Thursday, June 20, 2013

What Happens When Students are Invited to Redesign Learning?

 With our first Student EdCon behind us, we are inspired by the experience and ready to start thinking about the implementation of ideas for next school year.  Student EdCon was created with the idea of increasing student voice and providing students the opportunity to redesign learning. Students spent two days focused on the challenge of redesigning an aspect of learning at school using design thinking.  Throughout these two days, students worked in small collaborative teams and were exposed to incredible speakers who helped bring the design thinking process to life. The video below will provide you with a brief overview of Student EdCon 2013.

Student EdCon 2013

Then on Saturday morning, each group presented  their idea on improving learning to the students, teachers, administrators and parents.  All eight groups were impressive and surprisingly contained similar themes.  Themes that emerged from the groups included: increased student choice in what they learn, changes in the physical environment, and democratic classrooms. Our team of LASD teachers and administrators selected three of the group ideas to implement in some way next year.  The three ideas selected were Elective Shopping, Democratic Schools & Project Me.  The presentations from these groups are linked  below.

Elective Shopping
Democratic Schools
Project Me

Everyone involved with Student EdCon learned a ton.  It is probably debatable who learned more, the students or our teacher facilitators.  At the end of each day, we debriefed with facilitators to share insights, learnings and thoughts on refinements.  At the end of the first day, one of our teacher facilitators shared how amazed she was by the level of depth being contributed by students.  The overwhelming questions by all was, “Why haven’t we involved students in rethinking learning before?”  As a team, we looked forward to thinking through the implementation of student ideas and are already excited to begin planning Student EdCon 2014.

Collaboratively Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Kami Thordarson & Karen Wilson

Monday, June 10, 2013

Taking a Risk to Redesign Learning

In two days, we will launch our inaugural Student EdCon in LASD focused on increasing student voice and encouraging students to act on ideas that will improve learning experiences at school.   After months of planning, we will have sixty-five middle-school students fully engaged in using design thinking to re-imagine learning. We know students are full of ideas about how learning can be improved, but the success of this student conference will depend on our ability to create the right space for these students to be inspired, heard and encouraged to act.   With only a few days to go and lots of preparation underway, I am excited and nervous!  

Launching Student EdCon is a risk that I am feeling both personally and professionally on behalf of our district.  It feels risky because we are sharing our learning publicly.  We are vulnerable because we are asking questions we don’t have the answers to.  It’s scary and a little intimidating.  What if we don’t like what students have to say?  What if their ideas aren’t what we anticipate?  And yet, this is exactly what we have asked our teachers to do.  All year, we have talked about the importance of taking risks, shifting ownership and facilitating meaningful learning experiences.   If this is what we expect of our teachers, then it is only fair to expect the same of our administrators and our organization.   

Reflecting on the origins of Student EdCon and the underlying foundation of why we have created this conference helps minimize the risks.  Whatever the outcome, this conference was created with the intention of engaging middle school students to be more active in helping our district define what it means to “revolutionize learning for all students.”  

Back in December, I attended Big Ideas Fest with a few of my colleagues.  Big Ideas Fest is not a sit and get type of conference, it is organized with a bias towards action and requires participants to fully engage in being a part of a solution.  A fantastic and inspiring experience, but one that left us questioning why we weren’t engaging students in the same way. After lots of brainstorming, Student EdCon was born and the real planning began.

We began by researching student leadership opportunities, student conferences and students who were already invested in these ideas globally.  We met incredible people like NIkhil Goyal, and Zak Malamed, two young adults who have made a real impact on inspiring students to speak out.  We connected with other educators via Twitter and Skype, building our personal learning networks along the way.  After several months and a lot of learning, the risk we took is already paying off.  Our team has learned an a tremendous amount that will positively impact the learning experiences we provide to our students.  This learning has already been shared with our Student Ed Con facilitators, all of whom are LASD teachers and administrators.  So while I will remain slightly nervous until the Student EdCon culminating event Saturday morning, I already know that taking the risk to improve student learning is the right thing to do!

A big thank you to Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach & Karen Wilson, STEM Coach for helping to plan Student EdCon.  Thank you also to our amazing Student EdCon facilitators:  Ricky Hu, Karen Kehlet, Aaron Kerns, Vicki Lombardi, Raquel Matteroli, Sandra McGonagle, Cindi McLaughlin, & Lisa Waxman.  

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Asst Superintendent of Curriculum & Instruction