Asilomar: Closing Remarks

From my comment at Jon Becker’s blog:

I’m having a difficult time determining why I walked away from three days at ILC so deflated while three days at CMC-North has me bouncing off walls.

It may be an issue of interest, true – I care more about math ed than tech – but give the same presentation outline on (eg.) “Wildlife of the Serengeti” to any randomly selected presenter at CMC-North and any randomly selected presenter at ILC, and my money’s on the CMC presenter every time to put up something lively, engaging, visual, and audience enfolding, scaled up by thirty extra minutes no less.

There is a lack of substantive criticism in the edtechno-blogosphere, I think, which is mirrored in these presentations, where people hop up to the front of the class for an unfocused, but definitely emotional, show-and-tell, and few people either care enough or have enough temerity to suggest that higher standards should apply. The feedback mechanism is, by and large, overly polluted by emotion.

By contrast, the crowds at CMC-North are vicious, though constructively so. I appreciate this and I know that overall session quality has risen to the occasion. As educators, the stakes are too high and the time constraints too stringent to settle for anything less than our best efforts, even if hearing that we shouldn’t lecture from bulleted slides for an hour is painful.

Jon’s response is entirely on point and he invokes my new favorite word, which I am trying to wedge as much as possible into my daily correspondence.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. One thing I haven’t laid out as explicitly and extensively as I would like is the full extent to which the essentially “non-disciplinary” character of the info-tech “21st century blah blah” reforms just leaves them barren and abstract. Both of us bang around the edges of the issue in different ways, but it really deserves a thesis.

  2. Next time you have an encounter with anyone being paid to do professional development, ask her/him how much formal study/inquiry/consideration they’ve done around adult learning theories.

    DISCLOSURE: I facilitate learning for adults with little to no such formal study/inquiry/consideration. But, I’ve come to own that limitation and I’m learning through the study and practice of…here it comes…here it comes…andragogy!

  3. I think your observations are spot on.

    However, do you think some of this has to do with the fact that the teaching of math dates back to prehistory and the inclusion of technology i.e. computers in the classroom dates back only a few decades? If everything owes a debt to what’s come before, then certainly educational technology is in its infancy and the teaching of mathematics has had some time to develop. This is not an excuse for not having higher standards but perhaps a reason to keep elevating the field.

  4. I am of the opinion we need to teach the teachers how to develop meaningful content. We can teach them lots of tricks and toys but to what end? These tools need purpose. That purpose is curriculum.

    I teach Spanish, by the way. It’s awesome.

  5. One more theory that might offend some…some teachers who may be great with tech aren’t necessarily great teachers. While the same could be said about math teachers (some who are great at math aren’t particularly good at teaching it) it is likely that someone presenting at a math conference has a good grip on the content they’re teaching whereas at a tech conference, it’s likely that the presenter has a good grip on the technology they’re using and not necessarily the content.

  6. Sure, I think that’s a totally fair assessment. I just don’t think those people should present that content. What I mean is, who is forcing them? Also, is andragogy unteachable? Unlearnable? What excuse do these presenters have for not running a quick Google search for “PowerPoint that doesn’t suck”?

    Just one example (into which I have forced my new favorite word rather uncomfortably).

  7. @Amity: I wholeheartedly agree that the biggest hurdle with helping other teachers who are unsure and/or uncomfortable with technology is, or really should, be about content. It is fun to see all the cool tools, but even tech-savvy me so often is left wanting for examples of real application in the classroom. In some PD sessions I feel like the presentation is more along the lines of “Look! Podcasting! Cool!” (for example) and not nearly enough of “OK, here is how you could use a podcast in a lesson in Language Arts (or whatever).

    I read so often that many want tech stuff to be seen as part of the toolbag, but that means not only having tech tools be readily available, but ALSO used when appropriate. I’d hate to see tech tools become like the proverbial “hammer-is-the-only-tool-everything-looks-like-a-nail”. Makes me think of an old comedy bit (George Carlin?) about the weatherman saying, “What is the weather doing? Let’s go to the map!” and the answer being, “No, Bob, lets go to the window!”.

    The right tools, at the right time, for the right purpose.

  8. @Jeff

    Just yesterday we had a PLC session and the ELA teacher presented a very nice unit that was designed to meet the new media standards attached to ELA learning in Maine. During the consultancy I asked if she was reading the text aloud or having the students read the text aloud. “No.” (They were reading a key scene from Lord of the Flies and then watching the film version and doing a comparison.) I suggested borrowing the mp3 recorders from the guy downstairs, sending kids off into a quiet corner with their paragraph and recording it. Then she could “hear” what they read and detect their actual fluency in English, in a way that is non-threatening. Not only that but renditions could be shared and students could learn from each other how to read with intonation, etc. The point being, can they convey the doom and gloom of the scene and make it come alive with the power of their own voice? I think yes, and I think having a chance to record it and re-record it takes away some of the live pressure. As a Spanish teacher, I know the power of “saying it right”. A good reading makes a world of difference in understanding.

    So yes, it was an aha moment for ELA Teacher. She’s not afraid of the tools, she just needs practical applications for them in her class. And I gave her one. We need more teachers who teach with tech to share their content secrets, not their tech secrets.

  9. @Amity

    What a spot-on, great idea! One that I will certainly pass along to my colleagues down the hall (I’m a Tech Explo soon to be Project Lead The Way teacher). I’m pretty sure we have access to mp3 recorders. Where is that content playbook we need? :)

  10. Dan:

    If ILC was your first EdTech conference, you can’t use that as a yard stick. I was a presenter at ILC, as I have been at several other EdTech conferences and I can tell you that I was underwhelmed by the turn out in San Jose. My session was in the last group and the place was a ghost town when I arrived.

    I just finished doing the CLHS/CUE conference in Monterey last weekend and had a great experience and had a crowd of over 80 in my three hour session and it was a smaller conference.

    There are a few reasons, the biggest is that ILC was a mid-week conference, instead of one at the end of the week that spilled over to the weekend…

    So, please don’t look at ILC as a measure of EdTech conferences, it was a first year conference and it definitely has a lot of growing to do to match some of the others.

    On another note… we’re looking for an innovative, tech savvy math teacher.