#ISTE17 Opening Keynote – Jad Abumrad

After some interesting musical choices and a rousing speech from the new ISTE CEO, Richard Culatta about the vision of ISTE and upcoming surprises (maybe other events besides just the annual conference?!?!), we got an introduction of Jad Abumrad.

Jad is the creator and host of Radiolab on Public Radio. He starts his talk by explaining how once Radiolab started to get successful, people started asking him the question “How did Radiolab start?” He felt like there is an urge to BS an answer to that question, but eventually, as a journalist, he felt he needed to really dive into it. In an interview with his cofounder, the idea of “gut churn” came up. He describes it as the feeling you have when you are unsure about the future or your potential.

I’m not a listener or Radiolab, so I can’t really explain how this experience connects to that, but it is seriously cool. He does a truly impressive blend of media with what he is saying. The preparation that must go into what he’s doing, timing his comments and thoughts with video, music, interviews, drawings. And despite all that preparation, it feels so comfortable, natural, and unrehearsed. It feels like an intimate conversation with one guy and 10,000 other people…

He continued to go on about the struggle of starting something. He said that when you start something, it is the simultaneous feeling of having great ideas and recognizing that you totally suck. Ultimately, he says that negativity about yourself pushes you through the second bad idea, and the fifteenth bad idea, until you get to something great. He says that he wishes someone had taught him that early on in his life that there is benefit to that negativity.

Life is being lost with brief moments of understanding repeated with each new discovery

I feel like nothing gets really good until it stops being reasonable.

I’m torn on the message to take away from this keynote. Jad meanders through a lot of topics. Still, I have some takeaways that I got from it.

The big thing is passion. Letting what you do, what you’re passionate about, fill your entire being until you can’t do anything else. He talks specifically about the question of his stories on Radiolab, and not just pushing yourself to answer that question, but to keep pushing until that question is a part of you, that you are that question. In our classrooms, we can model this. Maybe we can model it with the Essential Question of our unit, but I think we can model it with a question that students need to answer to become adults:

What am I passionate about?

How real should my dreams be?

How can I be happy?

You can make adjustments to those questions, but I think Jad would want those to be the questions we make ourselves, and we make them just as critical to our students. We can use the standards as the medium, but the destination should push the students.

But maybe I’m totally wrong. Maybe what is so beautiful about this keynote is that Jad builds a speech in which you can interpret your own meaning. Like a fine piece of art.

What Jad did was make us laugh, make us think, and make us want to be something better than we walked in as.

Thank god that I was there, that Robert was there, and now you all are here, so that we can get across that gap, make it through that forest, and devour all this darkness. Together.

So thank you, truly thank you, Jad Abumrad.