Marco Torres Keynote @ BLC 2006

7/27/2006 11:51:00 am

The conference started off with a keynote presentation by Marco Torres. I also attended his follow-up workshop. I'm not blogging his presentations as that has already been admirably done by Susan and Steve.

One of the points he made that really resonated with me was the idea of channels of communication (or learning).


(I think there were more channels in the Now column, maybe including blogs, but I don't remember. Does anyone else?)

Marco said that kids today have more options in the ways that they can communicate. For some kids a text channel just doesn't resonate with them in the same way that video does. He gave the example of reading Martin Luther King's I Have A Dream speech vrs. watching it on video; video is a much more powerful channel than text. (Try reading it before watching the video.)

He underscored the nature of digital students vrs. analog teachers by sharing a story about a student of his who graduated high school and went to university. She was asked to submit a 15 page paper for a class. She approached the professor to suggest she submit a video instead and was turned down. In the follow-up session this lead to Marco showing the video Digital Students @ Analog Schools:

What's most interesting about this video is that the kids did it themselves; on their own initiative. It wasn't for a school assignment or project. It was spawned from the frustration they felt following their first year's experience at university; what should be the highest quality education and pedagogy but wasn't. (I tried to get a university professor friend of mine to watch it. He couldn't watch more than half of it before he stopped the playback and began to explain to me "the realities of being a university professor ... I'm not doing justice to his perspective -- maybe I can get him to guest author a post where he can articulate his position in his own words. ;-)) None of the kids in the video attend the same university, they never met face-to-face to produce or edit it. They planned and edited it using IM. Each had their footage shot locally and then they shared the files over the internet. Marco provided editorial assistance. Watch the credits at the end. They chose to do the credits in the same format they used to produce the video.

Marco apparently went to look up the professor's PhD thesis. Since it had been published it had been signed out only twice. Both times by the professor himself. His kids videos are downloaded tens of thousands of times. Marco makes a good point here, but I couldn't help thinking that quality scholarship is not a popularity contest.

Marco teaches his kids to "be distinct or be extinct." In other words, if you can be replaced you will be. What makes you special is your creativity. (An echo of a presentation I saw by Sir Ken Robinson at the 2006 TED Conference.) And his kids are creative. Watch this 30 second spot called Parents:

And this one called The Power of One:

A point Marco emphasized over and over again was that our teaching should be "relevant, meaningful and applicable." This results in kids motivated to produce outstanding work. He shared what seemed to be a limitless supply of powerful examples. But not everyone was happy with his keynote.

At lunch some people expressed the opinion that Marco was a poor choice for a keynote presenter because the pedagogy he modeled for us is not transferable. He is an exceptional educator with an unusual talent for video production married to a passion for teaching kids. Much of the pedagogy Marco shared with us was made possible only by the force of his personality and innate talent. The question they asked is: "How can I take this home to the teachers I work with and implement it in classrooms across my school district?"

In the follow-up session I asked Marco about this. I teach math. I have a tremendous amount of content to cover in a very short time. Marco teaches Social Studies. I said: "You must have a set of outcomes from your state that must be met. With the additional pressures brought on by NCLB you must feel pressure to 'cover the content.' How do you find the time to have your kids do projects like this and still complete the curriculum?"

Marco said that all the movies he had shown us were produced in a single day. Sometimes shooting the video also takes a day but that is usually done on the weekend or after school. (Marco puts in lots of after school time; including weekends.) The lion's share of the time involved in making a video is in learning the background information and storyboarding the production. As a matter of fact, occasionally Marco will have his students go through the entire process of creating a video, storyboarding every shot, and then not shoot the video. "By the time they are ready to shoot video all the work [learning] has already been done." This frustrates the kids but his goal is to educate them. Marco said that The Power of One addresses 4 different learning outcomes in his state curriculum. You can take that two ways: either his kids are learning the material superficially, just what they need to know to make a movie, or they have learned the material very deeply. So deeply that they manage to distill the essence of the issues they are wrestling with and, through the channel of video (the right one for them), sharing their learning creatively and powerfully.

Long time readers of A Difference know that I have been thinking about having my kids produce instructional math videos all year. My friend and colleague, Erin, actually had all her grade 9 students do this. The overwhelming obstacle for me has been time. (Erin teaches the grade 9 curriculum over a full year, all my courses but one are semestered.) Marco and I chatted briefly after his follow-up presentation. He has put together a site to help teachers and students learn how to make educational videos. It's called Flick School (click on [Podcasts] at the top of the page). We talked about collaborating. My students will generate the content and shoot the videos, his students will tutor them through the production process ... if I can find the time. ;-)

Tags: BLC06

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  1. Hi Darren, there are a few things I felt I should write. I think it's just my need to write out loudly. :^) In fact, I have already been thinking for the past few days about the ideas in this post, and I have written about them on my blog.

    Be distinct or be extinct? I don't think so. What is the point of being distinct only for its own sake? Why be distinct if it does nothing to improve learning? True, one reason for the use of technology in education (like videos) is to motivate students, but a teacher should recognize that there is a point beyond which a teacher's use of technology is chasing after the students' fads. That makes us beggars, not teachers i.e. beyond a certain point, I'd be begging the students to pay attention to the course content.

    Videos and other media are from the arts, and perhaps they are best used in the teaching of the arts. There is a place for them in the teaching of math and science, but let's face it, there will also ALWAYS be a more highly prioritized place for "chalk and talk" in math and science. Math and science rely on symbols and ideas which cannot always be best, nor easily, represented in other media.

    I believe the question I ask is similar to yours: are the kids who are making videos learning the curriculum or are they learning how to make videos? Which is being stressed? I have experimented with the use of videos on my blog, and I'm thinking that with the tools that are FREELY available, the students would be concentrating on the technology and not the math. Video production has a steep learning curve. The experiments on my blog will attest to that.

    However, I am not going to exclude the idea of using videos. When students can make tools, like videos, they are motivated, especially when they know the tools will be used by others. To ensure that the students concentrate on learning the math, I think I will develop other tools to make the production of videos much simpler. But that will take a lot of time.

    Ahhhh, time. I have discovered in my first year of teaching that this profession is a balance between giving the time you want to give to the students and giving yourself time for having a life. :^)

    I think I will post this comment on my blog. May I link to your blog?

  2. Anonymous28/7/06 14:40

    Not sure if it's because I have a bit of a relationship with you or if because you took a bit more time to reflect but I certainly prefer a post on a keynote/session after some reflections. The real time blogging is good but usually leaves me wanting more and it's difficult for the blogger to do any reflection.

    Your key question about classroom application really hits home. Love the idea of keynote followups.

    Just to comment on Frank's concern:
    "Be distinct or be extinct? I don't think so. What is the point of being distinct only for its own sake? Why be distinct if it does nothing to improve learning? True, one reason for the use of technology in education (like videos) is to motivate students, but a teacher should recognize that there is a point beyond which a teacher's use of technology is chasing after the students' fads. That makes us beggars, not teachers i.e. beyond a certain point, I'd be begging the students to pay attention to the course content."

    It made me think of Prensky's comment that engagement is more important than content. I think of distinct as being engaging. It's the role of the teacher to bring in or mix the content. In some ways we have to "beg the students to pay attention". The use of video is simply asking them to utilize tools they are familiar with to create understanding. I also think it doesn't necessarily have to be video. You had great success with blogs. It might be podcasting or photography. It probably is contingent on your students strengths and interests.

    We need to see ourselves like executive producers of movies. Not really needing to understand all the technology but simply insuring learning happens.

  3. Anonymous29/7/06 12:00

    Yeah baby! I'd love to be a part of that! Maybe we can find a way to include my preservice teachers!

    Anyway... I added to your post on my site. Stop by and say hello.

  4. Anonymous29/7/06 16:35

    Frank: When Marco says "Be distinct or be extinct." he means that we should encourage our students to be as creative as possible in the ways they respond to our assignments; choose appropriate channels for how you want to express yourself. The link I provided to Sir Ken Robinson's presentaion at this year's TED conference is really worth watching. He also makes this point; brilliantly.

    I agree with your concerns regarding "keeping up with students fads." Or rather, it's not about being popular by substituting content for "feel good" activities. However, I don't think that was the point being made.

    Is there a reflective teacher out there who doesn't think of teaching in some small way as a "performance?" I know I often think of it as "being on stage." And while my goal is not to entertain, by including humour and some small measure of an engaging presentation I capture my students attention and (hopefully) increase retention of the material I'm presenting. Certainly more than I would if I just blandly presented some mechanics and concepts and sent them all off to do problem sets. The more ways we can get students to engage the materiel, the more channels through which we can access their creativity, the more learning styles we can address in our presentations (see my post Resonance and Dissonance) the more likely our students are to learn.

    Dean: I'm uncomfortable with Prensky's message. I've never heard him speak live. (I would have at BLC but I had to catch a plane immediately following my workshop on the last morning of the conference; he presented at the end of the day.) I have seen and heard some of his presenations on the net. It seems to me that Prensky's message is exactly the sort of thing that Frank is uncomforatble with ... me too.

    I'd like to try having my students create videos but "time" is a real issue. I also cannot take any time away from class to teach the tech. (There should be a technology literacy class. Co-curricular in nature so that students learn how to communicate using many different channels using the content they are learning in their other classes to make the exercise "relevant, meaningful and applicable.")

    My wife pointed out to me that by using "time" as an "out" from actually pursuing the idea of student generated videos I was making the same argument as my "university professor friend." -- She keeps me honest. ;-) -- So now I'm publicly announcing that I will make a concerted effort to include at least one such assignment with in at least one class this year. (Can you see me cringing? ;-))

    Sheryl: I'm very interested in pursuing greater collaboration between my classes and your preservice teachers. We should skype and talk about it over the summer and come up with a some ideas for our new classes in the fall. What do you think? ;-)