SXSWedu, the SXSW festival’s 8th annual education innovation extravaganza, kicked off at the Austin Convention Center Monday morning with an opening keynote delivered in collaboration with storytelling phenomenon The Moth. The premise: Four teachers sharing real stories of “Schooling and Getting Schooled.”
SXSWedu Founder and Executive Producer Ron Reed thanked attendees and said he first learned of The Moth from his millennial children, but noted that storytelling is central to teaching and learning, and that sharing stories honestly and openly are the key to connecting with one another.
Micaela Blei, the director of community and education programs for The Moth and a former elementary teacher, took the stage with Chris De La Cruz, the founding learning coach at South Bronx Community Charter High School and host of Moth High School Slams; Greenhill School Upper School English teacher Crystal Duckert; and Writer, storyteller and educator Tim Manley. Blei noted that the key to what makes a story connect people is that it’s on-theme and has changed the storyteller in some way.
Over the course of the next hour, the four storytellers talked about a time they “learned their lesson,” with Manley sharing the awkwardness of teaching for the first time, Duckert talking about a time when the wall between her personal life and teaching persona started to crack, De La Cruz detailing how he builds relationships with his students, and Blei discussing the difficulty in covering a complicated period in history like the Oregon trail in the 1840s.
What's the secret to designing an innovative school?
A Monday morning panel brought together High Tech High Graduate School of Education Dean Kelly Wilson, CODEd Academy Founder Kennan Scott, Lisa Abel-Palmieri, head of school, chief learning officer and "deeper learning equity fellow" at Holy Family Academy; Martin Moran, lead designer and director of the upper school at Bennett Day School, to discuss the ins and outs of designing an innovative school.
As the four shared their experiences, despite differences in their schools, a few commonalities rang through. One such example: All offered some form of project-based learning with real-world relevance that provided vital context to students, increasing their understanding of subject matter and concepts.
Among their top points of advice for other educators: Explore school-within-a-school pilot models, be flexible and figure out how your approach will fill needs within the district, avoid being a test-prep factory, and engage with parents first on what you do rather than accommodating what they already know based on their own educational experiences.
Tech is 'radically' disrupting assessments
In an afternoon session, Educational Testing Service (ETS) Principal Research Director Andreas Oranje told the crowd that there is no "whether" testing gets disrupted — it's inevitable, and the space is ripe for it. His three predictions for assessment in the next 10 years:
- When it comes to education, we will speak no more of things like assessment and testing.
- Only people who have the right data and can separate signal from noise will be in control.
- At least 95% of the current educational technology offerings will be gone/obsolete.
On the first, he clarified that he isn't saying that there will be no more assessments or testing, but that it will be "inseparably connected" to optimal learning. Assessments are approximations, though the closer they get to the real thing being measured, the less the inferential distance is between a student's abilities and evidence of those abilities. Basically, there's more of a direct measurement of a student's ability to perform a given task.
Data, meanwhile, isn’t inherently meaningful: Its value is dependent upon the connection of the data with claims. Educators need consider whether they collected the data or designed assessments geared toward the data they needed to collect, he said. Not all data is created equal, and educational data is a lot of small data in a big space to cover. It’s hard to predict each student’s aptitude for math, for example. And educators must also be able to explain their model.
Finally, Oranje said that teachers and only teachers assign value and meaning to ed tech. Teachers are the adopters, modifiers, developers and integrators of ed tech. They make sure the tech is in pursuit of optimal learning, because it’s ultimately a tool and not a solution. Thus, very few ed tech products make the cut under those qualifiers.
How can educators build communities of practice to further racial equity in classrooms?
The population of students of color in public schools surpassed that of white students four years ago and is expected to continue rising, but equity still lags. In an afternoon session moderated by Isabelle Yisak, an experience designer with Business Innovation, Royal Palm Beach Community High School teacher Derrick Gilbert, Amqui Elementary School teacher Amy Ryan, and Park Vista High School ESOL teacher Lhisa Almashy shared their experiences in working to expand equity in their schools.
The three educators were among 20 chosen from four states for a one-year fellowship cohort organized through a partnership between Business Innovation Factory and Pacific Educational Group. The program's goal: to take teachers from learning about race to thinking about their role in the classroom and school, as well as gathering allies and incorporating what they’ve learned into practice.
For more on where to start and what red flags they've seen along the way, keep an eye out for a full recap of the session in the coming days.
Campaign launches to assist homeless students
- SchoolHouse Connection, the Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness, Civic Enterprises and America’s Promise Alliance on Monday announced the Education Leads Home initiative aimed at raising graduation rates for homeless students.
- The campaign will focus on challenges faced by homeless students and evidence-based strategies to keep them on-track in school, and the partner organizations are also awarding 10 college scholarships to students at a Monday launch event.
- There are 1.3 million homeless students enrolled in public schools in the U.S., and they’re 87% more likely to drop out of school than their peers.
Cengage and Chegg partnership expands access to latter’s services
- Ahead of the show, Cengage and Chegg announced a partnership in which Cengage Unlimited subscribers will receive free access for one month to Chegg’s learning services.
- Among the included services, according to a press release, are Chegg Study, Chegg Math, Easybib Plus, and an hour of tutoring services.
- Cengage Unlimited launches in August and will allow students to access over 22,000 Cengage course material products in 70 disciplines for 675 courses at a flat rate of $119.99 per semester.