Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Abraham Lincoln was a Wimp

"You can not fail if you resolutely determine that you will not."
- Abraham Lincoln

Another critical skill students need to develop is the ability to analyze and assess information.  Information is coming at us at a pace many find overwhelming.  The quantity of global information grows at an astonishing speed.  For example, in just 24 hours, 2 million blog posts are written!  In the same time frame, enough information is consumed by Internet traffic to fill 168 million DVDs.  We send 284 billion emails every day.  It feels like most of those end up in my inbox.  Eric Schmidt has said he thinks it will take us 300 years to index and make all the world’s information searchable.  You can also look at the eruption of video creation.  YouTube, which is becoming an essential tool in the classroom, adds content at a rate that is hard to grasp.  Every minute, 72 hours of video is uploaded on YouTube!  That means that no matter how hard your kids try, and mine is trying very hard,  they will never be able to watch all the videos on YouTube. 

All the data I’ve seen suggests that most of us are, quite frankly, terrible searchers.  We just have to come to grips with that.  Most of us never developed the skills required to truly utilize the information of a digital world.  If you don’t believe me, you can go do an assessment and test your search skills.  However, I can save you time.  Trust me, you are not a good searcher.  If you don’t believe me, here is a quick self evaluation you can do to determine if I’m on the right path.

First, if you type a question mark into the search bar, you are a terrible searcher.  To go further, if you type a whole sentence in the bar, you are wasting a whole bunch of time.  If your search looks like this, “What was the date of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address?” instead of, “gettysburg date” the earth is spinning rapidly and you are wasting a lot of that spin!

Second, do you know what Command F (on a Mac – I don’t do Windows) does on a webpage?  Would you believe 90% of people have no idea what this time saving, search altering capability does?  Nope, I’m not going to tell you.  Why don’t you go search, “What happens when I type Command F on my Mac when I’m on a webpage?” 

My point is, if we are bad searchers, how are we teaching students to search?  How are we teaching them to make sense of information?  How are we teaching them to vet and dig deep into all the data available to us?  We need to help students build these skills.  Again, not necessarily as a separate subject, but more in what they do every day.  How can we incorporate technology, search and analytical skills to develop new engaging and relevant learning content for our students?

I have a confession to make.  I am a history and political junkie.  It feels good to get that off my chest.  The second part of that confession is that I have turned my kids into junkies.  This is especially true of American history and how politics coats and is engrossed in all our history.

A few Sundays ago, I was partaking in one of my favorite activities.  I was on the couch reading my paper copy of the New York Times (yes, I’ve been getting the paper Sunday times for as long as I can remember.)  I was reading their endorsement of Barak Obama.  I was summarizing the text to my daughter, who was sitting next to me (she was over to watch the Giants game with me – another one of my favorite activities, which makes me worried that so many of them involve my couch).  Her reaction was interesting but probably conventional wisdom, “well, of course they endorsed Obama. It’s a left leaning paper and they will always back the Democrat.”  She was also questioning the value of the endorsement, and if it would sway voters.  What a great opportunity to take a nose dive into history!

I asked, “well, do we know if that’s true?”  Also, have they always been right?  Has their endorsement meant anything?”  And so on, and so on.   We grabbed the laptop and started researching.  It wasn’t long before we were into some interesting material.  After we did the analysis of how many Republicans and Democrats the paper supported since they began this in 1860, and how many times they were right, we branched off into some really thought-provoking information!  We got into the first endorsement the paper ever made.  The New York Times endorsed Abraham Lincoln for President in 1860.  We found the actual text of the endorsement and all of a sudden we were in a time travel machine and found ourselves in the middle of what was happening in the country in October, 1860, more than 150 years ago!

We all learned history in a very linear and stagnate way.  First President Lincoln got elected, then he led the north in the Civil War, he issued the Emancipation Proclamation that freed the slaves, the North won the Civil War, and then he was assassinated in a theater.  When you learn it that way, it feels like one thing lead to another in very logical way.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Easy access to technology and the web gives us this time travel capability.  The combination helps us get into what was actually occurring at the time.  So we read the endorsement and what did we discover?  That folks in 1860 were making things up as they went, just like we do.  That they had no idea what was going on or what would happen!  Theirs was a messy present and they were looking at a ambiguous future.  Slippery slope theories were in full effect!

For example, in the endorsement, the paper writes:

“…there is a large class of men who have a vague but real apprehension that something terrible is to follow the election of a Republican President.  They fear that the South will be excluded by law from the territories, that slaves will be set free in the District of Columbia, that inter-state Slave trade will be prohibited, and a great variety of legislative encroachments on Southern rights will be perpetrated.”

In other words, there seems to be all these “real” but unfounded and silly worries that things in our country were going to change.  Nonsense says the editorial board at the New York Times.  They go out of their way to put to rest these unrealistic concerns.  The paper goes on:

“…whatever may be the wishes of the Republicans on these topics, they are not likely to have any opportunity to carry them into effect.”

They further go on to describe how the Democrats control congress and they would never let any of these actions take place.  They go as far as concluding that even if the Democrats lost the Senate (fat chance), the House is so strong that it’s the Democrats who are going to run things and make all the decisions.  Wow!  Really?  Boy did they call this one wrong huh?  Not only that, we were able to tie that directly to what’s going on today.  Does it matter who controls the House?  The Senate?  Can we bring about change no matter who’s in power in Congress?  The paper continues to make it’s point:

“It will not be easy…for Mr. Lincoln to do much mischief…He seems to us much more likely to be too good natured and tolerant towards his opponents, then not enough so.  Rail-splitting is not an exciting occupation.  It does not tend to cultivate the hot and angry passions of the heart…we have not the slightest doubt, therefore, that Prof. Lincoln will disappoint utterly the sanguinary expectations (of those that want change)…”

Sound familiar?  In other words, this Lincoln dude is a wimp.  Even if he had the House and the Senate, he’s still not going to do anything!  Don’t worry, nothing is going to happen.  This guy is a rail splitter, and we all know how ”those people” are.  I think they might have missed this call.  Talk about a dis!  We imagined what the board would say if someone suggested that Lincoln would be one of our greatest and most beloved presidents in our history, one we would build monuments to.  How hard would the laughter be?  Sound familiar?

So we dove deeper.  We read more about what was going on at the time.  The paranoia in the south.  The lack of conviction in the North.  We dove into the back and forth.  We used Google earth to look at the country in 1860 and where the strongholds were.  We saw where the battles took place and how many men died in the war.  We saw how the South was set up and where we thought they made some seriously bad calculations.  We learned about how the Navy was used by the north.  We listened to a audio interpretation of the Gettysburg address, in the pace and tone Lincoln would have read it.  We spent all afternoon talking about it.  We asked critical questions like, what would have happened if the south actually listened to the Times (several states in the south panicked after the election and without southern unity, declared their independence on their own.)  We compared it to what is going on today in our nation and in our politics.  How both sides lay out a vision of what’s going to happen to our country if we pick one guy over another.  What we learned is that history is a recording of chaos that only make sense in the aftermath, when all the dust settles.

That’s the power of technology and the web.  We can jump into a time machine and visit the past.  Not only so we can understand what happened, but also so we can learn how it applies to today and our potential future.  We also learned that the New York Times, even 150 years ago, has no idea what it’s talking about. 

It looks like Abraham Lincoln didn’t turn out to be so wimpy huh?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Well hello 21st Century, how long have you been standing there?

“21st century breakdown
I once was lost but never was found
I think I am losing what's left of my mind 
To the 20th century deadline…” 
- Green Day

I’m not a big fan of the phrase, “21st Century skills” and it’s used quite often in the education world.  For example, you might hear someone say, “We need to teach kids 21st century skills.”  You will also find, “We will need students to graduate with 21st century skills.” 

One reason why I don’t like the phrase is because I’m not really sure what century we’re in right now and that’s a little embarrassing.  I also don’t like it because it implies some set of skills students will need in the future.  I contend that students need these skills right now and they need to start building them as soon as they get to school.

You find variations of this list of skills in numerous places.  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills uses names like “learning and innovation” skills or “life and career” skills.  My friend Tony Wagner calls them “survival skills” in The Global Achievement Gap and includes elements like “critical thinking and problem solving,” and “effective oral and written communication” skills.  There isn’t just one correct list, they are all appropriate.  In my talks, I break them down into four themes (which of course include elements of all types of skills).  I call them communication, collaboration, problem solving, and analyzing and assessing information.  I’m not going to cover all four here (that would be a very long post) but I’ll start with the first one, communication.  I will follow up with the other topics in future posts, maybe in the 21st century!


How we communicate has evolved over time and in the last 20 years, it has dramatically changed.  In the last five years, it’s just been transformed.  When she started college, my daughter and I had to have a communication meeting.  We were having so many misunderstandings and communication fails that we had to come up with a system to deal with the expectations we had for each other.  This wasn’t an issue when I was in college.   When I had to communicate with my mother, I had one choice with three potential outcomes.  I walked over to the hallway payphone to place a long distance phone call.  The first potential outcome was that she picked up the phone and I talked to her.  The second one was a busy signal, and I just hung up.  The third option was pretty much like the second one.  If she wasn’t home, the phone rang and rang, and eventually I hang up (she didn’t have a máquina). 

My daughter and I had a much more complex system to work through.  If it’s information she thinks I need but does not require immediate attention, she emails me (i.e., here are my classes and tuition is due next month.)  If it’s information she wants to share, wants feedback on, or needs my attention that day, she texts me (i.e., hey when you get a chance, let me know if we are going shopping this weekend, I need stuff.)  If she needs my immediate attention, she calls me and if I don’t answer, she follows up with a text (i.e., I need money in my account, I’m starving!)  And how does she find out where I am in the world at any given moment?  Yes, she checks my Google+, Facebook, or Twitter status.  By the way, for those of you who are “friends” with your kids, have you talked about expectations?  I am sure your daughter has given you the, “mom, please do not post any comments to my status updates” plea.  Have you set your communication expectations with your kid?  Are you going to wait until she posts a status like, “have to take my mother to her doctor’s appointment.  She is getting warts removed from her feet and I have to drive her.”  How we communicate matters and it will continue to be even more important.

I remember thinking about how communication was changing during my senior year in college.  You see, I was from the WordPerfect 5.1 generation.  I saw the new Windows 3.1 being adopted by the underclassmen and I was so thankful to be getting out of there!  I didn’t think I would be capable of managing the new communication expectations that were going to come with those new capabilities.  I was a dot matrix printer communicator, with lots of words and maybe a few tables.  I was an overhead projector presenter, where I would type big WordPerfect words and copy them onto overhead transparency paper.  I would hand draw pie charts with my trusty Sharpie marker.  I didn’t think that would be acceptable in the new Windows 3.1 world.

I assumed students would be required to have professional looking presentations with pictures and sound and other elements I didn’t have the skill set for.  They would be colorful and vibrant.  As this capability grew, I believed the expectations would grow more intense.  By the time my daughter was in high school, I thought she would be expected to have a live interview with the researcher she was writing about in the middle of her presentation.

The truth is we haven’t really raised the bar on communication and haven’t taken in all the technological and social changes that have taken place in.  Every semester, I am asked by a fellow professor (yes, I teach classes at ASU every couple of semesters) who teaches an MBA class at ASU.  Each semester, a group of students are assigned the Google business case and they are required to do a class presentation on it.  I sit in as their guest and help review their presentation and answer questions.  What happens during the presentation stopped surprising me many semesters ago because it happens every time.  This class of MBAs who are supposed to be the future leaders of industry takes the business case, regurgitates it point by point in 20 slides, each with six bullet points.  In other words, they present their WordPerfect made transparency paper on an overhead projector.  Talk about automating bad communication.

Our students need to effectively express themselves.  They need to learn how to write complete complex sentences.  They need to create original thought and learn how to share it in everything from full blown white papers through 140 character tweets.  They need to learn how to get effective feedback in various formats.  They need to learn how to take complex ideas and communicate them to multiple audiences, including considerations for global meaning and cultural differences.  They need to learn to communicate using varies media and develop strategies for how to send out effective targeted communication. 

These skills have to be built into the new learning models we are creating.  We don’t have to teach them as separate lessons.  It is about time that we raise the communication expectations of our students.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

District Administration Interview

I haven't been able to post a new blog post in a few weeks due to all the traveling I've been doing and the fact that I was writing posts for other publications.  Here is one of them.  It is a follow up interview to a presentation I did at a District Administration Leadership Summit here in Phoenix.  There is a link to the video of the presentation at the end of this post.  I don't know if the word "invigorating" has ever been used to describe me.  Load mouth yes...invigorating not so much...

Q&A: With Jaime Casap, Senior Education Evangelist, Google

A follow-up to Casap's invigorating September DALI Summit keynote
Publication Date: 
November, 2012
 At the September District Administration Leadership Institute Summit in Phoenix, Ariz., Jaime Casap, chief education evangelist, Google, Inc., in his presentation, got the audience thinking about educational vision and where we need to be with regard to creating a learning environment that brings out the best in every child. We wanted to continue this critical conversation, so we followed up with Casap to find out how districts can jump-start their shift to a technology-pervasive learning environment.

What are three priorities K12 administrators need to make when it comes to technology?

The first would be broadband access. Our education system is preparing students for a world where the internet is ingrained into higher education, business practices, and our daily lives in general. Broadband access lets teachers take advantage of those tools and exposes students to the type of learning and working environment they will encounter in the future.
The second is learning to leverage the power and prevalence of the web to create a learning platform. As educators, we are starting to understand the impact the web can have. Videos, applications, interactive content, and knowledge bases make the world’s information accessible from multiple devices 24/7.  
And the third priority is putting equipment in the hands of teachers and students so they can access the rich content of an ever-expanding web. School administrators need to choose devices that not only give students and faculty access to that content, but that are nearly invisible so that the focus remains on the teaching and learning, not on the technology.

Of all the technologies available for K12, which category do you like the best for schools?

I always look for opportunities to emphasize the potential of the web as a common learning platform. Although some wouldn’t call the web “technology,” I certainly do. There used to be clear lines between technologies. You had hardware, software, applications. More and more, all technology is web-based.

What is one way superintendents and teachers can begin to think differently about facilitating education through technology that would be quick and easy and helpful right out of the gate?

School leaders have to look at technology not just in terms of how it can help transform educational practices and models in the future, but also in how it can help us today. If you can look for just two ways technology can help you do your job better, you will create a pattern of looking for more. Eventually, you will start to see how technology can be a catalyst to transforming education. There are hundreds of way teachers and administrators can quickly use technology and the web to improve their day-to-day work.

Other than DALI and District Administration, which magazines/websites/conferences would you recommend for superintendents and administrators to regularly review/attend?

I think the most important conferences that superintendents and administrators can attend are the local ones in their own backyards. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with superintendents and principals who ask me for case studies of schools that are doing great things with technology. More often than not, I’m able to introduce them to schools across the street! Getting together with their peers in the same state and talking with each other about what they are doing with technology in education and the web as a learning platform can go a long way!

Watch a video of Jaime Casap's presentation here.