On the bus to Boston and finishing up my notes from NECC09. As noted in an earlier post here, I was sick the first half of Tuesday (I slept in until my fever broke), but managed to get some good conversations in anyhow within the few afternoon hours I had.
Low floor, high ceiling. My hacker friends and I use this phrase to describe a good design - it should be easy to learn but not constrain you from doing powerful things. As a hacker, a high ceiling is a killer feature for me. I want control. I need control. I know I'm going to outgrow the defaults on - if not all, a substantial portion - of things I use; I actively seek to max out the capabilities of my tools. For this freedom, I'm willing to give up a good initial experience - I will climb a steep learning curve to get something set up on my computer and in my fingers and mind because the long-term benefits are worth it.
For teachers, low floors are the killer app. They need it working now. They don't know whether their kids are going to be abe to take it further, so it's not really worth looking at whether the thing can go farther. I mean, most of the assignments given to 8-year-olds take what, 1-2 man hours to complete? As a high school student (at an intense math and science magnet, too) spending over 5 hours on an assignment was unusual - and I remember sophomore year when friends of mine moaned about how hard it was to do so much work because they had to learn to make websites for their history assignments on top of... y'know, learning history.
If you have to think and train too much about the usage of a tool, that tool gets in the way of learning things other than how to use it. One teacher taught her elementary school kids how to make stop-motion films. When I saw the title of her presentation, I started thinking about all the neat things you could teach them with video editing and tricky lighting setups and special effects. But the teacher emphasized that all she had taught her kids was how to push the "take a picture" button on the camera. (Which was already mounted on a tripod. Pointing at a table. Which was lit.) The kids didn't string the pictures into films, didn't even zoom in or out. But those kids had time to tell a story.
Phrases I heard repeated over and over when teachers were showing me their work: "All you have to do is..." "It comes built right in!" (This one is followed by a chorus of awed "Ahhhs.") "You don't have to set it up!" "If I can do it, anyone can!" These typically were repeated several times in rapid succession in the same presentation.
Other buzzwords: (yes, I made the bingo card - click picture to expand.)
Some of the teachers had brought their students to show off their work. In one of the booths, a 6th grader was being filmed by her teacher, reading a prepared speech off a laptop screen about how "technology changed her life." I thought once again about how good we get at giving the answers other people want to hear.
I also discovered SETSIG, a group of educators interested in technology for special education students. My laptop is about to run out of battery, so I will need to type that in later.