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Home | Tag Archives: tim holt

Tag Archives: tim holt

Op-Ed: Too much technology for parents to handle?

I once was asked to answer a questions from a TV report about Ed-tech in the classroom.

“Does your district provide classes or help for parents who are not comfortable with technology?”

We had recently just completed a 1:1 roll out in our schools, and had also moved towards digital textbooks. The implication of the question, at least in my mind, was that the technology was difficult to understand, and the school district should provide some kind of training for parents so that they could work with their children.

It sounds like a great idea. At least at first.

I got to thinking about the question a lot. I tried to think of another area in school where parents might be given instruction about how to use the tools their children are being asked to use. I could not think of a single one, although I am sure they are out there somewhere.

For instance, suppose my child is taking band. Do we teach parents how to play the instruments so that they can help their children during practice?

Do we give parents lessons on modern dance to help their children with a complex dance routine?

Do we train parents for basic academic topics? Do we tutor parents on Algebra, American Government, Calculus, or Physics? No, we do not. To any of the above examples.

Would that type of training even be helpful? I don’t think so. Here is why: Student use all kinds of technology to get to a single answer. For instance they might solve a Algebra homework question by using Wolfram Alpha, or Khan Academy, or

The list is endless.

There is no way a school could say to a parent “here is the only way to help your child with this algebra problem.” It would be an exercise in futlity. The better exercise would be to teach students how to search for help, how to collaborate on questions, and how to use tools like Skype to work together after hours.

Then explain to their parents WHAT students will be doing, how to watch them online, and how to set expectations for technolgoy use at home.

I know that school districts all over the place, and even schools by themselves, give “parent training” on the basics of technology. Usually, these classes center around how to use a computer, how to surf the internet, how to fill out online forms, etc. They help non-technical parents function at a low level in a technical workforce.

Yet, I dont think that these are all that useful for parents to work with their children unless the lessons given to the parents are tied to the lessons the students are learning in the classroom. In most cases, they are not. They are the basics of technology use.

The children have a greater understanding of the technology by what they use in the classroom and with their peers.

Many districts does provide videos for students on how to use the very basics of the technology they are getting and parents could access those videos. Most districts have cyber safety tips for parents as well.

The general education public still does not see technology as an integrated piece of the learning culture, but rather an add on; Tech is not as a pencil, but as a pencil sharpener. That needs to change.

Tech in the classroom is here to stay, and is designed to transform learning when used correctly.

Parents need to get on board and learn how to help their children use technology, as much as they help teach their children how to hold a book and write.


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: Cruel Pedagogy – Adding to the List

Steve Wheeler came up with a 10 item list called “Cruel Pedagogy.” In it he lists ten things that teachers should do to be cruel while teaching; where the practice of teaching becomes a cruel experience for the students.

It might very well be that the teacher is a nice person, but the pedagogy they use, the techniques they employ with their students have long term negative impact on student’s learning.

The ten “cruel pedagogy” practices he listed are:

1. Place all chairs and tables in rows facing ‘the front’

2. Talk at your students

3. Cram your slides with text (green on red is a particularly confusing color combination)

4. Insist on there being only one right answer

5. Ensure there is no time for questions and discussion

6. Test and grade regularly

7. Fail students who don’t meet the test standards

8. Assign copious amounts of homework

9. Compartmentalize knowledge so students can’t make connections

10. Ban the use of all technology from your classroom

I think that I can add a few more to his list based on the things I have seen over the years:

11. Assign work where the product is the same every time

12. Don’t allow for creativity in student work

13. Move on to the next topic without making sure that students understand the previous one

14. Mumble to yourself and speak away from the students

15. Compare students to previous classes, their siblings, other students in the same class

16. Tell advanced students that they should intuitively understand

17. Tell students with challenges that it’s time to move on

18. Never accept late work

19. Tell girls that there aren’t many women in the field you are studying

20. Teach the same way you taught last year, and the year before that, and the year before that…

21. Tell students to “leave their problems at home”

22. Remind students that life was harder for you when you were a student

23. Dismiss technology as “gizmos and gadgets”

24. Never ask for feedback from students

25. Use the same teacher edition you used ten years ago

26. Use lecture as your primary means of conveying information

27. Take points off grades for things that students have no control over

28. Take points off academic work for discipline issues

29. Never meet with student’s parents

30. Waste class time on tangents that have no relation to what students are learning

31. Include your personal problems in your lectures

32. Assure students that doing poorly in your class will lead to lifelong failure

33. Never relate what you are doing to current events

34. Do not allow students any say in the topics they learn

35. Do not relate any learning to their lives outside/after school

36. Never replicate techniques when students actually were learning in your class

37. Never give students a big picture of learning

38. Test on things that you either didn’t cover in class or spent very little time on

39. Hide from students before and after school but claim you are always available to meet with them

40. Give assignments that are more difficult than the examples you cited in class

41. Actually use the phrase “You will never…” With a student

42. Assume because you explained it so well, that students understand a topic

43. Tell students that it is always their fault that they scored low on tests

The list could go on and on. Every one has experienced teachers that exhibit the above characteristics. Don’t confuse cruel pedagogy with strict teachers. There are a lot of very good teachers that run a tight ship in their classrooms.

Cruel Pedagogy teachers are not these type of teachers. We have also experienced awesome teachers that are the exact opposite of the cruel pedagogy exhibited above.

Those are the teachers we must celebrate.

Those are the teachers that push the world forward. Can you add to the list? I bet you can.


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: Every District Should Offer Students Online Classes

Recently, I attended the graduation of my step daughter from the Rocky Mountain College of Art and Design (RMCAD) near Denver. She graduated Magna Cum Laude. Yea, I got smart kids. Even my blended ones.

The ceremony was small, as was expected from a school like RMCAD, but one thing during the ceremony struck me as they read the names of the graduates: Although there were about 100 graduates in attendance, there was about the same amount of students that were not there, whose names were also read and for most of them, the words “Online Student ” proceeded their name.

“Sondra Lopez, Online Student.”

These students, had completed most if not all of their degree without ever having physically set foot on the campus. My daughter was one of those students, completing her entire four year plan of study totally online. We had only set foot on the campus twice previously, once to see the program of study while she was a senior in High School, and once again while we were driving through Denver on a summer vacation.

That’s it. Every single class, all advising, everything, was conducted through a wifi connection and school-supplied Mac laptop.

My daughter is not unusual in my family. My wife completed her Master’s in Education from the University of Texas at Arlington, having only visited the campus to participate in her graduation ceremony. Everything else, like her daughter, was online.

Of course, my family is not some anomaly because I am a techie nerd. A study in 2017 found that 100% of post secondary students take at least one online class sometime during their degree program. Did you get that? 100%. Every. Single. Student.

Add to that, at least 48% of all students in the US take ALL of their university classes online. Nearly half. And it isn’t just kids straight outta high school going online for learning. Those numbers also contain those learners that are returning to school to improve their job skills once they have left college.

Chances are, you may have taken an online course in one form or another over the years or your employer has asked you to attend one.

Trends indicate that the movement towards online learning is only growing, not getting smaller. Universities are now offering free online courses as well. MIT, one of the most prestigious schools in the world posts almost every single class taught online so anyone can learn along with the students in Cambridge. (Of course, you still have to enroll in order to get credit for the courses, but hey, if you want to quick refresher in Quantum Mechanics and can’t make the journey to the east coast, MIT has an online course for you.)

Universities are also experimenting with Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC), where thousands of students from anywhere in the world can enroll for free and get credit. These MOOCs have had a mixed success rate, with a lot of students starting and a fraction finishing the classes.

Stanford University started the first MOOC with a class in Artificial Intelligence several years ago, and over 100,000 students enrolled for it. By the end, only 5000 completed the course, a 95% dropout rate.

Some saw that as a failure, but the professor who taught the course explained that it would have taken him over a century to have 5000 students complete his course at Stanford, which typically has an enrollment between 12 and 20 students a semester, when it was offered.

With the onslaught on online learning, it is more important than ever that schools and school districts prepare students to learn in that environment. Students that are required to take an online course that have never experienced online learning are at a decided disadvantage than their peers that know how to navigate learning management systems like Canvas or Schoology.

There are multiple reasons why a student needs to take online lessons besides the obvious of preparing them for a post-secondary world that is not waiting for them to catch up.

In her article “How Online Learning Helps Students Pursue Their Passions” Lorne Bird writes that there are at least five good reasons to get students used to learning online:

  • Students respond well when they have choices in learning, which online learning facilitates better than traditional face to face learning.
  • Online learning offers more flexibility as students with a wide variety of learning styles can pace themselves at the rate that best suits their needs, not the class’s or the teacher’s.
  • Online learning is differentiated providing learning at anytime and anywhere there is a wifi connection.
  • Online learning develops self-determined, motivated students because students have to push themselves to complete courses, just as they would have to in college.
  • Online learning helps students build strong global connections. Despite what you might have heard, the world is connected and online learning helps students develop online collaboration skills that will be invaluable in the future workplace.

Consider this a challenge. Any school district that is not requiring students to complete at least one online course to prepare them for future learning is doing a disservice.

If they have the phrases “future learning” of “lifelong learner” anywhere in their motto and are not providing these opportunities, they need to either rewrite the motto or get on the ball and provide the opportunity.


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: Advice for Graduates: Learn to Play Scrabble

As the class of 2019 sets out into the new world, I thought I would share some words of advice that come not from me but rather from Scott Wakefield, an Assistant Professor, and Chair of Illustration at RMCAD in Denver.

Professor Wakefield came up to my daughter after she had received her diploma and left her some advice about being successful. I thought I would share it with you:

To be successful in your career you need to understand the game of Scrabble.

In Scrabble, each player is given 7 random tiles with a letter on it. The more difficult the the letter is to place in a word, the more it is worth. A “Q” is worth more to a player than an “A” or “E” for instance. Players try to place words on a board, crossword puzzle-like until all the the pieces have been played. Some places on the board are also worth more than others, so the trick is to combine the best use of the seven blocks of letters and points on the board.

Now, some players have a strategy of trying to use as many of their letters at a time, trying to hit a home run with every turn. In life, that would be like someone that is always trying to create the bestest, newest next big thing.

However in Scrabble, as in life, there are times when the letters you have received are not immediately useful. If you have received a S, Q, N, F, V, L, and a D, there are not a lot of words you could spell. You might sit there and get frustrated with your turn, growing more angry that the letters you have are essentially worthless for spelling a word.

But in Scrabble, as in life, perhaps the best strategy is not always to spell the 7 letter word. Sometimes, a player’s best move is to look at the tiles on the board already, and build on them, instead of trying to create a big new word from scratch.

Suppose the word on the board is RACE. A pretty good word. Another player might add the letters TRACK to it, making it RACETRACK. An even better word. But with the tiles you have been dealt, you could make RACETRACK into RACETRACKS. Even better. An excellent example of collaborative work.

Building on that which has already been built, instead of trying to begin from scratch. Which is easier? Coming up with a seven letter word or just adding an “S” to what has already been played? With only a single letter, you have created a ten letter word.

Bernard of Chartes in the 12th Century stated “nanos gigantum humeris insidentes” or “standing on the shoulders of giants” was a way that a dwarf could see farther than an average man. Isaac Newton, in a letter to Robert Hooke said that his discoveries were only possible because ”If I have seen further it is by standing on the sholders [sic] of Giants.”

Using the tiles that have been laid out on the playing board before you is a way to play the game effectively, and a way to win.

Play the tiles that have been played before you. Build on what has already been built. It isn’t cheating. It isn’t stealing. It is playing smartly. Sometimes, evolution is better than revolution.

The iPhone, considered a revolutionary product, was merely a set of tools collaboratively created by merging many parts that had already been created into a new form factor. 90% of the iPhone was already in place before the final product was created.

Apple added the “S” to the word already on the board.

Stand on the shoulders of giants. Play the tiles on the board. Good enough to win at Scrabble. Good enough for Newton. Good enough for Apple.

Good enough for you to win.


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: Teacher Appreciation Week Needs to Go Beyond BOGO

Another May, another teacher appreciation day, week, or month, depending on who you ask. With the celebration came a slew of companies that were quick to jump on the “We Support Our Teachers” bandwagon.

Typically, these businesses “supported” teachers by offering everything from a BOGO (Buy One Get One) deal for giant burritos (Chipotle) to a free 44 ounce slush drink with a purchase (Sonic) or a free appetizer (Cheddar’s).

Heck you could even get a free sandwich, gooey cheesy included (Arby’s) or a dozen diabetes-inducing donuts at Krispy Kreme.

Most of these “We really appreciate our teachers” deals require teachers to either buy something or sort of set up a situation where it would have been awkward not to purchase additional items.

Who buys just an appetizer for gosh sakes? And if you go to get a free pizza buffet at Ceci’s, you still have to buy a drink and schlep your kids down and but them a full price buffet and drinks. And throw in a large coffee with those free donuts will ya?

So really the “deals” aren’t deals.

They are tricks to get you into their stores and spend money that probably wouldn’t have spent otherwise. “Would you like curly fries and a drink with your free neon orange cheese-sauce covered roast beef sandwich Mrs. Jones?”

The simple fact is that these business don’t “support” teachers if the supported don’t support back. We love you teachers, as long as you buy one of our high profit sugary drinks or purchase dinner along with your free deep-fried appetizer.

Otherwise, meh.

This not-quit-a-scam scam has been going on for years. I remember getting a certificate for a “free burger” for my good grades in elementary school. Of course, my parents, who had to drive me to the Burger Chef so I could redeem my prized certificate, ended up with a bagful of burgers, fries and five drinks for the rest of the family.

When I became a teacher, Wienerschnitzel used to pass out a free chili dog coupon to every teacher as a “welcome back to school” promotion. Who wants a single chili dog and nothing else? Can I get cheese on that? Oh, and fries. And a large Mountain Dew. My “free” chili dog ended up costing me $6. What a deal! Thanks Wienerdog!

If businesses truly wanted to support teachers, they would cut the charade of “we-love-you-come-buy-stuff-from-us” and truly support them in a way that helped them as teachers.

For instance, instead of Mack’s Giant Hypothetical Nationwide Burger chain offering free sodas with the purchase of any combo meal, why not say “We have decided to send 1000 teachers, all expenses paid, to a conference that will help them improve their teaching?

Or how about instead of giving someone a free monster burrito, how about saying something like “We understand how expensive it is going back to school? We will pay the first year’s tuition at the local university for 50 teachers to start work on their Master’s degrees. No purchase required.”

Which of those choices do you think would have a bigger impact and prove how much the business truly “supports” teachers? Of course, they might have to actually pony up some cash to do that, which might hurt profits.

This idea is not without precedent.

This year during Teacher Appreciation Week, TCEA, the largest statewide education technology organization in the nation offered a free one year membership to any teacher that signed up for it.

No purchase required. No strings attached. Free. A $55 value. At the end of the year, the membership expires.

Teachers can renew or not, no harm no foul. They didn’t even ask for a credit card number! In that year, teachers have access to all of the online tools, trainings, and professional development that are offered as part of the membership.

That is a great example of actually supporting teachers.

So I say dear businesses, stop “supporting” over-stressed educators with free high calorie fried cheesy foods destined to increase their risk of a cardiac infarction or diabetes. Support them by providing them with the funds to improve their skills as educators. That helps them, helps their students, helps the community helps everyone.

And as a long term investment, it even helps you. You just have to see the big picture, not just your bottom line.

Now that’s a good deal!


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: Ian Jukes gets InfoWhelmed, Proving Anyone can Fall for and Share Misinformation

Ian Jukes is a smart guy. He is one of the old guard of ed tech with a substantial resumé backed by decades of working with teachers and educational leaders.

He has written several books on the “digital generation” as he calls it, the future of education and how our students should be digitally literate. He has made a name for himself talking about how students and educators need to be taught digital literacy skills in order to survive in today’s world.

One of his speaking topics is entitled “Infowhelm and Hyperinformation” where he talks about “…but how do we determine the good from the bad, interpret right from wrong, and distinguish complete, accurate, and usable data from a sea of irrelevance and digital inundation?”

With that kind of background, it was particularly disappointing to see Ian posting on Facebook and Twitter a meme featuring the picture above.

With the title “Sunset at the North Pole” this looks like something straight out of the Star Wars universe. Not many of us have the chance to see an actual sunset at the north pole, so of course it is sort of plausible that it might look something like this.

Who knows. I bet that Ian never made it to the North Pole, so he probably thought, “Heck, it could happen.” No critical thinking involved here. Just a matter of clicking the “share” button on Facebook and Twitter and off it goes to all of his networks. Probably a few of them “shared” as well, on to their networks. (As of this writing, the meme has been shared at least 18 times on Twitter alone from his @ijukes account.)

Not content however to just share a pretty picture, Jukes also included the accompanying text to go with the picture:

“This is the sunset at the North Pole with the moon at its closest point last week. A scene you will probably never get to see in person, so take a moment and enjoy God at work at the North Pole. And, you also see the sun below the moon . An amazing photo and not one easily duplicated. You may want To pass it on to others so they can enjoy it. The Chinese have a saying that goes something like this: ‘When someone shares with you something of value, you have an obligation to share it with others!’ I just did. Your turn.”

Never mind the poor grammar and bad punctuation. That is how things go viral. Copy paste. Share button. Copy paste. Share button. Copy paste. Share button. Mindlessly pushing forward. No critical thinking, no checking to see if the image is real. The very things that Ian Jukes writes entire books about and gets paid to lecture about was ignored by Ian Jukes.

Ian is, of course, not the only one to pass that image along. Even so called “Educational” and “Astronomy” sites have used the the image to show what the moon looks like at the North Pole, or to demonstrate a so-called “Super Moon.” Go ahead and Google “Sunset at the North Pole.” It is the number one image. It has even been used to celebrate various new years across the globe. The thing about this image is that it is totally fake. Made up in the mind of Astronomer and Digital Artist Inga Neilsen back in 2006 when she was 22. So unless God is a 22 year old German Astrophysics student that uses Terragen scenery rendering software, that whole meme, image and words, is a fake. It is out of Star Wars because it doesn’t really exist and is real as Tatooine. Too bad Inga isn’t collecting royalties on her copyrighted image that is being ripped off all over the place.

Ian Jukes should have known better and should have done a simple Google search before posting. He instructs kids and educators to do so, he should have followed his own advice. That is what is disappointing. The expert on assessing information didn’t assess information.

(Do you know that Google has a “Reverse Image Search” function, where you can simply enter the URL of the image you are looking at to find out where else not eh internet it is being used? Check it out here.)

However, if the guy that writes books about not being fooled online is fooled online, it demonstrates how easily that can happen for the rest of us. Don’t feel too bad that you got fooled by the Russian troll farms into voting for Trump. It could have happened to anyone. Just don’t fall for it again.

Thankfully, there are a lot of online sites that make it their business to check the veracity of memes like this. One is “takes2minutes2debunk” that wrote about this particular picture:

“The distance between the moon and the earth is much larger than the radius of the earth. So the small change in moon size between horizon and zenith will not be observable. The ratio of the actual size of the object to its distance is however a useful quantity to evaluate pictures being shared. The apparent sizes of the sun and the moon are approximately equal. The sun is much larger but is also much farther. Accidentally the ratio is the same. This is the reason for the total solar eclipse when the moon completely masks the sun and stars become visible. (It is dangerous to the eyes to try and compare the size of the sun at zenith using the procedure described for the moon). The so called view of the sun and moon at north pole clearly is a hoax. In it the moon appears much larger than the sun!”

Even as a casual inhabitant of the earth, there is no way the moon in the sky can appear larger than the sun from anywhere. That’s why we can have solar eclipses.If you have been living on earth for any amount of time, you should have known this. (If you are new to our planet you can be forgiven.) Even Forbes wrote about it back in 2017:

“Artist Inga Nielsen made this digital composition, called ‘Hideaway’, years ago. It has gone viral with the caption ‘Sunset at the North Pole’ ever since. It is not a real photo.”

Be careful when you are about to hit the “Share” button. Where did that meme come from? Does it have verifiable information? Did it come from a reputable sources? (No, grandma is not a reputable source.) Is the grammar and spelling “iffy?” Does it have an agenda? Does the image violate some natural law?

It only takes seconds to share a meme. It only takes a few seconds more to check to see if it is true before you share it. Right Ian Jukes?


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: Charter School Funding – It is a Scam

It is not difficult to log onto any local political blog and read commenters complaining about how “their” tax dollars are being misspent.

Typically, the complaints are accompanied by claims of corruption, mismanagement, evil doing and all sorts of back door, smoky room wheeling and dealing.

It has to be true they might say, because they once knew a friend of a friend who used to work in a department that was down the hall from wherever the mismanagement de-jour happens to be taking place who heard a guy at the next urinal in the restroom talking on his cell phone about it.

One thing is clear however, these folks really don’t like it when government entities spend tax dollars on things that they don’t think is worthy.

Public school districts are especially ripe targets, mainly I think, because most of the folks commenting are far removed from being in school and have no real skin in the game other than, at least in Texas, the property taxes that go towards educating our children.

One wonders then, with all the concern about misspent tax payer dollars among this group, why there is no hue and cry from local political bloggers about a recent report that outlined how Public Charter Schools have wasted over ONE BILLION dollars of taxpayer money over the past few years through a Federal program designed to expand charter schools throughout the nation.

The Report, “Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride,” details how a Federal program, the Charter Schools Program or CSP, designed to increase the number of Charter Schools (something championed and administered by the inept Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoss) across the country has literally handed billions of dollars to the charter school industry without any kind of followup or regulation. (Remember that charter schools , while still quasi-public schools, are in fact businesses, not unlike any private business you can think of.)

Among the findings of the report:

Between 2009-2016 close to one in four of the awarded grantee Charter schools either never opened their doors to begin with, or closed, leaving their students and parent to fend for themselves.

Between 2006-2014, the program’s own data showed that one out of three were out of business by 2015. In California, the state with the most charter schools, 306 charter schools received money, 75 never opened their doors and of the ones that did, 39% closed.

The Department of Education (DOE) provided no oversight of the grants, and simply allowed the awardees to take the money and do as they saw fit. In other words, the DOE actually assisted in the scam, never asking for a return of the money, never even checking to see that the money was spent according to the awardee’s grant application.

The program works like this: Once an award is given by the Feds, the money is sent to the State, where the State Education Agency oversees the dissemination of the funds. Once the money is given to the states, the DOE, in the words of Tony Soprano, pretty much “fugetaboutit.”

Among the scammers, according to the report’s co-author Jeff Bryant writing in AlterNet were a “Michigan charter that isn’t a charter at all, it’s a Baptist church—to the artfully deceptive—like the Hawaii charter that received a grant in 2016 and still hasn’t opened, doesn’t have a location, and its charter hasn’t even been approved.”

Perhaps the worst case scenario was the “Innovative Schools Development Company” in Delaware that won multiple awards beginning in 2013, never opened a school until 2015, continued to receive over $2 million in grant funds, closed it’s one school that was open due to low enrollment and poor management , yet somehow still was able to apply and receive additional CSP grants even though THEY HAD GONE OUT OF BUSINESS.

In Texas, the New York Times recently reported on the CSP-funded East Austin College Prep, where vermin invaded offices and classrooms. The roof leaked. Yet for all this, the school paid almost $900,000 in annual rent to its landlord who is also its founder, Southwest Key Programs, the nation’s largest provider of shelters for migrant children who you may remember ran the Migrant Shelter in far east El Paso country for a time. The federal charter grant program gave the school a grant to start the school through its Texas state grant administer by the Texas Education Agency.

Locally, the IDEA Charter Schools have also received part of their funding through the CSP, to expand programs across Texas including El Paso. But that is another column altogether.

It is a scam. It is a grift program, without oversight or transparency. No one knows who the reviewers for the grants are, nor who is in charge of dispersing funds.

Yet, not surprisingly, President Trump’s 2020 budget proposes increasing funding for the charter grant program by 13.6 percent, from $440 to $500 million, and DeVos, who never met a charter school she didn’t orgasm over, praised this increase as a step forward for “education freedom.”

Indeed, in a recent Congressional hearing DeVoss, when confronted with the facts of the amount of waste and fraud occurring in the program simply responded …we need more charter schools, not less.“.”

The rich get richer at the expense of the taxpayer, who in essence are paying private businesses to open or stay open despite the fact that there is no research to show that there is any kind of need or want.

So come on self proclaimed indignant taxpaying watchdogs! Get on the ball! Start making some noise about the Ponzi scheme racket that is going on right under your noses in the name of “education choice” being funded by the Federal Government and administered by the state of Texas.

This is exactly the corruption, mismanagement, evil doing and all sorts of back door, smoky room wheeling and dealing that you love to blog and complain about. No tin foil hat required. The heavy lifting has been done for you.

These are “your” tax dollars actually being wasted.

Where is your outrage?


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: Traditional Textbooks Make No Difference in Your Child’s Learning. Let’s Change the Model.

There is a dirty little secret that textbook publishers don’t want the people in education to know. That little secret? Textbooks have little to no impact on student achievement. You read that right: Little to no impact on student achievement.

Those books that states, districts and schools spend $7 billion dollars on each year don’t make a pile of beans difference in how your child does in class.

Of course, any classroom teacher with more than a few years of experience under their belt probably knows this to be true, or at least has suspected so. That is why entire school systems can interchangeably switch periodically from one publisher’s text to another when an “adoption” is made.

Pedagogy and content in many courses does not change substantially from year to year. Those prepositions that you had to memorize in your high school English class are the same prepositions your child or grandchild has to memorize now.

That multiplication table hasn’t changed too much in millennium, and the Constitution hasn’t all of a sudden changed its wording for the new millennia. The 90 degree right angle you learned about in elementary school is still 90 degrees.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the recent study by Harvard’s Thomas Kane that found that traditional printed textbooks, in a six state research project had and I quote “…near-zero relative effects on achievement measures.”

Near zero.

And while that study was just about Math textbooks, similar studies have found similar finding in Science, Language Arts and Social Studies textbooks in K12 as well.

Dirty little secrets. Now you know.

And while the publishers have forever simply responded to the beck and call of the state education agencies and published to whatever “standard” de jour the states have decided to come up with, perhaps it is time that we reexamine the use of the traditional textbook in a modern classroom.

It has become obvious that the business model of printing paper texts is fast coming to an end. And while the above research certainly doesn’t bode well for publishers and adds another virtual nail to the coffin, there are game-changing organizations out there that are rewriting the rules of textbooks.

Open Education Resources (OER) such as Rice Universities “Open Stax” project create college-level and AP certified digital textbooks that are free, sharable, and every bit as “authoritative” as traditional paper textbooks.

The advantage of OER of course, is that no one single entity owns the material and texts can be augmented, reorganized, and rewritten to fit the needs of the user be it a single classroom teacher or an entire statewide adoption.

No big time textbook publisher that I am aware of has that kind of model in place. OER is a disruptive, money saving, and shifts the power away from the publisher and towards the teacher and student.

Consider the recently released “modEL Detroit Project”, a complete online OER course in English Language Arts for Kindergarten through 8th grade. Over 1700 downloadable presentations for graded K-8 that include lessons, differentiated instruction and more that are designed to reduce planning and prep time for teachers.

ANYONE can use it. Anywhere. You don’t have to be a teacher in Detroit to be using it. A teacher in El Paso or El Segundo can just jump on the site and use away. Indeed, the website actually encourages the widespread use of the lessons, instructing users to simply change the name on the slide decks to match their needs.

These are simply examples in a large and ever growing OER ecosystem that is designed to push the traditional view of textbooks out the window. Organizations such as “Open Up Resources” have created entire online courses that teachers anywhere can use for free.

Indeed, the OER Open Up Math and Language Arts curriculum have consistently ranked tops in the nation , winning multiple awards.

When was the last time your kid’s textbook won an award?

Perhaps no organization is more embedded in the OER space as the world famous produces not only OER digital textbooks that can be modified by anyone including students, but also online learning games, simulations and study guides. Just last year, Ck12 released their “Flexbook 2.0” which combines ALL of their multiple online resource into a single online textbook space.

Essentially they have created an entire course-in-a-book that, like all good OER can be modified and shared for free. A student can read a passage, watch a related video, conduct a simulated laboratory, take a short formative assessment, all without leaving the Flexbook.

At a recent conference, Miral Shah, CTO of Ck12, said that the “Flexbook 2.0 is not a tape, it is a CD…you can chose the play sequence yourself.” He explained that a textbook, like an old cassette tape, had to be digested in sequence, Chapter 1 to 2 to 3 and so on. Because it was printed, the sequence could not change, like the music on cassette tape.

When CDs came along, you could program the sequence to fit your mood or hit “shuffle” and hear the songs played at random. Personally, I believe the Flexbook 2.0 is more like Apple Music, where the user can personalize the playlist not only to match the mood, but time of day, location and more.

You can even see what playlists your friends are listening to, much like the Flexbook 2.0. Over 200,000 Flexbooks have been created, remixed and shared in the years since CK12 began.

All of these OER organizations are disrupting the traditional textbook model, and I suspect that in a few years, they and others like them will force the “big time” textbook publishers to become online content providers who will simply slip away from the business of printing paper textbooks.

It does not take a rocket scientist to see that in the very near future, the idea of the “traditional textbook” will pass away, and online courses will be personalized to the exact needs of a student, much like genetic cancer treatments are personalized to the DNA of the patient.

Then, the headline and research will say that textbooks will indeed make an academic difference to students and learning. OER will lead the way because free, well done, and available to everyone is a hard business model to beat.


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: We are teaching kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet – A 2019 Update

“We are teaching kids for jobs that don’t even exist yet.”

Most teachers have heard that phrase, or some variation of it, during a professional development somewhere along in their career journey.

It became popular around 2007 along with a video by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod called “Shift Happens” which successfully started many conversations about what schools need to do to get their students ready for a world that we a) cannot see b) cannot imagine and c) are not prepared for.

You can see the latest version of the video here:

That phrase about “jobs that don’t exist” has been used to ask educators about what is important in education, and has been a stimuli for a multitude of sessions, where educators look at what is really needed in education.

For instance a question that comes up again and again is whether or not students need to know “factoids,” those little pieces of information that they probably will never in their lives need to know expect to impress someone at a dinner party, but can be easily looked up on the internet.

Does a student need to spend time learning that the General that led the Union Soldiers at the Battle of Gettysburg was Major General George Gordon Meade? Probably not. Yet some classes spend inordinate amounts of time learning those kind of minutia.

Now, the conversation has shifted even beyond that, with some questioning if students need to learn how to do such intricacies as differential equation problem solving, when there are faster and much more accurate technology means to do the same thing.

Perhaps, some like Wolfram Alpha founder Stephen Wolfram have speculated, that students should learn more about what type of problem to be used in what situation, and let the computers do the “heavy lifting” of computation.

Any decent education system should focus on the future, that place where students will spend the rest of their lives living in. However I think that the statement about preparing students for jobs that do not exist needs to have a corollary question to go along with it: “Are we preparing students for jobs that will not exist in the future?”

One doesn’t need to take a trip into a time machine to see that many jobs we currently have are going the way of the Dodo bird. Speaking at a recent workshop, EdSurge founder Betsy Cocoran said that “Any job that can be systematized can be automated.”

What does that mean exactly, to “systemitize” a job? Essentially, any job that currently requires steps, from A to B to C to final product can be systematized. Think of making a car. That is a very systematic process.

Part 1 is added to Part 2, to Part 3 and so on until a car is born. An assembly line of almost any kind is ripe for automation. But often , we think of “systematized” jobs as those in big industries like manufacturing.

Now, with artificial intelligence, jobs that we once thought could not be systematized are indeed on the verge of being sytemitized. Everything from CPAs to lawyers, mortgage brokers, even entire fields in medicine like X-ray technician and sonogram reader are on their way to the dustbin of history.

Machines have already shown that they can read and identify cancers in mammograms better than humans , can diagnose disease better than humans , and can even tell strikes and balls better than human umpires. It is not hard to see that jobs that require drivers, from trucking to airlines are going to be automated in the near future.

Newspapers today are using “robotic journalists” to write stories without any human help. You probably have read a robotic news article and had no idea it was written by a machine. And it was possible because every single one of these examples can be systematized. Truck driving, cooking, hamburger flipping, plane flying, bank tillering CPA-ing, lawyering, are all on the AI chopping block.

Are we training students for jobs that are not going to exist in the future?

If it can be systematized, then yes, we are. Education needs to be looking at training students for jobs that require a new way of looking at the job market. What kind of jobs SHOULD we be training students to have in the future? According to Career Addict, there are three types of careers that are pretty safe for now from the rise of systemized automation:

  • Creative Jobs: Artists, scientists, writers, poets, musicians, actors, Those job require inspiration, something AI just won’t have in the foreseeable future.
  • Relationship Based Jobs: Even though AI has its foot in the procedural doorway of medicine, there still will be a need for doctors and other types of professions that rely on building relationships with people.
  • Unpredictable Jobs: Those jobs that require someone to be in an unpredictable situation such as an emergency service worker, a plumber (or any trade that requires immediate help from an unpredictable situation).

Are we preparing our students for jobs that won’t be affected by AI, perhaps even teaching them to be in AI as programmers and not receivers of the programs, or are we preparing them for careers that won’t exist 15 or 20 years from now?

Good educators should be preparing students for the future. Great educators should be preparing students for how to navigate 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: Hey kids: Let’s learn a useless skill!

Here is a little game you can play with your coworkers: try to find a document at your work that is written in cursive from beginning to end. Go ahead I will wait.

How many did you find? I suspect that it was very close to zero.

Here is the next game you can play: Try to remember the last time you had to read a document that was written entirely in cursive. Go ahead, I will wait. Was it last week? Last month? Last year?

Can you even remember a time?

Here is another: When was the last time you were asked to write something in cursive for your work? Received an email in cursive? Read a book in cursive? Read a road sign, a billboard, a loan application, a mortgage, a car lease, a divorce decree? The truth is, unless you have a job as a calligrapher, you do not need to use cursive writing at all in today’s modern world.

Writing in cursive simply is a skill that is no longer necessary in today’s world. Sorry fans of longhand. The ship has sailed. The train has left the station. The toothpaste is out of the tube.

You are reading this online, in print type, where I would venture to guess nearly 100% of the writing is presented in non-cursive format. Have you been negatively impacted by that fact? Has your brain suffered? No, you don’t even realize that nearly all writing is in print format because print is so ubiquitous. Thank you Mr. Gutenberg. Your revolution is nearly complete.

Yet, despite a nearly 100% lack of any kind of need, starting next year in elementary schools all across Texas, resurrected like a character in the Walking Dead, cursive writing as part of the newly adopted English Language Arts TEKS will begin to be taught again.

Proponents of this “kids need to learn a dead skill” initiative cite several reasons for bringing it back. The first is the disproven notion that students need to know cursive writing in order to read historical documents like the Constitution. (Debunked about a year ago). In fact, you don’t need to know how to WRITE in cursive in order to READ in cursive. Those are two completely different skills.

A student can be taught to read cursive in about 30 minutes. You don’t have to know calligraphy in order to read the Coca-Cola logo, do you?

The second is that learning to write cursive somehow improves hand-eye coordination in little ones. Perhaps this is partially true, but so does learning to play an instrument, painting a picture, drawing, and playing video games. Data from research indicates that cursive writing has no greater benefit to students than any of those activities, yet we don’t have “video games” as part of the standard curriculum.

So why the push to bring it back?

The TEKS , those standards that your child is mandated by law to learn and school districts are obliged to teach, are not free from political influences and pressures. What your child learns in school is subject to legislative arm twisting, lobbying efforts by hundreds of organizations, and hearings by multiple committees and departments.

In a red state like Texas, we often are pressured by lawmakers to return to a fantasy world that never existed, where mom stayed at home dutifully vacuuming the carpet daily, dad brought home the bacon, and all the little white children were above average. You remember those days, don’t you?

Those days were the days when all the little children learned how to write in cursive, so that they could send Grandma a Christmas card each year, handwritten, making her so proud. You remember right? No you don’t.

The problem, of course, is that world didn’t really exist, except in the imaginations of politicians who continually mistake ’50’s and ’60’s TV sitcom families for reality. The fact, separate from the fantasy and the voices in their heads, is that many of the skills taught back then are not needed today. We taught Latin as a matter of course in many schools “back then.” We don’t teach Latin, except in some select places, anymore. And good riddance. Latina mortua est.

Cursive writing was put back into the TEKS because of some crazy longing for “the good old days” that really never existed except in the minds of east Texas white Tea Party Republicans. Qualem blennum!

Cursive writing, like Latin, is nearly dead. Want more proof? After 5th grade, there is not a single TEKS that revisits cursive writing. Not one. In any subject. In other words, the skill is completely ignored after students leave elementary school, never to be seen again. T

hat is 4 years (2-5th grades) that is wasted on a skill of very little value other than to make some east Texas blue haired ladies that taught elementary school in the 1950’s happy. For the next seven years a child is in school, they will not be asked to write a single thing in cursive. Not a single thing.

The STAAR test won’t be written in cursive, and the written responses can be submitted in cursive or printed format. Of course, if they are taking the test online, print is the default.

Teaching cursive handwriting should go the way of the educational Dodo bird. We have quite a few of those dead skills and classes that we, as a society, have tossed aside because time and technology have made them useless. Sliderules, keyboarding, “Home Ec” and how to shoe a horse are among the thousands of things we have relegated to the dustbin of educational history.

It’s time we send cursive writing there as well. Let’s teach kids skills that they actually will need to succeed in their futures, not some politician’s fantasy past.


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: Teachers That are Not Connected Take Away Opportunities From Students

Have you ever mentally kicked yourself in the butt for missing an exciting opportunity because you never knew about it? Missed that $49 Southwest ticket to Hawaii because your best friend who usually tells you about great deals didn’t text you this time? Don’t you hate that feeling?

Sometimes you miss an event because of extenuating circumstances, sometimes you miss because what normally happens didn’t happen, and sometimes you miss out because you weren’t tuned into the possible opportunity. Most of the time we miss events on accident.

We don’t purposely try to miss something of importance.

More recently, you may have felt that same kind of feeling because you may have not have access to particular media. When everyone else is watching Star Trek Discovery or Game of Thrones, you are not a subscriber to CBS All Access or HBO.

Missed opportunity because you weren’t connected.

Now, how would you feel if the same were happening to your child because your child’s teacher refused to get connected? Refused you say?

Yup. Refused.

In my experience, I have come across teachers that have said to me that they refuse to have internet at their homes because they “don’t want to be bothered with all that “internet.”

I once had an elementary teacher tell me that students didn’t need to know “all that stuff” until they got in high school. She used that as a justification to leave her laptop at school, have her son do anything that required after hours internet work, not have wifi at home, and never use the provided tools that the school district purchased.

And she is not alone.

One teacher celebrated her “cutting the internet cord” in a blog entry “Disconnected: How Cutting My Home Internet Access Saved My Teaching Career”

The fact is, there are still many educators that simply refuse to connect to the resources and opportunities that are freely available to students either during or after work hours. Those that refuse to connect are missing a world of opportunities for their students. Those that are connected give their students an advantage that the others are missing, simply because their teachers do not look for learning opportunities.

There is indeed a “digital divide” between those that do, and those that do not.

Take for instance this little video:

In it, Chris Hatfield, perhaps the worlds most famous astronaut, held a world wide “sing along” with students all over the world, live, from the International Space Station. Silly? Perhaps. But students all over the world were able to actually interact with an astronaut, in space. Live. What an excellent experience, and it only happened in classrooms where the teacher was connected enough to know about the event.

Did your kid participate? I bet they would have told you if they did. But chances are, your kid’s teacher wasn’t connected.

How about this? How often does your child have a chance to talk to a famous scientist like Jane Goodall? They can you know. And teachers that are connected have a much better chance of knowing about it than teachers that aren’t. Yeah they can do it here on April 2 or April 9.

Think your kids are doing that? Or participating in any of a million different opportunities that are available to students and teachers on the internet? If their teacher is not connected, actively looking for these opportunities, then they are not exposed to these types of opportunities.

For instance, there are Virtual Field trips held throughout the year in SKYPE:

“From the Earth’s ecosystem to the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, our world is connected. When we begin to relate one piece of learning with another and then another, the connections create a more complete picture of our complex world. Students can experience this through integrated curriculum, as well as using technology to literally connect themselves with others in the world. Our brains crave familiarity and connections, so let’s provide that for them. -Ginger Lewman”

If today’s educators, which are supposed to be preparing students for their future, are not connected to the opportunities that are available online for their students, then they are, effectively, committing educational malpractice.

The Texas state standards for education, known as the TEKS, specifically require teachers to be giving their students opportunities to practice the four “C’s” of modern learning: Collaboration, Connectivity, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.

How can a teacher teach students to collaborate for instance, if they do not collaborate? How can a teacher show students proper ways to connect with each other of they are not connected?

Some educators might say “I am connected.” But what being connected means in their mind is often that they personally are connected online to their children in college perhaps, using Facebook or finding lesson on Teachers-Pay-Teachers.

As a professional, teachers need to look beyond the geographic boundaries of their schools, districts or states and connect with other educators across the globe. Connected does not mean going up on Pintrest and looking for an unvetted lesson plan or paying $1 for something a teacher in Enid Oklahoma did with his students.

Connectedness means being able to get online, and seek the answers to questions and having a wide network of colleagues that can help you answer the questions or find that online opportunity. online professional learning communities are more powerful than almost any other educational tools a teacher can use.

If a teacher has no online PLC, they they are depriving themselves, and their students of opportunities that others are experiencing.

Of course not every teacher is going to find every opportunity. But there are places on the internet that aggregate learning opportunities. The Microsoft Educator Community comes to mind immediately. Those are the kind of places teachers that are not connected get started.

Teachers that ignore or shun such opportunities for their students are not doing any favors for their students or the community. And even “successful teachers” that have not become technologically connected, no matter how good, are setting up their students for future failure.


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: Lack of Critical Thinking by Students and the Media. Example #34523195323

A recent piece on a local news station depicted the supposed problem of “milky” water coming from a water fountain at a local high school.

Indeed, a semi-viral video was taken that shows what appears to be the suspect water with some kind of white substance, flowing into someone’s receiving hands.

“This is what y’all are drinking?” was the phrase embedded in the video.

What could it be?

Anyone that has lived any amount of time in this city knows that what the students were actually looking at was a situation where tiny bubbles are released when the pressure or temperature changes inside a water system, not unlike what happens when a bottle of soda is opened. It is the public tap water version of carbonation.

Those billions of tiny bubbles, in the right lighting, make the water appear to temporarily look whitish.

The reporter then went on to ask students if the taste of the water was different (it wasn’t) and, to his credit, even linked to a US Geological Survey webpage that explained the phenomenon, which occurs so often in El Paso that it can’t be considered phenomenal.

However, to students who grow up with prepackaged water from a plastic bottle, the appearance of anything that is not “perfect” must mean something nefarious is happening. (All bananas must be yellow, all tomatoes must be red, and anything off the norm must be bad is what these students (and reporter) are saying here and what they have been taught by society to accept as truth.)

Conclusion of the story: It wasn’t water laced with Round Up, milk, or some nefarious carcinogen. It was tiny, harmless, bubbles.

After thinking about that piece for a while, it occurred to me that while this was a non-story that somehow ended up on the air, the reporter did not ask the students any basic questions, did not have the person that created the video on air, did not look critically at the video itself (does this happen anywhere else), and had to take a “something must be wrong” attitude in order to even do the story.

Why didn’t the reporter ask for a sample of the suspect water?

Why wouldn’t the student who created the video want to provide further evidence?

Non-critical reporting is not taught in journalism, but seems to be par for the course in El Chuco.

Concurrently, the students that created the video demonstrated a total lack of critical thinking. Did the water look like that after 10 seconds? 20 seconds? Half a minute?

Consider that this event took place at a high school. High schools have science departments, including chemistry classes. Most modern high schools have equipment for testing water, some even equipped with sensors that can detect dissolved and precipitate matter in water.

Why didn’t these students think to first take a sample of the water to one of the Chemistry teachers at the campus? There are 22 science teachers at the campus, including AP Chemistry.

Surely one teacher could have easily given the students a beaker, taken a sample, and tested it, or better yet, have the students test it. If there was no problem, case dismissed. If they found an irregularity, THEN report it to the campus administration. None of that seems to have been done in this case.

Every moment is a teaching moment if we make it so or teach students that way.

Probably, teachers weren’t even aware of the student concerns in the first place, which bring to mind the question “Why aren’t students trained to seek ways to answer their questions first?” That is what the scientific method is all about.

In this case, these particular students did not seem to remember a single lesson taught on problem solving.

Students, who are always accused by adults of spending too much time on the internet, apparently spent no time looking up what might have caused “milky water” in the first place.

A simple Google search on “What causes water to look milky?” brings up hundreds of websites in less than a second.

Why wasn’t this done by the students? Why didn’t the report ask them?

To me, this is a sad commentary on the critical need to teach students basic problem solving, not about “milky water” at one high school.


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: Positive Deviance: A Different Way to Solve Problems

Chances are you have never heard of the term “Positive Deviance.” Positive Deviance (PD) is a way of problem solving. Instead of looking at the bad and trying to correct for it, one looks at the good and tries to replicate it.

Positive Deviance has implications for how we try to fix problems in education. But first, let’s look at the most famous example of what positive deviance is:

During the 1990’s, nutritionists led by Jerry and Monique Sternin of Save the Children went to Vietnam to try and resolve a nationwide childhood malnutrition problem. No small task: solve a nationwide problem. To begin to fix the problem, the team went into a small village to investigate the practices of the villagers.

In the past, the model to fix a problem like this was to supply the affected villages with food. Problem solved. (Donated food is only as good as long as the donations keep coming. Once the donations dry up, the problem returns.)

The teams noticed that certain children did not show signs of malnutrition. These children were the poorest of the poor in the village. The team found that these children were drinking water from a pond that was for the “lesser” members of the village. These parents collected and prepared foods considered unsuitable for children like sweet potatoes, weeds, and crabs, washed their children’s hands before meals, and fed them three to four times a day instead of the typical two meals a day provided for other children.

All considered unusual. Yet, the pond contained microscopic brine shrimp, which provided nutrition to the children. The “dirty water” was actually better for kids because of the shrimp. The sweet potatoes, weeds, and crabs also were full of vitamins that other children had deficiencies in .

Even though it was a “dirty” pond to drink from the deviant behavior (drinking from the pond) provided positive results. Likewise, eating the sweet potatoes and greens also provided nutrition, even though considered “low class behavior.” Positive results from deviance. With the knowledge of what worked, the Sternin’s team was able to affect change on a large scale in Vietnam. So much so that a 65% malnutrition rate in children changed to a 85% wellness rate in a few years.

Since then, the idea of positive deviance as a driver for change has spread across the globe. Researchers at UTEP for instance, have looked at PD to cut down on recidivism of former inmates.

How can we take the lessons of positive deviance and apply them in an educational setting? Consider how educators solve the problem of low test scores: When a student fails, educators look at what the student did. They look at the reasons for failure. According to Positive Deviance, they are looking in the wrong place. Teachers need to look at successful students and ask: Why were they successful?

When looking at graduation rates for certain groups of students, instead of focusing on what the non-graduating students did wrong, a school should consider what similar students that did graduate did right.

One of the main ideas of PD is that the group probably has the answer to the problem. Whatever the problem is. One needs to tease the answer out.

There are six specific tenets to PD as stated in Wikipedia:

Communities already have the solutions. They are the best experts to solve their problems.
Communities self-organize and have the human resources and social assets to solve a problem.
Know-how is not concentrated in the leadership of a community alone or in external experts but is distributed throughout the community.
The PD enables the organization to seek and discover sustainable solutions to a given problem because the demonstrably successful uncommon behaviors are already practiced in that community.
It is easier to change behavior by practicing it rather than knowing about it. “It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than think your way into a new way of acting”.

In education do we look at the low performing and try to fix, or do we look at the successful and try to make that the model?

Next time you have problem, instead of trying to solve it the “old fashioned way” try positive deviance. The answer to your problem might be right under your nose all along.

Read all about the Power of Positive Deviance:


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: Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood

Stephen Covey, in his book on highly effective people, has a chapter entitled “Seek First To Understand, Then Be Understood.”

He states:

“If you’re like most people, you probably seek first to be understood; you want to get your point across. And in doing so, you may ignore the other person completely, pretend that you’re listening, selectively hear only certain parts of the conversation or attentively focus on only the words being said, but miss the meaning entirely. So why does this happen? Because most people listen with the intent to reply, not to understand. You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say, the questions you are going to ask, etc. You filter everything you hear through your life experiences, your frame of reference. You check what you hear against your autobiography and see how it measures up. And consequently, you decide prematurely what the other person means before he/she finishes communicating.”

I was ruminating about Covey’s thoughts and about how many bloggers and commenters on social media create posts that are purposely designed to stir the pot without adding the ingredients of thought first.

For instance, a blogger might be writing about an issue with a local school district, or with a local politician’s decision to do something. The sum total of the blog entry might be: “This XXXX is a problem!”

That’s it. No backing info. No pre-discussion. Indignation reigns as the blogger might ask “How can this be happening?” “Who is overseeing this problem?” The blog post might end with a call to protest or ask the readers to comment on the supposed problem.

Of course, the readers of the blog or the Reddit, or whatever, are self-selected to agree with the blogger, and quickly chime in, many times with the civility of Black Friday Walmart shoppers trying to get to the $125 55-inch TV or $25 microwave oven.

Outrage. Indignation. Umbrage. Disgruntledness. The daily butt hurt. Lots of CAPS locks and lots of exclamation points!!! How dare they XXXX!!!???

“Because most people listen (or read) with the intent to reply, not to understand. “You listen to yourself as you prepare in your mind what you are going to say…”

More often than not, responses are pre-thought, with little or no critical thinking taking place. This is especially true of the responder can continue a narrative that they have been virtually yelling about for months or years.

Public schools bad! Trump bad! Politicians Bad! Liberals Bad! Taxes bad! Yea America! Boo socialists!

I have a keyboard, hear me roar!!!

How many of these types of posts could simply be solved by calling the organization that there is a question about and getting clarification? Five minutes would be all it takes for the blogger to get clarification.

But that is not what happens.

Here is a sample of what actually happens:

A blogger that specializes in stirring the political pot, will post a single slide/handout/screenshot from a much larger presentation, or perhaps quote a single line from a longer interview, expressing anger or confusion about the contents said single slide/handout/screenshot.

“How can this be happening?”

“What is going on here?”

We are doomed!

No context is provided other than that lone nugget of information. From that mote, the writer will then create a narrative about poor outcomes in local XXXX or school districts, or taxpayer abuse by local politicos, or how the little guy is getting screwed by the local secret cabal of well connected background unelected leaders who really run things.

“See?” The author might loudly proclaim, this proves my point! The deep state is alive and well! From that, the “Comments” section becomes a bombastic plethora of nattering nabobs of negativism. Agnew would be proud.

The commenters are not in any way trying to find an answer. They simply are anonymously yelling their confirmation biases at their fellow anonymous nabobs from within their own self centered anonymous echo chambers. And while Agnew was complaining about the press, his phrase pretty much describes any comment section of Youtube, Facebook, or blog.

What would be more interesting – to me at least – would be an article that poses the question or problem and then tries to find out an answer. For the vast majority of local blogs that have issues with local government or school districts, the answers to the question is simple: Call or email the entity that is giving you grief and ask for clarification on the topic.

That slide from the presentation showed something that upset you? Call the presenter and ask for clarification.

That school district official said something or did something that was unclear, call them up. Get them to explain themselves. Of course it is much easier to simply present a problem and let the crowd do what the crowd does.

But rarely, if ever in these posts or comments does any kind of viable resolution present itself.

Then the blog entry becomes much more interesting when the author first seeks to understand the problem and not just comment that there is a problem. Here is the problem that I perceive, here is who is responsible, here was their response to the questions we posed (or perhaps they did not respond, but that becomes part of the story as well), here is why I agree or disagree with the results.

Now I, as an author, understand the problem AND the solution, and here is why my readers can now understand the situation as well.

Instead of planting bombs of indignation, confusion and anger, plant trees of knowledge and understanding. Readers should be allowed to respond of course, but it would be very interesting to see if the negativity persisted if the blog post were written in that style. (And let’s not even discuss the how the elimination of “Anonymous” or the use of pseudonym comments would cut the negativity to close to zero.)

Seek first to understand. Don’t just seek first to be angry. Then write the blog entry. Then be understood.


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 Definition of An Expert Has Changed While You Weren’t Looking

I really like Marco Torres. I first saw Marco at any event that Apple put on an 2005 for El Paso educators.

Marco made a name for himself by teaching, while incorporating technology, to students that most other teachers would give up on, in a school that could best be described as a 5000 student, low income, first-generation American school with 400 teachers, that had chewed through seven lead administrators in span of four years.

At the conference I attended, Marco was the closing keynote speaker and he gave a great talk that I think everyone who stuck around for the last day was glad to hear. I will generalize here, not quote verbatim, but essentially he asked the gathered educators what an expert was and why they thought they were experts.

The teachers responded that the reasons that made them experts varied, such as degrees they had earned, certifications, knowledge of the topic, et cetera.

He then looked at the group and asked “So, what knowledge do you possess that a 16-year-old kid couldn’t look up on Google and in 30 minutes know just as much as you do about the topic?”

What a great question!

What knowledge do you possess that a 16-year-old kid couldn’t look up on Google and become an instant expert? He went on to show how his students were able to get the level or exceed the”experts” in a variety of fields including making superior political posters for local candidates, and a 17-year-old who showed Apple how to make a commercial for its new iPhone.

The most impressive was the student of his who turned a dull research assignment about “voting” into a powerful four-minute video on how one vote has changed the course of history. Because of it, she became the Executive Director of MTV’s “Rock the Vote.”

Experts indeed.

I think the idea of an expert being a person that holds vast sums of knowledge is no longer a viable definition. Information is no longer the purview of the chosen few. The Internet has made information of the uncommon common, or as Thomas Friedman said “flattened the world.”

So just having information does not make you an expert anymore because anyone can access that information in the collective knowledge of the rest of the world that is the Internet. There is very little that you can tell students about general topics that they cannot find on the Internet, and from a variety of sources, not just your point of view.

Who is an expert now? Maybe on my list would be:

Doctors, plumbers, musicians, artists.

What do the above professions having common? They all can apply knowledge they can take separate pieces of information and turn them into something meaningful or new eye doctor knows the parts of the body, the symptoms of a disease, pharmacology to of a drug, all discrepant pieces of information by the way, and take those and synthesize them into a diagnosis with treatment.

An artist can take the knowledge of color, the white paint looks on different media, the look of how particular particular brush leaves a mark on a canvas and that artist can synthesize those discrepant events into a work of art. They take information and transform it into something new.

The problem solved, much like Torres’s students who took an empty palette and created new works he was teaching them how to become experts. The new era learning skills. The things that businesses are now pleading that our educational system teach our children to do, yet we sometimes seem stuck in the education systems of the past.

What are we doing to make the higher order thinking skills a reality in our classrooms and when are we going to kill the lecture as the sole source of information?

The lecture is dead, or at least it should be put on life support. I suppose that lectures still have their place like in churches, but as for classrooms, well, they should at least be heading towards the door.

If you are a teacher at any level, kindergarten through graduate school and your primary method of information delivery is the lecture, then you are out of touch with the realities of your students today.

You need to change your delivery method.

This is not news to anyone familiar with business and education, but it does suggest that there’s a big shift coming on what is important in education. Do students really need to know how many people died at the Battle of Gettysburg or that the battle took place and what was the outcome and how did it affect the Civil War?

Now can I take the information about the Battle of Gettysburg and apply it to today’s headlines, the wars around the world? Or take the lessons learned and apply them to today’s headlines? Can I take the information from the Civil War and create something new from that knowledge?

Ken Burns did a pretty good job of taking discrepant bits of knowledge about the Civil War and created a masterpiece of television history. Nothing that Burns told was new information to historians, but the technique and the delivery was completely new. Now it is a standard.

No, the term expert has got to be redefined in education and elsewhere.

Expert has now got to include the ability to apply the knowledge, beyond just knowing something. Expert has to equal problem solver. Someone needs to be able to take knowledge, apply knowledge, and create with knowledge. Just knowing something is no longer how we should be teaching our children, period.

Teachers of gifted students probably remember the urging from the 1980s to “Move from sage on the stage to guide on the side.” Timely advice almost 30 years ago, timely advice today.

Prakash Nair, a futurist and one of the world’s leading designer of educational spaces, also bridged the new idea of expert when he told his daughter “I don’t care what major you taking college, just make sure that no matter what you do, you’re the only person in the world that can do it.

I wonder how we are training our kids to do that?


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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