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Program Or Be Programmed

Computer-Programming4

I was given a great book for Christmas called ‘Program Or Be Programmed’ by Douglas Rushkoff. It turned out to be one of those books you can’t put down and then feel the need to go back to again and again. In it he gives us ten commands for the digital age. Ten commands that I feel most of us will ignore, but will do so at our peril. In the book’s introduction he says,

… as we move into an increasingly digital reality, we must learn not just how to use programs but how to make them. In the emerging, highly programmed landscape ahead, you will either create the software or you will be the software. It’s really that simple: Program, or be programmed.

He goes on to suggest that the very technology that we are coming to rely upon more and more is shaping our world and is doing so without our explicit cooperation.

… as such technologies come to characterise the future of the way we live and work, the people programming them take an increasingly important role in shaping our world and how it works.

We are bombarded with software and apps designed to make life easier for us, to lessen our stress levels. One of the ten commands that Douglas Rushkoff speaks of is ‘Time’ and he says we should learn not to ‘always be on’.

Instead of becoming empowered and aware, we become frazzled and exhausted. We have no time to make considered responses, feeling instead obligated to reply to every incoming message on impulse. We reduce the length and complexity of our responses from paragraphs to sentences to txts, making almost everything we transmit sound like orders barked over a walkie-talkie in a war zone. Everything must happen right way, or better, now. There is no later.

In our schools we need to think not only about the ever-growing need to make better use of the technology that is now available but also how we use it. At  present we teach children how to use software and apps in the belief that this will equip them for the modern workplace.

Instead of teaching programming, most schools with computer literacy curriculums teach program.  When a kid is taught a piece of software as a subject, she’ll tend to think of it like any other thing she has to learn. Success means learning how to behave in the way the program needs her to.

How do we create more programmers in our schools?

What Are We Doing With All These Devices?

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Apparently on Christmas Day there were more than 17.4 new iOS and Android devices activated. On Christmas Day 2011 there were 6.8 million device applications. At the same time there were 328 million app downloads on Christmas Day. This information is taken from the ‘Flurry Blog’ who reckon that:

Looking forward to 2013, Flurry expects the trend of one billion download weeks to become the norm, and that the industry will surpass the two billion download week during the latter part of the year.

I wonder how many of these devices Santa delivered to our children? Many of the children in our schools will have access to sophisticated technology while at home but not at school. Who will be teaching them how to use this technology to get the most from them? Who will be advising them on the best apps to enhance their learning?

“We are not going to build better learning for our children; we are going to build it with our children.”  Stephen Heppell

Batman Or School?

My 5-year-old nephew was visiting us today, first day of the half term break. He was keen to tell me about his new game for his Wii – Lego Batman. He was extremely pleased with himself because he had got to Level 5 but was having difficulty getting to Level 6. He then gave me a detailed and animated account of the game so far and more importantly what he thought he needed to do next to get to the next level (something to do with battle shields, I think!)

His resilience shone through as he catalogued what he had failed to do so far and what he intended to do next to overcome these failures. His problem solving skills were evident as he explained, in minute detail, what he thought he needed to do to get these battle shields and how he had come to this conclusion. His language skills were great as he recounted the adventure so far. He was obviously learning a great deal and having tremendous fun.

I then felt sorry for him, though I didn’t say so. Next Monday he goes back to school. Will he have this much fun – I doubt it. He certainly wont be problem solving at anywhere near this level nor being asked to recount such a complicated story. Those developing resilience skills will not be challenged to anywhere near the same level. His learning will ‘power down’ until he gets home again.

Marc Prensky in his book, ‘Don’t Bother Me Mom – I’m Learning’ says,

……it’s obvious that we are in the midst of a huge period of invention and innovation. Not so much by us, the Digital Immigrants, but by the Digital Natives for themselves. Our kids have recognised in this new digital technology an incredibly powerful tool, and they are making the most of it, using it in ways we can’t even imagine. So why not let them reinvent school?

Now, is that a frightening thought or an exciting one?

You Never Know Who You Are Going To Meet On Twitter

Through the mystery of Twitter I engaged in an interesting conversation with Daniel Edwards aka @syded06, who asked the question, “Why do educators sometimes seem at odds with colleagues when they all want the same thing – the best for their students?” This was to no one in particular but I responded.

As a consequence of our short twitter chat Daniel pointed me in the direction of a blog written by John Tomsett, a Headteacher in York, which is well worth reading. You might also want to follow him on Twitter at  @johntomsett. 

I, in turn, pointed Daniel to a book that inspired me as a Headteacher. It’s called,  ‘The Big Picture – Education Is Everyone’s Business’ by Dennis Littky. Early on in the book he talks about the ‘Real Goals of Education’ - these describe how he would like his students to be once they have left his school. He wants them to:

  • be lifelong learners
  • be passionate
  • be ready to take risks
  • be able to problem-solve and think critically
  • be able to look at things differently
  • to be able to work independently and with others
  • be creative
  • care and want to give back to their community
  • persevere
  • have integrity and self-respect
  • have moral courage
  • be able to use the world around them well
  • speak well, write well, read well and work well with numbers
  • truly enjoy their life and their work

A great list – but how many of these worthwhile attributes can we measure in a standardised test? Thankfully very few. How many of them would we, as educators and  parents  want our children to acquire? Hopefully all of them.

What are your ‘real’ educational goals?

 

An iPod Touch For Every Child or Every Teacher?

When the new school year started a few weeks ago many children in our primary schools were given a new pen, a pencil, a ruler and an assortment of exercise books. All of these deemed to be the essential tools the children would need for the coming years learning journey. How many, I wonder, were also given an iPod Touch? Or even given an iPod Touch instead of  the pen, ruler and exercise books? When I started primary school in 1955 pen and paper were the tools of the day. Is this still the case today? Are they the tools we adults use in our daily lives and jobs?

So why not give each class of youngsters an iPod Touch. ‘Hang on a minute’, is the cry I can hear coming from many teachers, ‘That’s easier said than done. Have you thought about the cost and then there’s the problem of them getting broken and what about ……’ and so the excuses begin to tumble out. One problem, though rarely mentioned, is the fact that these devices scare so many of our teachers. They don’t know what to do with them and what’s worse they know the children probably do!

So, instead of giving all the children an iPod Touch, why don’t we start by giving all of our teachers one? Let them discover for themselves the power of this learning tool and the myriad of apps that go with it. Give them time to play and learn. They can then share their issues, their successes, their discoveries safely with one another. Then, when they are ready, start to involve the children. Teachers are, after all, learners as well and this learning tool will help them on their own learning journey.

There are a number of teachers and schools, across the whorl, taking this bold step. Have a look at Tony Vincent’s great list of ‘Dos’ & ‘Don’ts’ with regard to classroom sets of iPod Touches. Much of this advice would work well for a staff set of these devices. A great blog called, ‘I Teach Therefore I Pod’ by a teacher called Harry Walker is well worth looking at. Or you might want to look at an online community of teachers/schools using iPod Touches in which case visit, ‘The iPod Touch Classroom’.  If you have now decided you fancy having a go with an iPod Touch here are some educational apps to get you going.

Meetings Are Toxic

I have just read an interesting book called ‘Rework’ by Jason Fried & David Heinemeir Hansson. The contents page itself makes interesting reading with chapter headings like :

‘Ignore the real world’
‘Learning from mistakes is overrated’
‘Planning is guessing’
‘No time is no excuse’;
‘Meeting are toxic’

While I might not agree with everything they say, they certainly challenge your thinking and what we might consider the ‘status quo’.

Under ‘Meetings are toxic’ the question really is why do we have them and more importantly why do you go to so many? As a Head I went to many meetings lasting many hours – how productively was I spending my time? I wasn’t. They are not saying that all meetings are a waste of time, but that you have got to choose wisely & make sure that the meetings you go to have a clear purpose. They talk about meetings being the worst interruption of all and here’s why:

They’re usually about words & abstract concepts not real things.

They usually convey an abysmally small amount of information per minute.

They easily drift off subject.

They require thorough preparation that most people don’t have time for.

They frequently have agendas that are so vague that nobody is really sure of the goal.

Meetings procreate. One meeting leads to another, which leads to another, which  leads to …….

Are you planning to go to any meetings like this?  Maybe it’s time to question the meetings you go to, or the ones you call & lead. What interruptions have you got planned for this week!

Where Do Good Ideas Come From?

Where do our good ideas come from? We are often led to believe that many of the great ideas of the past have come as flashes of inspiration. We can picture  Archimedes leaping from his bath shouting ‘Eureka’ when he realised that objects displace water and Sir Isaac Newton sitting under a tree  watching apples fall and coming up with his ideas about gravitation.

Steven Johnson in his book, ‘Where Good Ideas Come From’ suggests that breakthrough ideas rarely come from flashes of inspiration. Instead, he argues, good ideas come about through a collision of smaller hunches.

Ideas need time to incubate. Hunches need to collide, often it needs a hunch in one person’s mind to collide with another hunch in someone else’s mind. How can you create systems that allow those hunches to come together? So that they become something bigger than the sum of their parts.

 

He argues that in the past coffee houses were such places where people met, talked and shared ideas and ‘hunches. The same is not true of today. While we do have a growing coffee-house culture it is one that is often inhabited by people on their own, either reading, writing or surfing the Internet. Don’t get me wrong, as someone who does just this on a regular basis, there is nothing wrong with it! In fact the coffee shop is an ideal place for writers and thinkers, a place where they can relax and dream. But what do you then do with those dreams?

Recently I was lucky enough to sit with Steve from Footsqueek and a small group of primary Headteachers and listen to them share ideas, hunches about an app that could be used in school to collect evidence for school self-evaluation. It was fascinating watching different ideas collide into one another. In the end they came together and the QSI App was born.

We live in a much more highly connected world. Technology today allows us to share thoughts, ideas with anyone, anywhere in the world. This blog, for example, gives me the opportunity to potentially share my thoughts with the world. Tomorrow sees the launch of the new iPhone 5 and in October we see the new Amazon Kindle Fire being available in the UK. What will devices such as these do for the sharing of ideas?

If you want to create a space for innovation, you won’t get far by cloistering yourself away from the world and waiting for inspiration to hit you. Chance favours the connected mind.

How connected are you?

 

What Are ‘The Basics’ In Education?

survey of American companies concluded that the 4 C’s -

  • Critical thinking and problem solving
  • Creativity and innovation
  • Collaboration
  • Communication Skills

…… are as important as the more traditional 3R’s of reading, writing and arithmetic.

Once upon a time mastery of the 3R’s was enough to get you a job – but the world is changing.

Proficiency in reading, writing, and arithmetic has traditionally been the entry-level threshold to the job market, but the new workplace requires more from its employees. Employees need to think critically, solve problems, innovate, collaborate, and communicate more effectively—and at every level within an organization.

Yet we still want to test our children on reading, writing and maths only. What assessments are schools undertaking to measure the attainment of children in critical thinking & problem solving, creativity and innovation, collaboration, and communication skills?

According to the survey results, executives said these skills and competencies are priorities for employee development, talent management, and succession planning.  In addition, job applicants are assessed in these areas during the hiring process.

Thomas Friedman, in his book, ‘The World Is Flat’, gave the following advice to his daughters:

Girls, when I was growing up, my parents used to say to me, “Tom, finish your dinner – people in China and India are starving.” My advice to you is: “Girls, finish your homework – people in China and India are starving for your jobs.” And in a flat world, they can have them, because in a flat world there is no such thing as an American job. There is just a job, and in more cases than ever before it will go to the best, smartest, most productive, or cheapest worker – wherever he or she resides.

The world is changing. Accountants in India are preparing tax forms for citizens across the world, online. Radiologists in Asia read X-rays taken in North America. If educators are to prepare young people for this new world we must assume that they have some idea of what to prepare them for. I fear that this is not the case.

In the following video you can listen to what Sir Ken Robinson thinks. These are the highlights from his talk in March 2011 at Learning Without Frontiers – ‘Out Of Our Minds – Learning To Be Creative’

Only 15% Of Learning Happens In School

Here we are, half way through the Summer holiday, and it got me wondering just how much learning is happening now that schools are closed?
 
Did you know that only 15% of learning takes place in school. It makes you wonder where and how the other 85% is being achieved.
 
Anybody interested in education and I would argue, we should all be, would enjoy reading  John Holt. He was an American author and educator. In his book, ‘How Children Fail’, which was published in 1964, he suggested that the academic failure of children was not despite the efforts of the schools but actually because of the schools. 
 
As you can imagine, he upset a lot of people.
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I was struck by these words,

“…….. children are passionately eager to make as much sense as they can of the world around them. Children observe, wonder, find or make and then test  the answers to the questions they ask themselves. When they are not actually prevented from doing these things, they continue to do them and to get better and better at it.”

Does school ‘prevent’ them from doing these things? Will more valuable learning take place during August while children are away from the constraints of school? 
John Holt uses the metaphor of the assembly plant to describe schools, where rows of empty containers pass along the assembly line and the workers try to fill them with various amounts of substances – reading, writing, maths, history, etc. 

Upstairs, management decides when the containers should be put on the assembly line, how long they should be left on and what kinds of materials should be poured in and what should be done about those containers that have smaller openings or no openings at all. He goes on to say,

“No one seems to ask the obvious question. How come so many of the containers, having had these substances poured into them for so many years, are still going out of the factory empty? If students don’t know enough, we insist, it is because we don’t start pouring soon enough, or didn’t pour the right stuff or enough of it.”

 
Education is, I believe, at a crossroads. On the one hand we have politicians and educators who want to take us back to ‘the good old days’. They want to dictate exactly what should be ‘poured’ into children and want to start doing it an even earlier age. On the other hand you have the technological revolution that surrounds our daily lives and is having a profound impact on how we all learn. 
 
At the moment, many of our schools are not using the sophisticated, technological tools at their disposal to help our children make as much sense as they can of the world around them. Take a look at this video, see what the children of today think.

 
 
 
What do you think? We would welcome your thoughts.
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