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EdTech Update





How technology will close the achievement gap

Amara’s Law: We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Minnesota has among  the nation's largest achievement gaps. Our white kids tend to test very well and our other than white children to test poorly. And despite our best efforts, that doesn't seem to have changed much over the past 15 years.

Our district, like many, has turned to technology to raise the reading and math skills of our underperforming students. Or their test scores anyway. This has primarily been by having students complete tutorials and practice drills using commercial programs. One is described as a "blended learning intervention solution." 

Given the nagging gap in performance after continued use of this product, I wonder if we are using technology in the most effective way?

In my observations of classrooms using these canned "interventions", the kids seem to be just going through the motions. There is no excitement. There is no interaction. There is no "I can't wait to get started" or "Darn, the class is over already." In fact one common complaint from teachers is that kids often have a second tab open in their browsers to a site that actually involves them and they are often looking at it instead of the intervention program. (Much like I hid a comic book behind my textbook when I was in school.)

We have long had a term for these activities: drill and kill. Does digitizing them make the more effective? More engaging? Studies conducted by the publishers of such programs say yes; independent studies say no. Imagine that.

These program seem the antithesis of what most technology proponents envision good student use looks like in schools. The 4 C's (Creativity, Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking) have become shorthand for activities that give kids choices, give learning relevance, and give meaningful uses to technology. These activities empower kids asking for them to produce, not simply to follow directions and absorb.

And kids get very excited about this kind of learning - especially those, it seems, for whom traditional teach methods don't really work. Maybe the same kids who are not doing well on our tests.

So here is my bold prediction: until we start understanding that using technology in activities that teach the 4 Cs, that are relevant, that are culturally proficient, we will not close the achievement gap. 

All kids deserve an education that empowers them.


BFTP: Achieving consistent happiness

Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.
John Stuart Mill

I don't tend to be anxious, stressed, depressed, bored, or angry the great majority of the time. So by default, I must be a happy person. Quite honestly, I don't spend much time analyzing my happiness level - I tend to focus more on how productive I've been. 

For those who are looking for ways to become happier, I'd endorse the recommendations of Joel Gascoigne who wrote "6 things I do to be conistently happy." He recommends:

  1. Wake up early.
  2. Exercise daily.
  3. Have a habit of disengagement.
  4. Regularly help others.
  5. Learn new skills.
  6. Have multiple ways to "win" each day.

Read the whole post. It's worth your time.

Image source

Like Joel, I believe my happiness is a direct result of doing most of the things his lists on a daily basis. I'd also add the following daily habits:

  1. Have an interesting book to read and find some time each day to read it.
  2. Have something to anticipate - a trip, an event, etc.
  3. Spend discretionary money on experiences rather than material goods.
  4. Take a lot of photographs, especially of your kids and grandkids, and look at them.
  5. Indulge in a guilty pleasure without feeling guilty.
  6. Maintain a regular schedule.
  7. Always have a project or two that challenge you.
  8. Be less critical of both yourself and other people (I think the two are related in some way.)
  9. When given a new task at work, look at it as job security and a chance to learn rather than a burden.
  10. Enjoy your own company when alone. Turn off the iPod and car radio and think, fanaticize, plan, and dream.

Nothing very profound here. But it seems to work for me.

What do you do on a daily basis that makes you a happy person?

My friend Matt Hillman in a comment to the orginal post added: I've always thought that one of the key components of happiness is having the power to choose -- choose to go to college, start a career, or serve our nation, choose what kind of career I'd like, where I prefer to live, etc. Wise man, Superintendent Hillman.


Original post August 20, 2012


How is this better than digital?

Alice Keeler at Teacher Tech asks "How is this Better Than Paper (Oct 5, 2017) and shared the following flowchart:

Personally, I would change the question to "how is this better than digital?"

By default, I would argue that digital is better because:


  • It doesn't kills trees
  • It doesn't add to toner and paper bill
  • It doesn't create waste
  • It doesn't get lost when stored in the cloud
  • It's easier to read
  • It is the way all of us will increasingly do our work


Keeler's important argument is that using digital rather than paper should also be pedagogicaly superior, and if it isn't, why bother. And she lists lots of ways tech-savvy teachers can create better experiences for their students. Right on!

But I would argue that the burden of proof should be on the paper-bound educators, not the digital.