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.