Malcolm Gladwell's Keynote Address


NECC 2009 Opening Keynote

Malcolm Gladwell, author

I, ashamedly, have never had a chance to read one of Malcolm Gladwell's books (The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers). Now that I have finished grad school, I will finally have the time! If his opening Keynote Address is anything like his writing, then I am hooked. Heady stuff, though explained in a simple way.

Practice Makes Perfect

We've all heard the phrase a million times. Gladwell, however, manages to find empirical proof of this statement, starting with the 10,000 hour rule. He says that, according to research, you need 10,000 hours of practice in something to become a true 'specialist.' All told, that is 4 hours/day for 10 years. "Mozart is a late bloomer," he joked. Mozart took 14 years to create his first 'good' piece of music.

Tying this to education, Gladwell states that it is someone's attitude toward effort that makes someone successful. In other words, it was not just Mozart's talent that made him great. He WORKED HARD!

Gladwell also described an example from an International Math exam which had a long psychological survey at the beginning. A researcher tried to find a correlation between the countries whose students completed the survey and those who didn't and the test scores on the exam. Amazingly, the correlation was that those students who finished the survey also scored better on the exam. To Gladwell, this was the perfect example of attitude over talent. Those students who had the motivation and the determination to finish the questionnaire would also have the motivation and determination to study hard and do their best on the exam.

So What's Our Problem?

I agree with Gladwell that Western countries (like the U.S.) don't teach that attitude can make a difference. Many of us believe that we are naturally born with a talent or a gift that will define us for the rest of our lives. For this reason, many children are not taught to put effort into those things with which they struggle. Instead, their strengths are emphasized. Just think of Cliff's Notes and SparkNotes, or sites that sell college papers. Why put in the effort if you don't have to? Without challenge, how can one learn anything?

Are There Solutions?

Gladwell spoke briefly about the KIPP Charter Schools, with which I am very familiar. A former co-worker of mine works at a KIPP school and has described her role to me as a 24 hour/7 days-a-week job. She has a cell phone for when students need to contact her, she works a longer day, and she works Saturdays sometimes. This school has its students try to make up for hours of instruction lost due to socio-economic status. Many inner-city children start school already at a disadvantage when it comes to learned vocabulary words and hours practicing academic and cognitive skills. They need help reaching that 10,000 goal in conjunction with their middle/upper class peers. This model is unbelievable effective, but also requires teachers to work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year! Most teachers want their summers off, or at least want to come home and relax and not have students calling them at home. Or is this the problem with our education system? The precedent is set and the status quo is hard to break.

...and then there's Fleetwood Mac

Somehow, Gladwell managed to turn the conversation into a study of the history of the band Fleetwood Mac. Through a series of short vignettes, he concluded that Fleetwood Mac, who only broke big after their 16th album, never gave up and eventually put in their 10,000 hours to reach success.

Compensation Strategy

From here, Gladwell launched into a discussion of ‘Compensation Strategy.’ Basically, this is a learning strategy used by, essentially, underdogs, to make up for what they lack in comparison to the overachiever or the ‘prodigy.’ A study done of football players found that those drafted in the bottom percentile actually performed BETTER than those who were drafted first with high expectations. Since they weren’t expected to have the talent that the first draft picks had, they had to work twice as hard. The result: better performance.

This was tied into the education by applying the same theory to a classroom. A student who has dyslexia or can’t see the board must compensate by being resourceful. He mentioned a study in which it was found that many CEOs of large companies are dyslexic and have compensated by learning how to delegate responsibility well.

Compensation Strategy and Class Size

What was truly shocking about the speech was Gladwell’s argument against the idea that smaller class size would lead to success for all children. He explained that, in a large class, more kids have to compensate, and thereby learn self-reliance. He use the example of Asian students who outperform Western students in every way and yet often have large (40 or more students) class size.

Why I Don't Buy It

Coming from a large inner-city school perspective, I happen to disagree about class size. Our students DO compensate, but it does not help them succeed. I had a 1st grade student who copied magnificently from books and other print materials every time she was given a writing assignment. From a distance, she looked like an on-level writer. If you took the time to read what she wrote, it was copied, verbatim, from a book or the room somewhere, and she couldn't even identify the letters she had made. Other students compensate by copying answers or bullying others into giving them the answers. How this breeds success is a mystery to me, since most of these students leave our school in 6th grade on a 3rd or 4th grade reading level. We all know the statistics when it comes to level of education and incarceration rates.

Feedback and Struggles

Gladwell ended talking about feedback when it comes to learning and success. On this I am in total agreement. Feedback is the most important thing we can offer students aside from the content we teach. For my 1st grader, for instance, were I to just glance at her paper and think "Oh boy, she is really not ready for this assignment," without having a conversation, I have done her a serious disservice. A good teacher would ask questions ("What are you writing about?") or use Small Group Instruction to guide her toward better print concepts. It is also important to praise good work and let students know when they are succeeding. Too much negativity and red marks can discourage a child and 'shut them down.'

In the broader sense, as Gladwell stated, adults need feedback too. He explained that often, one's confidence in one's knowledge grows faster than the knowledge itself. For this reason, decision-makers on every level, teacher to congressman (or woman!) need to know when they are succeeding in the public eye and when they have either failed or let their constituents (yes, teachers have constituents, too!) down.

Feedback and Pop Culture

In pop culture, it is the norm to expect instant gratification. As Gladwell explained, if you don't make the hit the first time, then you're out of luck. Students often fear failure. Maybe they are justified. In the larger world, one failure may be the first and last one you ever have. I believe that a life well-lived is full of failure. It is failure that can serve as feedback and motivate us to work harder, thereby increasing our hours working on a project or a concept. What's that saying? "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger?" I'm not sure whether the Media influences kids' fear of failure, but I could see how watching pretty people on TV succeeding and winning money and when they fail, being shamed, could really have an effect on a young child. Children need first-hand experience with failure, whether it be through a Science Fair project or simply a strike out at the Little League game. Without this, they will never be adventurous and creative for fear of failure.

Final Thoughts

It took me 2 days to finally sit down and write all my thoughts down. I'm not even sure if anyone will read all of this rambling. For me, reflecting on Gladwell's speech was a way for me to organize and unload some of the thoughts floating around in my head. I can't wait to pick up The Tipping Point this summer!

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Reflections on NECC 09


Written on June 30th, the night before I left Washington, D.C.

"It may be, in the end, that a good society is defined more by how people treat strangers than by how they treat those they know." - James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds

If this is true, then the members of the ISTE network make a wonderful society. Being here reminds me of going to a rave back in the 90's. You meet people from all over the country who are all there for the same reason and with a similar passion. They are open, inviting and want to share their experiences and stories. The difference is, however, that instead of Ecstasy, the educators here are high on their love of teaching and learning and the thrill that it gives them.

I have had a wonderful time here. I have met some amazing teachers, movers and shakers, thinkers and people with just plain great personalities. Underlying all of this are the conversations about teaching, learning, technology, politics and such that I have had along the way.

Now reading this a week later, it still rings true. During an Elluminate session led by Steve Hargadon from Classroom 2.0 last night discussing EduBlogger Con & NECC Unplugged, I realized that I had been lucky enough to enter a community of people as passionate about collaboration and furthering their own knowledge and learning opportunities as I am. I hope to continue to learn from these amazing people!
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I just played guitar on an iPod touch!!


A Band Without

So I was sitting in the Blogger's Cafe and realized that the person sitting near me had a guitar out. He was strumming and noticed my 'Rock Star' ribbon on my badge. He then explained that he was playing guitar on his iPod touch and oh boy was I intrigued! I went over to investigate. Before I knew it I was playing along.

How Does One Use This Toy for Education?

Kevin Honeycutt ( says that he teaches on the iPod touch and then shows the ki
ds the guitar, explaining the similarities. The applications use the same basic musical knowledge (chord names and rhythms) that a student must know to be a successful musician. He said that he hooks more than one iPod up to a jack and then connects them to a computer. The computer is running GarageBand, and by simply choosing the 'Real Instrument' option the kids can record right into GarageBand!

Here are the 3 Apps that I used:

Band - Has frets that you can strum
iShred - Has songs pre-installed with chords set up for you to strum.
Guitarist -
has a basic fret and strumming option

It's so easy a child could do it!

He turned the Blogger's Cafe into a music lounge and got lots of people of varying ages to give it a try!
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The Long-Awaited Oxford Debate


The second keynote address at the conference was an 'Oxford-style' debate about the question below. I have summarized the main points by each contributor below.

It was moderated by Robert Seigel from NPR's All Things Considered.

Video archive here from ISTE Vision

Four panelists, 2 for and 2 against (5 minutes each)

Q: Are bricks and mortar schools detrimental to the future of education?


Assembly line/factory jobs are declining. Instead, children must compete in a global world with higher order thinking skills. Modern day schools haven't really changed over the past few decades. Defining a school by a bricks and mortar 'boundary' cuts off children and is detrimental to the future of education. This assumes that every learner in the building learns the same way and has the same needs. In the current global economy, we must educated every child with smaller budgets. Moving away from brick and mortar schools will meet this challenge and allow students to access materials and ideas from all over the world. Bricks and mortar schools limit socialization. Students must be able to communicate and collaborate locally and globally. This communication can be face to face and asynchronous without the need for bricks and mortar schools.

While our world has changed, our schools have not.

-Michael Horn


Bricks and mortar schools are necessary. We must 'get together' to learn something. Many of our schools are run down, shabby, and under-served. Buildings can become great tools for learning. Don't just 'throw out' our schools. They are the vessels for the wishes of our democracy. They hold together communities and provide services for those who cannot get them anywhere else. Families can interact, get health services, and use resources like computers. Schools are a "house of learning;" a place where we 'get together' to learn.

--Brad Jupp (only 4 months on the job! Superintendent from Denver, union leader, teacher)


We use technology to support medieval practices like NCLB. A classroom is not a box containing a group of small desks and one big desk. Schools contain science labs, dancing, arts and other extracurricular activities.

Technology can allow for bad teaching done on the cheap. Online learning does not provide a holistic learning experience. In an online course, individualization is not customizing a multiple-choice test.

When talking about socialization in schools, the # 1 infraction in school is talking. If no talking occurs in an online environment, where is the socialization?

Laptop programs decentralizes knowledge. Teaching roles crumbled when teachers saw what their students could do.

IWB require a classroom!

Gary Stager, PhD. -- visiting professor at Pepperdine University)
Full text here:


We need a new envisioning of what bricks and mortar schools could be. Closing the gap in resources and opportunities for students. We must use a combination of face to face and online. It's not black and white.

What about the child who has a single parent or can't access the digital/online learning? A brick and mortar school serves the community, not just the students. Our students aren't 'self-directed' by birth, they require teachers to guide them. When students are socially connected to their schools, they have more success. Online learning is often missing this connection. This is why a hybrid model best serves students as opposed to completely asynchronous learning.

We need socialization because of 'social capital.' Students should be connected globally and locally through PBL. Bricks and mortar should still exist with an online option.

-- Cheryl Lemke (CEO Metiri Group)


Marshall Thompson

We must learn to live your life in an international community. We don't need a place for teachers, we can now have teachers from around the world teaching students from all over the world simultaneously. Bricks and mortar is not what facilitates learning, it limits learning to 8 hours a day.

Erik Bakke (student from West Springfield HS in VA)

I feel excitement walking into the building, even if the building itself is not perfect and is in disrepair. Teachers are adapting the curriculum to meet the needs of our students. Bricks and mortar schools create strong connections to our local community. We all have one need that we share--the need to work in groups and as a team. School provides a place for this. On the topic of socialization, the dedication of our teachers and their love for what they do rubs off on students and motivates students. Through the enthusiasm of teachers and faculty that we learn to love academics and are prepared for our life.


Gary Stager, PhD.

Many kids haven't had a chance to have a discussion with an adult or any kind of discussion. We have a 'bankruptcy of our imaginations.'

Cheryl Lemke

We need online education. We need to reinvent or schools. If we don't have bricks and mortar schools, we will 'lose a generation' in our communities. These students depend on their community school for opportunities and services.

There is common ground on both sides. We need the personal connection, but technology will help enhance teaching.

Audience question:

Lawsuits when using Web 2.0 technologies?

Parents must know it's being used and that there is a set of expectations. Lawsuits can exist inside and outside the classroom, so what's the big deal?


After the audience voted using the Turning Technologies clickers, it was resolved that the large majority of the audience felt that bricks and mortar schools are NOT detrimental to the future of education.

I felt, coming into the debate, that schools need to physically exist to serve their communities. However, these schools also need to make learning opportunities available to students that expose them to and help them interact with people outside their community. They need to be active members in the global community to be successful in today's marketplace and to be good global citizens. This is exactly what Cheryl Lemke was proposing - a hybrid model.

If you have comments or anything you'd like to add, please add them below!

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So I'm experimenting with blogging using Comic Life. I took a BYOL workshop and now I'm determined to figure out how to make these bigger to take up the whole screen. Please give me feedback!!! Of course, any future posts would have much more content. This is an experiment!
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Where Do I Start? Day 2 of NECC, Part 1


The Welcome Ceremony

So, Day 2 is over and now I'm sitting in the "Blogger's Cafe" trying to piece together the events of yesterday. I got into the Convention Center after having a wonderful brunch with a friend around 1:30pm. Just enough time to get seated for the Welcome Ceremony.

The ceremony had a Movie Awards theme, with Mario Armstrong (the MC/host) dressed as Darth Vader and moving around on what looked like a segway. The Star Wars theme continued throughout the ceremony.

The Technology Museum

Then it was time to visit the historical timeline of technology relics. Even at my young age, I remember most of them!

I actually have the iPod underneath at my house and I think it still works! I didn't realize that iPods came out in 2000. They have really evolved over the last 7 years!

This is the computer I learned on in elementary school!

I never used this, but it's an Atari something or other. We had Atari in my house in the early 80's.

After checking out the 'museum,' it was time to meet up with some Philly friends. We attended the Keynote together, which be my next post.
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My First Day at NECC


What a great first day! I met a lot of wonderful people and participated in a lively and informative discussion at the EduBlogger Con event.

My badge to the left shows a little about how my first day went.

First, I attended an EduBlogger Con session, which, in my humble opinion, should be a must on every NECC go-ers list. I'm not sure if this is how they are always run, but it was a great way to get the juices flowing in my brain and to begin hearing from people from other countries and states.

The conversation was led by Ann Flynn from the National School Board Association and Scott McLeod, self-proclaimed 'Agitator.' The session I sat in on was about social networking in schools. It was a great extension onto what I've already been thinking about toward the end of my course at Saint Joe's. Many people voiced that there was 'fear' in a lot of School Boards and administrators about the use of social networking. Many of us agreed that most of these 'leaders' have never even used a social network before and don't really understand what they do or what possibilities they might provide for engaging students or even just organizing staff. I, for one, have been sending out the idea over and over of having a NING for the tech teachers in the district. We are still using a listserv that fills up your inbox every day, often with duplicate questions and answers that could have been addressed in a discussion board.

I was a little jealous to hear about districts who actually ELECT their School Board members and are not run, as Philly is, by a CEO. I actually met another Philly teacher from Martin Luther King High who also shared my grievances with Arlene Ackerman (Superintedent). I also spoke with a fellow attendee about how districts use the E-Rate grant as an excuse to block social networking and other sites. She said that when the people in charge aren't sure, they just block, block, block. I said that without proper teacher education on internet safety and how to monitor what students are doing on the computers as well as explicitly teaching the AUP, then districts ARE forced to do this. *What a WONDERFUL experience to meet people who are thinking the same way or in new ways about topics that I feel strongly about!* Refreshing!!!

My second ribbon on my badge is my 'Tweet me @ _________" ribbon. What an amazing experience to run into one of my Twitter followers (Kent Manning - @kentmanning) at the session. He DM me to say "Look to your right, I'm waving." I look over and there he is! This is proof of the power of social networking sites! I have already started following people I have met in person, and I look forward to meeting new ones.

My ISTE member ribbon reminds me that, as a member, I am a well-informed technology teacher and that I am part of something larger. I am realizing now how powerful the ISTE network is and how widespread. Kent if from Canada and there was a guy in the EBC session from Australia. It's great to get a different perspective not only from teachers in different areas of the US, but from other countries dealing with their own issues and barriers (or successes!).

My last ribbon (ROCKSTAR!) was just an amazing find. There was a small pile of them at the counter in the ISTE Center (where all of the publications and tee shirts are being sold). I couldn't resist. I also thought, "How awesomely nerdy and right up my alley!" I am totally a Rock Star!

As I walked back to the Metro, I was astonished to see NPR's national headquarters AND Blackboard's headquarters right there next to each other! It was too good to be true! I have been listening to public radio for the last 7 years (WHHY--great programming!!) and I have been using Blackboard for the last 2 years while getting my Master's (though I happen to think Blackboard has room for improvement).

I am looking forward to tomorrow's opening ceremony and spending some time with college friends at brunch.
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A Quick Review of The Wisdom of Crowds


James Surowiecki’s groundbreaking book is so full of poignant statements and analyses that trying to find one quote to sum up the book’s theme is difficult. However, two quotes stick out for me in trying to convey Surowiecki’s main theme. On the topic of how best to run an organization, Surowiecki states, “Suggesting that the organization with the smartest people may not be the best organization is heretical, particularly in a business world caught up in a ceaseless ‘war for talent’ and governed by the assumption that a few superstars can make the difference between an excellent and a mediocre company” (p.31). This is quite a prediction (the book was published in 2005) of the Walter Madoff scandal and the CDS phenomenon that recently turned the financial world upside down.

On the topic of how groups organize themselves in American society, he explains, “…in liberal societies authority had only limited reach over the way citizens dealt with each other. In authority’s stead, certain conventions—voluntarily enforced…by ordinary people—play an essential role in helping large groups of people to coordinate their behavior with each other with out coercion” (p.97). Here, he is speaking of cultural ‘norms,’ such as ‘first come, first serve’ seating on subway cars in Manhattan. In the context of the Internet, which is not regulated by any central authority, these conventions that coordinate behaviors are very much in play. Users have created their own ‘norms’ and expectations for the web in the same way people on the subway understand how seating works through a set of unspoken cultural rules.

In the context of students and learning, this book provides teachers with an understanding of how their students, who most likely participate in the online world, are part of a bigger picture in creating an organized culture and in making good decisions for the future. When students participate in social networks, file sharing, or any other kind of social construct on the web, they are part of an important decision making process. Since the Internet is controlled by its users, not a centralized authority, users have a huge stake in its success and its progress. This has implications for how we teach students good digital citizenship and safety. As Surowiecki states, “It may be in the end, that a good society is defined by how people treat strangers than by how they treat those they know” (p. 112). With an ever-increasing online community, this society is now a global society. Educators are now in charge of the huge task of making students good global citizens. Teachers should be models for how to use the Internet and communicate with others online. The better informed the youth are, the better future prospects are for society in general. Most communication and collaboration in the next decade will occur online.

This book manages to link every aspect of modern society through the underlining theme of how groups of individuals function in many different situations. While the theme remains the same: “The idea of the wisdom of crowds is not that a group will always give you the right answer but that on average it will consistently come up with a better answer than any individual could provide.” (p. 235), it plays out differently in different arenas. Surowiecki addresses the theme as it plays out on the Internet, in traffic jams, in mobster movies, Linux, the stock market and the business world in general. It is a relevant analysis for any audience. Whether you are an educator, an economist, a stockbroker, a commuter, an engineer, a frequent blogger or contributor to YouTube, you will find something relevant in this book.
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Why I finally got a Twitter account


Ok, ok, ok, call me Arlen Specter. I broke down and joined Twitter. As a Technology Specialist attending a four day technology conference in DC, it really just had to be done.

While you make a great point, Nana, about all social networking sites not being a 'one size fits all,' I discovered that by not participating in Twitter I was missing out on an opportunity to network and stay informed at the conference.

I didn't imagine that I would need to learn things like how the @ works or the # in creating Tweets. I basically use it to keep up with what 'important' people in the education and technology field are saying. I could see it taking up a lot of people's time looking through hundreds of posts and links. Fortunately, I have no luxury of extra time!

It is pretty amazing how Twitter users have molded it into what it is today. My recent reading of The Wisdom of Crowds has gotten me thinking about this phenomenon of bottom-up coordination and management on the internet. I highly recommend picking up this book. It's a bit dense, but worth it!
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Save Trees: Don't print me!