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Nov 6

Why I am at a Science Conference

As most of you know, I am firmly entrenched in the world of instructional technology. I have blogged, taped, created shows, put on conferences, keynoted at conferences, attended conferences, became the president of organizations about ed tech, tweeted and tumblred all about ed tech for pretty much the last eight years.

This blog is the THIRD blog I have had about ed tech.

(Long time Tim fans might remember Byte Speed and Intended Consequences.)

I am as ed tech as they come I think.

But many of you probably did not know that before I was Mr. Ed Tech I was Mr. Science Ed.

I wrote articles for science ed magazines (before blogging), I presented at science conferences, I attended science ed conferences, I became the president of science education organizations, I put on science conferences, and I was a teacher of the year in science.

I was as science ed as they came I think.

So I think I can speak with some authority about both the science education and instructional technology communities, because I have lived and breathed and immersed myself in both.

This week, I am attending a large science education conference in Houston Texas, the Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching (CAST) 2013. It is the largest statewide science education conference in the US, with 7,000 attendees expected over the three days. It is put on by the Science Teachers Association of Texas (STAT).

Those of you that know me mainly from my ed tech life might be wondering why I am here. Why is “Mr Ed Tech” at a science conference?

Here is why:

Over the years, I have begin to notice something that I think is very important and disheartening:

It seems that there is very little bleeding over of the ed tech message into the core curricular areas. The core curricular areas rarely look to the ed tech community for guidance for things like 21st century learning. We live in our own silos.

Ask the core teachers what the 21st century skills are, and you get blank stares.

Ask about NET-S? -C -T? -A?

No one knows what the hell you are talking about, even though every single student is supposed to be practicing these skills and every teacher is supposed to be teaching them.

That is why I am here. I want to explore with thought leaders and start the conversation about tearing down the silos that exist between the core areas and ed tech. Maybe I am seeing it incorrectly. Maybe I am missing a bigger picture. I want to know.

The ed tech community that I know speaks to the ed tech community. We are very inbred. Speakers that have great messages that could be used across curricular areas are speaking only at ed tech conferences. Ever heard of a Will Richardson addressing an NSTA conference as a keynote speaker? Ever heard of a Kevin Honeycutt talking to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics? No, and you probably wont for a long time. That is because the Math teachers don’t think of ed tech as part of their bag of tricks, just like the science teachers don’t think about the ed tech

Because ed tech talks to ed tech, science talks to science, math talks to math.

There is very little bleeding over.

That has simply got to end.

I once spoke to a rather famous ed tech guru (whose name I will not reveal) about just this subject. This person said to me that they understood that the they were preaching to the choir but what could they do about it? When I asked how they ever hoped to get ed tech to become part of the mainstream part of instruction, this person looked at me and said that they just expected a certain number of core area teachers to attend instructional technology conferences each year, and that those people end up being the trailblazers in their respective districts.

Not much of a plan. But it is a plan. Don’t expect wide spread adoption anytime soon based on that model.

Of course, speakers make their livings based on where they are invited, and as any musician will tell you, a gig is a gig. It just happens that the ed tech guys and gals get the ed tech gigs. Science guys and gals get the science gigs. But even the science guys will end up at the ed tech conferences occasionally, as Robert Ballard will tell you after he keynoted TCEA a few years back. You hardly ever see it the other way around.

But the folks that put on science and math and reading and social studies and fine arts and bilingual and special ed and gifted and talented conferences don’t know about the Honeycutts and the Richardsons and the Shareskis and Dembos and Torres’ of the ed tech world because they don’t live in that space.
The people that put on science conferences try to choose speakers that they think the science teachers will be inspired by. They have to know that these folks are out there.

Perhaps there is hope.
On Friday, David Warlick will bring his message to a regional NSTA conference in his backyard of Charlotte NC. Although the message is not new to us, it is probably new to the science teachers.
And although the message is VERY general, it is at least a start. He is trying to tailor the message to the audience by demoing the Kerbal Space Program online game (https://kerbalspaceprogram.com) so good for him. But those opportunities are few and far between.

Now we need the science teachers to hear Marco Torres and Kevin Honeycutt and Will Richardson and on and on. Science needs to hear ed tech. The Math teachers need to hear the Dembos and the Shareskis of the world. Math needs to hear ed tech. The ELA crowd needs to hear about connected educators from Sheryl Nussbaum Beach and Sylvia Martinez’s.

We as ed tech educators, speakers and communicators MUST MOVE INTO THE SILOS of the core and speciality areas. It is no longer an option for the mountain moving to Mohammed. Mohammed must move to the mountain.

Build ed tech yes, but don’t expect them to come without doing some advertising.

This ain’t no corn field.