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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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teachers

My T Club Membership

I’ve been accepted into this select club. I feel honored. This coming September I am officially one of the members of the Teachers’ Club. I felt like a guest over this past year, and just circled around before that. But this coming school year I am going to be the English teacher of 7th and 8th grade at a middle school in Herzlia. An official member.

It’s kind of hard to explain this to people from outside the education circle. Actually, some people who have been members of this club for years are not aware of how exclusive it is. How closed and powerful, or how empowering it can be.tclubt

I always thought that being a teacher is one of the most powerful jobs there are. But recently one of my business networking friend heard the news and commented: “What brought you down to teaching?”.

And I was shocked.

Brought me “down“?

Do you know how brave one should be to become a teacher? Do you realize how strong one should be to face a classroom full of students day after day? And for me, a long time entrepreneur, I will need all of my entrepreneurial skills to reach each and every student and help each one overcome their own challenge. So glad I am an entrepreneur.

But for my friend a “teacher” is scaled somewhere well below a manager or entrepreneur or a a business consultant or a journalist. All of these – I’ve done. And now, and only now, have I gathered enough confidence, bravery, experience and knowledge to dare step into a classroom.

Not going to be an easy journey. I still feel like my membership is pending. But am daily grateful for the new and exciting members I am connecting with in this club.

See you dare. And thank you, Taylor Mali, for putting it so eloquently!

 

 

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 is 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.

Say “Passion” instead of “Engagement”

“Engagement” seems to be the key word, the major buzz word, where educational technology is concerned. Ask an Edtech entrepreneur what their app or software is doing, and at least 90% of the time the word “engagement” pops up. The other 10% are administrative apps that do not presume to change any classroom or student experience.

Last week I attended several events, one of them was the Demo Day of the first wave of graduate startups from the MindCET incubator. MindCET is the first and currently only incubator for educational technology startups in Israel. Obviously, there wasn’t a single startup that skipped the word “engagement”. And there’s nothing unusual about it: Dozens of edtech startups I met during SXSWedu and SXSW also made sure they slip “engagement” into every pitch or presentation. At one moment during last week’s presentations I found myself trying to build an image to go along with “engagement”. That promise of engagement seems to be the main attractions teachers feel towards educational technology: something to keep their students wide-eyed, open-mouths, hung on the teacher’s every word. Something like hypnotized. With built-in recorders in their heads.engagedclass

And then today I read this wonderful blog post by Angela Maiers, “an Educator, Author, Speaker passionate about literacy, learning, and power of social media”. “The Passion Gap” is the title, and she tells that “As a teacher at the K-2 level for 14 years, I had the privilege of spending each day with children eager to learn and explore. Yet this begins to change somewhere around the fourth grade.”

She doesn’t mention the word “engagement”, but points out that in Education conferences “you are far more likely to hear the words “assessment,” “standardize,” “common core” and “pedagogy” than you are to hear the word “passion.”…” And let me add, as an edtech entrepreneur, that I am much more likely to hear the word “engagement” in tech solutions for the classroom, and I don’t think I heard the word “passion”.

So what is passion? I love her quote: “Passion is what you must do, even if you have to suffer to do it”. I should know, I experience passion in what I do and it is costing me every day. Because at some point I decided pursuing my passion is more important than getting a salary. Silly me?

Angela Maiers refers to the human teachers, not the tech they might use or not use, as the first circle needed for students to find their passion. Sir Ken Robinson is devoting his messages and books to this topic too; The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 21 languages and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life has just been published.” The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves, most inspired and achieve at their highest levels”, is the introduction to his first book.

Yet, Edtech startups are still mostly concerned about engagement of students in the classroom. How does this contribute to helping students find their passion? Or element?

Education systems are so hung on educational technology to reform, change and modify. But obviously, no real revolution can be achieved without striking the personal passion fuse of each and every student.

Touching kids’ passion is what I’m doing with my new startup. More to come.

Needed: A Goal for Ongoing Revolution

I sit on my chair, in my study and I scratch my head. I feel like I have a mystery to crack. The mystery concerns the future of education, or rather the mysterious revolution in education. I hear great people (which I would love to meet in person) say “We need to change the DNA of education” – Greg Whitby and “Every education system in the world is being reformed at the moment, and it’s not enough. Reform is no use any more. Because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education” – Sir Ken Robinson.

But the ground is not shaking. It’s not even purring. Nothing. A year goes out and a year goes in and I ask myself how to crack this mystery. What would make a revolution in education? What does it take? Where to start?? And where are we heading?

Can you imagine the French Revolution or any other for that matter being a success without a clear goal?? An #edchat has just ended on twitter, on the topic “What should be the single focus of education if we could agree on only one goal?” . There was no clear agreement. Just a lot of similar opinions, wants, aspirations and – OK, some common goals.

We are having a revolution. Yet, in most cases, around the world, kids are still sitting in rows, facing a blackboard (or white) and the teacher, writing in (paper) notebooks and reading (paper) books. Hard to feel a big revolution this way. And indeed – this is no revolution. Even those schools who try to modify, add and change are not really “in the revolution”.

Yet a revolution is happening.

Like a good Kafka book – it seems there’s an oppressed mass rebelling against a mysterious ruler, only the ruler is an unclear one, and the rebels go in different directions.

One group of rebels go towards technology. Let’s put some more of this to get us what we want. Another thinks creativity is the key. Other think personal values, global citizenship, preparation for employment. Those are all very nice targets – but can they define a revolution??

None of the above, sorry. Or all of them – depends on your perspective. But the true goal of the Education Revolution, or Education Reform Movement is to alter the goal of education totally.

Let’s start with the name: no more EDUCATION.
It’s about time we start talking about LEARNING.

That’s the first change in perspective.

While education is defined in the dictionary first as “the act or process of educating or being educated” and second as “the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process”, learning is defined first as “The act, process or experience of gaining knowledge or skill”.

It doesn’t seem like a grand difference – but here’s what I see. Education is given, it’s all in passive – while learning is a take type of action, all active.

While education is something determined by the state and forced upon students, learning is what the students are actually taking with them.

Some students don’t’ get the education they require – because they don’t get to be heard. Their personal desire or interest in a topic has no place in a totalitarian regiment of education. Curiosity is often turned off in school, as it is all about getting through some oiled machine, with pre-defined targets. And not about true development which would often change targets and adjust to modifying reality.

I mean, does it make sense to decide in 2010 that in 2022 today’s first graders will have to finish school by passing exams in Math, English, History, Literature, Bible and perhaps 1-2 more topics? Can you really say that this is education?? Can this really help future generations get a job? Or be happy?

No.
But if the 2022 graduates will finish school knowing how to learn whatever interests them, and starving for more knowledge, then I can say that future generations are safe.
Well, at least safer then they are today.

Do The Math: Leaked Exam Is Even Better

It was a surprise ending to our conversation along the nightly walk. When my daughter and I arrived at home we discovered the big news: that the Mathematics bagrut (matriculation) exam, to be held in two days, has been leaked and is being sold to students.

What a surprise.

We were just discussing my new experimental approach to exams. I was telling my daughter I had this idea, aimed eventually at changing learning: enable full Internet access during an exam. The big fear of cheating, I mean copying, is irrelevant, I told her. You’ve got to be a good student and know your way around the material in order not to get lost between the huge amounts of information, advice and opinions available online. If you can get your answers right without learning anything before, you must be a very good self learner and perhaps talented enough in this area not to need extra learning. As I see it, a big part of this test is to test students ability to learn, not necessarily their existing accumulated knowledge.

Shaii, my 10th grader, was surprised at this idea. I mean we’ve been talking for ever about exams and grades being out of date for the 21st century learner. And then we got back to this piece of news, about the Math exams being leaked. “It’s like a very long time extension”, she said, “or a very good preparation exercise. But it shouldn’t be a reason to cancel the exam”. Of course it shouldn’t. Nor should the ministry have to work on producing the back up copies and distributing them instead of the leaked questionnaires.

In fact, if I were the ministry of education, I would actually use the extra day until the math exam to send a copy of it to every student registered to take the exam this year. This way, all students start at the same starting point. Even if they solve everything and use their friends and teachers to break the toughest questions, I see no harm in their coming to the exam prepared.

You see, as long as we use exams as a tool to grade students achievements in a topic, we must keep it this way – a tool to grade ability, and not a tool to quantify what they don’t know. In other words, if a student was able to solve the exam a day earlier, and it doesn’t matter if he or she used assistance to do it, they will be able to solve their “real life problems” too. And that’s the whole purpose of education. To give them that tool, and this knowledge, of how to tackle a problem and reach a solution. In real life you don’t usually solve all your problems totally alone. Certainly not in this time and age of web and social networking.

Education Re-Form: Money Matters

I met some very cool teachers yesterday, when I went with my daughter to the parent-teacher day. It was after 8 in the evening. Those teachers have been teaching from 8 in the morning and I expected to witness some exhaustion. But I spoke with teachers who were totally energetic and enthusiastic about their jobs and their students. One teacher said she simply loved teaching. “I hate the compensation. It’s not proportional to the time I invest, but I love teaching and I love the students”.

When we left I said to my daughter that I am pretty impressed by the teachers’ love of teaching. Their enthusiasm certainly has a great effect on the students and the atmosphere of the school (Ohel-Shem High school in Ramat-Gan). She agreed with me. Even if, like many high schoolers her age, she would sometimes rather skip school, she certainly acknowledges the dedication of the teachers she meets.

I need to stress that we do not look at things from a totally objective point of view. Shaii excels at her studies, she’s one of the top if not the top student of her class of gifted students. Still, the school has 11-12 classes of each grade, grades 9-12. And the classes are different from each other. With about 1,500 students learning there diversity is a given.

Still, something works there. However displeased the teachers are from their salaries – which includes probably everyone at the school, they still enjoy teaching and love what they do. They express devotion to their work and gain a lot of respect.

This was a very pleasant revelation for me. After I visited a few local teachers forums I was under the impression this can’t happen.
However, here is a warning:
With these salaries this ideal situation, even at the best of schools, can’t last.

One of the things they taught us in business management is that satisfaction is a requirement for the employee to do his job well. They also taught that money alone cannot guarantee satisfaction. However, money alone can guarantee dissatisfaction. In other words, even an employee that loves his job greatly might leave it if he is under paid.

I was talking to this teacher. All bright eyed, her face illuminating when she speaks about teaching and her students. She has a Masters degree in chemistry. Could probably earn about 4 times her teaching salary if she goes to work for a high-tech company. But she loves to teach. “Only problem is”, she admits, “that if the main income is brought home by the husband, and he is forced to leave work early so I can do my work well after school hours, then his work is hurt, and the family is not compensated.” So he is the one pushing her out of teaching. How long can she resist? At the end of the day it the bread that counts.

And I am worried. Because if such passionate quality teachers will be forced out of teaching I am afraid to ask what we’ll be left with?

Really, Seriously, it’s time policy makers start absorbing that without a total change of attitude to teachers’ salaries the whole future is at jeopardy. This teacher might have given up on her high-tech salary, but her students will be earning higher salaries before she reaches retirement. Someone has to come up with a way to reward those teachers, for getting their students those high salaries.

Education Re-Form, For the Sake of the Future

After a couple of years of intense and on-going research into education world wide, trends, fashions, innovation, methods, approaches, doctrines, special education, unique education, religious education, private education, public education, with technology, without technology, with money or without – I need to put in writing just a few of my observations and conclusions, to date.

The future of education lies with the recognition of each student as a unique individual.

The acceptance of uniqueness and diversity is the key to a better future for all and greater success in education achievements.

Old news: Some kids are good in Math and lousy in literature. Some are great in Lit and lousy and Math. One kid can excel in Math and Lit, but he sucks in Physics and Art. There are kids who suck at all topics, but are social stars. There are those who excel at everything, but are still unhappy. Oh, there are so many types of kids, and yet there are no types – because every child is his own special one and an only package of can-do and can’t-do, of wants and non’s. Still the teachers get a classroom filled with many different kids. Usually the things that bind those kids together in one classroom is their age and sometimes where they live or the financial background of their families. That’s a very artificial binder. Look around your adulthood friends and make your own deductions.

So this classroom, turns into a class, a group of kids, now has to study fractions. Great. But while some kids get it in a blink, others may find it difficult, or maybe not difficult, but simply boring, so boring they can’t concentrate or get what the teacher is talking about. And at the end of the day they have homework or exams and behold, some kids get less then a perfect score. Fractioning this group titled a classroom into mini groups….

Greg Whitby, the Executive Director leading a system of approximately 80 Catholic schools in greater Western Sydney Australia, talks about uniformity Vs. diversity here:

One of my own eye openers is my youngest son. A second grader he told me that he loves to learn, but only when he chooses and what he chooses. While the professional educators around him criticize his independent thinking and work constantly to turn him into a uniformed student in his classroom, who does everything the same as the rest of the class, I am observing and here are my findings:

He hates his Arithmetic class and homework. It drives him nuts. Yet, when his father went abroad he produced an amazing shopping list – listing the prices of the toys, after he converted them from US dollars to Israeli Shekels. He can also Arithmetic percentage of time, to know exactly when his eggplants will be ready for harvesting on FarmVille.

How important is it, for a kid like that, to go through a methodical, framed, graded system of teaching him Arithmetic? To be honest – there is no simple answer. As we are in an education system – the education is systematic, automatic, and cannot be adjusted to individual persons. Or can it?

In an education system that is based solely on the transference of knowledge or information from a single teacher to a class of kids – there is indeed no room for recognition of the individual.

So, what’s the purpose of the education? Have we forgotten about it?

I think if a child knows how to calculate foreign exchange rates and percentage (on time!) – he is well beyond simple Arithmetic. So what’s the point of insisting on teaching him one booklet after the other of things he is way passed? Is the purpose of the education here is to transfer the specific books into the child, or is the purpose is that the student actually gets a knowledge in the particular subject and knows how to use it?

Well, neither is enough. The major declared goal of education has always been about preparing the young students to their adult life, to acquiring professions and making a living. Arithmetic was important to learn, and very methodically, in a time where trades men managed their own little businesses and they didn’t have computers or even calculators.

But what does today’s education system do to prepare today’s students to tomorrow’s professions? Those professions which have not yet been born? What did yesterday’s education system did to turn me into an internet communications specialist? Or a multi player online game designer? Or my neighbor to a genome researcher or my friend to a researcher of the structure and function of the ribosome? Answer: nothing. Those are individuals who are born with an important quality or two: curiosity and the ability to ask and to teach themselves.

Self teaching is indeed a quality some lucky people are born with, but eventually, all people are in need of this quality. The amounts of information are growing constantly. It is not possible to transfer all this knowledge to any individual. The diversity of occupation is increasing, allowing people to develop expertise in what really interests them. Turning some knowledge they acquired in school irrelevant.

Those who are afraid of the individualism of education often talk about the importance of wide education. But is it really necessary for a physicist to study how to analyze a poem? Or is it enough to assign reading assignments, to those who do not read enough on their own? And while you assign those books to read, how about some classic films? Classical music? Classical rock bands? Tours in various museums world wide and in archaeological sites around the world? If we are talking about expanding horizons let’s do it with pleasure – and not with pressure. Not every subject in school requires grading and marks.

And as individuals are encouraged to learn and expand their horizons let’s allow for one more thing to change in the classroom: let the kids express and teach – teach other kids, teach the teacher. Because only when the teacher becomes a learner, then he can become a learning enabler. A real 21st century educator.

Here Greg Whitby talks about the 21st century new teaching DNA:

Ninges

I am increasingly ninging. That is, I am a member of more and more networks which are built on the Ning platform. I feel like a teenager browsing through a street full of clubs, each one more inviting and exciting than the neighboring club.

Following my previous post I joined Fireside Learning, which is a network of educators, who are seeking answers in their way to integrate the web into the education process.I also joined some neighboring networks. I am a member of Edureshet, a Hebrew speaking sister of the Fireside learning network. I joined Teachers 2.0 and the French-English “Hors les Murs” (Outside the walls), Mr. Caro’s Teachers and Students, International Teachers, Passionate Teachers, Classroom 2.0, Classroom 3.0, Connected Classroom, Flat Classroom, and these in addition to the Hi-Tech oriented networks I am a member of like GaragGeeks, TheCoils, iDrink and more.

Working alone in my study, I begin by checking email at 07:00AM. Then, after sending the kids off to school, I go back to the study and I am there for 5 hours or so. Five very short hours. I sometimes go through them without getting up, for any sort of biological need… And the strange thing: I don’t feel alone or get a chance to be bored or tired. I manage numerous conversations, sometimes with several people at the same time, with friends from all over the globe, using the various networks or IM systems. Those conversations help me gather information for my business and learn the industry I am about to embark, and also strangely enough, fill some social need. I am not alone.

Ning

One example to this not-alone situation is the incredible help I received this week from a woman I have only met online. She is the tech teacher at the Maaganim elementary school, at Maagan-Michael. Her name is Susan and she established, on ning of course, two networks – Edureshet, mentioned above – for teachers seeking to integrate the web into the education systems, and inhebrew.ning.com, where she offers help to those who want to translate the ning platform to Hebrew. Susan provides the basic translation files and the style sheet which turns the page to right-to-left.

I needed those files because, another network friend, from somewhere in the United States, have encouraged me to take the ning platform and experience it on the local kids. He has done it with his students, ages 12-15. So I have established a social network, in Hebrew, aimed at the graduators of the 8th grade in the Ramat-Gan elementary school my kids go to. And hopefully I will be able to report back on the development in this network soon.

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