Tag Archives: educon

Educon 2.3 – a new kind of education conference

Next weekend in Philadelphia will be the fourth annual Educon conference. I’m happy to say I’ve been to all of them so far, and it’s grown into one of my favorites of the year.

There are several things I love about Educon:

  • It’s small. Capped at 500 people, it’s intimate enough that you get a “sense” of what people are thinking and the shifts occurring in real time.
  • Authenticity gives it voice and shape. Held at the Science Leadership Academy, a public magnet school with a progressive philosophy in the center of Philadelphia, the vibrancy of the school (both from teachers and students) shines through the event.
  • It’s not a trade show. So many educational conferences, even the ones with academic roots, have morphed into what Gary Stager calls “boat shows.” The focus on sales creates a different kind of atmosphere. Educon is about educators thinking out loud together without the carnival barkers.
  • Conversations, not sessions. At most conferences, people always wonder why discussions of new ways to teach and learn are held in old style lecture halls, and the interesting conversations are the ones in the hall. Educon has tried to bring those conversations to the forefront.
  • It’s centered in practice. Being in a school is not just about the building. The teachers and students are full participants in the conference and model collaboration, non-coercive learning and empowerment throughout. You can tell it’s what they do on a regular basis and it raises the bar for everyone.

I’m leading a conversation this year about gaming in education, “If Games are the Answer, What’s the Question?” Games in education are a hot topic these days, with all the usual mix of reality and hype that goes along with that. I definitely have strong opinions (which I’ll share) – but not the whole time. I hope to have a lively discussion where we’ll look at some games and talk about what makes them “good” for learning or not. Ultimately, perhaps we can come to some conclusions about what to look for in games for different subjects and classrooms.

I’d appreciate any input here or on the Educon page for this session about any particular games that people are curious about and want to discuss. I’ll try to have some screen shots prepared since there really won’t be time to download and play a lot of games AND have a discussion.

If you are coming to this session in person or via the live web streaming, please come with a downloaded game to share, or post suggestions here.

Sylvia

Previous posts about Educon

Tinkering and Technology

Before this all slips my mind, I wanted to post some thoughts about the conversation I led at Educon 2.2 last weekend called Tinkering Towards Technology Fluency. I had a few slides prepared, and a general list of things I thought would be interesting to discuss, and some questions in case there was a lot of deadly silence. Well, that didn’t happen! What happened was that we had a really interesting conversation, which wandered a bit but no one seemed to mind. That’s the cool part about Educon, the conversations are the point. I learned as much from everyone there as I hope they learned from some of the things I shared.

What I’d like to do here is provide a short skim through the topics I brought to the session. I think many of them either support themes I’ve posted about before, or will in the future. I plan to return to them in the future and explore each one in depth.

This is such a rich area for two main reasons:

  1. Unstructured time is undervalued by School.
  2. Tinkering supports technology and technology supports tinkering.

Random thoughts in no particular order:

Humans yearn for tinkering and playful activity
The popularity of the Food Network, HGTV, and shows like Monster Garage  illustrate how people want to learn from watching others DO things they love. Work is interesting when you can see it happen, and people are interesting when they work. Make magazine is awesome.

Tinkering is social
Yes, there is the stereotype of the lone tinkerer in his basement. But more often, tinkering is a shared, social experience. Social learning with no structure or single, all-knowing teacher can happen! Leveraging the power of social learning seems like something we should be thinking about in this day and age.

Bricolage
French for tinkering, using found objects, playfulness in creation. (Wikipedia)

Tinkering/bricolage vs. the scientific method/analytical design
Seymour Papert, the father of educational technology, defined two styles of problem solving: analytical and bricolage. School only honors one style. What are we losing? (Who are we losing?)

“The bricoleur resembles the painter who stands back between brushstrokes, looks at the canvas, and only after this contemplation, decides what to do next.” Sherry Turkle

Tinkering and gender
The book by Sherry Turkle that I couldn’t remember in the session was “The Second Self”. I also forgot to mention this crucial connection to tinkering and gender issues in technology. Turkle says that tinkering is a “female” approach to technology, calling it “soft mastery” (as opposed to the “hard mastery” of linear, step by step problem solving, flowcharting, and analytical design). However, these “hard” styles are often taught as being superior, with “soft mastery” styles deemed messy or unprofessional. Again, who and what are we losing by ignoring (and denigrating) alternative learning and problem-solving styles?

Tinkering requires similar conditions to project-based learning and games in the classroom. Implementation brings up similar questions
Teachers who are looking at project-based learning or games are struggling with the same issues that arise with tinkering. Time, space, overwhelming curriculum requirements, tests, etc. These all need to be solved in similar ways, and teachers are doing this all around the world. Sharing is important.

More connections with games
James Paul Gee (What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy) says that we should examine the attributes of gaming such as identity and agency and how to bring those to the classroom. We are being too literal with “games in the classroom.” The attributes of tinkering are similar. We have to be willing to give students agency and allow them to develop their own identities as problem-solvers and learners.

Why is tinkering learning?
Tinkering is a uniquely human activity, combining social and creative forces that encompass play and learning.

The problem with the scientific method
A pet peeve of mine is this structured monstrosity called “the scientific method.” We teach it to children like it came down on stone tablets. It’s not how science really works. Science is about wonder and risk and imagination, not checklists.

Risk and design – what happened in engineering in the 80s
When I went to engineering school, they taught us to use the “waterfall” design methodology. Every stage was planned and went in order. Then in the 80s everything changed.

What happened? Computers. Digital design and modeling decreased the cost of making mistakes. You could try things out with little risk or cost. It’s called the spiral design method, or rapid prototyping, sort of like tinkering with an audience. It’s why Google is always in “beta”. Of course it doesn’t work for everything, you can’t release a “beta” skyscraper or tinker a space shuttle, but for digital products, what’s the harm?

The problem is that school hasn’t caught on to this design methodology. What do we need to do to get school design courses to catch up to the real world?

What can we learn from other unstructured (but successful) school activities?
This also connects back to a post I wrote called Technology Literacy and Sustained Tinkering Time which connected the ideas of Sustained Silent Reading to using technology in less structured ways. Schools have embraced Sustained Silent Reading in the face of scripted curriculum and standardized testing – what can advocates for constructivist education learn from this?

Technology literacy without tinkering time is hard to fathom
Maybe we should be talking about technology fluency anyway. Literacy is such a low bar.

Teaching risk free design is so 20th century.

More later – your feedback on what to tackle first is welcome!

Sylvia

Whoosh! DC, workshops, Techspo and Educon

Some travels this week:

Monday and Tuesday I’m in Washington DC for a big announcement – stay tuned for something exciting!

Wednesday I’m in New York City leading a workshop on project-based technology literacy with some independent schools.

If it’s Thursday and Friday (Jan 28/29) it must be Atlantic City for TECHSPO 2010 – the annual statewide technology exhibition and training conference for New Jersey school leaders, sponsored by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators. Alan November and Gary Stager are keynoting this conference so it ought to be a good one.

The cherry on top of this crazy week will be Educon in Philadelphia Jan 29-31. This is the third year for this conference put on by the Science Leadership Academy (SLA.) Educon and SLA are captained by their visionary principal, Chris Lehmann, and powered by the amazing teachers and dedicated students of SLA.

The sessions will likely be streamed online, so if you are interested in tuning in for “conversations” rather than “stand and deliver” – check it out. It’s an awesome session list.

My session on Tinkering Towards Technology Literacy will be Saturday morning at 10AM Eastern time. If you are attending Educon, I could definitely use a volunteer to help with the streaming! If you will not be in Philadelphia, check the Educon website for instructions on connecting remotely.

Whew!

Sylvia

Related posts:

Tinkering Towards Educon

I’ll be heading to Philadelphia later this month for the Educon conference. This is a terrific small conference held at the Science Leadership Academy about education and change. Educon is famous for having “conversations” not “presentations.” This means that the wisdom of the crowd gets shared as we explore one topic in depth.

This year I’m leading a conversation on Tinkering Towards Technology Fluency

Conversation Description: Tinkering is a time-honored educational practice, focusing on a learner exploring a subject or problem without clear goals or time constraints, using objects or tools at hand, driven by passion and curiosity. Seymour Papert used the word, “bricolage” to describe a way to solve problems by trying things out, testing, playing, and trying again. This stands in direct contract to the way we teach students to use analytical methods (such as the scientific method) to solve problems. Current digital tools would seem to support this method of learning, with the rapid ability to build first drafts and easy to use editing tools. When mistakes and prototypes were expensive and time consuming, it certainly made sense to carefully plan your attack on a problem. However, this is no longer the case. In industry, the methodology of production planning has been revolutionized by rapid design tools. Accepted practices of design and planning have completely changed over the past 25 years, with linear “waterfall” planning completely replaced by new “spiral” design methodologies, especially in the design of digital products.

Beginning questions for the conversation are:  How can tinkering influence our understanding of technology literacy as a set of skills to be mastered? How might this influence classroom practice when teaching analytical problem solving in any subject? How can tinkering fit in today’s structured classroom environment? How does a teacher maintain a schedule and series of learning objectives that result in learning, not just fooling around? Is anything a student does tinkering? What role does judgement and content knowledge play in tinkering?

If you are considering attending Educon, I hope you join the conversation!

Related posts:

Sylvia