gayflag

Why Is This Even A Debate?

On TV tonight I saw an ad from some group that calls themselves the “Marriage Alliance“. I looked at their website which seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to be open minded when really all they want to do is oppose same sex marriage and maintain the unfair status quo…

Their site poses a number of open questions about marriage, and while they purport to being just trying to encourage a healthy discussion about the value of marriage in general, it’s pretty obvious what their agenda is. They are clearly in opposition to same sex marriage.

So, since they asked, here are my answers to the questions on their website…

Should children have the right to know their biological history?

Yes. As an adopted child myself, I should have the right to know my history if I choose to. Some choose to and some do not. But what’s your point?  So what if a child of a same sex couple knows their biological history and where they came from?  You think that will be a problem? You think a child will not be able to deal with that information? I believe you’re 100% wrong about that. Children don’t need to be protected from the truth, they need to be protected against those that think they cannot handle the truth.

Do we know the impacts of raising our children in a changed society?

No. And neither do you. But this proposed change to same sex marriage laws are about respecting people’s rights to acknowledge who they are as people and to give them the same rights that the rest of society already enjoys. If that means that society needs to change a few things to accommodate that shift then so be it. It’s not the first thing that has ever caused a “changed society” and it won’t be the last. The fact that you are so concerned about a “changed society” shows your true colours… you just don’t want anything to change from the way it is now. Sorry, but I have bad news for you…

Are you happy to have your family redefined as a social unit?

Yes. Perfectly happy. And by the way, I’m not gay myself just in case you were wondering. I have two children that were raised to be tolerant, open minded and respectful of others. My children understand that people are all different. They also understand that society changes. And they can cope with that. I’m a man married to a woman and I’m happy to be who I am. But I have many friends who are same-sex attracted and I want them to be happy with who they are, and to have the same rights that I have. I cannot think of a single good reason why they should not have the same rights as me, and that includes marriage if they so wish.

Are we asking the right questions about the proposals to redefine marriage?

I’m not sure what question you’re asking, since you haven’t really asked any good ones so far… but here’s what I think is the right question. Is it fair to deny same sex couples the right to be married? I happen to believe that to deny that right to anyone just because it doesn’t fit your own world view is unfair and unjust. If two people feel strongly enough about each other that they want to be married, who are you to deny that right? What higher authority granted you the right to be so bold as to suggest that you know best about who can and cannot be married?

cb2

I’ve Seen The Future

I just had a couple of thoughts on Chromebooks that I wanted to share. There has been a growing interest in Chromebooks over the past year or so. I ran a Chromebook session at the IT Managers Conference in Canberra earlier this year and there was quite a bit of interest there, and I hear of a growing number of schools here in Sydney that are starting to look at Chromebooks as a possible option for student devices.

At PLC Sydney we started with a small set of 10 Chromebooks about 2 years ago, and have been steadily adding more, mainly in our junior school. They have been a major success with students and teachers alike. Easy to deploy and manage. Robust and reliable. Simple to use, and they do most everything we need.

You might notice I didn’t tout price as the advantage… while Chromebooks are quite inexpensive (around $300 each) I think it would be a major mistake to view them as nothing more than “a cheap alternative” to a “proper computer”. Being inexpensive is a nice benefit, but it’s just that; a benefit, not a feature.

The real features of Chromebooks are all the other reasons I mentioned above. We are choosing to use Chromebooks, not in spite of the fact that they don’t have a full blown conventional operating system, but BECAUSE they don’t. The speed, security and simplicity of ChromeOS is the real attraction, not just the cheap price.

After dabbling with cheap Chromebooks over the past 2 years, I bought myself a Chromebook Pixel 2 when I was in the US a few weeks ago. The Pixel is often criticised as being far too expensive for a computer perceived as being “just a browser”. At $999 USD for the cheaper model (the one I got) it works out at over $1300 AUD, which many might say is stupid expensive for what it is.

That said, even after just a week of use I have to say the Pixel is the best computer I have ever owned. It has the best screen, the best build quality, is fast, responsive, and delightful to use. I love it, and although it seemed expensive at first, and a bit of a luxury purchase, I now think it was actually very reasonable for what it can do and how it does it. I can see it redefining the way I use a computer.

Which got me thinking about the place of Chromebooks in schools over the next few years. I think the Pixel is a glimpse into the future of computing. I predict that over the next few years, as the hardware on Chromebooks grows exponentially better and the cost of producing a quality Chromebook drops exponentially lower, and the capability of what you can do in a browser grows exponentially more amazing, that this will be the future of modern computing. The Pixel is a little glimpse into that future right now.

2 years ago, based on the Chromebooks I was seeing at the time, I would not have said this. The idea of working in nothing but a browser, and all the limitations that implied at the time, was simply not good enough to be my primary machine. Now, when you look at browser based applications like Wevideo, Soundtrap, LucidPress, Polarr, etc, as well as the increasingly powerful core applications in Google Apps for Education, and you see just how incredibly capable these apps are running in nothing but a browser… well, it’s kind of mind blowing.

Right now, the difference in “going Chromebook”, compared to what was possible even 6 to 12 months ago, is astounding. And I have no doubt that the difference between the Chromebook experience now and what it will be in 1, 2 or 5 years from now will be even moreso. Right now, ChromeOS on cheap commodity hardware is adequate. But the Pixel has shown me that running ChromeOS on great hardware can be simply amazing.

I feel like I’ve seen the future.

password

Getting out of Password Hell

A while ago I realised that my online life was in password hell. I was using literally hundreds of sites and services that required passwords, but they were held together with a confusing mess of old passwords that I’d mostly forgotten, numerous passwords which were being used on more than one site,  passwords that didn’t meet the usual complexity rules usually required across the Internet, and so on. I often found myself having to do a password reset just to access a site, and of course that new password became yet another one I had to remember. Or forget.

I felt things were a little bit out of hand so I finally took a few steps to clean up my digital life.

First, using the same password for everything is an exceptionally stupid idea. Instead, I came up with my own system that helped me create hard-to-guess, but easy-to-remember passwords that I could apply to any site.  Having a clear system for this meant that when I signed up for some new online service I could quickly come up with a password that was memorable while also being unique to that site. It really helps to have a system. I made sure that my system always met the minimum complexity rules usually found online… that is, they contained uppercase, lowercase, numbers and symbols and were at least 8 characters long. If you do nothing else, come up with a system for your passwords! It’s so frustrating when you attempt to log in to a site that you’ve been to previously and can’t remember your password. So come up with a system for yourself, and please don’t just use the same password everywhere!

Secondly, I turned on multistep or 2-Factor authentication  for passwords on every site that offered this option (and there are a lot of them now). This is probably the single biggest thing you can do to improve the security of your online life. If you go online and don’t use 2 factor authentication, you’re not really serious about your online security. It’s that simple. I find it both amusing and frustrating when I hear people questioning the security of online services, and then find out they don’t use 2-Factor passwords. If you don’t use 2-Factor on every site that enables it,  please, don’t ever complain about the dangers of online security.  It just makes you sound silly. It’s not hard to set up, and if you use something like Google Authenticator to manage your second factors, it’s very simple to use.  The minor inconvenience of having to enter the second factor is far outweighed by the added security. Trust me on this. Turn it on. Now.

Finally, I set up a password manager. I chose LastPass,  but there are others. It took a while to get my head around how LastPass works but once I did, it made life so much easier. If you want to try LastPass for yourself you can get it on this link.
https://lastpass.com/f?7253846

If you are in password hell like I was,  take some of these positive steps to sort it out.

bannerwedding

Just Maui’d

I know I haven’t written much here on the blog lately. I’ve been a little consumed with some other things, like getting married to my sweetheart LInda :-)

On May 20, Linda and I stood on beautiful Makena Beach in Maui and tied the knot in front of a few close friends. It was a lovely ceremony full of symbolism, fun and joy. Here’s a few photos (you can click them for a closeup)

Special thanks to Jennifer from Marbelle Photography for these wonderful photos (all of them!), to Derek Sebastian for the fabulous ukulele music, Joe Miles for his touching ceremony, and to Lori Lawrence from Tropical Maui Weddings for helping us pull it all together from afar.

We have a bit more celebrating to do yet, with a post-wedding party back in Sydney on June 20 and then another in Toronto on June 27.

www.flickr.com/photos/neubie

Exploiting Opportunities

The following is from an email I wrote to someone who asked if I was going to be presenting at the EduTech conference in Brisbane this year. As you can see, my answer is no, but I think what’s important is my reason for saying no. If you’re planning to present at EduTech, I hope you consider the effect of saying yes.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of EduTech, mainly because I really don’t like their policy of non-payment for Australian speakers. I find it quite insulting that they are willing to pour outrageous amounts of money into getting overseas speakers but are not willing to pay anything for local speakers. I think they need to approach this with greater equity and offer ALL their speakers some form of payment, even if the locals just get a token amount. As I’ve no doubt pointed out before, this is a (very) commercial event run for profit by a professional conference-running company, and yet they expect the vast majority of what they are offering to their customers (at a significant price) to be provided to them for free.

On http://www.edutech.net.au/apply_speaker.html it clearly states that “in the vast majority of cases, we do not pay speakers”. Obviously that blanket statement is not true, as they pay many of their “big name” overseas speakers. What they mean to say is that they don’t pay local speakers because they feel they can get away with that. They also make the very generous point on that page that they “don’t charge speakers to speak”. Woop-de-do, EduTech.

While I’d be very happy to present something, on principle I’m not really willing to be exploited by the EduTech organisers who expect that all Australian presenters should be willing to present for them for free. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I’d love to see all Aussie presenters just say no to EduTech but it probably won’t happen.

There are many many great things I’m happy to give my time freely to… helping other teachers, sharing resources, giving time and energy at the grassroots level. But I’m not ok with helping EduTech carry on their culture of exploitation of Australian presenters just so they can make more money.

Featured image: CC BY-SA www.flickr.com/photos/neubie

Lipstick on a Pig

I was looking at school websites tonight trying to find some information I needed and I stumbled across a school that I won’t name, but on the front page of their website they had these two rather ironic images on display in a slider…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m fairly sure that neither of these images qualifies for the claim they make of “Best Practices in Education” or “Advanced Learning Environment”.

Is it that schools simply don’t get what those terms mean? Or are they just marketing to parents who don’t understand what those terms mean? I’m not sure, but I do know that images like these completely devalue any real sense of best practise or advanced learning environments because the school clearly doesn’t know what those terms actually mean.

A school is not innovative or modern or advanced or “best practice” because it says so in their marketing brochures. It needs to actually BE those things it claims to be.

Adding phrases like that to images like this is simply just putting lipstick on a pig.

bicycle

A Bicycle for the Mind

I’ve been doing some work recently with a school that’s using iPads with their kids, and was asked to give a talk on the topic “The place of iPads in teaching and learning”. This post is just a bit of thinking out loud about that question.

Let me start by saying that I think the iPad is an amazing piece of technology. I dispute the common claim about iPads just being “consumption devices”. That’s a load of nonsense. Used wisely, iPads open up incredible opportunities for creativity. This point was driven home during my recent 365 project, The Daily Create, where I made a creative “thing” every day during 2014. Although this project wasn’t specifically based on using an iPad, the truth is that at least 80% of what I came up with over the course of the year was made on an iPad. Whether it was photo editing, making graphics, editing movies, composing music, building animations and 3D objects, or even just writing, the iPad was a perfectly credible tool for creation. And of course the actual management of the Daily Create project via a blog was mostly also all done on the iPad. So I know that the iPad can help people do amazing things.

Of course, that’s not to say it’s not also a great consumption device. For reading eBooks, watching videos, listening to podcasts or music, browsing the web, playing games and so on, the iPad is a convenient, intuitive easy-to-use device that, for the most part, “just works”.

So yes, I like the iPad. But just because you can do certain things on a device does not necessarily mean it’s the best device to be doing them on. So the iPad, as a tool, needs to be kept in that perspective. While it’s capable of most things, it’s great at some and not so good at others.

For example, I’m typing this post on a Chromebook. Why not an iPad? Well, as much as I like iPads, I prefer the writing and editing experience on a device with a real keyboard. I like the extra screen area, the ergonomics of sitting it comfortably on my lap, and having a physical non-modal keyboard.  Could I type a piece of writing like this on an iPad? Sure I could (and have), but if given a choice I prefer to pick the tool that works best for me for that given task.

This is one of the reasons my school has gone down the path of having a combination of both iPads and Chromebooks. There are times when one is simply a better option than the other. They both have such unique strengths, and to exclusively choose one over the other tends to just highlights the weaknesses of each. That said, if you only have a choice of one or the other, either will be perfectly fine.

So back to the original question… “what is the place of iPads in teaching and learning?” It’s a loaded question really, because it begs the bigger question, “what is the place of technology in general in teaching and learning”. And to take it a step further, I think you should probably be asking the much bigger question “what is the point of teaching and learning anyway?” Thinking about the place that a particular technology might have in the teaching and learning process first requires you to think about what you’re trying to achieve in the first place.

Figuring out the place of iPads in teaching and learning should be pretty obvious once you know what you want teaching and learning to look like to start with. If you’re clear on the big idea of why, then seeing how is easy. You simply ask yourself whether this technology is helping you get closer to your goal or not. If it is, it has a place. It it doesn’t, then maybe not.

The school that asked me this question seems to have a pretty clear educational direction for what they are trying to achieve, and how they believe the teaching and learning process should look.

For a start, they want their learning to be transdisciplinary. The transdisciplinary model for teaching and learning is highly inquiry based and values collaboration, teamwork, curiosity and interconnectedness. It’s more than just thinking about a topic from different perspectives (that’s multidisciplinary) or by thinking about a topic by combining different subjects together like maths and science (that’s interdisciplinary). The idea of making the learning transdisciplinary involves bringing together multiple subject areas in such a way that the learning transcends the curriculum and becomes more than just the sum of its parts. If you’re a PYP school this should all sound quite familiar as it forms the foundation of that program. By taking a transdisciplinary approach the aim is to bring a more authentic, open-ended, personalised, contextual learning experience to each student.

Threaded through this core model for learning is a highly inquiry-based approach, a strong belief in differentiation according to student needs, flexible learning paths, and a fundamental goal for students to build their own learning through a Constructivist approach.

Would an iPad help support that kind of learning? Yeah, I think it would.

Steve Jobs once described computers as a “bicycle for the mind”, a metaphor borrowed from a study on locomotive efficiency in animals. Apparently for humans, walking is incredibly inefficient. Other animals can travel much further with far less energy. Steve observed how humbling it was for humans to be placed so far down the efficiency scale compared to other animals. However, he observed, if you allow a human to use a bicycle they become the animal with the most efficient form of locomotion of all. The larger point is that the right tool can make a big difference to what we are capable of.

YouTube Preview Image

Being given an opportunity to learn on your own terms, in ways that make sense to you, about things that interest you the most, forms the foundation of great learning. But without an effective tool to help, you’ll be like a human without a bicycle. You’ll probably get there, but it will take so much more work than it should.

So all of that pondering just leads me to my main idea, that giving a student an iPad (or any other piece of technology that helps them think more efficiently) can be a powerful thing. I think we intuitively know that, but it sometimes helps to step back and think about why we know it. And I think the “bicycle for the mind” idea is a pretty decent metaphor for why technology in the classroom can help support the kind of learning that we want. It can helps reduce the friction in curiosity, wonder, creativity and inquiry, and makes that process more efficient.

On the most basic level, having a device in the hands of a student that places them one click away of the sum of all human knowledge is in itself a pretty amazing advantage. (and one that no generation before them has ever had, by the way). We talk a lot about these devices helping students “connect, collaborate and communicate” so the simple idea of just being able to “look stuff up on the Internet” may not sound very impressive. But even though this might not be the wow factor that makes these devices “revolutionary and magical”, it’s still a pretty useful thing! To be able to look up a word, find a definition, peruse a map, verify a fact, ask a question or see a picture of something – instantly – is amazing. Don’t underestimate the power of that!

If you’re running a classroom based on an inquiry model, the iPad truly can act as that “bicycle for the mind” machine that helps a curious kid instantly connect to any fact or statistic they need to keep inquiring. iPads are transdisciplinary in the sense that they don’t silo information into arbitrary subjects. A query is a query. Curiosity does not have to limit itself to whether something is “science” or “maths” or “art”. Picking up an iPad and asking “OK Google, what type of lettuce is used in a Caesar salad?” and finding out that it is Romaine lettuce, and then wondering why it was named Caesar salad, or where it was invented, or whether it’s less fattening than a regular salad, or how you make a crouton, or the million and one other questions that might spring to mind as your questions cascade from one to the next… that’s just one small reason why technology makes sense in an inquiry based classroom.

Of course it’s much more than that though. You can wonder something, learn about it, and respond to it by making something with that information. It can be the tool by which a student can respond to their own curiosity. An iPad is amazing because it is a not one thing. It’s a notebook, a camera, a recording studio, a stopwatch, an atlas, a sketchbook, an editing suite, a music synthesizer, an artroom. It lets you compose, create and explore ideas. It’s screen instantly changes to become whatever tool you need it to be. There is really nothing else like it in that respect.

Using an iPad you can publish a short story, compose a soundtrack or produce a film clip. You can build a 3D model of a house, record a timelapse of a science experiment, or add augmented reality to a poster. There are literally millions of apps in the App Store so whatever you might want to do, you can almost guarantee “there’s an app for that”.

Finally the iPad is an incredible tool for communicating and collaborating, from having access to email, to messaging, to videoconferencing, to cloud computing. The world truly can be your oyster. You can collaborate with amazing cloud-based tools that let students form crosscultural, transdisciplinary teams to work on projects that are authentic, meaningful and real.

Of course, in reality none of this is terribly new. In 1971, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon published a paper titled “20 Things to do with a Computer” in which their key assertion was that computers are capable of doing so much more if we allow them to be used creatively, and that the real reason to introduce computers into schools is to empower students. If a computer (or an iPad) is not being used to give agency to student learning then we have missed the whole point of having them.

Introducing computers (or iPads) into classrooms is not about better forms of testing students or NAPLAN preparation or math drills. It’s not about data management, not about saving money, not about impressing parents and not about keeping up with the school down the road. It’s about giving students agency and independence to take control of their own learning. And with that simple goal usually comes a whole lot of change. Sometimes quite painful change, but change that has to happen.

Adding technology to a classroom without reimagining how that classroom works, and rethinking what your students can do because of that technology, is a waste of time and money. Providing technology to students gives them an opportunity to do not just the same old things they’ve always done, except now with a shiny new tool… No. we now have an incredible opportunity to do entirely new things that were never possible before, using an amazing array of digital tools designed to create, and reinventing the way the way we think about teaching and learning.

Giving students iPads and not making fundamental shifts in how we teach and learn would be like giving them that bicycle for their minds, but then expecting them to push it and walk along beside it.If they are to get the true potential from that bicycle you need to let them get on it, get the wind in their face and ride the damn thing.

Featured image “Speedy Bike” by Till Krech via Flickr. CC BY.