What’s New at Slate & Tablets

Change is afoot at Slate & Tablets and we couldn’t be more excited! To begin with, you will notice that we have an updated website detailing the various developments we’ve experienced in the past year. During this period we have explored new technologies, created new solutions for old classroom problems, expanded our team, been nationally recognized for our products and forged many new partnerships.

 

Our website now reflects all of the progress we have made over this past year. Please take some time to browse this new material. You will find that the organization and design remains the same, however there are new products, new faces, and new media.

 

Perhaps our biggest announcement is the launch of our newest product, Spotlight. Spotlight is a unique communications tool that schools use to build effective and engaged communities. Spotlight reinvents the dated School Newspaper by crowdsourcing the communications process. Each faculty member at a school can now provide updates and announcements to the whole academic community in real time! This accomplishes two primary goals. First, it circumvents the traditional publishing process by empowering a whole school with the resources to own their communications process. Secondly, it creates strong, connected communities with stronger support systems and improved student outcomes. Additionally, Spotlight can be deployed in a number of ways as demonstrated by our partner schools. Some schools use Spotlight strictly as a communications tool to update families on recent school events, others use it to reach alumni for fundraising purposes, and still others choose to highlight the various aspects that make their school unique, deploying Spotlight to celebrate the education experience. No matter how it is used, Spotlight is here to aid every school in improving communications and building more engaged communities.

spotlightbanner

 

Additionally, we have received national attention for our vision, approach and technology. Our founder, Matt Meyers, was recently recognized by the National School Boards Association as one of the “20 to Watch in Ed-Tech.” This is a tremendous acknowledgment as Matt is the only full-time educator to be recognized for work in corporate ed-tech environment. Additionally, he was also selected as a member of Stony Brook University’s inaugural “40 under 40” class of outstanding young graduates. Matt’s pragmatic and steadfast approach to integrating technology into the classroom is the very essence of the Slate & Tablets spirit, and we’re proud to see this hard work celebrated.

 

Finally, we would like to welcome the three newest members of the Slate & Tablets family: John Raffaeli, Barbara Russell and Jason Fishman.

 

John Raffaeli joins Slate & Tablets as the CEO in charge of strategy, operations and growth. John has a deep background in education following his work in private equity, management consulting and as a political advisor on education and workforce issues. He is tremendously excited to be guiding Slate & Tablets into the future and to continue to build highly effective tools to help students and teachers succeed.

 

Barbara Russell comes to Slate & Tablets as a Financial Advisor charged with oversight of the company’s financial health and advising on fundraising and strategic partnership. Barbara joins us after a long career in finance where she served as an investment banker, fundraiser and venture capitalist. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the team and looks forward to our continued growth.

 

Jason Fishman joins Slate & Tablets as a Senior Strategist and Operator. In this role he focuses on new product development, product implementation and advises the CEO on strategic vision. Jason’s background includes strategic and political consulting where he worked client-side to design engagement programs both for the public and private sector. He is thrilled to be joining the Slate & Tablets team and the ed-tech sector in general.

 

All of this change serves to underscore the dramatic progress that we have made at Slate & Tablets over the past year. As we forge ahead into the future, we remain energized by the innovation, increased adoption rates, and continued leadership guiding the education technology sector. We are proud to be a part of this movement and look forward to continuing to improve the student experience.

What’s School Spirit For Anyway?

Another exciting homecoming week just passed at my school, and every year I find myself reflecting on an important question: does school spirit actually matter? What does it actually affect in children, or is it just a tradition? I decided to do some research, which I will present here, and then offer my own thoughts and observations.

Student Perspective

Let’s start with some work from the source. This article from a junior describes her unique school spirit experience. Her school created a club called FANS, or Following Activities and Sports, where members would go around to various sporting events and activities and cheer on their fellow classmates. The club became hugely popular and clearly burned bright memories into this girl’s mind. Being a part of the highly successful club also gave her a sense of pride and accomplishment, however that would be true of any club, not necessarily one revolving around school spirit. Despite the wonderful post on her experience, there is no real evidence that school spirit has benefitted this child’s academics. It likely helped her social development, which is great, but again, there’s no real evidence.

Some Literature

Let’s now take a look at what some research has to say about the matter. I read this whitepaper on school spirit by Linda Cowan, which describes a study she conducted by interviewing principals, teachers, and upper-classmen at ten different schools. Most interesting was her point about the goals of these organizations and how school spirit ties into them. Almost every principal interviewed believed that achieving high school spirit and “the goals of our school are inextricably linked.” While some principals hoped that students “left here as good men and women” and others wanted them all to develop “all of academic, social, and emotional skills”, despite the differences in ultimate goals, they all believed school spirit had a big part to play. Students’ take on the matter was similar, in that “it made school feel like a special place, and made me want to go.” As most educators will tell you, getting students excited to attend school is a tall task, so this should not be overlooked.

It does make you ask the important questions, however, about alternative methods of making school exciting. All of the research and opinion I’ve seen revolve solely around “making students want to come to school” and “linking up with our goals as an organization”. Is there a better way, or is school spirit truly the best way to achieve these goals?

Observations

If there’s one thing I notice the most about school spirit is that, like the student two sections above this wrote, is that it revolves mostly around athletics. Unfortunately, not every student loves sports, and certainly not every student plays them. The biggest problem here is that the benefits of school spirit revolving around sports only work for those involved, and it can be alienating for those not involved.

One thing I have to give credit to our past homecoming week for is involving every student, not just those in the athletic scene. Between Pajama Day, Red and White day, and the extremely popular and hilarious Senior Dress Up Day, every student who chose to was able to partake in the fun. The seniors at our school in particular always deliver on Dress Up Day, taking advantage of a special day allotted only for them to show their spirit. Costumes are always great, and without a doubt this day coincides with what the discoveries show above.

But this is one day throughout the year, and while school spirit is more special if it’s shown sparingly, that doesn’t help it accomplish the above goals over the course of 180 days. This all begs the question I brought up above – is there a better way? Think of all the money spent on athletic programs and the events surrounding them. Colleges host these events to make money, but obviously the same is not true for high schools. Certainly, high schools do it because they think it’s the best way to support a child’s education, but why do pep rallies occur only for homecoming sporting events, and not the school plays?

I think the notion of school spirit is actually about another, similar concept: school support. We are in the business of teaching kids to support one another with these events. Support helps helps a school become a special place, not a pep rally. Support is what builds social and emotional skills, not a football game. What we’re really doing is teaching kids how to support one another, and for the most part, I think we’re successful. Again, I look back at the ways our school has put together spirit week: we support our school by attending the pep rally, dressing up in costumes, wearing our college gear, wearing our pajamas, and stopping by the bouncing castle in the student center during a special week. We could still do better, specifically on the emotional support level, and especially when you consider what goes on involving cyber bullying these days, but this is one area that I think schools generally excel in.

 

Monthly Revelation Regarding Teaching Computer Science

As many of you might now, aside from founding Slate & Tablets, I’m also a teacher at Greenwich High School, where I have designed and implemented the new computer science curriculum, now 100 students strong. I’ve never actually taken a computer science class in my life, and am actually a chemistry teacher by certification, however in teaching this new subject area it happens almost monthly that I have some major realization about how we educate kids in school being so horribly wrong. This week, I had another such revelation, and it’s perhaps the scariest one yet.

Think about what happens to students when they walk out of your classroom every year. What do they actually take with them? Do they take in-depth knowledge of every book they’ve read in your English class? Can they label every part of a cell? Are they able to speak Spanish fluently? For every teacher, this question has two answers, the answer we hope is true, and the answer that is true. For many students, they take almost no content out of their classes at the end of each year, and instead take memories of a year with a teacher who may have inspired them, got them excited, or made them hate whichever subject they were taking. Most of this has very little to do with the quality of teacher a student has. They could have the greatest history teacher in the world: most of the content they learn in that class is going to be inapplicable to the majority of students’ careers. Instead, it’s more for the development of certain skills we identify as important: critical thinking, writing, argument, and research.

Imagine though, for a second, that the content students learn are identical to the skills we hope to impart? This is what happens in computer programming. For students learning computer science, the entirety of the content they learn amounts to precisely the skills they would need to create products in the real world. Programming, design, and some basic marketing and business education amounts to students leaving this class with something drastically different than your typical course. It’s an unbelievable thing to see students coming to this realization as well, because they discover that they are obtaining the tools to express themselves, make changes in the world, and pursue their own individual passions.

Applying this to typical courses is hard, but our science department (and the Next Gen Science Standards, in general) are going about it the right way, focusing attention on teaching science practices instead of science concepts.  Do you/your colleagues have a class that focuses on skill teaching? I’d love to hear how they do it!

Ebola and the Dangers of the Rumor Mill

Every day at school, we fight the constant battle involving educating kids about responsible use of social media. Last week, I posted about the bending videos of the iPhone and how an innocent documentation of a manufacturing defect can lead to a whole lot of bad consequences on the internet. This week, we are presented with a much more teachable moment that provides some real insight into the dangers of the social media rumor mill. In addition, this teachable moment also presents a significant danger to quite a number of human beings. This, of course, involves the ebola outbreak.

This will not be an article clarifying myths about the virus. If you are unclear about the science behind the virus, please read this well researched article on the Huffington Post. This information can be confirmed on any number of scientific websites and in numerous publications. Instead, this article will highlight more danger in alarming the public using false information and sensationalist language, and a way to use it to teach students that this is a bad thing for society.

I will begin with a personal anecdote. I recently disconnected from an individual on Facebook who shared this article highlighting what we’re not being told about Ebola. The problem I have with this article is that the author has written false information about Ebola in a sensationalist manner (everyone’s wrong and we’re all at risk) and then, instead of deleting this information, the author posted a series of updates below highlighting how even though the information he posted is scientifically inaccurate, we’re still all at risk. Following this nonsense, the author makes a meaningful contribution, involving what everyone should do right now to prepare for the worst-case Ebola scenario, which is actually great advice. My old Facebook connection read this, posted it on his timeline to all his friends, and the mill began to spin.

This is such a fantastic example of the dangers of the rumor mill and social media because it proves an important point: once the information has been posted online, false or not, even if apologized for, the damage is done. Media outlets are guilty, bloggers are especially guilty, and their friends’ Twitter and Facebook accounts are certainly unreliable sources of any information. Secondly, this case also highlights the power (and danger) of using such sensationalist language in an informational article. There’s a reason science is written in a certain style that doesn’t involve pathos and ethos; it’s because science exists to inform people, not to invoke their emotions. The substance of this author’s post is the section involving what everyone should do to prepare for the worst-case scenario outbreak, which is a small, but growing, possibility. This is actually great advice and is supported by the CDC website. Unfortunately, due to the fact that the author began their work by bashing the way the government has handled the crisis so far and (falsely) discrediting media sources for their reporting, they’ve completely missed their own point.

Using this important event as a teaching tool is a good idea. As we continue to grow in the way we use social media, we truly must begin to evolve in the way we teach students about it. As discussed last week, many people write things on the internet for imaginary points that have various amounts of value to them. To writers, likes, comments, and page views are all forms of currency. When it comes to informing the public about factual information, however, these forms of currency should carry no weight. We currently teach students to evaluate websites for last-updated posts, url contents, or whether they’re posted from a government or scientific website.  We need to begin shifting focus away from meta data and onto specific contents of these sites, because channels we used to get information from may not be safe anymore due to the competition for an internet user’s attention. Look what’s happened to the Weather Channel over the past few years: every single headline on their website is littered with sensationalist nonsense in an effort to get you to click the link so they get a user interaction point to sell to advertisers. Even now, the main article headline “This Could Change Your Family Forever” is designed to make you scared about something, but give you absolutely no information about what the article refers to. In fact, it’s about a minor climate change study and its potential impacts on the male-female ratio.

We need to begin to avoid these types of websites and not patronize them. These companies are using your attention for their own benefit because you think they’re about to inform you of something important. When it comes to informing people of fact, they don’t need to worry about the future of their potential family in order to hear what is being said.

We also need to think about what we post on the internet and the effects it has on greater society. Take this article for example. I’m not sitting here scientifically debunking Ebola myths, and I’m a science teacher! I probably could and people might listen if I did. Responsibly, I’m diverting your attention to news sites that pay people to do the research. Instead, I’m focusing on an area that I believe I have some expertise in, which is teaching students about social media. Please feel free to use this article with your students should you see fit.

Finally, as we should all always remember, Don’t Panic!

Around the Bend

By now I’m sure you have of course seen the hilarious videos of people bending their new iPhone 6+. Here’s one. Here’s another. As a result of these reports, insane amounts of memes have been popping up making fun of the incident, and numerous companies have taken to social media to use the incident as their own personal marketing campaign by humorously stating that their products don’t bend. All out of good humor, right?

Wrong, and I’m going to go as far as saying that it sheds enormous amounts of light on why we have so much trouble with bullying in this country.

Let’s start with an obvious statement: the only real reason that Apple is catching so much flak for their bending phones is because they’re Apple and are the best at what they do. When high profile individuals or companies screw up, the first thing we do as Americans tends to involve bashing them or talking about their mishaps in a negative way. We take to social media, talk about it with our friends, and try to earn imaginary internet points by making memes out of their misadventures. We don’t think about the connotations that our ongoing crusade against a highly successful individual or company might have. When high profile students screw up – either academically successful ones or frequent targets of bullies, their peers do the same thing. I wonder where they learn this?

Here’s another important point that is common with bullying incidents as well: the act of bullying very quickly out scales and overshadows the reason negativity was initiated in the first place. Negativity is not a bad thing when used appropriately, however humans suck at this. With bullying, frequently the negativity towards an individual is an attempt by society to correct the actions of said individual. This is not only important but it’s a good thing. The problem comes when society begins to earn more out of the act of bullying than from correcting the behavior. That’s why these videos and memes are made: because people get more from doing the bullying than from Apple just correcting their phone problems. In high school, students earn social status by fitting in and bullying another student. They earn Facebook likes, up votes, and conversation by posting funny images. Where do they learn this? You guessed it, by watching the 1.5 million+ views of the “iPhone Bend Test” that offers no actual benefit to the world other than bullying an organization for a manufacturing defect. You know what would be a great video? If someone researched why this phone material bent and others did not, instead of jumping on the bandwagon and racking up imaginary points by beating the dead horse. Too bad I couldn’t find one within 15 pages of searching.

Finally, I’d like to present the most important point of all regarding the act of bullying, which is that students simply have no idea the consequences of what they put online. There are two reasons for that: the first is that a teenager does not understand the word “consequence”. To young people, consequences are bad things that happen to them if they break the rules. Social media has introduced a new kind of consequence that nobody understands: societal consequences. These are the impacts of our actions on our peers and surrounding communities, often completely beyond our control. The second reason is that social media is a brand new machine. There hardly exists science behind the user interactivity on social media, let alone the social and emotional impacts of our digital lives on our real lives. We don’t know enough about the effects of our social media use on ourselves and others, so we just continue to use it in anyway that personally benefits us and hope it all works it.

Apple’s new phone has a manufacturing defect that causes it to bend. That’s about the beginning and end of the billions of retweets, likes, up votes, and reblogs this issue has received over the last few weeks. The phone is a week old – Apple will eventually fix the phone, likely within a month. Unfortunately, we simply cannot fix the reinforcement of a disturbing trend in our social media use: that it’s more beneficial to bully an individual or organization by being negative than it is to be positive online.  I’ve been teaching for five years: I’ve seen five students commit suicide over social media bullying. That’s five families destroyed, three grade levels of students irreversibly changed, and one community that doesn’t seem to learn its lesson.

EDIT: Here’s a perfect example of an innocent video causing consequences eventually resulting in people taking it too far. When people walk into a store and vandalize property just to prove it can bend, that’s a crime. I wonder where the bullies who cross the line between fun and crime learn that it’s ok? This guy’s tweet, seemingly innocent, is a perfect representation of why we need to seriously consider our social media use trends:

The Teaching Moment That Never Was

People’s Climate hosted the largest climate march in history this past weekend, and to many, it went unnoticed. To give you a sense of how this march stacked up against the greatest political rallies in history, this blog post by The Energy Collective breaks it down wonderfully. The verdict: this weekend’s march stacks up fairly evenly against some of the largest protests our country has ever organized. So where was the publicity? How come every single science classroom in America did not participate somehow in this march, be it actually attending or simply discussing? Occupy Wall Street got more publicity than this march, despite it being at least 10 times smaller. The protests in Ferguson got more publicity than this march, despite being microscopic in comparison. Not to diminish the causes of these two protests, specifically the Ferguson one since equality is a vital goal for humanity to achieve, but climate change effects literally the entire planet whether or not humans live on it, regardless of color or social status, and yet if you turned on the news this weekend or last week, information about this march was seldom found. What gives?

climatemarch

Perhaps it was because this march was conducted in a peaceful and respectable manner, perhaps because nobody was arrested or tear gassed, or perhaps because some people don’t “believe” in climate change, one of the larger political demonstrations in our nation’s history has almost snuck by unnoticed. Almost. The media and our society has seemingly no place for respectable and sensible demonstrations. If you google the climate march, this New York Post “article” which could only be stomached if it was extraordinary satire highlights the backlash against these types of protests. According to some people, the march was full of hypocrisy since the protesters left *gasp* some trash on the streets of NYC. “This doesn’t seem green to me” seems to be the feeling amongst many people against this sort of demonstration.

Warning, Incoming Science

I’m a science teacher, so I’d like to remedy some of the negativity towards this march by providing some facts, which any person housing any sort of negativity towards this cause is unlikely to be able to reason with, but bear with me. First, “being green” is not synonymous with what we have to do to combat climate change, although it is still an important way of living. That’s the catch though – it is a way of living. Some aspects of this lifestyle involve climate change remedy through reducing carbon footprint, but it’s negligent to think that you must “go green” to do your part against climate change. The easiest way to combat climate change is to look at the three most impactful practices you have on the environment: your electricity use, your automobile use, and your agricultural product choices. The latter piece I know relatively little about, so I won’t go on about how to choose carbon-efficient agricultural products, but these three are statistically the most relevant for reducing each human’s carbon footprint. For the first two, we are already on our way to drastic improvement in these areas. Between Obama’s 55 MPG target for vehicles in by 2025 and the proliferation of alternate energy sources, we are quickly becoming more efficient. I actually think the future looks bright here, since we’ve only really been trying for 10 years. Notice how where you throw your trash has nothing significant to do with climate change, hence the hypocrisy of the above Post article.

As a science teacher, I also hear a lot of students say, “I don’t believe in climate change”. It’s important to understand that this comes directly from their parents. The funny thing about science is that it doesn’t care what you believe. There is no religious faith on the planet that has any sort of projection of the effects of climate change, and thus there’s no possibility of someone rationally saying “I don’t believe in climate change.” It’s science. So is the fact that humans can cause it. We haven’t always been responsible for climate change, as Earth naturally rotates between warming and cooling periods, but we are responsible for the currently observed warming trend in our climate that has no indication of slowing down. Some people don’t like to present their “views” on climate change because they’re scared people will “disagree” with those “views”. Our public needs to get it through their heads: there is no opinion on whether or not climate change is real. It is happening and we are causing it. Climate change “skeptics” don’t exist, because you can’t be skeptical of scientific fact. In fact, 97% of climate scientists agree that humans are causing our current trend of global warming. We need to stop arguing if this is real and start figuring out how to fix it.

The Teaching Moment

What gets lost in the ridiculous “debate” surrounding global warming is the incredible effect it’s having on the next generation of young people. In the book I am reading, Creating Innovators, Tony Wagner studies the inventions of today’s young people and reveals that a whole lot of these have to do with energy efficiency and environmental innovations. We shouldn’t lose the fact that young people also flock to these sorts of demonstrations as a way of self expression and generational identity: look no further than the Vietnam War and the generation it inspired. If we are indeed on the cusp of a new generation of climate-conscious individuals, we cannot lose the impact of these special events as a method of continuing this emergence. After all, this world is that of those who grow up in it, and if they are the ones who are being inspired to fix the problems of their previous generations, then who are we to tell them otherwise?

 

 

 

 

Does Dress Code Actually Matter?

There’s an article every year about dress codes at schools, mainly because when schools start, it’s still warm. People can wear next to no material during the summer and still call it clothing. Here’s one from Yahoo about Tottenville High School. I figured I’d clear the air about student attire from my perspective, noting that I of course do not speak for every teacher.

I’m Not Sure What’s Even Considered Clothing Anymore

A lot of people are talking about “crop tops” being a thing right now. Here’s one from Forever 21 showing one of these…shirts? I don’t know what it is, but I see girls walk into my class wearing slightly less revealing versions of the same textile, usually with a garment over it, and I generally tell them the same thing: “I’m going to laugh when you’re shivering in ten minutes.” Seriously, this is like a bathing suit and it’s freezing in my school on a daily basis. Ok, here’s another one featuring the nobler house of Hogwarts, which is slightly more tasteful. At least you can call this a shirt.

Then we have the holes in the pants. I’m not sure how in the world some of those holes got there, but see comment above: it’s a lot funnier when you watch these people shiver. I’m also perplexed as to the origins of the shorts that are pulled up way too far but are still way too short. Here’s what women’s shorts look like at American Apparel. First of all, they look stupid. Even on the models they look stupid, and they’re not looking better on any high schooler running around a hallway. Second, it’s not like solves the “short shorts” problem that they were invented for. They’re still too short in most cases, adding six inches to the top half of the shorts does not solve this problem.

Get Over Yourself, It’s Not Sexist

I am blessed to work with children who aren’t this insane, and I think most people at GHS are down to earth about the dress code thing. The only reason girls are seemingly targeted by these dress code reforms is      because girls come into school looking ridiculous far more often than boys do. There’s no secret agenda conditioning people to think that female “fashion” makes us more uncomfortable than male “fashion”, but when a girl walks into class with her butt cheeks hanging out of her pants, this is not fashion. Students tend to argue that their clothing is their self expression, which I am totally behind, but this is also not expression. In fact, I have no idea where the girls get the idea that wearing less clothing is going to make them more attractive to boys, however that is neither self expression nor is it the school’s fault. The school’s job is to preserve an environment that facilitates learning, and I can’t remember when a pair of butt cheeks was anything other than distracting to the other students in my classroom.

Teenagers and Self Expression

While underdressing is a problem at many schools, school communities aren’t necessarily accepting of overdressing either. For example, I wear a suit every day to school. Most people first knew me as the suit guy before they started mistakenly calling me Mike, only finally to be corrected and told it was Matt. I wear a suit every day because I believe teaching is the most important job in the world, and I certainly plan on dressing as if I believe it. Every year my students ask me why I wear a suit every day, without fail. I’ve delivered this answer to probably over 1,000 students in my time teaching, but I’ve delivered it to maybe two teachers. That’s because most teachers prefer to comment negatively or positively about it, and don’t actually care why. This is a distinct and vital difference: students ask why you’re wearing specific clothing, while adults simply comment on it. Perhaps this is the underlying issue. Students think there’s a reason why a person wears the clothing they wear and are curious about it, while adults see it as outer skin that either looks good or doesn’t.

What Really Matters About Clothing

For teenagers, it’s all about self expression. We fail to use this expression as a teaching tool because nobody thinks of clothing that way. In science, our goal is to foster critical thinking by asking students to cite evidence to defend their conclusions. In history, we foster critical thinking by having students use textual evidence to support or answer their researchable questions. Nobody asks students to defend their clothing choice. Maybe we should stop telling students what to wear and ask them why they’re wearing it instead. If they provide a valid defense of their choice, let them express themselves further. If they cannot provide a defense, then they should be required to wear more appropriate clothing. This is a good idea because if clothing truly is self expression for students then the material alone is a horribly weak form of representation. The idea behind what the student wears, however, is far more valuable.

The Worst New York Times Headline Ever

The perhaps inappropriately headlined “So Bill Gates Has This Idea For A History Class…” article by Andrew Sorkin at the New York Times has caused a lot of stir this week. Allow me to share some of the comments on the article proper:

History is yesterday’s news.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates initiative brought to a school near you on Apple’s iPad.

Mr. Sorkin turns to the noted non-educator and education reformer Joel Klein to vouch for Mr. Gates.  

Gates can’t even design an easily usable computer interface, why should we care about his theories on education?

A lot of the comments dismissive of this initiative highlight the professionalism of teachers, the work involved in becoming an effective teacher, the years of thought that have gone into crafting the history curricula in current use.

I’m not sure anyone above actually read the article, which is indefensibly sluggish and improperly headlined for no reason, but that’s no excuse for these type of comments. After you get past the first page, which is about Bill Gates magically gaining inspiration for a new high school history course while running on his treadmill and deciding he wanted to rewrite history (hehe), this article becomes a lot more interesting. See what really happened was that Gates just liked the work of the teacher responsible for this method of teaching history, David Christian, so he reached out and met with him. It’s easy to do this sort of thing when you’re a billionaire, but let me tell you, I’m a teacher in a fairly unique position and I don’t frequently meet with billionaires interested in taking my course and spreading it nationally. This act alone should be nothing but commended as an ambitious and interesting endeavor.

Exceedingly interesting is the fact that this course has been successfully deployed to 1,200 high schools. This is another thing that’s easier to do when you’re a billionaire. The 4MM and counting TED Talk doesn’t hurt, but nominations for that sort of thing can be bought. The vivid digital backend of this course is also powerful – beyond anything CollegeBoard and the AP has to offer, of note – and this too can be bought. In fact, everything important about the spread of this initiative pretty much has to be bought, except the idea itself. Unfortunately for future investors, monetizing something like this is next to impossible and unfortunately for society, that spells bad news for future initiatives.

Bill Gates and David Christian, courtesy of the New York Times

Bill Gates and David Christian, courtesy of the New York Times

Which is why we talk about Bill Gates. This man has donated absolutely insane sums of money for nothing more than trying to make a difference in the world. People criticize his foundation for its $200M involvement with Common Core, which is outrageous. Common Core is a well intentioned and poorly executed idea, that someone had to foot the bill for. Diane Ravitch is quoted in this article criticizing this course asking “Should it be labeled ‘Bill Gates’ History?” Because Gates’ history would look a lot different from somebody else’s that’s not worth $50-60 billion.” Maybe we could learn a lot by studying someone’s history who is worth that much, like how to give away several large fortunes for the benefit of others. In fact, who cares if this is some sort of “vanity project”? If it makes history more interesting for students then it’s money well spent. I find criticism of this man borderline manic at this point. Stop citing an alternate agenda, stop linking him to Microsoft (he hasn’t been CEO since 2000, and his heart has been in the Foundation ever since), and enough bashing the projects his foundation has invested in. The man has donated $30B through his Foundation alone. There are no appropriate words for him aside from “thank you”. His critics should find something equally as productive to do with their time and, if they had as much of it, their money.

But seriously, New York Times, that headline…horribly mislabeled as “Billionaire decides he will write a history course for fun”.

What Really Happened to LA’s iPad Implementation

I wrote a post a few months ago commending LAPS for their bravery in the implementation of a 1:1 iPad program. As I’m sure you might be aware, they recently announced suspension of this contract and halted the distribution of these devices. This abrupt end to what was the highest profile ed tech implementation ever leaves a lot of questions for those of us who are interested, and when questions are left unanswered, people start to make things up. We have popular technology websites stating that the iPad revolution has stalled out, not making a single mention of the actual reasons behind the cancellation. Newspapers are calling it a scandal, citing “close personal ties between the LA superintendent and the top executives at Apple and Pearson.” Fans of Google are clinking glasses because the iPad failed in its most high profile deployment yet, and fans of Apple are saying it wasn’t their fault.

Don't worry John, it wasn't that bad.

Don’t worry John, it wasn’t that bad.

This entire media hurricane is a microcosm of the biggest problems we have in our school system, in educational technology, and in the business surrounding it today: nobody seems ready to confront the truth. Instead, we like to make things up in an effort to “hit it big” on the ed tech market or craft a political power play over a superintendent. We seem more keen on proving which hardware provider is best, exposing the “corruption” that is rampant in every branch of government and business, not just school systems, making money off of visibility on a news site, and anything else but truth surrounding schools. The bidding process for the iPad contract in LA was skewed by a business relationship between the superintendent and Apple/Pearson. So what? This is how the world operates. I bet somebody at the LA Times got a job simply because they knew a hiring officer. In fact, it’s a good thing that the superintendent of LAPS has a close relationship with executives at Pearson and Apple. Should it influence his decisions? Absolutely. Should it be the sole contributing factor? No, and that’s why people may have a point about accusing this superintendent of allowing. Do you want to talk about the ageless Apple vs. Google war? I’m not interested, because these things have nothing to do with the real issues at hand with this deployment.

In fact, the issues at hand are quite simple. Schools are not ready for this kind of technology. It’s true. As long as the people in charge of spending have no clue how to implement the devices they’re buying themselves, schools will never be ready. We need to slow down. Time wrote this great article about a realistic picture of what it takes for a school to go digital. Read it. This article paints a picture of immense support, communication, and digital community for a successful 1:1 implementation. It’s such a demanding task, in fact, that many schools or districts are simply not able to accomplish it. And then there’s the cost. I promise you, I’ve done the math about a million times, investing in 1:1 technology will save schools money. But these schools have to be prepared to cut the costs that are no longer needed. Library funds must be invested online. Going paperless saves schools hundreds of thousands of dollars every year by cutting printer, copier, and other associated costs, but they have to be cut. We made Planner because it saves schools money by switching to a digital planbook. These hard decisions must be made and made correctly. A school can’t invest in 1:1 technology, not cut its paper-based spending, and then expect the cost to work out. In a giant district like LAPS, this is far more difficult. I could go on and on here but it’s the truth: many schools are simply not ready.

Private and charter schools have marginally more success because they’re smaller and more nimble than sprawling public school systems. They’re able to acquire the right staff. They can make tough decisions without a board vote and several months of vetting. They are able to provide support on a deep level for almost every school initiative, including tech products. With technology, these things are not luxuries, but they’re essential. Until schools learn to operate in this way, they will remain unprepared for issues that arose during LAPS’ now-case-study.

My suggestion as a takeaway from this debacle is as simple as the issues involved with it: start small. Start with small technological goals in your school and knock them out of the park. Set small, wildly achievable goals so your school can gain confidence and practice in implementing technology. Then, include the staff on the decision for the first big implementation. Ask your staff if they want a 1:1 program, an LMS, custom software for your school, or something else. Include the primary stakeholders in the purchasing process. Then, ask prospective vendors about the levels of support they provide. Demand higher quality services and products from your ed tech, and you will receive it. Schools must learn this valuable lesson, otherwise, LAPS will happen over and over again, it will continue to cloud the facts associated with educational technology in schools, and it will slow down our progress as educators.

%d bloggers like this: