Reflections on Educon 2.5 – Pre-Conversations

Before Educon’s conversations begin, we get to spend the day at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), attend an evening panel discussion at The Franklin Institute (see Pulver) and see the opening keynote address – this year it was Philadelphia’s new Superintendent, Dr. William Hite.

..and I’ll say here that among the many regularly scheduled annual educator learning events, Educon’s unconference is probably the richest experience, anywhere, anytime. This is not to say that regular conferences with presenters and keynote speakers are not valuable. They are essential, because they facilitate opportunities for learning that Educon does not. But to listen to smart people and to be able to push and pull on what they are saying, well, it just wrinkles my brain.

One of the greatest features of Educon is the chance to catch up with friends, whom we see almost daily in the networked eduverse, but with whom we rarely get to shake hands, huge, and enjoy extended conversations, unconstrained by 140 characters limits – and that’s not to say that we ever get to finish our conversations at Educon, because there are always new ones that attract our attention.

We also get to visit classes and talk with SLA teachers. I especially enjoyed talking with Matt VanKouwenberg, about his engineering classes. His process reminded me of the vocational education classes I took in high school, how we all learned many of the same lessens by working on distinctly different projects. He told me that each class starts with a few minutes of sharing, where each student or team reports on where they are, barriers they are facing, and what they are learning (think the first five minutes of each episode of LA Law). He said that it often surprises the students to discover the similarities in what they learn, regardless of what they are working on.

I also enjoyed talking with one of my favorite SLA teachers, Meenoo Rami, an English teacher. Rami teaches a class about Storytelling, which appears to be not about fiction writing, but about how we use stories as a device for communication. I think that this is an often overlooked tool for expressing ourselves, even by many of us who are supposed to be master communicators. Too often I hear keynote and featured speakers simply telling us what to believe, rather than helping us discover our own beliefs through plot and surprise.  Never underestimate the power of a good surprise.

Near the end of the Friday night panel discussion, Pulver said that, “The future is unwritten!”

When considering our challenges as educators and the future challenges of our students, we must come to believe that anything is possible. We’re not preparing our children for the 21st century. We’re preparing them for the age of opportunities, when almost any problem can be solved and almost any goal can be accomplished.  This affects so much that is involved in formal education.

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While claiming my best seat (its that hearing thing) for one of the first conversations, and reflecting on Friday’s panel and Saturday morning’s keynote, I quickly drew up the diagram on the right. Even though, at the highest levels, we’d all deny it, our job, now, is to prepare our children to take tests. Education has become a competitive endeavor, pitting nation against nation, state against state, district against district… and the point system for that competition is test scores.

This implies a purpose behind education that has little to do with an age of opportunity. Instead students learn to read in order to follow instructions and to learn in order to fit in to someone else’s competitive machine. To be ready for an age of opportunity, children must learn to read so that they can learn to do something that they couldn’t do before and to learn in order to make their own machine.

One of the greatest ah ha! moments of the event, was when Philadelphia Schools Suerpentendent, Dr. William Hite said, “Today, teachers do not need to be content specialists nearly as much as they need to be context specialists.”

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.