Archive for Community

When Inspiration Catches On

Darren Donaldson, math teacher at Tuxedo Park School, is visiting Maru-a-Pula School this summer to teach for six weeks and experience Botswana. For many visitors, the story would pause there, but Darren decided to make a remarkable contribution to the school as part of his visit. Darren started an appeal to support orphan scholars at Maru-a-Pula, and this effort has raised over $6,000 so far! The school has for years provided scholarships to Orphans and Vulnerable Children, with over 30 enrolled at any given time.

What inspired Darren to take this step? Maru-a-Pula students and staff visited the school last year as part of a United States marimba band tour. This included a concert at Tuxedo Park School, an event for both sharing music and cultural exchange. It is rare not to find inspiration in the uplifting rhythms and melodies, energetic performers, and cultural story of Maru-a-Pula and its marimba band.

Maru-a-Pula Marimba Band visits Tuxedo Park School
Source: Tuxedo Park School

How did a music group from a small school in Botswana find its way to Tuxedo Park? Sue Heywood, resident of Tuxedo Park, organized the concert. A former resident of Botswana, she and her husband found the school through longtime Tuxedo resident Andy Jackson. Andy supported the school by serving and running the American Friends of Maru-a-Pula for several decades. Andy discovered the school through associate Ned Hall, who founded AFMAP in 1974. It was a true gift that Andy got to welcome the school to Tuxedo Park before passing away last year.

This is how inspiration catches on. From 1974 to 2017, one person after the next experienced the school, felt inspired to learn more, and created opportunities for others. We wish Darren the best for his upcoming trip to Maru-a-Pula and know that his association with the school will inspire others in turn.

Puma Talks On “What’s Next” March 5

Our student-organized speaker series has held past events on school day evenings. Next Saturday, they make the leap to a big stage, the school’s 40th anniversary community celebration! I am honored to join students and colleagues in presenting short talks on future directions we are considering for the school’s program. We look forward to seeing you there.

PUMA TALKS ON “WHAT’S NEXT?” MARCH 5

You won’t want to miss some serious intellectual discourse before all the fun of next Saturday’s celebration! Puma Talks will focus on the future of University Prep in honor of the 40th Anniversary and take place at noon in Founders Hall. The topics and speakers (students and administrators) will include:

Brian Gonzales – The Future of Global Programs
Ema Bargeron – The Future of Community Service
Sarah Peterson – The Future of Inclusion
Richard Kassissieh – Rethinking Senior Year
Claire Mao – Social Justice at U Prep
Christina Serkowski – Education for the Anthropocene

Beyond Measure Film Explores Next Generation Learning

Originally published on University Prep

On February 18, University Prep hosted a public screening of the film “Beyond Measure,” which was attended by about 80 U Prep families and members of the public. The film visits several schools across the country to tell the stories of students who are disengaged from conventional forms of schooling, in which standardization, testing, and content coverage feature prominently. The students speak eloquently of the difficulties of staying motivated and working hard in such programs, as their teachers and principals grapple with how to fully realize the potential of their students.

These school leaders, as well as one enterprising student, find examples in innovative schools such as High Tech High in San Diego and the New York Performance Standards Consortium. Throughout the film, experts such as Sir Ken Robinson, Linda Darling-Hammond, and Yong Zhao share their thoughts on the best ways to teach for intellectual courage and global citizenship. Individualized learning, student-designed projects, and alternative programs are highlighted, and the students featured in the film find both inspiration and academic success.

After the film, Head of School Matt Levinson, senior Matan Arad-Neeman, English Department Head Christina Serkowski, and Science Department Head Brent Slattengren fielded questions from the audience. The discussion explored the ways in which University Prep has been upholding some of the film’s recommended practices, including teaching for depth over breadth, assessing students on a performance rubric, encouraging student presentation, designing interdisciplinary projects on contemporary topics, and fully supporting teachers to collaborate and innovate.

The panelists also explored University Prep’s ongoing efforts to develop further changes to the schedule and calendar, interdisciplinary learning, social and emotional learning, online learning, and student-designed projects. The school’s newly adopted strategic plan features Next Generation Learning as one of its three key components, and several faculty-student working groups continue to research and design options and opportunities for program innovation at University Prep.

What’s Your Story?

The NAIS community is running a project in which you post a photo of everyday objects that tell a story about your life. This is part of the run-up to the Annual Conference, which takes place this Thursday and Friday in San Francisco. While the photos speak for themselves, I thought I would elaborate here.

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I sticker my laptop as a reminder to not take myself too seriously when working with youth. This year, my stickers refer to sense of place: local organizations KEXP, Fuel Coffee, and the Seattle Sounders, the flag of the Cascadia bioregionalism movement, the Botswana crest, and two U Prep logos.

The Celtics and native orcas mugs also refer to sense of place, Boston being the city of my youth, and the orcas a reference to the art and culture of native Northwest tribes.

Even though I use computers a lot, pen and paper remain a great way to visually develop an idea.

These four books have had a strong effect on my thinking at different times in my career: Future Wise and Raising Race Questions in recent times as we plan strategic innovations here at school, Multimedia: From Wagner To Virtual Reality when I first began to explore multimedia educational software in the 1990’s, and Long Walk To Freedom, my travel book one vacation while living in Botswana.

The Independent Curriculum Group recently sent me this hat, a good reminder about the power of curricular freedom and student engagement in independent schools.

The graduate rubber duck is a Catlin Gabel tradition, and I happened to end up with one of these several Junes ago. It reminds me of the students we are cultivating to reach their full potential here.

What’s your story?

Teens and Upsell in Video Games

Many youth enjoy sports video games as a recreational and social activity. However, are video games companies unfairly taking advantage of adolescent development? As youth enter their teens, they transition from games designed for children to those designed for adults. While video game companies comply with laws to limit mature content and protect children’s identities, one area remains largely unregulated: the upsell. Video game companies take advantage of adolescents’ developing self-control in order to profit from them.

To illustrate the point, let’s take a look at the FIFA series (EA Sports). At its simplest, the game seems pretty harmless. Electronic Arts rates it as “E” for “everyone,” and Common Sense Media approves the game for ages 8+.

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Common Sense Media's rating of FIFA 16

Out of the box (or download), the game allows the player to choose their favorite, real-world club and play against teams in various international leagues. Kids get to improve their skills, access greater levels of challenge, and create fun matchups that one would not often see in real life. Some parents, therefore, feel only positively about the game, particularly when compared with games that include violent or sexual content.

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CommonSense Media member review

At this level, frustration is the biggest potential drawback. Kids may feel challenged by the limitations of controller-based simulation of real-world phenomena. In real soccer, players use their whole bodies to make successful passes, shots, and defensive moves. Particularly for a beginner, hard work and focus quickly lead to improvement. In FIFA, you have the controller. While EA Sports has invented many button combinations to create different types of plays, these are a far cry from the biomechanics of the human body. When kids exclaim, “How did I miss that shot!”, they may be expressing some subconscious blurring of physical and virtual experience. In other words, luck plays a much larger role than skill in the simulated game, a fact that kids may not fully appreciate.

Simulation is another subtle concept that youth may have difficulty grasping. Sports based video games use “artificial intelligence” to simulate human decision making. A kid can only control one player at a time—the software automates actions of the other 10 players. Not surprisingly (at least to an adult), automated players often do irrational things. AI can only approximate human thought, and so virtual players often make ill-timed runs, don’t defend consistently, and generally fail to sense the flow of the game and the intent of the one human-controlled player on the field. Kids can get extremely frustrated when their players don’t behave as expected.

To their credit, Common Sense alludes to consumerism in the gameScreen Shot 2015-10-24 at 12.28.08 PM

EA Sports boldly monetizes all aspects of the game, embedding advertisements like in real contests. On the one hand, the effect is authentic. On the other hand, companies are advertising their wares to the player, and your child is absorbing all of those messages while playing! If you have doubts about this, just ask any young soccer fan whether they have heard of Etihad and what it is.

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Electronic Arts surely understands the value of blurring the lines between reality and simulation. Each year, non-game play animation grows more realistic, and EA and FIFA product logos appear at real games.

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This is virtual.

Michael Oliver referee 2014-15
This is real.

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Virtual

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Real foreground, virtual background

What effects do idealized simulations of people have on young kids? Do kids conceive of players as real people with emotions, camaraderie, and team concept, when they spend so much time playing as their avatars? I hesitate to speculate and would love to read some real research on this topic.

Were youth to experience only these challenges with FIFA, I would not feel so critical about the game. However, the game takes advantage of adolescent disposition in other ways. Kids are social. Interactions with friends are crucially important, perhaps of higher value than anything else. Not surprisingly, pre-teens quickly learn from their friends that that they can play each other in FIFA. Were the game completely fair, social play might be a great thing. However, kids can choose whether to play as a stock team or as FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT). The “ultimate” moniker brings a component of fantasy gameplay into the game. One starts with a team of basic, lesser-known players. Through gameplay and wins, the player earns coins that one then uses to purchase more talented players.

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FUT requires an online account (XBox Live, for instance). These are restricted by COPPA, which protects the personal information of youth under age 13. The game console company (e.g., Microsoft) is required to obtain parental consent for youth to create an online account. Such companies also typically provide parental controls to hide children’s identifying information and restrict them from making in-app purchases. However, parental controls are notoriously difficult to use, and many parents just go with default settings or remove them entirely to avoid the hassle. In addition, the default setup includes linking a credit card to the account in order to pay the $60 annual fee.

Imagine yourself as a kid (maybe even your kid). If you played your friends over and over, would you prefer to win? Would you put in hours of gameplay in order to rack up more coins and improve one’s skills? Youth certainly do. The urge to play with friends, compete, and win is very strong for some children.

Here’s where the dynamic becomes perverse. What if you could buy better players (instead of playing for hours) and then beat your friends? If you had the money, would you do it? EA Sports has two forms of virtual currency: points and coins. Points are purchased with real money, whereas coins are earned through gameplay. Either allows one to open “packs” of virtual players. As one reviewer writes, “think of FIFA Points as the easier way out. You’ll quickly amass talented players, but your wallet will take a hit.” EA Sports uses typical advertising techniques to encourage urgency and spending.

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Buying packs is a lot like gambling. On second thought, it is gambling. Open enough packs, and you are bound to luck into a high-quality player eventually. The chance of drawing a great player in one pack is small, and the probability increases as you open more packs. The psychology of gambling is well-documented. “One more hand, and I’ll win the big one.” Youth may not be allowed to enter a casino, but they can gamble with real money in FIFA and other sports video games. Open a child account using a credit card, and now the kid can blow big money opening packs.

Parents would do well to understand these qualities of this “E for everyone” game. Playing against the computer or a friend who comes over is fun, to a point. The game entices kids to buy the online subscription in order to play against friends on the Internet and enter tournaments. Through upsell techniques, your child becomes part of a very adult dynamic, which requires either uncommon self-control or an usually involved parent to avoid being taken advantage of. Parents new to gaming should be aware that upsell is part of the game, and they may have to be the “uncool” parent and say no to their kids’ requests or risk exposing them to this abuse. Navigating parental controls is an enormous challenge. One must discover more effective techniques, such as disconnecting the credit card from the online account and buying your child gift cards instead.

To make matters worse, FIFA’s market for virtual players has operated as a true economy at times. With millions of players and transactions, EA Sports has from time to time offered a “transfer market,” in which gamers list their players for sale and prices are allowed to fluctuate. Last year, kids would casually remark the “transfer market has crashed again,” as player prices fluctuated wildly, increasing or decimating the value of their club’s roster and making recent transactions look ridiculous. Furthermore, an all-powerful governing body (EA Sports) can change the rules at any time. Accountability to the populace, essential to a functioning government, is hardly evident in the relationship between game vendor and consumer.

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It gets even worse. Over the years, entrepreneurs have developed ways to cheat the coin and transfer markets. A black market emerged, third-party websites where users could buy coins and/or players at dramatically reduced prices. The black market caused both competition and prices to skyrocket, putting those who played fair at a disadvantage and creating enormous incentives to cheat. EA Sports has periodically shut down the entire transfer market, putting a temporary stop to the cheating and also causing widespread upset. This year, EA has reopened the transfer market with rules intended to suppress bad behavior. The irony is that EA is trying to both monetize the game as much as possible while maintaining some measure of control over this community.

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Let’s pause here for a moment and consider the life lessons for young gamers.

  • Persistence and effort pay off, to a point.
  • You can buy or cheat your way to success.
  • Gambling can pay off big, and it can also hurt.
  • Those with power control.

It may be worth reminding ourselves that the game is rated 8+ by Common Sense Media, and COPPA only restricts online accounts for children under 13. Parents would do well to tread with caution or prepare yourself to console an upset child and pay a giant credit card bill!

Improving Inside U Prep

One difference between being a tech director and academic dean is the much smaller amount of time that I have available for tech tasks. I don’t replace MacBook hard drives anymore, but I do still run at least one school website, Inside U Prep. This summer, I had the chance to have some fun and make a number of long-desired improvements to the website. Many of these simply bring it up to the standard I wished for when I first launched the site.

In the tradition of other internal school websites, Inside U Prep meets a couple of important school needs. Inside sites provide direct access to resources that students and faculty and staff members frequently use. While the main school website prioritizes outward-facing content, intranet websites give top billing to items of internal interest. Internal school websites are less bound by the the design constraints of a public audience, since they have less need to project specific aesthetics. Its audience comes to campus every day!

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The improvements include changes to visual appearance, user interface, and custom module functionality. Let’s get started:

Responsive theme

mobileThe prior theme (Bartik) did not change appearance on mobile devices, a liability in the current, mobile era. Fortunately, someone modified Bartik to make it responsive and then posted it as a community theme (Responsive Bartik D7).

Child theme
Short on time, I originally configured Bartik with a custom logo and manually added a couple of graphic elements. These changes were overwritten each time that I installed an update to the theme. This time, I created a child theme of Responsive Bartik. This allowed me to make the prior customizations permanent and then make precise improvements to layout and appearance. The new sans-serif look is cleaner and better spaced.

Simplify menus

The two menus now appear in one column and have moved from the primary menu and right sidebar regions of the page to the more commonly used left sidebar. Usage stats indicate that the custom modules and outward links are used more frequently than the internal resources, another reason to enhance their visibility.

Views instead of custom code

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.53.22 PMSince site launch, the resources content type has accepted link URLs, uploaded files, and HTML content. The home page displays whatever content has been provided, with a priority order. Previously, I coded this custom, but this time I created a view block for each cell, with the help of Views Conditional so that it would be more standard for me or someone else to modify this configuration in the future.

ITIP module

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.51.07 PMOne of six custom modules I have authored to provide dynamic data collection and reporting services for specific school programs. ITIP is our faculty professional development and evaluation program. The system now shows multiple years and can accept multiple submissions per item. It will soon request and share an informal project title from each faculty member and then share these to all faculty members, to promote awareness and sharing.

Course resources module

A.k.a. “textbook list.” This module collects course textbook, ebook, app, and website subscription information from teachers in the spring and shares it with families in the fall. This year, the system will show a customized course resources list for each student, instead of requiring families to wade through the complete list to identify the items to purchase for their student.

Community service module

This module makes the submission of community service hours completely electronic. The prior version was pretty bare bones, just performing the basic functions of storing student hours, sending mail messages to supervisors for verification, and producing a dashboard and reports of student progress toward the service requirement. New features include: better structured data entry and storage, normalized organizations table to reduce duplication, faster approval interface for the service coordinator, and dashboard access for advisors. With this done, we will be able to share back to students the 300+ service organizations that they have entered into this database in the past two years. Time permitting, I am very excited to try Addressfield Autocomplete, which may be able to perform a live Google Maps lookup of organization address information. This would be both really slick as well as more convenient and accurate for the service coordinator. Again, the Drupal community has been actively improving the sophistication and usability of contributed modules while I have been gone!

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.54.15 PMTwitter feeds

Live feeds from three school Twitter accounts of interest to internal audiences.

Finally configured pathauto

Human-friendly URLs.

Maxlength module

Maxlength limits user input into textarea fields, previously a weakness of this site. Users would enter unexpectedly long content into certain fields (usually adding explanations), and database insert statements would break.

Screen Shot 2015-08-15 at 9.55.19 PMDate picker module

Drupal finally created an easy way to attach popup calendar selectors to date fields. We use date selectors all the time, for example to record student community service. Date picker

I look forward to seeing how these improvements play this year and so appreciate having a few days this summer to make a brief return to my web development days.

Singing With Gusto

My high school choral director also coached the school’s varsity football team. This did not end up how you might think. Jiman Duncan was highly qualified for both pursuits, and both groups thrived. The football team won all but one game that year, including the league championship. The chorus and a cappella groups experienced a revival, performing a broad repertoire, and as you might imagine, singing with gusto. We were coached to sing physically, boldly, and with confidence, a great step in the development of our personalities and self-esteem. We went sharp every time, sometimes by huge margins, but that just added an amusing coda to each piece.

Mr. Duncan took us everywhere. We performed at schools, in retirement homes, in shopping centers, anywhere that welcomed our sea shanties, classical pieces, and Beach Boys tunes. One day, Mr. Duncan announced that we were heading to Alabama for spring break. From Massachusetts to Alabama? This was about as foreign a destination as possible while remaining within the 48 continental states. To Tuscaloosa we went, to a memorable week of humid weather, more retirement homes and schools, and fleeting adventures with our peer hosts.

Mr. Duncan cast a formidable figure, cut for both opera and linebacker, or so my memory suggests. Yet he consistently projected positive energy and confidence in his charges. One week, he took our music class to the Boston Symphony Hall to hear the BSO. While we students sat in the back, Jiman waited in line for a subscriber’s returned ticket, and ended up sitting in the very front row of the balcony, conspicuous to all. The instant the last note sounded, he leaped to his feet and shouted, “Bravo!” before a single other pair of hands even clapped. I admired the audacity, passion for the music, and appreciation of the performers expressed within this split second. I wonder whether he was solely experiencing a personal moment, or whether the act was partly for our benefit.

That was in 1986. This year, I was invited to sing in a choral group for the first time in 27 years. Our music directors decided to assemble a faculty/staff choir to perform Handel’s Messiah with the student orchestra. It was most definitely small and informal, a collection of our teachers and staff who were willing to devote a few lunch periods to rehearsal. It was extremely refreshing to take time away from curriculum and professional development to sing. I also imagine that students were a little surprised at the faces in the choir, as we adults are typecast by our jobs. “I didn’t know they could sing!”

Singing in the faculty-staff choir brought back many memories of singing in high school. I wondered where Mr. Duncan was now, and whether he might appreciate a brief note of thanks and memory. Google delivered the sad news. Jiman Duncan passed away in 2003, at the age of 58. According to Bangor Daily News, he died of prostate cancer. I also found out (I’m sure I forgot) that Jiman had a degree in theology in addition to his choral and sporting skills. The web search also turned up a colorful account of rehearsal with the colorful Mr. Duncan, part of the author’s journey into spiritual life. Finally, a Rutland, Vermont events calendar lists Jiman Duncan  as the 1973 conductor of (yes, you guessed it) Handel’s Messiah. I cannot thank Mr. Duncan personally, but I will add to his public memory on the web.

Attention and Mindfulness in Technology Use: Five Perspectives

U Prep facilitates professional development opportunities for the individual teacher, group of teachers, and whole faculty. This year, at least three of these sessions consider our new iPad and laptop program, wholly within the context of principles of teaching and learning and youth development. Today, we explored the topic of attention and mindfulness in the context of technology use.

On the one hand, we are working hard so that our school keeps up with rapid technological changes occurring in society. The main feature is a huge infusion of tablet and laptop devices that we have placed in students’ hands, plus consideration of how to change our instructional practices to take advantage of the many capabilities of this change.

At the same time, we heard a clear message from our community as we designed the program last year—we want and need balance in our lives. Balance between high-tech and low-tech learning environments; balance between email and face-to-face communication; balance between productivity and reflective practice.

What does imbalance look like? When we feel compelled to answer emails at our desk instead of seeing colleagues in the staff room. When we spend hours addressing a technical problem instead of getting work done. When we find students watching a video or playing a game instead of paying attention to class. Looking to the future, one might image a dystopic view of technology in our lives. Let’s take a look.

In one of our faculty summer reads, William Powers wrote:

We’re losing something of great value, a way of thinking and moving through time that can be summed up in a single word, depth. Depth of thought and feeling, depth in our relationships, our work and everything we do. Since depth is what makes life fulfilling and meaningful, it’s astounding that we’re allowing this to happen.

What does balance look like? When tech is truly complementary, part of the environment, rather than taking center stage. When we have the necessary self-control to avoid immediately responding to that ding, buzz, or alert window. When we feel that our humanity is preserved in our very personal practice of living and working within a learning community.

Again, quoting William Powers:

History is replete with moments when some astonishing new invention came along that suddenly made it easier for people to connect across space and time. And those earlier shifts were as exhilarating and confusing to those who lived through them as today’s are to us.

Even in a hyper-connected world, everyone has the ability to regulate his or her own experience. It’s the same theme that great thinkers have struck time after time over the last two thousand years, but it keeps getting forgotten. The answer to our dilemma is hiding in the last place we tend to look: our own minds. The best tool for fighting back is still the mind itself.

We must move a step forward in our understanding of attention and mindfulness, so that we may open the classroom to technology without feeling ruled by it.

How do we achieve this? First, let’s understand that the study of attention and mindfulness with technology is an emerging field. Different approaches exist: some support each other. Others contradict. It’s quite likely that some combination of approaches will be best.

Let’s take a look at five approaches to attention and mindfulness in a technology-rich world. We may identify which aspects of these approaches have the most potential, so that we may implement them broadly throughout the school, incorporate them into our behavioral and professional norms and expectations.

Executive Function

This topic asks what brain research can tell us about learning and technology use. Karen Bradley, a teacher at Head-Royce School in Oakland, describes executive functions as, “our judgment, the ability to set priorities, to choose a ‘go’ versus a ‘no-go’ action, to distinguish junk from useful information.” The use of executive function is critical for young people to learn, as they make decisions about whether to pay attention in class, do homework, and consider thematic concepts in the curriculum.

Frequent interruptions by technology may impede executive function, as students lack the “quiet space” to think deeply, and as their working memory is bombarded by new inputs. Brain scientists such as John Medina tell us that multitasking is a myth, that frequently switching our attention is a detriment to productive thought.

Let’s take a whimsical look at multitasking with designer Paolo Cardini.

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Megan Reimann is an expert in special education. She has taught study skills, resource room, language arts, and social studies and is a U Prep ninth grade parent. Megan currently specializes in working with students who have executive function deficits to help them create strong study habits. Megan ran one of our breakout sessions during the professional development day.

Mindfulness

Our second topic is mindfulness. Did you know that you may actually hold your breath when you open your email app to check for new messages? The tense moment of uncertainty—what’s in there?—triggers our fight-or-flight response; our physiology is on high alert while we wait to find out.

How is our quality of life when these moments of alertness happen all day, in quick succession? What can we do to create contemplative spaces and improve our quality of life? How may we teach our students to do the same?

David Levy is a professor at UW’s Information School and an expert in information, contemplative practices, and the quality of life. David is a former computer scientist, researcher on the nature of documents, and student of calligraphy and bookbinding. Dr. Levy’s more recent work has focused on contemplative practices, the quality of life, and how to use digital tools more mindfully. He gave a superb talk on the activities teachers can organize for their students to promote self-awareness and mindfulness. This video provides a brief introduction to his work.

Engagement

This topic looks at attention and mindfulness from the perspective of student engagement. Maybe our students and their technologies aren’t the problem. Maybe our educational paradigm needs to change instead.

Cathy Davidson, another of our summer book authors, asks whether we need to update our definitions of attention and engagement. She argues that distraction actually helps us receive a variety of input that supports creativity, connection, and collaboration. Instead of keeping technology at arm’s length, perhaps we should embrace it and change our educational environments to match. Information is no longer scarce, and teachers have a new, exciting role to play as the architects of student-directed learning environments. Progressive education and project-based learning meet technology in this topic.

In this video, Alan November describes one such learning experience (jump to 3:35).

Further reading:

Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design” (Mizuko Ito et al)

Exploring the Edge: New Learning Environments for the 21st Century” (John Seeley Brown)

Mastery

This topic asks whether we feel uncomfortable with technology simply because we have not fully mastered it. Alerts and notifications can be turned off. We can get better at how we use communication and collaboration tools, so that they truly become part of the background of our educational environment.

In Send, David Shipley provides perspectives and techniques to allow you to take control of your email inbox.

Howard Rheingold invites us to tune our “crap detector” and “attention muscles” (to borrow a term from David Levy) to restore control over our electronic interactions. “Dive into the deep end,” Rheingold tells us.

Clay Shirky says that the problem is not information overload, rather it is filter failure. The key skill now is to be able to set up systems to bring the most relevant, stimulating content to our attention.

Further reading:

Attention, and Other 21st-Century Social Media Literacies” (Howard Rheingold)

It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure” (Clay Shirky)

Personal Learning Networks: Knowledge Sharing as Democracy” (Alison Seaman)

Students’ Social Media Lives

What are students doing behind those screens? Anthropologists Mimi Ito and danah boyd have a lot to tell us about how young people experience life through social media. Understanding their perspectives may help us work with students in classes and evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of separating students from their devices.

Further reading:

Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project (MacArthur Foundation)

Teens and Technology 2013” (Pew Research Center, Berkman Center for Internet and Society)

Teens, Social Media, and Privacy” (Pew Research Center, Berkman Center for Internet and Society)

Another Special Senior Art Gift

Last year’s seniors gave a beautiful math-based painting to the school. The Class of 2012 just unveiled these two marvels, creating for science what math received last year. Yes, that’s a strand of DNA in cat’s cradle form. Click the photo to take a closer look.

Collectives, Not Communities

Viewing social networks as collectives rather than communities may help us make sense of their place in schools . How can a person have 1,000 friends? Why do students spend so much time on Facebook? What is the nature of membership in a social network?

From Community to Collective: Institution and Agency in the Age of Social Networks (PDF)

Douglas Thomas explores how social network websites act primarily as collectives, not communities. In a collective, the institution is organized to provide individual agency to its members.

In a community, the general motive for participation is belonging, principally, belonging to an institution greater than oneself or even the sum of its members. In a collective, the investment is in participating … without the immediate sense of reciprocity that community entails.

Facebook, Google, Ebay, Amazon are all large institutional structures that have the singular and sole purpose of affording an individual agency.

Sometimes, a collective contains several communities within it. This makes it easy to conflate the two. However, the collective does not depend on the communities within it for its continued existence.

A student may interact with a subset of her social network contacts as a community, exchanging direct messages and commenting on friends’ posts. The entirety of a student’s social network may act as a collective, providing the student with critical information that supports her sense of personal agency, whether or not she posts at all.

If alumni and parents join a school’s Facebook page for reasons of personal agency, not reciprocal interaction, then the purpose of posting to the Facebook page changes considerably. A school would want to consider what content it could provide that would support individual agency.

Viewing social networks as collectives instead of communities has the potential to advance our understanding of their useful purpose in schools.

Photo credit: “Face in a crowd” by vividbreeze