Change Thyself


Over the past few years I’ve written quite a few posts around the topic of change, specifically those institutions and organizations (like our overly-large school district) need to make. But I’ve also been thinking that I need to make a few changes as well, starting with this site.

I’m pretty sure that most of you who read this blog do so through an RSS feed and never visit the actual page. Which is fine but it means you haven’t seen the new minimalistic theme, which makes things easier to read as well as manage. I wish the process of finding it was simpler.

In addition to simplifying the appearance, I also needed a more streamlined approach to writing, starting with the understanding that I don’t need to post fully formed essays every single time (or maybe at all). I realize that tossing out some ideas and questions, and then working through them over time is probably a better approach to the writing process,2 even if the ideas are sometimes off base and the questions stupid.

Along with working through changes to my blogging process, I’ve also been looking for a simpler tool for making it happen, which is a recently released Mac app called Desk. The interface is pretty much as simple as you can get, with a small, basic set of tools that appear when you need them.

I had been using Mars Edit (for almost seven years), and it’s still a very capable classic Mac program, although with possibly too many features. Plus the developer hasn’t updated it in many years, other than bug fixes.

Finally, I am way over due with cleaning out my RSS feed, which I think is approaching 300 pages. Apologies to anyone I’ve cut.

  1. Image: Sunrise Over School Busses.

  2. Remember, I majored in math and am continuing to learn how to do this writing stuff.

ISTE First Thoughts

This is not any kind of reflective thinking about the conference that ended today. Only a first dump of thoughts and reactions during the ride home.

Conferences like ISTE generate far more work than the whirlwind of activities surrounding the trip itself. I always return with stacks of notes (thank goodness for Evernote) with books and articles to read, ideas and concepts to explore, the reflections of others to consider, and new streams to follow.

Increasingly over the past meetings I’ve attended, most of that stuff comes from other than formal sessions. Ever changing posters and playgrounds, the Blogger Cafe and other gathering points, chance meetings in halls and at meals. Maybe I should skip paying the registration fee and just come to hangout.

It’s probably just be me but the vendor hall seems louder, more congested, and more worthless than ever. Most claim to be selling “solutions” but to what never seems clear. Data – generating, managing, and analyzing it – is certainly big, and everyone talks Common Core but very little about actual teaching and learning. Maybe that’s because actual teachers make up a small percentage of attendees, something like 20% if I remember a slide in one session correctly.

Saw a lot of Microsoft Surface tablets being used, far more than I’ve ever seen in the real world. Not surprising since the company was giving away 10,000 units at ISTE. I’d love to know how many of them are still in use one year from now. That’s not a slam at Microsoft (although I will admit to some over the years), just experience with what happens with devices that are given, not chosen.

Of course, there were plenty of iPads as well, especially in the program. Improving reading, doing science, making movies, just about any variation on the theme of tablet as classroom miracle. Plus the usual dump truck sessions where the speaker throws out as many examples of apps/websites/gadgets as the connection will allow in one hour, with the audience furiously recording the suggestions and, for most part, feeling they’ve learned something. I suppose every community needs its fast food joints.

I didn’t really care for the Sunday keynote by Jane McGonigal. She talked about games as learning tools but her examples seemed more like structured projects with social aspects built in. She also advocated heavily for kids working on the worlds problems when I believe in starting at the neighborhood level. But her ideas are ones I need to spend more time on.

I did like Steven Johnson’s Tuesday keynote. Loved the theory he presented of The Enlightenment, with all it’s advances in human invention, springing from the collaborative environment of the coffee houses. For me it reinforces the idea of learning as a social activity, one in which subject areas overlap and intermingle. At least outside of the typical high school.

And his ideas of the “commonplace book” and the “slow hunch”, saving ideas and allowing them to develop over time, are ones that needs to be folded into our design for school. Again, Johnson is someone whose writing I need to dive deeper into.

Ok, so there’s a whole lot more about the past five days but I need some process time. And it’s not going to happen in a cramped airline seat bouncing through bad weather.

A Few More Characters

Some of the links I tweeted this week that deserve a little more comment.

Both the Mind/Shift blog and The New Yorker took note of different studies both of which suggest that daydreaming is a natural part of being human and necessary to our mental health. Of course, many parts of American culture (school?) equate daydreamers with slackers.

From the Spotlight on Digital Media and Learning blog an explanation of Why Teachers Need Social Media Training, Not Just Rules. The New York City Department of Education recently issued a nine page set of those rules which, if they were smart, would be the starting point for some great discussions (between teachers and students as well), rather than the final word.

From Gary Stager, Throw a Few Million American Teachers on the Barbie in which he notes that American teachers, despite being “insulted, mocked, punished, shamed, blamed and threatened” for the past decade generally refuse to stand up for themselves as a profession. He’s right. Certainly we’ll never see in the US something like what educators in Victoria, Australia recently did when they walked out and shut down 150 schools in that state.

Also from Stager, a long list of things he’s tired of. As with most of what Gary says and writes, I only agree with about half of it. However, to his list I would add that I’m very tired of districts like mine who allocate increasing amounts of time, attention, and technology to the mundane task of testing and test prep rather than using all those resources “to amplify student potential”.

And finally from the Read Write Web blog, a post revealing that millennials are not so tech savvy after all. That’s a lesson many teachers need to learn. Kids certainly know how to use computers for fun and games but they need to learn how technology can be applied to their learning. That’s our job.

A Little More to Add

When it comes to Twitter, I tend to post in bursts as I find stuff worth passing along in my info flow, or when I stumble upon an conversation to which I think I can add something interesting.

Of course, 140 characters doesn’t offer much room for comment after including a title and the shortened link.  So here are some items that made it into my Twitter feed this week that deserve more attention, with a few more characters of additional thoughts.

From Ars Technica, Four signs America’s broadband policy is failing. As with way too many issues in American society, many politicians want to leave this stuff up to the phone and cable companies. And the policy becomes maximum profit for them and minimum service to those of us paying the bills.

Also from Ars Technica, 25 years of HyperCard – the missing link to the Web. I also see a connection to WordPress, which celebrated it’s ninth anniversary this week, in Bill Atkinson’s (HC creator) description of the program “Simply put, HyperCard is a software erector set that lets non-programmers put together interactive information.”. Both amazing, creative tools for their time.

From The Answer Sheet blog, Is teaching a science or an art? Daniel Willingham makes a great case for teaching being similar to architecture. Both have some “must have” conditions but also allow for some “could dos”, offering a great deal of flexibility and creativity. Or at least both should. Watch his whole presentation.

And finally, from Scientific American, NC Considers Making Sea Level Rise Illegal. When it comes to climate change and a host of other systemic problems, an increasing number of our “leaders” subscribe to a 6 year old’s philosophy of problem solving: ignoring them long enough will make them go away.

Leaving a Trail

In his post this morning, Seth Godin asks Are you leaving behind an easily found trail of accomplishment?

When it comes to the work students do in school here in the overly-large school district, the answer is not only no, but we work very hard to keep their work from being easily found – by anyone.

Outside of school, most of our kids are leaving an easily found trail. Whether that work can be called “accomplishment” is really unknown because we try very hard to ignore it.

Just some random thoughts with little or no context.