my webinar with the Embassy of Spain

On December 3, I was honored to lead a webinar for nearly 300 registered teachers who participate in a program through the education office of the Embassy of Spain. In addition to all of the other challenges that today’s teachers face, these teachers also routinely bridge gaps between languages, cultures, and international perspectives on today’s world. The program leaders encouraged me to share the video, and I’ve created annotated notes with links below. Enjoy!

2:19 Welcome to the education office of the embassy of Spain. With over 18 offices in the U S and Canada, we are committed to the promotion of the Spanish language and culture by means of varied educational outreach initiatives.

4:46 Introduction: David Preston

8:43 Related to Open-Source Learning: open source software, open systems (system theory), and Open Educational Resources

9:10 Our awareness of being observed changes the process and content of our learning (this intuitive understanding has a counterpart in physics; see the observer effect)

11:35 Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery

13:41 “Academic rigor” & “accountability” are often used as buzzwords that marginalize students of color – accountability is a personal quality, not something we do to each other. Effective teaching is based on a positive view of human nature.

15:29 Einstein’s thinking about special relativity challenged the assumptions and constraints of Newtonian physics, and this provides a model for how we can reconceive schooling.

16:04 We constrain learning when we limit it with fixed time schedules. We often think of just the right thing to say after the conversation is over, and there is even a term for this in French: L’espirit de l’escalier.

18:11 The idea that “neurons that fire together wire together” is commonly referred to as plasticity of the brain.

21:34 The internet is 50 years old, but there is no curriculum to help teach about it, which is ironic because Americans look at their cell phones about 83 billion times a day* (*I 10x’d the figure factoring in 5 years plus the pandemic :).

22:02 Our choices about the tools we use and how we use them are important examples of critical thinking.

23:43 How we share mindfulness in my courses. (Part I & Part II of a blog post for students)

37:06 How did participants feel after sharing 60 seconds of mindfulness? (Responses included: free, sleepy, calm, relaxed, complete…)

42:25 Meta-analytic studies involving thousands of children and college students show that anxiety has increased so much that typical schoolchildren during the 1980’s reported more anxiety than child psychiatric patients did during the 1950’s.

42:59 This is a world literature course I am teaching right now.

43:35 From day one, students have been able to schedule a meeting with me, which is part of an intentional onboarding process designed to increase student engagement.

45:04 I want students to own the value of what they create.

45:14 Knowledge is power. This concept is not limited to philosophers and theorists such as Francis Bacon, Paolo Freire, or Peter McLaren.

45:45 “Only two industries call their customers ‘users’ – software and illegal drugs.” (Original source: Yale professor Edward Tufte in the documentary The Social Dilemma.) Software, especially social media, is designed for the same level of addiction as narcotics.

47:11 My students know that they can reach out to me with anything at any time. This meets a basic need for connection and support.

49:16 There is a tradition of communication that is very much based on shared connections and shared needs, and some truly wonderful ways – both in person and online – for us to engage with students to meet their needs.  Examples of practices in this area include the Socrates café,  nonviolent communication, and restorative dialogue circles.

49:39 A teacher shadowed high school students throughout their day and wrote this article to help the public see how exhausting it can be to sit still, be quiet, and feel like a nuisance.

51:01 Students don’t submit work in my courses – the word submission has more to do with power than learning. Instead, they post or publish their works on blogs and websites that they create. This provides much more content and metadata for students and teachers to review and provide feedback that supports improvement.

55:09 Because handwriting activates a different part of the brain than typing, and because sometimes students – like all of us – need to write things that aren’t suitable for sharing on the public internet, I taught students to how to publish handwritten work when appropriate.

56:15 Journaling is especially important in times like these – specifically, during a pandemic. Much of what we know about indigenous Mesoamerican culture is thanks to journals kept during “The Great Dying” almost 500 years ago. I taught students about this shortly after I learned it, and then I invited them to contribute their thoughts about today’s pandemic. Together, we created a book called “Surviving With Class: High School Letters From the Coronavirus Quarantine of 2020.”

1:00:34 This past semester, I allowed students to post work when they could, while teaching time management and accountability; I explained my reasons by offering an alternative evaluation policy.

1:02:52 Some of our students have a negative experience with reading – proficiency on tests is a poor indicator of motivation or sustainable performance. For this reason, I invite students to a different conversation about reading.

1:04:40 It’s important for students to know the teacher can do the work, not just lecture, so I shared a link to my upcoming book.

1:05:41 I expect students to know that I’m not going to ask them to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself, so I occasionally write an essay on the books we read.

1:06:39 Students are traumatized by essays, so I teach about Michel de Montaigne and I teach essays as a way to connect with each other by sharing our thinking (check out the student comments to the post).

1:08:48 I also make course zoom calls more accessible by posting recordings so students can access on their own schedules and review as needed.

1:10:32 Everyone is welcome to use anything they see on one of my course blogs (sample here, note the Creative Commons license).

1:11:13 We share things, and the process makes us better, a la “the Medici effect.”

1:13:05 I introduce Open-Source Learning as a possibility worth remixing, and I share what students have done with in the past, such as the student who went from bored to flying a plane in three months.

1:29:14 Teachers should be getting paid a lot.

1:31:03 We need to help students regain the power of their curiosity and their ability to ask questions – every question is an interdisciplinary question, so I ask students:  “What is your Big Question?

1:34:44 We use symbols to organize in large numbers and share meaning (my videos for students on the subject, and Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari)

1:38:04 Students can remix the curriculum just by posting their reactions to it. Consider the popularity of response videos on YouTube, especially when it’s the “first time hearing.”

1:43:54 In online environments it’s also relatively easy and inexpensive to gamify our courses. I created an experience for students and I called it the 5PH1NX.

1:45:51 We can create a variety of collaborative experiences that engage all students; here is a collaborative mind map created by 100 students working together for 24 hours.

1:50:40 Feeling like a constructive failure in teaching fuels the desire for changing for the better,  the kaizen of teaching.

2:03:56 Online learning can include meaningful personal connection, and – for asynchronous content – a little production value can go a long way. I recommend experimenting with tools such as mmhmm and Open Broadcaster Software.

2:18:46 Today’s online tools give us the ability to translate languages, connect personally, and engage communities with content. This is why I wrote the book on Open-Source Learning.

the right tool for the job

I originally wrote this on a course blog for high school students – it applies more than ever as educators, learners, and families adopt new tools and strategies for learning during the pandemic. -dp


In the words of Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish philosopher whose work influenced prominent writers and thinkers from Charles Dickens to Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all.

It’s easy to mistake the use of the internet in learning as a simple way to make the same ol’ same ol’ seem a little more entertaining. What we’re doing now goes way beyond that. Today you have the ability to use multiple media in ways that most effectively communicate your ideas and your sense of self.  As you select from a rapidly expanding online toolbox, keep in mind that every tool we use has a form, a function, a capacity to be interpreted (and sometimes hacked) by users, and even a “DNA” instilled by its creators that influences the way it’s perceived and adopted.

Technology doesn’t necessarily mean electronics. If you ask any serious writer, s/he will tell you that the action on a keyboard, the balance of a pen, or the texture of paper can make just as much difference as processing speed. And there are those times when nothing does the job like a simple, classic, well-made tool.  Here is a picture of me holding a 2 million year-old Acheulean Paleolithic bifacial hand axe— the longest used tool in human history.  It fit my hand perfectly, right down to the indentations for thumb and fingers, like it was custom-made for me– an especially rare experience for a lefty.

Apart from the perfect feel/form/function, there is something about an enduring classic that doesn’t hold true for the phone you buy today that will be non-state-of-the-art in a few months.  This is about more than craft, art, or even quality: this sort of attention to detail is the product of loving care.  It’s the difference between home-cooked and store-bought.  For real practitioners of anything worthwhile, tools aren’t just about techne, they are extensions of our humanity.  Ask anyone who plays their music on a turntable, develops their own photographs, or sends handwritten letters.

And if the last few paragraphs didn’t convince you to re-examine the tools you use and why, maybe a 39-second commercial is the right tool for the persuasive job:

the coronavirus and campus life

During a Zoom meeting this morning, a student asked me if I think it will be safe to return to campus in January.

I believe in giving honest answers to honest questions.

In this case, I’m sad to say that the answer is no. I do not think it will be safe to return to campus in January.

This week the coronavirus is causing more infections and deaths than ever before.


To put these numbers in perspective, consider the number of students enrolled at the school where I teach. According to the California Department of Education profile, total enrollment at Santa Maria High School is 2720.


Imagine that for a moment. Everyone dead. In one day.

I understand that people want to be able to open schools and return to campus. However, without the money to properly update classrooms and ventilation systems, and without the willpower to maintain protocols that would have to accompany a “new normal” (can you imagine all students keeping their hands off each other for an hour?), I don’t see it happening anytime soon. I don’t want my own children returning to school right now either.

I hope that we can all manage to control the virus in the coming months. Right now, as a society, we’re blowing it, so please focus on what you can control. Stay healthy. Maintain social distance. Stay home if you can. Wear a mask.

During World War II, English Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” So it is with us today. Many people feel tired, bored, broke, hungry, and justifiably frustrated or even angry at leaders who are not leading us through this.

And the virus doesn’t care. If we make mistakes that expose us or our loved ones, the virus will eat us. Plain and simple.

So, as you go about the business of living today, please remember: this is bigger than politics or school. This is about staying alive to tell your story. Let me be the first to wish you a joyous reunion celebration with all of your family, friends, neighbors, and classmates — when it’s safe.