It’s autumn in the Rockies and a season for debate and confrontation. In nature, the bugle call of the male elk woos mates and incites challengers for control of the harem. In politics, President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney return again and again to the West to assert their positions. Why fight it? This month, let’s take a look at the argument for adding an “A” to STEM to create STEAM and acknowledge the role of the arts in 21st century learning.

The acronym STEM already suffers from lack of clarity, so why add to the confusion by including the arts? To some, STEM implies an integration of several disciplines into a coherent tapestry. Others use STEM to refer to a group of disciplines that require similar cognitive skills associated with research and innovation. Readers need to ask themselves: Will adding the “A” to STEM create more confusion, dilute student preparation for a technically advanced work environment or improve innovation by acknowledging the creative act and processes more commonly associated with the arts? (read more…)

During the weekend, I attended my fourth #EdcampNYC. I have attended or participated in about a dozen Edcamps nationwide. I think that puts me in a solid position to make a few considered observations on the subject. In the interest of full disclosure, SmartBrief and SmartBlog on Education have supported the Edcamp Foundation during the past year.

The Edcamp movement has been around for a few years. It is a widely known professional-development format that was spawned from social media educator connections. Most connected educators are familiar with it, but most educators are not connected — hence a need for explanation and definition. I know that the model is based on BarCamp in Philadelphia. I have no idea about BarCamp. I know the image I have in my head, but that has nothing to do with education.

I am familiar with the unconference aspect, which is the driving organizing premise of Edcamp. (read more…)

I always tell my students not do to what I’m about to write, but it serves an important purpose in this piece.

If I asked you these questions, would you be able to answer them?

What is the technology vision for your school district? School? Classroom?

Could your building principal answer these questions? How about your superintendent?

If you do not know the district’s or the school’s technology vision, how can you create one for your classroom? If the principal cannot tell you the district’s vision, how can he create one for the building? These are serious questions as teachers look to integrate technology into the classroom. What is the goal or the purpose of using technology in the classroom? I think there are teachers who can forge a path in using technology in their classroom, but there are many teachers who need guidance, and they should be looking to a building technology vision, which should be supporting the district vision. (read more…)

Both presidential hopefuls are calling on parents to take on more responsibility in the education of their children. Even teachers request more of parents in helping young people achieve academically.

This is ironic, because in the past, schools and classrooms were educators’ responsibility. It was assumed that parents were undereducated, untrained or too busy working to assist children in school matters. Some of the shift in attitude in who is to blame for school underachievement has come about due to more racial, ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity in schools.

As a nation, families in poverty and parents of minority children sometimes have been deemed “bad parents,” or parents who do not wholeheartedly care for their children or value education. Therefore, it only seems natural, as schools become more and more diverse, that “those parents” will be blamed for the unprecedented school failure witnessed in many high-density, high-poverty or rural schools. Before I move on, let me state for the record that parents often blame teachers. (read more…)

I wonder what John Dewey might feel on entering a New York City high school as the contents of his bag run through a metal detector. Sometimes it is very difficult to imagine democratic, globally-minded students in schools populated with security guards and scanners. I think about the social and emotional well being of children and what public schools mean for a democracy. How can schools become places that can honor curiosity and activate intellect? And what does it take to align instruction, academics and school organization with their interior lives?

All students in all schools deserve to be surrounded by adults who think and act ethically and with compassion. The life of democracy depends on it. The sooner schools tap into the natural inclinations, dispositions and aptitudes of students for goodness, service and beauty, the closer we will come to approximating democratic life in all its magnitude. But engaging kids in democratic pedagogy needs to be buttressed by a culture of regard where in-depth learning and respectful and empathetic interactions continuously happen. (read more…)