If this were a normal Friday on the weekend before the Super Bowl in any of the past 12 years, I would be driving I-95 (or taking Amtrak) to Philadelphia. To spend the next two or so days at a unique high school in center city, along with five hundred or so dedicated educators, students, and parents, all of whom were there for some serious (and some not-so-serious) discussions about the practice of teaching and learning.
Back in May, I was able to spend a beautiful day exploring the waterfront in Philadelphia on a Smithsonian Associates trip. Here are a few photos I made during our short time on and around the Delaware River. If you’re interested, more images from the day are in this gallery.
The skyline of Philadelphia as seen from the Delaware River.
The Olympia, oldest steel warship still afloat to the right. The Becuna, a World War II era submarine to the left. As if you couldn’t tell them apart.
Part of our tour group listening to the guide talk about the aft torpedo bay in the submarine Becuna.
The SS United States, rusting away in the old Philly shipyards. In the 50’s, it was the fastest passenger ship making the crossing between England and the US. Would love to photograph on the ship itself.
I was planning to go. After all, the conference is happening just a short train ride up the road in Philadelphia, a city I greatly enjoy visiting. I had booked my hotel early, paid my registration, and was all set to travel.
Then life started laying down speed bumps, as it is sometimes wont to do. Nothing critical, certainly nothing interesting enough to write about in this space. Just lots of those little things that tend to pile up, to the point that my plans had to change.
So this week I’ll be observing the event from afar, through the lens of Twitter and whatever video streams that can escape from the undoubtably clogged conference center network.
On reflection, however, I’m not entirely sure I will miss being at ISTE.
For one thing, as I’ve written about in the past, I continue to wonder if this kind of gathering has become too big and too expensive1 to serve any useful purpose, at least to me. I’m sure many of the conference attendees will gain from being Philadelphia this week. It certainly will be good for the vendors on the expo floor who must love having tens of thousands of potential customers passing by.
I know I won’t miss the formal sessions. Over the past three or four ISTEs, I pretty much stopped going to them. Most will cover information and ideas that can easily be found on the web, and offer little opportunity for any meaningful interaction with the presenters. Plus an increasing percentage of them are little more than infomercials for edtech products and lack much in the way of a connection to using technology for improved learning.
Most of the value of making the trek to ISTE for me has come from the direct connections I would make in the halls, the playgrounds, and lounges. But that benefit has also declined over time since many of the people that I would normally reconnect with at the conference have stopped attending. Or I will see them at smaller, less frenetic events2 where it will be easier to have a meaningful conversation.
So, if you are in Philly this week, have a great time and I hope the time you spend up there is valuable for you. Please share what you learn with the rest of us. For various reasons I will not be at ISTE next year in Anaheim either. But, after some reflection, I may find good reasons to return the following year in San Antonio.
Or I may become permanently not at ISTE.
The picture above was made at a previous ISTE conference in Philadelphia. It shows the city skyline from the 33rd floor of the Lowes Hotel. I wasn’t staying there. I think I rose to those heights to attend a vendor meeting.
1. Philly used to be one of the more reasonable cities for conference attendees, both in terms of cost and having the infrastructure to support everyone who came to ISTE. Not any more.
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’sÂ history on Wikipedia and see more of my pictures in this Flickr album.
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.
Later additions to the Penitentiary were two story buildings with cells now housing two people in pretty much the same space.
In it’s more recentÂ 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.
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.
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.