Wednesday, December 10, 2014

More EdTech Books for Xmas, Please.

As is my tradition of combining my Christmas wishlist with my passion for innovation and strategic changes in the field of adult education, here's what I'm reading or would like to be reading (hint, hint - don't get them for me, get them for yourself and your coworkers!)

Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools
If you recall my frequent promotion of Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, this is the follow-up that puts meat on the bones and makes the blended learning prescription practical for educators.  My coworkers say the book gives them more ideas than they know what to do with, which is a pretty good way to start 2015.  Available here on Amazon.

Teaching Machines
A No.2 pencil is technology.  So is your whiteboard, that old reliable overhead projector, the challkboard, etc. That's where this book starts in chronicling the phenomenon of introducing new tools in education. What changes result? What's worked and what hasn't. Maybe when we're struggling to integrate the features of a new LMS or a student-centered learning portal we can look to the past for some pointers, because teachers have always been riding waves of innovation from the dawn of the classroom to the removal of the classroom walls. From what I see online, it looks like this author is at UVA, just an hour from me. I may have to reach out and say hey.  Available on Amazon here.

Learning As Fun
You had me at Angry Birds, though I feel silly thinking back on how much time I spent blitzing through the levels of that game, smashing everything in my path. Maybe I was learning important physics concepts?  It doesn't look like this one is actually about Angry Birds, thankfully.  From the publisher:

Drawing from the fields of motivational psychology, neuroscience and the philosophy of the mind, Learning as Fun shows that engagement, motivation and flow are the key factors in creating durable learning experiences, specifically in acquiring new skills and knowledge.

Sounds just like my boss talking about the latest update to GED Academy... The Kindle version is available through Amazon here.  

Monsters of Education Technology
Not to undersell this book (I already ordered mine on Amazon), but Audrey Watters is prolific on the web. Go read her now.  Since the book compiles her 2014 lectures, I'm guessing it's far-ranging and hard to synopsize. So, I included the table of contents, which is full of intrigue. And who doesn't like a good boogieman story? Or better yet, boogiemen debunked? Or both?  


Authentic Learning in the Digital Age: Engaging Students Through Inquiry 
Everywhere I go as an sales rep focused on adult education, I hear state-level admins and professional development trainers talking about securing deeper learning than the old drill and practice test prep through group work, exploring high-interest topics, and project based learning.  And my response is to agree vigorously and try to talk about the ways technology, especially Essential Education's tech tools, can play an important role in deepening instruction. This book, I'm hoping, will be a great resource for teachers creating lesson plans in previously uncharted waters.  Available on Amazon.   

How to Teach Adults
As I work to help teachers align their instruction to whichever high school equivalency exam their state is using, I'm seeing a lot of people looking for quick fixes and shortcuts and sometimes openly calling for a more remedial assessment, which really makes me uneasy.  Why are we educators in the first place?  The debate over focusing on short-term gains versus long-term skills makes wonder how much of the adult education equation is up for debate.  Maybe we need to start from the foundation and rebuild so we have a system that addresses a core adragogical mission in addition to passing scores on tests. The title says 'How' but all throughout he addresses the 'Why,' and I'll bet it strikes a chord with you.  Look for a future post about Dan Spalding's perspective on adult ed, because it's a good one. Get yours from the author directly.  

What Connected Educators Do Differently
It seems like techie teachers are just cut from a different cloth, but when you look at their lesson plans and their daily routines, it's not so hard to adopt some of their practices. This book will probably help with that, but you'll have to wait, because it comes out in February 2015 according to Amazon.

If you're squeamish about the idea of reading an edtech book (they're usually pretty exciting, actually), this one here may be a good primer. Or you can go back to my edtech book list from 2012 or the one from 2013.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Are We Making Our Learners Smarter or Dumber?

I'd like to blog about more of my inspirations as an educator, especially as I come across new stuff all the time via social media. Today, I listened to a talk by Annie Murphy Paul about intelligence being much more malleable and subjective than our learners' very finite and hard fought test scores may indicate.  The more I think about it, this is really timely for the field of adult ed, as the fundamental  mission is up for debate: credentials or skills? Short-term gain or better long-term outcomes?  Annie Murphy Paul may hold a missing piece of the puzzle for advocates of lifelong learning.

The work that she is doing has me thinking about the way we teach adults in the classroom and/or at a distance. The conditions that we create for our learners has a much deeper impact than I had really considered before. She talks about micro-environments that make our learners smarter or less smart. And I immediately think about how the technology tools we use make minds really uptight and anxious or comfortable and free-flowing.  What kind of micro-environments are being created by the various kinds of computer-based instruction software?

A few barely sketched out blog entries that I've been working on immediately come to mind and hopefully will get posted sooner than later thanks to the inspiring thoughts by Annie Murphy Paul.  Issues of empowerment, creativity, enjoyment and confidence come to mind. What are your reactions to this talk about how we get smarter? Is there anything that you'll start doing differently right now?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

GED Academy Now Even More Mobile

For whatever reason, some mobile device operating systems will not play Flash-based content.  For a while, it was just iOS, the operating systems on iPhones and iPads that refused flash.  And for a while, I simply recommended downloading the Puffin app for $1.99 (the free version, in my experience, doesn't work as well) when encouraging GED Academy use via mobile learning.

However, now that many Android devices (smart-phones and tablets) have joined in refusing to play flash, Puffin has added GED Academy to their list of edu-cational sites that you can visit without paying for their app.

Below, I'm including the instructions that Essential Education's lead trainer, Kirsten Thomas, sent around to the rest of us so we could spread the word. So, here I am spreading the word.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Evaluating Arguments: Interdisciplinary and Online

One of the great educational potentials of technology and distance learning is the awesome avalanche of information and perspectives that comprise the internet.  But what to do with all of it?  Who has time to sort through it all? Which parts of the information superhighway are going to be on the test?  How can we make the web relevant to each learner's college readiness needs and career pathway?  

The answer is to embrace it all and struggle with it until you develop the skills to make sense of it (with a teacher's facilitation).   

So, that's my intro for sharing several links from this month's Tuesdays with Essential Education webinar (email me at for an invite).  In this month's session, the topic was Evaluating Arguments, precisely the skill you need for separating fact from fiction, singling out correct answers, and comparing passages.  It's not just a discreet skill for solving one problem worth 12 points on one section of a high school equivalency test. 

Evaluating arguments is a transferable skill that is useful across multiple subject/content areas.  And it requires interdisciplinary teaching. Focusing on transferable skills and interdisciplinary teaching is going to be increasingly important in adult education, especially in light of the Common Core and College and Career Readiness Standards' impact... and the internet can help.  

For starters, here are a few links to assist with planning instruction for broadly impactful skills: 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Math Activities Using the Living Wage Calculator

There is a lot of talk about needing to make the skills and concepts taught in adult education programs truly meaningful and relevant to the lives of adult learners. I should know. I'm doing a good amount of that talking, personally (it's much bigger than me, obviously, and stems from the impact of Common Core and the College and Career Readiness standards).  That's why my jaw dropped when I heard this story on NPR's Marketplace radio show about Ikea setting its lowest wages according to something called the MIT Living Wage Calculator.

This calculator seems perfect for adult education classrooms and take-home activities.  Adult learners, almost across the board, are more motivated by the prospect of higher more sustainable wages than a credential or entry into college or even increased self-esteem.  Such a bleak reality is part of the fabric of the adult education mission, but it also presents an opportunity: lots of teachable moments that are usable in life beyond the classroom walls.  Learners could use the calculator to figure their local living wage, analyze the equation that resulted in that figure, what they might tweak to suit their own circumstances, etc. My head spins with ideas at the thought of it.

The nifty thing about MIT's Living Wage calculator is that it's actually getting traction where grassroots living wage campaigns have come up short (I speak from experience here in Richmond, VA - ahem, a major historic and modern day slavery landmark).  The defense-mechanism neutralizing effect of a calculator along with the lofty reputation of MIT seems to make the living wage concept palatable to industry and other authorities over personnel and purse-strings.

GED/HiSET/TASC teachers are probably wondering while reading this if they can swap this exciting living wage calculator for the overly complicated TI-30xs.  Not likely. But, you can use the living wage calculator to fuel relevant classroom activities and at-home projects that engage learners and help them aspire to a higher standard of living.  So, what are you waiting for?  Post a comment with the first activity that comes to mind and borrow the ideas left here by your fellow educators.  I'll send a tweet out right now to someone who might be willing to post the first idea(s)...      

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Teaching with Technology and Robin Williams

In honor of Robin Williams consistent impact on my life, from childhood to 40yrs old, I wanted to post some of his fun commentary on computers and teaching and learning, circa 1982.

In the show, Mork and Mearth (love Jonathan Winters!) build a home computer called MILT that winds up controlling their lives.  Sure, the computer can order your groceries and pay bills for you, but the net effect is negative in this episode of Mork and Mindy, as the computer becomes a tyrant.

This negative theme regarding technology and innovation is common, although unbalanced (2001, anybody?).  It's not a far-fetched analogy for the arrival of computer-based instruction in the field of adult education: computers as things to be avoided or endured grudgingly. "You're nothing but a mechanical dictator. We'll never stop fighting you.  And we will win." Mindy's proclamation sounds a little like the participants in many technology trainings I've facilitated for adult education teachers over the years.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Three Important Bloggers in Adult Ed.

On Twitter, I can just retweet the latest from adult education's brightest thought leaders and come off looking smart and well read.  But on my blog, I've got to quote people or just steal their ideas outright (kidding!). Here are a few folks that I come back to regularly, either reading or retweeting or both. You should make them regular stops or bookmarks, if you haven't already.

David Rosen has long been a resource for adult education strategic thinking.  His most recent blog goes over ten technology trends that stand to transform adult education in the US.   Rosen's focus on innovation and equity make him a gem in the field, in my estimation.

Meagan Farrell's has been sharing free GED prep resources on her Farrell Ink site for years, and now you can find some highlights of her professional development workshops here. This week, she's going to post five times while at a conference in Virginia.  By the way, it looks like Essential Education will be directly benefiting from Meagan's instructional strategies as she helps us develop new online and print material.

Jeff Carter writes about adult education policy, budget ramification, and there's a helpful survey of adult education's occasional appearances in the media.  He's got his own angle, and he moves the conversation forward, something we should all be doing.  I'm especially glad for his unpacking of the WIA reauthorization, aka WIOA.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

5 Predictions for Adult Education Instruction

So far this year, I'm seeing adult education programs implementing a variety of approaches as they tackle the 2014 high school equivalency exams.  The range of hypotheses that teachers and publishers are employing is pretty impressive, though sometimes disconcerting. Nonetheless, a diversity of tactics is good.  Hypotheses, if evaluated critically, will be proven right or wrong, and adult education practice will move forward all the better for having conducted experiments during this big transition.  I've got some hypotheses that I don't mind sharing.  Some directly oppose other publishers' products and even some of my own clients' preferred teaching methods.  That's the thing about the future. It's not personal.     

Increased Experimentation and Creative Lesson Design
Most adult ed programs have begun the year trying to maintain their systems of assessment, instruction and credentialing and ensure continuity by continuing with drill and practice material, teaching narrowly to a small set of procedural knowledge skills that are typically deficits.  To stay in that comfort zone, adult ed programs purchase from publishers that are recycling instructional models or repackaging conveniently available material with 2014 testing jargon that are familiar and friendly to adult educators who are struggling with the prospect of change (very common and understandable).  However, as the demands of the new high school equivalency tests and the College and Career Readiness standards become clearer and professional development efforts start to sink in with instructors and coordinators, the field will start taking more risks.  They'll start thinking outside the box with their lesson planning and where they source their content. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Dad, My First Technology Teacher

My dad was a geek.  It wasn't until recently that I realized all that he did for me in terms of technology skills, but since his passing in March, it's all starting to come back to me.  In the early 80s, he got me using a Commodore 64. Eventually, we were using an IBM compatible desktop 486 from Leading Edge, while my mother still swore by her 75lb IBM Selectric typewriter (both relevant and marketable skills, depending on the context).  He helped me understand floppy discs and how to install and run computer games.  But, by the time I got my first Nintendo, our technology interests seemed to part ways, as more and more products were designed to speak to my age-range specifically.  Meanwhile, my dad climbed the ranks of the science world from 9-5 and on numerous trips around the country/world. 

After my dad passed away in March, my mother and I went to work on his obituary.  The man was so accomplished in his professional life, we really tried to get a lot of it into one story that we hoped would be published by the Washington Post. You'll see in the story obituary below that my father had a lot more to offer than simply upgrading to the latest computer as they came out.  I didn't go into any of the STEM career fields, and he didn't pressure me at all.  It was my belief in social justice that really made him proud seeing his legacy continue.  I hope that my work in the field of adult education will build on his focus on innovation in the public interest with a keen emphasis on equity.

Thanks for everything, Dad. 

Harold E. ("Hal") Guard, Ph.D. retired award-winning scientist with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) for achievements in environmental programs, equal opportunities for minorities and women; and with Historically Black Colleges and Universities, died March 16, 2014, at Carlton Plaza Assisted Living in San Leandro, CA, after several years living with Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Get Your FREE Extended Response Writing Workbook

This year's COABE conference was a big success for Essential Education.  But, personally, it was a tough road to hoe for me.  As I drove into Pittsburgh, I got the news from my step-brother that our father had just passed away.  It wasn't sudden, but it was terrible timing (as if there is a good time to lose a parent). I decided on my own that 'the show must go on,' and I followed through with my duties at our exhibit and gave my presentations on disruptive innovations and the digital classroom.  But, I was a hollow shell of myself. If you met me at COABE, this is why I wasn't more gregarious.

Luckily, I didn't need to be a carnival barker to bring people to the table. They were beating a path straight to us so they could take home a free copy of our Extended Response writing workbook.  It's going to be a huge help to instructors looking for ways to teach writing skills beyond the old 5-paragraph essay model.  And after helping people search their souls for personal stories to tell, we have a big adjustment to make in focusing on evidence-based argumentation.  This book will help with that.  Did you miss us at COABE or did you miss the conference altogether?

Get Your FREE Workbook RIGHT HERE 

Essential Education probably gave away 600-700 copies of this 128 page workbook at COABE. The previous year, we gave away 800 copies of our 2014 GED Test Curriculum Blueprint.  We're really trying to help adult educators look at the biggest changes that impact their crucial roles of facilitating and mentoring and teaching.  The freebees are just the tip of the iceberg of all that we've got to offer.   We launched updates to GED Academy as well as new versions: TASC Acacemy and HiSET Academy.  And our workbooks apply to all three high school equivalency exams.

I don't know about the lasting value of the tote bags and other swag that is always given out at conferences. There are lots of ways to build a brand. Essential Education aims to build affinity with our fellow educators and earn your respect by providing the best possible resources.  On a less serious note, one of you COABE attendees was giving away a nasty flu or virus type sickness, because I brought it home and spent the next several days with a high fever, and each of my three small children and my wife all had a bout of that cold as I started to get better.  Definitely a conference to remember for me, albeit a little hazy. Looking forward to Denver in 2015.    

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Follow the Yellow Brick Road to COABE 2014

Why? Because because because because the wonderful things COABE does. We're off to see the Wizard... the wonderful Wizard of... adult education.  Well, that's pretty much how I've felt about it since the first time I went almost ten years ago.  Each COABE conference fueled my imagination of what is possible in adult education for the coming year or longer (since I haven't gone consistently).  My daily experience in adult ed, no matter how trying or frustrating, comes into focus much more easily having benefited from the perspectives of adult educators like me from all over the country. The wizard, you see, is not a fraud hiding behind a curtain. The wizard is us.  And when we come together, there is a lot of heart, brains, and courage to go 'round. 

For a lot of people, there are some detours in the yellow brick road to COABE this year. The field of adult education is under construction. There's no mistaking it. Traffic cones are up everywhere. Signs to slow down or merge together.  Maybe some flying monkeys and poppies that put you to sleep too.  For a field that changes at a glacial pace, the tectonic plates are moving beneath our feet suddenly and unpredictably.  We're not in Kansas anymore. How will we find our way home?

Although the changes largely concern high school equivalency, the impacts reach down to the lower levels and spread out to incorporate technology and media literacy among other learning and thinking styles.  If this year is going to be a grand experiment, it may not be the learners who are the main subjects. Teachers' skills and managers' ability to adapt are being tested in a more rigorous way than any high school equivalency test could ever challenge our learners.

I think publishers of instructional materials are being tested too.  Some are turning in the same drill and practice product that's light on instruction and acting as though it will be sufficient. That's why I'm so excited to be at COABE to help educators chart a new direction, avoid wasting time and money, and help their learners reach higher expectations.  Tests that assess something different than we're used to require material with a different focus and probably different instructional methodologies.  That's a challenge that Essential Education is ready for.

At COABE, I hope you'll find time to visit our exhibit and attend one of the sessions (see below).  I'll be there, because my wife isn't having a baby during the conference like last year.  I'll be giving our evidence-based extended response writing mini-book (email me for an electronic copy: jason at  If you see me there, let me know that you saw this blog. Looking forward to it!    

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Technology Boogieman Actually Your New BFF

Even though I've been a big proponent of computer-based testing, I have to confess that the TI-30xs calculator scares the crap out of me.  There are so many buttons, and more than half of them are foreign to me, and even those buttons have secondary functions represented by  hieroglyphs in tasteful chartreuse (my wife's favorite color).  People ask me about the new calculator and I explain that it's just like old Casio GED calculator: you actually teach how to ignore all the buttons that you'll never use.  Sometimes I'll joke that the TI-30xs name is appropriate, because it's XS-ive.   These were the rationalizations I've clung to while avoiding this and other scientific calculators.  But then, just this past week, I saw the light.

There was a similar freak-out about the introduction of the Casio FX-260 in 2002.  That piece of mandatory technology inspired a kind of mass-anxiety among adult educators similar to the one we've been dealing with as the test has gone computer-based.  During those 12 years, I was big on web-based distance learning, but I coped with the calculator by avoiding all but the most basic buttons.  The funny joke picture here about the 'C' and 'CE' buttons... that's totally me.  I even came across a TI-30xs at a yard sale, got it for 10 cents, and I've been weary and suspicious and hesitant to use it ever since.  Kind of like with the Coke bottle in The Gods Must Be Crazy, I'd probably be more likely to hit someone over the head with that calculator than to solve a complex math problem with it.   In the movie, they worshiped that Coke bottle briefly too, right? So maybe there are multiple ways to relate to a device that seems to come from another dimension.