Thursday, December 8, 2011

We Can't Afford 1:1

1:1 technology in classrooms is a much talked about topic in our Personal Learning Network.  In various schools and districts both large and small, students and teachers have their own iPads, laptops, or Smartphones, depending on the technological bent of that particular jurisdiction.  I have read numerous blog posts and articles showcasing the successes and levels of student engagement in these programs.  I also understand that there are numerous schools that are looking to move in this direction as fast as they are able to do so.

However, no matter whether I wanted to pursue 1:1 technology in our school or not, I am confronted with one big chunk of reality in our school of 1400 students.

We can't afford 1:1.

But just because we cannot afford to do this (and nor do I see us being able to afford this in the forseeable future), I do not despair.  In fact, over the last few weeks, I have been thrilled to see our pilot project with Android tablets take off in our school.  We have chosen to start with purchasing 50 tablets and distributing them to departments in pods of 7, along with power bars and a projector connector.  We did this purposefully, so that students in multiple classes could have an access point between groups of three or four (depending on the numbers of students in the class).  So far, I am thrilled with the pilot.  There are several things that I am seeing from our students that have excited me:
  1. Collaboration - It is not uncommon to see kids ask each other things such as "Where is a good website to find out about....?" ; or, "Did you bookmark that page we saw earlier?  How do you cut and paste that so you can send it to me?"; or "Is there an easier way to send myself bookmarks or share them?".
  2. Critical Thinking through Leveraging Different Technologies - While there may be one tablet at each quad of desks, students are also pulling out smartphones, iPod touches, and other devices that might connect them to our wi-fi network at the school and then determining which device might be best to do a specific task.  
  3. Interdependence - When students have an issue (technology or curricular), they ask each other questions as much (if not more so) than they ask their teacher.
  4. Peer Teaching - It is amazing to see how happy they are to share with other students are when they find a new function on their tablets, a new website, or a new way to do something.  They will shout out "Hey, look at this!"; other students and groups will crowd around to see, and then scurry back to their quads to make the new bit work for them.
  5. Excitement - "Hey, Mrs. Y, do we have the tablets today?"  x 28.  Enough said.
  6. Sharing - Call me old fashioned, but I still get excited when I see students sharing with each other.  No one is grabbing for the tablet, rather, they use it for a minute or two, and then put it back in the middle of the group of desks and move on.
And these are just the first few quick things that I have noticed in the classes that are using the tablets!  But there is something else that has piqued my interest. 

The kids need very little coaching to get going.
The first class to use a tablet-pod was a Social Studies 8 class.  The very courageous teacher had never used our tablets before (and in fact had never used a tablet, period), and the kids had never seen them before.  But within just a couple of minutes and the help of a teacher leader, the class was off and running.  And I mean running.  I walked around and asked the kids if they had used tablets before.  Some had, most had not.  I asked them if these were easy to use, and they gave me the classic "Well, DUH" look (respectfully, without the eye-roll), and nodded, all in hopes that I would quickly move on so they could get back to work.  I just shook my head and smiled.  OF COURSE they can use them.

While this may not be surprising to some, it has made me think a bit more about the way we do professional development.  Are we correctly focusing our PD?  And perhaps more importantly, are we using the resource sitting right in front of us (kids) effectively to help US become more comfortable with technology?  Are we able to give up the reins and let students lead US to where we need to go?

I am not so naive as to think that we can just toss a few tablets into a classroom with a teacher without some PD and expect kids to power a satellite or do regression analysis, but I am wondering if we can do some more basic PD with our teachers and encourage people to just TRY IT.  There will be glitches and bumps, but kids are good at finding solutions and work-arounds.  And if we can provide our teachers with some basics in terms of applications that can help them, such as Powernote for online bookmarking or subject specific sites they can access with their students while using the tablets, I think our staff will be encouraged to 'dip their toes in the pool' and eventually 'dive in' to technology integration.

We cannot afford 1:1, but we still can get technology into the hands of students.  By using the tablet pilot like we have, I am encouraged by the things I am seeing in our classrooms, and I am more closely examining the way that we in-service the adults in the building around technology integration.  In concert with students who are able to bring different technologies to schools, I am confident that we can leverage a small technology budget to create a technology-rich and skill-building environment in our school.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Move from the Common to the Diverse

It has been more than a year since I entered the Twitterverse.  After attending the 21st Century Learning Conference in Chicago in October of 2010, I threw myself into the social media mix, and I could not be happier for it.  I tell anyone who will listen that developing a Personal Learning Network on Twitter is perennial professional development at your finger tips, 365 days per year.

Last week, I participated in #edchat like I usually try to do for at least a few minutes on Tuesday mornings (depending on what is coming through my door).  I really enjoy connecting with fellow learners in education, and I have a great deal of respect for each of the individuals who is willing to make public their thoughts and opinions on educational matters.  Last Tuesday's chat was a philosophical one on 'the skills that we want to our children to have' when they leave the K-12 system.  But as the chat progressed, I found myself beginning to get a bit frustrated with the ethereal comments that we (and I include myself in this--I made a few nebulous comments as well) were making as a group.

We say it all...

"we need to teach students to be lifelong learners"
"we need our children to be lovers of learning"
"students must be hungry for knowledge"
"our children need to be positive contributors in a connected society"

As these sorts of tweets were speeding by, I found myself beginning to wonder whether these comments are becoming esoteric.  I came to this revelation because I feel like I am completely immersed in the field of education, and I don't know what some of these comments actually mean.  Perhaps to be more fair, I find myself being one of the many that are starting to say "That sounds great! I am totally in!", followed by a long pause and then "Hmmm. OK, how we do this?".

Without a great deal of empirical data, I feel as though I am starting to see a trend on Twitter.  When I first started with my Twitter account, I found myself spending hours each night watching perspectives on what needs to change in education, listening to philosophies around motivation, teaching pedagogy and closing achievement gaps, and finding snippets describing the types of learners that we need to create here in the 21st Century.  I would share these clips with our teachers, with fellow administrators, and my PLN with verve and alacrity. I enjoyed (and still enjoy revisiting) these clips, and they have shaped my vision of education as I move forward with our school.

But over the last 14 months, I find myself yearning for the practical aspects of some of these constructs for education.  For the first steps.  For some promising practices that will lead us where we want and need to go.  For stories of both 'we tried this and it worked', as well as 'we tried this and we blew it' (I have an infinite amount of respect those who can be vulnerable and admit that what they did was a total flop).  Not a magic bullet, but maybe a holster and some gunpowder.  A start.

I find that I don't open the links of educational philosophers as much as I used to.  I still like the 'big picture' ideas, but I find myself more interested in that teacher, that Principal, or that Superintendent who is telling me how it is going in their class, in their school, or in their district.

I have spoken to a number of fellow PLNers about this trend that I am seeing in my own Twitter use, and I found that many of them are feeling the same way.  They are "totally in" to the ideas of educational reform, but are finding that they really want to connect with people who are "doing it".  They too are following the 'big names' less and the 'people on the ground' more.  I wonder if this is in fact a trend for tweeters in educator circles.

Back to my #edchat last Tuesday.  Armed with my 'esoteric' revelation, I tweeted that I thought we needed to get more concrete in what we were talking about.  At that point, one of my mentors (and someone you should absolutely follow) Bruce Beairsto (@bbeairsto) responded:

As usual, Bruce found the eloquent and sensible way to say what I was trying to describe during #edchat.  It's not that we shouldn't always remember and be refreshed with the WHY, we need to follow that up with the HOW.

In my estimation, the value in creating a Professional Learning Network comes from tapping into your PLN's diverse set of experiences, skills and knowledge.  While at certain points it is important for me to get reaffirmation that what I am doing is the 'right thing' to do, I am finding that it is more important to be challenged and pushed by my peers.  Challenged not only through discourse on educational topics and philosophy, but through the actions of others and turning those actions, possibilities and start points into actions which can be implemented into my own learning situation.

Right now, there are three things in education that are making me insatiably curious and wanting to move from the (as Bruce would say) common 'WHY we should do this' to the diverse 'HOW we can make this work in our own situation':

1) The West Vancouver School District and their latest initiative to improve digital literacy --the student dashboard.

They created an in-district portal for students in grades 4 to 12:  students have their own internal instant messaging, access to district email, personal blog space, digital storage, calendar, announcements feed, and other tools. Very cool--we need this.

2) New Report Card Format - Parkland School Division (Alberta)- I have looked at our current method of formal reporting to parents, and I believe there are many things that we can do to better inform students and parents of progress in their classes.  PSD has taken a big step forward with their template, and I believe that we have an opportunity to learn a great deal from their approach to reporting to improve communication with our educational partners.

3) Finland.  In the last several months, there seems to a be a flood of information about Finland and they amazing education system that they have created.  As a result, I have connected with a number of Finnish Principals, including Timo Ilomaki (@ilotimo), Aki Puustinen (@apuustin), and Kari Rajala (@KariRajala).  There is so much talk about what's happening in Finland with education that I thought why not just ask them?  Connecting with educators world wide and getting ideas--that is as good as it gets!

I am looking forward to continuing to connect with other educators that are diverse and of 'the HOW'.  From my position as a Principal, I am realizing that I need to make sure that while I read research and theory and talk to many about the WHY, and I need to maintain and dig in to the logistics and practicalities of HOW for our staff.

I need to continue to move from the common to the diverse.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Moneyball and Education

Like many of my colleagues in education, I tend to do a lot of professional reading during the school year.  At breakfast, I usually load up Tweetdeck and peruse articles and blogs over coffee and a bowl of cereal.  I try to participate in at least one online education chat over the course of the week.  Most evenings I will find a few more posts on blogs that I follow.  And before bed, I usually thumb through a few pages (sometimes 'pages' turns to 'page', depending on whether my little ones got up during the previous night) of a book that I have on the go.  During the summer, my evening book might be a John Grisham, a Tom Clancy, or a Robert Ludlum, however, I tend to move to more academic titles from late-August to June.

In the past few weeks, I have had less of this academic focus for my reading, as my latest two books on the go are Scorecasting and Moneyball.  Being an avid sports fan and a lover of trivia, statistics, and numbers, each of these books have satiated my appetite for the quantification of talent in sport.

As baseball fans know, there are statistics kept on EVERY aspect of baseball.  Hits, runs and errors.  Batting averages, fielding percentages, and earned run averages. Pitch counts, home runs, and RBIs.  Batting averages during the day, at night, in domes, and outdoors.  Batting success against left handed pitchers versus right handed pitchers. And the list goes on and on and on.

Moneyball details the surprising success of the Oakland Athletics in the 2002 using less conventional and more analytical scouting techniques to pick players for their team.  More specifically, it describes how their general manager used oft-overlooked statistics as a predictor of success for a batter in Major League Baseball.  Prior to the A's in the 1990s, major league scouts would go to little league games, college games and minor league games to watch prospects coming through the system. While a few statistics like batting average, home runs, stolen bases might be a part of the process of evaluating a player, a great deal more weight was put on the impressions of the scout. As a result, the players that would garner the highest recommendations (and subsequent salaries) would be those players who met criteria that were based upon the scout's own knowledge, wisdom and experience in scouting players.  In the face of this 'conventional' scouting, the Oakland A's found that two statistics (on-base percentage and slugging percentage) were often overlooked yet highly effective in predicting offensive success for a hitter in baseball.

This use of data and metrics to predict success helped Oakland have a tremendously successful year in 2002 (which included 20 straight victories) with one of the lowest payrolls of any major league team.  So successful was this concept that the lexicon phrase "the team plays 'Moneyball'" has been coined by baseball pundits to refer to those teams who rely heavily on these metrics in making organizational decisions.

Education is not baseball, of that there is no doubt (I would notice the hotdogs here at the school for certain).  Regardless, I began thinking about how elements this book could apply in education, specifically in teaching and education administration.  Data-driven improvement has been a popular concept for many years, but I am not thinking so much about that as I am trying to determine in my own mind THE characteristics of administrators that lead to school success.  THE characteristics of teachers that lead to student success.   To use the Moneyball analogy, what is that "On Base Percentage" equivalent that can help predict success for administrators?  What is that "Slugging Percentage" equivalent that can help predict success for teachers?

When we visit a classroom, we might observe the teacher and their students for a few minutes and walk out saying "That was good teaching!".  Someone could walk into a school and chat with an Administrator for a half hour and say "She really has it going on, what a great Principal."  But how do we REALLY know?  How are we determining this?  Is it by 'feel' (much like the traditional scouts in Moneyball)?  Is it by 'the numbers', like Billy Beane and the Oakland A's?   Or is it a combination of both, and if so, what should weigh heavier in terms of determining our success in our classrooms and schools?

Several months ago, I wrote a post called "Research: The Educational BS Repellent" about the work of John Hattie in his book Visible Learning.  It is an incredible collection of meta-analyses of the research on over 100 factors that influence student achievement in our schools.  After reading the book (and re-reading it a couple of times), I realized that much like the traditional scouts described in Moneyball, I had preconceived notions of what comprises effective educational practice in classrooms and schools.  Yet after reading the meta-analyses of the meta-analyses (yes, Hattie's book is that comprehensive), I came to the conclusion that in many instances, I have to check some of my beliefs at the door and open my mind when I walk into classes at our school.

In light of the talk of teacher evaluation that is making its way around education circles (and administrator evaluation, I would hope),  it is important for us to work with educators and partner groups to collectively  find those key characteristics that translate into student and school success.  However, when working with our partner groups, it is important to make sure that we temper our feelings and beliefs about teaching and administration with some Moneyball/Hattie-like data that helps us determine effective practices that will truly benefit our students.

If we can work some of the concepts from Moneyball into schools, I can only hope that the hotdogs aren't far behind!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Like Little Kids

Hallowe'en is always a neat time of year for me.  It brings back my own memories of costumes and candy and cold weather, running from house to house with a pillow case full of treats, and getting home and dumping out the bounty on the kitchen floor and making trades with my older brother for the 'good candy'. (Loved those Charleston Chews...).  With my two young children, getting them all dressed up in their costumes, taking them around and hearing them say "Trick or Treat" (and 'thank you' afterwards...very cool), and watching their eyes bug out at the amount of candy in their little pumpkin-shaped buckets makes my heart swell with pride.  Great Dad moments...

But aside from my own children, one of the neatest things for me to see as the Principal of our school is catching kids being 'kids'.  At our school, a huge group of students came in on the Sunday prior to and early Monday morning of Hallowe'en to decorate our hallways (and the Principal's Office!) with ghouls, goblins, blood, body parts, webs and witches.  We had our annual costume parade with staff members dressed like Jimi Hendrix and Gene Simmons, and students in every costume imaginable.  The Hallowe'en Relay followed, and students were bobbing for apples, running through obstacle courses, and shrieking with laughter like little kids.

Like little kids.

As a coach, some of my greatest memories were not on the court, but rather on the bus with my teams.  Singing "Dancing Queen" as loud as we could in downtown Vancouver.  Having the "best animal sound" contest (my donkey was solid).  Making up rap songs. Listening to the team giggle like little kids when we would dress up the rookies (often the seniors would dress up too) would make me laugh so hard that I would have tears rolling down my cheeks. 

Like little kids.

At the end of the day on Hallowe'en, I reflected on how society wants to make our youth grow up so quickly:  we want students to be literate, numerate, highly involved, polite, hard-working, conscientious, socially responsible "mini-adults", and the sooner the better.  I find that I can fall into this mode of thinking far too frequently.  And yet a day like Hallowe'en makes me realize that we need to give kids time to breathe, to play, to let loose, and to be able to laugh. 

Like little kids.

And yet as I left the office at the end of the day, there were two unbelievable Grade 12 students who stayed behind to clean up the blood and webs and body parts and candy wrappers from a successful Hallowe'en celebration so that our custodians would not have an additional burden on their busy afternoon.  And as they were finishing, one of them turned to me and said "Thanks for letting us decorate the halls and your office today Mr. Birk!".

Like the adults they have grown up to be. 

It's Friday!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cross Hairs

As many of us are aware, a new plan for changing the face of the British Columbia Education system was unveiled today.  And while I only was able to spend a few minutes looking at it (and a couple of minutes to watch the video), I am excited about some possibilities of the plan by Minister Abbott.

The paper highlights building on the strengths of our current system in BC such as staying solid on the basics and incorporating more real-world skills.  It outlines the importance of good teaching and the necessity for a flexible and adaptable curriculum and method of delivery.   It hints at ideas for districts in terms of creating school calendars and schedules that best meet the needs of the students in their districts.  It stresses high standards.  And finally, it discusses the importance of technology-empowered learning.

Of course there are many details that need to be filled in.  Of course people will wonder 'where is the money coming for this?', 'will I be inserviced?' or 'where will we find the time?' Of course there will be the general cry of 'what does all of this mean?'.  Of course there will be questions and more questions from that answers to those questions.

But it is a START.  We keep talking about the changes that need to be made to our education system, and I am going into the forthcoming discussions about this new plan for BC Education excited and with a positive attitude.  I want to be involved in how this will roll out in our school, our district and perhaps in our province.  The plan has some potential to move BC Education in a very positive direction.

As students, teachers, parents, administrators, district staff, community members and policy makers that all have a stake in the BC Education System, I hope that we can collectively give the new BC Education Plan some time to be fleshed out.  By approaching something with a positive and proactive approach rather than instantly putting it in the cross hairs, I think the collective experience and wisdom of our partners in BC can turn this plan into the true jumping off point that it seems to have the potential to be.

It's Friday!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Evaluate Me!

Over the past several months, there have been a number of posts and articles about evaluating teachers in K-12 education.  And in just the last few days, the media in British Columbia has been floating the idea of yearly teacher evaluations.  Whether something like this happens or not in BC,  I find that I have many questions when I reflect upon the whole teacher evaluation process:
  • What is the goal of the evaluation? 
  • What makes an effective teacher?  What skills should they have?  
  • Who decides on this skill set?  Teachers? Administrators?  Students? Parents?
  • Do student results have a part in teacher evaluations?
  • What does the evaluation look like? 
  • Who does the evaluation?  If it is the Principal, when will I have time to do this?
  • How often should a teacher be evaluated?
  • What happens before, during and after the evaluation?
  • What happens if the evaluation shows the teacher to be highly effective?  
  • What happens if it shows the teacher to have a number of areas requiring remediation?
Teacher evaluations have many different connotations for people, depending on their particular context or district.  There are some districts that do very few teacher evaluations.  In other places, 'teaching evaluation' has an ominous tone for teachers as they can be triggered by concerns or complaints.  For administrators in areas where there is extensive teacher evaluation, it can be an onerous and time-consuming process that has a 'just finished one cycle of teacher evaluations in time to start another'.

I think performance evaluations can have a great deal of merit.  Four years ago, I had an evaluation of my performance as a Principal by my Assistant Superintendent.  Not only did I have a series of interviews, my staff, students and community members were canvassed about a number of different topics in various leadership domains.  I was excited, curious and yes, a little nervous, about the feedback that I would get from my school community.  I discovered that I the interviewees gave me some excellent and specific feedback on areas that I needed to improve.  Students, staff and parents also brought up a number of positive things that I was doing, some of which I didn't know that anyone had noticed!  I found the process informative and invigorating.

Thirteen years ago, I had a teacher evaluation done by an outstanding administrator in a former school.  It was a 'traditional' style teacher evaluation, with a pre-conference, lesson plan evaluation, lesson presentation, post-conference, and letter written about the qualities that my administrator saw in me with that particular science class.  At the time, I felt that the process was somewhat 'artificial'.   I knew when he was coming. I knew how the class would go.  I had it planned to a tee with an induction activity, an exciting demonstration (I think I synthesized water using hydrogen gas and oxygen to blow up a paint can--very cool, as it sounded like a sonic boom and rocked the entire school) and neat follow up activities before I checked for understanding.  The kids were engaged: they interacted with each other and with me.  In summary, it was the 'perfect' lesson: much like any of us could do given the appropriate amount of time and notice.

But to be perfectly honest, it was not indicative of every day life in Birk's Science class in the least:  that probably would have looked more like a review quiz, some mindless note-taking, a worksheet, maybe a video or a lab or some group work, and some follow-up questions.  Nothing so glamorous as the performance my Principal saw the day he observed me. Much like the high-stakes testing done with kids, I was judged on what I could bring on that particular day.  Fortunately, I had prepared well, and the lesson (and my subsequent evaluation) went off without a hitch.

This is not a criticism of my Principal--he was simply using the tool that he had been given by his district.  I felt completely supported through the process, and I also received some helpful feedback that changed my practice.  However, I think a process such as the one used in my class thirteen years ago is flawed.  Now I am sure that there are many jurisdictions that have excellent teaching evaluation mechanisms, and as a system, we need to look very closely at different models should we ever wish to look at more formalized evaluation in education.

Recently, I had a conversation with Greg Hall, a Vice-Principal here in School District 73.  Greg came to our district from Western Australia, where he was a teacher and then department head. He put me on to an interesting document that is used there for teacher evaluations.  The Department of Education and Training for the Government of Western Australia created a document called a Competency Framework for Teachers that has influenced my thinking about evaluations for teachers, administrators, and students.  And while there have been a number of other competency documents created in Canada and the US, I found the framework from Western Australia to be very appealing.

At first glance, there were a few things that I liked about the process outlined in this document;
  • it utilizes competencies and skills that are collaboratively developed by different partner groups, including those being evaluated
  • it strives to take into account different learning contexts and experiences
  • it has an emphasis on personal growth, reflection, and self-actualization
  • it allows for a personalized approach for presenting artifacts in each of the skill domains
  • it can enable a rich and meaningful dialogue between the person being evaluated and the evaluator
In talking to Greg more about this, he indicated that as a teacher, he would collect authentic pieces of evidence from his classes and his experiences in these different domains.  Subsequently, he would present the things that he felt best reflected these competencies to his administrator in a collegial and collaborative dialogue.  He would also present areas that he felt were a priority for his own personal growth, and the Principal and he would look to see how those areas could be supported through Professional Development.

A self-reflective model in which I get to present the evidence that I feel best reflects my growth in certain areas is one that has a great deal of appeal to me.  As a result, I am using the BCPVPA Leadership Standards document to help me develop a reflective and interactive tool in which I can store and describe different forms of evidence according to the standards of good practice that my peers have developed.  Once this tool is completed, I hope:

  • to find and prioritize areas that I need to focus on for improvement
  • to clarify areas in which I am more proficient
  • to get feedback from my school community partner groups and my PLN on my areas for growth
  • to have learned a number of new web technologies through the development of this tool
  • to share the tool with other administrators so that they may be able to use/adapt/improve the template for their own reflection
I expect that the development of this self-evaluation tool will take me some time.  Right now, I am looking at blogs and e-portfolios as possible jumping-off points/repositories where I can keep artifacts that describe my progress in certain areas.  I envision a site that anyone could click into and get the landscape of my educational values and beliefs on educational issues through the authentic pieces that are stored there.  I picture a site that, when it came time for my evaluation as a Principal, a set of evaluators could go to and give me specific and meaningful feedback on my strengths and areas for growth.

An evaluation based in collectively developed competencies that emphasizes self-reflection is something that interests me.  Such a process, in concert with a flexible method of presentation, would allow me to take ownership over my own evaluation and then direct a plan for my own professional development. 

I think this personalized philosophy to evaluation is something that could work very well not only for educators, but for students.  The more involved we have the person being evaluated in the process, the more meaningful the evaluation (and the feedback) becomes.

It would make me say "Evaluate me!".

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

In Position

I recently read a thought-provoking post by my colleague and author Bill Ferriter (@plugusin) called "Tired of Being the Nation's Punching Bag" in his excellent blog "The Tempered Radical".  In his post, Bill discusses The Global Achievement Gap, a book by Harvard Education Professor Tony Wagner. Having seen Tony Wagner as a guest speaker at the Connecting Leaders Conference in Vancouver in October of last year,  I was eager to hear Bill's take on Wagner's book.  From the conference, I remembered that Wagner was quite scathing in his views of the current state of K-12 education, and I guessed (correctly) that Bill would have some great points and counterpoints about The Global Achievement Gap.

One excerpt from Bill's blog really resonated with me:

Wagner writes: “Finally, I have observed that the longer our children are in school, the less curious they become” (Kindle location 323).

Bill's response: Tony’s right, y’all: Kids really DO lose their natural curiosity after spending years in our school system. 

How sickening is that?  And to be perfectly honest, I don’t know a ton of teachers who do a great job encouraging natural curiosity in their daily lessons.  There’s no point, really.  You see, curiosity isn’t measured by the standardized tests that our nation have embraced as tools for holding students accountable.

This made me reflect on the skills that we value in education (or rather the skills we SAY we value) versus the ones we demonstrate that we value through our actions as educators and policymakers.   At our Grade Assemblies a few weeks ago, I talked with our students about the importance of the "7 C's" of 21st Century Learning--communication, collaboration, creativity, cultural understanding, career knowledge and computing skills.  I gave a brief description of these skills to our students, and challenged them to find ways to 'sail the 7C's' during their career at our school because these skills were the important skills to learn.

But bearing Bill's comment about standardized tests and their inability to evaluate valued skills in mind, I began to think that as educators, we should 'be careful what we wish for' when we talk so freely about these skills for our students.  In my own learning situation, I need to examine my own practice to see whether I am truly prepared for the movement towards the personalized, 21st Century Learning movement.  I need to determine whether I am well-positioned to be a 21st century leader, educator, and learner for our staff and our students.

Several years ago, the province of British Columbia introduced the concept of the Graduation Portfolio as an authentic 'exit product' for high school graduates in BC.  Students were to put different artifacts of their learning from their high school years into a physical or digital binder that they would display to a panel prior to their graduation.  Students were asked to provide evidence of their learning in focus areas such as the arts, humanities, science, business, and fitness.  Evidence could be written, web-based, video, projects that they had done, or whatever the student thought best represented their learning in that particular focus area.  Even the method of presentation was up to the student.  The student could be creative demonstrate their ability to communicate with a panel of educators and community members. They would think critically about their presentation and reflect on the evidence that showcased their learning. They would demonstrate many of the skills that we value, that we now say we want them to demonstrate here in the 21st century.

But the Graduation Portfolio concept fell apart.  Among the variety of reasons for its demise, it failed because it was cumbersome.  It was difficult to 'store' at schools in terms of student artifacts.  It was challenging to evaluate.  It was hard to get a panel of community members and educators to see the portfolios of 300 graduates (to use our school as an example).  The evaluation process was seen as a huge amount of time to invest.  It was criticized because it was 'pass or fail' rather than having a grade associated with it.  The product was seen as separate from the content areas.  And as a result, for many (most?) students, the Graduation Portfolio was seen as another 'hoop to jump through' when the important tasks such as government exams were at hand.  In a relatively short couple of years after its inception, Graduation Portfolio was replaced with a truncated and abbreviated Graduation Transition Plan that is viewed by many as much more manageable, but viewed by most students in much the same way--another hoop to jump through that has little relevance to them.

This post is not meant to champion the aforementioned Graduation Portfolio. However, the demise of a vehicle such as Grad Portfolio that allowed students to demonstrate many of the qualities and skills that we want for our graduates indicates that we need to be better positioned to support personalized, 21st Century Learning.  There are many questions that I need to consider in terms of  'the 7C's'.
  • How do we demonstrate that we value the skills of a 21st Century learner?  Are they an integral part of our curriculum and instruction?
  • Are we well-versed in these skills at every level?  In what they are?  In how to give feedback to a student on something like creativity?  In how to determine progress in a skill like collaboration?  And if not, what resources (professional development, resources, technology) do we need to provide to make sure we are prepared to work with this set of skills?
  • Do we know how to evaluate these skills in our students?  And perhaps more importantly, are we able to help students to become reflective learners who can self-evaluate and determine their own progress in these areas and how to apply these skills to their own learning situation? 
  • If we value these skills, how are we emphasizing this value to students, parents, and the community?  How are we going to report out so that a parent knows how their child is progressing in terms of something like critical thinking?  What does a 'report card' look like?
  • Looking through a post-secondary lens, are these going to be valued at the next level of education for our students?  Are the admission requirements for colleges, technical schools and universities going to reflect the need for these skills?
  • Currently, BC Ministry of Education Scholarships are completely based upon scores on mandatory, standardized government exams.  Will this continue, or will the criteria for these financial awards be indicative of what we say we value in education?
I am sure there are other factors that I am not considering in preparing ourselves for personalized, 21st century learning that I will only be able to understand through conversations with students, staff members, and community members.  Other factors such as what is valued by the community, what is meaningful for students, and what is needed for our teachers to meet the needs of our learners.
However, one thing is certain, as an educational system we need to put ourselves in a position that allows us to practically and logistically value those skills that we say we value.  In the coming months, I will be seeking answers to the questions above from experts around the world in our PLN and input from our partners in the community so that as a school, we too are in position to continue to provide a personalized, 21st century learning experience for each of our students.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

I'm Getting Engaged!

As a part of our South Zone Administrator Meetings in the Kamloops School District, we build in time for professional development and dialogue on a variety of educational topics.  For example, we have done book studies on Visible Learning by John Hattie, discussed strategies around Special Education, and examined the use of social media for Board Office administrators, Principals and Vice Principals.  I find these meetings invigorating and meaningful, as it gives me a chance to learn from other administrators of both elementary and secondary administrators through these topic lenses. 

In preparation for our meeting next month, our Assistant Superintendent invited us to 'crack open' a new book called Tuned Out - Engaging the 21st Century Learner by Karen Hume.  And while I have only read the first two chapters, I am fascinated by the format of the book.  Mrs. Hume has written the book very accessible language, broken it down into small and easily digestible chunks, and has created a dynamic web guide that provides online discussion areas, activities, and resources so the reader has an interactive experience with the book (and even with Mrs. Hume through a blog--Cool!).  It is very 'engaging', and models many of the characteristics of the educational experience that we want for our students.

I have several thoughts and questions about this book and engaging the 21st century learner.

1) What is a working definition of a 21st century learner?  Am I a 21st century learner?
2) How do we define (and perhaps even measure?) an engaged learner?  Is this a fluid definition that varies from person to person, or are there specific characteristics that I can look for in classrooms and with our faculty during staff meetings to let me know that the learner is actively interested and participating in the class?
3) What can we do to further encourage the creation of these rich and interactive learning environments in each of our classrooms?  What resources do we need to provide for teachers? Professional development? Tech infrastructure?  Time to collaborate on these topics? Peer-to-peer modeling?
4) In terms of technology, are we using web tools to their fullest potential to engage learners, or are we using simply doing with technology what we could do without it (ie. using powerpoint for notes, using digital projectors to show videos, etc.)?
5) What skills are we hoping for our students to acquire in these rich learning environments?  Are we engaging for the sake of keeping kids 'entertained', or are there some baseline competencies that we want for our students and for ourselves as educators?

And while I am going to write more about this book and about 21st century learning skills in future posts, right now I am looking forward to having a better grasp on the answers to these questions as I read Hume's book. 

I encourage each of you to pick up a copy--it looks very useful!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Uphill both ways in a snowstorm

Yesterday, I read yet another article on "The Entitlement Generation" published in the Globe and Mail.  It was a scathing account of the younger generation of today, written by some writer who cited a few disenfranchised university professors and all-knowing adults as experts for her piece.

A few quotes...

"Many students openly admit their goal is to succeed with the least amount of effort."

"Students strenuously object if they don’t get the marks they feel entitled to. “They got 80 per cent in high school and, when they get 62 per cent, they’re mad,” says Prof. Coates. “They bring assignments in late and think we’ll mark them without penalty.”

"Ms. Godmere, the student spokesperson... believes course reading lists need to be more relevant. “These works that we are expected to read are from a different time. More people need to cater to the younger audience.” To which Prof. Coates responds, “If you want to tackle the most difficult, interesting, challenging thinkers in the world, you have to read very thick books with lots of words.”

"Ken Coates believes we should bring back streaming and make vocational education far more important than it is now. University should be for students who are interested in, and capable of, high-level work. Colleges and tech schools can offer more practical, job-oriented education for everyone else."

“There is no easy route to great success,” says Prof. Coates. “A generation has lost touch with that.”

Let's pretend that all of these things are true (they are not).  My question with these sorts of posts or articles is this: what good are they doing?  Do the authors feel that they are actually helping anything by railing against the 'entitlement generation'?  Do they believe that somehow, our high school and university students are going to read these articles and have some sort of life-altering epiphany?  That they will run to classes?  Be 'less lazy'?  Feel 'less entitled'?  Read 'thick books with lots of words'?  Or my favorite, 'try to succeed with more effort' (as opposed to less)?

This morning on the way to work, I made a call in my car (Bluetooth--obeying the law) to my wife to see what time an appointment was for my daughter. I went through a drive through ATM to get some cash, and then rerouted my car through another drive through to get a Starbucks coffee.  While I was waiting in line for the staff at Starbucks to prepare my coffee, I sent a text message to a friend about an upcoming golf tournament.  I came to school to find a report on my desk that one of my outstanding staff members had prepared for me, and then got on to Tweetdeck looking to 'steal' some ideas from people on integrating Personal Learning Devices into classrooms at our school.  I found three articles on #mlearning and a blog by Chris Kennedy in the span of a few minutes, and will modify parts of them and use them at our school over the next few days.

According to the first hour of my day, I am easily distracted and focused on technology (phone call in the car), I am lazy (going through a couple of drive-thrus), entitled (grabbed a coffee at Starbucks), have lost my communication skills (sent a text rather than speaking to my pal about golf in person), am expectant (had someone provide me with some information in a report), and plagiarize the work of others (with my brief scan on Twitter).  Apparently, I am a poster boy for the 'entitlement generation'.

In my opinion our students of today are as intelligent and motivated as students at this age have ever been.  I would also say that students are much more well-rounded than I ever was--they are more socially responsible, more globally aware, and more tolerant than any generation before them.  When graduates cross our stage at commencements, I absolutely marvel at how involved they are in their academics, the arts, athletics, the school, and community issues.  I wish I went through high school with the same verve and alacrity that our students do and have done.

But regardless of my opinions, the so-called 'entitlement generation' is THE generation that is going to lead us over the next several decades in technology, innovation, research, and global issues.  So the question that we must ask authors and those who continue to deride the generations younger than their own is this:  when you malign the 'entitlement generation' with condescending comments and cliches such as 'there are no easy roads to success', are you really helping anything?  I don't believe so.  Quite the contrary for me, I am cheering for them.

In conclusion, enough already.  The 'uphill both ways in a snowstorm' analogy got old a long time ago.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Pink PLC

Over the past ten years, I have been an advocate for the concepts of the Professional Learning Community.  I have read countless books on the PLC and taken or sent dozens of teachers and administrators from my schools to PLC Conferences.  I have worked with a number of different staffs in different districts on developing a collaborative culture, as well as creating structures within the school and time within the timetable for teachers to collaborate effectively with their peers about curriculum, instruction and assessment.  I have several Solution Tree T-Shirts.

We provide weekly collaborative time for teachers in our school.  In previous collaborative models I was very crystallized in terms of what I envisioned happening during this time.  In following the PLC Model verbatim as I thought I should when I started working on ideas from the Professional Learning Community several years ago, I wanted my different staffs to establish norms (which I still believe to be important), to develop common learning outcomes, common assessments, analyze data...the gambit of ideas described in the PLC.  I had weekly feedback sheets that my team leaders would diligently fill out, debriefing at coordinators meetings, I wanted to be 'in the loop' each step of the way. 

But I have noticed an evolution in the way that I have approached the Professional Learning Community.  As time has passed, and most notably in the last two years, I have changed my approach to our learning community model at SKSS.  I am attributing this to some different points of view that are shaping my thinking right now.   Many of these points of influence have come from people and theories that are circulating around my Personal Learning Network; one of these being Daniel Pink and his RSA Animate video on motivation.

Pink talks about a variety of things in this clip, but what truly resonated with me was his description of how a software company (Atlassian) gives their employees time to innovate and come up with different ideas.  To quote Daniel Pink on this concept-- "You probably want to do something interesting, let me get out of the way".  As Pink describes his own challenges with accepting this, I struggled with my not having a finger in all of the pies.  To completely 'get out of the way' was a challenge for me, mostly because I want to believe that I am not 'in anyone's way'.  I want to feel as though I am just an actively interested member of the team.  But looking at how things were going at that time with our Learning Community, I have to admit that I likely was 'getting in the way'.  As a result, I have made some changes to the way I approach collaborative time, and how we work together in our learning community.

As time has passed, I have been able to reflect on our journey toward a more collaborative culture. I realized that it has been a long, windy, and bumpy road with many opportunities for detours.  There were a number of occasions where it seemed as though I was really driving the PLC bus, and at some points, I was getting out of the driver's seat, walking around the back, and pushing on the bumper without a great deal of movement.  Furthermore, a number of staff members were not particularly engaged in (and sometimes incredibly frustrated with) the collaborative process, which made the collaborative meetings a bit 'hit and miss'.  And finally, some (not all) the products of collaborative time were disjointed, with varying levels of involvement by members of different departments.  The learning community that I so valued (and still value) was not always firing on all cylinders. We needed to something to change.

The learning community continues to thrive at our school, but it has a very different feel.  I attribute this change to our Coordinators and our departments putting their stamp on the structure and makeup of collaborative time.  Coordinators host weekly meetings, and set up the tutorial schedule that allows for them to give support to students in a way that works for their department.  The departments develop norms for their collaborative meetings that serve the needs of their group.  They have worked collectively to develop goals via measures that they developed on issues that they determined were vital to the success of students in their areas.  The coordinators track progress, and will present to the school (and the public through our School Improvement Blog) the things that they are proud of in their departments with respect to student and teacher achievement in the goal area they have come up with (here is an example from Math).

I would like to think that Rick Dufour might call this a loose-tight approach.  While I am tight on the fact that I want each department to have norms for their meetings, but how they set up those norms is up to them.  I am tight on the fact that I want departments to set SMART goals for their departments, but what those goals actually look like comes from the particular department.  I need to have our staff give students support in our tutorials, but how they schedule so that it is fair and equitable to students and staff is up to them. I want them to report out on their progress, but in a manner that they feel puts their best foot forward to students, parents, and the rest of our partners in the community. The list goes on. 

However (and clearly I can't speak for him), Dr. Dufour might also call what we do in terms of collaboration at our school 'collaboration lite' - where portions of our collaborative meetings are comprised of more sharing than action, more brainstorming than results.  But I believe that is where I have changed, and where I want to take ideas from Daniel Pink.   Of course I want our departments to improve teacher achievement and student achievement by working together; of that there is no doubt.  But I also want our staff to use some of the time that we have created to be CREATIVE, to come up with points of inquiry to investigate in their classes, and to really 'think outside of the box' to establish a rich learning environment for their students. 

We are not Google, and not able to free our staff up for one day per week to work together and 'create' as some companies do.  However, we are able to provide a bit of time for teachers to look at curriculum, instruction and assessment as a collective to improve the learning at our school.

I think we will try to call it 'Dufour with a touch of Pink', or 'The Pink PLC'.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Drinking from a firehose

For schools across British Columbia, today was the first day of school.  And what a day it was!  Does any of this sound familiar to you?

“Can you tell me where J216 is?”

“Where do you want the coffee and muffins for the staff?”

“Welcome to South Kam, you are going to love teaching here!”

“How was your summer?  How are your little girls?”

“What does Mr. Smith look like?”

“How long are the classes today?”

“Someone is parked in my parking spot, can you find out who it is?”

“I went to my class and the class wasn’t there, do you know where they went?”

“We just moved here and want to register our son.  Where should we go?”

“Thanks for the coffee and muffins and the golf shirt.  I will wear it on Titan Fridays!”

“When time are volleyball tryouts?”

“There is a bolt on the locker I was assigned. What do I do?”

“Sally broke her leg last night and we need a sub, can we get someone to cover?”

“Did my textbooks come in?”

 “Can I change this class so I can get Art?”

“The floor in my class was supposed to be replaced and it wasn’t.  I moved all my furniture out—what I am I supposed to do?”

“When do our international students show up?  The LINK Crew is ready for them?”

“What is the site license code for the marks program?”

“My key doesn’t work, do you have another one?”

“Where do I get an agenda book?”

“What time is the staff getting together on Friday?”

“What is the password for the wireless for my Blackberry?”

“What time is the last bell?”

Sigh.  And the next thing you know, you blink, it’s the end of the day, and the last bus is pulling out to take our students home.  The first day of school is always hair-straight-back-buzzing-with-excitement.  Everything comes at a hundred miles per hour.  It's no wonder that I rarely sleep the night before, and  always sleep soundly the night after.  I am certain that tonight will be no different.

The first day of school--it’s kind of like trying to get a drink from a fire hose.

It's also my favorite day of the year.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

DO what should be done THEN tell, not tell what should be done.

Last night, I watched an interesting pseudo-documentary called "A National Disgrace, Revisited" hosted by Dan Rather. It as an unflattering and scathing two-hour piece on the schools, School Board, and various individuals (including the former Superintendent) connected Detroit Public School System.   When I watch these investigative reports, I try to approach them from a neutral, critical-thinking perspective.  These shows tend to be laden with editorial comment and often have a bias towards sensationalism rather than fact.  But nonetheless, I believe that I always have something to gain by seeing different perspectives on public education.

There were a number of threads that wove their way through the narrative, including a piece on a young student who was making her way through high school with the goal of going on to a four-year college.  The young girl had a challenging home situation; she had a single mother and a younger sister moving from rental property to rental property, trying to scratch out a living on a very limited income.  The mother was a selfless, hard-working woman whose goal was to have her children enjoy a life better than the one she had.   Mom placed a very high value on education and was pushing her children off to school at 5:30AM each day to ensure they had enough time for the public transportation system could get them to school and work.

Throughout the program, the overarching theme was the need for (and resistance to) educational reform.  At one point, Dan Rather asked the mother what she would say if she could say anything to the DPS School Board about the education afforded to her children, and she responded with a comment that resonated with me.  She said: "I know you care, now what are you doing to show it?"

Each day, I read countless newspaper articles, impassioned posts, and convincing studies that shout out "we are failing children", "change the system", or "do something different".  These excellent resources are written by talented, skilled educators who work in the system today and clearly care deeply about students and student learning.  And to this end, I agree with all of them (or at least almost all of them) that I have read.  But then I think about Mom's comment in the DPS investigative report--"I know you care, now what are you doing to show it?".

This year, I am going to focus less on TELLING people how much I care about students, education and the need for educational reform to better meet the needs of student  and teacher learners.  Instead, I am going to focus more on DOING things to make our school and current system of education better and then share with others.  I have started the ball rolling on supporting teacher Micro-Observations to improve instructional practice, and have just purchased pods of Android Tablets for each of our departments to support collaborative student learning and technology use in the classroom.  We will continue to work on our dynamic and interactive online School Improvement Plan.  As a school district, we have enacted new policy this summer to support Personal Learning Devices and Smartphones in the classroom, and have implemented free wi-fi for students and staff.

While these activities are neither exhaustive or perfect, I believe they will continue to make positive changes for our school.  We will DO, then we will SHARE.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Minor Tweaks

Over the course of the summer, I have had a bit more time to catch up on my reading.  And while I did manage to toss in a John Grisham and a sequel to the Bourne Trilogy, I also had the opportunity to read a couple of great books that were more germane to education.  One of those books was The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.

The basic premise Gladwell makes in the book is that "achievement is based less on talent than it is on opportunity".  He cites numerous examples of this with individuals he calls 'outliers', from Bill Gates and Paul Allen having been given free computer time at the University of Washington during their formative years to the Beatles becoming outstanding performers because of a set of marathon gigs they accepted in Hamburg.  In each of these instances, the individuals had talent, make no mistake.  However, they also had and took advantage of opportunities to hone that talent to the level that has made them recognized for it today.

Gladwell also talks about the advantages that are conferred on individuals that are born closer to arbitrary registration cutoffs and deadlines.  He highlights several examples that illustrate this point: rep hockey players tend to be born in the months of January through April (registration deadlined in January), soccer players on the English National squad are all born in September, October, or November (registration deadline in September).  Gladwell also indicates that students that are born earlier in the year (closer to the January registration deadline) can tend to be treated differently than their peer group that is born later in the year.  The reason, Gladwell cites, is that developmentally, a hockey player, a soccer player, a student that is born closer to that arbitrary cutoff date tends to be developmentally more advanced than their peers who are born months later, especially at an early age.  As a result, Gladwell contends, these more developed children can be seen as more talented and get more specialized training than the younger members of their cohort group.

Gladwell makes the point that we are neglecting the talent pool in the other 'half' of the year.  Imagine, he says, how talented our Canadian hockey teams would be if we had a hockey registration date and league for those children born in January AND another league for those born after June, complete with separate rep teams and specialized coaching for each of the different groups?  He goes on to wonder why we don't do something like this in schools.
While I don't agree with all of the points that Gladwell makes in his book, his observations about the registration deadline determining the grade cohort for children in schools made me think.  Why do we have one registration date for children?  Moreover, why do we organize schools according to age?  I know this is being general, and there are many exceptions, but are we able to accomodate the developmental differences between a kindergarten student born on January 2nd and another born on December 20th?  Could we re-organize schools to enable us to meet the needs of children more effectively, by perhaps having asynchronous starting points for our young students to meet them where they are at developmentally?  Are there other changes to schedules, reporting methods, or other small, subtle, technical parts of education that we are overlooking that could have notable effects on student learning?

I believe that meeting the diverse needs of our learners is foundational to the movement towards personalized, 21st Century learning.  I also believe that discovering a student's talents and then providing them with opportunities to hone and showcase those talents is another cornerstone of personalized learning.  But without oversimplifying the issue, I often wonder if there are not some simpler steps that we can take (such as those that Gladwell suggests) that might help us cultivate the talents of each of the students in our school.  To provide them with those exceptional opportunities afforded those like the Beatles, Paul Allen, and Bill Gates.  Are there easier ways that we can make all of our students "outliers"?

I enjoy thinking about big picture ideas for education, and trying to implement major, multifaceted initiatives that will positively impact each of our partner groups.  Yet sometimes I wonder if we overlook some of the minor tweaks we could make to day-to-day operational items that could have a major and positive impact on our students.

I think it is worth a peek.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Dichotomy Defense

False dichotomy: aka. the either-or fallacy, fallacy of false choice, black-and-white thinking or the fallacy of exhaustive hypotheses) a type of logical fallacy that involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are additional options (sometimes shades of grey between the extremes). 

How many times in education do we invoke "The Dichotomy Defense"?  You know, the one where we refute a suggestion or new initiative by bringing up the most extreme, unlikely, one-in-a-million, contrary, doomsday example possibleFor example...

- "Texting in class?  We can't allow students to text in class because, once we start that, ALL THEY WILL DO IS TEXT."
- "Give students choice in what they what they want to learn and how they will be evaluated? We can't do that, KIDS WILL JUST CHOOSE THE EASY WAY OUT."
- "Flexible deadlines and re-writes? We can't do that, KIDS ARE LAZY AND WILL TAKE ADVANTAGE OF US."
- "Unblocking websites and social media tools?  We can't do that, because once we do, ALL STUDENTS WILL DO IS SURF INAPPROPRIATE SITES AND BULLY EACHOTHER."
- "Let students come up with expectations for themselves and their conduct? We can't do that, KIDS ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE AND THEY ARE NOT CAPABLE OF GOVERNING THEMSELVES--IT WILL BE ANARCHY."

In each one of these aforementioned examples, the extreme COULD happen.  A few students (and adults) might text all of the time.  A couple of kids (and adults) could choose the easy way out.  Some children (and adults) are lazy and will take advantage of the system.  Some kids (and adults) will surf inappropriate sites and bully eachother using social media.  Some students (and adults) are not responsible.


However, if the initiative is important enough, if it is the right thing to do, we can sort it out with those few people.  And we will.

Recently, our school district entered a partnership with Apple to get iPads for one of our local schools as a pilot project to increase student engagement, achievement, and 21st Century Skills through an infusion of technology.  Personally, I am proud that our district is starting to look at partnerships to help our teachers augment the good things they are doing in their classrooms.  Many other schools in our district are excited at the future prospects of this partnership.

The following is an excerpt of a response to this initiative from a writer in the local paper. 

"Yes, it’s an essential part of our work and lives, but I worry about the future of generations who can’t even spell, completely reliant on their iPhone’s auto-correct, and who think Twittering is meaningful dialogue.

So hearing the news that Grade 5 and 6 students at Bert Edwards Science and Technology school will be utilizing iPads, courtesy of a partnership with the school district and Apple Canada, leaves me a little uneasy. Working on computers is one thing but bringing the highly interactive iPad into classrooms is a whole different kettle of fish.

The Kamloops school has the laudable goals of improving reading comprehension and numeracy, which the iPad is somehow supposed to help with (what ever happened with those old standbys called pencil and paper?), and the kids will create “e-portfolios” among other things and blog about the process.

The biggest concern raised by school trustees is that the Mac products might not jive with existing IBM technology used in the district. But just how far will this go?

In the United States, teachers are incorporating social media into their lesson plans in dramatic fashion. Instead of discouraging kids from chatting online, a “backchannel” lets students ask questions and express their views via Twitter-like technology during class.

Educators say it encourages shy kids, who might otherwise never engage, to interact via texting.

In other words, don’t bother raising your hand and using your “inside” voice to speak, just text your thoughts to your classmates — something kids are already inclined to do outside the class anyway.

Where does the madness stop? We are the makers of our own destiny on this one and it’s not looking pretty. Diabetes and obesity are rising at alarming rates among youth as they sit at home playing on their Xbox and Playstations, now we’re encouraging them not to talk during class, just type? If they were shy before, this isn’t going to help bolster their confidence."

Whether one agrees with the author or not (I clearly would be in the “not” camp), I know that in education, false dichotomies such as the several listed above are easy defenses.  They are easy defenses to philosophies that challenge our own, initiatives that might not be our idea, technologies that we don’t know or understand, or to ideologies of the generation of students that we serve that we might not relate to as well as we want to believe.

Challenging new ideas is important and valuable.  And there are times when new ideas must be taken back to the drawing board, or just scrapped altogether.  However, using extreme examples to scare people into believing the sky is falling just slows progress.  When we confront new ways of thinking, it is important that use the best facts, information, and data that we have availed to us.    

By doing this, we avoid the easy defense, the Dichotomy Defense.