A flashback to Dr. Pajares

While I have been blessed with a small hand full of mentors in my life – true, committed mentors…not the trite use of the word for occasional acts of mentorship – Dr. Frank Pajares stands out for me. Among countless reasons, Dr. P stands out because of a conversation that we had in his office one day. After two hours of conversing, I looked at my Timex Ironman watch, and I apologized for keeping him so long. He closed his book, which we were referencing, and he looked over the top edge of his glasses. Then, he said, “The greatest gift you can ever give me is to ignore your watch when we are working together. I am not thinking about the time; I would encourage you not to think about the time. Us working and learning together is what’s important.”

I tend to be a very task-oriented person. I care deeply for people, but I sometimes give off a different vibe because I do like to check things off a list. Dr. P further changed my paradigm about task completion that day, which was over ten years ago as I was completing graduate school. (I fall short of Dr. P’s ideal all the time, but I am working on it.)

Today, Dr. P flashed into my mind when I was talking to a colleague with whom I work at Westminster. We’ll call him B. At this time of year, I have a million things on the task list. To name just a few, I am working on new faculty orientation details, faculty recognition citations, Apple roll out issues, etc. Truly, though, I did not think about any of those things while I was meeting with B. He had some important things to discuss, and we sit down together about once every month or two months to discuss some questions we have about education, school structure, etc. After about 80 minutes of talking, he was getting up to go, and he apologized for taking so much time.

Dr. P flashed through my mind. Something he shared with me years ago has helped shape me a bit better, and now I could genuinely say that all those tasks were inconsequential to me compared to the conversation I was having with B. I was thinking, learning, questioning, considering. Who knows how that thinking might come back to benefit later when engaged with an issue or challenge. During the conversation with B, we talked through several scenarios; the time was infinitely worthwhile. I bet, in the long-run, the conversation proves to be a time saver, instead of a time waster – because I was able to rehearse some thinking with a great thinker before I needed the thinking “in battle.”

During the conversation, though, B made a remark that he is still having to justify to people that time on Twitter or blogging is not a time waster, but rather a time saver. The thought occurred to me that I bet those people would not claim that this face-to-face conversation was a time waster…in general, that time spent with another human in conversation is what we should be doing, for instance, instead of tweeting and blogging so much.

But, then, a George Couros adage came to mind – there are people at the other end of those screens and keyboards. We are connecting when we employ those tools. In fact, B and I were able to have the depth of conversation that we were having, at least in part, because we “talk” regularly by following each other’s tweets and blog posts. Moreover, We remarked that by tweeting and blogging, we are able to maintain many streams of conversation and learning that can keep us connected and thinking on a number of exciting and invigorating fronts in education and schooling.

I don’t regret any time I tweet, blog, or connect with my colleagues on social media tools. By doing so, we are thinking and learning and reflecting together. I also don’t regret any of that face to face time spent in personal dialogue. BOTH are important. BOTH are “time savers” in the long run. And, even if they aren’t, they are “life savers,” as they broaden and deepen my network of connected learners…my tribe.

Dr. P died a few years ago, but I like to think that this story would make him proud. I still learn from him everyday. He was THE master of contextual thought and deed, and I think the context in which we connect to think and learn together would excite him – as long as we valued the relationships built by those connections…and ignored our watches. Thanks, Dr. P. Love you.

Be safe and teach them to drive!

Safety is paramount! Safety is really rule #1. As a parent and as a professional educator, I believe fervently that safety is critically important. Safety, precaution, and care come in many different forms. When my boys, now ages four and six, were infants, my wife and I “baby proofed” our house. We used stick-on pads around the brick-cornered hearth, plastic-insert caps for the electric outlets, etc. We essentially restricted use of these items and places. However, as our boys grow older, our precautions are taking different forms.

We are a family of water enthusiasts and boaters. We require that our boys wear life jackets when they ski, tube, and kayak. When I kayak, I wear a life jacket, and I use safe boating practices. I clip a safety whistle to my jacket, for example. For my kayak paddle, I even employ a leash so that the paddle cannot get away from me if I capsize or run into other trouble. I boat safely, and I teach my sons the critically important rules and expectations of boating safety. They see me utilize these safety practices, and they hear a lot from me about how to have fun in safe, appropriate ways. When they learn to drive, I imagine I will use similar processes, just as my parents did for me – from a perspective of experienced, wise use.

Engaging in social media and technology for the purposes of fun and education should follow a similar philosophy in my opinion. Just as I ready my boys for safe, responsible use of boats and water equipment, I believe we must ready our students for safe, responsible use of the Internet and social media spaces. When they are “too young,” we should even restrict their access to certain tools and places. However, as they reach a certain age, the best education is teaching and modeling wise, responsible use.

My school is forwarding a substantial technology shift for us: moving from PC to Apple, and moving closer toward 1:1. As we do so, a number of policies and foundational philosophies are becoming exposed, reconsidered, analyzed, and re-examined. That is a good thing! However, a few people seem to be allowing fear and media hype to cloud perspective. Let’s not be guilty of letting the 1% of bad overshadow the 99% of good…even though media tends to report 99% of the time on all that could go wrong. Think: chances of being in a plane crash vs number of safe journeys that happen everyday…and what media reports when a rare crash does occur. Same trend happens with regard to tech use (particularly with “social media”) among school-age learners.

Safety, of course, is paramount! Restricted access to particular services, sites, and domains for certain ages is certainly part of the equation. Nevertheless, deliberate teaching of digital citizenship is a MUST DO! In addition to those shared in the introduction to this post, a few other metaphors and analogies come to mind:

Driver Education

For safety’s sake, we would probably be safer (in the short run) to restrict driving until about age 22-25. But we don’t. We educate children how to drive. That education occurs each and every time they ride in a car with an adult, and it continues with drivers’ ed and preparation for a learner’s permit and a full license.

As adults, we teach teens how to drive by modeling for many years. Then, when the time nears for the teens driving themselves, we take a seat in the passenger position, and instruct them how to drive. We do this from a perspective of years of driving ourselves. Many times, my parents wished they had a set of pedals and a second steering wheel – if their body motions from the passenger seat were any indicator. My dad pumped an imaginary brake and grabbed the dashboard more than a few times. He cringed when I ground the gears learning to drive a stick shift. My dad and mom encouraged, fussed, hollered, and praised. But they never said, “You are not driving until you are much older!” They knew I was preparing to drive myself, and they prepared me for the real responsibility of driving as a good, careful citizen of the roads.

We do not give the car keys to 10 year olds. The example in this video would be ridiculous!

But we do give the car keys to 15 and 16 year olds. And they learn by doing. I believe responsible use of the Internet and social media should be similar. I do not believe 11 year olds should be using Facebook or Twitter. But by age 13, I think we should be teaching them how to drive – by modeling and instructing. By letting them learn by doing.

Freedom from Chemical Dependency

When I was an undergraduate, majoring in economics, I studied the economics and public policy of vice and substance use/abuse as one of my focus areas of application. Through the lenses of demand and supply models, I came to understand the critical importance of demand-side intervention for drug abuse. Because of the profit margins in drug sales (unfortunately), supply-side interventions fall short – there sadly seems to be an endless line of folks who become willing to sell and supply. Therefore, consumer education rises as a fundamental, primary strategy. People must know the dangers of what they are doing/might do if we hope to win the war on drugs…if we hope to curb demand of the bad stuff. Part of that education must include information and practice of how to achieve natural highs…if we hope to build demand for the good stuff.

Use of social media is similar. The tools and services are human dominated. A supply-side only restriction is doomed to failure in a market place with strong demand for the commodity. So we must educate our consumers. We must teach good use, model good use, practice good use, and advocate good use. We must enhance demand for positives and decrease demand for negative/harmful use.

A Number of Interesting and Excellent Resources

Articles abound on Internet safety and school-age children using tech tools such as social media. The articles tend to run a spectrum – from total restriction of use to teaching safe, responsible use. Here are a few:

Social Networking Policies for School Employees
By Christopher P. Stief, Fisher & Phillips, LLP (Philadelphia)

Kids Connecting With Adults Online
Teach students how to learn with adults from around the world.
January 2010 by Will Richardson

Why Parents Should Both Monitor And Empower Kids Using Social Media
From the Huffington Post by Tina Barseghian

For me, two of the most powerful resources are these next PLP (Powerful Learning Practice) posts. In brief, I think they both speak to us educators (including us parents, of course!) being prepared and PROACTIVE about learning and teaching wise, responsible use of technology tools – especially the exponentially growing category of social media spaces and applications. Forest Hills Elementary Schools is developing a purposeful, deliberate scope and sequence curriculum for instructing elementary students about the safe and SMART use of social media.

Thinking SMART about Digital Citizenship
By PLP team members from Forest Hills Elementary Schools

All Principals Should Be Tech Savvy
By Lyn Hilt

In the book, Communicating and Connecting with Social Media, authors Bill Ferriter, Jason Ramsden, and Eric Sheninger end the book this way:

Most importantly, though, social media tools are redefining the way your students are interacting with one another. In fact, three out of every four online teens are already using services like Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter to stay connected with one another (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith & Zickuhr, 2010). Isn’t it time that we worked to respect, rather than ridicule and ban, the spaces that our students are creating? Wouldn’t responsible teaching involve showing students how the social tools they have already embraced can be leveraged for learning – and couldn’t experimenting with new spaces for communication and professional development leave you better prepared to find ways to responsibly integrate social media into your building’s instructional practices?

Those are the kinds of powerful questions that are waiting for your answers! (73-74).

So…

1. Let us adults model good, wise responsible use of the Internet and social media by engaging in these practices ourselves – let’s show kids the great ways these tools can be used for learning and positive engagement and change.

2. Let us adults empower students to learn to drive themselves, to boat safely and enjoy the water, and to understand the dangers, as well as the countless opportunities, that exist in the virtual, connected world.

It’s about learning!

Works Cited:

Ferriter, William M., Ramsden, Jason T., Sheninger, Eric C. Communicating and Connecting with Social Media. Solution Tree Press, Bloomington, IN: 2011.

NOTE: Thanks to @gcouros for the link to the YouTube video “Should Kids Be Driving Alone?”

Great TED Talk Resource

Those who know me, or know of me from this blog, understand that I am a huge TED fan and devotee. TED is fundamental part of my personal learning plan. I watch a talk a day. Each time I am inspired and made even more curious.

Well, thanks to a history teacher…then, Steve Anderson…then, Peyten Dobbs, I was made aware of a nice resource for searching TED talks. Also, I loved the history teacher’s intro explanation to the resource. It seemed to bother him/her to list the talks by discipline, when so many talks are cross-disciplinary and integrated. Most things are in real life!

I just wanted to pass along the resource (with a bit of brief commentary). Happy browsing and searching.

Steven W. Anderson (@web20classroom)
6/7/11 10:12 AM
TED Demystified For Teachers: http://bit.ly/jPRkpE

http://www.historyteachersattic.com/2009/06/ted-talks-demystified-for-teachers/

Kindergarten Field Trips ROCK!

Today, I chaperoned my older son’s kindergarten field trip to Yellow River Game Ranch – something of a cross between a basic zoo and a petting farm. I was assigned a group of five boys. We called ourselves the Adams’ All Stars. They joyfully explored and discovered a myriad of animals, enjoyed the outdoors, and loved being with each other. I had a ball, and I was constantly reminded of the wonders of seeing, hearing, smelling, and being curious. What a super duper day of learning fun!

Thanks to Michaelangelo

Yesterday, when I got home, I asked my six-year-old about school. “What was your most fun thing today?” He answered that they had seen some slides of a guy who painted, sculpted, designed architecture, messed around in math, and read a lot of books. I asked if he remembered who the “guy” was. My son said, “No, but he painted some chapel ceiling.” I said, “Michaelangelo.” My son said, “Yeah, that’s the guy.”

I am not entirely sure why I love all of the categories (and more!) that my son listed, but I do. I hope someone, someday, will describe me as a Renaissance person. I hope my sons – both of them – seek to learn about the full range of things in the world. Specialization is overrated. I hope my sons find ways to stay integrated in their thinking. PJ found no disconnect that that “guy” did all those things. For now, I am thankful that my kindergartener had an interaction with a Renaissance person today…through his teacher. Thanks, Michaelangelo.