Educon is the one conference I will fight over and over again to be able to go to. Many people don’t quite understand why I want to go to Philly in January, but it really comes down to two things. Empowered students and empowered educators. The conference is held at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), a secondary school that feels like no other. Students organize the conference for hundreds of educators.
My favourite day of the conference is Friday. Sorry to all of the awesome presenters and conversation leaders at Educon, but I mostly go to talk and learn from the students at SLA. On friday there are regular classes at SLA. Well, as regular as they can be with hundreds of educators touring through the classes asking questions. I was lead through the school by a wonderful young lady who had me pegged after our first classroom visit. As anyone who knows me can attest to, I am often quiet and shy (and those who know me really well find that hard to believe after I open up). My grade 11 guide was confident enough in the value of discussion and questioning that she forced me to ask questions of students. Yes… forced me! I was a bit timid to interrupt them and she would have nothing to do with that. What I learned from the students as I asked questions about their work was of course enlightening. I learned about arts partnerships. I learned how students found role play useful in truly understanding historical events. I learned how students felt encouraged to find new ways to do things instead of simply following status quo and how they felt that teachers cared.
When I visit SLA I am reminded how important it is for us as educators to have conversations about learning with students. At Educon I had conversations with high school students about instructional strategies and learning styles that I would have struggled to have even after completion of my B.Ed. And, truly, this is ridiculous. Students are immersed in learning throughout their educational careers. Not having conversations with students about teaching and learning is comparable to producing consumer products without ever doing market research.
I’ll write about the sessions I participated in a later post, but I will highlight one session (Brenda Sherry and Peter Skillen’s Question IT: Are we mad?!) where there were three students in the back of the room running the camera and microphone for virtual participants. For the majority of the session it appeared as though none of them were paying attention. Near the end of our session one of them jumped up and asked if he could add something. We were having a conversation about to what extent teachers have to “know the tools” (e.g. voicethread or iMovie) before students in their classes were using them. He felt that the more a teacher actually knew about the tool the worse it was for students. He felt that being shown how to use the tool took away from the learning process and developing the skills they need to survive in todays world. He preferred to use a tool that the teacher would not demonstrate at all so he could learn it himself. This sparked great conversation and we discussed the teachers role in helping students choose tools and staying safe online opposed to demonstrating tools step-by-step.
I honestly don’t know too many students who would feel confident and comfortable enough to jump into conversation with 25 educators about these matters, but our conversation sure wouldn’t have been the same without his participation. Empowered students make Educon a learning experience unlike no other.