The title of this article is a question, because I admit my ignorance of the answer. I’ve not been paying much attention to THE conversation, since I have finally accepted my status as retired. Wahoo! But I am working on another book, so my mind is still in our righteous endeavor, even though my PLN has evolved.
The book I am working on will be a history of technology in education, as I have witnessed it – so programming is on my mind. You see, that’s what we called it back in the 1982, programming. So I was struck by a sense of déjà vu when I saw so much of the edtech discussion, at the recent Raleigh NCTIES conference, devoted to coding.
But are we (and I’m asking this question seriously) missing the point of a skill that has been so important to me, not to mention a pure personal joy? You see, what has made coding so important is not necessarily its practicality, though I have been able to support the educational endeavors of many teachers with my tools. It’s not even the bread it has put on my table, though I am enormously appreciative of that.
I often tell the story that on that first afternoon, after spending my first couple of hours teaching myself how to program (uh, code), I got on my hands and knees and I thanked every algebra teacher I had ever had. There was finally a practical use for those mystical techniques for manipulating numbers.
But there was a major difference between how I was using Math and how I was taught Math – and it is a difference that strikes right at the heart of what we’re doing wrong in education. You see, I immediately understood, though I may not have been able to express it, that I was using Algebra as a language, in order to instruct the digital environment (Radio Shack TRS-80 computer) to behave in the way that I wanted. If you can communicate with a computer, then you can use it to learn and express.
We learned Reading so that we could read our textbooks and other more authentic sources of knowledge. We learned to Write so that we could articulate our growing knowledge. Maybe we should learn Coding in order to learn the language of numbers, so that we can learn from our own thoughts and express our ideas in endlessly creative ways.
..instead of teaching Math and teaching Coding.
Of course, I’m not the first to suggest such a radical idea. It was during those earliest years that some very smart people (Seymour Papert & my friend, Gary Stager for two) were already suggesting and putting into action this very idea with the Logo programming language.
It was like a gut punch,
When I glanced at my Twitter feed, and realized that the North Carolina Technology In Education Society’s annual edtech conference began today, completely without my knowledge. How could that happen?
My knee-jerk response was, “I must truly be retired.”
But that wasn’t good enough. I tweeted about it. I posted my thoughts on Facebook. Then a conference representative saw my comments, connected, and invited me over to the convention center tomorrow.
If I was truly retired, would I go? If I go does it mean that I’m not ready to retire?
It doesn’t matter. I’m going.
So I downloaded the conference App and started scanning the presentations. One observation. It seems that personalized learning has become the new ready phrase that can be wrapped around any and every technology that anyone wants to sell you. Sad!
But what really wrinkled my brain was a tweet from Brandy Reader from Davidson County. Now tell me this (if you’re old enough to remember)
“How Jetsons would it have seemed, when I started teaching in 1976, that I’d hear someone say (tweet)…
I’ve been doing a lot of deep digging while working on my book about the history of technology in education – as I’ve seen it. This afternoon, I happened upon some online handouts for one of my first keynotes and its slidedeck. The address was called, “The Three Ts of Teaching in the Twenty-First Century.” It appears to have been delivered in November of 2000.
On one of the opening slides, I had listed the ten most searched for terms of that month. As a comparison, I found the top ten searches on Google in 2014, and have listed them as well.
|6||Florida Recount||6||Flappy Bird|
|5||Britney Spears||5||ALS Ice Bucket Challenge|
|2||Election 2000||2||World Cup|
I was actually surprised how little it’s changed? We have video games, sports, entertainment with a peppering of world-shaping issues.
For the last several years, I have been opening my keynote addresses by describing something that I’ve learning in the last 24 hours. It was usually something that I’d run across on my iPad (Flipboard), or a conversation I’d had, or some other striking something that caught my eye. Today, it would likely be the Olkaria IV Geothermal Power Plant just brought on line in Kenya with the assistance of Germany’s continued development of green energies. I first learned about the plant from the Kenyan cab driver who took me from the St. Louis airport to my hotel yesterday.
But no story today. The first reason is trivial though not insubstantial. It’s time. I’ll only have 45 minutes for my opening talk. It’s usually closer to an hour.
The second reason is more important. It is my audience; school librarians, students of library science, and supporters and administrators of school library programs. I’m not launching into a demonstration of personal learning because librarians and their libraries are almost entirely about person learning. Their patrons explore, examine, experiment and discover – in much the same ways that we all conduct our essential learning outside of school.
These authentic learning experiences are way to rare in the classrooms of our schools, and this is due not to the best intentions, reflections and inventiveness of our teachers. It is my country’s continue obsession with market motivated and industrial methodology of public education.
I know that I’ve not been blogging a lot lately, because the first thing I had to do this morning was update MarsEdit, my blog-writing software.
Yesterday, watching the tweets and status updates being posted by educators packing their bags, arriving at airports and train stations, bound for Atlanta and ISTE 2014 — well it got me to thinking. I’ve been an educator for almost 40 years and that many years in such a dynamic field makes you opinionated. ..and I suppose it’s part of the character of old folks (60+) to express their opinions.
That’s why I tweeted out yesterday…
— David Warlick (@dwarlick) June 26, 2014
There were retweets, agreeing replies, and some push-back — reminding me that this old dog will never learn to fit his thinking into a 140 character message. So here’s what I meant to say.
You will speak to vendors and listen to speakers in Atlanta who claim to know how to fix education, how this practice or product will improve resource efficiency, teacher effectiveness and student performance. Don’t ignore them, but ask yourself, “Are they answering the right question?”
I would suggest that rather than asking, “How do we improve education?” we should be asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be educated?”
Years ago, when my Great Uncle Jim, the last of my family to live in the old Warlick home, passed away, and the house was sold, we were given permission to visit and take any furniture or other items, for which we had a use. My prize was an old quilt that had obviously been stitched together during a quilting party, dated in the late 1800s.
Both Uncle Jim and my Grandfather grew up in this house, and they both went to college, Jim to NCSU (engineering) and my Grandfather to UNC (classics). But when they graduated, they returned to rural Lincoln County, without daily newspapers, monthly journals or a convenient library. They returned to an astonishingly information scarce world.
Being educated then was indicated by what you knew, the knowledge that you’d memorized, knowledge and skills that would serve you for most of the remaining decades of your life.
Today, we are swimming in information and struggling with a rapidly changing world, and the very best that any “education” can do, is provide for us is what we need to know or know how to do for the next couple of years.
Being education is no long indicated by what you’ve been successfully taught.
Being educated today is your ability to resourcefully learn new knowledge and skills and responsibly use them to answer new questions, solve emerging problems and accomplish meaningful goals.
Being educated today is no longer measured by the number of questions we can correctly answer.
It’s measured by how well we you can discover or invent new answers, effectively defend those answers, and then we them to make our lives, communities and world better.
If they’re trying to sell you something at ISTE, ask them, “How will this help my learners to become better educated?”
If they ask you, “What do you mean by educated?” Then there’s hope.
Exactly 2¢ Worth!
I just woke with a start. Did I just miss the ISTE14 ADE (Apple Distinguished Educators) photowalk yesterday? A quick Googling from my office (next to my bedroom) and I see that the event isn’t until next Saturday. Most years I’ve been blogging by now with recommendations for ISTE novices, about what gear to take and how to behave. But not this year. I’ll be mostly taking it easy at home, taking pictures, taking walks, riding my bike, playing with the dog (my daughter’s studying in Europe and we’ve got the dog) and working on a slew of personal projects.
Will I miss ISTE14? Well, I’ll certainly miss the photowalk. Last year’s walk around San Antonio was phenomenal, especially because of the talented and ingenious photographers I followed around — both the gear geeks and the artists.
I’ll also deeply miss EduBloggerCon, now called something else (HackEd), where educators go to learn from each other. I’d planned, for a while, to attend only the photowalk and HackEd, but figuring the cost and how much I’m enjoying becoming a homebody, I finally decided to forego Atlanta this year. I can’t accurately say how many NECC/ISTEs I’ve not missed, but it’s more than 20.
I’d like to say one thing here, about why I’ll be at home on ISTE week – and I’ve written about this before I submitted two presentation proposals.
One was a standup and teach presentation about games and pedagogy. It was accepted.
The other was a very strange interactive performance (see NCTIES), designed to provoke the audience to self-examine their personal ideas about information and communication technologies and education. It was rejected.
Look! The best learning that I have done, was not taught to me. The best learning came from a challenge, or curiosity, or an intriguingly inventive plot – and it involved a conscious and resourceful re-examining of my own knowledge and ideas.
Have fun at ISTE14 and question your learning.
A few days ago, I posted an article explaining “Why You Won’t See Me at ISTE ’14.” In it I wrote,
I blame and accept the fact that experience that spans from TRS-80 to IOS has become a little less important compared to the creative energy of much younger educators…
Our discussion, however, had almost nothing to do with technology, but concerned the era in which we began teaching.
For me, it was a full 25 years before No Child Left Behind standards-based teaching and punitive high-stakes tests stained the “art of teaching.” Things were quite different in terms of the autonomy that teachers exercised in determining what and how their children learned – and some mediocre teachers, admittedly, took advantage of the freedom. However, most, whom I came in contact with, used their academic freedom as a seedbed to create dynamic and effective learning experiences for their students.
For years I have felt that this-too-will-pass, that the arrogant belief that we can know and teach everything our children will need to know to be prepared for their future simply makes no sense, and that we would come to our senses.
But it occurred to me, during that email exchange, that more and more of the teachers in our classrooms today were trained to test-prep and have been indoctrinated to an education system based, more than ever before, on an industrial production model.
So I did some research and tinkering with a spreadsheet, and found that about half of the teachers in U.S. classrooms today have never worked in a school culture free from high-stakes testing.
To illustrate this, I made an infographic that shows the decline in teachers who have experienced academic freedom and the rise in teachers who have always worked under the constraints of government/corporate standards.
To be sure, this does not mean that there aren’t young educators, today, who are courageously and creatively going beyond the regimentation that is the character of test-prep classes, nor that there aren’t older teachers who are happy to model their classrooms on mass production.
But it does suggest a dramatic shift in the culture of our schools,
An approaching point of no return.
To complicate things, the table included only data for every 4th year, 1999, 2003, 2007, and 2011, which was not enough to plot the level of accuracy that I wanted. In addition, the years experience were grouped, i.e. less than 3 years, 3 to 9 years, etc. I searched further, but could not find any more complete data at the national level. If you know of such a document, please comment below.
To fill in the blank years, I worked my OO spreadsheet so that it calculated trends from the 4 years and the experience ranges, and filled in the blanks, across and down, based on those trends. Not a perfect solution, but the point of my infographic was to illustrate a trend, not precisely measure a phenomena.
Having such a seemingly rich data set enticed me to plot for other trends and anomalies, such as specific rises or declines in teacher numbers, indicating times of sudden influx of new teachers, or increased retirements or, and I hate to suggest the possibility, mass resignations. Alas, it would take more completely accurate information to do such a thing, not just calculated trends.
It’s a silly distinction to make, I know, objecting to “personalize learning,” as a term for describing the current flavor-of-the-week in education reform/transformation conversation, preferring instead, “personal learning,” .
As an advocate, I cannot fault the use of either label for student learning that is personal, needs-based, unconfined and empowered by personal passions and skills. That’s my immodestly paltry characterization that fits both terms.
I could, if I thought it would be the least bit helpful, call attention to semantics, suggesting that one is a verb, “..produce (something) to meet someone’s individual requirements..”, and the other an adjective, “..belonging to a particular person..”
|But I guess what disturbs me the most and prevents me from letting go of this argument is that one can be
to superintendents and legislators,
The other liberates learning.
|in a sense, this presentation was a follow-up of a short story I wrote as a first chapter of a book I wrote in 2004, describing a middle school in 2014.|
I’ve never had so much fun doing a presentation — that I had never done before. The fact that the 2024 version of myself had traveled more than 87,000 timezones to get to the NCTIES conference, and the jet lag that implied, took a lot of the pressure off.
The scenario went like this. My wife, children and granddaughter chipped in to buy my a trip back to 2014, to visit an old education technology conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. I walked into the session dressed as the eccentrically old geezer I am certain to become, limping with a cane, because of a self-defense class injury. I am toting my granddaughter’s book bag, which we will excavate to reveal clues as to what education becomes ten years from now.
I did a Q&A, fielding a number of quite interesting questions, for which the trickier ones, I was able to hide behind the FCC Commission on Cross-Temporal Communications Act of 2022, paragraph 14.
I was also honored to find Adam Bellow in the Audience and convinced him to take a selfie of us together, which I could pick up later from the Twitter archive, housed at archive.org.
— Adam Bellow (@adambellow) March 6, 2014
My only regret was having left my notes back in 2024, so there was much that I forgot to include, such as, “If you want to party like it 2024, then you’ve gotta wear argyle socks.” You can write that down.
At first I was a little relieved that ISTE turned that presentation proposal down. Now I wish they’d accepted it. :-/
It is customary, as famous conferences are approaching, that experienced attendees post tips to help newbies pack and prepare for the event. So I, as a professional conference go’er, thought I would contribute ten more tips for NCTIES 2014.
- Raleigh is always swelteringly hot this time of year, so wear light-weight, loose fitting clothing. Conservatively styled bathing suits are also common. But, because the Raleigh Convention Center is huge, wear boots, big ones, with lots of laces. You will be doing a lot of walking. If preferred, heals may be substituted.
- You’ll want to take lots of notes, so carry several spiral-bound note books. Also carry pencils — #2s. If you can find them, use white or aluminum grey pencils. They’ll impress the people sitting near you.
- In the presentation rooms, be careful not to sit near anyone with a laptop or tablet computer. They have almost certainly left their email notification alarm on, and when it goes off, everyone will turn around and look — at you! If someone with a computer sits near you, get up and find a more secluded spot.
- If possible, sit on the front row and straighten your legs out as far as possible. This is where the boots come in, because presenters love to navigate obstacle courses while presenting.
- The exhibit hall is the reason you came. There are treasure here. It’s also a great place to play. Pretend you’re invisible. Wearing a dark cape will help. If you can achieve invisibility, then you’ll have the run of the hall. Simply walk into any booth and pick-up all the pens, pencils, letter openers, and soft fuzzy balls you can find, and slip them quietly into your bag–preferably a large brown paper bag. Chocolate is an especially treasured item and worth a return for more. If someone in a booth confronts you, then carefully put the pencils back on the table, look down at the floor and slowly back away.
- You’ll see areas in the conference center with comfortable chairs, where people will be milling, talking, and showing each other their computers. Shun these places. The people will try to brainwash you.
- If someone approaches you, wanting to talk, then turn invisible. If this doesn’t work, then look very stupid. You’ll need to practice this in front of a mirror. If they persist, then speak gibberish and walk away.
- If you hear anyone speak with an English accent, don’t believe anything they say – no matter how intelligent they sound or cute their accent.
- When the day is over, or by 4:00 PM, which ever comes first, flee back to your hotel room. This is the real challenge of conference-going, finding things to do in your hotel room. I like to remove the lids of shampoo bottles and guess their scent. Also, the extra blankets in the closet are expressly provided for the construction of elaborate blanket forts. ..and I hope that you are a fan of “Law and Order.” It will be playing during your entire visit – on at least three channels.
- What David really wants you to do is be comfortable, hungry to learn, ready to laugh and willing to cry, tweet your heart out and hashtag with #ncties, take every opportunity to meet someone new, and wear something strange. I like those satin slippers with toes that curl up and a tiny bell on the end.
If I see you at NCTIES, please forgive me if I’ve forgotten your name. I’m way past the need for excuses.
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