Never change

I think it is the O. Because it looks like Gru’s bald head and the others don’t.

My wife sent me this picture today. It’s put a smile on my face ever since I saw it. It is a perfect example of who my son is. He is silly and he enjoys indulging his imagination. I hope this never changes. He is fortunate to have a wonderful 2nd grade teacher this year that fosters these traits and has created an environment where my son feels comfortable, safe, and happy to be himself.

But what happens next year? What happens if he has a teacher that was looking for a more “academic" answer? What would have happened if he had another teacher that told him that his answer was wrong? Is it wrong? At what point do we as teachers and educators stop allowing our students to be themselves; stop allowing them to share a different answer that’s not on the answer key; stop allowing students to bring their world into their classroom and into their learning without consequence?

As I sit and laugh at my son’s answer, my eyes well up with appreciation for who he is becoming…but they also well up because I’m afraid. I’m afraid that someone might say something that discourages him from being himself; that discourages him feeling safe to share his thoughts and explain his learning in ways that are meaningful and relevant to him. I’m afraid that person could be me. Maybe I’m over thinking this. Maybe I’m not.

bubbles and fog

Are we in or on an edtech bubble? When is it going to finally pop?

While I grow into my new role, I’ve been hyper critical of a lot more. I’m not sure why. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with budgets, man power, and capacity…but I’d like to think that it’s because I’m seeing things from a different angle.

So much effort is being put into evaluating apps and arguing over which device is better, I’m starting to feel a little jaded. It’s not that I’m bored, it’s just that I’ve had my fill of these discussions and I’m ready to look beyond all of this.

When I was in the classroom, nothing could stop me. You couldn’t tell me, “No. That’s not possible." I would find a way and from somewhere, somehow the technology would be there and off we went. I was spoiled. (Disclaimer: I wrote grants. Lots of them. But spoiled none the less.) I’ve gone through spells of infatuation (even obsession) for the latest and greatest tool or app. I’d use them with students and teachers. I’d blog about it. I’d tweet about it. I’d present about it. And then, like yesterday’s lunch, it was forgotten.

Granted, you’ll still find me using things like Google Apps, or Evernote, or my iPad. But that’s because they found a way to make themselves useful in more than just my classroom. They became habits. They became routine. And most importantly, they became effortless. It doesn’t take me 20 minutes to spin up a shared doc or take a quick photo of student work.

And to me, that’s it. I think we are putting way too much effort into which app or apps (go on…say, “app smashing"...I dare you) students should be using to complete some of the simplest tasks. We are still getting lost in the how, instead of letting the kids find the how while we focus on the why and what.

And another thing, testing is real. It isn’t going away anytime soon. I wish I could ignore Smarter Balance in my role, but I can’t. It is difficult for me to see the stress and pressure that schools feel to prepare kids for this test…over the excitement and joy that we should feel preparing our kids for more meaningful learning. Labs are turning into typing classes, and computers are seen as “secure browsers" instead of gateways to the world. I’m sure that this isn’t happening everywhere, but it is in MY district.

Where would we be, where would my district be, if our efforts were focused more on why and what our kids were learning? Where could we be if the tools were just seen as tools, and just like any other tool, was used when necessary and not just because? Do we find ourselves forcing technology into our classrooms and schools? I think we do. The discussions we’re having and the trainings we’re delivering need to be on the learning, not around the learning.

There is so much more swirling around my head. So much more things to say, but sometimes the fog has to settle before you can take another step. Hopefully some of this makes sense. Hopefully some of it doesn’t.

buzz words are my new buzz kill

It’s obvious that Dissolve nails this. What I love about it most is that Dissolve is in the business of selling stock footage. Again, clever advertising wins me over. Well done Dissolve. Well done. #slowclap
On another note, it reminded me of something that Scott Berkun said at integratED|PDX just last month. During his closing keynote, Scott mentioned a few words we have to stop using, and the one I feel stood out the most was innovation.
Innovation is one of those words that we think we all understand and assume we all understand it in the same way.
I’m not so sure of that.
All it really means is, “A new method, idea, product, etc." It’s a rather simple, even lackluster word. It’s just a fancy way of saying, “New!" Inherently, it doesn’t even imply that this newness makes anything better. Yet some of us wear it like a badge. We wield it, cutting through the tangled mess of the old school to make way for the illustriousness of the new school…I mean, innovative school.
I used to love throwing this word around. But I never really explained what I meant when I used innovative to precede words like: teaching, instruction, content, or learning. This is where the assumption that we all understand it the same way causes problems. My idea of new can and is often different than yours.
As part of this same keynote, Scott Berkun argued that in place of the word innovation (or any of it’s derivatives), we should actually explain what we are talking about; explain what is new and why it matters.
The overuse of the word innovation gives me the same buzz kill that I get when I hear people over use the word reform. Both words essentially have the same meaning (though reform does imply an actual improvement). They both denote making changes in something established. What changes, though? Both words are often used as an adjective or verb, but that is often it. Just an adjective. Just a verb. Only words. Words that fill blog post titles, tweets, or updates. I’d rather you explain the change to me. I’d rather see the change that is happening. Rhetoric only works on so many.
Buzzwords are my new buzz kill. That said, let me cast the first stone by dropping a large rock on my foot. I’ve drenched grant proposals with buzzwords. I’ve overused buzzwords in previous blog posts. I’ve smattered job applications and resumes with buzzwords. All for the same reason, to be pretentious. Buzzwords sound good. They make us sound smart. They catch your eye.
Is that who we really are? Is that who I really am? I don’t think so. I hope not.
We need to be more conscious of the words we use and how we toss them around. Sometimes less is more, but in this case I’d argue that more is more. Describe for me what you mean when you say innovation. Show me what new looks like and why it matters.
But that’s just me. Push back.

Open Mindedness is Two-Way

I’m noticing an odd trend. Hopefully I can articulate it well enough to make sense.

I’m seeing more and more people become defensive of their ideas or their image.

When someone:
  • provides a contrary point
  • states something disagreeable
  • simply pushes back
they are seen as:
  • a “hater"
  • as insecure
  • as negative
  • small minded
Many are personally offended. They feel attacked. And I don’t believe that those are the intentions of the “offender".

There is an inherent danger to living inside of an echo chamber. Different points of view do not equate a negative mindset. While we all appreciate genuine optimism, disagreements should not be seen as someone raining on your parade. That is where the danger lies. If we solely surround ourselves with those that continually agree with us, we begin to form a false sense of correctness. Some may even have the tendency to think, “If they agree with me, I must be right."

The medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides wrote, “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it."

Even though I’m not talking about any truths per say, the quote still applies. The inherit power or value of your idea (brand, story, whatever) doesn’t change because someone agrees or disagrees with you. In fact, I think more push back often means that you are reaching a greater audience and/or striking a chord among those within and just beyond the reach of your words.

Learning requires rethinking. Even if that rethinking makes us uncomfortable, we are bound to be better in the end. And I’m not implying that to rethink is to change one’s mind. On the contrary. When we take a moment to rethink our own convictions in light of another’s push back, we are often reminded of why we think and feel the way we do.

Open mindedness is two way. It’s give and take. It requires patience and humility-not only for others, but for yourself.

What do you think? Push back.

What if...

What if, instead of trying to augment or enhance everything with technology, we let technology simplify and embrace reality. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this lately, and I think we might be doing this wrong (in some cases). We let technology create more noise, more distractions, more engagement. I don’t think that is necessary most of the time.

Intentional integration into a learning space, into one’s life and routines has it’s benefits. It can create opportunities to amplify our efforts to connect, to broaden our own understanding. But do we need that all the time?

I’m not saying, “Down with tech!" All I’m saying is, let’s not create more noise with it.

And I’m the worst at this. As I write, I’m distracted by my phone pinging and my Twitter feed scrolling in a remote corner of my monitor. All noise. All distractions.

What if we stopped making up ways for students to use technology? What if we helped them get rid of some of the noise? What if we asked them to use the technology to think about their thinking; to better understand the world around them and the role they may choose to take in that world?

What would happen if you asked them to take a picture of themselves at the end of every school day? What if they took a picture of something that described their mood on Friday, and a picture that described their mood on the following Monday? What sort of stories could be told?

Instead of making ways to make the technology fit, let the students find the fit. Instead of finding ways to engage your class through technology, find ways to engage your class through learning.

If we have to distract our students with these tools from what they are learning to keep them interested, we’re missing the point. They’re going to come down from the sugar high, and the crash will be ugly.

I just don’t think we give our students enough opportunities to meaningfully disengage from the distractions and the noise that we often use to water down our classrooms. I know there is power and purpose in learning with technology, but it feels like we’re veering too far from reality.

Think about it. Push back.