Technology, and its use in schools

I am an avid user of technology, at work, and at play.  Actually, I use technology more at play than I do at work, but I do use it everywhere.  Of course, at work, I use a computer.  I make use of various applications at work, and in particular, the ability to have one calendar on my computer, phone and iPod is crucial for me in keeping organized. I am not an organized person by nature. I have had to learn how to become more organized.  Anyone of you reading this that has been in my office would surely gasp at my concept of organization, but trust me, this is better than it could be.  I am a JK-12 principal, and keeping things organized is essential…….it reduces unnecessary anxiety, and no one likes unnecessary anxiety.

However, at play……oh, at play, I love technology.  Just a few areas I like use technology:  photography, music and fitness.  Photography is impossible to do without technology, but I like it.  I like to store photos on my various cloud drives I have.  I like to photoshop a bit…not a lot, but a tweak here and a tweak there, a crop here, a crop there.  Music, my saving grace in life…..is one of my favourite releases.  I had MIDI music composing software years ago, it was Cakewalk.  I assume it still exits, but I no longer use it.  I loved it!  It was amazing.  It even made my poor timing fix itself!  Then I moved to a portable digital recorder, that could save my work to a CD….I actually posted a song to a free song hosting site on CBC.  It was short and shabby, but it was mine!  Well, it is mine, as it is still there.  Production values need work, as does almost every other part of the song, but damn it, I recorded a song and put it out there.  Lately, I have been looking at apps for my iPhone to attach my guitar, and presumably, my keyboard too, as well, but have yet to really look at them, but, man if, I do…watch out!  There could be more.  I have a million songs in my head, all floating around, with little structure or planning, but they are there.  My iPhone may help me bring them to light, and then you can all just cringe together!

It does not end there, though, as I use technology in different ways in music as well.  One more way I use technology is with my voice.  I am a late arrival at the vocal party.  I have been playing instruments for many years, but have only just recently, as in the last few years, tried to sing.  I am not very good, but I have learned a lot about myself.  This could also lead to a discussion about, yet again, engagement and ultimately the Growth Mindset as in Carole Dweck Mindset stuff, but I will save that for some other time.  I also use a harmony box when I sing.  Purists call it cheating, I call it making the audience wince less. All it does, for those of you who are unaware of it, is, allow me to simulate other singers harmonizing, but it is all my voice.  Now, having to listen to my 15 and 19 year old daughters’ music, and its proliferation of “autotune”, I think my crime is quite minuscule.  However, if that is cheating, so too is an effects pedal, and I have not heard very many people refer to Jimmy Hendrix as a cheater, so…..

However, I also use technology in my ever constant attempts to remain somewhat fit and healthy.  When I used to run a bit (I hated it), I tracked it on a spreadsheet and made cute little graphs for myself.   I also had a cheap heart rate monitor and I plotted heart rate, maximum, minimum, time in my zone, etc, etc. Then, a few years ago, I purchased a nice GPS unit.  When I would ski, or cycle, I would bring the GPS and then download the data into the GPS mapping unit on my computer and stare lovingly at where I had ventured.  I would even “open in google earth” and look at it with the satellite imagery.  It was fun, but not earth shaking.

Then, in my struggle a few years ago to have a more structured eating regimen, I discovered Myfitnesspal.  A simple App for my iPod/iPhone that tracked the calories I ate, and expended.  Neat charts and data too, lots of fun.  On the computer version, one can print out their diary and keep it.  I have done so for the last year and a bit.  I look back on it lovingly too, when I was in a good groove, and then skip right by the blank entries, I know are blank because I ate so much on those days, it was not worth putting in and making me look so bad.  However, it did help me.

Now, here we are in June 2014 and the integration and seamlessness is only increasing.  As of the early part of May, I downloaded Runtastic’s mountain biking app.  I am once again in love.  It is great.  It tracks my ride, gives me all sorts of data.  I even purchased the Pro version, and I do not often purchase anything!  It takes seamless up a step.  I synced it with the Myfitnesspal app and when I finish a bike ride, it then sends the calorie burning data to my app automatically.  Also, those of you who have the fortune/misfortune to follow me on Twitter, it also posts my rides to Twitter, including my big 0.8 K ride to work and home again.  And, to top it all off, for about $70, I purchased a new heart rate monitor, that works directly with the Runtastic app.  The only thing I am missing is the cadence tracker, but I am personally not that interested in my cadence.  To know my heart rate, as well as how far I have gone, how often, calories burned and many other things, is great for me.

Now, I just read this morning on some online paper, that Apple’s iOS8 operating system, may contain improved functions related to the synchronization of these many health and exercise apps, within the phone itself, I can see that perhaps I am riding a wave that is only going to be more interesting.

However, the long and short of all of this is certainly not to bore anyone with my interest in technology for music, photography and exercise (I did not even mention I bought a depth finder and plan to map my entire lake this summer….), but to make one, simple plain point.  I know what you are all thinking…..but it is coming now.

Technology for me is useful.  I made the point about the cadence for a particular reason.  I am not interested in my cadence on the bike.  The other data engages me more.  So, that technology, while just as interesting, using Bluetooth, etc, is of no use to me, whereas the other items are all very important to me.

Ultimately then, as we decide about technology for upcoming years: do we go with tablets, chromebooks, desktops, laptops or something else entirely, or all of the above in some measure, then I ask you:  What are we using the technology for?  If we are not using it for something, if our kids are not using it for something related to their learning, why do we have it?  It has to be a seamless part of what we are doing; otherwise you cannot convince me to spend a penny of my ever shrinking budget on it.

Oh, those tardy children…

As I sit in my office, having already done secondary morning announcements at 8:15 and doing a few items before elementary at 8:50, a student saunters past my office window, on this sunny day, 15 minutes late for class.  Not the first time.  Will not be the last.  We have struggled here with tardiness, with a small group of students forever.  In the fall of 2011 when we moved to a new schedule, starting school at 8:15 instead of 8:45, the dire predictions of massive problems with late students never materialized.  I was presented with a research study showing the teenage brain could not engage before a particular time, and I did not buy it.  I have teenagers at home.  I do not see their brain engaging much before noon, on any given day, so really, what is a half hour?  

So, was my problem with tardiness increased?  No.  Now, I did not do specific research in a double blind placebo study….but we are small enough, I just know.  The kids who were often late at 8:45 are the same ones late at 8:15.  They are also often late after an hour lunch in a community in which there is not really one house more than a KM or so from the school.

The problem with tardiness is extra-educational.  It comes mostly from attitudes born in the home, and the measures taken there.  I know in my house, even if I was not in education, if my kids were late for school for any reason other than a good one, the measures their mother would take, would ensure it would be a very, very, very rare occurrence.

In ten years in this job, I have experimented with countless ways to discourage tardiness.  I do not like the punishment paradigm.  Perhaps elsewhere it works, but in our school it is not a deterrent.  If there is a consequence, like a detention, or extra school work, or suspensions, etc for being late, kids will simply not show up to that particular class if they are going to be late, and that clearly does not work.  As frustrating as it is for everyone, I would rather have them here, in class, late, than at home sleeping, or playing Xbox until period two.  I face a lot of criticism over that, but so be it.  

My belief, is that until it enters a student’s mind that being on time is important, for those who are late, nothing will change.  The question, then is, how do we instill that idea, when it is probably not being effectively instilled at home?  I know many of the parents of these students themselves have a great deal of respect for being on time, because they are good employees and show up to work on time, but somehow it is not being transferred, yet to our kids.  I also know that many of our kids who are often late, get part time jobs and are never late.  Why is that?  Certainly because they are motivated by money, and they know they will get fired, and they do not want to get fired.  They have an intrinsic motivation.  School is not that for them.

So, in thinking about my previous post about teacher choice in PD, and some of the conversations I have had in person, in the twitterverse and elsewhere about student choice, I have come to a thought that has been percolating a bit in the past few weeks.  How effective would it be, if when we run into tardy students, and they have hit that magic number, whether it be 5 or 10 or whatever you want, we give them choice about the consequences?  Not even sure what the choices should be?  Detention, lines, writing assignment, letter of apology, make up time, internal suspension, etc, etc, etc.  However, I wonder, if I engaged the students and gave them ownership of the problem, and some choice in the appropriate “consequences”, would a difference be made?

I wonder?  Perhaps in September we can give it a try?  Stay tuned!  By the way, here is that sunny day I was referencing, in case no one believes it!

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Professional Development for Teachers

Way back when, when I was a ‘young-un’, and taking courses for professional development, and yes, to move up in QECO, I took, among many courses, an Adult Education course. I really loved it. It really spoke to how I learned as an adult, and it made me reflect on my own experiences as a student in high school. I believe that adopting some adult education principles while I was teaching in a high school, helped me help students I might not have helped without the ideas.

Now, as I spend bits and pieces of my days reading insightful educational ideas on Twitter (now, if you told me two years ago, I would have written those words, I would have laughed, heartily!) I am seeing the explosion of ideas that help us all to meet student needs better. No longer is “DI” just an afterthought, but classrooms across North America are adopting ideas and strategies that really do better meet our students’ needs. Yes, we have so far to go. Teaching is a craft and a science and an art, but it is dealing with the most complex material possible, the human mind, the human condition, with all of its variables, both genetic and environmental. The fact that we ever think we “have it right” is a thought that has to be eradicated from our thinking. However, my thoughts around how we better tailor our schools and classrooms for learning have lead me to start thinking about, how, as a principal, and as a member of a board team, we deliver curriculum to our staff members? I have read some interesting tidbits on Twitter but have begun to think a little more about it.

An example I want to point to, is a conversation I was having a few weeks ago, about student transition to high school. Often a grade 9 class looks and operates much differently than a grade 8 classroom, yet the kids we are teaching are only two months older. Does that much change happen between June 29th and September 3rd in an adolescent brain, that we can justify, in some cases, a pretty significant change in how we do business? If how we are setting up our grade 8 classrooms is good, aligned with research and being reflected on, then how is it that the environment in grade 9, which is often different, is the right thing to do?

I am not suggesting that the change in grade 9 is better or worse than the grade 8 experience, but it is significantly different, and I am not sure we talk enough about it. Does the grade 9 class need to be more similar to the grade 8, or perhaps vice-versa? I am not sure. But that is not what I want to get to here, though, I am just using it as an example. Although, I suspect that examining this further may make for an interesting blog post down the road.

What I am getting at is this: We are gaining ground in realizing school systems need to make some changes to engage students in their learning. We are shedding the “one-size-fits-all” model all over the place and are replacing it with DI, choice, student voice and many other things, and the evidence of its success is slowly building.  I ask then, if we are recognizing that this is what is good for our kids, within the framework of curriculum which has been given to us, and one of the main arguments is the increase in engagement, then why are still at a “one-size-fits-all” model for PD? Why do we have a really top down system of PD?

The question is somewhat rhetorical, because I know we have to have some degree and it needs to come from the ministry, and then through the boards. I understand the need for structure, just as I get that in a Canadian History course, we need to follow curriculum, and cannot frame the entire course around the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs (as inspiring as that would be), but if we are so hell bent on engaging our students by listening more to them, why are we not doing the same with our staff? Is their learning less important? Have they now moved to a place in their development where choice and personal needs no longer affect their engagement in learning? I can only speak for myself, but I find as I age (with grace, of course) I am even more dependent upon engagement to keep me learning. I used to be able to force stuff through my brain, but now, if I am not engaged in the material, I am done. And conversely, if I am engaged, I am even more engaged than I ever was as a teen, or a learner in my mid-twenties.

So, I leave you all with the thoughts that are swirling in my head around PD for teachers. How can meet ministry dictates, board initiatives, yet also speak to teacher engagement in their own learning, through their voices? I would suggest that teacher learning is crucial to student learning, and if we want to continue to move forward as a system, this is something we could be looking at as another way to increase learning in schools!

Baby and the Bath Water

Okay, so I just had a short Twitter conversation with a colleague in the western portion of Superior Greenstone.  It was prompted by my retweet of Marc Prensky, on the idea of letting kids arrive at expectations in their own way.  With apologies to Marc if I should not be quoting him in this forum, his tweet read:  “Outdated: Having students all do the same thing at once. Better: assigning goals & letting each kid reach them in their own way.”  Marc Prensky, Twitter, April 18th, 7:30 AM.  @marcprensky.  (No idea how I should be citing this…when I graduated from Western in 1991, Jack Dorsey and his gang were in high school, likely unaware of their impending role in the development of social media sites…).

The resulting conversation, while short and to the point as only Twitter talks can be, was interesting, because while I wholeheartedly agree with Marc, Jenni also made an important point that I often think about too.  That point, I think, can be part of a “baby and bathwater” conversation.  Jenni correctly pointed out, that depending on the subject, the type of assignment, the goals of the project, the assessment, and many other variables, that theory may not sit as well.  Her example was related to an accounting course.  Accounting being a relatively exact science (to the best of my knowledge, but please keep in mind, in my house, I “don’t balance the books”…..and we will leave it at that) I agree with Jenni.  There are surely very specific skills that have to be learned in very specific manners.  I cited a similar thought in a tech course and tweeted, with typos and all, that really there is only one way to cut a large piece of lumber in a shop and that is on a table saw. Now, I could not examine this further in Twitter, but I do realize that this statement is not completely true.  If one wanted to rip a large piece of plywood, (if that was the task assigned, and the kids could choose their method), there are multiple ways.  A student could grab a hand saw and do it by hand, use a skill saw, or a jig saw, and complete the task.  However, assuming all those tools are there, the table saw makes the most sense.  It is the most efficient method, and in my limited experience, by far the method that will most likely result in the best product at the end.  One could argue for using a flush bit on a router on a router table and the outcome could well be similar, however, the table saw is designed to do many things, and in particular is an excellent tool for ripping and cross cutting large pieces of wood, as well as making more exact and fine cuts.  So, in a tech class, it would not make a lot of sense to suggest to a group of students that they each rip a piece of plywood into a very specific dimension, but to choose how to do it.  (unless it was a discovery activity, but I do not think the “discovery method” is probably the safest in a shop….)  While it might be interesting and fun, if the goal is to do it as well as possible, as efficiently as possible and theoretically to do something further with it, then the table saw is the real deal….Plus, one must practice using the table saw to get good at it too…

Now, woodworking is just my hobby, not my teaching area, so I will examine something for a moment before finally getting to my point.  As a former history teacher, and lover of history, I can see how it would work in my class if I was in one.  I would ask myself:  “what is the goal I am trying to get at here”.  Let’s say we were looking at a topic like Canadian Confederation, or the Russian Revolution.  Let’s pretend we had gone through the information and the students should have an understanding of the “factors that influenced Canadian Confederation” or the “events that led to the Russian Revolution”, and my goal is now to have them demonstrate their understanding.  This is really a simple task, low on the taxonomy and hardly more than recall.  However, as a history teacher, I need to know that kids understand the basics of these topics and can explain them.  So, I could tell them they have some choices as to how they do it.  Essay for the writers….oral presentation for the speakers, visual presentation for the visual ones.  So long as I had made it clear to them what I want them to be able to communicate, then it does not really matter to me.  Now, keeping that in mind, I am being very simplistic in my goal here.  The goal is recall of facts, and some explanation.  However, if my goal is to see how well they can put these thoughts into writing, and I am evaluating the writing as part of the activity, then creating a diorama is not going to cut it, and neither would creating a “Confederation Song” song for the musicians in my class.  It would be the same if I wanted them to create a multi-media presentation (assuming I taught them how to do it and gave clear expectations about what I wanted in the product….you know, a learning goal, success criteria, descriptive feedback along the way…) I would be evaluating not only their information, but also the delivery of it, the medium they have chosen.  In that case, again, choosing the medium would not work.  However, would it not make more sense, that if I wanted to evaluate their ability to create something in a given form (essay, oral presentation, media presentation, etc), that the topic is no longer that relevant?  If it is a history class, give them some leeway within the realm of the class and course, but go to town on whatever you want to do, but show me you can make a really kick-ass presentation, or write a ridiculously fantastic essay about a topic that excites you!

So, in getting to the point after a long and drawn out build up, what I believe is that as teachers we all have to make the commitment to always be thinking about the products we are asking our students to produce.  If in our expert opinion, all students need to create a certain type of product, and we can justify it and explain it and the reasons are clear, then this is not a problem.  Perhaps if in the entire semester there are no choices or options, then maybe we have to think further.  As well, courses that have a 4 and U in them, are often courses that directly prepare our kids for universities.  The last time I checked, introductory English courses at university do not suggest to first year students that they can “make a diorama to exhibit their understanding of Macbeth” instead of an essay, so in these cases, it is our responsibility to ensure that kids are prepared and do these things.  Likewise, first year chemistry requires lab reports in a typical paper form, not an iPhone video with music to explain the reactions of magnesium and water, so we cannot forget these things either.  However in these two isolated cases, the reasons for the same thing done by everyone easily defensible and even more importantly, part of our moral duty to teach and evaluate.

As well, some subjects as mentioned above, especially in introductory courses, may lend themselves to the rigidity of very similar assignments.  It is all about professional judgement and openness of teachers to always consider varying the products we ask for, when it suits the situation.  All classes are different, subject areas lend themselves in different manners to these theories, but so long as teachers are willing to open their thoughts and apply it as best as they can, then that is what makes a professional.  Furthermore, reflecting on our experiences is also important.  We may have decided a certain approach works, and then fails miserably.  We have to think about how and why and make changes.  In a similar manner, just because a group of kids hit it out of the park in one activity, by choosing their products and methods of learning, does not mean that it will work in the next activity/lesson/topic.  There is so little of this job that can be put down to a template, so it all about thinking about what we are doing…and collaborating…..talk to one another….seek out the optimistic one on the staff and talk about it and also seek out the “less than optimistic one” on staff because those ideas hold value too and may help you to frame your own attempts and thoughts.

I think if we empower teachers to make these decisions based on their professionalism, so long as there is a willingness to always be open and to work differently when appropriate, then those who are in a subject area, or grade, or even a certain class who require more of the “everyone does the same thing” will be okay and will not feel as though they are somehow not living up to the new standards.  It really is all about thinking about what we are doing, being able to justify it and keeping it as varied as possible, to suit our students’ needs, when appropriate.  

Well at least that is what I believe.  Alas, my less than interesting and engaging duties are once again calling me away!  I wish there was another way to get laundry done, get bathrooms clean and floors washed, other than the traditional ways, but despite my attempts to find such alternative ways, the final products, as evaluated by someone in my house, never live up to the standards that were clearly laid out in front of me prior to attempting the task…..so I must rely on the old ways and actually do what has to be done!

 

The VLE

After attending OTRK12 for a second year in a row, I wrote earlier about my struggles with finding an entry point upon all of the surfaces I had scratched.  I suggested that moving forward with the VLE, D2L in our case in Algoma, was a starting point.  I have received several encouraging messages (essentially all through Twitter..seriously how can any teacher not have a Twitter account?  [for some reason I really dislike the phrase "do you have....{insert appropriate social media here}], like “do you have Facebook?”  I always want to answer “no, Mark Zuckerberg has Facebook”, however as usual, digressions abound.

So, I have thought a little bit more about engaging all of the kids and staff, from JK-12 in the D2L system.  Some of the areas are obvious.  We have a 4-5-6.  How convenient it would be for the teacher to have his grade 6 kids working, with the netbooks, on grade 6 Science and Technology, while he was teaching to the 4-5 class?  The Blended Learning opportunities are pretty good, even though we still have a lot of kids, especially in our high school, who are not fond of the Blended Learning model, or Elearning at all.  Then again, not everyone was fond of air travel in the 50′s either.

The area that I am beginning to think about though, is how to go further with D2L and the entire school?  Items as simple as each teacher using it as a site to post news to students and parents, and each teacher having students use Eportfolio as a really simple method to display progress.  Parent -Teacher interviews:  Parents preview their child’s portfolio and speak to the teacher about it during the interview.  A sort of “flipped Parent Teacher Interview”…Am I the first to coin that?  Think of it? (not likely Einstein…)….do I get an award?  Furthermore, school staff can use it as a communication tool with each other.  Instead of the “curriculum wall” in the staff room, staff post their successes, failures, goals and everything in between on the D2L site. 

As well, a natural extension is administration using it to post information, letters, memos, PD items, thoughts of the day, agendas and minutes for meetings. How can PD be delivered better with a VLE?   Are the possibilities endless?  Probably.  However as with every human adventure, only as endless as the humans involved are willing to make it.  

So, the question in my mind now is, how far will I take it, what sort of resistance will I encounter and what resolve will I have?  I guess it all remains to be seen, doesn’t it?

 

 

Oh, where to start?

Okay.  So I have now been to two OTRK12 sessions in a row.  We will not mention the adventure that getting home was yesterday, but, in the year between last year’s and this year’s, I have increased my Twitter use dramatically, begun blogging again (I used to have a photo blog, check it out if you want:  www.jaremy.blogspot.com,) closed my Facebook account (no longer needed to know colour of socks people were wearing, and nor did I believe if I forwarded a prayer, some poor soul may be cured of cancer.  Sorry, call me helplessly lost soul of the Enlightenment) and learned a lot more about educational technology.  Also I have apparently unlearned lessons long ago acquired in regards to the shame and pitfalls of run on sentences.

So, now the question is what is next?  Where do we go from here?   I have personally taught now three successful Elearning courses using the LMS and am currently running a coop course through blended learning.  I have retweeted about 200 links and ideas that I have not had time to go back and investigate.  I have chatted with many teachers and educational technology leaders (thanks to @wallwinS for her work in giving me ideas with coop!) and have learned a lot.  However, I am not in the classroom, and this is where all this stuff needs to be, right?

So, what next, I say?  I remember this feeling last year after OTRK12.  I remember as the realities of administration eroded the minutes I had at my disposal, I remember thinking in June:  “wow, what did I do with what I had?”.  Sadly, the answer was:  “not enough”.  So, as I was drifting to sleep in a motel in Wawa, Ontario (a long story), I was brought back to a conversation I had with our ADSB team as we traveled to Billy Bishop and were stuck in the Lakeshore traffic.  We were all talking about what next, and our thoughts could easily be summed up in one sentence:  Let’s start somewhere.  Just start something.  Begin now, begin somewhere.  Much like the Leafs have to start tonight with the first shift, and then move on to the second shift, etc, what is my first shift going to be?

Well, I have decided.  What all of this needs is a unifying force, a way to get everyone started somewhere, and that central pillar, that must anchor the tech movement of teachers in Hornepayne, Ontario can be the LMS system we all have access to.  Does not mean everyone has the same starting point, end point or journeys on their way, but, it means we are all drinking the same kool-aid and using the same highway.  

So, I am resolved.  we are all going to start looking at the LMS as a tool that everyone can use for something.  It might mean that a teacher in 4-5-6 has his grade 6 kids going through science and technology material while he teaches a lesson to grades 4-5.  It might mean that an ENG1D teacher uses the LMS as her class website, and does nothing more than post news there.  It could mean that an ENG4C teacher uses it as his entire entry point for all kids and parents.  It could mean many things.  However, because it is one system, with one expert out there (@bgrasley…:D) and perhaps most importantly, one system for kids, that is where we are going.  Not sure where we will end up.  The dreamer in me sees many possibilities.  The realist in me has already tempered my dreams.  I am hoping we land somewhere in between for now.

So, ideas and thoughts on where I want to go.  Now to get the rest of the people and animals on the Ark.  Haven’t really thought that one out yet!  Stay tuned.

The intersection of curriculum and individual student interests and engagement

So, I have always struggled with the idea that as a society, we need curriculum to guide us. We want our citizens to have certain knowledge and be able to do certain things. Reading, writing and ‘rithmitic (my little wee tiny jab at back to basics provocateurs…) for example. Okay, so I am going to go off on a tangent right away, but it occurs to me that as a society we religiously (nope, not starting down that road…) want our kids to read and write and do math, and hopefully think…we hear the clamouring all the time. I do not disagree. However, what percentage of our lives do we spend engaged in something that lives in, or uses technology and computers? 80% 100%? Yet, very few of us are clamouring to have our kids learn to write computer programs….that is for the specialists, isn’t it? Could it be because none of us know how to do it, never learned it and of course do not need it? We all learned to read and write and do ‘rithmitic, but we did not learn to write computer programs. And, despite the fact that all the computer programmers could take over the world tomorrow, it simply does not occur to us, or we run from it, “cause it’s too hard”…..however, as I said, I digress. Back to my original point…hopefully.

I agree with curriculum resting at the provincial level, guided hopefully by experts who know what we all need to know. However, how much flexibility is there in that curriculum? Does it allow students and teachers to branch out and go their own way? Should it? Can it? I am not sure. I will use a history example to make my point, hopefully.

I am a lover of history. I download podcasts (Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History is amazingly well done) and I download university lectures from iTunesU. They are brilliant. I have even made connections with some of the professors from Yale, Harvard and Berkeley, just to tell them how much I enjoyed their lectures. I always started the email with “I am not a freak stalking you, but…). I can now learn amazing stuff, taught to me by experts who know, at my leisure, while I cycle, ski, fish, drive, or whatever. I can also tailor my learning. In listening to a fantastic series on Western Civilization by John Merriman from Yale (check him out on youtube, he is very engaging), I can skip the lecture on “social conditions early in the British Industrial Revolution” because I really am not interested. However, I can listen to his lecture on the early stages of the Bolshevik Revolution a hundred times if I want. Perhaps part of why I am so interested in the Bolshevik Revolution is because I have personal ties to it. My father and his family emigrated from Western Ukraine (Slave Ukraina, by the way) in 1928, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, and many of our relatives were affected by Communism for the next 75 years, including perishing in the Gulag.

However, the point is that I can be a consumer of history in this manner. If I was listening to a lecture on Medieval History in Europe, I would be attracted to anything related to the Knights Templar, the Church, their conflict, Philip the Fair, etc. So, if a student takes CHW3M and is more interested in the Knights Templar, does it really matter that they skip a unit? I would argue, as a student of history, that one often “skips” certain elements of a history program to concentrate on another, and then the questions raised often lead you back to where you deviated in the first place. Often to really understand something, you need to understand something else, even if it is not that interesting originally. It is information that adds to the overall topic and it spreads like a root system.

So, in the end, we ask our teachers to find things that inspire our kids, motivate them to learn more and get involved, yet we often as administrators and as a “system” we do not give them enough freedom and leeway. However, how do we balance it all, so that the “important” knowledge is still learned? The “Roma” in me wants to scream that really there is no “important knowledge” and what right do any of us have to deem there to be? However the university trained teacher in me also bristles at the thought of a laissez faire system of curriculum. Yes, if all students were engaged in learning, perhaps it would not matter, but they are all not, are they now? If only we could really know if decentralizing curriculum would really lead to significantly higher engagement, then we could just do it, couldn’t we? Because, you know, all three political parties would agree with that,,,
Great day at OTRK12 today. Thanks to all the presenters and contributors who kept the thoughts flowing on Twitter. Looking forward to tomorrow.