It really is a Revolution

Click to visit the book’s web site.

I’m sitting here with my first stack of books for giveaway and thinking about why I called it, The Days & Nights of a Quiet Revolution. There’s nothing in it about education or even technology. I admit that many if not most of the participants in my workshops and audiences of my talks walked away thinking that it was about technology in education. That’s my failing. Educators, perhaps more than most professionals, are hyper focused on methodology of their job. When you have 20 to 40 students in your classroom, some of whom might be just as focused in disrupting your methods, big picture is a sky away from your notice.

I, on the other hand, spent my 40+ in education as a classroom teacher, a district administrator, part of a state-wide support staff and a parent. This gave me a unique perspective that encompassed both the day-to-day of classroom instruction, and the larger concerns of the why of education.

To be sure, it has not been a technology revolution, an idea that was difficult to convey to practicing teachers.  I would stand in front of my audience and illustrate some technique that empowers learning by demonstrating a trick with my computer.  Teachers, whose computers had been dumping into their classrooms and told to “integrate technology,” would see me demonstrating technology.  The fact is that I was talking about a different way of education, one that goes back to Socrates and more recent education philosophers (Jean Piaget & John Dewey) – required reading for all practicing teachers.  It’s an education that empowers students to become fearless and resourceful learners.

What better thing for students to become in a time of rapid change, but fearless and resourceful learners.

There were many of us mapping out new modes of teaching and learning with these new tools, and sharing them widely – and mostly, we did it during the days and nights of our own time.  The index of my book includes a pretty good representation of their ranks, though not nearly complete.  We were disrupters, and many teachers resisted our disruptive ideas, as they thwarted disruptive behavior in their classes.  They resisted giving their students access to computers and the internet because they felt a loss of instructional control in their classrooms.

But many times I watched the most resistant teachers become the most creative users and enthusiastic advocates when they realized the potentials of technology as a flexible learning tool.

The greatest and most persistent force against our quiet revelation was not resistant teachers.  It was a vision for computerized education held by an emerging education industrial complex.  They were companies that saw the computer as a tool to better administer instruction on students, and they saw a market for products that could do that.  Before 1990, companies were selling packaged technology solutions that included columns and rows of computers, equipped with software that drilled students in math and language arts, and required procedures, from which teachers were told not to deviate.  All students were marched into and out of the computer room, regardless of their need or learning style.  It irritated the kids, frustrated the teachers and disappointed administrators when they found that the rapid gains shown by the product were always short lived.

That was the late 1980s.  Attempts to turn our classrooms into a marketplace and our children into compliant vessels continues, helped along by government legislation.

The Revolution Continues…

Announcing “A Quiet Revolution,” about the Evolution of Technology in our Classrooms

The Days & Nights
of a Quiet Revolution

Click to visit the book’s web site.

Most practicing teachers have never taught in a school without computers. Yet it was only a few years ago that the earliest machines started to appear in a few classrooms. These scattered Atari, Radio Shack and commodore computers were barely noticed by most educators.

A few, however, recognized these rudimentary data processors for what they represented, machines with which we could program new interactive learning experiences that would turn our students into explorers and discoverers of knowledge.

For us, education was no longer limited by what could be taught, but liberated by what could be learned.

These education revolutionaries set about embracing the emerging computer and network technologies, experimenting, discovering, inventing and sharing wondrous new ways to ignite learning. We were empowering our students to act as agents of their own educations and helping them to cultivate the learning-lifestyles that will be critical in their rapidly changing futures.

This story is about thirty-five years of disruptive new technologies that challenged education, an institution that, by design, resists change. It also celebrates the heroes who passionately sought to understand these new technologies and use them to promote schools that empowered learning, instead of administering it.

This story is about thirty-five years of disruptive new technologies that challenged education, an institution that, by design, resists change. It also celebrates the heroes who passionately sought to understand these new technologies and use them to promote schools that empowered learning, instead of administering it.

About the Author

Author of “A Quiet Revolution”

David Istlandoll has been a classroom teacher, district administrator and staff consultant for the North Carolina State Department of Public Instruction. Since 1995 he has worked as an independent provocateur, developing popular interactive websites, writing for magazines and journals, and authoring four books and an influential blog. He has also traveled and spoken to audiences on five continents promoting a vision of education that empowers learning with contemporary information technologies.

A Quiet Revolution is written for:

  • Senior teacher technologists who would like to remember those giddy years gone by when we used MECC software on 5 1/4” floppy disks, bulletin board systems (BBS) to collaborate, and Gopher and Mosaic for surfing the Internet.
  • Practicing teachers eager to enrich their knowledge about technology by visiting a time when creativity and resourcefulness were key to hacking rudimentary computers into inspired learning experiences.
  • School leaders who want to better understand the forces from within and without that seek to keep, unchanged, the How, What and Why of public education.
  • Anyone who, for any reason, is interested in twenty-first century education and how these emerging technologies are opening the way to classrooms that empower learning and usher a return to “the art of teaching.“

Eight Practices for Promoting Media Literacy
or My Challenges for School Year 2018-2019

This Media Bias Chart is maintained by Vanessa Otero at mediabiaschart.com

A friend of mine just questioned me on Facebook, “(With) the increase in access to media/information … are people more adept at separating fact from fiction or are they more willing to let others make that decision for them?”

I quickly made a snide reference to recent elector events as evidence, but continued by blaming education.  There is so much about the ways that teachers must teach that actually discourages students from critically questioning the information that they encounter.  We (educators) teach them to learn and believe what it is that we teach and not to question what they have learned.  Teachers are forced into this mode of instruction because schools have become a one-right-answer world.  It is because of high-stakes testing and teachers are responsible for their students knowing those one-right-answers.

But what if critical evaluation of the information we encounter really was a core part of what we teach.  Here are some ways that teachers might encourage their students to develop critical habits.

  • Research the author(s) of your textbook and start the year introducing students to what you’ve learned.  Explain how the author’s background gives them the authority to write such a textbook.
  • Tell students that not everything in the textbook is true.  Explain that part of their job this year is to find its inaccuracies and support their finds.
  • Use as much content from the Internet as you can.  As you present the content, explain the process you used to finding it and the criteria you used to validate the information.
  • When discussing students’ work or their answers to questions, get in the habit of asking, “How do you know that’s true?”  Encourage students to have supporting evidence for their answers and the ideas that they share.
  • Encourage students to ask you, “How do you know that’s true Mr. ######?”  Be ready to answer with supporting evidence.  If you don’t have the supporting evidence, ask you’re students to give you a day to research it.
  • When you get it wrong, apologize and describe to you students what you learned in the process of getting it wrong.  Make use of all wrong answers.
  • Talk about your own interests and the research that you conduct to learn more about your interest.  Practice contemporary literacy in front of your students
  • When you encounter false information or a manipulative message, bring it into your classroom and provide the evidence that proves that it is incorrect.  Ask students what they think someone might have to gain by spreading false or misleading messages.

Tell your students that the world as we know is,

Is not the same world the we knew.

What more, it’s not the same world that we will know.

They (your students) are going to be the explorers and discoverers of that world.

 

 

Were We Ready?

A few days ago my son posted this short statement on Facebook:

We weren’t ready for the Internet

He got some affirming comments and I just added,

Because of the Internet and other advances in telecommunications and broadcasting, we have become a world of nations divided by ideology instead of nations divided by borders. You can’t “storm the beaches” of the ideas that are contrary to yours.

Being Literate Means being a Digital Detective

This is actually something that I’ve thought about for quite a few years and the reason I spent the last 15 years trying to convince teachers to redefine literacy.

The fact is that we believe what we read on the Internet, because we were taught to believe what we read.  Our schooling was purposely limited to textbooks, compelling (and not so compelling) lectures and library resources selected by librarians with advanced education.  We try to limit our students’ learning to what is reliably accurate.  As a result, our notion of what it is to be literate is limited.  Can you “read and understand what someone, who you trust, has handed you to read.” ..and can you answer questions about it on a test?

In my efforts, I respelled the 3 Rs with 3 Es.  Instead of teaching children to read, we should be helping them learn to Expose what is true.  To expose what is true, you must learn to read it.  But being able to search for, find and synthesize the information, and select that which is most appropriate to your situation, has become just as critical as being able to read it.

I use to suggest to teachers that they should, at every occasion, ask their students, “How do you know that’s true?”  I added that students should be free to ask their teachers, “How do you know that’s true?”  I suspect that if political candidates were regularly asked, “How do you know that?” and we demanded answers, our leadership might be quite different.

The other Es were:

  1. Learning to Employ information, instead just teaching students to calculate numbers
  2. Learning to Express Ideas Compelling, instead of just teaching students to write a coherent paragraph
  3. There was a 4th E – exposing, employing and expressing information with respect for and devotion to what is true, Ethically using information to answer question, solve problems and accomplish goals.

Who Would Teach for Cuckoos?

In the graphs below, I label the X-axis as “Years of Republican Led General Assembly,” referring to the years that North Carolina’s legislative branch has been dominated by the Republican Party, the first time since 1870.  I regret using this distinction because I actually respect much of what I think the Republican Party represents.  I am referring, instead, to the Cuckoo legislators, arrogantly conservative politicians who appear to be Republicans, holding just enough resemblance to push many fine and thoughtful statesmen out of the nest of North Carolina’s State Government.

The Exceptions

Students in Music & Art Ed Programs

Why? click

That said, I want to report on one of the many effects of their arrogance, and not the millions of dollars lost to the state as a result of their hastily written and passed HB2.

I am no longer a teacher.  I left the classroom for leadership roles in a time when teachers practiced autonomy in their classrooms and were rewarded for advancing their own educations.  Today, I can barely imagine how demoralizing the last five years have been for North Carolina teachers, and for school administrators who are desperately struggling to fill their classrooms with qualified teachers.

The solution to an alarming teaching shortage is simple, at least to the amateurs in Raleigh.

Appear to grant a raise to teachers in North Carolina.  

Factoring in the nominal inflation of the past decade and a half, teacher pay in North Carolina has dropped 13%.1  Real and significant raises would certainly help and are certainly warranted.  But there’s nothing new here.  While teachers have always been grossly underpaid, we have continued to have talented and committed men and women wanting to become teachers.

In my opinion, the teacher shortage has more to do with the declining conditions of the job and the increasing barriers that stand in the way of real learning in the classroom.  A teacher’s passion comes from celebrating the meaningful learning and growth of her students.  But today, the creative art of teaching has been spoiled by requirements to comply with government mandated standards that are measured by tests that choke real learning.

..And why would a high school student want to do, what they’ve spent 13 years watched their teachers dispair in not being allowed to do?

The result?

Enrollment at the 15 UNC schools of education has plummeted 30 percent since 2010, a worry for a state where those programs are the biggest source of classroom teachers.2


Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/local/education/article58311793.html#storylin1

I recently received a document from one of the state’s 15 schools of education that lists the numbers of students joining their various education programs since 2012, and the numbers SHOULD worry us.

For instance, this graph illustrates the university students who are planning to become elementary school teachers.

Students in Elementary Ed Programs

The decline, since 2012, represents a net loss of 213 potential elementary school teachers.

Equally disturbing are the numbers entering Math and Science programs, illustrated here.

Students in Science or Math Ed Programs

That’s 34% few Math and Science teachers than would have been likely in a more stable environment.  And, as I’ve written many times before, the real problems of this state, nation and world have less to do with Math and Science, and more to do with our social condition – and we’ve lost 65% of the Social Studies teachers we might have had.  In 2016, no college student in that university sought to pursue a career as a Social Studies teacher.

Students in Social Sciencs Ed Programs

Considering how teachers have been treated in this state, it is easy to fathom what these Cuckoo legislators fear the most.  It is highly educated and organized teachers.  In many of the state’s communities, the most educated citizens are teachers.  It’s why the General Assembly and Pat McRory (Governor) stopped paying higher salaries to teachers with advanced education (part of the Appropriations Act of 2013).  We are the only state that does not pay more to teachers with graduate degrees.  The result?

Students in Advanced Degree Programs

A loss of 27%, though many teachers continue to advance their own education, even without compensation.

If you are a North Carolina voter, and you believe that the future of our state depends on the talent and intelligence of its citizens, then learn how your representatives voted on the final adoption of the Appropriations Act of 2013. If you do not know who your representatives are, go here.  Then go here and click the name of your House member (here for your senator) to see their voting history in 2013-14 session.  If he or she voted “No” to the final adoption of SB 402, the Appropriations Act of 2013, then they voted FOR teachers and stronger public schools in North Carolina.


1 Hinchcliffe, K., & Johnson, C. (2016, April 26). After inflation, NC teacher pay has dropped 13% in past 15 years. WRAL.com [Raleigh].

2 Bonner, L. (2016, February 3). Enrollment plunges at UNC teacher prep programs. The Charlotte Observer[Charlotte].

Good Enough for the 4th of July, But Not for the Classrooms of North Carolina

The history of my country is accented by acts of enormous bravery, men and women who did what they were told, and more, in the face of the ultimate sacrifice.  But among those acts of bravery, for which we owe our independence and freedom, were people who did what they were told by the powers of authority, not to do.  The Boston Tea Party is an example, when patriots risked their freedom and even their lives to dump bundles of tea into the Boston harbor, rather than pay the British taxes, imposed without representation.  Other such acts of civil disobedience include:

BostonTeaParty.jpg
  • Refusal to pay federal taxes in protest of slavery and the Mexican War
  • Street marches, hunger strikes, and submission to arrest and jail in order to gain the right to vote for women.
  • Harriet Tubman’s underground railway and other actions which helped to end slavery.
  • Sit-down strikes and free speech confrontations to eradicate child labor and improve working condition.
  • Sit-ins and illegal marches to gain civil rights for all Americans.

We were taught about these acts and their courageous actors in school and we celebrate them on days like “The 4th of July.”  They are part of our identity as “the land of the free and home of the brave.”  But, if this nation’s most arrogantly conservative legislature, the North Carolina General Assembly, has its way, such acts will be considered grounds for refusing teacher licensure, in the interest of keeping our children safe.

Protect Students in Schools (Senate Bill 867) was sponsored by Senaters Chad Barefoot, Trudy Wade, Buck Newton and others. The bill suggests that a teacher, who has been “..convicted of a crime, whether a misdemeanor or a felony … indicates the employee poses a threat to the physical safety of students or personnel.”1

Among the crimes listed by the bill are murder, rape, kidnapping, robbery, arson and…

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE

I have written a number of blog posts (here, here, here and here) about the declining state of public education in my state, since radical conservatives took the legislative, executive and judicial branches of our state government. Without collective bargaining, North Carolina teachers have little voice in determining the direction of our schools, beyond the voting booth — which the legislature and Governor McRory seek to influence with long awaited for raises, averaging 4.7%. 

To put teacher salaries into context, on average North Carolina’s pay for public school teachers averaged $1,549.93 below the national mean, between 1970 and 2010.  However, between 2010 (when conservatives took control of both houses of our General Assembly) and 2016, NC teacher salaries have fallen to $7,911.66 below the national average.  Part of this may be the General Assemblies elimination of a higher pay scale for teachers who continue their education through graduate degrees.2&3

It seems to me that in this time of rapid change, we need to empower our professional educators to lead in our schools with permission to be flexible and creative, as they craft and facilitate learning experiences that help students to become innovators and resourceful learners. But, if our legislature’s desire is to turn public education into a market place and our schools into customers for corporate products and sources for corporate profits, then creative, resourceful, passionate, and well-spoken teachers are a factor to be avoided. 

 

1 Barefoot, C., Wade, T., & Newton, E. S. (2016). Senate Bill 867 (S867). Retrieved from North Carolina General Assembly website: http://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2015/Bills/Senate/PDF/S867v1.pdf

2 Teaching Salary Data by State. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.teacherportal.com/teacher-salaries-by-state/

3 Estimated average annual salary of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by state or jurisdiction: Selected years, 1969-70 through 2009-10. (2010). Retrieved from National Center for Education Statistics website: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d10/tables/dt10_083.asp

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Extraordinary Learning

A 15 year old Canadian schoolboy, with a fascination for the ancient Mayan Civilization, recently theorized a correlation between the star positions in major constellations and the geographic locations of known Mayan cities. Based on this theory, he used Google Maps to suggest the location of an unknown ancient city. The Canadian Space Agency was so impressed that they used a satellite-based space telescope to study the spot and confirm the existence of the hitherto, unknown city. 

In my work I ran across many ordinary youngsters who — with access to technology, supportive teachers and unconstrained curiosity — did extraordinary things. It all begs for a more empowering and imaginative way of educating our children. 

Class Blogmeister Retires After a 12-Year Run

Class Blogmeister - August 2005

I launched Class Blogmeister in 2004, realizing that there were a lot of teachers who needed a blogging platform for their students, one that was designed for the classroom.  I anticipated that the service would live for a couple of years, after which other more skillfully constructed and professionally supported services would be available.  They were available, but teachers wanted to keep using CB and I wanted to keep learning from their inventive ideas and add features as they were requested.

Now, 12 years later, I have mostly retired from speaking and writing, and my wife and I are spending much of our time in the foothills of North Carolina, helping and enjoying our aging parents.

So, sadly, I will be closing Class Blogmeister around the middle of June this year.  It’s seen a pretty good run, serving over 300,000 teachers and students from 90 countries, who have written nearly 1.5 million blog articles – and I have been the real beneficiary, learning from this amazing community.

I want to commend everyone who has used Class Blogmeister for your adventurous nature and your steadfast adherence to the idea that teaching is an art.  Student blogging requires courageous teachers – and I believe that “courage” is one of the central defining qualities of all good teachers.

I thank you for your loyalty and patience, and especially for being a good teacher.  I can think of no better compliment to pay.

A New Education Environment

The best of my teaching resources

 When I taught Middle School Social Studies in the 1970s, I used a five-year-old textbook, a few old maps and globe, which predated WWII, a well managed but tiny school library and two stacks of ancient National Geographic Magazines, inherited from my grandparents and cut to pieces for the pictures. The New York Public Library’s upcoming release of 180,000 documents to the digital public domain is a small contribution to the vast infoscape that we learn in today. I taught with information scarcity. Today’s teachers teach in information abundance. This dramatically changes how we teach, what education looks like, and even what it means to be educated. 

“Are teachers going the way of local bookstores?”

In my new situation of retired educator (or semi-retired educator. I can’t really decide), I find myself paying less attention to Twitter and more to friends and relatives on Facebook.  But this morning, when I started my computer and Twitteriffic flashed up, I scanned through the most recent tweets from my long-time and famous educator friends – and my eye landed on one by Doug Peterson  actually a retweet of Miguel Guhlin’s,

The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher is a March 25 article in The Atlantic written by Michael Godsey, a “veteran high-school English educator.”  Asked by a college student about the prospects of becoming a public-school teacher, he writes,

I never think it’s enough to say that the role is shifting from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator.” Instead, I describe what I think the public-school classroom will look like in 20 years, with a large, fantastic computer screen at the front, streaming one of the nation’s most engaging, informative lessons available on a particular topic. The “virtual class” will be introduced, guided, and curated by one of the country’s best teachers (a.k.a. a “super-teacher”), and it will include professionally produced footage of current events, relevant excerpts from powerful TedTalks, interactive games students can play against other students nationwide, and a formal assessment that the computer will immediately score and record.

To that, I say, “poppycock!” How’s that for post-career reflection and rejection of the ideals that I seemingly promoted for the last 20+ years? But the fact is that I never promoted such a future for the classroom and find the arrangement to be personally revolting and counter-productive to what I believe the purpose of education to be.

It’s an interesting question and one that many of us have challenged ourselves and each other with, “What is the purpose of school.” Here’s a good answer, in my opinion – Why School by Will Richardson and what is described in Invent To Learn, by Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager.  But here is my ready answer that is short and to the point.

The purpose of school is to prepare our children for adult life during the next 70 to 80 years.

Life doesn’t happen on a video screen and it can’t be simulated with a game.  Goddey’s “fantastic computer screen” will help as will the games and video clips from top thinkers on TED.  In fact, they are essential.  But the fallacy is the assumption and fear that technology replaces the teacher.

To be sure, nobody in education, but those in the darkest recesses of denial, believes that the role of the teacher is not changing.  The shift from “content expert” to “curriculum facilitator” is certainly happening – and it should.  But NOTHING, my most loyal readers, IS EVER THAT SIMPLE.

A phrase like “sage on the stage to guide on the side” is intended as an idiom to focus the attention of experienced professional educators who already grasp the changing conditions that are reshaping school.  It is not an all-encompassing description of the future of classroom instruction.  Frankly, while reading Godsey’s advice to his student, I saw no need for classrooms at all – and that’s the last thing I’d want to see for my grandchildren and their children.

We have to acknowledge that there is a powerful cabal that desires and promotes just the scenario described by Mr. Godsey.  They fancy an education system that spends its billions on their videos, games, tutorials and assessment products, instead of unionized public school teachers.  Products, whose service can be measured (test scores), can be marketed.

In my mind the most preposterous statement in the whole article is the advice of a superintendent, aired on NPR, “If you can Google it, why teach it?”  ..and this gets back to the question, “What is the purpose of school?”  If education’s objective is to equip our children with facts that they can recall on state test day, then I would agree with the superintendent’s statement.  But if its purpose is to prepare our children for adult life, then the job of the teacher is to help learners to understand what they’ve Googled and develop the essential literacy skills and habits of questioning, analyzing and assigning context to the Googled information.

What we can predict about life in the next 70 to 80 years is almost nothing, beyond the timeless practices of responsibility, compassion and providing value to the community.  It will continue to be a time of rapid change, inventions that redefine how we accomplish our goals and discoveries that challenge our beliefs and philosophies.

The common core subject of every classroom today should be learning to learn.

And this brings us back around to Michael Godsey’s apparent fear that his college earned knowledge of literature has become obsolete.  Our classrooms still require experts.  But experts today are no longer known for knowing all there is to know about a subject.

Today’s experts are known for being highly skilled at learning and relearning the ever growing and often changing knowledge about their subject.

This is the notion of expertise that teachers need to model and that students need to see every day, the essential and constant practice of contextual learning-skills / learning-literacies.

Adult life is about learning.