09 April 2016

Desktop Zero - 4 compelling reasons to make this an essential habit

Yes, this is mine. No I did not cheat, well maybe one folder... 

You don't need me to tell you that your environment affects your productivity. Since a great deal of our work is now done with a screen, it stands to reason that your desktop environment can play an important role in your productivity. Seriously can you really look me in the monitor and tell me that you'd rather work on a desktop that looks like, this?

Messy Desktop by RuthOrtiz

Five Reasons to Change

There are plenty of reasons for making the effort to aim for 'desktop zero', I'll attempt to lay out a handful for you here:

It is Irresponsible. 

Desktop etiquette—every teacher is a role model, and as a teacher, every time you share your desktop with your students, you demonstrate to them the kinds of organisational and work habits you expect them to imitate. 

Everytime we share a cluttered desktop with a class, or even with parents, we effectively also share our inability to self manage, our lack of organisation, perseverance, diligence, need I go on? The biggest problem is that all of these behaviours are built on bad habits, but these are bad habits I see teachers (and parents) passing on to their children every day.

It is Insecure.

Ironically one of the most common reasons I hear for storing files on the desktop, is their critical importance, 'those are files I need, and I can't afford to lose them...' Really? Because unless you are in the habit of fastidiously backing up your Mac with Time Machine, like every day (in which case you are probably already at Desktop Zero, or close enough), you run the risk of losing it all, one hard drive failure, and that's it, all gone. Desktop files, are the most common space/place where data is lost in my experience. If those files had been placed in a Google Drive folder (or DropBox) then they would have been safe. literally every edit, backed up, in real time—but nothing on your desktop (and your students, if they're imitating you) is being backed up to the cloud, nothing.

Top Tip -  on the Mac, you can create an Alias (right click, or command+option drag and drop) from any 'buried' folder/file so there is a shortcut or alias of it on the desktop, it acts just like the real thing (the parent folder) but with the advantage that it's really ensconced safely within a cloud backed up folder. 

It is Inefficient.

Your computer's desktop is a starting point for your entire computing experience, but—like anything else—if you let it get cluttered your productivity will take a dive, and your stress levels will rise; few things are as frustrating as you or our students not being able to find that file exactly when you/they need it, especially if that entails creating it again... and again... Next time you save a file to the desktop, wouldn't it be nice to be able to find it immediately, and not have to engage and a insanity inducing game of 'Where's Wally'. That's a game I have to aly almost every say that I work with a teacher on a desktop like ... that *shudders*

Clean-desk-high-productivity-toblender.com [modified]

It literally impedes

Because of the way OS X's GUI (graphical user interface) works, the icons on your desktop take up a lot more of your resources than you may realise... Just remember that every single icon on your desktop is actually a small transparent window with graphics (the icon) inside, so if you have, say, 100 icons on your desktop you have 100 windows open, each one stealing memory. And no, dumping them all in folder doesn't really help much, the fact that there is 2764 files in ONE folder, still means that OS X will still have trouble handling one folder with that many files in it..

Computer Desktop & Table Desktop

When we work with students on this, we are attempting to inculcate good habits, habits that will last a lifetime, one such habit is to work from desktop zero, an analogy we find helpful is for them to treat their computer desktop the same as they treat their table desktop in their classroom, as busy as it can get in the course of a normal working day, every day before they go home they are expected to return that space to what is effectively desktop zero 'IRL' (in real life). Everything gets put in it's right place, whether they have finished with that project or not, it goes in the appropriate folder. The difference being with computers being that you can actually work in files while they are in the folder, there's no need to take it out, and so need to put it back, this is why Desktop zero on a computer is easier than desktop IRL. In the same way when you place a folder in the appropriate folder (in Google Drive in the Finder) you can leave it there, and work on it while it is in there.

So, with this in mind, you shift your conception of the role of the desktop, the desktop becomes a temporary, easy to locate, grab, upload, rename "I need it in ten minutes or so" dumping ground. I only use my desktop as a temporary holding place for files I'm working with. Nothing remains there past the end of the day.

Cluttered desk via abcnews.com (Getty Images)

Upgrade Your Workflow

In actual fact the desktop is a folder, it's just a folder that you start from, and while it can function as a storage folder, as so many people have unfortunately proven, that is not its purpose. It was only created as an allegory so people would have something analog to relate the new digital experience to, just like the trash can in the corner‚we don't really keep tiny trash cans on the corner of our table tops, but it functions as an approximate analogy. And like most analogies, it has it's limits. One way forward is to start working the way you do when you use an iPad or similar device. 

New OSes like iOS and Android have thankfully ditched the "file icon sandbox" idea. The only things you are presented with when you look at your device is a launchpad for apps and services. Your data is invisible and agnostic and available only when you are in a program that knows how to display or use it, and you know what it works just fine, no clutter. 

Become more app oriented and less file oriented

In iOS, if you're working on a file, you start by opening the App, then you locate the file from within that App, well the exact same method work on the desktop. Working on a word document? Don't look for the file first, open Word, then you will easily find any recent files in the recent files view. All you need to is drop down the menu bar 2 spaces from Open, to Open Recent—there that's not so hard is it?

Open Recent, don't just Open.

You will find the same feature in any application you use. Trust me. These are conventions that are cross-platform, that means you will be able to take advantage of this workflow no matter what computer or platform you ever use. Invest in now, and you will reap the rewards the rest of your life.

File less, search and sort more

I've written about this already here, spend less time creating and organising folders (although that is important too) and make sure you name your files with keywords you can search for. On all your devices now instant search is everywhere, and on your Mac, you can search in literally any folder you open, from 'All my Files' to 'Documents' if it's in there, somewhere, search will find it, regardless of the folder it's in, but that's no use if the file is called 'Untitled.doc' or "Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 5.38.12 am". Rename it, then move it.

Sort out your Sorting

When you have a bunch of files on display in your finder, make sure you take advantage of the button which lets you 'change item arrangement' pick whatever option will make it easiest to move the files you want to the top - I personally find the 'Date modified' to be the most useful, but there are options there for everyone.

Illustration by Ben Wiseman via nytimes

Don't procrastinate you can do it today!

The solution is not to just create another folder (which is actually inside the folder which is the desktop) and dump them all in there, it just means you've buried the problem. By all means dump all the files in a (cloud connected) folder (or 3 or 4), just make sure you've deleted the files you won't need again, and give the ones you do need a name you can search for. Once you've done that you'll probably find there are 'themes' forming that lend themselves to folders, but don't let that be an excuse to procrastinate, as you can always change your mind later, computers are convenient like that... 

Clean desk[top] policy via awanbee.com

07 April 2016

Aims, objectives and semantics

One of the first goals we were faced with on our first visit with the T2T Cambodia team was to really establish what the fundamentals of a lesson need to be. It is not until you are forced to defend your rationale for the structure of a lesson that some of the issues of semantics really do come into focus.

Take the typical traditional lesson structure:
  1. Objectives
  2. Activities
  3. Outcomes

With some seasoning from our recent workshops in formative assessment with Dylan Wiliam, this quickly morphed into something a little more nuanced ... When combined with the  5 key strategies of formative assessment, the first three of which are more or less synonymous with the traditional lesson structure...
  1. Clarifying learning intentions
  2. Eliciting evidence
  3. Feedback that moves learning forward
[Students as learning resources for one another
Students as owners of their own learning]

We ended up with something more like:
  1. Learning intentions/objectives
  2. Activities that elicit evidence 
  3. Outcomes as a result of feedback  

And before you know it, with a room full of teachers, it looked like this:
  1. Learning intentions/Aims & objectives
  2. Activities that elicit evidence though active engagements 
  3. Outcomes informed by feedback and based on clear success criteria 

Now trying to explain all that though a translator to a room full of teachers in a room without air conditioning in a temperature in excess of 30° with only the most rudimentary of teaching resources...

What I have found is that you find yourself having to distil everything down to the absolute bare essentials which for me now look something like this, something which funnily enough has enhanced my own understanding of my own practice an intern hopefully improve my practice as a teacher.

For me it is ended up being as simple as:
  1. Aim or Goal or BIG IDEA
  2. Activity
  3. Feedback

But, and this is essential, it has to be iterative.
[Aim, achieved? Great. No? Either change the activity (or maybe even the aim) then try again]

Getting the Aim right is CRITICAL, if the aim is any good then in order to achieve it you will have to move through a series of "objectives" which will automatically require the achievement of "learning intentions" and the design of an activity that facilitates those goals, but that ultimately has one outcome, the achievement of the aim...


The last IT lesson I observed had learning intentions of:
  • Create a table in a spreadsheet
  • List occupations
  • Add a new column for images
  • Insert images that match the occupations

But what was the AIM? And a well considered aim would make the individual learning intentions redundant. Of course the aim has to be worthwhile, authentic, meaningful… in this case because it was a FOCUS lesson I was able to intervene and redesign the lesson with the teacher) right there, right then. What we did was establish an aim which in this case was...

Use a table to compare a range of at least 5 career opportunities that interest you. Consider the following aspects of each of the occupations you have chosen:

  • Title
  • Brief description
  • Illustration
  • Positive
  • Negatives
  • Salary
  • Qualifications required

With a well-written aim, the specific articulation of learning intentions naturally follows, agonising over them is no longer actually necessary as they will have to be identified in order to fulfil the aim of the lesson. Don't they need to be expanded? Articulated in sentences? I don't think so, any teacher worth their salt will out the mat on the bones, and hopefully also provide feedback in relation to those specific learning intentions, whether or not they actually need to write them on the board is another question.

What was even better about this was that it quickly became obvious that there were quite a few aspects of the occupations that interested students that none of us were in a position to answer… for example salary, instead we asked the students to estimate what they think the salary per month would be, the we did the same for  of the other aspects of each of the qualifications that they chose. Then (using the student resources for one another) we are the students to compare their work… this sparked some passionate discussions as some students had (for example) the lowest paid as a police officer while other students had the police officer highest paid… Discuss!

What was fascinating is when we get the students to then research online to find out what the actual answers are and then compare the estimates with the reality and then to reflect on the disparities or consistencies that they found.

What started out as a rather banal activity in table creation and meaningless data entry became a transformational lesson in career guidance while also fulfilling the (arguably more mundane) ICT requirements. It's all about the aim

06 April 2016

21st Century Spelling

Spilling had never bin maw impotent

Spelling has never been more important, as my example above attempts to illustrate. In an age dominated by screens, misspelling is tantamount to an admission of idiocy—but the ways we teach spelling needs to evolve to take advantage of the unique affordances and challenges of spelling in a screen environment. Please note that none of the words in the title are actually misspellings, but mistakes they are, and a right twazzock you will look if you spell in a way that is overly reliant on proofreading tools as a safety net. It's time we took account of the fact that in a world dominated by screens the ways we teach spelling needs to evolve to take advantage of the unique affordances and challenges of spelling in a screen environment.

These days the likelihood of interacting with others in a digital environment is an extremely commonplace scenario. Even more critical, people who misspell in these environments are generally assumed to be less intelligent, less articulate, and despite their possible intelligence/experience, their perspective will be dismissed or demeaned if it is littered with misspellings. It has never been more important to master the ability to spell correctly. Unfortunately most schools, despite the criticality of spelling in the 21st-century, still rely on 19th century strategies to teach spelling. This really does need to change. So, with that in mind...

14 critical considerations:

  1. Spelling should be managed within the context of writing, and not as a separate "subject", For that reason keeping a separate spelling book is discouraged; a better practice is to think of and learn about words and misspellings and sounds within the context of writing, so for example words that are encountered that are challenging to spell should be recorded at the back of a student's writing book, not in a separate spelling book.
  2. Less is more, more frequent opportunities for kids to think about spelling, but for much shorter periods of time (10-15 minutes per day)
  3. Make direct connections between spelling and handwriting, the actual physicality or skill of the formation of the letters as they are literally connected is meant to reinforce the way the sounds are connected, and builds a visual reinforcement. The idea is to combine physical visual, oral and aural practise to reinforce the feel, the shape and the sound of a word.
  4. Children (and adults) can only spell words they know, sounds obvious, but so many of the spelling lists that are used with students contain words they do not know, so could not possibly be able to spell, other than through guesswork, which leads us to...
  5. There is a much greater validity to the skill of being able "guesstimate" in a TELE (technology enhanced learning environment), and ‘phonological awareness’ is more essential than ever, as an accurate phonetical estimation is relied on by computers to substitute for a correct spelling. A student who cannot phonetically 'attack' a word is unlikely to be able to approximate something that a computer can correct. Related to this is the critical importance of being able to spell the first half of a word correctly, most modern computing devices can now auto complete a word if a student is able to spell the first half of it correctly. Apple's 'QuickType' in iOS 8, and apps like "SwiftKey" utilise this approach very effectively, and the power of Dictation (speech to text) has never been greater, but it will still struggle with homophones (same sound different spelling and meaning). An alternative approach in a 'spelling test' context is to award 2 marks to each word, one mark for being able to spell the word phonetically correctly, or for spelling the first half correctly, and 2 marks if the word is perfect. 
  6. Stop using spelling tests for whole classes with lists of words, this is a nonsensical approach, considering the sheer quantity of words in the typical English dictionary, somewhere in the region of 400,000 words. The words that children learn should be unique and curated from their own literacy life, related to their own writing, reading and speaking, and viewing and listening experiences, or related to specific vocabulary that they are using/used (not will use) in a current unit of study.
  7. Wordlists curated by students should be seen as a source of vocabulary expansion, not just for spelling. Becoming a personal thesaurus/glossary that they should review regularly when writing to enhance the richness of their prose; use it or lose it.
  8. Less reliance upon "spelling rules" which are very rarely consistent, and in many cases can lead to a great deal of confusion. Like when students are asked to note the position of a certain vowel in a word and its impact upon other vowels or consonants within that word, also using acrostics like 'big elephants can always understand...' you get the idea, and of course they only work for one word… Instead focus on more reliance on building familiarity with the way words look and the way words sound, so 'look say cover write check' still works well as a useful skill/drill practice, but with fewer words, more often. This is strongly related to the student's reading life as a synergetic enabler in their spelling life. This becomes a context where students are encouraged to see words as 'friends' and building a large community of 'familiar faces' ie, the more they see these words the more likely they are to be able to spell them, or arguably just as important in the 21st-century, to recognise when the word is not spelt properly, ‘it just doesn't look right'.
  9. Skill drill tasks (practise makes permanent) should also be related to an activity that reinforces their comprehension of the meaning of the word, so ideally students should also invent (not copy) a sentence that uses the word, or even better, more than one of the words in the same sentence, that clearly demonstrates that they can use the word/s with an understanding of it/them. For some students it might be better for them to make an oral recording of them speaking the sentence rather than writing a sentence, if the writing is a challenge to reluctant writers, as the focus is on understanding meaning, and oral recall can be just as effective for building meaning, this is especially important with homophones.
  10. More recognition of the kinds of spellings that are particularly relevant to a screen centred writing environment, this means a greater emphasis on distinguishing between words with similar sounds and different patterns, homophones, homonyms, homographs.
  11. Making smarter use of digital tools to facilitate this kind of practice, while spelling activities that are built on skill drill using pre-set wordlists have their place, particularly for high frequency for younger learners, for older/more proficient students, encourage spelling drills that are built on individually curated wordlists. Unfortunately Apps that facilitate this kind of curation are not very common, but at least one that does this very well is Squeebles SP, although you have to ask students to pretend to be a teacher to do so.
  12. Use a word processor to spell check, before using a teacher. This could be a simple as a Notes app on a mobile device) to enable students to check spellings without the tedium of using a dictionary. Then the teacher reviews the spelling for careless mistakes, or more likely mistakes resulting from misconceptions about phonetics/word structure. Students need to be empowered to build habits of capturing/collecting words that they know, but cannot spell in their curated lists. The point is, it is better for the student to attempt to type the word in a text application and have the computer suggest corrections than it is for them to try and search for it in a dictionary. While the latter is still helpful, the former is a better cognitive process for learning the spelling of a word, and is also more relevant/likely as an activity or skill set in the 21st-century. Very few adults look up words in a dictionary, most rely on the prompt given by the computer in a word processing environment.
  13. Encourage students to learn how to use the "define" search term in Google, effectively turning any Google search window into a handy Dictionary, eg - define: magnificent
  14. Digital technologies are changing which words are traditionally understood to be "tricky" words/spelling Demons/sneaky spellings… so for example any word typed in a text environment will automatically switch the 'ie' in a word like receive, but will not be able to distinguish between homonyms.

Squeebles Showcase

Squeebles Spelling - multimodal drill and practice
I'm not usually one to emphasise a tool, but from time to time a tool emerges that has affordances that are ridiculous to ignore, Squeebles Spelling is one of those. Digital tools like Squeebles can transform spelling practice by making traditional equivalents pale in comparison, consider the following:


Click to see Squeebles in action! 
Kids can 'masquerade' as a parent or teacher to curate their own lists, careless errors are mitigated by the built in spell check—obviously this feature is not activated when they are actually practising! Alternatively, there are a wide range of built in word lists to choose from that cater to all skill levels.

Multimodality and meaning

It's not enough to spell a word, they need to know how it sounds and understand the meaning. In Squeebles kids can record the sound of the word, as well place it in a sentence, eg "Pear. I like the taste of a pear better than an apple. Pear." Better still make it fun by having the kids make up silly sentences, as long as it shows they understand the meaning anything goes! This makes the activity aural and oral - this way the kids say the word, hear the word, and see the word. 

Immediate feedback - differentiated

No need to wait for a teacher to collect in all the spelling tests, then wait a few days to get them all back, even then, actually acting on the spelling errors is a chore, never mind tracking these over time. Squeebles provides immediate feedback, but even better keeps a record of any errors in a collection called 'Tricky Words' that reflect the words that this individual is struggling with.


Last and maybe least, Squeebles 'gamifies' the successes into mini games, so kids feels a tangible sense of reward, over and above the real reward—improved spelling.

05 April 2016

Deliver us from tedious tests and rubrics

via hippoquotes
Assessment drives everything educational. So, not surprisingly, assessment is the biggest factor in terms of planning the use of tech in effective ways. This means that it's critical to ensure that we use a varied range of assessment strategies, which is where I find a surprising lack of options.

Why do so many teachers assume that only rubrics and tests are suitable for assessment? Sure they have their place but only within a suite of assessment strategies...

It feels to me like every educational reference I read or hear about, especially in tech circles, assumes that the only viable option has to be a rubric. I don't mean to denigrate any particular assessment tool—clearly rubrics and tests can be effective assessment tools, but when they dominate, they have an unfortunate tendency to diminish the importance and efficacy of all of the other tools that are available. It is depressingly common to me that in virtually any educational context (classroom, conference, online) when the conversation inevitably turns to assessment, the question seems to default to, 'what rubric or test will we use?' rather than any awareness that there are a plethora of other tools and strategies that could be just as effective if not more so.

Now I am concious that I may be overstating my point, after all, I have to confess I don't hate them, I hate the way they are so often assumed to be the only option worth considering. I loathe the majority I see that are poorly conceived and poorly written. They are often bloated verbose attempts at teasing out questionable differences in attainment, many that seem to be based on the assumptions that just adjusting superlatives is sufficient, like well, very well, independently, with assistance...

Of course I'm not the only one who has a problem with rubrics:

The most famous of whom is probably Alfie Kohn who speaks to the false sense of objectivity and how rubrics have misled many.

And I really like Joe Bower's take on Rubrics, in 'The Folly of Rubrics and Grades'

"Grades and rubrics are a solution in search of a problem that will further destroy learning for its own sake.  
It’s been five years since I used a rubric. I simply don’t need them, nor do my students.
Rather than spending time asking how can we grade better, we really need to be asking why are we grading. And then we need to stop talking about grading altogether and focus our real efforts on real learning."

Most of the rubrics I've seen could be easily replaced by a continuum, at least then all you would need to is define the extremes, but and I guess this is a statement about teaching as a profession, far too many teachers use the term 'rubric' as if it is synonymous with 'assessment tool'.

Rubrics are one of many ways to assess learning, and they are used far too often. Used well a rubric can be a powerful assessment tool, but in my experience I rarely see them used well, and I often see them used inappropriately.  So, yes, they have their place but only within a suite of assessment strategies...

Here's one way to use a rubric well, by making it more student centred' this way the teacher defines a central standard (eg a level 3 on a 5 point scale) and then leaves the students to define and justify the level they feel there work sits in comparison to that, (above or below, or in the middle) with examples.

There are other ways to assess... 

Next time you're assessing, at least consider some alternatives to rubrics. Now before someone accuses this of being more new fangled thinking, here's some out of the Ark:

But one of my favourite summaries of assessment strategies and tools, is this grid from the PYP:

Unfortunately the PYP is allergic to the term 'tests' and (somewhat simplistically in my opinion) assume that all tests can be summarised as 'checklists'. Still, if more educators made more effort to tick all the elements in the above diagram in one year everyone would be a winner. I've always found this matrix from the PYP to be particularly useful to illustrate this, although you may be surprised by the omission of tests from this grid, I believe they (somewhat disparagingly?) categorise these as 'check lists':

Do less, but do it better.

Now of course it's highly possible that teachers are unaware of the wider range of assessment tools they use effectively almost everyday, such as the ad hoc/informal conversations (conferences in the jargon) with students every day, to spirited class debates (not lectures) that utlise skilful Socratic strategies, which are in and of themselves valid assessment tools. The problem is that I think these are seen as somehow inferior to a "proper" test/rubric. All this does is create a lose/lose scenario for the teacher and the student. Rather than focusing on tests and rubrics, wouldn't it be better for everyone if we were to embrace a much wider tool kit when it comes to assessment? To see them all as valid/powerful, maybe that conversation/conference was so effective that adding a rubric or a test is not only unnecessary but possibly even counter productive?

I think if you had asked most teachers why it is that they rely so strongly upon rubrics and tests as opposed to all of the other powerful forms of assessment, I think you would find that they would point to one sad fact; they feel they need paper with marks on, that they can attach a grade to, so they can point to it as being hard evidence of their assessment judgement. While there is clearly a place for this kind of formal (usually summative) judgement, in my experience it is far too frequent and far too common. Teachers could do themselves a favour and do their students a favour by focusing on the goal of learning rather than the need to have a hard artefact to present evidence of every stage of progress.

What if instead we were to focus on the goal, that is, as long as the assessment tools you use allow you to provide effective individual feedback to the student and enables them to progress in their learning point where they are improving compare to their previous level of competence (ipsative assessment), then the goal has been achieved! So why not work a little smarter and use a range of assessment tools that are a far more varied. In so doing you create a classroom environment that is more dynamic, and far more effective for both the teacher and the student.

So what does this have to do with edtech?

From my perspective, a classroom that exploits a wide range of assessment tools is a much richer environment within which to be able to integrate digital tools that can truly enhance and transform the way teachers teach and the way the students learn, and demonstrate the extent to which they have mastered the skills, knowledge and understanding that is truly the point, not just in ways that can be measured quantitatively on another test or a rubric. You don't have to look much further than an early childhood classroom to see this in action. Why? One thing these very young students can't do is demonstrate their understanding via tests or rubrics, which opens up a whole range of extremely rich engaging ways of demonstrating skills knowledge and understanding that would benefit many students that are considerably older, 

04 April 2016

Kids, Concentration, Boredom, & Tech

Photograph: John Slater/Getty Images

Boredom is not a new problem, it is a condition that has to a greater or lesser extent been an aspect of human existence for eons. And yet it seems to me that a pervasive myth is developing, along the lines of assuming that boredom is the fault of computers, that students that use computers are students that cannot concentrate, articles like these are a case in point:

"Technology Changing How Students Learn, Teachers Say"


"Technology Creating a Generation of Distracted Students"

The general gist of the arguments could be summarised thus:

Teachers (from middle and high schools) say today’s digital technologies “do more to distract students than to help them academically.”

"There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers..."

".. roughly 75 percent of 2,462 teachers surveyed said that the Internet and search engines had a “mostly positive” impact on student research skills. And they said such tools had made students more self-sufficient researchers.

... nearly 90 percent said that digital technologies were creating “an easily distracted generation with short attention spans.”

... of the 685 teachers surveyed in the Common Sense project, 71 percent said they thought technology was hurting attention span “somewhat” or “a lot.”

That said, these same Teachers remained somewhat optimistic about digital impact, with 77% saying Internet search tools have had a “mostly positive” impact on their students’ work.

Arguments abound, although ones like this strike me as quite strange:

"This could be because search engines and Wikipedia have created an entire generation of students who are used to one-click results and easy-to-Google answers."

Wait. What?

You're saying that if you can get an answer to a question with one click, that is a bad thing? Sure, there will be times when you will have to do a lot more than one click, because you have not been able to get a satisfactory answer to the question. But... if I could get a good answer in one click, believe me I would. If anything, access to the treasure trove of information that is the Internet, makes it much easier to get a multiplicity of sources, rather than only one, much easier than I could with books - yes I said it.

If your students can get the answers to your questions with one click... You're asking the wrong kinds of questions, boring questions. Maybe try asking questions that they can't just google, or that are difficult to google?

So. To the hordes of disgruntled teachers who are so quick to blame technology for short attention spans, I have this to say.

Get better. Get creative.

If your kids are bored, that is because, you are boring them, you are allowing them to be bored. Face it, move on, build a bridge, get over it, and use this as impetus to improve. As Dylan Wiliam says, "teaching is the hardest profession because you can always get better at it; and, "A complaint is a gift" (Although it won't feel like that at the time)."

"The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity."

(Widely attributed to Dorothy Parker)

"by removing lecture from class time, we can make classrooms more engaging and human." 

"Why Long Lectures Are Ineffective" Salman Khan

It is unfair to blame technology for short attention spans… We (the human race, not just kids) have had short attention spans for many years, it's just that students are now less inclined to put up with it. Certainly the Time magazine article cites research from 1976, well before the advent of digital technology as we know it - I was a (bored) 6 year old.

I know this may come as a huge shock to anyone who knows me, but I have always had a short attention span; and that predated computers by at least a decade... I am not the only one. Chances are many of them are in your class (and are also your students' parents).

In 1996, in a journal called the National Teaching & Learning Forum, two professors from Indiana University — Joan Middendorf and Alan Kalish — described how research on human attention and retention speaks against the value of long lectures. They cited a 1976 study that detailed the ebbs and flows of students’ focus during a typical class period. Breaking the session down minute-by-minute, the study’s authors determined that students needed a three- to five-minute period of settling down, which would be followed by 10 to 18 minutes of optimal focus. Then—no matter how good the teacher or how compelling the subject matter—there would come a lapse. In the vernacular, the students would “lose it.” Attention would eventually return, but in ever briefer pockets, falling “to three- or four-minute [spurts] towards the end of a standard lecture,” according to the report.

Just in case you didn't catch that. Let me just make that a little clearer:

10 to 18 minutes of optimal focus.

That's it.

So, what we need to do is instead of complaining, get creative.

via technorati

Maybe, just maybe, boredom is nature's way of telling you that you need to change.

03 April 2016

To Code or Not to Code?

That is a good question - and one I am commonly asked by both parents and teachers.

Technically this is not code, it is script... 

There is a LOT more to this than a simple yes or no answer, but my opinion is that I'm not convinced that encouraging kids to become coders (actually computer programmers—coding is actually a slang term) is a great idea, I think they should learn to code, if they're keen, but only so they can understand it better, so they can be creative with it. You see you can employ coders, they are a dime a dozen, they're all over the web. It's the creative 'big picture' aspect that is lacking, ie what to code, not so much how.

That said... It's hard to know what you can do if you don't know how. Basically you don't need to be the best coder, you need to be good enough to really know what its potential is.
"Someday, the understanding of computational processes may be indispensable for people in all occupations. But it’s not yet clear when we’ll cross that bridge from nice-to-know to must-know." 

"But is it really crucial to be able to code? Many content producers use technology virtually every waking hour of their life, and they don't know a variable from an identifier, or an integer from a string. Personally, I'm conflicted: I have a technical background, but for most people I just don't see how being able to compile code is going to prove useful."  
"Coding is not a goal. It’s a tool for solving problems. [...] However, much of the “learn to code” frenzy seems to spring from the idea that you can achieve fame and riches by starting a tech company and you need to actually code something first. Programming is not a get-rich-quick scheme. Even if you do hit the jackpot, the CEOs of successful tech companies do not spend a lot of time coding, even if they started out behind a keyboard. There are simply too many other tasks involved in running a company. So if coding is what you really love to do, you probably wouldn't want to be a CEO in the first place.."  

Please don't advocate learning to code just for the sake of learning how to code. Or worse, because of the fat paychecks. Instead, I humbly suggest that we spend our time learning how to …
• Research voraciously, and understand how the things around us work at a basic level.
• Communicate effectively with other human beings.
These are skills that extend far beyond mere coding and will help you in every aspect of your life.  

So, don't believe the hype; there is no more need for this generation to learn to code, than there was for the generations that preceded them to do the work of a car mechanic.

Clearly there is no shortage of people that want to code, in the same way that there was no shortage of people throughout the 20th Century who wanted to become automobile engineers, and those that have the predilection will. I mean, the point is it's not hard to act on it, to make it happen, and ... if you can't, then coding is probably not an option for you.

Compare that to say … learning the oboe, well that's not quite so easy to learn if you only have a computer and an internet connection. But there are millions of people out there who do, and are honing their abilities every day, and they don't expect to be paid as much for it as you might think.

So - how do we learn this stuff?

All the people I know who are any use with IT and ICTs (yes, there is a difference) are those who basically taught themselves (including myself). It's almost a rite of passage. My instinct tells me that the kind of kids who can code WILL code, and if they can't find ways to teach themselves using the plethora of resources online, then, they probably haven’t got what it takes to code. Despite the glowing 'FUN, FUN, FUN!' messages that proliferate from some quarters of the web, the truth is, if you want to code, really code, you will need to work hard, you will need to persevere, nothing that is worth having comes easy, and coding is no exception. Simple as that.

"Top companies expect you to know what a recent comp-sci graduate would know, which could include SQL vs. NoSQL databases, the time complexity of some algorithm, or how to implement binary search. ... opportunities are few and far between."

"While there are some excellent companies willing to hire driven and intelligent self-taught engineers, they lie in the minority. Many companies pass over candidates without a formal degree in computer science before reading on; the stigma of low experience is a hard one to break in any industry but especially in those involving technical abilities."


I have never been taught 'IT' but I had to teach myself HTML to design web pages, and ActionScript to create Flash animations - at its best, that is what things like coding 'computer science' and subjects like DT teaches kids - YOU can solve your own problems, and you can teach yourself how to do it. The WWWHWW have getting from A to B, even if it means going through D, H and X to get there. The first time.

That's another argument for coding, not so much as a skills for the workplace, but the process, the rationale it demands, here's a quote from my colleague Helen Leeming who teaches IT in MS and HS, from an email exchange we had on this subject: This point about developing critical/analytical thinking through coding is powerful -

"It isn't the coding… its the critical thinking… they don't need to code any more than they need to be able to do quadratic equations - for most people either would be redundant the minute they walk out of school. But they do need to have stretched their minds, to have made their thoughts work in a different way, which both of those will. Almost none of them need to code (or indeed use a lot of what we teach them in school - ox bow lakes for example), but the ability to problem solve is essential. It could be taught through other things, it simply isn't in many cases… And people rarely choose to learn critical thinking unless they are an 'IT geek' and they are the ones that probably can already do it."

I don't understand why people question that this needs to be taught as people won't be coders, while we still do teach algebra and the periodic table to kids that will not be mathematicians or chemists. Education is not about learning a set of knowledge or practical skills that you can use later, it is about teaching you to think, to think in many different ways, to play with ideas in many different ways and to have a toolbox of techniques to address puzzles or problems you meet later. Abstract, critical thinking is one of the tools…"
It should be remembered that one the best ways to get to grips with the kind of logistical thinking skills demanded by coding is by using spreadsheet functions, such as google spreadsheets, right there in the browser, and then move on to writing your own formulae, to solve basic mathematical problems, that right there is the basis of writing code. Starting with a formula as simple as =A1+B1 to things like IF functions:

=IF(A1<B1, "awesome",IF(B1<A1,"amazing"))

So, my advice to potential coders would be learn to walk before you run, or more precisely, learn to walk (scratch) run (stencyl) jump (alice) then you can really get creative (dance) with the source code:

All of the the tools below are free, come with great support materials, tutorials, and communities to get you from A to B, even if you have to travel via N and X.

Coding for kids

Some of the iPad Apps we use to introduce kids to coding

Here's a great set of Apps you can use to introduce our child to coding, even from Kindergarten, this is my suggested sequence of progression, from games that teach the kind of logical thinking needed for coding, to Apps that allow free form creation:

  1. Daisy the Dinosaur
  2. Tynker
  3. Lightbot
  4. Move the Turtle
  5. Hopscotch
  6. Scratch Jr 

Do it yourself...

  1. Start with iPads to learn the basics of control, computer programming thinking, Apps like Daisy the Dinosaur, Hopscotch, Move the Turtle. Apps like these use a drag and drop interface will intuitively grasp the basics of objects, sequencing, loops and events by solving app challenges. 
  2. Move to Code.org,  Scratch http://scratch.mit.edu/, or www.tynker.com 
  3. Progress to Stencyl http://www.stencyl.com/ for iOS App coding using a similar 'block' interface, or alternatively App Inventor
  4. Then download the Xcode App for free from the App store if they feel they are ready to actually use Xcode, there are many online tutorials that can help with this, such as this one.
  5. Try http://www.codecademy.com/ for learning a range of programming languages. 
  6. Then to Alice http://www.alice.org/ 

By then you should be ready for the source code, this site hackerbuddies http://hackerbuddy.com/ will help with this final stage... One-on-one mentoring for startup hackers.

… but even then, which language?


or Xcode for coding iOS Apps

And there are many more ... http://langpop.com/

But I would imagine for most kids the biggest motivator would be to create an app, using xCode (a free App from the App store). Which you can port to from Stencyl, but you have to pay $150 to enable that feature, so you can learn for free, you only need to pay when/if you're ready to put into the market place. Clearly it is the desire to create 'Apps' that is driving the current resurgence in interest in coding. For more on this phenomenon, read this article.

We now also facilitate the UWCSEA coding community through our ECA programme, for MS and HS students. If your child is in Primary and impatient to get going, learning Scratch and Stencyl will ensure they are more than ready by Grade 6, and of course from Grade 9 students have the option of choosing to follow a course in Computing, all the way through to grade 12 if they so choose. Middle school includes a module of coding through Lego Mindstorms in DT and we offer IGCSE Computing and IGCSE IT, and IB Computer Science in High School.

02 April 2016

The Myth of the Cyberkid

We all know that kids are 'digital natives' and the rest of us, well ... we're just... not.



Allow me to refocus your cultural lens with a few quotes from some eminent scholars in the know:

"The mother of ten-year-old Anna is surely observing a profound generational transformation when she says: I’ll have to come up to a level because otherwise I will, I’ll be a dinosaur, and the children, when children laugh at you and sort of say “Blimey, mum, don’t you even know that?” . . . Already now I might do something and I say “Anna, Anna, what is it I’ve got to do here?” and she’ll go “Oh mum, you’ve just got to click the—” and she’ll be whizzing, whizzing dreadfully.

For previously new media—books, comics, cinema, radio, and television—even if parent weren’t familiar with the particular contents their children engaged with, at least they could access and understand the medium so that, if they wished to understand what their children were doing or share the activity with them, they could. With the advent of digital media,things have changed. The demands of the computer interface are significant, rendering many parents “dinosaurs” in the information age inhabited by their children.

Young people themselves, conscious of being the first generation to grow up with the internet, concur with the public celebration of their status as “digital natives.” Amir (15, from London) says confidently, “I don’t find it hard to use a computer because I got into it quickly. You learn quick because it’s a very fun thing to do.” Nina (17, from Manchester) adds scathingly, “My Dad hasn’t even got a clue. Can’t even work the mouse. . . . So I have to go on the Internet for him.” But while these claims contain a sizeable grain of truth, we must also recognize their rhetorical value for the speakers.

Only in rare instances in history have children gained greater expertise than parents in skills highly valued by society (diasporic children’s learning of the host language before their parents is a good example). More usually, youthful expertise— in music, games, or imaginative play—is accorded little, serious value by adults, even if envied nostalgically. Thus, although young people’s newfound online skills are justifiably trumpeted by both generations, this does not put them beyond critical scrutiny, for the young entrepreneurs and hackers are the exceptions rather than the norm.


... one should note that while Ted, like the other two, would appear to a superficial observer to multitask effectively, “whizzing around” in the manner that impressed Anna’s mother, the benefits he gains from the internet are curtailed first by his lack of interest in information, education, or exploration and, second, by his poor skills in searching and evaluating Web sites, though one should not underestimate the importance of gaining communication-related literacy skills, especially for teenagers.


As more and more policy emphasis at national and international levels is placed on “media
literacy” or “information literacy” or “internet literacy,” critical scholars have all the more reason simultaneously to support internet literacy initiatives, ... (and) to challenge the inflated public claims regarding the “internet-savvy” teenager that accompany them.

(Livingstone, 2009)

“Our research shows that the argument that there is a generational break between today’s generation of young people who are immersed in new technologies and older generations who are less familiar with technology is flawed.

The diverse ways that young people use technology today shows the argument is too simplistic and that a new single generation, often called the ‘net generation’, with high skill levels in technology does not exist.”

Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC)

See? It does not exist. Yet.

Digital nativity vs digital naivety

On the contrary; the skills of this so called generation of 'digital natives' are in my experience woefully inadequate, now that so many schools have effectively abandoned the explicit teaching of a broad and balanced set of ICT skills. Why? Because they wrongly assume that this is what authentic tech integration looks like ... I've written about how we can avoid this, but suffice it to say, somewhat ironically, this generation is set to be less proficient in their use of tech than their parents! Parents, if you were taught IT, or ICT skills at school, you probably have more to offer your kids in terms of tech skills than you might think...

Digital natives, redefined.

The problem now is that, try as we might, this boat has sailed, and to a rather disconcerting extent, this term seems to have been incorporated into global vernacular... So perhaps, rather than attempting to subvert it, its time to correct it. As danah boyd (sic) points out in her book, 'It's complicated':

Beyond Digital Natives

Most scholars have by now rejected the term digital natives, but the public continues to embrace it. This prompted John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, coauthors of Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives, to suggest that scholars and youth advocates should reclaim the concept and make it more precise. They argue that dismissing the awkward term fails to account for the shifts that are at play because of new technologies. To correct for misconceptions, they offer a description of digital natives that they feel highlight the inequalities discussed in this chapter:
“Digital natives share a common global culture that is defined not by age, strictly, but by certain attributes and experiences related to how they interact with information technologies, information itself, one another, and other people and institutions. Those who were not ‘born digital' can be just as connected, if not more so, than their younger counterparts. And not everyone born since, say, 1982, happens to be a digital native.” 


Boyd, Danah. It's complicated: The social lives of networked teens. Yale University Press, 2014.
Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected. Edited by Tara McPherson. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning.
Livingstone, Sonia. “Internet Literacy: Young People’s Negotiation of New Online Opportunities."



01 April 2016

Integrating Technology, Pedagogy & Change Knowledge

"Stratosphere' is truly the best thing I have read on technology and education."

Well that's what the blurb on the back of the book says - and I have to say I think I agree, hence this post. What follows are my 'Sean's notes' ... But nothing beats reading the entire book yourself, at 78 pages this is not a massive overtaking - if you won't/can't should or won't or will but not yet - then give these notes a skim. The insights Fullan provides here are profound and of the utmost relevance to anyone who needs to integrate technology into their teaching and learning (by the way, that is everyone who would call themselves a teacher).*

Fullan M (2012). Stratosphere: Integrating Technology, Pedagogy and Change Knowledge.

The Journey

p 2
… the current education system is so very inappropriately content bound and [this is] why the new pedagogy–learning how to learn–is so essential. Learn how to learn because the evolving world is ever changing and elusive. We need the capacity to keep up–to periodically grasp the ungraspable. Only those who know how to learn, who can relate to others AND the environment (including "things"), and who make the world part of their own evolving being will thrive in this world. 

p 3
Research on pedagogy is now demonstrating that even for higher-order skills, small investments in targeted relationships with students pay off with high-yield motivational and achievement results. Technology can accelerate these learning experiences on a large scale with minimal costs after initial investments. 

p 4
… focusing on a small number of ambitious goals with a coherent strategy that attends in concert to half a dozen or so key factors: intrinsic motivation, capacity building, transparency of results and practice, leadership at all levels, and a positive but assertive stance on progress. Borrowing from Jeff Kluger, I call this change knowledge "simplexity" – a small number of key factors (the simple part) that must be made to gel with large groups of people (the complex aspect).

... four criteria for integrating technology and pedagogy to produce exciting, innovative learning experiences for all students – something desperately needed to bring education into the 21st century. These new developments must be (i) irresistibly engaging (for students and teachers); ii) Elegantly efficient and easy to use; iii) technologically ubiquitous 24/7; and (iv) steeped in real-life problem-solving.
Integrating technology, pedagogy, and change knowledge is fundamentally liberating. It democratises learning so that every student learns how to learn for a lifetime of pursuing personal passion, purpose, and fulfilment.  Best of all, students learn collaboratively, consolidating connections with others locally and from afar. Citizenship, human solidarity, collective problem-solving, and sustainability are thereby served. 

p 5
In education we have just about reached the end of squeezing good out of an outdated school system. The current system is too costly, too ineffective, and as any kid will tell you, deadly boring. 

Technology and Humans Shape Each Other

pp 12-13:
Kelly [Kevin Kelly (2010). What Technology Wants. New York: Viking] observes, "Yes, technology is acquiring its own autonomy and will increasingly maximise its own agenda, but this agenda includes – as it's foremost consequence – maximising possibilities for us." This is why Kelly eventually answers his question by concluding that "technology wants what life wants":

  • Increasing efficiency
  • Increasing opportunity
  • Increasing emergence
  • Increasing complexity
  • Increasing diversity
  • Increasing specialisation
  • Increasing ubiquity
  • Increasing freedom
  • Increasing mutualism
  • Increasing beauty
  • Increasing sentience
  • Increasing structure
  • Increasing evolvability

(ibid, p 274)

When we turn these thoughts to technology and education, we have a long way to go. Technology in schooling has its dark side, including cyberbullying and inappropriate sexting, but its biggest problem is that it isn't present much. The digital life of students is largely outside schools, and it is a fairly undisciplined world, recalling worries of our distractor critics who see superficiality and long-term diminution of the brain as problems. 

[…] p 13
Goldin and Katz [Claudia Golding and Lawrence Katz (2008). The Race Between Education and Technology] conclude that "technology has been racing ahead of education in recent decades because educational growth has been sluggish, not because skill-biased technical change has accelerated." Try this for a crossover observation: technology has not raced ahead inside schools. Our answer in this book will not be let's load up technology in schools – I call this a "wrong driver" – but rather, let's rethink how technology can be used at our service as well as push us to do even more.

Rosen [Larry Rosen (2010). Rewired: Understanding The iGeneration and the Way They Learn] is perhaps too generous in his admiration of the iGeneration who, according to him, are introduced to technology at birth, are adept at multitasking, love virtual social worlds, and are confident and open to change. […] "Smart educational models must consider social networks as a valuable source for enhancing student interest and participation in the classroom […] The trick is to leverage their love of social networks to create educational tools built around them.

It is revealing that Rosen takes a dramatically more sober position in his newest book (presumably because the evidence is mounting about the dark side of technology). He calls the constellation of dangers "iDisorder." [Larry Rosen (2012). iDisorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming its Hold On Us. New York: Palgrave Macmillan] 

p 14
Rosen amasses page after page of evidence that technology increasingly controls our lives in dysfunctional and pervasive ways, from the mildly rude checking-out of text messages every few minutes regardless of who we are with, to the more psychotic descent into schizoid behaviours of delusions, hallucinations, and social avoidance. 

Rosen takes the reader through a range of debilitating problems that technology does not cause but that it naturally enables. He outlines the evidence on the following domains of distortion associated with the increased presence of digital technology in our lives: narcissism (it's all about me, me, me), obsession (checking in with our technology 24/7), addiction (wallowing in impulsivity, sensation seeking, and social deviance), bipolarity (feeling high or low depending on one's social–networking digital day), ADHD (being jerked around by the instant gratification of hyperlinks with accompanying information overload, poor sleep, and an inability to stay with and complete tasks), decrease in quality relationships (including low empathy), hypochondria (a little medical knowledge is a dangerous thing), fixation on appearance (associated with eating disorders), schizoid behaviour (becoming more solitary, emotionally cold, and attached), and voyeurism (watching rather than engaging in). Whew! That can fill your day!

Rosen has been at this for a while, beginning his scientific studies in the 1980s and continuing to the present. He concludes that we have an increasing dependency on technology, but the worst part is that we are "happily traipsing down our road to an iDisorder," unaware of what is happening to us.
Rosen's main argument, as is the meaning of this chapter, is not that we should discount technology; rather, it is that we need to be aware of its dangerous downside in order to reduce its addictive power and maximise its prodigious upside. The basic question is, who is in charge here – human or machine?

When it comes to education and schooling, a whole new set of issues become evident. School boredom has no chance against the addictive digital draw of the outside world. Within schools, technology is conspicuous by its absence or by superficial, ad hoc use. […] How can technology help us by opening up the world to deeply engaged learning and worldwide, collaborative problem-solving? In a word, technology, well used, can help us race rapidly to the future that humankind wants and will find fulfilling.

p 15
… The solution consists of the integration of advances in pedagogy (especially built on how we learn), and technology (especially around engagement), and in change knowledge (especially around making change easier). If we get the combination right, the floodgates of learning will open and there will be an unstoppable explosion of energy and participation by all that will benefit individuals and the world alike.

p 16
As sinister as technology can become, it has far more upside than downside potential. It is time to define the learning game as racing with technology.

Pedagogy and Change: Essence as Easy

p 17:
Learning is all about purposeful engagement. The engaged student is attentive, committed, persistent, and finds meaning and value in the tasks, says Schlechty [Phillip Schlechty (2011). Engaging Students: The Next Level of Working on the Work. San Francisco: Jossey–Bass]. The engaged student finds that learning is worth the effort (high yield).

Change and the Student 

pp 18-19 [interventions]
What looks like a small intervention can appear quite large to a student. Interventions do not have to remain in the conscious mind for them to have an impact. If a message affects how a student [or teacher] thinks and feels about school or about self, it can work away in the subconscious mind. Yeager and Walton [David S Yeager & Gregory M Walton (2011). Social–Psychological Interventions in Education: They're Not Magic. Review of Educational Research 81, no 2: 267 – 301] call these "stealthy" interventions – a quality that increases their effectiveness. 

p 19
None of the interventions tried to directly persuade students to think differently, "rather than simply delivering an appeal to a student who passively receives it, each intervention enlisted students as actively [and knowingly] participating in or generating the intervention itself." (ibid, p 284) 

These "stealthy" interventions have the added benefit that they do not stigmatise students. They do not single them out for needing help. Stealthy interventions are brief and thus much less expensive. They can be long lasting, say Yeager and Walton, because they set in motion social, psychological, and intellectual processes that result in initial success, greater sense of belongingness, and a belief that students can learn more than they thought possible. Interventions like these, with corresponding supports, can alter students' academic trajectories.

Yeager and Walton do not assume that it is simply a matter of going to scale with these types of interventions. The interventions require on the part of the educators theoretical expertise (understanding the psychological experiences at play) and contextual expertise (understanding the background and experiences of students in the local context). The skinny, in other words, demands sophistication of design and good teachers in order to get ease of use.

[...] … essentially it involves knowing where every student stands, intervening in a nonjudgemental manner, providing a good program mix, improving teaching and learning, and connecting school deeply to their communities [Ben Levin, 2012. More High School Graduates. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press].
But little things made a big difference. […] These teachers work with school leaders and teachers and students to personalise the connection to students. 

20 minutes to change a life. 

Change and the Adult

pp 21-22
If we get the pedagogy right and incorporate technology accordingly, learning will become easier, deeper, and more engaging. Students and teachers will be putting in long hours, but what they do won't feel like work.

In the progress principle, Teresa Amabile and Stephen Kramer, write about "using small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work." [Teresa Amabile and Stephen Kramer (2011). The Making Of Young People Who Will Change The World. New York: Simon and Schuster] The progress principle: using small wins to ignite joy, engagement and creativity at work […] Making even small progress in meaningful work is the most powerful stimulant to wanting to do more. 
What matters most is progress in the work itself and paying attention to small wins and setbacks on a daily basis – this is the essence of change management. If people are involved in meaningful work, and if they feel capable, and if they are helped to make even small progress, they become more motivated and ready for the next challenges. Effective organisations foster conditions of these positive progress loops to prevail.

p 22
Of course, there is more to organisational effectiveness than small wins. Amabile and Kramer identify several catalytic factors (such as time, resources, autonomy, and help), And nourishment factors (respect, affiliation, and emotional support)... The main point is that people – students and teachers alike, for example – need to feel and experience some regular progress. As the authors note, any video game designer knows that small steps of progress are essential for drawing players in. [Daily progress in work]
...the new pedagogy – technology combinations tap into, stimulate, and even create purpose and passion in what students want to learn. Amabile and Kramer essentially say that adults – teachers, in this case – must have the same motivational experiences. <What is good for the goose is good for the gander - smc> The magic of stratosphere is that students and teachers are conjointly stimulated to engage in the pursuit of deeper learning: it is fuelled by their passions and purposes. Both students and teachers are turned on.

The New Pedagogy

p 23
The new examples [constructivism through technology integration] meet our criteria: being engaging and offering ease of use. By ease of use, I do not mean simple, but rather use as relatively easy because of the draw of engagement and the work with others (much how you find work when you're doing what you like).

Tony Wagner's Creating Innovators [Tony Wagner (2012). Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change The World. New York: Simon and Schuster, 32] is the perfect example of the new pedagogy. ... He draws on the work of Teresa Amabile ... He adapts her creativity model which is based on three components: expertise (knowledge), creative thinking (problem-solving), and motivation (intrinsic drive). Wagner considers motivation as the source of all good learning and unpacks it by concluding that intrinsic motivation is fuelled by playing (experimenting), purpose (wanting to make a difference), and passion (devoting yourself to something you find deeply meaningful).

p 24
All of these experiences contrast with the fundamental basis of schools as they are today. As Wagner says, schools currently reward individual competition, are subject based (versus problem based), and rely on extrinsic motivation (such as grades). By contrast in all of the successful examples, the students in question talk of doing things that are meaningful in the world, projects that focus on solving a problem, engaging in teamwork, and operating under conditions that encourage risk-taking. The new pedagogy involves helping students find purpose, passion, and experimental doing in a domain that stokes their desire to learn and keep on learning.

"Increasingly in the 21st-century," argues Wagner, "what you know is far less important than what you can do with what you know. This interest in and ability to create new knowledge to solve new problems is the single most important skill that all students must master today. All successful innovators have mastered the ability to learn on their own 'in the moment' and then apply that knowledge in new ways (ibid, p 142)."

The new pedagogy that Wagner documents does not involve a long list: its emphasis is on addressing real problems, intellectual risk-taking and trial-and-error problem-solving, collaboration in learning, and intrinsic motivation.
Although he doesn't delve far into it, Robinson makes the point that "digital technologies are now putting in the hands of millions of people everywhere, unprecedented tools for creativity and sound, in design, in sciences and in the arts." [Ken Robinson (2009). Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. Westford, MA: Courier Westford, p 205] 

p 25
Teachers are needed, but it is a new role that is required – the teacher as change agent. Robinson calls them mentors who play four roles: recognising, encouraging, facilitating, and stretching. 

p 27
… Feedback to students during learning is probably the most powerful teaching strategies we can use. Learning from mistakes is the key. [Wiliam - AfL]

p 28
... Lehrer [Jonah Lehrer (2012). Imagine: How Creativity Works. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.] has reinforced the point that creativity can be designed for and fostered in every student – not just so they can be more fulfilled individuals, but also because the mobilisation of individual and collective talent is essential for global survival. This different approach to learning could bring a marked increase in the level of innovation, entrepreneurship, problem solving, empathy, teamwork, and sustainability. It is the future.
the entire curriculum needs to be redefined: the whole raison d'ĂȘtre of schooling becomes a single expanded entity called "learning about and for life" and doing it in a passionate and purposeful manner. We are talking about a total makeover – made practical by the integrated forces of technology, pedagogy, and change knowledge.

[4 reasons for technology integration]

p 31
  1. The old technology of tell and test or experience and evoke does not work, and it is becoming clearer to more people that it can never work. 
  2. Examples of the new pedagogy of partnering with students are rapidly under development. These examples will only advance in quality and availability all the more so because technology can be the great accelerator. Indeed this what the stratosphere phenomenon predicts
  3. There will be a great appetite for the new way. Passion, purpose, and the new pedagogy are natural winners because they tap into and activate what is human – doing something intrinsically meaningful and of value to oneself, one's peers, and the world at large. You don't get any closer to secular spiritualism than this.
  4. It really is easier than you might think for the simple reason that people will be doing what they like, and many people will be helping. Many hands and minds do make light work.
Prensky has 10 other measures that take minimal effort on the part of teachers, but have great potential positive impact on children's education:
  1. Doing less "telling" while allowing students to research the answers to guiding questions on their own [Dan Meyer - 'less helpful']
  2. Always connecting what is taught with real-world outcomes
  3. Helping students distinguish the unchanging "verbs" (skills) of education from the rapidly changing "nouns" (tools)
  4. Treating students as learning partners 
  5. Employing students' own tools (particularly video and cellphones) for learning
  6. Using more peer-to-peer teaching 
  7. Offering students far more choices, rather than mandating what all must read or do 
  8. Allowing students to be the primary users (and maintainers) of classroom technology
  9. Sharing success via short video posted on sites such as YouTube or TeacherTube 
  10. Regularly connecting students with the world via free, secure tools such as Skype and ePals

p 32
In summary, we are at the beginning of a powerful disruptive innovation that will grow in leaps and bounds. We must have our wits about us to take advantage of this once-in-a-century opportunity. We must take a trial-experiment-learn-refine approach to this next phase. We must, in other words, take a learning approach. The new journey will be bumpy, but less bumpy than what we are going through now. And it will be relatively easy with bursts of progress.
We need learners proactively in charge of their own learning–how-to–learn. And for the latter we need teachers and other mentors who can design and oversee the learning process.

Digital Disappointments and Dreams

p 33
The integration of technology and pedagogy to maximise learning must meet four criteria. It must be irresistibly engaging; elegantly efficient (challenging but easy to use); technologically ubiquitous; and steeped in real life problem-solving.
Irresistibly engaging is what it means to be rapt, or in a state of "flow" where time has no meaning.
...these new products must be elegantly easy to use – simple to get hooked on and natural to use – challenging yes, but because we are drawn in not so daunting. A crucial point in these developments is that as innovations they do not further complicate the lives of students and teachers, but, on the contrary, they make their learning easier and more interesting. Rarely do we experience changes that give us a net advantage from the beginning.

p 34
... Three pillars of the educated student: standards, assessment, and instruction or pedagogy. Currently priorities are being placed on standards and assessment while the solution in stratosphere must be driven by pedagogy. ... Fortunately, they can be incredibly accelerated by innovations in technology – as long as we get the causal sequence right: pedagogy to technology and then back and forth, back and forth. If there is any racing to the top it is humankind with machines. Yes, when you are in a fast machine it sometimes controls you, but ultimately the machine is there to serve you – to do things that you could never do without it. 

Digital Disappointments

p 35
There is no way to accomplish the ideas without the power of machines. The biggest culprit is 21st-century skills that seem to have been around since at least 1990. To state the conclusion upfront: the skills as treated are too vague to be of any use, and they almost always leave out pedagogy (learning experiences for getting there).

p 36
No matter how you cut it, we are not making progress on this agenda. By and large the goals are too vague, having a glitzy attraction. When we start down the pathway of specificity, the focus is on standards and assessment (which does help with clarity), but the crucial third pillar – pedagogy, or fostering actual learning – is neglected. And aside from its use in assessment schemes, which is a contribution, technology plays little role in learning, surely the main point of all this highfalutin fanfare.

p 38
When the Media awareness network did find effective use of integrating technology, it was "precisely because they [teachers] focused on pedagogy, were comfortable with not being the tech expert in the room, had strong classroom management skills, and saw online pitfalls as teachable moments." [Valerie Steve (2011). Young Canadians in a Wired world – phase III: Teachers Perspectives. Ottawa: Media Awareness Network, p 16]
Even high performance in PISA (Program for International Student Assessment), such as Finland, do not fare well when it comes to the pedagogical use of technology. ... While 21st century skills are contained in the core National Curriculum, "they do not usually show up in the classroom," and "technology is well available, but the pedagogically innovative or effective use of ICT is still very rare." [Juho Matti Norrena, Marja Kankaanranta, and Arto Kalevi Ahonen (2012). Innovative teaching in Finland (Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Vancouver, BC, April 2012), 11]. In other words, even in countries touted for their leadership in education, use of the new scenarios as discussed in this book is only sporadic. 
Test results can increase relative to the old system, but applying knowledge is not advanced.

p 39 [Serious gaming for education]
[Michael F Young et al, (2012). Our Princess is in Another Castle: A Review of Trends in Serious Games for Education," Review Of Educational Research 82, no 1: 62-89] 
The biggest problem, according to Young and his colleagues, is that "educational video games are most frequently researched as the primary means by which the player learns, removing the instructor and allowing the student to complete his or her learning in isolation (p 61)." In other words, these innovations (or at least the research on them) omit the teacher. It is as if pedagogy is irrelevant. The authors obvious conclusion is that video games should be implemented "in concert with good teaching." Sound instructional design, skilled teaching, and quality implementation will be required. Most of all, partnership between teachers and students (and among teachers and students) will be essential.
p 40
The point of course is not that [gaming] technology is less effective, but that it is being grossly under utilised pedagogically.

Digital Dreaming

p 41
Resistance is futile. The December 10, 2011, issue of the Economist contains a 10 page special report on video games. ["All the world's a game," Special Report: Video Games. The Economist. December 10, 2011: 3–12] 
The best games have huge potential for education because they incorporate the very design elements that new pedagogical practices emulate. By turning learning into a game, we create the intuitive interface with mobile devices (sophisticated design, elegant ease of use); we can create something that game designers call "juiciness" (lots of feedback). 

p 42
"Gamifiers," or people who revel in developing games, says the Economist, make players want to perform difficult tasks and pay for the privilege. They "capture that sense of engagement by providing rapid, continuous feedback, a clear sense of progression and goals that are challenging enough to maintain interest but not so hard to put players off." [p 12] With improved everything, digital innovations are "marrying the power of modern technology to the insatiable human desire for play. "As every good kindergarten teacher knows, learning cannot be far behind. 
In 2011, Nancy Watson and I completed a review for the Hewlett Foundation of their "deep learning" goals. [Michael Fullan and Nancy Watson (2011). Deeper Learning: Right/Wrong Drivers Perspective. San Francisco: Report to the Hewlett Foundation] Their version of higher order skills contains competencies organised into three categories: content knowledge (master core academic content, and acquire, apply, and expand knowledge); cognitive strategies (think critically, solve problems, and communicate effectively); and learning behaviours (work collaboratively, and learn how to learn). 

p 43
The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation aspires to use technology and innovative instructional practices where "students learn beyond the bounds of traditional classrooms," ... "How can we capitalise on their digital prowess to inspire confidence, curiosity, persistence, and desire for knowledge?" [Bill and Melinda Gates foundation (2011). Supporting students: investing in innovation and quality. Redmond, WA: Bill & Melinda Gates foundation]

p 44
We see in the ITL [Innovative Teaching & Learning - sponsored by MicroSoft's Partner's in Learning Initiative (PIL)] research that individual and small groups of teachers can improve instructional practices that, in turn, affect higher order learning outcomes, and that this process is strongly helped by the explicit use of digital technology for that purpose. 

p 46
In terms of this book, SWST [The Student Work Study Teachers initiative is a literacy and numeracy secretariat program structured around a collaborative study between an experienced practitioner working in a temporary research role, an SWS teacher, and a hosting classroom teacher.] is doing all this with one hand tied behind its back in the sense that technology plays no particular role. The integration of technology will make this work easier, less expensive, and way more effective in its impact on higher-order skills learning.

The Flipping of Teacher and Student Roles

p 47
John Hattie [John Hattie (2011). Visible learning for teachers: maximising impact on learning. London: Rutledge] also comes to our rescue with his army of meta-studies. He too sees the effective teacher as active change agent. When he compares the effect sizes of instructional practices of "teacher as activator" (feedback to students, helping students access there own thinking, furnishing challenging goals and the like) with those of "teacher as facilitator" (problem based learning, simulation and gaming, individualised instruction), The average perfect sizes greatly favourite teacher activator (0.60 to 0.17). Teacher as mere facilitator even with digital resources is not good enough.

p 48
Hattie strongly argues that the most important aspect that a teacher must get good at is to know what impact he or she has on every student. All of the high-yield practices he found in his empirical analysis rely on the influence of student peers, feedback, transparent learning intentions, success criteria, and adjustment of instruction to attend to both surface and deep knowing. So the undisciplined possibilities of the web, no matter how wonderful, will not be sufficient. Unassisted discovery will be less likely to have benefits compared with the teacher as change agent to help students learn how to learn and how to monitor their own learning.

p 49
The new pedagogy already is based on students working with one another and taking greater charge of their own learning, guided by the teacher as coach. Instead of thinking about how to differentiate instruction for each student, in the new essence-as-easy mode, the teacher needs to think of the class as a team and determine how to use the team to develop the team. 

p 51
[Park Manor is a senior public elementary school in Ontario, with 300 students in Grades 6 to 8] their core goal is to develop "global critical thinkers collaborating to change the world." ... surrounded by "digitally rich learning tasks without limits." It integrates technological tools, exemplary pedagogy, rich learning tasks, and 21st-century learning skills.
At Park Manor it is clear that pedagogy is the driver with student learning at the centre and technology as the Formula 1 Grand Prix machine that gets the student there faster and better.

p 52
The school uses success criteria and evidence to determine the effectiveness of the framework as it relates to student learning. The success criteria explain in detail how students and teachers can determine that the technology tool, program, application, or website adds value to student learning. They pertain to student engagement, active learning, easier learning, assessment for learning (student feedback), assessment as learning (student monitoring their own learning), assessment of learning (concrete evidence), 21st century learning skills (creating, collaborating, communicating, critical thinking, and citizenship), support for higher-yield instructional strategies (differentiated learning and gradual acceptance of responsibility), and finally, easier instruction (for the teacher).

p 53
Technology serves to accelerate and deepen learning.
I chose Park Manor to feature because it is a normal school with standard resources – just like any of the 120 schools in the Waterloo School district. It has no special status or privileges. It has gone from a situation of using no technology to the vibrant integration of technology and pedagogy in just two and half years. Its success shows that stratospheric scenarios are practical and compelling. 

Design Principles and Change Knowledge

p 58
...this tablet [iPad] marks the beginning of ubiquitous technology, bringing us closer and closer to persons as easy – for all.
...the education revolution is not a given. The first is that even the most sophisticated technology still needs to be guided by strong pedagogy. In this respect even the vaunted iPad doesn't measure up.
p 59
...kids these days are technological whizzes when it comes to the tool, but pedagogically clueless with respect to getting the best out of it. Murray and Olcese [Orrin T Murray & Nicole R Olcese (2011). Teaching and Learning with iPad, Ready or Not. TechTrends 55, no 6, 42 – 48] eventually draw the following conclusion: 

We cannot point to a single application that steps up to modern understanding of how people learn. Our study suggests that there is a paucity of applications that truly extend capability… The lack of collaboration capabilities underlie this point, as do the overwhelming number of applications that are simply drill and practice or focused on delivering content for consumption, not creation or reuse.

Still, there is no denying that good technology under the direction of a great pedagogue can do wonders.

iPad Literacy

The next time you marvel at your 18-month-old granddaughter working away through some iPad apps and routines, remind yourself that it may be no more impressive than what an ape can do. More seriously, there is no question that this toddler will grow up to be a whizz at using technology. But how well she learns to work her way through the 21st century will depend on whether she encounters great pedagogy and mentors along the way. Technological prowess by itself doesn't make you much smarter (although it may appear to).
Pedagogy, powering 21st-century skills, is what will make the difference. 

Change knowledge

p 66
Progress for us is simplexity. We call it "motion leadership" or the skinny on becoming change savvy. Motion leadership is about leadership that causes positive movement forward for individuals, organisations, and entire systems. The change knowledge you need to do this must meet four criteria: (1) Motivate people to engage in deep and meaningful change, even when they might not want to do it at the outset; (2) help them learn from wrong paths and blind alleys; (3) use the group; and (4) do all of this on a very large scale (whole system reform).

Change knowledge:
  1. Focus 
  2. Innovation 
  3. Empathy 
  4. Capacity Building 
  5. Contagion 
  6. Transparency 
  7. Elimination Of Non-Essentials 
  8. Leadership

May 2011, Jobs asked Gates to outline his vision for education. Gates responded with the image of students independently watching lectures and lessons and then meeting in class to discuss them and solve problems. Jobs and Gates agreed that computers have had remarkably little impact on schools. But that would change, said Gates, if computers and mobile devices were to deliver more personalised lessons and to provide encouraging feedback (Isaacson, Steve Jobs p 554).
This vision is incomplete for our stratosphere agenda because it omits pedagogy – it omits the teacher! The teacher as change agent is crucial, or we will get aimless multitasking.

p 69
Let's redefine the role of teachers and equipment to be the orchestrators of learning and change agents required for learning to flourish. Use the world as the classroom. Embrace ubiquitous technology. For reasons stated throughout this book – essence as easy, the new pedagogy, mind-boggling technology – the time has never been more propitious. Bold moves have a real chance of connecting with what makes humans tick: the appetite for learning and doing something meaningful by collaborating with others. Failure to act is to leave dispirited teachers and students at the mercy of dominant technologies. Without the capacity building of professional capital, it will be no contest.
Our change knowledge sees and uses social contagion as a prime strategy. Remember the ITL findings. Innovative teaching and learning was found sprinkled across schools but was not embedded within many schools or systems. If you want an accelerated strategy to change this situation, use the groupThus figure out how these innovative teachers who are further down the line than their colleagues can be deployed systematically as change agents for other teachers.
as the capacity of the teachers increased in systems, peers became the greatest source of innovation [Mona Mourshed, Chenezi, & Michael Barber (2010). How the worlds most improved school systems keep getting better. London: McKinsey and company]. Leadership is still critical, but it operates in the service of social contagion. Social capital is the new resource.

p 70
Technology has just as much evil or good as we want to put into it. That is why we need pedagogy and the moral imperative to be the key drivers. Then you can't avoid wanting to embrace technology as one of the best means around.
Our challenge is to combine the best of change knowledge with the best of technology and pedagogy. If we can do so, progress in educational transformation will accelerate dramatically because of the synergising influence between these three forces. Pedagogy, technology, and change knowledge operating in concert will become a powerhouse of learning. Once this happens, technology, we can be sure, will pay more than its share. It will become a dynamic player shaping the future.

Making technology pay

p 72
Technology has dramatically affected virtually every sector in society that you can think of except education. It is shocking to have to say that. Learning, surely the most important human resource in the world, is not benefiting from the greatest technical resource on the planet. It is time that gadgets go to school and schools go to gadget 24/7. 
Technology is way too powerful for us not to have a plan.

p 74
The solution lies in the concentration of the three forces pedagogy, technology, and change knowledge. If you want to head off destruction, we need to make it all about the learning (the pedagogy part), let technology permeate (the technology part), and engage the whole system (the change part).

  1. Make it all about the learning. 
  2. Let technology permeate. 
  3. Engage the whole system.

p 75
We should do less of spending money on assessment detached from designing learning and more of creating learning experiences that are irresistibly engaging. This is why I have made the primary driver pedagogy, or learning. The first thing to ask is this, "How do we make everything we do about learning?" Literacy and deep learning goals – higher-order skills (and proper literacy is higher order) need to dominate. Creativity, passion, and purpose must also flourish. We can do all this by gradually building a pedagogy where as they get older, students are more and more steeped in real-life problem solving, guided by teachers as change agents or mentors.

...we can't make everything we do all about learning if we don't let–indeed, make–technology permeate. We already know that digital power is almost limitless. Technology wants what we want if we work with it. Man against nature never worked, nor will man versus machine. 

p 76
Technology becomes more powerful as it becomes less expensive. Many of the pedagogical innovations free up inexpensive labour, so to speak – students do more of the work (but find it engaging), adults are involved in more efficient exchanges, crowd sourcing (in which users, the crowd, sort out quality through feedback and circulation of information) becomes widespread, quality teachers can reach more students, the myriad of free digital resources available on the internet constantly increases, and so on.

p 77
Change really isn't as hard as we thought if we capture people's interest and give them enjoyable, worthwhile experiences. It can thrive if we unleash the power of peers (students and teachers alike) to help one another learn and be even greater if we access intergenerational learning. The source of innovation is peers who are further down the line and people of all ages as they learn from one another.

p 78
With the help of technology we can go viral on the substance of innovation.
Technology is not a panacea. Not all technology is good pedagogy. And great pedagogy can and will exist without technology. We have, however, greatly miscast and underutilised technologies power. When we enlist technology in the service of exploratory learning for all, watch out! On the other hand, if we plod along with standards and assessment using technology only as a prop, we will get what we deserve: a higher level of tedium.
It is time to take the lid off learning. It is all there to be assembled. We know that the right combination of our triad already resonates with frustrated learners and frustrated teachers. 

It is time, to put it in a dramatically exciting way, to meet each other in the stratosphere where we get twice the learning for half the price. Instead of paying for technology that sits on the shelf, let's change the game. Let's race with the machines. Let's make technology pay! If we figure it out, we will find that technology wants what we want.

*Everything quoted is verbatim, all credit to Michael Fullan. Anything I have inserted (such as citations) is indicated in [square brackets].