It was depressing.
Vendors everywhere, technology, no books, Smartboards (it's the 20th anniversary of the invention of the Smartboard!), and, during plenary sessions, constant calls for Parent Responsibility, each one met with thunderous applause. Parents were not a popular group amongst the Celebrants.
During the session on bullying, three teachers asked plaintively, "Why is bullying our responsibility?" "Why is everything on us?" They were aggrieved.
The great and the good (Brian Williams, Cory Booker) thought teachers had a lot to be aggrieved about. Democracy is hanging by a thread, they told us: the only reason we have a country at all is teachers. And yet Americans fail to feel "reverence" toward teachers. What is to be done?
Mehmet Oz said pretty much the same thing; then he showed us a graph charting the rise of obesity in America and said rising obesity is the reason "there's no money for education." We need to lose weight! Because we need more money for education!
Also, the NEA wants the government to pay for college and graduate degrees for teachers. We'll need to lose a whole lot of weight for that.
My friend attended a session where there was a group of young administrators seated in the middle of the room. The teachers booed the administrators. Now that's interesting ---- what was going on? I wish I'd been there.
A fellow from the Department of Education told us that DOE is rolling out "an ambitious 5-year initiative": the moon shot of this generation. Which was.....a website. The moon shot of this generation is a Department of Education website.
We watched a lot of student videos, all created with a product called Adobe-something-or-other: raps about Haiti; a geography class in California making soup. In the soup video, a pretty girl who came to America from Nicaragua complained that nobody knows where Nicaragua is or that a person who speaks Spanish and has brown eyes might be from Nicaragua and not Mexico. Another student in the video said somebody thought "Guatemala" was guacamole.
Maybe the reason students don't know where Nicaragua is or that Guatemala is a country not a dip is that they're making soup in geography class.
A high-energy Brit pitched his Teacher Channel, I think it was called: there will be authentic content!! We watched an authentic video of a grade school class in Florida where the kids scotch-taped together little houses and stuck them in a line on a stage. Then the teacher walked along the stage blowing the houses with a leaf-blower to simulate a hurricane. Some of the houses blew apart and some didn't. Shots of fist-pumping little kids; fade-out.
The Brit told us we had just witnessed "learning" and said there would be many thousands such videos available on Teacher Channel, which was being sponsored or hosted or public-private partnered or some such with WNET, the host of Celebration of Teaching and Learning. Applause!
In the session on how to teach counting using a children's book, the Math for America Master Teacher banned the words "permutation" and "order" because "permutation" and "order" are words, not understanding. He told us, repeatedly, that he makes his high school students spend a full test hour drawing the answers to counting problems in order to show them that multiplying 5x4x3 is more efficient than drawing 60 houses with 1 of 3 pigs inside. At the end of the sessions, he advocated the use of children's books for teaching high school counting problems. "How many handshakes amongst the 7 dwarfs?" That was a good counting question we could base on a children's story, he said.
At one point a teacher said she'd made a counting tree, and the Master Teacher said, a look of mock incomprehension on his face, "Tree? What is a tree? Why do you talk about trees?"
Five minutes later he put up a Powerpoint picture of a counting tree -- an actual tree, with a trunk going down to the ground, and branches pointing up to the sky. I don't know why a real tree is good and an abstract tree is bad. He didn't say. The rule seemed to be that everything the teachers said was old-school and wrong, while everything the Master Teacher said was up-to-date and correct.
The Master Teacher had no blackboard, whiteboard, or Smartboard, so you had to try to remember everything he had just finished saying while trying to follow whatever he was saying now, and his Powerpoint drawings were confusing, at least to me. He spoke too fast. He told us over and over again that we needed to hold with our students the kind of conversation he was holding with us: i.e., a conversation for understanding.
I don't recommend it. The "conversation" consisted mostly of our Master Teacher eliciting wrong answers and forbidden vocabulary from his class. There were probably 5 people of 30 who could work the problems, so he focused on them and didn't bother with the rest of us.
I'm actually thinking about writing James Simons a letter.
from the Conference Program:
Description: If three pigs live in five houses and each pig lives alone, how many living arrangements are possible? Participants will learn how a children’s book illustrates a simple way to solve counting problems like this without listing all possibilities. Teachers at all levels, from elementary to high school, will learn how students can find the answers without using confusing words like “permutation.”the Celebration for Teaching and Learning on Twitter