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EdTech Update





The power of convenience

Around 2003, John, the principal of a large high school in the district which I worked, decided that the daily bulletin would go to teachers as an email. The practice had been to print the bulletin and at the end of the first hour, send runners through the halls to clip the printout just outside each classroom door. The bulletin was then read aloud at the beginning of second period.

The end of the print bulletin was met with strenuous objection by a single teacher. Bob insisted on continuing to get his bulletin on paper. So Principal John acceded to his request. He printed Bob's bulletin but instead of having it delivered to his classroom, the printed copy was placed in Bob's mailbox in the office where Bob had to walk to retrieve it. 

Bob soon started using the electronic version of the bulletin.

What I learned from this was that making a digital means of completing a task more convenient was a better way to facilitate change than a simple mandate.

It's no secret that I am a fan of paper-less schools. Not just from an economic standpoint, but because we should be giving our kids experience in working in environments, work and school, in which tasks are increasingly completed digitally.

I certainly would never take away anyone's ability to print. But I would certainly make it sufficiently inconvenient that one might think twice before doing so....


Sustainable technology

For over 20 years  I have advocated what I call "sustainable technology".  Like sustainable agriculture, sustainable technology implementation recognizes that systems must be deliberately maintained, upgraded, and replaced on an ongoing basis. Technology is rarely if ever a one time expenditure; it should be treated as a general fund expenditure - not capital. The three tenets I proposed are:

  1. Not purchasing more technology than can be regularly maintained, upgraded and replaced.
  2. Rotating the technology.
  3. Having reasonable expectations.

As my district now starts looking past its initial 3-year student device rollout, we have some interesting planning to do - and it is my goal to make sure the good things that are happening as a result of our 1:1 projects and our classroom-based technologies will continue. 

We've been having interesting discussions about categorizing current equipment. A simple description I have used for many years is whether a machine is "mission critical" or "supplementary." Teacher computers, student devices needed for the completion of school work, and administrative/secretarial computers all fall under the mission-critical category and should be on a regular update basis. We have determined the Chromebooks in our 1:1 student program meet the "mission-critical" criteria. 

Mission critical equipment that has been replaced but can still be used, is supplementary. Those Chromebooks, for example, that are over 3 years old may still have some life in them and can be used as loaners, by educational EAs, or in other places where high reliability, speed, and functionality is not as important. 

The second set of categorizations we've been developing (thanks to my great instructional technology coordinator) are describing a piece of equipment as:


  • Tier One: Mission Critical (repair with purchased parts)
  • Tier Two: Supplanted (repair if inexpensive to do so)
  • Tier Three: Use until it dies, but do not resuscitate (repair)
  • Tier Four: Remove from inventory due to security issues (no longer upgradable)


Using these definitions of purpose and of machine status, we can make sure that we squeeze every bit of goodness out of each machine without creating reliability problems for users.

I expect some would call me cheap. But I also recognize the value of small class sizes, good support personnel, and other non-technological educational resources. Maybe sustainability is not being cheap - just responsible.


BFTP: Everything I know about engagement I learned in kindergarten

The drop in student engagement for each year students are in school is our monumental, collective national failure. There are several things that might help to explain why this is happening -- ranging from our overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students -- not to mention the lack of pathways for students who will not and do not want to go on to college. Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education.

Do these findings suprise anyone? In my own experience and from listening to my own children, this is an accurate graph. The only change I'd make would be to extend the engagement drop through the first two years of college before the direction moves upward again when general education requirements are met.

As both Bretag and Busteed suggest above, some correlations between engagment, relevance, and project-based learning can be easily and correctly drawn. I've been fussing about the need for concrete ways to improve projects since, oh, about 1999. And it's obvious nobody has been listening and now look what's happened. Maybe another approach?

Perhaps our elementary collegues know something about engagement that secondary teachers don't? With apologies to Robert Fulghum. It's been more than a couple years since I attended kindergarten, but I remember it as three of the best years of my life (old joke). Anyway...

Everything I know about engagement I learned in kindergarten

In kindergarten you get

  1. Show and tell. You got to do something or bring something and then tell others about it. Secondary skill attainment measurement needs to be less about testing and more about show and tell performance-based assessment. Oh, and listening to other students is a lot more involving than listening to the old person in the room.
  2. Choices. As a little kid you often got to choose - your library book, your reading buddy, your activity, the subject of your drawing. People tend to choose things that interest them and interesting things are engaging. How often do we let older students choose?
  3. Play. Elementary teachers can make a game out of almost anything - and make just about every task feel like play. The older we get, the less we get to play and more we have to work. Just why is that? Gamification is a fancy term for putting play back into the curriculum. Look it up.
  4. Naps. Most adolescents I know are tired - and not because they've been up all night texting. (Well, maybe that's part of it.) We've long known that teens do better when school starts later in the morning. Tired people have a tough time staying engaged.
  5. To go outside. The best learning takes place in the "real world" not in the classroom. Whether it is studying bugs and leaves in first grade, marching with the band in junior high, or doing service learning as seniors, we all are more interested when it is the real world with which we are dealing.
  6. Colors. A blank sheet of construction paper and some crayolas have always let young learners be creative. Creativity is inherently engaging. What's the high school classroom's equivilant to scissors and paste? 
  7. To do it together. Reading groups. Play groups. Science groups. It's better with other kids. Social learners are engaged learners.
  8. Reading for enjoyment. Our elementary teachers and librarians want us to practice reading so much they let us read what we like! Do our secondary teachers want us to write so much, know so much, experiment so much, and solve problems so much that we get to do it for enjoyment?
  9. Learning that's important. Nobody needs to convince a little kid that learning to read, to add and subtract, or to know about firemen is important. And that you should pay attention when being taught these things. Calculus, world history, the Romantic poets, the atomic structure of non-metals, not so much. If you can't convince me what you are teaching should be important to me, teach something that is.
  10. Care. OK, this should have been the first one. I really believe a lot little kids are engaged because they know someone cares that they are. Yeah, the littlies are cute and cuddly and all that, but the gangly, awkward, homely teens need to know adults care too. When someone else is paying attention to you, you pay more attention yourself.

There you are - 10 simple steps to keep the engagement level from tanking.


Original post January 22, 2013 (This post morphed into a column as well.)