Sometimes you need to beat me over the head.
Two years ago, I met Chris Lehmann at our Chicago area Edtech Conference. I was impressed with his fresh vision and his undying desire to do what’s really best for kids.He said I should come to Educon 2.1 held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. I didn’t go. Then, last January, it seemed that the only hashtag I saw on Twitter was #Educon. Maybe I missed something. Oh well, there’s always next year. I saw Chris again at Techforum in New York. Again, he said “Jon, you should come to Educon.” I still didn’t sign up. Then while talking to my predecessor, Dave Jakes , he looked me square in the eye and said, “you need to go.” So I finally signed up.
I am so glad I did.
Educon breaks the mold of all “conferences” at so many levels. First there are the Axioms of the conference:
1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members
2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen
3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around
4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate and collaborate
5. Learning can — and must — be networked
It doesn’t take a Wordle to figure out something is very different. Notice the conspicuous absence of the words: “Tools,” “Integration,” “Web 2.0,” and while it mentions “21st Century,” it’s referring to Citizens, not skills. The emphasis is on education, not technology. But the uniqueness does not end there.
Browse through the session descriptions (notice I didn’t say “presentations”) and two points jump out. First, the quality of presenters is jaw dropping. Usually, you get one, maybe two of these people delivering a keynote address to hundreds of people…and good luck talking to them afterwards. But here you get ALL of them in a classroom setting of twenty or thirty participants. Oh, and by the way, the “participants” are all really, really smart people. I was lucky to sit in a session on teacher training presented by Alec Couros and Dean Shareski that was informational, inspiring, and thought provoking. If those two weren’t enough, who else was in the “audience” but Jon Becker, Will Richardson, Jenny Luca, David Warlick, and yes, my pal Dave Jakes was there too to engage in the conversation. I guess what struck me the most was that THESE people were as eager to learn from us, as we were from them. And I guess that's what makes Educon different: the "us" and "them" just becomes "us."
Did I mention these are conversations? “Presenters” are very careful to make the sessions completely interactive, they are truly “conversations” not “presentations.” During the two days, there are several 9o minute sessions with 30 minute breaks (equally valuable for networking). The best thing is that no one feels intimidated to bring up questions and points. It was refreshing and encouraging to have these people talk “with” me and not “at” me.
Then there’s the school. The SLA is smack in the heart of Philly (my first time, and I thoroughly enjoyed the history, restaurants, and hospitality in the City of Brotherly Love) and is a “magnet” public school of about 475 students. So much of what is “wrong” with education is extinct here. Students focus on all problem-based projects as opposed to memorizing meaningless facts. Kids are in the hallways working with each other and their provided Mac laptops, and seem to be working “with” teachers. There is a comfortable, casual respect for this bright, innovative staff, as they create and discover together. Hmmm seems like the axioms of Educon are also present at the SLA. Students here have a large, genuine role in the Educon experience. From giving tours, to planning meals, to checking your luggage on Sunday to take to the Philly airport, kids are trusted with adult responsibility. And love it. And you read correctly, on Saturday and Sunday, there were many, many, SLA students in white lab coats there to help.
Time prohibits me to elaborate on everything I learned. Bet here are the recurring messages I heard again and again:
· The importance of building relationships with students
· The need for teachers to have an online presence in order to help our kids connect with others
· The critical need to evaluate the value and purpose of student assessments
· The power of tinkering to learn as opposed to a “scientific” approach
The final note is that I came home with zero papers. No handouts, yes is quite green, but also supported the notion of “conversations.” I mean, how many of you bring handouts to a conversation.
Educon was the most valuable conference I have ever attended. I highly recommend it.
Wait, strike that. If you all sign up for Educon 2.3, I might get nosed out. It wasn’t that great.