Educon 2.2: Day One

After a long day of meeting Twitter friends for the first time, touring the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) and venturing around Philly, I got home and wasn't sure what to do.  I decided to tweet out my dilemma, and of course, my PLN came through to help me make my decision:

My PLN has spoken, so here I am in bed trying to pull together my thoughts and reflections about the day.  (Deven, I will probably tell you tomorrow that you made the right decision!)

I will break down my day into sections so it is easy for me to recap and reflect.

Breakfast at the Windsor
What can I say, breakfast was a little overwhelming!  When I walked up the stairs, I immediately saw my friends Ann Leaness, Andrew Forgrave and Deven Black and I quickly began to meet more friends, like Hadley Ferguson, Kim Sivick, Meeno Rami, and Yoon Soo Lim many of whom I had never met in 'real life.'  I tried to 'make the rounds' to different tables to meet people, and also found Beth Still, Ryan Wassink, Angela Cunningham and Jason Schrage and Nelly Cardinale at another table.  Breakfast conversation was lively (fueled by too much coffee on an empty stomach) and though our food took forever due to it being our waitress' first day.  We were happy to sit and talk. (For future reference, whenever I say 'we,' it means whomever I ended up walking with. This changed throughout the day and is not worth updating every time I use the word 'we.')

The Science Leadership Academy Experience
We had planned to be at SLA by 10:00am, but ended up getting there a little later.  When I got there, I was excited to see my friend Holly Shaw, a fellow Philly computer teacher, in the cafeteria, and I received a phone call from another Philly lab teacher, Sherri Freedman soon after saying she was on her way. We checked in at the desk and picked up our name tags.

We took the elevator up to the library, which will serve as the "Blogger's Cafe" for the conference, and then moved out into the hallway and began peering into classrooms. We decided to tag along with a student-run tour and ended up in a Science lab that was so engaging I wanted to stay and be a student (disclaimer---I used to teach Science and am a total nerd about inquiry-based learning). To satisfy my craving, I spoke to some students who explained that they were looking for protozoa with their microscopes (which had cameras that were attached to their laptops) and that they were taking photos of them to add to a portfolio they have of all of the things they have observed so far this year.  A couple of the student pairs had a huge amount of little protozoa swimming around. I was mesmerized.

We then disengaged from the tour and headed to the 5th floor to see Diana Laufenberg's History class.  I had met Diana at our union meeting a few weeks back and have been tweeting back and forth with her over the past few months.  I was excited to see her classroom in action.  

The students were working on a National History Day project. I spoke with a student who explained that the theme of the project this year was innovation, so she chose the history of paper, focusing on the ancient Egyptians.  She explained that the students had to write a paper and then they could show what they had learned through a project such as a website, a video or a performance.  She had chosen website, as I remember.

What was great about the class was the climate. Many students had iPods and were listening to them, and many were standing up or walking around, but it was apparent that work was being done and that they were focused and engaged. Another great project we learned about from a student was when they were asked to rewrite history as if a certain event, such as the assassination of Martin Luther King never occurred.  Diana had a student teacher in her room, so we were able to grab her for some Q&A, which was great.

We learned that the students do not attend a full day of classes on Wednesdays.  Instead, from noon until the end of the regular school day, they work on some kind of individualized project.  Some do internships, some do community service work, some take mini classes at SLA.  Projects are based around student interest, and each student has an advisor to guide them along the way.  The students 'sign' in to their assigned location through an online system to assure that they are where they are supposed to be.  

This model really struck home with me since I went through a similar experience in high school and am 100% sure that I would not be the person I am today had I not had this experience. 

Ann and I had really wanted to check out  Zachary Chase's English class but he did not have a class at the time.  One of his student's blog posts became viral on Twitter as an example of the possibilities of student blogging as well as the sheer maturity and intelligence of the post itself. Of course I'm kicking myself now that I didn't bookmark the post in my Diigo library. If anyone has it, please leave the link in the comments!

Instead, we headed toward the Multi Touch lab to see the famous screen.  On it was projected a web of the Animal Kingdom that could be manipulated in a similar fashion as an iPod touch or iPhone (on a much larger scale).  It also appeared that by clicking on one species, it could create a connection through the kindgom based on a particular trait.  I would love to see how this board is used with students as the room it was in was bare aside from the huge screen in the corner.

We ended up stopping in the library quickly to meet Paula White and Becky Fisher for brief moment.  Once again, it was great to finally meet such talented educators face to face!

The Constitution Center 
A group of us decided to brave the cold and check out the Constitution Center. I had been there before with my parents, but decided it would be worth it--it was free, after all!  We took the trolley and the Market-Frankford Line to get there, which is always fun.  While the museum itself was not too exciting (I didn't remember it being that engaging), the show "Freedom Rising" always makes me leave feeling very patriotic.  Deven and I discussed how amazing it was that the Founding Fathers had such vision and selflessness to create such a revolutionary document as our Constitution.  On a side note, I had to memorize the Preamble in 5th grade and recite it as one of my grades and I still remember it to this day!

A small group of us decided to trek it to Monk's Cafe for some early pre-keynote dinner.  We met up with Andy Cinek there, a fellow Philadelphia teacher and his friend, who I only know as 'Joe.' Andy, help me out here so I can at least give his full name!  We also had a serendipitous meeting of Ben Wilkoff, Michael Wacker and Rick Tanksi.   I enjoyed hearing about the PodCamp Ben helped plan out in the Denver area.  I'm hoping to get to his session.  Sorry no photos of this meetup.

The Panel Discussion 
When I got to the Franklin Institute for the opening panel discussion I was happy to find myself sitting next to Sean Nash (who I had ashamedly met earlier and not recognized through a case of mistaken identity). Another friend, Mike Ritzius arrived as well, and crazy enough, found me because his sister, who was watching online saw me and told him where I was standing.  I was standing with two School District of Philadelphia colleagues, Tracey McGrath and Mark Perlman, who I was also happy to see. 

I will most likely do an additional post about the panel discussion, so I will keep this recap brief.  It's also almost 12:30am, so briefness is key.  The 5 panelists were very diverse in their backgrounds, so their takes on the question "What is smart?" were often very different.  Honestly, I was not blown away by the discussion, though I was highly impressed with many of the comments and reflections by Dr. Glaude.  (honest note here: I left my paper with all of the panelists' names on it downstairs and I am too lazy to go get it, so I have not listed their names) Some of the comments I remember were: "I have an erotic relationship with Dewey" and "Brilliance can be nurtured and found in unexpected places." Overall, he seemed like the one who was most excited to be there. He appeared to be enjoying the discussion for discussion's sake, as most intellectuals do.  I liked that.

The conversation itself fluctuated from biological smart to smartness as a social construct.  The president of Moore College of Art spoke about how people can be smart in a particular area, but not in another.  There was also a discussion of whether people thought about smartness before the written word and what it may have meant then.

There was a great backchannel discussion going on as well.

After the panel discussion, we headed to the Planetarium for some light refreshments. I ran into many people I had crossed paths with during the day, and was introduced to Melissa Techman for the first time.  We had a conversation about 'doing it anyway' when you are told not to do something.  I love that.

OK, it's WAAAYY too late and I have a long day tomorrow.  I'm getting really excited!

To follow all of the tweets from Educon, you can check out this Twapper Keeper.


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