David Warlick Ryann Warlick Martin Warlick
Shakabuku Infographics Video

Educon Reflection: Gary Stager, a Very Funny Man

“Children have a remarkable capacity for intensity.” Stager said, quoting Leon Botstein, in his 2011 TEDx talk – and the phrase aptly describes Gary's notions about teaching and learning today. He asked, “How do we maximize intensity — and minimize chaos?”

I tweeted a few minutes into his session that Gary Stager is a very funny man. I forget about his amazing sense of humor and I wish that I could share it here. But his sense of timing, which is a huge part of his delivery, simply couldn't be conveyed in text.

Of course, the best part of Gary's presentation was the “Ah ha!” moments, one after another.

I'll list a few of them here.

  • Stagger showed a picture of children in a robot petting zoo, a slightly disturbing image, on several levels. Shouldn't they be petting small farm animals. Well, sure. But from a contemporary learning stand point, a robot petting zoo gives children an opportunity to interact with emerging technologies in a playful way. ..and play, I suspect, is a huge part of learning to apply emerging tech.
  • He made a statement early in the session that, to me, is so obvious that it need not be made. Yet, it does need to be made. He said that,

“School should work with the tech of the day.”

Why is it that we think it's alright for schools to use down-scaled and out-dated computers that would have been replaced years ago in most businesses, especially when most business uses of technology require less processing power than many classroom applications. If we are preparing them for their future (and ours) and helping them to become “lifelong learners,” then shouldn't they be using the most up-to-date learning tools?

Why do we think that education should be cheap?

  • This one reminded me of some of my own thinking, ideas that I've not been able to put into words. Stager said,

“The power of programming is working with a device whose capabilities you do not know.”

What I remember my first experience with a personal computer (a TRS-80 Model I – from Radio Shack), I thought, “This is a machine that we operate by communicating with it.” This was brand new, and as a history teacher, this is what convinced me to learn as much about computers as I could. This technology, which you operate by learning its language, was going to change everything.

In a sense, a personal computer is like a friend, in that the best way to learn about it is to communicate with it.

  • This was the real shakabuku! Gary said that,

“We use to teach teachers how to program. Now, we teach them how to use a white board.”

He continued that this is an indication of “diminishing expectations.” Wow! In workshops, I use to teach BASIC programming and HTML. Shouldn't teachers be learning about computers by communicating with them? I've long thought that the reason I am able to intuitively figure out new software is that I've written software. I've had the same internal conversations that other software developers have had.

  • In his much expected attack on “standards” and standardized testing, Stager reminded us that the only place in the world where we consistently see standardization is in our cars. it's the cigarette lighter.

Is this true?

  • Finally, and this is one I've attributed to Gary during a number of my own recent talks and conversations. He tells the story of a science teacher, who, in the teachers lounge, complained that she tried a science experiment in her classroom, and “It didn't work.” This story says so much about what is wrong with our approach to education today. The experiment didn't work for the teacher, because it didn't teach what she wanted taught. Science is about answering inquery. It's about exploration and discovery, and it happens as a result of experimentation. All experiments work. They just tell us different things. What an amazing learning opportunity that surprise avails any teacher – wasted in this case, because she thought her classroom was about teaching, not about learning.

Thanks Gary!



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  • Jennifer Bailey

    I agree with Stager on the topic of technology. Our children are supposed to compete with countries around the world, but many low income students do not know how to create a PowerPoint presentation, let alone create a web page or do research. The problem lies in the lack of technology in schools. Like Stager said, technology is often outdated, but that is if technology even exists in the first place. Every classroom should have up-to-date technology in it, and a smart board so that teachers can teach students in unique, creative, interesting, and valuable ways.

  • Alma Mendez

    Yes, technology is essential in the classroom. Our students will not be ready to face the new century or compete with the rest of the world if technology is lacking in the classrooms. However, we are forgetting that the problem of technology lies not within the teacher, but rather the school or district. One does what one can with the little tech available to us. Schools whose socioeconomic status is at the poverty level happily accept the outdated computers because something is better than nothing.
    Again, yes technology is very important, but how do we get access to it when every year we are looking at more budget cuts?

    • http://blog.idave.us/ David Warlick

      @Alma Mendez, I sympothis with your concern, but I will make no excuses. There are none to be made. I believe the time has come to expect all public school learners to be learning within a contemporary information landscape, requiring on-demand access to contemporary information and communication technology. Schools that do not adhere to this standard and teachers who do not appropriately apply these learning opportunities are perpetrating a terrible disservice on their students and their future. We are one of the richest nations on Earth. Why do we still tolerate schools that reflect poverty?

      No excuses!

      • Alma Mendez

        @David Warlick,
        I do not disagree with you, no excuses should be made. My concern is on how to obtain the necessary funding when other things are deemed more important. Yes all of our students deserve to have the most up to date information and communication technology, but who is going to take care of that? Whose responsibility is it to make sure it happens? As for the question “Why do we still tolerate schools that reflect poverty?” I ponder then, if we do not tolerate those schools, what is to be of the children who have no way out?

      • http://blog.idave.us/ David Warlick

        @Alma Mendez, Thanks for the reply. Assuming that you are a teacher, I would say that it is the nature of teachers and teaching that we believe that the problems of education fall on our shoulders, and, sadly, our society has abused that tendency in us. I have heard of superintendents and principals telling classroom teachers that they need to be writing for grants to pay for the learning needs of our children. In a sense, begging for money has become an institutionalized part of schooling.

        We (teachers) were not trained to manage budgets and generate funding. It’s not our jobs. People are elected to procure and allocate funding. It’s their jobs. If students do not have access to contemporary information and communication technologies necessary to become master learners, then it’s the fault of the people who make those decisions.

        Our job is to know what is needed for a contemporary learning environment, expect that environment, and compellingly communicate those expectations to the community. I use to suggest that teachers devote a page of their classroom web sites to describing the classrooms they need and describe what students could be learning in these environments and how they could be learning it.

        • Jennifer Bailey

          @David Warlick,

          I agree that the guilt and blame should not be placed on the shoulders of teachers, but on those who make the decision to not give us funding for technology or books. Yet, at the end of the day, when test scores are examined and a blame must be made, it usually falls on the teacher. We are told that our students are not scoring high enough because of us. We are told that our students will not be able to compete in the global economy because we have failed them. When, in reality, we are the only ones fighting for them. The teacher’s lose their jobs, not the people responsible for an adequate lack of resources. What are we as teachers to do when we not only do not receive technology, but do not have adequate instructional materials at all like books? Should our “weekend job” then become standing on the corner with a sign and a bucket begging for money so that we can provide for our students? I feel that as a whole we are almost at that point. Where will the begging end?


  • Alma Mendez

    True, I do feel that it is in my hands to make sure my students are ready for the big world. Describing to the community what the dream classroom would look like and what the students would look like in that environment is great advice. However, when you work in an area where most of the students are receiving free or reduced lunch, the dream classroom is the least of their worries.

Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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