A quest for learning, unlearning and relearning…

Creating Perplexity


Dan Meyer gives this fantastic keynote at CUE 2014. Honestly, it is one of the best keynotes that I have heard in a long time where learning and technology are concerned. He cuts to the chase and lays out what really makes learning contagious, interesting, meaningful… and couples effective pedagogy with technology in a very simple way. It’s not rocket science here.

  1. Look around your world for things that are interesting and perplexing at the same time (technology can help)
  2. find some what to capture that perplexity (technology can help)
  3. and then share this with students (technology can help)
  4. … then, of course, help them resolve this perplexity.

I’m not going to rehash his entire keynote here, so go and watch it. I’ll wait – it is so worth your time. Then, spend some time reflecting on your practice and on what learning likes like in your classroom. Yes, he’s a math teacher, but the specific discipline doesn’t matter here. How are you finding, capturing and sharing the perplexities of your discipline with your students? The world in all its glory is fascinating and perplexing. Why do we start our lessons with the day’s objective and a laundry list of “stuff to know”? Why are we surprised when our students seem less than interested in “what they need to know”? How are you creating within them a NEED TO KNOW – a burning desire to know? This… this is truly the hard and good stuff of teaching.

Now, as a teacher in higher education, I am personally just as convicted and challenged by this message. Yes, I often default to telling my students what and why they need to know. I even set up meaningful experiences for them to practice and apply what  they need to know and be able to do. For many, if not most, they get this. However, powerful it may not be. It keeps learning relatively passive and focuses on compliance over really making meaningful connections and letting curiosity and interest drive the learning. The learning tools are fantastic and really can help along the way, but the tools in and of themselves are a cheap replacement for a meaningful and perplexing problem to solve. It is the perplexity and problem that gives the tool meaning and purpose.

I love the concept of ‘hard fun’ that Seymour Papert unpacks a little bit here. If we begin learning on the notion of compliance, this becomes largely unattainable. Any perplexity or complexity we try to introduce is largely artificial and students know it. In another article, Toward the Pedagogy of Idea Power, Papert writes, “You have to mess with actual ideas. But this is the kind of hard that will make teaching more interesting, just as idea work will do this for learning.” What is your “pedagogy of idea power”? How much messing around with ideas do you do? How much messing around with ideas to you help your students do? Perplexity is the perfect impetus for messing around with ideas. Technologies provide the perfect tools for extending what is possible with such messing around. I really see a connection between Papert’s pedagogy of idea power and Meyer’s finding, capturing, and sharing perplexity.

So, I’ll leave you with this haunting statement that Dan makes in his keynote. How are you finding, capturing and sharing the perplexities of your discipline with your students?


Spending Quality Time With Children in the Age of Hyper-Connectivity

I don’t know about you, but I find myself thinking about this all of the time… and if you don’t, I challenge you to start. Being mindful about how technology impacts our lives, our culture, our relationships,… is critical to having some semblance of control over what shapes our lives. I love this post from the blog, My Kids Adventures as they share some tips on being mindful of how we spend our time …

Technology Vigilance

source: http://www.mykidsadventures.com/quality-time-with-your-kids/

If we, as adults, are not practicing mindfulness in these areas (A.L.E.R.T.S.), how will we help our children and our students become mindful in these ways? We are not simply without control and do not need to be resigned to a ‘Brave New World’.

Whenever I’m in this mindfulness space, I can’t help but think of the great thinkers like Neil Postman or Marshall McLuhan. If you haven’t read Postman’s Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change, it is a good one to begin chewing on.

You Have To Begin Somewhere…

So Twitter has come out with a new search feature that allows anyone to search for any Twitter user’s first tweet. So, of course, I checked out my own, and wasn’t surprised by what I found. It was an admission that I was trying out this new Twitter thing.

My First Tweet

So, interested in what other people might have shared as their first tweet, I searched some of them who are in my network and decided to put them together in a more visual way for you. What this activity made me think of was that we all have to start somewhere… and that largely requires being curious. I had heard of Twitter and that some people in education were using it to network… and that was enough for me. I was in. And I have stayed in since I have found great value in connecting with the minds of insightful people all over the globe.

There are countless posts explaining the value of Twitter and cultivating a personalized learning network, so I won’t go into that here. However, I will say, most people’s first tweets were far from mind-blowing – and of course, that’s just fine. What is important is that they all held the necessary intellectual curiosity to pursue it, and if found valuable, stick with it and work to grow it. And, although I hate to speak for them, I think it has made a tremendous difference for them all. If you are in this little video (or even if you are not!) and would like to chime in with your story, that would be awesome.

So, without further ado, here are some first tweets. Enjoy.

Did You Know 7.6

Did you know…

…that Wayne Knight, the star from Seinfeld and Jurassic Park, died the other day in a terrible car crash? Did you know that Courtney Love Found Missing Malaysian Flight 370? Did you know that Justin Bieber Is Going To Be A Father – Selena Gomez Pregnant With Twins?


Did you know that the Orange Church of God is blatantly racist and bigoted? Were you shocked to learn that eagles can carry babies away (Okay, not really.) ? Many were. Did Morgan Freeman’s words help you see the tragic Newtown shooting differently? Many were moved by them. Were you enraged when a gay waitress was denied a tip because of her lifestyle?

A Chinese news source reported the Onion’s story that Korean leader Kim Jong Un was the “sexiest man alive for 2012. Hopefully, you laughed at that one. I really hope that you didn’t respond to the #BaldForBieber hoax and shave your head. A few did.

Did you know that Magellan, born in 1480, fought in the Battle of Hastings in 1066? I was fascinated to learn that he was shot in that battle with an AK-47 resulting in the loss of an eye.

Were you as captured by Lonelygirl15 as the rest of the media was?

On the lighter side, feeling a little weary by this long winter? How about a free online tan sitting right in front of your computer monitor? If this makes you nervous, don’t worry – there’s a video that should put you at ease.

Did you know that there was a website called Hoax Slayer and another called Snopes? I talk to many adults who haven’t heard of these. Thankfully, lots of young adults have…

It turns out that spreading misinformation is becoming one of our latest online sports. Are we raising a generation that is well equipped to spot them, question them, vet them, and stop them?1


Are we helping them navigate the hype, fun, and malice spread by social media to instead use it in powerful and positive ways?


Or, there’s always this…

3 4 5 7 8 91 92

But, with a well-oiled crap detector, some might make the effort to do a quick search to verify or even click on the “About” link that most every website has and discover this kind of thing?

We could even look at sites like thisthis and this after the fact with students as we work to build their crap detection capacity. The fact is that it is getting harder to sometimes tell fact from fiction and our skills of crap detection need to continue to evolve and become fine-tuned.

Or, you could just go with the fact that Internet users have a lower IQ and unplug.


Addendum: The top image was just used in this post: Survey Shows American People Are Super Gullible and Believe Silly Things. How appropriate.

What Your GPA Can’t Really Measure

In a recent NY Times piece in which Tom Friedman summarizes his interview with Laszlo Bock, the senior vice president of people operations [hiring] for Google, he ends with this:

Beware. Your degree is not a proxy for your ability to do any job. The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.”

Are we helping students apply their knowledge in novel contexts beyond the worksheet, beyond the questions at the end of the chapter, beyond the quiz or unit test? Are we helping them develop those “soft skills” that really help us all do great things? Are we helping them prepare to live a life full of meaning, passion, curiosity, learning, hope, joy, …?

Too many colleges, he added, “don’t deliver on what they promise. You generate a ton of debt, you don’t learn the most useful things for your life. It’s [just] an extended adolescence.”

It is too late for most if this only happens at college… for those who are lucky enough to have such a college experience. I talk to far too many who have the goal of getting a job and making money, while others just drift aimlessly through 4 years of college just not sure what to do, how to contribute, where their talents lie, where their passion went… Sure, who can argue with finding a job and making money. But, that’s not living life. Those rewards are short-lived. Are we preparing the next generation to lead, to solve incredibly complicated problems, to care passionately, to embrace learning, to adapt, be humble, be wise, contribute…


Who do you want working for you? Who do you want leading a country? The ones with the highest SAT scores? The ones who display the shiny “I mastered the Common Core” badge? The ones who have stressed themselves to the brink simply to pad their resume with ‘community service’ and AP courses because it looks good to college recruiters?