Last month I had the pleasure of attending the Educon 2.6 Conference in Philadelphia. My intention was to blog about take away ideas within a couple days of the conference. I’m not quite sure what happened but somehow I took a month hiatus from this blog. I have spent more time writing at http://www.BeyondHELLO.org but havcn’t found the time to share education ideas here. And now I feel like a kid with 30 excuses about why I haven’t done my homework… Regardless, the conference was outstanding and the ideas are worth sharing. So – without any further delay, here are the top 5 things I took away from Educon.
1. You need to visit Philadelphia and the Science Leadership Academy. This amazing school teaches all of their curriculum through project based learning. Regardless of the subject, students are assessed based on their five pillars: Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation and Reflection. The school has partnered up with the community to create authentic learning opportunities. For example, each week, the students visit the Franklin Institute as part of their science curriculum. The school is buzzing with innovative ideas, creativity and students that are proud of their school and thriving in all regards. If you have the change to get to Educon next year I would highly recommend it.
2. Encienda / PechaKucha / Ignite – call it what you wish – I LOVE it. I had the opportunity to present in Philadelphia for five minutes using 20 slides. As a presenter, I did not have control over the slide transitions. I had 5 minutes, with 20 slides which advanced automatically every 15 seconds. (PechaKucha is 20 slides at 20 seconds each). As a presenter, this was intimidating! Not only did i need to know my stuff, I needed to have a polished presentation where I stayed on track, and said what really mattered while I had the chance. I found this presentation way more difficult to prepare for than an hour long presentation. However – I loved it! I was challenged, I had to be creative, and I had to simplify my presentation to maximize impact in a short period of time. As an audience member I LOVED watching all the other presentations. Every five minutes the topic would change which kept the entire audience engaged. This would be a great strategy to use with students or at staff meetings or district meetings.
3. Story-Sharing Session: At this workshop, the presenters from IZone (Office of Innovation, New York City Department of Education) taped powerful words to a whiteboard. They then took two minutes to tell a personal story about education themed around one of the powerful words. The audience was invited to listen and also think of their own personal stories about innovation in schools. If the presentation prompted you to think of your own story, you had the chance to present next. You could either draw a line from the first powerful word to your chosen word, or if your word was not listed, you could write it one the white board and draw a line. This teaching strategy encouraged the audience to listen but also required each person to find the connections and share with one another. We quickly discovered how much our stories connected and how easily we could relate. This would be a simple way for students or staff to identify connections between them.
4. Design Thinking. This was my favourite presentation at the conference. Teachers from Mount Vernon School in Atlanta walked us through a ‘Design Thinking’ exercise so we could experience the benefit of seeing change happen, while understanding the value of empathy in problem solving. For example, their Socials Teacher spoke about his Alexander the Great Lesson, where students needed to get to know Alex as a person before they could figure out what advise they would give to him. The science teacher had students watch a video of a woman hearing for the first time before asking the class to work together to create an improved cochlear implant. In our workshop we were paired up and given the task of re-designing airplanes to improve the middle seat experience. To teach this concept, we were asked to spend 8 minutes with our partner (2 sessions at 4 min each) where we listened to our partner explain their experience flying in the middle seat. Then, based on the emotion we had heard, we were asked to go deeper for 6 minutes (2 sessions at 3 minutes each) to learn more about our partner. My partner explained that she needed to move. She didn’t like feeling trapped. When we went deeper I learned that she loves the outdoors, adventure sports and travel. I was able to re-frame the problem and create a problem statement: “Meg, a passionate community educator, needs a way to integrate adventure, movement and space into her middle seat flight because she is passionate about the outdoors and loves new experiences.” I was then able to draw a protype for an airplane seat that resembled an IMAX experience with a moving chair and simulation video. I loved this activity because the design I developed was rooted in empathy for someone else’s needs. If I had started with my own needs, I would have re-designed the seat so I could spend more time talking to strangers – something completely different than what my new friend Meg was looking for.
5. Maker Movement. I didn’t have the chance to attend the Maker Movement breakout but it seems to be getting more and more attention. The idea is simply to create Maker Stations where students can use random materials to tinker, hack and create during the day to demonstrate their learning. Two of our fabulous Thomas Haney teachers are modelling this for our staff by hosting a school wide ‘Maker Faire’ tomorrow afternoon. Students will meet in one central area and gather materials and then return to subject specific learning spaces to demonstrate their learning. (Value Village was more than happy to donate their random parts and pieces for our student creations)
After returning home from Educon, I am feeling inspired and energized to try these new ideas. I believe this is an exciting time in education. We are learning more and more about teaching and learning and finding innovative ways to provide rich experiences for our students. Teachers are more valuable than ever as they work one on one with students to help them explore their passions and discover what they love to learn about. Educon was an amazing conference, not just because of the school itself, but also because it brought together innovative educators from across North America. I’m looking forward to DisruptED Vancouver, this coming October as we too hope to offer a fabulous education conference, where we celebrate innovation, creativity and ideas that inspire. Registration is now open with early bird rates until June 15th. http://www.eventbrite.ca/e/disrupted-vancouver-2014-tickets-4458812428?aff=eivtefrnd