Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Make your classroom more like Wawa

Those of us who live in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey love our Wawa. For those of you who have never been to a Wawa, it’s like a 7-eleven, Sheetz or any convenience store/gas station... only better (in my opinion).  For more about Wawa’s business model, read here.  Although you can get just about anything you want to eat at a Wawa, they are especially known for their hoagies. If you don’t know what a hoagie is, check out this map, as you probably call it something else.
After returning from a recent trip to Florida where they only have a handful of Wawa’s, we stopped and got a hoagie for lunch. The process for ordering a hoagie at Wawa (or just about anything else made fresh) involves walking up to a touch screen and selecting a multitude of options. Do you want your whole hoagie toasted or just the roll?  How big of a hoagie do you want?  What kind of meat? What kind of cheese(s) do you want to add?  Do you want to add bacon? (ummm, yeah) What kind of condiments do you want on your hoagie (there are about 50)?   Do you want vegetables (there are about 30)? You get the point. Each hoagie is customizable and individualized as the customer wants it.
When Wawa first started using the touch screen technology years ago, no one taught me how to use the touch-screen. I walked right up and started to hit buttons. Occasionally, I would make a mistake and have to go back and make a change to my order. I learned how to use the technology to get exactly what I wanted in a hoagie. For those who are uncomfortable using the touch screen, there are pre-made hoagies and sandwiches that are not as fresh and created based on the desire of the sandwich maker, not the customer. The hoagie makers probably do their best to guess what customers might want to buy, but when you walk into most Wawa’s, few customers buy these pre-made hoagies. They would rather order a hoagie their way and wait a few extra minutes to get it exactly they way they want it.

So why does a customer at a convenience store get more customization, choice, and individualization than the students in our classrooms and schools? Why are many of our students left with the “choice” of  a pre-made, one-size-fits-all education in which we,  the sandwich makers, determine the best type of hoagie for our students to eat.  One doesn’t need touch screen technology, laptops, or other “technologies” (although it helps to give more choices and options) to individualize learning. The truth is, learning should ALWAYS be about the learner, not the teacher.  Learning by nature,  is an individual act.  Our classrooms need to provide more choices, options, and decisions so that our students can make the best decisions for THEIR learning.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The yin and yang of connecting and dis-connecting.

I've been thinking a lot recently about how we communicate. Since the dawn of man, the role of the story and storytelling has been a key ingredient in communicating ideas, purposes, and events. And as man evolved from cave paintings to hand-written symbols to written language, technology has always amplified the ability of man to communicate. Whether it was the printing press, email, and now social media, mankind has always been driven by a will to tell their story.

So in this age of youtube, vine, twitter, facebook, and blogging, (along with a multitude of other social networks and web based platforms for storytelling)  are we considering whether the stories we tell have value? Are we considering the purpose of the stories we are unintentionally telling on a minute to minute basis?  Whenever we hit "post" or "tweet", we are creating new threads in our own personal story quilt. Whenever we send that video to youtube or respond to a blog post, we are adding to a socially constructed story as well. And I'm certainly not advocating that we stop doing any of this. I'm just wondering whether we are as morally and consciously aware that with each keystroke, we are not only adding content, we are adding new chapters to a book that has no end in sight.

As a connected adult who is constantly checking social media,email, and reading posts online, I am wondering whether this hyper-connectivity comes at a cost.  Recent studies like this and this have forced me to acknowledge my addictions. (They say the first step is admitting you have a problem).  Have we forsaken relationships in our physical location for relationships in the "cloud"?  If the answer to the ills of public education and learning comes down to relationships, we need to ensure that we are watering and fertilizing both kinds simultaneously.  And obviously, this has tremendous impact on our students personal and academic lives. Not only do we need to model connectivity and dis-connectivity, we need to have conversations about it as well.

I guess my internal struggle right now is about finding balance. It's about living and breathing in a world that increasingly demands us to be connected to learn and grow, while seeking moderation and bringing that learning back to deepen the relationships in our physical location. It's about picking up a good old fashioned book while also flipping through twitter and an rss feed to read the opinions of those I respect and admire (even when I disagree).  It's about putting the phone, tablet, and laptop away during a meeting. Not because the notes one can take from the meeting aren't important, but because the eye contact and deep conversation creates a  connection that is essential to change in our schools and classrooms.

Ironically, this blog post is being published while I lay on a beach in Maui. I'm not telling you that to make you jealous (ok, maybe a little bit), but I didn't write it while in Maui. I wrote it two weeks ago and set it to publish on its due date. I turned off my work email, left twitter (for the most part) behind, and disconnected my digital life to spend my honeymoon connecting with my wife.   Just as much as using technology to connect can reap great relationship rewards, disconnecting every once in awhile affords many amazing ones as well.