Yet Another ISTE Reflection from the Radical Center…

So why am I posting so many reflections on this year’s ISTE in Denver. The best answer I can come up with is my iPad. That’s not entirely true. It probably has much more to do with how I was taking notes on my iPad, using mind mapping software (see Taking Nots on the iPad).  I started with SimpleMind, but migrated over to MindPad because I was constantly having to rearrange the nodes into a layout that made sense.  This was not necessarily a bad thing, because it gave me something to do during lulls in the presentation.  But I ended out using MindPad.

Since the conference, I’ve taken another look at iThoughtsHD and although its interface is a little less smooth, it has more functionality and exports to a slew of other applications and in a number of ways, including WiFi.

The practical affect for me is that I have a set of distinct notes organized logically, that take me back to the presentation rooms rooms and in front of the speakers.  This is preferable to the hodgepodge of notes written down on a note pad, either analog or digital, requiring careful interpretation later on.  To the right are my notes for Doug Johnson’s presentation, exported to my MacBook Pro via WiFi and imported into XMind.

Of course ISTE (formerly known as NECC) is a place where smart people go to learn.  But it is also the place were we go to care about their own ideas.  There are proclamations, exaltations, disagreements, confusion, support for some approaches and recrimination of others.  People are made to feel good and made to feel bad because of what they think and sometimes because of how they’ve spent their money.  Interactive White Boards are an obvious current example, as many (myself included) are weary of the technology because of its evident support and potential perpetuation of teacher-centered classrooms.

And then comes Doug Johnson’s Change from the Radical Center.  Author of the Blue Skunk Blog (one of my favorites) and a range of books for teachers and librarians, Doug brings a practical and mature approach to modernizing our schools, classrooms, and libraries.  In his online handouts, Johnson writes…

While polarized views of reading methodologies, filtering, DRM, Open Source, copyright/copyleft, constructivism, e- books, computer labs, fixed schedules, Mac/PC/Linux, and the One Laptop Per Child project all make for entertaining reading and a raised blood pressure, radical stances rarely create educational change or impact educational institutions enough to change kids’ chances of success.

With his Minnesota humor (and no mention of Ollie), Doug compellingly suggests ten principals to follow to cut through the passions of heart-felt beliefs to approaches that may succeed in affecting positive change in our classrooms and libraries.  You can read them all here.  I’m going to comment on just a few.

I had to reach all the way back to NECC 2007 to find this picture of Doug

One of the first cut through much of the controversial proclamations made in the presentation rooms and during hall and lounge conversations that I witnessed and participated in.  He suggests that we “Adopt an ‘and’ not ‘or’ mindset.”  I feel pretty strongly that every student should be walking into their classrooms with computers under their arms.  I’m increasingly convinced of the power of focused backchanneling during presentations (lectures) and conversations.  But this does not mean that students should have their laptops out every minute of the school day, chatting with each other about what the teacher or a classmate is saying.  There is room for laptops open and for laptops closed.  There is room for lower end Netbooks for the lion’s share of the learning work, and a garden of high-end work stations in the media center for video productions and data visualization.

Johnson also advocated that we look for the truth and value in all of our perspectives and practices.  Because someone says or promotes something that appears objectionable to me our you, doesn’t mean that it is all worthy of objection.  Find the value and work with that.

Another one that resonated with me was being comfortable saying, “I don’t know.”  I think this is important, because it embraces the fact that we are all learning.  When I give myself permission to say, “I don’t know,” then I’m give those around me comfort with what they do not yet know — but will learn.

The one that I continue to struggle with was, “Understand that the elephant can only be eaten one bite at a time.”  First of all, I’m not to keen on eating elephant.  It probably does not taste like chicken.  But I fear that the luxury of “small steps” is more than we can afford.  I don’t know if our children have the time for their educators to take their time in adopting more contemporary approaches to teaching.  How many more years are we going to excuse ourselves as immigrants?

How many more students are going to graduate, perfectly prepared for the 1950s?

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.