1.) Attending conferences is foremost about making connections.
2.) The best sessions are those where we *DO* stuff!
3.) One-hour sessions with playtime are VERY hard to scaffold!
4.) The EdTech StartUp world continues to be more about business model and marketing strategy than about innovation in improving educational process and outcomes.
5.) My session kicked ass.
In more detail...
1.) Attending conferences is foremost about making connections. It was so wonderful to deeply reconnect with my friend Joan Young, and to walk, talk, and brainstorm with my new favorite citizen science specialist Mya Thompson. Even reconnecting face-to-face for only 10 minutes with teachers I've met at previous conferences - as was the case with the awesome Stephanie Cerda - re-enriched our enthusiasm to work together. The SIGIS (that's the Special Interest Group - Independent Schools) was a pleasure, especially chatting with techhy Spanish teacher Ximena Suarez. Meeting teachers like the fab Lisa Butler and rad Geraldine Loveless fired up my drive to bring my best to my kids and to my wider school community.
Joan Young, Amy Lin, and me! Stephanie Cerda and me!
2.) The best sessions are those where we *DO* stuff! I immensely enjoyed the Invent to Learn workshop with Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager (as is very clear by the photos snagged by workshop buds), and I literally got my hands filthy playing with different tools I want to bring into my classroom. I *have* to have a physical interaction with a tool to be able to think through how it could work in my classroom... just looking isn't enough.
Progress on my electronic greeting card, and my finished LED/felt flower brooch
3.) One-hour sessions with playtime are VERY hard to scaffold! Just like in the classroom, short sessions where you need to get some content across AND incorporate some meaningful playtime are hard to scaffold and structure! I enjoyed Kim Wilkens and Patrice Gans's session Let's Get Physical With Scratch, in which they introduced several exciting physical computing devices and how we can use the programming system Scratch to play with them. However, when they set us free to play, it was so unstructured that I didn't really know what to do to make the best use of my time! Luckily, I had brought my own MakeyMakey, several folks who had zero experience with Physical Computing joined me, and we made a 3-user controller to operate a Scratch drawing program. Awesome, but took some floundering to get going!
Quick Up/Down, Left/Right, and space bar controller via MakeyMakey!
We had a related but different difficulty in Shirley Farrell's awesome session Visual Literacy Through Infographics. Shirley provided incredible resources for making infographics, samples of excellent infographics, and whole-group brainstorming on uses of infographics within education. Then she said "Now go play around in the resources and make an infographic yourself!" But, with her incredible wealth of resources, people had too many questions! The playtime never really got started because the audience couldn't release *themselves.*
4.) The EdTech StartUp world continues to be more about business model and marketing strategy than about innovation in improving educational process and outcomes. In "PitchFest," 20 men (*cough*) pitched their fledgling companies to judges, and 6 of those were advanced to the finals on Wednesday. I attended both first-rounds of PitchFest, and was very impressed by a couple of the ideas. ActivelyLearn and Metryx are both products that could potentially improve my students' learning and my classroom efficiency! However, neither of those progressed past the first round. Another lovely idea - Hummingbird Robotics - would be an excellent addition to the maker movement, and the judges' questions to Hummingbird's founders indicated zero familiarity with making, tinkering, and crafting in education. They also did not progress. Ultimately, the winner of PitchFest was a lovely company - LearnZillion - who is well-established, well-known, and making great strides in supporting professional development for teachers... and is most definitely NOT a fledgling startup.
(I like how Tamika Jordan's pic, from twitter,
really highlights the emptiness of the audience...)
I was extremely disappointed that the judges didn't recognize the strength and potential of the truly new, innovative, and in-need-of-the-attention little guys in the competition! I was also disappointed in the lack of teachers at PitchFest... teachers are dropping away from EdTech, I believe, because we're seeing too much hype, too much VC/biz cronyism, and way too many "adaptive personalized e learning services" that are useless in our dynamic, project-based, empathy-building, collaborative classrooms.
Finally, 5.) My session kicked ass. Yeah, I said it. It had its definitely downfalls. I, too, struggled to provide the right scaffolding for playtime... No one touched the project-building template I set up in our Google Drive folder of resources - because I forgot to tell them about it! But I totally met my goal of getting a bunch of science teachers in a room together and getting them to start building collaborative science projects between our classrooms. We have over 50 teachers in the participant spreadsheet, 2 projects with active notes in the projects folder, and at least 5 more projects being designed outside of the folder I provided. As I said to my participants in the follow-up email I sent out earlier today:
I genuinely hope I have the chance to have my wonderful kids work with your wonderful kids to build deeper, more systemic understanding of natural and engineered phenomena of our world. Go Science!