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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