#ISTE11: NWP's Inaugural Hack Jam

Yesterday afternoon, I had the opportunity to attend the first ever , an exploration of the opportunities to fiddle with text and writing and code on the Internet.  It was a useful event for me, as we were able to think and play with ideas about what “hacking” means right now, and how it’s about reading and writing and thinking.

Masterfully facilitated by Chad Sansing and Meenoo Rami, the event took us to some interesting places and conversation.  Here’s my recap.

We started the day in table groups with a box of Monopoly and a simple task – hack the game.  Chad and Meenoo explained that our task was to fiddle with the rules until we found a game that was better than the one we were handed – and so Sandy and Gail and I tinkered our way through a version of Monopoly that was all about freebies.  Other groups fiddled to make the game about tossing pieces and giving to charity.  It was good1.

But the point of the hacking was to give us an opportunity to explore that games and systems have rules – rules that were made by people.  And we can mess with those rules if we understand the underlying principles involved.  That’s powerful learning – and applies not just to board games, but to school, and to work, and to civic engagement and to computer systems or the Internet.

Hacking matters.  Douglas Rushkoff would say that we need to Program or Be Programmed, but I’d fiddle with that statement and say instead that we need to hack or be hacked.  Someone made the rules and systems of the Internet, power structures, as John Spencer called them during out conversation yesterday.  And, as others have said before, we’ve got to help our students fiddle with them, understand them, and, hopefully, change them.

We moved from that work into a visual exploration of our definition of hacker – folks focused on several things, but I was reminded of MacGyver, and thought of duct tape and wrenches and making things out of what we’ve available.  Purposeful play.

This led to some interesting conversation that I think was my key takeaway from the day2.  Paul Allison, who is always thoughtful, wrote this during the workshop:

My first thought is that hacking sounds like an important idea, but really? Do we need another word that takes teachers out of the mainstream “common core” standards conversation? Does hacking get my students more college-ready? Like gaming, isn’t hacking just another thing that pushes the risk-takers into the margins, and makes risk-adverse teachers run? How do we find a way to be more inclusive in our language and processes? Is it just a language thing? What else might we call hacking?

Later on, Paul continues3:

So part of why we hack has to do with understanding our sources more deeply, and this is absolutely an academic concern. But don’t we need words like “analytical reading” and carefully sourced research? Right so what else might we call hacking? It’s about creativity, but it’s also about making new things by really understanding the old, and this is a traditional, academic exercise.

I’m looking for language that will encourage the risk-adverse teacher to join with us in these enterprises.

And that’s what I leave thinking about.  Hacking matters.  Academic reading and writing matter.  And they’re not unrelated things.  Groups like the know an awful lots about good reading and writing practice, and are exploring thoughtfully things like gaming and hacking – but can they do so in a way that doesn’t scare off the “risk-adverse teacher,” as Paul asks?

I think we need the National Writing Project and folks like them to help navigate these spaces, and to explore them thoughtfully with teachers – and to help folks recognize that reading and writing and thinking and gaming and hacking are related – but in a way that doesn’t lead to further fragmentation and paradox.  I think we need teachers to play, like we played in the Hack Jam, with the rules and ideas that affect them.

Yes, let’s teach kids to hack.  Both the Internet and Shakespeare.  Minecraft and Fitzgerald.  Wordle and essay.  Picture and paragraph.  Logarithm and link. Tweets and Tennyson.  Second Life and the State Legislature.  It’s a big world.

Worth doing.  If you get the chance to attend a future NWP Hack Jam – you should go. I’ll see you there.

  1. Because it was a event, there were snacks.  Good ones. []
  2. And I know I’ve buried the lead, but that’s okay. []
  3. Read the whole piece.  It’s good and I can’t stop thinking about it. []
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Crap Detection: #ISTE11

I’m writing this morning from the Blogger’s Cafe at ISTE 2011 in Philadelphia, PA.  I’m looking forward to three days of learning and thinking and conversation with lots of smart folks from all over doing interesting work to improve teaching and learning with technology.

But I’d be lying to myself if I didn’t remember that this is also a giant trade show.  People here are eager to sell me on plenty of things – their products, or services, or consulting, or that their work is really, really neat.

And that may well be.  The products, services, or other stuff may well be important and useful and interesting and engaging and worth spending time and money on.

But not necessarily.  And it’s easy to forget that in the middle of the craziness.  Folks get excited.  I get excited.  And I sometimes, willingly or otherwise, suspend my disbelief.  And that’s not good for anybody1.

So as I sit here gearing up for hearing and sharing and listening and talking and writing and exploring so much with so many people, I’m reminding myself in public that I’ll need to have my crap detector fully functional and powered up throughout the conference.

If I run into you and ask you a question or two, know that I’m not asking to discredit you or make you uncomfortable, I’m asking because I owe it to myself and my employer and the students and staff I’m responsible for to make sure that I’m doing my due diligence.

There’s plenty of snake oil here at ISTE.  And plenty of good stuff. I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t aware of the potential and the good.

But there’s no rule that says the junk has to be clearly labeled.  And usually, it’s not. So my crap detector is spooled up, and I’m paying attention2.  Here’s to a great ISTE 2011.

How are you working to make sure you’re approaching what you see and do with a mind for what’s important?  How’re you working to improve your crap detector?  Let me know in the comments.

  1. Well, actually, it’s good for the bad salespeople.  The ones who want to sell you something that you don’t need, want, or could benefit from. The good salespeople, the ones I enjoy doing business with, are the folks who ensure that I actually need their product or service.  I dig good salespeople.  Lots. Sales is not evil. []
  2. Or trying to, at least.  Keep me honest. []
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#engchat: Twitter Chat with Purpose?

So I’ll be hosting #engchat on Monday, June 27th.  For the last few months, I’ve been wondering about Twitter chats in general, and their effectiveness.  Of course, to determine their effectiveness, one has to have a sense of their purpose.  And I can’t aways seem to tell the purpose of Twitter chats in general other than to say that they’re topical conversations.  Folks get together and talk at one another, presumably about a particular topic.  Then we run off to the next thing.

I’m sure there’s purpose in topical conversation.  But I wonder about Twitter as the place for purposeful conversation.  Things move so quickly.  So briefly.  Does useful discourse occur via Twitter?1

More important – in the race for folks to talk, talk, talk, might it be possible that we’re forgetting to listen, listen, listen?  Or, worse still,  are we skipping the thinking, thinking, thinking?

Seems to me that’s worth exploring.  So, on Monday at 7pm Eastern, we’ll do just that, or at least make an honest attempt. #engchat will happen both at a physical location2 as well as via Twitter.  In addition, there’ll be pauses for writing together, as well as reading what we write.  The conversation will be punctuated by pauses.

That might be a useful thing.  It might not.  Here’s a page where I’m compiling a prompt or two and a rough schedule for the hour.  Would love your feedback in the comments or, if you’re feeling brave, as comments on the Google Doc itself3.

And, of course, I’d love to have you join us to consider the place of pauses in digital writing.  See you there?

  1. Or, at least, does the purposeful sort that one would hope to emerge from a topical conversation emerge from Twitter? I’m not saying Twitter can’t be purposeful.  But do Twitter chats foster learning?  Or are the the 21st Century version of drive-by PD? []
  2. The details are still being worked out, but I’ll let you know when I know. []
  3. If you’ve never made a comment on a Google Doc, then highlight the text you’d like to comment on, then go to the Insert menu and select “Comment.” []
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Wondering Vulnerably in Public

I had the chance to write this morning with friends and colleagues from the .  They were kind enough to let me come speak with them about some of the things I’m wondering about when it comes to writing and technology lately.

Our prompt, at one point, was taken from a comment Claudia left here the other day.  She asked:

Do your students know how you, the teacher, write? Can they catch you somewhere in the middle of your own learning process, doubting, wondering, as a vulnerable human far from the know-all/authority in the subject ideal?

Here’s what I wrote in response1:

I’ve discovered that more and more, I’m wondering in public. I’m wondering on Twitter, or via Evernote, or here on the blog, or in a half dozen other places, and it’s beautiful.  It’s messy and scary and contagious and weird – and it’s okay.

I used to be afraid of my words being seen or overseen or misunderstood.  Now, certain that they will be all of those things, I am less concerned.

That’s a certain shift – perhaps because of age or maybe overconfidence or just because of comfort with myself – but I’m less concerned about your reaction to my thinking.

No. That’s not right. As a writer and a teacher, I’m very concerned with your reaction to my thinking expressed via my words. But I’m less concerned with that reaction interfering with my ability to understand myself. That is to say – I’m okay with my thinking. And I’m growing more okay if you’re not so okay with it.
Mostly.

So, in writing to learn today, I learned a little bit about myself.  That’s good. Thanks, Claudia, for the great prompt.
You can read all the responses from the group, too, if you’d like.
  1. Most of this I wrote earlier.  I polished and embellished a little before publishing here. []
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Patri: What we needed as children, children still need.

Rediscovered these lines from Angelo Patri while in a conversation today.  Good to see them again:

What we needed as children was someone to show the way.  Someone who knew us and valued us.  Someone who would live with us and for us.

What we needed as children, children still need.

The teachers and I, conscious of the dangers that come to an active child from a random seeking to satisfy his desires, tried to make the people whose children were about us realize their responsibility while we ourselves did our share.  We knew the children needed the older folk. We knew that we had only limited means of gathering and holding these young people together.  All we had was the school and we were fast losing that except as a drill machine running eight hours a day during which time two schools1 in turn tried to master the prescribed book facts.

Slightly later in that section:

The school, after all, narrowing down to routine, was such a faraway place, far away from the actual lives of people.  How could we get close, so close to each other that we would be part of the people and they a part of us, and be “folksy” together?2

Our schools are communities.  Or should be.  Rich and vibrant and healthy ones.  It’s a really good and useful book, as I’ve noted before.  Might be time for a reread.

  1. Patri’s school at the time shared its facility with another. []
  2. Both quotes from pages 80-81. []
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I’d Look at the Congressional Fridge. Wouldn’t You?

If I had my way, all federal budget conversations would start like this:

We’d seat the most philosophically and politically contentious and opposed folks together. Roundtables. Crayons and paper in the center. Perhaps some yarn, googly eyes, and glue.1

The first five minutes would be spent writing and drawing together. No specific prompt. Just time to make things. Then ten minutes to share with someone at the table.

We’d collect the pictures and add them to our gallery of past creations. Might even put them up on the Congressional Fridge.

Try to rip a hole in someone when you know that when they were four, they had a blanket named Blinky. It was red with gold stars.

Take a cheap shot at the colleague who just showed you a picture of her favorite pet ever. With yarn hair attached.

You couldn’t.

Division wouldn’t go away. But perhaps the discourse would be kinder. More civil. Worthy of our great nation.

And better than I’m seeing lately.

Let’s get on that, America. I suspect there are plenty of NWP teachers who could help pass out those crayons.

  1. No scissors. Safety first. []
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The Podcast: On Love and Teaching

Twice in the last forty eight hours, the subjects of love and of teaching have been juxtaposed in conversation I’ve overheard. I’m pretty thick, but I feel like I should pay attention to the synchronicity.

Here’s the first, from a video I was listening to Sunday1 while I folded and sorted laundry:

That hit me so hard I had to put the laundry down and pull out a computer so that I could get it down.

And here’s the second:

Caught that as I was getting into the car Monday afternoon2.  Again, had to jot that down.

Two times, in two days, teaching’s all about love.  And that resonates with me right now.  Deeply.  And I wonder if we don’t have enough love at school.

I don’t mean the “leave room for the Holy Spirit” at the school dance kind of love, or the awkward sideways hug kind of love or the “uh oh in the newspaper” kind of love.  I mean this kind: Respect.  Kindness.  Compassion.  Acceptance.  Admiration.  Awe.  The kind that young men in our culture are supposed to eliminate from their persons at around age eleven.  You know.  When they “grow up.”

In today’s podcast, I flesh out that idea, and a few ideas raised by it, further.  I mention Dean and his podcast and the quotes I’ve already shared with you.  I’d love, ahem, to hear your take on this.

I suspect I’ve more to say on the subject. Hopefully, you do, too.

Direct Link to Audio

  1. I’m on a serious Mr. Rogers kick right now.  Both his show with my kids and his thoughts and ideas for me.  And it’s good for me.  If you want to catch the full interview, which I’d highly encourage, here it is. The quote’s about six minutes in. []
  2. You can catch the interview that I heard here. I can’t grab his book right now, which sounds important.  But it’s on my list. []
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You CAN Do More with Less. But Only for So Long.

Yesterday, Colorado’s new governor made some announcements regarding his budget proposal to the state. Specifically, he announced about half a billion in proposed budget cuts for next year, which wasn’t a huge surprise. What was a surprise, at least to me, although I should’ve seen it coming, was that he directed most of those cuts at K12 education.

That’s disappointing, but almost understandable1. What kills me, though, is that the budget scenario will probably be good political cover for an unfortunate move being made in the school district where I live, my children go (or will go) to school, and my wife is a teacher.

Basically, they’re going to ask2 high school teachers at three of the city’s schools to teach another class per semester. It’s a kind of peer pressure move. 3

I’ve been following this story for a while – it first surfaced last fall, and I traded email with a district assistant superintendant on the plan before Christmas. But I didn’t think I’d need to say anything. I had thought, perhaps naively, that the plan wouldn’t come to pass. The move is based on faulty logic and poor math4. Surely, I thought, the human filters would be thoughtful and wise. I mean, come on. This was a school district that understood the importance of teachers having meaningful time in their school day for professional development. For collaboration. For individual and small group student contact time outside of class.

Or so I thought.

As this plan has emerged, and opposition from the high school teachers who, rightly, believe this will harm the quality of their instruction as well as their ability to meaningfully build relationships with students, I’ve heard, quietly, from elementary and middle school teachers in the school district. They’ve not had the same time without classes to interact with students and each other. These middle and elementary school teachers, or at least the vocal ones5, aren’t willing to advocate for something that they don’t have themselves.

The whole thing’s a mess. All teachers should have time to be meaningfully thoughtful and human to their students. Every day. 6

Perhaps my biggest concern with the entire deal is that it’s easy to hide behind big words like “efficiency.” While I’m a fan of efficiency when it makes sense7, I’m thinking that some of the most important work that teachers do, and do quite well, isn’t about being efficient. It’s about being available. It’s about being human. Patient. Kind. Thoughtful. Reflective.

Those are hard things to be when every minute of your work day is full of teaching and you’ve now got an additional class to look after during your grading time at home.8 We should be looking to have our teachers, all of them, “teaching” less and learning more9.

My friend Zac wrote a while back about a scary kind of school: The kind that are breaking teachers. Those are the kinds of schools that look good on a balance sheet or a collection of test scores. They’re probably, at least on paper, very, very efficient.

They’re the ones where on the outside, everything looks great. But then you open the place up, and you see that stuff’s pretty rotten. And will only last so long.

In this time of tightening budgets and scary realizations, I hope that central administrators, classroom teachers, parents, students, politicians and everyone else realize this:

We can do more with less. And good folks, if asked to, will do so. But, if the “more” isn’t very good, then maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe our leaders should say “let’s do fewer things better rather than so many things poorly.”

As next year starts to take shape for educators and legislators, let’s hope at least a few folks are considering that position.

You probably know of stories about folks being asked to do more with less. This is one of ours. One I can’t quite wrap my head around. These stories are complex and difficult.

I’d look forward to hearing yours, and how you think we can work to make things better in a difficult time.

  1. The Governor did acknowledge that K12 is a huge line item – and one that has flexibility, compared to say, giving prison guards a month of furloughs. Of course, this is Colorado, where we amended our state constitution to provide additional monies for education, and the legislature used some creative math to circumvent that constitutional requirement as the economy worsened. So funding’s never been pretty. []
  2. No. They pretty much told. []
  3. Hey. C’mon. The other high school in town is doing it. I’m sure it’s good. []
  4. It seems that, according to one district source, asking a teacher to teach one additional course would only mean twenty minutes more of teaching per day. I don’t get that. Do you? []
  5. And there aren’t many. This is a divisive issue. Unfortunately. []
  6. I wish that the teachers in the district where I work had more time to be thoughtful. I spend a great deal of my time seeking ways to carve out that time. It’s hard to do. But worth doing. []
  7. And it does make sense. But at what greater cost? []
  8. The fact that teachers are spending so much of their time grading at home is of larger concern. But no one seems to want to talk about that much. []
  9. I know. The Finland comparisons are tired. But, at least in the area of professional development and how teachers spend their time, I think they’re worth making. Finland does teaching and learning differently. And it’s worth exploring. []
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Presenting at Educon 2.3. From My Basement.

I’ll be presenting tomorrow at Educon 2.3 on why I find citation and references to be important and why I worry that many in education don’t.  Joe Bires, meanwhile, will be presenting on why I am wrong.

I thought you’d want to know.

Maybe you’ll want to attend the presentation.  Please do.1

  1. As an aside, this will be the second year that I’ve managed to give a virtual presentation at one of my favorite face to face events.  I’m doing something wrong. []
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#EduConText Session 4: Why Johnny Can't Read: A Conversation About What It Means to be Literate . . .Today"

I’m a bit tardy for this #EduConText Session 4 preview, but that’s okay.  I wrote myself a pass. 1

Why Johnny Can’t Read: A Conversation About What It Means to Be Literate…Today

When:
Session Four: Sunday 10:30am–12:00pm
Where:
Room 204
Who:
David Jakes, Laura Deisley
Affiliation: David Jakes: Coordinator of Instructional Technology and Information Services at Glenbrook South High School (Chicago) Laura Deisley: Director of 21st Century Learning at The Lovett School (Atlanta)
Conversational Focus/Audience:
All School Levels
I think that Jason Ohler, whom I heard speak at a state conference a few years back, pretty much nailed for me why I think that reading and writing and thinking in multiple ways and formats is important.  He said something to the effect that “You cannot be manipulated by a form of media which you can yourself manipulate.”  Basically, he was saying that, if you understand the ways that media are made, then you can see trouble when it happens.  I think he’s right about that.
And I suspect, since Ohler’s name was mentioned in David and Laura‘s conversation proposal, that he will be referenced again in their talk about literacy2 and what it looks like right now.
When pushed, I say that literacy is about reading and writing and thinking.  The rest is in the details.  But I’m willing to entertain that there may be new literacies that are worthy of exploration.  With some caveats.  Network literacy3Attention literacy.4  If I were in their session, I’d be asking questions like:
  • Isn’t “Is Google making us stupid?” a continuation of Plato’s ? Can we let that go now? Or are Plato and Carr correct and we should just accept it and move on?
  • Are terms like “media literacy” or “digital literacy” useful for helping us to think about the different lenses that we might wear when we approach particular kinds of texts?  Or are the problematic because they distance us from the basic skills of reading and writing and thinking?
  • How do we encourage depth in reading and writing and thinking in a time of the tweet and the status update?  Hoe do we read and write slowly?
I’d probably be listening lots in this session – I know that literacy is a complicated topic and opinions are plentiful. I suspect there’ll be plenty of food for thought in the room.
How are you thinking about literacy?  Is it different today than yesterday?  Will it be different tomorrow?  Are those differences a product of our culture, our technology?
Lots of questions.  I hope the session is full of answers.
What is #EduConText?
  1. It’s good to be a teacher in moments like these. []
  2. or literacies []
  3. Except that networks are texts and can be read.  So that’s reading.  Traditional literacy? []
  4. Metacognition, perhaps?  An awareness of what I’m reading and writing and why I’m doing so or not. []
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