Back to Teaching, Post-EduCon 2.3

Although I would have posted this last night upon returning from EduCon, Sara and I found ourselves rerouted by Delta and not arriving home until about 2AM. So, a little time to sleep this morning (in fact, very little) and a little time to think about this all day today has now brought me back to my computer tonight, and I am reading a flurry of tweets and posts, post-EduCon. In particular, Liz B. Davis shared her “EduCon Struggle” with a thoughtful follow-up from Chris Lehmann, among others, and Bud just asked for our “educontext” in a tweet just a while ago.

So, where am I at in my “educontext?” Well, with encouraging words from both Sara and Liz to share my thoughts, here is where I was at 24 hours ago, when composing a draft on a plane, with a few more comments below.

My second visit to EduCon (and third visit to Philly) in three years gave my time to reconnect with many progressive minds in the education and edtech world, including many NWP colleagues whose support made my presentation on Because Digital Writing Matters a success (see our shared Google Doc for details from the session). Although EduCon bills itself as “not” a technology conference, I find the distinction between “tech” and “not tech” conferences to continue blurring, and the number of smart phones, laptops, tablets, and other devices at EduCon would suggest that we, as educators, are increasingly reliant upon a number of technologies to stay connected. At least, within certain contexts.

What I mean by that — and this takes nothing away from what EduCon is, both as an actual event and an educational phenomenon — is that I think we might be lost in our own echo chamber.

When Sara noted at one point that, in her TweetDeck columns, her Twitter feed of “All Friends” and also of “#educon” looked almost exactly the same, I began to think about what it was that we were experiencing… and when the panels of distinguished guests and educators, let alone the hallway conversations and scheduled conversations, continued the chorus of innovation, change, and educational evolution, I started to (I will be honest here) lose focus. I tried to attend, literally by being in my seat and choosing not to tweet, as well as figuratively, by wrapping my head around the big ideas. But, I lost focus, and it was frustrating.

I am not saying this in any sarcastic manner, as I appreciate all the work that SLA staff and students have put in to making EduCon what it is. And this is not to say that my experience at EduCon, as a participant and as a presenter, were not valuable, because they most certainly were. I just preface the second half of this reflection with the idea that we — as the innovators, the thought-leaders, the doers — need to be very conscious of how and why we attended EduCon and what we are taking back with us to our day-to-work.

And, that is where I want to focus the second part of this reflection… on my day-to-day work with pre-service and in-service teachers and what I am taking from EduCon 2011 back with me as I return to Michigan (via a rerouted trip to Minneapolis). Do we need more “steam” in STEM? Yes. Do we need time and space for kids to innovate? Absolutely. Do we want to empower all learners to share their voice in democratic classrooms? Of course we do. Again, I am not being sarcastic here, as I truly appreciate all the insights, dedication, and inspiration that everyone involved in this weekend shared with us.

But, I feel like something is missing in the conversation, and I am hoping to write myself into finding (at least) part of it.

First, I was reminded about how one’s own continuous partial attention can, in fact, lead to not paying attention to anything at all, and I was reminded of the power of face-to-face conversation. No matter how many conversations I enter into online — even the exchanges I had during EduCon this weekend — I continued to be most impressed with my conversations with colleagues when we are sitting next to one another. Some were serendipitous “tweet ups” (oh, I just started following you last week!). Others were intentional (let’s meet between sessions), yet most were the casual, comfortable conversations that I had with colleagues I’ve know for some time, or who I was introduced to during the weekend. It is good to connect and reconnect, yet sometimes make an effort to move beyond.

Second, as much as I value those conversations, I also value the opportunities to introduce colleagues to one another, and to say hello to those around me who I have yet to meet. EduCon lends itself to friendly conversation, yet it is still a challenge to make sure that we take the time and make the effort to have those conversations. While I am not as critical as some voices I heard who went so far as to call EduCon “cliquey,” or worse, I know that it is still tough to break out of our comfort zones. Oddly enough, at one of the most innovative high schools in the country, many of us sat last night in the cafeteria with groups of our friends. During the sessions, I would intentionally try sit at tables with other EduCon participants that I had yet to meet, and I tried to strike up conversations when I could. To the extent that I was able, I tried to widen my circle and I am continually reminded that I am the one who needs to move beyond, even though I would hope that others make an effort, too. That a little intentional focus on my part can lead to conversations that I hadn’t imagined. Again, I hope to take back the idea that we need to move beyond our own echo chambers, and make opportunities for ourselves to do so.

So, where does this leave me? Well, one component that I am bringing back with me is the idea that I closed my session with — no matter how many digital tools we invite students to use, it is the quality of the community that matters. And, let’s face it, we are the community. What is it that we, as a self-identified group of progressive educators, hope to (and plan to) do to move beyond our own comfortable conversations and invite other voices, even dissenting voices, into the mix? Do we want innovation? For sure. Who are those that are (from our perspective) stifling innovation… do you think that they want innovation, too, even if they are going about it in a different way? I imagine that they do. Sure, it may be a race to nowhere, not the top, but those who are designing these reforms have intentions, and it does us no good to preach to the choir of progressives if we are not truly understanding the logic of those who think otherwise and, if at all possible, attempt to come to some common ground. What voices were missing from those panels and what value (and values), positive or negative, might they have brought to the conversations?

Maybe I am still riled up about all the political rhetoric lately about the new tone in Washington that, very quickly, degenerated right back to where we were at election time (if not worse). Maybe I am tired after a long weekend at a conference that encouraged me to think, share, and connect, yet still left me with more questions about how to do so than answers. Maybe it is because I need to translate this all to pre-service and in-service teachers who, rightfully, want to know what they can do to engage reluctant students and help them master content all the while defending their profession to parents, administrators, and politicians. Or, maybe, just maybe, I am a bit unsatisfied with the way that the conversations played out, that I want something more… that I want us to really, really move toward something new, something different, but no one really knows how.

Sara and I just finished our coffee break on the flight and she mentioned the idea that software, when moving from version X.Y to X.Z will usually do some major overhauls, adding some features that make it richer and more robust. For all the wonderful panels, collegial conversations, and student voices we heard this weekend, perhaps those who organize it need to think more about what EduCon 2.4 could be. What other voices, however contradictory they may appear to be, do we want to join in the conversation? What value would that add to the conversations within our own echo chamber?

Thank you, EduCon — SLA staff and students, participants both onsite and online — for a wonderful weekend, for pushing my thinking, and for helping us all become better teachers and learners. I look forward to continuing the conversations.

Now, back to the present. I need to encourage the teachers with whom I work to get out of their own echo chambers, to listen to and understand the voices of others, and to make sure that they are bringing their own voices — classroom-tested, inquiry-based, well-reasoned voices — into the conversation. Understand the key ideas about innovation, democratic classrooms, STEAM, and the like. Yet, don’t stop there… be sure to listen, to engage, and to be a part of the conversation in wider circles. Despite my frustrations, that is still my take-away from the weekend.

All that said, I was hesitant to post any of this at all, feeling much like Liz in that I might hurt the feelings of colleagues at SLA and in the EduCon community. But, Chris’s response to her post was generous, and in the spirit of the conversations that EduCon fosters, I hope that my post will provide an opportunity for response, too.

Again, thank you EduCon for pushing my thinking in ways that I would otherwise not be able to move myself. I appreciate the ways in which you make the conversations happen.

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Notes from Opening Panel Discussion of EduCon 2.1

Notes from opening panel discussion at EduCon 2.1

Panel Discussion @ The Franklin Institute — “What is the Purpose of School?” Come to the Franklin Institute to see a group of societal visionaries speak about their vision of the purpose of school in a panel discussion.

  • Joel Arquillos — Executive Director, 826LA
    • 8 years in San Francisco schools, dealing with all that happens in the classroom — the purpose of school is to build community and to respect and honor the students that come into our classrooms
      • The best that you can do some days is to help students talk with one another and get through all the big issues in their lives
      • How to help them build the world that they will inherit
      • Then, I began to see that there were other ways of opening the school to the world — working with 826 Valencia
      • Wanted to create a space for students to have an opportunity to work on their writing
      • Connecting the classroom and the community; changing the perception of what schools can be
  • Dr. Molefi Asante — Professor, African American Studies, Temple University
    • First, this is a complex question, the purpose of school, because the purposes given for schools have always changed
      • 17th century — train young white men how to be leaders in the world
      • What should be the purpose of school is perhaps what we should ask
    • One purpose that perhaps should be non-changing is that the purpose of school is inquiry
      • If there is a value to be transmitted by schools, it would be inquiry because inquiry is about openness
    • The notion of knowledge needs to be developed such that we have an understanding that all cultures contribute to knowledge; there is not one perspective on knowledge
      • We might need to redress this whole question about this idea of a monocultural system that has evolved from the Greeks to now; we forget the Chinese, Africans, Indians, and others
    • The purpose is inquiry — just when we think we are set, that is the moment we should inquire even more
  • Kendall Crolius — Founding Partner, The Sulevia Group
    • Creativity — what business leaders say is that the biggest challenge is to keep innovation going
    • Collaboration — more important now than it has ever been, must be able to work in teams by appreciating cultural diversity and other perspectives
    • Courage — confidence; embrace change and challenge the status quo
  • Jeff Han — Founder, Perceptive Pixel and inventor of the multi-touch screen
    • Did really love school, and I had some really excellent teachers
    • We were really well equipped and got to use technology in the classroom
    • Communication
      • Learn how to communicate socially, and also in the sense of sharing concepts and constructing an argument
      • Be didactic, be able to communicate with one’s peers
    • Calibration
      • Look at how teachers can callibrate what knowledge is difficult to understand, what problems are difficult to solve
      • Is this something that is novel? That is a real contribution?
  • Prakash Nair — Co-Founder, Fielding Nair International — Architects and Change Agents for Education
    • There is a huge disconnect between what you see as the rhetoric in school offices and what happens on the ground
    • Six ideas
      • Schools should be a social anchor, a hub that offers value to students and community
      • A place for kids to hang out with all the cool toys: computers, video links, gamers, artists, musicians
      • Generate ideas and not just regurgitate ideas: from architecture to courses
      • Ideas harvesting, bring them to fruition
      • Key player in community’s economic network
      • Flexible, accessible to build social capital: physical and cultural resources for schools
    • Many of these things are happening around the world today
    • How do you enhance the bottom line — accountability for all, and everyone should be pulling in the same direction
    • 30 Strategies for Education Innovation
  • Dr. Stephen Squyres — Principal Investigator, Mars Exploration Rover Mission
    • Two particular purposes for science education
      • Open student’s eyes to what is possible — this is important for those who are going to go into STEM
        • Went to a public high school and realized that teachers were hamstrung in many ways because they couldn’t do everything that they wanted to do with students
        • Space exploration was something that I saw on TV, and not until college realized that there were options for being exposed to those doing space exploration; this is much too late
        • Need to reach students in high school and middle school — expose kids to what is possible
      • To allow people how to understand how things really work
        • Teaching an introductory astronomy course — it is very easy for students to see science as a static body of knowledge to be learned and tested
        • Instead, try to show them what science really is and what scientists can do
        • Start with “what happened on Mars” today in the course
        • Science is a process of uncovering new knowledge, of discovery
        • Opening their eyes to how things really work
      • Collaboration with the Mars Rover — the machines are so complex that no one of us understands everything about it
        • Bringing together the right size group of people for the task at hand that are united by a common passion
        • Everyone has to believe it is going to be great and has to agree to the core, crisp statement of the mission and what we are trying to accomplish
  • Diane Castelbound, Pennsylvania Department of Education
    • Meeting with people everyday from businesses, to politicians, to people in schools from rural to urban and talk to kids and find that they feel schools are failing them all
    • Schools are supposed to create community and civic identity, and failing on that front, too
    • By whatever metric, our schools are not keeping pace
    • How the system is failing our kids and teachers — public education funding system
    • If education is supposed to be the great equalizer, then it is no wonder that we are not keeping up
  • Moderated by Frederic Bertley — Vice President of the Center for Innovation in Science Learning, The Franklin Institute

Franklin Institute founded in 1824, teaching in mechanical arts 2006 – SLA opens in a partnership with Franklin Institute and Philadelphia Schools