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Games and One Big Room

My column about why we ought to have games in schools is now posted at Education World. (if it sounds somewhat familiar, it's a polished version of comments from earlier Blue Skunk entries.)

Because of the conversation about filtering and intellectual freedom, I re-read my columns "One Big Room" which appeared earlier at Education World in 2006 and Maintaining Intellectual Freedom in a Filtered World that was in Leading & Learning, 2005. Amazing - both still seem to make sense to me. And had less "rant" about them.

I did read a remark somewhere that a tech director felt he would be fired if any student in his district accessed inappropriate materials on the Internet. Hmmm, I feel a blog entry formulating...


craguns.jpg At the Minnesota state library/tech conference (MEMO) at a beautiful resort near Brainerd.

Looking forward to hearing the always stimulating Jamie McKenzie's keynote and it is nice to get caught up with AASL President Sara Kelly Johns who is visiting our conference.

I have only one breakout session to give so I get to listen and learn most of today and tomorrow from my fellow Minnesotans!



Suppose we didn't have to use every new thing

Herb Wilburn gave me permission to take a response he made to this blog and creat this post. Herb's blog, Let's Just Suppose, is always thoughtful and you do worse than to put it in your aggregator.


I've posted this, but wanted to send it to your posting since you are discussing teachers and technology adoption.

Let's just suppose we didn't have to use every new thing...

Today I cataloged and inventoried one of those interactive response units being sold to work with smartboards, whiteboards, and so on. The teachers using it are all excited, the kids think it's cool and I'm pretty sure the school tech people are cheering it on as well.

Well, not so fast, let's think about this. I've used these things at Dept of Ed meetings and as with most types of new technology, if one isn't careful, the lowest possible use is most popular. At the DOE mtg, we were given prefab multiple choice responses to the issues we'd met to discuss for two days. Now, rather than the give and take between thoughtful professionals sparking new ideas and conversation, we clicked on 1 if we wholeheartedly agreed, 2 if we sort of agreed, 3 if we didn't really disagree, and 4 if we just didn't care. OK, so those weren't the real choices but you get the idea. Worse, the instant gratification of this exercise was met with wows and gee whiz from all quarters. Sure we knew in seconds that 52% chose 1, but would they have chosen 1 if a passionate number 3 had spoken?

Now as professionals at a conference we should know how to correctly interpret and discard such nonsense when it occurs. What has me concerned is the underlying message we are giving kids by using this in classrooms. If we are just tallying up strictly objective, numerical, no doubter type answers, it's probably not terrible. But you know, you just know, that someone will want to be "on the cutting edge" and use it to gather responses to all sorts of questions. I'm afraid that the kids will come to expect, demand, immediate answers, immediate feedback as a matter of course. Life's not like that, at least not a considered, thoughtful life.

Sometimes, often, one needs to hear opposing views and think about them for a day or two. One might change their mind, it happens. I think I'm right when I take a position, but people and experiences have changed my mind many times. The idea that we will always arrive at the conclusion in one sitting is terrible training for our children.

I guess you can use these devices with my blessing if answer 4 is "Let me sleep on it."

How often do we as adults say and mean "let me sleep on it" before making a decision about technology - or anything else for that matter? And we complain our kids don't take time to reflect! 

Device at left seems to be a required purchase for some Arizona State University students. Do note "confidence " level indicator.

Concerns about creativity

mondrian.jpgPiet Mondrian

Students demonstrate creative thinking, construct knowledge, and develop innovative products and processes using technology. ISTE NETS 2007

The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources. Albert Einstein.

I got the chance this past weekend to visit the new(ish) Museum of Modern Art while in New York City. For anyone in search of creativity, the MOMA is probably the place to start. Lots of works by Mondrian, Warhol, PIcasso, the guy who does all the paint dribbles and drips... The LWW and I also saw two Broadway shows, both just oozing with creativity. Ate in Little Italy and had some creative food. (Even better than the Olive Garden here in Mankato, if you can believe that.) The Cloisters up in Ft. Tyron Park had a bunch of medieval creativity inside in its artworks, outside in its gardens, and surrounding it with a Renaissance Festival with many creatively dressed persons. It was a weekend to basically revel in the creativity of others. NYC is just that kind of place on about a thousand levels.

In an interesting response to one of my earlier blog postings about teacher attitudes toward technology, Clay Burell (who writes the Beyond School blog) from his school in Korea wrote:

I want to test the hypothesis that, if teachers discovered their own creativity, based on the strengths of their "multiple intelligences" profiles, by learning to express that creativity through some "digital art" they don't know about with iLife or the read/write web, then my hope/hunch is this: their excitement at unlocking their own creativity will gradually trickle down into their instruction.

Clay's idea is a really interesting one. Can we hook teachers on technology by tapping into their "inner" Stienbeck or Mozart or O'Keefe?

All this started me reflecting a bit about creativity in schools and education and technology and listing a few concerns:

Concern 1: Creativity isn't always about art. I tend to appreciate creative problem-solvers, as much or more, as those folks who are creative in a more "artistic fashion." Or maybe I should extent 'art" to dealing with people and situations in new and effective ways? The creativity I admire most, especially in my staff, is simply figuring out a way of accomplishing a task in a better way. Or dealing effectively with a problem - mechanical or human. I hope we never narrow what constitutes a "creative" endeavor.

Concern 2:  Creativity must be accompanied by craft and discipline. Most of us when we look at a Jackson Pollock (yes, I do know his name), usually think something like, "Geeze, give a) a monkey, b) a little kid, or c) me a can of paint and I can make a painting like that." You'd be wrong. Even abstract artists understand balance and tone and just plain exhibit great craftsmanship/technical skills. The most original written ideas in the world are inaccessible when locked behind faulty grammar, spelling, syntax or organization. GarageBand will not cure a tin ear. Too many folks, kids especially, think that sufficient creativity will overcome a lack of skill or need for discipline or necessity for practice. Creativity unaccompanied by drive, self-discipline or just hard work and practice ain't worth a lot.

Concern 3: The world is not really interested in your art, but that's OK. Real talent is given to a very few. The rest of us sort of plug away, mostly to please ourselves. I had a couple ancient, maiden aunts who painted what even I as child knew were grotesquely odd versions of things like the Mona Lisa or a badly listing landscape or the portrait of a favorite dog - or maybe it was a cat. Some works hanging about their house may even have been paint-by-number kits. But I think they got great pleasure from the creative process. And they didn't insist on making others look at their work or try to sell it. Neither should you.

Concern 4: If we ask students to demonstrate creativity or innovation, we need some tools to determine whether they have done so. Like pornography, I don't think I can define creativity, but I think I know it when I see it. But that won't cut it in the assessment world. As much as I admire ISTE for including creativity as one of their student tech skill standards, I am not sure it is fair to hold students to account for mastering it - if we can't describe what it looks like, provide models, and be able to somewhat objectively determine whether a kid can "do" creative.

To all the creative people out there - keep up the good work! But no, I don't want to read your novel or watch your interpretve dance. Sorry. 


Oh, somehow I discovered a really "creative" way to delete the entire contents of my e-mail inbox yesterday, so well, I've yet to recover it. If you are waiting for a response from me about something, you might send me a reminder. Thanks, Doug