This is the second installment of my immediate reflections after attending Educon. You can find Part 1 here.
Sunday January 27th–
This was it, the day we’d been planning for. Today we were presenting at Educon. As we ate breakfast and tweeted we reviewed our plans one last time and tried to make sure everything was covered. Fingers crossed. But first…
- Sunday Morning Panel: What Does the Entrepreneurial Spirit Mean For Schools ? When I questioned why there were no educators on the opening panel, people pointed at this panel as the counter balance. They were sorta right. Two teachers, a principal and the regional director for “Big Picture Learning‘, an organization that tries to spread innovation in schools. Lots of cool stuff here. Nathan Turner is teaching students by growing organic food in New Orleans. Simon Hauger is co-founder of an alternative program called The Sustainability Workshop in Philadelphia. A highlight was Salome Thomas-El, principal of a charter school calling for a ‘revolution in education. Some of his other gems:
- New word: “Pisstivity”
- “Don’t fear failure, failure is motivating, success is paralyzing”
- “We need to reclaim our profession and stop letting others define what we do”
- “Some schools are like ‘Saving Private Ryan’ every day”
- “In order to change schools you have to develop a coalition of change”
- The Politics of EdTech– Lead by the funny and charming Audrey Watters. A really interesting discussion about the connections between multinational corporations and education policy. Audrey pointed out that these large corporations (Google, Apple, Pearson) are spending millions of dollars to influence US education policy to maximize their profits. The discussion sometimes ranged into areas of US politics that were outside my understanding but the general concepts and the concerns certainly hit home. My questions/thoughts:
- What’s the role of teacher unions with respect to innovation in education? Do they facilitate it or prevent it?
- If the people making edtech decisions don’t understand the technology they can be easily influenced by corporations.
- What happens to all the data generated by students and collected by corporations (Google, Pearson, etc.)? How is it used?
- Why do some educators willingly align themselves with some corporations (Google certified, Apple Dedicated)?
- The education industry is best served by maintaining our dependence on them (traditional model).
- Where Are The Beautiful Learning Spaces? Here we go, this is it! As a first time presenter the conversational format of the sessions stressed me out. I couldn’t control all the variables and so my mind went immediately to the potential pitfalls. What if nobody came? What if they came but weren’t engaged? What if the conversation didn’t happen and they just sat there looking at us? I’m happy to say that none of that happened. We had a short power point to introduce ourselves and why we were doing this, then offered some focus questions. We asked people to discuss them in small groups then share their insights with all of us. It went well. We had a group of about 30 people and some good discussion about how to use space to promote better, deeper learning. Mid-way through the first focus question we agreed we needed to capture the ideas and quickly set-up a Google doc to allow people to record their thoughts and ideas. And like that, it was done, over too quickly. I was happy with the session. My fears weren’t realized. The culture at Educon supported that type of session. People come expecting to have the chance to discuss, you just need to provide some supports to allow it.
- Teaching Frameworks for Creative Collaboration– This was a great, hands-on session, but to be honest my brain was “fried”. I wasn’t much of a help to my group in our tower building task. It also covered things I already do with my class, so I was less engaged than I should have been.
- The strength of leaders is they can pivot and change direction. We need to help students learn to pivot.
- For a group to function well roles need to be defined. How do we do that with no hierarchy?
- Groups are constantly in flux, reforming and shifting. Group maintenance needs to be ongoing.
And that was that. With the final session we grabbed out bags and headed to the airport and the flight home.
Some random thoughts:
- Educon is hosted at Science Leadership Academy, a school which is a public-private partnership. Many of the administrative tasks at Educon are performed by students and it keeps the conference grounded. Several times students were pulled into conference sessions to give their perspective on issues. I like it and would like to see students more often at education conferences.
- There were a few minor technical problems but generally the tech went off flawlessly. No wifi at The Franklin Institute on Friday night was an obvious problem. The streaming for our session didn’t work. Apart from that it went well. The SLA network handled the Educon load with no problems which is a welcome change from many conferences (ahem, ECOO12).
- Lots of teachers travelled from far away, including British Columbia, which surprised me. That’s a long way to travel for a weekend.
- Being able to share, face to face, sit around a room and discuss with some of the top thinkers in education was an amazing experience.
- Downtown Philadelphia is a beautiful place to visit. Highly recommended.