that is worth doing should also be challenging.  Create assignments that are too easy — or that seem completely impossible — and learners tune out.  But create assignments that require kids to stretch just outside of their comfort zones, and they will invest completely in the work.

Finally, any task that is worth doing should help students to drive meaningful change beyond the walls of their classrooms.  The simple truth is that today’s students want to be influential.  They aren’t satisfied with work that has no clear purpose beyond filling their report cards.  But if you can show your kids that the questions they are asking and lessons that they are learning can improve their families, communities or countries, and they’ll tackle anything.

Now don’t get me wrong:  You CAN use grades to try to influence the kids in your classroom — and most will probably respond.

The vast majority of our students still want to earn passing marks.  And they still feel pressure from their parents and their teachers to score highly on classroom assignments.  After all, they’ve been buried in messages like “you’ll never get into college with those grades” and “for every A that you make, I’ll give you $20 bucks” and “make anything less than a C and you will lose your phone for a whole quarter” for most of their lives.

But don’t mistake those reactions with motivation.  

If anything, what you are seeing when students put effort into assignments simply because they are being graded is compliance.  Motivation begins when our classrooms become places where interesting, relevant, challenging, and powerful tasks become the norm rather than the exception to the rule.

#trudatchat


Related Radical Reads:

Celebrate Your TEACHING Geeks, not your TECH Geeks

Are Kids REALLY Motivated by Technology?

Are YOUR Students Doing Work that Matters?