Well, the first day of NECC for me was great! It is too bad, however, that so many groups scheduled their parties for Monday night. I attended an AT&T function, but there were also events sponsored by Apple, Google, and TechLearning. I wish I could have attended them all! The Google one is still going till 10, and possibly others, but I am beat so I headed for the hotel. I’m going to share a few links and ideas I heard during the day, and possibly post at least 1 podcast I recorded during the day.

First of all, the biggest highlight of NECC has definitely been seeing old friends and meeting online friends I’ve read and had blog conversations with, but until today never met face to face. (I added some photos from the blogger lounge to my Flickr set for NECC this evening.) I had some good time to hang out with Paul Clark of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who is always filled with new ideas, especially about geocaching and helping students and teachers how to teach science better. I recorded some of Paul’s ideas about geocaching that I’ll share as a podcast, but I think our most interesting conversation regarded how many steps BACKWARD we seem to have taken since the early days of computing in terms of interactive student learning.

Paul is older than me, so he goes back to the days of the Apple II when he’d come back from Radio Shack with a bunch of temperature sensors and provide a soldering iron to students to make their own probeware. Then the students would write a program in BASIC to graph changing temperature over time, and use the probeware they’d made with the program. This reminded me of what Alan Kay said last week about really DOING science instead of just taking a science appreciation course. As Paul observed, so much of technology has just become “point and click” instead of students working things out, having the chance to really explore and TINKER with both tools and software. I don’t think it’s impossible to again have more students and teachers taking interactive approaches to learning with technology, but if we’re going to I think we need to recognize that the “content transmission” model we continue to want to follow is bankrupt. The release of Scratch software is a good development, but we need to see broader pedagogic changes in schools so this type of inquiry-encouraging tool is used regularly in classrooms instead of being relegated to at home, after school activities.

I had a discussion with an IT support technician today from Georgia who reinforced this view. He observed that so many of the teachers in their school district are just using the computer and electronic whiteboards as fancy televisions. Using UnitedStreaming and other websites, the teachers are just having the kids watch videos. My observation was that whether you are watching a video streamed over the web using a fast, fancy laptop and a projector showing the image on an expensive electronic whiteboard– or just popping a good ‘old VCR tape in and turning on the televison, the kids are still just SEEING A VIDEO. (Seeing videos is great, in fact using web video should be a hallmark of 21st century education, but this should be an ACTIVE rather than passive experience, with lots of pausing and lots of conversations and WORK focused on the ideas in the video. For more about the importance of pausing for student conversation and processing of ideas in school, listen to what 2001 Physics Nobel Prize winner Dr. Carl Wieman at UBC has to say on this subject. His context is not specifically videos, but he definitely DOES support frequent student conversations during class about the material, students being required to think together and commit to positions/decisions, etc.)

What we need to support is PEDAGOGIC CHANGE where teachers are facilitating student exploration and discovery, rather than acting as a funnel for content into the brain of the student. Martin Levin had a great PhotoShop enhanced image in his presentation last week at EduComm, which showed a student loading a CD-ROM directly into a CD-ROM tray that was part of his forehead. Martin’s point was that if you think this is what education is all about, don’t bother with laptop initiatives or any other technology. The computer, if used properly, is so much more than a content funnel. I think it was Alan Kay who quoted Seymour Papert in his presentation, saying “the computer is an instrument whose music is ideas.” That is a RADICALLY different vision of computer use than what we see happening today in most schools. That is why Papert’s ideas are so relevant and direly needed in today’s educational environment more than ever. (More on that tomorrow in my session on school 2.0.)

I had a great but short discussion with April Chamberlain about the “technology teacher leader” program they have in Trussville, Alabama, which was mentioned in our SITE 2007 presentation in March in San Antonio. I had not realized the superintendent of Trussville schools has been using the Phil Schlechty “working on the work” book and other ideas to promote discussion at all levels in their schools about student engagement, meaningful student work, etc. That underpins what they did with the K-12 Online Conference materials for professional development with teachers. (Face to face but utilizing K12 Online content.) They recently had teachers, support staff and administrators read Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great And the Social Sectors” and Mark Sanborn’s book “The Fred Factor: How passion in your work and life can turn the ordinary into the extraordinary.” They take their entire school team (including support personnel) to retreat events away from school, and focus on the topics in these books and others. The focus is on reflective practice, and being intentional about the learning environments they collaboratively create in schools for learners. Great work and great professional development is happing in Trussville Schools.

I also had a WONDERFUL conversation with John Norton and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach about the Alabama Best Practices Center and the progress they have made in facilitating the development of mentoring networks of teachers. John said something like the following (I’m having to paraphrase) that really struck me as profound:

Accomplished teachers have remarkable capacities to support meaningful instructional changes on small and large scales by mentoring their peers and identifying the approaches which are most successful in engaging students in meaningful work. Teachers are often not focused on the leadership skills and aspects of this process which are important, but those things can be facilitated and guided. Teaching in the early 21st century is in a process of transition, a process of professionalization.

This reminded me of reading and discussions I’ve had in the past about whether teaching is a blue collar or white collar profession. I definitely think it should be white collar, a true “profession,” but many things (like strikes by teachers in unions, for example) shape a perception that teachers are blue collar workers: babysitters who warm seats and force children to warm seats in day care centers where the prison guards are paid a barely living wage.

John and Sheryl talked about the need to further develop the profession of teaching, to the point where a teacher will have confidence (like an architect or a doctor) that they can draw upon the knowledge and expertise of their profession to understand and appropriately address the challenges they encounter in the field: in the real classroom. I was and continue to be extremely interested in this line of discussion, research, and work regarding professional development, and found the stories John and Sheryl had to relate extremely compelling. Great work is being done in Alabama and elsewhere via teacher mentoring networks. For more information check out “Powerful Conversations About Staff Development” from the Alabama Best Practices Center and the Teacher Leaders Network. John Norton’s bio is also available on the TLN website.

All of this reminds me of what Alan Kay said last week about knowledge trumping IQ every time. We live in a remarkable age in which we enjoy (although that term is not always applicable when the info quantity is overwhelming) unprecedented access to knowledge and ideas via the digital networks which connect us to each other. I am more heartened than ever about the prospects of broad-based, transformative school change, because of this nearly ubiquitous access we have to ideas, other learners, and experts like John and Sheryl. These were great conversations, and I look forward to learning more about this body of work on teacher professional development and the cultivation of teacher-leaders in the months ahead.

A last nugget was a challenge Will Richardson shared in the NECC blogger lounge. He has read Andrew Keane’s new book, ““The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s Internet is killing our culture” and suggested that we (edubloggers) have a group book discussion over the issues raised in the book. I’m game, and it sounds like at least several others may be as well. Stay tuned for more on this, we may set up a series of skypecasts and blog discussions about the book and its ideas. (I’m thinking this might be good to do later in November/December after K-12 Online is over.)

There’s even more to share, but that is probably enough for this post. Let the conversations continue! I’m learning lots.

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3 Responses to Nuggets from NECC (1)

  1. Brian Crosby says:

    Was great meeting you face to face today after iChating and Skyping with you numerous times.

  2. Jeff Yearout says:

    Reading the paragraph about learning by exploration and discovery, it makes me think of my exciting new job this fall. I will be team teaching a class called Applied Technologies, which uses a program called Synergistics Systems.

    If you’re not familiar with Synergistics, the crux of the idea is that students (middle school in this case) work in pairs for seven class sessions in what is called a module, followed the teachers leading a whole group “Discovery Day”. This repeats as time in the term allows. The company that has developed this system (about 20 years old now) has around 80 modules that a school can select from, ranging from things like applied physics to audio and video production to forensic science to CNC manufacturing to measuring and baking and more. It is really fascinating! In addition to being very well related to math and science standards, it requires that students work together to solve problems, it has both multiple choice and performance assessment elements, and is very hands-on! Can you tell I’m pretty jazzed about what I’ll be doing?

    I changed the name of my blog to reflect wider possibilities than just ed tech, so the new one is connectedlearning.wordpress.com, and I hope to write much more this year than I have this past year. If nothing else I hope to share my experiences in my new teaching job!

    Thanks for all your posts from NECC – I’ve never been able to attend, so I have to live vicariously through the many blogs I’ve been reading. Sounds like it has been a great several days of ideas and discussion! And thanks for the mention of Scratch – I had never heard of that system before and have now downloaded it to see what I can do with it.

    Enjoy the rest of NECC!

  3. Thanks for lunch! John and I both enjoyed talking with you. It was a special time for me to be able to hear John share his preceptions about the work we do with someone else with whom I collaborate and respect. Next NECC, let’s present on K12Online together with Darren and Lani.

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