Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Resistant Mom Embraces Texting to Connect with Her Tween

Teens TextingGuest post by mom, Carly Pietrzyk | Cross posted at Teaching Generation Text

I love my cell phone, but I have to admit, I was resistant to the texting craze and preferred to communicate with people via phone calls and emails. This changed, however, when my daughter got her first cell phone at age 11. She plays soccer several days a week and carpools with other families, so my husband and I wanted to get her a phone to make sure we had a way to contact her when we were not there.

Originally I thought this would mean an exchange of phone calls, but in typical tween fashion she immediately gravitated toward texting as her main mode of contact. This is when the texting world unfolded for me. 
It became clear that what is most important isn't necessarily the mode of communication but that my child and I were connecting. I learned the lingo and began communicating with my daughter when she was not with me.

She is now 12 ½ and texting gives her a way to check in with me and ask me for advice when she is with her friends. I love that she can now ask me things she might not want to ask out loud in front of her friends! I am sure I will grow to appreciate this even more when she and my younger son hit the teenage years.

For more ideas about effective ways that parents, teachers, and others can use cell phones to build relationships and enrich learning order Teaching Generation Text.

Carly Pietrzyk is a working mother of two children; Ava 12 and Carl 10. Pittsburgh, PA

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Stop Stealing Dreams - Seth Godin's New Book. Available Free!

What is school for?

The economy has changed, probably forever.

School hasn't.

School was invented to create a constant stream of compliant factory workers to the growing businesses of the 1900s. It continues to do an excellent job at achieving this goal, but it's not a goal we need to achieve any longer.

In his new and FREE 30,000 word manifesto, Seth Godin  imagines a different set of goals. He warns that one thing is certain: if we keep doing what we've been doing, we're going to keep getting what we've been getting.

Our kids are too important to sacrifice to the status quo.

The book is organized in 132 sections. Godin explains that he organized it that way because the numbers make it easy to argue about particular sections and the intent of this book is to to start a discussion about how we can reach a different set of goals for education.

You can download the book here or visit this link to download in other versions.  

In the spirit of starting a discussion, I've created a Facebook group which you can join at and I have also created this document to foster conversation about each section.  I hope you'll take a look and share your thoughts and feedback.
Thank you to Lynne Cazaly for contributing this great graphic at the Stop Stealing Dreams Facebook group.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Don't judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree - The problem with assessment

Editor's note: This is one of my favorite stories highlighting some of what is wrong with assessment, but first a great comic that captures the fables sentiment and a quote.

‎"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." -Albert Einstein

The Animal School: A Fable

by George Reavis

Animal SchoolOnce upon a time the animals decided they must do something heroic to meet the problems of a “new world” so they organized a school. They had adopted an activity curriculum consisting of running, climbing, swimming and flying. To make it easier to administer the curriculum, all the animals took all the subjects.

The duck was excellent in swimming. In fact, better than his instructor. But he made only passing grades in flying and was very poor in running. Since he was slow in running, he had to stay after school and also drop swimming in order to practice running. This was kept up until his webbed feet were badly worn and he was only average in swimming. But average was acceptable in school so nobody worried about that, except the duck.

The rabbit started at the top of the class in running but had a nervous breakdown because of so much makeup work in swimming.

The squirrel was excellent in climbing until he developed frustration in the flying class where his teacher made him start from the ground up instead of the treetop down. He also developed a “charlie horse” from overexertion and then got a C in climbing and D in running.

The eagle was a problem child and was disciplined severely. In the climbing class, he beat all the others to the top of the tree but insisted on using his own way to get there.

At the end of the year, an abnormal eel that could swim exceeding well and also run, climb and fly a little had the highest average and was valedictorian.

The prairie dogs stayed out of school and fought the tax levy because the administration would not add digging and burrowing to the curriculum. They apprenticed their children to a badger and later joined the groundhogs and gophers to start a successful private school.

Does this fable have a moral?

Note: This story was written when George Reavis was the Assistant Superintendent of the Cincinnati Public Schools back in the 1940s! This content is in the public domain and free to copy, duplicate, and distribute. If you would prefer a full-color, illustrated book, one is currently available from Crystal Springs Books at1-800-321-0401 or 603-924-9621 (fax 603-924-6688)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Live tonight! Nielsen and Webb discuss Teaching Generation Text

Tune in to Engaging Ed Radio tonight, Sunday, February 26 at 9PM Eastern to hear Willyn Webb, my Teaching Generation Text co author, and I discuss using cell phones and student owned devices in the classroom to enhance learning.

On the show we plan to discuss:
  • Why should you use cell phones in the classroom?
  • The building blocks for successful use of student owned devices/cell phones
  • Examples of effective cell phone use
  • How to overcome administrative opposition
  • The Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) debate
You can access the show’s BlogTalkRadio page by clicking HERE. That will allow you to listen live and even call in with your questions. We hope you’ll join us.

If you missed the show you can listen here:

Listen to internet radio with Engaging Educators on Blog Talk Radio

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Hottest Posts This Week!

Here’s the roundup of what's been popular on The Innovative Educator blog this week. Below you’ll see the top weekly posts along with the number of pageviews. I hope there's something that looks of interest to you.  If it does, check it out. If you’re inspired, share it with others and/or leave a comment.

Feb 19, 2012, 1 comment                         1993 Pageviews
Feb 23, 2012, 1 comment                         1878 Pageviews
Feb 20, 2012, 2 comments                        1833 Pageviews
Feb 16, 2012, 4 comments                        1818 Pageviews
Feb 17, 2012, 1 comment                         1705 Pageviews
Feb 5, 2011, 22 comments                        1649 Pageviews
May 10, 2010, 37 comments                      1429 Pageviews

Friday, February 24, 2012

Is it possible to know what is legal in America???

With government adding 80,000 pages of rules and regulations every year, it’s no surprise that regular people break laws without even trying.  

Kids who open lemonade stands are now shut down by police. John Stossel tried to open a lemonade stand legally in NYC.   That was quite an adventure.  It took 65 days to get permission from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

A family in Idaho can’t build a home on their land because the EPA says it’s a wetland—but it only resembles a wetland because a government drain malfunctioned and flooded it.  

If this is of interest to you, tune in and listen as John Stossel argues that America has become a country where no one can know what is legal. The show airs tonight, Friday, February 24th at 9pm EST, Saturday at 10pm, and Sunday at 3pm.  In this one-hour special John asks, "Is everything illegal???" 

He looks at the following areas:

TAXI TROUBLE:  Want to start a taxi business? Too bad – it’s illegal. Illegal, that is, unless you buy a government-issued “taxi medallion” that can cost as much as a million dollars. One city has a free market for cabs – Washington, DC –  but lobbyists there are pushing to regulate.  

ILLEGAL FOOD:  Increasingly, government tells us what we can and can’t eat –  bans on trans-fat, happy meals, “raw” foods.  California officials raided a raw food club, and arrested clerks for selling unpasteurized milk.  Farmer Joel Salatin, author of “Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal,” explains why Americans DON’T have the freedom to choose the food they eat.   

ILLEGAL DRUGS:  Drug use is illegal – but should it be?  Where drugs are legal, businessmen replace gangs as the dealers and pay taxes.   Portugal decriminalized all drugs 10 years ago—including crack, ecstasy, and heroin. What has happened since then? We go to Portugal and get the facts from police, politicians, and drug addicts.

ILLEGAL SEX: Our government bans prostitution because people think it’s a dirty, dangerous business.    But in brothels where prostitution is legal there is no crime or disease.  On this show, three sex workers confront a prosecutor.

One bit of good news is that while there may be so many laws that no one knows if he's a lawbreaker, it has never been easier to "watch the watchmen."  Tiny cameras in our iPods and cell phones allow citizens to film law enforcement and hold our government accountable.  But in the last few years, cops have arrested and jailed people for taping in public.  The arrests are not legal, but they happen anyway.  Fortunately, arrests are caught on tape.

3 Great Ways to Use Google+ Hangouts to Learn & Connect

Google+ Hangouts are a terrific and free tool that opens up new ways to teach and learn. The following video provides three examples of ways Google+ Hangouts are being used that might inspire ideas in your own classroom. Below the video I elaborate on how each idea can be used and include the minutes/seconds in the video at which time you can see each idea in action. 

Three examples of using Google+ Hangouts to teach and learn in new ways

Here is how this might be applicable in your school or classroom.

1) Take a class without having to be in the same place. (00.00 in video)
You can have up to ten participants in a Google+ Hangout.  What can that mean for teaching and learning? Here are some ideas.
  • Invite up to 9 classes/individuals to learn from one expert. This can be great in communities where there is perhaps only one teacher for a particular subject but a few students in various schools interested in learning.
  • Sick or traveling students can participate when they are not able to attend class.
  • Learners can connect with others who share their passions and interests even if they are not in their school / class. For example there might be students from other schools, communities that join your class.
  • Invite up to 9 home instruction students (those who are home because of illness or other reasons) to join in a live class.
2) Invite an audience to a performance. (00.33 in video)
Google+ Hangout provides a great way to empower students to find an authentic audience by being able to invite up to 9 other people to listen to their performance, presentation, reading, etc.  Here are some ideas.
  • Have students invite some family members and / or friends to watch a performance.
  • Have students find others who share their passions through places like blogs and discussion groups and invite them to watch.
  • Connect with other classes that might want to watch a student perform.  They will be able to chat to give feedback and even give live applause, questions, etc.  
3) Invite others to perform/discuss with you. (00.50 in video)
Google+ Hangout provides a way for you to connect with others even if they are not geographically desirable. This can be great for a student looking to connect with others that may not exist at their school.  Here are some ideas.
  • A student who wants to study music and perform can do so even if there is no such program in their school or community. With Google Hangout, they can connect with others and practice, perform, and jam together.
  • A student who wants to study a certain type of theater can do so with others and do a virtual reading with Hangout.
  • If you do book clubs in your school, you may discover you have some students with unique tastes.  Let them do book talks with others using Google Hangout.
  • Support young people in developing their personal learning networks and create times to have online discussions with others who share their passions.  
Tools like Skype have enabled us to connect with another person for quite a few years now. Tools like Google Hangout however are allowing us to connect with many others around the world for free. This has powerful implications for teaching and learning that should not be ignored. These are some innovative ways Google+ Hangout can be used to enrich teaching and learning. I look forward to discovering more with and from other innovative educators. If you have an idea, share it here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Six Propositions to Consider Before You Consider College

I’ve been a fan of Blake Boles’s (author, Zero Tuition College) ideas for quite some time. I reached out to him directly when I wrote a post that shared his 11 Great Reasons to Skip College inviting him to share more of his ideas here.  He agreed! The following post is an excerpt from the newest book he is writing, "Better Than College." If you like his ideas, please consider helping him out by visiting his fundraising site here where you can learn more and pre-order the book.
PHOTO: (credit Flickr/Earlham College)
While the idea that you can skip four-year college and still get a higher education may seem nuts, Blake Boles is writing Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree, a book on how to do just that. Below is an excerpt from the book where Boles shares six propositions to help you see why Zero Tuition College —the alternative learning method described in his book—holds just as much life-changing potential as traditional college.

Proposition #1: College is just too expensive.
Today, the liberal arts college experience offers many valuable things: exposure to new ideas, analytical skills, social networks, support, accountability, and the opportunity to live independently. But these good things come at a high price. The average family will shell out roughly $20,000 per year for tuition and living expenses,[1] while the average student who takes out loans will graduate with more than $25,000 in debt.[2] And this isn’t a recent trend: since the 1950s, college tuition has risen almost twice as fast as inflation.[3]

When the price of oil rises, we look more seriously at alternative energy. When a business raises its prices, we consider different ways that we could obtain the same goods or services. But even though the price of college has skyrocketed, we flood its gates. Why?

Proposition #2: Higher education and college are not the same thing.
We spend big bucks on college because we’ve confused receiving a college degree with getting a higher education. They’re two different things.

A college degree proves that you can survive four years at an institution. It’s a piece of paper that says, “I followed a prescribed path to success.”

Higher education, though, is the capacity to self-direct your life. Someone who has a higher education can define her own vision of success and pursue it, even in the face of difficulty.
College is one path to a higher education, but it’s not the only one. Sometimes college graduates lead self-directed lives, and sometimes they don’t; a college degree does not guarantee a higher education.

Proposition #3: You can give yourself a higher education without college.
So how do you give yourself a higher education, if not via college? That’s the challenge this book addresses. Here’s an overview of the answer.

Instead of following someone else’s curriculum, self-directed learners begin by asking themselves what fascinates and drives them. Their journey begins—and ends—with self-knowledge.

Instead of taking full-time classes, self-directed learners give themselves assignments that they find interesting, eye-opening, and challenging. They start businesses, find internships, travel the world, read and write about things that fascinate them, and work for organizations they admire. Many college students do these things too, but the difference is that self-directed learners don’t wait for anyone’s permission to begin learning.

Instead of working on homework, papers, and presentations destined to be seen once and tossed into a trash can, self-directed learners turn much of their hard work into useful products for other people. They write blogs, build start-ups, create art, record videos, teach their skills, and sell their services. They keep an eye out for the innumerable ways that they can improve someone else’s life.

Instead of relying solely upon professors and college guidance counselors to help direct their educational process, self-directed learners seek the mentorship of a variety of accomplished individuals. They consult family, friends, businesspeople, writers, researchers, working professionals, retirees, or anyone else who might help them. They keep themselves accountable by sharing their goals publicly and asking friends and mentors to keep them on track.

Instead of purchasing peer community through college, self-directed learners meet friends through their work, hobbies, travel, networking, and social media—just as people do in the real world. They try to surround themselves with as many smart people as they can.

To become financially secure, self-directed learners figure out how to market themselves, get hired in unconventional ways, start their own ventures, and live within their means. They recognize that these abilities—not a degree—are the true assets of an economically resilient life.

By doing these things, self-directed learners gain many of the benefits that we associate with higher education—knowledge, skills, self-awareness, exposure, emotional growth, self-discipline, and work opportunities—for a radically lower price than the tuition of a traditional college.

Proposition #4: Skipping college isn’t the best idea for everyone.
Replacing college with self-directed learning is a good idea for many students, but not everyone. There are some people for whom college is clearly the best choice.

If your goal is to enter a licensed profession—to become a doctor, lawyer, architect, public school teacher, engineer, or other government-licensed professional—then you should go to college.

If you want to do PhD-level research—to study cancer, publish neuroscience papers, or teach university-level history—then you should go to college.

If you’d like to work for a major investment bank, consulting firm, or other wealthy institution that heavily values adherence to social norms, then you should go to college.

If you harbor a deep love for a specific academic discipline, want to work with certain professors, or crave the challenge of reading dense academic material, then you should go to college.

But if, on the other hand:
  • you suspect that becoming a doctor, lawyer, architect, scientist, professor, or financier is really somebody else’s goal for you,
  • you’re interested in the liberal arts, studio art, technology, entrepreneurship, or working with your hands,
  • you suspect that you haven’t seen enough of the world to really focus in college,
  • you’re mostly interested in the social aspect of college,
  • or you’re simply unsure about everything,

then postponing, leaving, or skipping college might be the best thing you ever do.

Proposition #5: It’s a gamble either way.
If you skip or leave college in order to pursue a self-directed, adventurous, and entrepreneurial higher education, you’re taking a gamble. It might not work out. You may live with your parents for a while, have trouble making money, and suffer the embarrassment of trying something different and failing. You may have to go back to school.

But if you go to college because you believe it’s a safe path, because you want to avoid criticism, or even for one of the aforementioned good reasons, you’re also taking a gamble. It might not work out. You may live with your parents for a while and have trouble making money. You may have to go back to school. But—unlike in the self-directed path—you may end up with massive amounts of student loan debt at the time in your life when you’re supposed to be most free.

I’m not able to tell you which gamble is more appropriate for you. But I’m confident that the first gamble—crafting your own adventurous and entrepreneurial higher education—will teach you things about yourself that the second never could.

Proposition #6: There’s a culture of fear around college, and it’s the wrong one.
It’s difficult to make a rational decision about college when parents, politicians, educators, and pretty much everyone else rallies behind a college-for-all banner. When you choose to skip college to pursue your own higher education, you’re truly bucking the establishment. That’s a scary thing to do.

To illustrate: when I started writing articles about Zero Tuition College, my friend Sarah wrote me an e-mail.

“There is a cultural voice that lives inside my head,” Sarah explained. “Whenever I start reading an article that’s critical of college, this voice starts shouting: You need a college degree to be taken seriously and earn a real living! It takes a lot of work to quiet that voice down. Perhaps you can launch a preemptive strike against it?”

That’s when I realized that this book needed to be written. We’re in the midst of a college mania that threatens the livelihoods of indebted students as well as the financial stability of the countries that provide billions of dollars in easy loans to those students.

At the time of writing, total outstanding student loan debt in the US had reached one trillion dollars—roughly equal to the amount of credit debt.[4] But unlike credit cards, student loan debt survives bankruptcy. Short of fleeing the country, you can’t escape your student loans.[5]

This is the real culture of fear that should surround college: not that purposefully skipping college will ruin your life, but that mindlessly attending college (or graduate school) will lock you into a huge pile of debt from which you can never escape.

To Sarah and everyone else who suffers from the little shouting voice: please consider this book an intercontinental ballistic missile aimed at the heart of the assumption that you need a college degree to be taken seriously and earn a real living. You don’t. This book explains why—and shows what to do instead.

[1] “Average Undergraduate Tuition and Fees and Room and Board Rates,” National Center for Education Statistics, prepared October 2010,
[2]Blake Ellis, “Average Student Loan Debt Tops $25,000,” CNN Money, November 3, 2011,
[3] “Tuition Inflation,” The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid, accessed October 14, 2010,
[4] Eyder Peralta, “Americans’ Student Loan Balance Now Exceeds $1 Trillion,” The Two-Way: NPR’s News Blog, October 19, 2011,
[5] Why? Because the collateral for a student loan is the student’s brain. When a housing market collapses, a lender can reclaim a house. But when a student defaults on his loan, a lender can’t reclaim the knowledge locked inside the student’s brain. Or, as my friend R. Brent Mattis explains it:
“Imagine you were the loan officer at a bank. A budding entrepreneur comes into your office and says, ‘Hi, I'd like to borrow $100,000 to start a business.’
“You say, ‘Great, what can you pledge as collateral for the loan?’
“He says, ‘Nothing.’
“So you say, ‘How do you plan to use the loan?’
“He says, ‘Oh, I don't know. I'll probably spend four years broadening my skill set and learning the attributes necessary to be an excellent businessman.’”
The loan officer's head would probably explode.

Blake Boles is the 29-year old author of College Without High School, director of Unschool Adventures, and long-time staffer at Not Back to School Camp, the summer camp for teenage unschoolers. Blake founded Zero Tuition College, the free online community for self-directed learners.
His next book, Better Than College:  How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree will be released in June 2012.

Visit the book fundraiser:

Read a longer book excerpt:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Join The Innovative Educator Live Tonight on Teachers Teaching Teachers

Join me live on Teachers Teaching Teachers at tonight, Wednesday 2.22.12 at 9PM Eastern / 6PM Pacific/World Times: .I will be among an amazing mix of thoughtful people who will be helping each of us to reconsider our assumptions and to recast our questions about student engagement in high school and beyond. You can add to this mix by listening in and adding to the chat at

Here's what you have to look forward to:
AND MORE! Mainly Paul AllisonMonika hardy, and Chris Sloan are ready to welcome the different perspectives on the important questions like...
  • Who drops out? 
  • Why? 
  • Does it matter? 
  • What alternatives are available? 
  • How do questions about "engagement" -- even what it means -- help us have productive dialogues about what good teaching and learning looks like and what might change in our schools?

All of this on Teachers Teaching Teachers at on Wednesday 2.22.12 at 9PM Eastern / 6PM Pacific/World Times:

I hope you'll be able to join!