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EdTech Update





BFTP: The blessing of (school) work

Ora et labora - Pray and labor. St. Benedict


Non-Sequiter, September 1, 2012

I'm not sure why "work" has such a negative connotation in U.S. society. Perhaps it is a residual sentiment from times when most "work" was physical - dirty, dangerous, and exhausting.

I've thought a great deal about "work" and its place in my life  - how it has defined me, shaped me, and rewarded me. While it has not always been true all the time about every job I've had, I have generally been blessed with work that gives me pleasure and my life meaning. My son-in-law's sermon lone week talked about St. Benedict and his observation that work and prayer can be one and the same. And that "work" is not the same as employment. I would agree.

When unemployment rates are too high, when job opportunities seem to be lacking, and when people seem to be unable to advance at their place of work or in their careers, the problem is too often framed as simply economic. And while it's absolutely true that everyone ought to be able to put a roof over one's head, purchase healthy food for one's table and give one's family decent medical care and an education, we focus far too much on the monetary rewards of work rather than the psychological rewards. The real tragedy of a lack of work is when people can't find joy in life and form a positive view of themselves. It's not really about taxpayers needing to fund welfare or unemployment payments. People without meaningful work are living a diminished life.

Everyone should take pleasure and find meaning in their work. 

This includes students and their school "work." Whether in class or out of class, any task a teacher gives needs to be given thoughtfully, mindful of how its successful completion defines, shapes, and rewards the student's sense of him or herself. Why should students not look forward to school work as much as many adults look forward to going to work?

It's the challenges, the problems, the obstacles, and the work (see cartoon above), that make life pleasurable. Think about it as your "work" week begins again tomorrow.

Original post September 3, 2012


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