Holt Think: Ed, Creativity, Tech, Administration


Posts tagged with "teaching and learning"

If teachers put the boring stuff outside the class in a flipped classroom, isn’t it still boring stuff? -Holt

If teachers put the boring stuff outside the class in a flipped classroom, isn’t it still boring stuff? -Holt

(Source: recitethis.com)

Don’t Believe Every Meme You See

Have you seen this meme going around Facebook? It is quite popular and has a gizillion “Likes.” I saw it on a few of my friends feeds, and it got me wondering if indeed the sentiment was true. Let’s think about it for a second:

The quote is: “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in High School to teaching remedial English in college.” The quote is from a fellow named Joseph Sobran, a well known anti-Semitic conservative columnist who passed away in 2010. I suspect most people that pass these memes on have no idea who the person that made the quotes they agree with were like. They just like the quote and pass it on. No deep thought involved or needed to click “Send” or “Share.” The accompanying picture shows a kid wearing a Dunce hat sitting next to a computer, IMPLYING that computers make you a dunce.

These types of things show up almost on a weekly basis on the internet. Most of us have also seen the meme about the 8th grade test from 1895 or something, that most people today could not pass:

Such questions ask how many rods in an acre, and of course the scientifically inaccurate question asking students to explain why the Atlantic Coast is cooler than the Pacific Coast at a similar latitude (hmm..it isn’t actually, the water temperature is actually cooler on the US Pacific coast due to the way the ocean currents rotate..but I digress. Perhaps that is a trick question.)

The point of both of these memes is to demonstrate how poorly educated students today are compared to their counterparts 100 or so years ago. (I find it highly amusing that the people that are clicking “Like” probably could not pass that test, so what does that say about them?) By God, we are not teaching the Major Epochs in US History anymore! Dammit, my kids don’t know all the Republics of Europe! It is the Common Core’s fault! (Here is a list of them by the way. How many did you know?)

Of course those people that think kids today are just stupid, and that education is far inferior today than it was 100 years ago are totally wrong. Here is why:

Beginning with the Sobran quote, Latin and Greek, for the most part were taught in Prep schools, not your basic one room school house. For proof, look at the 1895 Kansas test and see how many questions ask about Greek or Latin? There are none. Frankly, Greek and Latin were part of a Rich White Male’s college prep education. The vast majority of students in school at the time, if they were even lucky enough to be in school because it was not mandatory, never took Latin, never took Greek, and almost certainly never took both together. If your Daddy was the owner of Standard Oil or your last name was Rockefeller, then you learned Latin and Greek. If your daddy was a dirt farmer, then you probably didn’t go to school at all.

As for remedial English college courses, there is some thought today that these courses are merely cash cows for cash-strapped universities and community colleges that are looking for any way possible to get students to pony up extra dough. Studies are now showing that remedial courses in post secondary schools are not needed in many cases, but still are offered or mandated. Many students in them do not need to be there, so for Sobran to say that remedial courses are bad is really saying that the system to get students enrolled in them is bad, not that the students or their education is lacking.

The people that make these memes are also ignoring basic US history. After WWII, there was a great number of returning vets that all of a sudden were placed back into the education system. Were they there to learn Latin and Greek? Of course not, They came back and wanted an education that would get them a job. As you can easily see from the graph below, the number of post secondary degrees awarded by accredited schools in the US has shot through the roof since the end of the Second World War. Latin and Greek were dropped out of most curricula because they were not needed to understand the jobs being offered, just as today. How many of you have had to pass a Greek test in order to get a job? Latin?

What the folks that decry how poorly our students are prepared ( do we really need to know such trivia as the feminine of Ox or the major rivers of South America?) rarely if ever turn the tables and ask if a student in 1895 Salina Kansas could pass a 2014 Eighth Grade standardized test? Consider the following question, taken off a pretty typical standardized science test:

How do you think those Kansas farm boys in 1895 would be up to answering that question? Probably not. The point is, tests are written for the times that the tests take place, not for 100 years after they were written. The other point is that education is designed to meet the needs of the CURRENT society, not the needs of society 10 decades past.

On a side note, the next time you come across the Kansas Test, you might want to point out that the Kansas Test was probably NOT an 8th grade test but rather a test for someone applying for a job TEACHING in Salina Kansas. There is nothing on the original document that says “Eighth Grade Test” and in fact there are questions about tax rates and school funding, knowledge probably even a 19th century farm kid in 8th grade didn’t need to know, then or now.

Now, if you REALLY want to know the state of education in the US from an historical perspective, you need to read Diane Ravitch’s book The Death and Life of the Great American School System.
Of course, it will take you a little more time than simply hitting the “Share” key on Facebook to actually learn the history of education.

Teaching that Sticks from the Heath Brothers

Oldie but goodie. Here is a link to the famous “Teaching that Sticks” resource created by the Heath Brothers of “Made to Stick” fame.

Educator as a Design Thinker

Some good resources for this topic here:

Ideo. (n.d.).  Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit – 

Pfau, P. (2014).  Rethinking Education with Design Thinking – http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/February-2014/Rethinking-Education-with-Design-Thinking/.

Speicher, S. (2013).  Design Thinking in Schools: An Emerging Movement Building Creative Confidence in our Youth -  http://gettingsmart.com/2013/11/design-thinking-schools-emerging-movement-building-creative-confidence-youth/

Teachthought. (2013). 45 Design Thinking Resources For Educators http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/45-design-thinking-resources-for-educators/.

Educator as a Design Thinker

Some good resources for this topic here:

Ideo. (n.d.). Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit –

Pfau, P. (2014). Rethinking Education with Design Thinking – http://www.metropolismag.com/Point-of-View/February-2014/Rethinking-Education-with-Design-Thinking/.

Speicher, S. (2013). Design Thinking in Schools: An Emerging Movement Building Creative Confidence in our Youth - http://gettingsmart.com/2013/11/design-thinking-schools-emerging-movement-building-creative-confidence-youth/

Teachthought. (2013). 45 Design Thinking Resources For Educators http://www.teachthought.com/teaching/45-design-thinking-resources-for-educators/.

This French tech school has no teachers, no books, no tuition — and it could change everything

How much credit do we give to intrinsic motivation? Daniel Pink’s “Drive" was all about the internal motivators that produce great work, and not surprisingly, very little of it had to do with money.

This article seems to back up the research that says students can be extremely self motivated when their passions are ignited.

From the article:
“The basic idea of École 42 is to throw all the students — 800 to 1,000 per year — into a single building in the heart of Paris, give them Macs with big Cinema displays, and throw increasingly difficult programming challenges at them. The students are given little direction about how to solve the problems, so they have to turn to each other — and to the Internet — to figure out the solutions.”

How would a public school function of that were the model we used?

"The upshot: If it works, the school’s course of education will produce coders who are incredibly self-motivated, well-rounded in all aspects of software engineering, and willing to work hard. (The four-week tryout alone, with its 100-hour weeks, blows away the French government’s official 35-hour-work week.)"

"The no-teachers approach makes sense, as nearly anything you need to know about programming can now be found, for free, on the Internet. Motivated people can easily teach themselves any language they need to know in a few months of intensive work. But motivation is what’s hard to come by, and to sustain — ask anyone who has tried out Codecademy but not stuck with it. That has prompted the creation of “learn to code” bootcamps and schools around the world. École 42 takes a similar inspiration but allows the students to generate their own enthusiasm via collaborative (and somewhat competitive) teamwork."

Agree with this technique or not, it is an interesting experiment that should be watched.

Training Chefs or Training Cooks: Thoughts on Professional Development

What is the difference between a cook and a chef? The dictionary defines a cook as “a person who prepares and cooks food, especially as a job or in a specified way.” A chef on the other hand, is someone that is “the chief cook, especially in a restaurant or hotel, usually responsible for planning menus, ordering foodstuffs, overseeing food preparation, and supervising the kitchen staff.” When I think of a chef I think of someone like this:

I see a chef as someone that understands how the flavors of food interact. How an entire meal, each part of it, from the beginning to end, becomes an experience. Which wine goes with which food, how flavors mingle. Someone who is paid to think of an entire menu from appetizer to dessert.

When I think of chefs I think of words like creativity, unique, inventive.

When I think of cooks, I think more of a technician, someone who puts together food that someone else has already figured out. Think of a cook at a place like Applebee’s or Denny’s: They don’t create new foods, they simply put together the food in order that someone else, a chef, at some corporate headquarters put together.

When I think of a cook, I think of someone like this:

When I think of a cook, I think of words like mechanical, automatic, robotic.

I was thinking about the differences between a chef and cook the other day when we were in a meeting discussing professional development for teachers. The discussion focused on what would make our district’s professional development more meaningful. Should it be more focused? Should it be more in depth? Should we follow the guidelines of the Learning Forward , an organization I have spoken of in previous entries.

Maybe I was hungry. Maybe my blood sugar was low. But I couldn’t help think that no matter how good the professional development is, if we are not making educational chefs out of our teachers, if we are just asking them to be educational cooks, then no amount or quality of inservice is going to be worthwhile.

Professional development has to be structured n such a way that educators at all levels begin to be chefs: innovative, inventive, creative, unique. Teach the teachers to be that way, and you will get students that are that way.

If our expectation is that teachers will merely be technicians of teaching that they are mechanical, automatic, robotic then we will get mechanical, automatic, robotic students, something that is totally out of synch now with what we want from our 21st Century learners.

EdSurge recent reported on “How Teachers are Learning: Professional Development Remix. That report, which highlighted several important new PD tools that are available right now from free to paid is a nice summary of there PD learning cycle which includes:

Engaging: “These tools enable teachers to join groups, ask questions and share resources. Most tools that allow educators to engage also include a “Learn” component, such as webinars, online courses, and modules.”

Learning: “These are content-rich tools presented in a variety of ways including online courses, webinars or self-paced modules. Some of these tools also provide “Support” capabilities that help teachers implement skills and ideas.”

Supporting: “These tools help educators connect and share their practice with experienced mentors for feedback and coaching. Some tools in the “Support” category allow teachers to also “Engage” with their peers, as well as to “Measure” their learning.”

Measuring: “These tools are usually associated with some form of collecting data on a teacher’s practice. They provide some way to measure a teacher’s growth or progress in adopting new practices or acquiring new skills.”

Unfortunately, nowhere in that nicely done report do the authors look at whether or not the product teaches creativity, self thought, independent exploration, all the things needed to make a cook a chef.

Even the literature overlooks what I think is the obvious: To make PD effective, you have to make the learner a learner.

The 2010 Department of Education’s National Ed Tech Plan listed the top seven attributes of effective PD:

  1. Relate to teachers’ content areas;
  2. Be collaborative;
  3. Be consistent with technology goals in the district;
  4. Allow for active engagement with content;
  5. Be tailored to different levels of teachers’ knowledge, skill, and interest;
  6. Be sustained;
  7. Include follow-up activities.

I suppose one could make the case that creativity could be squeezed into any of those seven, but lets face it: In a time crunch, no one is looking for creativity in PD.

So I want to throw down a challenge to all the professional development organizations and all the professional developers out there doing work this summer: Ask yourselves these questions before you present your PD:

  • Do teachers have the ability to create something in this PD that is not canned?
  • Can educators make the connection between the PD and what they teach? If so, how can they demonstrate that connection to you?
  • Can your PD be connected to other PD that they have received, ESPECIALLY if it was not done by you? Are they able to make connections?
  • Are the teachers in your sessions free to question you? Are you willing to take criticism?

Paula Scher once said “We can pick our teachers and we can pick our friends and we can pick the books we read and the music we listen to and the movies we see, etcetera. You are a mashup of what you let into your life.”

Teachers, in the classroom, are a mashup of all the PD and training they have received over the years. If we ignore the creative side, if we do not allow them to be creative during PD, then we squander a great opportunity for them to mash creativity into their lessons with there students. If we do not allow them to be chefs in our PD, they won’t allow their students to be chefs either. And we will continue to make generation and generation of cooks.

Jun 8

8 Myths That Undermine Educational Effectiveness from Edutopia

Nice read. Perhaps it is time for a “Mythbusters” episode devoted to education.

Click on the title to go to the article.
Here are the 8:
Myth #1: Teachers are the Most Important Influence on a Child’s Education
Myth #2: Homework Boosts Achievement
Myth #3: Class Size Does Not Matter
Myth #4: A Successful Program Works Everywhere
Myth #5: Zero-Tolerance Policies are Making Schools Safer
Myth #6: Money Doesn’t Matter
Myth #7: College Admissions are Based on Academic Achievement and Test Scores
Myth #8: Merit Pay for Teachers Improves Student Performance

Jun 4

Using Readability Websites to Improve Student Writing

We all have seen those websites that score different readability levels of written passages. Readability_Score.com is one such site. They work like this:

You copy some text, paste it into the box, and a readability score will come up. Lexile levels, grade levels, and text statistics like word counts all come up almost immediately. A great way for bloggers and authors to see if they are writing on level.

For instance, here is a short passage from a recent blog entry:

“To be brutally honest, I am becoming quite frustrated with the tone being giving to trainers especially from those who have been in the classroom for more than five years….. I sincerely believe that if you understood the requirements of our jobs, which includes training teachers and making sure that mandates that we have no control over are understood and carried out, please step back and rethink before you tell a us “this won’t work.” I won’t go on and on about how much the requirements for training have changed — but OHMIGOSH it has. And I am exhausted. I love sharing new ideas with you — I truly believe that I have something good to share with you — but the immediate dismissal and the utter lack of open mindedness needs to diminish. You tune me out before you even allow me to utter a single word.For those of you who are being kind, who walk along side trainers and encourage, share suggestions, nudge when necessary, and continue to reinforce all to do their best. THANK YOU. For those of you who are haughty, judgmental, condescending, and unkind….I still have to train you. It is my job. But just like a student who won’t listen, you make my job more difficult and like any human, I get irritated. Training adults when I was educated to train children may be the HARDEST thing I have ever done…..I almost gave up 4 or 5 times this year…..it was the kind comments, the encouraging comments, the helpful comments that kept me going. THANK YOU.”

When I entered this passage in Readability_Score.com here is what I found out about that passage:

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 7.5
Gunning-Fog Score 10.3
Coleman-Liau Index 9.6
SMOG Index 7.4
Automated Readability Index 7.2
Average Grade Level 8.4

That passage was written on an 8th grade level. Okay, I am not proud.

Suppose I wanted to improve that writing. What if that passage was an assignment, and the teacher gave it back to me and said “Tim, nice 8th grade work there. How about writing it for a 10th grade class?”

Immediately the student, me, is forced to step up my game. I have to rewrite it for a more educated audience. I have to tighten it up, use more sophisticated words and sentence structures. After rewriting the passage, it looked like this:

“Honestly, I have become frustrated with how professional developers are being treated, especially from educators who have been teaching for more than five years. I think that if educators understood the mandated training which we have no control over they might rethink any kind of emotional outburst, such as “this wont work.”

The needs and the issues surrounding training have changed in multiple ways over the years. It is exhausting to think about and I am exhausted.

I enjoy sharing new ideas with educators and I truly believe that I have something worthwhile to share, but the immediate dismissals and the utter lack of open mindedness needs to end. Teachers tune me out before they even allow me to utter a single word.

However, for those of you who are kind and who walk along side us trainers all the while encouraging, sharing suggestions, nudging when necessary, and continuing to reinforce all to do their best I say “Thank You.” For those of you who continue to be haughty, judgmental, condescending, and unkind, please keep in mind that I still have to train you. Training is my job. But if you are going to act just like a student who won’t listen, you make my job more difficult. Like any human, I will get irritated.

Training adults when I was educated to train children may be the HARDEST thing I have ever done and I almost gave up 4 or 5 times this year. Thankfully, it was the kind comments, the encouraging comments, the helpful comments that kept me going.”

This time, the score was:

Readability Formula Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level 9.3
Gunning-Fog Score 12.1
Coleman-Liau Index 10.9
SMOG Index 8.7
Automated Readability Index 9.3
Average Grade Level 10.1

I moved up to 10th grade!

Can you see how this can be used by a teacher to improve writing? Teachers can put in writing limits as well as readability scores:
For this assignment, the word count can be no more than XXXX words.
The sentence length can be more than 15 words per sentence average.

And this technique works at any grade level. Imagine telling your 3rd graders you want them writing on a 5th grade level! How jazzed would they be? How hard would they write to become “fifth graders?”

We always want students to be reading at or above grade level. Why not have that same expectation for writing?

So try it out. And just for grins, want to know the grade level of this blog entry? Copy and paste it into Readability to find out for yourself.

Here is a nice summary of what Readability websites score, and a listing of other score sites.

3 Questions, 3 Answers. How would you answer?

Sometimes it is good to remind yourself why you do what you do. Yesterday, as part of a strategic planning session in my district with Tom Vander Ark, I was asked to answer three questions about some of the core values I have as an educator. The questions were:

How would you describe good instruction?
What does good teaching look like?
What does a powerful learning environment look like?

I thought I would share the answers I gave.
How would you answer? Do you agree with me, or would you answer another way?

How would you describe good instruction?

The student deeply understands what is taught.

What I mean by that is for many, the goal of instruction is to get students to understand a topic to some specific point: a test, a quiz, a play, a musical performance. Once that “point” is over, the instruction need not be worried about. I think that good instruction stays with a student long after the point is passed, the test is given, the performance completed.

Even though students vary, good instruction stays with them. That is why I am always irritated when I ask a student “What did you learn today?” and they shrug their shoulders and say “Nothing.” I often wondered if that statement, at least sometimes, was actually accurate.

What does good teaching look like?

Good teaching attacks the student’s entire brain and sets neurons firing all over the place.

There is not a single “good teaching” model. This is like asking the question “What does a good car or a good meal look like?” Because students vary in need and capability, good teaching should as well.

There are however, commonalities between various good teaching models:

Good teaching should make an emotional connection with students, since neurons fire when there is attachment to what is taught.

Good teaching is relevant to the student’s life, it makes connections between the theory and the practice.

Good teaching is engaging, keeping attention. You engage, then you make the emotional connection.

Good teaching is personalized to meet the needs of the student. The teacher adapts to the student’s way of learning not the student adapting to the teacher’s way of teaching.

Good teaching, like a good story, makes the student want to come back for more. They want to come to class to see what is next. They want to see what trick the teacher has up his or her sleeve today.

That is why I have always likes the methodology of the Problem Based Learning and it’s sibling Challenge Based Learning. (Not to be confused with Project Based Learning, which I think is too contrived and the students know the outcome of the learning before they begin.) Problem Based Learning makes the emotional attachment to learning that the other methods do not. I wrote more about it here:

I once wrote an article based on something Marco Torres said: “Teach them all like they are going to be president someday.” That kind of sums up what good teaching, or at least a good teacher, should look like.

What does a powerful learning environment look like?

A powerful learning environment, just like the question above, varies. A band room learning environment looks different than a science lab, which looks different that a social studies classroom. But much like what does good teaching look like, there probably are commonalities:

Students are at the center of the learning, not the teacher.
Students should have ready access to the tools they need.
Teachers should be well versed in their subjects.

Students are comfortable and safe and inviting.

That last point to me is very important. I have become, over the years, friends with a fellow named Prakash Nair, who is an architect and futurist. He designs award winning learning environments all over the world. His ideas of what a learning environment is, I think, right on target: Comfortable, Cheerful, Personalized, Small Groups, and Quiet (but not in a library way). Unfortunately many districts think that this type of environment is too expensive, so they do not try to replicate it. We are stuck with the hospital/prison/school/what’s the difference model of buildings.

It is funny you ask about learning environments, because I just wrote an article that was published this month here:

Of course, any classroom, no matter the school, can become a powerful learning environment. You do not have to be working in a new, award winning architectural masterpiece to have a powerful learning environment. You do need access to the right tools, you do need to be able to reconfigure the room as needed ( Peter C. Lippman wrote an article for me here describing his work in Australia on one such project: http://holtthink.tumblr.com/post/81450368976 ) and you need to have an attitude that the environment is a learning space at all times.

Analyzing 10 iPad Myths in Education

Click on the title to go to the article

Should out to Carl Hooker for pointing this out.

Here are more iPad Articles from my blog.

Book for your PLC: 180 Questions

For every educator that is part of a Professional Learning Community, there comes a time when the conversation about ‘learning about learning” slows down or even stops. This book is designed to get the conversation going again by providing daily “conversation starters” for PLCs no matter the grade level, the subject area, or the type of school. Tim Holt has created a daily reflection for each day of a typical school year that challenges educators to start really thinking about teaching and learning on their campuses.

Calling on the talents of those that are part of his Professional Learning Community, such as Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach, Will Richardson, Kevin Honeycutt, Prakash Nair and more, Tim Holt assembles not only a series of questions but though provoking follow ups that carry the user far beyond just a quick answer and leave type exercise. Kevin Honeycutt says “Tim Holt is the kind of technology thinker who cuts through the fog like a laser beam. He gets right to what good can come from the invention, innovation or practice. Tim’s sense of humor and willingness to ask the bigger, harder questions give him a unique and useful voice in the field of educational technology. In this book Tim assembles nuggets of useable, inspirational insights and lets them unfold daily for busy practitioners. As you unveil these moments of wisdom daily and allow them to feed your imagination you’ll connect with other minds in other places who are working alongside you in the “eduverse.”

Join Tim as he seeks to inspire young minds, unleash learning potential and ultimately make our world a better place through the fertile, well developed imaginations of children.” Some of the 180 Questions seem easy, some are more provocative, and some are humorous. All however, are designed to get the conversation in PLCs back to the subject of education. Each question is followed up something that allows the reader to delve more deeply into the topic, be it a web link, an essay, a video, or even a quiz.

Teachers and administrators alike will benefit from asking themselves and their PLCs these 180 Questions.

10 in 10 top ten free reading sites for teachers, parents and students. From the series 10 in 10 from the EPISD.

10 in 10 episode on the top trends in Education Technology! How many of these are happening in your classroom? What is holding you back?

Future Schools - Education Next

We see all of these headed our way. Which ones will win? I see good and bad in all of these models. —TBH

From the article:

Blended schooling is dawning at a time when, as recent public opinion polls show, people are open to online learning. According to the 2010 EdNext-PEPG Survey (“Meeting of the Minds,” features, Winter 2011), support for online coursework jumped 8 to 10 percent in a single year. Yet as much as anything, the blended effort is being driven by a new fiscal reality. In a widely regarded speech at the American Enterprise Institute called “The New Normal: Doing More with Less,” education secretary Arne Duncan noted that a loss of housing valuation meant that education funds are down sharply and aren’t coming back anytime soon. In the spirit of never wasting a crisis, he said he hoped the difficult financial straits would help bring an end to “the factory model of education” and an increase in productivity in schools. He said, “Our schools must prepare all students for college and careers—and do far more to personalize instruction and employ the smart use of technology.”

Is the blended school the model he’s looking for? Tom Vander Ark, a former head of education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and now a partner in a private equity fund focused on education innovation, thinks so. In the past, technology actually made schooling more expensive, as computers were layered onto an existing model without adding any efficiency. Technology-driven productivity, he says, stands to change that. “We can make learning far more productive,” says Vander Ark. “It’s the first chance in history to change the curve.”

Click on title to go to article

War on iPads® Continues: Students can't speak because of Technology

The War on iPads® continues with another in a long line of articles that blame technology for failures by adults to do their jobs. In this case, a teacher laments that her students cannot carry on a conversation. Of course, she blames technology, and not the YEARS OF SCHOOL that these students had prior to getting to her class.

So lets recap all the bad things that education technology is responsible for:

Students cannot carry on a conversation (click on article)
Students cannot read.
Students do not pay attention in lectures.
Students do not read for fun.
Students cannot pay attention.

The list is expanding daily. Of course, I find it interesting that these same people that complain about technology use technology to spread the word that technology is bad.

Click on the title to go to the article of you dare…