Feb 02

Making Sense of EduCon

So… that was fun.

It’s taken me a week to try to write anything that could sum up everything I feel about EduCon. Obviously, I’m really incredibly pleased with how it went. I, like Sylvia, had some real concerns about the sophomore slump this year. I knew that we were so much more organized than we were last year, partially because we learned some lessons, partially because so many SLA-ers made it part of their life this fall and winter. But I was worried that we would not be able to recreate the good will that so many people showed up with last year. Would people treat EduCon more like "just a conference" than whatever we were… some sort of homegrown learning thing. I was worried that growing by 150 people would strain the conversational feel of the conference.

And, for me, the biggest worry wasn’t the weekend, but rather, it was the Friday of the conference. That’s the day dozens of people show up to SLA and just hang out. What impressions would people walk away with? Would they see what we see? Would the kids’ work and love of the school come through? Or would we seem like just another school? And would anyone be able to notice anything about the school if there were an extra 150 adults walking around the building? That was the day that, more than anything else about the conference, had me nervous.

But, at least from the feedback we’ve gotten (including this wonderful post by Tom Kim), the school community held together again. And for that, the kids and teachers deserve all the credit. Many, many people (adults and students alike) would not be able to focus with that kind of scrutiny, but the SLA folks did it with what, to my eyes, appeared to be relative ease. Time and again, I saw teachers and students take time to talk to people about the school. And time and again, I saw students working in classes, despite people they didn’t know looking over their shoulders. Our kids, our teachers… they amaze me every day.

And that’s as good a way to frame the entire weekend for me. There’s no question I learned a ton. There’s no question that sitting in sessions with people like Alec Couros and Jeff Kim and Jon Becker and listening to Friday night panel and taking part in the Sunday morning panel were incredible learning experiences for me. But for the moment, that’s not what I want to write about… for me, this was about what this does for our community at SLA.

I admit, there were moments — especially the week leading up to EduCon — that I was very concerned about how much energy it was taking to put this on. One teacher came in to my office to ask a question and started with, "I know you’re busy with EduCon, but…" and that just can’t happen. I worried that this was asking too much of students and teachers to put this one, especially as the complexity and expectations of the conference were rising. And there were the three hour after-school planning meetings where we all looked at each other by the end with that look of, "Can we just get ON with it please?" So I really went into this weekend thinking that for us to keep doing it, it had to be worth it for SLA.

Well, we’re going to do it again next year.

The biggest take-away I have from the weekend is what an incredible thing it is for our school. There were so many moments when the community just blew me away. It was amazing enough to see the entire school rise to the occasion on Friday, but watching how many teachers and students and parents not only chipped in but took on major pieces of the conference and made it their own was just amazing. If you didn’t stop into our 2nd floor conference room and see it transformed into a video control room, with students checking the feeds on Mogulus to make sure that every channel was playing, monitoring chat rooms and providing drop-in tech support, you missed seeing a group of kids running Tech Center better than what you would see at major conferences. Students like Greg and Jeff and Ty and Laura and Lucas and Jerome (and… and… and…) just spent the entire weekend making sure that the technology, from broadcasting to printing boarding passes just worked.

Parents and students ran the food and coffee so that the lines were short and the coffee was hot. And that’s easier said than done. I had this funny moment on Saturday afternoon when I was prepared to make sure all the food was laid out and ready to go, but by the time I got down to the cafe, everything was well on its way to being done, so I just got out of the way.

And then there’s Jas. All she did was play a major part in pulling off the conference. She organized all the students who worked the conference. She worked with her colleagues to plan their session. She worked with Mr. Latimer to set the Friday school visit up. She showed up early and left late, and she worked as hard as anyone to pull the conference off. And I don’t think a single teacher minded on Monday when one of her teachers gave her the keys to the teachers lounge so she could sleep through a class because she was so wiped out.

Those are the individual stories. And there are dozens more of them. We had teachers who made connections to people they never thought they’d meet. We had students look at their school in ways they never had before. We had teachers give their first presentations at a conference and get incredible feedback. Most importantly, we had student after student see themselves as powerful voices in the world. They saw the best vision of themselves reflected in the eyes of so many conference goers. They saw how a small group of committed people can, indeed, change the world. And that’s priceless. And that makes the entire conference worthwhile, and that’s why it’s well worth all the hours we put into it. Because in the end, we get so much more out of the conference than we put in.

See everyone next year, and thank you for the gift you gave our school.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: educon21, educon

Jan 30

The Voices of SLA

This is a video made by SLA juniors Laura Kriss and Greg Windle for our Apple Distinguished Schools application. It’s awesome. And it’s really theirs. Greg sat me down with all the footage and laid out how he was going to turn a bunch of interviews into a narrative. Laura did all the filming and collaborated with Ms. Hull and me on the questions to ask. And I never touched a computer to make it happen, except to show Greg YouSendIt.Com so he could send it to me tonight after he finished.

I love our kids.

(And yeah, I’ll write about my EduCon reflections soon, I promise.)

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: SLA

Posted in SLA
Jan 22

Pre-EduCon thoughts…

Twelve hours from now, EduCon will unofficially kick-off with Gary Stager’s preconference — Constructing Modern Math / Science Knowledge. Thirty-seven hours from now, folks will start turning the SLA library into a great big social network, and we’ll do everything we can to have a "normal" school day with an extra hundred or so folks in the building. And Friday night, we kick off with a panel that I am just dying to be in the audience for.

It’s wild to think that this started because of an off-hand comment that Will Richardson made at EduBloggerCon at NECC 2007. It’s incredible to think that we were so close to saying that we weren’t going to do this when John Pederson emailed me to say that he’d booked his flight. It’s amazing to think that this weekend, there will be educators from five countries and over 30 states in our building, talking about how we can transform schools with 21st century tools and progressive pedagogy.

Really — what were we thinking? What made us think that this could happen?

If this goes well this weekend… if people have as empowering an experience as they did last year, I think it tells us a few important things.

EduCon works, most importantly, because so many people come with good intentions and a willing spirit. The number of people who come willing to lend a hand, who have emailed us saying, "Put me to work when I get there…" who have offered and given their time is awe-inspiring. The number of presenters who have given of their time to make this meaningful is humbling. This is our conference — not SLA’s, but rather it belongs to everyone who comes, who spends time watching and participating online, who blogs about education, who spends nights on twitter trying to argue at 140 characters at a a time, who wants to see schools that reflect the innovations we’ve seen in society. People come expecting to take part. That matters.

EduCon also works because the SLA community is incredible. Our partner museum, The Franklin Institute, is thrilled to be a part of it. We have twenty parents who are giving major chunks of their time over the next four days to run registration, make coffee, slice strombolis, set up chairs and make sure that the attendees have an amazing experience. We have dozens of kids who will be giving tours, running tech support, filming sessions, running sessions, running the coffee stand and generally helping to plan. And we have an entire school of kids who are excited to spend Friday sharing their space with everyone from the conference.

Finally, it is the SLA teachers who have given an insane amount of time, effort and thought. This conference has gone from "Hey, wonder what would happen if…" to something that folks requires an intense amount of planning. The work of folks like Diana Laufenberg, Zac Chase, Marcie Hull, Tim Best, Brad Latimer, Larissa Pahomov and others made this conference happen. The conference was planned in after-school meetings and late-night Skype and Google sessions. And while it was a good idea to plan the conference to be the weekend between the conference playoffs and the SuperBowl, it probably wasn’t a good idea to plan the conference the week grades were due. The fact that the teaches haven’t killed me speaks volumes to both their character and to the belief that we all have at school about how much this conference speaks to our role as an R&D school. I say this all the time in faculty workshops, but I’ll say it here, I love working with the teachers of SLA. It really is an honor.

I love the idea that we can have 350 people come together in a school to learn together, to question each other, to push each other. I love that there isn’t a vendor floor. I love that it’s teachers and principals and district administrators and parents and students all together, spending time together because we care about schools and learning and kids. I’m so incredibly excited about this weekend, because my learning network is coming over to play.

Oh… and the cheesesteaks. Gotta love the cheesesteaks.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tags: Educon, Educon21