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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





I graduated in the upper 90% of my high school class!

The poster above resonated with me. I volunteered yesterday to serve as a "supervisor" for our large high school's graduation ceremony. About 700 students and their families gathered last night to celebrate this major milestone.

Our district, like our society, is stew of races, religions, ethnicities, and income levels. Our kids run the gamut from world-class athletes and scholars to severely physically and intellectually challenged individuals. Some families came to the event last evening wearing suits, ties, dresses, and gorgeous hijabs; others in t-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops.

But all came to honor the work and perseverance of a young person about whom they care.

Institutionally, we call out the strivers - the honor students, the student council members, the valedictorians. They get special sashes and tassels and fonts in the program. They give speeches and sing songs. Good on them. Well-deserved.

But as the poster above states, I hope we recognize the achievements of all our kids. Graduation for the "C" student who is homeless may have required ten times the effort of the "A" student who could rely on a hot meal, warm bed, and caring adults every day. Perhaps we need an "overcoming adversity" award as well. How about an award for helping a buddy through school? A kindness certificate? A perseverance tassel?

And then there are the many who happily made it through high school without just causing too many waves. I was one of those, graduating somewhere in the middle of my class. (But I always remind my grandsons that graduated in the upper 90%!) I got some recognition in college and professionally later in life, but in high school, I just made it through. Luckily, that was enough for my supportive family.

So congratulate ever kid you know who finished high school (or just the school year). Even if we aren't all world beaters, we still deserve a pat on the back.

Oh, I've been the guest speaker at two graduations. Here are the texts of those talks:

Graduation speech - 1994 

Everything I know in 15 minutes


BFTP: Humility builders

I like to joke that I tend to fix things until they are permanently broken. Sadly, it's not really a joke.

This week I broke the crystal on a watch in the process of replacing the battery. (Shouldn't use a pair of pliers to squeeze the back back on, it seems.)

I woke up this morning wondering who got the "handy" genes in our family. My dad was very mechanical and my mom was a house painter, furniture restorer, and the like.  My brother and sister must have lucked out. I know I didn't inherit one lick of ability in this area. Any project like installing a garage door, repairing a faucet, or putting together a toy raises my humility quotient by at least 100%. 

Which is a good thing.

I find that I get into the most trouble, act the most stupid, and embarrass myself the most when I am thinking too highly of myself. Getting knocked down a notch or two usually makes me a nicer person. At least for a while.  I know this.

Here are a few other humility builders (oxymoron?)

  1. Full length mirrors (see below)
  2. Stupid typographical errors or just plain awkward writing in work you've made public.
  3. Chewing somebody out, then getting all the facts, then apologizing.
  4. Reading others' writing that is more profound, beautiful and thoughtful than you can ever hope to create.
  5. Watching yourself on videotape.
  6. Having an article rejected by a publisher. Or two. Or three.
  7. Being taken to task for something you've said by someone you respect.
  8. Getting a pointy-haired boss cartoon taped to your door.
  9. The amount of my royalty checks.
  10. The look on my network manager's face when I ask him the meaning of an acronym.

There are plenty of others but these come to mind.

Why is it so difficult to be grateful for the things that do us so much good? Like getting taken down a notch or two

Original post May 12, 2013


The year-round school


Tim Stahmer at Assorted Stuff has a dead-on post, It's Closing Time, about stopping and starting "school" every summer. He shares my pet peeve about closing libraries exceedingly early and collecting technology for summer storage. And I like this question:

But I wonder how much more learning would be possible if we didn’t “open” and “close” schools each year? If we treated learning as a continuous, open-ended process, rather than something with a fixed start and end?

Using an expensive resource like a school and its library for only 3/4 or so of the year just doesn't make good economic sense either.

And yet... I think many of the educators with whom I interact seem ready for a break by the end of May- both teaching and non-teaching staff. While the days of the duty-free summer seem to a thing of the past, even for "9-month" employees, the summer brings a change of pace. Many tasks, while important, do not have the urgency that they do when school is in session.

The summer provides a much needed mental health break for those in stressful positions. By the end of May I go home thinking I don't really care if I ever see another student or teacher or principal for the rest of my life. But by the first of August, I miss them all.

How do we get continuity of education and full use of resources yet provide breaks for kids and adults?

One thing we are working on is extending the school year informally with technology. Our students keep their Chromebooks and access to the school's resources (ebooks, databases, videos, Internet access, etc) over the summer. Our public library collaborative project, of course, goes year round. I would like to have the funding to keep our school libraries open over the summer as well or at least allow kids to check out a ton of books to keep over the summer. We are making inroads at some of our schools by having the libraries available during summer school and having one school do summer checkout. 

A better long-term solution might be to re-envision how a "year-round" school is structured. I worked for five years in a year-round school. The ARAMCO Schools in Saudi Arabia had to accommodate an oil company that could not afford to lose all its employees for three months during the summer. So schools there were 3 months on; one month off. One third of the employees and their kids would be gone in August, December or April. Three three-month-long regular school sessions looked and felt like regular semesters. The single months between them allowed vacation time, remediation for those who needed it, or enrichment programs and recreation. We got both breaks and continuity.

As much as I am sentimental about the summers of my own childhood, I recognize that we need to find ways to keep learning opportunities available to our kids - year round schools, summer school, youth camps, digital learning, library programs - creative options abound.

There is no excuse for the summer slide.

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