I learned a lot in school, just not from my teachers

Nine Dangerous Things You Were Taught In School by Jessica Hagy, is a fantastic education retrospective. Upon extensive reflection, some yoga, and a lot of green tea, we clearly attended different schools. Yes, there were many insidious and unspoken lessons in school. And I agree completely that students will “have to unlearn them” if they want to thrive. Yet somehow, what I took away from school was different.

What do I need to unlearn? I definitely was not a great student. Good grades were celebrated at my house. When I was clearly having too much fun, I got sent to harder school. We did not celebrate again for a while. To me, I always seemed to be learning. Yes, there were rules, but somehow I learned early on about angles and latitude. College was a given, but there was no pressure to conform. Was it the rural Midwest landscape? Some of my best friends were card carrying members of Future Farmers of America and 4-H. I did get my first job at thirteen? Maybe I just got a batch of eclectic teachers?

Maybe the concept of school was similar, but different variables resulted in vastly different school experiences? Sure, I was not overly fond of school, but it had its moments. I heard about the starving kids in China. Turns out in China, there were stories of starving kids in Africa. Talk about early spin. I had my share of passionate and “less passionate” teachers. I got through them all. Yet, somehow I picked up on an unspoken/surreptitious undercurrent.

  1. Question Authority! School was filled with historical references to people shaking things up. Whether it was taxation, liberty, the industrial revolution, or voting rights, I learned that people could create different realities. So, when I did not like an answer, I asked questions. Sometimes there was further discussion, sometimes there was not. Most times I was dispatched to the library. I went on to build robots, venture to big cities, and even plan a Grade Eight trip to our national’s capital. Sure, we never made it, but I learned early on that the teachers were only going to get you so far.
  2. Show & Tell Rocked!. Students, teachers, and even parents brought in cool stuff. Everyone had a story. And those that were interesting, you sought out to learn more. You went over and tried to borrow whatever it was. If his/her parents have a strict “no lending policy,” you invited yourself over. If that did not work, then you asked all the questions you could. Where’d you get it? How much was it? How long have you had it?
  3. Pay Attention! Yes, there were different rules for different people, e.g., Teacher’s Pet & Goodie Two Shoes. You had to get past those though if you did not want to be teased. I noticed teachers liked it when you asked questions. Offer a little physical labor, wind an extension cord, move a desk, carry some great smelling ditto copies, teachers liked it. Swing by the lunch counter at clean up, you might get free cake. School/life was coming together nicely for me by Grade Eight. To keep me humble, I was sent to the citys top high school. Talk about challenge based learning?
  4. Supplements to the Book! No dispute, the textbook was the go to place for information and answers. Occasionally though, a topic came up that was too new. Unlucky students got told to choose a new topic. Lucky students found their way to the library. And if they were really lucky, they found Reader’s Guide to Period Literature. Note to reader, I noticed a correlation to “lucky” and those students who paid attention. Of course, this is just my observation.
  5. Standardized Testing Wouldn’t Kill Me! I was horrible at standardize tests. And I am a little proud to say; I never quite learned how to take them, apart from the ones at the DMV. Maybe I was warped early by all those law dramas my Dad made me watch, i.e. every case was winnable. I knew I was bright. My parents favorite phrase was, “you’re a bright kid, you just need to apply yourself.” Of course, according to the government, I was not bright. Lucky for me, no one in my educational career focused on this fact.
  6. Snow Days Could Get Boring! Believe it or not, you can only watch so much daytime television. I did learn a lot about value, worth, and probability from the Price is Right. In the absence of school and cable, thank goodness for copies of the magazine Boys Life and the book the Boy Mechanic.  I learned a lot about making igloos and Eskimos. When we did make it back to school, I stocked up on books at the library. Unfortunately, I could find no whale blubber in Southern Ohio.

Where did this undercurrent come from? It came from my parents. They somehow engineered a reasonable balance of push, pull and slack. In my mind, there could have been more slack. There were trips into New York City when I could have been playing with toys or watching television. We shopped at a historic inner city market house instead of the A&P or the IGA supermarkets. The library was a weekly trip and twice a week in the summer. I red and was red to. Television was a family activity where shows were vetted and many ruled inappropriate or “a waste of time.” I learned to use chopsticks at age ten. Talk about a patient mother. We talked about the future, theirs and mine.  And family friends streamed our house or dining room table on their way to their next adventure. Ah, the stories!

Learning is now a team sport and parents need to be in the game. Technology brings fabulous opportunities along with new responsibilities. Shirk these responsibilities and who knows what your son or daughter will need to unlearn. Technology is not a makeshift babysitter. It is a tool that requires ongoing collaboration and monitoring.  You may want to be their friend, but do keep in mind the there are different job descriptions for parent and friend. My parents did!

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A Change is in the Air?

Image by CA RO @ Creative Commons

Technology, love it or hate it, it makes us (educators) continually re-evaluate and challenge our pedagogy. How can we be more effective? Where can we be more efficient? Is it possible to teach this differently? Yes, it is challenging. No, it’s not going to be getting a lot easier any time soon. And yes, the “lean backs” stand ready with quips or a criticisms with each misstep. But, if we can focus on the “learning” and stay positive, there is hope for the techno savvy. Youtube, once blocked in schools across America is now finding its way back in the classroom. Blogs continue to garner press and support as a writing tool. Google hosts 66 of the top 100 schools in Google Apps Education. Learning needs teachers and students alike to possess the skills necessary to identify, filter, assess, and tag data, as it is doubling in size nearly every two years.

Apple discontinued the MacBook some time ago. Possibly you missed the announcement. Not to worry, there were no parties, speeches or fan fair. Apple sold millions of them. Lots of schools bought them. Yet, did anyone really love them? Sure, we defended it against the forces of WinTel, but deep down we longed for something a bit more hip. MacBook Pros, with their sleek silver cases, were the envy of those toting white MacBooks. And the black MacBook, well that was the epitome of one-ups man ship. 100 USD more just for black! Silver was cool, but black was bad@ss.

OK, with the MacBook white out of the picture, then MacBook Pros all around, right? Sure it’s two hundred bucks more, but you get a faster processor, more RAM, a half a terabyte hard drive, drop a half a pound in weight, a little longer battery and that sleek silver case. Sure, no one likes additional cost, but you are getting some real value for money and a fantastic laptop to boot. It’s a safe and easy decision to justify.

Remember when laptops came out? They had smaller hard drives, small poorly lit screens, weak processors, and were expensive. People remarked they needed all capacity and features of their desktop. They went onto to defend the sanctity of their office as a place where “work” gets done. Of course it was, your phone was there, how else could we communicate? Now, laptop sales out number desktop sales.

In the think different be a risk taker world we live, I propose the MacBook Air. Before you say, “no way, the hard drive’s too small, I need my stuff,” stop to think, are you focused on learning or focused on creating a vast, loosely organized, click and save, digital library. How much of your stuff do you access every day, every week, or every month? Do you really need all of those files at your fingers tips? Those videos you can’t live with out, those 10 megapixel photos you are never going to print, and those bloated word processing & presentation documents with the copies of your existing videos and photos, all take up hard drive space. For the learning focused, many clouds stand ready to help you. Flickr lets you store photos and short videos. Dropbox provides you with file storage. Google Apps offers word processing & presentation functionality. And these are just a few options to explore. Your files are still within reach, just not immediate reach.

Taking up a MacBook Air is a commitment to learning. You will always need to be auditing your digital life. It will force you to think about the data you are identifying, filtering, assessing, and tagging. This puts you, the life long learner, in a position where he/she can focus on learning and to continually re-evaluate and challenge pedagogy. If it only came in black!