Friday, September 22, 2006

What I learned this summer

What follows is a summary of my experience at the July 2006 Building Learning Communities conference sponsored by Alan November. I can’t recommend this conference highly enough for any educational technologist to attend (students may want to attend as well; I saw at least two there). For details see Please know that I attended only a small fraction of the sessions and missed a lot of good stuff.

Marco Torres

Marco Torres blew me away. He was the keynote speaker on the first day. While he is officially a social studies teacher, he is also the manager of a multimedia production studio run by and for students at San Fernando High School. Marco reframed for me what it means to be a technology teacher. Here I am walking into this conference thinking, “I’m a hotshot, I teach Flash, I teach iMovie, I’m empowering students with tools for the 21st century.” Then I see this movie:

(this website is a little tricky to navigate… click on the photo of the girl carrying the camera, and then answer the questions in the window that pops up)

What Rafe Esquith is to Shakespeare, Marco is to digital media. My 3 to 5 year goal is to be the manager of a multimedia production studio at my new school (I’m now at The Lab School of Washington; my first three weeks have exceeded all expectations. Fortunately, knowing the tradition of artistic innovation at Lab, I’m confident that the goal is achievable.)

This video should be seen by every student and educator in the world:

If you would like to attend the virtual film school created by Marco’s students, go here:
(click on “podcasts” at the top of the page)


I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Tim Tyson, principal (and webmaster) at Mabry Middle School in Marietta, Georgia. A year ago, Tim redesigned his school website during the last two weeks of his summer vacation. See the fruits of his labor here:

This is my most favorite K12 school website. I love it because it is a dynamic website, with contributions by students and teachers, from which parents can extract the most relevant information via an RSS feed. And yes, the principal created it. In two weeks. During his vacation.

MIT Media Lab

I was fortunate to see the MIT Media Lab and two of its newest products: Scratch and Cricket.

Scratch is in beta testing right now and will be released later this year. It’s a ground floor programming environment. If you are familiar with Microworlds/Logo, it’s kind of like that. Did I mention that Scratch will be totally free? More info at:

Cricket is meant to be “Lego Mindstorms for Everyone.” As wonderful as Mindstorms is, students who have spent years playing with Lego bricks have an unfair advantage. Cricket really levels the playing field, since the emphasis is on programming and creativity rather than on Lego building. Cricket sets are about $250 each (same as Mindstorms). More info at:


I saw a great session by Darren Kuropatwa from The Great White North. He gave a quick overview of the following technologies:

• Social bookmarking (posting your browser’s bookmarks on the internet to share with the whole world)
• RSS (having newsfeeds come to you rather than you having to hunt down news on the web)
• Wikis (collaborative webpage creation)
• Podcasting (using RSS to distribute audio and video over the internet).

I’ve tinkered with all of the tools and they were hard to wrap my head around. RSS was a good place to start for me. I opened a Bloglines account ( and subscribed to some newsfeeds, so now my most favorite websites (BBC, Digg Technology, Democracy Now, Yes! Magazine, etc) all now are available to me in a single location. I have cancelled my lifelong Washington Post subscription; I think the Post does a great job, but they don’t cover all of the important news. While RSS has a pretty steep learning curve, I think it offers a clearer picture of reality.

Darren maintains a wiki webpage that explains these tools in depth:


At the conference I attended a session given by an Englishman named John Bidder who co-created the website Wikiville is meant to be “run by young people, whose mission it is to paint a picture of life for them in their part of town.”

(speaking of wikis, I am a Wikipedia freak now. I know it is not always accurate, but it’s a great way to get a quick snapshot of anything. I see it as an avenue toward “collective consciousness.”

I had some problems with Cingular Wireless after they took over my AT&T wireless phone contract. So I posted the “controversy” section under “Cingular” entry in Wikipedia. You can see it at

It’s a small thing, but I felt very empowered)

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