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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday at NECC09--Opportunites for Input

Today at NECC I reconnected with the real reason for coming to these things. It's not the opportunity to present on a topic dear to my personal and professional heart. It's not the odd, virtual, but also real in the "real world" celebrity that my blogs, my podcast, and my virtual worlds networking seems to have brought my way. It's not the food or the drink, or even the chance to be in a distant city--in this case our nation's capitol. It is, in short, the people.

I was talking with Scott Meech and Judi Epcke, just before exiting the convention center for the Metro (subway) to go change clothes for the President's Reception, and in those 20 minutes I enjoyed sharing opinions and insights with them so much that I knew I had to write this post. Much earlier, first thing in the morning, I spent 4 hours with 300 or so of the most influential people in the International Society for Technology in Education. After some very inspiring talks from an invited panel, and prepped by two documents we had been charged to pre-read, we broke out into 5 topic groups based on our expressed interests, from the following field of options:
  • ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY LEARNING EXPERIENCES - What role can technology play in broadening access to high-quality, rigorous learning? (Including students living in poverty or in rural areas, learning English, and coping with disabilities?)
  • IMPROVED ASSESSMENT - What role can technology play in developing and delivering high-quality assessments of the skills and concepts needed for college and careers?
  • DATA-DRIVEN DECISION MAKING - What role can technology play in facilitating data-supported continuous improvement processes?
  • TEACHER DEVELOPMENT - What role can technology play in enhancing the professional growth of teachers and improving the effectiveness of their teaching?
  • STUDENT ENGAGEMENT - What role can technology play in promoting the engagement and success of students, including those from at-risk populations? (i.e., the kind of system innovation needed to dramatically improve high school graduation rates?)
I was assigned to my first choice: Student Engagement. Among my colleagues in that group were David Warlick, Peggy Sheey, and Bernajean Porter, three individuals I consider close friends, and all of them celebrated (and rightly so) innovative educators. David has been, for years, telling us many of the things we are revisiting in our deep sessions at this conference, telling us for years. I remember hearing him saying in 2000 that the internet has become one big conversation. How prophetic was that? And how is it that so many people don't "get that" yet? Peggy was just this very day awarded a coveted "pink jacket" as a symbol of her "Making it Happen" award from ISTE. She is fearless and unstoppable, lucky to be supported by her visionary administration and the huge organization that is ISTE. Bernajean wasn't at the awards reception to receive hers, but I understand that she gets one this year, based on her unflagging pursuit of her vision for digital storytelling as the foundation for learning, and for making the products of learning eternally contributive to the dialog in digital formats.

Once we had broken out into our 5 groups, those were assembled into sets of smaller groups of seven each, and the only one in my group that I already knew was Lisa Linn, my wonderful co-facilitator of the Second Life Playground and a longtime friend first from SL and then from NECC. She's an educator in Southern California and under serious constraints that limit her potentials for innovation, and her frustration with that is often palpable. Others in my group included one from Africa, one from the Virgin Islands, and one from Thailand. Another was from California, and two vendor/educators, one from OneText (the First Class email folks) and one from Smart Technologies. Toward the end of the experienced we were joined by a New Zealander. We were asked to pick roles for our group in standard breakout session manner, and I was chosen facilitator. Andrea from OpenText, was the reporter, Kimberly from Smart was the timekeeper, and Lisa reminded the rest of us to speak loudly and slowly for our international guest. What transpired over the next two hours as we pursued our directives to reflect, discuss and arrive at consensus on several topics was nothing less than inspirational.We were treated to some results reported in the NetDay Speakup survey from 2008 then set to work. I quote the charge:
"Imagine that the person who controls the purses strings one level higher than you walks in your office one day and says, "We need to transform the way we do business. I have access to stimulus dollars and other federal funding to invest in technology solutions that will provide along term pay off in improving our productivity and student outcomes. How can we leverage technology to promote the engagement and success of all of our students, including those from at-risk populations? How can technololgy help us innovate and dramatically improve our high school graduation rate?"
We were asked to reflect upon 5 questions, and given 2 minutes to do so. Then we were asked to discuss them, focusing on numbers one and three, and achieve something like consensus on brief contributions to the document that will eventually go to the Obama administration as our organization's recommendations for a National Educational Technology Plan. Wow.
  1. What will the transformed system look like in the end?
  2. What Barriers need to be removed (in addition to having access to sufficient funding?
  3. What steps must be taken to achieve the goals?
  4. What metrics will you use to measure progress?
  5. Who will you cite as examples of progress toward this goal, demonstrating that the concepts have been tested?
The final exercise was for the reporter to use the provided laptop to access a document at If you don't know that tool, investigate it. My friend Jeff Aganemoni first shared it with me, and it's one I'll use in my computer labs next year. The reporter was to distill consensual group responses. Then each table reported those out and against all odds, it worked. Our report-out was incomplete, but the essential message we agreed upon was there. There must be a radical paradigm shift, at all levels of participation--student, teacher, administration, family, community, and government. We must teach concepts in ways that are relevant to their lives and which encourage and reward students for their demonstrations of cognition through reasoning, intuition, and creativity. New assessments must replace current ones, which assume that it is the job of schools to teach everyone everything, regardless of interest or learning style. NOTE: all of this is reconstructed and essentially inaccurate, as I was too busy facilitating and contributing to take notes, but the bottom line is that I feel we contributed substantially to the document which will eventually go to the Administration, the top one, as our recommendations for the National Educational Technology plan. Do you want to contribute as well? Visit and state your views. It's got to change. It's "broke."

I'm sittin in a the Old Dominion Brewhouse 10 minutes before the President's Reception and I'm not really up for hitting the 30 minute subway trip up to my hotel to change clothes, then doing it again to come back down and again to return to the hotel after. I do like the DC Metro, but not that much, especially at the end of a long and taxing day. Long in good ways, taxing in spectactular ones. My apologies to the President's Reception, which I'm sure went swimmingly without me.

NECC09 ISTE Leadership Symposium

I'm streaming the ISTE Leadership Symposium into SL at the moment, using SL Voice. We have 12 avatars present.

Friday, June 26, 2009

In DC!

I'm officially here, officially tired, officially IN THE WEEDS!

I'm 'way up out away (Uptown, I'm told) from the conference center, but I'm about to venture out and make a practice run to the Washington Conference Center, so that I an make it with confidence to tomorrow a.m.'s 7:15 door opening for the ISTE Volunteer Breakfast, then back up a ways to the Renaissance Hotel for the CSTA CSIT Symposium, which I fully intend to alternate during the day with the fabulous Edubloggercon back down at the Conference Center. I'll be taking subway trains so I'd better get good at it.

I plan to work on my schedule today, pound out a comprehensive to-do list for the weekend, and to wake bright and shiny for a day of networking and learning. No presenting for me tomorrow, or Sunday, for that matter, when I'll be attending several events, starting with the ISTE Leadership Symposium 8-12:30, then I'll catch the ISTE Member Welcome from 2:00-3:45 and then the ISTE SL Volunteer Welcome at 4-5 pm followed by the conference keynote address from none other than Malcolm Gladwell. Dinner? Maybe I'll head back up home for a catnamp before catching the ISTE President's Reception at the Smithsonian! That's from 8:30 to 10:00 so if I plan to be conscious that's likely a good idea...

Monday, of course, the Second Life Playground kicks off from 8-4, and Lisa and I will be wrangling a stable of capable volunteers for that, then I'll be presenting the Quest Atlantis Birds of a Feather Networking session from 4:4506:15.

Then there'es the SLPg from 9-4, then TP405--Introduction to Education in Second Life: n00bs UNITE! from 12:30 to 3:30 on Tuesday, the Second Life Birds of a Feather session from 4:45-6:15. Wednesday it's an early one with WA507--Educators' Toolbox and Skill Set: Instruction and Presentation in Second Life from 8:30 to 11:30 and the Closing Keynote address from Erin Gruwell from 2:45 to 4.

Wrapup work will happen on the 2nd, blogging, and archiving and thank-you'ing and such, then I'm hoping for some rest on the 3rd and 4th, catching some entertainment and fireworks the night of the 4th of July, and flying home to my much-missed and very patient family the aftnoon of the 5th.

There you have it--stalk me at will. Free hugs.

Off to the conference center dry-run!
Okies! Plane boards in 11 minutes for NECCO9!

Friday, June 19, 2009

On Meditation

I've had several wake-up calls these past few weeks, none of which compares in scale to my godson's brain surgery. I'm not even sure why his parents took him in for a check-up--I've not inquired, not wanting to add even an ounce of extra responsibility to my dearest friend's (his father's) plate. Seamus is 10 and the tumor was completely removed, and a follow-up MRI revealed that the cancer had not spread to other parts of his body. He's recuperating with his parents constantly by his side and me on the other side of the country pumping out prayers and good vibes with every breath.

Life is fragile. My lovely godson will regain his powers of speech and whatever else the radical surgery took from him. He's the paragon of courage and strength. But life is fragile.

I of course find myself thinking only of myself. How blessed I am with a loving wife and two children who are immensely creative, respectful, and loving, how with a puff of a breeze any of what I've been blessed with could be...not.

I was thinking about what I could gift my godson, and there will surely be some of that to come, but in thinking about it--all the material things I could, and like will, send him in an effort to make up for my physical absence from his life--a unique gift came to mind this morning.

My mantra.

Dear Seamus,

No less than 30 years ago, before I met your father, Seamus, the Beatles were in India learning Transcendental Meditation. Of course the media got ahold of that and shook it like a momma dog might shake a bad wet puppy. I, a 19 year-old about to be college dropout, was one of the first to jump on the bandwagon when a representative of the Maharishi Maheesh Yogi, the king of this new, Westernized meditation method, came to town. The town was Knoxville, Tennessee, and the teacher of meditation came there because Knoxville boasted a huge population of college age kids at the University of Tennessee.

I was involved with a beautiful young woman then--Avanelle was her name--4 years my elder, and we went down together to the premier town hotel, each bringing the prescribed handkerchief and piece of fruit along with a check for (I believe) 25 dollars. That was alot more money in 1969 than it is now, by the way, Seamus, especially to a college student who was unemployed.

In the small old hotel suite, I waited patiently in the sitting room as my girlfriend entered the bedroom and sat with the teacher. As also prescribed, we had both weaned ourselves off of any alcohol or drugs, even aspirin, for two weeks prior to this eventful day. After around 15 minutes, she came out of the room with a beatific smile, without her handkerchief and orange. It was my turn.

I was greeted pleasantly by a small, handsome, bearded, darkskinned man with a mellifluous Indian accent and told to sit comfortably in the chair before him. We talked for a minute or two and he received my gift of handkerchief and my orange, then he told me that he was going to gift me in turn. My gift was to be a mantra. I must never tell my mantra to anyone, ever, because essential to its power was its secrecy. We would begin repeating the mantra together, over and over, and repeat it until it was embedded in my soul, where it would forever be a touchstone for me. He said my mantra was unique to me, that no one else in the world had this mantra, and that it had no meaning, that it simply...was.

He spoke it. We spoke it together, and again, and many more times, ever more quietly until its speaking moved into the realm of silence and I was repeating it to myself and I knew that he was speaking it with me and that it was mine and no one else's and for maybe 20 more minutes I repeated it to myself, following as best I could the teacher's instructions to deny thoughts, to simply acknowledge them as thoughts and pay them no heed, to focus on my mantra and the peace surrounding it. At some point the teacher very quietly instructed me to begin resurfacing to the moment, to very very slowly begin to reopen my eyes and again receive the light and the world and to return to everyday consciousness. I did so, and when I could I stood up, bowed to him, rejoined my friend and left the teacher, never to see him again.

I meditated that way daily for nearly a year.

It was useful for me, Transcendental Meditation. It helped me in many ways. Eventually I fell back into day to day distractions and fell out of the habit of meditating. But I still meditate at irregular intervals, especially when I can't sleep or I know I need to settle down from being upset. I'm certain it doesn't work as well as it might because these days I do like my beer and pureness of one's physical system is a required element of successful meditation, but it does help.

That girlfriend became my first wife, and we moved through days and years together, and eventually she fell in love with another man and I left her. During what was our last conversation as man and wife, on the occasion of my returning to our little cottage to get my four kittens and a few last belongings, we confessed to one another our mantras.

They were the same. Though I don't really believe it can be spelled, it sounds something like "aeennnnngh," with a little breath finishing it off after the last sound has sounded. Now you know it, too.

Does that mean that we were lied to? No. It means that what we believe is our own is our own, even if someone else believes that they own it uniquely to themselves. That mantra still has value to me, even though now I have shared it openly with you. Now, instead of being about the secrecy, it's about the sharing. Use that mantra as you can and will, and deny the thoughts, simply recognizing them as thoughts, and facing once again the moment of your peace and the sweet essence of your life, and at the point where it feels right, come slowly but surely back to the world, to what is around you, to the people who care for you so very much. You are loved.

I will add another mantra, this one made up of a set of words that I have found very helpful to me in many stages of my life. I made it up years ago when I was spending most of my days helping my father in the last days of his life. Quietly and confidently, I would lull myself to sleep or into wakefulness repeating, over and over, in the manner of meditation, the following words:

I am good
I am well
I am healthy
I am happy
I am whole.

Try that one too.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Opportunity Equation--Science and Math in Crisis

What kind of schools and systems of education does America need to transform mathematics and science education and deliver it equitably and with excellence to all students?
That's the focal question of a new report, entitled "The Opportunity Equation," from the Carnegie Institute's Center for Advanced Studies Commission on Math and Science Education, just released. Skip what I have to say about it and go read the full report yourself, or stay with me here for a minute then pop back up here and go read the full report.

It's clear we're in crisis, as the review from the National Science Teachers Association cites in some very frank and, errrm, stimulating language: From Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “'We’ve had 50 states doing their own thing,” and the education system has been “lying to parents” about their children’s readiness for college and careers.'" And “'Great teachers matter” in helping children in these schools succeed, he observed. America needs to find ways to reward teacher excellence—perhaps via stimulus funds.'"

More frank talk from a former North Carolina governor: "Informing parents about the state of science and math education and getting them to “raise hell about it” was former North Carolina Governor James Hunt’s suggestion. The Opportunity Equation contains the results of a national poll of students and parents that showed most don’t think it’s important for students to do well in science or math unless they are pursuing careers in those fields."

Of course you know where I'm going with this, and it's summed up by one paragraph in The Opportunity Equation. Listen up:

For today’s students, math and science also open the door to understanding new technologies—a realm of interest that is crucial to our collective economic future but whose value has yet to be fully tapped by our educational system. Outside the classroom, evidence abounds that new media are powerful vehicles for motivating young people, capturing their imaginations, and inspiring them to strive for mastery. In its 2008 report Fostering Learning in a Networked World, the National Science Foundation Task Force on Cyberlearning acknowledges that educational technology has not yet had the profound impact on American schools that has long been anticipated, but the Task Force also argues that “cyberlearning has reached a turning point where learning payoffs can be accelerated.”. If so, the potential for offering students new and motivating avenues to build science, math, engineering, and technology knowledge is great.
We need to re-envision the way we teach our students and the ways in which we motivate them to learn. If schools can't do that, and I'm talking about our finest independent schools as well as our struggling public school systems, we are in more trouble than even the direst pessimists predict. It's time for a model vision. Who can outline that? Who volunteers? Is it Education Secretary Arne Duncan? Is it our President? Is it us?

I'd submit it should be the last. It should be us. This of course is informed by my sometimes absurdly robust dalliance in things Web 2.0, my commitment to Distance Learning--both outreach and intake--and a mindset that is absolutely receptive to Steve Hargadon's recent rant about the future of education at his blog. Read "Web 2.0 is the Future of Education" at Classroom 2.0. Administrators need to be cognizant of these discussions, participate in them, and begin to assume a welcoming attitude toward innovation and change, not a resistant one.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

NOT a Second Life!

Cross-posted from Oh!VirtualLearning!:
Facebook post yesterday morning:

Scott Merrick Still reeling from the experience of being on a virtual talk show last night. It'll be up online in a week or so at the show's site. My family watched via the stream URL at the family computer while I stumbled through what I had to say, and the Q and A at the end was the best part, IMHO. Heavy sigh! Thx to everyone who made this happen!

Heavy sigh indeed! It was fun! Most of all, it was fun being up in front of a very nice-sized audience onstage with four other dedicated educators, three of whom I already count among my real-life friends and the forth of whom I'm sure will join those ranks in a couple of weeks, as technology educators and administrators gather in Washington, D.C. for intense networking based on a shared interest in technology for education. NECC, of course, is the National Educational Computing Conference.

You can read the pre-show details now at the ISTE Eduverse Talks site, and that's precisely where the spiffed up [nods to Andrew] show will be up for viewing in about a week. I highly recommend you view it when it's there: This was a great experience, and from the comments from the audience after the cameras were shut down, it was a jewel amongst the growing library of Eduverse Talks.

One comment I made toward the very end bears repeating in print, or at least I think it does.

To paraphrase (you'll have to view the show to hear the original): "If I hear a teacher say 'I don't have time for my first life--why should I go get a Second Life?' one more time I'm going to SCREAM! It's NOT a 'second life,' ya'll, its a rich, rewarding, entertaining, fun, and professionally valid extension of my life, the only life I have, into a creative, challenging, and all-those-other-adjectives new realm." Okay, I embellished a bit, but that's the beauty of afterthought.

Spiff/Andrew also said something that sticks with me. It may be that my reaction to his comment issues from a (unintentional, I am sure) hurtful comment a colleague made a couple weeks at the Vanderbilt School for Science and Math, when I was recording material for my CSO podcast, Snacks4theBrain!. He smiled, looked away from me, and said, "I hear you have three wives in Second Life."

Well, I don't (as I replied, stifling the urge to respond more assertively). And I won't, even though, as Andrew referenced the Bible near the end of our show, "Seek and ye shall find." If you go looking for bad stuff in Second Life, it's there, though as we speak Linden Lab is making serious and controversial efforts to isolate the so-called "bad stuff." But if you gear your time and efforts to seeking creative, innovative colleagues and fun, interesting educational content, it's there, too--and in spades, as I hope this blog has been reporting since May, 2007. Isn't it exactly the same "in real life?"

So the problem, it seems, is in Linden Lab's choice for a name for their metaverse. This is no new idea. I submit, though, that the scoffers and otheres who are letting this intense and important phenomenon pass them by while they choose to spend their media time watching CSI (who did a weird and possibly off-putting episode involving Second Life) should get off their "real" backsides, turn off their TVs [hears John Prine], should simply "Get a Second Life." Remember, it's NOT a second life!

There's a link in the sidebar. Go. Look me up when you've done your assignment. I'll give you a hug. If you're already in, and you're going to NECC09, come see me in the Second Life Playground. I'll give you a hug there. I'm a big fan of hugs.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Eduverse Talks Announcement!

ISTE Eduverse Talks has now posted a description of our little one hour session this coming Tuesday. I hope you can be there. LOL, I didn't know I was a "Case Study" but I guess it's about time. There's a link at the description page to bios of my co-panelists and I think it's worth a read.

If you do not have a Second Life account, by the way, you can catch the show live online at TreetTV! Here's the url for that webpage, the dedicated video stream feed for LIVE Eduverse Talks! Go there Tuesday, June 9, at 5 pm Pacific, 6 pm Mountain, 7 pm Central, 8 pm Eastern, or whatever pm or am it is in your own neck of the woods and the stream'll be streaming. Until then, you'll get a blank Quicktime frame.

Cheers, and enjoy your weekend. You deserve it!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

ISTE Eduverse Talks Appearance!

I hope you can join us in Second Life this next Tuesday, June 9, as my avatar sits down at 5 pm SLT on stage with those of Peggy Sheehy, Marianne Malmstrom, Andy Wheelock and host Kevin Jarrett to talk about the impact of Second Life and ISTE on my "real life." In the live talk show, ISTE Eduverse Talks, you'll likely hear me say that Second Life, for me, isn't a "second life," but rather a fun and exciting extension of my only life into another realm. I've made dear friends, whom I see admittedly more often than I see my "real world" friends, and I've shuttled  some of those friendships over into "real life" to become colleagues and collaborators in ways that would never have thrived as they have, not even been possible, without Second Life.
A couple summers ago, David Warlick, kindly Skyping in for a talk with a group of teachers I was leading into Web 2.0, made the statement: "Scott and I aren't friends because of our geographical proximity, we're friends because of what we think." I'll always cherish that concept, and it goes a long way toward explaining the draw of Second Life, Twitter, and any other tool I can use to network with innovative and technology savvy educators. Life(s) is good.

Location: ISTE Broadcast Studio:

I hope you'll come to see and hear what I know will be a fascinating hour. Here's a pic from the most recent episode of the show (sponsored by Hewlett-Packard and ISTE and produced in collaboration with the Second Life Cable Network!):

Now I have to go shopping for professional virtual clothes. I don't think my medieval knight's cape or my MUVErs scrubs will do the trick!

AmericanaFest2019 through mine eyes

Mine eyes have seen the glory... I had an absolute BLAST going out to hear live performances of music all week, thanks to AmericanaFest201...