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Why robots make the best students

Why robots make the best students
A riff on Kathy Sierra's Why Robots Are the Best Employees*

  1. They don't challenge the teacher's authority or subject expertise.
  2. They don't ask questions that may not have a right or wrong answer.
  3. They all learn in same way, at the same pace.
  4. They stay in their seats with eyes straight ahead.
  5. They don't go on vacations with their families during school time or skip school. Or come in late.
  6. They don't need to learn to work in cooperative groups. Or need social skills. Or need conflict resolution abilities.
  7. They don't need sex ed, multicultural ed, or P.E. The arts and literature are wasted on them. No field trips or fire drills. No need for hot lunch.robot7.jpg
  8. They never make the principal or teacher look bad (e.g. stupid, incompetent, clueless, etc.).
  9. They follow the school dress code and never swear.
  10. They have no strongly-held opinions or passions for which to fight.
  11. They always pass the state tests and always read above grade level.
  12. They are always willing to do the homework no matter how meaningless.
  13. They don't complain when you lecture or give worksheets. Endlessly.
  14. They can all use the same textbook and they are all always on the same chapter,
  15. They make a bell curve - always.
  16. They don't care what their classroom/library is like. Comfort and ambiance are not important.
  17. They don't expect to have the equipment they need.
  18. They don't need social services. Parent robots always come to conferences.
  19. They make good robot employees.

Jeff Utecht asks, "Why do teachers seem to be afraid of technology?" Dave Warlick rants about fearful teachers.

I agree that many teachers may be fearful - but it's not the technology that's frightening if you dig just a little deeper. It's what the technology gives kids access to and how it may change students and the classroom when information become ubiquitous. Were I a teacher, here is what I would be afraid of:

  • Kids who have more factual knowledge than I do (because of technology), thus supplanting me as the classroom sage.
  • Kids who insist on engaging learning experiences (since that is what they get using technology outside of class).
  • Kids who embrace ambiguity and creativity and personal passions (because they can find like-minded folks and information about those passions using technology).
  • Kids whose most important skills aren't measurable (practiced using technology) and will surpass me in power and income and prestige in only a few years after graduation.

For 12 years! I've separated those educators who shun ambiguity from those who embrace it. Technology exacerbates the gap. It's ambiguity we and the test makers don't much like. And more than a few politicians.

The challenges classroom teachers face today are unlike any the profession has previously tried to meet. Imagine being stuck in a plant designed to produce Model A Fords, but being expected to turn out custom designed high-performance aircraft with a 0% rejection rate.

I'd be fearful of a hell of a lot more than technology. 

Why Robots Are the Best Employees - Kathy Sierrra, Oct 2006

1) They don't challenge the status quo

2) They don't ask those uncomfortable questions

3) They're 100% obedient

4) They don't need "personal" days.

5)... because they don't have a personal life

6) They never make the boss look bad (e.g. stupid, incompetent, clueless, etc.)

7) They dress and talk the way you want them to

8) They have no strongly-held opinions

9) They have no passion, so they have nothing to "fight" for

10) They are always willing to do whatever it takes (insane hours, etc.)

11) They are the ultimate team players

12) They don't complain when you micromanage (tip: micromanaging is in fact one of the best ways to create a robot)

13) They don't care what their workspace is like, and don't complain if they don't have the equipment they need

14) They'll never threaten your job

15) They make perfect scapegoats

16) They get on well with zombies


And who exactly needs tech skills? A rant

whoneedsskills.jpgThe lunch speaker at Kiwanis today bashed public education using slide after slide of dubious statistics. Schools don't graduate enough engineers. Too few 8th graders take algebra. Kids need tech skills. Yada, yada, yada.

Oh, he used: 

  • slides that were packed text.
  • slides without pictures or graphs.
  • slides that he read to us.

And who needs tech skills?

I am becoming increasingly frustrated by the today's Cassandras who expect skills of all students we are graduating that they themselves don't have.

Johnson’s Test Fairness Plan: Require no high school tests that the adults who insist on them can’t pass



End of summer Start of school


Labor Day is always a wistful time for me. The long weekend of family and friends at "our" resort in northern Minnesota, The Cry of the Loon, signals that summer is indeed gone and that fall and school have officially begun. Even grandson Miles pictured above seems to be in a reflective mood. Although he doesn't go to school, I'm sure he will miss his brother who will be a first-grader this year.

Our all-staff back-to-school gathering last week was one of the very best I remember in my career. Highlights included:

  • The superintendent listed a dozen major accomplishments of the district last year, including beginning all-day kindergarten throughout the district, implementing a new reading series, installing 100 new projectors and SmartBoards in classrooms, and having our school board recognized as the best one in Minnesota.
  • US Representative Tim Walz re-joining us to offer a heart-felt thanks for our work in getting him elected to Congress last year. Tim, a social studies teacher from the high school across the alley from my office, is the only elected teacher serving in Congress. He also seems to be one of the most articulate and value-driven. Any surprise?
  • Jamie Vollmer "the blueberry guy" gave a great speech on education. I suspect Vollmer is old news to most educators, but if you don't know his work, check it out here. The heart of Vollmer's message is summed up in his "Blueberry Story":


We must change what, when, and how we teach to give all children maximum opportunity to thrive in a post-industrial society. But educators cannot do this alone; these changes can occur only with the understanding, trust, permission and active support of the surrounding community.


He strongly advocates that we stop trash talking our own schools and fellow educators and instead tell positive stories to counteract the biases in media against public education. Sensible, concrete advice. (Another intriguing part of his website and talk is "The Burden" - the added expections of public education from 1900 to the present.)

It may just a heightened sensitivity because of Vollmer's talk, but the comic strips this fall seem to realy be playing up the negative aspects of returning to school. Yeah, it's a perennial source of humor, but wouldn't it be nice if we saw the antics of some of the kids who enjoyed returning to school? There are those kids still out there. Right?