Education Evolutions #49

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

A little later than expected but before the holiday, this hopefully finds its way to you. I feel like I am still catching up from the holiday layoff, in a way. So the weekly practice of curation finds me wishing I could work a little quicker.

I still feel like there is no shortage of interesting reading out there worth highlighting. Yet, I also cannot help but be reminded while reading of just how important it is to get my nose out from in front of a screen and spend time with loved ones on the weekend. It is a challenge that I confront as much or more as anyone reading this. In fact, this labor of love is an effort to help people in that regard, serving as a kind of stopgap against the spillover.

As usual, I don’t know if there is an “If you read only one article…” this week. the last piece, “I Used to Be Human” is three-quarters of an excellent article, although extraordinarily long. If you have the time and inclination, it is definitely a piece with ambition, even if I am not sure that it is altogether successful. It is successful on enough fronts to give a go.

Enjoy the week and Martin Luther King Jr Day.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

Getting Stuck on Self-Care: Why Community Care is Important for Educators – Teachers Going Gradeless –  Benjamin Doxtdator (6-minute read)

I like the thinking and writing of Benjamin Doxtdator a lot. I have never met him personally but I sense that we might get on quite well. I have featured his work in this newsletter on a number of occasions. This piece is as perceptive as it is provocative. There is no question that educators need to care for themselves. However, there is something even more powerful in the idea of a community exercising some care for itself too.

Schools can offer a ready-made community of care. In fact, I would humbly admit that I have recently given and received greatly from a community care based in a school. In his references to Noam Chomsky’s idea, “attacks on public education are really attacks on an ideal that we care for each other,” Doxtdator reminds us about the stakes. Despite demands on teachers being greater than ever, collectively there are greater possibilities to be potentially realized.

We Really Shouldn’t Let Silicon Valley into Our Schools – AlterNet – Sophie Linden (6-minute read)

This piece reads as a kind of executive summary on many of the challenges that are facing school’s brisk adoption rates of technology and the emerging consequences. There are a lot of links that reference a host of articles on the issues we are confronting. Linden rightly points out that there is conflicting research. For me, that fact only serves to strengthen why edtech should be regularly and rigorously interrogated.

Of course, the financial cost is one major factor, especially for public school systems that are inherently inequitably funded. There are also is the human cost, which we are only just beginning to really understand. Whether it is lost opportunities, attention, or even jobs, the field of education should be a place where ideas are constantly cross-examined. Unfortunately, it can all too often be a place where convenience replaces questioning. This article’s call for patience seems not only reasonable but increasingly required.

I Used to Be Human – New York Magazine – Andrew Sullivan (41-minute read)

As you may have already noticed, this piece is long. It might be the longest read I have ever selected for this newsletter. That being said, I suspect some of you will read it with a knowing resonance. Sullivan chronicles, in significant detail, his fall into the digital chasm of obsessive consumption of information and the virtual world. It is at times harrowing. I do think the piece runs a bit long and drifts from where it is most powerful. Yet, the first two-thirds to three quarters offer a pretty powerful testimony of the costs of “living-in-the-web.”

Even if you don’t finish this piece, it touches on some items that are more than worth considering. There is a kind of desperation being articulated here that should serve as a cautionary tale. As educators in schools, there is a growing sense of inevitability about technology that should be a cause for a serious pause. While it may seem alarmist, reading through Sullivan’s experience, albeit online (irony acknowledged) may serve as just that kind of pause, especially if you push through to the end.

Education Evolutions #48

IMG_4227 flickr photo by Jemimus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Select Readings and Thoughts on Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age

Well, this tiny newsletter returns. I hope everyone had nice holidays. It was nice to take a slightly low-tech approach to the festive season. I certainly spent more time away from a computer than normal. It wasn’t a complete drought but it was refreshing.

Having taken a week off from producing this publication means that there is no shortage of choices to be included. It was difficult to choose, honestly. Plus there is a whole lot going on in the world at the moment, I cannot be the only one who feels as though it is impossible to keep up. Nevertheless, here are some of the most interesting things I read in the last couple of weeks.

I don’t know if there is an “If you read only one article…” this week. With the time lapse, I already picked four articles. However, I think there is a whole lot of wisdom in the ‘The difficulty is the point’: teaching spoon-fed students how to really read. It does include some strong language as a fair warning to everyone. Even though it is ground in a foreign university setting, there is no shortage of observations that will ring true for almost any teacher. There is simply more to it than an exploration in teaching literature, although that focus offers plenty of value as well even if you are not that fussed with the topic of literature.

Enjoy the week and if you are in northern climes stay as warm as you can.

Here are three+ curated articles about education, technology, and evolutions in teaching.

It’s Time We Hold Accountability Accountable – Teachers Going Gradeless – Arthur Chiaravalli (11-minute read)

I have to confess that part of the allure of this blog post was the title, which is kind of awesome. As teachers are constantly reminded of accountability, I often wonder exactly who is accountable and for what in the educational field, not to mention what exactly is lost in the fixation on what can be measured. The fact that this post uses writing as a mechanism to discuss the topic also appealed to me greatly. Chiarvalli’s quick exploration of “what exactly it means to be accountable” is thoughtful and highlights the transactional nature at its etymological roots.

The key notion that this bargain that has been handed to educators from policymakers known as accountability is profoundly limiting in damaging ways for especially for students is not something that gets enough attention. The idea that “accountability has caused the focus of administrators, teachers, and students to solidify around the narrow prescriptions and algorithmic thinking found on most tests” is growing harder and harder to rebuke. What’s more introducing Goodhart’s Law (“When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.”) to the mix should help most reasonable educators see the folly of all of this.

For Chiaravalli, teachers have to be the start of resisting the dehumanizing impacts so often associated with accountability. The simplest way to begin is fostering meaningful relationships with students and avoid using grades as motivational carrots and sticks. No doubt engaging in genuine conversations about accountability resisting its baser consequences is a bit harder than that but it is a pretty good start.

‘The difficulty is the point’: teaching spoon-fed students how to really read – The Guardian – Reading Australia – Tegan Bennett Daylight (16-minute read)

There are a lot elements in this article that may be more appealing to humanities teachers given that it is written by an Australian literature professor. However, it is much more wide-reaching and relevant than that narrow audience. What is described is very much afoot here in the United States. bennett Daylight explains succinctly, “Universities are businesses. Students are customers. The more customers, the better the business does.” I would even humbly submit that elements of this worldview are encroaching across our K12 system apace.

As insightful as the “logic of capitalism overrides everything” observation is there are quite a few other gems in this piece that will resonate with any teacher. One aspect I found most interesting is the recognition of something as simple as an attendance requirement and the powerful consequences it can have. Recognizing the importance of place and what live in-person experiences have to offer is increasingly important in a world where there are so many things to enable us to retreat from it. As Bennett Daylight explains the English One requirement forces a kind of confrontation for students that can be uncomfortable but nevertheless powerful one – “that difficulty is the point,” as the title suggests.

Reading and writing are difficult, at least they certainly can be for many. It is one of many the reasons so many students eschew studying literature longer than is required of them. Yet, perhaps the most powerful lesson of literature or even deep and broad literacy remains, “Language is power, and when we find the right way to frame our experience, we’re not being crushed by it.” It is so much harder for anyone to ignore, dismiss or even hate when they are face-to-face with another human being, especially so when that fellow human being can offer support, guidance, or even inspiration.

The Other Tech Bubble – Wired – Erin Griffith (13-minute read)

Given how the volume of tech-related articles have taken a slightly critical turn in recent months, this is a fascinating insider view of the tech industry and how it may or actually may not be adapting to the cultural and societal shifts that are occurring. In my mind, we have rarely been critical enough and I include myself in that assessment. Aside from the allure of shiny and new, Griffith offers a sharp explanation of the context that may have accelerated tech’s most recent everything-is-rosy rise. As usual, it is a probably a whole lot more complicated. However, where this article offers insight is how Silicon Valley is reacting.

The subtitle “Silicon Valley Techies Still Think They are the Good Guys” sadly is only readable in the tab title as a theme it resonates through the whole piece. There is no end to the mentality that drives the “quest to move fast and break things—regardless of what broken objects are left in their wake,” sadly. It is this disruption ethos that has also taken root in education, which is creating some profoundly dangerous and potentially long-lasting consequences.

No one should be surprised when the public looks at the field of education with the feelings expressed by an investor in this piece, “It’s the exact same story of too many people with too much money. That breeds arrogance, bad behavior, and jealousy, and society just loves to take it down.” It has already begun at the higher ed level, as university presidents salaries are now being scrutinized with more attention and Republican have begun taking an anti-college agenda. While these issues might not be entirely related, the sentiment is attractive and can spread rapidly.

Why Logan Paul Should Really Worry Us – Vanity Fair – Richard Lawson (8-minute read)

I would not be surprised if nobody that reads this newsletter had ever heard of Logan Paul prior to last week. I confess I only discovered who he was a couple weeks prior to his recent notoriety because he made a recent appearance on a Top Chef episode that I watched with my wife. Yet, I am very aware of just how much of a tectonic force YouTube has become in the last few years. I think it is difficult for many to comprehend that a number of people are able to make pretty substantial livings and amass mammoth followings of celebrity status by regularly posting videos to YouTube.

This is one of many pieces I read this week about Logan Paul’s appalling episode but it is probably the shrewdest and perceptive one. Observations on the lack of guidance or parenting, the compelling nature of online content, and the insularity that can be created via online communities are all legitimate issues that we have not collectively addressed with a lot of critical thought or deep understanding.

Still, as novel as some of this might seem, there is a distinct recognition that we have seen this phenomenon before, albeit maybe in less virulent packages. “The idiot machine will still keep churning,” as Lawson remarks. It always has and always will. The only real difference now is that more of them can gain greater followings faster before the wider public is even aware that they exist.

Building Toward Greater Success in Robotics

Since joining the high school, Doug Scott has been rebuilding the robotics program with rising success. Currently, two courses are offered.

For the students, robotics offers an alternative opportunity to discover skills they may not have known they possessed. Combining collaborative, project-based learning in a team environment that includes research, writing, building, programming, communication, and marketing, students face challenges that are creative and fun.

Image: Doug Scott speaking with students.

Doug Scott speaking with students.

“The kids get pretty competitive,” Scott said. “The competitive nature drives them and they want to do well.”

Lego robotics provides an entry point for anyone interested and features the familiarity of Legos for construction and a simpler block-style programming language. Yet, the more advanced team robotics course extends beyond the classroom.

Sophomore Neel Mehdi echoes that observation, “I just love competing and I think that is what drive our team as a whole, competing against other teams. It helps us bond.”

Team robotics uses far more robust hardware than the Lego counterpart, as well as a C-based text programming language. Students in the course compete interscholastically, with honors students required to compete outside of school.

Students have achieved notable success. In their first competitive year, Hopkinton fielded five teams. All qualified for the Southern New England Championships, the next regional level of competition.

“Teams that perform well in that even have the opportunity to move onto the World Championship where 34 countries participated last year,” Scott explained. “One team made it to world’s last year and finished 11th in their division of 200 teams.”

Image: Alopa Waje and Tanya Kahn discuss their robot design.

Alopa Waje and Tanya Kahn discuss their robot design.

Yet for freshman Tanya Kahn the appeal exceeds the competition, “It’s really captivating, building a robot from scratch. A lot of people think it is not creative but it is so creative.”

In fact, for instructor Doug Scott building the robot is only a small part of the experience and learning.

“For me as the teacher it is more about the soft skills that students learn. Those skills are transferable,” Scott said.

The students shared this notion, recognizing that thee are range of areas where they recognize their own growth.

Freshman Alopa Waje said, “There are so many aspects to robotics. There are so many different ways that you can contribute to a team, which really helps with the bonding and teamwork that we can display in this class.”

“It teaches us some very necessary life skills that we will need down the road, like managing a schedule,” Mehdi added.

Sophomore Phillip Blanchette recognized another thread that links a lot of different elements in class. “Communication is a big part of it. You need to know who is doing what. When they are doing it,” Blanchette said.

Image: Beatrice Galbusera solving design problems.

Beatrice Galbusera solving design problems.

Nevertheless, the outside competition provides a deadline that is neither ambiguous nor arbitrary. In addition to inspiring some fun, it drives a lot of teamwork and communication.

“The person building the robot needs to know who is building this other part and when the program is going to be done for that part, who is in charge of the notebook, and when we are going to be done and ready for competition,” Blanchette explained.

As teacher Doug Scott maintains, “If you are person that likes to work in teams and work collaboratively toward a common goal this is a really positive experience. A lot of kids might think it is not for them but it is available to everyone and everyone is capable of being successful in the program.”