Monday, October 28, 2013

Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick two...

It's an old adage. I'm sure everyone has heard it before. Everything has 3 options; fast, cheap, good. You get to pick any two...

... Fast and good isn't cheap
... Fast and cheap isn't good
... Good and cheap isn't fast

Generally it speaks to products. A computer might be cheap & good, but it won't be fast. A fast computer that is good, won't be cheap. A fast computer that is cheap won't be good.

The same applies in teaching. Especially when working in a project-based setting. No good project was done fast. And any fast project probably wasn't good.

Teaching students to create something, anything, takes time. Especially if it is a new genre, subject, platform or software. If you want students to have a specific item to present to showcase their abilities, you want them to know the nuts & bolts, how to create it from scratch, so they can truly own that work & speak deeply about what they are putting forward.

For a student to have a solid final project, you need time. It takes time to be good. It can't be rushed. If it's rushed, it won't be good (or even worse, it might amount to a glorified worksheet and won't be authentic either).

If you want a project done fast & good, cancel the rest of the day's program and spend the day on the single project. A good product, start to finish, doesn't get produced in 45 minutes. A fast, cheap, project is one that gets done to check a box or satisfy a demand. The final product of a good project is a product the students are invested in, have a connection to, and can speak deeply about.

Fast. Cheap. Good. Pick two, pick the right two...

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Raise both bars, bottom and top

Takeaway: It's 2013. An educator saying they don't want to use technology because they don't like it or aren't familiar or comfortable with it is a cop out. Basic technology tools have been around so long there is no excuse for not using them. With CCSS & PARCC students are held to tech-specific standards and expectations. Educators should not be allowed to avoid those some expectations. It sets a bad example and is a detriment to our students

It is 2013. 

The arguments "I don't like computers" or "not everyone like to use computers"are invalid.

I will grant you not everyone "likes" using technology, but the idea that it is ok to use "not liking" technology as an excuse for avoidance is dangerous. Would we allow a student to ignore proper spelling because they don't like it or they are more comfortable with inventive spelling? Of course not. The same should be with technology.

Just as we focus on struggling students in an effort to raise them up, improve their learning and understanding, shouldn't we do the same with the adults in the building? It should not be ok to let an adult ignore, or not communicate via, email if we are trying to raise the achievement of every student. Are we not concerned with the achievement of the adults in the building? If a few students preferred inventive spelling are we going to permit spelling errors to be an acceptable measure of writing school-wide?

It's 2013. Should we only focus on the tech savvy adults? Are we only trying the raise the bar of the high-level teachers?  What is going to happen when the CCSS & PARCC testing comes around? Will only the tech savvy teachers need to worry about it? Of course not.

If we don't push those at the bottom of the technology ladder to move up the gap between the users and non-users will only grow wider. The disparity of knowledge & comfort between those two groups will only become more overwhelming.

I'm not saying every teacher has to blog or tweet, but the argument "we need to print paper memos because not everyone likes email" is dangerous and the antithesis of what we do as educators. Is there any other profession, or role, in 2013 were an employee can say "don't bother emailing me, I don't like email so I don't check it" and get away with it? Of course not. Would you let a 4th grader get away with inventive spelling because they don't like spelling correctly?

It's 2013. People bank online. Shop online. Have some form of social media account (even if it's just Facebook to look at pictures of grandkids).  Email has been around since the 1990s. Email is so old & common it's almost antiquated. To be an educator and say you don't check your email is a disservice not only to yourself, but to the students in your building. How can we raise the instructional bar for students if we don't raise the knowledge bar for ourselves?

Your highest level will only get so high and your overall achievement will only go so far if you never bring the bottom up. Allowing the educators at the bottom of the tech ladder to stay there is a detriment to them and school communities as a whole...

Friday, October 25, 2013

The only two questions when asking for technology buying recommendations

I get asked rather frequently:
"I need a new computer, what do you recommend?"

The related, but alternate, is:
"I want to buy a bunch of computers and such for my school, what do you recommend?"

Either way, I always respond with two questions:

  1. "What are your goals?"
  2. "Exactly how much do you have/want to spend?"

I always tell people I can't remotely answer their question before they answer my two...

To elaborate...

When someone asks me what I recommend and I ask why they want it for, they always look at me confused.

What are your goals?

"I need it for stuff, like internet and word processing and stuff."

Well, if all you need is the internet, Word, and "stuff" then get a Chromebook. Solid, inexpensive, Google Drive handles all common formats. Simple. Easy.

"No, the cloud thing scares me. I want a regular laptop. What would you buy?"

I'd buy a Mac. Hands down, no hesitation. Yes, they are more generally more expensive than Windows systems, but in my experience far more durable, reliable, and user friendly. I'm on my second MacBook in 11 years of teaching. Got 7 years out of the first. I am rather hard on computers, lots of wear & tear,travel, and so forth. My MacBooks rarely let me down.
(caveat: Yes, I acknowledge that there are millions of people who love Windows and think Apple is the antiChrist, and it works for them. You asked for my opinion, my opinion is Apple is the best and Windows is irrelevant and isn't worth the time to even call it the antiChrist)

If you're a huge gamer, or your kids are, I can't help you. True gaming PCs are often very customized and highly expensive. The average person asking me for my opinion probably hasn't even used a CD in years, let alone requires major computing power.

So, if you don't want a Chromebook because the cloud scares you, and you don't want a Mac because they're expensive/Apple is evil/etc, then here is my second question...

Exactly how much do you want to spend?

Why does this matter? Because if you only want to spend $500, and you don't want a Chromebook, you're going to get $500 worth of computer. And odds are, in six months, you'll be asking me again and looking at another, "better", $500 option.

Here's the thing, you get what you pay for. You want the cheapest laptop? Guess what, it's made with the cheapest parts. You want a computer to last? Spend the money to get the biggest, fastest one you can. That way, in two years, while it may not be the biggest and fastest it also wont be on the verge of obsolesce.

In terms of large scale?  What I would recommend for a $5,000 budget for a Library might be vastly different than $5,000 to get a 1:1 program started. If you just want a laptop for yourself, the same applies. Are you in the $300-$500 budget range or the $1,000-$1,500 range?

Budget specificity goes a long way to a quality recommendation

So, you want a recommendation? Be specific with your wants/desire/goals and be specific with your budget. The more specific you are with those two point the more specific the recommendation can be...