Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update





BFTP: Connecting problems and technology

"Given this year's learning in the areas of technology integration, what might be one or two concrete goals that you will set for yourself heading into next year?" - end of year assignment for an administrative technology leadership class

As assignments go, the one above isn't too bad. But (doing some Monday morning quarterbacking) could it be improved? What if read:

Select one or two major problems or challenges you expect to face next year and apply technology uses to help solve or meet them.

I know, I know, for many solving a problem or meeting an educational need with technology is implied in the first assignment. But for too many educators, technology application is still about starting with a new and sexy solution and then running about looking for a problem to solve. 

In rather vague ways, when most educators think about the why's of integrating technology into education they consider motivation, engagement, technology skill practice, reading and math remediation, higher-level thinking, improved communication, collaborative learning global citizenship, problem-solving, yada, yada, yada. All lovely and important aspirations for the productive use of these fun devices, large and small, that beep, buzz and take batteries.

But we have to do a better job of getting down in the weeds, tackling real and specific problems with technology that are rooted in the day-to-day educational problems that can't very well be solved by traditional practices...

  • How do I help students build the level of concern for the quality of their writing? 
  • How can I help my current ESL students master double-digit multiplication?
  • What might make my unit on the Civil War/the water cycle/nutrition more meaningful?
  • How can I better connect with my students' parents?
  • How do I make my staff meetings more productive?
  • How do I provide non-fiction, high-interest reading materials for elementary students helping them meet the new language arts standards?

My long standing advice to teachers has always been to begin integrating technology into one's worst units -  the ones neither you nor your students much like. I would extend this to all educators and suggest we all start looking for technology solutions to our most difficult problems - those which seem intractable.

Most educators need exposure to the basic functionality and possibilities of new technologies. But once exposed, the direction should be toward problems, not generic or idealistic technology use. 

Graphic source

Original post May 5, 2013


Learning adult skills

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. Will Rogers

The following graphic came from Stephen Abram's blog post: Adulting 101: When libraries teach basic life skills.


  • The first question I had was "Where in the heck were these classes when I was 16-25?"
  • The second question I had was "How did I learn the skills I needed to function independently as an adult?"
  • And the final question was "What additional skill classes should this public library add to its curriculum?"

The public library in my young adulthood (think late 60s, early 70s) was a far more traditional place. I don't know if they offered classes of any kind at all - only books, magazines, and reference materials. The library had its role in an information scarce environment and filled it well. Today's best libraries, like the one at which Adult 101 classes are taught are filling non-traditional needs for a changing society. Very cool.

So how did I learn how to heat up a can of soup or change a fuse or check the oil in my car? In a nuclear family these things were just part of life. I learned from my parents, my grandparents, my friends. Many kids still learn adult behaviors in the same way, but it seems we have more kids who may not have this home support, necessitating the need for Adult 101 classes. More's the pity.

What other Adulting 101 skills should be added to the interesting curriculum above? (Feel free to suggest your own in the comment section.)

  • Healthy eating and life-long exercising
  • Calculating interest on loans and long-term savings
  • Participatory citizenship - voting, attending caucuses, communicating with legislators
  • Maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Discussing without arguing
  • Balancing one's work and family and self time
  • Understanding what research shows leads to life happiness

As Will Rogers suggests in the opening quote, there are things that cannot be taught, only learned through experience. There people who cannot be taught, only be given the opportunity and time to learn. But for many, libraries and schools who do offer classes in being an adult will be a blessing.

I hope the practicalities of adult living are a growing part of both library and school classes.


The broader the audience, the greater the care

Many years ago, I received a phone call late on a Saturday night. It was from an eight grade girl who had been creating a webpage on a WWII local veteran as part of an oral history unit for a class. She'd been looking at the page she and a partner had composed and discovered something terrible.

Mr. Johnson! There is a spelling error on Dr. Heinmark's page. Can you help me correct it right away? If he sees it, I will be so embarrassed!

It was the first time in 30 years of teaching I actually heard dismay about spelling from a student. And the experience taught me the power of a audience to raise the level of concern about the quality of one's work.

While I know exceptions exist, I really don't think most kids care a lot about their teachers' opinions of their work except as related to a grade or satisfaction of a course requirement. Or maybe I should say, students care a lot more about what their peers and families think about their work. Or even the general public.

It's hard to remember a time before social media when sharing ideas in written, visual, or aural form was a real challenge. The WWII pages created in the early 2000s had to be uploaded by library and tech staff, not by students themselves. GoogleDocs, SeeSaw, Instagram and common "sharing" tools today did not exist so making student work public by publishing it online was a deliberate (and pioneering) effort.

Establishing an audience that is broader than the classroom teacher still requires effort - just different effort. Teachers need to:

  • Analyze student privacy needs and share carefully.
  • Link student work to caring audiences (parents, peer groups in other schools, etc).
  • Consider the challenges and possibilites of cross-cultural sharing.

Writers write to be read. Writers understand that to be understood, their writing must be clear and compelling and as free of errors as possible.

A responsive audience helps raise student concern and care about the quality of their communications.