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TIES 2010 Keynote: Sir Ken Robinson

The Keynote Speaker at this year's TIES Conference was Sir Ken Robinson. I had seen his TED Talks and was really excited to see him present.

He spoke today on The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything!

Winnepeg is the coldest place on earth! He talked about taking a cold shower in Winnepeg. "California doesn't do cold water!" Winnepeg does!

Not sure he's happy to be hear in Minnesota!

He talked about a recent trip to Las Vegas to renew his vows. Las Vegas doesn't have a reason to be there. Some do have a reason, natural harbor, water way. There is no advantage to the location of Las Vegas. The reason it's there is that it represents the most powerful capacity that we humans have! It is unique to human culture. The power of immagination! This is unique to human beings. To conjure up the possibilities. Entering the hearts and minds of others, visit the future, etc. Though it is impossible to predict the future.

J.K. Gallbraith-The primary purpose of economic forcasting is to make astrology look reasonable.

The power of immagination has underpinned everything that has sprung up in our history. It's failure has helped create our greatest mistakes as well. There are forces at work now, unleashed by our immaginations that make the some tremendous challenges. This may be the most tumultuous century in history.

Taken as an aggregate there are several forces that are making things

  1. We are living in a period of revolution.

  2. If we are to collectively meet this revolution, we need to think differently about ourselves.

Too many adults underestimate their talents. Many don't enjoy the things they do. Others really DO like what they do, however the majority do not. This is another type of "Climate Crisis." The crisis of human resources. We currently have a 40% drop-out rate. They don't feel it's about them. And their right! All of the remedial programs to bring people back to education are based on personalized instruction. If they had that to begin with, they wouldn't drop out!

Like in every profession, there are good teachers and bad teachers. The bad teachers should do something else! The systemic issue is that it is enherrently blind to the needs of individuals.

The Correction System is the fastest growing system in the U.S. California spending on the correctional system will soon be greater than what is spent on education. The costs of "mopping up the damage" of drop-outs is to high. We must have different strategies.

It has to begin with talent and ability. Go "back to basics!" Talent of ever teacher and student in the system!

In the 1950's if you had a record player, phone and TV, that was the extent of consumer electronics. His 8 great-grandparents were all born within 2 miles of each other. "I just think people bumped into each other on the street and said, 'You'll do!'"

Contrast that with today!

Digital technology has mostly happened in the last 10 years. Todays iPhone has more computing power than all the computing power on earth in 1950. 10 years ago, Google was a novelty! No Wikipedia, Facebook, Youtube, etc. When he was working in the 1970's on his Ph. D., he would spend 3 hrs. in the Library to scour the shelves to find 6 authentic references. That was a good day! Today, 100 pages of great stuff can be Googled on your cell phone, and if it takes more than 15 seconds, you get irritated!

Our children have grown up with this stuff, and they take it for granted! It is true, however, that the gadgets we are using now, will be antiquated very soon!

He told the story of a conversation with an Apple Engineer who said, "the most powerful computers in the world today have the computing power of the brain of a cricket!" Computers are inert calculators. Within 10 years, they'll have the capacity of a 6 month old child. At that point, computers will be able to learn, re-writing their own operating systems.

Kurzweil-in the 2020's will have OS that will be close to the human brain. How will it feel when you sit down at a device and it is as smart as you are?!

"We are reaching a point where information systems will simulate human conciousness."

No one knows for sure what the world will look like in 5 years.

Education is still getting used to the idea of how technology can be utilized in the classroom. There is an opportunity of collective conciousness that is unpresidented. We need to get on with it, because culturally, we're no where near keeping up with technological changes. For most of human history, there have been 1 billion people. Now there are 7 billion, and by mid-century we'll be closer to 9 billion. BBC program, "How many people can live on Earth?" with David Attenborough. If everyone consumed the same as someone in Ruwanda, the Earth could sustain 15 billion. If everyone consumed as much as the U.S., the earth could sustain 1.5 billion.

We need to educate our students to understand this fact.

Our classrooms are designed for the 19th Century. We need to get back to the basics of "people."

"Finding Your Passions Changes Everything!"

Most people don't understand their true talents and don't connect with them!

He told the story of having to introduce the Dahli Lahma on a panel last year. The Dahli Lahma was asked a question, and after a pause, he said, "I don't know!" How many teachers say that?

If you think about all the circumstances that caused you to exist, the odds on you being here are stacked against you! Being born at all is a miricle! So you should do something worth-while!

Robinson spoke of Terrance Tao, a math prodigy, who at age 7 was taking Calculus!

If you have to do math, and can't, you assume you're not smart instead of realizing that you are not smart in Math, but may be smart in something else!

He was "chilling" with Sir Paul McCartney, who said that he HATED music in school. No one at the school thought George Harrison had any talent either. So there was a teacher in Liverpool in the 1950's who had 1/2 of the Beatles in their classroom and didn't see that they had any talent! Elvis didn't get accepted into his Glee Club! How many of our students untapped potential is sitting in OUR classrooms?

To be in your element, you have to love it, and then you never have to "work" again. Bart Connor learned how to walk on his hands at age 6. Not much use at the time, but when he was 8, his mother arranged to have him go to the gymnastics center. For him, that place was like Santa's House and Disneyland, combined. Is that how we feel when we walk into a gym, a classroom? Connor's mother could have said, "stop it with the hands thing!" but instead she encouraged it! She couldn't have known that the journey would take him to the Olympics. Life is organic. "It's not what happens too you that makes your life, it's what you make of it."

Our educational systems have to be predicated on our diversity of human talent!

If you have the potential to be a talented violinist, basketball player, etc.

All you can do is invest in the moment and encourage the passions you see in front of you!

Cultural-We need to educate our students to be informed members of society.

Economic-We're educating students for the old economy rather than the new.

We need to change metaphors! At the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment, design!

We need to move away from the industrial model of education. Most of the assumptions of this are now broken. In the 70's if you had a college degree, you had a job. Not any more!

Now education needs the organic metaphor, based on human beings!

He told this amazing story to emphasize the importance of nurturing student passion and potential:
Near Las Vegas is Death Valley, the hotest, driest place on earth. In the winter of 2004, it rained. In the Spring of 2005, the floor of death valley was a beautiful flower garden. Death Valley isn't dead! It's dormant! and with the right conditions they will produce a harvest. The same is true with students and education! Running a school is more like agriculture, encouraging growth! There are no schools better than it's teachers, principals and superintendents.

Schools can NEVER be fixed permanently.

Schools need to be personalized around people's creative talents! Plants don't grow by themselves! With organic systems, miricles can happen every day!!

After his talk, Carl Anderson asked Sir Ken a question. "What is the purpose of school?" You can see his reply here.


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