From Confusion to Change

The ISTE 2013 conference (International Society for Technology in Education) in San Antonio, Texas, attended last week by 20,000 educational people from around the world, was an incredible opportunity to inspire change for teaching and learning. Speaker Will Richardson pointed out that "Change always starts with confusion... We can't be creative if we refuse to be confused." Keynote speaker Steven Johnson told us, "When we surround ourselves with people who are different than us, we are smarter... Innovators have more ties to a diverse group of connections." Confusion and connections are, indeed, the state of mind and tools with which I returned.

Change in the classroom has been discussed and debated for years. Thirteen years after the turn of the century we are still talking about changing schools to meet the needs of 21st century learners. It is here. It is now. It is different. In my 60 years of life, I have seen many changes. I tell my first and second grade students about my first experience with color television and living before there were microwaves, DVDs, or computers. I remember watching Get Smart when a shoe phone was an amazing idea, and The Jetsons when talking to each other face to face on a screen was incredible, but not realistic. Along the San Antonio Riverwalk during the conference, there were people everywhere on cell phones, many on video calls. What was once a fictional part of entertainment is now commonplace. At the conference, we learned about 3D printing and augmented reality. Videos of real 3D objects printed from computer drawings led me to a search on YouTube where I saw a bicycle print out, and even more importantly, fully functioning body parts being printed for use in medicine. It was suggested that in the future we might be able to print beef. Suddenly I could imagine a world where we purchase various powders for our food printer and "print" our meals. It was suggested that in the not so distant future, we would no longer wait for a truck to deliver ordered items, but will print them instantly. I found this TED talk in a handout by Gary Stager. As you watch, note that the date on the video is 2009. Those are only a few examples of the amazing things going on in the world around us of which I would not have been aware of had I not attended the conference. The confusion, for me, lies in how to make my classroom different as the world transforms around us.

In spite of all the innovative tools at the conference, the most inspiring parts of my experiences were children presenting their work. From the moment I arrived at the opening social event, the beaming students, eagerly drawing me into their displays and presentations, captivated me. With excitement and pride, they told of class projects and learning. They were knowledgeable, engaged, and inspired. They were empowered. They were relevant. They were learners and teachers. How do schools and classrooms create such powerful students?

Some of the confusion created at the conference stems from the obvious clash between current emphasis on standardization and test performance versus the idea of individualized learner-directed learning. How do we get past the mandated scope and sequence of learning to a place where students acquire basic skills because they need them to solve a real problem capturing their intense interest? How do we cover content specified in our state and common core standards, while allowing time for our students to explore their own passions? How do we find time for our children to learn because they want to, rather than for a score on a test? From the conference I created a list of ideas to pursue in the coming school year: design thinking for problem solving, the maker movement, giving less instructions and more time to be creative, more sharing and collaboration, and building a greater sense of global-mindedness in my classroom. My list does not include specific technologies. Technology is such an integral part of all we do that it is an assumed part of learning. In the end, teaching is really about kids developing into citizens ready for challenges of increasing change in their daily lives and careers.

One of the best decisions I made during the conference was to spend my last day in San Antonio stepping away from the future to visit the past at the Witte Museum. From an amazing dinosaur exhibit (full of technology and augmented reality), to cave drawings of ancient civilizations, to the history of Texas, I was reminded of change throughout time itself. From there, to the San Antonio Botanical Gardens where I was delightfully reminded that apart from our constantly changing civilization there are constants in our world. As we change our classrooms to meet the needs of our students in modern society, we must also provide time for learning about nature and the past. Unraveling confusion and making connections are the keys to the future for our children. I believe we will make schools better by making them different as we untangle the confusion of change. For now I am still confused, but utilizing the connections to people and resources in my professional life, I will continue to learn and sort it out for as long as I teach. Thank you, ISTE.