Posts By braddo

Top-earning doctors and lawyers practice medicine and law. Top-earning teachers practice administration #edchat

I take this as a sign that teaching is not yet a profession, not in the way doctoring and lawyering are.

Teaching–and schooling–are still largely about having one class of people deliver what another class of people tell them is important for a third class of people to know. Doctors and lawyers on the other hand don’t let others tell them what to do. They do that themselves. That’s the sign of professionalism. I can imagine a time when there is no Ministry of Education (or equivalent in your jurisdiction) as we see it today prescribing curriculum. Instead, teachers will write the curriculum and set best practices, though to be sure there will still be a Ministry, just as we have a Ministry of Health, as there needs to be oversight when spending public money.

Schooling, as it is today, has a administrative structure reflecting a the need to deliver a standardized education that would prepare a population for and industrial economy.

I’ve said before that that, in itself is not a bad thing. But it is a dated thing now. Our new expectations for what counts as an education is turning this old structure on its head.

I don’t belive any ministry is capable of building the new school, whatever that may look like. That job will fall to professional teachers.

There is some urgency here.

My rules for my students and me. And life. #edchat

OK, they’re my rules now, but I didn’t write them. They were written by Sister Corita Kent for an art class she taught at LA’s Immaculate Heart Convent in 1967-1968.

I found these on Maria Popova’s brilliant Brain Pickings site, where I find a great deal of invaluable stuff. Thanks again @brainpicker.



Cafés are about access & community. Schools are about control & isolation. #edchat

I have nagging questions about my teaching and my profession. This one is haunting me this week:

Public libraries, cafés and even fast food restaurants have better access to the web than your school–or mine–does. I can walk into a shop (like the delicious Mink in my neighbourhood) and connect any wifi device I happen to be carrying–smartphone, tablet, laptop–in a moment without having to register my device with the IT department. I don’t get yelled at for sucking up bandwidth. I can access any website I please.

Students hangout in these places because these places are about (better) access and community, about getting work done and hanging out. I think the sharing of food is an important factor, too: food (and fire) are more powerful social media than anything online.

In comparison, schools are about control and isolation. Even public schools are not public spaces–the good ones are are walled gardens. And once inside them we further compartmentalize and spend most of our time in rooms about of about 75 square metres (according to specifications put out by the provincial ministry of education here in British Columbia.)

To be sure, some control is good. As a colleague pointed out, we must keep in mind developmental differences between K and 12 and older. He rightly said it would be morally and prudentially wrong to let children run about online, in coffee shops or even in schools without adult guidance–he chose that word over “supervision” carefully–at whatever appropriate levels.

But I’m not suggesting that we give up adult repsonsibilities. I am asking, if it takes a village to raise a child, why do we cut our students off from the (online or real) village for so much of their day? Are we sure that the cost is worth the gain?


Google & Ipsos say it’s a multi-screen world. What do you say now about your 1:1? #edchat

2 years ago in Stockholm at the fabulous YBC school–some of my students mixing with the locals, collaborating on a film project, using multiple devices to consume and create content.

Google and Ipsos are reporting that 90% of out media consumption now happens across multiple of digital devices. That is, each of us likely uses a smart phone, a tablet, a PC/laptop and TV in combination.

Just yesterday a colleague was giving me a good-natured ribbing for showing up at a (long) meeting with both my Macbook Air and iPad. But, I told him, I use each for different things: my Air for taking notes in Evernote and my iPad for sketching in my favourite app, Paper. He didn’t see, and I didn’t tell him, that I also had my iPhone in my pocket.

This multi-screeen work strikes me as parallel to the way we use similar but different tools in school work: a pencil for sketching on paper, a marker for drawing on a whiteboard and so on. That doesn’t strike any of us as unusual, I don’t think.

So why, I am wondering, have we come to think of using one machine alone as somehow normal or sufficient or even that we’ve arrived at the top when we set up a 1:1 laptop program in our schools. And why is using multilple device seen as geeky, strange, extravagant, redundant, overkill and so on? I’m not whining. I am genuinely curious. My hunch is that the answer has less to do with ignorance or lack of foresight than with that natural human desire for stasis: educational technology is as still immature and evolving–quickly, too.

I am genuinely curious, too, about why those same people who poke fun at the likes of me for packing three devices at a time overlook or are unaware that they are also multi-screen users, assuming they watch TV. (For the record, I don’t have TV.) I think it is because we are for the most part still using old categories–work, play, in-school, out-of-school–for sorting our tools and that we don’t see that the those traditional divisions are dissolving.

In any case, what does the Google-Ipsos study say about a 1:1 program? It says at best, it’s only a start.




A short thought on Apple’s win over Samsung

An Australian colleague and great educator, Chris Betcher, is a little sad over Apple’s behavior with its patents. (

I hear ya, Chris. Apple can be aggressive in a way that makes us wince a bit. But, supposing everything keeps in Apple’s favour even after the likely appeal by Samsung, I’m not so sure this legal victory is a bad thing at all.

Apple’s designs are brilliant. But what we see from everyone else is more or less the same thing as an iPhone. That is I don’t see anyone else innovating the way Apple has and does–just incremental change on something the other guy took the risks on.

Maybe the ruling is a blessing in disguise for innovation, a move that condemns competitors to a Wordsworth-ian scanty plot of ground…

Nuns Fret Not

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Good news, teachers: Smartphones go mainstream. #edchat


A few weeks ago I wrote a post saying that the adoption curve for any new technology is about four or five years wide.



The fact that “wireless” hits the cover of TIME magazine suggests that the impact of the technology and the talk about that impact has reached mainstream. Conversations I had a couple years ago about using smartphones in class are now appearing in popular press (one section of TIME’s feature story is called “Gadgets Go to Class.“)

This lines up with two other bits of news in the last few weeks: a story in The Atlantic last week: Fewer and Fewer People Want to Know About Computers, Says Google; and several reports that smart phone market growth is slowing, an indication that we’ve past the middle of the adoptiopn curve.


This ought to be good news for education, if it’s not for the Windows phone or any other smart phone trying to get that third spot behind the iPhone and Andorid devices. It means, I hope, that we can get on with the important discussion around how best to use the technology.

Incidentally, a little more that three years ago I wrote a post saying that I would take a mobile phone before a laptop for my students. Since then, I’ve worked with a lot of educational technology and even spent a year as head of school for THINK Global School where we ran a 3:1 program–an iPhone, iPad and Macbook Pro for every student and faculty member–to see how the devices worked both singly and together in various combinations. I would not want to be without a laptop (though, increasing that is being replaced by my iPad) but I still say that if I could only have one device for my students, it would be a smartphone. The laptop is not a game changer, it merely extends what the smartphone can do, making work easier but not radically different. A smartphone lets learning happen anywhere, anytime.

Update: Right after posting, I came across this article: Professors encourage use of gadgets in class.

Compulsory education or choice education?

My comments on Lisa Nielsen’s post, “Would you take classes if you weren’t forced?” on her must-read blog, The Innovative Educator. Thanks for keeping this ongoing discussion going, Lisa.

The matter of freedom arises from the regimentation and standardization that characterizes modern public education. We run our schools on the gross assumption that all students mature at more or less even rates. Grade levels are determined by chronological age and all students of the same age, 10-year olds in Grade 4, for example, get the same curriculum. This is a matter of efficiency. Our schools were built to deliver broad literacy to as many as possible as fast as possible. They were not built to give choice. There is nothing inherently wrong in that. Indeed, reaching for universal literacy is a noble pursuit. What is wrong is asking the system that was designed to create broad literacy to do something it structurally cannot do. So your question, Lisa, is sharp and important and it points to an anormous task ahead: completely reimagining our edcuation system.

There are in normal circumstances just two occasions when the state deprives people of liberty. One when they break the law and are sent to jail. The other when they are school age and are sent to school. In the first case, we say it’s for our own good; we take the malefactors out of circulation and have them pay back the debt to society–us. In the second, we say it’s for their own good. (See my post, Teaching’s heavy obligation.)


So there is no doubt that we deprive students of choice. But when we say that we have to be careful with two assumptions in your question, Lisa. First, we must becareful not to make blanket statements about students. All we educators do it too often. There is enormous developmental difference between the K-student and the 12-student in K12. (Often, we educators even lump in higher education.) Secondly, with this mind, not all students are equally mature at any given age to make good choices in any given decision. We don’t for example, think they can make good decisions in federal elections until they are 19 years old in Canada. That may be a debatable age, but I think we could agree that they certainly could not make good decisions in elections when they are seven years old. Likewise, there will be a points at which a student can and cannot make good decisions about their education.

So your question might be better written as “How can we give students the freedom to choose what, where, when and with whom they learn at a developmentally appropriate level?” or something like that.

Immediately we must ask another question: “How can we ensure that students will make good choices about what, where, when and with whom they learn at a developmentally appropriate level?” Even more briefly, “How can we ensure students will make good choices. Full stop.” That, I submit, is the fundamental purpose of an education.

The proto-iPad! Questions answered by electricity!

I found this 1960s proto-iPad in one of New York’s fantastic flea markets. It brings back memories of building computers out of refrigerator crates in the garage and watching Commander J. J. Abrams in the Forbidden Planet.


Yet fundamentally, as a device, the iPad isn’t much different.

What is different is the eco-system around the iPad, namely the web. (Likewise, the genius of the iPod was not the device but iTunes and downloading music for 99¢)

What this says to me is we should not be asking, How can we use iPads in the classroom? That’s 50-year old thinking. We should be asking, How can we use the web in the classroom?

Don’t blame Google for making us stupid.

This excellent piece, How Google Impacts the Way Students Think, is only partly right. Google does shape the way kids think and in the ways the article descirbes. But it does so not because Google is an imperfect search tool, but because we have failed to teach students how to think. Period.

Encyclopedias, dictionaries, journal indices and so on–all those old school places we turn to for answers didin’t teach people how to think either. However, we used to teach people how to think before they went to these resources. Since the advent of online search, and likely even earlier, we have abandonned the idea of teaching critical thinking. Oh sure, it’s bandied about as a so-called 21C skill (I say so-called because it’s really an ancient skill) and sometimes the good teachers embed the development of this skill in the delivery of their instruction. But only rarely do we see it as a stand alone course, which I think it really needs to be. Critical thinking, critical discourse is a discipline as sharply delineeated a one as mathematics or a language.

I used to be assistant head at Island Pacific School, a terrific independent middle school on Bowen Island, off the coast of Vancovuer, BC, where we taught entire courses in practical reasoning, ethics and philosophy to grades six to nine student. Our graduates gained a reputation: when they moved on to high school their new teachers would say, “Ah, you must be one of those Isalnd Pacific School kids; you don’t think like the other kids here.”


How do we afford the classroom of the future? No problem.

Sooner or later when we talk about edcuational technology we run into questions about affordability–like in this piece, Affording the Classoom of the Future, in the Journal. Yes, it’s true, the tech is expensive, even if the cost continues to fall yearly–only Gordon Geckos could afford cell phones in the 80’s.

But the problem is stuck in an old way of thinking, one that sees education can only occur inside a classroom (There’s one section on virtual classrooms, but the whole piece is framed by a belief in a structure that may well be hopelessly inadequate.) What if, instead, we said it doesn’t have to be in a classroom. At all. As I said earlier, we haven’t yet come close to imagining what the new edcuation will look like. But I know from my experience as head of Think Global School, however, that you don’t need a physical classroom for substantial learning (and arguable better) to take place. By the end of the second term of our first year, we had clearly establsihed that learning is a habit of mind, not a place. The learning space might be virtual, as the Journal article points out. But it can equally be found spaces where face-to-face meetings are still possible, as was my experience in taking students around the world.

The cost of mobile phones and tablets–for everyone–pales in comparison to the capital cost of building schools. We could easily afford the classrooms of the future if we instead talk about affording the learning of the future.