The kindness of strangers


I was supposed to do a webinar.

Scheduled on Tuesday evening, the webinar was for school board members in Iowa and was the second of four scheduled online events for the Iowa Association of School Boards.

I was supposed to do a webinar.

But not just me alone. I also invited others to join me and a few folks took me up on the offer. The idea was to get multiple perspectives on our topic of the evening. On Tuesday, the subject was how technology tools are changing everything and creating a new information landscape for all of us.

I was supposed to do a webinar.

But there were storms in Ames, Iowa, and, minutes before we were supposed to begin, my Internet access from our local cable company went kaput. Uh oh…

I was supposed to do a webinar.

Thanks to the kindness of volunteers, including people I’ve never met in person, the show went on. Alison Link (in Minnesota) and Bryan Lakatos (in Ohio) and Lou Ann Gvist (in Iowa) forged on without me. The school board members and superintendents who logged in had a fantastic, wide-ranging discussion.

I was supposed to do a webinar.

I DID do a webinar. Just without me in it. It wasn’t seamless. We had glitches. I was a complete nonfactor. And yet it was a needed and helpful conversation and both participants and facilitators benefited from it.

Many organizations get so caught up in the need for perfection that they forget the power of simply talking. No broadcasting, no selling, just talking. Tuesday night was an affirmation of the power of human connection, our desires for technological perfection be damned.

Thank you so much, Alison and Bryan and Lou Ann! You were amazingly adaptive and incredibly helpful. I owe you!

Is this the best we can do for our kids?


Deron Durflinger, a high school principal in Van Meter, Iowa, says:

We need a system that isn’t based on doing well on NAEP and PISA, but in which students are able to actually develop a love for learning. Being able to adapt and learn more and newer skills is the world our students live in and will continue to live in.

This idea is based on the notion that what students are asked to know and be able to do will remain the same as they are now, and I haven’t seen any increased expectations in this regard. Making the Common Core more clear and definitive isn’t going to help students develop a love of learning, nor is it going to raise the level of expectations for students in Iowa. It will however, help adults measure how well students can fill out bubble sheets.

Is this the best we can do for kids in Iowa?

I might modify that to say, “Is this the best we can do for kids in America?

We can work on inputs (e.g., teacher quality, standards) and outputs (e.g., assessment) all we want as educators and policymakers. But until we change the process of what kids do on a day-to-day basis, we will fail to realize the systemic changes we need in our children’s learning environments. We must start teaching in a way that helps kids see relevance and helps them actually care about what they’re supposed to learn so that they don’t just memorize it short-term and then forget it as soon as possible.

We learn what we do. We ignore student boredom and lack of engagement at our peril.

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]

Please join me for some webinars with Iowa school board members


I’m facilitating a webinar series for members of the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB). Last week I did one of my standard “the world has changed” sessions online and now we’re following up on that interaction with three topical webinars. I’m looking for 3 to 5 people who might like to join us for each session. Participants will be school board members from across the state of Iowa. They’ll fire questions, concerns, and comments at us in the text chat area. We facilitators will answer questions, share resources, and engage participants via web cam and/or the text chat.

Here’s a description of each session. If you’re interested, sign up using the facilitator registration form (first come, first serve!). Once you’re signed up, I’ll send you the URL for your webinar(s).

Our new information landscape: These technology tools are changing EVERYTHING! [November 8, 6pm to 7:30pm Central]

New technologies are changing how we interact, share, and work together. Most schools and educators, however, are not yet using these powerful tools in classrooms and many are even blocking them completely from student use. Does this make sense given how wired our world is today?

Our new learning landscape: These technology tools are creating powerful new ways for students (and educators) to learn [November 29, 6pm to 7:30pm Central]

Whether we’re students or adults, new technologies are changing how we learn. Teaching and learning are going to look very different over the next couple of decades, and much of it is going to occur in more informal and online settings rather than in our traditional, formal, face-to-face schools. What are the powerful possibilities and potential pitfalls? How do we tap into these tools and still ensure that we make AYP student achievement targets under NCLB?

Our new economic landscape: These technology tools are changing what it means to prepare graduates for the workforce [December 12, 6pm to 7:30pm Central]

Jobs, jobs, jobs: right now that’s what’s on everyone’s mind. This recession is not a temporary blip. We’re living through a structural change in employment that has major ramifications for how schools prepare students for the world of work. What does it really mean to be a successful employee and company in this new hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global economy?

Hope some of you can join us!

“We didn’t have [x] when I was a kid and I turned out okay”


Here’s a statement that I’m getting really tired of hearing:

“We didn’t have computers when I was in school and I turned out okay. There’s no reason why kids today need ’em.”

I’m sure that this argument was offered in the past as well:

“Buses? We walked to school barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways!”

“I don’t want to pay for indoor plumbing for the school. We didn’t have it when I was a student and I turned out alright.”

“Electricity? Pshaw! Do you know how dangerous those wires are? When we were kids we had oil lamps and candles and everything was fine.”

“Back in our day we didn’t need that newfangled writing and alphabet stuff. We actually used our brains and memorized things.”

“Agriculture? Hah! It’s the ruin of society! Kids are just sitting around getting soft while they watch the crops grow. When I was a child we actually had to run after our food. We were tough, not like these kids today.”

And so on…

At some point we have to label this what it is: ridiculous. When we actually acknowledge and support this misbegotten, history-blind nostalgia, all it does is delay our much-needed recognition that the world is constantly changing and that we need to adapt in thoughtful but necessary ways. Change be can scary, but there’s a huge difference between intelligent, reflective criticism and mindless, reactionary dismissal.

Remember all of the hubbub a few years back when everyone above the age of 30 was absolutely convinced that Facebook was PURE EVIL? Then they started using it themselves and realized that it was just another (albeit different) way to communicate. The furor died down and we started having interesting conversations about when and how Facebook might be a useful learning tool. How many of those Facebook-is-pure-evil folks reflected on that process and resolved to think about the next new technology differently? How many of them apologized to the young people in their lives for their knee-jerk comments a few years back? Very few, if any.

Is it wrong of me to wish that people who espouse this view be prohibited from holding political office or serving on school boards?

[cross-posted at Education Recoded]

HELP WANTED: Interesting primary/elementary educational technology projects?


I’m working with a school district that’s asked me to focus on the primary and elementary grades (Kindergarten through 6th grade, or Years 1 through 6/7). If you only had 1 hour to show some teachers and parents a maximum of 8 to 10 really interesting educational technology projects happening with younger schoolchildren, what would you show them?

I can pull ideas and projects from CASTLE’s list of subject-specific blogs but thought some of you might have more targeted recommendations for me. As usual, I’ll compile the comments and share back out as a blog post. Thanks in advance for any help that you can give!

Image credit: Flat Classroom Skype