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Home | Tag Archives: tim holt

Tag Archives: tim holt

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

***

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.

***

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.

Op-Ed: The Paralysis of Choice

CBS Sunday Morning once had an interesting segment about how we are paralyzed by the enormous amount of choices that we face each day, from buying a car to picking a mate, to choosing a snow cone flavor at Bahama Bucks.

Essentially, the piece said that the way around this paralysis-by-choices is to just jump into the process and stop thinking about it.

“For a long time people have said that the best way to make a decision is to be rational,” science writer Johah Lehrer said. “And yet, in recent years, scientists have discovered that the rational brain can only take in a few bits of information at any given moment. So, you start giving it too much information and it starts to short-circuit and sputter.”

We see this everyday, with 24/7 news cycles from 30 different news channels, 300 channels on our cable, and 50 million tracks in our Apple Music subscription.

To eliminate sputtering when faced with complex decisions – buying a car, computer, or even a house – Lehrer says stop all that thinking … just go for it!

We certainly see that in education. Lots of choices, form textbooks, to technology, to even the way we teach students. Should we use PBL? Active Learning? Constructivism? Lecture? Should we use Macs or PCs? Office 365 or Google? Pencil or pen? I think that perhaps we need to let teachers know to just “jump in” as the CBS piece says:

“Americans certainly love choice more than anywhere else in the world,” said Columbia University professor Sheena Lyengar, who says her experience as a blind person gives her a different take on all those choices. Her book, “The Art of Choosing,” argues more isn’t always better.

“Certainly, in theory, the more choices I have out there, the more likely I am to find that perfect dress, or that perfect ring, or that perfect food item that I want to eat, or that perfect job,” Iyengar said.

But, she said, “For the most part, we don’t have the resources to find it. I mean, we get overwhelmed.”

So maybe we need to just tell teachers to “Go for it” damn the consequences, and just jump in. Stop worrying about which site or which blog or which pedagogy to use. But we have to provide an environment that allows for failure and experimentation without fear.

As long as you have one. As long as you are trying. Maybe that is just good enough.

***

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: Charging for The Free

I am amazed with the ability of companies and education organizations to charge for things that should be free. For instance, I once was on a panel discussion at a conference explaining how my district had adopted the free CK12.org Flexbook model for our High School core subject texts.

For those of you unaware of the CK12 Foundation, they essentially have created a set of textbooks called Flexbooks for the STEM courses in high school and some middle school courses that can modified to suit the student and teacher’s needs. Free textbooks. All sharable. No copyright restrictions.

I also spoke of Rice University and their Open STAX textbooks. Again, free to use, free to share, copyright free and updatable at any time.

After the panel, a gentleman came up to me with his hand out, business card extended and started explaining about how his company had organized as many Open Education Resources (OER) that they could find on Google, and that they could “partner with us” to expand our district OER efforts.

OER resources are freely available resources designed to replace classroom tools that are traditionally paid for, such as textbooks or online simulations. (For those of you not in the know, the phrase “partner with us” means “sell something to you.”) Did you get that? He wanted to sell us free stuff.

There are actual companies that sell free stuff! I was amazed.

This idea of “charging for the free” is not uncommon in education and even in business. There are software companies that sell “their version” of free software or goods.

Got a Samsung smartphone? Congratulations! You are paying Samsung for their version of the free Android operating system created by Google.

Walk into Barnes and Noble and see the “classic” books that are for sale in the front that are also in the public domain. $7.99 for a Tale of Two Cities? It costs about 35 cents to print this because they don’t have to pay the author anything. Just download the file from a site like Project Gutenberg.

There are companies that sell pictures and videos that are freely available from NASA or the Library of Congress that are also free to anyone in the public domain. Want to outsmart the TV “meteorologists?” Just visit the NOAA website and get the exact same free weather forecast that they repackage and present nightly.

Those “Vintage French Posters” for sale at Hobby Lobby and Michael’s? All free, all in the public domain. I suppose you aren’t paying for the content you are getting, but rather the fact that someone organized them or somehow repackaged it out for you.

Still, I was reminded of the those old gag gifts that sold cans of “fresh air” of “darkness collected during an eclipse.”

Paying for the free.

As we head into summer many “we are all about the educator” organizations have their giant conferences that charge large amounts of admission for attendees to view a huge set of free sessions given by volunteer educators that get nothing of any true value as restitution for their time and effort.

Most teachers have been to one or two of those conferences.

I have always felt that this is a problem where GIANT educational organizations make millions of dollars from their conferences on the backbone of freely offered presentations.

I understand that those venues cost money, the keynotes and the actual organizing costs, but really, the cornerstone of those gatherings are the FREE presentations put on by volunteers. The cost should at least be modified for those people yet rarely is it done.

Charging for the free again.

I don’t know how to address this issue of “let us charge you for free stuff” or “let us charge you to present at our conference.” Yes, it is perfectly acceptable if a company or organization sees an unfilled niche and thinks that they can fill it. In fact, that is Capitalism 101. And it is the capitalist dream to make as much cash as you can on a service that people need.

It just seems like something is sort of off if that company doesn’t let the people that they are selling it to know that they are essentially paying for the free.

***

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: Screens Down

Over the years, educators in higher ed have lamented that students at the college level seem to prefer their laptops that they bring to class over what is being taught during class.

Clifford Stoll in the 1990’s was probably the first professor to complain, all the while making incredible statements like “no one would ever order anything over the internet” and “electronic books would never become popular” while declaring in Newsweek “no online database will replace your daily newspaper.”

Stoll, a grumpy contrarian and world’s worst futurist, no longer teaches, however he has some company on his anti-tech in the lecture hall rants.

Daniel Willingham, best selling author of “Why Kids Don’t Like School” brings a gravitas to the argument, being a practicing cognitive psychologist and professor at the University of Virginia. He always, however, prefaces his arguments with “I am not anti-technology” before jumping off into the anti-technology abyss.

Willingham’s arguments are a bit more subtle, saying that the human brain can’t “multitask” therefore his students cannot simultaneously be paying attention to him AND their laptops. Others academicians have joined the crowd as well.

Joelle Renstrom at Boston University appears clueless as to why any student would rather stare at a computer screen than listen to her talk. Like Willingham before her, she took her complaints online, writing “And Their Eyes Glazed Over,” on Aeon.co wondering what makes that damn screen so fascinating.

Can students that are on their devices during a class lecture actually learn?

Renstrom wrote in her piece: “Some researchers think that we’re addicted to our technology. Psychologists have for years debated whether to add Internet Addiction Disorder to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (Internet Gaming Disorder is currently in the ‘Conditions for Further Study’ section of the DSM). Advocates argue that internet addiction involves all the classic components of addiction: excessive use, withdrawal, tolerance and negative repercussions. But it’s tricky to distinguish between compulsion and addiction – some psychologists don’t believe that internet addiction is an actual disorder, but rather a consequence of boredom or unhappiness (similarly, television addiction isn’t an official disorder, either).”

This could have come straight from a Willingham article. Willingham once wondered why a student would be more interested in her Aunt’s Cookie recipe than what he had to offer at the front of the room. What could possible be the reason?

The professor vs. the technology. It is an interesting battle to watch, because in almost any instance, the technology wins. The professor might win the battle in a single classroom, but the technology will almost certainly win the attention war. (I wonder how Professors at UTEP feel about it?)

What could possible be the reason the Aunt Anna’s cookie recipe is more interesting than a lecture on cognitive psychology?

That is EXACTLY the question that every single one of these professors need to be asking. Why is what is on a screen more interesting than what I have to say and what I am teaching?

There is very little metacognition by these professors. Am I a good lecturer? Is my subject interesting? If not, how can it become interesting? Does my class reflect the needs of my students? Does my class offer a wide variety of learning strategies or is it sit and get?

How can I meet the needs of my students and meet them where they are? Am I forcing students to adapt to my teaching style, or am I adapting to their learning style? Who is the customer here?

Am I meeting my needs or my student’s needs?

What have they done to make whatever they are doing more interesting than what is on the little screen?

Renstrom even implies “Well, they are paying for it, they SHOULD be better students” when she writes “One might think that the whopping $65,000 cost of attending Boston University for a year would provide ample reason to maintain focus during class, but one would be wrong.”

I would venture to say that if I were paying $65,000 a year for an education, that it better be the best education possible. But who defines what is the “best?” Is she worth the $65K being plopped down by these students and their parents? I have been in rooms with people that barely made it out of high school that are articulate, entertaining, and frankly mesmerizing when they speak.

I have also been in the presence of PhDs that would put you into a mental coma faster than a bottle of Benadryl. The “best” education utilizes the best teachers and the best teaching strategies. Lecturing is not high on the list of “best” teaching practices.

Renstrom talks about having her students do reflection, and how they tell her how they procrastinate and are generally terrible students. But she never says how many of these distracted students actually do on her assessments.

Do they all fail? Does she have a lot of failures compared to her colleagues? Is she passing her students because of that cool $65K they pop into the coffers every year? How does her failure rate compare to nearby similar universities? If her students are passing, then what is the issue? A long time ago, before laptops, I was told that if more than 25% of my students failed a test, it wasn’t the student’s fault. It was my fault. I wonder if she ever heard that.

I am amazed at the lack of self refection that higher ed does when they bleat about students using tech in their lecture halls. Then I chuckle when they use technology to complain about technology.

Screens down.

***

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: Sorry, Kids Don’t Need Cursive Writing to Understand Historical Documents

Take a look at this meme that rears its ugly head once in a while across the Internet especially on Facebook:

For those of you that cannot read cursive, it says;

“Kids who can’t read cursive handwriting can’t read historic documents. Support cursive in the curriculum.”

I don’t even know where to begin. Let’s start with the probably obvious: Some people, and I am gonna guess it is people that have not been in a school in decades, are upset that cursive handwriting is no longer being taught in many school districts across the country.

There are many very good reasons for this, but the most obvious one is that a child does not need to understand or write in cursive in order to communicate in today’s world.

Printed word, audio, video, and other forms of communication are all taking over from the cursive writing of old. And computers don’t put out content in cursive, unless you tell them to.

Of course, this meme was probably made by some older, more conservative person that think our kids need to be able to READ primary source historical cursive documents that are from the early years of the United States. However, MOST historical documents are not written in English, are not written in English cursive, and are not from the United States.

And chances ARE that the ones written in English are probably written in Olde English, which most people, students or not, would have a difficult time understanding anyway.

So let’s take a look at some of those “primary source documents” that kids are supposed to be able to read. Start with the most obvious: The Declaration of Independence:

This is the CURRENT condition of the Declaration of Independence that is in the National Archives: Faded almost to the point of transparency. I have actually seen the document up close and personal. It is very close to being illegible. Even if a student could read cursive, it would be of little or no use. The writing is that bad.

How is that “Need to be able to read cursive working for you?

Let’s look at another primary source: The US Constitution:

Again, faded, almost illegible.

So historical documents were all written in cursive? The meme makes it sound like it. But like most memes, it is almost totally false and creates a story that cannot stand up under the facts.

Back to the Declaration of Independence. Most Americans do not know the original was printed in PRINT form, distributed across the colonies and THEN written in cursive later:

Imagine yourself as a typical middle school student. What is easier to read and understand: The written-in-cursive faded version we have in the National Archives or this version also in the National Archives, although in the virtual National Archives?

The point is, the printed version or for that matter the web version, unless there is some compelling reason otherwise, is almost ALWAYS easier to read and understand than the “historic” cursive version. Unless you are Nicolas Cage and need to steal the original document to find the hidden treasure map on the back using lemon juice and a candle, chances are the printed version will work just fine.

Consider the TEXAS Constitution: It was and always has been, printed. Never cursive:

The Japanese Surrender Documents at the end of World War 2: Printed.

Your mortgage papers? Printed.
Your divorce decree? Printed.
The local newspaper (if you even know what that is): Printed.
Textbooks? Printed.
Most online content? Printed.
Want to buy a car? I hope you can read printed script.

In fact, I bet you cannot think of an important document other than your High School diploma that didn’t use print script.

For those that insist that you still need to WRITE cursive to understand historical documents, consider the Magna Carta, written in 1215 in LATIN in print script,  and the basis for much of our Constitution, here is what it looks like:

Here is a transcript in English.  Now, tell me, what is easier to understand? Unless your Latin is good, I suspect you liked the English PRINTED translation.

These types of internet memes are usually put out by nostalgic people thinking that the world they remember was better than the world they live in now. Sadly, they don’t seem to understand that in many aspects, the world they once knew is gone, and had been replaced by something even better. Why, I can’t even recall a time when the Fox News headline scroll was written using as cursive font.

Let old ways die. Just because YOU did it, does not mean it was better. It is totally okay to remember your past, but don’t force it on the rest of us.

The world has gotten much better over the years. Much better.

***

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: It Isn’t About Technology, it is About Equity

The student looked up from his new HP Stream computer, a low powered , low cost Windows laptop.

He was in 11th grade and seemed to really be interested in what was happening on the device, which if I recall, was a Khan academy video on some math concept. Our district had just rolled out our first 1:1 technology initiative and this student was one of the 18,000 high school students on the receiving end.

“How do you like your laptop?” I asked him.

He paused for a second. My first thought was we have taught that “stranger danger” stuff too well with these kids. He wasn’t going to talk to me. He looked at the computer and then back at me, the old man from central office who he had no idea who I was or how I was intricately involved with the delivery of that device into his hands.

“This device has changed my family Mister.” he said.

I knew that by providing these laptops to our students, many of them would be bringing home the first computer that their families had ever had. I wasn’t prepared for that answer. I was expecting an answer like “It helps me with my homework” or even a simple “It’s cool.” I wasn’t ready for a family being changed.

“How so?” I asked. “How did it change your family?

“We used it to get my dad a job.” He replied. “My dad was wanting get a job at a repair shop. But they only took job applications online. They wouldn’t take his application in the store. They told him to fill out the online application. He couldn’t do it.”

He didn’t have to say much more. Many of our students live in homes below the poverty level. Having laptop computers, much less an internet connections is often a luxury way beyond the means of many.

“Since we didn’t have a computer, he thought he couldn’t get that job. Then they handed these out at school the same week my Dad was looking for the job. I took my dad to McDonald’s and we got on their wifi network. He was able to apply for the job using the laptop, and he got the job.” He looked back and me and smiled.

“So the laptop changed my family.”

After hearing the young man’s story it became apparent to me that getting technology into the hands of kids in many cases wasn’t just about giving them access to a tool for academic purposes. It was about equalizing the academic playing field and in the course of doing that, equalizing the social playing field as well.

Many, especially those that were educated in public schools before technology became ubiquitous, question whether or not so much money should be spent on things like laptops for students. Indeed, billions of dollars are spent annually across the country and there are some studies that seem to indicate that technology in and of itself makes little or no difference academically.

Those studies are short sighted at best. Pencils, in and by themselves, make no difference academically. Air conditioning makes little or no difference academically. Indeed, even textbooks make little or no difference BY THEMSELVES. But the right tools combined with excellent teaching makes a world of difference, especially for our students that have to do without, due to circumstances beyond their control.

Our students, no matter their socio-economic status, are going to be living in a world of more technology, not less. They will be living in a world where artificial intelligence controlled devices will change the world in almost every area.

To deny students access to at least the most fundamental technology, and that means a basic mobile device like a laptop, is the equivalent of denying them textbooks and pencils. It is educational malpractice.

You can’t change the lives of students and families for the better by not providing the tools to make their lives better.

***

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: Expectation Of Use: Isn’t Just About Devices, It’s Getting Educators To Use Them Properly

Anyone watching the education technology news this week probably heard that Apple had an “Education Event” in Chicago, where the company rolled out their vision of education for the future. (You can watch the event here).

Along with the shiny new products, the tone of the event is what struck me most: Apple looks to creativity and the ability to be creative as the future of education and hence the workplace. Others, including Google with their inexpensive Chromebooks look to productivity as the future of education.

It is quite a contrast, and a debate that won’t be settled soon.

Personally, I am all for the creativity side of the house, where Technology and Humanities intersect, having been a teacher for gifted students and an acolyte to Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” idea that creative, problem solving employees will be more important in the future workforce than those that just can recite facts and compute figures.

You can see Apple’s view here in this short video:

which harkens back to the iconic “Crazy Ones” commercial, where those that are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.

But what struck me also during the event was not so much the new iPads, or the tools, or the philosophy. I kept going back to the school itself. It does not matter what tools are being purchased by schools and districts, if the tools are not being used. There has to be an expectation of use for the devices.

Every school or district that purchases equipment has an associated unwritten expectation of use. If a copy machine is purchased and placed in the teacher’s workroom, there is an expectation that there are going to be copies made on it. If books are purchased and placed in the school library, there is an unwritten expectation of use that the books will be checked out and read.

Same for texts, football uniforms, desks and pretty much anything that a district might want to purchase. In fact, it would be unusual to not have an expectation of use, otherwise, why purchase them?

However, for education technology, there seems to be a different dynamic in play. It is not unusual for one to walk into schools across the country where district 1:1 initiatives are taking place (where each student is checked out a laptop or tablet to keep like a textbook) and find students that are not bringing their devices to school, left them in their lockers or cars, are using their smartphones to do academic work instead, or simply are not using technology at all.

Teachers and students using alternatives to purchased district equipment or software are also common. One wonders what other organization would allow that kind of mindset where company purchased materials are disregarded in favor of random “other” materials.

Imagine an FAA flight controller wanting to use her cool flight tracking app to control arriving airplanes because she “just likes it more” than that old air traffic control software. Surely a UPS driver that decides his Dodge Caravan would make a better delivery van than the company one because he was “more familiar with it” would quickly find himself looking for employment elsewhere.

Imagine your dental hygienist deciding that the tools she had purchased on eBay at a bargain were better to clean your teeth than the ones provided by the dentist that hired her.

One would think, that at the very least, the minimal expectation of use would be that students would bring their devices to class every day, whether they are used or not, just like a notebook, a text, or a pen, yet, for some reason, that connection, that expectation is lacking in many cases.

Teachers should have a minimal expectation to use the tools provided by the district. If there are additions that teachers feel should be included, then so be it. But at least start with what is being provided.

I recently asked a high school student how often she is expected to use her district-issued laptop. Her answer was “Our teachers told us we could use our smartphones if we wanted to.” Expectation of use = 0.

An assistant principal I was speaking to recently told me that her students “Do all their work on smartphones, so we don’t ask them to bring their laptops to class if they don’t want to.” Expectation of use = 0.

That unwritten expectation of use, implied in almost everything else, is nowhere to be seen for some reason with ed tech, be it educator unfamiliarity with technology, simply ignoring the benefits and training, or tradition.

Unlike the copier, textbooks, or the football field, the purchased educational technology expectation of use is, in many cases, left up to the student, not the teacher or the campus. Like water, the student will take the path of least resistance, and defer to not bring their devices to class.

Some districts do a better job than others of having written expectations of classroom use of technology. Wichita Falls ISD has a written expectation of use that spell out for teachers and administrators what they are expected to do on a weekly basis with the classroom technology provided. The “Mindset” section of the document states “Teachers should support the District’s mission and vision regarding the use of technology in the classroom.”

The document then goes on to specifically explain how that support is demonstrated.

Districts hold responsibility when instructional technology is not used as planned. Deep professional development that is tied directly to how the devices should be used in the classroom needs to be provided and repeated. District leaders must expect campus leaders to put into place expectations of use that are enforceable, not merely suggestions that happen during annual appraisals.

Digital tools should never be dumped only a classroom or campus with some kind of wishful thinking that the tools will magically be used.

Hope is not a strategy.

As Leslie Wilson from the 1:1 Institute said:

“”There’s nothing transformative about every kid having an technology unless you’re able to reach higher-order teaching and learning. If schools take all this technology, and use it like a textbook, or just have teachers show PowerPoint [presentations] or use drill-and-kill software, they might as well not even have it.”

Schools can purchase the latest best set of technology tools anywhere or the cheapest lowest end ones, but if there is no expectation that the tools will be used in the classroom, it really doesn’t matter. Each campus must set a high expectation of use, using the tools for much more than simple electronic replacement for pen and paper assignments, otherwise we are just throwing our money away.

***

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 Business Model’ and Schools

In the state of Texas, if a school district wants to raise operating funds by raising the local tax rate, they have to go to the voters. Public schools in Texas are the only taxing entity that have to ask for voter approval any time they wish to raise taxes.

Of course, in lean times and even good times, most people do not want to have their taxes raised, so school districts must either live within their ever shrinking budgets that will not increase (even if costs do), cut programs or personnel, or figure out some way to convince voters that a tax increase is in their best interest.

Increasing taxes is easier in cities that are property rich –  where the “hit” to the pocketbook is not as pronounced, or where the local population values education. Unfortunately, the two go hand in hand, so it is easier to convince areas of better socio-economic status to raise taxes than distressed areas because they are more likely to have more people that have advanced education degrees and see the value of education. In this case, the rich get richer, the poor, well, they just stay that way.

When an education tax increase fails in Texas, the hew and cry from the local population sounds something like this:

“Districts need to live within their budgets.”

“Schools need to cut back, we had to, so should they.”

Or my particular favorite: “Schools need to adopt the business model.”

“Adopting the business model,” means that public schools districts should try and emulate what businesses do. “Live within their means” is often used by anti-tax advocates, which of course, is NOT a business model at all. (If businesses wish to raise funding, they sell more shares, or raise the price of their products.)

“They have to be frugal.” the person will say. “We are taxed enough!”

A business has to make sure that income covers outgo and of course, and a business must compete for customers.

Fair enough. I sort of see that, and on a simplistic sound-bite kind of way, it makes sense. But that made me wonder, exactly how successful IS that “business model” that we are so proud of, that many tout as the “way to run schools?”

Let’s look first at some statistics from Australia: According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics in all of Australia, beginning in 2013, there were 2,079,666 businesses operating.

Of that group 1,322,342 survived to 2017, or a failure rate of just about 36%, more than 1 in 3. The survival rate for business actually starting in 2013 was even worse, with close to 50% not making it until 2017. I don’t suppose the “business model” for Australia is much different than it is anywhere else.

So, you say, that’s Australia. What about the good old U S of A? We are the seat of capitalism, the heart of democracy, the center of all things consumer oriented. Surely things are different here!

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 50% of businesses with employees survive the first five years. Did you get that? 50% failure rate. One of two businesses close within five years. Within ten years? Only 30% of those original businesses still are open.

The failure rate of US businesses over 10 years is 70%. And that is consistent over decades, good times and bad, recessions and booms. The business “model”, the one that many want educational institutions to follow is one of failure.

As an example, the US Department of Commerce reported that in 2008, 627,200 businesses opened in the US. In that same year 595,600 closed. Statistically speaking, that is almost very close to every business that opens, one closes. That is the “business model” at work. I wonder what would happen if one out of every two schools in the US had to close because we couldn’t “attract customers?”

Yes, there are a few businesses that survive over the course of decades, but they are outliers, not the norm. For every Ford Motor Company, there were thousands and thousand of businesses that could not last, despite the use of the “business model.”

What about titans of industry? Those businesses that are were icons of their times, too big to fail?

Pan Am–Closed–Couldn’t attract customers

Kodak – Closed – Could not change with new technology

Bethlehem Steel –Closed –Couldn’t keep customers or adapt

Polaroid –Closed –Couldn’t attract customers, victim of new technology

Just last week, Toy-R-Us announced they’d be shuttering all of its stores. Once the go to place to get toys in the US, it died a slow painful death. We are watching the once mighty SEARS in a slow-motion death spiral as well, pulling down K-Mart with it.

The once invincible shopping mall is headed towards the dustbin of history as well, and with it, all the stores that relied on that model.

The above list goes on and on. Think how many non-franchised restaurants and bars in your town have lasted more than ten years? Not many.

Yet, this is the model that many people want education to follow.
“Education needs to follow the “business model.” they say.
“Education needs to compete for customers.”
“The income needs to match the outflow.”
“We should run schools like a business.”
“They should hire a business person to run that place!”

Perhaps we can follow the Enron Business Model which caused the near collapse of the energy industry and gouged consumers and investors of billions of dollars. Or the British Petroleum Model which was unable to deal with a giant ecological disaster of their own doing costing them tens of billions of dollars to partially clean up, leaving the lasting effects to fester in the Gulf of Mexico for decades to come that still affects fisherman.

The “Business Model has given the world the “Great Depression,” the Great Recession, numerous other recessions, stagflation, inflation, mini recessions, reverse inflation, and numerous other fun economic troubles.

What other “business model” should we follow? Maybe we should let education follow the business model of the banking industry and the real estate industry, both of which caused a near economic collapse of economies around the world in the last decade. Lehman Bros? AIG? All too big to fail businesses. How about Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac? Even General Motors and Chrysler needed bailouts in order to survive their “business model.”

People even voted for a President because he had a “Business background.” Never mind that most of his businesses declared bankruptcy and he had a history of not paying contractors.

This is the model that many people want public education to follow.

How many businesses in your city are still around that you know of after 5 years? 10? 15? 30? 40? Hard to think of a business in the US that has lasted more than 100 years. Every single one of them that are no longer there were following the “business model.”

All were competing.  All were trying to stay within their means.

And, at the end of the day, for whatever reason, EVERY business goes out of business. EVERY SINGLE ONE. It may take a year, it may take a decade, it may take a century. But in the end, EVERY SINGLE business goes out of business.

That is the business model.

Let the business model in schools adoption begin.

Or better yet, maybe those grumpy Fox News watchers that are all for the adoption of schools-as-business should think a little bit more deeply about what they really are wanting.

Because you need to be careful what you wish for. You might just get it.

***

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 End Credits and The Gig Economy

I am one of those people that sit through an entire movie. When I say ENTIRE movie, I mean all of the credits. I was doing that long before the Marvel Comic movies added those cool little stingers at the end.

I was watching when the credits would scroll all the way through, and would be rewarded with: “James Bond will return in The Spy Who Loved Me: Summer 1977” or something to that effect. (I am still waiting for Doc Savage: Archenemy of Evil, promised to me in 1975 at the end of Doc Savage: Man of Bronze.)

And while the structure of the credit scroll has basically not changed, one thing I have noticed is that the end credits have gotten longer. Sometimes a full ten minutes is taken to get from movie’s final scene to the typical final phrase “Any resemblance to any person living or dead is purely coincidental. And the soundtrack is available on Sony Records. And James Bond will return in 2019.”

Most people don’t pay much attention to the end credits. However, a lot can be learned from watching those seemingly never ending list of names. In the latest Star Wars movie “The Last Jedi” there were about 1800 people involved in the creation of that movie according to the IMDB website, not counting the cast.

That means about 2000 or so people worked together to create a single work. Imagine wrangling 2000 people to work on a single project. And not only were these people working all at different jobs, they also were working in different countries: Croatia, United States, United Kingdom, Bolivia and Ireland. At least 16 separate companies worked just on the special effects.

A russian arm.

Along with the usual cast and credits that you are familiar with such as Producers, Executive Producers, Directors, lighting technicians and such, there were jobs such as “4D effects editor,” “russian arm operator,” “phantom camera technician” and “creature puppeteer.”

If you needed a “4D effects editor”, or a “russian arm operator” where would you go? Creature puppeteer? Probably not someone that you have on staff. You would hire a specialist for a short period of time, and when the job, or gig, was over, they would go on their way to their next job.

Not necessarily your next job. You may hire them again, or you may not.

Welcome to the “gig economy,” where short term, temporary free lance employees come to work “as needed” but are not attached to a company. The gig can be huge, like the 2000 people that came together to create “The Last Jedi,” (TLJ) or it can be small like a single Uber driver.

The gig economy where groups of people come together, work collaboratively on a project, and then go their own ways, when done differs greatly from the economy that most people are familiar with. People working on a gig may work together again or they may not. Typically, all gigs are temporary.

This growing freelance job market is made possible by advances of digital technology, where workers no longer have to be tied down to a geographical location to get a job done. Special effects artists working on TLJ came from all over the world, including China, England and California. (Ever heard of a global economy? Movie making is a great example of that in action.) Ten special effects companies and dozens of artists, working across the globe, might be called upon to complete a single scene lasting only seconds in the final version of the movie.

There is mounting evidence that our future workforce will be heavily made up of freelance or “gig workers.” Gig workers make up close to 34% of the current economy according to Intuit, and are expected to make up to 40% of all US workers by the end of 2020.

Businesses like the idea of a gig workforce because they do not have to keep highly paid specialist on staff taking up offices, for just occasional work. Temporary workers don’t require all of those benefits that a full time worker requires such as insurance and retirement plans. They also have a much larger workforce to choose from, essentially everyone that can do that particular job anywhere on the planet. Gig employees like the idea of the freedom that gig work entails. They can follow the work that they are passionate for, are not bound to the drudgery of working for a single company, and can set their own hours.

While we have always had some amount of the workforce working as “freelance” workers, most of them have been sort of lone wolves and certainly did not represent the percentage of workers that are now in that type of job situation.

NPR recently did a with a segment on the “Contract Worker” which is essentially the same idea as a gig worker. This one focused on contracted lawyers, and let’s just say, the days of a single lawyer, in a local office are numbered.

How does education need to respond to preparing our students for this new way of doing business? A recent blog post by Emily Liebtag suggests that educators need to teach students to adapt to the changing workplace dynamics by making sure that students are able to find a passion that they are willing to make an impact in.

They need to be given meaningful problems and projects that are not simply focused on making money and are actually given the opportunity to create short term projects that mimic the “gigs” they will encounter in the world outside.

Along with Liebtag’s ideas, students also need to be well versed in how to work collaboratively, communicate clearly, and critically think with others, all skills that every single one of the people working on The Last Jedi had to been able to do and are essential in a gig economy. Today, we educate students to do A JOB for a long period of time.

We need to switch to teaching students how to pivot between differing jobs without losing a step. We all saw what happened during the Great Recession when people trained to do a single job were displaced and could not find employment because they were not flexible enough to learn a new type of job.

The workforce of the near future will be all about uncertainty, automation, technology infusion and people switching jobs from one month to the next. The idea of a “career” as we now define it might become more cloudy as well.

How we prepare our students to function in that type of economic environment will go a long way in determining their success and whether or not we will ever see James Bond returning in the Summer of 2035 or Doc Savage: Archenemy of Evil.

I can’t wait.

 

***

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: Screen Time

Back in the 1960’s I remember my mother telling me not to sit so close to our Magnavox color tv console my family had purchased that was the center of entertainment in our house.

“The radiation will burn your eyes out.” I remember her saying. I think she also warned me about some kind of cancer risk as well.

Her warnings morphed over time into “You’re eyes will be crossed and you won’t be able to uncross them if you sit too close” as well as “You will have your brain fried by watching too much television.” At the time, I was never completely sure she was telling the truth to me. After all, surely Captain Kangaroo wouldn’t irradiate his entire audience of children. He was such a nice man it seemed.

I suppose my mother’s purpose was to scare me enough so that I wouldn’t spend so much time in front of the the “boob tube” (a reference to what happened to your mind if you watched to much television, not a body part.) Did it work?

Probably not. I remember watching pretty much what I wanted to.

The difference, even back then, was that I tried to watch more “mature” material (other then Captain Kangaroo and Saturday morning cartoons) because I wanted to be an adult, even at an early age.

So my viewing consisted of a lot of PBS, even though I didn’t understand a lot of it.

The material was high quality, even though I didn’t understand all of it.

Captain Kangaroo gave way to Zoom, The Electric Company, and then NOVA, Cosmos and the like. Bob Keeshan was the gateway drug to Carl Sagan.

I often think about my mother and her dire warnings of impending doom whenever I hear of a study that makes a broad generalization:

  • Butter is bad for you.
  • Eggs are bad for you.
  • Cell phones will cause your car to explode at the gas station.
  • Cell phones will give you brain cancer

I thought of her when I recently read a study that said that said that kids spend too much time in front of screens. It isn’t hard to find a study that picks on technology in education. The British seem particularly good at jabbing sticks into the eyes of ed tech. And it isn’t too hard to make the connection, if you have lived long enough, to link the old “too much TV research to “too much Technology” research. Everything old is new again if you are young, or you have a bad memory.

  • “Screen time keeps kids from understanding emotions.” says UCLA.
  • “Screen time should be limited” says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
  • “Screen time too much for teenagers.” says the Brookings Institute

The cumulative effect of these types of studies are that the public will think that ALL SCREEN TIME IS BAD TIME. The implication then is that using technology is bad. If you sit in front of a screen, you are slowly losing your mind. And adults that allow it are complicit in the mental homicide.

Of course, that is wrong. It is not about the time in front of a screen. It is about what the child is DOING on the screen. A child that spends 10 hours in front of a screen is being just as social as a student that is spending ten hours reading a book, or ten hours practicing a violin or ten hours running around a track or lifting weights. A good parent should be watching their children, no matter their age, and limiting ANY kind of behavior that they think is inappropriate or “too much.” Ten hours of straight Netflix watching anime to me is just as bad as ten hours straight of reading.

However, ten hours straight of watching educational material on Netflix…is that bad? Is ten hours of NOVA, or Cosmos with NDT, or a Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War equal to ten hours of Marvel Superhero movies? Is reading ten hours of classic literature the same as reading ten hours of Batman graphic novels?

I remember once talking to a parent about taking their kids to Barnes and Noble. The parent was talking to me about the dangers of the internet, and that there were lots of “bad things” out there. I asked the parent if they would take their child to B&N. “Of course” she said, “it is, after all a book store.”

The implications were that bookstores were somehow inherently good while the vast majority of material on the internet was inherently bad. I reminded her that there were entire sections of the bookstore that had books about sex and sexuality, as well as Playboy and Penthouse magazines. “Well she said “I don’t allow him to go there. We go to the books that I think he will read and are good for him.”

“So you monitor what he is doing, and you make sure he goes the appropriately aged materials.”

“Yes, of course.” she agreed.

And that is exactly what we must do with children and their screen time. Schools cannot monitor children at home. That is the parent’s job. Not only to make sure that children limit screen time to what they think is appropriate, but also to make sure that what children are actually DOING on the screen is age appropriate and quality. Less entertainment, more education.

It is not about the amount of screen time. It is all about quality screen time. Whether it is in an iPad, a laptop or a Magnavox color console.

***

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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