Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Technology Sucks

If you read through my posts, you will find that this is a theme that keeps popping up.  Not necessarily spelled out this same way, but the fact is, technology is just a tool.  It really sucks.  Sit down in front of a computer when you are bored and chances are, you will not learn a whole lot.  Same thing with a computer in education.  Throw a computer in front of a kid, they will sit there with a computer in front of them. If you are bored and that is how you stumbled across this, here are some things that you can read on this topic (the third one is a video).

The last one is my personal favorite.

Google drive added something called My Maps.  When I was a kid, I liked maps.  I would spin a globe and find out where I would live when I grew up, though the middle of the pacific ocean was not very appealing to me, I liked that I could see where things were.  I never did learn where the east coast states were though, they were so tiny on the map that I couldn't figure them out. I went to the University of Delaware and quickly learned where they all were.  By the way, for those of you who do not know, Delaware is not the smallest state in the USA, that is Rhode Island.  Delaware has the smallest population.

What the heck does that have to do with Technology?  Well, maps are way better now.  

Check out the map that I posted below.  While on that map, complete the following:

  1. Find Japan and trace the tectonic plate that goes from Japan to the USA.
  2. Find 3 pieces of evidence that shows the pacific plate is moving.  Explain how this evidence supports the movement of the plate (direction, straight, spin, etc.).  Find the direction that it is moving and compare that with evidence from a reputable scientific source.
 Wow... Its a Map (Click on it)

If you had to give your students one of the 2 options above, one would suck and one would be kind of cool.  The trick is that, in reality, the thing is just a map.  Yes you can do cool things with it like add videos, images, customization, zoom in and out, change the base map, etc., but it is just a map.  

How often have you spent examining maps to learn something new?  Put it on a computer and POOF, its a learning tool.  No, its a FRICKIN map.  They kind of suck.  What makes it cool is using it as a tool to get students to see something that they are learning, explore more deeply and find evidence of something that was discovered around 100 years ago by really smart people. Alfred Wegener, 1912, thought plate tectonics happened because he looked at a map and thought the continents fit together.  Later the things was confirmed by Harry Hess in 1960.

It is kind of cool when you can take a process that happens at the same rate as fingernail growth (roughly 1 in per year) and show students that it is really happening and that it affects them.  
  • Follow the ticker tape leading northwest of Hawaii and see that there is a weak spot in the plate and Hawaii almost has a lot more islands.  
  • See the nexus of 3 plate boundaries and find out where there are so many earthquakes in Japan. 
  • See how close Bermuda is to the mid-ocean ridge and ask students to defend a thesis of why they think there are navigational issues we know as the Bermuda triangle.
Maps don't have to suck, technology doesn't have to suck.  So don't make them.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Connecting the Dots - Design Thinking - #dtk12chat

What is at the nexus of the things that we have learned.  Yesterday I attended a Design Camp.  A one day design thinking conference-ish learning, mind blowing, experience.  It was an amazing experience.  The learning and ideating through design thinking was phenomenal.  However, one of the things that stuck with me most came from a single comment the night prior.

The evening before the conference, there was a meetup to get to know each other.  Honestly, one of the most important thing that I learned was the connection that happens just because of the empathy involved in the process.  It was here that I met Grant Lichtman, author, keynote of the conference, design thinking guru.  As we talked, he asked about my story.  Throughout the process of telling the story, I mentioned about 5 different that I wore and buckets that I lived in through my career.  He let me know that I had done this and asked, "Why not just call yourself an educator?"

It is 3 days later and I can't get that out of my head.  I like the buckets that define the type of educator that I am.  Not because I think it limits what I know, but because it adds lenses that I have used to critically examine the art I call education.  They have also constructed my current roll.  I enjoy the fact that I have come from several different areas and have experiences with conflicting ideas of what education should look like. I think of each of the experiences that I have as a dot.  Every time I learn something new or engage with someone new, about a topic, I get a dot.

I have a lot of dots. Not as many as some that I have met, but I enjoy the fact that my dots are scattered. I have dots that seemingly contradict.  I use these dots to look at similar problems through different lenses, and each of the dots alone may provide drastically different solutions. I even have dots that, taken alone, would view some challenges that I face as solutions to other challenges.  I have come to think that, like the empathy in design thinking, I need to understand and be able to empathize with people who exist solely in one of the dots that I have. I guess that I view this as an internal conversation with my experiences occurring in my brain.

So is our job to just go and learn, accumulate a bunch of dots to understand different points of view in regards to the problems we face. No.  I think that our job is to connect the dots.  When we connect the dots, we connect our different lenses and our experiences to the challenges we face.  Once we have done that, we take the input and critically make the decision in the our best interests.

Notice that if we connect the dots, the solution (orange dot in the center) lies "within the box" defined by our experience. (sorry about the molecule, but I was a chemistry teacher.

So is that the design thinking process?  Not really, the way that I understand it, the design thinking process is realizing that there are stakeholders who have completely different dots. Ones that you will never know unless you ask, empathize, and work with to solve a problem.  When you bring people together, empathize with them, accept their prior experience and knowledge (their dots) and incorporate that into the problem solving process, you get a different solution.  An out of the box solution.

Bringing more than one person's ideas to the table brings another set of dots.

When this happens the solution (black dot) is somewhere else.

The more people, the more empathy, the more expertise that you bring to the challenge, the more dots you have and the more outside the box the solution may be.  I say "may" as bringing together people with the same dots can bias the process and yield a manufactured solution.  Through this method we can create more outside the box thinking, innovative ideas, future-ready solutions, and think for the future rather than think about it.  

I hope that this is a complete over-simplification of the process, especially for those who have been doing this for years, but this is my brain hashing it out.  As I am thinking through this, I wanted to clarify some things.  
  • The dots are not static.  They flow as we continue to learn.  It is only when we stop learning that our dots stop moving. 
  • If the dots keep moving, then does the solution change?  Yes, the solution is based on a snapshot of where our dots were at that point in time and what dots we found related to the problem.  That is why there are so many solutions to the problems that we have and so many applications and processes for this method.  
  • Lastly, notice how the last picture show, though the black solution dot is outside the "box" of each individual person, it is inside their collective "box."  Ideas, experiences, and imagination beyond reason create moonshot ideas that, though they may not be the answer, are a catalyst for moving the solution outside the box of participants.
I am not arrogant enough to think that this could be a dot for you.  My goal is that you comment and add another point of view to my jumbled brain mess and help me turn it into a deeper understanding of the process that has had my brain running since I learned about it. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Communication and Bandwidth

I was sitting in a presentation today and heard a man discuss how students are communicating and telling stories through video.  The stories were emotional and conveyed a sense of the student being connected to content.  A light bulb went off in my head.  I had been thinking about what we are losing with the communication through video, what we are gaining, and how did we get here.  I sit here and type, knowing that very few will read this.  I am ok with that.  This is how I process and how I put my internal thoughts onto something tangible.  If you are reading this, then I hope you get something out of it.  My epiphany was simple.  Our communication is determined by our bandwidth.

How we communicate has often been determined by the medium available for communication.  That medium has grown from story telling around a small gathering of people, to spoken word, to written work published in a book or a periodical.  There was also radio and later TV, but, except for a select few, these were mediums that a select few used to produce.  The majority of us were consumers.

With the onset of the internet, that written word became digital.  With the limited bandwidth we could view what others had created, download, make endless copies, and distribute.  That has become simple.  In the early 2000's we created and communicated through audio podcasts.  We were able to listen to what others were saying, both synchronously and asynchronously.  Some of the more "techy" people produced their own podcasts.  This took more time initially, but that has since gotten faster.  As bandwidth increased even more, services like youtube, vimeo, netflix, and hulu (among others) became a reality.  We no longer needed to open a cupboard or have the "Don't scratch the DVD" conversation.  We just hit play and magic brings the video to our screen.  Not only that, but these sites are easy to use and there are millions out there creating and editing their own videos

For as long as I can remember, I have written papers.  My thesis and dissertation were well crafted, static documents that are arguably irrelevant now as they were written 3 to 5 years ago.  Accompanying these papers was a presentation.  A story that I told my committee about the paper, summarizing years of research into a 15-30 minute presentation.  Though my presentation could be seen as a story, it is one that utilized very little bandwidth.  In fact, only 5 people saw it.  It was the best presentation ever... Prove me wrong.

Our students write, just like we did.  They present, just like we did.  But have we increased their bandwidth.  They have the ability to turn their stories into videos that others can stream in their classrooms and on their computers.  Are we letting them?

What are they losing in creating a video?  When students write, who reads it?  Is it an authentic audience?  What if we let the students move beyond simply writing a story?  Would we be losing anything if our projects were no longer write something, but produce a video?  Students would still have to write.  They would then storyboard the video with pictures and video that they could create and curate.  They would need to record a narrative, practicing enunciation, public speaking skills, the English language, and academic vocabulary.  They would record, fail, record again, fail again.  but when they were proud of the video, they would have constructed meaning from different sources of media and produced a project on content that they will never forget.

If we have the capability to communicate with so much more information, why don't we?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A different kind of innovation

When I taught, I was the master of my classroom (self proclaimed).  My goal was to give students an education that was not only exciting, but that required students to tap into their own genius and experience to learn.  When I innovated, I only needed to convince students to give my ideas a chance.  I promised to make the material more relevant and interesting to them.  I tried new tricks all the time and when I failed, students learned a lesson about the scientific method.  It was my hypothesis that things would work.  My experiment showed otherwise.  Revise the plan and try again.  Students and I would build together, work together, and learn together.  We had fun learning chemistry together and applying the concepts to new situations.  That was my brand of innovation.

I have since transitioned out of the classroom.  My goals have not changed, but I have had to adjust my brand of innovation.  I still want to improve education for every student I affect with my actions.  The difference is that the pool of students has gone from about 200 per year to an ongoing 50,000.  We have a big district.  My roll has changed from teaching students to teaching teachers.  I want to get other teachers to teach in a way that allows students to create and students to relate to material.

So how have I changed my brand of innovation?  I still enjoy learning new tricks, apps, websites, and tech, I do not use most of those technologies in the same way that I used to.  Rather than using the latest and greatest technologies with other teachers and students, I use a handful of old tools.  Innovation has changed from 1,000 cutting edge tools to do 1,000 cool things to 3-4 tried and true, simple tools to do 1,000 things each.

I use the term expandable.  What are the tools that are the most expandable?  Teachers and students can learn to use them in one sense, then the tool can be repurposed to accomplish hundreds of different things and support learning in 1,000 different ways.  Innovative, for me, has changed from the innovative tool, to the innovative way teachers use the tool to teach students.  The teacher is the innovation and not the app, device, or program.  I, like others, have seen innovative programs, apps, and devices used in amazing ways and in ways that, for lack of a better word, suck.

My brand of innovation is less about finding teachers the next tool and more about showing them that they can use the tools they know to do amazing things.  Slideshows can be used for ignite or pecha kucha presentations or repurposed for collaborative spaces, posters, feedback, discussion forums, and developing theories.  Documents can be used for papers, hyperdocs and research or repurposed for collaborative notes, groupwork planning documents, resource documents.  Innovation becomes more like Sir Ken Robinson's idea of a divergent thinker than a search for the next program.

Educators often just need a nudge in a direction and they begin creating.  I have found that once teachers see that they can be creative with the same old programs, they are eager to create amazing learning experiences with the programs.  Not that they need to learn something new, but seeing something in a new light can be invigorating.

I often think that my brand of innovation is less about showing people new tools and more about getting teachers to take the risk of looking at something they know in a new way.  Innovate by seeing a program from a new perspective and transforming classrooms by repurposing the use of that program.

Hope you enjoyed the brain dump.