Digital Disruptive Relationships

Being at 7th Grade camp last week afforded me the opportunity to catch up on some professional learning via my network. This video , "Where Disruption Will Take Us", grabbed my attention for many reasons, but mostly because I'm a sucker for all things "disruptive." Whether that's disruptive innovation, disruptive practices in education or business, or even disruptions in traditional faith development models.

James McQuivey, VP at Forrester, talks about how traditional models of disruption, (ala Clayton Christensen), are themselves being disrupted using the already existing technology platforms. This time, the disruptions aren't the digital platforms themselves, but rather the consumer relationships in, with, and under those platforms. The initial digital disruptions of the last century have not only caused us to re-think how goods and services are delivered, but how those digital platforms challenge consumer relationships with those companies that provide those goods and services.

This notion of business disruption got me thinking about disruptions in our world of education. While technology has certainly shaken up the field of personal learning, the technology itself is only the platform by which education will be changed in the future. For the first time, at least in my understanding of teaching history, the technology now affords teachers the opportunity to focus on what they really do well, primarily, foster learning relationships with students, not just deliver content. When teachers take hold of this relational model of student learning, it is then that truly innovative learning disruptions occur.

If the driving focus of every school is truly learning, and we allow that to become our mission, or non-negotiable, then everything else is can be tailored precisely to meet that outcome. Traditional understandings about assessment, school day schedule, or even content delivery platforms are open for discussion/disruption. I definitely do not think that would be a bad thing, as long as at the heart of these disruptions is student learning.

Would these innovations in learning ruin traditional models of "school?" You bet, but the cultural, digital disruptions have already done that (Well, in part, there are still some schools and teachers who have refused to recognize that we are already 15 years into a new century)! It's only when teachers embrace the technology disruptions that the other innovative learning disruptions make sense. Teachers now have the ability to focus solely on developing learning relationships with students and return that relationship to the heart of what we understanding school to truly be.

By the way...I'm still trying to figure out what that looks like for me and my ministry! How about you?

Image: by Flickr User: Brian Solls, "Disruption as an Ecosystem(CC BY 2.0)

Conditional Statements

I came to the conclusion some years ago that I wasn't really teaching computer science. I thought I was
teaching computer science, but it was really just computer applications. My students were learning how to be
power users and consumers, but not programmers and creators.

Thanks to a summer workshop from the CS Department at Washington University in St. Louis, these days I've become more intentional about being a true computer science teacher. My Math Application Fridays activities have started engaging students in more open ended projects which force them to work through solutions to problems. Using tools like Scratch from MIT, students are subtly learning about the logic behind programming instructions. Even our 1st grade teachers are getting into the CS mode, by having students work through Kodable on the iPad.

One particularly important programming concept I introduce to students is the conditional statement. Now for the most part, students get the idea of how if/then statements work. For those who struggle, I've had success connecting cause and effect to if/then logic statements and they tend to eventually "get it." Conditional statements are an important logic concept regardless of the syntax you are programming in.

Conditional statements are also a great conversation starter with students about the faithfulness of God! While if/then statements drive the logic of just about every program, it does not drive the logic of God's love for us in Christ Jesus!

How often do our students feel like they area loved or valued based on their behavior or some other metric? Unfortunately, I fear there have been times I've left students wondering IF they are truly loved based on their classroom behavior or their ability to successfully complete a task. I have also had students who seem to set their entire identity on a grade book percentage. Don't get me wrong, it is awesome to see students set goals which can be measure by a letter grade, but it's not healthy for them to tie their self efficacy to their success or failure. God's love for us in Christ is NOT conditional. There is no eternal if/then statement when it comes to earning salvation; there are no "ifs"... just a "because." Because Jesus lived a life I could not live, and because he died as a sacrifice in my place, I am forgiven, redeemed and set free from the guilt and shame of my sin. My eternity is secure and my today is renewed because of the unconditional love and sacrifice of Jesus.

Being able to remind students that about who they are in Christ is a powerful thing. Knowing that God doesn't tie their failure to an eternal destiny is crucial to helping students attain a strong faith foundation. That is one way of looking at it, but there is also another conversation to be had!

It is also important to remind students that God does indeed care about the choices they make now. God has given us tools like the Ten Commandments as a way for us to find peace together and provide a guide for living in community, both with Him, and our neighbors. If we want to get along with our neighbor, then we should protect his reputation, marriage, property, life, etc.

The reality is that many of our life choices on earth do follow the if/then model. but those choices need to be grounded in the unconditional truth of God's love for us in Jesus. Loving your neighbor and serving your community make complete sense once you understand how much Jesus loves and serves you!

Who would have thought that something as simple as a conditional programming statement could provide such deep conversation with our students! They not only build Computer Science fluency, but the serve to strengthen and grow students along their faith journey?

Dot Connecting

Some of the best teachers I know are "Dot Connectors."

Teachers who are dot connectors are good at...

  1. Being learners themselves, even when the topic or idea doesn't immediately show its usefulness.
    We have monthly professional development meetings (AKA "faculty meetings") and at our last gathering I introduced the concept that computer science is not just a class or subject specific discipline that needs its own curriculum and teacher in the elementary and middle school (I know some would disagree with this, but you've got to start somewhere, right?). Rather, by using online tools like Scratch, or apps like Scratch Jr., Tynker, Hopscotch, or Kodables, teachers could introduce fundamental logic concepts with out having to implement a full blown CS curriculum, or work without having to teach coding.

    Inevitably there were teachers who felt it was a waste of time, because "this doesn't pertain to me," or "I'm not a computer teacher." There were however those teachers who took time to do the difficult intellectual work of recognizing the importance of introducing these simple logic concepts and then went a step further to identify WHERE in their current curriculum these ideas fit the best. They connected the dots!

    It is these teachers, these "dot connecting" teachers, who are willing to engage ideas about new learning outcomes, even if they don't understand the full impact on their classroom practice yet. They are willing to to give the time and mental energy for the future learning of their students.
  2. Seeing learning opportunities as a way to grow there practice.

    Dot connecting teachers recognize that their practice is shaped by the world around them, and not just the discipline that they teach. These are teachers who will be able to say that they've been teaching for 25 years, but didn't teach the same lesson 25 times.

    Using the faculty meeting example above, I started our faculty introduction to computer science by reading from Douglas Rushkoff's book Program or Be Programmed. In it he challenges the reader by saying,

    “Programming is the sweet spot, the high leverage point in a digital society. If we don’t learn to program, we risk being programmed ourselves.”

    The world is a much different place today than it was even ten years ago, and as the world changes, so do some of the needs of our students. A dot connecting teacher recognizes the changing world and adjusts their practice to meet the needs of their students. Teaching is job similar to paddling a canoe up stream, if you're not paddling, your going backwards.
I'm not sure that teachers are intuitively dot connectors on their own.  Is dot connecting a skill? Is it a personal characteristic or creativity trait? I tend to lean more toward it being a disposition.

After experiencing my third #edcampSTL this past weekend, I find it hard to believe that not all teachers are "dot connectors."

I'm NOT saying "non-dot connecting" teachers are bad teachers. There are a plethora of caring, loving, and awesome teachers who just happen to need stuff laid out for them in detail before they will engage new ideas, new methods, or new technologies. No, I'm not saying they are bad teachers, but there is just so much more they could teach their students besides core curricular area, if they didn't want the immediate gratification of professional development.

I praise God for the dot connecting teachers! I want to BE dot connecting teacher and I admit that I am not always a dot connector.  Tomorrow will begin my eighth or ninth Midwest Educational Technology Conference. There have been times when I haven't wanted to go, because I wasn't "getting anything out of" the sessions. I was always looking for the latest and greatest new web tool, or website, or resource and when I wasn't getting it, I started to blame other people. The reality is that I only have myself to blame. So this year, I'm showing up with a renewed attitude to connect more dots! I'm going to be doing a lot more thinking about my students and the potential impact new learning spaces, places, and tools, will have on their future. God willing, I'll even share my learning along the way...likely with the readers of his blog....but for sure with my students!