Personal ponderings from a natural night-owl!

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

I Am The Starlight

Just about 12 weeks ago we, as a family, made the decision to pull our soon-to-be 7th grader out of the local public school system and educate her at home through an online public charter school. (See my post “I’ve Got No Strings” for a detailed explanation of that very big educational decision). At that time, we had settled on Ohio Connections Academy as the delivery vehicle. However, further investigation in the form of online and face-to-face informational meetings with OCA led to some serious concerns: namely that instead of harnessing the power of the one-to-one technology situation to connect and expose learners to others, it was being used to shelter or insulate  them. It was, we suspect, old school thinking wrapped in shiny 21st century paper. NOT what we want.

So…it was back to the drawing board. I did some research and discovered 25 public online charter schools in Ohio. Each one received an email with the following questions:

1) How are you using the technology you provide each student to allow kids to interact and connect with each other and with the larger outside world?

2) What percentage of your assessments are online (presumably in the form of traditional multiple choice-type tests) versus project, long-writing, or portfolio based, authentic assessment?

3) What textbook publishers do you buy from? Do you maintain continuity throughout your entire program or do you switch around between different publishers?

4) What type of methodology do you employ to teach mathematics, the traditional memorization/rote approach or a foundational knowledge, investigative learning approach?

5) How does the day-to-day online learning you deliver differ from watching a lecture-style power-point presentation or a taped lecture?

Some of the 25 online public charters service only a small portion of the state. Some service only struggling, below-grade level learners. Some never contacted me back - those were all easily eliminated. But after investigating all the choices, we have now settled on - and committed to - the Ohio Virtual Academy.

Having made the decision, it was shockingly easy to enroll. There were several online forms to complete and a few items that had to be faxed or emailed in. It was done in a matter of hours and we were confirmed by the school as fully registered in under 24 hours!

At this point, I thought there wasn’t much else to do but enjoy the summer break. However, Emily got an invitation to participate in some online camps to help her learn how classes will work in the fall.  Each camp ran one hour daily for a week, with topics such as “Disease Detective,” “Movie Making,” and “Goal-Setting.” The first time we tried to log-on, it took longer than expected as we got the hang of the software, but after the first day, Emily was able to get on by herself. I sat with her for the first session and was SHOCKED that within the first 10 minutes of the class, she was typing answers into the chat box and “raising her hand” virtually, which she NEVER would have that quickly done in a brick and mortar classroom. This was exciting stuff!

This week, it’s been my turn to learn. I have joined the OHVA Yahoo group, “liked” the OHVA Facebook page, connected with several veteran OHVA parents, and am attending the “Learning Coach and Mentor Institute.” Through the institute, I am participating in several one-hour informational session using Elluminate (the same software used for Emily’s camps and for the “class connect” sessions she’ll have live with her teachers).  Here’s some of what I’ve learned so far:

1. Like Suzuki violin, this is not just an educational change, but a lifestyle change.

2. Many MANY people have chosen this path – and very successfully. A shocking number are disillusioned public educators, which I did NOT expect.

3. The box is, for the most part, blown away. School can happen anytime, anywhere, in pajamas or clothes, in the house or at a park, and in any subject ORDER Emily decides works for her.

4. It will by fun, but we WILL have bad days and it will not always be easy.

5. My over-exuberance, type-A-ness, and potential desire to recreate the familiar box will be large potential stumbling blocks to success.

6. We need to start slow, let her be done for the day when she’s done (instead of “suggesting” she work just one more hour or do just one more lesson), and lower our expectations for the first month.

7. We CAN do this – and it’s really exciting!

Our supplies for the entire year come in two boxes and arrive tomorrow. I think I’ll wait to open them until Emily comes home from her 5 week trip out west with my parents. It’s nearly time to buckle in and hang on for the ride of our lives!

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I’ve Got No Strings

If we don't change something now - this is what we'll have...We have made a life-changing decision about our children’s education for next school year.  We know many people will have questions about our choices. I am writing to try to more fully explain our situation and reasoning to those who care.

The past two years have been a major disappointment for us educationally for Emily, our oldest.  We went from an top notch elementary situation into a nightmare in 5th grade, with teachers who completely dismissed our involvement and contribution as parents to the educational process.  They would neither work with us as educational partners nor fulfill the basic requirements of their own administration to communicate with us. When we tried to address the situation, we received no support from school administrators and worse, saw Emily singled out and retaliated against by the very teachers who said they cared about her. It was absolutely shocking for all of us.

We saw Em go from loving school – even when she had to work at it – to hating school. And even though things improved in 6th grade (really – they could not have been worse), we have still been disappointed with the overall school environment created by the administration and by the unrealistic expectations put on teachers. Sadly, this is the school and environment that our youngest would be entering next year.

Intermediate school teachers in our district are inadequately supported in every way. Em’s teachers this year asked for donations of supplies because so many students do not have what they need from home to be successful in school – and because those teachers are already supplementing materials the school provides at their own personal cost. Class sizes are large and unwieldy. After two quarters assuming Em wasn’t turning in her work, 3 assignments marked as “missing” and not turned in were  “found” by the teacher only after I got in touch and explained that I’d seen the finished work myself and specifically confronted Emily about having turned it in. This happened three different times in a single quarter. Our public schools are over-run with students whose families do not and have not put an emphasis on education, so discipline moves to the forefront. It took 6 adults to chaperone a class of 30 students on a recent field trip to a local art museum.

Add to this situation the worsening educational fiscal conditions and a virtual war on educators by current Ohio governor Kasich. Just last week, our school district announced another 2 million dollars in budget cuts which will remove 9 certified staff from the school our Em WOULD be attending next year if she stayed in the district – this blow to a school that already had a community reputation of being one of the two worst in the district in terms of learning environment, achievement, and student control.  I also had a disturbing conversation with the gifted teacher Em would have next year.  After   clearly identifying myself as the parent of an incoming gifted 7th grader with questions about the curriculum, the teacher proceeded to tell me that all the kids love her class because it’s so easy and she loves it because she doesn’t have to work very hard to teach gifted kids. I was physically sick to my stomach after the conversation.

As a classroom educator for many years, John spent a good deal of his career exploring and implementing best practices in education, even when those best practices, supported by empirical research, went against the traditions of 150 years of public school education in this country.  Now as an administrator with vast exposure through his personal learning network to best practices from around the world, John has seen first-hand how empowering and effective techniques like cross-cultural and multi-age collaboration, truly individualized instruction, and experiential real-world application can be in a child’s education. He has seen and taught to teachers all over the world how technology can facilitate education – and yet our own children experience none of this.

As parents who care passionately about our kids’ learning and who believe that one of our most important parental responsibilities is overseeing their education, we can no longer sit by and watch the vast educational opportunities and best practices available in this place and in this time pass by our own children. This is why we are removing both our children from our local school district next year.  Megan, our youngest, will be attending a neighboring district’s public magnet school – Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts and Emily will be attending a “school without walls” – the Ohio Connections Academy.

Those of you who know us personally know that these decisions have not come without much thought, consideration, evaluation, and detailed research. Yet you still might shake your head and wonder what on earth we are doing – and you might even believe we are jeopardizing our children’s futures. Don’t kids who switch school districts statistically show a decline in performance and in scores?  How can we be sure that our Meg’s interest in the arts isn’t just a phase?  Won’t such an emphasis on the arts cause her to be less well-rounded?  And online school – isn’t that just the same as home-schooling?  Didn’t our experience with Suzuki violin demonstrate that I am not a good fit as a teacher for my own kids?  Don’t we think Emily, who is quiet and introverted, needs to learn how to socialize with her peers and with other adults?  Let me address these questions which I am sure you are asking.

Megan has been passionate about the arts since she was 2.5 years old and has an innate theatricality apparent to everyone who meets her.  It started when at age 2.5, she talked for 6 months (20% of her life then!) about learning to play the violin when NO ONEwe knew played violin. She loved learning to play the violin, loves learning piano now, has excelled in the vigorous vocal arts program she is in this year, and loves movement and dance. The first time we stepped foot in Miller South, we all KNEW it was an environment in which she would thrive. Myriad research has proven a positive link between participation in the arts and increased achievement in other academic subjects – and Miller South’s standardized test score blow away our home district’s school scores. Miller South is dedicated to educating the whole child in all fundamental subject areas.  It offers courses in foreign language as well as advanced placement for math, science, history, and language arts which would not be available in our home district.  As a public school, it is required to adhere to the same curriculum standards and meet the same testing requirements as every other public school in the state.

But with all these positives, it’s NOT an ideal school.  Class sizes are large – larger than our home district – with the potential for conflict resulting from the very diverse socio-economic make-up of the students (a proANDa con of this school). Math is taught in a very traditional way, not in the investigative method our home district uses. And we’ve heard that the homework load is large. We are not expecting to love every aspect of this school. And frankly, that would not be realistic.

As for Emily, she has shown a strong desire to pursue studies in her own way on various topics, but undeniably needs close guidance from a professional educator – which I am not – to keep her on track. She gets intensely interested in one subject, learns all she can, then moves on to something else. She will benefit from being able to pursue these interests across disciplines.  She has always excelled in reading, writing, and language arts and has recently started showing signs of interest in other languages.  With Ohio Connections Academy, she will be able to take course-work appropriate to her level, even if that means taking an 8th grade class in 7th grade.  Several foreign languages will be an option for her, too.  At the same time, she requires more time to process and understand mathematical concepts.  With one-on-one access to her teacher every single day, she will not get lost in the crowd and will have access to the type of help that right now only Dad can provide at night when he gets home.

Emily will NOT be home-schooled any more than she already is.  As a learning coach, my role is to mark her attendance, tracking the hours that she works to ensure that we meet the minimum state requirements for study, communicate with her teachers about her progress, and ensure that her homework is completed and submitted. With the exception of hours tracking, these are all activities I do perform.  I am NOT expected to know the material or act as Emily’s teacher in any way, since she is taught and supported by state-certified teaching staff at this PUBLIC school just as she would be at any public school. The curriculum materials are written to the student and the student is expected to log-in each day, spend an average of 5 to 7 hours a day on school work, and complete the activities assigned. The LMS (learning management system) is very clear on what has to be done each day, when things are due, and what is overdue – and I will have full access to that system as well to monitor grades, assignments, and assessments.  Only 30% of Emily’s time will be spent at the computer. The rest of the time, she will be reading to learn, working on projects or experiments, completing portfolio assignments, or taking field trips in person with her teachers and classmates.

Frankly, the social aspects of this choice are the most concerning to us. Despite assurances that OCA sponsors numerous state and local field trips, we believe regular – not sporadic – social interaction is imperative. Emily will remain involved with the same Girl Scout troop she has been a member of since kindergarten.  She will continue to do both community service and social activities with her church youth group as well as take her private art lessons and attend lapidary club meetings and field trips (for kids who love rocks) which she’s gotten involved with this spring.  We plan to enroll her in some other group art activities so that she has daily exposure both to different forms of art AND to other children her age with her interests.  She has also expressed interest in a recreational sport like gymnastics – and in taking horseback riding lessons (we’ll see about that one!).

There is no denying that our children are very different from each other and have vastly different needs.  Emily might have been lost in the shadow of extroverts at Miller South had she been admitted and Megan might wither in a less socially stimulating environment likeOhioConnectionsAcademy. On the flip side, Emily has blossomed with private art instruction – and we hope the same will happen with private educational instruction.  Megan yearns to learn in an environment that accommodates her artistic expression – and we hope that Miller South is such an environment.  But instead of looking at this as a life-changing, permanent decision, we have all agreed to treat it as a one year experiment.  If we find that either situation is NOT meeting our children’s educational and social needs, we are prepared to keep searching for the best fit for both of them.

Are we taking a risk by pursuing these alternative schooling options? Admittedly, we are. But we would also be taking a risk staying in our home district: a risk that the disappointing status quo would not change or would worsen, a risk that we would regret squandering our children’s potential and squash their love of learning out of our own selfish fear of change.  And THOSE are risks we simply cannot continue to take.

That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be

I understand now how people “get behind the times” or “out of date.” It’s how we were taught.

In the ongoing educational debate over the so-called “21 century skills,” I’ve argued that we need to change how we learn without enough cogent, eloquent thoughts addressing WHY we needed to make that change.  But earlier this week, Kate at Sweet|Salty tweeted a link to this article on typography that rocked my world and really brought together in a personal way my thoughts on this subject. The article states – unequivocally – that putting two spaces after a period while typing is outdated, unnecessary, and just plain WRONG. There are few things I hate more than being wrong, let alone wrong AND outdated, so I applied my skepticism and my 21 century skills and set out to prove that I, who ALWAYS puts two spaces after a period, was NOT a dinosaur. To my shock and horror, I discovered that my name should be changed to Sue.

When I first read the article, I was so shocked by this revelation, and so sure it was wrong, that I only read the first 6 paragraphs. But then I started wondering why I use two spaces after a period? My eager-to-please, perfectionist, school-girl self immediately wondered if I’d *gasp* LEARNED IT WRONG?! But then I read the article in its entirety and realized that no – I’d learned it right, but the definition of “right” has changed. [The practice actually goes back even further than the typewriter, as explained in this article, for those of you REALLY interested!] The bottom line is this: what I learned had become outdated and because I’d never learned WHY two spaces were “right,” I didn’t know when it was time to change.

With a startling burst of insight, I realized that this problem – knowing what but not why – permeates our society (and our educational system) right to the core. I started thinking of other examples of things we do here and now because we were taught that way. Then I solicited examples from others and the floodgates opened.

My friend Rhi (say REE like “Reece’s Peanut Butter Cup”) on Plurk shared my favorite hilarious anecdote: “My mom was over at a friend’s house once, while her friend was preparing a whole turkey for roasting. Before she put the turkey in the pan, she cut off both legs and threw them out. My mom was surprised and asked her why she did that. The friend’s response: ‘Well, that’s how you’re *supposed* to do it. My mom always did it that way.’ So my mom told her that *nobody* else did it that way, and had the friend call her mom to find out why. Turns out, the friend’s mom never had a pan big enough to hold an entire turkey. For decades, the rest of the family had been throwing out the turkey legs just because they thought they were supposed to!”

So let us all be reminded that change is constant, youthful inquisitiveness imperative, and single spaces after full stops the new standard – for now!

[Note: typing this blog post with only one space after each period was insanely hard. Sometimes re-education is painful!]

For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her

If you met me on the street, you’d think I’m a normal run-of-the-mill human being. But don’t be fooled, because sometimes I am two people inside my head. We’ll call them Miss Rational and Miss Emotional.  Well, Miss R and Miss E got into a big ole fight today. I’ll give you a glimpse into the conversation once you have the backstory.

Our 11 year old is in the 6th grade gifted program in our district.  She worked a year and half to get in, usually missing the required standardized test scores by one or two points.  Making it into the program mid-way through the school year last year was a huge accomplishment for her and she was THRILLED.  She was also excited for this quarter’s subject: guided independent research on a topic of her choosing, which was Alaskan Wolves.

The quarter started around November 1st, but by Thanksgiving we got a head’s up from the teacher that 11yo wasn’t turning in stages of the required assignments. We are very hands-off parents with regard to homework, but we stepped in at this point to help guide and coach our chronically disorganized and potentially overwhelmed young student.

Fast forward to today: project and presentation due date when, in the car on the way to school, I discover that the centerpiece of her research, a telephone interview with a gentleman from the Alaskan government who works with wildlife, was omitted from her bibliography.  I was already struggling to keep my mouth shut about the lack of reference to this interview in her presentation, but when I heard it wasn’t even listed in her bibliography of sources, I hit the roof. “Take out the bibliography and WRITE IT IN,” I bellowed.  It was at this inopportune time that she discovered she hadn’t even printed out and included the bibliography, a major requirement of the project.

I cried all the way home, heartsick, while Miss E and Miss R took it to the mat inside my head.

One interpretation of Miss E and Miss R

Miss E: How completely embarrassing.

Miss R: What? Why? It wasn’t YOUR project.

Miss E: It’s incomplete per the rubric, it had PENCIL on the final project info board, it’s uncreative, she’s ill-prepared – and it shows.  It’s a complete DISASTER.

Miss R: It’s not your project.

Miss E: I’m the parent, it reflects on me.  People will think I’m a bad parent who can’t motivate my child to be responsible and follow directions. Worse, I’m a STAY-AT-HOME parent – parenting is my JOB.

Miss R: Every kid goes through this and besides, grades don’t matter.

Miss E: She’s had this organizational “issue” since kindergarten. This isn’t a one-time thing – it’s an ongoing problem. She should have this organizational thing figured out by now.  She has great teachers, involved (but not OVER involved) parents, and all the tools she needs. And grades are only unimportant in theoretical discussions on Twitter. We all know that in the real world, GRADES MATTER.

Miss R: Remember your 5th grade book report and poster on Daniel Boone that you did ENTIRELY the night before? Hmmm? You were the poster child for procrastination. And grades DON’T matter. Learning matters.

Miss E: Demonstrating learning matters.  She didn’t demonstrate it. Don’t tell me grades don’t matter.  Are you saying that 4.0 MBA I have is irrelevant? I worked HARD to earn those grades. And I learned not to procrastinate because the alternative was even more uncomfortable.

Miss R: (amused) So you don’t procrastinate anymore?

Miss E: Shut up.

Miss R: She’s bright, she’s creative, she’s imaginative, she’s kind-hearted, she’s thoughtful, and yes – she’s a bit scattered and disorganized. She sometimes can’t focus because her mind goes in a million directions. Everyone has issues of some sort.

Miss E: (dismissively) Yes, yes – she’s a great kid – but she has FAILED this project.  She did this in some of her regular classes, too, so this will be her worst report card EVER. She’ll never get into the magnet school for the arts to which she is applying with those grades.

Miss R: So what if she fails this project?  The gifted class isn’t graded. Maybe she’ll have learned from it. And a few B’s or lower on the report card aren’t the end of the world.  If she doesn’t get into that school, she doesn’t.  Life goes on.

Miss E: It would have been so much BETTER if I had done the project. It would have been complete and TOTALLY creative and top notch.

Miss R: It’s not your project.  You had your chance.  And what would she learn if you covered for her?

Miss E: The project would have rocked, and I’d’ve felt better about it.

Miss R:  Not in the long run.

Miss E: Nothing is solved.

Miss R: Nothing ever is.  Correct one weakness and another will emerge.

Miss E: Life sucks sometimes.

Miss R: Yep. Sometimes. That’s life.

Dangerous Technology

According to e School News, the Ohio Education Association is recommending that teachers in Ohio remove themselves from social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook. They say that, “the dangers of participating in these two sites outweigh the benefits.”

They go on to cite examples of inappropriate teacher profile content to back up their recommendation. But to me, the scariest sentence in the article is this one: “The union also worries that students will create “impostor” sites, pose as adults and engage in conversations with teachers, or use online communication to make allegations later against educators.”

So they are saying that students might pose as adults and talk in an inappropriate way with teachers?  By “online communication” do they also mean email?

Of course, teachers and future teachers should be smart enough realize that everything put online stays online, but to me, this whole recommendation sounds like the fearful older generation warning the next generation about technology with which it is most likely completely unfamiliar.

This commentary on Wired Magazine’s website pretty accurately describes my view of the OEA’s recommendation. This blog post from Cleveland Scene takes a more humorous approach, but raises an interesting question about a teacher’s right to engage in and discuss legal adult activities.

Me? I’m just glad when my child has a teacher who is technologically savvy enough to know how to use Powerpoint. I’d love for my children to have an experienced teacher who has her own blog (like Traci Hricik). Any experienced teacher who is active on MySpace, Facebook, and/or Twitter is likely a teacher who’s not afraid to embrace new technology and a teacher who makes continuous learning a part of his or her career.

(Thanks to Rob Darrow, who twittered about his post on the topic to someone I am following in Twitter, which is how I learned about this OEA recommendation in the first place!)

Learning Today

This article on the Taste of Tech blog states, “I worry about how K-12 education can remain relevant and engaging as we continue to filter out anything that’s not on a test.”

The information may remain relevant, but not engaging. I think that’s why kids start to view school as a chore by 4th or 5th grade. (You hardly ever hear kids in lower grades complain about going to school – they almost all start out loving it). We have already seen a dramatic increase in testing and teaching to the test materials this year with our 3rd grader. Grades, test scores, and levels all matter to her a lot more now than they did last year.

The way in which material is typically presented slows down the learning process in an age when there is so much more to learn and so many more ways to learn it. Listening to a lecture IS typically boring. But creating dynamic, interactive, multi-sensory learning is hard within the current school structures of fixed class periods, divided subject matter, and fact memorization. Heck, I can’t even make a one hour Sunday School class interesting to 7th through 12th graders! I can’t imagine trying to do it day after day for a 6 hour school day. (This is why I’m not a school teacher, so don’t get too worried).

What’s worse is that parents are blocking educational progress as much as anyone. The attitude I see weekly is that “if my kid ISN’T being taught the same way I was, there must be something wrong with the school or teacher.” The reality is that if your kid IS being taught the same way, that’s the larger problem. It is hard to imagine a better way to learn than the one you personally experienced. After all, we came out ok, didn’t we? But the world today is FAR different than the one in which we grew up.

My kids are still talking about visiting Plimouth Plantation last summer, where they got to see, taste, smell, Megan Grinds Maizetouch, and live life in 1628. Before they went, they watched the PBS Kids show “Fetch with Ruff Ruffman” where they watched other kids complete reality-tv-show-like challenges in Plimoth. So when they got there, there was huge satisfaction in being somewhere they’d seen on tv.

Then last fall, our 1st grader studied Plimoth at school with the incredible Mrs. Hricik. She taught our daughter and her class even more about that time in history through an interactive game, online research, hands-on building experiment, food tasting, and team activity that captured for the kids the emotional, human side of the pilgrims’ story. It was all capped with a program for parents and relative consisting of a series of short skits interspersed with factual presentations for those kids not as interesting in acting.

The beauty of this type of teaching is that it was relevant to a 1st grader’s perspective, engaged all types of learners in the class, involved all their senses in the learning, used a variety of media, and captured the human experience. You can bet the kids in this class will remember this info in context for years to come – and not because they needed to know it for any test. THIS is TRUE learning.

It’s also why we parents have to be engaged in our children’s education from day one. Children are natural scientists and eager learners. My kids were learning in formal and informal ways years before they started school. Learning happens through play, travel, experimentation, and observation of the world around us. It happens when we talk about something that just happened that wasn’t planned or expected. Learning doesn’t stop after school or in the summer. Learning happens in the tiny questions that pop up unexpectedly as we spend time together. This is self-guided learning; it is this type of learning that is lost when children spend more hours in daycare than they do at home with parents who care about answering the incessant barrage of questions that everyday life raises for younger children.

Baby, You CAN Drive My Car!

We need to redefine “education” in this country and we need to do it NOW.

Education in the 21st century must NOT emphasize memorization of facts and figures. Back in the 19th century (and even into the early 20th) information was not easily accessible – books were still a cherished sign of wealth – so it made sense for schools to drill facts and figures which might be needed later into children’s heads. Plus, far fewer people were formally educated, so there were fewer people able to personally pass information on to their children.

Society and culture have changed dramatically in the last 100 years. Information is readily available in books, at libraries, and online. Facts don’t need to be memorized, but they DO need to be retrieved efficiently. Education needs teach people how to retrieve the information they need and assimilate it with what they already know. In other words, education needs to teach people how to learn.

I touched on this subject back in August in my blog post titled “Old School Skills” when I argued that though learning to alphabetize is an important foundation skill, being able to look words up in a dictionary isn’t.

Now, I do believe that a certain basic body of factual knowledge is necessary for efficiency. Kids need to quickly recognize by sight commonly used words so they can spend their time comprehending the meaning of the text instead of sounding out. Knowing basic “math facts” quickly allows you the freedom to do more complex math more efficiently. A grasp of a general timeline of basic American and world history helps you see the bigger social picture. These are still “facts” that education should teach.

But over and over again, I interact with adults who rely on their knowledge of facts and have never learned how to learn. The “Taste of Tech” blog has a fantastic entry on this topic.

As an educator, I LOVE teaching people and seeing the virtual cartoon light bulb appear over their heads as they “get it” – that is, when they take a new piece of information, fit it into what they already know, and make it retrievable for them in a new context. But as the “Taste of Tech” blog points out, “If you are writing down step-by-step directions to do things, and blindly following them, you are hopelessly lost in this society. If you cannot do something you’ve never done simply because no one has taken your hand and shown you how to do it, I don’t want you teaching my kids.”

Six weeks ago, I was demonstrating some new software to a small group of people. One person in the group had been using the software for several weeks, had sat with me one-on-one for training, and had attended three other demonstrations in the past two weeks. She asked a very specific and completely off-topic question. So as not to derail the entire group, I mentioned that she could find the answer using the help menu or help icon . This person actually came up to me after the demonstration and asked to be shown the help icon – then tried to write down in her pages of long-hand notes where “help” was.

This person has her own laptop, has been using computers and Microsoft software for years, and was even a long-term school sub and high school teacher – yet she had no idea how to access the help menu. This person does not know how to apply old knowledge to new situations. She does not know how to truly learn.

dodge-charger-rt-2006-20060503040316497.jpgTo me, this is as ridiculous as saying you can’t drive a car because you’ve never driven THIS PARTICULAR car before. Most cars are so similar that 60 seconds of orientation is all you need to be able to drive someone else’s car, because you have a basic body of facts and general knowledge you can apply to this new situation. The key goes in, the ignition is ignited, you shift into drive, and you drive. I can even drive my parent’s 1/2 ton semi truck because the basic principles are the same. Sure, I won’t be as comfortable in an unfamiliar car – just as I’m not as comfortable in a new or different software program – but I know where the steering wheel is, how to work the pedals, and how to use the turn signals.

“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” — Alvin Toffler

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