This weekend was a blur of ideas and passion, and I can’t even begin to describe the feeling of being surrounded by such intelligent and energetic educators, many of whom I consider good friends and who push my thinking on a daily basis.  Rather than go into depth about each and every session I attended, I decided to do a run-down of my takeaways from the weekend, broken down by topic.  There are links to each session’s Educon page and some sessions have a link to a website or wiki shared by the presenters.

Blended Learning Opportunities
Tony Baldasaro

Tony’s blended learning charter school is doing amazing things by blending content with experiential learning. His students not only complete academic coursework, but complete experiential projects in a field of their choice.

  • Passion is when we lose ourselves in a task, when we never get tired of engaging with something, when we become emotionally invested in something.  
  • Angela Meiers suggested that part of being passionate is suffering. While I’m not totally convinced that you need to suffer to be passionate, I think that there is an emotional investment in our passions.
  • We can’t expect children to find their passion if we don’t expose them to as many experiences as possible and let them tinker with ideas and try out different roles?

    Standards Based Grading
    Mike Ritzius and Kristen Swanson–session site

    This is one of my recent obsessions (grading, assessment in general) and I was lucky enough to sit next to a technology teacher like myself who does a standards-based report card for her class. She shared a great site with me: SnapGrades. This site does have a fee, but it creates standards-based report cards and aligns perfectly with my current classroom practices.

    • What is the purpose of grading?
    • How do standards based grades affect college acceptance? (most agreed that they don’t)
    • There is a lot of education that needs to be done with the families when switching over. George Couros spoke about how he was clear with the parents about why they were switching to narrative report cards rather than grades.
    • Standards based grades are a better indicator of what your child really knows.
    • When we average out grades, we penalize students for growth.
    • When we give students zeros, it’s an easy way for them to ‘check out’ and not learn the content.

    I could talk about this topic for DAYS. I loved hearing what George Couros had to say about his school’s approach to getting rid of grades. He explained the move to the parents by telling them that it would be a true reflection of what their child knows.  There was also a lot of talk about the disconnect between K-12 and Post-Secondary education, especially when it came to college acceptance.   

      The Future of Research 
      Joyce Valenza, Shannon Miller, Gwyneth Jones–session site

      There was some great conversation here about what students ‘need’ to know and the kinds of skills they need to be successful researchers. In addition, there was some conversation about ‘old school’ vs ‘new school’ methods, tools and resources. 

      • You can’t teach research unless students are actually DOING research. They need to learn while they are doing.
      • Use citation tools to make citation easier (—BUT knowing citation is an important skill. It is like knowing the common code of communication for information.
      • Do term papers serve a purpose or are they an outdated form of assessment?
      • Do we love or hate Wikipedia?  It lets students know when articles are poorly references, provides additional resources at the bottom of articles and includes things that you won’t find in a traditional encyclopedia. However, for younger students it can be hard to read and digest while also evaluating the content.
      • Students need to know how to evaluate information, collect information, synthesize what they have collected and be fluent in using keywords.  They also need to know where to go for the information they are seeking.

        What is Literacy Today?
        David Jakes and Laura Deisley

        This was possibly the most engaging and fascinating conversation I had all weekend.  Neither David nor Laura provided concrete answers, but rather presented us with a continuum of probing questions. Me likey. I think we all need to bring it back to our schools.

        • Literacy—political act, human right, interpret/comprehend, participate, literacy vs fluency, power, civic participation
        • Is the notion of what it means to be literate different? Has literacy changed?
        • Has literacy been institutionalized?
        • Was there literacy before there was reading and writing?
        • Is there digital literacy or is it just literacy in a new context?
        • We are now reading in new places, so we often read more than we used to.
        • We now have reading breadth rather than depth
        • We have access to what we want to read, more choices.
        • This means we need to be our own filter–a skill we must teach children.
        • We control what we read, which can lead to group think. (David Warlick)
        • Since most people get distracted by links and may never finish what they started reading, you can control the reader by how many links you put into your post and where you place them.
        • You can also create a path for the reader with hyperlinks–a conscious act
        • Book Glutton–read books socially and synchronously with others.
        • What about schools that don’t have access—are these students the new illiterate?
        • Is it OK to stick to functional literacy that depends on context?—being literate in the ‘world’ in which you live

        Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?
        Myself and Ann Leaness–session site

        There was so much more to this conversation, but it was very face-to-face, so I did not take notes or tweet at all!  One of the most exciting parts of the session was listening to Zac Chase’s student talk about his own experiences with the Internet, distraction and his ‘old brain.’

        • I don’t miss my old network, but I miss my old brain.– Ben Wilkoff
        • Do we control the tool or do we adapt to the tool?
        • What does it mean to be a patient reader? 
        • Are we witnessing evolution and how big of a deal is neuroplasticity?

          The Classroom of Tomorrow
          Zoe Pipe and Rodd Lucier

          We used Livescribe pens to record our discussions. As certain topics were discussed, I made markings on the special Livescribe paper. This allowed us to easily find parts of the conversation by clicking on the marks I made. It was difficult, but very cool.

          • Learning spaces should allow for a variety of learning areas.
          • Schools should be open to the world through the use of windows and by designs that allow each learning space to access the outdoors.
          • There should be a space where students can lounge or relax.
          • Should we still use the word “classroom” when much of our learning might not be contained within walls or learning might occur across many physical spaces?

           Other takeaways:

          • a large presence of administrators—it is refreshing to see many school leaders create learning networks and join the discussions either as participants or session leaders
          • are we saying anything new?— I find that the group of educators that attends Educon tends to be of the same outlook, mindset and viewpoint. Many of the conversations we have had over the weekend are nothing new. How many times can we hash out an idea and say “We should do something about this” before something actually gets done?
          • what are the new conversations?—what do we really need to be discussing as we move forward into the new year?
          • I have some pretty awesome friends that I only get see at special gatherings like this–social media is powerful, but nothing beats meeting someone face to face and seeing that they are just the same as they are in 140 characters. What’s more, nothing beats face to face…period.


            1. Cory Plough


              I started reading The Shallows after your recommendation and am about half way through it. Its a fascinating acknowledgment of many of our realities. I take chunks of time away from networking online because I can feel it changing how I process. That never ending need for attention, whether it be from people or information, is so addictive that I try to pull away to combat it. I wanted to join your conversation, but unfortunately I was scheduled at the same time. Thanks for the recap of the sessions, and great seeing you again.

            2. Reply

              Mary Beth, EduCon was a great experience. I attended Chris Lehmann;s session on Sunday where he got the conversation to shift to what's next. You are right, for the large part, most of us at EduCon are like-minded educators. And what we need to do is to get the message out there. How to do it is the question. There should have been news vans at 22nd and Arch.

              It was great to meet so many from my network. I am sorry that we didn't catch up, but i am sure we will eventually.

            3. Reply

              Thank you for sharing your take-aways so freely with those of us who couldn't make it in person. Also HUGE thank you for the virtual shout out 🙂

            4. Reply

              Great seeing you, too, Cory! I'm sure that you take time away to spend with your son. He is more important than any of us 😉

              I have been online less and less and while I feel like I'm missing something sometimes, I also feel better knowing that I am strengthening my face to face relationships and being a member of my community here in South Philly.

              Have a great Spring and hope to see you at ISTE!

            5. Reply

              I wanted to attend a 'what's next' session, which is what Rodd and Zoe's session was focused on. I agree that there should have been a news van outside. Hopefully we will all take what we learned and the conversations we had to our own schools.

            6. Kirsten Olson


              Marybeth, It's great to read this, and I appreciate the session take aways from ones I wasn't able to get to. Here are a couple of questions:

              -Did the format of having "presenters" take away at all from real full participation of everyone? Is there still, even among the forward-thinking folks at EduCon, a longing for an "authority," for someone to tell us how to do it?

              -How could Educon broaden its world? Mostly I saw white, middle class educators from relatively well-heeled districts there. Who's not in the conversation, and therefore, most critically, WHAT is not in the conversation?

              -I felt that lots of Educon-ers, in spite of their bravery and sense of adventure, are still constructing themselves as "othered," as "us against them," those who are not with technology. Why is that? Does that reflect reality or is this self-constructed and self-reinforcing? Is the outposty nature of this world actually one of its appeals?

              Wondering out loud.



            7. Reply

              I think these are wonderful questions to ask ourselves, Kirsten. I made sure that my session was more of a facilitated discussion rather than a 'presentation.' I think that there was definitely a more vocal and involved group of core people that may have led the discussions and steered them in addition to the presenters themselves.

              I may be disowned for this, but I don't think there's anything brave about speaking up at Educon. It's a safe place for those of us who feel like we're fighting the 'good fight.' I, too, fear that we have ostracized ourselves as 'renegades,' which defeats the purpose of standing up for what you believe in.

              As for the ratio of educators, what always strikes me is the small number of local Philadelphia teachers who attend the event. I tried SO hard last year to drag a bunch with me, but to no avail. Only 2 teachers came, one who was trying to get her son into SLA. She was there this year as a proud parent.

              Perhaps you have inspired a new post…..

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