Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Computer Science, Coding and the Future Economy

I have grown fond of saying "every company is a technology company." While we may tend to characterize different companies by the products they sell, the manufacturing, marketing, logistics, finance, security and corporate governance of any institution are now intimately connected to, and dependent on, technology.

What does that mean for our education system, and how we raise our kids? For starters, I think it means that a core requirement in middle and high school, along with English, history, math and science, needs to be computer science. We can't afford for the next generation to be dependent on technology, but to have no idea how it works. Not only that, but knowing how computers works can be enormously empowering--economically, politically, socially and intellectually. Given that native English speakers have a distinct advantage in learning computer science, because so much of the computer language is based on English vocabulary and syntax, it seems like a no-brainer investment to make in our core curriculum.

Secondly, the rapid technology revolution means we need to leverage new tools like cloud computing, tablets, smart phones, broadband wireless, web applications and wikipedia to make our schools more efficient, education more engaging and personalized, and the objectives of education more directly relevant to student lives. How should this look, managerially? As a staff composition? Schools should not only have designated "tech people" to maintain the network, or computer teachers teaching to type. Schools should have on site programmers building new applications, side-by-side with teachers, so that the "edtech" of the next generation is tech that is specified and customized to real needs of teacher from all subjects.

I have had the great experience of just completing the first version of my own web-based software application for world history classrooms. I worked with a designer, a UI/UX expert, a back-end engineer, and a programmer. We started with about a month of conversation about the requirements for the database schema and the front-end user interface. After building the database using PostgresQL and drawing mockups for the main user pages, our programmer got to coding the program using Django, a Python web framework.

This was my first experience managing a software development project, and I feel I grew more professionally and intellectually doing this than doing many other tasks over the past few years. Moreover, the product we created, because of careful planning and fluid communication, is a reflection of over five years of my work teaching and seeking solutions to easily assess students for the purpose of differentiation. Now anyone using this app can have an incredibly powerful set of data to inform instruction. I suspect, and our research will soon reveal, that it will transform the learning in classrooms that use it.

It's time to take the technology revolution to our schools; not to make money (though that will obviously happen), but to make a difference in students' lives.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fate of Civilizations: Glory is Now Available for Pre-Order!

The game-based learning program I have been working on since July, Fate of Civilizations, now has a project on Kickstarter. We are looking to crowd fund the first publication of the game Glory, which we will be ready to ship in September.

Gamers, teachers, parents and students: please pledge to help make Glory a reality for kids and gamers across the globe. Glory is fun and you learn while you play. It is based on AP, NYS Regents, and Common Core standards; it has mechanisms for continuous game play, so players can unlock new powers, track their progress and shape the game itself. We have developed a curriculum guide and online web application that accompany the game, making this a complete offering for a teacher looking to drive achievement and improve efficiency and engagement in the classroom.

Here is a link to the project:


We'd love to have you as a backer!

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thinking about the Future

Where do you think the United States, and the world, will be in 5 years? 20 years? 50 years? 2,000 years?

Thinking about the future is such an interesting, and yes, important exercise.

Yet while students often take some 8 years of required history courses, why don't we mandate the study of the future? Is it because we don't have concrete "material" as the focus of examination? Is it because we don't have a "theory" of the future?

I think a history course provides an excellent platform to engage students in a conversation about the future. Unfortunately, the future is not part of the standards, and students only learn about the future through disorganized and shallow attempts at application and relevance. 

It is time that social studies in K-12 education develop a more robust discipline of futurism. At the core of such a course, the following enduring understandings might be a useful starting place:

  • Nothing about the future is certain.
  • Projections about the future can influence present action; in part for this reason, they are almost always wrong. 
  • Patterns, trends, and data can point to likely scenarios in the future. 
  • When the future arrives, it becomes the present. It is thus always out of reach. 
A discipline of futurism would help students determine what kind of careers they might assume; how long term planning can be personally beneficial; how to evaluate hysterical and cynical claims about fate; and how individuals shape their own destinies. 

A study of the future would serve as a valuable interdisciplinary experience. History provides a sense of possibility and limitation of change and continuity; literature and art expand the imagination and show how people in the past imagined their future; math and science teach how to evaluate the past and present to predict and shape the future. 

Students need to dialogue to form the narrative of their personal concerns and ambitions. Talking about and studying the future might offer a very interesting way to accomplish this.