A First Visit to Educon

My first Educon experience certainly surpassed all expectations! It’s a wonderful feeling to be surrounded by educators wanting to gather for some thoughtful conversation about what it means to be a good teacher and a good learner.  I’m waiting patiently to hear the recordings of the sessions that I couldn’t attend…it was really hard to choose!

After a little tour around beautiful (but cold) Philadelphia, the first highlight was a Panel at the Franklin Institute where panelists tried to answer the question “What is smart?”   What I loved most about this session was that while the panelists were not specifically K-12 educators, the big ideas that I’ve been discussing with my colleagues from around the world emerged:

  • the idea of smart changes depending upon context
  • passion is an important part of learning
  • intelligence scores don’t tell it all and technology may be helping us change the kinds of learning a learner needs to participate in to ‘become smart’

Our time at the Science Leadership Academy under the direction of Chris Lehmann was truly inspirational.  I firmly believe that the Principal has such an important job to set the school climate and make sure that everyone in the building is learning and caring about one another and Chris is an exemplary leader in this area.  Core values are posted prominently and discussed, kids are relaxed, interested, and articulate…and teachers love working there!  Just read his blog and you will see how much caring and reflection goes into his job as a school principal.

I like to attend Gary Stager’s sessions whenever I can and Educon was no exception.  I enjoyed hearing Gary say that the teachers who have always taught in a child-centred way, not afraid to let kids try things, not afraid that they don’t know all the answers, not afraid to give up the control of learning to students,  have embraced technology to enhance what they already know is good pedagogy.  They get it.  It’s hogwash to think that 21st century skills are brand new; rather, good teachers are realizing that technology can help amplify the good things they’ve always wanted to do.   Technology becomes one more tool in the wide variety of instructional strategies that teachers use to make learning environments great.  And yet, computers are more than just tools.  Teachers new and experienced need to hear the educational and theoretical rationale behind some of the socio-constructivist environments that are enhanced by technology in order to be able to properly assess when and how to use them. Papert’s vision was that better learning happens when students create artifacts or constructions  and now we have the technology to make these constructions both more complex and extremely sharable by children and experts alike.  Technology provides the ability for the child to really do the job of the expert, talk to the expert, and in some cases become the expert!

Gary points out that “engagement is not something we do to kids”.

We need to be critical of the kind of learning happening in our classrooms being mistaken for engagement.  Just because sitting and watching a IWB is a bit more engaging than all the boring stuff you used to do, it doesn’t make it right.  I’m not sure if it was Gavriel Solomon or Seymour Papert who said “just because we can do it with computers, doesn’t mean we should“.   For example, with technology, we can get many-to-many communication with classrooms or people around the world, but does this make for meaningful learning and lasting knowledge or is it a fleeting cool exchange that leads nowhere?  It was great to be with so many educators at Educon who were looking beyond the tools towards building really exemplary learning connections for kids.

It was a thrill to see Jeff Han from MIT at Educon sharing his touch wall!  What an incredible technology that just drew us up in clusters to play!  I can’t wait to see how this technology will emerge in the next few years.

Educon was wonderful and thanks to Chris Lehmann and the faculty and students at the Science Leadership Academy for welcoming us in and sharing their learning with us!


  1. Brenda, I look forward to the recorded sessions too.

    As for ’21st century skills’…ah yes. It is one of those terms that people catch onto as if it is new, novel, unique – not unlike what I said in my post* about novices and their adoption of new technologies.

    And, again, we see the entrepreneurs (business, industry and marketeers) grab hold of this construct of ’21st century skills’ – and flog it to make their fortunes. Senior management, educational policy leaders and the public latch onto these kinds of terms and mission statements with a fervour that disgusts me. Are we so naive and gullible? Are we so uneducated, unwise and unaware of the principles of educational pedagogy of the past millennia? We should all be extremely insulted and we should rebel against such fallacy.

    Now, do I think that there are some differences in the tools and media that encourage and support that which progressive educators have deigned to do over the years? Yes. I do. Here are some of those:
    – knowledge representation and visualizations made possible by the technologies (such as Jeff Han’s Perceptive Pixel Wall) enable us to see information and trends more clearly, therefore acting as a cognitive partner in our problem solving skills
    – the ubiquity and ease of personal learning networks (PLNs) afforded by social media allow for scaffolding of learning in ways that were more difficult previously
    – we now have richer, deeper ‘media with which to think’ – in ways that are similar to the invention of language which provided us with symbols with which to think differently
    – brain research is revealing the neuroplasticity of the brain and the wisdom to not think of the brain, and all resultant behaviours, quirks and ‘deficits’, as fixed and static and irreparable

    These points do not indicate that we need 21st century skills! These are rather 21st century inventions and discoveries that move us along the path towards the higher level skills many of us have espoused for years – or centuries.

    Ok Brenda, thanks for stimulating this rant! 🙂

    * http://theconstructionzone.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/the-wisdom-of-experience-and-education-educon-reflection/


  2. Brenda, your statement “It’s hogwash to think that 21st century skills are brand new; rather, good teachers are realizing that technology can help amplify the good things they’ve always wanted to do.” resonated with a conversation I had about a teacher I had, long, long ago, in a seventh grade galaxy far away. Our task was to take a classic poem, in my case “Death Hath No Dominion”, by Dylan Thomas, and interpret it using music. In those days, we had tape recorders (for my narration) and vinyl for the music. I used the theme from Exodus http://www.jacquedee63.com/exodus.html

    The only thing 21st Century about all this was I used Google to get the music right for this post. Great teacher, taking me to new understanding, using the tools of the day. Take it back to Ancient Greece, and you’d get the Odyssey with the Greek Chorus doing its thing in the background (more Google there).

    Tools change, learning remains.


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