Friday, October 13, 2006

We can’t walk away from this – Alan November

I was lucky enough to attend an Alan November presentation yesterday. He was presenting at American Academy, a K-7 (will be K-8 next year) charter school in Douglas County, Colorado (just south of my school district). Mary Catton, their academic director, was kind enough to invite me to sit in. This post will be kind of a “delayed live-blogging” – with my cleaned up notes and a few incredibly insightful comments of my own in italics (or maybe incredibly incite-full).

The first part of the morning was a presentation to both parents and staff. Alan spent a lot of time talking about the global economy/flat world, and the necessity of preparing our children differently to be successful in such a world. Alan travels extensively around the world and counts governments among his clients. He stated that everywhere he goes in the world there is an urgency to link their kids with others around the world – except when he’s in the United States. He emphasized the necessity of students learning with others around the world and stressed three skills we need to teach our children.
  1. We need to teach them to deal with massive amounts of information. We typically only give them a little bit of information at a time and he thinks we underestimate what kids can do (gee, that sound familiar). He gave the example of the country of Columbia, where they require calculus to graduate from high school. But he also stressed how you have to start that in Kindergarten. You have to have students solving interesting math problems beginning in Kindergarten if you want them to graduate high school having completed calculus.

  2. We need to teach them global communication, again starting with Kindergarten. He spent quite a lot of time talking about Skype and all the possibilities that free global voice communication (as well as documents and soon video) enables.

  3. Finally, we need children who are self directed and understand how to organize more and more of their own learning. He runs a global business and he won’t hire people who aren’t self-directed. He doesn’t have the time or money for them to wait to hear from “the boss” about what they should be doing. And he stated that his corporate clients tell him the same thing.
Alan then started to talk more specifically about what we should be doing in schools. Stanford University is one of his clients and he mentioned the Stanford University Online High School that will be rolling out soon. It will cost $12,000 per year and when students graduate they could have up to three years of transferable Stanford college credit. He told these K-8 teachers to imagine that they aren’t preparing their students for the local high school – they are preparing them to enroll in Stanford Online – and they need to ramp it up.

He then went through the internet literacy part of his presentation. (I’ve seen this several times before but I always pick up something new. It reminds me that we need to look at this again at AHS and make sure our students are getting this somewhere. We talked about it in cohort 1 last year, but I don’t think we ever followed up on exactly where students would definitely get this. It should of course be touched on in all classes, but I think there needs to be one class in freshmen year where it is definitely covered.)

He came back to Skype and suggested that all classrooms should be using it to help connect students to others around the world. He used the example of the American Revolution – and how powerful it would be to discuss that with a group of students in England – where they have a slightly different view of the revolution than we in the United States do. He gave another example of studying volcanoes and hooking up with students in Hawaii – since we don’t have many volcanoes here in Colorado at the moment.

He then spent some time talking about world languages and gave some interesting facts including that by 2012, every elementary school in England will be an immersion foreign language school. And that by next year every private girls school in England will be teaching Mandarin Chinese. He talked about the research showing how important it was to have a second language before puberty – because of the pathways it builds in your brain. Not just for learning the language, but that it helps your brain in many other ways as well.

He then talked about one of my favorite topics, students as producers. (He used the term “do-ers,” but he meant the same thing. It’s going back to Will Richardson’s idea of moving from “turn it in” to “publish it.”) And he then gave me a new favorite phrase to describe some of what we’ve been talking about – kids should leave a legacy. Something that survives after the assignment is finished - that they should make a contribution to the world.

Then about halfway through the morning the parents left and he continued with the staff for another couple of hours with hands-on exploration of some technology tools as well as discussion. (Note to anyone in LPS reading this – all the teachers had wireless laptop computers.) He talked about getting your students to go find good content for you. Not only is it a great learning experience for them, but it helps make the learning experience for all students better.

Alan then talked about ePALS and how he thinks every teacher should sign up. ePALS is the best way (according to Alan) for teachers to connect to other teachers around the world to foster global collaboration among our students. He referred again to the example of students in America studying the American Revolution hooking up with students in England studying the American Revolution.

He then moved into the hands-on web 2.0 portion of his presentation, showing the teachers, rss and Bloglines, and podcasts (and revisiting Skype as well). He gave an example of two students going to college, one that knows how to use these tools and one that doesn’t - and how the one that doesn’t basically doesn’t have a chance. He says we should get all of our students signed up on Bloglines (or something similar) as soon as possible. (This reminds me that I need to revisit RSS with my teachers since I apparently haven’t done a great job of convincing them to use it. And also to find some good feeds to seed student Bloglines accounts with – any suggestions?)

He closed with some videos, including the Digital Students @ Analog Schools video (see my earlier post). He told the teachers that this was going to be a ten-year process for them, that they shouldn’t feel they have to go in and do all this stuff tomorrow. (While I agree about not having to do it tomorrow, I’m not sure I agree about ten years – that’s too long and there will be too many new things to learn by then. In ten years our students who are currently in third grade will be graduating high school – I don’t think we can wait that long without doing a huge disservice to those kids. I’d say more like a three-year process but – and my staff is aware of this – I’m probably a little impatient.)

His closing thoughts were:
We can’t avoid learning these tools. We can’t walk away from this.
(I agree - I'm sure that will reassure Alan that he's on the right track!)
(I think this is the third time I’ve seen Alan present. As always, he was thought provoking and energizing. Now I just need to figure out how to carry that energy forward in my own building.)


  1. Thanks, Karl. You always give me something to think about. This time you have rekindled my sense of urgency. But even more than that you have added to my anticipation because in November, Alan will be in Los Angeles giving a two day workshop for the principals of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. If there is wifi I will blog live.

  2. How come Littleton Public Schools did not arrange to have him present to staff from various levels? When he comes back to Colorado can we have him present to LPS?

    I think the way to carry the message forward is what you said previously to Cohort 1...every where we (teachers) go we need to talk about what our students need and what, as teachers, we need to prepare them for their future. I agree with the urgency, also.

  3. Karl, First, thanks for reporting on Alan's talk. One thought, which is actually something that I read from Douglas Reeves, ten years is a very long time. Many teachers will become intimidated and not start moving towards complete utilization of technology if they think it's a ten year process. But, if we don't start now where will we be in ten years? (I'd prefer not to think about it.)

    Andrew Pass

  4. And as for the free video conferencing:,1895,2020830,00.asp

  5. Thanks Karl, I caught your blog and wonder if we can catch-up to other countries? I guess we arrogantly think we are ahead of the curve, when in reality, we might be dropping woefully behind. We have some people in our community that don't want to spend the money, but think we have a top-notch school system...are they aware of what's going on? Do we teach our 1st and 2nd and 3rd graders pre-calculus and how to utilize the internet, instead of how to play 'Grand Theft Auto?' Or are we busy teaching to the CSAP test? Thanks again.