How do Digital Natives beat their drums?

How do Digital Natives beat their drums?  It sounds like the beginning of a bad “Dad” joke.  However, in education, every since Marc Prensky coined the term in 2001, there has been non-stop debate about the term Digital Native. Mr. Prensky used the term to rightfully describe a generation of people who had been born in an era where digital technology was widely accessible and prevalent.  It makes sense.  I mean, the students in K-12 right now have never existed on an Earth where cell phones or the internet haven’t existed.

The problem arises, I believe, when educators start trying to interpret the word “native.”  Since most educators could be considered analog natives, or even pre-technology natives, we think that the word implies the native person knows everything about what they are native about.  However, there is error inherent in that thinking.  For example, most Americans are native-born English speakers.  However, it takes 12+ years of taking English classes to come close to being considered a master of our native language.  Whereas a non-native takes English courses to learn to read, write, listen, and speak English and become almost as proficient within a couple of years of use.  In some cases (higher-education cases) a student from a foreign country learns English better than a native speaker because they’ve had reason to extensively research and study it.  Being a “native” of something is a label that means we have a disadvantage to what we are native to it.  Not because we can’t use it, but because it is so common, we don’t think to explore or use it in different ways.

So, how does this translate to technology?  If the students we are teaching now are so used to having the internet (another thing they don’t realize wasn’t always around), they don’t know how to use it functionally or in specific ways.  This is when it is vital that every teacher is reinforcing some sort of Digital Citizenship as part of their core curriculum.  The students know how to copy and paste.  They just don’t know when it is appropriate or not.  The students know how to look up a YouTube video, they just don’t know how to analyze it to take notes in a flipped learning environment.

So why should we shift our interpretation of the definition of digital natives?  I’ll give you another conundrum as an explanation, the file extension “gif.”  It stands for Graphic-interface.  It is an image file that is mostly conducive to its use of short animation clips.  It was coined by Mr. Wilhite in 1987.  Most people pronounce it with a hard “G” like the word gift without the “t”.  The problem is that when Mr. Wilhite created the term, he pronounced it jif (like the peanut butter) with a soft “G”.  The interesting thing is that there was a pronunciation shift in society during the 90’s.  Seems weird, I know.  This is where scientific and engineering terms spelled with a “G” shifted from a soft “G” to a hard “G.”  I would attribute it to the movie Back to the Future.  When Doc Brown pronounces the measurement of energy as “jig-a-watts.”  For the first time scientists and computer engineers heard it pronounced in open conversation.  I think with the memory of computers starting to increase, computer engineers started thinking of computer memory as “jig-a-bytes” being shortened to “jigs.”  This in turn was too close to an insensitive racial slur.  That is when I believe, the scientific community chose to shift the pronunciation to a hard “G” giving us gigabytes instead.  


So, how does this apply?  It shows how the computer field has historically changed the pronunciation or definition of a word to better reflect society.  In this case, we change the definition of “native” to mean a person who is casually familiar with a topic enough to discount its importance until necessary.   In this case, Digital Natives are students who are so casually familiar with their technology, they dismiss the appropriate, ethical, or creative uses of the devices in question (i.e.: digital technology) to solve problems.

So, How do Digital Natives beat their drums?  With key-strokes.  Like I said, a bad “Dad” joke.



Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants.  Marc Prensky (2001),%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf


21st Century Teaching

I recently read a blog that elaborated on the 21st-century skills every student needs.  You can see the blog here:  It’s not really that much different than the framework created by  However, it got me thinking.  Why are so many businesses or corporations repeating themselves about these skills?  Is it that students are being graduated from high school or college without them? Or, is there something deeper wrong?

I’ve been an educator for almost 20 years, and an instructional coach for the past six.  The more I think about it, the more I wonder if it’s not a question of what are the 21st-century skills that students need, so much as what are the 21st-century skills that teachers need to make students workforce ready?  Maybe it is time for us to shift our thinking from students to the teachers.

There have been a few writers explore this shift, such as Gayle Allen in her book The New Pillars of Modern Teaching. In her book, she explores the needed shift from instruction/curriculum/assessment to design/curation/feedback.  I believe this is a good start.  However, I’m not sure it’s enough to really impact teachers.  When I enter a classroom for a learning walk or observation, there are eight student-driven things I look for:

  1. Examples of student voice
  2. Opportunities for student choice
  3. Time for authentic reflection
  4. Opportunities for innovation
  5. Examples of critical thinking
  6. Opportunities or examples of problem finding, not just solving
  7. Student self assessment
  8. Connected learning

When I work with my teachers, I adopt a type of 21st-century mindset that I urge them towards as well.  Although I’ve never put it down in writing until now, I work to shift my teacher’s mindsets in four different categories:

  • Digital-pedagogical Literacy
  • Character Building
  • Instructional Design
  • Assessing for Curation

Digital-pedagogical Literacy is best described as the ability for an educator to create networks and build a library of information for students to access that relates to the 4C’s: Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration.  It is based on George Siemens’ learning theory called Connectivism (published in Jan 2005).  This literacy includes the teacher’s ability to understand that learning is not primarily based upon the accumulation of information, but access to the information for direct application as well.  It comprises the majority of the context of what was previously taught in the classroom.

Character Building sounds like a 1970’s macho summer camp curriculum.  Instead, it is all about helping instill qualities needed for life: leadership, adaptability, persistence/grit, initiative, and curiosity.  These are done in such a manner as to connect to prosocial intrinsic behavior.  Whereby the students work collectively towards helping others either within a team or outwardly to solve a social problem in such a way that it reinforces those same five traits.

Instructional Design is very similar to what it was in the 20th-century.  The difference comes from the shift in loci.  Instead of the design being based upon what the best way to relay the context or content, the focus centers around students.  The teacher begins to design lessons where the intended outcome is a student driven classroom that looks identical regardless if the teacher is present or not (if out sick and replaced with a sub).  These lessons can only be designed once a positive respectful relationship has been built between the teacher and the students.

Finally, Assessing for Curation is not about quizzes or tests.  It is about creating an atmosphere where the teachers build student self-efficacy.  The students gain confidence in what they are doing by continually self-assessing their own progress and celebrating successes as they happen.  Sometimes this takes the form of gamification in the classroom, sometimes it is just a self-assessment.  The main point is that the use of assessments are not for grades, but rather as a measurement of where the learning is at a certain point in time.

Perhaps there are other categories or descriptors that better define what a teacher should be doing differently in the 21st-century.  


Allen, Gayle (2016) The New Pillars of Modern Teaching

Siemens, George (2005) Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age

Hu, Jia and Robert Liden (2014) Making a Difference in the Teamwork: Linking Team Prosocial Motivation to Team Processes and Effectiveness

Instructional Design: A Cautionary Approach

What is the purpose of Instructional Design?  To some perspectives, the answer might lie in the alignment or calibration of curricular needs to ensure equity of education.  In other groups, the answer may rest in the need to inspire students towards self-efficacy.  From my experience, to an instructional coach, the truth lies somewhere in between both of these goals.  We have to live in a happy balance of both curricular focus and student-driven curriculum.  

However, there are a couple of pitfalls when we attempt to reconcile these two mediums.  The first is the definition of curriculum.  I am writing from the great state of Texas in the good ole USA.  Unfortunately, for educators here, there is an actual legal definition of curriculum.  That definition is our TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) standards.  So to the average (much less beginning) educator, when they are told to focus on the curriculum, they are focusing on the standards.  These standards (much like the US Common Core Standards) do not include any form of soft skills such as self-efficacy, grit, ownership, integrity, spirit, curiosity, etc. much less classroom behavior.  As experienced teachers know, these soft skills become the cornerstone of all the learning of the standards and content knowledge.

The second pitfall is our addiction to quantitative analysis.  Why do I call it an addiction?  Quantitative analysis provides us with an answer that is usually very easy to interpret.  We don’t have to stop and think in order to understand what we are seeing.  The problem lies in that we become overwhelmed with the data and forget to investigate the context of the data itself.

For example, there is a sweeping trend among educational administrators across Texas to refer to Dr. John Hattie’s research on what affects student learning outcomes.  He explains that an affect size of 0.40 is equal to one year’s growth and then provides us with categories and their affect sizes.  His research spans six continents and hundreds of thousands of students, so his validity is very high.  An enamored administrator may look at his list and think “Ooh, Teacher Estimates of Achievement has a 1.62 affect size.  How do we ramp that up to have a larger impact on our students?” This is great, but then we step back and think to ourselves, that we want our classrooms to be student-centered, with students having control over their learning.  The problem is, when we look at Hattie’s list, Student-centered Teaching has an affect size of 0.36 (Direct Instruction is 0.60 for comparison) and Student Control Over Learning has an affect size of 0.01.  Neither one of these items though have context behind them to explain the low affect sizes.  For example, did the instruments used to develop these affect sizes measure what was occurring or what was probable?  Was the measurements taken in classrooms where student-centered anything wasn’t an option, therefore it didn’t warrant an impact?  If the study is focusing on impacts on student learning, what defines the learning?

On the other hand, when we are presented with qualitative analysis, we often get bogged down with trying to understand the nuances of what is occurring in the descriptions or dialogue of the examples.  Fortunately, some of those researchers also employ some sort of Sense-Making to provide us with categories to better understand the information.

For example, most educators have heard of Dr. Schlechty’s works on student engagement.  His center created a system that focuses on instructional design through the use of ten research-based Design Qualities: Content & Substance, Product Focus, Organization of Knowledge, Clear & Compelling Product Standards, Protection from Adverse Consequences for Initial Failures, Affiliation, Affirmation, Choice, Novelty & Variety, and Authenticity.  This instructional coaching system is all about creating student voice in such a way that the student feels empowered to learn more on their own.  This is different than the quantitative example, because in Hattie’s inventory list of 250 affects, student empowerment and student voice is not measured.   Below, is a table that compares Schlechty’s Design qualities to some of the Hattie inventory and their affect size.

Schlechty and Hattie
The beginning of this blog talked about finding a balance between both curriculum alignment and student inspiration.  All researchers agree that instruction needs to be designed.  It is interesting that the Schlechty model expects teachers to develop a spec sheet that helps define who they are designing for, while Hattie’s highest ranking inventory item, Teacher Estimates of Achievement (1.62 affect size), revolves around the teachers knowing their students.  In reality, design always requires the fore knowledge of who we are designing for.  So, how should we as instructional coaches approach instructional design?

Peter Dewitt in his book, Collaborative Leadership, talks about collaboration between instructional leaders and the impact on student learning.  “It starts with the self-efficacy of teachers, moves into the sense of collective efficacy, and ends with collective teacher efficacy.”  The collective efficacy ideals with the transference of a feeling of confidence of accomplishment between teacher and student.  As a side note, Collective Teacher Efficacy has a 1.57 Hattie affect size as a result.  Therefore, in order to have the highest affect on student learning, we have to examine how we are motivating our teachers and empowering them so that the efficacy is transferred to their students, thus resulting in the highest impact.  In tandem, interviewing students and witnessing their excitement while participating in a lesson that has been designed with Schlechty’s model results in a confirmation of learning.  So, in walking the line as an instructional designer, I will count my steps and pay attention to how I walk as well.

Allen, Gayle (2016) The New Pillars of Modern Teaching.

Bracey, Gerald, W. (2006) Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered.

Dewitt, Peter, M. (2017) Collaborative Leadership: Six Influences That Matter Most.

Schlechty, Phillip C. (2011) Engaging Students: The Next Level of Working on the Work.


Reconciling 21st Century skills with Career Competencies

In their recent blog, Why We Desperately Need to Rethink College and Career Readiness, Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers wrote about integrating 21st century skills into career readiness courses.  They write focused a bit on history and the paradigm shift from vocational skills to college readiness with a follow up statement imploring educators to bring back vocational classes updated with those 21st century skills.  However, what would that look like?

When I take a close look at the 21st Century Skill list that pertains to learning, we see the 4C’s: Collaboration, Communication, Creativity, and Critical Thinking.  These are the same four soft skills that get integrated into every core subject that we teach in school.  The focus, unfortunately, does seem to stay on just these 4C’s.  However, if we start looking at the whole, broad picture of the p21 framework, we see a separate category dedicated to Life and Career Skills.  The idea being that these soft skills are what companies are looking for after high school graduation.  However, in an interview with the Huffington Post, Google list five distinct key dynamics that potential employees need to be part of a successful team

21st Century Life & Career Skills

Google 5 Key Dynamics to a Successful Team

Flexibility and Adaptability Psychological Safety
Initiative and Self-Direction Dependability
Social and Cross-Cultural Skills Structure & Clarity
Productivity and Accountability Meaning
Leadership and Responsibility Impact

These two lists are not mutually exclusive.  For example, if we look at Leadership and Responsibility, we are defining how an employee takes ownership for a project and leads other to success.  Similarly, Google’s “Meaning” is referring to how work is personally important to team members.

Overall though, what does this look like in a set curriculum?  If we were to condense the two lists down into similar terms (or just choose one over the other), we could create student learning objectives (SLO) for these categories (or dynamics).  The SLO would then be put into place with some sort of measuring instrument so that each lesson or project performed in the classroom could be associated with it.  So, if I had students creating a portable, model airplane for an Aeronautics course, I could measure the level of competency or master the students had over their Productivity and Accountability based on their ability to:

  • Work positively and ethically
  • Manage time and projects effectively
  • Multi-task
  • Participate actively, as well as be reliable and punctual
  • Present oneself professionally and with proper etiquette
  • Collaborate and cooperate effectively with teams
  • Respect and appreciate team diversity
  • Be accountable for results  

All of which I could measure with a predetermined simple rubric similar to the one below:


Low Performing


On-Level Performing


Above Level Performing

Student can only work on one action at a time resulting in frustration, poor time management, and disagreeable attitude towards team members. Student works well and respectfully with team members.  They multitask when necessary to meet time constraints. Student takes ownership of project and leads in a professional and ethical manner.  They help and inspire the quality of the product focus so that all members feel successful.

The idea being that we don’t just measure the mastery level of a student at any moment in time, but rather the growth of the student over time.  A student might start out at a level 1 in the first project, but over the course of one semester and say, 10 projects, they have an average of 1.5.  This is possible because it shows the inconsistency that accompanies growth of learning over a period of time.  The student has still grown, and the evidence shows a growth at a rate that may be more or less than other students in the class.  It is important to note here though, never compare the growth of one student to another.  It can easily demoralize the slower growing student and hinder future relationships, both peer-peer as well as student-teacher.

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The Tech Who Cried Wolf

Once upon a time there was a little shepherd who grew bored out in the fields while tending his flock.  So, to spice up his life, he cried Wolf! and everyone in town came running.  However, there was no wolf to be seen.  Over the next two days, the little shepherd repeated his act twice more out of boredom.  On the fourth day, while the shepherd was tending his flock a wolf showed up.  Once again, he cried, Wolf!  Only, this time, the town folk ignored him because they assumed he was lying again.

I thought of this story on my drive into work this morning and how it relates to technology in education and society.  So many people seem to have the “drive-thru,” fast-food ideology anymore that seems to fit in with this story.  When we announce to our readers that there is a concern, update, or new information, I often wonder how many people are actually pausing to listen to the message.  We seem to hear everything, and listen to very little anymore.  For example, I recently started a student technology-update blog for my campus.  I send it out to the students about every 2-3 days with tidbits that they might find interesting or useful.  The first one I sent out measured over 1300 hits, which is great on a campus of 2800 plus.  However, the second entry only measured just over 300 hits, which is not so great.

Given that research shows that adults only absorb about seven chunks of information at any given time, and students have about a 7-10 minute attention span for information, I wonder how we are reaching the people we need to.  I’m beginning to believe that we walk a fine line between communication and sensory overload when it comes to technology.  I myself tend to subscribe to blogs or newsletters that I find interesting, only to mute those subscriptions after a short while.  What do you think the appropriate time length is between each communication?

Innovation Found in Interesting Questions? #IMMOOC

While I don’t usually watch TV shows dealing with Medical drama, there is a new show that recently started called The Good Doctor that I did have the opportunity to watch.  The premise is that a young doctor is recently hired to be a resident surgeon at a prestigious hospital in California.  The catch is that the doctor (Murphy) has been diagnosed with high-functioning Autism and Savant Syndrome.  While these qualities are interesting enough for the majority of the audience, I found something deeper in the pilot episode that made me think about innovation in education.  You see, the writers have created a character that explores almost taboo or atypical topics with questions:

Dr Murphy: (speaking to the lead surgeon who had just admonished him for not belonging at the hospital alluding to his disability) I saw a lot of surgeons in Medical School.  You are much better than them.  I have a lot to learn from you.  (pause) You are very arrogant.  Do you think that helps you be a good surgeon?  Does it hurt you as a person? Is it worth it?

These simple probing questions attack the very nature of the problem at hand.  Yet, because they are asked with no aggression, they become very real questions.  In my experience, innovation occurs when we define a problem at it’s root cause. We can then begin the creative process of brainstorming and think of solutions before implementing them.  The biggest hindrance to innovation always seems to be the stumbling block of defining the problem.  When was the last time you asked a direct and atypical question that attacked the heart of a problem?

Perhaps I am an atypical educator and father.  I read about teaching students how to ask questions in Make Just One Change by Rothstein and Santana.  Since that time, when I pick my children up from school, I stopped asking how their day went.  Instead, I started asking them what interesting questions they had asked during the day.  In some cases, my son (in Middle School) will respond with a question that leads to an interesting discussion.  Other times, he will state that he understood everything and didn’t need to ask any questions.  This last occurrence happens more frequently than the first.  This in turn leads me to wonder when, or how often, do teachers allow the students to explore or wonder about the lessons they are presenting.  Perhaps the hindrance to innovation is not in defining a problem, but rather a lack of the ability to ask interesting questions.

Could it be that assumptions about what we know prevent us from asking the important questions?  I don’t want to believe so, but perhaps I’m wrong.  In a lesson, we expect students to build on what they’ve already learned by activating prior knowledge.  What if the assumption that the prior knowledge was whole or complete and all answers to possible questions were previously remembered?  It is possible that the minutia of the details have escaped the understanding in our rush to get the lesson out, to cover the standards, to prove that a student has learned the material.  Of course this raises the question of when was the last time we listened rather than heard someone say something?

I’ll put it to you …What interesting questions have you or your students asked recently?

Teacher Perceptions

I recently had a conversation with one of my math teachers.  We were comparing notes on our classes and I was describing what my students were doing.  His response has stuck with me for a while now.  He said, “That sounds like a cake class.  I’ve always been a bell-to-bell teacher myself.”

Now, I know he didn’t mean it as an insult, and I guess I should put some context on this.  He teaches AP Calculus while I teach a Video Game Design class.  In my description, I told him how I had structured the class so that the students were having to teach themselves the coding.  I provide the resources and taught them the design, but they had to decide upon a language and teach themselves via an internet resource.  The have been developing a video game from concept all the way through creation and on to marketing.  The students are so empowered, I can’t even tempt most of them to play XBox games during class.  Meanwhile, my math friend was assigning 30-45 minute videos for students to watch every other night and still lecturing and practicing problem solving in his class.

So, as a jumping point, this conversation has me thinking about the difference between student engagement and student empowerment.  While his students historically do amazing on their AP exams, I wonder how much they remember after that.  Meanwhile, I’ve already had students asking if after the school year was over, if they could continue expanding and marketing their video games.  

I guess the difference in our teaching styles comes in two parts.  First, when we discuss students being engaged, I think we are talking about the students getting excited about the material that we as teachers want them to learn.  This is great, but what happens when the students are just engaging themselves to be compliant?  When they are empowered, they seem to truly take ownership of their learning.   

Secondly, I think about rigor.  I recently took part in a webinar on academic rigor and realized how many of us define it differently.  Thanks to, I now define rigor as difficulty + Complexity.  It takes place in an energetic learning environment that  fosters motivation, engagement, and inspiration.  Rigor is centered on investigative inquiry and collaboration between and among both teachers and learners.  So by this definition, I seem to be doing okay by my students.  However, it brings up an interesting dilemma.  If my peers don’t recognize what rigor should look like, how can my students?  I think that will be the subject of my next researched blog post.