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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Elana Leoni is Edutopia's Social Media Marketing Manager. Follow her on Twitter, @elanaleoni.

Last week I attended #140Edu, the first ever 140 Characters Conference (#140conf) dedicated to education, hosted by Chris Lehman (principal of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia) and Jeff Pulver (thought leader, author, and social media advocate). #140confs are held all over the nation and explore "the state of now": the effects of real-time Internet. Pulver elaborates about the power of the real-time Internet: "There's something amazing happening on the Internet today -- right now. When enough people speak up, voices can be heard, and it can affect change."

People may use many words to describe Jeff, but I can sum him up in three: "He gets it." That particular phrase was thrown about quite a bit during the conference and was used to describe people that understand the power of the real-time Internet and its potential to revolutionize education. Jeff not only gets it, my bet is that he'll be on the forefront of this change until we truly see education (and other communities) harnessing the power of real-time Internet.

The Current State of Education

The #140edu conference began by exploring the current state of education. Teachers, parents, students, administrators, school board members and other passionate ed reformers were invited for two days to share ideas and be heard. Louis Wool (@louisnwool), Superintendent of Schools of the Harrison Central School District stated that "We, as a society, tend to always look for quick fixes, and whatever they are, they generally fail in the long-term." This certainly has been true for many education reform movements in U.S. education.

Wool further went on to say what many educators know and feel every day: "School systems are currently designed to serve societies that do not exist." With this realistic and somewhat sobering view of education, I started to wonder, "How can educators truly help change education? Do they even have the power to attempt effective change?" It literally took minutes before I got lost in another engaging presentation (and at least ten more followed) that not only provided me tools and resources for change, but also inspiration.

Replication and "The Bright Spots"

One bright spot was Jack Hidary (@jackhidary), founder and Chairman of National Lab Network, who stated passionately that if we're going to truly change education, we need the changes to scale. "There are fifty-five million students in public schools and eight million students in private schools. We need to bring this change to ten, twenty, or thirty million students and then you will see change."

The Gaming Model

Hidary, who has studied neurology, advocated the gaming model as one way to achieve this type of mass-impact change in education. In the U.S., there are twice as many slots machines as ATM machines. Interestingly enough, Hidary pointed out that those that are truly hooked on slot machines actually get annoyed when they win because it disrupts the rhythm of the slot machine. Imagine an education system that makes learning just as addictive.

Mahipal Raythattha (@mahipalr), Founder, Brain Racer Inc. also spoke at #140edu and delved deeper into the psychology of why people play games. He listed four reasons: 1) To socialize, 2) To compete, 3) To explore, and 4) To achieve. Can you relate to any of these reasons in education? I challenge you to start thinking of why your own students excel in class. Is it because it elevates them in social status? Is it because the feel challenged competitively? Are they just curious about knowledge? Or, do they strive to achieve the best scores?

Eric Sheninger

Credit: Elana Leoni

Yes...But

Whenever there is change, you'll always get the what we call the "Yes...but" people. Eric Sheninger (@nmhs_principal), principal of new Milford High School, illustrated that he used to be a Yes...but himself. He was one of those people that looked upon others' success in social media and made an excuse that started with "Yes...but." "Yes...but their students are more responsible" or "Yes...but they have top-down support." He's now one of the most recognized education figures in social media and also uses his success in social media as a way to encourage social media use and the teaching of digital citizenship in schools.

What changed? He took a leap of faith and embraced the philosophy that it was ok to fail. I was able to talk to Eric during the conference and he could list many mistakes he made off-hand just recently. Something that I think never gets said enough when talking about change and in particular social media: EVERYONE makes mistakes. It's ok. Get back up and try something different. The worst thing that happens when you make a mistake is that you end up knowing what didn't work and to invoke a G.I. Joe quote, "And knowing is half the battle."

Christian Long

Credit: Elana Leoni

Christian Long (@ChristianLong) was also a "Yes...but" person. Despite his philosophy of failing is ok in the classroom, he realized that as a parent he was 100% a "Yes...but" person. To illustrate this point, he shared a story about his son and skateboarding. His son, wanted to skateboard and every time his son fell, he was amazed how quickly he got up and never gave up. His son would spout something like he was going to do this trick and that trick and all the while Christian muttered "yes...but you're going to get hurt." It took him a while to realize that he wasn't looking at the same horizon his child was. His child was having dreams of being in the X-Games and all Christian could think about was the risks. Christian drew this parallel to teaching and asked the audience, "As educators, are we looking at the same horizon line our students are looking at?"

Stay Connected

There were so many amazing speakers and themes I couldn't possibly have the space to cover in this blog. I'd suggest following the speakers of #140edu on Twitter to get connected to those making change in education. I'll also update this blog with the link to the recordings of the #140edu sessions, when they become available. We've also invited some of the speakers to guest blog for us, so they can dive even deeper into their specific topics. Thanks for reading and I invite you to truly examine how you can harness the power of the real-time Internet to create change in education. To speak on behalf of Jeff Pulver, I'd encourage you to ask yourself, "Are you living in the "State of Now" or are you just letting it pass you by?" I welcome your thoughts, comments, and resources you'd like to share. Also, please mark your calendars for the next #140edu: July 31 - August 1, 2012 in NYC (Educators can attend for $1.40).

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