Category Archives: innovative teaching and learning

#AGreatTeacherIs…

I saw a post on Twitter talking about removing the word “teaching” and simply replacing it with “learning”. I have to admit, I cringed at the thought.  That being said, I do believe a great teacher starts from the view point of a learner, not the teacher.  This is something that is a needed shift in the traditional norm of education. Starting from the needs of the learner, not the teacher.

That being said, with all of the change that is being thrust upon us so quickly in the world, great teachers are needed more than ever.  I asked the following question on Twitter:

Here are my thoughts:

A Great Teacher Is…

 

Someone who is a relationships builder.

Someone who shapes minds.

Someone who empowers learners.

Someone who cares about their learners.

Someone who inspires.

Someone who is a leader AND a follower, and knows when to go into each role.

Someone who knows when to stand in front and then knows when to gets out of the way.

Someone who is wise and shares their wisdom with others.

Someone who listens.

Someone who is continuously learning and growing.

Someone who shares what was, but inspires dreams of what could be.

Someone who both embraces and creates change.

Someone who is a constant innovator.

Someone who impacts people long after their time with them.

A great teacher is often all of these things and so much more.

P.S. Nothing here about test scores…

As I said earlier, teachers are needed more now than ever.  Change will be the only constant that we will deal with in our world, and it is happening at a rate faster than ever.  Educators should not only empower the next generation to embrace change, but will develop those who create it, making the world a better place.

Share your blog posts or tweets to share what you think #AGreatTeacherIs.

Fifty years ago

 

Screen time; Quality versus Quantity

Thinking through writing…

A question I always receive in workshops regarding the use of technology in the classroom is regarding the notion of “screen time”; what amount is too much (as you will never hear someone asking how much is sufficient!)?

Recently, “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)”, changed their recommendations on the amount of screen time that it would suggest for a child under two (previously it was no screen time at all based on recommendations).  According to this article from parents.com, here are some of the AAP’s suggestions:

Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life. The same parenting rules apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know their friends, both online and off. Know what platforms they are using, where they are going and what they are doing.

Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness online. Limit your own media use. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.

Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in “talk time” remains critical for language development. That can be face-to-face or via video chat with traveling parent or grandparent. It’s the back-and-forth conversation that improves language skills.

Families who play together, learn together. Family participation in media encourages social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your insight helps children put their media experience into perspective. It’s also a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette.

Do your homework on apps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality. Products pitched as “interactive” should require more than “pushing and swiping.” Look to organizations likeCommon Sense Media for reviews on age-appropriate apps, games and programs.

Set limits and encourage playtime. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits.

It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they find their own identity. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.

Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes tech-free. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep.

Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Handle these mistakes with empathy and use them as teachable moments. But some indiscretions, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, should be a flag to look further into your child’s behaviors.

All very sensible and make sense.  The conversation is crucial.

So what does this mean for schools?  Is it really about the time students spend in front of screen, or the quality of things they do in front of a screen?  For example, there is a difference between a child watching Sesame Street, as opposed to a child watching Sesame Street and talking about it during the program with an adult. Still the same amount of time in front of a screen, but the quality has definitely increased in the latter example.

In many schools that are hoping to get access to technology when funds are lacking, what happens when a child is front of that screen?  Are the activities focusing on thinking and promoting some mindfulness, or are the student’s getting “lost” in the screen?  Consuming videos on YouTube can become mind-numbing in some ways, but creating a video to post on YouTube, can actually create a connection and reflection on content, that was not there when simply consuming.

A timer in front of screen is probably not realistic in schools, but being thoughtful of what you and your students do while having access to technology is crucial.

But that being said…I know that sometimes I spend a lot of time getting lost on YouTube and Vine; I need a “check out” and watch some cats and dogs videos.  I sometimes need to not feel productive.  I thought about this fact as I read this article from a Meredith Bland titled, “Screen Time is Just a Part of Life“. This part resonated:

I’m not worried about my children becoming slugs because that is not something I will allow as their parent. My kids participate in after-school activities. My husband and I are constantly trying to find ways for us to be outdoors. I encourage a love of reading and a tolerance for school work. They love to swim and participate in martial arts. And, in addition to all of that, they also love playing video games. There doesn’t have to be an emphasis on one and a denial of the other. I don’t believe the answer is to limit our children to a half an hour of TV a week, but rather to let them explore all of their interests and enjoy all parts of life.

There’s little in this world that is all good or all bad, and I want them to know that video games and television shows are an enjoyable part of life that they don’t need to shun and look down on in order to be accomplished, worthwhile human beings. It’s we adults who saddle ourselves with worry about using our time effectively—children don’t need to be effective; they just need to be kids. They get enough of adults structuring their time and making sure it is used to accomplish something. (And usually, that is more about the feelings of the adult than the child.) So if my kids want to balance out their accomplishments with a few hours of video games, that works for me. Go grow some dragons and defeat the enemy troops. The world will still be here for you to explore when you get back.

Quote from Meredith Bland

Quote from Meredith Bland

What I think is extremely crucial in this conversation is the conversation in the first place! That people are thinking about it in the context of teaching, learning, and parenting, and finding solutions that work for their family and treating their children as individuals, and not as part of a study, is something that I believe it be important.  What works for one, might not work for another.

Technology should personalize, not standardize.  Our conversations about it should not be standardized as well.

P.S,  This article was written while looking at a screen and the opportunity to reflect and connect my own ideas, and share these thoughts with others is an activity that I would see as extremely beneficial to my learning…just noticed the irony before I was about to press publish.

Screen time; Quality versus Quantity

Thinking through writing…

A question I always receive in workshops regarding the use of technology in the classroom is regarding the notion of “screen time”; what amount is too much (as you will never hear someone asking how much is sufficient!)?

Recently, “The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)”, changed their recommendations on the amount of screen time that it would suggest for a child under two (previously it was no screen time at all based on recommendations).  According to this article from parents.com, here are some of the AAP’s suggestions:

Treat media as you would any other environment in your child’s life. The same parenting rules apply in both real and virtual environments. Set limits; kids need and expect them. Know their friends, both online and off. Know what platforms they are using, where they are going and what they are doing.

Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness online. Limit your own media use. Attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.

Know the value of face-to-face communication. Very young children learn best through two-way communication. Engaging in “talk time” remains critical for language development. That can be face-to-face or via video chat with traveling parent or grandparent. It’s the back-and-forth conversation that improves language skills.

Families who play together, learn together. Family participation in media encourages social interactions and learning. Play a video game with your kids. Your insight helps children put their media experience into perspective. It’s also a good way to demonstrate good sportsmanship and gaming etiquette.

Do your homework on apps. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research validates their quality. Products pitched as “interactive” should require more than “pushing and swiping.” Look to organizations likeCommon Sense Media for reviews on age-appropriate apps, games and programs.

Set limits and encourage playtime. Unstructured playtime stimulates creativity. Make unplugged playtime a daily priority, especially for very young children. Tech use, like all other activities, should have reasonable limits.

It’s OK for your teen to be online. Online relationships are part of adolescent development. Social media can support teens as they find their own identity. Just be sure your teen is behaving appropriately in both the real and online worlds. Keep lines of communication open and let them know you’re there if they have questions or concerns.

Create tech-free zones. Keep family mealtimes tech-free. Recharge devices overnight outside your child’s bedroom. These actions encourage family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep.

Kids will be kids. Kids will make mistakes using media. Handle these mistakes with empathy and use them as teachable moments. But some indiscretions, such as sexting or posting self-harm images, should be a flag to look further into your child’s behaviors.

All very sensible and make sense.  The conversation is crucial.

So what does this mean for schools?  Is it really about the time students spend in front of screen, or the quality of things they do in front of a screen?  For example, there is a difference between a child watching Sesame Street, as opposed to a child watching Sesame Street and talking about it during the program with an adult. Still the same amount of time in front of a screen, but the quality has definitely increased in the latter example.

In many schools that are hoping to get access to technology when funds are lacking, what happens when a child is front of that screen?  Are the activities focusing on thinking and promoting some mindfulness, or are the student’s getting “lost” in the screen?  Consuming videos on YouTube can become mind-numbing in some ways, but creating a video to post on YouTube, can actually create a connection and reflection on content, that was not there when simply consuming.

A timer in front of screen is probably not realistic in schools, but being thoughtful of what you and your students do while having access to technology is crucial.

But that being said…I know that sometimes I spend a lot of time getting lost on YouTube and Vine; I need a “check out” and watch some cats and dogs videos.  I sometimes need to not feel productive.  I thought about this fact as I read this article from a Meredith Bland titled, “Screen Time is Just a Part of Life“. This part resonated:

I’m not worried about my children becoming slugs because that is not something I will allow as their parent. My kids participate in after-school activities. My husband and I are constantly trying to find ways for us to be outdoors. I encourage a love of reading and a tolerance for school work. They love to swim and participate in martial arts. And, in addition to all of that, they also love playing video games. There doesn’t have to be an emphasis on one and a denial of the other. I don’t believe the answer is to limit our children to a half an hour of TV a week, but rather to let them explore all of their interests and enjoy all parts of life.

There’s little in this world that is all good or all bad, and I want them to know that video games and television shows are an enjoyable part of life that they don’t need to shun and look down on in order to be accomplished, worthwhile human beings. It’s we adults who saddle ourselves with worry about using our time effectively—children don’t need to be effective; they just need to be kids. They get enough of adults structuring their time and making sure it is used to accomplish something. (And usually, that is more about the feelings of the adult than the child.) So if my kids want to balance out their accomplishments with a few hours of video games, that works for me. Go grow some dragons and defeat the enemy troops. The world will still be here for you to explore when you get back.

Quote from Meredith Bland

Quote from Meredith Bland

What I think is extremely crucial in this conversation is the conversation in the first place! That people are thinking about it in the context of teaching, learning, and parenting, and finding solutions that work for their family and treating their children as individuals, and not as part of a study, is something that I believe it be important.  What works for one, might not work for another.

Technology should personalize, not standardize.  Our conversations about it should not be standardized as well.

P.S,  This article was written while looking at a screen and the opportunity to reflect and connect my own ideas, and share these thoughts with others is an activity that I would see as extremely beneficial to my learning…just noticed the irony before I was about to press publish.

Spoon-Fed Learning

Speaking about the opportunities there are for learning in our world today through technology, I asked educators in the room to do a “Twitter Video Reflection” and share their learning back to the hashtag.  Since many of them were new to Twitter, they didn’t know how to do it, so I decided to not help them.

Not a type…I decided to not help them.

Here’s the thing…they all figured it out. Some took longer than others, and some figured it out after they saw that someone else could.  I actually think it went faster than if I would have shown them step-by-step.

Too often we talk about how we want to develop learners as students, but we still set up too much of our professional development where we will walk people through every element of any type of learning.

The balance of supporting and pressuring needs to be place; we can not spoon-feed learning to the adults in the room, or we model the exact opposite of what we say we want from our kids.

Screen Shot 2016-08-30 at 10.45.44 AM

The Most Important Part of the Learning Environment

Over my summer travels, I have heard this quote several times (attributed to Haim Ginott but may have been adapted from Goethe):

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”

In the quote that is originally attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, this part resonates:

“If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

As talk about learning spaces and learning environments becomes more predominant in education circles today (as it should), we must not forget the importance of a loving and caring educator in the room.  One that has the ability to build rapport, give and gain trust, provides support, and pushes, all at the same time.

Every time I walk into a teacher’s classroom, I am reminded of how hard the job is.  There are so many different things educators need to be, all at the same time.  Simply put, the job is exhausting.  But the job of educator is one of the most important in the world because the great educators not only see what students can become, they often help get them there.

is turning

Leading Digital Innovation – A Podcast

This summer, I had the opportunity to speak to Grapevine-Colleyville ISD, and was lucky enough to get to do a podcast with Kerissa Bearce.  Take a listen below:

Here is one of the elements from the podcast that I talked about and hopefully it resonates.  Enjoy the podcast!

Fear

Grades Do Not Tell the Story of a Child

One of the amazing things about my job, is the ability to learn from so many amazing individuals. Donna DeSiato is one of those leaders.  The vision for education, as well as the moves they are making to make that a reality, show the importance of leadership and bringing people together.  The “system” is always made up of individuals, and those individuals coming together can make a significant difference.

Some of the nuggets that I gleaned from her that day (paraphrased):

“If we(educators) only focus on standards and tests, why would our parents focus on anything else?”

“We have to give permission to go beyond the test.”

“We must provide permission, support, and protection.  Permission is the opportunity to try new things that we aren’t sure work yet. Support is ensuring the professional learning is in place to help educators get to the next level. Protection is ensuring that if things don’t work out the way things were planned, that are teachers know they are safe.”

As I did not get these quotes exactly the way Donna said them, hopefully I got the general meaning behind what she was saying.  Inspiring words from a superintendent.

Yet one thing Donna shared REALLY stuck with me.  It was regarding something that she says to parents during any showcase within her district’s work:

“We know that we have state standards and requirements that we are supposed to meet, but that is just one of the ways we show our learning.  Tonight, we show another aspect of our learning and I hope you can see the impact it has had on the learning of the students. Please enjoy.”

What I found fascinating about this approach, is that Donna is making the explicit connection with her community on the importance of learning in a many different forms and mediums.  She understands that there is a “box”, but that innovation is happening within these constraints, and it is important to highlight them.  As I have said before, grades do not tell the story of a child. Grades do not tell the story of a child.Are we explicit with those ways that we share these stories with our communities, as well as why they are so important?

 

 

Distracted From School or Learning?

In my last post, I shared an article regarding a Michigan High School that recently banned mobile devices from their classrooms. Here was one of my comments:

These articles used to really bother me, but what I have learned is that I never know the whole story. There is always more to any article or tweet you read online.  That being said, here is one part that bothered me:

The decision regarding the new cell phone policy was made after several discussions with the high school advisory committee, made up of teachers and support staff, and with the parent advisory committee, Bohl said.

Notice anything missing? Me too.

Spiri Howard, an amazing thinker who regularly comments on my blog as well as posts great stuff on her own, left this comment on my last post about her own son and his thoughts on school vs. learning:

How ironic that my son, Gabe (15), and I have been talking about this very school and article. Gabe’s view of school was shocking to me, he said…

“You know mom, school is just a place where teachers teach what they have to, you know, curriculum and test prep. When I want to learn something, something that’s important to me, I know where I can find it and who I can learn from. I build those relationships online, I can make them happen. Kids just go to the source. A lot of the time, well recently, my learning doesn’t come from a school, its not from a teacher or the relationship I have with my teachers. I just think teachers and admin. don’t understand that.”

He’s absolutely right. This generation of learners are an iPoding, texting, Googling, YouTubing and Facebooking. They live during a time of dramatic technological changes. For many of them, texting is the chosen method of communication and YouTube is the chosen method of online learning. Whether you feel this is good or this is bad, is irrelevant. This virtual presense will not go away. When we decide to ignore it, we are saying “think this way, learn this way …only”.

When I’m listening to a speaker, I begin to wonder about what they are saying. I’m questioning and thinking about ideas. Naturally, I want to explore those ideas and find answers to them, hence the use of tech.

What this high school wants from it’s learners, in my opinion, is for them not to wonder or think, but rather just decide between answers that they are given. This is dangerous. When we decide this for our learners, we need to realize we are killing off “possibilities”. This is how we become stagnant. We are killing off ALL possibilities but one (the “correct” answer). If we want learners to think critically and creatively, we need to realize that there isn’t one “right” answer. A good innovational thinker is always exploring the many other possibilities. So by asking students to make decisions and choosing the “right” answer rather than wonder and question the possibilities …we’re fitting students into the box of what we believe to be right or wrong. Where is the questioning, the thinking, the problem solving in that?

This is very powerful comment, but I will have to admit, not all students feel this way.

As I was working with some administrators recently, a former student that graduated recently from their schools really challenged the notion of devices in the classroom, as it often distracted from what was happening in the classroom.  It was an interesting conversation, and there are a lot of students that feel this way and are very anti-devices, but the question that I wonder if are they focusing on being good at school, or focusing on powerful learning? When people are so ingrained into any system, do they challenge it?

Kids become so conditioned to what school looks like, are they as open t challenging it? I believe in the power of student voice, but to also inform it along the process.  If they only know school can look one way, will they really challenge it?  Too often, when educators ask input from students about school, they often ask the ones who have really mastered the system, not necessarily the ones that hate it.

We need to ask questions explicitly “how they learn best”, and ensure that we differentiate that we are not only asking about school, but learning in any circumstance.  I have the feeling you will see more comments similar to the one Spiri’s son has, than what we might be hearing right now.  This is not on the students, but possibly on us for asking the wrong questions.

School vs Learning

Change happens. You can either do it, or it will be done to you.

Someone asked me a question similar to this; “What do we do about kids that are distracted by devices in the classroom?”

My response was, “Maybe we have to be less boring?”

Although this is obviously not that simple or black and white, it is something that we have to think about.

Do not think the expectation only has gone up for teachers in the classroom.  Look around your staff meetings; how many educators (paid to be there) are disinterested?  Sometimes they go to their devices, and sometimes they bring in their marking to get done during that time.  Sometimes they are multitasking, but sometimes they have a singular focus; it’s just not on what is happening in the room.

When I start many of my talks or sessions, I encourage people to go to devices and provide them spaces either through hashtags on Twitter or Google Docs.  This isn’t someone saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”  This is understanding that there is an insane amount of opportunity in bringing these devices into the fold to further learning during, after, and sometimes even before the face-to-face learning happens.

Do I believe that people are 100% into my sessions at all times? Nope.

What this is understanding that if I were to teach the way I taught several years ago and ignore what exists in our world now, the problem isn’t solely placed on the learner.  I have to take advantage of these opportunities.

If you teach the way you taught pre-devices, pre-google, and pre-social media, and then introduce devices into the classroom, the majority of us are going to have a hard time staying “engaged”. We have to rethink our teaching.

I do not know much about this Michigan high school that recently banned devices (July 2016) in their classrooms, but my questions would be the following:

  • Tell me about the opportunities you see with your own learning using devices.
  • How have you implemented opportunities for learning with devices in your own professional learning?
  • What opportunities do these devices bring into the classroom that didn’t exist before?

These articles used to really bother me, but what I have learned is that I never know the whole story. There is always more to any article or tweet you read online.  That being said, here is one part that bothered me:

The decision regarding the new cell phone policy was made after several discussions with the high school advisory committee, made up of teachers and support staff, and with the parent advisory committee, Bohl said.

Notice anything missing? Me too.

Change happens.  You can either do it, or it will be done to you.

Either way it will happen and I am doing my best to embrace the former than the latter.

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10 Reasons to Try Genius Hour This School Year

My good friend AJ Juliani is about to start a Genius Hour Master Course.  His passion for this topic and his ability to share his enthusiasm has made a significant difference with so many educators.

As this is a paid course, you can sign up here, and he is also offering a 20% discount if you use the following code to sign up:

20GEORGE

Below is a blog that is reposted from his blog and is great for those schools already using Genius Hour, or those looking to dive in.  Check out his post below and you will see just a sample of what will be shared.


Originally posted at ajjuliani.com.

If you haven’t heard of Genius Hour or 20% time in the classroom, the premise is simple: Give your students 20% of their class time (or an hour each week) to learn what they want. These projects allow students to choose the content and still acquire/master skills and hit academic starts.

I’ve written extensively about Genius Hour and 20% Time, but wanted to share a list of the 10 reasons you should consider Genius Hour in your classroom (for those of you on the fence) and why you will not regret making that choice!

Getting Started With Genius Hour via @ajjuliani

1. You will join a great community of learners

When I first did the Genius Hour project with my students I didn’t have a community of teachers or learners. Within months that changed as a number of great teachers before and after me started to share their stories online. The largest active group is the Genius Hour teachers (inspired by Daniel Pink) who have #geniushour chats, a big resource at GeniusHour.com, and a great Genius Hour wiki. Get involved and see what others have done!

2. You will allow students to go into depth with a topic that inspires them

One of the major issues we face in schools today is covering a wide breadth of information, instead of allowing students to get a real depth of knowledge. Students using Genius Hour and 20% time are able to delve into subject matter that means something to them, often times taking their free time at home to learn more. Isn’t this something we should be promoting at all levels?

3. There is so much positive peer pressure

When students in my school have their Shark Tank pitch day, they get to share with the entire class what they are working on. Publicly announcing what they are trying to accomplish makes the goal real. Students get to see what their peers are working on and want to make sure their project stands up to the rest of the class. Regardless of a grade being attached to the project, this makes for students going the extra mile.

4. It relieves students of the “game of school”

Too often our students complete assignments for the grade. They go through the motions to receive an external pat on the back (or bump on their transcript).  Genius Hour and 20% time take away the “game of school” and brings back the love of learning for learning’s sake.

5. It’s fun!

Randy Pausch famously said, “If you think you can’t learn and have fun at the same time. Then I don’t think you have a good understanding of either.”Without a doubt it is the best time of the week. Student feedback is not only positive, but also transparent. This work often carries back to their homes where parents/guardians share their passion for learning beyond the school walls.

Note: I am hosting a FREE Webinar next week, ¨Getting Started With Genius Hour: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Structuring Genius Hour (and my 5 Best Strategies for Engagement)¨Sign up here. 

6. Your class will be covering all types of common core standards

It doesn’t matter if you teach elementary, middle, or high school. The Genius hour and 20% time projects cover multiple common cores standards. We’ve had teachers propose this type of learning to their administration backed by awesome research. Remember, the community will help if you are fighting a battle to get Genius Hour or 20% time started at your school.

7. It’s differentiation at its best

Students are working at their level, and as teachers we should be helping to challenge each one of our learners at their best pace and ability. Because each project differs, students are not bogged down by following the same steps as their classmates. The entire class is learning, but it is truly differentiated.

8. You learn by what you do, not by what you hear

Experiential and challenge based learning puts the mastery back into the student’s hands. We provide guidance and pushes along the way, but they are the ones “doing” and “making”. Confucius put it perfectly: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” Let your students make and they will understand and thank you for the opportunity.

9. It is a perfect way to model life-long learning

I did Genius Hour with my students and took it upon myself to learn how to code and make an app from scratch. I failed to make that app. But my experience learning how to program left me with a whole new perspective, and was a teachable moment about what we call failure. There is no real way to fail a project in which “learning” is the end-goal.

10. Your students will never forget what it felt like to create

Have you seen Caine’s arcade? It started out as a little idea and now Caine has inspired hundreds of other kids his age to create something unique. When you create a product, it becomes part of who you are, and there is a “care” involved that we just never see with multiple-choice tests. What would you want for your child?

This is the most important time to be in education. It is the most important time to care about education. It is the most important time to impact a different type of education.

Now, more than any other time in the past 100 years, education seems on the verge of a paradigm shift. You see, for the past century, most of the educational change has been doing old things in new ways. Today, we are beginning to see educators, educational institutions and educational companies do new things in new ways.

My challenge to you as a teacher is to allow your students the choice to learn what they want. That’s what Genius Hour and 20% time is all about, and that is why it is so successful.


Again, if you’re interested in this great opportunity, you can sign up for AJ’s course here.