Now that winter has arrived in southern Ontario, we can expect to spend the next 3 or 4 months covered in a pasty layer of white salty mess. The first usage of salt on roads was by Detroit in 1940. Salt was used because a large deposit was discovered in the Detroit area in 1914. Salt was found to be more effective than sand for improving traction on roads. A 1992 study conducted by Marquette University in Wisconsin found that road salt reduced crashes by 88 percent, injuries by 85 percent, and accident costs by 85 percent.
Today salt isn’t just used on roads. It’s found on sidewalks, driveways, wheelchair ramps, parking lots and playgrounds. It’s become the de facto safety measure when winter strikes.
The problem is that in almost all cases, too much salt is used. Salt is most effective on cold dry winter surfaces that are covered in ice. If conditions are too wet, the salt dissolves and becomes useless. Too much snow and the salt melts to the surface rendering it useless. Yet, you see the salt truck out spreading it’s load on wet road. The maintenance company spreads so much salt in the mall parking lot that it crunches as you walk by.
Salt is an oxidant speeding up the rusting of metal on your car. It stains fabric, turning those Uggs from beige to cream coloured.
Salt gives us grip. It helps us because we don’t slip, fall and possibly hurt ourselves.
What happens if a spot gets missed and a thin layer of black ice forms on the sidewalk? It’s likely that we’ll slip. We’re not used to walking on ice.
What if one day the world runs out of salt? Will cold climates descend into chaos? Unlikely. We’ll probably learn how to walk on ice. We’ll take our time, maybe even help each other. We may fall, but over time we’ll learn how to fall properly. We’ll become good at walking on ice.
How much salt are you laying down in your classrooms or even as a parent?
The interesting thing about predicting the future is that it’s ALWAYS a gamble. You may guess correctly, but it’s far more likely that you’ll guess the opposite and be completely wrong. In the late 90s during the first dot com boom, business students were told that unless they understood how to code a website using html, they’ll be left behind.
That, of course, never happened. Neither did the idea the internet was a fad or Amazon would never make money.
In education it becomes even more of a gamble when you try to guess the future, especially in the context of technology. If you guess incorrectly, you may send a student into the world with an incorrect or inappropriate skill set. The predicting is the most dangerous when you judge the usefulness of new technology.
The paper never ran out.
Tablet and smart phone technology has become increasingly important in education.
Access to the web has become a fundamental human right.
Rather, technology seems to shape us quickly, intensely and permanently. Think of Facebook. Nobody really resisted Facebook, they just didn’t understand how to use it. Once it’s critical mass hit, it went gangbusters. Now there’s so much noise on a person’s Facebook feed, it’s essentially impossible to read it all.
If, as an educator, you dismiss technology as useless you run the danger of being over run by students who are more capable then you because they embraced it.
The person who thought that slate was never going away became outdated and expendable very quickly. The teacher who saw the potential of paper and began to use in their classes saw the realized potential very quickly.
Which teacher do you want to be?
How do I feel?
Am I interested?
Can I do this?
The answers to these 3 questions determine our effort, motivation and commitment when facing new challenges. People often let their subconscious answer the questions which can lead to excuses avoidance and, in a worse case scenario, lies.
The next time you’re faced with a new challenge or experience, consciously make the effort to ask yourself these important questions. You may be shocked by how much your answer differs from your subconscious!
"A great teacher is smart enough and connected enough to run an interactive conversation, a participatory seminar in the concepts that need to be learned. We shouldn’t even consider wasting a professor’s time on real-time monologues.”
Seth Godin recently contended that college and university lectures are an expensive, archaic way of disseminating information to students. Data suggests that students who listen and take notes on laptops don’t do any better than those who write by hand. Seth goes one step further and questions why live lectures are happening at all. With cheap access to good technology at an all time high, professors should be filming their lectures and putting them online for free. Students can watch the lectures at their own pace and can re-watch them for increased value.
In K-12 education we call this a flipped classroom. Students watch the lesson prior to class and use the scheduled class time to review homework, work in small groups and use their new found knowledge to investigate interesting problems. It’s a wonderful way to organize a course and works exceptionally well in technical classes such as math and science.
However, there are some downsides. Flipping a classroom puts extra pressure on students to come to class having spent a significant time learning and watching on their own. In an increasingly busy and stressful world, students are struggling to keep up in a traditional schooling system. What happens when a student misses one or two lectures in a flipped class? They’ll show up and be completely lost. Yes, they can spend the class time watching the lecture, but it’s still a net loss because the other students will have had an opportunity to practice and use their knowledge. What if the student misses a few lessons in a row? It could be devastating.
A hybrid method would likely be more effective. Film the lectures and lessons as they happen with all the students present. Most modern elementary and secondary classes don’t have 60+ minute lectures anyway. Plenty of time is given for students to practice immediately after they’ve learned. Ideally, the teacher would film the lesson and have it available instantly so that students who need to review could do so at their own pace without requiring the teachers attention (a la asking questions).
The reality is Seth is totally right. School is becoming very expensive and the information that the teachers and professors is increasingly becoming a commodity (see YouTube on any educational topic). In his AltMBA, Seth has students work together and review each others work at a pace that is intense. At the end of the day, his students are making art, putting it into the world, having it critiqued and revising it. This is where the real learning happens!
The slide-cast version (with slides) of a chapel talk I did on November 20, 2017. Approximately 700 students from K-12 were in attendance to hear the importance of setting goals and making sacrifices to achieve them.
Part of my job as a science educator is to deepen the learning for each student. The basics are nice, but sometimes its interesting to pursue the latest questions and discoveries in science. A few years ago, the Higgs Boson changed the way we understand the universe. I wrote about it in a science teachers magazine. Check it out!
The word innovation has been thrown around the education community as a key attribute for success in modern times. Many educators are ‘innovating’ in their classrooms. Design thinking and genius hours are being developed under the umbrella of innovation and deemed necessary for the education of the whole student. Innovation labs are popping up in well-funded schools equipped with 3d printers and iMacs loaded with AutoCAD. The idea is that students are facing a world where innovation is necessary for success.
No argument here with the general definition of innovation.
The issue comes from the overuse of the word innovation in the classroom. There’s still a very gray definition of what actually constitutes innovation. Is it inventing something new and exciting? Is it updating an existing technology to make it more efficient? Is it 3d printing a Darth Vadar egg holder? Is all of these ideas?
We need to tread very lightly when talk about the value of innovation in education. If we teach a student to use AutoCad to 3d print an object they’ve designed, we’re only providing a map for innovation and not engaging in the process itself. When we give someone a map, they usually follow it without wandering too far off course.
Real innovation comes from within. It’s comes from the recognition of a problem that needs to be solved. The most important innovations in history were born out of conflict, disasters and impossible situations (see microwave, printing press and nuclear energy). The greatest achievement of the human brain is it’s ability to work with less to achieve more.
We do students a disservice when we hand them expensive tools with step-by-step instructions on how to use them and call it innovation. Instead, we need to teach students to look for interesting problems to solve and let them figure out how to do it.
In a recent "Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, the internet asked teachers what the biggest change in education has been from 1997 to 2017. The overwhelming response was failure. 20 years ago students understood that failure was a part of education and without the proper effort (and luck) you could conceivably fail a test, essay or course. Today there is no failure. Students cannot be held back, failing a test results in the opportunity to re-test and re-test and re-test until the student achieves the mark they desire.
What is the ramification for this?
First the good: Having the opportunity to fail without actually failing should empower students to take greater risks in their academic careers. Instead of writing an essay to meet the standards of the rubric, maybe a student writes a manifesto on the current state of the politics of their school. They may fail, but at the same time they’ve made a gross statement and perhaps ruffled some feathers. If they have to redo the essay they’ll do so knowing that they’ve put themselves out there.
Now the bad: This generally isn’t what happens. Students who take risks will do so regardless of the culture of failure in their school. Instead, knowing that you can’t fail seems to breed a culture of indifference. Why put the extra work in if you’re not worried about failing?
Indifference is the greatest threat to education.
While the idea of failure has changed, the result is the massive inflation of indifference. This threat doesn’t effect the high-flying high achievers. They’ll continue to their best work no matter what. It’s the kids who aren’t particularly motivated in school who get effected the most. Fear of failure is real and will motivate anyone even if they know there’s no consequences.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
Paint rollers, insulin, butter tarts and life jackets. These are all Canadian inventions and the main theme of Governor David Johnston’s and entrepreneur Tom Jenkins' new book called Ingenious: How Canadian Innovators Made the World Smarter, Smaller, Kinder, Safer, Healthier, Wealthier and Happier.
"We want that eight-year-old girl in Regina, who is thinking about starting a company, to be inspired by hearing a story of a similar young woman in New Brunswick doing something phenomenal,” Mr. Jenkins said.
According to Johnston, over 100 lesson plans have been created by educators for use in the classroom all across the country. The obvious goal is to inspire entrepreneurship among impressionable students.
This is an outstanding idea, but we must be very careful how we approach this topic. Entrepreneurship can be one of the most exhilarating, self-satisfying careers around. Setting your own goals, hours and salary can be extremely enticing.
The challenge is that for every successful life jacket, there are plenty (and I mean a number of MEGA ) of failures. Spend some time in silicon valley and you’ll quickly see that great ideas do not always end up in success stories. People face bankruptcy, mental health issues and straight-up fatigue when they’re chasing down dreams. As one notable entrepreneur said “It’s about the hustle.”
Children are born innovators. They’re naturally altruistic, they revel in helping solve problems and if you ever watched a kid build a fort - they’re ingenious. Teaching kids to be innovators is redundant. They already process the skill set. It’s raw and not entirely efficient, but given enough time and space any kid can innovate.
Instead of teaching them innovation, we should focus on building up the core competencies of any successful entrepreneur: grit, tenacity, commitment, communication. These are common themes among the most successful innovators (see Steve Jobs, Tony Robbins, Chris Sacca for more information).
By far the most important skill for future innovators is teach them to look for interesting problems to solve. Much of our success as an innovative nation comes from necessity. The life jacket, insulin and dump trucks are just a few examples. Instead of providing materials to a kid and tell them to invent something, push them up against and real world problem and step back.
One of the greatest discoveries in science has to be the size of the universe. When we look up in the night sky, not only are we seeing stars that are immensely far away, but extremely old. The deeper we look into the universe, the further back in time we are seeing. The universe is so grand that some of the stars we see in the sky have long died out and their light is only reaching us now. Check out this website for a glimpse into the size and depth of outer space. Each one of those dots is a star that may contain planets which may contain life. Welcome to the rabbit hole.
The battle of Jena-Auerstadt was fought between the Prussian and French armies. This was the time of Napoleon. His army moved across Europe like a great hurricane, decisively defeating any army it met and the Prussians were no exception. This battle was so lop-sided that a Prussian artillery officer was moved to write arguably the greatest war manual ever written. Carl von Clausewitz forged the pages of On War from memories realized during the battle of Auerstadt. His writing is so powerful that it continues to inform military maneuvers in the modern age.
One rarely known fact lies buried in the history pages of Jena-Auerstadt battle. Quietly, the roots of modern education were sewn in the ashes of the Prussian defeat. Fredrick the Great was completely shocked at the dismay of the Prussian army and he immediately moved forward plans to establish a state funded education system. He recognized that the poor performance of his troops was a result of their inability to follow orders properly.
Only a short while later, a guy by the name of Hoarace Mann took a trip to Prussia in 1843 with the hopes of learning more about state funded education. Not only was he impressed by the system, he implemented exactly the same system back in the United States.
The goal of industrial age Prussian education was to prepare students for work in the factories. There was never any sense that students would be expected to move beyond their basic 8 years of education. Why would a layman want anything other than good factory job?
Fast forward to today. Can you recognize the archaic pillars of the industrial education system in our schools? Maybe they’re even haunting your classroom. Memorization, conformation to authority, rows and lines of desks all speak to the ghosts of our past.
Clausewitz wrote On War after being appalled at the actions of his troops. He sought to change the way warfare was fought. He was an artist. We face the same crisis today.
Are we setting our kids up to lose the battle of Auerstadt?
I recently applied to be an Apple Distinguished Educator and thought I'd share my video. I'm currently working for Apple as an Apple Learning Specialist so this designation was a natural progression. I've really enjoyed using Apple products in the classroom and they have greatly transformed the way students experience science. Worksheets are a thing of the past. Instead students use technology as a means to investigate, communicate and innovate their scientific knowledge. Enjoy the video!
Are you a gamer? You probably are whether you know it or like it. In the open, games are competitions between people, groups, organizations or countries. Doesn't really matter, as long as it is a competition. In schools, we compete based on grades. It's a measuring stick and the carrot at the end of the stick is the belief that higher grades equals future success.
This of course, is totally wrong.
Competition should be based on ideas, not grades. In the real world it's your idea that wins over another division, group or company, how much you remember about the process of the idea. Students should be assessed based on their grit, ingenuity and ability to communicate. In the end ideas win the day and being able to teach students how to grow them from conception to reality is the best way we can help.
Here's the video version of my presentation slides from my grit talk on Monday. Slide notes are attached!
Gravity waves are the missing link to Einstein's equations. This is the best explanation I've come across. Brian Greene is awesome, you should read his books!
Minecraft is an immensely popular adventure game for computers and tablets. Although the tablet version doesn’t talk to the computer edition, it still boats an interesting gaming atmosphere.
We use MinecraftEdu regularly in science class. Not only is it an instant motivator, much of the games core functions integrate with the science curriculum. Throw in the need for teamwork, problem solving and leadership and you have a rich educational experience.
Just like most technology, Minecraft is just a tool. Some educators forget this and assume that it can be used to teach new concepts like some sort of interactive textbook. Our science class uses it to reinforce learning. Since most of the students are familiar with the game, there is little to be learned. Instead we send them off into the virtual world with a set of newly learned skills and evaluate how they are used. An easy example is biomes. The students identify the common characteristics between real deserts and Minecraft deserts. They seek to improve the ecological experience by adding animals and materials that make the work more realistic.
Check out the short video below to find out how Minecraft can be a valuable tool in the class.
Can you learn creativity? Is it possible to develop the creative prowess of a Rembrandt or the elegant equations of Einstein?
Some educator and entrepreneurs think so.
The entrepreneurs behind tech start-ups are convinced that you can turn creativity into a process (I sarcastically see no connection between coding and processing creativity). By developing a system of points or brainstorming methods, you can create an original piece of work ranging from a new app to a hit Vine.
How is it that they do this?
One common way is with a Design Sprint:
Define - What is the problem, issue or question?
SKETCH - Flush out your ideas in an orderly and time stressed environment.
Critique - Whats good or bad? What can be improved? What do you wonder?
Prototype - Build a simple mock-up. KEEP IT SIMPLE
TEST - Try it out. Pitch it to your target audience.
Most people fail in the last two steps. Great ideas are lost in the minds of people every second of the day. Having the effort to prototype and test it often separate the millionaires from the dreamers.
21 century skills have become common outcomes of our modern education system. It’s amazing to see how many educators are embracing the idea of developing self-directed learners instead of focusing on filling kids heads with knowledge. In an environment of endless information it’s important to have a mature and critical filter to find the right information. Even today after years hammering the idea of critical research into kids, many still just ‘Google’ a question. It’s easy, why wouldn’t you?
Teachers need to be especially critical when it comes to kids researching on the internet. Time and energy need to be spent on proper ‘Googling’ techniques including using filters and recognizing appropriate links. As tech savvy as kids can be, they still fall down when it comes to putting the required time to research!
Even one class focused entirely on surfing the net can yield great results. The ultimate goal for teachers is to be able to say “I don’t know the answer to that. Why don’t you go find out?"