Filters, Fire Walls, Productivity, & Tea

blockage2Recently I found myself in Beijing reflecting on the question of “filtered” Internet. In my case, no, Youtube, Google Drive, New York Times, Diigo, Twitter or access blogs. Even my trusted VPN proved deferential to the great firewall.

Now, I love China. I spent 17 years of my life there. We both grew up together. I learned how to manage change, when to press forward, when to step off, and when drink tea. It’s an art form that we all need to practice, the stepping off, not the tea drinking. Beijing is part of me and I definitely am a better person because of it.

So I asked myself, what if your regular workflow no longer flowed? What if suddenly your regular tools did not work effectively? Would your life or your work be less meaningful?

Upon extensive reflection and numerous cups of tea, I decided, no, your life would potentially be even more meaningful. You would find a new workflow. You would find new tools. Yes, it would take time. You might be less efficient, possibly be a little less informed, and you definitely would be a lot less entertained! Yet, these could be good things.

You would learn a lot about yourself. Life moves pretty fast and with a changing learning curve, you need to be able to size up a situation quickly. You need to know your boundaries, both hard and soft. With limited resources, you would be better at judging your capacity. In an Internet of limitless possibilities, it is easy to get overwhelmed and a little lost.

It would be frightening. Your trusted tools/friends might leave you at any time. You would need to be open to taking risks. You would be responsible for something that works in a new way or possibly does not work at times. You would definitely shore up the troubleshooting and problem solving part of your resume. You might even find yourself asking, “Do you really believe in a process or a particular product? Is this really worth my time?” Nothing like a little challenge or change to illuminate the obvious.

Creativity and innovation would flourish. Outcomes would still need to be reached and decisions made. Responsibility does not end when someone filters your Internet. It would force you to think and use your imagination to accomplish tasks. When you continually meet challenges, you become accustom to alternative ways, other points of view, and any help you can get at all. Often the Internet gets in our way and slows us down.

cupofteaIf you find yourself in an Internet filtering or constantly changing situation, focus and self-discipline are your allies, not to mention a strong cup of tea. Concentrate on the how and the why and less upon what is no longer available or what you lost. If you can navigate change and balance creativity, innovation, and imagination, you will ensure life long learning. Knowledge is a process, not something you can Google!


Five Reasons to Attend 21st Century Learning

Hello Cyberfaithful!

Before everyone walks, runs, or jets into their vacation, I just wanted to remind you that the The 21st Century Learning Conference will be held next month in January 2013 @ Renaissance College in the New Territories from the 24th to 26th.

Why should I attend you ask yourself? 

21st Century Learning (21CL) provides attendees with the opportunity to extend their own learning. From digital storytelling to visual literacy, you can dive in and explore, discover, and learn with local, regional, and international experts. Whether your interest is in the latest game based education, cyber safety & security, the future of the cloud, or just finding new tools to support inquiry, attendees can interact with data and information in a way that reading online articles, following Twitter feeds or commenting on blogs can not complete. OK, the five reasons…

Professional Networking

Sure, you can communicate via email, SMS, Twitter, WhatsApp, Voxer, or even Skype. Yet, to be sitting next to or around educators who already working on connecting learning with skills, students, and school can be empowering. You might be able to renew some old friendships. Or maybe you can make some new friends. Attendance at 21CL is a great way to surround yourself with like-minded people who can help you grow and nourish your own creative ideas and processes. Collaboration is contagious!

Leading Innovators are Headlining @ 21CL

We all have creative and interesting ideas. Yet, sometimes it helps to be around other leading innovators/experts. Dr. Larry Rosen, Nicole Pinkard, Ph.D., Dan Meyer, and Dr Jennifer Lane will all be headlining. You can hang out, hear what they have to say, weigh in on what you believe, and maybe even catch up with them socially. Make an effort to make a connection!

Extended Sessions

Friday the 25th is the day when you can listen, sample, work, and learn for three hours on the topic of your choosing. You can really dig in and explore the subject matter of something that interests you, e.g., Digital Storytelling, Teaching Visual Literacy, Becoming A Networked Educator, etc. Educators just like you run these extended sessions. They want to share and give back.  So, why not partake, ask questions, push boundaries, and challenge yourself. Learning is a great team sport!


I’ll just say it; going to conferences can be fun! The conference sponsors and vendors show of their latest wares. Sometimes, there are giveaways and/or prizes. Unfortunately, free t-shirts seem to an anomaly these days, yet usually you can find a free thumb drive or at least a free water bottle. And if you push yourself and join a hands session or flipped session might end up creating some “fun” content. Here’s short video I did for a Kim Cofino workshop back in 2010.

Convenient & Affordable

21CL is being held at Renaissance College in the New Territories. There’s no need to book accommodation, you can stay at home for free. The MTR goes directly to the conference venue; just get off at the Heng On Station on Ma On Shan Line. Think of all the money you will save on flights, all that airplane food you’ll miss, no immigration lines to wait in, and you won’t have to carry your passport with you each day. Registration starts at 400 USD for two action packed. If you register before the 21st of December, you can enjoy an additional 10% discount. If you are interested in attending, please drop me a digital line or see your ICT Facilitator when you get back in January.

Until January Cyberfaithful, travel well, stay safe, and all the best this holiday season.

Pray for surf!

Trip versus Journey

A trip is usually somewhere you have been before. A trip to the market! A trip to the post office. There’s usually a specific purpose or a goal. To buy groceries. To buy stamps. With a journey, there is more of an unknown element involved, a challenge if you will. A little mystery. A little risk. All trips can be journeys, if you let them. And all journeys can turn into trips, if you remove the challenge. Many want their journeys to be trips. They like the element of control. They like constancy. They appreciate change, just on their terms. Yet too much control hinders or obscures the learning. And if you end up taking the learning out of the journey, then it is just a trip. So, what’s it today, a trip or on a journey?

Image by -Snugg- @ Creative Commons

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!

Learning & Leadership

With focus and self-discipline, quality learning will continue. By concentrating less on outcomes and more on how and why, students will understand that knowledge is a process and not something you look up. Those who can navigate change while they balance creativity and leadership will ensure a framework for students to be life long learners.

With technology, we can slip in and out of learning while we are at school; we used to learn at school and live our regular lives outside. While revolutionary for the ingenious learner, technology can represent a multiple challenge for the undisciplined student. Instant knowledge lies at a student’s fingertips and at no intellectual cost. School must guide students to infuse their learning with integrity and self-respect.

Students should know how to identify, filter, assess, and tag data. Without these skills, quality learning does not stand a chance. Students who simply repackage secondary source learning miss the essential critical aspect of education. Schools must coach students out of their safety zones, challenge them to take risks, and lead them to ask more of their social networks. Students who assemble information from the Internet and tag it for later use will enhance the value of that knowledge for themselves. A school that can teach the value and technique of this methodology will see students produce at peak levels.

Correct answers are no longer an adequate gauge of successful schooling. Schools must key expected outcomes to the skills students need to be modern learners. Correct answers are simply the result of an arithmetic logic. With answers already at our fingertips, schools need to teach students how to devise questions, how to state those questions in the complex algorithms that can deliver the complex answers to our complex questions. With Google about to present catalogs of every human thought, schools must accent the how and why.

Learning and leadership are indispensable for change. Leadership in schools will always be about people. Good leaders know both how to add value and how to get out of the way. They manage transparently and are detail oriented in their communication. They are active listeners and keen observers. Change happens around them and they continually evolve the concept of learning. Good leaders reinforce peoples’ motivations and push them to challenge themselves.

The institution of school must teach students the necessary self-discipline to keep them focused on learning. Answers can be copied and pasted. Students who can use information critically will become tomorrow’s leaders. Schools will be assessed on the innovative solutions they inspired and coached students to produce.

Houdini – Escapologist & Technologist

Over the Winter Holiday break, Hui and I took in the exhibit “Houdini: Art and Magic” at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum.  Unfortunately, Alex could not accompany us. So, I took lots of notes in order to assemble a story of Houdini for Alex.

McManus-Young Collection, Library of Congress

Harry Houdini was a magician who used showmanship to make his tricks into a performance where hearts raced, heads turned away, and people were left amazed. He seemed to be able to escape from anything. He starred in films. He produced movies. He read everything he could find about magic, escapes, illusions, and the super natural. To learn more about the details of Houdini’s life, click here. To know more about Houdini’s as a technologist, read on!

At the exhibit, I discovered Houdini was always using technology to improve his magic act. Whether it be new rope or improved locks or stronger steel he identified new technologies that he could use to impress audiences even more. Despite the fact that the information super highway would not exist for another 100 years, Houdini managed to tap into a variety of data and information in his day.

Houdini as a Technologist

King of Handcuffs! He even came to call himself Harry Handcuff Houdini. People were always developing new handcuffs and challenging him to escape from them. How did he get so good at escaping from handcuffs? As a young man living in Appleton, Wisconsin, he apprenticed with a locksmith. Houdini learned how to make locks and how to open locks. As handcuffs are essentially locks, Houdini knew all to well how to escape. 100 years ago, each city’s police department thought their handcuffs were the best and the strongest. So wherever Houdini travelled, he was challenged to escape from all kinds of handcuffs. Through these continual challenges, Houdini managed always be researching and learning about handcuffs. So, by staying current with developments in lock and handcuffs, Houdini managed to defy police departments and to amaze his audiences.

Images from Wiki Commons

Houdini as a Collaborator

Although Houdini’s formal education time was limited, he constantly read to improve himself. He eventually came to reside in New York City, the epicenter of immigration in the US. He worked in dime museums, sideshows, and traveling circuses. He met amazing people from all over the world. He listened and learned fascinating stories of strange and enchanting tricks. He would learn the tricks and then add a bit of showmanship to turn them into extraordinary performances.In the  Needle Threading Trick, Houdini would swallow needles and thread, separately. Miraculously he would pull the needles from his mouth threaded. Although the trick is credited with an East Indian origin, the museum indicated the trick came from Russia. My point, Houdini collected data in the form of stories and tricks. He assessed it, tagged it, and then repackaged things for others to enjoy.

Houdini as as a Life Long Learner

He was always shopping for the next trick whether at home or on the road. He was always in top physical shape. As a boy, he was a star cross country runner. At age nine, he preformed as a trapeze artist at age nine in his own back yard. Houdini kept his abdominal muscles so strong it was like punching a tree. He dove off bridges into rivers in handcuffs. He escaped from straight jackets suspended in mid air. He submerged himself in locked milk cans and chambers full of water. Houdini could control his breathing and could even hold his breath for up to seven minutes. He learned to fly. He could project his voice and appear to be in two places at once. Houdini never stopped pushing himself to learn new things.

In today’s collaborative Youtube available information society, would Houdini be the man he was? As we break down the barriers of different cultures, societies, and access to data, so much of what is amazing we take for granted. The world needs more than ever, more people like Houdini who add some showmanship and leave us all wanting a little bit more.