A Little Reflection

I’ve learned so much since I got to New Zealand, but my mind is not in the best condition to be learning.  I’m tiring easily and am now feeling some diminished capacity from the jet lag.  Tomorrow I do three presentations in Dunedin, on the South Island, and then fly home on Sunday.  Of course it’s still Thursday in the U.S. so I’ll be presenting on Friday in home time, flying home on Saturday, and arriving the same day that I left.  It strains the mind!

Learning@School a unique conference.  The NZ government has a huge program to provide professional development for schools that request it.  They have already reached more than 600 of their approximately 2,500 schools.  There are facilitators who are employed by the government who manage the program, and it appears to be a train-the-trainers approach.  The trainers are attending the conference, tech coordinators, principals, and teachers.  So these are the most tech savvy of the country.  Tough  audience. 

It’s an interesting model.  The schools have to invest in the technology — the hardware, software, and infrastructure.  Once they’ve done that, then the government provides the professional development, and they have done a great deal of research and work to provide grounded and effective models of professional development.  A lot of it involves visioning as well as nuts-and-bolts of tech operation and integration.  Some very smart people are driving this, and the NZ Government is keen to see it work for the country.  As I said yesterday, they have a great deal of confidence in their teachers to set and implement curriculum.  But that only happens with strong professional development.

Another thing that has struck me is how lucky we are in the U.S.  New Zealand is not the only country that I have worked in where schools are paying full price for their Internet usage.  It is terribly expensive and a huge drain on their budgets.  Yet they are paying, because they know that this is the information infrastructure that their students should be learning from and learning through.  We are so very lucky to have e-rate, and I continue to be astounded by the visionaries who saw the need and made it happen, and those who have continued to champion and protect the program.

Time to prepare for today’s session on the Magic of the Web — RSS.  Such a fitting place to play wizard and to reveal magic to people — such hospitable people, I might add.

New Zealand readers:  If I have gotten any of this wrong, or if you can add more about the professional development program, please comment.

Day One at Learning@School – New Zealand

Thanks to Blogmeister Maven, Tom Sheehan for this picture.  It looks like I was having a good time.  The truth is that I rearranged my slides earlier in the morning and for most of the presentation I had no idea what slide was going to appear next. 😉

I have so much to reflect on — so many amazing conversations.  I was engaged in one when suddenly my name came over the conference center intercom, directing me to the presentation I was supposed to be doing.  I’d completely lost track of time.  Probably has something to do with the date line.  Not sure though.  But things are certainly very interesting here.

One tid-bit is that they make a point and take great pride in the fact that teachers are respected as professionals here.  Curriculum (what and how learning happens) is largely determined at the classroom level.  Teachers are trusted as professionals, and it is clear to me as they talk in that same language that I’ve heard in Canada and Scotland, it’s a language of professionals.

I took a long walk this afternoon, taking some pictures of the flora and fauna of the Rotorua area, especially around the lake.  I’m very tired now, and beginning to wonder how much of tonights banquet I’m actually going to be able to remain awake for.  The big day is over, with the keynote and two presentations behind me.  I must say that the video games presentation is starting to come together.  I’ve found some ways to make it much more interactive, exploring the elements of gaming that are already happening in our classrooms.

I certainly do hope that I get to return to New Zealand again — although I must be careful.  I’ve already run into a number of people who vacationed here from the U.S. and never left.  It could certainly happen.

One-Hour Layover – Fiji

I’m sitting in the lounge at some airport in Fiji.  It was an interesting place with lots of shops and comfortable furniture.  The scenery out the windows indicated a magnificently beautiful island.

I’m on a one-hour layover in Fiji.  I didn’t even know we would be stopping here.  It is just dawn, and the main impression I’ve gotten about this exotic island is when we disembarked the plane onto an outdoor walkway, the sounds of birds were louder than the jet, whose engines were still wining.  It’s been 11 hours already, since I left Los Angeles, and that was a five hour flight from Washington, which was 35 minutes from Richmond.  It makes me tired.

It was a very good day at the Maggie Walker School.  Patti Chapel, their tech coordinator, did a fabulous  job of bringing people in from the area to do presentations on GIS, podcasting, using Excel to process data, and others.  Several were presenters that I know of, and I would love to have been able to attend some of those presentations.  Alas, I had to do my gig, and then hit the road.  Seems like weeks ago, but it was just yesterday.  Or was it two days ago.  This date line truly confuses me.


I’m now in the Auckland airport, and I’ve put in my cholesterol walk for the day.  It’s another 45 minutes before they let us in to board, what’s sure to be a very small plane to Rotorua.  I’m glad that I decided not to drive, though.  The steering wheel is in the wrong place.  It would be awkward for me to drive, having to reach all the  way over to the other side of the car to tend the steering wheel.

So, sitting here, after a sausage and egg sandwich (delicious), I decided to thumb through a magazine that was handed to us as we disembarked the 777 from Los Angeles (by way of Fiji).  The magazine is called Arrival: A Guide to New Zealand.  It is mostly descriptions of the tourist centers of the country, including a lot of references to Maori Culture, wine making, water sports,  and a lot of fun having to do with rocks. Then I ran across this article called Wanted: Skilled Migrants.  It opens with…

Many industries within New Zealand say that one of the most significant factors holding them back from achieving growth is the lack of qualified staff.

All indications are that this is a country on the move, trying to find its place and to make its contributions to the 21st century.  Here are the professions they are especially keen to attract:

  • Engineering
  • Teaching
  • Biotechnology
  • Construction
  • Creative Arts
  • Healthcare
  • Information Technology
  • Banking & Finance

Something to think about.

I Didn’t Understand Until Now

I’m back on the road again.  Brenda drove me up to Richmond, Virginia yesterday so that I can work at the Magie Walker Governor’s School today.  I’ll be presenting to some really smart teachers who teach really smart students, and will be talking about literacy and learning in the 21st century — and a little Web 2.0.  Then it’s off to the airport for a four leg flight to New Zealand, where I’ll be keynoting the Learning@School conference in Rotorua, and then down to Dunedin for a day of workshops with educators in the South Island.

It was a spooky night with the mist blocking all but the first third of many of the buildings around the Bund.

But I’d like to spend a few minutes of your time back in China, which seems like weeks ago — because it seemed like it took weeks to fly back from there

Several of the presentations that I do owe at least minor elements to ideas from The World is Flat, by Thomas Friedman.  As I say in my presentations, I don’t agree with everything that Friedman says, but he tells some good stories, and  I include and attribute some of these stories in my presentations, especially several revealing statistics about China.

For instance, I share numbers that imply that there are more honor students in China than there are students in the U.S., that if you exported all of the jobs in the United States to China, they would still have a labor surplus.  The true implications of these facts did not really dawn on me until I saw Shanghai.  This ancient city has been made-over almost entirely in just the last few years.  The buildings are huge and many, and no single image could possible convey the vastness and wealth.  The skyline, according to the teachers who work there, changes almost daily — and it is a state of affairs that is not only possible, but probable in a country with practically unlimited human resources, effective (and totalitarian) leadership, and an ambitious vision for the future.

We (the U.S.) could not possible keep up on their terms.  We must find our niche of influence, our avenues to continued prosperity and value, and we must do it imaginatively and together.  We must be willing to invest and to break out of the paralyzing policies of the past six years, and seek out visionary and inspiring leadership.

Leaving Shanghai

Pretty typical neon in Shanghai
Pretty typically large video displays (20 stories)
the five of us at the dinner theatre.

My final day in Shanghai was incedible.  Jeff and I both did four presentations yesterday, two at each of the two campuses, which are a little more than an hour apart at NASCAR speeds, on roads where lanes are merely a suggestion.  I did sessions on Web 2.0 and Podcasting, and Jeff did some hands-on sessions.

Last night David and Kim Gran, art teachers from New York, took me out for dinner with M (do not remember her name) and Yeu (sp) here husband, both from Japan.  The restaurant was actually a dinner theatre of sorts, where a fire-breathing dragon of a dancer came and amazed us all with his traditional moves.  The music was fantastic, but the most interesting part was that his mask kept changing, magically.  He would swip a fan across it, and he would have a new mask with new colors and designs.  I am convinced, now, that it was some trick of nano-technology.

It is impossible to spend a week in a place like Shanghai and not leave with regrets.  For instance, if I stayed only one more day, I could have witnessed the Chinese New Year.  The fireworks I’ve seen so far point to a magnificent display, matching the enormous energy of this city.  But I’d really like to have seen Jeff Utecht present.  Shanghai American School is going to be a real interesting place, and if I’ve done my job, then Jeff, and the other tech folks are going to be busy.

Learning 21st Century Skills

Again, the best part of what I’m doing here in Shanghai is the conversations — especially having Jeff Utecht around, learning from his experiences in his classrooms (check out Teentek — http://www.teentek.com/) and a lot of the thinking he is doing about where classrooms and schools need to be.

We had another conversation the day before yesterday (was that Monday? Sunday?) with the Tech committee making plans for spending the significant money they have coming next year. It was an interesting dynamic to watch and finally participate in, and not one that is uncommon. We are trying to talk about facilitating learning that is more relevant to today’s children and their future, and to do it without talking about technology. Once you get into the technology, the the talk becomes about shopping lists. It’s a challenge to keep the conversation on the kids and learning.

Yesterday, the tech staff met for a couple of hours in the morning and probably came closer than any conversation I’ve been engaged in, to seeing, out there in the discussion, a vision for 21st century learning, classrooms, and schools. This school has developed at listing of 21st century skills, with is not dissimilar to other listings that are emerging in other places these days. But what we started talking about was classrooms that are set up for students to learn these skills — not to be taught this skills.

I think that there is a subtle but important distinction here.

Welcome to the Corral

Of course this isn’t China. 
It’s classrooms.

I think that one of the truest things that I say is, “We live in an intensely exciting world.  Learning about that world should be just as exciting!”  This makes teaching, perhaps more than anything else, an adventure.  ..and I am certainly in the heart of that adventure, here in Shanghai, working with international teachers, educators who have left their homes, embracing the expat lifestyle — teaching the children of families who are also, world citizens. 

It makes for a really tough audience!  Part of me feels way out of my league, as I find myself talking with educators with Chinese or Korean accents, British, Australian, or New Zealand accents, German (or was it Dutch) accents.  At the same time, I feel very much at home, because I, too, am an adventurer —

because I am an educator.

So much of the adventure of teaching has been sucked out of the profession,

  as good teachers

    have been twisted into becoming herders,

      corralling their students through the standards,

        seeking to control kids — rather than empower kids,

          as life long learners.

“Black & White Cattle Farming.” Urban Artist’s Photostream. 21 Dec 2006. 15 Feb 2007 <http://flickr.com/photos/10408356@N00/329727547/>.

New Podcast Posting

I have just posted a new Connect Learning podcast, episode 80.  The recordings were made at the TRLD Conference (Technology Reading & Learning Diversity) in San Francisco last week.  — or was it the week before?  It includes some conversations we had during a Web 2.0 workshop about what’s being bandied around as School 2.0.  This part is short, but it is interesting to hear some of the perspectives of people who attend a conference about learning diversities.

The second, longer part of the podcast is a conversation about Literacy.  The TRLD conference holds a Community of Learners event each year, where several round tables are set up, each dedicated to a particular issue of teaching and learning in the twenty-first century.  My table of tech people, researchers, librarians, business people, Sarah Armstrong, and Don Johnson.  There is a lot of discussion that probably extends away from basic literacy, but in the end, I reported the following definition, about which we found consensus.

Literacy in the 21st century includes all skills involved in learning to learn, learning to build with what you’ve learned, and to express compelling what you have built, utilizing all modalities of sense and expression, within today’s rich information landscape.

Not much different from any definition of literacy at any time.  It’s just that the skills have changed, as one of the teachers said here in Shanghai said the other day.

Podcast Download

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Blah Blah Blah!

This is the logo for the Shanghai TechFest and I love it.  We can dress them up like us — but they are not us.

Yesterday, I taught a workshop on blogging to middle and high school teachers at to Pudong campus of the Shanghai American School.  Jeff Utecht, who has been attending all of my workshops (poor guy), commented that only a very small part of the workshop was actually about blogging.  Most of it was about Web 2.0, the spirit of an information experience that is about sharing, conversation, and infinitely connectable content.  There is magic there.  It’s wonderful.  Blah blah blah blah blah!

We’re starting to talk about School 2.0 — classrooms, schools, and an education system that is characterized more by its conversations than what gets taught and what gets learned — where, how you learn it is more important than what you learn.  It’s wonderful. Blah blah blah blah blah!

It’s all magical!  

It’s all smoke and mirrors!

What I’m waiting for is the conversation about Student 2.0 and Graduate 2.0.  What should the 21st century graduate/citizen know, know how to do, want to do, want to be?  What should be their dream and their path to get there.  

We can’t invent this next great generation in our own image.  It’s cracked and crusty.  We must figure out how to invent them out of our imagination.  Invent or cultivate something new.

Blah blah blah blah blah?

Image Citation:
TechFest 2007 Logo. Perf. David Gran. Digital Image. 2007.

I Am So “Not Ready for This”

So many times yesterday, I was reminded that this was my day to write for Technology & Learning, but more often than that I was swept away from thoughts of my responsibilities and normal practices.  I arrived in Shanghai, in late morning on Saturday.  Of course, in Shanghai time, there were only a few fleeting hours left to February 11, a day that I almost completely skipped in my long hours over the Pacific.

It would simply be impossible to capture in one picture the vastness of this city.  It’s like New York City — on speed.
One of these players is actually a famous gamer.
Multiply this times a hundred, and you begin to get a sense of it.

I’ve been here one full day now, having conducted four workshops for the Shanghai American School, at the request of tech visionary, Jeff Utecht — a man with far more youth and energy than me.  The work has gone well, and my energy has been what was needed, exploring the qualities and instructional applications of digital content and one session on video games in education.  But twice, since I’ve been here, I have experienced a sickness that I’ve never felt before.  The only way that I can phrase it is Sensory Overload.  Each time we drove through what I guess would be considered downtown, there has been so much to see, so many lights, so much diverse architecture, so many people, so much vastness in technology (speeding European Sedans along side people pedaling ancient bicycles with huge bundles strapped to them) so incredibly much energy, that my body just wants to shut down.  I can feel myself demanding to just go to sleep.  It’s a peculiar feeling.

Last night, Jeff and I went downtown to, what I can only describe as a tech mall.  It was a single building (well two of them actually) that was floor after floor of nothing but tech booths.  It’s like a flee market, but shinier, flashier, and millions of times more energy.  I was so overwhelmed.  Now I can’t believe that I did not take advantage of some of the amazing deals that we saw.  I just wanted to get out of there.  Not only were we the only Westerners in that building, but I was, by far, the oldest person there.  Everyone was looking at this ancient man.

Outside, we encountered something that I simply can’t characterize with any label or phrase.  It was a tent, of sorts, with nearly a hundred youngsters gathered around.  The material was red with many Chinese characters and chubby little pink cartoon people.  We approached the tent and I lifted Jeff’s camera (I forgot mine) up and took a picture, bringing it back down to see that inside the tent were six or seven youngsters, intensely playing video games.  There was a huge widescreen display out front where people were watching the play.  It has never been so clear to me how much I do not understand this video game experience.  It is so social and so talked about, especially over here.  Jeff and I worked our way around to the side where we could see better.  While there, a young man walked up and asked where we were from, perhaps thinking that we were journalists.  Jeff told him that we were from the American School, and asked him a few questions.  What a podcast worthy moment.  The young man built and maintains one of the biggest gaming web sites in the country.  What I could have learned from talking with him, but, again, sensory overload.

I’m trying to reflect on this experience, to reduce it down to something that I can express to help us think about our future and our preparations for our future in a way that better addresses this flattening world.  But there is simply too much energy for me to relax and think.

Anyway, I was able to put some words down here!  Because as I awoke this morning, I realized that it is still only mid-afternoon in the U.S. and still time for me to post my blog on the TechLearning web site.