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.

5 thoughts on “Preparing to be Educated at EduCon”

  1. Thanks for a great post, Martha.

    You’ve made me think about an initiative established in the 1990s in Long Beach, California. It was called the “Seamless Education” initiative, and you can read about its ongoing effects in other Long Beach education programs. Basically, the idea was that any kid who went through K-12 in Long Beach should be able to continue seamlessly into community college and/or the state university (CSULB). I’m not sure how this plays out in other parts of the country, but my impression is that a lot of college-bound high school students end up staying in Long Beach for higher ed, so that kind of collaboration among the school district, the community college district, and the CSU (which both has a campus in LB and which is headquartered in LB as a system) makes a lot of sense. The initiative has a career component, too, if I’m remembering correctly, so it’s focused on employment more than just maybe the lofty goal of educating engaged citizens, but hey, it’s a start.

    I was delighted to hear about your science museum employment visions. 🙂 I, too, have always wanted to work in a science museum. During grad school I worked for a few years as an educator, exhibit developer, and evaluator for a small science center in town, but I’d really like to step up to a natural history museum. Museum jobs are incredibly competitive, however, and if I applied for them locally, I’d be competing with my own students in the JFKU Museum Studies program. (Awkward!)

    I hope you enjoy EduCon. If you do, maybe I can put it on my schedule for next year!

  2. Thanks for the comment, Leslie. I’ll be interested to check out the LB program. Isn’t it funny, though, how when we do talk about K-12 in relation to higher education we rarely seem to be discussing those “lofty goal[s] of educating engaged citizens?” I have some thoughts about why that is that I want to articulate, but I have more thinking to do.

    As for the museum job, yeah, I think it’s unlikely I’ll ever find myself working in that sector without returning to school. And even then, as you say, the competition is killer–and you’re someone with amazing credentials in this area!

  3. Martha, this is really great stuff. I really liked your thoughts on museums – bringing them into the classroom and being a model for making and sharing knowledge. I’ve started to develop this concept a bit in my Elementary Science Methods class. Last semester I had the students take small plastic tackle boxes – one of those with adjustable spacers so you change the size/number of sections – and mark off a roughly 100 sq ft area somewhere outside. The assignment was to make a “mini-museum” of that area, filling the box with samples of what they thought was interesting and/or representative of the area. They also had to draw diagrams and maps of the samples and area as well.

    This kind of fits in with an idea I’ve been reading a lot about lately – place based learning. If you get a chance read David Sobel’s Ecophobia – its a great read, talks about kids, nature, and learning, only about 48 pages. I’ve got a spare copy if you’re interested.

    And, on the topic of museums, I had a good sidewalk conversation with Eric Gable, talking about the concept of place-based learning and how it fits into museum design – something he’s very interested in. And some of the CPR people are interested as well – Jason Matzke is doing a Stafford campus weekend course for teachers on Environmentalism and I’m meeting with JohnL Johnson to talk about place based learning and education.

    Must be a new paradigm or gestalt or something.

  4. @George — thanks for the comment! I LOVE your mini-museum in a tackle box activity. One of my favorite things to do (even as an adult) at the beach is to collect things from the area and put together a little “exhibit” on a piece of driftwood. I can’t wait until my kids are old enough to do it with me. 🙂

    I’ll definitely look up the Sobel reading — sounds fascinating. And I’d love to hear more about the developing conversations at UMW about place-based learning.

    Also, you should definitely consider coming to Educon! You’d have a lot to contribute, particularly from a teacher education standpoint.

  5. Martha, another conversation you might be interested in joining – I was talking to Doug Sanford about the new minor in Museum Studies, and we were both thinking it would be great for the new College of Education to offer a certificate program in Museum Education. It would be set up for inservice teachers and other interested people. I’ll keep you up to date as things progress.

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