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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Editor's Note: Edubloggers Innovate

Progressive thinking emerges on the fringe at the NECC.
By James Daly
Credit: Corbis

Where does innovation -- and, more importantly, innovative thinking -- come from?

In the business world, two factors spur change: opportunity and fear -- the opportunity to make money and, conversely, the fear that some other guy will wipe you out if you don't improve. Evolve, or die, as they say in Silicon Valley.

In the world of public education, however, the status quo is too often placidly accepted as good enough. But smart people know better. Smart people know that unless we improve our public education system, this country is doomed as an economic powerhouse. What company, for instance, would accept the loss of half its employees every five years? That's the recidivism rate among new teachers. What business would not panic if 30 percent of what it produced failed? That's the latest rate of failure to graduate from high school on time.

There's the fear; let's talk about the opportunity.

The educational community is filled with innovative thinkers, but sometimes you have to look at the margins to find them. Or just go upstairs. That's what happened at the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC), held in late June in Atlanta. It's a monster event. About 13,000 people attend and view presentations by the hundreds.

While the sprawling show hummed below, some of the nation's best edubloggers were popping in and out of the Bloggers Cafe, on Level Two of the World Congress Center. It was a beehive, with dozens of bloggers rapidly exchanging ideas, and even having a few laughs.

Many of the nation's top edubloggers were there: David Warlick, Vicki Davis, Sheryl Nussbaum-Beech, Will Richardson (full disclosure: he's on our advisory board), David Jakes, Joyce Valenza -- too many to mention, really. Most arrived a day early to take part in an edubloggers' "unconference," where many met face-to-face for the first time. And nearly all agreed that the greatest energy and excitement of NECC came from the Bloggers Cafe, and the multiuser Skype conversations during sessions.

To many, the main event became a sideshow. Said Richardson, "That model of someone standing on a stage talking for an hour paled as compared to just having a conversation. The whole experience has challenged my thinking a great deal."

The edubloggers' launch pad was just a few feet from the show floor and its thousands of attendees, but in many ways they were a million miles away. All these folks are not only passionate about tech-driven educational change, they also practice what they preach. What if that same kind of excitement for interconnected learning happened in every classroom, every school, and every district?

I was thinking about this when I took a brief respite from the show and went with my son, Jackson, to the nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church. Within its red brick walls, Martin Luther King Jr. preached. The U.S. Park Service is sensitive enough to let people quietly walk into this national historic site and allow the words of the great man to do the talking. His speeches, given within these very walls a half-century ago, are played for the hushed visitors.

It was ferociously warm outside -- "hot as fish grease," as a local said -- but in the cool air of the sanctuary, with dappled sunlight coming through the stained glass windows, King's voice rang out. With only the tiniest amount of imagination, it was easy to envision the greatest orator this country has produced speaking with grace and passion, providing the moral, spiritual, and intellectual signposts for the nation-altering events to come.

What struck me was the link between King's prophetic call to action and the changes going on in the second floor of the World Congress Center, about ten blocks away. King framed civil rights as a push for social equity and justice, and I believe that, too, is what public education is all about. The quest for a better educational environment is an economic argument, to be sure, but also a moral imperative.

Big movements can begin in small spaces; it's the intellectual heft and importance of the arguments emanating from those places that make their importance grow. The opportunity is there -- now we just have to seize it. And I have a feeling I've seen it begin.

Editor in Chief
James Daly


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Donald E. Baumeister's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Mr. Daly wrote, "Big movements can begin in small spaces..." The sentence reminded me of a famous dissent by Justice Oliver W. Holmes:

"Every idea is an incitement. It offers for belief and if believed it is acted on unless some other belief outweighs it or some failure of energy stifles the movement at its birth. The only difference between the expression of an opinion and an incitement in the narrower sense is the speaker's enthusiasm. Eloquence may set fire to reason. But whatever may be thought of the redundant discourse before us it had no chance of starting a present conflagration."

Gitlow v. New York (1925) 268 US 652

Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Breaking free of traditional conferences, the upcoming K-12 Online Conference: Playing with Boundaries (October 15-19th & October 22-26th) provides educators with an engaging, ongoing learning experience without time constraints. The K12 Online Conference is a unique professional development opportunity for teachers to engage with ideas and technologies that are having a real impact on 21st century classrooms.

The entire conference will be delivered as downloadable digital media via the Internet with over 40 sessions presented in four strands: Classroom 2.0, New Tools, Professional Learning Networks, and Obstacles to Opportunities. The conference launches with a keynote address on October 8th from respected blogger and author David Warlick and concludes with a global 24 hour live event, As Night Falls.

For more information, please visit the conference blog at: http://www.k12onlineconference.org

Emundatmounny's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

sharp site
I have an Iron Horse) This wish be my marred trip to Sturgis, we intention be leaving on July 28th and staying owing to the 8th.

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