Tag Archives: Education

Growing Number of Poor Americans are Phone Only Internet Users – What does that Mean for Education?

PEW Research recently published a study that showed a growing number of lower-income Americans access the internet solely through a smartphone. As many as 1 in 5 American children live at or below the poverty level and roughly half of all children qualify for free/reduced lunch, meaning that they live just above that poverty threshold (about $41K/year

for a family of four). If this trend continues, we should assume that a large portion of our nation’s children will have limited access to broadband and computers and will use a smart device for their internet access. What are the implications for education as teachers and schools move to more digital practices in their institutions?

Limited access to the internet or other resources is what we often call the “Digital Divide;” it often impacts students who are low-income, especially those in rural areas. There is no quick fix to addressing accessibility and broadband internet access is becoming less of a luxury and more of a necessity. What can educators do on an individual level to support students who are on the other side of the digital divide?

While on an individual level, teachers can be aware that many students in their classrooms do not have access to high speed internet or computers at home. They can also promote device agnostic tools (tools like G-Suite for Education can be installed on any device with near full-capability). Another potential option is that they can allow students to use class time and school resources to work on robust, digital assignments. However, teachers often feel powerless to help students when the problems facing students in the digital divide are so complex and need to be resolved at a macro-level.

There are a few attempts to address the digital divide. The e-rate program, which help to subsidize high speed internet in both urban and rural areas, has had a dramatic impact on bringing broad-band access to low-income as well as rural areas. However, even with this subsidy, students often have limited access at home. As the internet has become the primary repository of learning and knowledge, how can we ensure that all of our children have access?

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Collaboration is an Essential Skill for Students – Embrace its Challenges

When I am asked “What is the most important skill for students to learn these days” I always answer “The ability to effectively collaborate.” This answer often surprises people; as an ed tech director, they assume I am going to talk about programming

group work

Courtesy of www.lumaxart.com

or STEM-centric topics. However, if my students leave my classroom having learned one thing, I want them to come away knowing how to collaborate effectively with others.

 

When we talk about schools preparing children for college and career, we often think about course contentwhen in reality we should think about what we want them to be able to do. Think about what you do in your job and career. Is it done in isolation? Your greatest achievements, were they obtained solo? For most of us, the answer is no! We often work in teams, sometimes with people in our office as peers, superiors, and/or subordinates; we may also collaborate with people outside of workplace. However, we almost never work in isolation. Therefore, the most essential “soft” skill for success is the ability to play well with others.

However, engaging in “group work” is often loathed by students and teachers. Why? Because someone often feels saddled with the  bulk of the work, students may not get along with their team-mates, it can be a challenge to navigate calendars or delegate tasks, as well as numerous other hurdles. All of these are true, even when group work is done “right.” However, these challenges are exactly why students should be tackling group assignments and projects; they need to learn how to navigate these problems in order to effectively tackle them in life. For example, have you had to have a challenging conversation with a colleague? How did you deal with someone on your team who couldn’t meet deadlines? What do you do to find time for working effectively both as a team and on your own? Like any other skill (playing the piano, running the mile, or learning a new language), learning how to engage in collaborative work takes practice and experience. By exposing children to engage in these dynamics throughout their academic careers, we prepare students to tackle them as they progress in their academic studies and their careers. So embrace “group work” and all of its messiness!

The Importance of Rest & Recovery

Last September, I had my third knee surgery. Two ACL surgeries in my late teens/early twenties had resulted in some degenerative knee problems that I could no longer ignore. So, I went under the knife for a third time. Now, a little more than six months out, I’m almost back. It’s been an exercise in frustration and patience. However, it has also been a good reminder that rest is as important as action. You see, I’m really good at sticking to my physical therapy regimen… a little too good. I’ll push myself too hard and work through the pain (something that got me under the knife a couple of times). What I had to learn this time, is that rest is just as important as action. So some days (more than I would like), I have to skip the gym and rest.

So, what does this have to do with education? Today is the last day before Spring Break. I can feel the mental and physical exhaustion not only in myself, but all over campus. I need to unplug, and so do my students. Taking a break to rest and recharge is vital not only for our physical selves, but mental and emotional selves as well. As educators, we put far more emotionally into our jobs than many other professions. That’s why it’s important to take some time for self care. If you’ve ever read a book by Stephen Covey (especially his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), then you’ve likely heard his parable of why we all must “sharpen the saw.” You cannot effectively cut down trees all day without taking breaks to sharpen your saw.

sharpen the saw

Sharpen the Saw via Stephen Covey

While I won’t be doing a big trip on this break (just an overnight on Key West), I’ll be spending some time sleeping in, reading non-work related books, wandering some museums, and slathered in sunscreen while on the beach. So to all of the other educators, whether you are on break or just looking at a short weekend, be sure to take some time to rest, relax, and sharpen the saw!

Google Cultural Institute – Famous People

search fieldsIf you haven’t been to Google Arts & Culture lately (previously Google Art Project), then check out some of the new features. I recently discovered that you can organize and search by: Historical events, Historical figures, and Places. As a history and social studies teacher, this is a great feature. For example, if I’m teaching Ancient History, I can do a search for Alexander the Great and pull up a series of images, maps, quotes, and more that are in the Google Arts & Culture database. Likewise, I can search for his famous victory during the Battle of Issus and pull up corresponding works of art. It’s a great tool to explore visual resources on various topics.

Stay on Top of your News with Feedly

I read a lot of news, blogs, and magazines… a lot. People often ask me: “how did you find this?” or “how do you stay on top of it all?” Well, I cheat. Well, it’s not really cheating. I use an RSS reader. My favorite is feedly. Feedly helps me to organize all of my news feeds by category; for me, those categories include: Hard News (NYTimes, Washington Post, etc), Lite News (think HuffPo), Education, Technology, Social Studies, etc. I don’t need to hunt around the newspapers for relevant content. Rather, they show right up in my feed.

feedly

Courtesy of blog.feedly.com

Feedly has some great free features, namely up to 100 feeds, easy organization into three (3) categories, and mobile & desktop access. You can also share stories directly from the preview pane via Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and email. However, it also has some pretty powerful “pro” and “team” features. For a small fee you have unlimited feeds, unlimited categories, clip from Feedly directly into notebooks like Evernote or OneNote, annotation and highlighting, sharing to WordPress (great for bloggers), and an overall faster interface.

If, like me, you’re an avid reader and need some help staying on top of it all, check out Feedly!

The Kids are Alright: The Internet is NOT Destroying a Generation

When I tell people what I do for a living, I get a mix of responses. Some people think that it’s great others share their thoughts or concerns. After all, everyone seems to have an opinion on education: how it runs (or they think it runs) and how they believe it should run. Also, everyone seems to have an opinion on “kids these days.” The opinions on both (education & kids) tend to lean heavily negative… or at least concerned. So much so that my friend Carl Hooker published an article “When did Millennial-Bashing Become a Sport?” Like Carl, as an educator, I find it necessary to defend this generation of young people. The reality is, these kids are alright. While new technologies and connectivity may be changing the way the world engages, it is not destroying this generation.

Kids These Days…

Whenever I hear this phrase come out of someone’s mouth, I have the same reaction that I did when I was 15 and Gen X was the whipping boy du jour. I have to resist the urge to roll my eyes and groan… All generations lament the one that comes next. As an ancient historian by training, I can tell you of the Egyptian Papyri from 1500 BCE that complained that “kids these days” don’t respect their elders or worship the gods. Let’s not forget that Sokrates was condemned and put to death for “corrupting the youth of Athens.” Even the Roman poet Horace wrote:

“Our sires’ age was worse than our grandsires’. We, their sons, are more
worthless than they; so in our turn we shall give the world a progeny yet more
corrupt.” Odes III

There are numerous examples of writers, authors, politicians, and scholars complaining that the youth of the day are self-involved, narcissistic, lazy, and corrupt. When I hear my friends or peers begin a complaint with “kids these days” I want to kindly suggest that they are now officially old and there is nothing left to do but get a rocking chair, sit on their porch, and yell at kids to get off their lawn! Of course, I jest. The reality is that as we age, we become nostalgic of our own youth and critique those coming up. Perhaps a realistic look back on our own follies, challenges, and quirks can give us a boost of humility.

But Technology is Different…

While engaging in one of these conversations, a friend of mine commented “Kids these days… they don’t even watch tv anymore!” I was a little taken aback. After all, we were the generation raised by the “idiot box.” Television was supposed to be dumbing down our generation at an alarming rate. Yet, we still produced functioning adults that today complaint about teenagers. Adults often argue (without any type of evidence other than perceived anecdotal experiences) that teenagers are eschewing social interaction for life behind a screen where they are engaging in harmful and morally defunct activities.

rebel

Rebel Without a Cause, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

However, new devices are not really any different than technologies of past when it came to fears of corrupting youth. For example, the introduction of “car culture” in the 1950’s and 1960’s spurred fears of juvenile delinquency, extra-marital sex, and other forms of laziness and depravity. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, scientists, politicians, and others were concerned that too much exposure to books might physically harm women and hinder their abilities to be effective wives and mothers. New technologies have often spurred fears of their negative impact on adults and (especially) adolescents.

But Technology is DANGEROUS (especially for girls), due to Predators & Crime!

Picture1As a woman in technology, I hear and see this a lot. Whenever I watch an “educational video” meant to warn students and parents about the dangers of the internet, the victim is often a young girl. Is it a wonder that young women steer away from technology fields in the middle school years? Stranger Danger is a fear often perpetuated when it comes to teens (especially girls) online. However, we live in a time that it has never been safer to be a child… especially in America. The reality is, crime has never been lower. However, our perception of crime has never been higher. Am I saying that children in this country or around the world are never abused? Of course not. Unfortunately, children are still the victims of crime, most often by a relative of a friend. However, our fear of the internet predator is so skewed from reality that it impacts what we think children do, or should do, online. Nothing contradicts this reality more than our relationship with ride sharing services.

Due to tools (remember that idiot box Gen Xers?) such as the 24 hour news cycle, we are inundated with stories of crime. The more horrific and random, the more common it will show up in our news feed. The mundane doesn’t sell ad space.

To-catch-A-Preditor

But the Internet is Different – Teens are Addicted to Social Media!

This is another refrain that I hear from adults. Teenagers are addicted to their devices. Addiction is a loaded term. If you have an addict in your life, then you know the power of this disease. Also, adults commonly put their own relationships and experiences onto
their children. In my experience as an educator, I have found that teenagers often have a healthier relationship with their devices than their parents. Be honest, how many of you have criticized your children/nieces/nephews or other adolescents for behavior you engage in? Do you check your phone at the dinner table or respond to texts while out with friends? What about while driving (which you should never… ever do!)?

teens on screens

Courtesy of at the Speed of Creativity in? 

I would argue that adolescents are not addicted to their devices so much as adolescents are driven to be social! When I was an adolescent, I literally spent hours on the phone… when it was connected to a cord to the wall. I would extend it to the pantry on the other side of the room so that I could close the door and talk in relative privacy. It drove my parents so nuts they got me and my brother our own lines! That led to some robust fights over phone squatters rights… We also spent hours and hours walking around the mall (without adults and well before cell phones) talking to one another or other teens that we met while out. Were we expounding on detente or our latest interpretation of Tolstoy? Perhaps going over our homework? Of course not! We were teenagers. We talked about boys we liked, the latest episode of 90210, or gossiped about other kids in school. That is what adolescents do. This is how adolescents learn valuable social skills that they build on as adults.

What is different in this technological age is that, because of our perceived concept of crime and dangerous for adolescents, they have little to no unstructured and unsupervised social time. One of my favorite books in the last few years has been danah boyd’s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked TeensIf you have not read danah’s work, you definitely should. She delves into the relationship that teenagers have with their devices and one another, arguing that because we as a society have removed their physical social spaces (when was the last time you saw children biking or playing at the park unsupervised), they have delved into Social Media and technology to extend their social circles and engage with friends in an unstructured way, outside of adult’s prying eyes. In fact, this level of helicopter parenting has led to a movement: free-range parenting. If you read their website, you will find that it advocates what many of us viewed simply as “being a kid.”

But I’ve Seen Stories of Kids Being Hurt or Engaging is Online Bullying!

Of course you have. As I’ve said, while we have made great strides in protecting children in this country and the world as a whole, children still get hurt by adults and by other children. While our conversation on Bullying could likely use a re-examination (check out the book Bully Nation by Susan Evaporter), we certainly do need to help children engage online safely and more effectively. The answer to helping children that are acting out online is not to condemn the tool or ban its access (prohibition never works to begin with), but engage children and adolescents with empathy. Technology is not the cause of adolescent misbehavior, but rather an amplifier. The adolescent that is arranging to meet strangers online for trysts is clearly troubled and in need of adult intervention and help. A student discussing their depression or contemplating self-harm needs medical and social support. In fact, there are numerous examples of peers intervening to help one another when they see something online.

Benefits of Teens Engaging Online

Rather than lamenting the fact that teenagers are being corrupted by devices, I think it’s important to highlight what they can do more effectively because they are engaged. For one, children and adolescents are writing now more than ever. And no, they are not handing in essays in emoji and textese, they know the difference of context. Just as none of us were Shakespeare at 15 (not even Shakespeare), their writing still needs to grow. However, between social media, online forums, and other digital spaces, they write more than the average adolescent of our generation.

They are also creating meaningful connections online. For example, students in a Chinese class can engage another class in China. Learning to text in another language is a great form of cultural immersion as well as a means to grow language skills in context! Students are building (and even selling) apps, creating online YouTube sensations, and are even more up to date on current events than their parents (they’re also less likely to fall for Fake News than their more mature counterparts, aka US).

The reality is, technology and the internet is not ruining this generation. The kids… the kids are alright.

Inspiring & Supporting Innovation at Independent Schools at this year’s ATLIS

 

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Courtesy of Pixabay

“Innovation” — there’s a reason it’s a provocative and powerful topic in the landscape of education. Public, Charter, and Independent Schools are all feeling the pressure from disruptive innovation as well as turning to innovative practices to solve curricular, financial, and recruitment woes. The reality is, we are living in an ever-shifting landscape. Traditional routes of career readiness are no longer reliable, previously “safe” jobs (think accountants, lawyers, and doctors) are now seeing job security fade away, and “traditional” schooling is coming under more scrutiny. The cost of university education is having many individuals rethink the options of pursuing higher education given the relatively flat career landscape facing them on graduation. As such, schools are now looking at innovative practice to help them solve these problems – how can they prepare their students for the jobs of the future (especially if we don’t know what those jobs are)? As a Technology Leader, I am often a part of conversations about innovation. This is not to say that innovation is all about technology, but radical innovation often encompasses employing new technologies. Innovation is challenging… it’s hard. Why? Because it necessitates culture shift and “organizational culture eats strategy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner” — Peter Drucker.

Facing the challenges of innovation in my career and public life, I am especially excited about attending this year’s ATLIS conference in Los Angeles, California (April 24-26) as its theme is “Magic Magic Happen” and its focus is on innovation. I know that I will be inspired by the keynote speeches of Jaime Casap (Educational Evangelist) and Tim Fish (Chief Innovation Office of NAIS); both of them have worked with Independent Schools, helping them to innovate their curriculum and institutions. Looking at the posted schedule, I’m excited to learn more about innovative curriculum enhancements such as incorporating coding into the whole curriculum, implementing gamification, and creating new educational spaces, such as maker spaces in the library. Even better than learning about these initiatives, I’m especially excited to learn how to support them at my institution through transformative professional development and creating & fostering a culture of change.

This year’s ATLIS conference is the most exciting yet. If you are exploring innovative curriculum and technologies in your school, this is the year to attend! You can still register on the ATLIS website.

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