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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Shared Smarts: The Wisdom of EduCon

Suzie Boss

Journalist and PBL advocate

"What is smart?"

That question provoked intriguing responses from a panel of big thinkers during the opening session of EduCon 2.2, a conference that recently wrapped up at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia.

As I listened to the experts weigh in from various disciplines?philosophy, neuroscience, the arts?I couldn't help but think that the answer was sitting right in front of them. The crowd contained a brilliant collection of teachers, school leaders, students, and others who are passionate about teaching and learning. And by coming together to learn from and with each other, they're determined to make education better.

Seems pretty smart to me.

As the weekend unfolded, I kept noticing all the ways this annual gathering displays its smarts. Just a few examples:

Inquiry everywhere

It's fitting that inquiry is at the heart of EduCon. Conference host, after all, is the Science Leadership Academy. This four-year-old Philly public school leverages curiosity to drive its project-based curriculum. What's more, SLA partners with the Franklin Institute, an esteemed science museum. Starting in ninth grade, SLA students work alongside mus eum scientists who are in the business of pursuing good questions. Similarly, inquiry is the oxygen of EduCon. Instead of sit-and-get sessions, attendees choose from topics designed to get them thinking?and talking. There's nothing passive about inquiry.

Tools in plain sight

EduCon is not a tech conference. But technology is everywhere. Attendees backchannel on Twitter (follow the conversation at #educon on Twitter), post resources on the conference wiki, share their photos instantly in a Flickrstream, record session highlights with their Flip cameras, reflect on their blogs, and generally carry on as if there's nothing unusual about having so many useful tools at their disposal. That fits with the SLA ethic, as well, of seamlessly integrating technology into learning. But it's still an unusual sight in many schools.

Students as active participants

An event focusing on the future of education, EduCon makes a point of including students in the conversation. Imagine that. Most are students from SLA, who not only take an active part in conversations but handle many of the logistics to make the event happen. They're visible, wearing the white lab coats that are the SLA school uniform. They're opinionated. And they're used to being taken seriously. (You only have to listen to SLA Principal Chris Lehmann interact with his students to appreciate how much relationships matter at this school.) This year, I noticed a few students from outside the SLA community attending EduCon. Two sophomores traveled from Texas to help their teacher?Christian Long?lead a conversation about an online project that has transformed how they think about learning. The Alice Project sent them "down the rabbit hole" to work out their own understanding of Alice in Wonderland. Having them reflect on their experience ensured that student voice was part of this conversation, too.

Ongoing dialogue

EduCon lasts for just a weekend, but the conversations that start here spiral into a much larger dialogue. All the sessions are archived here (thanks to SLA videographers), and available to anyone who wants to listen. That means educators who didn't get to EduCon might get together?in person or online?and design their own professional development around these conversations. And you can bet that EduCon attendees will continue networking with the colleagues they connected with during this inspiring weekend. It's the smart thing to do.

Did you take part in EduCon this year?in person or online? What did you take away from the conversation? Please share your thoughts.

Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Eric Brunsell's picture
Eric Brunsell
Asst Professor of Science Education @ UW-Oshkosh
Blogger
Facilitator

Suzie,
Thanks for writing up #educon - it is a great conference. I enjoyed meeting and talking with you prior to Sunday's panel.

Christian Long's picture
Christian Long
HS English teacher currently living/teaching in North TX, edu/papa-blogger

Can't tell you how much I appreciated your overall re-cap of Educon (as someone who has been a unapologetic supporter of what the experience means (since a few folks kicked around the idea of a TED for ED 4 years ago while visiting SLA on a very cold January afternoon) when hardly anyone knew of the school or its potential. You did the 'conversation' justice in this write-up.

And as a member of the "Alice Project" -- and on behalf on my students -- thank you for your generous inclusion of the project we created. That will mean the world to my students when I share it with them in the coming days!

Dave Childers's picture
Dave Childers
Executive Director/Principal at ACEL-Fresno Charter High School

This was my second Educon, and it is absolutely overwhelming to reflect on the amount of strategies, best practices, guidelines, big ideas, questions, and discussions that Educon packs into a single weekend. There are more high-quality sessions than you can even hope to attend, and even more high-quality educators than you can possibly find enough time to interact with. It's a brutal trip for me to make each January, but it couldn't be any more worth it than it already it is. I would highly recommend it to anybody looking for a first-class professional development "experience."

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate
Blogger

Hi Eric,
Great meeting you at EduCon. I enjoyed your session on inquiry--got me thinking, which, after all, is the whole idea!
For those interested in how Eric and his colleagues encourage inquiry, check out the session archive here: http://invitation2inquiry.wikispaces.com/

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate
Blogger

Hi Christian,
Having your students there to reflect on their own adventures with the Alice Project added such value to this conversation. I also appreciated having an administrator's voice in your session--nice to hear all the perspectives.

Jennifer Orr's picture

Inquiry is one more term for me to add to my list in thinking about Educon this year. Passion was an idea that really struck me throughout the weekend. From the panel Friday night when getting students passionate about something was discussed to watching Chris's passion drive SLA to all of the presenters. It's got me thinking about how to help my students find their passions and how to allow passion a greater role in education.

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
K-4 Technology Facilitator from Northfield, New Jersey
Facilitator

What a great title for a reflective blog post! "Shared smarts" really sums up Educon well. EVERYONE shares, EVERYONE participates, EVERYONE matters. That's what makes Educon so powerful. Sorry I didn't have a chance to meet you - next year, perhaps? -kj-

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate
Blogger

[quote]Sorry I didn't have a chance to meet you - next year, perhaps? [/quote]
Hi Kevin,
Even at a conference that deliberately stays small (EduCon=500), it's hard to meet everybody! Maybe we can connect at ISTE 2010 this summer?

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