ISTE Keynote: What were they thinking?

#edtech #iste12

As I have said before in this blog, I attend edtech conferences to be inspired and to steal ideas to take back to my own school. But when I left the keynote that opened this year's ISTE 2012 Conference, I was scratching my head wondering what was the purpose of what I had just witnessed. I felt embarrassed to be an educator. Did ISTE really just do this to me? Did they sell out? Did they take inspiring me too far?

Let me start with Sir Ken Robinson, I like many other educators, got inspired by his TED talk about how schools are killing creativity. Which was followed up by the YouTube video by RSA Animate about changing educational paradigms. I took notes of these two videos and desperately tried to apply what he was talking about into my own teaching. I even bought his book The Element. But here's the thing -- most of what Sir Ken says is spot on -- what I have a problem with is execution. He offers no real solution to what we need to do, just that we need to do it. And I know that he should not have to spoon-feed us to get us where we need to go. But what is the real value of someone who offers criticism with no viable solutions?

His answers for us during the Q&A session after the keynote was to provide individualized instruction - I teach 470 students a week, and I am suppose to connect with each one and have each one on their own path to finding their educational passion? Yeah, right! And another thing, I got so worried about killing students creativity that I have tried to do the right thing. But students without skills cannot do the things that Sir Ken thinks that we beat out of them.

After watching the TED talk I gave 20 fourth graders flip video cameras and an assignment, but I did not kill their creativity -- I let them do it how they wanted to. Dreaming that I was doing what Sir Ken wanted me to do, I waited for the students to return with their incredible videos. What I got back was 20 videos of garbage -- kids being goofy on camera. Nothing creative, nothing to show me that any of them had a passion for filmmaking.

Sir Ken seems to think that if we just give kids blank pieces of paper and a pencil that they will draw masterpieces, or write amazing poetry, or solve complex math problems. Students without skills cannot do what he thinks they can, unless maybe they're a savant, or something. My students need the skills that I teach them in order to be creative. You cannot be creative without being taught skills. Leonardo Da Vinci was an apprentice before he became the master, and so must every one of our students.

Enough said about Sir Ken.

Moving on to the other panelists; Shawn Covell of Qualcomm and Mayim Bialik, the actress and scientist. With both of them repeating; "I am sure there are more qualified people in the audience to answer this, but..." enough said. Yes, most of us are more qualified to talk about this subject than the both of you which left me wondering why you were even there. What the heck qualifies a Qualcomm executive and a home-schooling actress to speak on education reform? Covell just bragged about how big Qualcomm was and Bialik kept pushing her new deal with Texas Instruments -- so was the keynote suppose to be an ad?

Now who I did like, and who I wished was the keynote, was Marc Prensky. This guy knows what he is talking about and seems to understand education more than just stirring the pot like Sir Ken does. Well done Marc, I wish I could have heard more from you.

ISTE, you need to do better than this keynote. You need to find us the people who are qualified to lead us in education reform that we are desperately looking for. Sir Ken was right about one thing; revolutions never start at the top. So this is me at the bottom, standing up to say to you ISTE that this keynote was not what I needed. I want to feel inspired, not duped or sold to. Find me people who are not trying to sell me a book or a new program from TI.

Now excuse me, but I need to get ready to attend the keynote by Yong Zhao, maybe he will be the inspiration that I am looking for.

- Brad Flickinger, tech teacher, Bethke Elementary

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