Further Reflections on EduCon 2.2

The conversation never stopped — even over Philly Cheese Steak

For fear of appearing to be a kool-aid drinking, rose tinted glasses wearing, disciple of the Order of EduCon, I do have a complaint about the event.  They really need a better way of storing our coats.  I had to remember that mine was just to the left of the Case 6 amplifier in the music room, just behind that Yamaha piano looking thing.  Ok, that’s out!

Traveling to the Ohio eTech conference in Columbus, directly from EduCon, I will confess to having thoughts of, “How can you go to a conference and sit still and get taught at, after the brilliant conversations of Educon?”  I had those thoughts.  They were unfair, but I had them.  Truth is that sitting and listening to Adora Svitak, the child-prodigy writer (first book at 7), was a joy, and it was useful listening for new insights from here talk.  For instance, she made a big deal of her parents giving her a laptop at six and that having the computer, and a word processor, freed her from the limitations of her six-year-old’s hand writing.  “Imagine if my parents had been afraid of the technology,” she said.

Much of what she shared, we’ve been talking about for years.  But there are many who haven’t heard it, and it is, indeed, unfair of us to believe that every educator is ready for unconferenced learning.  It is also a reality that some of the attendees of eTech were ready for unconference sessions, as with most ed tech conferences, and some people have stopped attending these conferences, because there simply isn’t enough there that’s new to them.  Incorporating conversations into the conference schedule is something that we need to be seeing a LOT more of.

Back to EduCon, I’ve done lots of school walk-throughs, but this is the only place where students are the tour guides.  I’m afraid that I do not remember their names, but our small group was led by two seniors, having attended Science Leadership Academy (SLA) for all of it’s four years.  We were able to walk into classrooms, but also ask them, from a student’s point of view, what their experience has been and how it has affected them and their view of their own futures.  They are worried a bit about their transition from a more open, student-centered learning experience to most university’s “one-size fits all” methodologies.  I believe that they’ll do fine and that perhaps this is exactly the kind of learner we need to be springing on universities to shake things up a bit.

I have to confess here that it is one of the challenges of my particular hearing problem that I often misunderstand things.  What I hear is garbled.  So I have to collect a lot of contextual information — facial and body gestures, clues from other viewers, and a lot of subconscious things — to understand what is being said.  Bonnie Mark’s husband once told me that my hardware was faulty and that the software was compensating.  Very cleaver and accurate way of putting it, but my software often gets it wrong. 

But what I saw and heard in that Literature class blew me away.  Four students were sitting behind a table and the rest of the class was sitting in chairs, haphazardly arranged around them.  The four appeared to be performing a scene from the book that the class had just read, a scene that they had added to the book, having scripted and rehearsed the scene to express some aspect of their interpretation of the book.  The class then discussed the inserted scene and students added their own insights.  This is all over Bloom’s Taxonomy — and now that I think about it, I do not recall ever laying my eyes on the teacher.

I’ve got to learn more about “Mouse.”  From what our guides said, it appears to be an elective that has some aspects of tech support for the school, but also some “tinkering” qualities.  The students spend time taking stuff apart and hacking it in some way.  I tried to get a few minutes with Chris Lehmann, Founding Principal of SLA, to explain it to me, but, as you can imagine…  Anyway, this concept is exactly the conversation that

Links on Tinkering

Brown refers to “Architectural Studio”

  • All project is made public (sharing)
  • Completed products are critiqued by master & peers
  • Distributed community of practice

Sylvia Martinez, of Generation YES, lead on Saturday, “Tinkering Towards Technology Fluency.”  It was about the benefits of giving students, and teachers, the opportunity to hack stuff.  She mentioned a culture of Bricolage in schools in Italy, where there is a room that people simply drop off their junk.  Students can spend time there taking stuff apart and remixing it with other stuff to make something that is useful — or just interesting.

Perhaps one of the most powerful exerperiences, for me, was being clued by one of the students, that Chris Lehmann’s class on modern education theory, for SLA seniors and juniors, was about to start.  For a time, I was the only adult in the room, except possibly for Chris himself 😉  But as other EduCon attendees wandered in, an amazing conversation errupted between the students and their perspectives on learning and what they were learning about education theory, and our own perspectives as experienced educators, and, perhaps even more importantly, as people who where 10 to 40 years more experienced than the students.

One of the most interesting statements from one of the students, and one that speaks well of the school, was, “I’m studying themes (here), not subjects.  I am always looking for the connections between what I’m learning here and what I’ve learned there.”

Shortly there after, Dean Shareski asked something to the effect of, “At what age have we reached the base knowledge needed?”  Some of the comments I jotted down (thumbed into my iPhone) were:

  • “It depends!”
  • “There is no test for maturity.”
  • “When a person can think for himself.”
  • One students commented on how she was able to think about her capstone project more fully now than she was last year.
  • “Maturity is about being future oriented.”

Then I suggested, as (probably) the oldest person in the room, that one thing you learn, as you get older, is how to appreciate what you do not know.  Perhaps, the sign of maturity or of the “base knowledge needed” is starting to realize what you do not know, that it has less to do with what you know, and more to do with the questions you are asking.

Certainly one of the high points was the conversations we had with each other, outside of the scheduled “conversations,” just here and there.  So many people say that the best learning at conferences happens in the halls.  One such was with Lisa Parisi and Brian Cosby.  They are working on a book about blogging in the classroom, and I grilled them a bit about their experiences.  Three ideas really jumped out at me:

  1. Students pay a lot of attention to their older blogs, what they wrote at the beginning of the year (or years ago), and they are amazed at their own progress as writers and thinkers.
  2. They (Lisa & Brian) usually do not draw attention to the students problems with grammar in their blogs, until the student comes up and asks, “Why didn’t they understand what I was trying to write here?”
  3. When I asked if their students understood the learning that they were doing, the method, Lisa said that they didn’t, until she asked them to produce a video at the end of the year that would be used as an introduction to next year’s students.  She said that when they started planning that video, they started to think about and talk about learning collaboratively through conversation.

That’s enough about EduCon.  According to Google’s blog search, 179 other blog posts that mention EduCon, have been posted in the last week.

Powered by ScribeFire.

Some Reflections from Educon — and it isn’t over yet!

Virgin Galactica – http://www.virgingalactic.com/

On my way down Arch Street this morning, walking to SLA for the last day of Educon, I listened to a TED audio podcast, an interview with Richard Branson, of Virgin-Atlantic Airlines, conducted by TED curator, Chris Anderson. I didn’t know anything about Branson, except for Virgin… and his interest in space travel. So it surprised me when Anderson mentioned that he (Richard) did not have a very successful education experience. Branson admitted to being dyslexic, and that he never really understood school work. He left school at 15.

Now there are two messages that we might take from this. One, a really smart person can overcome learning difficulties and be successful. The other one, the disturbing one, “How many truly talented people has ‘schooling’ failed, individuals who haven’t found the way or the environment to success?” “How many opportunities to enable talented people as valuable contributors souls we have squandered for the sake of ‘business as usual?'”

During one of the Educon conversations I participated in yesterday, a young teacher lamented over older high school students, who should have graduated a couple of years ago. They need to graduate and get out and start living. They do not have time to do interesting learning activities, because they already have a job? What can we do for them, before it is too late.”

Here’s what I wanted to say, but didn’t, for fear that it would come across as callus. I wanted to say — should have said — “It’s already too late!” “It is too late to enable that student, who is ready to become an adult. It is too late for your high school to capture the potentials of that student and benefit from the contributions she might have made, if her personal talents had been recognized, encouraged, and harnessed.” I applaud this young teacher for here position, and for what she may be doing for older high school students, and, “Keep doing it.” We need to do all that we can. I’m not suggesting that we give up.

But I think that we need to acknowledge the tragic waste that is resulting from today’s system. We need to stop believing that we can bandaid the system into relevance. I think that we need to be willing to say, “It’s too late for her. Now, what can we do to make sure that we never have to say that again.”

My Educon Conversation

One of the best things about Educon is the nature of the sessions, called “Conversations.” It is unconference in practice, meaning that the session leader does not teach for learning, but, instead, his job is to generate conversations among the attendees from which everyone learns. It is not a hive mind at work, but a sharing and mixing of many ideas and perspectives, from which group and individual meaning can be found. It is beautiful!

Participant Grid

Group Grid

I have led numerous such unconference sessions, mostly to the delight of participants, who often write in their evaluations that these sessions were among the most rich in learning. I continue, though, to walk away feeling that I didn’t do my job, because I didn’t teach anything. It’s the school romantic in me. I’ll get over it.

I have felt, for some time, that the conversations I facilitate lack anchor points or magnetic positions around which to latch ideas. They are typically rich in backchanneling, which will certainly be the case at Educon, and there is great value in using each other for gaining traction. But I’ve felt for a while that something more firm was needed.

So, in addition to channeling ideas through Twitter, during my conversation, I will be asking participants to map their ideas along a bi-directional rubric (see “Participant Grid” on right), giving us all a ladder, on which to climb as we suggest ways of ramping up traditional classroom practices (all recently witnessed in existing classrooms) into learning experiences that take thinking to a higher level and make learning a more relevantly active engagement.

It will work like this:

  1. Participants will load a rubric onto their computers, with two scales, Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy going vertical, and Daggett’s Application Model along the horizontal.
  2. I will suggest a classroom learning experience that was recently witnessed in a classroom, asking participants to click the point on the grid at the point of intersection along each scale.
  3. A grid will be displayed (see “Group Grid” on right) that shows all of the participant’s clicks, indicating where individuals and the group think we are with the activity.
  4. Here, I will ask questions like, “Somebody thinks that this activity involves analysis. What is it about the activity that achieves this?” And, “How might we enrich this activity to include a measure of analysis and make it relevant in other subject areas?”

My goal is to use the tool to steer conversations about specific learning practices, drilling through the theory to describe exactly what teachers and learners are doing, and perhaps even suggest learning experience that no one in the group has yet imagined.

..Or it may not work at all. That’s the thing about conversations. They wouldn’t be interesting if they didn’t go in unpredictable directions.