For K12 teachers in the US, this is more like half time, a break between the real learning of the fall semester and the test preparation of the spring. Ok, maybe a little cynical but certainly a reality for many kids in the past ten to fifteen years.
This is also a point at which many people offer up resolutions, not unlike sacrifices to the gods of winter, to change something about their lives. Exercise more, eat better, spend time on more worthy pursuits. But one thing I’ve learned over my many new years is, that approach doesn’t work for me. And, I suspect, many others as well, based on the many of those resolutions that are abandoned before the Ides of March.
I think most people rarely submit to substantial internal change without some kind of major outside force demanding that it happen. Something other than an artificial social convention like the beginning of a new calendar.
The most recent instance for me was leaving Fairfax County schools (aka the overly-large school district)1last August after many years in their bureaucracy. In addition to continuing personal projects over the past few months, I’ve also thought a lot about other things I want to do. Getting into a regular routine has been harder than I expected and something that will require more effort.
One goal I set for myself was to do more writing in this space. I thought that would be easy with the extra time available but the process appears to require more than time. I finally decided to make an effort to post something every day in December. Most of the entries probably would have been better if they sat in the draft folder a while longer (and at least a few should have been deleted before hitting publish), but it’s a small start to getting into a new rhythm.
Anyway, enough rambling for now. Whether you view January 1 as the beginning of a new year or just another check-in point on a longer road, I hope the coming 12 months are good ones. Full of new opportunities to take advantage of, not resolutions to be abandoned.
Being a small collection of linksÂ from my tweets of the pastÂ weekÂ that deserve a fewÂ more than 140 characters.
The Bootstrap Myth, an episode of the always interesting DecodeDC podcast. It’s all about the fact that “as compelling as the story is, the data show it’s not nearly as common as we’d like to believe”. Or that lazy Â and/or deceitful politicians want us to believe. Go listen.
The Post headline beginsÂ The U.S. has more jails than colleges. Unfortunately, the article is mostly statistics and an infographic about where those prisoners live, not about the much largerÂ issues of why we have so many Americans in jail. Another bigÂ issue, however, is why the Post spends so much of its energy on trivia instead of covering issues.
Air travel is not a fun experience any more and has become much worse in just the past five or so years. A writer in The New Yorker says that change is no accident. Airlines want basic passengers to pay additional fees (which is largely pure profit) for a better experience, and are willing to make the basic one crappy to do it.
To go with that downer about air travel, an essay explainingÂ Why Americans Are Terrible at Vacation. For one thing, “America is the only advanced economy in the world that does not have government-mandated, paid time off”. But there’s also the fact thatÂ 41% of us who have paid time off don’t even use it all.
And finally, for many decadesÂ we’ve heard all kinds of predictions ofÂ howÂ artificial intelligence (AI) is coming.Â Now some big thinkers (like Elon Musk and Steven Hawking)Â are afraid it’s here and we aren’t ready. What kind of ethics can be built into self-driving cars and stock trading algorithms? And who decides?
I’ve decided I like the word “kerfuffle”. WiktionaryÂ defines it as “A disorderly outburst, disturbance, commotion or tumult.”, but I have a better use.
It has a very silly sound, almost Seussian,Â so I think it should be narrowlyÂ appliedÂ to any kind of pointless orÂ artifically contrived controversy.
The kind of stuff that fills most of the day on cable news.
Over the past few years I’veÂ written quite a few posts around the topic of change, specifically thoseÂ 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 youÂ 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.
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.
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.