Why the LAPS iPad Deployment Is Not a Disaster

Despite the student hacking, financial, and philosophical issues, the LA school board has decided to continue through the rampant criticism, and should be commended. Despite the voracious appetite the media has for failure, and what most people will tell you, what LA has attempted to do is incredibly difficult to accomplish. They are trying to give some of the poorest students in the nation a device owned to this point in time as a luxury. There is no model for success of the type of rollout this city is trying. There is no precedent. As with every real reform that happens, it takes the bravery of a select few politicians to risk their jobs and reputations and that’s precisely what is going on in Los Angeles.

As any teacher will know, students come into the classroom with certain traits they’ve acquired through their home life. We have a desperate need for good teachers in schools with these kids, but no teacher wants to teach there because of the students. Studies have proven that it’s not the money that keeps teachers away from these schools, it’s the students and their circumstance. A sad reality. Another sad reality is that for many of these kids, an iPad is something that someone in their school could never obtain without stealing it. Many of these students do not even have computer access at home, so breaching the security features and attempting to use the devices for personal purposes should be an expectation, and it was. We know the City expected this to happen because they preloaded security features on the devices, but here’s where schools fall short. They lack the technical prowess to include and evaluate adequate products. Most schools model their initiative off of preexisting ones but in this case there is none.

That’s not to say that no school has successfully ran a 1:1 iPad program, but doing so in one of America’s largest cities is completely different than the suburbs. There exist plenty of small scale deployment models but city deployments face a whole other host of security and economic issues. Without the typical model that many schools run these deployments off of, it ran into roadblocks. When pioneering tech like this, the school generally partners with the host company as well, but even Apple couldn’t lend enough help to what is a real challenge. Without any precedent for success, it was doomed to fail.

What the media needs to understand, however, is that this is not a solution that will be perfect the first time. It’s a high profile district, on a high profile device, with a high profile group of students, and its failures are better news than its successes. As with any large scale reform, it takes a lot of bravery to do what LAPS has done: they’ve knowingly put themselves on the burner because they believe in the power of the reform they’re endorsing, in this case, the technology. They cannot be faulted for a school’s general lack of technological prowess, because this is commonplace throughout the country. Why would a technology expert work for a school district when they can make triple in consulting or at another firm?

All LA can do is learn from their failures as quick as possible and weather the media storm waiting to collect their scraps at the doorstep. Perhaps they can be criticized for going too big too soon, but either way, you have to commend the courage and ambition of a project that, if successful, would pave the way for almost every district in the country to begin implementing 1:1 initiatives. If they do manage to adapt quickly, perhaps they can also be a much needed model for another school trait: speedy reflection and adaptation.  



Parent Limits On Teenager’s Internet Use

This article is a response to the recently published policy by the American Academy of Pediatrics. The policy suggests that parents limit kids to two hours per night of internet browsing time, whether it’s on a mobile device or computer. It also suggests that parents keep devices out of the child’s bedroom, since they’re bound to be up too late using them. Yahoo wrote about it here, as I’m sure many others did, and I think it’s great that this important parenting topic is getting some attention. I’d also like to remind everyone that I don’t have kids, am 26, am a digital native, and have, like many people my age, grown up on the internet, so take this with whatever grain of salt that merits.   

Let me explain what “growing up on the internet” means, because despite the well intentioned policy from these doctors, I don’t think they, or many people post 30, understand what this actually implies. As a digital native, I do not have to learn software. I do not want an instruction manual, nor do I want a tutorial video. If a digital product I’m using is not easy enough to figure out without one of these tools, I don’t want to use it. I type far better than I can write with my hand. I don’t know how to tell you why Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are voraciously used, but I can tell you in a five minute demo of a similar product which ones will succeed and which ones won’t. I read books online because it’s easier to transport them, not because I have something against paperback. I don’t know how a wireless router works, but I know enough to fix 95% of the problems that occur when my internet doesn’t work (hint: restart it). I am also not alone.  

The common thread tying these things that I grew up with, that I am fluent with, and that I am confident enough to do on my own are that they are all multi-billion dollar industries today. Digital design, social media, digital media publishing, and network consulting are all several pillars of the modern technological economy. Without these things, the digital world, and in conjunction the real world, would look much different. I would look much different. If I wasn’t a digital native, I would not have had the courage to teach myself to code three years ago to solve problems that every student and teacher has in the classroom. Instead, I’d complain about it, wonder if there was a solution out there, and fail to find it. 

I attribute zero percent of my abilities and confidence online to anything that I learned from school. Nobody in school taught me how to fix a router, solve a problem that took me a year of work to complete, what a well designed product looks and feels like, and how to make money online. Nobody in school taught me how to pick the best strategy to defeat an opponent in a video game and how to balance those strategies to create the best user experiences. One hundred percent of these core learning experiences came from one place for me, and that’s the internet. I have other important qualities that I learned outside of the web browser, but to tell me that these attributes do not make up a huge chunk of my persona is ridiculous.  

That’s why this new policy disturbs me a little bit. I think it’s important for parents to have this discussion and this conversation with their kids. A parent’s job is to set limits for their kids. For a group of doctors to come out and tell all parents that they should limit their kids to two hours of internet time per night, however, is troubling. What about creative, productive, and useful projects that the kids want to do online. Would that cut into their internet time? Should a child pursuing a career in photography have instagram usage count towards their two hours? Can children using Codecademy, Learnstreet, or similar websites be expected to only work for two hours and then disconnect for the evening? Two hours of computer time is a joke for any person in a technical job who spends all day on their computer. 

Maybe the real answer is the time of day that children use the internet should be limited.  According to this group, the internet is overstimulating, and causing children to lose important hours of sleep. I observe this in my own teaching, when kids who complain about staying up until three AM are most certainly not doing homework. Perhaps parents should tell their children that they can’t browse the internet after 9 PM, as one of the commenters on Yahoo’s article suggested. This would let children do all of the learning that takes place on the internet, but keep them from doing so during unsupervised hours. I probably could have benefitted from this in high school, to be honest.


Playing Dress Up

A colleague of mine did something creative and awesome the other day. She had heard about a lesson I did during the radioactivity unit about how Marie Curie was the most badass chick in the history of science (she still is). I taught this class as a bit of a history lesson and way to really turn the girls onto STEM, by showing them the most awesome female role model in science and running through all of her achievements and what they still mean to the world today.    

While teaching Honors Chemistry this year, Vogel the Mogul (her nickname) decided to take this a step further. She invited a special “guest speaker” to her class, which of course was her dressed up as Marie Curie and speaking in an accent. She gave a 15 minute lecture on her accomplishments and how she furthered radioactivity, interjected with funny anecdotes about how she thinks she died a while ago, how the computer speakers making noise was annoying to her, and how her laboratory was always in unacceptable shape. I recorded it and posted it here for you to see. Her students were captivated, at the very least appreciating the amount of preparation that had to go into pulling this off.  Personally, I marveled at how great of an actor she was!  Check out the video. 


Why This Was Great 

I’d preface this by saying I am not the type to dress up and roleplay for my kids. Not because I don’t think it’s a great idea, but it’s just not my style. I sing songs and do standup Chemistry, and these all fall under the same blanket teaching style: the entertainer. It’s something difficult to do correctly and I am far from perfect at it, but when I have seen it done correctly (and been a student in such a class), there’s nothing better. Tricking kids into learning by acting, making jokes, and telling a story with the content is one of the most effective ways of teaching. It’s also the most difficult to measure, which is why it doesn’t appear on any teacher evaluation rubrics. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t incorporate it into your classroom.

What Vogel does so well in this performance is deliver the otherwise mundane content about nuclear chemistry research through the context of someone’s life story. This is a battle-tested and effective trick that people simply don’t use enough anymore. It’s almost as if, in this age of measurement and data collection, that we’re losing out on the art of delivery as a teacher. We’re spending so much time boiling teaching down into a science that we’re neglecting some of the ways it’s an art; how we inspire and touch lives. While no teaching rubric I’ve ever seen could put meaning behind this performance, it also doesn’t need to: Curie’s students will go home talking about their guest speaker and her accomplishments, and that’s all that really matters. We’d love to see some reader submitted videos of “guest speakers”, so feel free to upload them to YouTube and tweet them at us!  


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