Monday, September 10, 2018

Are "unitaskers" killing digital learning? #unitasker #edtech #wonderwake #googleedu

If you've spent any time watching Alton Brown's addictive cooking show, Good Eats, you are intimately familiar with his derision of "unitaskers".  They are those tools you have in your kitchen meant to do one...single....task.

(Full disclosure, I have the meat claws....and yes, when I use them I feel like Wolverine.)

But let's put a pin in Alton Brown's (very accurate) opinion for a minute and look at one of Sir Ken Robinson's TED talks called, "Bring on the Learning Revolution!".  I promise there is a connection, just bear with me.

In it, right around the seven minute mark, he begins a train of thought about our enthrallment with ideas that we take for granted.  As an example he compares the amount of people over 25 who wear a watch to the amount under 25.  Many people over 25 don't wear a watch because they have to, more so because they always have.  They take it for granted that they need to wear a watch and while he didn't post this thought, I'd be willing to bet if you challenged them not to, they would be resistant.  Those under 25 view a watch, rightfully so, as a single task device and shun it for other tools that can get the job done and more.

I think we have become so enthralled with the idea that edtech is all about the latest and greatest, that we feel like if we're not using the newest cutting edge tool, no matter how inefficient, then we are falling behind.  We are taking for granted the rapid pace of educational technology and not stopping to think about what we're really doing.  Are we pausing to ask ourselves whether that tool is really going to help our students or is worth the time investment to learn it?  Usually not.

This is where Alton Brown's theories come in.  He questions the need for those prolific single task kitchen devices and actively promotes casting them aside for more versatile and efficient tools.  Educational technology faces the same problem.  I could spend the rest of my career trying to learn every unitasker edtech tool out there and it's unlikely I would ever catch up as more come out every day.

And I know for a fact that I am not alone in feeling this way.  I have had numerous teachers lament that there is so much out there, they get overwhelmed just thinking about where to start when it comes to integrating technology.

A part of me wonders if in our effort to showcase all these amazing tools and provide our students with 14 different ways to demonstrate their learning, we are actually shooting ourselves in the foot. By allowing ourselves to compete with the Jones and get distracted by whatever shiny tool comes along, are we sending a message to the edtech neophytes that there's no point in trying because they'll never get the hang of it?  When we are frustrated by the teacher who won't even consider abandoning their textbooks, have we created that problem ourselves?

This is why I am so obsessive about the Google Suite as the core to any technology integration plan.  The variety of tasks teachers and students can accomplish using just the 4 or 5 core Google apps is inconceivable.  And once they learn the functionality of those tools (which let's face it, can happen in first grade at the latest), the instruction can focus on the task and the learning instead of trouble shooting a tool.

I think it's time for those of us in the edtech world to become a little more like Alton Brown.  Let's start sending the message that it's not about the latest and greatest.  It's not about that shiny single task tool.  Leverage the tools we already know to take student learning to a deeper level.

We need to cast aside those strawberry slicers.  Throw away our zoodle makers.  (Though you can pry my meat claws out of my cold dead Wolverine hands.)  Let's just invest in a really great set of knives and cookware and learn how to use those effectively.  Let our creativity shine!  Because let's face it, can you really call yourself a chef if you need a Rollie to cook your eggs?

Monday, September 3, 2018

Upon whose dreams are we treading? #whatsyourwhy #wonderwake #kidsdeserveit

I am currently in my last class for my Special Endorsement in Computer Education certificate.  One of our assignments included watching this video from Sir Ken Robinson, "Bring on the Learning Revolution!".  It is a sequel of sorts to his infamous "Do Schools Kill Creativity" TED talk.

As I was watching this video, I counted no less than 10 moments where I found myself pausing to jot down my thinking and saying aloud, “Yes!”.  At each one my mind started wandering about the ramifications of the statement and my reflections on the idea.  In fact a couple are already the basis for future blog posts.  

Yet it wasn’t until his very last statement that I found myself shaken to my very core.
“And every day, everywhere, our children spread their dreams beneath our feet. And we should tread softly.”
This struck me both as an educator and as a parent.  And I'm not going to lie.  I sobbed.  I am firmly of the belief that having children is not a prerequisite to being an amazing educator, but things definitely tend to hit you a little differently.  Not only did this statement help me reflect on my actions in the classroom, but it also helped me reflect on my actions as a parent.  Who am I raising my children to be?  (But that's a whole separate story.) 

It is so easy to become wrapped up in the politics and the policies and the disagreements over tools or initiatives.  Yet at the end of the day, we have to remember the gravity of our positions as educators.  We are privileged to witness the hopes and dreams of every child that walks through our doors.  Our position holds the power to either uplift or smash those dreams with a single statement, especially in our most fragile students.
What frustrates me more than anything is this talk was given eight years ago.  It was given eight years ago and every point he makes is still something we need to hear.  We still need an education revolution.  Our society, especially the state of North Carolina, has not only prevented any sort of growth in education but is actively contributing to its demise.  Funding has dropped to perilously low levels.  Politics have allowed people of privilege to flee the public schools in droves.  The list goes on and on.
We work in a flawed system.  And that is disheartening.  But at the same time, as Mr. Robinson says, it is who I am.  “This is me.”  I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  I have to take heart in the idea that the tiny contributions I make to a gigantic system make some sort of difference.  How do we do more though?  How do we work from our place at the bottom of the pyramid to make systemic change?  Is it even my job to worry about systemic change?
Perhaps my job isn’t to worry about systemic change.  Maybe I need to focus on the one person at a time that I can help.  The one teacher who I can support in transitioning to a student centered classroom.  Or one teacher who wants to introduce digital learning with her students.  And then the next.  And the next.  Maybe we are the virus to that one teacher.  When we infect them, they infect two people on their team and those two people each infect two people and so on.
It’s very possible that to ignite a school revolution we have to work from both ends.  The right leadership must present and uphold a vision while those of us on the ground make small but incalculable impacts.  All while getting buy in from community stakeholders.  It sounds like a lot, but maybe it’s time that teachers are allowed to spread our dreams at the feet of society.