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When we only see 1/3

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Too often technology is an iceberg within our schools. It is easy to focus on the one-third sticking out of the water. The part that is beautiful to look at, that draws us in and makes us go WOW: the Internet, the laptops, the LCD projects, the SmatBoards. Yes from on top of the water it looks amazing. How can all of this stuff not affect learning because it looks so cool!

We often have prospective parents walking through our school and I wonder what they see. There is a teacher computer in every room…some even have laptops. In some classes there are students working on laptops, there are computer labs throughout the school, LCD projectors hanging in most of our classrooms, and if you walk through common areas you’ll usually see a couple of students working on their own personal laptops they’ve brought from home.

However, when we only focus on this top third we end up with articles like this one found in the Washington Post. Once we get past the amazing sights and sounds and we are forces to look below the surf to see if anything really has changed, is when things get complicated.

What we do not do enough of in education is venture below the surface. It’s dark down there, it’s cold, and if you do not have support you will soon find yourself in a state of hypothermia. The only person around your school looking at deep change and the effects that top third can have on education beyond the WOW factor.

Will Richardson asks these questions:

…how do we help schools and districts to begin to reshape their culture around learning in more collaborative, connected environments? How do we get to the point where we’re not just seeing individual teachers and classrooms make the shift, but where we are seeing schools as a whole beginning to shift as well?

We get there by looking at the two-thirds that is under the water. We must start to look at change deeper then the classroom, deeper then the individual teacher.

If we want shift within our schools we need to embed these collaborative, connected environments for learning within the school culture. It has to become “just what we do”.

What do we do in schools? We teach curriculum and the curriculum is part of the culture of our schools. Our curriculum is based on our standards (skills) we want students to learn. If we want the culture to shift within our schools we have to look deep at the curriculum in which we teach and the pedagogy in which we employ to teach it.

When was the last time a subject curriculum was reviewed at your school?

When was the last time a subject curriculum was reviewed at your school with the NET standards for students being a part of the conversation?

If we believe that these standards are what we focus our teaching on, then let us review them with 21st Century Literacy in mind. Every discipline (math, history, language arts, etc) should be reviewed with a copy of the NETS or other adopted standards for technology and 21st century literacy skills being a part of the process.

What we need is a new curriculum. We need to expand our thinking on what skills our students need in math, the knowledge they need in history, and the writing they need to produce in English class.

If we can get these standards embedded into the curriculum it makes jobs like mine a heck of a lot easier. I’m no longer trying to find ways to teach technology standards I’m truly supporting teachers as they teach subject standards. Once we have these standards embedded, we focus the conversations around how to best meet those standards and teach the curriculum, which brings us to pedagogical discussions and therefore changes our culture within the school.

We cannot continue to look at the top one-third and go WOW. We cannot continue to look at the surface were early adopters are struggling to go deeper without support. No, if we want to change the culture of our schools, we need to look deep, in cracks and crevices that we may not feel comfortable looking into. But we need to, ‘cause this iceberg is moving north and as it does it’s going to melt. When that happens, we will find ourselves much like the school in the article above. A cool looking school with no real change from within. No, we must change the culture of our schools; we must look at the bottom two-thirds and start changing at a much deeper level.

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Pingback: Education » When we only see 1/3

  2. Only 1/6 of a glacier shows above the water.

    I know this is a bit of a pedantic comment, but the number is widely known, and getting it wrong so badly reflects poorly on the content of the post as a whole.

  3. Actually according to NASA between one seventh and a tenth of an iceberg remains above the water.



    I quote my sources so as to seem unbiased and I presume NASA would be a reliable source.

    I think Jeff’s point is very valid- I have been touring schools a bit lately and principals are keen to show me their flash hardware and server boxes and computer suites. It’s what teachers and students are doing with the technology that is more important.

  4. Is that article for real – about Alexandria- or is it tongue in cheek?
    If it is for real, and if it is a state school, how did they get away with providing all the gear and an apparent lack of PD or shared understandings?
    And can teachers really publish something like that in major newpaper in the US, naming peole and institutions? I presume that is freedom of speech.

  5. Irrespective of exactly how much of an iceberg can be seen above water 🙂 I keep wondering what is a teacher to do if they find themselves being about the only one in their school who is at all concerned about what lies beneath the surface? It is sure getting dark and cold where I am trying to shift things! Should I just follow your example, Jeff, and start looking for a new, hopefully more supportive, school??

  6. Thanks Stephen for pointing out my mistake and thank you to Allanahk for the links and clarification. I actually got the 1/3 number after watching the discovery show “Iceberg Cowbodys” last weekend where they mention the 1/3 number.


    I also remember learning about 1/3 in school as well. There you go, that’s what I get for relying on old information. My mistake and thanks for the learning opportunity.

  7. Jeff, thanks for linking to our new literacy curriculum. As you know, Justin and I have been posting about our thinking and our process in its development as guest bloggers on Dangerously Irrelevant.

    That site and links like you have made here are bound to increase our audience and the amount of feedback that we get on it. Ultimately, we like what we are doing and would love to have it influence other schools, but also have people critical friend it.

    The next step: how do we make it truly happen?

  8. Jordan Taylor Reply

    I agree with your view on schools and that we as a society refuse to look at the other aspects influencing our school systems. In an age where the common opinion of this system is one of failure, it is time to take dramatic measures to change this system. In order to make students and society more productive we must not look at how the information is taught, but also look at what is being taught. School curriculum, in my opinion, is not keeping pace with the changing world we live in. Ideas and progress come from those willing to due things differently than that of the norm. I think the current “culture” is to use new technology with an old fashion approach. Instead of schools changing the curriculum to fit these technological advances, they are using the technology to fit their old styles of teaching and curriculum. This is only one area where culture is failing, but a significant one. We must look beyond the obvious problems with our school systems and realize that technology alone will not improve education. With schools being a government run function of society there are many groups involved in the learning process and they must all be addressed equally. These groups must also work together to achieve a common goal and not fight each other to achieve their own goals.

  9. Jeff,
    You talk a lot about tech being something that “we just do” rather than thinking of it as a seperate subject area. If that’s the case, why embed the student NETS standards into all curricular areas. If using tech should be something that teachers and students do automatically, wouldn’t it make more sense to use the Teacher NETS standards as a way to measure teaching pedogody? Should IT really redefine all other student curriculum? I’m sure English teachers have been saying for years that all subject areas should be using their standards because students use or should be using writing skills in all subject areas. A similar argument could be made for math and perhaps is. So why hasn’t/isn’t it being done this way?
    If we embed NETS standards within everyone’s curriculum, are we setting unrealistic goals for our students? Could we assess every standard in a meaningful way within each academic school year? Would schools want to assess each standard in every subject ever year? After all, how many teachers feel like they actually cover the entire curriculum they are already responsible for?
    And if students are already “immigrants” do we really need to rehash it with them. High School students don’t review adding and subtracting in their math classes (I don’t think) or in their science classes.
    I know one approach might be to assign/align certain NETS standards to certain subject areas but what happens when none of the departments whats/feels they should be responsible for a particular standard?
    These are all things I’m facing while trying to set up a truely integrated model.

  10. Brittney Ghezzi Reply

    Mr. Utech,
    My name is Brittney Ghezzi, I am currently a student at Illinois State University with a major in Family & Consumer Science Education. This blog caught my eye for several different reasons I feel I can relate to. I hope as a future educator I can teach my students to see the whole picture, and that is always something I have wanted. I think it is not only about the curriculum we are given to teach but also about how we can expand it ourselves and still meet the necessary standards. In the role of an FCS teacher we are taught to teach a lot of hands-on activities, as well as technology enhanced projects. Technology is the new way of learning and that is truly looked past as we don’t even acknowledge it in most of our curriculums. I hope that one day I can teach my students to utilize all that they have, hopefully technology included. I want them to walk away with not only knowledge from the course but true life skills that they may hold forever.

    Brittney Ghezzi

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  12. If 10% of teachers are engaging learner is ‘just in time’, collaborative, Classroom 2.0 activities, and 90% are using variations of ‘chalk and talk’ with a sprinkling of powerpoint project once a term … then kids learn that, some teachers/lessons are great and engaging, but most are the same old same thing.

    So 90% of their time they are stuck in the time-warp curriculum/assessment model. So while they may want a ‘better way’, they don’t see it as normal, and therefore don’t take it too seriously.

    Until you get to a critical mass, then Classroom 2.0 won’t upset the incumbent curriculum model. Many teachers don’t want to be pioneers, with the endless set backs endured. Teachers are masters of procrastination and have a tried and tested discourse about lack of PD, time, facilities etc., so the pioneers (who know that it works better, takes less time and gets better results) simply have this wall of resistance to battle daily.

    In my school, we went Classroom 2.0 in one year group through Project based learning. We are now in week 5. Students now complain that their ‘maths’ lessons are boring – they like the project based learning model that they are doing 90% of the time now. This obviously pressures Maths, at it opted out of the PBL model saying it was too hard to integrate.

    To my mind, the only way at present to get the curriculum updated (or even have digital literacy on the agenda) is that get as many kids doing as much as they can in ways that baffle their regular teacher.

    It is amazing to see in 5 weeks how student behaviour, effort and application has radically changed. Maybe it is the honeymoon period, but we are seeing new motivation and new creativity – which is leading them to question the validity of ‘traditional’ classrooms.

    I have been advocating a formal whole school ‘digital literacy’ standard for a while. But the curriculum seems to be the holy grail of documents, and no one seems to want to start messing with the ‘mother of all documents’.

    Its all good.

  13. Gavin Sinclair Reply

    @Dean Groom,

    Your comments are good but you lazily fall into the false dichotomy of hip new “engaging” teachers vs staid old “boring” teachers. While I love using technology in the classroom, and like getting students to use it where I can, I’d like to defend the honour of teachers who don’t like technology but still manage to engage their students through old-fashioned teaching skill, enthusiasm, etc. For students’ sake, I need to learn more from them about general teaching skill than they need to learn from me about technology.

    Although I’m very digitally literate (I was a computer programmer before becoming a teacher), I think talk of 21st century literacy and new curriculum is overblown. Education has advanced quite well for hundreds of years by gradual evolution. The skills students need to learn are much broader than anything to do with technology. Yes, schools should teach students to use computers and the Internet effectively, and should acknowledge the new reality we find ourselves in with easy access to information. But that doesn’t mean “tech” stuff needs to be inseminated in everything we do.

    Finally, “Classroom 2.0” (whatever that is) and “Project Based Learning” are completely orthogonal. PBL has been around in various guises for ages, but only in isolated schools/classrooms where the educational will was there. PBL is an educational thing, not a technical thing. Good on you for championing innovative educational practices, but all such things are niche activities, and all the technology in the world won’t change that. Nor will all the tech-trained teachers in the world. Such teachers would still work within a system that typically demands a certain amount of content gets taught in a certain time.

    So yes, let’s see changes to curriculum, but evolution not revolution please.

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