Author Archives: mattscully

we cannot auto-correct our behavior or intentional use of our tools


Love this video as a tool to spark conversation about whether things are as bleak as the poet believes and more importantly how intentional is our use of our tools. We can definitely do better and pieces like this that call for us to take action are powerful and needed. How does your use of your tools improve your life? your relationships? your health? How does your use of your tools reduce the quality of your life? your relationships? your health?

Disrupting your own industry


Just finished reading an article on the Washington Post entitled Carmakers keep investing in apps that tell you not to drive. Here’s why that’s a shrewd move by Matt McFarland. To quickly summarize, carmakers are developing services that seem to be counter-productive to selling cars. Everything from ride sharing, car-sharing, and mass transit apps are in play. It seems that auto manufacturers are savvy to the fact that they need to stay in front of the needs of the consumer. The quote below is really what caught my attention…

“But if car ownership is fading, it’s always best to disrupt your own business than let someone else do it. By looking to the future and anticipating customers’ shifting desires, carmakers can stay relevant.”

This got me thinking about what we are doing in education to not only stay relevant but mostly importantly to address the needs our students. It seems so often that conversations about shifting instructional models and practices boil down to tedious debates about logistics, schedules, college credit, and budgets. It seems like our immediate work is to being to transform the cultures of schools to become more agile, flexible, and open to innovation. Curious if anyone has found ways to shift their school cultures and feel they are becoming more agile and open to change?

How the Internet Saved Our Thanksgiving


Really it was two things that saved our Thanksgiving… one was that my wife had us plan ahead and make the pies on Wednesday night and two the World Wide Web.

We woke up Thursday morning and starting cutting veggies then pulled the brined turkey from the refrigerator. Turned the oven on to pre-heat for the bird and less than 5 minutes later there was this horrible sound from the oven. There was a glowing, flickering orange light coming from the oven. The heating element had just fried. No oven… no oven on Thanksgiving.

It seemed like Turkey Day was not going to be Turkey Day or Green Bean Casserole Day or Stuffing Day, but then as we re-grouped to make a plan something fairly cool happened. Each of us grabbed an internet enabled device to start exploring options. In just a few moments, we learned that you can grill a turkey, found a recipe for stove top green bean casserole, and a slow cooker option for making stuffing. There were videos, recipes, feedback for others who had tried the recipes, and pictures. We had one of the best Thanksgivings ever at our house. The food was great and the camaraderie was better. It would not have been possible without the Internet.

PS – We still left our devices at home when we all took our after Thanksgiving walk.

Dear Mr. Shirky, Sorry, but you missed your chance.


Clay Shirky, a thinker, innovator, and educator that I admired a great deal shared his decision and rationale for asking students to not bring devices to his class anymore. (PLEASE READ SHIRKY’S WORK NOW) His rationale is thoughtful, intelligent, and supported by research, but he missed it. Great big swing and a miss.

First, understand that I agree with his points about multi-tasking, the distractions of social media (the love the elephant and the rider – more on this later), and second-hand distraction problem. They are real and they can seriously impact learning, but Shirky missed in his reaction to these very real problems. Don’t remove the device. Don’t avoid the problem. Be part of the solution. Engage the students about how to use devices to best support their learning.

  • The rider (rationale) and the elephant (emotional) are not the only players. There is the path (see Dan and Chip Heath). As teachers we can set the rules or the path, create opportunities to work with our students to create guidelines for behavior, and call out behavior that falls short of our standards. We need to create a path that keeps the elephant on task and assists the rider guiding the elephant. For example, direct students when they need to focus and use devices to put them in airplane mode or do not disturb mode or turn off wifi. There are little things we need to do to help our students be successful.
  • While I am a firm believer in the myth of multitasking, I do wonder about the value of searching an unfamiliar term mentioned by the instructor or briefly investigating a related topic. There are ways that minor distractions or related interruptions can add value to class. I admit this is tricky, but the answer lies with asking students to help decide when it makes sense. A conversation about their behavior will lead to an opportunity for students to be reflective about their own behavior. It will also provide insight for instructors about the value of classroom activities.
  • It is also important for learning institutions and many organizations to develop common language about using digital tools. Providence Day has create a Digital Compass to guide our behavior and with it we have developed a digital citizenship resource guide to help teachers, students, and parents improve our use of digital tools and hopefully, hold ourselves accountable. It is very concerning when I hear adults suggest that the tool is more powerful than the user. Ultimately, we use the tools, not the other way around. Organizations need to empower their members and a great starting place is a common framework for discussion based on common language.

digital citizenship compass for book

As Educators we have a vitally important responsibility to always remember the unexpressed curriculum. This is the curriculum that causes us to engage with students beyond just teaching our content. It is the curriculum that directs us to help students learn how to work collaboratively, be better members of the community, and properly use the tools as their disposal. There is no doubt that tablets, cell phones, and laptops are in work spaces, learning spaces, and more. Without intervention, without training, and without conversation about how these tools can help us improve, we as a community will fail each other.

We can solve these problems and improve the use of these tools if we engage and I can think of few people smarter and better suited to engage students on these topics than Mr. Shirky.

Please re-consider, Mr. Shirky.

Go to the Source or Careful Consumption of Tweets


Over the last few weeks two different articles keep hitting my desk. One is the Oppenheimer and Mueller study about note taking using a KEYBOARD and the other is the UCLA study about screen time. I have a couple of concerns about the way these studies are being used. 

Quick clarification: I firmly believe in managing screen time and helping students/adults find a balance with their digital tools. Second, note taking is essential to learning and students should be taught to find a method that works for them.

First, Oppenheimer and Mueller’s work found “…that whereas taking more notes can be beneficial, laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.” There results are not saying students should avoid technology. They seem to be clearly stating that note taking is an activity where the note taker needs to process information and re-frame, re-organize, and work with the data to make note taking useful. The problem is that working from a keyboard is limiting and forces note takers to transcribe. The tool forces the behavior. A tablet device like an iPad, Surface, or Nexus 7 provides multiple ways to take notes. Tablets support multiple input options – keyboard, drawing, photos, and text to speech – and combined with an array of apps to support the varied needs of note takers in different classes. 

While many seem to be suggesting that this study is anti-technology, my take away is that Oppenheimer and Mueller are reminding us what good note taking is and how the tools we use can impact our note taking. 

To me the UCLA study regarding screen time is more worrisome especially because many are not taking the time to read the study. The study compared 51 students sent to an educational camp for five days to 54 students who spent the week in school. Both groups of students took pre- and post tests on recognition of non-verbal emotional cues. Both groups improved their scores. The camp group had greater improvement, but it is worth noting that this group also made more errors than the control group in the pre-tests. The researchers suggest the improvement for the control group is the “practice effect”. The “practice effect” was not applied to the camp group in the discussion on this report which leaves me with more questions than answers about how to use this data. Pre and post test results shown below. 

ucla screen time study

It seems like we are making too big a deal over too small a sample size.  It also seems tough to compare results of students who spent a week in a unique environment versus students who spent their week in a familiar environment. I think I would be sharper after the unique week versus after a standard work week regardless of the amount of screen time I had. 

Again, I truly believe that users need to be intentionally managing their screen time, but finding good information about the true effects of screen time is challenging. My advice to parents is threefold:

  1. Ask questions. Consistently question what your students are doing at their screens. Ask them to share what they are getting from the experience. 
  2. Monitor your own screen time. Try logging your own activities over the course of 5 days. Note what you are doing at the screen, how long you were doing it, and what you got from the experience. Reflect on your experience and the similarities of your students experiences. 
  3. Engage your school in conversation about learning activities that put students at a screen, but don’t just count minutes in front of the screen. Examine the activity and what it takes to complete it. Measure the value of the experience in terms of executive function, higher order thinking skills, or engagement. 

One of the problems with news outlets today is the “sound bite effect” or attention grabbing headlines. Be a savvy consumer and dig deeper. 

NPR : Surrounded By Digital Distractions, We Can’t Even Stop To Think


This is a great article exploring the connection we have with our devices. 

Click here to view original article.

It would be tough to think up a more plum assignment for a test subject: Simply step into an empty room, sit down, and think.

Just think.

But in a study to appear in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science, participants found the experience within their own heads surprisingly difficult to manage — if not downright unpleasant.

Stripped of their books, cellphones and other distractions, many, including a majority of men, preferred to instead pass the time by reaching for the sole form of electronic entertainment in the room: a 9-volt battery administering a “severe static shock” when touched.

“It’s probably an issue of how we can control our minds and thoughts,” says Timothy Wilson, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a co-author of the study, which attempts to measure the enjoyment found in allowing our minds to simply wander.

That represents a novel approach to the study of human distractibility, in which the “wandering mind” is often itself the distraction: a symptom of our multitasking, digitized culture that interrupts our pleasure reading, test-taking and work lives.

Distracted parents

“No one had looked at mind wandering as an end in and of itself,” Wilson says.

But as it turns out, we’re easily distracted from that too, plagued by a natural impulse to seek out the physical “engagement” wherever we might find it — even if it zaps us.

In the words of T.S. Eliot, we find ourselves “distracted from distraction by distraction.”

Wilson says he and his colleagues were initially skeptical of including the shock device as an outlet for subjects to escape their thoughts. Given that participants were warned the contraption would give them a painful jolt, the researchers asked the seemingly obvious: “Why is someone going to shock themselves?”

The most common answers: boredom and curiosity.

Wilson sees that response as a symptom of our animal instincts. “Our minds have evolved to a point where we do have this alternative; we’re the only animals that can turn off engagement and turn into our own heads,” he says. “But we still have that mammalian brain that wants to engage.”

The journey to “my happy place,” as Wilson puts it, or a state of enjoyable, wandering thought, usually occurs during activities involving low-level engagement, like when we drive or take a stroll. For many, thinking becomes quite difficult when we’re placed in an empty lab room and robbed of even the mildest forms of physical activity.

In a situation like that, we naturally reach for the nearest available source of engagement: sometimes by poking a rudimentary shock device, but more often by whipping out our smartphones.

Wilson notes that the experience of solitary thinking became even less bearable when participants were asked to replicate the experiment in the comfort of their own homes, moving the study from the bare lab room to our modern dens of digital connectivity and distraction.

Although participants were asked to pick a time when they didn’t feel rushed and to put away all electronic devices, “all those things were there,” he says. “Your phone is right there, and you know you’re not supposed to do it.”


“They couldn’t even go for six to 12 minutes,” Wilson says, without succumbing to the pressures of physical distraction. Those results suggest the attraction of our devices may be found simply in their availability, offering a heady escape when our animal brains lack the proper physical engagement.

“If it’s there, we’ll use it,” goes one of the more common laments about our digital culture. But don’t blame us; we’re only mammals.

Getting Permission Easier than Anticipated or My Sub-Par Performance


The last few weeks I have been working with colleague Derrick Willard on Digital Citizenship Resource Guide based on Providence Day School’s new Digital Citizenship initiative. We have this “insert superlative here indicating awesome, but not as overused” compass graphic (cannot show you yet) that has seven key precepts of digital citizenship:

  1. Be present.
  2. There is no delete.
  3. Credit others.
  4. Manners matter.
  5. Nothing is private.
  6. Protect Yourself.
  7. Be real.

One of the chapters I am working on is the “Credit Others” chapter and it is a blast to write it. However, I have to make a confession. If I accurately assess my own behavior against the basic tenets of crediting others, I find it completely sub-par. As I wrote about using images, 4 different presentations and slide decks came to mind where I used images without permission that I found doing a google image search. Being a human being, I immediately began rationalizing my behavior. It became clear to me that I only borrowed without permission because getting permission was nearly impossible and perhaps even cost prohibitive. After all, I am only a poor educator using these images to help others.

Thankful, my conscience is still alive somewhere in the depths on my black heart. It forced me to prove that I was indeed correct in assuming that getting permission would be impossible and costly. I chose two images to use to prove my point.

First, Randy Glasbergen is a cartoonist that has caught my attention over the years and I have used one of his cartoons in a presentation with new teachers. I reached out to Mr. Glasbergen and below is the result….

Hi Matt,

Thank you for your interest in my cartoons. It’s great to hear from you today!
I would love to be a part of your iBook — also school newsletters, handbooks, posters, meeting agenda sheets or PowerPoint presentations, staff communications, etc. I receive many requests to use my cartoons, but due to the time invested in creating, preparing and delivering my cartoons, I must charge a small fee for the use of my work.
My fee for the usage you’ve requested is $X  for one cartoon then discounted to only $X for each additional cartoon in your order. (Fees are quoted in U.S. Dollars for black and white artwork. Specially discounted for schools.)
You can select your cartoons from my online cartoon catalog @   Hundreds of cartoons are available, all sorted by topic for fast and easy browsing. Unless otherwise requested, these cartoons will be delivered via e-mail attachment as high-resolution TIFF files. (The online images are low-resolution and not suitable for printed pages.)
Please send an e-mail to confirm your choice of requested cartoons, then choose one of the following payment options. I will follow up ASAP with delivery of your cartoons and authorization.
You can see how WRONG I was. Apparently Mr. Glasbergen is not just a talented and funny cartoonist, he is a great guy.  He was the only person including my own kids to tell me “it was great to hear from you” that day. He truly seemed eager to help me with my project and offered me educational discounts without making me beg for them. The process was simple and I now can use the images feeling good about supporting the artist who created them.
The second image was a photo that I again found using a google image search. It took about five clicks to track down the creator, a photographer who responded to my email request with the following…
“I didn’t even know that shot was still online. Feel free to use it. Thanks”
Again, I was completely wrong.
Most importantly I hope many of you have already begun to get frustrated with me for missing the larger point. While it may be far easier than many of think it is to get permission to use online images, easy or hard is not the deciding reason why we should seek permission for using other’s work. Giving credit where it is due and properly compensating the artist/creator is just the right thing to do.