Another Conference

It was like a gut punch,

This morning,

When I glanced at my Twitter feed, and realized that the North Carolina Technology In Education Society’s annual edtech conference began today, completely without my knowledge.  How could that happen?

My knee-jerk response was, “I must truly be retired.”

But that wasn’t good enough.  I tweeted about it.  I posted my thoughts on Facebook.  Then a conference representative saw my comments, connected, and invited me over to the convention center tomorrow.  

If I was truly retired, would I go?  If I go does it mean that I’m not ready to retire?

It doesn’t matter.  I’m going.

So I downloaded the conference App and started scanning the presentations.  One observation.  It seems that personalized learning has become the new ready phrase that can be wrapped around any and every technology that anyone wants to sell you.  Sad!

But what really wrinkled my brain was a tweet from Brandy Reader from Davidson County.  Now tell me this (if you’re old enough to remember) 

“How Jetsons would it have seemed, when I started teaching in 1976, that I’d hear someone say (tweet)…

 How could I not go?

Final Reflections on ISTE 2013

My reflections & reactions are in red and italics

Photo of Riverwalk

I thought I would take some time to go through the notes I took at ISTE last week and include here some of the ideas that struck me – for what ever reason. This will probably consist of short observations of new ideas and new twists on old ones. As I’ve probably written before, I attend these conferences for the language, new ways of thinking and talking about modernizing education.  With 30 years in ed tech, new technologies are usually a surprise.

While at the conference, a number of people, glancing over my shoulder, asked how I was taking notes. I was using GoodNotes, which I like using because I’m actually writing the notes with a stylus, and I find that I’m process ideas differently in long-hand than when I type them. Also, I can import or take photos with the iPad, such as shots of presenter slides or of the presenter — on top of which I can write down notes or comments. Below is an example notes page. I took a photo of this Hack Education conversation to anchor the notes to a specific place and time.

ISTE, for me, started with Hack Education, formerly known as the “EduBloggerCon.” The first impression that hit me, not long after the first conversation began, was how difficult it is to truly visualize, in general terms, the changes we were talking about – and how do you promote School 2.0, when it can’t easily be seen. If you can’t point to it, how do you describe it to non-educators? As I wrote in a previous blog, I suspect that an answer might be to focus more on “Student 2.0,” someone we can point to – and then design education around that.

Another barrier to retooling classrooms, that became even more apparent to me last week was the lack of consistency in leadership. Some of the most interesting schools that I have seen, have recently had their innovative programs squelched by new leadership – leaving the innovators little choice but to move on.

I think that one of the great brain-wrinklers of the day came from David Jakes, who said,

We need to shift from a focus on’Engagement’ to focusing on ‘Empowerment.’

I’ll jump ahead here to another hacker quote quote. I do not remember who said it, but,

The person who does the work is the person who does the learning.”

If working is what leads to learning, then learners need tools that empower them to accomplish that work.

Someone else said,

We’re actually looking for a rebirth of old ideas!

So true and something that we too often forget.

There was some discussion about our use of the word “FAIL” in conversations about education, as we promote the value of failure in learning. Common notions about failure, after all, are entirely contrary to this positive spin. But I feel that if we can get people, adults, to think about the learning that they’ve done since leaving classrooms, and how that learning was accomplished, they will come to see that failure is an essential part of learning. I thought that this was an interesting acronymic arrangement for failure.

F First
A Attempt
I In
L Learning

I jotted down a number of apps mentioned during the Tech Smackdown – and many thanks to Steve Hargadon for his attempts to keep the self-promoting venders out of the fray. I’ve not had a chance to look at all of these, but here are a few that I made note of.

Somebody asked whether “gamification” was just a marketing scheme? This got me to thinking and I concluded that if we do not understand how games help us to learn, the mechanisms that provoke learning, then marketing is probably a pretty accurate description of our attempts to “gamily” (See my reflections of Jane McGonigal’s Keynote). The comment probably came from a conversation about using badges for motivation. Someone said that if all you’re using is badges, then that’s not gamification. It’s badgification.

There was much conversation about why and how you would plant the awarding of badges in the classroom. I suggested that some badges needed to be hidden, a surprise that students happen upon — the reward for doing something productive that was not an expressed outcome – the learning along the way. Also, badges should not just be something that you wear. Badges should also be a passport to doing things or going places that you couldn’t before — new powers, so to speak.

McGonigal said that “reality is broken.” She said that a billion gamers around the world are using a connected device to play a game during any given hour. The game-nation is a network.

People spend 400,000 years playing Angry Birds a day.

92% of 2 year olds play video games (what are they going to think when we give them a textbook?)

Gamers spend 80% of their time failing.

McGonigal said that,

The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression!

That called to mind a quote by George Bernard Shaw,

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.

One of the most interesting learning scenarios that I heard of at the conference was relayed by Cheryl Lemke. In a literature class, the students were reading Hamlet. The teacher created Twitter accounts for each of the main characters, and then assigned students to the accounts. They were encouraged to comment on the play, as they were reading it, in the voices of the characters. Very cool!

Lemke also said, “Give students non-googlable assignments!I’m not sure that is entirely accurate. I’d say,

Don’t test with questions that Google can answer.”

Will Richardson said, “The path to becoming a better teacher is becoming a better learner!” I agree with that entirely – and I believe that part of the key here is becoming a more self-aware learner, not just learning but reflecting on how you are learning. Here’s another quote shared by Richardson:

We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. Change always starts with confusion.”

— Margaret Wheatley

Richardson then had us talk with each other about what confused us, and during that conversation it occurred to me that if you’re not confused, then you’re not paying attention – and

I regret that too many educators are not paying attention.

There is too much momentum behind making schools better. They don’t need to be better nearly as much as they need to be different. It’s a different world and school is not a “right of passage.” It’s a right of vantage. Its the right to be positioned in true relevance to yourself, your environment, your time, your culture, your economy and your world and the skills to participate.

He suggested that we are shifting from an institutionally controlled world to a world that is becoming self-organized. There are three starting points, according to Will Richardson:

  1. “Knowmatic” learning – Self-organized learning based on passions and I would add “on impending needs”
  2. Design thinking
  3. The maker movement

I think that there is a lot to think about in this list. Self-organized learning is not only a movement, but it is a necessity. It’s the self-organized learner that will succeed in a rapidly changing and flattening world – and it is entirely counter to the desires of the global education reform movement (GERM).

Design thinking is also a necessity, in that we’re all going to be solving problems and improving conditions, not just the engineers. Designing solutions with elegance, well, that is its own reward.

The maker movement is both solution and symptom. Its one more clue to a rapidly flattening world. Old institutional structures no longer support us and our individual needs. I am also starting to question our economic structures, but that’s for a different conversation.

Gary Stager was a perfect follow-up with his emphasis on the maker movement. He suggests

Three Game Changers

  1. Fabrication
  2. Physical Computing (intelligent objects)
  3. Programming

The real game change, he continued, is that shop and academics merge.

Too cool!

I do not clearly remember the context, but one of Stager’s slides stated that, “A good prompt is worth 1,000 words.” Good prompts have…

Three Qualities

  1. Brevity
  2. Ambiguity
  3. Immunity to assessment

Here is my interpretation of Stager’s list. A prompt must be clear and concise. It must be cloudless, as cloudless as a person’s own personal unarticulated observation of a problem. It should also NOT, in any way, suggest the solution. The learner has free reign to design and execute a personally-designed plan. Finally, if the end product can be assessed by any prior-established assessment routine, then the task was not about innovation. It was about compliance. I would suggest that there may be assessment methods that might work, but they wouldn’t be multiple choice, they would not question the designers – and institutional assessment isn’t part of the (learning) process anyway.

The School 2.0 unconference session, facilitated by Steve Hargadon, served to further refine my notions that it isn’t School 2.0 that we need to focus on, but student 2.0. That’s not my term, and I don’t particularly like it. We need a more descriptive term that does not dishonor the old teaching styles, which had their place in their time.

Sylvia Martinez put the icing on the cake of Gary Stagers presentation. Tinkering as pedagogy makes the best sense to me. Its how I learn. No-one could ever have taught me to program. Playing with code is the only way I could learn, and I would suggest, the best way to learn. She suggested that

Many of the best programmers were, at some point in their lives, told that they were not good a math.”

I think that doing math to numbers and using math to work numbers are two entirely different things.

Qualities of the Tinkering Mindset

  • Bricolage, playfulness, soft mastery
  • Time
  • Lower risk/stakes, imperfect data
  • Trust the process, serendipity
  • Expertise available (and not just the teacher)
  • Does not mean unguided “discovery”

In many ways of thinking, Jason Ohler was the high point of my conference experience. It was a spotlight session in a large hall, so the atmosphere was that of a keynote, and his presentation exceed in quality and content any of the other “keynotes” of the conference. It’s been a long time since I saw Ohler present, but I don’t remember it being anything like this.

He used the phrase, “trends that bent,” and suggested that the three trends that are influencing education are

  1. Critical Thinking – he added in creativity, and made the term creatical thinking.
  2. New LIteracy
  3. Digital Citizenship

The trends that he included in the conference program were

  1. Augmented Reality – Think virtual field trip. I wear my Google Glass to a museum and project my experience back to my students. Of course there are all kinds of ethical issues. There’s a bar that have already outlawed Google Glass because of privacy issues. Where do kids talk about this stuff. Also, this is not the only kind of augmented reality.
  2. Semantic Web – You search the web and it returned what it thinks you are looking for. A bit problematic, though, because it depends on who “it” is. Ohler also suggested Web 4.0, which is the web of things. “Everything holds an app!”
  3. Transmedia Storytelling – Where the audience becomes part of the cast, so to speak. It’s about fan involvement. I wonder, to what degree, is education fan involved. How do we make that happen?
  4. Multisensory ProjectionLeft out in the presentation!
  5. Smart ClothesLeft out in the presentation!

Ohler added in

  1. XTreme BYOD, suggesting that using your own devices is what might turn us into personal learners. Hmmmm!
  2. and Big Data suggesting that the tension point might be

Predictive Anticipation

Vs.

Choice and Breadth

Ohler went on to suggest we watch http://www.kurzweilai.net for evidence of new trends. It’s in my Flipboard now.

About Adam Bellow’s keynote. I have to say that if the conference had opened with that presentation, I would have been a bit disappointed. But as a closing keynote, Bellow nailed it. He honored ISTE, the learning, the tech and our continuing struggles to make formal education as close to real life as possible.

Over the past couple of years, Adam’s presentation style, his confidence on stage, and his content have improved many fold. He’s one of those unique individuals who has been a teacher, but also understands today’s emerging information and communications technologies – as a builder. He’s a programmer and a communicator, and that combination is a rare jewel.

You can see my entire set of notes [here].

 

My ISTE Un-Presentation

Untitled
As a result of my not doing any presentations at ISTE, I may appear to be a little unfocused – as Peggy George found out when photographing me at the Hack Education event.
As my wife was driving me to the airport on Friday, I suddenly noticed how relaxed I was. It was a striking realization that, because I decided not to submit any proposals to the ISTE committee this year, I am approaching the conference with a new and unfamiliar perspective. I’m an attendee. My attendee badge is entirely unadorned with ribbons. It feel so good.

That said, a number of weeks ago someone with the K-12 Online Conference re-posted a presentation that I did for them back in 2006.  I watched it, and with only a few exceptions, there is little that I could talk able today that isn’t part of that virtual address from seven years ago.  

So, I downloaded the video, deleted out some of the dated material (2006 was pre-Twitter and pre-Facebook) and reposted it to my own channel.  If you get a few minutes, give it a view.

Top Ten Tips for Attending ISTE 13

This article was first posted on June 17, 2012 for ISTE 12

How to dress at ISTE13
Everyone is posting their dress and packing tips for the coming International Society for Technology Education conference – ISTE13. So I, as a professional conference go’er, thought I would contribute ten more tips for ISTE in Texas.

  1. San Antonio is cold this time of year, so wear heavy clothing. Dress in layers, because conference centers are notoriously hot. You’ll be doing lots of walking so wear boots, big ones, with lots of laces – Unless you’ve brought heals.
  2. You’ll want to take lots of notes, so carry several spiral-bound note books. Also carry pencils — #2s. If you can find them, use white or aluminum grey pencils. They’ll impress the people sitting near you.
  3. In the presentation rooms, be careful not to sit near anyone with a computer or tablet computer. They have almost certainly left their email notification alarm on, and when it goes off, everyone will turn around and look — at you! If someone with a computer sits near you, get up and find a more secluded spot.
  4. If possible, sit on the front row and straighten your legs out as far as possible. This is where the boots come in, because presenters love to navigate obstacle courses while presenting.
  5. The exhibit hall is the reason you came. There’s treasure here. It’s also a great place for play. Pretend you’re invisible. Wearing a dark cap will help. If you can achieve invisibility, then you’ll have the run of the hall. Simply walk into any booth and pick-up all the pens, pencils, letter openers, and soft fuzzy balls you can find, and slip them quietly into your bag–preferably a large brown paper bag. Chocolate is an especially treasured item and worth a return for more. If someone in a booth confronts you, then carefully put the pencil back on the table, look down at the floor and slowly back away.
  6. You’ll see areas in the conference center with comfortable chairs, where people will be milling, talking, and showing each other their computers. Shun these places. The people will try to brainwash you.
  7. If someone approaches you, wanting to talk, then turn invisible. If this doesn’t work, then look very stupid. You’ll need to practice this in front of a mirror. If they persist, then speak gibberish and walk away.
  8. If you hear anyone speak with an English accent, don’t believe anything they say – no matter how intelligent they sound or cute their accent. This goes double for Australians and New Zealanders.
  9. When the day is over, or by 4:00 PM, which ever comes first, flee back to your hotel room. This is the real challenge of conference-going, finding things to do in your hotel room. I like to remove the lids of shampoo bottles and guess their scent. Also, the extra blankets in the closet are expressly provided for the construction of elaborate blanket forts. ..and I hope that you are a fan of “Law and Order.” It will be playing during your entire visit – on at least three channels.
  10. What David really wants you to do is be comfortable, hungry to learn, ready to laugh and willing to cry, tweet your heart out and hashtag with #iste13, take every opportunity to meet someone new, and wear something strange. I like those satin slippers with toes that curl up and a tiny bell on the end.

If I see you at ISTE13, please forgive me if I’ve forgotten your name. I’m way past the need for excuses.

 

NCTIES Program Analysis

Click the word cloud to enlarge
NCTIES is my state’s International Society for Technology in Education affiliate (ISTE).  It stands for North Carolina Technology In Education Society.  They will be holding their annual conference this week at the relatively new Raleigh Convention Center.  In the last few years the state capital’s downtown has become a descent place to hold a conference.  More restaurants, museums, night life and many more people living downtown, making the streets safer.

I finally went through the conference program yesterday and was struck by several trends that seemed apparent during that scan.  So I thought I’d spend a few minutes this morning doing a casual frequency analysis.

Number of term mentions in the conference program
Term 2012 2013 Trend SD
Game, gamilfy, etc. 14 73 3.5
iPad or iPads 34 68 2.1
apps 25 49 1.5
Common Core 15 42 1.6
resources 72 42 -1.8
Web 2 67 34 -2.0
play 6 34 1.7
Professional Development or PD 65 34 -1.9
free 37 33 -.2
engage 33 33 .0
Google 61 32 -1.8
1:1 77 30 -2.9
Apple 8 22 .9
Collaboration or Collaborate 24 22 -.1
Twitter 10 15 .3
iOS 14 14 0
tablet 5 13 .5
blog 28 11 -1.0
Minecrqaft 0 8 .5
Android 2 1 -.1
laptop 11 1 -.6

In a casual counting, I found 205 concurrent presentations being made during the conference including the student showcases and not including the two keynotes. Of those 205, 51 of them (24.5%) are being delivered, at least in part, by vendors. 35 are being delivered by presenters representing elementary schools, 20 by presenters from middle or intermediate schools, 15 from high schools and 14 from universities. I am especially happy to see so many presenters from five of our state supported universities, two private universities and one community college.

The happening place in North Carolina seems to be Rowan-Salisbury Schools with 14 sessions being facilitated by 33 district educators.  Also notable is Union County Schools with 7 sessions and 18 educators.

I’m doing one session.  But hopefully, I’ll be setting a productive tone for the conference.

I’m looking forward to seeing old friends at NCTIES

Added March 5

I finally found a list of last years presentation descriptions, and searched for the frequency of the terms in this table (above and left). I inserted a column for the 2012 conference and then added a column with arrows to indicate the trending up and down. To quantify the change, I added a final column with the number of standard deviations of the total change. This sounds like I know more about statistics than I really do.

Reflections on Educon 2.5 – Pre-Conversations

Before Educon’s conversations begin, we get to spend the day at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), attend an evening panel discussion at The Franklin Institute (see Pulver) and see the opening keynote address – this year it was Philadelphia’s new Superintendent, Dr. William Hite.

..and I’ll say here that among the many regularly scheduled annual educator learning events, Educon’s unconference is probably the richest experience, anywhere, anytime. This is not to say that regular conferences with presenters and keynote speakers are not valuable. They are essential, because they facilitate opportunities for learning that Educon does not. But to listen to smart people and to be able to push and pull on what they are saying, well, it just wrinkles my brain.

One of the greatest features of Educon is the chance to catch up with friends, whom we see almost daily in the networked eduverse, but with whom we rarely get to shake hands, huge, and enjoy extended conversations, unconstrained by 140 characters limits – and that’s not to say that we ever get to finish our conversations at Educon, because there are always new ones that attract our attention.

We also get to visit classes and talk with SLA teachers. I especially enjoyed talking with Matt VanKouwenberg, about his engineering classes. His process reminded me of the vocational education classes I took in high school, how we all learned many of the same lessens by working on distinctly different projects. He told me that each class starts with a few minutes of sharing, where each student or team reports on where they are, barriers they are facing, and what they are learning (think the first five minutes of each episode of LA Law). He said that it often surprises the students to discover the similarities in what they learn, regardless of what they are working on.

I also enjoyed talking with one of my favorite SLA teachers, Meenoo Rami, an English teacher. Rami teaches a class about Storytelling, which appears to be not about fiction writing, but about how we use stories as a device for communication. I think that this is an often overlooked tool for expressing ourselves, even by many of us who are supposed to be master communicators. Too often I hear keynote and featured speakers simply telling us what to believe, rather than helping us discover our own beliefs through plot and surprise.  Never underestimate the power of a good surprise.

Near the end of the Friday night panel discussion, Pulver said that, “The future is unwritten!”

When considering our challenges as educators and the future challenges of our students, we must come to believe that anything is possible. We’re not preparing our children for the 21st century. We’re preparing them for the age of opportunities, when almost any problem can be solved and almost any goal can be accomplished.  This affects so much that is involved in formal education.

[click to enlarge]
While claiming my best seat (its that hearing thing) for one of the first conversations, and reflecting on Friday’s panel and Saturday morning’s keynote, I quickly drew up the diagram on the right. Even though, at the highest levels, we’d all deny it, our job, now, is to prepare our children to take tests. Education has become a competitive endeavor, pitting nation against nation, state against state, district against district… and the point system for that competition is test scores.

This implies a purpose behind education that has little to do with an age of opportunity. Instead students learn to read in order to follow instructions and to learn in order to fit in to someone else’s competitive machine. To be ready for an age of opportunity, children must learn to read so that they can learn to do something that they couldn’t do before and to learn in order to make their own machine.

One of the greatest ah ha! moments of the event, was when Philadelphia Schools Suerpentendent, Dr. William Hite said, “Today, teachers do not need to be content specialists nearly as much as they need to be context specialists.”

Reflections on Educon 2.5 – Jeff Pulver

Educon 2013 is over and I’m on my way home, the Carolinian, Train number 79, on time with a passable WiFi connection.  During this year’s conversations, I tried a new app and technique for taking notes.  The App is GoodNotes, which is like a couple of dozen other stylus-based note-taking apps.  What I like about this particular one is your ability to connect it with the iPad’s camera and integrate pictures into your notes.  

Superintendent of Philadelphia Schools, Dr. William Hite
This, I believe, would be extremely valuable when attending presentations that relied heavily on diagrams and other visual media.  It wasn’t ideal for Educon, who’s conversations were less dependent on slides, but I did include pictures of the presenters as a reminder, when reviewing the notes. (see right)

I typically use a mind-mapping program, so that I can organize ideas in relation to others. But I’ve always missed the freedom of a blank page.  Writing notes with a stylus has all sorts of disadvantages, but I can already see that I am going back to review my notes much more frequently than I have ever scanned my mind maps.

I confessed to a number of people yesterday, that I attend these things, not so much for new knowledge as for new language. I do not manage a school or classroom, so I am not looking for solutions. I need new ways of talking about education in the age of opportunity – which is often counter-intuitive to the my audiences’ vision of classrooms.  New angles, phrases or new stories help to produce shakabuku.  They sneak up on the listener and surprise them with new realizations.

Jeff Pulver

The first thing I think, when seeing a panel for educators made up of non-educators is, “Why do we assume that business inherently does it better?”  I have to confess that after the panel discussion was over and and I was trudging back up to my hotel (why’s going home always up hill?) through the (more slippery than it looked) snow, I asked myself that question – probably out loud.

But rehashing parts of it early the next morning and reviewing my notes, I see lots of ideas that, when unpacked, apply wonderfully to teaching, learning, and classrooms.  Here are some phrases from Jeff Pulver, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist.

  • Teachers should model entrepreneurship! I include this statement only because It comes up frequently during unconference sessions on education and entrepreneurship.  If we want our children to be creative, then we need to practice creativity in front of them.
  • Voice is an application! I’m still trying to wrap my mind around this one, but according to Wikipedia, “an ‘app’ is computer software designed to help the user to perform specific tasks.”  One could say that giving voice to learning helps learners to accomplish something with what they’ve learned.
  • The fuel for disruption is passion! This one makes a lot of sense to me.  Disruptive technologies, techniques and processes change nothing unless someone is passionate enough to audaciously and heroically use them.  Learning is disruptive.  If it wasn’t, what would be the point?  

    Are we fueling our students’ learning?

  • Be willing to break the rules! I keep playing around with the idea that rules, in school, are designed to contain the learning.  However, in the real world, rules are a way of mapping the perceived constraints of reality.  Those who accomplish goals creatively do so by rewriting the rules – reshaping the confines of reality.  Personally, I prefer “changing the rules” or “re-writing the rules” to “breaking the rules.”
  • Find People who don’t know it can’t be done! Is this an overlooked value of new teachers.  I keep thinking that there is great potential to pairing experienced teachers with new teachers, when solving education problems – so long as each is willing to learn from the other.
  • Make exercise fun!  This one hit hard.  It’s one of my regrets, as I approach the end of my career, that I have not thought enough or talked enough about our children’s physical education.  I think that Pulver, from his own recent experiences in losing so many pounds, was spot-on, that “Exercise should be fun.”

    But, for many, it’s not.  I’ve never gotten anything from endorphins, though my wife use to claim an addiction to her afternoon jogs.  Perhaps its an A.D.D. thing, because the only effect I feel from the (prescribed) stimulants I sometimes take is that I can suddenly express myself in a little more linear fashion. But no other physical sensation.

    Some people don’t like sports.  I was good at baseball and football, and played on school teams.  But I never took the whole winning/losing thing very seriously – and never had fun playing with people who did.

    Some people aren’t good at sports.  One of my brothers could run faster than anyone in four blocks.  But he never learned to catch a ball gracefully.

    How do you make exercise fun?  Here are a few thoughts.

    • Sports should not be limited to those who are good at it and only for the good of the school.  Invite everyone to play and celebrate the play.  Playing is fun.  Winning requires losers.
    • 1987 Infinity Recumbent
      Find new ways to ride.  I’ve been a bicycle rider since college, although not like some.  But now, I find riding to be painful to my wrists, hands, knees, and, well, the obvious places.  So I’ve recently purchased a used (1987) recumbent bike, which is fun for me because it’s a new way to ride, and because I’m having fun learning how to ride it (and keep my feet on the peddles)
    • Find new human-powered routes.  Greenways are huge in large cities, and I’m starting so see them in smaller cities.  There are also some instances of walking and biking trails that connect towns, which is something I noticed a lot of in Germany.  I believe that there’s a trail between Richmond, Virginia and the shore.  Go to TrailLink to find trails in your state and community.
    • Find new places to walk to.  Just walking or biking is often not compelling enough.  There need to be reasons to be on those trails, places to go, reasons to be on your feet.  Making your community more bicycle and pedestrian friendly is essential.  But how do you make them desirable or fashionable to use.  Ask students to invest in them by devising solutions.  Take a picture of your downtown and ask students to edit the picture, adding features for the self-propelled.  Ask a Maker class to design and build bicycle racks for your community and work with stores and municipal establishments to install them.  Get creative.  Get going on your own two feed.

The Essence of Authentic Learning @ SLA

One of Philadelphia’s many building murals
(CC) Photo by Steve Ransom

I’m at Philadelphia’s EDUCON, a unique sort of learning event where sessions start with a proposed question, to be answered by the audience through conversation. The function of the presenter is to generate that problem-solving conversation.

Day one focuses on the Science Leadership Academy, a unique sort of school that hosts the conference. SLA students conduct tours of the school where we can talk with them and their teachers. It was my fourth tour of the school, two during EDUCON days, and two during normal school days walking through with its principal and founder, Chris Lehmann.  Of course, nothing about SLA is normal.

Today, I had a personal tour, just me and Tyler, a senior with an interest in astronomy. He is working with the astronomy staff at The Franklin Institute on a number of projects. Needless to say, I shared with him my neighbor, Paul Gilster’s blog, Centauri Dreams.

Each time I visit SLA, I walk away with a different aspect of the place resonating between my ear. I remember my second tour with Lehmann, walking around and people would walk up, interrupting the tour, for a conversation with the principal.  I suddenly realized that most of the time I unable to tell whether the person was a student or one of the school’s young teachers. The topics of the conversation never concerned the logistics of schooling, but were about the work of accomplishing some important goal or mission.

Today?  Well it was authentic learning, a term I heard and overheard several times in the halls and classrooms.  What struck me, was that there was always some sense of apology at the use of the word, like the speaker had not choice but to invoke it instead of some better phrase.

Authentic learning is a term with a long history in education, spanning well before NCLB – and it is a term that, frankly, has seen better days.  I suppose it is true in most professions that a term or phrase becomes used by so many people, in so many places, within so many contexts, that the label’s weight shadows it’s original meaning.  Many of us come to distrust the term and are left to use examples to convey our meaning – and examples rarely reach its essence.

I won’t presume to define authentic learning here.  But during my conversations with instructors at the school and with Tyler, and seeing similarities between the educational practices at SLA and the vocational classes I took as a high school student, I saw a commonality that was informative to me.  The linchpin effect of authentic learning is that..

The value of what is being learned is obvious to the learner
And
Does not have to be explained by the teacher.

There is great power
When the learning why
Is part of
The learning how.

 

Since Twitter was Unavailable…

I’ve spent the last several days at the EARCOS Education Leadership Conference in Kuala Lumpur. It’s been an interesting conference for heads of school and board members of international schools from throughout East Asia.

They’ve been working me pretty hard, but I have had the opportunity see some friends, make some new ones and attend some sessions. Milton Chen delivered the opening keynote address, my first time seeing him speak. The second day was opened by Alan November, perhaps the best keynote I’ve seen him deliver. He shared an idea that he had suggested during the pre-conference workshop I facilitated on Wednesday (I think it was Wednesday).  Probably more on that later…

But it was Greg Whitby’s keynote on the third day that really spoke the most “truth to stupid” that I’ve heard in a long time.  The notes I took using Mindo on my iPad are available here (see right).  

Since the Internet access was spotty, at best, throughout the conference, I was not able to tweet statements out that I wanted to.  So I thought I would just tweet them here with a few more than 140 characters of commentary.

We shouldn’t be talking about schools of the future.

First of all, we have no way of knowing what schools of the future will look like.  What we need to be addressing is the schools our children need right now.

Whitby, in comparying industrial age schooling with what’s more relevant to today’s children, he said that we need to..

Make learning compulsory and attendance optional.

It’s an excellent shakabuku., but its practice would need to be explained, if possible.  Still, like so much of the conversation I’m witnessing at conferences today, the focus is on the learning.

Whitby also warned that we have to get this right and do so with a compelling narrative.  If we don’t, then someone else (Silicon Valley) will step in, and…

What we could get is good technology, but poor pedagogy.

This rang my HackEducation bell and the ongoing reporting of Audrey Waters.  But then he said something that I’m still trying to wrap my brain around.  He said that,

The more personalized the education experience, the more we know about the learner and the quality of the learning.

I’m not sure how this works except that personalized learning may result in more conversation between teachers and individual learners.

Another very simple statement that doesn’t need much expiation was that

Schooling today is (1) personalized, (2) de-privatized, (3) technology-invisible and (4) agile.

It was odd, a video that Whitby played during his keynote, about a school in Australia 250 students in one enlarged classroom and several teachers.  You see we were taught about “open learning spaces” when I was in education school more than 35 years ago.  I student-taught in an open space with a team of teachers.  The the problem was that we didn’t have a new narrative to attach the concepts to.  It stood no chance.  Today we’re trying to write and tell that story –– and we’d better not get it wrong.

 

 

 

 

A Few Tweets from Leaders

An interesting cafe at Narita
The best part of this October from hell is the conferences I am working – mostly leadership conferences. The two that come to mind from the blur of this most haunting month are a conference in Vancouver for principals and vice-principals of British Columbia, and the school boards and superintendents’ conference in Vermont – two quite interesting jurisdictions now that I think about it.

As I write this, I am in Tokyo’s Narita Airport, waiting on my third and final day of travel to Kuala Lumpur (KL) Malaysia.  It’s EARCOS’ annual leadership conference, which was canceled last year because of flooding in Bankok.  The flooding is happening closer to home now, with Sandy bearing down on New Jersey and New York, where my kid brother lives – on the ground floor of his building I might add.

During all of the travel, I have enjoyed and learned from the backchannel transcripts from BC, Vermont and also an amazing media and ed tech conference in Winnipeg.  As I’ve read and commented on the transcripts, via KnitterChat, I have set aside some tweets and knits, that seemed especially salient to me, intending to re-tweet them back out.  With my spotty Internet access (paying by the minute at the Hilton here in Tokyo), they’ve back up.  So I thought I would push them out through this blog.  So…

This was my response to a tweet from the Vermont conference.

The Graduates of today’s education need to be uniquely valuable, not identically valuable.

Here’s one that came at the mention of learning disabilities.

..often, a learning disability is not so much a difficulty in learning, as it is a difficulty in being taught.

Tinkering and the whole DIY movement came up, as it increasingly does, as a counterpoint to all the social networking and video games kids engage in.

When was the last time you made something. Can you make something without learning something?

What is unique and fresh about Vermont is that they seem honestly enthusiastic about the future of education there.  Vermont is different from the rest of the U.S. in so many ways, and they do not seem to feel so confined by national trends and federal mandates as the rest of the country.  From talks of testing, this statement surfaced.

We don’t ask enough questions for which we don’t know the answers.  We should respect our learners that much.

That Vermont’s backchannel was so prolific surprised me.  It is rare that school board members and superintendents are so chatty when their statements are publicly accessible.  I added this in…

I’m wondering how many of your schools’ stakeholders are following your conference tweets.  It’s an interesting idea.

It wouldn’t be a bad thing, from my reading.

While in Vermont, I sat in on a great presentation by superintendent Dan French.  I was, in no small part, intrigued by the fact that he did his presentation with a Linux computer.  Cool thing, a techie super.

He talked about their process for establishing a district vision for 21st century learning.  The session was called “Making Community Part of 21st Century Learning Vision” and I posted my notes (taken with the Mindo iPad app) here.  Basically, he played selected videos from Youtube for members of his volunteer visioning group, including Sir. Ken Robinson, Dan Meyer and one about New Brunswick’s education, and then asked groups to discuss.

He said that even attendees who were usually critical of the school system bought in.  French reported that one critic commented, “I didn’t you you talked about issues like this!”