Saturday, October 30, 2010

It Won't Be That Fast Again. And that's OK.

Everyone feels it. It's not just the recession, extended perhaps by policy decisions but destined to join the past late if not sooner. It's more. We feel in our guts things can't be as they were. The last thirty years were an unsustainable and unrepeatable time. It will be a slower decade--and probably longer or forever.

That doesn't mean it won't be better. It will.

We've been explosive builders these past thirty years. 11,000 Starbucks just in the US. Chickfilla's and Verizon centers, Borders and Lowes, Old Navys and Staples all to go with them. Every sizable community has had its downtown duplicated at the city limits by a shopping center it's equal in size.

We've remade the downtowns as well. Look at yours. Drive to the next city. And the next. If you're 20, you won't know it didn't mostly always look that way. If you can remember 1990, didn't.
We've totally rehabilitated our urban neighborhoods. Smaller wooden structures that were unrepairable we tore down and replaced. Yet most homes of any character were restored and enhanced.

Our neighborhood shops went from abandoned, boarded up, or seedy stalls to quaint or glamorous boutique shops. Some of them got Starbucks. Some were filled with the exotic goods of the world. All were filled with curious, engaged, cash-laden patrons. We're wondering now about that latter.
We've built arenas and stadiums and museums of every imaginable field. They are huge, extravagant. beautiful. And we're wondering about the debt, and how long til we can afford to build again.
We're worried about much more than debt, though. We worry about an aging population. A changing population. A changing world that has noticed our system, imitated it, and now seriously competes.

Can we, too, still compete? Can we go head to head with the Asian engineers, the Indian support teams, the Central American laborers, the world's cheap manufacturing labor? The ruthlessly efficient robots and machines? 

Must we lose our hard-earned luxuries to so do?

And what about the Muslim evangelists? Do they threaten the foundations, values, traditions we've built up from? 

Ah, and there's the rub. Did some of us forget those core

We might lose some of that breathless excitement. We're all used to caramel mochiato expresso cherry frape surprise. It's just a caffeine fix now. Where's that feeling of youthful thrill?

The thrill that's with the youth? It's in those digital boxes, and it's in the world. Yes, many of us reached out and touched the world these past two decades, and were touched by it. We'll be doing that a whole lot more.

We are drifting back--or forward--to the one room schoolhouse. For many students it's now the kitchen table, the family computer desk. For others its a tutoring center next to Starbucks. For still others its a small neighborhood charter school, the kind of schools community progressives built and ran back at our founding, the kind of personal attention you get when moms and dads kick into the pot to buy their own building and teacher.

Which raises our fears of lives spent staring at 20" portholes. Or smaller. Much smaller. Many of us did that for long work hours, but were amply rewarded. What about that gnawing competition from abroad, that increasingly well-educated and well-connected workforce outside?

What about our debts and maintenance commitments? Our no longer pricey houses and our still pricey mortgages and upkeep bills?

And age. Our nation is aging. Baby boomers are retiring, moving into takers, not producers. Who will pay, care, cover for them? Our pension/retirement/healthcare systems seem actuarial unsound; maybe unsustainable.

Is the gig up? Have we built all we can build, borrowed all we can borrow, promised what we cannot deliver, come to the end of the age of Camelot?

I say no. For now, though, a volleyball scrimmage.

Meanwhile, one hint: those brown people knocking at our door, the ones already hear, hiding from the books and the law? We need them paying taxes, insurance premiums, mortgages payments. We need them buying our homes. We need them filling nursing and care positions. We need them as engineers.

More to come....

Friday, October 29, 2010

Maybe I/m Against Humans.

(A repsponse to Miguel Guhlin and too many other well-meaning writers.).

Being neither rich nor powerful, I’m unqualified to comment on ‘empowering’ vs. ‘domesticating’ education…wait, I did redesign the world’s most complex (and powerful) sensor-processor-effector system…at age 23. What the heck, my one cent:

We are ‘creativity’-ing ourselves down the path of the Roman Empire. We are a nation where it’s not important to walk from your touchdown to thank your blockers and focus ahead; it’s how creative a dance you do in the end zone. (Yes, those athletes are conditioned, but which part do the children see every week?). Now it’s to be unimportant to master math and logic, as long as we “create stuff”, no matter how distracting that might be.

Like the Roman citizens who grew bored with engineering and democracy and military art, turning instead to circuses and outdoing each other in bad poetry, we ‘create’ 500 bland television programs per hour, 24/365.

We build 14,000 ‘apps’ on top of Twitter alone. 250,000 for the iPhone. Every minute we upload another 24 hours of video to YouTube.

What do we know of the world? Our place in it? How many readers here know the fundamental difference between Shia and Sunni? Can describe the Iraqi and Afghan borders? Know the difference between a battalion and a brigade? Can guess the percentage of a school’s budget spent on personnel? Know—really know—why  Washington was considered the “Father of our Country’? Understand why we don’t use much of the oil lying under our feet?

We need people who are productive and dependable. Especially when they are young and still learning what it is to be an adult, let alone lead adults. We need people who can care for the elderly and do repetitive research on sickle-cell anemia. We need people who will plant the seed each spring and gather the harvest each fall to feed a malnourished world.

We are, by the way, not as poor or unpowerful as you might think. Barack Obama is slave to his staff, cabinet, guards, and politicos. We have evenings and weekends free, can learn whatever we like, volunteer if we like to build parks, sing, deliver meals, guide youth groups, gather in spiritual need, organize a festival, build a business, golf, run.

There is, true, slavery in having a family at eighteen or twenty when you have no skill or education. And there’s the rub because you will not have time to read to your children, speak with them, sing to them. And they too will not learn, will head to slavery. Unless great teachers intervene.

Great teachers don’t teach you to be dangerous. All those dangerous people—they’re the ones keeping the sub-par teachers in place, distracting funds and resources from those in need, muddling the debate, spreading false economics, electing status-quo leaders. The useful idiots gathering at G-20 meetings to protest…well, to protest something, they have no idea what.

Great teachers don’t teacher you to be creative because no one is creative standing alone. All build on the shoulders of giants. It’s getting harder to learn everything the giants have given us. To be truly powerful you must master accounting and capital asset modeling and something of proteomics. Of foreign policy, but also of the difficulties of leading and sustaining a platoon in the field. Of statistics,…and of their limits. Of all the little things it takes to build something in your community.

One ought have time to have gathered intelligence like Sadaam Hussein’s offer of $25,000 to the family of every suicide bomber in Palestine. That 1 in 1200 teachers is delicensed, compared to more like 1 in 100 doctors or lawyers. That churches built most of our universities and hospitals. That the local auto-body shop is funding many of the local scholarships and public activities.

Things all learned over time, while being productive and dependable. While learning mental discipline, logical thought, patient disinterested analytical rigor.

Quadratic formulae, Schrödinger equations, and enantiomeric tranformations are hardly passionless, obsolete areas of study. They are the stuff of stars, of philosophy, of digital and analog empowerment.

Washington, by the way (with von Steuben) transformed a creative, individualistic, and un-dangerous army into a productive, dependable one which could throw off a Despotic King.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Alternative High School - Engines for Education
Last night brought an online seminar with Roger Schank, he long of artificail intelligence and cognitive psychology fame.

One project he's working is Alternative High School, a school which truly shakes up the curriculum model. "The four years currently being offered are:
Year 1: Health Sciences
Year 2: Computer Science
Year 3: Communication
Year 4: Business
Yep, that's a different way of doing things.

About a year ago I experienced my first Twitter re-enactment.

First, you may know that normally, I am not a big fan of Twitter. I use it, as a personal diary and to follow a couple of close, reserved friends.  Otherwise, the race to 'retweet' every last utterance on the planet seems to be loud static, approaching as a limit the cosmic background noise.

That said, the 'twitternactment' of Revolutionary battle of Trenton was a fun learning experience.

In my case, I was out on a Sunday afternoon walk/drive for the event, which made it all the easier to pay attention to the flow of the story.  The 140 character snippets made the story quite easy to digest, withtime to savor each scene, forget about the event, and then be brought into the story again later as events unfolded.

Today the Wall Street Journal reports that The Texting Revolution is Here. Well, duh, yeah. However, we can still complete the revolution by incorporating it into education.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

God In America - Inside the tumultuous 400-year history of the intersection of religion and public life in America | PBS
If you were expecting a show about religious people or religion, this isn't it. It's about America's very essence.

In 1776 political freedom was perhaps not even the main topic of concern to the average American. Their faith, how to express it, with whom...these were the debates of the day among many of our countrymen.

From the Spanish Missionaries trying to convert the Pueblo, to the undoing of the separate colony's state religions, last night's premier was just fascinating.

The website does the story little justice; however the timeline interactive is a great review tool, the quiz tests your knowledge of basic religious knowledge.

Last night's show gave an overview of the role of congregations in building our hospitals, schools, anti-slavery movement, prison reform, etc. I hope later episodes will go into much deeper into this.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A wiki guide to some of the apps you can use in the classroom.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Pax Americana and the New Iraq Fouad Ajami
An aside to put yesterday's discussion of Learning Patterns in perspective. It's tempting to dis the games mentioned below as 'memorization' (now a pejorative term), as regurgitating facts, as not serious learning.

Take not that path. Fact bits let us learn at a later date. They give us pause to ask questions later.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Interactive Learning Patterns II - and
This morn I discussed how students interact with teachers in the schools. This afternoon, a word on two busy history interactive sites out of the UK.

Consider Interactive history games - Historical Hoop Shoot, Fling the Teacher, Walk the Plank, Historical Shootout, Historical Hangman, Historical Duckshoot, Wordsearches. At face, this seems a diverse set of lessons. Especially if you've assayed what other interactives offer, where interacting is defined as clicking through photos and text, with little feedback or assessment capability.

There is much to choose from here: nine games engines, custom skins for each, 235 available topics, 6442 questions at this writing. The learner is always clicking something, getting a response, moving on, getting a periodic assessment of knowledge retained.

She also gets exactly one learning pattern.

Interactive Learning Patterns I
What's an interactive learning pattern? I mentioned this Friday. Maybe my keywords aren't the best, but for all the talk of how tech can save us, you'd think there's be more mention of this.

Let's take the one pattern everyone is talking about: multiple choice. It's the most common assessment because it was for years the easiest to automate. But those days are gone, so why are we doing it?

Friday, October 01, 2010

Ed's Ed Week
Often people wonder why we have so little to show in Ed technology--at least as far as content mastery and assessment. Yes, we have the proprietary libraries built by the traditional textbook publishers. There's tons of original source material, and even more HTML-based content of varying pedagogical quality. But the individualized engagement/mastery/assessment factors we've all feel in our guts should be there...usually isn't.

From the beginning, was designed to get people working together to change this.