Flying Fish: Einstein was wrong

Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Einstein (?)

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Every time someone uses this quote, I hear the late great Reggie White in my mind. In 1998, the Hall of Famer was asked to speak to the Wisconsin State Legislature.  The following is from the New York Times.

In his effort to promote racial harmony, the Packer player, who is black, said that each racial and ethnic group has its own ”gifts,” that, when taken together, form ”a complete image of God.”

But in describing those gifts, White said that blacks ”like to sing and dance,” while whites ”know how to tap into money.” He said that Hispanic people ”are gifted at family structure. You can see a Hispanic person and he can put 20 or 30 people in one home.”

Asians, he said, know how to ”turn a television into a watch.” American Indians, he said, ”have been very gifted” in ”spirituality.”

Like Mr. White’s comments, the quote seems to imply that one is ‘naturally’ abled.  The talents that one has have been bestowed rather than developed.  You can see the rather troubling place that can lead us from Mr. White’s words.

Stay in Your Box

The quote, while well-meaning, seems to be saying that one is given a rather limiting set of skills that one should stick to.  One should not challenge the status quo.  Climb a tree? Nah, you’re a fish.  Stick to what you’re good at. Do fishy things, but don’t try to see beyond your pond.  That’s dangerous thinking.  Plus, you’ll fail. Absolutely you’ll fail.  Even though you’ve never tried, you’ll fail because fish don’t climb trees.

Change “fish” to black, poor, female, ELL, or IEP and that quote gets very grimy. Very grimy. It’s the stuff that eugenicists dream of.  It’s the ultimate “stay in your box because you don’t have the talents to do that” statement.

The Excuse Matrix

It also gives the “fish” an excuse for not achieving.  I can’t do certain things because I’m just a fish.  I didn’t do my homework because I’m a fish.  I can’t do math because I’m a fish.  Learn computer science? Fish don’t do that.  Make movies? I’m a fish remember.  Write a symphony? Fish don’t do music.

Teachers could also use this philosophy to deny opportunities to students.  I’m not going to teach script writing and movie making to these fish.  It’s not their talent.  I’m not going use certain tools with these fish.  Fish don’t do (insert skill). Fish in this neighborhood don’t do well doing (insert skill) so I’m not going to present it to them.

 

All Talents are Equal?

This quote is pretty Orwellian. Essentially, all talents are equal, but some talents are more equal.  It infers that some talents are more desirable than others and those that have those talents are therefore more valuable.  It creates a hierarchy that is “natural” and eliminates the possibility of dreaming.  It’s pretty literal.  Fish aren’t birds.  Birds aren’t lions. Lions aren’t hippos.  “Tapping into money” and being able to “turn a television into a watch” seem like a lot better talents than fitting 30 people in a house to me. However,  you get what you get and don’t have a fit, right?  There ain’t no changing.  If you’re a cockroach, get used to scurrying when the lights come on because it’s not going to change.

Solutions

We have to teach fish that they might not be able to climb trees, but they can build jetpacks.  According to science, all life started in the seas.  We’re all fish.  Some of us we’re told by others that another reality was possible so we evolved legs and lungs and left the pond.  This is what we need to teach students.  You don’t have to stay a fish.

We need a coherent curriculum that is knowledge based so that students are able to very rapidly eliminate the achievement gap.  We need students to be given the opportunities to not only learn the rudiments of reading and math, but also computer science, multimedia creation, science, arts, and engineering. We need to allow far more exploration and collaboration in schools so that no one sees themselves as a fish that can’t climb trees but as a school of fish that push each other to evolve into whatever they’d like.

 

So You Want To Be Digifficient: Time Is On Your Side

In the first part of this series, I talked about podcasts, systems, and Omnifocus. After that maybe you decided to start listening to a podcast or two (Cortex, perhaps?). You purchased Omnifocus or some other app in which to dump your thoughts so they aren’t occupying your brain and you started thinking about how to improve your systems.

I suggest bookmarking these posts and coming back to them from time to time for both my own shameless self-promotion and for a couple of other reasons. One reason is to ground yourself and get back to basics when things get crazy. Second, you might not be ready for the next step. Perhaps it’s been difficult getting into the habit of inboxing or remembering to capture your paper memos and put them into your cloud storage of choice. If you’re looking for a quick overview of Google Drive, check out the 60 Second Tech Tip video I made on it.

Today I want to talk about timers. As teachers, we rely heavily on them. I always struggled with buying enough of them. I was glad to have iPads for my classroom because every iOS device and probably most mobile devices come with a timer built in. You can even just type, “20-minute timer” into the Google search bar and it will give you the option of starting a timer on the search results page.

There are two timer apps in particular that I’m fond of: 30/30 and Due.

3030

30/30 is great for sticking to a routine. This can be useful if you think you waste time getting ready in the morning, you want to do HIIT at the gym or if you do rotating centers in your classroom. The app is created by Binary Hammer. Check out their website or download it and give it a try.

Due is another Grey/roommate recommendation (I’m starting to wonder if they’re just the same person). Due is actually a reminders/to-do list app, but the timers are where the power lies. You can create custom timers and when they go off, you can snooze them for a minute. At which time, they’ll pop up and remind you again.

I used to set a stopwatch to track the amount of time I did something. When I was done doing the thing, I would record the time on the stopwatch. The problem with this was I would often get distracted or forget that I set the stopwatch going in the first place. With Due, I make it a set amount of time and it’s a countdown instead of a count up. I find this helps me stay focused because I know that at the end of the countdown, I’m going to take a break (see: Pomodoro technique).

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Another app that I’ll give a quick mention to is Coffee Break. I like that Coffee Break puts my screen to sleep after a designated time. I have a tendency to keep working even though the timer goes off. Sometimes that’s good, but sometimes I forgo my break as a result which is no good for productivity and focus. Another reason I love Due, it keeps track of how long it’s been since your timer stopped. Thus, I know if I’ve spent an extra two or ten minutes working. Sometimes it’s amazing how quickly time goes by.

This whole timer thing might feel too regimented and stressful, but it goes back to reducing or eliminating resistance. If I don’t have to think about what comes next, it stresses me out a lot less.

Do you use a timer system? What systems have you tweaked or put in place in order to eliminate or reduce resistance and stress in your life? Share in the comments below.

So You Want To Be Digifficient: Pigeon Pictures & Digital Storage

Last time I talked about podcasts, one specific podcast I dig, Cortex, Omnifocus, and the importance of systems.

Systems keep you focused and eliminate resistance.

In General Purpose Problem (Cortex Episode 6), Grey said, “When something is not working well in your life just try harder is always the wrong answer. You need to figure out how to make the system better.”

One way to reduce resistance is to reduce choice. Then, practice until it happens automatically.

When you get a piece of paper at a meeting, what will you do with it? If you don’t have the habit in place, you’ll get back to your room, desk, or office, toss it on the table and it will slowly grow to an untenable monster pile that consumes your soul.

Once you decide on digital cloud storage that is accessible anywhere, commit to putting everything there. Reinforce the habit. For the one minute version of how to get started, check out the 60 Second Tech Tip on our YouTube channel (subscribe while you’re there).

If you know that the response to getting a piece of paper is to take a photo, store it in your digital storage (Google Drive, Dropbox, whatever) and then throw the paper away, that pile never comes into being and then, later on, when you’re looking for it, you can find it.

A word about flash drives:

They’re great as a redundancy, but not as a primary storage place. If the flash drive gets destroyed because you stop fast and a gallon of milk crushes it, your pbirdpiclans are gone and there’s nothing you can do about it. The same applies to saving only to your computer. Remember: Digital storage should be accessible from anywhere, not just your devices.

Practice with low-risk material first.

Take photos of pigeons and things you don’t care about. Save them to your cloud storage and then delete them later. This will be low risk enough that if you mess up, you won’t be upset if you make a mistake and lose information. That’s a good habit to get into anytime you’re trying something new. The more you’re willing to take risks and try new things the better you’ll get.

Go sign up or set up your cloud storage space. Play with it. Save some pigeons there. Pay attention to areas where you can eliminate resistance and create habits of automaticity.

So You Want to Be Digifficient: Podcasts, Systems, & Omnifocus

It’s that time again. Back to school. While parents might be posting photos of them frozen in a joyous pose next to their miserable children, teachers are gearing up to run the gauntlet.

One key to success and maintaining sanity for both teachers and the self-employed (because teachers are pretty much entrepreneurs, but that’s another post), are systems. We have systems in our classrooms for our students, but don’t extend that kind of care and thought to our own work.

I’ve posted before about my bullet journal and a few of the tools I use in my workflow. That has since expanded and explosively so since focusing on working for myself and my roommate introducing me to an amazing podcast.

CortexCortex is a podcast on Relay FM. For those unfamiliar with podcasts, they’re like radio shows for the modern age. You can download them in a variety of places including iTunes. My podcast app of choice is Overcast. Another introduction my roommate made for me ages ago. Overcast is great because it skips over silences so it moves the podcast along without speeding up the hosts and you can share links to specific points in the podcast and listen to them via the browser.

Podcasts are also a great way to build your knowledge of a topic or find new things to bring into your classroom or systems. Here at Intelligent Hoodlums we’re big fans of bringing in work and strategies from other areas (see: Design Thinking, advertising, marketing, etc). You can listen to them in the car like books on tape and make the most of a long commute. The Quick and Dirty Tips network was a favorite of mine for a long time.

Back to Cortex…

Cortex is a podcast hosted by Myke Hurley, one of the co-creators of Relay FM, and CGP Grey, a former physics teacher, and current YouTuber. One of the things that drew me to this podcast, aside from my roommate’s recommendation, was that Grey used to be a teacher. I was curious, being someone who is working on transitioning from teaching to freelancing, how he made the transition and what systems he uses to keep his fantastically produced videos on track.

Also, I thought about a conversation I had with the first year teacher I mentored last year. At the end of the year, I asked her what was her biggest challenge and she said keeping track of everything – forms, dates, times, lessons, kids, all of it.

Systems automate. They take the decision out of it and, one of the things Grey said in an early episode that really stuck with me, they eliminate (or at least reduce) resistance.

As a teacher and freelancer, I feel like I always have 1,000 things rattling around in my head, “Did I turn in that form?,” “What’s the deadline for that conference application?,” “When is my doctor’s appointment?,” “Get index cards at the office store,” and always, “Did I forget something?” I’ve looked at a lot of productivity strategies and one that I’ve really stuck with comes from GTD, Getting Things Done.

Have a place to dump your thoughts.

Some people call it inboxing. Whatever you call it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that as soon as you have a thought like, “I need to make an appointment for the dog at the vet,” you have a place to put it.

Recommended: Omnifocus

Let me get out of the way that it’s $40 which is the most I’ve ever paid for any app, but for the peace of mind it gives me, it’s WELL worth it. My roommate does too. He swears by it and, as you’ve noticed, his recommendations tend to be pretty good (this is how I spent 3 weeks on the side tangent of binge watching Southland because we watched a clip from the movie End of Watch because we were talking about how Michael Peña is the best). I’ve used A LOT of to do apps – wunderlist, errands, any.do, todoist, handle, remember the milk, reminders, Google keep, glass planner, pendo, Evernote…

As I’ve used them more and more, I add to the list of features I want. Omnifocus has all the features I’m looking for and it can be as basic or complex as you want. You can add context to tasks so if it’s something you have to do at school, you can just look at that list, if it’s something you need at the store, you can just look at those things. It makes adding items and shifting dates SO easy.

For now, I’m going to stop. Go listen to episode 1 of Cortex and check out Omnifocus. Omnifocus can seem overwhelming at first. Take the time to read through the pre-loaded tasks that walk you through the app. If you’re interested, I can go into more detail or make a walkthrough video on the Hoodlums YouTube channel of how Omnifocus can help keep a teacher organized. Really take stock over the next week of what systems you can put into place for yourself to eliminate resistance.

Nas Album Done: A Queens MC applied to a classroom

To every baby on the album cover existin’/ This trend I was settin’, it came to fruition/I’m assistin’ to push the culture forward/ To all my ghost supporters, go support us…

-Nas, “Nas Album Done”Confidence is important

If Nas isn’t in your top 10 MCs of all time, you don’t know the rap genre.  His single from DJ Khalid’s Major Key album entitled “Nas Album Done” is the triumphant return of one of the dominant poetic voices of all time.  With an expansive discography and hundreds of guest verses, Nas has dropped a few jewels in his time.  How can some of this master wordsmith’s lyrics be applied to education?

1. Confidence is important.

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My poetry’s deep, I never fail/Nas’ raps should be locked in a cell/ It ain’t hard to tell

– Nas, “It Ain’t Hard to Tell”

Nas debuted with a classic.  Though short by contemporary standards and boasting production by Large Professor, Pete Rock, and DJ Premier, the album features classic tracks like NY State of Mind, Halftime, and One Love.  My favorite track is the last one.  “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” is a song that not only thumps but empowers.

I love this lyric as it embodies what classrooms should be.  There’s a level of confidence that should permeate everything that happens at school.  When we stress depth and not coverage, students are empowered.   Failure is seen as a signal to improve, not to stop.  When schools work as intended, it ain’t hard to tell.

2. High expectations of everyone.

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In my own class, operation return/ They tried to say I was incompetent, unable to learn…

-Nas, “John Blaze”

John Blaze is actually a track off of Fat Joe’s Don Cartagena project.  This song features some pretty talented lyricists as Big Pun, Jadakiss and Raekwon accompany the aforementioned Fat Joe and Nas.

Nas’ verse begins with his reminiscing on his schooling.  The lyric I plucked points to teachers having lower expectations of students.  It’s fair to say that a classroom can’t function without a teacher believing that every student is capable of success.  Mr. Jones reminds us that he overcame his teacher’s expectations, though shouldn’t have had to.

3. Design Thinking runs deep.

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So many years of depression make me vision/ The Better livin’, type of place to raise kids in/ Open they eyes to the lies history’s told foul/ But I’m a wise as the old owl…

-Nas, “If I Ruled the World (Imagine that)”

Nas’ second album provided an absolute banger.  Featuring Lauryn Hill and inspired by a Kurtis Blow single of the same name, Jones pens a narrative of how the world would function if he ruled it.

While we don’t want students to “rule the world,” we do want them to dream up solutions to the problems that our world faces. “Opening eyes” and envisioning better livin’ is one of the reasons why design thinking is such an important facet of education.  Empathy, defining the problem, ideating solutions, prototyping, and feedback allow us to help students become as wise as the old owl.

4. Be an artist.

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As far as rap go, it’s only natural I explain/ My plateau, and also, what defines my name/ First, it was Nasty, but times have changed/ Ask me now, I’m the artist, but hardcore, my science for pain…

-Nas, “Nas is Like”

Nas’ third LP featured DMX, Aaliyah, Scarface, and Diddy, but the highlight of the album is the DJ Premier assisted “Nas is Like.” This extended simile about Nas’ abilities is an ode to boom bap.

“Nasty Nas” evolved into an artist.  He went from just raw rhyming to someone who crafted things of beauty.  Our goal with education should be make sure that what we do is functional, but also artistic.

5. Choice and voice are important.

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I never changed nothin’, but people remember this/ If Nas can’t say it/ Think about these talented kids/ With new ideas/ Being told what they can and can’t spit…

-Nas, “Hero”

The Keri Hilson, Polow da Don assisted “Hero” from the Untitled album wasn’t the best track, but it’s one that had some witty word play and an infectious beat.  It also was a poignant critique of the powers-that-be infringing on his creative license an as artist.

We all teach “these talented kid with new ideas.” The problem is that education too often dictates “what they can and can’t spit” instead of allowing students input into the process.  We too often view students as receptacles for information instead of active learners.  Classrooms should be full of heroes, not zombies.

Pokemon Go: Gamer Types

If you’ve seen us present on any gamification or video game stuff, you’ve heard us talk about Bartle’s taxonomy of player types. Essentially this dude Bartle wrote a paper back in 1996 and, after analyzing game play, broke people down into 4 types: achiever, killer, socializer, and explorer. You’re not usually just one. You’re a blend of all 4, but many people relate to one or two of the types more than the others.

Explorers

Perhaps the most obvious gamer type that PoGo caters to is the explorer. There is so much of the real world that you can go explore with purpose and there are so many pokemon to find. Explorers love easter eggs so hunting for those rare and legendary pokemon speaks to explorers.

Killers

They’re more about acting and interacting. They are gatekeepers who want to regulate and make sure people stick to the rules. They also want to be at the top of the food chain. In Pokemon Go (PoGo) there are gyms and you can take over gyms by challenging the person who currently has control of the gym. The pokemon you leave there rotates in the beacon of that gym declaring it your territory. Killers love this.

Socializers

When you hit level 5 you have a choice of joining one of three teams: Mystic (blue), Valor (yellow), or Instinct (red). Also, in real life, when you realize someone around you is playing the same game you are, there’s this instant bond. Facebook groups for PoGo players in specific cities have popped up and people are sharing their experiences and funny photos all over social media. It is a socializer’s dream.

Achievers

Achievers want to get all the achievement points. They’re the ones who seek out the quests and have to complete every….single……one. There are over 700 pokemon in the pokemon catalog, although not currently in the game. There are also medals you can earn for say capturing 10 poison pokemon or for walking a certain distance. Achievers will want to capture ever pokemon and medal they can.

The wide-spread popularity of this game could definitely be inspiration for engaging professional development and instructional design.

What categories do you relate to? What drives and motivates you?

 

Pitch…Perfect?

Here at Hoodlum Central, we believe in Design Thinking. We integrate it into most things we do and it’s been pretty fruitful both in our day jobs and in our business practices.

No matter which flavor of Design Thinking one subscribes to, ideation is essential. You can’t prototype anything if you don’t have a smorgasbord of ideas to play with. While Webs and I generally do this with the Googles, I recently came across a tool I hope to use during my 9-5 hustle. Pitchcard seems like a promising tool to use in a classroom looking to encourage designing.

Pitchcard allows you to ideate publicly if you wish. You title your idea, choose a color, and then write a brief (200 word) description, which I think is awesome. Being forced into being concise allows one to hone the “spirit” of the idea more authentically in my opinion.

Once your idea is placed on the card, you can distribute it publicly on social media or privately via email.

The feedback that your idea garners is sent to the email that was entered which hopefully allows one to refine the idea into a better concept.

Classroom Applications

GAFE

If you are at a GAFE school, one could utilize this tool pretty easily. Everyone of your students would have an email address, giving them the ability to send ideas to classmates efficiently and to archive the feedback so that it could be referred to when needed. Generating feedback on ideas for projects and writing assignments just got #mosexy.

Exit Tickets

Looking for thoughts about what students learned during class? Don’t want to create a Google Form or use Exittix? This is a pretty streamlined way to gather information from your students about what they learned or struggled with during the school day.

Lesson Feedback

So you want to know if your lesson was the bomb or just bombed? Send a Pitchcard to your students and allow for feedback.

Lesson Plan ideas

Send a Pitchcard to colleagues about an idea for your have for that quantum physics lesson and see what they say.

A Open Ear to the World

Say you’re a teacher with very little technology at her disposal and you’d like to use the tool. If you had a classroom email or social media setup, you could have students generate ideas that could be posted for feedback and then disseminate that feedback to students. Class project could be #mosexy if you sent a Pitchcard rather than used snail mail or limited contributions to conversations in the room.

In short, Pitchcard is a tool I hope to roll out next week during my day job. Students will be pitching video game ideas and Pitch could be a very slick way of making students feel even more empowered.

Express-o Yourself: Adding a little caffeine to your writing

I’ve been a Hemingway user for a while. I even bought the Mac App because, though it’s not omniscient, the feedback it provides me is invaluable to the content I create. This allows me to reflect on the decisions I made while writing which hopefully lessens the number of mistakes I’ll have to have someone else help me find.

That being the case, another product I’ve begun using is Expresso, which is currently in BETA. Expresso is a little more “busy” than Hemingway and it also does a good job of spurring one to reflection. I won’t go into how to use the product as there is a “How to use” page, but the classroom uses are pretty evident.

Vocabulary Acquisition

The most obvious usage of the app is for kids to expand their vocabularies. The app can find synonyms for words used in the text that is either typed or pasted in. It turns these words green and lists possible words that are synonymous. Great for teachers with “word graveyards” in their classes or logophiles of all ages.

Parts of Speech

The app also does an analysis on the parts of speech used. Have an activity where students need to practice using a particular part of speech? This is a pretty nifty way to track it.

Twitter Chat

Looking to stream line your writing? Expresso identifies filler words for you. I quite like filler words sometimes so many times I ignore this functionality. However, if under the rule of the dreaded “Word Count,” this could be maximized to weed out words that you included in your verbosity.

Remember the app is in BETA and hopefully it will get even better. The Expresso App is currently Free.99 and waiting to be utilized in a classroom near you.