Roger Schank and School Culture

Tonight at 8:00 p.m. the educational chat #MichED will host education revolutionary and edupreneur Roger Schank as a guest chatter. Schank’s background is in the academic world, where he studied linguistics and worked on projects with artificial intelligence and cognitive psychology. But to hear him speak, his former life in the academic world is more of a demerit than a badge of honor. Schank frequently bemoans the world of academics for it’s lack of focus on what really matters in learning. And what really matters? Schank’s answer to this question is straight-forward and pragmatic – what really matters in education is doing. For Schank, time spent teaching academic facts without context, memorized to simply pass a test, is wasted time. Students dump this information from their brains within minutes of finishing the test. In speeches, Schank likes to demonstrate this reality by asking audiences if anyone can remember the quadratic equation. It’s a reasonable question, considering all the time spent in schools around the world teaching the quadratic equation. It’s funny to watch Schank’s expression as he scans the audience, looking for any hands of someone in attendance who can remember one of the cornerstones of basic math classes. When no hands go up, Schank gives a little nod, then continues on with his broader point.

“Why should everyone know the same stuff? … Teachers should help students figure out how to do stuff that students actually want to do.” – Roger Schank

There are only two problems with school, claims Schank – 1) what we teach, and 2) how we teach it. While this may seem a little extreme, it’s a good example of just how revolutionary Schank’s ideas are for the educational system. Schank wants to do away with a teacher- and curriculum-centered institution and replace it with an educational approach which puts the student’s motivation and learning front and center. For Schank, this is accomplished by giving the student some independence. “Why should everyone know the same stuff?” asks Schank, “[besides] there isn’t all that much that is important to know. There is a lot that is important to know how to do, however. Teachers should help students figure out how to do stuff the students actually want to do.”

Schank takes this practical approach into a field whose reputation is anything but practical. In his latest book, “Teaching Minds: How Cognitive Science Can Save Our Schools” (here), Schank applies cognitive psychology to academic institutions. For Schank, schools ought to teach student how to “do” and “think.” Forget the traditional knowledge-based process of education and focus on process-based education. Schank describes a knowledge-based approach to education:

“In our society we have set up school to teach knowledge. We concern ourselves with facts children know, we test to make sure they know them, and then we complain that the schools are failing when they don’t.” – Roger Schank, “Teaching Minds”

What we ought to teach instead is the stuff of thinking – teach student the process of thinking, which looks more like this:

“Make a prediction

Prediction fails

Make a generalization

Explain your generalization

Make a new prediction”

Notice how failure is central to this process. For Schank, schools need to teach students how to fail. Students should fail again and again, because failure – and learning how to deal with failure – is a cornerstone in the process of learning. Once again, this idea is practically rooted and makes more sense when we consider our own personal lives – true growth and learning begins with failure, and our most profound lessons are rooted in our most profound failures. It’s this type of practical sense that Schank wants to apply to the classroom. Don’t teach students “what” – teach them “how.” This is the heart of Schank’s gadfly approach to education.

If interested in learning more, check out the #MichED chat tonight – 8:00 p.m. Or look into Roger Schank’s new book: “Teaching Minds


Why Every Teacher Should Use Twitter

Twitter, a brief video introduction

If you consider yourself a “visual learner,” this brief video introduction to Twitter for Teachers may help. Follow the link here

I already have a Facebook account, why would I want to become involved on Twitter?

Twitter isn’t Facebook. Yes, they both are social media, but Twitter offers users a lot more control than Facebook. With Twitter, you only follow who you choose to follow. Even if someone follows you, you’re not obligated to follow them back. This offers a huge advantage over Facebook, which forces two-way feeds on all your Facebook “friends.” With Facebook, you are forced to see posts from anyone in your network. With Twitter, you can choose. I like this saying to describe the difference between Facebook and Twitter: “Facebook is the place where you learn to hate the people you like. Twitter is the place where you go to meet new people.”

“Teachers love to hear practical tips and strategies from others teachers. The problem is that we work in one building, in one district, in one small city, in one state – this not exactly what we might qualify as a network. Twitter gives you a chance to exponentially expand that network.”

I’m a teacher. I want to represent myself as a professional. I don’t want to blog about what I had for dinner or what I thought of the latest episode of Jersey Shore.

There is a common impression that Twitter is the place where Facebook content is posted with fewer characters. Thus, according to this impression, Twitter is like Facebook, only more shallow. There is no doubt that Twitter can be used in unproductive ways, and in that respect the impression is true. But this is not true across the board. There are many large, well-developed networks across Twitter where incredible, vibrant ideas are exchanged and professional connections are made. Twitter is what you make of it. Garbage in, garbage out. If you follow the losers on Jersey Shore, you will get looser content. If you follow quality professionals, you will get quality, professional information and connections. Twitter offers you the chance to connect with the top professionals in your field. Robert Marzano, Ken Robinson – they’re both on Twitter. No other medium gives you this opportunity to follow such high quality professionals. Excellence is determined by who you surround yourself with. Why would a teacher choose to not connect with the best teachers in their field?

So how does Twitter work for teachers?

There is an incredible network of hundreds of thousands of teachers on Twitter. The problem, in fact, is that there are too many. Knowing where to start can become overwhelming. If you feel overwhelmed, don’t despair. That’s normal. It’s also a good sign because that means there are unlimited possibilities for connecting with teachers on Twitter. Once again, the first step is choosing the right people to follow. Start with people in your network, or people who post on topics you care about, then look to see who they follow. All the hot topics in education are discussed on a regular basis: common core, Project Based Learning, 1:1 education, formative assessment – you name it, it’s on Twitter, discussed by quality, motivated professionals. But Twitter is also more than educational theories. By getting involved with Twitter you have the opportunity to hear practical classroom strategies that work, all from teachers across the world. Let’s face it – teaching is a practical field. Teachers love to hear practical tips and strategies from others teachers. The problem is that we work in one building, in one district, in one small city, in one state – this not exactly what we might qualify as a network. Twitter gives you a chance to exponentially expand that network.

“Over the course of a career, this exposure may mean the difference between being a slightly above average teacher and a teacher bordering on mastery.”

But I don’t have enough time for Twitter. I’m overwhelmed with what I already have on my plate

Twitter doesn’t have to be the time-sucking-monster some believe it to be. It’s like anything else. If you have a lot of time, you can give it a lot of time. If you don’t have a lot of time, then you just spend a few minutes a week. It’s up to you, and it’s a convenient medium. Standing in line at the store for 20 minutes waiting to check out with your Thanksgiving groceries? Pull up Twitter and read an article on implementing the common core. Waiting at the oil change for 15 minutes? Check out the latest posts on formative assessment and hear how dedicated professionals are changing their classrooms. You could decide just to read one article a week – that would be 10-20 minutes spent on Twitter per week. But over the course of the year you would be exposed to 52 new educational articles which may help expand your teaching practice. Over the course of a career, this exposure may mean the difference between being a slightly above average teacher and a teacher bordering on mastery. And what was the time commitment? 10-20 minutes per week, much of which could be spent while waiting in line at the store, or at the doctor’s office. Yes, this is a chunk of time that might have otherwise been dedicated to reading the latest columns on the celebrity gossip magazines. So if you’d rather read the latest celebrity gossip than constructive educational articles, then Twitter might not be for you. If you don’t mind this trade-off, then Twitter might be something to give a try. The point is that finding time for Twitter is not about finding more time, it about being more efficient in the time you already have. There may be some good reasons for teachers not to use Twitter, but time is not one of them.

Where to Start

Begin by searching for educational related hashtags (those funny tags that always start with #). Some great hashtags for education are: #edchat (general education tag), #satchat (Saturday ed chat), #MichED (Michigan teachers network), #engchat (ELA), #sschat (Social Studies), #mathchat (Math), #scichat (Science), #spedchat (Special Ed), #edtech (Educational technology), #musedtech (Music education). There are many more, but these are some of the best to start with. To search for a hashtag on Twitter simple enter the hashtag in the search bar on Twitter, then hit enter. It’s as easy as that. Twitter will sort through its millions of posts and find only those tweets that match your subject. Once you find these posts you can search through and glean for information. If someone says something that sounds good, retweet it out to your followers so you can pass the message along, then click on the Twitter user’s profile and follow them. Over time, you’ll build a great base of people to follow. If you find an educator who seems to be really well-connected, then click on their profile and see who they are following, then follow who they follow. If you limit who you’re following to quality educators who only tweet about education, then after a very short period of time you’ll build a solid foundation to build from.

Twitter Chats

The Twitter chat is my favorite way to participate in Twitter. A chat is a scheduled time where people log onto Twitter and search for a specific hashtag. Moderators of the chat have a topic and prearranged questions. Participants discuss the topic and the questions. It’s a lively discussion, usually with 4 or 5 threads or more happening at the same time. It takes some getting used to, but it’s a great way to use Twitter for ideas. Believe me, by participating in the Twitter chat you have no lack of ideas to choose from. Pick those that are of value, then forget the rest. Here are some of the most common Twitter chats and their times:

  • #edchat (general education tag): Tuesdays, 7:00 p.m.
  • #satchat (Saturday ed chat): Saturdays, 7:00 a.m.
  • #MichED (Michigan teachers network): Wednesdays, 8:00 p.m.
  • #engchat (ELA): Mondays, 7:00 p.m.
  • #sschat (Social Studies): Mondays, 7:00 p.m.
  • #mathchat (Math): Mondays, 3:30 p.m.; Thursdays, 8:00 p.m.
  • #scichat (Science): Tuesdays, 9:00 p.m.
  • #spedchat (Special Ed): Tuesdays, 9:00 p.m.
  • #musedtech (Music education): Mondays, 8:00 p.m.

Author: Jeff Bush, @BushjMS,

Who’s Next: Michigan Teachers

Coming away from yesterday’s EdCamp Blue Water, I’m struck with one overwhelming impression: Michigan educators are what’s next. There’s a movement underfoot, led by highly dedicated and talented professionals, to bring the best teaching practices to the classroom and share those best practices with other teachers in Michigan. Yesterday’s EdCamp, organized by Kit Hard, Sally Morgan, Hope Zick-Powell, and Kristen Day, was a model of organization and inspiration, and was also well-attended, especially considering this was the first EdCamp in Blue Water. It was amazing to walk from room to room, listening to teachers grappling with the most important issues in the classroom. (What’s an EdCamp? Click here).

EdCamp Blue Water is just the most recent event in a series of events which will very soon explode onto the scene. Consider checking out these resources to see the growing Michigan Teachers’ Network:

  • #MichED hashtag – a place for Michigan teachers to connect on Twitter
  • #MichED educational chat – a place for Michigan teachers to discuss questions and issues of the day
  • – website dedicated to connecting Michigan teachers across the state
  • #MichED Podcast – plans for a weekly podcast are in the works. The podcast plans to celebrate and model the great work of teachers and students across the state.
  • – Michigan teacher website, created by Ben Rimes, devoted to integrating new technology into the classroom
  • – Michigan teacher website, created by Nick Provenzano touching on blogging, writing, technology, and pedagogy in the classroom
  • – Michigan teacher website, created by Erin Klein, with information on technology, classroom practices, and project based learning, among other topics
  • – Michigan teacher website, created by Brad Wilson, with reflections on teaching and learning
  • – Michigan teacher website, created by Todd Bloch, with thoughts on teaching, technology, learning, and education
  • – Michigan teacher website, created by Kit Hard, with tips on using technology in education

This list is just the start. Truly, Michigan is a place where talented professionals are growing a network of innovation and learning.

And I believe this is just the groundswell. The tsunami is yet to come. In the next few years we will watch Michigan explode. This is more than just a collection of professionals dedicated to their craft. This is a movement – a movement you should join. Become part of Michigan’s teacher network.

Join the Movement!

Start by participating in the #MichED chat, Wednesday’s at 8:00 p.m.

Begin following the blogs above.

Then follow some Michigan educators. You can find them on the #MichED hashtag.

And look for the #MichED Podcast, coming out soon.

5 Ways to Collaborate Online (when you’re offsite)

We’ve all been there before. It’s Sunday afternoon and you’re home relaxing when you realize there was something you and your colleague forgot to include in your plans for the week. Normally this isn’t a huge problem. Just pick up the phone and call, or fire off a quick email. Problem solved.

But this time it’s different. Not only have you forgot to plan an important piece of the weekly plans, but the missing part of the plan requires a little technical know-how which you have explored but your partner has not yet learned how to do. A phone call or a traditional email just won’t cut it. The technical side requires a little something extra. So what do you do, short of giving up your Sunday and meeting at school?

The following 5 suggestions can work as a guide for ways to collaborate and communicate online, even when you’re offsite.

1. Shared Documents

By now most teachers are aware of the power of Google Docs. Many are using Google Docs to help make grading and sharing more efficient. For me, I have exclusively used Google Docs this year and grading papers has never been easier. I don’t miss my overstuffed briefcase, now retired to a closet in my study, and never intend to see it again. Good riddance.

But Google Docs can go beyond teacher-student communication and help teacher to teacher communication as well. The shared documents feature can be used as an effective tool for collaboration, but in addition the comments feature in Google Docs can help foster additional collaboration and communication. To help communicate with your colleague, have both partners open the same document, then use the comments feature, found on the right side of the screen, to create a real-time chat environment where colleagues can change the document then share their thoughts on all the changes being made.

2. Email, Screenshots, and Penultimate

Email is an effective communication tool which has spanned the test of time. In the world of technology this decades-old tool is a grandfather by comparative standards. On its own, email is a great tool, with many possibilities for collaboration.

However, to take the power of email communication to the next level, try pairing email with some newer technologies. To add that extra level, try using email in conjunction with screenshots and a visual editing tool such as Penultimate. Combined together, these features allow you to create a step-by-step tutorial on the fly. Not sure what Penultimate is? Check out this Penultimate tutorial.

Consider this strategy:

1. Take a screenshot of the program in question.

2. Enter the screenshot picture in Penultimate.

3. Edit the screenshot picture in Penultimate, using a variety of hand-drawn signs to highlight the directions for the function in question.

4. Save the edited picture as a screenshot.

5. Attach the new edited screenshot to an email and send to your colleague.

3. Texting with Pictures and Videos

Texting, like email, is an efficient method for communication which is used on a regular basis. But to take the power of collaboration with texting to the next level, consider using the visual possibilities inherent in the medium. To communicate technical directions with a colleague, the following strategies can be employed:

1. Take a screenshot, then text.

2. Take a picture of the function in question, then text.

3. Take a video while you work through the function, then text the video. This feature of texting can be an especially powerful strategy, effectively allowing you to create a video tutorial in a matter of seconds.

4. Google Voice

Google Voice is a feature which allows the Google user to create a custom phone number with all the feature of phone calls, texting, voicemail, and a contact list. On its own, Google Voice is a great feature which can help run all the daily classroom activities. I especially like using Google Voice from my cell phone to call parents. This allows me to be in tough with parents at any time, from anywhere, without giving away my own personal cell phone number.

However, Google Voice off a few additional features for collaboration which a regular phone does not offer. Specifically, Google Voice offers a speak to text feature on both voicemail and phone calls. This can be a great asset when communicating complex, technical directions. One colleague can call the other with directions, then the colleague receiving the directions can access a written transcript of the spoken directions.

5. Remote Control and Remote Viewing

In a desperate situation a program offering remote control or remote viewing can solve any complex, technical problem when one colleague is lost and spoken or written directions just won’t suffice. There are a few different options for programs which offer remote control or remote viewing. My own personal favorite is LogMeIn, a program which is free and offers complete access to networked computers. By using LogMeIn, one colleague can access the computer of another colleague, then control the colleague’s computer as though sitting in front of the computer in person. The remote access can be used by another computer, tablet, or even a smart phone, meaning complete access to the problem can be done anywhere, at any time. Admittedly, setting up LegMeIn takes a little technical know-how to begin with, but the feature is easy enough that someone with only intermediate computer skills can figure it out. You do not have to be a network engineer to use LogMeIn, and the benefits for fixing otherwise unfixable problems are tremendous.

10 Things I’ve Learned from a 1:1 Classroom

This year I began a 1:1 curriculum at my school. We threw out the textbook, rolled up our sleeves, and decided to dive into the deep end of the pool by going all digital. Below are my top 10 lessons from the first month of school.

10. Multitasking is a myth (see “Multitasking Doesn’t Work“). It’s tempting to believe the idea, often a common misconception, that students are immune to the dangers of multitasking. According to this misconception students are able to focus on several different tasks at once because they are natives of the information revolution and, thus, able to focus on work, TV, texting, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr all at the same time. In reality, students are no exception to the limits of attention. We are hardwired to focus on only one thing at a time.

Application: when giving important instructions or information, have students close their devices. They can’t pay attention to you and their devices at the same time, and no matter how entertaining I think I am, I’m simply not as engaging at a high tech piece of equipment with flashing lights.

9. “No man is an island” – John Donne. Creating a digital curriculum takes work. Alot of work. My partner and I worked through the summer. We were fortunate to have each other and both felt like we accomplished a tremendous amount of stuff. But in reality, it was just the tip of the iceberg. We still meet everyday for planning, going over lesson plans, learning targets, future projects, assessment questions, and technical details to go along with our vastly growing list of web 2.0 usernames and logins.

Application: develop a Personal Learning Network, then use it for all you can. A good PLN can be used to mine for resources as well as that all important emotional support … just to know you’re not alone. Not sure where to start? Check out the #edtech influential Twitter users on (here). Begin a Twitter account, then follow everyone on this list. This will be an excellent first step in building your PLN. A nice second step is participating in some Twitter chats. Check out Cybrary Man’s list of educational Twitter chats (here). There is a wealth of information and help.

8. Accept the fact that it is a steep learning curve. The start of this school year was crazy. The first few weeks students weren’t accustomed to using a device everyday. They didn’t know where to start and, even when they did know where to start, they didn’t know how to use the technology. It took two weeks to explain and demo Google Docs and even after that time there were still students lost in the very basics of Google Docs. It’s tempting to become frustrated and blame the students for not listening, but the truth is that this type of thinking isn’t realistic or fair. Not every student is born with an iPhone in their hand.

Application: accept the learning curve. Understand that it’s alright. It might take a while, but the students will get it. Plan to spend time going over the fundamentals of the internet, then, however long you think it will take, plan to spend more. To help the process, have the students work with each other and recruit students who “get” technology to help assist the other students who don’t.

7. Use a student self-assessment. One of the biggest advantages of devices in the classroom is the ability to get immediate feedback from the students. Teachers can survey the students on content type questions or ask the students to undergo a formative assessment to gauge the students’ understanding. Both tasks provide invaluable data for the classroom teacher.

Application: use online polling services. My favorites are and, or, or All are user-friendly and easy enough to figure out. For student self assessments I like using a Google Form, which provide you the ability to customize your questions to fit exactly what you want. Here is the Google Form I use. Not sure how to set up a Google Form? Check out one of the many tutorials online. This is a good one to start with, but there are many others.

6. Use online assessments for immediate feedback. Every advantage for online polling applies to online assessments, except online assessments have even more potential. Students get immediate feedback on their own performance, and many online assessments offer the ability for students to not only see how they did, but see what they understood. Online assessments also make retakes more practical. Most online assessment tools allow the teacher to randomize the questions and the answers, meaning the classroom teacher doesn’t have to create five different versions of the assessment in order to allow for a retake. This benefit is huge. The immediate feedback helped communicate to struggling students exactly what they needed to study to master the content.

Application: use online assessments such as QUIA or Moodle.  Some teachers also use Google Forms for online assessments. From what I’ve used and heard, all are good. Consider using and refining your assessment practices.

5.  Encourage students to focus on learning rather than completion. We all know the drill – “what am I getting in this class?” The answer to that question usually revolves around the completion of a task. As long as their students are focused on merely completing tasks those students are not reaching their deepest potential. True potential is intrinsically motivated (see Daniel Pink).

Application: use devices in the classroom to help guide exploration and collaboration. Google Docs are an obvious choice for collaboration and student exploration, but there are many other options. TodaysMeet can be a valuable use for in-class blogging and backchannel discussions. My personal favorite is Twiducate, which provides all the collaboration capabilities in a Twitter-like medium designed for teacher control of the discussion.

4. Go offline. I love the 1:1 environment, and I love technology. The ability to have the world in your hands is amazing and has truly transformed the way we do almost everything. But it’s worth remembering that technology is not a panacea. Thee is no doubt that technology is the future. But there is also no doubt that for all the answers technology presents that there are still many more questions. Many experts believe that technology is rewiring our brains (here). This is especially true for the “digital natives” we teach who grew up in constantly connected layers of instant gratification.

Application: there is no substitute for “real world” experiences, especially reading, writing, and speaking. Encourage students to read inside and outside the classroom. Put students into interactive experiences such as small group discussions, large group discussions, and the use of hands-on manipulatives, then have students apply the insights they get from the real world into the ever-increasing interconnected web. As non-digital-natives it’s easy for teachers to assume that students are most comfortable online, but the reality is that students still spend the bulk of their time in the real world and continue to have their most important peak experiences in the real world. No child learned to walk, talk, eat, or love online. The real world is still the true home for humankind, even for the so-called digital natives.

3. Take the classroom out of the classroom. The connected classroom allows incredible opportunities to extend the learning beyond the classroom. Students who learn to be connected in the classroom are more likely to be connected outside the classroom. Classroom discussion, content, and skills can be further reinforced using the tools of technology.

Application: teach students to use the tools of technology to further their learning and become organized. Tools such as Evernote, Wunderlist, Google Docs, Zite, and podcasts can help students bridge the gap between inside and outside the classroom. And in the midst of all these recent tools, don’t overlook the profound impact of a 20 year old technology – email. Students in the connected classroom are more likely to email their teacher outside the classroom, providing opportunities for further questions, discussions, research, and relationship building.

2. Embrace the challenge. Let’s admit this fact: the 1:1 environment creates problems. Students are easily distracted. The wifi malfunctions. The laptops break. The internet site freezes. The teacher attempts to do everything right but forgets to change one minor but necessary setting in the application and the whole program shuts down. Sometimes you do everything right, and still everything seems to go wrong.

Application: both teacher and student need to realize that technology goes wrong. When it does, it’s important to keep a positive attitude. Mistakes are an opportunity for overcoming a steep learning curve. Problems are not only a good classroom learning opportunity, but also a great opportunity to model problem solving, critical thinking, and a resilient attitude for the students. Our most important lessons are learned when everything seems to go wrong. Nothing is more true for the 1:1 classroom. And in the meantime, don’t forget to have an emergency Plan B which can be done sans-technology.

1. Teach content and skills. The 1:1 environment can bring a dangerous temptation. The use of technology and internet resources provide so many opportunities for critical thinking that the classroom teacher can easily come to the conclusion that these critical thinking skills replace the old content-driven curriculum. This tendency is all the more tempting by the recent emphasis on 21st century skills, which rightly put the attainment of skills above the memorization of content. True, skills are important and any curriculum which teaches content to the exclusion of skills is a failing curriculum. However, the temptation to teach skills to the exclusion of content is a temptation almost as dangerous as a content-only curriculum. Students need to learn content in order to learn skills. This idea was expressed by educational cognitive psychologist Daniel Willingham, who said “teaching content is teaching reading” (here). Don’t believe it? Consider this example, a tutorial for C++ coding. According to the skill-based educational philosophy, someone with a strong reading skill-set should be able to make sense of this tutorial. But in reality even the strongest reader will not be able to interpret this tutorial unless they have a solid content foundation in C++ programming. Teaching skills demands teaching content just as much as teaching content demands teaching skills. Any curriculum which teaches one to the exclusion of the other is doing the students a disservice.

Application: use a schema-based curriculum which focuses on the content students need to know in order to understand the skills. Begin the year with a long introductory unit designed to teach this content. Drill it into the students, practice it, then drill and practice it some more. Don’t stop until the students know this content inside and out. Yes, you will be teaching content at a lower memorization level of understanding, but remember that this is a necessity. Students must learn content in order to learn skills. The key is that you are not teaching content just for the sake of teaching content. The schema unit will be reinforced through the year and applied in many critical thinking activities. True critical thinking builds on a strong foundation of content.