Selfie at Auschwitz – more complex than we think


Would you take a selfie at Auschwitz? If you did would you be smiling? What is your immediate response to the photo below?


Please take a moment to read this entire piece written by Professor Craig Detweiler who teaches Communication at Pepperdine University. Carefully consider his points and insights. Did you change your mind? How does this impact your opinion of “selfies” in general? or this selfie in particular? Professor Detweiler’s made me question my original opinion especially with the use of Victor Frankl’s quote

“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

It is my hope, more than anything, that this post and the Professor’s article makes anyone who reads it eager to engage others in conversation about how, where, when, and why we use our digital tools.

Deep Reading not exclusive to paper OR Blame (train) the reader, not the medium


Naomi S. Baron’s post How E-Reading Threatens Learning in the Humanities on the Chronicles of Higher Learning is thought provoking and eye opening. I expect her new book Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World coming later this fall to offer similar insights. 

The post laments the loss of deep reading in part attributed to students working ebooks and digital readers, but fails address that the problem is that students are not being trained how to use new tools to accomplish familiar tasks. 

I credit Baron for recognizing the symptoms of the disease – lack of appreciation for long-form reading, but worry about her prescribed course of treatment. There seems to be little doubt that wrestling a meaty text requires concentration, reflection, and thoughtfulness, but blaming the tool seems to assign little responsibility to user. 

The challenge of digital reading for the humanities is that screens—particularly those on devices with Internet connections—undermine our encounters with meaty texts. These devices weren’t designed for focused concentration, reading slowly, pausing to argue virtually with the author, or rereading. Rather, they are information and communication machines, best used for searching and skimming—not scrutinizing.

Readers need training to properly to deal with the interconnectedness of the present to succeed in the future. Marc Prensky’s concept of the Digital Native is often misinterpreted to assume that students already have the requisite skills to use technology and don’t need tech training. It is imperative that we show students how to use the tools to gain the advantages they offer while eliminating or minimizing the disadvantages. 

Let’s focus on “deep reading” on an e-reader. Students should be shown how put their tool in the do not disturb mode to eliminate distractions. Distractibility should not only be addressed through settings on the device. Students need to learn how to avoid distraction in the same way we encourage perseverance or grit. They also need to be instructed to re-read passages and that each reading can be used for different purposes – true of paper and ebook. The ebook experience allows the reader to highlight in different colors, search previous annotations, search the text, and even cut and paste passages to share with others. All of these ebook tools can create a rich reading experience as well as improve classroom discussion.

I understand Baron’s frustrations and concerns. Her surveys of older students are in line with our experiences at Providence Day School. Older students often lack the experiences and training to leverage the new tools and tend to be more resistant than younger students. However, students in classrooms where instructors set expectations and provide necessary support or training find that students excel with the new tools. 

I think Baron’s findings should be seen as clarion call to those of us in k-12 learning institutions to better prepare our students to use the tools we provide. 



Tech isn’t enough to change, but tech offers more instructional opportunities


As an educator who spends most of his time working on integrating technologies into the learning space, it was re-assuring and validating to read a working paper produced by the National Bureau of Economic Research which stated that adding computers in homes where students didn’t have access  “didn’t have any positive effects on a whole host of educational outcomes, including grades, standardized test scores, credits earned, and attendance.”

There are tremendous opportunities for technology to improve learning opportunities by:

  • enabling students to take a more active role in their learning. 
  • enabling teachers to bring learning experiences into the classroom
    (examples: watching open heart surgery, google hangouts with Alumni in Singapore, or even just using ebooks that allow anything in the text to be hyperlinked or searched.) 
  • shifting when and where students have access to learning tools, 

but only when schools are intentional and proactive in supporting the needs of students and faculty when adding tools to the learning environment.  It is why in addition to making tools available, schools must develop professional development that engages faculty in exploring how the new tools CHANGE the learning space, as well as support the entire community in developing acceptable standards of use for the new tools.

Alan November’s Why Schools Must Move Beyond One-to-One Computing is one of the best pieces I have found that explores what schools need to do to leverage the benefits of new tools. It illustrates the vital and necessary work that needs to accompany any integration of technology into the classroom. 

Thanks to Cindi Gibbs Wilborn (@cindigw) and MindShift (@mindshiftKQED) for sharing. 

Teaching Poetry like Playing Angry Birds


Each year we have a slightly awkward two-three week period after exams and before the end of the semester. This year I am designing a poetry unit that has been inspired by Angry Birds. It is not the poetry of Angry Birds, bombs, and green pigs, but instead the unit will build challenge upon challenge. Each challenge will get progressively more complex. For example, our first poem will be Rives A Story of Mixed Emoticons.

Students will be asked to decode the poem, understand the story, and define the message. Next challenge will be to create using Rives’ poem as inspiration. Next challenge will be to perform spoken word poetry. Just like in the game each player may need multiple attempts to complete each challenge. Hopefully, we will collaborate to assist each other in completing each challenge. If properly setup, each challenge will motivate the students to accept and conquer each task. It seems prudent to also give a  shout out to Les Vygotsky and the zone of proximal development at this point as well.

So, next step is to collect more contemporary, freshmen accessible poetry, but that will be a nice task over the winter break. Who knows maybe I can even find a poem inspired by Angry Birds?


10 Tips for Technology Mentoring


The tips below were created to support the Technology Mentoring program at Providence Day School.

10 tips for being a technology mentor

1. Listen well. Never assume you already know the solution.
2. Asks questions and don’t forget that sometimes the best answers aren’t technical.
3. Don’t underestimate your impact. Small, seemingly insignificant conversations are often the sparks that start forest fires.
4. Encourage training  and professional development.
5. Ask what if. You don’t know until you try or ask someone else to try.
6. Reduce anxiety for you and your peers. To be successful we need to shift instructional practice and attitudes. Helping peers feel comfortable does both.
7. Remember solutions need problems.
8. Learn from everyone. Our goal is support a learning community where everyone can learn something from everyone else. Model it.
9. Share. Share ideas, thoughts, problems and more with the tech team, school leaders, and peers, Keep up with your log.
10. Play. Use some of your five hours a month to explore and play. Remember that not all play needs a purpose. Purpose can come later.

if students designed their own learning


This is a must see video about giving students control over their own learning. I see this video as the end point but where could it start? Imagine asking Lower School students to create a plan to learn more about our environment, asking Middle School students to collaborate with teachers on designing the curriculum for next year, or asking Upper School students to plot a year long study of their passions? There are so  many possibilities for this model in so many different stages on independence and interdependence.

Scaffolding would be necessary. Adult participation mandatory. Perhaps motivation would be intrinsic.

Learning Artifacts: Blogs


Below is an email that was sent from a colleague of mine to the parents of his students. I think it is a great example of how digital tools provide a summative artifact of the group’s learning. How cool is it that parents can take a peek into the semester’s worth of learning?


The year is rapidly drawing to a close, so I want to reissue and invitation I offered to each of you at parent night last fall.  The invitation is to visit our class blogs at the links below (ask your student which period they are in this semester).

Why visit?  Well, first and foremost, you can look at work done by your child.  Just scroll down the right side to the “categories” section and find your child’s first name and click on it.  Note some students switched sections at mid-year.  You’ll find blogs that are recaps of lessons and some that are questions for their peers or me.  Second, you can look into our classroom and what they’ve been studying in AP Environmental Science.
Why blog?  Well, there are a number of reasons I might ask a student to blog:

1.  To remember or recount what happened in class that day.  We call this a “scribe post.”  This is most helpful to students who miss a lesson.

2.  To offer a question about a confusing concept prior to the test.  We call this a “reflection post.”  Other students are encouraged to answer these questions.
3.  To share something cool or a current event.  We call these “on my mind posts.”
and other reasons to use a blog include:
4.  To debate.  Blogs allow a space for responses after each post, and sometimes I require students to participate in a discussion of a topic like bottled water use in your family).
5.  To create a “positive digital footprint.”  I think I have a responsibility to help these kids leave a more substantial mark on the world wide web besides what they post on Facebook or Twitter!We’ve categorized all the post by the first 3 categories above if you want to see examples at the blog. Each student was required to serve as the class “scribe” at least once a semester and create a summary lesson for those who might have been absent.  Each student had the option of posting reflections before each test for some minor extra credit on the test.  Some students felt compelled to share something neat-a headline, a picture, or even a YouTube video clip.  By doing all this, the kids have had to reflect on what they’ve learned and they’ve created a wonderful online textbook as a resource for AP exam preparation.  Some students used the resource more than others, and that is fine.  Some students switched sections at mid-year, so you may not see many posts from them either.

Besides looking at what your own child created, I want to encourage you to scroll down to the “tag cloud” of topics we’ve studied this year.  Pick a topic that is of interest to you (energy, water, agriculture, etc…) and click on the tag.  We’ve cross-linked all the posts dealing with that topic even though they might be in different units.  That’s the beauty of this course (and use a blog), the interconnections between topics.  As John Muir once said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”  Also, notice the “ClustrMap” of the world and look at the global audience these kids have attracted this year!

I’ve truly enjoyed teaching this group this year.