excerpt from “How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life” by Peter Robinson
Journal Entry, June 2002:
Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. “The pony joke?” Meese replied. “Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.”
The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.
First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”
Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, ‘There must be a pony in here somewhere.'”
As our district moves to a 1:1 model for students and staff alike, [A] what practices can we put in place to encourage responsible technology use? And [B] are there exemplars of device user agreements, specifically for younger elementary students (2nd/3rd grade), to set the groundwork for later years? With those guiding questions in mind, these past few weeks I’ve been exploring ISTE Teacher Standard 4.
Promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility
Teachers understand local and global societal issues and responsibilities in an evolving digital culture and exhibit legal and ethical behavior in their professional practices.
With Standard 4 in mind, how do we work achieve goals A & B? The optimist might look at things and say, “We can do this! We’ll find a magical device that will meet all of our needs. Maybe an iPad or a Surface Pro. Kids today know all about technology — they’ll know how to use them. And if they try to misbehave, our I.T. folks will have all our bases covered. People are going to write research papers about our amazing results. It’s gonna be great!” But blind optimism with only surface-deep planning is often a recipe for disaster [see Los Angeles Unified School District’s infamous iPad plan].
The pessimist’s response is more common in the educational world. District leaders think about the headaches that come with technology purchases and decide to prioritize limited resources elsewhere. They talk about value-added growth measures and question (wisely, at times) whether or not technology provides an adequate return on investment, often focusing on highly publicized disasters such as LAUSD’s iPads. They focus more on locking down access to bandwidth, email, rights, and privileges, not to deny student achievement, but acting in fear of what might happen. “Give ‘em an inch, and they’ll be hacking computers.”
“Are you an optimist or a pessimist?” my own kids asked me as I was writing this piece. Would I dive headfirst into the pile to find that missing pony or cry over the toys and over what might happen.? Optimist or pessimist? Which approach will work? I would argue for Option C, pragmatist. I’m looking at that room full of manure and I’m thinking, “We could sell that manure and get someone else to shovel it out. And if there’s a pony in there? Endless supply of manure! And if we posted on social media about our new school-based business: Let’s Doo It! [trademark pending] Think about the learning opportunities for our staff and students…”
Goal A: Responsible Tech Use
I could talk for hours on the value of focusing on digital citizenship, but I’ll be mercifully brief here. Instead I’ll direct you to two outstanding resources that provide more information than I could fit into this article:
Digital Citizenship: Resource Roundup (Edutopia) http://www.edutopia.org/article/digital-citizenship-resources
K-12 Digital Citizenship Curriculum (Common Sense Media)https://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/digital-citizenship
Goal B: Device User Agreement
As our students and staff are shifting closer to a 1:1 device model, I think a pragmatic approach would be to focus on getting out in front of problems before they arise. What do we expect from our students with regards to technology use? While they are certainly digitally native, they’re most certainly not digitally savvy. Students’ relative lack of fear with regards to technology is not an inherently good or bad thing. It can definitely get them into trouble in a hurry (e.g. unwise use of social media). On the other hand, their lack of fear is a quality that many educational staff would be wise to emulate in moderation. Making mistakes is okay, and modeling how to respond to mistakes is an area where we grown-ups often miss out on teaching opportunities.
With that in mind, I feel that one low-cost, high-impact approach would be a device-specific user agreement. In this case, I focused on a Chromebook user agreement for 3rd-5th graders at my school. There are a lot of misguided examples of student forms to be found online, often filled with legalese and educational jargon. They often focus on costs and restrictions, and are one-size-fits-all (one form for K-12 students). Going back to Goal A, digital citizenship must be embedded into learning to be successful and to find meaning. Very few of the examples I found online included elements of digital citizenship, and of those, fewer still went beyond merely a vague reference to the digital citizenship skills and learning involved.
The K-12, one-size-fits-all approach is one of the biggest blunders that many in education leadership make. In the world of educational technology, oftentimes the K-12 approach is the easy way when it comes to those in I.T. leadership. Uniformity allows for ease of response, opportunities for streamlined training, and for optimized repair and maintenance plans. But uniformity is not an effective practice at a classroom level. Each child is different, each classroom different, each teacher different, each grade level team different… the list could go on and on. While many in leadership roles spend a great deal of time crafting the perfect mission statement, arguing over semantics of whether saying “each child” is more impactful than “every child” or “leaving no child behind”, they lose sight of the fact that there needs to be flexibility and freedom in how we empower our teachers.
Teachers need tools. Not tool. Tools, plural. What works for one teacher or child may not be needed in the classroom two doors down. A user agreement for K-12 is destined to fail in its goals. There needs to be a user agreement for kindergarten students and parents. A different form for 1st or 2nd graders and their parents. A different user agreement for 5th graders than for 12th graders. And we need to revisit the idea often: why are we having them sign the form to begin with? Is it merely to warn them off of undesired behaviors? And if so, what message does that send? If not, does the document truly reflect our goals?
SBA testing requirements have resulted in an incredible influx of Chromebooks in my school. A wonderful opportunity for students, but with little guidance or time to prepare, we as a staff soon found ourselves in a room with a pony (including aforementioned pony byproduct). Nuts and bolts issues, such as how to plug/unplug devices or how to properly carry Chromebooks, soon took center stage as staff found they were having to constantly deal with the effects of poor/misinformed choices on the part of students. Working with a fellow teacher at my school, we developed a Chromebook user agreement for our 4th and 5th grade students:
Redondo Beach Unified School District http://tes-rbusd-ca.schoolloop.com/file/1244185264194/1406346522769/1457584482771379047.pdf
South Orangetown Central School District https://blogs.socsd.org/soms/files/2015/06/somschromebookprogram-t1aguu.pdf
In developing this Chromebook user agreement, our hope is that this document can be used to guide conversations before/during/after using the devices, not only between student and teacher, but also with parents. And in the inevitable moments of missteps by students, this document can guide conversations about learning from mistakes rather than repeating them ad infinitum.
There’s gotta be a pony in there somewhere and I think I’ve found it…
In writing this post, my mind kept drifting to one of my favorite new books from this past school year, Kate Beaton’s The Princess and the Pony. Princess Pinecone is small but mighty and longs to be a princess warrior. Her birthday wish and dream of a battle-ready horse is shattered when she finds that her newly-gifted trusty steed is in fact, a corpulent and flatulent pony with a lazy eye. But rather than focusing on her plump equine’s shortcomings, she trains the horse for battle as best she’s able and rides the odiferous beast to greater achievement than she ever thought possible.
What’s any of that have to do with our Chromebooks and user agreements? It’s a stretch, but here goes… We’ve been gifted a pony (carts full of Chromebooks) and a pile of manure to boot (little training or additional supports provided). We could focus on the shortcomings of our pony (Chromebooks are definitely not perfect) and its lazy eye (our students don’t always see things clearly either) and its emissions (…) or we can take the pony we have into battle (teaching our students and not just focusing on SBA) after adequate training and preparation (ongoing professional development must be a part of any successful technology plan). Princess Pinecone’s moment of victory was not a fluke; it was the direct result of finding the right tool for the right teacher, who fully utilized the tools she was given.
Now go find your pony. It’s gotta be around here somewhere…
Geuss, M. (2016, May 13). After LAUSD iPad program failure, Apple’s help spurs success in other schools | Ars Technica. Retrieved from http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/05/after-lausd-ipad-program-failure-apples-help-spurs-success-in-other-schools/
International Society for Technology in Education. (n.d.). Standards for teachers. Retrieved from http://www.iste.org/standards/ISTE-standards/standards-for-teachers
Jefferson Elementary Chromebook user agreement (4th/5th grade) https://docs.google.com/document/d/1L0rgRwkT1B4C7nYD9BSox_4VQLZ44vF2V4PB1KppepQ/edit?usp=sharing
Morales, T. (2003, July 30). Writing for Ronald Reagan | CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/writing-for-ronald-reagan/
Robinson, P. (2004). Chapter 1: The pony in the dung heap. In How Ronald Reagan changed my life (pp. 15-16). New York, NY: Regan Books.
Manure pile http://modernfarmer.com/2014/08/manure-usa/
Pony from “The Princess and the Pony” by Kate Beaton (ISBN 978-0545637084) http://amzn.to/1TGAN6V