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McLeod Reads

TrappedThere’s a lot of stuff that comes through my Twitter stream. In addition to independent tweets, there also are my posts from here and Mind Dump, my Delicious bookmarks, things that I share from Google Reader, posts from the other CASTLE blogs, and so on. So I wasn’t surprised to get a message recently that said something along the lines of “I’m overwhelmed by your tweets. Do you have a ‘best of the best’ channel?”

Today I’m launching McLeod Reads (@mcleodreads), which is intentionally designed to highlight not only my own best writing but also the best of what I’m reading from others. I’m a huge fan of Flipboard and Instapaper. I also sometimes use systems like,, ZiteReadability, TweetedTimes, or Read It Later. My overarching goal for this initiative is to highlight things that I want to read using these tools.

What will be in the McLeod Reads stream? As you might imagine, there will be a lot of stuff related to schools, technology, and/or leadership. But there also will be stuff related to social media, higher education, economics, politics, graphic design, law, publishing and journalism, ebooks, photography, and so on. Sometimes it will be a short blurb or quote that I think is especially noteable. Much of it will be longer-form reading like you might see at LongreadsThe Browser, Longform, The EssayistThe Long Good ReadGive Me Something to Read, or The Atavist (you know, the stuff that you can really sink your teeth into).

So two Twitter feeds. What you see on @mcleodreads also will come through @mcleod. But most of what you see on @mcleod will never appear on @mcleodreads (i.e., no bookmarks, no unfiltered ‘bot’ tweeting, and no random conversations).

Will Richardson has his Instapaper feed. Carl Anderson has his Ed Tech Feeds twitter account. This is my attempt to create a purposeful, carefully-curated feed of some great reading. To start, I’ve loaded it up with some older posts and some things that caught my eye this morning (so apologies in advance if you’ve already seen much of what’s there now).

To see the unfiltered stream of what I’m sharing, subscribe to @mcleod. To see the unfiltered stream of what I’m reading, check out my shared feeds. But if you’re interested in a more curated experience, subscribe to @mcleodreads and try it out. Let me know what you think (good or bad). And we’ll see how this experiment goes.

Happy reading!

School superintendent to Governor: Please make my school a prison

TrappedA school superintendent in Michigan has written a public letter to the editor asking Governor Rick Snyder if his school can become a prison instead. The full text is below. What do you think?


Dear Governor Snyder,

In these tough economic times, schools are hurting. And yes, everyone in Michigan is hurting right now financially, but why aren’t we protecting schools? Schools are the one place on Earth that people look to to “fix” what is wrong with society by educating our youth and preparing them to take on the issues that society has created.

One solution I believe we must do is take a look at our corrections system in Michigan. We rank nationally at the top in the number of people we incarcerate. We also spend the most money per prisoner annually than any other state in the union. Now, I like to be at the top of lists, but this is one ranking that I don’t believe Michigan wants to be on top of.

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. It’s the least we can do to prepare our students for the future…by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan Bootz, Superintendent, Ithaca Public Schools


Image credit: Bars

Middle school band, videoconferencing, and the Iowa National Guard

It was about 95 degrees as we strolled into the Ames Middle School band concert Tuesday night. Although the outside air was stifling, the air conditioning inside was blissfully cool. We settled into our seats and perused the program: ‘A Salute to Veterans,’ featuring classic band fare like Fanfare Americana and Home on the Range and Highlights from The Music Man. Excellent. The band is ready. The audience is eager, anticipatory, and silent. And then two projectors turn on, beaming their rays of light across the dark auditorium. The images resolve themselves and …

There on the sides of the auditorium, bigger than life, is Capt. Sean Taylor, Iowa National Guard member, father of a 7th grade trombone player, and uncle to a 7th grade percussionist. Unable to attend in person because he’s on medical evacuation from Afghanistan, Capt. Taylor is attending his family’s concert virtually instead. The band begins to play, and the grin on Capt. Taylor’s face is as wide as the horizon.

In between sets, Capt. Taylor is kind enough to share some news about the Iowa National Guard and its role in World War II, Iraq, and Afghanistan. His wife and children are in the crowd. His son and niece are recognized by the band teachers. Everyone does their community and country proud.


The concert closes with another surprise appearance, this time by the Ames High drum line. They’re joined by the entire middle school band in a rousing, roof-shaking rendition of 76 Trombones. As the crowd gathers their children and shuffles out the door into the parking lot, the buzz and excitement are palpable.

Why don’t we do more stuff like this in our schools? The videoconferencing worked flawlessly. We have the ability to pull in distant family members, luminaries, scientists, poets, artists, and authors at any time, from anywhere, into our auditoriums and theaters and classrooms. This shouldn’t be a special event. It should be an everyday occurrence. The technology is there. Where’s our will to use it? Where’s our creativity?

A hearty pat on the back to the Ames school music programs, the Ames school district technology staff, and Capt. Taylor. It was a joyful, tearful, amazing evening for everyone. Thank you for reminding us that, rather than isolating us, the true powers of our new technologies are their ability to bring us closer together in ways that were formerly unimaginable.

Kudos, Drs. Dodge, Johnson, and Mart!


Last night was Iowa State University’s largest-ever commencement for graduate students: 150+ Ph.D. students and another 280+ Master’s students. I had the pleasure of graduating three of my doctoral advisees.

  • Pam Dodge is the Executive Director of Special Programs in the Ankeny (IA) Community School District. Her dissertation was titled Managing school behavior: A qualitative case study.
  • Ben Johnson is an Assistant Principal at Fort Dodge (IA) High School. His dissertation was titled School administrators’ perceptions and practices associated with the utilization of eWalk during classroom walk-throughs.
  • Dan Mart is the Superintendent of North Polk (IA) Community School District. His dissertation was titled Perceived district-level leadership influences upon student achievement.

Please extend hearty kudos to Drs. Dodge, Johnson, and Mart for successful completion of their doctorates. Doctoral programs are long, arduous journeys and they made it through with smiles on their faces!

Pam, Ben, and Dan, it was wonderful working with you. Go forth and do great things!

Video – The Bully Project

TrappedHere’s the trailer for The Bully Project, a new documentary on school bullying. This and Race to Nowhere are the two films for which I wish my school district would host a public screening and conversation. My heart breaks for these kids and other victims; adolescent cruelty knows few bounds…

I love this quote: “The power of hearing one voice in solidarity with you can be transformative for people.” So true on so many fronts.

Here are some bullying and cyberbullying resources that may be helpful to you.

Where have I been?

TrappedThey say that you’re not supposed to apologize for not blogging. Instead, you’re supposed to just start back up again. But I’m usually much more prolific online and have been absent for so very long that I thought I’d quickly explain where I’ve been…

I went to New Zealand for my faculty fellowship at the University of Canterbury. Soon after I arrived, there was a huge earthquake in Christchurch, the city in which my family and I were living, which disrupted for many weeks both the university and my stable, high-speed Internet access (Internet access at our house, in motels, and outside the big cities was fairly iffy).

On top of all that, the day after the earthquake (and just as I transitioned here to BigThink), I broke my elbow falling off the stage 1 minute before one of my presentations at New Zealand’s national educational technology conference. Of course it was the elbow on my right (dominant) arm. Since then I’ve been in a cast and then a sling. Ugh. More points toward my apparent goal of being named the world’s clumsiest person.

So I haven’t really been able to type for a couple of months. While I could hunt-and-peck with my left hand, it would take me hours to get a few paragraphs written. And then I had to find somewhere with good enough Internet access to upload. Plus I was trying to be a good faculty fellow and take care of my duties there in New Zealand, as well as trying to keep up with my work at Iowa State and get my two edited books to the publishers, and attending to the needs of my family in a foreign country, all while being physically- and Internet-impaired.

My fellowship was awesome. My family’s exploration of New Zealand was doubly so. But my online presence (and much of my other work) has taken a tremendous hit. I can now type again for short bursts before my arm starts aching. A big thanks to BigThink and to all of you for your patience and your willingness to wait for me. Expect much more from me in the weeks and months to come…

[FYI, the photo is of me and Dr. Niki Davis, my faculty ‘sponsor’ in New Zealand]

BlogBall11 – Edublogger fantasy baseball returns for Year 4! [registration due March 23]

TrappedIt’s spring training for Major League Baseball and that means it’s time for another season of edublogger fantasy baseball! Last year’s champions were Harold Shaw, Vinnie Vrotny, and – for the first time ever in more than 10 years of playing fantasy baseball - me! (we had enough participants for 3 leagues last year)

Same rules and league settings as the three previous years. A trophy for the winner(s). Friendly banter, potential bragging rights, and loads of baseball fun could be yours!

If you’re interested, complete the BlogBall11 online registration form no later than March 23, 2011. [UPDATE: BlogBall11 registration is now closed.] First come, first serve. You must have an active education blog to participate. We’ll make as many leagues as we can fill. Opening Day is March 31!

[sorry for the delay on this; it’s tough to type with a broken elbow!]

I really liked Race to Nowhere

Last September I blogged the trailer for the movie, Race to Nowhere, which focuses on the achievement pressures faced by many of our schoolchildren. Today I had an opportunity to attend a screening of the full movie. Here are 30 quotes from the film. Some of these might not be word-for-word but they’re close; I was paying attention to the movie, not my typing. I’ve highlighted my 8 favorites from the list below…

  1. RacetonowhereI can’t really remember the last time I just went outside and ran around
  2. We do whatever it takes to get an A
  3. When I had kids, I didn’t think that the only time I’d see them was for 20 minutes at dinner
  4. These kids are so overscheduled and tired … I’m afraid that our children are going to sue us for stealing their childhoods
  5. We want the best for them [so] we put pressure on them to be what we want them to be
  6. [All of this pressure] ends up turning kids into little professionals
  7. I figured out that not eating gave me more energy … but it still wasn’t enough to get everything done
  8. My school principal told me [when I tried to return from a treatment facility for anorexia and anxiety] that she didn’t want the teachers to have to worry about me – I was too much of a distraction for them [and other students]
  9. We lose boys because they tune out and we lose girls to depression
  10. The countries that outperform us on international tests actually give less homework than we do in the United States
  11. At what point did it become okay for schools to dictate how we spend our lives after the bell rings? [regarding homework]
  12. Parents need to educate themselves that homework isn’t going to make their students any smarter
  13. When American kids encounter questions [on international assessments that don’t look like what they’re used to from their rote practice], they fall apart
  14. These tests that they do so horrible on – they don’t test my kids on the curriculum, they test them on their culture and their culture isn’t represented on the tests
  15. I tell my [urban] students that learning is power – to do whatever you want to do in life, you have to be a learner and you have to care – that is not what the district wants from me as a teacher
  16. If we forget this [question] or do a different one, then we’re going to get in trouble and we’ll lose 5 minutes of recess [4th grader]
  17. Your 6–month-old is supposed to be sucking on his toes and thumbs, not doing flashcards
  18. [Students say] ‘The teacher doesn’t care – it’s just busy work – why CAN’T I just copy my homework?’
  19. The point of education is to learn, not memorize
  20. It’s impossible to cover all of the material for the AP course in one year. Literally impossible.
  21. After my daughter passed her AP French exam, she said, “I never have to speak French again.”
  22. So much of [kids’] time is structured. The only unstructured time they seem to have is the time they spend on the computer.
  23. What’s happening these days is that kids aren’t getting a chance to find out what they love to do.
  24. They’re 4 or 8 [years old] and they’re resume-building
  25. Parents say ‘My child is a good kid.’ No, they were a good performer. You never found out if they were a good kid. You just know they’re a good student, not a good solid kid.
  26. I stopped trying because if you don’t try, you can’t fail.
  27. I think that success in America is measured by how much money you make, not how happy you are in your life
  28. The environment and culture are so competitive that kids don’t feel like they can ever let people see their true selves
  29. If you’ve always had As, there’s only one way to go and that’s down, so that B feels like a failure
  30. We need to redefine success for kids … We have to get off this treadmill together. [We have to discuss] what does it take to create a happy, motivated, creative human being?

Discussion afterward

Here are a few statements afterward from the international educators and others who watched the film:

  1. None of us went into education to inflict harm on children but when you put it all together the net effect is often much different.
  2. At my previous school we eliminated homework and instead gave families a booklet called ‘Supporting Learning’ that gave them ideas of things they could do at home with their kids instead.
  3. How many of you assign homework? How would you handle a parent that asked if their child could opt out of the homework you assign? [this question was mine]
  4. Five to seven hours a day at school are plenty of time to do what we need to do academically with students
  5. Many of your parents have dedicated much of their lives to preparing students for Harvard (a process Alfie Kohn calls ‘Preparation H’). How do you handle it when as educators you’re trying to slow down, reduce workload, stop the ‘race to nowhere,’ etc. for kids but parents aren’t buying what you’re selling? [this question was mine]
  6. We have a responsibility to assuage the collective anxiety that we feel about ‘doing well.’

The film is about an hour long. Although it’s targeting what are in many ways polar opposite issues and demographics compared to Waiting for Superman, the film is well worth a watch. I greatly appreciated the opportunity to finally see it.

Closing thoughts

My children are 13, 10, and 6; so far they have been ‘excellent students.’ They live in a college town community and attend schools in which there is a lot of academic pressure on students – from parents, from other kids’ parents, from educators, from student peer groups, from society in general, etc. How much of that is being internalized by my children despite the messages that we try to send at home? Although my wife and I repeatedly discuss with our kids that learning is supposed to be a joyful experience – that we’d much rather that they love what and how they’re learning and have a chance to pursue their interests than get good grades – I still worry about what messages they’re incorporating into their mental models of success. It’s an ongoing conversation and battle and I’m not completely certain that we’re winning. I’m also uncertain if the fact that I’m a workaholic – albeit on things for which I’m usually interested and passionate – helps or hinders my cause with my kids.

I’ve recommended to my school district leadership team (administrators and school board) that they do a screening of this film for local parents. They’ve shown no interest to date, which is unfortunate because this film is extremely relevant for our community and our families.

I try to remember to ask my kids daily if they have a happy life. I hope they’ll always be honest with me.

Are you a pusher?

Drug pushers:

Pssst. Hey, man. Want some bennies? Wanna get amped? Got some chrome, got a little croak too. How much you got? I got something for ya. You like speedballing? I can hook you up…

You want some blunt? I’ll sell you some. Some lady snow? Some paradise? You like to blow blue? You like to cocoa puff? I have a few purple caps for ya. Low price…

A little Acapulco Red? Got some BC Bud, some fry sticks. It’s easy. You want a lid? Some mac and cheese? No worries. C’mon man, help a guy out. This is no bunk. I got the real stuff. Wanna get high?

Tech pushers:

MaryjanePssst. Hey, man. Want some Twitter? Wanna get connected? Got some Hootsuite, got a little Osfoora too. How much you got? I got an app for ya. You like tweeting? I can hook you up…

You want some voice? I’ll sell you some. Some blogs? Some RSS? You like to write? You like to share? I have a few tools for ya. Low price…

A little podcasting? Got some GarageBand, some Audacity. It’s easy. You want a wiki? Some video? No worries. C’mon man, help a student out. This is no joke. I got the real stuff. Wanna get high?

Are you a pusher? What’s your promotional style?

Maybe the better question is … How many of us are tech junkies? [need a fix?]

Image credit: Maryjane 4–20–2010 (420)


Here are some things that you may remember from the science fiction movie classic, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial:

  • At the beginning, E.T. is a little bit mysterious and spooky
  • Most of the adults are fearful of E.T.
  • The children generally react to E.T. matter-of-factly or with a sense of joy and play
  • ETThose who become comfortable with E.T. discover that it can augment their personal abilities (mental bonding) and make other amazing things happen (telekinesis, revival of a dying plant)
  • E.T. often has no clue - or doesn’t seem to care - about fitting into the surrounding environment; it just does its own thing
  • E.T. is easily (and sometimes disastrously) attracted to new things (pizza, Reese’s Pieces, television, beer)
  • Sometimes E.T. wreaks havoc (frogs!)
  • E.T. touches people’s emotions: it’s vexing, wondrous, and exhilarating; it makes people laugh and cry
  • Those who really understand E.T. are impacted quite powerfully by it
  • In many ways our world is both hostile and toxic to E.T.
  • The government reacts with a heavy hand and tries to lock everything down and keep everyone safe from E.T.
  • Ultimately, E.T. has to live in its own special world in order to thrive

Go back and read this list again. Kind of sounds like Educational Technology (E.T.), doesn’t it?

Image credit: E.T.

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