Reflections on Geekend

In response to their experiences at Geekend, two of our inaugural fellows wrote reflections on their learnings and insights.  What makes these two reflections so great are the different backgrounds and perspectives from which they come.  One is written with fellow educators in mind and one is crafted as a letter for parents of current students. The first from an educator earlier in her career and the second from an educator who has dedicated decades to teaching in our public schools.  Interestingly, Amanda Fox did part of her student teaching with Ron Phillips a few years ago.  You never know where your connections might resurface!

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In a reflection from Amanda Fox:

“If you haven’t attended Geekend, a conference that boasts bringing together “the brightest designers, coders, innovators, artists, technology mavericks, and forward-thinking entrepreneurs” to Savannah for workshops, networking and inspiration, then I recommend getting in on the 2016 conference (Creative Coast, 2015). This year in October 2015, I attended my second Geekend conference here in Savannah, Georgia, and it’s impact is being carefully woven throughout my curriculum in the form of community experts, promised Skype sessions, gained knowledge and direction, and sustained relationships that are beginning to resemble more of a friendship.

From an educator’s initial impression, a teacher may feel like they don’t quite belong at this conference from it’s description. I mean we do have a host of our own educational technology conferences tailored for our specific profession: GaETC, FETC, SC Midlands summit, and all within driving distance! I surmise that even some teachers that do attend are daft to the power of networking that ultimately results in a missed opportunity due to our myopic professional glasses, and the continued questions of “How does this relate to me and what I teach?”

 If this is the case, and you found yourself wondering these things, you simply aren’t doing it right.  Like the average educational conference where a few nuggets of valuable strategies or the next big app will be absorbed through passive listening, this conference requires participation: and that doesn’t mean conversing with the teacher friend you came with! You must take off your teacher hat. Forget your teacher goggles. Stop the silent drone of standards, content, and trying to find a way to relate to the sessions. 

 Now listen. Interact with these professionals genuinely. Ask questions about what they do. Share what you do when asked, and don’t be too eager to force a connection. Be present in the moment, and stop planning for tomorrow. The conference is about tomorrow! Through genuine engagement with professionals that are defining the jobs of the future you are doing exactly what you need to do to make this conference a meaningful experience. 

To share my first year experience, Erik Reagan Co-Founder and CEO of Focus Lab, LLC, and I shared a brief conversation in the atrium area of the Coastal Georgia Center (venue for 2015). It was not content related. It was a simple genuine introduction, followed by light hearted conversation that led to further connecting on Twitter (which is a whole other topic of discussion on the power of a virtual PLN!). This sustained relationship led to the sponsorship of my school’s first ever STEM Film Festival in May of 2015, and a promise of a 2016 sponsorship.

Erik and I, moving forward, have several irons in the fire that extend to a mentorship for students, and some secret do good “WhatisWatson.com” that I hope to learn more about in the coming days (something he recently reached out to me about with ninja like intrigue). And that was just one connection amongst many that resulted from a casual, genuine, conversation. To name a few others: Jason Premo, venture capitalist and another repeat attendee this year, offered to judge our shark tank category for our film festival and offer scholarship money; Oh Heck Yeah, a video game design duo that believe in uniting the community through play have Skyped with our school–and I’m currently trying to help them come back to Savannah through the Pulse festival to do an outdoor arcade in our Savannah streets; Juno Young has been an ongoing contact I reference for building app protypes; Creative Coast allowed me to guest blog about STEM Film Festival which resulted in sponsorships; Harry Delorme, of the Telfair Museum, helped us with a Film Festival Venue… Should I continue? I could…

But sometimes the best connections are more subtle, and do not present themselves until later. Don’t let missed opportunities happen, because at the moment you fail to see how this person, or topic could connect to you, or your students. Remember earlier when I said “Now listen. Interact with these professionals genuinely. Ask questions about what they do. Share what you do when asked, and don’t be too eager to force a connection.” I wasn’t just filling up space on this page. Talk to everyone…

Post Geekend, I challenge you to look around at the networking opportunities that occur within the community and put yourself out there. Sometimes interacting as a member of your community will offer the richest connections. Most people who are out attending these functions care deeply about local preservation, economics, and have a shared interest in advancing education within our beautiful, historic, gem of a city. Creative Coast, the sponsor of Geekend, is a great place to begin this journey. “

From a letter to parents from Ron Phillips:

“With a full Geek-End Conference and a day of processing using a 1950’s brain, here are my thoughts on helping students prepare for future technological advances. I will address the topic within the confines of teaching mathematics at the middle school level. Georgia has made great strides in developing the state curriculum in mathematics. Embedded within the standards are concepts of “Real World Application.” One of the problems is the “real world application” standards are just another set of standards to be met by an already overburdened curriculum. In my opinion, what should happen is have the “real world application” be the standard and the present standards within the unit be the concepts that are required to show mastery of problem solving. Students would develop a project or solve a problem throughout the unit that demonstrates their understanding of the concepts of that unit.

With the appropriate curriculum in place, the next step would be to re-examine the classroom environment. At the present time, teachers deliver content while students take notes and then use their new knowledge to solve like problems in a multi-choice formatted test. Again, the state of Georgia has made steps to improve this format with the new Georgia Milestone Assessment. The assessment requires students to solve some multi-choice questions that show content or process knowledge. Embedded in the assessment are opportunities for students to solve problems and explain their reasoning using knowledge they obtained over the course of the year. The information presented at the conference tends to lead to a different type of preparation for the new state test. Classrooms need to become active learning environments. Teachers need to present problems and allow students the freedom to explore solutions to those problems. The environments need to be in isolation and within groups. Students need to learn how to use social media and distance learning to embrace different learning environments. Students need to be placed in situations where they have to communicate over the internet to express their ideas and solutions for different problem solving requirements. While communicating with ease daily on their devices at home to friends, students found it quite difficult to express their ideas and solutions in situations where they needed to communicate solutions with a required outcome.

One might ask, “How would students get the curriculum content knowledge?” Teachers would prepare videos on-line of what would normally be presented in class. Students would learn how to access the information and process that knowledge. It would be the student’s responsibility to watch and solve basic problems using that content. Students would also learn how to research additional information on the internet to help with misunderstandings and increase their knowledge. Teachers would be available to help individual students with content difficulties.

The problems presented to students could also be designed to prepare students for the future technological advances. Problems could be designed around global themes of health care issues or environmental concerns. Every effort should be used to prepare students how to think when solving “real-world” issues. Within the problem-solving classroom students should be allowed to fail and experience how to process and learn from that failure. Students should be taught how to process failure in a constructive fashion and how to use the information and data from that failure to solve the problem. Students also need to learn how to work in an environment that allows movement but requires adherence to meeting deadlines and working together to accomplish goals…

Again I reflect, “How do we use the tools of state curriculum and the IB program to prepare students for the technological advances of the future?” I believe the Coastal IB program is the tool to begin discussions on how to transform current methods to prepare students for the future technological advances. The discussions should turn to the entrepreneurs, designers, civic and business leaders who will depend on those students to lead the community in the future. Parents, students and educators will need to discuss the impact of new student outcome designs and develop new classroom designs to meet the requirements of the future. As ideas are discussed and put in place, all stakeholders need to acknowledge and embrace failure and learn from it while being aware of disruptive innovation and its effect on the current method of teaching students. At this time I do not see any wholesale changes to Coastal’s IB program or even my classroom. What I am proposing is for you to look around and think about how your child is being prepared for the future technological advances and how they will use their skills to interact with that world. I ask that you send comments by email, call me, or even stop by my room to discuss the ideas above. If interest is generated, a group discussion or two about the various ideas and how my class might experiment with some new content delivery methods could be held. I always want my classroom to be innovative in preparing students for the future, but sensitive to parents knowing what is going on, having an input into the methods and my expectations. ”