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EdTech Update





BFTP: Everything I know about engagement I learned in kindergarten

The drop in student engagement for each year students are in school is our monumental, collective national failure. There are several things that might help to explain why this is happening -- ranging from our overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students -- not to mention the lack of pathways for students who will not and do not want to go on to college. Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education.

Do these findings suprise anyone? In my own experience and from listening to my own children, this is an accurate graph. The only change I'd make would be to extend the engagement drop through the first two years of college before the direction moves upward again when general education requirements are met.

As both Bretag and Busteed suggest above, some correlations between engagment, relevance, and project-based learning can be easily and correctly drawn. I've been fussing about the need for concrete ways to improve projects since, oh, about 1999. And it's obvious nobody has been listening and now look what's happened. Maybe another approach?

Perhaps our elementary collegues know something about engagement that secondary teachers don't? With apologies to Robert Fulghum. It's been more than a couple years since I attended kindergarten, but I remember it as three of the best years of my life (old joke). Anyway...

Everything I know about engagement I learned in kindergarten

In kindergarten you get

  1. Show and tell. You got to do something or bring something and then tell others about it. Secondary skill attainment measurement needs to be less about testing and more about show and tell performance-based assessment. Oh, and listening to other students is a lot more involving than listening to the old person in the room.
  2. Choices. As a little kid you often got to choose - your library book, your reading buddy, your activity, the subject of your drawing. People tend to choose things that interest them and interesting things are engaging. How often do we let older students choose?
  3. Play. Elementary teachers can make a game out of almost anything - and make just about every task feel like play. The older we get, the less we get to play and more we have to work. Just why is that? Gamification is a fancy term for putting play back into the curriculum. Look it up.
  4. Naps. Most adolescents I know are tired - and not because they've been up all night texting. (Well, maybe that's part of it.) We've long known that teens do better when school starts later in the morning. Tired people have a tough time staying engaged.
  5. To go outside. The best learning takes place in the "real world" not in the classroom. Whether it is studying bugs and leaves in first grade, marching with the band in junior high, or doing service learning as seniors, we all are more interested when it is the real world with which we are dealing.
  6. Colors. A blank sheet of construction paper and some crayolas have always let young learners be creative. Creativity is inherently engaging. What's the high school classroom's equivilant to scissors and paste? 
  7. To do it together. Reading groups. Play groups. Science groups. It's better with other kids. Social learners are engaged learners.
  8. Reading for enjoyment. Our elementary teachers and librarians want us to practice reading so much they let us read what we like! Do our secondary teachers want us to write so much, know so much, experiment so much, and solve problems so much that we get to do it for enjoyment?
  9. Learning that's important. Nobody needs to convince a little kid that learning to read, to add and subtract, or to know about firemen is important. And that you should pay attention when being taught these things. Calculus, world history, the Romantic poets, the atomic structure of non-metals, not so much. If you can't convince me what you are teaching should be important to me, teach something that is.
  10. Care. OK, this should have been the first one. I really believe a lot little kids are engaged because they know someone cares that they are. Yeah, the littlies are cute and cuddly and all that, but the gangly, awkward, homely teens need to know adults care too. When someone else is paying attention to you, you pay more attention yourself.

There you are - 10 simple steps to keep the engagement level from tanking.


Original post January 22, 2013 (This post morphed into a column as well.)


6 ways to reclaim focus

How can one be busy all day long and not get anything of significance read, written, or simply done?

By being lured by the siren's call of technological distractions.

Image result for sirens' call

I have consciously undertaken steps to reclaim larger portions of my day in order to complete tasks that require sustained focus. Here are some things I've done...

  1. Cleaned up my social networking contacts. I've deleted the "over-posters" on Facebook, the "over-Tweeters" on Twitter. Just eliminating a couple of obsessive posters has freed up 30 minutes, I am guessing, a day. And I don't miss the idiotic quizzes, cat videos, or other click bait. I've cleaned up my blog feeds in Feedly to only educational writers.
  2. Defined more rigidly how I use social media. I use Facebook only for recreation/entertainment; Twitter only for professional use. 
  3. Thinking harder about "need to know" vs "nice to know" vs "entertaining." It's pretty easy to succumb to FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when reading bloggers and other social networking posters. I know I really don't need to know "All the New Emojis That Will Clog My Keyboard in 2018" but deciding to read "How to Delete Your Twitter Timeline (and Why You Should)" gives me pause.
  4. Limiting the devices by which I access social media. I whacked all social media apps on my iPhone. (Thanks to Control Your Phone. Don't Let It Control You from Common Sense Media for the inspiration. Now instead of flicking through Facebook when eating or bored at a meeting, I open my Kindle app and dig into an actual book. 
  5. Refused to jump on each social media train. I don't Instagram. I don't SnapChat. I look at LinkedIn rarely. I don't need to use the latest and greatest or use all available. 
  6. Limit the number of times each day I open social media sites. Once before breakfast, once before bedtime is my goal. Except for Twitter which I see as professional networking.

I am afraid that email is still my biggest "squirrel!" problem. But I find turning off notifications on my phone and on my desktop apps and just leaving the email app CLOSED goes a long, long way. If only I could find a way to keep others from emailing me with work... Hmmmm.

How do you reclaim your sustained focus on tasks? How can we help our kids manage their time if we as adults struggle with the same problems? Or is it impossible in today's world? 

BTW, been whining about this since 2012. My god, I am a slow learner!


What's your TAR score? (Technologically Anal Retentive)

About 5 years ago I developed a scale to measure how restrictive/open a school district is in giving acces to technology resources to its students and staff. I've updated it a bit below. My perception is that the access gap between the most and least restrict schools has grown, not shrunk, over the past few years...


There a growing schism between schools who  allow technology to be used in an open, productive and trusted manner and those who are TAR (Technologically Anal Retentive). Judge your own district's TAR score using the checklist below. 1 point for each item:

  1. My district does not allow staff to use their own devices on the network.
  2. My district does not allow students to use their own devices on the network.
  3. My district does not have a guest wireless network.
  4. My district only supports a single computer operating system and/or a single student device.
  5. My district does not give teachers the choice of a laptop computer they can use outside of school.
  6. My district does not give teachers administrative rights to their computers (the ability to add software, access control panels. etc.)
  7. My district does not give students personally assigned devices (1:1) that can be used outside of school.
  8. My district does not allow students to keep their 1:1 devices over the summer.
  9. My district requires mandatory password change and had mandated password criteria.
  10. My district blocks (1 point each):
    • Facebook
    • Instagram
    • Snapchat
    • Youtube
    • Twitter
    • Music streaming (Pandora, Spotify)
    • Netflix
    • Non-school email sites
    • Blogs and wikis (including Wikipedia)
    • Anything Google (apps, sites, search, images)
  11. My district must approve all software I use.
  12. My district does not allow student work to be published to a public website.
  13. My district does not allow access to the student information system outside the district by staff.
  14. My district does not allow students and parents access their grades and other information online.
  15. My district only offers technology training by technology department members, not staff.
  16. My district does not allow staff access from outside school to materials stored on district servers.
  17. I feel my district actively monitors my e-mail and computer use without cause.
  18. My district does not have a process for getting a website unblocked.
  19. My district uses an "opt in" rather than a "opt-out" process for getting parental permission to use applications.
  20. My district prohibits student cell phone use.

Bonus 5 points: If your technology director cites CIPA, FERPA, or another mysterious acronym as a reason for blocking anything.

OK, here's the scale:

  • 1-5 Your school is cool. Staff and students can use the Internet as an educational tool.
  • 5-15 Your school needs to figure out a better collaborative process for determining what should and should not be blocked. 
  • 15-25 Your technology department should be re-named "The Prevention of Education Department". A concerted effort by all true educators in your district needs to be made to overthrow the Technology Czar running the place.

I am willing to add other criteria to the TAR list. Your suggestions? 

Image by Scott McLeod under Creative Commons license