Lightning summary: Educon 2.2 Saturday

Up early in order to work out with @poh and @bhsprincipal in the Windsor suites basement gym (seriously, what’s up with all those mirrors? Is that really necessary?)

Then off to a quick Starbucks breakfast (parfait!) with the NWP crew: @gailhd, @poh, @paulallison, and @janalon.

We hoofed it over to SLA where the place was jammed with people. We successfully found seats and listened to the most amazing speech by Marilyn Perez, the Central Region Superintendent. She espoused the kind of notions of social justice and equality in education that I love to hear.

Off to the first session with Ben Wilkoff, a young go-getter looking to describe our innovations as educators. We ended up talking about the ways our desks are arranged in our classrooms (having no classroom myself, I remained largely mum on this topic). The share-out included a bemoaning of standardized testing at which point I discussed that standardized testing is a sonnet, a Paul Allison “enabling constraint” that can be used to inspire creativity in the teacher as we navigate that world.

The ensuing wave of nausea indicated that it was time to go to the Encienda Educon session over the lunch break. Seven presenters, each with 20 slides that auto-advanced every 15 seconds to add up to a five-minute presentation. We were each tasked with presenting a big idea in 5 minutes. Random chance determined that I was to go first, and I was still chewing my potato chips when the slides began their awful march to the five minute mark. I rallied, and in the end I got some good feedback. I’ll post the preso later.
The others were, of course, amazing.

From there it was on to @ChristianLong’s Alice in Wonderland blog project.

And my final stop: the Leadership 2.0 conversation, led by Chris Lehmann, the fearless leader of SLA and Educon. We discussed the big questions and came up with more questions. Leadership is tricky and growing communities requires a delicate balance of love, trust, and care.

Paul Oh took pity on me since I was starving (I never got more than an handful of potato chips for lunch due to Encienda Educon), and we braved the wind and snow to eat the best Ethiopian food. From there, some schmoozing occurred at Rembrandt’s and we finally ended up piled into Paul Oh’s hotel room to strategize our new world order, or at least which blog sites are best.

A good day, all around.

It's not about the laptops

Our hard work from Mr. Chase's class

Our hard work from Mr. Chase's class

After a brutally cold walk through the streets of Philadelphia, we arrived rosy-cheeked and breathless at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA).  The first ever Senior class was fundraising for their Senior trip to Hershey Park, and I gladly gave to cause (have fun kids!). I was checked in and soon wandering the brightly colored halls of the SLA.

What struck me immediately was how the physical space suggested a co-ownership of the school.  Student work was not just prominently displayed but served purposes: the door of the room housing the servers was labeled with hand-drawn pictures of mitochondria, a metaphor for their function within the cell; brochures were displayed that clearly had been developed with real audiences in mind; a giant wall of formulas developed by the students helped to visualize Algebra II concepts.  The big windows, wide hallways, and bright colors combined to make a pleasing space.  It made me reflect on how so many of our school buildings lack pleasant physical spaces, let alone reflect student learning by taking the small step of posting it prominently on the walls.

Our tour guide, Brett, described with great emotion taking part in an exchange program to England.  He noted that the school had given him many, many opportunities “besides the laptops.”  This struck me.  When I asked about whether the students liked when teachers used the interactive whiteboards, he replied “It depends how they use them.”   What I took away from these small interactions, and from sitting in on classes where technology saturated the instruction, was that it was not, in fact, about the gadgets.  It was about the teaching.  It was about the personal interaction between student and teacher, and student and student.  It seemed to me that what was most exciting about the environment at SLA was that the students were positioned not as passive receptacles to whom knowledge is bestowed, but rather as co-constructors of knowledge.

I also watched with great fascination as kids IM’d each other so quickly that I couldn’t even read the response before the kid was replying back with rapid keystrokes.  I noted that with laptops in the room, the kids fought over smelly markers and which color paper they would use to report out what they had just typed on their fancy laptops.  Engagement is not about gadgets.

Laptop problems

Laptop problems

As I left, I felt an immense gratitude to the staff and students of SLA for so freely sharing what they are doing.  But what they were doing that was so remarkable was not the technology revolution so many people cite, rather it was the art in practice, a delicate art that is walking the path of inquiry together, of respecting students’ own knowledge, passions, and strengths.  That, to me, is way more important than the student-to-laptop ratio. There’s a lot more to the school, as Brett put it, besides the laptops.