I recently traveled to Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia for the EduCon 2.3 conference with Monika Aldarondo, BAA Senior Project Coordinator and Visual Arts Teacher, and two seniors, Duke and Xavier. Both students have been funded for their senior projects and were selected to speak at this conference about the senior project experience.
We flew down Friday morning after a big Thursday snow storm (which is becoming redundant to say!). Our first stop was Temple University, where we met Matt Clauhs, former BAA music teacher, and Kelechi Ajunwa, former BAA intern.
We presented in three different Urban Education classes; I gave a brief overview of the school, the students talked about their experiences, and Monika talked about senior project. When we finished our presentations, we had a great tour of the new Tyler School of Art at Temple—amazing! Duke, whose senior project involves 3-D modeling and printing, was thrilled to go into the 3-D printing room and actually show me the results of this technology… I can see why he’s so captivated by it all!
The next day the students presented a superb workshop on senior projects at the EduCon conference. Duke’s project involves teaching 3-D modeling and printing to a group of ten year olds; he feels strongly that most elementary art programs are lacking in exposure to new technologies. Xavier’s project is a one day benefit concert to raise awareness about youth violence and to give teens a positive way to express themselves. Xavier lost his brother to street violence, so this topic is very close to him.
The students had developed four questions: 1) How is Senior Project innovative? 2) What skills does the senior project process teach that help students after high school? 3) How do you think technology can be used in a meaningful way? 4) Who are the best people to judge this project?
There were about 40 people (all adults) in the room and what I loved more than anything was how Duke and Xavier handled their questions. For the first question, the students asked the participants to form groups and talk together. Like trained facilitators, they moved about the room listening to various groups. Then, they asked for folks to share out. I was the note-taker. Here are some of the answers from the teachers to “How is Senior Project innovative?”:
- “This project really matters because it’s real world.”
- “No one will ever take this experience from you.”
- “You have empowered me, as a teacher, to think about how I can do this differently with my students.”
- “By doing this, you empower others in your community to think differently.”
- “The project requires entrepreneurship which is barely taught in schools with all the testing today.”
For the second question, “What skills does the senior project process teach that help students after high school?” participants said:
- “You are learning the important skill of working hard for something you believe in, and what it feels like to really slog through something. That is so important since so much of school is about quick answers.”
- “You are changing communities and changing yourselves!”
- “You are learning the skill of networking—such a lesson for young person to know.”
- “This is all about writing and communication skills.”
Others suggested that the ability to take a project from idea stage to final production is something most adults never do. A teacher asked Xavier how he was managing the entire concert. Would he be delegating responsibilities to others? Xavier smiled and nodded gravely. “I am not really diva, but I have to be responsible for everything, so, yes, I will be delegating a lot. I need to have my hands and mind free to run the concert. Time management will be critical for me!”
“Well, that is another important skill—time management!” a participant said. “I wish all my students could learn that skill.”
There were a number of suggestions about the third question, “How do you think technology can be used in a meaningful way?”, including blogging throughout the process. Some suggested that the final projects needed to be available online to inspire others. Others shared ideas of different web-based programs for sharing the work. One idea that resonated for all of us was to have students do a 30 second promotional video about their project. This would help students articulate the main themes and also advertise their work.
The final question, “Who are the best people to judge this project?”, elicited all sorts of responses, from getting the corporate leaders of Boston into the school to including the entrepreneurs at MIT. Duke and Xavier listened to the suggestions attentively and made sure I was writing down these ideas. Clearly, they had already started to network!
We all went to a couple of different workshops during the course of the conference, and I found the entire weekend very stimulating. Although EduCon is billed as “not a technology conference,” as a digital non-native, I would have to disagree! I was initially very put off by walking into a workshop with everyone’s laptops open and no one looking at the presenters, but then I realized that there were participants who were not physically present but participating digitally. Fascinating!
I also loved the fact that the conference was in a school. SLA is in its fifth year and it’s one of the few Philadelphia schools mixed by neighborhood and socio-economics. The head of the school, Chris Lehmann, is a young, dedicated, bright and inspirational leader. He used to teach at The Beacon High School in NYC, but wanted to return to his hometown to start a school. It would be fun to think about exchanges with SLA… Much of the energy feels similar to BAA and to High Tech High. Students were very serious about their roles in running the conference (coat checking, technology assistance, directing lost folks, giving workshops, etc…).
I’ve made tons of new friends on Twitter and learned even more about the importance of blogging, so I felt that I made a small step forward in my own digital journey. But by far the best part of the trip was being with the kids and Monika!