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My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

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EdTech Update





BFTP: Can a good memory be a bad thing?

I was visiting with a local Verizon telephone support person yesterday (we were both chaperones on a middle school field trip). She made an interesting comment about her job.

When someone calls with a question about his/her cell phone operations, the person providing support is expected to use a database to get the correct answer. If the support person does not go to the database but relies on memory instead, the choice will result in a negative performance evaluation. Things change so quickly in the field that not checking for the most recent "fix" is irresponsible.

Verizon then uses a system that rewards good interpersonal skills and the ability to find and use information- a system in which a good memory is not only unnecessary but possibly a liability.

The ability to memorize has always been a critical skill for success in traditional education. (Memorize the capitols of all the countries in Central America, the quadratic equation, today's Spanish vocabulary words, the three branches of government, the dates of World War II ... )

Are we rewarding an obsolete skill set when we give top grades to those with good memories? After all, wouldn't you want your physician, car mechanic, airline pilot, etc. checking for updates rather than relying on a good memory?

Painting - Dali's "Persistence Of Memory"

Original post April 30, 2010


Teacher as experimenter

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.

When academic researchers want to use human subjects in their experiments, a great deal of paperwork and permission-gathering is required. When the procedure or process is risky enough, we try the experiment on laboratory animals first - and not without heartfelt concern by many.

Yet I am going to encourage you as a classroom teacher to experiment on small children. Everyday.

Until every child is working to her fullest capacity and ability, teachers should be devising and trying new approaches to learning in their classrooms. For children who are not engaged, who are not successful when we use standard practices and materials, or who display behaviors that keep themselves and their classmates from learning, we have an ethical obligation to use different methods with them.

If teachers expect children to be creative, they need to model creative approaches to their own practice as well. And it may be that empathy for original thinkers is only possible by those who are themselves innovative.

Educators who wish to deviate from research-based best practices, established curricula, and adopted resources (and wish to use either technology or leeches), the following requirements ought to be in place:

  1. The purpose of the changed practice needs to be clearly stated in terms of a student outcome.

  2. There needs to be a quantifiable method of measuring the effect of the new practice.

  3. The result of the experiment/creative approach is shared with other professional in such manner that it can be replicated.

  4. The rigor of the above requirements is high, all experiments be externally monitored, and all data be statistically validated when possible.

Would we ask any less of those whom we entrust our kids physical health? Remember our definition of creativity from Chapter Two - that creativity shows originality, effectiveness, and craftsmanship. In this case, best teaching practices are the craftsmanship element.


Illustration by Brady Johnson

One of the reasons that we have a dependence on norm-based, high stakes testing is that the educational establishment itself has never addressed its own accountability to the satisfaction of the public. Now we are chafing under these short-sighted (but measurable) metrics non-educators have placed on our shoulders. If we are to be creative in our methodology, to use new technology tools, to emphasize new skills over basic skills, it’s imperative we make accountability a part of our efforts - and respect parents', employers’, and the public's need for it.  Do we really want to continue to be known as good-hearted, but fuzzy headed, artistes?

from Chapter Nine: I Stole the Idea From the Internet: How can educators become more professionally creative? Teaching Outside the Lines: Developing Creativity in Every Learner




The laws of (school) library science

If you haven't seen it, watch:

This is a fine list for public librarians. But don't school librarians need such a list of their own? Here are a few of my personal school library laws, rules, and observations. (The complete list.)


Johnson’s Library Mission: To get back the overdue readers, not the overdue books.

Johnson’s Observation About Library Climate: If the librarian ain’t having fun, ain't nobody having fun.

Johnson’s Rule of Creativity in the Library and Classroom: You can’t suppress it so you may as well channel it.

Johnson’s Disclaimer: Anything I’ve said that you don’t like, you’ve obviously misinterpreted.

Johnson’s Rule of Indispensability: If your job is eliminated, your boss should really regret it.

Johnson’s Rule of Technology Perspective: Every tech problem is a big tech problem to the person experiencing it.

Johnson’s Experience in Assigning Tasks: You may as well give unpleasant jobs to people who are already unhappy.

Johnson’s First Rule of Effective Advocacy: Don’t advocate for libraries; advocate for library users.

Johnson’s Observation on Internet Resources: The one thing the Internet will never have that your library has -  is you.

Johnson’s Law of Searching: It’s easier to find something than to find it again.

Johnson’s Caution on Collaboration: Treat collaboration, not as a goal, but as a means of achieving one.

Johnson’s Reflection on Library Quality: The quality of the library is never greater than the quality of the librarian. 

Johnson’s Common Sense Economy: It’s cheaper to buy a book for the library than it is to buy one for each classroom.

Johnson’s Observation on Visitors: The number of students in the media center is in inverse proportion to importance of anyone visiting.

Johnson’s Observation of Policy Making: Rules only work with the rational.

Johnson’s First Law of Effective Supervision: Hire people who don’t need to be supervised.

Johnson’s Rule of Research Projects: A project not worth doing, is not worth doing well.

Johnson’s Update of Aesop: The race is not always to the swift, but to those who keep on learning.

Johnson’s Homily on Beta Testing: The early worm gets eaten by the bird.

Johnson’s Law of Stress Management: If you can’t find someone to pass the stress on to, you’re struck with it.

Share your "laws" with readers!