Day 17: Nested

Thursday, 18. December 2014 4:38 | Author:

Last night my limping thermostat finally gave up the ghost. Unfortunately it chose to do so in the middle of the night, so there was not heat for us this morning. Luckily, there was quite a bit of cloud cover after a storm, so it wasn't as cold as it could have been.

My old thermostat was ancient, and though it lasted us for twelve years in this house (and goodness knows how many before that) it has never been very accurate or very dependable. Heat and cool went on and off at unpredictable times, and there was never any good way to program temperatures for our changing lives.

So today I decided to bite the bullet and buy a Nest Thermostat. Though about five times as much as a conventional one, this device has amazing ability to learn and anticipate changes, and best of all, it can better control temps when we aren't in the house.

After an installation that was far easier than I anticipated, I turned the device on. The first thing the program did was allow me to attach the device to the home wifi network. Through this connection the device is able to collect weather reports and to adjust to the outside temperature. Most exciting, I have an app on my iPhone that shows me the current temperature in the house and allows me to change the current temperature and the overall program. The device has built in energy saving settings, so I am hopeful that some of the additional cost will be defrayed by better energy use.

I suppose some will point out (hearing my father's voice here) that now that my thermostat is online, I am vulnerable to hackers who will attempt to burn or freeze us…only time will tell.

The connected home is an interesting new concept. I'm not going in whole hog with cameras, motion detectors, and light controls, but I'm interested to see how the nest will change the climate of our lives.

As always, I welcome your comments.


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Day 16: With Only Two Reindeer

Wednesday, 17. December 2014 1:25 | Author:

This week I heard a Christmas song for the first time, and it is quickly climbing the charts in my mind for best secular Christmas song (no, it won't beat out “Christmas, Baby, Please Come Home” but it's a contender).

The song is “Donna and Blitzen,” (I love the title!) it isn't a particularly new song. Apparently it was released in 2001 and was part of the Sountrack for the movie About a Boy in 2002, but I had never heard it before sitting in a Starbucks last week. Luckily I had Shazam on my phone so I could find the title and artist (Badly Drawn Boy) and add it to my Rdio Christmas playlist. Since that time I've been playing (or humming) it regularly.

At the risk of readers losing what little respect they still have for me, you can find it on YouTube here. I don't like the video, so you can turn that off and just listen to the music (someone in my office looked pityingly at me after seeing the sappy video).

Why do I like it? Well, it's not the lyrics, I can't really understand them, and when I looked them up, I still didn't really understand them. I won't argue with anyone that it's a great piece of music.

But every time I listen to it, I feel happy. The swooping repetitive phrases make me feel good.

Maybe that's enough





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Day 15: It Worked for Me

Tuesday, 16. December 2014 5:22 | Author:

One of the voices I often hear (no, not in my head, these are real voices…this time) when I speculate about changes to the educational process is the “good enough for me” preservationist. This voice reasons that what has been done for generations has worked well, and therefore changes risk every good thing that has ever happened. This voice is often associated with the curmudgeon (“kids these days”), but it is actually in all parts of the education establishment and it is a voice that is alive in each of us. There is something inherent in human nature to perceive the next generation as inferior to the last. The briefest scan of quotations through the years show the human race on a long journey to hell in a hand basket.

For today I'm going to leave the part of the argument that a changing world requires changing skills (and maybe doing 50 algebra problems for homework isn't the best preparation for this…or any…world). I believe this, but I want to examine this complaint from another angle.

It seems that this argument is similar to the spanking argument (now, I know there are readers who feel different things about this, so please take this not as criticism, but examination). Often when we hear about high-profile child abuse cases, the voices come forward, “I don't know, my dad used the belt, and I turned out just fine.” Now, I am not suggesting that there are not sometimes outrageous claims about things that in no way resemble physical abuse, but let's stick to the argument. It seems to me that the “I turned out just fine,” argument is based on two huge assumptions.

The first assumption is that the speaker did turn out just fine. What does “just fine” look like? I agree that most of these speakers live relatively conventional lives and have not committed any detectable crimes. However, the majority of people from all backgrounds do this, and to connect the dots to show direct causality seems tenuous. Most times this means, I don't carry any scars from the experience, and I don't know about this either. This is based on the assumption that we can know what we would be like without this (or any) experience in our lives. Perhaps there is a different (or perhaps even) better self that would have developed in a differnt set of circumstances. In either case, the line is blurry at best.

The second, and I think more dangerous, assumption is that if this were OK for me, it worked the same for everyone. Let's change our speaker to an inmate of prison, held for a violent crime (frankly, I'm certain that statistics would show a greater incident of corporal punishment among prison populations than the general). I'm not suggesting that the spanking caused this behavior any more than the proper behavior, but it does show that there are many incidents that turned out differently. It didn't work for some.

Similarly with education, clinging to past techniques often makes the same two assumptions. We were taught that way, and we turned out fine. This both assumes that we are the best, most educated we could be, and that it was this model that made us this way. The reality may well be that we would have benefitted from some non-traditional techniques, or that it would not really have mattered.

Second, this statement also implies that if it worked for me, it must be right. Plenty of children didn't learn through these methods. Many of those who did became teachers, thus perpetuating the cycle and the echo chamber of knowing and working around those who learned best with the techniques of their childhood. By drawing primarily from those best adapted to the system, the educational establishment protects and perpetuates itself.

It is dangerous (and lazy) thinking to cling too tightly to “what has always worked.” Techniques, skills, and content must stand on their own merit, not be a mere reiteration of what came before.

As always, I welcome your comments.




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Day 14: Flow

Monday, 15. December 2014 5:18 | Author:

In my entryway there is a banner. It has hung there every Christmas season that we have lived here, and at other houses before this. The text is from the Canticle of Zachariah, and it is dated 1981, 33 years ago. If you turn it over and look on the back of the lower pole pocket, you will find the signature GDhuyvetter, because among the many odd diversions of my life, for a period in my late teens and twenties, I made banners. This Christmas banner is one of the artistic and personal accomplishments of my life of which I am most proud.

I made banners for my church. For a couple of years, all of the seasons had my banners hanging. These were huge jobs, over 30 feet tall. Most of them were colors and designs, little or no symbols or words. As holidays approach, I can still connect to the stress of having a room full of fabric and hoping for Rumplestiltskin to come and spin the straw into gold. I remember the thrill of having a massive banners “flying” as we raised them up into place. But these are not the banners that I most remember.

One year I was taking a calligraphy course, and I wondered whether I could paint calligraphic sayings on fabric. After experimenting with many paints and fabrics I finally developed an approach where I wrote large words like “Peace” or “Noel” which I (still living at home) hung at my parents' house. After a couple of years I started to shrink the text and add appliqué shapes and symbols. My mom had taught me to do simple needlework, so I experimented with differnt ways to make pictures in fabric. Most of the time I copied pictures I found on cards or in books, but through interpretation, I made them my own.

Finally, after a few other projects, I decided to try something more ambitious for my yearly Christmas banner. I had always loved the text of the Canticle of Zachariah, which was part of morning prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, and the words spoke better than anything else to the meaning of advent and Christmas, so I decided to use the opening. In order to do something a bit special, I created an illuminated opening letter, and added two angels (which were actually a variation of a figure I had used on a banner earlier that year). I still remember the “reveal” when I showed the competed banner for the first time, as it represented a huge leap in difficulty and in quality.

What I most remember about this banner were the hours and hours I spent working on it. However, I remember not the drudgery, but the way that time stopped whenever I was working. When I started working on this or other banners I completely lost myself in the work, getting things done and solving problems, and I would look up to discover that 6, 8, 12 hours had passed. I hadn't eaten (though I drank coffee steadily through the time) or done anything else (in these pre-iphone days). I was in such a focused zone, and I was enjoying the work so much that I felt I could have kept going forever.

I've read about many artists who have similar experiences. They refer to this as flow, a focus on work that pushes everything else out and distorts time. I have never had a similar experience with anything since. Occasioanlly I lost track of time working on tech projects, but generally none of the aspects of my work have ever brought me into a state of flow.

After the Zachariah banner, I did a few more. One still hangs in the Huntington Beach Children's Library. One was given to a friend whom I have long lost touch. But very soon this hobby was replaced by realities of work, marriage, and life. Every so often I pull out my pens and do a little calligraphy, but I just don't have the time (and maybe the focus) to work on such a large project. At this time of year, I miss the excitement of creation, the satisfaction of solving problems, and the beautiful mindless focus of flow.

As always, I welcome your comments.

Image: Canticle of Zachariah Banner, Dhuyvetter entryway 12/14/2014


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Day 13: Cheating

Sunday, 14. December 2014 2:55 | Author:

I knew that I would need this for one day, and being the midway point, I think this makes sense.

This is an article I wrote last summer for publication in the National Catholic Education Association magazine Momentum. Enjoy!

Life on the Other Side of a Tipping Point

Nothing is more stimulating to a cause than significant opposition. We in Catholic education gravitate by nature to the underdog position, fighting against overwhelming forces of intractability and ignorance, armed only with our idealism and passion. We are fueled by a vision of a better world of education, energized to challenge all who believe otherwise. However, occasionally a time comes, in education and in life, when the challenging idea prevails over the opposition and becomes the new establishment. Ironically, this is the time when we are most challenged as educators and reformers as our vision becomes reality.


Such a time faces us now in the field of educational technology. Gone are the heady days of predicting radical transition of classroom instruction to educators convinced that what was always would be. There is nothing shocking about a presenter who urges schools toward 1:1 instruction, blended learning, or flipped classrooms, as many of these are the current reality of large percentages of the audience. Phrases like “21st Century Skills,” “Digital Immigrants,” or “Sage on the Sage vs Guide on the Side” are beginning to sound trite, old banners of a past campaign. While we know that schools and teachers are in all stages of digital evolution, there is a strong collective agreement on direction toward digital tools and resources. A few skirmishes still take place on the periphery, but even these feel like the dying moans of a bygone time.


The term tipping point has existed long before educational technology, but it was brought into popular understanding mainly through Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. In this book, Gladwell explored how a variety of forces work together to create substantial change. All of these forces push against an existing reality or perception and over time reach a boiling point, irrevocably overturning the old and introducing a new dominant reality.


In the past few years there has been a tipping point in attitudes and approaches to technology in education. The belief that technology will have no effect or limited effect is no longer dominant. The point has tipped, and it is not tipping backward again. Even the most traditional of instructors grudgingly accept that technology is here to stay.


It is a exciting experience to have envisioned change and see the idea catch on. Conversations can start with assumptions that were once a point of argument. Ideas that were once dreams start appearing in classrooms. Things don't work, and then they do work.


However, in the midst of these successes, another voice is present. It stirs in the hearts of the most fervent advocates.


What now?


It was easier before, when it was impossible. A hypothetical wifi network doesn't experience outages. Hypothetical apps work smoothly and intuitively. Most importantly, hypothetical students are engaged with the lesson, don't drift off task, and never look at things they shouldn't. A real technological classroom is a messy place, a jungle of unintended consequences. Even an educational technology zealot can feel adrift in a sea of “success.”


For a Catholic educator these challenges are even more profound. Digital citizenship isn't enough to serve our mission. We are called to bring children to Christ though all means at our disposal. Writing the roadmap to holiness with new tools, tools that have potential for good and evil, is not an easy task. However, this is why the leadership of Catholic educators has never been more vital, as we model and teach not just appropriate use, but good use (and uses for good) of digital and social tools.


So how do we navigate in these uncharted waters on the other side of the digital tipping point? While there are no simple answers (if there were someone would publish them and the discussion would be over), but there are three major keys to guide planning, implementing and growing digital schools.


1. Move from equipment goals to performance goals.

A large part of the pursuit of the world of digital education has been an equipment arms race. School programs (and schools) have been defined more by the stuff in classrooms than by what is going on in the classrooms. This has led to an aggressive technological arms race as schools advertise their projectors, document cameras, Smartboards, student response clickers, and 1×4/1×2/1×1/2×1 device ratios. “We’re a Smartboard school,” an administrator brags (which at least verifies that the boards are smart there). While the pursuit of equipment was a vital stage as we pushed toward the tipping point (and remains important still), there needs to be an intentional movement away from devices being the end goal to a greater focus on student performance. Schools need to return to the most basic and vital question of education, “What will our students know or be able to do at the end of the day/month/school year?”


While there will be a tendency to reduce these goals to improvement in test scores (particularly on standardized tests), this should not be the only criteria. Students do not primarily need to be better test takers, they need to be better learners, independently and collaboratively. While these skills can be harder to quantify than multiple choice tests (often a good example of testing what we can instead of what we should), schools can set goals for clear indicators of critical thought, of problem solving, of cooperative investigation. On the other side of the tipping point, devices only have validity in connection to student achievement.


2. Make friends with failure

One of the unfortunate by-products of a crusade is the reluctance and inability to admit weakness or failure. While understandable, this can lead to wrong decisions perpetuated out of stubbornness and fear of criticism. If a digital future for education is now generally accepted, then the best decisions must be made, and mistakes must be admitted and corrected. The constant growth and change in the digital world virtually guarantees that schools will make honest misjudgments. Rather than fight this, school administrators need to develop a more failure-friendly voice with faculty, parents, and students, recognizing that things will go wrong and that all will work together to fix them.


This is not to encourage skittishness, abandoning a solid plan at the first sign of trouble or the introduction of a new “hot” device. Rather it is an acknowledgement that technology planning is a highly complex process with many moving parts in a field of constant change. An educator who makes only correct decisions in this area is either a divinely inspired genius, or delusional (more likely the second). On the other side of the tipping point, we are no longer fighting for a cause, we are fighting for the best approaches.


3. Plant good wheat

One does not have to look far to find articles decrying the “bad stuff” available on the Internet (one does not have to look far to find bad stuff on the Internet). This is an undeniable reality, but it is also undeniable that our children will inhabit this world whether we provide direction to them or not. Faithful to our mission as Catholic educators, we cannot ignore this evil, and teaching safety is a vital life skill. However, we can be true change agents in the digital world by teaching students skills of positive participation.


In the parable of the Sower and the Seed, Jesus talked about wheat seed that landed among thorns, which stifled its growth. As Catholic educators, we need to turn this parable around, encouraging students to sow appropriate Internet venues with so much good wheat that over time it will be the weeds that are choked out. On the other side of the tipping point, the solution to evil on the Internet is good on the Internet,


For those who have struggled to make the case for digital integration into our Catholic schools, finding the wheels of history turning in their favor can be a challenging transition. However, this is not the beginning of the end. Rather, it is the end of the beginning, as new, more exciting chapters await on the other side of the tipping point.


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Day 12: The Battle of the Books

Friday, 12. December 2014 23:22 | Author:

I was having lunch today with a friend who also works for a major educational publisher. It has been a pleasure over the years to share with him my thoughts about current and future directions in delivery systems for schools. As I've said many times in presentations and in print, the timeline for conversion from paper to digital texts seems to grow shorter every day. Though paper texts will exist for the foreseeable future, it is clear to me that publishers will shift (and already are shifting) the bulk of their resources toward digital properties. Paper will be kept on as a legacy, but it will be neglected and costly.

The first inclination with this conversion has been to create a product that is similar to what has always been. Thus early e-texts were little more than pdf's (photographs) of existing paper texts. In education when we get new wineskins, we always try to fill them with old wine. Paper texts were limited to words and pictures, and early e-texts embraced the same limitations. However, what has been needed, and what is beginning to be done, is a rethinking of the entire paradigm of the textbook to make something new built on what works best, not what is most like the past.

First, I think we should eliminate the term e-text. Even this term is a cramming of the old into a new form. Text in the mind of most refers to writing, and though writing is part of this, it is not the reason for a school resource. I like the term learning system, because it clearly communcates ultimate purpose while recognizing a many-faceted approach.

While the forms of these learning systems will contain various tools including text, pictures, videos, audio, assessments, and tools not yet invented, there are three characteristics that educators and others can look for to evaluate digital learning systems as this new model develops.

First and most important is the quality of the information and pedagogy of the contents. A flashy package can be used to conceal a lack of depth or effectiveness (see: emperor's new clothes). This evaluation is the closest to a traditional textbook assessment. Is the information good? Is it presented so that students can easily interact? Do students who use this resource master the standards? If these foundational needs aren't met, none of the more advanced characteristics will matter.

Second, a true learning system should be interactive and adaptive. A student should demonstrate competency, not just passively stare at a page. Not only this, but the learning system should recognize areas of need and adapt what and how material is presented to meet these needs. This is what technology is best at, recognizing and reacting to a wide variety of options. Even better would be a learning system that could take the granular results of diagnostic testing and create a customized program that meets the needs of each specific student. Finally, if these results were available to the teacher to help with her or his planning, that would be best. Individualization of education is one of the most important trends of the digital future, and this starts with effective tools.

Finally, though it is less important to students than to school, the delivery system, specifically the versatility of the delivery system. Are these resources available on any platform? Are they restricted by a proprietary distribution method? Do they interact easily with other learning tools. This is an area where publishers will need to be pushed, as their inclination will be to protect materials by locking them down, and only by a concentrated effort on the part of schools to favor and purchase materials that are more open and more adapted to universal standards will publishers be forced to comply.

The conversion from paper to digital texts is an opportunity to correct mistakes and make something better, or we can make the same mistakes and let others dictate the model based on financial advantage and not student learning.

As always, I welcome your comments





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Day 11: Spittin’ Image

Friday, 12. December 2014 7:26 | Author:

Don't have time to write today, so I thought I'd post a picture of what my principals got me for Christmas.

I was overwhelmed

As always, I welcome your comments.


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Day 10: We’ll Raise a Cup of Kindness.

Thursday, 11. December 2014 4:40 | Author:

I wrote about this briefly on Facebook a while back, but I wanted to develop it further.

A few weeks ago, I was shopping at the grocery store, and I noticed a change as I went down the coffee aisle. I was searching for the instant coffee that I drink in the morning, a section I have seen shrinking for quite some time (when was the last time when you met an oddball who drank instant coffee?). However, as I looked back over the aisle, I noticed a new balance of power, a visual tipping point on aisle three.

For the first time, I saw that the aisle space dedicated to traditional cans of coffee had been surpassed by boxes of K-cups. Between different brands and innumerable different favors, the Keurig (and copycat brands) instant single cup delivery system seems to have triumphed over the traditional pot (or the college student cup O'instant).

Never one to see a cigar as just a cigar, I immediately moved to greater implications of this ground shift. The clear predominance of this new technology makes statements about the users. It represents the movement away from the communal pot toward the individual cup. No need to share a single flavor, every drinker looks out for himself. I know there is a commercial for a multi-cup Keurig machine, but this somewhat defeats the purpose. It is an offshoot of the Starbucks mentality, let's all go in and have our own thing. Even the communal experience is highly individualistic. Keurig means I'm looking out for number 1.

More disturbing to me is the ecological choice made by The K-cup klatch. Every cup has its own disposable delivery system, plastic to go into landfills. I felt the same about daily contact lenses…not for the lenses themselves, but for the huge amount of plastic and metal trashed daily in delivery. Although some K-cup boxes boast of their environmentally friendly recyclable cups, it is a false comfort ignoring the energy that goes into the recycling process. I know that there are reusable cups, but I would love to see statistics about their use. Even apart from the plastic and paper, the K-cup uses far more coffee per cup than traditional drip in order to reach the correct saturation during the high-speed dispensing process. With every K-cup, we dispose of useable coffee. The culture of Keurig is the culture of waste.

So I grabbed my cheap instant coffee and went to checkout, leaving behind a store display and a lesson about modern humanity.

Hmmm, a cup of coffee sounds good now.

As always, I welcome your comments.



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Day 9: What Isn’t There

Wednesday, 10. December 2014 5:42 | Author:

As we take our walk with the dogs at night, we walk by what used to be the holiday house, a house with such amazing decorations and animations that it was a yearly feature on the television news. Ever since we moved here twelve years ago, it has been a yearly tradition to walk over on Thanksgiving night (the first night they were lit) to join the crowds enjoying the yearly spectacle, and looking for what new features the designer had created. Every night during the holiday season, the holiday house was a stopping point while walking the dogs, enjoying the lights and talking with the owners and neighbors. The holiday house became a gathering point through the season, a place to see people that you didn’t see any other time.

But last year there was an additional sign announcing it to be the “finale” since the owners were moving out of state. Last year’s viewings were bitter sweet, as every visit was colored with the knowledge that it was all coming to an end. On January 2, when the house went dark for the last time, it was the last time. Soon there followed the For Sale sign, the garage sale (where Toni bought many of the decorations), and the moving truck. Come November 1 this year, we missed the month-long setup for the great reveal. Now, there’s nothing. The new owners don’t put out any decorations, and the house looks very dark, a darkness that is permanent. As many Christmases as we live here, we will never see that display again.

Most are aware that David Letterman has announced that he will be retiring from The Later Show next year. I’ve watched Letterman from his early days on NBC, and though I am no longer able to stay up to watch, I still enjoy parts of his show online. In a few days, the show will feature Darlene Love singing my favorite secular Christmas song, “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home,” a yearly holiday tradition since 1989. I was watching the first time she sang, and have marveled over the years as the production has grown to include an orchestra, backup singers, a baritone saxophone player who always makes some sort of an entrance, and snow at the end (if you haven’t ever seen this, go to YouTube and search for Darlene Love, Letterman. Go ahead, I’ll wait…pretty spectacular, huh?)

This week Darlene Love announced that this final holiday season of the Letterman Show will be her final performance of the song on late night TV. She will not take this tradition to any other show, including the new Late Show with Stephen Colbert. This will be the last time, and then it will be gone.

This season makes us recognize the many good things that we have, but in the midst of this glowing gratitude, there is a shadow recognition of the things we don’t have any more, the things and people who have gone from our lives that will never return. So let’s enjoy what is there this year (including the last performance of “Christmas, Baby Please Come Home.”) and let’s remember with fondness (and some sadness) the things, the times, the people, who aren’t there.

As always, I welcome your comments.




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Day 8: That’s Cold!

Tuesday, 9. December 2014 3:42 | Author:

This may be one that might irk a few people…sorry in advance.

Christmas carols are joyous and sad and nostalgic and funny, and at least one is downright creepy.

“Baby, It's Cold Outside,” was written in 1944 by Frank Loesser and was first sung by Ricardo Montalban and Ester Williams in the MGM movie Neptune's Daughter (the song was reprised in the same film by Red Skelton and Betty Garrett). It has been recorded by countless duos in the succeeding years including Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Jordan, Zooey Deschanel and Will Farrell, and Dolly Parton and Rod Stewart.

The song is written as a dialogue between two characters designated as “Mouse” and “Wolf” on the original score. Through flattery, alcohol, and the threat of outdoor temperatures, the wolf persuades the mouse to “see it his way” and stay into the night. It's a beloved holiday classic.

But beneath the jingle bells is a darker reality. The wolf of our story is not anxious to keep the mouse out of the cold for mere companionship. If the name “wolf” isn't enough to tip you off, his smooth patter and double reference to her “delicious” lips betray his true intent. “Mind if I move in closer?” could be a subtitle of the entire song. Music, alcohol, cigarettes, and warmth are tools of a typical seduction.

And perhaps this wouldn't be so creepy if it ended here, but several lines would be danger signs in any time. “Say, what's in this drink?” reads like a headline from current news. Her continued resistance for herself and her reputation is ignored. “The answer is no,” should be the end of things, but it is only one more step toward the inevitable. His words are even more sinister, referring to her resistance as hurting his pride, and urging her to “get over this hold out.”

As much as the clever song suggests that the mouse has ultimately given in to her own true desire, it seems to me that she has been held against her will, perhaps drugged, and pressured to overcome her final decision.


As always, I welcome your comments


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