Part 2 - Birth of a question and paradigm shift

Last year, we (Justin Medved and Dennis Harter) sat

down to tackle the big question, "How does an information and

technology curriculum stay relevant and meaningful in the 21st

Century."  As Technology and Learning Coordinators at the International School of Bangkok this question was important to us for three reasons.

1) 2006-7 was a WASC

accreditation year for ISB and we were charged with taking a look at

the K-12 Information Technology curriculum and creating a plan of

action to improve it. 


2) The discussions and writings coming out of the edu-blogosphere last

year were rich in ideas all about "shift" , "re-thinking" and "who is

teaching these new skills?". It was hard not to feel like there was

some momentum building around a fresh educational paradigm and a shift

away from the "integration of technology" in the classroom, moving

towards "embedding" it in the way schools "do business".


3) Prior to our roles

as coordinators we had both taught in schools with elaborate technology

scope and sequence plans which we felt had little to no impact on

learning and often became outdated the moment they were written. We

also felt that the previous NET standards were too bulky and

disconnected from the average classroom teacher. We wanted to create

something that could stand the test of time and be manageable to the

average teacher.

With initiative and a

purpose driving us forward we sat down to write a rationale to guide

our approach. We came up with this:


believe that technology is a tool that can help and enhance learning.

Everyday we see technology used as a tool outside of formal schooling

for communication, collaboration, understanding, and accessing

knowledge. It is our goal in developing an integrated curriculum to ensure that the way students learn with technology agrees with the way they live with technology.


is in a constant state of evolution and change. Access speeds,

hardware, software, and computer capabilities all evolve and improve on

a monthly basis. This change occurs at a rate at which it is impossible

for schools to keep up and adapt. Is it not time that we create a

curriculum model that understands and this fact and works with it

rather than tries to control it?


often typical information technology curricula have focused heavily on

skills and their scope and sequence across the curriculum. The hard

reality of this approach was that they became outdated as soon as they

were printed due to changes in software, hardware and the skills that

students came equipped with.


of asking the question "What technology skills must a students have to

face the 21st century?" should we not be asking "What thinking and

literacy skills must a students have to face the 21st century?" These

skills are not tied to any particular software or technology-type, but

rather aim to provide students with the thinking skill and thus the

opportunity to succeed no matter what their futures hold."


felt strongly that for too long that way technology was integrated with

learning  focused more on the tool and less on the curriculum/content

that it could be used to support. To compound this fact ,since

technology changes so rapidly it became almost impossible to map what

"skills" students needed to learn from year to year as new technology

arrived on the scene and old skills trickled down age groups.  It

wasn't long ago that spreadsheets were the domain of high school

students in accounting classes.  Now we introduce them to fifth graders

doing graphing and data analysis.

Typically teachers saw

teaching these technology hardware and software skills as "someone

else's job."  IT skills to be learned in isolation.  Yet schools

rightly began to insist that technology be integrated into classroom



this technology skill curricular model, faced with teachers

ill-equipped and not believing that it was their job, IT integration

was doomed to failure.

We had to think bigger different ........   

Looking at Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design approach

to curriculum and unit design we liked how big "essential questions"

and "enduring understandings" had helped us plan and design units when

we were teaching math and social studies. What if this same "best

practice" approach could be applied to the way technology was used and

talked about in the classroom?  If this was good curricular design

practice, why should technology and thinking curriculum be any

different?  What if that same approach was used in the way we looked at

connecting technology and learning across the curriculum? What if there

were only a few manageable questions that even the most tech-resistant

teacher could see value in?


the school year we fleshed out these questions and ideas and came up

five essential questions that we felt addressed the core elements of a

comprehensive technology and learning curriculum - one focused on the

thinking that was needed for the 21st century learner, rather than the



        How do you know information is true?


  •         How do you communicate effectively?


  •         What does it mean to be a global citizen?


  •         How do I learn best?


  •         How can we be safe?

    You can read into the elements of each of these questions at our curriculum wiki -

    What do you think of the approach?  We'd love to hear your thoughts.



    Justin Medved & Dennis Harter, Guest bloggers

    Cross Posted at: Medagogy  and Thinking Allowed

    Tomorrow's post: Curriculum 2.0  - Creating buy-in, shopping an idea and refining through collaboration



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    Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

    "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

    Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

    Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

    The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

    Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

    In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

    It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

    Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

    Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

    The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

    It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

    In their findings the authors state:

    "The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
    upholding First Amendment ideals.

    Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

    With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

    As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

    • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
    • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
    • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
    • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
    • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
    • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
    • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

    Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

    It's interesting to note the authors found that:

    "Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

    You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

    Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

    • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
    • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
    • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
    • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
    • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
    • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

    Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

    Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

    • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
    • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
    • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
    • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
    • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
    • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

    Civic discourse in the divisive age

    Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

    There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

    "In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
    dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
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    These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
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    Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
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    become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
    Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
    The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
    re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
    building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

    We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

    This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.