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EdTech Update





BFTP: Centralize, economize, depersonalize

Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black.
Henry Ford

I hate spending education dollars on technology instead of teachers and library materials. I know, I know, as the tech director my goal should be to garner the largest piece of the funding pie as possible. My problem is that I sleep better at night when I think of myself first as a child advocate, second as an educator, and lastly as a technologist. The children in my district are somebody's grandchildren, after all.

A relatively recent cost-savings proposal in our district has been turning the management of our computer printer and copier services to a vendor. This company installs, services, and monitors all printer use throughout the district and somehow save us a whole bunch of money. Sounds good to me.
But this will mean a change that may not be just real popular. Instead of individual buildings making (and funding) printer decisions, the management will be done on a district level through the vendor. This means less control, less customization, and, perhaps, less immediate service in individual buildings.

The question our administrators has to ask was: "Is giving up control of our printers worth the equivalent of one first year teacher salary in the district?"

I expect this is not the last time this kind of question be asked. If it means substantial cost savings, should the district...

  • Create one image and install a DeepFreeze-like program on all student and staff computers, reducing the need for tech staff time?
  • Increase the number of "hosted" applications we now use, eliminating the need for maintaining servers, security features and reducing (again) tech support needs.
  • Tighten up on standardization of equipment, allowing bulk purchases, requiring fewer replacement parts be stocked, etc.
  • Rely on on-line professional development tools, reducing staff development costs.

To me, the more centralized, more remote the service, the less personalized it becomes*. Teacher A wants this software on his computer? Ain't gonna happen since it falls outside the prescribed "teacher computer image." I am not sure this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly different than the way we've operated in our district, allowing every teacher pretty free reign on what goes on her computer.

So what will it be: individualized and expensive or depersonalized and economical? Oh, we've already ruled on this for most of our students. Most communities have chose the economical route.

*One big mitigating factor is that about all most of us need anymore on our computers is a good web browser and relatively open Internet access. A huge range of tools, many customizable, are then available, provided we are sane in our filtering rules.

Image source:

Original post July 22, 2010



Are you at the table?

If you want a voice in decision-making in your school, you have to know the who, when, and where of the decision-making process. The old adage "If you aren't at the table, you're probably on the menu" is never more true than during times of economic austerity and change in schools.

For school librarians, I have long advocated that we "collaborate at a higher level" and suggest finding seats at the meeting tables of these groups:

  • Building/site leadership team

  • Curriculum teams

  • Assessment committees

  • Strategic planning initiatives

  • Technology advisory committees

  • New facility planning task forces

  • Parent-teacher organizations

  • Accreditation/program review teams

In a recent telephone conference with the editors of CIO magazine, a frank discussion was held about the administrator in charge of technology being on the superintendent's cabinet. Given the changing role of the CIO, technology needs a voice in that group. I would add that technology needs to be at the curriculum, PD, assessment, and operations tables in school districts as well.

Finally, I've been thinking a lot about how we can bring marginalized groups within our district to tables where decisions are being made through social media. Politically and socially, the unconnected do not have a voice in the virtual environments where opinion are forged and policies are made. They wind up on too many menus.

Personally, I'd like to think I would be too tough to eat, regardless of just how hungry the diners.

But I am not taking any chances.



Promoting creative thinking - everyday

I am not very good at self-promotion. Minnesota modest, I guess. Yet I also think my new book Teaching Outside the Lines: Developing Creativity in Every Learner may improve kids' lives. With that hope, I will be putting short excerpts from the book in a blog post each weekend for a bit. Good thing I don't have to make my living as a salesman.

from Chapter Six: List Three Right Answers: What are some simple ways teachers can promote creative thinking everyday?

Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug” is just a wee voice telling you, “I’d like my crayons back, please.” Hugh MacLeod

I hope you are not looking for formulas. Or handouts. Or a single technique. Or even a “method.” The creativity-inspiring classroom is a culture - not a set of rules or specific activities. It is a mindset that teachers transfer to their students every day.

Quite honestly, I don’t know if creativity can be taught. But I know that creativity doesn’t just happen. It needs to be cultivated by being:

  • —Allowed

  • —Encouraged

  • Displayed

  • Modeled

  • —Recognized and rewarded

  • —Developed

  • Discussed

But directly taught as a separate skill? So far nothing I’ve read or seen allows me to believe it can or should be.

But to keep this from being a terribly short chapter, I will identify some things teachers can purposely do in their classrooms that increase the odds of both their students and themselves being more creative.

Ban clip art - in all assignments. I know, I know, clip art is quick, easy, and readily available in many programs. But don’t let kids use it. They should be creating their own visuals for their projects. Scanned original drawings, illustrations created with graphics programs, and personally-taken and edited photographs are all ready sources of visual information we haven’t all seen dozens of times. Let’s put those cameras, drawing programs, graphics tools, and scanners to creative use. You, as the teacher. should as well.

Ask for information to be shared in at least two media formats or different writing types. Even if the primary requirement of an assignment is a piece of writing, we can ask that the same information be shown in many ways. Here are a few I’ve gleaned from various sources:


 (Book has 3 more graphics like this one of different media formats)

Think of all the media and styles humans use to communicate. Using multiple media or different types of written communication requires the learner to think about the contents in two different ways and encourages new approaches to delivering a message. Give kids a chance to try them all.

In preparation for the next chapter, think about how technology can or must be used in making these things.

Encourage the narrative voice in writing and oral presentations. Good assignments help teach not just content, but learning processes as well. Ask students not just to tell the answer to a research question, but to tell the story about how they found the information, what challenges they faced, and what new tricks they acquired.

One of my favorite examples of this was told by Ken Macrorie of I-Search fame. He writes of girl who was asked to write a paper on a vocation. Following the teacher’s advice for getting primary information through an interview of a local expert, the girl, who was interested in becoming a firefighter, interviewed the local fire chief. He turned out to be a sexist pig. The interview made her mad, so she went to her library for secondary sources to learn all she could about the physical, emotional, and intellectual needs of good firefighters. She discovered she exhibited all of them - and delivered her information to the fire chief. And she told of her experiences as part of her final report. Now wouldn’t that have been fun to read? (Macrorie, 1988)

Make research a journey, not just a destination, and ask students to tell that story - emphasizing creative problem-solving strategies.

Ask for multiple possible answers to questions or multiple possible solutions to problems. Most adults who read the paper, have political opinions, or have encountered puzzling events, recognize there is rarely if ever a single viewpoint on an issue or just one solution to a problem. By asking kids for two or three “right” answers, not only do they need to be more creative, but perhaps more empathetic as well.

On trips with our grandchildren, we sometimes play card-based quiz games like Brain Buster. But we have a rule: we have to come up with a “correct” response that’s not a given option and explain why it’s correct.. For one question “What falls from the sky and turns the ground white?”, snow was the “one-right-answer.” But two little boys in back seat easily found that fruit blossoms, sleet, hail, and, of course, bird poop were also correct.

Don’t just ask for multiple possible answers, but ask students to ranking them from best to worst and explain why they did so.

Don’t ask for a “right” answer. In an interesting experiment, elementary children were shown a triangle. One group was told that if they completed the painting in “the right way” they would get a point. Another group was simple told “Complete the painting.” The students who assumed there was a “right answer” drew simple houses 80% of the time and used an average of only two colors; the students who were not told there was a right answer created a large variety of scenes (no simple houses) and used an average of five colors. (Segev, 2013) Do too explicit of examples have this same level of inhibiting creativity as well?

Give points for “design” on selected assignments. Neatness counts. It always did and always will. But today’s effective communicator needs to know some design skills as well. If you don’t have them yourself, I suggest reading Robin Williams’s wonderful little book The Non-Designer’s Design Book.  It takes about an hour and will change the way you look at everything you produce. In it she demonstrates four simple design rules that everyone can master. - proximity, alignment, repetition and contrast. You own materials will look professional as well - and you can pass your secrets on to you students. And to be fair, make sure the students know that design will be considered a factor in the assessment of the product.

Instead of simply telling a student his or her  response is “wrong,” ask for a reason why the answer was given. Remember in Chapter three how poor George, when answering a standardized test question about what rabbits eat, had to draw in a carrot since he assumed the test creators did not know the “right” answer. By asking students why they gave the answer they did, misunderstandings can certainly be cleared-up, but sometimes a refreshingly new approach to a problem emerges.

Related to this is asking students to “show their work.” It’s a term most closely associated with math problems, but we should ask for first drafts, sketches, and notes prior to accepting final products. Good teachers are as or more interested in the learning process than the final product. It’s often where creative insights first appear and can give validity to an idea that only at first glimpse is “wrong.”

Use technologies that encourage creativity. I’ve long sensed that kids like technology because its use in schools is often the only chance they get to be creative. Even if it just selecting the background of slide show or the font of a paper, kids get some choices. But in the next chapter, we’ll look more closely at the rules involved in finding, selecting, and using those tools.

Ask students to help formulate classroom rules, modify procedures, and solve issues. Students can and should demonstrate their creativity in areas other than the arts. Are you having a problem writing a class rule that’s needed but that everyone can’t buy into? Turn the problem over to your students for their creative solutions. I did this once when I ran an unruly library. The high school students replaced my mile-long list of thou-shalt-nots with this elegant set:

To be in the library you must:

be doing something productive

be doing it in a way that allows others to be productive

be respectful of other people and their property

This had the added benefit of creating students who understood their actions impacted others. This is the first time I’ve admitted that these rules were not a product of my own genius - but those of my students.

Is there conflict or tension in your class? I’ll bet you’ve got kids who have creative interpersonal skills who can suggest a new approach. Try it and see what happens.

Honor students’ personal interests and unique talents when teaching skills. In order for students to think hard, think broadly, and think creatively about a subject, they must have enough interest in that subject to care about it. Combining a personal interest with a mandated research topic can lead to creativity. Required content + personal interest = success and originality. Remember from the previous chapter that all creativity starts with a personal problem.


The book contains an additional 10 suggestions.


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