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

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

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EdTech Update





Alaskan anticipation

Anticipation matters. Gilovich also studied anticipation and found that anticipation of an experience causes excitement and enjoyment, while anticipation of obtaining a possession causes impatience. Experiences are enjoyable from the very first moments of planning, all the way through to the memories you cherish forever. "Why You Should Spend Your Money on Experiences, Not Things," Forbes, August 9, 2016.

The Wilderness Explorer

I packed my bag yesterday although the flight does not leave until the day after tomorrow.

I must be looking forward to this trip.

My friend Heidi has given herself a retirement gift - a first class vacation to Alaska, not just for herself, but for her daughter and her daughter's partner. Oh, and me. When I told a friend that she was taking me to Alaska, he asked, "But is she bringing your back?" I hope so. 

One observation that retirement gurus make is that those of us who have spent our lives saving money for retirement, often have a great deal of difficulty then spending when we do retire. While Heidi claims this is a once in a lifetime trip, I admire her for her generosity and ability to overcome this fear of using her savings. I hope to be good enough company that she does not regret the invitation.

While I have been to Alaska twice to speak at conferences, this will be the first time I'm going truly as a tourist. The trip consists of a week of exploring the Denali/Talkeetna area (via train from Anchorage) and then a week cruising on a 74 passenger ship (Wilderness Explorer) from Ketchikan to Juneau. The ship is small enough to get close to glaciers and holds kayaks and paddle boards for even closer looks at glaciers and moose and bears and whales and orcas and sea lions and who know what else. There will be hikes.

As the article from which the opening quote is taken suggests, I have already gotten a great deal of pleasure from this trip without even having stepped on the plane. I've re-read, to great delight, Michener's tome Alaska, Nickerson's reflective Disapperance: A Map, Doig's historical fiction The Sea Runners, and Horowitz's retracing of Jame Cook's travels Blue Latitudes. I've read and re-read the suggested packing list and itinerary and searched TripAdvisor for sights, restaurants, and activities. (Anchorage has a Dairy Queen.)

And there is no doubt the recollection of the experience will still be strong even as a I lie in hospice in a few short years.

Here's to money spent on experiences, rather than things. And to brave, generous friends. 


Into the VOID - a Star Wars VR experience


The Johnson/Roberts crew returning from a mission to capture a secret weapon in the VOID Star Wars experience.

I know of few greater Star Wars experts (nerds?) than my grandson and son-in-law. Unlike this shallow grandfather who has only seen the movies a few times, Aaron and Miles have absorbed all the TV shows, animated features, and books - and happily converse for hours using their encyclopedic knowledge of these worlds from "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away."

So when The VOID opened in the Mall of America last Saturday, Miles wanted to go. I knew nothing about it, but, being both a doting grandfather and being a sucker for new experiences, I got tickets for Aaron, Miles, my son Brady, and me for the 2pm adventure.

I have to say that despite the cost ($35 per ticket), the experience was pretty much mind-blowing. Billed as "a whole-body, fully immersive VR experience," the 30 minutes spent looking through a VR helmet,  wearing some kind of electronic vest, and carrying a ray gun, was about as far from the Google Cardboard experience as a iMax movie is from a picture book.

Viewed through the VR helmets, the small, dark rooms of the area we walked through became corridors of spaceships, walkways suspended above firey lava flows, decks of transporter vessels, and storage rooms filled with Storm Troopers firing laser beams. So convincing was the VR, I was actually a little dizzy and anxious when I needed to cross a narrow plank onto a hovering spaceship. Winds and the smell of sulfur, along with a soundtrack lifted right from the movies, added to the realism. There was lots of shooting, a couple codes to enter, and a narrow rescue from Darth Vader as he menaced with his light saber. 

I have rarely seen my kids as excited as when they left the simulation. (OK, I was sort of jazzed too.)

I kept thinking what a powerful educational tool this might be - especially for history classes. How might one's empathy for our ancestors or the ancestors of others be if The VOID sent us into the hold of a slave ship or the trenches of WWI? What would it feel like to ride with Marco Polo on the Silk Road or view the Spanish conquistadors through the eyes of an Aztec noble? Would such technology allow us to sit in on a Socratic dialog - with Socrates or hear Confucius expound in real time?

Empathy is often described as the ability to place oneself in another's shoes. Believe me, next time I see a Star Wars movie, I will be wearing the boots of a rebel on a mission.


BFTP: The most important reason kids need to learn to be creative

Creativity, I believe, is a vocational skill, a work skill, a means to secure good jobs.

But idealist that I am, I also want students who feel empowered, knowing at heart they have the ability to be sufficiently clever that they can solve any problem they encounter. That they don't have to simply take what life throws at them and live with it. That there is always a way, if one is sufficiently innovative and persistent to get around, over, under, or through any wall. 

Far too many children leave school without the confidence, mindset, skills, or even realization that they have the ability to solve their own problems. They rely on parents, teachers, or perceived leaders to present “the solution” to issues that trouble them.  In large part this is because schools have had the historic societal charge to create conformists, order-takers, and in-the-box thinkers. As David Brooks observes about that student who has a perfect academic record:

This person has followed the cookie-cutter formula for what it means to be successful and you [as an employer] actually have no clue what the person is really like except for a high talent for social conformity. Either they have no desire to chart out an original life course or lack the courage to do so. Shy away from such people.

Schools have done a good job of creating followers. In his book Savage Inequalities, Jonathan Kozol, after examining schools in  East St. Louis, Chicago, New York City, Camden, Cincinnati, and Washington D.C. concludes that two separate public school systems operate in the United States”

... children in one set of schools are educated to be governors; children in the other set of schools are trained for being governed. The former are given the imaginative range to mobilize ideas for economic growth; the latter are provided with the discipline to do the narrow tasks the first group will prescribe. (Kozol, 1991).*

As a life-long educator, my mantra has always been that as a teacher my mission is to create thinkers, not believers. A large part of thinking should be thinking creatively as a means of solving one's own problems, solving the problems of society, and understanding that we all have the power to choose the paths we take in life.

Personally, I love the everyday MacGyvers I encounter. Those who see an obstacle as something akin to a jungle gym - a chance to not just climb, but to get joy and satisfaction in doing so.

Can you think of a better reason that students need to practice creativity?


* Check the recent Annie E Casey Foundation report on acheivement gap by ethnicity if you think Kozol's 1991 findings are ancient history. What chances are students who are performing poorly academically being given to be creative, empowered personal problem-solvers. My guess is about zero. Pass the test then maybe, maybe we'll think about dispositions like creativity.

Original post 4/2/14