Preparing to be Educated at EduCon

Aside from last year’s Faculty Academy, it’s been almost a year and a half since I’ve attended a conference. This was a personal decision on my part. I chose to come back to UMW part-time after my maternity leave and staying home with my family has been my number-one priority. But last January, I listened in on Twitter as my friend Jen attended EduCon, and so when Jerry asked me if there was a conference I wanted to attend this year, I knew EduCon was the one. From Jen’s tweets, I could tell that the conference was inspiring her. But there were some other really important reasons why I was really excited about the possibility of attending EduCon this year.

First, it’s a K-12 conference. Working in higher ed, I often feel like there is a big disconnect between the people I talk to regularly about technology, teaching, and learning and the people who are doing the same kinds of work in K-12. I find this disconnect concerning and uncomfortable. Students proceeding into higher education are experiencing a continuum that starts, these days, in grade school. Technology is being “integrated” from K through grad school, but it doesn’t seem like we talk to much about that continuum. The elephant in the room when that topic comes up, I think, is that higher education has done a bad job, in general, of acknowledging this continuum. Technology isn’t just a trajectory — learning is a trajectory. Teaching is a trajectory. Do we in higher ed (professors, technologists, librarians, administrators) engage with our colleagues in K-12 nearly enough. Do we understand the forces they’re negotiating? Do they understand ours? If we don’t talk and collaborate more, then how can we provide an learning experience for our students that makes sense?

The other reason the K-12 aspect of this interested me is that I’m a parent with a daughter about to enter kindergarten in our local public school. My daughter has been attending a private school for the last 12 months — first for 5-day preschool. This year, she was moved up into 5-day kindergarten, but she won’t be old enough to enter the public school until the fall. We’ve decided to move her, and I’m suddenly finding myself trying to figure out what, as a parent, I need to pay attention to as the transition occurs. Her current school is fantastic: her classes have been small; the students are amazing; the teachers are dedicated. But I, fundamentally, believe in the idea of public education, and I want her to have a public school experience like I had. At the same time, I hear horror stories about budget cuts, SOLs, and NCLB. My understanding of these issues is rudimentary, at best. I want to start to really understand what today’s public school teachers’ are facing. I want to understand the reasons why some teachers and parents are choosing private school instead. I want this information so that I can make an informed (non knee-jerk) decision about my childrens’ future. I’m hoping EduCon will be a place where I can begin my education.

There’s another reason why I’m really excited about EduCon, and it’s more personal. The conference is held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. Here’s a brief description of the school from their Web site:

The Science Leadership Academy is a partnership high school between the School District of Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute. SLA is an inquiry-driven, project-based high school focused on 21st century learning that opened its doors on September 7, 2006.

Twenty-two years ago, I started high school at a school was then an experiment in science education. That school is now well-established and well-respected (and also, still, controversial). My time at Thomas Jefferson was fraught. It was intense, challenging, demoralizing, and inspiring. I left with a great education and a pretty damaged self-esteem. It took a while to get past that legacy, but, given the choice, I’d probably go again.  SLA seems to have a lot of the same goals as Jefferson did when it was starting out. I’m fascinated to hear how another science high school is starting up 20 years later. I’m particularly interested in learning more about the vision of Chris Lehmann, the principal (and, apparently, force of nature) behind SLA. I’ve been following Chris on Twitter since Jen started tweeting at EduCon last year, and he is funny, inspiring, and obviously incredibly dedicated to his students.

The third reason I’m so excited about EduCon is also personal. 12 years ago when I decided to go back to graduate school to student technology and education, my dream was to go into museum work. In particular, I really wanted to work at a science museum. Science and technology museums have always been places of wonder for me. I think it’s because, when they’re done well, then wed narrative and science. The best museums tell really good stories, and the thing I’ve always found most interesting about science has been the stories hidden in the details. In this country, we’ve been bemoaning the state of science education for decades. I think SLA has struck a magic partnership by working with the Franklin Institute. Why not let a museum into the classroom to do what it can do best — make science real and relative? And why not let students into the museum where the practice of making museums can be the ultimate model for making and sharing knowledge?

Around the same time I was applying for graduate school my husband and I had just started dating. On one of our first dates, we drove up to Philadelphia to go to the Franklin Institute. I remember thinking this was the kind of place where I wold love to practice education and technology some day. I don’t know if a dream like that will ever come true. (I really do love working in higher education.) But this weekend I look forward to reliving those dreams and getting inspired.