Friday, November 30, 2012

New wine in old wineskins

Many of you are familiar with the biblical story where Jesus notes that no one puts new wine in old wineskins.  Before wine bottles were invented, wine was stored in wineskins made of animal hide or gut.  If unfermented wine (new wine) was put into a wineskin that had been previously used, the fermentation process would burst the wineskin.

Schools were founded when information was scare. Information is no longer scare.  There are those, however, who would have us believe that the trick to educational reform is to use the new technological tools to deliver the old curriculum more effectively and efficiently.  As Will Richardson notes in Why School?, this idea amounts to "...old wine- or, in this case, old thinking about education- in new bottles.  How does this serve out kids at this moment of abundance?"  Short answer- It doesn't.

Rather than a process that still places students as consumers of content that is no longer scare, Richardson advocates for using technology as a discovery tool.  "'s about asking questions, working with others to find the answers, doing real work for real audiences, and adding to, not simply taking from, the storehouse of knowledge that the Web is becoming...the emphasis shifts from content mastery to learning mastery."

This is hard to quantify. 

I'm all for learning!!  I'm all for supporting teachers who are helping students learn- and pulling the plug on those who aren't.  I am very wary of the standards, accountability, and efficiency crowd.

Richardson believes that we "...desperately need to revisit the thinking we've developed around assessment that, as Harvard researcher Justin Reich says, 'optimizes the measurable at the risk of neglecting the immeasurable.'"

What a beautiful quote: "optimizes the measurable at the risk of neglecting the immeasurable."  That pretty much sums up my fears about where education is heading right now.  The standardized assessment and accountability crowd are gaining key footholds by the day.  There are voices advocating a different way.  The safe way forward is to ignore them, I hope that I have the courage to listen.  I want to be among those who are supporting new structures that better serve the LEARNING needs of the day.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dr. Seuss

Hooray for Diffendoofer Day!  This book was in the works when Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, died.  His editor commisioned Jack Prelutsky and Lane Smith to take the collection of sketches and writings and complete a book that would be true to both the ideas presented and the overall greatness of Dr. Seuss.

No easy task.  The book was recently given to me as a gift.  A few selected sections are included here.  Leave it to Dr. Seuss to drive home the point that standardization is not the answer.

Buy the book!!!

I've always lived in Dinkerville,
My friends all live here too.
We go to Diffendoofer School-
We're happy that we do.

Our school is at the corner
Of Dinkzoober and Dinkzott.
It loos like any other school,
But we suspect it's not.

My teacher is Miss Bonkers,
She's as bouncy as a flea.
I'm not certain what she teaches,
But I'm glad she teaches me.

One day she taught a duck to sing-
Miss Bonkers teaches EVERYTHING!

There are many other people
Who make Diffendoofer run.
They are utterly amazing-
I love every single one.

Our music teacher, Mrs. Fox,
Makes bagpipes out of straws and socks.

In science class with Mr. Katz,
We learn to build robotic rats.

We were ...Telling jokes and making noise,
When Mr. Lowe appeared and howled,
"Attention, girls and boys!"

"All school for miles and miles around
Must take a special test,
To see who's learning susch and such-
To see which school's the best.
If our small school does not do well,
Then it will be torn down,
And you will have to go to school
In dreary Flobbertown."

"Not Flobbertown!" we shouted,
And we shuddered at the name,
For everyone in Flobbertown
Does everything the same.

Miss Bonkers rose. "Don't fret!" she said.
"You've learned the things you need
To pass that test and many more-
I'm certain you'll succeed.
We've taught you that th earth is round,
That red and white make pink,
And something else that matters more-
We've taught you how to think."

Good news:  They did very well on the test, and everything is fine at Diffendoofer School!! 

They did well on "the test" even though they did not "teach to the test."  I thought of trying to pull off a Dr. Seuss-like prose but, to borrow a classic line from a Clint Eastwood movie "A man has to know his own limitations."  So, I'll just close with "Amen to that."

Here are some lessons we can learn from Finland- oh so close to my family roots in Sweden!  C'mon Sweden :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Intermediate Impossibles

I took the title of this post from one of my favorite lines in the video clip.  The clip features John Cleese talking about creativity.  The site I got it from also has some handy notes on a few of the highlights of the speech.

If you're in a tremendous hurry- just watch the last two minutes of his sarcastic rant about how to make sure employees (or students) are not creative.  The first 10 minutes or so is OK, but most of his best points occur after the 10 minute mark.

Starting around the 12 minute mark, he talks about 5 key conditions that lead to creativity.  It's a section (8 minutes or so) worth watching. 

More Pondering Time leads to more Creativity.  But, the people who are better at being consistently creative must be willing to tolerate ambiguity for a longer period of time, not to just jump at the first plausible solution.  We have a tendency to not like ambiguity or uncertainty- so we stop as soon as we find a solution.  Cleese argues that there is a time and place for decisiveness- but most people are too decisive, too early.  In the process, they rob themselves- and their organizations- of the potentially better ideas that could emerge if we 'pondered' a little longer.

I'm not going to explain the concept of "intermediate Impossibles," you'll have to watch the clip for that!

Use Your Brain

I opened a Twitter account about a year ago.  One of the first people I started following was Curt Rees- a Wisconsin Principal who is light years ahead of me in his professional use of social media, and probably in many other ways as well.

This post from Curt's blog was recently nominated as one of the best of 2012.  Worth sharing:

Monday, November 26, 2012

I Wonder...

My role here is that of the messenger- passing along a good post from Will Richardson on the importance of creating a sense of wonder:

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Zen and the Art of MM VOL II

This is the second edition, or VOL II, in what will become a series of posts on the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

I interviewed a candidate for a teaching position the other day who referenced the book in one of her answers.  Earlier today I received an email update on a book Seth Godin is writing and he provided a link to the books that he used for inspiration.  Yup, you guessed it- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance was on the list. 

Clearly, these were signs that it was time for blog post VOL II.  Right!?

Disharmony.  There was a minor difference of opinion between friends, the author and John, his friend and riding companion, on the seemingly small matter of how much one should maintain one's own motorcycle.  The author loved to do quite a bit of the tune ups and repair work himself, while John always believed in deferring to a qualified mechanic.  Nothing particularly unusual there, and certainly something to be said for both viewpoints.

But they spent a lot of time together, riding and then talking about the ride.  The performance of the machine was, by nature, a frequent and recurring theme even though both knew the resulting conversation would not go well.

And, of course, when you discover something like that it's like discovering a tooth with a missing filling.  You can never leave it alone.  You have to probe it, work around it, push on it, think about it, not because it's enjoyable but because it's on your mind and it won't get off your mind.  And the more I probe and push on this subject of cycle maintenance the more irritated he gets, and of course that makes me want to probe and push all the more.  Not deliberately to irritate him but because the irritation seems symptomatic of something deeper, something under the surface that isn't immediately apparent.

I could preach the practical value and worth of motorcycle maintenance till I'm hoarse and it would not make a dent in him...He doesn't want to hear about it...And the more I try to fathom what makes me enjoy the mechanical work and him hate it so, the more elusive it becomes.  The ultimate cause of this originally minor difference of opinion appears to run way, way deep.

The author later discovers that this 'hands off' approach extends to other things as well- and to both John and his wife.  He stops by their house and discovers a leaky faucet.  Drip, drip, drip.  He remembers that the faucet was dripping the last time he was there, and the time before that.  Then he had one of the "AHAA moments:"

It's not the motorcycle maintenance, not the faucet.  It's all of the technology they can't take...To get away from technology out into the country in the fresh air and sunshine is why they are on the motorcycle...for me to bring it back to them just at the point and place where they think they have finally escaped it just frosts them."

The author starts putting together conversations he has had with the couple- vague comments like There is just no escape from it... the whole thing... the system.  The "it" is a kind of force that gives rise to technology, something undefined, but inhuman, mechanical, lifeless, a blind monster, a death force. 

He is using technology in a broad sense- the industrialized society that simultaneously makes our life better and easier while also taking us further from our 'roots.'  Some people seem to have a natural inclination to a "stop the technology" sort of mindset.  It is an understandable, if not fully logical, position.  But there are human forces stronger than logic.  (How true is that!)

How many times have you either thought or said that someone else "just doesn't get it?"  I've said it a lot.  Too often, actually.  Others have certainly said it about me.  At times, both ways, it's probably been true.  At other times, I wonder if what is really going on is similar to the scene described in the book, where the true cause of the argument goes much deeper than it initially appears. 

Where the real issue is that we are seeing the same thing, but from different dimensions.  We think we are seeing the same thing- because we each what we see so very clearly that we assume it is the only valid description.  It is so clear to us.  There can be no other explanation, no other dimension, no other way of seeing it.  Or is there? 


Monday, November 19, 2012

Top Ten Sir Ken Robinson Quotes (NCTE '12)

Last week, I posted a live blog from someone in the audience during Sir Ken Robinson's Keynote Address @ the NCTE Conference. 

I was reviewing tweets from the conference over the weekend (#NCTE12) and decided to post some of the highlights from Robinson's speech.  As these are via twitter, I don't know if they are exact quotes or close approximations.  It's not really a 'top ten,' just the best ones I could find:

You compose your life by the choices you make.

We plan as if life is linear, it is not.

The life our children are moving into is nothing like the life in which the current education system was conceived.

We celebrate Independence Day by shutting the blinds, starting a fire, and looking at old pictures of the Queen.  (Not sure exactly what he means, but I love the imagery)

Contrary to what politicians believe, standardized testing goes against the principles of economic progress

Death valley is not dead.  It is dormant.  Right below the surface are the seeds of possibility.  It's the same with teaching and education.

Life is a process of creative responses

If we personalize education, many of the problems we have invented will cease to exist.

Teaching is an art form, not a delivery system.  Teaching is a creative, artistic profession.

Education is organic.  Teaching is much more like agriculture than it is like engineering.  When the conditions are right, growth is inevitable.  We must create a climate for growth.

I am the educational system for my students.  It is up to me to build a culture of creativity.

Every child who sits in front of you is on a unique journey.

Bonus quote from unknown source:  Failure, when it's an option, makes it more interesting.  (Sounds like my fishing trips...)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lincoln, the movie

Declarative statements:

Go see this movie.

If you haven't already read Team of Rivals, read it.

No lines to see Lincoln, long lines to catch the Twilight movie.  I have nothing against pure entertainment movies, but still, on some level, a little sad.

The movie is awesome- any well told story of Lincoln will be great, because he was great.  It focuses on the effort to pass the 13th Amendment, but also shows some glimpses of the Presidency at the time and the private relationship of Abraham and Mary Lincoln.  They were people, after all.

It also provides details, some unseemly, into how complex alliances are forged in order to pass legislation.  It's not always pretty.

Politicians could take hundreds, maybe thousands, of votes over the course of their legislative career.  A few of those votes may give them a chance to be on the right or wrong side of history.

It's easy to watch a movie portrayal of the characters we know are on the losing side of history with a mixture of bewilderment, anger, amazement (at their ignorance), and maybe even a little bit of pity.  How could they be so wrong?  So pigheaded?  So focused on some idiotic detail that they totally miss the big picture?

Yeah- how could they be all those things?  Good thing I...  oh wait...

What about us?  Forget the noise and the petty details- what are the really big, really key decisions we need to make sure we get right?

Friday, November 16, 2012

Live Blogging Sir Ken Robinson

I don't know if this will work, but thought it was worth a try.

I noticed that Sir Ken Robinson was giving the keynote address at the NCTE Convention, and then found someone who was "live blogging" from the event.  I started reading their entry and then realized it was still "live."  Kind of interesting to watch them type and edit directly from the speech.

Anyway- here it is:


1984 was an interesting year.  I graduated from college in May, got married in June, and in July we shipped off to Fiji to serve in the Peace Corps. 

Fiji is in the South Pacific.  It is actually a nation of about 300 islands- 100 or so are inhabited.  Most of the population is on the two largest islands.  We were on the largest island- Viti Levu, or big land, in a village on the 'wet' side of the island.

The capital city is Suva- a beautiful and bustling port city with an international flavor.  Our village was about a two hour open-air bus ride on narrow, winding gravel roads up into the interior.  After disembarking at the bus stop, it was about a half mile walk to the edge of a river.  A man in a dinghy was there to push people across the river using a long bamboo pole. 

In the 'dry season' this river crossing was kind of fun, almost mystical.  In the 'wet season' this trip was terrifying.  I love boats.  I'm a strong swimmer.  No matter- this trip could be truly harrowing. We would start with everyone grabbing at anything along the shore as he edged the dingy well upstream of the intended landing on the other side.  At the appointed time, he nudged the front into the swift current and we hung on as we were propelled downstream as he tried to push us across.  No life jackets.  Ultimately, we would reach the other side- though usually downstream of the mark.  Slowly and carefully, we would turn the dinghy into the current and pull it up to the landing. 

At times, the river was impassable.

From there it was about a two mile walk to the village.  No indoor plumbing.  No electricity.  There were three faucets within the village.

The interior of a tropical pacific island is beautiful.  One thing a picture cannot capture is the flies.  Flies, flies, and more flies.  Flies here, flies there, flies everywhere.  Food, cups, plates, everything was covered with flies.  All the time.

Wounds don't heal quickly in the tropics.  Any cut, scratch, or bite- however small initially- was subject to fester.  Flies like blood.  Open sores, massive amounts of flies- bad combination.  Most Fijians were covered with boils- wounds that festered, became infected, and left a distinguishing mark.   

Subsequent posts will deal with our time there. 

I'm going to jump ahead to the near the end of our first year.  June 23, 1985- which also happened to be our first wedding anniversary.  We "celebrated" in fairly unique fashion.  Joan boarded a plane and headed to Washington, D.C.  She was too sick to remain in the country, so she was medically evacuated.  Ultimately, it was determined that she could not return to Fiji.  I was given the choice of completing the second year or returning home. 

I went home.  I had spent the last year living in third world conditions- and the last six weeks living alone in those conditions.  I had grown accustomed to flies.

Joan was now staying with her parents in Waukesha- so I flew to Milwaukee and went there for a few days while we figured out what to do next.  Minutes after entering the house, her mother noticed a fly.  Instantly, several people mobilized to attack the fly.  Poor thing had no chance...

I can still remember laughing and making a snarky comment.  A year prior, I would have joined the mobilization team attacking the fly and never given it a second thought.  To this day, I can not go after a fly without recalling the scene.

It's a small thing- killing flies.  It's instructive though, in the sense that so many of the things- small things and big things- that we take for granted are not universal 'givens.'  Conditions that we would term completely unacceptable, unbelievable, even inhumane are known to about 40% of the world's population as "Tuesday."  In other words- the living conditions they face on a daily basis.

I try to remember this before getting too upset about things.  I forget sometimes.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

"It took us a little while to get going..."

We had a Late Start today.  In our first meeting of the morning, we were placed in small groups and asked to do some additional work around our Belief Statements in the area of Literacy Instruction.  After about 30 minutes, we reported out to the large group.

Before sharing her group's report, one of the teachers noted "It took us a little while to get going."
What stuck me was how accurate that statement was for lots of groups this morning, and is often the case in these types of settings.  Even though-

1.  We're adults.
2.  We're working on something in our self-selected profession.
3.  We're working on something in which we all have lots of professional background knowledge.
4.  We're working with a high level of professionalism and trust.

And yet, it took us a little while to get going.

We shouldn't be surprised or disappointed when we turn students loose to work on something, and it takes them a little while to get going. 

Things not to do:

Remind them of how many times you've already reminded them about "X"

Constantly stop them to 'refocus' or provide yet another idea or remind them of how important this skill is or how many points it's worth

Call it off and blame them for not being "ready" or "mature" or "focused" enough to handle this type of project

Things to consider doing:

Wander around, listen for clues

Provide specific feedback to a group and then leave to go to another group.

It might've taken us a little while to get going this morning, but, once we did, we accomplished quite a bit!

Connected Learning


We're moving towards the second stage of a 1:1 program, and have a chance of being a "1:1 School" at every grade as early as next year.  All very nice, and all essentially meaningless, unles we use the devices to achieve these types of outcomes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintanence, Vol I

Anyone who has had ever had to listen to me talk about books- employees at meetings scheduled by me, passengers in a car with no escape, or family members too polite to (quickly) get up and walk away- has heard me talk of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

My guess is that if any of them read this blog, they saw the title aren't reading this post.  So, this may qualify as one of the least read posts in the history of the Internet.  I'm OK with that- I still love the book.

I'm going to periodically post a few thoughts from the book- here is "Vol I".

The author, his son, and another couple are on a motorcycle trip out west.  That forms the background storyline for one theme.  A few of his opening thoughts:

We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with emphasis on "good" rather than "time" and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes...  that means lots of backroads  ...We did this time after time before realizing what should have been obvious: these roads are truly different from the main ones.  The whole pace of life and personality of the people who live along them are different. They're not going anywhere.  They're not too busy to be courteous.  The hereness and nowness of things is something they know all about...  I've wondered why it took us so long to catch on.  Now here comes the boom  We saw it and yet we didn't see it.  Or rather we were trained not to see it...It was a puzzling thing.  The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away.  Puzzling.

 Come on.  That's good stuff. 

We saw it and we didn't see it.  The truth knocks on the door and we say go away.  We're too busy being busy and too busy looking for the truth to recognize the truth when it is right in front of us.

If only I could recall actual real world examples from my own life when that applied....

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kankakee, Creative Expression, Education Reform

Saturday dawned bright and beautiful.  We decided to drive to Champaign, IL to see if the Minnesota Gophers could become bowl eligible by beating Illinois.  I know- it's kind of a weird choice but that's what we did.*

The route rolls through Kankakee.  I can't pass through Kankakee without starting to sing the lyrics from "City of New Orleans."

...Illinois Central Monday morning rail
Fifteen cars and fifteen restless riders,**
Three conductors and twenty five sacks of mail.
All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulls out at Kankakee
Rolls along past houses, farms and fields...

So now I'm driving along through the farm fields of rural Illinois alone in thought.  Dangerous.

I started thinking about song lyrics that tell stories.  It takes a special creative ability to combine lyrics and music to tell a compelling story.  My favorite singer/storyteller is Bruce Springsteen, and one of my favorite Springsteen 'story telling' songs is "Youngstown."  It's also a song I think of every summer as our fishing trip route takes us through the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota.

Anyone up for a car ride?  I've got lots of songs I can sing for you!


Here in northeast Ohio
Back in eighteen-o-three
James and Dan Heaton found the ore that was linin' Yellow Creek
They built a blast furnace  Here along the shore
And they made the cannonballs
That helped the Union win the war
Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

Well my daddy worked the furnaces
Kept 'em hotter than Hell
I come home from 'Nam worked my way to Scarfer
A job that'd suit the devil as well
Taconite coke and limestone
Fed my children and made my pay
Them smokestacks reachin' like the arms of God
Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay
Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

Well my daddy come on the Ohio works
When he come home from World War Two
Now the yard's just scrap and rubble
He said "Them big boys did what Hitler couldn't do.
"These mills they built the tanks and bombs
That won this country's wars
We sent our sons to Korea and Vietnam
Now we're wondering what they were dyin' for
Here in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown
My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin'in Youngstown
Here in Youngstown

From the Monongahela valley
To the Mesabi iron range
To the coal mines of Appalachia
The story's always the same
700 tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world's changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name
And Youngstown
And Youngstown
My sweet Jenny I'm sinkin' down
Here darlin' in Youngstown

Comment from a song meanings site:

The song is about the collapse of the blue collar America, the collapse of the American steel industry, the collapse of the working class and their dreams, hopes and aspirations.  

Taconite, coke and limestone are the feedstock of blast furnace making pig iron, and the stacks reaching the sky refer to the stacks of open hearth furnaces for refining the pig iron into steel. "Sweet Jenny" is not a girlfriend or daughter, but Jeannette Furnace, the blast furnace of Youngstown Sheet & Tube Brier Hill Works. 

"The big boys did what Hitler couldn't do" refers to an ex-steelworker's words when he saw the Republic steel six blast furnaces being demolished. Mismanagement, bad business practices and greed drove many steel giants into bankruptcy - and gone also were the jobs, prosperity and American way of life. The big boys managed to do what Hitler tried and failed - destroy the soul of the American working class and middle class and destroy their jobs, sense of security, hopes and the American dream.  

Yup- a little dark.  The stark, driving guitar riffs reinforce the lyrics.  I love the opening verse- he manages to distill a complex story down to the essential elements- Guys found some ore, built a furnace, helped win a war.

The last verse also contains a classic line: 'Once I made you rich enough, rich enough to forget my name.'

Side note:  We should give students more opportunities for truly creative types of expression.  I've talked to several friends recently about how much better our respective children are at expressing themselves via Twitter than any of us are- the 140 character limit requires a different thought process.  The old five paragraph thesis support paper is a dinosaur. 

I hear a lot of talk in some circles about building "Pathways to Prosperity."  In essence, reframing the American educational model around the European design.  I get it.  I think there are elements of this model that make sense, and there are elements of our current educational model that don't make much sense.  These thoughts will have to be explored more fully in subsequent posts.

I will say this- I have some fears that "The big boys did what Hitler couldn't do" might also apply to American Public Education.  Education does need changes, but I wonder what the big money boys- the ones who are rich enough to forget our names- really have in mind.

Education shouldn't be about the adults, it's not a jobs program for people with teaching/administrative degrees.  Public education also needs to be more than baseball's equivalent of the "Farm System."  That is, it's not just about providing a skilled labor force of workers who work for people educated somewhere else.  We need to provide educational opportunities for students in public education that give them the foundation to compete against anyone, from anywhere, at any level.  Isn't that the American way?

*Spoiler alert:  The Gophers won!!!  We were befriended by a group of Illinois tailgaters who invited us to their party, we got our picture taken with Goldy, and we high-fived virtually every player in the post game celebration.  Fun day.  This year, a lower tier bowl game.  Next year, the axe leaves the rental trophy case in Madison and returns home.

**Marks the spot where Joan typically reaches for her ipod and ear buds.


Friday, November 9, 2012

Women are smarter!?!?!?!

Uh oh

Good news: I know lots of really smart and talented women
Bad news: Why should they care...

Risk Taking Quotes

50 Awesome Quotes on Risk Taking

I like a good quote.  Sometimes a quote strikes just the right chord to give me the impetus to do something I know I should do- but don't have the courage or energy or time or knowledge base or (you get the idea)- if just left up to my own devices. 

My personal favorites are in bold.

*A link to the site is at the bottom of the page    
1. "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it." -- Goethe
2. "Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." -- Helen Keller
3. "It's not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It's because we dare not venture that they are difficult." -- Seneca
4. "Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go." -- T.S. Eliot
5. "What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it is another matter." -- Peter Drucker
6. "Go out on a limb. That's where the fruit is." -- Jimmy Carter
7. "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it." -- Pablo Picasso
8. "Life is being on the wire, everything else is just waiting. -- Karl Wallenda
9. "If things seem under control, you are just not going fast enough." -- Mario Andretti
10. "Don't be afraid to take a big step. You can't cross a chasm in two small jumps." -- David Lloyd George
11. "It is only by risking our persons from one hour to another that we live at all." -- William James
12. "Do one thing every day that scares you." -- Eleanor Roosevelt
13. "Trust your own instinct. Your mistakes might as well be your own, instead of someone else's." -- Billy Wilder
14. "The dangers of life are infinite, and among them is safety." -- Goethe

15. "Do not fear mistakes. There are none." -- Miles Davis
16. "A man would do nothing, if he waited until he could do it so well that no one would find fault with what he has done." -- Cardinal Newman
17. "Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast." -- Tom Peters
             I've read just about everything Tom Peters has ever written- the guy is a human quote machine.

18. "Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do." -- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
19. "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." -- Mark Twain
20. "Leap and the net will appear." -- Zen Saying
21. "The way to develop self-confidence is to do the thing you fear and get a record of successful experiences behind you. Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved." -- William Jennings Bryan
22. "Pearls don't lie on the seashore. If you want one, you must dive for it." -- Chinese proverb
23. "Nothing will ever be attempted, if all possible objections must be first overcome." -- Samuel Johnson

            This speaks to the critical line between a hasty decision that needed to be thought through just a little more carefully, and becoming paralyzed by an eternal quest for that "last" piece of data needed before making a move.      

24. "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." -- Anais Nin
25. "Are you placing enough interesting, freakish, long shot, weirdo bets?" -- Tom Peters
26. "Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash." -- General George Patton
27. "I can accept failure. Everybody fails at something. But I can't accept not trying. Fear is an illusion." -- Michael Jordan
28. "Opportunity dances with those on the dance floor." -- Anonymous
29. "Yes, risk-taking is inherently failure-prone. Otherwise, it would be called 'sure-thing-taking.'" -- Jim McMahon
30. "People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year." -- Peter Drucker
31. "Necessity is the mother of taking chances." -- Mark Twain
32. "99 percent of success is built on failure." -- Charles Kettering
33. "Progress always involves risks. You can't steal second base and keep your foot on first." -- Frederick Wilcox
34. "What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?" -- Robert Schuller
35. "Every society honors its live conformists and its dead troublemakers." -- Mignon McLaughlin

                    It can't be said much better than that!!

36. "You can only be as good as you dare to be bad." -- John Barrymore
37. "Anything that is successful is a series of mistakes." -- Billie Armstrong
38. "Give me the young man who has brains enough to make a fool of himself." -- Robert Louis Stevenson
39. "If it's a good idea, go ahead and do it. It's much easier to apologize than it is to get permission." -- Rear Admiral Grace Hopper
40. "If you risk nothing, then you risk everything." -- Geena Davis
41. "Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most." -- Fyodor Dostoevsky
42. "Remember, a dead fish can float down a stream, but it takes a live one to swim upstream." -- W.C. Fields
                      I'm always susceptible to a quote that references fish or fishing, takes me to a 'happy place'

43. "Take risks: if you win, you will be happy; if you lose, you will be wise." -- Anonymous
44. "To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself." -- Soren Kierkegaard
45. "You'll always miss 100% of the shots you don't take." -- Wayne Gretzky
46. "It is only in adventure that some people succeed in knowing themselves." -- Andre Gide
47. "Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
48. "One does not discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time." -- Andre Gide
49. "Danger can never be overcome without taking risks." -- Latin Proverb
50. "I'll play it first, and tell you what it is later." -- Miles Davis

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Alfie Kohn Notes

I attended a presentation by Alfie Kohn last year and took a few notes.  Mr. Kohn doesn't have a lot of nice things to say about many of the current "Reform" efforts, and he doesn't pull his punches,

A few clips:

Politicians give education speeches in economic terms.  Seem to be advocating an elaborate vocational education system designed to create future employees. 

Competitiveness does NOT equal or equate to excellence.

Politicians and business leaders are worshipping at the altar of “Increased Rigor,” with disastrous results.  Rigor does NOT equal deeper learning, thinking, or understanding.  AP courses are often the hardest, but almost never the best, courses in a high school.

Specific standards do NOT equal excellence.  Great learning is organized around problems, projects, and questions.  Repeat:   Great learning is organized around problems, projects, and questions.  Great teachers must either ignore or subvert the WI state standards.  We are getting reform wrong, learning wrong, and assessment wrong. 

Like I said before, he doesn't hold back. 

We are also getting motivation wrong.  Is education supposed to be about LEARNING or about performance and achievement?  There is a big, and important, difference.  “Learning” and “Achievement” are very different things.  Focusing on “raising achievement” tends to suck the joy out of learning.
This distinction is often lost on the policy setters and the accountability crowd. 

What do SCHOOLS do that gets kids so focused on achievement; that gets kids to constantly wonder “how am I doing?”  We overemphasize grades, ability grouping, teacher directed lessons/questions, we become slaves to the schedule or the curriculum, we ask way too many Yes/No type questions, we invest WAY TOO MUCH time and energy in rewards/privileges programs- the list goes on. 

He went on at some length over the ills of the rewards/punishment programs that are so prevalent in so many schools- especially elementary schools.  One of the worst offenders is the “collective rewards” syndrome- we all get “X” (pizza party, extra recess, etc) if everyone turns in “Y.”  (parent signature forms, etc) or, even worse- if everyone achieves “Z”  (test score threshold, etc)

Yes, yes, and yes.  Educators and parents often get way too focused on a grade.  "My daughter got a 'C' on the (4th grade) Social Studies test, and that is unacceptable."  Really?  It's 4th grade.  Relax.  Let's focus on what she learned, and didn't learn, in the unit.  It may have to do with content, it may be a life lesson.  (I'll do a grading post later)

Will Richardson says we should (almost) never ask a question that can be answered with a Google search, which supports Kohn's point about 'yes/no' type questions.

Rewards- especially when used to modify behavior.  In very specific situations- OK.  In general- not a fan. 

HOMEWORK IS USUALLY A TOTAL WASTE OF TIME, ESPECIALLY AT THE ELEMENTARY LEVEL.  Kohn maintains that there are no studies showing a positive correlation between achievement and elementary level homework, and that even at the high school level- the correlation is weak. 

I agree.  If I say much more, I'll get in big trouble.  Oh well.  Go back to what he said earlier- Great learning is organized around problems, projects, and questions.  Homework in this context might not even have to be assigned, if it's tapping into an area of high interest- or just "bugging" someone to the point of continuing to seek a solution.  Even when it is assigned- it takes on a much different feel.
Seht Godin talked about checking email while on 'vacation.'  He could tell that some onlookers viewed him with pity.  He explained it as pursuing a passion- it doesn't feel like work when you're having that much fun.  (He says it better...)  Now, it may be a little naive to think that a bunch of 11 year olds are going to be continually passionate enough about a project to do indepenedent research- but isn't that a better goal than compliance over completing soulless worksheets? 
Guess I might be in trouble now...



Did that title get your attention? 

Eric Sheninger is a person I follow on twitter.  He posts some amazing things, and this is no exception.  We've all seen posts on "Top 10 apps" or "Best Sites for.."  This is like that, but in a whole different dimension. 

I don't know where he finds all this or how he put it together in this fashion.  I've been intermittently looking at the various sites since about 7:00 am.  Part of me says I should look at more of the sites and write a few highlights about the ones I found most interesting.  Then I think- why wait?  I trust the source.  I've briefly looked at a few of the sites.  I feel like sharing.

Hope you find some of these sites to be useful- either directly or worthy of sharing with someone else.

If anyone knows how to put this sort of thing together- I'd love some help!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

We're Here To Help

Actual sentences pulled from a two page memo I received at the end of August:

Application Security Manager (ASM) will be used to authorize access to the PTP. 

The DSA, using ASM, will assign the identified individual(s) to the PTP Application Administrator role....  Click ASM User Guide for an overview and directions for using Application Security Manager....  The PTP Application Administrator must have a WAMS login ID and password.

The memo closes strong:  We are confident your district will find the PTP an easy to use application... 

I laughed, and then I tried to figure it out.  Suffice it to say that their "confidence" in the 'ease of use' was misplaced. 

Whatever you do, dear reader, do not click on the ASM User Guide.  (I kept the link offline as a public service)

I know, everybody gets memos full of technical jargon- this example can probably easily be trumped.  It wasn't meant to be an all-timer, just an example of a centralized policy from someone allegedly "here to help."

I really don't know what problem this is supposed to solve, but it must be a whopper.

Lesson for me:  When I am asking people to do something, I hope I can articulate an understandable vision of the Why and the How.  I my directions ever resemble this memo, I have failed.  Badly.    

Statistical Models

We live in a great country.  People are often passionate about their views- especially political and religious views.

A blog post on politics and religion?  Have I lost my mind?

Sort of (to the first question).  No comment to the second.

I mentioned in a previous post that I had been following the fivethirtyeight blog for some time.  I don't begin to understand all the math behind his model- but I do understand that projections based on statistical analysis are likely to be more accurate that projections based on a passionately held ideology.

TV News is hard to watch.  Here is a synopsis of a scene repeated (literally) hundreds of thousands of times: 

Host: "There's a new poll out showing 'Candidate A' now trailing 'Candidate B' by 5%.  Let's go to "Dave," a spokesman (or former spokesman, or wanna be spokesman) for 'Candidate A' for his analysis."

Dave:  "We all know that poll always favors the other side- usually overrepresenting their party by 5-8%.  We have our own polls clearly showing that we have all the momentum.  The American people are responding to our message...  Yada, yada, yada"

Host:  "Thanks Dave.  Now Let's turn to "Bill," a spokesman (or former spokesman, or wanna be spokesman) for 'Candidate B.'

Bill:  "Well, Dave is spinning the story again.  I feel sorry for him.  The new poll obviously shows that the American people are responding to our message of...  and rejecting their failed agenda of....  yada, yada, yada."

Host:  "Thanks Bill.  We'll be right back after these commercials."

Hour after hour after hour of this.  No analysis, just blather, posturing, and spin.  The commercial breaks are even more painful- as the respective Super PACs play fast and loose with reality and smear the other side.  Enough already.

We live in a great country.

Some were calling Nate Silver, the brains behind the fivethirtyeight model, a partisan hack in the closing days of this election cycle.  Why?  Because his model was clearly pointing to a Democratic victory.  I went back and looked at some of his posts from 2010.  He called those elections very accurately as well.  2010 was a very good year for Republican candidates.

I have no idea what his personal political views are- but I really want to learn more about how he builds a statistical forecast model.  No one is right all the time- and 'upsets' are part of any equation.  Mr. Silver, however, is establishing a track record of accuarcy based on rigorous and detailed anaylsis.  What a concept!

I wish we could focus more of our time and energy on people who have real data to back up their views, and less of our time and energy on the "Professional Polemicists."  You know who they are- the folks with big mouths, an ideology to sell, and just enough "facts' to sell the ideology.  Everybody has to make a living, but these folks are making a living by trying to convince us that we should constantly be fighting with each other- and that the 'other side' is corrupt and has nothing to offer.

We have some disagreements.  I'm not promoting a rose colored Pollyanna vision that those disagreements aren't substantive.  I am suggesting- no I'm not suggesting- I'm flat out stating for the record, that there are people making good money by trying to convince us that we are more divided than we really are. 

Those people are not going to shut up, but I am going to turn them off.  I hope others do as well.  We live in a great country!  Freedom of speech is wonderful, silence is priceless.  I think I'm going to spend more time "listening to silence."  Oh, and trying to remember the old adage of seeking first to understand.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


I spent a few minutes this weekend trying to get a handle on managing old emails and rediscovered this video from around the start of the school year.  Dick Clement, a former Friess Lake parent and current HUHS School Board member, sent it to Dr. Lisa Olson*, the HUHS District Administrator, and she sent it to me.

The clip is only about 4:00 minutes long.  My favorite section is near the beginning as Thomas Friedman (another of my favorite authors**) provides examples of how much has changed in the last decade or so.

Speaking of Change, another new phenomenon is MOOCs, a potential game changer development that I'm struggling to understand.  More on MOOCs when I get a better handle on the implications.  Given the pace of play these days, I better do that fairly soon.

*If you see this, a reminder about the Makers video clip- either you use it or I will!

**The World is Flat, Hot, Flat, and Crowded, and That Used To Be Us are all bestsellers that you've probably read, but check out From Beirut to Jerusalem if you want an interesting perspective on the Middle East.

Collaboration quotes

We all like a good quote.  Here are fiftenn quotes on collaboration.  My personal favorites are numbers 3, 7, 8, and 13.

15 Awesome Quotes on Collaboration

August 23, 2012

1. "It is the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed." - Charles Darwin
2. "Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." - Helen Keller

3. "If two men on the same job agree all the time, then one is useless. If they disagree all the time, both are useless." - Darryl F. Zanuck

4. "If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself." - Henry Ford

5. "Many ideas grow better when transplanted into another mind than the one where they sprang up." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

6. "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." - Isaac Newton

7. "It takes two to speak the truth -- one to speak, and another to hear." - Henry David Thoreau
8. "If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas." - George Bernard Shaw

9. "Politeness is the poison of collaboration." - Edwin Land

10. "I never did anything alone. Whatever was accomplished in this country was accomplished collectively." - Golda Meir

11. "It is literally true that you can succeed best and quickest by helping others to succeed." - Napoleon Hill

12. "No matter what accomplishments you make, somebody helped you." - Althea Gibson

13. "The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team." - Phil Jackson

14. "Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success." - Henry Ford

15. "The lightning spark of thought generated in the solitary mind awakens its likeness in another mind." -- Thomas Carlyle

Link to the site:

One modification to the quote about the exchange of ideas.  It would seem to me that if two people exchange ideas, the possibility is that some synergy and collaboration could yield additional ideas that neither had thought of before.  I like the quote as it is, but think it stops sort by just noting an idea exchange.  The real value in exchanging ideas is in the dynamic conversation that yields brand new ideas.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Getting Unstuck

One of the purposes of my modest little blog is to share things I find on the bigger stage that I believe are compelling.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

All Saints Day

Happy All Saints Day.

Hint- if you liked that at all, check out his version of 'This Little Light of Mine' from the same concert.  

There's Lies, (another kind of) lies, and statistics

"I am aware- and you should be too- of the possibility that adding complexity to a model can make it worse.  The technical term for this is "overfitting": that by adding different layers to a model, you may make it too rigid, molding it such that it perfectly "predicts" the past, but is incompetent at forecasting the future.  I think there is a place for complexity- the universe is a complicated thing- but it needs to be applied with the knowledge that our ability to understand it is constrained by our human shortcomings."

Beautiful.  I would love to claim that quote as my own, but it belongs to Nate Silver and comes from one of his recent posts on the fivethirtyeight blog.  Get it? There are a total of 538 electoral votes.

I've been following this blog for about eight months. I discovered it when it was referenced in another blog- that whole PLN thing.  

As a bit of a political junkie, I crave detailed political analysis that isn't overtly spun to fit into a preconceived ideology. Tough to find much of that these days.  I follow the blog because I find the analysis to be compelling.  Mr. Silver provides one of the precious few spots for detailed and rigorous number crunching.  To the extent he is selling anything, he is selling the accuracy of his statistical model, not an ideological favorite.  We'll know soon enough if his model was able to accurately predict the results. 

I think the paragraph quoted above is an excellent synopsis of the dangers of building any kind of predictive model, with widespread applications.  In my own decision making, when does adding another layer of data provide clarity, and when does it just mess things up?  When do I need to seek additional information?  Am I manipulating the data to fit a preconceived outcome (even unconsciously), or am I allowing the data to drive the conclusion?

All predictive models have shortcomings.  In this case, he is now saying one candidate has a 4 out of 5 chance of winning the election.  Good odds, but not a sure thing.  I think the U.S. Ryder Cup golf team had better odds than that going into the last day of the competition this year- and they lost.

Anyone in a leadership position has seen an initiative fail even though, doggone it, it SHOULD'VE been successful.  What went wrong?  What did we miss?  Who is to blame? 

The last sentence of the quote is eerily similar to something I hear in church on Sundays.  Amen to that.

**You know how TV shows and movies often have blooper reels?  Every blog post goes through some editing (some readers may think they could use a bit more editing), but this one has been the hardest so far.  I literally have 2-3 pages of 'clippings' that were written, but edited out.

The only post that wrote itself was Maps- that was in one take as fast as I could type.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Maps (Update)

I wrote about the maps in my office a few weeks ago.  One of the things I noted was that Friess Lake is not the center of the universe.

I forgot to tell you what is! 

One of my daughters lives in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle.  After reading the post, she reminded me that Fremont calls itself the Center of the Known Universe and is referred to as an eclectic mix between the 1950's and the 23rd Century.

There is one specific spot designated at the official center.

This picture is from the web:

This picture is courtesy of Anna:


The signs give the mileage from the "Center of the Universe" to a variety of destinations.  Polaris, for example, is 430 light years away.  If you're interested in something closer, it's 897 kilometers to Machu Picchu.  Closer still?  It's only a block to the iconic Lenin Statue- which is a story unto itself.  Still too far?  Noggin is at the top of your head.  It's that kind of sign, and that kind of place!

It should be noted that the Center of the Universe is surrounded by bustling streets- you can get close, you can pause a moment, but you can't really STAY at the Center of the Universe.  Hmmm... 

FISH Philosophy

No, this is not yet another fishing story- though I am working on one.  Consider yourself warned!   
The FISH Philosophy is based on four simple principles and has become well known:

Make Their Day
Be Present

Choose Your Attitude
All Four are important, but I think that ‘Being Present’ is the lynchpin that holds everything else together.  I’ve dealt with lots of friendly, funny, helpful people who still managed to give me the feeling that the persona was more ‘shtick’ than real.   You know the type, nice enough, but more conscious of themselves than about truly being present for someone else.   
I will always remember the time when one of our daughters needed surgery and we met with a surgeon at Children’s Hospital.  He was considered to be one of the best.  He went through the diagnosis and the main elements of the surgery and then asked if we had any questions.  We had lots of questions.  He sat down and patiently answered every question using language that we could understand. 
He was a top flight surgeon at a major urban hospital.  Let’s be real here- he had lots of other things to do.  Important things.  He never gave any signal that he had anything else to do that day but answer our questions.  He didn't fidget, didn't look at his watch, didn't refer us to a nurse or a website, didn't try to baffle us with his brilliance by speaking to us as though we were fellow surgeons.  He sat down and he talked with us. 
That happened over ten years ago and thinking about it can still give me the chills.  We are eternally grateful for his surgical skills, but the greatest gift he gave us that day was ‘Presence.’ 
I’m busy.  My days are filled with interruptions- sometimes someone who interrupts me is quickly interrupted by someone else.  Sound familiar? 
I know I fall short of the standard set by that surgeon, but I do try to keep that memory in the back of my mind.   Being Present is a mindset.  For those of us in education- it has to be amongst the most important attributes we can bring to the table when dealing with students and parents.
When someone says “Thanks for your time,” I hope they mean it.  I sure appreciate it when I feel that someone has ‘Been Present’ for me.    

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bring on the Revolution

I did warn potential readers that Sir Ken Robinson was a personal favorite and that there would be a steady diet of Robinson video clips and book quotes.  If you choose to watch the clip, notice how he uses humor and timing to deliver a thoroughly entertaining, engaging, and enlightening presentation even though:

1.  He stands in one spot the entire time.
2.  His sole prop/visual is an index card (or two) that he uses as he reads a few quotes.  That's it.

Most of us couldn't pull this off, but maybe that's one of the reasons he's a pro!

He quotes Lincoln (my favorite President) circa 1862:

"The designs of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.  The occasion is piled high with difficulties, and we must rise with the occasion.  As our case is new we must think anew and act anew.  We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country."

Robinson uses this quote to make the point that we must disenthrall ourselves with what we believe about education- in order to save it.

Sadly, I think that plenty of people who have very little idea what they are talking about are, none the less, enthralled with the sound of their own voice and their own solutions for what ails education.  More sadly still, many of them are in a position to do something about it.

I will freely admit that I'm not 100% sure what to do, but I also am starting to feel a little more free in expressing what I think we shouldn't do. 

My natural inclination is towards a more open, creative, mass customized approach towards K-16 education.  My mind fills easily with bold quotes from Seth Godin, Tony Wagner, Ken Robinson, Will Richardson, et al and I can sort of "see through a mirrow dimly" towards a design that loosely resembles what is happening at the Standford d school.

Facts Matter... maybe

"Facts Change Board Members"  This headline drew my attention. 

Interesting story.  My point in sharing is simply to point out that it is nice to see an example of people using good old fashioned objective research as the basis for their decision. 

This will actually be an interesting story to follow.  I am curious to see what happens to the referendum and to the political futures of the two Board members.  Will they be seen as people who flip-flopped, who betrayed the wishes of the voters who propelled them into office- or as pragmatic realists who adopted a new vision after learning new information?

Smarter Balanced Assessments

If I did this right, the link below will take you to a sample math test based on the forthcoming Smarter Balanced Assessment model.  Good luck: