My First NECC09 Blog

Written yesterday at the airport

Packing 4 NECC by Todd Hamilton

I’ve been at home for just more than 24 hours.  It was a good day — a fathers day.  The kids gave me two seasons of The West Wing, including season 4, whose first episode, “20 Hours,” is the most YouTube’d WW of all seven seasons.

I spent the last couple of hours scanning through NECC blogs.  It’s been fun and has helped me to find the spirit.  It would be easy for me to say that I go to so many conferences that one more…  But it’s not the case.  NECC is huge — in just about every way you can imagine.

I’ve especially enjoyed the packing blogs.  “What do I pack?”  “Do I take my MacBook or the new Asus netbook.”  “Which camera, my pocket Sony, or the cool dSLR I got for Christmas?”

The most interesting post was from the SL team at Discovery Educator Network.  In NECC Prep Sessions a Big Hit, Lori Abrahams describes a series of recent sessions put on by DEN with reps from ISTE, including program chair, Anita McAnear.  The purpose of the sessions was to provide some tips for people who will be attending the international edtech conference for the first time.  Many conferences have sessions first thing, first morning, for newbies.  But advancing this one to Second LifeTM makes a ton of sense.

Several people talked about sessions they will be conducting, including Harry G. Tuttle, who’ll be sharing ideas about assessing Web 2.0 tools.  I have to confess that there’s a place on the back of my neck that always starts to itch when I see someone wanting to evaluate technologies.  I can’t help but feel that as soon as you start applying rules, the tech stops being the Swiss Army Knife that it should be.

But Tuttle makes an excellent point in his post, Woeful Book Wiki Turned to Wow Book Wiki.  As he has visited many school and classroom wikis, he has become increasingly discouragedl, as he notices that..

..most wikis are simply an online collection of student work. For example, all students in a class may do a book report and these book reports are posted to the class wiki.  The students post their book report and the project is done when the last book report is posted. There has been no interaction among students or other adults.  They have only worked in one learning style, linguistics.  Likewise, the students have paraphrased  (summarized) their book; they have not analyzed it. ((Tuttle, Harry G. “Woeful Book Wiki Turned to Wow Book Wiki.” [Weblog Education with Technology Harry
G. Tuttle] 20 Jun 2009. Web.21 Jun 2009. <>.

Harry then describes a wonderful alternative that creatively expands the wiki from collection of ideas, to an idea collective. Read his blog post for the details.

Of course, this is not an uncommon situation.  So many people come to these conferences looking for the tech de jour.  Then they bring it home and integrate the life out of it.
It may be the way that we present the technology — like snake oil salesmen.  I’m raising my hand.

Or perhaps it’s just what people come to the conference for — to discover and embrace the new cool thing.

I would like to suggest, for the coming conference, a moratorium on the phrase, “Integrate technology.”  Don’t say it at NECC.  Don’t even think it.  I’ll have nanobots loose at the convention  center floating on the breeze, listening for utterances the IT.  If you say it, or think it, my nanobots will hone in and drain the electricity from your iPhone.

Enough of the fun.  The answers we return from NECC with should not be, “This is the technology my students should be using.”  The answer should be,

“Here’s how my students can learn that is more relevant to their future, their learning skills, and the information landscape on which we all live.”

I’ll see many of you there, for the few days I’ll be attending NECC.

A Father’s Poem

It slaps you in the face
     The unconditional love
     That can not be compared.
And for your second child
     It is so unfair.
How can you love
     As much as your first?
Only to discover it rushing through you
     Like a wave
     With no beginning and no finishing.

It is not like the love for your parents
     Which you test
     As you size yourself up.
Nor the love for your wife
     Which you chose
     For the magical smile,
     The nod,
     Those electric eyes…
And how, when you love the same movies
     For different reasons,
     It makes you more and safe.

The love for your children
     Glows and grows.
It has
     No texture,
     No seam,
     No boundary.
It is in what you don’t say
     What you protect
     Like a perfect flower
     With a perfect blend of colors.

You want to know?
     Just look at how
     I look at you!

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Suggestions for School Board Members

I’ve been asked to speak for about 30 minutes to a group of school board members in Texas, who are finishing up a special extended institute provided by the Texas Association of School Boards.  You know the story.  Ask me to do a three-day workshop and I can do it now.  One day, and I can be ready tomorrow.  One hour and give me a week to prepare.  A half-hour?  We’ll it’s never ready.  But I know what I want to say.

They want big picture ideas and some specific recommendations.  My big picture is always three bullet points, and I’ve talked about it here before.  Tonight, however, I’m going to tell some stories to make my points.

First will be my 9th grade civics teacher who predicted that by the year 2000, we would each have our own personal computer.  It will be small enough to fit in our shirt pocket, and it will be able to add, subtract, multiply, and divide. ..and we didn’t believe such an outrageous idea.  It’s an indication of how rapidly change has occurred.  I solicited help from the smarter part of my mind, tweeting, “What have you seen lately that would have ASTONISHED you 30 years ago?”  Here are the answers that I got.  There is a lot of duplication, but I thought I’d give you all of them.

Bottom line?  We’re preparing our children for a future we can not clearly describe.

I won’t write the whole thing down here, but the next story describes how I learned that technology isn’t all that special.  It’s the information.  It’s the communication.  In 2002, we generated 5 exabytes of information.  In 2006, it was 161 exabytes (a million libraries of congress).  Projections are that 2010 will see 998 exabytes.  That information is suddenly growing at such an incredible and exponential rate tells us something about how it has changed.  NBC, CBS, and McGraw-Hill didn’t grow all of that information.  It happened because the landscape has changed.  We’re participants now. 

Bottom line? The information environment has changed.  Teaching, learning, and schooling must adapt.

Finally, it’s the story of arranging to meet for pizza with some folks I met in a chat room (channel), just days after IRC was announced on a newsgroup — only to learn then that my new friends were in Reykyavik, Iceland.  It was weeks later that I speculated that this experience might be a model for the world that our students will be growing into.  But I could never have predicted how quickly this would happen.

Bottom line? Our children are entering our classrooms from an information experiences that we do not understand.  It is rich, deep, and personal — and more than we can duplicate in most of our classrooms.

I close with some suggestions, that education leaders:

  • Respect & pay attention to the kids
  • Give learners a voice
  • Hire learners to teach
  • Seize “almost” every opportunity to replace books with digital content (ouch)
  • Pursue 1:1 carefully, but urgently
  • Support the infrastructure
  • Make sure that the tech staff works for the teachers
  • The best thing we can teach our children today, is how to teach themselves
  • When you visit the school, be happy when you see learning.  Be suspicious when you see too much teaching.

Do you have more suggestions.  Please post them as comments here.

Another Example of how Education can Kill Learning

A Mathematician’s Lament, by Paul Lockhart

I just found out about this essay from Ian Jukes, “A Mathematician’s Lament” by Paul Lockhart.  Evidently, the document has been around since 2002 and has circulated on the Internet ever since.  The Los Angeles Times called it a “Gorgeous Essay.”

A professor at Stanford University, Keith Devlin, encouraged the author to expand the essay into a book for a broader audience. (( Reynolds. Susan. “‘A Mathematician’s Lament’ by Paul Lockhart; ‘The Rights of Spring’ by David Kennedy; and ‘Towards Another Summer’ by Janet Frame,” Los Angeles times 12 Apr 2009. Web.13 Jun 2009. <>. ))

Here are the opening two paragraphs.

A musician wakes from a terrible nightmare.  In his dream he finds himself in a society where music education has been made mandatory.  “We are helping our students become more competitive in an increasingly sound-filled world.”  Educators, school systems, and the state are put in charge of this vital project.  Studies are commissioned, committees are formed, and decisions are made— all without the advice or participation of a single working musician or composer.

Since musicians are known to set down their ideas in the form of sheet music, these curious black dots and lines must constitute the “language of music.”  It is imperative that students become fluent in this language if they are to attain any degree of musical competence; indeed, it would be ludicrous to expect a child to sing a song or play an instrument without having a thorough grounding in music notation and theory.  Playing and listening to music, let alone composing an original piece, are considered very adcollege, and more often graduate school.

You can download a PDF of the essay here or order the book here.

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Pre-requisites for Personal Learning Networks

Oficina de blogs + educação by Ana Carmen

After speaking to one of the most hospitable audiences of education leaders ever (Texas Association of School Boards), I spent most of yesterday in airports — and eating all manner of Mexican food.  Just left a note on the kitchen count, “No Breakfast for Me!”

I sure didn’t get far into catching up on e-mail before I came up with a question for the smarter part of me — my readers.  The quesiton is this,

What are the pre-requisites for learning to establish and maintain a personal learning network?  Of course, I’m talking about the digital/distant kind of PLN.  I’m going to start things off, but if anything occurs to you, please post it here as a comment.

  • Computer savvy — practiced mouser; capable at opening, saving, and navigating files; accustomed with working multiple windows; able to connect to WiFi networks; and able to identify and even download and install software appropriate to a variety of file types.
  • Internet Savvy — Browser literate; experienced Web navigator; able to keep and manage bookmarks; able to capture and save (download) text, images, audio, and video files (under most circumstances); Confident at signing up for online services.
  • This is the most important — Willing to redefine your job as a teacher.  Willing to call yourself a master learner.

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You Can’t Look at Just One

100+ Portraits of Iconic People of All Time

I’m sitting in the Marriott Rivercenter, in San Antonion, arriving yesterday dispite the freakish weather that diverted DFW-destined flights all over the south central U.S.  We sat in north west Arkansas, mingling with more nationalities than UN Day at Kennedy International.  You see, WalMart is just down the road.

It’s 5:00 AM now, and I have so much to do to get ready for today’s Keynote at the Texas Association School Boards summer event (Next week its Fort Worth for the rest of the state), but I couldn’t help but look at every one of these, care of Webdesigner Depot.

Today we bring you a great collection of portraits of the most iconic people throughout history.

Portraits explore the relationship between the subject and the photographer or artist and usually continue to impress the viewer years after they have been created.

The common thread running through all of these portraits is superlative design. Each is a masterpiece in its own right, from the medieval painted portraits right up to the most current photographs.

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The Biggest

In 1967, my family (Dad, Mom, and we four boys) loaded into the Plymouth Belvedere wagon and drove up to Montreal Canada pulling a camping trailer — that my Dad built.  We went to the 1967 International and Universal Exposition, or Expo 67.  It was a Worlds Fair-style gathering celebrating international cooperation (62 nations participating) and technology.

The tech of the day was massive arrangements of CRT tubes, each displaying a different segment of a much larger video presentation, giving the affect of huge electronic motion picture.  What was even cooler was the fact that coinciding displays could branch off with their own video, creating picture within picture.  It was amazing to see.  You say iMovie can do that?

Click Images to Enlarge

I just got off of American Airlines flight 1975 at the O’Hare airport, after enjoying a delicious 3 1/2 inch barbecue chicken pizza in first class.  Walking down the concourse, I happened to glance back at the place where the H and K concourses split to see the largest touch-sensitive LCD screen I’ve ever — seen (see right). 

There is an arrangement of rectangular boxes, each labeled with category of news.  You walk up, touch the category of choice (news) and stand back as you receive a number of pages of videos.  I got to watch Jon Voigh bad-mouth Barrack.  You can touch pause, fast forward, rewind, stop, and select another video.

Granted, there are large portions of the screen that can’t be touched without a step ladder.  But even more — is this really such a huge advance over the multiple-CRTs I saw 42 years ago? 

What’s advanced… what’s changed… what’s disrupted… is what’s happening behind the screens.

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What I Wish For

Yesterday, I asked what you hope/wish will be in your classroom, when you report back to work in August or September — that wasn’t there last year. The responses on Twitter were immediate and continued, with several people recently retweeting (RT) the request for input.

The graph on the left represents the responses, at this moment, based on my interpretations. Some tweets delivered more than one message, for instance, indicating a wish for 1:1, more computers, and netbooks, all in the same tweet. I found it interesting that only 5% of the messages seemed to directly or indirectly reference budget cuts. The rest are wishes I would have expected to see anytime.  It is also noteworthy, the number of tweets that asked for administration and fellow staff who were more willing to try new things — innovate.

From The Next Web blog entry

Anyway, I found my wish this morning, while spending just a few minutes dashing through my RSS reader.

Londoners may soon have something new to look (at) while they travel around the city. A plan has been announced that would allow people to upload their own works of art to a website and have them displayed on the rooftops of bus shelters around the city. ((

It works like this.  You produce photographs, paintings, digital art work, cartoons, whatever, and you upload them to the Bus.Tops web site.  They are viewed by people on the web, who vote for the art of their liking.  The images with the most votes get displayed on the tops of bus stops and down from the ceiling for bus stop patrons.

Now here’s what I wish for.  A school that works like this — where at least part of the goings on of the school is run by the learners.  For instance, you set LCD displays around the school tied into a central low-end computer serving up images.  Encourage students to upload their own art work (or other images that reflect all levels of learning) and allow students and teachers to vote for them.  There would likely need to be some oversight, but that shouldn’t be too hard to incorporate.

The artwork recommended by the most learners gets displayed in a rotating fashion through the school and out, through the school’s web site and perhaps other venues in the community.

What I wish for is schools that are less schooly. ((Schooly is a term used frequently and probably coined by Clay Burell, to represent the traditional business of schooling as opposed to the timely business of learning.))

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Coming Back to School

Flickr Photo by Ikkoskinen

I’d planned to title this entry, “Happy Vacation.”  But it is not about vacation that I want to ask you.  That said, here in Raleigh, the school year ends this week, with thousands of high schoolers graduating and going out into an uncertain but possibility-rich world.

Many of you will pack-up your classrooms and go home.  You will relax your teacher muscles and deal with the everyday issues, independent of the unique and demanding service of teaching.

You’re going to want to forget about the classroom — and you should.  But come July and early August, you will start to plan and re-plan, experiment and re-experiment, and get back into service-mode.  By that time, I HOPE to have something available to make that sort of visioning a little more fun.

For now, just to keep you focused, I want to ask, “When you return to your classroom (or other edu-workplace), what do you wish will be there that wasn’t there this school year?

You can either provide an extended answer here, or a short one on Twitter, hash tagged classwish (#classwish).

When you return to your classroom in August, what do you wish will be there, that wasn’t there this year? Please include #classwish in your answers.

Here is a link to the Twittered replies.

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Four Recommendations from Clayton Christensen

Disrupting Class
Flickr Photo by Justin Benttinen

I started Disrupting Class a few weeks ago, but have not been able to get back to it.  However, I ran across this June 2 CNN article, which partly disrupts my own anticipation of federal spending coming to education  — not to mention pointing in some directions that may be difficult for a non-marketplace industry, such as education, to re-orient itself to.

In Commentary: Don’t prop up failing schools, Christensen and Michael Horn say,

There is great danger in the sudden and massive amount of funding — nearly $100 billion — that the federal government is throwing at the nation’s schools. District by district, the budgetary crises into which all schools were plunging created the impetus for long-needed changes. (( Christensen, Clayton M and Michael B. Horn. “Commentary: Don’t Prop Up Failing Schools.” 2 Jun 2009 US. Web.4 Jun 2009. . ))

I recommend that you read the article for all of the insights shared, but I’ll list the authors’ four suggested “criteria” for developing programs and grants for states and district education initiatives.  I’m adding my own comments between the lines.

  1. Don’t fund technology that simply shoves computers and other technologies into existing classrooms.
    Well I wouldn’t turn down a laptop for every student or a ceiling-mounted projector and interactive smart board.  But anyone who believes that technology alone will save education — will save our children — isn’t really interested in solving the problem.
  2. Don’t fund new school buildings that look like the existing ones.
    When speaking at school board conferences, I frequently go to the exhibitor halls and, for sport, ask the architectural firm representatives to describe how school design has changed in the past 20 years.  The only answer that I (rarely) get, beyond, “Nobody ever asked me that before,” is a long spiel about “green” building materials.

    There are some interesting things going on in other countries about learning environment design.  Follow Stephen Heppel’s work.

  3. Don’t fund the institutions that are least likely to change.
    This is complicated and I’d like to hear more of what Christensen has to say about it.  But I suspect that the further up the hierarchy we go, the least likely we are to see change — with some dazzling exceptions (Think “The State of Maine” – and I’m not talking about the bear).  The fact is that the entire industry is designed to resist change — and this is not entirely a bad thing.  ..and I’m still not comfortable with completely ditching education as we know it and replacing it with something completely new — at least not yet.
  4. Direct more funds for research and development to create student-centric learning software.
    According to the authors, just “..1 percent of the $600 billion in K-12 spending from all levels currently goes toward R&D.”  Assuming that these figures are correct, that’s $6 billion.  That’s not an insignificant sum, and I wonder where it all goes. 

    I’m not an expert on budgets, so please share what I’m missing.  But in scanning the President’s FY 2010 Budget Request for the U.S. Department of Education, specifically the Detailed Budget Table by Program (PDF), I found that research, development, and dissemination are appropriated $224,196.  If you factor in statistics, the regional educational laboratories, national assessment, research in special education, statewide data systems, and special education studies and evaluations, you’re up to $689,256.  That’s an increase of only 72.081 dollars over 2009.  Looking at Nintendo’s 2008 Annual Financial Report (PDF), that one company spent $370,000 in R&D that single year.

    But that’s just the amount.  The far more interesting question, I think, is, what should that education R&D look  like?  Do we increase funding to universities and research laboratories.  I think we should.  But I think that we should also fund research at a more local level — in actually classrooms.  I think that teachers (and students) can learn a lot about best practice and we can easily disseminate that knowledge around the globe.  Now we’re talking about the potential for change.

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