Fits & Fugues

Education can be so much more.

Recovering Classtime

We’ve all heard it: “I don’t have enough classtime to…” Hobby teaching and veiled blame arguments on standardized testing aside, here are a few thoughts on ways to recover your “classtime” as inspired, in part, by some great conversations Learning 2.0: A Colorado Conversation.

First and foremost, internalize the following:

  • The focus should be on learning, not the dispensation of information.
    • If you are “teaching stuff ” that should be quickly recalled with no real connections, your role has been replaced by Google, Wikipedia, WolframAlpha, and myriad web-based tools.
  • Time is actually the variable in learning.
    • If you didn’t already believe this on some level, you would never assign homework.
  • Your classroom’s walls are permeable (thanks David Jakes).
    • The simple fact is human beings look for connections everywhere and the internet has made this abundantly possible. Your kids are doing it already. It’s time to tap that vast resource.
  • Textbooks do not equal curricula. Curricula is the means by which we facilitate learning.
    • If your principal told you all the textbooks in your school were being recalled and would never be replaced, what would that do to your lesson planning and, as a result your classes? Also, textbooks, in many cases, are a waste of money especially if you only “cover” and/or use 25%-40% of the material in them. at $80-$100 a book, that’s lots of waste. While we are on the topic of “coverage,” stop using that way of thinking. We are not applying coats of paint here. That kind of thinking leads us back to the for
  • Technology is an essential tool for your work and student learning, not the point of learning.
    • We don’t talk about book, paper, or whiteboard-infused/based/integrated lessons. Stop talking about technology-infused/based/integrated lessons. Seriously. Stop…Stop saying that you did a PowerPoint lesson. You don’t say you did a whiteboard/chalkboard lesson.
  • You don’t (and can’t) know it all. You are a learner in all this.
    • We expect that our kids will be life-long learners we should be too. While you may be an “expert” in your area, you can’t know it all. -Sorry to bruise your ego.
  • Leverage the power of the connected learning world by building a personal/professional learning network and find those people who are doing what you do and can make you better.
    • Since each of us can’t know it all, it makes sense to connect with others who have something to contribute.

Now, with that said, just because time is the variable for your classroom does not mean that you have to be on duty all the time. In fact, many of these suggestions are ways for you to clone parts of yourself so you can be in multiple places at multiple times. We’ve long dreamed (even in jest) of that technology, but it is here. It has been in multiple forms for some time now.


  • Stop going over your class policies and procedures, rules and regulations, etc. and put them on the web. It doesn’t matter the tool you use (email, Google Docs, a wiki, EtherPad, a blog, -whatever). Make an agreement with your kids that you won’t read the policies if they’ll read them themselves. You can invent whatever way to document and record that they and their parents have read it. At worst have them email you -give them the format of the email response if you want and have them reply to you.
    • Estimated time recovered: 1-2 class periods.
  • Post your PowerPoints online, especially if you find yourself turning your back to your kids and reading the stupid thing.
    • Use free web applications like SlideShare and Prezi.
    • Estimated time recovered: Any class period you do this.


  • Clone yourself on the Internet and record and post your lectures/content delivery.
    • Assign that as your kids’ “homework” and do the work you’ve always wanted to do with your kids in your classroom. You’ll be able to differentiate and work with kids individually, in small groups, or as a large group as needed.
    • If kids don’t have computer/Internet access, have them download it to their phones, iPods, or put it on a DVD.
      • Here’s some examples from a couple of teachers in Woodland Park, Colorado.
    • Estimated time recovered: Any class period you do this.
  • Outsource yourself to the Internet.

The few, not exhaustive, ideas are just some ways to get you thinking about ways you can recover classtime. I’d wager that if you decide to turn your kids loose with many of these tools, you’ll find the entire nature of your class and the learning you and your students experience will fundamentally change.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Helpful Educational Placement

Seen at a school information night.

Any information parents want to give the school which would be helpful for the student’s educational placement, needs to be addressed to the grade level counselor, and received no later than…

I wonder if I should submit a response like this…

My child needs active, engaging, teachers who work with technology as a platform for instruction, extension, investigation, revelation, inspiration, engagement, collaboration, innovation, authentic experience creation, and connection to the world. He needs teachers who won’t assume that learning results from assigning worksheets and who use homework as a leveraged investment in the educational process. He should be placed with teachers who hold themselves to the same standards they hold their students. He should be placed with teachers who have high standards without being rigid. He should be placed with teachers who have figured out that they teach kids, not subjects. He should have teachers who have been given the freedom to do all of these things by their leaders and have chosen to do so even though it may not necessarily be easy or convenient. He should be placed with teachers who value and engage in professional collaboration for the good of their kids. He should be placed with teachers who will never call themselves digital immigrants or him a digital native. He should be placed with teachers who have been given the resources they need to accomplish all this. And, he should be placed with teachers who get paid enough not to have to choose between gas and groceries.


May 19, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hope Springs Digital

The science assignment, in all its wrinkled, photocopied paperness, emerged from the depths of my 5th grader’s backpack. It contained, smacking of “parental involvement,” directions about how to display the results of the experiment on a tri-fold posterboard…due the next day.

The parental involvement I don’t mind, but when it comes to tri-fold poster displays, it becomes less about parental involvement and more about uh, parental guidance -and I don’t mean Mike Parent’s blog. (Although a blog does eventually play a part in this tale -read on, Digital Reader).

I dispise tri-fold poster displays and their inbred cousins, construction paper cut outs and foam display boards. They’re the so analog, so last-century, remnants of ancient business presentation expectations that have infiltrated our classrooms and science fairs. They’re very useful for the static displays of parental creativity and competition in gymnasiums converted to exhibition halls. Some may publicly look down their noses at the neatly arranged, heavily parent-influenced items on the tri-fold, but secretly covet the blue ribbon hanging on the corner of the board. And that’s where it starts. The pitiful tri-folds find themselves stuffed in the far less-traveled corners, assuming they even make it out of the classroom. So, in an effort to help our kids present themselves in a positive light, we parents make suggestions that turn into directives that turn into maddening scrambles and searches for mom’s special scrapbooking scissors that add some flare to this border. I wonder how many Sunday nights have ended with parents meticulously gluing display doodads while the kid is off in the other room playing video games. Nobody else? Must just be my house.

No longer, I resolved this time. (Plus, all the craft stores were closed and we were fresh out of foam board having used it all up on a quite beautiful State of Ohio display, which, by the way resides behind a door in the spare room downstairs as a monument to a maniacal frenzy of parental involvement.) It was time to take a chance with our kid’s education. Risky, I know, but I just didn’t have it in me to top the Ohio display.

About then I made a crazy Web 2.0pian decision and suggested that we put the required pieces of the assignment on a blog. Since this would be my son’s first foray into the blogosphere, I would set the blog up for him and give him a basic how-to after he had recorded all the required elements in a Word document. I wanted the initial blog experience to be more about the learning and less about the technical manipulation.

So he proceeded with his experiment, recording the materials and his hypothesis and the procedures and and the data and taking pictures as required. I set his blog up so he could copy and paste his text from the laptop. I made sure to make his blog viewable by invitation only because I knew I’d have to convince the hand-wringing, Internet fear mongers that this wasn’t a digital terrorism plot or would jeopardize his safety on the Internet. The really radical part was that we had several discussions about safe online behavior and what to include on the blog. We spoke about the type and amount of pictures he would be using and what he hoped to communicate with them. We talked about design and formatting and how each of those could help his audience understand him more clearly. We had more meaningful conversations that connected more of his past, current, and future learning to what he was doing just then. Certainly much better than the strained interactions of previous display-type projects. We’ll have more of the same conversations, I’m sure -and that’s just great.

With the entry edited and posted, I turned my attention to the science teacher and the district. This was going to be a surprise for the science teacher and I didn’t much appreciate those when I taught. I figured, more hoped, it was worth a shot. Just in case, I made a PDF of the blog post and emailed it to her after the blog invitation. She was able to see the blog from home and later on at school. She made some meaningful comments with questions and my son responded with thoughtful answers. I thought their exchanges were much better than a grade written on the back of the poster. Even more, she was very encouraging with the next assignment asking him to make another post.

For us and the teacher, it’s a dynamic resource easily accessible, not shoved in a corner or behind a door. We can look at the difference between the two entries and see the improvement -although he didn’t initially proof his spelling and mechanics on the second one, but we’ll work on that. His teacher shared it with some of his other teachers, who asked us to invite them so they could view it and we did. I was glad to see his excitement and his teacher’s. When the time came for the second assignment on the blog, he needed very little direction in the creation and organization. In fact he planned from the beginning how he was going to use the digital tools to accomplish his task. Score one for the Web 2.0pians.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fit: Corporational Education

Well, the blog does have “Fit” in the title…

I took a survey today in order to give “input to understand the expectations that various stakeholders have of Colorado’s graduates.” I think there is an implicit assumption that the input come from Colorado people, but the information is publicly available on the web at the Colorado Department of Education website under the CDE Communications link.

Disclaimer: I have the utmost respect for many of the people at CDE and those serving on the Graduation Guidelines Development Council. I know more than a few of these people personally and I’m excited about the change in direction. More than one of them is absolutely brilliant and I apologize if this is perceived to diminish their work. I really am hoping for the best, but it’s dark, and the iceberg has been spotted. The opinions listed below may not represent anyone else’s but my own. I reserve the right to change my opinion after further consideration and persuasion -and emergence from this fugue. Maybe it’s Dr. Cook’s book, but it’s sure a raw nerve right now.

With that said, some of the questions stood out. Most used a Likert scale that had the items Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree. One question read…

6. What should be the primary outcome(s) of public education? How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? (Insert Likert scale after each item with check buttons)

a.) Post-secondary Readiness    
b.) Workforce Readiness     
c.) Minimum competencies 
d.) Socialization and general education
e.) Create thoughtful and responsible citizenry
f.) Other

And another…

7. How can the high school experience be improved? How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? (Insert Likert scale after each item with check buttons)a.) Increase the rigor and expectations
b.) Provide relevancy for the subjects taught
c.) Integrate more career and technical opportunities
d.) Increase the chance to apply content learned
e.) Provide students with access to programs and curriculum so that they can make informed decisions about their post-secondary lives     
f.) Other
And…8. How can high schools motivate students to excel? How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following? (Insert Likert scale after each item with check buttons)

a.) Offer students an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of course content in order to move through the system at their own rate
b.) Provide internships to apply content learnings to “real work”
c.) Create high schools that are “career pathways” thus enabling students to plan their post-secondary careers early
d.) Offer opportunities for participation in a variety of rigorous academic programming to assure students have the skills necessary to make post secondary choices
e.) Offer students more “dual credit ” opportunities that count toward high school graduation and college credit
f.) Other

First of all, I’m encouraged that some of the choices reflect some more modern considerations and some of the later questions have some of the same types of progressive choices. When I considered the choices and the areas they represent (not counting “other”), one or two of the responses fell outside the corporate realm. (As an aside, as you’ll see below, I group colleges and universities in with corporations.) I hope this is an opportunity to change things, at least in Colorado, but with the disproportionate weighting of choices, I’m discouraged. I gave my thoughts at the end of the survey, right or wrong, practical or not. I submit them here for your consideration…

Our kids should NOT be held to the so-called achievement metrics that have their origins in corporate America. The current educational practice in Colorado and the US to create workers, either right out of high school or eventually out of college, makes us (education) subservient to the corporations who have a vested interest in having a constant flow of employees. Our focus on seat time, and core subject standardization (at the expense, often, of non-tested areas), and school days and calendars that were designed in the Industrial Age have moved us away from the pursuit of knowledge, democracy, collaboration, communication and innovation. The difficulty in quantifying these ideals makes them unpalatable for a culture obsessed with wealth accumulation and proves that we should be educating and developing kids, not producing automatons for colleges and businesses.

We have let colleges and universities in Colorado dictate to us what courses our kids should have in order to attend them. We acquiesced; as a result, we are a party to educational discrimination and elitism. When we examine the source of these dictum, we find that they come from those with a vested interest in maintaining a fiscal bottom line, not a human one. The colleges and universities, who hunger for more tuition dollars, have partnered with corporate entities, like ACT, to produce a self-serving set of requirements designed to increase their capital intake. Meanwhile kids continue to drop out of our schools citing lack of relevance and lack of engagement as primary reasons. They are smarter than we think. They see a life of servitude either to the higher education or corporate machines. In that regard we have failed them.

Our current educational system is designed for a world that no longer exists. Schools are constantly prevented from producing a moral populace of learners and teachers, innovators and communicators, citizens (both local and global) and thinkers, servants and seekers, creators and collaborators. We are stopped by business methodologies and corporate expectations. The world has changed fundamentally especially for the US, yet we want to keep reinventing our archaic, outmoded, and ill-conceived system. This survey seems designed to justify that position.

March 5, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Unencorporating Education & The Purpose of Schools Part 2

Click to go to The New Business of Education home.  The writer’s strike may be over, but that doesn’t mean there’s much on. After absorbing only so much of the latest round of school violence, I started flipping channels and came across the Nightly Business Report on a local PBS station and caught the tail end of the teaser for a series they are running about the New Business of Education. Tonight they were talking about educational technology. I was excited to see how ed tech would be represented from the business side. What great timing. For the most part it was about the money to be made and spent. I’m not sure I actually caught much of the content; I got lost thinking about the premise behind the book I’m reading, Unencorporating Education by Dr. William J. Cook Jr and all the business connections to education.

I’m almost a quarter of the way through the book. I’m not buying it all and sometimes it seems that Dr. Cook is often more interested in sounding like an intellectual than with getting his points across clearly. He sometimes makes assumptions that the reader has some background knowledge and content and proceeds without giving any additional information. He doesn’t, at least in the initial chapters, explain why the first word of the title of his book is spelled with an “e.” I get it, but I’d like to have read early on about his thinking behind that. I suppose one could argue that’s the point of the book, but I digress.

Like I said, I’m not buying it all (funny, considering the capitalistic underpinnings of all this), but the idea has been planted and I probably have my business-in-education radar running. Besides all his references to the Scans Report, the Educate America Act, and others in the first chapter, I’m noticing it too. Books Ideas are like that, right? Read the blog entry on the NBR site by the Director of Program Development, Jack Kahn where he asks is education “The next ‘hot’ investment sector.”  Yes, I’m sure, just not the way educators would hope. As if I needed anymore reason to pause consider the statistic Kahn sites: “total education spending in the U.S. is now close to $1 trillion — more than any other service sector except healthcare.” He doesn’t indicate his source, so I went to the Digest of Education Statistics on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Sure enough, the estimate for 2005-2006 puts it at about $921.8 billion, or about 7.4% of the Gross Domestic Product of the nation. If you go to the site, look at the footnotes. The numbers are probably higher when those variables are factored in and we add two years to the table. Does anyone else find it ironic that potentially useful data from the U.S. Department of Education is not available in a timely manner?

Does that kind of money surrounding education alone prove Dr. Cook’s point? The discussion of money and kids has a distasteful, almost taboo, stigma attached to it, but we can’t serve the kids without it. Are we really diminishing our kids to corporate servitude, as Dr. Cook suggests? Worse yet, does the collective unconscious of some of our young people recognize this and cast them into despair manifested by acts of violence or general apathy? Doom and gloom, I know, but the mashup of school violence and educational encorporation happened for me in only one push of the channel button on the remote. Ideas are like that, right?

February 14, 2008 Posted by | Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lessons from the Music Industry for Education

Seth Godin’s post on Monday, January 7 about lessons that can be learned from the music industry turns a bit uncomfortable when you substitute “education” for “music” and “educators” for “musicians” and conceptually replace similar educational themes with his referenced music themes. Really, how many of his list below have a direct connection to education? Obviously some of them have a pretty strong connection and others you have to stretch a little for an application or analogy to education. I added a little something extra to each one for our education discussion. If I overgeneralize in some areas, it’s to make a point or point out commonly held perceptions.

0. The new thing is never as good as the old thing, at least right now.

     -How many of us have outlasted the next thing because we (or those initiating) lack the fortitude to commit to seeing something through?

1. Past performance is no guarantee of future success

     -I wonder of current performance is a guarantee of future success…

2. Copy protection in a digital age is a pipe dream

     -I can see some significant issues here. If we keep trying to protect facts, statistics, algorithms, and other outdated ideas regarding the dispensation of knowledge from the “menaces” of wikipedia and Google searches, we’re doomed. It’s not about the distribution of information anymore; it’s a raw material from which we synthesize new ideas.

3. Interactivity can’t be copied.

     -We still need our teachers and mentors. Our roles will must change.

4. Permission is the asset of the future

     -Seth describes this in part “…delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who want to get them.” The industrial model of the comprehensive (high) school can’t work any longer. If we don’t make our educational opportunities personal and relevant, someone else will. (Again see below).

5. A frightened consumer is not a happy consumer.

     -Translation: A frightened learner is not a happy learner. We are stuck on ideas like seat time = education and other assembly line principles. We make statements like “How can you give credit to someone who completes an online course in a few weeks when there are kids in school who spend 18 weeks on that?” Outdated Carnegie thinking only serves as a consequence hammer, essentially scaring families into, consciously or not, choosing the same old model, reinforcing it over and over and over.

6. This is a big one: The best time to change your business educational model is while you still have momentum.

     -Momentum feels good; it’s how we were successful. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is broke -always has been.

7. Remember the Bob Dylan rule: it’s not just a record monolith, it’s a movement.

     -One size (set of courses, times of day, methods of delivery) doesn’t fit all. Our kids are all different, will lead different lives, and need more than the canned canon.

8. Don’t panic when the new business model isn’t as ‘clean’ as the old one.

     -See 0 above.

9. Read the writing on the wall.

     -It’s been there long before a Nation at Risk, we did nothing about it then, so we have NCLB now. It’s our own fault; we should have developed our own systems of excellence and accountability. How much longer before the changes we should be implementing are legislated for us?

10. Don’t abandon the Long Tail

     -Seth says it well “Do a great job, not a perfect one. Bring things to market, the right market, and let them find their audience. Stick to the knitting has never been more wrong. Instead, find products your customers learners want (and need).”

11. Understand the power of digital

     -It’s not going away. Educators often lament their unappreciated status in society, but are the last ones to catch up with its trends. It’s almost insulting to the society to which we belong to keep rejecting its innovations. It’s definitely a disservice to the kids we release into society.

12. Celebrity is underrated

     -But we keep raising new ones up anyway. Instead of being thoughtful and purposeful and having the guts to work through the always-uncomfortable process of change, we look for the next program or method or product or, or, or. No two schools even in the same district are alike; no two kids in each school are alike. Why do we (still) make it to be that way?

13. Whenever possible, sell subscriptions

     -Those of us in public schools in public schools have to make it free (or nearly so), but we don’t have to live by the get-what-you-pay-for mentality. The power of subscriptions is in giving people what they want (and need). All good education has a solid foundation in certain essentials; let’s make the essentials great and then add some value by developing what they want (and will need).

Under #7 Seth says “…this is about taking initiative and making things happen.” Are we doing this as an industry? Is it happening fast enough for our kids?

January 10, 2008 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Educational Technology Moral Imperative

I recently attended the Virtual School Symposium sponsored by the North American Council for Online Learning (NACOL). Gene Wilhoit, Executive Director of the Council of Chief State School Officers(CCSSO) in Washington, DC spoke about “Why Online Learning is Important to States.” In his talk, he said that “online learning is the fire, the wheel, the internal combustion engine of learning.” He also mentioned that education must make online education a priority in school reform efforts. In an impassioned plea for action, he said that educators are the entrepreneurs of education and we must leverage the power of online education to improve the learning of our students as it will become the great equalizer. He track record indicates that his is not the position of rhetoric; he is a man of action who, although claiming he is not a techie, knows the potential of technology -especially in education.

It’s refreshing to see that kind of leadership regarding online and all forms of Educational Technology and we can either drive the bus or be run over by it.

Educational Technology is a manifestation of our moral imperative (to borrow from Michael Fullan) to engage, encourage, and equip our students as they prepare for an unknown future. We must reinvent our thinking to understand that the very nature of technology is to produce something new or improve something that already exists. If we approach it with that wonder and energy, we will soon find that we are limited only by our imaginations and aspirations. To accomplish our educational goals, schools must teach and refine basic skills in core areas. On a pragmatic level, schools exist to develop skills in reading, writing, speaking, and computation. These skills can be measured, recorded, archived and easily evaluated. These core skills comprise the necessary fundamentals that allow schools and society to accomplish the more abstract tasks of producing and developing a critically-thinking, relationally-effective, moral populace.

We must not solely focus on educational technology to the exclusion of the demands of these other critical educational areas, but see that it has its own importance in the organic scope of education. Educational Technology is not an end in itself no more than the pencil or pen; it is simply the means by which we accomplish our educational goals. Even more says George Siemens on elearnspace -I agree and…

One of our critical responsibilities is to make educational technology as familiar as some of the more traditional tools of education. Educational Technology holds no place higher or lower than those of literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, or problem solving, but it can and should be the means by which all these are accomplished. Educational Technology should be so transparent that the underlying messages and meanings put forth by the lesson are not diminished or divided but enhanced and balanced.

The role for all educational leaders from the classroom to the superintendent’s office is the same: to use the tools both in the ways they were intended and perhaps in ways they weren’t for the success of our students. Technology allows us to discover our true potential and that of our students. Technology can free us to pursue our passions and purposes. The problem with technology is not with its implementation, use, or mastery; it is with our avoidance, misuse, and ignorance. Additionally, the threats of technology are isolation, distraction, and fatalism; the promises are community, engagement, and optimism. The only true power of technology comes in its ability to extend our own shortsightedness. Leaders, at all levels, must concretely orchestrate urgency, direction, and vision. Leaders are obliged to demonstrate the need and opportunity for improvement and guard against the potential threats and problems of technology.

Until we realize that the people and messages behind the technology are of the truest importance, all we will see is the technology itself. We are not to set up for ourselves monuments to technology; instead, we are compelled to reach our greatest potential as a community of learners focused on building a well-fortified foundation for the futures of our kids. The focus should not be just on the acquisition of new technologies, but on the ideas that the new technologies can set loose. We hope that technology is an extension of the best we see in ourselves and, in its application, the best we offer to our children. Every technology is a type of educational technology in that it has the ability to teach us about ourselves and provide educational opportunities. We must ask and be ready to answer the question of what happens when the promise of technology meets the power of the human spirit. Then, we will have taken the first step to making technology an essential part of the entire educational picture.

November 13, 2007 Posted by | Education, Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment