Are We Missing the Point?

Coding super power
Coding Super Power

The title of this article is a question, because I admit my ignorance of the answer.  I’ve not been paying much attention to THE conversation, since I have finally accepted my status as retired. Wahoo!  But I am working on another book, so my mind is still in our righteous endeavor, even though my PLN has evolved.

The book I am working on will be a history of technology in education, as I have witnessed it – so programming is on my mind.  You see, that’s what we called it back in the 1982, programming.  So I was struck by a sense of déjà vu when I saw so much of the edtech discussion, at the recent Raleigh NCTIES conference, devoted to coding.

But are we (and I’m asking this question seriously) missing the point of a skill that has been so important to me, not to mention a pure personal joy?  You see, what has made coding so important is not necessarily its practicality, though I have been able to support the educational endeavors of many teachers with my tools.  It’s not even the bread it has put on my table, though I am enormously appreciative of that.

I often tell the story that on that first afternoon, after spending my first couple of hours teaching myself how to program (uh, code), I got on my hands and knees and I thanked every algebra teacher I had ever had.  There was finally a practical use for those mystical techniques for manipulating numbers.

But there was a major difference between how I was using Math and how I was taught Math – and it is a difference that strikes right at the heart of what we’re doing wrong in education.  You see, I immediately understood, though I may not have been able to express it, that I was using Algebra as a language, in order to instruct the digital environment (Radio Shack TRS-80 computer) to behave in the way that I wanted.  If you can communicate with a computer, then you can use it to learn and express.

We learned Reading so that we could read our textbooks and other more authentic sources of knowledge.  We learned to Write so that we could articulate our growing knowledge.  Maybe we should learn Coding in order to learn the language of numbers, so that we can learn from our own thoughts and express our ideas in endlessly creative ways.

..instead of teaching Math and teaching Coding.

Of course, I’m not the first to suggest such a radical idea.  It was during those earliest years that some very smart people (Seymour Papert & my friend, Gary Stager for two) were already suggesting and putting into action this very idea with the Logo programming language.

Image Attribute – Coding: It May be the Closest Thing We Have to a Superpower [Digital Graphic]. (2016). Retrieved from http://sfmstechapps.org/2016/02/lets-code/coding-super-power/ From the web site of Spring Forest Middle School Tech Apps Activities

Times of Complexity

I received two surprises last Friday at the annual NCTIES conference in Raleigh. The first was being honored with ISTE’s Making IT Happen award. This really wasn’t a surprise for me because they needed my coat size before hand. But it was an enormous career-gratifying honor.

Mith
mith.jpg

The second surprise was something a bit strange – a phenomenon that I have noticed in my conference experiences across the United States. You see, in some regions, when you receive an award, you walk up, take the object, shake a hand, thank the organization, pose for a photograph and walk back to your table. North Carolina is a perfect example of this practice.

In other regions, say New England, you take your object of honor, shake a hand, but are also obliged to “say a few prepared words” to the audience – words of understated but eloquent humility in the case of New England.

So when the Outstanding (Tech) Teacher of the Year “said a few well prepared words” after her award on Friday afternoon, I calculated that I had only the “carefully prepared words” from two more honorees left in order to come up with something Warlick’esque to say.

I did, though I bungled it badly behind the microphone. So I thought I would try to say it more eloquently here.

I started teaching in 1976, and in these 40 years as an educator, one fact has become clear. We live in a complicated world. Despite what some would have you believe, there is complexity in our world and in our individual lives – and that complexity is beautiful.

Our problems are not simple and they deserve better than simple tried-and-true solutions. They are complicated and they require creative and complex solutions – solutions that also provide new and wonderful opportunities.

The best uses of technology in our classrooms help us and our students to understand and appreciate today’s complexities and to imagine the opportunities that they offer. But we must continue to understand, as true educators, that simplifying and streamlining education will fail, not to mention the fact that it insults our children.

..because the most beautiful aspect of this exquisite complexity is that it invites us all to be different – and we can continue to permit our children to exercise their differences as long as we are willing to simply say, “Surprise Me!”

 

 

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?

Welcome to 2024

in a sense, this presentation was a follow-up of a short story I wrote as a first chapter of a book I wrote in 2004, describing a middle school in 2014.

I’ve never had so much fun doing a presentation — that I had never done before. The fact that the 2024 version of myself had traveled more than 87,000 timezones to get to the NCTIES conference, and the jet lag that implied, took a lot of the pressure off.

The scenario went like this. My wife, children and granddaughter chipped in to buy my a trip back to 2014, to visit an old education technology conference in Raleigh, North Carolina. I walked into the session dressed as the eccentrically old geezer I am certain to become, limping with a cane, because of a self-defense class injury. I am toting my granddaughter’s book bag, which we will excavate to reveal clues as to what education becomes ten years from now.

I did a Q&A, fielding a number of quite interesting questions, for which the trickier ones, I was able to hide behind the FCC Commission on Cross-Temporal Communications Act of 2022, paragraph 14.

I was also honored to find Adam Bellow in the Audience and convinced him to take a selfie of us together, which I could pick up later from the Twitter archive, housed at archive.org.

 

My only regret was having left my notes back in 2024, so there was much that I forgot to include, such as, “If you want to party like it 2024, then you’ve gotta wear argyle socks.” You can write that down.

At first I was a little relieved that ISTE turned that presentation proposal down. Now I wish they’d accepted it. :-/

 

Top Ten Tips for Attending NCTIES Conference

It is customary, as famous conferences are approaching, that experienced attendees post tips to help newbies pack and prepare for the event. So I, as a professional conference go’er, thought I would contribute ten more tips for NCTIES 2014.

  1. Raleigh is always swelteringly hot this time of year, so wear light-weight, loose fitting clothing. Conservatively styled bathing suits are also common. But, because the Raleigh Convention Center is huge, wear boots, big ones, with lots of laces.  You will be doing a lot of walking.  If preferred, heals may be substituted.
  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 laptop 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 are treasure here. It’s also a great place to play. Pretend you’re invisible. Wearing a dark cape 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 pencils 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.
  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 #ncties, 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 NCTIES, 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 Neck Ties

It’s an odd title for a blog entry, but it’s how Ken Shelton, Thursday’s keynote speaker pronounced our NCTIES conference. North Carolina’s ISTE affiliate, NCTIES has hosted what has become the primary focal event for folks interested in education, technology and other aspects of retooling classrooms in this and surrounding states.

Shelton delivered a high energy and courageous keynote.  He walked up on stage with his computer bag and hooked everything up after being introduced and with us watching. Astounding!  I insist on connecting and testing everything an hour before the speech begins.

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The high point of the conference, for me, was being lucky enough to get into Shelton’s photography workshop on Wednesday morning. The biggest part of the session was a photo safari along Fayetteville Street to the old Capital Building, and then back down Salisbury street. It was wonderful being tutored while actually wandering around and taking pictures.

On Friday, Ken asked me if I’d noticed any improvement in my photos from the beginning of the walk to the end. Always taking such questions seriously, I thought hard and honestly said that I couldn’t think of anything in particular – not the polite thing to say. But with some reflection, I can say the my eye improved, that is to say that I got better at finding photos to be made, rather than snapshots to be taken. You’d have to have taken the workshop to understand the distinction. (Hope you’re reading this, Ken.)

It was great seeing and talking with some old friends from the old days, but there were not very many.  Being a conference that I have attended for many MANY years, I have a basis for impressions that seem important to me, and one of them was the youth of the NCTIES attendees.  I know that it’s partly my advanced age that causes this feeling, but someone else commented to me about the number of classroom teachers who were attending this conference – and most of them were very young.

This conversation compelled me to post the following tweet, “Sitting with P. Sheehy, L Gillispie & C Lawson & thinking, ‘Any sufficiently tech savvy teacher is indistinguishable from a wizard.'”

Another thing that impressed me was the technical sophistication of most of the attendees. They were imaginative, tech-savvy educators, who were open to new ways of using their skills and their tech to create new learning experiences for their learners.  It was exciting.

This sense of rising sophistication was most apparent during an unconference session I facilitated on tablets in the classroom.  It was not a structured as I would like, and, as usual, I walked away feeling that I had not done my job.  I hadn’t taught anything.  I’ll never get over that.  But the ideas flew and grew and partly at the bidding of several attendees who played the devil’s advocate better than I could have.  The bottom-line message, to me, was that our learners deserve convenient (easy & fast) access to today’s prevailing information landscape to practice relevant learning.

..and this brings me to the last impression I’ll report here, and that was the overwhelming prevalence of tablet computers.  I asked others, who agreed that there seemed to be more people with iPads and other tablets in their hands at the sessions and keynote than laptops.  In fact, at some points, laptops seemed to be the exception.  It’s all bringing into focus a term that I’m seeing more and more, that we are entering the post-PC era.  I’m not sure I entirely agree with the picture that evokes, but I do not recall seeing any tech rise in prominence so quickly.

Thanks to the conference committee at NCTIES…

Coolest Thing I’ve Seen in a While

I have felt bad about not blogging lately. It’s partly because of travel, but mostly because of three projects that have drawn most of my attention lately. One of those has been preparation for the NCTIES conference later this week. It’s a special event for me because NCTIES is the ISTE affiliate for my home state and also because it is an especially successful conference. This year’s featured speakers include Richard Byrne, Patrick Crispen (regular), Rushton Hurley, Peggy Sheehy, Kathy Schrock (regular) and Tammy Worcester, with a kickoff keynote by Ken Shelton.

One of my presentations will explore instructional potentials of data visualization and infographics and in preparing for this session, I found one of the coolest things I’ve seen in a while.  I ran across the link via Nathan Yau’s Flowing Data blog, where he quoted Jeffrey Winter…

There was an idea floating around that continuously following the first link of any Wikipedia article will eventually lead to “Philosophy.” This sounded like a reasonable assertion, one that makes a certain amount of sense in retrospect: any description of something will typically use more general terms. Following that idea will eventually lead… somewhere.

Winter’s explanation of how he accomplished a test for this idea made it sound easier than I’m sure it was.  But the outcome was an intriguing mashup where you can type in a word or numerous words separated by comas, and his app will thread through the first link in each linked-to article until it reaches Philosophy.

Sitting in Starbucks, I looked for logical connections between Starbucks, coffee and caffeine. (click img to enlarge)

What struck me as I played with this data visualization, was how this operation meshes with our notions of curriculum and of libraries.

When information is scarce and education is defined by knowledge delivery, then the job of curriculum and of libraries is to package content into subjects and units and dewey decimal classifications.

When I watch seemly unrelated topics threading their way to a common subject and re-examine Boyack, Klavans and Palen’s Map of Science, which shows how various disciplines are interconnected by citations, it seems clear to me how schools and libraries need to become more like learning-literacy playgrounds than managed corals.

But that’s me!

 

Reflections on NCTIES 2011

Early Registration at NCTIES in Raleigh

Last week was the NCTIES conference.  NCTIES (North Carolina Technology in Education) is the ISTE affiliate for my state.  They use to be NCAECT, and I understand that there was another acronym before that.  But Thursday they launched their 40th conference, and I do not remember being a part of any anniversary conference with a number that high.

Before the conference, I lamented on all the people I’ve worked with from across who I’d miss because they have certainly retired.  But I was surprised at the number who were still at it, mostly informing me that they were retiring in May or August  or some other of the next 9 months.  But it was also trilling to see the folks who were back for the 40th anniversary.

But on to my reflections.  It occurred to me this morning that I can tell when I have been fully engaged in an education technology conference by the number of times I remember asking, “But why?”  Here’s a typical exchange.

“We’ve bought iPads for our alternative school kids.”

“Cool!  But why?”

“We’re trying to get them to read more, and we believe they will read more if its on an iPad.”

“Why do you think they’ll read more with an iPad.  Is reading what’s cool about using an iPad?”

“UUUUH!”

“Why do you want the students to read more?”

You get the gist — and I know that I am doing a lot more reading since I got my iPad.  But it’s not because the text glows.  But that’s a different blog post…

Another thing that was interesting about this conference was my ongoing and often playful quest for the next cool thing — the next “buzz.”  It’s more of a game for me, a cool hunting sort of thing.  After all, most cool things in educational technology grow cold, hopefully before we start to integrate and effect instruction.  Anyway, I got an inkling of two cool things here at this conference. One was the topic of my session on infographics and data visualization.  Of course, in my preparation for the session, I realized that there is nothing new about this stuff.  We’ve been doing data visualization for years through geographic information systems or GIS with products like ArcGIS.

It was my first planned presentation on this topic, and it did not go as smoothly as some of my more practiced topics — as a number of demos didn’t work out as well as I’d hoped (starting to justify the purchase of Camtasia for my Mac 😉.  What got me wondering about the impact of this is the fact that Kathy Schrock, one of the other featured speakers of the conference, was in the audience and she told me that she is planning a similar (better) presentation on the same topic for an upcoming large conference (A Picture is Worth 1000 Words: Using Infographics as a Creative Assessment”).  If I think it’s cool and then Schrock sees it’s pedagogical value as a learning tool, well, you’ve got something there…

Jason Standish Timothy Smith
Talking about QR-Codes

The other cool thing that seemed to be buzzing throughout the conference was QR-Codes.  Part of it was the interesting way that the presenters, Jacob Standish and Timothy Smith of Charlotte Mecklenberg Schools preceded the conference with QR-Codes in their conference wiki page and their YouTube video introduction (blogged about here).

QR-Codes have actually been around for more than a decade, and I have used them on presentation slides for over year, though, until recently, only recognized and used in Singapore and Hong Kong.  But the buzz in Raleigh was palpable and it was contagious.  During their session, you could feel the excitement in the packed presentation room, and the scurrying of educators rushing up with their smart phones held up, and seemingly bowing down to this new great thing.

It was exciting and more than a little funny.  It’s like I told my son (who attendeed the last day of the conference), “You’re going to be with people who are passionate about what they do.  They don’t have jobs — they have a mission.  You don’t see this everyday, and I double you’d see it anyplace else in the field of education.”  And it was certainly true NCTIES.

As for QR-Codes and infographics, only time and our capacity to innovate will tell.  I have some big questions about QR-Codes, and one of my next articles will likely take a more critical, but certainly not a dismissive look at this application.

Learning about World of Warcraft in Education with Lucas Gillispie

Here are some fairly rough notes from a workshop I attended on video games in education, presented by Lucas Gillispi. My comments are boxed and italicized.

On top of everything else that was new to me with this session, I got to operate an Alien computer.

I’m sitting in a session about World of Warcraft, being facilitated by Lucas Gillispie, from Pender County Schools (far eastern part of the state). His blog is EduRealms, where he talks about games and learning. Lucas has worked with Peggie Sheehy, who started with SecondLife and is now exploring the learning that happens in games like World of Warcraft.  Their guild in WoW is Cognitive Dissonance.

“Education needs a Cataclysm,” he says. There’s double entendra here. See this. In the traditional classroom, its about teacher, textbook, and workshops. WoW has built-in resources, fan sites, blogs, facebook, and twitter feeds, WoWWiki (second largest wiki in the world), custom apps, etc.

I wonder how many of those game-resources would work for formal learning. – dfw

In formal education, mastery must occur within allotted “seat time.” Achievement is constant in games such as WoW. The traditional classroom is about “No Talking!” In the game it’s about collaborating and sharing. Everyone’s talents bring something to the team. Slackers will fail and will fail their team.  Guilds provide a larger community. Plus the game is differentiated. You choose the style of play (learning) that works for you. “World of Warcraft players crave assessment,” rather than dread it. In the traditional classroom, failure is punitive. In games, failure is expected. Failing at a quest means you re-try, as often as needed.

So what makes it engaging. Gee says that its in your regime of competence — hard but doable. (see this summary of Gee’s principals of learning.)

So “What if school was more like a game?” Gamification is term being used to make. Look at Epic Win, as a way of turning everyday tasks into a game.

Hmmm!  But isn’t school actually like a game?  Students who do well are not always your brightest and most resourceful, but they’re the ones who play the game well.  I’d rather suggest that we change the rules of the game, and perhaps even the rule of the schooling game, to include some of the pedagogies of WoW and other compelling and deep games. – dfw

Gillispie and team were recently contacted by a philanthropic organization from Washington state who’d been watching what they were doing through his blog and twitterings.  They asked him to submit a proposal for funding for gaming laptops (Alienware). “look kids,” he’d told the students, “Here’s someone who is paying attention to you and what you are doing.”

It occurred to me, then, that Pender County is not, to these students, the same place that their parents grew up.  For many of them, it was a padded world that was effectively insulated from the outside world (I speak from experience from having grown up in a similarly rural area.)  Because of their experiences with WoW and other networked learning experiences, Pender County is a gateway to a much broader and richer world.  ..and that richer world is available to them, even if they choose to always live in their rural community.

The theme of their project is “A Hero’s Journey.” Students are “Heros,” teachers are “Lorekeepers,” and grades are “experience points.” Interesting that experience points, which are is almost like currancy that is accumulated.  You start out your experience with the game as a poor and weak character, gaining in strength and skill, resulting in more wealth.

A question immersed from the conversation that I think was quite important.  Why do we not grade our students in the very same way?  Why have we not always graded our students in the same way?  Why not have grades (or what ever we’d call it) that reflect learners growing wealth of knowledge and skill, rather than measuring discrete sub-knowledge and sub-skills? We couldn’t answer that question. – dfw

Here are some of the things they are doing as part of the class:

  • Character Tweets: Students tweeted from the perspective of non-player WoW characters. They’re projecting into another character and determining perspective For instance, there’s a girl who wonders a specific road selling bread. What does the world look like to her.
  • Propaganda/Ads: Students used photo editing to create ads aimed at WoW characters.
  • Research and argumentative writing: So what would happen if Hobbit characters (which they’re required to read) were living in WoW.
  • Fan Fiction: Writing a story from inside the plot of the game.

Very cool session!