Category Archives: technology

A Few Teachers Speak Out on Technology in Their Classrooms

I am fortunate to have many readers who are classroom teachers. I have published posts over the past year about my research on teachers identified as exemplary in integrating technology into their lessons. Some of those posts triggered responses from teachers. I offer a few of those comments here.

Louise Kowitch, retired social studies teacher from Connecticut:

….The impact of technology can vary greatly depending on the subject matter (among all the other things you’ve addressed). While some pedagogical practices are universal, when “doing the work of the discipline”, content-specific practices,and by extension the impact of technology, might vary widely.

I mention this to say that as someone who lived through the IT revolution in the classroom (from mimeographs, scantrons, and filmstrips to floppy disks and CD-ROM, and finally to smart boards, Skype and Chromebooks), by the time I reached three decades as a full time classroom teacher, I was spending MORE time on my lessons and interacting with students, than less. Some tasks were indeed more efficient (for example, obtaining and sharing maps, artifacts, art, primary sources). Others, like collecting data about student performance for our superintendent, became arduous, weekend long affairs that sucked the life out of the joy of teaching.

That said, I loved how Chromebooks and Smartboards freed up my instruction to empower students to do their own research and conduct substantive debates. For example, a simulation of the post WWI debates over the Treaty of Versailles from the perspectives of different countries – something I had done before Chromebooks – became a powerful lesson for students in the art of diplomacy, the value of historical perspective, and the grind of politics, as a result of THEIR OWN RESEARCH, not my selection of primary sources. This was MORE time consuming (2 weeks of instructional time, not 8 days) and LESS EFFICIENT, but MORE STUDENT CENTERED and COLLABORATIVE.

Was it “better” instruction? Yes, if the point was for kids to experience “the art of negotiation”. No, if it meant having to drop a four day mini unit on elections in the Weimar Republic that I used to do after the WWI unit. Something is lost, and something is gained. Like you, I grapple with it’s a zero sum game.

Garth Flint,  high school teacher of computer science and technology coordinator in Montana private school:

My question has always been what effect does the increase in classroom tech have on the students? Do they do better through out the years? How do we measure “better”? We have an AP History teacher who is very traditional. Kids listen to the lecture and copy the notes on the whiteboard.
About the only tech he uses are some minor YouTube videos. His AP test results are outstanding. Would any tech improve on those results? At the middle school we have a teacher who uses a Smartboard extensively. It has changed how he does his math lectures. But he is still lecturing. Has the Smartboard improved student learning? I do not know. I have observed teachers that have gone full tech. Google Docs, 1-1, videos of lectures on line, reversed classroom, paperless. Their prep time increased. Student results seemed (just from my observation, I did not measure anything) to be the same as a non-tech classroom. It would be interesting to have two classrooms of the same subject at the same grade level, one high tech, one old-school and feed those students into the same classroom the next year. Ask that next year teacher if there is a measurable difference between the groups.

 

Laura H. Chapman, retired  art teacher from Ohio:

“So answering the question of whether widespread student access and teacher use of technologies has “changed daily classroom practices” depends upon who is the asker, who is the doer, and what actually occurs in the classroom.”

Some other questions.
Who is asking questions about the extent of access and use of technology by students and teachers and why? Who is not asking such questions, and why not?

Is there a map of “daily classroom practices” for every subject and grade/or developmental level such that changes in these practices over time can be monitored with the same teachers in the same teaching assignments?

Are there unintended consequences of widespread student access and teacher use of technologies other than “changes in daily classroom practices?” Here I am thinking about the risky business of assuming that change is not only inevitable but also positive(e.g., invigorates teaching and learning, makes everything moe “efficient”).

Who is designing the algorithms, the apps, the dashboards, the protocols for accessing edtech resources, who is marketing these and mining the data from these technologies, and why? These questions bear on the direct costs and benefits of investments and indirect costs/benefits…. Continue reading

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Fads and Fireflies: The Difficulties of Sustaining Change

I have written a lot in the past 50 years about the history of classroom practice, uses of technology in lessons, policymaker decisions, and school reform that is faddish and permanent. From time to time I will look through my writings to see what I said then and what I think now. I find that common themes (not necessarily the same words) appear again and again over the decades.

In some respects that bothers me. Am I a Johnny One Note who says the same thing over and over again without questioning the one note? Even with the life and professional experiences I have had over the decades in and out of schools, do I still play the same strings on my harp? Yes and no.

The “yes” part is that themes that are woven into the articles and books I have written deal with abiding issues in the history of a politically vulnerable institution embedded in every community throughout the U.S.  Issues such as “good” teachers, “good” schools, how to improve lessons, get better principals and superintendents, and make the “system” better have tracked the history of American schooling for at least two centuries. Every generation, “reforms” arise to deal with those issues.

The “no” part is that the contexts for school reform change over decades and what is important at one time is often less important at another moment of reform. Yet if contexts shift, still many of the same reforms get recycled and appear again. Puzzling but accurate and, in my opinion, in need of explanation.

I try to deal with the “yes” and “no” of being a Johnny One Note in an interview I did 17 years ago with journalists at Educational Leadership about the history of school reform and other persistent issues that accompany efforts to improve U.S. schools.

This is what I said then. In looking at it in 2017, I stick by what I said in the interview that follows. A Johnny One Note?

John O’Neil of the journal Educational Leadership conducted this interview and it appeared in April 2000, v. 57(7), pp. 6-9

___________________________________________________________

 

Educator and historian Larry Cuban reflects on why reforms are proposed and what happens when they are brought to the complex laboratory of schools.

With a background that includes teaching and serving as a school superintendent, as well as training as a historian, Larry Cuban is uniquely positioned to analyze the past century’s many waves of school change. He is author of several books, among them Teachers and Machines and Tinkering Toward Utopia. He is coeditor, with Dorothy Shipps, of a new book due out this year, Reconstructing the Common Good in Education: Coping with Intractable Dilemmas.

In this interview with EL staff members John O’Neil, Holly Cutting Baker, Carol Tell, and Marge Scherer, Cuban returns to a central theme of his research: School reforms are a product of the cultural, political, and economic forces of their times. Although critics have charged that schools are too faddish, too prone to bend to the current “reform du jour,” Cuban’s view is that the implementation and sustainability of school reforms are heavily influenced by public deliberation and discourse. After all, “schools reflect what the public wants,” Cuban reminds us.

On the whole, do you think that schools are too resistant to change or too faddish?

Our society is faddish. Schools as one institution experience these fads. Think of the corporate sector, for example. Total quality management didn’t start in the schools, it started in corporations! Medicine, the fashion industry, the media—all are subject to these gusts of innovation.

People are highly critical of schools because they seemingly bend to every new fashion, but when we begin thinking about it, we could easily say that schools are one of the most democratic institutions we have. Schools reflect what the public wants.

In what ways?

Schools are extremely vulnerable to pressures from different constituencies. So if members of a school board or a cadre of parents say that schools ought to have tutors or a new writing program, school boards have a hard time saying no. This is so especially because there is often a lack of scientific evidence that shows that one kind of innovation is clearly superior to another.

When David Tyack and I wrote Tinkering Toward Utopia, 1   we used the metaphor of fireflies. We were speaking about the way that changes or reforms so frequently appear, shine brightly for a few moments, and then disappear again.

What innovations have the most staying power?

The innovations that have the best chance of sticking are those that have constituencies that grow around them. For example, when Title I funds were first appropriated in 1965 as part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, this program quickly got a lot of support from constituents, ranging from educators to parents to members of Congress. So Title I and many of the other titles of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act have stuck around, even though there has been controversy over whether Title I funds were being used effectively. Another example is the constituencies that have come together to support special education.

What else besides a constituency helps sustain a change in schools?

One of the biggest factors seems to be that the reform reflects some deep-rooted social concern for democracy, for equity, or for preparing students to lead fulfilling adult lives. Basically, schools reflect cultural, political, social, and economic changes in the larger society. The school is not an institution apart—if anything, schools tend not to be at the forefront of change in the society. They tend to reflect what the elites and coalitions of parents and taxpayers believe is important. Because of how the nation came about, there is an enormous stake in schooling as a way to improve the life chances of any child—we don’t depend on hereditary privileges being passed from generation to generation.

Can you give some examples of social changes that have promoted lasting changes in schools?

Take the example of kindergarten. The nation was industrializing rapidly, and urban living for families, particularly immigrant and poor ones, had become more difficult. Kindergartens were introduced to public schools in the 1870s; before that, there were private kindergartens that were mostly aimed at middle- and upper-income families in the Midwest and New England and other places. Public kindergartens were introduced as a way of “preserving” childhood before kids encountered the rigor of grammar school or high school, as well as of teaching parents how to live in the cities. And kindergarten slowly spread, so that by the 1960s, kindergarten was a mainstay.

This gradual growth came not only from the formation of constituencies but also from a general belief that the earlier a child learns in formal situations, the better chance that child will have at academic and financial success. Public schools have always been looked at as an escalator for social mobility, and parents have always wanted to give their children an edge. So this notion of an early start gradually became fixed, and no one today would think of banning kindergarten or preschool.

Another example is the growth of high schools, and the development of “comprehensive” high schools that provided different curricula for diverse students. Up to the turn of the century, schooling for most children ended after grade 8. But by World War I, the comprehensive high school had been introduced and enrollment expanded. Labor laws kept children in school longer—and out of the workforce, where they were competing with adults. The democratic belief that every child has a different employment future pushed school administrators to provide different curricula for different students. The high school was called comprehensive because it had a job future in mind for every kid coming to school and was seen as a very democratic institution because of the equality of economic opportunity that was presumed to be embedded in the different curriculua.

What characterizes reforms that don’t stick?

The reforms that have the least potential for sticking are those that try to bring about changes in teaching, primarily because those innovations are often proposed by policymakers and officials who know little about classrooms as work places.

A lot of people think that because they’ve been in schools, they understand teaching, but the true complexity of the classroom is not clear to them. So what happens is that non-educators often will propose teaching innovations, and they may be successful in getting new laws and policies approved, but these policies will not necessarily be implemented. Attempts to change teaching and learning have often had a very short-term or inconsequential effect.

In Tinkering Toward Utopia, we make a clear distinction between policy talk, which is the current rhetoric in the media; policy action, which means that programs or innovations are adopted; and policy implementation, which relates to what actually occurs in the classroom. It’s important not to confuse these very different levels, but that frequently happens.

An obvious example is what’s going on with the teaching of reading. People were led to believe that many classrooms were being taught through whole language because there was a lot of talk about it among educators and in journals and in the media. Actually, most classrooms were not teaching reading through whole language; most teachers were using combinations of phonics and whole language to begin with. The evidence about the takeover of reading instruction by whole-language enthusiasts was very slim, but it was a great talking point for public officials who wanted to make a major issue out of it. So there’s an important distinction between the policy talk and the policy implementation, and we shouldn’t forget that.

You’re working on a new book about school technology. What can you say about how technologies are being used in the average classroom?

Computers have become one of the tools teachers use, and many teachers have in their repertoire instructional strategies that use technologies. But I think that these will still be peripheral—I don’t see the evidence that they’ll affect the core practices of teaching.

Why not?

First, I reject the argument that’s been made that teachers are resistant or incompetent or lack expertise or are technophobes. In the research we’ve done, we’ve found that teachers and students are using computers—both groups that we interviewed said that they use computers at home all the time. That made us refocus our attention on what goes on in school to try to explain the infrequent and limited use of computers for instruction even in those schools where there are abundant technological resources.

What we see is that the structure of school—for example, in the high school, where you have grades organized by age and departments—works against a lot of the changes that have to be made for technology to be used in more imaginative and creative ways. So there are institutional kinds of concerns that have to be raised about the structures of elementary and secondary schools that I think come between teachers and their use of the technology.

Another reason we’ve found in our research that the technologies themselves have flaws. Time and time again, we found teachers scrambling to cope when the server was down, or the cascading effects of new software on two-year-old machines would cause the computers to metaphorically “blow up.” And schools can’t keep investing capital costs to purchase newer computers all the time. These are the realities facing teachers. You can’t expect a teacher to have a contingency lesson B when lesson A, which relies on using the computer, doesn’t work. That’s why teachers continue to use the textbook, the overhead projector, the chalk. They’re reliable. They’re flexible.

As you know, some analysts have said that to achieve true change in public education, we have to look to reforms that challenge the status quo of school governance. That’s one of the arguments made in support of vouchers or charter schools. What are your impressions of these as an impetus for change?

Well, changes in government do not automatically mean changes in teaching and learning. That’s often forgotten in the heat of slogans and bumper stickers about vouchers or charter schools.

To the degree that the schools can provide more choice within the public sector for parents and for children, I think that’s a plus. When I was a school superintendent in Arlington, Virginia, we encouraged more alternatives. And I believe in that. But vouchers, which call for using public funds for private uses, give me pause. The use of private funds or public funds for private purposes will ultimately decrease the amount of resources for public schools. And I think that’s unconscionable.

Basically, tax-supported public schools were set up in this country to build citizens, to help kids become literate, to strengthen their moral character, and, ultimately, to help them succeed in the workplace. So schools serve many essential social functions. They are institutions designed to promote democratic purposes and the common good. But the idea is that they are public. Vouchers assume a marketplace metaphor that suggests that every parent, every teacher, every school will compete to improve. Well, who’s going to be concerned about the public good? The advocates for marketplace competition and for breaking up the public monopoly forget that. Schools were set up to develop citizens who care for a community, who can contribute to that community. You don’t have that when you go to the local supermarket. You’re in there to get a product and get out.

Some surveys suggest that people have lost faith in public schools. What’s your view?

Schools are part of the larger national fabric of institutions. There has been a general erosion of faith in government institutions, period. So maybe there’s been some loss of faith, but I think that core faith that Americans have about education is still there. People believe deeply in the ability of schools to solve societal problems and to help children reach their potential. Think of that parent who wants her 2-year-old to get into a great preschool program that’s going to be the escalator to Harvard or Stanford. Think of the recent immigrants—the first thing they want is to have their kids enrolled in school. So I believe the core faith is there. It’s been rocked, but not shattered.

We’ve talked about the ways reforms have changed schools—what about the ways schools change reforms?

Schools, like other institutions, adapt most changes to reflect the unique environment. Think about kindergarten, where the change—as it first emerged—was to promote the emotional, intellectual, and social development of children through play and exploration. Well, kindergartens are now becoming boot camps for the 1st grade. This trend began, by the way, in the 1930s and 1940s, although it accelerated greatly in the 1960s and 1970s. Preschools have become more like kindergartens, and both now aim to get kids ready for that 1st grade.

Another example is what’s going on right now with social promotion and accountability. The “reform” was to hold kids accountable for meeting learning goals, and a lot of policymakers were adamant that social promotion needed to end. Students who didn’t get satisfactory scores on tests should be held back.

But when these proposals collide with the complex reality of teaching and learning, there are often counter-movements, and schools must adapt again. I read recently that three states are now moving to lower their cut-off score for holding children back or denying a diploma. This is consistent with what occurred during the last great wave of testing—the competency movement of the mid-1970s. As soon as it becomes apparent to middle-class parents that their kids are not going to be promoted, or will have to attend summer school, official positions of school boards start to crumble.

Again, does this mean that schools have failed to “reform”? My answer is that schools as democratic institutions are continually adapting to these external pressures and, in doing so, maintain old practices as they invent new ones.

Endnote

1   Tyack, D., & Cuban, L. (1995). Tinkering toward utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

 

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“Goodbye Teacher”: The Keller Plan of Personalized Learning (Part 1)

 

This is a course through which you may move from start to finish, at your own pace. You will not be held back by other students or forced to go ahead until you are ready. At best, you may meet all the course requirements in less than one semester; at worst, you may not complete the job within that time. How fast you go is up to you.
The work of this course will be divided into 30 units of content, which correspond roughly to a series of home-work assignments and laboratory exercises. These units will come in a definite numerical order, and you must show your mastery of each unit (by passing a “readiness” test or carrying out an experiment) before moving on to the next.
The above paragraphs come from a description of an Arizona State University introductory course in Psychology offered in the mid-1960s by Fred Keller, a behavioral psychologist trained in contingency reinforcement.

 

 

Keller laid out five essential features that a PSI course (see here and here) must have:

1. Mastery of course material,
2. The use of proctors,
3. Self-pacing,
4. Stress upon the written word,
5. Use of lectures and demonstrations primarily for motivational purposes, not for    transferring information.
Keller wanted very much to end the traditional ways of teaching courses in the university that depended on professors giving thrice-weekly lectures, asking students to absorb information from a textbook, and periodic blue-book tests. He felt that students would learn more content and skills if each student would move at his or her pace, master the content, demonstrate mastery through completing successfully an assessment and then moving on to the next topic in the semester course. Self-pacing, positive reinforcement through passing assessments (which if failed could be taken until passed), and individual help from course assistants was a far better way of teaching and learning in the university.
Within a decade, college and university professors across the nation had adopted Keller’s Personalized System of Instruction (PSI) as research studies showed time and again that students using PSI for college courses in psychology, physics, chemistry, and other courses outscored students taking the traditional course with lectures, discussion sections, and periodic tests on end-of-semester tests (see here and here).
The high-water mark for this instructional innovation hit in the early 1980s. By the 1990s, few college instructors had heard of PSI, much less used it. Then some interest in PSI emerged.
With access to increasingly affordable high-tech devices and software, advocates of “distance learning” or “e-learning” have looked closely at the components of PSI and seen much to admire and adapt to online courses (see here). Beyond that, however, familiar ways of teaching undergraduate introductory courses where students sit tapping away on their laptops in lecture amphitheaters two or three times a week, discussion sections meeting once a week, teacher assistants to answer student questions and guide discussions of the content and blue books remain the order of the day. Even amid the ubiquity of electronic devices on campuses, the regularities in teaching stemming from university structures insofar as scheduling lecture courses for undergraduates, offering few incentives for instructors to innovate, and spending seat time–three hours a week for course credit–persist.
Postmortems of the long-gone innovation called the Keller Plan or PSI have focused on the many incarnations of PSI that differed from what Keller had done at ASU  in the mid-1960s in how they adapted the plan and put it into practice, the amount of work that went into creating the study guides, questions, and assessments, and the lack of institutional incentives to use instructional innovations (see here and here). Innovations that appeared as shooting stars and eventually fell to earth is a familiar tale among not only in higher education but also in K-12.
Personalized learning in K-12 today

 

 

The behaviorist slant embedded in PSI as an individualized, self-pacing learning plan for students to master content and skills is part of the spectrum of various forms of personalization programs running from competency-based programs to ones where students make decisions on what and how they learn (see here). All of these various incarnations of personalized learning have been dubbed innovations and heralded near and far as they have popped up in K-12 schools in urban, suburban, and exurban districts across the nation over the past decade.

 

For those policymakers and practitioners who want at least reasonably strong evidence of success, however measured, to put “personalized learning” programs into classrooms, well, such evidence is as scarce as taxis on a rainy night. Which is why “personalized learning” is an instance of a zombie school reform, a topic I take up in Part 2 of this post.

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The School District and Technology Integration: The Path of the Butterfly or Bullet?

For the past year I have observed the integration of new technologies in classroom lessons, school programs, and districts. I have begun writing chapters for a book that will appear in 2018. From time to time I will publish posts here taken from the manuscript that I am writing. 

In Silicon Valley there are 77 school districts arrayed across five counties in the San Francisco Bay area. All have technology plans for their schools. These districts buy lots of hard- and software, wire schools with WiFi, provide classroom carts of laptops and tablets, offer teacher workshops on technology integration and then cross their fingers that teachers will use what the district has provided for daily lessons. Voluntary participation is the rule. Teacher choice of using devices and software means that great variation exists not only in every single school within a district but across each district heralded as embracing high-tech.[i]

Only two districts, however, have gone beyond having a plan, buying devices, building infrastructures and then crossing their fingers that teachers will use all of the available hardware and software in daily lessons. Only two districts have adopted policies that nudged all teachers in every school to use new technologies, blend learning, and create personalized lessons.  Only two districts have built a systematic infrastructure of broadband and WiFi, incorporated newly developed software, sponsored professional development, and provided technical assistance with the explicit expectation that all district teachers would go beyond considering use the new technologies in their daily lessons and actually incorporate the hardware and software into their 45 to 90-minute customary sequence of activities.

These two districts are Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District and Milpitas Unified District.

In the Mountain View-Los Altos district I profiled two of its schools and described 10 classroom lessons I observed in both schools. In Milpitas, a dozen miles away, two elementary school principals invited me to observe their primary and upper-grade classrooms. I did visit classrooms and interviewed principals and teachers at each school as well as district administrators.

Knowing that each level of schooling–classroom, school, and district–contains its unique complexities and knowing that districts are not command-and-control organizations, I used a tri-focal lens—classroom, school, and district. I sought to understand how implementing policies aimed at changing what classroom teachers do, altering how schools operate daily, and improving district performance is no easy walk in the park.

Describing the move from policy to practice illustrates the complexity of all the interacting factors that come into play when policymakers seek to see their decisions unfold in classrooms, schools, and districts.

Each of these three systems is nested in one another. Each level affects the other as teachers go about doing what is expected in classrooms, school staff wrestle with instruction and curriculum, and both individual teachers and school staffs connect to the district school board, superintendent, and administrators from which policies and resources flow downward. These three levels of schooling are Siamese triplets that are separate and interactive but cannot be severed.

There are so many moving parts in this loosely-coupled system called a district.  Because there is so much interaction and overlap in these nested communities, any hope of effective implementation depends not only on having money and staff but also continuity in student/teacher relationships, principal/staff cooperation, and school board/district administrators building and sustaining a culture of working together. Not an easy set of tasks to keep settings smoothly operating, especially since districts and schools are vulnerable to outside influences ranging state policies impinging on district actions, angry parents condemning a new curriculum, vendors lobbying administrators, civic and business leaders wanting quick improvements in student performance, and controversies over teaching evolution, language in textbooks, and other similar issues.

Furthermore, district and site administrators unendingly search for resources and support from groups inside and outside the system. Include also among the many moving parts, the ever-changing political interests that have their own ideas of what is a “good” teacher and what is a “good” school district.

The fact is that classrooms, schools, and districts are open systems with permeable boundaries that can be easily crossed by outside groups such as single issue advocates, state officials, national lobbies, etc. It is one fact that policymakers, researchers, and parents have to not only grasp but also show it in their decisions about access and use of new technologies in classroom lessons.

If educational decision-makers cannot let go their vision of command-and-control organizations and wrap their minds around open, loosely-coupled places established to help students (not customers), these top decision-makers will continue to flit here and there seeking school reform in brand new technologies yet be ever disappointed in the results.

District work is not for the faint-of-heart or those who fail to grasp that complexity across and within each of the three organizational levels. The path toward classroom, school, and district improvement is closer to zig-zags of a butterfly than a bullet fired at a target.

_______________________________________

[i] I have an expanded view of “Silicon Valley” which historically referred to the stretch of land between San Jose and San Francisco. But the label for the terrain in 2017 encompasses Santa Clara, San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties in the Bay area. Other researchers could include other counties. I chose these five. From these counties, I identified 77 school districts.

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The Analog and Digital Lives We Live

Did you know that new calendars, appointment books, and planners had increased sales of nearly 10 percent over 2014-2015 amounting to nearly a half-billion dollars?

Did you know that over a half-billion print books were sold in 2015, nearly four percent more than the previous year while e-book sales fell?

Did you know that the sale of vinyl records, board games, film photography and paper journals have increased annually over past few years?

The resurgence of analog products in the midst of a digital revolution in how we now live is a marker, an early sign of millions of people (and I include myself) figuring out what’s important in living a life fully in a world that has become increasingly digital.

Feeling the pages of a book, having a watch with numbers and a sweep second hand, playing Monopoly and chess on an actual board with others, taking family photos with an actual camera– while easy to dismiss as whiny nostalgia–are signs of many people figuring out pathways to a life that mixes the analog and digital.

The persistence of the analog also means that interacting with people at work, at Costco, in a hospital and home care, in churches, playgrounds, in bars and at home matters a great deal. Face-to-face relationships are analog. They are the bonds that bind each of us to one another in families, among intimate friends, neighborhoods, and workplaces. They matter far more than Facebook “friends.”

Consider the helping professions (e.g., doctors, therapists, nurses, ministers, social workers, teachers). Doctors and nurses have patients; therapists and social workers have clients; ministers, rabbis and imams have congregants, and teachers have students. Each of these professionals is immensely aided by new technologies they use daily yet their work depends upon human interaction and unfolding relationships. And in these relationship-bound professions is where the analog and digital intertwine. Not either/or, one or the other–analog and digital easily mix in these helping professions. And it is in schools especially where face-to-face contacts occur daily, where relationships begin and mature, where the analog and digital world come together.

Because schools are relationship-driven, where adults interact daily with children and youth, they are basically analog institutions in democratic, market-driven societies. They won’t go away. Bricks and mortar schools will be around for the rest of the century because communities need them to convey to children and youth knowledge, values, skills and attitudes essential to that society and becoming adults who will contribute to their communities. Schooling is as much about the head as it is about the heart. A fact often forgotten by those avid reformers (and parents) who see schools as efficient escalators to the workplace, who see children and youth as brains on a stick.

The head and heart come together in schooling through adults interacting daily with children and youth in and out of classrooms. Digital tools, hyped as they are, have surely entered  teachers’ repertoires to reduce administrative work, increase efficiency while enriching instructional preparation. But the digital will not (and cannot) replace teachers with online schools, robots, virtual reality goggles or similar fantasies. Those schools that work best socialize the next generation into thinking, feeling, and acting beings who work in communities, thrive in workplaces, and learn to live fully in a digital world.

How can I be so confident of schools as analog places where relationships are central and not be replaced by the brave new digital world?

My half-century of experience in schools, awareness of the central role of schooling in a democratic, market-oriented society, and awareness of classrooms across the nation but especially in Silicon Valley have convinced me that schools as analog institutions will persevere and outlast the magical thinking that technologically-driven reformers peddle.

In the past year, I have observed scores of teachers integrate new technologies in their classrooms in the heart of Silicon Valley. These teachers and the schools in which they work have blended the analog and digital into a mix of activities and personal interactions that are both familiar and new.

Familiar in that teachers work in age-graded schools–a two-century old institution–where daily lessons, teacher/student relationships, and classroom situations echo school practices from earlier generations. Yet overlaid with the familiar is the new, the device-driven activities during the school day, the mix of digital and analog. In a  first-grade room, students work in whole groups, small groups, and individually over the course of a six-hour day. For part of the day, they move to different learning stations (e.g., math, reading, science, art), some of which are device-driven while other children settle into independent work, and even other stations where pairs of six year-olds figure out a task together. And the teacher? She would be working one-on-one with students who were plowing ahead of the lesson, falling behind, or just keeping up with the work. The digital and analog come together easily such classrooms.

No one observing these first-graders during a school day would say that schooling has become a digital institution.

With the current resurgence of analog devices and activities noted above, adults also are learning to combine the analog with the digital to live their lives fully.

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Toddlers and Touchscreens: What Does the Research Actually Say? (Marnie Kaplan)

“Prior to joining Bellwether, Marnie [Kaplan] worked as a policy analyst at Success Academy Charter Schools, where she analyzed local, state, and federal education policies. Previously she worked as a program manager at the District of Columbia Public Schools, where she tracked and analyzed special education compliance, and as a Stoneleigh Emerging Leaders Fellow at the Education Law Center, where she proposed solutions to reform Pennsylvania’s alternative education system and improve the accountability of cyber charter schools. Marnie began her career as a middle school English and social studies teacher in New York City. She went on to earn her M.P.P. and J.D. from Georgetown University. While in graduate school, Marnie interned at the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the DC Public Schools’ Urban Education Leaders Internship Program; taught street law to high school students; worked in a day care center; volunteered with 826DC; and served as a research assistant to the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. Marnie also holds a master’s in the science of teaching from Pace University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania” (Bio taken from Bellwether staff descriptions)

This post appeared December 8, 2016 in Ahead of the Heard, A Bellwether blog.

 

 

 

toddler-with-iPad-300x150.jpg

You walk by an outdoor restaurant and see a toddler watching a movie on an iPad while his parents eat dinner. Your first thought is:

  • a) those parents deserve a break
  • b) screens don’t belong at meal time
  • c) is the video educational?
  • d) alert: bad parenting

Is there an app to help us decide how to respond? No. But a quorum of pediatricians might be able to help.

From 1999 till 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) discouraged the use of screen media by children under two (which might have led an informed passerby to loosely circle answer d while feeling slightly judgmental). But just last month, the AAP departed from its previous strict restriction on screen exposure for this age group.

There was a lot of media attention heralding the departure from the “no screens under two rule.” Some celebrated the beginning of the end of the “screen wars.” In reality, while the new guidelines offer a more nuanced view of screen exposure, the debate will likely rage on. Screens continue to pervade modern life so rapidly that research can’t keep up.

Let me fill in some background on why the AAP changed its recommendations. The “no screens before two” rule was first issued in 1999 as a response to interactive videos for infants such as Baby Einstein. Research showed these videos decreased children’s executive functioning and cognitive development. In October 2011, the AAP reaffirmed its original statement regarding infants and toddlers and media. The AAP’s statement cited three reasons: a lack of evidence on children learning from television or video before age two, studies showing a link between the amount of TV that toddlers watch and later attention problems, and studies pointing to how parents and playtime are affected by always-on TV. Since this statement was developed through  a lengthy internal review process, it was drafted before the iPad was first introduced to the market in April of 2010. So for the last five years, the strict restriction on screen time included touch screens even though the committee hadn’t evaluated the emerging research on this media.

In the intervening years, many doctors and scientists urged the AAP committee on children and media to revisit their recommendations and take a more balanced approach to media. In 2014, Dr. Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Boston Children’s Hospital, urged experts to base their recommendations on evidence-based decision making instead of values or opinions. He criticized pediatricians for focusing too much on negative effects and overlooking the positive effects of media on children. Later that year, Dr. Dimitri Christikas, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development at University of Washington, suggested rethinking the guidelines to distinguish between TV and interactive screens. Dr. Christikas was one of the first researchers to determine that the time babies and toddlers spend in front of the TV was detrimental to their health and development. He posited that the time young children spend interacting with touch screens is more analogous to time playing with blocks than time passively watching a television. In 2015, a trio of pediatricians published an article offering further support for the idea that interactive media necessitated different guidelines than television. In the same article, they recognizing the need for further research and argued that doctors should emphasize the benefits of parents and children using interactive media together.

So what are a quorum of pediatricians saying in 2016?

The new AAP guidelines still set rather strict restrictions for children under eighteen months. The AAP recommends that infants and toddlers only be exposed to screens for the purpose of video chatting with family members. This squares with some emerging observational research but likely also displays pediatricians’ understanding of modern life. The new AAP guidelines say parents can introduce children between 18 and 24 months to education shows. For children between the ages of two and five, the AAP recommends a max of one hour per day of “high-quality programs,” which they define as PBS and Sesame Network.

But there remains a lot that pediatricians, neuroscientists, and developmental psychologists cannot say conclusively. How does a small child clamoring to watch videos of herself affect a child’s conception of self?  Does the sensory experience of interactive screens have negative effects on small children’s brains?

Scientists continue to approach the research regarding long-term effects of this exposure from different perspectives. In fact, earlier this month, at the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience, new research was presented which hinted at the possible detrimental effects of touch screens on young brains. Dr. Jan Marino Ramirez, from the Center for Integrative Brain Research at the Seattle Children’s Research Institute, presented new research which revealed that excessive exposure to sensory stimulation early in life had significant effects on the behavior and brain circuits of mice. The mice acted like they had attention deficit disorder (ADD), showed signs of learning problems, and engaged in risky behavior. Ramirez therefore recommends minimizing screen time for young children. In a recent interview, Dr. Leah Krubitzer, an evolutionary neurobiologist at University of California, Davis, was less concerned about the detrimental impacts of screen time. She believes the benefits may outweigh the negative effects. Krubitzer argues that fast-moving interactive touch screens may prepare children for our increasingly fast-paced world.

So, parents of young children can now feel less guilty encouraging their toddlers to video chat with family across the country. And possibly we have a more clear answer for the scenario above (e.g., If the child is at least two years old, the appropriate response is c, at least for now).

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Historians Politely Remind Nation To Check What’s Happened In Past Before Making Any Big Decisions (The Onion)*

September 28, 2011

Vol/ 47, Issue 39, Science, Technology, and History

WASHINGTON—With the United States facing a daunting array of problems at home and abroad, leading historians courteously reminded the nation Thursday that when making tough choices, it never hurts to stop a moment, take a look at similar situations from the past, and then think about whether the decisions people made back then were good or bad.

According to the historians, by looking at things that have already happened, Americans can learn a lot about which actions made things better versus which actions made things worse, and can then plan their own actions accordingly.

“In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues,” Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. “And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not.”

“It’s actually pretty simple: We just have to ask ourselves if people doing the same thing in the past caused something bad to happen,” Collins continued. “Did the thing we’re thinking of doing make people upset? Did it start a war? If it did, then we might want to think about not doing it.”

In addition, Collins carefully explained that if a past decision proved to be favorable—if, for example, it led to increased employment, caused fewer deaths, or made lots of people feel good inside— then the nation should consider following through with the same decision now.

While the new strategy, known as “Look Back Before You Act,” has raised concerns among people worried they will have to remember lots of events from long ago, the historians have assured Americans they won’t be required to read all the way through thick books or memorize anything.

Instead, citizens have been told they can just find a large-print, illustrated timeline of historical events, place their finger on an important moment, and then look to the right of that point to see what happened afterward, paying especially close attention to whether things got worse or better.

“You know how the economy is not doing so well right now?” Professor Elizabeth Schuller of the University of North Carolina said. “Well, in the 1930s, financial markets—no, wait, I’m sorry. Here: A long, long time ago, way far in the past, certain things happened that were a lot like things now, and they made people hungry and sad.”

“How do you feel when you’re hungry? Doesn’t feel good, does it?” Schuller added. “So, maybe we should avoid doing those things that caused people to feel that way, don’t you think?”

Concluding their address, the panel of scholars provided a number of guidelines to help implement the strategy, reminding the nation that the biggest decisions required the most looking back, and stressing the importance of checking the past before one makes a decision, not afterward, when the decision has already been made.

While many citizens have expressed skepticism of the historians’ assertions, the majority of Americans have reportedly grasped the concept of noticing bad things from earlier times and trying not to repeat them.

“I get it. If we do something bad that happened before, then the same bad thing could happen again,” said Barb Ennis, 48, of Pawtucket, RI. “We don’t want history to happen again, unless the thing that happened was good.”

“When you think about it, a lot of things have happened already,” Ennis added. “That’s what history is.”

In Washington, several elected officials praised the looking-back-first strategy as a helpful, practical tool with the potential to revolutionize government.

“The things the historians were saying seemed complicated at first, but now it makes sense to me,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who reversed his opposition to oil-drilling safety regulations after checking past events and finding a number of “very, very sad things [he] didn’t like.” “I just wished they’d told us about this trick before.”

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*The Onion satirizes news. The above “article” pokes fun at prevailing, strong ahistorical attitudes in the U.S. when it comes to major decision policy decisions See here.

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