Tuesday, March 5, 2013

SXSWedu - The First Day

Sunday evening, I arrived in Austin for SXSWedu with - admittedly - some significant anxiety that the edtech community would continue to disenfranchise teachers and self-aggrandize their own roles in "disrupting education."  Monday morning, I bussed in from my friend's house and arrived early to check-in and work on my Tuesday workshop before the opening session.  Later in the morning, a participant tweeted:

  • There are a lot of people at  who look like teachers. O_O

Not a good start...  I responded, and we had a brief exchange that did not assuage my anxiety.

  • Me: That's a good thing, right?
  • Her: Sure! Except that they look like they're going to send me to the principal's office every time I cuss out loud.
  • Me: It's comments like that that discourage teachers from joining conversations like . We love our stus and don't punt to admin.
Maybe I just didn't get the joke.  But SXSWedu was definitely starting out on a VERY sour note for me.  Until I ran into my two twitter pals Melissa Techman (@mtechman) and Mary Cantwell (@scitechyEDU).  Once I started hanging out with other teachers, and encountering non-educators who have respect for our passions and efforts, SXSWedu got much better!

The first session I attended was Alfred Solis's (@alfredBIE) session on 8 Essentials of Project Based Learning - an excellent introduction and then in-depth discussion on the necessities for successful PBL.  Alfred introduced us to resources I hadn't found before, and especially an EdSurge video of a school in Portland, Maine implementing a beautiful place-based learning experience around community history and public art.  (I later incorporated that example into my Tuesday workshop.)  Alfred's organization - the Buck Institute for Education - outlines their 8 essentials as:

This really launched my favorite theme of the conference: deep student learning through creativity and collaboration.

The second session I attended was Ken Kay's (@kenkay21) session on the role of leaders in 21st century learning, re: his book The Leader's Guide to 21st Century Education. Ken beautifully outlined the concepts of 21st century skills and concepts, especially "The 4 C's."  The following logo wasn't presented by Ken, but I believe highlights "The 4 C's" well.  Ken's presentation was excellent, but it was really the questions afterwards that impacted me: educators and non-educators both haven't grasped the idea of 21st century skills!  This was another element I would incorporate into my Tuesday presentation: The importance of collaboration itself must be highlighted just as well as the scaffolding of the collaboration!

Ken also commented on the importance of *a culture of a laser-like focus on pedagogy.* HOW we teach is so much more important than WHAT we teach.  Our kids must be fully integrated into the process, considering their particular needs and how we will scaffold them towards the emotional and intellectual skills they need for the future.

A few resources he shared were: 
So far, a beautiful focus on pedagogy, collaboration, and kids, with technology as a tool, not an end-point or panacea.

The third session I attended was Carolyn Foote's (@whslibraryrocks) and Stephanie Sandifer's (@sssandifer) Flip, Blend, Connect.  Another admission: I would NOT have attended this session if it were not being led by two professional educators.  But - with as open a mind as I could muster - I joined the packed session to develop a deeper understanding of these models.

What I heard was, again, beautiful.  Carolyn and Stephanie guided the group well through discussions and share-outs to define terms and think of more innovative applications of models like the flip.  My partner and I had (what I thought was) an awesome improvement to the flip:  Record the classroom discussion, and have students watch at home *and annotate their thinking during the discussion!* This would permit quieter students to give their input without raising their hands in class, and would let students revisit and reflect on the classroom experience.  I'm still not sure I would do it myself, but it would add a layer of active reflection rather than simple passive information absorption. 

They also presented the SAMR model of technology use, from substitution of existing pedagogy to redefinition via technology:

I was slow to leave their presentation, chatting with edtech entrepreneurs who really wanted to understand needs for technology in the classroom and the role of reflection in the learning process!

Finally, for dinner, I dined with an amazing group of educators from Virginia, Georgia, and California with wonderful conversations about the programs at our schools, our wonderful students, and the learning we'd enjoyed that day!  

Throughout the day, I'd seen other teachers starting to fight back against the demeaning comments from edtech entrepreneurs that we're lazy or that tech should by-pass us, and I'd met several non-educators who genuinely wanted to understand our needs.  I'd met and bonded with several amazing educators, and I was feeling much better about kicking ass with my own Tuesday presentation and making an impact on the role of technology in education!

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