In praise of restrictions.

When I was doing my udergrad work, I studied poetry a lot. I did this from the side of a reader, where I looked at and analyzed published poetry, but the more interesting part of my study revolved around me writing poetry.

There’s a lot to learn from a workshop class in writing poetry- the revisions of a creative work, the blindingly harsh critiques, the relentless need to continue to creatively produce quality work… these were all important experiences for me. That said, the parallel I want to draw today revolves around the use of self-imposed restrictions and their benefit to the end-work.

I had never understood (previous to workshopping poetry) why there was such a large body of work that had been produced of highly formalized structures. If the writers were free to choose the form of their work (as they clearly were), why were they putting any restrictions on themselves at all? Wasn’t it more desirable to work without restrictions? Why were so many great writers forcing their work into the form of a sonnet or a villanelle? Why on earth would you choose to write in iambic pentameter?

They answer, I’ve found, appears contradictory: By choosing and then sticking with self-imposed restrictions, if focuses the creativity of the creator. By not having to entertain every possible direction of work, you become free to deal with the finite issues at hand. Restrictions were allowing the authors of these poems to write better poems than if there were no restrictions. Focus comes from restraint.

A few years later, while taking a figure drawing class, I found a similar experience: by limiting us to only white paper and charcoal, all other barriers and decisions were removed and we were free to focus on the form of the drawing. I didn’t have to think about colors or papers- I only had to focus on the problem at hand. Ditto, too, in the photography I was doing. Black and white photography lives on because of the restrictions it imposes, not despite them.

And so I was pleased to discover the same thing worked with tech in education.

Yes, it’s good to have access to lots of tech. Yes, I believe that different grade levels and teaching styles require different tech. But in any case of tech integration, I find that imposing restrictions can help to focus people’s creativity with that tech. Instead of having hundreds of apps and using six on a given project- what if you limited yourself to two? What if you decided that you’d do your next presentation with nothing but the photo roll? Or if your entire workflow would only use Google Drive and Notability?

I’m not against people’s ability to use lots of different apps- My point is that if you’re overwhelmed by the sheer volume of possibilities, or if you’re struggling to find a good method to achieve a goal, consider self-imposing restrictions. Dial things back, allow your creativity to focus, and, in time, you’ll find you may want to slowly expand the tools you use.


I have the rare distinction of liking my dentist. He’s good to me- and he takes care of my teeth without causing (undo) pain. He’s come to expect me to ask a huge number of questions- to the point where he’ll give me a mirror so I can watch what he’s doing in my mouth. Let’s say he humors my curiosity.

One of the things I like about my dentist is that he’s up to date with his tech. Though I’d love for him to have a new 3d modeling system and milling machine to make ceramic crowns on the spot, I can accept that the six digit price tag might be out of his reach. Besides that, though, he’s doing things right. My fillings are a two-part white epoxy. My crown is a porcelain sculpted bit. He cures adhesives with UV light. It’s pretty neat.

It’s not at all like the dentist that my parents went to at my age.

My dentist has kept up with changes in technique and tools. He doesn’t complain to me about having to learn about the new light-curing epoxies. Or about the new high-speed drills. Or about the digital xrays he now takes. Not a single complaint- in fact, he’s pretty enthusiastic about the stuff in our conversations. He’s not overly fond of the old ways.

And the reason he doesn’t complain is his understanding that if he didn’t keep up to date with the new tech, he would have no customers. Nobody is going to go to a dentist that still uses drills for 1940. Nobody is going to have fillings done like they were in 1970. Nobody wants a root canal from 1980.

Yet in the teaching world, every new change is greeted by calls for PD or “change of conditions” negotiations. Resistance to the new is the norm. Change is something to be avoided. The schools, however, are still full. Our customers still arrive every morning.

What if they had the choice? What if students, like me and my dentist, could choose who to see? Could make a choice, teacher by teacher, school by school, district by district about what sort of service they wanted? What would education look like then?

Research #17

Here’s what I’ve been reading about in the last week:

  • Multi-roll laboratory-spec tape dispensers
  • Wiring solutions for Lightning connector equipped phones in cars
  • Modular storage based on plywood and 3d printed brackets
  • Micro milling machines
  • Team Wikispeed cars

I’ve also updated the About Me section of this website.


I’m getting sick of having the following conversation:

Somebody: My elementary students like the Chromebooks way more than the iPads.

Me: Really? Interesting.

Somebody: Yeah, they like them way more. It’s because of the keyboard.

Me: Oh?

Somebody: They have a really hard time typing on the iPad keyboard. The real keyboard is much better.

Me: Uh-huh.

Somebody: I like the keyboards much better. I want more of those.

And there you go. It’s the “Kids can’t type on a flat screen” argument. And it’s old and it’s not true. What we have here is a residual-need from the legacy teachers that are inevitably telling me this. Teachers that have always had a physical keyboard and nothing else- who, by the way, are teaching students who do not have the same perception of “real” keyboard versus not.

It becomes just another case of an educator imposing their own needs on the students as an excuse to not adapt to new technology.


A thought about lamination.

Oh, laminators. How I remember your gently smoldering smell from my own youth. The smell of long-chain monomers pressing onto construction paper leaving it with a gloss and a sense of permanence.

And therein lies the beginning of my thoughts of lamination.

1. Those fumes can’t be good for anyone. Really.

2. They are expensive to supply- and they break on a regular basis. So they’re expensive to maintain, too.

3. The glare off the shiny surface of the laminated surface reduces the readability of the item you’re trying to protect.

4. Why would you want the thing you’re hanging up to be permanent? Making something like that last indefinitely implies that it is perfect and cannot be improved and is relevant to every group of students every year. Care to stand behind something you’ve made with that statement? There’s very little I’ve made over the years that I’d feel that way about.

So let’s all do each other (and the students) a favor and just stop. Ok?