Reading: not doing it enough is killing us.

During the primary years, schools have proven themselves adept at teaching children to read.  Great news for primary school teachers and children. Reading is the key skill humans use to access new information and in modern hyper-connected, Bluetooth, streaming social society (some call Junk Culture) we never stop reading messages and may even be amusing ourselves to death according to some such as Neil Postman. Whether we believe childhood is better for more things to read or worse, the BIG change for the current generation of parents is that the idea of ‘reading’ we remember at school is under siege from the digital revolution of the last decade.

Reading can change the world. Not Audi or Apple, not the Huffington Post or YouTube. This post is about resetting our thinking about ‘reading’ as an idea. If we don’t accept that ‘reading’ for children – daily – is as important as eating and exercising, then children are not just left to their devices – but being inducted into consumer culture that makes those devices so ‘life essential’ and more essential that a book. So here, I’m going to lay it out – walk past EB Games and into a Bookshop every time you go to the mega-loot-entertainment-hub near you. Grab a book, sit down with your kid and read for 10 mins. Then buy the book.

Why would you do this? Why would you care? Why give up the iPad and iPhone for old technology? – Because reading really is a life skill. According to UNESCO “If all students in low income countries left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty, which would be equivalent to a 12% cut in world poverty”. Boom! just by acquiring the skills we give children by year 3. Around the world, most children don’t learn to read at school. If all women completed primary education, there would be 66% fewer maternal deaths for example. So reading has a massive impact – it is literally a life or death skill.

The Modern English Alphabet spent hundreds of years evolving. In fact, the runic alphabet, which is the earliest form of written English has been in use since the 5th century. Many arguments, reforms, influences and changes later, and the written English language encountered by teenagers is a collection of ‘modern english and digital allographs that have lots of meanings. Added to that, teens create and use glyphs and symbols to represent entire ideas and feelings (emoji). Recent US research found that MOST teenagers don’t Google. For the last ten years or so, teachers have been arguing about whether Google is: cheating, rubbish, useful, time-saver, time-waster and so on. The battle was over what digital technology would be allowed in the classroom, and whether or not ‘the book‘ was better. It was a silly debate, but teachers seemed to enjoy it in staff meetings for years. The reality is that reading is better for children than not reading. We can get into what kind of ‘reading’ material, print vs digital etc., but that missed the point. Reading in the sense of reading for understanding, which also promotes listening to understand, not just reply.

If you want to see the result of not focusing on this: consider what Trunk reads before he Tweets out some more bile and rubbish. Then ask youself, do you think his education minister Sweaty Davros think a ‘reading’ public is a good idea? No, killing reading also kills people.

The EdTech binary debate was was a silly debate in many ways, but teachers seemed to enjoy it in staff meetings for years. Sadly it still goes on in many staffrooms, so don’t wait for your school to solve or #stem (joke) the problem.

The simple, sugar-free and brand-free reality is that reading is better for children than not reading. Australian research shows children have less leisure time than a decade ago and more media choices – so reading for many has vanished as something to do with their leisure time. We can get into what kind of ‘reading’ material, print vs digital etc., but that misses the point. Reading in the sense of reading a great book written in ‘Modern English has shown to improve the lives of children for their entire lives. We can’t say the same of the iPad or the Xbox yet.

If you have read down to here, give yourself a pat on the back!

Reading means reading more than a Tweet or a Facebook post. The media would like you not to do that, but read the headline, then another, then another and spend your whole day clicking. That is what the US research found. Almost all high school students get their news from social media links – other people share. They are not Googling, they just click on ‘stuff’ and the engines that drive the stuff are designed to agree that their world view and lifestyle belief is the best. This internet – is not the one you figured out in the 1990s, todays media bubble for teens has almost no useful comparisons to the days of Yahoo, MSN and beige computers in the family room.

Kids need to read to: interpret explicit information, retrieve direct information, and interpret information by inferring meaning. Reading at school has been eroded by governments for decades after year three. Yes they read text books, but how well they read them is really important. It’s the key driver of success into Senior school – being able to ‘read’ the question and then ‘read’ the text to answer is driven by skills learned a decade earlier. A student might be creative, insightful, hard working and so on, but unless they can ‘read’ well enough to decode the question, they are forced to guess or might take away the wrong meaning. It’s not like exam writers try NOT to do that, they do want to see who can deal with the difficult questions AND content.

Now I’m sure that all students read for 30 minutes a day, and that they know what books are appropriate for their reading level. They probably do this while they wait for their device’s battery to recharge. In case they don’t, then I suggest you find ways to encourage it at home, especially in teens. It might not be as well received as a new Xbox game, but that’s like saying we know children need a healthy diet to thrive and still feeding them sugary junk because they like it.

Schools do teach children to read. The media headlines might try and claim otherwise, but since the 5th century, Modern English based reading – in books, has taught every great inventor, scientist, artist etc., the key skills they need to be a success – and it still delivers results.

Stupid Edu Twitter Graphics #1

The image on the left was on Twitter. A handy visualisation of the BIG question being asked on the stage for the Department of Education’s Principal Conference. I’m sure everyone reminded each other how innovative they are, how hard they work etc.,

But seriously folks, this 2017 and this is the BIG IDEA that they are putting on a forty foot screen – and them someone makes a Twitter graphic about it and hashtags it online. The summit of media notices parents (and teachers) need to know – I’m so glad that the top brass was reminded of the most basic of concepts.


EdTech Clone Wars

We live in an era of duplicity. There’s little doubt information is repeated, but ethically and professionally – should systems and organisations RIP OFF work that other people who they used to call ‘colleague’ did? I don’t think so. Copyright is automatic in this country – and you’d hope so would ‘being a professional’ or at least having a code.

And yet, some organisations and individuals are actively cloning the work of other people. They do this to save money, make money and to advance their own perceived insight and value to the broader audience. We know that brands make ‘knock offs’ and are keen to clone products they can make money from. We know school and universities are super keen to teach about ethics and plagiarism and yet systems routinely attempt to RIP OFF work of former worker – and current workers – without permission or conscience.

Let say I’m an expert in ‘digital health’ and have been researching and working on it for say a decade. Let’s say I’ve given my time to colleagues and set them on their own journey. That’s called being a professional. Not lets say I discover that my ideas, my work and all that foundational intellectual property is cloned and I start to read about people actively trying to commercialize ‘their version’. Not only is it an unprofessional dick-move, it reduces my interest in bothering with the current culture of scraping Twitter and blogs for ideas which can be cloned. But they can’t be cloned – there are insights, data and layers of knowledge and experience that can’t be repeated (even it you scraped their slidedeck of Slideshare). Being a professional means not stealing IP and work from others.

So don’t be a dick. If someone have worked (for you and others) on a topic, is local, is available and justifiably get’s pissed when they see a clone of their work, their workshop and thier ideas being put on by someone else – with added Doc Martin’s and pity anecdotes – it isn’t okay – it’s a dick move and you and your office full of Twitter sucking vampires need to take a look at yourselves. Add something to the pool of knowledge and keep your hands off things that you didn’t create – just go buy into some Sloganware – they love it when you copy their media messages and crafted bylines.

Be professional, be a scholar and have some respect.

Yeah, you know who I’m talking about.

How do I get to speak at a conference?

These days there are three conference types. The first requires some call for papers or posters though an abstract. It should meet the theme of the conference and should provide peers in your field with new insights or updates to what is known about the topic. These are peer reviewed and common practice in higher education, however many membership-based associations use the same approach. The focus in on empirical evidence, proven methods of research and serves to inspire and update colleagues.

The second is the commercial show. The largest in Australia is Edutech, so I’ll use this a particularly predatory example. This is a company created and dedicated to making money from conference organizations. Approaches are made on the basis that their work has sufficient popular interest to fill a room. I am only one of many who declined their offers. The process in amusing as some marketing office assistant attempts to conduct a phone ‘interview’ – and apart from going to a school at some point as a student, seem to have no idea what scholarship means, nor do they care. At these events, the ‘keynote’ will be paid anything from $5,000 to $100,000. The most famous – the ones with the most popular pithy quotes such as “schools kill rock music” are fairly shameless in repeating the same mantra, the same true-isms and generally see conferences as easy money, bringing along they wives or husbands for a nice little holiday. Further down the ranks, these event organizers stop paying anyone past a handful of elites. Most of the speakers are there to fill rooms and present this an  ‘opportunity’ as though your insights and work is worthless or at best, it’s okay to treat you like an intern who will do almost anything to move up the food chain. Don’t be fooled. There is no food chain, the elites guard their income fiercely and not about to share. Often the elites have not actually been in a classroom for years and simply peddle a story – one the audience want’s to believe. It’s a predictable formula that has been remarkably successful.

The third are the in-system events. These do have some merit in that they are sharing information between actual teachers, but these too, tend to import external-elites, who drop amusing stories for a fee (leaving ASAP) while the actual teachers who know the context backward, get side rooms, and often have to pay to attend the event to boot. These are usually invitation based, and run on who you know – and who did people ‘like’ last time. Another lottery – but at least you’re spending time with people in your system – so most people go for the networking and suffer the boring powerpoint parts by some dude who’s never going to care about you.

Last, we have the ‘unconference’, ‘bar-camp’ and ‘teachmeet’ – these are largely the same thing. Low budget, but no less of an oligarchy. They are promoted via people who have set themselves up as ‘leaders’ or ‘founders’ using Twitter hashtags. They mimic the ‘grand story’ of the big conferences, and there some argument that they are slightly miffed at never being asked, so it’s a little counter-culture. The good part is that bar-camp set up a framework in which most people get a lottery chance at speaking. BUT there are ‘special guests’ who don’t have to use the speaking lottery. Again, good for networking – but the larger ones are highly orchestrated around the ‘in crowd’ and again tend to encourage the ‘intern-apprentice’ culture in which dissenting voices who dare to ask curly questions such as ‘do you have have evidence’ or ‘what is the method being used’ are less welcome. These events seem to encourage buzzwords and bandwagons, as the rely on pop-culture as a promotional vehicle. Bar-camp was about ideas, but we have moved a long way from that these days. In my decade or more experience, I’d suggest the smaller events are far more useful and authentic than the BIG ones – because they often sing to the choir and ego-boost ‘innovative principals and leaders’ etc., because social media based groups are not anywhere near as open and libertarian as they’d like us to believe.

Career booting though Twitter and unconferences works if you are prepared to promote yourself and to align yourself with those who share the ambition. Being popular matters if you want to be part of the in-crowd. This is no different to how YouTubers share audiences to ensure outsiders are locked out. It’s not as though there’s a clear goal here – but clearly, some people are working 24/7.  It works too, you can go from classroom teacher to DP or better in a short(er) time – simply by becoming popular and never do anything more than a song and dance. A word of caution: there is a song list. Don’t talk about how unaccountable teachers are for the time they force kids to sit in front of laptops – but just say how X Software on laptops is awesome.they lack evidence and rely on popularism and in-group bias to be correct. They are also often aligned with personalities who are not just brand loyal, but salesmen for the brand.

Where ‘speakers’ lack evidence and must rely on popularism and in-group bias to be noticed. Founding a hashtag and asking simplistic questions is actually seen as ‘good communication’ when in fact its Haw Haw.  These people/things are also often aligned and infused with personalities who are not just brand loyal, but salesmen for the brand.

Consumer theory has established that brands have exploited children in recent years – and who better to be the ‘face of brand X’ than a teacher who can insist and command children use it. No wonder technology brands have “edu” high on the list of promotional activities. Brands don’t find peer-review and scholarship appealing ways to promote their products … and social media based events and commercial ‘

Brands avoid peer-review and find membership driven events are ‘best sponsored’ as to avoid scrutiny,  whereas and social media based events and commercial conferences are essential to their bottom line.

So how to you speak at a conference? – get in competition with everyone else, be ruthless, find a niche, don’t bother offering any evidence – in fact do the opposite of what education is supposed to do – to arm children with defences against exploitation and to ensure teachers are not in competition, but work to improve what we know works in a world where marketing and media actively work to mask it.

I know >>> I don’t call you, you call me.

76 Trombones in the reform parade

Reform is all about the future. Humans are notoriously optimistic about the future and every song and dance man can belt out a tune about leadership, motivation and how to turn dreams into reality. You only have to spend a few minutes on Twitter to see how the 21st Century SocMedia Leaders use ‘the future’ as a pervasive attention-grabber.

Sadly, and for all their seventy-six trombones, the future is notoriously unpredictable which also makes it perfect for doing exactly nothing. If we’re talking about actual reform, where we’re crafting and implementing a new and mostly unique model of learning – even the best intentions will run into the ongoing culture which is strapped to the neo-liberal pole of ‘do more with less’. The job of reform is thankless and at times borders on dangerous. Most people don’t want to change. Our brains are wired up to notice these things, and it tells us that change is hard and dangerous – so don’t get involved.

Saying you’re on board or wanting it doesn’t make it true. Reform is very difficult because our monkey brains spend all their time avoiding danger and risk, and want to do things that have proven safe and easy in the past. There is an end destination – the one that we all want to get to. People seem to think that at some point, the motivation to do it will come – and bingo, next stop Reform City. I don’t believe this. I used to, but time and again, people love the parade, but don’t stick around for the actual work. Even worse, the online culture has convinced people that we can reform classrooms using the ‘think system’ and not put in any [more] effort.

So even if you have this amazing thing that can transform learning and teaching — it’s going to get bogged down in the mud. People are going to wait you out and see if it goes away or worse, watch it crash and burn. I admire people who set out to reform schools – and entire systems – because it’s HARD WORK and I have little time for keynotes and Twitter experts who to me are song and dance men at the end of the day. If you’re in the reforming business – you know what I mean … seventy six trombones in the big parade!

Immerse, Investigate and Act

I first started using PBL around 2006. My school at the time was the first in the country to adopt it’s ethos and Buck Institute method. It worked so well, that I became somewhat of an advocate, showing other teachers the method, and helping them craft their early projects. Many of those teachers have also shared PBL with colleagues and today, there are many teachers using it in Australia — although the modernist demands of the current educational-political climate is far from accepting, and a long way from cultures we see in Finland. In fact, to be a school (not a teacher) doing something ‘alternative’ means culture will call it ‘alternative’ just to ensure it’s own survival.

We hear time and again that imagination is lacking in schools – and to me, imagination is still the untapped secret in developing engaging activities. Many teachers are surprised to learn that “imaginative education” is not just a real thing, but one founded in research which also shows how well it works. If kids can imagine success or being successful, then they are much more likely to put the effort it – and not zone out. Zoning out and doing nothing much is the biggest single problem in schools (says recent reports) – and when bolted onto predictable lessons – or PBL cycles – I can appreciate why.

There is a big difference between a teacher using PBL and a school using it. Over the last ten years, I’ve found the BIE model of PBL less and less effective and more and more simplistic. PBL wasn’t designed for the information age, nor the media culture infused into children’s lives. It’s an 80’s progressive rock band still on tour, when the kids are listing to Flume and Architects. If the school is committed to doing something ‘alternative’ then that doesn’t mean the teachers are making things up or have abandoned the scholarship of teaching. Quite the opposite – it takes a lot of effort to create and sustain – and there’s no safety net.

Ove the last two years, I’ve been refining an update to PBL. Based on the work of numerous scholars such as Pappert, Salen, Gee, Egan, Seeley-Brown (and my own work!) – it simplifies the BIE cycle into something which provides a ‘challenge based’ structure to work within.

The students still get the whole project up front, but work through level-challenges at their own pace. A nano project might last a few hours, a mini project a few weeks or a a full project a term or even year.

Essentially, there are three stages, which are episodic – like a good video game, movie or TV series. There’s a big idea, an essential question or drama in each episode and our heroic students work to develop a deeper understanding using their imagination – before moving on to an investigation. In PBL, children are told to use their ‘need to know’ list and ‘kwl chart’ almost at the outset. In a world pre-Internet 2017, that might have worked – but not today. An investigation needs a method and students need to learn to recognise which method suits a particular style of investigation – just as we see different research methods in University disciplines. The homogenous approach of PBL (BIE style) and that I’m still seeing promoted in Australia – fails to account for the various methods needed to research using media – and the embedded information fluencies that lie within. In part, I think this is often down to some of the current exponents limited skill in using media combined with the goat-track-fetishism that takes them all down the same EdTech path – 0ne that allows them to share a common dialog at TeachMeets, Hashtag Fests etc., but once places severe boundaries on children’s own media experiences and skills. The second stage of a project is therefore about guiding and analysis – not need to knows.

Thirdly, students need to act. This comes from gaming – solve (mental work), implement (making, playing, modding, inventing) and finally evaluate – did it work, what the foundational knowledge and skills sufficient, did the research provide enough of a clue – do you need to try again?

“Imagination is the essence of discovery” – Winston, Overwatch (Blizzard)

Within this, the activities students do are tied to verbs – each episode in deliberately truncated when it comes to the verbs we can use. This ensures learning is scaffolded and starts with a ‘win’, but also allow students to craft thier own questions and make choices based on their current achievement and developmental knowledge of the topic.

So far, this process which is supported by the classroom organisation and socio-cultural norms such as ‘shoes off and headphones out’ is proving to be successful – beyond that I’ve had in PBL.  Onward and upward then ….


Fifty years of games

It’s been fifty years since Baer invented video games. It has been thirty years since the days of coin operated arcades and parlors gave way to home consoles. To give some perspective here, video games consoles were bought in their millions and nothing has changed.

It isn’t sufficient for educators to tweet out”I am playing Minecraft Edu” to suggest they are now on board with THE new literacy – games. *Coughs*.

This lego-like environment is to literacy as one of its blocks is to an entire Minecraft world. The essential element that has been omitted (and still is) is that games have re-ordered literacy to become the most popular, diverse and complex media available to us – on a mobile and global scale. Despite this they are still at the back of the educator line and the order of which literacies matter in teacher culture is clearly shackled to the modernist school schematic that kids find so BORING and dull.

In our society – the one being over run by consumerism and fake news – games are an important cultural commodity  essential to the how children experience the world around them and how their tastes, interests and expressions are formed and reproduced.

If you want to let children watch endless “Trump” and want them to share your outrage, go ahead … games are perhaps your child’s sanctuary from other media. Children have a hard time processing adult-views of the world and I seriously doubt the concepts involved do anything that fuel their concerns about they lack of control in the world.

Why do games matter as a culture? Videogames exploit all of the four key affordances of digital media: procedural, participatory, encyclopedic, and spatial. They don’t carry the adult current binary themes of mainstream media, nor do they support the kind of hate and bullying in ‘social media’. But games are bad. Let’s ban them – but you over there Minecraft Edu, you’re okay. This is dumb.

Teachers using Minecraft seem to base almost all their opinions about why they like it on spacial and participation. Having said that, participation isn’t happening within games as culture, but within school culture. At best, this is half the potential of games and far from understanding them as a literacy.

That’s why Rooster Teeth convention in Sydney today is sold out – and I doubt many teachers would know what it is, let alone why it will give them more insight that a years worth of teacher to teacher Minecraft Edu ^brofisting.

**goes back to playing Overwatch**