As a self-identified "tech head" and a Director of Innovative Learning, I am constantly bombarded with opportunities to try and leverage emergent technologies to improve or enhance student experiences in the classroom. While I absolutely love and embrace this challenge, I am often concerned when I hear some of the rhetoric around technology integration in education. Let me clearly state up front that in the modern era, I believe it is irresponsible to fail to develop innovative solutions to ensure every student has access and opportunity to experience digital technologies in the classroom. If adults fail to provide equitable and expansive access to the types of tools that will be seamlessly and ubiquitously integrated in the workforce, then we fail to adequately prepare our students to thrive as adults.
However, as I interact with educators and non-educators alike, I am taken aback by the number of times I am asked to share information about technology specifications. My geeky side loves to talk shop about new technologies and the potential they bring to revolutionizing educational experiences, but it has always been clear that the most important component in education always has been and always will be the people. Technology is never more than a tool, digital or otherwise. The true potential lies in the hands of the craftsman. The artisan wielding the tool is the master that brings it to life. Educators must fervently work to shift and grow as technology changes. Giving students access to new technology is an important step, but it is not the only step. As access is realized, educators and leaders must work to reimagine what educational experience could and should look like. In the modern era, visionaries like Dr. Seymour Papert can have their visions come to full fruition as students engage in constructivist experiences that foster deeper, more authentic learning!
Access to the right tools is critical to enabling students to engage on this level, but the value of these tools can only be fully realized when the people involved embrace the opportunity and reimagine what is possible. This is happening in pockets all over the world, but it is critical that we remain vigilant to ensure that the stuff of education never trumps the who. Students need access, but the most important thing they need access to doesn't have a micro-processor or run on electricity. Every student desperately needs (and deserves) access to educators who are passionate about facilitating opportunities for each student to realize his/her full potential.
We have those teachers. We have those leaders. We have to continue to create opportunities for educators to develop innovative approaches that will best prepare today's students for their brightest future!
We're celebrating Start Up Week this week in Chattanooga. The energy is palpable and the air is ripe with a sense of expectancy and possibility. Entrepreneurs live in a fast-moving world of what-if possibilities, solution pitches, product/service development, scaling, funding, funding some more, analysis, marketing, a bit more funding, leveraging human capital..... They live in a world that tries to provide scalable, sustainable solutions to opportunities as quickly as they can be found. While I have a long-standing personal philosophy of arguing against the call for education to be ran like "any other business," I am increasingly convinced that the ed world has much to glean from the entrepreneurial community.
Almost all teachers have an innate entrepreneurial bend. Part of the allure of teaching is that, in spite of the many regulations and bureaucratic policies, teachers get to close their door and be the master of their domain every class period, every day. They get to create solutions. Teachers get to see students struggle and find ways to solve the problems they see. While standardization and testing have gone a long way to stifle the creative joys of teaching, there is still an undeniably gratifying moment that occurs when a teacher helps a student reach a true "ah-ha" moment. Much like the entrepreneurial engineer tinkering away until she finally says "Eureka," teachers may use a curriculum to guide the learning process, but in the trenches, truly effective teachers are constantly tinkering with their craft, making sure that every student can eventually "get it."
What I love most about successful entrepreneurs is their ability to constantly balance blue-sky possibilities with dose-of-reality actions. Education reformers notoriously revel in dream speak--devoting an enormous amount of resources to identifying and promoting what is wrong with the past and what could be in the future. While entrepreneurs undoubtedly engage in big dream sessions that are vital to fledgling organizational direction setting, the successful ones are intentional to make sure that those dreams are coupled with actionable plans. At some point, you have to stop talking about a possible solution and you have to actually go and build it, deliver it, and prove it. As Atari creator and founder of Chuck-E-Cheese, Nolan Bushnell, famously stated, "True entrepreneurs are not just dreamers. They are doers." This is where the marriage between teaching and entrepreneurship is most fascinating. Many teachers dream of a better educational experience for their students AND they live in the weeds where they have to actually deliver that experience. Entrepreneurs simultaneously provide ideal solutions while constantly reassessing and rewriting the book on what an ideal solution is. Highly effective teachers do the exact same thing. They deliver the best available learning opportunities to their students while constantly looking for ways to improve the process.
However, for years, the missing component in this fun comparison is that entrepreneurs have created an environment that leverages just-in-time, wrap-around supports that accelerate the entire process. In the modern era, this has become so true, that many corporate behemoths now look closely to the entrepreneurial community for innovations in office culture, management structure, and solution development strategies. In short, entrepreneurs have created a culture of support that is quickly becoming the norm--even among big business. This has not been the case in education. For decades, teachers have been left to close their doors and teach. While a measure of autonomy is invaluable (and as noted above, helps create the entrepreneurial feel of teaching), there is also immeasurable value in the "we're in this together" mentality that permeates the entrepreneurial community.
However, this is changing! I have been blessed to walk into a role at the Public Education Foundation in Chattanooga, where the community has come together to intentionally piggy-back off of the wave of entrepreneurial momentum to positively impact education. Through innovative programs and true partnerships from all sectors across the entire community, local leaders have set a machine in motion that is starting to provide these vital wrap-around supports for educators.
Imagine a community in which teaching becomes the professional equivalent to entrepreneurship. Imagine educators sharing experiences, colliding in open network spaces, and engaging in improvement cycles. Fortunately, in Chattanooga, we no longer have to imagine this. It's happening. We are becoming Bushnellian in that we are not just spinning our wheels dreaming of better days. The community, in all of its complexities, is coming together to do! We are making it better. It is happening now. Are you on board and ready to "Engage Every Student, Every Day?"
In December 2015, I read Pastor Mark Batterson's latest book, If. The book was written to inspire Christians to live life void of "if only" regrets by pursuing "what if" possibilities. While it is written in a spiritual context, the transfer to education was unavoidable for me. Over the past 18 months, I have informally interviewed more than 1,000 educators from across the United States. Without fail, all of them eventually point to testing as a substantial issue in public education. Those interested in reducing racial, socioeconomic, and gender gaps will point to the inevitable and well documented biases woven into high-stakes tests.
There is a wave of momentum behind computer science (CS) education that is sweeping across the country. From Code.org's Hour of Code, to hacker-sessions, to digital making, computer science is clearly here to stay. As members of the CS community continue to develop creative strategies for convincing others that CS really is a fundamental skill that all students need to be familiar with, a number of intriguing discussions are surfacing that present unique challenges in the already bumpy landscape of American education. With an undergraduate degree in computer science, I am unquestionably biased to the importance of CS--I thought it was important enough 16 years ago that I chose to major in it. However, perhaps more importantly, as a father of 7 and 4 year old daughters, I am increasingly interested in the potential of CS in K-12 education and in efforts to curb the alarming data regarding the gender, racial, and SES gaps in computer science. When framed through the lens of a parent, the conversation gets really tricky really fast. I want to discuss some observations I have had as both a dad, and as a computer science educator.
In the previous post, I made a case for making more informed purchasing decisions with educational money...especially when it comes to purchasing EdTech. The following is a list of some common EdTech products that are purchased by schools and school systems contrasted with lower-cost alternatives that deliver similar, if not identical solutions.
Interactive White Boards
Tech Solution ($2,000 to $6,000)
Use an interactive white board to allow students and teachers to interact with digital artifacts and display handwriting/highlighting on a single, integrated device. These are often used to display slideshows, enhance digital illustrations, and engage students in interactive games. Popular brands include SmartTech SMART Boards and Promethean Active Boards. While other solutions are available, the costs and benefits are similar. They deliver a great experience in the classroom and have become a staple in many schools.
Low Cost Alternative ($185 to $750)
Option 1: Use an Apple iPad (mini under $259) paired with Apple TV ($149) and a standard projector (as low as $300 -- but often already available in the classroom). You can achieve similar levels of interactivity with a variety of apps (like Doceri) plus you gain the added benefit of not requiring instructors or students to only interact from the fixed position at the front of the room.
Option 2: Use a Chromebook (as low as $149) paired with Chromecast ($35) and a standard projector in a similar fashion as described above (this does eliminate the option for handwriting unless you have a higher priced Chromebook).
GE Foundation Leadership Summit
Leveraging Innovative Technologies for Learning
Texas Open Innovation Conference
Mar 27 - 29
Emerging Innovations in Education
Authentic Learning through PBL
FFT Leading & Learning
Connecting Global Education with the Tennessee Valley
reMake Education Summit
Sonoma County, CA
Keynote, Making Making Work in Education
National Governor's Association
Teaching Governor's to Code
US Dept of Education
Round Table with Secretary John King.
K-12 Pathways for CS
Ed Foo--Making in Education (breakout session)
K-12 Education Panels
Strategies for Reducing the Racial Gap in Computing
Boston Museum of Science
Teaching with Toys--Using Robotics as a Gateway for Computer Science
US Dept of Education
MSP Computer Science Proposition
§ The Great Miscalculation
§ Five Facts About Failing
§ Oh! That's STEM?
§ My Mom Isn't
an Engineer and That's