Shock and Awe

My daughter’s new cellphone was stolen while she was in the school library.  When she got home we used the FindMyPhone app to track it down.  An uncle accompanied us as we approached a rundown house in a seedy neighborhood on the outskirts of town.  After a few knocks, a man in his late thirties answered.  He was smoking, wearing dirty jeans and a t-shirt,  A television was blaring in the background.  He didn’t open the door more than a crack.  Behind him, the hallway was dark and gloomy.  “Yeah?”  He said.  I asked if he had a child who attended the local high school.  He responded that he had a daughter who went there.  ” She has my daughter’s cellphone. ”  I said.  “We tracked it here.”  The man was incredulous. “You can do that?”  We just nodded, and he called his daughter to the door.  She coughed up the cellphone, stammering that “she was going to turn it into the office tomorrow.”  We thanked them and left.  We were embarrassed for them both, and never reported the crime.

Who hasn’t experienced wonder over a cool gadget?  Or fear?  Today we are all waking up to the fact that many of our cool gizmos can be used to do us harm.  Twitter and Facebook were manipulated to attack our most basic democratic institution: the election process, and Google is the ultimate Big Brother.  Many of our technological toys, in fact,  were developed for military applications.  We can thank the military for such low tech treasures as duct tape, the EPI pen, and the microwave oven, as well as GPS, computers,  and the internet. Notably, this Christmas season’s hot tech toy is the drone, the favored child of America’s military establishment.  The drone is considered an invasive pest by many in the United States because it can be used to take surreptitious photos.  Drones are considered a hazard by the aeronautics industry, and have hindered fire fighting efforts on various occasion.  In other parts of the world, however, the drone is a veritable terror.

Drones have been sold by the military as “the most discriminating use of force that has ever been developed.” (Bowden, 2013)  In fact, drones do not have near the pinpoint accuracy purported.  There is credible evidence that hundreds or even thousands of innocent civilians have been killed in drone warfare over the last 8 years.  (Chatterjee, 2015). As well, the constant fear of drones is a severe psychological stress to all in an effected zone.  “Because of the terror, we shut our eyes, hide under our scarves…… They are like a mosquito. Even when you don’t see them, you can hear them, you know they are there… people often complain that they wake up in the middle of the night screaming because they are hallucinating about drones.” (Friedersdorf, 2012)

Similarly, soldiers who direct the drones are experiencing dramatic levels of PTSD.  In addition to the visual certainty that they inflict collateral damage, these operators often “watch their targets up close for months on end.  They often witness their subjects’ final moments.  In follow-up surveillance, they may even view their funerals.” (Chatterjee, 2015)  And then they go home to their families, have dinner, and sit in front of the television.  Just another day at the office.  “Ever step on ants and never give it another thought? That’s what you are made to think of the targets – as just black blobs on a screen. You start to do these psychological gymnastics to make it easier to do what you have to do – they deserved it, they chose their side. You had to kill part of your conscience to keep doing your job every day – and ignore those voices telling you this wasn’t right.” (Chatterjee, 2015)

We have the technology.  We can do it — but should we?

Chatterjee, P. (2015, July 14) Our Drone War Burnout. New York Times. Retrieved from

Pilkington, E. (2015, November 13) Life as a Drone Pilot.  The Guardian. Retrieved from

Bowden, M. (NOVEMBER 2013) How the Predator Drone Changed the Character of War. The Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from

Friedersdorf, C. (2012, September 25) Every Person Is Afraid of the Drones The Strikes Effects of Life in Pakistan. The Atlantic. Retrieved from

Lex, A. (2012, October 21) 9 Things Invented by the Military That You Now Encounter in Everyday Life. Retrieved from




Digitally Disconnected

This summer my daughter and I ended up in London on the same day as an Adele concert.  Bad timing.  The town was booked up.  The few available hotel rooms were going for a thousand bucks.  We opted for a hostel.  I thought it would be fun for my teenage daughter to hang out with other young backpackers, but I was wrong.  We stayed in one of the largest youth hostels in London, and the only person who said hello to us was the girl who took our money and gave us a key.  In the dormitory, all our roommates hunched in the dark around their cellphones in their bunks.  The next morning, when we went to breakfast in the dining hall, not a single person was talking.  Everybody in the room was glued to their phone or their laptop.  There was no national catastrophe or important event.  This communal disconnect is, apparently,  the new normal for millennials, except it’s not normal.  It’s not healthy human behavior.  We are herd animals.  Social media can not replace human interaction.  In fact, internet addiction is directly linked to depression, sleeplessness, impulsive behavior, social phobia, anxiety, and ADD.  

The truth is, that internet-assisted new technologies provide  too much of a good thing.  We can’t tear ourselves away.  Television was enticing, but the internet and social media are irresistible to most of us.  Mobile technology has made computers ubiquitous and inescapable.  The average American is tethered to several electronic devices, and subsequently obligated to respond with immediacy to countless phone calls and messages of varying sorts on a constant basis. Add to that dizzying prospect, information overload — a never-ending stream of news and data, along with endless opportunities for entertainment and enrichment.   

Unplugging is not really an option for most of us in this day and age, but minor adjustments can restore  a lot of the dysfunction created by digital dependency.  Experts suggest you set regular times to check messages and turn off all but emergency summons.  Set your email for automatic return messaging.  Turn down the brightness of your screens and turn off all screens an hour before bed.  Keep your phone out of sight during conversations or meals or anytime you’re not using it.  Watch movies, read,  meditate, & exercise.   Allow yourself the luxury of boredom.  Practice listening to your own thoughts, and, maybe, to somebody else’s.

Maybe this infatuation with mobile technology is a fad that will fade out, or maybe the advent of virtual reality will impel people to eschew normal life altogether, to live in fantastic digital worlds with virtual companions.  Who knows?  For now, we need to remember that we control the machines, and that we are human.  Occasionally unplugging and interacting with real people is an excellent way to rediscover that  humanity.  I think that all those kids in that London youth hostel would have been happier if they had been temporarily deprived of their internet service.  They would have had to talk to one another and might have made friends.  (Not the Facebook kind.)  


Gazzaley, A. & Rosen, L. (2016) The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World.  Boston, MA: MIT Press.

Carr, N. (2010). The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains. NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Pandora’s box

When my youngest daughter  was six years old, her favorite toy was an action figure of the professional wrestler, John Cena, and her favorite activity was watching WWE Smackdown on television with her grandpa who kept for her a secret stash of gumdrops and licorice in the magazine stand by his recliner.  He had a wrestling  action figure, too, a birthday gift from my daughter.  He kept it by his bed until the end.  

After a painful battle with cancer, my father died on Christmas four  years ago.  I vividly remember the fireman carrying his dead body out the front door as our family slumped in a daze around  the television.  I can still see  the pennies on his eyes and a blur of yellow suits.  For two days none of us talked except to choose the next disc to insert in the DVD player.  Nobody was home really.  We all escaped into the box, where the magic of technology allowed us to pass from one dreamworld to the next without stop, until we were ready to wake up.  

Many people turn to religion to get them through grief.  My family huddled around a flickering screen  whenever the quiet overcame us.  Malcolm in the Middle was our savior, and then, when that story ended, another happy family in The Middle, got us through.  Eventually, the sorrow lifted and life went on.  Today we rarely use the t.v. room.  We, instead, watch smaller screens alone in our various rooms, separated by the tangled web of cunning devices that have since invaded our home.  

Television was an escape and amusement, a communal activity that dulled our senses.  The internet-based devices that now captivate my family, conversely,  isolate us each in our own digital world, an endlessly stimulating world that compels constant attention, and creates continual anxiety.   Like Pandora we opened the box, and now we have to figure out a way to live with the consequences.

Authentic Learning

Depending upon your field, authenticity means different things.  In the teaching of world languages, there is a strong consensus that teachers should strive to utilize “authentic”, real world examples of text and video, rather than conversations or articles written exclusively to teach the language.  According to Nunan (1989),

The argument for using authentic materials is derived from the notion…that the most effective way to develop a particular skill is to rehearse that skill in class. Proponents of authentic materials point out that classroom texts and dialogues do not adequately prepare learners for coping with the language they hear and read in the real world outside the classroom. (p. 54)

In other words, simplified texts and scenarios are not representative enough of the kind of language and cultural interactions in the real world.  Students exposed only to simplified texts experience considerable shock when confronted with authentic language, and often are unable to bridge the gap between the simplified language and actual usage.  As Berardo (2006) states, “The role of the teacher is not to delude the language learner but to prepare him, giving the awareness and necessary skills so as to understand how the language is actually used. “

The Science Leadership Academy is an innovative public school in Philadelphia that endeavors to make the entire learning process “authentic”.  The foundation of their philosophy is the promotion of inquiry-based autonomous project learning, collaboration, choice, and the use of technology to achieve these ends.  Their school boasts an impressive 99% graduation rate, and students rave that the school is extraordinarily successful in preparing them for college.  Larissa Pahomov, in her book, Authentic Learning in the Digital Age, details the strategies employed by this school to engage their students in real-world projects wherein they teach themselves, and the teacher becomes more of a facilitator or  counselor for students who largely pursue their own academic interests.  

SLA, while public,  is really a selective magnet school.  Prospective students have to make a presentation in an interview.  Obviously, these students are motivated to participate in this unique  environment, and, most likely, they have parental support in this aspiration.  The population of most public schools, in general, is less academically focused, and has less parental support.  Nevertheless, most public schools are implementing many of these inquiry-based  strategies,  and achieving similar success.  

Collaborative learning has been a classroom staple for over twenty years.  Students vary in their opinions of its value, but teachers feel collaboration is a vital component of socialization, and most probably a work-place reality for students in their future careers.  Moreover, it is felt that collaborative learning compels students to engage more fully in discussion and explanatory processes, and that this process enables them to explore ideas more fully, and to develop their critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Research supports this idea.  Gokhale (1995)

In inquiry-based learning students are encouraged to explore open-ended “essential questions” and reflect upon their intellectual journeys.  The teacher no longer is the fount of information, but a creator of educational environments that are variable and self-directed by students.  Gokhale (1995) comments on this changing role of the teacher, “ The instructor’s role is not to transmit information, but to serve as a facilitator for learning. This involves creating and managing meaningful learning experiences and stimulating students’ thinking through real world problems.”

The primary catalyst of inquiry-based learning, according to the SLA model is personalization of the learning process, facilitated by the internet.  If a student is invested in the learning process through personal curiosity, then greater learning will be achieved.  “The key is giving the students the autonomy to gain access to these bodies of knowledge while they are pursuing lines of inquiry that feel relevant to them personally.”  Pahomov (2014)  Unfortunately, all of us, at times, however, have to learn information in which we have no particular interest.  That reality is, in fact, the basic dilemma of teaching.  Access to the internet will not necessarily spark a student’s curiosity for chemistry or physics or calculus.  In real life, we all occasionally have to tread difficult, unpleasant roads to get to our ultimate destination.  

Authentic learning, in reality, takes a variety of forms.  Good teachers assimilate valuable techniques and adapt to their particular population and personality.  …Everything the learner understands is authentic for him.” Davies (1984)


Nunen, David  Task-Based Language Teaching (2004)  Cambridge:  Cambridge

University Press.

Berardo, S. The Use of Authentic Materials in the Teaching of Reading, The Reading Matrix.

Vol. 6, No. 2, September 2006.  Retrieved from

Hubbard, P. Reality and Authenticity:  A Critical Look at ELT Materials. Volume 18, Number 4,

Spring 1995. Retrieved from

Pahomov, L. (2014) Authentic Learning in the Digital Age: Engaging Students Through

Inquiry. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Davies, A. (1984) Simple, simplified and simplification: what is authentic? in Alderson, J.C. &  Urquhart, A.H. (1984) Reading in a Foreign Language.  London, Longman.  

Gokhale, A.  (Fall 1995) Collaborative Learning Enhances Critical Thinking  Vol 7, Number 1.  Retrieved from Journal of

Technology Education

Lost in Space?

Inquiry-based learning is one of the hottest buzz terms in education today.  How do we get our kids to ask the big questions? How do we re-ignite curiosity in our jaded, bored students?  The basic premise of this ideology is that classrooms should be learner-centered.  Teachers are advised to facilitate learning, not teach.  Students are supposed to work collaboratively in joyful discovery abetted by their free choice to pursue their individual interests via the internet.  Advocates of this enlightened approach view most teachers as “power-hungry” “gatekeepers of knowledge” drawing “rigid boundaries around what a student can potentially learn.”  (Pahomov, 2014, p. 23.)  If students have more choice and more control over their learning, it is surmised, then they will want to explore and achieve higher levels of mastery because they are invested in the process.  

Is inquiry-based learning really such a new concept?  Isn’t it what Socrates was doing in his dialogues?  It’s what teachers have been doing for years.  The denigration of the teacher, however, is a new and dangerous phenomenon — especially when it is aligned with the devaluation of content mastery.  In traditional societies the teacher has been revered as a fount of knowledge, an invaluable guide to higher understanding or content mastery.   Indeed, the mentor is a core figure in the hero myth of every culture.  (Campbell, 1949). Today, it is assumed that, with the bounty of information on the internet,  the teacher is almost superfluous.  Some in the education community are even promoting the idea that it isn’t important to acquire knowledge when we have the internet.  They say students simply need to know how to use this amazing tool, the internet, to get any information they need.  

Certainly, computers and the internet provide us with a fabulous means for research and creativity, but no technology can substitute for expertise.  Creativity is possible when we have mastered the fundamental knowledge base of our field.  A musician can not compose music until he has a firm grasp of theory.  A writer can not create a novel until he or she has read many books and understands figurative language and rhetorical form.  A teacher is an invaluable crutch to anybody trying to master any subject.  A teacher is a traveler who has been down that road and can tell us the route and warn of dangers along the way.  A teacher is not a gate-keeper.  

A few years ago, another technology ignited speculation of new ways of learning.  Another box promised to open up the world to the masses and deliver us all to a higher intellectual plane.  Television, like the internet, can provide phenomenal education.  Most people choose, instead, to use it for recreational purposes, most of them, mind-numbing.  Why do we assume that the internet will be used by our students in a more enlightened fashion than television?  Television also shows us the value of too much choice.  We have hundreds of channels, but very little quality programming.  Moreover, few people exercise that choice to watch anything educational.  

Every good teacher utilizes a variety of techniques to spark curiosity in their students.  It is acknowledged, similarly, that teachers want students to practice collaborative work, because it’s quite possibly the manner they will be expected to function in their future careers.  Good teachers, however, do not just stand on the sidelines and let their students discover blindly fumbling in the darkness.  Good teachers guide their students down the path of learning.  Their role should be honored, not disparaged.


Pahmomov, L.  (2014)  Authentic Learning in the Digital Age:  Engaging Students

Through Inquiry.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD.


Campbell, J. (1949) The Hero With a Thousand Faces. New York: Pantheon.

Web Treasures

I have been exploring the web universe this week and have found some wonderful resources for teachers.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Edutopia is a site produced by the George Lucas Educational Foundation.  It features a plethora of articles and videos related to current topics in education. This wealth of information is presented in an attractive, user-friendly format with topics presented with a short summary and an accompanying video.  At this site I read  about a model school in London that has achieved remarkable success by focusing  on “Oracy” or oral language skills, the arts, and “well-being”.   The article included several videos demonstrating School 21’s  programs, along with a number of lesson ideas,  and an outline of the school’s philosophical framework.  


The videos of this innovative school showcased impressive eloquence in a very diverse student body.  As well, students showed great confidence and enthusiasm for learning.  I especially liked the fact that final projects were all geared as performance pieces for the community.  The program showed a unique integration of the arts with other content, and laudable creativity.


Most impressive was the mature manner in which students were able to articulate their mastery of the learning process.  Vygotsky (1978) states that “language is not only a means of communication, but also — and more importantly — it is a medium for intellectual development that helps learners broaden and deepen their understanding of significant ideas.”  In this school, from a very age, students utilize high-quality, constructive academic language, and that use has fostered tremendous critical thinking and literacy skills.  In the U.S., Common Core has recently elevated the importance of this use of academic language in the curriculum.  Is it possible that American schools can reverse downward academic trends and, perhaps, restore some civility in public discourse through this change in the way students interact in the classroom?  School 21 offers us hope.  

Public Speaking: Oracy Skills for the Real World. (2016, Sept. 15). Edutopia. Retrieved from

Dziombak, C. (2017, Oct.) Cutting to the Common Core: Constructive

Conversations. Language Magazine: Improving Literacy & Communication. Retrieved from

Hakuta, K., Zwiers, J., & Rutherford-Quach, S. (2013). Constructive Classroom

Conversations: Mastering language for the Common Core State Standards.

Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University/Understanding Language online course.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University


Zwiers, J., O’Hara, S., & Pritchard, R. (2014). Common Core Standards in Diverse

Classrooms: Essential practices for developing academic language and

disciplinary literacy. Stenhouse Publishers/

Brandl, K, Communicative Language Teaching in Action, Developing Oral Communication

Skills:  Speaking Involves the Oral Expression of Thought and Mind, 277-300.

FilmEnglish, by Kieran Donaghy, presents several model ELT lesson plans building on very short films and photos.  Donaghy uses exemplary CLT lessons with very engaging film fragments and photography.  These take-away lessons can easily be utilized by teachers.  In addition to offering training in his methodology, Donaghy promotes his book and solicits donations for the website.  This website is a rich resource for EFL teachers.  Donaghy has painstakingly detailed each lesson, and provided an index of themes.  The films are varied — some comical, others heartbreaking.  The lessons can be adapted to a variety of ESL levels.  

I particularly enjoyed the “Differences” lesson that features a BBC short film of children with their best friends, discussing their differences.  The children fumble to even think of differences, and then mention things like “I have bigger toes.”  Adult viewers will notice differences in skin color or disabilities — not the kids.  This lesson is an excellent conversation starter for an EFL class, and utilizes exemplary practices in using film to teach language.  

Donaghy is a thoughtful, sensitive, imaginative teacher who generously offers a panoply of fabulous lessons free to all.  What a wonderful model to other teachers!  Why are we all reinventing the wheel day after day?  How do we create more lesson sharing sites so we can build on each other’s strengths?  


Donaghy, Kieran. (2017, July 17). Difference. FilmEnglish

Retrieved from

Herron, C., Dubreil, S., Corrie, C., & Cole, S. (2002)  A Classroom Investigation: Can Video

Improve Intermediate-level French Language Students’ Ability to Learn about a

Foreign Culture? The Modern Language Journal, 86( i),  36-53.

TEFL Matters: Teaching, Teacher Education, New Technologies

This site, created by the well-known EFL educator, Marisa Constantinides, is a forum for English as a Foreign Language Teachers.  It provides information about conferences, research, training opportunities, classroom management, technological resources, and various other issues related to EFL.  Within this site, I read “Seven Questions for Alan Maley”.  He discussed the main points of his new book, Creativity in the English Language Classroom, which urges teachers to utilize principles from creativity research in the classroom, “Do the opposite’, using the random principle, using the withholding of information principle, using the constraints principle, etc.”  In addition, Maley discusses at length the value of utilizing literature to teach language. “Literature offers rich linguistic input (the richest there is) and many possible and creative ways of utilizing that input (Duff & Maley 2007)  Maley also expresses his distress over current practices in education that stifle creativity and inquiry.  He is cynical about  the future of education.

Interestingly, Maley voices condemnation for social media, “I am wary of the triviality which characterizes so many blogs and tweets,” and says that he is “sceptical of the ultimate usefulness of much of this cyber-communication…Simply exchanging information (even when it is relevant information) is not much use unless we do something with it.  The speed and volume of information exchange is now so great that it has become quite difficult to absorb it, reflect on it, discriminate between what is and is not useful, join up the dots, and do something with it.”   Creativity demands time for reflection.  Is it possible less is more effective?  The vetting process of publishers and movie studios is sometimes restrictive, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.   Our most limited resource is time to think.  Are we wasting it surfing the web for trivialities?

Note the nice little bonus:  there is a free download of Maley’s  new book at the end of the article.


Constantinides, M. (2015, Dec. 30) Seven Questions for Alan Maley. TEFL Matters: Teaching,  

Teacher Education, New Technologies. Retrieved from

Arnold, J. 1999.  Affect in Language Teaching.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press..

Duff, A. & A. Maley.  2007. Literature.  Oxford: Oxford University Press

Greenfield, S.  2014. Mind Change  London: Rider/Ebury.

Maley, A. 2005. A modest proposal: From research to inquiry.  HLT    Year 5, Issue

  1. Nov. 05

Pugliese, C. 2010.  Being Creative.  London: Delta.

Underhill, A & A. Maley 2012.  Expect the unexpected.  English Teaching Professional. Issue

82, Sept. 2012: 4-7.

Wright, A.  2014.  Creativity in the Classroom.  Godollo: International Languages Institute.

MindShift: How We Will Learn is an educational issues resource site created by KQED television.  It offers a variety of articles exploring problems facing educators, new innovations, and teaching strategies.  It also includes a podcast on educational issues.  The site is easy to navigate and rich with cutting edge ideas.  

I read an article entitled, “Science of Learning:  Marijuana, Achievement, and the Teen Brain.”  It detailed the change in grades of college students in the Dutch city of Maastricht when marijuana was banned.  The Review of Economic Studies published an analysis showing that 73.9% of students were passing classes before the ban.  After the ban, 77.9% of students passed classes, a considerable increase.  Previous studies have been unable to untangle marijuana use from other factors like alcohol use.  A new American study by The National Institutes of Health, the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study (ABCD), will track more than 10,000 nine- and ten-year-olds for 10 years.  It is predicted that this study will be able to clearly document the effects of marijuana on the teenage brain, and detail its effect on academic success.  As more and more American communities legalize marijuana, this Dutch study is particularly troubling.  In addition, the psychiatric community is warning that marijuana changes brain development in teenagers and contributes to depression and, even, the incidence of schizophrenia.  

Educators will bear the brunt of the effects of marijuana legalization.  Teachers are continually blamed for low achievement in students, but, obviously societal factors can play a major role in student performance.  What can teachers do to educate the public as to the hazards of marijuana legalization?  How do we prepare for the problems that marijuana legalization will bring to our profession?
Wallis, C. (2017, Sept. 27) Science of Learning: Marijuana, Achievement, and the Teen Brain.

The Hechinger Report. Retrieved from

Weir, K. (2015, Nov.) Marijuana and the Developing Brain. American Psychological

Association. Vol 46, No. 10. Retrieved from



My explorations in the digital realm led me today to podcasts.  My technology class was directed to seek out two podcasts of interest and report our experience.  I am interested in creativity and language learning, and so settled upon sites that discussed issues pertinent to these areas.

In The Cult of Pedagogy site I found a wonderful podcast on teaching ESL at a large newcomer school in the midwest.  The interviewed teacher, Jennifer Gonzalez, detailed her teaching methods and the ESL program, and discussed various problems particular to her population.  Her middle school attracts a large number of refugees from around the globe, many illiterate.  Within the classroom Ms. Gonzalez uses communicative language techniques to teach the full gamut of content areas in an intense “bootcamp”.  Many of her students, however, are years behind in the education process.  To catch them up, she needs after school time in the target language, English, but most students go home to monolingual families communicating in the heritage language.  To provide more English time, she got a grant to furnish the entire class with IPods, and she sends iPod lessons home with the kids, enabling her to “flip” the classroom, producing more teacher-student interaction time, and providing more language input in a medium in which students control speed of delivery and can repeat.    Students also use the IPods to create projects.  In addition, Ms. Gonzalez uses a phone translator service, Every Language,  to communicate with parents.

Ms. Gonzalez also discussed at length problems with implementing state testing.   Differentiation is the norm except in testing where rules stipulate tests must be administered to all students in the same manner.  Her students don’t have the English competency to read or listen to a tape recording of the test questions.  Many are illiterate, but are still required to take the tests one year after arriving at the school.

The second podcast I listened to was, “Can Less Choice Lead to More Creativity?”, by John Spencer, who argues convincingly that creative constraint develops divergent thinking,  in the same way that children find so many ways to use a refrigerator box.  “When you have fewer resources, you have to find new ways to use the existing resources you have,” he explains.   Correspondingly, he adds, boredom increases divergent thinking, as well.  Studies have shown that groups who report the highest boredom actually score higher in tests of divergent thinking.  “Boredom, coupled with the constraint, pushed divergent thinking.”  He qualified this finding by adding that the conditions must foster freedom for that divergent thinking to occur.  The students must feel empowered to own the learning process for creative constraint to result in divergent thinking.  He specifically cautioned against grading these sorts of activities, because that takes away ownership of the activity from the learners.

Newsweek reported that creativity scores within the United States have been declining since the 1990.   Why?  “One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools.”  (Bronson and Merryman, 2010) Maybe we are not giving our students time for contemplative thought.  Maybe we’re providing them with too many distractions, and too many choices.

Gonzalez, J (Speaker). (2013, Aug 16) Episode #1: Best Practices for ESL [Audio podcast].

Retrieved from

Spencer, J. (Speaker). (2016, Aug 9) Can Less Choice Lead to More Creativity? [Audio podcast].

Retrieved from

Bronson, P. & Merryman, A.   (2010, Oct 10). The Creativity Crisis,  Newsweek.

Retrieved from

Bergmann J. and Sams, A. (2012) Flip Your Classroom: Reach Every Student In Every Classroom.

Retrieved from

Reflections on Educational Technology

Love, Hate, & Fear of the Device

This summer my laptop was stolen on a plane in Europe.  A few days earlier, my daughter lost her cellphone to a pickpocket.  Together we shared an intense moment of grieving when we remotely “killed” our devices.   These inanimate machines engender complex feeling in all of us.  We love them for providing us with social connection, for creating work environments, for facilitating our creativity, and so much more.  When the devices don’t function adequately, we get angry.  It’s illogical to get angry at a machine, but we all do it.  Most of us, in addition, are afraid of our electronic devices.  They know too much.  The  modern day Visigoths are hackers, viruses, and worms — just a firewall away from destroying civilization.

As a teacher, I feel those conflicting emotions when I think about technology in the classroom.  My computer enables me to create vibrant, differentiated multimedia lessons, and allows the students to interact and create amazing projects.  Every day some fabulous new application is created that opens the door to Oz even wider.   It’s awesome, and overwhelming.  I hardly have time to prepare my lessons now, but I feel pressured to learn all these new applications.  I feel inadequate, that there will never be enough time, or enough of me to catch up.

I also worry about what’s being lost.  Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln never had the benefits of modern technology, but they were profound thinkers, and great writers.  We’re told our students need technology to be educated, yet, according to many college professors, this new generation raised on technology is less academically prepared than any other.  Some call it the “Dumbest Generation.”    Other academics warn the internet is  creating a culture of constant distraction, where sustained focus is impossible.    A very unsettling book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, claims hypertext is actually dismantling the logical processes in our brain. Am I helping or hurting my students with all this technology?

With these misgivings  I am embarking on the most bizarre of technological education explorations.  I am exploring language learning in virtual reality.  Second language acquisition requires interaction in a language practice community.  Virtual reality offers a uniquely suitable environment for language practice, it would seem.  I shall find out.  I am beginning my exploration of Second Life, seeking out language learning communities, and new adventures.

Learning in Virtual Worlds. (n.d.). Retrieved October 8, 2017, from

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton.

A Tangled Web

Once upon a time I thought it was very important to teach my daughters computer skills.  I started them on Kidpix, then keyboarding,  desktop publishing, and presentations.  I even took them to a camp to build their own computers.  I was naive. None of us back then imagined that  these tools would take over our family lives.  

Digital convergence at our house happened when my tweens got cell phones.  We already had an IPad we used for music lessons, and a laptop and a desktop computer.  Suddenly there were cables everywhere, and conflicts over charging units.  That tangled mess was only the beginning of the battles to be waged over those phones.

Car trips which once were filled with spritely songs and stories now became silent voyages.  Sucked into the social media void, my daughters conversed less and less.  Before cell phones, weekends were family time, but, with social media, friends became omnipresent.  Parents became peripheral.  Time once spent together in the family room or in front of the big screen sharing a movie, was now spent on small screens watching youtube videos or vines.  Both girls read less and less.  They maintained their grades, constantly checked them online, and networking with friends to collaborate on assignments, but grades were all that mattered any more.  Their curiosity about the world seemed to have been quenched by the wave of information and entertainment provided by their electronic devices.  

My children demonstrated better social skills before the distractions of social media.  They also had better attention span and read more books.  Most importantly, they were more curious about the world, and were more creative in finding answers to their questions before they could just google it.  

Is a similar pattern unfolding in education?  Many professors have begun to ban laptops from their classrooms.  Multiple studies confirm that many students, instead of using their laptop to take  notes on lectures, are shopping or watching videos or chatting with friends.  “Evidence suggests that when college students use laptops, they spend 40% of class time using applications unrelated to coursework, are more likely to fall off task, and are less satisfied with their education.” (May, 2014)  Students feel they are multitasking, and are confident that they can manage to absorb their lessons and juggle their various online activities at the same time.  Research says otherwise. Our brains are not designed to do more than one thing at a time, and our productivity goes down by as much as 40% when we attempt to multitask.

Additional research shows students who write out their notes longhand remember more and have a deeper understanding of material than students who type their notes into the computer.  Students can type faster, and input more words, but the act of manual transcription of  notes engages kinesthetic and visual memory.  As well, more importantly, students can not write down every word, so they have to “listen, digest, and summarize so that they can succinctly capture the essence of the information.  Thus, taking notes by hand forces the brain to engage in some heavy “mental lifting,” and these efforts foster comprehension and retention.”  (American Psychological Association, 2006).

While computer usage within classrooms will undoubtedly increase, it is worthwhile to consider that we might want to institute computer-free zones.  Students need to develop their listening skills and lectures continue to be a dominant form of secondary education.  Limiting laptops in lecture halls is a sensible step in helping our children to engage fully in listening and interacting in their educational experience.  

May, C. (2014, June 3.)   A Learning Secret:  Don’t Take Notes With Your Laptop. Retrieved from

American Psychological Association. (2006, March 20). Multitasking: Switching Costs.  Retrieved from



My favorite episode of “I Love Lucy” was when she went to work at the assembly line at the chocolate factory.  Of course, Lucy couldn’t keep up with the conveyor belt and ends up stuffing chocolates in her mouth, and failing completely at her job.  As an educator in this new technological world, I identify with Lucy.  The computer was supposed to make my job easier.  I’m not sure that’s really been the case.  Don’t get me wrong — I love my computer and all the gizmos it makes available.  I love my smart board and the videos and computer games and new applications.  And, of course, the internet opens up all kinds of avenues for resource sharing and networking.  It’s all so amazing and fabulous — but there’s just so much of it.  Too much, maybe.  I spend more time than ever doing lesson plans now because I am compelled to make them entertaining and media rich.  I devote hours and hours to researching ideas on the internet because there is so much compellingly wonderful stuff out there.  Finally, I’m expected to constantly learn what is new and exciting in edtech.  Every day I’m introduced to a new application that will revolutionize education.  It is overwhelming and exhausting.

I am a reentry teacher.  Fifteen years ago I never even had a telephone in my room, or a working intercom.  Chalk was still common and computers were rare and without internet or anything but simple office applications and games.  It was a slower pace, more focused — and a lot less stressed.

Despite my trepidation and anxieties, I am  plunging into educational technology, exploring virtual language learning communities, figuring out how to utilize touch screens to teach kindergarteners, trying out new whiteboard flipboards  daily, and networking and researching assiduously on the web.  Like my students, and my own kids, I, too, am getting sucked into that computer void — spending less and less time reading books and interacting in the real world.  Do I have a choice?  Do any of us anymore?