Have you seen the new Google Pixel 2 commercial? Before you read any further, take a look:
What’s your first impression? Mine is That’s brilliant. But it’s not just the commercial that’s brilliant, it’s the message.:
A question mark changes everything.
As the Google design team makes abundantly clear in this ad, statements are limiting, and placing a period at the end of a sentence indicates finality. No more ideas. No more moving forward. The end. Game over. ‘Nuff said.
But what if?
As we Google fans know (and as the company itself affirms), Google is a company “built on questions.” And as more schools go Google (70+ million G Suite for Education global users), we need to change our mark of punctuation:
We are learning.
We are learning?
Think about our CCSS “I Can” statements--the ones prominently displayed in every classroom to indicate content learned by students. Here’s one for high school biology:
I can use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms. (LS1-4)
How do we know they can?
Well, traditionally, a teacher will prepare slides about mitosis, give lecture notes about mitosis, copy study guides and worksheets about mitosis, assign homework and reading about mitosis, and then finally administer a unit test about mitosis.
No more ideas. No more moving forward. The end. Game over. ‘Nuff said.
(By the way, notice the verbs I used above to describe the traditional learning process: prepare, give, copy, assign, administer. While these aren’t passive verbs--and this former high school English teacher should know!--they certainly designate passivity when it comes to learning. And notice that all the “work” is being done by the teacher. The students will watch the slides, copy the notes, complete the study guides and worksheets, do the homework and reading, and take the test. Check out the verbs I used in that last sentence. See a pattern? Those verbs make a point, and the point is this: If whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning, then we’re doing it wrong.)
A question mark changes everything.
What if we changed that period at the end of a traditional "I Can" statement into a question mark?
I can use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms?
Imagine projecting that question to a class and simply saying, Can you? Imagine allowing them to pursue their own learning, to show, to demonstrate, to create. What if we said, “Figure out a way to show how you can master that standard, whether it’s a screencast, a song, an infographic, a story, an animated Google Slides deck, a carefully-curated assemblage, a playlist...a whatever you can imagine! I’ll be here to guide you, to coach you, to encourage you, to direct you, but I will not do the work for you.” Imagine stepping to the side and allowing them to be active participants and owners of their learning.
I can learn.
I can learn?
Statements finalize possibilities. Questions open them up.
Still not convinced? Think about this for a minute: Google didn’t create the latest in innovative smart phone technology by making statements. Google did it by asking questions.
So why aren’t we?
A question mark changes everything.
Note: To learn more about asking questions to inspire learning, check out inquiry-based learning.
I’m giving you fair warning, buttercup: this is not going to be a warm and fuzzy post. So if you’re a sensitive soul, now’s the time to turn back.
I’ve been sitting on a draft of this post for six months now, hesitating to go public for fear of offending anyone. The content that follows--to borrow from the latest in adolescent vernacular--may ”trigger” you. Or it may inspire you. Maybe it will provoke you to stop following me. Or maybe (hopefully!) it will encourage you to think. Here goes...
Last week, I was working with a teacher during her planning period, brainstorming ways to integrate a specific instructional technology tool into her curriculum. As we collaborated, her veteran partner walked in, took one look at us, and responded, “Oh, no. No more technology for me! Absolutely not.” She promptly turned on her heel and exited.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon reaction to my presence in a classroom or a school. While I’m often welcomed with open arms, I’m equally as often treated like Frankenstein’s monster in the village.
I’ve tried to not take it personally. In my best Stuart Smalley voice, I’ve self-talked and mentally declared my worthiness to myself when I sense a reluctant adopter’s discomfort with my presence and with what I represent to her--which is change.
However, like Frankenstein’s monster, I believe I am (or at least my role is) frequently misunderstood. So please allow me this opportunity to clarify: Teachers, I was not put on this earth (or in this job) to torture you, but to instead make learning more engaging and productive for your students.
And promise you: This is not about you. And it’s not about me, either. It’s really, really about the kiddos. My misson is to act as a translator and tour guide into the digital domain--a world in which our students already exist. And a world in which they’d be really, really thrilled to have us join.
So when you get angry at me, or snub me, or tell me things like the following, I tend to take it, well, personally:
I take it personally on behalf of our students. I'm not working against you. I hope to work with you. We’re on the same team. Just like you, I strive to challenge students, to push them, and to inspire them.
Imagine how you might react if students said the following to you:
Listen, I get it. Change is scary. But it’s inevitable. Everything evolves. It’s that simple: every industry, every profession, every thing changes.
When an educator summarily rejects the notion that technology is a necessary part of educating our students, when an educator absolutely refuses to improve his or her own understanding of it, and when educators treat as the enemy the people whose job it is to assist them in making the shift, I have to say--and it pains me to do so--then you’re making it about you.
Again, I’m so very sorry if this post makes anyone uncomfortable. But maybe discomfort isn’t such a bad thing, because it’s only when we step outside our comfort zone that true change occurs. As author and speaker Brene Brown so sagely advises us, “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” Of course it’s comfortable to stick with what we know and to do things the way we’ve always done them; however, it’s also incredibly courageous to venture into the unknown.
Yet, in spite of it all, I’m very grateful I get to do the work I do. Because even on my bad days, even when the villagers have chased me into the depths of the forest, I have to remind myself:
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
Dewey quote from Twitter
This post is inspired by Alice Keeler’s May 1, 2017, keynote speech at the #ITIP2017 Ohio Google Summit: “In The Future, Cars Drive Themselves”
I saved this image about a year ago. Don’t know why, didn’t know if I was going to use it, wasn’t sure how I was going to use it, but I knew that while it specifically speaks to the revolutionary work done by both Steve Jobs and by Apple, it generally speaks to the evolutionary work we need to be doing in education.
If you follow me or my blog, you know I’ll evangelize until I’m hoarse (or until someone throat punches me just to shut me up) about the shift that needs to occur from depositing knowledge into our learners’ heads to allowing them to acquire knowledge for themselves.
We’re still asking questions that can be answered with a simple Google search. We’re still feeding factoids that can be found online. We’re still assessing kiddos based on their ability to memorize those factoids.
“We need to teach,” says Google guru Alice Keeler, “like Google exists.”
We need students to create. Not to memorize.
(By the way, do you know that the synonym for “memorize” is “recollect?” Re-collect. As in collect again.)
Why are we asking students to memorize the dates of the Norman Invasion? Is that learning? We’re fooling ourselves if we think our searchable questions are original. Don’t believe me? Well, Buttercup, check out this video about PhotoMath, an app that uses your students’ smartphone camera to snap a pic of a mathematical equation worksheet--and then solves the problem and gives them the answer. If we want answers that aren’t searchable, we need to design questions that preclude that.
So, instead of treating Google like a red-headed stepchild, banning search bars from our classrooms, let’s make friends with it. Let’s keep the end-user in mind when designing instruction. I don’t care how afraid we are of the technology, we have to remember for whom we work--and that’s the kiddos.
If Google’s in the process of design self-driving cars, how about we design self-driving learners? If we hire a personal trainers, we don’t expect them to do the work for us (though I wish they did!). So why do we do the work--vocabulary lists, study guides, packaged lecture notes--for the students?
Are we teaching the future?
Or are we teaching the past?
“It's Hard When You're Young:” What the Chainsmokers Taught Me About Teaching (and Reaching) Generation Z
I attended my first rave last night. Well, as much of a rave as a 49 year-old mother is willing to attend (and endure). It was a Chainsmokers concert that my teenage son graciously allowed me to accompany him to here in Cleveland. (And by “accompany him” I mean he “let me pay for the tickets" and "let me drive him there and back.”) Nevertheless, we had a blast: he bounced and sang along, and I bounced and sang along, too--a Gen Xer sticking out among the Generation Z crowd like a...well, like a mom at a Chainsmokers concert.
But being who I am, I also observed. I couldn’t help it. It’s what I do.
The Facebook Generation vs. The Snapchat Generation
The profound age difference between me and everyone else first hit when I started taking videos and photos with my phone. My intention was to upload them to my go-to social media outlet--which for us Gen Xers is Facebook. And then I noticed that everyone else around me was uploading to their go-to social media outlet--which is Snapchat. I should mention here that I have a Snapchat account; it’s infrequently used, but I have one. My sons have been (im)patiently teaching me how to use it. (I taught them how to tie their shoes. It’s the least they can do to return the favor.)
I’ll admit it: I really, sincerely admire and adore post-Millennials, a.k.a. the Internet Generation, a.k.a. Generation Z. While others may complain about their short attention spans, their self-involvement, their digital media obsession, there are those of us who are intrigued by them, who celebrate them, who believe they will change the world. This past October, I was invited to deliver a keynote at NEOTIE about today’s learners entitled “TBH...It’s Time to Meet Learners Where They Are,” a talk designed to help educators understand how this group--digital since diapers--requires us to transform the way we teach if we hope to keep connecting with them. It was my favorite of any of my presentations, mostly because I loved what I learned about this oft-maligned group.
Due to my admiration of this generation and because they’ve taught this old dog more than a few new tricks, I started emulating those around me at the concert by uploading videos and pics to share later on Facebook, but I also started Snapchatting my Chainsmokers story.
That was my first A-ha! moment: It was so much easier and so much quicker to share what I was experiencing in the moment instead of collecting media to share later in a post that featured what had already happened. Sort of like live-Tweeting, but better. (By the way, it’s no coincidence that Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram have also added their own stories or memories feature to their platforms. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.)
This living-in-the-moment attitude and not being burdened down with “stuff” is indicative of a generation of kids who, like it or not, are globally-connected, socially aware, and have influenced and developed their own media language mostly consisting of visuals and acronyms, and who have resolved to do things differently.
Okay, enough adulation. I don’t want to lose those of you who still need some convincing about these kiddos. Suffice it to say, my foray into Snapchat got me thinking about other A-ha! moments: How can we reach today’s learners?
EMBRACE THE (R)EVOLUTION
The Chainsmokers are both revolutionary and evolutionary. They’re an EDM-pop crossover DJ duo who rose to fame by first making remixes of independent bands and then by collaborating with recording artists to write their own original songs. I mean, they’re not even true musicians, as historically defined, really. They’re DJs. (I couldn’t believe I was going to spend good money watching two dudes spin records, as I explained to my son months ago.) However, the DJ duo, Alex Pall and Drew Taggert, started experimenting in 2015, writing their own songs, and then--eventually--singing them. They’re now playing instruments, and have added a drummer and a classical pianist to the mix. As educators, we need to get on board with that same mentality: we can’t keep doing things the way we’ve always done them just for the sake of continuity or because we’re afraid to try something new. We need to get out from behind the record player and try to spin something new.
STOP SAVING & START LIVING
Snapchat stories only last 24 hours--that’s it. I wondered, Why wouldn’t you want to post these memories to, say, Facebook, so that you could have them forever? (Neither one of my sons have a Facebook account. They laugh at me when I suggest it to them: Ummm…yeah. Like I want a “Mom-book” account.) Just so you know, you can save photos and videos in Snapchat to your camera roll, but to this generation, it’s important to live in the moment--to experience the next thing instead of holding on to the past. As educators, the lesson we can learn from this is that we should learn to live in the moment, too. Toss out those file cabinets we’ve hoarded of outdated study guides and tried-and-true lesson plans. Get rid of all the posters, anchor charts, and other hanging crap on our walls and bulletin boards. Strip it down. Get current. Keep it simple. Surf the ‘Net for videos, photos, articles, and memes that speak to today--not to five or ten or fifteen years ago.
WE'VE GOT TO MIX IT UP
The Chainsmokers’ setlist from last night featured their singles, but it also pulled in a whole bunch of yummy goodness from other tracks by the Killers, Panic! at the Disco, the Notorious B.I.G., and one of my personal faves--Coldplay. That’s what DJs do: they mix it up. They don’t just spin one record; they spin an amalgam of them. How many of us still own LPs? My vinyl has been donated or sold. As educators, let's think more and think often about pulling from other content areas and genres to teach: Grab a video from Vevo as a conversation-starter; open up Spotify and create a playlist of songs relevant to the subject matter (or even better--let the kids do it!); let them respond to a class question in Twitter. Stop playing just that one single like a broken record. (Pun intended.)
LET THEM TAKE A #SELFIE
OMG, the selfies. Tons of them, everywhere last night. The Chainsmokers gained initial fame with their 2014 hit #SELFIE--a sardonic yet hilarious look at the selfie phenomenon--but it speaks to a generation of students who need to see themselves. Why they do it isn’t important. Maybe we should instead ask, How can we as educators get students to see themselves in their learning? Most learning is teacher-directed and teacher-assigned. What if we instead provided for more choice and voice in assignments? What types of things would they create? What if we allowed them to pursue and/or construct their learning paths? Of course, we still need to teach the standards, but do we need to do so in such a rigidly-structured manner: lectures, quizzes, and tests? What if we asked our students: How would you like to show what you know?
ACT LIKE A DJ
Okay, so with all this talk of changing it up, I’d like to address the fact that without DJs--the music would come to a screeching halt. [Insert record scratch sound effect here.] Teachers: you’re the DJ. Keep the beat going. You still have to curate the songs and the song clips. They still need us. We are still important. But could we maybe change the song every once in awhile?
CHAMPION CREATIVITY OVER CONSUMPTION
The Chainsmokers didn’t wait around hoping to be discovered by a music industry executive. They made their music and uploaded it to SoundCloud, an open music and audio platform that allows our globally-connected post-Millennials to discover breakthrough artists and to connect with them. From there, the audience grew. The Chainsmokers created their own content, published it, and shared it. In contrast, we often tend to assign one task with a very rigid and specific set of directions based on the notes and lectures we have fed to our students. Do you have any idea how many of your students have published their own work to YouTube or SoundCloud already? Allow opportunities for them to do so in the classroom. What about a video essay (vessay) instead of an essay? What about letting them write a song that exemplifies the tone or mood of an historical era?
LET THE BEAT DROP
I once read something somewhere (I think it was a blog post by George Couros) that asked Would you want to be a student in your own classroom? In other words, are we having fun? Are we engaged? Are we active? When the “beat drops” in a song by the Chainsmokers and other EDM groups, it signals a pause before a major shift in beat or tempo--usually something big and loud and crazy and fun. Like this. Do we let the beat drop in our classrooms? Do we provide some spectacle, something big, something to let our students know that the best is yet to come? Are our hooks “hooky” enough? Learning should be fun. Lectures make it not so much. Dave Burgess is onto something.
WE'VE GOT TO REMIX IT, TOO
Last night, the Chainsmokers’ played their hit “It Won’t Kill Ya” in two (or was it three?) different versions, or what are commonly called remixes. A remix is a different interpretation of a musical recording. The result is something that has hints of the original, but may have a completely different meaning. I immediately connected with the Notorious B.I.G. version of the song; my son (who by the way, loves remixes; he’s on SoundCloud all the time looking for remixes of his favorite songs) preferred the trap remix of the original. Not all remixes are for everyone, however. But to reach an audience equally, we have to consider that not every audience member is equal. And that’s why differentiation is so utterly important. We can’t have a one-size-fits-all mentality when it comes to instruction and learning. Regardless of how we feel about differentiation in education, we have to take the end game (the learner) into account. How are we providing different avenues for learning?
CONNECT & COLLABORATE
Take a look at the Chainsmokers’ songs. While Alex has taken on some singing responsibilities, a number of their songs feature contributing vocals from other artists such as Emily Warren, Halsey, Daya, and Chris Martin from Coldplay, to name a few. Indicative of the generation who loves them, the Chainsmokers aren’t shy in reaching out to connect with others they don’t know. For example, the story goes that the duo, hearing through the grapevine that Coldplay was a fan of their music, simply reached out to them about the possibility of working together. That’s it. We need to reach across the hallway, across the building, across the campus of our schools and districts to collaborate with other teachers instead of teaching within the isolated four walls of our classrooms. Hell, we need to reach out across the globe, using Twitter, Skype, and Google Hangouts to connect with experts, authors, congressional representatives, and scientists. Let’s show our students that their reach should exceed their grasp and that collaborating leads to creation.
IT'S OKAY TO SOMETIMES INTRODUCE THEM TO THE OLDIES BUT THE GOODIES
While before the concert, much of the Chainsmokers’ music was unknown to me--except for what I heard on the car radio--it was comforting to hear the inclusion of music with which I was familiar. Last night’s setlist included snippets of, as I mentioned, the Killers, Panic! at the Disco, The Verve, and Biggie himself. On the drive home, I was provided the opportunity, then, to introduce those artists to my son. Our students don’t know everything, and while they may have access to everything via the Internet, they still need guides to help them figure out what’s important. What we know is still important.
We have a lot to learn from the Generation Z crowd--if we’re listening to them. Oh, by the way...the title of this post? It’s a Chainsmokers song. (Here’s my Spotify playlist of the setlist.) And while my Snapchat story has expired since last night, be sure to follow me for new ones. I’m still true to my GenX roots, though, and that’s why you’ll find my pictures on Facebook, too. I’m happy to embrace both worlds. 😀
Go drop your mic!
Like most parents of my generation, I feel guilty.
Maybe it's because almost every other day, a Facebook friend/Twitter follower/LinkedIn peer posts yet another article about how we're failing our children: we're too overprotective, we're too permissive, we over-schedule, we aren't strict enough, we hover too much; we're "helicopter parents" and "tiger moms" and "snowplow parents;" our children are overly attached and unable to function without our constant intercession; we're raising a generation of self-centered whiners who will never be able to independently function.
Like I don't beat myself up enough. Now I've got every writer, blogger, and Tweeter doing it for me.
So when this article by Hanna Rosin was brought to my attention the other day, my self-esteem took a nose dive simply by reading the title: "The Overprotected Kid." But it's precisely because I'm an overprotective parent that I knew I had to continue reading. Ironically, I'd be doing my overprotected kids a disservice if I didn't discover how I was providing them such a disservice, right?
Indeed, parents today are exceedingly overprotective, as the article goes on to explore in great detail. As Rosin keenly notes, "even though women work vastly more hours now than they did in the 1970s, mothers—and fathers—of all income levels spend much more time with their children than they used to." We arrange playdates, spend our weekends chauffeuring our kids to basketball and art class and ballet, volunteer as den mothers, and chaperone the class field trips. Our parents were never that involved in our lives. Why are we?
Rosin attempts to explain the root of our child-centric obsession and posits that the motivation behind this behavior is fear-based: we've either come to believe or have been shaped to believe that if we don't overprotect, something bad will happen. She offers this gentle and (thankfully) non-condemning explanation for our behavior: "For a variety of reasons—divorce, more single-parent families, more mothers working—both families and neighborhoods have lost some of their cohesion. It is perhaps natural that trust in general has eroded, and that parents have sought to control more closely what they can—most of all, their children."
I recognize myself in that remark. I'm a divorced, working, single mom who most definitely has pursued a focused and single-minded path of controlling what I can, especially when it comes to my two sons. And yes, I certainly recognize my own "helicopter," "tiger," and "snowplow" behaviors. (But let's not get into those just now.) There's a thin line between being overly protective and being overly controlling, and I seem to walk that unctuous tightrope more often than I'd care to admit.
I will admit this, however: as a teacher, I abhor helicopter parents.
Yes, you read that correctly. I'm a hypocrite. Or maybe I'm in a unique position to judge. By coming into contact with overprotective parents, it's forced me to confront my own parental overprotective behaviors.
As a teacher, I've been begged to change grades after report cards have been issued. I've been bullied to extend offers of extra credit a week before the quarter ends. I've been grilled about assignments and projects. I've been accused of being wrong, boring, mean, unprofessional, and unfair.
And all of these behaviors come from parents.
A generation ago, this type of behavior was unheard of. I was raised, as were the majority of my friends, by parents who lived according to the following credo: your teacher is right, and you're wrong. Or if you're not wrong, you're probably at fault somehow. My mother would never dream of signing a detention slip with the following postscript: "This is completely unreasonable. My daughter is a good kid and I protest this discipline notice." (A parent actually wrote that to me. And to further drive home her point, she even refused to sign the detention slip.)
So how did a generation of children raised to be independent and accountable for their own behaviors in turn become ferociously overprotective to the point of attacking and accusing the people our parents once demanded we respect?
Being horrified and made weary by this behavior has benefitted me, though. It's forced me to back off my own kids--at least a little bit. And even though it sometimes makes me queasy when they fail to hand in a homework assignment or don't study enough for a test and subsequently receive a less-than-desired score, I have to let them fail. As much as I want to swoop in and save them and email their teachers and ask for a reprieve, I have to keep the tiger mom in her cage.
Because the last thing I want to become is the parent about whom I complain.
Near the conclusion of Hanna Rosin's article, she gently suggests to parents that "the real cultural shift has to come from parents. There is a big difference between avoiding major hazards and making every decision with the primary goal of optimizing child safety (or enrichment, or happiness). We can no more create the perfect environment for our children than we can create perfect children. To believe otherwise is a delusion, and a harmful one; remind yourself of that every time the panic rises."
So when the panic rises, as it frequently does for this overprotective mom, I'll try to swallow it and allow my sons to experience less than perfect situations.
After all, experience is the best teacher. For my children, for my students, and for myself.
Image by Peace In Your Home
Digital Learning Coach in Cleveland, Ohio, sharing innovative technology ideas.