Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Great Ideas from the Fall 2011 DEN Virtual Conference (part 2)

This is my part 2 of my notes from the Discovery Educators Network Fall Virtual Conference (“Tech or Treat”) on October 22, 2011. If you haven’t already, check out part 1. MY THOUGHTS AND COMMENTS ARE IN ALL CAPS.

(I cooked brunch and ate with my family during Joe Brennan‘s session, “Digital Storytelling: Get it Write!” so I don’t have notes for it yet. I’m going to watch the webinar recording of that later and post notes. The little I saw/heard during Joe’s session was GREAT. Joe’s resources are on Webinar recordings will be posted on

These are my notes from the keynote presentation by Dr. Astro Teller. His partial bio is:

Dr. Astro Teller is currently Director of New Projects for Google, working to help the company explore new potential business areas. Astro is also co-founder and a current Director of Cerebellum Capital, Inc, a hedge fund management firm whose investments are continuously designed, executed, and improved by a software system based on techniques from statistical machine learning. Astro is also co-founder and a current Director of BodyMedia, Inc, a leading wearable body monitoring company… As a respected scientist and seasoned entrepreneur, Teller has successfully created and grown five companies and holds numerous U.S. patents related to his work in hardware and software technology. Dr. Teller’s work in science, literature, art, and business has appeared in international media from the New York Times to CNN to NPR’s “All Things Considered.” Teller regularly gives invited talks for national and international technology, government, and business forums on the subject of the future of intelligent technology.

Dr. Astro Teller - Entrepreneur, Author, and Scientist

As a student in school, I fell into the habit of doing things more than once, like doing math problems 3 times
– this was because of my dyslexia
– it ended up being a great habit, however, because there is often more than 1 way to solve a math problem

in BC Calculus as a junior in high school
– sometimes my teacher (Mr. Benson) fumbled to remember things
– he responded: “I don’t need to remember almost anything, because I can figure it out from 1st principles”
– this was a huge “a ha” moment for me and transformational
– this moved me from seeing education as the accumulation of facts from picking up and enjoying learning the mechanics of doing different things
– with crucial thinking, you can re-derive all kinds of answers with available information
– that has really perspective-shifted me and shaped how I think students learn best

2nd story and confession: most of my experiences in schools come from teaching college age kids and talking to gifted high school students
– I acknowledge this is a unique group of kids, top half of achievers (maybe different than kids in poverty who don’t have basic needs met for safety, etc.)

My belief: Kids learn shocking amounts when they are motivated, and amazingly little when they are not
– I am talking about ‘what they get’ when they do or learn something
– simple example: Kahn Academy, it’s hugely absorbing to children (my son is ‘playing’ on Kahn Academy now downstairs at my house, the badges on the site are motivating for him)
– I know some parents who are paying their kids $1 per badge they earn on Kahn Academy (some of these parents have their kids finish high school math by 6th or 7th grade)
– it doesn’t sound like it’s possible, but it is

Motivation is the thing that separates all of us from the things we want to get done

1st Robotics organization
– is the Olympiad for building robots that compete with each other for accomplishing different tasks
– it’s phenomenal to watch these kids: who have never programmed, cut things out of metal, figure out how to solve things
– kids learn several grade levels of math, science and engineering in the 6 month period of time they are doing the activity
– motivation is the reason/key to this

At some level, kids intuit the ways they are often taught don’t often line up well with the ways they are going to spend their time later in life
– passion, persistence, integrity, critical thinking, creative thinking, adaptability, communication clarity, the ability to solve problems, etc are all keys
– the content areas of our schools are the MEANS not the ENDs (those are vertical slides… being good at the ‘horizontal slices’ (passion, persistence, etc are the horizontal slices)

Those skills are going to help people enjoy their jobs more (whatever those jobs are) as well as make more money
– the way information and skills are often presented to students is “under motivating” for kids (this is a real problem)

On the subject of inspiration: Teachers need to be inspired too!
– I’m out of touch with the prevailing winds in the teacher community
– in every other field I’m familiar with: paying for performance is the “de jure” focus
– I understand paying for test scores can lead to a test prep focus
– in the business world, we assess people’s performance in multi-faceted ways, there are LOTS of ‘soft measures” like how creative someone is, how hard they work, the qualities and not just the quantities they produce
– people in the business world are rewarded with titles, recognition, money, opportunities to learn more thing
– I would love to see teachers receive the same sort of thing
– I believe we need teaching to be seen as the most desirable and respected profession in the country
– we need to dramatically change how we interact with teachers and reward them in our nation, to focus on inspiration

Story of a teacher from the Bronx
– class expected to pass the end of course biology exam, she told all her kids they would pass
– 70% of her kids passed
– what bothers me about that story is the complaint people have: “If you have insanely motivated teachers, then the kids will succeed” – that bothers me because it’s a true solution
– all teachers DO need to be insanely motivated
– lots of the problems we see in schools today are motivation oriented

I’ve noticed we don’t teach kids to play soccer on a chalkboard (at least not for very long)
– it’s not just in grade school we make this mistake
– we do this into higher education as well, law school is a great example
– it makes no sense the things you do in law school are very disconnected from the things you actually do as a lawyer
– doctor prep can be much more apprentice-oriented, there is less of this in most law schools

We need kids at young ages to DO things they will do later in life
– I predict this will motivate them in huge ways

Aside about a NPR piece on the “Occupy Wall Street” protests
– upset student who had a history degree
– I think availability of liberal arts education is good but a luxury at the university level
– she seemed to think “our country owed her a job”
– she hadn’t seemed to think about how getting a liberal arts degree would connect with a job

BTW I have four children, two are 10 and two are 8, I worry about this a lot

There are 7 billion people in the world today, there will be 9 billion in 20 years
– resources for affluence are limited
– our children are going to have to compete at 10 times the level we did when we left college
– I’m not saying we should scare our children, but…
– people in India and China don’t mind working 12 to 14 hours to get what they want
– they understand they have to work hard, they don’t believe the world owes them a job or anything
– we need our kids to understand this so they will be motivated to work hard

Question from the audience: How do we get our school administrators to understand this perspective when they are so focused on testing scores?

Answer from Astro Teller: As a young entrepreneur I’d often sit down with my mentors and they would matter-of-factly tell me what to do
– “if you need to run your company with 50 people with no money, you just do it”
– problem with that is, I’d seen some of them do this but I didn’t know how to do it
– some of their ideas sounded as impossible as sprouting wings

Story of Ron Huberman who ran Chicago police force and succeeded, then ran Chicago transit authority and succeeded, and then ran Chicago public schools
– he said: I’m going to try and do so many good things while I’m alive, that some of the things will ‘stick’ by the time I die

my advice: Do what you think is right, and if they fire you then go and do something else
– in the end, however, surprising things may happen

If you were to ignore the standardized test and teach kids to be motivated (get them jazzed like a preacher gets you jazzed on a Sunday morning, heart-thumping excited) you’ll get all the learning and test scores you want for FREE

The “preacher issue” is a big one
– reaching inside people and grabbing them emotionally is of key importance
– there are people with that key skill, some teachers happen to have it
– teachers tend to practice that through kindness rather than trying to create a conflagration in your heart
– teaching is a marathon, it’s not a sprint
– I happen to not be religious, but we can try to create this kind of explosion in people’s hearts

Reason TED Talks are so addicting is because it leaves you with the feeling that ANYTHING is possible
– it sets your heart on fire, and we all crave that feeling (even children)
– this is more the job of educators
– more than teaching math and science, teachers need to help set the hearts of children on fire

My question for Astro: What things do you think are more cognitive/intellectual that kids need to learn in school which do NOT have a clear hands-on context?

his answer: there are some things that are hard to learn on your own
– math you can learn on your own
– but critical thinking you can’t
– you need to watch someone else do that, when you undergo a Socratic process
– to dig out what is interesting in a problem, why someone’s solution isn’t a solution
– public speaking is another example
– I believe we should teach “communication clarity” much more
– can you take your idea and install them in someone else’s mind
– that sounds much more fun than a 5 paragraph essay
– learning to become an orator is NOT something that people can typically do by themselves
– most of the things we think of as ‘most chalkboard-ish’ are the least well suited for the chalkboard
– are lots of examples of this: if a student desperately wants to win (RE First Robotics) they will work hard to learn and emerged as transformed people on the other end of that experience

When you become an adult, you learn that you can’t motivate all people the same way
– some want sense of achievement, some want recognition, some want more freedom to be left alone, some want money
– kids are the same, they fall into different categories
– kids fall into different categories
– when kids fixate on a long term aspiration, they realize you need to learn a lot (that motivation can transform kids, probably about 25% of the kids I meet have these kinds of long term aspirations)

other kids respond really well to environments of friendly competition like First Robotics

Question from the webinar chat: Do you want to start a movement?

Dr Teller’s answer: YES!
Intro to AI class at Stanford that now has thousands of students

The slides and resources referenced in my spotlight session, “Playing with Media” are available on my handouts wiki. (See slide #11 for the eBook discount code, valid until midnight Eastern time on Sunday, Oct 23, 2011)

These are a few notes and resources from Dean Mantz‘ closing presentation, “Treat Yourself to A Story.”

Dean’s outstanding Livebinders collection of Digital Storytelling resources is a source for legal/royalty free music/audio loops (more are linked on – also thousands of audio loops are available on Discovery Education Streaming if your school subscribes)

Dean shared two video examples from the “Celebrate Kansas Voices” oral history and digital storytelling project

A Woman Serves (student project shared by Vicki Constable

Find more videos like this on Celebrate Kansas Voices

Girl Fiddler by Jesse West

Find more videos like this on Celebrate Kansas Voices

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3 responses to “Great Ideas from the Fall 2011 DEN Virtual Conference (part 2)”

  1. kenesha brown Avatar
    kenesha brown

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. It is very informative and you have a lot of information as well. 

  2. […] use in future endeavors.   There are pod-casts, blogs, conferences and media.  I really liked the DEN Virtual Conference post.  There were so many sites and tools that were mentioned at this conference.  They talked […]

  3.  Avatar

    Thanks for posting the recap! It was a great conference – I’ve bookmarked your blog posts to use as a reference when I need to remember which web 2.0 tool I’m thinking of from the conference!