A Gamer's Take on the 2016 American Election

The mechanism by which Donald Trump will assume the American presidency has had my gamer's hackles up ever since Election Day. For the second time since 2000, the candidate who won the popular vote is not going to be president. Why? Because of the mechanism mentioned in the previous sentence - the Electoral College. There's ample conversation and discussion about most of the inadequacies of the Electoral College, but my perspective as a lifelong game player is this: the Electoral College is an example of a terrible game mechanic because it confuses the win state of the game.

What?

A well-designed game has a single win state. Just one. And it's clear. Monopoly (not a great game, but properly designed) ends when every player but one has been eliminated from play due to bankruptcy. Settlers of Catan ends when one player scores 10 points. Badly designed games do not do this well. 

The Electoral College is a classic example of not doing this well. Why? Because without exception every other election in the United States is decided by the popular vote. The most important election in the country, rather than being decided in the same way that every other election is decided, is instead decided by an 18th century edifice designed to manage the will of the people and increase the voting power of the slave interest. That's bad enough. Worse still is the fact that even though the popular vote doesn't matter at all in the presidential election, that vote tally is nevertheless reported to the whole country. A reasonable alien from another planet would see this state of affairs and assume she'd landed in Cuckooland, not a republic that professes to be the gold standard model for doing democratic government for the rest of Earth.

Imagine how this might work in the World Series, gloriously won this year by Chicago's own Cubs. In baseball, if you've got the most runs at the end of nine innings, you win that game. Win four games before your opponent does and you win the World Series. Easy to understand. One way to win that's clear to understand. And it's the only way to win the World Series.

But in a Cuckooland version of the World Series, it works like this. The rules of winning for every regular season game, divisional series and league championship series are modified. The teams will play seven games. At the end of the seven games, a victory committee will be empaneled. Whichever team has the most hits over seven games in the first, third and eighth innings, will get 12 votes on that panel per inning. Teams that had the fewest errors in the second inning get 3 votes on that panel. Teams that score the most runs in the fourth and the ninth innings get 17 votes per inning. The teams that give up the least runs and hits combined in the fifth and seventh innings earn 9 votes per inning on the panel. The sixth inning doesn't matter and earns no votes. Once the seven games have been played, the victor committee votes to decide who wins the World Series. But every network in the country will also share who would have won if the rules for every other baseball game played was in effect.

Imagine how betrayed the team that won more games in a seven game series would feel to lose this kind of World Series. Quite betrayed indeed.

It's one thing to have a poorly designed sporting contest. To have an election process that can generate two different "winners," only one of whom is going to take office, is both ridiculously unfair and ridiculously dangerous. Democratic government is fragile and is dependent on everyone believing in three things:

  • the system creates a clear winner and,
  • the system is fundamentally fair and without obvious "rigs" in favor of one side or another and,
  • a reasonable person would argue that "even though we lost this round, we'll win one down the road and then we'll have a chance to move the country in our direction."

This country stands in 2016 in a place where each of these three notions is imperiled. 

Notion 1: A Clear Winner? Twice since 2000, the winner by one metric loses by another metric...the metric that matters, but only for this one election in the entire country. Both times, the popular vote loser / Electoral Vote winner is from the same party. A toxic outcome for the side that earned more votes (and would have won any other election in the country).

Notion 2: Fundamentally Fair? Unclear win states lead the players of games to rail and rail about the smallest slights and injustices. Unclear win states put everyone on edge and cause players to dream up all kinds of complainings. 

Notion 3: "We'll have our chance." If we all play the game by the same rules, I'm happy to lose this time because I have a good chance of winning next time...but if we don't play the game by the rules/conventions/customary practices, then very quickly players feel something is fundamentally wrong with the game. And that's fine if we're playing Monopoly. But it's a real problem if we're trying to decide how a country we share is going to be run. I voted for Barack Obama twice. When the Republican leadership in Congress decided on January 20, 2009 to do everything in their power to ensure that his presidency was a failure, they undermined this fundamental principle. When the Republican leadership in the Senate refused to confirm Merrick Garland, defying customary practice going back to the dawn of the republic, they undermined this fundamental principle.

I've played enough games to know that if the rules/conventions/customary practices are going to be bent or stretched, it won't be long before no one trusts the game anymore and will either want it to be redesigned or they'll play something else. What does "want it be redesigned" mean? It is the reason Electoral College protestors protest. "They'll play something else" is the home base of both California secessionists and white supremacists. If either get their way, the country will be radically different.

National Game Design Month Kicks Off!

We all know that November is known for mustaches and turkeys, but I hope soon it will also be remembered for great innovative game designs. National Game Design Month started a few days ago - I hope you'll get some dice, a spinner, heck, even a pop-a-matic and think about some great ideas to bring your ideas to life. All you need is an idea. The game I'm working on this month is a spoof of America in the 1950s called Red Menace. It's a simple card game with player elimination. My hope is it'll take 15-20 minutes to play. Post here about your own designs!

Design Thinking and Leadership

I recently had the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and colleagues at the UCLA Education Leadership Program's 20th Anniversary Symposium. A rewarding keynote about the challenges facing the nation's education system in a time of rapid demographic change (with a special focus on how California is uniquely positioned to lead the country) gave way to panels on the charter school movement and a roundtable on global citizenship.

I spoke at a panel on Trends in K-12 leadership. I took this opportunity to share some thoughts on why educational leaders might look to the tools and principles of design thinking to inform their leadership practice in schools, particularly as it speaks to leadership capacity building. Leadership capacity is a critical notion in schools. Poorly resourced schools have an acute need of faculty, parent, community and student leadership as budget cuts have deprived these schools of the deep teams that can provide forward-looking energy in this time of rapid social change. Well resourced schools with these teams nevertheless benefit, and not in a small way, by distributing leadership in as many high functioning teams as possible.

The key notion here is high functioning. Contrary to general belief, leadership isn't something that most people are born natively being able to do. It's a richly complex skill, developed and nurtured over time. A well executed plan of leadership capacity building based on the principles of design thinking, as I argued, has the potential to inculcate into the novice leader a most important leadership habit of mind - the persistence needed to continue to lead after having either made a mistake or after launching a new initiative only to learn that it was the wrong approach or that it was wrongly timed. High functioning teams are those in which the team members have experienced what I will call "successful failure" - a failure which served as a growth opportunity and which their organization allowed them to make without recrimination. Schools that do not allow their leadership teams to make mistakes have the lowest leadership capacity and the least resilience.

The design thinking principle embeds within it two notions - iteration and prototyping - that offer the novice leader the skills to engage in productive leadership, productive learning and, if it comes to that, productive failure. Once the team identifies a problem, design thinking asks them to develop a process that is both creative and empathetic to solve it. Because educational problems are uniquely complex, they almost always require complex solutions. Faculty teams engaging in design thinking learn together to ask the right questions, align solutions to the correct audience and implement these solutions quickly, so as to gather meaningful data as quickly as possible. As they discover what they need to know, they can re-iterate and re-prototype as needed, learning what works, what almost works and what doesn't work.

Our future as a society is based on the foundation of excellent education. Excellent education is itself based on the capacity of teachers and schools to lead and teach in a rapidly changing world. Embracing the design thinking process can go a long way towards helping schools solve pressing problems.

 

A Design Thinking Bibliography

Tim Brown. Change By Design.

Larry Keeley. Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs.

Tom Kelley. The Ten Faces of Innovation.

Jeanne Liedka. Solving Problems With Design Thinking.

Thomas Lockwood. Design Thinking.

John Maeda. Redesigning Leadership.

Idris Mootee. Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation.

Daniel Pink. A Whole New Mind.

Websites and Blogs

Tim Brown

http://designthinking.ideo.com

Tim Parsons

http://www.designthinkingblog.com

"Leading is Learning"

http://leadingislearning.org/2012/08/14/design-thinking-as-a-leadership-toolkit/

Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford

http://dschool.stanford.ed

Designing Empathy Based Organizations

http://dschool.stanford.edu/classes/designing-empathy-based-organizations/

Emily Pilloton: Teaching Design for Change

http://www.ted.com/talks/emily_pilloton_teaching_design_for_change.html

John Maeda: How Art, Technology and Design Inform Creative Leaders

http://www.ted.com/talks/john_maeda_how_art_technology_and_design_inform_creative_leaders.html

When AP Might Have Mattered

If the 20th century was the epoch of centralization and homogenization in education (which I believe it was), there is perhaps no greater example of that centralizing tendency than the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) program. Begun in the mid-1950s, over the course of the last fifty years, AP has come to represent one of the gold standards in American education. At some point, it might have been. It no longer is, even though it is what colleges appear to want; it is want high schools want to offer and it is what students want to take and it is what parents want them to take.

The problem?

The way in which many AP courses are structured places weight mostly on content, which is assessed largely (though not exclusively) through multiple choice exams, rather than on critical thinking, which can be assessed dozens of ways. Furthermore, AP courses are often structured such that no reasonable teacher (and no reasonable student) could ever cope with the expectations of the nationally-normed expectations that the College Board demands of all courses being taught under the AP label. So, in a course where content is king, no school gives teachers and students (or could give teachers and students) the ability to learn effectively. Moreover, even if these courses were given the hundreds and hundreds of hours per school year their content-obsessed curricula demand, students matriculating out of these courses would have mastered a 20th century skill at the expense of urgent, 21st century needs. In this century, knowing content for its own sake will not be the hallmark of learning excellence. Rather, students who will are achieving great success now and will achieve success in the future will be those who, upon learning something, can critique it and apply it in some meaningful way.

Now, the College Board is beginning to institute changes in the AP curriculum. While this is certainly for the better (given that the national political culture fetishizes quantitative data regardless of the party in power), it points to yet another existential crisis for schools and the nation in the 21st century. Our kids, our schools, our teachers, our economy, our job market and our national culture all cry out for meaningful engagement. Will these changes create a culture of rich thinking and purposeful application? It's hard to see how.

 

Driven By Mission

In the US, we spend a lot of time in our educational discourse talking about the wrong things. NCLB, state-standards, content obsession or skills obsession or 21st century anxiety or panic about the corruption of our system by wingnuts pushing a 21st century agenda which either works or doesn't work, depending on your point of view (I am a firm 21st centuryer, in the interests of full disclosure). We have to remember that schools are not factories (even when they look like them) and they're not prisons (even if they function like them) and their purpose is not profit or servicing the economy or turning out compliant/complacent zombies. They are also not test centers, meant to create reams upon reams of data that measure our children's achievement of 19th century standards (provided they even tell us that, which, in all likelihood, they do not).

In the 21st century, effective schools will be those whose communities have developed clear, meaningful, powerful, transformative missions that place their goals and objectives for their students squarely in the school's local context while being mindful of the inevitable statewide, national and global contexts. This is, in part, why the charter school movement has been so successful. Lots of well-meaning people do not want their children to be ground through a politicized, state-mandated curriculum that has little to do with stimulating a child to develop into a whole person and lots to do with complying with dubious objectives. This is also why great independent schools are great. They are clear about who they are and what they want to accomplish.

I want schools and their faculty, students, parents and broader community to commit to being driven by mission.

If I were to start a school, here's what its mission would be. At SchoolNEXT, we believe young people learn best by doing. As citizens of the 21st century, we learn by applying time-tested wisdom to the opportunities presented by the transformative now. We respect ourselves and seek to live spirited, balanced lives. We dignify all members of our school, local, national and global communities and embrace our interconnectedness and interdependence as members of the human family.

 

Lessons From a Small Country, In This Case, Finland

In my last post, I argued that America is embedded in a global framework and that the decisions we make have an impact on others. I further argued that the reverse was also true. I recently came across the website of Pasi Sahlberg, a Finnish educator who is the Director General of CIMO, the Finnish Center for International Mobility. In his work as an educational visionary, he offers some ideas about school change and the school change process that I want to share and comment upon. On the fifth slide of his January 2010 presentation to the University of Oulu, he articulates the educational values of the Global Education Reform Movement and alternatives to it. It is the alternatives that inform my sense of what we need to change in this country.

National Standards - Should the national government set high national standards and enforce those standards through central mandates, or should the national government establish a clear framework, but encourage local problem solving? The success of Finnish students by international standards, as well as the success of New Zealand students by the same measures, suggests that there is merit to a national framework of flexibility. While I don't believe there is anything fundamentally wrong with the nation's leaders "pointing in a particular direction," anything resembling national performance measures, high-stakes testing and/or centralized control at either the state or federal level in this country interferes with innovation, damages schools and interferes with creative teaching and learning.

Purpose of Learning? - What is learning for? Mastering basic skills or developing the full potential of children? I take Sahlsberg's argument that the alternative, namely that "teaching and learning focus on deep, broad learning, giving equal value to all aspects of the growth of an individual's personality, moral character, creativity, knowledge and skills" to be the purpose of learning. All of our focus on basic skills in this country has, if we look at the measures those who value this approach cite, amounted to very little.

Risk-Taking? - I strongly believe that decision making should be based whenever possible in the school itself, rather than in more centralized structures. In an age of rapid, radical change, we need teachers to boldly experiment, take risks and stimulate the creative problem solving of students, who will always rise to the challenge offered.

Sources of Inspiration - Teachers should learn together to enhance wisdom and professional practice. More importantly, perhaps, they should learn from their students. Many teachers are digital immigrants. They can learn a lot from their digital native students.

Responsibility and Trust - The administration of American education overly values centralized structures (like the factory system upon which it was based) and undervalues teachers and principals. Teachers and principals know what is going on at their schools (or they damn well should) and have to target their resources, whatever they are, to the problems they identify. Teachers have the capacity to take control of their own professionalism, despite the challenges we erect before them in this country.

 

Envisioning Transformed Schools

I believe young people (and adults) learn best by doing. Too much of education, particularly in the United States, is centered on content that is expected to be known for its own sake. This is no longer acceptable in the 21st century. A classroom is a learning laboratory - connected to the world and tethered to rich, meaningful questions based on essential concepts and questions. Our classrooms have to become these learning laboratories where students learn through active study (like debating the meaning of the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800) and vigorous student-to-student teaching. There is nothing more likely to show how well or how poorly you understand something than trying to explain it to someone else. I have observed enough math classes to know that there is a great virtue in having students working in groups explain to each other how they derived their answers. A student in a science lab should hardly ever be sitting quietly. There's too much to do!

The students and adults in our schools are citizens of the 21st century...they are individuals, craving to think critically, solve problems and engage with the world. Our children are not die-cut automatons waiting to be molded and churned out by factory-like schools. They are waiting to make connections between disciplines and reach out to their peers across the country and around the world. They are ready to teach us what they know and what we don't. Our teachers are lifelong learners with the skills to empower students, if only we would let them.

...who learn best by applying time-tested wisdom to the opportunities presented by the transformative now. Students still need to know how to read, solve mathematical problems, understand cause-and-effect relationships and know how to use the tools of rationalism to understand the workings of the world. The Greeks got it right - to ask good questions, think critically and give sound answers is the foundation of all education. But the Greeks could not have anticipated the web and web-ways of thinking. Hypertextuality, game-based learning, crowd-sourced wisdom (and crowd-sourced critique) can enhance students' understanding of truth and sharpen critical engagement. This is the age of the mash-up...the age of interconnections and the time of the collapse of nineteenth century learning silos. Mathematics divorced from science, art and other disciplines (just to take one example) is a thing of the past.

Communities are founded on respect, spirit and balance. If there is any quality of the 21st century everyone can agree on, it is that the speed of change is breathtaking. To ensure the stability of our learning communities and society in general, we have to turn to three notions - respect, spirit and balance. Respect reminds us of how essential it is to treat one's self and others in a way that dignifies them. Spirit reminds us of how important it is to engage with others in an open-hearted, joyful way. Balance points us to stop time and again, breathe, rebalance and reflect.

We are interconnected and interdependent. Decisions American make in the United States affect children everywhere, just as decisions made on the other side of the planet have consequences to our daily life. Globalization will not eradicate the nation-state or national identity. Our schools must help students situate their American identity within global realities.

 

Technology Integration Matrix - A Boffo Meta-assessment Tool

A colleague recently brought this extraordinary tool to my attention; it's clarity and careful development are excellent models for work any school might do as it considers how best to measure the effectiveness of all 21st century skills in curriculum development.

Having developed more than a handful of rubrics over the course of my career (who amongst us hasn't done so?), I was struck by the simplicity and clarity of descriptors that the matrix uses to measure levels of technology integration in the classroom: entry, adoption, adaptation, infusion and finally transformation. Directly citing the matrix, they define the terms thus:

Entry - "the teacher begins to use technology tools to deliver curriculum to students."

Adoption - "the teacher directs students in the conventional and procedural use of technology tools."

Adaptation - "the teacher facilitates students in exploring and independently using technology tools."

Infusion - "the teacher provides the learning context and the students choose the technology tools to achieve the outcome."

Transformation - "the teacher encourages the innovative use of technology tools. Technology tools are used to facilitate higher order learning activites that may not have been possible without the use of technology." 

It further posits (from an excellent research source) five characteristics of the learning environment: active, constructive, collaborative, authentic and goal-directed. These qualities speak highly of this tool as a rubric by which we might measure educational success (and in fact, points directly to qualities we should be both valuing and measuring in education in 2012). I have argued in a previous post that students learn best when doing. This is especially true when considering the use of technology in schools and classrooms. Technology is just a tool, after all. How are we helping our students develop thoughtful mastery of the tools? I particularly value that the rubric is looking for active and collaborative learning. Collaboration remains something difficult for educators to measure (how does one assess group work, for instance...); this matrix gives us a model to use to build other collaborative measures.

Even more important is the rubric's attention to student work in technology being "goal directed." The matrix says that students should "use technology tools to set goals, plan activities, monitor progress and evaluate results rather than simply completing assignments without reflection." This is the critical component of knowing whether the work that students do (again, not just with technology but generally) gives them the capacity to better understand themselves, their growth and development and to help them become better able to make decisions about their future.

Not bad for a rubric designed for technology purposes! Go have a look at it...

 

Specialization and Accountabilism

n a previous post, I reflected on the notion of schools as places of doing, rather than temples of the acquisition of knowledge, which is what they have predominately been for the better part of the 20th century. In that post, I shared a quote from Robert Heinlein where he remarked that humans should have diverse capacities and experiences because, “specialization is for insects.” Unfortunately, a lot of what goes on in contemporary education centers on developing specialization when it should be focused on building broad skills applicable across disciplines, types of work and critical questions.

In an article published in the September 2011 edition of Educational Leadership magazine, Phillip C. Schlechty of the Schlechty Center in Louisville, Kentucky shared a term that I hadn’t heard before - accountabilism. This idea speaks directly to the problem of specialization in schools. Schlechty’s article does a good job of articulating a fundamental weakness of the NCLB era...it is focused on too little and what it is focused on it measures in too limited a way. He writes about this framework: “there’s no need to worry about whether students are learning more or whether they can retain what they learn to pass the test. What’s important is to focus on improving test scores - learning will take care of itself.” Heinlein and Castiglione are turning in their graves, and rightly so. As if passing a test tells you everything there is to know about a student and what they’ve learned...as if passing a test is an example of anything that happens in the world outside of schools. Schlechty is right to call this “nonsensical thinking.” Heinlein and Castiglione offer a vision of a young person who, through education and experimentation with young adulthood, is fully capable of shaping a life of rich meaning and purpose. Schlechty argues, correctly, that this is not the accountabilists agenda. He writes, “developing young people who grow up to be men and women who take pride in their work and believe in the intrinsic value of what they do is not on the accountabilists’ agenda.”

Accountabilism begets specialization which in turn begets adults who are less able to function in the world of the 21st century. In many respects, Daniel Pink described the general shape of what that world will need in his book A Whole New Mind. In it he described a world increasingly shaped by the forces of abundance, automation and the rising power of Asia and raised some compelling and troubling questions about the ways in which our focus on precisely what Schlechty and I are concerned about is shaping not just our policy but also our young people.

A whole adult can never emerge from seed planted in the weak soil of NCLB, accountabilism, high-stakes testing and an ever narrowing focus on what a complete education should look like. So where should we start? I refer you back to my previous post and Heinlein’s quote. Perhaps we start there, agreeing that we want our children to develop their full selfhood, personhood and capacity.

 

Doing - Heinlein and Castiglione

I was reading a post on Mark Sisson's always interesting blog Mark's Daily Apple a few weeks back about specialization and self-sufficiency in modern times. In it, he cited a great quotation from Robert Heinlein's Time Enough For Love (1973); Heinlein wrote: "a human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects" (p. 248) Setting aside whatever you might think about Heinlein's politics, this quote is worthy of a deep consideration. What kind of life is Heinlein calling on you to live? What kind of education is Heinlein calling us to craft for young people (and indeed for adults)?

In a previous post, I wrote that for schools to be effective in the 21st century, they have to become more and more places of doing rather than just temples of knowing. I argued that knowing outside of its doing context is insufficient. This quote strikes me as a great reminder of what education at its best and clearest always was in Western society. Surely Heinlein in this case is just updating Baldassare Castiglione's Book of the Courtier for a 20th century audience? Equally surely, education that aims for the Renaissance ideal of a well-balanced human being capable of skillfully doing many different things should be the purpose of our schools.

What would a school designed for these purposes look like? How would it function day-to-day? How would it be organized? I've spent a lot of time in my career thinking about and developing visions of the graduate and graduation requirements...think about what a school would have to devote its attention to if it set the Heinlein quote as its graduation requirements. Changing a diaper is simple enough. Program a computer and solve equations is actually not that much more complex (at least on its surface). But let's say you wouldn't let a student graduate until he or she had demonstrated proficiency at giving and taking orders...what would the curriculum for that look like? To say nothing of dying gallantly.

How would you bring Heinlein's quote up to 2012? What's new in what a human being should be able to do? Is there anything you would delete as unworthy, inappropriate or wrong-headed? Do you think Heinlein's ideas are wrong? Is specialization worth considering in 2012? In my next post I'll take up the idea of specialization.

 

Schools - Places of Doing

I had a great, short conversation with a few colleagues last week about this idea that has been circulating both in the general discussion on education and around my school campus. We are of a certain age, which is to say, an age that remembers when it wasn't so unusual for great schools (or even just ok ones) to have lots of course offerings in practical subjects like cooking, sewing, wood and metal shop and so forth. And we were wondering what happened to these offerings and why their demise across the country is a very bad thing. When did it become old-fashioned to go to school to learn how to do things?

We discussed how much we got out of these practical courses when we did them. Cooking and Woodshop both require a student to be able to read and understand complex instructions and to execute those instructions correctly to transform ingredients into either coffee cakes or bookshelves. I don't know about you, but following a recipe in a contemporary cookbook is not the easiest thing in the world. Without the cooking class I did in middle school, it certainly wouldn't be easier. Perhaps more importantly, we agreed, was the sense of completion we got from doing these courses. Simply put, when you finished a project, you had something. If you did your work correctly, you got a sublime coffee cake. If you didn't you got a flooring tile. In short, when you were done doing whatever you were doing, you had done something that you could see, touch or taste and you knew whether you had done it correctly. Ample and sustained educational research throughout the 20th century strongly endorses this perspective and organization of learning.

We got away from valuing this kind of learning when budget cuts in the 70s and 80s forced schools to contract their educational vision and then in the 2000s when the assessment and measurement philosophy of No Child Left Behind fetishized just one or two skills to the exclusion of all others.

And we got further away still because of the changes in American society wrought by Information Technology and the extensive economic, social and cultural changes that mark the transition of American society from America 2.0 (Industrialism) to America 3.0 (Informationism). As new educators and educational leaders entered the profession (myself among them), we placed more and more value on content for its own sake and got further and further away from the beauty of doing. It didn't help that for many of us, the connection between the doing we did in Cooking or in Woodshop didn't seem to speak in any clear way to the kinds of doing that students in 2012 should be focused on.

But I am ever more convinced that focusing on doing is ever more what we should be doing in education in 2012. I am less interested, for example, in whether a student can tell me a specific fact than in what a student can do with a particular fact. I am more interested in whether a student can search competently than I am in whether that student can memorize what I've told them in a class lecture and then tell me what I told them.

In short, I think the time has come for us to think about how we use our classroom time differently, focusing much more of our attention on how we want students to engage the world. Can schools become places of doing and not just knowing? If there's to be any future for America's youth, I hope so.

 

My Daily Tech

Over the last six months or so, I have read a number of blogs of writers from across education speaking to the question "what tech do I use everyday?" It's a topic worthy of consideration because there is such a bewildering number of applications and programs that aim to make one's life easier professionally and to make the art and craft of teaching more managable. At school today, I had the opportunity to work with colleagues at the last professional development day of the year. One colleague and I have done great work together; today he and I worked with teachers who wanted to refresh skills or who had more straightforward questions. The conversation we had was a reminder just how many offerings there are to do almost anything.

So, I start my list of everyday tech with Evernote. I use it professionally to keep track of notes, tag my notes, store photos that speak to work concerns and use it to plan both professional and personal projects. I was both surprised and a little delighted to hear such disparate opinions on Evernote from colleagues. Some, like me, really liked it but didn't use it as a classroom/learning management tool (though it's a great program for that purpose). Others did use it to manage and run their class through sharing. Still others didn't like it because it didn't really work for the way they work. That was one of the key take-aways from this seminar for me. You have to try these tools out first and, if you don't like it, don't use it. Don't go on what anyone says - at the end of the day, you have to find that it works for you. Having said that, I find Evernote and its power to sync across every possible platform a godsend.

Gmail is a first in the morning, last at night program for me, although not for work. Gmail's easy to use interface, cloud-storage, ease of use and cross-platform compatibility are crucial.

In the social networking realm, I read Twitter everyday, but don't always tweet or retweet. I don't really get how Twitter works as a social network for friends - I think Facebook serves far better in that capacity. But where I might find cat videos on FB, I find great learning on Twitter. If you don't have an account, you really should.

I am an avid user of Google's blog aggregator as well. Reader is an outstanding and intuitive aggregator that makes really good suggestions based on what you already read.

I am a To Do list enthusiast and have downloaded dozens of different apps, taken Franklin Covey courses and done my best to find the one that works for me. About six months ago, I found it. iProcrastinate (Mac and iOS only) is the best to do program ever and I use it practically hourly to keep track of what's what and what needs to be done when. It is intuitive with clear relationships between different tasks and excellent tagging.

Have you heard of Zite and Flipboard? If not, you should seek them out. Both are personalized, social magazines. Zite gets better at finding content for you the more you use it. It's content engine is very smart - it's sent me lots of articles over the last six months that I would never have found on my own (except by dumb luck). Flipboard is a beautiful social magazine that takes your content and its own and melds them into an experience that reads like a magazine. Speaking of magazines...if you've got an iPad, you can't go wrong with Zinio.

When I was teaching, I used the very powerful Schoology as my daily classroom management tool. It's user interface makes sense, is easy to use, has a dropbox feature and fantastic support. It could easily simplify a school's technology framework, largely replacing email and making it possible for students to learn asynchronously and for school communities to work together without having to use other, public social networks like Facebook when you really want Facebook's features but not it's public facing.

I'd love to hear from you what you use every day. There are so many choices - it's critical that we share with each other as we make sense of a world of ubiquitous technology.

 

Classroom Free Schools?

Clearly I am obsessed with Good.is this week. Go have a look at this article that will provide great food for thought not only for educators but also designers, human factors specialists, futurists and place-based theorists. The article asks a question we haven't asked as readily as we should in the US - what if you built a school without conventional classrooms? The problems of the conventional classroom are well-established in the literature (if you want the bibliography, feel free to email me). Given that the state of California alone will spend billions of dollars over the next decade on new schools, much greater, careful attention should be paid to building schools that have the capacity to be flexible enough to respond to the needs of 21st century learners. And let me be explicit. These needs do not center on learning how to sit quietly in rows for 6-8 hours a day listening to experts. Active listening is an important skill, but not to the exclusion of others. Creativity in education is important to me and to others (Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink, etc.). Even more important to me is the need to individualize education so that each student's particular needs are addressed by a meaningful and, to the degree possible, personalized curricululm. If you don't go out to the article, at least have a look at the Vittra schools in Sweden that inspired the original post. Food for thought for me.

Further discussion on exactly what is in Scandinavia's water that's causing all of these fascinating educational innovations to come.

 

Play and Learning

A great post at the inestimably well-written and well curated Good.is looks at the connections between robots and learning, finding that robots are a "useful proxy for understanding kids' social, creative and learning aspirations." Perhaps more importantly, the reporting of the post's author (the equally inestimable Liz Dwyer) suggests that what students like most about working with robots is their non-judgmental patience.

21st century classrooms should be places of joyful tinkering, playful learning and spirited engagement where both students and teachers feel drawn by a day-to-day tone of encouragement and, yes, play, to push themselves towards and beyond their limits and "potential." To the degree possible, classrooms should be places where students and teachers strive to solve meaningful problems and do so in ways that when executed, surprise even themselves. Classrooms, in short, like the classrooms described in this thought-provoking post. 

 

Read These Blogs

It can be some work keeping up with the ever-expanding universe of bloggers, thinkers, confabulists and furturists writing about education, technology, new methods and the 21st century. Here are some blogs that I recommend or at least encourage you to look at to determine if what they're offering is what you're needing. In no particular order...

Nottingham, England's Tom Barrett writes the wise, thoughtful and provocative edte.ch blog. With interests in school design, design-inspired curricula and technology there's a lot that Tom offers. In the past month, I have read blog entries about designing learning spaces for the needs of learners, great suggestions about iPad apps that really work in classroom settings and a thoughtful piece about the notion of co-designing curriculum with your students.

Another inestimable resource in the world of 21st century educational thought is Dean Groom. "Design for Living" is a sometimes cantankerous, always provocative look at education, curriculum design and digital life. He cares about game-based learning and play, as I do, but is also interested in how we use and interact with digital spaces generally.

Subscribe to Pekka Puhakka's twitter feed for one of the best aggregations of social media and gamification news. 

Ben Rimes is doing very helpful work at techsavvyed.net. Concerned about practical questions that can vex the classroom teacher in integrating technology into the classroom as well as theoretical questions about 21st century education and skills. His post on recursive teaching and learning practices was very helpful for me.

Germany-based Ilona Buchem writes about gamification in education, game-based learning and digitial culture and identity. Don't miss her March 6 post on digital identity in particular. Excellent!

And the work of two colleagues who are learning and leading in the craft of 21st century method development. Nick Holton works at Milken Community High School in Los Angeles where he is a mentor teacher in the area of education technology.  Mike Irwin, a middle schol teacher at Henry Ford Academy in Detroit, has been exploring deeply powerful game-based learning techniques with his students and classmates. He blogs about these matters on his tumblr site. Check him out!

And of course you should be reading the Gamification blog and Bill Ferriter's Tempered Radical.

I'm personally and professionally grateful that these educators, philosophers, thinkers and dreamers have shared their work with the rest of us. Education is the better because of it.

 

Uptown / Bluff / Soho / Boyd's Hill

Since moving to Pittsburgh a few months ago, I have come to learn that Pittsburgh's character as a city of neighborhoods runs very, very deep. It's one of the many things that makes this such a great city - worthy of its status as one of the finest places to live in the country. How many neighborhoods does this city actually have? Depends on who you ask - surely eighty, perhaps ninety. In honor of getting a fancy new camera on coming to the city, I've decided to acquaint myself with all of these neighborhoods by means of a photography project. And I've started at home - in the neighborhood that at some point has had at least four different names. The city calls it "Bluff," but most everyone seems to call it "Uptown." At least everyone in Uptown does, that is. When I tell long term Pittsburghers where I live, they think it's Downtown or the Hill District or, more sadly, they don't think it's anything at all. With the opening of the Fifth Avenue High School lofts where we live and other signs of development closer to the Consol Center, it is possible that this neighborhood, with its decades of morphing identities, is on its way to another chapter. I hope these photos give you a sense of the place, its great public art and its potential. I know that the name Soho conveys a hipsterness that isn't present in the neighborhood and is probably not even desirable, but perhaps there's something in those other Sohos, a clear sense of self and identity, that would be.  Larger images can be found here.

Carygrantathon Concludes!

46 films later, I think I've seen every film Cary Grant appeared in that is also in print. Mind you, that still leaves me 27 films short, but 17 of these films are from 1936 or earlier, before Grant started to see really significant success as a lead actor in films like 1937's "The Awful Truth" and "Topper." If Grant's early output is similar to the pre-1937 films that I have seen, I suspect I've seen enough to be able to draw conclusions about his filmography. My opinion of Cary Grant at the end of this personal film history journey is not significantly different than it was at the beginning. He remains an actor who has an almost supernatural personal appeal. Charming, suave, funny, believable, authentic. It's no wonder that his career took on its independent, self-directed shape and character. There was no actor who was his equal across so many different kinds of pictures throughout his career. They were not all good films, however...nor was he great in everything. Generally, he brought a film up and was rarely to blame for a film's lack of success.

There has always been talk about Grant's appeal as the romantic lead in films like "Charade" or "An Affair to Remember," and his performances are quite memorable in these films. It would be a mistake, however, to see him as having just that one-trick. His work in "North By Northwest" and "Notorious" supports the argument that he could always be relied upon to bring extra gravitas to a suspense thriller. He was also believable as a war hero in films like "Destination Tokyo" and in "Operation Petticoat" (where at least I think he was overshadowed by Tony Curtis). And it only takes one viewing of "Arsenic and Old Lace" or "Bringing Up Baby" to realize that Grant was a skilled comic actor (or straight man) with the physical comedy chops and reactivity of a Vaudvillian. Many of these films have found their way into my permanent collection.

Now that I've done the CG thing, the next assignment I'm giving myself is to bring my documentary film education up to snuff. There doesn't appear to be an AFI Top 100 documentaries, so I'm going to aggregate a variety of lists into a Top 50 or 100 and go from there.

What follows is a few lists of Grant's work based on the ten-point film assessment I discussed in a previous Bricole post. In short, the ten components of a film that I look at are: lead acting, supporting acting, direction, cinematography, production design, plotting, dialogue, character development, sound design and ephemera (for things that matter, but that aren't part of the other categories). Each category gets a score of +1 (for excellence), 0 (for averageness) or -1 (for dreadfulness). The highest score a film could earn is 10; the lowest -10. A film that is average would earn a 0.

I would be shocked if there was any argument with the two films that earned perfect 10s for me. The other films in the Top 10 might generate some objection or conversation. I hope so, at least!

Lists!

"10s"

Charade

North By Northwest

Top 10

1. Charade (10)

2. North By Northwest (10)

3. The Philadelphia Story (9)

4. Bringing Up Baby (7)

5. Arsenic and Old Lace (7)

6. Notorious (6)

7. Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (6)

8. To Catch A Thief (6)

9. Born To Be Bad (6)

10. That Touch of Mink (5)

Bottom 10

1. People Will Talk (-5)

2. The Amazing Quest of Ernest Bliss (-4)

3. Father Goose (-2) 

4. Indiscreet (-2)

5. Wings in the Dark (-2)

6. Hot Saturday (-1)

7. Thirty-Day Princess (0)

8. Wedding Present (0)

9. Kiss Them For Me (0)

10. Once Upon A Time (1)

Grant's -1s for lead acting

Father Goose (tired acting of tired material)

Wings In The Dark (unbelievable)

Co-stars Who Outacted Grant (in alphabetical order)

Tony Curtis (Operation: Petticoat)

Sophia Loren (Houseboat)

Myrna Loy (The Bachelor And The Bobby-Soxer)

Frank Sinatra (The Pride And The Passion)

Design, Startups and the Question of Jobs (not Steve)

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From our friends at Visual.ly comes this fascinating infographic about the nature of Web 2.0 startups in the last five years or so. These companies are all, to some degree, on the cutting edge of American enterprise and represent key expressions of 21st century entrepreneurialism. Whether these companies will still be a going concern in 2020 is an open question, of course, because in an entrepreneurial environment, ideas are floated and tested in part to determine which ones work and which ones don't. The environment in which these companies do business (through mobile devices, tablets and other virtualized spaces) is also not especially well understood. A reality of America 3.0 is that these companies are increasingly seen as the engines of economic growth and development - the primary method by which this country will compete in emerging global markets and contexts.

But what do these companies do, exactly? While I am not even in the top 10,000 of most socially networked people in the country, I am no slouch. I know what about a half of the companies in the infographic do (go on - test yourself - how many of these guys have you heard of?) or at least what markets they are trying to shape, create or conquer. If you don't know what these companies are or what they're trying to do, and you're still in the workforce, you should be paying more attention because they may be telling you something about the future that you will want to know. Have a closer look at these companies, at particular one that you have almost certainly heard of - flickr (a photo-sharing hub). How many people does flickr employ? According to the infographic, less than 40. Think about that. Ever been on a full school bus? There were more people in that bus than there are in flickr's employ. If these companies are the future, or even part of it, how will the workers of tomorrow prepare themselves to compete for jobs when the companies most reflecting the spirit of the time employ, essentially, nobody. The great scions of America 2.0 like General Electric (287,000 employees) were both entrepreneurial and job-creating. Squaring that circle - how do we transform our economy while maintaining entrepreneurialism and job creation, when the companies of the future can get the job done with so few hands, might be one of the great 21st century challenges. 

Marvel Do Play Build Plan

What say you, friends?! The Daily Bricole hopes all is well and, ever so slightly, off-kilter.

MARVEL: I saw an extraordinary book at Diesel Books in Oakland this weekend. Moby-Dick In Pictures is an art project/literary event that should astonish. Matt Kish, the book's illustrator, has drawn lavish, detailed images based on each page of the 552-page Signet Classics edition of Melville's classic. 552 pieces of art in all kinds of different media. A level of commitment and work that should earn Kish many followers and  huge praise.

DO: The Art of Manliness (a fantastic blog you should be reading) offers these 10 ideas for excellent autumn season dates on which to take your partner, friend or, well, date. 

PLAY: Can't really get my brain around this one. Perhaps you crazy kids can tell me why Megamash is awesome? I know it is! Tell me why!

BUILD: Kids spend years of their lives (and faculty spend their entire careers) in some of the crappiest buildings ever erected by a civil society...yes, I'm talking about the architecture of American schools and the built environment of education. Often appalling, generally dispiriting, sometimes so bad as to be the single reason why teachers leave the profession (don't get me started - the data are there). And when we could build like this instead! Just look at this extraordinary school in Merced, California. More $$ please!

PLAN: I don't know that we need a revolution, but the last decade has certainly made clear that big, radical, transformative change is coming in one way or another. Read this article about peer-to-peer banking, and you'll see that in a democratic society, we still have lots and lots of power.

Say Do Read Learn Watch

Trying something sort of new here, building on these Top 5 things I've been doing. I'm an inveterate museum goer and blog reading is, in a way, similar to the experience of going to a museum, in that you never quite know what you're going to experience when you walk in the door. I hope The Daily Bricole is sort of like that - a bit of this, a bit of that and at least once, a bit of "what, what, what?!"

SAY: Your word of the day is welkin, from Old English welcn meaning "cloud." Welkin means "the vault of heaven" or "the sky" used literarily. World Wide Words has a nice discussion of the word and its connection to a famous Christmas carol. How all the welkin rings with the sound of angels!

DO: I do love The Minimalists and so should you. Cutting everything down to the basics...in this installment, minimalizing exercise...do only those things you enjoy. Great advice!

READ: Aron Nels Steinke's graphic novel Neptune. A short read and a lot of fun, narrated by a grade-school age girl doing a little "who I am" to her new classmates and spinning a yarn about her cool dog, Neptune.

LEARN: From our friends at io9, 10 cool classes you can take right now for free!

WATCH: An excellent, recent TED talk from Lauren Zalaznick about the history of television and how that maps to cultural and social change.