Tag Archives: technology

Digital Distractions vs. Substances

For the last few weeks the article “Are teenagers replacing drugs with smartphones” from the NYTimes has been lingering in my mind. Written by Matt Richtel and published on 3.13.17, the article explores the theory that substance abuse has declined among teenage students over the last decade because the time they would have used to experiment with drugs has been squeezed out by all the time they are spending on their mobile devices. While the article admits that there have been no conclusive studies done yet to support the theory, it certainly seems plausible — even likely — to me and my colleagues. I brought the article to a recent deans staff meeting for discussion, and our subjective, anecdotal evidence makes us feel like the theory must be true.

The news that substance abuse is down, in some categories roughly 10%, among teens, should of course be greeted with joy. But the idea that substances are being crowded out by a new addiction, mobile devices, makes one wonder if the cure isn’t worse than the disease. I bring a pro-tech bias to my work as an educator, but I also worry that addiction to mobile devices may end up being a more widespread and insidious social ill than nicotine, alcohol, and other substances were in the 20th century. Will deaths caused by distracted driving eventually exceed those caused by drunk driving? (Not if cars are all self-driving in the near future.) Will addiction to social media and mobile gaming lead to a generation of zombies more sleepless and in need of their fix than addicts during the crack epidemic? (Not if parents and boarding school faculty like me equip children with tools and habits to help them unplug at night and during community time.)

I’m focused on asking myself what a dean of students at a boarding school should do if we grant that the thesis is correct. The problem with addressing this mobile-device addiction is that our use of these devices switches back and forth hundreds of times each day among different modes of use. One minute we are using our devices for important work, the next minute we are checking our feeds, the next minute we are responding to a text from a family member, and the next minute we are pulled back into that new game we really love. Teachers can’t possibly know how a student is using their device at any moment, and the temptation to overreact is strong.

Where is all this heading? Speaking only for myself, I think we need greater clarity in our school-wide policies as to what sort of mobile device use is acceptable in which contexts. We must carve out community spaces and times in which no use is permitted at all. Boarding schools need to think about sleep issues as well. (I’m influenced here by Jonathan Crary’s haunting book 24/7.) A small number of teenage boarding students are able to unplug from their devices at night without prompting or assistance from adults, but most cannot. True to the Swiss army knife aspect of smartphones, most teens now use their device as their alarm clock, which means that if you confiscate their phone to help them get undistracted sleep, you’ve increased the likelihood that they’ll be late to class! Wristwatches and old-fashioned alarm clocks are not very popular among today’s teens.

The most worrying factoid from Richtel’s article is that the drop in substance use seen in young people ages 12-18 is not showing up among college students. Those college students are using substances as much as ever. How do we understand this data? Will substance use among college-aged people drop as the current 12-18 year-olds age, or are we seeing something much more troubling? If use has dropped so significantly among middle school and high school kids, but not among college students, that means that we are seeing more college students than ever who left for college having never experimented with or abused substances but who begin to do so after leaving home. This strikes me as a terrifying prospect. Colleges simply do not provide the careful attention to student well-being and safety net that secondary schools do. Therefore, high school teachers must continue to educate their students about the perils of substances even if the data suggests that fewer and fewer of our kids are actually at risk while under our care. We educate not just for the present, but mostly for the future.

Building a Chatbot for the Deans’ Office

Summer vacation is a time that growth-oriented educators use for reflection, rejuvenation, and professional development. As a new dad with a baby at home, this wasn’t an ideal summer for me to travel to conferences or take courses; instead, I focused on growing my tech skills. The end result is a cool product that I built to satisfy my curiosity in artificial intelligence: a chatbot.

If you aren’t familiar with the concept of a chatbot yet, you soon will be, as they are on the brink of becoming ubiquitous. In brief, a chatbot is a bit of code that masquerades as an interlocutor inside a messaging app, such as Facebook Messenger, or WhatsApp, or iOS’s native text-messaging app. You typically use these messaging apps to talk to people you know, but more and more you are going to find yourself talking to businesses though this medium. Or rather, you will be talking to bots that are programmed to do a limited number of tasks while interacting with you in what seems like natural language.

Why is this process going to happen? Because that’s where the eyeballs are. I remember seeing a Wired Magazine article in 2010 declaring the death of the Web, and thinking to myself, “That’s ridiculous; the Web is still young, and I love the Web. Why would I ever stop using the Web?” But the authors (Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff) were prescient. I avoid using a web browser as much as possible these days and interact with the internet through apps instead. I don’t open Firefox and navigate to google.com; instead I tap the Google app on my iPad. But now, not even six years later, the techno futurists are assuring us that we are on the brink of the next era. In this new phase of the internet, we will interact with all of our favorite sites and services without ever leaving our texting app. How do they know this? Well, it’s already happening in Asia. (WeChat and Line are two of the messaging apps that are on the cutting edge of this change.)

As recently as this past May, it would never have occurred to me to build a chatbot. But about a year ago, I heard about a much-ballyhooed a.i. digital scheduling assistant named Amy, produced by a company called x.ai. I signed up for a beta account, and then waited, and waited, and waited. Then suddenly in May I came off the wait list and started testing out Amy. Amy isn’t a chatbot, but she is an a.i. bot that works through your email and calendar. While complex and powerful a.i. personas such as Siri get most of the attention, the new wave of useful bots are built to do very specific tasks, but do them with excellent results. Amy only does one thing: If you have agreed to set up a meeting with someone, she takes care of the irritating emails back-and-forth as you and the other party(s) try to find the right time and place. She does this amazingly well, and uses such convincing natural language that you would believe that she is a real person.

I got to use Amy for about a week to impress a couple of colleagues at work, but then summer vacation began, and I was left wondering what other bots are out there that I should know about. I began reading every article on the topic that I could get my hands on, and I discovered a young but rapidly expanding world of chatbots. For the last month I’ve been using a chatbot that helps you save money, called Digit. It isn’t exactly a bank account, but it’s very close, and you can see that very soon we will all be interacting with our banks via bots like this. Unlike quite a few bots that I’ve tried out this summer, Digit really works. It isn’t buggy and it does what it says it’s going to do; namely, it sweeps tiny amounts of cash out of your checking account when you aren’t looking, and then holds them in a (rather lame, non-interest-paying) savings account. Digit sends you upbeat text messages to update you on your savings, and you can text message it back to ask it how much money is in your account, or to ask it to transfer cash back to your real bank account

The success of Amy and Digit got me thinking about my job in the Deans’ Office at George School. We are a high-traffic corner of the school’s administration, and we are frequently bogged down in onerous data-collection tasks. What if we had a chatbot that worked on a platform that the students use often, such as Facebook Messenger? Would this more frictionless medium make it easier for us to collect information that we need, such as vacation travel plans? And would we be able to reduce the number of phone calls that we receive asking for information that is available on the school’s web site if people could just ask a bot that lives in their phone? Too bad, I thought, I’ll never get to find out, since I don’t have the coding skills to build a chatbot, and this cutting edge tech must be far beyond my abilities, right?

As a flag-waving member of the Connected Educator community, I do a lot of my professional development through Twitter. And good old Twitter brought me the solution in the form of a tweet from a company called Flowxo. They claim that you can use their platform to build a chatbot without having to write any code. And so my three-week adventure in building a chatbot for our Deans’ Office began in earnest.

After signing up on Flowxo’s website and poking around a little, I tried brainstorming a list of all of the things with which a chatbot might be able to help the Deans’ Office. Examples include:

  • Collecting vacation travel information
  • Providing information on upcoming assembly times/subjects
  • Providing information about sports contests times/locations
  • Answering questions about school rules
  • Answering questions about sign-out procedures
  • Communicating about minor discipline
  • Submitting reports about missing belongings
  • Providing updates about inclement weather delays/closings
  • Allowing students to pull up individualized schedule information

I spent a couple of weeks tinkering during spare moments when my son was asleep. (Time: a rare commodity when you have an eight-month old.) Through a lot of trial and error and ignorant bumbling, I came to the conclusion that Flowxo’s “application” template would help me design successful functionality for collecting vacation travel information and allowing students to submit reports of missing belongings. My attempts to use RSS feeds from the school’s website to move information in the other direction (from the school to the end user, as opposed to from the end user to the school) were unsuccessful. After my chatbot is unveiled, it’s possible that members of the school’s IT team will be able to quickly help me to figure out the things that I couldn’t do on my own. I wanted to stubbornly work on this project by myself, so I didn’t ask anyone for help. (Although my wife, mother-in-law, and an advisee helped me test the bot once I activated it.)

The two “flows” that the chatbot now performs are simple, but they work beautifully. Both gather information from users through relatively elegant natural language, then they fire off automated emails with the data collected. The vacation travel information flow isn’t nearly as detailed as the online form we have on our web-based parent portal, but we struggle to get anything close to 100% of parents to submit the information using that form. If students or parents will adopt the chatbot and enter the information that way, it will be a big win as far as I’m concerned.  Over time, I may be able to improve upon the flow to get it closer to the full online form, but in the meantime, it collects the basic facts that my office needs.


Dean Eric’s Chatbot in action

In case you are I thinking about making a chatbot for your school, I should warn you that there are a lot of hurdles on which one can trip. Flowxo has a great site and provides a wonderful service, but it took a long time for me to understand their system. (You need to hit the “refresh” button on your browser after everything you do, and it took me days to figure that out.) The Flowxo directions also make it sound pretty easy to submit your bot to Facebook so that they’ll let it run in Messenger, but that step nearly tripped me up completely. You need to submit a privacy document full of legal language, plus a screencast of your chatbot in action. I didn’t know how to do either of those things. Some rapid googling helped me get those tasks done, and ultimately Facebook approved my app within a day. After that, I still found that the bot wasn’t operating correctly, and I nearly destroyed all of my work in a panic as I tried to fix it.

The chatbot is now running on the Facebook Messenger app if you want to check it out, but it is useless if you aren’t a George School student or parent. There’s nothing to be ashamed of there. Just as Amy from x.ai does one thing and does it very well, my bot does two things, and does them (fairly) well. It’s the right tool for the specific task; nothing more. I’d like to expand the chatbot to other messaging apps other than FB Messenger, but Flowxo doesn’t yet offer those integrations. (It works with Slack, which is awesome, but we don’t use Slack at GS.) If I could run the bot on the native iOS and Android messaging apps, that would cover something close to 100% of our student body.

As I wrap up this post, there are still a couple of weeks until the start of school. I don’t know if the chatbot will be adopted with love or mocked and misused for the amusement of teenagers. However, I feel satisfied that I tried something I didn’t think I could pull off, and it is now up and running. I’m not aware of any other secondary schools that have a chatbot yet, so for once I’m truly out there on the cutting edge. It may never happen again. (There are an awful lot of schools out there, so I’m guessing some other enterprising faculty members have got some bots online.)

Final note: In the chatbot community, people care about the distinction between bots that are truly a.i. and those that are not. Dean Eric’s Chatbot is not a.i.; it is basically a glorified voicemail automated phone tree type of setup, albeit operating via a much hipper medium. While I was working on building the bot using Flowxo, I saw a tweet from IBM saying that you could build a bot in ten minutes using Watson and Bluemix. For one glorious day, I abandoned Flowxo and worked on a truly a.i. bot on IBM’s platform, but I found their interface to be buggy, and I had to give up. So my chatbot isn’t powered by IBM’s amazing Watson technology, and I’m at peace with that.

The Homework Gap

You’ve probably already read “Bridging the Digital Divide That Leaves Schoolchildren Behind” in the Technology section of yesterday’s NYTimes. How then do we process Anya Kamenetz’s piece for npr.org published today, “Study in Your PJs? What a High School ‘Work From Home’ Day Looks Like.” While the Times piece (written by Celia Kang) focuses on the homework challenges faced by the 40% of students in the McAllen, TX area who live in homes that can’t afford internet access, Kamenetz’s piece talks about a public school in northern NJ (Park Ridge) that had a voluntary distance learning day in which all of students were encouraged to stay at home. According to the principal of the NJ school quoted in Kamenetz’s piece, “99 percent” of the students in that district have high-speed internet at home. Park Ridge was experimenting with a distance learning day mostly to be innovative, with some lip-service paid to college readiness and future bad-weather situations. Meanwhile in McAllen and across the country, low-income students are lucky if they live in a district that is experimenting with wifi-hotspot-enabled school buses. Otherwise, they have to sit in fast food restaurants for hours using free internet. Burger King: the ideal setting to work on your research paper about Macbeth. Compare and contrast: fast food restaurants and the blasted heath.

At the boarding school where I work, we have had tough discussions about how late at night we allow our boarders to access our (strong, omnipresent) wifi network. We care about equal opportunities to access the web for our boarders and our day students. The conversation can tie you in knots since it requires you to make generalizations about what the parents of day students allow their children to do, or what the parents of our boarders would like us to do in their stead, but we are talking about a situation in which everyone has access to the web nearly all of the time. And even when we turn off the wifi (very, very late at night), many students just stay on their devices using their own data plans.

The Times piece discusses the Lifeline program that (controversially) spends $2 billion in tax dollars to subsidize broadband for low-income households. Hopefully the FCC will re-up this program next month, but much more attention is needed to the so-called homework gap. Students at my school complain (a little melodramatically at times) that they really can’t do any homework any more without access to the web, and in truth, that’s where they look up their assignments and access relevant coursework. Lifeline is a start, but we also need much more funding at the local level for public libraries, which for many school children are the go-to setting for after school internet study time. Wouldn’t we much rather see our kids working in a library than a fast food restaurant or a school bus? How does one even do homework for hours on a school bus, especially after dark and in cold weather? This issue is beginning to sound like it is one part educational access crisis, one part public health crisis.


Digital Disparities — boarding school edition

Today’s NYTimes features an article by Natasha Singer entitled The Digital Disparities Facing Lower-Income Teenagers. This is a topic of concern where I work since it is increasingly taken for granted that students will be able to complete their assignments using a decent computer with a fast internet connection. As a boarding school with a very diverse population, we have to keep one eye trained on this issue as we integrate more and more technology into our lesson plans and assignments.

In the past we have supplied all of our academic buildings with carts full of laptops for students to borrow as needed, but this year we have shifted to a “bring your own laptop” policy. I would have preferred a full-on “bring your own device” policy, as has been implemented at many schools, but we took more of a baby step here. (The difference is in the mindset regarding mobile devices in the classroom, but I digress.) We still have the old laptop carts to augment what the students bring with them, and we can loan laptops to students for longer periods of time if needed. Still, we are expecting our students to be able to afford to bring a serviceable laptop to school with them. Once they get here, they will find that we have a strong wifi network that blankets the school, so our students have that advantage over many lower-income students who don’t attend boarding school.

One equity issue that we face is not the sort of thing that makes it into the NYTimes: namely, the disparity between wifi access at night for our boarders vs. day students. Our wifi network in the dorms cuts off late at night (about half an hour after “lights out” in each dorm, which is related to the age of the students in that dorm) in order to help the students resist the temptation to stay up all night staring at screens. However, some boarding students feel that this puts them at a disadvantage in relation to the day students who can stay up working on homework as late as they want with the wifi in their homes still on. This is oversimplification, of course, because many parents enforce stricter rules regarding technology in their homes than we enforce in our dorms. Also, many of our boarders use their own cellular connections to connect to the internet after the wifi cuts out. (That’s another equity issue, of course.) Speaking just for myself and not any other members of the faculty or Deans’ Office, I think that our evening wifi cutoff times are generous, and that students shouldn’t be up later than that working on homework. Is there some procrastination on the students’ part? I suspect so.

The NYTimes article also presents statistics regarding how much entertainment young people consume using their devices sorted by racial group. This data is a little perplexing; read the article and see for yourself. The author shies away from making causal arguments that explain why this group or that group might be consuming more screen-enabled entertainment per day than some other group, but that just leaves the reader to fill this lacuna with troubling stereotypes. I’d like some answers, please.

From the point of view of my work in our Deans’ Office, one repercussion of our “bring your own laptop” policy is that we need to be able to get boarding students to the Apple Store or Geek Squad when their laptops break. I was worried that this would be a major challenge this year, but it hasn’t been. Advisors may be stepping in to help their boarding advisees before they come looking for help from the deans. Or our IT department might be fixing more of the students’ hardware than I expected. Either way, it seems that our laptop policy is working and students are getting the help that they need. But we better not take our eye off the equity issues.

Reflecting on the Adaptability Project

Thursday was the fourteenth and final day of George School’s Adaptability Project summer seminar. The eleven faculty members of the group spent nearly three weeks of what would have been our summer vacations sequestered in the MDA Library. Our task was to develop solutions to the challenges that face schools like ours, and to do so with deftness. Two proposals were selected by the “shark tank” judges, and now we’ll spend the 2015-16 school year trying to get them approved by our faculty using Quaker process. The questions I’d like to reflect on are: Was this process successful? Was it time well spent? Does this innovation lab concept make sense for other schools? Was it personally and professionally rewarding for me?

I can’t truly judge whether or not our efforts were a success until the faculty weighs the two proposals. Even then, it could be years before they are fully implemented to the extent that they can be properly evaluated. I wish that I was more confident that they will “bend the cost curve” as we were tasked to do. My greater concern is that both proposals strike me as “me too” initiatives. We are proposing to make changes that imitate what other schools are doing, and while that might be good for us, it isn’t particularly distinctive or innovative. We’ll need to find ways to make these changes such that they are uniquely George School in flavor and character. That might yet happen during the implementation phase; I have faith.

As I’ve been pondering in my posts over the last week, I suspect that this “me too” quality results from the episodic nature of innovation at GS. Because we haven’t looked at these issues (i.e. technology in the classroom and course distribution requirements) in a number of years, at least not with this degree of concentrated heat, there was a backlog of pent-up potential change that needed to be addressed. I suspect that if we duplicated this Adaptability Project process again and again for the next three-to-five years, we would just keep working through this backlog. In other words, truly innovative ideas wouldn’t surface until we moved through all of the low-hanging fruit or obvious areas for improvement. (I don’t mean to minimize the serious work required to structure proposals for change thoughtfully, nor to minimize the challenge of reaching consensus on approving these proposals.)

We might have seen some funkier, oddball proposals if we hadn’t been pressured to work in teams quite so quickly. We initially had eleven faculty members with eleven different proposals, and I would have liked to have seen more of them stand alone. After all of the synthesis that happened, the four proposals that actually reached the shark tank had their sharp edges rubbed off, like the stylization that affected the ancient Cycladic sculptures after a millennium of repetition. For instance, I was initially interested in exploring the idea of joining an online consortium as part of a rather jagged menu of “unbundling” strategies. The consortium idea is now part of the larger “technology renaissance” proposal, but the logic behind it has shifted, and my ability to make a strong financial case is lessened as a result. Admittedly, the tech proposal in which it is just one cog has a logic to it that works beautifully with the other team’s proposal, so one could argue that some magic occurred in the process that will lead to everything working out beautifully.

There is no doubt in my mind that these three weeks were rewarding ones for me, professionally and personally. We have an all-star group of mid-career teachers at GS, and spending time with them working through challenging issues concerning the future of the institution that we all love is bracing stuff. My colleagues push me intellectually, and their passion often exceeds my own. I was determined to be an agent provocateur throughout the process, and I may have been too confrontational at times, both through my blog posts and my comments in meetings. Well, I have my own notions of what it means to be an innovative organization, and I want to see us evince those qualities across everything that we do, not just in a cloistered setting. For me, that means promoting transparency, challenging sacred cows, busting silos, and embracing new tools. We heard about schools that are doing some of these things when Heather Hoerle presented to us; maybe we all need to visit an altschool. Regardless, I’m grateful that my colleagues have patience for me when I am speaking like a prophet of innovation.

Next time, if there is a next time, we need to study innovative schools (and innovative businesses from other sectors) more actively and deeply. We did this a little bit when we Skyped with the senior administrative team from Kiski. They have a good system for nimble decision-making, but they are a smaller school and don’t have the expectations that come with Quaker process. If our HOS has one very provocative idea embedded in the Adaptability Project, it is this: With some rethinking and rejiggering of its structures, Quaker process at George School could help us adapt with deftness, not hinder us. It stands to reason that this could be true. The problem that many large organizations face is that they have layers upon layers of bureaucracy. We don’t. Our organization is very flat, and other schools actually envy this quality. So how did that become a perceived weight that pulls us to do things slowly? Much more reflection is needed on this topic.

Flying the Flag (Adaptability Project, Day 10)

Sorry for the tease: This post isn’t about the controversy over the Confederate flag or a celebration of SCOTUS’s decision regarding marriage equality. It’s about flying the flag of my tribe. On Day 10 of the Adaptability Project summer seminar, we discussed whether or not it was okay to blog about some of the details of our work; especially since part of our process is “stealthstorming.” There are good arguments on both sides of the issue, with some folks favoring stealth and some favoring transparency. In the end, I feel compelled to blog about the Adaptability Project because I am who I am: Hoist the Jolly Roger! I’m a Connected Educator!


Many Connected Edus are influenced by Dave Burgess’ book, Teach Like a Pirate.

On the first morning of the Adaptability Project’s summer seminar, I shared a chart with my colleagues that showed the structural problem with independent schools’ business model. (See this post.) The chart ended up in the presentations of both of the teams who were selected as the winners by the shark tank. Where did I first see that chart? I found it (via Twitter) on the blog of a fellow Connected Educator a few days earlier. (Tap –> Send to Pocket . . . trigger an IFTTT formula –> Send to Evernote) My fellow Connected Edus are out there sharing the best of what they know, night and day, and their knowledge and inspiration strengthens me. But it isn’t enough to take without giving. The dues you pay to be a Connected Educator are simple: You have to share, too.

Why do we do this? Why do we stay up late into the night hammering out blog posts that might be read by five people? Why do wake up at the crack of dawn on Saturday morning to participate in #satchat? Why do we get to conferences early to participate in an “unconference”? No one is paying us to do these things, and to most of our colleagues, these activities go unnoticed. What’s the point? Why bother?

Passion is the answer. Passion for our students, passion to build a better education system, passion for self-improvement, passion to use the most effective methods, passion to know what’s going on, passion for true comradery. We believe that there is strength in numbers, and when we get together to talk to each other on Twitter, we are usually trending. Is the American education system broken? If so, we’ll fix it. This isn’t a movement that’s content to sit around and accept the world as we find it. We challenge the status quo, we push for evidence, we are never satisfied. And when we see something that’s awesome, we retweet it or repost it, one thousand times if necessary.

These days I have two sets of colleagues. There are my fellow faculty members at George School, and then there is my PLN. The faculty at GS is limited to the number of people we need to run the school and educate 540 students in a residential setting. The potential pool from which to recruit one’s PLN is staggering.

Looking for a Head of School? You can’t do better than the enlightened (and argumentative) @JosieHolford. [blogs at http://www.josieholford.com/] Or check out @gregbamford or @zacklehman or, of course, @daar17.

Need to see what great teachers are up to? You better check out @Smacclintic. [blogs at http://smacclintic.edublogs.org/] Or check out the tireless @mssackstein. [blogs at http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/work_in_progress/] Or my new PLN-pal @TrNancy13. [blogs at http://constanteaching.blogspot.com/]

Need a new dean for your Quaker school? I’m a little jealous of my FSL rival over at Westtown @lindamcguire_ . [blogs at http://www.lindamcguire.net/]

Now that I’ve gotten started on this list, I realize that I need to include about a hundred other people. All of my old #TABSchat friends, the moderators and contributors of #edtechchat, definitely the usual group at #isedchat, the deity @cybraryman1 [http://www.cybraryman.com/], @thenerdyteacher [http://www.thenerdyteacher.com/], @TheWeirdTeacher [http://hestheweirdteacher.blogspot.com/], and on and on. And you better follow The Pirate Captain @burgessdave [http://www.daveburgess.com/new/category/blog/]!

Some of these folks blog and microblog for an audience of their peers. Others are blogging for their students, or for the parents of their students. Some are blogging for an academic audience in higher ed. Some just want to get their thoughts down, and a blog beats paper because you can search it and hyperlink it. Maybe some of these folks want to be “thought leaders” or “build their brand” or whatever. That’s a fool’s errand, but if it leads to a generous sharing of ideas, I’m not going to judge. It takes a lot of fuel — emotional, intellectual, and spiritual  fuel — to get out of bed every morning and work in the field of education. The Connected Educator movement is my I.V. drip of pure passion, and when I’ve got a bag of serum to spare, I need to get that thing hooked up to help all of the other teachers and administrators out there.

The school world would be a better place if everyone got connected. Sure, there would be more noise and tedious repetition. But the good ideas rise to the top. The ideas I’ve been working on with my teammates in the Adaptability Project were fueled by the Connected Educators movement, so I feel obliged to report back to my PLN on how their influence finds expression through this work. I’m proud of what we’re doing at George School this summer, and yes, I want everyone to know about it. We should fly our flag proudly.

Coda: I’d like to dedicate this post to the memory of Grant Wiggins. [His blog, now silent, is here.] I first became aware of Grant’s work at the Klingenstein Summer Institute in 2004 where he gave a day-long introduction to UbD. Then I worked with him briefly when he was hired to do some training for the faculty at The Hun School of Princeton when I worked there. Finally, when I came to George School in 2006, I discovered that Grant was a current parent, and three of his children are now GS alums. (I mentioned my proficiency with UbD in my interview when I applied to work here. I had no idea that Grant was part of the GS community at the time. I’m convinced it helped me get the job.) There are countless teachers online trying to break through the clutter and become “thought leaders.” As far as I’m concerned, Grant was one of the tiny handful who deserve that moniker. He was generous in his online interactions with scores of teachers who looked up to him, and he modeled civility in a Twittersphere that has no referees. I haven’t entirely finished processing the fact that Grant is no longer with us. His passing has left a giant hole right in the center of the educational blogging community. I don’t see how anyone is going to be able to fill that void.