Sunday, January 26, 2014

Educon 2.6: Multiple Paths of Inquiry

Capturing Educon 2.6 is a daunting task as the day is not easily described in words.  Truly it is a conference that inspires terrific thought, connection, exchange, and mentoring.  The engaged Science Leadership Academy students, family members, and educators provide a portrait of what schools can be--vibrant, inclusive, collaborative learning environments.  The notes below reflect my experiences and take aways from Educon 2.6 Saturday. 

Kind, enthusiastic Science Leadership parents greeted me when I entered the Academy for Saturday's Educon 2.6. I found a seat in the main room, and readied for the morning's introduction by SLA's Principal, Chris Lehmann.  While waiting, I had the chance to meet a number of educators, some of whom I know well from Twitter chats and blogs and others who I look forward to getting to know.

Enthusiastic Introduction
Great to meet so many Twitter friends including
Tom Whitby, Katrina Stevens, and Nancy Blair
Lehmann began the day with gratitude for his vibrant learning community of dedicated family members, students, staff, and partners. He described the Educon 2.6 participants, online and off, as a tribe of purposeful educators and acknowledged the way that so many of us continually interact in a large variety of learning spaces. Throughout the day the SLA students and family members were fully integrated into all aspects of the event from leadership to conversation participation/presentation to guiding guests, serving lunch/dinner, and answering lots of questions.

Next,  Richard Culatta, Director, Office of Educational Technology, United States Department of Education, gave the keynote address. Culatta encouraged us to read the United States Department of Education's Strategic Plan Draft, and prompted us to focus on the learning first, and technology as a way to power up learning. He noted ConnectEd, the importance/outcomes of school speed tests, and that President Obama would include education in his upcoming State of the Union address.  Culatta posed the question, "How can we change professional development in education? and pointed to the mismatch of one-size-fits-all professional development and our efforts to personalize learning for every child.  He also encouraged meaningful PBL with the comment, "Let students solve real problems."

The Conversations

Conversation #1: Education News and Idea Exchange
After the keynote, I attended a session led by Culatta, and was inspired by the many questions, stories, and teaching strategies shared during that conversation. During the session we discussed the need for every child to have tech devices available to them where and when they want to learn, and that it's time to break down the notion that technology is a separate class or room in the building. This idea led to a debate about ideal learning spaces and strategies. Culatta noted that there are federal funds available for shifts in professional development, and that Connected Schools Guides will be coming out to help foster tech integration and learning exchange.

As educators shared, the following topics/questions were discussed:
  • Formal support for the informal student
  • Structures that balance foundation skills with innovation and new learning.
  • The disconnect that often happens between school departments. 
  • The need for technologists and students to be part of learning design/instructional teams. 
  • Instead of asking students, "What they want to be when they grow up?," ask "What problem do you want to solve?"
  • How do we encourage and foster innovative tech use and teaching strategy within all teaching teams, schools?
  • How will schools handle technology now that new government measures are making that technology more available and affordable? 
  • How can we effectively implement technology into preservice teaching programs?  
  • What do we do about the discord between personalization and standardized tests?
  • How can every school develop a culture of learning. (The book, The Courage to Teach, was referenced).
Conversation #2: Learning and Unlearning 
After lunch, I participated in a conversation led by Dr. Bill Brennan related to how organizations learn and unlearn as part of building dynamic learning communities.  Like Culatta's conversation, the room was full. We discussed a number of thought provoking questions including the following:
  • How do we create organizations where we can help individuals break out of their comfort zones?
  • What do we unlearn in order to move our learning/teaching communities forward?
  • Are we learning institutions or institutions of learning? 
  • How do we allow students to build their own contexts with respect to knowledge?
  • Do organizations value reflection, and if so, how do they make time for that activity?
  • What is the difference between knowledge and information?
  • Are our systems ready to navigate rapid change and growth?
  • How and where do systems encourage leadership growth, change, and interchange in dynamic ways?
Other important take aways from this conversation for me included the idea of the educator as one who leads students' inquiry with analysis, critical thinking, question creation, and content curation.  It was noted that in the old days, questions were looked at as a deficit, and now questions are the focus of learning. Lehmann contributed the idea that teachers need to tell a better story about what they are doing in classrooms today to educate students well--we have to help families and others understand the changing role of education and educator. 

Brennan highlighted the idea that through social media, collaboration, and other online/offline learning community endeavors, we are able to draft on each other's ideas which serves to accelerate our learning. One participant suggested the book, Gamestorming, as a guide to invigorating change and optimal collaboration in schools. 

Waiting for the day's final session to begin, I was introduced to a great blog related to drawing and visual literacy, a passion for me so I can't wait to take a close look. 

Conversation #3: Elementary PBL
The final session of the day, led by Diana Potts, focused on elementary school PBL.  Clearly, Diana had spent hours studying and implementing a number of great strategies to grow this work for student engagement and learning.  She prompts students to "figure it out," and "construct their own knowledge" in responsive ways which often means that students are engaged in a myriad of activities at the same time.  Diana makes lots of room for student voice and choice and creates norms and a physical environment that supports PBL. She keeps a collection of creative supplies, and finds that families are often ready to donate these to the class. During the conversation, I had the chance to design an ideal school with a a terrific group of educators including a curriculum leader, a couple of fourth grade teachers from Canada, a fifth grade teacher, a principal, and a PD consultant. Our design work led us into many conversation threads related to the design of school's physical structure, teaching roles, schedules, and program/lesson design.  Diana pointed to the following resources during her presentation: BIE, Maker Space, and Teach Plus, Mindset in the Classroom

I am sure that in the days to come the Educon 2.6 learning will begin to take greater shape.  In the meantime, my focus will continue to embrace learning design, responsive personalization, and invigorated project/problem base learning as I teach and learn with my fourth graders.

Final Notes and Connections
  • Bruce Wellman from Olathe NW HS had terrific ideas about collaborative share and innovative learning design at the high school level.
  • Geraldine Smythe introduced me to her program, cultureboost. It is a program aimed at teaching students how to create their own small businesses to raise funds.  I thought this work might be a nice addition to our school's successful service learning program. 
  • I enjoyed Jaime Casap's comments throughout the conference and look forward to watching his TedX Talk
  • A Teen Magazine created in Meeno Rami's Class. 
  • It was so great to meet so many Twitter friends, a list too long to write as I know I'd forget someone. 
  • SLA's signage keeps the school's mission and vision alive as evidenced in the photos below.