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

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.Smile

Later today we will have a closing keynote by Jane McGonigal, director of Game Research and Development, Institute for the Future and author of

I have heard her speak before and I am sure she will be both interesting and thought provoking. After that we have some more social events with the awards gals closing the day and the event. I’ll post links to the winners once I have them.