Wednesday, March 6, 2013

SXSWedu - The Third Day

It is almost midnight after the third day of SXSWedu, and I can't let myself go to sleep until I brain-dump. I'm so very very tired.

Tuesday evening, of course, didn't end after my blog post at 6pm.  After I finally left the Blogger's Lounge, I headed over to the "meet-ups" in the Hilton and awkwardly wandered the rooms.  After an amazing day connecting with wonderful educators and edtech entrepreneurs asking all the right questions, I felt odd among all the suits and "hey, come check out my product!"  Luckily I didn't stay long, since I was meeting up with those same wonderful educators for dinner!  After convening at the Hilton lobby waterfall, we headed en masse to a fancy-pants Mexican restaurant on Congress.  And, oh, what wonderful educators!  If you don't already follow Diana Laufenberg (@dlaufenberg), please do!

Dinner conversation ranged from yoga and our theories of lululemon's marketing genius to the importance of "partnering up" in professional collaboration to the scaffolding systems of our different schools to the terrifying contract offered by the Philadelphia school board to their teachers.  Diana sketched out a summary on a bar napkin:

We danced ridiculously at the party at Brazos, and I chatted/yelled with Jennifer Chan (@Jennzia) until we both decided that bailing was completely necessary.  I - ridiculously - took a pedicab all the way back to my friend's house in east Austin, which - at 11pm after a couple drinks - seemed like a completely reasonable proposition.  Well, the point of life is to have good stories to tell...

Finally, after far too little sleep, I hauled myself off the couch and miraculously made it back for...

SXSWedu Day 3:

My first session was Charles Wood's "10 Hands-On Tools to Boost Creativity & Projects."  This was such the perfect start to my day.  Dr. Wood's presentation was incredibly engaging and all the teachers in the room came away with beautiful examples to support kids developing design-thinking skills, creativity, collaboration... all withOUT fancy technology!  His slide deck isn't up yet, but his resources can be found on the Studio Blue website.  I particularly loved his empathy- and personal-pride-building "All About Me"-style project:

I hope that there were at least a few edtech entrepreneurs in the room so they could better understand what we teachers are really trying to *DO* in the classroom, and what the best sorts of learning experiences are, so that they can think more deeply about how they can be supported by technology.  Unfortunately, many were turned away from the crowded room.  I was also dismayed to be "hearing" on twitter of other sessions occurring concurrently that were quite the opposite... touting products and business models with no consideration of learning needs.  This remains a chasm that has yet to be crossed in edtech!

(It was also during this session that I re-tweeted an article floating around: "Want to Improve Education?  Change the Way You Talk About Teachers."

My second session was only half of Tinker Tailor Solder Ply, in which I developed a huge #educrush on Mr. Dale Dougherty (@dalepd).  The other speakers in his panel were lovely, too, and Dale's intense focus on the importance of a culture of innovation and the need for the makerspace to be integrated as a fully functional space in the school were both vital to the growing maker movement.  I look forward to learning more from Dale.  The panel format, however, it just not for me, and I ran off to get a really good seat in my next session...

My third session, and the standout from the conference so far, was Melanie Kahl (@melaniekahl), Christian Long (@christianlong), and Lora Ma-Fukuda's "Hack Class: Shape Your Ecology, Empower Learning."  That session ran like a smooth bullet train... We started with a beautiful introduction to the themes of rethinking the intersections between space and learning, including

  • unleashing project based learning
  • cultivating relationships
  • re-thinking the teacher zone
  • curating and sharing student work

We discussed (really discussed!  didn't just "listen") importance of safety in failing, kids developing and demonstrating identity, and feeling belonging, value, and respect.  Their short documentary outlining a design process to re-structure a teacher's classroom around his actual teaching practices and students' needs was inspiring, and can be found on their The Third Teacher website!

Our design project wasn't just a random prototype, but rather a short practical design around space itself.  My stellar team's overarching question was along the lines of "How might we design space to support the various relational needs of individual students?"  I adored working with Jennifer Chan (@jennzia), Martin Moran (@martinmoran21), Carolyn Foote (@technolibrary), and another gentleman whose name and twitterhandle I don't recall.  Carolyn blew my mind with her possible "S"-shaped table arrangement!  (Really, it's sometimes the little things...)

Martin's reflections on this amazing session can be found at his blog "21st Century Teachnology."

It was during this session that I realized that I was enjoying every single session I was attending, and tweeted:

  Thousands at  but I'm seeing same awesome peeps in all great sessions. Clearly follow us for best sessions! Now: Hack Class in 412!

At the end of the session, I managed to claim their last copy of "The Third Teacher" offering yet more evidence that I am, clearly, *winning* SXSWedu.  

Throughout this session, I was tweeting with a few people attending Peter Nilsson's "Cognitive Science: The Next Ed Revolution," and they have promised to send me resources from that event!  I will add those here once available. So if you know Adam Percival ‏@ampercival or Virginia Rangel ‏@redjetta82, please remind them of our agreement.  :-)

My fourth session of this very intense day was Melissa Techman's (@mtechman) and Joelle Alcaidinho's "Encouraging Literacy & Young Authors Through Tech."  Melissa gave beautiful examples of students publishing their work online, and the importance of audience and developing voice, and Joelle shared many great resources and tools for doing the work of publishing.  Being exhausted from Hack Class, I spend much of the session also checking my email and responding to my students, keeping one ear towards the session.  Quote of the day, however, came from @mtechman: Not every magpie with something shiny is a curator!

My fifth session was Lara Arch's "Teaching Kids To Think By Letting Them."  I met Lara earlier, and was very exciting to see her presenting!  This was another nearly presentation in which the content had significantly more to do with teaching, human connection, and the needs of children rather than technology, and another presentation heavily populated by women.  (Where do all the suits GO during the teaching-focused presentations?) Lara gave clear examples of how teachers can support students in developing their own independence, and how some of our actions as teachers can actually take away their independence.  Children must learn to solve problems themselves, and our stepping in actually discourages them from independence!

I LOVED one example she shared of fostering safe mistakes, in which a whole class was asked a question and all the students wrote their answer on a piece of paper.  They then crumpled up the pieces of paper and tossed them around the room for about 15 seconds, thoroughly mixing and anonymizing the answers.  With whichever answer each child held in the end, they met in small groups to discuss the thought processes of the kids whose answers they held.  From start to finish, this process fostered respect, safety, and metacognition for the children in the class!

Finally, at 4pm, I stumbled exhaustedly back to the MakerSpace to read my new book.  After sitting, quietly reading, for about 30 minutes, EdSurge's fabulous Leonard Medlock (to me, always of "Why Edtech is Not Radical Enough" fame) hollared across the room to ask whether I wanted to jump on as a teacher representative on their about-to-begin live-streamed panel.  Well... why not?  You can watch me come to understand and get excited about big data below!

This panel nearly killed me, despite Leonard's excellent moderation and the wonderful panel members!  It was a fabulous unexpected experience, and I'm very glad I was in the right place at the right time to be able to take Leonard's offer!

I nearly ran to G'raj Mahal, a somewhat terrifying shack of Indian food, to dine with @jennzia and @martinmoran21, plus other fun and brilliant Canadians, and hobbled up Congress, to the #2 bus, and here to my friend's house in east Austin.  I spent over two hours editing my students' essays (due for the NWABR essay contest on Friday!) and chatting with them via the GDocs commenting system.  Now, at almost 1am, I've finished my brain dump and have half a chance of sleeping, with my thoughts safely recorded for posterity!

Each day of SXSWedu has gotten better and better!  I'm sad that I have only one session left before tomorrow's keynote, and also sad that many of the rad teacher posse has already headed home.  I'm excited to wrap up, visit some friends in Austin, and spend Friday visiting two local schools to learn even more deeply from other teachers!

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