technology

What is sacred in education?

There’s nothing sacred about spelling tests as a way to learn spelling, flash cards to learn math facts, curriculum as a way to teach, testing as a way to collect data. There’s nothing sacred about most of what we do every day in education, and yet we hold tightly to these institutions as we make decisions about what school will look like. These constructs have been put into place to accomplish certain goals; namely to get kids to pass a test, have a certain GPA, and go to college.

We hold certain beliefs about education because those who came before us set the ground work for how we operate schools. Those who came before us existed in quite a different reality of what it meant to be educated. At the dawn of industrialization, much of what we see in education probably made sense.

When we consider how to do education better, how to make it more equitable, more meaningful, we often do so from the vantage point of old constructs.

As if they are sacred.

As if they are worth preserving.

In the last three months, I’ve led in the neighborhood of 300 teachers/administrators/district-heads through Anastasis Academy. They all come with a similar goal: they want to see how we personalize learning. Inevitably as I’m touring people through, they’ll exclaim over how articulate our students are in explaining what they are learning and the projects they are working on. They’ll show surprise over the way that our students are able to manage the freedom they are given to choose the “classroom” they will work in. They see it, and they still don’t always believe it works. We’ve been told that Anastasis is a “unicorn.” As our visitors talk among themselves, I can hear the “yeah, but…” Doubt creeps in. They try to make what they see at Anastasis fit the constructs they’ve already put into place.

Yesterday, I had a rare moment to jump into an early #edchat conversation on Twitter (spring break for the win!). The chat was about small class size and the way that changing the class size might change learning for the better. I had a lot to say about the positives that I see from having small class sizes. At Anastasis, our classes are capped at 12. One teacher, twelve students. Once again, I was met with awe…and again we became the “unicorn.” Many could see the benefits that come with smaller classes, but immediately pointed toward dollars being too tight to ever have hope of it being a reality. I can understand that viewpoint, with ever tightening budgets it is one that can feel too large to overcome.

When we started Anastasis Academy it was with no endowments, no grants, no private backers (unless you count the $160 I put in for a domain name, information night handouts, and establishing ourselves with the state of Colorado as a non-profit). Anastasis is a tuition funded school. Tuition is $9000 each year. I did not choose that $9000/year amount arbitrarily. I chose it because at the time, it was the per-pupil expenditure in the public school district where we started. I chose that number because I believe that the type of education that students enjoy at Anastasis should be available to ALL students, whether or not their family can afford a private education. I chose that number because I wanted to show that education CAN be different, and it isn’t really about money.

When we free ourselves from the perceived rigidity of the system that we are in, and begin with a clean slate, we are free to see things from new perspectives. Rather than trying to fit small class sizes into your current budget and system, try approaching the problem from a clean slate. I hear some of you “yeah, butting…” already. “Yeah, but we don’t have the luxury to start from a clean slate, we have to work in the system.”

Try this as an exercise.

It’s not meant to free you from the system, but instead to give you freedom in your thinking. By beginning ideation away from the rigid constructs, you may stumble onto an idea that you hadn’t considered before. It may give you just enough freedom to come up with a new approach that might just work in your system. The “yeah, but” statement puts a stop to the creativity, beginning with no constraints can lead to new ways of thinking and possibility. Instead of “yeah, but” try playing the “what if” game. What if none of these constraints were in our way? What if we could make decisions apart from the system we are in? What if we had a blank slate to dream up our perfect school? What if money was no object?

When beginning with a clean slate, I always like to begin with the non-negotiable. What do we value that we aren’t willing to compromise? What is impossible to do without? Begin with what you must have. When I went through this exercise, I found that what I value most is students-with-names. Kids who are unique individuals, and are treated as such, is central to all decisions that we make at Anastasis.

We begin with students with names.

Next: How do we support students-with-names? It’s been my experience that the best way to support students-with-names is not with a fancy new curriculum, new technology, or better standards; but by the people you surround them with. The teachers, those who will apprentice students in the art of learning. We empower teachers to be teachers. And so, our first decision is made. Teachers are non-negotiable. We have to find the best, for us this is defined as those who know how to build community, how to make students central to the learning process, those who are instructional designers and don’t rely on boxed curriculum, those that are empathetic and thoughtful.

Then: Where do we do this? A space for the learning to happen is important. We need a home base. It needs to fit our vision. It needs to be flexible. We also need to show students that learning doesn’t just happen within the four walls of our school. That it can happen anywhere, that there is always someone to learn from. And so, our second decision is made. We need a place to do the learning that fits our vision. We need a portion of our budget set aside to get students outside of the building once a week. We need them to be able to meet experts. We need transportation to make us mobile.

Finally: What will drive our learning? If we are valuing students-with-names, boxed one-size-fits-all curriculum no longer feels like a good fit. It doesn’t ladder up to support our non-negotiable. And so, our third decision is made. We will be inquiry based, we will help students think deeply, ask beautiful questions, problem solve, and chase learning. We will not put money into boxed curriculum, instead we will purchase only those books, experiences, resources, etc. that we need as inquiry unfolds. We will be agile.

The bulk of my budget at Anastasis goes toward those things I value most. I hire teachers first, lease the space that we learn in and learning-excursions/transportation second, and support inquiry with resources third.

As you dream, start with what is necessary. Then move on to what is desired (realize that you may be able to fill these wishes outside of your budget creatively- we are a 1:1 BYOD iPad school because it is the only supply on our supply list. For our families, it is more cost-effective to own the technology than to fill a list of school supplies each year. As a school, it is more cost-effective for us to purchase the typical school list for students than to own the technology). Finally fill in with what is left.

Do this with your colleagues. Dream together. Start with a clean slate. Use the improv ethic. In improv theater, the rule is that you go with what you are given. This usually consists of a fictional identity, a scene that is set up for you. Ground Rules: You can’t suddenly chuck the scene mid-speech. You can’t contradict lines fed to you by fellow actors…it will kill the scene because there will be nothing to say after it.

Try employing the improv ethic at your next staff meeting. Liberate yourselves by giving your minds a ground zero, clean slate, to begin thinking. Choose a problem that bothers you in education (class size is a great one!). Why does it bother you? Then, as an ideation experiment add a change to the scene and follow the implications of that change from one scene to the next. How does it change things for the budget? How does it change things for students? Parents? Teachers? In improv they teach this idea of “yes, and…” Solve the problem and look for a solution rather than implementing the “yeah, but…” that limits ideas and shuts down new thinking. Dream big. Dream without the limitations you might ‘know’ exist. As I said, in the process you may discover a solution or way around a very real limitation you wouldn’t have considered or come up with otherwise. In a very real way, this blog (Dreams of Education) did that for me. This was a safe place to have crazy dreams that ended up becoming a new reality. If you had asked me about starting a school 6 years ago, I would have adamantly told you that I would never start a school. That I didn’t even know the first place to start.

Try following your dreaming and thinking down a rabbit hole, giving permission for absurdity and silliness. This is often what the brainstorming and ideation phase of design thinking looks like. Often solutions grow out of what at first glance appears as absurd and impossible. Shut down the inner critic- suspend the naysayers and come up with something new.

What is truly sacred in education?

The incredible, creative, unique individuals that we call students.

That is sacred.

That is non-negotiable.

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School is so much more than learning all the right things

The first question that I get asked when people find out that I’ve started a school: what makes Anastasis Academy different? And this is a tricky one to answer, because the truth is EVERYTHING makes us different. It’s hard to describe something that no one has seen before, so you begin to relate it with ideas and concepts that people are familiar with. The more I’ve talked about Anastasis, the more I’ve begun to really recognize what it is at the heart that makes us so different. It is our starting point and driving force: students-with-names.

That may seem like a strange comment to make, “students-with-names,” because, of course they have names! But in education, we make a lot of decisions without these specific students-with-names in mind. We make decisions for students as if they are a homogeneous group, or worse, a number.

As if they don’t have special interests/passions/gifts.

As if they don’t have something unique that the world needs.

At Anastasis Academy, we see the potential of students-with-names and help them believe that they are capable of realizing that potential. That it is worth the risk of being fully alive. That they can be vulnerable in community.

When we talk about education, too often the focus is on learning all the right things, equipping kids with the right content and answers. But the truth is, a great school is about so much more than learning all the right things. A great school is about connecting humanity. It is about finding the educators who can draw students out, who can foster humanity and connection. Who see potential and help others see it, too. Who help kids embrace their worth and value.

Because we start from this place, from students-with-names, every other decision we make has to honor that.

So we can’t think about curriculum as a one-size-fits all.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t assess in a way that minimizes the individual and the learning journey that is happening.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t have large class sizes that prohibit us from getting to know the stories of students.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t pretend that worksheets, tests, and grades are what learning is about.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t let technology be the teacher.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t have restrictive classroom space.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t rely on typical professional development to prepare teachers.

Because, students (and teachers)-with-names.

When your goal is honoring the humanity, EVERYTHING else must shift to help meet that goal. Everything must be adjusted outside of the assumptions we make as adults about what education “should” look like.

Last week, I asked every Anastasis teacher to come to school on Tuesday with sub plans with one caveat- don’t “dumb it down” for the sub! Just continue on with whatever you were doing. That was all of the information I shared. On Tuesday morning, we all met in the office. I had slips of paper with every class name on it. Each teacher chose a name. This was to be their class for the morning.

Teacher Swap!

My goal was a simple one, build community and empathy among the staff. If you’ve met the staff at Anastasis, you may have wondered at this goal (these are the most amazing people who have incredible empathy and we have a pretty tight community). Something different happens when you are in a classroom that isn’t yours, teaching students you don’t normally teach. You begin to see things through new lenses, different perspectives. You begin to problem solve differently. We had a Jr. High teacher with our 2nd-3rd grade, our 4th-6th teacher with our kindergarten. Teachers who normally teach young students, teaching some of the oldest. It was outstanding!

During our Wednesday staff meeting, we talked about the successes and challenges that were faced. We remembered what it is like to be a “new” teacher again, the fish-out-of-water feeling that comes from having a loose inquiry plan with a different age group. It revealed the way that each class ladders up and prepares these students-with-names for the next part of their learning journey. It reminded us not to set boundaries and expectations too low; these kids are capable of greatness! It revealed to the teachers of the older students why the teachers of the younger students are ready for recess at 10:00am on the button. :)

In a few weeks, teachers will begin to go into each other’s classrooms as an observer. My hope is, that the time spent teaching in each other’s classes will provide them with greater insight and more thoughtful observation.

In February, we invite you to come visit us. Join us to see first hand how a focus on students-with-names impacts everything that we do (including our approach to conference PD!)  The 5Sigma Education Conference is an opportunity for you to see first hand what makes Anastasis such a different learning environment. On February 19th, our students will tour you through our building, they’ll walk you through classes and talk to you about their learning experiences. We have two incredible keynotes by equally incredible people. Angela Maiers is our opening keynote. If you aren’t familiar with Angela’s work, I encourage you to take a look at her here, and learn why she is the perfect person to kick off our “students-with-names” focused conference. Bodo Hoenen is our closing keynote. Bodo has a passion for making individualized learning possible for children who have been largely forgotten.  In between those keynotes, will be sessions, panels, featured speakers, conversations, and plenty of inspiration. On February 21st we’ll take a field trip together.

This is our second 5Sigma Education Conference, if you were at the first, you know what a powerful weekend this is. If you weren’t with us last year, you will not want to miss out this year! Check out what last year’s attendees had to say about the weekend here.

Register today and take advantage of early-bird pricing!

Have something that needs to be added to our conversations? The call for proposals is still open! Click on the link above and head over to the “Propose a Session” tab.

Knowing Kids As Well As We Know Wine

By now, I’m sure you’ve been inundated with news and social media stories about ninth grade student Ahmed Mohammed who was arrested when he brought a “hoax bomb” to school. As it turns out the “hoax bomb” was nothing more than a homemade digital clock that the 14 year old created and brought to share.

This story has raised all sorts of questions about racism and religious persecution, and those are really important discussions that should be talked about and considered. But, for me, the conversation has to be bigger than just race and religion. The truth is, this is a systemic issue that impacts all students and the question that keeps coming to my mind is: How is it that the teachers in MacArthur High School, and it’s administration, know so little about Ahmed and WHO he is? Why didn’t they know that he has this passion for engineering, robotics and electronics? Why didn’t his English teacher know him beyond the color of his skin and his religion? Because if anyone in the building had taken the time to really get to know Ahmed, they would know that this is a brilliant student who is excited about learning. They might know that he had been working on projects like this, and that he would want to share his excitement of accomplishment with his teachers. They might not have made such a ridiculous judgement call based on race and religion because they would know who he is.  When Ahmed showed his engineering teacher the homemade clock, the advice that was given was to hide it away and not to show other staff. Wait, what?! (If a student brought something like that to me, my advice would be to share it with all of his teachers and other students!) Why would we tell students, in a SCHOOL, to hide away an accomplishment like that? Ahmed did as he was told and kept his clock in his backpack, that worked well until an alarm went off in English class. When Ahmed showed the clock to his English teacher, it was followed by a threat of expulsion and interrogation by five police officers and handcuffs.

Students have names, and with those names stories. Consider the amount of time that parents consider what they are going to name their newborn. There is anticipation and excitement for this new person that they’ll soon meet. And each of the names being considered have a story. Sometimes it is a family name that they want to carry on because of the stories that come with the name, the fond memories, the accomplishment. Sometimes the name is a desire for parents to declare something new and unique. Sometimes the names come from a special place visited, or based on a memory. Names matter because they come with rich history and story and promise. Each one of the names is as unique as the student who carries the name, because it comes with that history and story. By the time that we meet that student as an educator, the name carries additional history of their individual experiences, personality, struggles, and accomplishments.

It seems that we know the weight of names in other facets of life. Consider the sommelier who not only knows the names of wines, but also the varietal of grapes, the climate they were grown in, the different hints and notes of flavors, the aging process, the vintner who made the wine, the bottling process, and hundreds of other idiosyncrasies of the particular wine. There are coffee masters who, by taste, can tell you what region of the world the coffee hales from, what that region is known for, how the coffee was roasted, and the hints of flavor that a particular bean has. Why don’t we have more education masters who know students?

In education, we’ve done the opposite. We’ve taken incredible individuals, students with names, and we’ve created a system where we see them as the same. We rank them and tell them their worth through test scores, we purchase boxed curriculum that exposes them all to the exact same material, in the same way, on the same day. We set the exact same standards for all of them. When they enter our classrooms we have no time to KNOW them, because the focus isn’t on the student with a name and a story, the focus is on external goals. Are they going to pass the test? Are they going to go to graduate? Are they going to make us look good when we compare ourselves with another country’s scores?

When they come to us with cool clocks that they’ve learned to program, we don’t know WHO they are well enough to celebrate that accomplishment with them. Instead we leap to conclusions based on assumptions, and misinformation, and fear.

The thing that I am most proud of at Anastasis Academy is that we know our students names, and the stories that go with those names. We take the time as a staff to get to know EVERY child in the building (it helps that we have a small population, but it is also one of the reasons we have a small population). Knowing our students colors everything that we do. It transforms the way we use classroom space, the way we assess, the way we interact as a community, the way we make decisions about choosing resources and learning excursions, the way that we do school. When kids are known, they bring their passions to school. Teachers don’t panic when a child brings their knife collection that their grandfather left them, because we know the story and can help the child share that story with others in a way that is appropriate. We can help students “stand again” (the literal translation of Anastasis) in who they are as learners, and the unique gifts/talents/perspective that they add to the world.

Ahmed’s story reminds me of all the ways that we’ve lost the humanity in education. When humanity is stripped away and the focus is not on the students with names and stories, fear and panic drive our decisions. Fear and panic are generally related to a lack of knowledge, so we make assumptions and fill in our own blanks. Pretty soon we have creative, innovative, amazing students who look more like robots. As a society, we’ve got to stop being okay with students as numbers. To truly transform education, we’ve got to focus on the humanity, knowing the students with names and stories. We have to know kids (at least) as well as well as we know wine.

Students Have Names

This post is in response to a Newsweek article titled “What if You Could Learn Everything”

“Imagine every student has a tireless personal tutor, an artificially intelligent and inexhaustible companion that magically knows everything, knows the student, and helps her learn what she needs to know.”

 

Jose Ferreira, the CEO of Knewton, has made this artificially intelligent companion a reality for k-12 students.  He has partnered with three curriculum companies including Pearson, MacMillan, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as part of his vision for making Knewton the adaptive learning tool that will make textbooks obsolete.   This “adaptive learning will help each user find the exact right piece of content needed, in the exact right format, at the exact right time, based on previous patterns of use…  Knewton, at base, is a recommendation engine but for learning. Rather than the set of all Web pages or all movies, the learning data set is, more or less, the universe of all facts. For example, a single piece of data in the engine might be the math fact that a Pythagorean triangle has sides in the ratio 3-4-5, and you can multiply those numbers by any whole number to get a new set of side lengths for this type of triangle.”

Knewton works as you might suspect, it begins with a test to see what a student already knows.  Content is pulled in the form of reading and videos to teach the student the things that they do not know.  This is similar to what many other “personalized” adaptive learning systems are doing.  What makes Knewton stand apart is the way that the technology “reads” the student.  As the student is learning, the technology is recording timing, confidence, tabulating each keystroke, and whether the student is guessing or taking their time to answer questions.  So, the more that a student interacts with Knewton, the smarter it becomes and the better that the study recommendations get.

When I see technology like Knewton, it astounds me.  I am always excited about technology that has the potential to improve learning and that feels seamless for humans to interact with.  While the geek in me rejoices that someone is tackling a project this substantial to increase learning, the educator in me is disappointed.  Knewton is all about knowing things. It is about facts.  But, is it really worth all of the effort for technology to train humans to be computers?  I mean, that is essentially what this is doing, no?  We are creating a new factory model, this time the technology is programming us.  Ironically, this is exactly what Knewton’s CEO is working to overcome.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that are worth knowing.  Important, foundational things that shape the rest of what we are able to do.  But, who gets to determine what is foundational and essential for a student to know?  As far as I’m concerned, most curriculum companies are already overreaching in what every single child MUST know.  So, with the vast amount of knowledge available in the world, how do we determine what is really critical for us as a society to know?  The rest of it, while interesting and important, is not necessarily worth forcing.  Even the title of the article, “What if You Could Learn Everything?” makes me cringe.  I don’t want to know everything.  I don’t want to be so crammed full of facts that I can rock a game of Trivial Pursuit, but I can’t actually DO anything useful.

My bigger problem is that once again, we are introducing a tool into education that intends to personalize the learning experience for the student, and in doing so, strips away their humanity.  You see that don’t you?  This is turning children into computers and fact recallers.

But students have names.  They have stories.  Teachers have a different kind of urgency to make things better because we begin and end with students who have names.  This goes beyond the altruistic, “wouldn’t it be great if education worked better” motivation of politicians and curriculum companies who have the ultimate goal of improving our  rank in math and science.  As a teacher, you deal in humanity.  You are concerned with the life that is being shaped.  You want kids to know that they are more than the collection of facts that they have memorized.  The are unique and have something important to offer the world.  That they matter.  Humanity.

So, while I find the concept behind Knewton fascinating, it isn’t what I want for education.  It may fill a need for a piece of the puzzle (namely the foundational knowledge piece), but it isn’t going to make education better if it becomes education.  Being educated is more than just knowing facts (and I’ll remind you again that we already have computers for that).  Being educated means that a child can make connections, synthesize, analyze, evaluate, apply, create something new.  It is learning that is applied.

Technology will play a critical role in the evolution of the classroom.  The role will be different from what Knewton offers.  Instead of assuming that all kids need is facts, the technology will recognize and embrace the humanity.  It will offer more than one way to learn, because while some kids will really enjoy sitting and reading, watching videos and taking an online multiple choice test, others will want to try out a concept through experimentation.  They will want to build something new with their knowledge, or launch further investigation into a concept, or take a field trip and see the learning for themselves.  Learning cannot be reduced to a computer.  This changes the recommendation engine and relies heavily on skilled educators.  This takes into account who a student really is and makes learning recommendations based on that.  The recommendations aren’t relegated to a computer, they can be field trips, videos, apps, projects, activities, experiments, books, and anything else that can be used to learn.  This is utilizing technology for personalization beyond pacing and content exposure to pass the next multiple choice test.  This is empowering teachers to truly shape the learning experience for each student.  This is recognizing that students should have a say in how and what they will learn.  This is why I created the Learning Genome Project.

The Learning Genome Project recognizes that learning is more than just a collection of facts.  It embraces humanity and rejects the idea that humans should be computers.  It will be transformative because it works to make each student the best that they, individually, can be.  It works to strengthen the WHOLE child, not just the fact reservoirs in the brain.  It goes beyond remembering content and challenges students to do something with their knowledge.  I can’t tell you how many students I have met that know their multiplication facts inside and out, but have no idea why finding area requires multiplication.  Knowledge is useful when it can be applied.  The Learning Genome Project urges students to go beyond knowing into the other, rich areas of learning.  Blooms Taxonomy is a useful for thinking through what it means to learn.  Knowledge and understanding are a portion of the learning, but so is the ability to analyze, evaluate, apply and create.  Learning is multifaceted and alive.  It can’t be so neatly all contained in this sort of adaptive learning technology.  Education should utilize technology (I tend to believe this will be the Learning Genome Project) in order to reach the individual.  It must reach outside of itself and meet that student with a name.  It must be able to recognize a student’s need without demanding that the need be met with a predetermined question/answer set.

This post took me some days to think through and write.  It spurred some new thinking for me.  It made me go back through the Learning Genome Project wireframes to dig out any hidden corners that may harbor something that would strip the humanity.  It caused me to think of a new Bloom’s Taxonomy image.  I welcome your thoughts and comments!

Hat tip to @alexbitz for sending me this article!

**If you know an investor who might be interested in the Learning Genome Project, I’d love an introduction!

Hijacked Words

Sometimes words get hijacked and get new meanings and understandings associated with them.  This has certainly become the case for many educational words and phrases. Standards for example.  In education standards has become a dirty word because it has been hijacked and become synonymous with meaningless tests, scripted curriculum, and the stripping of creativity.  But, if we take a step outside of the system and remember what standards really are…it isn’t such a bad little word after all.  The problem with hijacked words is that the true meaning is often forgotten, and with it a little bit of truth and importance once associated with it.  We are so eager to dismiss the hijacked word as “bad” that, lumped with it, we dismiss the original idea.

In this morning’s #edchat, the topic was: Is the idea of digital native a myth? Do most kids already have the skills & knowledge 2 master tech 4 learning?

The conversation quickly turned to one of labeling kids and the belief that Digital Native is a myth because many adults are more tech savvy than their students.  There was a lot of discussion about kids needing to learn the technology, that they aren’t naturally gifted at using it.

It was at this point that I realized that Digital Native has become a hijacked word.  The idea of Digital Natives started with an article written by Marc Prensky.  You can read the article in its entirety here. In the article, Marc is painting a picture about the differences in the students we teach.  They think differently, view the world differently, and learn differently.  He says:

“It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of
their interaction with it, today‟s students think and process information fundamentally
differently from their predecessors. These differences go far further and deeper than most
educators suspect or realize. “Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain
structures, “ says Dr. Bruce D. Perry of Baylor College of Medicine. As we shall see in
the next installment, it is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed –
and are different from ours – as a result of how they grew up. But whether or not this is
literally true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed. I will
get to how they have changed in a minute.

What should we call these “new” students of today? Some refer to them as the N-[for
Net]-gen or D-[for digital]-gen. But the most useful designation I have found for them is
Digital Natives. Our students today are all “native speakers” of the digital language of
computers, video games and the Internet.

So what does that make the rest of us? Those of us who were not born into the digital
world but have, at some later point in our lives, become fascinated by and adopted many
or most aspects of the new technology are, and always will be compared to them, Digital
Immigrants.

The importance of the distinction is this: As Digital Immigrants learn – like all
immigrants, some better than others – to adapt to their environment, they always retain,
to some degree, their “accent,” that is, their foot in the past. The “digital immigrant
accent” can be seen in such things as turning to the Internet for information second rather
than first, or in reading the manual for a program rather than assuming that the program
itself will teach us to use it. Today‟s older folk were “socialized” differently from their
kids, and are now in the process of learning a new language. And a language learned later
in life, scientists tell us, goes into a different part of the brain.”

Here is what Marc isn’t saying: Kids born today come out of the womb knowing how to use all technology and use it well.  Even though Marc doesn’t say this, judging by today’s #edchat this is what many educators believe the term means.

Being a Digital Native has more to do with worldview than anything else.  If you are born in a time where GPS technology is built into every device you are going to think about reading a map differently than someone who grew up without GPS.  If you are born in a time where the printing press is gaining speed and books are ubiquitous, you are going to think about where information comes from differently than someone who grew up with oral tradition only.  Every generation has its technology “natives” and “immigrants”.  When I am around 8 year olds who are talking about Skyping each other after school I am an immigrant.  Not because I don’t know how to use Skype, not because they are better at utilizing it than I am.  I am an immigrant because I didn’t grow up with that technology as part of my world.  When I was a kid the best I could hope for was a cordless phone I could take into my room.  As far as the 8-year-old Skype user is concerned, Skype has always existed as part of their world.  That changes their worldview. That changes the way they think about communicating.  Compared to the 58-year-old I am a native. I have never known a world without color TV, remote controls, video games, or the home computer.  That is different from the world they grew up in.  It affects the way we view the world, the way we collect information, the way that we approach a problem.

I believe what Prensky was getting at was a matter of worldview.  I do not think he intended to suggest that students naturally understood how to use all technology, or that they could naturally use it well.  The point is that the technology blends into the background for them.  My students really don’t “get” how COOL cell phone technology is.  I am still amazed that I can pull out my phone and call anyone in the world no matter where I am.  My students don’t remember the days of the brick with poor reception, impossibly expensive cell bills, and that the first cellular phones weren’t actually all that convenient.  For them this technology blends into the environment.  It is a given.  This doesn’t mean that they will pick up every cell phone and know exactly how to use it. It means that when they approach learning and thinking, they do so with the worldview that we are connected at any time and in any place.

Consider this example: I was born in 1982. Home computers were, at best, novelties.  The first computer I remember playing on was the Commodore 64.  We used it to play a Top Gun video game with “amazing graphics!”  I thought it was REALLY cool that we had to use a joy stick.  We had a computer lab at school with Apple iie’s in it.  We played Number Crunchers and Oregon Trail.  The computer was for entertainment purposes.  It wasn’t until I was in 6th grade that I typed a “published” piece of work on a computer.  Everything was hand written first…in our neatest handwriting.  To this day if I am writing something important, I hand-write it first. I have notebooks full of blog post drafts, grant proposals, reports, etc. all written out long hand.  It isn’t because I don’t know how to use a computer, it isn’t because I’m not tech savvy.  It isn’t even because I really like extra work.  It all comes down to the worldview I grew up with.  You write first, then you publish. (My accent is showing.)  My students think it is ridiculous to write something before typing it.  They often ask why I would do that.  Because I’m not a native.

One last example: I grew up with cameras that used film.  Film was expensive to buy and process.  We had to take time getting a picture just right before taking it because we didn’t want to waste film.  My students have NO concept of this at all.  They take thousands of pictures, post them digitally and never worry about wasting film or money on bad pictures.  Even though I use a digital camera, know how to use the digital camera, know that I can take as many pictures as I want with it- I am still careful about trying to get a picture just right on the first try.  I still think I need to have every picture I take printed.  Different world views. For one of us the digital camera is native…I am the immigrant with an accent.

I think the idea of Digital Natives is important and has roots that need to be remembered.  When we look at students and call them Digital Natives, it isn’t because they know instinctively how to use every piece of technology. We call them Digital Natives because it reminds us that they are approaching learning with a different worldview.  They are approaching learning with a belief that technology is ubiquitous.  When we remember this definition of Digital Natives we will understand that technology and proper use has to be learned.  We will also understand that giving a Digital Native a 10-year-old textbook isn’t going to work. Technology is part of their landscape and we are asking them to learn in a way that doesn’t mesh with that worldview.  That is what Digital Native is really about.

 

Beyond Gutenberg

Earlier, I posted about a conversation I had with the head of a new school opening up in town.  Let me reiterate, I really enjoy these conversations, they cause me to think and confirm my convictions about the teaching/learning process.  This is the follow-up conversation that took place (in bits and pieces).  Everything in green is the response to my initial email.

I appreciate your example of the use of technology in learning.  What I love about your example is the technology served to get the students closer to the real, hands-on source.  The only way that the situation could be better is if the students could go and experience Antarctica for themselves. When technology is a tool used to put children in closer touch with the real thing, of the original source, that is wonderful.

On my way home I was thinking about technology, and thought of cell phones.  They are wonderful, essential, and central to our communication today.  But, for example, I’d suggest that for a 4 year old, communication that is face to face, with hugs and facial expressions, is much more important than having a cell phone (unless it is to talk to grandma far away, bringing the child in closer touch with the real thing.)

One caution I would have with bringing I-pads to a school like yours (and feel free to argue with me here) is that the students are so steeped in a culture of having and consuming and being entertained, that the technology that could be a tool to bring them into closer relationship to many real things could actually represent or embody for them the things (consumerism, materialism, “entertain-me”-ism)  that are their primary barriers to having deep relations with people, ideas or the world around them.  So, a student with the wrong mindset would pick up that I-pod and think “Aren’t we great and cool that we have this?”,  “What can it do for me?”,  “How can it entertain me?”,  “How can I find cooler stuff than other kids?”,  etc.  Their initial context could shape how they view the tool, and that could impact their use of it, and more importantly, reinforce that erroneous initial context.

As I have picked up the kids from school, I’ve had the student say “hi” without looking me in the eye, and then continuously text as we drive, not really be able to carry on a face-to-face conversation through the day, and then ask what video games we have.  They have little ability to enjoy the real world around them, other than through comparing what they have to what someone else has, or to compare their performance to the performance of someone else.  I think we have gone wrong somewhere.  These students have detached from real people, they do not notice real beauty in creation, they lack true joy, they are starved of nourishing ideas and nourishing relationships.  Yes, this is a broad brush generalization, but it is pretty pervasive.  I don’t think technology is the fix for this problem, and sometimes it makes it worse.  Once a child is connected in close terms, then I think technology is wonderful for bringing them into closer touch with real things far away.  But if we ignore the “close things”, and especially if we substitute technology for the hard work of really training them in habit (it is much easier to have a child interacting with thier own individual entertaining system than it is to do the messy work of really interrelating together, as we have witnessed on many car rides), I think we end up with a less nourished, less creative, less connected, more distracted child.

So, yes, I agree that technology is a useful tool, and amazing in its place.  I love that we can daily come up with questions and curiosities and find answers in seconds that bring us into closer touch with real things and diverse ideas.  And I love the variety of ways we have to communicate creatively.

I put a bit less faith in technology than you do, which may come from time I’ve had to see that, at its base, the human condition hasn’t changed much, and our needs as people aren’t vastly different than they have ever been.  So, if my 6 yr. old daughter can paint a flower with watercolors under a tree while a warm breeze blows, I will chose that over having her paint on the computer. (Though she does some of that too.)  Also, something spiritual takes place as we read a book together as a family — a bonding, a common understanding, a common vocabulary, that doesn’t seem to happen by watching a movie, a YouTube video or any other way (and perhaps it would have been even more rich before the introduction of books since we would need to make up stories, but I grew up without that level of creativity!).  And, while the friends I have through electronic media are stimulating and interesting, they are still not a substitute for the ones who bring a meal my way and hug me in my joys.   As I read Charlotte Mason’s material, I am amazed by what she came to, by the wisdom and depth and deep truths, many of which our culture has simply forgotten.  I don’t plan to forgo the newest technologies, and my freshman son is as much a “techy” as anyone (7 years of this schooling didn’t seem to hold him back at all that way), but I want to leave breathing room to not forget roots of wisdom that can nourish our lives.

Looking forward to talking more.

While I appreciate the ideas that are being expressed here, I have some major disagreements with these premises.  Now this may be one of those instances when we are looking at the same elephant but describing different attributes based on our respective vantage points, but none the less, here is my response:

A few years ago I was reading about Gutenberg’s Printing Press and was surprised to learn about the sheer panic that the new technology set off in society. There were real concerns that it would be the downfall of society and relationship.  The church was concerned that it would no longer have a place in society if everyone could read the Bible for themselves, there would be no need for the meetings with a relaying of the stories orally. Without a gathering, the relationships would break down.  There was also a concern that the very church building structure would change.  Stained glass windows had an important function in the pre-Gutenberg church, the glass was used to tell the stories of the Bible to an illiterate society.  They were put in place as a reminder of the truths being taught.  With the invention of the printing press, there was no longer a need for the building to tell the stories of scripture.  Did society lose something? Of course, but I would argue with the advent of the printing press and as a result a literate society, much more was gained.

A respected Swiss scientist, Conrad Gessner wrote a book where he described how the modern world overwhelmed people with too much information and that the overabundance was both “confusing and harmful” to the mind.  Gessner died in 1565. He warned about the flood of information unleashed by the printing press.  We hear similar concerns today about the flood of information that the Internet provides.  The concerns date back to the birth of literacy.  Socrates warned against writing because it would “create forgetfulness in the learn’s souls, because they will not use their memories.” (As recorded by Plato)  Others speculated that the written word would be the downfall of society and relationship because there would no longer be a need for oral tradition.  People wouldn’t have to communicate with language and carry on deep and meaningful relationships because they would forever have their noses buried in a book.

New technologies have always brought about speculation about the ways that it would change society.  The digital technology age is no different.  However, like the printing press, I believe that although digital technology is changing the ways we communicate, we have much to gain from this technology.

You allude to children naturally picking up technology regardless of its introduction in the classroom.  I would argue that technology plays an integral part in both school and learning because of its prevalence in our society, because of its ability to increase relationship and connect us, and its abilities to connect us to the world around us in new and important ways.

I am currently reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element in it he reminds us that children starting school this year will retire roughly around the year 2071.  We have no idea what the world will look like in ten years let alone in 50. Technology is developing at breakneck speed.  It is contributing to a huge generational gap.  People over the age of 30 were born before the digital revolution really started.  Those over 30 have learned to use digital technology like laptops, cameras, cell phones, the Internet as adults.  Mark Prensky calls these people digital immigrants. Under the age of 20 you have a generation that was born after the digital revolution had already begun.  These kids have never known a world without digital technologies. Mark Prensky calls these digital natives.  Just because natives are born with digital technologies in their hands, doesn’t mean that they will naturally learn and understand how to use them appropriately.  The same way a child doesn’t automatically figure out how to interact with other children, or read, or write naturally. These things must be taught and nurtured.   The revolution  is just beginning.  We are in the equivalent of the time just after the invention of the printing press.  I don’t believe that Gutenberg himself would believe the ways that his printing press forever changed society, communication, and learning.
Now consider the impact of population growth.  The world population has doubled in the past 30 years! We have grown from 3 billion to 6.  Humanity will be using technologies that “have yet to be invented in ways we cannot imagine and in jobs that don’t yet exist” (Sir Ken Robinson).   These cultural and technological forces are creating a seismic shift in world economies and introducing new diversity and complexity into our lives.  We are in another pivotal point in history where major global changes will take place.  Commerce and economies are being globalized. People are communicating in dramatically different ways than ever before.  Technology is altering the way that we conduct our lives.  (As evidenced by the texting boy you mention in your email).  No one would have been able to predict the way that the Internet and mobile technologies would change the landscape of society.  We can’t predict what technologies the future will bring.  “The only way to prepare for the future is to make the most of ourselves on the assumption that doing so will make us as flexible and productive as possible.” (Sir Ken Robinson)  It is up to us to help shape students understanding and thinking about new digital technologies and their uses.

During every stage of history, from the printing press to the written word,  there has been a fear that technology breaks down relationships.  Technology doesn’t ruin relationships, but it does change them.  This is the reason that technology and communication with technology must be explored and educated.   When books were first introduced, there was a worry that people would stop interacting and engaging in deep meaningful conversations and relationships.  That they would be so busy reading that they would ignore their relationships.  We know now that this is an extreme view of literacy and that books don’t diminish relationship, but serve to connect society in new and meaningful ways.  Those kids who are glued to their mobile devices and constantly texting are communicating in ways that are meaningful to them.  What isn’t being properly taught and fostered, are how to manage those relationships with the real life relationships.  I don’t blame the technology for his lack of courtesy in making eye contact and engaging in conversation, I blame a lack of education in etiquette and responsible use of technology. These kids aren’t detached from real people, they are making new attachments to people in ways that are meaningful to them.
In some ways I think the age of Twitter, You Tube, instant messaging, blogs, texting, and Facebook are a throwback to earlier times.   Where printed text contained information and communication to the printed page, the Web 2.0 age frees that information and communication again.  There is a flow of information, a sharing of ideas.  It is constant, it is moving.

I think that the vision of technology as merely one of consumption and entertainment is a misunderstanding of technology.  I would argue that the written book fits that category more neatly than technology does.  In a book, all you can do is consume the information and be entertained (and yes informed).  But that is where the book ends.  There is no exchange of ideas, there is no communication or creativity.  To make a book a living breathing thing, one must DO something with it, create something new, discuss it with others.  Technology is no different.  With technology there is some consumption and entertainment, but there is so much more.  There is the ability to exchange ideas, collaborate on projects (with people from around the world), communicate, create something new.  Technology has become largely social, nothing about it is static. It is a dynamic, living entity where ideas are exchanged, challenged and made new.
If a student is using an iPod for the “what can it do for me?”, “how can it entertain me?”, and “how can I find cooler stuff than other kids?”, then its use is very shallow and underdeveloped.  Those attitudes tell me that the child has never been taught to use technology. That they are using it very primitively and not for its created purpose.  When technology use is properly fostered, it is used for so much more.  It is used to chart a unique learning journey, it is used to explore and discover, it is used to discuss, it is used to challenge, it is used to collaborate and communicate, it is used to connect them globally and give them a bigger understanding of the world they live in.

There doesn’t have to be a dichotomy between technology and literature, and art, and nature.  It isn’t an either or scenario.  It is an and both.  Each of those things is important to the development and growth of a child.  Leaving any one of those out doesn’t develop the whole child for the world they live in.  Using technology shouldn’t mean that the “close things” are ignored.  If anything, technology should provide a new way that those “close things” can be understood and appreciated.  For example, if I am in the middle of the forest on a hike with my husband, I bring along our digital camera.  It isn’t because I am so technology minded that I can’t imagine being without it, it is because I am surrounded by such beauty that I want to capture it and remember it.  Technology can be used to help us stay close and remember.  When I get home I am likely to do something with that photograph so that I stay connected to it, I may create something new whether that be a painting, a sketch, a scrapbook, sharing it with the world via Flickr or a digital slide show with music.  Technology can be used to help nourish relationship with both other people and creation. It can be used to increase creativity and increase connections with others.

My philosophy of education includes technologies of all kinds.  I believe that without technology in education, the whole child isn’t being educated.  Without technology kids aren’t adequately prepared for life beyond the walls of the classroom.  Of course children will be users of technology whether it is taught in school or not, of course they will.  Technology saturates our lives.  But without proper guidance and understanding of how to use technology, it will be misused.  If children only know how to use technology as entertainment and consumption devices, that is how they will be used.  Understand, the same is true of books. If kids are never taught to interact with what they read and encouraged to discuss it, they will likely grow up to be adults who read purely for entertainment and their own consumption.

You are right, the human condition hasn’t changed much, our needs haven’t changed.  At our core we are social, creative beings.  Technology is so wildly popular and quickly growing because it feeds those needs.  If technology didn’t answer the call of the human condition, then it wouldn’t be so popular.  You Tube isn’t popular because it is a form of entertainment, You Tube is popular because it provides a place for everyone to create and have a voice. It is popular because of the interaction that it makes available after the entertainment.  Without the social aspect of You Tube, it would fade into the background as a low-budget television channel.  The power is in knowing how to use that technology to make us better, to encourage creativity and social interaction.  The friends I have online are in no way a substitution for the rich real life relationships I have, they are an addition to them.  I now “know” people from every continent in the world.  I have an understanding of the world I live in that can’t come from the static pages of a book or the flatness of the evening news.  I have a very fulfilling relationship with my husband, family, coworkers, and friends. But they don’t all have the same interests and passions I have.  They may be willing to indulge my wanting to talk about technology and education but because they don’t share that passion, I can’t have the same deep conversations about it that I can have online with the teachers around the world who share that passion.

I’ll leave you with one last illustration of technology as a social tool.  Facebook has a video game built-in that has become the most widely played game in the world called Farmville.  In it, people grow and cultivate virtual farms.  There are literally millions of people who spend their days playing this game.  Why is it so popular?  Are people really that interested in farming and use this game as a way to get back to their cultivating roots?  No.  The reason the game is so popular is because there is a social aspect built into the game.  You don’t farm and harvest alone, the point of the game is to get all of your friends involved and helping you. The point is to work together toward a common purpose.  Now this may seem like a waste of time but there is something important happening here.  Farmville gives people a shared experience, something to connect over and work together on. It is a place to practice relationships, responsibility, and teamwork in a place that feels safe and fun.

Technology needs to be taught, proper use fostered.  Without guidance technology can be used inappropriately or used to an extreme.  Isn’t this true of every medium?  We would worry about someone who isolated themselves from everyone and spent their days reading, or someone who did nothing but sit in the middle of a field all the time. These are extremes.

Philosophies and ideas are in a constant state of flux. While believe in some of the basis of the Charlotte Mason philosophy, I believe taking it at its face value as it was written in the 1800’s without taking into consideration the changes that have happened over the centuries would be doing it a disservice.  Just like I wouldn’t want my doctors to treat me with strictly the philosophies held in the 1800’s, I don’t want current education to stay strictly to a philosophy from the 1800’s.  There are roots there that are beautiful and that have stood the test of time, those are what must remain in the school (and medical) system.  We need that grounding. There is wisdom in Charlotte Mason’s writings.  But I do wonder, if Charlotte Mason had lived into the 21st century, wouldn’t her philosophy have evolved with the changing world?  Wouldn’t she stay rooted in deep truths about education and learning while adapting those truths to prepare children for the current world?

Yes it was a long one! Hopefully my response provided a chance to think deeply about what it means to be a child in the 21st century and what it means to be prepared for this world.  What would you have added?

As iron sharpens iron…

Recently I had a conversation with the head of a new school opening up in town.  The school will be private, based on the Charlotte Mason philosophy.  I am a lover of discourse, theology, and discussion so I jumped at the chance to sit down and talk education with others who are passionate about learning and casting a vision for better education.  As we were talking about the new school, and about the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education, I realized that there are qualities of classical education that I agree with and support.  Our visions for education overlapped in several places.  Just as we ended, the conversation turned toward technology.  Those of you who follow me regularly know that I am an evangelist for technology in the classroom.  I mentioned a 1 to 1 iPad project I am working toward at another school and they replied that theirs would never be a school where every child had an iPad.

Because we ended the conversation shortly after, I didn’t get the chance to further examine the reasons for the statement.  I followed up with a few email correspondences that I would like to share pieces from.  Conflict in philosophies can be a good thing, it makes us closely examine our beliefs and ideas about learning, children, and teaching.

I began the letter with an illustration that I had read just that day from PLN member Henrietta Miller of Classroom Chronicles, I shared the post because it so beautifully captured everything that is right with technology integration in the classroom.

I am a primary teacher and every year for the past five years I have taught my class a unit of work on Antarctica. In the NSW syllabus the study of Antarctica is part of the Human Society and Its Environment syllabus for Stage 3. The NSW Syllabus documents provide guidelines and expectations on what the students will learn, starting with this:Current Issues: Antarctica
This unit provides opportunities for students to explore issues and decision-making involved in human interaction with a significant world environment, the Antarctic. The unit focuses on how beliefs about human interaction have changed over time and differ from person to person, depending on their perspective and interest in the area.

Not surprisingly there are many excellent websites, lots of fabulous books, hundreds of worksheets and many units of work to guide one when teaching the topic of Antarctica. Over the past five years I have developed my own inquiry based program, using a matrix of activities created using Bloom’s taxonomy and Gardener’s theories of multiple intelligence. I am the kind of teacher who is never satisfied that a unit is perfect and so every year I have made modifications and adjustments to my Antarctic unit, tweaking and improving it, mostly to increase the students use of technology within it but also to add IWB activities or lessons.

The story I want to share with you today is how this year not surprisingly, I used Twitter to assist me in this. Earlier this term I sent out a tweet that went something like this “I want my Antarctic unit to include more inquiry questions, can anyone help?” Almost immediately @audreynay sent me link to a complete inquiry based unit. If I had been a new teacher or someone who had not taught Antarctica before, or a teacher from an isolated school without support and guidance I would have been set for the term. This unit was fabulous. As it was, I read it carefully, reflected on my current unit, cherry picked a couple of ideas from it and used those to further improve my own work. Just perfect, I was set for the unit.

Last week I sent out two more tweets “Year 5 class seeking Antarctic scientist to skype with” and “seeking stage 3 class to collaborate on Antarctic Tourism voicethread”. To the first tweet I had two responses, unfortunately I cannot now find who they were from but I am eternally grateful, as I followed up their leads and by Monday afternoon I was in email communication with Nick, a scientist wintering at the Australian Davis Station in Antarctica. Communication and assistance from my IT department followed and we were set. So to top our final week of term two, on Friday afternoon my class enjoyed an amazing chat with not one but three Antarctic scientists. Skype does not work in Antarctica, so we had to make do with a land line and a speaker phone with some of his photos displayed on our IWB screen. Nick and his colleagues a physicist and geologist listened patiently and answered questions ranging from ‘what inspired you to become a scientist and go to work in Antarctica’ to ‘what do you eat’. Nick and his colleagues were interesting, informative and above all real. It was brilliant. The students listened intently, they were focussed and engaged throughout

Next term my students have to complete an individual task which they will choose from a variety of options. These include such things as creating a brochure, to advertise Antarctica. Or writing producing and directing a skit retelling Shakleton’s journey. Those who choose to create a podcast describing a day in the life of an Antarctic scientist will, I believe, have a head start over the others. They will be able to draw on our soon to be created podcast from Nick in Antarctica. They will be able to describe not only the science involved but a daily life devoid of trees and greenery. Where the only winter daylight is two hours of twilight. Where the temperature is -20 degrees on a good day. Of a life eating only frozen vegetables and a small amount of home grown salad. Yet one which they described as the most amazing experience of their lives, surrounded by scenery and animals that would take ones breath away and worth every deprivation and hardship.

Now all I need to do is find a school that wants to collaborate on my semi completed voicethread and I will have had complete success with my tweets. Are you learning about Antarctica in your class this year? Will your students consider the question of tourism in Antarctica? If so let me know and we can continue this learning together.

Photographs: Nick Roden

I shared this story for several reasons.  First, it shows that when technology is used effectively as a learning tool, the focus is not on the technology, but on the learning that it makes possible.  It didn’t matter that the class ended up using “older” technology (the land line telephone) instead of Skype because the technology wasn’t really the point, the point was the learning that the technology enabled to take place.  The connection and discussions that it allowed.  The second reason I shared this story, was to show what technology can do for the teacher.  Technology connects teachers, giving us on-demand resources and a sounding board that is constantly challenging our ideas, and making us better teachers.  Technology provides educators with a more complete worldview and understanding of teaching, learning, and education.  Last, this story gives a complete picture of the interactions and communication that technology provides for the classroom.  Henrietta’s students may have enjoyed reading and learning about Antarctica in the past, but this experience led them one step closer by letting them discuss what they were learning with someone who was living it.  Aside from experiencing it themselves, there is no other way to get close to that kind of learning.

Every tool used in the classroom for learning is technology.  The book was once considered the height of technology with the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press.  Pencils and paper were once the latest and greatest technology innovations in the classroom.  Technology is simply a means of communicating and learning.  This hasn’t changed.  Technology is a vehicle for learning, it isn’t THE learning.  Technology shouldn’t get in the way of learning, it should make it more authentic and rich.  It should be used to provide additional opportunities for discussion and understanding.  I believe that it is vital that schools use relevant technology because of the extended learning opportunities that it makes available.  I am pushing for the iPad in the classroom because it is an intuitive piece of technology.  It works the way children and adults expect it to work.  As a result, the focus is not on how to use the technology, the focus is on the learning that the technology brings to the fingertips.  The focus is on the meaningful connections that can be made as the result of the technology.   Good technology gets out of our way so that we don’t even realize that we are using it any more.  The iPad is like a pencil, it doesn’t get in the way of writing.  That being said, all technology is not created equal.  There is technology that is wrongly placed in the classroom and does get in the way of learning.   There is technology that encourages the teacher to stay at the center of the learning process imparting knowledge to students and requesting that they regurgitate it back.  This is not the kind of technology integration I am interested in.

For me the effective teacher is one who engages students in conversation and allows kids to explore relevant content through whatever medium is appropriate for that task.  This may or may not include technology.  Both teacher and student share the attitude that learning has no end, it is a continuous journey toward truth.

This didn’t end our conversations, and I will share more of our interactions as a separate post.

In the mean time keep these conversations going. It is only through discussion and challenges that we can solidify what we believe, why we believe it, and keep moving toward the goal of excellence in learning.