Not to reinvent the wheel, or anything…

photo credit: Crispin Semmens - Used under Creative Commons

photo credit: Crispin Semmens – Used under Creative Commons

Now that I’ve taken a few steps forward into this world of instructional technology, I’ve been able to step back and reflect a bit.

I find myself often getting opportunities to explore new apps, devices, technologies, etc. (Most recently was this ball called “Sphero” which connected to a device via bluetooth and turns the device into a remote to move the ball around on the floor… pretty solid design and challenging to use. Anyway…)

All these devices/apps/tools seem to fit into two very broad categories: stuff that helps us do stuff we already do better and stuff that allows us to do stuff we previously couldn’t do (or at least couldn’t realistically do).

and while I feel like those are important distinctions, they tend to both get brushed aside as “reinventing the wheel”.

And it makes sense. Teachers are resourceful people. They are pretty good at recognizing what they need and finding solutions to make it happen. Teachers generally don’t spent time reusing tools/processes that don’t work or don’t provide value (based on the values that teacher has).

So, it seems like anytime we introduce a new technology piece to a teacher, we are comparing that teacher’s existing processes and practices to either…

A. something that gives them a different (hopefully better) way to do something they already do or

B. something that give the teacher the ability to do something they don’t currently do.

Either way, we are asking that teacher to update their practice. And if they don’t already have a need (or a desire) to do that, then they are likely to perceive this as “reinventing the wheel.”

And they aren’t really wrong.

This is where those of us to are inclined to consistently seek innovation need to recognize the value of creating “intellectual need.” This idea was first introduced to me by Dan Meyer being applied introducing new processes and tools to math students, but I think there are pretty solid parallels to sharing new technologies or processes to teachers. The idea is that as long as the learners have tools or processes that work fairly well for them, they won’t value learning new tools or processes.

To get around this with students, teachers can introduce a new problem-type or content to create a need for a new tool or process. You can administrate the need.

With teachers, it’s not quite as simple as that. Teachers have the ability to shield themselves in a lot of different ways from the changing conditions. Teachers are flexible. In this case, the task of creating need for a new tool isn’t administrative.

The task is inspirational.

Teachers need to see the potential for the new tools. They need have the new processes modeled. They need to see the vision of where this could take them and their students.

We need to be out of the business of process-sharing and into the business of idea-building. What would you like to do that you can’t do now? What do you do now that you wish worked better? Let me show you some cool classroom action that got me excited.

It’s can’t be about the tools. It needs to be about the vision for the classroom.

“Folks, this isn’t a session on Google Drive. It’s a session on collaboration and accessibility.”

“This isn’t a training on Desmos. It’s a training on helping make higher-order math thinking easier for your students to engage.”

“This isn’t a PD on the TI-Nspire. This is a PD on how to make statistical and graphical analysis a community activity.”

If they already have a wheel, they don’t need a new one. But perhaps with this or that new tool or process (whatever it is), that wheel that’s already been invented can take the students farther than they’ve ever gone before.


My Thoughts on #MiFlip15

Today, I attended the MiFlip Conference at Steelcase University in Grand Rapids, MI.

I was going for a variety of reasons. I need people to explain flipped learning to me. I need skeptics to be skeptics. I like to fly-on-the-wall discussions where advocates and skeptics collide. Not because I enjoy confrontation, but because Michigan has some wonderful educators (check out #miched if you want to get a taste) and I figured that this particular collection would be unmasked, open, and willing to both be skeptics and advocates.

I was not disappointed.

First, I want to mention Matt Roberts (@mmcr) from Grand Valley State University who brought this with him as part of his presentation.


This is “The Hype Cycle”, which I recognize from a variety of innovations over my relatively short career in education. I’m certainly not trying to talk down the people who are excitedly sharing their experiences and enthusiasm about flipped learning. It’s just that there’s some things that have always made me hesitant about fully advocating flipped learning and Matt helped me make sense of some of them.

I feel like he did a nice job of expressing why he think flipped learning needs to be looked at holistically. He led an awesome session on the realities of learning in a flipped model and understanding what we are asking these students to do… which is, in some cases, something they’ve never been asked to do before. When we lead students through a flipped learning model, we are asking them to take ownership of their learning in ways that might be new to them. They need to self-regulate. They need to recognize their confusion and use that sense of mental discomfort as a motivation to get that issue resolved with the variety of resources the teacher has made available or that the internet as a whole has to offer. This goes even further when we push blended learning to the next level and start (as was so excellently described by Anne Thorp (@athorp) ) expanding the options to include flexibility in assignment contexts, due dates, and formats. There will be an adjustment period if students have only known educational worlds of note-taking, rigid due dates, and common assignments.

That forces us to help the students become comfortable with the learning process. And many of them will need help. The try-fail-improve-try-again model can be a frustrating one for kids who aren’t really accustomed to failing. Besides that, as Matt brought up in his discussion, things like sleep, nutrition, and exercise play a pretty significant role as well. Regular review, making connections and effective practice have to become things that get built into the curriculum. Flipped learning is more holistic than other instructional models because it so often looks at the hour that the class spends together as merely an important part of a larger learning process.

Many students are raised in education looking at the hour that the class spends together as the whole class. Effectively managing that transition is vital to ensuring that students are experiencing the best that flipped learning has to offer.

The teacher looking to embrace the flipped learning model needs to recognize that they are taking on more than simply restructuring their assignments. They are likely redefining learning to students who may not have entered their class expecting that type of experience.

A few additional notes.

  • Thanks to Dan Spencer (@runfardvs) for giving me a one-on-one tutorial on Camtasia. Totally needed it and it totally worked.
  • I appreciate the energy that Anne Thorp brought to the table. (I’m not the only one that is saying that, either, by the way.) Our paths are going to cross a number of times in the future and I am very excited about that.
  • And, in a much less academic way, I’m thankful to Tara Becker-Utess (@t_becker10) for being willing to drive the carpool from Dimondale, MI (about an hour east of Grand Rapids).

Snow Day Fever



Some kinda weather we’re having, isn’t it?

One of my colleagues posted on this facebook that today was the 8th snow day of 2014. We’ve only had 16 scheduled days of school! That is a perfect one-to-one ratio of days off to days in for the first month of 2014. As my friend Josh flatly put it: “That is not a small amount.”

Making matters more interesting is the fact that finals and semester break happen during the middle of January. So, this snow has done more than save my fuel costs. It has forced schedule updates, which has meant all sorts of other issues. 

Snow days have always caused frenzy, what with arrangement for child care, late phone calls for school employees with longer commutes, hourly employees scrambling to balance budgets missing half their hours for the month, and the like. Social media being what it is, it seems like all of those issues are being intensely reflected on (or at least vented about) these days with snow day after snow day after snow day.

Various social media thread reflect different viewpoints, of course. Many folks (mostly teachers, homemakers, and 2nd shift workers) are rejoicing with the unexpected time with their children and opportunities to catch up on chores. 

Other folks are intensely asserting that this stretch is evidence of how weak we have become as a people. This seems to carry with it the memories that many have of having to get to school in conditions every bit as bad, or worse, than these.

I will say, that it seems like school are more careful this year that in previous years. I remember driving to work in previous years with temps significantly below zero. I wonder what the windchill was on the day I took this photo?




That absolutely isn’t an implication that we should or shouldn’t be having the snow days we are having. Without question, the number of wrecks on the freeways, the significant winds, and bitter cold air are making my 40-mile commute to work completely undesirable. 

In general, I think that schools are making an emphatic statement that we are, first and foremost, concerned about the safety and well-being of students. Maybe schools are being too careful. Maybe. But, how many winters have we weathered Snowpocalypse, The Ice Storm and The Polar Vortex all before February 1st?