• Category Archives Really Smart People
  • The Game Believes in You: How Digital Play Can Make Our Kids Smarter by Greg Toppo


    Greg Toppo has been visiting my school for years— literally years.  He’s clocked an amazing number of hours speaking with my students and, more importantly, listening to them–observing their play, their struggles with literacy, and their social interactions.  My dear friend, Marianne Malmstrom (@knowclue)  would be proud of Greg— for he truly did “Follow the Learning” but he did so by following the play.

    Often Greg would stay and chat after the kids had exited —in earlier times the library, and more recently the classroom.  Sometimes he would talk about things he had observed and ask me, “What do ya think?”Other times we’d talk about what he had seen that I had not and he’d answer my poking, prying questions about other projects and sch1397414979002-tjn-0414-gameteach003ools.  In hindsight, I cannot recall him uttering a disparaging word about anyone or anything he had researched. Always the consummate professional— always the just plain good guy.

    We talked about the name of the book when he had unearthed it–we discussed the bodies of research he continuously relied upon as footing for his own.  We’d share bits about our families, our jobs, and I truly became very fond of Greg.  We became the kind of friends who could just pick up where we left off whether the interlude was a week or a year.

    At some point, he began revealing deadlines for the book with a curious combination of excitement and unadulterated panic.  But he made his deadlines. One day he called with some “aIMG_0106bsolutely last questions and fact checking.”  Next thing I knew, a pdf arrived for my final stamp of approval.  I remember reading it and thinking, “Who is gonna care about this part—get to the part where you talk about the kids–and the play!”–and indeed he does.   There’s more personal information about me included than I would have deemed necessary, but again, the quiet genius that is Greg Toppo uses it to paint the complete picture.  I guess I’ll just resign myself to the fact that the world now knows my age, failed marriages, and lack of high school diploma.  He got most of it exactly right.   Greg's signing

    Chapter 7,  appropriately named after a direct quote from one of my students, “I’m Not Good at Math, But My Avatar Is”  has little to do with math, and everything to do with the work I’ve been  fortunate to be able to do at Ramapo Central Schools with hundreds of kids and scores of teachers.  Yeah—that’s what it’s really about.  I’m honored he felt it important enough to devote an entire chapter to my work with kids.

    The Game Believes in You was released to instant rave reviews… and I’m not talking from some fly by night stand in who can whittle a phrase, but instead from the royalty of games in education such as Jim Gee, and Jane McGonigal.

    From the prologue (Hard Fun) right through to the Epilogue (Games Everywhere)  I was glued to this book.  Greg has dotted my i’s and crossed my t’s and just made so much sense PLUS he does so in a sometimes snarky, sometimes sweet, extremely readable way.  Buy this book and read it.  If you care anything about education, read it.  I promise your eyes won’t bleed from footnotes and rambling “academeese” terminology.  Yes, there are references to research(ers) but only when they solidify a point. Greg speaks with his reporter voice, and one barely notices how much deep, important information is being delivered  The book gave me hope.

    “I really hope gaming is not the next big thing in education, because the next big thing in education always sucks,” he said.

    Thanks Greg—and don’t forget to stop by.  You know you always have an open invitation to Room 339.  But (as you stated on p. 128),“REMEMBER! If a future you tries to warn you about this class, DON’T LISTEN!

  • A Letter to My Brilliant & Humble Friend, David Warlick

    Screen shot 2014-07-01 at 1.10.43 AM My friend David Warlick, who blogs at < http://2cents.onlearning.us >  posted, “Why You Won’t See Me at ISTE ’14”  back in April of this past spring.  I’ll let you read that and then come back.  No…really… Go ahead– I’ll be here…

    I adore David, and we’ve had many “spirited” discussions over the years.  David has challenged my thinking and re-framed ideas for me, and, in true southern gentleman form, has always managed to do so by posing questions that allow me to consider other possibilities–entertain new solutions, and maybe even  change my mind.. David is not one to tell you, “You’re wrong…it’s like this…” Rather, he will set the  scene with enough information, a gentle nudge, and a warm smile, and when all is said and done, you’ll wrap up your chat with a hug, and walk away with a changed outlook  feeling it was your idea all along.   The fly on the wall might see David smile as you part; and not a dismissive head-shaking smile meant to establish superiority, but instead a genuine, warm, “isn’t the universe a fascinating place” sort of easy smile.

    So, long past it’s due date, here is my response to this Ed Tech giant (Noooo—I am not overextending here– David is an ED Tech giant.  Not convinced?  Did you ever use Citation MachineYep–his–  Class Blogmeisteralso his–and  software is just the beginnig. ok?)

    Dear David,

     I waited David, I really did –I actually let months pass before I responded to your post. In fact, I had tucked the idea away in the land of good intentions. where all is forgiven if the items parked there float off into the nether…)  But this afternoon, as I reviewed some materials I am sharing at ISTE ’14, I remembered that you are not going to be there. Then I remembered that last week, when I reached out to Joyce (Valenza) about visa info for my trip to Australia in August (yay for Oz librarians!), she said that she would not be there either. (I believe there”s usually a conflict between ISTE and the ALA Conference each year—this year they overlap but ALA is in Vegas@$#!!!)

    Next, my darling dearest Bernajean Porter shared with me that she will not attend this year (the first time in 20+) but instead she will be working her learning wonder in South Africa… and the list started to grow.  I will respect the privacy of those who haven’t been specific about the reasons why they are skipping Atlanta,. None-the-less, my little “witch-hunt” determined that the list of presenters who will be MIA this year because of the “wisdom” of the ISTE selection committee seems inordinately extensive.   So, in the spirit of full disclosure, allow me to say:

    1. Although I have been asked, I have never participated in that selection process, so I don’t know the mechanics of the  actual procedure or how “blind” it really is. (Methinks perhaps too blind?)

    2. Funding is always an issue.  My district always paid for my ISTE Conference participation until a few years ago when the economy tanked & everything changed.  Since then I’ve either run an event for ISTE (last year it was the Leadership Symposium Augmented Reality Experience where any of my WoW Gamer Educators who were attending ISTE, stepped up, volunteered and ran an amazing ARG experience that spanned the month prior to the conference and concluded with Jane McGonical joining us for Q&A.on site)

    3. Before that, I co-hosted the Opening Kickoff with Mario Armstrong, and in 2011 I was pleased to be one of the featured speakers at the Kickoff (along with Julie Lindsey and Adam Bellow).

    My point is that for each of these ISTE conferences (2011-2013) my registration, travel, and hotel were reimbursed to compensate  (and honor)  my time and expertise.    I was a happy ISTE camper!

    Plus, as you know well, David, –there is NO ONE better to work for/with than Jennifer Ragan-Fore, Jessica Medaille, or any of their crew!

    Think about it, David.  Most of the well respected, keynote speakers I know attend ISTE and don’t charge a dime for the same work that generates them thousands of dollars elsewhere.

    But let’s talk about, “after the spotlight”– when it’s just me and my program–deciding who, what , and where might yield me some legitimate, eye opening, “aha” learning!  Where did I look?  Well, for the most part, I head to the seasoned pros– to the presenters who bring a wealth of rich experience from their conference travels- back home to ISTE  –for free.  

    I go to see you, David –and  Joyce Valenza and  Sylvia Martinez, and Bernajean Porter and Julie Lindsay– I listen to Steve Hargadon and Audrey Waters, and tune up my librarian skills with Michelle Luhtala and Gwyneth Jones— at some point I’ll probably  get to go head to head with Will Richardson or grab Adam Bellow’s ear, or perhaps Steven Heppel and I can grab a bite and argue the merits of gamification while Gary Stager munches on overpriced fondue and sneers at the whole thing!  It’s fabulous, it’s my time with my PLN– where I actually leave with more than I had when I arrived; it’s ISTE.

    Now, please understand, this is NOT to say that 1st time presenters don’t  show up with some really innovative stuff that knocks your socks off; (case in point Rory Newcomb from ASB!) However,  the majority of what I see in sessions is either simplistic fluff that I can’t really use (“build a better Power Point”  isn’t as satirical as you may think…and may actually be useful for someone…somewhere) OR it’s a deluge of  “representative” presenters on leave from the vendor floor, which seems to be more and more central to the conference’s primary focus each passing year; blatantly serving corporate interests.

    The worst part is that the more of “that stuff” which is served up and presented tp teachers –the more teachers start to think that that’s what they need– and once again they are turned away from activities that support empowerment —of renewing the inherent well of teacher creativity and innovation– critically important for those who hold this sacred vocation – and do not require any transaction of dollars.   

    The investment is time and energy-=-the exchange of ideas and success stories–and dismal failures–that help evolve best practices. You are always a part of that portion of ISTE, DAvid–you know of what I speak.

    Friends, if your team of teachers has to travel to Atlanta (let’s just say travel=$300.00) pay upwards of $150.00 per night for housing, dish out $269 for registration (after the $100.00 membership fee) and then cover assorted and sundry cabs, meals, etc. JUST to learn how to use their promethean boards (which they probably didn’t request) –and manage high stake testing, then something is very …very ..wrong. But then we educators know that something is very, very, wrong.  The issue is that we used to look to organizations like ISTE to counter those maladies–and not feed them.

    The Twitter fiasco that ensued right after ISTE sent out their accept/reject notices this year ( https://storify.com/dancallahan/the-best-of-rejectediste14 crowd out the more authentic voices in instructional technology. )  was probably the most entertaining TweetChat (Twitter hashtag #rejectediste14)  I’d seen in ages.  In spite of the snarky nature of the comments, I realized that many of the luminaries I seek out each year–had somehow fallen short of the requisite presentation zen, and been passed over.

    However, a quick search of the program yields 345 returns for the term common core, 143 for standardized testing,  116 for STEM, 105 for tablet, and yes…35 for Power Point.

    I fly to Atlanta Friday afternoon – after closing my classroom for the summer at SMS. When I get to ISTE, I’m one of about 5 gaming teachers who will be assisting Marianne Malmstrom (Knowclue) with her MineCraft Workshops and events. We will also have a panel at some point, and I’ll be presenting in the Games and Simulations PlaygroundVirtual Worlds Playground or whatever they’re calling it now—I’ll be there sharing the remarkable year I had back in the classroom, serving 6th graders a game-based hero’s journey humanities curriculum and most nights writing the curriculum, and aligning it to the %@$!#% CCLS, so that I might teach it in the AM —and I’ll be sharing that curriculum, PLUS the original WoWinSchool Curriculum from Craig Lawson and Lucas Gillispie that started this whole approach.
    I’ll be looking for Paul Darvasi , a Canadian high school english teacher I met at Games in Education < http://gamesineducation.org/ > an annual FREE conference for teachers in upstate New York. Paul took the senior year english class –where they’ve basically already all checked out— and turned it into one of the most engaging and complex learning experiences I’ve encountered in a long time (see One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest when you get to his site < http://www.ludiclearning.org/ >

    I’ll be looking for teachers like Rory Newcomb who teaches at The American School of Bombay. I met Rory when ASB invited me to India to facilitate a WoW in School workshop at their ASB Unplugged Conference. Rory is young, uber smart, and has the freedom at ASB to approach learning in new and unusual w3ays—which has yielded a remarkable program and approach to teaching science!

    I will also tap into the conference vibe–and see—see if it’s just me –or if ISTE has ventured in a direction that just doesn’t sit with my philosophy- –or with the philosophy that brought me to my first ISTE conference many many years ago.

    Perhaps it isn’t ISTE or the new leadership at the helm deserving of the blame. Perhaps ISTE is doing exactly as it is meant to do–reflect the current state of technology in education —  Here’s the Mission Statement –followed by the Vision Statement  (BTW– I was asked and served on that rebranding committee—-  but that’s anther rant,…errr post.

    “The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) is the premier nonprofit organization serving educators and education leaders committed to empowering connected learners in a connected world. ISTE serves more than 100,000 education stakeholders throughout the world.”
    “The vision of ISTE is a world where all learners thrive, achieve and contribute.
    As the creator and steward of the definitive education technology standards, ISTE’s mission is to empower learners to flourish in a connected world by cultivating a passionate professional learning community, linking educators and partners, leveraging knowledge and expertise, advocating for strategic policies, and continually improving learning and teaching.”

    Sounds good, eh?

    At the risk of sounding a dullard…antiquated and misguided, I am left with a burning question…Who’s conference is it anyway?

    David, when scholars of your ilk are dissuaded from attending an event where so many might benefit from your expertise (and learn some lessons in humility if they pay close attention to your demeanor…and I count myself in that last group) then it’s time for the event to rethink —regroup–and reenvision the conference and truly align it with the mission.  From where I’m standing ISTE has the “linking educators and partners (*vendors) down really well.  How about the rest?

    So David, you need to know that you will be sorely missed, on so many levels!  I will carry on and do my best to connect and listen more than I speak (in your honor)  I will also adopt your new mission as my own:

    “To explore the  intersection between

    play, passion, and purpose”  

    David, I’m wise enough to know that change is inevitable, but I’m foolish enough to think that people have just GOT to come to their senses and remember what it is we are supposed to be accomplishing in our role as teachers…

    In my opinion,  that sacred vocation in practice  looks much more like “some role-playing old codger telling stories and speculating about…what education looks like ten years from now, if we continue to do our jobs well and resist the corporate-ization of public education,”  than it does,  “vendors and speakers in Atlanta who claim to know how to fix education, how this practice or product will improve resource efficiency, teacher effectiveness and student performance.

    Come back, David.

    PLEASE come back.

    We are in dire need of your…2¢ Worth!