Dear School 2.0: Keep going.

A bigger boy once told me I should reply to as many comments as possible both to promote dialogue, which seems to be near the heart of this blogging thing, and to kick up my Technorati ranking, which is, of course, the literal heart of this blogging thing.

I let ’em get away from me in the last post but the back-and-forth has been supremely satisfying without my input.

What I dig about what’s happening in there, as opposed to what I typically encounter and what typically frustrates me around the edublogsphere, is the commenters’ redefinition of purpose. Blogging, wiki-ing, Skyping, Second Life-ing, etc-ing, so often seem to be ends and goals unto themselves. (ie. the recent and totally-outta-touch Second Life promo; “We need to get these kids out of lectures and into their own content management systems.”)

In the comments, the goal has become Engagement By Any Means Necessary. In the comments, I’ve found blogs, wikis, podcasts, PowerPoint, lectures, electric sharpeners, manual sharpeners all wrested from their pedestals and put into a box more appropriately labeled “tools.”

What I find positively electrifying about teaching right now, what sends a charge through my cynical soul, is that there are so many tools at my disposal. I mean, not counting the traditional tools my dear old Dads had at his disposal when he first started teaching decades ago, ya got, like, what, at least a dozen of these shiny Web 2.0 tools ready to go.

What’s even more exciting to me (and what goes unacknowledged by much of School 2.0’s cheering section) is that none of these tools are guarantees. They’re all pointy and dangerous and tricky to deploy correctly and the difference between good and sloppy craftsmanship has never been greater. Is there a better job for a curious fella with workaholic tendencies?

So to any School 2.0 types inexplicably stopping by this watering hole for School 2.0 contrarians:

First, take cover.

Heh, no seriously, jk, c’mere.

Keep doing what you’re doing. Keep penning instruction manuals for these new tools. Heaven knows they drop a new one on you before the ink’s dried on your last how-to guide.

But let’s do each other a solid here and remain empathetic to classroom environments that are not our own. It bears continual repeating that there are contexts in which most School 2.0 tools would be almost laughably inappropriate, contexts where deploying a blog would result in the same intellectual atrophy you know lecture does in yours. I’m grateful to folks like Karen and Arthus (from the comments) for pointing me towards new tools for teaching old math. But the tool my particular kids need right now is a lecturer.

I hope you’ll bear that in mind as I try, this summer, to pin down what makes a capable lecturer.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. The best lecturers I ever had were part storyteller, part stand-up comedian. I honestly feel that there must be a strong theatrical element to it. You have to be able to read your audience. It really is a kind of performance. You must be a pied-piper, gently leading rather than dragging. I’d start by watching some Richard Feynman lectures.

  2. To be honest, my best tutor for lecturing, which, yes, absolutely must have absorb theatricality, has been my relentless consumption of television and film.

    Where to pause in the middle of a compound development, when to set up a premise, how long to let it hang, how to use your hands, how to open your learning moments big, how to close ’em huge, how to give your “audience” time to process, digest, and come off the high …

    … all of those are tricky dials which I calibrate every time I watch even the dumbest sitcom. TV useless? *smacks forehead*

  3. Dan — First, you continue to up the ante on all fronts. Well done. Appreciate the chance to learn from both sides of the table, although I think it’s a curved surface and we’ll find out that we all sit on the same side eventually: “working hard for the kids”.

    Truly appreciated your comment re: tools as “pointy” and with down-sides. And most importantly, the point about “being empathetic about classroom environments” that can’t push beyond the conventional for reasons that are countless.

    Most of my work the last few years has been with districts and schools and communities that couldn’t have taken even 1% of the School 2.0 concept to bear “come Monday”. We always talked about the inner-change, the “1 thing” if you are a “City Slickers” fan. I think you would have been a tremendous ally to all of them!

    Keep it up, Dan. Without apology.

  4. This one’s been bugging me all day! I’m reminded of Stephen Covey: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Maybe I jumped into the fray too soon. But regardless, I got this out of it:

    Felt good to actually have enough clarity to write that down.

    Thanks, Dan!

  5. Dan,

    I have been reading you for quite a while now, each time with greater appreciation for the energy you bring to your students. Personally, I feel the shift from being obsessed with the “tools” to being obsessed with teaching with these tools is upon us. As you point out, there are more of them out there than any of us can keep up with.

    So what will tie them all together in a coherent manner? It will be those of us who can find patterns, make sense of them, and use them to tell a compelling story to our students.

    My greatest concern regarding Web 2.0 is finding teachers who are willing to spend the time to find the newest, “pointiest,” and shiniest, and pull them into their pedagogy.

  6. Patrick, I’ve got nothing if I don’t have my energy. What I don’t always have are good outlets for my OCD, ADHD, and a host of yet-to-be-diagnosed acronyms. I’ve tossed your blog in my feedreader for reasons of curiosity. If you’ve got worthy outlets, I hope you’ll blog them there or comment them here.

    Scott & Christian, thanks for your involvement from the onset of this discussion.