Tuesday, February 1, 2011

What Is It About #Educon? My Reflections...

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Educon 2.3 in Philadelphia. For those who don't know, Educon is an educational conference that us put on by the students and staff of the Science Leadership Academy, lead by Chris Lehmann. Really, it is more the students who do everything. From running the live streaming to the EduConcierge who would tell you the best place to eat and print your boarding passes for you, kids were everywhere doing any number of jobs. Instead of sessions there are Conversations which are supposed to be more interactive for the participants and the Conversation Leaders.

It is a different kind of conference. It has taken me the better part of 3 days to reflect on everything and to try to determine where I go from here.

Here are a few of my thoughts after attending for the first time...

SLA is a great place, with great people and great kids. But. Is it any different than many schools? They have lots of opportunities because their school is tied to the Franklin Institute and they have an amazing leadership team. But don't all schools have the same opportunity to do the great things that go on at SLA everyday? They are still a public school so they have standards and testing and all that stuff but people still hold them in high regard as a model school or the school we all would like to teach in. Can't we take the same values away from SLA and make them happen in our own schools? I like the beginning of their mission statement. It starts with 3 questions:

1) How Do We Learn?
2) What Can We Create?
3) What Does It Mean To Lead?

Inquiry-based learning is a cornerstone of their approach. Collaboration and reflection are a big part too. It all just makes sense. So, why not take those same values and mission to our own corners of the earth and institute them?

One of the questions I kept asking myself was what makes everyone say Educon is the conference to go to? Not that I disagree of course, but why this one in particular? I think it comes down to the people. Moreover, I think it is the opportunity to engage with and learn with many that we do virtually each day. Which drives home the point that while my virtual learning is such an important part of who I am and what I do, I still crave these opportunities to meet people face to face and sit and have a conversation. I truly enjoy meeting people I talk to online. We are human after all and we need those social interactions. Educon is just a venue and a platform for that to take place on a large scale.

Many times I saw people gathered around in small groups talking about whatever they really wanted. I think the best conversations happened outside of the scheduled Conversations. The same thing can happen locally Schedule a monthly tweetup or get-together. Edcamps and TeachMeets are another example of how this can happen. While our virtual networks are great, the face-to-face ones can be equally as great.

I kept hearing and asking myself why can't this style of presentation (The Conversation) be replicated at things like ISTE or other major conferences or even at the local level? Then I caught myself saying, sure they can. We just have to change the way we present. My favorite session was one lead by Joyce Valenza, Shannon Miller, and Gwyneth A. Jones on student inquiry and research. Not only is a topic that I really enjoy but the opportunity to learn from these 3 ladies was a chance I could not pass up. But was it the topic that made it my favorite? Sure there was great information shared by them but it was highly engaging and interactive. There was back and forth between us and them. We all became apart of the conversation when we did Rocks, Sucks, Not Sure with various topics in student research like Term Papers or Online Citation Makers or the use of Wikipedia in the classroom. We had to get up and move around the room and defend our position. So not only were we learning from Joyce and Shannon and Gwyneth but we were all learning from each other. Lots of sessions were like this. There was group sharing, group projects, talking one-on-one, problem solving, and more. It was like a class you never wanted to leave and you hated when the time was up.

As a presenter I am in control of the same thing. Sure, I could stand in front of an audience and lecture for 60 minutes, taking questions every now and then. Or I could make my participants actually participate. Get up, move around, work in groups, have everyone collaborate in Edmodo or on a Google Doc. The whole point is that this how learning should be, especially in our schools and classrooms. We all have something to add to the conversation. The presenter is not the only expert in the room and that is evident in the Educon Conversations. We all did a little (in my case a lot) of learning together. And that is just really cool.

Would I go again? Heck yeah! Am I different for attending? I don't think so. I have different work to do, yes. But I am not that much different than when I left. I know that I still need time to process and reflect on the 5 conversations I was able to attend and I know I want to hit up the archives to see the tons of conversations I couldn't. And that reflection is important. If we are not reflecting and growing as a part of our learning, what is the point?

See you at Educon 2.4?
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