SXSWEdu is different than many conferences I've attended. I have attended ASCD, NCTM, and NAGC national conferences. There you find strands for the practitioner ... the classroom teacher ... relating instructional strategies and curriculum specific content.
SXSWEdu does have an instructional strategies strand and some specific strategies are shared. But the focus of this conference are the bigger issues, challenges, problem posing and problem solving. Today in particular the sessions I attended forced me to think outside of my tiny classroom, outside of my lesson planning, outside of the needs of my particular set of students. And yes, that's a good thing!
I started my day in 2 short Future 15 sessions. In these sessions presenters have only 10 minutes to make their point!
The first session's title implied something different than what was presented. The second short presentation was "Becoming Badass in 6 Steps." I loved the concept and wished the Laura Thomas had more than 10 minutes to build upon the 6 steps she presented. I needed those steps fleshed out ... here are strategies, ideas, books, anything ... to strengthen the areas needing work!
I particularly liked the way she started her presentation ... creating all sorts of analogies between teaching and cinema heroes. I couldn't write fast enough to catch them ... but if planning a teacher training, the activity would make a great ice breaker. Teaching is like .... because ... filling in the blank with a hero and a deed. Here are a couple of hers as examples:
… teachers have hearts as true as Harry Potter in choosing right over easy
… teachers can Mcgyver their way out of any sticky issue
Next up I went to hear an author I admire, Linda Darling-Hammond. Darling-Hammond has written extensively on strengthening the teaching profession, teacher training, teacher assessment. With her was Stephan Turnipseed, former president of Lego Education and the Chairman for The Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Their topic was Employers Need More Than A Test Score. The emphasis in their presentation was on the issues created by our testing culture, tests with narrow focus, tests that lead to poor instruction.
The initial activity was a building with Lego activity. Each of us was given just a few blocks and asked to make a duck with them. Mr. Turnipseed shared his duck, and asked if ours matched his. Two did (out of a few hundred)! Those were the "right" answer. And of course, he made the point that by focusing on one right answer, he limited creativity. And that is what is happening in our schools today.
I've been thinking about the application of what I heard in this session to my work. I can advocate for different accountability measures but I have little control over that. Instead, I can change how I hold students accountable in my class. I can use more performance based tasks, real-world modeling, real products, real audiences. I can help students put together portfolios showing growth in mathematical understanding over time. This is a topic of discussion to present to my PLC at school.
After lunch I attended Promoting Creativity: Less Talking and More Doing! This was a panel discussion including Disney, P21, a professor, and an elementary principal. The panel engaged the audience in a creative activity ... a version of "telephone" that helped to energize the room. One part that was particularly intriguing to me was the research on creativity. There are two spikes when comparing creativity to age. Folks are most creative in their late 20s to 40s. But there is another spike after 60. Since I fall in that latter range I was encouraged that it is not too late to express my creativity ... something I want to explore more!
The last session I attended was the most entertaining. Two New York Times best selling authors, Epstein and Green debated about great instructors ... are they born or built? Both were amazingly articulate and had great ideas, interesting research to share. What made the debate even more fun is that these two are engaged to be married in April. Of course there is no definitive answer to the question. Personally I believe there are innate qualities that some folks have that make them great teachers. And as a teacher I believe all people can learn ... so teachers can be trained! But as I left, I wish I had asked ... how is "great" being defined. How do we define a great instructor?
So you can see my day was full! There is so much to digest ... so much I want to ponder ... and absolutely so much I want to translate into better instruction to meet the diverse needs of my students!