The Weekend Collection

A few good things to read, hear, and watch when time allows this week.

Read: Elizabeth II has been on the British throne for more than 60 years, but she obviously will not be Queen of the realm forever. So, how will the royal family, the government, and the BBC handle a transition to a new monarch? Each organization will play their part and have their own secret plans, and the story about them in The Guardian makes for an interesting read. (about 33 minutes)

Read: For those of us who regularly present to groups big and small (me: just small), any ideas to improve the experience is welcome. This post with ten tips (plus a TED video) is a few years old but it comes from the guy who literally wrote the book, Presentation Zen. (about 7 minutes)

Read: If you look at the most commonly used world maps, Greenland is represented as the same size as Africa, Alaska is larger than Texas, and Europe is right in the middle. Boston Public Schools has decided to replace that view, called the Mercator projection, with one that’s more accurate called Gall-Peters. If nothing else, watch the clip from The West Wing to understand why the change is necessary. (about 4 minutes)

Listen: Most of us here in the US are less than a month away from the date when we are required to file our taxes. But the process is more complicated for most people than it needs to be. Planet Money tells the story of one professor who has been working to make the standard return simpler for more than a decade, and why he has made little progress. (22:54)

Listen: If you’re a trivia nerd and Jeopardy! just doesn’t work for you anymore, give a listen to Tell Me Something I Don’t Know. A good place to start is with the episode titled Under the Hood, in which contestants and panelists Seth Godin, Faith Salie, and Nicholas Negroponte discuss things hidden from everyday view. (58:07)

Watch: You probably know that the internet is a network connecting millions of computers all over the world. But did you ever wonder HOW they are connected? Nat and Lo from Google are here to show you as they follow a project to lay a new cable between the US and South America. This would be a good one to show middle or high school students who think it’s all magic. (7:36)

What School Should Be

In a great TEDx talk, Will Richardson gets at the heart of what school is and what it should be. Take 16 minutes to watch the whole thing1, but if you don’t have time (or YouTube is blocked in your school), this slide is a pretty good summary of the differences.

Those terms on the left side, or variations on those themes, have been included in speeches, reports and white papers from any number of education “reformers” since at least the turn of the century.

For the most part the list on the right side represents classrooms from the turn of the previous century. And is still what you’ll observe in almost every American school – public, private, charter – here in the 21st century.

My Busy Week

This coming week is going to be a busy one for me, but also a lot of fun.

First is the JOSTI conference, presented every year at Thomas Jefferson High School, our local magnet school for science and technology, and organized by some very talented people in our district. JOSTI, the Jefferson Overseas Schools Technology Institute, is sponsored by the US State Department and brings a relatively small group teachers and tech support people to the DC area from American schools all over the world for a week-long conference on better using technology for instruction.

On Wednesday I’ll be doing sessions on two of my favorite subjects, Google’s mapping resources and coping with information overload. But the real pleasure in JOSTI is the opportunity to meet some wonderful, enthusiastic educators working in very interesting places.

The next day we leave for Atlanta for the ISTE conference. However, it’s the pre-conference activities I’m most looking forward to.

Friday we have Hack Education, which is sort of an un-conference that started life as EduBloggerCon seven years ago in the very same place. The event has grown and become somewhat more organized over the years,2 now with sponsors and everything, but it’s still attracts a mixture of wonderful people and always fosters some great discussions.

However, I’ll only be able to stay the morning this time since that afternoon I’ll be leading one of the table discussions at theMobile Mega Share event presented by the Mobile Learning Network (formerly ISTE SIG for Mobile Learning). In my little corner of the room we’ll be sharing ideas and tools for managing your information from anywhere on whatever device you have. There will be lots of other great conversations related to mobile learning going on and I think space is still available, so if you’d like to join us for the afternoon, register here (it’s free).

Most years at ISTE, the annual photowalk would happen the next morning, the day of the opening keynote.2 Unfortunately, Larry Anderson and Craig Nansen, the organizers who started the whole idea, will not be in Atlanta this year so we may have to cobble together an impromptu walk with whoever is willing. Or I may just be photo walking alone.

Saturday afternoon I’m going to try and attend the Global Education Summit, hosted by Lucy Gray and Steve Hargadon, a series of discussions and activities focused on global connecting and learning. I’ve never participated in this particular event but it sounds promising and includes some interesting people.

Oh, and then the actual ISTE conference begins.

And if all of that wasn’t enough to fill my week, Monday I also begin facilitating a new online course, one which I wrote, on using Google’s various mapping tools for instruction. As I said, one of my favorite subjects and one very much under utilized and under appreciated resource in most schools. Fortunately, the first week is orientation so much easier to do from a remote location on an iPad.

Anyway, if you happen to be in the same place at the same time as any of the above, please say hi and introduce yourself. For now, I better get back to finishing my presentations and editing the class.

Wasted Inspiration

According to some second hand news here in the overly-large school district, Ken Robinson will be the keynote speaker next August for our annual Leadership Conference.

At first I was excited about the prospect but, after thinking about it today, I’m a little depressed.

It’s not that I don’t think Sir Ken will do a great job, or that I won’t be able to attend his talk (I may even sit in the auditorium this year instead of watching on video in the overflow room).

Actually, I’m quite sure he will give an interesting, inspirational presentation, talking about the need to transform our current education system and help our students develop their individual talents.

And most of the principals, district administrators, and other central office folks in the audience will nod in agreement and applaud in all the right places, maybe even giving Robinson a standing ovation.

Then those same principals will return to their buildings to plot new ways to get a few more kids in one of their school subgroups to pass the state standardized tests, the better to avoid falling into the NCLB failure category, while largely boring most of their students.

Their bosses, the people who booked Robinson to speak in the first place, will spend the school year pushing everyone in the district for just a few more points on the headline-grabbing numbers.

Ok, so maybe I’m just suffering from too many discussions about data and a distinct lack of anticipation as we head into testing season in which all creative teaching above 2nd grade will grind to a halt.

I’m also not naive enough to believe that one inspirational keynote (and we’ve had many over the years of this conference) will change anything by itself.

But I wonder why our district bothers to bring in speakers like Robinson, not to mention paying their not-inconsequential fees, if everyone is just going to ignore the ideas they offer.

Success in a Creative World

I’ve always admired the creative work done by Pixar Animation Studios, going back to the short films they were making long before the first Toy Story movie was released.

Recently I ran across* a short talk (iTunesU link) by Randy Nelson, Dean of Pixar University (can I enroll?? :-) at the Apple Education Leadership Summit in 2008 in which he discusses four interrelated aptitudes they look for in hiring people to work at Pixar and which he believes are necessary for success in a creative world.

Mastery of subject (depth)

However, at Pixar they don’t necessarily look for mastery in the area in which a candidate will be working.  Nelson notes that anyone who is a true master at something will be “the kind of person with characteristics that you can use in your organization”.

Breadth of knowledge, experience, and interests

At Pixar, “We want people who are more interested than interesting” because an “interested” person amplifies other people.

Communication

“Communication also involves translation.” That is, having the ability to “translate” your idea into messages that others outside your field (or perspective and experiences, etc.) can understand.

Collaboration

This, Nelson says, is the most important of the four.  But collaboration is not the same as cooperation, which is more about staying out of each others way.  Instead, ”collaboration for Pixar means amplification, the amplification you get by hooking up a bunch of human beings” who bring their mastery, breath, and communication skills to get more than the sum of the parts.

Let’s face it, very few of our kids will be working for Pixar after they graduate, as creative and fun as that might be.

But the kinds of skills Nelson outlines as being important in candidates applying to work at his company are those many other businesses in totally unrelated fields are also looking for.

Nelson says it much better than I have in this space, so go watch the whole 10 minutes or so.  This video might also make an good opening of school presentation to show your colleagues.

In closing his talk, Nelson adds this interesting, although seemingly unrelated, observation about our students.

One of the most amazing things about school is that we have this untapped resource in a sense: our students are the solution. They’re also the problem… but there is an opportunity there if we can find ways of invigorating that leadership on our campuses.

When it comes to improving our education system, students are usually the last group that reformers include in the process.

Considering they are the people most directly affected by what we do, maybe we should tap into their creativity and make them a fundamental part of those efforts instead.


*Thanks to Presentation Zen for the link and to Edutopia which produced the video.