Millennials Challenges


I’ve been thinking about the Millennials — that is, the generation that pretty much came of age and entered the workforce as the Y2K panic was ending.  I was 10 years before that, so I think I belong to the prior generation.  But a friend of mine was sharing an article on Facebook about how spoiled and incompetent they are, and I thought to myself, That doesn’t really ring true to me. (Even Business Insider said something different about it).

When I thought about it, I realized that I could think of four things which might have had a serious and detrimental effect on their growing up and their early education.  I don’t mean to suggest that these things mean that  Millennials are spoiled and incompetent, or to suggest that these are the reasons that Millennials should be called spoiled and incompetent.  I’m simply pointing out that there were four themes or ongoing changes in America at the time that the Millennials were in school, and that maybe, just maybe, these had an effect on them.

I should also say that I haven’t really researched these yet, and this is very much a back-of-the-envelope estimation; I could be off by 4-8 years in my guesswork.

Here they are.

  1. The end of Shop, Home Economics, Drafting, and other technical classes.  Outside of technical high schools, most American schools bought into the idea that ‘everyone must go to college’.  As a result, schools began to shut down their technical classes, sell the drill presses and band saws.  This coincides with a wave of retirements for shop teachers; the guy who taught my shop class retired in 1982… and I think he’d started working at my school the year the school opened, as well, in 1961 or something like that.  Retired, or transferred, and never replaced.  Given what I do these days, that’s a big one — but it also strikes me as a major blow against kids developing practical experience in mathematics.  I learned weights, measures, angles, volume, and more from Home Economics and Shop and Drafting… and I don’t think I’d understand them today without that initial training.  Eliminate these classes, and you’d eliminate that practical, hands-on experience.
  2. The dramatic increase in testing. I remember sitting for two major examinations when I was in junior high school and high school: the SSAT, for admission to a private high school in 10th grade; and the SAT, for admission to a college.  I took that exam in 11th and 12th grade; the SSAT in 9th.  There were also AP examinations in 11th and 12th grade.  On average, tests consume about 20-25 hours of school time, or about three weeks of a school year, plus prep-time and review. I don’t even think I took the SSATs or SATs during the school day; the AP exams were a half-day at most, and they were final exams for college-credited classes (sorta.)
  3. The Rapid Expansion of Cable Television.  As Cable Television came online, and the number of available channels climbed, it came to be that reading, which was the first or second most important leisure activity in the country, became the fifth or sixth; and despite Harry Potter and the Books of the Restricted Section, (who wouldn’t read that one??) and all its actual sequels, the quality of reading material for young people has gone into a steady tailspin.  Come to think of it, the expansion of cable came at the expense of not just bookstores, but also newspapers — who were losing revenue even before the Internet really exploded on-scene in about 1996.  So the Millennials were the first generation to experience massive changes to the reading experience as a major form of entertainment.  And this has presented major challenges to literacy-as-a-skill in the same way that eliminating shop classes was a major challenge to numeracy-as-a-skill.
  4. The Information Firehose. Milennials, it seems to me, were the first generation subject to the Information Firehose.  (A superhighway has always struck me as the wrong metaphor — on a highway you travel fast… but on the Information Superhighway you go nowhere… everything comes at you immediately… rather like a firehose).  The textbook companies made the textbooks for every subject enormous; I had flimsy, 200-page textbooks for most of my classes in high school. I still have the 256-page textbook on the ancient world from 10th grade —jam-packed with diagrams and black-and-white photos on how to tell a krater from an hydria, how to tell a Minoan palace from a Mycenaean fortress, and how a Roman legion was organized.  The text explains in detail how Rome became a Republic, then a Dictatorship, then an Empire… and how it fell.  By contrast, the same era of history in the current textbook my school uses has 12 pages, explains nothing so detailed as what I’ve just explained, and has well over a thousand pages on all cultures and histories.  I’m not saying that we should study Greece and Rome to the exclusion of all other histories… but we need to explore some elements of history in greater depth than current textbooks do, so that students have something other than a 30,000-foot view of the past.

In any case, there’s the four areas in which the Millennials have been subjected to a quite-different regime of learning and education than the generations that went before them.  And I think that these may be signposts, as it were, pointing to what may have gone wrong.  In each case, there’s someone who profits from the new system — testing companies, cable companies, insurance companies and textbook publishing companies — and the results of the changes are subtle and longterm, far too long-term for most principals, superintendents and even some teachers to observe them.

However, the consequences of these changes are long-lasting, and I think that we haven’t seen the end of this particular set of rabbit-holes.

Design Lab: Dry Run for Wet Work

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I didn’t get any pictures (updated: got pictures of finished products), but today we rigged the Design Lab for wet work.  By which I mean, we covered the tabletops in plastic, and brought out tubs, and did some work with water.

We made paper.

UntitledIn cooperation with a parent who’s deeply interested in printing and block prints, we worked up a class for the Design Lab in the technology suite that makes books.   My definition of a technology suite is as follows:

  • a group of technologies that cluster together and support one another
  • a set of technologies or skills that feed into one another and develop together
  • a group of technologies and skills that, when clustered together, create complex results
  • a group of technologies that deliver more than the sum of their parts.

Technology suites are great things to bring to a Design Lab or a MakerSpace, because they’re a way to get a group of kids that are interested in one thing in a class, to learn about a bunch of related technologies.  I’ve developed two of these classes now, and this is the first of them.

Here’s the technology suite we’re teaching kids to use:

  • block printing
  • paper-making
  • letter-pressing & moveable type
  • book binding

In the first class, my new parental-colleague and I introduced students to the methods necessary to produce rubber stamps. They learned about carving, and reverse lettering, and creating backwards-facing images that must then be carved. They learned about negative and positive space, about raying techniques (how to align your knife-cuts), and about creating drawings which are then reversed onto the block-blank, and then carved so that they leave a positive image.

In today’s class, we taught kids to use a blender, and a set of pinking shears and similar tools, to chop up cotton rag into the necessary fineness for paper; and to add shredded paper from destroyed bills and junk mail. It was this massive flow of useless junk into the blender, that then got poured, a couple of cups of mushy liquid at a time, into a pour mould.  Then the pour-mold would be lifted out of the water, the resulting sheets of paper patted dry, and assembled into the press with some couch sheets (pronounced “Kooch sheets”) between each sheet of paper.  We produced about twelve such sheets of paper, one per child and a few extras, in an hour and a half. Maybe it was fourteen sheets of paper.  It doesn’t really matter; some of the sheets were an incredible orange color; others were blue; some were green, and some were pink with fleck of gold; and still others were white, although even these had flecks of color in them.  They were these sheets of stiff, heavy rag paper…

And these will become the end papers for our book-binding project… the project that involves taking their stamps, all their stamps, to produce several dozen sheets each for a printed book (or maybe a blank book with some textual or decorative elements, depending on the skills and interest of our students).  And then binding those printed sheets into signatures, and then assembling the signatures into books.

Think about that for a moment.

We’re going to show a bunch of first and second and third graders who’ve rarely built anything more complicated than a holiday card how to cut blocks for printing, how to make the paper to print them on, and how to assemble their sheets of paper into books.  We’ve even managed to finagle the loan of an actual printing press for a couple of weeks of the class.  Practically the only thing we’re not doing is showing them how to make the ink that they’ll be using to print their images into the paper — and frankly, we don’t have the rolling machinery to make really flat paper; it’s all going to be the slightly nubbly stuff that you find as hand-made paper in nicely-bound leather journals that are crap to write in.  So there’s that challenge ahead of us.

Even so, I’m pretty proud of the development of this class.  We’re providing kids with access to a technology suite. And the individual learning opportunities — of making stamps, of making paper, of binding books — can easily be disaggregated from this one class into sub-classes or one-off workshops for individual grades.  We’re pulling together both the technology and the infrastructure to be able to do these kinds of projects, and that’s pretty powerful in the long run.

Are we building robots and teaching kids to fuss around with electronics?  No.  But the Maker movement is more than that, isn’t it?  It’s really about teaching kids to love making things, and to learn to create beauty in the world.  One little boy, a kindergartner (think about that — a kindergartner who’s going to make a full-scale book) asked, “why are we making paper when there’s so much of it all around us?”  And a little girl, second or third grade I think, answered him: “Because it’s fun, and it means that we have paper to print our stamps on.”  It made my day.

More than that, though:  I’m pleased that we’re teaching a suite of technologies.  We’re teaching kids to use a broad round of tools in the Design Lab — and to think of water and plastic wrap as important parts of the tool kit.  We’re teaching kids that pressure and weight (on top of the finished paper) is an important part of production processes, and that drying is equally important.  We’re teaching kids that real tools are more than scissors and tape — that they’re blenders and knives and pinking shears and buckets of water and super-fine mesh screens and wooden frames and sponges and cloths to mop up water. This is a lot different than their ordinary workaday experience; and I think it’s going to give them a different kind of understanding of how the world works, in the long run, and the things that they can do to make meaning in their lives.  Ned Halliwell wrote that the seeds of adult happiness lie in the play, practice, and development of childhood happiness. I saw a lot of happy children today.  Planting some seeds.

Attending NAIS on February 27


So… every few years, the National Association of Independent Schools holds its conference in Boston. When it does, my school declares a professional day, and we attend.  We ALL attend.

Me too.  I’l be there.

I’m curious if I have any readers that will be in attendance, and if you’d like to meet up for coffee, to talk about Making, poetry in the classroom, Latin, and more?  Let me know by leaving a comment, or contacting me through Twitter at @andrewbwatt.  That’s me.


Twenty-Three Things: Activity 21: [GoodReads]

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I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach. There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts
  13. eBooks
  14. Wikis (a disaster story)
  15. Wiki Sandbox
  16. Tagging Links: Delicious
  17. Tagging Links: Technorati
  18. Twitter
  19. Twitter in Education
  20. Image Generators

Activity 21: Shelfari and GoodReads

So… I’m supposed to be doing this activity in this project with Shelfari.  I’m sure Shelfari is quite nice. Really I am. But I already have an account on GoodReads, and Shelfari belongs to  Actually, as of this writing, I think GoodReads belongs to Amazon, as well.  See what I mean about how radically changed the world wide web has become in six years?  It seems like an unimaginably vast amount of time where an entire website can go up, run for several months, and then vanish again in the space of a year.

Anyway, GoodReads.  On GoodReads, I can rate books, share recommendations for other books with other people, and post my book recommendations to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites so that other people can follow my book recommendations, and maybe read the things that I read, and perhaps join a conversation about them with me.

Wow… we used to call that blogging.

So… why should I write reviews on GoodReads, or send my students to write reviews on GoodReads, or post my reviews from GoodReads to Facebook?  Is there any good reason for doing this at all?

It feels like feeding my students to the maw of corporate interest: here, while you’re still kids, generate creative and critical content for free for the corporate interest of the largest online bookseller in the world; write reviews of everything you read, which is mostly mass-market Young Adult literature, and avoid reading anything serious (because who would review a century-old book?)

Not that I read century-old books, mostly.  I’m suddenly realizing that I read a lot of how-to art books, technical books, and books about magic and mythology, and darned little else.  Fiction has largely ceased to interest me as a reader; I still read a lot of history books, mostly biographies and mise en place surveys of eras, like David McCullough’s books about the American REvolution, or similar works.  I used to read lots of current-events analysis, but by and large I don’t believe those analyses any more.  I don’t find them compelling, now that I don’t live in that world.

I’m slowly becoming a non-reader, the kind of person I dreaded encountering as a kid.

It’s not true, of course.  I’m glancing up at my bookshelves, and I can see seven or eight books that I’ve read in the last six months, like 1493 by Charles Mann, and The Traditional Healer’s Handbook, by Hakim G.M. Chishti, and Sacred Geometry  by Skinner, and The Creative Habit, by Twyla Tharp, and GameStorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo.  But none of these are suggestive of a rich attention to fiction or to the common stories of our time.

Maybe that’s why I didn’t like image generators.

Twenty-three things: Activity 16&17: Delicious.


I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach. There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools
  6. Blog about the role of tech in your classroom
  7. Initial experiment with RSS Readers
  8. RSS Readers continued
  9. Cloud Computing
  10. Web 2.0 Activty
  11. YouTube & Video
  12. Podcasts
  13. eBooks
  14. Wikis (a disaster story)
  15. Wiki Sandbox

Activity 16: Tags and Delicious

Delicious is a website that allows one to track, sort, manage, and keyword by tags and categories all of your bookmarks for the Internet, and share them with others via social networking.

It used to be called — it had a .US domain name rather than the more common .com, — and I decided I didn’t want to use it the last time I went through the 23Things list. For one thing, it’s cumbersome. I have to save my bookmarks to someone else’s website, and it becomes another website I have to check in on regularly — like Feedly or other sites ive learned to use as part of this project. I have to tag and categorize them and manage them, rather than having that work done for me. I can do that work just as easily in my web browser program, thanks to the interpenetration of Web 2.0 concepts and tools into desktop programs, and vice versa.

For another, it’s social. Increasingly, as a teacher, I’m asked to work within a walled garden —a paradise, curiously enough, from a Persian word — where kids will have access to the digital tools and materials I provide, And expect them to use, but not be subject to the demands or needs or imposition of other adult users who may not have the students’ best interests at heart. also, as I use the same computer increasingly for both school and private work, I’m reluctant to “cross the streams” in public. Facebook and other social media tools have made the hazards of crossing the streams both increasingly likely, and increasingly likely to result from a privacy setting accident.

Third, and this is a big one for me, is that the business of tagging and categorizing links is clearly part of someone’s business strategy to make a fortune. I don’t know whose fortune will be made, if anyone’s, from link-tagging and categorizing… but sombody’s always spinning, somewhere. For me to spend my time and energy categorizinging and organizing my links requires that I me to take time from projects I should be doing, like reading student papers or planning classes, or writing reports. It’s also time I could be spending on kayaking or mountain climbing or other such activities. And if I do it for Delicious, I’m clearly not using my time being creative in ways that may eventually feed me as an artist, financially.

Which annoys me.

But this is future shock. This list of 23 Things was created in 2003 or 2004. And it’s now out of date. A brief ask-around of folks I know indicates that relatively few use or ever used Delicious, and most of us have switched over to using programs like Evernote or Dropbox or simillar Cloud-based apps to track their bookmarks and keep them synced from one device to another.

But OK, that’s not the purpose of this activity.  I’m ranting, not following directions for the activity.  For this Activity, I’m supposed to a) set up a Delicious account [don’t have to, my old one is still there], and b) try out a few common search terms and see what I find that’s useful and relevant, and c) write a blog post about what I find.

So, on to Part B — try a few search terms.

  • search term: 3D-printing
    • Ooops, most recent link is 5 months old
    • Try 3d printing
      • most recent link is 2 years old
  • search term: common core curriculum
    • Most recently available link is 10 months old
    • next most recently available link is 2 years old.
  • search term: hermeticism
    • most recently added link 3 years ago.
  • search term: Latin
    • most recent link added 2 years ago.
    • Pearson’s website for Ecce Romani added 3 years ago.
  • Search term: Connecticut
    • most recently added link, 6 months ago.
  • search term: Boston bombing
    • most recently added link, a month ago.
    • next most recently added link, 4 months ago
  • search term: Egyptian revolution
    • most recently available link, 2 years ago.
  • search term: Michelle Rhee
    • most recent link: 4 months ago
    • Michelle Obama?
    • most recently available link: four months ago.
    • her husband? search term “obama” — first link presented to me as relevant, dated TWO YEARS AGO.

Ok… so this is all feeling way out of date and not very useful.  I mean, if people were keeping up with it, great… but if the site isn’t keeping up its own link system to handle important stuff about relatively recent events, there’s no way to make use of it today.  More importantly, I had a network of nearly 80 people there… and none of them has added a link in over five years.

That looks and feels like a dead social network.  Maybe people are still adding to it, but not about subjects I care about.  And no one I cared about online as relevant to my work, three years ago, has decided to stick with it.

What about Technorati?

Activity 17: Technorati.

Yeah… I don’t want to do this.  Just looking at the front page  of Technorati tells me that this is primarily a technology-oriented site, that probably comes up with a bunch of stuff that I might care about…  but really?  It looks like I have to wade through a bunch of crud that I don’t want.  And the people I know who are involved in Technorati usually post the interesting stuff they find to their Facebook accounts — where, eventually, I might see them, and read them if they’re of interest to me.

All the same, let’s try a few search terms before signing up for an account. The same ones as at

OK, all of this is goodish, I guess.  But I have other sources of news for most of this, and I have access to other materials that don’t require me to join this website.  I didn’t find anything that made me shout for joy and jump up and down in excitement here… no amazing new resource for teaching Latin, for example, or any wild new source of information about my state, or amazing new how-to’s for my school’s 3D printer.

So, I’m going with my initial gut reaction, and not joining Technorati at this time.

Twenty-three things: Blog about Technology


I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr
  5. Find some Flickr Toys and Tools

This week, I’m supposed to blog about technology (Activity 6 of the 23 Things).  If I’d been teaching for less than 10 years, I’m supposed to blog about how I think technology will change my teaching over the course of my career; if I’ve been teaching for more than ten years, I’m supposed to blog about how I’ve used technology to change how I teach in the classroom.

I’ve been a teacher for 17 years, and I have to admit that how technology has changed my teaching — Not Much.

That’s an awkward admission to make.

Some background.  In 1996, while I was a student in seminary, I learned about this weird thing called the World Wide Web. You had to use dialup service and a web browser to reach it, but using FTP and a bunch of code in a new programming language called HTML, you could write pages for the World Wide Web (we really called it the World Wide Web then, not just “the internet”).  So I put my brand-spanking-new Master’s Thesis online.  And after months and months, someone else linked to it!  I couldn’t analyze traffic or count hits, but it was exciting to know that someone online could find my page without knowing the address ahead of time.

Fast forward eighteen years.  I’ve done a lot online — kept up this blog, joined Flickr, learned to write budget spreadsheets for trips to Washington DC with my school, learned some digitally-based accounting, wrote two novels, published a lot of poetry online, and to show for it — seventy-six thousand views, all time, on this blog.  Eighteen years of activity online.

Eighteen years.

In my last year at my old school, I thought, “I’ve been at this long enough.  It’s time to create a different way of teaching.” I asked IT services at my school to turn on the software on our server to use wikis and teach wikis in my ancient history class.  That was thirteen years into my teaching career — and I feel that it was an abject failure.  I had few girls in my classes. The boys made social pages rather than academic pages; they defaced one another’s pages (and it didn’t really matter to them that I could see who had vandalized one another’s pages through my administrator functions — because they’d steal one another’s usernames and logins, and deface under someone else’s name; the “innocent” victim of this prank would sputter and protest that they hadn’t defaced “Kevin’s” page, while knowing full well that they’d done it to somebody else’s page.  Loads of kids from several classes, all studying the same subject, building a wiki together — but not being good writers, nor good readers, nor good historical thinkers… asking them to build an ancient history wiki?  Disaster.  A complicated disaster, with a lot of complicated lessons for teachers:  kids as pranksters and tricksters at heart. Kids as social animals.  Digital learning as a risky strategy for learning.  THe problem of “Walled Gardens” in education — creating safe environments for kids to learn in online at school, while they’re used to much more wild-and-crazy environments like Instagram and Facebook (which are themselves walled gardens of a sort, but in service to other masters than schools, and much larger, and thus much more apparently open. And full of people — seventeen kids is not enough to populate a wiki).

So, a retreat from digital learning at my new school.  Some experimentation, yes, but mostly the old standards of traditional education: typing, spreadsheets, a little bit of page layout. Not much.

Last night, coming home from the inaugural Mo’Mondays in New Haven, I was talking with my friend Hollie.  We were talking about the work of alchemy as a metaphorical tool for understanding creativity.  She mentioned the daughter of a friend of hers, though. “Andrew,” she said, “this kid doesn’t ever seem to be curious about anything.  She doesn’t follow sports. She doesn’t care about school.  She talks to her friends on the phone, texts them, but it’s like, about nothing.  So I think curiosity is something we’ve taken out of kids today. And I don’t know what to do about that for her. But it scares me.”

It scares me too.  I feel like I see a lot of kids like this friend of Hollie’s — kids who don’t seem interested or want to engage in many ways.  And I don’t think that putting them in front of a computer screen is necessarily the answer, unless we’re also empowering them to make, do, dream, create, and invent.

I’m sure I’ll have more to say about this, and that I’ll be given a chance to later on.  But it seems to me that in eighteen years, I ought to have done more with computer technology in my classroom, and with internet services, than teach kids to use a word processor.

Twenty-Three Things: Flickr Fun


I’ve challenged some of my colleagues to take the 23 Things challenge to become more invested in online learning this summer. This website includes a 10-week game plan for learning some online learning and presenting methods that are useful for teachers, and that are appropriate activities for the age group we teach.  There are other 23 Things lists out there, I know, but this is the one that we’ve chosen to work with, and that I’ve decided to complete.

The previous entries in this series are here:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Discovery
  3. Setting Up a Blog
  4. Starting with Flickr

The goal for today is to use some of the “fun Flickr apps” to do something with a photo or group of photos from Flickr.  And here, I’m at a loss. The links to the tools suggested, like Mappr and Moisaikr don’t actually work any more. One hasn’t worked since 2007; the other works, sorta, but the code seems to make it impossible to use your own photos as the basis for the work.

However, I did find a way to make one of those motivational posters using the Al-Baldah image I created using Chris Warnock’s book on the Mansions of the Moon.

motivatorc34a5098f591919a221d2cb509327b68a284bba8 I have no real interest in buying such a thing, unfortunately. I could make them again in the future, though, or use CreativeCommons images from American history or elsewhere to make Palace of Memory posters for my teaching or my workshops.

I also learned that I could have photo business cards made from my images, and greeting cards, by Should I? My success with selling my Geomancy poster or my pagan chant mandala t-shirt on has been a big zilch.

My usual search skills are not proving very helpful; I did find this memory game tool, which allows you to pick a tag and then use that tag as a way to train the memory.  I’ve not thought how to use this in the classroom yet, but one possibility would be to use it as a way to teach kids to learn about a subject of study before doing a deeper bit of research.

One of the few tools I’ve found is this one, though, which is kind of disappointing even as it’s accurate.   It compares the frequency of a photo’s views with the length of time that it’s been available (how long since it was uploaded).  And what’s disappointing about it is not that it’s inaccurate — but that my photos are not broadly received. Alas.  Not really on anyone’s radar but mine. None of my photos in the last two or three years have seen much use or collected much interest.    And here’s another list of tools for Flickr.

Oh well. It does give me the ability to keep track of all my art projects, and that’s been useful.

Beyond this, though, in doing explorations of Flickr toys, I’ve found that a lot of the tools require me to hand over user names and passwords, and this is a security issue for me.  If it’s not a tool that I can use without providing the keys to my artistic history, I’m not sure I want to use it.

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