A newbie’s take on the top sessions to check out at SXSWedu

As a relative newbie to the world of education nerdom, innovation, and policy it is exciting to jump into the biggest education conference feet first. Not only will I be attending and soaking up knowledge and insights from the speakers, I will also be presenting a workshop “Teachers as Designers” with Sam Seidel–more seasoned EDU-Nerd, entrepreneur, author of Hip Hop Genius, and Director of the BIF Student Experience Lab.

To avoid a complete overload, I went through the SXSWedu schedule to see what people and presentations caught my eye. Here are a few of the sessions I can not wait for!

  1. Escaping Boring Learning (Literally!); Isabelle Yisak & Louie Montoya
    This one is a no brainer. So much of my focus this year has been around student’s agency and deeper learning. What could be a better way to build on those skills than navigating different puzzles and collaborating with a team? This session has an added bonus that participants get to prototype their own escape rooms to bring back to the classroom, program, or anywhere where folks seek to build on deeper learning capacities including: leadership, equity, versatility, experience, relationships, and structure. There is no way that this session will be boring, but I hope I can tap into the skills needed to escape!
  2. Ballin on a Budget: Cheap Classroom Maker Spaces; Cicely Day
    Not all educators have the resources to create their dream maker-spaces and educational environments. However, teachers are constantly finding creative ways to innovate and bring deeper engagement to their students. SXL’s School Hackers project engaged with similar topics. A school hack is a low/no-cost, creative idea that repurposes everyday resources in new and useful ways to help engage your students in deeper learning. These hack ranged from meditative practices to space design to bringing difficult conversations and timely subjects into the classroom.
  3. Seed to Table-Whole Grain, Whole Garden Classroom; Kayla Roche & Paul Hudak
    Teachers always say that what is learned in the classroom can be applied in the real world. But why should students only see those real world applications through antidotes and scenario based projects? It is exciting that these educators are bridging education and “the real world” in a tangible and tasty way. This type of thinking not only makes learning exciting, but also gives students opportunity models to imagine their future. Our project, When I Grow Up grappled with how to better prepare students as they transition out of high school. One student wanted explore becoming a chef and got hands on experience creating a farm to table experience. This session opens the possibilities that students can have those formative experience earlier and figure out(and change many times) what they want to be when they grow up.
  4. We Got It from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service; Christopher Emdin
    This keynote could not come at a better time, both nationally and for us as an organization. I look forward to honest conversation that recognizes the urgency of addressing issues within education. Nationally, this is just what the doctor ordered and here in the Student Experience Lab we will be coming of of our first convening for our Teach4Equity fellowship. Both what Chris and the fellowship addresses is how to move from ideas or theories around equity to equity being ingrained in practice. This experiential approach aims to move us closer to our goals of serving all students. While I did not see his BIF2015 story in person, its themes of reflection, innervisions, and passion makes his talk one that I can’t wait to soak up.
  5. Sex Ed through a Positive Youth Development Lens; Ellen Saliares & Hannah Mikhelson
    There is no education more powerful than education surrounding health and wellness. I am excited to hear how they use the frameworks of positive youth development to bring information and assuredness to students. Talking about sexual health and sexuality is often viewed as taboo. Here at BIF we know the power of productive discomfort and working through “difficult topics” to transform our social systems. Educating around these topics will better equip educators to incorporate health and wellness into all aspect of curriculum and practice, not just during certain times or classes.
  6. Diverse by Design: Creating CS Programs for All; Charisse Taylor
    This session stressed an important point: we can not think of equity as an “add-on” to existing structures, but rather the framework through which we design the programs to begin with. Students are best positioned to “hack” innovative solutions to education’s issues. BIF2016 storyteller Kalimah Priforce described the power of students designing solutions and gaining CS skills in the process. Accessibility is not enough, programming must support students with all the complexities they hold. Designing for all means thinking about all students before they even step into the room.
  7. Paying the Price; Sara Goldrick-Rab
    There are a lot of friends of BIF giving keynotes at SXSWedu this year, but I am especially excited to hear Sara speak. The costs of higher education (tuition and hidden costs) have continued to rise and create barriers for student success and degree attainment. This especially impacts those who are low income and the first in their families to strive for a degree. We need leaders who are ready to play with different ways of delivering value to students and finding ways to do so without piling debt onto students. Since 2006 the Student Experience Lab has had conversations and projects surrounding first-generation student success and the success of young men of color. Most higher education institutions were not built with these considerations in mind, but that does not mean that they can not be intentionally redesigned to best serve students and break down barriers they face.
  8. Big Data, Smart Ethics: The Rules of the Road; Bill Moses, Manuela Ekowo, Tiffany Mfume, and Timothy Renick
    We are constantly thinking about how to use data in our human centered framework to co-create new models. This session, focusing on implications of using data to make policy decisions falls in line with what we aim to achieve by centering students and educators, giving them the tools to design new systems. When we shift power dynamics in that way, we get closer to designing ethical and equitable models, policies and practices.
  9. Think Preparing Teachers Is a Game? It Can Be; Eliza Spang, Patrick Riccards, Yoon Jeon “YJ” Kim, Stephanie Hull
    Teachers are lifelong learners, so why can’t new strategies applied to students also help reinvigorate how we view teacher preparation? In the beginning stages of our Teachers Design for Education project, teachers told us that professional development was majorly missing its mark. They often felt disengaged and underprepared to tackle issues that arose within their classrooms, schools and districts. Making professional development both engaging, teacher-led, and helpful in equipping them with necessary skills energized these leaders and created better outcomes for their students.
  10. Learning in the Arena: Reimagining High School; Ty Cesene & Samantha Sherwood
    Inspired by the Lab Director and other friends of BIF, I have been thinking about remixing education and the need to reimagine our K-12 system. We have seen and participated in this process of reimagining, but it is always wonderful to dive into other case studies. As we begin our work to spread equitable practice to students across the country it will be important to focus on students who often are underserved by our education system. This session’s explicit focus on these students is exactly what we (and I’m sure many others) need to focus our efforts on students who need it the most.
  11. Mindsets & Movements: Healing Self & Society; Roberto Rivera
    If you stuck to the end of this post, you should also stick to the end of the conference to hear Roberto speak. I just wrote a blog post inspired by his BIF2016 story, but that doesn’t begin to do him justice. Roberto is captivating and weaves in personal stories with strategies and mindsets needed for serving all students, especially those who experience trauma. There’s nothing more to say. 10 out of 10 would recommend to a friend, and we are friends now so don’t miss it!

This only covers about 1/5th of my jam packed schedule throughout the wild week of learning. I have asked previous attendees when they have time to eat and have yet to get a satisfying answer. Nevertheless, I am excited to dive into the #SXSWedu experience. Check out the SXL teams tweets from me(@kmjlbrown), @BIFsxl, @husslington, @learninglouie, and @iyisak for our reactions throughout the conference Monday, March 6th-Thursday, March 9th.

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