Grabbing vs Sustaining.

So the Olympic trials have started (curling!), and that has me thinking. Oddly, about figure skating.

Let me explain.

It’s important to have an eye catching costume during a figure skating routine for a couple of reasons:

  • It captures your initial attention
  • It accentuates the movement of the skater
  • It helps tell the narrative story of the routine

All of these things are very important and also not. While they each serve their purpose, they exist only to further the actual demonstration of skill in the routine. That is to say, they adorn the skill and athleticism being shown on the ice. They are decoration. And at the highest levels of competition, when the differences between competitors are small and judgements must be made, those small adornments can matter.

In a classroom, there is no judging against competitors. When an educator presents, the only metric is the engagement they generate with students. To that end, we need to be wary about how much time and effort we invest in adornment. It’s ok to sweat the typeface and the transitions of your slides when there is no more ground to be gained in the content and delivery. The priorities of the skater must be clearly centered on the skating and not the costume, and there is no difference with education. Yes, details matter. The content, however, rules.

Goal oriented.

This is a simple thing:

When approaching a lesson, the skill is the goal, not the exercise to develop the skill.

For example, the prototypical five paragraph essay isn’t the point- understanding the structure of a position paper is.

As such, shouldn’t we be focused on the absolute best way to reach that goal? It seems the vast majority of the time is spent on developing the exercises, where it seems that focus would be better spent on finding more engaging ways to reach the goal.



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Color Hints


My dad wrote an app. It’s called Color Hints, and it’s a pretty nifty thing. It allows you to analyze the colors in a picture, and using that information find what colors will coordinate. You can take pictures or pull them in from your photo roll, but it also has a built ColorHintsin browser, so you can sample colors off web pages. That way, when you see a paint you really like, you can sample the color and save it. Not only will Color Hints help you find coordinating colors, but it will tell you all the values of the color you’ve sampled- and that means you can have matching paint mixed to order.

He wrote it for my mom, who’s been doing a lot of quilting recently. She uses it to log fabric swatches and know which go with which, but it’s just as useful in the hands of a designer (interior, industrial, fashion, take your pick…), and it’s a pretty decent tool for teaching color theory as well.

It’s in the app store now here, and I’d recommend it highly. I’ve been running the beta for a few months now, and when it comes to helping me pick what art to hang in the dining room to go with the carpet and table, there’s nothing else quite like it.


It’s time to decide:

Are we in the business of educating as many students as possible for as little money as possible?


Are we in the business of providing the best education possible for students?




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New England 1:1 Summit

It’s that time of year again: The New England 1:1 Summit is back!

The first, and the only dedicated to 1:1 without being tied to a specific device.

Come, hang out, learn, share, eat, and enjoy. Take a visit to a 1:1 classroom at any grade level.


On ensuring mediocrity.

I listen to a lot of music. It’s always been something I’ve gravitated to, from listening to WBCN in the wee hours of the night on my bedside clock radio in the eighties, to exploring genres and artists through my young adult years. I started buying music on cd’s. I was just becoming music aware and ready to begin amassing a collection when cd’s came onto the market. They sounded good- even if I had to get permission to play them on my dad’s stereo. Later, in 97 or so, I started trading mp3 files. And that’s when I started noticing something.

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The music didn’t sound the same- it didn’t have the same punch or nuance, and when I listened on headphones (as I often did), it wasn’t anywhere near as good. Shortly after this time, I started buying vinyl seriously. My collection exploded, and I still have it now. People wonder why I’ve spent so much time and money developing a collection on a “dead” medium. There are a lot of reasons, actually, and I can make a fairly convincing case given the time. That said, there is an interesting advantage to listening to music on vinyl.

In the earlier days of rock, vinyl was the only medium that existed. The recordings from the 60’s and earlier 70’s are among my favorites. In those days, the music was pressed into the vinyl quietly. That is to say, the actual sound signal was lower than in contemporary times. This means the quiet sections of the songs are quiet, and the louder sections are louder- there is a large dynamic range to the sound. This is a really, really nice thing if you’re listening to music with subtlety.

As time passed, sound engineers found that louder records sold better. And since the name of the game was selling records, louder was the new rule. In fact, you can look at empirical evidence that modern recordings are significantly louder than vintage recordings. There’s a great article here that demonstrates this. By systematically making all portions of the song louder, the loud sections end up not standing out as much. When everything is loud, how can you tell what should be?

Teaching has faced a similar fate: in an effort to raise the performance of the lower levels of teaching, governing bodies have established protocols, evaluations, and ongoing training aimed at improving instruction. Some of this is no doubt good- but what has been overlooked is that in the establishment and focus of making hoops for lesser teachers to jump through you have forced excellent teachers to jump through those same hoops. And while lesser teachers must improve to jump through those hoops. excellent teachers must stoop.

What is left is exactly what has happened with sound recordings in the last forty years- the compression of signal. We have become so focused on raising the lower performing members of the profession that we haven’t noticed we’ve hobbled the upper end. Our push for “everyone doing better” has really been a move towards “everyone in the middle.”

There might be a glimmer of hope on the horizon, if we are to believe the analogy with music holds true: in the last few years, as studios have been able to exert less control and as audiences have begun to notice the deteriorating quality of the records, there has been push back. Bands and fans have begun to demand better sound, and as a result it is now possible to buy less compressed sounding music. My fear, however, is that unlike the music business, education is not driven by the fans. We don’t see a loss of sales and don’t have the same motivation to be responsive to our consumers. I can only hope we learn to listen.


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Why aren’t you making your own textbooks?

You should be. Let’s examine the advantages:

  1. Updated as often as you’d like
  2. Much less expensive than purchased
  3. Contain only the content you want
  4. A sense of pride for having created the thing

That last point is not to be overlooked, mind you. The pride a teacher feels for having created the very book they are teaching from is a powerful motivator. There’s a certain kind of passion that comes through an educator directly responsible for the creation of the materials they teach.

There are, I can admit, a few disadvantages:

  1. A large up-front investment in man-hours
  2. Understanding the many formats, conventions, and design decisions applicable to creating a textbook
  3. A willingness to be responsible for the text you teach

These are all surmountable, but doing so requires that the educators involved be willing to learn these things. If you are pushing staff into doing this, you will find they only encounter problems, each of which will become an excuse to kill the project. If the educators themselves are motivated to do this, you will hear only about the freedom and power it afforded them.

I’ve been using the word “textbook” a lot here- and I want to be clear: I mean everything from an analog textbook to a digital textbook to a “textbook analog (aka a conglomeration of materials that approximate the scope of a textbook). I don’t think it much matters what format the thing is eventually published in (though, again, there are some very distinct advantages to going digital here), as much as the thing existing in the first place.

My ToDo list system.

For those of you that are interested in how I manage my daily lists, I thought I’d share. I use a modified (and simplified) version of Patrick Rhone’s Dash/Plus system. I keep a Field Notes notebook on hand all the time, and every day I start a new TODO list with the date written next to it. Under that, I start compiling the pressing tasks for the day. My version of the Dash/Plus system looks like the following:

Photo Nov 10, 7 31 39 AM

And that’s it. If something becomes it’s own project, I’ll push it to it’s own page in the notebook and give it some room to breathe. It a project out grows that page in my small daybook, I’ll push it off to one of my larger project notebooks (usually a Moleskine of some sort…). That will give me room to cross things off and draw arrows and generally make a mess of it.

But for day-to-day operations, this system seems to work pretty well. It’s fast, lightweight, and had just enough flexibility to make things work for me. I’ve tried a ton of other options- I like the app Clear, and for a good long time I used it a ton… but for reasons beyond my understanding, paper and pen (currently a Uni-ball Signo 207 in black, for the pen geeks that might be lurking. Will soon be replaced with a Retrakt G2).

Don’t underestimate the power of that right-arrow, by the way. When I start seeing something with that arrow next to it for more than a day or two, I find myself really motivated to decide if the item really is that important, or if it’s something else. Often, those arrows have a way of turning into a circle. I’m ok with that- it’s a way of forcing some self-evaluation as to what I’m investing my time into for tasks and what might really be important.

Research #21

Things I’ve been researching this week:

  • The difference between CreateSpace and Lulu (mostly via integration with Amazon)
  • Types of small business organizations
  • Small bus-powered USB drives (at least 1TB of storage)
  • Alternatives to IKEA’s (apparently) discontinued Böder storage system
  • Ubuntu installations on PowerPC based Macs
  • Good value Ball-Head camera mount (ideally accepts a 3/8″ stud)