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The "Big Conversation"

I thunk anyone interested in what I thunk might be interested in this, the first draft for an Enrichment Team newsletter I drafted tonight. I rewrote it for submission (interesting term) to my administration, then more or less completely rewrote it before I sent it off. But this forum is larger and I have faith it can absorb the first draft. Interestingly enough, or not, the print newsletter-posted article may lead people here. Ah what a tangled internet we weave! Here goes...

The "Big Discussion"
by Scott Merrick, Lower School Technology Coordinator

Those parents who may not be aware of the USN Lower School Technology for Learning webpage might add this resource to your set of tools to keep in touch with what’s going on with your child’s education: I have a serious interest in keeping up with the "Big Conversation" about what is needed to prepare our children for the world they will inherit from us. My developing knowledge about this conversation informs what is brought to the curriculum in our computer lab. It’s kind of a loop, actually, assuming one can stand back and look at it that way. Much of the larger conversation I keep track of and participate in through my main personal/professional blog at Here’s a picture of the "Clustrmap" that notes the global locations of people who have read that blog since just since April 2007:

In an era when lots of energy in the public schools seems to be going into, as Jeff Uctech notes, preparing our children to be experts in filling in circles with number two pencils, I believe we teachers need to be skating on the outskirts of perception and collaboration. Uchtech elaborates, "Standardized tests don’t allow a teacher to walk on the side of chaos in fear that what they might teach, what may be a different way of learning, will not be acceptable when filling in circles."

Our children’s lives when they are adults will be far different from ours, of that there is no doubt. Assuming that we are, as we like to think we are doing, educating the future leaders of our society, the future architects of our culture, I believe we owe it to them (and to those they will lead and for whom they will design) to expose them to the amazing colaborative tools that are being developed at such a rapid pace that no one can really keep up with all of them. They really need to "learn how to learn," because we do not know the facts they’ll need. We can’t.

That’s why what Chris Dede (along with others) calls "distributed knowledge" may be the key concept our students will need to grasp and embrace if they are to lead in a future we cannot even imagine. Long ago, to paraphrase David Warlick, our great-grandparents needed to memorize everything in order to access it, or to have it on the shelf in their library. If it was not in a book they had read and had purchased, information really wasn’t of much use. An expert on any topic might be three days’ communication time away from them. Today, because of email and Web 2.0 (anyone else using an expert’s response may be only seconds away. You no longer need to "know" all the facts: You do need to know how to 1) find the facts, 2) discriminate between valuable, authoritative, and valid facts and those that are insubstantial or unreliable, and 3) be able to assimilate valid information into a useful format for whatever task you need it for.

Seems simple. It’s not. Many educators are just starting to sort it out. In the course of that, many of us are teaching on a day-to-day basis and trying to make sure that we’re doing the best we can. Be patient with us. Support us. And trust that we care and that we will proceed with both caution and informed instincts.


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