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Live blogging Oskaloosa High School’s experiences at the FIRST Championships

For the next few days I am turning over my blog to a high school student!

Molly Bleything is a student at Oskaloosa High School here in Iowa. Her after-school robotics team, the Sock Monkeys, was one of three from the state to make it to the national FIRST Championships this week. Molly will be sharing her team’s experiences in St. Louis.

Here are a couple of videos chronicling the Sock Monkey’s early successes:

And here is a short article that Molly wrote a few days ago:

Hey guys! We are Team 4443: The Sock Monkeys. We are from Oskaloosa, Iowa and we are part of the robotics club at our high school. The other part of the club is Team 3608: The Ninjaneers. The Sock Monkeys team consists of sophomores (10th graders) and older. The Ninjaneers consist of freshman (9th graders) and younger. We do not have an official team sponsor. What makes our team unique is the different ideas, logic, and people that are on it and contribute to it. All of us see things differently, so the amount of opinions/ideas is massive! A big challenge that we had to overcome is our scoop design. At competitions, one of our tables in the pit has all of the scoop designs we’ve used throughout this season. The team has changed the design three or fours times since we made the first design out of cardboard. The continuous improvement is awesome and we are now done re-making it. It’s painted blue – like our shirts – and ready to go for competition.

We as a team have done several unique things. For starters, one of our present seniors and a 2013 high school graduate made a Rubik’s cube solver over the summer. And yes – it does actually solve the cube. We have also made a balancing “segway” robot. It balances and keeps itself upright by driving forward and backwards in tiny amounts. Often times during competitions, you can find the guys in the pits putting stuff on top of the NXT to show how much it can actually hold and stay upright. It brings a lot of attention and people often get a good laugh out of it! None of our team members have had any serious injuries during the robotics season. At least, none that have happened that involve robotics. At the end of the day, we are pretty regular nerds.

One story about our team this season…I have a great one! At the 2nd qualifier (for us, it was in Ottumwa IA), we were not supposed to continue on to state. After a lot of emails, a written letter, and the coach having a conversation with us, we were offered the opportunity to go and compete at state. All of us were really surprised and happy. To be honest, no one was expecting to get anything out of state, or to be one of the greats, but during alliance selections, we were picked.

All of us started clapping, cheering, and we were really excited. After what seemed like thousands of matches, we had won state by alliance! Afterwards, we got back and everything was crazy for a while. We had a lot of meetings, where a LOT of to-do lists were made and we set a lot of goals for ourselves. A big concern was money and how we were going to be able to pay for the trip to state. So, the Sock Monkeys hosted a bake sale during parent teacher conferences. The bake sale went over really well and with that money, and the money that was donated to us through free will donations and other various ways, we were finally ready to go.

Super Regionals arrived. The team had figured as a whole that we weren’t going to come back home with anything to brag about… but while we didn’t win any trophies, we came home with an invitation to the World Championship. Although all of us were really excited and happy, Super Regionals was a reality check for us. At Super Regionals we made it to the semi-finals and right before lunch break, we competed in a match. During the match, a rule was broken. The team that we played with and the third team in our finalist alliance stood in the question box. After lunch break and a twenty minute delay, we were granted a rematch. Sadly, we lost the rematch, but this time we lost fair and square. Super Regionals was a great experience for us.

We and another team had scored the highest at the event with a total of 389 points. We were six points away from beating the all-time world record! We (and another team) had also scored the highest in our division with a total of 353 points. We knew that we had done our best, fought for what was right, and enjoyed every second. We were prepared to go home that day. All of us had said good job to one another and to the other teams. Right before closing ceremonies started, they called out four team members to go down on the floor. Logan, Kazuki (both drivers), Collin (coach) and I ( ___) went to the floor.

Rebecca Whitaker was the one who made the announcement as to who was moving on and who wasn’t. She got up on the podium and started off by saying, “Twenty-five teams will be moving on today!” The crowd went wild and then Kazuki turned to us and whispered, “We have a chance.” The whole arena fell extremely quiet and, let me tell you, you could almost feel the intensity. I swear that you could’ve heard a pen drop. She had gotten to the twentieth team advancing and all of us were eager. I kept checking the stands to watch my teammates there. They were all so still. Then she said, “….team number 4443, The Sock Monkeys..” All of us screamed and went crazy! It was all absolutely amazing. Immediately afterwards, our teammates ran down the stairs and we all hugged and high-five’d one another.

We loaded up our gear and went home after that. We were greeted by family members, teachers, friends, reporters for the paper, and Mrs. Eveland. There was confetti, signs, laughs and lots of pictures. The picture above is the one that our local news system took. The dots all over us are pieces of confetti. Kazuki (our only senior this year) told a local news source that this was one of the best days of his life. Now, we are eight days away from the World Championship. Considering we weren’t even supposed to make it to state, I would say we are doing great! This is honestly one of my favorite stories to tell about this season and it gives me goose bumps writing it. I am so happy and so proud of all of us.

I hope that you will wish the team good fortune and will interact with Molly as she blogs here. Go Sock Monkeys!

Change agents and the hiring dilemma

For hire

Here’s a working hypothesis:

The organizations that most need change agents probably are the least likely to hire them because change agents typically make people with non-change orientations scared or nervous. If the people within were already oriented toward change and innovation, their organizations wouldn’t be the ones in the most need of change agents.

So a change- and innovation-oriented job candidate has a steep uphill battle to get considered and hired. The challenge is how to get people on hiring committees in non-change-oriented institutions to recognize the value of hiring for innovation, not replication…

Got any thoughts on this?

The best school technology leadership program in the country?

CASTLE Logo

Let’s see…

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.

Does the University of Kentucky have the best School Technology Leadership program in the country? I’m biased because I helped set it up but, yeah, I think it does…

60 apps in 60 seconds

[In honor of whatever educational technology conference you next attend...]

30 fantastic free apps for pre-readers! 38 of the best elementary learning apps for students! 40 iPad apps for science! 60 APPS IN 60 MINUTES!!!!

60 apps in 60 minutes? Pshaw! WAY too easy. I proudly present… 60 apps in 60 seconds!

How many sessions like these have we seen at educational technology conferences? (fess up: how many have we delivered?!) Teachers attend, they scribble notes madly, they ask for the slides afterward because “they missed some.” The long-term substantive impact of these spray-and-pray workshops on teachers’ day-to-day practice? Zero.

If we want people to start taking instructional technology seriously, we have to stop doing this to ourselves. How about one app – or perhaps a very small handful in combination – presented thoughtfully and deeply, with numerous applications to rich, robust student learning outcomes?

This presentation? I guarantee the same classroom results as all of our other firehose sessions…

Music credits: Rock 12, by dron

‘World-class’ teacher preparation

Shelley Krause

When I work with educators, I get asked on a regular basis, “What about the universities? What are they doing to prepare educators who can facilitate technology-infused learning environments that emphasize deeper cognitive complexity and greater student agency?” Unfortunately, I don’t have much to offer them.

I’m not up on all of the thousands of preparation programs that are out there but, as I think about the shifts that we need to see in schools (and the new building blocks that we need to put in place), at a minimum any teacher preparation program that wanted to label itself ‘world-class’ would be able to affirmatively say the following…

Our graduates know…

Project- and inquiry-based learning

  • how to operate in student-driven, not just teacher-created, project-oriented learning environments
  • how to facilitate inquiry-based activities like ‘passion projects’ or ‘FedEx days’ or ’20% time’ or ‘genius hour’
  • how to facilitate students’ development as creators, designers, innovators, and entrepreneurs
  • how to integrate communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills into these types of environments

Authentic, real-world work

  • how to organize student work around the big, important concepts central to their discipline
  • how real work gets done by real professionals in that discipline (practices, processes, tools, and technologies)
  • how to find, create, and implement robust, authentic simulations for their subject area
  • how to facilitate and assess authentic performances by students

Standards-based grading and competency-based education

  • how to write and implement a ‘competency’
  • how to help students thrive in a standards-based grading environment
  • how to facilitate learning-teaching systems that focus on mastery rather than seat time (or other dumb criteria)

1:1 computing

  • how to manage and support ubiquitous technology-infused learning spaces
  • how to facilitate student success with digital tools, online systems, and social networks
  • how to help students create appropriate AND empowered ‘digital footprints’

Digital, online, and open access

  • how to leverage digital and online open educational resources to full advantage
  • how to meaningfully curate digital materials in their subject area
  • how to helpfully contribute to our online global information commons (and have students do the same)

Online communities of interest

  • how to utilize online networks and communities of practice to further their professional learning and growth
  • how to meaningfully connect students to relevant online communities of interest for academic and personal development

Adaptive learning systems

  • how to integrate adaptive learning software into students’ learning and assessment
  • how to utilize blended learning environments to individualize and personalize students’ learning experiences (time, place, path, pace)

I think most teacher preparation programs probably fall short of the mark on these, but a program that could say these things about its preservice teachers would be INCREDIBLE.

What do you think? What would you add to this list? More importantly, does anyone know of a teacher preparation program that’s doing well in some / many / most of these areas?

Three thoughts that are percolating in my head today

Think Think

Here are a few thoughts that are swirling around in my brain today…

  1. It’s hard for schools to teach kids how to make a dent in the universe when they’re focused so heavily on teaching compliance. It’s very difficult to reconcile ‘go out and change the world’ with ‘we’re going to tell you what to do and how to do it every minute of the day; just go along and don’t make trouble.’
  2. It’s hard for schools to teach kids how to make a dent in the universe when the majority of the people working in them don’t understand how most of the world-changing tools work.
  3. We’re afraid of an awful lot of stuff that never seems to actually happen.

Image credit: Think – Computer History Museum, Scott Loftesness

Universities are selling degrees, not skills and competencies

Andrew Barras says:

Universities aren’t selling skills and competencies, they are selling degrees. That creates a disconnect between them and their customers. The ones that resolve this disconnect are the ones that will survive the next 10 years.

via http://educationstormfront.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/an-example-of-how-degrees-matter-less

Responsible educational journalism

Leslie and David Rutkowski say:

simply reporting results, in daring headline fashion, without caution, without caveat, is a dangerous practice. Although cautious reporting isn’t nearly as sensational as crying “Sputnik!” every time the next cycle of PISA results are reported, it is the responsible thing to do.

via http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/03/20/so-how-overblown-were-no-1-shanghais-pisa-results

This holds true, of course, for all other assessment results as well. I am continually amazed at how many press releases become ‘news stories,’ sometimes nearly verbatim. Too many educational journalists have abdicated their responsibility to ask questions, to investigate claims and evidence, to cast a skeptical eye on puffery, and to try and get to the truth…

Instead of an AUP, how about an EUP (Empowered Use Policy)?

Yes

Most school technology acceptable use policies (AUPs) contain these kinds of phrases:

  • “Students shall not use technology unless authorized by appropriate school personnel.”
  • “The use of the Internet is a privilege, not a right, and inappropriate use will result in cancellation of those privileges.”
  • “Students will not access or modify other accounts, data, files, and/or passwords without authorization.”
  • “You will be held responsible at all times for the proper use of district technology resources, and the district may suspend or revoke your access if you violate the rules.”
  • “Users have no right to privacy while using the district’s Internet systems. The district monitors users’ online activities and reserves the right to access, review, copy, store, or delete any electronic communications or files. This includes any items stored on district-provided devices, such as files, e-mails, cookies, and Internet history.”
  • And so on…

That’s a lot of legalistic language. That’s a lot of negativity.

How about an empowered use policy (EUP) instead? In other words, instead of saying NO, NO, NO! all the time, how about saying yes? Here’s one to consider…

[SCHOOL / DISTRICT NAME]

When it comes to digital technologies in our [school / district], please…

  1. Be empowered. Do awesome things. Share with us your ideas and what you can do. Amaze us.
  2. Be nice. Help foster a school community that is respectful and kind.
  3. Be smart and be safe. If you are uncertain, talk with us.
  4. Be careful and gentle. Our resources are limited. Help us take care of our devices and networks.
Thank you and let us know if you have any questions.

Is there anything major that this EUP doesn’t address? Other thoughts or reactions? Help me make it better…

Image credit: YES, Transcend

‘Closed’ v. ‘open’ systems of knowing

Teaching As a Subversive Activity

I am rereading Teaching As a Subversive Activity, which is a phenomenal book if you haven’t read it. About halfway through the book, Postman and Weingartner discuss ‘closed’ versus ‘open’ systems of knowledge:

A closed system is one in which the knowables are fixed. Examples of this kind of system would include any in which most of its answers are either yes or no, right or wrong, clearly and without any other possibility. (p. 116)

Open systems may be thought of as situations in which there are degrees of ‘rightness,’ and in which a right answer today may well be a wrong answer tomorrow. (p. 117)

Most of what we do in school falls under the description of a ‘closed’ system. There is typically a right answer, the teacher (or the textbook or the learning software) knows it, and it’s up the student to ‘learn’ it and then spit it back correctly: Describe the water cycle. If 4x2 + 3 = 39, what is x? What is the capital of Delaware? 

In life, however, much of what we do falls under the description of an ‘open’ system. We ask questions and make choices and devise solutions that seem right at the time given the particular context: What major should I choose? Should I look for a new job? Is she the one with whom I want to spend the rest of my life? Which car is best for our family? At another time, in another context, we might decide and act differently. This is true for both individual- and citizen-/policy-level decisions: Should we try to stop Russia from annexing Crimea? Are ethanol subsidies a good way to reduce our nation’s fuel dependence? Should I vote ‘yes’ for the school district referendum? When should we place limits on free speech?

Many argue that fixed knowledge items such as ’the water cycle’ or ‘4x2 + 3 = 39’ or ‘the capital of Delaware’ are the necessary parts that form a foundation for deeper, more cognitively complex thinking. And that’s often true. But it’s a whole nother matter to treat fixed items of knowledge as sacrosanct or to elevate them to the primary desired outcomes of schooling, particularly given the increasing presence of Internet-enabled learning contexts in which such items are easily and quickly accessible. Instead of treating content retention and procedural thinking as foundational floors from which we then build larger, more important edifices of learning, we have made them into almost-impermeable ceilings that drive teaching, curriculum, and assessment.

To fully prepare most students for life – and, arguably, to reengage many of them in the learning, not just social, aspects of their schooling – they need greater immersion in open systems of learning where questions are raised, answers aren’t fixed, and solutions are often contextual. This is true for all grade levels, not just secondary. So far most schools don’t do a great job with this. Instead, what schools usually do

in effect [is] to make closed systems of largely open ones. (p. 117)

We take areas of knowledge like science or government or language or health and we set them in stone – “yes or no, right or wrong, clearly and without any other possibility” – instead of bravely facing them – as they are in real life – as open opportunities for discussion, inquiry, problem-solving, and, yes, divergent learning and knowing.

A tremendous challenge for us as educators and policymakers is to stop reducing learning to convergent, ‘closed’ models of knowing and instead embrace the power and potential of more ‘open’ systems of knowledge and inquiry. This challenge is worth taking on because

very few problems of any great significance can be answered if they are approached from a ‘closed’-system point of view. (p. 117)

And goodness knows we have innumerable problems of great significance that would benefit from some fresh thinking…

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