Monday, December 10, 2012

BYOT 101 - A Photo Series

The @40ishoracle and I have been discussing our lack of postings recently. Its not that we don't have a lot to say but that we have been exhausted by two months of traveling. As we recuperate, we have been talking a lot about operating our of a sense of mission instead of a sense of fear (more on that later).


Sometimes, you just want to confront those fears head-on. Hence:

BYOT 101 - A Photo Series (by jen and jd)

Have a concern about 1:1 or BYOT that you need us to tackle? No problem too big or too small that we won't attack with PicSay Pro, a phone-camera, and an attempt at wit.

Post comments below or tweet us at @40ishoracle and @jdferries

Friday, November 9, 2012

Indiana Education Politics: Explanations &Predictions Part II

Glenda Ritz, Educator
in the Lion's Den

Predictions: Politics as the 300 Pound Gorilla

The problem that faces Indiana education now is that we have a non-politician, Democrat, classroom teacher against a political machine that is in-power, looking for payback, and willing to believe that this was at worst a fluke and at best the emotional reaction of people responding to whiny teachers who struck at the right moment.

Governor-elect Pence has already gone on record with the position that voters, because they elected a Republican legislative body, are in support of the educational direction of Indiana despite the ouster of the head educator. While this blind-spot makes for a great topic of discussion in an information literacy or digital citizenship class, it should be frustrating for voters who want to see reform of the #edreform agenda.

Prediction #1: Going Nuclear on Indiana State Teachers Association

Since it is easy to blame this kind of organized response on the organization, ISTA is in the cross-hairs of a super-majority Republican congress. Expect to see legislation in the next term that goes after the union at its heart: member's dues. This one shouldn't be too surprising given the anti-union sentiment around the country and particularly in red states. I would expect to see a bill that makes unions unable to deduct dues (willing or not) from teacher paychecks.

This will not dismantle the union, and certainly the right spin ("Are you going to let politicians take away your voice just when you have found it?") will help. But the point is that a union-busting response takes attention away from the matters-at-hand:
  • We are over-testing our students to the detriment of developing skills that are in demand.
  • We are using unscientific and uncontrolled data to draw conclusions about what is going on in the classroom
  • We are allowing systems, machines, programs, and numbers to replace the relationship between the student, the teacher, and the learning
Impact: Unknown. I think ultimately, the union will be a distraction that will allow those who are so inclined, to dismiss all of these issues as political rhetoric. If teachers are allowed to be characterized as simply protecting their undeserved jobs, we've already lost a crucial moment.

Prediction #2: Shifting the power away from the State Superintendent's office

The governor already has a number of mechanisms that share power with the position. This includes the legislature, Education Roundtable, and the State Board of Education, a policy making body with 10 voting members, nine of which are appointed by the Governor (the State Superintendent is number 10). I would expect to see more and more power shift away from one office and into another. There are few legislative or constitutional protections to stand in the way of an #edreform agenda. The protections that are there can be stripped away. Stopping this move would require the ability to navigate bureaucracy, form strong coalitions, and work backroom magic -- it would take a politician, not a career educator.

Impact: Significant. Without protection in writing or political skill, power will flow away from this office quickly. Soundbites and interviews only go so far. What is necessary to change Indiana's test-prep ship is going to be dialog and conversation, legislation proposed and marked-up, and debated on its merits. We need a strong office to carry this banner.

Prediction #3: Remove the Superintendent of Public Instruction from the Ballot

This can't happen right away. There is too much scrutiny right now. But after a few years of being stonewalled by the legislature and reduced to a shadow of office by the executive branch, it will not take much for the political spin machine to show how much more effective the position could be if it were appointed by the Governor.

Impact: Like prediction #1, this is a political play that would serve to undercut the issues that matter. I have no doubt that a good Governor can appoint a good educator to the role. But if we are caught up in the drama of this move, we will lose sight of the fact that this change was not about was about policy.

Changing the Future -- Using 21st Century Skills to Counter the Political Machines

Ultimately, I believe that few politicians care about the details of education. They care about education in general but leave the details to people they consider to be experts.They want to be able to talk about great teachers (remember, on the individual level, teachers are loved. its only collectively that we become lazy and evil), good students (potential workers) who graduate ready to face the world, and innovative classrooms, preferably with some kind of glowing apple in each child’s hand.

Politicians do care a lot about saving face and making sure that they maintain political control and power. Seen in this light, stripping the unions of easy funding, shifting power away from a political opponent, and then making sure this embarrassment never happens again makes a lot of sense. Our job, as teachers and parents, friends and family who were able to make yourself heard on November 6th, is to convince your legislators and Governor that this vote had little to do with politics and everything to do with making a choice about how we want to see learning in our classrooms.

Interestingly, the same 21st century skills that the test-prep culture drains from our classrooms hold the key to conveying this message to the statehouse:
1. Effective Communication: We need to communicate with the politicians who are in office. We need to write letters describing what is going on in the classroom. We need to share stories, and infographics, pictures and video clips. We need to explain that voting against treating students like test scores is something that conservatives should support. We need to show that voting against the lackluster electronic wolf of test-prep dressed in an individualization-sheep’s clothing is a winning political stance.

2. Collaboration: We need to find our allies in people to whom politicians listen -- I suggest businessmen. As we tell our classroom stories, we need to tell them to businessmen. We need to share with them the trade off between 17 question pre-tests and projects that encourage brainstorming, teamwork, and collaboration. We need to show the lack of critical thinking that is involved in any bubble-filling assessment. Most importantly, we need to explain in no uncertain terms that teachers are not afraid of tough and critical evaluation -- we just want to be evaluated on those things that we a) can control and that b) impact actual learning.

3. Research and Information Processing: We need to provide innovative solutions that counter the #edreform rhetoric. We need to give examples of schools that thrive despite rejecting an obsession with evaluation. We need to show how innovation in empowering students, effectively using technology to engage in real experiences, and learning in a safe and caring environment can have real impact on developing the skills that matter to colleges and employers.

4. Effective Use of Social Media: We need to get people talking about this new vision for education: A vision where we spend more time focused on learning and less time assessing memorization; A vision where teacher’s are evaluated by qualified and invested administrators who care for students and teachers and demand excellence in the context of a trusted relationship; A vision where students are treated as individuals with thoughts and feelings and needs and interests -- not just deficiencies to be re-drilled and tested again. As we share this message, we need to get this message back to the politicians from multiple people from all walks of life.

Ultimately, the solution is one of policy not politics. But until we are able to make the conversation non-political -- because the evidence is overwhelming and because it is not a weapon that politicians use to beat eachother -- then we are at risk of losing this precious opportnuity for want of political manuvering.

Tuesday was a good night for classroom teachers -- but in order to make it a great start for Indiana students, we have to accept that Tuesday was just the beginning of our work.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Indiana Education Politics: Explanations & Predictions, Part I

I'll preface this by saying that I am stripping out sources from this article, particularly the predictions section (which I will post in part II). I don't feel comfortable naming people who talked to me as a friend and I don't want them in hot water with politicians. I’m aware this hurts the overall credibility, so apply grains of salt as needed.

Tuesday night was a great night for classroom teachers.

Glenda Ritz, a veteran classroom teacher and financial underdog, was able to oust Tony Bennett, a nationally known advocate of the #edreform movement that is characterized by high-stakes testing of students, evaluation of teachers based in part on those same tests, and school choice in the form of one of the strongest voucher programs in the nation.

As I watched the early results and continued watching through the night, the various local political pundits were scrambling. Despite their claims of social media savvy and clear understanding of the minds of Hoosier voters, not a single one seemed able to explain what was happening or why. They went to stalwart cliche's involving words like "grassroots" or "union-influence" depending on the side of the aisle from which they were stammering.

It was a lot of fun.

Now it is two days later. Educators: You had a win, and it was the first when you’ve had in a long time. That victory is going to leave a bitter taste in your mouth if you think that this battle is over or that you can go back to teaching your students, secure in your Tuesday night victory. I hate to say it, but your work has just begun.

Interlude: Setting the Context
Parents: Does this make you feel informed?
The other night, Undivided Middle, my 8 year old, brought a stack of papers home to review.
This is a frustrating time as a parent. The majority of the week's "work" does not look like traditional homework as pre-test-craze adults might remember it. There were few pages with spelling words or math problems. Few red X's that could be discussed with the child to begin remediation.

The majority of the work consists of printed pages with a single column on the left hand side. The column is numbered 1-17 and next to each number is a circle (good) or an "X" (bad) -- 3 Xs is a C+. 4 is a D. On the left hand side of this paper is a list of key words, presumably the content or skills that were tested by this mysterious computer program with a hyphenated name. The words might be "Setting" or "Plot" or "Simple Division". -- There are no problems to work through. There is nothing to correct. There IS an expectation that we, as parents, sign the sheets so that we can acknowledge that our child has been adequately tested and that her knowledge (or lack thereof) is well documented and communicated.

Welcome to modern education.
End Interlude

I have talked about these issues a lot, most recently discussing parents getting tutors for their kindergarten children and analytics/data experts admitting that the field is in its predictive infancy and not the great evaluator that is claimed by charter-school/textbook sponsored educational reformers. While Indiana is not as bad as some other states (a friend of mine describe 40+ days of standardized testing complete with audits from state officials - cringe), the entire enterprise of education is now dictated by A-F ratings for schools, standardized outcomes on assessments, dehumnaizing software that "individualizes" for students while removing that messy contact with other human beings, and using the disparate systems to pass judgement on the effectiveness of individual educators without much care toward the impact of poverty, parents, or other causality.

When I was able to meet Tony Bennett at a parent education meeting, he was open to discussing teacher evaluation by student test score, but ultimately ended the discussion with "well, we have to do something" -- it was an odd acknowledgment that there were flaws while simultaneously holding onto this particular idea as the last hope.

What happened? An Outsider's Explanation

Bennett had more name recognition, more money, and was a republican incumbent in a Republican state. Simply, this was no contest. And for the better part of the election season, that is how Ritz played it.

There were no TV commercials. Few ads in general. Just a teacher visiting schools. Meanwhile, Bennett played a completely positive in-the-spotlight campaign right out of the front-runner playbook.

What I noticed was that about two weeks before election day, teachers began flipping profile pictures to the "Ritz4edu" logo. The other thing that I noticed was that teachers were talking about what was happening in the classroom. They were sharing the pressure of a looming school letter grade that led administrators to remove project that encouraged collaboration or critical thinking -- those things aren't on the standardized test. They shared the evaluation systems that looked less at how a teacher interacted with a struggling student and more about whether the state standards of the day were written on the board. They shared the obscure use of single-data-points to draw conclusions about students as if they were scores in a video game and not snapshots of the responses of a human being.

They shared with friends and family, people who had kids in school and people who's kids went to school before test-prep had become the watchword.

...and people listened.

The conservative pundit on WTHR quickly fell to an attack on the Indiana teacher's union. "They want this bad," he grimaced. But this wasn't a movement of union drones -- public and private teachers, union supporters and people who had burned by the unions' classic last-hired/first-fired policies, even conservative teachers -- it was a compelling stand. Because of the timing of this move and its truly grassroots, social media nature, there was neither the time nor the inclination to bring more outside money to bear. Even news stations who were all too willing to proclaim the number of tweets-per-minute the election generated seemed absolutely unaware that this ground campaign was being conducted.

When the final numbers came in, it was clear that this was not just a teacher revolt (although, to be fair, if there were THAT many teachers, we would not have any issues with class size). People who voted for Romney, and Pence, and maybe even Murdock were splitting off the ticket to vote for Ritz.

Tuesday night was a great night for classroom teachers.

But three days have passed...

(Part two will be posted tomorrow with predictions, warnings, and a call to action)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Designing for #DigCit -- an #ICE2012 Presentation

What a great conference. Indiana Computer Educators is an annual gathering of tech-geeks and teach-geeks from around the state and elsewhere. I will probably blog some reflections soon, but first I wanted to get this posted.

The @40ishoracle and I presented on Professional Development, specifically our open, education centered format in the BYOT environment.

We also presented on the Digital Citizenship program that is our required Freshman Computer Applications Course. The presentation that we used is here:

As always, we welcome your feedback and questions. This was new presentation for us and we are always looking for ways to improve. Don't forget to leave feedback, follow the blogs, and say "Hi" to us on Twitter :)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

On stopwatches, Fairness & Testscores: We Trained Them Well

Student: "Can you just give me the 'book' answer?"
Me: "We don't use a book in this class"
Student: "You are exasperating."

The @40ishoracle and I have had an running theme for the last few weeks. My approach from the student perspective and hers from the teachers. We have decided to write duelling blogs on the topic of "We have trained them well." Read her reflection on teachers here.

Vignette 1: Missed Opportunities

I want to start with one of my favorite teachers. He is a strong presence in the classroom who creates an environment where students feel comfortable exploring complicated questions of faith, justice, and religion. He is typically recognized by excellent students as one of the strongest teachers they have had.  He sees his calling as one of planting seeds, equipping students with thoughts and skills that may be used years down the road.

During lunch one day, he described a day in his classroom. A student was sharing a reflection, showing a video. The teacher said the context, presentation, and subject matter were visually and emotionally moving. Yet as he looked at the classroom, his students were disengaged. They were not being rude. There was no doodling, or sleeping, or gaming, or surfing. Just a strong detachment from the moment and the opportunity they had been given to experience something profound. It was disappointing for this teacher who has had a rough time with freshman this year.

Vignette 2: Claim Analysis Project

Students use collaborative notetaking to capture ideas
from discussion  complete with comments
One of the primary skills in the Digital Citizenship class (#digcit) is the development of information analysis skills. As the media becomes more and more biased and social media allows us to live in echo chambers of our own making (see the original post on the PLNs or the #theatershooting analysis), it is important for students to be able to dissect news and opinion pieces for grains of truth and boulders of bias.

Assignment: Students took two articles from the first issue of the student newspaper: one news, one op-ed. The students were given five minutes to read one of the articles and reflect on the following:
  • do you believe the information given in the article?
  • what is it about the article or the context that makes you trust (or distrust) the information?
Students were then put into groups of three to share their reflections. It was at that moment that I began to notice that this lesson was not going to go as planned.

One group, the most vocal and active, sat in a straight line. They were discussing, but clearly not engaged in the assignment. It was a factual exchange of information that scratched the surface. More disturbing was the group of students who sat silently with their heads down staring blankly at the news-article. -- silence.

When I prompted them to interact, "The next step is to share what you three are might want to, you know, discuss", one of the students looked at me and said, "I don't understand."

"Did you believe what is being stated in the article?" [Task Comprehension]
"I don't know"
"Ok. What is your gut feeling? Accurate or not?" [Start at the basics and build]
"I'm not sure what you mean. Do you think the article is accurate?"
"Why does that matter? I want to see how you processed the information." [Technically I should have gone with another question, but I was getting a that tickly feeling teachers sometimes get -- this could be important]
"I don't want to be wrong. It is not fair for you to ask us a question that we do not know the answer too. You already know the answer. You are just being mean."

There it was. 
And two other students nodded.

The lesson went...ok. By the end of class, students were able to identify the difference between a CLAIM being made and the DATA or ANALYSIS that might show that a claim is indeed true. But that look of helplessness stuck with me.

A Reflection

This year's Freshmen were in kindergarten one year after I left the public school system. While there were a number of reasons I left (one of which was a starry-eyed dream that I would be a stay-at-home Dad and read comicbooks to my baby all day long), part of it was a growing dissatisfaction with test-culture. I taught remedial English to students who had already failed the state exit exam and where preparing to take it a second, third, or fourth time.

Students in the #digcit class due a sorting activity to
identify best sources for  research
I remember long discussion with my wife (then in medical residency) about the dichotomy of this teaching assignment. If I could teach them to think and communicate effectively, to provide a base-level of understanding, they would have a good shot at passing the exam, but there were years of apathy and a ton of factors beyond my control. However, if I went straight for the test -- drilled vocabulary, taught a formulaic writing system that graders (or auto-graders) would be able to checklist through quickly, taught ways to game the natural flaws in a testing system -- I was pretty sure most of the kids would have a good shot at passing.

I tried it both ways. At the end of the "test prep" semester, I was told by the administration that they wanted me to have a training session with other teachers on how I had taught so many kids so well -- 80% pass rate. That was the writing on the wall for my tenure in public schools

Vignette 3: The Magic Formula

A student working on an essay assignment had gathered all of the information for the paper. As students began writing rough drafts, a number of hands went into the air:
"How many sentences have to be in a paragraph?"
"Does the thesis have to be at the end of the third paragraph?"
"I am writing my outline first. What do you want to read in paragraph two?"

The communication aspect of the essay was lost. This was not informative or persuasive. This was writing by formula. As the questions continued and the answers were clearly not "8 sentences" or "Yes", the students began sharing their experience in other classes and at other schools. They described teachers who set arbitrary minimums as a quick way to encourage depth and critical thinking or a formulaic structure as a surefire ways to pass the standardized test (cold chills went through my spine). What struck me was that students had internalized the rules without understanding the reasoning -- the goal was to think deeply, not to churn out eight complete phrases.

We have trained them well

The mantra for the last few weeks as @40ishoracle and I have been discussing with teachers, students, and our twitter PLNs is, "We have trained them well"
  • We have trained students that there is one correct answer
  • We have trained students that the one correct answer is known by the teacher and/or the test grader
  • We have trained them that there is (usually) a simple formula for determining that answer - a process to solve the problem, a structure for an essay, a list of terms to memorize.
We train them by showing them a video that walks through the steps of solving a problem but does not explain why those steps lead to the solution. We train them when they are taught that a science experiment is following the step-by-step guide of a demonstration. We train them with worksheets, one-answer textbooks questions, and tests...lots of tests.

At the point that parents are hiring tutors to help kids with the testing in Kindergarten, the time has come to revisit the system. One of the businessmen that we work with has recognized this need as well. He puts it succinctly: "We are reaping what we have sown". 15 years ago businesses were calling for graduates who could communicate effectively, work well with teams, and work independently without a heavy hand guiding them each step of the way. 15 years later, the American Associations of College and Universities points out that things have not changed all that much:

  1. The ability to work well in teams—especially with people different from yourself
  2. An understanding of science and technology and how these subjects are used in real-world settings
  3. The ability to write and speak well
  4. The ability to think clearly about complex problems
  5. The ability to analyze a problem to develop workable solutions
  6. An understanding of global context in which work is now done
  7. The ability to be creative and innovative in solving problems
  8. The ability to apply knowledge and skills in new settings
  9. The ability to understand numbers and statistics
  10. A strong sense of ethics and integrity 
What has changed is our approach to education. In pursuit of these goals (or in pursuit of unstated goals such as cost-savings or opening the educational marketplace), we have developed a system that substitutes opportunities for reflection and teamwork with additional assessments. These assessments to not promote problem analysis or creative solutions -- they look for formulaic methods that give a single scorable answer.

Just read number 8 and think about the student who called lesson was "unfair".

When Yong Zhao presented to the educators and technologists at the  ISTE12 Keynote, he noted that while America obsesses over global test scores, the rest of the world is busy working on creating innovated geniuses: problem solvers, creators, communicators -- those things that have traditionally kept the U.S ahead of the technology and industry game despite high labor costs, lower population numbers, and bad test scores (remember, the US has never excelled in standardized testing worldwide).

But there is hope:

  • Math classes that give the answers to the homework but look to the students' process to arrive at that answer.
  • #Flipclass and No-homework programs that de-emphasize content transfer and emphasize the rich interaction that are capable in a classroom the individualizes and provides opportunity for collaboration
  • The growing number of #digcit and #byot programs that emphasize processing and problem solving as well as information literacy and communications. As these systems replace push-button training classes, students are exposed to more opportunities to identify and solve problems rather than follow a pre-selected path to a single answer.
  • History and Social Studies classes that are rejecting textbook summaries of events in exchange for time spent interpreting and analyzing history through primary source and historical documents.
  • Schools with a mission to educate and form the whole person rather than force an unnatural separation by subject areas.
But these hopeful techniques and movements are a gamble. Because if "success" is designated by a score on a standardized test, rather than the development of creativity and innovation, then we run the risk of denigrating the best programs in favor of "test-prep" environments. Worse, we are creating a system that measures students, rewards teachers, and honors school systems for creating students that do not have the skills that we want in either our well-informed citizenry or our innovative workforce.

Its time for the student-based-objective to focus primarily on the student.
Its time to focus on the race and runners and not the stopwatch.
Its time to stop training and start teaching.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Interesting Times - How NOT to Address Tragedy and #muslimrage in Schools

"May you live in Interesting times" 
- A saying from the counterweight continent, Discworld (among others)

War. What is it good for?
I was flipping through Facebook one morning this week and came across a few disturbing posts to the effect of: 

“Why isn’t the [US Government] administration doing anything?  Do they want another 9-11?”
Comments like this tend to activate the snarkiest part of my debate mind. I immediately start crafting cross-examination questions:
  • “You would like to go on record that it is your belief that our politicians (or any Americans) want another tragedy like 9-11?”
  • “What specific action would you like to see taken?”
  • “Can this action be accomplished while maintaining or respect for sovereignty, innocent life, etc?”
Ultimately, though, while these mental exercises are fun, they don’t really help to solve any problems. Understanding the full expanse of the tragedy in Libya last week would require an understanding of a number of complex issues: international politics, recent history, religious differences, the interplay of government and religion in extremism to name a few.

News organizations, politicians, and the vast political and media machines that they control (or are controlled by) do not have the profit or vote motive to explain these issues. Decades of sound-byte culture have stripped away most of the mechanisms that could even deliver complex explanations anyway. Thus, in the light of smirks and anti-smirks, vague pleading for action on social media, and the real feelings of anger, fear, and sadness that surround any loss of life, the questions becomes “how do we educate the next generation on these issues?”

Everybody get together, Try to love one another right now
School is rarely like what we see in the movies. Few schools actually pull all of the girls into the gymnasium in order to convince them to stop being cruel to each other through trust falls. More often than not, big showy gestures end up feeling more like that scene in HEATHERS where well-meaning teachers, apathetic students, and a dash of media or parent hype create awkward eye-rolling moments.

Interlude (Overheard):
“Can you believe what is going on in the Middle East? It’s tragic”
“And on 9-11!”
“Have you seen the video on YouTube that started the whole thing?”
“We should do something. For the kids. An assembly or something.”
“For the whole school. Something to really address this whole thing”
End Interlude

There are a lot of logistical issues with putting something like this together. I don’t want to address any of those.  There is also a strong argument to be made about when to "pull the all-school trigger” or, put another way, what makes this particular event worthwhile over so many others? Not going to write about that either.

Instead, I would like to approach this idea of teaching about the middle east tragedy as a worthy subject for our students. I will further assume that the logistics can be easily overcome and that the loss of classroom time in any other subject is relatively minimal. And yet, despite these two (rather significant) assumptions, there should still not be an all-school convocation on this topic. 

Why?-- it’s just bad education.

It’s not that all-school convocations are universally bad. We hold all-school masses and prayer services to worship together as a community. We bring students together to raise the emotional bar before homecoming games or to pay honor to students and alumni who exemplify the school's mission. We remember significant moments in our history (Martin Luther King Jr., Holocaust Remembrance Day), particularly when we have the rare opportunity to hear first person accounts that are increasingly rare and always precious. 

The best of these gatherings have a simple straightforward message that can be easily comprehended. The appeal,  when they work, is not an intellectual one, but one of emotion. Conversely, the worst large gatherings strip away emotional appeal entirely (boring), present a message that is too complicated (confusing), or make assumptions about the audience that interfere with the one-way messaging (offensive).

A large gathering about a currently-unfolding tragic event for any purpose other than grieving or solidarity is difficult to justify. Once we decide that the event is worthy of being taught, it becomes important not to become caught up in the chance for a big-moment if that same moment sacrifices the opportunity for true understanding, for true learning by the students. Instead, we should begin with the end in mind: if our goal is to achieve some sort of understanding about the underlying cause and potential actions possible in the Middle East, we need to construct learning opportunities that will likely lead to this understanding -- fortunately, for these situations we have a the solution:

It's called SCHOOL.

Teach Your Children Well

Context: The best classroom environments take into account student context. This context has a variety of factors, including grade level, maturity level, and the amount of information on the topic to which students have already been exposed. Teachers are trained to understand the context of students individually and as a group and expose them to information and experiences in units that can be processed and understood.

A world civilization teacher at the Freshman level will help students trace the cultural, religious, and historical factions that influenced the diversity of perspectives in the Muslim world.  
A teacher of a senior World Religions course will setup time to research the religious differences within sects of Islam and discuss the impact of specific religious texts within the context of extremism. Students in mass media or film production classes will dissect the editing of the YouTube video to maximize negative reactions.

Experience: One of the advantages of the modern age is the sheer amount of information that is available to our students. One of the disadvantages of the modern age is the sheer amount of information that is available to our students. Teachers have the two-fold task in situations like this to expose students to the relevant information (appropriate to maturity level, subject matter, etc.) while also beginning to help students form their own filtering processes to adapt to and account for all of that information.

Students in the Digital Citizenship analyze  the growth of viral Youtube videos compared with claims about causality. Use of #muslimrage as a pressure release and context shifting use of social media.
 Sophomore Speech and Debate students can break down the claims on the same event as covered by a variety of media types and sources.

Reflection: This information is processed (and the information filters are created) through processes of reflection: merging prior knowledge with new experiences through discussion, journaling, debates, and other thoughts.

Use concentric circle discussions (personal, partners, small groups, large feedback on butcher paper) to identify opinion/fact, overstated claims, insufficient research for conclusion, and fact checking. Compare papers as a class (gallery walk) and do the fact-checking on articles and op-ed broadcasts

Additionally, breaking the learning into cross-curricular units has the advantage of providing repetition in a variety of contexts (this strengthens the subject itself and weakens the intellectual silos that students tend to build in schools). Students also have more opportunity to share feelings, listen to multiple points of view, and confront passionate and, at times, contradictory material. Finally, in smaller settings with a teacher who is a subject-matter expert, they have the safety of the group and a guide as material become complicated or frustrating.

This is learning. Real learning.

There is an oft-used expression that is popular in science-fiction: "May you live in interesting times" 

We do...And they are. 

It is easy to long for a simpler time and easier solutions. 
One big event. 
One simple message. 
One cathartic moment. 

But life is messy. Politics and religion are...interesting. We do ourselves and our students a disservice to pretend that it is otherwise. Embrace the complexity and allow the students to do the same. In that struggle to comprehend and the structured experience and reflection provided by our classes, we can challenge our children to do more than passively absorb -- we can ask them to understand and, based on that understanding, to take action. 

Now that would be interesting. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Centennial Post - Deciphering The (Lexile ) Numbers - Education as Big Business

Preface: The Score Letter
I think every family with two working adults and multiple school-age children has that table that gathers piles of paper. You know the one that I mean. Our main one (because we have many) is the kitchen island. One stack is generally for comic books and various non-urgent papers, another stack is bills, and my wife has her own stack of "i will go through these as soon as I have a spare moment...say 2020?" papers. My children have followed the example of the parents with stacks of "you may want to look at these" papers (in which every permission slip, late homework notice, etc. invariably ends up). When I got home one night last week, I noticed an official letter on the top stack for my eldest, the ten-year-old Daughter Prime.

The letter described a formal exam taken by all students to determine her LEXILE score. The score, the letter went on to explain, was a measure of reading comprehension that had been validated seven ways from Sunday and had a great many uses for teachers and parents. I could find out more information by going to and reading about the score there.
End Preface

Thoughts on Milestones and Education Reform
As I write this post, my hundredth on the geekreflection site since @40ishoracle and I decided it would be a hoot to share our thoughts with the world, I have been thinking about the changes that have been happening in education in the short time since i set foot in the classroom 15 years ago. Back then, high-stakes testing was not a significant focus of classroom activity nor was it a significant piece of the educational dialogue. In most schools, students were told that it was a measure of what you had learned in class and was not something over which you should stress. Exit exams were in place at the high-school level and classes had been created to prepare or remediate the lowest potential scorers, but it had not affected the students who were likely to pass (note: i spent my first three years of teaching in low-track and test remediation courses -- the youngest teachers often did).

The tide had not yet turned against teachers in the political rhetoric. Our job was still considered professional and difficult and while there was a murmur of anti-union rhetoric starting, it did  not have the venom that is present in today's attacks on teachers. Movies that were made talked about difficult environments and socially ingrained issues (which could include clueless administrators and burned out teachers) but often focused on the need for committed and dedicated adults as a key factor in turning around a troubled school (note: this is still presumed to be true in the sound-bytes of most politicians, just not in any of the legislation that they produce).

Education as a business was beginning to gain some ground with charter schools being touted as the market-based solution to the woes of the most struggling schools. The focus on the profitability of the classroom was limited to textbook publishers and a few very specific educational technology providers, particularly in Math and Science. Today, my mailbox fills up with catalogs promising me improved test scores, pre-packaged curricula that strives to take the wild-card factor of the teacher out of the equation as much as possible, and every kind of metric-based, value-added software on the planet to pre-test, address, student-personalize, and teacher-assess my way to a bright future where we will be competitive with the overseas armies of better standardized testers.

Interlude: A Look into Lexile
My wife, having read the letter, asks me what a lexile of "1377" actually means. I had no idea. So we went to the website. On the website, we learned that:
  • The Lexile was not a grade-based equivalent score (you should not use this to see how your student is doing in class or how a school program is doing in preparing your child)
  • The Lexile is not a comparative - no data will be released or found on where your child is in comparision to other children of the same age or grade
  • The Lexile is an independent measure of comprehension, measured on its patented scale - don't try to use this score to draw any conclusions whatsoever about - well - anything.
In fact, the only thing that we were supposed to use the Lexile score to do was to type it into a database to find Lexile-scored books that would be appropriate for my 10 year old to read.

That's it. Plug the number and get the book list. So that is what we did...
End Interlude.

Choosing Between Two Masters
The disturbing part about the education-as-business model is not that there are people who want to make money off of education. We live in a capitalistic world. If there is a market, someone will make money. The disturbing part is that this system, devoid of any kind of common-sense oversight (dare I say it, "regulation") can easily twist itself into the worst the marketplace has to offer. Think of the millions (low estimate) of dollars being spent by school districts to measure teacher value-add. School districts that are cutting teachers and support staff, raising class sizes, and choosing refurbished netbooks for their students are investing in a resource that has dubious validity in improving actual learning and slightly less dubious validity in improving test scores. Maybe the money should be spend in actually validating a connection between test scores and learning...or test scores and teacher effectiveness...or test scores and -- any connection -- that would at least be some interesting research.

Interlude II: Plugging and Chugging
The Lexile choose-a-book system is relatively simple. Enter the score and press enter. There is even a place to enter some rudimentary information to try to get a book list without the Lexile score (grade level, reading easy/hard, etc.). Once the score is entered, you select categories. My daughter is into post-apocalyptic dystopias (Hunger Games; Among the Hidden), so I chose sci-fi/fantasy. and the results (drumroll please):

The recommendations for a Lexile of 1377. Witchcraft and Eroticism
Well, that was disturbing. After repeated attempts, I could pull nothing but literary criticism. I am not sure if there is age-appropriate lit.crit for a ten year old, but I prefer to think that if it exists, it does not articulate the correlation between sex and science-fiction.

Fotunately, there are some limiters by age as well as Lexile score, so i decided to play around with those as well. I chose to limit the age range between 10-12. As a proud parent, I had to give her a few more years of range.

The good news is that the limiters did erase some of the suggestions. The bad news is that a) my daughter was still stuck firmly in the world of literary criticism (does no one in the 1300 range read fiction?) and many of the titles that I thought a little mature for the pre-teen set were still suggested:

YES MEANS YES: Straight feminism fun with fetishes...
Clearly being a dad has turned me into a prude. I noted the book to download into my wife's Kindle and decided to start over from the beginning. Cleared my cache. Entered 6th Grade, reads above her grade level. The results: lots of lit.crit. I narrowed the categories to fiction only. Those results constituted the type of writing that would drive children of all ages far from reading.

Finally, despondent, I re-entered a lexile range, limited to age 11-12 (i was a little weary), and limited it to straight more choice reading for my daughter:
One Book Available
There you have it. One book available. The 208 pages MONSTER MEN by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Happy reading, dear.
End Interlude

A Twisted Business
This summer, I got to listen to Sal Khan describe the humble beginnings of the Khan Academy: a tutorial for a young, bright relative who was struggling with math. This was before his dream of providing "a world class education to any child, anywhere". This was before Microsoft founders and the Gates Foundation labeled this system a great boon to education.  As I listened to him, the image that I could not shake was that he was sincere and inspiring. That his simple idea and aspirations for a future where money and location did not preclude access to an education, had been perverted by politicians and businessmen who saw the potential to sell a system that could replace teachers.

He specifically responds to critics, saying that the videos make excellent supplements to the relationship between the teacher and student necessary in the best of educational environments. And yet, entire charter schools are set up with Khan-Cubicle formats for learning math. Teachers are threatened subtly and not-so-subtly with replacement by video or replacement by younger teachers -- well, both methods are at least cost effective.

Reflection: This Piper Must be Paid
When I asked librarians about the Lexile, they had all heard of it. All knew that it was a measure of reading comprehension, had some vague memories of it being used to mark books. None of the librarians I talked to recalled using it as an essential instrument in helping students choose books. These librarians had list-servs, colleagues, recommendations from other students, and their own training and experience. They did not need these scores. But that was then...

The same school district that provided this most-excellent diagnostic resource is clustering or eliminating librarian positions. In some cases, schools are fortunate to have a librarian assistant a few days a month. No time to create effective book clubs, setup programs for encouraging reading, or learn enough about a class's context, let alone an individual student's to recommend a good book. Now we use Lexiles.

(note: in direct violation of the spirit of the score, the Lexile is also used by the district as a contributing piece of data to determine who needs additional reading resources. Evidently someone is willing to match the number to a reading level).

  • The Lexile system is contracted out to standardized tests in order to provide scores to test-taking school districts - money.
  • Publishers work to have their catalogs scored and listed on the ever-important find-a-book list - more money.
  • School districts test students independently to give students a lexile score - even more money.

Money that could be spent on books
Money that could be spent on librarians
Money that could be spend on teachers

But politicians want numbers and companies want money.
Its just too bad that the students are the ones who end up paying.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

BYOT DayByDay: Wrap-up: Understanding Digital Natives and Making Inconvenient Choices

The BYOT Day by Day Series will capture the first few weeks of implementation of the full BYOT program at Brebeuf Jesuit. Brebeuf Jesuit is 1:1 BYOT w/ financial aid support for over 25% of its student population in the form of technology grants. It will try to capture some of the tips, tricks, and pitfalls. It will highlight the successes and a few of the frustrations.

[Continued from yesterday, so some of the intro is the same...the article was originally 2300 words. See, I do recognize when i go REALLY LONG]

This will probably be the last regular posting in the DaybyDay series. It has been a good day to end as I have heard from students and teachers about some wonderful things going on in the classroom. We also had a couple of the "bad decision maker" discussions that were referenced yesterday, but even those serve a purpose in the grand scheme of things.

I mentioned yesterday that @40ishoracle and I were reflecting on the reason behind BYOT. In the same way that a general Pro/Con article tends to give legitimacy to arguments by nature of the article's structure rather than its validity, I think it is difficult to measure the success of an endeavor without recalling why it was attempted in the first place.

  • BYOT implementation solves the major issues identified by teachers and students: more access, availability of the tools the student's want to use, faster and more stable connection, off campus access. Hard to believe after talking about this for so long, that it started 3 and a half years ago with teacher and student round-tables about what was working and what wasn't.
  • Preparation for the digital world: Technology has been consumerized. IT is no longer the sole decision of the techno-trolls in the caves (and we trolls actually kind of like it that way -- project!). Students have to be able to ASSESS their needs and EVALUATE the options they have in order to effectively USE them and solve the problem of the day.
  • As we entered our pilot year and began working with teachers and students in a live environment, we realized that the BYOT world allowed teachers to focus more on their areas of subject expertise while students were empowered, and in some cases challenged, to meet expectations with their own technology.
  • Through tech petting zoos, introductions at open houses, and lots and lots of conversations with students we identified a ton of issues to work on as we moved out of the pilot year, including re-writes to the Acceptable Use Policy, upgrades to the network, and new ways of thinking about education in general.
  • The Board of Trustees allowed us to shift our budget to provide significant financial aid in order to make sure that all students got the benefit of choice, not just those blessed with the means. Focusing resources where they are most needed to improve the environment for everyone became our watchwords in the budgeting process.

Changing the Culture, Changing the Classrooms

"It really depends on the class, but there are some classes where two or three students are helping another two or three students. And it grows. Then the entire classroom becomes a group effort. It's wonderful. How do we make this happen all the time?" - Science Teacher

In Social Studies students are using Google Maps to create a my places map of significant points in history. Each student uses each device to make the maps. Some of them love the touch screen. Others are using the mouse and keyboard. Great activity, but not necessarily one that would have warranted bringing out a cart or checking out a lab. But when the devices are at their fingertips...

"I have never allowed students to use computer, dictionaries, etc. I have always wanted them to know the vocabulary by heart. This time, I told them they could use all the sources they had (notes, online, translators). I am curious to see how well-written and thoughtful the responses are...They are still required to "use their own words' so no copying from articles. So far, those who haven't studies are spending more time looking up the words than writing. This should be interesting." - World Language Teacher

The assignment was to create visual representations of a historical concept. One of the students created an animation. It was perfect with stamps and taxes flying around and then a fist crushing out the machine. I have to rethink my frame-of-reference. I thought of visual as static, but with these tools and these students, that is no longer a limitation. So creative. - Social Studies Teacher

Students were working in groups while contributing to a class set of notes that was displayed on the board. Small groups were looking up definitions while in the middle of a discussion that was graded by the teacher walking around the room. One group of students was brainstorming the process of putting media from cameras into a report. -- Administrator Walkthrough

Reading check quizzes through the LMS; Vocabulary words identified in news papers and news casts from around the world, Teach and Learn sessions as students make sure each person in the group can effectively complete the task at hand.

"There is more active learning going on today than one year ago. I don't think it is all BYOT, but it is something. Less lecture, more activity." - Administrator (ok, fine, that was @40ishoracle)

Choosing Culture over Convenience

BYOT Brown Bag lunches have helped identify issues
and share successes. We have snacks!
"Kids have too many things to remember. They complain a lot."

"Can we just make every teacher use EdLine? There are too many options."

We have been talking about this one a lot! Students have a password for EdLine, a password for the wireless, a password for gDocs, Biology textbooks, the iPad app for Biology textbooks, the Naviance account for the college application...You get the picture. If a student's teacher uses Edmodo, or a club uses Skydrive or Dropbox, then there are more accounts and more username/password combinations.

Is this a problem? It certainly can be. But it is also a lot like life.

The digital age encourages us to have usernames and password in order to conveniently function. We have accounts for email (home and work), facebook, twitter, dropbox, our bank accounts, taxes, the DMV, our student's lunch account, etc. The digital world is about identity management and that includes password control.  After lots of thought and lots of discussion with students and teachers and administrators, we decided that the advantages of the tools outweighed the potential confusion, with these caveats: 
  • Teachers should post all external site links used to classroom EdLine (our primary LMS which includes parent accounts)
  • Teachers should have clear instructions on what types of systems will be used in the syllabus
  • Teachers should communicate with parents regularly, but especially if classroom assignments will use social media systems (and, in those cases, alternative assignments should be available).
This will be one of the specific questions we ask at the student round-tables (or at least create listen-fors that will capture it). Much like the technical issues discussed yesterday, we are trying to figure out if this is a widespread annoyance that should be addressed, even if it is talking through the expectation in #digcit, or if it is a problem only to a few students that we should work with on a case-by-case basis (or...possibly...if it is an excuse being used to derail some teachers -- oh teenagers. we were your age once).

Civilizing the Natives

What a Digital Native Looks Like
"I had the instructions clearly on the board: Login. Go to this website. Use this account information. Take notes in Google Docs. All of the kids were working, but one kid in the  back was clearly frustrated. I went to ask him if I could help. He had a blank screen. I asked him if his battery had died.
"No, I just don't understand your instructions. How do I log-in when the computer is turned off?" - Guidance Counselor

"Despite the hype that these students are supposed to be brilliant on technology, they really aren't." - Math Teacher

"Technology Generation? Not buying it." - Facebook Friend Teaching Computers to 5th Graders

"When will my student actually use the device? It has been two weeks." - Parent

That last one really stumped us. How could a student not have used his or her device two weeks into school? But, we realized, there is a difference between the command to "pull out your device and complete the following assignment" (which there is actually plenty of) and the opportunity to make it a part of your educational life by taking notes, completing writing prompts, communicating with teachers, or checking assignments -- none of these necessarily requires a computer but kids are using devices to do this every day in and out of classrooms.

The term "Digital Natives" is used to invoke images of toddlers at touchscreens wielding sorcerous-like powers. However, in our experience, it just means that students are not afraid to press buttons -- That's really about it. They will experiment if they have a motivation to do so and are given that freedom. Forming "Digital Citizens", people with knowledge and skills to use information effectively, responsible consumers of data with social media savvy, users of technology to solve problems beyond tilt-jump-slide gestures -- that takes more than a birthdate in the 20-aughts. It takes guides who understand the digital context of our students, exposure to new experiences that utilize information and tools in complex ways, and the time to reflect with others on those experiences.

The problem is two-fold. These experiences, normally problems to be solved or answers to be sought, must take place in real situations. There has to be some level of actual content -- Students can see through a faux assignment in a heartbeat. We used to teach "website analysis" by showing fake websites that had been constructed Onion-style. Too many years went by before we realized that the rolling eyes and disinterested doodling was a message, loud and clear. Additionally, consequences for not accomplishing the tasks have to have some reality as well. If a student does not get the scientific method or cannot control the supporting facts within a tightly structured informative paragraph, we grade accordingly. Students who refuse to make assignments legible i.e., in a readable file format, may have to suffer the bad grade or the call home to discuss with parents. 

Second, and much more a problem of our own making, we have to overcome years of training that has told kids there is only one right answer, one right way of doing a problem, and one right sequence of buttons to push to get the result. Some students have developed a strong aversion to thinking or innovating. "Flowers are red. Green leaves are green." And there is no need to make a PowerPoint any other way than the way they always have been seen (Thanks, Chapin. We miss you).

We have many recent anecdotes of teachers telling kids to put media into a presentation or lab report where the reaction is a blank stare of "How?" We have to train them out of being automatons and into critical consumers and even creators. It is possible, but it takes time, patience, and a little tough love.

But its worth it:

Students, Teachers, Devices, and Education. Oh my, indeed
"They reached into their bags and pulled out all kinds of devices and just started using them. Like they had been doing this for years." - Administrator during Teacher Walk-Through

"I love that they get to do this. This is what the world is like." - Parent

"I love that they can get their books onine when they forget them. I love that they can write papers together. I love that the class is not delayed by 'Oh, I wish I had the lab, today." - World Language teacher

"It's going good. It's just normal now." - Student

{for more start of the year review: We have more or less covered the opening chronologically over the last three weeks (starting way back with "Before the Storm", then continuing in Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4&5); we put the blog in the hands of one of our math teacher for the ironically named "nouns and verbs" post and last week's space was devoted to the largest problem of implementation thus far (the eText Conundrum part I and II).}

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

BYOT DayByDay 15: Anecdotes & an Analysis of Tech Issues

The BYOT Day by Day Series will capture the first few weeks of implementation of the full BYOT program at Brebeuf Jesuit. Brebeuf Jesuit is 1:1 BYOT w/ financial aid support for over 25% of its student population in the form of technology grants. It will try to capture some of the tips, tricks, and pitfalls. It will highlight the successes and a few of the frustrations.

This is the penultimate post in the DaybyDay series. We will of course keep talking about BYOT, but this seems like a good place to close a "start of the year" series as we end the month of August. Also, I am really kind of excited to share some of the things going on in the Digital Citizenship class as well as some cool #flipclass examples going on throughout the school. Finally, with the election heating up, I am sure that some politician will do something that gets me a-ranting, so i need a clean plate.

I thought about doing a Pro-Con article this time, outlining the good and bad of the BYOT experience after three full weeks. But the problem with a pro-con is that it has a strange distortion effect. Each point appears to have equal weight on either side of the ledger -- a minor implementation detail has the same visual impact as a huge philosophical benefit. Thus, the attempt at balance ends up skewing the perception of the reader (I feel like I blogged about this before, but maybe i was just dreamtweeting. The NEA has a good example of what I mean -- Pro = real life examples; Con = hypotheticals that stir up the fear of the masses).

We have more or less covered chronology over the last three weeks (starting way back with "Before the Storm", then continuing in Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4&5); we put the blog in the hands of one of our math teachers for the ironically named "nouns and verbs" post; and last week's space was devoted to the largest problem of implementation thus far (the eText Conundrum part I and II).


I started a list of things that I was pretty sure I had not mentioned in other places or that had been reinforced in the last few days. As the ever-amazing @40ishoracle and I began discussing it, we reflected back to our original goals and the origins of the program. We'll recap that tomorrow in our last post.

Changing Culture, Changing Classrooms

"Our students will be so much better prepared when they go to college. They see on a daily basis that problem solving is not the same thing as button pushing." - English Teacher

"I used to give a sample interest problem. Then we would solve it together. Then I would put another one on the board. Now we still solve one in class. Then I send them out to find a car website...And a bank site's interest calculator. They get to find the car of their dreams and figure out why mom and dad don't buy it for them." - Math Teacher

My Kingdom for a Printer

The dean of students came to the Teacher Resource Room for a visit. "I had an English teacher ask me if we could set up the printer in our office to be a printing station for students." This has been a growing concern, particularly upstairs. The labs upstairs are generally locked when not in use by teachers. Students who used to do work on paper, now have it digitally, so if a teacher wants to collect it the old-fashioned way, it must be printed. All student printers are centralized in the library and connected "Class Lab".

If we find a space (limited) where we could put a printer, then we open up a different set of issues. Technology that is not "owned" by someone quickly deteriorates. When a department is responsible for a lab, it is usually in pretty good condition. When copiers are put in "general use" areas (even for teachers only), they tend to have higher breakdown rates, run out of supplies more often, and need to be replaced more quickly. Haven't got the solution to this one yet, but it is going to have to be discussed.

Personalizing Education and Technical Issues

"Next year can we just require them to have Microsoft Word?"
"That would mean no tablets, no iPads. It's really restrictive"
"I am ok with that."

Macs have trouble with equation editor.
Macs have trouble with PowerPoint.
Macs have trouble with documents

"My son says he is getting a C in his class because he has an iPad"

Network admin is working on three problems at once (we counted)
While on the phone with his might-be-in-labor wife
In a large homogenous system, when something breaks, it tends to break across the board. I still cringe over days when the entire internet is inaccessible or all phones go down. In the 1:1 BYOT world, problems are more often individual ones. True, some of the individual problems repeat a lot: resetting passwords, typing in the right address to get to wireless authentication, saving a Keynote document as a PPT so that it can be opened and graded by the teacher. Occasionally the problem is unique: a bad model of wireless card that has to be replaced or a specialized program file that cannot be uploaded to a homework hand-in.

Our systems and guidelines work 95% of the time and most problems are single-fix and satisfied customers walking out the door. Occasionally, we have students who become "frequent flyers". These students have the same problems again and again (our record is a single student who created 4 accounts to access his biology textbook, had 2 different Turn-it-In accounts, and needed his gDocs account reset 4 times and counting) or find a problem with each new thing they try (these are the ones who walk in either apologetically sorry-to-bother-you-again or arrogantly your-network-is-responsible-for-my-forgotten-password-and-the-national-debt).

Teachers become frustrated when these issues interrupt their classes or derail their plans but have learned to adapt for the most part (it helps that we have chromebooks ready for grab-and-go productivity). Parents have been listening to us and are very responsive to the school's efforts to make students responsible. Most students are also very good at working around issues. Frequent flyers are rare, but in some ways, they are what we have left.

Interlude: Resetting Perspective
I was helping a student with a document upload issue (outdated java controller). When she authenticated to the server, I commented, "I am so happy when it says 'Authentication Succeeded'". She looked at me and said "hundreds of students do that every period. You only hear about the few who have issues." -- Good point. love insightful students.
End Interlude

Thus, three weeks in, we have entered an interesting phase. Most students have made accommodations necessary for their devices (I use an iPad, therefore there are extra steps when uploading documents to webpages; I use a PC, so I need to borrow or bring a different device to take decent photos; etc.). Then there are a few students:
  • The student who leaves the same class four times in a week to "get computer help" but never shows up in the IT department
  • The student who doesn't turn in four assignments because he has an iPad and feels it is mean of the teacher to not allow him to just email the document to her
  • The student who receives a low B on his first exam after being observed gaming in class, during study periods, in the lunchroom, etc.
Each of these issues could easily be mislabeled as "tech" issues but they are actually behavioral issues. Examples of students making less-than-optimal choices. In a traditional school with a traditional technology program, many of these students would be able to slide by finding teachers willing to give them a break because computers are scary...or hard...or unreliable. Some of these students would have bad habits that would manifest in other ways (obsessive doodling/daydreaming) or not manifest at all until they get to college (insert anecdote about tweeting with students for an hour during their econ lectures).

Students, Teachers, Devices, and Education. Oh my, indeed
Because we operate in an environment where technology is not allowed to be the default bad guy, we are able to make these incidents opportunities for discussion: making better classroom choices, accepting the consequences for decisions (including the choice of tool), working with parents to find ways to encourage responsible time-use behaviors. Teachers feel supported by tech, by administration, and by parents to take a "you are responsible for getting the file to me...on a readable format" stance. Parents take comfort in knowing that others are willing to fight the big scary tech battle along side them and that we are individualized enough that truly extreme circumstances can be accommodated. Tech has the trust and support of faculty and students as we make things work. Next week, we add more layers to this communication process as we begin to schedule BYOT Round Tables with students to find out what they need and how we can continue to provide it.

Thus, education is becoming more personalized and the technical problems are beginning to match. But with each problem we face, we are able to identify it as behavioral or technical or (as is often the case) messy. We work with teachers and students to take responsibility where necessary, be flexible when it promotes a greater good, and occasionally hold someone accountable for a bad decision.

Responsibility, Flexibility, Accountability -- Good for Tech and Great for College Prep.