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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Education

3rd Time High School Graduate

Funny. One of my very first posts on this blog told the story of my youngest son, Yonatan, starting first grade. All the hope, dreams and questions marks that came along his first steps in school, my 3rd time doing these first step with my child.

Well, he graduated! It’s crazy how time flies and I am quite amazed at the fact that this blog exists for so long (even though I haven’t written in it too frequently lately)’.

Yonatan has always been a unique self-learner. For the second half of his last year in high school, he got the COVID closure, which was the best thing that could have happened to him at this timing. Back to the roots. Back to self-teaching.

He definitely didn’t like every topic in school. However, when he got 95 for one of the topics that traditionally was a weak point for him, I couldn’t help but wonder. He had a perfectly good explanation: I found really good and quite interesting summaries online. As for math, for years he got help from a private tutor trying to keep up with the class. Once released from the classroom, he flew into the material, using methods he got from his tutor, and simply expanded and deepened his knowledge, achieving a score of 100.

It’s that freedom from the constraints of the classroom that gave him the greatest boost throughout high school. It makes me wonder how many more students can do it. How many more can benefit from being set free from the 4 walls of the school? What are “we”, as a school-classroom-based education system are doing wrong and how can we make it better?

They Just LOVE the Standard Lesson. No Surprises, Please.

Yes. They just love the standard lessons. No surprises, please. Don’t get too creative. Don’t expect us to get too creative. The different, the irregular, changes are perceived as threats, scary stuff. It makes us uncomfortable. We love comfortable.

These are my weakest students. They are in 7th and 8th grades. They experienced one type of teaching through elementary school, which obviously didn’t work that well. But still, they would rather keep using the same methods, than be moved out of their familiar zone into experiencing a different type of teaching or learning.

Being a hyper-creative person, it is difficult for me to put aside all the new ideas and methods. But this year I have decided that it would be wiser to start in their comfort zone, so that trust is established before we embark on new ways.

So, we have been working with the textbooks. The students feel composed when they are under the impression that filling the workbooks page by page is what will get them forward and that the road ahead is clear and familiar.

I feel rather sad. There is so much more I want to do. I don’t want them just to get going. I don’t believe that filling up empty spaces in a workbook is learning, and it is certainly not teaching. I want them to feel curious to know more, happy to discover new possibilities and mostly I want them to open up to other ways of learning. Who knows, it might work better. I am getting impatient.

Little by little I seep in some new tastes. Something to soften their attitude towards learning and towards themselves. For instance, I explained that the main factor in their grades is the “test-tube” which is not a test at all. It’s a container where they collect points for every action they do that helps them learn. “Anyone can get 100. If you don’t have enough points, you can always come up with more items, tasks, and missions to add up to 100.

Still not where I want to be, but a first step in the right direction. They asked me at amazement several times, “Really? Anyone can get 100?”
“Sure”, I said, “Why not?”

 

 

Success for Struggling ELL Students

I made a conscious choice last year to teach the class for the struggling 7th grade ELL students. Normally, I was told earlier, if you get 1-2 students of the 10-12 students to advance to a higher level ability group – it is considered a success. I got 7 out of 15 to advance, and those who are left with me, are also nowhere near they were when they started the school year.

Working with this group of students was exhausting and demanding, yet the most important and satisfactory work I have ever done, not only in teaching. I chose this case study as my basis for investigating the factors contributing to success with struggling ELL students. This was my final research project in my studies for my Masters in Teaching degree at Levinsky College, Tel Aviv, one of the leading institutions for teacher education in Israel.

I think it is important to share my work, and even more important – to continue this research and expand it. I would like to have more teachers like me, and not just in Israel, contributing from their experiences of what works and what doesn’t and why – to generate a living breathing and useful database of actual solutions and real methods for this enormous collection of challenges. Please get in touch if you are interested in joining this initiative.

My project is in English and you can read it here.

 

Download here: 2019Factors_of_Success_ELL_Struggling_Or-Tal-Kiriati

Learning to Say “No”.

A sad thing it is, that one of the very first lessons you learn when you enter the education system, is a lesson about exploitation. I fear it is a similar situation in many countries, but that does not minimize the feeling of anger and frustration.
There is so much that parents don’t know about teachers, and the degree of exploitation is one of them. All these negative attitudes I have experienced in the past as a parent must have a lot to do with the fact that teachers feel “if we get the minimum – we will do the minimum”.
So for example, personalized learning?? There is a big difference between preparing one lesson for 30 students, or 20 personalized programs.
Alternative assessments? It’s a lot easier to check one or two standardized tests every semester than to check and re-check personal assignments done individually 1-3 times every week. 60 checks per semester or 120 per week?

enoughisenough

I know what it takes to be a good teacher. I know what I need to do, and how. But after receiving my first salary from the Ministry of Education – I am really depressed. The pay does not justify the extra time, extra effort and extra caring and dedication. The pay is an insult which carries a statement: we don’t care about you, teachers. We certainly don’t care about your students. The state of education in Israel is not important. We just hire a few suckers to fill in space in classrooms. When you leave we’ll get some new idealistic idiots. The students will never get to benefit from experienced and devoted teachers. And we, the well-paid ministry clerks and policymakers, we don’t care.

In light of this situation, I consider giving up my position as director of innovation, entrepreneurship and technology. While I have so much to give, and although in the super short time since the beginning of the year I have achieved already incredible achievements, I am going to say “no” to work without compensation. No more volunteering. My work is valuable.

Teaching to Learn!

The school year started a month ago, and already we’re counting almost 2 weeks of holiday time. It’s difficult enough to get them going after the summer vacation, but teaching a few days and going off to yet another vacation makes it even harder to start the learning engines, kick this school year off.

But this year is special for me. I got appointed as the school director of innovation and technology, and as such, I get full support for my innovative ideas, tech craze included.

So I started by building a google suite for my school. Single handed I am creating the users, organizational units, groups, team drives, resources with calendars and of course – the google classroom.

Here my students benefit first. I started this year teaching 2 classes of gifted students in 7th grade, and one 8th grade science-oriented classroom, which I also taught last year. All 3 classes received a google classroom right from the beginning of the year and it helped make this month a much more productive one, despite the holidays and traveling families and kids missing school.

So what do I do with the classroom? First of all, I upload all material and worksheets that I hand out in class. This benefits not only those students who have missed classes but also those scatter headed who keep misplacing them.
I add a paragraph or two about what we did in class. Do you know these students who come back from a holiday saying “but we asked, and our friends told us we didn’t miss a thing”. Well, now this line is out. What you have missed is online. Please catch up.
I already posted a few photographs of fantastic group work and class work. I think the students were so immersed in their work, they didn’t even notice I took the pictures. It’s important to reflect, privately within the classroom boundaries, that their English lesson can be a lot of fun and create this warm feeling of a unit working together.

And then, there are the assignments. So I have used several types. Before I go into the types of assignments I have created so far, let me tell you that one other thing I want to promote with my students is social learning. Taking them out of isolation when they work. So I actually suggested they consult with each other on the class stream (the front page). I also asked some students who submitted excellent work to link their work and share it with the classroom so that their peers can see and learn. I find it tremendously important to reduce their dependency on what the teacher is saying.

The first type of assignment is “prepare for our next lesson”. It’s not mandatory. I created vocabulary sets on Quizlet and shared them in the classroom page, offering that the students arrive to class prepared. I know some of them have used them. I hope in the future more students will be aware of their option to prepare for the next lesson. I am actually aiming at a situation in which students will ask me for a preparation task. That is when I know it’s working, and they are learning how to learn.

The second type of assignments is writing assignments. No more papers, please. All assignments are submitted on Google Docs, via the Google Classroom assignment page. I can give them comments and remarks for them to fix, and they can re-submit to get a better grade. The submission date is the deadline, after which they will not be able to improve their grades anymore. I can already see the impact of the re-submission process. My colleagues might think I am crazy for checking so many times the same papers. But it’s not. I use a google doc add-on called “grade proof” to help me quickly detect writing problems. In most cases, re-submit means they went over my comments and solved them. It doesn’t require too long to re-read. For me, not doing this process is the crazy thing. Over the past two weeks, of which more than one week has been a vacation, I can see actual growth and development with those students who keep aiming higher and higher. I actually don’t see the point in giving such assignments without the option to correct oneself and see how your writing improves.

The third type of assignments I tested is reading comprehension – known as “the unseen”. I use readworks.org to assign chosen reading material to the google classroom of my choice. It took me just a bit to get the hang of it. Basically, the students get the passage. I looked for material with “step reading”, meaning they can either read the original article or a simpler version that will make it easier for them. Then they answer questions, some of them are multiple choice and some are written answers. I only have to manually check the written replies to complete their grade for the unseen. I already planned the 2 next assignments on this website. I think it is going to be one of the most useful sites I use.

What else? As always, I used google forms to create a “getting to know you” questionnaire. In the past, I used it for quizzes too, and I have recently learned this feature is even better this year, through google classroom.

I am going to start teaching another class after this holiday. It’s a 7th grade group that has some catching up to do. Most of the students in this class are challenged with ADHD or learning difficulties of sorts, each presents a different challenge. I am planning on creating tiny-groups for them, in Edmodo, because this is a feature not supported by Google classroom. To avoid the hassle of student registration and login I already received excellent help from Edmodo allowing me to bulk import users from our school’s domain. Let’s see how this is going to work. I am also considering using a more gamified environment for this group like Classdojo. I will have to check if it suits them. Some students in 7th grade might consider it childish. It’s a decent platform for badges and rewards, but it will not allow the small group work as Edmodo and I do not want to overload the students with too many platforms. I have tried ClassCraft in the past and I love it. However, to make it work there must be a strong enough WiFi connection in school, and right now, there is none. It’s a totally new building.

And a brand new era for us all.

1st Teaching Year Ends

I had no idea I would feel this way. My first year as a teacher ended and I had to say goodbye to my students, my beloved students, because next year I will be teaching in another school. I waited until the very last day to tell them. Their reaction took me by surprise. Boys and girls, 7th grade who came to hug me, or at least shake my hand. Kids telling me they are sorry I won’t teach them next year, and students saying “thank you, you really helped me this year”. One of my students said to me: “Or-Tal, I can tell you this much: if you succeeded in teaching me, you will succeed in teaching anyone”. Which was really moving. I didn’t expect that.
Over the last couple of weeks of the school year it was getting harder and mostly pointless teaching regularly. So, like most teacher I used movies and games during class.

On the last lesson I decided to go for a “BreakoutEdu” concept.

I prepared my box, with 6 locks, with a “treasure” hidden inside, and the riddles and puzzles were a revision on a year’s learning. The students were thrilled to do it. I had them run for clues around the school and school yard and busy solving grammar exercises on their very last lesson of the year.
The treasure chest held mock “flight tickets”, from 7th grade to 8th grade, and a personal “what to pack” list I prepared for each of the students. Ranging from “your sense of humor” to “patience” and more.
I gave the students my email, saying they can always contact me for help, and I am happy to say that about 15% already did that. I just love my students!

Frustration: class contract breached

My greatest frustration is this group of 8th graders who suffer from various learning disabilities.

I know that they CAN learn. I have proved it to them by teaching them all sorts of little things. But here we are, 7 out of 10 months passed, and except for one student, nothing is built. No confidence is created. No motivation. Not a hint of belief that they can cope with learning English.

What do you do with such a group? frus

On the one hand, this group is their only chance. In a regular class they will disappear and won’t get a chance. But on the other hand, when in a group of under-motivated, students, who really don’t want to study and have a negative attitude, the group fortifies their behavior.

Personalized learning, which is an approach I like, cannot make it through such a negative attitude. This is not about how much they are willing to invest in their studies or which way of learning will suit them better. We are not there yet. The important preliminary step is to form the very basic agreement, without which learning cannot happen. It’s a contract between a learner and a teacher:

I am here to learn.

I am here to teach.

The fact is, those who are in my classroom to learn – do. And those who are not there to learn – are not learning. They might seem to be in it when we’re using the computer, but they are only there for a minimal fun and then switch to YouTube or other unauthorized activities and if caught, then immediately they have to go to the bathroom. Right?

It doesn’t really matter what their learning disability is. On my end I am willing to work with any difficulty. I invite them to share their frustration. To ask for help. I encourage them by observing their strong spots. Every child is unique, every child is a whole world of opportunities.

But despite my best efforts – the whole classroom environment doesn’t work. Not for them.

I feel humbled by an urgent need to learn. So much more to learn.

Communications is KEY, in the classroom too

So I took this expertise I have – communications – and simply applied it to the classroom. We live in the “age of communications”. How we communicate is a big deal. I really wanted to speak about my  concept of education through communications at the conference this week in Boston, lead by The Communications Guy – Jeff Pulver. But I am teaching now. No time off.

Communications is key, yet in most classrooms it’s still the same hundreds-years-old model of one teacher “communicating to” many students. The blackboard was the first edtech which improved the communications in the classroom. Not to be confused with the 20th century’s whiteboard, or the later smart-board. Or so many other technology solutions aimed at marching the classroom communications forward.

But really, communications is first and foremost a listening-speaking-listening cycle. And while we often ask students to listen, we’re not coached to listen to the students (other then when they are tested). And there’s a lot to listen to.

I started this year with a “Getting to know you” questionnaire. It’s amazing how much head start you get when you open the year with this. I teach 7th and 8th graders English as a Second language. Being a country of immigrants, for some this is the 3rd or even 4th language – which was another important questions to answer. And that’s just one example.

I received information about the students from their homeroom teachers, and continued to take a look at those open and unprotected Facebook profiles. When the group of students who are into racing cars received from me an assignment about a teen racing driver they were surprised and pleased. When the artist was asked to use her special skills in designing flash cards she was thrilled that someone has noticed here talent. I learned that one of the students, who is a recent immigrant from Russia, has a dream: to learn programming. So I asked him and a classmate who also stated an interest in high tech to do the Codemonkey programming game in class. This got him totally devoted and also earned the respect of his classmates, who bothered for the first time to communicate with him.

It’s not easy to get through to all kids. Some are still a mystery to me. So I try to get them to talk with me for a minute or two in between classes or assignments. I will win them over eventually. I must. The thing is, what I need to teach them has nothing to do with the process I am into at this stage. This is all about communications. And it’s much deeper than the transfer of knowledge.

I think the main surprise so far was the shock of my students when I insisted on developing other digital communications channels in favor of learning. Other than Whatsapp that is.

My 7th graders seemed to think that email is old-fashioned and not needed. The class wiki, where I post the class summary, homework, links and files, is a burden to them. And while they all where extremely enthusiastic about joining the Classcraft game – only about a quarter of the students bothered to login and create their character in the past 10 days since they received their invitation. They don’t open their email, so they didn’t see the invitation. Only half of the class logged in the wiki to see the links and invitations there, the fact is not even all of those got into Classcraft. Several kids forgot their passwords – some of them learned the process of retrieving a password. Others didn’t get that idea. They seem over confident about their mastery of technology – yet this extremely simple actions are beyond them. And don’t even get me started on things like Google Docs…

I find that preparing them to properly communicate in all these channels is an essential part of their education. Since most tools are in English – I dared to add it to their English class. But then, what about the English curriculum? Looks like even these declared young innovators prefer the old ways when it comes to the classroom. The new is scary. I have a long long way to go.

 

First Steps in the Classroom

Bringing TONS of knowledge into the classroom the feeling I have today, after I have been teaching my middle schoolers for 2 weeks is of gratitude. I am grateful for the dialog created between me and my students. Needless to say I am grateful to the Principal for taking a chance on me. After all, teaching teachers isn’t the same as teaching kids.
Those are now “my kids”. I have 10 8th graders in a special educational needs group, and almost 40 7th graders in a regular heterogenic classroom.
These past 2 weeks, formally known as 16 periods per class, were dedicated to getting to know the students and developing what I consider the basis for further learning – their online communications skills.
I decided I need to make sure that every student has an email address first of all. There’s a general feeling among these young kids that they know everything about technology, and that they certainly know better, and that anything we teachers bring in – must be out dated. Well sorry: Whatsapp cannot replace email. Na ah.
And then – WIKIS – a class portal for them to catch up and follow on homework and never ever say that they didn’t have time to copy from the board or other lame excuses.
And opening a PDF in your mobile phone.
And registering to a service (well, the WIKI) and know how to confirm your registration.
Sure, when you go out your adult life you might go into a reality where all you have to do to access anything is scan your iris, but until then – know your environment and know how to learn to work with your environment, whatever it may be.
Learning how to learn is the core business of education. Or at least it should be.14-09-2016-20-08-12

But back to saying thanks today: Two of my quietest students in the special class shined today. They became involved and felt comfortable. Acceptance was in the air. And it felt great. And there’s no other way to describe this feeling: just that I think being a teacher is by far the most amazing job possible.

An Education Being

Wow. It’s been a very long time since I last posted. Muses were too busy learning new things. If you’d ask me what is the most important factor in any place I am committed to, as a work place or any venture I am assisting – it’s definitely being able to learn. Facing the new horizons challenges.

For the past several months I have assumed the role of an educator, working with The Institute for Democratic Education (IDE) in several Tel Aviv high school on innovative education, specifically introducing PBL – project based learning. Apparently sharing my knowledge is yet another passion I have always had. Only it took various forms across a diversified career.

Now it’s time for the entrepreneurial bug to kick in again. Taking a long and hard look at several education systems I realize that one of the things they have in common is grades. And tests. And final exams, under various names and titles. The other things they share is a diversity of students. This usually includes a group of self motivated curious  and self learnering students who are being slowed down, almost suffocated, when forced into this frame of grades and tests.dumbdown

I believe a school can accommodate the self learning students, in a way that will allow them to acquire education in a social environment of their peers, but without the limits, constraints and waste of time required by tests and grades.

One of the main things this school should present is the connection to the real world, community, both business and academic, and allow the students to try many directions at this fantastic age of high school, well before they’re into a selected degree or career. This obviously has to include free access to universities and their willing participation.

I am still exploring various models that already exist around the world and will be happy to learn about more innovative school models. Let me know about them.

#EdGames : Where Ed Meet Games And Gamers meet Educators

I’ve been toying between the education and games worlds for ever. Really, it’s been years. At the risk of sounding ridiculous – I always played games. And I’ve always learned. Education is probably the later of them all. Had to become a parent to an education-system child to really get into it. But it wasn’t until I saw the conflict in my kids’ lives, between their own passionate interest in both learning and playing games that I realized – these two should go together.

It was about 7 or 8 years ago that my eldest child, a student today, played Maple Story with her classmates. The summer vacation brought it to new heights. They all used English of course, not their mother tongue, to chat with other players and trade goods – and I observed how much they have learned through this process. Maple Story was never designed with education in mind. No ESL thoughts.

During these years I’ve designed an MMO (massively multiplayer online game) twice. But before, during and after I spent tons of time just studying about both game design and education: innovation in education, technology in education, new methodologies, different pedagogic approaches, types of learners, learning disabilities and difficulties, challenging students, classes and learning environments,  different teachers – with teachers needs, abilities, limitations and dreams. I’ve connected with teachers all over the world: US, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Romania, France, the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Holland, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, Spain – need I go on? There’s one thing in common to all the teachers in my constantly expanding network: they are teachers because they want to teach, and they do no settle for dreaming on improving or changing education – they are actually doing the change, pursuing innovation.

 

There’s an interesting thing that has happened to my game designer friends during the same several years. Lots of them have grown up and mainly became parents. Suddenly – they are also exposed to the urgent need to make something for it, to change, to affect.

I couldn’t be happier standing here right in the crossroad of these two innovative communities. Now I am doing my little thing: I founded #EdGames Meetup, which is designed to be the meeting place between teachers and game designers. Education professionals, and programmers, designers, animators and gamers. It’s an interesting cross and an important one. Too many game designers attempt to create games for education without understanding needs or constraints of the systems and audiences they design for. And too many educators convince themselves they are using games in the classroom when in fact they barely understand true gamification the way it works today. This conversation, this meeting place, is essential if we want to grow and expand the use of games in education and the surrounding industries. It is a challenge, however, to create a meeting place between communities who differ so much from each other. I am lucky to have partnered with the local Game Designers Association, GameIS, where I chair the education committee, and am looking for their support in bringing this new concept to Israel’s game designers.

I started it here, in Israel. I hope to grow it across the world and have more #EdGames meetups all over the world. In the meantime, I announce our monthly meetings here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/edtechIS/ and twit under #EdGames and #GBL. You are welcome to join the conversation.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

And how can I, your mother, help you achieve it?
I’ve been toying with this discussion for the past couple of weeks, after being approached by one of the TV networks, who’re doing a series of reports on the topic. Tying education to it all brought them to my doorstep.

So I asked my kids this very important question. The 16 year old said “I want to eat”. A very typical answer from a 16 year old, who just wants to… well, eat. The 12 year old said “I haven’t got a clue”. The 19 year old said what she has always said “I want to be a physicist” which in her case means a lot more than a single occupation.

So what’s my role in their future? To open as many options as possible before them.
2008Feb-whales-sharks
Going a little deeper into the conversation, the 12 year old admitted he wants to save whales and other endangered species. Something he has been talking about since he was 4 years old. The 16 year old expanded to “I want to be happy” and then said that currently the 3 most important and enjoyable areas in his life are music, games and food and “I’d like to develop some concept venture to put all those together into the best hanging out place in the world”. And my oldest, in between tests and studies she’s developing at least 2 startup ideas, following the previous venture, Globalvert, an organization to push forward the study of Algae as an alternative energy source.

What we all have in common is entrepreneurship. The urge to solve, innovate, create.

Several months ago I met with a wonderful entrepreneur and a business man. After sharing his rather apocalyptic view about the deterioration in entrepreneurship and number of entrepreneurs he shared a plan he has of adding a set of topics to pre-school classes, to train the minds of the 3-4-5 year old and develop them into our future entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship is at the very basis of sustaining the human race, with the ongoing depletion of resources on earth”, he explained, “We are dependent on those who will become entrepreneurs in 30 years and their breakthrough ventures”.

I strongly believe in entrepreneurship and the need in entrepreneurs. But while he’d start with external enrichment classes, I would much rather work with the teachers and educators first. With the correct state of mind and a basic set of tools they can achieve much more than any fantastic “thought shaping” “mind developing” external content that hosts an hour a week.

This state of mind is the one I’m struggling for at home. Trying to keep doors open, or at least within reach. Keeping the creative vibe going. Being attentive to my kids’ interests and passions, putting those well ahead of any concepts of “should and shouldn’t”, but not striking off rules. And, not ignoring society’s high road called “schooling” although sometimes I wish I could.

By now I have a 19 year old student at a university, a 16 year old in high school and a 12 year old in elementary school. I’m counting 28 years in the schooling system as a mother. I must admit that even though all three of my kids enjoy what constitutes the best to elite schooling in Israel, I’m generally dissatisfied with the education system. It’s the same disappointing system worldwide but it doesn’t make me happier. As a parent I am doing my best to offer the widest possibilities to my kids. However, the schooling system limits them.

What’s happening to my brilliant girl at the Nobel Prize winners’ academic institute reminds me of what happened to my wide eyed youngest in first grade. From the shining smile, sheer excitement and hopeful dreams of knowledge and exploration down to a thin reality of memorization and teachers’ mind-reading. She might be better equipped today to deal with it, looking at it as just a phase to go through, it still feels like a system putting you down.

And so does the whole testing system I’m going through, for the second time as a parent, with my high schooler. “Teaching? I wish I could teach”, one of his gifted teachers told me, a fantastic creative and beloved teacher, “I’m not teaching, I’m prepping for exams”.

So back to “what are we doing to help our kids prepare for a vague future we have no way of predicting?”. One thing is for sure, 3 years wasted on test preparations hardly contribute to it. Education must develop a stronger affinity to the entrepreneurship state of mind if we want it to contribute to our future. To be blunt, for a period in history lead by the workmen, the manufacturing line approach to education was fine. For an era lead by entrepreneurs – education needs to be recreated as something else, something different, some fertile ground for budding entrepreneurs.

What about the Team?

I started to write this blog post about team work. Then I restarted it. I wasn’t always a team player. When I started my career, a young and daring journalist at the age of 15, a journalist was in most cases a solo flyer. I was a journalist for 15 years. Most of the time it was indeed a solo performance. When I ejected from print journalism to the online technology world I started to discover team work.

Investors often tell you that when choosing whether or not to invest in a startup they look at the team harder than they look at the idea. Yea, showing off with a shiny new prototype is impressive, but if the team is a screeching machine, then no thank you. Better luck at your next meeting.

And team work is indeed key to success. In a good startup you’ll have several founders, each assuming responsibility on another domain. While in many cases each member of the team can probably do more than just his or her own job, and at the early stages – that’s what they have to do, it’s critical that every member of the team is the chief of another domain. Has the last word in this domain. Not the only word, the last word.chess-set

This distinction is important: early on the team all share the exciting notion of creating something new. They all pitch in. They all have a contribution to the production process from planning to execution. But in each area there’s supposed to be the top decision maker of the arena: one person decides over technology, one person deciding over design, one person over business strategy. Even if all team members have degrees in programming and business, each member must honestly acknowledge which is his or her area of expertise. Where they would be better than any other team member. And that’s your domain.

This mastery is of course accompanied by a lot of ego. Which makes it hard to listen to other people’s opinions or advice. But if you’re truly an expert – then you will embrace the fact that every input can enrich you and benefit the greater good of the venture you’re all producing.

Which takes me back to school. So the high school typical behavior I’ve encountered so far, through my kids mainly – is that in each group there’s one who does all the hard work. Well the easy work too. In fact, why bother, when there’s one in each group who really cares about the grade? Unfortunately I’ve seen this attitude drag into college, first degree studies. There are those who care about the grades, so why bother contributing to the shared project? In further studies I’ve also encountered the complete opposite behavior, with similar non-team-work results: condescending team members competing with each other on their status within a team, all in the name of credit and prestige.

Do education systems give it another thought? Do they know how important is the ability to work within a team? The whole deal: contributing, learning from each other, sharing ideas, feeding the team, respecting, communicating politely and efficiently, putting your ego aside. And enjoying it.

I sincerely believe that if tests where replaced by projects with correct guidance and supervision – we’d be looking at better chances for all those future team members. There’s a limit to how far you can fly solo and without wings.

Teachers: Innovate or Vegetate? (Or: Why teachers hold the key to society’s innovation)

On the road to innovation, success, evolution and generally doing good we have to go through the education systems. Where ever we are. Tomorrow’s innovators are being educated today. While Peter Thiel with his 20-under-20 Thiel Fellowship is doing a rescue operation to fish entrepreneurs out of the higher education system before it squashes their dreams and plans under frames and debts, I’m thinking that the only operation we can have for the younger students is recognizing that teachers today hold the key to innovation. I need to create a clear separation between innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s a factor of bravery, risk taking and daring in entrepreneurship that is not always present with pure innovation. Teachers can and must innovate all the time. They don’t have to assume the role of entrepreneurs. But it’s “innovate or vegetate” for them. Going out with my dear friend Miri to a bar the other night, we spoke about career choices. Miri loves being a teacher. It’s the only thing she has ever done and she’s one of the more innovative teachers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Without innovation – how could she survive around 3 decades of teaching science to middle school students? Day in day out, year in year out, same curriculum approximately. But she’s a master in improvising. She knows how to read each unique group of students, as well as specific students, and how to raise the curiosity and tease their own inquisitive minds into the same thing she’s teaching. They keep surprising her, and she keeps surprising them. Yet, teachers’ professional development is extremely weak in Israel. To encourage it the government with the teachers unions created a framework that recognizes specific programs or institutions as an official supplier of professional development. Going through any of those a teacher is then compensated financially for the investment. This framework created a terrible situation in which most teachers limit their quest to develop professionally to only these programs or institutions that will “pay off”. There goes innovation. An enthusiastic participant at Twitter’s #edchat I’m learning so much about education and educators around the world. It’s a sheer joy even if I am just a listener and not participating. I am not a teacher, and nobody pays me to learn education. But all of the participants, who are teachers and educator by trade don’t spend that 1 hour (sometimes 2 hours) per week in a multi-national conversation about education because they are paid to do so. They do it because they are passionate about what they do and they want to innovate and grow. They don’t want to get tired and worn, they want to keep the enthusiasm going on in their lives and careers.

teacherscollage
Why I think teachers hold the key to society’s innovation

Here’s innovation for you. These teachers are in fact cultivating tomorrow great entrepreneurs. When their students will grow up, I hope they can appreciate it. Because we hear so much about the successful entrepreneurs and their grand startups, but we rarely hear about those who showed then the way.

#edchat: Teach Digital Literacy?

I do my best to join or at least follow one #edchat per week on twitter, using my own twitter account @lemino. It has become one of the best sources of learning about education innovation, about the ins and outs of education systems, and about the shakers and movers in this field. It’s actually very exciting when you try to follow a conversation on a single topic with dozens of educators from around the world talking together.

Sadly I missed this week’s edchat. 7PM here (noon eastern time) is a tricky hour. But it was such a great topic I had to browse through the chat. Fantastic chat. So I decided to bring some of the excitement here, with small modifications (of abbreviations) and the #edchat hashtag removed from all the updates. Note the twitter names and follow these education leaders. The opening statement by Jerry Blumengarten (Cybraryman1), the host of this session, is the topic of the chat:

Cybraryman1: If all educators will be required to teach digital literacy – what do they need to know in order to be digitally literate?

MadameWells: Teachers need to know what digital literacy means. Many don’t know the meaning of the word.

Cybraryman1: What is digital literacy?

EarthEcho: Difficult task but needs to happen before we begin teaching (define digital literacy).

Shyj: @MadameWells I don’t think it has a common definition. Need to be on the same page.

Jdferries: Digital literacy is so broad! Let’s start with information sourcing, the role of human filtering, coping with infowhelm & echochambers.

DrDougGreen: They need to know that their learning never stops and should be a daily affair.

Bobloch: Educators need to know how online tools make many current practices obsolete. How to adapt, stop thinking of curriculum in linear fashion.

Aceedu: @bobloch Exactly. Educators have to make changes in the way curriculum is taught/learned

MaxScholarLLC: Ability to effectively and critically find, evaluate and create information using technology.

Cybraryman1: @DrDougGreen @sdroyer That is true for all types of learning. Important to be a constant learner.

Sjunkins: Literacy was once the ability to read and write. Today it’s about making sense of and engaging in so much more.

Katie_M_Ritter: Digital literacy: how to navigate & evaluate the internet, familiar with social media and digital technologies, can create content online.

Cybraryman1: Digital literacy is the ability to find, understand, evaluate, create and communicate digital information.

Aceedu: @sjunkins Digital literacy was not something we thought about a decade ago. It changes everything.

ScholasticTeach: What say you? Should schools teach social media skills?

Tkraz: @sjunkins It’s still the ability to read and write, but I’d add view. Same core but wider spectrum of choices.

4bettereducatio: Digital Literacy means creating empathy, understanding of bias, opportunities to create, curation techniques and context for info posted online.

Shyj: Locating, sorting through, analyzing, using and creating information. So much more than what it used to be.

DrDougGreen: Key skills are finding & evaluating information, blogging, multimedia production/editing and writing skills.

EarthEcho: Educators also need to understand the power and permanence of internet in tech in education.

Shyj: Even the term digital literacy has morphed: information literacy, media literacy etc.

Jdferries: I think it is also using digital tools to leverage info in general: using multimedia to persuade, analyzing competing claims.

DrDougGreen: They need to understand how to stay out of trouble with social media themselves. Some teachers don’t.

Sjunkins: Modern literacy means being able to read, write AND use various forms of media.

Katie_M_Ritter: I like the emphasis on “modern” RT @sjunkins : Modern literacy means being able to read, write AND use various forms of media.

4bettereducatio: @Katie_M_Ritter Yes, I think creating the content and getting past consumption is a huge area of Digital Literacy need.

Cybraryman1: What types of professional learning is necessary to help educators learn about being digitally literate?

ITDean: @cybraryman1 very much along the similar lines of pre and post testing. Teachers also need to see a reason. Why learn it otherwise?

Tkraz: Digital literacy requires the same basic read/write skills but also requires more independence in finding and evaluating.

Shyj: Yes, locating and searching for info – all a part of digital literacy as well as using info to create.

Shyj: with emphasis on creating as well. Think the create part had changed a lot over the years.

Tkraz: @shyj creation tools have changed and evolved expanding the options and possibilities.

Shyj: and attached to that are the copyrights, staying safe etc. So when do teachers have time to teach all of this?

DrDougGreen: @cybraryman1 professional development needs to be small bites daily and individualized. Each teacher needs to be responsible for own plan.

Defstef98: I think we have to go back to heightening students’ awareness of genres- within the digital genre there are sub genres

Fishtree_edu: @defstef98 Digital literacy is a broad topic and it needs to be divided into sub topics to make it easier to teach

MadameWells: It’s important to be able to search, evaluate and create, knowing what is legal to use and what is not.

MaxScholarLLC: @ MadameWells also, how to identify a fake website and inaccurate information.

Shyj: @ MadameWells Ugh. You mean… copyright? (runs out of room screaming…)

MaxScholarLLC: Teachers need to be able to explore, understand and use digital technologies to find, create, and share information

Iatlearning: @ MadameWells Digital is becoming a huge part of the student’s world. Bringing it into the classroom will help to connect with them.

Tkraz: with emphasis on creating as well. Think the create part had changed a lot over the years.

Sjunkins: Literacy is a curriculum fundamental but being literate today requires much more than the traditional literacy of yesterday.

4bettereducatio: @tkraz @sjunkins and possibly add evaluate? Same skills but a much larger range of information and perspectives.

Katie_M_Ritter: educators need to be connected and engage online. Can’t teach digital literacy if you’re not engaged with it yourself. Bloom

CecileMcVittie: @cybraryman1 Perhaps “transliteracies“ implying movement across all literacies are what educators need?

Cybraryman1: @DrDougGreen Thanks to wonderful #eduvue now say Professional Learning rather than Professional Development

Shyj: Have we even mentioned staying safe online as part of digital literacy?

Aceedu: @MaxScholarLLC Yes, it’s not simply knowing the basics. We need to be able to take it further and make it effective.

Itechbob: Becoming digitally literate should not be an option. The days of I don’t do technology should be over.

Sjunkins: Forget the 21st century, literacy is an every century skill.

Madamewells: I am trying very hard to be a connected educator. I am helping teachers here build a PLN (Professional Learning Network).

Itechbob: getting people started with a PLN seems like a great way to learn digital literacy. Hands-on learning at its digital best.

Isminc: Do your teachers collaborate for homework assignments?

MadameWells: @ismin elementary teachers do, but the high school teachers do not.

Fishtree_edu: is digital literacy a skill or a mindset?

Defstef98: @fishtree_edu I vote for the second option

Fishtree_edu: @defstef98 @shyj Digital literacy is a skill to learn, re-learn and un-learn which comes from the (learning) mindset

MadameWells: Connected Ed is a key to digital literacy. We learn from others and then teach it to more.

Cybraryman1: what type of professional learning is necessary to help educators learn about being digital literate?

AdamGoldberg1: @cybraryman1 Teachers need to learn what kids already do online to exchange in meaningful conversation about responsibility

DrDougGreen: @itechbob ever since the school got internet in 1996 I only hired tech savvy teachers. Today I ask to see their blog.

Earthecho: @ DrDougGreen completely agree! Educators need to find the way to use tech to empower themselves and their students.

Katie_M_Ritter: you can read and you can write but can you collaborate with others effectively online? (projects, email, google docs)

Shyj: @MaxScholarLLC When are teachers building their digital literacy skills? What role should that play in the classroom?

CurtisChandler6: In this century there is likely to be a difference between those who are literate and those who are fully, functionally literate.

DigitalJLearn: @cybraryman1 content creation VS content curation and the importance of doing both.

CurtisChandler6: Reading, writing, listening and speaking are great starts. I also think that empathy could be added.

Sjunkins: New forms of media bring about new forms of literacy.

CurtisChandler6: @sjunkins new literacies often evolve faster than our ability to examine them; therefore the ability to evolve is a crucial skill.

Fishtree_edu: @ MadameWells teachers can start by looking into what students are using. Kids these days can be smarter than adults 

MadameWells: @cybraryman1 I think they need to know they can find all the answers they need through a PLN

Shyj: Have we even mentioned staying safe online as part of digital literacy?

Aceedu: @shyj Great point! That’s a HUGE part of digital literacy and shouldn’t be overlooked or assumed to be known.

Shyj: @Aceedu yes assumed for teachers and students… just because we can “FB” doesn’t mean we have digital literacy skills.

Aceedu: @Shyj Exactly! Especially students. Just because they were born into it doesn’t mean they know how to use is effectively.

Itechbob: Educators don’t need to know everything. Digital change happens too fast. Evaluation skills become highly important.

DrDougGreen: as educators we no longer own the information. Any student can know things their teacher doesn’t.

Cybraryman1: we have to be constant learners and model this for our students

Sjunkins: our students should be able to actively create rather than just passively consume media. That’s today’s digital literacy.

TomWhitby: Have you ever tried to figure out what percentage of your school faculty was digitally literate?

Gooru: digital literacy=knowing not only how to use the digital tools but also how to find the ones that best fit your or your students’ needs

Defstef98: It’s in the collaboration that probably digital literacy and or transliteracy are achieved.

Shyj: @deftef98 @Katie_M_Ritter Yes, real application and situations when skills are needed

DrDougGreen: Every student should publish their best work on a regular basis.

Cybraryman1: @ DrDougGreen @sjunkins All students should also blog

MaxScholarLLC: @sjunkins and we should encourage them to evaluate their work throughout the process of creating it and not the final result

TomWhitby: Has digital literacy become a standard requirement for hiring new teachers yet?

DigitalJlearn: @CYbraryman1 They need to know that being digitally literate is as much about a culture of innovation and exploration as it is about tech.

Mamacita: Too many teachers view tech as one more burden when in fact tech relieves many burdens. Tech is no longer an extra. It’s a fact of life.

Sjunkins: having students create their own digital content gives them a whole new perspective on the power of media

QuinnEng8: Any ideas for differentiating digital literacy instruction in classrooms where some kids can program and others only see computers at school.

This is not all of the chat. Only about a third or half of the one hour stream. But I hope you have had the chance to learn from it as much as we did, and that you also got the urge to check out the #edchat stream next Tuesday at noon EST.

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