onmia mutantur nos et mutamur in illis

Simple but Significant Invitations to Learning

I started teaching in 1999 at Heritage Middle School in Lansing, IL. As a 24 year old, I was the youngest fifth grade teacher in the building by 20 years, and for almost all my students, I was their first male teacher.  My vision for my 5th grade class was not a classroom of students, but a family. Looking back on that time this weekend with some of my former students and parents from that class, I realized that there were many simple invitations to learning I provided that produced positive results that are remembered today. Due to many of these invitations, the vision I had for my class was realized to great extent. It started for me taking the perspective of my students and mentally walking into school each day.

Here are some simple but significant examples of invitations to learning for my students.

  • I shook the hand of every student before they entered the classroom and when they exited for the day. The message in the invitation says, “you are welcome and respected here.”
  • I left the door open to my room. The message in the invitation says, “come in and participate.”
  • I wore a tie every day. And I never wore jeans. The message in the invitation says, “your learning is so important that I will dress up for you.”
  • I sent a postcard to every student before the start of the school year. The message in the invitation says, “I cannot wait to meet you and be your teacher.”
  • We walked in rows through the hallway rather than in a crowd. The message in the invitation says, “we respect the other classes and their learning.”
  • I rarely gave homework to my students. The message in the invitation says, “you are 10 years old and you should enjoy being 10 years old.”
  • I would provide an agenda for the day, with the understanding that agenda could change if our time together took another path. The message in the invitation says, “we are all driving the learning.”
  • I encouraged students to ask “why?” we did things in certain ways. The message in the invitation says, “always ask why because maybe the teacher does not really understand either.”
  • We tried to go outside for an extra 20-30 minutes of recess everyday. The message in the invitation says, “play and socialization is important.”
  • We took time to read every day after lunch, including myself. The message in the invitation says, “reading is important.”

Notice something about the list? No mention of technology, or apps, or curriculum. These are invitations that make a classroom a family. Therefore remove these invitations and you have just another classroom focused on data and tests instead of experiences and learning.

Was my classroom perfect? No. There are some things looking back now I would do differently. Yet simple invitations like these created an environment where I have connected with students 16 years later and we still talk about our shared experiences.


Wedding invitation” by Rachel Knickmeyer is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The Importance of the Invitation to Learning

From “Inside Apple: How America’s Most Admired-and Secretive-Company Really Works by Adam Lashinsky

How a customer opens a box must be one of the last things a typical product designer would consider. Yet for Apple, the inexpensive box merits as much attention as the high-margin electronic device inside. As the last thing customers see before their greatly anticipated device, Apple’s packages are the capstone to a highly honed and exceedingly expensive process.

If given the opportunity to start a brand new school tomorrow, it would open an opportunity to decide the vision, mission, values and goals of that school. Many administrators would probably start with several statements like “all students learn,””all students can read at grade level,” and “all students feel valued.” It is a very top down approach, but one that is typical. However, this would not be the approach I would take. I believe that focusing solely on measurable data, like test scores, and strategic plans creates a glass ceiling to learning in the student experience. I believe before we consider vision, mission, values and goals, we first look at the invitation to learning.

I opened this blog post with a passage detailing the extent that Apple took to design their boxes for the iPhone. Hundreds of boxes were opened over and over again so that the invitation to the iPhone is positive and perfect. The iPhone is boxed with enough of a charge to start using it right away. Even when you turn on the iPhone, you are greeted in several languages, not just a default to English. Apple recognizes that the invitation to the iPhone does not start when you make a phone call or text. Apple has looked at the invitation all the way back to when you consider purchasing the device from one of their stores.

In education, we are so data driven, we have a hard time keeping in mind the invitation to learning. Without a positive and perfect invitation to learning there are barriers created. Consider these instances where the invitation to learning is less than positive or perfect.

  • A parent comes to register their child, but finds they are unable to do so because materials are not provided in their native language. The message in the invitation says, “your culture is not valued, here.”
  • A child is missed by the school bus. The message in the invitation says, “you do not need to come to school today.”
  • A child walks up to the school and the grounds are covered in weeds, the sidewalk and stairs are chipped and broken, and there are no age appropriate playground equipment. The message in the invitation says, “you are not worth an aesthetically pleasing and engaging experience.”
  • Classroom temperatures are unbearably hot in the summer and cold in winter. The message in the invitation says, “your comfort is not valued here.”
  • A school lunch monitor throws out a child’s hot lunch when they can no longer afford to pay. The message in the invitation says, “we do not care if you are hungry.”

While these examples may come across as hyperbole, each of these examples are ones I am aware from personal experience in districts I have worked. By removing these barriers in the invitation to learning, efforts to reach vision, mission, values and goals become much more attainable. Efforts by teachers are more readily realized. The glass ceiling is broken.

My contention is that we should consider the student experience from the time they wake up in the morning until the time they go to bed. We should walk through the day of each of our students and ensure the invitation to learning is as positive and perfect as the Apple iPhone box.


3G iPhone box” by waldopepper is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Lashinsky, A. (2012). Inside Apple: How America’s most admired-and secretive-company really works. New York, NY: Business Plus.

This Passes as Professional Development

Let us forget for a moment this tweet came out of professional development focused around SAMR, an extremely subjective teacher-centered self-assessment tool and not a student-centered learning construct.

Let us focus on what was happening when this Apple Distinguished Educator tweeted from this professional development session.

In this scene you see a male educator and a female educator in a boxing ring quickly coming up with, what I assume are, SAMR-like modification-level tasks. Notice though they are actually hitting each other as a way to. . . I am not sure what the purpose is behind two educators hitting each other.

Couple of questions come to my mind from what was tweeted out by this Apple Distinguished Educator:

  1. Two educators punching each other passes for professional development?
  2. Do the presenters use this technique presented in their classrooms? With the students they are entrusted to educate?
  3. Why would an Apple Distinguished Educator feel this merits being tweeted as an example of an acceptable educational practice?
  4. Notice the several hashtags including #ADEChat. Where is the outcry from any other Apple Distinguished Educator thinking this practice sends a horrible and very public message? Or from another educator for that matter?

Perhaps we need to look a little deeper not just what constitutes worthwhile professional development, but how and what we present to our peers.


FAIL” by evan p. cordes is licensed under CC BY 2.0

MisterCMaine. (2016, August 4). Getting our Rocky on w/ the Slammer!   . https://twitter.com/MisterCMaine/status/761231377509457920

Why I Drive for Uber (and now Lyft)

In April 2015, I started driving for Uber in Rockford, Illinois. I still drive for Uber (now in Wisconsin) and also started driving for Lyft as of today. I thought it would be a nice way to make some extra cash and provide a chance to cruise around in my new Impala. What I quickly realized is that ride sharing services do a number of things I never considered. 

If you have never taken a taxi ride outside of New York City, they are not always the most pleasant and reliable experiences. There is no consistency of service. Some of my students in Rockford would get taxi rides to school because they were not eligible for bus service, or came to school at off times (i.e. 9:30am). I was horrified at the vehicles in which they would arrive (those in Rockford know the state of the taxi minivans). And the cost for the ride was typically around $20 one-way. What these ride sharing services have done is shine a light on taxi services that are overpriced and not the safest looking vehicles.

Second, ride sharing services like these are a vital component of public transportation. While I do pick up many young people bar hopping or heading home from a festival somewhere, the majority of people whom I drive are either going to work or going shopping (most of the time to WalMart). My friend Barb Chidley partnered with the Rockford Housing Authority to produce a video detailing the challenges of riding the bus around Rockford. While ride sharing cost is not as low as riding the bus, when one is pressed for time, or sadly has little other alternative, this is a vital community service.

Finally, I really enjoy doing driving for Uber and Lyft. I get to meet people from all walks of life. Most are very talkative, friendly and engaging. Some just sit quietly in the back seat. I have never had a problem. And no matter the neighborhood to which I travel, I provide a positive and welcoming experience for the rider. 

Want to Minimize Culture Shift? Then Don’t Bother.

Let me jump right in and unpack the following session description from a recent EdTech conference.

Putting the Pieces Together

Is incorporating technology the dreaded “one more thing” teachers feel you’re adding to their already full plates? In this workshop we will cover how to minimize the culture shift by maximizing the use of planning time to create standards- based Technology Rich Rigorous Lessons. The focus will be on creating interactive lesson activities based on curriculum standards and how RBI, SAMR and TPACK can be interwoven into lesson planning. These tools will allow students to begin to utilize technology to maximize the potential.

In case you are not sure what to make of this session description, the session titled “Putting the Pieces Together” is a sad commentary on the field of EdTech for a number of reasons. The most egregious being this session was accepted as an EdTech conference session in the first place. To be fair, I did not attend this session. I was not at this conference that occurred recently in a southern state.

Let me break this session down line by line.

Is incorporating technology the dreaded “one more thing” teachers feel you’re adding to their already full plates?

Notice this session is not designed for classroom teachers. This session is for school leaders. In 2016, if incorporating technology is “the dreaded ‘one more thing'” then as a school leader you have failed to provide an appropriate vision of why you are asking teachers to incorporate technology. Or perhaps your teachers feel this way because they have failed to be properly trained to use technology. Or worse, they are happy to do the same things they have done in the past in very teacher-centered ways. Either way, the first statement is not student-focused at all.

In this workshop we will cover how to minimize the culture shift by maximizing the use of planning time to create standards-based Technology Rich Rigorous Lessons.

This is quite the conundrum. We are asking teachers to incorporate technology in the first sentence, but then the session covers “how to minimize the culture shift . . .” That should be appalling. As a school leader, if incorporating technology is not creating dramatic culture shifts in your building, then you have made a serious philosophical, financial and pedagogical error. If you want to minimize the cultural shift, then my suggestion is to keep doing what is being done, and not waste further time and effort to bring in technology into your school. I cannot see how the vision and goal around bringing the wonders and capabilities of the Information Age to students should be any less than a dramatic culture shift. Unfortunately, I know there were probably a few educators who attended this session looking for the tricks and secrets on just how to minimize culture shift. “Minimize the culture shift” is code for “keep education teacher-centered.”

The focus will be on creating interactive lesson activities based on curriculum standards and how RBI, SAMR and TPACK can be interwoven into lesson planning.

Honestly, I have not heard of “RBI.” But I have written extensively on how SAMR may be misused, overused and is not pedagogically sound considering it is an overly simplistic model that does not measure learning in any way. And instead of focusing on student-centered ideas, the presenter again looks for focus on teacher-centered ideas.

These tools will allow students to begin to utilize technology to maximize the potential.

This is the most fascinating sentence of the session description. The previous three sentences have been teacher-centered. But after all these teacher-centered statements, the final sentence says that students will “. . . begin to utilize technology to maximize potential.” How? What student-centered ideas have been presented that would tap ideas of student intrinsic motivation, or student self-efficacy, or student ownership or student agency? That is a rather dramatic shift away from what has been proposed for this session.

It is important to ask yourself why a session such as this one was included in a fairly large conference. Conferences are not meant to be echo chambers or bring forth diminishing ideas. A keynote speaker or a featured/spotlight speaker should provoke critical thoughts. EdTech is stagnant. We have become too focused on technological wonders, too happy to check a box on a lesson plan that says “Technology,” and we are missing out on the opportunity to dramatically shift our school cultures towards student-centered opportunities by perpetuating ideas in sessions such as this one.


Udaipur IND – Street shot” by Daniel Mennerich is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Do Not Be Afraid to Cull the edu-Twitter Herd

Almost a month ago, Dan Rezac posted “What Twitter’s Growth Problem Means for Educators” on Medium. One of the points Dan makes in his post is:

Twitter still cares too much about celebrities.

I agree.

There are some edu-Twitter elite who have gamed social media not to engage followers, but instead to pad their number of followers. Does this look familiar?

This is a PLN? This person has over 48K followers but supposedly follows 46K.

This is a PLN?!

The edu-Twitter elite (let us define that as someone with over ten-thousand followers) have created a perception, whether implied in their stats or when they speak at conferences, they actually follow a similar number in return. That is intellectually dishonest, and it has lead to overinflated numbers of people in their Personal Learning Network (PLN) with which they are supposedly engaging. They may “follow” someone, but their ability to create lists of people they follow helps to cut down on the riffraff. I do not think Twitter’s problem in education is growth, but more that those touting the level of engagement and access to the elite as another “box of magic.”

The inflated numbers like those in the image above are supposed to make me believe that in my PLN I can actually engage with this person? Am I to believe this person actually actively follows over forty-six thousand people? Worse, some of the ideas of the edu-Twitter elite are horribly bland, pedagogically dangerous, intellectually dishonest. They have managed to parlay that edu-Twitter celebrity into opportunities to spotlight and keynote at conferences that frankly are not worth the effort attending anymore to hear them speak. Much worse, many of these edu-Twitter elite, the stars who are supposed to be exemplars of teachers and administrators we should wish to be, have left their schools and districts to become full time speakers or consultants (sometimes consulting based solely on their number of Twitter followers).

We need to look closer at the substance the edu-Twitter elite are forking on us, and not be afraid to click “unfollow.”

In recent weeks, I have actively cut the people I follow on Twitter to just above 200 (down from almost 800). I didn’t create a list of people I actually follow in an attempt to artificially inflate the numbers of those who follow me. I actually stopped following those who do not contribute to my PLN nothing more but a bunch of noise. And there were some “big” names I dropped: Kevin Honeycutt, George Couros, Alice Keeler and Erin Klein to name a few. Those culled were no longer contributing to my growth as an educator, were only retweeting the ideas of others, or were espousing dangerous ideas.

The result of my social media cull has been a much more manageable and meaningful experience with Twitter. My Twitter experience is a PLN again.


double desktop” by Fernando Mafra is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Creating the Right Environment

In October 2010, Instagram was officially launched to the world.

In April 2012, sixteen months after launch, Instagram was sold to Facebook for approximately $1 billion in cash and stock.

As a Bay Area native myself, San Francisco is seen all over the world as the technological and innovation hub for our planet.

But San Francisco was not always this way. Believe it or not there was a time of uncertainty in the Bay Area as the United States started to scale back from its Cold War production. In the early 90s, local bases closed and military contracts started to dry up. Apple Computer had lost much of its luster by this time. The boom caused by the Internet was still several years away. My own hometown of San Mateo had a downtown area that, except for a few restaurants and Mills Hospital, was pretty much closed for business by 5PM.

However, in all these struggles in the early 90s, the Bay Area still had an environment and culture that allowed for new, sometimes weird, ideas. Great universities like Stanford and UC Berkeley did not go away. A strong community college system did not go away. Conditions were right for a quick turn around. Curiosity and innovation has never left the Bay Area even in uncertain times. And when the Internet finally became part of mass media, people were quick to jump on it and capitalize.

That brings me back to Instagram. In sixteen months, Instagram went from a launched idea to being sold for $1 billion. The conditions were right in the Bay Area to bring that talent and innovation together.

In your own communities, what is being done to bring this talent and these types of innovative thought together? Is there focus, not just in your schools, but in the whole community around shared values that would create an environment that allows these ideas to be born and flourish? This goes beyond a “Genius Hour” or “Wonder Wall” or whatever you want to call a set time you try to devote to curiosity and innovation. The next great idea might be sitting on a cocktail napkin, or in the mind of someone. It is so very important that we create a climate and culture to allow these ideas to come forward.

Schools Will Save eSports

The future of sports is eSports. And schools will save eSports.

Schools saving eSports sounds odd, I know. All the trends for eSports are pointing upward. eSports are growing quickly. In 2005, there were 58 million eSports enthusiasts (defined as regular viewers and/or participants). In 2014, there were 89 million enthusiasts with another 117 million occasional viewers. By 2017, the projections indicate there will be 145 million enthusiasts.

Millions of dollars are being earned by pro players of all ages. ESPN and TNT just made major investments in eSports. There are at least 5 scholarships available for eSports competitorsAccording to James Bates at ESPN:

In 2014, for the first time, a streamed game’s broadcast attracted more viewers than the NBA Finals. More than 27 million people around the world tuned in to League of Legends World Championship. A year later, more than 31 million people watched SK Telecom T1 beat KOO Tigers 3-1 for the 2015 title and a split of a $1 million prize.

There will be more and more revenue generated by eSports in the coming years. According to forecasts from research firm Newzoo, the eSports industry will grow from $278 million in revenue in 2015 into $765 million by 2018,

But as Kotaku writer Rob Zacny points out, the future of eSports is complicated and messy. The lack of organization and governmental rules in eSports is similar to the early days of football in the United States. The state of football became so dire that Teddy Roosevelt brought the coaches of Harvard, Yale and Princeton to the White House to discuss changes to the rules to make the sport safer and remove unsportsmanlike conduct.

Schools should have a prominent role in adopting eSports and bringing them under the umbrella of their sports conferences that already have rules of organization and sportsmanship. I believe the best eSports athletes of all ages should be allowed to go pro, but the organization that schools can bring offers rules, regulations, legitimacy and protections for our children new to eSports. It is important for schools and state athletic organizations to get out in front of this now.

Schools will benefit from student involvement in eSports. They should fight to protect that benefit. Education pays lip service to the 4C skills we want our students to develop – creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. eSports embodies all four of these skills as well as a 5th C – community.

If schools and state athletic organizations can build rules and regulations around eSports, in partnership with organizations like the High School Star League, we can then begin to harness the enthusiasm of our children into a positive and safe eSports experience.


Xbox Controller” by Daniel Lee is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

(Update) The 4Cs+1C and eSports

Communication, Collaboration, Creativity and Critical Thinking.

The 4Cs as these are known are modern skills we wish every student to master. Yet, most schools and classrooms do a very poor job of imparting these skills. Usually imparting these skills falls to a special one-time activity that allows the teacher to check off their box on their list of to-dos for this school year. It is artificial and does little to get the students using any of these skills.

Enter eSports (aka competitive video games) and specifically the game League of Legends. If you have not taken the time to examine this game, it requires two teams of five students to actively plan strategy similar to chess in real time and an ever changing environment while working together to capture their opponents home base. Watching the game in real-time and you start to see the 4Cs are alive and well and very necessary for students to master in order to be successful. And with 67 million League of Legends players (a number larger than the population of France), chances are many of your high school aged students have played the game before.

The barriers to fielding a team are access to computers that meet the minimum game requirements (the game is free to download and play), a team/club sponsor, and a reliable network connection. Take a moment to watch this video about a high school club in Des Moines, IA and you will see that eSports is more than a club. I would argue eSports adds an additional C towards which we should strive – Community.

What the Pew Home Broadband in 2015 Report Means for Schools

On December 21, Pew Research released their 2015 Home Broadband survey analysis. Looking at the analysis on the surface there are a few items that stand out.

  1. There was a modest decline in home broadband access from 2013 to 2015 (home broadband means a high speed connection hard wired into the home)
  2. African Americans, Hispanics and young adults are most likely to view a lack of home broadband as a major disadvantage
  3. Home broadband cost is now a substantial challenge for many non-users
  4. One-in-seven Americans are cord cutters from cable and satellite TV.

When you look at these results from the perspective of an educator, these four points should raise some eyebrows.

First, with all the talk about flipping classrooms and district mandated one-to-one device programs there needs to be an increase in home broadband access, and not a decline. And while not having home broadband access is seen as a major disadvantage for African Americans, Hispanics and young adults, many of these same groups see the cost of home broadband as a major challenge. Home broadband is being replaced in many ways with cell phone access which is typically hindered with data caps and lack of ability to access certain forms and applications. If cell phones continue to increase as the primary connection to the Internet, programs with access to WiFi hotspots, like in Maine Township, will be required to support their district mandated one-to-one learning initiatives. A school district one-to-one learning initiative should not create a larger digital divide for our students. I have said many times Internet acccess is NOT ubiquitous. We have to continue believing that it is not in light of this latest research.

Additionally, the increase of “cord cutters,” those who no longer subscribe to satellite or cable TV, means where we are consuming our entertainment is changing. Disruptors like Hulu, Netflix, YouTube and Twitch are all impacting access to content. Looking at students who are untethered to their television, we need to think of new ways to use these technologies to attract these increasingly mobile learners.


Internet! 243/365” by Dennis Skley is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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