The Bots are Coming! Better Re-think My Lesson Plans


Here’s a suggestion for your back-to-school faculty meeting – take 15 minutes to watch Humans Need Not Apply by CGP Grey. Then have a discussion on it’s implications for your students and (your curriculum). Talking about robot invasions is way more fun than updates on new state tests.

The video’s thesis is simple – robots are coming for our jobs. Actually, they have already taken many of them. And it’s not just low-skilled labor they’re taking over.

… white-collar work is no safe haven either. If your job is sitting in front of a screen and typing and clicking — like maybe you’re supposed to be doing right now — the bots are coming for you too, buddy.

I’ll bet that accurately filling out a worksheet won’t be a valued bot-competitive skill.

Are the professions safe from bots? Not exactly. The video makes the case for bots replacing significant aspects of legal, medical and even creative work. (And I’d add teachers to that list.)

It begs the question – what skills should we be teaching to students who will have to compete against the bots for employment? I don’t think there are any easy answers to that question. But I’ll bet that accurately filling out a worksheet won’t be a valued bot-competitive skill.

As the video concludes:

We have been through economic revolutions before, but the robot revolution is different.

Horses aren’t unemployed now because they got lazy as a species, they’re unemployable. There’s little work a horse can do that do that pays for its housing and hay.

And many bright, perfectly capable humans will find themselves the new horse: unemployable through no fault of their own. …

This video isn’t about how automation is bad — rather that automation is inevitable. It’s a tool to produce abundance for little effort. We need to start thinking now about what to do when large sections of the population are unemployable — through no fault of their own. What to do in a future where, for most jobs, humans need not apply.

For full text of the video click here.

Image credit: S.H Horikawa – Star Strider Robot
By D J Shin (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons

DIY Textbooks With iBooks Author

textbook screenshotA recent article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette caught my eye. “North Hills Teachers Write a Textbook for Online Curriculum”

In eighth-grade social studies classes at North Hills Junior High School, there’s no sleeping through videos, no hiding in the back of class to avoid being called upon and no student excuses about forgetting the textbook, notes or class materials. That’s because just about everything students use for class is online, including the textbook, which was written this past summer by social studies teachers Rich Texter, Joe Welch and Larry Dorenkamp. It was edited by reading teacher Jill Brooks, who made sure it was written at the appropriate reading level. The result is the students spend their class time multitasking with technology… More

The best way to motivate our students was to get rid of traditional textbooks.

I invited the Rich Texter, one of the project teachers / textbook developers, to do a guest post on the project. He kindly supplied some screenshots and the following post. (Note: the textbook is not available on iTunes). Rich on Twitter

Textbook sidebarTwo years ago, Larry Dorenkamp was thinking about how cool it would be to teach in a classroom that enabled him to teach his students about Social Studies, and have the kids excited about learning it. In his opinion, the best way to do that would be to get rid of the traditional textbooks and jump on the technology train. So, Mr. Dorenkamp approached the Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Assessment and Special Programs, Dr. Jeffrey Taylor, about the possibility of using a classroom set of MacBooks, instead of a traditional textbook. It turns out that Dr. Taylor was very intrigued by making the 8th grade social studies classroom a digital learning environment. After the initial meeting, we–the three 8th grade social studies teachers (Mr. Richard Texter, Mr. Joseph Welch, and Dorenkamp)–sat down with Dr. Taylor and the building principal, Beth Williams, for an informal discussion. We discussed our vision of how this digital classroom would look and how it would function. Dr. Taylor wanted to ensure that the learning needs of the students would be met, as well as–if not at a higher level–than in a traditional classroom. The vision was that this would allow the students to more freely explore the 8th grade curriculum, increase student engagement, enhance understanding, and critical thinking skills. Dr. Taylor had discussions with the school board about a pilot program of a Digital Based social studies classroom. The board approved the program and purchase three classroom sets of MacBooks and iPad 2’s for our classroom. The three social studies teachers collaborated, throughout the school year, to create activities that would engage students, while allowing them some options in choosing what they do. We also worked to build assessments that would allow students to do more than just measure memorizing dates, places and facts.

We can tailor our book to regional history. Plus, we can update it whenever we want.

When Apple came out with its iBook Author, we decided to write a 8th grade text that was custom-made for OUR students. We liked the idea that the book would be aligned to our curriculum at North Hills, and that it could be aligned to the state-specific standards that we need to cover, in Pennsylvania. Instead of using a book that was written to be marketable to big text book states like California and Texas, we wanted to provide the students with information that was more pertinent to Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania; we wanted to engage our students.

iBook builder allows you to make your textbook interactive; students can mark up the text and add their own notes. Bold words can be touched for an instant definition. If a student is struggling to pronounce a word, the book can speak the word for the student. Interactive maps and charts can be placed in the book, in addition to videos. We placed Keynotes, in certain sections, to highlight important information from a section. Interactive checks for understanding, that give the student immediate feedback, are at the end of each section and Unit.

The iBook continues to be a work in progress for us, we will continue to update the book to meet our needs. That is our favorite part of iBooks author as we need to update the book we can do it very quickly. So instead of waiting 5 to 10 years to be on cycle for a new textbook we can edit and update ours when ever we see the need.

textbook screenshot-1

Romney vs. Obama Wordle Smackdown

Here’s a Wordle comparison of the top twenty words used in the each candidate’s speech to their conventions. Font size represents frequency that the word appeared in their speech as prepared for delivery. Seems to be “America” vs “new.”

Romney’s Speech to the Republican Convention NY Times
President Obama’s Prepared Remarks From the Democratic National Convention NY Times

14 Provocative Questions for the Faculty


It’s back to school time. Get ready for that opening day faculty meeting where you sit and listen, while wishing you could be getting some actual work done in your classroom. Here’s some questions you might ask at the meeting to generate more meaningful back to school discussion.

Can students learn to be innovative in a school driven by the routine of test prep?

Every summer you get to reinvent yourself as a teacher. I’ve used the time to brainstorm a few disruptive questions I would pose to subvert the status quo in school. This post is directed to teachers and administrators thinking about their school at the program level. Its companion post, 13 Subversive Questions for the Classroom, offers reflective questions for teachers to consider when thinking about their approach to instruction.

  1. When’s the last time we talked about who’s learning, who’s not, and what we are doing about it?
  2. How much of what is taught in our school is only useful for passing state tests?
  3. With new and cheaper technologies giving students greater control of their information landscape, when will our school become totally irrelevant to students and fully isolated from their personal learning environments?
  4. Do we dumb down instruction for the “low achievers” in the belief that they cannot handle higher order thinking?
  5. Are the “honors” students critical thinkers, or just willing to memorize what we give them?
  6. Are teachers’ informal social media connections more valuable to them than our district-mandated PLC’s?
  7. Which is the better driver’s test – the written DMV exam or the road test? What does that tell us about state assessments?
  8. If we accept the notion that the careers of the future have not been invented yet, how do we justify the rigidity of our 19th century, departmentalized curriculum?
  9. When do students actually get to work on that “life-long learner” goal in our school mission statement?
  10. What would happen if faculty meetings and staff development had to use the strategies being advocated for the classroom?
  11. When we host a parents’ event, do we use the instructional strategies we promote for the classroom or simply lecture at them?
  12. Is our school program thoughtfully designed to give students increasing responsibility for their learning?
  13. What meaningful career looks like filling out a worksheet?
  14. Can students learn to be innovative in a school driven by the routine of test prep?

Comment below to add a question you’d like to see posed at the opening day faculty meeting.

Image credit: Banksy – subversive street artist.

Excellent Sheep and Our Crisis of Leadership

A recent rebroadcast of an interview with William Deresiewicz on WBUR’s Here & Now led me to his essay Solitude and Leadership in American Scholar. The essay is from a lecture he delivered to West Point’s plebe class October 2009.

Deresiewicz addresses the roots of our crisis of leadership in America,

… I know what it’s like for you guys now. It’s an endless series of hoops that you have to jump through, starting from way back, maybe as early as junior high school. Classes, standardized tests, extracurriculars in school, extracurriculars outside of school. Test prep courses, admissions coaches, private tutors. … So what I saw around me were great kids who had been trained to be world-class hoop jumpers. …They were, as one of them put it herself, “excellent sheep.”

… We have a crisis of leadership in America because our overwhelming power and wealth, earned under earlier generations of leaders, made us complacent, and for too long we have been training leaders who only know how to keep the routine going. Who can answer questions, but don’t know how to ask them. Who can fulfill goals, but don’t know how to set them. Who think about how to get things done, but not whether they’re worth doing in the first place. What we have now are the greatest technocrats the world has ever seen, people who have been trained to be incredibly good at one specific thing, but who have no interest in anything beyond their area of exper­tise. What we don’t have are leaders.

What we don’t have, in other words, are thinkers. People who can think for themselves. People who can formulate a new direction: for the country, for a corporation or a college, for the Army—a new way of doing things, a new way of looking at things. People, in other words, with vision.

For his full essay and his thoughts on education, Twitter, and Conrad’s Heart of Darkness click here.

As I’ve written, I’m outraged by the fact that a generation of teachers and students have become slaves to corporatized testing. While our school district mission statements all claim to “foster life-long learners,” in reality, teachers are forced to spend increasing class time prepping kids for predictable tests. We’re giving a generation of kids practice for predictable, routine procedures – and that happens across the “bell curve” from AP test prep to meeting minimal proficiency on NCLB-mandated tests.

If students are going to be productive in a dynamic society and workplace they will need to be agile, fluid learners. Future leaders that are encouraged to explore their own approaches and reflect on their progress. Students who can work collaboratively with their peers to plan, implement and evaluate projects of their own design. For more of my thoughts on standardized testing, teaching and learning, see my test prep tag.

Image credit: flickr/jahansell