Remote Possibilities: A String of Thoughts

Scrolled learning

Tell me an order – abstract-1846059_1280

  • From top to bottom or
  • is it top down?
  • From beginning to end
  • but the learning never stops




Activity feed

Interactive to-do list

scroll up, scroll down

sideways is for walking

or dodging while distancing

not for this app.

Scrolled learning (resumed)

“Messy learning made tidy!”

“Clear instructions, clear demonstrations, clear outcomes!”

“Turn up, tune in, take off – your learning adventure can begin!”

I think of all the promises

we heard and wished

in our heart of hearts

they could be true.

All the while knowing

that for learning tojapan-956073_1280

take root and become a growing thing

it’s the messy parts

that make it even



App -etite

An app can work wonders with things

count, sort, tag, track and archive –

measure, deliver, broadcast, keep –

link, link, link and link again –

An app can give us the impression of movement

a single stream of discrete activities

flashes and pops as we scroll down;

our learning past:


a straight line collage,

an imagined education

in snapshots and clips,

yet nothing designed

to stick.

For that would halt the

endless scroll

of consumable tidbits.

Because in order to make this all work,

to handle the volume of posts,

it’s important to prune the feed,

to archive the couple days’ old content

and put it nicely out of view.

Out of sight, out of mind –

but here it means

out of the way

of what’s next,

of what’s coming up.


What it is not   lumber-84678_1280

An app is not a brain.

Constructed with code; clever.

It tells us which way it will work

and which way it wont.

Brains develop and adapt

That’s what they do.

We can’t pay a platform to adapt,


entreat an app to be more flexible.

An app is not a brain.

The platform is not a curriculum.

Robin says, “Modality is not pedagogy.”

But why does it seem like we are just learning these things

right now?

As if this were news?


Even this blog frustrates my need to put things side by side

I cannot really compose the way I want

I compose the way the interface allows

We have an agreement:

I will make do.


Not A Song, A Dispersion

This is a song (although it’s not)

For all the things we can’t see, hear, catch

of/from our students tucked behind screens.

The motivational battles that rage within

and without,

The confusion that crops up,

the relief when a hurdle is crossed,

the questions that never get asked.

The nail-biting parents aching for a moment’s peace.

The pace of the guide, the scope of the sequence

these become pearls that fall off their string.

Instead of a necklace

we have a dispersion

with no means

to recover the order

we knew.



Real Talk

Can we be honest and not mistake the clean interface and charming video responses

for deep learning?*

Even if it’s the best we can do for now and doesn’t seem half bad, our kids are learning

all the time

and it may not be that carefully prepared content we’ve prepared after 4 or more video takes

that sticks and stays.

It will be other things: a postcard in the mail, a cat that came to zoom and wouldn’t leave, the way family felt different from before school closed, that time the teacher called on the phone.

The platform does not make memories. That’s something we do. We humans. We teachers, learners, adults, kids. The platform stores our artifacts. We humans, we users, we learners, we are art. We are fact.

Let’s use the apps we need. Rely on the platforms that serve us.

Let’s make our art. Let’s share our facts. Let’s weave our memories and make them count.




*(Understanding, too, that deep learning is not a given in classrooms either. It’s a long term gamble, the thing we hope against hope for but almost never get to witness when it surfaces 5, 10, 20 or 30 years later…)

images all CC0 via





What I hope I am teaching

people-31339_640Let’s face it, when we teach, we never really know for sure what we’ve accomplished. We may see or hear fairly convincing evidence of our students’ learning. But determining exactly how much or which parts of that learning are actually attributable to our daily heroic efforts remains elusive. The space between teacher teaching and sudent learning strikes me as remarkably mysterious and ultimately unknowable territory. And I think that is part of what can make teaching feel so frustrating. Teach as much as we may – we can never control the learning.

Here’s what brought me to this cluster of thoughts: Working with my 4th and 5th graders on volleyball skills. So far, the majority of my students have been having a lot of fun with this unit and also a surprising amount of success. They have a nice selection of softer, lightweight volleyballs to work with. Several show signs of previous exposure and playing experience and we’ve been working on volleyball elements in fits and starts for a couple of weeks now. So today when I asked them to make small groups and practice returning a tossed ball over the net, they learned some new things (or so they said): “That it’s harder than it looks.” and “We need to call the ball.”

The critical piece for me was in recognizing that this lesson had less to do with improving those individual skills of serving, bumping and setting and everything to do with encouraging their intrinsic desire to act – to respond to the ball – to do something and feel confident in making any attempt. And so I found myself in the middle of the gym cheering wildly for a team managing more than one hit in their return and celebrating a first hesitant bump by my currently least skilled student. I told one group: “Of course I could go around and correct you all the time, looking for proper technique – but then you wouldn’t learn how to play. I really just want you to figure out how to respond to the ball each time, because it’s always going to be different – where you are, where the ball is, where your teammates are… I want you to do something, anything…”

I am not in control of their learning and (not but) I have a great deal of influence on the conditions and context for their learning. What I hope I am teaching is that my teaching is not the point. Rather, what I actually do is set up structured opportunities for my students to practice their many skills. I provide context, material, space, time, some frameworks and my enthusiasm for each of them. What lessons they take away from those experiences are theirs entirely, not mine.