Picture Post #10

During a recent trip to Philadelphia, I spent a few hours at the Eastern State Penitentiary, an eerie place that encapsulates almost 150 years of the American philosophy of how to deal with criminals in our society. Read more about the facility’s history on Wikipedia and see more of my pictures in this Flickr album.

Cellblock 1

Cellblock one from the original building opened in 1827. Benjamin Franklin was part of the committee that designed the unique spoke and wheel layout that was adopted by many other nations in the 19th century. Each cell was designed to house one person in solitary confinement, giving them plenty of time to reflect on their lives.

Cellblock 7

Later additions to the Penitentiary were two story buildings with cells now housing two people in pretty much the same space.

Barber Chair 2

In it’s more recent history, one cell of each block was set up as a barber shop, staffed by prisoners, with all inmates required to get regular haircuts and shaves. The red chair is an interesting contrast to the very brown and gray walls.

Statistics 1

A display in the Penitentiary yard showing the number of people in imprisoned in the US by decade, along with other statistics of how our penal policies compare to other nations. Notice the huge population jumps since 1990, despite a decrease in crime rates.

Burglarizing the Future

From the always hazardous intersection of education and politics, comes Reading, Writing, Ransacking, a summary of the systematic process to dismantle public education in Philadelphia and the state of Pennsylvania.

There’s way too much good stuff in the column to quote without copying the whole thing, so take a few minutes to click through and read it. Just be prepared to yell at your screen.

However, I can’t resist posting the final paragraph.

They all have so very much to answer for, the people who have decided to enrich themselves by bashing public school teachers and, in doing so, putting the entire philosophy of public education, one of the lasting contributions to society of the American political commonwealth, at serious risk. No wonder they operate secretly, and in the shadows, and beyond the reach of public accountability. They are burglarizing the future for their own profit.

I can think of stronger criminal metaphors than “burglarizing” but, ok, let’s go with that.

EduCon First Reflections

As time allows this week I’ve been sifting through my notes, links, and thoughts from this past weekend at Educon, two days and one evening that flashed by very quickly.

Although I haven’t landed on any Eureka! moments yet, this fourth edition of the conference had a slightly different feel to it, in a very positive direction.

In it’s short life, Educon has always been very unlike other professional gatherings I attend, small with an energetic, slightly chaotic atmosphere.  Unlike most education conferences, almost all of us spent those few days in Philly to connect live with some of the people currently in our virtual networks.

A running unwritten theme woven throughout the discussions, both scheduled and not, was a search for ways to change the direction of education policy at all levels.  No one walked away from SLA with definitive answers to that problem, of course, but maybe some of the seeds sown will grow into solutions.

If that positive attitude I always get from Educon hangs around for a while, I have a few ideas of my own, based on several sessions and many conversations, that will form the basis of another post still getting organized in my disheveled head.

Anyway, that’s my first rambling pass at making meaning out of the weekend.

Now go read what some of my fellow attendees learned at Educon, especially Chris, our host, who does a great job of putting everything in context.

EduCon 2.3

It hardly seems possible but the fourth edition of EduCon starts on Friday and I’ve been looking through the conversations, trying to get a little organized before heading to Philadelphia for the weekend.

It’s hopeless. There are just too many good sessions on the schedule and I’ve got at least two tagged in each block.  But that speaks to the unique nature of this conference.

EduCon is relatively small meeting, capped at 500 participants, with no big vendor displays and a focus on conversations about changing education led by some incredibly interesting people.

Which means all of us in the sessions, very often including the SLA students running the cameras, have the opportunity to be an active part of each presentation, not just a passive member of an audience.

Anyway, when you put all the pieces together, it makes for a great few days of connecting and learning from both people I regularly follow than those I have yet to meet.

If you can’t be there in person, follow along virtually.  I think the discussions will be streamed through the Elluminate rooms linked on the Conversations pages. Plus all the tweets, blog posts, photos, videos, and whatever else people use to share their learning.

And hopefully the snow can take a break long enough for me trek up 95 and back.

Join The Conversation

Next weekend I’ll be heading up to EduCon 2.2, the most unique conference I’ve ever attended.

For one thing, it’s relatively small, although with 500 people registered this year, it will be a little more crowed than the first one in 2008 where 75 or so of us showed up, not knowing what to expect.

But the big difference with EduCon is that the sessions, for the most part, are not lecture/demo presentations or hands-on workshops. And it is not a conference about technology.


The concept of EduCon-founder, and principal of the Science Leadership Academy, Chris Lehman was to get a bunch of interested and interesting educators together to have conversations about how we can change schools to better fit the way our students learn and the real world in which they live, as well as to grow networks of people who would continue those discussions long after the conference ended.

I’ll be leading one of those discussions and, while my topic does address technology, it’s concerned with why schools have remained isolated islands of status quo over the past twenty years, while the rest of the world has been fundamentally altered by computers, networks, and communications tools.

My session is titled “Why Has Technology Failed to Bring Substantial Change to American Schools (and what can we do about it)?” and this is the short description, the in-50-words-or-less explanation of the session in a way that will attract an audience.

The authors of Disrupting Class ask “Why haven’t computers brought about a transformation in schools the way they have in other areas of life?”. Excellent question. Join us for a discussion of what we can do to change that situation. Bring any and all ideas to share.

The proposal for this session grew from my growing frustration with American education and the two-faced embrace of techie tools while at the same time rejecting the transformative possibilities they offer.

Schools in the US have spent billions of dollars in just the past decade to buy laptops and software, install networks, connect classrooms to internet, and train teachers.

However, walk down the halls of your average American school, especially high schools, and you’re likely to see a teacher-directed, lecture-demo formatted lesson, with little or no technology use by either teacher or students.

Over the past few years, the most visible example of technology use in the classrooms of our overly-large school district has been interactive whiteboards, devices which chain teaching to standards of the previous century.

Talk all you want about “student engagement” and “interactivity”, these boards are little more than expensive electronic extensions of blackboards and chalk, controlled by the teacher, and locking the learning focus on them, not the students.

Anyway, IWBs are a topic for another rant and only a small piece of the discussion that I’d like to have in Philly.

If you’re coming to EduCon, please join us at 12:30 Sunday afternoon for what I hope will be a wonderful exchange of ideas on this topic.

And don’t think you must agree with the premise to participate. Feel free to let me know that I’m full of crap and that I’ve missed the mark entirely. Bring evidence of my cluelessness, however. :-)

If you’re not able to be at the conference in person, you can still attend and join the discussion online through the generous efforts of Elluminate who will be providing an interactive room for each session.

Links to the Elluminate rooms will be available from the conversations page on the EduCon site.

Now, if they can just keep the snowy weather out of town for the weekend, we’ll be golden.