The Loss of Lost

Posted by Tim Landeck on October 10, 2014

Woods with snowWe were lost, I mean really lost! I was with my 17 year old son, and it was the second day of our 30 day backpack trip to conquer all 230 miles of the John Muir Trail. The first day had been smooth but when we left Yosemite Valley and hit snow, the trail disappeared, and so did our knowledge of exactly where we were. We saw plenty of trees and snow but no footprints or signs of any sort to follow. Should we turn back and find our way to where we first began the day, or follow our plan to find the next campsite?

When was the last time you were terribly lost—lost in such a way that you weren’t sure if you should go left, right, forward or backward? You may not have been in the woods. Perhaps you were standing on a street corner or speeding down a freeway. My guess is that it has been a while since you felt such a strong sense of being lost.

About a year ago I was walking the narrow streets of Venice, Italy, with my wife. We were looking for a particular restaurant for dinner when we came to a dark dead end. My wife turned to me and asked, “Now what?” Using my 21st century instincts, I whipped out my iPhone and launched Google Maps. “Look” I said, “We are here where the blue dot is pulsing and we just need to follow the map to here.” We did as I suggested, and within a few minutes we were seated at a table in a romantic paradise alongside a small canal filled with silent gondolas. What if we hadn’t had that jewel of a device to show us the way?

Later that night, as we were walking back to our hotel, we overheard a couple stressing out about being lost in Venice. “Aren’t you supposed to get lost in Venice and enjoy it?” one said to the other. “I have no idea where we are!” gasped the other. They folded up their paper map and apprehensively walked on. We have no idea how long it took to find their destination, but they did appear to experience the true feeling of lost.

As I watched the couple disappear around the corner, I began to reminisce about that second day on the John Muir Trail when the sun was setting and we still hadn’t found our campsite. The feeling of lost in the backcountry with snow all around and not knowing which way to turn is different than walking aimlessly with a belly full of wine through the streets of Venice, but both are on the “spectrum of lost.”

Personal GPS devices and satellite mapping of the earth have eliminated the ability to get lost. Give a GPS device to a person who would never want to admit to being lost, and lost will never happen again. Everyone wants to be “in the know” and to have the answer. Ask a factual question to a group of Google hipsters and watch as the smartphones come out and the answer is revealed within moments. It is no longer important to know the answer (where you are) but more importantly how to quickly find the answer (your destination). GPS has meant the loss of lost and the Internet has provided the mechanism to find whatever you seek. In education we need to work within this new reality and help students learn ways to access information instead of memorizing it. While there is still a place for memorization, because there is too much information (dead ends in Venice) available today, we have no option but to approach education differently.

That said, there is still an argument to be made that not knowing, or getting lost, is healthy and good for the brain. As Rebecca Solnit says in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost, “…to be lost is to be fully present, and to be fully present is to be capable of being in uncertainty and mystery.” Being fully present is a goal that many of us seek daily but have trouble realizing on a regular basis. Maybe we just need to get lost more often.

With strong perseverance and a lot of luck, my son and I did finally reach our next campsite before complete darkness. The rest of the trip was successful with only map and compass. I admit, however, that—against my son’s wishes—I had tried twice to purchase a personal GPS gadget to guide us through the snow to our Mount Whitney destination, but as of two years ago, neither shops in Yosemite Valley nor Bishop had any for sale. Thank goodness, for we would have lost the opportunity to be lost!



Digital Citizenship à la Maslow

Posted by Michael Simkins on September 9, 2014

Depiction of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs by J. Finkelstein. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Most of us are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s classic Hierarchy of Needs. According to his theory, we first need to satisfy lower level needs before we can eventually hope to reach the apex of existence, self-actualization. Of course, this makes a lot of sense. For example, we still believe that students’ basic needs must be met, such as getting enough sleep and having a decent breakfast before coming to school, if they are going to be able to concentrate on learning once they arrive.

This summer, I was studying up on digital citizenship for my Leading Edge Certification for the Administrator course, and some of us got into a discussion on how best to introduce the various elements of digital citizenship into the curriculum. For some reason, Maslow’s Hierarchy came to mind. I decided to play around with how the skills and “habits” of digital citizenship might fit into the hierarchy. Here’s what I came up with:

Depiction of a hierarchy of digital citizenship
Simkins’ Hierarchy of Digital Citizenship, with apologies to Abraham Maslow.

No, it’s not rocket science, it’s probably flawed, but it was a fun intellectual exercise. Plus it gave me a chance to make my first “Google drawing!” Could not, however, figure out how to color my levels as J. Finkelstein did his, but then he was using something called Inkscape. I checked that out and it looked like it would require a much longer learning curve.  There’s always a trade off, yes?


Door open or shut?

Posted by Michael Simkins on May 31, 2014

Door ajar“Mr. S, Mr. S, what should we do?”

That was the question my fifth-grade students asked after the second of two school assemblies we attended in close succession.  The first was about earthquake preparedness and the speaker told the kids to sleep with their bedroom doors open.  In the second, the fire marshal admonished everyone to sleep with their bedroom doors closed.   Good grief!  What’s a ten-year-old to do?

I was reminded of that dilemma recently when, on the same day, I read two interesting articles, one entitled “6 Shifts in Education Driven by Technology” and the other, “Instead of Getting Ready for the Tech Revolution, Schools Are Scaling Back.”

The first article summarized the latest Horizon Report, which predicts that within the next two years, technology will drive us all to “rethink the role of the teacher.” Teachers will be expected to be adept at all sorts of technology, adapt it to instructional uses, and use technology to extend learning “beyond the traditional school day.”

The second, on the other hand, proclaims that “The promise of digital education is still out of reach for most American students.” Why?  School Internet connections are too slow.  Even with access, kids are still sharing devices, the devices they share are old, and the bulk of new spending on technology is going into efforts to get ready for the new Common Core assessments.

My hunch?  For years we’ve known, “What gets tested gets taught.”  Now, we have a rhyming corollary: What the test needs gets bought.

The upside?  We really don’t have to test all the time, so I’m betting teachers will leverage any technology that may have been purchased primarily to get ready for Smarter Balanced or PARCC and make it serve a higher educational purpose.



Motivating Learning

Posted by Karen Eoff on May 20, 2014

Why is the learning process such a mystery? Why do some students love to learn and become lifelong learners, while others won’t participate, and some purposefully disrupt the learning of others? What factor or factors motivate students to want to learn and participate in the learning process?

EAST students have opportunities throughout the year to be trained by industry professionals and EAST Initiative staff on the latest technology at the organization's headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas.
EAST students have opportunities throughout the year to be trained by industry professionals and EAST Initiative staff on the latest technology at the organization’s headquarters in Little Rock, Arkansas.

A caring teacher or administrator

While doing research for a graduate degree in the early 80’s, I interviewed students who would be attending Arkansas Governor’s School—a six week summer residential program for gifted and talented students in Arkansas.  My interviewees were all from disadvantaged backgrounds or disadvantaged areas of the state. When asked what encouraged them to persevere in the face of adversity and to continue to be creative and motivated learners, the answer was the same for 95% of the students interviewed. Their response was, “I once had a teacher or administrator that truly believed that I could go to college and be successful.”

I know firsthand that many students are motivated to learn by caring, inspirational teachers or administrators who have touched their lives and shaped their future success. But are there other learning factors?

A great educational program

A great educational program can be a factor.  For example, I’ve observed the EAST initiative inspire students to want to become learners. EAST (Environmental and Spatial Technology) is an educational model focusing on student-driven service projects accomplished by using teamwork and technology. EAST was founded in 1996 by first-year teacher and former law enforcement officer Tim Stephenson while working with “at-risk” students who were less than enthralled about learning. His first group of EAST students became enthusiastic learners when this new and relevant model of learning was used. He had astounding results from the start with his students. This model spread throughout Arkansas and to other states. Numerous research studies have validated the EAST model. EAST has proven that at-risk and other learners can be inspired to learn when put in a learning environment using cutting edge technology as a tool for learning, collaborating, and using performance based learning.

EAST students at Greenbrier High School in Greenbrier, Arkansas, prepare to launch a weather balloon attached with a GoPro Hero3 camera. The students documented their project through a blog ( which includes photos and video from the balloon's journey.
EAST students at Greenbrier High School in Greenbrier, Arkansas, prepare to launch a weather balloon attached with a GoPro Hero3 camera. Click the photo to see photos and video from the balloon’s journey.

Personal interest as a “hook”

But are there other factors? Based on my own experience I propose a third factor might be letting students explore topics that interest them, and then hook that interest to something that students need to learn. I will never forget the interest of a middle grade student that brought an archaeological artifact to school that had been passed down through his family. The student, who had previously shown no interest in school or learning, researched the artifact, prepared written historical notes as handouts, and then gave a fifteen minute historical brief on the object to students and teachers. Wow! We found this young man could write and speak well—if social studies had a relevant link to a topic that interested him.

Yes, I know that learning cannot always be enthralling.  Many times tackling a rigorous problem is just plain, hard work. Yes, I know that unlocking the mystery of what makes students want to learn is time-consuming and tedious. Yes, I know that we may never unlock the mystery for some students. Yes, I know that finding the money to purchase cutting-edge technology for students to use is tough. However, for all the dedicated teachers and administrators who have spent their professional lives motivating students to learn using any and all avenues, “This blog is for you!”


Revisit Our Assumptions About “Digital Natives?”

Posted by Phoebe Bailey on May 8, 2014

I am not an avid subscriber to YouTube channels, but I do have a favorite—TheFineBros.  I love their series Kids React.  Created in 2010, it features Fine brothers Benny and Rafi off camera showing kids, ages 5 to 14, videos or introducing topics for discussion. New clips are released weekly.

Black rotary dial telephone with red indicator light
The rotary telephone – a spiffy model with red indicator light.

In the last month, two clips made me laugh and feel old! The content of the first video dealt with how kids reacted to rotary phones. The second looked at their response to a Walkman. In the discussion of phones, kids were presented a rotary phone. The question was, “Where have you seen this?” Answers ranged from in the movies to reading about it in a history lesson. Most admitted they had no idea how to work the phone and did not know how to dial. It was quickly agreed they would not want to use it because it would take too long. When asked what a “busy signal” meant, one boy suggested it meant something was “loading.” All agreed they wanted to keep their iPhones.

A fan of the classics

As the Fine brothers debriefed, some kids reflected on how technology has advanced. They wanted to know if you could text with a rotary phone, and they felt using one would make it harder to call each other because both parties had to be home. However, one boy did say he liked rotary phones and stated, “I’m a fan of classics!”

Watching the clip, I realized most children have had no exposure to the phone I grew up using. They see the symbol of a handset on their iPhone but do not make the connection of where that icon originated. Yet It was only about 20 years ago that land lines were the standard, because cell phones were too expensive and impractical. DSL or cable Internet was something only the rich families had, so most computers connected to the internet using the same phone line that you needed in order to make calls.

Sony Walkman cassette player with earphones
The Sony Walkman was introduced in 1979.

The Walkman clip was just as funny—and just as depressing! When presented with a Walkman, initial comments included, “What is this, a walkie-talkie?” and, “What do I do?” One girl knew it was a cassette player but needed help to find the on button. They were told they needed a cassette tape but they did not know what that was. When given a cassette, they asked how to put it in. A few of the children stated they were not going to give up but felt it was “so hard.”

You have to do stuff!

After pressing play they were frustrated because they couldn’t hear any sound. They tried to solve the problem by turning up volume but were told they had to have headphones. When given headphones, one girl stated that her grandpa had them. When they finally got the player going, one girl said she felt “so accomplished” but another said it took forever and was too complicated. One of the more telling statements was when a girl said she felt “lazy” saying so, “but you have to do stuff.” One boy remarked that he “could not imagine living in your day.” Others said they “felt bad” for people living in the 90s.

After watching these videos, I thought about the generalizations adults, especially educators, make about “digital natives.” We assume all technology is easy for students to learn since they were born into a technology-focused society. Yet, if we assume students know everything about technology, aren’t we limiting their opportunities to learn and ask questions?

Experience not age?

Maybe it’s time we look at basing the terms digital native and digital immigrant on experience rather than age. Some users over 30 are very technology savvy while we have students that lack tech skills due to lack of exposure in their educational settings or lack of access at home. Educators need to remember everyone has their own skill set and comfort level with technology. We need to be able to meet the learning needs of all. Don’t be afraid to teach technology skills when needed or pair students up for peer tutoring. Perhaps most important of all, make your professional growth goal to become a digital native yourself to better enable you to convert those immigrants in your classroom! While you’re at it, check out Kids React and the other series on TheFineBros.