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Sup with the Sup
Sup with the Sup
Episode 11: Richard Culatta and Digital Citizenship

Welcome to the next episode of Provo City School District’s “What’s Up With The Sup” podcast. I am Superintendent Wendy Dau. We have a special guest this week. I had the opportunity to sit down with Richard Culatta, the CEO of the International Society for Technology and Education, when he recently visited our district.

We had an enlightening discussion about ways we as parents and as educators can help students use technology in a more beneficial way and how to help them become better digital citizens. You won’t want to miss this episode, but before we speak with Richard, here are some updates for this week. 

The school year calendar priority survey for the 2025 2026 school year has been sent out.Please check your email for the link to complete the survey. The survey provides parents, students, and employees the opportunity to let the district know which details of a school year calendar Are most important to them. This survey will remain open through Sunday, November 5th, after which the results will be shared with the public and used to construct two options of the 2025 2026 school year calendar to be voted on by the public students and employees. We are currently on our fall break. Teachers return to work for a professional development day on Tuesday, October 24th, and students return to class on Wednesday, October 25th. We hope that you are having an enjoyable break.  The next school board meeting will be a study session Tuesday, October 24th. Study sessions are held in Boardroom 1 at the district office and are open to the public. The study session will begin at 4:00 p.m. with the business meeting at 4:40 p.m. At 5:00 p.m., the board will re-enter its study session to work with Insight on its strategic plan. All study sessions and business meetings are open to the public. Elementary SEP conferences are coming up on October 25th through 27th. Please look for more information coming from your schools.  A reminder that the contest for students to design a Find Your Swing pin is officially here. Students can submit their best artwork representing the Find Your Swing theme for a chance to have their design become the pin. Artwork can be turned into their school’s main office by Wednesday, December 13, 2023. And it really highlights the book that we have been reading, “The Boys in the Boat”.  Look for the weekly videocast from me every Friday. In this short video, I provide important information and updates about the great things happening throughout the district.

Wendy: And now on to Richard Cullata. We are here today with Richard Cullata. And so welcome Richard. Thank you for joining us on our podcast today.

Richard: I am so glad to be back here. I actually, my very first teaching experience was in Provo District in Timpview High School teaching Spanish. So it is so fun for me to get back here for a minute.

Wendy: Oh my goodness. That’s exciting. How many years ago was that? 

Richard: Oh, I don’t know that we want to disclose that. 

Wendy: That’s fine. So tell us, besides being a former Spanish teacher at Timpview High School, tell us a little bit about how you got involved in this work, what your current role is. Maybe people don’t even know. And what that means in the field of education, in the field of technology, all of those things. 

Richard: Sure, so my current role is running a non profit organization called the International Society for Technology in Education. We usually just go by ISTE. Yes. And the goal of ISTE is to help make sure we are making really amazing. learning experiences, and we use technology to help do that. So we’re not really focused on the technology itself. We’re focused on how do we make learning engaging, make learning joyful, make learning meaningful, and how can we use technology tools to help make that happen. 

Wendy: So technology is a tool, not the actual…thing that we are worried about so much. 1

Richard:00%. 100%. Look, the worst call that I ever get, and I do get this sometimes from a school district somewhere, not here. 

Wendy: Okay, good. 

Richard: Uh, is, no, truly, but I, but I do when somebody says, Hey, we just bought, you know, 500 devices of whatever type. What should we do with them? Right.  And I’m like, Oh dear. Oh, help us all. Because, right. That’s, that’s too, that’s not the way we do this. Right. The first thing is always to say, Oh, I’m sorry. What is your learning vision? What is the goal for the vision of the learning experience? And then how can we think about using technology to make sure that vision actually happens? That’s always the order that we want to do things in. 

Wendy: And I actually think that as we’ve been talking with parents, that’s really what, how they see it as well. They get concerned that technology is replacing the teacher, replacing the education. And so. For us to be having these conversations is actually very timely and our parents are going to be very appreciative of this.

Richard: I do want to add one other thing though, cause you, you mentioned sort of that’s, that’s what we do. That’s what my organizing organization does. But there’s, there’s a bit of a journey that I’ve been on, you know, I have four kids myself, and, uh, I’ve spent a lot of time with, with, with parents and, and schools, and I began noticing some challenges in the way that we were preparing, uh, kids to use technology well. I, I would say. How we create the conditions. I don’t think we were doing enough work to create healthy conditions for technology use. Uh, and, and this has been accelerated with, with COVID right?  During COVID. We sort of had to very quickly get a lot more devices out in hands of kids. A lot, a lot of our, uh, life moments that we used to do in face to face environments, move to a digital space. Right. 

Wendy: That’s right. 

Richard: And in, in, in a lot of ways that helped us continue a lot of, of important things, right. Including learning, including family connections, but because we moved very quickly, we didn’t. spend enough time thinking about how do we set those, those, those healthy conditions. And as I began looking at the research, I found that some of the well intended, uh, approaches that we were using were actually making it harder for kids to learn how to be healthy members of a digital world. And so, so my goal, I sort of have a very personal goal to help create healthier conversations and create healthier conditions for tech use at home and at school. And that’s kind of what I, what I work on now. 

Wendy: Uh, so now you’ve made me think about this a little bit more. So give me an example of something that we did with technology that we thought was actually good, that probably wasn’t creating the best conditions for our students and for our children.

Richard: Yeah, so I’ll tell one, and I talk about this in a book that I wrote called Digital for Good. Uh, and, and it’s one that again, comes very well intended. But actually can send the wrong message to kids. So it’s, it’s around how we, how we balance our tech use. I think everybody will agree. Any parent, any teacher will agree that we need some sort of balance. We should not have a kid just plugged into a device for their whole life. Right. We get that. Right. And so being very well intended, we say, Hey, let’s use this thing that we call screen time. And so we’ll say, we’ll take an hour and you can use a screen for an hour. And then when that hour is over, you stop. Right,

Wendy: Right. 

Richard:The problem with that again, sounds well intended. The problem with that is when you use. Time as the tool to find balance. Uh, what it, what it does is it teaches kids that all digital activities, all things that happen on a screen are of the same value. 

Wendy: Right. 

Richard:And that’s exactly the opposite message that we want to be sending. What we want to send instead of screen time, we want to be talking about screen value. And so there are some activities that, you know, five minutes is probably too much. 

Wendy: Right. 

Richard: And some digital activities where several hours might be reasonable for reading, if we’re creating, if it’s a day outside where, you know, it’s, it’s raining and we can’t go outside.

 If there’s a, you know, whatever the conditions are that make sense, there, there are digital activities that, that, that really, uh, warrant the given of value back to the kid that it’s worth spending some more, some more time. But using time as that limiting factor, again, sends the wrong message. And the exact, the message we want to send is not all tech, not all apps, not all websites are created equal. And we need to discuss with each one, whether it’s giving you the value and therefore based on that, how much of your time you should be spending on it. 

Wendy: So a lot of, uh, times I’ll get individuals who will say, could you please. Give us some guidance on how many minutes or how many hours my child should be spending on a device in a classroom. So what you’re basically saying is what we want to have the conversation about is what is the student doing during that time? And because these activities are valued differently. 

Richard: That’s it. And unfortunately I have visited some classrooms again, not here, but in other places that I’ve been, I visited some classrooms and I thought, wow, uh, we should just throw all this technology out because they’re not, it’s not being used in a way that’s creating healthy learning. Right. And then I’ve seen some others. I’ve been, I was actually just, uh, uh, visiting I was at Dixon just before this, this interview and fantastic class that I was observing where the kids were actually using technology. They were coding to build devices to help people with, with multiple sclerosis to be able to interact, engage in the world around them when they couldn’t use their, their bodies in the, in the, in the way that they would. Right. 

Wendy: Right. 

Richard: hat is a great use of technology. The kids were super engaged. They were learning skills, math skills, coding skills. They were creating tools that could make the world around them better. Is that technology? Yes. It’s a great way of using it. So, so again, we have to shift away from this time and think about is the value of the activity adding, you know, worthwhile. And some people, I got to share one more thing. Some people say, well, wait a minute. I thought there was research. I even heard my doctor even said there was a research on, you know, if my kid is blank years old, they should have this much hours of, right. Yeah, I wish it was that easy. There was research, right, around that. It was research done in, largely in the 60s and 70s based on watching TV.

Wendy: Okay.

Richard: And TV watching is very different than the class that I just came from where we were using technology to solve a problem with somebody who had a disability, right? And so, so those are, that’s a, it’s a, it’s an old model again that we, we think, wow, this will be helpful, but, but it’s actually not helping set up our kids for success because they need to know how to use these devices to be the future leaders and problem solvers of our world. And that happens by using technology in very engaging, meaningful ways. 

Wendy: So in this particular class, for example, the student might have been on a device the entire time and it totally would have been challenging their critical thinking skills and, and would have been incredible because of the type of learning it was engaging the student in.

Richard: That’s right. And that’s very different though, then let’s say, and this was not what I saw there, but if I had gone into another class and the kids were all sitting and there was maybe a PowerPoint in the front of the room with a lot of notes on it and the teacher was just going next, next. And the kids were, you know, kind of slipping into a coma. That is not the sort of thing that we would consider healthy technology use. 

Wendy: Right. 

Richard: Right. Uh, now it doesn’t mean you can’t ever put some information up on the PowerPoint. That’s not what you mean. But if you’re just sitting through and copying what’s on the board, that’s back when I was, when I was teaching, we make copy what was on the, in the chalkboard.

Wendy: Yes, that’s right. That’s right. 

Richard:That, you know, just making it go chalk to digital doesn’t help anything. 

Wendy: Right.

Richard:right. We gotta shift it to have that really engaging learning experiences. 

Wendy: Okay, so talk to me about how do we help. Teachers, first off, develop classrooms where they understand how to frame that in the right way to increase that engagement with their students.

Richard: Yeah. The first thing is it’s really critical and it really does come down to preparing teachers. That’s where it, you know, at the end of the day, again, it’s not about the device. It’s not about the, it’s about having a teacher who knows how to use it effectively. So one of the first things is just setting up the conditions. How, what are the, what are the ways we expect technology to be used in this class? And a lot of times we see, uh, in schools and sometimes in families that we, we, we kind of knee jerk react to the, what I call the list of don’ts, right? Don’t use your device when I’m talking, don’t share your password, don’t be a jerk online. Don’t share your test scores. Don’t cheat. Don’t write. I was in a school district the other day because I’m kind of a geek. And so when I go to schools, I say, Hey, will you give me your policy on devices? Cause every school has them. And so I read them. And this was a school that had 36 don’ts, 36 things not to do and zero do’s, not a single one. I’m like, could we have at least put like, use it to learn? Could we get one, you know, one positive. So, so, so that’s the first thing is set it up. And this is true at home. If there are parents that are listening to this, it’s true at home. If you have device rules, which you should, you should have some rules. If your rules, if you, if you have more don’ts than do’s, you probably need to reset a little bit. And here’s the reason. Learning to use technology in a way that really helps a kid learn, really helps a kid explore,, is a complex skill.

Wendy:  Right. 

Richard: And any complex skill, I used to teach languages, right, if you’re teaching a language, if you’re learning to play the piano, if you’re learning to play a sport, any complex skill requires practice. 

Wendy: Yes. 

Richard: And you can’t practice not doing something. So, so if I tell you, 

Wendy: that is very difficult, yes. 

Richard:If, if it’s, you know, we’re playing baseball, I’m like, here’s, here’s all the ways not to hit the ball, right? We could do that all day, every day. But at some point, if you’re going to be a good baseball player, a good piano player, you’re going to have to actually practice, uh, hitting the ball or playing the right notes. And it’s the same with our technology. And so we have to be very clear at home in school to say, Hey, here’s Here’s what we expect you to do. I expect you to come in every day to class and use technology to bring in new ideas and add, uh, um, uh, you know, information that’s helpful for the topic that we’re talking about today. Right? 

Wendy: Right. 

Richard: And so, so we set those conditions. That’s the first thing. And then the second thing, and this does really come down to how we work with the teachers is making sure they understand the tools that they can use to really engage learners and help them be. Creative explorers.

Wendy:  Oh, that’s a great, that’s a great phrase.

Richard: A creative explorer. I love that. That’s what we, that is what we should use technology. We should use technology to turn students into creative explorers. And, and I think, you know, the least interesting thing we can do with technology is use it to present content to kids, right? The most interesting thing we do, by the way, is use it to have them connect with other humans, right? Experts, other peers to solve problems. Like I saw at Dixon earlier to, you know, explore and be creative. There’s all these great things. That’s what, that’s when they become explorers. They’re students when they’re just reading information off the screen. 

Wendy: Right. You were talking with some teachers yesterday at Dixon middle school, and, uh, there was a conversation about AI and one of the things that you were, and if I get this wrong, then you’ll have to correct me. But there was almost a lamenting of not teaching kids how to utilize and interact with AI, and you were using the example of art and, and how AI could be used in that. Talk a little bit more about that because it kind of goes along with your phrase of a creative explorer, um, and really can kind of bring those ideas together.

Richard: Yeah, I love how thinking about how we can be using AI to empower kids. And, uh, and, and there’s really two ways, by the way, we should be thinking about AI. One is how do we help use it in the learning experience? The other is how do we help kids learn to be amazing humans in an AI infused world? Right? And so there’s these sort of two skills. One is to help it with their learning. It was to help them know how to just live in a very different world. And both are things we have to do in school. But the example that I was giving was this was a school where they said, we are, we’re going to use. art to explain some important concepts in, in, in our history. And they were taking key moments and, and, and trying to share really complex, uh, uh, struggles that, that people had been through over, over time in, in, in the history of our country. And they were doing it through art, but the students they were doing it. Uh, with were not professional artists. Right. Uh, many of them didn’t even really take many art courses. And so their dexterity in using a paintbrush, right, wasn’t to the level to be able to take what was in their mind and put it into a visual that people could understand. But they used a tool like stable diffusion or like Dolly 2. These are AI generator tools where a student can guide it. So it’s still, this is very much the student’s work. Right. 

Wendy: Right. 

Richard: And they’re saying. I need you to create an image with a background of a hills with people here. And I need you to show it one with the green, healthy trees and then another slice over here with trees that are dying because we haven’t been doing a good job of, of creating a, you know, taking care of our, our environment, you know, whatever the, whatever the topic was. And then it would generate that. And then they would tweak it. Nope, nope. You got it wrong. I need it over here and I need the tree here. Right. And so they would then create these final pieces of art that were. Gorgeous. They were amazing. Very much driven by the kid who didn’t, who had in their mind what they wanted to share, but didn’t have the artistic technical capabilities to put it into a piece of art. And so in that case, AI just just took away the friction. And took away their ability to not express what was in their mind because their paintbrush skills weren’t able to, to express it. 

Wendy: So it, so it actually breaks down a barrier that might prevent a student from being able to produce a really incredible, original piece of, of artwork and, and, pulls that away so that they can get it on the paper as to what’s in their mind.

Richard: That’s right. And to be clear, for all the wonderful art teachers that are out there, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t also teach how to paint, right?

Wendy:  Right. 

Richard: But, but, but if your goal, if your goal is to show your, your dexterity with a paintbrush or your ability to use this particular tool, then in that case, AI isn’t going to help if the goal is to take a complex concept and, and visualize it in a way that shares an important story and, and your ability to use the paintbrush at the moment because you’re in, you know, sixth, seventh, eighth grade is getting in the way, AI can help get around that and, and just knowing when and where to use both. Yes, let’s learn these skills, but let’s also use AI to help get students to have a creative voice when their, when their technical abilities aren’t there yet. 

Wendy: Right. It’s a lot about understanding when and where, why you’re using it, what you want the student’s outcome to be. That’s what’s going to help with that. 1

Richard: 00%. 

Wendy: One of the questions that I get a lot. From teachers is just how do I manage this system of AI in particular? So what advice would you have for teachers in living in this AI world? Because everybody wants a policy banning it. I just think to myself, that’s not gonna work. So we have to work with this. So what pieces of advice would you give? 

Richard: Yeah, it is almost never a good idea to ban  categorically a type of technology. Right? 

Wendy: Right.

Richard: You know, a website here and there if you have an inappropriate website, like, let’s do that. But to ban a whole class of technology is, is, is really not, not a, not a good idea. Especially if you think about the fact that AI is, is going to have the potential to be as transformative for our lives as the internet was when it came along and before that probably electricity.

Wendy: Right. 

Richard: So, so like that’s what we’re talking about. This isn’t just like a, a, you know, a silly little game side of it. This is transforming how we think about, uh, how, how we engage in our lives. So, so banning it is, is really a terrible idea. What is important though, is that teachers take the time to explore and understand what the opportunities are for using AI and also understand how it works. So one of the things that I often say is, you know, AI is not magic. Magic is something mysterious and uncontrollable. AI is neither of those things. It can appear magic if you don’t know how it works. And so it really is important that our teachers take some time to understand how it works. They don’t have to all become computer programmers, but they have to basically, you know, understand the critical elements of it in order to be able to know where and how it can support them in their teaching, but also to teach these concepts. We were talking a second ago about kids need to be able to grow up in a world where, you know, every, every kid in Provo schools, when they graduate, they will be working on teams where not all members of their team are human. 

Wendy: That is so mind blowing. 

Richard: We know that. We know that. And so what we need to be doing now is thinking about how do we prepare them for that. And one example of that is Uh, you know, thinking through when would it be inappropriate to hand an important task, an important decision off to AI because of the bias, you know, in the system. But then you got to flip that. Everybody usually is like, yeah, yeah, I agree with that. And then, then you flip it and you go, when would it be inappropriate not to hand an important task off to AI because of the bias in our, our brain systems, right?

Wendy:  Right. 

Richard: And so knowing the difference between those two and, and really what that gets to, uh, which is really critical. It gets to knowing what are uniquely human skills. And I feel like for, you know, for a hundred thousand years, we’ve never had to justify what uniquely human skills are. Cause there was no competition for higher order thinking. So now we don’t know what they are. And because we don’t know what those uniquely human skills are. It’s hard to know how to focus on them, but if we can think about that and talk about that and say, you know, maybe it’s, maybe it’s empathy, maybe it’s creativity, maybe it’s humor, maybe it’s creative problem solving, whatever we decide those uniquely human skills are, when we know that that’s what they are, we can focus a lot more of our work and our activities in schools around those activities because those are the ones that will AI.

Wendy: So instead of focusing our time on things that can be done much faster by, by AI or, or something else, then we’re really encouraging students to, uh, embrace the skill set that they have, that, that like you said, is uniquely human, that really is going to bring something creative and, and phenomenal. 

Richard: That’s right. That’s right. I was talking to some math teachers the other day and we’re talking about AI and they’re like, you know what? I was like, what? And they’re like, you should get math teachers to be your, like cheerleaders for AI. And I was like, what? What are you talking about? And they’re like, cause we’ve been through this before. I said, what are you talking about? And they said, we were through this when calculators started to come in. Right. And at first there was all these directions. No, we can’t have calculators. We could never, this will ruin everything. Right. And then they finally realized you do want to still teach the basic math skills. Of course you do. 

Wendy: Right. 

Richard: But then once you’ve learned those, in order to be able to get to those higher level skills, those more complicated math skills, it’s actually really nice to be able to have a calculator to help you get through some of those. You’re not spending all this time doing basic calculations and missing the chance to really talk more deeply about advanced, you know, algebra and trigonometry and all that sort of stuff. No, there’s no math teacher in the country right now that wouldn’t be using calculators at some point along the way. And so they’re like, you should, you should be hiring us to come and talk to all the other teachers about how it’s okay. This is, it works to have a tool that supports your learning if used appropriately, just like we went through when we were figuring out whether or not to use a calculator.

Wendy: That’s a great example. I was thinking, uh, as you were talking about my own son trying to help him with math. And I was thinking, I never got to use the calculator, but the level of math that then he was at was so much higher as a result, and the types of problems that he could solve were just off the charts. I was never doing anything like that because I was, I was still trying to do all the work, I was still trying to be my, yes, exactly. That’s exactly right. So I know myself, I have some very bad habits with technology. So how can I model some of the right behaviors that we should have for our students, both at home as a parent, as well as, as a professional, what, what would be some things that you would say do more of this, uh, Superintendent Dau.  These are the kinds of things you need to be modeling for your community and your students. 

Richard: It’s a great question. I’m so glad you asked that. It’s really critical that students are students and kids, whether they’re our kids at home or students in school, are seeing us use technology as a tool to enable our curiosity and creativity. And here’s a challenge. So, so there’s lots of research that shows that the number one way people learn is by modeling, especially young kids. We can say a lot, but watching our actions is really how they’re, how they’re going to learn. And so in the physical world, we do a lot of things to model how to be a good citizen, member of the physical world. The other day I was at a park with my kid, and there was a, you know, piece of trash on the ground, and so I just picked it up and threw it away. We didn’t have a big long lesson about it, but you know, he saw that, and, and he, he learned. Hey, you know what? When you’re in a park, even if it’s not your trash, even if it’s not your space, you pick it up, you clean it up, right? When we walk out the door, we hold the door for somebody behind us with a, you know, box in their hand, right? Those are all subtle lessons that we’re teaching about how to be good, uh, members of the physical world. The challenge in the digital world is that I’m sure you and others and all the parents that are listening to this, you’re doing good, meaningful things in that world all the time. But to a kid that’s watching, it just looks like dad on his computer again, right? Or dad on his phone again, right? And so one of the things that we have to learn to do is to be overt about some of our digital activities. We have to, we have to actually call them out. And again, I talk about in my book, Digital for Good, I talk about this. So a simple thing, and it feels a little awkward at first, but a simple thing, it’d be like, you know, ah, that’s an interesting question. I don’t know the answer. Let’s see where we could search the answer online. So it’s showing this tool is a tool that we’re using to get answers to questions, right? And, it can even go to other activities too. If I’m helping, uh, the other day I was helping somebody set up a GoFundMe campaign. Somebody had, um, had an injury in their family and couldn’t work for a while. And so we’re getting some food, some meals sent to them. And so again, if my kid comes up to me or a student comes up to me and I say, you know, can I, can you help me with something? Sure. Give me a second. I’m just setting up a GoFundMe campaign here so we can help get some food sent to, uh, to this family who’s recovering from this injury, right? Just that little bit of context helps them understand that it’s not me. I’m not just sitting there, you know, playing Minesweeper or whatever, and sometimes I am and that’s okay.

Wendy: Yeah, that’s awesome. 

Richard: But, but they just need to know there’s this variety of activities that I’m using these tools that we’re modeling that when we’re looking for answers, here’s how we’re going to use these tools to get answers. Here’s how we’re going to use them to make our community better. Here’s how we’re going to use them to communicate with the people around us and make sure they’re seeing that and hearing that modeling cause that’s how they learn that these are not just gaming devices. They’re not just, uh, entertainment devices, right? They are actually. 

Wendy: So when my husband calls me out because he thinks I’m texting on my phone and what I’m really doing is I’m researching what he just told me to see if what he’s telling me is true. I just need to be more explicit about what I’m doing and then it should be better.

Richard:  I feel like that may have been the whole purpose for this podcast was just for you to get that in there, right? That’s right. 

Wendy: No, no, it’s, it’s good. 

Richard: And it’s also okay to be, to admit when, when we’re not using technology in the best of ways. So we have a rule in our family, um, that we’ve decided as a family, we’ve said, Hey, when we sit down for meals, um, our devices don’t, don’t sit down at the table for it with us. And, and I’ll tell you the first couple of days with our kids that we did that there was a lot of whining and eye rolling about three days in they were, they were totally on board. Totally fine. My wife and I are still like sneaking a little look under the table, glancing at our phone, right? And our kids are like, 

Wendy: I thought it was a no phone zone. 

Richard:And so it’s a, so, so it’s fine to be able to say, ah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I got it. I got it. My balance was off. And that’s, again, that’s the language that I like to use is talking about balance, right? And instead of this binary, you know, or is it, is it, you know, tech or not screens or not? It just balanced. Do we have a good balance? And if I’m, if I’m using, if there’s an emergency and I have to look at something, you know, at the table on my phone, that’s probably okay. Balance. If it’s not really an emergency. My balance is off a little bit there. And so, so that’s the thing that we just have to be talking about as, as along with modeling, the really good things that we’re doing on technology to help support our learning and our engagement with the community. 

Wendy: So talk to me a little bit more about your book, Digital for Good. If there were some. Really important highlights that you would want us to pull out of that. I think you’ve already highlighted several things, but is there anything else that you would want us to walk away from having read your book and how we could implement those things in our lives? What would those things be?

Richard: Yeah, I think there was a couple key messages. So one is this idea that we need balance but balance based on time, uh, leads to some dysfunction. 

Wendy: Okay. 

Richard: And so it’s much better to find balance based on other things like the value of the digital activity and the context. Right? So, so again, if I’m, uh, if I’m on a long car ride, you know, a six hour car ride, and we’ve already sung all the songs we can think of, and we already read all the books. I’m like, you know what? play Candy Crush for a little bit, it’s fine, right? That would be appropriate in that moment, where it would not necessarily be appropriate on a day that I had an assignment due the next day, or it was beautiful weather outside, my friends wanted to play, right? And so, so, so it’s, it’s not only the value of the app, but it’s also the context. There are times where an app, you know, I, for, for, for my daughter, uh, uh, you know, I might have to say, Hey, you need to stop. You’ve been, you’ve been on your, on your, on your phone reading for, you know, multiple hours. We need to kind of, for my son, I’m like, you can, you can read as much as you possibly want. I will never stop. Right. Because we’re different kids. They’re going to respond differently. So, so just it’s, it’s the point is it’s more complicated than this sort of binary on off, yes, no screen on screen off. We have to dig deeper and understand what digital activities bring value in, in certain environments and what don’t. So that’s one, one big thing. The other message, another message that I want to really share is this idea of using technology and helping kids learn to use technology to, uh, to strengthen connections with their community and with their family. And so there’s lots of examples. I give about a hundred examples in the book, but, but, you know, one simple one that we do is, uh, you know, with our family and our kids, when we go on trips, when we go on vacations, I am the worst at taking pictures. I will go on a whole trip and I’ll come back and I will not have a single picture except the one that I like actually took of my foot while I was, you know, trying to turn on the map. So one of the things, one of the jobs we’ve given our kids is part of the, part of the deal, part of the responsibility of having a device in our family is you got to capture family moments. We expect you to capture pictures when we go. And we’ve started doing something else, which is really fun. They all have a notepad app on their phone, and so not only they capture pictures, they capture just the goofy, funny things that, that get said in our family. And so then every couple of months we sit down and we just review what, what everybody said. It’s hilarious. And we’ve started now in our Christmas card at the end of the year, taking the best of and putting with each kid’s name. And here’s like the best of crazy thing that they said. And it tells you a lot about them. But that’s an example where we’ve used technology to bring our family closer together by capturing family moments that just would have been lost if it was dependent on me or my wife to have to capture them.

Wendy: I love too, how you’re talking about it’s bringing your family closer together rather than you’re worrying so much about, I’m taking all of these pictures so that I can post this amazing post out here on social media so people think this about my family. That isn’t the purpose. The purpose here is for that group of people that you care deeply about.

Richard: That’s right. It’s making those tight connections. And there’s, there’s many other ways to do it too. We can use Zoom or FaceTime or whatever, and we do this to have these sort of connections with our friends and cousins. We use Minecraft in this way. So, so our family that, you know, the cousins are spread all over the country, as many, as many families are. And so we have a Minecraft family server. And periodically they’ll get on and they’ll just build stuff together and we’ll have, you know, Discord or something on so they can hear each other talk. And that’s just sort of playtime with cousins that they wouldn’t really ever get to see, uh, at least not, you know, from Christmas and Thanksgiving throughout the rest of the year. And so we’re using technology to have this kind of moment where they can build relationships together. 

Wendy: So they have, they keep those connections going even when they’re not physically together, which is a, which is a real benefit. So what do you see? on the horizon. So now we’re kind of getting in this midst of AI. What else do you think might be coming that we need to prepare ourselves for? And maybe it isn’t even anything that you can predict or see, but how do we prepare ourselves in general for the changes that happen in technology so that we’re not blindsided by them? 

Richard: That’s a great question. Uh, I think at the end of the day, one of the skills that we are just going to need to survive in this, in this rapidly changing world is the skill of being curious. And when new technologies come out, we have to approach them with a curious lens and a curious lens doesn’t mean that we’re all in and just assume that it’s all perfect, right? A curious means let’s find what’s good. Let’s find what’s bad. Let’s find what we can, where it’s useful. Let’s find where it’s not useful. And we’re just going to have to become, you know, good at that. There’s some really interesting technologies coming down the road. AI, of course, which is just at the infancy of what it’s going to be able to do. Virtual reality, of course, we’re hearing about, but I’m actually even more excited about something that we call augmented reality. And so that’s where we have tools that instead of pulling us out of the world into a VR, you know, world, actually layer on information that make interacting with our world more helpful. So it might be that I take my phone and you’ve already seen a little bit of this. If you’ve ever used Google maps and there’s the like walk view and you’re like, I don’t know where I am. Just hold up your phone and move it around and it will find where you are and take you a path forward. That’s augmented reality. It’s using technology to help layer on information that’s useful in the world that we live in. And so it could be, uh, and you’re starting to now see, see this in jobs, in work, where you may say you may have a lens or something on, on, and you look at it, maybe a piece of machinery or something that says, Hey, here’s some tips on how to use this safely. Or here’s some guidance on how to complete this process. And so it could really change how we think about preparing for, for work and how we do jobs of the future. So there’s lots of new, uh, really interesting technologies that are coming. And, and I think, again, just keeping that curious mentality in finding where there’s usefulness and, and how it can be applied in, in ways that help make us smarter and better people is, is the skill that we have to get really good at.

Wendy: I told, uh, somebody that if this phrase comes out of your mouth in talking with, about technology, like, that needs to be banned. I said, we just sound so old when that happens. We need to stop doing that. And I really appreciate that perspective of, is it bringing value and what is the context? Those are two really, um, key things that, key takeaways here. 

Richard: So let me give you one really simple example of that, that, that came up recently when I was talking to, um, a group of teachers. So Wikipedia is a really great tool to help you be able to understand things at a basic level. Right? Uh, in, on the internet, we have a real challenge.

We have a challenge in our digital world. It’s called the, you don’t know what you don’t know problem. Right? So, if I want to go and learn about something, the challenges in a digital world, I actually have to know a fair bit amount about it in order to learn about it. I have to know what to search for. I have to know, be able to recognize when a site makes sense or when it doesn’t. And so if I really don’t know anything about something, I need to start somewhere where I can get a quick overview of what’s going on. And Wikipedia does a great job of that, right? 

Wendy: That is very true.

Richard: And so whenever I hear a teacher say, well, you can’t use Wikipedia, I just cringe. Because it is the best tool on the planet for helping us be curious learners. Now of course we should look right on the front page of Wikipedia, it says this is not an authoritative source. We know that, right? But there’s real value in having an intro to something that then leads you on. And in fact, on most Wikipedia pages at the bottom, it even says here are the authoritative sources so you can dig deeper, right? But that’s an example. If we, if we jump in and go, Oh, we, we, we should ban this. We’ve just lost, I think one of the most powerful learning tools that we’ve ever had when it can be a tool that can help us get our creativity going and lead us down into, of course, more, you know, deeper, deeper learning paths.

Wendy: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our audience about technology and how we can use it for good and, um, just, just anything off the top of your head that you would like to share in closing? 

Richard: I mean, I think my closing thought is just that we live in a world where there’s lots of challenges and there’s, there’s, you know, more disruption that’s coming. There’s more divisiveness that we’re seeing, right? And so one of the things that we just have to become really good at is leveraging these digital tools. If you think of any tough problem that we have, whether it’s a uh, you know, a medical issue, a physical issue, a, you know, knowledge issue. At the root of pretty much any problem we can think of today, uh, technology tools are part of the solution, but they’re part of the solution if we as humans look at using them in ways that can solve important problems and bring our community together. And so, so that I think is my final thought is that we need to be thinking about how we can be, using these tools to create the world that we want to live in. And if we can use technology to create a healthy, you know, engaged, inclusive world, we have a really bright future ahead of us, right? And it’ll be awesome. And, and on the flip side, if we sort of bury our heads in the sand and, and just say, Oh, you know, we’re gonna, we’re gonna just step, step back and not actively use technology for good. Then, then, uh, you know, unfortunately the default approach is to have it take us into a dark place. And that’s all on us. And we have decision to do that. And I know, and I think, you know, I, I. The teachers that I, that I’ve seen in the last couple of days visiting your schools, the kids I’ve talked to, these are amazing humans. And so if we can just make sure that we’re thinking about using technology to help accelerate their amazingness, the future is bright.

Wendy: Thank you, Richard, so much for being on our show today. I can tell you have a lot of energy and passion and enthusiasm about this topic. And I know our parents do too. It’s fascinating to see that you brought up this idea that technology is not the, is not the evil demon. It’s what we’re doing with it. We need to own the accountability tied to it and, and how we’re using it. So thank you for coming and talking with us today. It’s been great. 

Richard: Well, thanks for having me and congrats on really just a wonderful school district and the energy that you have here around thinking about the future is contagious and I love it. So thank you very much. 

Wendy: Thank you. Thank you for joining me for this episode of What’s up with the Sup. As always, all episodes will be posted on wherever you get your podcasts. YouTube, and the district website. If you have any topics or questions you would like us to discuss on the podcast, please email us at

Our guest next week will be Susie Cox, the Director of Innovative Learning for our school district. She will join me to discuss universal design learning. What is it? How is it applied in the classroom and how it can benefit all students. We hope you will join us. See you then.

Shauna Sprunger
  • Coordinator of Communications
  • Shauna Sprunger