Wesch Rethinking Education

Michael Wesch was the keynote at our TLT Symposium and he was truly a wonderful participant. Humble and quietly brilliant, his talk resonated with the entire audience in ways I hadn’t seen previously. His new video above doesn’t share the same pace as his previous work, but it demands attention none the less. What is interesting to me is that he didn’t push the video’s message as an agenda item last year, but it was clear it was in him. What I wonder is how long has he been thinking about creating this new narrative?

Who I Work For

In one of the talks I do on a semi-regular basis I share thoughts on my audiences — one is way down the path and the other is the one that stands before me on my campus. While the students I work to inspire and support right now are really important, it is the ones down the path a bit that I love to think about. I have a built in barometer living in my house with my own two digital kids. My daughter is eight and my son is 3 and they are both heavily engaged in the use of digital devices.


More and more I am watching both of them attacking digital devices in ways that just a year or so ago they didn’t. They’ve mastered the Nintendo Wii, their DSi, the iPod Touch, and in a lot of ways the Mac. My little boy can browse (and we’ve learned, also place things in a sopping cart) the web with relative ease. But what has become amazing is how my daughter is using the Mac to create digital artifacts — the creation of blog posts, videos using PhotoBooth, and podcasts using GarageBand seem close to second nature to her. It gives me a great view into what our students will demand of us as they arrive on campus.

With that said I continue to be torn about my need to provide the platforms, but I still think it is important and I do not think the platforms we provide are simple commodities given the importance of privacy, identity, and other emerging concerns.

I showed Brad Kozlek my daughter’s travel journal she keeps for school yesterday and we got to talking about how cool it is that we are building the future infrastructure to support children like her. She keeps her travel journal as a WordPress blog and sends the URL to her teachers, classmates, and family. I love everything about it — especially that she can do it herself. This time we even looked at how to embed pictures from Flickr in her posts! What is interesting is that this space grows over time and allows us to look back at things in ways one can’t when living in a more analog Universe. We looked back at our trip to Washington DC as we were finishing the post from the Outer Banks with real amazement of all we did — we sort of relived the trip and that was really cool.


So when people ask me why I care so much about providing platforms for digital expression one of the first stories I tell them is the one about my own children and how I want education to be able to support them in all sorts of ways. I want them to be able to do what they can do at home inside the walls of the school … I need them to feel like the things they make are an important part of who they are today and who they will become. I need them to feel the power related to thinking about their thinking and I really want them to actively reflect on what that means to them. As I sat looking at her travel blog I actually got goose bumps thinking about how important our work really is — and how important it is to build opportunities for how it should be in the future.

Taking a Break

I’ve been quiet here for the last week trying to collect thoughts after writing so much last month. I think I’ll be a little quiet for the next several days as well. I’m not giving up on writing, just need to find my voice again. Before I sign off to enjoy Spring Break, I wanted to mention something … I dropped a friend of the family’s son off at school today for them and walked him to his pre-K classroom. It is the same private school my daughter went to prior to moving on to first grade this year at the public school. As I was walking down the hall I saw the quilt her class made last year as a culminating project. I was stopped in my tracks — I was just in awe of what it means.

It was filled with color, life, and inspiration. I recall hearing her talk about the quilt nearly every day last year and didn’t quite understand why it was such a big deal. Even at her graduation when they showed it off it didn’t quite hit me. Seeing this living example of my daughter’s contribution to the intellectual, emotional, and perhaps spiritual embodiment of her school in the hall today made me both very sad and very happy. It is, in every single way, in stark contrast to the representation of her contribution in the public school system — the “adequate sign.” I can’t tell you how it made me feel to know she made something tangible that the current students point to as a model for how they learn to contribute, share, and participate in the process of learning. Really an amazing thing to see.


And with that, I’ll talk to you when the mood strikes!


The picture below can be snapped in public schools across the Commonwealth of PA. I’m guessing the teachers, administration, and students earned it given the requirements of the State standards … on some level I wonder how they feel about it when they walk by? What I am discouraged about as a parent and educator is that this and the other ones like it bearing several other years hangs proudly in the school’s entryway … D’Arcy noted on my Flickr posting that it might as well be one of the signs you see in factories that proudly tell us that there have been no injuries in the last X days.

The first things I thought when I saw it were (a) it looks like the PA Department of Transportation made it, (b) how disappointing it was that they would hang it, and (c) this is the representation of our children’s contribution to the school.

Is it possible, given all the creative and intellectual contributions our children make, the Commonwealth of PA couldn’t have chosen something other than “Adequate” to describe the progress. Why have I seemed angry? This is a big part of the reason.

ad•e•quate, satisfactory or acceptable in quality or quantity.

I filed this under WTF at Flickr

I filed this under WTF at Flickr?

Worksheet Nation

I’ve had a tab in my browser open for a week or so now that I’ve just now gotten around to investigating. It is an emerging project built around the TED Talks series of online videos. Many of us have spent time watching TED Talks and I know we pass them around via delicious and Twitter, but they are worthy to revisit within the context of teaching. This morning I went over and watched the Sir Ken Robinson, Do Schools Kill Creativity video once again (for about the 50th time) and noticed that people are starting to build out greater depth. Each page now is an active wiki space that continues to grow. For example, on the Robinson page there are questions for discussion from the talk, links to activities, and several other videos (not from TED) embedded on the page. An excellent example of community driven content development.

While Ken’s video is outstanding, there is one particular video that struck me as being so right on when I watched this morning. It is a relatively short video featuring Alvin Toffler’s perspective on education. Clearly a man of great thought and rich contextual experiences; I was amazed how much I learned in the six and a half minutes he was speaking. I encourage you to watch it.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. From, Rethinking the Future

I’ve come to think that we really do need to rethink our emphasis on the focus on the “industrial discipline” in our schools that Mr. Toffler discusses in the above video. That while learning how to sit and be may have been important during the turn of the century to create a society willing to participate in the industrial explosion happening within the US, times have changed. We talk of the rise of the creative culture on a global basis and that phenomenon has fundamentally changed the needs of the workplace. What I want in my schools is what I strive for in my work place — freedom to think, explore, and invent. I don’t particularly care about the rules and I certainly don’t want my children to be taught how to line up, stay in that line, and don’t march any way but the way you’re told. Just as I am not interested in a static and uncreative work environment, I hope for a new emphasis on these ideals for all ages.

I titled this post Worksheet Nation becasue I am seeing something happening across various levels of learning and participation that I mentioned this the other day … I want to revisit it once again in a slightly different light so bear with me and please feel free to chime in.

Let me start by saying the color is gone from our refrigerator at home. What that means is that instead of my first grader coming home with original artifacts she’s created, she instead brings home black and white worksheets from a state/district purchased curriculum book. Everything is photocopied and handed out to be completed in pencil. Very little of it is built around the notion of being creative in the learning process. That’s the first grade.

In higher education we spend a great deal of time asking students to read from textbooks that they purchase from a publishing company — no too unlike the curriculum books my daughter sees in grade school. Increasingly I see students then being sent online to take tests electronically as evidence of learning. That looks a hell of a lot like worksheets to me. This, like the example above is a generalization and I fully hope you realize that I do see a tremendous amount of interesting and creative things happening, but the above scenario is far more common.

At work, many of us are asked to document our progress by tracking time, filling out project summaries, or any other number of reporting tools. At 36 I feel like I am still filling out worksheets. Even in a progressive age working in what should be one of the most creative industries on the planet, education, I am filling out worksheets. That string from K-20 to the workplace is troubling.

We are educating people out of their creative capacities … we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. Sir Ken Robinson.

What to do? I think one thing to consider is that much of what is getting me down is centered on the need for formal assessment. I don’t disagree with assessment in general, but I think it is time to rethink how and when we do it. I’m not sure filling out worksheets every day is preparing any of us for the fact that time moves in only one direction — forward. The fact of the matter is that the World is changing at a rate that is terribly exciting and our teaching and learning environments seem to want to ignore this fact. I am left wondering how the change happens … at least I am now starting to see that there are some very smart people searching for answers. Can we break through?