I want to tell you about a crazy theory I have, a kind of approach to life. It’s not for everyone, but I think it has the potential to help, especially if you’re an educator feeling a lot of pressure.
Lower your expectations.
I know, we only use the term “lower” in education when we’re telling students to “lower the volume”, so seeing the word alongside “expectations” is quite the heretical coupling. After all, we’re supposed to raise everything, aren’t we. We are admonished constantly to have high expectations because, quite truly, it is the right thing to believe, especially in regards to the potential of children and adolescents.
But, you see, too many set high expectations as they would raise the stakes in a poker game. They up the ante, so to speak. They mean “perfection” not “high expectations”. I don’t believe we need to climb Everest in education. I think we should disassemble tables that are set for failure.
Perhaps it’s because I’m biased, immersed in my own experience. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen my own children literally strike out too many times the more they want to get a hit in their baseball game. “Don’t put pressure on me, dad,” I’ve heard my daughter say to me so many times. “I do better when you don’t put pressure on me.”
That great new system you want to try in your program this year? It may only effect one child, but it will still be worth it. Funnily enough, by lowering your expectations, you may just land on the moon.
Congratulations to the awesome minds at the Peel District School Board for doing what many have been reluctant to do: create a clear, explicit document that all staff and stakeholders can point to for official advice when traversing the sometimes-minefield that is the educational social media stratosphere. I’m posting this to provide a longer-than-140-characters forum for us to converse. Click here to read the Guidelines and please share your thoughts and interact in the comments section below. (BTW I, for one, have breached pretty much every bullet point in the document.)
I’ve written more posts on BYOD/BYOT (Bring Your Own Device/Technology) than Sylvia Plath penned woebegone prose, so I’m going to put all of you out of your misery and promise you this is the last one. It’s been just over five school years now that I’ve invited students to bring their own wifi enabled devices into the classroom to use for learning. The first couple of years were a whirlwind of learning for everyone involved, but I can say fairly that the dust has settled quite a bit in the time since. Has it gotten easier or harder, you ask? As my fourth grade French teacher would say, comme ci comme ça.
And another thing: “easier” and “harder” aren’t exactly the most appropriate words here, but they’re as correct as one can get. Kind of like how kids says their teacher is “nice” or “mean”; it means nothing and it means everything at the same time. I was initially going to juxtapose “the good and the bad” as far as my experience has gone, but I simply couldn’t position the ideas in that way. I think this is because it’s hard to discuss BYOD/BYOT without the uncomfortable merging of pedagogical, sociological, psychological, and nuts-n-bolts practical considerations. In other words, the plight of the teacher in general. After year five of saying, “Ya, sure, kid, get out that mini supercomputer you got for Christmas”, here’s my little State of the Union.
My experience doing BYOD has always been in relatively affluent public school communities. We’ve also been fortunate to be well supported by my school board with technology to provide for students who do not bring their own devices in. This is to say that I really don’t know what to say about our progress in equity, because we can speak about this issue from many different vistas and contexts. I will say that I’ve always had great difficulty pinpointing what makes a student more or less likely to: a) own a personal device; or b) have permission to bring it in. It isn’t easily defined by their parents’ income, political stance, or cultural background. It’s also weird but unsurprising to me that technology is just another item on the epic novel that are our school supply lists for parents.
In the first few years of this initiative, my part-time job was as communicator and, unfortunately, evangelist for why BYOD should at least be allowed in a classroom. Whether it was colleagues, administrators, parents, and even, in some cases, the students themselves, I spent a lot of energy touting its benefit for learning. These days, no one asks questions anymore. Ironically, I myself have more critical questions than ever.
Apps and Software
Nearly all apps and tools are in the cloud and device agnostic these days, so it’s never been easier to have multiple devices talk to one another, and share/sync files with. There have been numerous times where we’d find a clever DIY workaround to a software problem, but folks like Google and Apple have taken care of a lot of that hassle. Again, the irony being that it has made our devices more… vanilla.
As with the proviso on ‘attention’ above, another tenant of successful BYOD implementation I’ve always touted is the need to at least address social media. Considering BYOD in any school without contemplating how social media will be leveraged is like buying your kid a car and expecting them not to go anywhere unexpected. Which is why I’ve always integrated social media spaces and tools into classroom learning. In 2014, though, this has been more difficult than ever. The world of social media for youth is, at times, the antithesis of school culture. Where school functions on rules set out by adults, social media spaces are governed by the adolescents themselves; where there is a state-sanctioned curriculum in school, there is only fun, intrigue, and experimentation in social media. What is more, particularly because of the work of danah boyd, I’m very wary these days of what I perceive as an over-step by educators into the social lives of teens online. But I’ll leave that little morsel for you to chew on, and perhaps write about in a future blogpost.
This post is neither an endorsement nor rejection of policies or approaches to students bringing their own technology for education. Deal with the murky ground, folks; it’s actually joyful and soothing.
What about you? How’s the BYOD going in your school or classroom?
Q – Are you teaching us math or are you teaching us wisdom about math? In other words, how do you know when something that sounds mathematical is actually misleading you. I mean, it seems like there may be a difference there.
A – See, the fact that you asked this question is exactly how you were damaged by your schooling… [laughs] To say that there’s math and that there’s thinking about math. Like, asking, “Have we considered all the hypotheses?” “Is this argument justified?” No, that stuff – that is the math! The symbolic manipulation, multiplying numbers together, and doing algebra and computing derivatives to the function? That is to math as typing is to writing. You need to do it, it’s part of math, but the thing I want to fight is the idea that actually thinking is something separate from math. It is the mathematics.
The above is an excerpt from one of my favourite podcasts Inquiring Minds. If you love conversations about the intersection of science and culture, you should check it out. Speaking of podcasts…
I have an insatiable love of them. Currently, on my Downcast app (best podcast app ever), I’m subscribed to about twenty-five. I listen to them in the car, while walking the dog, in the supermarket, while going to bed, and many other instances to which I don’t care to admit. I’ve become one of those annoying people who bring up all manner of random facts I’ve learned while listening to them, and I regularly begin sentences with, “That reminds me of the latest podcast episode of…” It’s a bit out of control, really.
So, my sickness is your gain, because, just as I did with these awesome This American Life episodes about school, I’m about to recommend a few episodes that you might be interested in if you’re pedagogically inclined. Click the podcast logo to arrive at them. Finally, let me know if you have your own podcast recommendation in the comments below!
click here to listen to the episode
The Podcast: Inquiring Minds
You’ll Like it If: You love science and culture.
Episode Title: Jordan Ellenberg – Why Math Is The Ultimate BS Detector
You’ll Like the Episode If: You love math and culture.
click here to listen to the episode
The Podcast: Freakonomics Radio
You’ll Like it If: You love economics and sociology.
Episode Title: Why You Should Bribe Your Kids
You’ll Like the Episode If: You’re fascinated by how to help change people’s negative behaviours.
click here to listen to the episode
The Podcast: Talk Nerdy with Cara Santa-Maria
You’ll Like it If: You love science and culture.
Episode Title: Interview with Crystal Dilworth
You’ll Like the Episode If: You love stories of how scientists (especially of the female persuasion) became scientists when they love the arts just as much.
click here to listen to the episode
The Podcast: The Moth Radio Hour
You’ll Like it If: You love stories. If you die for stories. If you eat stories for breakfast.
Episode Title: The Finish Line
You’ll Like the Episode If: You’ve ever been an inexperienced coach of a losing team.
click here to listen to the episode
The Podcast: Hardcore History
You’ll Like it If: You go crazy for history, or you think history’s boring and want to be proven wrong.
Episode Title: The Wrath of the Khans
You’ll Like the Episode If: You love epic tales of war, conquerors, and the ramifications of both.
click here to listen to the episode
The Podcast: NPR Money
You’ll Like it If: If you’re a noob when it comes to finances and economics and don’t even realize it’s fascinating.
Episode Title: The Real Price of College
You’ll Like the Episode If: You’re going to college or helping to pay for college.
Have you read Andrew Campbell‘s recent piece in the Toronto Star on how online privacy protection for kids is lagging in Canada? If you have, then you will know that much is still unanswered about security, privacy, and terms of service for our students online. You may also have noticed that there is a resounding silence in educational technology discourse around this perplexing topic when it is ironically the realm to which the issue is of utmost relevance. There are many reasons for this, and that discussion is better suited to another blogpost. Today, I want to spend a few paragraphs imploring all of us to get our wheels squeaking at least a little bit. To help me do this, I want to go back a few months in time.
The deafening silence from these ‘free’, ‘educational’ sites on a crucial security hole such as #heartbleed, what some call the biggest ever in the history of the internet, left me dumbfounded and disappointed to say the least. Let’s attempt a comparison here.
Sure, there’s a huge difference between the risk of dying and having your Edmodo account compromised. But here’s the thing: car seat and auto companies do not mess around when it comes to risking public and customer perception. It’s the same reason why your local ice cream shop will not hesitate to give you a new scoop if your child drops hers on the ground; or why Starbucks will never refuse to remake your latte if it’s not perfectly to your liking. They value your custom, loyalty, and they protect their brand like a parent does a child.
We should have leverage as users of these sites and apps, not the other way around. And if we don’t have any kind of influence, if these companies were under the impression that there was no communication necessary regarding something like #heartbleed to its users, if they have zero concern about public relations in this realm, how important are we, the users, in this equation? I just know that my mamma always told me that there ain’t no free lunch.
#Edtech companies rely on social media, blogs, and conferences to spread and sow their seeds, so to speak. If they felt any amount of pressure at all to address important security, privacy, and terms of service concerns, you can bet they would start moving on it. So, that’s what we can do. We can turn the noise into a signal. We can demand that our favourite educational websites and apps be far more explicit and transparent about these matters.
Maybe I’m in the minority. I think we have far more to learn from young people about social media than we could ever dream to teach them with our fancy posters, pamphlets, and didactic lectures disguised as lessons. Kids certainly run into all manner of problems online, and frequently make poor decisions, but the real question should be whether they do it in greater proportions than the 18+ crowd. In the World Cup of Social Media Stupidy we adults win every time. Here’s what I’ve learned about tweeting, Snapchatting, and Instagramming from my middle schoolers over the last few years.
If You Think It’s Dumb, Don’t Do It
Contrary to our perceptions, not all kids and teens are active on social media. Many of them think it’s a complete waste of time, and that’s totally fine. They don’t write arduous, long form, NYTimes pieces on it. They just keep calm and, well, you know.
Just Do It, Don’t Ask How
My students are always less concerned with how a social media space is supposed to be used, and more concerned with using it period. Every innovative use of social media comes from kids, I believe.
Play With Punctuation
Bad spelling, improper grammar, and poor punctuation? Of course children exhibit these in their online sentences. But more frequently than adults? I highly doubt it. The real lessons that most people miss are the interesting and innovative ways youth use symbols and punctuations to innovate language. For instance, one of the more fascinating things to me is the way many teens intentionally leave out punctuation and capitalization altogether to leave messages open-ended.
Rethink What An Image Is
If it exists, it can be an image. If it can’t be an image, does it even exist? Adults think youth are being narcissistic because they wanna snap everything. But, I ask you, how else do you expect to get skilled at using imagery to communicate?
Use Social Media to Have Fun, Not To Prove How Smart You Are All The Time
How often do you look at your timeline and see adults having competitions to prove how smart and clever they are, often in a condescending manner and at the expense of others? I think youth understand that 140 characters does not a deep, intellectual debate make.
There are two omnipresent sentiments in “21st Century Learning” and #edtech that are increasingly problematic, if not downright incorrect.
Change is needed in our schools and it’s not happening fast enough because of those that fear change (read: technology).
If we don’t change fast enough, we risk having our children fall behind.
I know these tropes intimately because I myself have spouted them on many an occasion; I don’t feel comfortable lending a voice to them any longer. Let’s start with the first one.
The idea that a fearful majority are staying up at night terrified that the #edtech bogeyman is going to get them makes no sense. I don’t see these people as conspicuously as some others do. What is more, when I do meet educators and stakeholders that appear to, or actually do express, literal fear with gigabytes and USB cables, they are a small majority. Hardly needle movers, if you will. I wonder if many of us hitched a ride on the ‘people fear change’ bandwagon because it was an easy explanation for a complex, systemic issue. After that, perhaps cognitive bias just took hold and made it true in everyone’s minds, turning it into a mantra, and maybe even a self-fulfilling prophecy. Furthermore, it is usually with arrogance that people decry a group of faceless people as fearful of change. Often we accuse others of this when what we really mean is I just wish they would agree with me and I don’t know why they won’t. Finally, imagine if educators went on about others fearing change in any other context such as math, the arts, health and well being, etc. The ‘fear’ line would not be acceptable as an ongoing excuse. So, I’m done with that line now.
As for the second trope, the one which admonishes parents, the government, and anyone else who’ll listen that, without 21st Century Learning, our children may end up in some kind of millennial limbo? It’s straight from the department of Keeping Up With The Joneses. At its best it resembles a false flags approach to persuasion, and at its worst, it’s downright hypocritical. How can we decry a subset of individuals as fearful whilst promoting anxiety about not being prepared for an unimaginable future? We can’t have it both ways.
Let’s check ourselves whenever we find the work we do resembles a real estate agent trying to ask for a higher price because the house they’re selling is in an area with “good schools”. If we always look at “21st Century Learning” as a thing to “sell”, or help people overcome fear about, we’ll never get off this hamster wheel of self-perpetuating fear.
I’m not the sentimental type. Birthdays (other than my kids’) bore me, giving and receiving thank you cards are akin to a small rash, and my idea of wining and dining entails a frosty glass of craft beer and sweet potato fries.
That’s basically why I’m not one for causing a scene when a change happens in my life. I’ve lived in a few different places, worked at a diverse range of jobs, and moved around schools quite a bit as a teacher. I’m not one to hold on to the past. This time, though, I feel the need to write.
A few weeks ago I applied for and accepted a position as a Curriculum Consultant in my great school board. I’ll be working on our New Teacher Induction Program team, so, ya, I’m still the luckiest guy on the planet. Nevertheless, it’s a big deal for me because it means it’ll be a few years until I’ll be able to do something like this in a classroom again:
I know it’s going to be a challenge for me in my new role. That’s why I finally decided to go for it, really. I’m looking for a new test, something to make me go, “Hey, I’m not so good at this… so let’s get better, and learn, and learn, and learn.” I also have great pride and a desire to help lead what I believe is the best school board in the world to new heights. To say that being hired for this role is a privilege is an understatement.
But the kids. Man, will I miss them. There’s an old adage in boxing and mixed martial arts (of which I’m a huge fan, hence the entirely nonsensical comparison which follows) that one should always go out on top rather than fade away. Yet they never do, instead choosing take blow after blow to the head, well beyond any rhyme or reason (alright, that’s officially the worst and most inappropriate sports analogy ever).
My point is that, if I were to leave my first love of school teaching, it would have had to be after a year or, better yet, a run of years which can only be described as professional blessedness. I’m one of the lucky ones who received that. Students, if you are for some reason reading this crusty old blog of mine, here’s the cheesiest poemwhatever I wrote just for you.
you have been the kings and queens of my world
I look up to you
people may think you live in an age and time of privilege and entitlement
you dwarf any kids that have ever existed
your optimism, your relentless smiling and laughing
everyone says your teacher looks like an 18 year old
and they think it’s because I have ‘Asian genes’ or something
but it’s really because of you
I take notes on everything you do
because I believe
you have the recipe for happiness
you know so much
you love so much
you spread hope everywhere you go
you know everyone’s weird and you love them for it
I’m going away for a while to work with grown ups who aren’t as cool as you
Thank you to our good friends Heather and Royan for sharing their personal blogs with us. Through social media, we were able to share our family’s journey with special needs. Over 1000 people have read our story and have shared it with their own family and friends.
We were astounded by the number of views of Bella’s video, created by the very talented Jesse MacNevin. With his talent for photography and videography, he was able to capture the joy and spirit of our beautiful Bella. With your continuous daily support, Bella’s video finished #1 with the top number of votes and comments in the Bloorview Filmpossible contest, making her a top 10 finalist. However, our video was not the chosen winner.
Even though we did not win the contest, we have triumphed in the positive feedback, shared stories, and new contacts that we have made by sharing a glimpse of our lives. For the past 5 years, my husband and I have been on a difficult journey. First with wondering whether our baby was developing ‘normally’, then in testing to obtain a diagnosis for Bella, processing the fact that she was developmentally delayed and on the severe spectrum of Autism Spectrum Disorder, figuring out the best tools and therapies for her to achieve the best of her potential, and accepting our daughter for everything that she is. Needless to say, it has been toiling, both emotionally and physically, as well as incredibly rewarding to witness each step that she has taken. No one knows what the future will hold. We constantly wonder what Bella’s life will be like: Will she be able to get dressed on her own? Will she be able to write her name? Will she have friends who want to play with her at recess? Will she ever tell me that she loves me?
All we can do as parents is give our kids our best, and help them turn their cant’s into cans.
On Saturday, May 31st, Bella proved that she could DUO! She participated in the Family Fun Fit East End Kids KOS Duathlon , and proudly ran 50 metres, rode her bike for 600 metres, followed by another 100 metre run. To our family this race was not only an extension of our passion for physical activity, but a great step in our pursuit to bring visibility to disABILITY.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. This is what Bella has taught us. Since she was an infant, she was born with challenges. Despite these obstacles and the medical predictions and assumptions of what she would and would not be able to do, she has constantly surprised us with her abilities, from the time she took her first step to walk at the age of 2, to the first time she used her communication book to request for her favourite shaker.
When I stepped into the world as a parent of a child with special needs, I thought I would have to teach my child about the world. I thought I would have to focus my energy in teaching her how to sit quietly, play appropriately, and behave in a way that others would perceive as ‘normal’. I was wrong. It turns out I have to teach the world about my child.
By sharing our story, we hope that the next time you meet someone with special needs, you have a better understanding of that person’s struggles, but also of his or her accomplishments. We hope that, if you were to meet Bella, you would see a person who wants a friend to play with, who perseveres through challenges and never gives up, who radiates happiness with her ear-to-ear grin.
Yes, “special parents” have it pretty rough. But, like all other parents, it’s not like we were given a choice. We just tough it through, each and every day, and have impressed ourselves with all that we can and continue to do… Just as Bella has impressed us with all that she can and will continue to do. I’m often asked how I find the strength to push on. The following quote provides the answer and truly embodies our family:
Children with special needs are not sent to special parents. Children with special needs make parents special.