I've been very busy lately. First, I had to finish the complete draft of my thesis to be sent to the external reviewer before the defense. Then, I immediately turned my attention to EduCon 2.0. It's an important event for me for many reasons. First of all, it comes at a time when my research and thesis are finished and I can finally reflect on the whole experience which, as you can imagine, was about so much more than blogging. Yes, the thesis focuses on what happens when a group of grade eight students start researching and blogging while their teacher becomes a listener, a learner, and a contributor. But what I've learned from the research goes beyond blogging. My research taught me many important things about teacher professional development, classroom design, virtual environments, pedagogical shifts in the 21st century, and the nature of learning and instructional conversations. That's one reason why I'm looking forward to EduCon 2.0 - planning a presentation/conversation for those who are interested in attending my session gives me an amazing opportunity to reflect on what I have learned. But there are other, equally important reasons. EduCon provides an opportunity to meet many of the incredibly inspiring people whose work over the past few years contributed to my professional growth as an educator and a researcher. A couple of days ago, when I read carefully the list of all participants and presenters, I realized that going to EduCon will be like walking into my Google Reader, except that we'll finally be able to shake hands!
I look forward to meeting some of my long-time virtual mentors: Will Richardson, Chris Lehmann, Christian Long, Patrick Higgins, David Warlick, and Joyce Valenza to name just a few. Their work has been instrumental in helping me with my doctoral research journey.
Also, along with Sharon Peters and Mario Asselin, I will be part of a small Canadian contingent. Sharon and I met at a conference last year and have stayed in touch ever since. I know that this conference will give us yet another opportunity to chat about curriculum and professional development. I have never met Mario, however, but his work as Principal of Institut St-Joseph in Quebec City inspired me at the very beginning of my doctoral research to follow the example set by his school and use blogs or electronic portfolios to create a virtual extension of my classroom. When I first found out about his work through Stephen Downes' seminal article on blogging, I knew that my research had to revolve around eportfolios and blogs. It will be good to chat with him about blogs and the work he's been doing since.
Finally, I'm looking forward to EduCon because it will take place inside a school, not at some posh convention centre. In other words, we will interact in the very spaces where learning takes place, in spaces where students interact on a daily basis. If our work revolves around classrooms, then talking about what we do shouldn't take place away from them unless absolutely necessary. Thanks, Chris, for bringing us together in an environment designed for interactions and learning, not just public speaking and passive reception.
I mention interactions because the Science Leadership Academy has been designed with interactions - with meaningful interactions - in mind. That is one of the biggest reasons why I can't wait to see the school. According to DesignShare, the Science Learning Academy has been described as "one of the only examples of School 2.0 in the United States (and beyond)." It is a place where "the school's founder and the architects tried to make the renovated space [converted office building in an urban context] come to life to support a truly new way of embedding technology into the lives of their students/teachers."
This is especially important to me because, when I first started teaching, I was given a classroom with no windows and a malfunctioning air conditioning unit. Needless to say, we ventured out of that classroom on a regular basis and, at the very beginning of my career, I found myself having classes in hallways, the courtyard, in the gym, and on the soccer field. At first, I looked at it as an unnecessary disruption, a nuisance, and envied teachers who had classrooms with windows and proper ventilation. But, as time went on, I began to realize that leaving the classroom was often the best thing to be done. These experiences led me to believe that the four confining walls can be very conducive to delivering lectures, but not always to meaningful interactions. Ever since, I've been very interested in classroom design and my interest in creating virtual environments for learning stems from my early teaching experiences outside of the classroom.
So, when I first found out about EduCon, I knew that I had to be there to see this innovative learning space and to meet the principal who believes that "the design of a building [can] serve a particular pedagogy" and that "we can create schools where what we do with the information we can access is more important than the information we can memorize" (Lehmann, 2007).
The Science Leadership Academy is a school where the administrative offices, including the Principal's office, are an integral, transparent, and accessible part of the school:
Because our school's core principles stress the collaborative and transparent nature embedded in "School 2.0" thinking, we moved the Principal's Office to the front of the office suite with a door leading straight into the main hall. Better yet, we wanted no "gate-keeper" guarding access to my office.
From day one, the students and teachers would see my office as their office. Within the overall administrative suite, we made the offices smaller and created space for teachers and administrators and support staff to gather together. The office essentially was designed as community work-space and a dynamic teachers' lounge all in one (Lehmann, 2007).
In addition, the cafeteria - referred to at the school as "the cafe" - is a place
where students have a really wonderful, well-lit place to eat and hang out and for anyone walking down the sidewalk to see the lives of our students unfolding in real-time. And with that change came a change of name as well. We started calling it the café to attempt to signify the change in mindset the space represented. Every space - including what could have ‘just’ been a cafeteria - would be re-imagined as dynamic, collaborative, and public spaces that echoed what SLA and “School 2.0″ stand for (Lehmann, 2007).
I am also really interested in seeing the school's presentation spaces, classrooms, and the hallway "streetscapes," all of which are designed as spaces where students can move around, engage in creative processes, and where explanation, instruction, as well as hands-on, and creative work can all co-exist.
Needless to say, I can't wait to walk the halls of the Science Leadership Academy and interact with its staff and students.
See you there!
Lehmann, C. (2007). DesignShare: "Designing School 2.0: A Study of Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy". Retrieved November 9, 2007, from http://www.designshare.com/index.php/articles/science-leadership-academy/