After a trip to San Antonio, then the Fourth of July holiday, and now back to work. The NECC Conference went a long way in first refreshing my brain, as it tired as of late, and second reassuring me that our schools in North Carolina are on the right track with technology integration. For each interesting session, I could easily think of at least one school or system actively using the technology presented. While we all realize we still need to continue to work toward full integration, we can celebrate our successes in what we are doing.
One of the most informational sessions, besides the three I attended by David Thornburg (more on that later!), was a session by Chris O'Neal, with the University of Virginia, entitled putting the FUN in Dysfunctional. What Chris did in this session was something we all need to do with our employers and employees–put ourselves in their shoes. He went through all the basic stakeholders, principals, central office administrators, teachers, and parents, providing names for each (favorite–board member Robin Banks–haha!) and ways to 'reach' each of them. In our world of technology, this overlooked step can sometimes make or break technology for us.
I mentioned the three sessions by David Thornburg. Much of what he discussed is also being faced in each LEA in North Carolina–the need to creatively budget technology expenditures to stretch ever dwindling budgets. David, a dual citizen of the US and Brazil, has seen first hand the success when a large group (36 million Brazil schoolchildren–58 million by 2010) of students use open source software and operating systems. Whether schools seriously give a look to Linux or not, I believe many will use (if not using already), some form of open source software within two years. Whether that is a replacement to MS Office, like OpenOffice, or just a simple recording software for podcasting, like Audacity, budget restraints will force this to occur.
Finally, many sessions were offered on programming languages. Now this does not refer to 'your daddy's' programming–new tools have been developed spreading the range from about 4th grade through high school. Some of the free tools offered have been developed at some of our supreme technology schools such as Carnegie Mellon and MIT. Alice (http://www.alice.org/), the programming tool developed at CMU, already has a strong following here in North Carolina, as many teachers from Randolph, Durham, and other counties actively use it in their classrooms. I attended a session two weeks ago at Duke where approximately 40 teachers were learning how to use Alice to teach regular curriculum. Wow! What they achieved! My favorite being the walking tour of Egypt by Cleopatra herself. I hope to share more examples of this. Another tool/resource shared at NECC was Scratch (http://scratch.mit.edu/), another way to bring programming into the classroom. What I think all of this shows us that we can provide another tool for students in Middle/High School to use and stay interested in education, curbing the amount of drop-outs. I think we will see more of this!
NECC, as you can see, was worthwhile. We need to continue to innovate in our classrooms now, and support teachers so they can use these tools. While lots of 'cool' things were there, the conference was light on how to fully implement these in cash-strapped school systems. That is a large lesson learned as well, with no quick answers.