Category Archives: Misc.


Is Research on Cursive and the Brain Enough?

Ok. There are clearly better ways to spend a Sunday morning…

But I came across this article about what research says learning cursive does to your brain.

As I am sure is happening in many districts, some parents, community members, and School Committee members have raised the issue of how much emphasis they believe we should be placing on handwriting, especially cursive.

Others will undoubtedly find this article, and it will certainly become part of our handwriting/cursive conversation.

I'm especially concerned because our handwriting conversations seem to have an undercurrent of, at best, iPads interfere with the teaching of handwriting, and, at worst, we shouldn't have primary grades iPads because they interfere with the teaching of handwriting, conclusions that I'm not sure are valid, even if iPads may draw attention to a larger issue.

The article points to improved “efficiency thinking” and “fine motor control” when teaching cursive, over print or keyboarding. The article does not make the argument that “therefore cursive should continue to be emphasized in school,” but this article is likely to be used to make that argument.

I want to be clear. I am not concerned about this article or the research-based conclusions it shares. I am concerned about the inappropriate ways others might try to use this article to further arguments/conclusions that cannot actually be drawn from this article (in fairness, I think it would happen from a place of naïveté, not duplicitiy).

So, although the research in this article seems valid and reliable and the conclusions it shares seem appropriate, I believe using the results from this article to further an argument that we should continue teaching cursive is invalid. There are significant issues with using the article in this way.

Fallacy 1: The Rubiks Cube Curriculum
The biggest issue is that the demonstrated benefits have nothing to do with the purpose of cursive or handwriting. There is nothing here about improving the quality or efficiency of (written) communication, just of certain kinds of thinking.

That is akin to suggesting we teach chess because it improves logical thinking. Even the argument that we should teach geometric proofs to build logical thinking has lost traction in favor of teaching logical thinking in authentic, not contrived (even if traditional and conventional) contexts. At other times, I have referred to this as the “Rubiks Cube Curriculum” – placing curricular focus and value on something of little practical value in order to garner some theoretical gain in some abstract cognitive ability, even though early psychological research shows there is little to no transfer of those abilities to real world application when taught that way (out of context).

The very next question that should arise from this research is, “Are there other, more authentic ways to efficiently develop efficiency thinking or fine motor control in students?” The question after that should be, “Is there a significant difference, in any practical way, not just statistically, in these two 'benefit areas' using cursive over print or keyboarding?”

Only if the answer is “no” to the first and “yes” to the second should we start having the conversation about if cursive should be the vehicle we use to develop those skills. The article does not raise these questions (And frankly, it may not be their responsibility to do so. But it is of anyone trying to use the article to say anything beyond what the article actually says.).

Fallacy 2: The Importance of Teaching Both Cursive and Print
The next problem with how some might try to leverage this article is to point to the “importance of teaching both print and cursive over keyboarding” (or even arguing we need to teach all three). Why not choose only one form of handwriting, print or cursive? It is true that schools traditionally teach print in the primary grades and then introduce cursive a couple years later. But other schools teach only cursive, starting in the primary grades. No research findings on this issue are presented in the article (again, recognizing that it is likely legitimately beyond the scope of this article).

Fallacy 3: The False Dichotomy
The third issue is that a misinterpretation of the conclusions in the article could be used to set up a false “dichotomy” (trichotomy?). The potential argument leveraging these results to say “cursive over keyboarding” (or even cursive over handwriting) assumes that we are only going to pick one. In truth, people in our society need to develop a practical level of proficiency in written communication, both “electronic” and “manual.” There is no research here about “blended” environments, learning both keyboarding and handwriting…

Fallacy 4: Handwriting Passes the Straight-Face Test on Return On Investment
The fourth issue is the assumption that schools have an infinite amount of instructional time and can teach everything anyone in the community (parents, businesses, community groups, seniors, other community members) believe students ought to learn (or even just believe “it would be good for them to know”)…

In truth, state curricular mandates have never been larger or more demanding (and cursive is not even part of the Common Core Curriculum for Language Arts!).

Schools have to examine every potential topic someone thinks we should teach from the perspective of return on investment, bang for the buck. So, requests for teaching content need to be weighed against how much time they take to teach well, and the practical value of developing such knowledge or skills in students, COMPARED TO ALL OTHER REQUESTS/DEMANDS. We have to be selective and deliberate in choosing where we put our energies. It is our responsibilty to be choosy and discriminating in what we choose to teach. (I feel the same way when businesses seem to be asking to shift their responsibility for job training onto public schools…)

I'm not even sure that advocates for an emphasis on teaching handwriting have looked at how much of modern written communication is hand written vs electronic. Clearly, the proportion of hand written to electronic written communication has shifted enormously, even since most of the parents of our current students were themselves students…

The real question should be, “How good do people today need to be at handwriting in order to do the amount of handwritten written communication needed today (and therefore, how much time and emphasis should schools put on it – what's 'good enough')?” The arguments about how nice it is to receive a handwritten (cursive) letter just have no real bearing when return-on-investment is considered (unless, perhaps, if we are discussing moving cursive to the Fine Arts curriculum).

I'm not sure that handwriting passes the straight face test on return on investment. Regardless, this article presents no such analysis (not the authors' job, but certainly the responsibility of anyone using the article to argue for the teaching of cursive).

Final Thoughts

And I won't get into questions around what are the best (not simply traditional) methods, approaches, and strategies for young people to develop proficiency in handwritten or electronic writing.

And I won't get into questions about why we are spending so much time debating the mechanical “drawing” of letters and words, rather than debating how to help young people use those words to express, inform, create, and persuade.

So, this article presents some interesting (research based) conclusions about the teaching of handwriting and cursive. But it is important to remember (and I'm sure the authors would echo this thought) that the only conclusions that can be drawn from this article are the specific conclusions this article shares.

In response to folks who share this article as evidence we should continue (or return to) our emphasis on teaching cursive, our questions should include the following:

  • If we believe schools are responsible for teaching efficiency thinking, what are the best evidence-based ways to do so?
  • What are the best evidence-based ways to develop fine motor control?
  • What is the research on the impact of learning handwriting on the development of effective communication skills?
  • What form of handwriting should we teach? What are the criteria for deciding?
  • To what level of proficiency should we develop handwriting? What's good enough?


Improving Battery Life in iOS 7

Maybe you're in the same boat I am.

I updated to iOS 7, and even bought a new iPad Air, and I'm just not seeing the battery last the way it used to.

So I've been looking for ways to improve my battery life. I thought I would share some of them here, since friends and colleages have mentioned being frustrated with battery life, too. So, here's what I'm doing to extend my battery life (these should work on most any iOS deviceusing iOS 7).

The ones I was aware I should be doing:

  • Shut off Bluetooth, cellular, or wifi when you don't need them (especially shut off cellular when traveling through rural areas where the phone may be constantly searching for a signal or a carrier and you arent likely to have a connection, or get a call anyway)
  • Only allow the apps you REALLY want using location services access to location services (things like maps, Find my iPhone, Find my Friends, or IMDB – so it can find theaters near you for movie times!)
  • Only allow the apps you REALLY want sending you notifications to send notifications

The ones that were new to me (and I was glad to learn about!):

  • Reduce 3D motion (Paralax and moving backgrounds)
  • Turn off Frequent Locations and location based ads
  • Reduce the number of places Spotlight will search
  • Turn off Background App Refresh (most apps become dormant when you aren't using them, but this feature lets them keep working in the background)
  • Turn off AirDrop when you aren't using it

The articles I found also recommended shutting off Siri and Background App Updating, but frankly, I like those features too much to shut them off!

I found these articles especially helpful (and they will tell you how to do the things I did, as well as some others):

What other strategies do you use to extend your battery life?


Merry Christmas! (And More!)

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Happy Kwanza, and Happy Holidays!

This is a great season to remind us the importance of how we treat each other, how we care about each other, and how we look out for one another. A good time to remember, regardless of our differences, we are neighbors and colleagues. The season of peace and love and renewal.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

What are my favorite apps for a teacher?

As soon as my friends and family recall that I’m an iPad guy, they often ask me what the best apps are. Just last night, a fellow educator asked on Facebook, “Hi Mike! Any iPad apps that I absolutely must have to help make my life easier in the classroom?”

I started to respond in Facebook when I realized both it wasn’t going to be a short response, and that Stephanie isn’t the first to ask, and certainly won’t be the last. So I decided to respond through the blog

So here is what I would say to Stephanie:

I have lots of ideas for apps, but they might not all just be focused on “the classroom…” although they would certainly each be good for a teacher.

The first app I recommend to anyone is AppStart. It’s free, and kind of asks you how you want to use your iPad and then gives you reviews of apps that work toward that goal. The iPad is a different enough paradigm from a desktop or laptop that I found this app incredibly helpful, even after I’d had my iPad for nearly a year.

I love Keynote. I’ve leaned toward Keynote on my laptop over PowerPoint for some time, but I like Keynote on iPad even better (well, maybe I like presenting with my iPad better than I do with my laptop…). It doesn’t have as many features as the desktop/laptop version, but is slick, none the less. I hardly ever even create a Keynote on my laptop anymore. I just create my presentations right on my iPad. You’ll need a dongle so you can connect to your projector or to a HDTV. The major thing that the desktop version will do that the iPad version will not is play imbedded movies in the presentation.

You can even share your presos between your regular computer and your iPad using a couple of different approaches (iDisk, if you’re a MobileMe subscriber, but also through, and email -although some are really too large to email).

Get a Dropbox account (think hard drive on the internet – free for 5Gig) and the Dropbox app. A lot of apps will let you share and open documents via Dropbox. I’m hardly using my real hard drive any more at all (except as an archive). Also, it is a great way to move documents between your iPad and your desktop/laptop (any of your devices that connect to the internet can use your Dropbox space).

Pages is a terrific word processor. But I’ve tried a bunch of different writing tools and think I have decided that my favorite is PlainText. It will save your documents in a special Dropbox folder. I’ll even use this first for drafting, even if I’ll have to copy/paste it into another program to format it later.

If you get a lot of Word or Excel documents, you might not want to use Pages or Numbers all the time. I find Quickoffice helpful for that. It’s more limited that Office (but generally iPad apps are simpler versions of the full blown software on a desktop). In addition to DropBox, I save things on my iDisk (another Internet hard drive, this one available through your MobileMe account). Quickoffice works with iDisk, so I save a lot of my current Word and Excel documents on my iDisk so I can use them both in Office on my laptop and Quickoffice on my iPad.

I have done my pleasure reading on Palm or iPhone for over a decade (and ever since I started, I have liked it better than a print book because of backlighting, adjustable font, and smaller size.). I have continued this on my iPad. I love the reading experience on iBooks (Apple’s own ereader) the best. But just like with the music companies when they started the iPod, not all publishers have signed on to the iBookstore yet, so, although they have a pretty big collection, some other ereaders have more. My second choice for ereaders is the Kindle app. The reading experience isn’t as good (although there are more ways to customize the page, the page layout isn’t as pleasant – which really does impact how nice it is – or not – to read – and the syncing is not reliable, so when you stop reading on your iPad and then a little while later try to pick up reading on your iPhone, you aren’t in the right place. This has only been an issue with iBooks when one or the other of the devices you’re switching between isn’t connected to the internet).

I used to buy electronic books for pleasure reading, but print for my professional books. But Amazon offers Kindle versions of many of the professional books I’ve wanted recently, so I have been buying in that format. I can still bookmark, make notes, and highlight text (and it’s much easier to go back and find later!). Also, the Kindle version has been at most the same price as the print version, but often less. And I can be reading in a minute or two and not have to wait for delivery (what do they mean “expedited” shipping?! They should just call it “not quite so slow shipping”!)

Another awesome app is Evernote. It’s a note taking app. Nothing fancy, but it saves the notes on the Internet. I used to take notes of meetings at school on my iPad, but when it was time to write the monthly reports, could easily open it on my Mac…

Do you subscribe to RSS feeds (Like with Google Reader)? I like River of News for reading those posts. Lots of folks like Flipboard, which is kind of cool, but it groups all your feeds together and sorts by date, but I sometimes want to look at the feeds from a single feed and that’s pretty easy with River of News.

I like Things for my To Do list. It’s available for both iPad and my Mac (probably other operating systems, too) and I can sync my lists if both devices have Things open and are on the same network.

I like SplashID for keeping track of all my passwords and personal information. There are versions for iPad, iPhone, and Mac (PC and others, I’m sure), and now the latest versions will all sync together – so my laptop, iPad, and iPhone all have the same list of passwords, etc.

I use Dragon Dictation for turning my dictation into text. Far from the quality seen in Sci Fi movies, but really quite good. I’ve used it before for quickly drafting an article or other piece of writing. Even with the time needed for fixing speech-to-text errors, it was much quicker than typing from scratch.

Other personal favorites? Zinio for magazines. eBay (other than for posting things for sale, I like the app better than going to the website). Solitaire (there are a gazillion of them, but I like Solitaire City. Netflix (your regular home subscription is good for all your devices). ABC Player – watch all of ABCs prime time shows. TWC Max+ (the Weather Channel’s weather app – my favorite weather app). Pandora for music (you name a song and then they create a “radio station” for you with music just like it). Instapaper for saving blog posts and other web articles for reading later. Blogsie for blogging. My bank has a good app for online banking – I think lots of large banks do and so far I like the iPad one better than using the website.

And although I’ve said a couple times that I like this app or that app better than going on the webpage, I have to say that Safari is a great browser and I really love how it works on the iPad. And I didn’t really mention Mail or Contacts or Photos or Maps or Calendar, because they are all included in the iPad, but I very much like how they work on the iPad and how seamlessly they integrate with the Mac desktop versions (especially using MobileMe, Apple’s syncing service).

So, my stepson looks at me and says, “Mike, you don’t have a short answer for anything!” I think maybe he’s right… But hopefully I’ve given you some good ideas…

(And for those of you who are interested in what apps we’re using in Advantage2014, Auburn, Maine’s early learning initiative that includes giving iPads to kindergartners, our list of standard apps is here.)

Writing Without Touching the Keys

I just posted about testifying to the Education Committee on a bill that I hope passes. But there is another part of this story…

I do a lot of public speaking and usually just work off an outline (I love having a Keynote or PowerPoint when I present because it’s my outline). I never write out what I’m going to say in it’s entirety.

But I got an email just a couple hours before I was leaving to head to Augusta. “Please bring 20 copies of your testimony,” it said.

20 copies…? It occurred to me that maybe I should write it out…

But writing can take a TON of time…

But I had this app that had sat on my iPhone and iPad forever, and some folks said it was cool, but I don’t think I’d ever used it before.

I just didn’t know how cool it was.

So, I fired up Dragon Dictation on my iPhone and started talking my testimony. And there it showed up as text!

It wasn’t perfect… And I need to to get better at using the commands that add punctuation and line breaks…


I ended up with the most amazing first draft in just a couple minutes!!!

I do a fair amount of writing and it is clear that Dragon Dictation will be a great way for me to pound out drafts! (Although I have to admit that I did write this one using the keyboard…)

And now that I have a long commute each day, I’m anxious to see how Dragon Dictation might work in my car (a little worried about the background noise of studded snow tires – but those won’t be on much longer this season – I hope!).

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Transitions and New Beginnings

I’ve been lucky and have had quite a career so far, having had great opportunities to do interesting work. High school and middle school teacher, technology integrator, professor, teacher educator, educational consultant. I’ve worked a lot in the fields of technology integration, 1to1 learning with laptop initiatives, middle grades education, motivating underachievers, and project-based learning.

The last three and a half years, I’ve been working with a small educational development organization. We’ve co-written a federal Magnet Schools grant for a large urban district (which we were awarded!), and supported the program for the life of the grant. We created a career academy, and a couple non-traditional middle school and high school programs, and a virtual project based program for at-risk and dropout youth. Frankly, it was like getting another graduate degree, this one in the business of education, and educational organization and leadership!

But now I have a new opportunity.

Auburn School District (ME) had been a partner in helping us get the virtual project-based program going. A couple months ago, they began working with several groups of students, educators, and community members to develop a broad-based vision for learning for the high school. They realize that if they want to reduce their dropout rate and help more students graduates, then they need to pursue multiple pathways to graduation, something few districts are working on in systemic way.

And a couple weeks ago, they asked me to help the high school and middle school and the extended educational community on developing their strategic vision of multiple pathways for all learners to be successful, exploring possibilities on how to implement that vision, and then put options into practice.

How could I say, “no”?!

So now starts a new adventure! I’ll let you know now it’s going… 🙂

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad