Something that encourages a reaction to take place.  Catalysts are never consumed by the reaction, they just help it occur.

When I taught students biology, catalysts were always an important topic as they are involved in just about everything the human body does.  When students learned about DNA replication, they learned about DNA helicase, DNA ligase, and DNA polymerase, and role these enzymes (a type of catalyst) had in promoting and supporting the duplication of DNA in human cells.  Without these enzymes, DNA can’t duplicate.

In the educational technology world there is a great ongoing debate about the types of devices students should have, and whether schools should supply them (1:1), students should bring their own (BYOD) or some other combination, such as a combined device approach (see the work of Ryan Bretag) where students receive a device, but can still use their own.

The argument does not have a universal answer, other than that students need a device.  

What types of devices schools elect to have,or not have, should be based on each school’s culture and climate, and their vision for student learning.  

But I’m not that concerned about device type.  What I am interested in is the ability of the device to serve as a catalyst.  So, here is my question:

Is the true value of the device not found in its form factor, its cost, its available apps, but in its ability to connect learners?  

And when you connect learners through that device, no matter what the device is, the device serves as a catalyst for the interactions that fuel learning.  It empowers connections.  I would argue that the connection is most important, that the dialogue of that interaction is essential, and that the sharing of ideas and resources through that interaction represents what the device really should do, that’s the true value, that’s its essence.

I don’t want to talk about operating systems, keyboards, apps or whether the device works with Google Apps.  Every device has some type of limitation.  

Is the connection the catalyst that causes a shift in how students learn?  In how teachers design learning experiences? 

What happens to the device question when the question of importance is about connecting learners?  

Because every device can do that.

Posted via email from David Jakes

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Written at Educon, January 27, 2013

Report Card.

An object for communicating performance, typically from school to parent, based on five letters of the alphabet.  Traditionally delivered by mail and then intercepted by crafty and wiley students.

For me, the report card joins the rank of legacy education, along with such things as the worksheet, the unit, instruction, the classroom, and professional development.  These are things we just do as educators, and accept as the normal, they’re almost absolutes.  But the first step in school improvement is accepting that there are no absolutes, and that everything can indeed be part of a new normal.

Unfortunately, these things are normal for students and parents as well.  Most students want the A, so do parents-they want A’s on that report card.   In many ways, a transcript of letters assembled by years and by courses becomes a passport to the next step in life.  How relevant that passport is today is a question that should be a consideration of all educators.

But the report card is merely a symptom of a deeper need, a need to rethink how we measure students, and how that measurement informs us on how to help them grow as a learner, but more importantly as a person. That need also includes how and when we make performance transparent, as well as to whom.

In 2013 and beyond, performance, what a person knows, and what a person can do, who a person truly is, is reflective of a much more complex mix beyond a simple letter grade.  The online world now provides the venue for students to demonstrate who they are and what they know.  The online world now provides students with an opportunity to create themselves into existence, by standing up and saying this is who I am, this is what I have accomplished, and this is what I believe.  No report card will ever do that.

In the end. looking back, successes accomplished, failures overcome, a first love even, and the transition from childhood to adulthood will be remembered not by a series of letters on a paper, but my the rich memories of that formative time in life that ultimately contribute to who and what that person is.

Those are the things that matter, those are the things we should help students understand, and how me measure that, or at least try to understand that, is a worthy goal of all of us and what we do.



Posted via email from David Jakes

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Definition:  The process or act of imparting knowledge (The Free Dictionary).  Typically done by teachers.

Does your school focus on instruction?  Does your organization seek to improve instruction?  

That's a worthy goal, right?  I think that most would agree that improving instruction is one aspect of school improvement.

But, in the end, it might just be the wrong goal.

In my opinion, focusing on understanding and improving learning, and ultimately the student experience, should be the goal.  

And this is just more than semantics.

Here's Connie Yowell, of the MacArthur Foundation:

"Education is fundamentally starting with the wrong questions.  The educational system now often  starts with a question of outcomes."

"What do we want kids to learn?  What are the goals, and what is the content, the material, that they need to cover? And, then everything is defined by that."

Our core question is: what's the experience we want kids to have? So, the core question is around engagement, and as soon as you start with is the kid engaged, what is the learning experience we want the kid to have, then you have to pay attention to the kid.

"You have to start with the user, you have to start with the experience of the young person, of the learner."

Exactly.  Put the learner and their experience first.  

And you can't do that by simply focusing on instruction.  Instruction is what teachers do, learning is what students do.  Determining what the instructional role of the teacher comes after developing a vision for the student learning experience.

The Bottom Line:  If you want to really flip something, focus on the kids, their learning, and their experiences, instead of instruction and what teachers do.


Posted via email from David Jakes



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Definition:  clearness or lucity as to perception or understanding; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity…

There are times when you see things cleary, times when the path and course are illuminated with focus and purpose.

During these times, seeing with clarity can lead to conviction, and conviction to action.

At other times, the ability to perceive may be clouded, and action is impeded by hesitancy.

It is a lucky person who percevies his or her world with perfect clarity.  Most likely that does’nt occur – our worldview is often clouded by the events of our lives, our profession, and our families and responsibilities, forcing us to view our actions through a lens that is less than clear.

It’s easy to get distracted – there are constant demands on our attention and our vision of what’s next.  The hyperlinked world is just that, with the next distraction just a click away, with the next conversation starting, and with the loud and permiating distraction of multiple voices, all competing for your time, thoughts, and effort.

But can you recall a moment, that moment, a fork in the road for you perhaps, either personally or professionally that you saw with absolute clarity?  And how you acted in response?  It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, you know it.  What were the conditions that contributed to that clarity?

Of course, over time, age and experience contribute to your abiltiy to see with clear eyes.  

It’s called wisdom.  

What conditions can you create personally that would enable you to see with clarity and act with conviction? 

What would that take and would it be worth the effort?  What would you need to discard?  What would you keep?  

Do you have that strength to do that?  How would you rethink you?

Similarly, what has your organization done recently to clarify the purpose and intent of the organization itself, and its path of action?   Has leadership created the conditions that favor focus and action, and that enable all to see the course, the way?

Or, has your school lost its focus, its clarity of conviction?  Has your school become bogged down in minutia, trying trying to satisfy the demands of too many mandates and too many special interests?

Is your school so narrowly focused now that you’ve lost sight of the most important aspects of what you do and what you want to become?  Have you?

So, take the time to refocus.  Strip away the extraneous. Talk about your vision and what’s important for your school. Teachers, step up and demand that conversation.  Administrators, listen and help build concensus towards a dedicated pathway. Help build clarity of purpose, conviction and action.  That’s what leaders do.

But most importantly, trust that you know what to do.  Trust what you want is what you should do and become.

“We see in order to move; we move in order to see.”  -William Gibson

Posted via email from David Jakes

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Professional Development.

An event where teachers gather and learn about some aspect of education.  

Typically, schools often professional development days and most have professional development programs.  Some schools even have specialized professional development events like "Technology Tuesdays" and my all-time personal favorite, the "Lunch and Learn."  Professional development is also referred to as "staff development" which I think is somehow different.  Sometimes, you even hear that schools will offer training, but that should be reserved for your golden retriever puppy.

The hottest thing in "professional development" now is social media, specifically Twitter.  Many believe the most valuable "professional development" can be found on Twitter, and of course, that's mostly nonsense.  But that's for another post.

It's occurred to me that words like classroom, school, and even instruction, are words that are rarely challenged for their meaning.  For educators, they're just givens, they're absolutes even, and we seldom think deeply about what they really mean when we use them in our conversations and work.  We can add "professional development" to the mix.  And I'm just as guilty as the next.

So, let's talk about "professional development."  Let's begin with the intent.

Simply stated, I think all of us would agree that the intent of "professional development" is to learn.  

So, shouldn't we just call it learning?  (a question my colleague Ryan Bretag asks all the time).  Why do we label learning as something else?

Why do you have to separate your learning into professional and something else?  It's all just learning, right?  And why would you ever call it "development"?

So, here's an important question for you, the educator readiing this.  

Are you a learner?

Since you're reading this, my guess is that you probably are proactive about learning about your craft.  But how would you answer that question across the range of educators (teacher and administrators, everybody) in your institution? 

Is the typical teacher a learner?  Are they in charge of their own learning?

And I'm not talking about learning about their kids, about their performance and their strengths and weaknesses.  Most do that.

I'm talking about identifying a passion or area of interest in education, and really digging in, a deep dive if you will.  Becoming well-educated on the topic.  On your own or with someone else or with a group, and without waiting for an institution to offer you the time, the permission, and worse, payment for your time to learn.

If you are a learner, and I asked you to prove it, what metrics would you use?  What would you tell me about your learning, and what you've learned, that's interesting, compelling, and epic?  My guess is that you would describe something that didn't occur in "professional development."

Here's the problem with "professional development" and why it probably is not the most interesting, compelling or epic experience.

Professional development carries baggage, and lot's of it.  For teachers, it's seen as more institutional control and time-wasting on topics of little interest and meaning to them.  And for the institution, and one even with the best intentions, it's about low attendance and interest on the parts of teachers, complaints about time, and little carry-over to the classroom.  Mix in vendors and consultants offering to change all this by providing their version of "professional development," and you've got a real mess on your hands and a legacy system of questionable value.

Right now, I have more questions than answers regarding educators and their own learning.   I wonder about the mix of formal learning opportunites, and a schools need to provide them as education moves forward through an era of technology-induced hyperconnectivity and opportunity, balanced against the need for informal learning (or do we not need formal and informal designations, since its all- ah, leanring.) I do recognize that their are times when all educators in a particular school or district must learn something together.  And I understand, and have communicated here, that personal, passion-based learning is something of high value.  I think a lot of this makes sense within a context that I will describe in an upcoming post- the learning of a colleague as he prepares for a new media class, and how he learned what he needed to learn – without professional development.  Finally, I'll have some thoughts about Twitter and other social media and their role in learning.

My friend David Warlick used to begin his presentations with a story about something he learned last night, about anything really – an elegant touch to set the stage for his audience to let them know that he was a learner, and that continual learning was important to him.

As educators, we don't do enough of that in schools.  In our classrooms, in our meetings, we don't communicate much about our own learning.  We need to do that.  Why not start a new year off by describing to your kids at the beginning of each class what you learned yesterday or last night.  Model it, live it, make it visible.  Do this, and you'll tke some significant steps towards developing a learning culture…and that's the real prize.

So, add "professional development" to the long list of the things that need to be changed in education.  I'd also challenge you to deeply think about your own learning, how and when and why you do it, how you share it, and how it makes you, and your colleagues better – and how it makes the learning experience for your kids better.







Posted via email from David Jakes



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I'll be keynoting the Northeast Ohio Regional Technology Conference at the University of Akron, in Akron, on Friday, March 16, 2012.  I've presented in Akron on several occasions and I've always had good presenations there so I'm looking to continue my string.  The keynote focuses on learning spaces, and is a favorite of mine, entitled "Habits and Habitats: Retninking Learning Spaces for the 21st Century, which I've updated with new ideas.  I'll also be doing a new workshop in the afternoon for school leaders entitled "Leaders and Learning Spaces," which presents a combination of learning space principles and design thinking to help leaders make changes in the spaces where learning occurs.  

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I'll be in Austin on February 8 and 9 doing two presentations at the 2012 TCEA Conference.  TCEA is undoubtably one of my favorite conferences as is Austin one of my favorite towns – you really can't beat the two together if you are interested in technology, learning, great food, and great Texas hospitality.  I'll be doing a session on rethinking how we approach technology entitled "Overcoming Technology Yah Buts" as well as a session on developing social media guidelines for schools, appropriately titled "Developing Social Media Guidelines."  Support materials are almost finished for both presentations and can be seen on my presentation site, or by clicking on the hyperlinks in this post.  I hope to see you there.

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A book filled with text. And pictures. Textbooks are a leftover from an era when information was analog, scarce, and proprietary. 

Sometimes textbooks even have math problems, and sometimes these are story problems, which still strike fear into the heart of every person who ever attended school.  I'm still not sure today how to solve this: If a train left Cleveland heading west at a rate of 72 miles per hour, and a car left Detroit traveling southeast at 63 miles per hour, they would intersect….(shudder).

Anyway, one of the hottest things out there right now are digital textbooks.  If your district is not discussing these, my guess is that they will be shortly.

Most of the discussion around digital texts focuses on cost savings to the district, and/or parents, and reducing the textbook mass most kids lug around through the hallways each day.

I've not seen a conversation that focuses on how they will impact learning.

That should be the first conversation.

As you know, moving a textbook from paper to digital allows for the producer (textbook company) and user (teacher/student) to take advantage of the affordance of the digital world.  Animations, simulations, video, hyperlinks, annotation, reading together, writing notes…etc.   I would imagine that a digital textbook would also update itself just like software does, with updates streaming down from the cloud.  

I've seen several presentations by textbook companies on their new digital textbooks, and I'm not encouraged.  There's not a whole lot of what I just described.  Frankly, I don't believe textbook publishers understand the role that digital technologies can play in learning, and how people use them to connect to learn – in fact, I know they don't after seeing their products and listening to their sales pitches.

To me, digital textbooks, as they exist now, are simply a new way to do an old thing.

Let's begin with the name.  What if they were called something other than digital textbooks, something that went beyond the comfort zone of education, something that suggested new capabilities, purpose and use?  The name should be anything but "text book."  And words matter, right?

Changing the name also means changing the design, away from the traditional linear, sequential trip through content.  The user interface design on the examples I've seen are cumbersome at best.  But instead of user interface design, what if the producers of these resources focused on learner interface design? Maybe it would like like this:

What if the "textbook" (we'll call it that for now) was saavy enought to make recommendations on resources for learners, much in the same way Amazon and any of a number of other digital tools make suggestions for me right now? What if these resources were based on my pathway through the content, my interests, my passions, or even questions I might pose about ideas presented in the resource?  What if the book connected me with other learners based on my profile or interests, regardless of location, like Twitter does with their recommendations for new people to follow?  Why must my learning be limited to those I share a physical space with?

What if learners could ask the textbook to connect ideas, people, resources, websites, social media, really anything digital, in a way that does with their "If this happens, then do this?"statements?  If I do this, then the textbook does that.  For example, if I selected an online resource from a list provided to me by the textbook based on a question I posed to the textbook, then I could "program" the textbook to automatically post the resource to my Diigo account, and then share it with my network of learners, perhaps via Twitter, along with the tags I select.  I want an intelligent agent as my "textbook," not just a digital version of a static collection of ink on paper.

What if I could plug my social media resources and network into my new digital resource?  Why can't I take advantage of those?  Why should I allow a publisher to limit how I interact?

You know what, what if we just used the largest digital textbook ever invented, the World Wide Web?  

Seriously, how long would it take you to compile enough resources to replace your current textbook, at the level you use it?

Before I go further, let's step back a bit.  How many of the school districts engaged in going digital or thinking about going digital actually studied how textbooks were currently being used in learning, and to what extent?  Shouldn't this be done first?  And if textbooks weren't found to be a critcial component of the learning experience, why bother with going to a digital version?  What's to be gained other than cost savings and a reduction in sore backs?  Perhaps some schools would say that's enough benefit.

If a school district went digital, would the learning experience become more contemporary?  Would textbooks become a critical component of learning if they were digital?  Not necessairly, in both cases. What if the resource contained undeniable benefit, and this was obvious to all?  Would they become an essential component of the learning experience?  Perhaps…but I still have my doubts.

If your school or district decides to go digital, you also have to address the device question.  And it's a critical question.

If you expect digital textbooks to be a key factor in the learning experience, then you have to be in a 1:1 situation.  Everyone has to have the same device, with the same capability; to be fair to teachers, the teachers have to know what every kid walks into class with, and the school community has to build understanding together about the progress and impacts of the implementation..  If you don't have a 1:1, you'll have kids with devices without digital textbook capability (e.g. flip phone), which means that you 'll have some kids with digital textbooks and some without – completely unacceptable if you are concerned about about the role the digital textbook plays in learning.  

And if you still believe BYOD is the answer, imagine this scenario:  you've got some kids with digital textbooks and some kids without, and the kids that have digtal textbooks, have them on multiple types of devices…

Nice. That's a recipe for success.

But if you are in cost-recovery mode, and just trying to provide some savings, then a BYOD situation might make sense, at least at first glance.  OK, those kids that have a device can use digital, but if you don't, you go paper.  Now you've just intentionally introduced an inequity, and that's problematic, big time. Imagine the kid that doesn't have the device looking at those that do and wondering now if he's now outgunned and consequently outmatched.  Is that what you want? We have enough have and have nots in education.

You're also asking teachers to manage two different resources intended for the same purpose, and now one has a different look, feel, and capability.  

Good luck.  They'll ask for their paper textbooks back, guaranteed.

They'll also resent technology.  Even more.

In many ways, I believe the emergence, development and excitement around digital textbook paralells what we've seen with other "replacement" technologies, such as digital projectors and interactive whiteboards.  Whiteboards replaced chalkboards, digital projectors replaced overhead projectors, and now digital textbooks replace paper textbooks. 

A new way to do an old thing. When does something completely new arrive? 

But all is not lost.  There are some bright spots on the horizon.

Life on Earth, a 59 chapter book on Biology, produced by the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation, will be free to anyone.  It will be designed from the ground up as a digital textbook unlike the many digital textbooks that are simply digital conversions of their paper parent.

Biobook is a Gates Foundation funded iPad Web-enabled biology textbook that enables teachers to select content from a national database of biology chapters written and contributed by educators themselves. Here is what is intriguing: 

  • the "book" is build on the Moodle platform, which is widely distributed already, and available as an open source application. 
  • the "book" encourages leaners to set their own course through biological principles, to "seek different learning paths," with content organization based on a tree metaphor of Root, Branch, and Leaf.  Learners can take their own branch, and follow down to a specific content idea, or leaf.
  • an emphasis on socialy annotating the text.
  • a progress map provided to students that provides them with an understanding of their progress, the class progress, and a suggested progress.
  • an official book will be curated based on analytics provided by students. (Ferenstein 2011)

It will be interesting to see how these two efforts develop.

Now, if we could just do something about that train and car…

"It was the beginning and end of imagination, all at the same time."  From the movie Seabiscuit.


Literature Cited:

Ferenstein, Gregory. "BioBook, A Gates-Funded IPad Textbook, Would Create A Free Database For Customized Learning | Fast Company." – Where Ideas and People Meet | Fast Company. 30 Oct. 2011. Web. 26 Dec. 2011. <>.


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From Google:  define blinders:  

1.  A pair of small leather screens attached to a horse's bridle to prevent it seeing sideways and behind.

2.  Something that prevents someone from gaining a full understanding of a situation.

Evidently, blinders, or blinkers as they are called as well, are designed to keep a horse from looking backward, as well as towards the side.  It's believed that they may help the horse stay on target, moving forward without being distracted.

But I like the second definition better.

Consider your typical school. How many in the organization are truly aware of the forces that are shaping education today?  How many are aware of the learning opportunities available to people outside of traditional school?  How many live in an isolated world still shaped by "What We've Alway's Done" and with a view that looks forward, but down the same path, and without the benefit of peripheral vision, and the potential opportunities afforded by a wider range of exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking?

How many in education today wear blinders?

Worse, how many in education today are comfortable wearing blinders?

Take your school.  How many are aware of the Open Courseware movment, that has reached over 100 million people in a decade? How many saw today that MIT announced a new endeavor called MITx?  OK, to be fair, it was just released today.  But take a look at the learning environment they are trying to create-would most see that as something to follow, to learn about, to participate in, to understand?  Or is that just something happening at MIT, and well, it's MIT. 

Take your school.  How many are aware of, and could explain the significance, of the Artificial Intelligence course at Stanford?  Or the online high schools at George Washington University, at Stanford, or the Insight School of Washington. Or, for that matter, the rise of K-12 blended learning?

More importantly, do they care to understand?  Are they challenged by what they don't know, and how it impacts what they do, their profession?  

Take your school.  How many could explain the principles of learning within a massive open online course (MOOC)? Could they take the foundations of a MOOC course and adapt them for their classroom?  

Would they at least try?

Take your school.  How many could intelligently explain the impact of No Child Left Behind and AYP?  Response to Intervention?  Race to the Top?

Or, is it a belief that understanding all of that is someone else's issue, and if we wait long enough, it will go away anyway.  It has in the past…

How many could explain "flipping the classroom?"  That's been out there for a while.  My guess is not that many.

More importantly, if they didn't know what that entails, would they at least be curious enough to explore the practice?  Perhaps even try it? Take the initiative to try?

Or, with a sly smile, and a dismissive wave, explain that they know what works, and they know what's important for kids.  After all, they've been doing it for years.

For your school, and for you, are your efforts to improve constrained by a narrow focus on the immediate, and what's directly in front of you?  

Or do you have the capacity for a more wholistic vision, one in which disruptive opportunities and concepts, in the periphery and perhaps not yet in the "mainstream", challenge your intellect and potentially inform practice and action?

Or, are you wearing blinders?

image from

Posted via email from David Jakes



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This post is taken from my K12 Online Conference presentation, “What If the Story Changed?”  Access the presentation here.

What If? | The Upshot

Creating a new story requires rethinking, but more importantly, the willingness to rethink, dream, and look for new possibilities.  Creating a new story requires that the author or authors of that new story cast aside the destructive Yah But mentality, and ask "What If?"

Education has always sought to change the story of the learners that have walked through the doors of schools.  That’s what schools have always done, opened doors when none were open. It’s the fundamental essence of education-to change the pathway of a person’s life.

But to continue with that mission, education itself needs to experience its own fundamental purpose, and develop a new path, a more relevant, open, responsive, and creative path, a new map for what we do and for those we serve. 

We need to create a new story.

And education itself has to compose that story, and not allow others to compose it for them.

It is not a time to be timid, it is not a time to withdraw, and it’s not a time to hide behind what we have always done.  It is a time to be bold, to make big plans, and tell our own story.  It is a time for reframing our thinking, and that begins with two simple words,

What If…

Over time, and with much hard work, we can turn What If to What Is

That can be our new story.



Posted via email from David Jakes



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