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Design for humans

Craters aheadA Washington Post article on the recent Iowa Democratic caucus fiasco states:

Every aspect of election administration should be designed around all the ways that we, as humans, fail, and all the ways technology fails us. The system needs to be set up to address the all-too-human challenges of inattention, fatigue, poor training, and even willful neglect. The technology, tools, machines, and systems must match human abilities and limitations. [emphasis added]

This is true for schools too. In what ways do we need to do better with that last sentence??

Image credit: Craters-large, Taylor Herring

Books I read in January 2020

Books I finished reading (or rereading) in January 2020…

Hope you’re reading something fun too!

Which is bigger?

Question markI started a new principal licensure cohort this spring. On the second night of class, I had an awesome discussion with a couple of high school teachers about the perpetual issue of forcing students to learn math that they likely will never use again in their life. We make most (all) students take Algebra 2, for instance, even though most of them rarely (if ever) will use that learning later. Our ‘just in case’ educational model is based on the idea that we don’t know what students will need later in life, which is in stark contrast to many of the ‘just in time’ learning opportunities now available to us if we need to gain new knowledge or acquire a new skill. Our conversation led me to this question:

  • Which is bigger? The number of students who are forced to take math that they never will need or the number of students who, given the choice in high school, might not take the math courses they will need later?

We can come up with a number of these questions, each of which has major implications for leadership behaviors and school support structures:

  • Which is bigger? The number of students who begrudgingly make their way through required world language courses (like my son) or the number of students who learn to love other languages and cultures through those classes (like my sister)?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who are usually engaged in the learning experiences and tasks that we provide them or the number of students who are bored out of their mind?
  • Which is bigger? The number of teachers who need to turn in lesson plans because they’re struggling with instructional coherence or the number of teachers who don’t?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who are ‘socially promoted’ despite inadequate academic skills or the number of students who are held back by poor instruction and institutional bias or inequities?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who are truly helped by our mandated adaptive learning software system for reading or the number of students for whom it has little benefit?
  • Which is bigger? The number of parents who complain loudly about a school decision or initiative or the number of parents who are silently approving or grateful?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who receive gifted and talented services or the number of students who are equally ready but are denied such services?
  • Which is bigger? The number of teachers who are providing robust ’Tier 1’ instruction or the number of teachers who are not?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who use technology appropriately in school or the number of students who don’t?
  • Which is bigger? The number of students who really need us to teach this thing to them today versus the number of students who already know it?
  • Which is bigger? The number of teachers who will abuse the opportunity to create their own personalized, self-driven, professional learning opportunities or the number of teachers who will use that chance to really stretch and grow themselves as skilled educators?

And so on…

Seems like we should be making instructional, policy, and resourcing decisions based on our answers to these types of questions, right?

Please add your own ‘Which is bigger?’ scenarios in the comments!

Mandates that are bad for kids

Tom Dunn said:

As a former school superintendent . . . . I felt perpetually conflicted about being forced to implement mandates that were, frankly, bad for kids. The irony is how often the very politicians who denounce bullying use their power to beat adults into submission with their ill-conceived laws. In education, they do this through threats of financial penalty against districts that dare disobey them, by threatening the professional licensure of educators who don’t do as they are told, and/or through character assassination of those who dare question them.

via Ohio’s Aggressive School Vouchers Set to Cripple Even High-Scoring Public Schools

The order of the 4 Shifts Protocol is important

Harnessing Technology for Deeper LearningJulie Graber and I often get asked if the order of the 4 Shifts Protocol is important. Our answer? Absolutely.

Note that the protocol begins with Deeper Thinking and Learning (Section A), followed by Authentic Work (Section B). We have found that starting with one or both of those dimensions tends to raise the level of learning for students much more than starting with Student Agency and Personalization (Section C) or Technology Infusion (Section D). Given that Julie and I are strong advocates for student agency, this may seem a little counterintuitive. The reason is because there are numerous ways to give students ‘agency’ or integrate technology that are fairly low-level. Imagine, for instance, adaptive learning software modules or a set of teacher-created classroom centers in which students have some ‘choice’ about content and pathways but the learning is still shallow rather than deep. We also can point to numerous examples of ‘technology for technology’s sake’ in which, again, student learning could be much more robust. Starting with Sections A or B helps us center our instructional work on deeper, meaningful learning.

Note also that the very first questions in Section A pertain to Domain Knowledge and Deeper Learning. Whatever instructional transformations we are working on, we should try as best we can to make sure that we’re meeting content and procedural goals, and that whatever skills and knowledge we’re addressing are focused on big, important concepts, not just trivia. This is particularly true as long as state standards, testing, and accountability mandates dominate our educational landscapes. Deeper learning work should not be contentless. [AND students also deserve some say in what they get to learn…]

In sum, while Julie and I advocate that teachers start with whatever sections and items make sense for them (and focus on just a few), we also recognize that some of the sections and items of the protocol are more transformative than others. We encourage you to lean into Sections A and B!

2020 Vision (revisited)

2020 VisionSince it’s now 2020, I thought it would be fun to revisit Karl Fisch’s video from 2006, titled 2020 Vision. In that video, Karl imagines he is the commencement speaker for the Arapahoe High School (AHS) Class of 2020, reflecting back on the past 13 years of schooling for that cohort.

In the video, Karl envisioned a number of possibilities:

  • AHS launches a 21st century learning initiative that is focused on preparing learners, workers, and successful contributors to the global community.
  • Google buys Logitech and a whole host of media companies and university lectures. AHS eventually buys a ceiling-mounted ‘GCam’ for every classroom, which captures video, sound (through an area microphone), and screen capture into unified ‘GCasts’ that can be uploaded to the AHS Learning Management System, which also contains RSS feeds, blogs, and Google Docs-like environments for every course.
  • AHS launches its ‘Warrior Portal,’ which eliminates grades and transcripts, allows for more-personalized learning pathways, and creates academic/work portfolios for every student.
  • AHS students each have their own laptop and routinely engage in tele-learning with 10 sister schools all around the world.
  • Google buys Ford, Apple, and AMD, allowing it to make breakthroughs in solar energy, battery technology, and quantum computing. ‘Google Panels’ replace 2/3 of worldwide energy production. ‘GCars’ travel 1,200 miles on a single charge and are essentially free transportation for homes with Google shingles or roof panels. The GCars also are WiFi access points, creating massive nationwide mesh networks. Google makes the first quantum laptops available for an inexpensive subscription to ‘Google Premium,’ which allows free learning (and shopping) for every laptop owner. 
  • AHS and Arapahoe Community College merge to become Arapahoe Community School (ACS), a partnership that results in every student graduating with a minimum of 2 years of college credit.
  • ‘Google U’ launches, incorporating elements of Google Premium, GCasts, university/library materials, Internet resources, and classroom tools, allowing ACS to dump its own courses and create true individualized pathways for students that allow them to both master essential learnings (competency-based education) and engage in passion-based learning projects.
  • By 2020, Google has created an eyeMAGINE computer that projects a 56-inch screen onto users’ retinas, global energy consumption has actually decreased, and ACS has grown to over 20,000 students, all of whom are empowered to “Change the World” (which has been the AHS / ACS motto throughout).

It was fascinating to see some of Karl’s projections from 2006. Today we see a number of dual enrollment programs, for example, and secondary students in P-Tech programs, the Bard Early Colleges, and other initiatives are graduating with college credits. We also have seen some progress related to retinal projection systems, electric cars, solar energy, battery technologies, quantum computing, and other fronts. Many states and school systems are implementing competency-based education (CBE) frameworks and project- / inquiry-based learning initiatives, and 1:1 computing is increasingly prevalent in our elementary and secondary schools.

Today we also see greater skepticism toward Google than many of us had back in 2006. We are not as far along as we could be on the solar energy and electric vehicle fronts, which speaks to both societal inertia and entrenched resistance from companies, politicians, and other major economic actors. AHS is still AHS and, like most other schools, is still trying to figure out its place in a global innovation society. And, as Audrey Watters just reminded us, we have hundreds and maybe thousands of educational initiatives that occupy the graveyard of bad ideas and poor implementation.

What visions for learning from earlier in this century still resonate with you? What progress have we seen (or not)?

Congratulations, Dr. Sobel!

SobelI graduated another doctoral advisee this past Saturday. Woo hoo!

A hearty congratulations to Dr. Sobel – and thanks for maybe being my easiest doc student ever! Go forth and (continue to) do amazing things!

The entrepreneurial mindset

RiskThis past weekend I participated in an event called The Entrepreneurial Mindset. The two days of learning were co-sponsored by the School of Education and Human Development and the School of Business at CU Denver. A number of SEHD faculty and staff learned about entrepreneurial practices and thinking alongside local school superintendents and other school district administrators. We heard from the Chairman of the Board of Semester at Sea, learned about the importance of emotional intelligence, did a deep dive on branding and marketing, and talked with entrepreneurs in both higher education and medicine.

Several key ideas resonated with me from our discussions. One was the idea that entrepreneurship is a mindset. It’s a willingness to take action, try things, and be resourceful. It’s a willingness to lean into the fear and welcome change. It’s a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them without being paralyzed. And it’s a willingness to focus relentlessly on the needs of the ‘consumer’ in order to improve their experience. In education, we’re not very good at many of these things. We also need to recognize as educators that entrepreneurship isn’t available to anyone who thinks of themselves as a victim. Passive, helpless mindsets don’t align very well with active, efficacious, change-oriented action.

Another key idea for me was that we have to be good problem seekers before we can be problem solvers. In education, we need more robust problem-seeking structures and behaviors that move beyond simple diagnoses of complex challenges. Otherwise we jump to ‘solutions’ that don’t address what’s really needed.

I also appreciated the reminder that value always lies in the perceptions of others. Just because we think we’re offering a good experience for others doesn’t mean that we actually are. But if we care to listen to the people we serve, they can help us improve what we do. This can be a bit challenging because educators are in it for the long haul and current ‘stakeholders’ may not see the value of some of what we’re providing until later in their lives. It’s possible, however, for us to care about both lifelong impacts and our children’s and families’ immediate experiences. I believe that is a goal worth striving for, even when we simultaneously serve multiple and sometimes conflicting stakeholder groups.

Business people use different language than we do as educators. They talk about ‘adjacent possibilities’ and ‘competitive offerings’ and ‘perceived stakeholder value.’ But at the heart of it all, their conceptions of mission-driven work and aligning that work to the needs of children, families, and communities are not that different. Yes, our children aren’t widgets and we should always critically examine the ethics and practices of any field. But it would be silly for us to pretend that the world of business has nothing to lend the world of education. If we choose not to hide in our P-12 and higher education bubbles, many of us could benefit from framing some of our work in different ways in order to accomplish our ‘job to be done,’ the critically-important job of helping the people that we serve.

In your professional life, are you entrepreneurial? What might be the benefits of such an approach?

Image credit: Risk, Sean Davis

Leadership for School Innovation graduate certificate 001: The launch

I received permission from my faculty colleagues and Dean this summer to launch a new Leadership for School Innovation (LSI) graduate certificate. I’ve done this twice before. In 2002 Joan Hughes (now at the University of Texas-Austin) and I received a large federal grant to create the first graduate program in the country designed to prepare technology-savvy school leaders. The $2.5 million School Technology Leadership Initiative at the University of Minnesota created 15 credits of new coursework that was given away – with accompanying pedagogical supports – to ten other university educational leadership programs across the country. Four cohorts of students went through the U. Minnesota program and numerous other students gained new school technology leadership experiences at partner universities. The U. Minnesota academic program is now defunct but my University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) program center, the Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education (CASTLE), was created that continues the research and service/outreach work. CASTLE is now co-hosted by the University of Kentucky and the University of Colorado Denver. In 2011 my CASTLE co-directors at U. Kentucky and I created the nation’s second graduate program focused on school technology leadership. That program ran for several years and is now an embedded certificate within a teacher leadership program.

This new LSI graduate certificate at CU Denver will be a little different. It will be wholly online like the U. Kentucky program but its focus will be broader than just technology leadership. I also have a design team from across the country that will be helping me outline and frame up the program. More on them in my next post, and more details on the program in the weeks to come…

Our Design Sprint is tomorrow. I’m excited!

10 quick thoughts on mobile phones in schools

No cell phones!A few quick thoughts…

  1. Most people realize that mobile phones are actually mobile computers. But many schools that claim to be doing everything they can to get technology into the hands of schoolchildren then ban their students from using the computers that they bring in their pockets every day. The issue apparently is not technology, it’s control. We need to call this for what it is.
  2. Students know that mobile phones are powerful learning devices. They know that when we ban them, we are sending them messages that we don’t get it. Or that we’re not really about learning.
  3. We have to stop blaming the device. Classroom management stems from good instruction.
  4. We have to stop the ‘holier than thou’ pronouncements about today’s kids. We haven’t seen significant evolutionary changes in children in just a few decades. Our students (or their brains) are not substantially different, they just have different opportunities. Nostalgia aside, we adults were often bored out of our minds in school too. If we had Facebook, texting, Snapchat, and other avenues to alleviate our boredom, we would have turned to them as well. Let’s quit the arrogant attitudes of moral superiority.
  5. Banning and blocking does absolutely nothing to teach students about inappropriate or untimely mobile phone usage because it removes the decision-making locus from students to educators. Students don’t ever get a chance to own their mobile phone behavior when they are just passive – and usually resentful or bewildered – recipients of our fiats.
  6. Many schools say that they’re trying to foster more student agency. That should mean more than fairly-constrained choices related to content. Student choice in environmental contexts and instructional tools (ahem, learning technologies) matters too.
  7. No one – I repeat, no one – can concentrate without any distractions whatsoever for 45-50 minutes straight. Nor can they then repeat that 6 to 8 times a day. Is our goal with these ‘digital distraction’ bans to have students’ 100% attention at all times or else? If so, are we just punishing students for how our human brains work?
  8. Maybe it’s not the phone that’s leading to students’ distraction. Distraction can result from hunger, fatigue, illness, anxiety, boredom, an overstimulating classroom environment, the desire to engage in additional research, or a whole host of other factors (e.g., frequency of daydreaming is highest during undemanding, easy tasks). Let’s avoid simplistic solutions to complex contexts.
  9. If we involved students in the creation of school mobile phone policies – with authentic input and decision-making, including about ‘consequences’ – instead of fighting with them, we probably would be pleasantly surprised at the outcomes.
  10. When students use mobile phones despite our bans, maybe they’re not defiant. Maybe they’re rational given the context in which they’re embedded. Did I mention that classroom management stems from good instruction?

Image credit: No cell phones!, Joe Pemberton