March has been conference month. Having attended and presented at SXSWedu, ASCD, and CUE over the last three weeks, I have observed many educators and people outside of education having interesting and critical discussions around what should be happening in classrooms. In Austin, at SXSWedu, we were surrounded by many edtech developers who were either shopping their product or idea, or hoping to get some insight into what teachers were looking for. Many of them had solutions and were hoping to find those problems, and many were just confused as to what the problem actually looked like. Welcome to the world of education at the moment.
Next came ASCD in Los Angeles, where most sessions and vendors where focused on answering the needs of the common core and the new Smarter Balanced Assessments. However, included were teachers presenting on passion based learning, innovative ways to incorporate creativity and gamification, and the importance of student voice in the classroom. We were there to present on blended learning, design thinking, creative curriculum design, and STEM. Interesting mix all around and conversations ranged from the value of student choice and voice in the classroom to the absolute need to have everything mapped to the common core.
Ended our tour at the CUE conference in Palm Springs, CA. The opening keynote was Dan Meyer who spoke about the importance of using curiosity to find perplexing and interesting real life problems and then resolving them with math. Refreshing look at how to approach a tried and true curriculum subject such as mathematics. The ending keynote was Sal Khan, announcing that Khan Academy is now fully mapped to the common core and is now including exercises that mirror the Smarter Balanced Assessments. A perfect example of bipolar philosophies. Sandwiched in between were some wonderful sessions given by inspiring and hard working teachers who are using technology to create amazing learning experiences for their students and are exhilarated by the many possibilities and opportunities that are presented on each end of the dialogue.
On one side is the rock, common core and state testing, and on the other is the hard place, the classroom where we try to encourage our students to follow their passions, and where we work to design meaningful learning experiences for every student that will build not only test skills, but more importantly life skills. Yes, it can feel as though we sometimes get stuck between the two, but I choose to emulate those teachers who are reaching beyond, looking for the best of both worlds, and seeing new learning opportunities for all. Stop pushing against the rock, let other teachers and your students help you navigate the hard place, and the path will become clear.
Contributed by Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach