The Best Of This Week’s Burlington Public Schools Weekly Twitter Paper

Did you know that Burlington Pubic Schools has a weekly Twitter Paper that is published each Monday highlighting the Tweets on our #bhschat hashtag from the previous week? So whether you use Twitter or not you can stay up to speed on the top tweets and blog posts that appear on our hashtag. Click on the tabs on the right hand side of the paper to check out the top posts in each category. I have also shared a few of my favorite excerpts from the blog posts highlighted in this week’s paper below.{id: ‘200dfe38-91fb-44ef-9675-ff7cb99e15e3’, width: 550, height: 680, background: ‘#ECECEC’, borderColor: ‘#DDDDDD’})

“The idea that we could cram all we hope our students could learn and know into a “common core” set of skills would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that we’re trying to do it. In the end, the problem with the Common Core isn’t that it is too broad, it is that it is too narrow. It makes no attempt to teach kids the most important thing there is to understand: “The idea that we could cram all we hope our students could learn and know into a “common core” set of skills would be laughable if it weren’t for the fact that we’re trying to do it. In the end, the problem with the Common Core isn’t that it is too broad, it is that it is too narrow. It makes no attempt to teach kids the most important thing there is to understand: There is always more we can learn.” (from Chris Lehmann’s post – We Really Don’t Know What To Teach)

“If we don’t help kids connect to the entire world, not just information, but to people, are we not limiting the opportunities for these dreams to become reality? There are more opportunities for our students, not just in their future, but right now, then we could have ever envisioned. When we don’t help our students connect to those opportunities for learning and the experiences that they can have, then we are doing them a disservice.” (From George Couros’ post – Our Thinking Has To Change)

“Our school system doesn’t need to create kids who are good at school. Instead, we need to create an environment that engages learners, fosters creativity, and puts responsibility for learning where it belongs – with our students.” (From Shelley Wright’s post – Academics: What Is It Good For?)

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Essential Learning Activities Should Be The Ultimate Goal

I caught the statement below from Lyn Hilt in the comment section of Scott McLeod’s post on whether or not parents should be allowed to have their children opt out of the use of technology in 1:1 settings. 

Here’s an idea, engage kids in essential learning activities at school, infuse the technology meaningfully, and let kids be kids and enjoy their lives outside of school by not assigning loads of homework. (And elementary kids? Zero homework.) If kids are so inclined, with their devices they can extend their thinking at home on their own time, but don’t make it mandatory… “

I’ve written several posts on homework in the past and I can’t help wondering what students would use their time for if they had the opportunity to “extend their thinking” on topics that they found most interesting.  How much longer will we continue to ignore the research of Alfie Kohn surrounding homework? It has been nearly a decade since Kohn came to the following conclusions:

“For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement.  At the high school level, the correlation is weak and tends to disappear when more sophisticated statistical measures are applied.  Meanwhile, no study has ever substantiated the belief that homework builds character or teaches good study habits.”

I grow continually frustrated as I see my own students spending their time on so many low-level, rote tasks that really serve no essential purpose in preparing them for what they will face when it is time to prove that they have marketable skills that would be an asset to some organization. When they do find time to spend on some of the things that they are most interested in, I am amazed at some of the self-directed learning that they do in spite of the very traditional education they have had.  I can only imagine what the possibilities would be if my kids spent six hours a day in learning environments that focused on the self-directed and collaborative skills that they need (and long for). 

We need to change this cycle…

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Digital Learning: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

ipads with students

As we enter a new calendar year, it is interesting to reflect on the changes we are seeing in regards to the impact of digital resources on the way we learn.  One thing I feel strongly about is that as long as we look at digital learning as something extra or separate, we will not be where we need to be. The fact of the matter is that we need to put aside the debates about which technology is the right one for students to access (i.e. tablet vs. Chromebook) and embrace the idea that there is a rapidly expanding number of digital tools that can enhance learning when thoughtfully employed.  In fact, knowing which resource to choose and when to utilize it is imperative for those who wish to be considered literate in the years ahead.

The National Council of Teachers of English has a framework which emphasizes that students must “Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology”

Students in the 21st century should have experience with and develop skills around technological tools used in the classroom and the world around them. Through this they will learn about technology and learn through technology. In addition, they must be able to select the most appropriate tools to address particular needs.

Unfortunately, the discussions on education in 2013 has been too focused on which technological devices schools are incorporating into their classrooms and less about how schools are rethinking education and creating more inquiry-based opportunities for students. Hopefully 2014 can focus less on the stuff and more on the substantive changes that are possible when we think about the opportunities that can be afforded all students if we begin to embrace the possibilities for differentiation  to meet the needs of all students.

The video short below from Michael Hornco-founder and Executive Director of Education at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, makes some good points in regards to the past year and what we can expect in 2014.  I hope that Horn’s predictions that we will see some interesting flex models that push the thinking on how schools use time, as well as, a bigger focus on competency-based learning instead of seat time ring true.

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Welcome To 2014! Here Are Two Simple Ways To Take Advantage Of A Fresh Start

Photo via

Many of us look at the start of a new year as an opportunity to make some resolutions regarding things we are going to differently over the coming days, months, years, etc. But the fact of the matter is that a lot of people fail to accomplish the goals that they set out to reach. In addition, many people miss their mark quite early on in their quest. Instead of dwelling on the numerous reasons that people come up short of where they had envisioned themselves, I am going to make two simple recommendations to help support whatever it is you hope to do for yourself in 2014.

  1. Announce your big goals publicly – You add a new level of accountability to your plans when you put them out there for others to know about. Whether you post your plans on Facebook, a blog, or just on a piece of paper on your refrigerator, you up the ante by making a public pronouncement of what you plan to accomplish.
  2. Get an accountability partner – It is fun to get together with others who have set similar goals and support one another in your quest.  My biggest success from an exercise standpoint came when a group of us would meet before school every morning to do P90X before school. Knowing that others were there expecting me to show up was a huge motivator. It’s one thing to let yourself down, but it is very hard to disappoint others.

Best wishes for success in whatever your plans are for 2014! For me, I plan to blog and exercise daily. There, I said it publicly which could make you one of my accountability partners 😉 

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Interesting Perspective – Blame Parents For Kids’ Obsession With Texting And Social Media

Photo via Pamela Neder on Flickr

I’ve spent the last few week’s reading Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Than You Think, which dispels many of the notions of those who feel that technology is doing irreparable harm to our children and our society. In fact, I wrote a short post with some initial impressions last Friday. Interestingly enough, I also came across an article by Thompson this week (h/t to Lyn Hilt) which gave an interesting perspective on the role society has played in creating the world in which our children are so easily drawn to their devices.

Thompson’s article from Wired  cites the work of Danah Boyd, who has spent thousands of hours interviewing teens regarding their online habits, and has written a new book called It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.  Thompson cites the following:

“…teenagers would love to socialize face-to-face with their friends. But adult society won’t let them. “Teens aren’t addicted to social media. They’re addicted to each other,” Boyd says. “They’re not allowed to hang out the way you and I did, so they’ve moved it online.”’

Thompson also cites research done by Pew which has found that students who text the the most are also those who socialize the most.

The bottom line here is that, we need to be careful of jumping to conclusions about the activities are kids are taking part in online and categorizing them too quickly as antisocial and/or useless.  I am reminded of another optimistic excerpt on the online behavior of our children from Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus:

“Although some of what kids are doing may look trivial and frivolous, what they are doing is building the capacity to connect, to communicate, and ultimately, to mobilize.”

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A Great Conversation On The Technology Concerns Of Parents Regarding 1:1

2 to 1 at Home
photo via Wesley Fryer on Flickr 

As I was playing catchup on my blog reading from the last couple of weeks, I came across a great post from Scott McLeod on the topic of parents choosing to opt out of their students having a device in a 1:1 setting.  The major questions that Scott asks here are certainly ones that have been wrestled with in every school that has implemented a 1:1 program:

“Should parents have the right to refuse or limit a 1:1 initiative – or other educational technology usage – for their children? If so, in practical terms how would that work (e.g., would schools be required to provide analog assignments and/or homework)? What do you think?”

When it comes to supporting parents here in Burlington, my typical response is “we own the device, but you own the child.” We need to try to work with parents to help them ensure that they can find the balance of screen-time that they feel is warranted for their children. The problem here, however, is that this is far from a black and white issue due to the fact that most debates on this topic we tend to leave out the purpose of the time that students spend online. Personally, I think there is a difference between a couple of hours spent researching and creating a multi-media project as opposed to a couple of hours spent playing candy crush.

With this in mind, it is imperative that schools communicate with parents in regards to the expectations for device use at home. What tasks will students have to have access to their device to perform? Also, what tasks will students be able to complete with devices that are already at home (and which parents have a better grasp on monitoring)?  The comments on Scott”s post offer some wonderful insights into responding to these issues. One in particular comes from Sandy Kendell, an Educational Technology Specialist in Texas who provided the link to a great blog post Parent Concerns in a 1:1 Initiative. Kendell nails what is at the heart of the issue for parents:

“Keep in mind, the child being able to say, “I’m working on my homework” is somewhat of a game-changer when it comes to supporting and setting limits. How easily could you tell your child to just put the technology away when it could be impacting their grades?”

Sandy’s post is one of the best I have read in regards to the conversations that need to take place in order to support the dramatic change that a 1:1 school can have for parents and students at home. Another must-read link in the comments is to Beth Holland’s post The Balancing Act of Screentime. Beth really gets to the heart of the matter in regards to what we need to ask ourselves concerning device usage and our children by asking three simple questions:

  • Is it Appropriate? 
  • Is it Meaningful? 
  • Is it Empowering?
  • It is definitely worthwhile to read all of the 32 comments from Scott’s post. There is so much more to talk about on this topic.  I particularly like the direction that Lyn Hilt takes the conversation in her comment about ensuring that work assigned as homework (whether on a device or not) is meaningful. However, I’ll leave that for a discussion on another day.

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    An Optimistic Outlook On The Infiltration Of Technology Into Our Lives

    I have two books I am trying to cram in during the vacation as I prepare for our next Parent Technology Night on Tuesday January 14.  The topic – “Parenting in the Digital Age” – is a difficult for so many of us because we cannot simply revert to some of the tactics that our own parents used due to the fact that all of this technology simply did not exist.  Whenever I am involved in conversations surrounding technology and our children, the only thing that rubs me the wrong way is responding to people who want to make this something that is either good or bad.  The fact of the matter is that it can be either, depending on the motivations of the person utilizing the technology.

    My first book recommendation for those who are techno-skeptics (and everyone else for that matter) is Clive Thompson’s Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds For The Better.  I wrote a bit yesterday about the need for us to reinforce with our children the importance of not partaking in the streams of negativity that can easily be found online.  Thompson points to examples throughout this book of how the internet is being used positively to further our intelligence both individually and collectively.

    “At their best, today’s digital tools help us see more, retain more, communicate more.  At their worst, they leave us prey to the manipulation of the toolmakers. But on balance, I’d argue, what is happening is deeply positive.”  Clive Thompson

    Stay tuned for some more on Thompson’s book and some thoughts on the second book I am reading, The App Generation by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis.

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