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Saturday
Aug132016

BFTP: The smart way to keep people passive and obedient

"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum - even encourage the more critical and dissident views. That gives people the sense that there's free thinking going on, while all the time the presuppositions of the system are being reinforced by the limits put on the range of the debate."   Noam Chomsky

Clear example: Vigorous debate over the content of the standards and national tests. Should we require specific 18th century British novels? If so, which ones?  Excluded from the discussion: Should there be national standards and national tests? Stephen Krashen*

"Conversation" is a word I've heard bandied about a lot lately. Miguel Guhlin and Jennifer LaGarde both list topics they're tired of debating: copyright, education reform via staff development, e-books, social media in education, 21st century skills, etc. Like Miguel and Jennifer, I too get tired of reading the same arguments, pleas, excuses, lamentations, diatribes, venting, rationales, denials, and oratories over and over - all with seemingly no impact on education.

Might the disatisfaction lie not with the topics themselves - they all seem very important to me - but with "the spectrum of acceptable opinion", as Chomsky puts it. Krashen argues that rather than debate what should be in national standards, we should be asking whether to have national standards at all. Are there other larger spectrum issues that we really ought to be talking about?

  • Not how to make all students proficient at math and reading, but whether all people need to be proficient. (See Libraries for a Post-literate Society)
  • Not whether schools should ban or allow personally owned student devices, but whether schools have the right to make such rules.
  • Not whether we should have testing in schools, but whether schools should be using other metrics to determine educational effectiveness.
  • Not whether technology use in schools results in "higher student achievement", but whether spending educational dollars on technology is moral when when there is no research on its effectiveness.
  • Not whether to teach students to respect the intellectual property of others, but whether to teach the rights held by consumers of IP and how students' personal IP rights as creators.

Who or what limits the spectrum of discussion in education? The popular media? Big professional organizations? The U.S. Department of Education? A lack of technical skills that allow mainstream teachers to follow bloggers and tweeters and those writing from the trenches?

Perhaps an even more important question is: Who limits the spectrum of discussion in your school? Do districts and buildings keep some issues off the table? Why? And are there ways to allow such conversations that skirt the traditional conversational gate-keepers?

Hmmmmmmm.

Are you being kept "passive and obedient" by not addressing the bigger issues of educational policy? What are they? How is it done? How do you fight it?

* If you are not on Stephen Krashen's e-mail list, subscribe. Or follow at @skrashen on Twitter. He, along with Alfie Kohn, Diane Ravitch, and Susan Ohanian, is one of my educational heroes. Read them all.

Original post July 2, 2011

Tuesday
Aug092016

The quiet disruption

We hear a lot about "disruptive technologies" in education. Yet judging by apperances, most classes look pretty much like they did 100 years ago - students in desks, facing the front, teacher in charge, standard curriculum, uniform assessments.

Yes, some teachers use small work groups now and then. Funny looking chairs, collaboration spaces, and multiple TV monitors instead of a projectors can be found here and there. Textbooks are digital. Worksheets are distributed and collected via GoogleDocs. A few assessments are being done online.

But what has changed fundamentally? Look carefully, true disruption is tough to see.

This is because it is not the adults who are driving the truly disruptive use of technology in the classroom. It is the students themselves. Quietly. Individually. Non-confrontationally.

How?

Given an Internet connected device, whether personal or school-provided, students can self-individualize their learning during class. If a teacher has not made a persuasive case for the importance of knowing subject-verb agreement, double-digit multiplication, or the historical importance of the Crimean War, students have an alternative to glassy-eyed submissiveness or defiant rebellion. They can learn about things of interest and acquire skills of they see of value.

I suspect many teachers will not object to this - at least initially. Quiet learning, regardless of topic, is preferable to classroom disorder. But here are some questions I would be asking as technology disrupts the education process - quietly:

  • How do I increase the relevance of what I am teaching to gain/regain student interest?
  • How can we help students realize that some knowledge and skills may not have immediate application to their lives, but may be foundational to other learning?
  • Should I acknowledge those who have tuned-out of my syllabus and try to directed their learning to related areas?
  • Will my students' Common Core assessments and other test scores tank? If so, are there ways to demonstrate my students are still learning as a result of attending my class?

I don't know if we can accommodate self-individualized learning in our traditional school systems. Are we trying to compete with digital photography by offering a better grade of film photography?

 And where was self-personalized learning when I was in school?

Tuesday
Aug022016

How do you do tech support for 2850 Chromebooks?

This is the first meeting on our HS "Geek Squad" - student tech support for the 1:1 Chromebook project we are beginning next year. These students, as part of "career path" class, are some of those who will be assisting their fellow 2800+ students - and probably more than a few staff - in basic operations, log ins, troubleshooting, and eventually doing minor repairs in the Geek Squad station in the high school media center. We are working with Best Buy to make this work.

If you are a reader of this blog, you know a great deal of spade work has already happened in this project. Wireless infrastructure has been upgraded, a new learning management system has been implemented, piloted, and taught, staff development activities for the coming school year will focus on differentiation, student-centered learning, gradual release of responsibility, and project-based learning. Staff received the same model Chromebook student are getting last spring. And our office has been focusing on the background management of the devices and providing a proxy to our district network to provide filtered access from home. Metrics for plan efficacy have been developed.

The big handout will becoming the end of the month. We anticipate needing to checkout about 200 student devices PER HOUR during orientation and other distribution times. We want students logged in to our network before the take the devices with them. We will be doing common orientation to Chromebook use and classroom expectations in every class in the high school during the first few days.

Thanks to an amazing staff, I anticipate a good start to the year. Will there be bumps and surprises? Of course. But thanks to the Geek Squad and our wonderful student body, we will move forward.

Should be fun!