4 years ago, 4 years from now

February 29 is here and it is Leap Day. We haven’t had a 2/29 since 2008 and it won’t happen again until 2016. This is likely an obvious fact to all of you who read my thoughts here, but it’s a writing prompt we are giving to our students at school this week and I thought it would be fun to do myself. Our specific prompt was, “What were you doing in February 2008, and what do you think you will be doing in February of 2016?”

Investigating my 2008 presence was interesting. From memory I know I was working in my same professional position, living in the same house, with the same wife (good thing for me, not sure that’s a positive for her), and my kids were ages 5 and 2. I couldn’t think of any momentous occasions or problems. I probably needed a haircut and a shave. I know that I was starting to become aware of some Senator from Illinois running for President and wasn’t sure if he could compete with my polcrush at the time, Hillary Clinton.

Drawing by my son title "Aliens and Robots" 2/24/08

Going further than my memory would accord, I looked at my journal and found that it had been a typical February. The flu bug wiped out a few members of the house and we enjoyed skiing at Mt. La Crosse. Also read that we took a snowshoeing hike along one of the local trout streams I like to visit in the spring and summer. My son had been busy over the weekend getting ready for his kindergarten class as he was going to be the “king bee” when he returned to school.

Thanks to Facebook’s Timeline feature, I could pinpoint my FB presence and see my exact activities. I sure hope that anthropologists and historians of the future don’t solely judge our era by what survives from Facebook, at least from my page anyway.

I was only a few months into having a FB account and was adding lots of friends and sharing such witty status updates as “Curt Rees is superbad” and “Curt Rees wants grilled cheese.” I’ve always had suspicions of my digital idiocy, and Facebook from February of 2008 just changed those suspicions to truths. Yes, I’m hard on myself because by the time I hear a criticism from someone else, I’ve already had that same conversation with myself.

So what do I think life will be like for me in February of 2016? My kids will be in 8th and 4th grade and I certainly hope they’ll be as happy, healthy, and feisty as they are right now. Dear wife will likely have written a book on some parenting or health topic and will still be goading me to eat better and exercise more. I’ll probably need to shave and get a haircut. Hopefully President Obama will be winding down his last term as President and my dear Hillary will be gearing up for her turn as POTUS. Professionally, I sure hope to be working in my fine school district with my fab staff and colleagues. I hope that I’ll be on the downhill side of coursework in my doctoral program and my dissertation will be shaping up well. That dissertation topic will be about the effect that leadership attitudes and knowledge have on the overall implementation and effective use of technology and connected learning within their schools. (The 2012 me has only just applied to a doctoral program and am waiting to hear back about acceptance.)

In 2016 I hope this current phase of teacher bashing and absurd accountability has ended. I hope that school funding has been restored to workable levels and educators have helped to realize the changes that are needed to meet the needs of all kids and families. The uniform school day schedule and school year calendar are a thing of the past and learning is something that occurs in a variety of locations, in a variety of times, and from a variety of teachers (both local and distant). We won’t be playing the testing game and coaching a cadre of proficient bubble fillers (no matter what format the test takes on). Educators truly focus on “what’s best for kids” and pay close attention to student learning as the gauge for the effect of their teaching. Kids, teachers, and parents will all work together to satisfy their own curiosities about the world. They’ll create projects that demonstrate their new knowledge and those projects will be of use to other learners and educators. Hopefully some progress has been made in our society (not just left up to schools) to help close the gaps among students of different socioeconomic statuses.

I’m not expecting the education world to be reformed to a wonderful era of sunshine and puppy kisses, but I do expect that we will have avoided a not too far-fetched dystopian world where teachers, schools, and students are branded with oversimplified numeric values that supposedly represent the totality of their worth. On the evolution to revolution scale, I hope these ed changes fall in the 6 out of 10 scores. We need changes in education (and I specifically don’t say schools here) and I think the conditions are right for good things to happen in these next few years.

Thanks for reading this.

Love Darth Vader? Thank a teacher.

I’m a big fan of Star Wars, and therefore greatly appreciate everything that George Lucas does in the world. (Yes, I even have a peculiar appreciation for Jar Jar Binks.) In the book Education Nation by Milton Chen, the author discusses (pp. 204-207) the effect that praise from teachers and parents can have on our young people. Chen shares an excerpt from the acceptance speech Lucas gave upon receiving the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award for lifetime achievement during the 1992 Oscar Awards.  Lucas said,

“I’d especially like to thank a group of devoted individuals, who apart from my parents, have done the most to shape my life.  My teachers. From kindergarten, through college, their struggle…and it was a struggle, to help me learn, to grow, was not in vain. And it is greatly appreciated… All of us who make motion pictures are teachers, teachers with very loud voices. But we will never match the power of the teacher who is able to whisper in a student’s ear.”

Lucas is obviously a very creative and hard-working person to have had so much success in his career. As an admirer of his work, I’m also very thankful for the teachers (in and away from school) he had in his life to allow his creativity and work come to life on screen.

Extremely important side note:  More than just this one speech, George Lucas is the founder of Edutopia, and a committed supporter of education.



1:1 laptop vs. paper and pencil

I’m nearly done reading the book Education Nation by Milton Chen and found the following post in Chapter 3 “The Technology Edge: Putting Modern Tools in Young Hands.”  According to the book, this was posted anonymously on the Dialogue Buzz web site of Abilene (KS) High School.


Let’s have a little competition at school and get ready for the future.

I will use a laptop and you will use paper and pencil. Are you ready?

I will access up-to-date information. You will have a textbook that is five years old.

I will immediately know when I misspell a word. You have to wait until it’s graded.

I will learn how to care for technology by using it. You will read about it.

I will see math problems in 3-D. You will do the odd problems.

I will create artwork and poetry and share it with the world. You will share yours with the class.

I will have 24/7 access. You will have the entire class period.

I will access the most dynamic information. Yours will be printed and photocopied.

I will communicate with leaders and experts using email. You will wait for Friday’s speaker.

I will select my learning style. You will use the teacher’s favorite learning style.

I will collaborate with my peers from around the world. You will collaborate with the peers in your classroom.

I will take my learning as far as I want. You must wait for the rest of the class.

The cost of a laptop per year? $250.

The cost of teacher and student training? Expensive.

The cost of well-educated U.S. citizens and workforce? Priceless.


Chen, M. (2010) . Education nation: Six leading edges of innovation in our schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


I’ve had this book sitting within the pile beside my bed for several months, but am glad I’m finally reading it. Chen is obviously passionate about the topic, and I love the big-picture and forward thinking perspective he has for education and our country.  It’s a great read and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys thinking about and acting upon needed reforms in learning and teaching.


Explaining power of social media to educators

Intelligent people use their brain. Successful people use intelligent people’s brains.

The quote above is out of a Prezi created by Dov Emerson, a school administrator in New York. The quote speaks to the true power of the connectedness brought about by social media. His presentation below is a fantastic way to explain how to use social media to create a Personal/Professional Learning Network (PLN) to other educators.

Here’s another great Prezi from Scott Kapla who is a school admin from Michigan. His presentation was given at the Michigan AP’s conference to give an overview of how Twitter can help share great ideas that benefit students.

Sometimes it’s hard to explain to your colleagues how helpful social media can be, but these two presentations do very well in making that point. Put these in front of some of your colleagues today!

More Digital Learning Day

Here are some photos from Digital Learning Day at my school. Deep thoughts (deep for me anyway) below the slideshow.

What I realized as I walked through my school on DLD, was how well my staff used all these tech tools to support our established school priorities. I didn’t see anything that looked contrived or non-educational (like an Angry Bird Tournament). Kids and teachers were using the tools (laptops, iPads, cameras, etc.) to support and enhance their normal important tasks for teaching and learning. We would never plan a classroom activity just to say, “Hey, we are using scissors!” We would also hope something similar for the messages that kids relay to their parents. I know they don’t say “I used a pencil” when asked by Mom and Dad about what they did at school that day. They talk about what they did with that pencil. The same should eventually hold true for any new learning tool we get. The focus is on the task and not on the tool.

[However, I do have to admit my own eagerness and play time when I get some new gadget! Also, I have strained eyes and a sore neck from many hours of bird launching.]