Why Are You Going to That?

Educon

Last week I ran into a former colleague in the supermarket and during the brief impromptu catchup, I mentioned that I would be spending the weekend in Philadelphia at EduCon. After reminding me that I was no longer working, she asked “Why are you going to an education conference?”.

I suppose it’s a valid question. I didn’t really have much of an answer at that point. That kind of encounter isn’t really designed for long-winded explanations. But blog posts are.

Ok, it’s quite true that I’m no longer employed by a school district, or being paid by any other organization. But that doesn’t mean I’m no longer an educator. At least I still think of myself in that way and I’m having a great time finding other ways to help people learn outside of the formal system. So, I was at EduCon to continue growing as an educator.

I was also in Philly to continue my personal learning. We talk a lot about “lifelong learning”, a concept we constantly try to sell to our students. Spending several days interacting with other educators at Science Leadership Academy is me putting that concept into action. Plus the city itself is a wonderful place to explore and learn from.

Finally, I return every year on a usually cold and windy January weekend for the community. EduCon is a unique event that attracts a relatively small, dynamic, diverse group of educators deeply interested in improving both their practice and American education in general. It’s refreshing to reconnect with that community for a few days of face-to-face conversations.

All of which means I already have the 2019 dates (January 25-27) locked on my calendar. Maybe you want to plan to join me?


Picture is of one packed EduCon session being streamed to the world.

EduCon 2017

Last weekend was one of my favorite times of the year.

I spent a couple of days in a nondescript office building in center city Philadelphia masquerading as a school. This was a small but powerful conference knowns as EduCon, held each year in the depth of the mid-Atlantic winter at the Science Leadership Academy.

When I tell people about my trip, one of their first questions is why? Why do you continue to go to conferences like this? Aren’t you supposed to be retired?

The simple answer is, I’m still an educator and this event is a large part of my learning community.

Discussion

This was the tenth edition of this conference, which is very different from most. Here it’s all about conversations around the idea of changing education, attracting some of the smartest most creative people I know. I’ve been there from the beginning, leading or co-leading discussions in about half of them, and I always leave with a long list of books to read, ideas to investigate, and new people to follow.

The theme this year was sustainability and, considering all the local and national crap going on around us, I was half expecting the mood to be rather pessimistic. There certainly was an undercurrent of apprehension (how could there not be?) but, overall most everyone was positive and determined to help fix the broken.

Robot Controllers

One great part of EduCon is that the faculty of SLA, many of the students, and even some parents are active participants in the discussions. Many of the sessions are also lead by staff and students, talking about their work and the inquiry driven process at the school. It’s even more remarkable when you remember that this is a public school, working with the same limited budget as other high schools, with a representative cross section of the city’s population.

I have a couple of posts in the works based on some discussions from the conference, but to close this one I’ll just recommend that you plan now to be in Philly next January 26-28. Dress warm, wear your walking shoes, and I’ll see you there.

Sunday Panel

Find more images from this year’s conference in the EduCon 2.9 Group on Flickr.

3-2-1 For 2017

For the final 3-2-1 of 2016, here are three books, two audio books, and one movie you may want to consider enjoying during the coming year.

Three books worth a space on your reading list.

The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.  George is very much an advocate for empowering students and this book is a wonderfully positive collection of ideas for making that happen. It include many great suggestions that could and should be used immediately. This is one book that should be read with a group of other educators. (about 4 hours, 16 minutes)

Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O’Neil. Many decisions made by corporations and governments, such as who gets a loan or who is paroled from prison, are based on mathematical models that are poorly understood, even by the people who create them. This book is especially for those who are not “math people” and I’ll have more posts about it later. (about 5 hours, 26 minutes)

Education Outrage by Roger Schank. Few people do outrage better than Schank but, as you’ll find in this book, there is much to be upset about in the American system of education. This is a collection of Schank’s essays that will challenge some (maybe many) of your beliefs about what school is and could be. Share the book with your local school leaders. (about 5 hours, 57 minutes)

Two audiobooks for your commute.

Medium Raw written and read by Anthony Bourdain. Although he’s a chef by training, Bourdain’s television is all about travel and exploring other cultures as wide ranging as Vietnam and New Jersey. This is the story of those travels, mixed with a strong critique of restaurant trends and food television. Be warned, he occasionally uses bad language. (9 hours)

Me of Little Faith written and read by Lewis Black. If you have seen or heard Black’s stand-up work, you might think this is just his very caustic humor applied to religion. You would be wrong. This is a very thoughtful, and very funny, philosophical treatise in which he asks many good questions, and arrives at at least some good answers. Be warned, Black also uses some bad language. (5 hours, 50 minutes)

One movie to watch when you have time

The Big Short. This film was released at the end of 2015 and probably didn’t get a big audience. However, it’s a very thoughtful, surprisingly entertaining story about the housing crash of 2008, and bitingly very funny as well. Based on the book by Michael Lewis and featuring great performances by Steve Carell and Christian Bale. (2 hours, 10 minutes; on Netflix)

Punching Holes in Your Comfort Zone

I disagree with the very negative opinion about the education system expressed by James Altucher, an economic writer who says he needs very little in life. However, in this post, he does make a couple of great points about something he finds essential: curiosity.

For one thing, he says it leads to happiness: “Dopamine is being released because I am in anticipation of the reward of curiosity getting satisfied. Higher dopamine equals greater happiness, better brain and heart health. Live longer.” I admit, I feel pretty good when I’m satisfying my curiosity.

I think he’s also correct that curiosity leads to greater creativity, maybe to better relationships and community. Not so sure about fighting Alzheimer’s but anything that exercises your brain can’t be bad.

But for me, this is the core of his thoughts on creativity.

Our comfort zone is where we are safe in the womb of life. Our real self is everything beyond that.

The Curiosity Zone is bigger than the Comfort Zone.

Every time you are curious, you punch another hole in that comfort zone.

I am certainly saving that idea to use sometime, somewhere.

3-2-1 For 9-25-16

Three readings worth your time this week.

The old adage is that necessity is the mother of invention. But, according to Scientific American, several studies of humans and other animals point to other reasons why they engage in creative activities. One could be that invention comes when people feel secure in their basic needs. Didn’t Maslow make that connection? (about 5 minutes)

Certainly not comprehensive, this guide to your privacy from the Consumerist blog is still a good, concise review of how much control you have in the areas of health, finance, and communications, plus a section children on the internet. Each section also points to the agency you can complain to if something isn’t right. (about 10 minutes)

Many of us try to recycle as much as possible, thinking that the bottles, paper, plastic, and other waste in those bins will actually be reused rather than ending in a landfill somewhere. That may not be the case with those millions of old smartphones and other electronics discarded every year. Motherboard explains that A Shocking Amount of E-Waste Recycling Is a Complete Sham. (about 8 minutes)

Two audio tracks for your commute.

Can better schools improve the economy? Specifically, Springfield, Ohio has reopened the town high school as the Global Impact STEM Academy in hopes it will encourage graduates to stay and bring new high tech jobs to the area. NPR Morning Edition has the interesting, and unfinished, story. (5:48)

The theory that the 1969 moon landing was faked is one of those persistent conspiracies that just won’t die. In a unique approach to the idea, the Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know podcast interviews the director of a new thriller in which two novice CIA agents looking for a Russian mole within NASA find something more sinister. (40:00)

One video to watch when you have a few minutes.

I am a big fan of movie soundtracks. Not the collections of pop songs used in many films,1 but music composed specifically for the production. A Theory of Film Music is a little geeky but is also an interesting analysis of why the music in most modern high profile films (think anything from Marvel) is not particularly distinctive. He doesn’t touch on my favorites, however, the music from Pixar films. (12:14)