kitchen table math, the sequel: Engage Me!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Engage Me!

So is this what schools mean when they insist on developing 21st century skills and go on and on about preparing our children for the jobs that don't exist yet?

I'm speechless.

If you're a glutton for punishment, and watching Engage Me! just wasn't enough, I dare you to read Engage Me or Enrage Me: What Today's Learners Demand.

If you still have words left at that point, please share them.


Matthew K. Tabor said...

Since when does "engagement" = asking kids to hold up signs that other people have written?

The least they could've done is had those little creators write each message in their own handwriting.

But I guess, as the video says, they text instead.

SteveH said...

How many of those kids could watch the video and read the signs fast enough with all of the jerky camera action? By the way, who was the jerk who came up with the jerky camera idea?

Moronic. That's the only word I have left.

concernedCTparent said...

Matthew - It's surprising that they're using whiteboards instead of Smartboards, isn't it?

Steve - Maybe jerky camera motions are supposed to be more engaging?

And yes, moronic is quite an apt one.

Anonymous said...

"Engage Me"? More like "Gag Me"....

SteveH said...

The 21st century skills site is even more scary.

This is from one of their white papers on core subjects.

" '…learning is maximized if the context for
learning resembles the real-life context in which the to-be-learned
material will be used.' Educator Ted McCain explains why this is so:
'Placing course content in the context of a real-world scenario helps a
student remember specific details of a lesson because the context gives
the information meaning.' Their comments reflect the intuitively
obvious fact that we remember something better if it is personally
meaningful, if we understand its relationship to things that matter to us.
Thus, 'teaching for transfer,' that is instruction that helps students link
their learning to the real world, can promote greater understanding of
core subjects."

Top down education never gets to the bottom.

I can (and have) given talks to kids about video games and how math is used for modeling and animation. It can be quite motivational, but like diet gurus, people will go back to eating Twinkies the next day. The required mastery of the fundamentals are far away from the real world and require a lot of daily hard work. Their thematic or top-down approach cannot and will not provide the necessary skills or knowledge.

They don't think mastery is important. Just the concepts and Google, please.

concernedCTparent said...

The other thing that strikes is that should we follow this advice to engage our students all the time at the risk of enraging them, we'll be sending out adults into the workforce who expect their employers to engage all the time as well. This is already happening to some degree and I find it self-destructive.

palisadesk said...

This piece is mendacious at best, and so is the linked article, "Engage Me or Enrage Me."

In the last decade I have worked in two different urban/diverse schools, one a middle school and the other a K-8 . The kids pictured in the article were all white and clearly middle-upper class. According to district data, in my middle school only 10% had any kind of a computer at home, and fewer than 5% had internet access. In my current school, the proportion who have computers is higher (about 25%) but still only about 5% with internet access at home. People in low income families do not have the discretionary income to buy all these gizmos for their kids -- in high school, the kids may earn money at McJobs to buy the desired gear. Few kids in my current school (mostly working poor, not welfare, families) have iPods, Playstations, etc. More have GameBoys (they aren't all that expensive), but not the latest models. The "digital divide is very, very real. Kids gain some minimal computer skills at school, but few have computer access in class (one computer to a classroom) and the computer lab only allows for one period every 2 weeks.

Some schools admittedly are dripping in technology, but these are schools in high-SES areas (parent funding provides a lot of this) or ones with special grants or relationships with provider companies. The reason most teachers aren't using "digital storytelling software" is because it is not available in schools. Lots of schools don't even have paper and pencils. Get real.

The author openly equates "student engagement" with "entertainment." He posits that, since kids today have all kinds of fancy toys, we are obliged to humor them in school with more and fancier versions of the same. We can't possibly expect them to learn to deal with low-tech reality, learning tasks that take mental effort and don't require technology, or develop self-discipline and the ability to organize and carry out tasks in multiple domains with the universally available tools.

This is a colossal error. It's like saying kids come to Kindergarten spoiled and expecting their own way in everything and throw tantrums if they don't get it (some kids are like this), so we have to give them everything they want and put NO demands on them. And we all know kids love candy and junk food, so if they demand nothing but fries, soft drinks and desserts, we should stop worrying about feeding them a healthy diet. Kids are different today, they don't need protein and minerals....

When you apply the same rationale to other areas of life, its absurdity is patently obvious.

The video clip is an interesting mix of distortion and fabrication. It again takes no notice of the digital divide. None of my students in grades 5-6 do any "texting" (they don't have the equipment) although some email friends via Yahoo Messenger or other programs they can access at the (public) library. Poor readers do not read books for 2 1/2 hours a week, they read less than 6 minutes a day (including time in school!), watch far more TV than the cited figure,
and may spend almost no time on the computer because they don't have one.

Interesting that the number of "Chinese honor students" was contrasted with the total population of N. America. I noted they did NOT go on to mention that these "Chinese honor students" are NOT texting and playing video games at the rate of N. Americans, but instead are studying math, science, languages etc. in what we would consider traditional ways. With good math and written language skills they can pick up computer applications very quickly.

The whole thing looks to me like more rationalizing for dumbing down expectations and requiring less and less. It also displays ignorance of what creative and expert performance entails -- first and foremost, a grounding in the component skills and knowledge of the field in question. My district is very big on "adaptive technology" and currently is spending tons of money to enable low-achieving students to use "assistive technology" to produce work.

Unfortunately, the kids with few reading, writing or math skills can't even use the technology effectively. They don't have the entry-level skills to do much of anything. Unless they can play video games on the computer, they are no more "engaged" using technology than doing other tasks -- they are more engaged doing all the Crayole Curriculum "art" projects, since most can at least color pictures.

Cui bono is the question to ask. There is money being made here; it's not about the kids.

Instructivist said...

21th century buffoonery is moving into actual schools.

See this actual ad seeking teachers for 21th century reasoning skills. It's amazing how profoundly reasoning skills are affected by our calendar system. What to learn is no longer important: "We believe educational institutions will have to shift the focus from "what" to learn to "how" to learn and to think critically."

Job Description
This posting is for three teachers: Chinese, Mathematical Reasoning and Scientific Reasoning for the 21st Century Curriculum program.

REQUIREMENTS: Colorado Teaching License or equivalent professional qualifications. Distinguished professional experience (in and out of education). Only the world language Chinese teacher must have specific content competency. Creative and innovative. Computer literate. Collaborative and willing to learn. International experience. Able to work one Saturday each month. Experience working with at-risk youth preferred. Complete the Gallup TeacherInsight Inventory at and use the Harrison District code - 20833418.

DESCRIPTION: Harrison School District Two is currently accepting applications for innovative and distinguished teachers to teach students in the new 21st Century Curriculum Pilot Program at Harrison High School and Carmel Middle School for the 2008-2009 school year.

In a world in which technological advances are exponential and the economy increasingly global, what will today's students have to know and be able to do ten years from now? Harrison School District Two will attempt to find part of the answer through its 21st Century Curriculum Pilot Program. We believe educational institutions will have to shift the focus from "what" to learn to "how" to learn and to think critically.

The 21st Century Pilot Program will expand during the 2008-2009 school year to include approximately 150 middle school and 50 high school students. The program will be located at Carmel Middle School and Harrison High School.

OTHER INFORMATION: Base salary is based on the district Teacher Salary Schedule. Teachers in the 21st Century Curriculum Pilot Program will receive an additional stipend: $5,000 to $8,000. Teachers begin July 28, 2008. Teachers will need to be available to work with students at least one Saturday per month. All teachers and students will be issued a laptop computer.

Independent George said...

I honestly thought this was satire at first.

When the kids were holding up the signs saying "I spent 5 hours playing games", "16 hours watching TV", and "3 hours reading a book", I was expecting them to start talking about how poor their reading & math skills were as a result. It never occurred to me that anyone could view that as a good thing.

It's like we're living in entirely different worlds.

concernedCTparent said...

"We believe educational institutions will have to shift the focus from "what" to learn to "how" to learn and to think critically."

At our district, this is the party line. They have a committee that pays of oodles of money for experts to talk to parents about 21st century skills and new technology. Critical thinking rules the day and yet the actuality is that there is little critical thinking going on at all. It's all a ruse to distract parents from everything their children are not learning in school.

Palisadesk nails it, as usual. And yes, IG, it's so warped it should be satire or at least some kind of alternate reality. The sad thing is, it's real and it's spreading like a disease. It seems the higher the SES, the more entrenched this kind of garbage is. Then they sell it to the lower SES schools just to keep everything fair.

It makes me ill.

Redkudu said...

The part with the spelling test just kills me.

concernedCTparent said...

That was excruciating.

wordsmith said...

What a bunch of claptrap. "Engage me" - listen kid, get off your duff, give your texting finger a break, and be responsible for your own education. Don't expect everyone to entertain you - your 21st century employers sure don't care whether or not you think work is "fun."

Take charge of your own education. Read a book - a day - at the very least. Get your eyes off your navel, and learn about the world around you.

Instructivist said...


What an incredibly refreshing message! Somehow this message got lost in edland. I cannot get over the vacuous look of one of the pupils who demands: Make me think! Come to think of it, they all look apathetic and pathetic.

Lsquared said...

There are two signs that stand out from having watched it only once. One says something like "only x% of my teachers let me create things with technology", which makes me think, is this one of the things your teacher had you create with technology, and what if anything were you supposed to learn from the experience?

The other sign says, "if I were your son or daughter, what sort of education would you choose for me?", and that is the one where the rubber hits the road. When you talk about generic students, and what would be good to help them learn, I can almost be bamboozled into thinking that creating stuff with technology is a good thing... almost. With rather a lot of ifs and buts (technology is good if you do this sort of stuff, but not if you do that sort of stuff). But when you ask about my kids? Well, then answer is clearly that I want them to have an education where they are not wasting their time doing technology projects when they could instead be learning something.

wordsmith said...


I wish I could give that speech to my students at the community college. The problem is that they've already had years of this "entertain me so I'll learn something" attitude. They're supposedly college students, yet they expect to be mollycoddled just like they've been for the past umpteen years. God forbid they should have to break a sweat and do some actual work - on their own time outside of class, no less.

Allison said...

you CAN give the speech, but it's more effective in other forms.

When I was a TA in a section where the students had nothing to say, no problems on their homework to discuss, and otherwise, were wasting my time and theirs at 10 am staring blankly at me, I would cancel class. "This class is here for you to learn. But that won't happen if you don't put in any effort. You have no questions, no ideas, no confusions on the homework, the book or lecture? Then sleep in. Don't waste my time or yours." and then I packed up and left. The next section, I had less students, but the students I had came prepared.

granted, i was so low on the totem pole that no one would really bother to complain about my shockingly outrageous behavior. but even as a lecturer, I pulled off the same thing. occasionally, it's good to appear perturbed.

Catherine Johnson said...

omg -- what a find!

I may not be able to watch the whole thing.

Catherine Johnson said...

oh right

my parents use email and I blog ??

not if you can't read and write, bub

Catherine Johnson said...




Catherine Johnson said...

I love all these school kids supposedly complaining that their teachers aren't technologically literate when what you too often read kids saying is that they're "working in groups" while their teacher reads email.

(NOT a common occurrence in my own district, btw)

Catherine Johnson said...

Although one of the teachers did tell kids that he/she text messages his/her friends during professional development workshops.

Obviously, I approve.

Catherine Johnson said...

Unfortunately, the kids with few reading, writing or math skills can't even use the technology effectively.

no kidding

Catherine Johnson said...

We believe educational institutions will have to shift the focus from "what" to learn to "how" to learn and to think critically." feeling about this is: how long should that take, exactly?

If we're just going to have everyone learn how to learn and think critically, you don't need more than maybe a year of school for that.

You could probably do it online & just convert the bricks-and-mortar schools to malls.

Catherine Johnson said...

The other sign says, "if I were your son or daughter, what sort of education would you choose for me?"

I had the same experience, watching this video, that I often do leafing through the Garnet Hill catalogue.

Garnet Hill will, from time to time, feature a garment that looks like hell on the 20 year old model.

So I'm sitting there thinking, "It looks like hell on a 20-year old model but it's gonna look great on me?"

Same deal here.

These kids, as portrayed in the video, are incredibly unattractive, unappealing, and off-putting in every way.

How would I want you to be educated if you were my child?

I can't answer that because I'm too busy getting down on my hands and knees to thank GOD you are NOT my child.

Catherine Johnson said...

Speaking of off-putting....who exactly is the intended audience here?


Matthew K. Tabor said...

The intended audience is the ed-tech crowd [we might call them "the choir" here].

"Engage me" as it regards education technology really means, "Encourage today's Twitter/Diigo groupthink, pretend to Speak Informed, Educated Truth to Power, and pat yourself on the back as you do it. Then spend as much as is budgetarily-possible, rinse and repeat.

But I have to point out that concernedCTparent appears to have a dubious grasp on education technology. If he/she was a real ed-tech'er [a pre-req for knowing about tech, of course], he/she would have dropped no fewer than 3 names of other ed-tech bloggers in the original post. Or, for bonus points, included a few dozen pictures of smiling arm-in-arm with Famous Edbloggers at this week's conference would work. Shame shame!

(Apologies, my tongue just poked a hole in my cheek.)

Catherine Johnson said...

good god

this is a completely foreign group to me

Mathew, how do these folks connect to real schools?

Are they a separate entity?

Or are they insiders?

Catherine Johnson said...

They're bloggers?

Matthew K. Tabor said...

Most all of them are tech coordinators, tech specialists, etc. who work in public schools [the job title varies incredibly, as does their job function]. Only a handful of very successful ones do independent work.

They blog, they podcast together, they interview each other - and there's value in it. They share ideas and communicate at a rate that other sectors would die for. Unfortunately, in my opinion, most of what they're communicating would make an awfully fat fluff'n'chaff sandwich. If I had to sum up my thoughts on the K-12 ed-tech community, I'd say something like, "I love the idea, love the participation, hate the execution."

And it's participation over substance - hands down. It's digital storytelling over being able to write a story; it's Flickr-ing over principles of engaging, accurate photography/art; it's SMART boards over what's displayed on them.

Or, in this case, it's "let's make a video!" without any attention given to anything other than making a manufactured, agenda-driven statement.

Instructivist said...

Getting back to the ad seeking teachers, I found this bit on competency pretty remarkable:

This posting is for three teachers: Chinese, Mathematical Reasoning and Scientific Reasoning for the 21st Century Curriculum program.


Only the world language Chinese teacher must have specific content competency.

Instructivist said...

Getting back to the ad seeking teachers, I found this bit on competency pretty remarkable:

This posting is for three teachers: Chinese, Mathematical Reasoning and Scientific Reasoning for the 21st Century Curriculum program.


Only the world language Chinese teacher must have specific content competency.