Sending The Wrong Message

I just watched Michael Wesch’s talk from the TEDxNYED conference last month again.

Wesch is a cultural anthropologist who is now studying how our society is being changed by social media, especially in how we educate our children and ourselves.

His whole presentation is excellent but I was really struck by the section in which he talks about his teaching space and how it influences his students.

So what we need is for people, our students, everybody to be more open, caring, daring, creative, collaborative, self-motivated, and voracious as learners.

And yet, this is where we’re training them [Wesch's lecture hall at Kansas State].

And regardless of what I say in this room, the room itself, the walls are sending a different message. The walls are sending the message, first off, that to learn is to acquire information. This is a low, base level of how we should think about learning.

They also say that you should listen to the authority for good information. That authorized information is beyond discussion, which is why the chairs don’t turn to one another so people can discuss the matter.

Ultimately these walls say that you should obey the authority and just follow along.

Compare that classroom to those in most high schools. The desks may not be permanently fixed in rows but they may as well be.

Anyway, Wesch goes on to suggest that if you want to understand the kinds of learners our education system is producing, just listen to the kinds of questions they are asking in this space.

Questions like “How many points is this worth?”, “How long does this paper have to be?”, and “What do we need to know for this test?”

Instead, he says we need students who challenge the “authorized” knowledge and who can adapt and craft their own learning.

in the end, Wesch admits that the big projects he and his students get out of that space to create often fall flat, failing to accurately simulate the societies studied in class or even to do a good job of recreating history.

However, they succeed in that students leave the class with many questions. Good, relevant questions about the world around them rather than what will be on the next test.

Wesch’s talk is only 15 minutes but it’s worth your time.

Better yet, also show it to a colleague, principal, parent, student, superintendent, school board member, elected representative or anyone else who might be concerned that our traditional school structure (physical and intellectual) is sending the wrong message.

Watch This

From the TEDxNYED event this past Saturday in New York, one of my favorite big thinkers, Lawrence Lessig with an excellent presentation on openness and the remixing of culture.

Although the theme of this great set of talks was supposed to be education, even in the broadest sense Lessig never really makes the connection.

So, it’s up to you. Every educator needs to understand how our intellectual property laws are making unwitting criminals out of our most creative students.

A Motivating Talk

Love TED Talks! This new one from TED Global in England last month features Daniel Pink discussing the science of motivation.


Pink is addressing the business world in his presentation but I think parts of what he has to say could apply to those of us in the non-business world as well.*

Especially when he notes that “too many organizations are making their decisions based, their policies about talent and people, based on assumptions that are outdated, unexamined, and rooted more in folklore than in science.”

Pink suggests that businesses and organizations need a whole new approach, one “built much more around intrinsic motivation, around the desire to do things because they matter, because we like it, because they’re interesting, because they’re part of something important”.

Towards the end he discusses one motivator being used by a few companies, a variation on Google’s policy allowing employees to spend 20% of their time working on personal projects.

How cool would it be if we could incorporate the Google 20% policy into schools? Not just for teachers, but for students as well.

Anyway, as with many TED talks, this less than 20 minute presentation (it’s pretty clear when Pink gets the two minute light :-) is worth your time.


* I know there are some educators who can’t stand Pink’s ideas (not me for the most part) as well as the attempt to apply business practices to education (me most of the time).

Math Education Reform That Makes Sense

In a recently posted TED Talk, mathematician and magician Arthur Benjamin says the K12 math curriculum is all wrong.

Instead of building a pyramid with Calculus at the top, students should be getting a good foundation in Statistics.


… I’m here to say, as a professor of mathematics, very few people use Calculus in a conscious, meaningful way in their day to day lives.

On the other hand, Statistics, that’s a subject that you could, and should, use on a daily basis.

I think if our students, our high school students, if all of the American citizens, knew about probability and statistics, we wouldn’t be in the economic mess we’re in today.

Listen to the professor. His talk is only 3 minutes but he makes far more sense than most math education “experts” you’ll hear.

Your Mission is to Upset Someone

Another must-watch video from the TED conference, in which Seth Godin explains why everyone should be out leading a tribe of some kind, a talk based on his excellent book, Tribes.


During the presentation he asks three questions of the viewer as part of his challenge to make change.

The first one is: who exactly, are you upsetting? ‘Cause if you not upsetting someone then you’re not changing the status quo.

The second question is: who are you connecting? Because for a lot of people, that’s what they’re in it for, the connections that are being made, one to the other.

The third one is: who are you leading? Because focusing on that part of it, not the mechanics of what you’re building, but the who and the leading part is where change comes.

Since the American education system is the very definition of status quo, we really need to do more with that first question and work harder to upset more people.

Ok, let’s see who I haven’t bothered in a while. :-)

The TED Top 10

Celebrating the second year of sharing videos of talks from the annual TED conference (still waiting for my scholarship :-), the people running the site have posted a selection of the ten most popular.

I could quibble with a few of the choices but not with the fact that all are excellent, especially my favorites by Ken Robinson, Al Gore, Hans Rosling, and Tony Robbins.

While the highlight reel is fun, go watch all ten. It will be well worth your time.

BTW, you can also subscribe to the videos in iTunes and take them to go.

All Science is Either Physics or Stamp Collecting

Last month I ranted about a teacher raising the possibility of the world being swallowed by a black hole created by the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Europe.

However, with my last physics class more than a few years back, I didn’t have a good grasp of what the project is supposed to do much less why someone might be afraid of it on a cosmic level.

After watching the TED talk by Brian Cox, a “rock star physicist”, I have a somewhat better understanding of the science behind the Collider.

Actually, I had to watch it three times to reach that point. :-)

But I find the concepts fascinating. And the scale of the theories being investigated at CERN certainly add some humbling context to the everyday routine of life.

BTW, you’ll have to watch the video to understand where the title of this post came from.

Looking At The Future

I have always had mixed feelings about Clifford Stoll.

While he’s an entertaining writer and speaker, I disagree with much of what he had to say in his two books excoriating computers in society and especially in the classroom.

However, in a recently posted talk from the 2006 TED Conference, Stoll makes some great observations about knowing the future.

In fact, I think if you really want to know what the future’s going to be, if you really want to know about the future, don’t ask a technologist, a scientist, a physicist. No. Don’t ask someone who’s writing code.

No, if you want to know what society is going to be like in 20 years, ask a kindergarten teacher.

They know. In fact, don’t just ask any kindergarten teacher, ask an experienced one. They’re the ones who know what society is going to be like in another generation, I don’t. Nor I suspect do many other people who are talking about what the future will bring.

Certainly all of us can imagine these cool new things that are going to be there. But to me things aren’t the future. What I ask myself is “what is society going to be like when the kids today are phenomenally good at text messaging and spend a huge amount on screen time but have never gone bowling together?”.

I also love the fact that he outlined his talk five minutes before he was to present it. On his hand.