The schools are streets, in this analogy.

“The street finds its own uses for things.”

William Gibson

When Gibson talks about this quote, he’ll usually use the example of pagers- Motorola, when they were pushing pagers in the late 1980’s and early 90’s never thought they’d become the go-to tool for drug dealers. A technology originally developed in the 1950’s (!) for doctors came to be used in a totally different way than anticipated.

We have to consider, in the contexts of our schools, how the tech that we introduce for one purpose will certainly be used for things other than we intended. The typical response to this in schools it to shut things down or lock things up. Instead, why can’t we learn from the alternate uses our students find and incorporate those uses into our classrooms? Why can’t we accept the inevitable?

On Originality.

Found this via Cory Doctorow:

“Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations. Architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable. Originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery—celebrate it if you feel like it. In any case, always remember what Jean-Luc Godard said, ‘It’s not where you take things from. It’s where you take them to.’”

Jim Jarmusch

About iPad2’s in Education.

So I was listening to The Accidental Tech Podcast a week or two ago, after Apple had announced their latest round of products. Casey, John, and Marco were all in amazement at why Apple was keeping the iPad2 around (and at that price!) and who would possibly buy that. John made the point that it was likely schools, but that they get “educational pricing” and that was that. In addition, there has been talk about how schools are slow to adopt technology and that this is the reason schools are sticking with such an old device even at the price.

Given that I have been a driving force in one of the first large iPad 1:1 deployment, I thought I might be in a position to offer both some error correction and insight.

Price: Yeah, the price sucks. Sorry, Apple, but it’s a silly price for what the iPad2 now is. Fine. What’s even more frustrating is that we don’t get “educational pricing.” Apple sells us iPad2’s in boxes of ten- and you can order them too. For the same price. Unit price for a 16gb WiFi goes from $399 to $379 per unit. Woo. Hoo.

On Being Slow: Nope, not really. At least not here. When we started buying iPad2’s, they were the new and current device. We’ve stuck with them since for a few annoying buy unavoidable reasons:

Price: Yeah, $379 is too much, but it’s still less than $479. And while that $100 is TOTALLY worth spending if you’re a regular person, when we buy 1000 iPad’s each year, that’s $100k difference.

Size: So here in Massachusetts, our students will have to take this stupid test called the PARCC. It’s totally awful, but that’s what it is. This test is taken on a device online, and they have specifications about the device that may be used. One of which is the screen size, which they specify not in pixels but in inches. So the iPad2 (or Air) both meet that requirement, and the Mini’s don’t and that sucks. The test also specifies that the device has a physical keyboard (which I cannot even fathom the dumbness of…), so I have to purchase enough keyboard to plug into iPad2’s to satisfy that requirement.

I’d much rather buy Mini’s for my older students, but the stupid requirements of a stupid test are in my way. I’d rather buy Air’s for my students, but that $100k is in my way. So it’s not a matter of being slow, but it’s a matter of scale and stupid state mandated testing.

There you go. Carry on.


I’ve never felt like I’ve done enough- there’s always this lingering feeling that I should/could do more in a given day. Specifically, to make more. Still, to make well you must consume- it is the fuel that drives the creative process. I try to read a lot- most of it non-fiction, most of it online. Still, when I saw this list by Steven Soderbergh, I was impressed not only by the scope of what he’s consumed but also the quantity. I’ve got a lot of work to do.


Tools #1

I’m expanding the scope here just a little bit beyond education.

Anyone who knows me has realized a few things:

  1. I am exacting
  2. I hate compromise
  3. I research compulsively
  4. I have no predilection towards established standards

Add all this up, and I end up using tools and gear that seem strange to a lot of people. I get questions about the “stuff” I’m using on a regular basis. So, I thought that from time to time I’d share on here what sort of gear I’m using.

Let’s start with my bag:

USMC_Recon-APThis is a USMC ILBE Recon pack. Mine is surplussed, but these are still in active service. A couple of things about it before I get into why I chose it. It’s a relatively large day bag- and it’d look too large on many people, but I’m 6’1″ and have a long torso. It fits me fine. It has a internal sheet-frame, which makes it rigid, and the straps are properly built to allow you to carry weight comfortably. It has interior pockets for organization, and a removable divider between the main compartment and the lower compartment. MOLLE all over, though I keep it clean on the outside. The bag was designed by Arc’teryx, and produced under contract by Propper. It’s listed as being a APB03 bag, but there are at least two variants of this specific model (with the variations being primarily in the waistband), and at least two other lines of bags bearing that designation.

I’ve modified it very little- when it came, it was still full of Afghanistan. My shop vac took care of that. I had to re-install the frame panel, and re-adjust some straps that were uneven. No biggies there. The zipper pulls were terrible- made from lame cord and beat down. I’ve swapped them to Sterling Rope Co 2.75mm GloCord with CountyComm Cord ends, both in orange. I re-did internal pulls only with the GloCord, and cut those shorter to ease snagging.

Ideally, I would have liked to go with something smaller and lighter for an EDC bag, but since I work out of my bag, I have to be able to carry a surprising load of gear. Beyond that, I know that I tend to buy things and then keep them for a long time. The last backpack I bought was purchased nearly a decade ago, and I have some around that are substantially older than that- so it made sense to buy something rugged enough to last forever. In addition, though I lusted after a Goruck GR1 (which fits my requirements…), I couldn’t stomach the price. Yes, it’s very well made, and yes, it’s made in the US, but $300 was more than I could manage for a bag like this. My bag, by the way, is made in the US too (as it must be by law).

This is not a conventional bag, as my needs were not entirely conventional. If I had allowed myself to stay within the conventional thinking, I would have found some other, lesser, bag to use. And every day, when I would have pulled that lesser bag on and been annoyed by it’s lack of support or terrible zippers or poor durability, I would have been angry.

In teaching terms, by ignoring the conventions and focussing on what my goal in outcome was, I was able to find a solution to the problem that did not require compromise.

In other words.

So, look. Tom Whitby is a good guy- he

‘s started (and maintained) some important conversations for educators. But I’m going to use him as an example anyway. I saw this tweet go by:





It’s just all jargon. I mean, what am I supposed to think about that? Are we still talking about 21st century THIRTEEN YEARS into it? I think I’m beginning to become allergic to the word “connected.”

Again, Tom’s a good guy. I’ve had productive conversations with him before. I am, however, going to fix that tweet. It should just read:

We are educators.


There. That’s better.


Minimalism in Technology

This was originally written for and posted to the BPSEdTech blog.


For a long time, complexity was a desired feature in life. We craved environments that were lush and full of detail and embellishment. Such complexity was the mark of a capable craftsman, or, was the needed complexity inherit to the limitations of a system. Old computers had complicated interfaces because there was no way to simplify them- and there was the assumption (a safe assumption, it should be added) that the user of that computer would be an expert in it’s use. The complexity was a necessary hurdle for the user.

Research computer.
BBN Jericho Control Panel & Boot switch

Two things have happened in the time since this: Devices have become more accessible because, in large part because the interfaces have become far more intuitive, and there can no longer be the assumption a user will be an expert. This explosion of devices and users has created an immensely powerful environment where users with little experience are able to perform complex tasks quickly. This wide array of new tools and accessibility has led to users becoming overwhelmed by the sheer quantity and magnitude of options. Humans seem pre-disposed to hold on to as many of these tools as possible. Just as it’s difficult to say “no” when offered a larger vat of popcorn at the movies for 25 cents more, we feel that because there are so many tools to use that we must use all of them.

LotsofApps This does not create freedom for the educator- instead, it becomes a crippling burden to be carried. If research indicates that humans are only capable of maintaining 150 close relationships, how can we mentally handle hundreds of apps installed on our devices? What we think creates the ability to accomplish more tasks in fact diminishes the usability of the device.

What I’m proposing is a move towards minimalism in technology- both in terms of the devices we use and the software we use on those devices.  Less becomes more, as an educator is free to stop thinking about what tool they might choose to use and rather focus on the outcome they are trying to achieve. When the tool stops being the focal point, the work can come to the front of our attention.

A few years ago, I asked some 9th grade High School English Language Arts students to give presentations about memes in the literature we were reading. I was clear about length, breadth, and tone that these presentations need to have. When asked about what app to use, I simply responded that I didn’t care. They were free to choose whatever app they wanted to achieve a result they desired. I made clear that I was judging based on the quality of the presentation, not the specific software they used.

The end result were a number of excellent projects made with maybe a half dozen different apps. But the eye-opening moment was the student that delivered a very, very impressive presentation using nothing more than a photo album in her iPad. She had literally used no software for the presentation- it was a move towards minimalism I’d not seen from a student before. I suspect, looking back at the presentation, that part of the reason that her performance was so good hinged on her not having to think about what app she was using. She freed that part of her mind and was able to focus all the more on her performance.

With the sheer quantity of free apps of decent quality in the App Store, it can be hard to resist the pull to download huge numbers. But the reward for holding back is substantial- a lightweight creation environment free from the burden of too many choices. Give it a shot. I think you’ll like it.