Monday, January 31, 2011

My Educon Struggle

I've been really struggling to put together my thoughts on Educon this year. I think part of my problem is I had really high expectations. The first Educon in 2008 was so groundbreaking for me. I met so many people in my PLN for the first time. I got to know people I had previously only seen on stage. I experienced a conference as a series of conversations rather than presentations. I talked about ideas constantly with people who had similar passions. It was a heady, empowering, life changing event for me.

I know from reading Tweets, reading blog posts, and talking to people that for many this describes their Educon experience. While I did have a great time seeing people I only see once a year, meeting people face to face for the first time, and bringing a colleague from my school, I'm not sure what I learned. That is very difficult for me to write. I know I learn constantly and I certainly took back some good ideas. But many of the sessions, all of them well done, felt like things we have been talking about forever.

I'm tired. I'm tired of complaining about what schools aren't doing. I'm tired of lamenting what kids aren't learning. I'm tired of struggling to figure out effective professional development. I'm exhausted by the term 21st century skills.

I left Educon sadder than I arrived and I feel guilty about my sadness. I don't want to make anyone feel bad. The sessions were excellent. The SLA team of students and teachers and administrators did an incredible job organizing and putting this event together. I'm trying to figure myself out.

Does anyone else feel this way? Am I crazy? What do you think?

David Warlick's Wordle of Educon Tweets:
Owly Images

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

10 Ways to Get the Most out of Educon

This will be my fourth Educon conference. It is my favorite conference of the year. My PLN comes alive. I love seeing everyone in person. For many of us, this is the one time a year we get to connect face to face. For those of you who are new to Educon, here are a few suggestions for how to get the most out of your experience.

1. If you have time, visit SLA while it is in session. You will get a chance to see how amazing the students are during the conference, but it is truly incredible to discover that they are like that during the regular school day. SLA student love to talk about their school. They give great tours and will answer any and all of your questions. If you don't have time, don't worry, you will still get a sense of the school throughout the conference.

2. Say hello to everyone. If you see people you know from your Online life, don't be afraid to introduce yourself. If you see me wandering around and you read my blog, please say hello to me. I met Lisa Thumann at my first Educon and we have become great friends. Educon is not a place to be shy. Everyone is friendly and hoping to meet you. The most powerful part of the conference is the people. Don't let that pass you by.

3. Go to the social events. Friday night before the panel there are usually people at TGI Fridays.
After the panel, people often hang out at Mace's Crossing. Saturday night at Rembrandts is definitely worth the cab ride over. It is a very casual atmosphere and it is a great time to talk about what you learned during the day.

4. Dress warmly, casually and wear comfortable shoes. You will probably be walking back and forth from the hotel to SLA. Some lazy people (like Lisa and I) drive in the morning, but most people walk. From the Windsor Suites it takes about 10 - 15 minutes. It is a little further to the Franklin Institute. It is cold in Philly and the sidewalks are likely to be slushy. The general vibe at Educon is very casual. Some people change for the evening activities (like me), but it is still a very laid back atmosphere. I also suggest layers in SLA, as some rooms are warm and others can be cold.

5. Take time to reflect. Towards the end of the day on Saturday you will likely be feeling some information overload. Don't be afraid to skip a session and sit in the library at SLA. Write a blog post, talk to some people or just follow the #Educon twitter stream. You can't do everything and you might find your conversation there is the high point of your trip.

6. Tweet lots! If you have never used Twitter before, Educon is the best place to give it a try. Search the Twitter Hashtag #Educon or follow my Educon Twitter List (let me know if you need to be added to it) and let the back channel be part of your learning experience. And don't just lurk, join in. Share something you have learned, an interesting idea, a good link, a question or an answer. Take full advantage of this PLN developing opportunity.

7. Be fully present. Educon flies by. The weekend will be over before you know it. Try to experience it fully. Go to lots of sessions, go out with people you have just met, hang out with people you never see, stay up as late as you can. It only happens once a year. Make the most of the experience.

8. Find a different staircase. The elevators can get really crowded, as can the front bathrooms. There are additional bathrooms hidden on each floor and staircases too. Don't be afraid to ask a student to show you a secret back way.

9. Don't be late for lunch. The lunch line gets really long and the tables fill up. If you can, get there early. Head right for lunch after your session. This is not the time to stop and chat. You can always talk after you get your box lunch.

10. One thing you can skip. If you have to miss something, the Saturday morning keynote is the thing to miss. It is usually a district administrator (this year it is the deputy superintendent) and tends to be on the political side, ie- lots of words signifying nothing.

Most importantly, have a great time! Please leave a comment with your suggestions. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Two For Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

1. Steve Jobs - How to Live before you Die
Watch this inspirational commencement speech given by Steve Jobs at Stanford University in 2005.

2. Enter the Google Science Fair
Open to kids ages 13 - 18. Students conduct an experiment, write up their results, create a 2 minute slideshow or video documenting your project and submit it to Google by April 4th, 2011. Check out these pretty amazing prizes to see what they could win.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Ask the Google...

The Google Knows!

Sometimes when students ask me a question. I tell them to ask "the Google, the Google knows" They look at me for a second trying to decide if I realize that it isn't called "the" Google. It is my own private joke, a reference to the line from the old radio drama The Shadow, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows." (I amuse myself at least.)

When I come upon a question that I need answered, a bit of trivia, a historical fact that I would like to know, my first instinct is to ask "the Google." And Google usually does know. Sometimes I have to rephrase my question, but eventually Google figures me out. It is an amazing tool. I don't know how we lived without it for so many years.

But we did live without it. What did we do back then? We looked in a book or we asked a friend, a colleague or a family member. And when we did ask a person, usually some conversation occurred. Our relationships evolved in some way because of the questions we asked. Every time we ask "the Google" instead of reaching out to our networks, our family, our friends and our colleagues are we missing out on a connection or a conversation?

I'm not suggesting that we give up on Google, but maybe we should think first about the people who could answer our questions before we go right for the machine. We might gain much more than the answers!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Suffering is Optional

Many years ago I took my first yoga class. It was at a Bikram center for "power" yoga. The room was excruciatingly hot. I remember sweat pouring off of my face as I held a "downward dog" position. I had borrowed a mat from the studio and the words "suffering is optional" were written at the top of my mat. As I stared down at those words, arms aching, nose itching, they rang so true to me. That day I returned the mat and didn't suffer through another yoga class for 10 years.

This past summer, I decided to try yoga again. When I stepped into that hot room, and unrolled my mat, I tried to approach the class with an open mind and let go of my suffering. The full saying is actually, "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." So often we confuse pain and suffering. Just because it hurts, it doesn't mean I have to suffer. Now when downward dog is too much, I rest in child's pose. I let go of my competitive nature and allow my body to recompose itself before attempting more challenging tasks. I breath, re-center and stop for a moment or two. I try to accept my role in my own suffering.

What does this have to do with eduction or technology? I am in the business of asking people to change and try new things. For some people this is painful and they suffer. According to Robert Evans, who recently spoke to our faculty, everyone hates change. We cling to to patterns. We are more attuned to the risk of loss than the possibility of growth and development. And change brings with it loss which can lead to grief and pain. I think it can help to remember and to remind ourselves and our colleagues, that, while change may be painful, suffering is optional. If we can help each other let go of the suffering, maybe we can get something done.

I guess I'm in a philosophical mood today. What are your thoughts on suffering? Does this make sense? I would love to hear from you today. It has been a while since I've gotten many comments here. Please take a moment to share your ideas.