This was the second year in a row that I attended Educon for the Saturday sessions. If you’ve never been to Educon before it is held at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in center city Philadelphia.
If you have never been to Educon or SLA it is a very unique school and a very diverse conference.
The school is a partnership school between the City of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute and “…and its commitment to inquiry-based science, SLA provides a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship”.
Educon is a three-day conference which draw presenters from around the country and around the world. You are very likely to see people like Will Richardson (@willrich45) and Gary Stager (@garystager) in the halls talking between sessions with attendees and giving presentations of their own (see below). The conference’s guiding principles are:
- Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
- Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
- Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
- Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
- Learning can — and must — be networked
It is this last point… that “Learning can — and must — be networked” that I think is one of the best parts of the conference and learning.
I attended three-hour and a half sessions from Constructivism to Social Media PD to New Media Literacies and learned something from all of them.
SESSION ONE: Constructionism from Top to Bottom
I started my morning with a cup of Stager… Gary Stager. If you are ever in the need of a jolt to wake you up and get you thinking, that is what Gary can do for you. Gary’s longtime work with Seymour Papert, 1:1 programs and constructivist learning can together is a session focused on learning by doing. Having student construct their knowledge to a project-based learning approach where they actually “construct something”. This is the key to any of Gary’s presentations. In order to accomplish this he bases much of what he says on the idea that a “good prompt is worth a 1000 words” and it is through this the best learning can occur. He states that to get students engaged a you need:
- A good prompt challenge, problem or motivation
- Appropriate materials [to help solve the challenge]
- Efficient time
- A supportive culture (including expertise)
By providing this type of learning environment learning becomes a verb, rather than a noun. School become a place were student can learn and explore on their own, but also have access to the expertise and guidance a teacher can provide.
SESSION TWO: #chats and #camps: Examining the Impact of Social Media-Fueled PD on Classroom Practice and Student Learning
I post a lot on Twitter to the various #chat tags and attend a number #camp conference so this session intrigued me because I have often wondered what comes of all of this time and how does it affect learning — personal and in the classroom.
The session was run by Jonathan D. Becker (@jonbecker), Meredith Stewart (@msstewart), and Bud Hunt via Skype (@budtheteacher) and focused on collaborative work around a couple of core questions in a GoogleDoc (tinyurl.com/towhateffect) and group discussion. The presenters guided and moderated the discussion which range from how social media has changed people’s work habits, where they go for ideas, inspiration and expertise, to how do know measure the effectiveness of it all through research.
It was in this discussion that there was a great deal of debate. The validity, accessibility and understanding of the available research was the focus of many comments and discussion.
Having teacher engage in an evaluation of their teacher through reflective practice and adaptation was a theme that developed. Many of the issues I have with discussions of this sort is that the idea is confused by the name(s). Action Research, Practitioner Research and Teacher Research were all terms used in the conversation and is what I think is the biggest problem… WHAT ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?!?!? All three may mean the same thing or they could mean something totally different. How is a classroom teacher who may be unfamiliar with the writing around these research method supposed to understand whether you are talking about one thing or three different things.
Bring things down to the core ideals and teach those… simplify things to this level and remove all the jargon and I think we will ALL be in a better place. Keep things a simple as possible and allow educators to design methods for evaluation that they understand in clear terms that make sense.
SESSION THREE: Collaborating with New Media Literacies
At the end of any day I need a pick-me-up… something that will get me going, keep me moving and thinking. Karen Blumberg (@SpecialKRB) and Don Buckley (@donbuckley) from The School at Columbia University provide just that!
If you’ve never been in a room with either of these two you don’t know what you are missing. Listening to Karen is, in all the best ways, like drink from a fire hose. She has so many good ideas and thoughts from the work she does at The School that they can all come out at one. Don, her boss, is a renaissance man who takes a scientist approach to educational technology and really make you thing about things as any good scientist would.
Their session on New Media Literacies focuses to a large degree on the work of Henry Jenkins (@henryjenkins) and the 12 New Media Literacies (see below). The presentation and discussion that went on really help me make sense of what people should mean when they talk about “21st Century Skills” — another piece of jargon that has many definitions.
These literacies can help provide a focus for learning in school that will have a real impact of the idea of preparing students for the “real world”.
If you haven’t had a chance to hear either of these two wonderful educators speak I encourage you to do so and if you have an opportunity to visit The School you should jump at the chance.
12 New Media Literacies
- Distributed cognition
- Collective Intelligence
- Transmedia Navigation
IN THE END
By the end of my day at Educon I had not only attended three excellent session that made me think and question the things that were being discussed, but also had the opportunity to talk to many different people from many different places. This to me is one of the things that I enjoy most about Educon and holds to their principle of “Learning can — and must — be networked”.
Coming together, talking, sharing and collaborating with the attendees is just the kind of network the we must engage in our professional development, teaching and learning.
Thanks to all of those involved in putting Educon together! It was a pleasure to attend.