An Afternoon in Auckland & NECC Reflections

Enjoying a Cappuccino While it Rained Outside

I’ve started my afternoon of walking in Auckland, New Zealand.  Check out was 11:00 – graciously extended to 14:00.  But my flight isn’t until 19:30.  So I headed over to the Auckland Museum, only to be caught in the rain.  I’ve sought sanctuary through a near endless choice of coffee shops, skipping all of the Starbucks for a local establishment with modern decor and lots of patrons.  I ordered a cappuccino — also a bit out of character for me.

I’m usually fairly energized by a new and exotic place, but right now I just want to go home.  Brenda’s trying to find a way to get me home sooner, and it may work out.  Right now, I fly to San Francisco, then on the Washington, where I spend the night.  Then the return train trip back down to Raleigh.  That would be OK, since I do not have any gigs for a few days.  But home is home and it’s where I want to be.

I spent some time on Twitter this morning, scanning the NECC blogs and all of the post-conference reflection posts.  No conclusions for me, especially since I left early, Even thought I do not feel any closure, I still feel that it was a successful experience for me.  I had many opportunities to talk with people who are smarter than me — though the the reprise that constantly rang through my head was, “This is the place of unfinished conversations.”

The bloggers’ cafe was the hot spot of the conference.  I’m not sure why I was not drawn to the spot last year.  There seemed to be a contentiousness there while the cafe was entirely friendly, jovial, and everyone was looking for help or to help.

Although the the EduBloggerCon was a huge hit and hugely helpful, I think that the high point for me was the Leadership Symposium.  It was a highly structured gathering, designed to generate some ideas for the development of a new National Technology Plan.  It wasn’t easy.  At my table, there were officials from state education agencies and outspoken independents, like me.  There was a lot of tug-of-war, and the time constraints for our various tasks were extremely frustrating.  If asked, I would suggest that next time, our tasks be fewer and simpler, so that we have time to delve more deeply into eachother’s ideas and perspectives.

One of the things that frustrates me about these quick conversations is the need to rely on buzz terms.  We all know what they mean and mostly agree with their direction.  But what is needed right now is a richer description of exactly what project-based learning, student-centered instruction, and authentic assessment look like.  It frustrates me because I feel that the time has come to move forward.  But we will only be able to move with clearly described vision, not mutually agreed-upon neologisms.

Some of the most powerful ideas I came away with from the presenters and the conversation:

  • Leaning today must be more than conceptual.  Textbooks and lectures are conceptual.  Students must work their knowledge using literacy skills as tools.
  • Professional development must involved “doing.”
  • Teachers/educators need time to keep up.  It needs to be part of the workday.
  • Students may not want to use the technology the way we want them to — and this may not be a bad thing.
  • Teachers need permission and encouragement to take risks.

Someone at our table reminded us of the little picture puzzles that, as I recall, use to show up in Cracker Jack boxes.  You had to arrange the tiles so that they made a single picture, but there was only room to move one of two tiles into a single empty position at a time.  Nothing else could move until this last tile moved first.

As we discussed the various barriers to retooling education, it seemed that the steps that needed to be taken were always blocked by some other tile.  What’s the one barrier that needs to move first, before we can address the others?  I would suggest that it is assessment.  Nearly everything else comes down to assessment.  How we hold ourselves (how the government holds us) accountable is the giant stone in the way of change.  It all comes down to, “but its the tests that drive what we teach and how we teach it.”

My group was assigned to look for ways to make learning more engaging.  So what would engaging assessment look like.  What kind of accountability scheme might we grow into, that is fun to participate in, both for students and for teachers?  How might we make assessment and accountability an integral part of the formal learning process — a learning process that comprises fun and engaging hard work?

I’m looking forward to the NECC where the big new thing, the new buzz, is a style of portfolio assessment that integrates into the teaching, learning, classroom, school, and community cultures.

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.