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EdTech Update





Learning adult skills

There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves. Will Rogers

The following graphic came from Stephen Abram's blog post: Adulting 101: When libraries teach basic life skills.


  • The first question I had was "Where in the heck were these classes when I was 16-25?"
  • The second question I had was "How did I learn the skills I needed to function independently as an adult?"
  • And the final question was "What additional skill classes should this public library add to its curriculum?"

The public library in my young adulthood (think late 60s, early 70s) was a far more traditional place. I don't know if they offered classes of any kind at all - only books, magazines, and reference materials. The library had its role in an information scarce environment and filled it well. Today's best libraries, like the one at which Adult 101 classes are taught are filling non-traditional needs for a changing society. Very cool.

So how did I learn how to heat up a can of soup or change a fuse or check the oil in my car? In a nuclear family these things were just part of life. I learned from my parents, my grandparents, my friends. Many kids still learn adult behaviors in the same way, but it seems we have more kids who may not have this home support, necessitating the need for Adult 101 classes. More's the pity.

What other Adulting 101 skills should be added to the interesting curriculum above? (Feel free to suggest your own in the comment section.)

  • Healthy eating and life-long exercising
  • Calculating interest on loans and long-term savings
  • Participatory citizenship - voting, attending caucuses, communicating with legislators
  • Maintaining healthy interpersonal relationships
  • Discussing without arguing
  • Balancing one's work and family and self time
  • Understanding what research shows leads to life happiness

As Will Rogers suggests in the opening quote, there are things that cannot be taught, only learned through experience. There people who cannot be taught, only be given the opportunity and time to learn. But for many, libraries and schools who do offer classes in being an adult will be a blessing.

I hope the practicalities of adult living are a growing part of both library and school classes.


The broader the audience, the greater the care

Many years ago, I received a phone call late on a Saturday night. It was from an eight grade girl who had been creating a webpage on a WWII local veteran as part of an oral history unit for a class. She'd been looking at the page she and a partner had composed and discovered something terrible.

Mr. Johnson! There is a spelling error on Dr. Heinmark's page. Can you help me correct it right away? If he sees it, I will be so embarrassed!

It was the first time in 30 years of teaching I actually heard dismay about spelling from a student. And the experience taught me the power of a audience to raise the level of concern about the quality of one's work.

While I know exceptions exist, I really don't think most kids care a lot about their teachers' opinions of their work except as related to a grade or satisfaction of a course requirement. Or maybe I should say, students care a lot more about what their peers and families think about their work. Or even the general public.

It's hard to remember a time before social media when sharing ideas in written, visual, or aural form was a real challenge. The WWII pages created in the early 2000s had to be uploaded by library and tech staff, not by students themselves. GoogleDocs, SeeSaw, Instagram and common "sharing" tools today did not exist so making student work public by publishing it online was a deliberate (and pioneering) effort.

Establishing an audience that is broader than the classroom teacher still requires effort - just different effort. Teachers need to:

  • Analyze student privacy needs and share carefully.
  • Link student work to caring audiences (parents, peer groups in other schools, etc).
  • Consider the challenges and possibilites of cross-cultural sharing.

Writers write to be read. Writers understand that to be understood, their writing must be clear and compelling and as free of errors as possible.

A responsive audience helps raise student concern and care about the quality of their communications. 


BFTP: What professional materials do you actually read?

Today ... it's the difficult work that's worth doing. It's worth doing because difficult work allows you to stand out, create value and become the one worth choosing. Seth Godin

Spring - the season of discontent. At least is always has been for me. As the weather gets nicer and the bike trails clear, the lawn and flower beds peep out from under melting snow banks, and the end of the school year gallops toward us at a breakneck pace, I always question whether I belong in education at all. Wouldn't I have made a better forest ranger, electrician, pharmaceutical salesman, or long-haul truck driver? As I wrote in a column some years ago:

Spring has always been the time I seem least content with being in education. I am usually pretty fed up with the antics of students, teachers, administrators and a few parents. I am actively questioning whether I actually taught anybody anything during the year or any of my department’s initiatives did anything for kids. I am worried about the next round of budget cuts. 

This spring it seems that I am not the only one suffering from this malaise.  I received this question from a friend in Wisconsin last week:

I believe a great deal in professional organizations, as I'm a member of several, but I'm starting to get a little tired of ISTE's Leading & Learning. I just don't find it a compelling read for some time now ... do you feel the quality of L & L is slipping? Or am I getting to be an information snob?

Hmmm, I find myself skimming rather than actually reading most education journals, not just L&L. In fact, I am skimming a lot more professional reading period, whether is a book, a blog, or a white paper. But is the reason the content, the sheer glut of content gushing past, - or is it personal boredom?

In his little diatribe "Please stop spreading manure," Gary Stager writes:

Almost daily, a colleague I respect posts a link to some amazing tale of classroom innovation, stupendous new education product or article intended to improve teaching practice. Perhaps it is naive to assume that the content has been vetted. However, once I click on the Twitter or Facebook link, I am met by one of the following:

  1. A gee-whiz tale of a teacher doing something obvious once, accompanied by breathless commentary about their personal courage/discovery/innovation/genius and followed by a steam of comments applauding the teacher’s courage/discovery/innovation/genius. Even when the activity is fine, it is often the sort of thing taught to first-semester student teachers.
  2. An article discovering an idea that millions of educators have known for decades, but this time with diminished expectations.
  3. An ad for some test-prep snake oil or handful of magic beans.
  4. An “app” designed for kids to perform some trivial task, because “it’s so much fun, they won’t know they’re learning.” Thanks to sites like Kickstarter we can now invest in the development of bad software too!
  5. A terrible idea detrimental to teachers, students or public education.
  6. An attempt to redefine a sound progressive education idea in order to justify the status quo.

I don’t just click on a random link from a stranger, I follow the directions set by a trusted colleague – often a person in a position of authority. When I ask them, “Did you read that article you posted the link to?” the answer is often, “I just re-read it and you’re right. It’s not good.” Or “I’m not endorsing the content at the end of the link, “I’m just passing it along to my PLN.”

Despite the fact we disagree on many issues, Gary, I am right there with you on this one. I get the sense too many "experts" are more concerned about being the first to tweet or blogging the most links that any sense of vetting has gone by the wayside. Nothing should be "just passed along to my PLN" without some kind of personal commentary explaining why the piece is worth sharing. (I still think we'd have a better, more discriminating social network if we had to pay for each posting. See The Signs of Over Communication.)

As readers and writers, are we doing "the difficult work that's worth doing?", as Godin asks?


Original post April 29, 2013