My first session. Ewan McIntosh's (@ewanmcintosh) and Tom Barrett's (@tombarrett) session "The Problem Finders: Design Thinking Across School" should have just been the closing keynote. Their presentation on truly student-centered design thinking was just the inspiration to send me home from SXSWedu. The session was a combination of
- encouraging teachers to think deeply about how we support our students, and design those experiences from the ground up to best reach our kids, and
- supporting all attendees in understanding how to support design thinking for the kids themselves.
It would be challenging for me to even summarize the wonderful resources and ideas they shared during their session, but luckily they have an extremely well-curated website at NoTosh (@notosh).
My two absolute favorite ideas from the session both were key elements in supporting higher-order thinking:
The first was a classroom organizational recommendation: give the kids free, open space to record their thinking. As Ewan said ""Walls go from empty to beautifully messy... You see the guts of learning!"
Whether called a "project nest" or a "done wall," Ewan and Tom showed beautiful examples of students articulating their metacognition and visible-izing their thinking. NoTosh has a beautiful page supporting teachers in how to build a project nest.
Stephanie Sandifer (@ssandifer) snagged this great cap of one of their slides, showing a wall for students to post their "Google-able" questions and their "Non-google-able" questions, supporting the transition from one to the other.
The second was in supporting kids to deepen their questions: moving from those "Google-able" questions to more complex questions that require investigation and synthesis. They provided question scaffolds, like moving from "What is the capitol of Texas?" to "Why might someone think that the capital of Texas is Dallas?" Requires empathy, deeper thinking than just a google search! Again, NoTosh offers a great page, including references to ThinkingCubes (or ThinkingDice!) to add a little play to the movement to deeper questions.
As noticed by many on twitter, this was the only session of the entire event to end with a standing ovation. These are two guys who GET kids, education, and learning processes. I can't WAIT to see where they go next!
My second, and very last, session at SXSWedu was Bill Gates's keynote in the giant ballroom. I was very pleased to sit with Jon Mittmann (@jrmittmann), whose ear I'd had the pleasure of talking off over the long Seattle-->Austin flight. I enjoyed Bill's opening speech on the connections between the processes of developing and analyzing improvements in the global medicine and education industries... I genuinely felt that his thoughts and evidence both indicated solid support for technologists needing to understand learning processes to best influence education and improve outcomes for kids.
That said, the final closing "panel" of three education entrepreneurs fell sadly flat. Their presentations shifted from inspiration to product-pitching, and their delivery was so full of buzzwords and stale language that their explanations of business and learning processes were nearly incomprehensible. Attendees started walking out. Twitter devolved from posting favorite quotes to amused jokes about buzzwords to anger at the disappointment of product pitches in the keynote to - finally - a mix of outright rage and resigned cynicism that this final piece of SXSWedu put a very fine point on the hidden mission of the event: self-congratulations of edtech and putting the needs of children and educators second to profits and gloss.
I remain incredibly satisfied with my SXSWedu experience. I met amazing educators AND edtech entrepreneurs, especially the thoughtful Dion Lim of PacerRabbit and Peter Barron and Travis Warren of WhippleHill. I learned a TON, both concrete ideas for working with my students and systemic ideas to bring to my leadership as my school.
My final lunch with a great mix of classroom teachers and education consultants was a blast... We introduced the Canadians to chicken and waffles, and to chicken fried steak, and I'm sitting here now in Book People - back to emailing my students and editing their essays - looking forward to a birthday dinner with my parents and visits to two awesome Austin schools tomorrow!