Friday, December 13, 2013

Turning Tricks With Technology

Protests against school closings in Chicago

The hype that President Obama was sold about the Affordable Care Act’s Web site being as easy to use as Travelocity or Amazon stems from the same source as the foolishness of his “Race to the Top” misadventure. In both cases, data-wrangling hustlers convinced him that stringing ones and zeroes together in the miraculous ways they described could somehow finesse all the complex needs of our healthcare system and our schools. His own experience in the real streets of Chicago where actual human beings were trying to organize, and his job was to get them to talk to each other and work together, should have taught him that community institutions like hospitals and clinics and schools need to engage people face-to-face to be effective.

I love technology. I wrote the first system-wide technology integration grant for the Watsonville schools and pioneered efforts to teach teachers how to use technology so their students could create and express themselves more effectively, and I still do that same kind of technology teaching – how do we use technology to help our students share their voices with the global audience the Internet affords? How do we leverage our proximity to the global center of technological innovation “over the hill” so that students whose parents work in the fields can have the opportunity to participate in that wider economy?

Lately I've become uncomfortable with being identified as a technologist. I'm starting to call myself a teaching artist, since what I'm most passionate about is returning the arts to the core of our educational system. The Common Core standards have some elements which improve on prior standards, and other elements which violate common sense and what we know of child development. But standards, good, bad, flawed or eloquent, matter little for learning outcomes. [I can cite chapter and verse for anyone interested.] What’s truly dangerous about the way the Common Core standards are being deployed and implemented is the way their proponents call for huge investments in technology upgrades to meet the privacy and security needs of an expanded and intensified testing regimen, and almost as much investment in paying the same old corporate textbook publishers to construct bogus curricula for teachers to “deliver.”

Talk to almost any teachers in the field, and they will agree that reduced class size and adequate time to prepare lessons in collaboration with their colleagues would make much more of difference to the learning outcomes of their students than any computer program, textbook, or curriculum.  The freedom to develop their own curriculum, teaming with others on their staff and in their local community, would be so much more effective than any package a sales rep could offer to their administrator. The work of improving our schools should happen at the local level, with teachers working in teams and parents and local businesses joining in. The technology hustlers have tricked us into thinking that their machines can somehow replace the people who make the human contact on which learning depends.

It saddens me to watch Obama struggling to overcome the problems he created for himself by believing the hustler who sold him that “easy as Travelocity or Amazon” line. He could easily have created a rollout based on highlighting the teams of health care facilitators who would be deployed throughout the nation to educate a confused public on how having near-universal access to health insurance could improve every local community. Yes, when those facilitators meet with their clients, they use a Web site to navigate the options and simplify the paperwork, and yes, anyone with access to a computer can go ahead and do it on their own if they like, but the focus should have been on the people who would be out there in the community talking to people about their needs and how the Affordable Care Act could help them and the whole community. Let’s try to get back to the basics – we need affordable medical care to keep our communities healthy and good schools to help our children learn what they need to be able to participate in those communities. In both cases, what’s important is the people, not the machines.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Connecting Learning and Life through Collaboration and Respect for Messiness #ce13

My closest connection to a classroom project right now, besides the ever-present string games, brought out on every sub job I do, is a collaboration my colleague Dan Spelce from the Forage Project and I have been talking about for some months now: a genealogy and family history curriculum for students, perhaps in a Winter or Summer Institute format, or as an after-school program. We'd not spoken for several weeks, and I called him to check in. he said I was on his list to call today [!] because he's made such progress with outlining what he's thinking of that he's reached the limits of what Microsoft Word can do for him. So we'll be meeting at the "Connecting Art and Education" drop-in at the Arts Council Santa Cruz offices on Thursday, October 17, and hopefully connecting before then to develop some of the web resources we're gathering into an accessible format.

Looking forward to this collaboration, as I read and reflect on the many blogs and comments from classroom teachers about their efforts to make learning connected. The role out-of-classroom educators like Dan and me can fulfill is to provide frameworks and resources for students and teachers to explore topics of interest, and perhaps reach small numbers of students if we can secure funding to launch an Institute. Slow, modest work. Here's a photo of Dan and his wife Yoli from our #CLMOOC Face-to-Face group.

Messiness comes in when one tries to manage a group of students each doing self-chosen, self-directed projects. They are clearly meaningful and connected to students' lives, but they are also then each unique. The role of the teacher becomes facilitating each students' journey, and balancing multiple needs and directions puts many teachers out of their comfort zone. How can we build in scaffolds for teachers that will help them deal with these challenges?

Looking at Yoli's smiling face reminds me of another Connected learning agenda item I have, just to make sure this post has a messy bit to lead it out of coherence: ¡Más discusión en español!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Do you have time for beauty?

  Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan journalist, writer and novelist, was interviewed this week on "To the Best of Our Knowledge," one of my favorite radio programs. Galeano asks, "Do you have time for beauty?" I have many times found during these past weeks of the #CLMOOC activities, that I had to answer that question No. This or that part of my daily activity that was perhaps a tiny bit beautiful – for example, stopping for ten minutes to glue some origami paper over the corporate logos on a conference-freeby notebook, so that I will have a journal book that at least in a tiny part I remade myself – but the doing of it, stopping from making checkoffs on the perpetual list of household and work and personal chores which fill most of the day's time to do a small bit of beauty-making, was as much as I could allow myself. Stopping as well to photograph the process or write about it or even really note in my mind that I was doing it, well, somehow that was TOO indulgent.
But I have done many such small acts of beauty-making, and at least had the thought that this was a "make" that would be fun to share with the MOOC, since the first week – picking a bouquet of flowers and arranging them in a vase, highlighting some of the long-neglected cultivars in our garden at our home under reconstruction by removing the volunteer plants which have grown up around them [a long-winded way to say "I did a little weeding" – and the seed of a long post about how destructive that pejorative word about some of the most vital plants in our floral environment {in Spanish, "yerbas malas" the bad plants} can be, if we fail to understand what cultivation really means].
I designed in my mind a #toyhack, taking a traditional Mexican hand carved top with a wooden cradle launcher and turning it upside down, so without the bother of the string and the tricky launching process, which I know my four-year old grandson would find challenging and probably frustrating, he could simply spin it by hand in its cradle and perhaps enjoy it for a moment. But I've not made the time to demo it on camera, as I had fantasized, nor even to bring the top to him and film him doing the hack I had in mind, and then just watch him do whatever else he might with this unfamiliar and venerable toy.
So one legacy I see already of the #clmooc experience is a heightened awareness of the importance of making time for beauty. Thank you all.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Womanifesta, parte dos, en donde se cambia al íngles...

Finalmente encontré un párrafo que comunica lo que puedo llamar cómodamente una filosofía de aprendizaje y enseñanza:

  • "I propose a structural approach to differentiation and personalisation, positioning kids as free-range learners rather than battery-hens. Firmly supported in a community-of-practice, and guided by on-the-shoulder experts, young people can self-direct, problem-solve, get creative, and develop an unstoppable love of learning."

From Stephen Collis, 

 Free range learners is such an evocative phrase, and I love the "community-of-practice" formulation and the image of the teacher as an "on the shoulder expert."

Here's a drawing from Steve that appears in his blog, giving a more personalized set of examples for the four frames:

Correlating the four frame types with Talcott Parsons' AGIL schema of social organization for #clmooc

Below is an interactive Mind Map, correlating the four Frame types from Stephen Collis via Terry in the #clmooc

with my vague memories of Talcott Parsons' AGIL schema, which has stuck with me ever since. I'm not sure of the utility of either, nor of my theoretical correlation, but it was fun to do and great to discover MindMup.

Frames on MindMup

Womanifesta de aprendizaje

No sé exactamente porque, pero siempre me pongo en español cuando es tiempo de hablar desde el corazón. Tengo varios pedazos de mi 'Documento de Creencias' pero todavía me falta una idea clara de como organizarlo. Pensando en esta reflección acerca de 'frames' que nos mandó Bart Miller, busqué la traducción de esta palabra inglesa. La lista:

framework, frame, setting, mark, picture frame, mounting
frame, embroidery frame, trestle
picture, frame, painting, chart, square, cadre
structure, frame, framework, build, fabric, skeleton
frame, framework, shell, skeleton, armature, carcass
mount, frame, rim
body, corps, corpus, corpse, length, force
armor, armature, frame, signature, mounting, armour

framing, frame
formulate, frame, state, shape, article

Otro pedazo:
Grácias a #clmooc y #clmooc-esp

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Connected Learning through Arts Integration

I've pioneered using technology in the classroom since 1994 or so. I had the only internet connection in a classroom at our school, and one of the first in our county, which I got by agreeing to pay the phone installation charges myself--somewhere between $50 and $75, I don't recall the exact amount. Luckily my principal agreed to let the line charges stay bundled with the school's overall phone bill, and I was able to convince a local Internet Service Provider to donate the connectivity in the name of education. We had 5 or 6 computers, 3 Mac II's and some Mac Classics, networked and capable of surfing the net in the classroom, and they became one of the kids' favorite centers.

A few years later, I wrote a Technology Literacy Challenge Grant, which funded me to work full time as a technology integration specialist and Director of the TLC Grant. I continued as an entirely self-funded technology mentor teacher for seven years. Since retiring from full-time work in the Watsonville school district, I've continued to use and advocate for technology as a tool for students to use to create artifacts of their learning and to facilitate their self-directed learning. But the winds of technology use have shifted so far (among some quarters) towards technologies which attempt to "deliver" instruction from machines into children as empty vessels that I've become less and less comfortable being identified as a technologist.

Using computers was never about the technology for me, but rather about the connections and learning possibilities which the Internet afforded. My initial motivation for learning to use computers in the early 90's was to use the Internet to connect my Spanish-speaking students to their peers in Mexico, and thereby enhance the value of retaining their Spanish language skills amidst the relentless pressure to "immerse" themselves in our jingoistic English-only culture. I never really accomplished that goal (there's an interesting birdwalk to take about why it was so hard to do, for another time), but I did fall deeper and deeper into the world of technological communication and became identified locally as a tech mentor teacher and unofficial IT troubleshooter.

One of my goals for the #CLMOOC is to remake my identity into that of a Teaching Artist. My 2D and 3D art-making is still pretty funky; the art I want to be teaching is "Telling Stories with String." And the storytelling is as much about the teaching as about the string: string games provide a direct link to the bilateral, cross-fertilizing power released when we develop ambidexterity and digital memory, not in the figurative sense in which digits are 1's and 0's but via the direct use of our fingers to connect bodily learning to the brain's two hemispheres. And the process through which any group learns a string game is quintessential "Connected Learning": there are always a few in a group who learn a little quicker than do others, and so the teaching art is to create a group climate where each of those newly minted experts immediately becomes another teacher, and soon the reality that "We Are All Teachers in This Classroom" spreads from the string figures to the math problems to the story sequencing, structure, and composition.
Fred teaching string figures at Alianza, 1991Fred teaching string figures at Alianza, 1991

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Blogging for CLMOOC

Here's an attempt to create a blog post that can be linked in the CLMOOC...
I think it worked!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The New Digital Age

Recently Brad Acker asked for comment on Google+ about an excerpt from

Schmidt, Eric; Cohen, Jared (2013-04-23). The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business (p. 4). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

He quoted this:

  • The Internet is the largest experiment involving anarchy in history. Hundreds of millions of people are, each minute, creating and consuming an untold amount of digital content in an online world that is not truly bound by terrestrial laws.... Never before in history have so many people, from so many places, had so much power at their fingertips. And while this is hardly the first technology revolution in our history, it is the first that will make it possible for almost everybody to own, develop and disseminate real-time content without having to rely on intermediaries. ~Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

and asked if people agree. I responded:

  • The political frame which calling the spirit unleashed by the internet "anarchy" evokes points to some of the pitfalls in both our understanding of the phenomenon and our discussions on what structures we need to support in order to ensure that the Internet survives the multifarious efforts to control or at least dilute its power. Anarchists are forever tainted with the bearded bomb-thrower image of European and thus European immigrant martyrs and activists of the 19th and 20th centuries. The attempts of Anonymous and their cohorts to "protect" the internet with vandalism and aggression reinforce this association. A better analogy, I suggest, is Anarcho-syndicalism and the kind of worker- and community-led democratization efforts Gar Alperovitz documents and advocates for in his new book "What Then Must We Do?" 
  • The anarchy of the Internet must be supported by governmental and community based agencies and businesses, so its supporters must abandon the purity of anarchy's extremes to collaborate and cooperate with those who protect its free nature and eschew the tactics of the bomb-throwers as we struggle against the forces that would transform the Internet into a mere tool for propaganda and commerce.
  • In the education world where I live, this means supporting open source and the Creative Commons, and opposing the profiteers who want to transform our connected learning devices into mere delivery systems for the delivery of "content" into seated students who earn their overlords ADA without the expense of actual teachers.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Low-grade clerical work

If you sit kids down, hour after hour, doing low-grade clerical work, don't be surprised if they start to fidget. Sir Ken Robinson on why the ADHD "epidemic" is phony


I had to stop listening to this talk to post this line, since it's such a powerful image of what's wrong with our school system.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Discussing the Forage IV Project on "Teachers Teaching Teachers"

Here's a video of our Google+ Hangout discussing the Forage IV Project on "Teachers Teaching Teachers" :

Friday, February 8, 2013

A gift from a flower to a garden

Black Bear Ranch, 1971?
Making a comment after signing a petition for gun regulation, I proposed a tax on gun sales that would directly fund a Cabinet-level Department of Peace, dedicated to putting as much energy into the active search for peace-creating cultural events as we now put into war-making. The work begun in the sixties, consciously creating a culture of peace, of understanding -- fully manifesting -- our common humanity, at levels of collaboration and cooperation which would transcend the illusory barriers of nations, languages, and creeds. 
Gatherings of tribes, a growing network of inter-dependent and fluid communal homes and ranches and live-in businesses in urban areas, a new oeconomics emerging parallel to the crumbling behemoth we were trying to play around the edges of...
The dreamy naiveté of that era is embarrassing today, and yet still inspires me. I liked Donovan's "Gift From a Flower to a Garden" even more than "The White Album."