#SXSWedu: Warming Up

Things are warming up outside and inside here in Austin at #SXSWedu on Tuesday, day two of the conference. Gone are the days of attending a conference to just sit and listen- education stakeholders are here to do the work and change the trajectory of education, rethinking what school needs to look like in order to be personalized and lift every student to their full potential. We warmed up yesterday by focusing on personalization with Susan Patrick of iNACOL. This morning we heard from ed leaders, like National Teacher of the Year,  Jeff Charbonneau and education professor David Conley who both work to ensure that students connect to the path of college and career readiness. That inspiration carried us to our own session, Cook Up a Batch of Blended Learning where we witnessed so much innovative school planning and creative thinking we could not believe that it was only lunch time! (stay tuned for our full coverage of our session soon). And we saw how an entire city has come together to improve the education experience for their students at NOLA: A Haven for Ed Start ups.

NOLA: A Haven for Ed Start Ups: Mardi Gras isn’t the only thing that is hot in New Orleans right now. The city has positioned itself as a perfect location for education start ups. Panelists Jennifer Medbery with Kickboard, Katie Beck with 4.0 Schools, Leslie Jacobs, with New Orleans Start Up Fund, and Matthew Rookard with Greater New Orleans Inc. identified some key components that create a unique place for education entrepreneurs. A huge population of charter schools and an influx of TFA-ers (Teach for America Corp Members) make New Orleans home to a community of individuals who are willing to take risks and look to make positive change. Support at the city and state level make starting a business feel like a supported venture rather than an impossible task. Its is a combination of a work hard, play hard philosophy and a commitment to innovation that seem to create the perfect environment for new companies looking to make big changes. If you are at SXSW and looking to learn more, join them for Mardi Gras celebration at the Iron Cactus tonight at 5:30.

Turning Over Rocks to Discover Competency-based Learning. We were excited to see a standing-room only crowd in iNACOL’s Susan Patrick and CCSSO’s Maureen Wentworth’s session on Competency-Based Learning. The town hall style conversation walked participants through the key components of competency-based learning including examples of best practice from the classroom level to state and federal policy level. The conversation centered around the key theme of personalization. While technology came to play as one path to personalization,the focus was on fundamental redesign of teaching and learning around learners, instead of time. Patrick explained that while the shift from a time-based to a student-based system is like “turning over rocks” with lots to discover, some things–like high-quality teaching–stay the same.  “The teacher is as important, more important than ever in competency based system,” Patrick said.

Another Day in Paradise. Every morning Jeff Charbonneau, 2013 National Teacher of the Year starts his class by saying “Welcome to another day in paradise.” The secret he revealed throughout his session, is how to build a paradise for students to cultivate deeper, more meaningful learning. We can all agree that content is important and it has to be rigorous but it can’t be the first thing on our minds. If you build relationships with your students and show them that they’re respected and cared about you’ll wind up teaching more content in the end.

Charbonneau explained that content is the method, not the goal. If you explain to parents that you’re teaching their students quantum physics they won’t understand the importance. When you tell parents you’re teaching their student how to problem solve, think critically, be self sufficient and fail but get back up, they’ll appreciate that. Why are we always celebrating last? It’s important to celebrate milestones along the way to keep students engaged and excited to learn.

Wondering what paradise looks like? Seeing paradise isn’t about the classroom, the adventures, the group projects or the lesson plan. Seeing paradise is seeing hope. Education has to give hope to students that their future can be whatever they want it to be. Jeff teaches because he wants to help instill student confidence, create self sufficient learners and problem solvers, and to teach students the importance of legacy and good citizenship. Most importantly he explained, that “we must remember that the reason we teach is to help create the new us. We are creating our future society, culture and the people who will replace us.”

College and Career Ready. EPIC’s David Conley literally wrote the book on College and Career Readiness. Over years of research, he developed the “4 Keys to College and Career Readiness.” Conley believes that the college & career ready student must possess content knowledge, strategies, skills and techniques in order to succeed in college and career. In his session, Conley really pushed for a student-centered definition of CCR and encouraged the audience to think about readiness in relationship to the student, not just state and college requirements. Conley acknowledges that a “one-sized fits all” approach to CCR misses the mark, stating “Not every student needs exactly the same knowledge and skills to be college and career ready. A student’s college and career interests helps identify the precise knowledge and skills the student needs.”  One of most compelling take-aways from Conley’s session was his validation of student interests and goals as “useful reference points for student readiness.” With increased attention to personalization and customization in K-12, it’s exciting to hear someone thinking about how to bring these same goals to the transition from K-12 to higher education. (Look for a paper from Digital Learning Now and Getting Smart soon that will drill down on CCR in the age of online and blended learning.)

Connecting the Dots. Matthew Peterson (The MIND Research Institute) and Chris Liang-Vergara (Leap Innovations) investigated what blended learning looks like at the elementary level and challenged participants to look at blended learning as more than just an attempt to “get everything virtual,” but really blend the overall experience of the child. Technology can help teach mathematics through problem solving by putting the whole emphasis on modeling the world and solving problems. Good teachers ask the right questions and create a clear narrative of the concept and technology helps connect the dots between teachers and students thus developing solid relationships.


Stay tuned for more from #SXSWedu on GettingSmart.com and on Twitter at @Getting_Smart!

Digital Learning Now! and MIND Research are Getting Smart Advocacy Partners. Tom is a director at iNACOL.

Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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