LOOK Behind the Curtain by Bob Sprankle

Let's face it: if Dorothy never looked behind the curtain, she would never have made it back home.


Geeks and "Fanboys" (note: I use both terms in a complimentary as well as self-identification fashion) across the world got a thrill this past week when they got a never before glimpse "behind the curtain" at Apple. At a special press conference, Steve Jobs revealed state of the art "anechoic chambers" and gave a sliver of explanation about how Apple tests their iPhones (and other devices) for connectivity by a team of very smart PhD scientists and engineers. Apple made this rare offering to the press as evidence and defense to the recent clamor over the purported antenna issues that the recent iPhone 4 is suffering. It was a good move: provide "drool-worthy," top secret goodies and divert attention, even if only temporarily, from the negative press and criticism flooding the airwaves. You can click here to see a take on the story from macrumors.com, or here for a similar story from Engadget. Or shoot over to the Apple site and watch Steve Jobs himself scold the press for not getting the story correct, complete with pre-show entertainment from Jonathan Mann and his "The iPhone Antenna Song." It's all good fun: iPhone 4 owners are promised "bumper" cases and we all learn a truism from Mr. Jobs (one we've possibly been afraid to ever admit to ourselves): "This is life in the smartphone world. Phones aren't perfect."

Much like the Wizard of Oz, I'm sure Apple never wanted to reveal any of their secrets and have this little "heart to heart," for certainly, if we know nothing else about the company, we know they aren't big on transparency. It feels good to hear one of our most famous CEOs reveal candidly that the tech world is flawed. That there are "weakspots." That "reception will be dropped." That "Nobody's Perfect."

The biggest take away from the presentation comes at the end when Mr. Jobs declares that Apple works incredibly hard for their users, and that they really, really... love us. Truly. That's what he says.

Wow... who knew transparency could feel so warm and fuzzy?

I think most of us appreciate the level of transparency displayed at the press conference. I, for one, would love to hear a whole lot more. It certainly makes me feel better about purchasing an Apple product. I'm not sure this defensive move on Apple's part will change the high level of secrecy that surrounds their designs and plans, and perhaps it shouldn't (sites like macrumors.com would be lacking material if this were to happen).

Perhaps the mystery and unknowns that surround Apple products help drive sales and we'll just keep drinking the Kool-aid no matter what. However, even though we may have a fondness for the Wizard of Oz at the end of the movie when he hands out his trinkets to Dorothy's friends, remember that initially he's a scoundrel, hiding the truth, making up reality as he goes along. It makes it hard to ever really trust the guy.


Last week, I once again had the great fortune to be invited to present at the Building and Learning Communities conference, put on by the November Learning Group in downtown Boston. This year's conference was, as in the past, stellar, but this year has a special place in my heart as this time around I was accompanied by my 12 year old daughter, Zoe. She co-presented with me, got to see every keynote presentation, helped me podcast those and the workshops I attended (she even went out on her own and captured Peggy Sheehy's session while I recorded another session), helped Angela Maiers present along with Adora Svitak, and, in short, was transformed by the event. I know she's getting ready to write her own reflection about her experiences, so I don't want to steal her story here, but I do want to share one salient quote she offered during a podcast we recorded on our way home from the conference (you can find it here). I asked her, if she could tell me in one word what she thought of the conference. Her answer: "Inspiring."

What was inspiring? I asked.

"To see all these people who are really wanting to make their classroom a better place for students and to make the learning community better and more innovative and creative more like... kids want to learn in it."

See... she saw behind the curtain. Never before in her entire career as a student had she been privy to seeing over a thousand teachers come together to talk about making learning better. And this was not boring or unconnected to her, but rather "Inspiring."

It made me think a lot about teaching: in our roles, are we the Grand Wizards of Oz, hiding everything behind the curtain, or are we explaining why we're doing things? Do we include our students in designing the learning? Do we admit that we're not perfect (that there are "weakspots." That "reception will be dropped." "Nobody's Perfect.")?

This conference had a small representation of students, but much more compared to most conferences I've attended (not including the MLTI conference which was primarily students teaching students). I've been asking for a while, when attending conferences, "Where are the students?" I think people are starting to understand that they need to be included as well, and it was interesting to see adults picking the brains of the students that were present at BLC2010, as if recognizing that they were a rare commodity at such an event. In fact, at one point, Alan November asked the audience to "imagine" that they had two younger students sitting next to them at the conference in order to really appreciate the message from Adora's Keynote. Perhaps it isn't enough to imagine it and we really need those students there.


I've been reviewing learning theories and processes this week (Constructivism, Instructional Design, ADDIE, etc.) and as I reflected on my experience on the conference it got me rethinking what little I know about Malcolm Knowles' adoption of the theory of Andragogy. According to Wikipedia:

"Knowles asserted that andragogy (Greek: "man-leading") should be distinguished from the more commonly used pedagogy (Greek: "child-leading"). Knowles' theory can be stated with six assumptions related to motivation of adult learning:[1][2]

  1. Adults need to know the reason for learning something (Need to Know)
  2. Experience (including error) provides the basis for learning activities (Foundation).
  3. Adults need to be responsible for their decisions on education; involvement in the planning and evaluation of their instruction (Self-concept).
  4. Adults are most interested in learning subjects having immediate relevance to their work and/or personal lives (Readiness).
  5. Adult learning is problem-centered rather than content-oriented (Orientation).
  6. Adults respond better to internal versus external motivators (Motivation)."

While I certainly agree with the above, I wonder why some (if not all) of these same assumptions can't be applied to children as well. It's Number 1 that I find myself particularly stuck on, and not able to get past. Is there truly a distinction that only adults need to know the reason for learning something? Or, doesn't that also apply to children/students? Shouldn't students also want to know the reason for learning something? Is that already an intrinsic desire which we haven't recognized because we don't believe students would actually be interested in it at an earlier stage of development? Or have we've neglected to serve that need due to masking instruction behind too many "curtains"? Have we ever shown what really happens behind the scenes with instruction? Have we welcomed students to be co-contributors of curriculum? Even if this "motivation" truly doesn't exist at an earlier stage of development, shouldn't we still teach students to appreciate and question the reason for learning something?

Certainly, my daughter expressed to me that she had no idea what teachers were really doing at a conference like Building Learning Communities. She knew her teachers often go to conferences, and I've told her plenty about how conferences work, but she had to see first hand the passion and the work involved in order for us to become better teachers. Again, she didn't find what she witnessed as "boring." She found it relevant to herself as a learner, and found inspiration.

I am left with questions... many questions. I invite you to grab one from the list below, or grab the whole batch and take a crack at them. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thank you in advance.



  • Does Apple's stock/value increase or decrease when they tell us they love us?
  • Does Apples stock/value increase or decrease when they "pull back the curtain" and admit they aren't perfect?
  • As teachers, are we "Wizards of Oz" who mask our intentions, hopes, and purposes of our lessons behind the curtain and never admit that we aren't perfect? Would our stock/value increase or decrease if we pulled back the curtain?
  • Can students be brought into the building of curriculum... even as early as Kindergarten?
  • What are your thoughts about a rule that you can only attend a workshop/conference if you had a student accompany you?
  • Can we engage students by giving them a curriculum co-creator role?
  • Are you going to answer these questions yourself, or will you ask a student to help you with them?



"Andragogy - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2010. .

Doctorow, Cory. "Why I won't buy an iPad (and think you shouldn't, either) - Boing Boing." Boing Boing. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2010. .

"July 16 Press Conference." Apple Events: July 16 Press Conference. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 July 2010. .

Slivka, Eric. "A Look Inside Apple's Wireless Testing Facilities - Mac Rumors." Mac Rumors: Apple Mac Rumors and News You Care About. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2010. .

Topolsky, Joshua. "Inside Apple's 'black lab' wireless testing facilities -- Engadget." Engadget. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 July 2010. .