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Home | Tag Archives: tim holt

Tag Archives: tim holt

Op-Ed: On Television, Reality Isn’t So

I am beginning to see a pattern develop that perhaps we can share with our students.

Maybe, just maybe, these shows are fake.

Reality may not be reality, at least on television.

On television:

  • Ghost hunters never find ghosts.
  • Treasure hunters never find the treasure.
  • Bigfoot hunters never find Bigfoot.
  • UFO hunters never find UFOs.
  • Ancient alien hunters never find ancient aliens.
  • Knights Templar hunters never find Knights templar.
  • Nazi gold hunters never find Nazi gold.
  • Lost Dutchman Mine hunters never find the Lost Dutchman’s mine.
  • Love hunters never find love.
  • Gold miners never find gold.
  • Expeditions to the unknown never find something that was unknown
  • Psychics never find what they are looking for.
  • Yeti Hunters never find the Yeti.
  • Loch Ness monster hunters never find Nessie.
  • Atlantis hunters never find Atlantis.
  • Bachelors never find a wife.
  • Bachelorettes never find a husband.
  • The hunt for King Arthur never finds King Arthur.
  • The fake moon landings never found a studio.
  • Zombie hunters never find zombies.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: The Catch 22 of the International Children’s Digital Library

Chances are, you have never heard of the International Children’s Digital Library.

The ICDL is an online repository of books for children ages 3-13, written in over 50 languages. The library has over 4000 books.

Books are digitized in multiple languages from all over the world. Some are old and out of copyright, but many are brand new, award winners, still under copyright.

A child can click on a title and the book will appear online ready to be read. No trip to the store, no trip to the library, no need to order from Amazon.

The unique online library, free to anyone, is a project of the University of Maryland and the Internet Archive. The mission of the library is to provide children, especially those that migrate to new lands no matter the reason, access to their cultures that they might have left behind.

“As families move from Kenya to Finland or Brazil to Mexico or Viet Nam to California, books published in their native country or in their first language often must be left behind.  In their new homelands, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to find children’s books from their cultures and in their mother tongue.  Parents have little access to the books and stories from their youth to pass on to the next generation. Many children must grow up without knowledge of their family’s heritage and first language.  A fundamental principle of the Foundation is that children and their families deserve to have access to the books of their culture, as well as the majority culture, regardless of where they live. According to a paper published in 2005 by the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in preparation for the second meeting on the World Summit on the Information Society, “Denial to access to information in one’s mother tongue is equivalent to a denial of a human right.” The report also concludes, “In terms of pedagogy, how do children learn best?  In their mother tongue.” 

Teachers of course, can access the site and assign specific books for children to read, or kids and parents can explore on their own. (One of the neatest lessons that teachers can do, and I suppose parents as well, is to find a picture book in a language that no one knows, and have kids either explain what is going on, or write their own stories to match the pictures.)

Parents can pick a book to read to their children, or have their children read to them. It is a win-win.

Great resource for anyone, in multiple languages. Anyone with an internet connection that is. While the ICDL has a smartphone app () users still have to have internet access. And that is the Catch-22 of ICDL and any other service like it: Great idea, but if you do not have internet access, then you are dead in the water.

Many families, especially in cities like El Paso, do not have ready access to the internet. A trip to the local library, or some select fast food places is required to get online. And while they COULD be reading titles like the award winning book “The Boy without a Name” in both English or Spanish or both, they can’t because they don’t have access to the internet.

Parents are constantly told to read to their kids. So, people without means can get free books at places like ICDL and IF they had access they could, they would. But until they get access, they can’t get the free stuff to share with their kids that you can get right this second.

I postulated long ago that access to the Internet would become a civil rights issue in the 21st century. Those without access are at a distinct disadvantage, both culturally and economically.

There are programs out there that try to level the playing field. Like the 1 Million Project (1MP), designed to put 1 million wifi hotspots in qualifying high school students hands. Those devices can be used by entire families to get access. And while the 1MP is certainly a worthy effort, and one deserving of emulation by all telecom providers, the long term issue of economically disadvantaged students and families not being able to access the internet for even the most basic of services remains.

The ICDL is just one example of the hidden treasures that exist on the internet that are waiting to be discovered by those with access. If you are reading this, you have access. Certainly something to be thankful for in this holiday season. Maybe you could throw some change in the direction of the ICDL this holiday season.

What are you doing to help those without access the same the same access you have?

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: What’s Your Mindset?

In 1998, a group of professors at Beloit College in Wisconsin created a list of experiences that the incoming freshmen class had always had in their lives that their professors may or may not have known about.

The idea, first thought up by Dr. Ron Nief, was to provide a way for professors to understand the “mindset” of their students. Thus, the first Beloit College Mindset List for incoming freshmen was created.

Since that time, the Beloit Mindset list has been used across the country and world to foster discussions in education about where our students are “at” mentally, and to remind teachers that their experiences are not necessarily those of their students.

The list usually has between 50 and 100 items that are used to give the insights as to where the freshmen are and to remind the older teachers that their life experiences are not the same as the ones they teach.

A teacher making a cultural reference to “Smokey and the Bandit” or how to dial a phone would get blank stares from this incoming class.

The Beloit Mindset List is for students, born in the year 2000, entering this year in college as freshmen, to graduate in 2022 highlights:

  • Iconic figures never alive in their lifetime include Victor Borge, Charles Schulz, and the original Obi-Wan Kenobi Alec Guinness.
  • Outer space has never been without human habitation.
  • They have always been able to refer to Wikipedia.
  • They have grown up afraid that a shooting could happen at their school, too.
  • People loudly conversing with themselves in public are no longer thought to be talking to imaginary friends.
  • Afghanistan has always been the frustrating quagmire that keeps on giving.
  • Investigative specials examining the O.J. Simpson case have been on TV annually since their birth.
  • They’ve grown up with stories about where their grandparents were on 11/22/63 and where their parents were on 9/11.
  • They never used a spit bowl in a dentist’s office.
  • They have never seen a cross-town World Series.
  • “You’ve got mail” would sound as ancient to them as “number, please” would have sounded to their parents.
  • Mifepristone or RU-486, commonly called the “abortion pill,” has always been available in the U.S.
  • A visit to a bank has been a rare event.
  • The words veritas and horizon have always been joined together to form Verizon.
  • Robert Downey Jr. has always been the sober Iron Man.
  • Mass market books have always been available exclusively as Ebooks.
  • There have always been more than a billion people in India.
  • Donny and Marie who?
  • They never tasted Pepsi Twist in the U.S.
  • Films have always been distributed on the Internet.
  • King Friday the 13th and Lady Elaine Fairchild have always dwelled in the Neighborhood, but only in re-runs.

Feeling old yet? Check out the entire Class of 2022 list online.

This year’s Mindset list will be the last one produced by Beloit College, but you can probably find it next year at themindsetlist.com.

This list is great for grandparents talking to grandkids, teachers talking to students, employers talking to employees.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: You Can Do This With Technology

Whenever you hear someone say that laptops or tablets in education are just “gizmos” just give them this list and ask: How many of these things can students do without tech?

  • See a van Gogh so close up you can see the individual brushstrokes.
  • Dissect a frog without hurting any frogs.
  • Talk to an astronaut on the International Space Station.
  • Start a movement.
  • Right a wrong.
  • Write a senator.
  • Explore a hidden rainforest.
  • Collaborate on a project with someone in another country.
  • Translate a text from a language you never heard of.
  • Write a play.
  • Construct a 3D diorama.
  • Tour the US Capitol.
  • Check a book out from the Library of Congress.
  • Learn the Constitution.
  • Send a picture to the mayor of something that needs fixing in your town.
  • Learn to speak a new language.
  • Make a commercial for a product that only exists in your mind.
  • Create a podcast.
  • Design a poster for a political candidate.
  • Add a backbeat to Beethoven.
  • Check the weather in China.
  • Explore the moons of Jupiter.
  • Write an email to your future self.
  • Read a newspaper with no paper.
  • Learn to use watercolors without using water.
  • Write the biography of your pet goldfish.
  • Illustrate the biography of your pet goldfish.
  • Check the value of the Yen today.
  • Apply for your dream job.
  • Read a book.
  • Calculate the distance from your house to the Grand Canyon.
  • Take a 3D trip through the Grand Canyon.
  • Build a robot.
  • Program a robot.
  • Make a robot dance to a song you wrote.
  • Look through an electron microscope.
  • Create an awesome birthday card for a friend.
  • Check your grammar.
  • Translate your wedding vows into Klingon.
  • Create a new comic hero.
  • Publish a comic book about your comic hero.
  • Explore the human body.
  • Explore Saturn’s rings.
  • Find out what your IQ is.
  • Add dramatic music to famous speech.
  • Save the world from alien invaders.
  • Compose a song.
  • Use video to improve your free throws.
  • Learn a new word everyday.
  • Find a recipe for the best spaghetti in the world.
  • Take a trip up the Nile.
  • Climb to the top of Mt. Everest.
  • Look inside a volcano.
  • Make a family photo album.
  • Send a tweet to your hero.
  • Compare Picasso to Matisse.
  • Design a sculpture.
  • Print out a sculpture.
  • Help a little kid with their homework.
  • Help a little kid on an Indian reservation with their homework.
  • Paint your room without any paint.
  • Share a video of something awesome.
  • Do something remarkable.
  • Use a green screen to do a weather forecast.
  • Learn to play guitar.
  • Start a band with only one member.
  • Journey to Africa.
  • Learn to make ravioli from scratch.
  • Write a blog about the restaurants in your city.
  • Find an old high school friend.
  • Turn your voice into text.
  • Turn text into a voice.
  • Explore the pyramids in Egypt.
  • Explore the pyramids in Latin America.
  • Visit Stonehenge.
  • Learn the names of the Supreme Court justices.
  • Trace your genealogy.
  • Add a new ending to your favorite book.
  • Say only positive things online.
  • Teach a senior citizen how to use their cell phone.
  • Take a course on a topic you never thought you would take.
  • Learn to program.
  • Listen to a song that you loved a decade ago and had forgotten about.
  • Have a conversation with Einstein.
  • Get a pen pal and meet them online.
  • Write an app.
  • Change the world.

Whenever you hear someone say that laptops or tablets in education are just “gizmos” just give them this list and ask: How many of these things can students do without tech?

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Who Do You Want To Work For?

My wife recently completed her certification work to become a campus administrator in Texas. That got me thinking about how jobs are advertised in school districts.

Most of it is pretty bland, non-inspiring and well, not actually sure designed to inspire the potential candidates.

Imagine you are looking for a job as an elementary principal or assistant principal and you see this as the job description:

The position of Elementary School Principal requires a Master’s Degree; valid Administrative, or Principal’s Certificate; leadership ability in working with teachers and students in instructional and managerial administration; working knowledge of curriculum and instruction; the ability to evaluate instructional program and teaching effectiveness; the ability to manage budget and personnel and coordinate campus functions; the ability to explain policy, procedures and data; strong communications, public relations, and interpersonal skills; three years of related administrative experience in education to include at least two years assistant principal experience (for a person who has not previously served as a principal); three years experience as a classroom teacher.

Pretty standard huh? A list of what you are expected to do as an elementary school principal. Nothing in that description MAKES me want to apply for that job. Pretty standard. Pretty boring.

Now, imagine of you came across this job description for an elementary school principal or Assistant Principal in another school district that read like this:

Our district is doing some really exciting things and we want you to be part of it. This position is for an elementary school that is in a well established neighborhood with about 800 kids. (Hey, want to know the demographics of the school? Click here. Check out the campus test data here.) We think that a good leader can make this campus go from good to great and beyond. Are you that person?

As you can tell from the demographics and scores, there are some challenges to be met, but this school, with these teachers and these kids, deserve a great leader. Maybe you are that person. We are looking for someone that has the following qualifications: The usual stuff like an administrator’s or management certification and experience as a teacher and maybe as a campus administrator. But we want more than that.

Of course anyone can get a certification. What we really are looking for this: Someone that has the ability to lead teachers and students and be a real instructional leader, not someone that just says they are a leader. Someone that knows what kids need to learn and what teachers need to teach and how best to match the two.

Someone who also loves learning and can share that love of learning with their staff. Of course, you will have some money, so you will have to know how to wisely spend it. What will be your budget priorities? We want to know before we hire you. Can you communicate well? Great! Because you are going to have to explain what you are doing not only to your staff, but to parents and the community. We also like to hire people that can get along with others, because hey, our district is a big family, and we need to all keep in touch.

Tell us that you have some innovative ideas, because if you don’t we really don’t need to talk. We like people that will take chances (to a point of course) and will back you up with professional development opportunities for you and your staff.

Like we said, we are doing some awesome things in our district, and want to surround ourselves with the most awesome educators we can.

Are you awesome? Then you need to apply.

I wonder if a school district put out an ad for that, what kind of response they would get? Imagine of every singe job posting that district posted exclaimed how exciting it would be to work in that district? Which district would get the brightest, innovative minds?

Which place would you want to work for?

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Tim Holt’s 10 Questions: Erik Wahl, Author of “UNthink” & “The Spark and the Grind

Faithful readers of this column know that I occasionally will ask authors of books I find interesting to answer a few questions. I am always grateful for these very busy people that take the time to respond.

The following interview is with Erik Wahl, author of “UNthink” and the forthcoming “The Spark and the Grind.”

I am sure that many of you have seen Erik but for those of you not familiar with Erik and his work, here is a brief introduction:

Can you give us a 5,000 foot view of your book UnThink. What inspired you to write it?

Once I distilled and understood the creative process for myself as an artist and entrepreneur, I realized that the power of creativity is within everyone. When we tap it for businesses, education, nonprofits and even relationships, we only improve our efficiency and output. We see tangible results.

The subtitle of your book is “Rediscover your creative genius.” That, of course, implies that we lose our creative genius. Why do you think people lose that creative spark as they get older? 

Everyone is born creative. But it takes a tremendous about of discipline to activate it as we move through life. And much of that discipline is letting go of cognitive biases that build up through school, at work, and through our own self-doubt. We create false narratives about how creative we really are. The good news is that there are ways to get it back and incorporate it into our daily lives.

Ken Robinson, another expert in creativity, says that schools teach the creativity out of children Do you agree with that sentiment?  What can schools do to not be the killers of childhood creativity?

Absolutely. There are so many schools that extinguish creativity, and precious few with teachers and staff who truly get it, nurture it, and celebrate it. Robinson accurately points out that we’re losing some of our most talented creative kids because they don’t fit into the model of standardized “one size fits none” academics.

It’s not the fault of the teachers – most of them just want to reach their students. But the system is too deeply ingrained in logical pragmatic curriculum, which is very difficult to change. The onus will fall on parents to ignite curiosity, passion and creativity in our kids. It will be a balance of both public schooling for the reading, writing, arithmetic and social diversity, and the importance that parents place on values, integrity, empathy and creativity.

What do you mean when you say we must learn how to unThink our way through challenges? Some of us can’t even THINK our way through challenges. 

Art is not about producing a product. Art is about thinking and making. Sadly, the public education system is teaching our kids to be drone thinkers in the name of streamlining academic and operational efficiencies. This means we’re sacrificing fascination, curiosity and self-driven exploration—and that’s how kids truly learn. As we expand our consciousness through art and experiential learning we disrupt linear, predictable, logical thinking and ignite curiosity beyond the four walls of the classroom. It helps our children navigate ambiguity and master complexity in an increasingly disruptive and rapidly changing economy.

You are someone that obviously has been able to balance the adult way of thinking with the childlike way of creating. Do you think anyone can achieve that balance, or can only certain people? I have known many educators that feel creativity cannot be taught, that either you “have it” or your don’t. Some would look at you at say “Yeah, but he has an innate artistic ability to begin with, so he can do that artwork.” What would you say to them?

Some have a more natural explorative nature. They embrace risk and have greater tolerance for failure and unmet expectations. 0ur educational system stigmatizes mistakes—and for some kids, their entire school experience is about trying to be perfect. When our kids are afraid to be wrong (which happens at a very early age) they will never come up with anything new.

Do you think society places a higher value on those people that just “go with the flow” over those that don’t? I am thinking of how many starving artists there are that almost have to give away their work, as opposed to jobs like managers that require little creativity that pay quite well.

Structure creates freedom. This is the paradox of creativity. It takes great discipline to activate ideas into execution. We must build up a tolerance for risk, and even perceived setbacks. But failures are not the opposite of success. They are part of success. If we are not failing, we are not trying hard enough and we’re not pushing ourselves outside of our comfort zone. Growth and comfort cannot co-exist.

We need to re-think/unthink how we educate our kids. Our kids are fascinated with social media and mobile gamification—how can we better unleash and unlock our education system by using those vehicles to engage them? The old-school dinosaur days in the industrial Victorian-factory models for imposing education and memorization on our kids are over.

Why do you suggest that people accelerate their creativity output, as you do with your art work? 

Focus on excellence and ignore success. Focus on what you passionately love and then surrender to the outcome. You cannot control how pop culture or an audience is going to respond. We cannot control what makes a video or idea go viral. But if we create enough content from that sublime combination of passion and talent, we feel internally fulfilled—and we increase our chances of having our work seen. It doesn’t ever have to be perfect, and if we spend all our time waiting to create until the conditions are absolutely correct, we will never move on our work. Just start making something. That’s the best advice I can give.

I always end with this question: Who is listening to your message? How do you know they are hearing what you are saying?

I am booked full time on the corporate lecture circuit. It is a niche market of high-level professionals in leadership roles in fortune 500 companies around the world. But just in the last year, as I am further exploring the changes in consumer behavior, I’m noticing that more of books, my videos and my blogs are being consumed by the general public. I am excited and encouraged about the opportunity for new growth in education and among Millennials.

What will be your next challenge?

Right now I’m fully immersed in the launch of my new book, THE SPARK AND THE GRIND: IGNITE THE POWER OF DISCIPLINED CREATIVITY. This one goes deeper into the science of creativity and makes an even stronger case for creativity throughout every aspect of our lives.

Information about Erik Wahl:

UNThink is available in the iTunes Bookstore | onAmazon

Please check out his new book The Spark and The Grind

Erik’s website is: http://www.theartofvision.com

Since you made it all the way to the end of the article, here is a coupon for 40% off the hardcover version of Erik’s new book “The Spark and the Grind.”

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: What if We had Listened to the Gizmo Haters?

A common practice of those that enjoy criticizing school districts, superintendents, school boards and educational practices in general is to take on topics that they know little or nothing about.

Instructional technology makes a great target of the malinformed because it is a) something that they can kind of relate to because they know how to complain on social media using technology, b) when bought in bulk always seems expensive and c) is an easy target because you can sound informed when you actually are not because not a lot of people are “tech savvy.”

Indeed, it is not uncommon to even hear people bleat out to school boards in our area complaining about the purchase of “gizmos” without any idea what the “gizmos” do or what they are going to be used for.

With that in mind, I thought I would share what others might have said across the decades about the changes in educational technology.Enjoy this collection of probable and actual quotes about changes in all kinds of “gizmos” across the years:

“Students can’t seem to properly prepare bark to calculate their problems. They depend on their slates, which are more expensive. What will they do when the slate is dropped and it breaks? They will be unable to write.“

– Probable Discourse at Teacher’s Conference 1703

“Our students depend too much paper. They don’t know how to write on a slate without getting chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t even clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?”

-Probable Discussion at Principal’s Association 1815

“Students today depend too much upon ink that they make. They don’t know how to use a pen knife to sharpen a pencil. Pen and ink will never replace the pencil.”

-National Association of Teachers 1907

Students depend upon store bought ink. They don’t know how to make their own. When they run out of ink, they will be unable to write words or ciphers until their next trip to the settlement. This is a sad commentary on modern education.”

-The Rural American Teacher 1928

“Students depend on these expensive fountain pens. They can no longer write with a straight pen and nib. We parents must not allow them to wallow in such luxury to the detriment of learning how to cope in the real business world, which is not so extravagant.”

-PTA Gazette 1941

“Ballpoint pens will surely be the ruin of education in our country. Students use these devices and then throw them away. American values of thrift and frugality are being discarded. Business and banks will never allow such expensive luxuries.”

-Federal Teachers Meeting 1950

“I don’t see anytime in the future where expensive digital electronic calculators will replace the tried and true, inexpensive slide rulers.”

– High School Trigonometry Teacher 1973

 

“Calculators on a test? If I let you do that, you wouldn’t ever learn how to use the tables in the back of the book and use interpolation to figure out your trig ratios.”

-Actual High School Math Teacher 1980

“We can’t let them use calculators in middle school. If we do, they’ll forget how to do long division or how to multiply three digit numbers by three digit numbers. What will they do when they don’t have access to a calculator?”

-Actual Middle School Math Teacher 1989

Why are you writing a grant for a classroom set of graphing calculators? We’ll never be allowed to use them and – even if we can – that’s only for one class, and parents in other classes will never buy them for their students.”

-High School Math Teacher 1993

“I quit. All my lessons were written for Apple II computers and they switched my room to Macs over the summer. No one uses Macs. ”

-Actual El Paso Area Computer Science Teacher 1991

“Why does anyone in education need a color monitor? Green screens are fine for the vast majority of work that is being done.”

– Actual El Paso District School Board member – 1993

“All this emphasis on Internet in the classroom is a bunch of bunk. Why would you ever want the Internet for student use? It’s just the latest fad – Let them use the library.”

– Actual District Leader 1995

“We don’t need a school web page. Who is ever going to look at it? Our families in this district can’t afford computers and the Internet. This is a complete waste of time and effort.”

-Many, Many Educators 1999

“Teachers will never use email. Why would they? ”

-Actual District Technology Committee Member 1999

“Why do you want network drops at every teacher’s desk? You’re not thinking about getting a computer for ALL of them, are you?”

-Building Administrator 2000

“If students want computers, they can buy the parts off eBay and make one themselves if they want.” 

Actual El Paso School board member, 2001

“Electronic grade books are a fad. I don’t have to learn how to use them.They will go away.”

– Actual El Paso Area High School Football coach, 2002

“What can you do with an LCD Projector that you can’t do with an overhead projector?”

-Actual Social Studies Teacher 2003

“Why are we talking about students having laptops in high school? Most parents won’t even give their kids their old computer, much less buy them a new one.”

Member of District Technology Committee 2004

“I don’t think we need to have a wireless network in our schools anytime soon.”

-Actual District Technology Director 2004

“No, we will not allow high school students to earn credits with online classes. I don’t care what other systems are doing. We will never allow that here.”

-Associate Superintendent of a N.C. School System 2007

“Why do we continue to purchase all these gizmos? Why can’t we just teach?”

-Actual Teacher Association Representative 2018

I wonder what what would have happened if we had listened to the “gizmo haters?” Would we still be showing our kids how to peel birchbark to hand in classwork on? Have you heard a similar quote? Leave it here and share!

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Tim Holt’s 10 Questions: ‘Future Wise’ Author Dr. David Perkins

Everyone that reads this column knows that – on occasion – I like to interview authors of books that I think my readers should give consideration to. One such book is Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World by Dr. David Perkins

From the publisher:

How to teach big understandings and the ideas that matter most. Everyone has an opinion about education, and teachers face pressures from Common Core content standards, high-stakes testing, and countless other directions. But how do we know what today’s learners will really need to know in the future? Future Wise: Educating Our Children for a Changing World is a toolkit for approaching that question with new insight. There is no one answer to the question of what’s worth teaching, but with the tools in this book, you’ll be one step closer to constructing a curriculum that prepares students for whatever situations they might face in the future.

The idea of what we should teach vs. what we do teach really intrigues me, and I appreciate Dr. Perkins for giving up some of his valuable time to answer a few questions. Please enjoy the conversation below.

Give us the 5000 foot view of Future Wise. What was your inspiration to write it?

For decades, I’ve worried that much of what we teach K-12 contributes little to the lives of learners. I remember publishing a short article many years ago on the theme “Quadratic Education” with the general theme that the typical curriculum is overstuffed with canonical elements like the quadratic equation that most students never use for anything.

When talking to groups, I have a favorite activity: I ask people how many studied quadratic equations, and almost all hands go up. Then I ask how many have used quadratic equations in the last 10 years, and most of the hands go down. Then I ask how many have used quadratic equations in the last 10 years outside of an educational context, and maybe there’s one hand left.

Then I ask the same questions about basic statistics and probability. Far fewer people indicate studying basic statistics and probability during K-12, but almost everyone signals they have needed to make use of such knowledge in the last 10 years, knowledge which they acquired later.

So why do we teach quadratic equations much more than basic statistics and probability? Sometimes a math teacher gets mad at me about this, thinking I’m against math. Actually, my degrees are in mathematics and artificial intelligence from MIT. I believe that some areas of mathematics are tremendously important for most learners – like basic statistics and probability.

Personally, I greatly enjoyed quadratic equations, and I feel that schools should always feed students’ passions. However, Future Wise isn’t about individual talents and enthusiasms…it’s about what’s going to contribute to the lives of most learners.

Early on in the book, you make the connection between the famous “Why do we need to know this?” question to the much deeper “What is worth learning?” (I think you call it “Lifeworthy.”) Hasn’t education been asking that question, “What is worth learning” for a long time? We don’t seem to come up with a standard answer. Lifeworthy in Texas seems to be different than in Massachusetts. Should we even be trying to answer that?

Yes indeed, education has been asking the “What is worth learning” question for a long time…but not answering it very well! If you look at typical K-12 curricula, the “quadratic equation” problem shows up in any discipline.

A great deal of what’s usually taught doesn’t have anywhere to go in the lives of most learners. It’s just “there because it is there,” part of the traditional canon of learning and conventional expectations. So is there a single answer for what’s lifeworthy? No! Future Wise argues emphatically that curricula should differ somewhat according to context.

However, this can’t be a free-for-all, everything different everywhere! Strong literacy and numeracy skills are going to be significant for almost everyone in the contemporary world. Topics like elementary statistics and probability, aspects of biology and health science, features of basic economics, understandings of human nature from psychology and literature and art, and much more, are going to be important for almost everyone. Beyond such matters, there will be regional differences.

Choices about what’s taught need to be sensitive both to what has a general role in the lives most learners will live and what has regional significance reflecting local histories, cultures, economies, and so on. Choices also can reflect schools with special commitments. For instance, it makes much more sense for students in a science-oriented magnet school to study quadratic equations deeply than students in a general purpose secondary school.

You have an interesting quote in the Chapter “Learning Agendas” which states “Basic education should build expert amateurism more than expertise.”  What do you mean by that?

Secondary school curricula in particular, especially in elite schools, lead the more able students toward “junior expertise.” AP courses are one way of reaching for this – AP calculus, biology, history, and so on.

Future Wise argues that for many students this is a misplaced priority. For instance, a robust flexible applicable understanding of basic probability and statistics is much more important for the lives most people will lead than a “junior expert” understanding of more advanced aspects of probability and statistics. Someone might object, “Well, those who advance to junior expertise already have that robust flexible understanding of the basics.”

Research from the learning sciences says otherwise. Understanding of the basics as typically taught generally proves to be rather brittle, subject to misconceptions and not transferring very well to contexts of application beyond the problems at the end of the chapter. K-12 education needs to go deeper to foster expert amateurism rather than further to foster junior expertise. It’s a better investment for students and for society at large.

You make the strong argument, I think, for interdisciplinary curricula, and making connections between learning and the larger picture of a life well lived. Yet, when students matriculate to post secondary schools, they often find themselves in colleges of this or that which seem to go back to the idea that there is what I am getting my degree in and then there is everything else. Is it howling at the moon to expect only K12 to make these curriculum type changes?

I absolutely think that Future Wise applies at the college level, and many college programs lean that way. However, how far to go is a tricky question with room for different answers in different settings. In college, education for some kind of a career becomes a paramount concern for most students, however broad their interests.

Different colleges strike the balance in different ways, and different nations and cultures sustain different expectations. The precollege case for a more lifeworthy curriculum seems to me starkly clear. At the college level I’m still hopeful, but what balance to strike becomes more complicated.

Let’s pretend you are King of K12 Curricula. What would you outlaw? What would you make mandatory? Would you do the same in post secondary classes as well?

“Outlaw” and “mandatory” are strong words, and personally I tend to shun absolutes. Recall how my favorite bad-guy quadratic equations would have a good-guy place in a science magnet school. If I want to outlaw anything, it would be at the process level. I’d outlaw “business as usual.” I’d outlaw “We’ll teach that topic this year because we taught it last year and the year before.”

If I made anything mandatory, it would be a probing conversation among teachers and school leaders and other stakeholders about what’s lifeworthy for their setting and why. Those conversations are important at the post-secondary level as well, although even more complicated as noted.

Do you think the current movement towards Project Based and its sibling Problem Based learning in K12 is a step in the right direction towards teaching students to get the “big understanding” or do you see that as another educational fad?

Problem Based and Project Based learning are methodologies, not curricular choices. As methodologies, they have considerable value for fostering deep learning and motivating learners. Future Wise touches on this passingly and a previous book of mine, Making Learning Whole, more fully. Of course, we have to beware of magic bullets. As with all methodologies, Project Based and Problem Based learning have characteristic pitfalls we need to dodge.

However, in no way do Project Based and Problem-based learning as methodologies squarely address what’s worth learning. It’s perfectly possible to take topics with very little life-worthiness and dress them up in Project-Based or Problem-Based learning. The topics may be learned more deeply, to but to what end?

You talk about the “relevance gap,” which is the space between what students are learning and what they need to know. As educators, we often hear the phrase that we are “teaching students for jobs that do not yet exist.” How can educators make informed decisions about relevance when they hear that phrase over and over?

Just because we don’t know everything doesn’t mean we know nothing. We may not know what the jobs that “do not yet exist” will be, but we know that basic actionable understandings in areas like thinking skills, economics, human nature, and so on, are going to be important. We certainly know that navigating new technologies, understanding political tensions, engaging civic themes responsibly, and managing health and environment are going to be important. There’s plenty to teach that almost certainly is lifeworthy.

You are a professor at Harvard, one of the most prestigious universities in the world. How are your classes “lifeworthy?” 

Actually, I am emeritus at this point, although still very active on projects and writing. When I was teaching, I sought to cultivate understandings that students could map into the lives they lived. For instance, one of my principal courses, Cognition and the Art of Instruction, addressed how cognitive science informed learning designs. The course engaged students in personally chosen design projects where they translated course ideas into practical contexts meaningful to them. In some cases, students went on later to implement those ideas.

You are (one of several) Principal Investigator (and former Co-Director) in Project Zero, which originally was started to connect learning and the arts. What is the connection between Future Wise and Project Zero?

The ideas in Future Wise evolved through my work at Project Zero, especially work on thinking skills and on a model of teaching for understanding that emphasizes what is learned alongside how. Today, as it has for many years, Project Zero undertakes multiple projects cutting across the disciplines and also addressing other settings, such as learning in business, government, and museums.

The original focus on connecting learning and the arts remains a prominent strand. It’s what drew me to Project Zero and the first place. Although a math major, I also had strong interests in the arts. I feel that the arts have an important place in lifeworthy learning. A meaningful life in almost any culture has some pattern of significant artistic and aesthetic engagement, even if as only as an audience member, and the arts are channels of insight about culture, history, empathy, perspective, and more.

I always like to end with this question:  Who is listening and how do you know?

I get occasional fan mail about Future Wise from teachers and school leaders and even parents, often from beyond the United States. I’ve shared the ideas from Future Wise in many settings home and abroad, both before and after the publication of the book. People seem generally quite engaged, posing questions and reaching for follow-up discussions. I receive more invitations than I can accept. Also, multiple projects at Project Zero one way or another have intersected with the ideas in Future Wise and it’s always been easy to find educators to participate in these. All this is encouraging.

Really though, I like to ask not so much who is listening to me as what’s the larger conversation in education. I’m more hopeful today about the general direction of that conversation than I was 10 or 15 years ago. There is a general trend to stand back rethink curricula, include 21st century skills, foreground global rather than just local and regional themes, foster interdisciplinary studies, and more. Certainly Future Wise did not cause those trends, but Future Wise contributes to them, and I’m happy for that!

Future Wise is available on iTunes Bookstore  |  Amazon  |   Barnes and Noble  |  Project Zero website

About David Perkins:

David Perkins is the Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr., Research Professor of Teaching and Learning at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recently retired from the Senior Faculty. He has conducted long-term programs of research and development in the areas of teaching and learning for understanding, creativity, problem-solving and reasoning in the arts, sciences, and everyday life. He has also studied the role of educational technologies in teaching and learning, and has designed learning structures and strategies in organizations to facilitate personal and organizational understanding and intelligence.

David Perkins received his Ph.D. in mathematics and artificial intelligence from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1970. As a graduate student he also was a founding member of Harvard Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He co-directed Project Zero for nearly 30 years, and now serves as senior co-director on its steering committee.

His most recent book, published by Jossey-Bass in Fall 2014, is Future Wise: Educating our Children for a Changing World. His Making Learning Whole (Jossey-Bass, 2008) shares an approach to organizing learning around full meaningful endeavors.

He is the author of The Mind’s Best Work on creativity (Harvard University Press, 1981), The Eureka Effect on creativity (Norton, 2001), Smart Schools on pedagogy and school development (The Free Press, 1992), Outsmarting IQ on intelligence and its cultivation (The Free Press, 1995), Knowledge as Design on teaching and learning for understanding (Erlbaum, 1986), The Intelligent Eye on learning to think through the arts (Getty, 1994), King Arthur’s Round Table: How Collaborative Conversations Create Smart Organizations (Wiley, 2003), and has co-authored and co-edited several other books, as well as publishing many articles.

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Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Are we Teaching our Kids to Write Like This?

I was turned on to this article some time ago that appeared in the New York Times Magazine “A Game of Shark and Minnow” which describes the story of eight men in the Philippine Navy on an abandoned ship in the South China Sea who stand guard against the Chinese Navy.

While the story is interesting, what really drew my attention was the way that the story was presented. If you just casually scroll through the story, you will see that it is presented in multiple formats:

  • Text
  • Photos
  • Movies
  • Audio
  • Maps
(Photo by Ashley Gilbertson / VII Photo)

Writing in the 21st century is far more than simply writing text. Writing in the 21st Century involves all of the above. Maybe even more.

Check out this video for instance:  How many words would it take to describe what is presented in that short video?

The point is, I think that almost no one would argue that this is a powerful way to present information.

 

A powerful way to write.

Think about it: You probably, unless you were truly interested in the topic, would have skipped over a text only, on the paper page article about eight guys on a boat in the South China Sea.

But I bet that once you logged onto the article, you started scrolling through it, looking for the videos, looking for the interactivity. You spent a lot more time on the article, I bet, than you would have if it were simply text.

Writing in the 21st century should be inclusive of ALL the ways we now have to easily integrate items into writing:

  • Audio
  • Video
  • Photo
  • Hyperlinks
  • Animations
  • and of course, text.

Look at the list: What are we spending most of our time teaching kids to do? It is text.

The written word. I bet if we graphed out most of our classes, students are spending the vast, vast majority of time communicating in text in one form or another.

Text, text text.

We are supposed to address the learning needs of different students, but we address their communication needs all the same.

Are you a visual learner? Good write in text. Are you an audio learner? Good, write in text. Are you a kinesthetic learner? Good, write in text.

Get the idea?

That is where digital storytelling comes in. Digital storytelling, or digital communication in general, addresses all of those “non-text”

Luckily, there are those out there that have decided to take up the digital storytelling mantle:

Digitales Nice introductory site to digital storytelling. I would like to see more inclusive ideas here, about how DS can be used in various curricular areas.

David Jakes has a site about Digital Storytelling here. Some of the links are broken, but you can find good basic info here as well as link to some tools.

Here is a nice collection on Diigo on digital storytelling tools:

What would happen if a teacher said this:

In your report/paper/lab/thing that you must turn in to me, you must include the following:

  • Photos
  • a short video with audio
  • text
  • a hyperlink

Why should you start incorporating digital storytelling into student writing? According to this article, there are several plusses when students write in a digital storytelling mode:

  • It develops creativity and critical thinking
  • Students who are shy or afraid to talk in class get a chance to speak out their minds
  • It empowers students voice to deliver rich, deep message that is capable of conveying a powerful message.
  • It helps students explore the meaning of their own experience, give value to it, and communicate that experience with others.
  • It promotes the notions of life long learning and independent learning
  • It develops students communicative skills
  • It is a reflective process that helps students reflect upon their learning and find deep connections with the subject matter of a course or with an out-of-class experience.
  • It fosters students sense of individuality
  • It also gives students an opportunity to experiment with self-representation and establish their identity
  • Students creating digital stories develop proficiency with multimedia applications

What is wrong with a goal of having student write and communicate in a fashion that looks like the New York Times Magazine article?

Nothing is wrong with it. In fact, it should be the norm, not the exception.

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Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Tim Holt’s 10 Questions: Rewiring Education

John Couch is a former (and FIRST) Apple VP of Education and has written, along with Jason Towne, an excellent primer for anyone that wants to understand how tech can be used properly to transform learning in our schools.

As my readers know, I only ask authors that I like to answer questions, and I liked John’s book quite a bit, so here are his 10 Questions.

I recommend this book for any educator that still hesitates about the use of ed tech in the classroom, any administrator that thinks tech doesn’t change test scores, and any parent that thinks spending tax dollars on tech is a waste of money.

Q1: Can you give us a 5000 foot view of your book? What inspired you to write it?

Rewiring Education looks at a series of my life experiences, from memorizing my way through high school, to my college days, and my early years working at Apple with Steve Jobs. It’s through those experiences and seeing just how unique and how differently my four children and sixteen grandchildren learned, that I realized how much school needed to change. What I learned along the way was that education is never going to truly change from top down, it needed to happen from the ground up, with parents, educators, and communities demanding change. This is why we wrote the book, to start a conversation and help initiate a call to action for all of these stakeholders to be the change they want to see.

Q2: You use the simile that technology enhances our intellects much like a bicycle enhances our muscles. Can you elaborate a little on that? Should you preface that with “the proper use of technology can enhance…?”

Yes, the proper use of technology can enhance our intellect just like the proper use of a bicycle can enhance our muscles. Technology has the power to transform and redesign education in ways that will benefit all stakeholders, including students, teachers, and entire communities. As I point out in the book, Dr. Ruben Puentedura’s SAMR model, which is based on his extensive research on the Maine Learning Initiative, says educational technology can be used in four primary ways: as substitution, augmentation, modification, or redefinition. Unfortunately, the primary way it’s currently being used in classrooms right now is as a substitution. What we must do, though things like adaptive learning and challenge-based learning, is to begin moving more towards redefinition.

Q3: I have found that resistance to using tech in schools comes mainly from adults. How do we win over educators that don’t like to use tech in their classrooms?

I have classified people as digital natives, digital immigrants, or digital aliens. All students today are digital natives having grown up with technology, but they’re being taught mainly by digital immigrants or even worse, digital aliens. I think it’s important that we introduce the most relevant technologies to all educators so that they are able to use them in meaningful ways themselves. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “People can only perceive what they see,” so unless educators have direct experience with technology and what they’re students can actually do with it, we can’t expect them to get behind it. It’s also important that educators get the training they need to use these technologies in effective and efficient ways.

Q4: Computers have been in classrooms since at least the mid 1990’s yet we haven’t seen the needle move too much on student achievement. What have we been doing wrong?

Again, it comes down to how the technology is being used. When technology is used as nothing more than a substitution for things that can just as easily be done without it, it makes that technology almost useless. For example, if we have students reading from a website rather than a book, that’s using technology, but it’s really not doing anything different. The same goes for watching a lecture on video rather than watching it live or having students take tests online instead of using a pencil and paper. Technology in educatio n must go beyond substitution and start augmenting, modifying, and redefining the learning process.

Q5: You are obviously no fan of the “sit-n-get” type of instruction. When you were with Apple, what did your trainings look like?

It is primarily case studies from various industries that were relevant to the challenges of Apple’s future success. We looked at real-world examples and were then challenged to use critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration to apply what we learned to the things we wanted to do. Rather than memorizing easily found information and being tested on it, it’s imperative that schools learn to adopt this type of real-world learning.

Q6: You state “Rewiring education is all about a series of challenging and relevant experiments that play off pre-existing experiences where an engaging and sometimes unpredictable, learning process ultimately leads to a clear understanding of the results.” Sounds great, but who pays for that complete paradigm shift in how we teach?

First of all, it’s students that are currently paying for it by not being adequately prepared for real-world success, whether that’s in college or in the workforce. Society is also beginning to pay for not making these changes. We must get out of the business of thinking short-term and prepare for longer-term success, and kids can no longer wait for us to get it right.

Q7: How do you see the role of the teacher changing in the future?

The rapid rise in technology is making access to information easier and faster than ever, which means that teachers will no longer be needed to simply regurgitate static information. Teachers will need to play more of a facilitator role than ever before, being a guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage. Their role will become much more focused on helping students put things in context and showing them how to more efficiently access the right information, how to critically think about it, and how to best utilize it to solve problems.

Q8: How do we overcome the silos of tech companies trying to sell product to education and actually making things that truly EVERYONE can use?

Not all technology is created equal. Apple Education has always focused on empowering the creativity of students, which is why we made all of our creativity applications free. The choice really comes down to whether educators are more interested in standardization or innovation, but if they want to improve the learning experience in significant ways then only the latter will accomplish this. Students really need to be at the cutting edge of technology if they are to be ready for a changing world of opportunities.

Q9: How do we as a nation, address the equity issue when it comes to Educati onal Technology? Technology can solve lots of educational problems, but if you don’t have access to it, then you are screwed.

All students must have access to a reliable Internet connection and a device of some sort to access it. Several years ago, the federal Connect ED program started to address this issue by providing Internet access to all schools. As Apple’s representative, Apple funded a 100-million-dollar program where we supported 114 96% reduced lunch schools in 29 states with infrastructure, computers, content and teacher training. Research is being conducted and available. We dedicate an entire chapter to access in the book, including some pretty innovate ways that districts and schools are tackling this problem. Financial issues will always exist, so it’s important that we learn to throw creativity as the primary solution to these problems rather than a checkbook.

Q10: Do we suffer in education from a paralysis of choice? Too many shiny objects, too many differing pedagogical choices? So much so that we can’t decide which ones are good and which are not? How do we overcome that?

It’s important that we don’t lose sight of what schools are all about—the students. As Harvard professor and best-selling author, Todd Rose, points out in his book, The End of Average, there is no such thing as an average student and so there is no one-size-fits-all solution to reaching and teaching them. Every student is unique and should be recognized as individuals and the only way to do this to scale is with the help of technology. So, when trying to decide which technologies to use over others all you really have to do is ask yourself which of them is most capable of helping students reach their fullest potential as individuals.

Education Today: John Couch, VP of Education, Apple Inc. from SVVSDon Vimeo.

Rewiring Education is available all over the place.

Rewiring Education Website

Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Apple Audio Books

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Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Keeping the Carpool Running

Imagine that you are the owner of a car that is used everyday for a carpool. You and three of your colleagues pile into your car every morning and drive 20 miles to work.

In the evening, your crew piles back into the car and drives another 20 miles back home. Each week, everyone ponies up $40 in total to pay for gas for the 200 miles per week roundtrips they take in your car. $10 each. Every week. You do this for years.

Then one year, one of the carpool participants decides to drive herself to a new job, and wont be needing your carpool any longer. Now there are three people in the carpool. Nothing else changes. The distance, the time, the car, all stay the same. It was just that one person who left.

The cost to run the car stays the same, whether there are four, three, two or one riders, but in your case 25% of the riders have left. Can you cut wheels by 25%? Pistons? Oil? The air conditioner cannot selectively cool one quarter less of the cab of the car. The headlights cannot be 25% less bright.

The car still has to run exactly as it did with four riders as it does with three, or two or even one. So, in order to maintain, the three remaining riders have to make up the cost of the one who left.

Recently, a blog opined that a school district who is losing students should be reducing spending proportionally to the loss of students. The district had lost about 4000 students across 85 or so campuses in a span of five years or about 7% of its original population.

The argument was, I suppose, if you lose 7% of your students, then your expenses should drop by 7% as well. At first blush, it makes sense. Less kids = less expenses.

At first blush.

But then when you deep dive into the idea you go back to the car pool. Those 4000 students represent about 47 students per campus. At a high school, that would mean about 12 students PER GRADE LEVEL were being lost over the four years.

At a typical middle school, about 16 students PER GRADE LEVEL, and at a typical K-5 elementary less than 8 students per grade were being lost. If you remove 47 students from say a typical high school with 1500 students, about 3% of the population, can you turn off 3% of the air conditioning? Cut the water by 3%? Which 3% of the books in the library would you remove? Which classrooms would lose 3% of their lighting? Do you chop 3% off the football field?

To quote a commercial from a few years back “That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.”

Do you close a school because there are 50 less students in it than there were 4 years ago? No, you keep it open to meet the needs of the remaining families in the area because the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

You may have a room or two less of students, but the electricity, heating, water, mowing, custodial and all the other services that keep a building running have to remain in place. A high school might have 15 bus routes running back and forth in the morning and after school.

Do you stop running an entire bus route because only 3 or 4 students are no longer on that route?

Of course not. That is not how it works. That is not how any of this works.

The other students still need to take the bus, go to school, eat the lunch, use the electricity and water…

Which brings us back to the carpool. Because we have already established that the cost of running the car stays the same no matter the number of passengers, a smart thing to do would be to try to find a replacement passenger to make up for the loss of the first passenger.

Replacing the passenger would lower the cost for all of the previous passengers who were left in the lurch when the first one left. The carpool passengers might ask around at their place of work, they might put up a little note in the snack bar or work room extolling the value of carpooling.

In other words, they would advertise. You might decide that because your car is getting old and parts and service getting more expensive, it is time to replace it with a newer one, making it more attractive to potential riders in your carpool. You might even ask yourself if you should continue having the carpool at all?

Maybe you go out and get a two seater: fancier to look at and maybe more comfortable, but more expensive and you would have to leave some riders behind. Maybe your should privatize the ride and everyone take Uber to work instead, even though that would be much more expensive.

Your carpool has choices, but not all of them are good ones for all the riders.

Like most things in life, the topic of loss of students, the closing of schools, the removing programs, the cutting services or letting go of personnel is colored in shades of grey, not simply with black and white.

It is easy to lob rhetorical bombs from the safety of a blog, and to comment anonymously without having a workable solution.

It is more difficult to actually come up with a solution that works, to keep the carpool running so that everyone who wants can still ride in the car.

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Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Heroic Perspectives

Perspective and point of view are some things that are sorely lacking in much of our student’s educational experience.

The ability to see a topic from more than one person’s viewpoint is essential for students to make informed decisions.

Daily, we see in the news adults who cannot for the life of them see another person’s point of view. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? Heck, they wont even put the shoes on. It is easier to just yell at each other.

The adults that create the curriculum for students often have agendas that limit the ability for any kind of followup or deep dives, limiting the chances for depth of understanding.

How often have we seen politicians try to hijack curriculum to put in such things as the highly discredited “intelligent design” in Biology or even try bizarrely, to reframe the kidnapping of Africans into slavery as a “worker relocation effort?” (Yes, that really happened.)

Such is the case with a recent kerfuffle when the State Board of Education was trying to decide whether to remove terminology in the Texas State Standards for 7th Grade Social Studies that said that the fighters in the Alamo should be described as “heroic.”

The group of educators that were revising and streamlining the standards argued that “heroic” was a term that should be removed, as it was term that was “value charged.” (Is it “heroic” to fight until the last man, is it just bad military tactics, or was it just stupidity?)

The revisers also recommended removing the “Travis” letter as a stand alone standard because one cannot teach the siege of the Alamo without teaching the Travis letter. (For all of you saying “what is the Travis letter, go ahead and look it up. And by the way, you suck as a Texan for not knowing.)

Of course, Texas good old boy politicians on the Right immediately jumped in and cried about how “political correctness had run amok.”

Apparently having solved all of Texas’ other problems, the Governor had time to tweet:

“Stop political correctness in our schools. Of course Texas schoolchildren should be taught that Alamo defenders were ‘Heroic’! I fully expect the State Board of Education to agree. Contact your SBOE Member to complain. @TXSBOE #txlege #tcot https://t.co/Ph9oBoBzKF— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) September 6, 2018

By gawd, if John Wayne, er I mean Col. Davy Crockett was a hero for deciding to lock himself inside an adobe box with a bunch of other like-minded well trained militia members, with little or no food in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of winter, outnumbered a gazillion to one, with no one ready to back them up, then they are gawl dern heroes.

And you will use the word “heroic” when talking about them. And the little children of Texas will use the term heroic. (Why, just look at the geniuses they inspired years later!) Because, history is written by the victors, and even though they got their coon skinned asses handed to them at the Alamo, we won the war. Mexico lost.

Maybe defending the Alamo was heroic, maybe it was bad planning, maybe it was crappy military strategy, maybe bad luck, maybe it was all of the above, just as the Battle of Thermopylae and Seige of Masada were. But I doubt that the little children of Texas are given the perspective to decide for themselves whether Crocket, Travis et. al. were heroes, or, perhaps maybe something a little less heroic than they have been portrayed.

Because perspective, especially in history, is sort of forgotten when the victors write the textbooks. How can you have any perspective if you start with the phrase “Heroic Defenders?”

Consider the following: There is a strong case to be made that the Texans were not heroic freedom fighters at all, but rather an immigrant refugee force, illegally occupying a huge chunk of another country’s sovereign territory. During the 1820’s and 1830’s, a large number of illegal American immigrants moved into the country of Mexico to the west and south of the then United States.

Manifest destiny and all that.

How did this all happen? When Mexico won it’s independence from Spain in 1820, it allowed some immigrants to come into the territory of Tejas from the United States as long as those immigrants agreed to become Mexican citizens, follow Mexican law, and convert to Catholicism.

At first, everything was fine. Soon however, the legal immigrants were vastly outnumbered by illegal American immigrants coming into Tejas. The illegals were under no pretense to follow the law. The Mexican Army, under-manned and under-funded was no match for the flood of illegal American aliens.

By 1830, the Mexicans had had enough and had cut off immigration from the United States into Mexico. However, the flood of white skinned invaders continued when in 1836, President Santa Ana’s regime passed laws that changed territorial rule to a more centralized one.

That caused the illegal hoards of pale skins to revolt, declare themselves their own country, and set up shop as the Republic of Texas. They wrote a Constitution and set up a government that didn’t allow the Mexicans that were there legally to begin with the ability to vote. War was declared, and over 70% of those that came to fight crossed into Tejas/Texas illegally.

Or legally. It all depended on your perspective. Your point of view.

Davy Crockett and William Travis, heroes of the Alamo siege were illegal aliens as far as Mexico was concerned. Sam Houston, whose army defeated Santa Anna at San Jacinto more “illegal alien” as any “Dreamer” kid alive today in the US.

Think of how many schools in Texas are named after heroic illegal immigrants. How many students are taught that the state they live in was founded by illegal aliens? Not too many I suspect.

But from a certain perspective it certainly is worth considering the irony that many people in Texas, founded by illegal immigrants, want to keep immigrants out.

Perspective. Point of view. Sometimes, it is a good idea to see things from another point of view, especially if that is a valid one.

And it is definitely something our children need to be able to do.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Thank you Nike.

Let’s take a moment to thank Nike. Thank them for taking part in the ongoing civics lesson began by the Black Lives Matter movement, continued by Colin Kaepernick as the San Francisco quarterback and then moved into the mainstream even more by their “Just Do It” promotion featuring Kaepernick and a host of other famous and not so famous athletes.

This entire thing has been a great lesson for our children on the power of nonviolent civil disobedience.

Believe in something.

It is a pretty long list of people that have used non violent civil disobedience over the years to make a point.

  • Sophocles’ heroine Antigone
  • Shifra and Puah (look them up)
  • The Jesus
  • Martin Luther
  • Thoreau
  • Percy Shelly
  • Susan B. Anthony
  • Ghandi
  • Martin Luther King Jr.

Nike, you are in good company. I can remember my sister’s class taking part in a “sit in” at Irvin High School in 1970 to protest the Vietnam War. Students walked out of class and just sat on the football field for two hours. Even though I was young, all these years later I remember the impact of students getting up and having a voice in a nonviolent way.

Recently, students did a similar protest at campuses across the nation to protest the complete failure of adults in power to do anything to control gun violence in schools.

Nike’s unintentional civics lesson fits in well with the Texas education standards for Social Studies, which is heavy on the rights of individuals, the Constitution and the duties of citizens to right wrongs.

In fact, the 8th grade Texas standards go out of their way to mention civil disobedience, exactly that which Nike is celebrating in their campaign.

The Texas standards celebrate and have students memorize the Boston Tea Party, where people fed up the oppression of their government, revolted, in a non-violent way, not unlike kneeling football players, Woolworth counter sitters or sitting in the white seat on the bus.

Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.

This is a great time to be a Social Studies teacher. Students can see on one side, people protesting the obvious disparity between the treatment of whites and minorities by law enforcement in this country, and on the other side, people that think by protesting during the national anthem players are disparaging the country, the military, veterans, the Constitution, apple pie, baseball, and Chevrolet.

What a great lesson in critical thinking and point of view. A few years back, there was a lesson that had students look at the participants of the Boston Tea Party from the perspective of the participants and the British.

From the British side, they could have been seen as terrorists. From the American side they were seen as heroes and patriots. (That single lesson upset so many people in east Texas that the company that created it had to apologize, withdraw the lesson, and eventually reconstitute itself as a different company.)

Same today with football players taking a knee. For some, they see heroes. For other, they see villains. Either way, the players are willing to sacrifice everything to get their message out to the masses. Funny how those that spout their love for God, Country and the Constitution cannot connect the dots between what happened in Boston Harbor and what happened on the sidelines of Levi Field in San Francisco.

Lost in all of this is the WHY of protests. For the most part, people protest something, anything, when they feel that their voice is no longer being heard by those in power.

From that Boston Tea Party to the Civil Rights protests of the 1950s and 60’s to taking a knee before a football game.

When the powerful won’t listen to the people, they become frustrated and react with protests. History is replete with examples of power being taken away from those that refused to listen to the protestations of the powerless. Sacrifice everything if you must.

Imagine being so frustrated, having your voice so marginalized , that the only way you feel that you can be heard is through protest. How beaten down, how alienated as a people must you be to get to the point that the only way you feel the powerful will listen is to make a statement like Kaepernick made to the nation?

And then having the exact people your are trying to get to understand your position tell you to shut up, call you racial epithets, and to try to dismiss your simple act of defiance as somehow being not about civil injustice towards minorities but twisted to be about the military, the flag, and America?

You know the people that are afraid of the message are playing attention because they are burning their sneakers and cutting your logo from your socks.

You also know, deep down , that they are on the wrong side of history, because they don’t really believe in anything, other than what their tribe tells them to believe in.

Thank you Nike. Thank you for keeping the wind blowing in the sails. And providing a lesson that all our kids need to learn.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Dual Credit Programs – It Could be Better

Last week, our local community college sent out a press release that their Dual Credit and Early College Program was up for a national award. Congratulations. Kudos. Bravo.

For those that are not up on the latest edu-lingo, Dual Credit programs allow high school students to take freshman and sophomore college classes at an associated college or university. The course is taught by a certified high school teacher who has had their course approved by the college they are attending (like EPCC). A college professor acts as a facilitator for the course, and approves the work of the students.

Theoretically, a student could take these courses and graduate high school not only with a high school diploma, but also with an Associates Degree because, as the name implies, the student gets high school AND college credit simultaneously. These programs have been in place for several years now, and each district in the area has some form of it in place for their students.

That’s a big deal.

School districts are essentially paying for your child to attend college. Parents or students could save a ton of money towards a four year college degree. Imagine 2 out of your 4 years of college already taken care of by the time you graduate high school. That is the promise of Dual Credit: Save money, earn college credits.

These programs have proven successful for a number of years, and have benefitted many local community colleges across the nation by increasing enrollment. (All those high schoolers are also community college attendees after all…) Research shows that getting students into higher ed in high school improves their chances of actually finishing a four year degree.

Again, that is a big deal especially for many in El Paso which has a high poverty rate.

After reading the press release from EPCC, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were ways that this type of program could be improved. I think there are.

Saving Money?

Tonie Badillo, Dean of EPCC’s Dual Credit and Early College High School Programs said “These students have the opportunity to save time and money by getting a head start on their college career.” Notice who is saving money: Just the students. The public schools that are sending their students actually are not saving any money, and in most cases, have split their ADA funds with the college.

Teachers have to be certified to teach dual credit, which costs additional money, and the public schools also have to supply college level textbooks to students taking these courses. College textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars for a single copy. The national average cost of a college textbook is $153 per book.

Clearly, the Community College is not losing any money in these transactions. They could, if they so choose, help out the local public schools by requiring all of the professors that teach any of these courses to use Open Education Resource (OER) textbooks. Typically, an average college textbook costs between $125-$250. Multiply that by the number of students enrolling each year in Dual Credit, and the burden placed on the providing public school district becomes prohibitive.

OER textbooks are created in the public sphere, and are free to use and download. And before anyone says “Free must mean bad” consider the Open STAX textbooks from Rice University . These are written by college professors specifically for college classes and have close to 40 college level courses available. For free, for anyone, forever.

The University of Minnesota also has an entire online library of OER college level textbooks, reviewed by college professors for rigor viability in the subject area. Even the State University of New York has an online library of OER textbooks. Surely, if OER is good enough for Rice University, the University of Minnesota, SUNY and hundreds of other institutions of higher education, it might just be good enough for El Paso Community College. The money saved by the public schools could be reinvested in teacher training or student technology.

There is no reasonable argument for paying $200 for a textbook when a OER equivalent is available for free. (This scenario also applies to Advanced Placement courses as well, where students are expected to take college level courses in High School. There is no reason to use expensive college texts when an OER text would be just fine.)

From Free Textbooks to Textbook Free

Another way to pass a savings down to public schools is to simply eliminate the need for a textbook altogether. The University of Texas Austin has an online program called UT OnRamps, which differs a bit from the Dual Credit programs offered in our area.

The OnRamps program is a Dual ENROLLMENT program, where the students are enrolled and taking a high school class AND taking an online college class offered by UT Austin. (Texas Tech has a similar OnRamps program.) The high school teacher acts as a facilitator for the university professor, working closely with the students who take the course 100% online, but have their high school teacher as a guide. Under this model, students receive a grade and credit from UT Austin and another grade from their public school, thus the term “Dual Enrollment.”

Often the grades are different, as the rigor of the college course is more than the that of the high school one. (EPISD offers OnRamps at several of its campuses.) What makes the OnRamps program interesting is that there is no textbook required. All of the material is online in the program’s learning management system. No text, no extra cost. Districts pay only for the cost of enrolling the student.

Like so many programs in education, the Dual Credit program is a boon to students, especially those coming from families in the lower income brackets. But also like many programs, it could be better. Using Open Education Resource textbooks in all dual credit classes would save money for local school districts that could be invested elsewhere.

There is no logical reason, when possible, that this is not happening.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

Op-Ed: Facts Are Facts

I once got into a discussion with one of my more religiously inclined acquaintances that went like this: “Truth is truth” he told me. “The truth is true whether you believe it or not.”

Coming from this fellow and knowing his background, I was quite surprised by his statement, which I totally agreed with. We were discussing evolution.

Then, the real him came out: His “truth” was that evolution occurred in every single species except for humans. We were, he told me, selected by the invisible sky people to not evolve like every other species on the planet.

We were, in his version of the truth, exceptional. His entire argument of absolute “truth being the truth” went against every single thing we know about evolution from the scientific community and centuries of study. He had his idea of what the truth was and no amount of discussion, showing of facts, or scientific research would change him.

He was getting his truth from the infallible sky people.

Unlike man, the sky people were were never wrong. He has just introduced me to the world of alternative truths and facts.

We are living through an interesting time, one in which actual facts and absolute truths are put into question by not just the usual suspects of the tinfoil-hat-wearing-History-Channel-watching unschooled, but those that are at the highest level of power.

Infallible sky people have been replaced by politicians, business leaders, political pundits and misinformed celebrities. Actual facts and absolute truths are mocked as being #FakeNews or “Alternative Facts” by those that want to push an “alternative point of view.” Tell a lie often enough…

Charles Pierce in “Idiot America” wondered how a country founded on intellectual curiosity had somehow devolved into a land of prideful know-nothings who wear their stupidity like a war medal.

Why would a country that put people on the the moon in 1960’s have to have protest marches by scientists some 50 years later because so few citizens knew enough about science to know facts from fakes?

Pierce wrote of three rules that make non-facts facts in the US:

  • Any theory is valid if it sells books, soaks up ratings, or otherwise moves units.
  • Anything can be true if someone says it loudly enough.
  • Fact is that which enough people believe. Truth is determined by how fervently they believe it.

Historically, the informed were able to outwit the #alt crowd or could generally dismiss them as crazies. UFOs in Roswell? Crazy. Grassy knoll shooter? Crazy. The entire world run by an unholy alliance between the Jews and the Catholics with the Knights Templar as their enforcers? Crazy.

We could fight crazy because, well, it was crazy. And intelligent people recognized it for what it was. Indeed, the History Channel would not exist without a lot of people believing that the untrue was true. Pierce’s Rule #1.

But now, the crazies are out in the open and running the show.

The brown people are overrunning your country. Those black kids should be more submissive or they wouldn’t get murdered by the cops so much. The Russians are our friends. CO2 emissions are good for you. The media lies. Facts are now subject to debate by those with little or no knowledge of them. (See When Everyone is an Expert, No One is an Expert)

It is pretty easy to see how certain saffron-tinted politicians expertly make use of Pierce’s three rules.

Thinking that this move towards believing alternative truths is not harmful to the larger society is dangerous. Consider the demonstrably wrong idea that some vaccines cause autism. Vaccines against childhood diseases has saved untold millions perhaps billions of lives.

100% preventable deaths and diseases are now rearing their ugly heads again as probably well meaning barely literate parents think that subjecting their kids to polio, measles, and other diseases is a good trade off because a former starlet told Oprah that she thought vaccines caused autism.

Measles was eliminated as a disease and declared eradicated in the US in 2000 after decades of mandatory inoculations. Until it came back in 2014 all because of a B-list celebrity with an ax to grind and a tragic untrue story convinced enough parents that her scary untrue opinion story was a fact.

Not surprisingly the majority of people who got measles were unvaccinated.

Entire industries are born out of the efforts to fight facts with opinions and alternative facts. Commercials, editorials, books and movies are created and pundits are employed to fight the vast majority views of scientists (experts in their fields) that pretty much have proven that global climate change is at least to some extent, caused by human interaction with the environment.

How many?

Probably close to the same number that were hired to fight the fact that nicotine was a drug and that cigarettes caused cancer. Probably the same number that fought the crazy fact that the cross shoulder seatbelts saved lives or the crazy notion that repetitive blows to the head caused severe brain damage in college and professional football players.

How many Americans believe that brown skinned middle easterners (or anyone that does not look like you) pose some kind of existential threat to America? While it is always nice to blame those not in our tribe for our troubles, the FACTS are that white male religious extremists are more likely to kill you in the US than anyone from any kind of middle eastern terrorist organization or Mexican gang. The FACTS don’t match the opinion.

An opinion cannot be correct if it ignores the truth.

How can we change the minds of those who have their version of the truth embedded in their brains? Author David McRaney in his book “You Are Now Less Dumb” wrote:

“Research…shows that people who claim to understand complicated political topics such as cap and trade and flat taxes tend to reveal their ignorance when asked to provide a detailed explanation without the aid of Google. Though people on either side of an issue may believe they know their opponents’ positions, when put to the task of breaking it down they soon learn that they have only a basic understanding of the topic being argued. Stranger still, once subjects in such studies recognize this, they reliably become more moderate in their beliefs.

McRaney gives us the clue on how to deal with those with the “My opinion is a fact” bias. Once people understand that they have only a cursory knowledge of a topic, they become more moderate in their beliefs. Simply ask them deep questions.

Instead of just making a thumbs-down icon on their Facebook feed, try asking a few questions.

Multiple studies over several decades have shown that by simply having people think about their thinking, metacognition, asking deep questions about their beliefs, leads to less biased thinking. Some questions you might ask someone instead of simply rejecting them out of hand might be:

  • “That’s an interesting idea, where did you learn about that?”
  • “What other resources have you used to come to that conclusion?”
  • “Have you considered the alternative? Why did you reject it?
  • “Are there studies that back up that idea? Where are they?”
  • “Do you think the source of that information is biased?”

The idea is to get people to actually think about what they are saying. Where do they get their biases from? Chances are, once you get people to think about their thinking, they truly might just begin to look at issues not as black and white, but in shades of gray. And that, is evolution.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

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