Saturday, March 9, 2013

SXSWedu - The Day After

The day after SXSWedu - Friday - I set aside to visit awesome innovative schools in Austin to learn from those teachers.  After visiting Springside-Chestnut Hill Academy and Westtown School in Philadelphia the day before EduCon, I decided that any professional travel I take MUST include visiting schools.  Teacher collaboration is vitally important to keeping each of our own pedagogy living and growing!

The first school I visited was the Ann Richards School - a public choice school in the Austin school district.  ARS is a girls-only grades 6-12 school with a gigantic focus on STEM and project-based learning.  In 9th grade, each girl chooses whether to focus on engineering, biomedical sciences, or media technology.  I spent most of the morning hanging out with 7th grade science teacher Katherine Giacopasi (@MsGiacopasi)

ARS is up to some VERY exciting project-based learning!  With Katherine, I got to chat with several teachers and hear several of the girls informally describe their classes and projects, just as they encountered us in the hall.  (I love listening to kids describe their learning!)  Projects ranged from the simple poster of the design process and timelines of future engineering (From Michio Kaku's Physics of the Future!) below to the very exciting 10th grade deep-PBL engineering project, for which I got to be a guest judge!  They utilize Project Lead The Way materials heavily in the middle school curriculum.

During my visit, the 10th grade engineering class was in the middle of presenting their final projects proposing re-designs of a vintage trailer in very poor condition.  Their teacher had acquired the trailer, and they Kickstartered the budget funds that the winning team will use to implement their design. The girls took into account green, sustainable products in their design, met a number of client constraints, worked within a budget, and produced amazing proposals for the trailer's restoration!  I watched and judged two presentations, and was genuinely impressed with the young women's poise and clear articulation of their deliberations and decisions in the design!

In the picture below, you can see Team Trailer Babes' poster including their detailed Google Sketchup renderings of the refurbished trailer; their detailed drawings of the electricity, propane, and water systems; their budget and solar electrical needs calculations; even a QR code to their Pinterest board for ideas for the interior design!  I anticipate the Trailer Babes outright winning the competition!

I was incredibly impressed with ARS, and look forward to working with their school in the future!  As a first step, Katherine and I have plans to have my students comment on her students' blogs as they continue their work on their service learning project supporting community and ecological restoration after the wildfires in Bastrop!  Katherine uses Wordpress with her students for their blogging (she was SHOCKED to learn that my kids aren't blogging their learning yet!), and the whole school uses Haiku as their LMS.

(I was also excited about their library's well-curated graphic novel section!)

The second school I visited was ACE Academy in north Austin. ACE is a very young independent gifted school, only 7 years old and growing quickly.  I spent most of my afternoon there with fabulous educators Deanna Buckley, Tabitha Molett, and Geneva Hinchliffe.  I didn't get many pictures there, but visited Deanna's awesome Science Fiction class, heard from the 5th graders about their exciting chicken wing dissection, and practiced playing with the Lego WeDo sets with robotics teacher Randy Hollensbe.

ACE's "ODIM" (Open Door Interdisciplinary Modules) time, every Friday morning, is a great innovative program supporting students in driving their own learning.  ACE is in an awesome place where they've been doing ODIM for a few years and are now starting to think about how the current program works with their goals and vision. One of the most awesome places where they are focusing is on student portfolios, in which students choose specific items to demonstrate critical thinking, creative thinking, and reflective thinking.

During our conversations, I showed off my copy of The Third Teacher, and Tabitha and Geneva showed off their copy of Universal Methods of Design, and I've already ordered my own copy!  Geneva also showed me Workflowy - a tool they use for organizing ideas and learning.

Finally, Friday afternoon, Geneva kindly drove me back to my friend's house, and I spent the next hour frantically gathering and submitting my students' essays for the NWABR essay contest... They have been working SO HARD this week, and should be extremely proud of their final essays!  I received some of the most entertaining student emails of my career this past week, including the hilarious:

and the wonderful:

As far as I know, I have never reached any sort of a writing size limit, and have never written something that long. It was at 716 words after I added my conclusion.

Thanks for the comments! I will take a look at them when I get home.

While uploading, I changed into a cute dress, and then - once submission was confirmed! - I dashed out the door to catch the bus and hit an official SXSW opening party with some wonderful old friends from high school!

One final Saturday excitement was a great Twitter conversation I've been having with a few wonderful teachers, especially Stephanie Sandifer (@ssandifer), exploring how we can improve communication between teachers and edtech entrepreneurs... Many of us noticed the great chasm between sessions attended by educators and sessions attended by edtech entrepreneurs, and how unwelcome we - as educators - felt at those technology-will-save-the-world sessions.  We have a SXSWedu 2014 panel proposal rolling around in our heads to bring edtech entrepreneurs in to hear teachers' perspectives of how the communication is working so far, and how we can shift the conversation to be more learning-oriented, collaborative, and overall positive.

Finally, finally, it's now Saturday and I'm at the airport about to board for Seattle.  This week has been amazing.

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