Friday, September 9, 2016

Has Innovation Jumped the Shark?

That cultural reference shouldn’t need to be explained, but just in case:



The moment many would argue that
"Happy Days" became irrelevant

We’ve written about jumping the shark at the Underground before, and some would even say that we ourselves jumped that proverbial shark long ago. So in a sense, perhaps we’ve outlived our relevance. But you know what hasn’t?

The 3.5mm jack. This item has been around since before Fonzie literally jumped the shark, taking the obnoxious noise of the “on the shoulder boombox” out of the neighborhood and putting the music in our ears through the Walkman and countless knock offs that would follow.

The jack never changed, but we began to use it in different ways. Unlike coaxial cables, various other a/v cordage, that simple single plug jack accommodated headphones and computer speakers, it connected personal devices to larger systems for audio, and it even became a source for individuals and small businesses to collect credit card payments without the expensive equipment.

Now Apple wants to crush it. And they’ll do it because they’ve found the language to convince us.

Using language such as “courage” and “ancient” we’re once again being divided into the two camps of innovators and luddites. Did courage drive this decision, or was it just good business sense? If it makes more money for us, do it. And just because a technology has served us since the 1960’s, do we write it off as obsolete as a result?

Even on the Today show, hosts weighed in on their opinions with Matt Lauer in the middle emphasizing the dichotomy between the “progressive” and “traditionalist” sitting on either side of him.

A friend and colleague recently shared an article on Twitter and asked for thoughts. “Screens in Schools are a Billion Dollar Hoax.” And, just like discussion over the 3.5mm jack, we’re no longer talking about reality, we’re framing the reality to suit our ideals. So what are we dealing with in education? Is it an ancient system that we need to have the courage to destroy, or are the innovators just hoodwinking all of us to advance their agenda?

Let me be so bold as to tell the truth.

Children need to sit and listen. They need to follow directions. They need structure and order. They need to learn how to do hard things and realize that life is not always fun. They need to learn the consequences of their actions. They need to know that some things are off limits. They need to put away their phones and screens.

Children need to move and create. They need to figure out things on their own. They need freedom and room for spontaneity. They need to have fun and relax. They need a break. The need to have dreams and support in pursuing them. They need to use technology to enhance what they’re doing and even do things that aren’t possible without it.


Don’t try to sell me any philosophy that doesn’t address both of these. They don’t contradict. It’s what good teachers do, and it is what students appreciate. If not now, later.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Olympics, The Donald, and Non-Complementary Behavior: Three thoughts to start your year.

Some of you are back, others will be soon. Here at the Underground, school starts next Tuesday so once again It's Go Time! I've had a little time to think over the summer, and here's what's buzzing around my brain as this year begins.

The Olympics

While watching this year, my oldest son asked, "Do you think we'll ever stop breaking world records?" In sports that require equipment (golf, tennis, etc.) there's no question that improvements in equipment enhance the performance of the game. But why do we run faster today? Look at his image from the New York Times:

It compares Usain Bolt to the fastest men in the world since 1896. I don't think it's just the shoes. I told my son that when I was a child, the things athletes are doing in the American Ninja Warrior competitions were unimaginable, like superheroes. It's not just physical, the Flynn Effect is the well documented increase of I.Q. over the last century. 

For us, that means that we can't dismiss the human potential that we're entrusted with every day. We spend so much time in awe of the progression of technology that it is easy to forget that it is the human that drives progress in our world, and this is the most important element of our classroom. So this year, I won't stress so much about how to be innovative and novel as much as trying to answer the question: "How do I help students that are smarter, faster, and stronger continue the road to human improvement independently and collectively?"

The Donald

I'm so glad that I don't have to teach US Government this year. How did we get here? Most of America will make a decision this year by voting for the person they dislike the least. -- if this election isn't an argument for greater support for Social Studies education in the United States I'm not sure what is. For some voters, he is a middle finger to the establishment. He has a base of support that will not waver even if he were to,"stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody" . Certainly it doesn't apply to all voters, but it does apply to all of those who believe that they've been left behind, who believe there is no longer a place for them at the table. This leads me even more so this year to ask myself: "How do I make sure that my students know they have a place at the table in my classroom?"


Non-Complementary Behavior

Thanks to a recent episode of Invisibilia, this term is making the internet rounds. I won't rehash the concept, but basically, it's human nature to react to one another in reciprocal ways. Repay kindness with kindness, spite with spite. Another element is dominance and submission-- we tend to react to dominance with submission and vice-versa. The podcast describes several tense situations that were de-escalated through the use of "non-complementary behavior." For example, a victim offering an armed robber the invitation to sit and join him for a glass of wine. 




That's my final thought as this year begins. "When does the situation call for me to pause before reacting in the normal way, and consider the impact of a non-complementary response?"

Have a great school year.


Tuesday, May 31, 2016

To The Class of 2016

To paraphrase Groucho Marx, if a school actually invited me to give a graduation speech I wouldn't want to be associated with that type of school. But the annual graduation address has a long history at the Teaching Underground, and I would hate to see the tradition die. So...

To the Class of 2016,

Congratulations, your mortar boards are straight, you make the gown look good, and in short time you'll have an official piece of paper in your hand. But you're smart enough to know that these things aren't the things that you've worked for. These things are the things that mark an achievement.

Some people scoff at the symbol and the ceremony. Some people scoff at the system and it's goals. Grades, deadlines, bells, rules... But we know better. We've worked hard together. And behind all of the veneer-- under the cap and gown, behind that official piece of paper-- that's where we find all of the effort that you put in and all of the shortcuts that you've taken. The relationships that helped you grow, and the pain caused by others. The way you changed your thinking about some things, and dug in your heels to resist certain others.

The classes you enjoyed, the classes you endured, and the classes that you skipped.

Outside looking in, it's easy to just see the cap and the gown and the paper. But you know what's underneath.

As you go out into the world remember that. Remember that humanity and its experience has depth. Both virtuous and flawed. You haven't participated in a perfect system for the last thirteen years, but you have been a part of a system that has strived to support you into becoming the best person that you can be.

We've had successes. We've had failure. Yes, there has been the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Now you embarq on a new stage of your life. Hopefully you'll learn that schools are not broken, government is not broken, religion isn't broken, the world isn't broken-- they're just made up of people, like you, like me, a complex mix of virtue and flaw. This means that we work on the flaws, and strive for virtue, learning as we go.

Just like what you find underneath that cap and gown is a complex mix of virtuous and flawed humanity, the systems that we create are the same. That means that we work on the flaws, and strive for virtue, and continue learning all the way.

I wish you the best on your way.





Monday, August 24, 2015

Let the kids Sleep!

To start off the school year in AP Psychology, I share with students four lessons from Psychology that can make them a better student. Number one, we talk about metacognition. Two, deep vs. shallow processing. Three, spaced/distributed vs. massed practice. And, point number four is simple: Get enough sleep! Students laugh at this point as if it is too simple to be of value and also because for many of them the idea of sleeping for eight hours or more is just a joke.

If you were hungry, it would be inhuman to keep you from food. If you're thirsty, your body is telling you it's time for water. When you need to go to the bathroom, well, you get where I'm going. These are all physical needs that must be met, and we've recognized for a long time that in school, you better make sure these needs are attended to if there is any hope of getting to the job of educating.

Last night, a fellow high school Psych teacher tweeted out a link to a CDC study headlined "Most US Middle and High Schools Start the Day Too Early." Occasionally, I'll have a student suggest that since teenagers tend to sleep later, they should go to school later, but in my district, they're in for a shock when they learn that we've known that for a while and adjusted the schedule accordingly.

When I went to high school, our day started at 8:20am. Not too bad, but still ten minutes earlier than the time recommended by the CDC. For as long as I can remember teaching in Albemarle County, Virginia, we've started school no earlier than 8:50am. Another Psych teacher twitter friend thought I was joking and shared that his school day begins at 7:15 in the morning.

Adequate sleep is not an option. Sleep deprivation has negative short and long term effects. I don't think that I've been capable of going to bed earlier than 10pm since I was about fourteen years old. If that is a reasonable bed time, then a teen would need to sleep until at least 6:30am to get eight and a half hours of sleep, and 7:30am to get nine and a half. I can't imagine the average teenager able to go to sleep before then even with close parental supervision. If it takes an hour to get showered, dressed, eat a quick breakfast, and travel to school, that gets us to the recommended time from the CDC.

I asked in our twitter exchange what could possibly be the rationale for such early start times for high school students. The only real argument seems to be participation in sports and other extra-curriculars. If that's it, then why can't middle schools get it right on start times? But, these obstacles clearly aren't impossible to overcome. From time to time, early dismissals for athletes competing away can be a problem, but an average of once a week in season doesn't compare to the cumulative effect of sleep loss over an entire year.

This is still assuming that most teenagers are going to bed before 11pm.

So why do so many districts insist on such early start times for middle and high school? The phrase "what's best for the kids" seems to only apply when it's directed to a classroom policy of a teacher. For all of the district administrators and decision-makers having kids start class before 8:00 in the morning, is that really what's best for the kids?