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Wow! Just WOW! I spent yesterday judging teacher projects as part of the US Innovative Educator Forum in Redmond. It was absolutely inspiring. In fact I would go as far as to say this was the most encouraging day in regards to American education I have ever spent. And yes that includes learning about some great things at various ISTE conferences. Yes, that is strong but I mean it. There were 70 some projects (read a brief on each of them at 2011 U.S. Innovative Educators Forum Day 1–A Brief Summary) with teachers from kindergarten through high school, public schools, private schools, charter schools, rich areas, poor areas, and all sorts of geographies. The common factors though were dedicated teachers doing innovative things to improve learning for their students. Knowing there are teachers like this who are sharing their ideas with others is very encouraging to me.
Clearly all these teachers love their students, they love teaching, and they are fearless in trying new things. Another common factor is putting some trust in their students. Even second grade students (a couple of examples come to mind) have teachers allowing their students a role in decision making. The results are impressive. The one question that always comes up is “will this impact standardized test scores?” As anyone in education knows standardized tests are far from a great way to judge learning. But as one teacher told me “just because it is on the standardized test doesn’t mean it has to be boring.” So true. Good teaching is not boring. In fact I would argue, and I think many of the teachers here would agree, the less boring the more learning goes on.
So what else is going on? The day yesterday started with an opening keynote by John Medina author of
Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School (9780979777745): John Medina: Books
John also gave a keynote at the most recent ISTE conference. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak you should take advantage of it. He is dynamic, funny, and informative. I bought a copy of his book and had him sign it for me. It is my airplane reading for the trip home tomorrow. He talked about two of the 12 “rules” from his book and I can’t wait to dig into the rest of them. I think there are lessons for educators (and others) in that book. It was a great start to the day.
Then we had the judging. I visited nine assigned projects and several others. I only wish I had had time to talk to all of the teachers. I also wish we could have had a lot more people in to hear these teachers talk about their projects. From conversations I had with teachers it appears that most of the teachers here (including the educators who are judges – which is most of them – list here) did a lot of networking and learning from each other. The thing I heard most was “I have learned so much.” People are going home with many more ideas then they came with.
The judging team meet first in small groups and then as a large group to discuss the projects and highlight those that were on the tops of people’s lists. Note that all of the projects were great so we are looking for the best of the best not separating wheat from chaff by any means. All of these teachers are amazing! I don’t know who the winners are yet. We’ll find out that tonight. A total of ten teams in several categories will be headed for the worldwide event in November. I need to get me an invitation.
Later today we will have a closing keynote by Jane McGonigal, director of Game Research and Development, Institute for the Future and author of
Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World (9781594202858): Jane McGonigal: Books
For some competitions one selects a bunch of smart people, hands them a rubric and says “have at it. Be fair.” Honestly though is that really the way to do things? Generally not. When running a serious competition you want good judges, smart people who know their stuff – that’s a given. But you also want equality of evaluation, transparency, fairness and the knowledge that judges have a common understanding of what is expected. That doesn’t just happen. It doesn’t just happen in school – grading papers or tests – either though all too often we take the same cavalier attitude about preparing teachers to grade as we do judges to judge. I’ve one a lot of grading in my time and a fair amount of competition judging as well. This week though I am a judge for the US Innovative Education Forum in Redmond Washington. There are 20 something judges to judge 70+ teacher submitted projects. One of the required items for judges was a four hour workshop to be held today, the day before the judging starts for real. I had no idea what to expect when I walked past this welcoming banner.
What I got was some serious training. A little over eight years ago I was a reader (grader) for the Advanced Placement Computer Science exam. Training for that was intense and a wonderful learning experience for me. Today was a bit of déjà vu. It wasn’t exactly the same of course but it was remarkably similar. In both trainings we started with the rubric – what does it say, what does it mean, how are points allocated. Then we took a look at samples and did a sort of mock grading. The mock grading was followed by an in depth discussion (and a lot of questions) about why a certain mark was or was not given. How did what was on the paper relate to what was in the rubric? What sort of thing did some people miss that we should all be on the look out for? What are the nuances that show up when a theoretical rubric meets up with an actual paper that is to be evaluated based on the rubric? Let me tell you that we had some intense (though always collegial) discussions about things today.
We took the whole four hours with one short break. Was it worth it? I think so. I learned a lot and several others said the same thing. We go into tomorrow’s judging with a common rubric with a pretty close common understanding of that rubric. Judging will be careful, thoughtful and I have no doubt at times difficult – there are some great projects to look at. But most importantly it will be done by judges who are not only well qualified but well trained for this particular event. I’m proud to be a part of it.
BTW Rob Bayuk lists all of the IEF judges on the Teacher Tech blog. It’s an impressive list of judges so check it out.
What is the difference between Hacking and programming? One opinion I have heard expressed is that a hacker can put a lot of code together in a hurry but if a change is needed the code has to be completely rewritten. A programmer may take a little longer but if changes are needed they are more quickly and easily installed without the need for a complete rewrite. One source I heard attributed an observation like this to Maggie Johnson of Google. It rings true to me though. Hacking is usually described as “quick and dirty.” You though a bunch of code together and make it up as you go along. Some hackers are quite brilliant and can do amazing things in incredibly short periods of time. And then they move to the next thing. Or perhaps they stay with the same thing because no one else can understand it well enough to fix it, modify it or improve it. Job security? Perhaps but not a good thing for the people who use, or importantly pay for, the software.
I do a little hacking – that is to say toss something together in a short period of time without a lot of planning – from time to time. I’m not a genius though and typically this ends poorly. The performance is poor, the maintainability is poor, and no one else wants to use it. This may make be biased against this way of doing things I guess. I prefer to program – to think things out, to plan, to proceed in an organized fashion. I saw the difference made clear to me my first year of teaching (a long time ago). I was working on a little game programming of my own and decided to show it to some of my students. As I explained how I had set things up around a number of constants that is hoped would make the program more easily expandable one of the students turned to another and said “Look at that. He’s just starting and already he is planning for additions.” That is one of the real keys, in my opinion, to real programming.
I was a major in Systems Analysis in college. This was during a time when computer science majors were rare and software engineering majors rarer still. But one of the things my professors drilled into our heads was that programs had to be maintainable and extensible. We were taught from day one that programs are not finished but, in a sense, abandoned. More likely at some point you declare victory and more on. But others will maintain these programs and expand them and adapt them. Making their lives easier is a good thing. Think of the Golden Rule – program was you would want the programmers whose code you are modifying to have programmed. I think that is how it is written.
The hackers get a lot of attention these days. These are the basketball players who make the slam dunk that makes it to the highlight reel. But basketball games are won by teams of players executing on the basics – the solid play well executed, the dribble, the layup, the pass that gets the ball to the star. In the long run we need more real programmers to make solid, dependable programs that don’t have be be rewritten from scratch when a change is needed.