Professional Learning

Shared Smarts: The Wisdom of EduCon

January 30, 2010

"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.

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