August 1, 2019

Schools are obsessed with EdTech; Social Media must be next
Over the last decade, schools have been obsessed with purchasing and implementing educational technology, so much so, that it has created a need to incorporate new digital skills in the curriculum: media literacy, digital citizenship, and digital portfolios. In just the last few years, we've seen our students (and our society) struggle with online issues like bullying, misinformation, hyper-partisanship, and increasing stress and anxiety. But, schools cannot teach those skills or overcome those obstacles until we teach Social Media. That's because these skills and these obstacles are born out of the fact that our students are using the EdTech we celebrate to spend time on social media. Nevertheless, schools are going to great lengths to naively ignore social media entirely. It's time for our obsession with EdTech to evolve; we must embrace and teach social media.

Leveraging social media to teach digital citizenship, media literacy and digital portfolios will fundamentally change education. I use social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, newsletters, and podcasts) to become a better teacher. In that space, I've built a network of experts and professional organizations (media literacy), I've connected and collaborated with colleagues (digital citizenship), and--through this process--I've built a robust digital portfolio of my work. This should happen for all of our students in all of our classes. It's what meaningful technology integration looks like. It meets students where they are, it helps them develop and explore interests, and it teaches them skills and best practices to succeed beyond school. 

In the last decade, schools have embraced educational technology from outfitting our physical classrooms with devices, to restructuring personnel with more IT and EdTech coaches, to increasing budgets for software and consultants. We've spent a fortune on EdTech in our schools. Audrey Watters reported that in the last five years, investors have sunk over $13 billion into EdTech startups. An entire network of EdTech "thought-leaders" have gained out-sized influence on our professional learning from Twitter to conferences to consulting. And yet, outside of class, our students aren't using the EdTech software we buy, they're not employing the EdTech skills we teach, and they're not listening to the consultants we hire. They're connecting and consuming on social media.

Schools are partially responsible for our student's time online, which is over double digits (see Neilson or eMarketer). We are putting devices in their hands, giving them fast WiFi, asking them to complete homework online, and then ignoring everything else that happens in that space. Do we really think that our students are leaving our classrooms and using the cool EdTech app we taught them in English that day?

To address the rising use of social media and the problems created by social media, it seems logical that social media should get the EdTech treatment--more space, more personnel, and more money. As someone who has been participating in discussions online and speaking about teenagers and social media at schools and conferences for years, I'm always flummoxed by EdTech's omission of social media. At ISTE, one of the largest EdTech conferences in the world, "social media" appeared 5 times in the program, and some of that was to sell schools on security/privacy and mindfulness, not to use social media as a powerful tool for teaching and learning.

Currently, schools have a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil stance towards social media. Schools react to social media controversies with discipline rather than teaching social media proactively. Some schools attempt to block it entirely (no, it doesn't work). Imagine demanding your students enter classrooms to learn, engage civically, and collaborate professionally, but then giving up on all of that once they open up their screens. That's not good teaching.

Even schools that acknowledge social media's role in our world stop short of meaningfully integrating it into the classroom. Schools talk about digital citizenship; good schools may even discuss controversies that happened online, but we never go to the source and teach social media. That's like teaching poker without cards. The same is true of teaching around media literacy and digital portfolios. Schools show students what a good source is; good schools may even teach them how to fact-check something, but we ignore student's social media diets entirely, which could be littered with terrible sources and bad role models. That's like playing a poker hand without looking at your cards. Finally, schools ask students to complete amazing projects; good schools may even aggregate great work and put it into a school-issued template or event, but we never help them construct and manage a public digital portfolio that could open doors for them in college and beyond. That's like having a royal flush and folding it.

To teach digital citizenship, a classroom teacher might ask a student, "should you share ____?" That student is savvy enough and a strong enough critical thinker to deliver a smart, nuanced answer. The same is true of media literacy and digital portfolios--"is ____ a good source?" and "what would a potential employer think about ____?" I've seen my students get these questions right time and again. And yet, those same students, get these questions wrong all the time outside of this classroom exercise (frankly, so do adults). That's because digital citizenship, media literacy, and digital portfolios have to be lived. And only when we bring social media into our schools, can we truly help our students live these skills everyday.
"Anyone who thinks they're doing a digital citizenship curriculum--if you're not using social media, if you're not talking about social media, you're not getting through to your kids." -ISTE19
For every time that ignoring social media has provided a school plausible deniability for an online controversy, there are a dozen more times when that same school could have identified a problem early and created a teachable moment. That alone should convince schools to embrace social media. More importantly, social media spaces have become the de facto authentic audience for our students. That's the new student center where discussions occur, that's where students share talents, and that's where students work collaboratively. Schools will benefit from acknowledging this fact, discussing the impact of it, and teaching students to use the space intelligently and thoughtfully. Finally, and most importantly, we're forgoing the opportunity to prepare our students for the world they will inherit beyond school--one that depends on professional learning and collaboration, networking, and career advancement, all of which should be happening on social media.

Whether social media gets the EdTech treatment or not, we must acknowledge its impact and bring it into our classrooms as soon as possible. Graduating lifelong learners and good citizens requires us to teach digital citizenship, media literacy, and digital portfolios. We can only do that successfully if we integrate social media into our curriculum and our communities. At the least, teachers can show students how they learn online, where they get information for class, and how they collaborate with other professionals. Teachers can include an auxiliary reading list of social media accounts for interested students. Teachers can create opportunities for students to collaborate with professionals online. And, teachers can ask students to contribute quality work to a digital portfolio. I'm not holding my breath for schools, investors, and consultants to embrace this pivotal part of our student's lives and our society and neither should you.

July 24, 2019

HS Sports in the age of Social Media: When Losing is Winning
Last year, I wrote about how athletics have been instrumental in teaching perseverance in an age of grade inflation.
 That's because, when my team loses, we lose. There are no retakes, no extensions, and no extra credit. And "success" is variable, you do not have to win every game to be successful, and even sometimes when you do win, you didn't "succeed" (read: play) the way you should have. These conditions cultivate athlete and team agency and buy-in for a coach's instruction. This process fosters grit and perseverance.
While I stand by the gist of the thesis, that in sports, unlike school, failure is failure and grit and perseverance are required to succeed, lately I have been worried that college recruitment and social media have encouraged our student-athletes to overcome losses not with grit and teamwork, but with status fueled by individualistic, ego-boosting transactions on social media.

After every game, athletes create highlights and share them on social media to build a brand as a talented athlete. As a result, I've seen my players compute their successes or failure based on how they played as an individual--and what that might mean for status and college recruitment--and not how the team played or what the team needs to do to succeed.

I'm not a Luddite, I see the power of video in sports: it helps athletes learn new skills, it helps coaches game plan and develop players, and hopefully it's helping with equity in college recruiting. But, I think it's imperative that coaches understand what else comes with the combination of cloud-based video and social media.

Even before the pervasive presence of social media, I've regularly heard certain athletes describe a tough game like, "we lost. But, I scored four goals." But social media allows athletes to post their highlights online, or to pull up the game film, jump to their favorite clip, and turn their screen or phone so a classmate or friend can watch. In advisory one morning, I asked a basketball player how his game went last evening; he pulled his phone out of his pocket and showed me the dunks he had in the game. It was already on social media.

As a coach, I get frustrated with the transactional and individualistic nature of sharing ones highlights publicly online, especially after defeat. I can only imagine what it feels like to a team captain that, driven by social norms, has to "like," "comment," or "reshare" a highlight by a teammate posted a day after a tough loss. I'm also concerned about the fact that my athletes are openly sharing all of their best work so that our opponents can easily study our plays, and our best players' tendencies. And I wonder what impact that has on my own team when we go head-to-head with a team with a lot of talent. I know many of my players have seen all their highlights; will that mean they think we won't have a chance and will try less?

At the same time, I must acknowledge that the forces driving the changes described above aren't going anywhere. College coaches are asking for highlights online and athletes gain status when they show off their great work. And, succeeding in one of those areas usually leads to success in the other.
When college recruitment requires athletes to extract highlights from every game, I can't be sure players are internalizing my message after a game. When I tell my team we need to play together as a team, we need to talk more on the field, or we need to prepare better for a tough opponent, that doesn't resonate with an athlete looking to make the jump to college sports.

When I played college sports, before highlights on social media, we had to guess how good an incoming player was based on his high school team's success and his statistics. If you had great stats on a bad team and/or in a bad league, you still had to prove yourself. In that sense, your high school team's success mattered to your status as an incoming college athlete.

Today, athletes build status on social media with their highlights. An athlete's most-liked posts are a season-long highlight and college offers. Since athletes around the world are all marketing themselves online, they have plenty of others to follow, like, study, and emulate. This becomes self-sustaining. As a teacher, I've seen my students using a free period to watch other player's highlights on social media. And often, our students choose not play for their high school team because they think playing outside of school is better for college recruitment. This selective participation has gotten worse every year. We had a tennis player at our school that would call in sick when he was matched up against the most talented opponents. We had a number of talented football players threaten to leave the school because our coach left and their acquaintances (and other coaches) at other schools tried to recruit them to leave. All of these decisions are in pursuit of status.

Recently, The Atlantic picked up on this trend in high school and college basketball. The article quotes Chase Adams, who had a 7th grade highlight video rack up 14 million views. He has 100k followers on Instagram. My athletes dream of this:

“at the end of the night, I get a notification on Twitter, ‘Chase Adams new game video.’ The way social media and the video world works, you never know when someone is recording you. They’ll just put out a video as soon as the game is over,' he says.

Now, Adams is followed by NBA players he grew up admiring and local celebrities like the rapper G Herbo. Like the other young athletes he plays with, Adams has become conscious of his own brand."

Our student-athletes are branding themselves online everyday. As coaches, we need to understand this new reality and adapt accordingly. In all of the stories I included in this article, status drives our athlete's decision-making. So, if coaches hope to teach perseverance, teamwork, and how to overcome adversity, they're going to have to figure out how to turn those skills into a new currency, status.

July 14, 2019

Shoo, Shapiro!: Hosting Civic Conversations without Conservative Media

J Rosewell, Unsplash
From the Women’s March to Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the March for Life, few causes have spurred national civic action in the last few years like abortion. While Boomers, Gen X and Millennials have reached an age where their opinions on this divisive issue are largely set, Gen Z is still up for grabs. As a high school teacher, I’ve watched these first-time and soon-to-be voters feeling out their stances, often through empathetic, insightful discussions, only to be foiled at every turn by Ben Shapiro.

It’s powerful to watch sixteen and seventeen year olds contending with abortion: They’re relatively new to the topic, they rarely get the chance to discuss it, and they’re only beginning to understand the consequences of their votes and their beliefs. And when talking to each other, unlike politicians and pundits, they can’t dodge questions, repeat talking points, or preach to the choir. They have to engage and understand their peers--those who will be their lab partner in science, their peer editor in english, and their teammate in debate club. In other words, they have to thoughtfully engage with one another. And that engagement is productive--until someone mentions a taboo created by conservative media--like Planned Parenthood or Medicare for All--that shuts down discussion and prevents my students from seeing the common ground that they share.

This spring, at the private high school where I teach, two junior girls planned an optional student-led forum for those who wanted to talk about the wave of heartbeat bills being passed at the state level. While the students who attended were overwhelmingly sympathetic to the right to choose, I was glad that a couple of pro-life students showed up, too. One student in particular, Joe, argued vigorously that life begins at conception. When someone followed up by asking him about women who were medically or financially not in a position to have a child, Joe suggested that federal grant programs could help with that. But that productive dialogue dissolved when someone pointed out that Joe had just described Planned Parenthood.

“No. Not like Planned Parenthood,” Joe reacted.

Planned Parenthood was a non-starter — his favorite media personality, Ben Shapiro, had made that very clear.

The students continued their discussion, talking about financial support and healthcare for infants. Another pro-life participant said that in order to enact pro-life laws, she felt we must have Medicare for All. This compromise helped pro-choice participants understand another point of view that starts with the same assumption about supporting infants.

Once again, this conservative flashpoint shut the discussion down.

“No. Not medicare for all. That doesn’t work.” Joe said.

Before Planned Parenthood or medicare for all were mentioned, Joe seriously considered the equities of restricting the right to choose and what support society must provide should it force women to carry to term and give birth to children. But once the labels Planned Parenthood and Medicare for All were used, Joe’s independent judgment was overtaken by his devotion to Ben Shapiro. Joe’s knee-jerk reactions, the result of so many hours of listening to the 9th most-downloaded podcast on iOS, impeded the communication and understanding that otherwise characterized the conversation.

After the forum, Joe recommended I listen to Shapiro’s podcast, emailing it to me the next day and assuring me that Shapiro explained Joe’s views much better than Joe ever could. I disagreed. It was powerful to hear Joe voice his own opinions and respond to the arguments of his peers in-person (not to mention, seeing both sides find some common ground). Joe disagreed, noting that he felt “Shapiro [responds to counter arguments] better than anyone”

After the forum officially ended, most of the participants stayed to keep talking. This conversation represented good progress for our students. Often when we discuss social issues, there’s faux agreement in the room because our conservative students remain silent until after the forum, when they can express their ideas in their own echo chamber. For example, a couple of years ago, we had a forum about the Pride Flag because the flag hanging in our student lounge kept getting torn down. Clearly there was a faction at the school that opposed the flag, but no one spoke up at the forum, meaning it failed to achieve any understanding, compromise, or cathartic effect.

I assume liberal students could also stymie compromise, or wait until after the meeting to express their true opinions together, but I’ve never seen it. That could be because of the topics or the format. But one thing is for sure, there is no voice like Shapiro for teenagers on the left.

Empathetic face-to-face conversations are a powerful tool for progress in our current politically polarized era. There’s a lot to be optimistic about with Gen Z. They care about others, they listen, and they engage with each other. They’re still at a stage where they’re open-minded to each others’ views and to their own intuitions--Joe’s intuition, for instance, was that society has an obligation to support mothers and infants. But understanding others and solving nuanced political problems will continue to elude us until we get Ben Shapiro--and the knee-jerk conservatism that he advocates--out of the room.

May 29, 2019

Teaching Media Literacy Through Social Media

This article appeared on KQED's In the Classroom blog in February!

In 2015, Wes signed up for my Mass Media course, hoping to learn about journalism, broadcasting, graphic design and film. He discovered a passion for film and graphic design and he quickly rebuilt his Twitter to follow writers, directors, producers and filmmakers. This feed provided more films to watch, more critics to read and more directors to emulate, which in turn inspired him to start experimenting with iMovie and Photoshop, and later Premier and After Effects, in order to create and share his own films and designs. At the end of the course, I asked students to upload their favorite projects to a digital portfolio. To this day, Wes still updates his digital portfolio!

In talking to Wes recently, he mentioned how important reforming his social media feeds was in helping him realize and pursue his passions. On many of his accounts, he stopped following “friends” and began learning, critiquing, emulating and collaborating. At first, he blogged about horror films on Tumblr, then he produced his own film reviews on YouTube, and now he’s analyzing and critiquing films on Letterboxd with other film buffs. Wes said he felt fulfillment when he applied for a job and the interviewer had seen his work online!

If you’re like me, you get frustrated that despite our best efforts, students continue to encounter and share misinformation, use poor sources on assignments and post inappropriately on social media. Over many conversations with students, I realized I’m struggling with this because I’m trying to teach media literacy skills in a “lab” environment with artificial conditions. There's a big difference in showing something to a student and saying "Is this a good source?" or "Should you post this?" and actually having students regularly ask those kinds of questions in the course of their own social media networks. To address this, I decided to build instruction around student interests so that students can interact with media in a network that matters to them. I thought that if students started from a place of genuine interest, they would be more likely to consume and create media intentionally and skillfully. And this learning will have “real-world” impact for them. I’ve been experimenting with this instruction for several years in my my history classes, my media classes, and now in my social media elective. Here’s how I did it.

Consuming Quality Content
Building a personal learning network starts with social media. First, I work to pique students’ interest in a topic, then help them connect with professionals and organizations that are producing quality content about that topic on social media. One tool I use repeatedly is the “list” function on Twitter, which allows me to curate a collection of public figures and organizations that my students can follow. Here’s an example of a list focused on journalism and current events for students in my Mass Media class, and here’s an example for my Contemporary World History students to keep up with global news and developments. I built a website for students to build their own personalized learning networks for interests that span beyond the content of my course.

In addition to following these lists, students work to build their own. One student emailed me after class to tell me that on her school account, "I only follow newsworthy feeds... about human rights, international news or politics.” Perhaps the best thing about helping students build their network is that the learning continues every time they open their social media apps. A number of my students continue to check the international news list from our class two years after the course.

Producing Quality Content
Locating and consuming quality content is just the beginning of creating and joining a personal learning network. We also need to empower our students to produce quality content to inform these networks. For example, I hosted a class blog, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter or Soundcloud account where students share articles, podcasts and videos. Producing content for these shared accounts can be a jumping off point for contributing to students’ own personal networks. For instance, here’s an example of a student who chose to repost her work onto her own digital portfolio.

When assigning media creation, I embrace student choice. In my social media elective, I ask students to demonstrate progression through the course skills chart (image below). They can do so in any medium. A student can write (like this student who wrote well-researched social justice posts); record a podcast (like these students who wanted to help their peers understand climate change); or even create a model (like this student who wants to be an architect). When evaluating, I look for argument, evidence and some fluency (and creativity!) in the medium they choose.

In the same way that consuming quality content becomes self-sustaining, this effort to create also becomes self-sustaining. As a teacher, I work to help students create and share their first piece of original, informative media. Over time, I can step aside and let them develop proficiency in their mediums as they work to improve their networks, which is essential. Because it’s not enough to learn online, one has to be understood as such, and the only way to do this is to contribute thoughtfully. Ideally, each student’s network will act as an authentic audience that gives feedback. At the least, the professionals and organizations in the student’s network can serve as role models to emulate when it comes learning and sharing online.

In order to graduate media literate students, let’s allow them to follow their interests online. That way they experience online spaces with the interest, critical eye and collaborative mentality of a responsible digital citizen. Savvy media consumers build large networks of professionals and organizations that deliver quality content. Skilled media producers contribute meaningfully to that network, emulating professionals and creatively including their voice. We can mentor our students through this growth and watch them as their participation in networks launch academic, civic and professional opportunities delivering fulfillment to their lives.

March 15, 2019

That Time Simon Sinek trolled everyone at NAIS

Simon Sinek, the closing speaker at #NAISAC 2019, received a raucous standing ovation from a room full of administrators and teachers for telling them that they're all doing it wrong. Oh the irony!

Sinek's talk, promoting his new book The Infinite Game, highlighted how successful movements require leaders and teams to be playing an "infinite game," one with "no finish line." Educators from across the country listened intently and dutifully took notes seemingly unaware that independent school education is the quintessential finite game.
How many teachers nodding along with Sinek are spending a career playing finite games? Our courses have midterms and finals, where students have to jump through hoops to get grades. If they get a good grade, they get to move on to another finite game, the next course. And so on and so forth.

Too often in independent schools, success for teachers resembles covering content and getting students to understand it, and success for students is getting good grades. In my career, I've watched independent schools lean in to those definitions of finite success, by increasing content delivery, creating honors and regular tracks, pushing our students to take more APs, and publishing inflated grades in open gradebooks. These trends can be seen as strategic plays in the ultimate finite game, getting students into selective colleges.

And what happens when our students hit the finish line of our finite game (HS graduation and college admission)? Sinek uses Andre Agassi and Michael Phelps as examples of what happens after one achieves one's finite game goals: depression.

How many administrators taking notes during Sinek's talk are spending their days playing finite games? The goals of an average administrator sound like a list of finite games. For example: create a competitive curriculum, recruit more applicants, improve the college matriculation list, raise money for another building, and improve your school reputation (and ranking). These finite games are often being imposed, top-down, on multiple constituencies--from the board, to parents, to students, to faculty.

Sinek talked about how finite goals can be gamed; he said if you want to be a best selling author on Amazon, you can get all of your friends to buy the book in the same hour and voila! How many administrators are trying to game the algorithm of school ranking by focusing on increasing applications, increasing donations/endowment, and improving the college matriculation list? Is that a "just cause" that requires "the courage to lead?"

And what happens when administrators hit the finish line of this finite game (new school year and new rankings)? Does the process just repeat? As Sinek said, "there is no such thing as winning education." He said that leaders should define success by momentum towards a just cause in an infinite game. In his words, will others carry the torch when you leave?

How do we transcend the finite games we're currently playing in education? 
Well, a lesser known speaker who spoke that day at NAIS (hint: it me!), showed the slide below saying that the secret sauce of independent schools is a focus on "graduat[ing] lifelong learners with solid character." Independent schools should use their budget and flexible curriculum to empower lifelong learners and build programming around global citizenship and ethical and moral decision-making. These schools use their small class sizes and low teacher-to student ratio to build strong relationships that transcend semester and school year and inform learning and character development.
Can schools create an infinite game focused on lifelong learning and character education? Absolutely. Let's run it through Sinek's tenets of infinite game leadership.

1) A Just Cause - Those who believe their schools do play an infinite game would argue that their "cause" is one of graduating curious and insightful lifelong learners with engrained values and quality judgement that are ready for life after school. That is a just cause; let's build momentum around that!

That will require us to tweak the finite nature of things. First, we'd have to stop obsessing over our college list. Then, we'd have to rethink our rigid adherence to teaching the five core courses for four years. We'd also have to redesign some of the old independent school sacred cows that are both finite and game-able like calling our students well-rounded (look! sports) and claiming a robust character education curriculum (look! guest speakers). Education is about a lot more than these finite games. Leaders have to define the infinite game they want to play and show it with meaningful changes to the traditional systems (e.g curriculum and schedule) and resources (e.g HR and budget).

After all, a just cause brings an isolated student who's intently focused on grades out to an extracurricular event, and it brings a content-heavy teacher whose door is always closed out into the common spaces to impart life lessons that transcend curriculum.

2) Trusting Teammates - In Sinek's words, “We don’t teach curriculum, we teach people. The job of leaders is to take care of the people who take care of the people.” A focus on relationships and character helps build camaraderie and culture. When students and faculty feel like they have agency and support, finite games turn into infinite games. Rather than being confined by schedules, traditions, and rules, they are empowered by superiors and a just cause (in this case, character education, and lifelong learning).

3) Worthy Rival - There are schools that are playing an infinite game. We need to listen to, learn from, emulate, and collaborate with those schools. (If I'm describing your school, @ me!). Take it from Sinek, who told his story about becoming friends and colleagues with someone he formerly viewed as a rival.

4) Existential Flexibility - As I mentioned above, any school that is playing an infinite game must be willing to make "meaningful changes" to the way it currently does things. With bigger budgets, smaller class sizes, and no standardized testing, independent schools are uniquely poised to do this. If part of our just cause is character education, we need to use our resources to put our students in positions outside of school walls to live our core values--to engage in the community, to help others, and to combat injustice. If the other part of our cause is lifelong learning, we need to rethink our curriculum and give our students a chance to follow passions and investigate the professional landscape around those passions so they can make an impact when they graduate.

5) The Courage to Lead and continually evolve/improve - Sinek explained, "too many leaders do not know what game they are in." If more leaders can articulate and pursue a just cause, infinite games will spread in education. Fortunately, there have been some courageous moves in independent schools that we can build off of, from schools eliminating APs, to schools joining the Mastery Transcript Consortium to free us from the tyranny of grades.

So what are we waiting for? NAIS is over; let's design our infinite games and start playing. After all,  "the only true competitor in an infinite game is yourself."  

To help you take the first step, here's Sinek's one last time, "What idealized vision of the future has your school committed to? You must have a vision even though you may never reach the goal."

January 2, 2019

On Teaching #DigCit & #MediaLit

version of this article appeared on ISTE's Digital Citizenship blog in March!

Our students spend a disproportionate amount of their time online, so it's essential that schools teach media literacy and digital citizenship. Students should use reliable sources and be able to spot misinformation. Students should know what to share (and what not to share) and why, as well as when and how to report or intervene and why. However, our students (and our society), have not internalized this skill. As a teacher, I see students use terrible sources all the time--especially on homework assignments. As an advisor, I hear about deleterious social media posts daily. In our climate survey the amount of students who report being bullied online has gone up in the last few years.

The reason our instruction isn't making an impact when it comes to media literacy and digital citizenship is because we're teaching skills in a lab with artificial conditions. There's a big difference in showing something to a student and saying, "Is this a good source?" or "Should you post this?" and actually having students regularly think like that in their own digital networks. The key to making this happen is to build our instruction around student interests.

Schools that have built curriculum around media literacy and digital citizenship are ahead of the curve; they're doing essential work for the next generation and should continue to do so. But that instruction will not make a significant impact outside the classroom until we mentor our students online in their spaces and allow them to pursue their interests. This will hook students as we build practical instruction with real-world application. Only then will media literacy and digital citizenship instruction truly be internalized and lived by our students. Finally, with anything we teach, we have to practice what we preach; we have to model and show what it means to be a media literate, digital citizen.
1) Beyond Just Negatives  
Of course, we should graduate students trained to resist digital distraction and addiction, reject propaganda and misinformation, stand against cyberbullying, and avoid oversharing personal data. But ascribing a bunch of negatives to technology will turn our students off; they'll figure adults don't "get it" and move on. Instead we should frame our instruction around positives. We have to want to listen as much as we want to teach. So let's discuss, together, the power of technology as well as the agency we have as learners (aka media consumers) and teachers (aka media producers) in the digital world. Let's teach students to navigate that space as skeptical and discerning critical thinkers who seek evidence and understand bias. Let's empower a generation of informed, responsive, digital citizens.

2) Beyond Just Skills 
Currently, educators are teaching media literacy and digital citizenship skills in the classroom; we should also be cultivating a state of mind beyond the classroom. Misinformation/propaganda, bullying/trolling, and addiction lurks everywhere online. Taking an example offline, like a piece of fake news or an example of bullying, for a class--while good--won't resonate with our students. Teaching skills on how to fact check, or how to be an upstander in a classroom--while good--will not ensure students use these skills when they get online. That's because most students will assume that these negatives happen elsewhere, not in their networks, and they'll associate the skills taught with school assignments and schoolwork and won't use them elsewhere.

Therefore, in order to solve these problems we need to work in spaces and networks where our students live, and we need to create in our students a state of mind and a series of meaningful experiences (built off the positive terminology, employing media literacy and digital citizenship skills).

3) Beyond Just Teaching
Talented teachers know that two successful techniques to solicit engagement and learning in the classroom is to personalize (or differentiate) the instruction and assignments and imbue them with "real-world" application. The best tech tool to achieve these goals is social media. Consider: Our students choose something they love, then follow experts and organizations on social media that produce quality content related to that interest. They use that account to learn, curate, collaborate/network and eventually to contribute to this information network. If every student built a strong enough network of quality feeds, we wouldn't need to worry so much about media literacy and digital citizenship because that would become second nature in this network of professionals. While this practice requires creating a new social media account that's focused on an interest, the lessons learned in that space will bleed into a student's social space, and that impact will be multiplied as we hook more students.

For example, a student that loves math and is interested data analytics should follow influential organizations and thinkers on Twitter, like: FiveThirtyEightData & SocietyPewIBM analyticsVala AfsharMax RoserNathan Yau, and Randy Olsen. A student interested in film should learn from YouTube accounts like: SundanceTVFilmBuffEvery Frame a PaintingChris StuckmannAlice Malone, and Jeremy Jahns. And a photography student will find inspiration through Instagram accounts like: US InteriorElena KalisVadim MakhorovSimone BramanteJoshua Lott, and Humza Deas.

Of course, a student can't build this network on his or her own. We as educators need to move beyond someone who teaches media literacy and digital citizenship skills, to a mentor that helps students live those skills in their spaces. A mentor helps students discover their passions and then makes some suggestions about where to start learning about those passions. From there, students begins to build their learning networks. Next, a mentor helps students understand the professional landscape around their passions by encouraging them to interact with leading thinkers and practitioners in their areas of interest. If we get this right, our students will get online to learn about their passions and to connect with professionals around the globe. Not only will this learning help with career readiness, but it will also help improve the learning in our classrooms because students will be more informed about areas of interest to them.

Finally, we as educators have to practice what we preach. If we want our students to use their time online more meaningfully, learning and collaborating with professionals about interests they care about, we need to do the same thing. And we have to share that with our students.

It's no secret that schools are struggling to teach media literacy and digital citizenship in an already crowded curriculum. We aren't going to make a difference if all we're doing is penalizing students for poor sources on essays or discipling students for inappropriate posts online. We also won't succeed by just adding an "info lit" or "digital lit" class for one semester. We have to 1) embrace the positives associated with social media 2) help students engage in a different mindset, and 3) mentor students in their space. All of this begins with allowing students to follow a genuine passion online in their space. Because only when our student experience what it's like to be a media literate digital citizen and live its benefits, will we truly have taught the skills we need to teach this next generation.

December 21, 2018

Upgrade Your Syllabus: Social Media is the Greatest Tool for Cultivating Lifelong Learners

The best educators cultivate intellectually curious lifelong learners. They instill in their students a love for their subject matter that extends outside the classroom and beyond the length of the course. The tool that best supports this endeavor is social media. Every teacher should create and share a network of social media accounts that help students learn more about the course content and stay abreast of new developments in the field. Ideally, this network provides a place for passionate students to continue learning, to contribute their own work, and to connect with experts and professional organizations well after the course concludes.

Currently, the best-case scenario for an inquisitive, tenacious student who enjoys a particular course is to consume any "additional readings" on the syllabus and connect with the instructor for more. Perhaps that connection results in a decision to take another course, to engage in independent study or a research project, and, at best, to publish work with the instructor. But how many of our students continue to learn about a topic when the course ends? And for how long?

In order to reach more students and help them engage with a subject or employ a skill beyond class, educators from high school and up must leverage social media. On social media, experts in every industry, from professors and researchers to practitioners and politicians, discuss and debate successes and controversies. And perhaps the greatest thing about social media is that students (read: amateurs) can also contribute to these discussions and collaborate with these practitioners. Students can thereby apply their knowledge and continue to learn in this space indefinitely.

Any social network like Twitter, YouTube, Podcasts, Instagram, or Pinterest can help a student learn more about her topic of interest, but these platforms’ unique media make them particularly well-suited to certain topics. For example, a math student in a high school class or even a 300-level data analytics course can continue learning her topic by following influential organizations and thinkers on Twitter, like: FiveThirtyEight, Data & Society, Pew, IBM analytics, Vala AfsharMax Roser, Nathan YauKirk Borne and Randy Olsen. A student interested in film could learn from YouTube accounts like: SundanceTVFilmBuff, CinemaSinsEvery Frame a Painting, Chris Stuckmann, Alice Malone, and Jeremy Jahns. And a photography student will find inspiration through following Instagram accounts like: US Interior, Vitaliy Raskalov, Elena Kalis, Vadim Makhorov, or Humza Deas.

Most educators have already built a personal learning network that includes educators who cover similar topics and industry-level experts who are building and acting upon that knowledge. But every educator should go beyond this and build a social media network into their syllabi. Teachers should start by hyperlinking the digital resources they use to learn. Next, they should hyperlink all the authors of the course texts (and the organizations they represent). Then, they should add resources from tangential industries and topics. For example, a moral philosophy instructor could add criminal justice reform organizations and experts (like the Marshall Project and Shaun King). Finally, teachers should connect students to other educators and students studying and publishing similar work. It’s important to note that this network will evolve as the course progresses.

Integrating these networks into the coursework will increase engagement and help students see real-world connections to the course content. Students will enter class informed about current events and developments in the subject matter, which will improve discussions and projects. It will help students specialize--or add depth to--an area of interest or passion and might even lead to their exploring tangential interest on or offline. For example, a science student might listen to a The Minute Earth podcast that opens doors to an interest in biodiversity. Or an art student could be inspired by the PhilaMuseum Instagram to study repatriation.

Not only does this style of instruction promote auxiliary learning and improve classroom discussion and projects, but it also creates a space for professional networking and the opportunity to publish for a wider, more authentic audience. After building a social media network into a course, educators should design activities and projects that require students to share their work online and collaborate with an expert in the field. Having students publish their work to an authentic audience of professionals with similar interests will push students to produce their best work, and it will also give them a chance to get quality feedback. Exposing students to networks of professionals working on common causes gives students a sense of what they can do beyond school. In both of these endeavors, students get to interact with experts and organizations in an area of interest to them. These publications and interactions create positive digital portfolios for students that will benefit them well beyond their time in school.

Though less visible and tangible, another major benefit of social media instruction is that it teaches digital citizenship and media literacy in a time when students are posting inappropriate, admission rescinding, employment terminating content and reading and sharing misinformation and propaganda. Schools can't expect to fix this societal issue without integrating it purposefully into the current curriculum. With the instruction described above, students are introduced to a professional network, which inevitably reduces the chances they post something they would regret or share inaccurate information.

When used purposefully, social media will open doors for our students. As educators, we need to lead in this area by building social media networks and mentoring students in that space. Our efforts will allow our students to pursue passions, network with professionals, and make an impact beyond the confines of our class or campus. Soon enough, our students will be tagging us on social media as mentors that steered them into the right network and the right field. And that's when we’ll know that we fulfilled our goal of graduating intellectually curious lifelong learners.

November 16, 2018

The School Community as Authentic Audience is Disappearing

Over the last few years I've noticed a relatively significant drop in student interest and initiative surrounding school-sanctioned creative outlets and activities. For example, our school newspaper and yearbook are struggling to stay afloat, students don't present audio or video productions to a school-wide audience, and even our "open mic"--one of the school's most popular programs--has become basic and predictable. That said, our students are not any less creative or active, it's just that they now have new resources to explore their creative passions via powerful applications and the internet, and they have an authentic audience much larger than our school community via social media. With these preconditions, how do schools recapture student creativity, interest, and initiative to help build positive school culture?

When I was in high school, lots of creative and committed students joined the newspaper to physically publish a newspaper bi-weekly (every school I've been at since struggles to put out a paper each quarter). These students, from editors to writers to photographers to layout editors depended on the school's resources to print the paper. This group physically distributed the paper to the entire community. It built a positive community culture; it inspired students to write, to ask for an interview, to submit a photo, etc.

Nowadays, in the age of social media, photographers and writers alike have found authentic audiences outside of school. Photographers create VSCO or Flickr accounts and share their work online. Writers find communities of like-minded individuals to write for, whether that's a Reddit page or a Harry Potter fan fiction blog. At my school, we had three talented school newspaper writers who decided to start their own blog to write their own articles for their own audience outside of school. It proved to be an amazing resource, one that could have benefitted our school community, but enriched only those who knew where to look.

When I was in high school, I remember looking forward to the pep rally pump up video. Video production used to be really challenging and projects couldn't be posted online easily for all to see. Students had to be at Town Meeting for the screening to see it. I remember these videos to this day. They built school spirit and common culture giving us all something to root for throughout rivalry weekend.

Nowadays, every varsity athletic team records every game. And film platforms have editing options for athletes to cut their own highlights. As a result, we don't have any highlight videos to play in front of the whole community. But students have countless chances to see all the big plays in every game because their peers post them online. Some of these film sites provide unique editing tools too. I'm genuinely impressed with what my students make (free or charge), and what they share with a gigantic audience from friends to college coaches, to players around the league. At the same time, I wish it resulted in some kind of school spirit building production for the whole community.

When I was in high school, I worked to procure time during Town Meetings to engage in creative shenanigans for a laugh, for an increase in student morale, and for shared experiences for the student body. For example, I planned a spoof to a popular music video, I organized a game of musical chairs, and I participated in our SNL spoof called "Tuesday Morning Live." As a teacher, I have seen some of this--it alternates between being amazing and cringe-worthy--but it's not nearly as frequent, unique or as bold. It's often an add-on to something that already exists online, and it often suffers from the fear of being recorded, posted, and excoriated after the fact--a natural deterrent to creative, outside-the-box ideas.

Nowadays, with things like Wordpress, Weebly, YouTube, SoundCloud, and even Twitch, students have opportunities to share their passions and creativity to specialized, yet massive, audiences. I had a student that started a political blog via Wordpress, I had a student who started vlogging about local events via YouTube, I had a student who started a rap career on Soundcloud, and most recently, I had a student begin streaming his video game sessions. I'm super impressed with their initiative and effort, but I'm sad that these endeavors exist outside of our school culture.

In all of the scenarios above, students today easily create, brand, and publish content for free. And they are able to share their work with a much wider audience than just their peers at school.

This shift has occurred in the last five years; it coincides with the moment when our students started accumulating more online "friends" or "followers" on their favorite social media platforms than we have students in the school. Social media provides the opportunity for something to go viral. My students know the major events and controversies at surrounding schools thanks to social media. So if a student wanted to show off a creative work or talent, it makes sense that he or she would rather publish it through social media than through school.

To prove my point, I'd like to incorporate a case study from a summer school at which I taught a class called Mass Media. The school brings students from all across the state of NH together onto a boarding school campus for six-weeks. In Mass Media, we kept the campus news via Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Blogger. Since students didn't follow or interact with each other online before this program, they relied on our platform to move their messages and ideas. Students genuinely wanted to show off the amazing work they were doing and they wanted to see what other students and classes are up to. In addition, the program hosted "coffee houses" where students shared prose, poetry, and music, and two talent shows. These were incredibly well attended and loved by the entire campus, students, teachers, interns, house supervisors, and administrators. This case study proves that when students aren't connected via social media, they are so much more likely to engage in community events and distribute content through community channels. And initiative, creativity, excitement, and positive engagement pervades this community in only six week!

So what has happened to our school culture in an age of free production and consumption of media thanks to big technology companies and a specialized, larger audience thanks to social media?

I don't think it's far-fetched to say that there are two cultures at our schools, what happens in a school setting, and what happens online. Many schools and administrators like to keep it that way. That's because when information comes from social media culture to the school culture, it often results in disciplinary action. And that's too bad, because there's also unique, humorous, skillful multimedia work being shared online by our students that is lost on us adults and removed from the school zeitgeist.

As a result of this shift in creation and consumption among our students, schools are losing the eclectic, fun experiences that bond campuses together. Every school needs morale, spirit, and creativity in order to carry out a mission or curriculum. After all, we get more out of our students when they're in a positive social-emotional state when they enter our schools and our classes.

Unfortunately, our extracurricular that depend on extracurricular interest and initiative are declining. This is coming at a time when schools are talking incessantly about 21st century skills, two of those being creativity and multimedia creation.

How are we going to empower (and critique!) our talented, hard-working students who are trying new things online? How are we going to encourage them to bring their work back into the school community? How are we going to revive our declining institutions and breathe into them energy, creativity, interest? And how do we do this when students purposely keep adults out of their social media spaces?

I have some ideas that I'll include in a follow-up post, but all of them start with talking to students. So let's all agree to start there.

November 11, 2018

Mindfulness in Technologically Saturated Schools

Mindfulness and 1:1 programs are two emerging educational trends that don't play well together.

Mindfulness is about clearing one's brain and being fully present in the moment. Our school has been pushing mindfulness hard for the last four years. Teachers are encouraged to use it in the classroom, the faculty practices it before division meetings, the school practices it before town meetings. We hope that it helps eliminate distraction, reduces stress, and enhances brain function. As a school, we acknowledge the problems of information overload, we understand that students' social standing is at risk 24/7/365 on social media, and we believe the studies that warn of the increase in stress and anxiety in teenagers. So, as teachers, we try to help them clear their brains and be fully present in our classrooms.

But what happens when after a mindful moment, a student opens his or her computer to all of the things that made his or her mind cluttered in the first place? How do we as teachers reconcile the use of technology in our schools with our desire to foster a mindful environment? 

Our school isn't the only school rushing towards mindfulness instruction; schools all around the country have embraced mindfulness practice at an astonishing pace. Silicon Valley is the only industry outpacing schools in implementing mindfulness training. There's a reason for this. Both schools and tech companies are inundated with tech and both see the negatives associated with widespread technology adoption on a daily basis. Schools see this first-hand, because we witness how technology manipulates the under-developed brains of our students. And Silicon Valley sees this first hand, because they are the only ones who truly know how their code and algorithms work; their embrace of mindfulness is a tacit admission that tech manipulates us. Like teachers in their classrooms, employees of Silicon Valley want to regain control over their cognitive functions, not to mention their social relationships.

Tech employees famously don't let their children use technology. Nevertheless, Silicon Valley pumps devices into schools at a stunning clip. Apple created the "Apple Distinguished School" model to convince schools to go 1:1, and now 2:1, with Apple products. Google released a super-cheap computer, the Chromebook, so schools can go 1:1 with a lower cost. Schools have to assume that companies like Apple and Google will continue to push schools to adopt new tech to improve their bottom line now, while also hoping to hook children on their products to improve their bottom line in the future. This problem is only going to get worse. For example, my school just adopted a 2:1 model with our Middle School. Students have an iPad and Macbook, not to mention their parent-provided smartphones.

In too many industries, tech is seen as a silver bullet that can fix (or improve) something--in schools' case, teaching and learning. We tell our parents that the tech enhances our classroom instruction and improves our assessments. We say that we will be using computers for collaboration and multimedia creation. But how many of our teachers have truly redefined their classrooms with technology in a significant way? And what percentage of our students' time on their computers is spent collaborating on multimedia projects? 5%?

It would be great to see Silicon Valley, schools, and parents push back against tech in favor of encouraging experiences, relationships, and conversation. However, in the short term, tech use is only increasing in schools, so schools like mine are working to mitigate the negative impacts of tech with mindfulness. What I've noticed in my time as a teacher and an Instructional Coach is that no matter how hard we try to promote mindfulness, once a student opens his computer, there's no telling where his mind will wander, and what emotions and needs will creep into his head. For example, if a math teacher begins with mindfulness, but a student then opens his computer to see his Hudl page (sports film page), he starts thinking about, and maybe watching, a game. Or if a student clears her brain before an English class only to open her computer to see her grades (yes, we have an open gradebook), then she gets distracted and stressed. Finally, if a science teachers engages the class with an interesting demo only to have a student open her computer and get lost in the most recent controversial Instagram post, how successful is the mindfulness?

So what does mindfulness look like in a 1:1 classroom?

How to practice mindfulness is up to each individual teacher. but there are some things that each teacher should consider regarding tech's role in negating the impact of said practice. First, teachers need to make class tech rules clear. Second, teachers need to make sure that they provide the time needed for tech mindfulness to occur. Trust me, fewer minutes of focused students is much better than the alternative. Third, teachers need to find the energy and grit to enforce the rules and make time for mindfulness. Fourth, it's important for teachers to practice what they preach. Teachers should show students how mindfulness helps them with their technology use. Finally--perhaps most importantly--teachers have to explain the science of how mindfulness works and how technology can hinder this work.

Class Tech Rules
  • No cell phone at all, computers only when I say so. Only one app at a time on a computer unless I say so. That one app should be in full screen.
  • I will tell you at the beginning of class what you will need on your computer (if anything). 
Tech Mindfulness Activity

Self Check
  • How am I feeling today - happy, excited, tired, bored, etc.? How challenging will it be for me to be fully present, engaged and focused today? Prepare to succeed.
  • What was the last thing I was working on in the hallways or in my last class? Is there something looming that I feel like I should be doing? Put it aside for the class. Note: this step depends on your sense of your students. After all, it could backfire if it reminds students of something they should be worrying about.
  • What will it look like for me to be fully present, engaged and focused in class today? Envision it.
  • When I check in with myself at the end of class, how will I know if I have succeeded in being fully present, engaged and focused in class today? 
Tech Check
  • Hardware: desktops, tabs, apps, battery. Software: anything that could ping me -- text, social media, email, etc. Eliminate everything I don't need for class.
  • Take what I will need for class and make it full screen.

Exit Ticket Mindfulness
  • Did we fulfill our goal and the class goals regarding staying fully present, engaged and focused
  • Did I get distracted? How so, and how can I avoid this next class? 
  • If I'm having a hard time with this, I should see my teacher (or a school counselor) 

Tech Terms and Apps to Reduce Tech Distractions

  • Terms
    • Full screen - when an app is in full screen users can't see their dock or their task bar, which eliminates distractions. Exiting full screen requires an additional click to navigate away. Full screen also keeps a user locked in one desktop, which prevents task switching.
    • Task switching - students (and adults) switch tasks frequently on phones and computers. This decreases performance on all tasks, and it takes a long time to get refocused on the original task. 
  • Apps
    • Session Buddy - this chrome extension allows you to save all your tabs so you can come back to them later. This allows students to close all their tabs, but not lose their work.

November 6, 2018

Inequality and the Internet

Last week, I spoke at OESIS Boston about how the internet has not lived up to its promise of creating a decentralized, free & open, and democratizing force in society. The presentation highlights the importance of teaching ethics, empathy, and critical thinking in our 1:1 schools and in our rapidly growing STEM curricula. The talk concludes with a look at a course I'm teaching that investigates the internet and new technology from a humanities lens. After all, we need to graduate informed digital citizens to help us stem the rapid growth of inequality facilitated by the internet and new technology. Watch it here!

October 19, 2018

From Classroom Tech Question to Classroom Tech Transformation

Over the last few months, Sam Moser and I hashed out a system for EdTech Specialists to help guide their work with teachers. From a Technology & Instructional Coach at Flint Hill and an Academic Technology Coach at Lowell School, comes a mission statement to help ensure that our work with other teachers results in not just the use of technology in the classroom, but a pedagogical shift that yields engagement, risk taking and sustained interest. Below is our diagram that we hope other EdTech Specialists adopt and embrace. We recognize that this is aspirational and challenging but also exciting and rewarding.

Our diagram and ensuing explanation was published by EdSurge this past Monday, 11/6. If you click on "read more" below, you can read our original article. Also be sure to follow Sam and check out his blog. Please reach out to us if you have any questions or if you'd like to adopt this mission at your school!

October 15, 2018

NBOA Feature, "EdTech's Classroom Payoff"

Last month, I was featured in the September/October issue of the NBOA Net Assets magazine about educational technology in independent schools. It's encouraging to know that a number of organizations are interested in how to integrate technology into the classroom successfully. In this interview, I talked at length about my course, "Passion-Based Learning through Social Media," and what I've done as a Technology Integration Specialist at Flint Hill--specifically the Tech Deputy program I launched with my colleague a few years back. Here is a screenshot of a part of the article; unfortunately, it's behind a paywall so you can't read the whole thing.

September 12, 2018

#MADPD Spotlight Series

This past week, #MADPD featured my talk called "Passion-Based Learning through Social Media" on VoicEd radio. Stephen Hurley and I had a tremendous conversation for VoicEd about teenagers, social media, and learning online. Listen here: Soundcloud MADPD Spotlight

July 10, 2018

Teaching Grit: Taking a Lesson from the Athletic Playbook

In my teaching career, I've witnessed rampant grade inflation in the independent schools at which I've taught. Coupled with that, I've witnessed an increase in student anxiety and stress. How do better grades lead to more stress? I agree with Angela Lee Duckworth's TED talk that the solution to this paradox lies in increasing grit and perseverance in our teenagers. However, as a teacher, it seems that no matter what I do to try to enhance these skills, I feel like I'm failing. But, as an athletic coach I've had a lot more success. That's because, when my team loses, we lose. There are no retakes, no extensions, and no extra credit. And "success" is variable, you do not have to win every game to be successful, and even sometimes when you do win, you didn't "succeed" (read: play) the way you should have. These conditions cultivate athlete and team agency and buy-in for a coach's instruction. This process fosters grit and perseverance.

One of the biggest contributors to both the grade inflation and the anxiety and stress inflation described above is the increase in the amount of retakes/rewrites, completion points, test corrections, and extra credit offered by schools. Students and parents demand these extra chances for a pretty clear reason: they improve grades. Of course, there's also some truth to the fact that students learn more when they retake something or turn in extra credit, but the focus is still on the grade. I tip my hat to my progressive colleagues that have switched to standards- (or competency-) based grading to get out in front of this change by making retakes all about mastering a skill rather than getting a grade. Regardless, this style of assessment does not provide students a chance to truly fail. There is always a chance to get points back, to show mastery, or to massage the grade in other ways. This trend does not exist in sports.

As a coach of twenty seasons, I've noticed that my athletes respond to defeat or failure in a very different way than how my students respond to a low test grade. There's also a difference in coaching a student through failure on the field and teaching a student through "failure" in the classroom.

There are countless ups and downs in an individual game, but when it ends, the team records a W or an L, that's it. Sure, they can complain about the refs or the coaching, but it's a well established fact that you and your teammates could always do more. And there are times when you feel like you and your teammates have done everything you can to prepare, and you still end the game with an L. The permanence of these losses presents rich opportunities for improvement (read: learning).

After every game, win or lose, coaches take time talking through the game's successes and failures and defining goals for improvement. Many coaches open it up to players to contribute during that time as well. These reflections focus an athlete's and team's attitude, which helps recommit them to their goals, leading to improvement.

After a tough loss on the field, a player realizes that he needs you (his coach) and he needs his teammates in order to not experience that feeling again. This makes that player and his teammates receptive to coaching to improve for the next contest. The classroom should work the same way, but it doesn't. When a student earns a bad grade, he feels that you (the teacher) need to grade differently, teach better, write an easier assignment, etc. for him to succeed next time. The difference in agency between these two responses is everything. To be fair, I have had students who respond the way I described the player above, and I've had players (and teams) respond the way I described the student above, but anecdotally, that seems to be an exception not the rule. So how can teachers make this the rule, rather than the exception?
  • There have to be assignments where students lose (or fail)
  • There has to be permanence to this failure
  • There has to be time to digest and reflect on failure
  • Some assignments should be too hard so that success is variable
  • There have to be times when students try hard, but fail
  • There must be an agreement that a teacher (coach) will be there to facilitate improvement via instruction and practice
  • Teachers (coaches) must value, encourage, and identify incremental improvements from one assignment to the next
  • There should be multiple opportunities to practice and improve, but not to change a previous grade/outcome (think about a season with many games)

July 4, 2018

A Teacher's Shoes Podcast Appearance

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a fellow educator about the course I taught this year called "Passion-Based Learning through Social Media." Eryka Desrosiers invited me onto her podcast and proceeded to ask a number of excellent questions about how to run a project-based and personalized class. I hope it will inspire more teachers to do the same.

Listen to this episode of A Teacher's Shoes Podcast on Soundcloud

July 3, 2018

Is #HigherEd Leading the #EdReform Movement?

No. But some institutions like Stanford's are trying. Last month, they released an article detailing some of their new programs called "Exploring provocative ideas for undergraduate education at Stanford." I was excited to see such progressive proposals (see below). However, until Stanford starts accepting undergraduates who exhibit these skills, high schools will continue to push AP-heavy schedules and SAT scores.
Though I didn't use the same language, I designed my elective called Passion-Based Learning thru Social Media to fulfill all of these educational trends. Embedded below is an explanation of that course and how I got there.

It predicted and embraced all of Stanford's "provocative ideas about learning" by asking students to holistically investigate a topic of their choosing. 1) "open loop" - the course helps students create personalized learning networks and digital portfolios. Naturally, their learning expands beyond the confines of the classroom and the semester. 2) Paced education - the course is entirely personalized since students choose their own content. 3) The "axis flip" - I run the entire course based off of a skill progression that I designed (see image at 14:55 in the video above). 4) Purpose learning - Students carefully construct their own brand. They write a mission in their "about me" page on their digital portfolio.

It took me several years to convince my school to offer an elective that encompasses the pedagogy that Stanford wrote to "[reimagine] the undergraduate experience of the future." Interestingly, one of the hardest groups to get on board was college counseling, because they didn't know how this course would look on a transcript. Now that the course exists, ironically, the top students at my school don't take the elective because it doesn't say AP in front of it; if they want to get in to Stanford--to experience the innovative program described above--they need to show rigor on their transcript.

I hope Stanford (beyond just leans in to some of these progressive pedagogical trends, but I also hope they will start to select students who have experience succeeding in this type of learning environment. Nevertheless, there's a long way to go before high schools and colleges close that gap. One way Stanford can help high schools prepare students for the future of learning they describe is to be more deliberate about how they plan to model this learning so that other schools can emulate their work. They should also begin to establish partnerships with high schools, colleges, and grad schools that are implementing these new trends.

When I tweeted this article out to encourage more schools to embrace this style of learning, I heard from a fellow high school teacher (@gedwards30) wondering the same thing: how will this look at Stanford in practice? So here are our lingering questions from that thread and an ensuing email exchange. I trust Stanford's answering these questions will help push these educational reforms to other schools and classrooms.
  • How does this learning fit in with Stanford's overarching institutional mission & how do staffing/cohort size/personal attention play into the program’s ability to scaffold and evaluate student progress?
  • How will instructors evaluate this style of continuous learning focused on skill competencies?
  • Is the final a digital portfolio? A capstone project? A thesis? A culminating experiment?
  • How will instructors provide guidance in student inquiry and structured evaluation of student progress to empower this style of learning? 
  • How do administrators allow teachers the freedom to impart their wisdom while also adhering to pedagogical best practices?
  • How do teachers allow students the freedom to refine or change their "mission" or stated objective(s)?
  • Might Stanford's initiative (and others like it) lead to an educational experience that functions more like a membership/subscription model rather than traditional schooling?
Educators, please add additional questions in comments or on the Twitter thread!

June 27, 2018

The Class That Wouldn't Stop Learning

This past summer, I taught a course called Mass Media to twelve rising high school seniors at SPS's ASP, and to this day--almost exactly one year after beginning the course--I'm still teaching them. That's not true; it's actually more accurate to say, I'm still learning with them. Though the class ended 11 months ago, we still share articles and questions on our Slack page and we still meet digitally every couple of months to talk about current events and how they affect our lives.   
The course is set up perfectly for intellectual discussions about the news and the media and how that affects our lives. Naturally, those discussions include a lot of conversations about technology and social media and how that is changing our lives. These topics and conversations resonate with teens, and this particular group of teens wanted to keep talking about them beyond the course.

The Slack page also served as a place for them to share ideas and articles. For example, I had students who asked for podcast recommendations:
and students who asked for help planning school events (like their March For Our Lives demonstrations):
While our Slack page has been fun and informational, this style of exchange is pretty normal for teenagers. In school, when completing homework or preparing for an assessment, students exchange messages and resources online. What's more interesting about our exchanges are that students turned those messages into face-to-face conversations. They wanted to leave the message board to listen to additional perspectives and articulate ideas in-real-time, together understanding that it's okay to disagree, to stutter, to think out loud, or--in other words--to make a mistake.

Earlier this year, I wrote about my frustration that these days teenagers have controversial conversations online, rather than face to face--I also wrote about why these conversations should happen in the classroom, face-to-face, especially for teens. So I was especially excited when my students asked to digitally meet (we live in different states) to discuss things like the Google anti-diversity memo, Charlottesville, mass shootings (Las Vegas and MSD), or Cambridge Analytica. Since the course ended, we have had five Google Hangouts where anywhere from 4-7 students and I meet to discuss current events.

Sometimes these discussions came from an individual student asking me to host a conversation. For example, I received an email saying, "Maybe we can have a [Hangout] this week?... If we don't talk til after the break (which I hope is not the case... net neutrality?? Roy Moore?? Trump??? We need to cover this!!) I hope you have a great holiday break."

Other times, these discussions originate from our Slack channel when we feel like we need to elaborate on an issue, either to understand the issue better, or to clarify our positions and/or hear how other people perceive and analyze the same topics. For example:

How can we emulate this style of learning in other classes? How can we get students to continue learning about a subject even when a class ends? How can we get students to want to converse face-to-face about issues that affect our lives? 

I wish I had the answers to the questions above, but I don't. I have been teaching nine years, and this is the only class with which I've had this kind of success. I will, however, conclude with some thoughts as to why this group wants to continue having these conversations. Perhaps that can hep other teachers emulate this success.

  • Our teenagers don't have meaningful, intellectual discussions on their own. Or if they do, those experiences don't feel authentic. When teens talk about complex issues, usually the loudest (or most extreme) voices pollute the conversations for others who want to hear additional perspectives and articulate their own thoughts.
  • In school, we don't really allow authentic student voice. Sometimes we let students talk, but it's almost always with our topics and our rules, and that doesn't resonate. What's worse, often a teacher will impose his/her thoughts before the conversation begins, thus polluting this environment for those who want to learn form others and articulate their own thoughts without judgement.
  • It's not "cool" or "normal" for teenagers to want to discuss current events or how media affects our lives. So something about the fleeting nature of this course (summer school) with teens from different schools, made it cool and normal to care about these topics. 
  • Everyone felt comfortable contributing in class and in our Hangouts after class. That's because  1) the class, and our conversations, were not graded; so students didn't have to worry if their point conflicted with the teacher (or the teacher's pet). And 2) I asked everyone to contribute and I allowed them to contribute in a variety of ways (ask questions, read quotations, agree with a peer, or make a connection to current events). This ensured everyone had a chance to articulate his/her thoughts in a way that he/she felt comfortable.

If you have any thoughts on how I can make this happen with every one of my courses, I'm all ears. Comment below.